by lightning bird
A/N This is based off a plot jackalope that was loaned to me by Deserthaze. Many thanks for the idea and I hope I do your jackie justice!
adj (postpositive) Informal
1. (of things) not functioning properly; broken or disorganized (esp in the phrase go haywire)
2. (of people) erratic or crazy
[alluding to the disorderly tangle of wire removed from bales of hay]
Chapter One: Stage Three
"You shouldn't do that."
Kevin Levin barely glanced up in acknowledgement, but he could feel the disapproval being sent his way by the green-eyed stare.
"Shouldn't do what?" he finally countered, gripping the screwdriver tighter as he worked the end of the tool between two plates of the laser gun on his lap. He shifted to get a better angle, reaching out to adjust the small lamp illuminating their campsite.
"Mess with a Null-Void laser," Ben Tennyson replied in a slightly patronizing tone. He swatted at a bug. "They're supposed to go back to DexLabs if they're damaged."
"This one isn't damaged," was Kevin's smart reply. Quietly he added, "Not yet, anyway."
"Calm down, Tennyson. I just want to see how it works."
"Why don't you just ask Dexter or Mr. Green?"
He snorted at the innocent question. "Like they're going to discuss trade secrets with me. Like I've even got a chance to get within shouting range of the baby genius." He looked up and gave his friend a tart smirk, trying to rile Ben, but the younger teen was looking off into the heavy forest surrounding them, alerted by a distant sound. Only a few hours had passed since they had beaten back an attack by a swarm of electricity-spewing Frightening Bugs and crawling, tangling Creeper Vines. Though they had been successful and could claim victory, there had been quite a few people wounded and they were too exhausted to do more than settle in for the night and plan to make their way out of the Twisted Forest in the morning.
"Chill. It's just an animal," Kevin assured him. "I've got motion detectors and perimeter alarms set up all around the camp, plus we got KND on patrol."
Unconvinced, Ben nonetheless returned to the topic of Kevin's vandalism. "They're not supposed to be taken apart."
"Giving me the basic training pep talk, Benji?"
Ben frowned. His first assignment in this war had been teaching recruits and he still gave the drill instructors at headquarters a hand when he could. Kevin had not been required to go through the basic training - not that he would have anyway - and therefore had not been given the safety courses required for using a Null-Void. That also meant he couldn't possibly have been issued one of the guns and therefore -
"Who'd you steal the gun from?"
"I didn't steal it. I picked it up so the bad guys wouldn't get it."
"Whose is it?"
"That Crystal Pez Flamethrower chick or whatever her name was that got shipped back to medical after the fight. You know, purple hair, wings, dumb hat, found out the hard way that she wasn't a ninja."
"Does she know you have it?" Ben asked sternly, annoyed that Kevin would make light of her injuries even if she hadn't proven to be a very adept fighter.
"If that's not accounted for she'll get in trouble!"
"Then maybe she shouldn't leave her weapon lying around for people to pick up."
"She was unconscious!"
"Gonna get me in trouble with the high command?"
"You can do that on your own without my help."
"True," he agreed, pleased that Ben gave him that much credit.
"One of the basics of weapons safety was that they can't be taken apart."
"Can't is an ugly word," he replied a little more sourly than he intended. "If they can be put together, they can be taken apart."
"Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should."
"Why so worried?"
"Dexter doesn't issue warnings without reason."
"Yeah, Dexy doesn't want anyone infringing on his patent and making a buck off of his work."
Ben frowned at the childish dig but the older teen pretended not to see the look. Kevin had passed up on his chance to meet Dexter and had regretted it ever since, though he would never admit as much. To compensate for his disappointment at missing the best weekend imaginable, including a NASCAR race - because the invitation had never been issued again - he had taken up the rather rude habit of criticizing the owner of DexCorp International every chance he got. He might have dropped it after a while if Ben hadn't talked about Dexter as if he was the second coming and the only hope for earth in this war against Planet Fusion. It was rather galling that one kid with a weird accent and a lot of money should be revered by the Plumbers and the military might of the whole world (plus a few other planets). So what if he was smarter than anyone? Brains weren't everything. From what Kevin had heard, the kid was spoiled, egotistical, rude, needed keepers and babysitters galore, was afraid of everything, and hid from reality behind his father and sisters and the walls of his business. Kevin's imagination and ire simply fed off that image. If Dexter was such a miracle, why hadn't he already won the war on his own?
"It's not that."
What Ben saw in the miniature freak, Kevin could not imagine. At first he thought Ben might actually just care that Dexter was a billionaire, mostly because that was what he himself would have cared about. When that proved not to be the case, Kevin had wasted quite a bit of time pondering what it could be that drew together two guys that had absolutely nothing in common. Ben had a girlfriend so it couldn't be Dexter's four (admittedly hot) sisters. They even nerded out over totally different things. It almost drove him nuts to figure out what Ben Tennyson had that would appeal to a stack of books with legs until the obvious hit him - the Omnitrix. Kevin would have bet every penny he had (which, next to Dexter's bank account, would have been a paltry sum) that the geek in glasses was rabid for the Omnitrix.
Ben had flat-out denied as much, which told Kevin that he was, quite literally, in a state of denial. Ben had insisted that he and Dexter were friends and it was because they were so different that they managed to get along so well. They hadn't always, but now as far as Kevin was concerned the two may as well have been joined at the hip. Ben spent more time with the Utonium family than his own parents lately, and he used to talk about the brainiac as much as he talked about Julie. That had ended a while back when Kevin had snapped at Ben and told him - in no uncertain and shockingly colorful terms - he didn't give a wrap what the brat was up to or what he'd said and if Ben couldn't find anything better to talk about, then he should just shut up or get it over with and marry the little dork.
"Those guns are dangerous."
Kevin snorted. "So what am I?"
Ben gave him a look that said he was a complete jerk. Kevin glared back as if to dare Ben to try and stop him.
At first Kevin had appreciated the silence that followed his outburst even though he knew he'd hurt Ben's feelings, but as hours turned to days to weeks to months, gradually he came to realize that Ben hadn't just stopped talking to him about Dexter, he'd stopped talking to Kevin, period. Since the day he'd told Tennyson off, most of their conversations focused on the business of war. Kevin had never expected to miss the annoying chatter or to miss Ben even when they worked and fought together. He had never before been lonely for a person that was right at his side and even though they still saw a lot of each other, it was as if they were simply acquaintances, not friends. He wanted very much to go back - not to unsay all the hurtful things (since he still felt they had needed saying even though Gwen had ripped into him when she heard about it) - but go back to the time when Dexter had not been a constant in Ben's (and by association, Kevin's) life. He'd never even met the kid and yet he was being haunted by him.
It was around the same time that Kevin figured out the next stage of his dislike for Dexter, Boy Genius. Stage one was the money, stage two was his friendship with Ben, and stage three was right here in his lap: the Null-Void. Dexter had rocked the world - and this corner of the universe - when he had started producing the equivalent of level seven technology on a planet that barely registered at level two. The Plumbers had sat up and taken sharp notice. Even the Galvans had shown interest and they were notoriously arrogant about their technology. Dexter had created something that the earth simply should not have had, something far beyond twenty-first century science. Kevin had no idea if Dexter had a clue about the impact of what he'd managed to do, but he was quick to realize that much of Dexter's money had to have come from off world sales of his technology as other planets and races fought against Lord Fuse and his planet-gobbling home world. He would have very much liked to get in on the profits, but the Plumbers guarded the Null-Void technology quite jealously, and DexLabs kept as tight a lid on their secrets as on their boss.
"Why the sudden concern, Tennyson?"
"It's not sudden," Ben snapped. "You'd know that if you'd get over this jealousy."
He raised his head, trying to look offended when in fact he was quite shocked. Jealous? Ben thought he was jealous?
"You think I'm jealous?" Kevin demanded, feeling rather panicked.
"What do you call it?"
"Dexter? Pfft. Me? Jealous of that twit? Oh, that's just -"
Kevin shook his head and returned to the gun, ignoring his companion. He hadn't admitted as much to himself, so he certainly didn't want Ben pointing out his shortcomings.
"That is such a load of bull-"
"Shh!" ordered Ben sharply. He rose, staring into the darkness beyond the perimeter of the camp.
"What?" Kevin asked softly, all differences aside for the moment. "You hear something?"
Ben shook his head, uneasy but uncertain of what was bothering him. He was edgy, Kevin could tell. Ben had protested staying overnight in the forest, but he was as worn out as the others, if not more so. Slowly he resumed his seat and their conversation.
"I know you don't like Dexter," he said. "You never even met him, and you don't like him."
"If you're planning on chewing me out, save it."
"Fine," grumbled the brunet, stung. "One last time, Kevin - stop trying to get the gun open."
"Stop trying to stop me."
"It's not yours and it's not safe."
"Not listening, Benj-ah!"
He grinned in triumph as the screwdriver, tightly wedged in the grip of the laser, gave him enough leverage to pry one of the panels off and expose the workings of a Null-Void Mark V laser. His dark eyebrows rose, impressed at the compact engineering even if he didn't totally understand what he was looking at. From his perch just a few steps away, Ben looked over with reproachful interest.
"Happy now?" he asked.
"Almost." Kevin was trying to follow the circuitry with his eyes, straining in the faint light as he looked for the plasma chamber that produced the actual laser. "Ah!"
He spotted the plasma chamber, a small, tubular reservoir. A free-energy generator this small . . . no wonder the Plumbers had gone crazy for it. This was neater and better engineered than the standard issue Plumber weapons. It probably drove them nuts that Dexter gave this stuff to kids to use. He prodded at the plasma chamber with the screw driver, intrigued. A moment later he paused, staring at the weapon. It was emitting a faint, high-pitched whining sound.
"Uh . . . is this thing supposed to make that sound?"
Said Tennyson sharply, "No."
He didn't say 'I told you so.' He didn't have to. It was understood.
Ben frowned as the perimeter detector Kevin had set up earlier let out a ping. Another ping rang out, lower pitched this time, then another.
"Is that supposed to make that sound?" he demanded.
Kevin looked up, realizing what the sounds meant. "Whu- Yes! Check the perimeter! It's been breached!"
"Great," hissed Ben, dialing through the aliens in the Omnitrix until he found what he had in mind. He slammed his hand down onto the control. "Swamp Fire!"
Green energy enveloped him in the familiar transformation that altered the very basis of his genetic makeup and turned him from human to -
"Big Chill!" He looked down at himself and the unplanned switch. "Okay. That works. Where are they?"
The Null-Void had been cast aside and Kevin leaned over the instruments he had set up the same time they had encamped. The pings had become a constant ringing sound. "All around us."
A KND officer rushed up, his battle axe at the ready. "Sir, we-"
"Wake the whole camp," ordered Big Chill. "We'll hold them off."
Kevin cast him a look as if to say they didn't have a chance of holding so many Fusion monsters off for long. "Got a plan?"
"Freezing 'em. Shoot 'em. Beat 'em back into Fusion matter."
"Sounds good." Kevin cast around, looking for an appropriate metal to absorb. His eyes fell on the laser he had just been dismantling and with a shrug he laid hold of it. He frowned at the unfamiliar material as his body took on a blue-gray hue. "Carbon fiber? That's a new one. Feels weird."
Shouts and screams of alarm rose up as the camp was rudely wakened. There was a blinding flash and a rumble like thunder as a Frightening Bug the size of a pony swept down from the treetops and unleashed its lightning attack. Raw electricity from the mutated lighting bug arced and danced through the night, briefly illuminating the defenders and attackers alike as it crackled and twisted. Heavy Creeper Vines with clinging tendrils moved across the ground at the same time, trying to ensnare the teenaged fighters as they protected themselves from above and below.
"Deal with it!" the Necrofriggian snapped, spreading his wings wide. "Incoming! Behind you!"
Right over Kevin's head, Ben threw himself into the fray, spewing freezing vapor as another Frightening Bug joined the sneak attack. Instinct overcame thought as Kevin tore through some Creeper Vines overwhelming a KND scout. Rising to the challenge, they all fought to save their friends and comrades and planet. As the battle grew in pitch and fury, Kevin forgot everything but the immediate conflict. Petty arguments, hurt feelings, good intentions and warnings were all left behind.
But the source of all those things remained, and the power levels in the discarded Null-Void crept closer and closer to critical.