“Today you will be meeting Yves Alexander,” Mr. Choi began solemnly. “I will not personally be introducing you, given I intend to keep working with these people and that’d be pretty hard to do if they knew I brought assassins into their midst. It’s bad enough that they’re having me drive you around in public like a damn chauffeur, like no one might put us together once stuff goes down.”
“Makes sense,” Patrick nodded, only half listening. He was nauseous. He had come home to find half his extended family waiting for him, overjoyed that he was alive and back. His mother had spent half the night crying from the emotion of it all despite his protests that she didn’t need to cry, as was her way. His brothers had punched him for making them worry, as was their way. And his father had given him a longer hug than he could ever remember receiving from his old man.
Even Patrick teared up a couple times, so overwhelmed was he at finally being home. But it wasn’t all joyous for him. He was ashamed at having to lie to his family about what had happened to him the past several months. The lie itself wasn’t too hard, given his cover was having been in a coma. All he had to do was not say too much. He had to be especially careful about his speech patterns. His family was used to his regular abuse of linguistics, but they were more accustomed to him breaking that pattern to speak his true thoughts. My mind is infinitely more complex than I desire for our enemies to conceive. But to deceive their listening ears I must fool my own family into thinking I am now lesser than they know me to be, all the while guiding the conversation or lack thereof away from discrepancy.
Patrick was pretty sure Jared had understood the game Patrick was playing, never calling him out on the sudden loss of his ability to speak any Redarctican and the total lack of philosophical asides he occasionally engaged in while they were in school. But while Jared understood the game, his family did not, and it was stressing him out to play both sides of this.
What was worse, being surrounded by his loved ones had reminded him of his upbringing, and the Patriotism, Courage, and Honor he had been taught his whole life really conflicted with killing one of their nation’s greatest heroes. Jared had tried to convince him that Black Rain was going to kill him regardless, and they were really just fall guys, no more guilty than guns being fired, but that didn’t make him feel any better about it.
What was worse was he was using those values to further his cover. His family hadn’t wanted him to go out today, but he’d solemnly told them he had a duty to go join Blue Skies during his country’s time of need, that the power he’d hidden for so many years finally needed to be put towards the greater good. Even remembering his ruse made him want to throw up. I wish others to judge me falsely by what I say, but I must judge myself truly by what I’m willing to do. What kind of man am I willing to become to keep death and pain at bay a little longer? He didn’t have an answer for himself.
“When you get out of the car you’re going to go right and walk about a mile along the river bank,” Booster told them. “That’s where you’ll hit one of the main staging areas for the aqueduct’s construction and maintenance. It is also the most publicized as one accepting applications to become part of Blue Skies. If you go too far, you’ll fall into a giant ass crater, so keep an eye out.”
“Don’t fall into giant ass crater. Got it,” Jared said. “Ok man, let’s get walking.” He opened the door and climbed out. Patrick slowly followed suit and they started along the river. “So where do you think the beast bitch has got off to?”
“I dunno’. She was still chillin’ with Booster when they dropped me off and she gone when he come get me. Think she somewhere in fly mode?”
“Don’t know, but feel free to swat any you come across. I’m sure she’s keeping tabs on us somehow,” Jared said. “Today shouldn’t be too bad though, from what Mr. Choi said. There have been at least a few applicants a day since they started accepting them and then Hargrave hosts a monthly welcome meeting to help integrate them into the program.”
Patrick wasn’t sure what he thought about Jared just assuming he hadn’t been paying attention, but he wasn’t wrong. He’d tuned out most of what Mr. Choi had relayed to them while dwelling on his own thoughts.
“So we go there, fill out a lot of paper work, and we’re in? Seems a little too easy, given what we’re supposed to do.”
“Getting in place shouldn’t be the problem,” Jared said quietly, glancing around nervously. Patrick wondered if he thought they were being followed by people besides Tasha. It was an unsettling thought. “Getting out of the place in one piece. Well, that might be a bit trickier. Hopefully we’ll see a few of the people we might be dealing with today.”
Patrick nodded. “So these houses look familiar? What’s left at least? This be near…your friend Jared’s neighborhood, right Steve?” A bead of sweat fell down on Patrick’s brow. He’d almost given it away that Jared wasn’t Steve. Tasha might know, but he shouldn’t make it easier for her to figure out if she didn’t. And even if she did, he needed to get used to pretending Jared was Steve or he was going to give away their cover. Probably at the most inopportune time, given my current levels of luck. Fate has been crueler than it has been random of late.
“Not really, all the houses in this neighborhood looked the same to me. Never been very good at remembering geography type stuff. Probably easier to identify them now that they look like a bomb hit. Remember the Miller girls from Middle School? That could be their house over there. I remember they liked having tea parties. I’d bike by on my way to Jared’s, and they’d be hanging out together, just staring out towards the river.”
“Tea parties in middle school? Sort of remember that, kinda weird, right?”
“Oh yeah, they were pretty odd. I think it’s their mother’s fault. She withdrew them from school so she could homeschool them. Didn’t really let them have friends, I don’t think. Always was giving me nasty looks when I went past.”
“Why’d you keep going past that way then?” Patrick asked.
“I liked riding near the river, and looking at Lucy Miller,” Jared chuckled a bit. “She was odd, but I thought she was quite cute. Pretty sure they moved away a couple years ago. At least I hope so, since I don’t think anyone inside that house lived. But their mother was crazy enough she might have just stopped letting them outside.”
They walked past the ruins of the house, roof lying on the ground amidst fallen walls.
Half an hour later Patrick was looking out over the edge of the hole that Isabella Rhinefield’s power had turned Sunlight City into. They had seen it from the plane, which was shocking enough, but seeing it from the edge where it intersected the Aqueduct was something else. The edge must go almost straight down half a mile before sloping more sharply. Unreal, this was really caused by Isabella’s power? If Shelly’s worked in an equivalent manner, maybe Fate dealt us a favor after all that she died on that bus. It is not a thought I like permeating my mind, but if this ever happened again… dammit, pretty fucked up when I think Mirkov might have a point.
“Pretty ridiculous, isn’t it?” came the voice of Diego Martinez, the one they had talked to about applying for Blue Skies. Jared had requested to see the edge first before filling out the applications. Patrick wondered how Jared must feel. His house would have been a couple streets away past the edge. The only reason his sister survived at all was she’d been visiting a friend a few streets out of the range of the initial blast.
“Yeah,” Jared said. His fists were clenched. “Pretty ridiculous. It’s…surreal. So how do we join Blue Skies?”
“Fill out this stack of forms and show us what you got. Personally I’m cool with doing the second part first, if you want to save yourself the trouble of the paperwork,” Diego said.
“What do you mean?” Patrick asked.
“I mean nine times out of ten the so-called gifted people showing up don’t have real powers. But I’ve seen entertaining magic shows, so if you’re frauds I’m still curious what you’ll claim you can do.”
“I can heal and Patrick has super strength.”
“Healing huh? Other people or just yourself?” Diego asked curiously.
“Just myself,” Jared replied. Patrick saw the curiosity fade from Diego’s face.
“And what do you plan on doing with that? Not exactly a useful talent under normal situations,” Diego said, now unimpressed, crossing his arms.
“I plan to fight,” Jared said. “I’m sure the military can make use of a soldier who can heal.”
“Guess that depends on how well. Mind sparring for a bit to prove your abilities?” Diego asked.
“Sure, guess we could do that.”
Patrick took in Diego’s stance as he slid into a combat position. He had the build of a football player. If Patrick had to guess, he was ex-marines, like his father.
“What, right here, yo? Think we should get a ring? Or at least step a bit away from the edge… you be trippin fightin here,” Patrick said, surprised.
“Pretty sure I could survive the fall. Can you?” Jared asked calmly.
“Actually, yes. You’re not the only one with gifts,” Diego said smiling. He pointed his hands at Jared and Patrick saw something shoot out of them, stabbing into Jared’s shoulder. Patrick decided it was a good time to step back and he moved quickly away from the combatants. Jared took something away from his shoulder, which was now bleeding badly.
“Feathers?” Jared took a fist to the stomach, Diego having moved faster than Patrick would have guessed possible.
“Don’t take your eye off your opponent,” Diego said, Jared doubled over in pain. “So far I have to say, I’m not too impressed.”
“That’s because you’re underestimating me,” Jared said, smashing his head upwards into Diego’s face. Diego’s head snapped back, nose bleeding.
“Good one,” Diego said, stepping back. More blurs shot through the air from his hands, cutting through Jared’s clothes. If those things hit the holographic projector, we’re screwed. But he thought Diego was aiming for the extremities on purpose. Patrick doubted this was a legal application process, and Diego probably didn’t feel like accidentally killing Jared.
“You’re avoiding all of my vitals on purpose,” Jared said. “You can’t beat me by doing that.” Jared tried throwing the feathery projectile back at Diego and missed horribly. A look of frustration passed across Jared’s face. Patrick smirked, knowing what Jared must be thinking. Jared’s strength and reflexes had improved dramatically due to their intense training, and he was a decent shot as well, but his powers didn’t help any when it came to aiming things like knives and darts.
“Are you avoiding my whole body on purpose? Because you definitely can’t beat me by doing that,” Diego said mockingly.
Jared closed range and struck out viciously with Mai Thai kicks. Diego dodged effortlessly. He’s even faster than May. Diego side kicked Jared in the ribs and Patrick heard them crack. Pain flashed across his face, but after a second he seemed unfazed.
“Fairly durable, I’ll give you that.” Diego said.
Jared became atypically cautious. His healing abilities normally allowed him to be highly aggressive, but he seemed unable to land a blow against Diego. At the same time, if he let Diego get too far away then he just got plastered with the feathered barbs Diego was able to shoot.
Heh, it’s like trying to fight me without a net. I can’t keep him down, but he can’t do anything to me either. Of course, victory always went to me if I got in a position where I could have fried his brain. Hopefully we don’t have to ever learn if he can actually survive that.
Jared struck out every time Diego tried to fire off the quills, trying to deflect Diego’s aim. He still took several in the legs.
“Interesting. You’re nearly immune to the poison in my quills. I’ve slowly upped the dosage but your reaction time has barely slowed at all. I hope for your sake your powers aren’t just temporary. Unfortunately, you’re still too sluggish.” Diego took aim again and Jared tried to deflect, but instead of shooting off quills Diego rushed forward and locked Jared’s knee, shattering it. Jared ignored the knee and took the opportunity to elbow Diego in the throat. Diego let go of Jared’s shattered leg and backed up, making a choking sound, as Jared went down hard.
Jared was only down a moment though, leg putting itself back together almost instantly. Patrick couldn’t believe how much faster he healed than when he first saw him do it. Jared wasted no time in getting to his feet, head butted Diego again and then gave him a nasty front kick, knocking him onto his back, less than a foot from the edge of the hole. Diego made a yielding motion.
“Ok kid, you got real potential there,” Diego said when he could talk again. “As much as I’d love to test out more of your healing, I doubt they’ll be happy with this little assessment as it is.”
“Thanks,” Jared said. “And a shame, I was having fun, though not sure how much more I could do without risking your life. If I tried to joint-lock you, then you’d just fill my face with those feathers of yours.”
Patrick walked over and picked up one of the feathers, hardening his fingers so they couldn’t cut him. The tip was sharp and covered in blood. The feathers were light and metallic, razor sharp. Strangely fascinating feather thing, wicked cutter with a metal glean.
“So what about you. Patrick right? Let’s see what you got.”
Patrick saw a truck parked a couple hundred feet back from the edge. He sprinted over and picked it up over his head almost effortlessly.
“Work for you?” he shouted.
Diego squinted and nodded, “Yep. Works for me. Can you put that down gently please? I just got it last week.”
“Oops, that yours, dog? My bad,” Patrick put it down as gently as he could.
“Christ, I got to stop driving to work. My old truck got freaking force crushed. Ok, let’s get you started on the paperwork.”