“Yes, officer, it seems my husband’s been abducted,” he heard her say, her voice shaking as she struggled to stay calm. “The man was… was wearing a metal helmet and body armor. He was a... big... beastly... bulging man…”
Brian knew the police would be no help in bringing Nick and Aaron back. They probably wouldn’t even believe the brothers had been abducted by an alien bounty hunter and taken away in a spaceship. But Brian had promised Nick they would find him, and he intended to keep that promise, even if it meant going after Nick by himself. But for that, he would need a ship of his own… and a crew…
His mind raced as he walked through the kitchen, where BJ was mixing up another batch of eggnog with her arm. “BJ, can I help you with that eggnog? Please?” he offered, watching with disgust as she swirled her hand around the inside of the bowl like a spoon, elbow deep in eggnog.
BJ gave him a blank stare before she pulled her hand out of the bowl and shook it off without a word. Then she dipped her cup into the bowl, filling it with eggnog, and sat down at the breakfast bar to drink.
The rest of the Carters seemed just as stunned. “My boys!” Jane kept crying dramatically, as Angel tried to comfort her.
Brian couldn’t stand to listen to them. He continued out to the backyard, hoping to find a quiet place to come up with a plan to rescue Nick and Aaron. But out of the darkness, something big and furry bumped into him, nearly knocking him down.
“Petunia?!” Brian gasped, as he stumbled backwards.
“Brian!” The pandaskunk sounded equally shocked. “I’m sorry! I didn’t see you.”
“What are you doing out of your den at this hour?” he wanted to know. “You should be resting; you just had a baby!”
“That’s just it... JP is gone!” cried Petunia.
“What?!” Brian gasped again, his heart skipping a beat. “What do you mean, gone?”
“I don’t know! I just woke up, and he wasn’t with me anymore!” The poor mother pandaskunk was panicstricken, her whole body trembling with fear. “I went out to look for him, but I haven’t been able to find him anywhere!”
That was when a horrible realization occurred to Brian. “Oh my God,” he said slowly, his heart now racing. “I think I know where he is.”
Her eyes widened. “Where?!”
Brian took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Petunia, this is going to come as a shock… but I think your baby may have been kidnapped.”
“Kidnapped?!” cried Petunia. “Please tell me you’re joking.”
“Believe me, I wish I was,” said Brian with a sigh, “but Nick and Aaron were just abducted by a Mandalorian bounty hunter and taken away in a spaceship. He must have snuck the baby onto his ship before he came to the door to get Nick.”
“Oh no…” Petunia buried her face in her paws. “What are we going to do?”
Brian squared his jaw, feeling more determined than ever. With a steely glint in his eye, he pressed a button on the side of the huge, blinged-out wristwatch his wife had given him several years before. The face of it swung open to reveal a secret compartment, in which he kept the crystal amulet Zanell had given him many years ago. Wrapping his hand tightly around it, he replied, “We’re going to bring them back.”
Meanwhile, the ship carrying the Carter brothers had already left Earth’s atmosphere.
As it soared through outer space, Aaron leaned closer to their captor and said, “I like your ship. She’s a classic.”
The Mandalorian did not respond to his attempt to make conversation. He stared straight ahead, seeming to concentrate on steering the ship, but Nick knew he must have seen right through Aaron. His brother may have been able to charm American cops into letting him off the hook, but manipulating a Mandalorian bounty hunter the same way simply wouldn’t work any more than trying to buy him off had.
“I have a lot of money, by the way,” Aaron went on, undeterred. “I’m the biggest thing in music right now, and I just bought a mansion in Canada.”
“How much are they paying you?” he asked the Mandalorian.
Still no answer.
“Is it true you guys never take off your helmets?”
Nick sighed. Shut up, Aaron, he thought. He worried if his brother went on annoying their captor, the bounty hunter would kill them both and bring them in cold after all. He decided to try a different tactic.
Clearing his throat, Nick shifted his weight uncomfortably and said, “Excuse me, but I need to use the bathroom. I had a peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwich on wheat bread earlier, which is unfortunately full of gluten. I found out I have celiac disease, see, so gluten messes with my gut and gives me real bad diarrhea. I could go here, but I don’t think you wanna see that - or smell it, if you know what I mean.”
The Mandalorian still said nothing.
Taking his silence as permission, Nick stood up. “Clearly, there’s nowhere for me to go,” he added, “so, uh... I’m gonna look for that bathroom if it’s all the same to you.”
When the Mandalorian made no attempt to stop him, Nick sidled through the cockpit door, still in handcuffs. It was a good thing he’d been lying about needing to take a dump because he wasn’t sure how he would have wiped with them on. He was hoping to find some way out of this situation - an escape pod, perhaps, or a weapon he could use to subdue his captor and take control of the ship. He had once built his own rocketship and had been to outer space before, so he knew the basics of spaceflight.
As he continued further from the cockpit, he could hear Aaron saying, “You think celiac disease is bad? My doctor said I’m developing esophagull cancer and have less than two years to live…”
Nick climbed carefully down a ladder - a difficult feat with handcuffs on, but he managed it. The lavatory was located at the bottom of the ladder. “Found it!” he shouted up the ladder. “Thanks! This might take a awhile!” He closed the door to hide the toilet from view and crept past it.
“Ugh… this feels a lot better!” he called, as he explored the cargo hold, making a few farting noises for good measure. “I haven’t taken a shit since Saturday!”
When he came to another closed door, he cast a wary glance backwards to make sure the Mandalorian hadn’t come down after him, then furtively pushed the button on the wall to open it. The door slid open, revealing a small compartment that was empty except for a strange, egg-shaped object floating several feet off the floor. Leaning in for a closer look, Nick quickly realized it was a cradle, for lying inside it, fast asleep, was Petunia’s newborn cub.
“Pandakin Skunkwalker?” he whispered. “What are you doing here?!” But the answer was obvious: the baby pandaskunk had been kidnapped along with Aaron and him. “Don’t worry, buddy,” Nick assured him in a hushed voice, stroking the sparse, white fur on his head. “I’m gonna find us a way out of here.” Then he quietly closed the door, leaving the cub asleep in his cradle.
Continuing further into the bowels of the ship, he called loudly over his shoulder, “Yeah… I was hoping to be free for Christmas - or, uh, Life Day, I guess - that’s what you guys celebrate in your galaxy, right? Maybe even, uh…” He paused as he came to a rack that held huge blocks of carbonite, each one containing an unfortunate victim cast inside it. “...get home to the family.” He grimaced at the painful expressions frozen onto each of their faces. “But I guess that’s not gonna happen this year.”
“Probably not,” said a voice behind him.
Nick’s heart leapt into his throat as he spun around and found himself face to face with the bounty hunter, who was still wearing his helmet. Aaron was standing behind him.
“I love you,” Aaron said in a small voice, as the Mandalorian forced Nick into an empty carbon-freezing chamber.
Nick gave his brother a grim smile. “I know.”
The bounty hunter pushed a button, and Nick flinched as his whole body was hit with a sudden burst of cold. Within seconds, he had been fully encased in carbonite, and he knew no more.
By morning, the other three Backstreet Boys had arrived in Las Vegas. Summoned by Brian, Kevin and AJ had made the four-hour drive from Los Angeles through the desert at night, while Howie had hopped on a red-eye flight out of Orlando.
“Did y’all bring your amulets?” Brian asked them, as they gathered in Nick’s backyard.
“Yeah, but what’s the point?” replied AJ, shaking his head. “You know they won’t work without Nick.”
“Well, it’s worth a try, isn’t it? C’mon, fellas, let’s put ‘em on.”
Carefully, they pulled out the amulets containing the mystical crystals Zanell had given them to save the Earth from certain doom and secured them around their necks. Normally, this created a tingling sensation as one of the world’s greatest musical teams was transformed into the world’s most unique team of superheroes, but this time, nothing happened.
“Told ya,” said AJ with a sigh. “We’re not changing. We had this problem last time we were short a member. Without Nick and his amulet, we’re powerless.”
“Darn it.” Brian hung his head in defeat. “I knew it was a long shot, but I wasn’t sure what else to do. We’ve gotta find a way to get to outer space so we can go after the bounty hunter and save Nick!”
“If only we still had his rocketship,” said Kevin with regret. “I’m sure I could have flown that thing - or Petunia could’ve pulled it like Patches did before he and the ship both got blown up on that asteroid.”
“God rest his soul,” added Brian, glancing heavenward, and they had a brief moment of silence for their fallen friend.
When it was finished, Howie said, “Hey, maybe we could contact Zanell. She has a spaceship.”
Kevin’s eyebrows furrowed. “Didn’t Zanell and Nick have a pretty bad breakup after she had to return to her home planet?” he asked.
“Yeah… they made the whole long-distance relationship thing work for a while, but she eventually caught him cheating on her with Paris Hilton, and that ended it,” said AJ with a shrug.
“Uh-huh... I thought something like that had happened,” said Kevin, frowning. “I dunno if she’d be too keen on helping him.”
“How about Han Solo?” suggested Brian. “He and Chewbacca helped Patches and me way back when we were just a couple of misfits, remember? I’m sure we could hire him and the Millennium Falcon to help us find the Mandalorian’s ship.”
“Do you have his number?” Howie asked hopefully.
Brian’s heart sank. “Uh… no. I guess we’d have to go to Galaxy’s Edge to track him down.”
“You mean at Disneyland?” asked AJ.
“Or Disney World?” added Howie.
“Gee, cuz, I wish you would have thought of that when AJ and I were still in California and Howie was in Florida,” said Kevin, shaking his head.
“I dunno if he’d be willing to help us anyhow,” said AJ. “I hear he’s got his hands full with his son these days.”
Silence fell, as they all tried to come up with a different plan. “Who else do we know who has a spaceship?” Brian asked desperately.
“What about Lance Bass?” blurted Howie. “I don’t know about a spaceship, but he definitely has contacts in the space program. Maybe he could hook us up somehow.”
“I’ve got his number,” AJ volunteered, pulling his phone out of his pocket. “I’ll give him a call right now.”
As it turned out, the former *NSYNC member was only too happy to help his friends from the Backstreet Boys. “I’m on my way!” Lance told AJ. “Meet me at the airport in one hour.”
When they arrived at the airport, they were astonished to find that Lance did have a spaceship, after all. “Where the hell did you get this?” AJ asked, as he and the others stared at the small spacecraft sitting on the tarmac.
“I built it myself!” Lance replied proudly. “I got tired of waiting for NASA or the Russians to finally let me go to space, so I decided, what the hell? If Nick Carter can build his own rocket, why can’t I?”
Kevin’s brow furrowed in disbelief. “Can it fly?”
Lance looked offended. “Of course it can fly!” he exclaimed. “How do you think I got here from LA? It’s fast as hell!”
“But will it actually go into outer space?” Kevin wondered, still seeming doubtful.
“I guess we’re about to find out. You four get to be my first test subjects!” said Lance, clapping his hands in excitement.
The Backstreet Boys exchanged anxious looks. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” said Howie, shaking his head.
Brian tried to be optimistic. “Come on, guys, we’ve gotta have faith,” he told the others. “We have to find a way to get beyond Earth’s atmosphere if we’re going to rescue Nick and the others, and Lance here is offering us a way. Maybe it’s meant to be.”
“Or maybe we’re all about to die a very painful, fiery death,” said AJ, looking skeptically at the spaceship.
Brian shrugged. “If we do, then at least we’ll die together, trying to save our brother. All for one, and one for all!”
The Three Musketeers’ rallying cry did not motivate the other Backstreet Boys to board the ship. “I still think we should try to contact Zanell,” said Howie.
“Or Han Solo,” added AJ.
Brian sighed. “Look, the longer we wait, the less likely we are to find Nick at all, let alone save him. We need to act now. I dunno about y’all, but I’m going with Lance.” Then he turned and walked up the ramp to an open hatch on the side of the spacecraft.
Sucking in a deep breath, Kevin called, “I’m comin’ with ya, cuz!” He hurried after Brian, leaving Howie and AJ to look at each other.
AJ hesitated only a second before he shrugged and said, “Oh, what the hell!”
Howie heaved a huge sigh as he watched AJ run up the ramp, too. Not wanting to be the only one left behind, he reluctantly followed the others onto the ship, hoping they weren’t making a huge mistake.
To the Backstreet Boys’ relief, Lance’s spaceship worked. Miraculously, the only malfunction they experienced on their way out of Earth’s atmosphere was with the ship’s radio. It seemed to be stuck on repeat, playing the same song over and over again: “Space Cowboy (Yippie-Yi-Yay)” by *NSYNC.
“For the love of god, can we please just turn this off?” begged Kevin, blood trickling from his eardrums, as they hurtled through space with “If you wanna fly, come and take a ride, take a space ride with the cowboy, baby! Why-yi-yi, yippie-yi-yay, yippie-yi-yo, yippie-yi-yay!” blaring in the background.
“Sorry,” said Lance with an apologetic shrug. “None of the buttons are working. Weird, right?”
“Uh-huh. How convenient,” said Kevin sarcastically, rolling his eyes at his cousin behind Lance’s back. Brian’s nostrils flared as he shook his head, which was hurting from the incessant noise of the Boys’ former nemesis. Only for Nick would they continue to subject themselves to such torture.
“How are we going to track Nick down?” Howie wanted to know. “We have no idea where the Mandalorian took him.”
“It may not be as hard as you think, fellas,” said AJ, holding up his phone. “I know none of you follow Aaron on Instagram, but I do. He’s been live for hours with his location turned on. We can use that to track them.”
“Finally, his constant streaming comes in handy,” said Brian happily, as they huddled around AJ’s phone to watch, struggling to hear the video over the obnoxious sound of *NSYNC singing “Why-yi-yi, yippie-yi-yay…” for approximately the five hundred and fortieth time.
“Don’t you think it’s weird that the bounty hunter would let him keep his phone, though?” asked Kevin, frowning. Aaron appeared to be streaming from the cockpit of the Mandalorian’s ship.
“Maybe he was able to hide it,” said Howie with a shrug. But when AJ turned the volume all the way up, they heard otherwise.
“...and here’s my friend, Mando,” Aaron was saying, rotating the camera until the Mandalorian came into frame. “Hey, Mando! Say hi to all my LMG ladies out there.”
“What’s LMG?” Howie asked in a whisper, as the helmeted bounty hunter gave a single wave with one of his gloved hands.
“Love Money Gang,” AJ muttered back. “It’s what he calls his followers.”
Kevin’s frowned deepened. “Sounds like a cult. And why’s he acting like he and his kidnapper are friends all of a sudden?”
“Stockholm Syndrome?” Brian suggested.
“Yeah, so anyways, me and Mando are headed to a friend of mine’s new place to hand-deliver the Christmas present I got for her,” Aaron continued. “Y’all wanna see it? It’s pretty fuckin’ sweet.”
The Boys watched as Aaron left the cockpit, the camera shaking as he climbed down a ladder to some kind of cargo hold. “This is gonna give me motion sickness,” muttered AJ, looking away.
“Check it out,” said Aaron after a minute or two, turning the camera again to reveal what they first took to be a huge piece of artwork hanging on the wall. It looked like a life-sized sculpture of a man’s body cast inside a thick, solid block. There was a big, red bow stuck to the man’s head, and they didn’t recognize him until Aaron added, “It’s my brother, Nick Carter, the serial rapist. But don’t worry, ladies - he’ll never be able to abuse anyone again.”
“Nick?!” Brian gasped. “Oh, no…”
“That’s not really him, is it?” asked AJ, squinting at the screen.
“Looks like it is,” replied Howie, cringing as Aaron moved the camera closer to Nick’s face, which was frozen in a painful expression.
“I hired Mando here to help me transport this piece of shit to his new home in a galaxy far, far away,” Aaron continued proudly as he climbed back up to the cockpit. “The carbon-freezing was a nice touch, don’t you think? He’s gonna make a great gift!”
“Oh, they’ve encased him in carbonite!” exclaimed Kevin. “He should be quite well-protected - if he survived the freezing process, that is.”
“So all you fucking BSB gang stalkers better find a new band to obsess over because the Backstreet Boys are finished,” a smug Aaron was now saying. “Like I’ve been telling you for months, I am single-handedly dismantling the corporation known as the Backstreet Boys. They’re gonna need a new blond lead singer after this.”
“Where are they taking him?” Howie wondered.
AJ looked at the location on Aaron’s live stream. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem very helpful. Rather than a specific city, planet, or galaxy, all it showed was a confusing series of coordinates, which meant absolutely nothing to him.
But Brian seemed more hopeful. “I don’t know for sure,” he said slowly, “but I have an idea…”