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Omega rising, p.7
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       Omega Rising, p.7

           Patrick Carman
 
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  Colin sat wedged between two crossbeams, holding a hammer, which he proceeded to slam against a titanium rivet. A pinging echo filled the space, and ZRKs responded with yips and yaps, turning in his direction.

  “Go back to work!” Colin yelled.

  He resented the ZRKs because they were invented by Chris. Everything was invented by Chris. It drove Colin half mad with rage to think of all the things Chris had made. And it made him most upset of all that he himself was really just a copy of the alien. For Colin, Chris was the beginning and end of everything.

  “Just once I’d like to make something of my own,” he muttered.

  He held the hammer up and thought about hitting it against the ship again, but the ZRKs were already behind schedule, and he knew it would set them off. He lowered the hammer and looked around the vastness of the ship, shaking his head.

  “If the Omega team knew how unstable this ship was, I wonder what they’d do.”

  Colin smiled at that idea. The Light Blade was barely operational half the time. He and hundreds of thousands of ZRKs had built it in record time because they’d had to. But that had meant cutting a lot of corners.

  “They couldn’t handle the truth,” he realized. “If they knew everything I did, they’d all curl up and hide under their beds. Including the unbearable Anna Turner.”

  Colin couldn’t stand how Anna got between him and Ike. He had long since vowed to find a way into the captain’s chair.

  “If she was out of the way, he would have to make me captain. What else could he do? Ravi and Siena couldn’t lead a kid to a toy store. And Niko? Please. He’s practically useless. There’s nothing this crew can do that I can’t do better.”

  Sparks began to fly off to his left, and a bundle of cords broke free from their connection. The wires snaked around the open air shooting electrical charges. One of the ZRKs got caught in the line of fire and ricocheted across the space, bouncing around like a pinball.

  Colin opened a panel with a rusty squeak and tapped a few keys inside. The bundle of wire collapsed like a fire hose running out of water and a dozen ZRKs surrounded it.

  “Put it back where it belongs, and then I’ll turn it on again,” Colin said, rolling his eyes. “You guys break more things than you fix.”

  He knew this wasn’t true. Without the ZRKs, the Light Blade didn’t stand a chance. But he didn’t care.

  Colin fantasized about Ike seeing all the amazing things Colin could do if he ran the mission. He thought of how little Ike appreciated him.

  “How wrong you are about me, Ike Philips. How very wrong.”

  The AquaGens were in a state of total panic as the first of the pirates reached the rails and leapt onto the deck of the ship. AquaGens were about the same size as humans, but these pirates were something altogether different. Each of them stood between seven and eight feet tall, and with all that red armor, they looked like huge gladiators from the future.

  “Still think this is an in-and-out mission?” Carly asked.

  “Don’t panic,” Dash said. “Let’s let this play out.”

  “It’s not like we can go anywhere,” Gabriel added as he nodded toward the water below. Dash hadn’t noticed it in all the commotion, but the wind had really picked up. Angry whitecaps had appeared on the surface of Aqua Gen, rolling the ship in big, sweeping movements.

  A total of eight pirates had boarded the ship from different locations, and their massive forms were moving slowly toward the center of the deck.

  “What are they saying?” Dash asked.

  The pirates were speaking another language than the AquaGens’. It was low and gravelly, full of menace.

  Carly fumbled with the translator and almost dropped it as the ship pitched sideways. “I can’t lock in on two languages at once. If I try to find a match for these pirates, we’ll lose communication with the AquaGens.”

  “Let’s make sure we don’t lose the translator completely,” Dash said. As bad as things were going, he could imagine the translator flying out of Carly’s hand and landing in the water. “Hide it before one of them sees it.”

  Carly nodded and put the translator back in her pocket.

  The captain moved in close behind them and spoke. Her face was covered again like everyone else, and the silver band of steel-like substance encircled her head.

  “They won’t harm us,” she said. “All they want is our treasure. If we let them take it, they’ll leave us all alone.”

  Carly was furious. “Why should these bullies be able to take whatever they want, whenever they want?”

  Gabriel agreed, but he was also thinking about how cool red pirates were, even if they were bad guys. He looked at them again. “Uh, maybe because these red pirates are eight feet tall and covered in armor?”

  Carly rolled her eyes.

  “Stay close to me so they put us in the same holding area,” said the captain.

  “Holding area?” Carly asked. “If this is going to be another Thermite adventure, count me out. I’ll stay up here.”

  “We’re on the move for that very reason,” the captain said. “To save the ship from the Thermites. Please trust me. Your best chance of survival is to stay with me.”

  The captain moved off and looked back at the Voyagers. She waved at them to follow. A whispered conversation took place between the captain and another sailor enveloped in blue, and then she was moving again.

  “Whoa!” Carly cried. The ship had been moving in a straight line, but it turned hard and Carly’s feet went out from under her. She tumbled across the deck and crashed into a sideboard. The same would have happened to Dash and Gabriel, but they’d been lucky enough to grab a railing fast.

  “We were almost a couple of bowling pins,” Gabriel said.

  One of the red pirates moved fluidly across the deck as if the boat wasn’t turning sharply at all. It picked up Carly by the shoulders and pulled her back onto her feet, then it grunted something and stared down at her through mirrored glass.

  “Hey, leave my friend alone!” Gabriel shouted.

  The AquaGen captain put a hand across Gabriel’s chest. “Don’t provoke them. You won’t like where that leads.”

  The red pirate marched toward the captain, pushing Carly forward. When it arrived at the rest of the group, it spoke in its weird, low voice. The captain responded in a quieter tone that was hard to hear over the crashing waves.

  “They understand each other,” Carly said with surprise.

  Dash hoped they were saying something along the lines of Let these three kids go back to where they came from, but somehow he doubted it.

  The captain and the red pirate spoke for a long time before the pirate reached for the captain’s teardrop-shaped bag, yanking it from her belt. Furious, the captain spouted an angry string of sounds in the pirate’s language. The pirate replied calmly, like it was negotiating some sort of peace treaty. The AquaGen captain glared at the pirate but remained silent. Finally, she turned to Dash, Carly, and Gabriel.

  “Follow,” the captain said.

  Gabriel looked across the deck of the ship and saw that some of the AquaGens were being allowed to steer the ship, while others were being herded down into the hull by red pirates. The captain moved forward, then Dash, Carly, and Gabriel followed by the looming red pirate. Dash took Carly’s free hand, and Gabriel took Dash’s. They stumbled along and came upon a set of stairs leading down. When they arrived at the bottom, there was a narrow shoot of a hallway lined with doors. The red pirate had to turn its massive shoulders sideways and duck its head in order to enter. The captain came to a door and opened it, then stepped aside to let the Voyagers in. They found beds lined three high on both sides. The captain stepped in last, and then a giant red pirate hand pulled the door shut. Gabriel heard other doors shutting from outside as well.

  “Obviously they’re putting a lot of us down here in rooms to keep us from trying to escape,” Dash said.

  The captain nodded.

  “The red pirate who
brought us here will stay in the hallway and make sure we don’t try anything. We’ve been through this before.”

  “How often?” Carly asked. She felt terrible for the AquaGens. Did they have to deal with an aggressor like this all the time?

  “This is the third time they’ve boarded one of my ships,” the captain said. “When we’re clear of the Thermite danger, they’ll take our sails and go.”

  “But why do they want the sails?” Carly asked. It all seemed so pointless to her.

  “The sails are made of Pollen Slither, and they are very large. They are the most valuable things on the ship.”

  The boat jostled back and forth, and Gabriel accidentally bumped into Dash, who fell into Carly. All three of them almost ended up on their butts.

  “The ship moves very quickly,” the captain said. “Stay seated or hold on to something when you stand up.”

  The Voyagers spilled into the nearest bed and sat together.

  “How fast does this thing go?” Gabriel asked. He was keenly interested in the navigational power of alien modes of transportation.

  “In this kind of wind? We should exceed a hundred and thirty knots,” the captain replied.

  “What’s the conversion on that, Gabriel?” Carly asked.

  Gabriel shook his head in disbelief. “That’s a hundred and fifty miles per hour. We’ve never seen a sailboat travel more than sixty miles per hour on Earth. This ship is awesome.”

  Dash had been quiet, thinking about everything they’d seen and experienced so far. Now he turned to the captain and said quietly, “Everything is Pollen Slither, isn’t it? The clothes you’re wearing, that stretchy material that saved us back there, and the sails. It’s all Pollen Slither.”

  The captain nodded. She held out a piece of fabric from her robes and let them touch it. The material felt like running a hand over water.

  “This is the treasure of our planet. In its pure form, it resides at the bottom of the sea behind mountains of stone. We are able to capture pure Pollen Slither that leaks from underwater mountains and create the things we need to survive here. It is everything to us. It is why you are in grave danger.”

  “What do you mean?” Carly asked.

  “The pirates came here long ago, like you have come here now. They don’t know how to harvest Pollen Slither from our sea, so they take it from us.”

  The captain touched the fabric on her face and winced.

  “What’s wrong?” Dash asked.

  The captain paused briefly before she began to gently unwrap the cloth from her face.

  When her veil was lifted, the Voyagers saw a slightly pink face, like a child who had been in the sun too long. Her lips and large, round eyes were a startling blue.

  “Huh, I was picturing a lizard face,” Gabriel whispered out of the corner of his mouth. “But this is better!”

  “She’s amazing,” Carly whispered back.

  Dash was more concerned with the color of her skin, which had changed since he’d seen her face the first time.

  “You’re burned,” he observed. “Is it because you took off your covering out there?”

  The captain removed a small container from somewhere inside the flowing fabric and dabbed her finger into a liquid. She applied it to her pink skin as she spoke.

  “The sun here burns hot, and our skin is different than yours. Pollen Slither will help.”

  She removed a thin blue glove from her hand and reached out toward Carly’s face.

  “Your hand is cold,” Carly said. “Like ice.”

  “Your face is rough,” the captain said gently, touching Carly’s cheek. “Like leather.”

  Gabriel held back a laugh. “Leather face. Nice.”

  “Exposure to the sun for more than a few minutes can kill the AquaGen. It has always been this way. It’s one of the reasons we fear the red pirates. They’re not only bigger than us, their armor protects them from weapons we might use against them. If they wanted to rip our veils off, they could—and have. So we give them what they want, again and again.”

  “I hate bullies,” Gabriel grumbled.

  The captain sighed sadly. She covered her face once more and put her medicine away.

  “I’m a captain too,” Dash said. “Carly and Gabriel here, we’re all on the same crew. And there’s another girl named Piper waiting for us up there, where you can’t see her. She’s a kid too. These people aren’t just my crew; they’re my friends. We’re Voyagers. We’re not here to harm you or take anything from you. We’re trying to save our own planet. All we need is a small amount of pure Pollen Slither. That’s it. I promise, one captain to another, we’ll leave and never come back.”

  The captain looked at each of them in turn.

  “What’s your name?” Carly asked as she touched her own cheek, trying to remember what the coolness of the captain’s hand had felt like.

  “Somselia,” the captain said. “I am from a long line of ship’s captains. Too long to count.”

  “It’s a beautiful name,” Carly said.

  Dash stood, holding on to the rail of the bed for balance. “We need your help, Somselia. Will you please help us?”

  Somselia looked at her own hands, rubbing them together as if she was trying to create heat. They heard the red pirate outside, its giant feet slamming into the floor as it paced back and forth.

  The captain looked at all of them again and spoke: “I don’t know what they will do to you when they finish taking what they came for. But if I can help you, I will.”

  —

  “Are we sure this is a good idea?” Gabriel asked. “We could easily ruin the whole thing and then what will we do?” The Voyagers were still trapped in the belly of an alien ship, bored and more than a little seasick.

  “I can rewire it,” Carly said. “You know I’m good with electronics. Trust me, this is going to work.”

  Gabriel held out his hand and asked to see the translator. Carly handed it over reluctantly.

  “My mom once took apart a phone and tried to put a new screen on it,” Gabriel said. “She was good with electronics too. There were a lot of parts left over when she was done, and we ended up with a really expensive doorstop.”

  Carly looked at Dash. “It’s your call. I’m telling you, Dash. I can do it.”

  Carly understood the risk of destroying the device, but she also figured they might only have a little more time together where they weren’t being watched. They had no other technology to speak of; it had all been taken from them. Their wrist tech had been in Somselia’s teardrop-shaped bag, which had been confiscated by the red pirates. They needed to try something.

  “If we destroy the translator, then we won’t be able to communicate with Somselia,” Gabriel was quick to remind them. “Are we really willing to risk cutting our communication with everyone on Aqua Gen?”

  Dash thought this was a really good point, but he also knew that what Carly was proposing to do might be the only way to save them. He looked at Somselia. “You’re a captain too. What do you think?”

  Somselia paused a moment before answering. “I don’t think these red pirates are going to let you leave here. They don’t know who you are or where you came from. I think Carly is right. I don’t see any other way.”

  “Then I think we should do it,” Dash said. “It might be our only shot at getting off this planet. What do you think, Gabriel?”

  “If I’m the deciding vote, I say no way,” Gabriel said. “It’s too risky.”

  “Sitting here doing nothing is what’s too risky,” Carly shot back. She looked at Dash for support.

  “It’s three against one,” Dash agreed. “We need to trust Carly.”

  Gabriel took one last look at the prized device. “We never got to use the Darth Vader voice setting. It’s a tragedy.”

  “Darth Vader?” Somselia said curiously. “What is Darth Vader?”

  Gabriel cracked a smile and shook his head. “Only the most famous villain in the entire universe!”
>
  Somselia didn’t know what to make of this, but there was no time to explain as Gabriel reluctantly handed over the translator and fell back on the bed. “I don’t feel good about this.”

  “You will,” Carly said confidently.

  During the next half hour, the ship sailed at 150 miles per hour, taking them to places unknown, as Carly took the translator apart piece by piece. The device was equipped with two small tools that slid into cavities built into the casing. One was a wrench with a tiny six-sided star on the end. The other was a set of tweezers on one end and a sharp point on the other. Somewhere in the middle of the process, Gabriel sat up and looked at the work area on the floor. The translator was in about a hundred pieces.

  “I think I’m gonna be sick,” he said, and lay back down.

  Dash watched as Carly examined each of the intricate parts, turning them in her hands and reordering them on the floor.

  “No turning back now,” Dash said. “You can do this, Carly.”

  “I know,” Carly said.

  And then Carly started cobbling together pieces very quickly. Within a few minutes, there were half as many items to use. She worked with complete poise and focus, like a brilliant kid with a complicated Lego model that needed building.

  “There,” she said at length. “It’s finished.”

  “I can’t look,” Gabriel said.

  “Don’t be alarmed when you see it,” Dash said. He’d watched it being built, so the shock wasn’t as severe. Still, it was quite a transformation.

  “What in the—?” Gabriel said when he saw the device. He looked at Dash. “We’re doomed.”

  “Nope, not doomed,” Carly said. “I turned it into a communication device.”

  All the electronic guts of the translator were strung together in a long, jagged line that reached almost from the floor to the ceiling. A few lights blinked here and there along the tracks of components, and wires hung loose like little rubber chicken heads searching for food.

  “This is a disaster,” Gabriel said. “We can’t communicate with somersault lady anymore.”

  “Somselia,” Carly said with a smile.

 
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