Chapter 15: Zero Gravity
April and the kids charged through the cockpit doors, only to find it empty. Jimmy gave in almost immediately to impatience. He paced up and down the length of the room, muttering calculations under his breath.
“What’s the rush, Neutron?”
“Huh? Oh…it’s nothing. Pacing just helps me think.”
Libby frowned. “Jimmy, how come Carl and Sheen aren't here? They were supposed to go find you awhile ago.”
“Beats me. I haven’t seen them.”
“Carl and Sheen are missing? Hold me while I weep,” said Cindy sarcastically.
The doors slid open and Aurora strode into the room. Her expression invited them to mess with her if they dared.
She leered down at Jimmy.“What have you found? Do you have the chemical formula for the antidote yet?”
“Yes…well, sort of. I have a list of the ingredients I’ll need, and many of them are readily accessible on the ship or can be easily produced by the food synthesizer. Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a problem.”
“Cut to the chase, Neutron,” snapped Aurora. “I’m not in the mood for riddles.”
“I’m missing one critical ingredient. You see, when a person is exposed to Megalomanium, it does more than just alter brain function. It supercharges other parts of the body as well, including the immune system. Ironically, one of the side effects of Megalomanium is that it renders its host impervious to most forms of infectious disease. I guess you could say that it drives the immune system mad with power too.” He smiled widely and paused to scan their faces after this remark, apparently expecting some sort of reaction. When none came, he continued. “If we were to give DJ the antidote in its pure form, his immune system would recognize it as an invading body and destroy it before it could travel up the neural pathways into his brain.”
Aurora stroked her chin. “Hmm, that is a problem. But I’m sure we can afford to buy whatever you need to finish the antidote. The resistance has extensive funds, and…”
Jimmy waved away her offers. “No, no. Money’s not the issue. I need something that will immediately allow the antidote to bypass his immune system. Unfortunately, this means I will have to obtain a specific enzyme. Back when I was developing the Megalomanium - shortly before Libby’s birthday party in fact – I was interested in the side effect and spent a few days tinkering with it, trying to see if the immunity could be altered. Just for kicks, I randomly chose a pathogen – a species of fungus called Cryptococcus neoformans – and rewrote the Megalomanium’s chemical code so it would no longer be immune to an enzyme contained in the fungus.”
Libby massaged her temples. “This is gettin’ a little too complicated for my tastes.”
Cindy crossed her arms. “I’m just shocked at what he does during his spare time.”
“At any rate, I never got around to fixing the immunity problem because after the incident at Libby’s party, I realized that Megalomanium was too dangerous to be kept around.”
“Gee, ya think?”
Jimmy didn’t rise to Cindy's bait. “The bottom line is this: my alternate self was exposed to a version of the Megalomanium that was engineered to be susceptible to Crypococcus neoformans. In fact, it’s probably the only thing that his immune system wouldn’t be able to fight off. Therefore, the only way we can deliver the antidote successfully is if we “piggy-back” it on the neoformans. No fungus, no antidote. Make sense?”
Aurora was barely listening. “Let’s just go find the fungus and get it over with. Where to?”
Jimmy peered up at her meekly. “That’s just the thing. This fungus only exists in one place as far as I know…and that one place is on Earth. We’ll have to go back to Earth.”
A spark of fear alighted in Aurora’s eyes. “Absolutely not.”
“What do you mean, ‘absolutely not’?” protested Jimmy. “We HAVE to get this enzyme! There’s no other option!”
“I’m NOT going back there. I can’t. After ten years…”
“Jimmy is right this time, Aurora,” said April gently. “You must face this trial if you want to have a future.”
Aurora looked from April to Jimmy in desperation. “But I can’t…”
Cindy stepped in. “Shut up! You hear me? Shut Up!” Her anger seemed to make her taller, and she fearlessly stared Aurora down. “Don't give me any of this 'I can't' business. You listen to me... we’re going to go to Earth and we’re gonna find the stupid fungus so we can make the antidote and get this all over with! Now quit your pathetic whining! I wanna see movement!” She punctuated the sentence by slapping her fist into her palm.
Aurora seemed taken aback for a moment, then to everyone’s surprise, nodded complacently and took her place in the pilot’s seat.
“I’m setting the hyper thrusts to maximum,” she narrated, punching various controls. “After I calculate our trajectory, we’ll be on our way. I suggest you hold on…the hyper thrust can be a bit jarring. Maybe you should all…”
Before Aurora could get in another word, a light began flashing on the ceiling.
April looked up in alarm. “Oh no…that is the warning signal for the water release valve! Somebody has tampered with the coolant system!”
Aurora’s eyes came to life again. “Darn it all! Carl and Sheen probably got into the water supply room. You’d better go stop them before they flood the ship.”
In response, an earsplitting siren began to wail.
“Too late!” moaned April, and dashed from the cockpit.
Aurora turned her attention back to the control panel. She activated the hyper drive, and the ship seemed to freeze in time as a crackling field of energy surrounded it.
“Well,” said Jimmy, “at least we’ll be able to refill the water tank once we reach Earth. Aurora, do you think we can stop in Retroville once we get there? There’s some stuff I’d like to retrieve from my lab.”
“Uh…I’d be more concerned about holding on right about now if I were you…”
Cindy frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
The ship lurched forward with such force that the kids were sent crashing against the back wall. The sudden thrust pinned Jimmy to the surface as Cindy and then Libby plowed into him.
Aurora pushed the shift into a higher gear. “Yeeeehaaaawww!”
They rocketed forward, and space and time swirled together like water going down a drain. The kids lifted off the floor and began floating in midair.
Libby looked back and forth frantically. “What…What’s goin’ on?”
“Aurora, this isn’t funny!” shouted Jimmy. “Engage the artificial hyper-gravity!”
“Why? It’s more fun this way. Besides…just think. Somewhere, Carl and Sheen are drifting around and have no idea what’s going on! Serves them right for messing with my coolant system!” She gave a rippling laugh.
“Hey Neutron, what’s up with this?” asked Cindy. “We don’t float when you use the hyper thrusts in your junky tin rocket!”
“My rocket isn’t junky!…and it’s kind of complicated.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Try me.”
“Well, when a physical object such as this ship is traveling through hyperspace, it exists outside of spacetime. Because of this, people on board aren’t affected by normal gravity…since after all, gravity is merely the warping of space and time. Normally I’d engage a special kind of artificial gravity, but Aurora seems to have her own ideas about doing things.”
He glared in her direction, and Aurora returned it with a smile. She floated up into midair, two glittering fireballs spinning around each hand.
“Zero gravity is a great place to practice combat skills.”
She closed her eyes and brought her hands together. Waves of energy rippled up and down her arms as she twisted the energy bolt around itself. She exhaled deeply, then pulled her hands apart, revealing green fire molded into the shape of an atom.
Jimmy’s eyes widened. “Incredible! How did you do that?”
She took hold of the fire. “I can make it do whatever I want. I can make it angry” — the fire surged in brightness and whirled around her in a frenzied, roaring tornado — “and I can make it calm…” Aurora sank to the floor, the light rippling gently over her. She sighed, and it winked out.
She looked into the distance. “You know, Neutron has the same suit as I do. Only it’s a darker color. And his fire is blue…”
“You mean…DJ has the same abilities you do? I thought you stole the suit from him so he wouldn’t be able to use the its powers!”
“I did. But this suit was just a prototype…his is even more powerful.”
“Well isn’t that just great!”
Aurora didn’t answer, but instead glided back down into the pilot’s seat. Moments later they fell out of hyperspace, gravity re-engaged, and the kids crashed down onto the floor. Jimmy pulled himself up and gazed out the portal. Ahead, a familiar blue planet twinkled invitingly.
He breathed in. “Earth!”
“Never thought I’d be so glad to see it…” said Cindy, as Libby clasped her hands in delight.
“Earth! We’re home!”<>“Ya,” said Aurora flatly. “Home." She spoke into her watch communicator. “April, we’ll be arriving shortly. I suggest that you get down here before…”
April’s angry voice echoed back from the communicator. “I am already here!”
She burst in through the cockpit doors, sopping wet. Carl and Sheen, looking shamed and embarrassed, stood in front of her, dripping water from head to toe. A trail of puddles wound its way into the hallway behind them.
April pushed Carl forward. “I found this one gorging himself on our food supplies in the main storage room. You should see the mess he made! There is food all over everything!”
“I’m sorry…I was just so hungry and…and…oh, I’m such a terrible person!”
She pushed Sheen forward next. “And I found this one in the showers! He pulled the emergency release valve on the water tank and flooded the entire room! It is a wonder he did not drown!”
Libby frowned. “Sheen, what could you have possibly been doin’ in there?”
April pointed an accusing finger at Aurora. “And thanks to your anti-gravity maneuver, I became trapped in midair in the showers along with these two! I do not appreciate your methods of amusement, Aurora!”
The pilot tried to hide her smile. “I’m sorry, April. I forgot that you might end up getting stuck alongside the doofus brigade. Anyway, you'll be outside where you can air-dry in a couple of minutes. We're entering Earth’s atmosphere – touchdown in Retroville in approximately T-minus 10 seconds.”
to Volume 3
Special thanks to French artist Utenaxchan for the illustration at the top of the page!