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Omega rising, p.12
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       Omega Rising, p.12

           Patrick Carman
 
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  “I hope so,” Piper said.

  “Let me worry about the Pollen Slither. You just get some rest.”

  Piper nodded and laid her head back against the pillows. Dash took the tablet and walked out of the room, carefully closing the door behind him.

  Commander Phillips addressed Dash. “You doing okay, Captain?”

  Dash took in a shaky breath. He remembered the ship’s log he’d sent out and figured Shawn had listened to it.

  “We didn’t get the Pollen Slither. And now we’re behind schedule. And things could have gone seriously wrong with Piper on her own. And—”

  “Piper’s safe, so be glad of that,” Shawn interrupted. “Your whole team made it back safely thanks to you.”

  He paused, and Dash readied himself for the next part.

  “But not getting the element is a problem,” Shawn admitted. “You don’t have time to go back and try again. I know the other ship was able to retrieve a sample, but I’m concerned. I’m not sure we’ll be able to negotiate with them easily.”

  Dash’s heart sunk. They had failed their mission. How could he have let this happen? Nervously, he reached for the silver ring Somselia had given him that now hung on a string around his neck.

  “What’s that you’ve got?” Shawn asked.

  Dash held up the ring. “It was a gift, from the captain of the AquaGens. It’s just a ring made out of—” He stopped. It was a ring made out of Pollen Slither! He knew it was a long shot, but could it be possible?

  “Sir, I know we need pure, unmanipulated Pollen Slither for the Source,” Dash spoke rapidly. “But what if we had a different form of Pollen Slither. Could we make that work?”

  Dash held up the ring again, and Shawn caught on. “I doubt it,” he replied slowly. Dash’s face fell. Shawn sighed. “But maybe it’s worth a try. Have Chris do some tests on that ring and see if he can make it work. It’s better than nothing.”

  Dash nodded, hopeful. “Yes, sir.”

  “All right. Now about the next mission: it’s going to be a real challenge. Are you up to the task?”

  “I am,” Dash said. “We all are.”

  “You’re a day or two behind schedule, so it will be best to jump to Gamma Speed as quickly as you can.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “But before you do, I have something I’d like to share with the crew,” said Commander Phillips. “Can you get everyone together?”

  —

  Dash, Carly, and Gabriel gathered next to Piper, who lay in her bed. They were all exhausted and defeated. What they really needed was some positive reinforcement—but with Commander Phillips, they knew it could just as easily be bad news as good.

  “You’ve reached the halfway point of your journey,” Commander Phillips said. “I can’t think of a better time to share some news from home.”

  Every breath was held, every eye locked on the screen.

  The tablet filled with a montage of waves and smiles from people all over the world, cheering them on. There were banners and signs with messages like Come home soon! We’re rooting for you! A small boy held up a poster board that said Voyagers rule! Big crowds of cheering fans swirled into the screen, one group after another, all of them wishing the Voyagers well.

  “These are the letters I’m holding for you back home,” Commander Phillips said as the screen changed to a room full of mail piled in boxes. “Over five million letters. And that’s not including the email—it pours in even faster.”

  Next came a man with a broad smile and big blue eyes sitting next to a woman with long blond hair. Her eyes were even bluer and rounder than the man’s. Piper gasped and pulled Rocket closer. “It’s my mom and dad.”

  “Hello, Piper,” her dad said. “We’re very proud of you.”

  “And we miss you,” Piper’s mom said. “Earth just isn’t the same without you here. Be safe. Don’t take any chances you don’t have to.”

  They told her they loved her and then they were gone. Piper reached out for the screen like she wished she could jump inside.

  “These are recordings, so I’m afraid you can’t speak to them,” Commander Phillips said. “Here’s another.”

  Carly’s sisters appeared, flanked by her parents. They spoke in Japanese, so none of the other Voyagers could understand what they were saying. Dash thought it sounded like they were encouraging her. Carly said something in Japanese. She nodded and sat down on the edge of the bed as the family vanished. Carly looked reinvigorated.

  Gabriel’s entire family appeared next. His parents, along with five kids, were all on a big bed and the kids were using it as a bouncing castle. As they leapt from one side to the next, Gabriel’s dad laughed and smiled.

  “I see where you get your energy,” Carly joked.

  “What a bunch of knuckleheads,” Gabriel said, but he was beaming. It was obvious he loved them all.

  “Hey, champ,” Gabriel’s dad said. “We miss you, buddy.”

  “And we hear you’re doing a very good job out there,” Gabriel’s mom said. She couldn’t fight back the tears and turned away from the camera.

  All the kids started cheering and bouncing even higher.

  “Your fan club is alive and well,” Gabriel’s dad said. “And you’ll be home before you know it. Hang in there. We’re thinking of you always.”

  Gabriel turned away from the screen as it faded to black. No one could tell for sure, but it looked like he was wiping away a tear.

  Last were Dash’s mom and sister, staring straight into the screen. His mom took a deep breath and so did Dash. They stared at each other across the universe, barely blinking. A long moment passed, and Dash felt so much relief seeing her, knowing she was waiting for him. The long stare was just what he needed, to simply lay eyes on her.

  “I had this all figured out, what I was going to say,” Dash’s mom said. “But now it’s all jumbled up in my head. All I can think about is how far away you are. I look up at the stars every night and try to imagine: Where’s my Dash? What’s he doing today? I know you’re strong, stronger than I am. Just hold on a little longer. Before you know it, you’ll be turning for home.”

  She pointed to her eye, then her heart, then Dash. It was a message they’d sent each other from across many rooms over many years. I. Love. You. As Dash did the same, he knew his mom couldn’t see him. But it didn’t change the fact that she had sent her love and he was sending his all the way through space and time. Home felt closer than ever.

  Commander Phillips appeared again.

  “We need to get into Gamma Speed in a few minutes,” he said. “It will take you farther still from the ones you love and the people who cheer for you every day. The world is depending on you to be strong. It’s a lot to ask, I know. But I chose the right crew for the job. You can do it. We’re all expecting your safe return.”

  Chris piped in from the bridge. “If it were up to me, there’s no other crew I would choose. These truly are the best of the best, sir.”

  “Agreed,” Dash said as he looked around the room at the team who had already gone through so much.

  “Until we speak again,” Commander Phillips relayed, nodding once and closing the connection.

  Dash wasn’t quite sure what to do next. He glanced at the floor and folded his arms across his chest.

  “I’m not sure how many of you noticed, but I ran the tubes in record time a few days ago,” Gabriel said. He looked at the exit and raised an eyebrow. “I think I can better it.”

  “I think I can better it,” Carly challenged. She was out the door before Gabriel could cut in front of her, the two of them off to ride the wind.

  Dash was about to leave as well, but Piper reached out her hand. “Could you stay for one more minute? There’s something I need to talk with you about.”

  Dash moved in closer and sat down on the edge of the bed. Rocket was asleep, his head on Piper’s thin legs.

  “I think he’s worn out from all the adventure,” Dash said quietly.

>   “STEAM said something to me while you were out of communication on Aqua Gen,” Piper began. “He said someone on this ship has a medical condition. It sounded serious. But I’m the ship’s doctor and all my testing is up to date. Everyone is fine.”

  Dash didn’t know how to respond. It was a big secret he wasn’t supposed to share with anyone, but he and Piper had been through so much together. How could he keep her out of the loop any longer, especially since she was the Cloud Leopard medic?

  “There is one person I haven’t had any access to,” Piper conceded. “Chris. He won’t let me anywhere near him when it comes to making sure he’s operating on all cylinders. Not that I’d know how to diagnose an alien. Maybe his blood is green. Do you think he’s okay?”

  Dash ran a hand through his hair. “It’s not Chris. Chris is fine.”

  Piper tilted her head, calculating every test and wondering what she’d missed.

  Dash took a deep breath.

  “It’s me,” Dash confessed. “I’m the one STEAM was talking about.”

  Piper sat up straight in bed. “But that’s impossible. I’ve tested you every week for months. Either I’m a lousy doctor or there’s nothing wrong with you.”

  “Yet,” Dash said.

  Piper’s brow cinched tight.

  “What’s that supposed to mean, yet?”

  Dash knew it was his call. In the end, so far from central command, he had to reveal information to his crew when he felt it was the right time.

  “I’m going to ask you to keep this between us, as the ship’s doctor. Can you do that?”

  “You’re scaring me,” Piper said. She put a hand on Rocket and the dog stirred. “Doctor-patient confidentiality extends to the farthest reaches of space. Tell me.”

  And so Dash told Piper everything. Piper didn’t interrupt. She let Dash go through the details of Gamma Speed science and didn’t speak until he was done. He told her he was too old for the mission. He told her about the daily injections. He made sure she understood he would be fine, so long as the mission didn’t go too long.

  “Is that everything?” Piper asked.

  “Yeah, that’s it,” Dash answered. “And I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you sooner. Commander Phillips would rather I kept it to myself. I think that was the right call too.”

  The conversation was on Piper’s turf now, and she was suddenly confident and commanding. “For starters, I need to be administering these shots. No one else is more qualified. And I need to speak with Chris about this so I can develop some new tests. I need to be analyzing you daily, not weekly. You need to trust me on this one, Dash.”

  Dash nodded and thought about his options. “I’ll talk with Chris, but let’s not go any wider than that. I’m feeling great, no problems. And we’re not that far behind schedule. We’re going to make it.”

  Piper nodded, and Dash could tell she was already dreaming up new assessments to track his aging.

  She looked right at Dash with those piercing blue eyes of hers. “It was scary on Aqua Gen. There was a moment when I thought I wasn’t ever coming back. But you didn’t leave me behind. You fought for me. I’m not going to let you die out here either. We’re going to make it.”

  Piper took her tablet and began tapping out notes. She spoke without looking up. “We need you to go immediately into Gamma Speed. There’s not a second to waste.”

  Dash was about to call Chris when STEAM’s voice entered the room through the on-board communication system.

  “I have an incoming communication from the Light Blade. How would you like to proceed?”

  “Send the call ship-wide. Everyone should hear whatever they have to say.”

  “Communication link established,” STEAM said. “Visual and audio.”

  Dash picked up his tablet and saw Anna’s face staring at him.

  “Colin and Chris are synced up,” Anna said, all business. “We’re ready for Gamma Speed whenever you are.”

  “Piper’s doing fine, in case you were wondering,” Dash said. He couldn’t help himself. How could Anna be so cold to not even ask?

  “I know that already. Chris relayed earlier. I’m glad she’s feeling better. You guys need a doctor on that ship with all the chaos you’re getting yourselves into.”

  “No thanks to you, Anna,” Dash shot back.

  Anna held up a glass sphere. It was about the size of a baby bottle and was full of glowing blue-and-green liquid. She tipped it to one side, and the liquid moved like lava inside a lava lamp.

  “Pollen Slither,” Dash said. He wished he could reach out and take it from her.

  “You should see it close up,” Anna taunted. “The monitors don’t do it justice. It glows like neon. Incredible.”

  “I get it, Anna. You have the element and we don’t. Is there a point to this call?”

  Anna looked straight into the screen. “This is our insurance policy, Dash. You lose us out here in space and we’re both toast. Now we’re linked. You can’t leave us behind.”

  “We would never have left you behind, you know that.”

  “So you say. But you’re not really in charge, are you, Dash Conroy? You answer to Shawn Phillips, and last time I checked, he was a lying, incompetent jerk. I prefer being in control.”

  “We need each other more than ever,” Dash said. “We’re on the same team.”

  “No, we’re not. That’s your problem, Dash. You’re weak. I’m not on your team. And you better watch your back. Omega is on the rise.”

  “Are we through here?” Dash asked.

  “I don’t know, are we?”

  Dash cut the communication. He wanted to throw the tablet against the wall, and he might have if Piper wasn’t right there with him. He couldn’t make her feel responsible for missing their chance to get the element.

  “Ready for Gamma Speed?” Gabriel asked.

  “Ready,” Piper said.

  Gabriel opened a line to the main deck. “Let’s get out of here. On my count.”

  “Secured,” Chris said from somewhere in the ship. It was their code word for being strapped in, ready for the g-forces that starting into Gamma Speed produced.

  “Secured,” Carly said.

  Dash secured Piper and Rocket to the bed with three separate straps. He settled into a chair mounted against the wall and locked in.

  “Secured,” Piper said.

  Gabriel took a deep breath and gave the order.

  “Gamma Speed in three, two, one.”

  Piper closed her eyes and imagined the watery world of Aqua Gen getting smaller and smaller until it was gone from view forever.

  —

  The Light Blade took chase, following the heat signature of massive speed as they raced across the universe tailing the Cloud Leopard. They would travel for many days at this speed, until they reached their next destination and the fourth of six elements.

  Within an hour of entering Gamma Speed, Anna had her crew training for the next round of challenges. It would be perilous and hard fought, but she fully expected to gain the upper hand once more when the time came. Her team would be ready. She kept the Pollen Slither at her side on the main deck. Eventually she would deposit it into the vault, but for now, she liked to look at it.

  Farther back in the ship, the engine room was humming with ZRKs as Colin worked to keep the ship running smoothly. He was grumbling as usual, angry that the Omega team had managed to extract yet another element without very much help from him. But he was also sick and tired of working on all the Light Blade’s problems. Gamma Speed was always the most dangerous time for the Light Blade. He was on high alert, sending out swarms of ZRKs to monitor various parts of the massive Gamma Speed engine system. Colin had been so absorbed in keeping the shaky ship running and plotting how to take over command, he hadn’t taken the time to think of anything else. But even if he had, there’s no telling if he would have known where the real danger lay on his ship.

  Farther back still, in a secure vault off to the side of the eng
ine room, two of the elements they’d already retrieved were stored.

  There in the vault, behind the closed metal door, something rattled.

  The slogger they’d used to retrieve Magnus 7 from Meta Prime was shaking. It rocked back and forth. It walked a circle. Steam poured from its head. The metal body began to expand like a balloon, its surface burning red.

  The slogger made something like the sound of a burp and seemed to settle down. The metal retracted and returned to its normal color.

  The slogger coughed twice.

  How long could it hold Magnus 7 before breaking down entirely, releasing a substance that would quickly destroy the Light Blade?

  Only time would tell.

  Find the Source. Save the World.

  Follow the Voyagers to the next planet!

  Excerpt copyright © 2016 by PC Studios Inc. Published by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

  The Cloud Cat skimmed the surface of Infinity. Gabriel, Carly, and Chris looked out the windows and studied the rocky terrain in awe.

  “No wonder nothing survives on the surface,” Carly said. “It’s completely barren.” There wasn’t so much as a blade of grass or a river in sight. The smooth rock shone gray, awash in predawn light. The view created a somber mood in the landing craft.

  In the distance, light glinted off the corner of something metal looming up on the horizon.

  “Set it down over there,” Chris said. “That’s the Jackal compound.”

  Gabriel brought the Cloud Cat to a smooth stop on the flattest stretch of rock he could find.

  “This may be our last chance to communicate with the Cloud Leopard,” Chris informed them. “Once we’re underground, the rock will most likely block our signal.”

  “At least they’ll see we’ve landed safely,” Carly said. “We’ll get in touch later if we can.”

  They exited the landing craft one by one, and slowly made their way toward the compound’s entrance. Very slowly. It felt like their feet were weighted down.

 
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