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Omega rising, p.6
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       Omega Rising, p.6

           Patrick Carman
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“Like we don’t have enough problems already!” Gabriel moaned.

  “Are they firing on the Thermites?” Dash wondered out loud.

  “I’d say it’s a little late for that,” Gabriel pondered as he looked down. “The water’s cresting the deck. We’re about to be Thermite food!”

  “Wait,” Carly said. She was watching the cannonball as it approached. “It’s not shooting cannons. It’s something…else?”

  All eyes turned to the ball flying through the air. A long string followed it, stretching thinner and thinner like a rubber band. The ball itself was getting smaller and smaller.

  “This is so weird,” Gabriel said. “Maybe we’re still sleeping and this is some kind of fever dream.”

  They kept watching as Thermites gorged on the ship below.

  By the time the ball reached the upper section of the mainmast, far above Carly’s head, it was the size of a Ping-Pong ball. The rest of the ball had apparently unwound—a long, stretchy string a hundred yards in length holding it to another ship.

  One of the AquaGens reached out his palm and the Ping-Pong–sized ball popped like a bubble with a loud slapping sound. What was left of the ball encircled the AquaGen’s hand.

  And then, as if by some trick of magic, the AquaGen was flying.

  “They have the coolest toys in outer space,” Carly said with wonder in her voice.

  “Man, none of my friends back home are going to believe this,” Gabriel added.

  “As if you have friends back home,” Carly retorted, making Gabriel laugh.

  Watching someone fly across the sky on a superhuman rubber band while the ship you were standing on was being devoured? It was something the Alpha team would never be able to fully explain if they ever made it home. It was inspiring and terrifying all at once.

  They watched as the AquaGen flew up and over the ship, landing in Thermite-free water by the ships in the distance.

  “That looked like a potentially painful landing,” Gabriel said. “But I’m totally up for it. This is going to be like getting shot from a cannon!”

  The balls kept coming, fast and furious, as the ship kept sinking. Every time someone launched off the ship, the Voyagers moved farther up the mainmast. And it was a good thing too, because the only pieces left of the ship were the masts. Everything else had been eaten or sunk below the water line.

  When only the captain of the ship and the Alpha team remained, the captain called to Dash and his team in a watery voice. The translator was working again now that there weren’t so many AquaGens yelling.

  “I’ll be the last to go,” the captain said. “Just put your hand out. They’ll shoot right for you.”

  Dash liked this leader more and more. It knew when it was time to fight and time to run. It had made sure the entire crew was safe before personally trying to escape the danger. And it was going to make sure Dash and his friends, total strangers who had inadvertently lured the AquaGens into a school of Thermites, were safe.

  Dash looked up at his crew. “Carly, you next. Then Gabriel.”

  Carly took a deep breath and tentatively put out her hand as the ship suddenly began to sink much faster. If a Thermite chewed through the two remaining masts, it would be the end of the Alpha team.

  Dash heard the loud pop overhead and watched as Carly flew out into the open air. She sailed over the distant ship, slowed on the other side, and crashed into water he could not see. He hoped she was okay.

  “Now you, Gabriel,” Dash said, feeling the mast he was on wobble. “Fast!”

  “What if it hits me in the face?” Gabriel said.

  Dash tried to imagine Gabriel being pulled off the ship’s mast by his face, and for some reason, he cracked a smile and shook his head.

  “You won’t be laughing at my funeral,” Gabriel said, and then his outstretched hand produced a giant high-five slap sound and his eyes went wide with fear. A second later, he was pulled out over the water, flying like Peter Pan, screaming and laughing.

  Across the way, the foremast leaned precariously toward Dash. It was snapping in two, and the AquaGen captain leapt into the air, landing beside Dash. The translator was with Carly, so Dash wouldn’t be able to understand the captain even if he tried.

  The mast they stood on began to tip into the water, and Dash looked down, a bad idea. Thermites were whipping the water into a froth of angry teeth. He wouldn’t last ten seconds down there.

  When Dash looked back at the captain, he was astonished to see that the face covering had been removed. Dash was pretty sure she was a female. She was definitely a strangely kind-looking alien with nearly translucent, extraordinarily white skin. Her face was the same size as an adult human, but her features were very different. Her eyes were twice as big as Dash’s and as blue as the sea, domed by long white lashes. Her lips were blue. And long, dark hair fell against high cheekbones.

  She smiled and nodded in a reassuring way, and then said something he could not understand. She put out a hand toward his and encircled her fingers around his wrist. Her grip was like iron, strong and sure.

  The AquaGen captain dove into the open air and dragged Dash with her as the mast tipped over into the water below. Dash saw the boiling water rise up closer and closer until they were only a few feet away from total disaster. It would come down to this: death on a watery planet, eaten by a sea of alien creatures. At least it would be fast, Dash thought.

  He heard but did not see the familiar slap of the ball against skin and felt himself being whisked away on the wind with the force of a gunshot. Dash’s legs touched the water, and the slimy tentacle of a Thermite grabbed hold of his shoe. It wrapped quickly around, but Dash was faster still. He kicked hard as they flew, knocking the beast free before it could dig in with its sharp teeth.

  As they flew up and over the awaiting ship, Dash looked once more at the captain. They caught eyes for only a moment, and Dash noticed her pale white skin was turning red. She pulled the protective covering over her face and head moments before they hit the water together on the other side.

  Their hands separated with the impact, and Dash felt the shock of icy cold on his skin. When he came up for air, bobbing on the water, he saw the two people he most wanted to see in all the world.

  “Best ride in the history of rides!” Gabriel howled. “Walt Disney’s got nothing on the AquaGen Sling-O-matic!”

  Carly just smiled, happy to see her team safe and sound.

  They were effortlessly pulled up the side of the ship, where one of the crew members sliced their hands free of the sticky material. The crew on the new ship was covered in the same fabric, and the captain was already busy giving orders. Most of the AquaGens from the previous ship gathered in the middle, but some of them stayed up in the masts and unfurled sails into the sky overhead. There were so many sails Dash couldn’t count them all, spread out across four masts that rose into the morning sky.

  “She must be the captain of an entire armada of ships, not just one,” Dash observed.

  “She?” Gabriel asked.

  Dash nodded. “She showed me her face. Pretty sure she’s a she.”

  “Was it, you know, gross?” Gabriel asked. “I can only imagine if they talk like a fish they must look like one too.”

  Dash smiled and shook his head. “Very different looking, but really cool.”

  “Well, I’m just glad the leader of an entire AquaGen fleet chose to keep us safe,” Carly said. “She must like us at least a little; otherwise she would have left us all to die on that thing.”

  They turned to the rail and stared out into the distance as the tallest masts of the ship they’d just been on disappeared. The water boiled with Thermites, their gruesome limbs flailing and slapping against the surface of the water. It was hard to watch, especially for Dash.

  “She just lost one of her ships,” Dash said.

  “And saved us,” Gabriel reminded him.

  They watched as the water became less and less disturbed. The Thermites were under the surface
now, tearing the vessel apart as it sank to the bottom of the sea.

  Where once there was a commanding AquaGen ship, only a few bubbles remained.

  Gabriel stared out into the sea and felt terrible for what had happened. He closed his eyes and hung his head. When he opened his eyes again, he was the first to see that their problems were only just beginning.

  “Hey, you guys,” Gabriel said. “Who do you suppose that is?”

  Dash and Carly followed Gabriel’s stare. A man clad in red armor from head to toe was climbing out of the water, up the side of the ship. He looked almost robotic, with a face shielded by mirrored glass and red plates of metal covering his arms, torso, and legs. Metal spikes extended from his armored fingers and feet, and he slammed them into the hull as he continued his ascent. Water dripped from the intruder as he moved slowly and methodically closer.

  “This can’t be a good thing,” Carly said, turning her attention farther down the side of the ship. “Look there.”

  She pointed to the right, where three more armored men appeared out of the water and began climbing the AquaGen hull.

  “This ship is being boarded,” Gabriel said as he glanced back and forth between the advancing intruders. He opened his mouth to signal the alarm, but an AquaGen voice boomed from the translator before the words formed on his lips.


  Morning broke on the Cloud Leopard as STEAM 6000 cycled through a list of details stored in his memory banks. His inner clock told him that Chris still needed an additional nine hours to complete his work on the slogger TULIP. If STEAM interrupted him now, Chris would need to start the whole process over. It would set them back an entire day. And even one day could adversely affect the health of their team leader, Dash Conroy. There was also the very real risk that TULIP could begin leaking, which would effectively end the mission, as alien lava could cut a hole in the ship.

  STEAM calculated every outcome of every decision, including his possible decommissioning for having made a catastrophic blunder, and decided to do nothing.

  The best STEAM could do was make contact with the Cloud Cat and see if Piper had a status update.

  Why is the extraction taking so long? What’s happening down there?

  But STEAM was interrupted by a signal from Earth before he could complete this task.

  It was Shawn Phillips, who had finally gotten through. The connection was choppy at best, but STEAM had astonishing language skills, which it used to fill in the dead air and hear the communication as if it were seamless.

  “This is Commander Phillips, do you read me?”

  The Commander’s voice was raspy, as if he’d said those very words a thousand times in a row over the past several hours.

  “Connection secure,” STEAM 6000 said. “How may I be of service, sir?”

  “STEAM! I’ve been trying to reach you since your scheduled exit from Gamma Speed. Quickly update me in case we’re cut off.”

  STEAM took the next several milliseconds to calculate his answer.

  “Extraction of the element Pollen Slither is under way. Chris is conducting important recalibration work on the element housing TULIP.”

  “Excellent news, STEAM! Well done.”

  “Thank you, sir.”

  “How is Dash holding up? And the rest of the team, any problems?”

  “I am not aware of any problems, no sir! All is well.”

  “I seem to have lost the log-file connection. Could you double-check that for me? I haven’t seen a ship’s log from Dash in quite some time.”

  “I would be very happy to look into that for you, yes sir.”

  “Good. And the other team, you didn’t lose them, did you? As you know, if they were to get separated from you it would be a catastrophe.”

  “The Light Blade is with us, sir.”

  There was a longer pause in the connection, and STEAM checked to see if the feed had been lost.

  “Sir? Are you there?”

  “Yes, I’m here. I didn’t expect it to be so difficult, overseeing all of this from so far away.”

  “We all wish you were here, but I must tell you: the Voyagers you’ve chosen are getting the job done. You chose correctly, yes sir.”

  “Thank you, STEAM. Don’t forget to get those log files coming again.”

  “Right away, sir,” STEAM replied.

  “Signing off, then, for now.”

  STEAM 6000 moved to the appropriate part of the deck and began working on the broken protocol for sending Dash’s log files back to Earth. He was a contented robot, having something important to do, and he neglected to call Piper as he began sifting through millions of lines of computer code.


  Siena moved down one of the Light Blade hallways in the direction of the SUMI training center. It was there that she would find Anna Turner, conducting additional training in the use of AquaGen submarine technology. On the way, she had a pang of regret about the information she was about to share. She stopped at one of the many transportation tubes in the ship, tapped out a flight path, and threw herself into the wind tunnel. A few exciting twists and turns later, she was deposited in the library and research lab, housed directly across from SUMI’s training center.

  She looked both ways down the long corridor and quickly stepped into what passed for a “library” on the ship. She had hoped to find Niko there. Niko loved books—even if there were only a few shabby copies on board. He had told her once, “There’s something special about a real book that makes me want to open it.” Siena wasn’t sure she agreed—she liked her textbooks, sure. But she also liked the immediacy of a computer screen, and the certainty that information was up to date, 100 percent accurate. Besides, “real” books could be read on screens too.

  “Can I ask you something?” Siena asked. She had found Niko sitting in a straight-backed chair, hunched over a worn paperback.

  To Siena, he had always seemed more boyish than his age—perhaps because he was shorter than the rest of them—while at the same time more mature than he should be. It was a confusing combination that sometimes set him apart from the others. He was at once old and young.

  “Do you need me on the bridge?” Niko asked, looking up. “I was just taking a short break.”

  He held up a book and showed its cover, which contained a picture of a blue dragon, and smiled bashfully as if he was really too old for a story about such things.

  “I wonder if we’ll see dragons before we go home,” Siena mused, softening from her usual no-nonsense attitude. “Who knows out here, right?”

  “I hope so,” Niko replied.

  Siena glanced back at the door and brought her voice down to a whisper. Who knew if Colin or SUMI were nearby? Maybe they had superhuman hearing.

  “I have it,” Siena said in a voice full of uncertainty.

  Niko knew what Siena was talking about. “And you’re not sure you should give it to Anna? I see your problem.”

  “I’ve been thinking about it all night. I mean, it’s not technically cheating to steal the coordinates from Alpha so we can get to the element first. It’s not like we’re in school or playing a game. We’re trying to save the world.”

  Niko closed his eyes and went into one of his “moments.” Siena thought of them as micro-meditation sessions. One deep breath, a calm face, and Niko’s eyes opened again.

  “Anna is our captain,” Niko said. “I don’t think we stand much of a chance of getting home if there’s a mutiny on the ship. For better or worse, she’s in charge and we chose to follow her out here.”

  “So you think I should give her the coordinates, then?”

  Niko touched the spine of his book, ran a finger along the edge.

  “She’s not perfect, Siena. But she’s a good captain. She knows what she’s doing. It’s our job to fall in line with her and do as she says. But there’s a line. You know what I mean?”

  Siena nodded. This was also very Niko-like. He wouldn’t answer a question you needed to answer for y
ourself. “I need to decide how far I’m willing to go, right? It’s my choice.”

  “It’s the same for me and Ravi. We’re a team, but we are still individuals. Has Anna crossed a line you can’t follow?”

  Siena thought of the dangerous game Anna had played on Aqua Gen and the questionable order to hack into the Alpha system.

  “I don’t think she would intentionally try to hurt anyone,” Siena had to admit. “And gathering Alpha data is a strategy that’s working for us. If they were smarter, they would have blocked our attempt to access their database. They didn’t, and that makes me wonder whether or not they’ll be able to complete the mission on their own. But I do think Anna is reckless, and that scares me.”

  “And her bedside manner is a train wreck,” Niko added.

  Siena laughed. “If I ever get really sick, I’d rather have Voldemort as my doctor than Anna Turner.”

  Now they were both laughing.

  “I think I have my answer,” Siena said. “Thanks, Niko. I owe you one.”

  Niko nodded and went back to reading his book. He knew it wouldn’t be long before the Omega ship would be a blur of activity, getting ready to retrieve the third of six elements to make the Source. Better get in a few more pages of dragon wars while the getting was good.


  Colin was in the inner workings of the Light Blade with a thousand ZRKs flying around him. Miles of wires and tubes ran between beams of titanium and various motorized parts. It was a complete jumble of machinery, like someone had opened a giant door and flung loads of electronic junk into the innards of the ship. He was firing off commands left and right, sending teams of up to a hundred ZRKs in different directions. They sped away, organized and purposeful.

  In here, Colin could safely scream if he wanted to and no one would hear him. He’d certainly done it before. Today, though, he had a lot on his mind.

  Colin talked to himself as he worked, a weird habit he’d had for as long as he could remember. He could talk to himself for hours on end.

  “Anna Turner this and Anna Turner that. What does he see in her? I’m a hundred times smarter than she is.”

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