Later that evening, Libby and Cindy paid a visit to the Candy Bar. Cindy’s food sat in front of her, untouched, as Libby slurped away at a milkshake. The blonde stared absently out the window, and after a moment Libby put down her shake and laid a hand on Cindy's shoulder.
“What is up with you?” she asked, peering into her friend's face. “You’ve been actin’ weird, and you haven’t even eaten anything.”
Cindy winced. “I don’t feel good.”
“What do ya mean? Got a stomachache or somethin’?”
“Ya, a really bad one, but it’s not just that. I feel...off somehow.”
“In what way?”
Cindy considered, then turned to her friend with a frown. “You know that crushing feeling you get when you swim too far underwater? Like in the summertime, when you swim to the bottom of the deep end?”
Libby nodded. “Uh-huh…”
“Well, it’s kind of like that. It’s like the air is being crushed out of me.”
“That doesn’t sound good. When did this start?”
“After school, actually. It didn’t hurt too badly at first, but the symptoms have gotten worse. Oh no, here it comes again!” Cindy doubled over and grabbed her stomach in agony. “Libby!”
Libby pulled up the edge of Cindy’s shirt to inspect the affected area, and her eyes practically bugged out of her head.
“Cindy, I don't know how to break this to you, but...your stomach is GLOWING.”
Cindy glanced down at her shimmering red belly and flinched, accidentally knocking her milkshake to the floor. “I don’t understand!” she cried, inhaling sharply. “It wasn’t like this a few minutes ago! What the heck is happening to me?”
There was a pause.
“I dunno…but do you think this could possibly have anythin’ to do with that red triangle Jimmy used on ya today?”
The two girls stared at each other for a moment. Then Cindy jumped up on the table and thrust her fist into the air.
you are SO DEAD!!!”
Meanwhile, down in the lab, Jimmy had just finished conducting his latest experiment with the catastrophic meltdown simulator. Carl crawled out of the machine and collapsed on the floor, the ceiling whirling above his head. He hiccupped, and Sheen and Jimmy rushed over to him.
“Jimmy,” breathed Carl with a moan, “I thought you said that the simulator wasn’t going to make me sick.”
Jimmy looked at the ground. “It wasn’t supposed to Carl, but something went wrong. It seems that my catastrophic meltdown simulator experienced...well, a catastrophic meltdown.”
“Ha!” said Sheen. “Talk about irony.”
Jimmy glared at him. “We’ll just have to try again later, right Carl? Carl?”
Carl had hidden himself behind the simulator and was busy revisiting whatever he had eaten for lunch. Jimmy began to walk toward him, but at that exact moment, a buzzing alarm went off. Vox’s singsong voice echoed through the small room.
“Girl alert. Girl alert. Outer perimeter breached, females within five feet…four feet…three feet…BEEEEEP!”
“Aha! Fresh targets!” said Sheen. “Shoot ‘em! Shoot ‘em I tell ya!”
“Cut it out Sheen!” Jimmy pushed him aside and rushed over to Vox.
“Alert. Alert. The Anti-girl weapons system has been activated. Please choose method of annihilation: quick and painless, or slow and horrible.”
“No, VOX! Shut down the anti-girl weapons system, and activate the clubhouse surveillance camera!”
A TV monitor flickered to life, and Cindy and Libby could be seen standing out in front of the clubhouse. Cindy was kicking the door as Libby pushed on Vox, apparently unaware that it was a DNA scanner and not a doorbell.
“I know you can hear me down there, Neutron!” shouted Cindy. “You’ve got this whole place wired. Now let me in!”
“Jimmy, let us in!" pleaded Libby. “It’s an emergency! Cindy’s in big trouble!”
“That’s right, freakboy! And you’re going to be in even BIGGER trouble if you don’t…WAAAAHHHHHH!”
Cindy was cut short when the floor gave out beneath her. The girls found themselves sliding down a plastic, yellow-colored tube that looked remarkably like something you’d find inside a hamster’s cage. The tube took a sharp dip and Libby vanished, and a second later Cindy rocketed out of the tube and crash-landed on top of her friend.
“Get off me!” croaked Libby. “I can’t breathe!”
Cindy got to her feet just in time for the boys to run into the room, and she assaulted Jimmy with a fierce stare.
“OK Neutron, what the heck did you do to me?”
“Huh? What are you talking about?”
Cindy rolled her eyes. “Don't play dumb! This one's got 'you' written all over it, so stop beating around the bush and fess up!”
“Fess up to what? You know, it would be really nice if you’d TELL me what you’re angry about before you come down here and start making accusations. Now what is this all about? Go on, enlighten me!”
“It’s your stupid triangle!” she said in a shrill voice. “It did something to me!”
Cindy lifted the corner of her shirt. “Look, Spewtron! My stomach is glowing!”
Jimmy’s eyes grew wide, and he backed up a step. Carl looked away, and Sheen broke out into a huge smile.“Oh wow, cool! This is just like the time I swallowed that glowstick on the fourth of July! Ha! I was like a human bug light for a week!” Sheen poked Cindy’s stomach, and she swatted his hand away.
“Hold on, Cindy, let me check something here…” Jimmy inspected the glow before turning to the table behind him. He grabbed a silver handheld device and scanned Cindy with it, then punched in a series of numbers and waited while it calculated the results. He stared at the reading for a second and then staggered back. “Uh-oh…”
“What do you mean, ‘Uh-oh’?” Cindy scowled. “Listen, you idiot, this may be a big joke for you, but it isn’t for me! So stop fooling around and cut to the chase!”
“I’m afraid it’s not a joke at all, Cindy. It’s very serious.”
Libby looked Jimmy in the eye. “How serious?”
“Life and death serious. You guys had better sit down.”
They all obeyed, except for Cindy, who merely crossed her arms and glared at him.
“Listen, Cindy, I may not have much time to tell you this, so listen carefully. The reason you appear to be turning red is due to a phenomenon called 'red shift'. Your atoms are being pulled away from us at an incredible rate of speed, which causes their energy to shift to lower wavelengths.”
Libby threw him a quizzical look. “Whaddya mean, her atoms are being pulled away? She’s standin’ right here, isn’t she?”
“Well, yes, but…”
Cindy cut in. “Is there a point to this? Could you PLEASE stop reciting scientific nonsense and get to the point?”
“OK, let me see if I can explain. It seems that something went terribly wrong when I transported you to the top of the flagpole today.”
“What a shock.”
He continued. “This is an incredibly rare side effect of teleportation – somehow, during your molecular reconstruction, parts of you got left inside the extra-dimensional pathway. The Triangle must have surged when I used it on you, and now your atoms are in conflict with the laws of physics in this universe.”
Libby reeled back. “Say what?”
Carl shared her reaction. “I’m confused Jimmy…”
Jimmy’s tone became grave. “I don’t know how else to tell you this Cindy, so I’ll just say it straight out. The laws of physics can’t handle your presence here. As we speak, your atoms are being pulled out of this reality and into another. In other words, you are being sucked in to an alternate universe.”
There was a shocked silence as the kids stared at him.
Cindy's jaw dropped open. “WHAT? An alternate universe??”
“Within minutes the pull will become so strong that you will effectively collapse under your own gravity, creating a warp in the fabric of space-time. Then, you and any other objects in the immediate area will be sucked forever into another reality.”
Cindy’s face crumpled unexpectedly, and she slumped down. “I can’t believe it,” she whispered. “You really did it this time, Neutron.”
Libby whirled to the genius angrily. “How could you, Jimmy? I’ve seen you stoop pretty low before, but I never thought ya’d actually hurt her!”
“I didn’t meant for this to happen, I swear! It was an accident!”
“I don’t care!” said Libby, stamping her foot. “We’ve had enough accidents. Now fix this!”
“I-I don’t know if I can…her atoms are already in the process of transitioning, so none of my instruments will work on them.”
“Isn’t there anythin’ we can do?”
Jimmy considered, then his eyes lit up. “Cindy, I need you to take off your pants.”
“Excuse me? If saving myself means giving you a show, then I'll take eternal exile, thanks.”
“I’m serious! I need to see how far the red glow has progressed. If it’s in the early stages, I might be able to reverse it.”
At that moment, Cindy’s arms and face began to glow red as well. “Does that answer your question, Dirttron?”
Carl twisted from side to side. “Oh, Cindy’s blushing! I think she likes you!”
Sheen smacked him. “Carl, don’t be stupid! She’s being sucked into an inescapable void of doom! Show some sympathy, darn it! ...Hey Cindy, when you’re gone, can I have your stuff?”
“Guys, get serious!” said Libby. “What are we gonna do?”
Sheen scratched his chin in mock contemplation. “Um, I don't know, how about RUN LIKE HECK!?”
“Ya, if we stay, won’t we get sucked in too?” asked Carl.
Jimmy seemed torn. “Well, yes, but we can’t just leave her! Cindy wouldn’t stand a chance all alone in an alternate universe. I’m...I'm going with her.”
“Me too,” said Libby, grabbing Cindy’s hand. “I’m not lettin’ my best friend go through this alone.”
Sheen draped his arm over Libby’s shoulder. “And I cannot let my fair lady cross over to the other side without me! I shall accompany you, my sweet.”
“I don’t wanna be left alone! I’m coming too.”
Goddard was the last to join the circle. “Bark bark!”
“Then it’s settled,” said Jimmy, scanning their faces. “We’ll all go together.”
Cindy gave a huff. “Well, as touching as this is, Neutron, I’d like to remind you that it was your stupid fault in the first place!”
Before anything else could be said, Cindy’s hair color changed, and her whole body grew bright like flame. When she opened her mouth to speak, the light was nearly unbearable.
“AAAAAAAHHHHHH! I’m burning up!”
Sheen’s eyes brightened. “Wow! This is just like Ultralord episode 393 when Ultralord found himself in the clutches of the wicked Dr. Soevilhescaresyomama! Except that he’s a guy, he wasn’t glowing red, and he wasn’t getting sucked into anything. Actually, this situation is more like episode 105….”
“Knock it off, Sheen!” interrupted Libby. “This is no time for cartoon talk.”
Jimmy looked around at his friends. “OK, guys, this might be rough. Once Cindy hits critical mass, we’ll all get sucked in behind her. We can’t afford to get separated in the dimensional void, so grab on to whoever is next to you and don’t let go.”
Sheen waggled his eyebrows at Libby, and she took a step away. A moment later there was a noise like the tearing of paper, and objects in the room soared into the air and began whirling around them. Cindy held her head in pain as the walls started to shake, and the contents of the room whipped around them in a tornado-like flurry. Libby grabbed onto Cindy’s arm, Sheen wrapped his arms around Libby’s waist, and Carl flung himself onto Sheen’s shoe. Jimmy coaxed Cindy’s other hand down from her head and held it in his own.
“I’m sorry…I didn't mean to, I swear...”
Cindy didn’t seem to hear him. Her glowing white eyes stared fixedly into space as flame consumed her body, and a second later her form vanished entirely. There was a flash of light, and then a gaping black hole materialized where she had once stood. Goddard disappeared into the void, and Jimmy and the others found themselves being pulled towards it.
“Don’t fight it, guys!” Jimmy called out. “We have to follow her!”
They stopped struggling, and the five of them were sucked into utter blackness.
-> Chapter 3