The Seventh Element Read online

  Carly elbowed Chris. “Sarcasm suits you.”

  The group smiled. It was a short-lived moment of amusement, but it was better than nothing. They split up and got to work.

  Gabriel and Ravi began investigating the engines of the Cloud Kitten, convinced they could get it to work on less fuel than it had been using. STEAM and SUMI calculated how much material would be needed to give them even the shortest of bursts.

  It occurred to Carly that now that they had so many of the elements just sitting in the Element Fuser, couldn’t they use some of them to reenter Gamma Speed? After all, if the fuel was made from chemicals that were supposed to mimic the elements, why not use the real deal?

  But when she asked him, Chris shook his head. “Those all need to go into making the Source. We can’t afford to dip into any of them. Clearly, they are not replaceable at this point.” He had spent the last few decades of his life working toward collecting those elements; he would never risk anything happening to them.

  “But if we can’t get to Dargon, there won’t be a Source to make,” Carly pointed out.

  “I’m sorry, the answer’s no,” he said, and went back to fiddling with the communication system. He hadn’t given up on trying to reach Shawn, even though he knew that radio waves could never reach that far, not in time to help them, anyway.

  “I think it’s a good idea,” Anna whispered to Carly.


  Carly knew Chris was right when he said they’d need all the elements to create the Source in the end. Still, she had determined that only three elements with even the tiniest amount to spare might help. When combined, the elements wouldn’t get them into Gamma Speed, but it could give them a boost so the Cloud Leopard could fly faster.

  With Anna and Siena’s help, Carly collected a centigram of Rapident Powder, 1/230 of an ounce of liquid metal from TULIP’s belly (which made the slogger giggle as it was extracted), and a milligram of the zero crystals from Tundra. “So that’s what those were supposed to look like,” Anna murmured, admiring the shiny crystals. Siena brought them all to the lab, where she scanned them in to identify their chemical compositions, then carefully carried everything down to the Cloud Kitten.

  Gabriel’s eyes lit up when he saw the three elements and the results of Siena’s analysis. He entered the data into the ship’s ancient computer, then fed the elements into the engine. He ran back to the control panel and checked the gauges. The needles wobbled but quickly fell back to zero. They really needed more solid material. “Almost there,” he said, trying to sound more optimistic than he felt.

  “Maybe Niko can send some of his magic energy into the engine,” Ravi said, only half joking.

  “Where is Niko, anyway?” Siena said, looking around. “I haven’t seen him in hours.”

  “Here I am!” Niko said, running into the room. Panting, he held out his hand to reveal a box of playing cards.

  “Pretty sure we don’t have time for a game of Go Fish,” Gabriel said.

  Niko shook his head. “It’s my Stinger spore! I mean, the one that hit me. Days later, I found it wedged into the lining of the shirt I’d worn on the Infinity mission.”

  Gabriel reached out for it excitedly. “And you kept it?”

  Niko nodded. “I thought it would make a perfect good-luck charm.”

  “It didn’t give us much luck on the Light Blade,” Anna reminded him, “but everything deserves a second chance, right?” And everyone, she thought.

  “This is perfect,” Gabriel said, tipping the box over until the tiny pellet dropped into a narrow tube that snaked around into the engine. It clinked as it hit the sides and then was heard no more. “The only thing we need now is a catalyst,” he said, eyes red with exhaustion. “Some kind of liquid that will fuse the molecular bonds of the different elements.”

  After a few seconds of silence, Piper took a deep breath. “What about Dash’s serum?”

  Everyone turned to her expectantly.

  She wished she didn’t have to say it. Saying it would make it real. But she heard Chris’s voice in her head lecturing them about risk versus reward. Which was greater here? How could she choose? In a voice barely above a whisper, she said, “Dash’s serum. It could be your catalyst. You’d only need one vial of it.”

  “But that would mean he’d lose one more day,” Carly said, her stomach twisting into a knot. “He only has three left.”

  Piper closed her eyes. “I know.”

  “You ask him,” Anna urged Piper. “You two have always had a special bond or whatever. Since back at the base.”

  Piper shook her head. “I can’t do it. Carly, you ask. You’re his second-in-command.”

  “No way.” She turned to Gabriel. “How about you?” she asked him. “You know, man to man.”

  Gabriel shifted his weight and looked around the room. “I vote for Niko. He has that calm, Zen thing going for him. Dash would—”

  “No one needs to ask me.” Dash’s voice came out of nowhere. “I’ll do it.” The group collectively jumped and whirled around before realizing the voice was coming from Siena’s arm.

  “Guys?” he repeated when no one spoke. “Can you hear me? I’m on an open channel on Siena’s MTB.”

  Carly cleared her throat, embarrassed. “Guess you heard our conversation?”

  “Yup,” the voice said.

  They all looked at Siena accusingly. “Sorry!” she whispered, shaking the arm with the MTB. “Still haven’t gotten the hang of this thing.”

  “Dash,” Piper said, “you don’t have to do this. We can find another way.” She looked over at Gabriel hopefully.

  He shook his head and mouthed the word no.

  Piper grimaced. “Well, maybe we can’t, but that doesn’t mean you have to—”

  “Yes,” Dash interrupted. “It does. Remember you said that as bad as it was, you were supposed to be on the Light Blade in order to save their whole crew when the ship started to burn?”

  Piper looked down. “Yes, but—”

  “This is just like that,” Dash said firmly. “This is something only I can do. If I wasn’t on board, if I didn’t need the serum, we’d be stuck here.”

  Piper didn’t reply. What more could she say?

  A ZRK flew down with Dash’s injection a minute later. Gabriel emptied the fluid into the funnel, sealed the lid to the engine tight, and said, “Step back.”

  “What now?” Piper asked, zooming backward.

  “Now it has to heat nearly as high as the surface of the sun.”


  While the crew worked to get the ship moving again, Colin paced the small space of Chris’s room. He’d had a small victory when he pulled the ship out of Gamma Speed. The plan wasn’t to sabotage the mission completely, only to delay it long enough to weaken the crew completely. Then Colin could return to Earth the sole champion. He’d get all the glory. And he’d figure out what to do about Chris later.

  For now, though, Colin was trapped, and he hated being trapped. He tore some ancient-looking books off a shelf and sat down with the intention of ripping the pages out—anything so long as it was destructive. But when he flipped the largest tome open, a picture caught his eye. It was an illustration of a plant, something called the Walla-nika plant. Colin recognized it. He’d seen a small sample of its leaves stored in a trunk in Chris’s room. The leaves were kept in a large glass bottle with what looked like a warning label slapped on the front. Without reading, Colin knew the plant came from the shallow waters of a planet called Flora. And that it could be deadly. But how did he know that? Colin felt the tug of a smile at the corner of his lips.

  Sharing Chris’s memories had been a blessing and a curse. But this memory was by far Colin’s favorite.


  Fifteen minutes later, all eight members of the crew converged on the flight deck. When Chris had learned they had enhanced the fuel, his face at first showed no expression, which for him wasn’t out of the ordinary. His eyes opened wide, and he finally brok