Sorry for the long delay. I'd like to give special thanks to Light 8496, Overlord15 and AlienTokusatsuDuelistMangaGeek for always sending me PMs to keep me motivated to work on this story.
This chapter will be non-interactive because it's actually a "Part One". It was getting too long so I had to split it in two parts. Next chapter ("Part Two") will be interactive again.
"No deal," Charmcaster said almost immediately.
"Why am I not surprised?" Gwen rolled her eyes, "At least let's do this as humanely as possible."
Before breathing the anesthetic gas that would render him unconscious, Old Albedo cursed everyone there, promising that they would suffer at the hands of his other self, the current wielder of the Omnitrix.
Fergi took a scalpel and prepared to open up Old Albedo's head to remove the mind drive chip from inside. She was about to begin, but her hands were shaking too much. Everyone knew that doing that surgery would kill Old Albedo. Gwen knew that her friend Fergi had never killed anyone before and that would be very hard on her. Gwen thought about trying to convince Fergi to change her vote, so they could just take the deal and wouldn't have to kill anyone.
"Let me do it," Charmcaster offered when she noticed Fergi's hesitation, "It wouldn't be the first time that I've killed someone."
"N-No," Fergi said, "I-It has to be me. Y-You-all are too big to do it right. You might make a cut too d-deep by a-accident, and we will lose the c-chip."
Albedo and Fergi were basically the same size, while everyone else was a giant compared to the Galvans. Fergi was indeed the most suitable person to do the 'surgery' with the necessary precision.
"Well, I can still make things easier for you," Charmcaster pressed her fingers against Old Albedo's neck and, a couple of minutes later, the computer that monitored Old Albedo's vital signs emitted a loud beep, indicating that he was dead, "There, I asphyxiated him for you, Fergi. You can open up his head without guilt now." She smiled and turned to the others, "One Albedo down, one to go. Do you see now the advantages of having a villain on the team? I get my hands dirty, so you don't have to. Did I hear a 'Thank you'? You're welcome, folks."
Gwen looked away upset, more with herself than with Charmcaster or anyone else. She knew that there was a way to get Ben back without having to commit murder - by taking up Albedo's offer - but she still sat back and allowed a death to happen. Grandpa Max placed a hand on her shoulder, "It's for the best, Pumpkin."
Princess Looma was indifferent. She couldn't kill Albedo because of the Tetramands' laws, but she wasn't the least bit upset or guilty over the fact that he was dead.
Charmcaster's action had the desired effect on Fergi, who now worked on the 'surgery' to remove the chip showing no more signs of hesitation.
Then Gwen's eyes widened when she remembered a very important - and awful - detail, "C-Charmcaster, w-what about your m-magical c-contract with Ben? You couldn't kill anyone without Ben's permission, otherwise you would suffer a-"
"How cute that you care about me, Red." Charmcaster pinched Gwen's cheek, who quickly pushed her hand away in response, "But you don't need to worry. Until we bring Ben back to the land of the living, that contract is null and void. Believe me, I can feel - or, in this case, not feel - whether I'm under a magical oath or not."
Less than an hour later, Fergi had finished reprogramming the chip. It wasn't very hard for her to do it, since Albedo had already set up the chip to be used to upload his own mind to the Omnitrix, so only a few modifications were necessary.
"All we need to do now is to implant the chip inside someone's head and bring this person close to Albedo 2.0. His or her mind will be connected to the Omnitrix, and it will be possible to rescue Ben from whatever mental prison that he's locked in, while the rest will keep Albedo distracted," the female Galvan explained, "I suggest for it to be Gwen. She knows Ben since they were born, right? So she is probably the most likely to be able to convince him to snap out of whatever illusion that Albedo has created to trap him."
"It's not a good idea to take Gwen out of the fight against Albedo," Charmcaster said, "Her power is literally good luck. And we're going to need a lot of luck. Why not Grandpa Max? He knows Ben since Ben was born too, right? And his presence won't make much of a difference in the fight at all."
"Hey, I've been fighting and winning impossible battles since before you were born, little girl," Grandpa Max protested.
Charmcaster opened her mouth, just about to make some sarcastic comment about Grandpa Max being a little bit old and out of shape these days, but she saw the death glare that Gwen sent her and stopped herself.
The silver-haired enchantress simply raised her arms and said, "Mr. Tennyson, I know and I'm sorry. I'd actually say Fergi should be the one to go since she's the physically weaker of us, but she doesn't even know Ben, so her chances of successfully getting him out of the simulation are slim. So, between a witch with luck powers, a witch who has an army of stone golems, a badass Tetramand warrior and a normal human, who do you think has less to offer in the fight, objectively?"
Grandpa Max sighed. He didn't like the idea of staying out of the fight against Albedo, but he understood the circumstances. Max laid on the stretcher, while Fergi started the surgical procedures to insert the mind drive chip in his head.
A few hours later, the "Omni-Team" awaited the arrival of Albedo 2.0, with their ship parked in a canyon (while Fergi's ship was floating high above in autopilot mode).
An energy-absorbing lightning rod - galvan tech - protected the spacecraft and the team from the impact of the lightning from the electrical storms, a constant event on the planet Kinet.
"Does Albedo 2.0 know where we are?" Looma asked.
"If I were him, I would have already thought of 14 different ways to track our current location. We Galvans are smart. He will find us," Fergi replied.
And, just like Fergi predicted, a few minutes later, it was possible to see a Kineceleran running towards the ship in a zigzag pattern, to avoid the lightning. It was Albedo 2.0.
When he got close enough, inside the ship Max Tennyson suddenly lost consciousness, the only reason why he didn't fall was because he was sitting. At the same time, outside the ship, Albedo fell to his knees for a moment, feeling the intrusion in his mind, but he soon got up.
"The mental connection via the chip worked," Fergi said, "Mr. Tennyson is in the Omnitrix now. Now we just need to buy time for him to bring Ben back."
"You killed him… my creator, my twin, the first Albedo. Maxwell Tennyson could only have got inside my head with a mind drive chip. A chip that you would have had to take from the first Albedo... You all will pay for his death!" Albedo yelled, and everybody inside was able to hear him. Then he changed into the form of a Pyronite and pointed his arms in the direction of the ship.
"He's going to destroy the ship! Everyone out, NOW!" Gwen shouted.
Looma, the strongest, carried the unconscious Max Tennyson in her arms, while Fergi, the smallest, jumped on Gwen's shoulder.
The only one left behind was the body of old Albedo, the original Galvan, who was caught in the explosion and reduced to ashes.
Pieces of the ship flew through the air, and smoke spread everywhere.
Grandpa Max found himself in a very large empty white room.
"Ben? Ben?" He yelled as he ran around, but the room seemed to be endless. "Where are you?"
"Hi, Mr. Tennyson." Max heard a voice calling him from behind. He turned around and saw a Galvan, "I am Azmuth. Or to be more accurate, an artificial intelligence created by Azmuth based on his own brain patterns, a digital version of Azmuth. To make things simpler, I am him."
"You do know what's happening, right? Your pal Albedo hijacked the Omnitrix, trapped my grandson's mind inside it, and is now on the loose out there!" Max growled in anger.
"I know that. And I'm really sorry. I am the most intelligent person in the galaxy when it comes to science, but not when it comes to people. I made a huge mistake when I trusted Albedo," Azimuth sighed and lowered his head, "When your grandson was accepted to wield the Omnitrix, Albedo's AI woke up and immediately tried to take over. I had to disable all the Artificial Intelligence functions to stop that from happening. That means, to deactivate him, I was forced to deactivate myself too."
"That's why you were there to check if Ben was or wasn't 'worthy' of the Omnitrix and then simply vanished after," Max whispered.
"Yes. Sorry your grandson had to figure things out the hard way, alone," Azmuth replied in a regretful tone, "My plan was to be there and guide him throughout the entire process."
"If you and Albedo were deactivated, how did he take over now?" Max folded his arms.
"When Ben's arm was cut off, the Omnitrix rebooted. We both went back online, and once again Albedo seized the opportunity to take control. This time, he was able to get in charge before I could stop him," Azmuth explained.
"And how can we bring Ben back?" Max asked.
"He's stuck in a simulation and his memories of the real world were corrupted. But if he wishes to get out of the simulation, really wishes, he will be back in control immediately," Azmuth said.
"Did you try to get inside the simulation and tell him that his world isn't real?" Max arched an eyebrow.
"I can't; Albedo blocked me. The most I could do is try to send him messages through holo-phone calls, but he didn't listen," Azmuth let out a heavy sigh, "But you… You're like a virus for which Albedo has no defenses. I think I might be able to replace the simulation version of you with the actual you. But I have to warn you, it will be very hard for you because-"
"Skip the talk. I know what I have to do now. Just send me in. There is no time to lose," Max demanded.
"Alright," Azmuth touched Max, his face frowned as he tried to focus and a few seconds later, Max disappeared.
Charmcaster unleashed her stone golems against Albedo, but he quickly turned into a Vaxasaurian and grew in size, "In these hours I was away, I've been unlocking some new alien forms," Albedo laughed as he grabbed two golems and crushed one against the other, destroying both of them.
Gwen focused on activating her aura of luck. Violent electrical storms were a constant in Kinet if she was lucky enough… It worked, and lightning after lightning struck Albedo repeatedly until he fell down.
Gwen had little time to celebrate, though, because the Omnitrix rebooted itself and Albedo rose again, now a Petrosapien and very mad at Gwen. He created two walls of crystal, one in the left and one in the right, to isolate he and Gwen from the rest. Gwen gasped as she realized what he had done and tried to climb the wall to escape, but Albedo switched to a Kineceleran and reached her before she could finish climbing. He put her in a chokehold and Gwen started to lose consciousness.
"No more good luck for your team. Unfortunately, we don't want to upset a high-ranking witch like Verdona, so you get to live," Albedo said and then whispered somberly in her ear, "But I will make sure to kill your beloved Grandpa Max with extreme prejudice."
After Gwen passed out, the crystal wall was broken with a few punches from Princess Looma, who charged at Albedo. Still as a Kineceleran, he didn't have much trouble dodging her attacks, but he knew time was not on his side. He couldn't let his opponents play cat and mouse with him.
"Princess, let me give you a preview of how I'm going to win your hand in marriage later," he changed into a Necrofriggian and opened his mouth letting out a devastating freezing breath that made Looma shiver and paralyzed her momentarily, "Your species has a remarkable resistance to fire and heat, but not so much against ice and cold…"
He then changed into a Tetramand form and took advantage of the fact that Looma had yet to recover from his freezing breath. He was able to knock her out with a series of punches and kicks.
Another group of Charmcaster's golems ganged up on Albedo and he cursed under his breath. He knew he would win - it was obvious that someone with full control of the Omnitrix was unstoppable - the only issue was whether or not he could do it before the intruder had the chance to restore Ben Tennyson's consciousness.
Max woke up in a large and comfortable king-sized bed in a fancy bedroom. He stood up and stared at the 'window'. From there, he had a perfect view of Earth; it wasn't hard to deduce that he was on the moon. He had been there before.
"Grandsmith's moon hotel... I told Ben and Gwen many stories about this place, where I spent my honeymoon," he spoke to himself.
"And I'm glad our second honeymoon is being just as amazing as the first one," Max heard a familiar female voice and froze as he saw his wife coming from the bathroom. His wife that had passed away six years ago.
"M-Mary?" Max' voice cracked.
"You look worried, honey. Did something happen?" she asked. Max just ran to Mary and gave her a long and tight hug. He could breathe in her scent, and he knew it wasn't real, but it felt real to him… He didn't want to let go of her or end the hug. Then Max remembered that he had a mission. Take Ben back. His granddaughter was out there, facing an overpowered megalomaniacal Galvan, and she was counting on him.
"I'm so sorry, Mary… Where is Ben?" Max asked.
"You know where he is," she rolled her eyes, "In the bedroom across the hall with Gwen and Hope. Why?"
"I need to talk to him. He can't stay here like this anymore..." Max bit his lip and pulled away from the hug hesitantly. He took a few steps to leave the bedroom, but Mary grabbed his arm.
"Honey, I know that our grandson, our granddaughter and another girl in a romantic relationship is, well, very weird to say the least, but we know they're happy, we promised we would accept their decision and they're taking all the necessary precautions. Let the kids enjoy their day. And let's enjoy ours," she smiled to him and her smile was just like he remembered.
It took all of Max's willpower to pull away from Mary's tight grip on his arm, "I'm sorry. It's really urgent."
Without looking back, Max went to Ben's room and beeped at the door front panel, ringing the buzzer inside the room. After beeping two times and getting no answer, he simply pressed his finger on the button until Ben could no longer ignore the constant buzzing. Then the metallic door opened and revealed a Ben with messy hair wearing only a robe.
"Grandpa, I'm in the middle of a thing here…" Ben scratched his head, "Can you come back in another hour please?"
"No. We need to talk now," Max said.
"Ok, what is it?" Ben folded his arms.
Max froze. He couldn't simply tell Ben the truth without evidence to back it up or Ben wouldn't believe him, and the simulation versions of Gwen, Hope and Mary would certainly try to convince Ben that Max had gone mad.
"Grandpa?" Ben asked, trying to get Max's attention as he was immersed in thoughts.
"You have to see this for yourself. Right now," Max said in a stern voice.
"Ok...," Ben thought the sudden convocation was a bit weird, but agreed to do as Grandpa asked, "I will just put on some clothes and go with you."
"And that's the last of them," Albedo said, as a Tetramand, as he finished crushing another golem.
Distracted by the stone creatures, he failed to see Charmcaster enchanting a large and sharp piece of debris from the destroyed ship to jump straight into him. Albedo groaned in excruciating pain as the huge piece of metal impaled his chest and fell dead on the ground soon after.
"Take that, you son of a bitch."
Charmcaster knew the Omnitrix would reboot itself and bring him back soon after, so she ran towards him, theorizing that if she could touch the Omnitrix symbol, she could be able to use her power of turning inanimate objects into life to turn the Omnitrix itself against Albedo - she had no idea of what the results could be of mixing magic with highly advanced technology, but she was desperate enough to try anything at this point.
She didn't have a chance to try though.
When Charmcaster was just about to touch it, the Omnitrix rebooted itself and Albedo turned into a Florauna. He grabbed her by the neck and wrapped her up in tight vines.
"You know, the Wizards will prefer if I bring you in alive for questioning and for you to face their judgement, but alive doesn't mean unharmed, you worthless waste of organic matter," Albedo smacked her across the face out of spite and his wooden hand left a flesh wound on the silver-haired witch's cheek before he choked her into unconsciousness.
Albedo looked at Max Tennyson. His victory was at hand… Then he saw Fergi flying with her jetpack towards him. She fired her Galvan-designed gun and it hurt like hell. In a moment of anger, Albedo considered killing her.
Instead, he decided to wrap her up in vines too, "You're lucky that it's hard to find Galvans across the universe since most of us are hiding behind that planetary shield in our home world, so I'm not going to kill you. With all wives from filthy inferior species that I'll be forced to marry for political purposes, it will definitely be a comfort to keep a female of my own species around," he said with a eerie smile as she lost consciousness.
Albedo walked towards the defenseless unconscious body of Max as he changed into a pyronite, "I know there are quicker ways to kill you, Maxwell Tennyson, but since I need to make sure the mind drive chip in your head is completely destroyed, turning you into ashes is the most guaranteed method," he said as he stretched his hands and unleashed a torrent of fire.
"Spacewalking is pretty cool..." Ben said as he jumped around enjoying the lower gravity environment. Both were wearing spacesuits so they could breathe in the Moon of course, "...But why not bring Grandma and the girls too? Is this spacewalk an excuse for a man to man talk?"
"Not exactly, but it's an excuse for me to talk to you about something really important," Max said, a bit uneasy, "The truth is, this world is not real."
"What do you mean?" Ben asked, very confused.
"This is a simulated world running inside the Omnitrix and you're trapped inside it. You have to break free," Max blurted out, "Gwen and Charmcaster - I mean, Hope - are out there in danger and they need you right now."
"What?" Ben blinked a few times. The revelation was like litting up a light inside his brain and he felt a huge headache, "I… I… don't know… That sounds crazy, Grandpa."
"We can't stay here, Ben. We need to come back to the real world now," Max said.
Ben dropped to his knees feeling the headache getting worse, "I think I need to see a doctor."
"Your mind is resisting, but you have to push through, Ben. For Gwen. And Hope. And Looma. And the universe."
"Looma?" The name also brought Ben some weird flashes, memories that weren't his own… or were they? "Grandpa, please, stop. We need to come back and talk to Grandma, Gwen and Hope. I think we're both going crazy. I'd say we need a vacation, but we are already on vacation and-"
"I'm sorry." Grandpa Max caught Ben by surprise as he grabbed Ben's helmet and took it off.
"Grandpa…" Ben grabbed for his throat, gasping for air, "Why… did… you… do… that?"
"It's a simulation. I'm pretty sure you can't really die here," Max said.
"You're pretty sure?" Ben yelled.
"See?" Grandpa Max smirked, "You're just fine. Because none of this is real. Now you have to wake up."
Memories started to flood through Ben's brain, and he let out a deep sigh, "Ok, I'm ready to go back to the real world now."
"Azmuth said you need to really wish for it to happen," Max said.
"So, I'm not wishing hard enough?" Ben folded his arms, "How do I do that? Any magic words I should say?"
"Tell me, do you really want to go?" Grandpa Max asked, then he bit his lip and a tear fell from his eye, "Because I don't know if I do. My wife is alive here. Out there, she isn't."
"I miss Grandma Mary," Ben sat down on the lunar ground, "I miss not having the weight of the world on my shoulders, or on my left wrist. The watch is great, but now people look up to me as if I were a messiah, and I know I'll just end up disappointing everyone in the end. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do."
"Do your best," Max ran his hand through Ben's hair, "I'm sure that-" then all of a sudden, he fell to his knees, "It burns…"
"Grandpa, what's happening?" Ben asked in a panic.
"Not here… Out there… I think… It's Albedo…" Max said, struggling to talk, "He got me… I'm dying…"
Ben closed his eyes and desperately wished to leave as the world around him vanished.
Thanks to Aurora Nightstar for beta-reading this, and thanks to all who are favoriting/following/reviewing.
PS: If anyone here is a fan of "The Gifted" (The TV show based on the X-Men), please let me know through a PM or a review, I have ideas for fanfics about it and would like to know if anyone would be interested.