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Ebony sat poised behind the pile of titanium crates, silently chastising her frantic lungs as they inhaled sharply and fearfully. She perched carefully but steadily, with her center of balance teetering back and forth as she stayed balanced on the toes of her shoes, ready to leap into the air and hit the ground running at a moment’s notice. Chastity, her mongoose, sat on her shoulders, staying stone still so as not to interrupt Ebony’s balance.
“How did we get ourselves into this?” Chastity grumbled into her translation device, “I mean, we could have gone to New Boston or London or even New New Delhi. But no, we have to go all the way to Saturn. Did you even think this through? You haven’t even left Earth before, have you?”
Ebony sighed ever so slightly and slid a hand into her bag, retrieving a small piece of chicken. Chastity grabbed it in an angry bite, still grumbling incoherently as she chewed.
“Will you be quiet?” Ebony snapped, not looking away from her lookout position, “A lot is riding on this.”
“Oh, you’re telling me to be quiet. You call that a whisper? That’s not even remotely a whisper. That was a shout pretending to be a whisper. Imposter!”
“Just shut up!” Ebony took another step back, further concealing herself as one of the city’s famous half-plastic news reporters walked over, choosing the crates as the perfect backdrop for her sweet little newscast. The lady flipped her hair and it flew through the air, hardly even casting a tangible shadow.
“Hello, everybody,” the lady said. Her voice was reminiscent of honey tea on a humid spring day, with wind chimes barely echoing in the distance. “Today is the start of another beautiful era, and crowds have gathered all around to watch the launching of the Kennedy 5, the first passenger rocket to Saturn. Over the past couple centuries, the planet has undergone a beautiful transformation into a world of crystal oceans and towering cities by the hands of none other than Mr. Geoffrey Sable, millionaire and Time magazine’s innovator of the century. And on this very day, people from across the world board the spacecraft as it embarks on its hundredth trip to the stars.” Ebony suppressed a laugh and pantomimed a land of unicorns and rainbows.
The camera turned toward the spaceship as it towered over the city of Sacramento, space travel capital of the planet. Ebony hissed under her breath. She had thirty minutes to get on board, and only her feet to stealthily cover the distance between there and the ship halfway across town. Her eyes fell upon the labels of the crates, and she read them with half a smile.
“Or maybe not,” she muttered.
“What?” Chastity said, looking around and digging her claws into Ebony’s shoulder. She had countless puncture marks from the mongoose’s miniature talons dating back to when she was four years old, but by now her skin was countless layers thick and could hardly be pierced.
“We need to get in these boxes,” Ebony whispered, looking for an opening, “See? It says Last Minute Atomic Again for Kennedy 5. They’re going on the ship.”
“That says atomic agent, Ebony,” Chastity scolded, “And what makes you sure that they’re going on the ship?”
“It says so right there, Sherlock,” Ebony said, prying open the crate with her pocket crowbar.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean that the crates are going onto the ship. If they were, they would be a lot closer, wouldn’t they?”
“It says last minute, doesn’t it? It’s probably not going onboard for twenty-nine minutes. Have a little faith.”
“I don’t know. This lucky streak of yours can’t possibly last much longer.” Chastity paused. “I’m going to end up in that crate whether I like it or not, aren’t I?”
“Yup,” Ebony said, “Come on, then. This one has room for both of us.”
It was only a matter of minutes before the crates jostled around and the pair was being sent across the city at hundreds of miles per hour. They stopped all at once and Ebony couldn’t help but suppress a smile.
“Ugh,” Chastity moaned, “Motion sickness.”
“Oh, come on,” Ebony said, still grinning, “It’s not that bad. It’s like a roller coaster at a carnival.”
“Exactly like a roller coaster. Hence, motion sickness.”
Ebony rolled her eyes and peeked out a crack in the crate. “Go check it out,” she muttered, and Chastity darted out, scouting the room for signs of anyone or anything worth being weary of.
“Alright, you can come out.” Ebony crept out of the box, her footsteps inaudible against the cold, metal floor. She opened her bag and Chastity crept in, barely fitting, but mostly concealed.
“Your tail is poking out again,” Ebony teased, and Chastity pulled it into the bag. She was curled up like a loaf of mongoose-bread that was left out for too long and had grown fur. Ebony proceeded around the corner, silently opening the door and exiting the room into an empty hallway.
The whole rocket was decorated with a dreary feel to it, and a thin layer of plaster coated the metal walls, attempting to deceive passengers into thinking that the ship was nothing but a house with an engine the size of a small elephant attached to the back. Curtains were hung on the wall, but when Ebony pulled them back, she was met not with a sunny June horizon but with more plaster. She found it a bit upsetting and couldn’t help but feel grateful that she was going to Saturn and no further than that.
A hiss sounded from Ebony’s bag and rang in her ears as a warning signal. She turned toward the footsteps that were coming way and held her hands behind her back, brightening her eyes to a pitiful degree of innocence and humility.
“What are you doing there?” the man said, turning the corner. His captain badge glimmered as the radiant artificial light hit it.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said, looking down and hoping he wouldn’t recognize her, “I didn’t hear where I was supposed to go. Please excuse me.” She started to run by the man, not making eye contact like a dog before a displeased master.
“Take a left, then a right,” he said, confusion in his voice. Ebony held her breath. She’d recognize that tone anywhere. It was a tone of realization, and therefore the basic sound of misfortune and was enough to dunk her shoulder-deep in some hot water. But Ebony kept walking, one foot directly in front of the other. She didn’t let out a breath until she was in the main room of the giant spaceship, with a small crowd of people making a ridiculous amount of noise surrounding her.
A flimsy voice came over a speaker suspended high overhead. “If everyone will please take their seats, we will be departing in two minutes. Thank you.” The voice crackled away and people pushed and shoved their way to various seats. Ebony pulled her hat down a little and looked at the ground a little more, desperately trying to keep her identity concealed.
A rumble echoed through the room, silencing each and every twisted tongue. Ebony fell into the shadow of her seat, struggling for an inconspicuous trip. Her brain lurched back as the rocket began flying upwards faster than the speed of sound, three blasts of pure energy propelling it forward. It came to a sudden halt just moments later and for a few seconds, Ebony stopped breathing.
"Wow," the lady sitting next to her said under her breath, "You'd think by now I'd be used to that."
"Used to what?" Chastity said, her curiosity hanging in the air until Ebony could taste it. Ebony whacked the bag (perhaps a little harder than she should have) and Chastity mumbled an apology.
"I'm one of the scientists who's been working on this project. I've been going since the start."
"Wow!" Chastity said, poking out of the bag, “That’s amazing!”
The lady widened her eyes at the mongoose’s appearance, and Ebony glared at Chastity as a furry tail poked out of the bag, swaying back and forth like a dog’s.
“I’m sorry,” the lady said tentatively, “I don’t think ferrets are allowed.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Ebony said sharply, “She’s not a ferret. She’s a mongoose. And I already checked. She’s allowed.” She stuffed Chastity back in the bag and rose to her feet. “Oh, will you look at that. It’s already time to go outside. See ya!” She waved her hand dismissively and walked away.
“Sometimes, Chastity,” Ebony scolded, “You just don’t know when to keep your mouth shut.”
“I got her wallet,” Chastity said, pulling it out of the bag with a tug.
“That’s my girl. At least you did something productive.” Chastity smiled and crept back into the bag.
Two Agents of Amity, the so-called “Peacekeepers of the Modern World”, gestured her through the nearby doorway. She kept her head down, walking steadily as images of the Agents locking a pair of handcuffs around her wrists haunted her mind. They wore opaque, green glasses that cleverly hid their gaze from those who had reason to be afraid of them. Ebony hated the color green.
The sound of Ebony’s footsteps were overpowered by the awed crowd around her as they looked at their new home. The sky was a swirl between blue and orange clouds, and the air was light but rich and easy on her lungs. They had landed by an ocean colored in a blue so bright she wasn’t even sure if it could occur in nature. Beneath the surface, dimly colored silhouettes darted by, creating a thin rainbow all across the sea. Just behind them, the city was aglow with a wispy, iridescent fog that seemed to rise from the ground and float like cotton candy. Far off over the horizon, a spiraling set of rings orbited about the planet like a thousand tiny moons. The sun was hardly a speck in the sky, but it hung prominently in the air, firmly suspended in time.
“It’s beautiful,” Chastity said, her nose poking out of the bag.
“It is, isn’t it,” Ebony muttered, her attention elsewhere, “What do you make of that building there?” She pointed at a flat, glass building that was hiding in the corner of the floating town as if it didn’t want to be seen.
“I don’t know,” Chastity said, “But can’t you just focus on the present for now? Look around you!”
“I am focusing on the present. And in the present, that building is calling my name.” She checked quickly for any overly-observant eyes that may have noticed her and darted away.
The interior of the building was as easy to ignore as the exterior. The whole room was blank save a pristine elevator standing proudly in the center. Ebony’s feet squeaked as they shuffled toward the elevator across the immaculate floor.
“It needs an ID to scan,” Ebony muttered under her breath. She shoved Chastity out of the bag, fishing for the wallet. Chastity clung to Ebony’s sleeve by the tips of her claws and pulled herself up, grumbling incoherently to herself.
“Here we go,” Ebony said, grinning at her own intellect. She scanned the card and a light hum resonated from underground. “That should do it.”
“Better duck – someone might come out.”
“No one will,” she said, shrugging, “Why would they? Anyone who needed to would be already out there. Operation perfection and all.” Ebony punched one of the buttons and watched as the doors slid shut, sliding her hat into the bag. The little box fell almost silently down for a perpetual moment until it slid gracefully to a stop. Ebony gasped as she looked around her – the whole population of New Turkey might as well have been hidden away in one wide, cluttered room. A commotion echoed around her, fluxuating in tone and urgency. But the alarming part was the people. They all walked with a long, hasty stride and darted their eyes about as if there were springs hidden behind their pupils. Their expressions were like fire and rain and all of time and space playing a galactic game of Where’s Waldo. They caught the mind and toyed with the hypothesis of thought. Ebony jumped behind a cart after a moment’s awe, shaking the feeling out of her head. She went stealthily from one hiding spot to another, though nearly everyone was too distracted to notice even a girl and her mongoose leaping about.
Within a minute or two, Ebony approached a wall with a metal door and a worn handle. With a fearless smile and an ear filled with Chastity’s nervous ramblings, Ebony turned the handle and slid through the doorway.
She was met with a painful silence that nearly imploded her eardrums. Vapors of cleaning fluids hung in the air, creating a thin cloud layer just below the ceiling. The back wall of the room was a thick fiberglass that allowed sight into an empty room just beyond it, hardly the size of a supply closet.
Chastity pointed her paw toward a desk with a paper-thin computer monitor on it. “Look at that,” she said, a twitch in her voice, “More of that stuff that was in the boxes back on Earth.”
“Yeah, the atomic again – agent,” she said, correcting herself from memory. This time it was in a small cylinder that one might mistake for canned food. But Ebony had a feeling that would be an unfortunate mistake that you probably wouldn’t make twice.
But just as Ebony started walking over to inspect it, the door opened and Ebony’s muscles froze as ice shot up her arms and down to her feet, creating a thin layer of stone just beneath her skin. Her reflexes were caught standing still as a few footsteps walked in, obliviousness resonating in the stride. Ebony lept into action and whipped around, her nerves running on an overdose of adrenaline.
The shocked figure dropped a stack of books as its eyes fell upon Ebony, and Ebony blinked in surprise as the figure turned into none other than the same lady they had seen earlier. Ebony condensed the surprise and let it flow out of her expression and down to her feet, scattering into the ground.
“I’m sorry,” the lady said, her shock flipping into a slight smile, “I don’t think ferrets are allowed.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Ebony replied blankly, “She’s not a ferret. She’s a mongoose. And I already checked. She’s allowed.”
“How did you get down here?”
“It’s a long story,” Ebony said, subconsciously putting a hand over the wallet, “Where is this, exactly?”
“We’re in the Universal Science Headquarters, test chamber alpha,” she said, “But ironically, everyone goes to test chamber keta now. Me and Carter, my assistant, are really the only ones who use this room. I don’t know why I haven’t gotten rid of that kid yet. He’s always teasing me about not being caught up with recent events. I don’t watch the news or anything. Not enough time with all the science going on lately. I’m Dr. Rogers, by the way.”
“I’m Ebony,” she replied, smiling in spite of herself at the unbelievable luck, “And this is Chastity.”
“What’s the atomic agent do?” Chastity inquired, “There seems to be an awful lot of it.”
“Ah, yes,” she said, “That is the pride and joy of everyone here. It converts the hydrogen in the atmosphere into oxygen. We released enough for the population to get by for a week or so more, but if we blast it with all we’ve got, we can start up a traditional oxygen-carbon dioxide system like the one on Earth. It’s occurring in just half an hour, actually.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s impossible,” Ebony said, crossing her arms, “I mean, hydrogen doesn’t just spontaneously turn into oxygen.”
“The atomic agent makes atoms explode into subatomic particles and recombine as oxygen. It’s very peculiar even in simple terms, and ninety-nine percent impossible in theory. The other one percent, though, just so happened to work out in our favor.”
“Okay... I still don’t quite understand,” Ebony said, slowly allowing herself to relax. She hadn’t realized how tense she was.
“It’s okay. You’d need a doctorate degree in about seven areas of science to get it so quickly. And I’m pretty sure you don’t have a college education yet.”
“Yet?” Ebony muttered to herself, smiling slightly. With an abrupt jump of noise, the door slammed against the wall as it flew open.
“Here’s Carter now,” Dr. Rogers said, smiling nervously.
Carter set down a pile of boxes and they spilled across the floor, revealing a variety of canisters labeled “RARE” and “VALUABLE”. Ebony decided to grab them later. Evidently, so did Carter as he rolled his eyes at the spill and decided procrastination was the best bet here.
Within moments, his eyes fell upon Ebony. They shot open, revealing dark and slightly distant eyes, as if they could never quite focus on something. His expression, however, lacked the wholeness of the other scientists and contained only a tinge of emotion.
“Um, Doc?” He said, walking slowly as if the floor was a thin sheet of ice, “Who’s your friend?”
“This is Ebony, and the mongoose is Chastity.” She gestured towards the two like they were prizes on a game show.
“That’s awesome, and you have no idea how glad I am to meet them. Like, really. But can I just talk to you for a second, outside?” He looked nervously from Ebony to Dr. Carter, his lungs racing so quickly that Ebony could hear them.
“After,” Dr. Rogers replied dismissively, “Ebony probably won’t be staying much longer.”
“Probably not,” Carter said, glaring at Ebony. She waved sweetly. He had tried to conceal his fear behind intimidation, but that didn’t work when the courage was transparent.
“So,” Chastity said, moving the conversation forwards quickly, “Can you show us?”
“Why not?” Dr. Rogers said. Carter tugged at his shirt collar slightly, his eyes betraying his plans to run. “Carter, would you mind pulling up the stat check for the test chamber? Here’s a little extra. I don’t know how it wound up in here, but it’s been sitting here for a while now. It’s part of the new batch, like most of the stuff we’re going to use.” Dr. Rogers grabbed the little can and stepped through a nearly invisible glass door into the test chamber. Carter opened up a window on the computer monitor and a set of miniscule numbers jumped up and down in tiny increments as conditions fluctuated ever so slightly. He gave Dr. Rogers a thumbs up through the glass and she started opening the container.
“You see,” he said, his voice shaky, “The conversion technology will spread out in a blue light of nuclear energy, but it’s fairly harmless. The worst it could cause is a bit of nausea –”
He was cut off by a slight poofing noise. He looked toward the test chamber in shock and nearly fell as he jumped back. An orange-red cloud of death billowed against the glass, scratching at the walls with steel talons. The explosion was thick enough to crack the glass ever so slightly, the web of lines revealing it to be about a foot thick. Wispy strands of orange vapor leaked through, but vanished into the fog of cleaning fluids. As the cloud cleared, though, it revealed only charred walls and orange specks dotting the ashes. Dr. Rogers had vanished.
“Oh my god,” Carter mumbled. He cursed a couple times under his breath in a context Ebony was unfamiliar with. He reached to open the door, but thought better of it and pulled away.
“Ebony,” Chastity muttered, “We should go. We should go now. We’re in way over our heads.”
“Hold on, just a minute,” Ebony hissed. “What just happened?” She asked slowly, addressing Carter now. The question tore him from his freeze-dried fear and he fell back into reality.
“The agent,” he whispered, just barely audible, “Something’s wrong. Something went horribly, horribly wrong. That room is supposed to be sound proof. Just the fact that we heard a sound at all is terrifying. But this agent... It didn’t repair the atoms. It just decimated them. If you went in there now...” He shuddered and sat down in the desk chair.
“But they’re going to release that out over the whole of the planet!”
“Yeah,” he said. He clicked a few buttons on the screen and dictated some figures. A simulation popped open like a video on YouTube. “And it’s gonna look like this.” For a few seconds, the solar system was displayed peacefully, spinning about lazily. Then a light roar echoed through the speakers and one of the planets turned into a red cloud. Beyond that, a mushroom cloud extended into space and pushed the planet towards the sun.
“Oh my god,” Carter said, “It’s going to hit Jupiter.” They watched as Saturn spiraled into Jupiter and it became just another red cloud. But Jupiter’s cloud extended far off into space, all the way to Mars. Mars drifted quietly into Earth, and Earth turned into a cloud almost the size of Jupiter’s. Venus didn’t stand a chance, nor did Mercury. The inner six planets had been reduced to balls of charcoal spiraling into the sun.
“This is a time lapse,” Carter said, “This’ll all happen over a few days.” His nearly stoic look of fear and awe drifted into a goofy smile. “We’re all gonna die!” he yelled, “The whole human race – obliterated in a few days! Imagine that!” He cackled sardonically and his eyes lost their focus. His nostrils widened with his smile and he began to spin in circles, a terrible glee overcoming him.
“Okay,” Chastity said, “He’s lost it! Let’s get out of here, now!” Ebony scrambled toward the door and flung it open. She raced out into the busy room, which was not so busy anymore. Many of the scientists had left, and those that remained had regained their focus and watched with confusion as Ebony and Chastity raced towards the elevator. Ebony took a second to hit the fire alarm and jumped into the little room, jamming her fist against the ground floor button.
The elevator rose infuriatingly slowly, as if to mock her. She raced out of the empty room, which was not so empty anymore at all. In fact, a couple of Agents of Amity were carting large crates distinctly labeled “Atomic Agent”.
“No!” Ebony yelled, throwing aside all fear of being recognized, “Don’t! You can’t release the agent!”
“What?” One of the men asked, then paused. “Aren’t you that girl everyone’s looking for?”
“No!” she yelled, “Well, yes, but that’s not the point! The atomic agent is a doomsday weapon! It’ll make the human race extinct!”
“You have tried every excuse in the book, Ms. Scott,” he said gruffly, “But this is a new low.” He took his meaty hands off the cart and started running towards Ebony. She dashed out the door, a lifetime of running serving her feet well. She gasped for breath all the same, though, her lungs emptied from the shock.
“We have to tell someone!” Chastity yelled, “What do we do?”
Ebony scrambled up onto a picnic table. “Everyone, attention!” The people on the street ignored her, only giving her a glance or two. Chastity screeched as loudly as she could and sent silence cascading all over the block. “Listen, the stuff that they’re going to release into the air to make oxygen will kill people! It will explode and everyone will die. The whole human race will die in a few days!”
The crowd muttered softly, balancing concern with disbelief. Ebony looked around, searching for a sign that they were turning towards the former, but her hopes were crushed as a voice jumped out of the soft murmurs.
“Hey, isn’t that Ebony Scott? She’s the thief from TV!” Ebony’s skin flushed down to a pure, pale white as the nervous whispers turned into scoffing remarks. She jumped off the picnic table and started to run down the street toward an alley, but two Agents of Amity swung in on motorcycles, cornering her. She stepped backwards a few times, her hope slowly flipping over until only fear remained. They grabbed her by the arms and she fell to the ground, a small dart piercing her arm.
* * *
“We’ve been chasing this one for years now,” a deep voice said firmly. It was slurred, but so thick that it was almost tangible and Ebony’s eyes slowly focused.
She was in a holding cell. She’d had this dream time and time again. Except normally Chastity was on her shoulder. This time, she was tied to the bars of the cell on a short rope. Her translation device had vanished. Chastity whimpered and looked at Ebony, concern flooding her eyes in what could have been mistaken for tears.
“I don’t know what she was up to this time,” another voice replied, “But it was a pretty stupid idea.” This one was distinctly female, but if anything it was even firmer than the other. Just the voice revealed years of struggle and a dedication to justice, if this could even pass as such.
Ebony’s memories came rushing back to her, far too fast. The grief of Dr. Rogers’s death, the fear of the discovery of their fate, and the sorrow of her own helplessness all struck her at once, and they pounded against the sides of her skull, fighting for first priority.
Ebony took a deep breath and looked around. She could see the keys across the room, but, then again, she could also see the two Agents of Amity. They, however, were apparently oblivious to Ebony’s consciousness. A clock revealed that ten minutes had passed – there were only fifteen minutes left until doomsday. A few kids were playing catch just outside the window, laughing and smiling. Ebony shifted her foot and winced silently as a sharp pain struck her foot. There was a jade green rock in her shoe. As she pulled it out, an idea blossomed in her mind into a beautiful flower of a plan. She just needed a bit of luck.
She rested her head on the floor, her neck long-since used to sleeping on the ground. She glanced over at the Agents, but they still thought she was out cold. Perfect. She flicked her wrist and the rock flew through the sky, shattering the window. The Agents jumped to their feet, their stance aggressive and looking almost as if they had been personally offended. They ran out the door, muttering swears about “idiotic children” and of the like.
“Quick – start chewing through that rope,” Ebony said, turning to Chastity. But there was no need. Chastity was already on it. “‘Atta girl,” she said, smiling ever so slightly. For a moment, Ebony was silent, as Chastity had no means of talking back. But finally, the weight of the words just poured out of her mouth.
“I guess it was a bad idea, wasn’t it?” Ebony blurted out, unable to stop herself. “I mean, we would have been fine if I didn’t take that whatever it is.” She looked at her bag across the room, which had certainly been emptied. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I was planning on ransoming it, or selling it, or something else. An artifact like that just an ATM that someone left their credit card in, or a little bank account all packed into some extinct creature’s skull. I don’t see what the big deal about it was anyways. What were they planning on doing with it? Putting it in a box and locking it away?” She sighed and looked at the ground. “I guess I didn’t have much of a better use for it. I don’t even know why I kept it all this time. But it’s not like I could just leave it on the museum’s front steps and assume they’d stop chasing me. That’d never happen. So there was hardly a point in keeping it, and hardly a point in returning it. Way more trouble than it’s worth, I’ll give it that.” She chuckled to herself just as Chastity got through the last thread on the rope. She scampered through the cell bars and grabbed the keys, handing them to Ebony. She unlocked the door quick as lightning and they were out of there in no time flat. But just to spite them, she grabbed the skull and slipped the keys through the eye sockets. They barely fit – they’d never get them out without breaking the skull. She smiled and grabbed her bag.
“Just a wild guess here,” Chastity said, the translation device back around her neck, “But I have a feeling that no one’s going to listen to us if we try to warn them, especially not now. So let’s go to that building there. I think that’s where the atomic agent is going to be released from.
Chastity had pointed to a large factory-like building with trucks and carts full of crates with that familiar bright green label that almost obscured the base of the walls. Ebony dashed over, her ten-minute rest having served her well. They jumped behind a cart once more, but this time it was an automated cart with no need for someone to push it. As it carted itself in the building, Ebony hid behind it, with Chastity being careful to keep her tail down.
But it was hardly a factory at all – it was more like some wild assembly line hooked up to a supercomputer. Scientists went down the several rows of crates, tallying them down on a piece of paper. After a minute or two of watching, Ebony began to understand how the system worked. When they had verified that the row was ready to go, they flipped a lever that locked it into place. As far as she could understand, once a row was locked, there was no way to turn it off. It would inevitably release the agent in those ten minutes that they had left. Until a row was locked, it could be turned off. Already they had locked a fifth of the hundred or so rows. Ebony cursed under her breath and Chastity scolded her.
“Now really isn’t a good time, Chastity,” Ebony said, waving her hands in small circles as if that explained everything.
“I know. I see it too. The pattern, I mean. Not the swearing. I still think you need to watch your language.”
“That is just about the least important thing that I can possibly think of right now.”
“Come on! The buttons to cancel each row are next to the locking ones. We have to go press them!”
“What am I supposed to do? Run down the side of the rows pressing the buttons and waving my arms? Maybe I’ll yell something really distracting. Or yodel! They’ll never see that coming!”
“If you were half as funny as you think you are...” Chastity muttered, “Just push the fire alarm.”
Ebony smiled and picked up a rock. Feeling confident, she flung it at the fire alarm. It missed by a few feet and fell to the ground. Shamefully, she jumped over and pressed it, ignoring Chastity’s snickers and clever little comments.
A blaring siren rang out through the building and people hurried towards the exit.
“I don’t even know why they have a fire alarm,” Chastity remarked, “There’s not really anything that could catch on fire.”
“Oh, please,” Ebony said, rising to her feet, “These things are never actually used for fires. They’re only helpful for intentions like ours. I can’t remember the last time something actually caught on fire.”
Within a few moments, the building was empty, save Ebony, Chastity, and hundreds of weapons of mass destruction. The former two sprang into action, running down the line cancelling the rows. But they were stopped before they had done even ten.
“I don’t know why you’re bothering,” a strange voice echoed through the building. Ebony whipped around, Chastity leaping onto her shoulder. “You know I can just reset those cancelled rows just like this, don’t you?” He held up a small box with a large green button that almost looked like a movie prop. But when he pressed it, all the red lights declaring the rows cancelled turned a patiently waiting yellow. He put the device in his coat pocket.
“No,” Ebony said, “You don’t understand! Please, just listen. The atomic agent is dangerous. It’ll obliterate –”
“Oh, please!” the man said. He had an impossibly dark black beard that made Ebony shiver, and his eyes were an electric blue so bright that they were almost glowing. “I know about the dangers and the consequences, yatta yatta yatta. Don’t you find it peculiar, little girl,” the man said, “that it was timed perfectly to wipe out the human race? If it had been a few minutes later or earlier, there would have been survivors.”
“You have a stupid beard,” Ebony said, narrowing her eyes. Chastity hissed in agreement.
“But there couldn’t be, could there?” The man continued, smiling, “After all, every planet from here to the sun is about to be destroyed. Who is brilliant enough and has all the necessary resources to do something like that? Do you know who I am?”
“Yeah,” Ebony replied, biting the inside of her cheek to keep from ranting, “You’re Geoffrey Sable, Mr. CEO of Everything and Ruler of All Time. Or are you someone actually worth talking to?”
“You act like your tongue is a sharpened blade,” he said, starting to walk towards her, “But it’s hardly a bread knife. Grow up a little.”
“I’m eleven,” Ebony replied, “I don’t think I’m supposed to grow up yet. But why would you want to kill everyone? You’d lose everything.”
He laughed, but it was more like a bark then a chuckle. “I’m already losing everything! Haven’t you heard?” He tapped his cane against the ground, smiling. “I’m dying, little girl. No one can figure out why, and no one can seem to fix it. Everything is as good as lost already.”
“Why can’t you just go dig yourself a hole and lay down in it like everyone else? Or are you so famous that you have to go out with a bang?”
“You are unenlightened,” Geoffrey said, still smiling, “And I understand that. But let me try to explain. You have always had your rat there, yes? Well, I have always had strange voices whispering in my ears. I can never quite figure out what they are, but they are great and powerful. They tell me to leave or to stay, to try or to give up, to turn left or to turn right. The GPS of life! But they also made me offers. They promised me that I would one day become great if I only listened to their advice. And they would give me all the power I could ever hope for if I only promised them one thing.” Now they were only two feet apart. He dropped into a whisper. “I had to do whatever they said. I have been the puppet of the gods for all my life and no one has suspected a thing!” He began clapping and laughing, lost in his story. Ebony glanced at the clock. Seven minutes.
“So they tell you what to do and you listen?”
“Yes. But will you say that I am mad?”
“No,” she shrugged, “Actually, it sounds wonderful. To have a set of guides who help you along.”
A set of perfect, white teeth poked through his great big grin. He was less than a foot away from her now, and she could smell his minty breath. “It is.”
“Do they warn you about things?”
“Yes, all the time. I never make mistakes.”
“Then they really should have warned you that I’m not the most trustworthy person. I can’t blame you – most people don’t notice when they’ve been pickpocketed. But you just got pickpocketed by a mongoose. How do you not notice that!?” Chastity held up the button, which she had been concealing behind Ebony’s shoulder. Chastity dropped it and Ebony’s foot “accidentally” fell upon it, smashing it into pieces.
Five minutes, she thought, and acted fast. She pulled her foot up high and stomped it down onto Geoffrey’s foot, and in the time it took him to recover, she had already pressed half the buttons and was on her way to hit forty more. Geoffrey frantically tried to reset them, but there was no way to un-cancel them. With four minutes to spare, Ebony was out the door and down the street.
“There were twenty that were already locked, Ebony,” Chastity said, “We need to get out of here!”
Ebony dashed towards the Kennedy 5, which still was peacefully landed on the edge of the town.
“No way are you flying that thing out of here,” Chastity said, nervous, “I think I’d rather stay here.”
“Relax,” Ebony replied, refusing to break into a smile, “I’m using an escape pod.” She jumped into the rocket, pushing aside shocked Agents of Amity. They yelled after her and she heard footsteps running in behind her. They pounded against the ground and echoed through the halls of the Kennedy 5 until they seemed to be right in her ears. Chastity was hanging on as tightly as she could, silently counting down as four minutes turned to three, then two, then one.
“One minute left!” Chastity yelled above the pounding of feet all around them, “Do you even know where the escape pods are?!”
“Over there!” Ebony replied, pointing to a small sign hanging from the ceiling. She took a sharp left and stopped, three Agents blocking her way. She could see the door to the escape pods just behind them. They knew she was coming.
“Not so fast,” one of them said, pulling off his glasses and revealing a pair of electric blue eyes. A cheshire cat smile appeared through his black beard, and Ebony forced a smile to confront him with pride.
“I should’ve known,” she said, shaking her head, “A rich man like you? Teleportation. But I don’t have time to chat right now. Thirty seconds left,” she snarled, looking at the other two Agents, “until you all die. Turn around, grab an escape pod, and run.”
Ebony had been expecting a laugh or a remark about foolish children, but was met with slightly disconcerted expressions. They were getting nervous.
“Don’t listen to her!” Geoffrey barked, “I’ve personally tested the new atomic agent again and again. It could never fail.” Ebony reached out her foot to stomp on his, but he pulled it away just in time, smiling. For a second she looked at him, then sighed almost scornfully.
“I don’t have time for this.” She made a fist and hammered it into Geoffrey’s jaw and he fell to the ground at the force of it. She leaped over him like a horse over a fallen tree and through the escape pods door. But the other two Agents just watched and made no effort to stop her.
“Please?” Ebony said, allowing fear to creep into her eyes. The Agents hesitated, but after a split second, one shook their head and the other quickly followed suit. “Okay,” Ebony said, slamming the door and jumping into an escape pod, “Good enough for me.” She jammed the button that said Earth and then a big blue one that probably said Go, her hands slightly shaky. The small spaceship blasted off as if it were as eager to get out as they were. It flew through an escape hatch in the wall and up over the vibrant ocean. Ebony sat back, starting to relax.
BOOM! Ebony’s head snapped to the left as she turned to face the noise. The factory had let out the atomic agent and a familiar orange-red cloud was creeping towards them. Ebony’s eyes grew wider and wider. Chastity began to mumble something sounding almost like a prayer under her breath. The cloud roared towards them as they just barely whizzed out of its range and continued beneath them.
The explosion forced them away from the planet at an unbelievable speed and they flew out away from the planet until it was hardly anything but a spherical red cloud. Ebony watched in awe as the explosion slowly sank towards the ground, leaving only the tips of the tallest of charred building poking out of the cloud. A few minutes of observation revealed the streets to have been incinerated into black ashes and even the most prominent of buildings to have collapsed from the blast. Not one person, not even a skeleton, was left on the street. The beautiful blue ocean had vanished, evaporated, and was replaced as the cloud sank down to fill the void. There was a cracking noise and the city began to sink through the clouds, vanishing within seconds.
Ebony could hardly look anymore. She turned away as if to shield herself from her own guilt.
“It’s my fault,” she said, choking on incoming sobs, “I’m the only one who could have stopped it, and I failed.”
“No, it’s not your fault,” Chastity whispered, “It’s all Mr. Sable’s fault. He’s the only one who is to blame. You saved billions of lives. Look – it may have incinerated the planet, but you turned off enough of them to save the rest of the galaxy. Saturn isn’t spiraling inwards at all. You saved everyone!”
“Not everyone,” she said. “What do you think happened to Carter? He was probably having a field day by now. I’ll bet he walked right into the blast. Welcomed it. He could’ve saved himself if he had even tried. He might’ve been able to warn someone, anyone. They would’ve believed him.”
“Carter made his choice, and he’s dealt with the consequences.” They rode the rest of the way in silence, afraid to shatter the peace that had finally hit them, more or less.
When they landed, word of the explosion had already hit the other planets, and they were frantically sorting everything out. She whispered to an Agent of Amity that she had seen who but Ebony Scott sneak on board the Kennedy 5 and that she had certainly died. The story spread across the planets slowly, but surely, and Ebony regained her stolen smile as the people stopped recognizing her and her hat became a permanent fixture in her bag.
“Well, Chastity,” she said, scratching her friend under the chin, “Where to next?”
“How about we just stay here for a while?”
“Alright. I like that plan.” She bought them sandwiches with money from Dr. Carter’s wallet, silently whispering a “thank you”. They sat on a park bench and watched as people walked by. And everything was okay.
For a while, anyways.