The five monkeys quickly looked over their shoulders, silently gasping at the one whose lips uttered those very solemn words.
"…What do you mean by that…?" Otto whispered, his black, innocent eyes widening at their dark orange leader.
"I'll be back."
Without even a mere farewell he slipped on a flimsy brown leather coat and walked out the door belonging to the Super Robot, and into the fierce howling blizzard just beyond their cozy abode.
Four of the five remaining simians cringed as the door slammed shut.
Everyone looked at each other, looking almost desperate. This was the first time, ever, that their leader had left them alone like this.
"…Where do you think he went?" Otto asked quietly, turning to Antauri.
At first the black psychic seemed at a loss for words. His mouth kept opening as if to say something, but they just ended closing back up. Finally, he sighed. "…I don't know."
"So…" Sprx looked around uncomfortably, clearing his throat. "What are we gonna do now?"
"Good question," Nova muttered.
"Alright, I announce that we should at least put someone in charge for the time being… as in… until he comes back," Gibson said, his voice quivering a bit. "Any suggestions?" No one spoke. The blue scientist again began to speak in order to fill in the distressing silence. "Nobody? Really? …Well…" Gibson coughed. "I think Antauri should be our leader for now."
Antauri swiftly raised his head to his friend, who had turned just in time to catch the reactions of his teammates.
"Okay," Nova said softly, smiling. "I… don't think that's a bad idea."
"Alright," Sprx sighed. He shot a look at Antauri. "But it won't be permanent… right?"
"Let us hope so," Antauri murmured, suddenly feeling a bit uneasy about his new position. He slowly blinked toward Otto, who was gazing out the window, hoping to grasp a final glance at Mandarin.
Antauri couldn't help but realize one thing in the midst of this light conversation.
Otto didn't say anything about accepting Antauri as their new leader.
A few months passed…
The sun and their leader had failed to return.
…And the snowstorm had only gotten worse.
There were, of course, no signs of bad guys roaming the area, and if there were, the hyperforce probably didn't notice- the storm was just too thick and impossible to see through.
"I don't feel too good," Otto said, his voice clogged slightly by a sore throat. He threw his head down with a violent sneeze.
"Otto, c'mere," Nova felt his forehead. She jerked her hand back in surprise. Her face held a frightened, worried expression. "Otto! You're… You're really hot! Gibson…!" She ran off, her hands waving wildly over her head. "Gibson!!!"
Otto tried to laugh, or, at least smile, when he heard a large crash and an explosion in the room where Gibson held his experiments, but just ended up with another great sneeze instead.
Gibson's quiet, English voice echoed through his room. "It's probably just a cold. The Shuggazoom citizens have been spreading it around lately."
Otto rubbed at his wet eyes, his head gestured toward the door.
"Alright; this should do it. Give him about two teaspoons of this medicine and tuck him with enough warm blankets."
The green monkey opened his eyes just when Nova entered the chamber, a small, dark brown bottle, a glass of water, and spoon in hand.
"Here." She dropped the mysterious thick liquid into the spoon, and held it out to Otto. "Drink this. It's supposed to make you feel better."
Otto, in spite of himself, sniffed it while it dangled below his nose. That one whiff was enough. He pushed it politely away, sticking a bit of his green tongue out. "Ugh. No way! That stuff smells yucky."
"It probably tastes better than it smells," Nova pointed out. She stared at the medicine thoughtfully. Quickly, she inhaled it, and turned a light shade of green. "Oh, gross!!"
Otto laughed, clapping his hands together, but it all stopped short with another forceful cough. He muttered a small "ow" afterwards, feeling it claw callously at his throat.
Otto opened his mouth, and bit into the spoon, swallowing the dreadful, dreadful remedy.
"Nova!!! You lied!!!" Otto screeched, taking his tongue out in disgust. "Ih taise BAH!!!"
"Just one more, Otto…"
"Otto…" Nova stopped, gazing up thoughtfully. "Think of something. Anything to make you feel better."
Otto sighed, closing his eyes shortly after. He smiled, and, with that, Nova quickly inserted the spoon of the disgusting medication into his mouth.
Otto jumped, looking greener than he ever did.
"Swallow." Nova growled sternly.
The mint green simian winced, forcing it to gulp down his throat. He stuck his tongue out again.
"Good." She handed him the water, and in return he practically snatched it away from her and drank the entire glass within a heartbeat.
"Phew." Otto licked his lips, but made that face again. "I still taste it, Nova…"
"Just go to sleep, Otto."
"Alright…." Otto halted briefly, the covers halfway on his chest. He grinned playfully at the yellow female. "Do you want to know what I thought about that made me happy?"
"….Okay. What made you happy?"
Nova stared at him, her eyes wide with shock and skepticism. "Um… Mandarin?"
"Yeah. I… I daydreamed that he came back."
The mechanic nodded.
Nova bit her lower lip and forced on a smile. "Okay. Just go to sleep, Otto."
He nodded cheerfully again, and lay his head back down against the soft green pillow. Even when the lights were off and the door was closed, he could still hear her voice on the other side, talking to a certain crimson pilot…
"Oh, shut up, Sprx."
"…I heard, uh, that Otto wasn't feeling well."
"Yeah. I think it's the cold, or the flu. He has a high fever…" Pause. "I feel bad for him."
"Because he's so sick?"
"No, not that. It's just…" Another pause; and this time she lowered her voice in an almost desperate attempt to hide it. "…He misses Mandarin."
"Oh… Him too, huh?"
"He does know that he's not comin' back, right?"
"What? I'm just saying it like it is."
Otto arose from the blankets, his eyes glaring at the door where the conversation took place just the other side.
"Mandarin is not coming back…. C'mon, Nova… even Antauri admitted it."
"Sprx- he only said there's a slight possibility. There's an even greater-"
"'Slighter' possibility that he might not be coming back."
"….SPRX. Stop TALKING like that. If you don't shut it I'll shut it for you....Besides…Otto will hear you."
"He's asleep, isn't he?"
"I don't think so… I just left his room…. Sprx, if he heard you-"
The door slid open.
Nova and Sprx stared, their eyes at the ill simian with a large coat on. He stared at them back, but only for a few seconds and then continued on.
"Otto," Sprx's voice sounded sort of cracked. "Um… where are you going?"
"To find Mandarin."
Nova cringed, and then glowered sourly at Sprx. Before she could open her mouth Otto persisted, causing Sprx to quickly move in front.
"Uh, buddy…. I'm pretty sure Gibson wouldn't want you up," Sprx frowned.
"Then don't tell him," Otto swerved around him.
"Nova, I'll be fine."
"No, you won't be. I won't let you go out into the cold like that-"
"I won't go into the cold. I'll use the…" Otto coughed. "The Foot Crusher Cruiser 5."
"But you've never tried it before!" Nova cried, bringing her hands together. "Please, Otto. I'll ask Antauri to take care of it later. Right now, you're sick. You can't do anything right now… Please."
Otto turned to look at her. "…Promise?"
"I promise," Nova whispered. She swallowed, twisting toward his room. "Get inside and go to bed… I'll ask him now."
Otto smiled, mouthed "thanks" and walked in, taking off his jacket in the process.
Sprx blinked at her, an Are-You-Freaking-Serious? look.
Nova pushed the button and the door slid back closed. She sighed, peering a little sadly at Sprx. "Do you mind coming with me?"
Otto, once again at the other side of the wall, put his ear on the door. As soon as the voices and footsteps faded, he opened the entrance again and ran out, slipping the jacket back on.
No one- no one- was going to say Mandarin wasn't coming back anymore.
Although he didn't hear what Sprx was saying, Otto could tell he was pretty mad when he got in the Foot Crusher Cruiser 5 and left. The crimson simian freaked and tried to run after him, but stopped about half way and ran back to tell the others.
Otto felt just about rotten for lying to Nova like that, but he told himself he'd apologize later. Right now, he needed to find Mandarin.
The first hour wasn't so bad. The inside of the cruiser was shielded off of any cold, so it was satisfyingly warm inside. The second hour Otto played on the glass, blowing into it and making little pictures with his fingers. The third hour the green monkey fell asleep unknowingly, the cruiser continuing the freezing journey on its own. The fifth hour, he awoke, realizing in shock and despair that the cruiser wasn't moving anymore. He walked out and checked the motor. Apparently some of the snow had gotten into it and caused it to fail.
Otto coughed, slowly closing the flap protecting the motor, and quickly moving back to the vehicle. He paused thoughtfully, touching the door. He smiled. Maybe he could find Mandarin by walking?
Nah… Otto opened it, but before he could get inside he was attacked. Attacked?? He mind raced wildly. He rolled, blocking his eyes with his hand to see past the raining snow. The image was faint and vague, but he could tell it was a robot monkey. A red robot monkey…
"Otto, what are you doing out here??"
The green simian was quiet, uncomfortable, reluctant. "…Sprx… I-I'm… looking f-for Mandarin." The frost and the unwillingness made his voice shudder.
The monkey was silent for a moment, and for a second there it was as if he just wanted to pummel the ill mechanic.
"…Otto, are you sick?"
Otto blinked, surprised. He guessed it was pretty obvious, with his red eyes, warm temperature and pale face, but shouldn't he have known already?
"Well… y-yeah," Otto coughed again.
"Come here, Otto."
A thick, warm blanket shrouded the mechanic's face. Soon he felt a gentle push toward the cruiser's entry, and the pilot disappeared.
After a while, Otto jumped at the sudden start of the motor's familiar humming. Sprx came back, closed the door, and began the Foot Crusher Cruiser 5. He turned, and they started to head back toward, Otto guessed, the Super Robot.
Something bounced lightly in Otto's head as they continued to drive noiselessly.
"Um… Sprx… h-how did you f-find me?"
"…I just did."
Otto licked his lips. "B-but… h-how?"
"I was walking by, and you were there. It seemed like you were about to faint or something…" Before Otto could intervene he asked, "So you were looking for Mandarin?
"…Y-yeah." Otto felt the warmth return within the blanket.
"'C-cause h-he could n-never l-leave us, Sprx" The green primate smiled, and coughed harshly again. "Th-that's why."
Sprx was soundless. It almost made Otto want to regret saying anything. Now Sprx would probably go into one of those conspiracy theories and scowl at Otto's remark.
But instead Sprx wrapped one arm around Otto, and hugged him, the other arm on the wheel.
"…I'll never leave you, Otto."
Otto furrowed his brows, completely confused. He wriggled his head off of the blanket…
…And saw Mandarin driving the cruiser.
"That's why." Otto, currently well and in the present, sobbed. "That's why. He… He promised…"
The five monkeys had turned mute over the course of the mechanic's story. Their faces were downward, their eyes staring at the floor.
"Otto, buddy," Sprx placed a hand on his shoulder. Otto shrugged it off. "It's… It's completely different-"
"No, it's not!" Otto cried defiantly. He continued to weep, his shoulders shivering. "How, Sprx? How is it different??"
Sprx refused to answer, his face now very pale. Antauri, once again the new command present, stepped in, knowing it his duty to deliver the painful news.
"….Because he's not coming back."