Ten minutes later, the newly dressed Cindy and Libby arrived in the cockpit, where Aurora and April were waiting for them. The autopilot was switched on, and the ship hummed as it floated through the void. April bared her fangs in a wide-toothed grin when she caught sight of the girls.
“Great outfits, you two! Excellent radiation control, and they’re very himp!”
“It’s “hip,” April,” corrected Aurora. “And nobody uses that term anymore.”
Libby twirled, admiring the way the light reflected off the blended gold, scarlet, and rosy hues of her suit, while Cindy ran her hands over the holographic strips on her arms.
“I couldn’t have picked a better one myself, Libs. Nice eye for style.”
“Well, you know what they say: if you want to defeat a crazed evil dictator, you gotta look your best.”
“Truth, sister,” said Cindy, before glaring toward the door. “OK, seriously, what is taking the boys so long?”
Aurora twirled a strand of hair around her finger. “Oh…they must be having some trouble getting Carl into his new outfit.”
She gave a low, rippling laugh, and Libby stifled a giggle of her own.
“What?” demanded Cindy. “What is so funny?”
Just then, the cockpit doors slid open, and Goddard scampered through. The girls awaited the boys’ entrance at full attention, but nobody appeared.
“Aww, what's the matter, gents?” asked Aurora. “Afraid to give us a little turn on the catwalk?”
All four of the girls laughed, and a bashful looking Jimmy entered the room.
He scratched his arm in embarrassment. “Well, what do you think?”
April appraised him thoughtfully. “Turn around once so we can see it.”
Jimmy gave a half turn, trying his best not to play it up, but without much success. The deep blue fabric ignited his eyes into two blue embers, and when he moved his arms, light reflected off the metal cuffs and glinted over his admirers.
“Wow,” murmured Cindy, dazzled. “Neutron, you look really…amazing…”
Libby, Aurora, and April all swiveled to stare at her, and she stopped in mid-sentence.
“...amazing…amazingly ridiculous! It’s too bad they wasted such a nice outfit on you!”
Jimmy looked crestfallen.
“Ugh!” groaned Libby. “Cindy…!”
“You know, you just make a bigger fool out of yourself every time you do this. Just say it for once!”
“What? Just say what? There’s nothing to say!”
Libby tapped a finger against her lips. “I seem to recall a term that would work nicely…does the word “hunkmuffin” ring a bell?”
“Hunkmuffin?” echoed Sheen’s voice from the hallway. “That must be my cue! Forget you Carl, I’m going in there!”
Sheen leaped heroically into the center of the room, thrusting out his chest to show off the Ultralord decal on the front of his orange suit.
“Behold, weak and trembling subjects (and sweet Libby) it is I, the almighty Ultralord! Behold my awesome power and cower before me!”
Five blanks stares followed.
Libby laid an understanding hand on his shoulder. “You’ve been sniffin’ the magic markers again, haven’t ya Sheen.”
“Wait, what? How did you –”
Cindy ignored the sideshow. “Where the heck is Carl?”
“Carl isn’t here right now,” came a voice from somewhere in the hallway. “Please leave a message after the beep. BEEP!”
“Come on, Carl,” pleaded Jimmy. “The sooner we get this whole thing over with, the sooner we can have a serious discussion. I need to talk to Aurora about something important. Now please come out. I promise I won’t laugh.”
Shuffling sounds drifted into the cockpit, followed by the clinking of metal chains. Carl plodded into the room dejectedly, dressed head to toe in black. Chains and paperclips hung from his arms, his legs, and his waist, and a spiked collar bulged around his pudgy neck. His knee-high metal tipped boots made a clunking noise every time he took a step, and a horned skull grinned menacingly on the chest of the garment. Aurora slammed her hand down on a button on the control panel, and all at once heavy metal music filled the cockpit. April fell over Aurora in a fit of laughter.
“Wow,” said Cindy, shifting her weight to one hip. “Goth has never gone so wrong.”
Carl’s gaze fell to the floor. “You think I look stupid…”
“What are you talking about, dude? That outfit is the best! You look just like Darkman-Dong from Ultralord meets Godzilla: the special Japanese edition. All you need now is the subtitles!”
Aurora did her best to look serious, but barely managed to pull it off. “You look great, Carl,” she croaked, her voice tight with restrained laughter. “That outfit brings out the best in you.”
“That’s right,” agreed April. “Aurora bought this outfit especially to give you confidence. This suit will frighten away any enemy you encounter. I am sure! You look stunning!”
April’s speech was much more convincing, and Carl’s whole face lit up in response.
“Really? You like it! Yay!”
He gave a little ballerina twirl, and it looked so odd juxtaposed with his outfit that it sent April into another laughing fit. Aurora’s smile faded into a scowl, and she tossed a box to Jimmy.
“Here, this is for you. I hope you’re happy, 'cause it didn’t come cheap.”
Jimmy’s eyes lit up. “The Full Spectrum Chemical Analysis Kit!”
“I knew you’d put up a big fuss if I didn’t get it for you, so here it is. If you don’t mind my asking, just what do you need it for?”
“Actually,” said Jimmy, “that’s what I want to talk to you about. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, both before and while I was fixing the Desperado, and I’ve come to a conclusion.”
Aurora turned to April. “Uh-oh, he’s been thinking.”
April nodded. “And he’s come to a conclusion.”
“This is serious!” Jimmy gritted his teeth, irritated by their mockery. “How we decide to act now could change the outcome of all our lives!”
Cindy suddenly felt the air rush from her lungs, and she stepped forward next to him. “Listen to what he says.” The words poured from her mouth before she knew what she was saying. “Even if it sounds crazy at first…”
Jimmy was so shocked by her uncharacteristic support that he momentarily forgot his train of thought. Cindy didn’t meet his gaze, but instead took a deep breath and looked at Aurora.
“Will you hear him out?”
“Well if he’s convinced you, then it must be worth hearing. Go ahead, I’m all ears.”
Jimmy stepped into the center of the room, and his focus alternated between Aurora and Cindy as he began his argument.
“I believe we are taking the wrong approach to this conflict. We are headed toward nothing but loss if we try to plan a large-scale attack on my alternate self. One or all of us may be seriously injured or even die in the conflict. And selfish motivations aside, I don’t think killing DJ is the only option. What if…what if there was an alternative solution?”
Aurora said nothing, so he continued.
“I asked you to buy me the Chemical Analysis Kit for a specific reason. With its equipment, I will be able to identify the ingredients that I would need for an antidote…an antidote that would counteract the effects of the Megalomanium.”
April’s eyes bugged out in astonishment, and she slumped back into her seat with the implication of his words. Aurora did not move. After a minute she spoke, and her voice trembled with each word.
“We could…save him? “
“Effectively, yes,” confirmed Jimmy. “Without the Megalomanium controlling his mind, he will revert to his former personality.”
“Oh happy day,” said Cindy sarcastically, “so he’ll be a pompous goody-goody again?”
“Something like that. Of course, there will be no way to predict the long-term effects of the Megalomanium. The antidote could make him very ill or even send him into a coma. Not to mention the emotional duress it would cause…could you imagine living every day with the knowledge that you were solely responsible for the pain and suffering of so many? I know it would tear me up inside.”
Libby joined Cindy where she stood. “I think it’s worth a shot. Whatta ‘bout the rest of you?”
“Jim,” piped Carl, “if we do this, we won’t have to do any fighting? We can just give it to him like medicine and he’ll be better?”
“It won’t be that easy. First we have to make the antidote, which could take me quite a while. Then, we have to find a way to get it to him. Chances are it won’t be easy to sneak into his base.”
Cindy put a thoughtful finger to her lips. “Maybe if we…”
April cut her off. “Now hold on just a second! We have not yet agreed upon any of this. The Gorlock High Council and its allies have worked for years to build up the forces necessary for this war. Scores of people, some of whom are very powerful, seek revenge on the Dictator. What are we to tell all of them? That a younger version of the Dictator told us to spare his life? Angry people cannot be so easily persuaded to give up their hatred. No, it is too late for such a course of action. Far too late.”
“But your plan is going to get everyone killed!”
“Besides,” added Libby, “maybe DJ could somehow make up for all the bad things he’s done once he’s cured!”
“You do not understand the complexity of our situation, young one,” snapped April. “And since when do you show such unconditional support for your rival, Cindy?”
“I just happen to agree with him this time!”
“You’re all crazy.” Aurora spoke in a low voice, peering out threateningly from under her bangs. “You expect me to let him off so easily? After all the things he’s done? He deserves what’s coming to him! He deserves to die!”
She jumped up and, to everyone’s surprise, grabbed Cindy’s arm and twisted it behind her back. Cindy yelped in pain, but then locked eyes with her future self in defiance. The girls were mirrors, their faces only inches apart.
“How could you possibly agree with him?” snarled Aurora. “You know what he’s done! How he’s treated us!”
“Look at you. Attacking yourself.”
Aurora’s stunned expression transformed into rage, and she twisted Cindy’s arm harder. The girl cried out in pain.
“Listen to me,” gasped Cindy. “If Neutron can't make an antidote, we'll be no worse off than we were before. Just give him a chance!”
Libby laid a hand on the pilot's shoulder. It tensed at the touch. “Will killin’ him really bring you peace, Aurora?”
Aurora’s face crumpled into an expression of such misery that they others were forced to look away. She slumped down on her chair and covered her eyes.
Her words were barely audible. “We’ll do it.”
“We will?!” blurted April.
“I can’t believe I’m saying it either, but I guess their involvement was inevitable from the moment we found them. Besides, who better to fight Neutron than…well, Neutron? Fighting fire with fire…”
“Fire has a way of burning things down, Aurora,” retorted the alien. “I think you are letting your personal feelings cloud your judgment.”
“I’m tired of this life, April. Infamy's fun and all, but I'm ready to try something else. We’ll call the Council and our allies to a meeting on Planet Gorlock to make definite plans. In the meantime, I want everyone to leave me the hell alone.”
She wrenched herself from the chair and stalked out of the room. Cindy released her tension in a shaky breath, and Jimmy's shoulders sagged in relief.
“I can’t believe we actually convinced her. We did it. You did it, Cindy.”
Cindy didn't hear him; she was too busy studying the scratches Aurora had left on her arm. “It’s funny,” she said in a small voice. “All of these marks, and I've got nobody to blame for it but myself.”
Nobody knew quite how to respond.
“Well,” sighed April at last, “I suppose you want to start work on the antidote now. I will get you set up near the main reactor. Just try not to explode anything next to the generators, all right?”
Jimmy stole a curious glance back at Cindy as April led him and Goddard out of the room. She didn’t return it, but merely looked listlessly at the floor.
Libby patted her shoulder. “I'm proud of you, girl. I realize that wasn’t easy.”
“I’ll tell you what I realize,” cut in Sheen. “That chick has a grip of iron! Look at those marks…freakish!”
“You’re freakish, Ultradork,” shot back Cindy. “Even Goth-boy over there is less of a freak than you are.”
Carl gave another ballerina jump. “Thank you!”
“Say,” began Cindy, “I have a thought. Why don’t you two go bother someone else for a while? Go find April, or see if Jimmy has work for you to do. Maybe you can help him with the antidote or something.”
“Somehow 'help' doesn't seem like the right word,” said Libby wryly. “More like 'get in the way', or 'totally bungle'...”
“At least they won't be getting in our way,” retorted Cindy. “Now bug off, both of you.”
Carl opened his mouth to protest. “But…”
“But nothing! Get going!”
Muttering, the boys stalked off after April and Jimmy. Cindy turned to her friend.
“There’s something I want to do,” she said, a new conviction in her voice. “I think we should go see what’s inside Aurora’s room.”
Updated Designs ^_^