Reed flapped her tiny green and blue wings as fast as she could, pushing her hummingbird forms agility to its fullest extent. She whizzed in-between armed guards and darted around perfectly manicured hedges before she spotted the large glass roofed building in the middle of the compound. Instinctively she tucked her wings tight to her body and darted up, parallel to the stone outer wall of the building.
She leveled herself off as she hovered high above the glass ceiling, getting a good view of the building’s surroundings. She spun around in a quick circle noticing two heat signatures unmoving behind a large bush close by through her fragmented field of vision. Knowing her team was in place, she zipped around the roof of the building looking for her entry point. She found the air vent located on the buildings south side, just like Murphy said, and with a little effort wriggled her small round body through the metal grates.
The vent was coated in dust and various odds and ends brought in by other animals; buttons, half chewed pencils, gum wrappers, and other small bits of trash. Another bird had even made a small nest housing three fully cracked eggs right next to the air vents exit. Reed didn’t want to wait to meet the family and instead flitted through the dusty shaft until she found an identical vent gate to the one she had entered through, leading directly into the guts of the building. Before she entered she noticed she could see the three levels of the plant and the three mammoth turbines from behind the grates thin slits. Her beak twitched up and down, as her eyes sporadically touched every corner of the buildings interior, familiarizing herself with the layout. She could see why Murphy had chosen for them to enter through the south entrance. Most of the plants activity was happening on the building’s north side. The south side appeared to mostly consist of a series of stairs and bridges leading to different stations along the buildings three platforms.
Reed squeezed herself through the grated vent and took off at a blistering pace downward following the closest descending staircase towards the building’s lowest platform. Without stopping, she darted in and out of various rooms along the platform, ducking and dodging as some of the scientists and hard laborers tried to swat her away as she entered and quickly exited one room after the next. She quickly located a door labeled AUTHORIZED LAB PERSONNEL ONLY and paused as a young scientist in slacks, a white t-shirt, and a white lab coat hustled out with his head buried in a clipboard. Before the door swung shut, she zipped in and discovered a large open locker room with ten rows of double decker lockers right in the room’s center and running along its walls. There was a long table right next to the door with stacks of identical, perfectly folded lab coats, white t-shirts, and slacks. There was also a separate pile of orange and yellow reflective vests and white shiny hard hats located on a separate table along the opposite wall.
She took a quick lap around the room, pleased to see it was empty. She flew to a secluded corner and quickly morphed back into her human form.
She walked over to the heavy metal door located on the back wall of the locker room and paused before pushing the door open. She looked around the door frame for any latches or trips that might set off an alarm. She was pretty sure she was at the right door but didn’t want to risk ruining the plan in the event that it wasn’t. She took a deep breath and knocked on the door three times hoping Deacon and Bobby were on the other side to reciprocate. Ten seconds went by and nothing, not a sound was returned. She knocked again, this time a little louder. The seconds ticked by in her head…5…6…7…8 until finally she heard a near quiet tap, tap, tap.
She pushed the door open from her side as Bobby and Deacon tumbled through the frame, landing at her feet in a pile.
“Geez, Reed, what took you so long?” Bobby said as he untangled himself and got back on his feet. “Another few seconds and we would have been caught for sure.”
Without a word Reed folded her arms across her chest, cocked her head to the side, and shifted her weight to one side of her hip.
Deacon had put his foot in his mouth around girls enough to know exactly what that look meant. They had come a long way since the whole bank thing a few weeks prior but deep down, Bobby was still terrible around girls as evidenced by this most recent transgression.
Luckily, they were in kind of a life and death situation which made it easy for Deacon to change the subject.
He punched Bobby in the arm and shrugged in Reed’s direction, apologetically. “Let’s blow these turbines and get out of here,” he said, looking around for their exit point.
“The entrance to the main floor is through here,” Reed said, leading them back through the maze of lockers. “But first, we have to look the part.”
Reed had spent a lot of time in her humming bird form. Over time she learned that seeing through the eyes of the humming bird was vastly different than seeing through her human eyes. It was a lot more erratic and required a high level of focus and concentration to make things out, especially during flight. As she wisped through the main level of the building on her way to let the boys in, she noticed something pretty important about the workers. The lab coated scientists were working along the tiered edges of the large pistons and in the center of the room only a hand-full of them meandered around the clear sound dampening Plexiglas encasement surrounding them. The men and women in hard hats however, they were the only ones that were working directly with the mammoth machine. Some of them were even taking turns poking their heads into the glass encasement every few minutes to take reading.
She put on a lab coat and handed each of them a hard hat and a reflective vest. To her surprise they had a surprising amount of weight to them which she attributed to a need for added protection against the pistons heat.
Deacon was fastening the strap on the inside of the helmet when his nerves started to bubble up inside of him. “Did you see the pistons?” he asked, now fidgeting with the buckles on the heavy vest.
Reed nodded her head as she adjusted the strap on Bobby’s helmet. The vest was a little big on him but as long as he stood up straight under the weight of it, he didn’t look too suspicious.
“They’re right through these doors and down the hallway. They’re in a big glass box, which should help you burn a little hotter. These vests should get you guys close enough to sneak in. Bobby will be close by you for the jump as soon as you blow them. I’ll be right outside the door running interference in case we need it.”
Deacon nodded his head in agreement. It wasn’t the best plan but at least it was a plan. Bobby, on the other hand, looked like he was about to puke.
“Come on,” Reed said, patting the now snug helmet on his head. “We don’t have much time.”
They pushed the doors open together and quickly matched the frenetic strides of everyone around them. Deacon couldn’t help but feel like he was a bee in a gargantuan beehive. Reed stayed a few paces in front of them with Deacon and Bobby flanking her on each side. She walked in like she owned the place, and everyone and everything in here belonged to her.
It was surprising how little attention they drew. Almost everyone was preoccupied with something or another. Still, they kept their eyes down and tried as hard as they could not to bump into anyone.
Reed stopped at the mouth of the long hallway. “There” she said tipping her head towards the glass encasement housing the three large pistons. End to end, the encasement was about the size of a full regulation basketball court and a little bit wider.
Deacon grabbed the fringes of his shirt and started twiddling the end inbetween his fingers as he swallowed hard to wet his mouth. As they stood, his feet started to cramp. He then noticed that he was digging his toes firmly into the soles of his shoes unintentionally, and relaxed them.
“Come on,” Reed said, leading the way once again. “Get in, blow this thing sky high, and get out.” With that she took the metal steps like a General into battle and marched towards the pistons with her army of two in tow.
Bobby had picked up a stack of papers he found lying on a rolling construction cart along the way and was pretending to read them as he walked, helping him blend in as well as focus his nerves on something physical. Deacon hadn’t noticed it before but most of the scientists around them were young or at least somewhere around his age.. It probably had something to do with why nobody paid any attention to three new faces walking around in lab coats and reflective vests. They probably see new faces in this place everyday.
Reed led them down to the flat stone floor below the buildings lowest tier, weaving her way past multiple mobile work stations as if they were bright buzzing land mines. On this level you could feel a dull thud run through the floor every time a piston pounded on its descent. In a weird way this floor was louder than the tier above them, with everyone shouting and barking orders over one another.
Reed stopped at a vacant work station, picked up two loose papers, and started staring at them intensely. “The entrance is right there,” She said as Deacon and Bobby settled next to her. They both pretended to look at the papers with interest as she continued. “The coast looks clear, it’s now or never. I’m here running interference if need be. Remember we have the comm links up if things go south.”
Bobby stepped towards the piston first and Deacon followed a step behind. He hadn’t realized how big the pistons were until he got up close. Murphy had said they were the size of an SUV but really they each were the size of a monster truck – and just as intimidating to stare down.
Bobby put his hand on the small of Deacons back and gave him a nudge. “Go on, fire boy,” he said with a reassuring smile. “You’re up.”
Deacon hadn’t even noticed he had stopped walking. Bobby picked up a wrench from a tool bag sitting on the floor and begun fidgeting with some piping right outside the entrance to the glass encasement. Bobby turned his head towards him and gave him a nod before turning back to his fake wrenching.
Deacon took a deep breath and pushed the heavy glass door to the encasement open, feeling the intense heat blast him in the face and neck. It burned for a second, but quickly turned to an almost soothing feeling coursing throughout his body. With the friction of each plunge of the pistons, one against the other, sparks rained down from the heavy hinges connecting the three pistons, raining down onto the floor and dancing in every which direction. He had no real knowledge of how these things worked but somehow he knew that’s where he had to aim.
Deacon closed his eyes and breathed in deep, letting the hot air fill his chest and lungs. He remembered Reed’s advice back in the attic, “Close your eyes,” she had said. “Concentrate. Feel the difference in your body.” He felt the familiar edge run through his veins and found the switch within that he had learned to control from training with Silas.
He opened his eyes and his entire arms were covered in wild red and orange flames. He extended them outward, towards the pistons, and shot streams of intense fire directly at the hinge. He felt himself burning hotter and hotter and within seconds fire had filled the entire glass encasement. He focused, harder and harder, to keep his fire on the hinges. He could feel the metal bend beneath his blaze but he still poured it on, kept burning hotter still.
Within minutes, a small portion of the hinge, melted and the center piston fell out of place, smashing sideways into the pistons on either side of it. Both of the outer pistons broke free under the weight of the now supernova-level fire and fell hard towards the floor. It wasn’t until then that Deacon had noticed the entire building had activated their evacuation procedures. People were frantically running around trying to get to the nearest exit. Some of them were trying to use emergency phones on the walls, but instead were banging them on the receivers frustrated at the loss of power.
Static buzzed in his ear causing him to lose focus. He turned around and saw Reed and Bobby screaming into the comm units in their ears. The heat emanating from his body must have damaged his, as their words were now coming through as garbled gibberish. He took one last breath and exerted all of the energy he had left, filling the entirety of the glass in fire, before extinguished his flames. He didn’t wait to admire the effects of his work as he turned and ran to the glass doors as fast as he could.
Bobby was already holding Reed by the arm and without saying a word, grabbed him mid stride. Bobby closed his eyes and scrunched his face as a strange feeling came over Deacon, as if his body were being turned inside out. The next thing he know his vision turned black, sulfur filled his nostrils, and without warning was now falling face first into the back seat of an empty SUV.
“What…what the hell…was that?” Deacon managed through fits of guttural coughing.
“Sorry, Sorry,” Bobby said, pulling himself back together. He landing flat on his stomach on the SUV’s back row of seats. “Didn’t have time to warn you about the jump. Breathe deep, that I-really-want-to-vomit feeling will go away in a second.”
Reed did the same, spread across the driver’s and passenger’s seats. She held her hand on her ribs as she rolled her body into a sitting position in the drivers side seat, with her back against the door.
“What now?” Bobby asked, now in a sitting position with his back against the door also. “How do they know it’s time for phase 2?”
“I don’t think we’ll have to tell them anything.” Reed looked out of the passenger’s side window in front of her, wide eyed. She pointed with her free hand towards the direction of the power plant.
In the distance, black plumes of smoke billowed out of the top of the building. Through the dark tinted windows of the SUV, they heard the sounds of panicked voices yelling close by and the sounds of boots running on the hard concrete.
Bobby cracked a wide smile beaming from ear to ear. “Looks like the plan worked.”
Reed and Deacon looked at each other incredulously, floored that they were actually able to pull it off. Bobby slapped himself on the forehead, laughing as he let his body fall on the seat and, within seconds, they were all laughing together. Whether exhaustion or joy no one knew, but between the three of them neither wanted to let the moment pass.
Murphy and Michael had managed to get their hands on two guard uniforms: full black fatigues, complete with knee and shoulder pads, kevlar gloves, lightweight tactical vests, and heavy reinforced helmets with pull down visors. They looked like kids playing dress up in their dad’s work clothes but as they walked around the campus, – openly – no one batted an eye at them. It probably had something to do with the big German Shepherd striding in-between them.
Murphy elbowed Michael in the ribs, before the familiar low vibration of Murphy’s thoughts made its way into his head. “It looks like they pulled it off,” he said, gesturing towards the black cloud of smoke filling the sky.
Silas let out a loud bark, and picked up his pace, leading them towards a small concrete building tucked away in the back of the compound. Michael hadn’t voiced them, but secretly, he doubted the validity of Murphy’s reasoning behind choosing this building as the one they were keeping Jon in. As they approached, he started to soften his stance as the building was visibly different than the others around it. For one it was made of solid concrete and was much smaller and secluded than the others.
“This is going to happen fast,” Murphy said again. “Stay close.” The entire campus suddenly came to life around them. Armed guards emptied out of the surrounding buildings like water pouring out of an open fire hydrant, running towards the smoke.
Silas barked and took off in a dead sprint toward the buildings door a few yards away. Murphy took off after him and Michael, behind him. It was all a blur. They darted in between guards shouting orders to one another, and jumped over hedges and bushes before bounding up to the threshold of the door. Murphy pulled a small square device out of his pocket, and pulled a long metallic cord out of the top of it. He attached the head of the cord to the square security pad next to the buildings heavy metal door and typed furiously into its touch screen pad. Within seconds the door let out a series of slow clicks followed by the sound of metal rods shifting and moving within its guts. Murphy yanked the cord away from the metal box and they both pulled on the handle, just enough for the three of them to squeeze inside before the doors quickly slid themselves shut behind them.
“That was close,” Murphy thought to them, proudly. “I didn’t think the hack would work on any of these new model doors.”
Silas morphed back into his human form and let out a deep breath as he unfolded his limbs and rolled to an upright position. He ran his hands through his long hair and stretched as he caught his breath. His face was red with sweat beading around his brow.
“Remember, no words. I wouldn’t doubt it if this place is bugged. I’ve got us all linked and I’ve got my dampeners in,” he pointed to the blue earpiece in his ear as he finished his thought.
They were in a long high ceilinged hallway with plain white walls, and columns of fluorescent lighting running the length of the space. They traveled down the long hallway at a pace somewhere in between a jog and a full sprint, until they made it to an open door frame at the end of the hall. Silas approached it cautiously and peered into the seemingly endless darkness.
“I can’t see anything,” he thought to the three of them without turning around. “Hold on, I’ll check it out.” He took a few steps back and ran directly at the open space. Just as he hit the opening he leapt into the darkness and was swallowed, without a sound.
As a reflex, Michael started to run after him, but with a firm grip Murphy grabbed him by the shoulder. He snapped back, feeling a shooting pain from Murphy’s tight grip. Momentarily he forgot who was behind him, but relaxed when he saw Murphy staring at him.
“Don’t worry,” Murphy thought. “He knows what he’s doing.” He loosened his grip.
He shook his head before turning back to the dark doorway. Michael didn’t think he would ever get used to having people speak directly into his head. For one it made his entire skull vibrate, not to mention his skin crawl. It also sounded exactly like the person’s actual speaking voice, which he thought was just weird.
With each passing second the silent tension in the room built ten fold. The dry moldy air circulated around them like thick molasses.
Emanating out of the depths of the blackness, a shallow thumping sound floated down the openness of the hallway. First slow and faint, but gradually increasing in pace and severity. Michael readied himself for whatever was coming their way. There was nothing around him to manipulate as a weapon, but hopefully whatever was coming at them had something he could improvise with.
Louder and louder it came, until two large piercing yellow eyes came careening directly towards him. He fell back onto the floor, flat on his back. Attached to them was the large body and outstretched wings of a very intimidating jet-black owl. It floated in the air right in front of him, before setting itself down on the floor. He heard Silas’s familiar laugh vibrate through his head as the bird’s body started to change shape in front of him.
“Dude, you should have seen your face,” Silas thought while grinning.
Michael felt his face grow hot with embarrassment and released the tension in his shoulders and arms.
Silas punched him playfully in the shoulder before continuing. “Coast is clear. There’s a staircase that leads directly downwards to another hallway. Once you get down there it’s all lit up. Zero visibility getting down there, though.”
Murphy shook his head contemplatively. “Michael, if you lead can you feel your way down?”
“No idea… To be honest with you, I’ve never tried anything completely blind before. If you say it’s clear, I don’t see why I can’t.”
“Just what I like to hear. You lead the way. Silas can you get back in your owl form and follow above?”
“You got it,” He responded.
“Good. Here we go, then.”
Michael walked to the gaping black threshold and took a deep breath. He closed his eyes and focused. He had gotten pretty good at using his ability to move things with his mind; he had begun to master using spatial recognition. Locating stationary things even when blinded, especially if they were interconnected in some way, shouldn’t be much different. He opened his mind and literally tried to feel, everything in front of him. He took a step, trusting himself and planted a foot firmly on the first step below him. He took another and another, slowly descending deeper and deeper down feeling both Murphy behind him and Silas above. He felt the air around him shift getting warmer and warmer the deeper underground they went. Before long he could feel the light at the end of the staircase that Silas had seen. He quickened his pace taking the last few steps two at a time until they made their way through the open threshold at the bottom of the staircase.
“He’s here,” Murphy thought. “Jon’s here, somewhere on this level. I can feel him.”
This hallway was similar to one they had just left, except that it was lined with doors on each side. It was almost like they had stepped out of reality and into a horror movie; waiting to get murdered by someone behind one of these doors.
Silas walked up to the closed door and held the doorknob tight. He gave it a hard twist but it didn’t budge. He tried it again this time putting his shoulder into it. Again the door stood firm.
“Any ideas, big brain?” he thought, nodding his head towards Murphy.
“I…can’t feel him anymore. He was here and then, all of a sudden he wasn’t.”
“Well, what are the odds that he’d be behind any of these doors?”
“Slim, to be honest. But I have an Idea.” Murphy pulled out a second blue earbud and handed it to Michael. “Do your thing.”
Michael took it out of Murphy’s hand, having no clue what he meant. “Do…my thing?”
“Open your mind and feel the room.” Murphy put his hand on Michael’s shoulder. “I’m going to use your powers to amplify our range. With your tactile telekinesis and my electromagnetic transduction, we’ll find him. Really open it up. The more you can feel the more I can pull from.”
Michael closed his eyes and did what had become so easy to him in the last few weeks. He flipped the switch inside of him and felt the walls around him. He felt the moth on the ceiling directly above them flap its wings, sending small momentary ripples in the air all around them. He felt the currents of hot air pump through the air vents along the far wall 50 feet away from them. He felt the weight of each of the heavy wooden doors lining each side of the hall. He felt the itch of someone poking around in the back of his head, not maliciously, more of a probing of sorts. It didn’t take more than a few seconds until he realized it was the Murphy. He felt the magnet that was Murphy’s mind dart from surface to surface, trying to pin point any familiar sign of life.
That’s when everything went wrong.
Michael felt an excruciating pain run through his head. Like someone had jammed a metal spike deep into the back of his skull and twisted it. He snapped out of his mind state, and doubled over to the ground, clutching his head in agony. Through his screams he felt another body drop hard onto the floor next to him, followed by the loud billowy roar of something nearby. He tried to open his eyes despite the pain, but only got blurry half images. He saw a large brown blob flailing its massive limbs, the source of the roar. Then he felt three sharp jabs right in his sternum, and everything started to melt into one liquid image. Almost immediately, his breath started to go ragged and his body started to convulse in short quick intervals. The brown blob collapsed to the ground with a heavy thud, and three smaller black blobs took its place, spreading along the length of the hallway as they came closer and closer. One of the blobs brought itself down to his level, and rolled him onto his back. The convulsions stopped, but it took all of his energy to breathe, let alone keep from passing out.
“This is the kid, the boss was so afraid of?” The man asking the question had a voice like gravel. He tilted Michael’s head with his gloved hand and shone a white light into both of his eyes with the other.
“Beats me,” Another man answered from some place behind him. “Let’s just get ‘em out of here, before the shape shifter comes too.”
“Yeah, yeah, I hear you.”
The gravel voiced man pulled the light out of his eyes and rolled him onto his stomach, making it doubly hard for Michael to breathe. He pulled both of his hands behind his back fastening them tightly together before pulling him upright.
“Is he still awake?” A different man asked, picking his almost limp head off of his chest. “Three tranquilizers and this kid is still up. Maybe Vic was on to something with this one.”
“Yeah well, I’m not going to wait around to find out.” The gravel voiced man said curtly.
He handed Michael’s twitching body over to another man, who spun him around quickly. Through the haze, all Michael could see was a black flash flicker in front of him, before landing with the force of a brick wall directly on his temple. He heard laughter fade out all around him as his vision went dark.
Michael woke up in a dimly lit room with a splitting headache and a strange metallic taste in his mouth. He took long heavy breaths, as he felt his lungs work overtime, pulling hot sticky air in, and pushing hotter stickier air out. The sheer heat of his breath caused him to cough, hacking up globs of black blood onto the concrete floor. As he tried to gain control of his lungs,he tried to connect the dots..
Just as he started to pull himself onto his feet, the rusty hinges of a metal door screeched open behind him, exacerbating his throbbing headache.
“Glad to see you’re not dead.” Slow footsteps bounced off of the walls as the gravely words crept slowly towards him on the air. “Maybe I should have hit you a little harder, huh? Maybe I’m losing my touch.”
The man made his way around the room until he stood face to face with Michael. He had a square head, a crooked nose, and a scar running down the left side of his cheek. He pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and lit it, taking a deep drag in, and a slow exhale out deliberately blowing smoke directly into Michael’s face.
He coughed another rough, guttural couch, spitting more blood onto the floor in front of him. As he lurched forward he realized that his hands were bound tightly behind him.
“Honestly kid, I don’t see it,” he continued, this time blowing smoke out of the side of his mouth. “How is it that you are the one with the most power? The fire kid sure, the shape shifter –ok. Heck even the little brainy kid makes sense. But you? What do you do?”
The fire kid. Did they get Deacon and the others too? Michael thought to himself.
The man pulled a small metal square out of his pocket and pushed a tiny round button on its surface. A blue light begun to blink as he pulled a sticky adhesive off of the device’s back side. He walked over to Michael and placed the sticky side on Michael’s temple.
“That should keep you civil for the time being.” The man said with a broad smile. Based on the way his face looked, he had probably broken more than one of his facial bones over time.
A low buzz filled his ears and inched its way into his head. With each passing second, he could feel the internal switch he had become so adept at turning on and off drift farther and farther away.
“Come on, get up.”
The man pulled him to his feet and unlocked the shackles around his hands and wrists. With unnecessary force, he pushed him forward with a strong forearm to his upper-back. Michael toppled head first into the door frame with a loud crack as his head hit the metal. The man laughed and grabbed him by the shoulders before his body could tumble backwards onto the floor. He set him upright and gave him another shove in the back, this one less forceful.
Michael stumbled into a hallway lined with rooms just like the one he had woken up in. On the outside of each room was a steel door with a heavy lock and a glass window, allowing outsiders a clear view of the happenings within. Inside of each cell was the vacuous shell of a person. It was hard for him to tell, but if he had to guess based on height and general facial features, most of them were close to his age.
He passed room after room and immediately thought of Pete. Looking at the broken people sitting inside of the tiny white walled rooms, he wished for nothing more than to help them. It was odd to him though, that no one noticed him walking by. He thought about his own room and didn’t remember a window at all.
Maybe they only see one one-way? He thought to himself.
He walked by the cell of a tiny little girl with a mane of long brown hair, curled up in the corner of her room, crying into her tucked knees. Her long brown hair parted, as she looked up from her crying position and locked eyes with him through the glass. Her eyes were a bright electric green and her face was covered in dirt and mud.
The guard pushed him again, steering him further down the hall. They eventually cleared all of the rooms and stopped abruptly at a floor to ceiling sliding steel door with a giant letter X painted in red on it. The guard walked to a key pad on the doors right panel, pulled off his glove, and placed his palm and fingers flat on the sensor. After a few seconds of beeps and lights, the door opened with a slow hiss.
Behind the door, was the most sophisticated laboratory Michael had ever seen. Robotic arms swung high overhead, picking things up from one area and moving them to another with unmatched speed and precision. Large monitors lined the walls and technicians dressed in lab coats steadily buzzed from one keyboard to the next as if they were the only ones in the room. Deacon, Silas, Murphy, Jon and Bobby were strapped to reclining metal chairs in the center of the room. Positioned next to them, with her arms handcuffed to a pole above her head, was the bruised and bloodied body of Avery. There were two empty chairs next to the group.. He soon figured out that one was intended for him, and the other must have been reserved for Reed.
He scanned the room once again, looking for any sign of Reed. The guard behind him grabbed him by the arm and dragged him towards the rest of the group. He threw him onto the chair, again using more force than necessary, and strapped his forearms and wrists to the chairs cold metal arms.
Sitting in the chair he realized they were positioned on a circular platform. 100 feet above them was a domed concrete ceiling. He couldn’t help but feel as if he was trapped in a giant cage.
“Pleasure for you to join us, Mr. Wheeler. I’ve waited a long time to finally meet you in person.”
The words came from somewhere behind his chair and were lost on him almost as soon as he heard them. It was the same voice that penetrated his head the night Pete died and he knew exactly who it was. Footsteps echoed off of the concrete floor behind him; one after the other, each getting louder and louder. He could feel his heart pumping faster and faster in anticipation.
A man in a perfectly pressed black suit walked into view and stood over him. He had a buzz cut and a strong angular jawline, the kind you only see on people in movies. He looked Michael over for a few seconds before turning to look at the guard who had brought him in.
“What happened to his face?” He asked the guard, almost sounding sincere.
“He walked into a door on the way over,” the guard responded. Michael couldn’t see the guard’s face sitting in his chair, but he imagined he said it with a smirk.
The suited man turned back to him. He looked him over once again, this time touching his bruised temple with one hand. “Good,” he said, flashing a toothy smile.
“My name is Victor. Or Ghost, whichever you prefer. I believe I am the one you and your… friends here were looking for.”
The next couple of hours were excruciating. They passed like sand dripping though an hourglass. All Deacon could remember was being in the SUV with Jon and Reed laughing after they successfully blew up the generators and then a series of smoke filled cans crashed through the window turning the SUV into a death trap. The next thing he knew he woke up here in this weird lab with a headache, to an uncomfortable metal chair beneath him, and a small blinking metal box stuck to the side of his head.
The lot of them were poked and prodded with needles of all sizes until their arms were blue and purple with bruises. It took him a few minutes to realize that his headache was somehow connected to the guy who called himself Victor, as the buzzing in his head started from around his temple and amplified whenever Victor was in close proximity. If Victor was in earshot the buzzing would spin around his skull angrily until he walked away. Deacon knew it wasn’t just him feeling the effects of their current situation. Bobby looked like his entire body was experiencing extreme rigor mortis everything the man walked past him.
Deacon tried multiple times to flip the switch inside of him to activate his fire, but to his shock he couldn’t find it. Not even that he couldn’t find it, it was almost as if it wasn’t there to begin with. He closed his eyes and focused harder and harder to find any sign of it, but the only thing he found was an extreme case of the spins when he re-opened his eyes. Judging by the look on Murphy’s face he had already made this discovery on his own.
“Ah, good. It looks like the serum has finally worn of on the lot of you.” Victor, floated over to them with inhuman effortlessness, as if traveling on a cloud. “Now that you are all lucid, we can begin the lesson.”
Silas must have been the one he was talking about because he looked like he was a newborn baby trying to learn how to control its head and neck. His mop of black hair covered his face as his head swayed side to side like a metronome.
“Running through your heads right this minute must be the worst case of fear and dread you’ve ever felt in your young lives,” he said plainly. “Well, before I turn those feeling legitimate, I feel I owe you at least a brief explanation as to how you have grown to be the way you are.” He turned and walked towards the center of the room, his shoes clicking on the floor with each step. “That is, before I kill you of course,” he said over his shoulder.
A circular console rose from the center of the floor right on cue. He tapped some buttons on the glowing surface of the console and a light blue sphere of light engulfed the circular platform around them. It flickered and shimmered almost like it was made of a million pieces of electric thread all sewn together. Their chairs tilted from their slightly reclined position until they were seatd upright. The head strap separated into two, and rescinded within the headrest; for the first time in hours, Deacon could move his head and neck of his own volition.
Immediately his eyes locked on his friends, strapped to identical metal chairs in varying states of pain and torture sitting next to him. Silas looked like he had lost 10 pounds and was even paler than usual. His arms hung limp at his sides unrestrained. His long black hair engulfed his face like it was an overgrown plant. Michael’s face was covered in bruises and he had a big gash on his forehead with a matching black eye; nonetheless, he was deadlocked on the man who had just promised to kill them as if he was looking for a chance to kill him first. Jon and Bobby were sitting side by side, with matching black eyes. With every breath Bobby took it looked like his ribs were ready to collapse. Jon sat hunched over to his left side and Deacon could see he had a black and purple bruise creeping up the right side of his neck. Murphy was strapped down tight. His eyes darted back and forth between him and Michael. It was some kind of message he was sure, but he couldn’t figure it out. He wondered why Murphy wouldn’t just speak into his head, when he noticed the same small metallic device on his temple too.
A holographic image of the globe appeared on the blue sphere of light surrounding them, spinning around them slowly as if it was a living thing. Little red dots popped up one after the other in quick succession all around them until there were to many to count. “You are not normal,” Victor began, pacing around the circle as he spoke. “I know you think that you are just the same as your peers, but I am happy to tell you that you are not. It is not natural for anyone to be able to defy the laws of humanity the way that you do.” He walked over to a nearby dot and tapped it with his finger. The entire sphere shifted, and zoomed in to show a small young girl sitting on top of a skyscraper by herself eating an apple and looking down on the zigzagging city streets below her. “You do things that other people dream about. ‘Superheroes,’ is what they would call you.” He made sure to turn to the group when he put air quotes around the word superheroes. “But rest assured, my little lab rats, you are not heroes… no-no, not in the slightest. What you are, are genetic freaks.”
He turned back to the girl on the skyscraper. She stood up, tossed the apple core into the air, and watched it plummet to the ground below her with a whimsical smile. Then she turned and sprinted to the other end of the roof. Her smile grew wider as she approached the edge, where she took one giant leap forward off of the building and ascended into the air. Her hair billowed wildly around her as she floated slowly upwards, with her arms outstretched. In midair she tucked them close, and shot into the clouds and out of sight like a rocket.
He tapped the screen again, and this time six non-descript human bodies appeared on the screen, spinning slowly in place. Each body began to dissolve and turn into identical DNA strands. “You are different,” he continued. “You are abominations.”
The images of the DNA strands began to change all around them one by one. They multiplied into many different strands and converged on themselves, creating one thick vine of DNA. The screen quickly changed to images of people morphing into different things. A tall, muscular, bald man on a boat plunged into the water and turned into a massive great white shark before diving out of sight into the depths of the ocean. A young boy hiding behind a trash can in the back of an alley wearing torn tattered clothes morphed into a pigeon and started picking at the trash for scraps of food that had been thrown out by a nearby restaurant. An adult man living in a shantytown sat on the floor of his makeshift house one second, and the next he disappeared in a cloud of smoke. The image changed again, showing two twin boys levitating building blocks and throwing them against their bedroom wall before bursting into laughter.
“You probably have cute nicknames for the things that you do. Quite frankly, I don’t care what you call yourselves or your respective abilities. All I care about is making sure that creatures like you don’t exist.”
“Why?” Michael said through a swollen jaw. “Why are you doing this?”
“Ah, yes the million dollar question,” Victor answered, tussling Michaels hair as if they were lifelong friends. “What you see around you is the most high tech genetic laboratory in the world. Here, in this place, with this equipment and these minds you see buzzing about like bees we have found cures for some of this worlds deadliest diseases and disabilities. AIDS, MS, Asperger’s, you name it we either have a cure for it or are dangerously close to one. ”
“That’s it?” Bobby asked through heavy breaths. “You went through all of the trouble to capture us just so you can cure diseases?”
“Oh, no-no-no, you misinterpret my meaning my young friend,” behind him the spinning globe reappeared. “Curing diseases is easy. It’s creating diseases that’s the difficult part.”
“Creating Diseases?” Jon asked, confused.
“Not just diseases. Weapons.” The image behind him changed again, showing men in masks, and combat suits, wrecking havoc on villages all across the world using various super human abilities. “Your existence is a travesty. But with the wonders of science we have been able to harness it and use it for our own purposes. We’ve come across teleporters, telepaths, and shape shifters before. Those abilities are tricky to harness, but we’ve been able to adapt them to suit our needs. But, a telekinetic power mimic and a user of fire? Those are few and far between.”
Power Mimic? Deacon thought to himself. Was he talking about Michael? So far all he had ever seen Michael do was use telekinesis, could he really mimic powers?
“You’re creating soldiers.” Murphy said bewildered. “Using normal humans and somehow giving them abilities like our own for your own gain.”
“And why shouldn’t we?” Victor said, standing face to face with Murphy now, this time with no playfulness in his voice. “Why should a little runt like you be gifted with such power if you’re not going to use it for anything real. We are shaping the world around us. We are giving power to those who deserve it. We are shaping our destiny. You are just some genetic freak who happened to luck into these inhuman abilities of yours.” He walked back to the center of platform for all of them to see him. “I am creating here, what nature intended to create with you. I am giving power to those that have the ambition and the means to use it wisely.”
“And who gets to decide who deserves these abilities?” Silas asked. Some of his color had returned and he looked like he had regained some of his edge as well. “Whoever has the deepest pockets? Is that it?”
“I will admit it is beneficial to have friends with ample monetary means,” Victor replied with a smile. “But rest assured. Your abilities in particular Mr. Moses, and Mr. Wheeler, will be kept very close to me.” His smile got even wilder as he finished his sentence. He tapped a few buttons on the center console once again and the blue bubble vanished. “Now, without any further delay, I believe our time together has come to an end.” He motioned towards the edge of the platform, where a group of scientists had gathered. One of them unchained Avery from her position and hoisted her onto his shoulder. Michael looked at her limp body wide-eyed and crazy as the man crossed his path before he ducked his head, hiding his tears.
“No…” He whispered under his breath, just loud enough for Victor to hear.
Victor had just begun to walk off of the platform, until he turned around and made his way towards Michael. He leaned in close and paused for a moment.
“What was that?” He said, loud enough for everyone to here. “Please, do speak up.”
Michael looked up, with blood shot eyes and tears streaming down his cheeks and stared his captor square in the eyes. “I will bury you in this place.” He said through gritted teeth. “I will break your neck, and take your life the same way you took Pete’s.”
Victor pulled away and let out a deep exhale. “This is what I mean.” He said, patting Michael on the head gently like a schoolteacher would a student. “You can’t handle these abilities. You’re too short sighted.”
He turned and walked away and within seconds had disappeared behind a set of double doors in front of them. Michael kept his eyes locked straight in front of him. Deacon flashed back to the night at the cabin where he had told himself to dig deeper into the darkness inside of Michael’s eyes when he had the chance. Based on the look on Michael’s face, it was too late. He was now completely broken. His body started to shake in its restraints before they fell off in a heap of mangled metal onto the floor as his body levitated above the ground.
The ground began to shake around them, as if the earth itself was angry. The small blinking metal square on Michael’s head beeped louder and louder until it stared smoking and popped off in a small fizz of smoke and sparks. Deacon felt his own get hotter and hotter before combusting with a sharp crackle and a few sparks. The same thing happened to the rest of them. Almost instantly, he felt the low hum disappear in his head and felt the fire in him bubble up from deep inside.
It’s now or never, Murphy shouted through their heads. Bobby, Jon, grab Avery and get out of here. Get as far away from here as you can. We’ll be right behind you.
Everyone leave, Michael answered back. The restraints holding them undid themselves the same way the devices had imploded of their own accord. It was then that Deacon realized it was Michael’s doing. “I’m bringing this place down,” He finished aloud.
Deacon stood up from his chair, looking at the scientists back away around them. “Not without me, your not.” He flipped the switch and engulfed his arms in flames. He nodded towards Michael, who didn’t return his nod but didn’t exactly refute it either.
Silas stood and stretched his wiry frame. “I just spent hours getting stuck by needles. Someone in this place has to pay for that. Am I right?” His mischievous smile flashed across his face before he turned into the biggest Bear Deacon had ever seen in his life.
Without a word, Jon and Bobby grabbed Avery from the man’s shoulder and disappeared away in a black sulfur cloud. Silas let out a loud roar that bounced off of the stone walls, getting everyone’s attention. Michael started picking up as many things as he could with his telekinesis and threw them against the walls. Deacon sent streams of fire at every piece of electrical equipment he could see. Within seconds the entire laboratory was a mess of flames and broken multi-million dollar equipment.
All of the workers ran frantically for the exits, pushing one another.
“Murphy, where did Victor go?” Michael asked.
“That way,” Murphy answered, pointing to a set of doors at the opposite end of the platform. “He’s shielding himself somehow so I can’t pin point him, but he’s definitely that way.”
“I’m going after him. Get everyone out of here. I’m going to find him, and end this once and for all.”
Murphy started to answer but before he could Michael darted off towards the doors.
“I’ll get his back,” Deacon shouted over his shoulder as he run after Michael. “Just get everyone out of here quick before anything major happens.”
Michael could feel his heart pumping harder and harder through his chest. He had never felt as in control of his abilities as he had in this moment. He imagined long tendril like fingers gripping everything around him as he ripped things form the walls and floors. He imagined the fingers pushing the door open as he approached them, breaking them off their hinges, and sending them careening backwards. The doors knocked a contingent of armed guards making their way to the chaos that he had had just left in the other room onto their backs. Some of them got to their feet quickly, reaching for their weapons now strewn about the floor.
As they started to regain the footing from the momentary obstacle, Deacon threw fireballs at their feet, causing them to scatter like ants in every direction. Michael reached out and grabbed as many of them as he could and threw their bodies against the walls with enough force to knock them unconscious.
Some of the guards began to retreat, heading back into the further recesses of the building. Michael ran behind them ripping everything he could off their surroundings and throwing it in their general direction. He wasn’t trying to hit them per say, more trying to scare them into leading them where he wanted to go. Deacon throw balls of fire into every room they passed, ensuring they weren’t missing an opportunity to destroy something important.
They followed the men through the twists and turns of the hallways for less than five minutes until eventually they were bounding up a long flight of stairs side by side. The stairs let out into a large warehouse with high windows overhead letting in streams of light.
Standing in the middle of the warehouse was Victor, flanked on either side by Z and Q, the electricity-wielding duo of psychopaths.
“You two could have gone quietly,” Victor started. “Instead I will have to beat this lesson into you, by force.” He begun to roll up his sleeve as his two bodyguards flanked either side of him.
“Michael, these guys are no joke. We have to do this together if we have any chance to make it out of this alive.” Deacon looked at Michael as he spoke, but his words fell on deaf ears. Michael wasn’t listening to anyone anymore.
Before they could formulate a plan, Q and Z charged, hands and arms engulfed in bright snakes of lightning. Michael charged too, sprinting forward as fast as he could. Before they could hit him, he planted his foot in the ground and jumped high into the air vaulting over them and descended down from above onto Victor.
Deacon engulfed his entire body in flames and shot forward, melting the ground with each step he took. He wasn’t thrilled to have been left fighting two against one, but he figured since he had fought them before he was probably the better of the two to go up against them. Besides, he had just spent hours in a chair being treated like a test subject; if these guys really wanted a fist full of fire, he was more than happy to oblige.
Z and Q flanked him, throwing quick bolts of lightning at him, which he dodged easily. He had only been fully engulfed a couple of times, but he knew it zapped his energy in a hurry. The longer this fight went on, the quicker he figured both he and Michael would lose.
By now the rest of the team should have been out of the building, which gave him a little bit of comfort.
Both Z and Q threw bolt after bolt at him at alternating clips. They circled him, making sure they didn’t stay in any one position for more than a second. They were making him decide if he was going to attack them and inevitably take damage in the process, or play defense and tire himself out dodging their attacks. He had to admit; it was a pretty good plan on their part.
He noticed that they were steering clear of each other, making sure they weren’t getting close enough to throw off one another’s timing. He waited until after they had both thrown their bolts before he charged at Z, he wasn’t trying to hit him, just throw off their timing enough to force an opening. Deacon heated a small ball of fire in his hands and beaned it at the ground in front of Z. Z didn’t notice till it was too late. The fireball hit the ground and exploded at his feet, sending him flying head over heels into the hard concrete floor. Q reacted to it, momentarily running towards his fallen twin. Deacon put his foot in the ground and turned on a dime, covering the space between them with quickness he didn’t know he had. He heated another small ball in his hand and struck Q square in the chest with it. Q had some type of electric shield covering him, which Z must not have had, because as it exploded Deacon felt some kind of force push back at him.
The explosion was strong enough to send Q flying backwards, hitting the ground with a hard bone cracking thud. Deacon turned; ready to lob another fireball at Z who was peeling himself off of the ground, only to see the image of him momentarily flicker in and out. He thought he had imagined it, maybe it was fatigue but then it happened again; a quick flicker like he was a hologram.
He turned back to Q who was back on his feet, taking shaky steps. Without giving him time to regroup, Deacon shot forward, throwing balls of fire at him one after the next. Q jumped out of the way narrowly dodging each of them, but Deacon didn’t let up. He charged after him, now throwing full streams of fire at him anticipating where he would run next. Q tried to throw lightning back at him, but he was still feeling the effects of the exploding fireball he had been hit with.
Deacon dug deep, and threw three big fireballs at Q who was now laboring in his attempt to flee. The biggest of the three hit him square in his back and sent him careening into the concrete. Deacon turned around expecting to see Z attacking him from behind, but instead his body was gone.
“I’m done…playing this…cat and mouse shit,” Q said through gritted bloody teeth. He pulled himself up off of the ground, coughing up blood as he righted himself. He covered himself in waves of electric current. They rippled off of him like a hundred angry snakes looking for something to attack. He lowered his head and charged at Deacon, shooting large bolts of lightning at him like an animal as he covered the distance between them. Deacon let him come, counting his steps carefully and dodging the bolts, one after the other. Deacon focused on creating a small fireball in the closed palm of each of his hand. As Z crossed the halfway mark between them, Deacon ran straight for him, matching him stride for stride.
Now within arms reach, Z reared back ready to unleash all of the energy he had in him, when Deacon ducked low and thrust both palms forward into his chest. He imagined in his mind the most intense, white hot controlled flame he could and willed the energy into his palms before releasing it. Simultaneously Z unleashed his blast of stored lightning. Both blasts connected with one another and imploded in a blaze of blistering hot energy, sending them both flying backwards from impact.
Deacon tumbled backwards end over end, barrel rolling hard into the concrete floor. He lay on the floor, aching from head to toe coughing heavy violent coughs as if he were an old man who had been chain smoking for 50 years. He rolled himself onto his hands and knees and forced up balls of hot blood from inside him as he caught his breath. He looked around blurry eyed and saw Q lying against the wall opposite him, motionless.
He panned the room looking for any sign of Michael through his blurry double vision. As his eyes refocused themselves, Michael’s frame came into view. His left arm slung limp by his side unmoving. He took each step with a limp and looked like he was having trouble concentrating on his abilities.
Deacon pulled himself to his feet and dug deep, summoning more fire from within him. He could feel his body fighting to comply with his request, as it took considerably more effort to sustain the flames this time around. He ran towards Michael with legs made out of lead.
As he approached, he noticed Michael’s face was bloodied and his clothes were ripped to shreds. Victor was standing 50 feet away from him. His clothes were torn around his arms and he had a bruise on the side of his forehead, but other than that he seemed unharmed. In fact he was smiling, like he was enjoying the fight.
Victor sprinted forward covering the distance between he and Michael too fast for Michael to react. Deacon, out of desperation, anticipated Victor’s path and let go a stream of fire in-between the two of them, effectively separating the two in a wall of fire. He had little faith he could hit him, but at the very least he could mess up his plan of attack.
Victor jumped into the air somersaulting backwards hitting the ground softly on his descent, dodging the fire with ease.
“I see you’re still alive,” he said to Deacon dusting off his shirt. “What a pity.”
Deacon finally made it to Michael who had fallen to one knee, exhausted. He looked in pretty bad shape from a distance, but up close it was ten times worse. His face was covered in blood and his right eye was almost swollen shut. His left arm was dislocated, if not broken all together, and he was visibly having trouble breathing and focusing his eyesight.
“Dude, we can’t beat this guy, look at us.” Deacon pleaded, propping Michael up onto his shoulder and supporting his weight. “We’ve done enough damage to this place; we have to get out of here, now.”
“No…no…” Michael responded through raspy breaths. He pushed himself off of Deacon and stabilized himself on his two wobbly legs. “This….ends…here” he said between breaths
Deacon had to admit he was a little impressed. Even after taking a beating from this psycho, Michael somehow still had it in him to see this fight through.
“Fine,” Deacon responded, putting a hand on his good shoulder. “But we do this together. No more of that lone wolf bull. If we do this, we do it together.”
Michael agreed, shaking his head reluctantly this time, but agreeing nonetheless.
“I know you want to take this guy down, but you can barely stand.” Deacon looked at Victor who was patiently looking back at them, waiting for them to make their next move. “Let me take a couple of shots at this guy. I’ve got a little more juice left. And besides, I think I have a plan.”
“What’s the plan?” Michael asked, looking back and forth between Deacon and Victor.
“This guy’s sharp, I don’t think we can outsmart him. The way I see it, our best bet is to hit him on two fronts. Keep him guessing. I’ll get in his face and see how he reacts to a little heat. Meanwhile, you hang back and throw whatever you can at him. Hit him, slow him down, whatever, just keep him on his toes, and keep him off his game.”
Michael worked his shoulders, loosing up his beaten and tired muscles, begging them to work just for a little bit longer. “That doesn’t sound like much of a plan if you ask me.” He locked eyes on Victor whose demeanor had turned sour, no doubt irritation from waiting. “But you’re right; it’s probably our only chance. He’s got powers but I can’t seem to figure them out. He slows you down somehow, but it’s hard to tell when he’s doing it or how.”
“Good to know.” Deacon flipped the switch inside him again, covering his whole body in flames. “I’ll keep my guard up. Hopefully we can figure this guy out before he kills us.”
He took off in a dead sprint towards Victor, again burning so hot he left craters of molten concrete with each step. As he approached, he extended both hands, letting out spiraling streams of fire aimed directly at Victor. He knew it wasn’t going to connect, but he wanted to see how he moved. Victor easily dodged the blast, rolling to his right, and charging forward. Deacon quickly tried to defend himself, throwing balls of fire at Victor, disrupting his path. Victor dodged those with ease also, closing the distance between them.
Michael watched closely from afar, trying to find any chink in Victor’s attack. He noticed he was laboring on his left foot, wincing slightly with every step on the hard concrete floor. He could tell that Deacon was trying to figure him out, but having spent time on the other end of one of Victor’s attacks he knew that that strategy wouldn’t last very long. Having the opportunity to sit back and diagnose he had realized how stupid he had been, trying to attack with just his powers, and brute strength. All around the hanger were crates, and metal equipment that he could have been using as weapons. Piping lined the walls and ceilings like the inside of an ant hill, and the floor was covered with broken glass and shrapnel.
As Deacon fought on, keeping his distance launching easily dodged long range attacks, Michael focused on the shards of glass on the ground, picking up one after the other with a tight invisible grip until he had surrounded himself with two dozen of them. He held them at the ready, almost as if they were arrows knocked in a bows, watching Victor duck and dip between balls of exploding fire. He slowed his breathing, sunk his center of gravity, and with a quick thought shot three of the shards in Victor’s direction, aiming specifically for his left leg.
Victor noticed the shards coming at him out of the corner or his eye and flipped backwards, narrowly escaping the shards as they torpedoed into the concrete. Victor turned and looked at Michael with a scowl; capitalizing on his momentary distraction, Deacon laced an exploding fireball right into his chest. Victor stumbled backwards, but regained his footing quickly. Deacon looked disappointed as the smoke dissipated, revealing Victor who was now red faced with anger.
Deacon was now visibly huffing air, tired from playing the mouse in this game of life and death. His flames had lessened since the start of the fight, which were a clear sign of fatigue.
Victor sunk his body weight ever so slightly, about to take off in a dead sprint towards Deacon. Anticipating his stride, Michael loosed the rest of the glass arrows directly at his left leg, this time with more zip.
Victor took three quick strides forward before crumpling to the ground face first. As he peeled himself off of the concrete floor, three sharp shards of glass stuck out of his leg, two in his thigh and one in his calf. He pulled them out with a grunt and tossed them onto the ground, coated in blood.
Michael used his mind and ripped the metal pipes off of the walls and ceiling, ensnaring Victor in them tightly.
Deacon, realizing this was his chance, dug as deep as he could; summoning all the fire he had left in him. He amped his whole body in more white hot flames and erupted like an active volcano dosing his now stationary target in supernova level flame. He stepped closer and closer, pouring it on thick. The heat was so intense, Michael had to cover his eyes and face as Deacon closed the distance. The hotter and hotter it got, the more their surroundings gave in; soon, the glass windows all around the warehouse’s high walls burst from the heat.
After about 30 seconds of this, Deacon, now a few feet away from Victor, collapsed to one knee and then onto the hard concrete all together. His skin was a raw red clor and was emanating smoke.
Michael staggered over to him on his shaky legs, covering the ground between them one slow step at a time. Up close, Deacon looked like a shell of himself. His entire body was gaunt. In those few seconds of intense heat, he had lost at least five pounds from the stress on his body alone. His eyes were shut and twitched behind his eyelids, so did his fingers lying limp at his side. His chest convulsed slightly, rising and falling sporadically. From where he was standing, Deacon looked as if his body was fighting itself to stay alive.
Out of his periphery Michael saw movement. As he turned his head he saw through the smoke a figure fighting its way out of the now burned metal pipes that were surrounding him. Michael’s heart sank, Victor was still alive. After all that, after Deacons’ pushing himself to his limits and beyond to take him down he was still alive and with the strength to still fight. He tried to push his now jell-o legs to face his opponent, trying to muster up any last vestiges of strength he had left.
Out of the smoke came the charred remains of a man who just wouldn’t die. Victor’s skin was burned black with bits of bone sticking out of his cheek and forehead. His left arm was a molten stump and his right one was something out of a horror movie, with flesh hanging off and all of the bone, tissue, and sinew exposed. He stepped on his right foot, dragging his left foot behind him in a trail of blood, not once breaking eye contact with Michael.
Michael, focused, imagined an invisible hand with his mind wrapping itself around Victors head and squeezing it like a grape. A sharp pain shot through his entire nody, sending him to the ground in a heap. He tried to right himself but his vision was blurry and he now had no control over his motor skills.
He lay on the ground, trying to move, trapped in his own body as this monster made its way closer and closer. He could feel his heart pounding harder and harder in his chest cavity as Victor approached. He thought about Pete and not being able to keep his promise to his best friend. He thought about Deacon lying unconscious next to him slowly dying. He thought about his tiny shitty house nestled in the mountains, with his mom and his shitty step dad. He felt his eyes welling as tears started flowing down his cheeks like a runny faucet.
Through his blurry vision he could make the shape of something small flitting about on the ceiling overhead. It sang a familiar song as it darted back and forth loudly. Then somewhere else in the room, came the loud roar of some kind of beast, shaking the entire warehouse as the vibrations bounced off the wall and floor. It took him a second, but he recognized the tune.
“Reed,” he thought to himself, relieved.
He could feel the beast bounding closer to them, shaking the ground with each step. The small figure turned into something colossal, unfurling its long white wings and letting out a piercing Kawwww before diving headfirst at the zombie standing a few feet away.
Michael tried to fight it, but he could feel his body shutting down from the stress and exhaustion. As everything started to fade to black around him, he heard the ripping and tearing of flesh mixed in with the gnawing and snarling of the angry beast. And then, just like that, there was nothing.
Michael woke up in a wooden bed, covered in layers upon layers of thick comfortable blankets. Lying on his back, he felt a cool breeze float in through a window above him, bringing in tiny brown and orange leaves gracefully settling on the blankets covering him. He tried to sit himself up on the bed but his arms and legs felt like they had been covered in cement.
“Don’t try so hard to move,” Chimed a voice somewhere in his periphery.
He turned his head to the right, to see Avery sitting in a wooden rocking chair next to him with her feet curled up under her tightly. She had her hair in a pony tail and sported navy blue sweatpants and a grey sweatshirt with eyes and an outline of a tiger plastered on the front. It was their high school’s mascot.
“You’ve been out for two days,” she said, pulling back loose strands of hair from around her face. “Your body is still pretty banged up.”
Michael just looked at her without saying a word. She had faded purple and black bruises under her eyes and scabbed cuts along her cheeks. “What happened to your face?” he asked.
She uncorked her legs from under her and gave him a big smile. “Just hazards of the job I guess.”
He heard a groan come from the other side of the room and turned his head to investigate. Lying on his back in an identical bed on the other side of the wood paneled room was Deacon, or what he could recognize as Deacon. He had an IV stuck in his arm and a clear plastic tube sticking out of his mouth. The closer he looked the more he could see Deacons feature’s in the skinny being breathing slowly just a few feet away from him. “Is he…going to be okay?”
“We think so. Murphy never anticipated there being an over load threshold for his powers so we’re all just waiting. He’s fighting, which is a good sign, but he really put his body through the wringer.”
Curled up at the foot of his bed, was a tiny little girl with long brown hair and a face covered in mud and dirt. She was fast asleep, curled up in the fetal position.
“That’s Lucy. We found her in the compound along with dozens of other kids. Most of them we’ve returned to their homes but she’s a little tricky. She has the power to hide pain through physical contact. Turns out when her parents found out she had gifts, they pretty much gave her away.” Avery, limped over to her slowly and placed a small blanket over her body. “She doesn’t talk much, but she’s grown attached to Deacon. Barely ever leaves his side. She even holds his hand to quiet the pain at night.”
Michael felt bad for her. She was so small and so alone. He couldn’t imagine what must be going through her mind every single day.
Avery pushed a metal wheel chair around to the side of his bed, positioning herself under his arm to support his body weight as she sat him down in the cold leather seat in one practiced fluid motion. “Come on, some friends want to see you.”
She pushed him through the doorway and into a large open room filled with sleeping bags and couches. Murphy sat in the middle of the room with a laptop in his lap and dozens of papers, scattered around him. As the wheelchair squeaked forward he raised his head up from the computer screen and shot him the widest smile he had ever seen Murphy make.
“Well, well, glad to see you decided not to give up on us,” he said, getting to his feet.
Two birds darted in to the room through a hole in a small stained glass window high above the cabins main entrance, flying around the ceiling in dizzying circles. The bigger of the two birds touched down on the ground and morphed into Silas tall lanky figure. His hair was even more of a mess now, resting on his shoulders like a jet black mop head.
“How was the beauty rest?” he asked through a puckish smile.
Reed materialized somewhere behind him, wrapping her arms around him in a big gentle hug. “Glad you’re not dead,” she said giving him a peck on the cheek before bouncing away.
Murphy took hold of the wheelchair handles and pushed him outside onto the cabin porch as the others followed behind. Michael closed his eyes and took in a deep breath of the cold crisp air, letting it settle in his chest before exhaling again. As he re-opened his eyes he saw a dozen or so kids milling about the property. A handful of little kids played with a soccer ball, with one little kid zipping around the others faster than they could react. A group of older kids hung out around the tree lined outskirts of the land, some walking and talking, others awkwardly trying to socialize with one another.
“Who are all these people?” Michael asked.
“These,” Murphy started, settling into a wooden chair next to him, “are the last of the kids we found in Victor’s compound.”
Michael remembered hearing the sounds of Victor being eviscerated as he lay on the concrete floor of the warehouse. “It was you guys,” he said, looking at Reed and Silas. “You guys saved us in the end. You were the giant bird, and you were the…well, I don’t really know what you were.”
“She was a giant eagle,” Silas ran his hands through his hair as he spoke, as if he had told this story a hundred times already. “I was a panther the size of a bear.” He smiled as he finished, making sure he communicated how impressive his feat was.
Michael looked around, noticing that two of their ranks were missing. “The twins,” he asked. “Did we get them?”
“Oh yeah, they’re fine, Murphy said stretching his arms and neck. “They’re actually out scouting our next mission as we speak.”
“Next mission?” Michael looked at Avery, confused. “Wasn’t one life or death fight not enough for one lifetime?”
Silas chuckled, sitting on the wooden floor with his feet crossed in his lap. “Where’s the fun in that?”
“Before we got out of there we were able to rip some of the info off of the facilities hard drives,” Avery started. “Turns out Victor’s just a little fish in a massive pond. We discovered an entire global organization run by heavy hitters kidnapping kids with special abilities and experimenting on them for their own gain.”
Reed leaned up against the porch railing and folded her arms facing the rest of the group. “We found out where some of their facilities are. Places where they’ve been doing experiments, keeping kids just like us prisoner.”
“There were a total of forty kids in Victor’s compound,” continued Murphy. “We’re either trying to track down their parents or help them figure out what they want to do next for those that are left. Some of them even want to join us.”
Michael looked back at the group of kids in front of him. He looked from one to the other, memorizing their faces and imagining where they came from and what they had been through. He thought back to the day Victor entered his life and took his best friend away from him for good. He thought about the funeral that he had missed and how much his mom must be worried whether he was alive or dead. He thought about Deacon lying unconscious in a wooden bed just a few feet behind him. He bowed his head, trying as hard as he could to stop the tears from flowing down his face. “What about Deacon?” he said through muffled sobs. “Is he going to make it?”
“It’s a little early to tell, but we think so.” Murphy said. “He’s displayed motor skills in his unconscious state and his body is mending itself, adapting to the new limits of his powers.”
“It’s up to you, Michael,” Avery looked at him with soft eyes. “It’s your choice whether you want to go back home or stay.”
At his feet was a small round stone. He imagined the five fingers of a hand reaching for the stone and picking it up. He felt the painful strain on the front of his head but he raised the stone to eye level. He rolled it a few times in mid air, playing with the weight of it in his grip. 50 feet away hanging from a tree was a small wooden bird house. He aimed the stone at it and fired it with surprising zip, hitting the bird house dead on, shattering it into pieces.
“Do you guys really think we can do this?” He asked.
They each looked at each other and smiled, nodding their heads in solidarity. He looked at each of them in their face one after the other before the same smile crept onto his face. He used his arms to brace himself on the arms of the wheelchair and pushed himself up onto his feet.
“So, what’s the plan?” He said, standing tall on his still weak legs. There was a chance the next encounter with whatever psycho bad guy they were going to face could kill him. But if he didn’t at least try to stop them they would just send another Victor for him – this time stronger and more insane. And if he managed to beat him, they would send another, and another. At least this way they all had a fighting chance.
Silas rolled onto his feet and leapt off of the porch, turning into a wolf before his feet hit the ground. Reed followed behind him, jumping into the morphing into a bright orange fox before darting off into the tree line.
Murphy stood, taking slow steps back inside. “Follow me and I’ll show you,” he said with a great big smile.
Avery, put his arm around her shoulder and walked him back inside one slow step at a time. “Like I said, don’t try and move too much.” She pulled him close and used her full body to support Michael’s lumbering weight.
Michael knew she didn’t have to hold him so tightly, but he wasn’t about to tell that to her. Instead, he just let her slowly guide him back inside the cabin, one slow step at a time. “Don’t worry, I won’t.” He said smiling down at her.
He had spent this whole journey with this group of misfits thinking that no one in the world knew what he was feeling inside. Even before all of this mess he had felt lonely and lost but now, after everything he had been through, he realized that he never had to be alone again. He realized that with these people around him, fighting for what was right, fighting for what they believed in; he had everything he had ever wanted.
He wanted Pete to be here with him more than anything and he certainly could do without the multitude of painful injuries raking his body. But in a weird way, he felt like Pete was still with him, looking out for him from somewhere else far, far away. For a long time Pete was the only family he had, just two outcasts trying to survive. But now more than ever he had found where he belonged. He had found his family.