Authors: Grayson Queen
Tags: #Science Fiction/Superheroes
Beams of light shot erratically towards Joe. He dodged and dashed to put out the fires.
“Stop it,” Joe yelled at his brother. He fired back with one hand. With his other hand, he used his powers to smother the flames. One of Michael’s beams glanced off his cheek. “Ahhh,” he screamed, holding his face. “That hurt. I told you to stop.” Joe turned his full power onto his brother.
Michael matched him.
The forest flashed like a light show.
Koji found a cool, shaded area to sit with his handheld. For the sake of the exercise, he had turned the volume down. His radio hissed, and he pressed pause on the game.
“Scott is headed toward me, fast,” it was Rachael’s voice. Koji waited for her to say something else. “Koji, are you there, come in.”
“Yeah,” Koji said into the radio.
“I need you to stop Scott,” Rachael said. “Go to the stream.” Koji went back to his game and opened the save menu. “Now, Koji,” Rachael barked. “I can see you.”
Koji grumbled and flipped the handheld closed. He could hear the stream, so headed in that vague direction. The ground went down in a steep incline. Koji struggled to keep his footing and finally came out onto a plateau overlooking the water. Scott was about to run past.
“Hey,” Koji shouted.
Scott came to a stuttering halt and looked around. “You’re alone?” He asked, and Koji nodded. “You better run,” he advised.
“No, you better,” Koji replied. He pointed at Scott. A curl of darkness, like smoke, rose from his fingertips. “I think I've got the hang of this power. So, we can either do this the easy way or the hard way.”
“We're not in a videogame, Koji,” Scott laughed. “You don't need cheesy lines.”
“Then how about this?” Koji created a sphere of darkness and threw it at Scott.
Scott jumped clear splashing face first into the water. Chunks of ice had formed where the orb struck. He looked up at Koji, and they both knew he wasn’t going to dodge a second one.
Scrambling for the radio, Scott started shouting, “I’m under attack. I’m under attack.”
Koji formed another orb and lifted it overhead. From inside the ball a hand reached out and grabbed Koji's wrist. He screamed and dropped the darkness on himself. As it fell, it seemed to swallow him, and when it hit the ground, Koji was gone.
“What the...,” Scott started
“Koji Kojima has been neutralized,” Eve said. She was standing on the bank near a cluster of trees.
Scott flipped around to look at her. “Where… Wait…You don't mean dead do you?” He asked hesitantly. There was a blast of light from the forest. Scott picked himself up out of the stream; he was drenched, and tried to ring out the water. “I don’t think Michael is going to get the flag for us.”
“I agree,” Eve said. “I will take care of it, but it would be easier if it were by surprise.”
“Okay,” Scott shrugged. “I guess we’re winning, so I can’t argue.”
“Radio me when you have distracted Rachael,” Eve said as she started off into the woods.
“Koji, what the hell is going on,” Rachael said, but there was no reply. She had seen Koji disappear, and Eve appear from nowhere. “That’s not possible,” she said to herself. “Danni, is your roommate a teleporter?”
Danni came over the radio, “How should I know?”
“She can’t be,” Rachael responded.
“Is there something you need?” Danni growled.
“Scott is nearly here,” Rachael told her.
“Is there something you need?” Danni said again.
“Joe, come in,” Rachael called. “Can you get to the flag?” Another blast of light came from the trees. “Can you do anything useful at all? Danni?”
“What?” Danni snapped.
“Can you send one of your things to get the flag?” Rachael asked.
“No,” Danni said.
“No, you don't want to, or no, you can't?” Rachael was getting angry. “Never mind, don't bother.”
Scott came up the rocks as casually as ever and waved to Rachael. The nonchalant approach threw her off-guard.
“You should relax,” Scott said, “The stress will kill you.”
“At least you're smart enough to know invisibility won’t work,” Rachael taunted Scott, “What are you going to do, drag me off of here? Talk about cheating.”
Scott had reached the top and stood next to Rachael. He took some time to look at the view then said, “I'm not here to fight you, just distract you.”
Rachael growled, realizing that she had stopped paying attention to the game. She turned to where Eve was supposed to be. At the same time, Scott reached out and swatted the radio from her hands. It flew into the air and down the rocky cliff, cracking open on the way.
“And to keep you from radioing Danni,” Scott said with a smile.
“You jerk,” Rachael screamed. She raced down the rocks hoping she could get to Danni in time.
Scott brought up his radio and said, “Eve, you're good to go.”
Danni sat in the center of the rock formation that always reminded her of Stonehenge. She had her handheld out and was messaging one of her friends. From off to the left there was the sound of leaves crunching underfoot. A Minotaur appeared from around a rock, seven foot tall and snorting. It was formed from shadows and darkness, but moved like a living thing. The creature stomped at the ground with its hoof and scanned the area. Satisfied that it was clear, it went on with its patrol. Danni didn't pay it any attention. It was one of the ten just like it, guarding the flag while she was distracted. She was used to their noise and the beeping of her handheld.
But today there was a new sound. Danni looked up from her conversation and sat motionless, waiting for it to happen again. And it did. Whatever it was it reminded her of a cork popping. She shoved the handheld in her pocket and got up to investigate. One of her Minotaurs made a nervous sound. The things could sense something was wrong, and the beasts were beginning to panic. Danni came out from behind the rocks and searched for the nearest creature. She spotted one in the woods when the sound came again, and the Minotaur was gone.
“What the hell?” Danni cursed.
She ran around the rocks looking for another of her creations. As she stumbled onto one, it disappeared right in front of her, making that sound as it went. Quickly she recounted the number of times she'd heard that pop.
Danni went back to the flag, calling the remaining shadow monsters to her. They surrounded her, forming a phalanx, but it didn't help. Whatever was going on, was still happening. Two of the Minotaurs blinked out, one after the other.
“You wanna play,” Danni shouted.
Again, a Minotaur disappeared, but this time Danni replaced it with another. She did it again the next time and the next. The creatures were starting to vanish faster and faster. Danni struggled to keep up the pace of creation. She was forced to make smaller and smaller things until she was exhausted. She sat down on the ground sweating and puffing air. Then next to her she heard someone and looked up to see Eve.
“Is this the flag?” Eve asked pointing to the red strip of fabric on the pole.
“That went better than I expected,” Porter said.
“Maybe,” Lewis retorted. He pressed the button for the radio. “Anyone know where Koji is?”
At the same moment, the phone rang. Lewis answered, and Porter became curious when he saw the look on his face.
“No, don't bother,” Lewis said into the phone and hung up. He looked at Porter and hesitated to tell him who it was. “Apparently your girl sent Koji to the rec room.”
Porter didn’t say anything. He got in the elevator and headed down. For the sake of peacekeeping, he waited till he was outside to start laughing.
Koji was having trouble breathing while giggling. He grabbed his side and tried to calm down. Catching some of his breath he continued his story. “So, I was like, 'what happened?', and Eve says, 'good luck on level thirteen.'”
Scott started laughing hysterically, which was soon drowned out by the other kids around the table. Eve and Sara sat next to each other and listened silently. A number of cadets were gathered, and still more came to listen to Koji.
“I wish I could have seen Master Sergeant Lewis' face when I called him,” Koji said.
“What took you so long to call,” Scott asked.
“I had to beat level thirteen,” Koji answered seriously.
The crowd burst out in another chorus of laughter.
“So, like what, you can teleport or something?” A girl asked Eve.
Another kid piped up, “Remember that boy who could teleport, but everything exploded when he did it, and they told him he had to stop?”
“Not the same thing,” Scott told the crowd. “Eve walks from shadow to shadow.”
A little boy, who had managed to squeeze in close, lit up and said, “Awesome.”
“If there's a shadow she can go into it and come out at any other shadow,” Scott continued.
“Show us,” someone shouted, starting the kids chanting, “Show us. Show us.”
There were too many people surrounding her, and now they were shouting. Kids were nudging and pulling, trying to coax Eve into a demonstration. There was a spot inside her chest where the panic was growing larger and larger.
Scott leaned across the table and said to her, “Come on, give 'em a show. Like pull a rabbit out of a hat.”
Eve didn't hear him; she was getting ready to run. Scott grabbed her hand and squeezed it. Touch was the universal language. It was a form of communication that she knew well from her world. Through that contact, Eve read his emotions, thoughts and ideas. Without knowing it, Scott had conveyed compassion, support and friendship. Eve’s heart steadied, and all she sensed was Scott’s hand. The soft palm. The callous on his thumb. She stood up and looked around.
“May I?” Eve asked a nearby boy for his long coat.
The boy smiled and took it off. Eve held the coat in one hand letting it dangle in front of her. Then lifted it up and put it over her head. The crowd hushed. From inside the coat there was the sound of a muffled conversation. People began shifting to get a better view. Eve lifted the coat off her head and stuck her hand inside. It looked like she was pulling on something, and the next thing everyone saw was Shruti stumbling out. The room exploded into shouts and cheers.
“That was the coolest thing ever,” Shruti exclaimed.
High overhead the sun glared down making the air smell of pine and grass. Robert had led Alison up into the Testing Field. He had found a secluded place on the side of the mountain. They could have easily sat in the garden at the Residence, but Robert wanted privacy.
“You know I think you’re doing a good job,” Robert waded his way into what he’d come here to say.
“Thanks,” Alison said meekly.
“I enjoy working with you, and I trust you,” he continued.
“But?” Alison put in for him.
“But we kissed,” Robert said. “It’s against regulation and it’s wrong.”
Alison clenched her jaw and tried to hold back the feeling in her stomach.
“It would be nice if things could go back to the way they were,” Robert said. “I don’t think that’s possible, and truthfully, I wouldn’t want that.” He paused, hoping that Alison would catch on. It certainly would make things easier. As commander and subordinate, this level of intimacy was frowned on. Worse was that he knew what he wanted was wrong, and he was too responsible just to do it. Except that for the first time, in a long time, he knew what he wanted. “I love you,” he said finally. “I’m in love with you.”
“Oh god, Robert,” Alison gasped. She hugged him pressing her face against his chest.
With one big hand, he tilted her head up and kissed her. They kissed again and again until they couldn’t breathe or stand. Then when they were lying on the ground, dizzy with bliss, Alison rested her head on Robert’s arm. The two lay there for a long time not saying anything, staring at nothing, and enjoying the moment.
“What's going to happen now?” Alison asked.
She was afraid of the answer. What she wanted was to run off and be with him, despite the consequences. She and Robert had only been together for a few minutes, but it was enough for her to know she wanted it forever. Maybe it wasn't enough for Robert. He was a commander first. His responsibility would get in the way of that; he'd probably break it off before the relationship went anywhere.
Robert shifted uncomfortably and said, “If people find out about us, you'll probably be reassigned. A new platoon at least, if not an entirely new division. And I'll be demoted.”
“Maybe no one will find out,” Alison said, but she held little hope in that idea. “One of us could try to get reassigned to another regiment.”
“Maybe,” Robert said distracted.
“And then they wouldn't have a problem with us dating,” Alison said.
A gust of wind blew the trees, rustling the pine needles. The little green pins rained down without a sound.
“When I graduated top of my class, Director Kelley came to me and said that I was exactly what The One needed,” Robert said. “He told me I was an example for everyone, and that I had to live like it. He said that I couldn't make any mistakes because all eyes were on me.”
“You think I’m a mistake?” Alison said softly.
“I think the ramifications of what we do next are bigger than you or me,” Robert said.
He didn't deny her question, but his words were meant to ease her worries. It didn't work, because Alison’s heart was beating so hard it hurt.
Robert lived on the fifth floor of the Residence overlooking the forest. It had a beautiful view that was the subject of much envy. It was sort of a bonus for The One's poster boy. No doubt the moment the last box was out of there, someone would be moving in their things.
He grabbed the packing tape and sealed another box shut. It was just one more of a dozen, filled with things and memories. Robert hated memories. Throughout his entire career with The One, he had tried to stop himself from keeping mementos. In his apartment, there was hardly a single photograph. The awards he won were in a filing cabinet. Any gifts he received from friends or comrades were stuffed neatly in a closet. All accept one thing. Hidden on the top of his bookshelf was a white coffee mug. Robert reached up and took it down. He rolled it around in his hands, feeling the weight and reading the lettering on the side. Number one dad, it said. He didn't have any children, unless he considered the people under his command. And one in particular might as well have been his kid.
“Alex,” Robert said under his breath.
The name held a mix of emotions, everything from laughter to anger. Alex was dead, and he had died under Robert's command. It wasn't a particularly heroic death, nor was it harrowing. He was just another name and number on the memorial in the garden, nothing different about it. Robert blamed himself. He had been constantly on Alex’s case to take things seriously. So often that Alex took to calling Robert, dad. To everyone else it was just a joke, but between them it was real. He was quickly running out of family. He'd made a mistake with his sister. Then he lost Alex and now he had to move on.
Maybe the worst mistakes were the ones that kept living. The ones that never died.
It had taken a month for Robert to physically recover from what had happened fifteen years ago in New Mexico. His sister's powers were still out of control. The only option was to place her under sedation, in a specially designed containment system. Robert was afforded some opportunities to visit her, but she was essentially in a permanent coma. As his responsibilities increased, he saw her less and less often. Perhaps someday they could help her, but even then she'd be an eight-year-old in a twenty-one-year-old’s body.
For now, Angie would have to suffice as a sister, they were basically siblings anyway. “What is this?” Angie asked from the kitchen. She was holding out a limp green blob. Robert had decided to make his big announcement and called his platoon in for a meeting at his apartment. But he had told Angie first, and so she offered to help pack.
“Where did you find it?” Robert asked.
“In the back of the refrigerator,” Angie answered.
After a bit of thought Robert answered, “An orange.”
Disgusted, Angie tossed it in the trash. Before she had a chance to comment, someone knocked at the door.
“Come in,” Robert said.
Alison and Henry entered and stopped dead when they saw the boxes.
“We're being transferred to the Bahamas,” Henry cheered and jumped up and down. He saw Angie shaking her head sullenly and stopped jumping. “Greenland?” He asked worried.
Robert put Alex's mug in a box then sat on the couch.
“Why don't you guys take a seat,” he said.
No one moved.
“You know that they've been on me to fill Alex's slot on the platoon,” Robert started. “And after the explosion on the training course, the brass are done giving me any leeway.” Angie and Henry tried hard not to look at Alison. “The Colonel and I talked, and we both agreed that they were going to move me to another command. That would mean you guys would be serving under Lieutenant Pepper.”
“Argh,” Henry groaned. “When did he get promoted?”
“This is exactly why I’m going to beat them to the chase,” Robert continued. “Before I lose authority, I'm disbanding the platoon and transferring all of you.”
“What?” Henry was shocked.
Robert looked to Alison, who hadn't said or done anything to indicate her thoughts. He needed to go as fast as possible before they started panicking. He grabbed a nearby folder and pulled out the papers.
“Henry, I got you transferred to R&D as a department head,” he handed the paperwork to Henry. “Congratulations Staff Sergeant,” he said, then gave him his new insignia.
“Does that mean I get to do what I want, and boss people around?” Henry asked.
“Yup,” Robert answered.
“I can get used to that,” Henry smiled. “What did you get Anne?”
“That's Lieutenant Godfrey, to you,” Angie said gleefully.
“What?” Henry moaned, “No fair that’s nepotism.”
Robert was still watching Alison who had been staring into the distance. He told the others, “What else are big brothers for? Angie is being reposted to an Assault Team at an undisclosed location. And I got Alison into a post in Los Angeles with OID.”
“Wait,” Henry was getting agitated. “She gets to be a Lieutenant too?”
“Not yet. But don't worry,” Robert said. “I'm not a Lieutenant either.”
“Captain Day?” Henry questioned. “Captain, right? You weren't demoted were you? Because if you were I'll use all my Staff Sergeant power to fight for you.”
“Yeah, it's Captain,” Robert laughed. “I'm taking charge of an integrated team, which is why I need to pack my stuff and get to my new offsite apartment. So my final order is to help me carry this stuff out.”
Without warning, the silent Alison, spun on her heels and stormed out of the apartment slamming the door behind her. Robert looked from Angie to Henry, then ran after Alison hoping to explain.
Alison sprinted to the elevator knowing that Robert was going to chase after her. Not that she was running off to get him to come after her. Of course, if he didn't, she'd kill him. She was going to kill him, that stupid bastard. The last week had been filled with hope. They had been happy. Alison had fallen in love with him and was already thinking about their future. She thought Robert would come up with a solution.
It felt like she was going to vomit, or pass out, or burst into tears. She just wanted to get back to her room and lock the door. That way she could be alone, and no one could see her fall apart. Because that was all she needed now, a bunch of subordinates watching her break down.
The elevator opened up to the fourth floor; it was filled with junior officers. So like always, it was over crowded, and Alison had to shove past. She only hoped she could make it before the sobbing started.
A minute later, the second elevator arrived and Robert came barreling out. Anxiously he scanned the crowd looking for Alison. When he thought he spotted her, he moved fast making sure everyone noticed his Captain's insignia. Those who did try to clear a path could only do so much in the cramped quarters. It wasn't helping; Alison was getting farther away. He could see her approaching her room.
“Alison,” he called out.
She seemed to hear him and hesitated for a second.
“Alison,” he yelled louder.
This time she did hear him and so did everyone in the hallway. They all turned to gawk. Robert continued toward her, slowing to give himself time to think. He had no idea what to say or how to explain himself. The entire thing had been a misunderstanding, but Alison was still fuming at him.
“Hi,” he said to her.
Alison folder her arms and glared at him.
“You didn't give me time to explain,” Robert said.
“Explain that you're so chicken, instead of breaking up with me like a man, you make up some story about being relieved of command, so you have to disband the platoon and move away?” Alison snarled.
“No, you misunderstood,” Robert pleaded.
Alison raised a threating eyebrow.
“I mean I'm an idiot,” Robert changed tactic. “Okay, can we both agree on that? I meant this all as a surprise. A good surprise. For everyone. I figured out a win, win solution, and everyone got all they could want. Henry got out of the field and into a lab like he should be. Angie was never going to get a command while she was under me.”
“And what about me, Robert?” Alison asked. “What grand prize did I get?”
“Me,” Robert smiled, but it only made Alison angrier. “I'm being posted to Los Angeles too. Under a different regiment. And I got an apartment. Because here at the Complex you and me couldn't... I thought maybe we could try...” Robert had a plan,
being the operative word. He imagined this picture of how he'd ask her to move in with him. It was supposed to be cute and romantic. He'd pretty much messed that up, and Alison must have hated him for it. “Screw it,” Robert said.
He grabbed Alison by the waist and pulled her toward him. Robert kissed her, desperately and hopelessly. For him, his only chance to fix everything was in this one kiss, and he wasn’t going to give up, or let go.
Sitting in the garden of the Residence, Eve plucked aimlessly at the grass. Next to her, Shruti and Sara lay on their backs calling out shapes in the clouds.
“Have you decided to stay?” Shruti asked Eve.
To Eve it wasn't much of a choice. If The One were a terrible and lonely place that had conscripted her into slave labor, it would still be better than nothing. She had nowhere else to go. Besides, she had found friends here and people who cared about her. They offered education, shelter and food.
“I think you should stay,” Sara said. “You don't want to live on the run like I did with my parents.” She sighed at the thought. “Boy, I miss them. Usually, I hang out with them during the summer, but they got stuck at an anti-One rally.”
“I guess I’m the lucky one this time,” Shruti laughed. “Alison lives just upstairs, and I can talk to her whenever I want. Even if she’s distracted.” Shruti giggled knowingly. She shifted to put her head on Sara's shoulder. “But PR day is coming up,” she said happily. Eve gave her a questioning look, so she explained, “It's when they let people on the base to visit. This PR is mostly so parents can drop off kids for the school year.”