“Let him walk,” Insisted my mother behind me. “Let him go, and I’ll cooperate.”
“Unfortunately, we can’t do that. Not anymore,” answered Peregrine, “He knows where the weapon is located, and I can’t move it, considering it’s woven into existence itself. Besides, he may be interested in working with us if he comes to his senses. He’s clever, we could use someone like him. The problem with leading an army of drones is none of them seem to have good ideas.”
“And what, exactly, does this weapon do?” I asked, as Peregrine walked towards the table. I followed at a distance, my stomach turning as I came closer, the space before me disorienting. It was as if the entire room was tilting, or that I walked on uneven ground. Like standing on a ship in the center of a storm, as invisible waves fought underneath the deck.
“Something you could appreciate with your telepathic power. Your mother must have travelled quite far to be able to gift that to you. It’s something I wouldn’t expect to see from one born in the city. As a maid, I can hardly believe she would have the funds to purchase a birthing slot in a Special hospital. No, if I had to guess, you were born illegally, SC.”
“Perhaps, but you can’t prove that. You don’t know anything about my birth.” I protested.
“Exactly!” He exclaimed, and clapped as if to capture the words in mid air, “And even if I did, the documents could be forged, the officials paid off. But here, SC, is the great equalizer. It’s well known that powers are influenced by the location of birth- the data collected over centuries demonstrates this fact. And it’s been proven that environmental factors drive power type- even in the coldest locations, if a child is born near a roaring fire, there is a chance they may become a Furnace. But until now, it was unpredictable, the chances were low, and often there were ill side effects like a reduced power. But now, that’s all changed.”
He placed his hands on the table, one of his rings clanging against the metal, and continued to speak.
“It took years to build, years. And only someone like me could have done it, with strong teleportation powers like myself. And even then, I spent decades learning how to make it permanent.”
His paused for a moment, staring around himself, his eyes bright with admiration.
“Come inside, SC. See what I’ve created. What I’ve done.”
“Don’t get closer,” warned my mother, and Peregrine shrugged.
“With my teleportation powers, he’s already as close as he can be. If I was going to kill him I would have done so already. Let’s go, SC- consider this another lesson, perhaps our final one. Careful, walk just over that strip of tape on the ground, don’t take another path.”
He pointed to a two foot long stripe of blue at the edge of the table, and I stepped forwards slowly, nausea growing with each movement. I blinked as the world compressed, stepping over the line, feeling as if someone were stepping on my chest. Peregrine backed away as I entered, leaving me in what I saw was not mere open space as it appeared from the outside, but rather a small room. One surrounded by windows ten feet tall, except for the space with the masking tape, which formed a doorway back into the subway.
There were eight windows in all, shaped like an octagon around me, each of them displaying different scenes. Different portals into worlds beyond.
To my left I saw a desert, the wind blowing sand in whirling gusts, the blistering sun far overhead making the air above the ground dance. The dunes stretched as far as I could see, and from the position of the sun, I could tell that it was far earlier in the day than our current location.
A forest occupied the adjacent pane, the sound of hooting monkeys and the chirping of tropical birds coming through the window, accompanied by the sickly sweet smell of wildflowers. Bugs whipped past, buzzing along their path and stopping occasionally to investigate blooms. Here, it was early morning or twilight, the heavily shadowed area barely lit.
Next, there was a wall of water, dark shapes moving in and out of layers of seaweed. The plants swayed with the current and the wall of water bulged slightly, as if threatening to enter our enclosure. A school of bright fish darted by, their scales each from a different part of the rainbow, and their eyes alarmed as they saw us staring back at them. And at the ground inside the enclosure, a small pile of them lay dead, their fins coated with frost.
Each of the other windows portrayed scenes just as exotic- from an active volcano to a peak of a mountain, each an entry into a location far away, perhaps on the other side of the world. Each with their own distinct flavor, feeling alien so close to one another, as if they were warring for the nature of the room. All except for the final panel, one unfinished, which fuzzed with rushing images too quick to recognize in a blur of static.
“Amazing, isn’t it? Well worth the years effort, and beyond what even I thought I could do. Something I once thought impossible,” whispered Peregrin, his voice close to my ear. “Something to change the world forever. Watch now, as we travel to the Pacific.”
Peregrine stiffened as he closed his eyes, the muscles on his forearms bulging outwards, his lips pursed and his fingers gripping the edge of the table. And the world around me shifted, the space stretching and constricting in a dizzying fashion, making it difficult for me to stand.
“Enter,” started Peregrine, as the window that was the desert flashed to ocean water, the pane with the forest following.
“The,” he continued, the next three windows switching.
“Pacific,” he finished, just as the last two panels flashed to underwater ocean, and I stared, the hair on my back prickling. It was as if we were in a glass room twenty feet below the surface, surrounded by coral, the light a dancing blue and the air even cooled by the water. And it felt as if any second a flood would come rushing in to make us part of the scenery.
“The trick is in the elevation changes,” he boasted as I gritted my teeth, focusing on holding back my churning stomach, “That’s what holds the water back. You see, we are at a higher altitude than the water- for it to enter this enclosure, it would have to climb to our elevation. That takes a heap of energy- enough, as you see below, to suck all the heat out of particularly determined fish.”
“So this,” I said, the pieces coming together in my mind, “You built all this as a portable location chamber. So that whoever is born here, on this table, can have any power their parent’s desire.”
“Any power I desire,” he corrected. “Just think, an army of any power type, no matter how exotic, at my hands. They’re born here in secret, then deployed to our schools, under our influence. No longer do we need to accept the scraps that the police send to us off the streets. Now the rehabilitation centers can manufacture their own powers at will. The strongest powers and it would be years before anyone knew. And if they ever found our secret, it would be years to develop their own portals- simply making one portal stable enough to exist takes months. Along with a high powered Teleporter, which are quite rare.”
“So my mother, you wanted her to deliver their children? So that, from the moment they entered the world, they are your high powered slaves?”
“So that the moment they enter the world, they are our soldiers. They are good citizens. Just imagine, SC- we can create powers completely currently unknown to man! Even I cannot teleport as far as these portals stretch, but when I create a portal, there’s no limit to how far it can go since I create it piece by piece. There’s an entire network of portal connections I have created, and it can only expand.”
“So what? Why don’t you just transport the mother to the locations instead of using this device?”
“Because they’re protected and regulated. Use your imagination boy! Think why I chose your mother! We can stretch the bounds of human exploration! With your mother’s help, I can create a tunnel to rooms in the space station once she describes them. Or even farther- imagine a child born on the moon! A child born at the core of the Earth! What a wonder that would be, and who knows what the powers would look like.”
“Who knows,” I answered, rolling my eyes. “That truly would be a mystery.”
“Are you being sarcastic with me, boy?” Peregrine asked, an edge in his voice.
“Then take this room right now. Someone born in this environment would be the equivalent of being born on a submarine. It could produce an Aquatic, a Waver, or countless other marine powers. And they would be strong, stronger than any born above water on a ship. Not only does this increase variety, but also potency.”
“What if it doesn’t work? What if you’ve done all this for nothing.”
“It will, but even if it fails, we still have the rehabilitation centers. There is a movement, SC. Thousands of us. Siri and I are only a small part of the machine- soon, very soon, the rebellion will emerge across the globe. The rebellion for a perfect world. The rehabilitate the entire world.”
“And you’re asking me to be a piece of it? To join?”
“Yes, and very near the top of the chain! What do you think, SC? To turn this down would be ignoring the greatest opportunity of your life.” He said, spreading his arms wide, a maniacal smile playing across his lips.
In response, the nausea from his portals welled upwards inside of me, and I released my willpower as it surged. Leaning over, I vomited over his medical table, shaking as I wretched, and backed out of the portal room.
“I’ll take that as a no,” intoned Peregrine, his face darkening as he followed me through the exit. “ Fortunately, the area is not yet sterile. Think, SC, upon what I’m offering you. And realize that cannot let you leave. Stay here through your own will, or through mine.”
“Then I can only thank you for the classes on fighting,” I responded, widening my stance. The hair on the back of my neck pricked as he studied me, and my senses heightened, particularly those waiting for the ripping of space prior to teleportation.
“You realize this is foolishness, madness,” he said, his eyes cold. The eyes of someone unfazed by death, who had seen it many times before. Who had caused it many times before. “I’ve seen your skill, I’ve watched you train for a paltry few weeks. At your power level, I could reach in to crush your very heart.”
He extended his hand with a grasping motion, the fingers curling to point the nails inwards in a gnarled ball.
“Then you should try!” I shouted, and reached out with a force point to the lights high above, dragging a swinging fluorescent down with enough force to snap the dual chains fastening it to the concrete. The fixture and tube fell with an acceleration several times that of gravity, slamming into the ground in an explosion of white powder and glass where Peregrine had stood just a moment prior, just before he materialized five feet to the right.
“You don’t stand a chance boy, stand down,” commanded Peregrine, dusting off particles from his coat with the nonchalant back of his hand. “It’s only murder if the subject is innocent, and you have used up your first warning.”
“Then make this my second!” I yelled, dragging an advertising board that had been leaning against the wall towards him in a swipe that covered the length of the station, air whooshing away like the swing of a baseball bat. But Peregrine simply sidestepped, not away from the board, but rather through it, disappearing just before it reached him and materializing on the other side.
Confidence surged within me, for neither time had I intended to actually hit him. Rather, I wanted to test that I could feel him ripping through space just before he moved. And each time, I felt it just before he flickered away.
For a moment, I considered launching a black sphere at him in a direct strike. I knew he couldn’t feel space like me. If that was among his talents, he would have known that I was an imposter far before now. He would have sensed my power was not, in fact, telekinetic. And without that sense, he might have no time to move. The sphere would leave a hole in his chest the size of a bowling ball, and the battle would be over before he would have a chance to attack.
But if the sphere missed, my power would be revealed. Peregrine would be more cautious, would anticipate the unknown in his attacks. And if he did win the battle, instead of killing me he would bring me back to Siri. With my power revealed, perhaps I would become just as strong of a weapon for them as the device Peregrine had built.
“Your mistake, boy,” Peregrine said, his lip curling, twitching his mustache, “But I won’t kill you here. No, instead of taking your heart, all I shall do is disconnect a single vertebra. Cripple you beyond the help of most healers, make you watch all that you turned down come to fruition. And turn you into the wedge that will make your mother cooperate.”
“No, don’t!” cried my mother behind me as Peregrine extended his hand once more, and I felt space open just before his fingers and at the small of my back, the seam of reality splitting with reluctance. Then he pushed his hand through, his expression triumphant as his fingers disappeared into nothingness. For a moment he was still, the expression on his face frozen, while I felt a mounting pressure build just above my hips. Then his eyebrows raised in disbelief as I continued to stand, my head cocked to the side, feeling his fingers trying to ram through the barrier.
Without my intervention of creating a tiny force point just where he tried to break through, effectively trapping his fingers, he may have accomplished the task. Peregrine had mentioned that higher powers possessed auras more difficult to penetrate. Maybe mine would have stopped him. But my mobility was not something I was willing to chance.
“Was that supposed to hurt?” I asked, my voice level, “Or are you trying to tickle me, Peregrine? After creating all these portals, maybe your power is exhausted. Or maybe, you’ve underestimated my abilities!”
To punctate the last sentence, I raised my hands, calling forth the strongest force points I could muster. Pulling the empty train car from the subway track up into the air and hurling it at Peregrine, sparks erupting as it bounced, the metal screeching as it peeled back and grated against the floor. His expression still shocked, Peregrine failed to teleport before the car and him collided.
The roof of the car drove into his shoulder with the unstoppable mass of several tons, sending him skittering backwards on his heels until his instinct kicked in. He teleported away as the car continued on its kamikaze path towards the wall, the metal wailing as air RUSHED out from the closing gap. And without powers, Peregrine would have been in that gap only moments later, crushed and the fight finished.
Instead, he scowled, evaluating the damage of his torn sleeve before nodding his head in approval.
“If nothing else, we taught you the element of surprise,” He sighed. “Just another trait that will go to no use. But you’re out of your league, boy. Far out of your league.”
The punch came out of nowhere, the space ripping open just right of my head as Peregrine led his teleport with a fist. Two knuckles caught me across the face as he stepped through the void, my vision flashing as I reeled backward. Then he was through the other side, teleporting away in an instant, both the entrance and exit rips in space appearing too quick for me to react. I sprawled backwards, launched by the force of the collision and rolling against the concrete.
Blood dripped from my nose as I climbed to my feet, stars flashing across my vision and lacerations dug into my forearm. But Peregrine was already thirty feet out of reach, casually leaning against the side of the station, his eyes on me like a snake watching prey.
“It’s no fair fight,” he said. “No way for you to win. This is a game for me, SC. I only have to invoke the lowest extents of my power.”
Provoke him until he makes a mistake, I thought, Make him too confident. Time it just right.
“You’re still no match for me!” I shouted, raising my hand to whip a stream of gravel from the track. The stones curled in midair, a band of rock cascading as hail in a strike where Peregrine stood. He sidestepped, not even bothering to teleport as the projectiles missed him and scattered about the station, bouncing in every direction as they met the wall and floor.
“Inexperienced, and incompetent.” commented Peregrine, disapproving. “With many more lessons to be learned.”
This time, I caught the rip in space as he stepped through, his left hand gripping my shoulder as his right dug into my gut. I doubled over, coughing and gasping as a second impact followed the first. My hands gripped my knees as I sputtered, Peregrine already departed out of reach once more as I lashed outwards, kicking only air where he had been moments before.
“I do believe pain is the best teacher,” he laughed, now at the other end of the station, his voice echoing. “And maybe, with time, you will learn from it.”
He teleported again, only ten feet away and directly facing me. From behind me I could hear my mother screaming, shouting curses at him that I pushed into the background while I concentrated. As I focused my attention away from the throbbing side of my face, and my breath that came too shallow, and the blood that was seeping through my clothes. Becoming aware of all that was around us that could be sensed by my power.
There was his machine, a twisted knot at the center of the station, with tunneled stands that travelled through the air away from it in all direction. There were the rips in space he had recently closed, like wounds still healing, steaming as they faded away. And there were smaller sensations, such as the feeling of the earth bending space around it, a light ever present touch that was always in the background. Far away, I also felt reverberations from the raging battle in the last station, the distant ripples of thick packets energy being released so quickly they warped space itself.
“One last time I offer you,” Peregrine said as I stared, waiting on the balls of my feet, reaching out with my power to feel the space between us. He held up a single finger and leaned forward as he spoke, like a parent to a disobedient toddler. “One last courtesy. Choose.”
“Never!” I shouted back, my voice coming out barely as a wheeze.
“Then your lesson in pain has only just begun, boy!”
His eyes flashed as he lunged forward, and I tensed, knowing I would only have one chance. There, just milliseconds later I felt it start to form, the rip in space that preceded his teleports. And right as his body started to cross through the tunnel in space, I struck, putting all my power behind a single blow.
The space behind Peregrine collapsed with a force so violent that the station shook, the force point I generated by him so powerful that it pulled in objects from far edges of the track. To Peregrine, the point would be indistinguishable from gravity. And now, he was already moving through the rip in space, propelled forwards by his own power.
Climbing out of a gravitational energy well with no way to pay the debt.
Cold exploded in front of me as he stepped through, his eyes widening in shock as frost leapt across the tips of his hair, and his breath billowed in front of him like a miniature cloud. Snowflakes flurried out from the rip in space as if an arctic blizzard were on the other side, partially obscuring him as I aimed my punch directly into his lower chest. In his unexpected environment, the blow caught him defenseless and his expression flickered to confusion then panic, and he initiated the logical course of action for a seasoned soldier in an unpredictable situation.
Retreat, reassess the situation, and return to attack.
Two dark orbs appeared in my hands by the time he opened the second rip in space, his steps slow as frostbite bit him down the bone. And as he stepped through once more to escape, I yanked the space around the orbs downwards, pulling him as hard as possible towards me while still letting him flee. Creating a second gravitational debt that he would have to climb out of to teleport.
What came out the other end of the portal was not Peregrine- no, the figure that materialized on the other end of the room was solid ice, the skin cracking as moisture flash froze within cells, the muscles refusing to obey commands as energy fled them. Moisture from the damp underground air rapidly joined him as his knees buckled, covering his exterior in a layer of white that hissed like dry ice. Then he fell backwards, his limbs locked in position as he rocked on his back and stared at the ceiling, his temperature as cold as liquid nitrogen.
I walked to him with caution, still nursing the injuries that he had given me, and stared down at what remained. Through the layer of ice, his eyes were frozen and still. His face a shade of blue, his expression locked. His chest unmoving.
“The trick is in elevation changes,” I whispered, as a chunk of ice fell from his hair and skittered across the ground. “You said it yourself, Peregrin. And you gave me no choice.”
I turned back to the machine he had created, the monstrosity intended to generate an army of supersoldiers to obey him. And I realized that it would be no small feat to destroy it. The strands of ripped space surrounded it like bits of spiderwebs and knocking them down at once would only tangle the web together, twisting and folding space rather than smoothing it out once more. I would have to return later, after the battle was over, when I would be at full strength and my injuries would be healed, and when I would have hours to work. The portals still showed the Pacific, the azure ocean waving through the small doorway to the room, the dark shapes in the depths hiding just out of sight.
But now, it was time for one more shape to join them.
I had to wrap my shirt around my hands to lift Peregrine, his skin still too cold for me to touch. Even then I could only drag him, leaving behind a trail of white that lead to the entrance of his contraption.
“You made this to bring people into this world,” I said, pulling him up onto the metal table at the center. “It’s fitting, then, that it delivers you from it.”
I pushed, the legs of the table screeching as they moved, as if Peregrine himself were resisting his fate. Then the lip of the metal met the border one of the portals and pushed into it, the Pacific absorbing the edge of the table with greedy tendrils of water. The table continued sliding as if it were moving downhill, pulling itself through, tipping into the depths. Taking its payload, Peregrine, with it as the last portion passed through and was now only visible from my side of the barrier.
Together they sank, Peregrine weighed down by his boots and the undercurrent of the falling table. And around them swam the same bright school of fish as before, darting in and out with curiosity to view their new visitor. Swirling around him, but gradually leaving in a flurry of color that travelled towards the surface, forgetting the faceless shape as it sought the ocean floor.
“I had to,” I mumbled, my hands shaking as I looked back to the portals. I sat next to my mother, my breath coming in shallow gasps. In my lap was the chain that had shackled her moments before, the metal links in the center freshly vaporized by one of my dark spheres.
A dark sphere that sickened me to look at. The same that had brought Peregrine to his death.
“SC, how did he die?” she asked, her voice soft as tears welled in my eyes. Now the police had a true reason to find me. Now, I was no longer innocent.
“I froze him,” I started, swallowing. “I killed him by using-”
“No, SC,” she said, taking the edge of her shirt to brush away the blood on my face, the fabric stinging as it met open cuts, “What was he doing when he died? What action was he taking?”
“He was teleporting to hit me, to punch me again. And it was either I attack, or I be killed. It still doesn’t feel right, though. Not at all.” I shook my head as I tried to use the words as a flimsy shield.
“Tell me, SC,” she continued, running a hand through my hair. “If he never teleported to attack you, would your attack have worked? Would he still be alive right now, and speaking?”
“He would. Without jumping, my power would have had no effect.”
“Then to me, it sounds like he decided his own fate,” she comforted, embracing me with both arms. “Through his own actions, he died from a force of nature. As surely as looking over the edge of a cliff and walking into nothingness. And even if you had taken his life directly, SC, there are many that he has already stolen. Plus many more to come. Mine, yours, your classmates.”
She stood, taking my arm, and started to walk towards the subway tunnel, continuing to speak.
“You prevented that, SC. Remember that Peregrine brought this on himself.”
“That doesn’t make it much easier,” I said as our footsteps echoed in the cavern, “It does a bit, but not much.”
“And it shouldn’t. If it were easy for you, I’d be worried. Do not take it lightly,” she said, though her brow was already creased. “But given the chance, I would have done the same. You saved me, SC. You made the right but difficult decision.”
We reached the track and climbed down into it, my mother sighing as she dropped over the edge. And we stared into the dark tunnel, pausing, blinking.
“Is there another way out?” I asked, casting my gaze over the station. “Things aren’t going to be calm on the other end, and I’d rather approach from above.”
“All the exits are filled with cement,” She answered, ”I nearly escaped once, but the only path is through this tunnel. And before I could take it, they found me- took them three days of searching while I hid in plain sight, but Peregrine had the tunnel boarded up until I was shackled again.”
“Then tunnel it is,” I said, and we stepped forward together.
After the last few weeks, it felt strange to fall into the rhythm of footsteps with my mother, for her cadence to lead my walk. I’d grown used to setting my own pace, to choosing my own path. The world had forced me to learn to move on my own, to make my own decisions.
And now, shadowing someone again was strange, almost awkward. As if the muscle memory no longer existed, and was now replaced by something else, something stronger.
“What happened, SC?” Asked my mother as we moved, “Ever since the apartment. Did they harm you?”
“A lot happened,” I sighed, my thoughts racing, unsure where to start, “But I came out okay. And now, everything can go back to normal. We can move back home- wait, can we move back home?”
I’d never actually planned farther than rescuing my mother- everything afterward seemed secondary. Something that she would be able to figure out once we had reunited.
“We’re not going to be able to, are we?” I asked, my voice deflated.
“Most likely not, SC. But home is not simply the apartment we left a few weeks ago. Home is where we make it. Where we’re together. And with my ability to keep you hidden, that can be many places.”
As we retraced my steps, the tunnel turned to reveal a dull pinprick of light appeared far ahead. And with the light, I heard the sounds of fighting, battle cries accompanied by crashing and explosions. Indications that my friends were fighting.
“I have to go!” I said, turning to my mother, “But home might be more than just the two of us! Don’t leave the tunnel.”
“SC, wait-” She shouted, but I had already started sprinting, leaving her behind in the darkness. Ahead, my friends were still in potential danger. Danger that I had brought them into.
And now, I would need to help them escape.
I exploded from the tunnel at full speed, two black orbs hovering just above my palms, and leapt up onto the platform. Smoke still obscured the scene in a thick haze, but I could see the guards lined on one end, their powers still fully activated. And on the other, crouched for cover but holding ground, were the police and students.
Neither side was moving- both held back, tentative, as two figures stood in the middle between them, their arms outstretched against both sides. The guards from the rehabilitation facility, with thick glowing force fields generated from the palms, stronger than any I had seen them use before, and splitting the fight down the center. Preventing either side from mounting an attack.
“Stand down,” The voice came from within the mist, a slight singsong quality to it that I knew all too well. “What has happened today is the business of the rehabilitation facility alone. We shall cover all costs for damages, and assure you nothing of this nature shall ever occur again, as testified by our unblemished track record prior to today.”
Siri’s typically spotless suit was covered in dust, a hole the size of a baseball singed into the side, and an entire collar missing. Her hair, usually restricted to allow no strands freedom, was frazzled and unkempt. And her voice was low, dangerous.
“Neither the police nor I can ignore what transpired in the last hour,” came another voice, one that made me bite my lip. The Hunter. And far closer to me in the smoke than Siri. “Perhaps we can ignore the outbreak, but there is something far more sinister occurring. The rehabilitation facilities are not authorized to hold a militia. And worse, they appear to have been attacking children before we intervened.”
“The business of the rehabilitation facilities are beyond the police, and this was simply a training exercise gone awry,” Siri retorted, her voice low, almost a growl. “We have a balance, Art. A delicate one. Lives will be lost if it is toppled. Do you really want to be responsible for that? Just to try to prove a point that doesn’t exist?”
“If it’s not extinguished now, it will only grow worse,” said the Hunter. “The wound cannot be allowed to fester. What are you hiding Siri? What is it that you don’t want the police to know.”
“I assure you, nothing of consequence,” She answered, throwing her arms wide. “Nothing of interest, and nothing of any danger. As I said, simply a training exercise some of the students took slightly too seriously.”
“Unless you are harboring a rare and strong power,” accused The Hunter. “I can feel it here now, I know it exists. I am absolutely sure that it is not documented. But I don’t know what it can do, and that makes it extremely dangerous.”
“Rare powers?” Siri threw her head back and laughed. “Art, you and the police supply my feed stock. Any of my students must come through you. You likely know their abilities better than I do! Back at the facility, I will throw my doors open to you and your team for a full inspection. But now, I repeat, stand down. This goes deeper than you know, higher than you know. You will deeply regret any action you take.”
“Defy me-” started The Hunter, shrill, but I saw an officer rush forward to take his arm. Roland, the same officer who had investigated my apartment with him hissed into his ear, his voice low enough to be missed by Siri but making it to my position.
“Take the offer, Art. We’ll investigate the facility and you can search as long as you want. I’ll station officers to monitor the subway until this time. This isn’t worth losing lives on a theory, and she won’t go down without a fight.”
“We have them under our thumb,” Hissed The Hunter back, “It’s our best chance in years. Letting them go and giving them time to cover their tracks would be insane.”
“These are my officers, and therefore my decision to make,” Said Roland, “Whatever happened here can technically be explained away. The risk of finding nothing is too great. I need something concrete, Art. Proof of an act of aggression against us, not within her own program.”
“Then what I do after this, I do without the knowledge of the police.”
The Hunter’s eyes blazed as he looked upwards and met Siri’s triumphant gaze. Preparing to concede when they were so close to discovering the secret in the tunnel. Giving away their opportunity to interrogate the confused students who still couldn’t quite remember why they were fighting. He drew a sharp breath and cracked his neck, the words coming slow but firm.
“Tomorrow morning, be prepared for a complete search.” He said, and I stiffened in disbelief. Knowing that now was when I needed the police most. And realizing I might be able to give them the boost that they needed. “If we find but one shred of evidence-”
As he spoke I fed the black spheres in my hands, urging them to grow larger.
“One stray hair-”
I started to run towards the dual forcefields, cocking my right hand backwards to throw.
“Or any reason to investigate further, we-”
I shouted as I released the orb, the gravity around it sucking the dust out of the air in its trajectory until it collided with the force fields. And I shouted as the explosion rocked the chamber, my voice the sole noise in the stunned silence.
“I am the rare power! I am her weapon, created by the facility to destroy those who oppose her, and I will protect Siri with my life!”
I threw the second orb at a shocked Roland, aiming to just barely miss him and cut a long gouge through the floor. The Hunter jumped backwards, his eyes locking on mine, his expression greedy as I shouted a final sentence.
“Prepare to die at her hand! The war begins now!”
“Treason!” shouted The Hunter, throwing a hand forwards, “We arrest you for treason!”
Roland hesitated but his officers had already started moving forward, carried more by instinct than orders.
“Formation!” He cried, “Formation, unified phalanx!”
Two officers darted to the front, raising their hands as Siri screeched and an assault of powers began. Fire and ice tornadoes whipped across the station towards them, screaming across the concrete floor with alarming speed. But the two front officers flourished their hands, redirecting the energy back towards their opponents with a power that could only mean they were Bouncers, boomeranging any projectiles back towards the enemy. The other officers fell into a V formation behind them, while those that had projectile based powers occupied the outer layer to return fire on Siri’s thugs. Protected on the inner layer were officers with close combat powers, and I recognized Ulrich, the officer with super strength who had forced me into his car several weeks before at the gas station. At the center of it all was Roland, his hands conducting movements like a composer, the reactions to his motions too quick to be natural.
But before I could admire the cooperation of the police, more pressing matters forced me into action. For while Siri and the police opposed each other, both Siri and the police opposed me.
Fatal forms of destruction rained down towards me from Siri’s side, the powers intended to cause as much damage as possible as she looked on with rage. And from the police, powers intended to stun like the electric tentacle that had struck Darian emerged. Even more dangerous were the students, half of them remembering their allegiance to Siri to strike at me, while the other half following the police for the same effect.
I dove back into the recessed subway track as an arc of fire singed my hair. Several cinder blocks followed, shattering against the wall to shower me in chunks of concrete. Creating two black spheres, I positioned them in front of me to absorb the blows, pulling in anything that came close enough to strike me as a shield. But maintaining them eliminated my line of sight to the battle, as well as preventing me from forming an offensive.
“Oi, SC, mission accomplished?” came a voice from behind me and I turned to see Slugger strolling down the track, holding a piece of steel plating the size of a large shed as if it were made of paper as his own personal shield. “Time to brawl? How about we stir the pot and empty the dugouts?”
“Slugger, get the students out of here!” I answered, just as Miles flung a piece piping ripped from the tunnel wall at me, parts of the metal making it between my spheres and whizzing past my neck, “Some of them are starting to attack the police, and I need their firepower off me!”
“Aye coach, clearing the benches of the third string!” He answered, and popped over the edge of the subway track before shouting in the direction of the students. “Oi, remember me, ya loons? Wendy waddles, Wendy waddles, yada yada yada, let’s go!”
Winking at me, he whispered before sprinting away, “Too easy, SC. It’s almost as if they couldn’t think for themselves, eh? Likely due to the sad state of our academic system these days. The tax payers would be so disappointed.”
In a wave the student’s turned to face him, their faces popping out of cubbyholes and hideaways like curious meerkats. Then Connor emerged, his expression furious and contagious. They leapt forwards in a stream, forgetting the battle as they remembered their initial purpose, rushing after Slugger as he disappeared cackling in a side tunnel. Funneling through the opening in pursuit, their cries drowned out by the sounds of the battle, and though they were numerous it was impossible to tell if all of them escaped.
Turning back towards Siri’s men, I narrowly avoided a fire tornado deflected by one of the Bouncers that careened down the track, evaporating into whispy sparks just thirty feet away. I sighed in relief, then frowned, realizing that the heat not only still remained but seemed to be increasing. As if the tornado was getting closer instead of disappearing. And was coming from the opposite direction.
“Hey, SC!” I heard from behind me in Lucio’s voice, “Just snapped out of zombie mode! Whew, I’m exhausted, being that pissed really takes it out of you!”
I held up a hand as I looked down the track, feeling another wave of heat and seeing a smoldering shadow appear. Behind me, I heard Lucio’s footsteps approaching, his voice sill light.
“Don’t tell me you’re loony, SC! You would think that you’d be happy to see me, you know, alive! Maybe you should- “ Then he stopped as he caught sight of who I was looking at and cursed. As we both realized that not all the other students had followed Slugger back to the surface.
And Fino had remained behind.
Another heat wave emanated from Fino as his face turned a deeper shade of red, and Lucio crouched behind me.
“I can’t touch his mind at all,” Lucio cried, “There’s little to no rational thought going on in there, just rage. I could broadcast him a memory of frolicking puppies and he’d torch them into chicken nuggets.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem this time,” I answered, remembering my initial match with Fino. When I had been unable to use my power because it had been a secret. But now, the odds of the match had changed.
“What’s wrong here Fino, lose sight of your friends?” I taunted, luring him forwards. “Even becoming an upper didn’t score you any of those, did it?”
This time, the heat wave was scorching as he shook, and I raised a dark sphere between us, letting it absorb the energy. With it as an obstacle, Fino would be unable to cross. And so long as I continued to provoke him, he’d eventually wear down, spent as his Furnace power consumed all his energy.
“Come on, Fino, is that all you’ve got? Are you scared of a round two?”
Enough heat poured forwards to turn the rails of the subway a glowing red and make the walls chip, but the black sphere held, stopping the heat like a cork in a bottle. And Fino shouted with frustration as the sphere stopped him too, pulling at him from several feet away as he stopped, realizing even in his raged state that the orb was a danger that would have to be destroyed before moving forwards.
And Fino attempted just that.
Wave after wave crashed forwards as I realized that he was no longer a danger but rather a benefit- with Fino outpouring energy, no one would safely be able to approach from his direction. So long as he was pinned down he formed a human shield. In a way, he was fighting for me.
“How long do you think he can keep this up?” Asked Lucio, sweating, “And what’s the plan, are we jetting soon? I’d prefer not to be thrown back in handcuffs.”
“Looks like the police are winning, so we should be good to go. Then we’ll come back to find my mother after everything cools down. The police are after me too, so if we stay too long they’ll become a problem.” I answered, watching as Roland directed two of his officers to absorb a stunned guard into the police cluster like an amoeba, handcuffs rapidly following as they left him paralyzed and facedown on the ground.
“Where are we going to be hiding out then?” Lucio asked, ducking as debris rained down from the ceiling and the police captured another guard, “They’ll be running a comb through this place finer than the Hunter uses for his hair once this is over.”
“Once this is over, I wouldn’t worry. Until then, we’ll be wanting to watch the exits.” I said, focusing on the dark orb which had started to grow heavy as it absorbed more of the surroundings, “My mother has a way of avoiding being found. Now that the police have reason to arrest her, the last thing want is Siri escaping.”
“Oh, that would be the last thing you would want, wouldn’t it?” Laughed a voice from above, and I turned to see Siri staring over the edge. Soot covered her right cheek while a crooked smile spread across her lips, one that failed to reach her eyes that had narrowed to thin slits. Chills ran down my spine as she spoke again, her voice filled with relish. “And the last thing I would want would be for you to escape the police as well. If we go down, shan’t we go down together?”
Then she started to sing, directing the words at both Lucio and me.
You’ve come so far, and now you’ll rest,
SC, let your power turn lame,
Lucio, of your spirit we shall now put to test,
Its strength against the flame.
Calm washed over me with Siri’s words, and my hands grew heavy. Ahead, the black orb started to shrink, throwing off rays of colors as I released my hold upon it. The colors danced along the subway track, peaceful in their arcs. Lucio sidled beside me, continuing forwards as I heard familiar laughter in the background.
Lucio stepped forwards again, staggering as his toes dragged and left tracks in the cement, the strength of the orb diminishing along with its size. And the heat surged forwards, bypassing the shield, hearing the buttons on my shirt until they burned into my chest.
Lucio cried out, shaking, but continued to glide forward into the wave of heat, his shoes starting to smoke as their soles melted. Then he shouted again, the pain apparent as he took another step.
And I released my grip on the sphere entirely.
Lucio screamed as he raised a hand, extending a finger towards Fino as the skin around his nail crackled, yet still edging closer. And I felt another wave of serenity wash over me as I heard song in the background, paired with another feeling. One of pride.
Never before had the song been directed so strongly towards me, never before had I been the subject of its poetry. And now it vibrated through my entire existence- not background music but rather the focal theme. As if my own soul were singing with it, rejoicing with it. Becoming it.
My voice joined Lucio as fire singed my eyebrows, a triumphant shout erupting from deep in my lungs as we fulfilled our purpose. And I prepared to dash forward, casting myself among the fire, fulfilling the song.
My leg muscles tensed, a smile forming across my face, just as the singing morphed to a yowl, the sound like a cornered alley cat. The song dissipated as the illusion shattered, and Lucio jumped backwards, holding his hand and whimpering. I scrambled after him, forgetting about the dark sphere as it exploded, the recessed subway track carrying the full force of the blast towards Fino like a rifle barrel. He flew backwards, collapsing thirty feet away as the final energy behind his heat sputtered out, his skin pale white and calm, his breaths ragged.
But his gasps were not the only I heard as I turned and saw Siri fallen across the track, her eyes wide and unfocused as she stared upwards, a hand clasped across her lower chest. She struggled to breath, the wind knocked out of her by the fall from the platform above. Without breath, there was no song. And without her song, my thoughts were clear.
Above her Arial floated, the pair of handcuffs still dangling from her wrist, her shoulder still lowered from where she had crashed into Siri at full speed. From the end of her handcuffs hung a piece of the bed’s headboard, the cheap meal connection unscrewed at the joint and ripped from the frame.
She glared as she looked at me, her eyes still as ablaze as when I had last seen her in the gym.
“Don’t you ever leave me behind again,” She barked, slightly tilted from weight of the headboard, “It almost cost you your life!”
“And mine!” Started Lucio, cradling his hand, his voice pained, “Might do you a little good to listen to the lady next time, SC!”
“Get down here!” I shouted in response, realizing that she was hovering in the direct line of fire from the battle above.
“Or what, SC?” She sputtered, “Are you going to lie again, or leave again, or-”
“Or you might get hit!” I retorted, leaping up to grab her hand and pulling her towards the ground, “It’s a battlefield up there!”
“Not anymore, it isn’t,” She said, “The police are just finishing up now, everyone is stunned and handcuffed. They’ve got a Healer working on two of them who took some nasty frostbite. And there’s a few students down they’re caring for too. But they didn’t notice this one sneaking away.” she said, nodding towards Siri.
“It’s a good thing you did,” I answered, looking a the tar tracks Lucio’s shoes had left on the ground, “I don’t think we would have made it much longer, Arial. Thank you.”
I squeezed her hand and she blushed, her eyes meeting mine from underneath her brunette hair. She leaned forwards slightly, her pupils dilating and eyelids blinking.
“In case you two have forgotten,” Started Lucio from behind us, clearing his throat and pointing to Siri where she lay. “There’s a murderer who will literally do us in as soon as she finds her voice on the ground here.”
He bent over and took off his shoe, then wriggled his toes as he took off a sock and pulled away his shoelaces.
“If you ask me, it’s time she put a sock in it!”
He bent over Siri, lashing one of the shoelaces around her wrists with no resistance in her stunned state. The knot was amateur but enough to hold for a few minutes, and he balled his sock up before pushing it into her mouth, looping the other shoelace around her head once to hold it in place.
“There. Bad breath is the best thing to leave that mouth in weeks, so I’d say the look suits you Siri,” he said when he finished, admiring his handiwork as she started to recover, her eyes flitting between us.
“We’ll need the police here now, before she has a chance to work her way out of that,” I said as she started to struggle, “I’ll lure them in.”
“No, SC, this one’s on me.” Responded Arial, putting her hand on my chest, and rising to shout over the edge of the platform, her voice high and distressed “Daddy! Daddy, I found one!”
“Arial?” Came the shocked cry of the Hunter from the end of the station as she dropped back onto the track.
“I’ll need to be going,” I said as she took my hand once more and pulled me closer.
“I know, but not just yet,” She answered, and moved inwards, her lips brushing against mine for an instant in time that seemed to pause the actions around us. They were soft, softer than I would have expected, and my hand instinctively glided upwards to rest on her cheek. And for a moment I forgot the rest of the world existed, that a battle was finishing around us, that there were others on the track.
Then she pulled away as I stood still, less thoughts occupying my brain than when Siri had exercised control over me, my mouth still parted.
“SC, let’s roll! No more handcuffs, remember?” Lucio interrupted, pulling a face as he tugged at my elbow, and my feet started to move, through my stare still tracked Arial.
“See- See you soon,” I stammered, starting to run.
“You better,” She answered, watching me leave, “Don’t give me an excuse to be more angry with you next time.”