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The Brain Jumblies

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“Whatever Galra outpost was here, it’s long since been abandoned.”

“Well, yeah. Look at this place it’s a total dump!”

The blue paladin kicked a large, hole-filled vine that ran through what they assumed had been the control room, as Keith stood at the console pushing buttons. The power wasn’t off, at least.

“It looks like the Galra were the ones that sent the distress call. Look.”

Both Lance and Hunk, who had been watching the door, walked over just as a video started playing. Soldiers were running in the background, away from something, while Galran officer was shouting into the communications.

: “This is outpost five—eight, requesting emergency—this planet—It’s here! Everyone evac—” :

“I guess that solves the mystery of what happened here.”

“Not exactly, we don’t know what this ‘it’ is.”

“Who cares? Whatever it was, it got rid of them. That’s a gold star in my book.”

“It’s not that simple Lance! It could see us as it’s enemy too, and the same thing could happen, whatever happened!”

“If this place is abandoned, that means it could still be here.”

The red and blue paladins stopped at looked at Hunk, just as Shiro’s voice came through their communicators.

~

“Let’s not wait around to find out. There’s no sign of Galra, or alien civilizations here, so get to the lions and head back to the castle, we’ll meet you there.”

: “Right.” : “Roger that.” :

“Pidge—” The team leader stopped, looking around the area only to find the green paladin had gone. “Pidge?” He called out, before tapping his helmet. “Pidge, are you there?”

“Over here, I think I found something!”

~

Pidge had wandered, not too far, while scanning the area one last time when a large lifeform reading appeared. They followed it right to the center, but didn’t see anything. Or at least, they hadn’t. A little critter scurried across a fallen tree near them, and had started squeaking. Pidge went over to it, crouching down. “Hi there, little guy.” They tapped on their arm scanner. “It’s not picking up your signature, so then what—Hey, what’s wrong?”

The critter had started to squeak louder, waving its tiny arms around, pointing upwards. It scurried off, and Pidge heard a rustling from above. Just as they looked up, a pod of some sort dropped down in front of them. It exploded into a cloud of grey-pink dust on the log and seemed to fly right at their face, and they fell backwards in a fit of coughing while trying to get the dust out from under their helmet and in their eyes.

The rustling sounded louder, but before Pidge could find the source a hand clasped their shoulder. They reached for their bayard, just as Shiro’s voice was heard.

“Woah, easy. It’s just me. What happened?”

As Pidge was about to answer, a loud roar sounded through the jungle and the Green Lion bursted through the jungle overgrowth, skidding to a halt beside them and lowering its head, opening its mouth for them to get in. “I guess that’s our cue to go.”

~

“What’s the matter, girl?”

The Green Lion hadn’t stopped growling the whole way back, and on top of that, it didn’t let Pidge out when they parked in the hangar, closing right up after Shiro exited. “Come on, open up! I need to go!” They felt a sudden stinging feeling in their head, and wave of dizziness washed over Pidge, causing them to fall over on the floor. At first they couldn’t see straight, disorientation very high until a suddenly cold wafted through the air from the vents, helping somewhat to clear their head.

Finally, the lion opened its doors and the rest of the paladins hurried in just as Pidge sat up. The bombardment of concerned questions was halted by the arrival of Coran.

“Now, now! Let’s give them some space, we need to—”

As Pidge took off their helmet, everyone stopped and stared in confusion, shock, and in Coran’s case—horror. The green paladin stared back, oblivious to what they were looking at.

“…What? Is there something on my face?”

~

It took three rounds of decontamination and a scan before Pidge was allowed on the Bridge, to the irritation of the hacker. They squeezed between Lance and Hunk to listen to the team. The remnants of the grey-pink dust, now turned goop, was in a jar on the console, and a scan of Pidge’s head—or more specifically, their brain—was on the screen, along with a poorly-taken picture of some kind of vine-y, leaf-y beast that looks like a cross between a spider and a chameleon, while Coran spoke.

“What you’re seeing here is the result of an attack by a ‘Vascumici’ on the planet you were investigating. Nobody who’s seen the beasts have survived, excluding the nimble photographer of this image. But these pods here are a different story! It’s what they use to capture their prey, dropping them on or near them and causing confusion and panic in their victim long enough for them to SNATCH them right up and take them back to the nest to eat them. Luckily for Pidge here, that didn’t happen.”

“That explains why the Green Lion showed up when it did.”

“That is correct! However, the danger doesn’t end there. If you’ll direct your attention to the scan.” The advisor pointed to the brain. “The pods release a cloud of bacteria that affects the brain function. Now, most people that are affect by this end up eaten before anything else, but survivors are at great risk. The bacteria enters the brain through the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, any facial orifice you can name, and at first it only numbs the brain for a brief period, but it can also cause dizziness, nausea, and light fainting spells, as the bacteria realizes it might not be going back inside the beast. See, they have a symbiotic relationship, the bacteria and the beast and—”

“Coran. What happens after?”

“Ah, right. Well after it realizes that, it starts affecting the brain in other ways. This is what survivors call…The Brain Jumblies. A minor type of brain swelling is the main symptom, but it can be counteracted with keeping your head cool. If that’s being done, it shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Take this!”
A gooey, blue ice pack was handed to the green paladin, who then placed it on their head while Coran continued to explain.

“Aside from that, the victim will experience fainting, hallucinations, mood swings, fatigue, and sickness. Numbness, in un-cared for cases. It will increase in severity over time until…” Coran paused, glancing at Pidge for the shortest tick. “Stress can quicken the process, so it’s important that you keep calm and try not to think about anything that would stress you out, and absolutely avoid high-pitched noises! It’s bedrest and cooling gel for you, Pidge! Off you go!”
Pidge’s response was a skeptical look while holding the ice pack to their head, but they did as told. Sort of. They walked out of the room, but stopped just by the door to continue listening out of sight as Coran turned to the other paladins.

“I won’t kid around, this is much worse than it looks. If we don’t get that antidote, there is a high chance Pidge won’t make it.”

“So what do we do?”

~

Pidge didn’t stick around to hear the rest of the conversation. One hurried trip to the bathroom, and they were already feeling worse. Finding out you might die can be considered a major stress causer, honestly.
“No, no. They can’t think like that. I’ll be fine.” A few splashes of water on their face helped ebb the dizziness they felt, but it did little for the nausea. Resting their head on the cold sink counter didn’t help much, either. Pidge looked up, putting their glasses back on to stare at themselves in the mirror, taking notice of the stained-grey bits on their face from the dust. A tinge of anger arose, and Pidge curled one hand into a fist, slamming it down on the countertop.

“This is so stupid!”

~

“Keith, I want you to stay behind.”

“What? Why?” The red paladin gave Shiro a look of confusion as the two stopped on the way to their hangars.

“We can’t leave the castle undefended to all go to get the stuff for the antidote, and I—”

“So have Lance or Hunk stay! They—” Shiro’s hand on his shoulder quieted him, and he got that all-too-familiar look.

“Pidge is in no condition to be fighting, and Allura is going to need to be at the Bridge to get us back here. I’m not saying anything will happen, but if it does. I know you’d be able to handle it, one hundred percent.”

“…Yeah, okay.”

The black paladin smiled, patting him on the shoulder before walking over to the elevator. Keith sighed, turning around and walking out of the Bridge just as Allura’s voice came through the castle speakers.

: “Keith, could you go find Pidge? “They went to the bathroom closest to the Bridge, according to the security feed. I’ve set up a bed for them in the infirmary.” :

“I’m on it.”

~

“A last reminder for everyone. Shiro and I will be going to a nearby planet to find the ‘Vascutueri’, which is the close relative to the Vascumici. The pods growing on their back are the key ingredient in the antidote. Lance, you’ll be—”

“Yeah, yeah! I’m getting space kelp right now, and Hunk is going to the jungle-y planet’s moon for some plants. We’ve got this.”

“Not just ‘some plants’! These are locus tanacetum parthenium!”

“Right, the space daisies.”

“Space daisies?! That’s—”

“Don’t worry Coran, I got it.”

“They’re just trying to lighten the mood. We’re all worried.”

A silence went through the communications, before Lance spoke up.

“They do look like daisies, though.”

~

Allura turned the air conditioning unit on beside the bed, and pulled the covers up to a fast-asleep Pidge’s neck. Her look of concern didn’t falter as she stepped over to Keith.

“They’re this exhausted already…You said Pidge was passed out when you found them?”

“Yeah, it was messy. I’m not surprised though, Coran’s explanation stressed us all out, and Pidge is the one who’s got the bacteria.”

“They’ve no doubt realized the danger they’re in.”

They both looked at the green paladin, who had started fidgeting in their sleep. “Even in their sleep they aren’t able to relax. How cruel of a sickness.”

“Worrying won’t do them any good. It’ll only make Pidge worry, which’ll make them worse.”

“I suppose so…It’s hard not to, though.”

“You’ve got that right.” Keith crossed his arms and walked away, stopping by one of the healing pods. “Couldn’t we just put Pidge in one of these?”

“The bacteria won’t go away in the healing chamber, it may even accelerate it. It’s too high of a risk to take.”

“What about one of the cryo-pods? It can’t hurt them if it’s frozen, right?” He thought it was a good idea, but the princess merely shook her head.

“Coran said that it should only be used as a last resort—if they can’t make the antidote, or if Pidge gets worse before they get back. We only know that the cold helps with the symptoms. Freezing could help them, or it could cause their immune system to falter.”

“So that’s it? All we can do is wait?”

“Does anyone have a deck of cards?”

Both Keith and Allura turned to look at Pidge, who was sitting slumped in the bed, staring at them.

~

: “Oh, quizznak.” :

“Lance? What’s wrong?”

: “Nothing, just some GROSS EEL MONSTERS that I WASN’T TOLD ABOUT.” :

“Ah, right I forgot about that. Don’t worry! They tend not to stray far from their asteroid holes.”

: “Oh yeah, great to know! It’s a good thing the kelp is RIGHT NEXT TO THE HOLES.” :

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out!”

“Hunk, how is the flower hunt going?”

“Yes, have you found the locus tanacetum parthenium?”

: “Sorta. How much did we need, again?” :

“About a pouchful should do just fine!”

: “Gotcha, this’ll be quicker than I thought!” :

: “What, did you find a—WOAH—field of space daisies, or something?” :

: “Yeah, actually.” :

“Oh, splendid!”

“Coran, what do you know about the Vascutueri? Are they hostile, like the other ones?” Shiro looked ahead at the Altean advisor as they lead the way through the jungle—similar to the one of the previous planet.

“Hostile? Not at all! They’re complete opposites, as a matter of fact! While the Vascumici attacks with the pods, the Vascutueri defends the pods! Quite fascinating, really. Although I suppose that means it’ll be harder to get our hands on one.”

“We’ll get it, where is it’s nest?”

“While the Vascumici nests above the jungle trees, the Vascutueri nests in caves. We’re coming up on one now, be at the ready.”

“Right.”

~

: “Keith, I need to return to the Bridge. The other paladins are almost done gathering the antidote ingredients.” :

“I’m on my way back, go ahead.” Keith turned the card deck in his hand as he walked back to the infirmary. Halfway back he thought he heard rustling from behind him, but didn’t see anything. Putting it off as paranoia wasn’t his thing, though. “Allura, can you do a scan of the castle? I think something might be here.”

: “Doing it now…There’s no sign of anything in the castle apart from the three of us.” :

“If you say so. I’ll keep an eye out, just in case.” He kept a hand on his bayard, his walk turning into a jog on the way back, only slowing right before he reached the infirmary. He peeked in to see Pidge still sitting up, with the mice squeaking at them before scurrying off. The hacker looked over, and squinted at Keith.

“…What are you doing?”

“Nothing. How are you feeling?” He walked over to the bed, setting down his helmet and taking a seat on the bed as Pidge pulled their legs up to their chest.

“I’m trying not to think about it, but considering the circumstances I could be worse. Did you get the—”
Keith held up the deck of cards, earning a little smile from Pidge.

“How does Go-Fish sound?”

~

“Look, there.”

Shiro and Coran crouched behind a rock, looking around it at what looked like a bunch of grey-blue pods coming out of the cave floor, and then a few clumped together in a hole. “Alright, let’s—” He started to stand up, when Coran grabbed his arm.

“Hold it, look.”

A closer look revealed the pods were moving. Up and down, as if breathing—it wasn’t the pods that were breathing, though. They spotted several, large circular eyes staring right at them.

“It sees us.”

“Yes, yes it does.”

The beast blended in with the dark cave far too well—they could barely make out the dark grey, fuzzy even, shape if it hadn’t been for their lights. Several legs were curled up to its body, while a long tail was curled around the unattached pods—it wasn’t a hole at all, and from closer inspection, the pods were not, in fact, pods. It’s hold on the eggs tightened as it turned a crowned head, much like the shape of a chameleon’s—except for the excess of eyes—toward them.

“What’s it doing, then?”

“Well I believe its waiting.”

“Waiting? For what?”

“To see what we’ll do. They’re quite intelligent creatures.”

Shiro furrowed his brows, looking back at the beast. If it wasn’t hostile, then it’d run away if it felt threatened, and they’d have to waste time they didn’t have chasing it down. This had to be handled carefully. “Leave it to me.”
Slowly, the black paladin stepped out from behind the rock with both hands raised, and all eyes were on him. It gave a warning rumble, scooting back against the cave wall as he took a step forward. “Easy, it’s okay. We aren’t going to hurt you.” He then took off his helmet, slowly setting it on the ground. “We just need a pod. One.” He raised a finger, then pointed at the pods on its back. “Pod.”

The Vascutueri shrilled at Shiro, raising its head. Nobody moved except for it, scratching a claw on the cave floor briefly, as if contemplating. Slowly, it reached behind itself and took a small pod in its dull teeth, pulling it off. It set it on the ground, before nudging it gently. The pod rolled right over to them, and the team leader picked it up along with his helmet.

“Thank you.”

It gave another shrill as Shiro backed up, putting his helmet back on and handing the pod to Coran as they walked out of the cave.

“Well done! I expect we’ll have the antidote ready in no time!”

“Lance, Hunk. What’s your status?”

: “I got the space seaweed. Oh, and I’m fine too.” :

: “Tanny partys got, heading back now!” :

~

“Pidge? Hey, Pidge.”

The green paladin blinked a few times, lifting their head up from the cards to look at Keith, who was looking at them with a look of worry. “That’s the third time you’ve zoned out, maybe—”

“I’m fine. Was it your turn or mine?”

“You shouldn’t hide it if you’re getting worse, it won’t help.”

“I said I’m fine!” Pidge snapped at the red paladin, only to slump where they sat. “…I’m sorry, I’m just…” They sighed, putting a hand to the cooling pack on their head. “I feel awful, it’s hard trying not to think about anything, and I keep seeing and hearing things that I know aren’t here and it’s driving me crazy! And don’t tell me to relax, because I really, really can’t! I literally cannot control my emotions right now, and it’s only making things worse!”
They flung their other hand up in the air, sending the cards in their hand flying. “I have bacteria in my brain that might kill me, and I can’t do anything about it!” They wobbled, and would’ve fallen out of the bed if Keith hadn’t caught them and laid them down.

“I know it’s a bad situation, but you’re going to be fine. Shiro and them are on their way back, and they’re going to make the antidote and be back to normal in no time. Just focus on that, and get some rest.”

“Yeah, that’s true.” Pidge took off their glasses and set them next to their pillow, before pulling the blanket up to their chin. "I hate the Brain Jumblies." They sighed, squinting up at Keith as he stood up. “What—” Before they could finish their sentence, the air conditioning unit beside the bed suddenly turned off. At the same time, Allura’s voice came through the castle speakers.

: “I’m detecting an alien lifeform in the castle, be on your guard.” :

Keith was about to ask where when he was sent flying across the room by something big and green, effectively answering his question. He heard Pidge shout, and got back up just in time to catch what was thrown at him—his helmet. It took less than a tick for him to put two and two together and put it on, activating the oxygen mask just before a pod exploded in front of him. Activating his bayard, Keith slashed away at the dust until it cleared, in time to see exactly what had gotten into the castle.

Much like the picture Coran had shown them, it was a large dark green beast, with the head alike to a chameleon’s, dotted with numerous eyes. Spider-like fangs protruded from its mouth, and several clawed arms went down its body. Down it’s back were several grey-pink pods. Past that was a long tail, which was curled around something, or someone he almost didn’t see.

“Pidge!”

The hacker kicked their feet, trying to get free from the coils to no avail. If anything, the creature only tightened its grip before darting out of the infirmary, taking Pidge with it as they reached out with one free hand toward the red paladin who ran after them as they disappeared around the corner.

“Keith!”

“Hang in there buddy, I’m right behind you!”

: “The Vascumici is heading toward the Green Lion’s hangar!” :

“It must’ve snuck in under the lion when we left its planet. It’s going to try to get out the way it came in!”

: “I’m going to lock the doors in there, we can’t let it take Pidge back to its nest!” :

“I don’t plan on it!”

Keith skidded to a halt as they reached the hangar. “Hey, you!” The Vascumici immediately began clawing at the gate, only stopping when it heard his shout. The beast stood up on its hind legs, and uncurled its tail, and with a single motion sent Pidge flying across the room. Using his boosters, Keith was able to catch them before they hit the floor. The Vascumici screeched and charged with teeth bared at the red paladin, ready to strike.

As he activated his shield to try and deter the attack, the beast was halted. The Green Lion brought its large metal paw down, and effectively crushed the monster underneath it. “…Nice job, Green.” The lion chuffed in response, and Keith lowered his shield and turned his attention to the green paladin, giving them a light shake.

“Pidge? Hey, Pidge! Wake up, come on!”

Keith gritted his teeth, staring at his unresponsive friend when he noticed a dribble of reddish liquid coming out of their ear. Not exactly blood, but it sent warning bells through his mind as he stood up, holding Pidge in his arms as he started running back to the infirmary. “Allura, what’s the ETA on the others? How long until the antidote is ready?”

: “They’re arriving now, it will be at least an hour until the antidote is ready.” :

“Pidge doesn’t have that kind of time! I’m going to put them in a cryo-pod!”

: “Keith, no! The risks—” :

“Forget the risks! They are dying, and this is our only option dammit! You said so yourself!”

: “…Okay.” :

Keith ran as fast as he could back to the infirmary, placing Pidge in the readied pod as soon as they got there. The vital signs on the chamber were in the red, but at least they weren’t going down. It was a small comfort, but a sorely needed one. He sat down on the steps just as the doors opened, and Shiro walked in.

“Hey.”

“…Hey. Where are the others?”

“Lance and Hunk are helping Coran. Allura told us what happened.”

“I could’ve done better—I should have done better.”

“Don’t beat yourself up over this.” Shiro took a seat beside them, although a little distance away. “I knew you could handle it. And you did the best you could, considering the circumstances.”

“Yeah, right. I just did what I thought was best.”

“Exactly.”

There was a light silence, before the black paladin spoke again. “Oh, and Coran said to go to the decontamination bay ASAP. You did get hit by one of those pods.”

“Oh, yeah I did. I’ll go do that.”

“I’ll stay here.”

As Keith stood up and started walking out, Shiro called out to him, causing him to look back. “Pidge is still alive because you were here, don’t forget that.” The smallest of smiles crossed Keith’s face, before he turned back and headed to the decontamination bay.

~

Both Coran and Allura, along with the Paladins were waiting in the infirmary. Pidge had been taken out of the cryo-pod and the antidote was administered to kill the bacteria while it was still thawing out—succeeding in doing so, the bacterial dust turned dead goo was then drained from the green paladin’s system. They were put in one of the healing chambers, Coran deeming it safe once it was ensured the all the bacteria was gone, and necessary after the beating Pidge received by being dragged across the castle by the beast, and now the whole team waited, tick by tick for the pod to open.

“Who’d have thunk the Vascumici were determined hunters, sneaking onto our ship like that just for a single person!”

“It explains why the Green Lion closed up when we got back from that planet. It was trying to protect Pidge.”

“And it did! It squished that thing like a bug, right Keith?”

“Yeah. Like a bug.”

All eyes turned to Keith, who was sitting away from them and looking down at the floor.

“You can’t still be upset, the vas-ca-whatsy snuck up on you.”

“Yeah dude, chill! Everything is good now.”

“I just wish it didn’t show up here in the first place.”

“Everyone does, the point is that it’s in the past now. The only way to go is forward.”

“I think we will all feel better when Pidge is out of the healing chamber. It should be any tick now.”

“Agreed! Although, I must say it was a stroke of luck that we didn’t have to hunt down a Vascumici. You see, one of the ingredients—”

Coran’s explanation was halted by the pod hissing, and then opening. Pidge stumbled out groggily, and was caught and steadied by Shiro as the team surrounded them. It took a few moments, and several blinks for Pidge to really wake, looking around at their friends.

“What’re you all looking at? There’s not something on my face again, is there?”

That was clearly a cue for them to get hugs all around, mostly from Lance and Hunk. After many cheerful notes from almost everyone, Pidge wiggled free for a breath and to put their glasses on. They looked over and spotted Keith, and while the others started talking to each other, Pidge adjusted their glasses and sat down beside the red paladin, speaking before he could.

“How are you doing?”

“…Aren’t I supposed to be the one asking you that?”

“I guess, but I beat you to it.”

“Uh huh. How are you feeling, though? Seriously.”

“I’m alright, all things considered. But I’ve got this weird water-in-head feeling that—”

“Ah yes, that would be the antidote remnants!”

The red and green paladins looked up as Coran began. “Don’t worry, if you sleep on your side it’ll pour right out! As I was saying earlier, before Pidge woke up. While it was unfortunate that the beast was here, it saved us a trip to its planet to collect the last, and most important ingredient: its saliva! Deconstructed and used for the greater purpose of ridding you of the horrid bacteria!”

Everyone could see the process of Pidge’s expression, first listening to what Coran said, then as it registered, their expression turning into that of utter disgust.

“I’ve got alien spit in my head?! That’s so gross!”

"Well that, and—"

"I don't want to know!"