IDENTITY CRISIS: THE ENTIRE PART 1

PROLOGUE

-check. Please test the recording system. 

Alright, lemme see... Hello. My name is Nathan, or Poket. This is Cole, Taylor, and Noah.  

Recording system: check. Please check the commenting system. 
|Cole: Hola!| 

|Taylor: Hi.| 

|Noah: Derp.| 

|Nathan: Oh, by the way, this book was recorded and written by us. Teenagers. 
So don't expect it to sound like Harry Potter.| 

Commenting system: check. Ready to begin. 

Together, we make up Poket Incorporated, the group of engineers that won the Inventors of the Year award for 2020. We may be small, but we have contributed to many advancements in the STEM community. With development in the Auto-Recycling Rubbish Bin, which was very popular in the UK, the Doortal, the Wireless Personal Companion, the Catoilet, and the UtiliTool, we are thriving in making the world a better place. We usually try to live a normal life, well, as normal as it gets when you're a genius, but sometimes that doesn't work out...  

I
Nathan

“Nathan! Mr. Faulty Circuit’s about to blow!" 

I woke up like I was splashed in the face with water. BOILING water. That's what we were deep in, if you know what I mean. I threw my covers off, and followed Obi, a ginger Siberian cat and one of my favorite kitties ever, down the stairs and out the door. Obi ran with me to get Vanilla, my white Siberian and my other favorite kitty, out of the house. 

"How long can Mr. Faulty Circuit hold?!" I screamed. I rushed to the back door of our glimmering multi colored house/lab to the faulty circuit. It contained the amazing power of the famed Energetic Crystal, that I had discovered and altered when I was eleven. If the circuit were to be damaged, it could cause a catastrophic explosion, wiping out the whole town of Sanford, Florida. I really thought it would hold this year, but I was wrong. It must have been at least seven years old, and it tended to break rather quickly.  

Everyone was outside in a mixture of pajamas and clothes, trying to mess with the machinery. This was a job that, once again, only I could fix. 

I took a quick look at the circuit. "Get away from the machine! It's going to explode! As it almost does every year!" I shouted. 

"I think that's a bit obvious!" Noah roared over the hum of the machinery. 

I ran inside, went downstairs to my private lab--yes, we all have one--and grabbed a few parts.  

I checked in one of my drawers, and picked up some copper wiring. "This could work," I muttered to myself. "Ooh, this too!" I picked up some thick rubber insulation. I grabbed a few more little bits and bobs, and some gadgets to help with the rebuilding. I shoved them in a bag so conveniently placed right next to the drawer, grabbed it, and made my way back to the door. 

I flew back outside and threw myself on the damp grass, next to the circuit, pulled on some gloves, and did my work. Hands flying, I tried my best to fix the wires, all ruptured and out of whack. I nearly got shocked with five billion joules four times. After a few minutes of tinkering, a grin spread across my face. 

I had done it.  

I had done what I had been waiting to do for three years.  

I had fixed the circuit.  

"Phew!" We walked inside and went back to what we were doing. And I was laying down in my room, without a care in the world. 

Another problem solved. By the same person. It was a great idea, putting the... stuff together. It's better that I don't give you the information to make one of these things, because they are very destructive. I can use it because I can make amazing calculations, given that I am part-robot. Kinda. 

I walked downstairs about an hour later, this time, with pants. Noah was already down there. "Hey bro. Good job with Mr. Circuit." he said. "Want to get breakfast after we play some soccer?" 

So I went outside along with Noah and played. 

We had created a 1v1 soccer game using robots as the extra team players. 

I lost the game, two-zip, if you must know.  

We went inside, extremely muddy, for breakfast. As we both walked in, Crinitus, our black Scottish Terrier named after the Latin word for fluffy, yapped to say hi. Cole and Taylor were sitting together, talking in hushed voices. Cole's hair was dyed yet another color today, lavender, and he glanced up when Noah and I walked in the room. His way of saying hi. He looked really serious. No fun in that, so I gave him a big muddy hug. "No more Mr. Faulty Circuit!" 

I went over to give Taylor a hug, too. She just laughed and said, "No way. Not today!"  

But Noah came from behind, lifted her off of her chair, and set her down on the ground.  

I called to Obi and Vanilla in Cat, my, er, second language. Obi shot out from the kitchen cabinet and stared at me with his beautiful orange eyes. He laid on his belly with paws sticking out as always and whispered, "Twanslate for me dis time! Or else!" 

 "OK," I responded. Vanilla jumped onto my head before jumping next to Obi and laying on his side, his tail fluffy as ever. "Wet's start!" 

"Okay. Since everyone is present, and muddy," I began, "We can start the meeting. I'll start with myself. I have created nine products this past week, packaged in nineteen different languages." 

Cole said, "We did it in Portuguese too!" His eyes lit up as he spoke Portuguese, a language he had known since he was in sixth grade. 

"Uh... yeah. We did it in Portuguese. We also did it in Swahili, Russian, Cat, and many others." Obi jumped to the kitchen and started licking the faucet. "We have raised nearly three thousand dollars in donations for each video. Taylor's baking channel has gotten around fifty million views this week. Now handing it over to Crinitus, who will also report on behalf of Obi and Vanilla." 

Everyone stared at each other for a long while. 

Taylor broke the silence. "OK. I'll ask," she said. "How can we find out what Crinitus is talking about if Crinitus can't talk?" 

Cole winked at me. I winked back. 

"You'll love it. Just watch, or listen." I said.  

I flipped a switch. The translator that I had given him inside his dog food began to hum, quietly and efficiently. 

II
Noah

"HELLO," a loud mechanical voice said. My only thought was, Did our dog swallow a person?, which I repeated out loud. 

"NO, I did NOT swallow a person," the voice said. " I swallowed a TRANSLATOR." 

"Somebody fix the volume on that thing," I complained. 

Nathan started to explain. "The module is on Update 1.2.5, so it might be buggy. That is why I did not give it to Obi or Vanilla." 

"That explains the loud noises," Taylor said, covering her ears. "Update 1.2.5 is a rip off," Cole added. 

Nathan clicked another button. "Okay. That should be good. I had it on customized voice, but that sometimes gets feedback." 

"Good to know," I said, relieved that it was not ever going to go on again. 

"This thing is cool. I like talking," said Crinitus in a different, much cuter voice than a couple of seconds ago, or at least I could guess it was Crinitus. "Anyway, I have been interpreting flyers, and there seems to be the biggest Halloween party in Toronto tomorrow night. And I accidentally tripped into a rich lady's purse, and found..." He literally coughed up five small cards, that looked similar to...  

"Party tickets!" Taylor gasped. Nathan looked like he blew a fuse.  

|Nathan: That can't actually happen. I'll detail that later.| 

Cole said something in Portuguese that I guessed was a random string of gibberish.  

|Cole: It was.|  

"Dude. No way!" I just sat there and stared at Crinitus, holding up the cards. 

"That's right!" Crinitus said. "All access passes to the biggest party of the year! Booyah! We can use our passports to get there!" 

"Sweeeeeeet!" Nathan exclaimed. 

"Crinitus, you amazing, pick-pocketing dog! You are awesome!" Cole said while hugging the fluffy Scottish terrier. 

"Dude," I said. "English. Please." 

"I will speak Portuguese when I feel like speaking Portuguese and there is nothing you can do about it!" 

"Enough about that," Taylor said. "The problem is, we need to get ready! We don't have costumes, or anything!" 

"I have just the invention! Try these on!" Nathan replied. 

He handed each of us what looked like a bracelet, but they were actually Transbands, a project that Nathan and I had been working on, which allowed you to dress up as anything perfectly with the help of Transfroomation. When we put them on, they expanded. We were then wearing holographic suits. 

"Uh, this might not exactly be the thing I was looking for," Taylor said. 

"Oh. Sorry about that. Press that button. The one that says Select Costume. Then they should disappear. Now, type your costume into the "Add" box. You can type in Portuguese, too!" Nathan explained. 

Cole squealed with joy. 

"Sick!" I shouted. "Our project is one step closer to a success!" 

At 7:00 pm, we all came downstairs after doing what we would on a regular day. Nathan was waiting there already. 

Nathan had dressed up as, of course, himself. 

"I would like to be... The tenth doctor!" Cole said in Portuguese, typing "Décimo Doutor" into the box. It's Portuguese for Tenth Doctor. Immediately after pressing the ENTER button, there was a blinding flash of light, and Cole wearing the clothes of some guy from Doctor Who. "It's beautiful!" 

Taylor decided to also dress up as someone from Doctor Who- 

|Taylor: Rose Tyler, you idiot.| 

Whatever. 

We said good night and went off to our bedrooms, excited for the day to come. 

III
Cole

I woke up to the Doctor Who theme song at 8:00 on Halloween morning. I decided to let it play all the way through. Warm fall sunlight illuminated my room from my window, which was basically styled like the inside of a TARDIS. There were Doctor Who things all over the room, including a working TARDIS core in the center, gleaming blue like a beacon from Minecraft inside the glass tube housing it.  

I stared at my white TARDIS-themed door, believing that nothing could possibly go wrong on that day.

|Nathan: Oh, really?|

Now, either I have really bad karma, or I jinxed everything just by saying that. OK?  

I went downstairs to take a cool, refreshing shower. After I was done with that, I went over to the table to get some breakfast, when someone came into the room.

"Hello," Noah said. He was dressed as the amazing FC Barcelona soccer player, Lionel Messi.

|Nathan: Isn't it called futbol everywhere else?|

|Cole: Yes, except for Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Japan, parts of Southern Africa, Papua New Guinea, and half of the Philippines, and it's called other things in-|

|Noah: Forget it, Cole.|

"Hello, people!" Nathan was awake.  

Crinitus bounded into the room. "OK, I'm ready!" He was dressed up as K-9 from, of course, Doctor Who.   

"Um. I hate to burst your bubble," I said. "But it starts at 9:00 p.m., not a.m."  

Noah slapped his face. "Crud!"  

Taylor walked in. "I thought I was the only one who read the time. It says: 'Attend at 9:00 P.M.'" She was wearing a long-sleeved dark blue shirt with a V-neck and white pants, so she already technically was in her costume.  

We all decided to do what we usually did, when we had to kill some time. Noah sat down on the rocking chair out front to read the newest copy of National Geographic.

|Noah: I know you're making a face, but a lot more people read NatGeo than you realize.|

|Nathan: Very true.|

Nathan went upstairs to his room to play a video game. Taylor and I went downstairs to work on some stuff we had been doing earlier. Only twice did we encounter any highly dangerous materials.

Some time after that, Nathan called us over and we got into his "fixed Honda Odyssey, with a built-in everything".    

Nathan touched the screen at the front of the Odyssey, and a 2-foot computer running Windows folded down from the front of the van. Nathan went on to the newly updated Netflix application and then browsed to AFV. The screen faded to the Episode Select and Nathan put on Episode 1.   

After we finished almost the entire episode, we had arrived at the Orlando International Airport. We had just gone up a seemingly endless spiral drive and arrived in Terminal Top Parking.

I jumped out of the car, Taylor following me, as well as Noah.   

"Nathan, you coming?" Taylor called.  

"Hold on," he said. He stepped out of the car just as it started changing. The windows closed, and then everything folded into the floor, which then rolled into what looked similar to a sleeping bag. Then, the car folded once into a small box, and a screen on the front displayed the words 'ready for use'.  

"Whoa."

Nathan put the box into a slot in his backpack, and the slot magically disappeared along with the foldable car.

We entered the elevator and rode down to level "Terminal." The moving sidewalk took us to a set of elevators, and we rode up to level 3 of Terminal B. We checked in to Air Canada and received boarding passes. We made our way around shops and to the room with the huge green 'B'. The gates were on the left. We used our CLEAR passes to skip past security lines, and waited for the blinking arches that signaled that a tram was pulling in.  

Around 4:15, a tram came, and we ran inside. The light arches were alternating back and forth, which signaled that we were moving.  

The tram pulled into the terminal, and we got off, stopped at Nathan's-

|Nathan: The hot dog place!|

-and Carvel, and sat down at Gate 74. Nathan started playing on his POSS, and after half an hour of listening to messages about umbrellas and parasols (which are almost the same thing), the PA announced that, "all passengers waiting at Gate 74 are now boarding". We turned in our boarding passes to the Air Canada lady and walked down the jetway into the plane. There was a staircase leading up to the new first-class level. We climbed it and sat at the front to look out the upper windshield. Our seat belts clicked and we rolled down our window covers. The captain played a safety message, and the plane started rolling.  

•  •  •

"Ah," Nathan remarked as we stepped out of the plane into the airtight jetway. "Smell that fresh Canadian air."  

Taylor frowned. "We aren't even outside yet."  

I grabbed my spending money from my pocket, as well as a vial. "I need to take a sample. Maybe it's what makes Canadians so perfect." I uncorked the vial and held it up in the air.   

"Uh, no," Noah replied.  

"Too bad," I said, slipping the vial into my pocket.  

We walked through the airport, trying to find our way to the parking lot.  

"Okay, where the heck is this parking lot?" Taylor wondered aloud. "We can't be late." She looked down. "Says here that they won't accept people after 9:15."  

Nathan checked his watch. "Well, it's 8:01, so we need to get moving."  

He ran over to a flight attendant who looked irritated, as if she was running late. She looked familiar, as if I had seen her before. Her name tag read, Emma H., which still sounded familiar. "Hi, uh, we need to find the parking lot."  

She just stared at him.   

"Oh," he said, slapping himself. "I'm so stupid. Do you know where the parking lot is? We are in a hurry."  

"Oh, I haven't spoken English in a long time."  

"Oh, okay. Sorry. Can you please direct us to the parking lot?"  

"Sure. You can continue to go down that way until you see the sign that says 'parking'."  

"Thank you!"  

"You are welcome," she replied  

Taylor stared at the lady as she walked away. "What the heck was that?"  

I laughed, realizing what Nathan had done. "Québécois. Let's go!"

I picked Crinitus up and we raced down the hall, and, sure enough, there was a sign that displayed 'Parking' and what looked like a word in French. There was an arrow pointing to the right, so we turned that way. At the end of the very decorated corridor, we made a bathroom stop, and we walked through the sliding doors to an elevator. We rode to the bottom level of parking, and the other side opened, allowing us passage. Once we had found an open space, Nathan touched a button on his backpack, and the straps retracted, causing the backpack to land behind him.

"Okay. Poketpack, eject the van." The slot with the car-box in it came into view, and as it launched itself out of the slot, we heard a computerized reply.

"Parking space found. Expanding..."

The screen folded away, and out of the box came a black shape, which then unfolded to reveal the skeleton of the car, the engine, the tires, the doors, and the outer panels of the car, which expanded and locked in place. The box seemed to float in the air as it rearranged itself into the familiar sleeping-bag shape of the car floor. It flew through the open front window and placed itself at the front of the minivan The floor unrolled, and everything that had squished into it shot up like a pop-up book.

"Ready for driving," the computerized voice reported. The automatic doors slid back, and we all jumped into the very roomy Odyssey. Nathan shut the doors and hit the gas, and we were rolling to the party!

IV

"Okay! The coast is clear!"  

Four men in black suits crept silently into The Poket Labs through the obviously open back door.  

"Four, go drop off the note in the bedroom," said the leader of the gang in a hard whisper. Four snuck up the stairs quietly to Nathan's bedroom.

"Look! Over there," another one whispered.  

The legendary Energetic Crystal glimmered with red and blue in the Energy Harnesser's light. This very crystal was the infinite power source for all things Poket. And that's why the men had to take it. They were on a mission to entirely obliterate Poket Incorporated.  

"Quiet, Three! Just because they're not home doesn't mean they don't have... sound sensors," the leader suggested. "They are definitely smart enough to do that, especially the one with the beautifully dyed hair-"

|Taylor: That wasn't what the security footage said!|

He obviously was the smart one. He had brought all sorts of tools for destroying anything in their way to getting the job done. They proceeded towards the Crystal.  

"That is ridiculous. You're making stuff up now," Two remarked.  

He reached toward the gleaming crystal. "NO! DON'T TOUCH IT!" the leader screamed, completely forgetting the silence rule. But Two could not stop himself from tapping it slightly.  

Nothing happened.  

"See, One," Three began. "Nothing is going to-"  

"MEOW-MEOW! MEOW-MEOW!" An alarm blared throughout the building, startling the men and giving them the message that they should exit the room immediately!

"SEE WHAT I MEAN?! Now let's grab the crystal and the gems, and let's LEAVE!"

Nobody realized that when the leader, One, was going to run out the door, he had set a Timed Lever Flipper--yup, worst name ever--for 10 hours and hung it on a suspiciously large lever. When the door slammed shut, a digital clock turned on, its green numbers illuminating the house.  

09:59:59  

09:59:58

V
Crinitus

00:01:00  

"That was intense!" Nathan said, walking through the front door. His glasses were lopsided, and he staggered around in tight circles.   

"Yeah, especially when Cole jumped on the table and started singing Korean karaoke!" Taylor said, walking in.  

"Too many chocolate truffles went to my head, honestly!" I said. My tie was around my noggin, and I was wearing some neon yellow glasses. "Did you see that guy at the concession stand? The man with the purple top hat? He was giving out pudding, but that stuff was so thick that it was Mr. Thick Thick Thickety Thick from Thicktown, Thickania. And so was its dad."  

"Did you see my friend Whisky the corgi?" I asked. "He was dressed up as the Queen of England. But his owner is the queen of England, so it was kinda weird when she showed up as Whisky."  

"Wow," Noah remarked as he bent down and picked up a glittering object from the floor. "That was fun!"  

A deep mechanical voice blurted, "WARNIIIING. LAAAB POWWWER LEVELLLS DESCEEENDIIING."  

00:00:30  

Nathan, Cole, Noah, Taylor, and I ran into the Transfroom. We hadn't noticed the clock yet.  

"Someone broke in!" Nathan screamed.  

00:00:15

Nathan calmed himself. "It's okay. Maybe they didn't take the crystal. You'll be fine. Just stay calm. Breathe." Only then did he realize the clock was counting down.

"Seriously? Why did they have to put a TLF on that lever?" Nathan groaned.

"Well, at least we finished our project before they activated it," Noah replied.

00:00:00.

"WHAT THE-" I yelled in shock as the wall split away, revealing a mechanical contraption that soon extended into what looked like a giant camera made out of cubes. In an instant, an emerald-colored laser shot out of the lens and zapped us with deadly accuracy. Green electricity zipped across the room. A blinding flash, and a loud BOOM later, we were sprawled on the floor, lying unconscious. But our regular bodies decided to, erm, Transfroom, and what we were now was even more shocking than the laser.

VI
Cole

I was lying on the floor on my back. I couldn't move. Next to me, Noah lay on the floor, his eyes darting around. Nathan and his room looked a lot different than before the shock. His glasses looked like that Google Glass thing; they had a processor and his lenses were screens. His Pebble Time smartwatch looked more Poket-styled than before. I saw what looked like a toy rocket on his bedside table, with a tiny ladder hanging from it.

How can you move? I wondered.

I don't know. I think Transfroomation happened to us. I heard Nathan's voice in my head, except kind of echoing, as if he was putting his thoughts in my mind. I could hear him, but I kind of couldn't hear him... Telepathy?

What? I thought. I tried looking down. It worked. Something wasn't right. My hands looked a little weird. My hair seemed longer than it usually was. That never happened before. What was wrong with my body?

In case you didn't know, those bands were linked to the Transfroomation. Now everything that existed where your character came from actually exists. It leaves humans unconscious for a very long time. You were out for about two weeks.

Okay. I'm going to get up, or at least try, I thought. I rose shakily. If I look in your glasses, will I look the same?

I'll let you find out, is what I heard back.

I turned towards him.

OHMYGODWHATTHEHECKISWRONGWITHMEWHYDOILOOKTHATWAY?!?

•  •  •

"Are you awake, dude? Deep breaths, okay?"

Nathan sat down next to me.

"Do I look okay?" I asked. My voice sounded different. What was wrong with my voice? Was it always this... Scottish?

"Sort of." he responded. "But I am loving this! Well, except for the fact that we don't have power. I can't believe some idiot would be so mean as to steal our crystal."

I looked around. We were still in Nathan's room. I sat on the red and blue bed, gazing at the color-changing light-up walls.

"What time is it?"

Nathan looked at his smartwatch. "10:23, November 1st, 2021. Day after Halloween. According to the Sun, which was temporarily frozen in time from the harmful rays emitted by the Transfoom, along with everything else in the universe, except for cats."

"Dude, could you be any more specific?"

He grinned. "Sure. It's been..."-he tapped some buttons on his watch-"... 304.167 days since your 16th birthday, we are about 148,920 hours old-"

"Rhetorical question."

"I know."

"You must have invented something to feed all of the cats that were alive the entire time."

"Yep."

I had just noticed that there was a note on Nathan's table. I picked it up. It read:

 

Iwt rgnhipa extrth pgt xc sxuutgtci sxbtchxdch. Wtgt'h p axhi:

  • 1 Rtgth

  • 795g-1748933

  • 263k-6875298

  • 091b-8903568

  • 628o-4675329

  • 809z-9285340

  • 239r-458748

Vdds ajrz snxcv dc p fjthi id hpkt iwtb. Iwt Rpthpg Rxewtg rdst xh 15.

-Nt Das Edti Hidgzh

 

My finger left a smear on the corner, as well as a print on the top.

"Did you write this?"

Nathan looked over. "What?"

"This piece of paper. The ink is fresh."

He looked puzzled. "Uh, no. Things getting frozen in time means stuff like this will casually happen."

I handed the paper over to him. "Well, at least they left a note," he said, looking relieved. "Otherwise we would be in big trouble. By the way, the numbers are dimensional codes I can use to create a time vortex with a little machine I've been working on. I can try and have a computer visualize the first dimensional code, but the rest isn't any language I've ever seen."

I stared at the message. The word axhi sounded a little like Arabic, maybe. And the word hidgzh looked kinda German. But I know for a fact that p wasn't a word in any language I knew. Maybe an abbreviation?

"Any ideas?" I asked him.

"Nada."

My phone buzzed. Taylor had texted me. At first it looked like gibberish, like she had fallen asleep texting, but it was actually the Caesar cipher, a code that we used in case our messages got intercepted. Where r u? Y am I Rose?

IDK. In Nathan's room, I texted back.

K. B right there.

I got a brilliant idea. "Nathan, can you use your useless decoding app?" I asked.

"Why?" He said, puzzled. He looked down at the paper. And back up at me. Then once more at the paper. A look of excitement spread across his face. "Oh!"

"Exactly!"

He started decoding the message immediately with his phone.

|Cole: I guess it did come in handy at the time.|

This is what it came out as:

 

The crystal pieces are in different dimensions. Here's a list:

  • 1 Ceres

  • 795g-1748933

  • 263k-6875298

  • 091b-8906568

  • 628o-4675329

  • 809z-9280640

  • 139r-4587489

Good luck dying on a quest to save them. The Caesar Cipher code is 15.

-Ye Old Poet Storks

 

"On a completely unrelated subject," Nathan said. "You look like David Tennant."

You know that moment when you become your childhood role model, and you thought you would be someone so majestic and sexy, but then you realize that there is only one majestic, sexy person, and you just feel awkward? Probably not.

"So... I look like... the Tenth Doctor?"

"Yes."

"Really?"

"Yeah."

"I look like David Tennant."

"Surprisingly, yep."

"Seriously?"

"Exactly."

"But why do I look like David? I'm not supposed to look like David."

"You're not the only one here with problems about appearances," a voice said from the door.

Taylor walked in. She just stood there staring at us.

"Be honest... How do I look?" I asked Taylor, without intending to make a Doctor Who reference.

"Different."

"Good different or bad different?"

"Just... different."

"You do look exactly like Rose Tyler," I replied. She made a face. "There is no problem with that, though. This will be weird to adjust to. And for like, a month, I'm going to look like David Tennant! I'm not supposed to look like David Tennant!" I started freaking out.

"Or at least until we find a crystal. And calm down," Nathan added.

"What do you mean?"

"Calm your nipples."

"I meant about the crystal."

"Oh. I have something that can help us with that. It uses a lot of power, though."

"I don't think we'll be able to use all that much power. Come outside," Taylor said. Her hair had gone from dark blonde to a lighter shade of blonde. She was wearing a white shirt and navy blue jeans.

Now everyone was up. Noah looked like Lionel Messi. He had aged from 17 to 27 in a matter of weeks. His hair was much darker. "I feel weird," he said. His voice sounded Argentinian in a way.

Crinitus had become K-9. His dark fur was replaced with metal, and for his eyes, red scanners. His tail had become a wire like on a remote control vehicle. The right side of my brain thought, I wonder if I could ask Nathan to create a remote control for Crinitus!, while my left said, Focus. We have a crisis at hand.

"Okay. We know where they are, but how do we get to them?" Noah said. "We have no spaceship."

I looked at Nathan. He looked back at me.

"Oh, really?" I said.

"I have built a spaceship to be our new home! It even has electromagnetic transformers that make oxygen from nothing," -Nathan made jazz hands- "So I think we'll be fine."

"Now," I said. "Let's talk more about this..." I grabbed my car keys. "… over lunch?"

VII
Taylor

As we all piled in to Cole's baby blue Fiat 500 convertible, I realized that there were only two seats. Crinitus stayed home, so two of us would be in the trunk. Nathan and Noah solved that problem by jumping in the back. Cole would never let anybody even touch his car; he got it from his cousin in Italy. That was fine with me. He, Noah, and Nathan were the only ones who were legally allowed to drive. And I just didn't feel in the mood for the nerve-wrecking ride on I-4.

"Where to?" he said.

"How about that nice Spanish place up in Sanford?" I suggested. "What was it? Habanero's, I think?"

So we drove.

Cole pressed a button, and 100.3 (Latin American Music) played. Noah brought out his cell phone and put on his earbuds.

"La Bamba" was playing over the radio, and I could hear some faint beeping.

Oh, I will get those video gamers.

"So what is it with you and Spanish and/or Portuguese stuff?" I wondered, the question finally being asked.

He stared at the road. "Cute story, actually. See, when I was a kid I dreamed to go around the world. I kind of got my wish when I was out on the street and was kidnapped. I escaped, and I ended up at an airport. My kidnappers were right behind me, so I jumped into the nearest thing I saw: The area for your luggage on a plane. I shared the area with two dogs, a parakeet, and several thousand bags. Figuratively. The plane took off, and we landed in Portugal. I sort of stole some money from a guy's man-purse, and I found just enough to get a hotel room for a few nights. I kept making money, and soon I had enough to get on a plane. While in Portugal, the only thing I could watch was a Doctor Who marathon, surprisingly. In Portuguese. All day. Everyday. And then I learned it, and I went home."

He looked at me. "And the moral of the story: Don't play outside at night in an alleyway in Orlando."

"And you learned Portuguese just like that?"

"Eh, quick learner, maybe?"

We arrived at the Seminole Towne Center Mall and got off at the curb. Cole went around to park.

After that, we went inside, and some 40 or 50 people whispered, "What the heck?" and "How much do you want to bet he's got a sonic screwdriver on him?"

We got a table and ordered.

Noah bit a tortilla chip, scared of what would happen. I tried to hide under the table. Cole glared at the server for the completely fake Spanish accent.  

"Okay. Let's talk crystals. We know that one is in this dimension," I said enthusiastically. "So we can go to Ceres and find it. No problem."

"Ah, the magic of advanced technology," Cole said. "Poket Incorporated's advanced technology."

I looked at them. There were already enough secrets in this household.

"Let me guess," Noah began. "You made some sort of thing capable of breaking space-time and creating a dimensional tear, resulting in the capability of traveling through different planes of reality."

Nathan looked like he saw a ghost. "How the heck did you know about that?"

"It's not like you lock the lab door at night. I have a 72.3 percent success rate at sneaking in there without you noticing, and math hasn't failed me yet-"

Nathan broke in. "Actually, that would be 73.2 percent, because I always have my guard down." He made an explosion with his hands. "Boom." He followed with a Mario 1-UP sound.

They had a silent stare-off. They both hated to be corrected, so they did it to get on each other's nerves. I thought it might become a full on robot battle. You don't want to be caught in one of those. The last time it happened, I spotted Nathan's huge EyeBot spying on my bedroom.

After some time, Noah finally gave in.

"You win this time," he grumbled.

"I thought so," Nathan replied, taking a long, slow sip of his Sprite Cherry Vanilla whatever.

The waiter came with the plates, acting surprisingly normal at the sight of what looked like David Tennant, Billie Piper, Poket, and Lionel Messi sitting at a table together. Steaming hot quesadillas, spicy enchiladas, and a bunch of other delicious foods. Nathan caught a quesadilla in his mouth and ate it whole.

Cole asked for some more spicy salsa. He allowed me to try a bit of his enchilada. My mouth felt like I had stuck my tongue in a volcano on steroids.

"How do you eat that?" I asked, gulping down my water.

"Anyway, let's get going tomorrow," I said. "Perfect plan, right? I mean, we'll have time to go get stuff, then we're off!"

And no one disagreed.

VIII
Taylor (again)

Things started to go wrong right when we finished lunch.

I excused myself to go to the bathroom when Nathan started to tell his joke about tongue depressors that doctors use. If I had to listen to him say how they make his mouth sad one more time, I would rip off my ears (maybe even literally). I walked by some guy in all black and used the loo.

I washed my hands. The warm running water made a nice, calming sound, which helped me take my mind off the fact that I would be blasting off in fourteen hours to rescue our best power source from an unknown robber who wants us to find it. Why would they want us to leave the lab and get our power source back?

Something moved in the stall behind me. I should have moved, but I stood still, careful not to make a noise.

Then all hell broke loose.

All the toilets and sinks started spraying water everywhere, obscuring my vision. Water splashed me in the face so hard I fell on the cold tile, which had not been spared either. I slid about four feet away from where I was standing. Away from the door.

No accident could have done this.

"It must have been that bloke in black," I whispered to myself.

The stall where I saw movement had its door open. I went into default fight or flight response: I ran out of the bathroom, screaming. Then I closed the door.

I calmed myself down. Why the heck was I yelling? I had my phone in my hand. Why am I holding my phone? And then I saw the picture.

A freaking Silent. The Doctor Who monster was so powerful, it could make you forget that you saw it the moment you look away. It could blast you into little itty-bitty miniscule pieces, and it was just scary to look at. And now here I was, looking at it.

I heard rattling behind me, the sound of a Silent coming to kill you.

I ran for our table and mouthed, "Gotta go."

"Why?" Cole asked. "And why are you wet?"

Then he saw the end of the restaurant. Nathan and Noah saw it too. I knew if Crinitus was here, he'd be jumping with joy. He loved this monster. We got up and went to the door.

Cole turned around. "What are you doing?" I said. He replied as he ran: "Leaving a tip."

Typical.

Once he was done, we were already halfway across the parking lot.

"Transfroomation takes everything that exists in the world your character came from and puts it in reality, if it's not already there."

My very smart reply: "Wha... ?"

"I get it," Noah said. "Our enemies would come to life, just like our characters did."

"Still lost."

"Everything from Doctor Who, and a few other random things involving me, are now real. Got it?"

"Okay... But why does reality 'think'? Reality doesn't think!"

"I honestly have no idea."

Cole came over. He was holding his phone, and had scratches all down his chest. His shirt had been severely burned.

"What happened to you?" I said.

"Someone started throwing their knives at the Silent. I was in the way. Then the Silent shot stuff back. I was still in the way. Also, I tripped in my flip-flops and fell on a broken glass bottle. This parking lot has surprisingly dangerous litter."

That was true.

Nathan went up to him and pressed a button. A clear liquid shot from his Random-Box-of-All-The-Things-Ever onto Cole's cuts.

"Ow!" He complained.

"Rubbing alcohol," Nathan replied. "It stings, but it cleans."

"Thanks. But my shirt is still destroyed. For the fourth time this week. At least this time, it wasn't acid."

The Silent was now coming out of the restaurant. It hadn't seemed to hurt anyone. Yet.

"Okay. I hate myself for doing this," Cole began. He faced Nathan. "Take the wheel. I'm trusting you with my most precious."

I glared at him.

"Second most precious."

"Let's go already!" Nathan yelled.

IX
Nathan

Why would you have an Italian car, put it in Portuguese, and then let your American friend try to drive it? Really?

This was my reaction when I turned on the car. All the regular parts had been replaced with stuff too complicated even for me, and I love things to be complicated.

"How does this go?" I asked.

Cole jumped in the back. "It'll be the button that says, 'Encaminhar'."

Thanks, I said in my head. That sums everything up.

I accidentally hit a button that said, "Reverter", which (I figured out) meant, "Reverse." And I almost backed over Taylor.

"Don't ever do that again," she said as I pushed the right button. And I almost ran over Noah. "Seriously, dude?"

"Well, I'm sorry that I can't read Portuguese!" I yelled.

We zoomed down the mall parking lot. Cole pulled out something that looked like a Laser Tag gun. He pulled the trigger, and a brown light shot from it. BOOM! A car flipped through the air with a hole in the top.

"I missed."

We just passed Steak-'n'-Shake when everything started looking like a light show. I drove while Noah got out another Laser Tag gun, which blasted red, and so did Taylor, whose gun shot magenta. The Silent was strangely flying towards us. It seemed as if it was being blown by the wind. A closer inspection and I realized it was wearing some sort of jetpack. Cool, I thought. Except for the fact that it was firing back some black hole looking stuff. I took a picture on my phone of the Silent, so I could not forget it.

I looked back at the guns. "What are those, where did you get them, oh, and can I have one?"

While keeping her eyes on the Silent, Taylor replied. "First, there is a Silent outside the car, and I'm trying to focus, so shh. Second, there are only three guns. And third, they are called ActuallyHarmfulLaserTagBlaster. I stash them in here. Just in case. They won’t harm humans, only monsters. And I took the time to bedazzle mine!" There was glitter and sparkles all down hers, and her name was printed in purple with tiny blue diamonds on the letters.

We swerved left down the street. "Fine. When we get to the lab, I'll make my own, if you'll let me borrow one for a bit."

Note to self: If in battle, bring this car next time.

I turned around and slammed the brakes. I was practically playing Mario Kart now. I almost hit a car again.

The problem was that we were still sliding, spinning on the wet street. Taylor, Noah and Cole were holding on for dear life since the trunk door was open. We finally stopped and sped down the road. We just about made it home, before...

BAM! The sound of metal being destroyed.

We were hit.

The car started flipping; once, twice... I was getting dizzy. Everything was a blur. Something red landed on the back of my seat. I decided not to look back. The force of the blast blew us twenty feet away and nearly seventy feet high. There was a burning hole in the side of the car.

There was no other choice.

I had to jump.

I am a very smart guy, but somehow I managed to calculate when I should jump incorrectly. I managed to grab on to a very thin branch. It broke after a second. I hit the ground hard. I knew I had just a few seconds left before I would hit the ground. But that was more than enough time to watch the car land on the very edge of the forest with a sickening SMASH. I pulled out my walkie-talkie.

"Guys? Are you there? Can you hear me?" It was no use. They had fainted from the pain.

And, at that moment, I fainted too.

•  •  •

I came around sometime during the night, after recalling pictures of fluffy kitties. It was raining like a hurricane. And then I remembered earlier.

I got up and nearly stumbled because of the pain in my leg. I looked down. I had a nasty cut.

The car had smashed into a tree. Windows had shattered. The front had caught fire. The doors had been ripped off. That red stuff earlier had been cake, but read blood had been on the back of my seat. I didn't see any bodies. Also weird.

The house is on the other side of this forest, I thought. I would never make it by myself.

I walked for two miserable hours. I found a sturdier branch than before and used it as a crutch. A wolf jumped out and scared me, and I fell over. After about an hour, I finally got up with nothing steady to grab. I stumbled along for a while until I saw a deer. I tried talking to it in cat.

Hello. My name is Nathan.

Me-sa Hershey. How-sa you-sa doing?

Well, apparently, you can somewhat talk to deer in Cat, I thought to myself. I managed to bargain a few berries for a ride.

We sped through the forest. Hershey's fur was soft like my hair, and smooth. By the time we reached the clearing where our house was, my leg had fully healed.

|Cole: Is that even possible?|

Then he ran off into the woods.

To my surprise, the crew was waiting for me there. Everyone had a few bruises. Taylor had a long scar on her arm, but that was already healing fast. Someone had taken care of them, but who?

I entered the lab, and a boy ran to the door.

"Hi, Nathy! You look different."

My brother had come to visit.

X
Benji

I guess I could say I have special talents when it comes to healing. Magical special talents.

Nathy (Nathan) is my big brother, only by three to four years. We like to play video games together. I came to say hello, and because they were hurt I decided to use my newly learned magic skills. I had Taylor healing in no time with a new magic spell that sort of went like: Você é um wiener... never mind.

Anyway, their car was flipping crazily and I saw a few things flying out of it, and they were actually Taylor, Noah, and Cole. I thought that Nathy went missing. But now he's here.

"So," I said. "How did you get here?"

"I rode on Hershey," he said.

"Can I eat it?"

"No. He is the best deer ever."

"Oh." I was bummed. I wanted to eat some chocolate so bad at the time. I was hungry!

"You want to get a snack?" he asked, practically reading my mind. We are brothers, after all.

"Sure. Can I have some pretzels?"

So I followed him inside, straight to the kitchen. "I am going to take a shower," Nathan said. "Don't eat all the food."

So naturally, I ate everything I could reach.

Surprisingly, the food replenished automatically.

"Benji. If you didn't already eat something-" Nathan came out of the bathroom, with his hair wet. "-then press that button. The one that says 'Snack'. Then press 'Nathan'. You will get pretzels in a bag."

I pressed the button and received some pretzels in a bag from a panel in the wall that had opened when I looked away. "I like the new place!"

We sat down at the couch. Nathan had poured himself a cup of pomegranate coconut water, and was taking sips while studying me with his intense brown eyes, which was kind of awkward. His eyes focused from looking at me to being in a far-off state for a split second.

I broke the silence. "Where is your crystal?" I noticed.

"Someone took it."

"Oh," I said. I didn't want to ruin my time here. I needed to change the subject. And fast.

I didn't have to. "So. How's school?" he said.

"Good," I replied. I had been going to a school for magic then. "I have been learning a few healing spells and junk, and I have made some friends." He looked at me, his eyes practically begging me for more info. "Oh. Their names are Hermine and John."

"Weird names, huh," he said, laughing. "Yeah," I agreed. "They're cool, though."

His expression changed from happy to serious, as if he realized something. "Why are you here, really?" he asked.

Dang it. I wanted to tell everyone when the time was right, but if I kept it secret then he would get skeptical. "I wanted to say hi! Honest!"

He looked at me, then said sarcastically, "Mmm hmm." He looked at the rim of his glasses.

"Okay. You got me. I wanted to tell you that the MFPSGB (Magical Fluffy Puppy Society of Great Britain) has found out about something rather unsettling. There is a group of people called Ye Old Poet Storks trying to take down other small but internationally-known groups of inventors and magicians for an unknown cause. The MFPSGB chief, Jolie Bonius Di'Pipi Mausser, MD., said they just had an attack from the group. Three hundred wounded and seventeen dead. The problem is, they think you might be up next. How I know is because she told me privately, and she told me to pass the message along to you. I wanted to tell you later, but now you forced me. So yeah. Be on the lookout for that stuff. Love you."

He had a look of absolute terror on his face. His glass of Coke shattered against the light hardwood floors. I could almost see his brain piecing together the puzzle. He should take some time to process this himself, I thought, so I used my teleportation spell and disappeared.

XI
Noah

Dinner started out nice. We all sat around the table, even Crinitus, telling our stories of traveling through the woods. Everyone was talking, except for Nathan. He was staring into his glass of water.

Taylor was in the middle of telling a story.

"... and if not for Benji and his medical skills, I would probably still be losing blood. So we walked a bit in the dark, rainy forest and came across a wolf. And then Cole did this thing I had never seen before, with his jacket that we got from the car. The wolf tried to fight back, but Cole made some sort of low barking noise, and scared it away. It was so amazing!"

Cole blushed. He popped a roll of sushi in his mouth. "It was nothing compared to what you did though," he said. "With that stick thingy-" "Divining rod?" "-yeah, that, you found the lake near the house."

"Well, you should give your thanks to Benji. He made it."

Crinitus joined in. "And this is why you should let me come out to lunch with you! Hey, Nathan! What was it like for you?"

He kept his eyes on his drink, muttering something about thieves. He looked up. "Oh. Yeah. It was fine. Just, you know, walked a bit. And then Hershey the deer. But yeah. It was okay."

It was silent dinner from then. The rain pattered against the window. There was a bit of thunder too.

Nathan then broke the silence. "I have to tell you something important."   

Nathan told us all about what his brother said. My fork clattered to the ground. Why did he know all this? He wasn't supposed to. Now that he told us, it's not just him who's in danger. It's everyone.

"So, just be on the lookout for any more suspicious intruders," he summed up. "Goodnight, and stuff."

•  •  •

Good. No one else was here.

I had barely slept last night. The thing that Nathan told us had made sense. They stole the power source so we'd be sent into panic. They expected the Silent to come find us and kill us. And now my boss wanted me to do something impossible.

Stop that, I chided myself. Only think about it when the time comes.

The problem was, that the time was coming closer. I couldn’t just deny it. My life was on the line. And if it meant doing something I would never do to stay alive, then so be it.

Never mind that. Just get some rest. Big day tomorrow.

But I couldn't just ignore it! I had to tell them. Maybe we could fight back! Or something. I... I...

It was as if I was drifting off to sleep, but with my eyes open. I could see a black blob on the other end of the mattress. It slithered towards me. I tried to get up, but I felt too tired to do anything.

Then it crawled into my mouth.

My body suddenly twitched, and then I couldn't feel anything. Everything was bathed in a weird orange light. I twitched again, and everything was ice cold.

ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzz... ... ... ... ...

Follow my rules. Obey me.

You must do as I say. Now!

Walk to their rooms. Kill them all!

Go to the kitchen! Find the knives! Do it!

Grab it now! GO kill them!

Take THE KNIFE!

FIRST the LEADER. THEN THE REST!

NOW DO IT! NOW IS THE TIME!

GO! GOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

•  •  •

I broke into a coughing fit. A knife from the kitchen was in my hands. The black stuff was leaving my mouth. I always thought that that was very disgusting. But the problem is, it only does that when...

"Oh my god! Are you okay? Cough drop?"

... people were awake.

"Yeah, Nathan," I said. "I'm good."

He looked at me skeptically. "Why are you here? Your room is on the third floor?"

It had taken me that far this time? Three whole floors? I needed to come up with a lie, and fast.

"Uh. Just... sleepwalking?" I said, innocently. Technically, that part was true.

"Oh. Okay. Could you just keep that up there on the third floor?"

"Sure."

"Goodnight."

"G'night to you too."

I trudged back to my room.

XII
Cole

Things went bad when we took off, and got worse from there.

4:00 was when I woke up. After spending about an hour on deciding what color I should dye my hair, I chose neon yellow. You can't go wrong with neon yellow, right? I put on a black Poket t-shirt, some khakis, a laurel wreath, because I'm a Greek and Roman mythology nerd, and orange sneakers.

No one else was up yet. Noah was sleeping outside my door. Weird. Extremely weird.

The rocket was outside. It glistened in the harsh rain of Florida. It was an 8 bed, 16 bath-

|Nathan: They're all identical!|

64 floor starship the size of Times Square: the Galactic Cruiser Model 76538 in red with blue accents with a unique dimensional portal generator. I had officially dubbed it the Space Invader.

Get it? Space Invader? Because it is freaking gigantic? No? OK, I go back to story now.

Lightning flashed.

I had better get used to riding in this, I thought.

Yep, we're gonna be in this thing for a long while.

I jumped so high that I hit my head against the hanging light in the kitchen. I knocked into someone, and both of us fell to the floor.

"Oh my god! Never do that again!"

"Sorry," Nathan laughed, getting up from the ground. "I guess you also have to get used to me being able to do that."

"How do you even-"

"Nuh-uh-uh. Later."

At 7:00, Noah had finally gotten up from in front of my room. Why he had been there in the first place, I had no idea.

Another thing that I had no idea about: why were we even leaving in the first place?

First of all, some guys break in, kidnap our crystal, break it up--which would take an extremely powerful laser--put it in different dimensions, and leave a note? In one night?

Second, it's like they want us to find it. Leaving a note was not something that your everyday thief would do. I mean, leaving the lab was a bad idea. There had been some recent glitches in the noise sensor. Maybe they could have gone in while it was derping out. Or maybe they had caused the derping out itself!

I thought about that stuff some more, and then I walked to Taylor's room.

It looks like any old room, with white walls, a nice dark hardwood floor, and a window looking out to the lake and the forest. But nothing else was in there. No furniture, pictures, or anything that makes it look different from the rest of the houses I've seen.

Until you find the secret button.

Press it, and the room is amazing. The walls randomly stretch, and sprouting from the walls are doors of all kinds, some smaller than a dime, others as big as the sky. Literally. She is on the top floor, so her roof is retractable. The doors are little Doortals that pop up to any place that feels comfortable. She has so far shown me the ones to Oahu, Paris, and a beautiful cornfield in Illinois. Other than that, I had no idea.

"Taylor? Are you here?"

I walked over to a pretty door from the middle ages that had one of those signs you'd find on a portable lavatory. The sign read, Occupied.

This is probably the place, I thought, because I'm smart like that.

I knocked on the door.

No answer.

I knocked on it again.

This time, she opened it up. Her hair was put up in a ponytail and she had put in contacts to make her eyes look blue instead of brown. She wore a pink t-shirt that showed a dog with glasses and said, "Pugs and Kisses." Man, do I love that shirt. Along with the shirt she wore regular jeans, her hoodie (designed by Nathan, which can be set to any temperature with the push of a button), and a pair of gray running shoes. She had a bracelet with an Egyptian symbol (yeah, we both are nerds) for the cat goddess Bastet.

She smiled. "Hello, Doctor."

"Hi," I said. "I kind of forgot about that."

"Yeah. That neon yellow does not go with your temporary body. At all."

I walked through the door and into the cornfield she had showed me a while back. The sun was rising, making the field look like it was glowing. It was so cold that my breath looked like I was exhaling clouds, but that didn't matter. It was still perfect to me.

Taylor looked at me. "I have to tell you something, but I'm not sure that you will like it."

"Okay," I said curiously. "What would you like to say?"

"Are you sure you want to know?"

"Yes."

"Are you sure you're sure?"

"Absolutely."

Taylor took a deep breath. "The seventy third attempt failed on the project that I was doing.

"Crap."

This was the most important thing in the world and it could change life as we know it.

I replied, "How could it have failed?"

"Probably something to do with the-"

|Cole: Hold it. This is classified info.|

"-thing."

"Well, what could we do to fix it?"

Taylor shrugged. She didn't know everything about science yet; she was like an intern.

"You know what?" I told her. "Let's take the week off. We are going to be blasting off into space in a few hours anyway. The-"

|Cole: CLASSIFIED!|

"-can wait."

Knowing me, Taylor knew that I probably wasn't going to wait. I have tendencies to do that sometimes.

Okay, all the time.

The Space Invader had a science lab anyway, so I could just bring all my research and stuff inside.

"Could we talk about something other than research right now?" Taylor prompted.

"Okay," I said. "How about the rocket? It looks pretty cool."

"I guess. But why are we going in the first place? Can't we, like, I don't know, send a drone or something to retrieve it?"

"STEM has its limits, too. We haven't been able to create a drone powerful enough to travel time and space. Now, if only we had a TARDIS..."

My phone buzzed. A dubstep version of the Doctor Who theme played from my pants. Taylor looked at me. I looked back. "Uh... wait a second," I said.

"Hello?"

"Hello! This is Nathan. It's time to fly... So, Cole, Taylor, come on down!"

I scrambled down the stairs, with Taylor right on my heels.

"What? What did he say?" Taylor asked. I guess I forgot to tell her about the whole blastoff thing, but I was in the moment. "Where the heck are we going?"

I didn't hear her. I just kept running towards the back door.

"Stop!" she said behind me.

I turned around. "Yes?"

"Why the heck are we racing outside? I haven't put on proper clothes, and neither have you."

"Does it matter?"

"Yes. I don't want you getting hypothermia out there. Didn't you watch the weather forecast? It's supposed to be at most fifty degrees out there. The weather is going completely crazy, and you're going out there like a fool in your t-shirt and khakis."

So I went upstairs and put on a jacket. She came down in a rain parka and some boots. She looked at me. "Now that’s better. Carry on."

We sprinted through the kitchen, and out onto the back porch. Lightning cracked in the sky and the wind howled as I looked outside at the Space Invader, gleaming red in the light it was receiving from the house, as everything else was dark and wet. The dirt and grass had been obliterated to six inches of mud, as far as I could tell. Taylor's hair whipped around in the wind, covering up at least three quarters of her face.

"Peh," she said, spitting out her hair. "Ew. I should've taken a shower this morning."

The sliding glass door slammed. Noah's jacket waved in the wind as he stepped out onto the porch. "What happened to the sunny 'Sunshine State', known for its warmth?" he asked.

I was too dumbstruck to speak. The giant Space Invader was now glowing with a brilliant blue hue. It then started to contract, shrinking into an incredibly small size, in a matter of seconds. It took on an iconic boxy form known as...

"The TARDIS!" Noah exclaimed. "Could this day get any worse?"

Indeed, it was. Its doors opened, and Nathan smiled at us. He was in his Poket Gaming hoodie, and he clearly wasn't fazed by the stormy weather.

"Well!" he shouted over the sound of rain beating down on everything in a five mile radius. "I got your stuff! Hop in!"

I opened the door leading out to the vegetable garden, and six gallons of mud spilled onto the porch.

Noah grabbed his phone from his pocket. "Huh. And now we get a severe flooding advisory."

We all looked at each other. There was only one thing to do.

XIII
Taylor

We dashed out into the lawn. My eggplants were floating in the mud. My tomatoes fell over from a mini flash flood of sludge, and my chili peppers looked way overwatered.

And I was not happy.

I ran through the mud to the Space Invader, trying to salvage as many of my poblanos as I could. I was still excited about the whole change-into-TARDIS thingy, but I had bigger problems to worry about.

I put my foot down onto some mud, and then it wasn't there. I had a sudden flashback to when I was little, watching the NeverEnding Story, and the scene with the horse and the swamp. I always hated that part, but I never thought that I would be the horse.

In other words, I was sinking. Fast.

By then, my knee was just above the mud. I must have been right above the lake, though how the mud became level to the shore, I do not know. I had heard before that you should lay down on your back when you are sinking in quicksand, and I guess mud qualifies.

I laid down against the cold, wet mud, but all it did was make it worse. It was now up to my neck. I faced the sky. If I die, I thought, I want this to be my last sight. The almost black clouds covered up the beautiful blue of the sky, and cool rain beat down on my face. I couldn't move my body. For some reason, the air smelled strangely like chocolate. A pleasant smell, I said to myself. My ears were partially covered by the icky, brown substance, and I couldn't make out what the boys were saying. Something like, "CALL THE DEER!"

My head sunk under the mud, then something grabbed my hand and pulled it up! "Cole!" I shouted.

But no, it was the deer.

Hershey the Deer.

Hershey was covered with mud, and he probably ate all the old chocolate bars I threw away, because he smelled like Lindt chocolate balls. He picked me up with his antlers and swam for the Space Invader.

It was the most awesome feeling, on the back of the deer. He swam through the mud as if it were the clearest water in the world, from somewhere like Fiji or Vanuatu or something. I don't know.

But an even better feeling was when we entered the Space Invader. It looked just like the inside of a TARDIS. The console gleamed in the light that seemed to be coming from nowhere, seeing as we had no crystals to even power anything.

|Nathan: It is called electricity.|

Noah was sitting on one of the chairs, holding a suitcase full of clothes and toiletries. His bottom half was covered with mud. Nathan was trying to balance on one of the railings for fun. He didn't look muddy or wet, but then how could he have gotten out of the house? Weird. He must have jumped as far as a cat could.

Hershey bounded into the hallway.

Somewhere, a door closed. Cole's voice rang out, "The shower's all yours, Noah! Hi, Hershey!" Cole came through a doorway, wet as a result of sponge thrown in water (which would obviously be wet.). I am really hoping that everyone imagined him with clothes on, but let's just say that I never wanted to know what David Tennant looked like naked. Maybe.

|Nathan: Not gonna edit that, Taylor.|

"Hi." He stepped back behind the doorway. "Uh, towel dropped on the way here. My bad." I heard a whizzing sound behind me.

Moving on...

I sat down on a chair, when something rubbed up against my leg. It was Crinitus!

"Hello, mistress," he said. He tried to jump up on my lap, but just managed to fall over on his side. "Stupid metal body. Stupid crystals. Stupid owners not even having the decency to pick me up."

Cole came back around this time with some clothes. "Nathan, can I do the honors?"

Nathan looked at him. "The guy who walks into the control room of a spaceship naked and burns Taylor's eyes out in the process does not get to do the honors. Taylor gets to do it because she knows how," he said, but I had already pulled the Time Rotor Handbrake, spun the Atom Accelerator, and twisted the Wibbly Lever. And we were off.

•  •  •

The TARDIS started to gyrate. Nathan fell off of the handrail and onto the... wall. Noah was probably being flung around in the shower, and I was not doing much better. From the look of things, it seemed that we were flying sideways.

I was hanging on to the rail conveniently placed around the TARDIS core. That was pretty convenient.

|Nathan: It is also redundantly redundant.|

Cole yelled, "Push the button to the left!" I pulled myself up and stood on the Wibbly Lever. I reached, but could not make it.

"I cannot reach!" I said. Then I got an idea. I pulled off one of my sneakers and pressed the button.

Suddenly, the ship vibrated again. Then it turned. And turned. And then we were upside down.

"Your other left!" Cole said from the roof.

I pressed the button to my other left. The ship did a barrel roll. Then the Wibbly Lever twisted by itself, and the artificial gravity turned off.

Crinitus was floating in the air, spinning quickly before being knocked away into the wall by my flying shoe. Nathan was trying to grab on to the rail, but then Crinitus bounced from the wall right into him, and they both flew away into the hallway. Cole was trying to climb the TARDIS core, to get to the control panel. I was still holding on to the rail, trying not to be flung out to the bedrooms.

Then Nathan climbed back into the room, soared over to the core, pulled something on the controls, and a brilliant white light filled the room.

And I fell flat on my face.

Right onto a lever.

I blacked out.

•  •  •

Once I came to, everything looked different. No more recognizable controls. I looked at a display that showed the Space Invader.

The ship was back to normal.

Millions of different buttons lined the walls of the control room to create a color scheme of infinite variety. Thousands of little LEDs changed from red to green to blue to yellow a hundred times a minute. Little dials all around me spun crazily, and levers were flicking themselves on and off as I walked down an industrial walkway that seemed to float by itself. Cumulonimbus clouds were surrounding the Space Invader. Lightning flashed in the dark, inky sky.

I am not gonna lie, it was extremely pretty, in a weird way.

Suddenly, the dark clouds shot down out of my view. They were replaced by blue, yellow, red, and white marbles and bright, vivid, colorful dots. Surrounding them was the midnight black emptiness that we call space. A small, silver meteorite zoomed alongside the ship. It shot out light blue sparks as it spun around and around and then it zoomed upwards (Actually, when you leave Earth's atmosphere there is not an upwards or downwards, but for simplicity's sake, I might as well just say it was floating up.).

A door opened behind me, and Noah stepped out. He was out of the shower and, thankfully, with clothes. He had a regular olive-green t-shirt that was way too small, bearing the word 'Liechtenstein'. "Are you feeling better?" he asked. I gave him a confused look, and looked down to see if anything was wrong with me.

My legs were good, arms were okay, but the stomach was a problem area.

My stomach had a big gauze over it, covered in red. I reached for the end, curiosity getting the better of me. Noah winced and said, "I wouldn't do that if I were you."

I took off the bandage, and... my guts spilled out. I stared in horror at the blood on the ground, not because I don't like to see the innards of a human (Cole told me a long time ago that scientists have to be really brave and have nerves of steel, because some of this stuff is disgusting), but because, somehow, some way, I was still alive. I could see my heart beating as if it was still pumping blood throughout my body. I touched the left side of my chest, and was surprised when I could feel the familiar thump-thump, thump-thump.

Noah seemed quite calm about this. I gave him a confused look. "Watch," he said.

I was puzzled until I saw what he was talking about. The blood from my insides was starting to magically float in the air. My small intestine leaped from the ground, right back into my abdomen. I could feel it hooking back up to my other digestive system bits. The rest of the organs came as well, magically linking with the last. Finally, the blood flew back into my body, along with the part of the skin that had recently been on the floor. I touched my stomach, which was completely okay. It looked, felt, and smelled (believe me, your insides do not smell good) like nothing had ever happened.

Questions flooded into my mind, but all I could manage was weak, "Well then." I threw up onto the floor in front of me.

Then everything went black. Again.

Seriously?

•  •  •

I came to my senses in a white medical room. There were screens showing my insides (did I have to see them again?) all over the vibrant white walls, and a curved white door that seemed to glow down the middle and edges. Through my blurred vision, I could see an outline of two people next to me. Nathan was standing by my side (I could tell by the glasses) smiling at someone on my other side, who appeared to be very relieved. I realized it was Cole, his hair neon yellow.

I had never been happier to see these two people in my life, because one had already graduated college with a medical degree, (I think, I've never seen it though; knowing Nathan, he probably doesn’t even have one) and the other was my boyfriend.

|Taylor: Okay, Cole, before you say anything, I'm not saying that you didn't graduate, you just didn't graduate with a medical degree! You can give CPR to a dog, though. I'll give you that.|

Then Nathan shouted, "Hey, can we get to warp speed?" and the ship shot forward. The view from the front of the ship (seeing as I had just been flung towards the door, my hand hitting a button, which split the door, which opened the door portal, consequently teleporting me to the bridge) brought back memories of Star Wars. The stars had become a straight line in the sky, made of white, blue, yellow, and some even red. I saw a big sphere, Mars, slowly crawl past me at the speed of a snail.

"I get sick on motion simulation rides!" I yelled. "So if you do not want me to throw up-" A hand shot out from a wall and pulled me back into the door. I landed on what looked like a giant bedside table. I was in what seemed to be Nathan's room. I looked behind me to find a huge toy version of the Space Invader, which had a Doortal on it.

Then Nathan stumbled out of the door.

"What the heck is going on?" I asked.

"Oh, I see you found the Doortal I put up. They are the same model as the ones back home."

I got to my feet. "Explain, please," I said in Portuguese, surprisingly. A little something I picked up from Cole. "From start to finish."

"Okay. So, I pressed the button on the controls, and it changed the room from TARDIS mode to the regular version of the room. Apparently, we were supposed to be out of the room before we changed it, and a pointy lever appeared right where you were standing. It impaled you, and was sticking out your back. Since we were on autopilot, the levers were moving, which was making the wound worse. You blacked out from pain, and we got the lever out of you. You were losing lots of blood, so we grabbed our last bottle of Benji's healing potion and poured it on you."

I left Cole in there with you, but he needed to get something, and that's when you woke up. You walked out to the platform, and Noah came out, you talked, blah, blah, blah, you took off your bandage, and your healing guts fell out. That's because the side effects of the potion are making you inside bits barely linked together, but still functioning. Benji also gave us a magic bandage that would keep your innards in the place they are supposed to be. You took it off, so, yeah. Anyway, you fainted. Again. You're now properly fixed, courtesy of moi, and Benji." He beamed with pride.

"You woke up in the medical room, and Cole was scared half to death that you weren't going to wake up. Then I made the ship go faster, and you flew off the table, through the Doortal, I pulled you back into the Doortal, your hand hit the wall and sent you here. I came through the Doortal, and here we are now."

I was still processing about half of that. My mind had only one word to say, and that was, Hva? Norwegian for 'what'.

"Is that what all of the doors in my room are?" I asked.

He nodded. "Yes. And what do you say?"

I was about to say thank you, but Space Invader's doors opened, and Noah walked through.

"Hi," he said. "Uh, we kinda need you two at the command center. So, yeah."

"No prob," Nathan said. "Let's go!"

We walked out of the Doortal, and onto the walkway. The little meteorite was nowhere to be seen. We walked through a door into a long hallway. We kept walking until we reached a big red metal double door.

Nathan pushed a button pointing upwards, which lit up, and the elevator door opened. It was a nice big sleek red compartment with some teal bean bag chairs, a wall that displayed a background of red and the cool-looking turquoise-lettered words Open your Elevator App or Scan your Finger, and a big glass window overlooking space. Nathan touched the metal oval next to the window, and with an awesome animation, the screen turned into a large periwinkle P with a number 64 in the middle of it, and letter keys as well as up and down arrows came through the wall on a small keyboard. "Uh, what is the password?" I asked. Nathan was about to answer, but Noah beat him to it.

"It's different for everything. This is an elevator being controlled by a large neodymium magnet on a track, but we tweaked the magnet so anything else that was magnetic would not get pulled and potentially injure any of us," Noah said, looking very pleased with himself. Nathan pulled out a little device and zapped him in the arm.

"Ouch! Anyway, each password takes you to a different room. Right now, we are on the default floor. For your room, it's pumpernickel, but you can change it anytime you want. Nathan's is philosophaster, and Cole's is antidisestablishmentarianism if you want to meet up with him. So, pretty much, big maglev elevator, different passwords take you to different floors, pumpernickel. Got it?"

Hva?

"Thanks a lot," Nathan groaned.

Nathan punched in letsflythisthing on the wall, and we moved upwards, as if we were levitating. Noah was grinning at me, and Nathan was trying to throw little pieces of space junk into the Auto-Recycling Rubbish Bin. We slowed down and stopped on floor 64, and the door opened up to the command room where I had almost been killed.

Crinitus and Cole were checking some monitors, flipping levers, chewing on fish fingers and custard, and looking like the #1 Star Trek/Star Wars/Doctor Who nerds ever to exist. Nathan ran over to a fluffy red chair with a monitor of the Space Invader. Noah sat down in the back of the room, which had a blinding white couch, and a low metal coffee table, complete with mugs of piping hot coffee.

"What is the problem?" I asked.

Crinitus nodded his cute robotic head at a screen. "It seems that we have some space junk flying around the ship, emitting some kind of wave."

"Like a meteorite?" I asked.

Noah looked at me. "Exactly."

Cole added, "But the ship does not have any sort of gravitational or magnetic pull, apart from the elevator. So why do we have this thing flying so closely around us?"

Noah sipped some coffee. "Well, do we have any signs of life?" he asked.

"Already scanning," Nathan said, looking at his monitor. "Nothing yet. It's a little slow, so maybe..." He examined the display once more. "That's weird. What? Something just flashed by. What?"

"What?" Cole stammered.

"Okay," I said, excited. "Our first problem. What is it?"

The lights flickered, and shut off. The only source of light in the room were Crinitus' eyes, glowing in an eerie way.

"What?"

"Wow," I said. "Broke already? Now I really feel like a real twenty-fourth century astronaut!"

"Nothing broke," Noah said from behind me. "We just powered down. Nothing to worry about."

"WHAT?"

I could hear Nathan tapping on the computer, trying to get it to work. Crinitus was trying to find a place to go to the bathroom, and ended up just going in Nathan's mug of coffee. I could hear short, quick breathing from the front of the room. Cole was afraid of the dark. Something from the whole plane-Portugal-Doctor Who experience, maybe.

I tried to feel my way around the room, walking to Crinitus. "Okay," I said. "That is the wall." I walked a bit further, muttering to myself every few feet. "Pointy lever, no touchy... control panel... joystick... ow! Hot coffee... uh, whatever this is." Someone yelped, and then a volley of Portuguese cursing was shot my way. I fell backwards on to the floor. I grabbed someone's hand for help. "That was Cole... and, here we are, Crinitus."

Crinitus turned towards me. "Okay, mistress, I want you to press the following buttons on me. They are in Greek letters. You're going to need to carry me. Uh, it's also going to get a little dark." Cole whimpered. I wondered what the heck Crinitus was about to do. Was he going to turn on the power? Was he going to give us a light source? Or was he gonna make himself the light source?

"θ, π, ξ, ρ, γ, ξ again, α, ζ, ζ, ζ, μ..."

I pressed the glowing buttons. α turned yellow, and spun around, while π blinked a very light orange. λ sparkled like a disco ball in a spherical mirror.

"... γ, δ, γ, δ, γ, γ, γ, γ, ε."

"Self-destruct in T-minus 15 seconds and counting. 14. 13. 12. 11."

"ε! Press ε, mistress!" Crinitus screamed. My brain was not working. What did ε look like again? I felt really dumb.

"7. 6. 5."

"It's the backwards three, mistress! Hurry up!"

I pressed ε.

"Countdown terminated. T-minus 3 seconds remaining."

The room illuminated with a brilliant flash of light. And then it went pitch black.

All of a sudden, two of small orange lights flicked on from Nathan’s direction.

Well, at least we got some light, I heard Nathan's voice say in... my head?

Neat, huh? I can hear your thoughts, Taylor.

"You can, huh?" I said aloud. "That is neat!"

I heard Noah's voice to my left shoulder. "Nathan, shine your light on Crinitus again. I think there is something in him!"

Okay, I heard him... think. His little light shined on Crinitus. A handle had popped out of Crinitus' side. The light had shut off.

I reached blindly for the handle. I grabbed someone's shirt, then Nathan's nose, and I finally reached the handle. I opened him up and pulled out three black shapes.

I handed one to Noah, who said, "Night-vision goggles!"

I gave Cole one, and I put mine on. Hello, TAYLOR. HOW are you, MISTRESS? Crinitus' voice was playing through my goggles! Suddenly, he started to play Hello by Adele as loud as it could go.

Noah was having to deal with Set Fire To The Rain, and Cole was grooving along to Cold Shoulder. Someone bumped into me, and Cole said, "Crinitus has really good taste when it comes to music!"

"Okay, stop!" I said, and Crinitus stopped the music. "At least we can see the controls. Do something!"

Noah walked by me and tapped a few buttons. "Not a thing is working! Stupid computer!" He sat down and took off his night-vision goggles to take a sip of, ew, Nathan's coffee.

And then I felt the strangest feeling. It was like I was under water, but without any water.

"Well, the gravity just turned off," Nathan said from the ceiling, trying to grab his glasses. "So, things could get complicated. We have a limited amount of oxygen left: about 42 hours, according to the oxygen converter."

My hair floated around my face. "This will be-" I gagged, choking on my hair. "-ew. Fantastic!"

"We could climb through the vents?" Cole proposed. "If we open the door, we will be shot out. We need to fix what happened to the power."

Okay, I thought. Let's do this.

I jumped up, higher and higher, until I reached the top of the room. I pulled on the vent. Nothing.

"I need a screwdriver!" I said. A small object poked me in the back. "Thanks!" I said, grabbing the flying screwdriver and putting it to use. I was able to get one screw out, but then accidentally shoved the tool through the vent.

"Crap!" My voice echoed inside the ventilation system. Suddenly, an object came sailing back at me. It banged against the metal and filled the room with noise. It was my screwdriver!

"Hi," a voice said. I peered in and saw Nathan's face. "Uh, we found a way in, down there."

Seriously?

I floated down to the bottom of the room. There was a vent that had been pried open right under the coffee table. I got down on all fours, and I was suddenly sucked through the  vents.

I was flying at a dangerously fast speed. Fans zoomed by at the speed of light. I kept going, farther and farther through the air conduits, trying to hold on to anything that could stop me from being thrown at a million miles an hour. I saw a light at the end of the very dangerous tunnel. This might be over soon! I said to myself. I shut my eyes as tight as I could. And then...

WHAM!

I smashed into a very warm heap of mystery items. I opened my eyes to see that the rest of the crew was there! We were all stuck to the side of the vent.

"Taylor!" I heard Cole shout, looking very relieved. "I wanted to warn you about the magnet, but you were too far to hear."

I could not believe what I had heard. "The one that you guys tweaked? To make it safe?" I shrieked.

Noah hung his head low. "Yeah, that's the one." He looked up. "But there is a perfectly good explanation to this. We didn't tweak the magnet, we used electricity to fix it, but now that we don't have electricity..."

So, we were stuck.

"Well, what do we do?" I asked. "How do we get out of here?"

I took off my necklace, and tried crawling around the vent, but without success. "Where are we supposed to find power?" Cole asked, angrily.

But my question was answered almost immediately. A loud creaking noise froze me right on the spot. Cole came over to me.

"What is happening?" he asked.

"Dunno," I said. "But it does not sound good!"

He scrambled back to the other side to try to move Nathan and Noah. I tried to join them, but the floor shook violently.

The creaking was getting louder and louder, until CRACK! The floor beneath us dropped down, dragging Noah and I with it.

Fatties.

XIV
Nathan

Half of the vent fell down some 200 feet into the deep, dark room. I slid dangerously close to the edge, half my butt hanging off. I tried to shift my weight to the less deadly side. I was about to make it. I was balancing with all the strength I could muster. This was like the world's most horrifying balancing act. I was just about balanced. I'm almost done, I thought. And then my phone buzzed.

I lost balance and fell, grabbing on to anything that was there. I suddenly stopped. Cole had caught me! I grabbed my phone with my free hand to see who had called me. Hi! Said a little voice. I just wanted to check on you, see how you were doing and stuff. How's your day?

"I'm doing great, but this is not the best time, mommy, I'm in a... situation," I said. "Call you back later."

I hung up.

"Nathan!" Cole said. "Please tell me I got you! Even in these night vision goggles, I can't see where you are!"

I laughed. "It's okay. I'm right here. Could you please pull me up?"

"Uh, yeah! Sure! Of course!"

He pulled me back on safe ground. Vent. Whatever.

I leaned over and kissed him. It's weird how a near-death experience will do that to you.

He kept trying to push my head away, but with no success. It lasted a good 23.72941 seconds, according to my watch's stopwatch. (There's a Rotom in my watch, I swear!) At last I pulled away from him. He looked like he had seen a ghost who had slapped him repeatedly and made him watch the "Miracle of Birth" video again.

"That was amazing," I said.

"Yeah, it kinda wa-" He realized what just happened. "I already have a girlfriend!"

I turned around.

"Hello?" I called. "It's me!"

No answer.

"I was wondering if after all these years you'd like to meet?" I said, trying to get Cole's mind off of what had just happened.

Cole glared at me, not looking amused. "Not the time?" I asked. He shook his head. "OK."

"So," I prompted, trying to change the subject once again. "What do we do?"

He glared down into the deep. "We find them," he answered. "And we get the power back on. But first, there's something I need to do."

He slapped me right across the face.

"Ouch!" I complained.

A loud noise startled me. Suddenly, the other half of the team flew through the open hole.

Noah got up fast and then threw up, which then went onto the floor. Taylor got up unfazed, and Crinitus's powered-down body landed properly.

Then, suddenly, the whole ship turned back on with a flash of brilliance. The vibrant array of auto-pressing buttons lit the halls, and the dazzling integrated lamps ignited one-by-one, like a countdown until full power.

"Well," Cole remarked.

"Electrifying." I followed with a proud grin.

Then Cole kinda... fainted. I tapped him, and he kind of woke up.

He repeated the word electrifying and then sang Chasing Pavements. I had to tap him again for him to regain full consciousness.

Noah stated the obvious. "Uhh... my stomach hurts."

That got a good laugh. "Um, we know... you just barfed," was Taylor's response. Mine was a simple "Duh."

We continued to climb through the vents, looking for a way down, but with no success. I kept track of where we were going. Left, Right, Left, Left, Middle, Down, I thought. I felt like I was in The Exit List, with a few minor adjustments. Right, Second Pipe, Left. I would've been extremely good at that show.

"You do have the way to get back memorized, right?" Cole said from in front of me. The others were kinda silent, but they were definitely behind us. I could hear Taylor trying to calm down after what just happened, and Noah's foot kept banging against the wall.

"Totally."

"Okay, good, because I really don't like confined spaces."

"Need something to calm you down?"

He kept climbing forward. "Yeah," he said. "That would be very helpful."

"Hold on," I said. I looked through my watch's .mp3 files for something calming. "Uh, how's ocean sounds? Oh, wait, that one's corrupted. If I open it, it'll probably short circuit. How about... Greek music? No, I accidentally removed it. Oh! I know!"

I started playing Hometown Glory by Adele. I turned it up to maximum volume. Taylor covered her ears, but Cole seemed a lot more relaxed. Noah was – wait a second!

"Where's Noah?" I asked, realizing what had happened. Cole stopped and turned around. Taylor glanced back, not looking surprised. Noah was nowhere to be seen.

"Great," Cole said sarcastically, looking panic-stricken. "Stuck in a confined space, and we lost someone. Again."

Taylor turned and said, "I'll go." She stared down the vent/hall, looking as though she just saw something weird. She then picked up Crini and climbed around the corner, out of sight.

"Bye!" She called. Only seconds later, the sound of an object being dragged away eerily rang through the vents, Taylor's screams following in hot pursuit.

"What the heck just happened?" Cole asked me. I shrugged. "I'm going after her."

"No, you're not," I replied. "Whatever's down there will drag you away. I'll do it."

"Um... Fine! Just go find my girl! And Noah! Him too! I, uh, didn't forget him!"

A voice whispered through the halls. It was as if a group of the genetic bees that we created and destroyed had started talking to us from the grave. "You will never retrieve your friends."

Suddenly, an object flew out of the vent, into the intersection. It was the meteorite that had flown beside the ship. Suddenly, it shot out an object. It looked as though it was riding in a metal triangle. The thing in the middle looked like it had jumped out of a McDonald's commercial. Another one zoomed out, then another, and another.

"Nathan, how many are there?" Cole whispered from behind me.

I whispered the number back to him. "And they look very, VERY, angry."

"Die!" They yelled back to us.

We crawled as fast as we could through the vents, running from 21 illuminati-shaped chicken nuggets.

XV
Cole

Imagine every single crappy meal from a fast-food restaurant you've ever had to choke down when you couldn't go anywhere because your car stopped working.

Now imagine those meals were coming back to haunt you.

Scary, huh?

"Left!" Nathan said behind me. "Right! Your other right!"

We crawled through vent after vent, trying to hide from 21 of these evil... whatever they are.

"Third one on your real right!" he exclaimed again. We turned the corner just as the... chicken nuggets flew by?

"What the-"

|Nathan: Keep it PG!|

|Cole: Fine.|

"-were those things?" I asked, panting.

"Maybe some kind of alien from Doctor Who that they didn't have an episode about yet?"

"Maybe. What would they be called?"

"The Boneless?"

|Cole: Very funny, Nathan. Very funny.|

A red beam of light shot in between the both of us. I felt a burning sensation across my chest. Nathan looked just about as shocked as I was. A drop of blood landed on the floor, and I had a feeling it was coming from me. My shirt disintegrated.

Nathan looked at me. "They shoot lasers? Freaking lasers?"

"Dang it! That was my favorite shirt!"

We crawled some more, Nathan suggesting different names for the alien... whatever they are

"How about... Oh, IllumiNuggets!"

"I like that. IllumiNuggets. It just rolls right off the tongue. IllumiNuggets."

"No, that's their actual name. Just scanned them with my watch."

"Duck!"

"No, IllumiNugget."

"Get down!"

"Oh!" Nathan said, as he Matrix-dodged a random laser.

I crawled past a little opening in the vent. And then I crawled back. "Nathan, in here!" I called, squishing into the miniscule space between two of the tubes.

"Is it safe?" Nathan called back, dodging lasers.

I climbed through. Suddenly, I fell a couple of feet, before stopping on another vent. Black darkness stared at me from below. A web-like white hammock hung from the ceiling with something squirming inside. Taylor!

"Uh, it's a bit of a drop, but you do land on a vent."

I scurried across the vent, trying to reach the hammock. Nathan finished blocking up the hole as he came over to me. Taylor's hands were bound together forty feet above. She was cut and bruised here and there, but she was mostly okay, except for the fact that she looked very disgusted.

"Help!" Taylor screeched. "They bound me together with their freaking mucus! Get me the frick out of here!"

"Okay!" Nathan yelled. "By the way, have you seen Noah and Crini?"

She looked over her shoulder to the other side of the massive hammock. "Crinitus is right next to me. As for Noah, he's still unconscious."

Nathan scanned his surroundings, looking for something to assist him.

"You might need this," I said, grabbing my Swiss Army knife from my back pocket (you can never be too prepared). "To cut them down. Gut some IllumiNuggets on the way out, I don't know."

Nathan took off his glasses. He pressed a button on the side, and a thin wire shot from the rim. It hooked to the ceiling, and pulled him up to the roof. He began to start cutting at Taylor's wrists, and finally got her free. She grabbed a powered-down Crinitus and started to slide down, but stopped halfway through, a look of pure terror on her face.

An immense laser pierced the air. The IllumiNuggets had become one gigantic Nugget!

And then someone pulled out an AHLTB.

And this part is really anticlimactic for the sake of accuracy.

The Nugget was starting to implode, its giant breaded triangle looking like it was deflating, and then it exploded. Green, slimy IllumiNugget goo flew everywhere.

"Ew!" I heard Taylor yell.

We were sucked up into the vents, back to the control room, and landed face-first into the window. Our ship was parked, and what we saw was indescribable by words.

XVI
Noah

"Woah!"

"Magical."

"Incredible!"

"Prodigious!"

Even those words weren't able to describe the beauty of this dwarf planet.

Outside was an enormous gray sphere illuminated by two white dots small as a star from afar, surrounded in a blanket of blinking lights similar to the Control Room, sewn into the blackness of space.

We had arrived at our first destination: Ceres.

"Okay," Nathan said, snapping everyone out of their daze. "We get a good sleep tonight, then we tackle this dwarf planet! Everybody, get clean. Cole, go to the Medical Center and fix that laser burn, and get a new shirt. Then all of you can meet me for celebratory pretzels on the sofa!"

Both Nathan and Cole left the room.

"Hey," I said to Taylor. "Can you... uh... come with me... for a moment?"

"Yeah," she muttered. "Let's go."

We walked over to the elevator, and rode down to floor 60, passing Nathan, Taylor, and Cole's amazing bedrooms. She kept glaring at me the whole way there; I anticipated her coming from behind and choking me.

After a few prolonged seconds, we made it to my floor. I hadn't really seen it before, just the control room and the Medical Center. I thought my room would just be a tiny little sleeping quarter, maybe a nightstand. But as we walked in, it took my breath away.

I walked into a high-ceilinged modern suite. A black couch sat on top of a midnight black carpet, contrasting with the white walls. Built-in lights brightly shined from the roof. I found later that the lights could be changed to fit my mood, preferred color, and the music I was listening to. One wall had been converted into a giant window, showing me a perfect view of Ceres. A curved television was attached to the wall, displaying a beautiful picture of a bamboo forest. I had my own kitchen, with slate countertops and a recipe book full of all of my favorite foods. A wooden bowl filled with my collection of gems sat on the coffee table. Everything that used to be in my room was here now. I could hear Nathan's voice telling me, You're welcome, Noah.

"… you want me in your room, again?" Taylor questioned.

"Huh?" I replied.

She glared at me more intensely. "Why did you want me in your room again?"

"Because I need to talk to you. About what had happened in the vents."

"I know perfectly well what'd happened."

I looked outside. "No. You don't."

"Yeah, I do."  

"No, really. You have no idea." I was itching to tell her all about my boss, the pain I've been through, and everything else... but I kept my mouth shut.

"You tried to kiss me."

"I didn't!"

"Who else was there, huh? A magical disembodied ghost voice?"

"No, it was..." I stopped. I couldn't give away anything. Well, not directly. "Look, it might have been me, but it wasn't me. I wouldn't have ever done something like that."

"I just... I thought I knew you."

I held her hand, while looking into her beautiful blue eyes. I could see the amount of sadness in her eyes. I knew how she felt, having to deal with everything I had done, and trying to find out why I was doing it.

She pulled away.

"Look, I..." she began. "I have to use the bathroom."

She left the room, walking down the corridor next to the kitchen.

This is stupid, I thought as I heard the door slam. I should just tell her now. Even better, tell the whole team.

Suddenly, I started to feel drowsy again. A familiar black glob slithered from under the couch.

"Get away!" I hissed. "Not now! You were already there in the vents!"

I threw my recipe book at it with a satisfying THUD. The glob squished against the floor.

"Is everything okay in there?" Taylor asked me from the bathroom.

"No! Er, yeah!"

My recipe book flew across the room. The blob zoomed towards me angrily. It started to crawl up my leg. I tried to shake it off, but with no success.

"Are you sure you're okay?" She said over the sound of running water.

"Um, yes! I'm ok-mmmmppppphhhhh..."

I twitched. I couldn't feel anything. Then everything went cold.

This time, I could see everything that I was doing. It was all orange, like when I was about to pass out. Except I didn't pass out. I was most definitely awake.

I tried speaking. My mouth didn't work. I tried moving. Nope.

Taylor came out of the bathroom. "Look," She began, looking calmed down. "Maybe what you did was an accident. I know you might have been distracted, and all, and I get that. But I already have a man. You're one of the most amazing people I know, Noah. But we just can't do this together."

I tried to tell her to leave while she could, but I couldn't speak.

Suddenly, my uncontrollable body spoke. "I think you're the most amazing person in the world. Who needs a scientist when you could have a mathematician like me? And I know that you plus me equals magic. So how about we have one more-" I paused. "-accident, huh?"

WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT? I yelled in my head.

I started stumbling towards her.

She walked back, grabbing my recipe book from the floor. She had tears in her eyes. "Just stop! Why would you do this? I thought we understood from the minute we were in that vent that you understood that this wasn't going to be a normal thing! I thought you understood that I have a boyfriend, and that was an accident!"

I backed her into the corner of the kitchen.

She tried to throw her recipe book at me. My body dodged it easily, though I was trying my hardest to get hit.

I was about to grab her, but she punched me right in the face.

I blacked out.

•  •  •

"So... she accidentally punched you?" Nathan asked me, looking skeptical.

We were standing in the Medical Room, Nathan tending to my left eye, which had become swollen since the punch. The black stuff had left my body, which was good, but I wasn't sure where it went, so I couldn't catch it, which was bad.

"Exactly," I lied. "There was a bug on my face, so she punched it off."

Nathan had changed into a less chicken nugget-y, slimy, disgusting outfit. He wore a regular blue T-shirt, with jeans and his new black and white shoes. His glasses had been thoroughly washed and scrubbed-

|Nathan: Integrated wipers!|

-and his hair was quickly drying from the shower he had just taken.

"Okay, then," Nathan responded. "How could a bug have gotten on the ship? We are in space!"

"How could a meteorite that suddenly changes into 21 illuminati chicken nuggets that chase after us, make a web out of their own mucus, and morph together to create one giant nugget get on our ship?"

"Good point. Well, there is still the possibility of it being linked to Transfroomation..."

"Just fix my eye."

"I will fix your eye now."

•  •  •

We had touched down on Ceres.

"Okay, it's now or never," Nathan said. "Let's do this!"

We put on our suits and opened the door. I couldn't quite make out the details of anything.

Outside was a man, standing there without a suit. I couldn’t make out what he looked like, because he seemed to be made of red fog.

"Who are you?" Cole asked.

The red fog stood there, like he didn't hear the question.

"Hello?" Nathan asked.

The red fog turned around. He then pulled out a gun.

"Woah!" Taylor said. "Let's be reasonable here. There's no need to-"

He shot the gun. Two red lasers shot out of the end. Nathan fell at my feet, dead. Cole started glowing yellow. Another shot, and his lifeless body layed next to Nathan's.

"No!" Taylor screamed as she charged at him. The fog grabbed her wrist. He used his other hand to pull her head closer to his, and kissed her.

"Stop!" I yelled. The ground shook beneath me. A crack appeared below the ship. We lurched forwards and fell into the orange abyss.

•  •  •

Suddenly, I woke up in my room. Amber light filled the room, and the television was on. A large black blob was sitting on the couch next to me, staring at me with its purple eye. I tried to speak, tried to jump back, but it was as if I was frozen in a block of ice, not able to move.

The blob flicked its tongue like a snake, and slithered towards the television remote. I watched to see what would happen.

The television changed to a man in a black tuxedo, sitting in a giant office chair. He seemed to be made of fog, so I couldn't make out his facial features, but I bet if they were solid he would look very handsome.

Well then! I see that you have woken up. We need to talk.

His deep voice sounded nice and attractive, and it made me feel sleepy and relaxed. I felt like doing anything that this man said.

I know you can't talk, the man said. That was just a necessary precaution, in case of you saying anything that could make this situation... uncomfortable for both you and me. We wouldn't want that, would we?

I tried to shake my head to say no, but, as I stated before, I couldn't move.

Anyway, he continued, You should not have disobeyed me before. I had to send in my little friend to fix things.

He gestured toward the black snake-blob.

Beautiful things, aren't they? First, they crawl in through your mouth, paralyzing the body, and allow the sender to control that person. I had picked him out, 'cause I thought you might like him. Think of it as a little gift, from me to you.

You need to learn the difference between a gift and a monster, I thought as I looked at him.

The girl's memory has been wound back to right before you guys kissed. She thinks she passed out from the pain. Again, a precaution. We wouldn't want her spouting off about how weird you were acting.

We need you to step up your game, and to be careful-

Oh, this dream is ending. Good luck, and do your duty.

•  •  •

"Gah!" I yelled, as if I was in Tomodachi Life. I woke up, drenched in sweat. I was still in the Medical Room. It had apparently been night, because all the lights were turned off. Nathan jumped backwards. He had advised for me to lay down in the room until tomorrow, so he was trying out his new healing formula.

"Hey," he said. "Are you okay?"

I looked up at him. He was wearing his Poket pajamas, with little interlocking patterns of the Poket P.

"I'm fine," I answered. "Just a nightmare."

"Oh. I get it."

"See you later," I replied, smiling. I couldn't help feeling really relieved as he walked out the door, back to his room.

XVII
Taylor

I woke up on the floor of Noah's room, not having any idea why I was there, or what I might have been doing.

"Noah?" I called. He must have been somewhere else at the moment, because the emotion lights weren't on.

"Okay," I said. "That's weird."

I could hear music playing faintly from a few floors down. I decided I should check it out.

I walked through the red metal elevator doors, and sat in one of the bean bag chairs, rubbing my temples. Why does my head hurt? I wondered. I hadn't remembered anything since I fell in the vents.

Maybe I was unconscious when I hit the ground, I thought. That would explain the headache.

I checked the set of passcodes for the floors. Let's check Cole's room first, I thought. I browsed to floor 62, typed in A-N-T-I-D-I-S-E-S-T-A-B-L-I-S-H-M-E-N-T-A-R-I-A-N-I-S-M on the keys, and the elevator floated up.

No lights were on in his room. The clock on the wall said that it was 4:56, London Time. He liked to set his clock to a different time zone for some reason. That meant it was 12:56 Eastern Time, as I had learned from countless times of deciphering.

I went back into the elevator and typed P-H-I-L-O-S-O-P-H-A-S-T-E-R.

Nathan's lights had dimmed to navy blue, his color of calm. His room was just as magnificent as Noah and Cole's, but with a few minor adjustments. His room had a built in hot tub, bubbling and steaming, with a built in light display. Nathan himself was in the kitchen, cooking spaghetti.

"Hi," he said. "Let me guess, looking for Cole?"

"Yeah," I replied. "You know where he is?"

He stared down at the floor. "He's in the gym on 35 with Crinitus."

"Thanks," I replied, walking out the front door.

"Password's tricep, by the way."

I typed the password and floated down to floor 35. The red double doors opened, showing me the largest gym I had ever seen. Nathan definitely cheated with dimensions on this one. One section had a full size soccer field, complete with robots for both teams. I walked down a path between the ice rink and the basketball court. The song Welcome to the Black Parade by My Chemical Romance played at full volume, filling the room with loud rock music.

Seriously, Cole? I thought as I walked through the gym, toward the sound.

Finally, I had reached the gymnastics/parkour section. Yeah, that's right, a gymnastics/parkour section. It had been a last minute request by Cole, because it would help with the... project... we were working on.

Crinitus was sitting next to the rings, two wooden rings suspended in the air by two ropes, taking pictures with his scanner eyes. Cole himself was on the rings, wearing a hyacinth blue shirt and some pajama bottoms, holding himself up as if he was doing a handstand. Both of them hadn't noticed me yet, since Cole was facing away from me, and Crinitus was too busy with the cameras.

"Hello!" I said.

Crinitus whipped around. "Ahh!" He shrieked as he dropped the camera and fell over onto the radio. It suddenly tuned in to a bad transmission, causing the sound of static, which startled Cole so much he flipped off of the rings and fell flat on his face. Crinitus looked up at me. "Hello, mistress! How are you? Could you help me up?"

"Affirmative!" I laughed, flipping him over onto his... wheels.

Cole got up. "Shouldn't you have been in bed by now?" He asked, looking partly freaked out, partly relieved that it wasn't anyone else.

"Shouldn't you?" I countered.

"Good point."

I looked around. "What are you doing?"

"Well, I thought I'd get a little rest before we went out onto Ceres, but I had to come here to record some data."

I laughed again. "Good luck getting sleep. It's, like, one in the morning."

He went from bewildered, to disappointed, to angry, in 3.72 seconds.

|Nathan: A new record!|

|Cole: Nathan, por favor, se abstenha de dizer qualquer coisa que faça a sua vida miserável.|

"But I... argh! Fine. Whatever. I'll sleep tomorrow."

"You need to rest," I replied. "Before the chicken nugget incident, you were at this almost all day."

That was the problem with him. He normally procrastinates until the last minute, but if he has something he really likes, he'll keep at it all day. That's why he needs a girl like me to help him out.

"Look, how about this," I asked. "We head back to my room. You can lay in bed with me and watch TV until you fall asleep. If you try to leave, I can - and will – track you down and bring you back. Got it?"

He looked at me. "What if I don't want to come?"

I glowered at him fiercely.

He gulped. "I take it that no is not an answer."

I had that effect on people.

•  •  •

"Well, since I can't leave to work on the project, I might as well just enjoy this," Cole said, reclining on the couch.

"You will enjoy this, 'cause this is the only option," I replied, smiling.

He grinned back. "You know, I've never had a girlfriend who would take me as her prisoner and lock me up in her room so she would keep me from working on a project."

"I guess I'm different than other girls."

"Yeah. Hey, pass me a Boston Crème."

We sat in my room, watching TV and eating donuts from a giant green and white Krispy Kreme box (Nathan had gone down to Earth in a reusable space pod to get us some). The lights were dimmed and tinted red. I had told Cole they were my setting for calm, but really, it was contentment. Since the project started, most of our meetings had been talking in secrecy about science. We did go on dates from time to time, but even those were getting less frequent. We kept getting new leads, which meant he kept working. Now that he was here, with me, not talking about the project, I felt like I could really bond with him, like a normal couple.

"So," I prompted. "What do you want to watch?"

His eyes gleamed with excitement. "Do you have Amazon Prime?"

I knew where this was going. In just a few minutes, we were rewatching old episodes of Doctor Who. In a few minutes, Blink was playing in front of us at full volume, probably annoying Noah to the point of ripping his hair out.

"Sally Sparrow, get your butt out of there now! The angels are coming! Run!" Cole yelled at the screen. The way he yelled at the fictional character and cared about her was cute, in a weird way that we shouldn't go in to.

"Gud, jeg ønsker å kysse deg akkurat nå," I told him.

He stared at me. "Did you just speak Norwegian?"

"No," I said. "Why?"

He jumped up and down around the room. "I have a girlfriend who speaks fluent Norwegian without realizing it! BEST. DAY. EVER!"

I was a little surprised that I didn't know I had awesome language, but after what I had experienced with chicken nuggets and Silence and all that, I was able to shrug it off.

"Hey, get back over here! The good part is right about to start."

We watched until dawn (or whenever dawn is when you're in space).

XVIII
Nathan

When you're one of the U.S. Inventors of the Year, let's just say that life isn't boring.

I spent all night working on a project involving two cats that I left at home. First, I went on a shopping spree to the nearest Home Depot, Petco, and Target (you never know what you can find at Target). I bought a bunch of supplies for the cats.

I used a Doortal to enter the old lab, and, sure enough, there were Obi and Vanilla laying on the floor. They got up and ran into my outstretched arms, their fluffy pelts smoothing out as I ran my hand through them.

Um, can we have food on ve Spafe Invadew? And wots of pedding? We missed you! I grabbed my cat toy basket, which included a mouse-shaped cat laser and a huge ball of yarn.

You can be with me all the time now, because the Space Invader is not dangerous for you! I happily exclaimed in Cat. I missed you so much, too!

I ushered the cats through the Doortal, and then I started to hear a beeping sound.

A motion-controlled bomb had just activated.

Beep.

Beep.

Beepbeepbeep.

BANG.

I dove for the Doortal as it flew out of the building, which then smashed into pieces right before my eyes. There were bits and shards of almost every material you could imagine. There were billions and billions of little, tiny pellets of safety glass, bits of wood burning to ash in front of my face, and metal shrapnel flying in all directions. I saw hundreds of curious people rushing out of their houses to watch me soaring through the air towards the Doortal. It was a miracle that I was not hit by anything dangerous. I knew that if I missed the door, I would end up dead.

My arms went through the Doortal before it landed on the ground, flinging me through it with the sudden change of momentum.

Then the door exploded, leaving any trace of our old lab 414 million kilometers away.

•  •  •

"Mornin'," Taylor said as I stepped out of the elevator doors into the kitchen. She sat at the table with Cole, chomping on a piece of buttered toast. Cole sat next to her, his hair spiked to the side, dyed bright orange with white tips. He looked like an inverted Nickelodeon logo, spreading lemon marmalade on... a block of fried tofu?

"Dude," I said, cringing as I watched him take a bite. "How could you possibly eat that?"

"This stuff is amazing!" He replied, his mouth full. "You can put it on anything, and it will make it good."

"How about meat?" I asked.

He swallowed. "Let's not go too far. Oh, do you like the kitchen?"

The kitchen is hard to describe because, well, it has a different appearance everyday. We have a giant revolving disc, with different kitchen designs, taking up the entire floor. Today, November 15th, the kitchen was a modern white with light birch floors. The smell of warm honey wafted through the room, probably from the tea that Cole had set out for Noah.

Suddenly, Vanilla sprinted from my side, jumped up, and stole Taylor's bread.

"Gimme back my tooooooast!" Taylor bellowed as she chased after Vanilla.

Vanilla, give it back.

NEVER!

"So," Cole began as I took a seat. "Are the suits ready? Do we have everything? Kitty suits, Crini's? Rocket's landing gear has been checked and double checked and triple-"

"Chill," I began. "Everything is okay. I quadruple and quintuple checked every part of the plan. I went through every scenario and packed the stuff required to succeed. We will be fine."

He huffed. "I just don't want anything like the

IllumiNugget to come up again."

"We'll be fine! I trust you, so why don't you trust me?"

"Okay," he said, but his eyes told me, You don't know me well enough to trust me.

I put that thought aside. "So, you wanna check out the suits?"

"Definitely!" His David Tennant-brown (is that a color?) eyes gleamed with excitement as he followed me to the elevator. The stars shone brightly in the morning (sort of) light behind Ceres, its gray craters illuminated by the sun, which was about 257 million miles away. A digital screen showed us that we were seventeen floors away from the bottom floor. Cole and I counted down together to floor 0, which was an exit and the room where we suited up.

The doors opened to a white room with our names on small doors splitting down the middle. They had a finger (or paw) print scanner to open the doors. There was a screen next to each door that had red, green and blue sliders and black touch buttons labeled STRIPE, BASE, and VISOR. They were for suit color changing. There was also a little suit preview and an APPLY button.

Cole strode up to the suit and started testing color combinations.

"Should we each have different colors?" he asked.

I replied, "It would be helpful for determining who is who."

Eventually, he came up with a green base, white stripe, and white-tinted visor.

"It's beautiful!" Cole remarked in Portuguese.

I couldn't help smiling. "It also can change sizes, in case someone gets taller or something. It re-uses and cleanses air so you can breathe, and if you press this button-" I pressed a little green button right where the temple would be. The white visor folded up into the helmet. "-the visor contracts. It's got a built in microphone with a radio connecting to all other suits and the ship's control center. It also can shoot blasts of energy in case of emergencies."

"Oh. Well," he began. "Should we call everyone in?"

"I believe it is time."

I pressed a button on my glasses. "Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3. Is this thing on?" My voice rang through the entire ship.

"Can everybody please come down to the bottom floor? We are about to land. I repeat, we are about to land."

The elevator door opened, and out came Taylor, Noah, the kitties, and Crini.

"Okay, everybody! Please suit up!" I said as I set my colors and scanned my finger. The doors slid open, and I stepped inside the stall. The doors closed, and I was scanned, spun around, and then encased in a red and blue space suit. My UI powered on and triggered the opening of the door. Once I stepped out, some cute red, blue, yellow, green, orange, white, and black face icons appeared at the top of the UI, and each had a slightly darker outline. I had programmed the suits so that when you spoke into the hidden microphone, your colored outline became larger based on how loud you were speaking, and your face icon changed expressions based on your tone of voice.

"Nathan," Taylor's yellow outline expanded, and her icon became happy. "You've really outdone yourself this time!"

"Yeah!" Crini said, his icon that I had configured to look like a dog face turning happy and his black outline growing. "This is so neat!"

"Hewwo, Nafan," said Obi's orange cat face icon. His voice had been translated to English by a built in... translator (duh). Everyone else's voices were translated to Cat for both Obi and Vanilla.

"Now that everyone is suited up," I began as my red icon smiled and expanded its outline. "Let's go all the way to the top to land on Ceres!"

Everyone cheered as we walked to the elevator doors which split from the center as we walked towards them. I pressed the down button, typed in letsflythisthing, and we all rode to the control center.

•  •  •

I had prepared for everything. Oxygen deprivation, engine malfunctions, more chicken nuggets. You name it, I thought of it. Except for one thing:

Invisible skyscrapers.

Freaking invisible skyscrapers.

It had all happened so fast, I wasn't sure if it had actually been real. I walked over to the controls, Obi and Vanilla by my side. I pressed the button, and the ship started sinking towards the dwarf planet at a steady pace of 50 miles per hour.

|Taylor: 80.4672 kilometers per hour for pretty much everywhere except America.|

|Cole: Yeah, except for Liberia, Myanmar-|

|Noah: Forget it.|

We were just about 2.65 miles from landing, skydiving level, when all of the sudden, a loud scraping noise filled the entire ship, vibrating the walls. We shook violently, and suddenly we flipped forward. I was upside down. I tried to get back up, only to be hit by a yellow suit. I was thrown in the air. The feeling of weightlessness, to quote Percy Jackson, was feeling like I had been crushed, fried, and hosed down at the same time.

Obi flew towards me, flailing about, with one paw outstretched.

"I feew weiwd. Pwease pet me," he stated as I grabbed on to his paw, scared out of my mind. I began scratching Obi's head and running my hand through his fur.

We lurched forward, and I crashed through the window. Obi and I fell towards the planet at terminal velocity on Earth, which shouldn't have been possible, because Ceres' gravity is less than three percent of Earth's.

"AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!" Crinitus was plunging too, a couple of feet below us.

The last thing I remembered before I crash landed was seeing the faint outline of a giant city, unlike any other.

And then, I belly flopped onto the grey ground.

XIX
Noah

The oxygen was being sucked out of the ship. I thrashed wildly, grabbing for something to keep me from flying out the window into space. I was not going to end up soaring through space like in Gravity.

I grabbed onto the spiky lever that had skewered Taylor. It flipped up and down wildly, like a bull trying to throw me off. The lights shattered, and sharp glass shot everywhere. I would've died if not for the suits, deflecting the glass.

Vanilla floated onto my face. "Howwy-" He said some things in Cat that shouldn't be translated. Even my ears started bleeding.

And then it stopped. All the oxygen had been sucked out of the ship.

"-oh, it'f ovew. I wiww now tuwn on fe emewgenfy fiftem. OH! CATNIPCATNIPCATNIP!"

Vanilla air-swam over to a catnip-flavored button with some catnip on it. (Don't ask me how I know.) He belly-bumped it, and the green faded off of the button. There were sirens going, but there was still no sound.

All of the sudden, the broken glass started to piece together into a disk, shard by shard, and then another disk, and another, and another. It was as if time itself were being reversed. It finally fit together and melted into shape. The window fit around the Space Invader. I felt oxygen flowing into the air and turning on the systems.

I looked over at Taylor and Cole. They both shrugged. Cole's icon cracked a smile, but then turned back into a frown.

He stared at the glass, which now had a giant circular hole.

"Uh, why isn't the oxygen being sucked out?" Taylor questioned.

I jumped down to the glass, which thankfully supported my weight. "Well," I began. "Why would we have a giant hole?"

Cole immediately answered. "Something would be obstructing the glass regeneration."

"Precisely," I continued. "Now what could be obstructing it?"

Taylor thought about it. "Well, we're up very high in the air, the only thing that could create a hole in the window is... a skyscraper, maybe?"

I smiled. "Exactly."

"Fo, an invifible fkyfcwaper on an uninhabided ceweftial object?" Vanilla asked.

I touched the air, and just as I expected, my hand touched something solid. Ripples flowed through the air, and just for a moment I saw a huge metal cylinder, before the wobbling stopped and the air turned back to normal.

"That is amazing!" Cole stated. "How do they do that?" He dropped Taylor down to the glass carefully, and joined her at the bottom.

"Cloaking device?" Taylor asked. "I don't know. Maybe we should ask Nat-... oh."

Suddenly, I was slapped in the face with reality. Nathan could be down there, dead. Or even worse, still floating through space!

"Who are we missing?" I asked.

"Uh, there were seven of us," Taylor said. "Four now. Wow. So three."

"Nathan, Obi and- Oh god, Crinitus," Cole said, shocked.

I looked at him. "If Nathan and Obi are gone, then you're fine. But if Crinitus is gone, you suddenly care?"

"It's not like that. Just... he's our family dog."

"Obi and Nathan are our family cat and family tech support!"

"Okay, guys," I announced, "let's not waste any more time. Get in the elevator to ground floor." The elevator doors slid open. We sprinted to the bean bag chairs. Vanilla stopped to hit the Ground button on the specialized keyboard.

The elevator began to creak, then we heard an ear-piercing noise. The last thing I saw was the ceiling hurtling towards my face.

XX
Cole

"De vil være i orden."

"Takk skal du ha."

"Værsågod. Hvordan kom du deg hit?"

"Uh, det er en lang historie. Virkelig lenge."

I opened my eyes. Taylor was looking down at me, and so was a guy I had never seen before. He had long-ish blonde hair and almond-shaped blue eyes. He looked like a guy whom Nathan had described to me, though I had forgotten his name.

We were in a room without any windows, with blank concrete walls and a Hang in there! poster, complete with a fuzzy grey cat holding on to a cherry tree limb. The ship's panic room.

"Wha... what happened?" I asked.

"Um, elevator crash," Taylor replied. "Apparently there wasn't enough power to actually get out. Once again."

I looked over to the other guy, who was tending to an unconscious Noah. "And he is..."

"Declan."

He looked over. "Hi. How are you?"

"What language was he speaking?"

"Norwegian," Taylor replied once more. "He knows a little English, though. He used to be friends with Nathan."

I remembered where we were.

"Ask him where he was in 2021. I've never heard of people moving to Ceres."

"Alright," Taylor said. She had another exchange in Norwegian. "He said that he had just moved to Norway."

I thought about that. "But that doesn't answer how he got here."

"Maybe the Space Invader created a rip in the fabric of time. Simple explanation."

"You know it's never that simple." A random thought occurred to me. "Declan, how old are you?"

"Twenty-six."

Mind blown.

"Wait, what?" Taylor asked. "You never told me that."

"That means we are in 2032."

He looked at Noah before pulling up a chair. "No. We time traveled from 2022."

"So, you time traveled to 2012?"

"We want to do tests on how it affects the universe."

"We who? Is it someone that I know?"

"The Scandinavian representatives. Me, Paisley, and Ariel."

I did the math. "So I guess that would be a yes, but aren't there-"

"Denmark and Sweden combined." Declan interrupted.

I looked at Taylor. She seemed just as fascinated as I was confused.

Noah sat up. "How did you find us?"

"I saw the barrier shake, and your ship explode.

"I went to the top floor of the building. I went inside the big ship, and there was Poket stuff. I found three of you in the elevator. The fotball guy had a big bump."

I waited for that to sink in.

"Three of us?" Noah said. "Did you happen to see a cat in a white spacesuit?"

I hadn't noticed before, but my space suit was on the floor behind me. So were Taylor and Noah's.

"No. Just three space suits."

I got up with difficulty – apparently I had a giant bruise on my hip – and picked up my green helmet. It still was on.

I placed it on my head.

Nothing.

And then...

"Help! AAAAHHHH!"

XXI
Nathan

You know that moment when you wake up and everything hurts?

Yeah.

I woke up sprawled on the ground. My visor had been completely obliterated. Shattered glass was strewn all over the gray terrain.

I got up and looked around. Crinitus and Obi were missing. A silver skyline appeared at the horizon.

Meow-meow? I want meow-meow to COME HERE, I shouted. Well, now that I think about it, you can't really shout in your head. If I hear a meow, please COME!

I heard a faint meow in the distance.

Meow-meow, come here!

I listened closer. Another meow, followed by a hiss.

Is meow-meow okay?

There was no response.

I am coming, meow-meow!

I raced a few feet forwards, but then I stopped. I'm not exactly sure how to describe it, but it felt as if something around me was making a sound wave, just low enough that I could feel it, but not hear it.

Meow!

There it was again.

I stepped forward. The vibration was a whole lot louder now. It was almost as if I could make out the object beneath me. And I could.

Mines.

Tons and tons of mines, spread out across the rocky landscape.

I would need to be agile enough to avoid them.

I decided it was time.

To.

Turn into a cat.

|Cole: O que? I didn't see this in the script!|

|Nathan: It is a thing! Watch, I can do it right now-|

|Noah: CUT THE RECORDING! CUT IT RIGHT NOW!|

•  •  •

|Nathan: And now we are back with some explanation of this scientific discovery that is now known to all the world!|

|Cole: Why didn't you tell me that there was another fluffy kitty in our house the entire time?|

I tapped the super-secret paw button on my watch.

I thought of Vanilla and Obi. I thought of fur, and meowing, and big ears, and catnip. I thought of erasing the human DNA inside my body.

Then it happened.

I felt it happen all throughout my body. I could feel the familiar ripple, my skin growing fluffy kitty fur. I could feel my ears rise to my head, becoming pointy. I could see the ground gradually coming closer, and I grew a big fluffy kitty tail. My face smushed and my nose turned pink.

To make it simple, I'll just say that growing fur and shrinking and getting a kitty head feels a lot nicer than it sounds.

I felt dirty.

I started to lick myself from head to jelly-bean toe.

Man, it felt good to be back to primitive form.

The space suit was now smaller to fit my tiny kitty size. I slipped on my watch, which was now also in extra-tiny kitty size. My glasses were smaller, too. My fur was a unique red-blue tabby color.

I looked around. Maybe I can jump from this spot to that one over there!

I jumped, making sure to land in the spot between the sonar sounds. I went way higher than expected.

Oh, yeah. The cat thing.

I flew past the first mine, barely sticking a landing in the spot between it and a... big staircase going down. It looked like some sort of secret bunker, if secret bunkers could go without doors. Our mine culprit better be down there!

But I knew otherwise. With my extra-sensitive cat ears, I could tell that someone I recognized the voice of was down there.

I cautiously stepped forward.

No security? Weird.

A red laser shot through the air, and would've hit me if I hadn't used my cat-like reflexes to dodge it.

I fought the urge to chase it as I stood there, motionless.

Okay, security. Makes sense.

I looked around for some object somewhere that could help. Not a single thing. Why can't things just be easy? Why can't there be a big red button on the door frame that says, "Press this to turn off lasers and make all your troubles go away!" But no. All I found was a little metal sheet.

Wait. Metal!

I picked it up with my mouth and held it where I was when the laser had fired. Sure enough, the laser fired at its reflection, nearly hitting itself in the process.

All right! Let's go, let's go!

I bounded down the stairs and almost ran into the wall of a stone-grey corridor below the surface. The door closed behind me.

I could hear the voice of someone familiar. I turned and sprinted to the three doors at the end of the pointless long hallway.

One of them was open.

I jumped into a room with gray-blue walls. A clock sat over the door, ticking just soft enough so you could hear it. A dark brown desk sat in front of a poster, the kind of motivational ones you would find in some sort of office building. A flowed from a doorway, probably leading to another room. On the desk, in a display case, was none other than a fragment of the Crystal.

SCORE!

Well, lookee here.

I turned around. Standing behind me was someone who I hadn't seen in a long, long time.

Paisley stood there, wearing khaki shorts and a yellow t-shirt, leaning on the desk.

Is that you, Nathan? Is it really you?

Hello, I said in Cat. Do you have some food for me?

I have just the thing for you, Nathan, she responded, rummaging through her desk. I get a lot of travelers, so I usually have some food around here somewhere.

She pulled out a can of Friskies wet cat food. She popped it open. Here we are, she smiled. Now let me get you some water.

She disappeared behind the curtain.

I jumped up to the desk, careful not to knock over the seemingly important papers on the ground. The Crystal still sat there, begging me to break open the glass and steal it.

I stuck my face in the cat food can. I didn't realize how hungry I was until just then. I could feel the food going down to my belly, making my whole body feel as if it was rippling, changing...

Paisley came back. The bowl of water in her hands clattered to the ground.

"Nathan! Are you okay?"

I looked down. I was sitting on the desk, my tongue in the can of half-eaten cat food. I wasn't a cat anymore. Back to human form. I wasn’t used to being in cat form anymore. After all, it had been a long time.

Paisley embraced me in a hug. "I missed you."

I hugged back, smiling. It felt good to see an old friend again. If only Declan was there...

"I totally forgot about our heritage and turning into people until now! I was so used to being a human!"

I laughed. “Yeah. I decided to get a taste of the good old days, you know?"

She laughed too. "So, where have you been?"

"It’s a really, really long story. People breaking my Crystal, crazy Halloween costumes, invisible skyscrapers… and so on."

She picked up the cat food can. She ate a small bit before throwing it in the trash.

"Ew," she gagged. “It tastes so much worse in human form!"

I ignored the comment and glanced at the Crystal. It glimmered in the light of the candle in the room, sending off a sweet vanilla scent.

|Nathan: I know that you think that that is an easter egg. It’s not.|

"Ah, yes," Paisley said. "The Crystal. I believe it's yours?"

I nodded.

"I found it on the ground, possibly dropped by someone. I realized it was yours, of course. The color scheme gave it away." She smiled. "Anyway, I knew it was yours. So I kept it."

I frowned. "Why didn't you call me, or something?"

She stared at the candle, its flame dancing in the darkness. "Because I think something is happening. Something big. Secret files shared by the government have been leaked. The amount of hacked technology has gone through the roof. And-"

"-nobody would leave a powerful object laying in the street of a major city."

"Exactly. I think that someone is trying to hack the world. Sooner or later, our security cameras could be taken over."

"Kinda like 1984."

|Cole: Have you ever actually read 1984? It's nothing like that.|

She gave me a look. "This is serious. The government could be overthrown quite easily. It would be the downfall of the Scandinavian Dwarf Planet Colony."

I thought about that.

"So how do we combat this?" I asked.

She turned around to examine a paper on her desk. "I am passing several laws to promote increasing the security of the colony to make it a safer place for the society."

She put the paper in her desk drawer and stared at the Crystal.

"I can tell you are looking for the other pieces of this. Somewhere else in this universe."

She looked back at me, her brown eyes as serious as physically possible.

"I need you to be careful. I need you to be cautious with every single step that you make, at any time, on any day, for the rest of your life, because the wrong decision can destroy you."

I looked into her eyes, trying to match her seriousness. Did she really think that I would make a mistake that would cost me my life?

"I will."

She smiled. "Good. Now take the Crystal piece."

She handed me the Crystal, as well as a green flash drive. She had a sad look in her eyes. "Put it in your computer when the time is right."

I took both items gingerly.

"Thank you," I said. I flashed her a grin.

She laughed. "You have cat food in your teeth-"

BOOM!

Everything shook. Paisley and I fell to the ground. The motivational poster crashed to the floor, the desk tipped over, and the candle flew across the room, creating a small fire on the carpet that quickly went out.

"What's happening?" I screamed.

She grimaced. "Just as I feared. They know we're here." She got up. "Your friends are in the city. Find them. Go!"

"But what about you?"

Another boom shook the building.

She picked up a calculator-like device.

"I'm setting a timer on the laser. I'll stay in here," she answered, pressing buttons with every word. "What matters is that you get out of here in-" She looked down. "-ooh, about forty three seconds."

I gave her one last hug, and ran out of the hall.

As I stepped outside of the bunker-office, the wind whipped around me, grabbing at whatever it could as it rushed by. Mines were exploding everywhere, and unknown force setting them off. What was happening?

Suddenly, an explosion nearly fifty feet away flipped the world upside-down. I landed painfully on the ground.

"Nathan!"

I looked up to see Paisley in the entryway, her green shirt flapping around. She looked up at the laser shooter, a countdown in red appearing on the wall, showing five seconds left.

"I'm going to throw it!" She screamed. She swung her arm.

I realized what would happen just as the flash drive left her hand.

"Paisley!"

It's funny how time slows down when you watch something horrible happen.

The laser fired.

I fell to the ground. Another boom sounded somewhere in the distance, but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered.

I looked up.

She was gone. Forever.

I picked up the flash drive. It was all I had left of her now.

I was suddenly furious. I put the flash drive in my pocket. The mines were still exploding, as if some invisible force was setting them off, one by one, trying to get closer to me.

I became a cat again and ran towards the skyline of the city. Maybe there was a shelter, or somewhere to hide.

I also followed another thing. A noise in the distance, getting softer by the second, but still there.

A cat screaming for help.

XXII
Taylor

Cole threw down his helmet in shock.

"What?" I said. "What is it?"

He looked up, pale as a ghost. "It's Vanilla. He's in trouble."

He played the message.

"So," Noah put his helmet on. "If I go into the history, I can see that this message was sent from... here?" He took our helmets and put them on each of our heads. The emoticons flashed to life. On the screen was Ceres, plus a giant Space Invader on the right, and the mysterious red dot on the left. There was a bouncing white arrow in the building that the Space Invader crashed into. It was making a 'bloop'ing noise as it hit the ground. The image panned like Google Space over to our current location, which was represented by a blue bouncing arrow. It was smack in the middle of the Space Invader.

"Okay, so..." I started, putting on my suit. "We are going to have to go, Declan. We will come back soon. If we don't come back in 24 hours, call Nathan on his phone. His number is still the same."

"Got it. See you later. Adios!" He disappeared into the sideways hallway.

"Okay," Noah began, fully dressed. "If anyone is worrying about how we are going to get home, in the Galactic Cruiser manual, there was something about a hidden crash protection feature. I fell asleep after that, though."

"Good," I replied. I was about to ask the same question. "So it says that Vanilla is in the building?"

"Yeah, a couple of floors below us."

We walked down the lopsided corridor until we reached the main door. Cole and I jumped up and down a couple of times, but with no luck.

"Well," Noah began, stepping onto the door. "What can we-"

The door opened from under us, and we fell ten feet.

As I fell, survival mode kicked in. Cole and I managed to do a parkour roll. Noah was not so lucky, landing spread-eagled on the ground.

With as much self-control as I could muster, I managed to pull him up without laughing in his face.

We were in some sort of office building. Cubicles, or at least what was left of them, were set up all over the floor. Desks were flipped over, high-tech computers were crushed, and the roof had been ripped off of the room.

"I have a bad feeling about this," Noah said.

Cole reached down and picked up a yellow packet of paper. He skimmed through the page. "Look at this."

I looked over. "What is it?"

"It seems like this office building is connected to an oxygen plant. That’s what's creating and maintaining an atmosphere on Ceres."

Noah pressed a button on his helmet. "Vanilla is a couple of floors down from us. Let's go."

I rushed through the room to a door on the end of the cubicle hallway.

"Door!" I yelled. "Yes! Stairs!"

"Three floors down, we need to move."

I bounded down the stairs, jumping four to five steps each time, Noah and Cole at my heels. The darkness of the stairwell made it hard to see, the only light source coming from the silent emergency alarms, casting an eerie red glow across the room.

I stopped. The stairs before us had been crushed by a support beam, which slanted downwards from the floor above us towards the level below us. A door was propped open with a brick.

"How do we get down?" I asked.

Cole answered that immediately by jumping up to the beam. He swung his legs up onto the beam, and hung on like a sloth, except much faster. He let go and hung by his legs, hanging downwards toward the abyss.

"You coming, or what?"

Eventually, all of us were slowly crawling across the pole. I kept my legs firmly secured to the pole. I was NOT going to fall into darkness again.

Noah spoke from behind me. "Vanilla's a few floors dow-uh, that's not normal. He disappeared."

"That's definitely not normal." I said. I climbed over a corroded bit of beam. "Good thing I got my tetanus shot."

"Hey, maybe we all shouldn't be on the rusty part at the same-"

I screamed as I went weightless for a moment. The darkness swallowed me as I fell towards the floor.

"Aaaahhhhhh!!!"

Suddenly, I stopped.

I looked up.

Holding me by the ankle was a pixelated beam of golden light, that was twisted and condensed into the shape of a whip. It looked like something out of Star Wars meshed with a Minecraft End Rod, except this thing actually bent instead of staying in a straight line.

Cole's voice came from above. "Hello? Taylor? Please tell me I caught you."

"I... I'm here."

A loud exhale resonated through the stairwell. "Graças a Deus," Cole mumbled.

"What... what the heck is this thing?"

Yet another volley of rapid-fire Portuguese was slammed upon me. "Depois do incidente da pepita de galinha, pensamos que devíamos fazer armas, e é bom que essa coisa salvou sua bunda de despencar para o esquecimento-"

"I can't understand what you are saying when you scream at me in a language that I haven't learned."

"-EU NÃO PENSO QUE POSSO PARAR DE FALAR EM PORTUGUÊS! EU SEI QUE EU PRECISO CALM ABAIXO MAS VOCÊ QUASE MORREU-"

"CAN YOU TWO JUST SHUT UP?"

We both went silent. I could hear Noah breathing heavily from up above.

"We built weapons to defend ourselves if anything like the chicken nugget incident happens again. This can also be used in case of an emergency involving falling items."

"To whom does this whip belong to?"

"É dele."

"It's mine."

I thought about that. In the split second that I was falling, Noah (who was hanging onto Cole's legs), wrapped the whip around my ankle. Despite our differences, we could work together in a time of crisis to help save someone's butt (in this case, mine). It made me think differently of our friendships.

"Okay," I said shakily. "Let's get back to the door."

It took six minutes to find a way to get us up to the platform. Noah decided to crawl to the platform and help me up. He handed the whip off to Cole as he slowly inched his way across what was left of the corroded beam, which I had learned snapped under our weight.

|Taylor: We all really need to work out.|

|Noah: Uh, are you implying that I'm fat?|

|Nathan: I have a machine to fix that.|

|Noah: Like, on a scale of one to ten-|

|Cole: I already do work out! You do it with me every morning-|

|Taylor: Shut up and let me finish!|

Cole held the whip in one hand while hanging on to the beam with the other. I climbed upward.

I stared at him with amazement as I sloth-hung from the pole. He cracked his whip in the air and it disappeared. He then acknowledged me with a nod, before crawling off to the platform.

How had he been able to hold me up, especially with one hand? Maybe be had been breathing in a little too much of the gas from...

I pushed that thought to the back of my mind. It must've been adrenaline. Definitely not what I thought it was. Plus, our main objective was to find Vanilla.

I crawled after the two boys.

•  •  •

"I don’t get it," Noah complained.

We had made it to another floor, standing over the spot where Vanilla's dot had vanished. I sat down in an office chair that had survived the crash, fidgeting with my necklace. Cole still couldn’t stop speaking Portuguese, so he went to the other side of the room to look for clues on how Vanilla disappeared. Noah was pacing back and forth, looking for the answer.

"Cats don’t just disappear."

I looked up at him. "Someone might have used a teleportation device."

"We haven't even picked up any signal, and you know how teleporters work."

I went back to fidgeting with my necklace. So much had happened in the last week. All of the spacey-wacey craziness was starting to catch up to me.

"Does he normally do that?"

I looked up. "What?"

"Randomly switch languages."

I thought about it. "From time to time, he can spontaneously get stuck in Portuguese. Usually last for a couple of hours."

"Ei pessoal! Eu acho que encontrei algo."

Both Noah and I got up.

When we got there, Cole was trying to pry a tile from the floor. Nobody would've noticed it, except for a tiny gap between the next tile.

I bent down and helped lift it. It was heavy, almost purposefully, as if whatever had put it there wanted it to stay that way.

As we carefully set the tile down, I opened my eyes in shock.

"A secret passageway," Noah said unenthusiastically. "What a surprise."

It was indeed a secret passageway, heading straight downward. There was no source of light whatsoever, but I had a feeling that this thing led to some room.

"Espaços escuros. Diversão. Eles trabalharam bem última vez." I had no idea what he said, but he didn't seem happy.

"Okay, guys," I said. I needed to act fast, or else we might have lost our only lead on the location of Vanilla. "I know you might be discouraged because of the last... experience, but, we need to save Vanilla."

Cole nodded. Noah stood there, contemplating. "Okay, fine. Let's try this vent thing again."

Noah picked up a piece of debris and held it over the hole. He dropped it, and for a couple of seconds we stood in silence. Then, a very soft sound came from the bottom of the pit.

More silence. "About 132.0316 meters," Noah said casually.

I stared at him. "About?"

Without warning, Cole lowered himself into the tunnel, keeping his back against one end and pushing his legs against the other. Eventually, he found a way to sit there without falling.

"We should go one at a time. If someone falls, we won't knock into eachother on the way down."

Cole volunteered to go down first (at least... I think he did). I watched as he slowly went lower into the abyss.

Noah and I stood there awkwardly. Because of the height, and broken glass, the wind was whipping around violently. Pieces of paper skidded across the floor.

Noah broke the silence. "I hope everybody who was in this building is okay."

I looked at a bright green schedule. "Thank god. They're all on break." I sighed with relief.

Noah looked at me. I looked back.

We both started laughing.

Suddenly, the paper started to get brittle, and shattered. It felt like the temperature had dropped at least thirty degrees. It felt like pure darkness had condensed behind me. Noah's face was filled with terror.

I decided not to turn around and shut my eyes. "Noah, what... what is it?"

He didn't say anything. He just kept looking at it.

"Noah?"

Nothing.

I opened my eyes and looked at the reflection in his visor.

I stood there in my yellow suit, absolutely still. Behind me, I saw a man. He looked very unfamiliar, yet I somehow knew him. He wore a tuxedo, with a black bowtie and a white rose. I watched as he pulled out a small silver handgun. He loaded the bullet casually, and pointed the gun at the back of my head.

I shut my eyes.

"Noah," I whispered.

He still wouldn't respond.

"Noah. You are going to walk a couple steps forward, okay?"

I opened my eyes, but I looked at Noah's feet. I couldn't look back at the man.

Noah stood still.

"Okay then."

I walked forward, and grabbed his arm. I slowly dragged him backward with me. His feet stayed still.

"Noah, you need to move your legs! You've gotta-"

He fell forward. At least it made my job somewhat easier.

I bent down and grabbed his arm again. This time, I dragged him to the opening.

"Okay, Noah. I'm going to climb in here. I'll pull you in with me, but you've gotta help me once you're in the tunnel. I can't hold you up."

No response.

"I'll take that as an, 'Okay.'"

I shifted myself down into the tunnel. I did the same thing Cole did, pushing my back against one end while keeping my legs on the other.

"I'm gonna pull you now!" I reached for his arm, and slowly, he slid into the pit.

Unfortunately for me, he was not ready.

He fell on top of me right when I was about to get into a steady position. I pushed upward with all of the strength I could muster.

"NOAH! I SAID TO HELP!"

He still wouldn't respond. I tried to hold his weight, but I couldn't take it anymore. I slipped, and we both tumbled down the hole.

XXIII
Cole

I slowly tried to slide my way down the hole. Every move was agonizing work. I was already sweating from the effort. And two extra people definitely didn’t help.

As I hobbled down the hole (Can you really hobble down a hole?), I heard the scream of someone falling down a hole really fast, and I'm totally not being sarcastic at all.

I looked up just in time to get a foot in my face. My head slammed against the back of the helmet and my vision swam.

I guess Taylor and Noah had fallen down the hole, but it was now my job to keep us from snowballing down the secret passageway (Can you really snowball down a secret passageway?).

I kept trying to hold us up, but the weight of all three of us made it really hard.

|Noah: Are you still implying that I am fat?|

"Taylor, eu preciso que você me ajude!" I screamed, but it was still Portuguese that came out.

I was finding it really difficult to keep us up, with Taylor thrashing around and Noah not helping at all.

And there was this thing called gravity, but that's besides the point.

I made a conscious effort to speak English. "Taylor... I-I'm... going to... solte- I mean... let go."

"WHAT?"

And we fell.

•  •  •

I hit the ground with a loud bang, followed by Taylor crashing into me with another loud bang, following yet another loud bang from Noah. Luckily it was only about fifteen feet, and the bottom was padded. Unluckily, I still hit my head against the back of the helmet again, which didn't help with the previous kick to the face, and the migraine from the stupidity.

"Why did you jump down here? I thought the plan was to go one at a time!"

Taylor groaned and got up. "Good. You snapped out of your Portuguese."

I looked at Noah. He seemed to be paralyzed. There also seemed to be three of him, but that might've just been my head. "What's wrong with him? He wasn't much of a help when we were STRUGGLING TO STAY UP."

"Calm down," Taylor said as she turned on her headlight. "He's stopped working, or something. It's like he doesn't want to move, like when you take a tired cat for a walk." She offered me her hand.

I couldn't help but laugh at that analogy. After much difficulty trying to find the real one, I grabbed her hand and also turned on the headlight. "What do you think is wrong with him?" I asked.

She shrugged. "Let's find out."

She bent down and put her hands around Noah's helmet and pressed a button on the back. After a mechanical pssh, the helmet unlocked. She slowly pulled the helmet up.

I looked away. "Okay, I definitely hit my head too hard."

Taylor gagged. "Oh god. I think... I-"

She promptly threw up. I couldn't blame her. I did too.

Noah's face... God, how do I put it? It was completely featureless. His mouth was gone, as well as his nose. His eyes were completely black. He wasn't breathing. Or talking. Or doing much of anything. Just sitting there. Silently.

I opened my eyes again. "How the f-"

"No clue," Taylor said as she wiped her mouth. "One minute he was talking, the next... nothing. Just standing there."

I picked up his helmet and put it back on his head. "Did anything else happen?"

"All I know was that it dropped at least thirty degrees. And some guy was standing behind me with a gun."

I looked around. There was another hole to the left of us, this one going horizontally. "It doesn't add up. Let's follow the rest of the passage. We can find Noah again once we get Vanilla."

And so we did, crawling through another tight passage. Cobwebs decorated the entire tube.

"Looks like people haven't been here in a long-"

THUMP.

The temperature dropped. I stopped dead in my tracks.

"Taylor, what-"

"Don't turn around."

I stood still. "But... why?"

Taylor was silent for a long time. "I have a feeling that turning around will not be a good idea. Here, take my mirror. You'll see."

She handed me a compact makeup... thingy. I opened it up.

"Taylor, I don't see anything."

Just then, a figure emerged from the darkness, dressed in the inkiest, deepest black anyone could ever imagine. It seemed as if it wasn't clothing, but an actual dark cloud of pure evil. As it got closer, I looked away, realizing that it was wearing the scariest piece of clothing in existence: A white, fourteenth century plague mask.

I am absolutely freaked out by those things. The large beaks are just completely wrong. Humans aren't supposed to be like that. And then the eyes. They're just too spoops for me.

I looked at the mirror again. The glass eye holes were smashed out, with black vapor was coming from them. Whatever was there definitely wasn’t human.

"Taylor," I whispered. "What... what-"

"You see him too?"

I glanced at the mirror. It was still there. "I don't think we should assume its gender."

"I don't know what you're talking about, but he has a gun pointed at my head, so let's look over our options before I am shot to death."

I paused. "What gun?"

She pointed to the mirror, right at the dark figure. "See? He's holding a gun in his hand."

I still saw nothing. "Taylor, is this 'man' wearing a dark cloak and spewing black steam all over the place?"

"I think you hit your head too many times."

Okay, I thought. She isn't seeing the same thing as me. Did I really hit my head too hard?

I looked back again at the mirror. Taylor's face was filled with terror.

"Why is he counting?" she whispered.

I heard nothing, but I did start to notice something weird. The black smoke was starting rise, and it would probably take about sixty seconds to fill up the entire passage.

"Um... RUN!"

We scrambled through the passage, and I had a flashback to not a day before, when this exact thing was happening. Why do we keep running into this scenario?

At last, we found a ladder at the end of the tunnel. Taylor started to climb, with me right behind her.

"It's only about fifty feet from here!" Taylor shouted.

She threw the mirror down to me, and I watched as the dark figure reached out and touched the metal ladder. The rusted iron around its hand started to flash freeze, slowly climbing.

"Taylor, we gotta go!"

She understood, and we climbed double the speed. I could feel the ladder getting colder, the air getting colder, everything in general was getting colder. A bead of sweat started to turn to ice on my forehead.

Taylor stopped.

"What's the matter?"

Taylor pointed up. "It's the trapdoor. It has a lock on it."

"Well, break it!"

"On the outside, dingus."

I looked up. The door was made of metal, with a little window, letting in light from a fluorescent bulb. Taylor moved to the side, and I climbed up to the door. The glass had a little handle on one side, with a track on the other. I pulled on the handle, and the glass slid open, like one of those stereotypical slidey-door-slots-where-the-bad-guy-looks-through-the-hole-before-he-lets-you-in kinda things. I looked at Taylor.

"Oh, that's what that does!"

I reached up into the room above, Taylor pulling my arms up and out. I kicked the slidey-door-thing closed behind me.

"By the way, what the-"

|Nathan: Please don't.|

"-was that thing?"

I glanced down at the window and squinted.

It was starting to bulge outward from the pressure of the immense cold.

The foggy plague-man was still coming to get us.

"Not was, is, because-"

"No time for corrections! We need to get behind something! The glass is going to give!"

I pulled Taylor behind a random door that had been laying against the wall.

|Noah: Plot conveniences.|

Sure enough, the glass burst and sprayed all over the room, and I felt another drop in temperature.

"Hold on... where did the man with the gun from earlier go?" I heard Taylor mutter.

"What about the more important issues, like 'Where's Noah?' and 'How the heck will we escape this guy made out of gas and wearing a plague mask?'" I responded.

"He is not made out of gas or wearing a plague mask!"

Just then, something occurred to me.

"I have a theory."

"What?"

"What if this is some kind of thing that shows all of us our worst fears? Like a-"

"You mean like some sort of glorified boggart?"

Boggart. That's the word I was looking for.

"Yeah. The funny thing is, magic doesn't exist, so we can't be like, Riddikulus! and turn him into methane or make him hold a party popper instead of a gun that happens to be pointed at your head."

"Hold on, would that mean this guy is some sort of Transfroomation thing?"

She was right.

"I guess so. But would that mean-"

I was about to suggest something else, but I was interrupted.

"What if we could show that guy his own reflection, and see how to defeat him?"

It was a great idea.

|Taylor: Of course it was.|

This is the end so far. Thank you for reading.

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