part 1a

ANGEL DOM: The curse of chemical x

Part one

Author's note

1)This story investigates the discovery of chemical x, and a few theories on how the Powerpuffs got their names. I decided to have chemical x discovered in a meteorite because it helps explain one of Buttercup's attacks in the sequel.

2)This story doesn't actually contain the Powerpuff girls as it focuses on John Utonium when he was a student at university, so if you came here expecting to read about Blossom, Buttercup and Bubbles, I'm afraid they're not in it.

3) John Utonium hasn't earned his title of Professor yet just if you're wondering.

4) This wasn't supposed to be in parts but it grew so large that I had no choice but to separate it. I realise that it is very long so I ask you to be patient when reading it. I cut it down as much as I could but I'm afraid I couldn't separate it any further. This is Part one. To read the rest please visit Part two.

5) Powerpuff girls are property of Cartoon Network.

6) My eternal gratitude and supply of Cherry bakewells to Nicole Sabatti for being such a fantastic friend. This fan fiction would have never been completed without her help. So thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!!! Zoy!

&**********************************************************************************************&

Three days had passed.

It was with a massive enforcement of will power that John Utonium held back the words he had wanted to release since this ludicrous journey began with energy he frankly didn't have or could afford to spend on such a task. He longed to say the words and the only thing stopping him from doing so was the small but significant fact that it would do nothing more than aggravate his fellow students rather than help them find a way out of the desert.

At first, as he reflected in the punishing heat of the desert sun, it seemed such a good idea, as most ideas tend to do. With its promise of adventure and exotic climbs it was just impossible for any student, never mind ones practically bursting with enthusiasm for such a topic, to say no to and John was definitely one of the enthusiastic type.

A small collection of friends had opted to join John on the journey to investigate the rumour that comet pieces had fallen somewhere in the Toman desert. They were reputedly from far outside of the solar system and held potential high acclaim for anyone who found them.

Money hadn't been too much of a problem for any of them and before any one truly realised what or why, they were onboard the plane set for the desert. It was only then that John began having doubts about their hastily booked journey (the term planned is grossly misinforming) and decided to express these views to his friends.

Adam Smith was the first one who was approached by the fretting student simply because he had the misfortune to be sat directly opposite him. He seemed annoyed that John had spoken to him, seeming to interrupt some unspoken plan. He was a mysterious person, more of an acquaintance than a friend. A very burly man with arm muscles the size of tree trunks and a ruggedly handsome face to boot. Adam was the one who had originally thought of the idea and had ensured that all members who had even showed a small interest succeeded in going. He could be stubborn sometimes, domineering too as was proved when he refused to listen to a single of John's anxieties, claiming it to be last minute jitters and therefore, in his eyes, making his comments seem nothing more than pessimistic ramblings.

His protests having fallen on deaf ears, he turned to Nick, possibly the exact opposite of Adam in every way. He was short and lightly corpulent with a full head of shoulder length ginger hair, with a personality that seemed to a change every five minutes according to both situation and company. It was a joke between them that Nick probably had more personalities than he did clothes, which, sadly, didn't say much considering his entire wardrobe seemed to consist of nothing more than an old pair of trainers, black leather trousers and a tough "Indiana Jones" style shirt, opened at the chest in a mistaken belief that women would care. They were hardly the type of clothes that were suited to desert terrain and it was with great reluctance that he had brought a desert made outfit. Just because they were opposites though didn't mean they didn't have anything in common. Nick's reaction to John mirrored exactly that of Adams.

The last member of the group was his best friend out of the three. Fred Dom, his roommate and child-hood friend was a very down to Earth man. He too was modestly handsome and John had always admired him, not just for his quick wit and popularity (something John was secretly jealous about) but for his devastating intelligence and brutally calculating methods. Fred could convince a fish that it didn't need water to survive or reduce even the most hard core of people to tears with just a few lines of poetry. John thought that if anyone were to listen to his doubts, Fred would be the one to do so.

However, John was wrong. Fred, like the others had merely disregarded his concerns as nothing more than nerves before melting back in front of the in flight movie, then becoming lost to John for the rest of the flight.

And now they were here. Their 'luxurious holiday' had quickly transformed into a walking nightmare as the four men, all too confident in their own abilities had managed to get lost in the featureless, barren deserted wasteland that was the Toman desert. If that wasn't enough the comet piece, the object of their desire was no where to be found. Now they were lost in a ceaseless sea of sand with a rapidly diminishing water and food supply with no idea where they were going or where they had been.

"I told you so," he muttered to himself just to get those burning words off the tip of his tongue and to rid him self of his portion of the blame. His words were badly muffled by the thick scarf that covered all but his eyes. The rest of his body was wrapped in a similar fashion in an article of clothing that they had initially brought as a drunken prank on their first night of arrival. John could have swore they had brought some other items, the empty space in his wallet where money should have occupied told him as much, but he couldn't seem to find any extra objects and he was far too drunk to remember what it had been he had brought. Odd then that one drunken moment was the only true initiative any of the students, who were all considered geniuses of some sort in their own right, had shown when it came to the preparations of such a perilous journey.

John slowly faded back to harsh reality. He looked at the sky above him, an ungodly mix of violent reds and oranges that clashed together. The sun pounded them, punishing them with a fierce intensity that John had trouble believing. The wind, again warm so as not to provide the lost explorers with any relief from the torturous pounding of the desert sun, blew the sand over its brother like waves in an ocean. The sand lapped at the feet as it washed over the surface of the desert, masking and silently erasing any footprints the explorers had left just seconds after they had done so. With both ground and sky cast in an orange-gold it offered nothing more than a monotonous view except for the occasional withered cactus and the unmistakable black blur of the vultures sweeping expectantly over head.

His friends weren't coping well. Like him they too were completely adorned from head to toe in the same suit as he to prevent the harsh abrasive sand from grating away their very skin. The only thing that was left uncovered was their eyes but even that sight was denied to the student as he lagged behind the others.

Physically, it was obvious that Nick was suffering more than the rest. His shoulders were slumped and his feet dragged leaving a constant trail unlike the others brief footprints, which in the last few miles (had it been miles, he could not tell in this featureless hell) had metamorphosed into a dotted trail.

John felt for the student for he was unsure if his lazy friend had even bothered to walk around the block on a pleasant day back home never mind get lost in what appeared to be an endless wasteland. A mistake they were all gravely paying for now. In fact Adam had taken Nick's water canister away from him after he drank almost all his water but ten minutes into their trip. They had been forced to travel back to town to get some more water and water skins, resulting in the students missing out on being able to travel with a qualified guide. Even now Adam guarded the water just in case he was to try something again.

Both himself and Fred had managed to keep their own so far whilst Adam had maintained what slowly but surely became a torturous pace. Adam had reluctantly slowed down but only because he feared getting swallowed by the desert.

Mentally they were all recognising the effects. Adam who had started the trip with constant reinforcements and an odd kind word when they lagged behind had now ceased, deciding that they weren't worth the energy. The combination of loneliness and to what seemed hopeless had worn Adam down. His civility towards the other three, Nick especially had been lost in the tides of the sand. Not only that, but the dream of the meteorite piece that would rocket him to a previously unexplored scientific high had become more and more distant as each footstep was taken. The loss of his dream seemed to effect Adam badly; as if he needed the dream more than the air he breathed and the water that was now, like his dream, almost depleted.

Nick who usually complained fervently when unhappy, as he undoubtedly was at this time, had died down after only a short time, partially because Adam had given him more than enough warnings on the subject as he blamed Nick for their current predicament. Even Fred with his fierce optimism had been reduced to silence except for when he was forced to jump to Nick's aid to defend him against Adam. As for himself, John fought hard to keep that flame of hope that they would escape burning in his heart, however the very effort of doing so was nothing less than exhausting and he, too, had resigned to what seemed like certain doom.

John wasn't at all surprised when Nick collapsed ahead of him, the pots and pans he carried on his back clattering against each other, hitting the sand with a dull thud. Fred gasped in shock, a sign that maybe his misplaced optimism wasn't as dead as he himself had thought.

John knew that someone at some point would collapse and it was no surprise to him that Nick had been the first. To him it was like some morbid milestone, another nail in the coffin.

Adam stopped when he heard the pots falling and delivered what could only be a look of sheer irritation. John merely continued at his same pace, unusually apathetic, until he reached a small lump in the sand. He couldn't help but collapse in exhaustion onto his posterior. Adam decided to join him, taking time to dispense another scowl towards the kneeling pair as he did so.

Fred tended to Nick, gave him a bit of his own water so not to bother Adam and then joined the other two where Nick couldn't hear them.

He stood tall and interchanged a mildly pleading gaze from both John to Adam.

"This is ridiculous," he said loudly to get himself heard over the weak, howling wind. "We need to take a break."

"Break?" Adam asked sceptically as if the mere thought was a crime punishable by death. His blue eyes shimmered with a concentrated hatred at Fred, clearly indicating how he felt on the matter.

"We can take a break when we get home. Until then, get up and get moving!"

Nick looked towards them, a confused expression on his face. Fred signalled to him to stay where he was much to Adam's annoyance.

"What do you think you're doing?"

"Chill, Adam."

Under any other circumstances and if John, Adam, Nick and Fred hadn't been participants in this story then they may have laughed. However, their humour had left eroded away like a tiny pebble that had to fight hard against the onslaught of water in a raging river.

Adam became more enraged than ever, his brows furrowed deeply and his fists clenched tightly by his sides. His arms twitched with the effort of holding back an actual physical attack.

Meanwhile Nick had managed to hobble over towards them although he left his things sprawled in the sand. He fell with a thud, gasping in exhaustion. Fred patted Nick on the back reassuringly before pulling down his scarf to give a warm smile. Fred then returned his concentration onto the slumped forms of the other members although Adam stubbornly refused to acknowledge his weariness as if in doing so he held an advantage over the others.

"It's almost night time," Fred said, pointing to the sky with a gloved hand to show the flaming sun settling on the horizon and the first appearance of a few weak stars. "We all agreed that we would try and walk as much as we could during nightfall because it was easier. But let's get a little sleep now, that way we'll be more energised for tomorrow and we can still at least track for the other half of tonight. It would be more comfortable."

"He's got a point," John admitted.

When it became apparent that they may be stuck in the desert for a long time, they had discussed on what the best course of action was to take. Many agreed that walking during night time was much easier because the blistering heat was replaced by a bitter cold, which was much easier to defend against. They had tried sleeping during the day only to find that it was damn near impossible. They decided to compromise and sleep during the evenings and for half the night, then to start travelling again.

Adam wasn't happy and he wasn't afraid to show it.

"He'll kill us all," he said, gesturing towards at the wheezing mass that was Nick, cleverly if not childishly ignoring the point just made. The man couldn't hear him, promptly falling to sleep sometime during Fred's proposal.

"He's guzzled up most of our water on his own leaving us with nothing."

"We'll be out of this desert soon," Fred said using Adam's own tactic against him and not taking the invitation into another argument about Nick's incompetence. John looked away from them both, his eyes wondering over the sandy terrain. Although he didn't say so, he didn't share in Fred's optimism.

"Don't you think that, John?" Adam continued, dragging Utonium in whether he liked it or not.

"We're not here to score points against each other, Adam," he scolded giving his most solid glare ever to the seething volcano. "We need to figure out how to get out of here and no amount of childish bickering or bickering of any sort will accomplish that."

He smiled secretly to himself, rather proud of that answer. Fred winked at him discretely.

"You're right," Fred admitted as he lowered himself onto his back so he was facing the sky. They all listened to the sweeping wind for a moment.

"I'm staying here," Fred said finally, obviously wrapping up his side of the argument. "Nick is too. You can continue if you'd like, but it's your decision. This is ours."

In his laid back position it was difficult for the two remaining members to decipher who exactly he was referring to and John knew he had done it deliberately. John knew, as Fred did, that challenging the desert on your own was suicide. Not even the courageous Adam would dare take it on. Of course Fred was making the assumption that John wanted to stay and rest which was exactly what he wanted to do.

Adam looked back and forth at both Fred and John as he ran the problem over in his mind. Accepting defeat but not admitting it, Adam replied haughtily. "Well, we're leaving in a couple of hours!"

"That's the plan," muttered Fred sleepily.

"It's about time we had one of those," John added, further undermining their self-proclaimed leader. It was Adams idea to go deeper into the desert and to walk aimlessly around in circles until they found someone. How could someone that smart be that stupid?

Then again, they had little choice. What else could they have done? Sit and wait for death to find them? At least this way they could say that they tried.

John flopped backward landing on the velvety smooth sand. Instantly his eyelids drew to a close and just seconds later he was fast asleep.

&*******************************************************************************************&

The stars were in full blossom that night, sparkling with their full intensity that John found simply amazing. Back home in Townsville it was rather difficult to see the stars as the constant cloud cover over the city always hindered the mystical light. Out here though they shone like sparkling gems, glittering coldly in the freezing night.

Unsure as to why, John Utonium raised one quivering hand towards the sky, reaching for one particularly bright nebula in the distance. He rested his hand under it so it looked like the thing floated in the palm of his hand.

In his other hand lay a golden watch that had been bruised and battered over the long years since its creation. He was looking at the weak sparkling object now in a hope that it would revive his optimism and faith that they would, at some indiscernible point, return home. The watch itself had thousands of complicated and simple memories that far excelled the metal frame. It was an old Victorian style watch that had been handed down from father to son for generations. His father gave it to him only moments before his death and it had been one of the few possessions, if not the only one that was worth anything to him in this plane. He valued it more than his own life because it represented all the good times he had as a child and represented the unbreakable bond between father and son. Even though his father was rather negligent, the passing down on the watch had been one memory he truly treasured. It held tradition for him. Now he was using it to restore that faith he had lost by filling his head with past memories of his beloved father. The memories were easy enough to recall but finding a way out of the desert was something else entirely.

Besides him Fred yawned sleepily as he awoke from his slumber. He rubbed some sand out of his eyes, then blinked several times when he realised that John was awake.

Fred crawled over towards his friend and with effort sat himself up using his elbows as support. John smiled weakly as he lowered his hand. Had it been Nick or Adam he would have been embarrassed but Fred was his best friend and he felt nothing but comfortable with him.

Fred smiled weakly; his unruly black hair was showing now and was coated in a thick layer of sand. They both laughed a little at the comedy of it when sand trickled slowly out of the tangled mass when Fred tried to sort it into some sort of order.

For a moment they both remained silent as they both gazed up towards the stars. It truly was a beautiful view but it filled him with a heavy misery. They were going to die here.

"What are you going to do when you leave Uni?" Fred asked, his eyes resting on the great black expanse and the twinkling blue, red, white and green stars.

So encapsulated in the stars it took John a little while to answer.

"I was thinking of becoming a scientist."

"Well duh," Fred said cheerfully. "Where you gonna go?"

John blinked, not really having thought of it.

"I guess I'll stay in Townsville. I found a nice little place on the outskirts, beautiful it is, only two bedrooms. It's the old Johnson place but with my wage packet I can't afford much more."

"Tell me about it," Fred said before pulling himself directly alongside his friends, no longer resting on his elbows as before. John flicked a piece of hair out of his eyes with a finger that was raining dead skin. His lips felt cracked deprived of water as they had been over the past few days.

"The pub I work in isn't all that great, but it gets me by if you know what I mean."

John nodded. Jobs were hard to find in Townsville, as it was a slowly developing city. Many of the jobs were filled with students and although John also followed this faithful trend, he only did it to get a little income. For him both compulsory education and jobs had been something he hadn't greatly enjoyed.

He had been that way since he was young according to his parents. He wasn't just happy with knowing what occurred, he wanted to know why and went to extreme lengths to find out. He remembered that many pre-school teachers had complained that the boy was too inquisitive and he had got into trouble for it time and time again.

Both primary school and secondary school had also been severely reprimanding towards those who wanted to experiment, preferring to stick to the "course syllabus". Every time he had asked them a question which bordered out side of their holy doctrine of study the teachers had told him "It's not part of the syllabus," as if that explained everything. To him those teachers were intolerable. In many lights he saw them as droning robots, cursed to repeat the same drivel for the rest of the tiring lives. Not him. He wanted to know more, his thirst for knowledge far exceeded that of the teacher's dampening influence. Needless to say the fiery child was more than glad to be out of the claustrophobic and choking confines of those dreaded walls.

Compared to them, Townsville University was a haven of enlightenment where experimenting was actually encouraged rather than frowned upon. The time had passed so quickly for the budding scientist. It was with a sad heart that he realised that the final exams were drawing near.

Yet John Utonium was looking forward to meddling in the lab he was intending to build in that quiet suburban house so he could experiment freely without someone else controlling the means of expression.

"Do you ever think about having kids?"

John choked at that remark, fully awakening him from his reverie. He coughed, looking at Fred in disbelief. "Don't you think we're a little young to be thinking about children?"

Fred looked at him, a faint sparkle in his eyes. "It's not that," Fred insisted, shaking his head allowing more sand to fall from its black imprisonment of hair. He sighed, trying to find the words to explain it to his friend.

"I have a niece named Laura. I've always hated kids, you know I have."

John nodded. He distinctly remembered when one child had stolen a valuable piece of coursework when he was invited to give a talk at the Primary school. This figure had then proceeded to destroy two months of research with just one swipe. Fred hadn't made a copy of the information either so he was forced to do the experiment again.

"Laura is different. She's so cute. I truly miss her."

"Hey, " John scolded, his eyes flashing angrily at his friend. "Don't you act like you're not going to see her again."

He settled down a little, calming his voice as he did so. "Sorry, Fred, I didn't mean to yell…"

"It's alright," Fred conceded, giving a swift piece sign. "We're all under a lot of stress."

John smiled as he remembered how angry Fred had been at the kid who had destroyed his coursework and had acted to every other kid since. Some of them had run off to their parents he had been so mean to them.

" Not a care in the world. Innocent, sweet and loveable. Apparently she's the perfect little girl."

John scoffed. "And what makes her so special?"

"You tell me, John," Fred replied. "If you were going to have a little girl, how would you like her to be?"

"I have no control over how she turns out so there is no point in speculating," John replied coolly.

Fred grinned when he realised that he must have hit a nerve of some sort. Unlike Fred, John had always liked children, especially girls. He tended to distrust little boys after more than a few had played some pranks on him. Girls were different in his eyes although Fred was sure that John could easily cope with either. He had a way with kids.

"It's not like you can choose how your girl will turn out now, is it?"

"Laura is really sweet," Fred continued, deliberately ignoring John. "She has a delightful innocence about her that makes her just so unique compared to other kids. She's so caring too."

John caved in. "I'd want my child to be independent but caring. I wouldn't want them to be completely dependent on me for support. I'd like them to be able to handle some very adult situations and they'd have to be bright, possibly a leader of some sort." He tried to sum up his desire in one word. "Responsible."

"Ah," Fred said, pointing to Nick. "Someone else is up."

Nick stirred in his slumber before finally opening his eyes. He groggily picked himself up from the ground and made his way, as Fred had done only a little earlier, towards the others. However Nick hadn't bothered to remove the thin sleeping bag and he looked just like a caterpillar as he slowly wriggled his way up to the other two.

He stopped when he got there and then resumed a more common position, crossing his legs. Nick looked worried as he checked the two faces more clearly then was visibly relieved when he noticed Adam wasn't up.

"We were talking about what would make the perfect little girls," Fred told him when he fully came round. "If you had a little girl, how would you like her to be?"

Nick blinked, confused at such an odd question. "Uh, what?" he asked to make sure he wasn't hearing things.

"Fred's reminiscing about his niece, and he thinks she's perfect."

"You mean, Laura? Heck she is a sweet little thing isn't she?"

Fred nodded vigorously, obviously happy that someone had complimented his niece.

"Yeah," Nick said dreamily, "that would be the perfect girl for me. No retorts or criticisms. Just pure unconditional love."

"So you're both against me," John said with mock hysteria. They laughed as one, and when they had finished they looked at each other in bewilderment as if to confirm that they HAD actually LAUGHED

"I didn't say that Laura was MY version of a perfect little girl. My version is probably the exact opposite."

"But you said she was…"

"She is often perceived as the perfect girl, John, but as you say they do need some independence." At this point Fred's voice grew icily cold. "Someone attacked Laura."

"What?!" Nick exclaimed. "How can someone attack such a sweet girl?"

"How could they not?" Fred countered obviously upset. "She's an easy victim. Poor thing won't even go out anymore."

"That's terrible," John admitted.

"I want a little fighter as my girl. Someone who wasn't afraid to meet a challenge head on, that wasn't worried about having to meet up to social standards and stuck to her own."

"Wouldn't that make her difficult to control?"

Fred waved clenched a fist in front of his face determinedly. "Exactly. I like a challenge and if you treat them right, they love you anyway. I want someone who isn't afraid to use violence if they have to."

"And what if they use violence to solve every single little thing?" John asked, his eyebrows raised.

"I'd teach her to be a tough little fighter and to use her fighting skills responsibility. Of course she'd have to be smart as she'd be related to me."

Nick shook his head unbelieving. "I'd thought you'd want a little goody two shoes as your kid, Fred. Ya know? The type that has perfect grades and attendance and the one every looks to for advice."

"Nah," Fred said. "My father was a kung fu fighter and I inherited his dragon spirit. I guess I'd like to see my little girl as strong as he was. At one point I was going to become a martial artist but I was no good at it. I guess I'm just the violent type."

"Although I don't agree with your phrasing," John admitted looking at Nick, "I wouldn't mind the goody-goody type. You wouldn't have to worry about getting hurt by thieves as you would with Nicks choice as she would be too smart for that, and you wouldn't have to struggle to keep the loose cannon in charge as with Fred's."

"Ah ha!" Nick scolded, coming up with a downside as he usually did. "What about the ego? And the pressure? If you expect her to be all perfect then she may do something rash to achieve the standards that you set for her."

"And goody two shoes are so irritating," added Fred. "They tell on everyone and they act like the world isn't good enough for them."

"Traitor," muttered John although it was obvious that he didn't mean it.

Nick leant forward then, his back cracking as he did so. He tied his sleeping bag around his legs in a very lose knot to try and protect himself from the bitter cold air.

"What'd ya call her?" Nick asked as he looked up at the sky.

"You mean my little martial artist?" Fred replied hands behind his head as he lay down on the sand. "I don't know. Whatever name I give her, she'll hate it. They always do."

"I've always liked the name Blossom," John admitted his cheeks reddening considerably. He scrunched up his eyes and raised his hand to ward off the criticisms and comments that he was sure they would make at his expense. However nothing came from either.

"I'd need a cute name for a cute kid," Nick thought aloud, scratching the hair on his head to encourage some thought. "Bubbles."

That was why Nick, at least, hadn't leapt at the chance to criticise him as his name was even more peculiar. John remained politely silent realising that it would be incredibly unjust to laugh at such a name. Besides, the more he thought about it, the more appealing it became. "Bubbles," he said to himself and a smile spread across his face as he said it.

Fred pouted at the other two. "I can't think of one."

John tutted. "You have to give her a name. You can't call her Thingy!"

"Thingy," Fred teased, pretending to seriously consider the option.

"Fred!"

"Why don't you name her after a flower?" Nick suggested.

"A flower?" Fred asked, incredulous. "She'd kill me."

"Rose?" Nick offered.

Fred stuck two fingers in his mouth and made a gagging noise.

Suddenly the others exploded into suggestions, firing them from their mouths like bullets from a gun.

"Alright, how about Tulip?"

"Fox glove?"

"Nettle?"

"Ivy?"

"Nettle?"

"Jasmine?"

"Hey," he cried, lifting his hand to cease the senseless gibbering. "I'd prefer Thingy to that."

"Got it!" John cried triumphantly. "Nettle!"

"You said that one."

"Did I?" He grinned sheepishly.

Fred looked at them in turn, a look of amusement on all of their faces. The hopelessness of their situation had faded away from their talk. It was like their friendship had rekindled their hope of escape, a faith reawakened.

"Just to shut you two up, I'm going to call her after a flower that you two don't react to."

An expectant silence filled the air. Fred opened and closed his mouth, deliberately teasing the impatient pair.

"Buttercup," he said finally then proceeded to explain. "My dad loved them. Whenever he used to lose a fight he would visit a buttercup field. It was strange really. Nothing could restore his confidence like those flowers could."

Fred had loved his father dearly, and had seen him as more than a regular dad as other children did. His faith in his father burned with a fiery intensity. Fred had always tried to mimic him, attempting to become just like his father but it was obvious that they were two very different people. Fred was far better in matters of the mind, his father in that of physical strength. However all of his animal cunning had been derived from that sole sun burning in an otherwise empty sky. Everyone else be damned, the only person Fred would ever get close to worshipping was his father.

He looked up then, his eyes only partially open.

"You two don't react to Buttercups."

It had been a frightening and worrying experience when Fred had tried that experiment on both Nick and John. The peppy pupil had burst out of a side classroom into the corridor, knocking away several classmates as he did so before violently ramming the yellow flower under the unsuspecting chins of his friends. He watched the flower intently, proceeding to then point and laugh at the fact that the buttercup made no impression upon them before exploding down the corridor to find some new victims. Nick and John had exchanged worried glances, wondering if their friend had had too much coffee that morning.

"My dad loved Buttercups. Now I come to think of it, that was his symbol. The field they grew on was badly undernourished and we thought nothing could grow there, but the buttercups flourished." He smiled wistfully. "My Buttercup could take on anyone, just like my dad."

"So," John started, ticking each name off on his right hand. "Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup."

"Yeah!"

"Right on!"

They all laughed, sharing a high five between the three of them, that due to their tired and uncoordinated state looked as if they were doing nothing more than swatting air. They laughed at how stupid they must have looked, fuelled by the desire to laugh again. They continued this way until their sides hurt, and tears of joy sprang from their eyes. To them this time was like the sun finally shining through the boiling, thick black clouds that had been over their head since they'd begun. A tiny ray of hope that perhaps things weren't as bad as they may have thought.

"What do you idiots think you are doing?"

The clouds rolled in over head once more, and that tiny ray of light vanished. Adam stood before them, hands on hips, foot tapping lightly against the sand allowing small clouds to escape from underneath his boot. His featured were twisted ferociously and his left eyebrow twitched.

Nick whimpered a little as he sunk down into the layers of protection that was his sleeping bag from the raging tempest. He looked petrified of Adam and with good cause considering most of Adam's anger had been vented on the vulnerable student so far on the journey although Fred had recently been exposed.

Fred sat up from the sand, titled his head and asked, "what?"

"We should be walking not slacking!" Adam yelled, veins popping out of his forehead and neck. "This isn't Kindergarten!"

"Shame," Fred retorted. "We could have found our way out of there."

"I don't know," Nick bravely continued, shocking both John and Adam. "Especially with those child proof locks and everything." His voice quivered in fear and almost trailed off inaudibly when Adam glared daggers at him.

Fred beamed at him making Adam then deliver the same glare of death to him. Fred was digging himself deeper and deeper into his grave. Adam wasn't used to people fighting back and it infuriated him beyond the point of sanity. John was dragged in by default.

"Get up now!" Adam seethed slowly, his eyes burning like a firebrand on each member. "We go now! That meteorite piece is out there and when I find it, I'm going to become famous so you'd better get moving!"

"And where are we going to go, Adam, hmmm?" Fred questioned, his voice heavily mocking. "Forwards? Backwards? Side to side? Perhaps we could loop the loop?"

Whatever thread was holding Adam back from the precipice had just shed another layer, making it weaker than before.

John stole a quick glimpse of Adam as he scowled behind Fred, frustratingly silent. The image sliced itself into his mind before he could stop it. Images of the four men standing in the black void nothing but a wide chasm ahead of them. Adam was currently looking out over the precipice, teetering precariously on the edge, looking down, a cruel smirk on his face.

It was only a matter of time before Adam fell.

The rest of them would follow soon after. In his vision, he saw Nick, Fred and himself waiting patiently in a queue behind Adam for their turn to arrive. When Adam sank silently into the darkness, the next one stepped up.

It was all a question of when.

"Why don't you pick a direction?!" He snapped

"Alright," Fred accepted, rising to the challenge. He scrutinised the surrounding terrain. "That way."

He was pointing to where a large sand hill raised in the distance.

"It's as good as anything else I suppose," John sighed, realising that options were few and far between.

With very little else to say to each other, the four travellers picked up their earlier discarded items where they had been unceremoniously dumped then reluctantly began walking again.

&*****************************************************************************************&

They had walked all night but to no avail.

The following day had proceeded like that of funeral except without the black clothes and the burden of a coffin. Not one word had been exchanged between any member of the group until midday and then it was only because the heat was getting to Adam and making him edgy as usual. They all wore the gravest of expressions as the desert continued to roll ahead of them, showing absolutely no sign of ending any time soon.

A few tumbleweeds had rolled past them now, and they all interpreted it as a sign that they were more lost than ever, rather than the implication that it may have held. That they were getting to a thinner part of the desert where it was possible for more plant life to grow. But that was ridiculous. Tumbleweed was renowned for the way that it travelled over vast distances. They could have been in the centre of the desert for all he knew.

Another one bobbed past moments later. John followed it with his gaze; envious at the way the thing sped over the surface of the sand and, more importantly, didn't feel the intensified heat of the burning ball of fire in the sky.

It was almost with a saddened cry that he watched the tumble weed disappearing. It had provided him with something to focus on, to pour all his attention in an attempt to lessen the lightly nauseous feeling and light head that he had felt since that morning. He presumed that the others felt the same, especially Nick who had collapsed twice in that one day. Even Adam had stumbled a few times, even if he did try to conceal it from the others.

The day had proceeded just like the others. With prolonged periods of silences followed by torrential arguments. It was drawing near night time when the most childish argument yet brewed between Fred and Adam. John believed that they didn't have the energy to even think of anything mature to say, proceeding to say the first thing to came to mind. It was sad really, John thought as he concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. If they had put as much energy into walking as they did arguing then they probably would have been out of the desert days ago. Fred was still his best friend, but his insistence to provoke arguments with Adam, even if they were defending Nick, was beginning to get on his nerves.

As usual it started as a simple cross comment aimed, traditionally, at Nick, with Fred jumping to his defence. All John could remember about the argument was that Nick had drunk a little water, and it went on from there. He had blanked the rest of it out, not particularly caring anymore for the pointless bickering.

But the loss of the tumbleweed had meant that John was left desperate for anything to do, and as sad and pathetic as he deemed it, listening into the argument was one thing that would occupy his thoughts.

Well, he told himself, at least you're not participating.

"I don't understand you one bit!" Fred cried, his voice choking with exasperation. "Can't you just leave Nick alone?"

Adam laughed no longer bothering to even look Fred in the eye. They walked next to each other, firing insults, volleying them back and forth until someone gave way before starting the tedious process all over again.

"You're an insult to the science profession!" He fired, missing the last volley. "You are pathetic."

"Me, me!" Fred repeated angrily. "What have you ever done?!"

"Will you please stop arguing?" Nick pleaded.

"NO!"

Nick shrank back.

"You pollute the profession with your incompetence."

"And what makes you think I'm so incompetent!" Fred fired back. Wrong question, John thought to himself. That was practically inviting Adam to slander his name further. Adam took the invitation greedily.

"You got lost in the desert!"

"So did you!"

It was only a matter of time before they pulled out their tongues at each other. In many ways it reminded him of the story corner at his primary school where children fought over the beanbag and the cookie with the most chocolate chips in it. However even that childish squabbling was a professional debate compared to this as at least that achieved something, i.e. the cookie or chair. Their arguments were completely pointless, succeeding in doing nothing more than getting everyone very, very annoyed.

Yet John allowed them to continue out of a morbid curiosity. He was tired as acting as the referee and besides, Nick had taken up the position, which, John realised was a lot like trying to put out a fire with gasoline.

"You're all pathetic, all three of you! What grade were you predicted at university?"

"1,2" Fred spat back and he cringed when Adam laughed at him once more.

"Well, I'm predicted a 1,1"

"So is John!"

Great, now it looked as if he would be dragged in by default.

Fred suddenly realised what he said, and he clamped his hands over his mouth. "Sorry John."

John grunted. Fred then turned to Adam. "Look, let's just concentrate on getting home," he said, the closest he would get to apologising. At times John thought that Fred was actually incapable of saying the word "sorry".

Adam snorted a sign that he too had tired off the argument.

"Can we stop off for a little break?" Nick pleaded with puppy dog eyes.

"I think we could all use a rest," John agreed. "Maybe a little food wouldn't go amiss."

Nick brightened considerably at the prospect of food. He smacked his lips together happily.

"Fine. Let's eat," Adam reluctantly agreed.

"Yeah. I'm starved," Fred said, he too happy at the idea of eating something no matter how grotesque he would normally consider it.

&***************************************************************************************&

"We're dead," Nick stated plainly.

He prodded at the pathetic mound of empty food wrappers ahead of him, searching in vain for anything edible that they may have previously missed. All backpacks had been emptied now, at Adam's insistence, to form the pitiful formation that was the now depleted supply of food. Nick continued to run his fingers over the wrappers, whimpering as he did so, mourning the loss.

Adam sat on top of his backpack, looking down at the others from his lofty position.

"You're the one who ate it all," he growled, anger evident in his voice as he looked from one to another coldly, but reserved his coldest stare especially for Nick.

"Hey," Fred defended, once again jumping to Nick's defence. "We all ate what we brought. You can't blame this on him."

"I just did," Adam responded. "He's the one who made us miss the guide."

"You didn't want to go with them anyway," John contributed, eyeing Adam coolly as he swept up the wrappers. Just because they were in the desert didn't mean they could still litter. "You said that they were, and I quote 'a bunch of cretins who wouldn't know a comet if it hit them in the face'."

Adam opened his mouth as if to respond, but his usual witty retort died on the tip of his tongue. With nothing to say, Adam snorted, resuming his mightier than thou position.

"They did look kind of boring," Nick thought aloud, gently agreeing with Adam for fear of the repercussions. "Probably wouldn't have been much fun."

"And this is?" Adam snapped, gesticulating from left to right to indicate the desert. "We've no water, no food, and more importantly no meteor piece!"

"Why is it so important to you?"

That was the worst possible thing anyone could have said to the erratic scientist. He looked at Fred coldly as if he had been personally insulted by the question.

Although he didn't say as much, John had to admit that he was curious regarding Adam's original motivation towards the trip and for agreeing to go with people he hardly even knew. But whenever he dared to ask, Adam would ignore him or change the subject, sparing a little time to fire a warning glance at his direction.

"Yeah," Nick confirmed. "Every scientist, expert or not, is probably here to search for that meteorite. We can always borrow a sample from them."

It was at this point in the proceedings that something palpably changed about Adam. The question Nick had asked seemed to douse the raging fire inside of him. His features were no longer in that scowl he had worn since day one, but much calmer, almost serene. The discomfort in the atmosphere plummeted.

"I want to be a scientist," he whispered forcing the others to strain to hear his words. It almost seemed as if someone else entirely was speaking as the others, even at the start of the journey, were not used to hearing his words without that harshness that they had become accustomed to.

The others looked on baffled, surprised by Adam's sudden mood swing. Determined not to let the chance go to waste, John tried to prompt another to speak, finding his own resources empty. Fred mouthed a soft "what", his eyes staring blankly at his friend. After a few more frantic gestures, Fred said something.

"We all do," he said awkwardly. Adam shook his head, his blond bangles draping in front of his eyes.

"I want to become THE scientist. I'm gonna become the best damn one this world has ever seen!" A fire, much friendlier than his usual one, burnt deep inside of Adam, fuelled no longer by desperation but by the hope of a dream that he had lost to the darkness a long time ago.

"I'll be recognised world over. People will love me for my discoveries. I'll win the Nobel peace prize!"

No one dared to interrupt as Adam continued to open his heart, revealing untold truths about himself. They knew that this was a rare occurrence and shouldn't be thwarted unless absolutely necessary. This was the one chance they had to throw Adam a rope of sanity, and John was not going to miss this time.

Adam's voice grew silent and hushed. "I'll be loved," he finished.

Fred and John exchanged worried glances at this last statement; uncomfortable with the information just divulged. John's scientific mind though was whirling. It was such an odd thing to say to them, to reveal so passionately after days of silence. Of course every one had dreams that they wished to fulfil but none had been so devout to them before. John explored every possibility of the last few minutes' confessions in his mind, twisting, bending, and shaping the data into all sorts of theories. With people's dreams, it was always important to read between the lines.

The realisation struck him like lightning striking the tallest oak.

"Do…" John hesitated. The others stared, befuddled forcing him to continue. "Do, you have a family Adam?"

John grimaced when Adam glared at him, that hate returning ten fold. But John realised that it wasn't directed at him this time or any other member of the group but to someone who wasn't present.

His family.

Adam contemplated the answer. "Yes."

"Any siblings?" nothing. "A sister?" No reaction. "A…brother?"

There was a noticeable change in his demeanour. His face fell with a saddened anger and his eyes became downcast.

"Yes."

"What's his name?"

"Harold."

Nick looked up from the sand that he had been studying, eyes sparkling with recognition. "Harold Smith?" He asked, daring to interrupt. "Brown hair, baldish, glasses? Kinda tall?" Adam nodded. "HE'S your brother?"

"My older," Adam confessed.

Fred shook his head lightly. "I don't have any siblings myself," he interrupted shamelessly, not caring when John scowled at him. "You don't do you John? Nick does though."

Nick cringed visibly. He stuck his tongue out of his mouth, gagging at the thought. "Uh, you had to remind me of that didn't you? I hate the little brat, running around screaming all night and ruining my sleep."

"What about you Adam?" John prompted gently, adopting a much friendlier tone. "Me and Fred don't know about the joy of siblings."

"There is NO joy," Nick ensured them, impassioned.

Adam looked up then, his eyes twinkling with a pain that can only be obtained after years of exposure to cruel, empty neglect.

"Nick's right," Adam acceded, shocking everyone but John with the agreement. "There is No joy in having siblings. You always get compared to them, no," he amended, voice rising in barely concealed anger, " you are judged by them, as if you are nothing but a clone expected to live up to their standards. Life as a sibling is nothing more than a score sheet against the other one."

"You got that right," Nick agreed. "My parents are always comparing me and Danny as if we are one and the same."

Fred laughed. "Isn't your brother five years old?"

"Yep," Nick agreed, laughing himself. " I'm compared to someone with the mental age of a five year old."

They both laughed; even Adam allowed a little giggle. It didn't last though; the depression shoved its way back into his heart like a bulldozer through a crumbling building.

"I always thought Harold to be really dull," Nick confessed. He raised his hands in self-defence when he realised what he had just said. "Sorry, I, um..."

"It's alright," Adam promised causing John to exhale in relief. "He is."

"Is he the one who's engaged?" Fred asked.

"To Mary Anne, yeah."

"Isn't she pregnant?"

"Second baby's due this month."

"Oh."

John leant forward, mentally scribbling page after page of notes.

"Didn't she have a kid 4 years ago?"

And then Adam proceeded to go of on a tangent to the current topic, breaking away, fearful perhaps that if he didn't do it now, he never would.

"My parents wanted me to settle down, to take whatever job happened to pass me by and have a family, just like him." His voice was so heavy with contempt, with hatred, but mostly, sadness.

Fred meanwhile had begun fiddling with his scarf noisily and the others turned to him in annoyance. Taking the hint he quickly threw the scarf on the ground then plopped his head onto it, giving a thumbs up as a sign that they could continue.

John waited with baited breath; each second of silence stabbed him like a thousand knives.

"I've always loved the sciences," Adam explained. John exhaled. "I promised myself that I would achieve something that he couldn't and science was my best bet. I'll show them all who's the better sibling," he growled fiercely. "Harold may be able to tolerate being in a dead end job but I certainly can't."

"You want to be able to do something that your brother can't," Nick translated just in case the others hadn't had the same thought.

Adam clenched his fists. He made a simple promise that the tone of his voice told that he would die before he let that dream slip away.

"I'll show them."

To John it was all beginning to make sense and he couldn't help but feel sympathetic to the love starved man. Although he had had no siblings, he wasn't aware Nick had any either, the pain of neglect was something that he was all to familiar with. Like him his parents greatly enjoyed the sciences. They spent days at a time tinkling in their laboratory, too diligent in their pursuits to notice the young boy who whimpered for affection. He presumed siblings had it twice as bad as they had to fight for their share of love and attention, determined to get a little recognition for being who they were and not for maybe, what they did or didn't achieve. John swore to himself that if he ever had kids, he would treat them all equally. No bias, no neglect, nothing but love and respect for each.

This had no bearing on Adam but he was a classic product of someone who had been denied the simple pleasures of human compassion, and John felt nauseous at the idea of his children turning out like that.

Adam yawned tiredly. He turned to his backpack, pulling out a small sleeping bag. He snapped it open. He stood.

"I'm going to find that meteorite," he promised and then disappeared in the darkness, off to sleep before the next tiring part of their journey.

It wasn't until Adam's soft snoring could be heard that anyone spoke and even then it was hushed and conspiratorial.

"I didn't know you had a brother, Nick?"

To his surprise, Nick laughed and Fred joined in, sharing a joke that John had either missed or wasn't privy too. Nick smacked his knee lightly. A huge smile had spread across his face.

"I don't."

"What? Then why…"

"We wanted to get Adam to open up," Fred explained, grinning as he turned to his perplexed friend. "Someone he could relate to so he'd feel more comfortable."

Nick continued. "Nice one on the five year old gig."

Fred grinned from ear to ear. "Gotta throw in a joke."

John shook his head, amazed. This wasn't the first time that he'd underestimated their intelligence and he doubted it would be the last. Somehow they had realised what he was trying to pry out of Adam, and then had successfully managed to communicate a plan of action without any words being exchanged. The amazing part was that they'd created a fictional character so believable that even John, a long time friend of Nick, had believed in it. He didn't wish to criticise his friend but Nick had been unnaturally perceptive that day. He wasn't even aware he was capable of showing such insight.

"Why Nick? No offence but you're hardly Adam's favourite person."

"Exactly. Now they have something in common and Adam should stop being so mean and start being nice."

Another foolish mistake on John's part again he cursed himself for not making the connection earlier. It was simple psychology that practically everyone knew, well, everyone except him anyway.

"Did you plan this?"

"Nope."

Even more wondrous. The conversation that had finally succeeded in opening Adam's heart had not been one of the vigorously planned ones that he and the others attempted, but was brought about by a random spark of spontaneity.

"You two amaze me…"

John confessed and they all grinned like Cheshire cats.

&*****************************************************************************************&

There were only a small amount of differences between the desert at night and that of day but they were much more prolific than the usual, there's more light at day and it's warmer. The temperature at night wasn't just colder, but was hatefully cold. The sizzling heat of the day was dragged away to leave nothing but an icy blanket over the barren. The temperature occupied two very opposite ends of the spectrum in an attempt to break the spirit with its gradually oscillating heat. They had unanimously agreed days ago that despite that their bodies trembled and their teeth clattered, the night made a welcomed change from the heat of the day.

Perhaps John's favourite change though was not the unburdening of the punishing heat, but the change in scenery. The moon washed the land with white light changing the sand from the boring gold to a more pleasant silver. It made a beautiful contrast from the black sky above them and the twinkling variation of stars above. No longer were his sensitive eyes exposed to the radiating sun and the boiling, clashing sky or the burning gold sand. It was also much easier to tell where they were going.

The wind continued to whisper untold truths, lulling them to a point half between sleep and the waking world. Nothing else could be heard as not one word had been shared between them since their departure.

Fred had led the way. This in itself was not surprising, the fact that Adam had let him was. Maybe they really had reached him.

Fred reached the top of the elevation. He froze in mid step as the others stumbled docilely to a halt.

Nick and John turned to one another, nodded, then scrambled up the bank until it no longer hid the view beyond.

"What's up gu…oh my God."

In the silver sand ahead of them, something shimmered weakly, a dark blotch against the landscape. The enigmatic object lay in the centre of a circle as if the thing had been dropped from a great height.

All men advanced as if the black object called to them with its siren's song. Fred in particular seemed taken a back, stumbling more quickly towards it as if it held a secret message especially for him. Adam tried to pull him back but wasn't quick enough.

Fred suddenly broke into a sprint, arriving at the object before the others. His mouth fell agape and his eyes became the size of saucers as he lazily gazed at the object.

The rock was no bigger than a football, half buried by the sand. Fred dropped to his knees then began digging the rest of the comet out of the sand. He lifted it into the air, hands running smoothly over its chipped surface.

"Is…it…?"

John arrived first; face set in awe at the item ahead of him.

"A meteorite piece, our goal, we found it."

"You see!" Fred cried suddenly, leaping into the air with ecstasy, hugging the comet so strongly that it may have broken. "This wasn't a waste of time!"

"Alright!" John cried, punching a fist into the air.

"What…"Adam muttered.

"Is that its actual colour? Maybe it burnt up on entry," Nick interrupted as he tried to grab the comet from Fred's vice like grip. It took some effort to retrieve it from the over excited scientist but eventually Nick managed to prise the artefact away and as soon as he did he began polishing the surface fiercely with his scarf.

John and Fred hopped with anticipation; their hands stuck together in a praying motion and their eyes a blaze with resurrected enthusiasm. Adam looked on dumbstruck, eyes scanning over the meteorite.

"Woah," Nick breathed, his hand slipping away from the rock.

A constellation was trapped as tiny dots, all different colours and sizes, glimmered inside. The rock almost appeared to be translucent and a very mirror image of the sky above them.

"It's beautiful."

"Can I?" John queried.

He slowly reached towards the meteorite, his fingers coming to rest on its cool surface. He allowed himself to take a quick breath as he explored the surface area and then rapped his knuckles against it.

The very comet itself seemed to hum with life, not the dead rock that they had been expecting but a different one all together.

"It's hollow."

Meanwhile Fred had shakily pulled off his backpack and was now tossing every item out of it as he searched for his equipment. He squeaked in delight as he pulled out a small box. Nick was doing the same thing except his didn't contain scientific equipment such as Fred's but a long manually powered drill.

"Do we have to?" John complained, eyeing the drill as if it was solely responsible for everything that had ever gone wrong in his life.

Nick looked up. "If we want to know what's inside then yes."

"Shouldn't we wait until we get a proper laboratory?"

"No," came the simple answer.

Again the meteorite piece exchanged hands until Fred was once again in possession. Nick leant over the rock and gingerly began drilling into the centre. John noticed Adam wince when he began drilling into the rock.

It was meeting with some resistance from the meteorite forcing Nick to become more aggressive sending both Fred and John into frenzy when they felt that he was going too far.

Nick grunted; his face set in determination, the midnight chippings circling as he continued to bore inside.

Suddenly the drill plummeted all the way, all resistance lost. Nick smiled smugly as he carefully withdrew the drill, a thick liquid now coating it.

"Uh, guys? I think we'll need a beaker."

The black liquid was trickling in several rivulets down the side of the meteorite piece. The others quickly grabbed a container and caught as much of it as possible. The liquid was like a runny tar as it slopped into the beakers.

Adam hesitantly joined them.

"Grab a beaker Adam," Fred said monotonously as he concentrated on gathering the strange liquid. Both beakers rapidly became full and Fred was forced to grab another. The giant agreed, grabbing not a beaker but an empty water container that hung on his waste. A small "A" was engraved on the lid.

And so they all set to work, capturing the enigmatic liquid before it was lost in the sand. Nick took the liberty of taking a small sample now that Adam was helping gather the liquid. Fred and John muttered excitedly as each container reached its filling point whilst Adam looked at the strange black liquid as if it were a god. John noticed that he was shaking and that his eyes had become haunted.

"This appears to be highly toxic," Nick said as he slipped another slide under the microscope "It has such a strange molecular structure."

"Let me look, " John demanded, grabbing the microscope before Nick could whisk it away now that the liquid had become depleted.

Adam looked on, whimpering slightly.

Then he began crying.

No one noticed at first, all too involved in the enigma in front of them then their team mate, but the sobs rose in volume and eventually John had noticed, even if it was more out of a petulance that his concentration was being disturbed than actual concern. Fred seemed almost horrified at Adam's reaction.

The tears were streaming down his face silently, glistening in the moonlight like crystals. John looked on, sorrowfully.

"Look," he started, his voice pleading as he tried to find the cause of the sudden outburst. "Do you remember why we came on this journey?"

Adam looked up through tear stricken eyes. Maybe the discovery of the comet had allowed him to vent those locked up feelings that could no longer be imprisoned. The realisation of his dream had overwhelmed Adam with emotions. The one thing that had kept him going during those cold nights as a child was now securely in his grasp.

When it became clear that no one was going to answer, John took on the burden himself. "We came here to find the fabled meteorite piece, and we found it. Not only that, but we're the only ones who have."

"How do we know the other guys didn't find one themselves?" Adam countered, his voice swinging back to anger once more but the hope he held was unmistakable if not in his voice but in his gaze, written in stone in his body language.

"Look at it, Adam," he said, gesturing towards the rock. "It's unlike anything documented."

"It's a new discovery," Fred confirmed, smiling weakly as he spoke. "I…have never… heard of anyone finding a meteorite that matches this description before."

"We came here to find something that would propel us to the greatest heights of the scientific spectrum, and we found it. Not you, or Fred, but all of us combined. We've done that."

"We're stuck in the desert though. What's the point of having an award winning meteorite piece when you're dead."

John didn't understand Adam's change of mood but accounted it to Adam's protective system. He had to make sure that his dream had been realised, not wanting to build his hope on shaky foundations for fear that it would be demolished. Accepting the dream would rocket Adam to a previously unexplored euphoric state and if he was presumptuous about the discovery only to find that it wasn't what he hoped, Adam, John knew, wouldn't survive the fall back to earth.

John shook his head. "We'll get out of this desert if we work as a team," he said gently, daring to take a few steps towards Adam. The giant looked down at him, all tears now dried up and his usual 'cheerful' self returned. His face sank into a scowl, angry with himself for releasing his emotions to the others and angry with them for watching.

"Nick," John called, turning to look at their kneeling friend. He looked up from the slide he was studying. "What have you got?"

"It is unique," Nick confirmed smiling cheerfully. "As you say, I think it is a new specimen and as a new specimen," Nick continued excitedly, "we get to name it!"

The others looked at him in confusion. Of course as they had discovered the strange chemical, assuming that it was a new discovery, they had the honour of naming it themselves. John knew that this was another potential for an argument, and decided to voice this thought. "Well, we can't name it after us," John said deliberately, knowing that they would fight over who got the recognition for its discovery. "We can hardly call it Dom Smith Utonium Morlon came we?"

"You're right," Fred conceded, as he gingerly sat down on the sand.

Adam sat down himself, deciding to only listen in to each suggestion given and criticise when he felt it appropriate. John rolled his eyes towards heaven; upset that Adam was obviously refusing to participate in what could be the greatest scientific discovery of all time just to be petit towards his comrades. Why was he so afraid to reach out to the comet? Was his dream that brittle?

In many ways this debate mirrored that of the earlier one except this time they weren't naming something that they felt unique to them but something they had all found together as a team.

Nick looked up from the microscope. "This really is strange," he mused as he looked back into the microscope, fingers twiddling with the zoom on the side.

"The molecular structure is one of kind. It's so unique." He paused, then offered a soft laugh. "Why don't we call it something mysterious?"

"You mean like Enigma?" John offered. Adam snorted in disgust at such a grotesque suggestion.

Fred sighed in disdain. "What exactly is it?"

"A chemical from what I can determine," Nick told them, once again briefly looking up from the microscope.

"Chemical something…" Fred mused.

"All names for chemicals are so boring and unoriginal," Adam snorted, offering no more as an explanation. Between the lines lay the heavy message of 'we're gonna give it a good name or else' and was his attempt at a contribution to the discussion, no matter how feeble.

"I always liked magnesium," Nick said in an injured tone.

"I like the idea of going with something mysterious. After all, we hardly found it in ordinary circumstances. You must admit that finding this rock in this vast desert when we're completely lost is hardly normal," John thought aloud.

"I guess so," Fred conceded.

"Whatever," Adam muttered bitterly, the closest he would come to agreeing.

"So?" Nick prompted, glaring at them each in turn, "what do you consider mysterious?"

"How about," John paused, rummaging through the ideas in his mind. One name sprang to mind something mysterious yet short, catchy and memorable. "Chemical x?"

"Chemical x?" Nick repeated. " I like it."

"The letter x carries the implication of mystery. It doesn't explain anything about the meteor piece and, um, I can't think of anything else," he finished lamely.

"Chemical x," Nick repeated. "Chemical x, chemical x…"

"Who cares about the stupid name?" Adam asked them, that fire returning. "Is it unique? Will it make me famous? What does it do?"

Nick grinned sheepishly. "I'm not really certain. All I can deduce from this is that it's highly toxic, perhaps lethal to living cells."

"Maybe it's a virus?" John contemplated.

"A virus?" Adam asked, all bitterness and contempt vanishing from his voice. A strange sadistic grin grew on his face but was quickly swept away.

John resisted the urge to shudder; Adam's reaction so far had been nothing less than disturbing. First he had become zombified, the next he was crying like a schoolgirl, then he's back to his usually critical self. John wrote a mental note to discuss it with the others later.

"Great, an alien virus. I don't think anyone has ever found one of those!"

"I can't really say much about it right now. As John said we really need a bigger lab to check this out fully and that means…"

"…getting out of the desert, I know."

The four fell into silence, the sweeping wind being the only sound they could hear.

"How do we do that?"

"Answers on a post card please," Fred mocked, then cringed as he laughed at his own joke.

John suddenly slapped himself on his forehead waking the others from their own unspoken thoughts. "We've been such idiots!" He cried in frustration. The answer to all their problems had evaded him so far but now he had figured it out it was if it was in front of him the whole time. And they dared to call themselves scientists…

"I could have told you that," Adam spoke icily, not missing a chance to turn John's words against him.

"It's so obvious!" He cried again. "It's been staring us in the face the whole time!"

"Well?" Nick asked as he carefully slipped both microscope and slide into a safely packaged container. "Don't hold out on us Einstein."

John began pacing back and forth excitedly. He looked up at the sky, mumbling to himself as he followed an unseen path. He circled the three men, getting different reactions from each. Nick was too busy inspecting the meteorite to be particularly bothered about whatever John was doing. Adam tried to pretend that he didn't care whilst Fred watched out of curiosity.

"Well leader boy? What is it?" Fred asked, shifting onto another side to make himself more comfortable.

John ignored him as he mumbled an assortment of calculations, occasionally cursing himself for his stupidity before moving onto a new direction.

"John's lost it," Adam shouted, his voice filling the otherwise silent void. He was rewarded with evil glares from both Nick and Fred.

"It's so simple!"

"What is!?!" Adam screeched reaching the end of a very short fuse.

John blinked at them, as if he had forgotten that the others were even present.

"Um, the stars," he said hesitantly, pointing upwards. "Don't you remember Follow the northern star?"

"You follow the northern star to go north, John," Nick said slowly, not wanting to find a hole in this particular proposal but felt that he had to. "How's that going to help? What if we're right at the bottom of the desert and if we continue south we'll be out in a couple of hours?"

"That's not true," John jabbered. "We decide to head east when we first set off?"

"Only to find ourselves here." Interrupted Nick.

"The northern star. The Toman desert. All we have to do is follow the northern star and we'll be home in no time."

"Why?"

Realising that he wasn't making any sense, John tried to be more concise. "If we know which way is North, we know which way is east, west and south."

Fred twigged onto Johns meanings and made a little euphoric "oh" sound. "We entered from the west," Fred breathed.

"Yep. So if we head west, we know for sure that we're going to reach the Town we started in."

The others mimicked his earlier behaviour by also smacking themselves on the foreheads.

"And we think we're so smart," Fred admonished.

Adam remained silent. John reasoned this behaviour as him not wanting to build his hopes on shaky foundations, afraid that they would be cruelly demolished later.

"And when we get back with this meteorite we'll be famous!!" Nick cried happily, eyes almost glittering with excitement.

Adam let out a great yawn. He looked at them sleepily. "I'm gonna hit the hay."

"I'd like to investigate this meteorite a little more," Nick confessed and Fred and John nodded. Adam shrugged, then in a frighteningly cheerful voice he declared. "Well don't stay up too late. We've got a star to follow."

And once again he disappeared into the darkness of the night.

This time John wasted no time.

&******************************************************************************&

Thank you for reading part one.