Deacon and Michael crashed on the floor of one of the bedrooms upstairs. You wouldn’t have known from the outside, but the place was actually kind of nice. Some of the windows were boarded up but there was a large circular skylight on the ceiling, letting the morning sun shine into the entire house in bright streams of light.
Deacon leaned against the upstairs banister, still in disbelief at everything happening around him. His mind was foggy as if he had been asleep for days.
The house was built straight up, with the focal point being a long winding staircase in the middle of the first floor entrance. The top floor had five bedrooms, a bathroom, and what looked like what once was an office. The floor of the room was now filled with boxes and stacks of paper; sketches and different codes covered the walls from top to bottom, some now browning with age.
From the top of the banister he could see a small kitchen towards the left of the front door, and somewhere below where he was standing was the living room he had seen last night as they made their way up from the basement. He heard the loud snoring of what he assumed was some kind of large animal. Whatever is was, it definitely didn’t sound human.
Towards the end of the hallway he saw a set of hanging stairs leading to the attic that he hadn’t noticed before. He made his way over cautiously and walked up the wooden stairs one at a time, holding the ropes lining each side so he wouldn’t fall down. As he neared the top he peered his head in, slowly.
Convinced it was safe, he climbed the rest of the rest of the way up. The attic was a lot bigger than he expected. You could easily fit a bedroom in its angled frame. Instead it was lined with straw, tree branches, and other shrubbery that would be found in the wild.
Skreeeeeaghh, the loud piercing call of an owl filled the room as a freakishly large black owl descended from the shadowy rafters above. Deacon jumped out of the way surprised and scrambled to regain his footing a safe distance away from the bird of prey.
He spun arund and lit his hands ablaze ready to fight the beast. Standing in the exact spot as the owl was Reed, who was laughing silently. Instantly deacon felt embarrassed.
“What the hell was that!” he shouted, trying to mask his momentary fear.
Reed laughed louder so he could hear. “Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. You were a sitting duck.”
Her laughter subsided and turned to a beautiful but short-lived smile. “Does it hurt?”
“Does what hurt?”
“That,” She pointed to his hands that were still engulfed in fire. “When you go all… firefly.”
He honestly hadn’t even noticed he had started burning. He didn’t know how to control it yet, let alone how to make it go away.
Reed must have recognized the look of panic on his face, because she walked closer to him.
“Close your eyes,” she commanded.
Without any objection, he did as she said.
“Concentrate. Feel the difference in your body. How your blood moves faster, how your heart pumps harder, how your muscles tense.”
As she talked he noticed she was right. He did feel different. As if he had a constant low electrical current running through his body, connecting everything in him. He could feel his blood circulating through him, and his heart thumping like a hammer against his chest cavity.
“Now, let it all go.”
He took a deep breath and followed her instruction. Seconds later the current vanished. He opened his eyes and the flames were gone.
She flashed the same smile as before. “Freaky, right?”
He shook his head in agreement, not knowing what to say.
“Pretty good for your second time.” She grabbed hold of a thick low hanging branch that had been tied to one of the wooden support beams and swung her way across the room, grabbing onto other tied branches. Within a few seconds she dismounted in the same spot she started in without breaking a sweat. It was as impressive and effortless a sight as he’d ever seen.
She continued the conversation as if she hadn’t just done something as incredible as she did. “Silas and I were stuck in animal form for a week before the first time we learned to change back. I don’t recommend spending anymore time as a box turtle than you absolutely have to, by the way.”
She turned and walked over to a hammock hanging in the corner of the room. She jumped into it and put her hands behind her head and closed her eyes.
Deacon walked around the space, looking for any more surprises. “What is this place?”
“The Aviary,” She said, with her eyes still closed. “When we go out on watch we fly in through that hole in the wall up there.” She pointed to the far corner of the room, to a crudely cut out hole in the top of the far wall. “From the outside it just looks like a bird made a home in an abandoned house.”
As he thought about it, it made a lot of sense. It was actually a pretty clever idea. He looked around at the space and noticed all the levels and obstacles. All the nooks and crannies hidden in the ceiling. The more he saw the more he realized this wasn’t just a clever entry point into the house, it was a sanctuary.
“How long have you been staying here?”
She let out a big yawn, with her eyes still closed. “About a year. It took Murphy a while to gather up all his equipment but a year sounds about right.”
“That’s not what I meant,” he walked over to the hammock and climbed a make shift ladder onto a small perch just above her. “I mean you. How long have you been staying in this attic?”
Her eyes opened, and she tilted her head back to look at him now sitting overhead. She stared at him for a few seconds before answering. “Have you ever flown before?”
The question was odd but he decided to humor her. “I flew to Florida to visit my Grandma last summer. Does that count?”
She let out a quiet laugh, before closing her eyes again. “Have you ever felt the wind beneath your wings?” She was somewhere off in space at this point but Deacon tried his best to follow her. “Once you’ve flown on your own…you never want to come back down. Being up here gives me the freedom to come and go as I please, without being hassled by Murphy or Silas.”
In this environment, in this space, the hard face girl he met last night felt like a distant memory. From on top of the perch he could see the appeal to the place. It was a personalized obstacle course. In a weird way it felt almost homey.
From the perch he heard a set of footsteps make their way up the wooden pull-down attic steps. Michael peered his head through the threshold with trepidation as his eyes went wide with amazement.
He walked into the space and slowly turned around with his head darting from one fixture to the other. Deacon hadn’t said much to Michael since they meet but it hadn’t occurred to him just how young he was. He was a pretty introverted kid that much he understood, but he had a painted look on his face like he was masking some kind of trauma.
Deacon replayed the meeting he had last night with his new housemates and remembered how eager Michael had been to commit to finding this mystery man. He made a mental note to ask him later, whenever he found an opening.
Michael panned the room and jumped when he saw Deacon sitting on the high perch. He had an embarrassed look on his face but only for a second. He moseyed over to the hammock and saw Reed lounging inside.
“What is this place?” he asked.
“Oh nothing,” Deacon started, interrupting Reed before she could answer. “Just your normal attic birdhouse.”
Reed tried her best to stifle a smile, but wasn’t doing a particularly good job of it.
“Murphy…Vison, or whatever he calls himself wants us downstairs to go over the plan.”
Reed let out a sigh as she started to pull herself out of the hammock. Deacon was surprised that there was even a semblance of a plan this quickly, but he followed her lead nonetheless and climbed down from the perch.
The three of them walked down the attic stairs, one behind the other, with Reed leading the way. They got to the main level where Deacon recognized the loud snoring from before. They entered the large living room, only to see a massive Bengal tiger sleeping soundly on its paws in the middle of the floor.
Deacon and Michael hesitated at the room’s entrance but Reed entered unfazed.
She tossed her hair to one side with her hand and put the other on her hip. “You didn’t try to wake him did you?” She said to no one in particular.
“Uh no,” Michael said nervously. “Figured I’d find you two first just in case it decided to attack.”
Deacon prayed the behemoth decided not to attack.
“Smart move,” She nodded her head in agreement. “Stand back, this might get dangerous.”
They both took two steps out of the way as Reed moved closer. She leapt into the air above the tigers heaving back and morphed into a humming bird. She began pecking furiously at its ears and nose, chirping a high-pitched singsong melody.
Michael let a laugh slip, watching the behemoth flail in defense. The tiger used its big paws to try and swat the bird away, repeatedly hitting himself in the face in the process. It’s large lumbering body rolled off of the couch and landed on the ground with a loud thud. It let out a loud tired yawn as it tried to pull itself together.
Reed let out another series of chirps that resembled laughter. She flew around the tiger one more time before landing on an empty space of floor in front of them, morphing back into her human self. She stood with her back to them, hands on her hips no doubt feeling proud.
The tiger’s body slowly began to shrink. Going from the monster that it was to the size of a normal Bengal tiger, or what Deacon could only imagine was normal based on what he had seen at the zoo, to the tall skinny frame of a human with a mop of dark hair.
Silas, picked his head up off the floor and sat up, lazily folding his legs Indian style, hair covering his eyes and face.
“What’d I miss?” he said through a deep yawn, as if he hadn’t even known he had just been attacked by a small mischievous bird.
Reed rolled her eyes. “Come on, you bum. Murphy’s got a plan.”
She turned and walked towards the wooden door leading to the basement. Silas forced himself up off the floor and followed, yawning and scratching.
As Silas walked past, Deacon noticed an inquisitive look flash across Michaels face. Silas passed silently between them, still lost in his just-being-forcefully-woken-up-haze.
“Why a tiger?” Michael blurted out.
Silas stopped and turned to him “Who wants to wake up a giant sleeping tiger?” Silas flashed a mischievous smile before continuing on his path down the stairs. “Plus, tiger dreams are crazy.” He added.
They followed down the stairs and into the basement.
The room looked completely different than it had the night before. It was covered wall to wall in printed schematics and hand drawn maps. The bank of monitors flashed between several different security feeds, all rotating in different timed intervals.
“Ah! You’ve made it!” Murphy looked like he hadn’t slept all night. His eyes were blood shot and he was as jittery as a scared cat. He walked across the room, rearranging the maps on the walls over and over again.
Michael and Deacon were both visibly confused. “What is all this stuff?” Michael asked. The question was aimed at Murphy, but it sounded like he asked it more to the room.
Murphy stopped by his console and took a few deep breaths. He stood tall and looked visibley calm. “This is how we’re going to save Jon.”
“I was up all night, trying to find a way into this facility of theirs.” He walked over to the wall of schematics and pointed to one of his drawings. “Facility is an understatement. This thing is a fortress.”
Reed was staring vigilantly at the figures in front her. Even Silas had abandoned his usual cheeky attitude and replaced it with a much more serious presence. It felt weird, out of place, like he hadn’t even realized just how much Jon must have meant to them until that very moment.
“The only way I see this working is if we do this in teams,” Murphy started up again. “Avery has already found a back door into the system. With her help we should be able to get into the complex undetected, through this gate here.”
Murphy pointed to a live feed of a long heavy gate, with two security outposts on either side of the wide entrance. On the monitor a large van drove up to the gate presented some credentials, and then drove slowly through the threshold as the gate closed behind him. There were two guards in each outpost equipped with assault rifles strapped to their chests.
Michael cleared his throat as another large van pulled up to the opposite outpost. “This is risky. Those guys have guns, how are we supposed to get past four guys with guns.”
“The collective uses one of two vehicles. Inconspicuous white vans or large black SUVs.” Murphy pointed to another monitor positioned on a parking lot full of white vans and intimidating black SUVs. “Bobby is looking into…procuring, one these vehicles for our use.”
A smirk crept onto Silas’ face. “Looks like I taught the little runt well.”
Michael walked over to the monitor and stared intently at the parking lot. “This lot. Its not monitored?”
“No need to.” Murphy walked over to the opposite wall and ripped a drawing of what looked like a small round hockey puck off of it. “This little guy here is attached to every vehicle in their fleet.”
Deacon took it from his outstretched hands and started looking over it, as Michael made his way next to him. What he thought was a hockey puck was a tightly packed sphere of wires and colored lights and sensors with a black ball at its core.
“What that thing in the middle?” Michael asked, right on cue.
“It’s a very simple tracking Device.” He paused awkwardly. Almost like he wanted to let his words sink in before he delivered bad news. “It is also a tightly packed explosive.”
As the words left Murphy’s mouth there was a noticeable shift in the room. The severity of the plan had taken on a whole new level. Michael’s eyes widened and without realizing it took a few steps back from the drawing, as if the sheet of paper were the actual bomb itself.
“This bomb is capable of destroying anything in a 5o meter radius.” Murphy continued. “It’s a nasty little sucker. Lucky for us it’s factory made and an older model at that.”
He pulled a small piece of metallic paper with green and gold flecks out of his pocket and held it in his palm for everyone to see. “Luckily the bomb and the tracker are on two different inputs. This little magnetic strip, will deactivate the current to the bomb, while keeping the sensor intact.”
“So we take the van, deactivate the bomb, and ride in as if nothing was out of the ordinary.” Deacon hadn’t noticed but Reed had taken the picture out of his hands and was now examining it.
Silas had made his way into the large chair at the center console and panned the room taking in the rest of the battle plans along the walls.
“Then what?” he said.
“Then, we split up.” Murphy walked over to the console and tapped a few clicks on his keyboard. The screens shifted around like a brightly colored choreographed dance. The monitors split themselves into four columns with a space in the middle. It showed the entire compound split into a grid. “In the center is the compounds central power plant. It’s located directly in the middle of the property. First thing we have to do it get in and shut it down.”
The screens zoomed in to a live feed of the Power Center. The building was set up with a large power conductor in the center of floor, and three tiered levels lining the walls around it. The ceiling was a glass dome split into reinforced panels. Dozens of workers walked along the three levels moving like ants in an anthill. Some looked more like scientists, others day laborers in hardhats and reflective vests.
Deacon looked at Murphy like he had lost his mind. “We’re supposed to break into that? It’s crawling with workers.”
Murphy looked at him and smiled. It was the kind of smile you give someone when you know something they don’t know. “Look at them and tell me what you see. Anything stick out to you?”
Deacon turned back to the monitors and focused hard for what he was missing. As hard as he could he just couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. All he could see were scientist’s lab coats and hard hats darting from place to place. That’s when it hit him. “No guards,” he said in amazement.
“Exactly. The power plant is strictly off limits to non-essential personnel. That includes armed guards.” Murphy tapped some more buttons on his keypad and the view changed to a 2D layout of the building. “Like I said earlier, if this is going to work we have to split up. Team one will be Reed, Deacon, and Bobby. You’re job is to get in, shut down the power converter and get out. That’s it.”
Reed and Deacon looked at each other simultaneously. He couldn’t tell if the look on her face was of a look of confidence or skepticism. They broke eye contact and looked back at the screens just in time to catch the next part of Murphy’s plan without anybody noticing the awkward exchange.
“The building has more air vents leading directly outside than any other building on the property. We are going to use them to our advantage. Reed, you’re going to fly in through the air vent on the south side of the building. If you’re a small enough bird no one will think twice about you getting in.” Reed shook her head in agreement as if she was a step ahead of him. “Deacon, you and Bobby are going to be waiting by the back door, on the east side of the building. It has plenty of bush on either side of it which should give you plenty of cover. Next ,you-”
Michael cleared his throat, interrupting Murphy mid sentence. “Wouldn’t it just be easier if Bobby just teleports them in? I mean this is a lot of variables for what looks like a two man job”
“Bobby can only teleport if he knows where he’s going,” Silas said raking his hand through his hair, “As in, been there before. Plus, he’s not the best when it comes to ‘sticking his landings’. No telling where the little twerp will drop you. If I’m following this correctly, Reeds the entry and Bobby is the exit. Right?”
“Looks like you have learned a thing or two since you’ve been here.” Murphy flashed another smile across his face. This time he looked more proud than anything. “Once you’re in, grab a hard hat and a vest. There should be a few lying around close to your entry point. Based on what I’ve seen those should give you more access in the place than any security badge could.”
The picture on the screen changed again to what looked like an engine room. From the angle of the camera all he could see were three large hammer-like structures the size of SUVs quickly rising into the air and slamming back down in a show of sparks and embers. They were enclosed in a large protective glass shielding. “This is the bottom floor of the building housing the pistons. There are three pistons firing at alternating intervals one after the other. These three pistons are what power the entire complex. You destroy those pistons and you cripple the entire compound.”
“Destroy the pistons?” Reed and Michael said in unison.
“Funny thing about those big giant pistons. They’re capable of powering an entire complex but add a little heat to that tiny glass box and all of a sudden…they just malfunction.”
Add a little heat. His words hung on the air as he waited for Deacon to find the meaning. He nodded his head as the words started to click in his mind.
“I don’t know if I can burn that hot,” Deacon said, “I mean, I barely had enough in me to defend myself from that freak at the bank.”
“Deacon you have fire coursing through you,” Murphy said plainly. “No one but you can tell you the limits you can reach. Trust yourself. Once you’ve shut it down Bobby will teleport you out.”
The rest of the room looked at him, waiting for him to accept his part of the plan. He tried his best to put himself back together before he nodded to Murphy in agreement. Reed’s eyes lingered on him for a second before returning to the monitors. She wasn’t a telepath like Murphy, but she didn’t need to be to see the doubt and fear creeping through his mind.
Silas let out a bored sigh as he waited for the moment to pass. “Where do the rest of us fit into this?” He asked.
“Once the pistons are down, we’re on a clock. We have a 20 minute window where all of the buildings are blacked out. Then the backup generator kicks in.”
He tapped his keyboard again and another building popped up on the live feed, this one much smaller than the last and equally as unguarded. “This is where they’re keeping Jon. It’s the last place on the compound; they’d expect us to look. Silas, Michael, and I are going to break in, grab Jon and get out of there while everyone is reacting to your smoke show.”
Reed turned to Murphy with a skeptical look on her face. “How do we know this is the building?” she said. “If we only have one shot at this and we mess it up, we’ll never get Jon out of there. Are you sure he’s not being held in one of the main buildings?”
Murphy shook his head. “Don’t worry, this is the building.” Murphy tapped one key on the keyboard and a grey aerial view of the compound took over the collection of screens. Each building lit up as globs of different shades of oranges, greens, and blues. All except one glob which was completely grey and lifeless. “This is a geothermal image I got from a NASA satellite. As you can see all of the buildings are registering some sort of geothermal activity inside it – mostly equipment, and individual body heat.”
“Wait, how did you access to a NASA satelitte?” Michael, asked in disbelief.
Murphy gave a shrug and let the question roll right off his back. “You’d be surprised how easy it is to hack into a NASA satellite these days.”
As the words came out of Murphy’s mouth Deacon noticed the power plant was a brighter red than any of the other building, no doubt the result of the three pistons pumping inside of it.
Murphy brought his attention back to the bank of monitors. “As you can see, this building is registering zero signs of activity,” Murphy said, pointing to the dormant square building. “It’s being blocked by some sort of dampener. NASA tech is heavy duty stuff, if they’re able to block out a satellite of this caliber, then they’ve definitely got something to hide in there.”
Reed didn’t look convinced but she nodded her head in agreement anyways. She walked around the center console and stood next to Silas – who had clearly mentally checked out and was now playing with a lock of his own hair – and the rest of the group.
“Avery is out securing a safe house for us. Once we get Jon we all rendezvous there and lay low. The room went silent. Murphy stared at the image on the screen and spoke as if he was the only person in the room. “This plan will work guys. I know it will.” He intended it for them, but Deacon had a feeling he said it more for himself, like he had to hear it out loud so he could believe it.
They sat in silence for a few minutes until Silas decided to walk upstairs. Avery followed, and Michael and Deacon shortly after that.
The rest of the day went by in a haze. Reed spent most of the day in the attic, coming down only for food. Silas slept or lounged around the house in different animal forms. Michael and Deacon passed the time by messing around with their abilities. By the end of the day, Deacon could turn his fists into a full blaze with relative ease. Extinguishing them took a little bit more effort. Michael on the other hand was having trouble controlling his telekinesis. He could levitate an object pretty easily but moving it any real distance was pretty hit or miss.
When night came everyone found a hole to squat in and pass out. Deacon and Michael each took a smaller one across from each other at the end of the hall. Both rooms were missing doors just like the last. From upstairs you could hear the loud, snoring of Silas in one of his animal forms.
“Yo, Deacon,” Michael said from across narrow hallway.
“Do you really think this whole plans gonna work?”
Deacon wanted to say yes, but couldn’t say so honestly. He thought about all the times he was a selfish jerk and blown off Bobby and Jon back at school and wished so badly that he could go back and change things. His stomach turned the more he thought about it and he decided to try and push the guilt out of his mind. “I hope so. Honestly, I hope so.” He answered.
Michael sighed. Deacon could hear him rustling in the room, trying to get comfortable. A few minutes passed and the sound of quiet snoring started to fill the air. Deacon looked out of the window and saw streaks of rain drops rolling down the window pane. He was so involved in his own head that he hadn’t even noticed it was raining outside.
On the bottom of the windowsill, a small humming bird landed and looked at him unnervingly. It paused for a second before chirping a familiar sing song tune and darted away. Deacon knew he had heard the tune before but he couldn’t place where. He thought, and thought, until finally he gave up. He closed his eyes and within seconds he was felt his mind drift into sleep, as the tune rung through the back of his mind over, and over again.