"Holy crap, who builds these things?" Buttercup muttered more to herself than to Bubbles as they entered the room that had been pointed out to them by Dexter's directions. Here was not a simple engine room like those on sea ships or in science fiction TV shows with those big fancy glowing things. What they had walked into resembled more of a factory, or part of it, with enormous slab-like machines mounted on pylons running eight feet off the ground. Buttercup counted three of them, large greenish-grey contraptions that looked like something out of an amazingly boring mechanics exhibit, each clunking and whirring with mechanisms inside doing their business without interruption. She was honestly disappointed. She not only had expected something a lot more COOL to shoot at, but she also had no idea what she was supposed to hit.
Bubbles was gaping, "These... are engines? What kind of fuel would they use?"
"Hope it explodes, like the fuel back home."
"I don't think you'd want to be in there when it did."
Buttercup growled, "Okay, Mister Expert, what's your take on this?"
"Hey, quit jumping down my throat!"
"Buttercup, at least listen to Dexter when he tries to help!" Bubbles pleaded.
Buttercup rolled her eyes, "Okay, okay... what are we supposed to do? Blow this joint?"
"N-No, I wouldn't recommend that."
"Shit..." Buttercup glanced left and right. At one end of the large chamber, dark grey pumps fed some sort of glowing green substance into and overhead pipeline that ran above their heads and siphoned into each of the three main press-machine-like reactors. Was that the fuel? If she burst that pipeline, then the stuff wouldn't get into the machine to start with, and thus whatever they were, they wouldn't run. "How do these things work?"
"They're plasma-ion conversion units. They use the raw energy from a plasma stream to force particle fission to take place, kinda like how nuclear reactors work, except without the radioactivity. Humanity from the future cleaned up their act but they still were obsessed with having the best output. The resultant ionic energy is released out of the engine nodes on the rear of the ship, allowing for extremely rapid spaceflight acceleration. Think of it like an afterburner on a fighter jet, except without the need for air."
"Okay, I'm with you so far." Buttercup told him, surprised at the fact that she actually got the basic gist of it.
"Plasma fires are extremely dangerous, and even though your skin's probably ten times as resistant to burns as mine would be, I still don't think it'd be a good idea to just start shooting the place up. There's gotta be a better way to do this..."
"Is there a control panel we can use to shut them off?" asked Bubbles, staring at the huge devices as though haunted by them.
Dexter mumbled a few things to himself for a moment. Buttercup took the time to glance around. She saw, glancing to the far wall, a thin strip of transparent barrior between herself and space beyond. Wherever they were right now, it was separated from the vacuum by that wall alone. She wondered how easily it could stand up to a good explosion or two. There was no Earthly glow anymore. The ship must have moved. Buttercup had been in space before and she had the ability to slowly adjust between air and lack of it, but any sudden change between the two and she felt sick. To suddenly lose all the air in this room if something went wrong... she didn't know what would happen. But if push came to shove, at least Buttercup could say that it took a record time aboard a ship like this to find some action.
Bubbles wondered aloud, "Do you think we're actually supposed to be in here? I mean... you don't crawl inside the hood of a car just to drive it... you only do it when you check if something's wrong with the engine..."
"What do you mean?" asked Buttercup, further perplexed at how she could understand Dexter but get completely lost with Bubbles' suggestion. And Bubbles was actually trying to be smart, here!
"Well we run the engine from inside a car, right? What if this is the actual engine, like, uh... under the hood of this ship, and the place where they run it from is in another room nearby!"
Buttercup's mouth spread into a grin, "You ain't such a dumb blonde after all! Dexter, did you get that?"
"Yes I did, and I have another theory to try out as well. One that you can test while you're here, Buttercup. Bubbles, wait out in the corridor for a moment whilst I look for places that might be the control room."
"Okay!" she chirped, spinning on her Mary-Janes and scooting from the room, leaving Buttercup to stand amongst the enormous machinations by herself. She heard Bubbles humming merrily as she went and wondered to herself whether Bubbles was simply too, well, bubbly to worry about the situation she was in, or if she was just trying to distract herself from what was going on. Buttercup approached the central machine, the contrivance looking like a hulking cross between a silo and a newspaper printing press. It was a darker green than the green on her dress. At the opposite end to that which connected to the far wall like a piston to a crankshaft was a slab of console built into the contraption and bolted to the floor like some sort of arcade machine, all sorts of buttons upon it. Buttercup's grin spread as she approached it. Perhaps this was what she needed. Bubbles disappeared from the doorway, heading back down the corridor. Perhaps Dexter was deciding to use different channels for each girl, like how a radio network broadcasted on different frequencies. If it stopped any arguments, then no harm done. She could make no heads or tails of what she saw on the attached engine console, much to her disdain. Words like 'manifold' and 'regulator' and 'capacitor' and 'infusion system' were lost on her. She grit her teeth, not wanting the English language (or words that tried too hard to fit into it) to hold her back. If pressing buttons didn't work, maybe driving her entire fist through it up to the elbow might. She wiggled her fingers for a moment. A short sharp jab would be all she would need to blow this thing straight to-
"Don't touch those controls, Buttercup." Dexter's voice instructed
Buttercup huffed and unclenched her fist, letting it drop to her side, "Then WHAT!?"
"Alright, here's an idea." Dexter told her, staying as calm as he could and reminding himself of the many many miles between himself and the enraged little girl. "You see those smaller pipelines joining onto the engines from above?"
"Dex, those things are enormous. I saw them the moment I walked in." Buttercup growled.
"Okay, okay... uh... toward the point at which it curves onto the horizontal, there should be a sort of valve or tap screw, like on a hydrant. Can you see it?"
Buttercup followed the smaller pipeline. Sure enough, just as Dexter had said there was a small circular metal tap, complete with directions on how to turn it open and closed. This ship was from the future, yes, but this engine room was not nearly as flashy as she had hoped for. Everything here was so rudimentary and bare-bones gritty. She wondered if this place was prone to fires. The chugging from within the three power plants as each motor did whatever it was supposed to do inside was beginning to get on her nerves. Was that it? A shut off gauge? "Yah, I see it."
"You want me to turn it?" Buttercup asked the obvious, but then again, with Dexter there was nothing obvious. For all she knew, he wanted her to suck it like a lollipop.
Fortunately they were thinking the same thing, "That thing connects directly to the coolant inlet manifold. If you can turn those off, it MIGHT force the engines to shut down so they don't overheat. So yes, you gotta turn it."
Buttercup was disappointed at that, "You want me to just shut it off? Is that it??"
"What did you expect?"
Buttercup chuckled, "If you wanna choke the supply, you gotta bleed it dry! Here, watch!" She sprung up to the valve and grabbed it with both hands. No need to turn. She barely heard Dexter's cry of protest. With a twisted grin of malicious delight, she wrenched the implement toward her. Seconds later, accompanied by the sharp sound of splitting metal, the object came loose. Buttercup's momentum flung her backward as a loud hissing began to drown out the steady humming of the engines. Steadying herself to avoid slamming into the floor, Buttercup regained her balance and dropped the chunk of metal, valve still attached, that she had wrenched off with her own bare hands, her grin still affixed on her face as she saw what now was happening. The metal piping was torn open as though having been pierced by an anti-armour tank shell. Gushing forth were torrents of what looked like dry ice vapour, but with an azure tinge that gave it the appearance of sky-blue ice clouds. This must have been the coolant that Dexter mentioned, whatever coolant was. Didn't sound as dangerous or as cool as plasma so she had simply torn the pipe's casing open to let it free. It fell to the floor, denser than air, and started dissipating after flowing a short way. Buttercup grinned. She felt smart now. "See Dex? To hell with turning taps, just let the whole thing drain."
But Dexter's reply was one she did not expect. She expected either him to reluctantly praise her, or yell his four-eyed ass off at her. But instead, his hushed response seemed choked and laboured, "Buttercup... you stupid girl..."
Before she could question what prompted such a response, she heard a loud, wailing alarm echo through the huge engineering bay; one that sent a shiver down her spine. Red lights started flashing, on the roof, on the walls and above the door she had entered through. An androgynois voice squawked robotically, "Coolant leak! Coolant leak! Isolating housing bay! All personnel evacuate!" Buttercup gulped. More of the light-blue cloud spewed from the torn piping. What had she done? What had been so terrible? Not one to question something so serious-sounding, she spun and shot toward the door as the computer began to speak again, "All rostered personnel accounted for. Sealing housing bay!"
"NO!" screamed Buttercup, but she was too late. The solid metal door slammed itself down, trapping her inside. The red lights still spun. "WHAT THE HELL!? LEMME OUT!" she yelled, to nobody in particular. Dexter, the computer, anyone. She pounded her fist upon the door but the metal didn't even dint. Her hand felt a searing shock of pain rush through it, and no doubt it would soon bruise. Gritting her teeth, she took a few steps backward. No metal, present or future-made, would keep her back. Crouching slightly like a quarterback in their three-point stance, she charged forward, streaking the beryl dazzle behind her like a vapour trail. Scrunching her eyes shut, she slammed herself shoulder-first into the solid metal door, expecting it to give way to her momentum as so many objects, barriers and giant monster guts had done in the past. But when she heard the sickening thud, felt her speed disappear in an instant and hissed at the second jolt of pain, this one engulfing her whole left side, she stumbled away from the door, knowing it had her beat. The alarms still rang and the coolant still wafted out of its cosy pipeline home. She gasped a little, the stabbing pains coming regularly. Bringing her hand to her shoulder, she was glad to find that she hadn't broken anything. Hitting the door headfirst would have possibly killed her. That stuff was DENSE! Denser than Bubbles! She breathed through clenched teeth, eyes narrowing. Her actions had trapped her inside now, with nothing but the three huge engines as company and a wailing klaxon for ambience. She wondered if Dexter had any bright ideas.
But he quickly confirmed that he did not, "What the hell have you done!?"
Buttercup, still groaning, mumbled in reluctant confession, "I just fucked myself..."
"Now Barasia's gonna know what you're up to!" he yelled, both outraged and horrified. If he was there in person, then she didn't know what he'd do. But she wouldn't have liked it.
"SORRY!?" Dexter screamed, "You've just alerted her to where you are, and now you're stuck! She'll come right to you, and you have NOWHERE to run!"
Buttercup was wincing, "Go ahead, rub it in... bet you've been waiting for that for a while."
"YES, actually!" he sounded rushed, "Dammit, there's gotta be something I can do..."
Buttercup glanced over her shoulder, still breathing heavily. Those engines stood there, the means of Barasia's movement in this enormous vessel of apparent mass destruction. She was trapped in here with them, and they could still run. Her goal was to take them out. To do so would stop Barasia getting to the sun, and in doing so killing billions. And from that, a chain reaction would start, in which more and more stars died and their civilisations with them just to fuel Barasia's insatiable thirst for infinite potential. To stop it here... to stop it from happening in the first place... would save countless trillions from helpless death. She'd be a hero. Buttercup always wanted to be remembered for saving many lives. She'd done it before. But not like this, she handn't. She could smell the burning sensation of the invisible coolant that vented into the room filling her lungs. That stuff was surely not safe to breathe. Unless by some miracle, Dexter unlocked that door, she was stuck here. Barasia would already know about her presence here, and she'd double and triple check to be sure that Buttercup never got out and suffocated in the own strife she put herself in. No point in sticking around, then. Better to make something of it than wait and choke on this stinging gas that she had released. It burnt her windpipe going down to her lungs, and she coughed. She brought a hand to her mouth. She had to be quick. Decisive. All she had to do was take out those engines. That was what she was here for. She already threw caution to the wind and had it blow back into her face, so she mightas well press on. The engines had to be stopped. All at once. They ran off volatile plasma...
And plasma ignites...
"BUTTERCUP!" came a scream both through dense metal and through her comm chip, the latter garbling thanks to the shout's high frequency and sheer volume.
Buttercup looked up again. There, in the slit of thick transparent viewing window far too small for her to squeeze through even if it was broken, was Bubbles' terrified face. Her eyes were so wide that Buttercup thought they were about to fall out. Her cheeks had flushed red, the same red that they became when Bubbles was about to cry. Normally, Buttercup enjoyed making her cry. But this time, she knew she'd regret it. She was consoled by the fact that, at the very least, she wouldn't be in any condition to watch those first tears fall. She walked toward the door where her sister stood upon the other side. She coughed again as she did, knowing it'd take a hell of a lot more of this weird gas to start choking her out, but not much more before it became extremely painful. She flexed the fingers on her other hand. It would be needed shortly. Almost pressing her nose against the window, she stared into Bubbles' eyes, green meeting blue, both sisters eye to eye for the first time in a long while. Bubbles looked like she was trembling, though it might have just been a strange refraction of light through the thick glass-like panel. Bubbles looked scared. She didn't know what was going to happen. Buttercup didn't really want her to see, but she would have to. The evergreen Puff growled to herself. In all this preparation she wanted to desperately get her hands on Barasia and break her tin-foil body to pieces. Now... at least she'd save lives in her own way. "Bubbles..." she muttered, her voice carrying over the comm chip to the girl on the other side.
"Y-Yeah?" Bubbles stuttered. Grief was evident in her voice. Buttercup didn't know why. The bad bit hadn't happened yet.
"Do... do you hate me?"
Bubbles' response of pure shock was what Buttercup had expected. But before she did this, she needed to know the answer from her. Bubbles pressed her face even closer to the thick, locked doorway and replied, "No, of course not! And I'm sorry I said that to you, the other day..." the remose was genuine. Buttercup smiled a little.
"So... you don't hate me..."
"No... no, Buttercup, I don't..."
Buttercup was silent for a moment. She felt a strange sensation in her eyes, like the sudden urge to close them as though they were about to burst. She hissed when she realised she was about to cry. She quickly blinked to relieve that feeling. She failed. So she kicked off from the floor, floating backward toward the central giant powerplant, arms stretched out slightly. She clenched her fists and moments later, they began to bristle with bright green light. She saw Bubbles gasp and bring her hands to her mouth, catching on straight away. If Bubbles was smart enough, she'd look away. Landing beneath the middle machination, Buttercup stared the distant Bubbles right in the eye, "Then... please... don't hate me for this..."
Bubbles pounded on the door and screamed her sister's name. Buttercup cursed. Those tears were falling from Bubbles' eyes already. She didn't want to have to see them. She raised her glowing fists to the sides, eyes narrowing. She hoped Barasia had insurance.
"VIRIDIAN WRATH!" she howled. Then she swung her fists inwards and at the knuckles they smashed together.
There was no burst of sound. There was only light. A flash of blinding, enraged green light. Bubbles stared straight into it, the green becoming intense white as the floor beneath her feet began to shake. She felt sweat forming on her palms despite pressing them against the cold metal. She wanted to scream. Her mouth opened but nothing came out. She could not break through the dense barrier to get to her so she could only stand by and watch hopelessly. Her eyes began to grow fuzzy against the glaring light, such intensity probably too much for any normal person to stare into. The rumbling began to wear out, blocked by the impenetrable wall of silver before her. She pressed her face against the window, wanting to find any sort of indication that Buttercup was ok.
Inside, Buttercup opened her eyes and tried to breathe, her wheezy inhale stinging her throat and chest. Unable to hold it, she coughed out what little air she could manage to suck in. She held onto the slab of metal that had torn away from the wall. She could barely keep her eyes open, but what she saw satisfied her. Those three giant engine silos, shattered and torn, were either blackened to the point of barely being recognised, or gone completely. The leaking coolant still spewed into the engine room with nowhere to go and nothing do it, its compartments blown wide open. When she had brought her fists together, smashing her knuckles against each other, a release of all that pent up energy occurred. So full of excess stamina, the release technique was a mean of removing such vehemence whilst doing her trademark indiscriminent damage. That had certainly happened here, but... perhaps she needed to think that through more. The regulating plasma within the engine chambers indeed DID catch fire pretty quickly. She had been standing right underneath one of those chambers when the plasma had ingited. In those few short seconds amongst the blinding light, everything became blistering hot for a few unbearable seconds. Then, when the structure of the side hull bulkhead had given out, that heat turned to a numbing freeze instantly. The force of the plasma's ignition had broken through the hull itself, blowing everything within such as debris and flame out into space. Buttercup's burnt and battered body hung off a slab of metal that had partially broken off but not yet detached, her air gone and her grip failing.
'And to think... I was hoping for a piece of Barasia this time...' her mind told itself in grim realisation that she'd never get her chance to fight. 'At least... at least I can keep her from going anywhere...' She coughed, her lungs wrecked from the sudden decompression that had physically torn the air out of her lungs and destroyed them internally as it happened. Everything was so cold as her blood-drenched grip began to slip, the warmth from her body the only thing keeping the blood from freezing on her fingers. She could see the Earth's night-time shadow below, and all those faraway lights. And even though she was so far away and next to weightless, the pull of the planet's gravity was drawing those blown-out pieces of engine slowly toward it. Buttercup couldn't feel anything anymore. Not pain. Not the cold. Not disappointment. She shook her head one last time as blood dripped away from her pale lips. 'Sorry Bubbles... don't hate me... it's up to you and the others, now...'
Buttercup's grip finally gave way, and she closed her eyes, cold and absolute darkness overwhelming her.
The last of the glare died away, and Bubbles rubbed her eyes to force them back into working properly. She pressed her face up against the thick window that allowed her the only view into what was.... what HAD BEEN the engine room. She shook her head, breathed upon the transparent panel and rubbed the fog off it with her palm. Something wasn't right. The room beyond was all but destroyed, with components strewn everywhere and gas still ventining. Such destruction was to be expected with Buttercup. But Buttercup herself was nowhere to be seen. The energy explosion technique she had just used was very dangerous and could easily have harmed her if she had have released enough. But it wouldn't have made her disappear. Bubbles caught sight of something and she gasped. A gash, about 20 feet across, was cleanly torn right through the far wall of the engine bay. Beyond were only the faint sparkles of starlight, past the hissing air that was spurting into the frozen and decompressed chamber, turning into tiny ice crystals and floating around amongst the broken and trashed slabs of metal and piping. Buttercup's intention had panned out, but not as she had wanted. Then Bubbles saw the streak of blood across the wall at one side of the gash, where a bit of the splintered metal hung out into space, a handprint still visible upon it. A chill shot down Bubbles' spine from head to foot. Her mouth made movements but no words came out.
She had told her not to... she had told Buttercup to find another way. But she had gone ahead and done it, leading herself into a situation she couldn't walk out of. And now...
"I..." she managed to say, her hands again upon the cold metal. They were moist with anxious sweat, "I don't hate you... but you were always so foolish!" she screamed, tears flowing down her face. Was she blown out into space, or did she manage to hang on just a little bit before her strength gave out? Or... had the hand still been attached to the rest of her when she had been sucked out with the rest of the air? Bubbles didn't want to know. It would all be too much.
She heard a distant voice. "Bubbles... Bubbles??"
Bubbles wiped her eyes. Was it...? "B...Buttercup?"
"Bubbles!" came the cry again. It was a boy's voice, coming from around her shoulder. Dexter's voice. "Bubbles, are you there!?"
Bubbles blurted it all out, "Dexter! Buttercup just blew up the whole engine room and I think she got blown out into space and I couldn't do anything to stop her cos she just gave me one last look and then set off her big green flash and then everything went bright and when the ship stopped shaking and the light went away she was GONE!" she wailed, more tears spilling. Was her sister dead??
"Bubbles, you don't have time to get upset about that now. The engines of the ship have been disabled by whatever sort of thing Buttercup set off. The ship's gonna go nowhere so for now the sun is safe. I need you to do your best to find Blossom and Bell and help them, wherever they are. I have lots to do down here so I mightn't be able to talk to any of you."
"She..." Bubbles sniffled, "She was always so brave..."
"I know..." Dexter sighed, "What she did might just have saved everyone. I need you to head back to the fighter bay where you started from and then keep heading down that maintenance shaft to the other end where Blossom and Bell were. You need to keep moving. We'll... we'll have to let Buttercup wait. We can't mourn for her right now-"
"HOW COME YOU SOUND SO CALM!?" she screamed, her sky-blue eyes now more like two round seas, they were so drenched.
"Bubbles, I'm only like this because I have a lot down here I need to worry about!"
"You didn't see it happen! You didn't see what I saw!"
"I know," he sighed, "but... please... keep it together. She wouldn't want you to lose your cool now, would she? You have a job to do, Bubbles. I'll do mine, so please do yours."
Bubbles' eyes narrowed and she felt her blood pumping hot around her body. If not for Barasia then this wouldn't have happened anyway. Bubbles clenched her fists and wiped the tears from her eyes. She couldn't cry. Buttercup wouldn't want her to cry. But she WOULD want Barasia to get her butt kicked in the hardest way possible. If Buttercup couldn't get her fair slice anymore... then Bubbles would have to do it instead. She grit her teeth, fed up at last with everything that the black-eyed brat had ever put her through. She growled and murmured, "Okay, Barasia... now it's gone on too long..." she stormed back to the maintenance shaft and shot down into it. Bubbles was ready. For the first time in she didn't know how long.... she was finally ready.