The Seventh Element Read online

  The evening before they were scheduled to leave Gamma Speed, Chris called a meeting to go over the last-minute details. Everyone had been so busy on board the huge ship, that the eight of them were rarely all together in one room other than meals and movie nights. Dash hoped the meeting wouldn’t go too long—it was finally going to be his turn to show his favorite alien movie.

  Chris stood at the head of the table and clasped his hands together. “I am going to tell you the story of my visit to Dargon. Admittedly, before some of your other trips I wasn’t fully forthcoming with what I knew about the planet.”

  “You can say that again,” Piper said. “Especially on Meta Prime! Knowing you’d created a giant video game and were plopping us in the middle might have been nice.”

  “Wait, you guys didn’t know that?” Anna asked.

  The Alpha team shook their heads and glared a bit at Chris.

  “Don’t forget Infinity,” Carly said. “A heads-up that we may have become permanent guests on the planet wouldn’t have hurt.”

  Dash bounced in his seat. “Or on Aqua Gen, those Thermites were way more vicious than you—”

  Chris held up his hand. “Okay, okay, I get it. Some details were news to me too. And others, well, I didn’t always know whether it would be helpful or harmful for you to have too much background on my own experience, knowing it could just distract from retrieving the elements. But this time you need to know the whole story or retrieving the element will be impossible. You already know the basics—the ogres, elves, and dragons that inhabit this world.”

  They nodded, leaned back in their chairs and waited.

  “When I visited Dargon about a hundred years ago, the ogres were constantly attacking the elves, burning their ancient, hollowed-out trees just for sport. The trees aren’t simply the spiritual center of life for the elves; they are their homes. But the ogres can’t burn the trees on their own; they taunt the dragons, whose fiery hot breath burns the trees.”

  Carly raised her hand. “So it wasn’t the dragons’ fault that the trees burned; it was really the ogres?”

  Chris nodded. “Although of course the elves retaliated in kind. Can’t really blame them. The element I needed—that you will now need to retrieve as well—is made from the embers of a burnt tree root. They would not agree to part with any piece of the tree until I came up with a plan they couldn’t refuse.”

  Everyone leaned forward in their seats now.

  “During my time on the planet, I’d discovered that the ogres were very sensitive to sounds. There was one tone that seemed to put them into almost a trance state. It took many weeks, but I was able to construct a special horn that would produce the exact tone I needed. If sounded once, it would put any ogre who heard it to sleep. The same sound would also wake them up. The plan would be to put the ogres to sleep and leave the horn with the elves, who would keep it safe. As happy as I’m sure they are with their peaceful existence without the ogres, I made the elves promise to protect the horn from destruction. They know a day will come when the horn will have to be played again. Tomorrow is that day.”

  “So let me get this right,” Ravi said. “First we have to get the elves to agree to let us sound the horn and awaken the evil ogres, then hope the ogres make the dragons so angry they breathe fire on the houses of the elves? And then we just walk away with a piece of the wreckage?”

  “Not a lot can go wrong there,” Gabriel muttered under his breath.

  Ignoring Gabriel’s comment, Chris nodded to Ravi. “Sounds about right.”

  Ravi’s shoulders slumped. “Well, that doesn’t seem like much fun.”

  “Especially for the elves,” Piper said. “We have to burn their house down.”

  “I even feel a little sorry for the ogres,” Siena said. “Who gave you the right to decide to put them to sleep like that? No disrespect intended.”

  Chris opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again. He sighed. “I hear you, I do. But these ogres were really awful. It brought peace to the land and no doubt saved many elves’ lives, not to mention the ancient trees.”

  Carly stood up and started pacing. “What if we skip the whole thing with the ogres and the dragons, and just set the tree on fire ourselves? I mean, with the elves’ permission, of course.”

  Chris shook his head. “Believe me, if I could take the dragons out of the equation I would. Unfortunately, only the dragons have fire hot enough to burn the wood to reach the root, and only the ogres can find them. The combination of a dragon’s breath and the material in the tree is what provides the element we need. It’s called dragon cinder. Best-case scenario would be that the ogres only awaken one dragon. They are solitary creatures who hate everything else that moves on the planet, even each other.”

  Carly sighed and sat back down.

  “It was worth a try,” Gabriel said, patting her on the arm.

  “What if the elves don’t want us to sound the horn?” Dash asked. “We could be out of the game before we even start.”

  “Don’t worry about that,” Chris said. “I warned them that I would be back again one day and we’d need to reawaken them. They agreed, making me promise that after the next trip, I would take the horn far away from the planet, and the ogres would sleep forever. I fully plan to uphold my end of the bargain.”

  “So you’re going with us?” Dash asked.

  “Yes. As on Infinity, I think having me on the ground with you will be an asset to the mission,” Chris answered.

  The crew exchanged glances. They weren’t convinced that it would be that easy—and what about Colin? They couldn’t just leave him alone on the Cloud Leopard. There was no telling what he might do! Chris could feel their skepticism. He needed to turn this around. He planted a smile on his face and said, “On the positive side, there will be more manpower than—”

  “Manpower?” Siena, Anna, Carly, and Piper said at the same time.

  Chris stopped talking and looked at them. “Um, manpower and lady power?”

  Carly and Siena wrinkled their noses.

  Chris tried again. “Girl power? Woman power?”

  “Better,” Piper said with a nod. “Go on.”

  “As I was saying,” Chris continued with a sigh, “you’ll have more man and woman power than ever before. Plus, you’ll have four days on the surface of the planet, much longer than at our other stops. I had to build in the extra time to get the ogres up the cliffs to find the dragons. They move very slowly.”

  “Who is going to be on the ground team?” Carly asked. “Besides you and Dash, I mean.”

  Chris glanced at Dash before answering. “We talked it through very carefully. We’d like Carly and Anna to remain on board as cocaptains in Dash’s absence. Carly will continue to monitor the source machine and prepare it for the dragon cinder.”

  Carly nodded, not looking at Anna. Anna slumped in her seat.

  “Ravi and Niko will man the Cloud Cat, delivering anything necessary to the team on the surface. Niko will also continue his duties as medic on board.”

  Ravi and Niko high-fived each other. “That’s cool,” Ravi said, “even though I totally have the best whistle out of everyone.” It was true. He could blow out whole melodies, and they actually sounded like the real songs.

  “I’m sure the elves will still welcome us without your contribution,” Siena said.

  Ravi grinned. “Maybe they will; maybe they won’t.”

  “Moving on,” Chris said. “Piper will go to the surface, along with Gabriel and Siena.”

  Piper grinned. She’d missed going on the missions.

  Dash was glad that no one was complaining about their assignments. With so many crew members, the choice had been difficult. Before Chris could turn away from the table, Dash said, “There’s something you haven’t told us.”

  Chris froze. There were actually a few things he hadn’t told them. Which one was he referring to?

  Dash hesitated. A few weeks ago, he wouldn’t have asked this in front of t