I was drowning in a sapphire sea. Utter calm washed over me despite my breath being stuck in my throat. No direction was up, everything stretched out from me, beyond what I could see. For the first time in forever I felt hopeful.
More hues and shades started to shift and bleed through the murkiness. Nebulous clouds and cold stars began fly up from the depths. I felt I was moving—falling towards something. And then I broke through the clouds onto the decimated scene that kept coming back. The wind whipped past me as I stared down at the convergence of the three armies charging the giant, headless statue.
The three groups were getting closer, but the statue had changed its stance. The large sword in its right hand was mid-swing, getting ready to strike the central group approaching it.
For a moment, the sensation of falling gripped me, but then the wind shifted. I wasn’t falling anymore…I was flying. I was flying towards the statue with the other silhouettes. Then my eyes glanced at a lone figure standing under the falling foot of the statue. The air seemed to shimmer with iridescent colors as they locked eyes with me.
I groaned and sat up on the chair I’d passed out on. Sleeping on the hard plastic had left its mark. Stretching only helped so much. Everything felt stiff and sore, and my nose was still filled with the smell of smoke.
The others were still asleep except for Ian who was talking softly into his phone. Ian glanced at me briefly before going back to focus on his conversation, “Okay, we’ll be ready to move when you get here…”
I wasn’t really in the mood to listen in, so I decided to go and check on Whitney and Erin. It looked like the hospital was starting to come alive with nurses and doctors making their rounds. The place had exploded when we got here last night; their triage unit was almost overwhelmed. There were doctors and surgeons with teams of nurses trying to deal with all the injured metas. And then there were all the Argus agents wheeling in power dampeners to keep anyone loyal to Edward or Savant from raising hell.
They probably saw us as traitors. We did use subterfuge to get in, I guess, but at the same time we were there to do a job. To help people. I wondered if they would see it like that. It turned out Savant wasn’t even the bad guy, but it still seemed like she was leading a metahuman cult. Or, it could have turned into a cult pretty quickly.
Just a couple week ago, I would have really liked what they were offering; a chance to be myself with my powers and not worry about what people thought about me.
“Oh, thank God!” Whitney exclaimed as I walked through the open door to her room.
I had been a bit absorbed in my thoughts and the sudden volume took me a bit by surprise.
“I thought you all left me for a second.”
“No, we wouldn’t do that,” I said, surprised by her mood. Then, as I looked around the room, something dawned on me.
“I don’t fucking know, I woke up and she was gone,” Whitney snapped back, sinking lower into her bed.
Great, she was pissed off. Not that was new, but this time there wasn’t a villain to channel that towards. It didn’t seem like she was necessarily channeling it towards me, though. Hopefully?
While my mind race to alleviate the tension and not be awkward, I stood there, awkwardly, until Whitney asked, “Are the others okay?”
Thankful for a way out of hovering by the door, I answered, “Yeah, they’re all fine. Corey and Adam are still sleeping it off.”
“And Ian?” She asked almost reluctantly as I sat down in the only chair in the room.
“He was on the phone, talking with Argus I think.”
“Great, then we can finally get out of here,” Whitney said, looking like she was forcing herself to have a positive façade.
“What about your burns?” I asked.
They still looked bad from what I could see—large red areas on her arms, neck and face; some of it blistered. But considering she charged into a fire and went toe-to-toe with a hypnotizing pyromaniac, they were probably mild. Some of the Idyllians came out way worse.
Her spirits visibly sunk a tad. “They’re healing fast, but the nerves might take a bit to come back. Doctor said it should be like a bad sunburn in about a week or so, but the nerves might take a month or more. I’m normally fireproof, but I guess if I get burned for that long…
I just don’t want to be useless, Nate. Do you think they’ll send a biokinetic?”
“—What if we ask?”
“I don’t know, Whitney,” I said.
This was almost the opposite of the Whitney I knew. It almost looked like she was on the verge of tears, just barely keeping them suppressed. Was she trying to act tough? Or just pretending that she was fine? She had always been the loud one; the girl that fucking caused things to explode when she touched them, and now she seemed like someone barely holding it together. And I could unfortunately relate to that.
Should I try to talk to her? I wondered. I wasn’t exactly issue-less myself. I could just screw it up more…But to see her in such a bad place, a friend at a low point, trying was better than doing nothing. It would probably be best to be delicate, but I wasn’t sure I could pull that off, so time to try and do the best I could.
“Whitney, back there at Idyllium—”
“—I don’t want to talk about it,” she quickly mumbled.
“What’s the deal with your brother?”
She glared at me furiously for a second, but then she seemed to give up. “Brandon’s…He…He’s not my brother, not anymore. Not after this.”
She looked almost on the verge of tears; and her voice sounded like it could break any moment. Still, the expression on my face must have been one of utter confusion, because she explained, “My dad was Ifrit.”
Ifrit? No way. He was on record as one of the most powerful pyrokinetics of all time. He was up there with the Eagle during his heyday…which reminded me. I was young, but I saw the news report. I remembered them televising the memorial service.
“He died in Portland, fighting off that…thing…”
“I remember,” I said solemnly, remembering the strange oozing cloud that crawled out of the ocean and started decimating Portland. They called it Yaldabaoth, after a gnostic god or something. It was more of a walking natural disaster, killing heroes and civilians left and right.
“I didn’t know Ifrit had a family.”
Whitney shook her head, “He didn’t want people to know; just in case any of his enemies decided to come after us.”
She went quiet for a second before continuing.
“Brandon was the oldest, and he took it hard. He swore off Argus and the other heroes before cutting ties with my mom. He got arrested some time back for petty theft and power abuse and was locked up in Site II the last time I heard anything about him.”
“Is that why you went to the Academy?” I asked. “To follow in your father’s footsteps?”
Whitney nodded, “And now, I get to learn my Brother has gone full-fucking supervillain. Just shitting on our dad’s legacy. Using the powers he got from him to…to burn shit to the ground.”
“We’ll help you stop him.”
“You mean that?” She asked, locking her eyes with mine.
“Yes,” I answered, meaning it wholeheartedly.
Whitney and I looked over to see Ian standing in the doorway.
“Sorry, didn’t want to interrupt. James is here; they’re sending in a nurse in a few minutes to get you ready to move,” he said to Whitney.
“Thanks, Ian,” She muttered.
“Guess I better let you get ready,” I said, standing to follow Ian out. I didn’t realize it at first, but I had been sitting on the edge of the seat: must still have had some nerves to settle.
Before I made it out the door, Whitney spoke up, “Hey, Nate?”
“Don’t mention it,” I said, walking back out into the hallway.
James looked like he hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before when we all converged to the Argus dropship. He had dark bags under his eyes and an overall disheveled appearance. Still, when he asked if he was alright, he did offer a smile and assurances he would pull through.
Even Erin showed up again out of nowhere, her hair practically dripping wet.
“What happened to you?” Ian asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Decontamination shower,” she deadpanned.
Alright, then; a story for another time.
After Whitney joined us, wrapped in bandages, we all loaded up and started the long flight back to Switzerland.
A debrief wasn’t exactly what I’d been hoping for when we landed again. Maybe a hot meal, a nice shower, some quality time asleep even, but sitting in one of the cold meeting rooms while We gave our run-down of the events was dull to say the absolute fucking minimum.
Ever so slowly, we moved through everyone, even getting through me and the slightly uncomfortable parts including Eli—the Anarchist. And when I got to the part after the party, I glanced at Corey who looked slightly flushed; we mutually decided to leave that part out. But then we got to Edward.
“He can copy abilities somehow, even mine,” I said, making Hollands look a bit worried.
“How many did you know him to possess?”
“Well, he had mine, Corey’s, Whitney’s, Quill’s, and Dani, the girl with the gravity powers we mentioned.”
Hollands seem to stare off into space, “Any others?”
“Yeah, he copied lots of the other Idyllians’ powers, I don’t know them all. I think he said that he needed to know someone to use their powers, though.”
“Why would he tell you a limitation like that?” James asked, not accusatorily, but out of curiosity.
“I don’t know…I think he really thought he was about to kill me,” I replied, briefly reliving that moment of panic.
Erin, trying to work through all the information started to ask, “So, if Brandon—”
“—Halcyon,” Whitney interjected.
“If Halcyon,” acquiesced Erin, “Is really working for the Kreigspiel, and they found Aurora somewhere, why would they send him after Edward?”
“Recruitment?” James suggested. “First, they went after the Gold Diggers, Cooke, and Morales. Then Shard showed up and started working for them.”
“Right, and then Euclid stole Obyek 41, and captured Dr. Thatcher when they realized he could help us track them,” Ian continued.
“Don’t forget about redline,” I said, remembering what it felt like to be tackled by a speedster. It wasn’t a pleasant memory.
“So, he’s recruiting metahumans, but for what?” Erin asked.
“That is what we need to find out,” Hollands replied. “I’ll get A.S.E.T. on it as soon as they’re done assessing any risks to Judas’ transport.”
“They still haven’t moved him?” Corey asked at the same time Erin asked, “What do you mean A.S.E.T.?”
Hollands held up his hands, “Calm down. Judas is a very high security risk, and I don’t want a repeat of whatever compelled that doctor to walk into Judas’ cell and release him. He has shown no other signs of powers, leading us to believe, quite reluctantly, that his powers stem from him taking a life. If Chess and the Kreigspiel are recruiting metahumans, we need to make sure Judas makes it to Site III safely. And furthermore, I am pulling your team from active duty—”
There was an eruption of noise as all my teammates started to protest. Loudest of all of them was Whitney, despite her condition.
Hollands made a stern face, and they all fell silent, knowing not to cross the director.
“Let me show you this,” he said, picking up a remote from the conference table and aiming it at a monitor mounted in the room.
It blinked on to show Grand Teton National Park up in flames, including the section Aurora turned into a scorched wasteland. Hollands turned up the volume and we heard a reporter’s voice, “Officials are saying the damage done to the forests here is extensive, to the point of being non-recoverable in certain places. We have been looking into reports that this was tied to a large, illegal, population of metahumans gathered in the area. Locals claimed they were building a compound just for metas. Argus has not commented on the event, despite them storming nearby hospitals and setting up triage units for numerous burn victims.”
The image cut to the outside of the hospital in Jackson.
“We have footage of numerous Argus vehicles and personnel coming and going from the hospital, likely transporting metahuman prisoners if rumors are true.”
“I don’t see what this has to do with us,” Erin commented.
“Keep watching,” Hollands said.
“And some have pointed out these individuals, spotted from the air at the center of the blaze, and from outside the hospital—”
Sure enough, you could see my glow next to Erin’s through the plumes of smoke.
“—People are beginning to wonder if these are part of the scarcely talked about Argonauts team. Argus has been very tight-lipped about the team’s activities, leading some to believe they have created an additional black-ops team to support A.S.E.T., though Argus did not give a statement on any of those rumors.”
The screen went black and we all turned back to Hollands, unease heavy on our faces. All except Adam, who managed to look nonchalant. Holland sat the remote down and took a deep breath.
“I don’t think I need to remind you that this team was originally created to help with Argus’ public image. Yet, after more than a month of activity, we have had to burry report after report.”
“But that wasn’t our fault! It was your idea to use our lack of notoriety to infiltrate Idyllium!” Ian said.
Hollands nodded, “Yes, but that was before four metahuman fugitives slipped through your fingers. Even if the unfortunate circumstances were unforeseeable, they are still unfortunate, and place us in our current boat, nonetheless. Now the media has gotten ahold of you. So, I am pulling you from active duty. I want you all to train, and heal,” he said, looking at Whitney, “Before we turn you out again with something manageable.”
“You mean ‘easy’,” Ian muttered.
Hollands shrugged, “Take it how you will.”
With that he stood, and straightened his tie, “I suggest you all get some rest.”
Once he and an apologetic-looking James were out of the room, Corey muttered, “Did he almost sound caring, or was I hearing things?”
“I don’t know, but this fucking blows…” Whitney sighed.
“It’s just a setback; we’ll be back in no time at all,” Erin said, forcing a smile.
Ducked out of the way of the oncoming fist, I popped back up to block the follow up. My head raced trying to remember everything. I was in close, so I stepped past Erin’s guard and swept my leg, the extra strength from my powers mixed with a quick jab to her gut laid her out flat on her back.
“How was that?” I panted. Sweat was pouring off me under my barrier, despite the coolness.
Erin was smiling, so I hoped that was a good sign.
“You’re getting better,” She said as I helped her up.
“Not perfect?” I said with an exaggerated shrug.
“No, not yet,” Erin chuckled. “Come on, drop your powers, lets take a water break; got to stay hydrated.”
I was about to drop my energy like she said, but then I remembered, and tensed up.
“What’s wrong, Nate,” She asked with a badly hidden grin.
“I know what you’re up to…”
“Nate, I’m not going to sucker punch you again.”
Slowly, I let my shell evaporate away, keeping an eye on Erin the whole time. “Alright, sorry I—”
Suddenly, Erin was surrounded by a blue glow, including the fist that was flying towards me, I tried to summon my powers, but the blow connected, knocking the breath out of me before the shell was complete.
“Oof, sorry. What that a bit too hard?” She said. Even though I was doubled over, I could hear the wince in her voice.
“No, I’m fine…” I wheezed.
“You have to get faster at that.”
“I know, I know,” I groaned, straightening up and following her over to our water bottles resting near the wall.
“Do you think its going to bruise?” She asked, apologetically.
“Probably,” I said, wincing with quite real pain, but putting in a bit more to sell the act.
“You’ve wounded me, captain…”
Erin rolled her eyes, “You’ll be fine.”
As we sat there taking a marvelous drink of water, we heard the door open, and turned to see Corey walking in.
“Oh, hey Corey. We were just training, want to join us?”
Corey looked a bit surprised, like he wasn’t expecting anyone to be in here. When he looked at me, he flushed slightly.
“Oh, uh, n-no. That’s fine, I didn’t know you guys were using it,” He said, quickly turning back to the door.
“Corey, wait, it’s not a big deal…” Erin tried to explain, but he was already stepping back out into the hall.
“Ugh,” she groaned, looking at the ceiling before turning towards me. “What the hell happened between you two?”
“Nothing,” I said defensively, feeling heat rise in my own face.
“Clearly, something did,” Erin stated. She was staring daggers, making it hard to hold eye contact.
“You two haven’t trained together for two weeks, and you keep leaving the room when the other one comes in or looking at each other weird all the time. It’s weirding the rest of us out.”
“You guys noticed?”
“I guess I need to talk to him.”
Erin nodded vigorously.
“Don’t make me have to order you.”
“I’ll take care of it,” I said.
“Good. Now come on, we have more training if we’re going to get you ready.”
“Aye, captain,” I said, trying to think about what the hell I was going to say to Corey.