"Hey Ace," Lexi called after the other.
The leader came to a stop in the hallway to wait for her. Turning to look at her, he frowned a little when he noticed she was rubbing her temples. "What's up Lex?" he asked.
"Have you seen Tech around?" the acrobat asked.
"He's probably in his lab. I'm on my way to see him right now." He paused and watched the other for a minute. "Hey, you okay?"
"Not really. I've got this headache that's killing me. Plus my ears hurt. I was hopin' Tech could give me something for it."
"Oh yeah?" Ace asked as they started walking again. "That's why I was heading over. My eyes are buggin' me too."
"Be thankful that it's just your eyes," a familiar voice lisped from behind.
Turning slightly, the leader looked at the mallard. "Is somethin' bothering you too Duck?"
"Try everything!" Danger retorted. "My entire body hurts, like something was crushing me. But my hands are what really hurt."
"Huh…" Ace said slowly. "Y'know, Slam was complaining a little while ago about his body hurting too. I wonder if he also went to see Tech…"
"You on your way over there too Rev?" Ace asked as he looked over at the roadrunner.
"Yeah-I-happen-to-be," the quickster replied.
The leader then frowned a little. "Rev…are you limping?"
The rabbit scratched the back of his head, his frown deepening. 'It's like an epidemic or something,' he thought. 'I wonder if Tech's in any kind of pain. That is just the thing we need…'
Finally the four reached the coyote's lab and as the door opened they noticed the scientist typing something at his computer. But in Ace's vision he could see that Tech wasn't typing at his normal speed.
As the door whirled back close and the four entered the lab, Tech glanced over his shoulder to look at them. "Oh hey guys," he said, spinning his chair to face them completely. "What's up?"
"Hey Tech," Ace replied. "We were just wondering if you had any kind of medication for pain or anything."
The genius frowned slightly, looking at the others curiously. "I'm not sure…"
"Well," the leader continued, "the thing is my eyes started hurting…"
"So do my ears, and I've got this really bad headache," Lexi said.
"Yeah-I-got-a-headache-too-plus-my-legs-are-killin'-me," Rev added.
"Oh yeah? Well my entire body hurts!" Danger interjected. "Especially my hands."
Ace nodded slightly. "And I remember Slam complaining a while ago too. By the way, did he come see you at all?"
"Yeah, Slam was here earlier. I ran a few tests on him but couldn't find anything really wrong." The coyote walked over to his work table and picked up a small tube filled with a dark crimson liquid. "Now I'm running some tests on his blood."
"His blood…?" Danger asked, grimacing a little.
"Like…taking-it-out-with-a-needle?" Rev asked, making a slight face.
"Yeah…If something's going around, then maybe I should take a sample of blood from all of you…"
The genius pulled one out from a drawer, almost as though he had it all ready. "Yeah…" he replied slowly.
If possible, Rev seemed to pale a little. "Oh-y'know-what?-Suddenly-I'm-feeling-all-better-now-so-I-guess-I-don't-need-to-be-here-so-bye!"
Grabbing the roadrunner's arm, the scientist pulled him back before he could speed off. "Not so fast, I saw you limping in here. Just hold still, this won't hurt…"
"Yeah-that's-what-they-always-say-before-they-stab-you!" the quickster retorted.
Watching as Tech held up the needle while trying to get Rev to calm down, Ace frowned a little. "Tech," he said, "is your hand shaking?"
The coyote looked up at the leader. "Huh?" He then looked at his trembling hand. "Oh, that…See, like Duck, I've been feeling some…discomfort throughout my body, but especially in my hands."
"Really?" Lexi asked.
"Yeah. I didn't think too much about it really, then Slam came in and told me…or tried to tell me…about what was bothering him. I wrote it off as a coincidence though I performed examinations on him, but now with all of you, I'm not too sure."
"You think it really could be something serious?" Ace asked.
"I'm not sure, but it wouldn't hurt to check. That's why I'll need a small sample of blood, Rev," the coyote said sternly as he glared at the roadrunner.
Rev, who had been trying to sneak out, turned back to the other. "Well-do-you-think-you-should-be-handling-neeldes-if-your-hand-is-shaking-like-that?-What-if-you-stick-it-somewere-wrong-and-kill-me?"
Walking over to him, Tech gently took the other's arm. "That's why you hold still, Rev. Honestly, you're worse than Slam…"
After managing to keep the quickster from whining and fidgeting, the genius finally managed to draw a small sample of blood. "See, that wasn't so bad, now was it?"
Rev simply responded with a small whimper.
Shaking his head slightly, the coyote went to the work table and transferred the crimson liquid into an empty test tube. "Who's next?"
Glancing at the others, Ace then stepped towards the table. "I'll go Tech," the leader replied.
Nodding slightly, the scientist opened a drawer and pulled out a sterile needle. Cleaning a small spot on the rabbit's arm, he carefully slid the point under the skin.
"Ow!" Ace said suddenly. It felt as though the needle had jabbed something it wasn't supposed to.
"Sorry!" Tech replied, carefully drawing the leader's blood before pulling the needle out and wiping the other's arm. Placing the needle down, the coyote began massaging his hands.
"You okay?" Lexi asked softly.
The coyote winced as he continued to rub his hands. "Yeah…Like I said, my hands have been hurting lately, that's all."
"Hmm…I'm beginning to feel that letting you stick a needle in my arm is a bad idea…" Danger piped in.
Transferring Ace's blood to an empty tube, Tech then pulled out another needle. "Don't even get me started, Duck," he said, cleaning a spot on the other's arm.
"Well, someone's a little cranky…"
"Can you blame me? My entire body feels like it's on fire, and my hands are really irritating me."
"Last I checked, I have the same problems."
"Yeah, but I bet you didn't have to chase Slam around this lab. And for someone who's complaining about body pain, he can move pretty fast."
"Ah…I see. Fine, just be careful. My arm is very sensitive, y'know." Turning his head away, the show-off covered his eyes with his free hand.
"Yeah…sure…" Hesitating slightly, Tech slowly slid the needle in.
And Ace could see that the coyote was doing his best to be very careful so he wouldn't accidentally hurt the other the same way as before. 'I wonder how much he can work on with his hands like that…' he thought.
Pulling the needle out, Tech cleaned the mallard's arm before placing the blood into a test tube. Getting a new needle, he said, "Okay Lexi, your turn."
The bunny sighed softly, holding her arm out. "Fine, let's get it over with."
Carefully sliding the sharp point in, the scientist drew some blood before pulling it out and wiping her arm. Placing the blood in yet another tube, the coyote sighed, massaging his hands again.
"Is there anything we can do to help?" Ace asked as he watched the other. If the coyote was sore all over, then he didn't feel that doing all this work was good for him. "Do you need one of us to take your blood or anything?"
"Um…no actually," Tech replied as he organized the glass vials. "I've already taken a sample of my blood."
And that was when the rabbit noticed that there were six tubes filled with crimson liquid. "Oh…"
"Plus, I think I'll be able to test these all…It could take a few hours longer than it normally would, but I should be okay…"
"Then what should we do?" Lexi wondered.
"I recommend doing nothing," the scientist responded, looking at them. "I think the best thing right now would be to rest for a while until I can figure out exactly what's wrong."
"Sounds good to me," Danger said as he and Rev headed towards the door.
Watching the two go, Ace then looked back at Tech. "Ya sure you don't need any help?"
"No, I think I've got everything under control here."
The leader hesitated slightly. "Okay…" he finally replied. "Just don't push yourself, okay Tech?"
The coyote nodded slightly though already appeared immersed in his work. "Right…"
Shaking his head, Ace then turned to the acrobat. "Let's go," he said.
The two left the scientist's lab with only the sound of the mechanical door closing behind them. As soon as they were out in the hall, Lexi began rubbing her temples again.
"Ugh…" she said, shaking her head slightly. "I hope Tech can find out what's wrong with us…"
"If anyone can, it'll be Tech," Ace replied softly.
"You really think he'll find out what it is?"
"Oh, I have no doubt that he will. What really worries me is exactly what he'll find…"
Doing nothing really sucked.
That was Ace's opinion, and he was sticking by it. And he wasn't that bad off to be honest. Compared to all the others, he was the lucky one.
He understood that they needed to rest for now since they weren't quite sure what was wrong with them. And of course he felt that all the others should refrain from everything for a while since the pain they felt affected significant areas. Which was why he worried about Tech working in the lab for the past five hours. He wondered if the scientist had taken a rest at all.
Still, the only problem he was having was with his eyes. And while he agreed that he should rest his eyes, doing nothing just didn't settle with him. He wanted to train a little since he hadn't done so today. But unfortunately, he had been warned against it.
He could meditate…except that was all he had been doing since he and Lexi left Tech's lab. No matter how much he enjoyed meditating normally, there was a limit to everything.
Well, at least he had rested his eyes for the past few hours.
The sound of the mechanical door caught Ace's attention. Slowly opening his eyes, he found that his vision was slightly bleared. As he rubbed his eyes to clear his sight, he frowned slightly. That had never happened to him before.
When the blurriness had subsided, the leader watched as Tech entered the lounge area carrying a small box in his arms.
Looking at Ace who sat on the floor, then at the other four Loonatics lazily settled on the couch, the scientist raised a curious eyebrow. "Did someone die in here or something?"
"We were just taking your advice and relaxing," the rabbit replied as he slowly got to his feet.
"I didn't mean you guys couldn't converse…"
"Whatever," Danger said. "Have you found out what's going on with us yet?"
The coyote rubbed the back of his head. "Well…not yet…"
"Not yet?" Lexi asked as she slowly sat up. "It's already been hours. How much longer is it gonna take?"
"You can't rush these things," the genius replied as he opened the box he held. "My computer is running a final scan right now. But if I were to make a hypothesis, I'd have to say that it has something to do with our powers."
"How do ya figure?" the mallard asked.
Reaching into the box, Tech took out a small bottle filled with a light red fluid. "Well, if you think about where the pain is concentrated in each of us, it makes sense.
"For Ace, the pain is fixed in just his eyes where his laser vision and optical enhancements originate. For Lexi, the pain in her head can be directly linked to her brain blasts, which are then fired from between her ears. That and her auditory amplifications can explain the pain she feels there.
"In Rev's situation, his mental GPS capabilities constitute for his headache, and his super speed explains why his legs ache. In Slam's case, his tornado form and super strength affect his whole body, which is why he feels pain everywhere in his body. The same thing goes for Duck, and even myself, because his teleportation ability…"
"Quacking," the mallard corrected quickly.
Tech ignored him. "…and my regeneration ability deals with our entire bodies. However, Duck also can generate his…eggs, which appear in his hands, and I use my hands when manipulating magnetic impulses. That's why we feel a special concentration of pain in that area."
"Well, you look okay now though," Ace said as he stood behind the other and peered into the box. Inside were more bottles filled with the same red liquid.
"That's because I took one of these," the coyote replied, handing the bottle he held to the leader. Reaching into the box and pulling out more bottles, he added as he distributed them to the other Loonatics, "Keep in mind, though, that this isn't a cure for our ailments. It's just a pain reliever."
Opening the bottle, Slam took a small sniff of the solution inside before grumbling a question.
"Well, I couldn't make a cure without knowing exactly what was wrong," Tech replied. "All I could do was making something to ease the pain in the meantime."
"So what?" Danger asked. "You feel completely better now?"
"Well…I'm not in pain anymore, at least."
The others all looked at Ace, who shrugged before placing the bottle to his lips and drinking the contents. Soon, the others did the same.
When the bottle was empty, the rabbit handed it back to Tech. "Mm…" he said. "Cherry-flavored."
Swallowing the liquid, Lexi gave a satisfied sigh. "And not the bad mediciny kind either," she added.
Placing the bottle down, Danger said, "I dunno. I prefer orange myself…"
Looking at the coyote, Ace asked, "How long does this stuff last?"
"24 hours," Tech replied. "By then, I should have some results from the tests I'm running so I'll hopefully be able to develop a cure."
The rabbit frowned slightly. "Hopefully?"
"Well…it really depends on what's wrong with us. If I can make a cure for us, then I will."
"I don't really like the sound of that, Tech."
The scientist shrugged. "I can only do the best I can. It depends on what I find."
"So…" Lexi said slowly, "what happens if you can't make something to fix what's wrong with us?"
Before the coyote could answer, a familiar holographic light shone as Zadavia appeared before the Loonatics.
"There is a problem in Acmetropolis," the woman said.
"Actually, we have a slight problem as well Zadavia," Tech said quickly before anyone else could say anything.
"Oh?" the boss asked curiously.
The coyote nodded slightly. "It's a problem that affects our bodies….possibly our powers as well."
Even amidst her glowing eyes, the look of concern was clearly visible as she gazed upon all of them. "Can you explain Tech?" she asked softly.
"I wish I could. But at the moment, I don't have the necessary answers. I'm running tests on my computer, but in the meantime I don't think it's wise for us to push ourselves, especially if our powers are needed."
The woman frowned deeply as silence held her for a time. Finally she replied, "You're certainly right, Tech. Without knowing the root of the problem, it would be dangerous to risk anything. And I trust that you're speaking the truth, for I have no reason to doubt your instincts…"
Tech nodded slightly.
"But unfortunately," she continued, "the situation in Acmetropolis cannot wait." The screen behind the projection flickered to life and displayed the image of the city under attack by countless metallic creatures, ranging in design from giant scorpions and spiders to more human-like beings. The Loonatics watched with widened eyes as at certain times a creature would seem to melt into a puddle. Soon, whatever came in contact with the silver pool dissolved in a column of smoke. Then the creature resumed its solid form, leaving giant burning holes where it once was.
"They seem to have acidic properties which cause them to corrode anything in immediate proximity," the scientist observed. "But it seems it's only effective in their liquefied form."
"Even in their solid form, however, these beings are dangerous," Zadavia said. "And readings show that the more that they eat away at, the stronger they become."
"We'll take care of it, Zadavia," Ace stated firmly, causing the others to look at him.
"Are you sure Ace?" the woman asked. Though it sounded as though she was neutral, concern once again made itself known in her voice.
But the leader just nodded. "We'll handle it. We'll find a way to stop those monsters before they ruin the whole city."
The woman seemed hesitant for a moment. After what seemed like an eternity, she said, "All right. Just be careful Loonatics."
Ace nodded slightly.
Returning the nod, she looked at all the others. "Zadavia out." And the hologram was gone.
Turning to the rabbit, Tech frowned deeply. "I don't think this is a good idea, Chief," he said.
Motioning for the others to start heading out, Ace looked at the other. "We don't have much of a choice, Tech. You saw those things. They were eating everything in their path. For all we know, they could have eaten people too."
"But I think…"
"Listen Tech," Ace said, placing his hand on the coyote's shoulder. "I know how intelligent you are, and of course I'd listen to you when it comes to the facts. But right now, you don't have any definitive answers, and until you get some, we have to go do what we can to help out there."
"But you're not listening to me!" Tech yelled. "We won't be able to help anyone if we're dead!"
The other Loonatics froze in their tracks at the coyote's words, turning to look back at the two with widened eyes. Time had stopped that instance as a heavy silence fell over the six of them. The only thing that was heard to them was the ringing of that single word: dead.
Finally after what felt like an eternity, Ace swallowed thickly and managed to utter, "What…?"
Tech sighed softly, rubbing his temples. "I told you," he replied in a strained tone, "that our powers could be involved with what's wrong with us. Don't forget that our powers are streamed into our DNA, the very basis of our lives. If the problem runs that far deep into us, there's no telling what other effects it could have on us. It could prove fatal…"
"Fatal!" Danger exclaimed. "You mean we could be dying at this very second?"
"Hold on a second, Duck," Ace said. Turning to the scientist, he asked, "Do you know for sure that what's wrong with us is linked to our powers?"
"Well, it's a 50-50 chance. Possibly higher than that, but…"
"But there's still a chance that our powers have nothing to do with it?"
Tech frowned. "I suppose, but…"
"As long as there's a chance," Ace said, once again cutting off the other, "then we have to do what we can to help. And until you get the definite answer, we shouldn't assume anything."
"But we should wait and see," the coyote argued. "We shouldn't be so reckless and risk everything."
It was then that Tech found himself staring at the most furious gaze he had ever seen on the leader's face, unfortunately aimed right at him. If looks could kill, he knew that he'd be dead a thousand times over.
"Is it reckless to want to help the people down there?" the rabbit asked softly, though the anger in his voice was all-too clear. "You think it's stupid for wanting to save them, is that it?"
"That's not what I'm saying at all!" the scientist replied, surprised that the other would even consider that. "I just think we should wait and…"
"We can't wait anymore! We've already wasted enough time here and who knows how much more damage those things have already done!"
"Ace, I just think…"
The leader held up his hand to stop the other from saying anything else. "Forget it. Do what you want, Tech. The rest of us are going down there and stopping those guys from destroying everything else."
"Um…yeah…" Danger rubbed the back of his head. "Maybe…going out there isn't such a good idea."
Ace groaned a little. "Not you too, Duck…"
The mallard shrugged. "Well, if there's a chance that we could die, I don't think I want to risk it."
"Well…For-once-I-think-I'll-have-to-agree-with-Duck," Rev said softly. "If-we-aren't-careful-who-knows-what'll-happen?"
Slam grunted softly in agreement.
"I don't believe this!" Ace snapped. Looking at Lexi, he asked, "What about you? Do you agree with them?"
Looking from the leader to the others, the bunny then looked down at the ground. "Maybe…" she said softly, "it wouldn't hurt to wait and see what Tech finds on his computer…"
Shaking his head slightly, Ace turned away from them slightly. "Fine, whatever," he retorted. "You guys do what you want. I'll go on my own."
"Ace…" Lexi said, her tone almost pleading.
But he ignored her as he began heading off, slowly at first. Then, pausing in his steps, he turned back to look at them, his burning sapphire gaze focused on Tech. "And y'know, there's so much more to life than just DNA and anything else science can tell you…"
Before the coyote could reply, Ace had run off.
They were everywhere it seemed. Waves of the metallic creatures surged through the city, destroying everything in their way. As he flew overhead and watched the sight below, Ace clenched his teeth and felt his grip on the controls for his jet pack tighten.
Ignoring the screams of the people below was a hard task to accomplish.
At the moment though, from what he could see, the creatures seemed to leave people well enough alone. With that piece of knowledge in mind, he could focus on a central mission.
In the heart of Acmetropolis he had noted, the numbers of the metallic beings were spread out into different areas. But the farther he flew from there towards the outskirts of the city, the more clumped together they were. He assumed that meant that they were all coming from a central point and started expanding out as they drifted further away from the start, much like ripples in the water.
Perhaps then, if he could find where they were coming from, he'd find who or what was sending them into Acmetropolis.
Rev's internal GPS would have really helped at that point.
But thankfully Rev was back at the tower with the others.
Despite the way he had acted, Ace knew that everything Tech had said was true. The powerful urge to assist the people of Acmetropolis burned within him, but the coyote's words left him cautious – hesitant – to use his powers in the meantime. And despite what he had said to them, he was glad that the others weren't with him. There was no point risking them all. And if he failed, they would just have to find another way to stop this threat.
Still, he felt that apologizing to them – especially Tech – at some point wouldn't hurt.
Suddenly, static from his communicator called to him before a familiar voice replaced it. "Ace!" Tech said. "Are you there? Where are you?"
Speak of the devil…
"I'm here," the rabbit replied. "I just flew out of Acmetropolis." The last statement was added with a hint of surprise. Had he gone that far already?
"Are you all right? Has anything happened?"
The leader frowned slightly. Why did Tech sound so frantic? "I'm fine, Tech…"
"Okay…that's good. But Ace, you need to come back to the tower right now!"
"What? Why?" In the distance, he thought he saw something glimmer in the sun. And waving about in the air were…tentacles?
"I just got some results from the tests I've been running," the coyote replied.
Those were definitely six silver tentacles waving in the distance. "Hold up a sec, Tech," he said. "I think I found something."
"No Ace! Listen to me!" But the rabbit had shut off his communicator as he flew closer to the giant appendages.
And soon he found himself hovering over what appeared to be a giant metallic jellyfish, sunlight reflecting brightly off the top of its swollen mound that could easily cover central Acmetropolis. The tentacles continued to move through the air as though reaching up for something.
The giant mass suddenly began to grumble deeply, causing the ground to tremble. The tips of the tentacles then dipped down to the ground, depositing egg-shaped objects before rising to the air again. The eggs then began to grow or shrink, stretch or shrivel into different shapes. Some Ace could make out – a lion, a bear, a giant bird – but others were shapeless or unrecognizable. The newly created creatures then turned and began heading towards Acmetropolis.
He had found what was responsible for the creatures in Acmetropolis. But Ace found that many questions were still unanswered.
He was suddenly aware of movement to his side. Gripping the controls of his pack, he dodged just as a tentacle swatted at him. The mass seemed to roar before more tentacles came at him.
Someway or another, Ace found himself dodging the attacks and vaguely wondered if this was how a fly felt.
Suddenly the rabbit felt an impact from behind, shooting him forward. Gasping, he jerked the controls to steady himself. This only lasted for a few seconds, however, before he felt himself faltering in the air. Glancing back at his jet pack, his eyes widened slightly when he saw metallic liquid left behind by the tentacle eating at his pack.
Quickly unhooking himself, Ace released it and dropped down. As the jet pack sloped downwards out of sight, the rabbit gasped when he had landed on a tentacle, expecting it to burn his feet. And it did, but not quite in the way he imagined. The surface was quite hot, but bearable enough for him to stand on.
But the impact on his pack had deteriorated it, and as far as he saw the being hadn't changed into a liquid form. However, Tech had said that the other creatures in Acmetropolis could only eat away at things in their liquid state. So did that mean that this one could control it even in solid form?
Maybe it was better if he didn't find out.
Quickly he jumped own onto a lower section of the apparatus. As he landed, he slid down a bit before jumping off and grabbing another tentacle, hanging from it.
He gasped when the surface began to grow hotter, and in his surprise he released the tentacle, falling through the air. He flipped quickly just in time to land on his feet as he hit the ground.
But before Ace could breathe a sigh of relief, the giant creature gave an echoing roar that rattled the ground and threatened to throw him off his feet. The tips of the tentacles dropped to the ground and left metallic eggs behind. The eggs soon began to grow and change, forming into giant shapeless monsters.
Before he knew it, the creatures began advancing towards him. Gritting his teeth, Ace reached for his belt and pulled out a small metallic pipe. As he quickly whipped it to the side, a sharpened blade expanded from it, becoming the sword that he often used. It would have to do, he thought, since at the moment he didn't want to risk using his powers.
One of the creatures suddenly charged at him, a sharpened point aimed at his head. Immediately Ace blocked with his sword, jumping into the air as a second creature tried to attack him from under the first.
Landing a few feet away from the two, the rabbit then ducked as a creature behind took a swing at him. Turning swiftly, he aimed his weapon at what he assumed was the creature's head. The blade connected, but the creature seemed unfazed by the blow.
Mildly surprised, Ace jumped back as the three creatures began to advance towards him, followed by two of the others. As he continued to keep his distance and tried to think of a plan, he quickly glanced up at the creatures' "creator" what he might call the Queen. Noting that the Queen seemed content in watching him face off these smaller monsters, he then remembered that it had six tentacles, and therefore had placed six eggs down which meant six monsters. But then where was the sixth one?
He gasped when a wave of silver suddenly shot at him. He had just enough time to evade it as the liquid sailed over him, joining the other five entities. So there was the last one.
Looking over, the rabbit watched as the metallic puddle began to grow, becoming another formless monster. He blinked slightly before looking at his sword. His eyes then widened when he saw that some of the metallic fluid had caught onto his weapon, causing it to begin deteriorating.
Growling to himself, Ace threw the weapon aside as it continued to disintegrate. So now what? His sword was gone and he couldn't use his powers. He should have been even a little afraid, considering he didn't even know what these creatures were or where they came from, much less how to beat them.
But the thing was…he wasn't scared at all.
Clenching his fist, the rabbit charged at the six creatures, jumping up and aiming a kick at the one closest to him. It dodged, dropping down to the ground into a silvery puddle. As he landed, the puddle shot at him.
He quickly ducked to avoid the metallic wave and the grasp of the creature that had been looming up behind him. The fluid hit the solid being, and as Ace looked back his eyes widened. The two beings began to merge and grow into an even bigger creature.
Unfortunately, he hadn't noticed this new monster's tail-like addition until it connected with his chest, rapidly without his noticing that it was coming. He flew back, dust rising as he slid several feet along the ground.
Groaning softly, Ace slowly sat up and watched as the other four metallic entities merged with the bigger creature. He winced slightly as the monster grew larger; at least four times as tall as he was and easily three times the size of Slam.
The monster seemed to gurgle in a low tone as it took a slow step towards Ace, its many claws seeming to twitch slightly. Getting to his feet, the rabbit dodged as the creature ran towards him, swiping one of its twelve claw-tipped apparatus at him. Everything to him seemed to blur at that time as he and the monster tried to land blows on each other while simultaneously trying to avoid being hit. Each movement was painfully slow, yet too quick for even him to see. It was almost unreal.
Blocking a strike with his arm, Ace gasped when the monster suddenly liquefied. Eyes widening, he jumped back and looked at his arm. Metallic material dripped from his arm, eating away at his wrist communicator. Immediately throwing the communicator off, Ace looked up and glared at the creature. He was running out of options now…
The monster once again charged at him, and as the hero quickly moved to the side to avoid it, he felt the burning heat accumulate to his eyes. His laser vision then fired at the monster's side, sending it flying off. As the fire beam was cut off, the rabbit saw the silver creature bubbling as it hit the ground and appeared to writhe in pain.
Unfortunately, that was all Ace was able to see before the blazing fire returned to his eyes a thousand times over and beyond any of his control. Gasping, he fell to his knees, shutting his eyes tightly as the scorching feeling continued to escalate. With the back of one hand he roughly rubbed them while the other hand was clenched tightly as the pain continued to mount.
So distracted by this ordeal that he wasn't aware of another presence near him until he felt himself lifted into the air when something grasped his neck. And though his eyes were in far more pain than the grip on his neck, he struggled to free himself so he could breathe.
The sound of energy crackling through the air suddenly reached his ears, followed by its thunderous impact on a hard surface. The hold on him was suddenly released and he hit the ground.
And as he sat up, he heard the roar of engines and felt the hot force of jets as a large object landed close by. "Ace!" a familiar voice called.
"Lexi?" the leader said, bewildered. "What are you doing here?"
Soon he felt two beings beside him. Two?
"What do you think?" the acrobat's voice replied. "We're here saving your sorry butt."
"Lexi," Tech's voice suddenly rang in, "you need to…"
"Yeah, I know," she interrupted. "I got it." The buzz of energy surged through the air, once again hitting a solid substance.
"Ace…" the coyote said, and from what the rabbit could tell the other was facing him directly. "Are you all right?"
"I…I think so," the leader replied. "Except my eyes are really hurting and…"
"Your eyes?" Tech sounded alarmed. "Did you use your laser vision?"
"Well…yeah, but I didn't have any other choice."
The silence form the coyote didn't make him feel any better about the predicament he was in. "Tech, do you know what happened?"
At first he was only answered with more of the uncomfortable silence. Finally with much hesitation in his voice, the scientist said softly, "Ace…you…"
"Tech!" Lexi's voice called, interrupting the coyote. From what Ace could tell she sounded a small distance away. "I think we have a problem!"
The genius didn't say anything for a second, then said suddenly, "Lexi, get rid of your laser!"
'Laser?' Ace couldn't help but wonder.
"Now what!" the bunny called back, sounding oddly out of breath.
"Here!" the coyote said. "Take my…!"
"Tech, look out!"
And suddenly Ace no longer felt the scientist by his side as a painful gasp reached his ears.
"Tech!" he and Lexi exclaimed.
The ground suddenly began to rumble as the Queen, who had been quiet to that point, gave a loud deep roar. When it died down, the rabbit heard another painful cry from the coyote.
"Tech!" Lexi called again.
"What's going on, Lex?" Ace asked, almost desperate to find out. He hated how, though he heard everything he knew nothing because his eyes hurt too much to open.
The bunny never answered him. However, he felt energy begin to gather to a centered point several yards away, leaving the air around him strangely cold. Suddenly a buzz rang through the air as the energy he felt shot through, colliding with a dense surface. Then he heard two bodies hit the ground as Lexi screamed.
"Lexi!" Ace called.
"No!" he heard Tech say as the acrobat continued to scream.
And too suddenly, she stopped. Everything around them was eerily quiet and Ace wished with everything he had to understand what was happening around him.
"Ace!" the coyote called then. "Get down!"
"What…?" the rabbit managed to say before something smacked him hard on the side of his head, sending him sliding along the ground.
And for a moment, Ace lay there in a daze, feeling as though he was moving. For a brief second, he felt as though he would slide off and fall from wherever he was if it tipped over far enough.
He regained his senses when he heard the hum of energy through the air, pounding once again on hard material. Suddenly the sound of the Queen's deep roar echoed around them as the ground once again began to quake. This time, however, the trembling of the earth lasted longer than its normal fleeting moment. Minutes seemed to pass before the ground was once again calm.
Footsteps reached his ears before he felt a presence beside him. "What happened?" he asked.
"It got away…" Tech replied, sounding slightly upset.
"Got away? How does something that big get away?"
"It liquefied itself and slipped through a hole in the ground underneath it. It seems to be able to control its acidic abilities whether in solid or liquid form, unlike the smaller ones that can only eat away when in their liquid state."
"Yeah…" the rabbit said slowly, "I noticed that…"
"Are you all right?" the coyote asked, his voice sounding closer than before.
"Yeah, I'm okay. My eyes still hurt though. But what about Lexi? What happened to her?"
Before the coyote could answer, the sound of Danger's voice rang on his communicator. "Hey," the mallard said, "somethin' weird just happened…"
"What's that?" Tech asked.
"Well, all the monster things just disappeared."
There was silence for a few seconds. Then the scientist answered, "That is odd…"
"Yeah, I know. What should Slam and I do now?"
"Keep evacuating the people from Acmetropolis," Tech said. "We don't know if and when they'll be back, and it'd be safer if they weren't around if they do return."
There was some hesitation from the show-off before he answered hotly, "Fine."
"I'll be over when I can," the coyote added. Then Ace heard a beep, signaling that he had cut off transmission with the mallard.
"Stay here for a minute, Ace," the scientist said before the rabbit felt the other's presence leave. 'Not like I can go anywhere," he thought.
But there were some things that were beginning to bother him just based on what he heard from the conversation between Tech and Danger. Questions that began to fill his mind with answers he couldn't think of.
There was the obvious question about evacuating the people from Acmetropolis. Where exactly were they planning on taking those people? To another city? What's stopping the creatures from attack there?
And then Danger had asked what he and Slam should do. Where was Rev?
Tech also had said that he'd be there when he could. Obviously, Ace knew that in his current state he wouldn't be able to help. But what about Lexi? What had happened to her before?
He wanted to know what was going on. But he felt that Tech wouldn't tell him right then, so he decided to wait until later to ask again.
He felt the presence return then. "Can you stand?" Tech asked.
"I think so…" the rabbit replied, slowly getting to his feet.
"Okay. Follow me, I'll help you to the jet."
Ace didn't reply as he slowly followed the presence while it began to move away. To bring the jet…did that mean that Tech expected something like this to happen?
Something was really wrong with all this. And even though he wanted to know everything, he already knew that he wasn't going to like it at all.
The whirl of the mechanical door signaled its opening. Quickly Ace sat up from his lying position on the medical bed as footsteps reached his ears.
"How are you feeling?" he heard Tech asked.
"All right I suppose," he replied. "My eyes don't hurt anymore anyway. But if you're gonna leave me here for ten hours, you could at least give me something to do."
"Actually it's been twelve hours. And I told you to get some rest."
"Well, I slept!" Ace retorted. "But I woke up a few hours ago and got bored."
Tech sighed softly. "At least you had some sleep. We've been moving people out of Acmetropolis all night, and Duck isn't really a pleasure to be around when he's tired."
"I bet not. Where is he now?"
"He and Slam are sleeping. They fell asleep in the carrier ship we were using, so I had to get us back here."
Ace frowned a little. "Maybe you should get some sleep too. You sound exhausted."
"I will. But I felt that I should check on you first. I'm a little surprised you didn't remove the bandage while I was gone."
Reaching up, the rabbit felt the material covering his eyes. "They weren't hurting when I woke up. But I figured I'd wait until you said it was okay."
"Well…" the scientist said hesitantly, "I guess it's all right to take the bandage off now. But I'm not sure how much difference it would make…"
Ace decided that he didn't like the way that sounded. "What do you mean?"
Tech's presence neared him, and soon he felt the weight of the bandages slowly lift off his eyes until it was gone. "Is it really okay to open my eyes now?" he asked, wondering if his eyes were well enough at the time. What had happened the previous day that made him want to rip his eyes out?
The other was silent for a minute. "Ace," he finally replied softly, his voice sounding almost in pain, "your eyes…are already opened…"
The rabbit suddenly felt as though his heart was caught in his throat. "I-I…what?" he managed to gasp. He was staring at nothing but darkness.
"Your eyes are opened," Tech repeated. "They've been open for a while now, ever since I brought you here to the medical lab."
"What…? But…are you sure?" Ace knew how dumb he sounded at the moment, but he couldn't believe what he was hearing. He didn't want to believe it.
"Ace, I'm looking right you…" The scientist sighed again. "I was hoping that the testing I had done was wrong, and that your blindness would be a temporary effect, so I thought by bandaging them it would block anything that would irritate them. But…I don't know…"
The rabbit's hand shook slightly as he once again reached up and felt his eyes. Then sliding his hand further up until he was rubbing the back of his head, he asked, "What happened?"
"Do you remember when I called you before?" Tech asked. "How I told you to come back to the tower?"
"That's because right after you left, my computer had finished with the testing. See, when I sampled everyone's blood, I had discovered something I have never seen before."
"In our blood?" Ace asked.
"Yes…and it didn't match anything in any medical records. That's why it had taken so long to scan. So I tried to compare it to anything else. The only match was with a sample of the meteor."
"The meteor? The one that hit Acmetropolis six years ago? The one that gave us our powers?"
"The very one."
"But the meteor disappeared into the bay when it hit. No one was ever able to find a trace of it."
"True," the scientist said, "but when it had hit, it discharged a lot of dust and particles that I was able to gather and keep."
"And you've had it all this time?"
"Yes, and it's a good thing I did. Otherwise I would never have been able to find the match to the microbodies in our blood. The meteor and the microbodies have a special distinctive property that is unlike anything I've ever seen before. It's unrecognizable."
"But how did they get in our blood?"
"Well, I believe that the radioactive waves that altered our DNA and gave us these powers also carried the microbodies, and the bodies managed to latch onto us by fusing with some of our white blood cells."
Ace frowned a little. "I'm really not getting this, Tech."
"You will in a minute," the coyote replied. "When I was comparing our blood, I noticed something interesting. In your and Lexi's blood samples, there were only trace amounts of the microbodies. In Rev's blood, there was also a trace amount of the bodies, but still significantly more than in you or Lexi. In Slam, Duck, and myself, however, there were enormous amounts of the microbes in our blood."
"Why's that?" Ace asked curiously.
"Well…I discovered that the microbodies are attracted to heat…more than the normal heat of the body, though. To survive, the microbodies need a higher degree of heat. Our powers provide them with that."
"Right, and I'm going to use you as an example. Your powers are concentrated in your eyes, so even when your laser vision isn't in use, your eyes are warmer than the rest of your body. So the microbes in your eyes managed to survive while the rest throughout your body died off. Since your blood circulates, though, some microbodies were forced from your optics area to other parts of your body, which is how I found some when I took the sample of blood from your arm."
If there was one thing about himself that Ace could change, it would probably be his short patience when he wanted to know something. "But what does that have to do with what happened to my eyes?" he asked.
"I'm getting there," Tech said. "See, like I said, the microbodies need heat in order to survive, because it's with that heat that they reproduce more microbodies, just like cells. But unlike cells, these don't die naturally. That's because the rate of reproduction depends on the temperature. Your eyes, when your laser vision isn't in use, provide the lowest degree for their survival. As such, their reproduction takes quite a long while under normal conditions."
"There's a 'but' in there somewhere, isn't there?" the rabbit asked. He was getting impatient again.
"Unfortunately, there is," Tech confirmed. "And here it is: But because of who we are and what we do, we inevitably had to use our powers. You had to use your laser vision, there was no other choice. However, by using your laser vision you caused the heat in your eyes to increase, resulting in the microbodies reproducing at a faster speed. The problem with that is, as I mentioned to you before, they don't die naturally. They only die if certain conditions aren't met. As long as the microbes stay in your eyes, they'll continue to live and reproduce."
"So?" Ace asked. "Why's that a problem?"
"Because, since they don't die, they begin crowding up the area they're occupying. There's only a limited amount of space for them to inhabit, so the more they grow and reproduce, the more room they'll need. However, there are also our cells that take up that space."
"So it's like our cells versus the microbodies?" the rabbit wondered.
"Something like that. Except the microbodies have the advantage because, like I've said, they've fused with our white blood cells, so the microbodies have the ability to eat away at other organisms."
Ace frowned deeply as his mind turned over and over the coyote's explanation. "Wait…wouldn't that mean…?"
"Yes…" the scientist answered softly. "The microbodies have been eating away at our cells. Specifically our nerve cells, for which I really have no explanation for. But unlike most other cells, nerve cells generally don't grow back as well as other cells."
"I think I understand…" Ace said softly. "But…just to humor me, could you explain what happened to me?"
"It's like this: The microbodies settled in your eyes because it provided them with the heat to survive. Normally, it would have taken the microbodies a long time to grow and reproduce, but every time you used your laser vision, the extra heat caused that cycle to speed up. However, because of the limited space, they had to eat away at the nerve cells, which help your eyes to function, in order to create more space for them."
The rabbit nodded slowly. "So, what happened this time?"
"I suppose this time when you used your laser vision, the microbodies continued to grow and reproduce, eating at your remaining nerve cells. In doing so, however, it caused your eyes to fail and no longer function."
"Wait, so…I'm going to stay like this?" Ace asked, even though he feared the other's answer.
Tech was silent for a minute. Finally he replied softly, "Yes…"
Clenching his hands into fists, the rabbit shook his head slightly, unsure of what to say. If he could see, he knew that he'd be staring at the ground.
"I suspect, though," the coyote suddenly said, "that now your eyes no longer function, the microbodies will start to die off. But I'm not sure if that would do anything for your vision."
"So what's the point?" Ace asked. "If I can't use my powers, if I can't see, what difference would it make for anything?" He wasn't sure where this new wave of negativity was coming from, but it felt very similar to giving up. He should have hated it stirring inside him as he continued to stare at the empty darkness. He should have, but he didn't.
What he didn't like, however, was when he felt a hand push him roughly and send him sprawling back on the bed he was sitting on. "What was that for?" he demanded irritably.
"For not appreciating how lucky you are," the scientist shot back. "At least it was just your eyes that you lost and you're still able to live after that!"
The other's words struck Ace as he quickly sat up. "What…?"
Sighing, the coyote said softly, "This hasn't only happened to you, Ace. We all have the microbodies in us. But you were lucky enough to have all your power concentrated in one area that, even if it was lost, it wouldn't have any effect on your life."
"What do you mean?"
"Your eyes are gone, Ace. I realize that could be difficult for you, but if you wanted to, I know you can get through that. And as regrettable as it is for you to never be able to see again, you're still the lucky one compared to the rest of us who have the microbodies eating away at our minds or whole bodies…"
And just as all of Tech's words pounded painfully in his chest, Ace suddenly remembered something he had wanted to ask earlier. The answer could very well terrify him, but he needed to know. "Tech…" he said softly, "where are Lexi and Rev?"
"Mm…" the coyote said, sounding rather uncomfortable. Nothing else was said for a while, and the thick silence left Ace feeling as though he was suffocating.
"Tech…where are they?"
More silence pounded in his ears for a long while before he heard the scientist sigh. "I'm sure you heard what was going on when Lexi and I came to help you out."
"Yeah, I heard it. But I still don't know what happened then."
"Well, while I was with you, Lexi was dealing with the metac…"
"Meh tak?" the rabbit asked curiously.
"Metac," Tech corrected. "Calling them metallic monsters or anything else like that got too long and tedious, so I called them one word combining their two distinctive properties; metallic and acidic."
"Anyway, I discovered that the metacs are unable to withstand excessive heat. By heating the metacs, they begin to melt and are unable to sustain themselves. Unfortunately, that didn't seem to work on the largest metac."
"The largest…you mean the Queen?"
"The Queen?" Tech repeated, sounding a little confused.
"Yeah. She reminded me of a queen bee. She was the one making all the smaller metacs that were in Acmetropolis."
"Hmm…that's interesting. I'll have to make a note of that."
"Anyway…you were saying?"
"What? Oh…well, the weapon Lexi was using didn't have much effect on the Queen other than being a minor annoyance it seemed. Then it must have attempted to hit her and gotten some of its chemical properties on the weapon, because when I saw it, it was corroding. I tried to give Lexi my weapon to serve as a distraction so I could get you situated, but I didn't see the Queen's tentacle until I got hit by it."
Thinking it over, Ace remembered the other's absence for a time and decided that was when it had occurred. He could only imagine what the scene had looked like. "What happened then?"
"Well…the Queen picked me up and started suffocating me. And…I don't know if she forgot or didn't think there was enough time to get my laser…To help me, Lexi used her brain blast…"
Tech's words and meaning sunk in quickly and the rabbit found himself gripping the bed as the sound of Lexi screaming returned to his mind, echoing in his ears. "So…right then? She…?"
"Unfortunately, yes…" the scientist replied softly. "When she stopped screaming, she stopped moving. Shortly afterwards, the Queen disappeared."
Ace's heart was pounding rapidly against his chest. But part of his question was still unanswered. "What about Rev? You haven't even mentioned him at all since you came to help me with the Queen…"
He hated how Tech had fallen silent again. The ominous quiet, like the calm before the storm, was unnerving and left him anticipating the destructive news that was to come.
Finally, the fellow Loonatic said softly, "After I discovered the microbodies, I attempted to call you and let you know. When that didn't go well, I tried to find the others to inform them of my findings."
Ace frowned slightly, a little confused about why he was being told this. "Okay…" he said slowly. "Did you find them?"
"Yeah. I found them in the lounge room, which was right where they were when I had left to check the scans on my computer. While I was gone, however, they all discussed the current situation and felt bad that you had gone on your own to face the metacs."
"Really?" Ace asked, though that news didn't surprise him in the least. If it had been any of them in his position, he would have felt exactly the same way.
"Yes…And they decided to go after you. But they weren't exactly sure where you had gone…so they figured there was only one way to find you and fast…"
It took him a few seconds, but when the rabbit understood the other's meaning it hit him full force. "Rev's global positioning…"
The coyote was silent for a moment. "I walked in while he was trying to find you," Tech finally said softly. "There was nothing I could do to save him at that point. Once he found your coordinates…he collapsed. It wasn't until afterwards that I was able to tell the others what I found. But by then, Rev was already gone."
It was easy for Ace to detect the pain in the coyote's voice. It was the same tone he had heard before when the Queen had escaped. But now he knew better. Tech hadn't been upset because the jellyfish metac had gotten away. He was upset because of what happened to Lexi. He was upset because…Lexi was gone.
They were both gone, Rev and Lexi. Two of their teammates – their friends – were never coming back.
He was drawn out of his thoughts when he realized that the coyote had been speaking. "…with what happened to the both of them…and your eyes…" Tech sighed softly.
"There's nothing we can do?" Ace asked. "There isn't any way to save them?" It was wishful thinking, but it was better than accepting the harsh truth.
"No…" the scientist replied heavily. "Even if I could find a cure, their minds are already gone. I wouldn't be able to save them…"
Suddenly, Ace came to another realization. "What about you? And Slam, and Duck? Even if you guys aren't using your powers…the same thing that happened to Rev and Lexi could happen to you. Could you do something about that?"
"I highly doubt it. All these years of using our powers…if I tried to rid us of the microbes now, it could kill us prematurely. Actually, I'm surprised we've made it this long…"
"So…that's it then?" the rabbit asked, unsuccessfully trying to hide the sadness in his voice. "Eventually…the three of you will end up like Rev and Lexi? There's no way…to stop it?"
"I'm afraid not. Maybe if I had found the microbodies sooner, we would have had a chance…" He could hear the unevenness in Tech's voice. "That's all it really comes down to, isn't it? If I had found the microbodies sooner, we could have gotten rid of them before they became a serious problem. Or at least if I had found them even just a few minutes before, maybe Rev would still be here, and maybe Lexi would have remembered…"
"Tech, don't say things like that," Ace said sternly. Then, in a softer tone, he added, "You shouldn't blame yourself. You did the best you could. It's not your fault that all this happened, and especially with what happened to Rev and Lexi. If anything…it's my fault that they're gone. I mean…if I had just listened to you in the first place, Rev wouldn't have needed to find me and Lexi wouldn't have needed to help you against the metac. If I had just listened to you…they'd still be here…"
Silence fell between the two of them, and Ace suddenly began to feel nervous. Because he couldn't see the scientist, he was unsure of the other's expression. Would Tech hate him now after everything he had said? He already felt awful about what had happened to Lexi and Rev. Would the coyote retort with an "I told you so"? He had every right to do so though, Ace knew that. Part of him was even expecting it.
Finally Tech spoke again. "I don't really think it's your fault either…"
Though he was relieved, the rabbit was confused. "What do you mean?"
"You were just being yourself, and all you wanted to do was help the people in Acmetropolis. I mean, yeah you were being extremely stubborn, but it was all in good reason. You just did what you thought was right. No one could blame you for that. And what happened happened. We can't change that now. All we can do is move on ahead. Right now, we need to help you adjust to what's happened so that you can stop the metacs."
"Me?" Ace asked in surprise.
"Yes," the scientist replied. "It has to be you because of the strain on our bodies. The pain reliever I made won't last forever, and it won't stop what's happening to us. And judging based on Lexi and Rev, I think it's safe to assume that we don't have a lot of time. It has to be you."
There were a lot of things that the rabbit could have asked about. But he blurted out the first one that came to mind. "How the heck am I supposed to stop them? I don't have my powers anymore. I can't even see!"
"Do you remember a few years ago when our powers were stolen? That didn't matter to you at all because you felt that it didn't matter what we were lacking. What was important was what we had. And…well yeah, it will be difficult without your sight, but it's not impossible. You could train yourself to work around it, and we'll help you with that."
The rabbit was silent for a moment as he thought over what the other had said. Without his sight, could he really stop the metacs? How long would it take to do that? With the large amount that he had seen before, it wouldn't be a quick and easy thing to do. Would the remaining others really be gone before then? If that were to happen, could he really do it on his own?
All these questions were floating around in his mind, and he wanted to see if Tech could answer any of them. But he held his tongue. It must have been a hard for Tech to admit to the truth…that he didn't have much longer to live. But the other wasn't giving up just yet. Even with all the possible unknowns of the future, as well as the harsh reality, the coyote wasn't backing down until his time came.
And Ace knew that he couldn't give up either. He needed to do his best and overcome this obstacle. Besides, Rev and Lexi were gone because they had wanted to help him. He couldn't let their sacrifices be in vain.
It had been six years since he had met them all, and it still amazed him that they could still inspire him this much – to be better than himself.
"Okay…" he said finally. "When do we start?"
He heard Tech sigh softly, and he could hear the relief in his tone. "Later…" the genius answered, suddenly sounding exhausted. "Maybe even tomorrow. Your other senses still need to straighten out, and I'm not sure how long that would take."
The leader was a little disappointed now that he wasn't going to start training himself right away. But it was understandable. "All right. In the meantime, you should get some rest. You really sound like you could use some."
Before Tech had a chance to answer, the sound of the mechanical door opening echoed throughout the room. As it closed, Ace heard soft footsteps drawing closer. By the weight of each footfall, he assumed that it was Danger. With Slam's build, the steps would have sounded much heavier.
"I'm surprised you're up," he heard the coyote say. "You've only been sleeping for three hours. Where's Slam?"
"He's still sleeping in the ship," the duck's familiar voice lisped.
"Ah…Has Zadavia called yet?"
"Not that I know of. She hasn't called you either?"
"Zadavia?" Ace asked.
"Yeah," Tech replied. "When she found out about my discovery, it was her idea to evacuate the people from the city. She was even there helping us, and she was the one who took the people while we came back here."
"She was supposed to call us when they got to wherever they were going," the mallard added. "But so far, we haven't heard a thing."
"Ah…" the rabbit said. He began to wonder what they were still doing there if the rest of the city had been vacated, but he decided not to ask just yet.
"Oh," he heard Tech suddenly say, "before I forget. Here…"
"What's this?" Danger asked.
"The reliever will wear off today. When it does, make sure to take this. And give this one to Slam, too."
"Is this more reliever?"
"Yeah. I figured it'd be a good idea to make more. But make sure you only take it when you feel the effects of the previous one wear off, okay?"
"Yeah…okay…" the mallard replied. Then Ace heard him add softly, "Geez, I'm surprised you could make anything…"
The rabbit frowned. "Why do you say that?"
"Well, with Tech's hand and all, I didn't really think he'd be able to do anything for a while. And with what happened to your eyes, I thought I should check and see how you both were doing…Y'know, because I'm such a nice guy and all…"
He could detect the overall sincerity in Danger's joking tone. But he hadn't liked the words that were said before. "What about Tech's hand?" he asked.
The silence that quickly covered the three of them soon became awkward, and Ace knew that nothing good ever came from a prolonged silence.
"You haven't told him yet?" he suddenly heard the mallard ask in a hushed tone.
There was only more silence for a few minutes. Finally, he heard Tech say, "Duck, why don't you get some breakfast or something? And Zadavia could call anytime, so maybe someone should be waiting for that…"
Ace could sense Danger's hesitation to do anything for that moment. Then the mallard replied, "Okay…Just let me know if you need anything…"
"Yeah…" he heard the coyote say as footsteps were heard. The door then buzzed open and closed a second later.
"What happened to your hand, Tech?" Ace asked quickly before the other could say anything to avoid the subject.
"It's not a big deal really," the scientist answered just as quickly. "It's just my left hand, and I'm right-handed anyway…"
The other was stalling. "What happened to your hand, Tech?" he asked again.
"Well, I already told you that I use my hands to manipulate magnetic pulses, and with the microbodies it really shouldn't be a surprise about what happened."
Tech was getting closer, but he was still avoiding giving Ace a direct answer. "What happened to your hand, Tech?"
Silence for a moment, then the coyote sighed softly. "Okay…see, what happened…After Lexi…went down, the Queen metac started going after you…"
"After me?" Ace asked. "Is that what hit me when you told me to get down?"
"Yeah. But afterwards she was going to go after you again. From where I was, I didn't have time to get my laser and help you…And my electro-magnetic waves can act like a laser anyway, so…"
The rabbit sighed softly as he understood what the other was trying to say. So was the pain back then not only of the loss of a friend, but of the burning sensation in Tech's hand before the sense of losing it? "Why didn't you tell me before?" he asked.
"Well…I already told you about everything else. I mean, I had to tell you because you had a right to know…But it was just so much to take in, I thought maybe I could cut you a break…Like I said, it's just my left hand, and I'm right-handed, so…"
Even after all the pain the other had been through, Tech was still trying to protect him from more of the same. Ace had blamed himself for what happened to Rev and Lexi. Had the coyote not told him because he didn't want him to blame himself? Even if it meant undermining the loss of a hand to ensure he felt no guilt over it?
"So how does your hand feel now?" the rabbit questioned softly.
"It doesn't…" Tech replied. "Unfortunately, the rest of my left arm hurts, and it might mean that it won't be long until it stops working completely."
"Guess you couldn't heal yourself, huh?"
"Well, I could, but it would only make things worse. Even if I could regenerate the cells that I lost, there wouldn't be any room for them because of the microbodies. And to do so would heat my hand and cause them to grow and reproduce. So far the microbes have only eaten away at nerve cells, and I have no idea why, but I wouldn't want to risk pushing that."
"Huh…I always thought your regeneration ability was automatic…"
"Well, only if my mind isn't intact. Normally, I'm completely incinerated, including my mind, so the regeneration process has to be automatic. But if not, then I can pick and choose what to regenerate."
Ace frowned slightly. He could only imagine what it would be like for someone like Tech, who had the ability to heal himself and yet remain completely helpless against something eating away inside of him. What was it like, he wondered, knowing that you didn't have much time to live and that you couldn't do anything about it?
Everything about this situation just seemed so wrong. But there should be a way to make it right, shouldn't there? After all, isn't that what heroes were supposed to do?
So what was Ace supposed to do to make this wrong situation right?
Feeling a strange presence, Ace quickly ducked as something flew over his head. He then jumped when something swung at his feet and tried to knock him down. The sound of footsteps behind him echoed clearly in his ears. Dodging to his side, he swiftly turned, grabbing his opponent's arm and spinning it around to block another blow from the one he was previously fighting.
Pushing the opponents away from him, the rabbit reached into his belt and pulled out his extending sword, using it to protect his face as one of his opponents attempted a blow at him. Pushing the other away, he gripped the sword's handle tighter. Suddenly he felt searing heat emanating from the blade. Swinging it at the presence in front of him, he pushed the blade into the hard surface, cutting it clean in half.
He then jumped up as his second opponent took a punch at him. Landing on the extended arm, Ace used it as a leverage to jump up even higher. Holding the sword above his head, he quickly brought it down, pushing the tip of the blade into the top of the opponent until only the hilt of the sword remained. Pulling the sword out, he then jumped back as the robot exploded.
Ace coughed as the strong smell of smoke filled the room. "Tech…" he said.
"I got it," he heard the scientist's voice reply. Soon the loud buzz of fans reached his ears as the smoke faded from his senses.
"Better?" the coyote asked.
The door hummed open and footsteps slowly approached the rabbit. He turned to face the direction where the sounds originated from.
"Well, your senses certainly are improving," Tech commented, impressed. "At least better than yesterday."
"Yeah, that robot really kicked my butt."
"But you destroyed it…and these…And now I have to make more…" the coyote added, sounding a bit annoyed.
Ace grinned sheepishly. "Sorry…"
"Sure…anyway, turn that thing off for now. This could take a while."
Nodding slightly, the rabbit gripped the handle of his sword. As soon as he felt the heat subsided and heard the blade retract into the hilt, he put it away. "You really think that that's going to be enough to beat the metacs?"
"It should be. It gives off the same degree of heat that destroyed their physical forms before. As long as the handle isn't destroyed it should be fine."
"Hmm…" Ace said. "Don't you think I should be training against more than one or two robots at a time? I mean, with all the metacs out there…and I seriously doubt they'll attack me one-on-one."
"You have to take these things slow, Chief," Tech replied. To Ace, the other sounded a little distant and his voice seemed to be focused downwards. He guessed that the coyote was bending down by one of the robots. "Sending a hundred robots at you all at once won't really help you much."
"But we don't have a lot of time!" the rabbit argued. "I'm surprised it's been this long! Who knows when they'll be back, and I won't be prepared enough to stop them!"
"I know Ace, but you can't just rush into these things. And as long as we have the time now, we should make the most of it. Just jumping into things without the proper preparation won't be of much help either. So instead of wasting time arguing with me, you could be training some of your senses while I'm fixing this, couldn't you?"
"Yeah…I guess…" the rabbit mumbled.
"So…go do that, and I'll let you know when I'm done. Okay?"
Ace sighed softly. It had only been a few days since he had lost his sight after his encounter with the metacs, but he felt that his senses were fine the way they were. What he really wanted to focus on was using those senses to help him fight. Unfortunately, with the way Tech was behaving now, he decided it was best not to argue with the other.
During the past few days, the rabbit was able to sense some changes occurring with the three remaining others. The changes weren't necessarily bad, really, given the present circumstance.
With Tech, Ace noticed the coyote taking on a certain air of…authority. It was odd actually. The scientist had never really been that assertive about things unless it came to his inventions or science, developing a logical plan or idea that was needed for whatever they were doing. But now the coyote often instructed them on what to do and sometimes how to do it. With everything that Ace was able to do, he was often confronted with advice from the coyote about what would be the best choice of action and the best way to carry out that action. Not to say that Tech was getting bossy – that was entirely far from the truth – but rather he was taking charge of maintaining how things were done around the tower.
He wouldn't say that Tech was out for his position as leader. He was more of acting like a concerned parental figure, guiding them to do things that would be overall beneficial towards them.
Ace felt that it was probably because a part of the coyote still took the blame for a lot of what has happened. But, unwilling to bring up the topic himself, he was unable to convince the coyote otherwise.
But he certainly understood how Tech felt. He still often blamed himself as well.
The rabbit suddenly heard a sharp clang followed by a quick intake of breath. "Are you okay?" he asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine…" the scientist replied. He suddenly laughed softly. "I've done this a thousand times, it shouldn't be so hard…"
"I'm sure it's different with only one hand though. Why don't you get Slam or Duck to help you?"
"Well, I think they went off patrolling again."
It was probably Danger's change that surprised Ace the most. Though he knew the mallard meant well, it did annoy him at times when Danger made it too-perfectly clear how much he wanted to be the leader. He could never really understand why, other than that Danger just really wanted the attention. But he had put up with it because the show-off was a member of the team, and his opinions, though not often taken too seriously to be honest, had a right to be heard.
When Ace had lost his eyesight, he had been fully expecting Danger to start insisting to be named leader since he was incapable of seeing or using his powers. He was caught completely off guard when the duck, not only avoiding his initial presumption, also always consulted either himself or Tech before performing any real action. He could never really recall a time when Danger ever listened to him with no questions asked, let alone Tech. And he seemed to go out of his way to help them, insisting that they ask for his assistance if they so needed it.
Was it a combination of the genuine want to help them because they were crippled – so to speak – as well as a portion of fear realizing his own mortality that drove Danger to this change? Ace wasn't sure, and he didn't quite know what to make of it. All he could do was appreciate the help he received from the mallard.
As for Slam, the change he went through wasn't necessarily bad. However, the rabbit was a bit worried. If asked, he would have had to say that among the team, it was Slam that had the best-rounded personality. Always willing to have fun and joke around with him and Rev, but truly serious when it counted. Never one to miss an opportunity to poke some fun at Danger, the devil always knew the limits based on his sense of what was right and fair. And he was always ready to help Danger, and everyone else, when they needed him. Slam's incredible strength and large build gave many people the impression that he was rather frightening, maybe even mean, but Ace knew of the truly gentle and forgiving heart that beat within the powerhouse. That was how he had come to understand Slam over the six years on the same team.
In those short few days, however, the devil seemed to take on a more somber air. The little that Slam used to say was replaced by even less words. If spoken to, the other would only respond with a few small grunts or grumbles, even just simple silence (Ace assumed it signified a nod or shake of the head). The rabbit found it rather disheartening that much of the communication between him and the other was no longer present.
Slam was still helpful, that much was certain. And Ace didn't have to worry about the strength of their friendship. It just felt different was all. The Slam he had come to know over the years was no longer the same person he was before.
The sting of reality had left its painful mark on them, changing them in ways that were easy for Ace to detect even with the hindrance of blindness. The feel surrounding them had altered due to the death of their friends as their own times were pending. The same instances had affected them so differently, leaving him wishing there was more that he could do for them.
He heard Tech suddenly sigh softly. "What's up?" he asked.
"I'm just a little worried," the scientist answered. "We still haven't heard from Zadavia yet. It's already been days since she was supposed to call."
Ace frowned deeply, folding his arms across his torso. "Do you think…maybe something happened to her?"
"I don't know…I really hope not, but…it's always possible."
"Do you suppose…maybe the metacs…?"
"No. If Zadavia had taken the people out of Acmetropolis, the metacs wouldn't have been able to go after her."
"Why not? You've never told me why we're still here, or how you can be certain that the metacs don't leave the city."
Tech was silent for a moment. Finally, he said softly, "Zadavia's satellites had picked up strange energy patterns coming from the metacs…"
The rabbit frowned again. "What kind of energy patterns?"
"We weren't sure. But that pattern made them easy to track. While we were evacuating the people, we kept a watch for the metacs and found that they settled under central Acmetropolis."
"Under? You mean underground?"
"Yes. And we weren't sure why. But we talked about it, and we decided that we wanted to keep them here for as long as possible."
"How were you going to do that?"
"Well, because the metacs generally hate heat, I built a heat shield to keep them here. The shield extends far underground as well, so they won't be able to pass through that way. But there were problems…"
There was always a catch somewhere. And judging by the other's tone, Ace knew this would be really bad. "Like what?" he managed to ask.
"Well…obviously a shield is going to prevent anything inside from getting out…"
That was the whole point, wasn't it? So he wasn't entirely sure why that was a problem. At least until he thought about it a little more. "We're not…on the inside of the shield…are we?"
The coyote was silent again. Then he answered softly, "Maybe…"
Ace wasn't sure what was most surprising: The idea of being the only ones in Acmetropolis with the metacs, or the idea of being the only ones in Acmetropolis with the metacs and no way out. "Why would you…?" he began to ask.
"The metacs had eaten almost everything in Acmetropolis," Tech said, cutting him off in mid-question. "Including the Acmetropolis Institute, the communications center, or anywhere else I could have gotten material to create anything, including the heat shield. Then there was the option of getting the equipment from another city, but we didn't want to risk wasting that time waiting, in case the metacs decided to resurface. The only place left that had the materials was in the one place the metacs hadn't destroyed…"
He picked up on the implication quickly. "Here…" he said, "in the tower…"
"Right," the scientist replied. "But as you mentioned earlier, there are difficulties working with only one hand. With my current limitations, I couldn't build a transportable shield."
"So what? Are we stuck in the tower?"
"Well no. We're only stuck in Acmetropolis. The shield just originates from the tower. However, because of my hand, and that it had to be built within the tower's technological mainframe, I had to build it manually. As such, someone had to be here to start it up."
Ace bit his tongue slightly before sighting. No matter what, building the shield meant that someone had to stay in order to activate it. After that, the person wouldn't have been able to leave Acmetropolis at all.
"Since I was the one building it," he heard the other Loonatic say, "I obviously had to stay behind to trigger it. But Duck and Slam said they'd stay here, no matter how much I tried to convince them to go with Zadavia and the others."
He had expected that from Slam. But with Danger it was a little more surprising. Not totally, but a little. Still, he was glad that they had offered to stay with the scientist despite the obvious dangers it entitled. It was really beginning to seem like a suicide mission.
"Then…" he heard the coyote speak up again, "there was the issue with you…At first, we thought of placing you on the carrier ship with Zadavia, but we thought that…"
"There is no way I'd go off and leave the three of you trapped here!" Ace exclaimed.
"…you'd say something like that…" Tech concluded before sighing softly. "I really thought you should have gone with Zadavia…"
"No way!" the rabbit protested. "You think I'd like playing it safe knowing that the three of you were stuck here with those metallic freaks?"
"We really should have left you with her while you were sleeping…" he heard Tech mumble.
"Hey! You three are risking your lives here! It wouldn't be fair if I wasn't doing the same!"
"There's more to this situation than playing fair, Ace!" the coyote said, his voice and presence a lot closer than before. "Maybe if you had gone off with Zadavia, you could have had better training to prepare you for the metacs!"
"What's the big deal? They're trapped in Acmetropolis, right? If I had left, it wouldn't have been an issue for me to fight them."
He heard Tech give an exaggerated sigh. "I don't think you're really getting it…" the scientist said softly. "The fact that the shield originates here in the tower is the biggest problem. We've been lucky so far, but it won't last forever."
The leader frowned deeply. "What do you mean?"
"Well…" Tech began hesitantly. But he was interrupted by the sudden piercing wail of a siren echoing around them.
Somehow amidst the deafening cry of the alarm, Ace was able to make out the electrical buzz of the door opening. "We got a huge problem!" he heard Danger say.
"The metacs?" Tech asked.
"Yeah! Not only are they back, but they've already started attacking the tower!"
The alarm was suddenly cut off, only to be replaced by a low rumble as the ground began to tremble. Though he somehow managed to keep his balance, the rabbit heard the sound of two bodies hit the floor.
"Are you guys okay?" Ace asked when the room was finally still.
"Fine…" the mallard responded, though sounded very sarcastic.
The coyote simply groaned. Not answering the leader, he instead said, "What happened, Duck? You and Slam were looking around the city, weren't you? Why didn't you let us know?"
"I was going to, but they attacked us by surprise! My communicator was destroyed!"
Something then dawned on Ace. "Duck…" he said slowly, "where's Slam?"
The silence that followed rattled in his ears, and he felt a horrible knot in his stomach. "I didn't see them coming up behind me…." he heard the mallard say then.
"Did he use his powers?" Ace asked softly. He had to know, no matter how painful it would be.
But surprisingly, Danger answered, "No…"
"No?" Ace repeated, confusion sweeping over him. If Slam hadn't used his powers and died, why did the mallard seem so somber? "Then what happened to him? Where is he?"
"He's gone…" Tech suddenly said softly. "He's not coming back…"
Silence fell over the three, and he could sense the waves of sadness rising from the other two. And he knew he should have been upset as well. He would have been if he hadn't been so confused.
"That doesn't make any sense!" Ace shot. Memories of the metacs' initial attack came back and created more questions. "The metacs don't kill people! Not like that! When they were eating the city that first day they came, they weren't going after people! What happened?"
Before he could receive an answer, the floor beneath them gave a violent jerk, throwing him – and the other two he suspected – to the ground. He felt as though he was sliding downwards, and suddenly he felt his back hit a wall.
"They're beginning to eat at the tower…" Tech said softly.
"What do we do?" Danger asked, his tone surprisingly calm for the situation they were in.
Ace then became aware of the unusual quiet around them. That normally never really meant anything good, but he sensed the solemnity that surrounded the other two. He knew that there was something that they just weren't telling him.
Suddenly the ground underneath him began to rumble. As he felt as though the floor was beginning to tip again, a hand grasped his wrist and helped him up. "C'mon!" he heard Danger say.
He was pulled along when the shorter presence in front of him broking into a run. Where they were going, he could only guess. But something wasn't right. He could hear the footsteps in front of him as well as his own while he was being led along. That was the sound of two people running. Where was the third?
The rabbit gasped when the figure in front of him abruptly stopped. Nearly knocking into the other, he had little time to recover before the mechanical door slid open and he was pulled inside.
The hand then released his wrist and the presence distanced itself from him. Having little time to wonder what was going on, he felt the presence return and place something in his hands. "Put this on," he heard the mallard say.
Frowning a little, Ace carefully felt the object he held. His fingers quickly slid over the smooth surface of the top of what felt like a small dome. Continuing to feel over it, he was surprised when the material seemed to change and thin out slightly. It seemed that if he pushed hard enough, it would break through, much like glass. As his hand neared the bottom, he felt the large opening. It took a few seconds until he realized what the round object was. "A helmet?" he asked, slightly surprised.
"Yeah," the duck replied, his voice sounding a little muffled. Had the other put a helmet on too? "Put it on so we can go!"
"Go?" Ace repeated, holding the helmet in one hand. "Go where? And what about Tech? What's going on?"
The ground suddenly rumbled, causing the rabbit to lurch forward. He would have fallen over had he not been stopped by the object in front of him. As he quickly felt it with his free hand, however, while steadying his balance, he found that he couldn't really recognize it.
"There's no time to explain!" he heard Danger exclaim. "Just put on the helmet and get on the jet bike!"
Jet bike? Was that the item that rested in front of him? But the urgency in the other hero's voice left him no time to dwell on the matter. Quickly putting on the helmet, Ace then had to feel his way on top of the bike, making sure he was sitting on it properly.
He heard the deep rumble and hiss of heavy movement several feet away, and as it faded he could smell the air and dust from outside. He moved back a bit when he felt the mallard's body sit in front of him.
"Hold on…" Danger said loudly as he started the bike's jets. Frowning a little, Ace placed his hands on the other's shoulders as he felt themselves slowly lifting off the ground before speeding straight ahead.
The air quickly whipped around him, and Ace knew they were no longer in the tower. He was suddenly startled by a loud clang behind him, sounding as though metal was collapsing into itself.
"The metacs are all heading for the tower…" he heard Danger mumble. "Just like he said they would…"
"What?" Ace asked. "Why are they heading to the tower?"
"Well, other than it being one of the few things left for them to eat," the duck replied loudly, attempting to be heard over the roar of the winds and jets, "Tech said that they can feel along the walls of the heat barrier. If they want to get out, they'd have to destroy the point where it comes from. So he said they'll follow it right back…"
"To the tower…" Ace finished slowly, the weight of the words hitting him full force.
"Ow, hey!" Danger said. "Be careful! I need those shoulders, y'know!"
Realizing what he had done, the rabbit relaxed his grasp slightly so it wouldn't be painful for the other. "Duck, we gotta go back!" he said.
"We can't go back!" the other retorted. "All the metacs are going there to destroy the place!"
"That's just it! Tech is still back at the tower, isn't he? We gotta go back for him!"
"We can't!" the duck insisted.
"What do you mean we can't! Why not!"
"Because…I need to stick to the plan!"
The statement caught Ace off guard. "Plan? What plan?"
For a moment, he was answered with nothing but the jets. Then he heard the duck sigh softly. "Look…" the other then said, "the reason you were at the tower with us was because that's what Zadavia told us to do."
"What?" Ace asked. "Zadavia?"
"Yeah, and I have no idea why she wanted you to stay here, but she did. Tech thought it would have been better for you to go with her, but he didn't argue. The problem was, at that point, we already knew that we would be trapped here when the barrier went up."
He found it a little frightening how serious the other was being right now. "Why is that a problem?"
"Why do you think? When the metacs found they were trapped here, and once they ate everything, they'd do anything to get out. So by following the walls of the barrier, they would head towards the tower to try and get rid of it."
"So you guys knew that they'd attack the tower?"
"Well, it's food for them too, so they'd eat it anyway. But Tech guessed that they'd all try to attack it in order to get out. And he was right, by the looks of it. So he came up with this plan."
"What plan?" Ace asked again. He was getting rather frustrated that there was so much the others hadn't told him about.
"Well…the original plan was for me and Slam to get you out of the tower, but…"
The sudden misery in the mallard's tone struck a cord in Ace that resonated through his body. "But how?" he asked. "If Slam didn't use his powers, how did he…?"
Danger was silent for a moment, and he could feel the hesitancy radiating from the other. Finally, he heard the duck answer, "The more the metacs eat, the stronger they become. The stronger they get, the more they can eat."
Ace frowned deeply. "What do you mean?"
"A few days ago, when we first saw the metacs, you said that they didn't attack people, right?"
"Well, that's because they couldn't."
"What does that mean?"
"Tech said that the metacs had to build up their strength," the duck stated. "When they first appeared, they could only eat things that didn't move. Non-living things. When they got stronger, then they were able to eat more complex things – things that were alive."
Ace felt as though all his insides were frozen at that statement.
"It might not be quite what you're thinking of," he heard Danger say after minutes of silence between them. "When Slam and I were evacuating people before, I had seen metacs enter people's bodies and come out a few seconds later. When that happened, the person a metac had entered started acting…weirdly."
"Weirdly?" Ace repeated. "What do you mean?"
"Well, when Tech came and was helping us, he said that those people were…insane…"
"Just the way they were acting. He said…that they weren't themselves anymore. He said…it seemed like a piece of their minds were lost or something."
"What happened to them?"
"Well, when Tech X-rayed them – or something like that, I wasn't watching – he said that…well…a piece of their minds were lost."
"The metacs actually ate pieces of their brains," Danger stated, sounding rather disgusted as the words left his tongue. "Why only the brains? Dunno. But Tech said they didn't eat the whole brain because…'the living tissue was still too complex for them to consume more than just a piece'…or something like that…"
"But what about Slam?" Ace pressed. "What happened?"
"When we were patrolling today, the metacs attacked us," the mallard said, his tone as soft as the jets would allow, "but we did pretty well holding our own for while without our powers. That is until a metac snuck up on me. Slam saw it though and jumped at it…"
He was startled when a shiver shook the other's body. But as quickly as it had come, it was gone. "I saw…" the duck continued, "the metac go into his body and come out again. After that…he wasn't really himself anymore. He actually almost attacked me."
"Really?" Ace asked.
"Yeah…It was like he had lost control over…everything. Even his powers."
And then he finally understood. "So Slam himself didn't use his powers…because it was like he was already gone…"
Danger didn't answer him, and he didn't really need to hear it. The feeling that the other was omitting spoke in volumes, shouting out the truth he didn't want to hear. Against the dark screen that captivated his eyes played the images of the event the mallard had described, the way it might have been. The scene burned in his mind, and he pulled his hands back as they began to tremble. He could only imagine what it was like for Danger, who actually witnessed the event.
Suddenly the sound of a devastating explosion from behind reached his ears, echoing around them as a wave of heat crashed into them and hurled them forward.
"Hold on!" Danger said, and Ace could only comply lest he fall off the bike and hit the ground below – he could only guess how far that trip was. He felt as the mallard jerked the bike quickly, trying to keep them steady as the hot force pushed up behind them and threatened to throw them off course.
Finally the heat seemed to fade into nothing, and the jet cycle continued smoothly through the air. But Ace had to speak the question hanging in his mind. "What the heck was THAT!"
The duck didn't respond for a few minutes. But just as the rabbit was about to ask again, he heard the other say, "Darn it! It didn't work too well…there's still a lot down there…"
"Duck, what's going on…?"
"Tsk…well, do you remember that 'plan' I mentioned before?"
"Well…that explosion was part of it…"
It sunk in Ace's mind too quickly. "No! He wouldn't…!"
"He said he had to," the mallard replied. Though he tried to sound calm, the shakiness in his voice was still too noticeable. "He said that since the metacs would head over there anyway, he might as well try to get rid of them by using all of the tower's power to make it explode."
Ace wanted to shut his ears off. He couldn't listen to any of it anymore. This really was a suicide mission! And much to his own mental protest, he was forced to witness the scene of what might have happened as the tower self-destructed. And Tech…all alone with only countless monsters attacking from all sides. How had he felt…spending his last few moments like that? Waiting for that destructive end?
Even if the coyote could regenerate himself after that…the microbodies from within would quickly consume his life. Either way; Tech was gone.
Was it really worth living…knowing how many lives were lost to ensure it? It just didn't seem fair.
The bike suddenly swerved, causing Ace to nearly fall off. "What the…!" he exclaimed.
"Sorry," Danger muttered. "Just hold on."
"Well, Tech thought that he could destroy the metacs with the heat from the explosion. At least until the Queen made more. And it kinda worked…"
"But not all of them are gone…and they've seen us and are now trying to attack us…"
"Still hungry, I guess…Y'know, I really don't wanna find out." The bike suddenly made a sharp turn as Ace felt something just miss hitting his leg. The jet then began to roughly move back and forth, giving him the impression that the duck was doing his best to avoid attacks at them.
And just as he was wondering how the other was doing so well, he felt the sudden impact jolt the cycle hard, causing it to spin rapidly through the air.
"Whoa!" he and Danger both said, and he felt as the mallard attempted to readjust themselves. Soon the bike stopped spinning, but the rabbit felt as though they were losing altitude.
"Great!" Danger suddenly snapped. "One of the jets is melting!"
He didn't need to guess what that meant. "Now what?"
The duck was silent for a few seconds before asking, "Ya still holding on?"
"Yeah, but…" Ace was cut short when a burning sensation rattled his body and caused him to shudder. The strange vibration he felt throughout his body was oddly familiar, as though he had experienced it once before. But he couldn't recall anything about it.
When the feeling abruptly left him, the rabbit felt a hard surface underneath his feet. And just as he understood what had just occurred, the body in front of him suddenly left his grasp as Danger's pain-filled cry enveloped his senses.
Wrenching the helmet from his head, Ace grabbed out and caught the other before he fell. "Duck!" he yelled, easing the mallard to the ground. "Hang on, Duck!"
The duck was lying on the ground, but he could still feel the other writhing as the duck trembled, the screams echoing in his ears. His mind burned as what he heard and felt painted the disturbing image of what was happening right in front of him. What he hated the most was how he was just there, unable to do anything.
And too suddenly, Danger fell quiet, his body stilled. Ace's heart was pounding painfully in his chest, and he felt the terrible sensation of his body being constricted to the point where it seemed he just couldn't breathe. He felt numb, like the icy air of emptiness gripped him before the blazing heat suddenly melted his mind back to reality.
It had happened right there, right in front of him. Danger had died before him, and he had heard and felt it all. It had been different hearing about it, like he had with Rev, Slam, and even Tech. And though he had heard what had been happening to Lexi, even though he had been there, he hadn't known what was going on, he hadn't understood then. But it was different this time. He understood too well what had happened. He had heard the screams, knowing what they meant. He had felt his friend struggle with the overbearing pain before – all too quickly – the other had been taken away.
Ace found himself scooting back, away from the still body. He had done nothing. The other had died in front of him, and he had done nothing. But what could he have done? Had there been any way of helping Danger, of easing the pain of his passing?
The reality sank in quickly. They were all gone now. The five people he had come to know and care for over the years, the five who had been with him through the challenges and hardships, the five that had always caused him to reach past his limits and to push on when it seemed he couldn't keep going…they were all gone.
And soon he felt the loud anguished cry ripped from his throat – torn from his very core – as he pounded the dusty ground with his fists.
"NO!" he found himself scream. "NO! This can't be it! Not this way! Not like this! This can't be happening!" He heard nothing of what he was saying, but he felt each word with every pulse of his heart.
His body was soon trembling, and he felt the warm moist trail run down his cheeks. His eyes no longer worked, but that wouldn't stop the tears that were spilled from his soul.
Was it fair? After everything they had been through…after everything they had done…was this really how it was supposed to end?
"I don't really remember much after that…I just sat there thinking, wondering, and trying to make sense of it all. But I couldn't…I don't even know how time passed while I just stayed like that…"
"Then what happened?"
"Well…after a while, I felt the presence of several beings, and I knew it was the metacs. I wasn't sure how far away I was from Acmetropolis, or if I had still been in the city, but with the metacs there, I figured they were trying to leave. So I attacked them."
"You attacked them?"
"Yeah. I mean, I was really mad about everything, and I wasn't really thinking. So I attacked them. But I hadn't trained to deal with that many opponents, and since I wasn't really in my right mind that didn't help much. The metacs got the upper hand of me…then as I was on hanging on the edge, I heard the sound of a ship coming closer. Seconds later I passed out, and the next thing I know, I wake up here…"
The room was silent for the longest time. Then Danger gave a short laugh. "Y'know, you were right…" he said, placing his hands on his waist. "That was really weird."
Ace grinned slightly. "Yeah, I know, wasn't it? The really weird thing was that I was watching everything that was happening, like a show or something, but I could hear all of my own thoughts but no one else's. So it was like I was experiencing it while watching it at the same time."
"Wow…" Lexi said softly, sitting back in her seat. "That was quite a dream, Ace."
"Try a nightmare…" the leader responded.
The bunny shrugged in reply. "Well, I warned you and Slam not to try that Super Double Deluxe Sundae."
Slam protested with some grumbles and grunts.
"I think I was just tired, that's all," Ace said. "I mean, even though it was a nightmare, and a disturbing one at that, that was the first night I had slept all the way through. It's kind of strange."
Before Lexi could remark, Rev jumped up to his feet. "Nightmare-or-not-that-was-the-creepiest-thing-I've-ever-heard!" he exclaimed. "I-mean-I've-had-nighmares-before-and-I've-seen-horror-movies-but-wow!-I-was-sitting-on-the-edge-of-my-seat-the-whole-time!"
Ace wasn't entirely sure if the roadrunner was frightened by the dream or if he was amused by it. After all, Rev did watch a lot of horror movies.
"But-how-come-I-had-to-die-first?" the quickster added, pouting slightly.
"Aw, c'mon Rev," the rabbit replied. "It was just a dream after all…"
"Maybe…" Tech's voice piped in suddenly, "but you never know…"
The other five looked over at the coyote who sat with his arms folded over his torso. It was the first time he had spoken that morning since Ace began telling his reverie.
"What do you mean?" Ace asked.
"Well…" the scientist said, "I've read a few things where people thought that dreams were filled with underlying themes or messages. Many others believe that dreams are gateways to the world beyond. But some thought that dreams were visions of the future…"
"Oh come on Tech," Lexi said. "You're the last person I would have thought to believe something like that."
"Well, I'm not sure if I do believe it." Tech rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "But I just thought it was odd how Ace dreamt that I had sample dust from the meteor."
The rabbit blinked slightly. "Do you?"
The coyote looked at the leader with serious eyes. "I've never told anyone about it…" he replied.
"Well-maybe-he-just-thought-it-was-something-you'd-do," Rev piped up. "I-mean-being-a-scientist-and-all-it-just-sounds-a-lot-like-you."
"I guess, but it just seems too much of a coincidence. Even if you say it's something I'd do, did any of you think that I had that sample before Ace's dream?"
The others fell silent as they thought over the coyote's words. They had never really stopped and considered it before. Even if they could imagine him gathering dust left by the meteor, they never considered the possibility that he actually had the sample until that moment.
"What's really odd," Tech continued, "is when, in the dream, I had mentioned that the meteor had a distinctive, unrecognizable property that I've never seen before. Eerily enough, that's true…"
"So, you've done tests on the meteor dust?" Ace asked.
The scientist nodded slightly.
"Okay, so the meteor dust is different," Danger said. "So what? Do you really think that in five years, the city's gonna be under attack by metallic creatures while we start dying off?"
Tech was still for a moment, a thoughtfulness settling in his features as he closed his eyes. He sat that way for a few a while before his eyes opened again and he looked at the others. "In regards to the…metacs…" he finally said slowly, "I couldn't really say. There was no idea where they came from or what they were really made of…"
The coyote paused for a moment, and Ace could see that the other was thinking again, developing all possible options and outcomes, considering every fact and what each could mean.
Soon, the scientist spoke once again. "As for the microbes in our bodies…I don't know about you guys, but the last time my blood was checked was right after the meteor hit. There was nothing found then, but we've been at this for about a year. Maybe the microbes were too small to see a year ago, but…well, if there was anything inside of us…they've had some time to grow…"
They were all quiet as the coyote's implication hung over their heads. Just the very idea of that alarming episode being a reality…Ace closed his eyes as the images of his dream – his nightmare – returned to him. When he had been telling the others about his dream, he had done his best to appear calm and collected, but in all honesty the event had left him just as shaken as his imagined self. He had awoken that morning soaked in his own sweat and tears, and the vivid emotions that lingered from the aftermath of the visions had left him sitting in his bed for more than an hour just trying to recollect himself. He had somehow managed to convince himself that the entire affair had only been a dream.
But even if there was some truths in his dream…if they did something about it now, then everything would be okay. Right?
He was brought out of his thoughts when he felt a gentle touch on his arm. "Ace…" he heard Lexi say softly, "are you okay?"
Underlying her question, in his mind, was the sound of her screaming as she had in his dreams. Tears burned under his eyelids as the unwanted images returned to him, and the feelings that accompanied them swept over his body caused him to shudder slightly. Sighing heavily, he somehow managed to find his voice and answer her.
"I don't know Lexi. At the moment…I really don't know…"