The Seventh Element Read online

  Monitors all around the room lit up, and everyone stopped chewing to look. Chris’s face appeared on the screens. At first, they couldn’t tell where he was, but then realized he was inside the Cloud Kitten, and the Cloud Kitten was in space!

  “I guess you’re not big on long good-byes!” Carly said.

  Chris smiled. “I thought it was best this way. I’m going to wait here and make sure the Source works before heading to Flora. And there’s one more thing….”

  The door to the navigation deck slid open. Rocket came bounding in, a new bell around his collar.

  “Rocket!” Piper called out, zooming over to him. She bent over to put her arms around the dog’s neck. Over her shoulder, she asked, “You didn’t take him with you?”

  “He’s an Earth dog,” Chris said. “He belongs to all of you now. I thought you could take turns.”

  “When it’s my turn,” Gabriel said, “I’m going to take that embarrassing bell right off him.”

  “It’s not a bell,” Chris said. “It’s a small container with a video chip in it. I’d like you to give it to Shawn when you get home. We never got to say a real good-bye.” His voice cracked a little. “He was an excellent friend to me. I hope I was good to him too.”

  “You were for sure,” Carly said. “We could all see it.”

  His eyes got glassy for a second, then focused again. “Thank you. Travel swift and safe.”

  “Will we see you again?” Piper asked.

  Chris winked. “Not if I see you first.”

  Everyone laughed. “Now he gets a sense of humor!” Gabriel said.

  “C’mon, guys,” Anna said. “It’s time to go home. Dash doesn’t look so good. Again!”

  Everyone hurried to strap themselves in. Anna took the seat Chris usually sat in. It was understood that she’d be the one pressing the button this time.

  “Is this going to hurt?” Gabriel asked, only half kidding.

  “You won’t feel much of anything,” Chris assured them.

  “That’s what you said about the Source machine,” Anna muttered.

  “Everyone ready?” Chris asked, looking around the room.

  For such a simple question, it caught all of them off guard. Were they ready to cover the same distance in a second as it took a year to travel at Gamma Speed? No. Were they ready to deal with the fame and attention that would await them at home? Not really. Were they ready to leave each other? Definitely not.

  But they were ready to see their families and friends from home. They were ready to put their feet on solid ground and keep them there. And most of all, they were ready to hand over the Source.

  Dash tried to reply, to give his last command as captain, but his throat wouldn’t work.

  Anna looked at Dash, then at everyone. “We’re ready,” she said.

  “Then hit the red button,” Chris said. He faced Dash and gave him a salute. Dash raised a shaky arm and saluted back.

  Anna hit the button.

  Before Gabriel could finish saying “Whoa, that feels weird,” the blue oceans of Earth appeared in the lookout window. The Voyagers’ mouths fell open in surprise.

  “Is that real?” Siena asked, hardly breathing. “Are we home?”

  “I…I think so,” Carly managed.

  “We are inside Earth’s atmosphere,” Ravi announced. He unlocked his harness, and the others followed.

  “Man, that Source is powerful stuff!” Niko said, shaking his head.

  Dash took a deep breath, then another. He couldn’t believe he was there. He couldn’t believe he was alive at all. Gratitude washed over him in waves.

  Piper sped over with Rocket barking behind her. “Dash, how do you feel?”

  “I’m good. I’m really, really good!” He gulped in deep breaths and licked his dry lips. “Thank you for taking such good care of me all year.”

  “That’s my job,” she said, smiling. “Thank you for dancing with me.”

  The others had started jumping up and down, laughing, high-fiving. Piper and Dash watched them, and then Dash grinned back at her. “All in a day’s work,” he replied.

  The long screen above the wraparound window flickered, and Commander Phillips’s face appeared, tears flowing freely down his cheeks.

  “You’re…you’re all…I can’t…and Dash, you’re…”

  “All right, all right, you had your chance,” a little girl’s voice said, pushing Phillips out of their view. Dash saw his sister Abby’s face and lit up. She looked older than in the last video he’d received months ago, but she was definitely the same spunky girl.

  “Dash! Are you okay? How was it? Did you meet any more aliens? Did you guys save the world? Did you bring me anything? Do you have a girlfriend now?”

  Dash laughed. “No girlfriend, but Gabriel did get kissed by an elf.”

  Carly gave Gabriel a puzzled look, but all Gabriel did was grin.

  Commander Phillips came back on the screen.

  “Are our families there too?” Carly asked, trying to peer over the commander’s shoulders.

  He shook his head. “Since we lost communication, we didn’t know exactly when you’d be back. Because of Dash’s condition, his mother and sister came to live on the base. We will be flying in everyone else tonight—including your families, Anna, Siena, Ravi, and Niko. You were instrumental in creating the Source, so you’ll also receive the prize money promised to the Alpha Team.”

  The Omegas erupted into cheers.

  “The crew here will connect with the ship’s computer remotely now and will navigate the Cloud Leopard back to base,” Commander Phillips continued. “Once you’re back, we’ll initiate decontamination mode, which means the air coming through the vents in the ship will be specially treated to destroy any pathogens or microbes you might have picked up on your journey.”

  “So what you’re saying,” Ravi said, “is that it wouldn’t do much good if we saved the world and then killed off every living creature because of some strange disease we picked up on the other side of the galaxy?”

  “Well,” Phillips said, “I wouldn’t have put it quite that way, but yes.”

  “Okay, cool, just making sure.”

  “It won’t take long,” he promised. “By morning, you will be ready to face the world. Do you think you guys can stand being on board together for one more night?”

  They all exchanged looks. Gabriel glanced over at the table full of desserts the ZRKs had set out. “There’s still some popcorn left,” he said to the others. “You guys thinking what I’m thinking?”

  “Movie night!” they shouted.


  The ZRKs had made them brand-new uniforms for their homecoming. Silver instead of blue, they still had the holographic V on the chest for Voyagers, but around the V were symbols for each of the seven elements. For the seventh element, the ZRKs had made a new symbol—it was an O for Omega entwined with an A for Alpha. Carly had told them what Chris had said, about them being a part of the Source now. The uniforms would remind them of that every time they looked at them. Not that they’d forget it, or anything that had happened—even the parts they might like to!

  After getting dressed in the new uniforms and packing what little they had brought with them (and the souvenirs they’d collected along the way), the whole team had planned to meet in the cargo docking bay, where they’d disembark the Cloud Leopard for the last time. Carly and Gabriel were the first to be ready, and they waited in the docking bay for the others.

  They smiled awkwardly at each other. After living together for a year, it was hard to believe it was time to say good-bye. Usually, they’d have plenty to say to each other, but now it was hard to find the right words. Carly thought back to the first night she’d spent with Gabriel back at Base Ten, the night they’d discovered that Shawn had been hiding the truth behind the mission. She couldn’t start reminiscing already.

  “So,” Carly said, “you kissed an elf?”

  Gabriel grinned, leaning back with his arms beh