Galactic Unity 2

By: Mark J. Hadley

CHAPTER 9: "Carrier"

Bubbles sat awake abruptly, lifting her head quickly from her pillow and looking around. It was dark in the office where they were sleeping, but she could still see fairly well… the other girls were still slumbering in the bed next to her, and both the professor and Silver were at their own beds, asleep as well. Everything was calm… she slowly lowered her head back down to the pillow, but left her eyes open to look around. I wish I had Octi here, she thought. She didn't like sleeping without her favorite stuffed toy, but it was back on the ship, which they couldn't get to right now.

It's too dangerous to just go back out there and get it, she reminded herself. You'll be okay. Octi's not going anywhere, he'll be there when you get back. She slowly closed her eyes again to try and get back to sleep…

Her eyes flew open again when she heard a faint sound coming from the door, like metal scratching against metal. She sat up quickly again, staring wide-eyed at the door and listening intently. After another moment of silence, she heard a few more clanks, and what sounded like hollow breathing, with a hiss. Someone was definitely at the door. It took her a moment before she recognized that hiss…

The door was forced open, and at the same time, Bubbles let out a loud cry of alert, waking up everyone else in the room. Blossom and Buttercup opened up their eyes fast enough to see the door slamming open, and the outline of a Centraxian in the darkness, its glowing red eyes a dead giveaway to its condition. It let out a much louder hiss now, and pounced into the room, towards the girls' bed. Blossom and Bubbles flew out of the way, but Buttercup, in the center, didn't have a free direction to go. The infected Centraxian pinned her to the bed, pulling back one of its arms and baring its claws. Before it could swing, though, Blossom grabbed the arm and held it back.

Silver and the professor were up by now, and they scrambled back up against the wall. Grabbing the nearest thing at hand, a pillow, Silver held it up protectively in front of him, his blue eyes widened in fear, as he knew full well what would happen if they got to him. The professor, in the meantime, started calling towards the open door, "Help! Help!", but as he did so, he saw two other infected Centraxians clambering to get into the room.

"Bubbles, quick, the door!" Blossom shouted, still holding onto the Centraxian's arm. Bubbles immediately launched into a kick towards the door, slamming into the chest of the first one and knocking it back into the second. Blossom, in the meantime, tugged the arm she was holding and pulled Buttercup free, swinging the Centraxian away from the bed and against the wall with a loud slam, holding it trapped there.

Outside the door, the other two Centraxians were picking themselves up from the ground. Bubbles prepared another attack, but one of them flexed out its wing, bashing her to one side with it in a surprise move. The other one bounded back into the room, and dove for Silver, who raised the pillow up protectively. Its claws slashed into it, but didn't penetrate through to the other side. "Girls!" Silver called out desperately.

Buttercup flew over quickly, grabbing the Centraxian around the neck from behind, "Get away from him, you…!" It reached up and grabbed her head, pulling her free and flinging her up against the wall. Blossom saw this and wanted to help, but it was it was a struggle just to keep the one she had pinned from getting free. In a flash of insight, she pulled it away from the wall and swung it around by the arm, slamming it into the other one as it was swinging for Silver again. The blow knocked out both of the infected Centraxians, landing in a heap next to the professor's bed.

Outside the room, Bubbles was getting back up from where she was knocked, and the last Centraxian was getting ready to pounce on her. Before it could, though, a stun blast came from one side, striking it in the back… it collapsed to the ground, out cold. Jiexela emerged the rest of the way from her own room, gripping the stun rifle in her hands. She frowned a little and said, "That was Aelaxi… she was on internal watch. Is everyone okay?"

"I think so," Bubbles replied, getting up and heading back into their room, "Guys?"

Everyone in the room was staring in shock over at Silver. He was looking down at his arm, which had received a scratch during the fight… it was small and almost unnoticeable, certainly nothing serious, but it still carried a shadowy blackness along its edge. Silver stammered, "I-I…" but before he could manage anything else, the infection spread across his arm, and throughout the rest of his body.

"Silver, NO!!" Buttercup exclaimed. Silver's body was now completely covered in black… his eyes were clenched shut, straining against it. He's infected, Blossom thought… There's nothing we can do now. We have to knock him out, fast, or else he could infect others. He'll be a danger to all the other Centraxians… She started flying towards him, pulling back both of her arms and getting ready to do a double-fisted punch…

"Wait…" Silver grunted, and Blossom stopped in her tracks. There was something different about him… the infection was shifting across his body in an almost cloudlike fashion, small patches of normal, uninfected silver shining through the rest of the black. He strained to open his eyes, which still glowed with a blue light, instead of red like the other infected.

Bubbles edged closer, "Silver? Is it… still you?"

"I… think so…" Silver managed to say. He still looked like he was straining a little, concentrating. "I'm… still in control. This… this hurts a little… though…"

The professor got closer as well, observing him. "Very strange," he remarked, "He's holding it back somehow, but he's still infected." He looked over at Jiexela, who had started entering the room, and said, "Better keep your distance. He may still be a danger to you."

Jiexela nodded. "Agreed. But this is strange… this hasn't happened to any of the others. Nobody has been able to resist the effects before now." Her expression brightened slightly, "If we can discover the cause, perhaps we can find a cure. We must get Silver to the Repository as quickly as possible."

"Right," the professor replied. "We'll need the coordinates."

"I'll make sure you have safe passage back to your ship as well," Jiexela said. She started to reach a hand out to help Silver to his feet, but then stopped and retracted her hand as she remembered that it might not be safe to touch him.

"I got ya, bro," Buttercup said, flying over and hoisting Silver's arm around her shoulder to help him stand up. Silver nodded appreciatively, but he didn't say anything, as he was still concentrating. She asked, "You all right?"

"I'm okay…" Silver answered. Once he got to his feet, he stood on them unsteadily, but after a few moments, he was all right. Jiexela, in the meantime, took a small data pad out and was keying up the coordinates for the Repository. Bubbles looked over at Silver, her face filled with concern. I hope they can make him better, she thought. Silver means a lot to me… he means a lot to all of us. But if he does help in finding a cure, then maybe he can help everyone…

As the sun rose over the ruined landscape of Centraxia, infected Centraxians circled around in the sky, as though hunting, searching for prey amongst the rubble below. The appearance of the light made them shield their eyes, and start to dive back to the ground, taking cover wherever they could find it. Before the day had completely begun, the once-busy skies emptied out and became as still and dead as they were when their ship first arrived.

Once it was clear, the shuttle emerged from the tunnel, heading back for the ship and weaving carefully around piles of debris. They kept quiet and maintained a careful watch to make sure that none of the infected Centraxians would spot them. Every pile of debris seemed to stare back, as if one of them would pounce out at any moment. Bubbles nervously clung to the professor's arm, and he put a comforting arm around her, though he felt he was probably more nervous than they were. At least they had superpowers if anything went wrong.

Thankfully, though the trip was nerve-wracking, it was also uneventful. They found their ship, still intact, right where they had left it. Breathing a sigh of relief, Blossom flew out from the shuttle and over to the ship first, opening the hatch so that everyone could get inside quickly once they arrived. The shuttle quickly pulled up alongside, and everyone filed out, heading up the ramp, except for Jiexela and another Centraxian who had come for extra support.

Blossom waved them inside, taking care that Silver made it in all right, then looked over at Jiexela, who was ready to depart. "We'll be back as soon as we can," Blossom promised. "We'll find a way to beat them."

"You will succeed," Jiexela said with a smile. "Knowledge always triumphs in the end." She raised her hand to wave, and Blossom waved back. With that, the Centraxian turned the shuttle around and started back for the underground outpost. Blossom kept an eye on her until she was out of sight, then flew back into the ship, closing the hatch behind her. The engines roared to life as the ship lifted into the air to begin a quick ascent into space.

Inside, Bubbles and Buttercup eased Silver down in one of the chairs and started to secure him in place. Silver waved a hand and said, "No… let me." With a little effort, he took the straps and secured himself, saying, "I think… I think I'm winning the fight… a little."

"You're driving the infection back?" the professor asked from the pilot's seat.

"Not really…" Silver said, "…I think I'm just… keeping it from taking control… that's all. It's still there…" He closed his eyes for a moment and added, "It's a little easier now… almost like the infection's giving up… but it won't leave."

"Hang in there," Blossom said, then looked out of the ship's window as they entered orbit. "If all goes well, we should be there in probably a few days, right?"

"I believe so," the professor said, checking the navigation computer. "I'm entering the coordinates right now." The computer accepted the coordinates and started to plot a course. As it did, he noticed something and said, "Uh oh…"

"What's wrong, Professor?" Bubbles asked.

Tracing his finger across the display, he answered, "There's no clear path through to the Repository. Invader-controlled space is separating us from it."

Buttercup frowned, "Well, can't we just go around?"

"We could," the professor noted, "but the area is just so large. It would take almost two extra weeks of travel, and it could get larger before we're all the way around as well." He narrowed his eyes, "Our only option is to cut straight through and hope for the best. But it'll be risky."

Blossom said, "We've got our suits, remember? We can fight them off if anything spots us."

"You can't use your eyebeams in your suits," the professor reminded them. "Not without melting the visor. But maybe I can assemble some kind of weapons for you. It'll be a day before we enter Invader-controlled space; that'll be plenty of time for me to come up with something."

The girls thought about it… without a proper method of fighting, they could be in serious trouble. But they had no other option; there was no way of telling how long Silver would be able to stave off the infection, and worse, each day meant more of the region falling under Invader control. They had to act quickly if they were to succeed. Silently, all of them nodded in agreement, and the professor started working on the safest course to take.

Bubbles got into her seat, as did the other girls. As she did, she said, "Silver… I wanted you to know, in case anything goes wrong…"

"I know," he interrupted. "If the infection takes… control of me, do… do whatever you have to do. Contain me if you can… but if I'm a threat…"

"No… w-we'll win…" Bubbles said back, trying to fight back a tear.

Silver managed a smile, "Hey… don't worry. Something tells me… I'm gonna be okay… I just feel it somehow…"

Bubbles smiled a little back at him. The professor finished his computations and announced, "All right, everyone, making singularity jump in five… four… three…" Everyone grabbed hold of their seats to brace themselves for the sudden acceleration that was going to occur…

A loud beeping sound abruptly came from the communications panel, as it flashed 'DISTRESS SIGNAL' in bright letters. The professor reflexively cancelled the singularity jump and exclaimed, "What on Earth…"

"Is it coming from Centraxia?" Blossom asked, worried.

Checking the readout, the professor replied, "No… no, it looks like it's coming from ahead of us…" Raising an eyebrow, he added, "Way ahead of us. This is a long-range transmission…"

The screen came alive with static in the next instant. Everyone watched intently as the static cleared, displaying the image of a Galactic Monitor. Though the transmission was slightly garbled, the metallic voice of the Monitor boomed through, "Unit identification, Monitor 98. This unit requests all those aligned with galactic law to come to the immediate assistance of Checkpoint 33."

"Professor," Blossom called out quickly, "bring that up on the navigation computer!"

The professor nodded and started to do a search, as everyone else watch the rest of the message. The featureless face of the monitor showed no emotion, and neither did the voice, yet there was still a sense of urgency as it continued, "Species of temporary classification 'Invaders' have begun approach to this checkpoint. Repeat. Species of temporary classif—" The message faded out before it could complete.

Everyone glanced at each other, and the professor finished pulling up the chart of the area. "Checkpoint 33 is within Invader-controlled space, but they haven't taken control of it yet." He looked at some of the readings in that area and said, "Perhaps the asteroids in that area were able to give them some cover. Whatever the reason, this gives us a unique opportunity…"

"A way through…" Silver mused. "Yes… if we passed through the checkpoint…"

"…we could avoid the invaders completely," Blossom finished for him. "How far from the station?"

"About half a day's travel," the professor replied. "It'll be cutting it close. The battle will be underway by the time we arrive."

Blossom shook her head, "As much as I'd like to help them, we can't. We need to slip by them while they're occupied. Agreed?" Everyone else nodded, and she said, "Then let's go for it."

"Roger," Professor said, keying in the new coordinates and preparing the ship for its singularity jump. He felt nervous as he did… he wish he had more time to come up with an effective solution, but there just wasn't any. And they're still relying on me to come up with some weapons, he thought, so that we're not entirely helpless if we're attacked.