The Power Ship juddered as another Zilgrid Death Ray smashed into its wing.
‘We’re losing power,’ cried Anti-Matter Kid, pounding the console.
Ultra Boy wrenched the rudder to the left, narrowly avoiding another barrage from the Zilgrid vessel. ‘We might be losing power, but we’ll never lose faith, will we Wonder Dog?
Wonder Dog, resplendent in his space suit, yipped his assent before pressing the fire button, sending a missile crashing into the heart of the enemy ship.
‘Good shot, boy!’ said Ultra Boy.
All three members of the Intergalactic Power Squad were close, but Ultra Boy and Wonder Dog had a special bond. They grew up together on the planet Jinx and hadn't spent a single day apart. They had a telepathic understanding; each of them knowing what move the other was going to make.
The Zilgrids were far from the first hostile force they had encountered since they began their intergalactic adventures, but they were certainly one of the toughest. Their Death Rays were incredibly difficult to outmanoeuvre and caused more damage than the Power Ship had sustained in years.
‘I guess this is why they don't call them Snuggly Cuddle Rays,’ says Anti-Matter Kid, as another one took off a chunk of the fuselage.
The communications screen sputtered into life and Duke Zilgrid appeared, an enormous grin stretched across his head, which was the exact size and colour of a watermelon.
‘We've got you now, Intergalactic Power Squad,’ he cackled. ‘Prepare to be boarded.’
Ultra Boy’s heart pounded. No. The Power Ship was sacrosanct. It had never been invaded by enemy forces. It was their safe space. ‘Oh no you don't,’ he said. ‘Anti-Matter Kid, engage shields.’
Anti-Matter Kid shook his head frantically. ‘It’s no good. That last hit took them out.’
Duke Zilgrid laughed again, this time louder. ‘There's no point fighting it. We're coming aboard.’
Before they could do anything to stop it, the air behind them fizzed blue until it formed two shapes, which were unmistakably Zilgrid; hefty and thick. When they came into focus, Ultra Boy recognised them instantly. It was Ethanium and Tyleriak Zilgrid; two of the galaxy’s most wanted criminals. They had been terrorising every planet they could get into and showed no sign of slowing down.
‘Nice ship, freakazoids,’ Tyleriak sneered. ‘I've been in better smelling toilets than this.’
Ethanium grunted with laughter and slapped his grotesque brother on the back. ‘Good one, mate.’
Ultra Boy sprang to his feet and pointed his Ultra Ray Gun at them. ‘I order you to leave this ship immediately.’
The Zilgrids chuckled, and Ethanium held up one of his calloused hands. The gun vibrated and Ultra Boy watched with a mixture of horror and amazement as the power dropped to zero.
‘How did you do that?’ Ultra Boy whispered.
‘How did you do that?’ Ethanium and Tyleriak mimicked him in high-pitched voices.
Wonder Dog growled ominously as they approached, but didn't attack. He knew they were too powerful.
‘What do you want?’ said Ultra Boy.
Ethanium and Tyleriak sniggered at each other as they made their way to the comms screen and faced then.
‘We want him,’ said Ethanium, pointing at Anti-Matter Kid with a thick, green finger.
‘Why do you want Anti-Matter Kid?’ Ultra Boy asked.
‘We think he'd be a good addition to our team,’ said Tyleriak. ‘He might not look like a Zilgrid, but we're pretty sure he's one of us, deep down.’
Ultra Boy laughed. ‘Well that's all very nice, but you're not having him. Isn't that right, Anti-Matter Kid?’
Ultra Boy turned to look at his friend and couldn't believe what he was seeing. Anti-Matter Kid was staring at the two invaders intently, and not with hatred, but with something that might have been admiration.
Ultra Boy went to walk over to his friend, but Tyleriak unholstered his own ray gun and pointed it at him. Ultra Boy knew there must have been Death Rays in there. One blast from that gun would be enough to squelch him into strawberry jam. He held up his hands to show he wasn't trying anything funny and leaned closer to Anti-Matter Kid.
‘You don't believe what they're saying, do you?’ he said to him.
Anti-Matter Kid wouldn't take his eyes off them. It was as if he was hypnotised. ‘I don't know,’ he said, his voice quiet and faraway. ‘Maybe they've got a point.’
‘Are you crazy?’ Ultra Boy cried. ‘They're space pirates! Criminals! That's not you. You belong with me and Wonder Dog. Just like it's always been!’
Anti-Matter Kid looked at his old friend for the first time, but his eyes were still blank.
‘Things have changed,’ he said, robotically. ‘Deep down, I'm a Zilgrid.’
Tyleriak and Ethanium belly-bumped each other and laughed their piggy chuckles. ‘Told you we'd get him,’ Ethanium said.
‘Listen to me, Anti-Matter Kid,’ I said. ‘Remember all the good times we had! The three of us are a team. If one leaves, it will fall apart.’
Anti-Matter Kid slowly turned away and focused on the Zilgrid brothers again. ‘I'm ready to go, now,’ he said, flatly.
Wonder Dog, sensing something was wrong, ran up to Anti-Matter Kid and jumped up, nudging his hand with his nose, but it was as if he wasn't there.
‘Here we go,’ said Tyleriak, pulling a transporter out of his pocket and throwing it on the floor between them, where it glowed white hot.
Anti-Matter Kid walked towards the transporter without looking back. Ultra Boy desperately tried to grab him, but it was too late. With a flash of light, he was gone. Without considering his safety, Ultra Boy dived at Ethanium and Tyleriak but they were gone, too, leaving nothing but their swampy smell.
The Zilgrid ship moved away at warp speed. Ultra Boy and Wonder Dog jumped to the controls but the ship was too damaged to give chase.
‘I'm sure someone will be along to help us soon,’ said Ultra Boy, but the vast lonely blackness outside showed no signs of life.
Wonder Dog hopped over to Ultra Boy’s Seat and snuggled in his lap. ‘At least we have each other,’ said Ultra Boy, his voice tight in his throat.
The ship pitched uneasily and Anti-Matter Kid’s empty seat gently spun, before creaking to a stop.