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"Oh." Gyro fell into a chair and looked sick. He rubbed his face and moaned in a way that frightened Evina.
"Dad, are you alright?"
"Um, yeah," he answered, although it didn't sound convincing. "But you just told me we might die soon."
"Do you think the book lied?"
"No, I've checked the logic, and it makes sense, but this is much more dangerous than I had imagined. I mean, do you know what could've happened during that incident on the planet? That moment I saw you like that, like some... crazy monster of unstoppable destruction, I knew there was something really bad about this. But I didn't consider that it could cause your very existence to tear apart! We need to get this under control!"
"Dad, it controls itself. Like I said, it has all the intelligence, it won't compromise. There is no cure for it."
"Well, I think we've heard plenty of information now. Glue Stick, take the book and put it in the locker. And make sure it's locked securely this time!"
"Um, I was the one who didn't lock it before," Evina admitted, not sure if this was the best time to confess it.
"It's alright. Now, as I was about to say, there is nothing that can take control of us completely. We must prevent it from growing any stronger. We must ignore anything it tells us to do. Do not give in! Do you understand?"
"Good. We don't have any more time to waste. Toontown is depending on us to fix this mess on Earth."
Gyro sat at his messy desk covered in dozens of quickly-scribbled notes. He was deep in thought and was startled to hear a loud knocking at the door. His helper was busy doing some calculations, so he knew he had to answer it himself.
As he opened the door, he was met by a short, orange duck with thick, square glasses.
"Hello, sir. I am Doctor Featherworth from the Duckburg Institute of Science."
"Ok," Gyro mumbled. He didn't know what else to say. He wondered if they had finally come to revoke his membership. After all, his science had always been considered by others to be a bit unorthodox. "How may I help you?"
The duck presented a lump covered in a towel, and he held it delicately with red rubber gloves. "We have all been perplexed by this certain meteorite. It was found a couple months ago in the Northern Wastelands. Its properties are unlike anything we have seen before. We cannot trace the source of its fluctuating magnetic field. That is why we have come to ask for your opinion."
"My opinion? Wow." Gyro rubbed his forehead in awe. "If you're coming to me, then you must really be out of options."
"Please, sir, would you mind examining it? If you happen to notice anything we could have overlooked, please contact us at once. But please be careful. We cannot be certain it is harmless."
"Ok, I'll do it." Gyro took the meteorite in his gloves and immediately noticed how heavy it was for its small size.
"I hope to hear from you soon," the doctor concluded before leaving.
"Look what we got here!" Gyro said to his helper. The little robot paused its work and jogged over to him.
Gyro lifted the towel to reveal a pure black rock about the size of his palm, filled with holes like swiss cheese, but glimmering beautifully under the light.
The helper's lightbulb head lit up, and Gyro leaned closer to examine the details. "Weird. I wonder where this came from."
He picked up the rock but had forgotten how heavy it was. It slipped a few inches from his grip and briefly touched his wrist, unprotected from the glove. He felt a cold chill, and a sensation like lighting traveled up his arm. It became numb. It was unnatural and unsettling. He didn't know what to say, but after a few moments, he noticed feeling coming back.
The helper seemed to have detected it and jumped up and down in fear.
"Relax," Gyro assured him. "It was nothing. I just need to be more careful with it." He set it down and was determined to not let that happen again. Although he did suspect something was wrong, he tried to ignore it.
Little did he know that he had been possessed with something, a living shadow that had been trapped within the rock. Now it would lie dormant inside him, undetectable, until the right moment when it would take control. The day of the gray would come, and the cogs, its children, would rise. And it would pass on to Gyro's only future child.
Evina, who was seeing all this in the memories of his father, now witnessed the whole scene fade away.
There was something up ahead. It was somewhere in the future. He saw it looming like a terrible and unstoppable force of darkness, driven by anger. It was not the cogs, no, that was in the past. This was much stronger, much more determined, and it could not be avoided. It was completely foreign to him. He was certain he had never seen or learned of this before, but all his courage and strength instantly vanished at the thought of this invisible beast. It was a silhouette of death, an omen of his doom.
Evina woke in the morning with all his limbs feeling weak. He had had a bad dream, and from his prior experience, he learned that bad dreams were never good for him.
A week had passed since they read the mysterious book. They visited a few more worlds to recharge their power, but they were also a lot more cautious than before. Each day, Gyro pushed the engines to their max, telling everyone that they were getting close to Earth. Indeed, as patient as they tried to be, the question on everyone's mind was when they were finally going to reach their destination.
Usually, when he woke in the morning, there wasn't enough light to see his hand in front of his face, but today was different. There was something outside his window. He bent down to get a better look, and he saw an incredibly huge, white blur. It was like a galaxy. The ship was heading straight toward it.
He scrambled out of bed and ran to the main room. "Do you see that?"
"Isn't it magnificent?" Gyro marveled.
"Why are we going in there? I thought we were going to Earth!"
"What? Oh, you think it's a galaxy. No, it's a portal."
"Yes, and we are drifting toward it, closer and closer. So many of them were closed but, in my travels during the cogs' reign, I found this one. It may be the only one left."
"The size of it... I can't even imagine!"
"I hope Kate and Glue Stick are waking up. We only have a couple hours before we go into it."
"Into what?" Glue Stick asked, sticking his head out of his room.
"Into that portal." Evina pointed to the front window. It was filled with bright white light.
Glue Stick's eyes grew wide with wonder.
"Yeah, I know."
"Hey, what's all the commotion about?" Kate demanded, emerging from her room.
"The portal!" the other three shouted together.
"Oh, is that what it is?"
"Enough talking! Get yourselves ready," Gyro ordered.
Everyone rushed to clean up, get dressed, and eat breakfast. Then they checked to make sure they didn't forget anything else. Evina was pretty sure he didn't have to bring anything with him, but he remembered the strange red vial that Rocky had given him. He picked it up just before he left his room for the final time. With only fifteen minutes until they reached Earth, all of them lined up in the main room for final preparations.
"Gentlemen, and Kate, I hope you each understand the significance of what we are about to do."
"Yes," they answered in unison. Gyro's helper only squeaked.
"Our mission is serious. There is no room for error, and there will be absolutely no slacking. That means you!" Gyro glared at Glue Stick who gulped. "We must search diligently for any hostility toward toonkind, and any threats we find must be neutralized. Is everyone ready?" They each nodded. "Good. Glue Stick, the pencil please."
The horse reached under the dining table and picked up the magnificent object. He handed it to Evina. Kate threw down the pages she was holding. Each page had a sketch of a person that they had created to take the form of.
Evina studied Glue's Stick's mask carefully, examining all the details. When he was ready, he looked up and saw him shaking with fear. "Please don't move unless, of course, you want me to mess up your real form."
Glue Stick shut his eyes tightly and tried his best to breathe calmly and stay still. Evina worked slowly and carefully, placing an intricate layer over his body that colored itself to the desired appearance. When he was finished, he examined his work. Glue stick was a young man with spiky blonde hair, freckles, and an overall appearance of being fun-loving and immature. When he opened his eyes, they were emerald green. He wore faded holey jeans and a red t-shirt.
"I need a mirror!" Glue Stick shouted, and he ran into the bathroom. The others heard a scream almost immediately.
"Kate next," Evina said.
"Yes, you better hurry," Gyro insisted.
"And why do I need to do this again?" she complained. "Don't I already look human enough?"
"We've been through this a million times!" Evina growled. "Humans are complex, very complex. They have a lot of details that toons don't have. You still need a lot of work."
"You know, some girls will get insulted if you say their appearance needs a lot of work. Fortunately for you, I don't care about that stuff."
Gyro groaned while Evina worked. "And I don't even think we're doing this very well. It's not going to look perfectly human, but I hope it will fool everyone long enough to get our work done."
When Kate was finished, she looked similar to her previous self except much more human. She appeared to be a young Asian woman with long, black, shiny hair. She had a beautiful glow and a perfectly calm expression on her face. Her clothes were changed to a simple white top and skirt with floral patterns on it. She had previously insisted on keeping her ninja clothes, but they convinced her that she couldn't wear them out in public.
"I guess I'll have to examine the wonderful work," she said sarcastically, heading to the bathroom to meet Glue Stick. They hadn't heard from him and thought that maybe he passed out.
"Please hurry, Evina!" Gyro pleaded.
Evina went hard to work on his father. Then they switched places, and Gyro worked on him.
After some quick work, Gyro became a tall but bulky man about age fifty. He had amber eyes, a round nose, and subtle lines in his aging face. His brown hair had some gray strands, and he was starting to bald. His clothes were a simple plaid shirt and brown pants.
Evina was taller than the others, a bit older than Kate and Glue Stick, with dark brown hair trimmed in a professional way. He wore a casual blue t-shirt buttoned at the top with clean black pants. His irises were dark gray. They reflected the strong influence that The Shadow still held on him. Fortunately, though, he looked pretty normal from a distance.
"Don't forget to smile, Evina," Gyro reminded.
Evina had always kept a stern expression but tried his best to loosen it and be optimistic.
The ship began to vibrate slightly as their speed increased, gravitating toward the gigantic portal. The white light outside the windows grew brighter. Glue Stick and Kate came back to the main room.
"Ok, everyone, we only have seconds left! From now on, Evina will be known as Aaron, I will be Jack, Glue Stick will be Nick, and Kate will be... Kate. Is everyone ready? When we get there, you must remain calm and follow my lead!"
The light was getting very bright now, and the ship was creaking as it fell.
"Oh, and I must warn you, this will feel very, very weird!"
"What do you mean by weird?" Glue stick asked.
With the sound of a page being torn, the ship shattered to pieces. They all screamed as they were stretched out like spaghetti and twisted around in a pearly white vortex swirling around violently. It was like water, and they were funneled up to the surface, to another universe.
There was a loud pop, and they fell onto a hard floor, piled on top of each other.
"WOW!" Glue Stick shouted. They all jumped to their feet.
"Shh!" Gyro whispered furiously. "We don't want to draw attention to ourselves!"
As they looked around, they noticed they were in a dark room. There were printing machines lined along the walls, covered in dust. It was an abandoned printing shop. On the floor between them was a crinkled sheet of paper.
Gyro bent down and grabbed the paper. "This is our portal," he told them quietly. "We have to make sure that nothing bad happens to it." He took a step forward and slipped on some oily substance spilled long ago on the grimy floor. The paper fell and was soaked in it, completely useless. "No!"
"Dad, I mean Jack, are you alright?" Evina gave Gyro a hand to lift him off the floor. He looked unharmed, just a little dirty now.
"All I want to know is if you still have the pencil."
"It's right here." Evina reached into his pocket and lifted up the item. It was tiny now, as small as a regular pencil, but it still seemed to sparkle with magical power.
"Good," Gyro sighed, rubbing his balding scalp. "I was afraid that... never mind. Now we may be able to draw ourselves another portal when we need to. Never take it out of your pocket in public. It must be kept hidden!"
Evina placed it securely in his pocket. "Ok, and what about the ship?"
Gyro had a keychain with him, and on it was a tiny model of the ship. "It's right here. Cool, huh?"
At last, they turned around to see where the only light in the room was coming from. There was a boarded-up window next to the door.
"I am ready," Kate said, and she held Glue Stick's arm, so he wouldn't run away.
Together they marched to the door and swung it open. The sound of cars speeding by blared in their ears, a whiff of gasoline fumes met their noses, and hundreds of humans were seen walking in each direction. Compared to the quiet confines of the ship this place was completely chaotic.
Gyro remembered this place well, and he was becoming nervous. "Welcome to Earth."
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