Nothing Ventured, Nothing Trained

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Trained

By: Mark J. Hadley

The city of Townsville…home to the PowerPuff Girls! But what keeps them in tip-top fighting condition? None other than a rigorous series of training exercises, designed to hone their skills and bring out the best in them for the real conflicts that they face from day to day. Enter the Training Room…one of Professor Utonium's greatest creations, apart from the girls themselves.

Utilizing a series of advances holographic systems, capable of producing solid, life-like images within the confines of the room, the Training Room provides the girls with unique challenges, allowing them to face creatures and situations they've never faced before, to give them valuable experience that they can use later. Controlled by the computer, these holographic constructs can act unpredictably, just like real enemies out in the field, and based on the difficulty level, they can be fairly weak, or extraordinarily powerful.

The professor considers the room to be a work in progress, however, and constantly makes modifications to it. The girls themselves offered their own suggestions for changes. Blossom suggested that the enemies they face shouldn't just be more and more powerful monsters, but rather, higher settings could include an increase in intelligence and strategy. Bubbles suggested that the professor occasionally add personalities to the enemies…not only does it make it seem more real, but also, it affects the way they act. Buttercup insisted that there be a much larger variety of monsters, so the professor added a giant database of features that the computer can randomly pick from in each fight.

After all this preparation, he was ready to test the new enhancements, including a new one of his own. Calling it "The Intensifier," it allows them to start at lower levels and automatically increases the difficulty a step each time they defeat their opponents. This way, they can push their abilities to their limits. Now that everything was finally set, the testing could begin.

* * *

Standing in the center of the empty grid, the three girls waited for instructions from the professor. "What level are you starting us out on, Professor?" Blossom called out.

"Well," he said into the microphone, broadcasting into the room, "I know it'll be very easy for you, but I'm going to start you out on level 1…this way, I can make sure that The Intensifier is working properly."

Buttercup frowned, "Aw, man…fine, let's just get these sissy levels outta the way then, ok?"

"Fair enough," the professor replied. He worked the controls of the machine, setting it to Level 1 and activating The Intensifier. He watched as the computer took over, calculating all the foes that the girls would face in the exercise. He checked the power outputs and other readings, and saw that everything was working properly.

Inside the room, the girls got ready for the action to begin. Bubbles said, "This'll be fun!"

"Yeah, I can't wait," Buttercup grinned. "I bet I get more of the monsters that you two!"

"You're on!" Blossom said.

Outside, the professor rose an eyebrow at one of the power readings, thinking, That's odd…it's drawing in a little more power than I expected. Well, no harm done. I'll have to adjust that later. He signaled the girls through the glass that the session was about to begin. A computer voice announced, "Beginning Level 1."

The empty grid vanished, replaced by what looked like a wide, fluffy cloud. There was a bright, blue sky above them, and a rainbow overhead. Buttercup rolled her eyes in disgust, and said, "Oh, brother…"

Blossom ordered, "Keep your eyes open. The attack could start at any time…"

They heard a sound behind them, and all three of them spun around. They saw a dozen tiny rabbits hopping towards them. Stopping in front of the girls, they looked up at them with cute little smiles. "Bunnies!" Bubbles shouted happily, and she leaned down, petting the nearest one on the head softly.

"Professor!" Buttercup protested. "You gotta be kidding! Are you sure the computer's working right? These aren't monsters!"

A moment later, the rabbit that Bubbles was petting suddenly bared a large set of fangs, and bit her on the hand. She yelped, pulling her hand away, "Ow!" In the meantime, the other rabbits all bared their own fangs, growling.

Blossom fell into a fighting position and smiled, "See? We've already learned a good lesson from this: looks can be deceiving. Now, let's get 'em!" The rabbits leapt at the girls, but they were too fast. They dodged, and in four quick punches and kicks each, they knocked out all the rabbits. Blossom thought, That was way too easy. But then, it is only Level 1.

The computer voice around them announced, "Level 1 complete. Beginning Level 2." The clouds faded out, replaced with a baseball stadium. Buttercup just glanced around and said, "Huh?"

The professor's voice broadcast from the air, "It's working! The Intensifier is showing Level 2. Success!"

"Way to go, Profess—…" Blossom began, but then she was clocked in the side of the head by a baseball. It knocked her a little off-balance. She rubbed her head, and said, "Hey! What the…?"

Standing downfield from them was a thin, somewhat scrawny-looking baseball player. He wore a glove, and had a stack of baseballs near him. Shaking a fist into the air, he called out, "PowerPuff Girls! Prepare to be struck out by…the Pitcher!"

Buttercup facepalmed, while Bubbles smiled to herself. Hey, personality! she thought. That was my idea! She waved at the baseball player and said, "Hi, Pitcher!"

"That's The Pitcher to you, girls!" he said, scooping up a handful of baseballs, "Now, face the deadly wrath of my fastball!" He suddenly started throwing baseballs quickly towards them. The girls raised their arms protectively in front of them, as the balls bounced off.

"Hey…ow! Cut it out!" Blossom shouted back.

Buttercup gritted her teeth, and said, "That's it!" She flew up and caught one of the baseballs, and said, "You wanna see a fastball? Watch this…" She wound up, and flung the baseball at an incredible speed…the ball caught fire in midair, it was going so fast. It beaned The Pitcher on the head, knocking him flat.

"He's outta there…fast thinking, Buttercup!" Blossom said.

"Yeah, whatever," she said, floating back down. "I just wanna get to the good stuff as fast as we can."

"Level 2 complete," came the computer voice. "Beginning Level 3."

* * *

Miles away, above the Townsville Power Plant, some storm clouds were gathering. It was a sudden, freakish change of weather, considering that it had been a clear evening up to that point. Several flashes of lightning appeared in the sky, and finally, a bright blue bolt of lightning struck down from the storm clouds. It struck the power plant, and electrical energy coursed along the outside. This energy was there only for a moment, before it migrated quickly along the power lines. All the lights in Townsville flickered at this sudden surge of power…

* * *

The spikey, snarl-toothed beast collapsed to the ground under the girls' attacks, Buttercup dusted off her hands and said, "Piece o' cake."

"It only seems easier 'cause we're all here together," Blossom said, "instead of one at a time. But yes, I think we can take this all the way up to level 11, what do you think, Professor?"

The professor broadcast into the room, "Looking good, girls! All the enhancements seem to be working perfectly…"

The computer cut him off, "Level 6 complete. Beginning Level 7."

At once, the scene changed. They were in Townsville, and three large, cat-like creatures with green, slimy skin were clawing at one of the buildings. Their heads snapped to look in the girls' direction, and they hissed angrily.

"Good, there's only three of them," Blossom said, and quickly ordered, "Buttercup, you take the one on the left. Bubbles, the one on the right. I'll take the center one. Now, let's do it!"

The professor watched them approach the monsters through the observation window. He was impressed at how well the girls handled the higher levels of the Training Room. He thought about one day increasing the difficulty maximum, so that they could get a higher degree of training…but he didn't feel they were quite ready for it yet…

His thoughts were interrupted when the lights in the lab flickered strangely. "What the…?" he began, but then a moment later, arcs of electricity started to course through the Training Room's control board. Several panels exploded in a shower of sparks, and the professor threw his arms up in front of himself protectively.

Inside the simulation, the girls were just about to reach the monsters, when everything around them flickered for a second. They stopped, confused, and Bubbles asked, "What's happening?"

"I don't know…Professor?" Blossom said.

The professor examined the smoking control panels, and frowned. Whatever it was, it did some damage. Yet, according to the readouts, the simulation was still running. "At least it wasn't any permanent damage," he muttered to himself. He spoke into the microphone, broadcasting into the room, "We've, uh, had a power surge out here. It looks like everything's still working all right, but I'd like to go over the systems to make sure. Finish up that fight, and then come back out…"

Blossom nodded, "Right! Now, let's…"

She broke off. The monsters they were about to fight were missing. The girls glanced around, looking for them, but they were nowhere in sight. Buttercup commented, "Maybe they're hiding or something…"

She was suddenly knocked from the air by something, and crashed into the ground below. She tried to get up, but something was pinning her down. Blossom and Bubbles both recoiled as something struck them each in the face, knocking them back a few feet.

"They're invisible!" Blossom shouted. In the back of her mind, she thought, Nice touch…must be from that new database of features that Buttercup wanted. She was about to give an attack strategy, but something gripped her across her chest, like claws—or teeth—and shook her around madly.

Meanwhile, the monster near Bubbles had grabbed a hold of one of her pigtails and was tugging on it. She waved her arms around, trying to shake free, "Ow…ow…ow!"

Raising her feet, Buttercup kicked the invisible creature off of herself. She grinned in satisfaction as she saw a crack in the side of a building where it impacted. She quickly fired her eyebeams at the spot, but unfortunately, it had already moved. No sooner had this happened, then the creature that was holding Blossom flung her directly into Buttercup, knocking them both to the ground.

Bubbles managed to get free, and flew over to the other girls, "We can't even see them! How are we going to stop them?"

Buttercup sat up from the ground, rubbing her head. As she did, she waved her arms to shush the other girls, "Shhhh…listen…do you hear that?"

They all stayed quiet and listened, using their ultrasonic hearing. They could just barely hear the sound of the creatures' breathing and the faint clacking sound of their claws against the pavement as they moved closer. Blossom nodded silently to the others, smiling, and gave a few quiet gestures, indicating which of the creatures each one should take.

After a few more moments of listening to them, Blossom shouted, "Now!" and all three leapt into action. They each blasted with their eyebeams at the spot where they last heard them, and the beams all struck their intended targets. Before the monsters could recover, they were on them with punches and kicks. In a few moments, they had finished them off…Buttercup gave hers a few extra punches just to make sure.

"We did it!" Bubbles exclaimed. She waved over to the observation window and called out, "Okay, Professor! We're ready to come out now!"

The Professor nodded, and punched a few buttons in order to deactivate the simulation. Nothing happened. He rose an eyebrow questioningly, and tried it again. Still nothing.

Blossom looked around, noticing that the simulation hadn't ended yet. She said, "Uh, Professor? Anytime now."

Instead of the Professor's voice, they heard the computer voice around them say, "Level 7 completed. Beginning Level 8." The scene faded away and was replaced by a clearing in a forest. The girls looked around, not understanding why it hadn't shut down…they were supposed to come out now, not start another fight.

"Professor," Blossom said, confused, "what's going on?"

"I'm sorry," the professor's voice broadcast. "I'm having some problems shutting down the simulation…that power surge must have fused some parts of the system. I'm working on it."

Buttercup frowned, "Well, where's the door? Can't we just walk out?"

He broadcast again, "I'm afraid not. The door seals during a training session to prevent anything in the lab from being damaged. And I'm also afraid that the door and the walls are solid Duranium. I only did that so that they wouldn't be damaged from the fighting, but this also means you're stuck in there for right now…"

"Well," Blossom observed, looking around at the empty woods, "at least you've disabled the monsters. We can just take it easy until you find a way to shut this thing down."

"But…I didn't disable…" the professor began. Almost as if on cue, the ground beneath Blossom's feet shifted, and a large mouth snapped up from the soil, clamping down completely around her in one fluid motion. The other girls gasped in surprise.

"Blossom!" Bubbles shouted. Before the monster could disappear back underground, she grabbed hold of one of its jaws, while Buttercup grabbed the other one. They pulled hard, slowly prying them back open again…Blossom flew out, covered with small teeth marks and sticky green saliva, but otherwise okay.

The professor, in the meantime, pulled one of the panels free from the console, examining the wiring underneath. It was a mess…there were dozens of blown circuits and other shorts in the system. This would take time to fix, for certain.

Inside, the girls had just managed to rip the worm-like monster free from the ground, and threw him against a tree, splattering him. Blossom wiped the monster saliva off of herself and said, "Yeech…that was pretty gross. "

"At least we stopped it," Bubbles pointed out. "Now what?"

Buttercup said, "Now we wait until the professor gets us ou—…"

"Level 8 completed," came the computer voice, cutting off Buttercup. "Beginning Level 9."

As the world around them changed, becoming the streets just in front of City Hall, Blossom said, "Oh no! I forgot about The Intensifier! Girls, listen, whatever comes out, don't fight it, just avoid it at all costs. As long as we don't beat it, the level won't keep going up!"

"Yeah, and we won't keep getting more monsters either, right?" Bubbles asked.

"Right," Blossom nodded.

Buttercup thought about this, and said, "Nah, I got a better idea. The difficulty only goes up to eleven, doesn't it?"

"I think so," Blossom replied, glancing over to the observation window. "Professor?"

After a few seconds, the professor broadcast, "That's right. The training room was originally designed with eleven skill settings. I just realized that I never did put a check against this into The Intensifier, so the system should crash and shut down automatically if it tries to continue from that point."

"Yeah!" Buttercup exclaimed. "So let's just beat these things as fast as we can, so we can get outta here!" She looked around, and finally spotted it…a large blob monster was smashing its fist into City Hall. "Over there! C'mon, let's go!"

* * *

Deep inside the Training Room computer sat its power storage module, a large battery that provided a steady flow of electricity to the rest of the device's systems. It normally stayed charged while attached to the city's main power. However, what the professor didn't know was that power surge had damaged this portion of the system. It was already draining a heavier supply of electricity than normal, and when the surge had hit, it was too much for the connections. The battery was cut off from the city's main power, but a strange blue electricity still surrounded it, never dying away…

* * *

"Level 10 completed. Beginning Level 11."

The girls prepared themselves, "All right, just one more to go," Blossom said. "We can do it…I know it's the hardest difficulty level, but we've had worse!"

Bubbles nodded, but panted a little, "I'm getting a little tired…"

"You're okay, Bubbles," Buttercup said. "It's just one more fight. Any second now…"

The scenery around them shifted, changing into a tiny island. As they watched, an absolutely enormous sea serpent rose up out of the waters near the edge of the island and roared loudly. The girls stood their ground, although they were astonished by the power of the beast's sheer presence. Blossom swallowed once, and said, "Okay, girls, plan pi-episolon-four! Let's make this good!"

Blossom and Buttercup each shot in separate directions, diving into the water, while Bubbles flew straight up, stopping in front of the monster's face. She cringed a little as it growled at her, and thought, I don't like this plan…why do I gotta be the one to do this part? She floated forward and smacked it right on the nose…not really enough to hurt it, but enough to make it angry…then she spun around and flew away from it. The beast roared and lunged after her.

It didn't get far, though. Confused, it looked behind itself and saw that Blossom and Buttercup had sneaked up and grabbed hold of its tail under the water. They flew up and out, dragging the beast up by the tail and pulling it into the air. It lashed about, but dangled helplessly. Bubbles immediately flew back and started punching it in the head, harder now than before.

Everything was going according to plan, until the skin of the sea serpent suddenly became electrified. As the electricity coursed through Blossom and Buttercup, they lost their grip…the beast plunged back into the water. Bubbles called out, "Are you all right?"

"Fine…a little shocked…" Blossom said. Her hair was also standing up on end, so she quickly brushed it back into place.

Buttercup did the same with hers, but suddenly stopped and shouted, "Bubbles, look out!" As Bubbles spun around, the sea serpent's tail lunged through the air behind her, coiling around her waist. She gave a startled scream and tried to free herself, but she was held tight. The other girls flew over quickly, but it took all of their strength to pry Bubbles out from the creature's grasp.

As the head of the sea serpent poked up out of the water, the girls opened fire at it with their eyebeams, but they rebounded harmlessly off of its scales. The creature opened its mouth and dove towards them…at that moment, Blossom said, "Its scales are too tough! Aim for the mouth!" They fired their eyebeams once again, just before it was upon them, and sure enough, the beast growled in pain. The beams burned deep into its long neck, cutting through it and causing it to suddenly explode.

"We did it!" Bubbles said, hugging Blossom's arm cheerfully.

"Yeah!" Buttercup said, thrusting her arms into the air in triumph. "I told ya! We can take anything!"

As they celebrated, the computer voice announced, "Level 11 completed." The girls cheered together, and the professor, watching this through the window, gave a sigh of relief.

Blossom said, "All right, time to leave…"

She was interrupted, though, when the voice continued, "Beginning Level 12."

Their smiles disappeared from their faces. Bubbles released Blossom from her hug, and Buttercup's arms slowly lowered down to her side. They stared silently into the air, and Bubbles finally whispered, "Wh…what…"

"But…but there is no level 12…" Blossom protested. "There isn't! What's going on?"

Buttercup looked out towards the observation window and said, "Professor?!"

The professor gaped at the readouts that were appearing on the console…he spoke into the microphone, "I don't believe it…The Intensifier is making a calculated level increase! It shouldn't be doing this!"

As he spoke, the scenery around the girls changed. Suddenly, they found themselves on a dark, alien-looking landscape. The stars shone brightly up above, along with an unfamiliar pair of moons. There were large rock outcroppings everywhere. The girls looked around in shocked confusion, and Buttercup shouted, "Professor! You gotta do something!"

"I'm working on it!" he broadcast back. "This is not good, girls…if it can add a level 12, who's to say it won't add a level 13? You must try to avoid advancing the level any further, at all costs!"

"Understood," Blossom nodded, but then she froze, as did the other girls. They rapidly became aware that they were being watched. Looking around, they saw dozens of tiny glowing yellow eyes from the darkness, hiding amongst the rock outcroppings. They made no threatening moves yet, but it was still chilling.

Bubbles hugged Blossom's arm again, this time in fear, and she whispered, "I'm scared…"

"Hang in there…" Blossom said, not taking her eyes off the hidden shapes. After a few seconds, they slowly came into view. They were large, slender creatures, with pitch-black skin, and they looked very deadly. They crawled forward across the landscape like stalking cats, barely making any sound at all beyond the very faint scrape of their large claws against the rock. Their jaws were lined with long, sharp teeth, and dripped with venom. Their yellow eyes glowed ominously, even in the dim light.

Without making any sudden moves, the girls hovered into the air, slowly trying to make it to a safer distance. All the creatures watched them as they hovered up. For a moment, it looked like they were going to be safe, but then six of them abruptly leapt into the air with amazing speed, covering a huge distance with a single leap. The girls yelped, and quickly flew to one side to avoid them. The six of them met at the spot where the girls were just at, but instead of smacking forcefully into each other, they collided feet-first, and pushed off from each other in opposite directions. Three of them pushed away from the girls' locations, and the other three were rebounded directly at them.

This maneuver caught the PowerPuffs by surprise, and each one of them was tackled by one of the creatures. They fell to the ground, pinned, and all the other creatures promptly swarmed towards them, like a feeding frenzy. Blossom strained every muscle trying to break free, and she thought, They're not only fast, but strong! And coordinated! What are we going to do?!

Buttercup's fury began to boil over, and she let loose a fierce battle cry. With one swing of her arm, she knocked the creatures off from her. She immediately started attacking the creatures with all her strength. Many of them scattered, but she managed to knock out or crush a good number of them. Blossom pushed the ones off of herself with her eyebeams and tried to fly up to a safe distance again. "Buttercup, don't destroy them all! We don't want the level to go up again!"

Gritting her teeth, Buttercup dodged a few of them that leaped towards her and said, "We don't have a choice, Red! They're…" She broke off for a moment to dodge another one, that came very close to grabbing her, and continued, "…They're way too fast! We can't avoid them forev—" One of the creatures struck her from behind, almost knocking her out of the air, but she regained control quickly.

Blossom started taking more shots with her eyebeams. Her eyes were beginning to feel sore from using them so much…she didn't know how much longer she could keep it up. As she did this, she heard Bubbles yell, "Help!" from down below…she was still being swarmed by the creatures below. She had just barely managed to keep most of them at bay up to this point, but now they had her pinned. Her cry for help was followed by a sickening crunch when one of the creatures clamped its teeth down on her leg, and her piercing scream cut through the air.

"Bubbles!" Buttercup shouted. She started sweeping the landscape with her own eyebeams, and incinerated a large number of the ones surrounding Bubbles. The rest of them scuttled off quickly towards the rocks. Blossom flew down to Bubbles, who lay there, clutching her leg in pain, tears streaming down her face.

Blossom picked her up and said, "Hold on, Bubbles! You're gonna be all right, I've got you!"

"It hurts! It hurts!!" Bubbles wailed. Taking a closer look at her leg, she didn't need to use her X-ray vision to see that it was broken, as it was crushed and twisted at an unnatural angle. Blossom gasped, and flew her to a much higher, safer position.

The professor broadcast, "Bubbles! Oh no…please try to hang on, sweetie! I'll get you out of there as soon as I can!" He looked around feverishly, as it occurred to him just how dangerous this would be to the girls. He hadn't bothered to program safety features into the Training Room, so that they would fight harder and learn more, but now, he regretted doing it. With the computer constantly increasing in level, all the girls could get seriously injured as well…or worse…

He noticed something strange. The computer's response time was down by a few milliseconds, according to the status panel. Nothing major when it came right down to it, but it still seemed significant somehow, particularly because this slowdown had not occurred on any of the other simulations so far. You can worry about that later, he thought to himself…Right now, concentrate on freeing the girls.

He finally decided that the control console was hopeless. Instead, he started working on cutting the power completely. Working quickly, he started removing the panel to the power storage module, while in the meantime, inside the Training Room, the girls had their hands full fighting back the simulated creatures.

As the girls hovered up and away from them, they all stopped their attacks and just slowly circled around beneath. Buttercup said, "They're not attacking anymore?"

"No," Blossom said, "it doesn't look like it." She gave another brief glance at Bubbles, in her arms, to make sure she was okay, then focused back on the creatures again.

Buttercup grinned, "This is perfect…we can just float right here until the Professor lets us out."

No such luck, though. Suddenly, all the creatures crouched, and leapt high into the air all at once. Their claws were out, and there were far too many of them to dodge. Yelling in surprise, both Blossom and Buttercup reflexively fired their eyebeams, slicing into them. All of them were incinerated except for one, and that one slashed across Buttercup with one if its claws. She howled in pain, and punched it hard in return, splattering it.

The girls floated there, panting at that close call. Buttercup looked down at the slices in her dress, with the cuts underneath, "I'm all right…I just wish we hadn't beaten them all…"

"Level 12 completed," the computer announced. "Beginning Level 13."

"Not good…" Blossom said worriedly. With her injury, Bubbles was out of the fight. That means whatever was going to come, she and Buttercup had to face it by themselves, and even worse, they had to protect Bubbles at the same time. Level 13, she thought. I'm not superstitious, but…I think we're in deep trouble.

Noticing that The Intensifier had kicked up the level again, the professor worked faster. He removed the panel to the power storage module, and immediately saw a problem. The cables that connected the battery to the city's main power supply had been fried. Yet, the battery was still feeding power to the system. Where was it coming from? As he reached out to touch the battery, it sparked, giving off a blue electrical glow. He pulled his hand away and cringed.

Inside the room, the alien scenery faded away, revealing a large volcano. They were hovering inside it…far below was a pool of molten lava, with no safe place to stand at all. That meant that they would have to keep hovering for this fight. Blossom gritted her teeth as she realized this meant she didn't have any safe place to put down Bubbles, either.

Buttercup looked around and said, "Where's the monster for this level? I don't see it…"

A crash of thunder from above alerted them. They looked up and saw a single, tiny figure floating high above the volcano. He looked vaguely PowerPuff in shape, but had long, silver hair, tied into a ponytail in the back. His eyes were also silver, but his outfit was mostly black, with silver highlights. A single, long blade extended out from the top of the gauntlet on each of his arms. He wore heavy boots, and had a dark grey cape around his neck. He was surging with power…electrical energy seemed to spark across him from time to time, and there was a deep purple aura about him.

In a voice that was incredibly dark and chilling, he spoke, "My name is Bleak, and I am your end, PowerPuff Girls." He raised his blades over his head, and streamers of lightning jumped between them. At the same time, the sky began to shake with thunder.

Buttercup was a little shaken, "Uhh, Bloss…"

"I'm thinking!" Blossom said…in reality, she couldn't decide what to do about this. This villain may be small, but he was obviously way more powerful than them, and that would mean they would have to use strategy to take him down. The strain of the situation was taking its toll on her, however, and she couldn't think of anything to do.

Bleak didn't wait for them. Instead, he dropped down from the sky with incredible speed, stopping right in front of Buttercup. He swung at her with his blades, slashing furiously, and she did everything she could to avoid getting hit by them. It took every ounce of her concentration just to avoid the incoming blows. Blossom could see the determination in her face, but she could also see the fear in her eyes.

Bleak didn't let up for an instant. He shouted, "Your doom is imminent! Do not try to resist it!"

Buttercup gritted her teeth and managed to keep avoiding the attacks, although she couldn't find an opening to make her own. She grunted, "I…won't…give in!"

I gotta help her, Blossom thought, and fast! She powered up her eyebeams and shot a blast at Bleak's back. Just before it hit, however, he stopped attacking with one of his blades and held it up behind him. The eyebeams rebounded off the metal harmlessly. He still continued to slash away with his other blade.

This did provide Buttercup with an opening, however, and she took advantage of it. Ducking under one of the swings, she rammed her foot into Bleak's chest, knocking him back. However, Bleak recovered way too fast, and pointed both of his blades at her. Two bolts of lightning jumped forth from their tips, striking Buttercup and sending her flying back into the side of the volcano wall.

She bounced off of it, and started falling towards the lava below…she realized this, and quickly stopped her fall before she hit by hovering again. In the meantime, Bleak turned around and faced Blossom, raising his blades once again. Blossom glanced down at Bubbles, still writhing in pain from her broken leg, and thought, I can't fight him and carry Bubbles at the same time…I gotta do something…

As Bleak approached her, she shouted, "Buttercup, catch!" She tossed Bubbles high into the air, in an arc, and Buttercup took the cue, flying over and catching her. Blossom had done this just in time, because a split second later, Bleak was upon her, slashing wildly. She couldn't believe how fast he was…she could barely follow his movements.

One of the blades came very close to her, and it sliced through part of her hair in the back. That swing had left him a little off-balance, so she immediately reached in and grabbed both of his arms. She struggled to hold the blades at bay, but he pushed back, and it felt like he might be a little stronger than her. He slowly managed pushed one of the blades closer to her head, little by little, the point edging nearer to her left eye with each passing second. Blossom pushed as hard as she could, but it just kept getting closer…

Buttercup watched this, and cursed to herself quietly…she didn't want to stand by and watch, and do nothing. Looking down at Bubbles, she said, "Sorry, but I gotta do this…" She grabbed Bubbles by her good leg and flew over to Bleak, swinging her like a club. The hit knocked Bleak away from Blossom. Bleak tumbled through the air, but brought himself to a stop eventually.

Bubbles hardly even noticed it, since her attention was still on her leg. Blossom said, "Thanks, you two…I was almost a goner there. Bubbles, are you okay?"

"I…think so…" she gasped through short breaths. "Lemme…see if…I can…fly…" Blossom nodded to Buttercup, and she slowly released her. Bubbles wavered unsteadily, but managed to stay airborne. Her breathing was still quick, though, and her eyes were still clenched shut.

Bleak sharpened his blades against each other and shouted, "Not bad, but now I'm afraid I'm going to have to finish you off."

Blossom didn't take her eyes off of Bleak, and quickly ordered, "Bubbles, you stay here…Buttercup, let's do this one your way, okay? Just attack him with everything you've got."

"Right!" Buttercup agreed, and both of them shot towards Bleak, fists outstretched. Bleak tried to slash at her as she approached, but Buttercup ducked underneath his blades, ramming both of her fists into his gut. As Bleak was pushed along through the air by her momentum, a pink streak shot past both of them...Blossom came around behind him and kicked at Bleak's back as hard as she could.

Smashed between the two, Bleak growled in pain, and Buttercup took the opportunity to slam a double-fisted punch to the top of his head. He plummeted down towards the lava below, unconscious. A moment later, he plunged into it, vanishing in a burst of flame.

Bubbles, hearing all the fighting going on, strained to open one eye and said, "What happened? Did we beat him?"

Both Blossom and Buttercup were exhausted. That last attack took almost all of their strength to pull off. Blossom said, "It's just going to go up in level again, girls...we can't keep this up! We just barely managed this guy..."

Buttercup peered towards where the observation window was and yelled, "Professor! Now would be a good time to tell us you found a way to shut it down!"

"It's more serious than I thought," the professor broadcast. "The computer's unresponsive, and I can't cut the power..."

The computer voice interrupted, "Level 13 completed. Beginning Level 14."

The professor immediately continued, "...and all the vial components are made from Duranium to prevent wear and tear. Girls, I've exhausted just about every available option, and I'm still no closer to figuring out how to shut the simulation down..."

"You're kidding!" Buttercup exclaimed, "Oh man...this isn't happening..."

Even Blossom, who had tried to remain optimistic through this, started to show signs of hopelessness. "What are we going to do?!" she said.

Bubbles started crying, "No more...please..."

The volcano faded away as the computer prepared the next level. They found themselves standing in Townsville Park. The terrain looked dead...the sky was a deep red color, and all the trees in the park were twisted and dark. Even the grass was a deep brown color. At least there was ground beneath their feet this time. All three of the girls landed safely, although Bubbles winced a little as she touched down on her bad leg. She immediately sat down on the ground, cradling her leg.

A moment later, they spotted it. A strange, crab-like creature crawled out from the darkness of the trees. It wasn't particularly large, but it had a set of huge pincers that looked razor-sharp. Still, it didn't look that tough. Buttercup even seemed to brighten up a bit, "Hey, is the computer not working right or something? This looks easy..."

"Stay away from it!" Blossom ordered, taking to the air again. "It's probably harder than it looks, but if it isn't, this could be our chance to stall!"

Buttercup nodded and took off, but Bubbles stayed where she was on the ground, still clutching her leg. The expression of pain on her face was worse than before. She said, "I c-can't...hurts too much..." The crab-like thing got closer and closer to here, and started to reach out with one of its pincers.

"Bubbles, no!" Blossom yelled...she flew down and struck it with a punch. It took a considerable amount of force to crack the shell, but she still managed it rather easily. It was split right in half from the attack. Blossom flew over to Bubbles and said, "We don't have much time, I probably just kicked it into Level 15. Are you all right?"

Bubbles looked like she was ready to pass out, as she managed to say, " don't...unhh..."

"You've got to stay awake, Bubbles!" Blossom shouted. "Sing a song, something to get your mind off of it..."

Through cringed teeth, Bubbles started singing, "The...the itsy-bitsy spider...walked u-up the waterspout..."

Buttercup shouted out, from above, "Look out, Blossom!" The two halves of the crab started moving, and suddenly, both halves regenerated their missing half. Now there were two crabs, and both looked as deadly as the first. Blossom scooped up Bubbles and flew into the air, stopping next to Buttercup.

"Now there's two of them?" Buttercup asked, "Geez, what next?"

Bubbles continued to sing to herself, "...down c-came the rain...and washed...the spider out..."

Blossom bit her lip and said, "Let's just stay up here where they can't get at us, and..." She barely got finished saying that, when the crabs suddenly sprouted wings, and started flying towards them. The move was so sudden, that both Blossom and Buttercup were taken by surprise, and when the crabs were upon them, the girls reflexively swatted at them as hard as they could to keep them away. Both of the crabs were splattered into pieces from the strike.

"Oh, come on," Buttercup chuckled nervously, "We can't get a break here! What next? Laser eyes? Forcefields maybe?"

"...up came the sun..." Bubbles sang, "...and d-dried up all the rain..."

As they watched, the pieces of the crabs that were left over began to grow. Even little pieces of broken crab legs ended up growing back into the full-size creature. Now there were a dozen of them, and they looked angry. They flew into the air like a swarm of insects, snapping their pincers dangerously.

"Aaaaa! Run for it!" Blossom shouted. Still holding onto Bubbles, she took off in one direction, while Buttercup flew in the other. The swarm broke off into two groups and pursued them. Blossom didn't know what to do. One of them landed on her back, and she shrieked, slapping it off as fast as she could. It was broken in two from the hit, and regenerated back into two complete crabs before it even reached the ground this time.

Buttercup had her own fair share of problems. She was cornered against a stand of trees, and as the crabs approached her, she quickly started batting them away, crushing each and every one of them. To her horror, the regenerating continued, and all this had done was afford her a moment of rest before they attacked again, now twice as many of them.

The professor observed all of this from the observation window. As he watched powerlessly, the girls flew up to the window. Blossom was still holding Bubbles, who was in even worse shape than before...she needed medical attention badly. He could see the fear in their faces as both Blossom and Buttercup pounded against the glass and shouted, "Professor! Help us!! Help us!!" A second later, several crabs landed on them, and they screamed, scattering away from the window once again.

He couldn't bear to watch any more. Unless he could find some way to get them out of there, they would be quickly overwhelmed. It was awful...the girls had fought countless criminals, villains, and monsters in the real world, and now they were about to meet their end during a training simulation, at the hands of one of the professor's own creations. He hung his head and gritted his teeth...if only there was something...something...

Something caught his eye. As before, the status panel reported a slowdown in the computer's response time. It did this before...what's causing it? he thought. Glancing back up through the window, he saw Blossom kicking a few more crabs away...they split and regenerated as before. When this happened, the computer's response time dropped slightly again.

Wait...that's it! That could be the key to this whole thing! He grasped the microphone and shouted into it, "Girls! All of these extra monsters are slowing the simulation down from the extra computations! Attack those crab-like things and split them off into as many as you can...maybe we can force the computer to overload and shut down!"

Blossom said, "Are you sure? If it doesn't, we'll be in worse trouble than before...we'll have to try to fight off hundreds of them!"

"You'll have to take that chance!" he broadcasted, "You won't be able to last any longer against them at this rate! Do it!"

Buttercup glanced over at Blossom and nodded, "You got it!" They immediately swiveled to face the swarm and started opening fire with their eyebeams. The beams cut a path through them, and as expected, more of them grew back. As this new wave of them approached, they opened fire again, but with the huge number of them, they almost didn't fend them all off.

There had to be at least a hundred of them now. Their eyebeams couldn't stop them all anymore, so they started punching away at any that got too close. Blossom had the most difficulty with this...she only had one free arm, since Bubbles was under the other. Some of them circled around behind Buttercup, though, and two of them clamped onto her arms with their pincers. Buttercup cried out in felt like both of her arms were going to be broken if she didn't get them off, so she swung her arms in front of her, smashing them together.

The professor watched as the computer gradually got more and more bogged down from all the creatures that it was being forced to calculate. Even the girls began to become aware of this fact. The crabs were moving noticeably slower. After another few seconds, there were hundreds of them, but their motion was lethargic, sort of like they were swimming through water instead of flying.

"I think it's working!" Blossom said. She hoped it would...she was using the last ounces of her strength, and it took almost all of her mental effort to keep going. Even Buttercup looked like she was ready to give in any second.

"Keep it up, only a little bit more!" the professor said. They did a final sweep with their eyebeams at the swarm, which now seemed to almost completely fill the air. As they started regenerating, there was a loud *POP* and everything became a bright, solid white. They shielded their eyes against the glare.

As the glow faded, they found themselves back on the empty Training Room grid. The lights became dim, and eventually went off altogether, leaving them in darkness, save for the light that was coming through the now-transparent observation window. A loud metallic *CLANK* sound, like a latch moving, came from one wall. They turned to look, and more light filled the room as the professor slid the door open.

The girls flew out from the room, and into the professor's arms, who said, "Girls...I'm so glad you're all right...we need to get Bubbles to the hospital for her leg, quickly!"

Blossom was exhausted, but she said, "I'll fly her there right away...c'mon, Bubbles!" The two of them headed upstairs, while Buttercup stayed where she was, wiping the sweat from her forehead. After that close of a call, she was a little shaken, but she was beginning to feel better already.

Buttercup managed a smirk, and said, "Hey, I took care of those high levels like a pro, didn't I? I'm even tougher than I thought..."

"You all are," he nodded. "Even mentally. Normal people would have wilted under all that pressure and those odds, but you three persevered. And at least you came out of it with a lot of valuable experience. I'm proud of you." He picked up a wrench from a nearby table and said, "Now, if you don't mind, this thing needs a complete overhaul before I ever activate it again..."

* * *

Bubbles came out of it all right. Her broken leg was set, and she was fine once again. She had to wear a cast for a while, but she didn't mind. The three of them had to rest after the ordeal, and thankfully, the hotline didn't ring at all for the next few days.

The professor, in the meantime, started installing all kinds of redundant safety systems into the Training Room, vowing that nothing as simple as a power surge would ever cause a malfunction like this again. At the very least, they could manually shut it down from any one of several emergency cutoff switches. However, upon looking over the programming malfunction, he realized that the error that caused higher levels to be calculated could still be useful. He added the extra levels, 12 through 14, to the primary settings, since he could see that the girls were becoming tough and skilled enough to handle them.

He stopped into the girls' room after he had completed his repairs. Bubbles was lying on the bed, drawing with her crayons on a little drawing board...her cast was already covered with similar such doodles. He walked over to the edge of the bed and said, "How are you feeling, sweetie?"

Bubbles looked up and said, "A lot better. I kinda wish I could've helped out more in there before. If I hadn't broken my leg..."

"It's all right," he said. "You did great. I'm sure if that hadn't happened, you would have been fighting right alongside of them, fighting just as well as they were." He glanced down at the picture she was drawing, and asked, "What is that?"

"Oh," she said, holding it up, "this is us in the Training Room..."

Looking at their smiling images in the drawing, he remarked, "You all look so happy..."

Bubbles smiled and said, "Well, we're having fun! This is s'posed to be us after we're good enough to beat Level 14."

The professor chuckled a little and thought, At the rate those three are going, that probably won't be too far off. Their strength and dedication never ceases to amaze me. One day, I know they'll be the greatest heroes the world has ever known...even if I wasn't sure of this before, after what I saw, I'm convinced now...