Chapter 15: Regression

Nosy narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms, shifting his tired glare back and forth between 625 and Gantu.

"Unbelievable, just, effin' unbelievable."

The group of captured experiments stood in a shocked circle around Gantu-or rather, what he'd been reduced to after 151 had been set free by 625 as a joke. Gantu, now a small baby, sucked his thumb and gazed at the group in curiosity, 625 sheepishly standing off to the side with his hands behind his back and a toothy grin on his face.

"What? It's funny!" He retorted, shrugging at the band of irritated older series, "Besides, why do you guys care so much? This is a good time for you to get out of here."

Nost shot 625 a sharp look, "And leave you with him? He'll probably get buried under sandwiches, not to mention we've got four people here with health issues and a reality warper no one's supposed to know about."

"And for that matter, why'd you even do this? You know no one's going to take care of him except us, so why would you give us more problems to deal with?" Fudgy snapped, "I don't know what your issue is, but this wasn't funny. We're going to have to go to the Pelekais over this. Again."

"Okay, fine-I'm gonna just get back to sandwich-making then, since I'm the cause of all this, right?" 625 said, his voice quickly turning irritable at the older experiments. Before anyone could stop him, he made for the elevator and pressed the button, giving them a sarcastic wave as he traveled out of sight.

Nosy growled after him before turning to Gantu, who had been returning 625's wave. Gantu had obviously been in a fight with Stitch, as despite his cheerful attitude, Nosy could see he was a bit scuffed up, a small band-aid visible on the top of his head. It seemed 625 had barely even bothered to check him out before leaving him with them.

He sighed, "Alright Gantu, let's get you back to normal, what do you say to that?" He asked, trying to adopt a nicer tone around their babyfied captor. The result was awkward and everyone in the room felt it, shifting amongst themselves and exchanging glances. Gantu in the meantime seemed completely oblivious, laughing and nodding at Nosy's question.

"Right…" Nosy looked over at the crowd and furrowed his brow, "We're going to have to split up to get the ingredients for the cure. Thankfully Jumba just used Earth foods for it, so they'll hopefully be easy to find around here."

There was another hushed discussion before Angel raised a hand, "I'll go! I have super speed so it'll be quick; just tell me what I'll have to get."

"Wait wait wait-hold on a minute...we're going to the Pelekai's right? That means you can't just go alone." Thresher said, holding up his top tentacle to stop her, "Plus, we're probably gonna have to get the cure from them if it was updated."

Angel squinted at Thresher, not completely buying his story. "Mmm-hm, and why else can't I go alone? Aside from that?"

"Weeeelllll...there is Stitch…" Heat offered, only for Angel to stick her tongue out at him, "Knew it! So what if I wanted to see Stitch, you wanna know if Kixx can come over every time you go out!"

"Yeah, but I don't like, try to do it all the time like you do."

Fudgy sighed, "That's enough you two, and Thresher has a point. I think one of us should head out with you so we don't get sidetracked on this."

Angel groaned, "Lemme guess, Hammerface?"

"No. He's staying here." Nosy's reply was oddly terse. He held up a hand to shush the song experiment before turning to Felix, "Felix? What about you?"

The green experiment shrugged, "I mean, if they're fine with me coming, then sure."

At this, Angel brightened up and grinned, "I'm fine with that! Plus we can show you all the trails leading out of here."

"Okay then, cool-so it's going to be me, you, Heat, and Thresher-I think some of the ingredients I saw grow pretty high up, so you might have to use your powers for those if that's fine with you." Felix explained to the four younger experiments, who nodded in agreement, "Sounds good to us! All we need is the list and Gantu's wallet." Angel said, grinning to the cleaning experiment.

"So it's settled then. You four get the ingredients, and the rest of us'll stay here and take care of Gantu until you come back, alright?" Fudgy asked, "And try to get some groceries if you have to go to the store for this stuff, we're running out of eggs again."

"We'll do that! Lemme just write down what we'll need and we'll be all set to go." Felix said, taking a pen and paper as the group of four experiments heading off towards the elevator.

Fudgy nodded after him, "We're gonna leave the ship open for you, alright?"

"Woof, I can't believe it's actually fall-it still feels like summer…" Felix said, fanning himself with the slip of paper he'd written the ingredients on. A good two months had passed since the four's diagnosis and they'd gradually settled into an awkward new normal-Heat and the others heading over to the Pelekai's for treatment, and more contact with free experiments like Kixx, Sparky, and Clip. Sometimes, it almost seemed like they weren't captured anymore if not for the rules surrounding being outside, especially now. The outdoors was only for travel nowadays, and Gantu always supervised the younger experiments when they stepped outside to explore the clearing or head to the beach. Things were certainly different, but the changes were a mixed bag to say the least…

Upon his complaint however, Felix felt the temperature surrounding the group abruptly decrease and shot Heat a stern glance, placing his hands on his hips, "Heat, come on...you know what people think of messing with the temperature."

"But you said you were-"

"Okay, my bad, but you can't do that right now. I know your charge capacity's up from what it was, but you should still be careful. I'm just used to being indoors and wanted to complain, that's all." Felix explained, "Besides, we're almost there anyways."

True to Felix's words, the house soon came into view, the car sitting in the open garage signaling they were just in time to catch the family-they were clearly headed somewhere. Angel and Felix exchanged glances before the former rushed forward and up the stairs.

Angel didn't even have to knock before the door was opened, a puzzled Nani standing before her. She looked down at Angel in confusion before noticing the rest of the experiments making their way up the stairs.

"Uh...Angel, why're you guys here? Did we miss a day or something?" She asked, "Or did Gantu not get cured-'cause if it's the latter I think we're going to have to take another trip to the coffee place…"

"It's that. You don't have to be anywhere, right? Because we're not sure if the cure's been updated." Felix said, holding out the list of ingredients as he walked up.

Nani took the slip of paper and squinted at it for a moment before handing it back, "Well, everything on there checks out. The only problem is that I promised Lilo and Stitch a trip to the movies a little later, so I'm not sure how much time we'll have until then."

"Agh...what's up with that coffee anyways? Is it something you need to show your ID for?" Felix asked, "I remember passing by a store selling it and they had a sign out front saying you had to be 18 to get it. I mean-I'm an adult by Earth standards, but I'm not tall enough to pass as an adult human."

Nani gave him a nod of confirmation, "Yep-the town put those in place since it's a newer blend. I'm going to have to buy some before giving it to you."

"Okay then, should we uh…-should we head to the car or-"

The group were interrupted by a sudden yell, followed by an excited Lilo and Stitch rushing over to greet them from behind Nani, "Hey guys! What brings you here?"

"Ih! Did youga escape? 'Cause meega knows naga have a checkup today!"

"Agh...we're here because Gantu's still a baby and we can't just-you know-leave him like that, sorry." Felix said sheepishly, "We just came over to get the cure and probably do some grocery shopping."

"Oh…" Lilo's face fell in slight disappointment, "But...wait, why would you want to cure Gantu? Wouldn't this be a good time to leave instead?"

"625." Heat said plainly, "He's cool, but we get the feeling he wouldn't be the best parent."

Stitch snorted, "Meega guess youga right, tay loves his sandwiches after all."

"Alright then, should we head out?" Nani asked the group of captured experiments. Felix nodded, but Lilo and Stitch both cut in once again.

"Hey, can we come too? I know Space Mummies'll start in a couple hours, so I think we'll have enough time to get everything before then. So...can we?" She asked, shifting from one foot to the other as the two looked up at Nani.

Nani smiled, but still raised a brow, "You two can come, just don't annoy each other in the car. And no "blue punch buggy" jokes, especially not with Heat and Thresher, alright?"

"Okay!"

"Ih-okitaka!"

Later at the ship found Plasmoid sunning himself on the hatch, pricking his antenna at the feeling of a slight breeze against his skin. Zap floated further up, though careful to avoid the roof. Other experiments had slowly filed outside now that they had the freedom to, carefully making their way around the pools of water dotting the clearing. Plasmoid smiled at the outside ambiance before looking up to Zap.

It was strange, but for some reason, he felt better around him. He didn't know how to describe it and it definitely wasn't the same feeling as when he'd gone out with 619, but Plasmoid by this point understood he had a crush.

Something like that-it was small perhaps, but it was there.

He wondered if Zap felt the same way at times…

"Hey-what're ya thinking about?" Zap's grainy voice drifted down to Plasmoid's level as he noticed him looking. He couldn't help but flush a little as he floated downwards towards the green experiment.

"Ah-nothing much, it's just nice out here and I haven't been outside in a few weeks." Plasmoid said, gesturing towards the clearing surrounding the two.

"Yeah, I get that…" Zap said, "Wanna walk around for a bit? Before we're cooped up again, I mean."

"Sure, lemme just-"

The sudden sound of high pitched laughter cut in, causing both experiments to jump. Plasmoid looked swiftly back towards the ship and groaned, rolling his eyes at Gantu stumbling his way down the ship's entrance. "Oh no-how'd you get out here?"

Gantu simply babbled and pointed towards the ship, causing Zap to let out a snort, "He can come if he wants to, right? Does beg the question as to what happened to Nosy though…"

As if on cue, Nosy's panicked voice could be heard from further inside, calling for Gantu. Plasmoid sighed in annoyance.

"He ran out here Nosy!" He called into the ship, only to jerk back from Gantu as the latter attempted to grab one of his antenna, "And he's being grabby, can you come get him before he pokes my eye out?"

"Aw shoot, sorry about that!" Nosy rushed outside and scooped the now tiny alien into his arms, "He's way more hyper than he is as an adult-makes it hard to keep track of him to say the least…" He sighed and looked down at Gantu, "Come on, let's go back inside, okay?"

Gantu shook his head and pointed at Plasmoid, who took a step back and flattened his antenna, "Nope, nope-you listen to Nosy; stay away from my ears." He said, edging further down the entryway as their babyfied captor giggled and reached out towards him.

Nosy sighed, "I'm gonna just take him back in-sorry about the uh. Whatever that was from him just now."

"Geez…" Zap said in a low voice as Nosy led a pouting Gantu back inside, "He looks exhausted. Hasn't even been looking in our journals lately-the ones we keep out for him anyways…"

At the mention of Nosy's tired demeanor, Plasmoid flattened his ears before explaining. "It's Hammerface. He got real weird ever since we found out what was wrong with us and I think Nosy's dealing with that." He said, "I dunno what's up with him-he acts normal, but something's different."

"Oh...yeah. He's become like a ghost, you rarely see him unless he's out cleaning something…wait." Zap's observation was immediately followed by an uncomfortable pause as him and Plasmoid stared at one another, neither wanting to confirm the implication.

The silence of their discovery was broken by Plasmoid, who gulped before speaking up, "I-I don't think we should tell the others-I mean, Heat and Thresher."

"Yeah, I agree, especially after how Felix acted-"

"Boo."

"OH FU-!" Plasmoid jumped and screamed at the cleaning experiment, who'd stepped up behind him and was crossing his arms, a small container of ground coffee in his hand. Plasmoid could see Heat, Thresher, and Angel picking their way over the rocks behind him, arguing over bags filled with both what Plasmoid guessed were the rest of the ingredients and the week's groceries. Angel was clearly trying to pawn all her bags off on Heat and Thresher, which was the cause of the bickering.

Felix turned back and shot the three a glance before shaking his head in dismay, "Angel, come on, don't do that to them! You know you agreed to carry the snacks!"

"Yeah but-"

"Oh my god-you said you were gonna take those, I'm carrying all the fish and I don't have super strength! Go!" Heat snapped at the pink experiment, a bag full of the aforementioned frozen fish gripped in both hands.

Felix looked taken aback at Heat's sudden outburst before putting his hand to his head, "Now I know how Hammerface feels-I'll take the snacks, Angel…"

"Speaking of which…" He looked back towards both experiments, his expression turning serious, "sorry guys, but I heard, and...I need to talk to you about it after we deal with Gantu, okay?"

Plasmoid and Zap exchanged worried glances before Zap nodded, "Sure, we're gonna stay out here though."

Felix sighed as the arguing started up again behind him. "That'd be a good idea."

Night was falling as Plasmoid and Zap waited outside by the ship, watching the water of the clearing turn a brilliant orange and soft ripples drift across the surface. The sound of the ship's door opening revealed Felix, who cautiously stepped out and glanced behind him before making his way over to them.

"Sorry about the wait, it took a bit to make the cure and...deal with the awkwardness, if you know what I mean." He said, sitting down on the rock next to the two, "Also told Gantu I'd see you inside, so he doesn't suspect anything right now."

"Okay, cool." Plasmoid said, then instantly pivoted to the main topic at hand, "So, Hammerface. What's going on?"

Felix sighed in dismay, his antenna drooping at the mention of the tool experiment, "Well, first of all, you two are right-it's a form of my old programming. I don't know much about this one, only that it's much more complex. That's why he's more subtle about it than I was."

"So, he's you, but like...updated." Zap concluded, watching lights turn on in the ship looming behind them, shadows flickering across the walls as everyone else made dinner.

Felix however nodded at his conclusion, "Pretty much; no one knows what to do with him over it, but we're trying to get him over to the Pelekais and take it out, I don't know why it's so active, but it's really messing with him."

"Oh geez...and he's got that immunity problem now too? What's he thinking?!" Plasmoid asked, only to be shushed by Felix, "Not so loud-and to answer your question, he's not. That's the point of this type of code. You know how you feel the need to explode things all the time? Or burn them?"

Both 6-series nodded, thinking back to their own destructive programming.

"Right-that's a remnant from our series. A lot of us were made when Jumba was still learning how to code in the first place, so we ended up a mixed bag. I was one, and...I guess Hammerface is another." Felix explained, "And instead of fixing us-either of us, he just deactivated us instead. And now..." He gestured back towards the ship in dismay at seeing a hammer-shaped shadow making its way down the hall, "We're dealing with that…"

He finished with a sad stare towards the stream, the palm trees overhead rustling in a faint breeze. He hated to have to explain this-he hated everything about this situation now, especially when it came to these four and the illness he could-even now-sense all over them. Their sicknesses were undoubtedly the worst part of this; seeing what each one had to go through over it was nothing short of horrific, even if they were optimistic about it. It was probably him, but he was much less hopeful about what he was sensing.

"...So now what…?" Plasmoid's voice was distant, watching the last of the sunlight disappear beneath the treeline, "What's going to happen to him?"

Felix sighed, "I don't know Plasmoid, we're trying, but we have Hamsterviel calling in and the rest of you to deal with, so we're really not sure about anything right now."

Their conversation was interrupted by an irritated voice coming from behind, "You three get inside, you know the rules."

"Ugh-we're coming in!" Felix snapped at Gantu before standing up and shooting Plasmoid and Zap a glance, "Listen, just...if nothing else? Just know we're doing the best we can, okay?"

The two nodded, "'Kay, we believe you Felix…" Plasmoid said, the three making their way back over to the ship...

The moonlight shone overhead as the gray figure slunk his way up to the top level of the ship, where the four had slept months before and where he now spent most of his nights-he'd started getting up a few hours after everyone else had fallen asleep and heading there, usually staring out at the waterfall that cut off the clearing.

It was around one in the morning, like most other times he left the room, so he was certain everyone was sound asleep. It wasn't like he was doing anything wrong, but these past few weeks-especially the last couple of days, he felt a need to keep himself hidden from them.

...Except, he wasn't alone. Not this time.

Hammerface's eyes widened as blood rushed to his face. Both Nosy and Fibber were perched by the wheels of the shuttle, and both were staring at him intently as he stopped dead in his tracks.

Hammerface gasped and coughed, hunching over from the shock of seeing he wasn't alone.

"Wh-what, how?!"

"I'm an escape artist and this room has cameras." Nosy said flatly. Hammerface found himself searching for anger in his friend's voice, but couldn't find any. The realization almost...disappointed him in a way. He would expect Nosy to be angry with him for withdrawing as much as he had, but the pink experiment instead had a sad look on his face as he surveyed his friend, his ears flattened against his head. Fibber looked much the same, hugging himself in worry as he looked his successor up and down.

"Hammerface...why are you so…" Fibber couldn't finish his sentence, his arms dropping by his sides as he stared at him, teary-eyed.

Nosy took over upon seeing Fibber's faltering, "...Why have you been giving in to that program? It's every day you've been tapping into it-we're really worried and you're not…"

He drew in a breath before continuing, "You're not eating, you're barely sleeping-all you do is serve us and everyone can see it. You look thinner every day now..." He finished with an audible crack in his voice, causing Hammerface to hang his head in guilt.

"Look, I-"

A beep startled him as Fibber stepped forward, having regained his composure, "Don't explain this away, you know what this does to you-you saw what happened to Felix, so why?"

"And...I know-it's because of the other three, but you can't just neglect yourself for them, they're scared for you and-"

"Yeah, actually, I want to."

The words felt like bile as they slipped out of his mouth. Nosy and Fibber froze, the former's jaw dropping open in horror at his exclamation. Hammerface took a step back and turned around, not wanting to face either of them. Weak as he was, he felt anger start to boil inside of him. What was this, an intervention? And when the other three needed him the most?

"I thought you gave a damn about them." He continued, "I'm partially responsible, you know…"

"Yeah, you're so damn responsible for Gantu being a douche." Now Nosy's voice had some anger to it, "You promised me when I first came here that you wouldn't do this, and now here you are scraping your food onto Heat's plate when he's not looking and staying up at all hours of the night. What does that say to him? Or the other two? How about Angel?"

"Or better yet-how about us?" He glared at Hammerface's back as the tool experiment hunched his shoulders. "And what about 17-"

"Shut up. I know what I'm doing."

"NO, NO YOU DON'T!"

Nosy's sudden snarl was enough to get Hammerface to turn back towards him in shock; never before had he seen Nosy get angry at him-if at all. The pig experiment immediately regretted snapping, placing a hand over his mouth and squeezing his eyes shut. Hammerface watched as a couple of tears spilled over them and fell to the floor.

The room felt eerily still in that moment; the only things Hammerface could hear were his heart pounding in his chest, and his breath catching in his throat. The three older series listened intently, hoping the outburst hadn't woken anyone.

Nosy took his hand away from his mouth after a minute, fixing Hammerface with a glare this time around. "You're not messing with that thing anymore. I don't know why it's active but you're not touching it, end of story."

"Jumba activated it when we were merged, so I may as well."

These words sounded completely alien to Hammerface; he'd never spoken to his friends like that before. Worst of all, try as he might, it was as if he couldn't stop himself. The other three were far more important right now, and this could always be fixed after they were rescued-at least, that was the line of logic that kept flashing through his mind ever since they'd gotten their results back.

Nosy now sniffed, another tear sliding out from his eye. "Hammerface, don't do this..."

He was aware his voice sounded like a snotty Earth kid's. Probably a result of his disguise as one, but it still felt strange to hear from himself. Hot tears blurred his vision as he watched Hammerface shake his head and turn back towards the elevator.

"I'm going back downstairs. As far as I'm concerned, this thing is helping, and you're not going to stop me from using it."

His voice had once again taken on a robotic quality. Nosy felt sick upon hearing it-it was the tone Hammerface took whenever he was acting on his program. Neither him nor Fibber said a word as Hammerface traveled back down the elevator, leaving them alone in the top level.

Hammerface scowled to himself as he made his way down the dark hallway towards the ship's bathroom. He stepped inside and flicked on the light, taking out a stool and climbing up to the counter so he could see himself in the mirror.

He almost wished he hadn't looked upon seeing the reflection that greeted him. A scraggly mess stood in the mirror, their fur sticking out in various places and a small mat growing on their left elbow. He turned his head to see prominent bags under his eyes.

Hammerface sighed before muttering a curse under his breath and pounding a fist on the counter. He'd never really cared what he looked like after the reveal, but he could see why his friends would try to talk to him...he must've forgotten to brush himself today.

Come to think of it, when was the last time he'd done that? He hadn't done it lately because he hadn't had the energy to-in fact, he'd been feeling oddly tired these past couple of days. He'd had to practically drag himself out of bed yesterday and then…

Then there was the coughing fits.

They'd started small, but it seemed now like there was a film inside his lungs that refused to come out. Even now, he could feel it threatening to slip out and wake up the whole ship.

Hammerface frowned and paused for a moment, then carefully cleared his throat.

Nothing. No change.

He growled and placed a hand to his throat. Just what the hell was going on here? Something wasn't right...