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Omega rising, p.4
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       Omega Rising, p.4

           Patrick Carman
 
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  “Let’s fan out twenty yards apart and start taking readings,” Carly said.

  The Alpha team spread out, tapping commands into their flat screens. The noses of their watercraft began to hum like vacuum cleaners, sucking up surface film as they checked for density. Carly hoped the resulting data could be analyzed and quickly lead them to the closest source of Pollen Slither.

  “Piper, we’re going to start sending you data to unpack,” Carly relayed the information to the Cloud Cat.

  “Fire when ready,” Piper said. “I’m all set up here.”

  Piper had scored higher than anyone else on Pollen Slither analysis, the more technical aspect of the challenge. She may have only been 67 percent ready to find the source of Pollen Slither, but she’d scored 99.8 percent on the analysis aspect. Carly was a data hound too, and she knew a fellow analysis geek when she saw one. Piper’s score was second only to STEAM 6000, who had been perfect.

  They spent the next five minutes sucking up a film of Pollen Slither and gathering information.

  “That should be plenty,” Carly said as she rode a circle past her two teammates. “There are hundreds of Pollen Slither mines at the bottom of all this water. We just need to find one.”

  Carly gathered up the data and uploaded it to Piper. A few seconds later, Piper responded. “All systems go here. Looks like the mapping will take a while.”

  “How long?” Carly asked.

  “Several hours, possibly longer. It’s hard to tell for sure.”

  A collective ugh registered from Dash, Carly, and Gabriel.

  “Should I come down and get you guys?” Piper asked.

  “Negative,” Dash replied. “Just keep us posted.”

  Piper signed off at the same moment Carly spotted something on the horizon.

  “The wind is picking up,” Gabriel said as his watercraft bobbed up and down against small whitecaps. “Maybe we should get out of here for now?”

  “I’m not sure how easy it will be to get the Cloud Cat in position if we find ourselves in a real windstorm,” Dash agreed.

  “What do you suppose that is?” Carly asked, ignoring the boys’ comments. Something off in the distance seemed to be heading their way.

  Gabriel and Dash turned to look as Carly moved in closer to Gabriel’s watercraft.

  “Gabe, try the magnifying goggles.”

  Gabriel opened a small compartment on his watercraft and took out a pair of high-powered binoculars. The device was small and silver, and when Gabriel turned it on, a circle of green lights lit up around the lenses. He brought the device to his eyes.

  “It’s getting closer,” Carly said. “Let’s get Piper down here.”

  “No, wait,” Gabriel said. “You guys aren’t going to believe this.”

  He set the device in his lap and shook his head.

  “It’s the Clipper. The Omega team is heading right for us, very low to the water.”

  “No way,” Dash said. “They’re trying to piggyback on our discovery.”

  “Jerks,” Carly said. “Why don’t they find their own Pollen Slither mine?”

  Gabriel was looking through the device again as a gust of wind blasted them all in the face. As soon as it arrived, it was gone.

  “Whoa, that was some breeze,” Carly said.

  “You guys,” Gabriel said. The tone of his voice had changed.

  “I see it,” Dash said.

  “Omega is creating a Predator Z–sized wake. They’re blasting right on the surface of the water!”

  “Go, go, go!” Carly yelled. She punched the watercraft into gear, but she knew it was too little too late. The Omega Clipper was traveling way faster than she and her teammates could. It was bearing down on them like a destroyer, building a wall of water on both sides that rose forty feet into the air.

  “We can’t outrun them!” Gabriel yelled. “We need to split up!”

  “No! Let’s stick together this time,” Dash insisted. “They’re not going to run us down. No way would they do that. They’re just trying to scare us off our find. Let’s make a wide turn and circle back toward them!”

  “What?” Carly yelled. “Why would we do that?”

  Dash turned hard, a look of fierce determination on his face. “ ’Cause we’re not running from Omega. Not today.”

  Gabriel let out a rebel yell and followed, a huge smile on his face. “That’s my man!”

  As they made their turn, Carly followed Dash, who was going wider still so they could get a better look at what they were dealing with. The Omega Clipper was now within twenty seconds or so of catching them, and Carly was sure Anna or whoever was in control would come up short or turn sharply away.

  And she was almost right.

  The Clipper didn’t turn or stop, but it did change course, suddenly bursting off the water and straight up into the air. A moment later, it was far enough into the sky that Carly could hardly see it.

  They all stopped as the wave died down and sent them up and down on a long, rocking wake of twenty feet or so.

  Gabriel let off a few choice words, but Dash had turned white as a ghost.

  “I can’t believe they’d be that reckless,” Carly said. “They could have really hurt one of us.”

  Dash shook his head. “They weren’t trying to hurt us. They were leading someone toward us.”

  “Huh?” Gabriel said. He followed Dash’s gaze. So did Carly.

  An armada of alien sea ships was coming right toward them.

  “I guess this means we won’t be going with Plan A,” Gabriel said.

  “What was Plan A again?” Carly asked.

  “Keeping a low profile,” Dash said as his mind raced with options, none of which made any sense. They could try to outrun a fleet of alien ships, but that would never work. They could call in Piper, but that would probably only make things worse. They had only one choice, and he knew it. “We’ll have to make contact.”

  Gabriel shook his head like he couldn’t believe how messed up things had gotten. “I hope they’re not pirates. That would be a seriously bad deal.”

  “Chris told us in the briefing the AquaGens were an advanced race with a language all their own,” Dash reminded them. He looked at Carly. “You have the translator?”

  Carly nodded and patted a zipped-up pocket on her suit.

  “Everyone stay calm,” Dash said.

  The ships were slowing down as they approached, and this gave the Alpha team a look at what they were dealing with. Six massive vessels, each with more sails than any of the Alphas had ever seen on a single ship. The sails were iridescent, casting a weird green-and-blue shimmer as they flapped in the wind. More and more of them were being rolled down, cutting speed as they approached.

  The ships themselves were like something out of a future Earth. They were part metal, part wood, with wide brass tubing that seemed to hold everything together like thick rope. Long, needlelike noses extended from the fronts of each ship, like spears ready to cut through whatever lay in their path.

  “I’m going to say this one more time, just because,” Gabriel said. “I really hope these aren’t zombie pirate ships.”

  Carly nodded. “Me too.”

  When the ships were fifty yards away, they spread out, encircling the Alpha team. A sound like a gun went off, an air blast that pierced Dash’s ears.

  “Stay calm,” Dash said. “They’re not firing on us.”

  At the sound of the blast, a cable of some kind had unfurled across the open water, sending a line from one ship’s deck to another.

  It was then that Carly saw several of the crew members for the first time. They were clothed entirely in blue from head to toe. Even their faces were covered. Whatever the fabric was, it looked almost liquid from a distance.

  One of the blue-clad sailors climbed the tallest mast like a monkey and attached the cable. This made the line across the gap in the water go from high to low, one end on either ship.

  Several sailors climbed the same mast and
arrived at the top, staring down at the Voyagers with eyes Carly couldn’t see. They seemed to be awaiting a signal.

  A voice broke through the wind, speaking in a language Carly had no knowledge of.

  “They’re asking us something,” Carly said. “Hang on.”

  She pulled a phone-sized tablet from her waterproof pocket. Carly was the best linguist the Voyagers had, and she’d been waiting for this to come up: a language barrier between two intelligent peoples.

  The voice boomed over the water again.

  “It sounds like a dolphin gargling mouthwash,” Gabriel said flatly.

  “Got it that time!” Carly said, her fingers flying across the screen. “Just another second and I can translate.”

  “Really?” Gabriel asked.

  “Really,” Carly confirmed. The device was one of a kind, made by the ZRKs with Chris’s help. Carly had recorded the gurgling voice, and now the translator was busy cracking the code on whatever the language was.

  Carly tapped a command on the small screen and put her mouth next to one end. And then she yelled.

  “We come in peace! We mean you no harm!”

  A few seconds later, the same gurgling dolphin sound blasted out of the translator.

  “Good job, Carly,” Dash said. “What did they say before?”

  “The first message was Don’t move. The second message: These are infested waters.”

  “Infested? What does that mean?” Gabriel asked, pulling his feet up closer to his chest and peering into the water.

  The voice rose up again, weird and watery.

  “What did it say?” Dash asked.

  Carly had set the translator into automatic mode, and a second later, the device answered Dash’s question with the voice of a British female.

  “We’re coming to get you. Stay still.”

  Gabriel’s eyebrows went up. “They sound nice.”

  “It’s only a setting on the translator. I could use the ‘burly truck driver’ setting if you’d prefer,” Carly replied.

  “No, I like the nice English lady,” Gabriel said. “Keep it.”

  Dash told Carly to ask another question.

  “What are these waters infested with?”

  The translator did its work and an answer came back.

  “Thermites and sea monsters we call Predator Zs.”

  Gabriel gulped. “This just gets better and better.”

  Dash did his best to project calm and confidence. “They won’t hurt us,” he said. “We’re not armed and dangerous. This will be okay.”

  Another message was translated: “We will come get you, but those machines you’re riding will have to stay. They have no place here. Stand up.”

  “Stand up?” Carly wondered.

  The voice came once more: “Hurry. We need to get you out of the water. Now.”

  Three sailors jumped from the highest point of the mast and slid down the cable like a zip line, each of them holding a hand toward the water.

  “I think they want us to go with them,” Dash said. He stood up, wobbling back and forth on his watercraft. “Come on, you guys.”

  “We could still make a run for it,” Gabriel said. “You sure about this?”

  “I’m sure,” Dash said. He was anything but.

  As the blue-clad sailors glided down the cable, Dash felt the water under him begin to rise. He looked down and saw the sea bubbling up around the watercraft. And something else, something bad.

  His water suit was punctured on his lower left leg, and out of the hole a bright red substance was leaking. How did that happen? Dash thought through everything that Chris had told them, and his mind seized on one fact: Predator Z is highly attracted to blood. Do NOT bleed into the water on Aqua Gen. Ever.

  “You guys,” Dash said.

  Carly and Gabriel could hear the concern in Dash’s voice as they turned and looked at him.

  “I’m bleeding,” Dash informed them. “I must have cut myself when the Predator Z came through.”

  The surface started to bubble even more, like they were in a kettle of boiling water, and Dash heard the strange voice of the sailors once more. It was only one word, and when it was translated, he obeyed.

  “JUMP!”

  The AquaGens had arrived overhead on the zip line.

  Dash, Carly, and Gabriel leapt into the air, grabbing outstretched hands as they swung by, and not a second too soon. The water split open like a great furnace of fire, and a Predator Z emerged. As it rose, the creature scooped all three watercraft into its mouth, the jagged teeth ripping through cable as it moved clean out of the sea. Its head jerked back and forth like a dog with a toy, and it turned, facing the water once more, slamming down and vanishing into the deep.

  The cable suddenly snapped. Gabriel, Dash, and Carly all shrieked as they swung back toward one of the ships. Holding tight to what was left of the cable, the AquaGen sailors and the Voyagers were plunged into the churning water.

  Dash surfaced, gasping for breath. He met Gabriel and Carly’s eyes briefly when it dawned on him—they were in the water with a Predator Z and Dash was bleeding! But before panic could set in, they felt themselves being hauled out of the water and toward the ship. Looking up, Dash saw the AquaGens aboard rapidly pulling the cable in. With a sigh of relief, he, Gabriel, and Carly were pulled into the cargo hold, shafts of light pouring in from every side.

  The gurgling voices returned as the three sailors pushed Dash, Carly, and Gabriel toward a brass pole leading through a hole into the guts of the ship.

  Carly had deposited the translator in a waterproof pocket at her chest. It was safe. She reached for it, and one of the blue-clad sailors made an alarming, high-pitched noise.

  “Okay, okay,” Carly said. “No worries. You want us to go down there, we’ll go down there.”

  Gabriel glared at Dash. “Dude, this is really not going as planned.”

  Dash felt awful. Should they have run? Or called Piper in to get them? He watched as Gabriel and then Carly slid down what was basically a fire-station pole.

  Dash looked at his captors. “Listen, I can explain. We’re not here to do anything bad.”

  One of the sailors shoved Dash closer to the hole. He wished he could see their faces under those weird iridescent coverings. Just before he slid down the pole, he noticed that their clothing didn’t appear to be wet at all.

  Down into the depths of the ship Dash went, farther than he expected to.

  He’d let his crew get captured by an unknown force.

  And now it looked like they were being imprisoned in some kind of seafaring dungeon.

  It was an all-time low.

  Piper was beginning to freak out.

  “Dash? Come in, Dash! Where are you guys?”

  She’d been trying to hail Dash or anyone else on the extraction team for over an hour, but she was having no luck.

  “Why aren’t they answering?” Piper asked herself. Or maybe she had asked Rocket, who sat staring at her with a sort of concerned golden retriever look on his face.

  “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, Rocket. What if they’re in real trouble?”

  Rocket moved his head closer, the soft golden fur touching Piper’s cheek. He nuzzled under her chin and stayed there while Piper quietly let her hand fall on the dog’s side.

  “It’s okay, boy. We’re going to get through this. And then we all get to go home.”

  She pulled the dog’s face close to her own, the two of them touching foreheads.

  “I’m very glad you’re here with me,” she said, ruffling the dog’s fur. Let’s get you a treat.”

  Rocket bounded around the ship like a very big rabbit at the sound of the word treat and Piper hovered over to a cabinet and opened it. She reached inside and took out a prefabricated cardboard-looking dog bone.

  “Gross,” she said. But when she tossed it to Rocket, he might as well have been in heaven. Fake bones were fine by him.

  He settled onto the floor, and Piper w
ent back to the control deck at the front of the ship, where the extraction mapping was in progress.

  It was cool the way it worked, in stages so she knew exactly how far the calculations had to go. The ship’s onboard system was taking the data the Alpha team had gathered and was turning it into a 3-D hologram she could spin and review in the air. It showed the surface area where the Pollen Slither had been found, along with hundreds of tiny tendrils swirling downward into a representation of the sea. They were like the stringy tentacles of a jellyfish, merging with one another as they went deeper and deeper toward their source. Where there were once a hundred or more tendrils, there were now only a dozen. The blue-toned hologram map was about a foot in diameter, and more than ten feet tall from floor to surface. So far, the mapping had only filled in the top foot of the whole, leaving a lot of solid blue still to fill in.

  Piper did some calculations.

  “Well, Rocket. Looks like we have some time to kill. Like sixteen hours.”

  She looked out across the vast emptiness of the planet far below and suddenly felt very tired. The sun was dipping toward the horizon, if it could be called a sun at all. The closer it got to going down, the bluer it became.

  “It’s beautiful.”

  Piper floated her air chair to the deck again, and Rocket came over, laying his head in her lap.

  “STEAM 6000 here,” a voice crackled into the Cloud Cat. “Status update?”

  Piper didn’t know what else to say, so she told the truth. She always did.

  “I’ve lost contact with the extraction team. What should I do?”

  A pause, but only briefly. “Dash knows what he’s doing. He will be fine.”

  “Should we try to hail Shawn or ask Chris what he thinks?”

  Another pause, longer this time.

  “I have just tried Earth four thousand seven hundred and twelve times. We’re not getting through.”

  “What about Chris?”

  “I’m afraid he’s otherwise occupied. He’s in the middle of a recalibration of TULIP’s processors. It’s delicate work that requires his complete concentration. If he stops, he’ll have to start over. That would be ill advised.”

  “Okay…if you say so.”

 
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