Chapter 4: Sandman

I woke up in a hospital bed with May standing over me. She looked like she was about to slap me. I sat myself up using my uninjured arm, and saw Iris sat next to me.
“Most of your injuries can be attributed to the crash, Edward, but I still have no clue what you did to your hand,” she smirked, poking one of the bandages on my head and suddenly causing the pain there to cease.
“I may have broken a car window,” Iris suddenly perked up at that.
“You did what? How stupid can you be Edward? How many times did you have to punch it?” that last bit was fifty percent a joke, and fifty percent curiosity. I flexed the fingers of my previously broken arm, and since I didn’t feel any pain, I told her the truth.
“Once,” Walter stepped through the curtain as I said it, and he, well he looked intrigued.
“Your powers are evolving, Edward. Just look at yourself,” I looked as he had requested, and it was a surprising sight.

As I had been unconscious, my body had changed. My muscles were crawling underneath my skin, and although I was still pretty thin, my muscle growth seemed to have accelerated. That was fucking weird. I had no idea how much I would’ve had to work out to get this fit, but apparently my body wanted that process done now. Then I realized something.
“What happened to my suit?” May and Iris looked at each other, and Walter seemed to understand, and hurriedly left the room, but not until he had informed me that we would be speaking about what exactly had happened later. I went to stand up, and as I did May rushed out of our curtained section, tossing some clothes in behind her. Iris walked out as well, quietly sniggering about May’s rushed departure, and leaving me to get dressed.

I walked out after them and found myself drawing the eyes of many doctors and soldiers in the area, all of which would have noticed the others leaving my room before me. I wonder what they were thinking, they were probably all still curious about us. To many we looked like Walter’s private force of teens, and to others we were those who got to their position without doing any work. God, now we were being supplied with the best body armour that was available. Some would pass it off as us being young, so we needed it to stay alive, but others would regard it as our safety being put above their own. While that may be true for some, it certainly wasn’t true of me. Sure, Walter would protect me because I was friends with Riley and kind of friends with May, and I interested him, but other than that, I’m sure he’d rather have me away from all of this. I would as well, quite frankly, but there were things he knew that I wanted, well, needed to know for myself. He said he had information about my father’s death, so I had to work for him, as shitty as a situation that put me in. Still, I also had an excellent opportunity to be a fucking superhero, so it wasn’t all bad. I rounded the corner and decided I’d go and have that talk Walter wanted to have with me. It wasn’t like I had anything else to do.

*

I left Walter’s office feeling annoyed. He’d taken the helmet I’d used down at the truck, and instructed me to head back to the Doughnut while he worked out a theory as to what was going on. I knew he was smart, and it was hard to not respect him, but after spending so much time fighting in the past two days, I could already feel myself getting a little antsy. Plus, he wanted us to work, so doing nothing felt wrong. Sure, I could try helping out around the ship, but that wasn’t my area of expertise, and I’d probably just end up fucking something up. So I headed back to our section of the ship, and prepared to be berated by Lake for crashing. He’d been Riley’s best friend before all of this started, still was truthfully. I knew he’d be protective of her, that was just who he was, but I hadn’t expected him to literally hate me because I used to be her friend. The keyword there was used to.

I stepped through the doorway into what was called the “Secure Barracks” Which basically meant an area you couldn’t get into without the proper password, and our home. Three meters down the hall and on the left was the Doughnut, right next to the room of the man who had given it its name. Lake stepped out of his room as I approached the Doughnut, and a large smirk emerged on his face as we made eye contact. A small orb of water appeared in his hand, bubbling and rippling as he walked, and I braced myself for the moment when it would come flying at me. If he prepared the surface tension of the water he could easily make it feel like he’d thrown a baseball into my face, and since he could control it remotely, trying to catch it would do nothing. The only reason I could see him not throwing it was because May would be pissed to have to fix me up again.

Surprisingly, he didn’t throw it, but instead started squeezing it. Was he seriously using it as a stress ball? Oh well, it wasn’t like not getting hit in the face would bother me. I walked inside the Doughnut, and surprisingly there was no-one inside. I took a seat near to the television screen, and turned it on to find the news. There probably wasn’t anything quality on TV at the moment, so the news was the safest bet. Unsurprisingly, my fight on the bridge had made the news, and people were beginning to make the connection between that and the gunmen, except, now I was in costume. Somehow, no-one had seen me before the fight, and the video was shot from so far away that no-one could identify us. That was lucky. The door hissed as it came open, and I heard Riley and May chatting as they walked in, right as the scene flicked to my punching into the car. My hand hurt a little seeing that, but I knew it wasn’t real, well, not anymore.
“You… you really did do that?” Riley said as she sat down. I wasn’t paying any attention to them, but I could feel the cushions moved as they both sat down together. I spun around to look at them, and I saw a… strange site. May was wearing a white suit of TS Armour, with very little detail. Compared to mine, a red stripe on her arm didn’t seem very extravagant, but maybe that’s what she was going for.
“What’s with the shoes, Dorothy?” Alan said, stepping into the room. He was wearing a long white cloak.
“Like you can talk, ghost-boy,” May laughed, probably one of the few times I’d seen her do so on the Sandman, when it wasn’t at my expense. I still had no goddamn clue as to what I’d done to make her hate me, but I wasn’t exactly trying to figure it out either.
“Am I still unconscious?” I muttered to myself.
“Jealous, are we?” May asked.
“Not at all,” I grinned, turning back to the broadcast. May stood up, and walked over to me, standing in front of the TV. She leaned over my head, trying to get as in my face as possible.
“You forgot something May,” Alan said, tossing a red belt across the room, with a ribbon tied in a bow on it. She strapped the belt on, which at least helped to break up the solid white bodysuit, and pulled off the ribbon.
“It’s better, but Walter wants us to be masked,” I said, grabbing the ribbon she’d dropped on the floor.
“Well what do you suggest, smart-ass?” She asked. I patted the seat next to me, and she looked at me like I was a madman. She looked over at Riley, who simply shrugged, and Alan leapt over the back of the couch, revealing his grey suit underneath, and a belt covered in pouches. May tentatively sat down next to me. I took the ribbon in my hand and wrapped it around her head so it covered her eyes. She sat patiently as I tied it around her head, and when I was finished she prodded her face, feeling where the ribbon was.
“Oh my god, that’s actually funny,” She said, touching the blindfold I’d given her.
“Well, you can’t use your eyes anyway, so what’s the point of a mask that leaves them exposed?” I said, and she actually smiled at me.
“Don’t think this means we’re friends,” She said suddenly, and stormed out of the room.
“I don’t think I’m ever getting through to her,” I said, and turned my attention back to the news playing, and Riley and Alan’s conversation faded into background noise.

My attention wasn’t held for long, as Penelope stepped into the room. She was on fire, or at least looked like she was. She quickly sparked up a conversation with Riley and Alan, telling them about her costume. I heard some science jargon about the Alternating Refraction Field, and the duo moved away from her in a rush when she mentioned the canisters on her waist. Some form of flammable liquid probably, something that would make a potent grenade if she threw them, but she was more likely to use them to create large flames to control, rather than a devastating explosion. They probably weren’t full either, as she was known to throw off sparks from time to time. The trio then walked out, probably heading to get some food from the diner, or perhaps a proper mask for Alan, and as they walked out, Lake walked in, still holding that little ball of water. He sat down across from me, half-watching the news as I had been and half staring me down. The rippling in the ball of water ceased, and it became perfectly still and clear. He tossed it up into the air a few times, keeping the shape perfect even as gravity acted on it, and he threw it. The ball skimmed past my hair, and I was tempted to blast it out of the air, but instead I glared at him. Unsurprisingly, he’d gotten into a suit as well. His was mostly black, with parts of his arms and legs cut out and replaced with strips of blue fabric that looked significantly tougher. His chest was the most interesting, there was a small metal canister peeking out above his shoulder, and bright blue straps crossing over his chest, to form a sort of capital A shape.
“It’s a tank, Stickman. Made to resist bullets and carry enough water for me to be able to summon a tidal wave if I wanted,” It sounded impressive, sure, but it was likely he was just exaggerating.
“And how much is that?” I asked, trying to get him to leave.
“About a liter is all I need,” Now I knew he was exaggerating. I stood up, and went to walk out of the room, until a tendril of water grabbed me by the leg.
“Walter wants us to do some scouting on this Streamline gang. Be in the bay tomorrow morning, or I won’t miss again,” I left to go and get changed into my exercise gear, because he was really making me want to hit someone.

*

I stepped into the gym and was met by a group of soldiers who quickly walked away from where I was headed, a small room in the back used for hand-to-hand combat training. When I walked in, there was a punching bag set up, hung in the middle of the room. I knew you weren’t really meant to hit them without someone or something holding them, but I found some of the bandages we used instead of boxing gloves, because who was actually going to be getting into a fist fight wearing boxing gloves, and wrapped my hands. I stepped up to the bag, and took a quick swing at it, putting minimal power into my swing as I came in from the right. I grabbed the sides of the bag and dragged my knee up into it, bringing an audible popping sound from the other side. It sounded like I’d broken one of the seams, so I put a little less power into my next swing. I went for a forward jab this time, and I made the bag swing on its hook, flying backwards, and falling back to hit me in the face. I grabbed the bag, last second, bracing myself against its weight, and punching into it over and over again once it stopped moving. I grabbed it again, just to stop it swaying, and I kicked it from the side, sending it flying once again. This time, instead of catching it, I stupidly chose to meet it with my fist, and the bag exploded on contact. I went over to grab another bag after pulling its tattered remains from the hook, and realized that the crap that had been inside of it had spilled all over the floor. Instead of grabbing a fresh bag, I went and found a broom to sweep up the remains of the bag.

When I got back inside, the remains of the old punching bag were gone, and Alan was standing in the middle of the room, taking swings at a bag of his own. He looked at me holding the broom, and levitated a bag onto the hook next to the one he was using for me. Thankfully, he’d changed out of that cloak. I stood next to him as he took swings, watching as he hit the bag in similar ways to how I’d done it. Walter had taught them how to fight, and he’d left Iris and I to Lake, and occasionally Riley. He drew his knee up to the bag at the same speed I had, but he didn’t manage to even break a seam. I put a hand on his shoulder, and he stop swinging at the bag.
“Although the speed of the hit matters, it’s the power and weight you’re putting into it that’ll do most of the work,” That was my understanding of it anyway, and I demonstrated the same technique with my knee, and this time, the bag exploded on impact.
“Well… shit,” I said, pulling the tattered remains of the bag off of the hook once again, and letting Alan blow its innards into a pile with the previous bag’s remains. Alan hit the bag again, and it rocked in place. He struck it over and over in the same way, but the bag remained perfectly intact.
“How the hell did you do that?” He asked through heavy breathes.
“Don’t know. But, try enhancing the hit with your powers,” I said. Streams of dust started flowing around his knee, and he slammed it into the bag, destroying it instantly, and putting a huge dent into the wall on the other side of the bag.
“If anyone asks, that was you,” Alan said, quickly clearing up the remains of the third bag to be destroyed, and rushing out. I saw him smile as he left, and I went back to punching once again.

*

The next morning, I woke up in pain. My legs and arms hurt from beating up those bags. I’d ended up destroying six of them in total, before I’d decided to quit. I didn’t want to risk getting a lecture from the guys who ran the gym about all of those broken bags. When I’d returned to the Doughnut, everyone was too busy going on about how much they liked each other’s costumes, and I hadn’t wanted to join in on the conversation, so I had come back to my room to shower and get out of my sweaty exercise gear. I sat on the side of my bed, rubbing my eyes to try and wake myself up faster, and found a box on my desk. I tried to grab it from where I was sitting, because I was still only half awake, but accidentally knocked some books onto the floor, covering a good portion of the floor in paper. I chose to go and get dressed rather than continue to make a mess, and grabbed the box on my way to the wardrobe. It was relatively light, and it wasn’t even that big, but it had nothing written on it, no identification, nothing. I was worried that this was going to be some idea of Lake’s so I just left it on the ground while I got changed. I sat back down on my bed once I was fully dressed, and opened the box. It was the helmet Walter had taken, and it looked slightly different. The shield had been tinted so that I couldn’t see inside the helmet without lifting it, and there were some buttons on the bottom of it. One of them looked like a fingerprint scanner. I pressed my thumb against it, and the helmet lit up. I put the helmet on to see if anything had changed on the inside, and surprisingly, the shield was no longer a shield.

It was a screen, and the whole helmet had become a computer. There were lights blinking all around my face, and little sections of screen dedicated to certain tasks. Most of them just had an error message on them, or had a lock icon on them. Guess I couldn’t see everything for the moment.
“Edward? Are you coming to eat?” Iris asked from outside my room.
“I’ll be there soon,” I said, but when I spoke, it wasn’t my voice. The voice that came out sounded mechanical, and deeper. I pulled the helmet off, and felt around inside of it. Next to my where my ears would sit was a pair of speakers, and in the front there was a small indent next to a vent. A radio system, and I guess voice modulator. Who had built this? There was no way anyone could make something like this with such little time since I’d given my helmet to Walter. But it looked so perfect, there were even a few scratches on it from the fight. I tossed the helmet onto my desk, and walked over to the door. I pressed my hand against the small panel next to it, and it flew open.
“What did you do in there?” Iris asked, looking at the pile of papers scattered across my floor.
“I’m not even fully awake yet, Iris. I slipped,” she snickered at me. I guess the thought of me stumbling around was funny to her. I walked past her, into the diner, and was immediately greeted by the aroma of fresh fruit. There was a large platter laid out on the counter, covered in sliced fruit ranging from watermelon to some berries I couldn’t recognize. I took a seat at the counter, and took a piece of fruit in my hand as I observed the room around me. Nobody was paying much attention to me, and once again Riley and Lake were in the kitchen. Lake looked like he was still cooking, while Riley seemed to be cleaning up from the fruit. I spun around on the stool, and saw Penelope and Iris talking away as usual, the two had been best friends since day one, and Alan and May trying their best to find something interesting to talk about. The two didn’t dislike each other, but they didn’t have enough in common to talk all that much. I considered moving away from the bench, to talk to my sister, but she seemed perfectly content with talking to Penelope, in fact, I don’t think I could’ve gotten a word in if I tried. I took one final bite out of the slice of watermelon, and went to grab another, when a hand came out of nowhere to grab my wrist.
“Try some of this,” Lake said, handing me a plate of toast. Seriously? Toast? That was what he came up with? It looked relatively nondescript, but knowing Lake, he wouldn’t give me anything without getting some humor out of it. I took the plate, and examined each slice, waiting for something weird to pop out, or there to be some strange mixture of pickles and jam between the slices. There was nothing. Everything was perfectly bland, save for one or two burnt slices.
“Ten bucks says this is a bet,” I said, holding one of the slices in my hand.
“No bet,” Lake said in a rush.
“Okay then. You owe me half of whatever you get out of this,” I said, taking a bite. It was just as bland as it looked.
“Pay up Alan!” Lake shouted, and Alan got up from his conversation with May.
“Did not think you’d trust him after the ketchup incident,” Alan said, passing over some money to Lake. I got up from my chair, and went to leave.
“Five minutes until we leave Stickman! You’ll want Hold C!” I headed out of the diner, and made my way to Hold C as Lake had instructed.

When I was inside, I saw why Lake had wanted me to come in here. There were eight mannequins stood in the room, three on the left wall, three on the right, and two on the back wall. Each mannequin was dressed in one of the costumes people had designed, Alan’s cloak immediately standing out among the rest. There were two in there that I didn’t recognize, one in a dark purple with a lightning bolt across the chest, and a black one with a stylized scythe running up an arm and through the chest. Process of elimination told me that that one belonged to Iris, and the one with a lightning bolt belonged to Riley. Iris’s was entirely black, the only detailing being done in textures, but Riley’s was incredibly detailed. Everything was cut to be more jagged, from the angled boots to the mask and cape. The lightning bolt ran from shoulder to hip, and looked like it would light up like the strips on my costume would, and it seemed sharp. I turned my focus away from other people’s suits, and found mine, which had some slight changes made. The LED’s cut off at my waist now, and were stopped by a leather belt that had been dyed green, and was covered in small pouches for batteries, spare ammo, whatever I could need. There was also a holster on the right thigh, and there was a pistol in it. It didn’t look loaded, but I’d have to check before I put the suit on. The collar had also been extended to run up my chin, and had some small clips on it to attach to the helmet. That would be what the vents were for. I pulled the suit off the mannequin piece by piece, and I heard a thunking behind me as Lake pulled the tank off of a mannequin of his own. He walked out with his suit in his arms, and I took mine in my arms, and walked back to my room to get dressed.

Once I had all of the suit on, I pressed the helmet onto my head, and the screen lit up once again. I fastened the clips on my neck to the helmet, and a puff of air blew into my face as the vent activated. This time, the applications displayed correctly, showing things like my vital signs and even a GPS. The radio app began automatically tuning, and a list came down underneath it. Apparently, there were two devices actively tuned to this radio frequency. Helmet, and Headset L. I stepped out of my room, and when I pressed my hand against the lock panel, I noticed something I hadn’t before. The control panel on my arm was now holographic, probably being projected onto the outer sleeve by a device woven into it, and the Armour had been extended to cover the backs of my hands. The door slid open, and a startled Penelope slipped at the sudden hiss.
“You alright?” I asked, and my altered voice came through once again.
“Edward?” She said, shocked.
“Yep,” She stood up, and hurried away. I walked out of our section, and into the Pod bay, where Lake was waiting for me.

He looked angry, angrier than he had seemed that I’d been asked to do this scouting with him. He looked like he was going to put a whole through a wall.
“Atlantis,” I said as I walked in.
“Oh, that isn’t creepy,” He complained at the sound of my voice. I pressed one of the buttons on my control panel, and activated our radio link.
“Better?” I asked.
“Like your voice is better than that creepy shit,” He turned to the pod with a massive grin on his face. The door swung open, and Atlantis stepped inside. I followed him in, and as soon as the door was shut, we were falling.