Libby gaped. “Say what? You outta your mind, girl? You saw how mad she got just now. Imagine if she caught us in her room!”
“Pfft!” Cindy waved away her friend’s concern. “She won’t catch us.”
“Oh, come off it Libby!”
Cindy flipped her hair and headed off down the corridor toward Aurora’s room. Libby scrambled after, her protests falling on deaf ears.
“I think that if ya stopped for a minute to consider, you’d realize that messin' around in another person’s business isn’t always a good idea. Especially when that person is Aurora!”
“She messed with me first, OK? I'm not backing down!”
The two of them reached the door to Aurora’s bedroom, and a mechanical voice spoke.
“It’s me, Vox. Let me in.”
“Voice match unverified. Access denied.”
“What do you mean, voice match unverified?”
“Voice match unverified. Access denied.”
“Ugh, what the heck!”
Libby sighed. “Try lowerin' your voice a bit. It's higher-pitched than Aurora's. And put some grump into it. She always sounds like she hates the thing.”
Cindy tucked in her chin and scowled. “Open up, you useless heap of circuitry, or I'll bash the door in with my bare hands!”
“Voice match confirmed. Welcome back, Aurora.”
There was a clicking sound as the latch unlocked, and the door swung open.
Cindy smiled triumphantly. “Now we’re getting somewhere…”
“I don’t know, Cind. I like diggin' up dirt as much as the next girl, but did you ever stop to think that you might not LIKE what you find in here?”
The girls tiptoed into the darkened room, and Libby felt around on the wall for a light switch.
“You’re not going to get anywhere by doing that, Libby,” said Cindy in a superior tone. “This whole rig uses voice recognition. Lights, you fugly wreck!”
The overhead lamp flickered to life, illuminating the contents of the drab and sparsely-decorated chamber. A bed, some curtains, and a desk comprised the entirety of the furnishings.
Cindy examined the blue-gray bedspread with distaste. “Wow, I sure have lost my sense of style.”
She glanced around at the gray interior until she caught sight of a poster on the far wall. She ventured over for a closer look and let out a gasp. “Libby, look! I’m on a wanted poster! How cool is that?”
Libby peered over from across the room. “You're on a what?”
Cindy admired the striking picture of Aurora on one side of the poster, green light wheeling round her in a firestorm. On the left was a message written in several different languages.
Cindy read the words aloud. “'Wanted Dead or Alive, for high crimes across the galaxy. Use caution, as subject is considered armed and highly dangerous. Reward to be paid upon delivery.’ Wow, imagine…my face on a poster?!”
Libby crossed her arms and snorted. “'High crimes' doesn’t sound like anything to be proud of to me.”
“I'm sure Aurora didn't do anything wrong. It's probably just propaganda...I wouldn't put it past Neutron to pull a stunt like this.”
“Whatever you say.”
Before Cindy could argue the matter further, Libby let out a low whistle. “Uh-oh. Cindy, you’d better come see this.”
“What is it now?”
“I was wonderin’ what Aurora could possibly be doin’ with curtains in her room when there wasn’t a window. Look behind it…”
Libby threw aside the curtain, revealing a huge bulletin board plastered with photographs. Star maps, layout drawings, ship plans, weapon sketches…some half ripped, stained, and many with unidentifiable symbols written all over them. But overshadowing the whole display was something that left both girls breathless. It was a log: a line of countless photographs winding its way across the whole board. Each photograph was marked with a date, a location, and a comment. The pictures were all of Jimmy…every single one.
“Wow, honey,” breathed Libby. “This is one sick obsession.”
Cindy paled. “Aurora is just...really meticulous, that’s all.”
“More like 'fixated'. This is like a storyboard for everything he’s done for the past ten years. There must be hundreds of pictures here…Jeez girl, I sure hope you ain’t hidin’ some stash of Jimmy love photos in your room back home.”
Cindy looked away rapidly. “As if! And who says these are love photos? It’s probably a catalog of events or something.”
“True. I guess havin' this sort of thing would make sense when your goal in life is to destroy one person.”
“One person?” she echoed.
Cindy reached up and gingerly pulled down a picture from the top of the board. In the image, Jimmy was maybe two or three years older than their current age. He was regarding the viewer with cool indifference, his eyes glinting in the light of the camera flash. Cindy shivered and sat on the bed, only to jump back up again.
“What in blazes did I just sit on?”
The source of her discomfort turned out to be another photograph. This one was a class picture from 5th grade, tattered and dog-eared from years of being handled.
“I can’t believe she still has this... I remember the day we took it. It was before that whole debacle with the shrink ray...remember that? Everyone was making fun of Jimmy for being short, and I told him to stand up for himself and ‘be a man’.”
She gave a short little laugh, and then stared off into the distance. Libby laid a hand on her shoulder.
“Ya. It’s just…I feel like I’m understanding some things for the first time.”
“What do you mean?”
“Things about Aurora. How she must be feeling.”
Cindy nodded somberly. “She can’t get away. The war with DJ is just a constant, agonizing reminder of everything and everyone she’s lost. I bet being around us is the worst. Imagine looking back on your old life, remembering how wonderful it was, and knowing that you took it for granted and could never get it back?”
“Ya,” sighed Libby. “I guess I never realized how great we have it. All we have to worry about is school and our crazy adventures with the boys. I'm sure when we grow up, we’ll look back and think 'wow, wish I could relive that'.”
“Poor Aurora, she never got to finish living it the first time around. And she never got to work past her problems…the ones Jimmy and I have.”
Libby grinned nastily. “I see. So you’re referring to each other as 'Jimmy and I' now? Are you officially an item then?”
“NO! I’m saying that Aurora still feels connected to him, despite all he’s done.”
Libby looked less than convinced. “Uh-huh…”
“It’s like a constant tug-of war. Could you imagine every day, waking up and knowing that the person you secretly cared about was the very same who wanted to watch you suffer and die, and that the whole thing was your fault?”
Libby shook her head. “No.”
“Libby, all their lives were ruined because of me…because I was too pig-headed to just man up and deal. I was the one who sprayed Megalomanium in his eyes. I was the one who turned him into a monster.”
April’s voice cut through the silence following this remark. “I guess it just goes to show...We can never foresee the impact of our choices, can we?”
The girls whipped around to see the alien woman leaning against the door frame.
“April!” gasped Cindy. “It’s not what you think! We were just…”
April waved away her protests. “It is all right. I understand. If I were you, Cindy, I would probably be doing the exact same thing. It must be difficult, seeing yourselves this way. May I come in?”
April joined them on the bed. “Please forgive Aurora for her behavior earlier. She has been through more than you know.” April’s glance fell upon the bulletin board behind them, and her face grew solemn. “Ah, I see you have discovered 'the wall'…Aurora has kept a sort of living record of everything that has happened. She has been able to use it to successfully trace the Dictator’s behavior patterns. She knows more about him than anyone else. Maybe this is her way of coping...still, I think it hurts her more than it helps.”
Cindy turned to face the older woman. “April, what happened to Aurora when DJ took her prisoner?”
“All I know is that she was gone for three weeks. We all thought she was dead…and when she reappeared, she certainly looked like it. I know he must have done something awful to her, but the topic is strictly off limits.” April shook her head. “I wonder what will happen once he is given the antidote and returns to normal. I think it might have been better if we had allowed her to get her revenge. She deserves to finally have some peace in her life. The way she is now, she is trapped in a prison, walking the world all alone without hope for any kind of a future. Aurora is my closest friend, and I do not want to see her like this any longer.”
“But I think we can still stop all of this,” said Cindy earnestly. “I think she’ll come around…because I feel like I finally am.”
There was a noise behind them at the door, and they all whirled around. Jimmy staggered in.
“Aurora, the door was open so I…wait a minute. Cindy? Libby? April? What are you guys doing in here?”
Before he could even finish his sentence, Cindy yanked the curtain shut over the picture-covered bulletin board. He gave her a quizzical look.
“Uhh...what’s behind the curtain?”
“Nothing you need to be concerned about!” she snapped. “What do you want?”
“I’ve finished the chemical analysis, and it’s very important that I talk to Aurora straight away!”
April sprung up. “In that case, let’s get to the cockpit. I will raise Aurora on the comm. system.”
They straightened up the blankets so Aurora wouldn't suspect intruders, then headed out. April pushed a button on her watch communicator and spoke into it.
“Aurora, come in.”
“Meet us on the bridge. Jimmy has finished his chemical analysis and needs to share the results.”
Jeez. All right, I’ll meet you there.”