The Seventh Element Read online

  “Did you know Colin had been trying to get the Cloud Kitten to fly?” Carly asked him.

  Chris stiffened. “Oh?” he said.

  “We found flight plans. He was going to go back to your home planet! I bet he was going to pretend to be you!”

  Chris stared straight ahead. His voice was even when he said, “Well, he won’t be doing that now.”

  “Are we really going to leave him there on the mountaintop?” Gabriel asked.

  “For now, yes. He’ll have plenty of company to boss around now that you’ve left him a group of ogres to contend with. When we’re back in radio range with Earth, I’ll send word for someone to rescue him.” He paused for a second, then added, “Eventually.”

  Gabriel and Carly shared a small smile, but it was hard to feel anything but fear and worry when Dash was so sick.

  Piper shouted as she soared into the room. “He just said something! I couldn’t understand him, but it was something about rotting butts.”

  “I’m sorry,” Chris said, “did you say rotting butts?”

  Thrilled to have had any progress at all, Piper stifled a giggle. “I’m sure I heard wrong.”

  “Does rotting butts mean anything to either of you?” Chris asked. Gabriel and Carly shook their heads, also trying not to laugh. It was funny when Piper had said it, but even funnier out of Chris’s mouth since he was usually so proper.

  Piper led them all to the med bay, where Niko was checking Dash’s vitals. Ravi, Anna, and Siena sat in a corner of the room, hopeful expressions on their faces.

  Dash’s eyelids flickered. His lips quivered, and a whisper came out. “The cinder might not work…might be…diseased.”

  Carly took Dash’s hand. “Dash, are you okay?” she said, ignoring the possible meaning behind his words.

  He wanted to answer her, to tell her he didn’t feel any pain, but the effort was too much. He put his energy into moving his head up and down in a nod. It must have worked because Carly loosened her grip a little.

  Chris cleared his throat. “I’m going to be really direct here. Dash doesn’t have much time, and neither do we.” He turned to Carly. “The cinder is in place, I trust?”

  She nodded. “All that’s left is the liquid metal from TULIP. Is it time to put it in now?”

  “Yes. But the metal is so hot I’ll be the one taking the risk. Once that is done, I will call you all to the Element Fuser. It will be time to make the Source.”

  “Rot…,” Dash wheezed out. “Fungus.”

  “Ah, I get it now,” Chris said. He rested his hand on Dash’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. The heat from the dragon’s breath will have killed off any fungus.”

  Dash lifted his hand and attempted to give a thumbs-up.

  “Chris,” Piper said, “you said you’ll need all of us at the fuser, but you don’t mean Dash too, right?”

  “Everyone,” he said firmly. “Listen for my call.” He left the room without another word.

  “Well,” Anna said. “Warm and fuzzy he’s not. How are we going to get Dash across the ship? It’s not like he can walk, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t want someone carrying him like a baby.”

  Siena kicked Anna in the shin, hoping Piper wouldn’t notice. Sometimes Anna spoke before she thought.

  “He can use one of my extra chairs,” Piper said softly.

  “I’ll go get it from our room,” Siena said, hurrying out.

  “I’ll help,” Anna added.

  “Me too,” Gabriel said, followed by Ravi and Niko.

  “Well,” Carly said. “That’s one way to clear a room!”

  Piper laughed. “They should know by now I have a very thick skin. It takes a lot to bother me. In fact, after all the things I’ve done in this awesome chair, I’m starting to feel like a superhero.”

  Carly grinned. “You’re totally a superhero.”

  The others came back just as Chris called them to the engine room. Niko and Ravi lowered Dash into the chair and tightened the straps so he wouldn’t slip out. Piper switched the chair into manual mode, which would allow anyone to use it. Gabriel guided it through the corridor. Rocket followed close behind him.

  When they arrived at the Element Fuser, everyone stopped short. “What’s that?” Gabriel asked, pointing at what looked like a large, see-through globe with eight bendy tentacle-like arms. A thin glass tube a few feet long ran between it and the Element Fuser.

  “Are those Slinkies?” Ravi asked, reaching out a hand to touch one of them.

  Chris stepped in front of him. “Please,” he said, “don’t touch. This is the Source machine, and those are very sensitive hoses.”

  Gabriel knew machines, and even though he’d obviously never seen a Source machine before, he knew something wasn’t right about this one. The arms had clearly been added on once the device was completed. They were made of different material than the base and were of varying lengths. He was about to ask Chris about it when TULIP hopped in front of them and plopped down, head low.

  “Poor TULIP,” Carly said. “Your belly’s all empty. You helped us so much, though. Right, guys?”

  Everyone agreed that she’d done a stellar job protecting them from the fate the Light Blade had suffered due to their leaky slogger, and keeping them warm down on Tundra. TULIP gave a chirp of appreciation.

  Carly glanced over at the Element Fuser, assuming she’d see the last two tubes full of molten metal. Only one had been filled, though. “Did we not have enough?” she asked Chris, pointing to the empty tube. “Or was that one always meant to be an overflow or something?”

  Chris faced them and took a deep breath. “I haven’t always been honest with you,” he began.

  His eyes still closed, Dash made a sound in his throat that was halfway between a laugh and a cry.

  “And I’m sorry about that,” Chris continued. “But it was always for either your own good or the good of the mission.”

  No one spoke.

  “And, well, this is another of those times.” He walked over to the fuser. “This empty tube isn’t extra. We actually need one more element to make the Source.”

  Seven jaws dropped open. Dash’s would have too if he’d been able to move it. Carly felt a cold sweat break out across her body. “So we’re not going home,” she said, her voice shaking.

  Anna narrowed her eyes at Chris and shook her head.

  “What about Dash?” Piper asked quietly.

  Siena’s eyes stung. She had been quiet since returning to the ship. She’d done something huge down there by taking a stand about not blowing the horn, and didn’t think she had any more bravery left inside her.

  “Everyone calm down,” Chris said, “and let me explain. We have everything we need for the seventh element right here.”

  “We do?” Siena asked. “Where is it?”

  Chris opened his arms wide. “It’s inside all of you.”

  “So you harvested our skin cells without telling us?” Ravi asked after Chris revealed he had brought along their lab samples from the base. “That’s kinda shady, don’t you think?”

  “It wasn’t like that,” Chris insisted. “We had to make sure everyone was healthy enough to withstand a year in artificial gravity. I knew one of the Source elements came from humans, so it made sense to take the samples when they were no longer needed.”

  “I don’t mind that you took them,” Piper said. “But can you just put them in the fuser so we can get on with this?” She glanced worriedly over at Dash. She couldn’t tell if he was understanding what was going on or not.

  Chris shook his head. “We didn’t foresee this, but the cells didn’t withstand the jumps to Gamma. They have deteriorated to the point where they will not work at all. I will need to collect new material to go directly into the Source machine.” He directed each of them to stand in front of one of the Slinky-like arms and hold one in their right hands. Gabriel set up Dash in front of his and then stood at the next station.

  “All you’ll need to do, on my