As the group stepped inside the strange, dark ship, the overhead lights came on within half a second.
Oddly enough, nobody squinted or winced at the brightness.
The man with them laughed and said, "Surprised? The lighting on here automatically comes on and adjusts to prevent blinding someone, even temporarily. I wish she would teach us how to do it with our home and store, but..."
Citan nodded and frowned.
Andrea asked, "Hey, Citan...something wrong?"
"I know I have never seen this before, and yet...this ship is very familiar to me," he replied.
"Hey, Dulcinea! The group you talked about is here," the gift storeowner shouted.
"Excellent, Matt. Bring them to the bridge, please," a woman's voice quietly said, seemingly coming from everywhere.
"Where is that?" The man, Matt, asked.
"The first sealed area you found. I will conduct the last examination myself."
"You heard the woman. Follow me," he said and walked forward, the others following close behind.
"How long ago was the last Musia taken?" the strange voice asked.
"Less than two hours ago," Atlus replied.
"Then there is still some time...The abductors will not attack right away, as they too require time, training and preparation. If the pattern holds, the first world to be attacked will be, if they have not determined which Musia holds the Ultimate Power, the fourth Musia's world."
"What do you mean, if the pattern holds?" Citan asked.
"This is not the first time the Musias have been taken. There is a saying that is as old as time: 'where there are Musias there is the Dark Master. Where there is a Dark Master, there is a Cona-treytoronil to battle it and its messengers.' "
"What is this Dark Master?" Atlus inquired as they turned at the left corner.
"An evil being with no corporeal form that was born when the Universe was created. It chooses its messengers rather carefully, usually when they are about to die, and speaks to them using telepathy."
" Is one of us this Cona-treytoronil?" Aya asked.
"The best way to say it is simply cona-trey and yes, you are correct."
"So what is this Ultimate Power you spoke of earlier?" Ellen asked.
"The Ultimate Power, which the messengers of the Dark Master must never learn, is mitochondria."
At this, Citan's discussion with Midori the night before everything began came back to him.
"Who is mitochondria?" she had asked.
And in his mostly-asleep stupor, he had muttered, "I have no idea."
"Those cells in our bodies? You've got to be kidding me!" Mark exclaimed.
"Organelles, not cells," Nate grumbled.
"Now I understand," Aya said quietly, "Since the mitochondria affect the outside form, personality, and inner powers, of course it would be the Ultimate Power. And if these messengers ever realize it and try to use it...it'll be Manhattan on a large scale!"
Nothing further was said until the group reached a large, sealed door that had a strange camera-like device on the wall.
"Now," Matt said to the doctor, "You'll see a circle on the floor in front of the device. Stand in it and try not to blink."
As soon as Citan had complied, the storeowner called out, "Dulcinea, retinal scan!"
A beam of red light emerged from the device, entering into the Zenogias native's left eye.
For a few seconds, the light moved up and down, scanning the entire eye.
Before Citan could even start to think of blinking, the beam vanished.
"Citan Uzuki, native of Zenogias, position: Cona-trey confirmed. Access to main bridge granted."
Although there were gasps from almost everyone, Midori and Chu-Chu did not seem surprised.
"Citan's the cona-trey..." Chris said quietly.
"How in the world does she know that?" Alana asked.
"The cona-trey is the only person in the multiverse with the retinal color of obsidian black."
"Retinal color?" Mark said, "Speak English!"
"She means his eye color, stupid," was the irritated remark from Nate.
The door hissed open and the group stepped inside.
Unlike the rest of the ship, this large room was not lit.
"Ugh!" Ellen exclaimed, "The air smells stale and....achoo!"
"Dusty too," Aya added for her.
"Hydrogen-oxygen circulatory system is now activated," the strange voice stated and they heard the whir of machinery starting.
"Can you raise the lights?" Citan questioned.
The lights gradually turned on and grew brighter in the same method as when they had first come aboard the ship.
"Wha--? There's nobody inside!" Mark nearly yelled when they were bright enough to look around.
"Not accurate. I am on the bridge."
"Oh yeah? Then show yourself."
Matt looked at Mark with a surprised stare and asked, "Didn't you know, boy? Dulcinea's an AI."
"Huh? An AI?"
"AI, standing for Artificial Intelligence. In other words, Dulcinea's the ship's computer," Nate explained in an annoyed tone.
"I knew that," Mark muttered.
"Dulcinea," Citan asked as he moved to one of the seats, "Are the engines still functioning?"
"Affirmative. Matt and his wife have taken good care of me these many years."
"Can you teach us how to navigate you?" Atlus asked.
"Affirmative, but not necessary. 90% of navigation is done automatically. Simply tell me your destination."
"How long will it take before you can takeoff?" Citan inquired.
"Exactly 10.5 minutes."
"Prepare for takeoff, starting now."
"Affirmative. Ignition in 10 minutes, 30 seconds."
Citan turned to his friends and said, "Matt, that gives you ten minutes to take the band members and get off the ship."
"Right," Matt replied.
Andrea and the others looked shocked as she said for them, "No way, we're going with you!"
"Andrea, I appreciate it, but you do not know what you are saying. Can any of you fight? There are many enemies ahead of us and they are very real."
The others trembled and gasped, with the exception of Andrea, as he continued, "This is not a game, this is really happening! You can actually die and not get any more chances to do over and continue."
Andrea said quietly, "No, the others can't fight, but I can. I'm a black belt and around here it means I'm a master of Tae Kwon Do."
Citan thought for a few seconds then nodded to her.
"Guys, don't worry about me, you can bet I'll be back. Matt, get the others outta here."
Matt nodded and all but shoved the other band members out the door.
"Dulcinea, lock the door to the bridge until we enter outer space," the doctor commanded.
"Acknowledged. Locking door."
"Everyone, take a seat," Atlus called out, "and strap yourselves in."
Andrea nodded and took the seat to the lower right while Citan took the lower left.
The other quickly scrambled for chairs in other sections of the bridge.
One of the screens in front of the first two activated, showing Matt and the others running out of the ship.
"That was quick," Atlus said quietly, "it took more than ten minutes to get to the bridge."
"I was designed with what you call an emergency exit, which Matt used just now. Seven minutes to ignition."
"While we're waiting, how about we decide where to take this ship?" Aya asked.
"Before we came to Earth," Ellen said, "We had two destinations left on our data pad: Gardenia and Lunar."
"Can you find out who was taken from those two?" Citan asked her.
"I'll try..." Atlus replied for her, "I keep it with me."
He tapped on the plastic slab for a couple of minutes then announced, "I can't get as much information as if we were on the world, but I have two names. From Gardenia, a singer named Julia Heartily was hypnotized into leaving. And from Lunar...you've got to be kidding."
Andrea raised an eyebrow and asked, "I played those two games...the one from Lunar is a woman named either Luna or Althena."
"How did you know?" Atlus asked, "Never mind, but yes, the one from Lunar is a goddess named Althena."
Ellen sighed a bit sadly.
"Is something wrong?" Citan asked.
"Well, when we began this, we were three months away from graduating high school. I wonder if Mr. Harding or Dr. Kotter would understand why we've been gone for over a month now."
"Yeah," Mark agreed, "Saving Persona was one thing...they saw what happened. Saving the universe...I don't know if they'll buy it."
"Multiverse," Nate corrected.
"So which world should we pay a visit to?" Mary asked, looking at the red haired young man.
Ellen nodded, also looking at him.
"Don't look at me," Atlus replied, "Citan's the leader."
Leader? the doctor thought, I have been many things, but a leader?
Midori said from her seat, "Yes, you're the leader. You decide where we go."
"Five minutes to ignition," Dulcinea said in a semi-quiet tone.
"Andrea," Citan said, "You said you know about both worlds. Which one would we most likely gain more information about?"
"I doubt we'll get anything from Gardenia," she replied, "Because not only was Julia taken from that world, it was the world's past. I suggest Lunar."
"Dulcinea, set course for Lunar."
"Plotting course now. Will engage when we reach outer space. Four minutes, thirty seconds to ignition."
"How about we make a pact?" Alana asked in an unusually serious tone.
"You? Serious? This is a switch," Mark replied.
"Actually, she has an idea there," Ellen said, "When we went into the final door to Avidea, we made a promise to go to Dreamland. We need a special motivator now. That way, it'd be easier for us to all come back alive from a battle."
"How about this," Aya suggested, "If we can somehow cross the worlds ourselves, or get Philemon to carry us, we'll all go to Persona and attend your graduation."
"Sounds good to me," Mary remarked, "We'll need to make sure we graduate and the others make sure to be alive to go to it."
The others nodded agreements.
"But," Atlus asked, "How are we going to make sure we're able to graduate even if we survive?"
"Incoming transmission from Persona. Mary, press the yellow button by your right hand to open a frequency."
"Are the ship's communications independent of the engines?" Nate asked.
"Affirmative. Communications run on a separate solar power source."
"Amazing," Citan said in a low voice as Mary did as she was told.
The screen in front of everyone shifted to show Igor, a butterfly and a familiar woman in a yellow uniform, yellow jacket over her arms.
"Ms. Smith! This is a surprise," Atlus managed to say after a minute.
"This is a surprise to me, too. I got a message from these people to come to this strange room that's connected to a place called the Velvet Room. I listened to your question and I've made special arrangements with them and Dr. Kotter in regards to your studies. You still have your books but assignment sheets will be transferred back and forth between the computer on the thing you're aboard and here," the woman replied, seemingly apprehensive about the arrangement.
"Aw, man! And here I thought we'd be too busy saving the universe to do studies," Mark grumbled.
"Multiverse, you moron," Nate corrected.
"Consider that month on Evolution to have been a break," Atlus replied, "We can study in between worlds and briefings."
"Uh...Dulcinea, right? Make sure they study, okay?"
"Affirmative, Ms. Smith."
"I'm sending the first batch of assignments now," The teacher replied and the screen blinked off.
"Two minutes to ignition," Dulcinea counted.
"Look at the bright side," Aya said with a smile, "We won't have to worry about the homework part of the graduation promise...and I can help on any biology and math problems."
"We'll hold you to that, Aya," Atlus remarked with a smile, "Mark isn't too good on algebra."
"Why'd ya have to say that?" Mark grumbled as the consoles around them started to light up.
"Activating navigational system. Trans-dimensional engine is on-line. Ignition in one minute, thirty seconds," Dulcinea spoke quietly and beneath the feet of all that were on the bridge, the vibration of engines that were starting to work began.
"You know, in a way I'm glad we're doing this," he continued, "Having one last grand adventure to go on before we graduate...I dunno when I'll be able to see anybody again."
"What do you mean by that, Mark?" Mary asked.
"Well...the day before we left Persona, I got a letter...I got the okay at the university in New York. I'm goin' there to study art."
"When?" Chris asked.
"I leave in mid August."
"I'll be leaving after summer too," Mary said to them, "I start training to be a counselor then...I'll be pretty far away."
"How far?" Atlus asked.
"A city in Japan...I think it's called Sumaru."
"Man, and I thought New York was far," Mark answered with a surprised whistle.
"Sumaru, huh?" Brad mused, "That reminds me...I go in for schooling there, too. I'm gonna go into show biz."
"Jeez! It's like we're breaking up," Alana exclaimed, "I never thought something like this would happen!"
"That's the way life is," Chris remarked curtly, "Nobody stays together forever.... not even us. We're all starting our lives pretty soon."
"I don't know about you," Ellen stated, "But even though I may be going overseas to attend modeling school, if I'm in the area, I promise to come visit."
"That's right," Brad agreed, "We may be scattered around the world, but that's no reason for the future big star to lose touch with his pals!"
Dulcinea's voice had, during the conversation, counted down, "Five...four...three...two...one...ignition."
The ship emitted a rather loud sound as it rose from its years-old place on the ground, going up past the trees and into the sky.
"This is some ship!" Mary commented as she watched the screen at the approaching sky.
"I never thought to ask," Citan spoke aloud, "But does this vessel have a name?"
"Affirmative. The actual name is not pronounceable, but it translates in the Earth/English language as Conductor."
"I guess it'd fit," Nate answered, "The Musias' main powers are in their voices and songs, so of course the ship's name would have to fit accordingly."
"Anyone want a look at this planet before we set off for Lunar?" Alana asked.
"That actually sounds good," Ellen replied, "I've always wondered if Earth looks like Persona from space."
"Yeah, me too," Andrea agreed, "I've seen pictures of Earth in my history books back in school days, but I've also heard that seeing from space in person is better than looking at photos."
The others murmured similar agreements.
"Dulcinea, once we reach outer space, can you hold position for one minute so we can see Earth?"
"Hey guys, look at the sky! We're almost above the clouds!" Mark nearly shouted in excitement.
Everyone turned to the main viewscreen and watched as they rose past the clouds and into the darkening sky, with the first stars appearing.
Within a couple of minutes, the vessel had left the planet's atmosphere and was close to the moon.
It was at this position that Dulcinea halted and shifted the screen towards the planet they had just left.
"Artificial gravity is being engaged. Please remain in your seats until activation is completed."
"Wow," Ellen said, "I never thought Earth would be so pretty!"
"Yeah," Aya remarked, "I wish I could show this to everybody."
"I have seen the planet that I come from in Zenogias' universe, and I must agree...Earth is...extraordinarily beautiful," Citan agreed after a small moment.
"My words exactly," Chris answered, "and we've got to fight Ghaleon, Ultimecia and the Dark Master in order to make sure the people of this world and all the others can see a sight like this."
"Artificial gravity is now activated. Course set for Lunar, activating trans-dimensional engine in 30 seconds."
"The Earth...the teachers were right, it's much better to see it in person," Andrea added with a smile, "And it reminds me of why I'm coming along with everyone."
The screen shifted again, towards outer space as the stars began to turn into multi-colored streaks of light.
"How long will it take to reach Lunar?" Atlus asked.
"Estimated time is five hours."
"How come we travel instantly when we use Ellen's method, but it takes us five hours on this ship?" Mark asked.
"In actuality, it probably takes a bit more than instantaneous to transport a group of people from one place to another. Since we're now also dealing with the mass of this ship...oh, never mind. Just suffice it to say higher science and math are at work here," Nate said, seeing the Negro boy roll his eyes halfway through the explanation.
"Bridge door is now unlocked," Dulcinea said to the crew.
"Before we get into those assignments," Citan suggested, "How about we take a tour of this ship first?"
"Sounds good," Atlus agreed, "We need to know where the mess hall and crew quarters are at as well as a conference room."
"If you like, I could show you the way to the aforementioned areas. Cona-trey Citan, there is a room on this floor that you should know about. On the second level in area 2 is a special conservatory that is used for honing abilities and possibly even communicating with the Musias."
"I will check it out as soon as we finish the tour," he answered with a raised eyebrow.
"I don't know about you, but it's been a while since I've eaten," Andrea commented.
"Yeah, me too," Mary agreed as she got up from her seat, "How about we find the mess hall first?"
The others got out from their seats as Citan nodded and lead the way out from the bridge after the stations had been secured.
Deona Lindholm's Fanfiction