“Stand still!” Reiki growled, rubbing his hands together as the twins jumped around in front of him. “Let me hit you!”
“I think you’re missing the point here,” Parker laughed. “Nobody is ever going to let you hit them.”
“Come on, Reiki!” Frank called back to him. Natalie was throwing rather sharp playing cards at them, which would have cut them to ribbons if Frank hadn’t been deflecting them with his staff.
A bright light flashed from Reiki’s hands, but the twins dodged it easily – as they had been since the exercise began. Parker and Natalie looked at each other and nodded; they didn’t need words to communicate. Parker jumped straight up, unfurling his wings to give himself extra lift, and pulled his arm back to prepare for a punch. Reiki lifted his hands to throw the next light beam at him, while Frank turned his staff to catch Parker’s super-strong hit –
And both were hit by Natalie’s playing cards.
“That’s match,” Agent said, as Parker glided down. He had been acting as referee for the group while he took notes on the training match.
Natalie grinned at their opponents as Parker landed next to her. “Stronger together,” she started, holding out her fist to him.
“Stronger as one,” Parker finished, tapping his twin’s fist with his own. They had been using that phrase as their rallying cry since they first heard it as kids.
“Yeah, yeah,” Reiki said, letting his Third-Gen powered light dim from his hands. “You guys win again, we need to work on stuff, yadda yadda.” He turned towards Agent, asking, “Why did you have to put those two together again?”
“Because they work well together,” Agent said dryly, “and you need to work on your communication skills.”
Reiki sighed, moving to stand next to Frank for the After Action Review. “Okay, what is it this time?” he asked, resigned. Frank just shrugged – he knew exactly what had gone wrong, and he also knew that Reiki wouldn’t listen to him.
Agent looked between the two pairs. “You know,” he said, thoughtfully, “I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said a hundred times before.” He picked up his umbrella from where it had been resting against his leg and walked to the elevator. “I’ll gather my notes and get back to you. Dismissed.”
He left the training room. Parker gave Frank a high-five and said, “I’ve got to get going. Thanks for the workout!”
“Going again?” Frank asked his old friend. “That’s every day this week!”
Natalie added, “You also haven’t been coming back to the tower every night. What’s this ‘special assignment’ Agent has you on?”
“Can’t say,” Parker answered, pulling his twin’s braid. “It’s going to be a while before I can get back to normal patrols, though.”
“You haven’t even met the new girl yet,” Frank pointed out. “Haley’s going to be moving her stuff in today; this is normally when we get them with a welcome-to-the-team prank.”
“Aw, man,” Parker grimaced. “You guys are going to have to do that without me.” He looked at his watch, and hurried to the stairs. He would have to change out of his training uniform before he could go out on whatever mission he was assigned. “Let me know how it goes!” he called back as he left. “Natalie – stronger together!”
“Stronger as one!” she called in response just as the door shut behind him. “I swear,” she muttered, “he’s getting stranger with age.”
“Because you’re so old,” Frank teased. The twins were three years older than him, and it was a long-standing joke between them. “Hey, you want to play a free-for-all?”
“Sure,” Natalie said, perking up. “I still have some tricks left up my sleeves.”
“Hey, Reiki,” Frank said, looking at where their teammate was last seen, “you wanna…” He trailed off, realizing that Reiki had left the training room while they were talking. “Okay, then – you and me, Nat, one-on-one.”
“You’re on,” she said, grinning as she let her cards fly.
* * * * * * * *
Eon City, later that day.
Haley Prince, moving in.
Haley’s hands were full with a precarious box.
Her dad had offered to help her pack, but she had refused. After all, she was an adult, wasn’t she? A stupid, stupid adult who now had a large, open box and no way to get it through the door.
What was worse, her lamp was rolling around on top of her blankets, half out of the box already. That lamp had been in her room since she was ten, and in her older brothers’ rooms before hers; her mom had gotten it as a gift from her parents when Dean, the oldest, was born. It was at least thirty years old, and her mom would kill her if she broke it trying to move into her new room at Asylum Headquarters.
Jay, the front desk guard, took pity on her and helped her through the front door, but the rules were strict: she had to scan her new badge to use the elevator to get upstairs, and she had no way to get it out of her pocket.
Haley fumbled with the box and the lamp, trying to reach her badge to scan. She shifted the box to her hip, only for the lamp to fall out. Her heart skipped a beat as she watched it fall, unable to stop the coming crash.
“Here, let me help you with that,” came a man to her left, catching the lamp before it hit the floor.
“Oh, thank you!” Haley said, scanning her badge to get through the security gate to the elevator. The man smiled at her, helping her get the lamp situated in the box.
“Can I take something up for you?” he asked. Haley shook her head.
“Thanks, but only a few people are allowed on my floor,” she told him. “I’m new, so I’m just getting a couple of things up there.”
The man shrugged, grinning at her. “No worries,” he said. “So, you’re new?”
“Yeah,” Haley said, smiling back at him. She shifted the box again to free up a hand to shake, and the lamp nearly fell out again. “Sorry, I’m not usually this clumsy.”
The guy chuckled. “I would hope not, Outlier,” he said, emphasizing her callsign. “The new Watcher of the Asylum should be able to handle a box.”
“You know me?” Haley asked. She wasn’t sure if she was flattered or creeped out until he explained.
“Everybody in this building knows you,” he said, “or at least knows about you. There aren’t that many Watchers here.” His smile was disarming, and Haley relaxed a bit. “My name’s Eli,” he went on. “Eli Howard. I’m a contractor here. Hope I see you around, milady.” He gave a mock bow, and Haley fought back a giggle.
She let herself smile at him as she answered, “Nice to meet you, Eli. Sounds good.”
“New girl!” came a shout from behind her. Haley didn’t need to turn to know that Natalie was stepping out of the elevator. She marched up next to her, glaring at Eli. “Why’re you talking to him?”
The rude behavior wasn’t out of character for Natalie, but Frank came up on Haley’s other side and added, “What are you doing here, Butterfly?”
For some reason, neither of the Asylum Watchers seemed to like him. Haley had a dozen questions – he seemed really nice to her – but started with the most obvious. “Butterfly?” she asked.
Eli shrugged. “I like butterflies,” he said, “so that’s what they call me.”
“Okay,” Haley moved on. “So then Frank, why are you being rude? I mean, I expect it from Natalie,” she added, earning a glare from the other girl, “but not from you.”
“Butterfly here is a licensed Watcher,” Frank explained, “except he only takes jobs where he can get paid. He’s a mercenary for hire, and he doesn’t seem to care who does the hiring.”
“Gotta make a living,” Eli shrugged again. “Anyways, Agent called me for a job, so if you could tell him I’m here then I won’t have to be here as long. Milady,” he added, giving Haley another mock bow. “I’ll be seeing you.”
Frank and Natalie turned Haley towards the elevator before she could reply. “Watch out for that one,” Natalie said. “He’s all smiles and charm, but he’ll stab you in the back any time it suits him. All the mercs are like that.”
“He seemed nice,” Haley said. “What did he do that has you both acting like you sat on a pinecone?”
Frank pressed the button for the elevator. “Last year, Butterfly took a job for the Fauns, to kill a rival gang leader. We had to stop him, and he took a shot at Natalie. Since then, we don’t trust him.”
“Makes sense,” Haley said. Changing the subject, she asked, “So why were you two down there? I thought you both lived here.”
“We do,” Frank said. “And you’re moving in today, right?”
“We thought we’d help,” Natalie added sweetly, “so we came down to get you.”
“…Thanks?” Haley said, suspicious at Natalie’s sudden change of tone. As the elevator let them off, she stepped out into the hallway first. “Do you know which room is mine?”
She saw Frank nudge Natalie out of the corner of her eye as he said, “You’re down this way, next to Rina. Here, I’ll show you.”
He led her down the hallway to the seventh door on the right. Agent had shown her a similar room on her first day: it was a spacious dorm room with a bed and a desk, with a private bathroom and a small closet. This one had Haley’s name and callsign on the door, and she couldn’t help but grin at her new room.
Haley put her box down on the desk, taking out the lamp and setting it up before she dropped it again. She took out the blankets and sheets, leaving them on the bed as she grabbed another box from beneath them. “Hey,” she called to Frank and Natalie as they left her to unpack, “wait up!”
She followed them back to the stairs, opening the box. “My mom made some cookies for my first day here. Want some?” she said, offering them to her new teammates.
“Uh, thanks,” Natalie said, taking one.
“Are you sure you don’t want to spend some time unpacking?” Frank asked.
“Not right now,” Haley said, suddenly very sure that they were up to something. “I’d rather spar with somebody first. I’d like to check out the training room a bit more; I can unpack later.”
Natalie nudged Frank’s side, not bothering to be subtle. “Oh, well, we were just training earlier,” she said. “Maybe later.”
“Yeah,” Frank added. “Maybe you should go back – ow!”
Natalie elbowed him in the side, still smiling sweetly at Haley. “Maybe later,” Frank echoed, rubbing the spot where she’d hit him. “I’ve got some… ah, other stuff to do. Thanks for the cookie!”
They left down the stairs, leaving Haley standing in the hallway with a box of cookies in her hands. “Because that wasn’t suspicious at all,” she muttered, rolling her eyes. She started knocking on doors to see if anyone else wanted a match.
Rina and David didn’t answer; Haley figured that they were out on patrol. She knocked on Granny’s door, and was surprised when the older woman answered. “Yes dear?” Granny asked.
“I’m moving in today, and my mom made cookies. Would you like some?” Haley said, offering the box. “I was hoping for a sparring partner, too.”
She heard a growling voice from behind Granny say, “Ooh, cookies!”
“Mind your manners, Amii,” Granny called back. “You and Ieialel still have some talking to do. I’m sorry, dear,” Granny added, turning back to Haley. “I’d love to train with you, but some other time. My guests need some mediation, and we’re close to making a breakthrough.”
“Oh,” Haley said, wondering what kind of guests she could have that Agent would allow. “Sure. Here, take some cookies for them, too. My mom’s bakery is the best in the city.”
“Thank you, dear,” Granny said, taking the offered treats. Haley could also hear two inhumanly deep voices chorusing “thank you!” in the background. “Maybe you could join us for tea tomorrow?” Granny offered.
Haley grinned. “I’d like that,” she said. “I’ll see you later, then.”
She turned to Reiki’s door, wondering if she should bother him or if she should just go unpack like Frank had suggested. Figuring that she should at least offer him cookies, Haley raised her hand to knock only for the door to open.
Reiki blinked at her. “‘Sup?” he asked.
“Um, cookies?” Haley said awkwardly, holding up the box. Reiki took one, his eyes widening as he ate it. “Would you like to train with me?” Haley ventured.
Reiki closed his door, not even bothering to say “no”. Haley raised her eyebrows at his door before turning on her heels and walking away.
She figured that she would leave the remaining cookies in the kitchen for the others when they returned, and was surprised to find Agent down there. “Hey, I was just looking for you,” he said, taking a cookie from the box. “You’ve got training today; I just scheduled an extra session.”
“Okay,” Haley said. “I was just looking to go there, but nobody else is available to train. Who with?”
“Reiki,” Agent told her, leading her to the stairs. “His performance this morning showed me that he needs some more teamwork exercises, and who better to train with than the new hire?”
“Sure,” Haley said, “but he just closed the door in my face when I asked him.”
“Don’t worry,” Agent said with a smirk. “It’s mandatory. He’ll be there.”
Sure enough, Reiki was waiting for them in the gym, his grey training outfit clashing with his green-tipped spiked hair. “You coming?” he growled to Haley when she emerged from the staircase. He whipped around and stomped towards the back of the gym.
The gym apparently had some other training rooms, each big enough for a group of Third Gens to fight each other. The regular gym equipment was scattered around the entrance, indicating that the team spent most of their training time practicing against each other.
Haley followed Reiki, stretching out her arms as she walked for the match to start. “So what’re the rules?” she asked.
Reiki shrugged. Agent spoke up, saying, “This will be a teamwork exercise. You’ll have to work together to ring the bell.”
The door to the training room closed behind them, and a wall began to retract into the floor, combining two of the practice rooms for more space. Other panels in the walls opened, and different obstacles began protruding from the walls and floor. When the changes were finished, Haley saw that the room had transformed into a jungle gym. She saw the bell that Agent had mentioned at the top of the far side of the room.
Agent’s voice came over a loudspeaker now. “I’ll be monitoring the exercise from out here,” he said. “Your goal is for both of you to ring the bell; you’ll have to work together. We’ll be trying this until you both succeed.”
“Ready?” Haley asked Reiki. He just growled in response and jumped onto the first beam. The only way for them to get to the bell was to jump from one beam to the next, but the beams would randomly slide out from under them. It didn’t happen often, but when it did it happened quickly.
Haley found that out the hard way; she was halfway up when the beam she was standing on suddenly pulled back into the wall with a THUNK. She nearly fell six feet to the floor, but managed to catch herself on another beam nearby.
Reiki was ahead of her, obviously having done this before. Agent’s voice came from the speakers again. “Reiki, this exercise is about communication,” he said. “You need to watch your teammate’s back.”
“She’s fine,” he said, not even turning around to look. “She caught herself, didn’t she?”
Haley was fine. She pulled herself up onto the beam and continued upwards, catching up to Reiki. Obstacle courses were her specialty, so once she knew what was coming she could avoid it. Agent disagreed with the assessment, though.
“That’s not the point,” he told them as the bell retracted into the wall. Another bell appeared on the far side from them, forcing the trainees to change direction as they went.
“Hey, what else can this place do?” Haley asked Reiki. He still didn’t answer, instead launching himself forward. Another trap appeared, this time firing small laser bursts at Reiki. They seemed to be low-power; one grazed Reiki’s shoulder but didn’t even singe his shirt.
Reiki dodged the lasers, looking back at Haley expectantly. She followed him through the fire, still balancing on the beams, and he nodded at her. “You’ve got a head on your shoulders,” he said approvingly.
Haley suddenly realized that he was testing her. She grinned at him. “It’ll take more than that to slow me down,” she said.
It took three more tries before they managed to catch up to the bell and ring it. Agent threw other obstacles at them, but Haley had to watch Reiki go through them before she could figure them out. Reiki didn’t say another word for the rest of the exercise.
By the end of the training hour, Agent was fed up. “You both could have caught the bell much sooner if you’d just talked,” he said. “I know what you’re capable of. Reiki, you know the routine; Outlier, you’re good at obstacle courses. You both were hit more than five times apiece, which is unacceptable in the Asylum!” He was close to yelling at this point, and he seemed to realize it.
“Sorry, Agent,” Haley said. “It won’t happen again.” She looked at Reiki, wondering why he refused to say anything during the exercise. Agent was right; if he had warned her about the obstacles, they both would have finished much faster.
Reiki just shrugged in response. Haley wanted to kick him when he spoke, “Agent, I have that other really important thing scheduled in an hour. I need to shower and change first; can I go yet?”
Agent put his head in his hand, saying, “Sure. Fine.” Looking up at the two of them, he added, “Take Haley with you.”
“What?” Reiki asked, his eyes widening. “Why?”
“She should see this, too. Outlier, meet Reiki in the motor pool in a half hour. Dismissed.” Agent turned and walked out, but Haley could have sworn she had seen him grin.
“So, what’s the mission?” Haley ventured to ask. Reiki just stormed out of the room in response. Rolling her eyes, Haley went to her own room to shower and change.
* * * * * * * *
Outlier, victim of a practical joke.
“So Frank and Natalie put some sort of flashing strobe light in my room,” Haley said, venting to Reiki as he drove them to the mission. “Thing is, I can’t figure out where it’s coming from – so far, I’ve found three mirrors but no strobe light.”
“Yeah,” Reiki said. “Natalie’s really good at that.”
“At what? Driving me crazy?” Haley asked.
“At the hazing pranks.” When Haley didn’t respond, he added, “Every time a new Watcher moves in, the twins and Frank get them with some kind of prank.”
Haley rolled her eyes. “So they did this to you, too?” she asked him. Reiki nodded.
“‘Course, because my powers allow me to manipulate light, they used a beeping noise while I was trying to sleep,” he added.
“Hmph. As long as they don’t do it again,” Haley said. “I just need to find the darn thing.” Thinking about Natalie and Frank, she remembered the other odd encounter of the morning. “Do you know of a ‘Butterfly’?” she asked.
“Butterfly?” Reiki echoed. “Why d’you want to know about him?”
“I met him this morning,” Haley said. “Frank told me he’s a Watcher, but he’s also a mercenary. Is that a thing?”
Reiki glanced at Haley before responding. “If the Asylum hadn’t tapped you, what would you have done with a Watcher’s license?” he asked.
“… I guess I never thought about it before,” Haley said, taken aback by the realization. “I was always so focused on getting my license, I never really considered what I’d do once I got it.”
“The Asylum – an agency where Watchers come together to help the public – is a new concept,” Reiki explained. “Most Watchers take work from the lists, where people pay for that kind of work to be done. Because they use it to pay their bills, most become bounty hunters and mercenaries for hire.”
“So if most Watchers are mercenaries,” Haley asked, “why would Natalie and Frank hold that against Butterfly?”
“Because not all Watchers take money from villains like Claw or Jaunt,” Reiki said. “Butterfly is known for not caring where he gets his money; just as long as he gets paid. He took a shot at Natalie; you know her temper. And Frank’s been friends with the twins for years, so he doesn’t forgive something like that easily, either.” Reiki paused as he changed lanes, before adding, “A merc also shot his mom. That doesn’t help.”
“Huh.” Haley mulled that over for a bit. It took her a few minutes to realize where they were; when she looked out the car window, she was surprised to see trees and grass instead of buildings. “Why are we at the park?” Haley asked, glancing sideways at Reiki. “What exactly is the mission?”
Reiki pulled the car to a stop. “That,” he growled, pointing at a pavilion a ways in front of them. He got out, pulling a large bag from the backseat, and Haley scrambled to follow. They both had changed into their uniforms, and Haley wondered at the wisdom of sending them out on a field assignment shortly after the failed training session.
There were civilians around, seemingly having a picnic. A dozen children ran screaming around a playground, while a few adults stood around talking. There were a few balloons around, and a stack of gifts on one of the tables. Haley looked around, trying to find the source of the trouble.
“What’s the situation?” she asked, walking briskly next to Reiki. “Domestic abuse? Robbery?”
Reiki paused before the door and looked at her with raised eyebrows as they walked up to the party. “Brace yourself,” he said.
From their right came a shout, “He’s here! He’s here!” A young boy ran up to them and screamed, “Reiki!”
Even more surprising, Reiki’s face broke out in a huge grin as he knelt down on the boy’s level. “Hey kiddo,” he said. “‘Course I’m here! I wouldn’t miss my best bud’s birthday!”
Even as he said it, Haley looked at the party and saw that nothing was wrong. The decorations in the pavillion told her that the kid was turning eleven, though he seemed to be small for his age. Reiki nudged her shoulder and she turned back to the birthday boy.
“Hi,” she said politely as the boy’s parents came up to them. Reiki grinned at them.
“Mom, dad, this is Reiki!” the kid introduced. “He’s the Watcher I was telling you about.”
The mom smiled at them. “Welcome,” she said. “Thank you so much for coming; Robby hasn’t stopped talking about you for weeks!”
“Happy to be here,” Reiki said. “I’m Reiki, and this is my colleague Outlier. Robby here invited me a few weeks ago; I hope you don’t mind I brought a plus-one.”
“Not at all,” the mom said, shaking Haley’s hand too. “Robby has been so excited, saying that a real live Watcher was coming to his party.”
“Ever since that show you put on, he’s been a completely different kid,” the dad said. “I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Oh, that? No problem,” Reiki waved off the praise. “Happy to help. By the way, here you go, bud,” Reiki said, pulling a present out of the bag for the kid and handing it to him. “Happy birthday!”
“Wow, thanks!” the kid said, his eyes going wide.
“Hey champ, let’s go put that with your other presents,” the dad said.
The kid turned back to Reiki. “Could you do the fireworks thing again? Maybe later? Please?”
Reiki laughed. “Sure thing,” he said. “You get everyone together, and I’ll meet you over by the sandbox.”
The kid grinned, and ran to tell his other friends. Haley couldn’t stop staring at Reiki; she had never seen him smile before, and he seemed like a completely different person.
As the kid – Robby, as his mom mentioned – ran off, his mother led them over to the pavillion and introduced them to the other adults there. Haley leaned next to Reiki and whispered, “So, a really important mission, huh?”
“Yeah,” Reiki whispered back. “I promised the kid I’d come.”
“I don’t recognize his parents,” Haley said. “Do you know them?”
“Never met his mom before,” Reiki answered. “I just met the kid and his dad in the park a few weeks ago.”
Just then, Robby ran back and grabbed Reiki’s hand. “You’ve gotta come see this!” he said.
Reiki made a helpless gesture to Haley before letting the kid drag him off. Robby’s mom laughed, as Haley tried to make sense of the situation. “So, how long have you known Reiki?” the mom asked, turning to Haley.
“Oh, I’ve only just started working at the Asylum,” Haley said. “I’ve known Reiki just a couple of days. Agent – our boss – said that this would be a good mi… a good experience for me, so Reiki brought me along.”
The mom grinned at her. “It’s nice to know that the Asylum is watching out for us,” she said. “Robby and his father likes to ride their bikes to the park in the city. It’s nice to live in a place where we don’t have to worry about the crime rate as much.” She led Haley to the back door, explaining, “We just moved here last month from New York City, see, and that was no place for a kid like Robby to run around.”
“You mentioned a show,” Haley prompted.
“Oh, Reiki’s show,” Robby’s dad came up and joined the conversation. “Reiki puts on a show in Central Park about once a week. Oh, he’s starting – watch.”
He pointed to where Reiki and the kids were gathered. The kids all sat in a circle, watching Reiki in the middle as he started moving his hands to use his power. He seemed to be plucking something out of the air, gathering something up.
Suddenly, Reiki started spinning his hands in a circle in front of his face. Multi-colored lights traced the air where his fingertips were, creating a wheel made of light. It looked like a normal light show, until he threw the wheel into the air and caught it as if it were solid.
The kids all clapped and cheered for the trick. Reiki gave a small bow, and spun the ring up in the air again. This time, he dove through the hoop in midair, doing a flip for his audience. Haley was shocked to see him grinning broadly as he raised his arms, preparing his next trick. Small explosions began popping above his fingertips as he created fireworks in the air.
“The kids really love him,” Haley mused aloud. Robby’s parents both smiled at the scene.
“When we moved here, Robby didn’t have any friends,” the dad told her. “He and I used to come to the park, but the other kids didn’t want to play with him. Reiki came up after his show and asked Robby what was wrong; when he heard, he started putting on a show just for him. Kids began gathering around, and Reiki used the show to introduce them all to Robby.”
“He’s been a completely different kid ever since,” the mom added. “It’s like he’s come out of his shell. He’s never had that many friends before, even in our old home, but now he’s socializing and having fun.”
Haley smiled, watching her teammate as he created a sparkling rainbow in the air for a finale. “Reiki’s really something, huh?” she said.
After his show, the birthday boy blew out his candles and the cake was cut. Reiki came over to where Haley was standing and handed her a piece, taking a bite of his own piece. “Having fun?” he asked. His face was back to its resting scowl, but it was softer around the eyes than Haley was used to.
Haley smirked at him. “I never would have thought it,” she said. “You’re just a big squish!”
“I am not,” Reiki protested, furrowing his eyebrows. “What’s a squish?”
“You know,” Haley said, teasing him, “you’re so hard and tough on the outside, but underneath you’re just squishy marshmallow fluff.” Haley took a bite of the cake before adding, “I have a brother like that.” As Reiki scowled at her, she nudged his shoulder with her own. “Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.”
Reiki might have argued, but a police siren cut him off. The Asylum communicators buzzed on in their ears at the same time, and Agent’s voice came over the coms. “Reiki, Outlier, I hate to cut the party short, but there’s been an incident near you.” He gave the coordinates, and the two Watchers started running to the scene.
At the edge of the park, a Third Gen was spewing lava over the grounds. Panicked civilians ran away from him, their screams piercing the air. “Who’s that?” Haley asked over the coms.
“Not sure,” Agent replied. “He’s new, but he’s been trailing lava for the last few blocks. It’s putting civilians in danger, and he needs to be stopped quickly. Earthborn is ten minutes out, but he could set fire to the entire park by then.”
Haley pulled a pair of goggles out of her utility belt and put them on, and Reiki did the same. “How are we going to get close?” Haley asked her teammate. Reiki just shrugged in response. The firefighters were busy putting out the lava that the Third Gen had trailed behind him, and the police were trying their best to keep the civilians away. The air around the Third Gen was scalding, and neither Reiki nor Haley could get close.
Reiki bit his lip, and seemed to have an idea. Before he could move, Haley grabbed his arm. “Hey,” she said. “We need to communicate, or we’ll never beat this guy. What’s your plan?”
He glared at her, but said, “I might be able to draw the heat out of the air to get closer to him.”
“Good,” Haley said. “Can you get us both in there?”
“I can try,” he grimaced, “but that’s a lot of energy to absorb.”
Haley thought back to his light show. “Do you have to absorb it?” she asked. “Can’t you, i dunno, redirect it or something?” She mimed the ring of light he had done earlier.
Reiki furrowed his eyebrows, but nodded. “That might work,” he said. “Let me see if I can do it, then you follow behind me.”
He began spinning his hands in front of him, and Haley could feel the air cooling down. A ring of light shone in his hands, and Reiki threw it up in the air above them.
It only lasted a few seconds before the air heated up again. Reiki repeated the movement, and the duo moved a few feet closer. Haley could see the strain that Reiki was taking with each toss of the ring, but he gritted his teeth and kept moving them. She didn’t want to think about how they would get out of the burn zone if they failed to subdue the Third Gen.
There was no footing within ten feet of the Third Gen that wasn’t lava. Reiki tried to cool some of it off, but he couldn’t work on both the ground and the air at the same time. Haley took stock of their surrounding, trying to find a path through, but they were stymied.
The Third Gen saw them, and threw up another spout of lava in their direction. “I can’t hold this for long,” Reiki said, stumbling. “Need to finish this quick.”
Haley took another look at the Third Gen, whose eyes were wide as another stream of lava came out of his mouth. “Helk,” he cried, “ah cahn cahnolle eh! Helk!” His voice gurgled from the burning rock pouring from his mouth. It didn’t seem to burn him, but he also didn’t seem able to turn it off.
“Put him to sleep,” Reiki said. He glanced at Haley, adding, “Chip gave you a knock-out pistol, right? He’s asking for help because he can’t control it; we need to knock him out.”
Haley pulled a small pistol from her belt, checking the settings. “I’ve never used this before,” she told Reiki, “but Chip told me it could stun an enemy. Right?”
He glanced at the gun, nodding. “It can. Set the dial to one,” he instructed. “The kickback is minimal, but aim a little low just in case. I’d do it myself, but…” he trailed off, tossing another ring of light into the air. “Don’t miss,” he added. “That’s not something we like to use regularly.”
Haley had trained with firearms before when she was trying out for the police academies, but nothing like the tiny little peashooter Chip had given her. It was the size of her closed fist; “compact” was the word Chip had used to describe it, but it was smaller than any other weapon Haley had ever held before. Her only chance of hitting the Third Gen and knocking him out was to hope Reiki’s directions were correct.
She pulled the trigger, and a pulse of energy shot forward to the Third Gen. Reiki was right, the kickback wasn’t nearly as much as the pistols she trained with, but there was enough that her wrist hurt from the effort of holding the weapon still. The pulse hit the Third Gen with a loud POP, knocking him to the ground.
“Yes!” Haley cheered. Reiki gave a weak smile, collecting more of the heat around them. With the Third Gen knocked unconscious, lava stopped flowing from his mouth. The heat began to lessen, and didn’t come back as much with each new toss of Reiki’s light ring.
The two Watchers left the heat zone, and Reiki collapsed on the ground. His face was red, and his hands looked burned from the effort of dispersing the heat. “Are you okay?” Haley asked him. Reiki just nodded.
The firefighters had caught up to the scene, and were cooling down the lava so that someone could get close to the Third Gen. Agent pulled up in another car and walked over to Haley and Reiki to debrief them, with Dale following closely. “Thanks,” Agent said as police officers began containing the Third Gen. Dale moved to Reiki and looked at the burns on his hands. “Witnesses confirmed that the guy suddenly lost control of his powers; putting him to sleep was the right call.”
“It was Reiki’s plan,” Haley said, clapping her teammate on the shoulder. Reiki seemed close to passing out. “He’s the one who caught that the guy wasn’t doing it on purpose.”
“Aye, and he did well in keeping injuries to a minimum,” Dale added, using his own Third Gen power to heal the worst of Reiki’s burns. “You two’ll have a bit of a sunburn left, but nothing some aloe can’t fix.”
Agent nodded, offering his umbrella to Reiki as a cane to help him stand up when Dale was finished. “Good call,” he repeated. “You two worked well together; we might have to team you up more often.”
Haley looked at Reiki, who smiled at her. “I had a partner who actually pays attention,” he admitted. “I wouldn’t mind teaming up with Outlier again.”
Agent raised an eyebrow. “Well, Earthborn should be here soon, and it’s technically your day off,” he said. “You guys can go back to the party if you want.” He nodded to something behind them. Haley turned around to see the kids and adults from the party looking at the scene in awe. “Your fans await you,” Agent added with a smirk.
“Fifteen minutes,” Dale said. “Then I want you on your way back to Headquarters for a full exam.”
Haley helped Reiki over to the kids. He was still exhausted, and both of their faces and arms were still raw from the heat, but they assured the kids and their parents that they would be fine. “Thanks for having us,” Haley said to Robby’s parents while Reiki said goodbye to Robby. “Sorry about the mess.”
“That was exciting,” the mom said, her eyes wide. “You guys do that often?”
“Not really,” Reiki assured her. “Just when we’re needed.” He shook their hands, managing not to wince from the contact with his newly-healed burns, and the duo walked to their car.
* * * * * * * *
Back at Headquarters, the next day.
Haley Prince, AKA Outlier.
Haley’s peeling burns itched, but there was nothing she could do about it now. She was scheduled for a patrol with Reiki that afternoon, her first patrol since joining the Asylum. She was supposed to meet Reiki in the motor pool beforehand, but decided to get some fresh air first. She left the elevator at the lobby level, but as she walked towards the door to go outside she ran into a familiar face. “Hey,” Eli greeted her. “I heard about the excitement at the park yesterday. You okay?”
“Yeah.” Haley didn’t stop to flirt with him this time; she was on the clock, after all. She walked outside, blinking in the sunshine, and Eli followed her out.
Eli pressed his lips together. “They told you about me, huh?” he said. Haley nodded. “I get it,” he added. “They don’t trust me, so you don’t trust me, either.”
“It’s not that,” Haley said. “I just don’t know you.”
“You know of me,” Eli said.
“But I’ve only heard their side of things,” Haley shrugged. She thought about Reiki’s behavior at the party as she added, “I’ve learned not to judge people on first impressions.”
“You don’t hate me?” he asked, beginning to smile.
Haley raised an eyebrow. “To be clear, I don’t like you either,” she told him. “I’m just not judging you based on hearsay.”
Eli straightened, smiling that cocky grin at her. “Well then, milady,” he said, “I’ll just have to prove myself to you.” He gave a mock bow and walked away. Haley called after him, “Don’t get cocky!”
He just laughed and gave her a thumbs-up. Shaking her head, Haley started jogging to where her teammate waited. I’ll have to watch out for Butterfly, she decided.
She would most likely see him again.
* * * * * * * *