Blog

Dynamo Vol. 2 Exit Strategy Part 1

Boredom sets in after a few days stuck in a hospital bed. You get tired of people staring at you. Are they waiting for you to die? Do they think you’ll get better? More than anything Kalenia Wallace wants to go home. To return to work. To have her boyfriend Marco wrap his arms around her and tell her it’s alright. None of that’s happening at the moment.

The last time she was hurt while acting as a vigilante under the Vigilantes Making Us Safe, or VMUS, Act she was able to get back in the office within a few days. She shrugged off being stabbed in the shoulder. Pushed through the anger and the hurt. Comforted herself with training and weapons which she was sure would keep her safe. They didn’t work. She was still every bit as vulnerable to a man with a gun. This time though she couldn’t push through it and pretend nothing happened.

When Marco arrived at the hospital she expected a big fight. Instead she found him sleeping by her bed when she woke up from surgery, his eyes red from crying. The next time she opened her eyes he was holding her hand and smiling at her. They haven’t talked about the reason she’s here or how she got hurt. He even stepped outside when a detective showed up to question her. After two weeks of sitting around here they’re walking on eggshells. Marco’s smart enough that he has to have figured out at least the rough details. Even if he’s content to sit around playing the doting boyfriend now, that’s going to pass and a fight’s going to happen.

Everyone keeps saying how lucky she is. The bullet nicked her liver but somehow avoided major blood vessels. A few inches in almost any direction and there’s a good chance she’d have never made it to the hospital. Even if she did she’d be in for months of physical therapy and hospitalization. With the bullet missing anything major though the doctors are talking about discharging her in a few days or maybe a week. She’ll need to take it easy for a month or two but she can go home and get back to her life.

A giant stack of paperwork sits next to her bed. Her assistant was here on the second day she was in the hospital to bring all of her case files. Her clients need the best legal defense and they aren’t about to wait. A few cases did have court dates pushed back while others had to be reassigned but plenty of others are still upcoming. She can’t wait to get back into the courtroom. A part of her even wonders if she can play the injury up in court though another part of her feels guilty even considering it.

Orange Jello and soup are the only things she’s been eating. Anything else makes her stomach upset with the medicine they have her on. A packet of the jello’s sitting on the tray next to her bed right now but her focus is on a case file for Edgar Juatco. He’s back in court next week and she’s hopeful she’ll be back on her feet in time to represent him. She keeps glancing at the door, hoping to see Marco walk in. He went back to work last week but has so far refused any trips out of town. His work’s been great at giving him the time they need. He should be here any time.

A nurse pokes her head in to ask if Kalenia needs anything but she shakes her head. She’s used to spending time alone but it’s one thing when you’re in your own house with a giant TV, stacks of books, bottles of wine. It’s another when you’re in a strange bed in a strange room and want to be anywhere else. She breathes a huge sigh of relief when Marco walks in, tossing her case file back on the stack.

“Thank god you’re here. I can’t take another minute of daytime TV.”

Walking to her bed, he leans down and gives her a kiss. It’s brief, his lips barely brushing hers before pulling away. That’s the only way he’s kissed her since she’s been here. At first she thought it was because he was afraid to hurt her but her mind’s starting to wander. A bundle of lilies, her favorite flower, are slipped into the vase by her bed as the ones from two days ago are taken out and tossed in the trash. “Glad I get to keep you entertained.” He takes a jacket off, something he wears all times of year regardless of the weather, and tosses it on a chair before slumping into it. “How are you feeling this afternoon?”

Positioning her bed so she’s sitting up, she feels a slight twinge in her stomach. She figures she’ll be feeling that for a long time. “Mostly alright. Dr. Batra’s been around a lot and he’s pretty sure I’ll be going home later in the week. He wants me to wait a few weeks more before going back to work but I don’t see why I can’t work as long as I take it easy.

“You should take your time. The clients aren’t going anywhere. They need you at your best.” There are large black circles under his eyes. She knows he hasn’t been sleeping much but he won’t talk about it. Every time they’re together he wants to focus entirely on her.

“These clients can’t wait. I’m the best lawyer for them so I’m going to push through it. and get back. Don’t worry, I can handle it.”

Marco flips over to the news and the conversation fades for a few minutes. When it goes to commercial though he turns back to her. “So, your mom called.”

“Oh? Any change on her coming to visit?”

He laughs and leans forward. “You know very well pigs will fly before your mother gets away from her new boyfriend and comes out here. Do you want me to give her your number here in the room?”

“No.”

“Alright then. Your uncle says he still hasn’t heard from your dad but when he does he’ll tell him. Your sister-“

“I talked to Shanika. She’s busy with the kids.”

“Right. Good news though is that you’ve got me and my mom’s going to stop by tomorrow during the day.”

Laughing hurts so she fights one back. “I’ll wait on her with great anticipation.”

They get quiet again. Marco starts rubbing his hands along his legs and Kalenia notices he won’t look her in the eye. “I’ve put this off but I think it’s time we talk. Your mom asked me earlier what happened and I didn’t really have an answer to give her. A lot of people are asking and I don’t have an answer for any of them. I mean, I think I do but I don’t feel right giving that until I’m sure and I might keep it to myself even once I am. What happened?”

Now it’s Kalenia’s turn to look at the faded blue carpeting on the floor. She takes a deep breath but it hurts and she clutches her stomach. She can see Marco tense up at the sight of it. “Well-”

“If you aren’t ready to talk about it yet we can wait, but we are going to need to do so.”

She shakes her head. “No, it’s better we get to it now. Having it hanging over me isn’t good for my stress level. You know I signed up for the vigilante act.”

She manages to look at his face and she waits for him to look back at her. When he finally meets her gaze, he gives a weak nod. “I was afraid the story would start that way. I hoped you just wanted to gamble but had a feeling that wasn’t it.”

“You want the truth, right?” He nods. “Okay then. I’ve been going out when you’re out of town. I didn’t want to hide it from you but I knew you wouldn’t like it and I didn’t want to argue.”

“What do you mean by going out?”

She glares at him and he shrinks back in his chair. “Let me get this out, then you can ask all your questions. I mean going out looking for criminals. I got a lead on a big drug bust. Which I handled beautifully by the way. Stopped the drugs from getting on the streets, caught some of the big guys in power, didn’t get hurt. It was perfect. One of the guys involved I found out had a connection to the casino. I went there and recognized one of the guys from the drug bust. Followed him around and found a big operation beneath the casino. I stopped it but when I was getting away one of their guys shot me.” Silence returns to the room. Marco’s head’s been working its way closer to the floor as the story continued. “That’s it by the way. You can talk now.”

He looks up at her with tears in his eyes. “Your shoulder?”

“That was from stopping an attempted rape. Totally worth it.”

“But you were out as a vigilante, right?” She nods. “Are you done with that?”

It’s a questions she’s been considering since she ended up here. “I know I probably should be. I’ve done this for a few weeks and I got seriously hurt twice. I’m honestly not sure though.”

Getting up from the chair, Marco walks to her side and takes her hand. He crouches next to the bed so he’s not towering over her. “Honey, I know you don’t like to quit. I want you to quit this though. You’re so lucky to still be here. You wanted to find a unique perspective to bring to your case. You got it. Why wouldn’t that be enough? You know I’m pretty understanding. I’m okay with you jumping off buildings all the time but there has to be a limit.”

She closes her eyes and looks away from him. “All of that’s true but think about what I did. I stopped a woman from getting raped. I stopped two truckloads of drugs from getting out on the streets. I threw their operation into disarray at the casino.”

“You killed people too.” His gaze is accusatory. He wants that to drive home everything she’s done but she doesn’t shrink from the gaze, looking right back into his eyes. His eyes get wider and he releases her hand.

“So you read the stories. I absolutely did, but so did they. The people I killed were people who needed to be put down. People who took pride in hurting others and putting crap out on the streets.”

“People you’d represent if it came down to it.”

She tries to sit up more but the pain’s too much and she has to lean back in the bed and squeeze her fists together until they start turning white. “Yes, if they were in a court of law. They weren’t here though and these weren’t low level nobodies. They were the people running the show, getting rich on the back of the people I represent. They’d have killed me if I didn’t get them first. I don’t feel guilty about it.”

Walking to the window, Marco moves a curtain aside. There’s not much to see from here. Only a parking lot and a few buildings in the distance. It’s still bright outside and with as dim as she keeps her room the glare hits her eyes and stings. “Look, I don’t want to make this a thing. I know you were doing what you thought was best and it was self defense. I love you. I want you to stop being a vigilante though. I want us to have a normal life. Can you do that?”

“I don’t know.”

He turns back to her, a smile spreading over his face. “Well, thanks for being honest at least. That’s more than you’ve been doing lately.” He picks his coat up. “Look, I need some air. I’m going for a walk. Think about it. I’d like an answer before you get out of here.”

“An ultimatum? What happens if I don’t make the choice you want?”

“Honestly? I have no idea. I’d rather not find out.”

“Why don’t you go home?”

Moving to her side, Marco takes her hand and squeezes it again. “I don’t need to go, I just got here. I’ll get some air and be back in a little bit.”

Closing her eyes, Kalenia struggles not to breathe deeply and make the pain worse. “No, you’ve given me a lot to think about. Take a night off. Get some dinner, watch some TV. We’ll talk about this later. I promise I’m going to think on it. Can you think about it too though? If I decide I need to do this, I don’t want you running out the door.”

He leans down and gives her a long kiss, the best they’ve had since she’s been here. “I don’t want that either. I don’t know that I can watch you kill yourself though. I’ll think about it. Promise.”

He starts to walk away but at the last moment she grabs at his hand. “Can you have a nurse or doctor or someone come in here when you get a chance? I could use some pain meds.” He nods before pulling his hand free and walking out. She closes her eyes and tries to drift to sleep.

Part 2

Advertisements

Rebel Rebel Vol. 2 Heroes of the City Part 5

The next few minutes pass fast. The police haul the bomb away to be analyzed. Apparently unconcerned with any other attempts at attack, the crowds are called back so the festivities can resume. Food stands are repopulated and a group’s soon playing music in the background.

Ryaan tries to slip into the crowd and change but a police officer stops him. “Hang around. We want to question you after things are finished. Nothing serious but we need to go over a few things.” The man looks him up and down. Maybe it’s his imagination but it feels like his eyes linger on every piece of exposed skin. It makes him shiver. “In the meantime, stay close. You’ll get a great view of the show as a thank you for helping.”

With the presentation now set for an hour after the original time, the crowd start growing bored. Ryaan tries to catch sight of his sisters and Mina but they’re lost in the sea of bodies. The cops around him seem more at ease as a lot of the crowd seems to have calmed down since being allowed to return. It’s almost quiet, or at least as quiet as a Chicago festival can be.

A group of men start raising a screen at the back of the stage. Something seems like it’s about to start when the national anthem starts playing over the loud speakers spread around the park. Staring toward the aquarium at the end of the pier, Ryaan can make out movement. The crowd picks up on it as well. They start turning, jumping up and down, raising children into the air. Their earlier calm vanishes, replaced by shouting and cheering. Men are high fiving each other while women hug.

Armed police officers lead the way down the carpet that’s been set up for the event, leading all the way from the aquarium to the stage. The mayor follows behind, though he keeps glancing back at the line behind him uncomfortably. Near the back of the procession, followed only by a few more officers, come the Goggle Guys, each flanked by a tall blonde woman. Neither of the women seems dressed for the occasion but then, neither do the Goggle Guys. They’re wearing the same leather nightmares they wear every other day.

Every ten feet or so one of them stops to flex or try to pump up the crowd. Every time they do the cheers get louder. Ryaan can barely stand it with his hands over his ears. The women with them are hanging off their arms. They look like twins, each almost identical in height. That means the smaller of the men, Jimmy, has a girl on his arm who towers over him, while the taller of the men, Billy, towers over his date.

When the men stop, the women don’t seem to get the hint because each time at least one of them almost trips. In the process of steadying themselves they almost fall out of the tiny shirts they’re wearing. Neither seems to mind, the grins on their faces if anything get larger.

The mayor seems fed up with it. Ryaan notices an eye roll from him as he has to stop for the fourth time, unable to get too far ahead of the rest of the group without spreading their security dangerously thin. His hand slowly taps on his shoulder as he keeps his arms crossed but the rest of the crowd doesn’t seem to notice. None of them are staring at anyone but the Goggle Guys.

A woman in an American flag bikini tries to get close enough to grab them and the men seem receptive but their security detail steps in and pushes her away. The women they’re escorting glare at the newcomer, who has to be kept back by security, and after a moment she relents and slips back into the crowd. The men resume their march to the stage.

Even having to stay close, the mayor reaches the stage long before the Goggle Guys. He waits patiently as more eyes turn toward him, no longer showing his annoyance. When they get to the stage Jimmy rushes up the four steps while Billy leaps onto the stage without even using the stairs. Their dates aren’t allowed up with them but they’re escorted to the side of the stage, not far from where Ryaan’s standing. Jimmy looks over to his date and winks, causing Ryaan to try to shrink into the crowd. His costume and mask stand out here and he doesn’t want them to notice him.

On the stage the men lock arms and do a bit of a dance to the cheers of the crowd. They separate and run to opposite ends of the stage, then run back to each other and high five in the middle of the stage. The mayor starts to say something but he’s drowned out by the roaring crowd. Unable to be heard, he makes his way to the Goggle Guys and whispers something in Jimmy’s ear. The man nods and makes a quiet down gesture to the crowd. A good chunk of the crowd listens to him. Ryaan notices Billy reach down and adjust his gun, realizing for the first time the man actually brought it with him into a crowd this size.

The mayor returns to the microphone stand in the middle of the stage grinning from ear to ear. “Hello Chicago.” The crowd roars their appreciation, though between his background and the crowd’s makeup very few of them likely voted for him. He lets them get it out for a minute, running his hand through his hair. “We’re here today to honor a pair of heroes, responsible for saving the lives of everyone in our great aquarium two days ago. These brave men stepped forward in our hour of need, risking their own lives to protect others. The group nearest the bomb were on a school field trip. Children. While I don’t want us to forget the sort of evil that would target such people, I want to make today a positive day. A day about honoring these great Americans. Let’s show them our appreciation.”

He throws his arms in the air and the Goggle Guys do the same, their stomachs hanging out as their shirts rise. The crowd doesn’t need any further encouragement. Jimmy rushes to the microphone as the mayor’s eyes go wide. “Thank you so much for the love Chicago. It means the world to us.” Ryaan can barely hear them.

The mayor fights his way past the man and gets the microphone back. He laughs as he does so but it sounds fake to Ryaan’s ears. “We appreciate all you give to us and the city loves you back. I have a bit of a surprise though.” He turns to gesture at the screen. “We have a message from a very important person who I think you’ll all be big fans of. If everyone will watch, I think you’ll be pretty happy with this.”

At first the crowd starts to get louder but then the face of President Richard Hughes appears on the screen. He’s squinting and for a moment his hand moves to shield his eyes but after a moment a huge smile spreads across his face. “Hello Chicago.”

The cheers go up and the mayor steps forward to address the crowd. “The president has agreed to join us live in order to give his thanks to our heroes today. If everyone can keep things down and allow him to speak that would be greatly appreciated.”

Chuckling, the president turns his head as if to look at the mayor but he looks the wrong way. “Thank you Mr. Mayor. Thank you to Chicago as well. I don’t want to take up too much of your celebration but I did want to thank the,” he pauses and tries to focus on something in the distance, “Goggle Guys for saving the day. I know they put themselves in danger to make sure others would be safe and that’s the mark of any real hero. From the moment I came up with the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act, I knew how much potential it had to protect people. When I heard about a moment like this, I felt like I was there shielding those beautiful children from those tremendous bombs. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Polite applause follows his declaration but some people in the crowd start looking at each other with confusion on their faces. The president says, “We are going to make our communities and our cities safe and the way we do it is with vigilantes. They can get in there where police can’t and they can shut down danger.” A hand can be seen passing something to the president and suddenly he’s putting on a pair of fancy goggles. “Today we’re all Goggle Guys. And girls, some of you I’m sure are women. I’ve arranged for goggles to be handed out to everyone at your party today. They’re my gift to the people of Chicago to help us remember what saved the day today. Thank you all and God bless America.”

The camera blinks off and the crowd breaks into applause. That goes up in volume when a group of women start jogging down from the aquarium with boxes filled with goggles. Even from the far end of the crowd Ryaan can tell they’re the sort of cheap junk his school handed out to everyone the day before to celebrate the so called heroes from their neighborhood. Nothing like the expensive pair the president wore on camera.

Already Ryaan feels ill. He can only imagine what Mina’s feeling. With the city and even the president’s direct blessing, these two are going to be unstoppable going forward. There won’t be anyone standing against them. Any attacks on them or their actions will be taken as direct attacks on the president. It seemed like they could do whatever they wanted before but now they definitely will be able to.

The mayor steps to the edge of the stage, his free hand which isn’t holding a microphone extended outward. “Isn’t that exciting? We have the president coming live to Chicago to endorse how the VMUS Act is going in our city. I had a long discussion with him last night and he’s even interested in coming here to meet with some of our top vigilantes. We look forward to it. For now though, I know you didn’t all come to hear me talk. I present to you, the heroes of the hour, the Goggle Guys.”

The two repeat their running apart and then running together into a high five routine. Apparently they’ve only practiced the one move. Billy starts to move toward the microphone but Jimmy puts a hand on his shoulder and pushes him away. He grabs it himself. “How’s it going Chicago?” The crowd erupts, the loudest they’ve been yet. Ryaan covers his ears again but it isn’t enough. “Chi Town! It’s our honor to be here in our home town, helping to keep the streets safe. That’s what we do all the time over in Bridgeview but it’s awesome that we happened to be walking through the aquarium on our day off when this happened. Awesome that we got to save a bunch of little kids. That’s what we’re all about. Keeping people safe. We’re going to keep on keeping people safe as long as you’ll have us. Will you have us?”

The cheering just keeps getting louder and both of the men put their hands to their ears. The mayor’s retreated to the back of the stage, whispering something to a man off to the side. Right above his head, something shoots into the screen at the back of the stage which still hasn’t been raised. The crowd notices and people start looking nervously between themselves. Ryaan tries to get a good look at it but the sun’s in his eyes and those of everyone on this side of the stage. It’s fine when you look straight ahead but looking up at where the item is makes it hard to focus.

A whistling noise fills the air and Ryaan sees a flash of red flying over his head. It’s gone in moments but he looks back to the stage and sees it again as it reaches the screen. There was some sort of line attached to it and something came sliding down. The noise stops and the red form drops to the stage. It looks to be a man in a skin tight metal suit. They’re wearing a mask which covers their entire head with only two small eye holes. The suit features black highlights throughout. It covers every inch of their body other than their eyes.

The appearance of this unknown force should be enough but seeing the sword on his hip turns Ryaan’s concern to panic. He starts to run toward the stage but feels an officer grab for his shoulder. “Stay out of this, I’m sure the Goggle Guys can handle it.”

Before they get the chance a number of bullets bounce off the man’s helmet and suit. They don’t seem to slow him down. He moves toward the Goggle Guys who both scrambled to the far side of the stage when he started to descend. The mayor’s escaped the stage and is already being lead away by a crowd of police officers. After seeing the snipers fail to do anything to him the rest of the group seems determined to watch his next move. With such a huge crowd they’re limited in what they can do.

The Goggle Guys don’t seem to have any such concerns. Billy grabs for his gun and Jimmy’s right behind him. Before either can open fire, the man in red draws his sword and lashes out. He slashes at Billy’s gun first and knocks it loose. He turns to Jimmy and slashes again but the man’s still moving forward. He gets him right in the arm, drawing blood and causing the gun to fly off the stage.

Until this point the crowd stayed relatively calm, maybe thinking this was all for show or at least thinking the authorities had things under control. They no longer seem convinced and people start to run. He hears a gunshot go off. How many of them are armed and about to start shooting wildly? Before he can consider that a voice comes over the speakers around the park. “Please refrain from firing around so many civilians. Please move as orderly as possible away from the stage.”

Some people sprint away, pushing past each other. Others try to stay orderly. A lot of the crowd doesn’t move. They seem transfixed as the man in red follows the Goggle Guys around the stage with the tip of his sword. They both keep staring at the one gun which is still on the stage but any time they make a move toward it they’re chased back. They consider jumping from the stage but there’s too many people around and nowhere to go.

The man in red with his free hand picks the microphone up from the ground. His voice sounds distorted. “Chicago, these are the sorts of men you choose to worship. Murderers, bigots, men who assault children. They are truly evil and you would forget that based upon one action which fit your needs. This is unacceptable. Every one of you who has gathered here today to worship these men is worthy of my vengeance. If you stay back though the only people I intend to have vengeance on are them.”

He drops the microphone and starts advancing again. Ryaan hates these men but he doesn’t want to see them cut down before a crowd. Before his sisters. He notices one other worrying detail. He recognized the man in red’s voice. Not specifically, he doesn’t think he knows the man. His accent’s familiar though. It’s Iraqi. It’s subtle, as if the person’s lived here a long time, but it’s close enough to his father’s accent that he’s confident in what he heard. If they’re cut down that’s one more thing they’ll try to blame on his community. If he can stop it, that’s something his community can get credit for.

He shoves the officer’s hand from his shoulder and weaves through the crowd. He worries people will think he’s in on it and open fire but by getting people between him and the cops he’s fairly certain they won’t be able to. He’s near the stage and he keeps pushing forward until he’s at the stairs. Rushing up them in two steps, he finds himself staring the man down.

“Put the sword down. There’s a lot of innocent people here who might get hurt.”

The man lunges at the Goggle Guys, causing them to stumble backward and fall to the ground. Seeing the motion and afraid he’s about to finish his attack, Ryaan draws a throwing knife and sends it right at the man’s back. It bounces away without doing any harm. With his targets momentarily not a concern, the man turns his body so he can watch both sides of the stage. He turns his head to Ryaan. “I’ve seen you. You go by the Rebel, right?”

Nodding, he puts his hand on another throwing knife. “That’s me. If you’ve watched me you know I protect people. I’m not going to let you hurt anyone.”

The man raises his sword. “I’ve seen plenty to know you don’t have what it takes to really help anyone. You could have stopped these guys a long time ago if you really wanted to. You wouldn’t so I’m left to do so. We don’t have to be enemies but if you don’t stand down we will be.”

As an answer Ryaan flicks two more knifes at the man, both of which bounce away. Running his eyes up and down the costume, the only opening he can see are the small eye holes. His knives are larger than that so he can’t get them in there. He might get the tip through but he’s not sure he’s that good an aim. Even if he is, he’s not sure he’s ready to go stabbing someone in the eye. Without another answer to stop this guy, he starts to get nervous. He rests each of his hands on another knife.

“Can’t do that. I don’t want to hurt anyone but you’re putting too many people at risk.” He turns to look at the crowd. Despite being urged to get away far too many people are still gathered. Cops have the stage surrounded but aren’t firing. What are they waiting for? “Get the crowd out of here.” Why can’t they at least make sure the civilians are safe? There’s far too many people more concerned with getting a glance at the action than protecting their lives.

“If you survive this, remember that I gave you a choice.” The man’s running at him at once, raising his sword. Ryaan circles, throwing a few more knives as he moves. The man moves his sword fast enough to knock most out of the air. They weren’t aimed at anything they’d get through anyway but apparently he’s not taking chances.

“This isn’t a game.”

“You’re absolutely right. I take this far more seriously than any game. Any risk to people today is more than made up for by the lives which will be improved by taking these two out of the picture.”

“That’s not your call.”

The man crouches slightly, his armored suit showing it moves easily. “That’s not up to you.” He turns back toward the Goggle Guys. Moving toward them, Jimmy shoves Billy into the man’s legs. Not expecting him to be so low, the man can’t react in time and has to leap to avoid tripping over them. Billy goes for the gun, now on the far side of the stage.

The red armored attacker turns to swing his sword again, about to plunge it into Jimmy. Ryaan rushes forward, pulling his staff free as he runs. If his knives can’t hurt this guy he’s going to have to try something else. The sword comes down but Ryaan manages to step under it just in time, deflecting it with his staff. The man stumbles back but stays on his feet. Gathering himself, he swings again. Ryaan steps in with his staff gripped between both hands, ready to block the shot again.

His staff splits right down the middle, cleaved in half by the heavy sword. His block deflects the blow well enough that he avoids being cut in half but only barely. Glancing desperately between the pieces of staff in each hand, Ryaan starts moving away. Jimmy’s had time to get to his feet and scramble behind Billy who recovered his gun. Fighting alongside these two makes him ill but the alternative isn’t any better.

Opening fire, Billy starts aiming at his attacker. The bullets bounce away with no effect. Ryaan turns to the man, throwing his hands up. “Careful where you’re shooting, those aren’t doing anything and you might hit someone in the crowd.” If anything being told what to do by the Rebel makes Billy start firing faster. If there wasn’t a bigger threat he worries the bullets would be aimed at him.

Moving both sides of his staff into one hand, Ryaan tries another knife, aiming for the hand the sword’s clasped in. If he can’t get away he can at least try to disarm the man. It bounces away as well. His gloves are as tough as the rest of his suit. Every minute they buy matters. Sirens can be heard in the distance and glancing around the edge of the park, the roads are lined with flashing red and blue lights. Eventually they’re going to overwhelm this guy.

With the man in red rushing the Goggle Guys again, Ryaan nervously steps between them, hoping he’s not going to get a bullet in the back as a thank you. They’re the targets and every moment he can stop this guy from getting to them is time for more help to arrive.

Red targets suddenly appear on the man in red. Ryaan’s first thought is sniper fire but bullets don’t appear. Instead a whistling sound cuts through the air and small hooks stick to the man’s suit. He looks down at them, not overly concerned. Ryaan backs away, unsure what’s happening. Then they start to blow up.

The explosions are small, contained, but they’re forceful enough that the air from them knocks Ryaan further back. He tumbles to the ground, trying to keep his staff in his hands. He ends up at the feet of the Goggle Guys. The man in red gets it worse. He’s thrown through the air, landing in a heap on the ground. He quickly gets back to his feet with his armor undamaged. Whoever this is though, they’re able to push him back.

He turns to face them while Ryaan’s still trying to get to his feet. Billy takes the moment to kick him forward, almost sending him sprawling again. The man points at the Goggle Guys, almost ignoring Ryaan. “My crimson cry will be your end. You get a reprieve for the moment but only for the moment.” He runs to the screen at the back of the stage where whatever he shot into it’s still sticking out of the screen. He pulls something loose from his waist and attaches it to the cable. In seconds he’s shooting up the cord, hanging on tight. Several officers try to shoot him as he zips back up the line but their bullets continue to do nothing.

He ends up on a nearby roof. A lot of the cops give chase, running in the direction of the building. Seeing a chance to slip away, Ryaan starts to run toward the port a potties, hoping for a chance to slide out of his costume and back into his regular clothes which are stashed in his backpack. He feels a weight on the bag and turns to find Jimmy holding onto it. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Part 4

Part 6

Hitbox Vol. 2 Commitment Shock Part 7

By the time the car pulls up in front of his apartment building Zach’s standing outside. He climbs behind the wheel and plugs in the address. The GPS says he’ll be ten minutes early.

The sun’s starting to set and he gets nervous considering his options. He wants to wear his gear but they’ll see him coming and take off. He doesn’t know what he’s walking into but they’re meeting in an apartment complex surrounded by people. He can’t see any reason for them to give him trouble. He should be safe unarmed. Relying on should makes his skin crawl.

Pulling up outside the building, Zach hops out of the car and opens his trunk. Inside his costume is neatly laid out and ready for him to slip into. He grabs his shock baton and slips it into the waistband of his pants, pulling his shirt down. Taking anything else is too risky. He closes the trunk and heads to the door.

The front door to the building’s locked but there’s an intercom outside. He presses the button for 1728 and after a moment the speaker crackles to life with a woman’s voice. “Yes?”

“This is the guy to see about the wedding dress?” Did Nowak give her a name? If so what is it?

“You’re early.”

“Sorry about that, traffic was light. I can wait out here in the dark for ten more minutes if you like.”

There’s a long pause. “No, it’s cool. Come on in. We’re the second door on the right once you reach the second floor.” A long beep later he finds himself able to pull the door open.

Inside he finds a well lit, cheerful hallway. This is an excellent part of town and this apartment definitely fits the area. The finishes look expensive, lots of browns and tans. Making his way up the stairs, Zach sees the door ahead open. A pretty young blonde steps out smiling. “Sorry about the nervous thing. My brother’s coming by before long. Can’t be too careful when meeting a stranger. That’s why I said eight thirty so be cool.”

“Sorry about being early again, didn’t know how long it’d take me to get here. Can I see the dress?”

She leads him inside to a strangely sterile apartment. It’s nice, with high end appliances visible in the kitchen and plenty of space. There’s not much furniture though and there’s almost nothing on the walls or on any shelves. The closest thing to decoration is a TV with a few DVDs in the living room and a few dirty dishes in the sink. “Follow me, the dress is laid out on my bed.”

They go into the bedroom which doesn’t feel any more lived in. There’s an alarm clock on the bed side table and a blanket on the bed but nothing else. The dress laying before him looks familiar. At first he’s not sure it’s the one though. “That’s a beautiful dress. Can I ask why you’re selling it? Is it because of the tear?”

She laughs. “I wish. I broke up with my fiancée. I was so mad I started taking scissors to the thing. Realized after a minute how much money I was cutting up so I stopped myself but it’s already damaged. Luckily I started with a really hard to see place. A train will cover this right up so most brides won’t have a problem. Nobody will see. She’ll know though and for a lot of brides that’s an issue. Hence the low price. Out of curiosity, why are you interested? Are you getting married?”

A good story. Zach’s tempted to believe her. “Nothing like that. My sister’s getting married. We don’t have a ton of money for a fancy dress so this could be an opportunity. She liked the picture you put up and asked me to check it out.”

“She wants you to buy a dress she hasn’t seen?”

Zach sticks his hands in his pockets. “Not really, but she had to work and she was afraid if I didn’t come tonight it’d sell. I’m supposed to only buy if I’m sure she’ll love it. Where’s the tear?”

Guiding him to the bottom of the dress, the woman shows him exactly where it is. His belief in her fades. The tear is exactly the shape of the piece of cloth back at the lab. The missing piece is close to the bottom and the beading’s identical. This has to be the one. He wants to believe this woman didn’t know but her story must be fake which means she knows something.

The shock baton digs into his back and his first thought is to reach for it. He doesn’t want to threaten her though and she may not know all the details. “It’s pretty, but I’m not confident enough my sister will love it. The tear would be hidden by a long train but she’s going to remove that after the ceremony. Can I take a picture? I’ll send it to her and if she approves I’ll check with you and see if it’s still available.”

She seems disappointed but agrees to let him take the photo. With that out of the way, he says goodbye and thanks her for her time. Exiting the apartment, he can hear the lock twist behind him.

Soon he’s back on the streets and heading for his car. She said her brother was coming by soon. That could be one of the robbers and if it is he wants to be ready. He pops the trunk and scans for any sign of people on the street. With nobody in sight he pops his helmet on. Once that’s in place it won’t be a disaster if somebody sees him changing.

Booting it up, he tries to run the helmet through some tests. Almost every menu he tries to open shows an error though. Nowak was telling the truth when he said the helmet was mostly still out of order.

The remainder of his suit goes over his clothes and he snaps his weapons into place. He’s getting better at getting into this. Sealing up the back is hard but other than that it only takes a minute. His midnight blue outfit blends into the dark and Zach sneaks into the yard outside the building. He finds a dark corner to wait in.

A few minutes later a man walks up to the building. It’s too dark to make his face out until he’s on the stoop but Zach’s almost certain he recognizes the man. His yellow scarf billows behind him on this windy night. Was he the one on the boat? He presses a button on the intercom and the girl’s voice is there.

Stepping into the light, Zach considers just shooting him but he feels weird about doing it in the back. “Turn around and face me.”

Turning, the man’s face goes white when he sees Hitbox standing before him. “Oh shit.” There’s a buzz and they both realize the door just opened. The man grabs for it and Zach grabs for his shock baton. The man’s through before he can react. He’s headed for the second floor.

Zach manages to grab the door before it closes and pull himself inside. He hits the stairs hard but running up them causes his knee to throb. He really needs to have Lorelei check that once she’s better. Reaching the top of the flight, he sees the man turning a corner to the next floor. His sister, if she is his sister, stands in her doorway shocked. When she sees Zach she slams her door. He can clearly hear the sound of her deadbolt. The man in the yellow scarf doesn’t pause. He just keeps moving.

Another flight of stairs finds him on the top floor but by the time he reaches it there’s no sign of the man. Zach runs down the hall, his knee throbbing now. There’s not going to be another way out on the third floor. Does he know someone else in the building? His heat vision would be useful here.

Turning a corner, Zach sees a door still open. A sign identifies it as roof access and when he opens the door he finds a small set of stairs. Reaching the top, he opens a door to find himself in the dark. There’s never complete dark in New York but for the city this is dark. They’re a little ways from the main downtown hub and it shows. His eyes try to adjust but without night vision he’s not going to see much.

Movement catches his eye. Turning, he sees the man rushing from one end of the roof to another. His yellow scarf stands out. There’s nowhere for him to go. If he had a weapon he’d be fighting back. Get close, shock him, then call the cops. The plan writes itself.

As the man continues to run Zach realizes he’s not slowing down. He’s nearing the edge of the roof and suddenly panic flashes through his mind. “Don’t.” The man doesn’t listen. He leaps and catches his feet on the lip of the building. Pushing off, he goes head first into a flying somersault. He lands gracefully on the next building without stopping, popping right back to his feet.

Zach’s eyes go wide under his helmet. He hurries to the edge of the building and stares at the gap. It’s not huge, three or four feet across. To him that feels like the Grand Canyon. He tries to convince himself to follow. He can make this jump. Can’t he? Doubt starts to set in. His knee isn’t 100%. If he falls, there won’t be much he can do. There’s always his winch but can he aim in time? They aren’t that high. An image from his childhood of a vigilante falling off a roof and splattering on the ground before him won’t go away.

His promise won’t go away either. He promised Sami he’d catch this guy. He’s going to try. He grabs his winch and fires into the side of the next building to give himself a backup if he misses. Then he steps on the ledge. His knees feel weak and the pain in his wounded leg dominates his thoughts. He bends them a few times before leaning forward. The wind threatens to push him off so he leaps before it can. His arms make it with ease and his right leg clears the gap. His left leg is slightly behind though and catches on the ledge. Grabbing for the roof, he pulls himself over and collapses in a heap.

His fear dissipates. He made it. Getting back to his feet’s a challenge but one he’s grateful for. After cutting his winch line he searches for any sign of the yellow scarf. He finds it but his heart breaks. The man’s on the next roof over. Shuffling in that direction, he sees this gap’s even larger than the last. At least five or six feet. Not an impossible distance but after barely making a smaller jump, he doubts he can keep up.

To drive that point home, the man with the yellow scarf takes off running and dives from that roof to another. He lands and with barely any hesitation takes off running for another roof. When he’s there the man turns back to him, silently daring Zach to try.

He realizes that fights over. Giving up isn’t the answer though. He can’t keep up with this guy on the roofs but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still an option. Glad to find the roof door unlocked, Zach heads inside and makes his way to the ground. A man coming out of his apartment gives a funny look but he doesn’t say anything.

Reaching the street Zach counts the buildings. The man was three buildings down. If he’s lucky he won’t be expecting Zach to come this way. He may even be exiting the building through the halls. He hopes so. The idea of going back on a roof isn’t exciting.

The third building down is behind a gate but it’s not locked. Kind of defeats the purpose of a gate. He hopes the door to the building will be unlocked as well but he isn’t that lucky. It’s sealed tight. Not sure what to do, he sees the speaker system to the right of the door has at least twenty options. He starts pressing every button one by one. On the fifth try someone buzzes him in without a word.

Rushing up another two flights of stairs is hard work. His knee’s on fire now. The entire way he hopes to stumble upon the man and not have to go back into the night. There’s no sign of him. Finding the roof access in this building is even tougher. It’s hidden in a corner and this time there’s no stairs leading up. Instead there’s a ladder and on each rung his knee screams.

Reaching the top of the ladder, he finds a hatch which pushes open. Immediately the wind is raging around his head. Pulling himself the last few steps to the roof, he wants to stay down. The man could be anywhere though so he stands with some difficulty.

His head on a swivel, searching for any sign of the man. There’s nothing. No movement, no flash of yellow. He’s gone. Maybe he snuck out before Zach go to the building. Unlikely but hard to say. Maybe he took off across the rooftops. He can see a few more that are close enough this guy might be able to jump to them.

Staring into the night, he whips his head around. There must to be some sign of where he went. There’s no other lead and they’ll be way more careful advertising these dresses after tonight. After a few minutes it starts to sink in. There’s no sign of movement, there’s no yellow flash. The man’s lost to the night. He took the best chance Zach had to find justice for his friends with him.

Slumping to the roof, Zach wants to give up. He can go home now, tell Mr. Nowak he was right and forget this case. Then he pictures Sami still laying in a hospital bed, fighting for his life. If he can keep fighting, Zach can do the same. Thinking of his next move, he heads for the ladder. With every rung he climbs down, he’s more determined to find these men.

Part 6

Part 8

Red Line: The Future Part 13

The next few days are awkward between Melissa and Tara. Melissa’s fairly certain Tara knows she didn’t make the team and is upset about it. Every time she brings it up though Tara tells her everything’s fine and there’s nothing to worry about.

Everyone in the bunker’s on edge. Captain Snow’s back but nobody’s seen much of him as he’s locked in meetings with several of the scientists along with some of his superiors. Word is they’ll have the final team soon and the new normal is finding other members of the unit staring you down in the halls, trying to figure out if you might have beaten them out. When an announcement goes out that they’ll be meeting after dinner tonight in the mission control center on floor one, one of the only places on base that wasn’t shown on their tour, it comes as a relief. People can breath again.

They eat dinner together every night but tonight Tara makes an excuse about not feeling well and leaves after only a few bites. Kurt and Sandy joined them for dinner so Melissa doesn’t feel she can follow. Instead she finishes her meal, trying to make conversation as they debate who will be on the final team. When she finishes Melissa says goodbye, promising she’ll look for them in the meeting.

Returning to her room, she finds Tara’s clothes messily tossed on her bed but there’s no sign of her. She apparently changed into her uniform for the presentation and Melissa decides to do the same. The big wigs are here and she wants to make sure she’s not under dressed. It’s a challenge with her injury but that will just make it more impressive. As she slips the outfit on, she stares at the walls of the small room they’ve been sharing. Apparently once the program’s under way they’ll be set up with apartments. That can’t come soon enough, this room’s starting to make her claustrophobic.

Final checks of the recreation room and the cafeteria in case Tara changed her mind on food don’t turn up any sign of her so Melissa decides to head to their meeting. On the way she finds most of the others are in uniform as well so she’s confident she made the right call.

There’s only one section of the first floor they weren’t taken to on their first day here. Down a long hall directly to the right of the elevator she finds a set of double doors which are sitting open. Inside is a command center filled with desks with computers stacked on them. Television screens line the walls. Each desk has a telephone as well. The room’s well lit and a small stage sits at the front.

Tara’s sitting in the front row in the seat all the way down her row. Someone’s already sitting in the seat next to her so Melissa slips into the row behind her and goes all the way down. “You couldn’t save me a seat?”

Shrugging, Tara won’t look at her. “Sorry, someone sat down. There’s plenty of other seats.”

The man sitting next to Tara, tall with a buzz cut and a goatee turns to face them. Melissa’s seen him around the base but they’ve never spoken. “Sorry about that, if you like I’ll be glad to move.”

She considers taking him up on it. She wants to talk to her sister and can’t do it with this man so close that he can hear everything she says. She doesn’t want to make a bad first impression though so she shakes her head. “Thanks but that’s okay. You got there first. I’m good here.” Turning to Tara, she gives her a wide eyed look for a moment. “We really need to have a talk later.” Tara nods but doesn’t say anything and she still won’t look at her.

People continue filing in. Delilah slams herself into the seat next to her. She dyed her pink hair back to blonde after the captain let her know that if she didn’t there was zero chance of her making either the main team or the field team. She’s still been happy and upbeat every time they’ve seen her but right now she’ll barely nod when Melissa says, “Hello”. The women know they’re all competing with each other for one spot. Kurt and Sandy nod at her across the room but there’s no other seats nearby so they settle into what they can find.

Once everyone’s in their seats the program’s pilot Jay enters the room and calls everyone to attention. They all stand and salute as Captain Snow, Stan Banks, a man she doesn’t know and the woman who was sitting with the captain at their basic graduation file into the room. A podium with a microphone sits at the center of the stage and Captain Banks stands behind it. The other three fill three rusted looking folding chairs which have been set up. Snow salutes back and asks them all to be seated.

Looking over the group, Snow waits until everyone’s settled. “As I’m sure you all know, we’ve spent the last three days going over every detail of your results and we have picked who will be our Red, White, and Blue. I want to start by saying these positions have very little to do with anything but your DNA. That’s the most important part of Project All American. They’re who we think have the best odds to accept the formula and get the most out of it. Questions of qualification weren’t a major factor because you’re all qualified. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t. The field team has a little more to do with your records but they’re also based on who we think will work best together and work best with the core team. The rest of you all have strong futures in the program. A few of you I’ll be speaking with specifically about those futures in the next day or two.”

The room’s so quiet that the sound of a chair leaning back causes half the room to turn. A short Asian man Melissa hasn’t met looks mortified. “Sorry everyone.”

Snow clears his throat and everyone’s attention returns to him. “Let’s start with the core group, that’s what you’re all excited for. First the Red. I’m excited to announce that our Red will be Melissa Chance. Please join us on stage Melissa.”

Her first look is at her sister. She expects to see Tara upset, possibly even angry with her. Instead her sister has a giant smile on her face. For the first time in days she’s looking at her with joy. She reaches between their rows and squeezes her hand for a moment but then motions for her to get up there.

Getting to your feet and getting crutches under your arms is hard work when an entire room’s watching you. By the time she reaches the stairs she can feel the sweat pooling on her forehead. The three stairs are even more difficult but Snow steps out from behind the podium to offer his hand. There aren’t any other seats so she stands there on one leg with her crutches.

Returning to the podium, Snow can’t help but grin at her. “This young lady’s tough as nails and I think she’s going to make us all proud. Now onto our White. Another excellent candidate and someone I’ll be proud to have on our team. I’d like to give it up for Wyatt Williams.”

The man sitting next to Tara practically jumps to his feet, clapping his own hands as he walks to the stage. He jumps over the stairs before offering a salute to Snow which is returned after some hesitation. Melissa would have loved to do the same but without anything to lean on her crutches make that tough. Wyatt takes a spot directly to Melissa’s left and gives her a big smile.

With that display of enthusiasm over, Snow returns to the podium. “Finally we have to announce our blue. This man is a born leader and someone I think will serve us well. He will be the leader of the core team in the field. Please welcome the final member of our squad, Lieutenant Kurt Vickers.”

Kurt gets to his feat slowly, a smile on his face but other than that he doesn’t let out any signs of emotion. He leans down to hug Sandy briefly before climbing to the stage and offering a salute of his own.

The air goes out of the room as the rest of the crowd realizes they haven’t made the team. There’s still hope for one of the spots on the field team though so no one’s completely dejected. Snow asks for a round of applause which is given without enthusiasm. “Now it’s time to meet our field team. We ultimately decided on a five person unit. As I announce these there’s no need to come to the stage but please stand at your seats. First up, we have Sandy Mitchell. Please stand Sandy.” She does so with a triumphant look on her face. Kurt gives her a small nod. “Next we have Bruce Locke. Congratulations Bruce, please stand up. Try not to make as much noise this time.” The man who earlier got the room’s attention leaning his chair back stands, his face completely red.

Each name that’s announced brings the crowd down a little more. Smiles shrink as many of them realize they aren’t going to make it. The one exception seems to be Tara who still has one of the biggest smiles Melissa’s ever seen on her face. She doesn’t seem at all concerned about making the team.

“Our next recruit to make the team is one of the luckiest men I’ve ever met and this team can sure use some luck. Diego Rodriguez. Please stand Diego.” Another recruit Melissa hasn’t yet met stands, a tall, thick looking Latino man with a shaved head. He has a thick mustache and a scar on his left cheek. “We’re down to our final two. Next up is Kenneth Marks. Please stand Kenneth.” This time the man to stand up is white with slightly shaggy hair. He looks young. Almost too young to be here. His hair’s the longest in the room. It’s actually strange how long it is. Melissa has a hard time believing he could get away with that on an army base except for this one. How long has he been here?

Snow waits a long time to continue, looking over the crowd, seemingly taking joy in making them wait for it. “This is the last spot and I know you all want it. I’m afraid only one can have it though and it’s someone I look forward to working with. One of the most respected soldiers I know. I’m proud to have him as our field team’s leader. Everyone give it up for Sergeant Bill Nowak.” One of the oldest of the group, probably in his thirties, stands. He’s wearing glasses and doesn’t look like a fearsome soldier. He carries himself with confidence though. It’s hard not to notice that the group trends young. Kurt’s definitely a little older and Nowak seems to be as well but other than that nobody seems likely to be over thirty.

With all five standing, Snow again asks for a round of applause. A lot of smiles in the crowd are gone but others seem to have a new lightness about them. Trying to make this team’s been stressful and for better or worse at least they have their answer.

Dismissing the crowd, Snow guides them to shake hands with the assembled officials as the crowd files out. Wyatt shakes Melissa’s hand as well and Kurt offers a hug. “Great job girl, going to be great working together.” Melissa thanks him but feels weird doing so. What did she do to deserve this?

Weaving through the crowd, Tara makes her way to the stage and quickly leaps up the stairs. She grabs her sister and squeezes her as hard as she safely can. “I’m so proud of you. You’re going to do awesome at this.” Melissa wants to talk to her about why she’s okay with this. She’s someone who craves action. Joining the military was her idea in the first place. There’s no way she can be okay with sitting back at base, is there?

Before she can answer, Snow walks up and puts a hand on each sister’s shoulder. “Hello Chance sisters, just the people I wanted to speak with. Congratulations on making the team Melissa. You’re going to be great.” He turns to Tara and his smile seems to diminish. “You’re however the person I want to speak with right now. I’m sure you were hoping to make one of the teams. Your skill set is ideally suited for the field.”

Tara puts a hand up. “Actually sir, I’m pretty okay with it. I wanted Melissa to make it if one of us did and I had a feeling only one of us would. I was actually kind of worried you’d choose me instead.”

Melissa’s jaw drops. Was that why she was avoiding her? Snow smiles at her and shakes his head a little. “You’re a good sister Ms. Chance. I’m a little surprised to hear it but that’s not all I wanted to say. You were actually our third favorite candidate, behind only Melissa and Kurt. There was some fighting to make you the Blue. At the end of the day though, the brass only wanted one woman on the team. I’m sorry about that, you deserved it but that isn’t always enough.”

“You don’t have to explain sir. I get it. Good to know I was close.”

“Very close. That’s not the only thing though. When you didn’t make the main team, I wanted to put you in the field team. I was overruled though, precisely because you were next in line to be on the core team. They wanted you available as a backup or a possible fourth person if the first three go well. The brass aren’t willing to risk you in the field. You still have a bright future here though. In time you’ll either be added to the core team, or the field team. I want you to know that. You’ll just need some patience. I need you to stay ready. Can you do that?”

Tara’s grin’s even bigger now. “Absolutely sir, I’ll be ready when you need me. Until then, I’ll try to help around here, maybe learn some new skills. I’m going to find a way to be useful.”

“I believe you will.” With that, they salute each other and Captain Snow makes his way into the crowd to start talking to others who didn’t make it. Tara offers to help Melissa back to their room but before Melissa can refuse they’re interrupted.

Pulling her and Wyatt aside, Kurt puts a hand on each of their shoulders. “Why don’t we get a drink and start getting to know each other? If we’re going to be a team, we need to build trust.”

With her eyes closing for a moment, Tara’s smile cracks. “That’s cool, I’ll catch up with you all later.”

Shaking his head, Kurt takes a hand and puts it on her shoulder instead. “No way big Chance. You’re coming along too. I’ll invite Sandy. You should bring someone too if you want Wyatt. We’ll all drink and get to know each other.” Melissa starts to explain they’re not twenty one yet and Tara gives her a look like she’s going to murder her. Kurt just laughs. “You’re old enough to be one of the leads of a major military initiative, you’re old enough to have a few drinks.” Having cut back on her medicine over the last few days, Melissa agrees. They all decide to meet in the cafeteria in an hour. Tara practically rushes out the door toward their room, looking back with her hands on her hips every twenty feet or so when Melissa can’t keep up with her pace.

Part 12

Part 14

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 24

Sleeping in his car doesn’t provide the most comfortable night’s sleep DeMarcus has ever had but it gives him a lot of time to think. To figure out what happened and how everyone could think the power was gone when it’s still going strong. He figured it out in the middle of the night. He kept telling everyone in the facility the power was getting weaker and less effective. He said it as a fact, not as an opinion. Slowly those test subjects came to believe it. For all he knows about his power, maybe it made him believe it. For people who weren’t exposed to that day after day though, like Jesse, it didn’t make a difference.

The part that frightens him most is that people who weren’t in the room with them were effected. Maybe not as badly or as fast but the people who were sealed off upstairs slowly came to believe what he was saying. Maybe a little effect over a long period built up. What sort of range does he have? How long does the effect of this really last? He doesn’t know anything really. Even what he thought he’d learned while being held is suspect now.

Anyone who could answer his questions is too dangerous to approach. He won’t go back in a cell or be made to disappear. Layla’s an option but he can’t bring himself to put her in that situation.

He drives to the temporary offices of his former employers. Layla mentioned a large severance package and that’s what he needs right now with massive debt and nowhere to go. Every penny counts because as soon as he has that he needs to take care of his responsibilities he needs to disappear.

Part 23

Serenity Vol. 2 Going Under Part 8

There’s a small room with a wooden table in the middle. Only a few people are there. Tommy’s wearing a bright green shirt and has a goofy grin plastered across his face. Jillian’s been allowed to come along as support, though she didn’t seem happy about it. Two of Tommy’s lieutenants came along as well but they didn’t want more than that.

Reaching into his jacket pocket, Tommy pulls out a small bag of a slightly yellowish powder and starts dumping it onto a glass plate sitting on the table. “Alright, here’s a solid sized dose. You’re gonna like this stuff. We’re calling it Yellow in Nirvana, or YIN. Stuff’s good. You’ll feel relaxed, clear, but super sure of every move you make. You’ll have a lot of energy too but not in a hyper, cocaine sort of way. It’s good to use on a mission actually so once you take the stuff, we’ll reveal part two and send you on your way.”

Eying the pile of yellow powder on the table, she thinks of questions she can ask fast that won’t sound suspicious. “Any danger with it?”

“Not really. Some people have tried messing with it on the streets but this is pure, from our sources. Nothing to worry about there. Keep in mind that just because you’re sure of your decisions doesn’t mean they’re right. In tight spots though, you’re dead if you’re wrong anyway so there’s no point sitting around second guessing yourself.”

“Any chance of overdosing?”

“Sure, if you’re taking it yourself. I’m giving you the amount though and I know how much to take. You’re good. Snort the stuff and let’s get moving.”

She really doesn’t want to snort anything. The drugs don’t look appealing. It looks like someone peed in a bunch of cocaine. This plan’s the only way she’s going to help Jillian and her future nephew though. There isn’t a choice. She leans down and sticks her face in the pile. There’s really not that much of it and she’s able to snort it quickly. The sensation of something going up her nose is a weird one. It’s only the second time she’s ever snorted anything and her nostrils don’t like it. Raising her face off the table, she scrunches her nose repeatedly. She spent half the night trying to figure out a way to fake this but couldn’t come up with one.

Clapping, Tommy walks around the table and wraps an arm around her. Jia cringes away, but not too much. She needs him at the moment. “Knew you could do it kid. That stuff’s serious but you’ll be alright. Confident you can handle it if you’re half as tough as you seem. Time to move onto your mission. How comfortable are you with murder?”

Crap. Jia tries to keep her reaction off her face but sweat starts dripping off her forehead as she looks for an escape route. There has to be a way out of here but with the drugs starting to course through her blood, she wonders if she’s in a position to make a run for it. Then she remembers Jillian standing there. She probably can’t escape with her and even if she can, they won’t stop chasing her. Running isn’t an option. Fighting might actually be the way to go here, there’s only three of them if she can stop them from calling for help.

“Depends on who it is. Not big on murdering random people but if there’s someone hurting us then I can show my loyalty.” Maybe telling them what they want to hear’s the way to go. Anything to get out the door. She can figure out her next steps from there.

“Great! If you’re okay with that, then you’ll probably be cool with the non murdery thing I have for you.” He busts out laughing. “You should have seen your face. Relax, we don’t send the newbies out to kill. Too much too soon. No, we have a job you’re going to like. The leader of one of our rivals is having a kid soon. We want you to grab his lady, take her somewhere secure, and convince her that she needs to work for us from now on. We want her to be a mole in his organization. You need to convince her this is going to be in her best interest. I’d do a good job too because you’re going to be her handler going forward which means if she pulls a double cross and has them ambush you the next time we need info, your head’s the one on the chopping block.”

“Kidnapping, great.” She hopes her voice sounds a lot more enthusiastic than she feels. “Point me in the right direction and I’ll get it done. What can I offer her?”

“Whatever the hell you want. If it’s not something we can deliver on in the end, we just won’t deliver. I’ll have Jillian go with you.” Jillian rushes to object but he puts a hand up to silence her. “I’m not playing on this one. I need someone she can trust. She needs a driver. We’ve managed to take this chick’s normal driver out of the equation for the night. You two will pick her up and drive her somewhere remote. You’ll make very clear how much she needs to do this. Be persuasive.”

Rebel Rebel Vol. 2 Heroes of the City Part 4

“Attention everyone in Millennium Park. The ceremony to honor our vigilante heroes the Goggle Guys is being delayed for a short time as a few issues with our presentation need to be worked out. We ask that everyone move to the far end of the park while things are handled. Officers will guide you. Please move quickly but stay calm and avoid any pushing or shoving.”

The crowd starts to grow restless as the police lead them away. Ryaan Asfour barely takes his eyes away from the countdown on the bomb in front of him. He’s gathered with a group of police officers as the bomb squad tries to disarm it before it can blow them all away. When he looks at anything else he scans the crowd for any sign of his sisters or his friend Mina. If something happens he’ll feel especially responsible for her. She’s only here today because he asked her to be. She wanted to stay as far away as possible.

There’s a part of him that feels guilty about stopping this. The Goggle Guys are going to be on that stage at some point behind honored if the stage doesn’t blow up. If someone wanted to take a shot at them, they might have a good reason. These guys are the worst of the worst, using the power the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act gives them to torment people. He’s been on the end of their torment himself as has Mina. They haven’t earned a death sentence though and as much as he’d like to see them gone, using a bomb in a public park’s far too dangerous. He still doesn’t know how dangerous this bomb even is. It looks dangerous.

One of the cops turns to him. “You should probably clear out of here kid. Thanks for the tip but if that goes up, we don’t know how big the blast’s going to be.”

He shakes his head, crossing his arms. “Which means there’s no guarantee I can get far enough away if I wanted to. Might as well stay and see what comes of this. Hopefully your bomb squad has time.”

The clock goes under two minutes. The officer wipes his forehead with a napkin. “You might not be able to get far enough, but you might. Why not try?”

“Are you running?” When the man shakes his head, Ryaan says, “Then I’m staying too. Hopefully if it goes off it doesn’t work. We’re going to find out soon.”

They watch the clock nervously, staying silent as it ticks under one minute. They’re a good hundred feet away but Ryaan starts to wonder if he should be even further. He glances behind him to see how much open park there is, how far he could run. If the timer gets under ten second he vows to at least drop to the ground and cover his head. When the timer hits the thirty six second mark it stops. Cheers go up from the small crowd and people pat each other on the back.

Part 3

Part 5

Hitbox Vol. 2 Commitment Shock Part 6

“You here Nowak?” The lights are on as Zach walks into the repair shop but he doesn’t see any sign of the only other person who should have a key. His first thought is that the man is likely downstairs again but he doesn’t hear anything below him. He runs to the basement and finds himself still alone. The lights down here are out and there’s no sign of anyone.

Concern grows in his head. Why would the lights be on if Nowak’s not here? He calls the man’s phone but it goes right to voice mail. He calls again but gets the same result. Sweat’s pouring down his face now. He feels weak and considers finding a place to sit. He sends a text asking where the man is before trying another call. This time a voice answers. “What’s up kid?”

Zach finally breathes. “Thank god you’re okay. Where the hell are you? I show up and the lights are on but there’s no sign of you.”

“Relax, I ran down the street to grab lunch. I’m getting soup. You want anything?” When Zach tells him he doesn’t want soup Nowak promises to be back in a few minutes before ending the call.

Pacing back and forth gets old fast and his legs start to shake. Zach finds a chair and sits. By the time Nowak shows up carrying a big brown bag he’s managed to calm his legs. “You alright kid? You look rough.” He sets his bag down and pulls out a couple of styrofoam containers. “Sure you don’t want any of this? It’s really good soup. I got an extra in case you changed your mind. Figured I’d have it for dinner if you didn’t but you look like you could use it.”

Zach wheels the chair he’s in toward the table and takes one of the soup containers. “Sorry if I snapped at you. Long day and it’s not over.”

“How’d your meeting go? Tell me you didn’t screw things up and get our funding cut off.”

Chicken and rice is a nice surprise. A quick sip of the broth finds it a bit salty but with a deep chicken flavor. “It went fine. I even managed to push through a proposal I liked. It was a lot though, so many people staring at me.”

“You should be used to that though, right? Everyone in the city was talking about you after the bank robbery.”

Surprised to realize the soup’s nearly half gone, Zach pauses. “No, they were talking about Hitbox. That’s me but it isn’t the same. I liked this proposal and now we’re working on it. Before I opened my mouth it was going to fail. I also don’t even know it’s a good investment. I just thought the technology could possibly help us here so I pushed.”

“Don’t worry too much kid. The kind of money your company has, one project isn’t going to bankrupt anyone.”

Nowak’s right and he takes solace in it. He’s a billionaire, it’s okay to push a project. Championing an interesting product is a good use of his power.

The older man’s face is smiling for once. “Looks like you needed that, your face is getting some color back. When did you eat last?”

“I had a granola bar for breakfast.” Zach’s been dodging his trainer who will want to get back to work now that his knee’s healed. To make up for it he’s been trying to eat healthy.

“Going out there weak and tired isn’t doing anyone a favor. Eat. You can eat healthy without starving yourself. If you can’t figure that out, hire a cook. You can afford it. Has Lorelei checked your knee recently?”

“She’s a little busy being in the hospital. It’s fine though. No pain today.” Another big sip of broth hits the spot. “You were right about the soup but that’s not why I’m here. I have plans tomorrow so I want to get some work in today. You find anything about those guys?”

After a long slurp of his soup, Nowak wipes his mouth. “Actually, yes.”

He’s so used to bad news that it takes a moment for Zach to realize what Nowak said. When he does, he jumps out of his chair. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner? What did you find?”

“I’ve been running some searches and one got a hit while you were in your meeting. Figured I’d call you after but I didn’t know what time you got done. Then I got back here and you looked half dead so I wanted to get some food in you first. If you want my opinion I think you should wait, at least until tomorrow.”

He moves closer and grabs the table. He still feels weak but he can’t let Nowak find out. He’ll try to stop him and right now Lorelei and Sami need him to push through. “Tell me what you have.”

Turning away, Nowak throws his hands in the air. “Can’t say I didn’t try. One of my hits found a wedding dress that’s the same style as the material you gave me. There’s a note about a small strip of fabric being torn at the bottom of the dress. They’ve got it cheaper than I expected as a result. They want to move this fast.”

“Where are they?”

“No clue yet. It was on a local classified site. I emailed them asking for a meeting but haven’t heard back.”

“Can you try to trace where they placed this from? Maybe I can find them myself.”

Shaking his head, Nowak cringes. “This isn’t a TV show, I can’t run traces. They’ll get back to us soon enough. You know you can’t go in there in your suit, right? They’ll clam up right away. You need information. You need to go as you.”

“That’s fine, I can handle myself.”

Nowak runs his eyes up and down Zach, settling on his still pale face. “I don’t know if that’s true.”

They sit around for fifteen minutes and Zach keeps checking the time on his phone. “They haven’t emailed you back yet? They should be eager. You’re not keeping this from me are you? Once that sells we may not get another chance.”

“I’m not hiding anything. I’ll let you know when it’s back. I also spent the morning trying to fix your suit. I’ll get it loaded into the car so it’s ready to go when you are. Have Beth drive you home and get some rest. When they reply I’ll send the car over.”

“How’s the gear coming?”

“Not well. The helmet’s bad. You can see out of it and I have the police radio back up and running but that’s all that works. No heat vision, no night vision, no maps or anything like that. You’ll mostly be flying blind. Give me a few days and I can solve it.”

“In a few days this dress will be gone. We might not find the other one. I can’t wait. Send the car when you hear the word and I’ll handle it. Make sure everything’s in the trunk in case I need it. I’ll take it from there.”

Zach stands and heads for the door. Nowak can only watch as he leaves.

 

When the text comes it’s nearly eight at night. Laying on his couch with a soda on the table next to him, Zach’s caught up in the news and almost misses it. A story about a pair of Chicago vigilantes who stopped a bombing has him feeling awesome. Vigilantes really can make a difference. Picking up his phone, he almost wants to follow Nowak’s advice.

 

They want to meet at 1728 Union Rd around 8:30. If you drive fast you’ll make it. The car’s already on the way. Be careful.

Part 5

Part 7

Red Line: The Future Part 12

Snow wasn’t lying about the tests sucking. Both sisters spend the next day being poked and prodded by needles. Blood’s drawn, bone marrow’s taken, they’re put through a spinal tap. The scientists spend a lot of time focused on Melissa’s knee. She hears one of them in the next room wondering aloud how their serum might effect it. Would it heal? Would it prevent further degeneration so they don’t even need to repair the ACL? They have theories but no hard answers.

The spinal tap’s the worst. They’re doing tests on pain levels so they decide to do it without anesthetic. The rest of the day Melissa feels like she’s going to puke. The tests don’t stop though. They want to put her on a treadmill and run a stress test but that’s not possible with her leg so they instead take her vitals. She finds it odd that they even want to, that has nothing to do with DNA. Any questions are dismissed by the scientists. All they’ll tell her is that DNA isn’t the only thing they need to know.

They’re kept in separate rooms so she doesn’t have her sister to lean on. She catches a few glimpses of Tara as they’re shuffled about but there’s no chance to say anything. When they catch each others’ eye Tara tries to give her a reassuring smile but she can tell from the second Tara takes to meet her gaze that she’s in just as much pain.

After a long day of poking and prodding Melissa’s laying on a table in a hospital gown feeling exposed and tired. How much longer can this go on? They’ve left her alone for at least the last half hour and she hopes soon they’ll allow her to go back to her room and relax. Pushing herself up on her elbows, she realizes Sook’s sitting in the corner of the room. When did she come in? The woman keeps glancing at her, though she’s trying to look like she’s locked into a computer. Melissa’s suddenly conscious of how little she’s wearing. “Did you need something?”

Sook practically jumps out of her seat. “Oh, no, just running some of your numbers. Want to make sure everything we’ve found is correct. We may need to take a few more blood samples.”

Groaning, Melissa wants to bang her head into a wall. “Are you at least almost done? I don’t mean to be rude, I know you’re all working hard but I’m in a lot of pain. My knee’s bothering me too, I had to go off all my medicine for this.”

Standing and crossing the room, Sook smiles at her. “We’re getting there. I probably shouldn’t tell you this but if everything checks out, your numbers are awesome. Stan’s concerned because they can’t put you through our standard stress test but I think there’s a really good chance you end up on this team. He’s coming around.”

She’s not sure what to say. Her mouth hangs open and she knows her mother would say something about catching flies. She likes to say things that hurt her feelings. Melissa never expected to be chosen, she figured Tara would get in. She’s always been the strong one. Not the best with people but she’s tough. She’s always had to be the cheerful one, she helps her sister connect and helps people get around the rough edges. “What about Tara?”

Sook walks away, going back to her computer. “I can’t go into details about another person’s medical results. She did good though, not as good as you but good. They’ll consider her but from what I’ve been told they aren’t putting more than one girl on the team. The captain’s okay with it but the higher ups want a token representative and that’s about it. Unless Stan loses his mind about the leg they’ll pick you over her.”

The door flies open and Stan Banks rushes in, his arms full of papers. He doesn’t say anything to Melissa, heading straight to Sook. “We have what we need. I’m calling a meeting now, if we’re going to get our way we need to push this through as soon as possible.”

Looking at him with wide eyes, Sook coughs and gestures toward Melissa. “We’ll figure it out but I don’t know if now’s the time to talk about it.”

Stan looks at her but doesn’t seem concerned. “Oh, hello Ms. Chance. You have nothing to worry about. You’re on our list. Get ready to be crazy strong.” He winks at her before turning back to Sook, thrusting his folders at her. “I’m calling the meeting today. This is going to be a blood bath but let’s be the most prepared in the room. Study these numbers until you know them backwards and forwards.”

Sook shakes her head. “Sir, Captain Snow won’t even be back with the last recruit until tonight.”

“I’ve studied their preliminary results, they’re not going to make it. We move tonight.”

He storms out of the room. Sook looks at Melissa apologetically. “I guess you can go. Sorry for making you wait.” With that she rushes out of the room, juggling the giant stack of folders.

Getting dressed on her own is a challenge. She wore shorts today to keep her knee free but getting them over the knee’s a challenge. It takes awhile but once she’s dressed Melissa exits the room to look for any sign of her sister. She’s nowhere to be found.

Part 11

Part 13

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 23

Standing outside the door to their apartment feels different this time. Maybe it’s his head pounding from drinking half a bottle of tequila with Layla. She put away plenty of her own and before long they were giggling messes. That’s mostly worn off throughout the day though. Most of the day DeMarcus just felt lucky to have somewhere to be. Layla’s got resumes circulating so her job right now’s to kick back and watch daytime TV. Joining her was a welcome distraction but it could only last so long.

It’s after six at night which means Jesse should be home. The sound of a Spanish song he can’t understand’s pounding from behind the door. It has a nice beat but it’s nothing Jesse would ever play if he were there. He finds not knowing what the people are singing about annoying. Light shines out from behind their rubber duck curtains. Jesse’s here.

Unable to let himself in, DeMarcus tries to work up the nerve to knock. After standing there for a minute he hears a throat clear behind him. He turns to find a pizza delivery driver standing there. “You the guy who ordered the pizza?”

DeMarcus shakes his head. “No, just a friend about to leave.” He steps out of the way of the door. “Here, you go ahead.”

The delivery driver looks suspicious as DeMarcus steps aside, out of the view of someone looking through the peephole. He doesn’t want Jesse to see him there and refuse to let him inside. After a moment of staring the driver steps forward and knocks. A voice inside says, “Just a minute.”

The door flies open as Jesse steps out wearing nothing but a bathrobe. His hair’s soaked and it looks like he just got out of the shower. He works at a grocery store and always feels gross after work. He’s holding his wallet and has a big grin on his face as he pulls out a pair of twenties. He’s cut his hair since DeMarcus last saw him; it’s shorter than he normally cuts it. His legs are showing below the robe and they look tight, like they usually do for a few weeks after he starts working out. A few times a year he says he’s going to start working out, does so religiously for a few weeks, then abandons it and goes back to his normal routine.

It takes him a moment to notice DeMarcus standing there but when he does the smile disappears. He shoves the money toward the delivery driver and grabs the pizza away. “I don’t want to see you. Figured changing the locks would give you a hint. Go away.”

He starts to slam the door but DeMarcus steps forward. “Don’t shut me out, I just want to talk. Please just talk with me.” There’s hesitation and the door doesn’t slam. Jesse glares at him but slowly steps inside, leaving the door open behind him.

DeMarcus follows. When he steps inside he’s shocked by what he finds. The place is immaculate. He’s never seen their place so clean since they’ve lived together. The mess isn’t the only thing missing though. Any sign of him is gone. Pictures of them together, trophies and awards he’s won over the years, his video games beneath the TV. Furniture and generic wall decorations are still there but someone new would have no idea he’d ever lived there.

Jesse walks into the kitchen and grabs a bottle of whiskey from their liquor cupboard. He pours a glass and takes a long drink. “If you want to talk, you should start talking.” He opens the box of pizza from their favorite place.

The aroma hits DeMarcus and his stomach grumbles. All he’s eaten today are a few chips Layla had laying around. She had a sandwich but didn’t have enough meat for both of them and he didn’t want to impose. It’s hard to think with the pounding in his head. He didn’t want to come over here drunk so he cut himself off hours ago but that meant he got to come over with a hangover. “You don’t think I could get a slice of that, or maybe a drink myself before I start?” Jesse’s eyes narrow and he doesn’t respond. “No, guess not.”

Walking into the living room, DeMarcus sits in his chair which he’s glad to see is still there. Jesse follows but sits at the nearby kitchen table. He’s never been willing to eat at the couch. Even on game nights he gets annoyed when DeMarcus wants to have snacks there. He stands and walks to the table, pulling out a chair and sitting down. “I can explain everything. I promise. I didn’t write those letters you got.”

Jesse takes a bite of pizza. It looks perfect. He ordered the margherita which is his favorite and which DeMarcus loves, though if given the choice he’d probably order the meat lovers. His stomach wouldn’t handle the meat lovers tonight though and he knows it. He chews slowly, looking DeMarcus up and down. “So your excuse is that while you were in the hospital for weeks, you didn’t write me the horrible letters I got, you just didn’t contact me at all?”

“I wasn’t in the hospital and there was no way I could contact you. The first thing I did when I woke up was ask for a phone to call and they wouldn’t allow it. They told me they were sending you those letters and I asked to write one myself to tell you the truth, or even to tell you what they wanted if I could only make it from me and tell you what I wanted to say about you. They wouldn’t let me.”

Taking another bite of his pizza, the anger on Jesse’s face seems to be replaced with disbelief. At least he’s interested. “Go on.”

He spills his guts. He talks about the attacks, saving people, watching people die, thinking for sure he was going to die. He tells him how much he wanted to call but how his phone died before he could. He talks about the chemicals and the powers, about taking out the attackers one by one using them. Then about his being taken into custody, how they wanted to study him. How he was offered those powers forever if he’d only take them but he couldn’t do it. He wanted to come home too much.

Jesse asks a few minor questions in the beginning but as DeMarcus goes on he stops, content to listen. By the time DeMarcus is done Jesse’s jaw sits open. He stands without a word and walks into the kitchen. He returns a minute later with a plate with a piece of pizza and a glass of whiskey. He holds them out. DeMarcus almost cries to see them. He considers jumping up to hug his boyfriend but doesn’t know if they’re ready for that yet. Instead he downs the whiskey in one gulp and starts tearing into the pizza. He didn’t realize how hungry he was. The crust cracks how he remembers and the freshness of the sauce and the basil make him feel weak. He’s home.

Watching him eat, Jesse seems to be studying him. He waits until the piece is gone before he says, “So to be clear, you were held prisoner by the government because they wanted to take advantage of the powers you got in this attack.”

Wiping his mouth on his sleeve since he doesn’t have a napkin, he nods. “I know it sounds unbelievable but it’s the truth.”

Looking at the ground, Jesse leans on his elbows and puts his forehead on his clenched fists. “It doesn’t sound unbelievable. We’re talking about the government. Besides, you’re not that good at making stuff up. Now I feel bad that I spent the last few weeks hating you instead of worried about you.”

“Come on, it’s not like that. You had every reason to feel that way.” The man still won’t look up. “Jesse, look at me.” He does, for a moment. The moment passes and he looks away again. “I don’t need you to feel bad or anything like that. I want to come home though. This is my home. This is our life. I want to come back to it. Can I do that?”

Standing and walking away, Jesse goes to the kitchen. He gets the whiskey down and pours himself another glass. “I cheated.”

DeMarcus feels his stomach drop. He glances down at his empty cup. There’s no relief there. “When?”

“About a week after your last letter. Or their last letter. I felt hurt. I wanted to be there for you. We’ve talked about getting married. Becoming a family. That’s what family’s all about for me. Being there for each other when times are hardest. I felt betrayed. I wanted to hurt you as bad as I was hurting. It was stupid. Some guy from work who wanted to go get drinks. It was only one time and I was safe but it happened.”

“Can you come in here and talk to me? I’d rather not say this to your stomach.” Jesse’s stomach is all he can make out between the upper and lower cupboards of their kitchen.

“I can’t say this to your face. I screwed up so bad. I told myself it wasn’t really cheating because I was going to break up with you the first time I saw you. I almost wrote a letter breaking up with you but I decided I’d rather look you in the eye when I did it. Funny, because now I can’t look you in the eye and say this.”

“I forgive you.” DeMarcus can feel his heart breaking but this wasn’t a betrayal, or at least not an intended one. He can’t say for certain he wouldn’t have done the same in Jesse’s situation. It hurts and there’s a part of him that wants to run out of here and never look back but he’s willing to forgive given the circumstances. What he wants more than anything is to go in the other room and hold his boyfriend and tell him they’ll be alright. That they’ll get through this. He stands, starting to head toward the kitchen. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“Maybe you can but I don’t know if I can.”

Hearing the pain in Jesse’s voice drives a stake into his heart. He wants to fix this rift and put them back together. He can only think of one thing which might work though and there’s a good chance it drives them further apart. “I cheated on you too.”

Silence hangs in the air for a long time. He can still only see Jesse’s stomach but he notices it shaking. “When?”

“Years ago. We’d only been going out a few months and I got drunk one night at the bar. I don’t even know his name. I wasn’t safe but I got tested since then and I was clean. I thought about telling you but we’d talked and you said the only thing you couldn’t forgive was cheating so I never said anything. I should have but I didn’t want to lose you. Figured I’d take it to my grave but right now, maybe you need to hear it. If you can’t live with it and end it, at least you don’t feel like it’s your fault.”

He can hear tears and he walks around the corner into the kitchen. Jesse’s head’s against the cabinet, another glass of whiskey waiting to be drunk in his hand. “How could you do that?” He tries to respond but by the time his mouth can open Jesse screams, “How could you do that? Even back then?”

Walking closer, DeMarcus puts his hands up, trying to calm the situation. “I know it sucks and I suck because of it but I wasn’t trying to justify it. I know it sucks. Even then I knew it sucked. It was so stupid.”

“You’re damn right it was. You were willing to throw this away, for what?” He throws the glass of whiskey back and starts to pour another.

“I wasn’t trying to throw anything away. I was just stupid and young. Calm down. Please.”

The tears stop and Jesse sets the glass down. He walks past DeMarcus, out of the room and a glance into his eyes shows no sign of emotion. He walks into the living room and sits on the couch, turning the TV on. DeMarcus follows him. “What are you doing? Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. Stuff happens, no reason to lose it.” More than the words themselves, DeMarcus is concerned by the tone. He sounds too fine.

“We should talk about what you’re feeling. I just dropped something important on you, you have a right to be mad. You should be mad.”

“I’m not happy about it, but I feel calm.”

Now his blood runs cold. “How calm?”

Jesse shrugs. “I don’t know, just calm.”

Moving in front of him, DeMarcus puts a hand on each of Jesse’s shoulders. The first physical contact they’ve had since he’s been here. “This isn’t a time for calm. Get mad. Lose it on me. I’m okay with it, I can take it.”

Anger roars into Jesse’s eyes. It sweeps across his face like a flock of locusts. “You want me to get mad? Fuck you DeMarcus. I have plenty of reason to get mad.” He jumps to his feet and pushes DeMarcus away. Grabbing at a lamp next to him, he throws it and DeMarcus barely dodges.

“Don’t throw stuff at me.” The second the words leave his lips he regrets them. Jesse was already reaching for a pillow to throw but he stops. Still he comes at DeMarcus, pushing him back. “Calm down again.” He closes his eyes, almost hoping the anger will continue. It doesn’t though. The calm’s suddenly back and Jesse goes back to the couch, sitting down and resuming his TV show without a word.

Without another word of his own DeMarcus runs into their bedroom and grabs a duffel bag from under their bed. He throws his closet open and is relieved to find Jesse didn’t get rid of all his clothes. He starts stuffing a variety of things into the bag. He grabs another and fills it as well. Soon most of his clothes he cares about are packed. He runs to the bathroom and grabs his toothbrush and a few odds and ends. Jesse may have taken every sign of him from the living room but he wasn’t as judicious in clearing the rest of the apartment. Shoes, his tablet, a few other odds and ends he might need are easily found.

Returning to the living room, Jesse’s still watching TV as if nothing happened. A small grin starts to spread over his face as something funny happens on his show. DeMarcus considers saying something. In this state of control though it won’t mean anything and what can he say? What he’s done will wear off in a little while and Jesse will be back to himself. He could stay and try to sort this out. That wouldn’t be fair though. Every time they fight he could suddenly take control of the situation with a stray impulse. He can’t be in a real relationship with that power. It’s impossible.

Instead he walks behind the man he loves. He leans down and kisses him right in the middle of his head. He considers one last impulse like telling him to be happy or not to miss him but that’s stupid. It would wear off in a few hours. The man deserves to feel what he feels as much as he can.

Closing the door behind him, he considers going back to Layla’s and telling her what happened. He remembers her revulsion when he told her about the powers though. Her sudden fear she was being controlled. She calmed when she found out they’d worn off but now he knows that’s not the case. Somehow, they’re still here. How did they not work in the facility? It doesn’t make sense.

He walks toward the parking lot, preying to find his car sitting there. It is, parked right next to Jesse’s. Someone must have towed it home after the attack. He’s grateful for that. No locks have been changed here. He climbs inside. There’s not much gas but it will have to be enough.

Part 22

Part 24