How long had it been now? Buttercup had no idea, and hadn't thought to bring a watch with her. She was at least glad that she had gotten out of that filthy maintenance duct which, given that no crew was here to clean it, had been lined with all sorts of gunk and grime from when it had been previously used aboard a fully crewed ship. She knew it not to be a sewerage passage, god forbid, but it was certainly the catchment for some sort of stuff that solidified into the semitransparent black gel that had been so hard to clean off her fingers. It was that gel that stunk. Probably waste from the engines or the ventilation or something. This was a ship from the future. How was she supposed to know how everything worked and what everything was and how to explain it? It had been a tight fit and poorly lit at that, and at one stage she had flown too close to the ceiling of the narrow vent and smeared that disgusting stuff all down her back. Bubbles had helped clean it off but a dark stain was still left upon the lighter areas of her uniform. Bubbles had been far more careful and got out of it with barely anything on her at all. The cold metallic air was a welcome break from that claustrophobic crawlway they had just come out from, and Buttercup realised how much she missed the dank yet open atmosphere. She was glad to have gotten herself out of that. However, she had left that duct and its odours behind at LEAST half an hour ago. The ship had been silent all that time. No rumblings, no ominous and distant noises. That meant the weapon hadn't fired itself on unsuspecting Earth below. But that also meant that Blossom and Bell had yet to blow anything up. Were they ok? Buttercup didn't know for certain, but she bet that if that horrifying blaster weapon Barasia had ever went off, it didn't matter what end of the ship she was on. It would be heard loud and clear. Buttercup got a chill just thinking about it. Never in her life had she seen a single weapon so devastating... so utterly terrifying. She clenched her fists and kept walking intrepidly, the less-than-enthusiastic Bubbles hopping along behind her.
"Buttercup, come oooon... we're lost. Admit it!"
"We're not lost til I say we're lost and I ain't saying a damn thing!" she retorted. Bubbles saying 'Are we there yet?' in the car as often as she did was bad enough. Now this. Buttercup wondered if it would have been any better bringing along a different expedition partner instead of Bubbles. Maybe that freak Zim. Or perhaps Otto, the timid punching bag with little hair. Or Sensei Ja.... Buttercup's cheeks reddened.
"Well for someone not saying anything, you sure are loud!" squeaked Bubbles.
"Do you have a better idea? They haven't exactly left any signs pointing out where to go! We can't talk to Dexter without his voice going stupid, and Blossom and Bell aren't responding at all, now!" she sighed, "NOTHING ever works for me when I want it to!"
Bubbles stopped for a moment, "Can you feel that?"
"Feel what?" grumbled Buttercup, still stomping her way up the corridor. She thought she had gotten past this whole empty-hallway and endless-turns business back when they blew up Matriarch. So much for that.
"I dunno... it's as though some sort of shudder went through the ship... like some sort of... action was taking place."
Buttercup blinked at Bubbles' strange statement, "Huh.... well I didn't feel a thing."
"That's because you're too busy being angry at everything!" Bubbles declared. Buttercup didn't know how to be nice. She took pleasure in causing misery upon others, but couldn't handle it when the same happened to her! Where would she get in life with that sort of approach? Bubbles thought that Buttercup only ever did it for her own personal enjoyment without any consideration for anyone else. She doubted that would change in future, unless by some miracle Buttercup matured a little. Bubbles was doing her best to be a big girl since moving to Megaville and joining a new, much larger school. Why couldn't Buttercup do the same? What harm would it do, seriously? Bubbles clenched her fists, grit her teeth and tried to put up with it. Out of the three girls, she wanted to be the most tolerant of the others. But she doubted that was possible. Bubbles sighed. Was there anything amongst them that she was the best at?
Buttercup continued to whine, "If I wanted to do the whole starship trooper thing I woulda just gone and played Halo... Bubbles, anyone we know have Halo?"
Bubbles tilted her head, "Gaz has all three."
"Yeah, give me some cool armour instead of a crappy dress... and... that means Dexter is that stupid little cyber girl... oh god, that's freaky... but I'd rather do that than this..."
"You're talking to yourself again..."
"SHUT UP! It calms me down!"
"Aren't there other ways to calm yourself down?"
"Like blasting a hole in something?" Buttercup whirled, aggression peaking. She clenched her fists and they turned bright green, glowing with a building radiance.
Bubbles gasped, almost staggering backward, "NOT HERE!"
"Why not, eh? All I gotta do is bash my fists together and then I'll be real calm. You want that, right?"
"What is WRONG with you!?"
Buttercup blinked, and her fists stopped burning with her signature light. She let them drop to her sides and she sighed, feeling stupid, "Nothing... heh, I.... I'm just dying to make something explode, you know? Barasia coulda come here and wanted a straight fight. I woulda given it to her, as well. But she gotta make us do the whole hide and seek gig again! It's stupid! I mean, what's the poi-"
"Girls, can you hear me?" Dexter's voice suddenly cut her off, coming across clear as day, "Is this thing working now?"
Buttercup blinked and raised her eyes in sudden surprise, "Dexter! You did something right for once! How'd you get your thing to work again? What did you do?"
Dexter's voice was soft, almost astounded, "I... didn't do anything, actually. All of a sudden, the dampening field dropped on its own! Did you girls do anything?"
"Not unless talking to yourself stops dampening fields, no..." Bubbles muttered, without thinking. The moment she saw Buttercup's piercing glare, she squeaked in fright and said no more, covering her mouth with her hands as an afterthought.
"The whole sensor readout of the ship just came back online. I can see everything now..." Dexter sounded excited, "It looks like you're slowly reversing out of the atmosphere and toward the vacuum of space. I might be wrong, but Barasia's either lining up for a better shot at a city, or she is making a move toward the sun. Either way, it's gotta stop! Have you found the engines yet?"
Buttercup harrumphed, "No, we haven't. But from what I can tell from our journey so far, silver wall and floor plating is soooo in season right now..."
Dexter ignored the sarcasm, "You're not that far, actually. You're a floor or two below but if you keep heading back toward the stern and go up, you're there."
Buttercup blinked, "Which way is the stern? There aren't damn streetsigns in here, ya know!"
Dexter sighed, "Okay, hang on, let me find some better directions."
"You might wanna check the comm chips out, Dexter." Bubbles spoke up at last since being silenced by Buttercup's glare of scariness, "We can't contact Bell or Blossom and I don't think they can even hear us."
"Yeah, we can hear you." was the immediate response.
Bubbles and Buttercup both visibly flinched, "B-Blossom!" they yelled together.
Bubbles said more, "What happened? Where are you?"
"Bell and I found the bridge. Bell's great; she's like a walking map of this place. There was some sort of signal being given off by the ship's internal sensor systems that was stopping our communication signal getting through. I think it also stopped Dexter from seeing what was going on through his scanner things. Don't ask me, though. I only do science because I have to."
Dexter's voice came over, "Now now, that's not the right attitude to have..."
Bubbles blinked, "But how come we couldn't talk to Blossom or Bell at all?"
Bell's voice, this time, "I'm not exactly sure..."
Dexter now, "I have a conjecture... I'd say that because you're using inter-ship communication, the communication must pass through more of the signal than it would to leave the ship and come down to me. That's why your signal simply failed to reach the others. I think that's Barasia's objective; to split you apart and then prevent you from rejoining. She's all about mind games, after all. Nothing worse than screaming your lungs out and not having anyone around to hear you."
"It'll take more than that to bring us down, though." Blossom's voice said confidently. "I don't think anything she can try and do will break us."
Bell's voice was soft-spoken yet her words hit them all hard, "If you believe that... then you severely underestimate her."
"Back to the matter at hand, if you please..." Buttercup interjected, "You're at the bridge, right?"
"Yup. Earth looks... quite beautiful from here." Blossom said, gentleness returning to her voice after her little show of boldness just before, "It took Bell and I by surprised... we actually just stood here and stared at it for a few minutes before we got back on task. It's... hypnotisi-"
"You wasted time by staring at the planet when you could have been HELPING us!?" Buttercup roared.
"Hey! You woulda done the same thing too-"
"Bubbles and I are stuck in this ship's butt and you're too busy looking at the planet to even flick a switch!? I bet you forget Bell was there, even!"
"Uh... no I didn't?"
"Oh really?" Buttercup growled, "How would you know?"
Blossom's voice seemed timid. Perhaps even... shy? "She.... she held my hand...."
Bubbles went wide-eyed and they sparkled with youthful glee at the sound of it. Buttercup, meantime, palmed her forehead. Bell's voice came over the comm-chip after a few moments, "There's one problem, though. We're at the bridge, the most important part of the ship, pretty much... and Barasia's not here."
"Of course she's not. You'd be dead, otherwise."
"BUTTERCUP!" yelled the three girls.
"Dexter, can you find her?"
"Not with my current readouts, no I can't, Blossom. She could be hiding anywhere on that ship."
Bubbles blinked, "Um... call this a stupid idea, but... what about using your Transys thing? It locks onto Bell's body just fine, so... maybe it can locate Barasia's?"
Dexter paused a moment, and Buttercup shot Bubbles another glance. One that asked her 'Why do you even TRY to be smart?'. But her glare of distaste turned to silent surprise as the boy's voice came back over, "Whoa... Bubbles, thanks!"
"What did I do?"
"Transys works on a different scanning band than my standard sensors. I've got you, Buttercup, Blossom and Bell... nice and clear, too! And if I reference this with my cross-sectional diagram of the vessel - thankyou, Bell - then I might just be able to- EUREKA!"
"Don't shout, dammit!" squawked Buttercup, "Stupid chip crackles like... what happened!?" she demanded.
"I now have a complete visual overview of the ship and your relative locations! I can even go deck by deck!" Dexter exclaimed with the kind of glee an aircraft enthusiast would get from going to an airshow. A big one. With jets.
"Whoopifuckingdoo." Buttercup was impressed in her own way.
Bell's voice seemed pensive, "Dexter... if you can detect me, then... can you scan for Barasia?"
A pause. A long pause. Bubbles glanced at Buttercup, who shook her head. Her patience was wearing extremely thin. When she got her hands on Barasia, who put her through all this nonsense, the girls would have a lot of scrap metal to sell at the next trash and treasure market. Dexter finally came back, and she rolled her eyes. Was there a market for broken boy genius body parts? She'd make a fortune. She'd keep the glasses though. She still wanted something to burn ants with. Dexter sounded just as hesitant as Bell did, if not moreso, "I... don't think I need to."
"What the hell do you mean!?" blurted Buttercup. Blossom's cries for her peace and patience followed almost immediately.
"Bell, do you know of an area of the ship called the 'Lower Pavillion'?"
"That observation point below the accelerators?"
"That's the one."
"Can you... take Blossom down there? I think something's up. I'll talk to you two on a separate channel."
"HEY!" Buttercup roared, "When you tell one of us, you tell ALL of us!"
"Not yet!" Dexter shouted back, fed up with Buttercup's constant impatience. "You and Bubbles will be kept on a separate line for ease of communication. I'm sick of this arguing, alright? I'm making an executive decision, here."
Buttercup's face was red with pent-up fury but she had no way of releasing it. She needed Dexter, like it or not. She never, ever forced herself to submit to the will of a boy before, particularly a nerdy four-eyed geek who had more books than friends and who happened to be her own sister's apparent love interest. What merit did he serve her on any other occasion? She clenched her fists, cursing her bad luck.
"You two hang tight, ok Buttercup? I'm gonna fill Blossom and Bell in, and then I'll give you directions to the engines. Hopefully we can take out a couple of big shiny targets at once, and then focus on Barasia. You did opt for the engines, after all, so there's no backing out now."
"And what if Barasia finds us and there's only two of us there to fight her instead of four?" Buttercup asked. Oh how she'd love a better mission controller. Someone a bit more understandable. The Professor, sure. He knew how to keep things under control. Ms Meryl was good at crowd control, too, especially when it came to dealing with children their age. And then there was Sens... Buttercup went red again.
"If she finds you... all I can suggest is that you hold her off... and stay alive until the others get there... talk to you in a moment."
Buttercup felt a shiver run down her spine. Those words, however brief, messed with her head. She didn't want to admit it, but she said it anyway, "Okay... now I'm kinda scared..."
Bubbles gulped, "Waaay ahead of ya..."
"Graviton emissions?" Blossom repeated, clueless. Bell blinked, likewise stunned.
"Yes, and they're coming from the forward end of the lower observation deck. I don't get why she'd want to build a gravimetric weapon when she has the entire ship rigged up as one big cannon. Either way, that appears to be the next thing on the list behind the engines, which will be taken care of. Blossom, Bell, get down to that deck and check that out. Something's going on down there that shouldn't be. If the emissions continue to grow, I could lose the lock on you and won't be able to pull you back if something bad happens."
Bell, spurred by the sudden reason to take prominent action, nodded to Blossom, "We'll get it done. Come on, I'll show ya the way."
Blossom didn't move, however, still basking in the light of the planet Earth beyond the thick viewing windows. She had seen Earth from space before, a few times. It was so pretty, yet space was so dangerous. The ship was reversing away from it, either breaking its orbit or trying to create a new one. In the distant, a quarter-crescent moon hung like a diamond sickle overlooking its parent planet. So small compared to it, yet so big in itself. Blossom wanted to stay a little longer up here on the empty bridge that had been stripped of all but the most necessary of equipment. There were strange smears on the walls that Bell assumed to be blood from those who used to live and work on this machine. They, too, had fallen the way so many others had. Brutally. Painfully. And with no chance of escape or even seeing their own doom coming. She searched for a reason to stay; anything at all. She found one. She spoke up.
"Dexter, where is the Professor?"
Dexter's response was curt, crisp and prompt, "He's arranging a few things back at your place, then he said he'll come straight over. He doesn't want to miss anything."
"M-Miss... anything?" Blossom repeated, thinking it too much like wanting to watch a much-anticipated football match or something similar.
"If something bad happens, he wants to be here, in case we need to make an extraction. He can't just sit idly by, you know."
"Well..." Blossom stared down at the place where Megaville was meant to be, amongst all those lights. "At least he's thinking of us."
"Blossom... if it weren't so impractical... then I would have seen to it that the whole world would be thinking of you right now."
Blossom's cheeks went a deeper pink, "Dex, that's real sweet of you..." she muttered. Bell regarded her silently.
"I'll deal with the other two. You go down and see what's happening, and get back to me. I'll be quick, before Buttercup chews my head off over the phone."
"Good luck!" Blossom giggled, before turning to look at Earth once again.
Bell put her hand on Blossom's shoulder, "You're... you're very lucky to have him, you know... Someone who can stay with you... even if you lose everything else..."
Blossom turned to her, "Bell, I want this to be the last time I hear that sort of thing from you."
The sugargirl blinked, "Huh?"
"From now on, you're not losing a thing. From now on and from here on out, you're one of us and you're gonna make up for what has been lost. And when it's time to... you should be the one to finish her off."
Bell gave a small yet confident grin, "The day has come, eh?"
Blossom grabbed her hand, making the smaller girl blush, "Come on! Let's find out what she's cooking up!" she told her, and together they sprinted out of the derelict bridge.