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Omega rising, p.8
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       Omega Rising, p.8

           Patrick Carman
 
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  “What?” Gabriel shot back.

  “That’s the captain’s name. Somselia.”

  Gabriel just shook his head. “We’re doomed.”

  Even Dash had to admit he had his doubts, but he wasn’t going to say anything. What good would it do? Either the device would work or it wouldn’t.

  Carly crouched down low next to the base of the contraption and moved a circular dial.

  “What are the coordinates we sent Piper to?” Carly asked confidently.

  Gabriel called out the coordinates. Carly dialed back and forth like the spin lock on a school locker. When she was done, she held two of the dangling wires together and spoke into the tiny mike, which she had removed from its casing.

  “Piper, do you read me? Come in, Piper.”

  They waited for a few seconds and got no reply, but Carly didn’t falter. “Come in, Cloud Cat. Do you read me?”

  Ten seconds later, still nothing.

  “I know this is right!” Carly said. She paced back and forth. “Give me the coordinates for the Cloud Leopard.”

  “It’s not going to matter,” Gabriel said. “You broke it.”

  Carly put her face right up to Gabriel’s. “Give. Me. The. Coordinates.”

  Gabriel’s eyes went wide. He doled out the three numbers that would give Carly the exact location of the Cloud Leopard.

  Carly went right back to work, feverishly working the dial.

  While all of this went on, Somselia sat quietly observing. Now and then she would say something in her gurgle-filled voice, but the Voyagers couldn’t understand what she was saying.

  “You guys, I think the ship is slowing down,” Dash said.

  They all felt it. The ship was coming to its destination, wherever that was.

  “STEAM 6000, do you read me? Come in, STEAM,” Carly said.

  Again, dead air. Nothing.

  Carly ran her hands over every part of the five-foot-tall mess of wires, circuit boards, and random parts.

  “STEAM, please,” Carly said on the verge of tears. “Come in.”

  Dash felt terrible for Carly. “It’s okay, Carly. I made the call. This was my mistake.”

  “It wasn’t a mistake!” Carly snapped. She sat down on the bunk next to Gabriel and stared at the crazy device she’d built. It looked like a Rube Goldberg puzzle gone terribly wrong. She covered her face in disappointment. “I want to go home.”

  “You know what,” Dash said as he felt the ship lurch to a stop. “I believe in you. And we’re going to get through this. Failure is not an option.”

  Carly’s brow furrowed. “Failure is not an option,” she repeated.

  “Yeah,” Gabriel said, feeling bad for doubting Carly. “What you guys said. We’ll figure something out.”

  Then they heard a familiar tinny voice, far away and small, but very real.

  “STEAM 6000, receiving your message,” STEAM said. “What do you need?”

  Somselia’s eyes went wide.

  Carly scrambled down onto the floor. With shaking hands, she held the wires together and spoke. “STEAM! Can you hear me?”

  “I have already confirmed,” STEAM said. “Yes, I can hear you.”

  Dash and Gabriel got down on their knees on either side of Carly.

  “Ask him if he can calculate our location,” Dash said frantically.

  Carly asked, her voice cracking with excitement.

  “Of course I can,” STEAM said.

  Dash heard heavy footsteps approaching, followed by low red pirate voices outside the door. A second red pirate had made its way down into the hull of the ship.

  Carly went on: “STEAM, we need you to track this device location. Call the Cloud Cat back to the main ship remotely. Then get down here and retrieve us! But listen, STEAM, be careful. These AquaGens are touchy about visitors. Got it?”

  “I understand completely, yes sir!” STEAM said. “Initiating Mother Hen directive pronto.”

  “Weird robot,” Gabriel said.

  The voices outside the door sounded like they were arguing, but no one could be sure.

  “Which part is the GPS?” Dash asked.

  Carly reached into the glob of technology with the star screwdriver. In seconds, she had removed a component no bigger than her thumbnail.

  “This is it,” Carly said. “But you’ll need some power.”

  She dug back in while Dash and Gabriel looked on in wonder.

  “You really are a master tech-tinkering genius,” Gabriel said.

  Carly didn’t look up when she answered. “I know.”

  She pulled out a red wire attached to something that looked like a magnet. It was about the size of a quarter. Dash held the GPS out toward her, and she attached the wire.

  “There,” she said. “That should stay charged for long enough. And STEAM can track it wherever we go.”

  “You are awesome, Carly!” Dash said.

  “Never doubted you for a minute,” Gabriel added. Dash leveled him with a stare cold enough to freeze a Wookiee, and Gabriel smiled.

  Carly nodded appreciatively, but it only lasted a fraction of a second. The boat tilted hard to one side, sending all three of them diving for the bunk beds.

  “What’s going on out there?” Carly asked.

  The latch on the door was moving. Someone was coming in.

  “I think we’re about to find out,” Gabriel said.

  Dash looked at Somselia and hoped she understood. “We’re going to be okay. You’ll see.”

  As the door opened and two giant red pirates strode in, something was rattling inside Dash’s head that wouldn’t stop bothering him. The communication device had worked. They’d been able to reach STEAM on the Cloud Leopard just fine, and it was farther away than the Cloud Cat.

  So where was Piper?

  The bridge of the Cloud Cat was empty. Other than a few beeps and the swishing of the wind battering the exterior, there were no sounds at all. No Rocket, no Piper. The ship was not stationed high overhead, hidden from the view of Aqua Gen as the rest of the crew thought. Piper had moved it much closer to the surface. In fact, the Cloud Cat was hovering only twenty feet off the water, holding its position above a very specific location.

  Farther back in the small ship, where the bay doors had opened and deployed the crew a day earlier, Piper’s air chair was floating around in a circle.

  The air chair was empty.

  And the sleek two-man submarine that could travel twenty thousand feet under the sea of an alien planet was gone.

  —

  The ship rocked hard again in the direction of the door, and all three Voyagers tumbled out of the bunk. They hit the floor and crashed right over the cobbled together communication tower, breaking it into pieces.

  One of the red pirates tried to push its way through the door, but it was too wide. Instead it swung one arm, putting a metal-clad fist through the wall like it was made of paper. A few more swings and the red pirate had opened a big enough space to walk into the room. It crouched down and examined the broken mechanical parts on the floor, then stared bullets at Somselia. The red pirate howled loudly and put a finger right up in Somselia’s face.

  “I think it’s a little upset,” Gabriel said. “Maybe it thinks we made a communication device so we can try to escape.”

  “That’s exactly what we did!” Carly said.

  “Guys, stay calm,” Dash advised. “Freaking out isn’t going to do us any good against these guys.”

  Somselia put her hands up and seemed to be trying to calm the red pirate down, but it wasn’t doing any good. It pushed her forward, out of the room and into the hall. The red pirate motioned for the Voyagers to do the same.

  “I hope STEAM knows what he’s doing,” Gabriel said as they filed out of the room.

  All the AquaGens were pouring out of the holding cells, ushered back to the upper deck by colossal red pirates. As one of the AquaGens passed Somselia, Dash noticed that he discreetly handed her something. But what was it?
<
br />   The AquaGens moved like liquid, sliding their bodies back and forth as if they were made of water as the ship rocked wildly. When Dash looked up, they were talking in their gargle-and-squeak voices again.

  “This isn’t feeling right,” Dash said to his crew. “We should be prepared to make a run for it.”

  “Dash, I hate to break this to you, but we’re on a boat,” Carly said. “There’s no place to run.”

  Dash filed in right behind Somselia. He could hear her trying to communicate with him in a garbled whisper.

  “I can’t understand you,” he whispered, shaking his head and pointing to his ear. He wished there had been a way to communicate with STEAM and keep the translator in one piece, but they couldn’t have had both.

  As they walked up the steep set of wooden stairs, the ship rocked them hard into the narrow walls. Dash felt something pressed into his hand and looked back again at Somselia. It was dark in the rising passage of stairs and he couldn’t see what it was, but he held on to it until the door was flung open above and light poured in.

  As soon as he saw what Somselia had given him, Dash tapped Carly on the shoulder and handed her two of the three MTBs. She handed one to Gabriel, and in seconds, they had all slid them back on their forearms like fingerless gloves. And just like that, they were back in business!

  Suddenly, Somselia was yelling something at the red pirates. They argued back and forth as water began to flow down the stairs and rain pelted the Voyagers from the opening.

  “This is some storm,” Carly said.

  “Yeah,” Gabriel agreed.

  Dash was only half listening. From his location farther down on the stairs, he could see enough to work the pad on his wrist tech. He was feverishly typing, sending an all-important message to STEAM.

  I need translator software now!

  Dash pushed Gabriel and Carly in front of him so he’d have a little more time. The captain pulled Gabriel through the door, and he disappeared into the haze of the storm. Carly next. Dash was just a few steps down into the hull. He only had one chance. A few seconds and it would be gone.

  Come on, STEAM!

  The MTBs weren’t equipped to do high-end translating, but STEAM was. If he could keep STEAM on the line…

  “There! I have it,” Dash said. He tapped out a rapid-fire command and turned to Somselia. “I can understand you again. What’s happening?”

  STEAM was listening in, prepared to translate both sides of the conversation. Dash held his wrist next to Somselia’s hidden face and pointed to where she needed to speak.

  She spoke, and a few seconds later, STEAM translated.

  “The red pirates are throwing you off the ship,” STEAM said. “She thought she could convince them to change their minds, but she could not. She is sorry.”

  What? Dash thought. But this was no time to panic. His mind went into high gear. He believed Somselia was his ally and he’d have to trust that feeling. He didn’t have much else he could hold on to.

  Except, maybe…

  “STEAM,” Dash said quickly. “Can you upload the translator software to my MTB?”

  “Yes sir,” STEAM said. His voice was small and far away in the MTB speaker. “AquaGen translation module created, tested, and deployed.”

  “Great, thanks,” Dash replied. “Stand by. I think I have an idea….”

  Step one complete. Now Dash could communicate with Somselia on his own again. Time for step two. Dash contacted STEAM once more and gave the robot an order he told no one else about.

  When he reached the deck of the ship, it was total chaos. The Pollen Slither sails had been taken down as the storm whipped water five feet over the bow. The AquaGens took it in stride, as if storms such as these were a common occurrence they simply had to outlast. When waves of water hit them, they simply stood their ground. They seemed to become part of the water itself, merging and melting into it, and then reappearing on the other side.

  The red pirates were stationed all around the deck, and the waves didn’t do anything to even budge them off their feet. They must have weighed five hundred pounds each with all that armor.

  “Dash!” Gabriel yelled. “Over here!”

  Gabriel and Carly were standing on the far edge of the ship at the bottom of a ladder leading up. The ladder ended at a small platform with a pole sticking up the middle. It appeared to be attached to a plank that could be pushed out over the surface of the water. Dash ran to his friends. Lashed by sideways rain and whipping wind, he was knocked off his feet and rolled down the deck. Two red pirates picked him up, one at each arm, and hauled him to where Gabriel and Carly were standing.

  “What are we going to do?” Gabriel asked, water running down his face in tracks as he threw his hand through his wet hair. He looked pleadingly at Dash, his friend and his captain.

  A group of pirates, all in red metal armor and mirrored-glass helmets, surrounded the Alpha team. They pointed to the ladder leading to the platform as a wall of water rose up and crashed over the bow, slamming down on the ship. The Voyagers held on to the ladder for dear life, and when they looked up, Somselia was standing next to them.

  “Please,” she called out to the pirates.

  Dash grabbed the AquaGen captain’s arm. “Tell these bullies to leave and never attack another AquaGen ship again! Tell them that you have terrible and powerful allies!” he pleaded. “Tell them they’ll be sorry!”

  Somselia looked confused, but she turned to the group of red pirates and delivered Dash’s message nevertheless. All three of the red pirates standing there began to shake and howl. Then they turned and bellowed something to the rest of the pirates, and they were all shaking and howling.

  “I think they’re laughing at you, bro,” Gabriel said. “Bummer.”

  But Dash didn’t mind. He looked at his best friend. “They won’t be laughing for long.”

  The red pirates stopped roaring and pushed Dash, Carly, and Gabriel up the ladder. To their surprise, Somselia followed them onto the platform.

  As soon as all four of them were on the round platform, it began to move out over the water. They held on to the pole for dear life as they were transported away from the ship by a plank that extended ten feet.

  Out over the water, the storm was a swirling, raging monster. Water twisted and rose up in ways the Voyagers had never seen before. It was beyond wild, like they were trapped inside a blender set to churn a chocolate milk shake.

  “Dash!” Gabriel yelled. “I have bad news!”

  “I know, Gabriel,” Dash said. “We’re all gonna die. Not the best time for a joke buddy.”

  “No! I mean it!” Gabriel said. He was pointing out into the haze of the storm as lightning flashed and thunder roared across the face of the ship.

  It was difficult to see at first, a smear of darkness moving toward them, but in the lightning crash, Dash saw it too: a sleek ship, modern and curved, with rows of teeth painted across its front. “The enemy approaches!” Dash’s MTB translated. “They have come to retrieve their shipmates. And their Pollen Slither.”

  “Zombie pirates!” Gabriel shouted into the wind. “This is now officially the worst and most awesome thing ever!”

  Dash watched as the pirate vessel came closer, the painted teeth each as tall as he was. They looked like a mouth ready to eat the ship whole. Or slam into it.

  “It’s going to hit us!” Dash yelled.

  Dash had his arm wrapped around the pole at the elbow, feverishly working on his wrist tech. He looked at Somselia, touching her on the arm to get her attention.

  “I know the universe seems like a bad place,” Dash said. “But we’re not like them. Let me help you.”

  After a moment, Somselia nodded slowly. “If you can help, the time is now.”

  Dash tapped a final command into his wrist tech and spoke.

  “STEAM?”

  “I’m almost there, sir,” STEAM answered. Normally the Cloud Leopard would be a full fifteen minutes from the surface of Aqua Gen,
but STEAM was pushing the ship much faster than an everyday rendezvous. The ship had gone the distance in half that.

  “Hurry!” Dash yelled.

  And then he saw it. The Cloud Leopard. Dash had completely forgotten what a colossus the Cloud Leopard was from the outside. And the way STEAM came in—hotter than hot—their ship blew everyone’s mind right out of the water. It nosed down from the sky, breaking through the clouds and cutting sharply. A black shadow descended over the AquaGen ship as the Cloud Leopard slowed to a complete stop. Overhead, the hull of the ship was like a football field of mechanical awesomeness, miles of metal built into one gargantuan machine.

  “If I didn’t know better,” Gabriel said, “I’d be scared out of my pants right now.”

  “Move in slow,” Dash said into his wrist tech. “Let them know what they’re dealing with.”

  The ship’s nose tilted downward, and the Cloud Leopard inched forward. Dash could feel the power of the motors in the bottom of his gut. Like a thundering backbeat on the loudest bass ever played, it shook the teeth inside his head.

  The rain was blocked overhead, so they could watch everything clearly from their perch on the small platform. STEAM brought the ship closer, directly over the pirate vessel.

  As the Cloud Leopard descended, it quickly became clear that it was at least thirty times the size of the pirate ship. The red pirates on the AquaGen ship weren’t quite so emboldened as they had been. A few of them jumped into the sea and began swimming for their own ship. Some stood their ground, staring up at the Cloud Leopard.

  “Twelve seconds to impact,” STEAM said.

  “Hold,” Dash ordered. He looked at Somselia. “What do you want me to do?”

  Somselia gazed at the pirate ship and Dash wondered about all that she’d been through. How many pirate ships had been used as torpedoes to cut through AquaGen ships like balsa wood? How much of their Pollen Slither had been stolen? How many of her sailors had she lost? It would be understandable if she’d asked Dash to lower the boom on her greedy enemy, but that wasn’t technically an option.

  “We don’t carry large-scale weapons on our ship,” Dash said to Somselia. “Its bark is bigger than its bite.”

 
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