By group consensus, the former Blockhead spaceship has been named “the Love Bug”. Space Bug insisted on it, and consensus was that it wasn’t worth fighting over.
While the Blockheads don’t eat solid food in any sense, the Park Tech engineers were able to build a fully equipped galley out of Re-4-Matters and the Blockhead robotic factory-factories, with Space Bug’s technical assistance.
Now, Keri watches as Jaycee prepares a meal in the galley. It’s sandwiches and smoothies - nothing special - but she’s caught on enough to how it works to customize it to some extent.
“Is this what you’re gonna be doing for this team?” Keri finally asks.
Jaycee doesn’t look up. Her voice is carefully neutral. “What, you don’t eat? Everyone else does.”
Keri doesn’t answer that question. She goes for another one. “Why did you come aboard?”
Jaycee turns to look at the other girl. Her voice is more polite than her eyes. “I’m responsible for Armiger’s training. I’m accustomed to keeping up with him, and I intend to do the same out here.”
Keri scowls. “Armiger can fight enemies that are bad news. I can fight even bigger things. Adam can fight. That Space Bug, well… he can pilot the ship. You make protein shakes for a Grail Knight. So do you think you’re gonna be out here, in the great unknown, and his destiny is gonna protect you?”
Jaycee draws herself up for this confrontation. “I’m done letting anyone tell me what to do, including destiny. Lady, I will go where I see fit, I will contribute in the ways I see are necessary, and I will take out anyone I see in my way.”
She points a finger at Keri’s face. “You got a problem with me being here? You waited a good long time to say anything. If this is just your nerves getting the better of you, go deal with it instead of taking it out on me.”
Both girls are startled when they hear Adam speak up. “Keri, is there a problem?”
Embarrassed, Keri backs down. Her pride won’t let her actually admit culpability. “I’m gonna have to protect everyone who doesn’t have powers out here,” she says. “I just want everyone to understand that.”
Jaycee thrusts a protein shake at Keri’s chest. “Well here. Drink up, then. Keep your strength up for li’l ol’ me.”
Keri takes the shake, and Jaycee turns away.
Unseen by anyone but Adam, the image of Somber stands off to the side, in the shadow of the hallway. “You see? I told you it would be informative to come hear this conversation.”
Back in his cabin, Adam is alone. He’s asked the Somber manifestation to withdraw, which it did. Privately, Adam isn’t sure how much he can trust that, but at least the feeling of privacy helps.
That’s why he’s both surprised and honestly a little annoyed when a sparkling humanoid outline appears at the center of the cabin.
To his great surprise, it’s Jordan. Or rather, it’s Jordan’s grown-up presentation as Princess Peri, the dark superheroine.
Adam immediately suspects a trick, or a game, or something. He does not expect her to say what she says.
“Adam! I’m dreamin’. Mom an’ dad are doin’ okay. You got a letter from someone named uh, Leo an’ Aria Newman.”
Adam blinks. “Letter? What did it say?”
Peri puts her hands on her hips, and leans forward to glare at him. “I’m not gonna open someone else’s letters, silly. Read it yourself when you come home.”
He has no idea where to go with this information, or Jordan’s presence. “How… why are you here?” he manages.
This time he hears Somber’s voice. “The shard I gifted you is Antares Alpha-One. The one Jordan carries is from ten years in the future, from a curtailed timeline. Though she knows it as ‘Anty’, it is the same shard, and thus, the two of you have a connection.”
Adam directs his question inward. Did you do that to me deliberately?
“You’ve asked me to withdraw,” he hears Somber say, and then nothing.
Adam is really growing distrustful of Somber.
He returns his attention to Peri. “So uh, you’re dreaming and that means you’re here?”
Peri smiles and nods. “Yep! Guess so.”
“What happens when you wake up?”
“Guess I disappear?” Peri asks uncertainly. She glances around, taking in the cabin. “Hey, is this the spaceship? Can I look around?”
“Sure,” Adam smiles.
They find Keri reading a book, Space Bug playing some kind of alien game involving glowing levitating orbs, and William and Jaycee exercising, all in the open area.
All of them get up and look surprised.
“What’s Peri doing here?” William asks, having met her before.
Keri, mishearing the name, sits up and looks. Then she catches on to the newcomer. “Hey, who’s this?”
Adam gets in front of what he expects will be a lot of questions. “This is Jordan, my little sister. Somehow she got an evil Concordance shard and aged up while transformed, the same way I do. Right now she’s uh, kind of a projection here, because the shard she’s got is the same one Somber gave me.”
“That’s a lot to take in,” Keri confesses.
“Jurabo!” exults Space Bug, having won a victory at their game.
“I’m dreamin’ right now!” Peri announces cheerfully. “So if I disappear on ya, I’m not tryin’ to be rude or anything.”
“Jordan, are you… actually here? Or is this just some kinda… illusion?” Keri is still puzzling through the ramifications.
Jordan, who has known at least something of Keri and her role in her brother’s life, flexes. “Come on. Arm wrestle me!”
Keri grins, puts her book down, and hops up to accept the challenge.
Adam, sensing the possibility of collateral damage, conjures a solid table on which they can engage in their contest. If either girl exerts too much strength by accident, there’d be little left of their ship.
The two sit across from each other, Keri grinning fiercely, Peri smiling brightly. They grip each other by the hand, and when Jaycee calls for a start, the exertion begins.
Both girls ramp up cautiously. With superhuman strength, neither wants to risk hurting the other or breaking anything. But as they each perceive the other’s limits, they intensify.
Keri wins after several seconds of probing and exertion. But she’s rubbing her arm and grinning. “This is serious. Even if she’s a projection or something, there’s real power there.”
She rubs her hands together eagerly. “And while your current costume is definitely something, there’s things I can do with it…”
Jordan, meanwhile, is flexing her own arm and smiling. “You’re really strong, Keri!”
Adam has a thought. “Hey, Jordan, while we’re on our way, do you wanna take a tour of the ship?”
He looks over at Space Bug. “Hey, how long until we reach our destination?”
Space Bug checks a nearby terminal and announces, “We have been at position for the last 25 Earth minutes.”
Adam boggles. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
The alien bug stares at the glowing globes nearby. “Jurabo,” they reply, pointing to the game implements as though this explains everything.
The team rush to the front of the ship.
Outside of the screen, they see the system they set out for. The system has been visited by the Blockheads in the past, and Adam is now retracing that path.
What they see are Blot war vessels, clustered around a fast-moving planetoid in a tight orbit around the system’s star.
Space Bug tunes in the Park Tech ansible, which crackles to life. “Halcyon Heroes League, we request you return to our system and assist us again… We are under attack… Life support is failing… Halcyon Heroes League, we request you return to our system…”