Skye made sure to be careful as she navigated the outside of Fusion Buttercup's lair, the ground completely coated by fusion matter, save for some few platforms that were easy to navigate with a few well-timed jumps. However, any other way in was blocked off by more of the fusion matter, save for a teleport platform that had seaweed-like tendrils made of fusion matter growing out of it. Hoping that it was still operational, Skye stepped onto it, and soon found herself inside what she recognised to be the interior of what used to be DexLabs. She called out Dexter's name a few times, and it was met with no reply, until someone came walking towards her, and Skye held up the S.P.L.A.N.K.E.R in defence (she'd always thought most of the Kids Next Door's weaponry and vehicles were a bit too silly, and a bit unsafe), but then she heard a familiar voice that alleviated her worry.
"Skye? Is that you?"
"Dexter?" Skye lowered her weapon as the boy genius stepped out of the shadows and sighed, relieved. "Thank goodness."
"I was just about to say the same thing," Said Dexter. "I haven't seen you in nearly three years now. My stupid sister Dee Dee pressed my laboratory's emergency shutdown button while the time machine was still operational."
Skye thought this a bit harsh. Of course Dee Dee wasn't as gifted as Dexter, but it didn't make her less competent. "Don't blame her, Dexter."
"It's hard not to," The redhead sighed. "The only human test subjects I've ever worked with is myself, there was a chance you and Miss Connors could have been killed." He noticed Aryah's sword hanging off her belt and frowned. "She didn't...did she?"
Skye gripped the hilt and shook her head. "No, no. She's very much alive, but she hurt her arm in the crash. Ben's taken her somewhere to get it looked at."
Dexter nodded. "At least she's still alive. I spent a year wondering if Jack blamed me for her going missing."
Skye was surprised. "He's real? The samurai?"
"The same one. Anyways, aside from the fact that we'll need to create a new time capsule to get you two home, that's not our real problem right now." Dexter gestured for Skye to follow him, and Skye did so obediently. It was then that she noticed that Dexter was finally taller than her. Three years hadn't much changed his face, but he was certainly taller, though not much. Soon, they stopped behind a large piece of fallen debris that blinded the corner and Dexter pointed out a figure not far from them that seemed to be made of fusion matter. "That is Fusion Buttercup," He explained. "You are already aware that these types of Fusion monsters are clones of our world's heroes, but they are far more powerful than those they imitate." He readied a staff that looked like one of those robot-claw toys they sell in the toy section of the supermarket before looking her in the eye. "Ready?" Skye nodded and raised her S.P.L.A.N.K.E.R in response before the two rushed at Fusion Buttercup, ready to fight. The fusion went first for Dexter, but turned its attention to Skye when she smacked it in the face with the S.P.L.A.N.K.E.R, and that only served to make it angry. Fusion Buttercup threw its fist at Skye, knocking the blunette away, and the S.P.L.A.N.K.E.R into a puddle of fusion matter. It was about to charge at her again when Dexter swung the robot claw at it to get its attention, calling over to Skye to get up while he fended it off. Skye tried to get herself oriented after getting herself back on her feet, and, finding herself rid of her weapon, she drew her friend's sword and ran at the Fusion with it. Her strikes were not as skilled as that of the sword's owner, but it was effective enough, and soon, Fusion Buttercup was defeated. Then, from the melting matter, a smaller figure emerged that looked like the Powerpuff the Fusion had imitated in nightmarish likeness, but this one looked more like Buttercup in the sense that it could only be described as a chibi, and Skye felt the need to resist the urge to squeal and hug the poor thing to death. "Congratulations," Dexter said, still a little out of breath. "You've created your first Nano."
"Nano?" Skye questioned as the little creature flew merrily around her head.
"They're made of fusion matter, much like Fusions," Dexter explained, "But these little ones are on our side."
Suddenly, the whole place began to shake violently and Skye found herself clinging to Dexter to stay balanced. Chunks of debris fell from the ceiling, blocking off the way she'd just come, but there was another option; another teleport pad stood nearby that caught her attention when Dexter was helping her onto her feet. "That did not sound good," the Boy Genius said as he looked around at the ceiling and the walls before he grabbed hold of Skye's shoulders. "Skye, listen to me. Take the teleporter pad out of here. It'll take you to the roof and Numbuh Two will pick you up from there."
"Not without you," Skye argued. "We're getting out of here together!"
"I have to make sure Fusion Buttercup didn't steal anything from the lab," Dexter rebutted. "I can't risk it, even if half the lab is gummed up with fusion matter."
"But you said we had to get the time capsule back up and running," Skye told him. "You built it--!"
Dexter shook his head. "As much as I hate to say it, it's Mandark's job." Skye fought the urge to snort. She hated Mandark, from his sallow, thin face to his bloated ego, and the thought of having to work with him was a nightmare come true, but if Dexter was so sure...
"You have to come back alive, do you understand?" Skye said firmly.
Dexter just sighed and gave a lopsided smile. "No promises...and, Skye?"
Suddenly, Dexter took off his glasses, leaned in and stole a kiss right off of Skye's lips. From the moment of contact to the time he had pulled away, Skye was shocked and scrambling for words, but all Dexter could say was, "In case I don't get to do that later," before he ran off to see if anything was stolen, and Skye was left staring after him for a few moments before she forced herself to run to the teleport pad, her Buttercup nano trailing behind her. The Dexbot, polite as ever, gave a compliment to the 'nice weather' they were having (as was the wont of a droid with such a limited A.I) and, upon command, teleported Skye to the roof, where she spotted Numbuh Two near the S.C.A.M.P.E.R.
"We can't hold Tech Square any longer!" He called over to her over the clamour of the buildings below crashing into the rising flood of fusion matter below. "We have to fall back- get to the S.C.A.M.P.E.R! Hurry!" Skye started to make a run for it when something akin to the Cyberus that had attacked her school when the invasion began crossed with a bat swooped in, blocking her path. This is when her little Nano friend came in handy, using some sort of power to stun the creature, and it dropped out of the sky and over the side of the bridge, into the green flood below, and Skye made it across just in time to see the bridge collapse behind her. A stone dropped in her gut. Dexter was still in there, how was he going to get out now? She looked to Numbuh Two, who shook his head. "Looks like Buttercup and the others weren't able to destroy the terrafusers in time."
"What about Dexter? And the others?" Skye asked him. "Please, if we just wait a little longer...!"
Again, Numbuh Two shook his head. "There's no time. I received a transmission from Dexter not long after you left Fusion Buttercup's lair. We have to find Mandark so he can help us repair the time capsule." He climbed back into the S.C.A.M.P.E.R and leaned in the doorway. Skye could tell he was exhausted. "For now, we're headed to the rendevous point to pick up the others." He walked off to the cockpit, with Skye not far behind. Just before the door closed, she took one last look back at Dexlabs and fought back the urge to cry as they flew off.
On the way to the rendevous point, Skye had taken a seat near the door, so when she had heard someone crying, she looked around and saw Aryah sitting in some quiet corner. Skye got up and walked over to comfort her friend, being careful to watch her step as she went. Again, she never much trusted these deathtraps the Kids Next Door built. She tried to smile as she took a seat next to her crying friend and put her arm around her shoulders. Aryah looked up at her, and when Skye returned her sword, she gave only a nod as her thanks. "What happened?" Skye asked her.
"Ben didn't make it," Sniffled Aryah. "Or Numbuh One..."
Skye sighed. "I don't think Dexter will be coming, either." She hugged Aryah a little closer and let the younger girl use her shoulder to cry into while she thought. To think, they were supposed to work with Mandark Astromonov to get home- the very thought made her stomach churn and her skin crawl. She was in the same class as him and hated his very aura as it clashed so much with the people around him, teachers and students alike. There was anger around him, so much anger, but he did have the capacity for human affection; it was no secret he was fond of Dexter's elder sister, DeeDee. Some thought he had a rival in her brother, Rubin, who seemed to have taken an interest in her as well. Hopefully, that rivalry (if there even was one) wouldn't interfere with their mission too much and Mandark would properly put his priorities in order in such a way that he would realise that turning the tide of the war was more important than his almost non-existent love life.
After a short while, the door opened again and Buttercup, Numbuh Five and a man in a white Gi and sandals carrying a sword climbed aboard the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. By now, Aryah was falling asleep from exhaustion on Skye's shoulder, and since Skye was too polite at the time, she decided to let her friend rest for the moment. They all looked so worn out, so tired. Whatever it was that kept them going in this war was leaving them, but this was just keeping up appearances, she supposed; trying to keep a brave face in all of this so the troops weren't discouraged. Her father had one said that a war is lost when your soldiers lose heart, and Skye could sense that those gathered were already thinking of the possibility of this all being a lost cause, but the man in the Gi, whose name she didn't know, there was something that was keeping him going. She supposed it had something to do with a small teddy-bear charm that hung off a belt around his waist, and that's when something clicked. Didn't Aryahhave the same charm on her house keys? She was a latchkey kid, so it wasn't uncommon to see her checking if she still had her keys. She kept them with her at all times and had left them with Dexter in the past, so wouldn't that mean that, if this man had the charm in this time...
So lost in thought, Skye barely noticed that the man had walked over to them until he was kneeling in front of them with a tired, but polite smile.
"Excuse me," He said quietly. "I do not mean to be a bother, but is your friend alright?" Skye nodded and was about to say something, when Aryah raised her weary head to look at the newcomer. A flicker of recognition flashed through her eyes and tears ran fresh and hot down her tired and dirty face. She was shaking, the poor girl, and Skye was concerned, if not a bit surprised. This man couldn't be the one from her young friend's stories, could he? The man quickly gathered Aryah into his arms and held her tightly, being mindful of her injured arm, and Aryah did the same as she burst into tears again. She called this man 'Jack', like she had the man in her stories, and suddenly, Skye felt awful for ever doubting that she'd been telling the truth the whole time as she watched her friend cry in his arms. In some ways, she thought it sweet that the two looked like they were almost like brother and sister, or perhaps father and daughter, but if the stories were true, then their parting must have been so painful.
She saw her friend take something out of her pocket- the small, pretty charm she always carried around- to show it to Jack, and he closed her hand around it and let her drift off to sleep in his arms. Skye just smiled at it all, happy that Aryah got to be with her dear old friend again.
"She never stopped talking about you, you know," She told him, and when she noticed Jack's look of surprise, "She always told stories about you. We always thought she was making things up, but she really did miss you."
"I am just glad that Dexter was right when he explained where you two had gone," Jack sighed. "I feared the worst had befallen you two." He looked around for a moment, as if he had forgotten something.
"Where is Dexter?"
Skye's smile dropped as she explained what had happened and ended it with, "I don't think there's any way he could have made it out alive." Jack just nodded solemnly and stayed quiet, with Aryah still fast asleep in his arms. Skye also retained her silence after that, still wondering how things could have gotten so bad over the course of the three years they'd been gone.
Numbuh Two brought the S.C.A.M.P.E.R down on the outskirts of Tech City, and everyone aboard got out, most of them looking out on what was left of Tech City and wondering if their friends were still alive or if there was anything they could have done to prevent this from happening. Soon, Numbuh Two had brought out a communicator with a message from Dexter, saying that it was up to Numbuh Two and Mandark to rebuild the time capsule that had sent Skye and Aryah to the future and signing out with his intention to find another way out of Tech Square. It was a recorded message, so Skye found herself unable to argue that the boy genius should just find somewhere to wait until they could find him since he couldn't hear them. The flight to Sector V that followed was long and quiet, and most of those aboard were asleep, too exhausted to stay awake. Skye stayed up with Numbuh Five, sharing whatever bits of candy Sector V's second in command had on her.
"So what's with your friend curled up there with Jack?" She asked the blunette quietly. "They seem to be pretty close."
"Aryah apparently travelled with him when she was a child," Skye replied. "This is the first time in five years that they've seen each other. From what she would say in her stories, Jack was really the only real friend Aryah's ever had."
"Numbuh Five thinks she's heard one 'a them stories," The other girl mused. "I think Ninety-three caught wind of it once."
"Claire. Strawberry blonde, brown eyes?"
"Oh," Said Skye. "The cranky one who runs supply distribution."
"That's one word for it," Chuckled Numbuh Five, and the two were quiet for the remainder of the ride.
The S.C.A.M.P.E.R set itself down in Hero Square, Sector V, and waiting for them was, much to Skye's chagrin, was Mandark. Aryah, who had woken up just before the landing, was a little drowsy as she hopped out along with Jack.
"So, if it isn't Dexter's little lab rats," Said Mandark as he walked towards them. Skye tried not to wince because of his nasally voice, and Aryah just looked at him. She had never met Mandark, but she didn't like the first impression he was making, and made sure to keep her distance, much to Jack's confusion.
Skye squared her shoulders and crossed her arms. "Still in your shorts? I thought men of science wore real pants." She smirked. "And not silly capes, either."
"Don't tempt me, Heartrider," Mandark sneered. "I can see Dexter is not among you, which means he was lost along with Tech Square. Face it, you need me!"
"Like a hole in the head."
"Enough!" The two visibly flinched, even Aryah. She knew that this was when it was a bad idea to annoy Jack, judging by the look he was giving them. "Now is not the time for arguments," He told them all sternly. "The people of the past must be warned, and soon. Mandark, how quickly can you have the time machine ready?"
"Well, it'll take time," The young scientist explained, adjusting his glasses and shooting a nasty glare at Skye. "And if the girls would be nice enough as to help, it shouldn't take long."
"Good," Huffed Skye. "The sooner we get back, the better." She started to walk off, more than likely to take a breather, and Mandark just crossed his arms.
"Well, she's going to be pleasant to work with," He commented, earning a nasty glare from Aryah.
"Don't you have anything better to do?" She snapped at him, and Mandark just gave her a glance before walking off. Aryah just sighed. She was already exhausted, and it was starting to worry her that things had gotten this bad. Jack settled his hand on his young friend's shoulder to get her attention and smiled.
"You're still as spirited as I remember," He chuckled.
Aryah smiled back at him, but it didn't stay long. "How did you get caught up in all this, anyway, Jack?" She asked. "Last I remember, we were at that time portal and you pushed me into it..."
Jack shook his head. "Aku's drones destroyed the portal before I could go through," He explained. "I travelled again for some five years before Dexter used his technology to ask for my help in this war."
"But we're losing," The younger of the two mentioned. "And if you die here..."
"It matters not what becomes of me," The samurai interjected. "You and your friend still have the chance to go back and stop this from happening."
Knowing better than to question him in these sort of situations, Aryah nodded, but she couldn't help the stone that had dropped in her gut. Things were already starting to look pretty bad- how could three years really have changed so much so quickly?