The moment I was awake; I was annoyed with myself. For once, I wasn’t in a hospital bed, but I’d gotten myself knocked out again, and this was entirely my fault. It was as if I wanted to get my teeth kicked in. I took a quick glance around the room, and realised I was in my bedroom, back on the Sandman. It looked to be early morning, and the sun shining down on my face made me feel like it was. I rolled over, and pain exploded in my back once again. I sat up through the pain, and reached over to my desk, where my phone had lit up with messages.
“Hey sorry, I know we made our plans early but where are you guys?” That was a message from Anna.
“Dude, work must have you trapped,” That was a message from Gordon. I scrolled through my messages, and found the details I’d been sent. We were meant to meet up outside of the downtown cinema, about half an hour ago. I sent a message off apologising, giving the lamest excuse I’d ever come up with, and walked out of my room. It was ten in the morning, so finding people waiting outside of my room, rather than in the gym or something like that was a surprise. Iris and Lake were stood outside, quietly talking about me. As soon as I left my room their conversation silenced, and Lake beckoned over someone else. May walked over, with a furious look on her face. She jammed a bottle of pills into my hand, and stormed off.
“She says she could stop most symptoms, but you’re going to be in a lot of pain for a while,” Lake said, pointing at the pills. He smiled, and rubbed the back of his neck.
“That was pretty crazy dude. But thanks. You saved my ass out there,” He stuck out his hand, and I shook it. Lake walked off with a smile, leaving me with my sister.
“Nobody else will say this, but nobody else could think of any other way out of that problem. Now, I know I’ve only heard the story from Lake, but goddamn,” She smiled at me, and pulled me into a hug.
“If you ever pull that shit again I will kill you,” She said. I couldn’t blame her.
“We have a problem though. We just got back from some work in France, and we’re meant to be visiting our friends, about twenty minutes ago,” She punched my shoulder, and laughed.
“Are you kidding? That’s awesome,” She said, and we went our separate ways to get ready to leave.
We walked down the street surrounded by a group of people we hadn’t seen in quite a while. I still managed to tower over most of them, but Gordon had been noticeably shocked when I walked up to him, and we were pretty much the same height. Chelsea, Anna and Iris immediately hit it off again, and were far ahead of us, talking away. In the months our group had been apart, there’d been a significant change in all of us. Most notably, they were all still in school, while Iris and I had finished early, thanks to Isaac. We were headed down to one of the spots where we’d all gathered in the business centre, a sandwich shop owned by Anna’s parents. It had become their go-to spot after the Incident had created the Ashes. It still annoyed me that it was called the Incident. That was probably the least creative name for it there was, but honestly, I wasn’t one to complain. I was one of the least creative people I knew.
This had provided an interesting opportunity though, and Walter had supported my coming down here simply because of that. Walking down the busiest streets of town would let us eavesdrop on others, and tell us what the public thought of us, and what they knew about us. As we walked, I heard people mention photos they’d seen circulating on social networks and news websites, namely, the photos people had taken of Atlantis and Skyfire when they’d been riding down these very streets two days ago. I saw someone point at the crossing where the little boy had been saved, and noticed something that no-one seemed to be talking about. There was a crack in the bitumen, a very slight indentation in the shape of a foot. Had I done that? That was possible, according to Walter. Gordon noticed my change in attention, and shoved me forwards, almost into the backs of the girls in front of us. He laughed at my annoyance, and I couldn’t help but laugh with him. That was what he was like.
We walked into the shop conversing about our months apart. We had so much catching up to do, and the first complaint about final exams came, of course, from Gordon.
“I don’t know how you two pulled it off. I mean, I’m doing well but I’m barely managing low A’s. How the hell did you manage to get a perfect score in physics and chemistry dude?” I honestly had no idea how I’d done it myself, after all, I’d only taken chemistry on a whim, I wasn’t exactly good at it.
“Yeah, and now you’re working in France for your Dad’s company?” Anna asked. She was curious about the state of my employment of course, but even though it was made up, I didn’t want to give that away. Technically, Isaac was covering for me and Iris, and somewhat worryingly, he had admitted that he’d been tipped off to our involvement by our father, or rather, my adoptive father. The fact that he had figured out what we were doing didn’t bode well for him, should Iris and I ever have our involvement exposed. Still, it was better than having to tell him myself. Slowly, I was racking up more and more friends that would kill me if I did anything stupid. But, I had just gotten myself struck by lightning, so I doubted I could do anything worse.
I placed my backpack down next to my seat at our table, and Anna’s mother came out to take our orders, and was expectedly surprised to see Iris and I, and insisted on paying for our meal, even though we were more than capable of doing it ourselves. The moment she was out of earshot, Gordon quieted the table.
“Okay, so Edward. Science question. Suppose teleportation is possible, how would it work? What would the dangers of teleporting be?” He asked. It was a pretty loaded question, but he looked serious enough. There was always an element of humour with Gordon, especially with that bloody shirt. He’d been told on multiple occasions that pineapples were not flattering, but he always argued the same way; Hawaiian shirts were both formal and casual at the same time, so it was perfect for every occasion. No-one had managed to come up with a solid argument for him, so he kept wearing them. He had to have like, sixty of the damn things.
“Well, the dangers would vary depending on how it worked, and there are so many theories it would take me hours to go through them all. But let’s suppose that teleporting means the instant transmission of matter from one place to another. It would have to be incredibly precise,” Gordon held up a hand, and I stopped talking. He had something on his mind.
“I’m guessing this isn’t for an essay,” I said, placing my elbows on the table so I could rest my head. He was being open, so that would mean the girls knew, but he had also waited until Anna’s mother was gone. Something about this was dangerous.
“Let’s change the topic. What do you guys think about the pictures floating around online? The guys in the weird costumes?” Chelsea asked. So there was something worrying them, and apparently it had something to do with teleportation.
“They look dangerous. Just look at where they seem to be heading. They were going to the Ashes,” I said, and Chelsea nodded.
“It looks that way yeah. But did you see what Rachel posted? The one in green saved her little brother’s life. She said he outran a truck easily going over seventy kilometres an hour. Sure that’s not very fast for a truck, but for a human? That’s pretty abnormal,” Abnormal was putting it lightly.
“There was a footprint in the road. Corner of Jackson street,” I said, and she nodded again.
“That was where it happened,” So I had done that. I didn’t think I’d been running that fast, but Adrenaline seemed to do a lot for me. Chelsea was fidgeting, awkwardly tapping at her phone and trying to cope with whatever was troubling them at the same time. Her eyelid started twitching, and I knew something was up. Fasciculation, a brief and involuntary twitching of muscle fibres. They were often attributed to stress and caffeine consumption, and Chelsea wasn’t one for coffee.
The shop had a bell that rang whenever the door opened, and its soft jingling pulled me away from our conversation. A man walked up to the register, clutching his duffle bag in a death grip. He held his free hand in front of himself, so we couldn’t see it, and tapped the small bell on the counter to signal his presence. Anna’s mother walked out from the back room, where she’d been preparing our food, and greeted the man. He pulled a gun out, and fired a bullet into the roof. The group around me screamed along with the other customers in the store, and the man demanded that the money from the register be given to him. Quietly, I moved out of my seat. I rolled my neck to try and lessen the pain in it as I walked, and when I was directly behind the man, I tapped him on the shoulder. He spun around surprisingly quickly, and pointed his gun at me instead of Anna’s mother.
“Hi,” I said, and punched him in the face.
He fell to the ground, completely unconscious and bleeding from the nose. I guess I broke it. I pulled his weapon out if his hand, carefully removing the ammo and stuffing it into his empty duffel bag, and taking his wallet out of his pocket as well.
“If he wakes up before the police get here, just give them this,” I pulled out his driver’s licence, and slid it across the counter to Anna’s mother, who was gawking at me. I didn’t see how what I had done was such a big deal, but then again, I had been pretty scrawny when I’d last seen these guys. I took a seat back over at the table with my friends, and Chelsea was the first to comment on what I’d just done.
“Maybe we should go somewhere else,” She said. I shrugged. I was fine wherever, and everyone else seemed ready to leave. I hoisted my backpack back onto my shoulders, and we left while Anna’s mother called the police.
We ended up stopping in a park down the road. It was virtually deserted, after all, this was the business centre. There weren’t all that many kids here to take advantage of a park, so it was mainly just a place where workers would eat lunch from time to time. It wasn’t all that bad, and we’d come here before. Just normally, half of the surrounding area wasn’t a burnt husk. The place was on the very edge of the Ashes, so I was sort of surprised by choice of location. We’d all lost someone in the Incident that had burnt that place to the ground. For most people, it was a cousin, or a friend. We all knew at least one person who’d died in there, or disappeared during the incident. Scarily, there was no way of telling which for most. Gordon looked distant as he stared out at the remnants, which wasn’t a surprise. Both his father and his little brother had died in there. His brother had been a friend of ours as well. The sight probably tore him up inside, and I could understand. Losing someone close to you hurt like hell.
“What do you think of them, Edward? Iris? Do you think they’re good people?” Gordon asked, staring out into the distance.
“Who do you mean? The costumed guys? Because if you do, I think they’re good people. That, or they’re part of Streamline. Those are the only two reasons to go into the Ashes,” Iris said. She had a point, it could easily be interpreted that we were part of Streamline, but nothing could be confirmed at this point. For now, the only names we had were rumors.
“Atlantis and Skyfire. Those are the names going around, right?” I asked, and the rest of the group nodded.
“They were wearing something called TS Armour. It’s something I’ve worked on in the past. It’s an experimental suit of body armour designed to be worn underneath clothing, and it’s designed so that, if need be, the man inside it is safer than someone in a tank. Well, that’s the hope anyway. For now, it can pretty much stop any bullet from piercing it, but there are some problems. The point is,” I said, realising I was rambling, “No-one could get their hands on it without it being given to them. So Isaac trusts them. That’s good enough for me,” Gordon nodded, and came over to sit with us.
“Do you think he’d give me some?” He asked. Well, that confirmed my suspicions. Unfortunately, that was not a good thing, and the girls seemed terrified by what he was saying.
“That depends. What do you plan on doing with it?” I asked, and he grinned at me.
“You can’t be serious!” The girls said almost simultaneously.
“I want to go into the Ashes. I want to find out what happened to my family,” He said. It was a noble cause, but I doubted he’d survive, even with powers.
“Show me what you can do,” I stood up, and the smile on Gordon’s face widened. The girls were complaining at me, but I was too focused on Gordon.
He walked out into the open grass, standing in a wide area, and suddenly his body turned grey, his clothes and everything, and melted into smoke. The process took about half a second, and when it was over, he reappeared in the same manner, over fifty metres away. He repeated the process, and appeared in front of me once again. I threw a punch at him, and he appeared behind me, tugging on my coat, and pulling it off. He held it next to himself like a trophy, and smiled widely. The girls were freaking out, but Iris was laughing.
“Nice one Gordon, but maybe pass my coat back,” He chucked it to me, and I caught it. As I slipped it on, I worried that they’d catch a glimpse of the scar that had run down onto my left arm, just below the sleeve of my T-shirt. A fractal scar, from the lightning bolt, confined mostly to my back, but running down on my arm as well. Iris had noticed as we came down, and since it was mostly on my back, I had noticed it then as well. It was cool, sure, but also a constant reminder that I was a fucking idiot. I walked back over to where everyone was sitting, and waited for Chelsea and Anna to stop complaining before I spoke.
“I’m guessing you two knew?” I asked, and they nodded. Iris and I looked at each other, and I decided to make a very bad decision. But I needed to dissuade Gordon from heading into the Ashes, at least for the foreseeable future. Those brutes would kill him in a heartbeat.
I pulled my backpack onto my lap, and pulled it open. Resting on top of a bundle of cloth and wires, was my helmet. Walter had asked me to bring both of our costumes with me, just in case something went down. Well, something went down alright. But Walter wasn’t going to know about this. Gordon was going to stay out of danger, for now. I paused for a moment, before pulling out my helmet. Something else had occurred to me.
“So Chelsea, Anna. Do you two have powers as well?” I asked. They both nodded. They were scared to use them though, which was why they had complained.
I pulled my helmet out of my backpack, and placed it on the table in front of us.
“Going into the Ashes is a waste of time. Everything in there has been burnt to a crisp, or occupied by Streamline,” They stared at me, amazed, even though they had powers themselves. Gordon was the most alarmed, but no-one said a word.
“So, what can you do, Iris?” Chelsea asked. It was a good question, as I wasn’t exactly sure myself. My helmet lifted up off the table, and slowly dropped back down again. The technical term, I think, was psychokinesis. It didn’t explain the Kronos moniker she’d been given by Walter, but it was good enough for me to have some clue as to what she could do.
“I can run. Faster than I could give you a good ballpark for,” Chelsea said, and the other two agreed.
“And, well, I can go invisible,” Anna said. Not the most interesting powers, but certainly the most versatile.
“Look, I’m not going to say you shouldn’t do something with your powers. That would be unfair, but I will say not to get involved with us. For now, that is. The man in charge has a plan, and any more powers are a risk. Okay, no, that’s a bad way of phrasing it. Look, I don’t want you guys getting hurt. So learn to fight, think with your powers. And stay out of the Ashes,” I said. It wasn’t much help to them, but it was the best I could offer for now. Gordon glared at me, obviously wanting more.
I took a piece of paper from my bag, and scrawled a note on it.
“Professor Isaac Beeves will supply you with TS Armour if you can prove you’re good enough. So for now, keep your powers a secret. Stick to knocking out back alley thugs. But wear a mask,” I said, and the trio nodded. I doubted I’d see them for a while after this, and they seemed to realise that as well. I had to make sure I at least kept in touch with them, and I realized I had a way.
“I’ll tell you what. When I have some time off, I’ll teach the three of you kickboxing,” Gordon smiled, but something was still on his mind.
“When will we be good enough?” He asked.
“When you can beat me,” I said, he half laughed, before he realized I was serious.
Iris and I stood up. The sun was setting, we’d have to be back at the Sandman in the next hour, or the pod wouldn’t have enough fuel to get us back up. With a quick goodbye out of the way, we headed to our new home, and all the while, I wondered if we’d done the right thing. I’d just told three of my best friends about how I was putting my life at risk, and they’d be able to figure out I was linked to Shade. They’d probably be able to figure out what I’d done just last night. But for now, I knew that I had at least deterred Gordon from heading into the Ashes, and stumbling into the same situation Lake and I had. Yeah, that was good enough for me.