EXCURSION 8 - Viral Reality
By: Mark J. Hadley
The last time we met, I was going to say something to you, but I…
When the two of us were fighting the…
How's it going? I just wanted to say hi, and that I think…
Blossom sat at the kitchen table, writing the letter, pausing for a moment to think of what to say. She wanted it to come out just right. I've written letters like this before, she thought, but this one's important. I have to make sure I don't mess it up…
Bubbles appeared behind her, peeking over her shoulder, "Whatcha writing?"
Covering up the paper with her arms, she said, "Nothing…go 'way."
"Nothing?" Bubbles giggled. "You can't fool me…I know what it is, it's another letter to your boyfriend, isn't it?"
Blossom blushed a little, and said, "He's not my boyfriend…I…I don't even know if he likes me…he's just a regular friend, you know?"
Smiling, Bubbles said, "Yep…just a regular friend. From another dimension."
"It's still no different," Blossom insisted, going back to writing her letter.
"C'mon, lemme help!" Bubbles said, flying around in front, over the top of the table. "You don't wanna mess it up, do you?"
"Well, no, but…" Blossom started to say. At that moment, the door to the lab opened up. Buttercup and the Professor emerged, and Blossom quickly folded her letter up, tucking it away, "Hi, Professor! So, are we leaving soon?"
"Pretty soon," he replied, tuning the HCMD in his hands. "I'm happy that you girls have decided to continue these dimensional excursions of ours. There's still a lot to be learned from them."
Bubbles nodded, "So where are we going this time?"
The professor grinned slightly. He knew Bubbles was aware that they had no idea where they were going to end up at any given time, but she enjoyed asking, anyway. Lately, it was sort of becoming tradition. So he gave the traditional answer, "We'll find out when we get there."
"Okay!" Bubbles said with a smile.
As the professor started to raise the HCMD, they suddenly heard the hotline buzz in the other room. He hesitated, as Blossom flew over to answer it. Her voice came from the room, "Hello, Mayor?…What, now?…Oh, all right, I'll be right there…" She hung up the hotline and came back into the kitchen, a dejected look on her face.
"What's wrong?" Buttercup asked.
"Nothing," she said. "The mayor's rebuilding City Hall today from that last monster attack, and he wanted one of us there to help move debris and stuff. It'll last the whole day."
"Aw…" Bubbles said. "Do we have to?"
Blossom nodded, "Yes, otherwise it'll take a whole week for them to fix it up. Don't worry, you guys go ahead with the trip, I'll stay here and do the job…"
"Are you sure?" the professor asked.
"It's all right," Blossom said, waving it off. "I'll just wait for the next one, okay? Have fun!"
Nodding, the professor activated the HCMD, opening the vortex up. He stepped through, and Buttercup followed. Bubbles turned and said, "See you later, Blossom! Good luck with the letter!" She flew through the vortex, and it sealed up behind her. Blossom half-smiled, and flew out from the house, on her way to City Hall…
* * *
They emerged from the vortex into vaguely familiar territory, as usual. They were still in the kitchen, and it looked normal enough, but it was slightly run-down, like it hadn't been cleaned in a month or two. All things considering, it wasn't the worst they've seen, but it still put them on guard…after all, if the professor ever let the house go into a state of disrepair, it usually meant something was wrong.
The lights were all out, and the house was quiet. It was day, though, so they could easily see with the light from the windows. I really wish someone was home, the professor thought. I never feel comfortable looking around without the "owner's" permission.
Buttercup didn't seem to feel that way, because she immediately started flying around the house to check it out, calling out, "Hello? Anybody home?" There was no response.
The professor walked over and creaked open the door to his lab. As he did, he became aware of a light from below, a soft blue glow. Bubbles flew over next to him, and called out, "Buttercup, over here…" She showed up a moment later.
The three of them descended down the stairs to the lab. The lights were off, and they couldn't hear anything except a faint bubbling sound, like an aquarium, off in the distance. The blue glow was coming from deeper in the lab, the source obscured by equipment, but still casting a faint blue against the walls. Curiously, they wandered towards it. The professor was in front, and froze in shock at what he saw…when the girls saw it a second later, they gasped.
There were three tall glass tubes that stretched from the floor to the ceiling. Each one of the tank-like tubes were filled with a softly-glowing blue liquid, with small bubbles constantly rising up from the base of the tank. Suspended in the middle of the tubes, though, were the Powerpuff Girls, one of them in each tube. They were each lightly clothed, just enough to keep them decent, and each had an oxygen mask on their face, the hose from the mask extending up into the top of the tank. They looked asleep…or dead. However, there were readouts on the side of the tank that indicated it was probably the former.
Still, they didn't know what to make of it. Bubbles looked at "herself" through the glass and said, "What's…what's wrong with her?"
"I don't know," the professor said. It was difficult to make them out entirely, due to some condensation that built up on the side of the tubes. He wiped his hand across the glass on the tube that held Blossom, so he could get a better look. It was then that he could see her skin clearly…it was a strange, pale color, and had several green blemishes across the surface.
"Are they sick?" Buttercup asked.
"It looks like it," the professor said. He frowned, thinking hard…The girls' immune systems are enhanced by Chemical X…so what could get them sick enough to go to these measures?
"Professor!" Bubbles called out. He and Buttercup came over quickly to see what Bubbles was looking at. On the table in front of her, she found an open book lying on the table. The professor immediately recognized it as a journal he kept on his lab work…except, a number of the pages had been torn out, in a hurry it seemed.
Thumbing through the remaining pages, he saw nothing but familiar material, all the way from his earlier experiments, up to the creation of the Powerpuff Girls themselves. After a number of further entries, though, he came to the missing section. Hmm, he thought. That puts it at about 6 months or so of missing pages.
Past the torn-out section, however, he noticed that there was still one page that still had writing on it, that had not been torn out, and by the looks of it, it was the last entry in the book. He looked it over carefully…it contained a partial journal entry, carried over from the previous (missing) page, and one last full entry:
-ing signs of remission as always, but it's still not enough. I'm still not any closer than I was any of the other times. When is this nightmare going to end?
I can no longer work here in the lab. I'm taking everything pertaining to AB and relocating my efforts to Townsville Hospital. That way, I can dispense the treatments in a more orderly fashion to those who need them. Their equipment there will also come in handy. I pray that I can find a permanent solution soon, for everyone's sake.
"The hospital," the professor said. "We have to go there. If we can find my counterpart, we can learn what's going on in this world."
"We'll fly you there," Buttercup offered. "Okay?"
He nodded, "All right. Let's go…" As they hurried out of the lab, Bubbles took one last glance at her counterpart, floating in the tube, and gave a brief shudder. It was creepy…she hoped they could do something to help them out, that was definitely no way to live…
* * *
Flying over townsville, everything looked strange. Much like their house, everything looked fairly unkempt. There wasn't hardly enough out on the streets, trash was beginning to pile up, and traffic was at an absolute minimum. This certainly didn't seem like the busy city Townsville usually was.
They also noticed something else…most of the people lying near alleys or limping down the street looked in bad shape. Their skin was similar to what they saw on the alt-girls in the lab: pale, with green blemishes. "Everyone's sick…" Bubbles said softly.
"Something's not right here," the professor remarked. "There's the hospital ahead. I hope we'll find what we're looking for there."
As they approached the hospital, they saw a larger gathering of people. They were all sick-looking as well. Many of them were crowded around the door, like they were waiting to get in. A number of them were lying down, and some of them looked like they had passed out…or worse.
Cringing, the girls flew up to the side of the hospital and looked for an open window. Flying in, they landed in the hallway and started down towards the nearest receptionist desk. As they did, they passed room after room where they could hear people coughing and sniffling. Each of them had the disease as well.
There was no receptionist at the desk. Flying around behind the desk, Bubbles picked up a piece of paper on it and read it aloud, "All calls to be routed to Professor Utonium in room 403." She looked up, "Hey, d'ya think that's where we'll find you? I mean, him?"
The professor nodded, "We're on the fourth floor already, so it should be just down this hall."
They hurried down the hall, passing by more sets of rooms, until coming to a stop next to a door marked '403 LAB'. The professor approached it, and knocked on it a couple of times. They heard a voice sounding like the professor's calling back, "Just a minute!"
After a few moments, the door opened up. It was indeed the professor. He looked perfectly normal, except for his skin. It appeared as though there were several faded spots across it, almost like the blemishes the other people had. Instead of pale, however, his skin was normal, and the 'blemishes' were almost gone. When he answered the door, he froze in shock, and became speechless, as he saw who had knocked.
The professor, wasting no time, said, "HCMD."
Alt-professor gave a sigh of relief, "Whew! For a moment, I was worried…I thought I was hallucinating or something." Glancing past him, his eyes widened. He pointed at Bubbles and Buttercup, saying, "Err…are those your Powerpuff Girls or mine?"
"Mine," the professor told him.
"Oh," alt-professor said, hanging his head slightly. "I was hoping you maybe brought a cure with you."
Bubbles flew up next to the professor and said, "What's happening to everyone here?"
Buttercup joined her sister and added, "Yeah, everyone's sick…"
"Why don't you come in," alt-professor said, "and I'll explain everything." He opened the door wider and let them in. The lab looked like the kind of thing you would find in a hospital, except he had modified it, adding pieces of equipment here and there.
"Now, about this disease…" the professor said.
"Yes," alt-professor said. "It all happened a long time ago. I suppose I should start from the beginning." He sat down on a stool and began, "About six months ago, a deadly virus appeared. People around the town started to get sick, even myself. I examined a sample of it, and found that it was extremely unique. It conformed to no virus I had ever seen before…plus, it spread very quickly, infecting a body in mere seconds."
"That's fast…no wonder it spread to everyone," Buttercup said.
Why does this disease sound familiar? the professor thought. Then it hit him. "The Amoeba Boys?!"
"Why yes…" the professor said, surprised. "They had caught a cold from standing out in the rain, and somehow, the cold virus mutated with their unique single-celled anatomy, creating a sort of super-virus. Even with this knowledge on-hand, though, we couldn't find a full cure…"
Bubbles was shocked, "You couldn't?"
"You tried everything?" the professor said, just as incredulously as Bubbles.
"Everything I could think of," he replied. "Even the girls' enhanced immune system was powerless against it. All it has was a delaying effect, it seemed; it took them longer to catch it."
"Ah, yes, that follows," the professor said.
Nodding, he continued, "Eventually, I found a sort of partial cure for it. More like a minor treatment, really. At first, it looked like it had worked…the Amoeba Boy virus had vanished entirely. But then it happened. Barely a couple of weeks later, the virus reappeared. Whatever had survived of it had mutated into a new strain, and this one was worse than the last. AB-2, we called it."
"What did you do?" Buttercup asked.
"I took what I knew from the first strain," alt-professor said, "and tried to use it to make another cure. Again, all I succeeded in doing was creating a partial cure for it. And sure enough, a couple of weeks later, yet another strain emerged. And then another. It was almost an endless cycle, it seemed."
The professor rubbed his chin thoughtfully, "So even though you were trying your best to get rid of the thing, in actuality you were making it stronger?"
"Yes, but what choice did we have?" alt-professor said. "If we try to get rid of it, we make it more powerful. If we don't, it'll wipe us out."
"The Amoeb--…err, AB was never really fatal in our world," the professor told him.
"It is, if you give it time enough to run its course," alt-professor said. "Like a fool, I just continued finding these mini-cures. No fatalities occurred, after all, so I didn't see anything wrong with it. And then AB-5 surfaced. It hit the girls first, and hard. I worked as fast as I could, and found the partial cure, but it wasn't working. The Chemical X in their bodies rejected the serum. It was fine for normal humans, but too heavy of a concentration for them. So I did the only thing that I could do…"
Recalling the tubes in the lab, the professor guessed, "You put them into stasis…until a full cure could be found?"
"That's right," alt-professor answered. "I'm guessing you saw my lab. Yes, that's what I had to do. I had no choice."
"So…what happened?" Bubbles asked.
He continued, "It just kept getting worse. By this time, it was starting to make its way outside of Townsville, out of control. By AB-9, it had spread across the entire globe. As soon as I found one of my partial cures, I had to send the formula out quickly to medical facilities all over the world for them to synthesize and distribute. By AB-11, almost everyone on Earth had been infected…that means that everyone will have to be treated for each additional strain of virus as they surface. We can't keep this up forever…already, there have been reports of scattered fatalities, from people that had not received the cure quickly enough."
"My goodness…" the professor breathed.
"I'm trying to find the cure for AB-13 right now," he said. "If I don't stop this one soon…this one shows the potential of being one-hundred percent fatal within a mere few days…"
"Oh no!" Bubbles exclaimed. "Professor, is there anything we can do?"
"Well," alt-professor said, "there is one thing you can help me with. Mojo Jojo had invented some of the most precise scanning equipment I've ever seen…if you could go to his hideout and get it for me, it might help greatly in the diagnosis."
"We're on it," Buttercup said firmly.
"Great…and you, Professor," he said. "You can help me out here…perhaps together, we can find a cure."
"Yes, I would be more than happy to," the professor agreed. Turning to the girls, he said, "Go find that scanning equipment right away. We'll be waiting here for you."
"We'll be right back!" Bubbles said.
The two of them flew back out into the hallway. As they headed back for the window they had entered the building in, Bubbles coughed a few times. Buttercup looked concerned, "Bubbles, are you all right?"
"I'm fine…just a little dusty in here," she said. "Looks kinda like they haven't cleaned up around here in weeks."
"No kidding, they've been too busy fighting this virus," Buttercup said. Together, the two of them burst out from the window and streaked across the sky, heading for Mojo's hideout.
* * *
It was dark in Mojo's observatory. No light came out from the windows. They cautiously opened the door and peeked their heads in, then sneaked quietly instead. "Think he's home?" Bubbles whispered.
"Doesn't look like it," Buttercup said. "Why would he keep it so dark if he was?"
"You're right," Bubbles agreed. "So what does this scanning equipment even look l--…" She didn't get the time to complete the question, because at that moment, a purple beam of energy struck the wall right next to her. She yelped a little, jumping up and hovering a few feet off the ground.
They could see a silhouette deeper into the shadows of the lair. It had to be Mojo. But then his voice came, which sounded cracked and weak, "P…Powerpuff Girls…"
"Mojo?" Buttercup said. "Is that you?"
He limped out into the light from one of the windows. He was in horrible shape…eyes puffy, skin paled, patches of his fur missing from his head and arms. There was a laser cannon in his hands, gripped tightly by both of them, but it was shaking, like he didn't have the strength to hold it. He wheezed, "You…*cough* *cough*…you here…to kick me while I'm down…yes…?"
Buttercup shook her head. "No…Mojo, listen, we need to borrow your scanning equipment…"
With some fierceness, he shouted, "Absolutely not…" until his voice cracked under the strain and he collapsed into a fit of coughing once again. When he finished, he said wearily, "Can't you just leave a poor, sick monkey be?"
"But we need it!" Bubbles insisted.
"Yeah," Buttercup said. "We might be able to use it to help find a cure…"
Mojo let the laser cannon fall from his arms, and shook his head sadly, "A cure…a cure…the last twelve 'cures' did not work. The virus returned each ti--…*cough*…each time. What good will another 'cure' be?"
Bubbles cleared her throat and said, "Maybe with your machines, they can find a real one."
"Perhaps…" Mojo said. Finally he turned and started walking back towards the darkness, "Whatever. I don't need it anymore. Take it, it's yours." He motioned towards a bank of computers on the far side of the room.
"Thanks, Mojo," Buttercup said, flying over to pick it up. She could tell that Mojo wasn't trying to be helpful, he was just too weak to care. Still, at least they had the equipment now. They could bring it back, and hopefully find a cure before it was too late.
Bubbles flew over to help, picking up one of the banks of equipment, and suddenly coughed a few more times. Buttercup said, "You all right?"
"I'm f--…*cough* *cough*…" The equipment slipped form her hands, and she sat weakly down on the ground. Buttercup set her own equipment back down and started to fly over, but stopped just before reaching her. She could see her skin, even in the dim light, had started to become pale.
Buttercup cringed, thinking, Oh no! She's got it too! "Stay right there, Bubbles…" she said, flying over and picking the equipment up again. She carefully flew back over with it and said, "I don't want to touch you…fly up and land on top of this stuff, ok? I'll carry you back…"
Bubbles nodded and coughed a few more times. She flew up slowly and lay across the top of the pile. She looked very weak now. Biting her lip, Buttercup flew out from Mojo's hideout, heading back to the hospital. Ah geez, she thought, I hope we can find a cure now…if we don't, Bubbles is in trouble…
* * *
Bubbles rested on the bed in one of the hospital rooms. Her eyes were clenched shut, and sweat rolled down the sides of her head. Her skin was covered with the familiar green blemishes now, and she went into another coughing fit. The professor put a damp rag across her forehead, and said, "Don't worry, sweetie…you'll feel better, I promise…"
Her voice barely a whisper, she said, "…I wanna…I wanna go home…"
"Take it easy…just rest," he said. She fell quiet again, before releasing another series of coughs. He started walking grimly out of the room. How do I tell her that we can't bring her back home like this? he thought. If I did, we'd risk spreading AB-13 across our dimension as well…
He returned to the lab, which was in the room right next to where he had put Bubbles. Alt-professor was busy working with the scanning equipment, running some tests. Buttercup hovered nearby, ready to render any other assistance that might be needed. Alt-professor looked up and asked, "How is she?"
"Not well," the professor said, shaking his head. "Any luck so far?"
"Nothing, I'm afraid," alt-professor replied. "I really thought this would give me some vitally-needed information, but so far, I'm just as stumped as before."
Staring back at the door, thinking of Bubbles, the professor said, "I can't believe that it got so out-of-hand in this world. I still can't believe that extracting a cure from the Amoeba Boys didn't work. Why didn't it?"
Alt-professor looked confused, "What? Why didn't what work?"
"Extracting a cure from the Amoea Boys," he repeated. Then, he thought about it a moment longer and asked, "You did try that, right?"
"We couldn't," he said. "I sent the girls out to look for them, but we never found them. We found out later, after distributing the partial cure, that their own virus did them in as they tried to leave town."
"But…" the professor said, "but that means…that means that cure could still work!"
Alt-professor frowned, "Didn't you hear what I said? The Amoeba Boys are gone…we can't get the cure from them…"
With a slight smile, the professor said, "Not from them, no…"
"What then?" alt-professor said. Instead of answering, the professor reached into his lab coat and pulled out his HCMD. Upon sight of this, alt-professor's eyes lit up, "Of course! I must have been blind not to see it before! Why didn't I think of that?"
"What?" Buttercup asked, "Think of what?"
Fiddling with the HCMD's controls, the professor said, "Buttercup, you and I need to take a trip back to our dimension and give our Amoeba Boys a little house call…" He punched the button, and the vortex opened up.
"Right behind ya!" Buttercup said, understanding now. She and the professor passed through the vortex quickly, and it sealed up behind them…
* * *
"Keep those presses rolling, boys!" Bossman said to his cronies. "We'll be rich in no time!" The other two Amoeba Boys continued working the tiny press, feeding paper in one end and pulling the fresh, crisp bills out the other. Yeah, Bossman thought, we're gonna be huge criminals after this! No one, not even those stinkin' Powerpuffs will laugh at us again!
At that moment, one of those 'stinkin' Powerpuffs' crashed in through the roof of their hideout, an old treehouse they borrowed from some kid in the neighborhood. It was Buttercup, and she was carrying Professor Utonium with her. "There you are! For cryin' out loud, we've been lookin' all over for you!"
Bossman laughed, "Ha! You're too late to put an end to our little scheme, Powerpuffs! Ah, er…Powerpuff!"
"What are you talkin' about…" She trailed off as she saw the printing press. She scooped up some of the bills sitting next to it and took a look at them. "Monopoly™ money?"
"Counterfeit Monopoly™ money!" Bossman declared proudly. "Once we flood the market with these, we'll own this city!"
Buttercup wearily slapped a hand to her forehead and, eyes closed, sighed, "Professor…let's just get the cure from them so we can go."
"Of course," he said. Going up to each one, he plunged a needle into them, extracting the Amoeba Boy virus cure. They didn't quite understand what he was doing, so they didn't struggle, although they each gave a yelp of pain.
"What was that for?" Bossman demanded.
"I've got it," the professor said. "Let's go, Buttercup." She nodded, and picked him up.
Bossman frowned, "Now hold on a second! Aren't ya gonna bust us for counterfeiting?"
"Yeah!" both of the other two Amoeba Boys chorused.
Buttercup rolled her eyes and said, "Later. I'll be back later, all right?" She flew out from the treehouse without waiting for an answer. The Amoeba Boys watched them leave. Bossman glared at his cronies, who just shrugged.
* * *
Bubbles opened her eyes slowly, "Uhh…what happened?" Some figures came into focus above her. At first she though she was seeing double, before she realized that both of the Professors were looking down at her, smiling. She smiled back up at them and said, "Oh, hi, professors!"
Alt-professor said, "Good, she's coming around just fine."
Nodding, the professor asked her, "How are you feeling, sweetie?"
"A lot better," Bubbles said. She yawned and stretching her arms and legs, then rubbed her eye sleepily, "What's going on?"
"We're ready to go home now," the professor said, helping her sit up.
Bubbles suddenly remembered, and said, "The disease…?"
"The cure is working," alt-professor told her. "It's actually working. There's no trace of AB-13 left in anyone that we tried it on. I've sent the formula out to the other medical centers, so that they can start distributing the cure immediately."
Buttercup flew up next to him and said, "They're gonna bring their Powerpuff girls out of those tubes now, too."
Smiling, Bubbles said, "So, everything will be back to normal?"
"Well, as normal as it can be when you have ultra-powered superheroes saving the day and all," alt-professor said with a slight smirk.
* * *
Blossom put the finishing touches on her letter, and sealed the envelope. I wonder if I should do this, she thought. I'm saying a lot here. Maybe I should hang onto it, think about it for a while. Well, I have to anyway, since the professor isn't back y--…
As if on cute, the vortex opened up in the kitchen, across the room from where she was seated at the table. Bubbles, Buttercup, and the professor emerged from it, and it sealed up. Blossom hid the letter and said, "So, how was your trip?"
"Not the best," Buttercup said, "but at least we saved the day again."
"Really?" Blossom said, and they nodded. "Wow…this is like a habit for us, isn't it? I guess we're destined to save the day wherever we go."
The professor scratched his chin thoughtfully as he set the HCMD down on the table, "Actually, there's something that puzzles me. You girls have never really 'lost', of course…and yet, in nearly every dimension we've visited, their Powerpuff Girls have been in a losing situation, or have lost already. It's only after our timely help that they end up winning. Does that strike anyone else as being extremely odd?"
"Hmm…" Buttercup said, thinking about it.
"Now that you mention it, yeah…" Blossom said. "That is odd. If they're supposed to be us, then how come we're losing so often in those dimensions? It's almost like our dimension is the only exception. We haven't lost."
After a pause, Bubbles added, "Yet." They all exchanged glances…it was obviously on all their minds, that maybe they were destined to save the day wherever they go, but that they're eventually destined to lose, as well.
Buttercup finally broke the silence, "Ah, they're not really us, anyway. See how we keep helpin' these other worlds? Maybe we're the only ones destined to win all the time!"
"That could be," the professor said, brightening a little. Then he waved his hand in dismissal and said, "It doesn't really matter, does it? You girls control your own destinies. Now…I think it's just about time for dinner, so what do you say we forget about all of this for one night, and I take you all out to Chubby Cheese's?"
"Yay!" all three of the girls chorused. The professor scooped up his car keys and headed for the garage, and Bubbles and Buttercup flew alongside him.
Blossom was going to follow, but she paused at the table, picking up the HCMD where the professor had set it down, and started fiddling with it. She put in the coordinates for the proper dimension, and hit the button to open the vortex. She pulled her letter out and stared at it…taking a deep breath, she reached into the vortex and dropped it, then pulled her arm back out and watched it seal up. Well, that's it, she thought, with a slight smile…There's no turning back now…