I stepped out of the pod to a surprisingly warm greeting from Iris and Lake, and May pouting in the corner. She had wanted to go in my place, but Walter had turned her down, so she was understandably upset. I stepped onto the small bridge that linked the pod’s entrance to the deck of the Sandman, and was quickly brought into an embrace by Iris.
“We weren’t gone that long, Iris,” I said, as she let me free. Maybe she had an idea about what had happened in the factory.
“So I can’t miss my brother?” She said, gently tapping me on the shoulder with her fist. I gave her a quick smile, before turning to help Walter pull out our cargo. The box hadn’t been opened since we’d picked it up, but I still had no clue as to what was inside, and I suspected only Walter did. I grabbed one of the handles and pulled it out of the pod, carefully placing it on the deck with Lake and Iris. As soon as I turned back around, I froze. My helmet had lit up, I’d only put it back on in the pod, displaying a sudden electrical discharge nearby, and a creaking noise coming from the hull didn’t help my worries.
“Get out of the pod. Now,” I said, and Riley stood up, which turned out to be the worst possible idea. The door of the pod was ripped off as the electromagnets holding it in place suddenly failed, sending the pod falling into the open sky bellow. In sixty to eighty seconds, it would smash into the ground. I turned around, walking towards the wall, where May was standing.
I turned and ran, diving through the hole the pod had fallen through.
“Edward!” I heard someone cry as I suddenly fell. I tried to position my body so I’d fall faster, logically, I should be able to reach a point where I have less wind resistance acting against my body than the pod, and thus be able to catch up to it as I accelerated faster. I pulled my limbs in close, and pressed my chin to my chest. I still wasn’t going fast enough. I needed to go faster.
Pain shot through my back, and suddenly I was moving faster, much, much faster. I tried again, the ever-present thought of speed rushing through my head, and I shot down again getting close to the pod.
“Walter, if you can hear me, activate the emergency thrusters now!” I had no clue if he could actually hear me, or what his assessment of the situation was, but the pod wouldn’t have anywhere near enough fuel to make a proper landing. Our only hope was that I could use this speed in reverse. Suddenly, I was alongside the falling pod, as streams of flame shot out from beneath it. I came in close, clutching onto the shredded metal where the door had once been.
“Edward what the hell do you think you’re- Oh,” he stopped short of chewing me out. Riley was looking at me with wide-eyes, and I felt all around uncomfortable.
“Since when did you have wings, kid?” He asked, through the rushing wind. I gave us another twenty seconds before the thrusters failed.
“Doesn’t matter. Get over here, now, before this thing falls,” Riley crawled out of her position on the ground, and rushed into the doorway. For a moment, we were awkwardly close, made slightly weirder by what she’d told me during the storm.
“Walter come on, we have fifteen seconds!” I shouted, and he just sat there.
“No can do kid. As strong as you’d like to think you are, you can’t carry the both of us. You get her out of here, and keep her and May safe for me, okay?” Riley started protesting, screaming at him to try and help, to do something to save himself. He had powers, but from what he’d said, he couldn’t use it too well on himself. He looked tired too, I guess he’d been using his powers at the factory. I just wrapped my arms around her, using her death grip on the pod to hold us both up.
“You know what to do, Edward,” He smiled. I considered it for a moment, and made my decision. I pumped some electricity through my arms, just enough to surprise her, and make her let go of the doorway.
“Yes sir. And thank you,” I said, as the pod fell away from us. We were still falling, but it was faster.
“Dad!” Riley screamed as we fell. I couldn’t talk to her, especially not after that. I focused on calculating a descent that wouldn’t get us killed, and the answer popped into my head. I used my wings to flip us so we were falling headfirst, and watched as an altimeter appeared on my screen and steadily ticked down. About five hundred metres from the ground, I did everything I could to slow our descent, and moved into a steady glide. My best hope for a landing would be, well, to almost crash.
“We’re going to crash into the ground pretty hard, Riley. We’re going to have to roll out of it,” I said to her, and through her tears, I felt her nod against my chest.
“And… now!” I shouted, and we hit the ground. I had no idea what to do with my wings, I hadn’t even seen them, so I tried to use them to cover us, but I was too slow, and the roll easily snapped my wing. I don’t even know how that was possible, considering they seemed to be made out of energy. Momentarily, I felt a sudden sharp and nauseating pain, and then it disappeared. I let go of Riley, and she rolled onto the ground next to me. Her arms were covered in blood, but she didn’t seem to notice. I guess I must’ve had some pretty nasty cuts on my back from suddenly sprouting energy wings. I could hear a crackling nearby, and rolled my head to see if I could spot its source.
“The pod!” I sprung off of the ground, tossing my helmet aside as I did so, and ran for the smoking remains that had smashed into the ground.
Surprisingly, the pod was mostly intact, just burning. But it was burning fast. I stepped into the doorway, and promptly decided against it when I saw how bad the fire was.
“Trust me when I say, I’ll kill you if you even think of coming in here to save me,” A hoarse voice said through the flames. He must’ve exaggerated something to survive that impact, but it looked like it was taking a toll on him. A small red pool was forming on the floor of the pod.
“I’ll trust you, sir,” he chuckled, and coughed up some blood at the same time.
“Calling me sir now? Ah, it doesn’t matter. You’re in charge of what happens with the Sandman now kid, you’ve proven you’re ready,” That caught me off guard.
“You sure?” I asked.
“She was never my ship. It was all your father’s plan. Now if you want those answers you’ve been so desperately searching for, you’ll find all I can give you in a safe beneath my desk. The code is 17, 16, 16, 45,” He said, coughing even more violently now.
“Answers to what?” I asked him.
“The computer password is, well, Riley and May. One word, no capitals, replace the e with a three,” he said.
“Answers to what Walter?” I shouted. No answer came.
“Walter!” I screamed into the burning pod, and I only barely managed to throw my arms up to shield myself from the pod’s explosion.
As soon as I was awake I was coughing and struggling for breath. I tried to raise my arm to cover my mouth, so as to not drench the room in my saliva, and found that my arms and legs were bound to the bed. Nothing seemed to feel right. I had stitches in my back and bandages around my stomach, and my arms were still bruised, up and down. My arms were pretty fucked where my coat and shirt hadn’t been covering my arms, I was pretty badly burned too. My stomach didn’t feel right either, and as I tried to move, I could feel the sides of a hole in my stomach squish against one another. I coughed again, more violently this time, and shifted in my bonds to see who had me tied up. A soldier. One of the other fire-team captains, no doubt.
“Well. The kid’s finally awake,” I had a bad reputation with these guys, even without them knowing about our external activities. It was their opinion that after two missions Walter had decided it was too much of a risk to send us out again, and for good reason, in their eyes. But now they, well at least this guy, knew I was Skyfire I mean, how else could I have gotten down to the ground? Sure they knew we operated aboard the Sandman, and the Captain of the Docks knew about us, but no-one else did. Not even the Helmsman himself.
“Sorry I kept you waiting. So, what do you want to know?” I felt far less intimidating without the ability to cross my arms. I coughed repeatedly, and I felt blood move into my throat.
“I would like to know what happened to General Schmidt,” he asked. He was being surprisingly calm with me, even though I was restrained. That didn’t exactly make it seem like they were happy with me.
“The pod broke. I tried to get him out, but he argued against me. He wanted me to protect his…” I trailed off. Riley. God, she must be going through hell right now. I should be there for her, and for May. The two of them would need a friend. But then again, they had plenty. They had Alan and Penelope and Lake, why would they need me?
“That matches up with what we saw,” He said, and pulled back the curtain. A very tall, very muscular man walked in. He looked like someone who was in charge, and his greying beard definitely helped.
“My name is Wallace Fermi. You probably know me as the helmsman, and rightfully so. I am the pilot for this vessel,” He said, and stuck out his hand for me. I would have gladly shaken it, had my own hands not been bound to the bed.
“And I’m Edward,” I said, and struggled to smile. My face really hurt.
“Well, Edward, I’m quite happy you survived. You see, as the pod fell, we received an encoded file from the General’s computer. We have no idea what is inside, but it came with a message,” He said. He was staring deep into my eyes, trying to figure me out. He looked like he was desperate to know what was inside this file, which made me just as eager. Something Walter would keep from someone on the same rank as him? Now that was something I needed to know.
“Alright. I’ll bite. What did the message say?” I asked, and Wallace pulled out his phone.
“Evening Wallace. Sorry, I’m probably dead if you’re seeing this. Don’t worry, it was most likely an accident. You know me, probably went out trying to save someone’s ass. Anyway, There’s a kid one the ship. Edward Walsh. He’ll know how to get into the file. Just tell him it’s a dot luca and he’ll understand,” Wallace carefully tucked his phone back into his pocket, and smiled at me. So he and Walter had been good friends.
“Okay. I can do that. I’m going to need something though,” I said, and Wallace smiled at me.
“Anything you could need, we’ll provide,” Well, their opinions of me changed very quickly. They probably knew I had powers now, so that didn’t hurt.
“Well, I need to get up and head back to my team,” I said, and Wallace looked confused. That wasn’t something I was currently capable of, considering my injuries.
“So, what, just undo your restraints?” The soldier that had first been speaking to me asked. I mean, it didn’t seem like there was much of a reason to keep me here. And I was worried about the twins. I knew how much losing a father hurt, and although I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it, I wanted to be there when they hadn’t been there for me.
“Yes?” I asked, and he grimaced. So that’s why I was restrained. Fear.
“You must understand though, Edward, you’re a human weapon. There are some aboard this ship who want you on a very tight leash to ensure their own safety,” Wallace said. He placed his words so well it almost didn’t sound nonsensical.
“Too. Bad,” I said. I wasn’t going to be a prisoner aboard this ship.
“Mr Walsh, I’m sure we can come to some sort of an agreement,” Wallace said, and stroked his beard.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’ll help you decode the file, but you have two options in my eyes. You can either let me go and get that warm fuzzy feeling from not holding your fellow man captive, or I can let myself go,” I said. That sounded a little bit too intimidating, actually.
“And how do you plan on doing that?” My first friend asked me. This was going to hurt.
I pulled on my left hand in its bindings, and as the burns rubbed up against the leather strap, skin started to peel away. With one, powerful yank, my hand came out of the bindings, in a mess of blood, puss and the cracking of my bones.
“Fuck. Fuck, shit, fuckitty fucking hell that hurt,” I wheezed as I pulled my hand out. It felt like it had exploded, which I guess it kind of had. The soldiers backed away from me, and Wallace raised his hand.
“You are one ballsy kid,” He said, and walked over to pull me out of the restraints. I shook my head around as I stood up, and the majority of the major wounds sealed themselves up. With this much damage done to my body, I’d hazard a guess at around five or six minutes before I was covered in burns again, so with bandages still clinging to my body, I ran back to our corner of the Sandman, and seriously hoped I could find May.
I stumbled into the Doughnut as the pain in my legs began to return, and I almost collapsed onto the floor. I guess I must’ve been thrown onto my legs when the pod exploded. My skin started to crawl as it blistered and broke from the burns reappearing, and May rushed over to me to pull me up off of the ground.
“Goddamn you’re heavy,” She said, and as my wounds faded, a tear hit me in the face. I thought about what I was supposed to do about that, and I honestly didn’t have a clue.
“Are you okay?” I asked, and she smiled, and jumped up over onto the couch.
“Oh, you know, my dad just…” She was trying her hardest to keep up her normal demeanor, but she really wasn’t doing well. She was bawling. I clambered over the couch to sit down next to her, and she collapsed into my shoulder.
“He’s gone,” She whimpered, and I just didn’t know how to react. He was gone, but damn. I tried to think of what I would have wanted to hear after my father died, but I really couldn’t think of anything that would help her. I mean, she and her father had a much closer relationship than me and my father. I mean, he had actually spent time with her after she was eight years old.
“Shit,” She said, and wiped her tears away from her eyes.
“What’s up?” I asked her, and she turned to me with a fear mixed in with the sadness in her eyes.
“Riley,” she said. That was not good. She sprang up off of the sofa, and I hurried to follow her, and caught her as she stumbled over the end of the sofa. We hurried out into the corridor, and I saw Penelope banging against the door to Riley’s room. She was crying too, and I grabbed May’s arm to pull her towards her. Penelope turned to us as we approached her, and wiped her eyes.
“She locked herself in. She won’t say anything, but she was crying and covered in blood,” She looked more scared then upset, but that just meant she was really, really fucking scared. That blood may have been my fault though. I had had to pull stitches out of my back so that May could heal me properly, after those massive holes came open in my back. I walked up to the door, and knocked lightly, rather than banging on the door like Penelope had.
“Riley. I know you can hear me,” I said, and Penelope looked at me. She didn’t know what to do either.
“Look. I don’t know what you’re going to take away from this, but the pod was relatively alright after it hit the ground, and Walter was alive. Bleeding out, but alive all the same,” I said, and May walked a little closer to me.
“I talked to him, but he wouldn’t let me save him. I don’t know if I could have. But he wanted you and May to be safe. He wanted you to know that he loves you, and that he’s sorry,” I said, and May leaned against the wall. She was still crying, and that was probably the best thing for her to do. I knocked again, and was about to repeat myself when the door flew open. Riley was bawling, and her shirt was covered in my blood. She pulled me into a hug, and started crying into my chest. I tentatively hugged her back. God, I felt like shit.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, and she only kept crying. She squeezed her arms around my chest, and screamed into me.
“Riley. I’m here for you, okay? I’m here for both of you,” I said, and she pulled her head away from my chest. My shirt was soaked, and her face was wet with her tears. I struggled to try and smile for her, but damn. Seeing my friend like that hurt. For some reason, I felt like the right thing to do was to just hold her, but that felt like it would be too awkward to do. I don’t know. Riley let go of me, and moved back to lean on her door. She seemed so small, and oddly cute. I felt so weird standing next to her, and I felt like I couldn’t do a damn thing to help her feel any better.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you’d hurt this much,” Riley said, struggling to wipe away the tears running down her cheeks. That wasn’t something I’d thought she’d bring up, or anyone would. That just seemed wrong. It wasn’t the time to dwell on that, it was time to be thinking about her and May and Walter. I pulled Riley back into a hug, and let her do whatever she needed to for a moment before I let her go. I was going to need a phone.
“Riley, do you have a phone?” I asked her, and she nodded. That was good.
“Can you grab it for me?” I asked her, and she nodded again, but grabbed onto my hand and pulled me with her as she walked into her room. She kept hold of my hand as she dug into one of her draws, and she pulled out her phone. It was in this plastic floral case that seemed surprisingly like her, for some reason. She passed it to me after she unlocked it, and I pulled her back out into the corridor. I stuck out my hand for May, and she walked over to us. Although she’d stopped crying to try and seem stronger for Riley, her eyes were still red and watery.
“We’ve got to tell your mom,” I said, and May nodded. Riley just planted her head back in my chest.
“Okay,” May said, and took the phone from me after I had put in their mother’s number. It was still a little weird that I knew it, but hey, I guess it’s useful from time to time. Riley snuggled up to my chest as May spoke to her mother, and she started to break down again before she could finally say what needed to be said to her mother. Although I couldn’t hear, I felt like I knew how Samantha would react. She was a lot like her daughters, so I didn’t doubt how heartbroken she’d be.
May passed the phone to me, and after a quick glance, I went on to speak with Samantha.
“I need you to tell me the truth. May and Riley are okay, right? It’s just… May doesn’t always tell me the truth about how she’s feeling,” I could hear how she felt. She really wasn’t taking this well, so I felt like it was my responsibility to at least give her some peace of mind.
“May is exactly how you think she is,” I said, and she laughed a little.
“That’s good. I guess that means Riley isn’t doing too well,” She said. That was an understatement.
“Maybe you should talk to her,” I said, and she agreed. I passed the phone to Riley, and after the exchange of only a few sentences, she hung up. She collapsed onto my chest again, and we walked together into the Doughnut. I thought she’d probably need to sit down. I didn’t doubt that she’d be crying for a while.