Issue #8 – Dark David

Four years ago, a lab outside of Eon City.

Drake Rogers, on the table.

It didn’t hurt.  That was what surprised Drake the most about his condition – he had been thrown around, pummelled, and electrocuted quite thoroughly, but nothing hurt.

In fact, he couldn’t feel anything below his neck.

At first, he had assumed that the doctors had tied him down.  Then he thought that maybe they had given him an anesthetic. The truth dawned on him slowly – especially since the doctors didn’t seem to want to tell him – that he was paralyzed.

That damn kid, he thought.  His opponent hadn’t really been a kid; the target had been in his early twenties.  But Drake, who was in his thirties, saw him as a kid – a stupid kid who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and by sheer accident was now the strongest being on the planet.

As if echoing his thoughts, a voice came from the doorway.  “Sucks, doesn’t it?” Jaunt asked him.

The man in the suit strolled in as if he owned the place – which he probably did.  Drake didn’t even know which hospital he was in, but it looked as fancy as the other facilities that Jaunt owned.

“What… do you… want?” Drake managed to croak out.  Breathing enough to speak was difficult, since he was on an artificial respirator.

“The same thing you do,” Jaunt said.  “I want you up and about, able to take on your enemies.”

“You… did… this…” Drake pointed out.

Jaunt shrugged.  “I can see why you think that,” he admitted.  “It was my hit that you were taking out, my order to kill any witnesses, my order to track the witness down when you failed to kill him.”

“Your… drug… made him… a… monster…” Drake said.  “I… killed… him… the… first… time…”

“You shot him,” Jaunt said.  “You buried him in a shallow grave, and left him for dead.  But you obviously didn’t kill him.”

“I… shot him… in the… heart…” Drake said.

Jaunt smiled.  “And then buried him right over a chemical runoff,” he said.  “Then lightning strikes the ground where he’s buried, and poof!  Suddenly there’s a new, more powerful being running around.” He shook his head.  “All of that experimenting with the Fourth Gens, and the answer was right under our noses.  We have a true Fourth Gen, with no aversion to sunlight, who has god-like powers.”

“Can’t… control…” Drake said.  “He’s… insane…”

“We’re working on a fix for that, too,” Jaunt said.  “I have my top doctor figuring out a serum for him; we’ll have him back to his old self in no time.”

“What… do you… want… from me…?” Drake asked.  He was getting tired of Jaunt’s blathering.

“Simple,” Jaunt said.  “No experiment can be called a success unless we can duplicate the results.”  He moved over next to Drake’s bedside. “I want your consent to give you the serum, and then shoot you with a bolt of lightning.”

It sounded crazy.  Drake would have said no – except what did he have to lose?  He knew about the Fourth Gen serum, and how it had nasty side-effects in all of the other subjects.  But he was facing long-term paralysis, and that scared him more than dying.

“Do… it…” he said.

Jaunt smiled again and walked out of the room, calling behind him, “It’s already begun.”

Drake twitched his cheek in a ghost of a smile, the first since he had woken up from the fight.  He would get his revenge for what the kid did.

David Perry would get what’s coming to him.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, present day.

David Perry, AKA Earthborn.

“Wake!” came a squeal from next to David’s side of the bed.  “Wake, Daddy, wake!” There was a slight tugging at his sheets as his two year-old daughter tried to get him up.

“Sweetie, our daughter’s calling you,” Amy mumbled from behind the sheets.

David looked at the clock.  Of course baby girl’s calling me, he thought.  “It’s nearly eight,” he said, nudging Amy to wake her up too.  “I’m up, munchkin,” he told his daughter.

He groaned as he climbed out of bed.  He put his daughter in her booster seat at the table and got breakfast ready for the three of them.

“What time does your patrol start?” Amy asked, yawning as she came out of the bedroom.

“I’ve got the afternoon shift,” David told her, kissing her good morning.  “Starts at twelve and goes until about eight.”

“I have to work the evening shift,” Amy told him.  “I’ll call my mother to see if she can babysit tonight until you get home.”

David grinned at her.  “I love you, you know that?” he said.

Amy smiled back at him, still tired.  “You say that every day,” she told him.

“I mean it every day,” he said, pouring her a cup of coffee and sitting next to their daughter to help her with the cutlery.

Amy came over and kissed his forehead before sitting down next to him.  “I love you, too.” she said. “It’s nice to have a decently quiet morning for once.”

No sooner did the words come out of her mouth then an alarm rang, coming from the bedroom.  David winced, getting up as Amy took his spot next to their daughter. “You just had to jinx it, didn’t you?” he teased, going to the bedroom to answer his com.

“Earthborn, we need you,” Agent said, sounding urgent.  “There’s a powerful Third Gen tearing up downtown.”

“Can’t Granny take it?” David asked, pulling on his uniform.

“I’d ask her, but it’s calling you out by name,” Agent said.

“I’m being requested?” David asked, pausing for a second as it sunk in.  Finishing with his uniform, he added, “Most bad guys tend to hate it when I show up.”

“Union Square,” Agent directed.  “Get there as soon as possible.  I’m also sending Granny and Nightmare as back-up – we’ll need our heavy hitters on this one.”

“Roger,” David said, and Agent hung up.  David went back out to the kitchen to let Amy know.

“Be careful,” she said.  “We’ll be watching the news.”

David gave her a mock salute and kissed their daughter goodbye before heading out the door.

It took Earthborn only a few minutes to get downtown.  That was one benefit of his powers – he could travel faster by tunnelling underground than he would in a car.  It had taken him more than a year to get a handle on his powers, but now they were a part of him. Dale’s serum helped keep the crazy under control, and as long as he used his lightning powers sparingly he wouldn’t go mad again.

Which is why he gave an exhausted sigh when he saw the bad guy shooting lightning bolts out of his hands.

“Hey, Earthborn,” Nightmare greeted as he ran up to join them.  “He’s got the same electric powers as you; I think that’s why he’s calling you out.”

“Not possible,” Earthborn said, shaking his head.  “Maybe similar to mine, but that’s not my power.”

“David Perry!” the electric villain called out.  “Or do you go by ‘Earthborn’ now? Come over here and face me!”

“He seems to know you by name,” Granny said, landing her dragon on his other side.  “Friend of yours?”

Earthborn shook his head, drawing rocks up to cover him in his usual armor.  “I don’t recognize him,” he said.

The villain had scars all over his face, and his brown hair was shaggy.  He shot a bolt of lightning in Earthborn’s direction, but he missed, hitting a parked car behind him.

“Who are you?” Earthborn called.  “What do you want with me?”

“Oh, you don’t recognize me?” the villain called back, giggling maniacally.  “You did this to me, you know. Four years ago, you went on a rampage trying to destroy the city, and I tried to stop you.”  A cold, sinking feeling rose in Earthborn’s stomach as he began to realize who this was. “You beat the crap out of me, as ‘a warning to others’ if I remember right.  Well, now it’s my turn. We’re on the same playing field now.”

“Drake?” Earthborn asked.

“Ye-es,” Drake said in a mocking voice.  “But so much more handsome than the last time we met, don’t you think?”  He gave a mocking bow. “Even with the Fourth Gen serum, the same serum that brought you back from the dead, it took four YEARS for me to recover from that fight,” he said.  “And what’ve you been up to?” He started walking forward, making the air around him crackle with electricity.  “You got a girlfriend. And had a little kid. And started working a cushy job as a Watcher in the Asylum. All while I was eating out of a TUBE!”

Drake threw a bolt of electricity, but it again went wide of Earthborn.  Nightmare had to dive out of the way. “What’s he talking about, Earthborn?” she asked.  “He took Fourth Gen serum? But he doesn’t look like the rest of us – he’s out during the day with no cover.”

“Cliff notes version: his name is Drake Rogers,” Earthborn told her and Granny.  “I thought he was dead. He tried to kill me four years ago – he did kill me four years ago – but he buried me with a chemical, that might have been Fourth Gen, and lightning struck, and I woke up with my powers.”

“And you beat the crap out of him?” Nightmare prompted.

Earthborn shrugged.  “Honestly, I don’t remember much about that,” he said, this time loudly enough for Drake to hear.  “The electricity I shoot messes with my head; more so back then before I could control it.”

“And you have so much more control over it now?” Drake asked, still coming towards him.  “I think I’ll test that.” He shot another lightning bolt at Earthborn, this time using an enormous amount of power to strike everything in a city-block radius.

The street had already been cleared of pedestrians, but there were police officers in the line of fire.  Earthborn stomped the ground, and every living being in the strike zone was surrounded by earth to block the lightning.  Unfortunately, that also included Nightmare, Granny, and Herschel, which meant the fight was now one-on-one. “Neat trick,” Drake said.  “But how about this?”

He had come close enough to lunge for Earthborn, tackling him to the ground even with his rock armor to protect him.  Drake used another huge burst of power to shoot lightning directly into Earthborn, breaking through the armor and hitting him in the chest in a constant stream of electricity.

“Hurts, doesn’t it?” Drake asked through gritted teeth as Earthborn lost control over the rocks surrounding him.  The armor completely broke apart, showing Earthborn’s face as he directly absorbed the electricity.

Then, a surprising sound rose above the roar of Drake’s lightning:

Laughter.

He looked down at Earthborn’s face, as his victim laughed with his eyes wide and staring.  His bright red eyes, which shone with the same manic glint that Drake often saw in the mirror.  And Drake then knew that he had made a horrible mistake.

“My turn,” David said, grinning as Drake’s electricity ran out.  He punched his arm upward, throwing Drake off of him with a giant fist made from the rocks littering the ground.  Drake screamed as he was pummelled without mercy, as David stood up in a shower of sparks. “You tried to kill me,” he accused.  “Twice now. So I have no reason to let you live to try again.”

He shot lightning at Drake with a lot more accuracy than Drake had demonstrated.  As the energy flowed around them, he also picked up any loose gravel from around them, and pulled it together into a giant, compacted ball of dirt.

Nightmare had just managed to dig herself out of the ground trapping her when she saw David slam the giant chunk of earth onto Drake’s head.  The bad guy was buried, but David didn’t stop his onslaught – he hit Drake again and again, even after he fell unconscious from the beating.

“Earthborn!” Nightmare called, watching with horror as her teammate acted like a villain.  “Earthborn, stop! He’s down!”

David turned towards her, and she saw her own red eyes staring back at her.  “Earthborn isn’t here right now,” he said, an insane grin spreading over his face.  “In fact, he’s been keeping me suppressed for years.  I think it’s my turn to come out now.”

Nightmare didn’t know what else to do, so she called Agent.  “Are you seeing this?” she asked into the com.

“Granny’s buried, along with her dragon, and David’s other personality is free,” Agent summed up.  “Yeah, I see it. I’m calling all hands for this one. In the meantime, try to bring him in – that’s the only way we can help him now.  Use any force necessary.”

Nightmare didn’t think; she sent out a wave of her power at David.  If she could give him a mild heart attack, then they could get him back to headquarters before he hurt anybody else.

“Oh, Rina,” David said, still calm and unpanicked.  “The Nightmare Child. There’s a big drawback to your power – for it to affect me, I’d have to fear something.”  He raised his hands, pulling up spikes of rock from the earth. “And what could I possibly have to fear? I’m a god,” he said.  He used lightning strikes on the ground around her to emphasize his point. “I’m the god of the earth. I’m the god of lightning.  The god of storms. The god of death.” He pointed at her. “Your power doesn’t work on me.”

Nightmare stopped wasting her time with her powers, and ran towards him to take him down the old-fashioned way.  “I don’t want to hurt you,” she said, “but I will if I have to.”

David yawned, cocking his head to one side.  Nightmare managed to land one punch, and it didn’t even phase him.

She never even saw the spikes as they impaled her from behind.

* * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters.

All hands on deck.

“What  the hell, Agent?” Natalie demanded as soon as the elevator doors opened.  “First my brother, now David? Any other secrets you’re keeping from us?” Natalie and Frank entered the room together, where Granny, Haley, and Reiki all waited with Agent for orders.

“How’s Rina doing?” Frank asked.

“Rina’s in recovery,” Agent told them.  “Dale says she’ll be fine. Her accelerated healing kept her alive, and Dale’s doing all he can to fix her.”

“She wouldn’t have been in that position in the first place if you had just told us about David’s problem,” Natalie growled.

“I know,” Agent sighed.  His knuckles were white on the handle of his umbrella.  “I messed up. I didn’t want you all worrying about this, or trusting him any less as your teammate.”

Natalie shook her head, keeping her eyes locked on Agent.  “This is why you sent him home early from the party,” she accused.  “Why Dale has to check us all out after every little thing, even when we’re fine.”

“Partly,” Agent said.  “Dale also worries over all of you.”

“Let’s not get off-topic,” Granny said.  “David is now out there causing havoc in our city just like any other Third Gen who lost control of his powers.”  She patted her bag, asking, “How do we stop him?”

“How did this happen?” Frank asked.  “I mean, I always thought the guy was just a really strong Third Gen.  But that Drake guy was talking about ‘Fourth Gen’ – isn’t that what gave Rina her powers?”

“No more lies,” Natalie warned.  “No more half-truths. If we’re going to stop him, we need to know everything.”

Agent sat down on a stool at the kitchen island.  “David was an accident,” he told them. “From what he told me, he witnessed an assassin – Drake Rogers – kidnapping a hit, and was taken alongside; Drake doesn’t leave witnesses alive.  Drake shot him in the heart and buried him and the other guy in a field. Somehow, lightning struck the spot where he was buried, and David woke up with his powers.”

“And the other guy?” Haley asked.

“No idea,” Agent said.  “I was put on David’s trail as an afterthought, only once his alter ego started running rampant.  Anything before that you’ll have to ask him.”

“Assuming we can get close enough to him,” Natalie muttered.  Out loud, she said, “I’ve never seen someone that strong. Even Rina doesn’t have that much power.”

Agent shook his head.  “She does,” he told them.  “Rina can drive hundreds to panic at once if need be – she just doesn’t usually need to in the Asylum.  Accident or not, David is a Fourth Gen like her – and Fourth Gens were designed to be single-person armies.”  He leaned back against the kitchen island, adding, “Elementals like David are usually strong enough when they’re Third Gens, but they usually can only manipulate one element – and they have limited control.  Eighty percent of Third Gens who suddenly lose control over their powers are elementals.”

“But they don’t usually go crazy,” Natalie argued.  “They just cause storms, or fires, or something, but they don’t mean to do it.”

“To our knowledge, that would be because of David’s electrical powers,” Agent said.  “His other personality only comes out when he uses too much lightning.”

“So let me get this straight,” Haley said.  “This ‘other personality’…” She shook her head.  “Nope, not calling it that. This ‘Dark David’ that we have to go fight now – he’s that way only because he uses his lightning powers?  Then how is fighting going to help?”

“It’s not.”  Dale walked in from the elevator.  He seemed exhausted, with eyelids that would barely stay open and shuffling feet.  He held a case in his hand, presumably to give to Agent.

Granny was the first to ask, “How’s Rina doing?”

“As well as can be expected,” Dale told them.  “Thank god for her natural healing ability – without that, she’d have been dead before I got there.”

Agent nodded.  “Dale, you were saying?”

Dale shook his head to clear it.  “Right,” he said. “I’d recommend avoiding a fight if you can.  All you need to do is stick him with this.” He put the case he was carrying down on the kitchen counter, opening it to show the team five syringes.  “It’s a concoction of my own making,” he explained. “Right now, he’s suffering from tachycardia due to heightened adrenaline levels. That’s why Rina’s powers wouldn’t work on him – he’s naturally in the state that she was trying to cause.  His electrical powers target the dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters in his brain, causing his behavior change, lack of inhibitions, and delusions of grandeur.”

“So he’s drunk?” Natalie asked.

Haley shook her head.  “No, more like he’s been overdosing on Ritalin, right?”

“Ritalin, methamphetamines, and alcohol all rolled into one giant shock to his system,” Dale confirmed.  “His powers cause a ton of stress on his body, which is why he loses control just by absorbing some lightning.  The stuff in these syringes’ll bring him out of it – and then you’ll have one massively hung-over Fourth Gen to deal with.”

“Trippy,” Frank noted.  “Next question: how do we find him?”

“He dove underground just as I dug myself out of that shield,” Granny added.  “He could be anywhere by now.”

“There has to be some place he’d go,” Agent said.  “Even in his current state, he’s still David – he’d still have a place in mind, somewhere to hole up.”

Natalie crossed her arms.  “And do you happen to know where that place is?” she asked.

“No,” Agent admitted, pulling out his cell phone.  “But I know someone who does.”

* * * * * * * *

Eon City.

David and Amy’s apartment.

“Thanks for watching her, mom,” Amy said, pulling her shoes on as she headed out the door.  “Bye, sweetie!” Her mother babysat often, so the toddler was at peace with her mother leaving.  That, and she was distracted by a coloring book.

As the door shut behind her, Amy’s phone rang.  “Hello?” she greeted, answering it as she headed to her car.

“This is Agent,” came the voice on the other end of the line.  “I need your help.”

“Good to hear from you too,” Amy said dryly.  “How’s the kid? Oh, she’s fine – sleeping through most nights, finally.  Other pleasantry stuff.”

She could almost hear Agent biting back a sarcastic retort.  “There’s no time for that,” he said instead. “We need to know where David might have gone.”

“I’m not sure how I can help you,” Amy told him.  “He’s been on patrol all day, since you called him in early.”

“You haven’t seen the news?” Agent asked.

“I have a two year-old daughter who is starting to repeat everything she hears,” Amy pointed out.  “Of course I don’t turn on the news around her.”

“David was in a fight this morning,” Agent told her.  “He had to use his lightning powers.”

Amy stopped in her tracks.  “You don’t mean…?” she asked hesitantly.

“His other personality came out, and he ran off before the rest of the team could get there,” Agent confirmed.  “We need to know where he might have gone.”

“Um… try the tunnels,” she said.  “He likes being underground. Otherwise, he might have gone to the fields.”  She named the farmland outside the city where David had first gained his powers.

“Thank you,” Agent said.  “Call me if you think of anything else.”

“Of course,” Amy said.  “But if you do find him, won’t you need me to talk him down?”

“You have done it before…” Agent considered, “but no.  I think the team is up for this, and David would never forgive me – or himself – if you got hurt.”

“Right,” said Amy.  “I’ll be at work if you need me,” she added, just before hearing the click of Agent hanging up the phone.  “Dumbass,” she muttered under her breath.  She got into her car to go to work, trying not to worry about her superhero beau.

* * * * * * * *

Tunnels under the city.

Trying to find Dark David in the dark.

“How the hell are we supposed to find him down here?” Trick asked Shadow.  “This place is a maze!” She shone her flashlight into a suspicious-looking corner.

“Outlier and Reiki went to check the fields,” Shadow said, “so you and I get to check the tunnels with Granny.”  Shadow didn’t need a flashlight; he could tell what was in the shadows without looking.

“No offense,” Trick said, “but why us?  My illusions only go so far against his powers, and you’re more stealth than strength.”

“Stealth would be easier if you stopped talking,” Shadow pointed out.  Seeing the look on his friend’s face, he added, “We’re here because Reiki’s power works best out in the sunlight, and he works better with Outlier than any of us.  Granny’s our hard-hitter down here if we need to fight.”

Trick bit her lip, peering into the shadows around them.  “This place gives me the creeps,” she said. “Further down we go, the more I feel like something’s watching us.”

“If they’re watching, they’re not attacking,” Shadow said.  “Beyond that, I’d prefer not to think about it.”

“Mm-hmm,” Trick agreed.  They walked in silence for a bit, listening for movement in the darkness.

A shuffling sound alerted them to Granny riding up behind them.  Her wolf sniffed at the ground, whining softly. “Louise smells something,” Granny told them.  “I think – ”

The ground erupted around them.  Shadow and Trick were knocked backwards, and Granny was cut off from the other two by a wall of dirt.  Trick jumped to her feet, coughing, and shone her flashlight on where Dark David stood.

“That was a warning,” Dark David told them.  “As I’m sure Rina told you, I don’t have to miss.”

“Earthborn,” Trick started, but Dark David cut her off.

“I’m not Earthborn,” he said, shaking his head.  The air crackled around him with electricity, reflecting on his red eyes.  “That goody-two-shoes keeps pinning me down. I keep trying to come out to play, but I’m forced to watch from the sidelines.”

Trick glanced to where Shadow lay on the ground.  He looked unconscious at first glance, but Trick could see the shadows starting to envelop him.  She had to keep Dark David talking.

“Okay, so if you aren’t Earthborn,” she said, “then who are you?  We’ve been calling you ‘Dark David’, but…” she trailed off, shrugging.  ‘Not sure if you already had a name.”

“‘Dark David’,” he mused.  “I like it. Who came up with that one?  You?”

“Haley, actually,” Trick said.  “She thought ‘other personality’ was too much of a mouthful.”

Dark David laughed.  “True that,” he said.  “So I’m Dark David. Pleasure to meet you.”

“Why did you stab Nightmare?” Trick asked.

He shrugged, taking a step towards her.  “I felt like it,” he said.

“Are you going to stab me?” Trick looked around, as if she would see the ground coming at her.  Dark David gave that cold laugh again.

“If I wanted any of you dead, you would be,” he told her.

“So what do you want?”  Trick looked for Shadow in her peripheral vision, but she couldn’t see him any more.  She took a step away from where he had been, hoping that Dark David wouldn’t notice.

“I just want my freedom,” Dark David said.  “How would you like it if someone else was possessing your body, and you could see what they were doing but weren’t able to move on your own?”

“That’s what it’s like for you?” Trick asked, taking another step.  A scratching sound came from behind the wall that Dark David had thrown up.

“Granny’s trying to break through,” Dark David said dismissively.  “And it’s a bit more complicated than what I just described, but that’s the gist of it.  I remember – ”

Shadow jumped onto his back, trying to stick him with the cure.  Dark David roared, shaking Shadow off with a massive bolt of electricity.  Trick’s flashlight flickered, dimming with the electricity pulsing through the air.  “Shadow?” she asked. “Shadow!”

Her light barely made out the form of her friend, lying prone on the ground.  The shadows fell away from him – he was truly out this time, and Trick was alone.

“That’s Dale’s serum,” Dark David said, looking at the needle he pulled out of his shoulder.  Shadow hadn’t managed to inject him before getting thrown off. “You were trying to trap me again!”

Trick pulled her own dose of the serum out of one of her coat pockets.  Glints of blue flashed in the darkness, showing her where Dark David was even as her light dimmed.  “David, you need to come with me,” she said. “We can help you; don’t you want to see your family again?”

“That’s not my family,” Dark David yelled, his voice echoing in the tunnel.  “That’s not my life! I just want my freedom!”

“You remembered something,” Trick prompted, trying to get him talking again.  If he ran from the tunnels, they might never get another chance to catch him. “You were talking about how it feels to be stuck inside your own head…”

“I won’t let you take me!” he shouted.  “Let… me… go!”

“I don’t have you!” Trick said, confused.  She crept closer to him as she spoke. “I just want to talk.”

“Let me go!” Dark David roared again.  As Trick got closer, the light from his electricity showed her enough to see what he was talking about: Dark David’s legs were encased in mud, trapping him from the waist down.

She didn’t wait any longer.  Trick dove to him, sticking him with her needle and pressing the back end to get the serum into his system.  Dark David yelled again, trying to shake her off until the serum took hold and he collapsed.

The mud fell away from his legs as David groaned.  “Wha… what happened?” he asked, groggily.

Trick breathed a sigh of relief, just as Granny’s wolf punched a hole through the wall that had been separating them.  “Is everyone alright?” Granny asked.

“Yeah,” Trick called back, hearing Shadow get up as well.  “Radio Agent – we got him.”

* * * * * * * *

Back at Asylum Headquarters.

Infirmary level.

“I am so sorry,” David groaned again, his face in his hands.  “I should have told you all before; I really thought I had it under control.”  Agent had just finished debriefing him as Dale checked over the team.

“You did,” Dale told him.  “But even my serum can’t take as much electricity as that Drake fellow gave you.”

“I’m just glad you’re back to normal,” Rina said from her own bed.  She had nearly finished healing, but Dale had wanted to keep her under observation.  “Seeing you beat the crap out of that guy… that was scary. You weren’t you.”

“I’m just glad you’re okay,” Agent said to her.  “If it had been anybody else…”

“I don’t think he would have done that to anybody else,” Natalie mused.  “He said in the tunnels, ‘If I wanted you dead, you would be.’ He had plenty of chances to kill me or Frank, but he didn’t.”

David shook his head.  “He doesn’t think that way,” he explained.  “The other guy acts on impulse, not rational thought.  It was a stroke of luck that the lightning he threw at Frank only grazed him – if he’d gotten a direct hit, Frank would be dead now.”

“I don’t know,” Natalie shrugged.  “In the tunnel he just seemed more… sad, I guess, than anything else.”

“Don’t fall for it,” David said.  “He said what he thought in the moment you wanted to hear.  He’s not stupid – talk of ‘freedom’ and such gets people to empathize with him.  Then, when you let him go, he’d have terrorized countless others.”

“How much do you remember?” Agent asked.  “Do you know where he was in the hours before we caught up?”

David shook his head.  “I get the feeling that I ran into someone,” he said, “and that I tried to destroy something.  But I don’t remember details.”

“Well, anyways,” Natalie stood up, stretching as she walked to the elevator.  “Thanks for holding him down.”

“What?” David asked, looking up at her.

“Thanks for holding him down for me,” she said.  Seeing the blank look on his face, she added, “You know, covering his legs in mud so he couldn’t escape, distracting him enough that I could stick him with Dale’s serum… that was you inside his head, right?”

David furrowed his eyebrows.  “Natalie, when he has control, he has complete control,” he told her.  “He’s still me, he just acts different.  I’m not ‘inside his head’ any more than he’s inside mine – it’s not a separate personality, it’s more like being bipolar.  Or, you know, really, really drunk – I might not remember much when I sober up, but it was still me.”

“So assuming he wasn’t holding himself down…” Natalie started.

“…I don’t think you were alone in the tunnels, Nat,” Agent said.

* * * * * * * *

Zatvor Penitentiary, medical center.

Jaunt.

“You were supposed to get me out of here ages ago,” Skadi accused the man in the suit.  “Where’s my brother?”

“He’s safe,” Jaunt said.  “You’ll see him shortly.” He turned back to the patient in the full-body cast.  “As for you, I gave you the powers of a god and you still failed spectacularly.”

Drake couldn’t speak.  If he hadn’t had Fourth Gen serum, he would be dead – as it was, he could barely move a finger.

Knowing this, Jaunt continued.  “I’m terminating our relationship.  You got yourself into Zatvor, and you can get yourself out.  Skadi here was useless to me until she was healed,” he added for her benefit, “but soon she’ll be able to take her place with her brother.”

“‘Soon’?” Skadi asked, crossing her arms.  “How soon?”

She was looking better than when she had gone into the prison.  Color had returned to her cheeks, and she was gaining weight to a healthy point.

Jaunt nodded at her.  “Some other things need to be done first,” he said.  “I have other pieces in place, but money only goes so far when setting up a jailbreak from the most secure prison in the world.”

“How soon?” Skadi repeated.  “Ballpark figure.”

“Two months,” Jaunt said.  “That should go pretty quickly, all things considered.”

Skadi raised her eyebrows, but said, “Could you at least give a letter to my brother?”  She reached under her pillow and pulled out some papers. “I didn’t know where to send them.”

“Fair enough,” Jaunt said, taking them from her.  “It’s not an easy place to reach.” He clapped his hands together, forming a portal for himself to step through.  Pulling a mask over his face, he stepped through the portal. As the portal closed behind him, Skadi fell back into her bed.  The red lights on the cameras turned back on, and she knew that she was being watched by security again.

How does he do that? she wondered idley.  She thought back to the other times Jaunt had checked on her progress, and how each time he managed to turn the cameras off before portalling into the room.  It was a mystery she was trying to figure out.

After all, there wasn’t much else to do with her time.

* * * * * * * *

Issue #5 – Flown the Coop

Eon City Mall.

Quinn Kaine and Lena King, shopping.

“Did you see how cute those pumps were?” Lena King asked, gushing over a pair of shoes they had found on their shopping expedition.  “So sharp, so classy, so…”

“Expensive?” Quinn “Chip” Kaine offered.

Lena rolled her eyes at her friend.  “I was going to say ‘elegant’,” she sniffed.

“I’m glad you’re happy,” Chip said, “especially since they nearly cost what I make in a year.”

“But so worth it,” Lena said, smiling down at the bag she carried.  “These will go perfectly with my dress for the benefit dinner.”

Lena’s father was Jonathan King, the CEO and proprietor of King Enterprises.  Lena’s great-great-grandfather founded the company, and it had been passed down for generations; she was the next in line to take over when her father retired.  King Enterprises hosted a benefit every year to help different charity organizations make money, inviting the rich and famous to help them look good to the media.  As the CEO’s daughter and assistant, Lena was usually in charge of organizing the event.

“Fun stuff,” Chip said.  “Who’s the lucky benefit group this year?”

“Home for the Blind,” Lena told her.  “I tried getting Daddy to agree to the National Satyr Preserve, but you know him.”

“Let me guess: it wouldn’t look good in an election year when he’s trying to push that leash bill through?”  Chip asked.

Lena grimaced prettily, rolling her eyes.  “Don’t get me wrong – Home for the Blind was my second choice – but the NSP would have had a bigger impact on the press.  As the company responsible for the Satyr Serum, we should be doing more to help the descendants of our experiments.”

Chip shrugged.  “Your dad only sees satyrs who act like the Fauns do,” she said bluntly.  “He doesn’t see the ones who do an honest day’s work, even though there are a lot more of them.”

“Those who can get work,” Lena muttered.  “You know my grandpa helped found the Preserve, right?”

“How could I forget?” Chip said wryly.  “Your father ranted for hours at dinner one night just because I brought it up.”

“Right,” Lena giggled.  “‘That upstart Sean Hannah stole the contract!’” she said in a pretty good impression of her father’s voice.  “Speaking of Sean Hannah stealing things…”

“I like working at the Asylum, thanks,” Chip said, anticipating the old debate.

Lena grinned.  “Daddy still wants me to offer you more to come back.  You could probably name any number you want and he’d pay it.”

“Tell him it’s not about the money,” Chip said.  “I like being able to build my toys without being paranoid that they’ll be sold as weapons.”

Lena paused, pretending to think about it.  “Nope, sorry. Can’t help you there,” she teased.  “A weapons dealer has to deal weapons, not tools.” She sighed, getting serious as she added, “That’s one of the first things I’ll change.”

“Who took over for me when I left?” Chip asked, curious.

Lena made a face as she answered, “Skyler Greene.”

“Skylark?” Chip asked, incredulous.  “That social media hack?”

“I know you don’t like her,” Lena said, “but she’s not terrible.”

“No,” Chip agreed.  “She just posts everything she does online to show off.  Of course, not her failures – just her successes, so people watching will think she’s brilliant!”

Lena patted her friend’s shoulder.  “It’s not a crime, as long as they aren’t active projects,” she pointed out.  “Besides, you just say the word and you’ll have her job in a second. You know daddy never wanted you to leave.”

“He did offer me a pretty big number to stay,” Chip said.  “But I like my work at the Asylum. The Watchers are fun to design for.”

“Isn’t your stuff being used as weapons there, too?” Lena asked.

“Yeah,” said Chip, “but a lot of it is also used to save lives, and I know exactly who has which gadget.”

Lena shrugged.  “If you’re sure.”  Something caught her eye, and she turned to the store they were passing.  “Ooh, microprocessors! I’ve got a project at home that could use an octa-core chip.  Look, they’re so tiny!”

Chip laughed at her friend, who had acted the same way around the shoes, and followed her into the store.

* * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters, Agent’s Office.

Natalie Fawkes, getting briefed.

“We’ve been invited to the King Enterprises charity benefit,” Agent told the team.  “Apparently Jonathan King and Sean Hannah made a small bet over us, that we couldn’t take down one of King’s new weapons projects.”

Natalie rolled her eyes.  “Politics,” she muttered. “So the whole team’s going?”

“Sean asked for only two,” Agent said, amused.  “So I’m sending you and Earthborn.”

“Me?” Natalie asked.  “I’m hardly a heavy hitter,” she pointed out.

“That’s what David will be there for,” Agent explained.  “We’re not sure what this project is – it might require a bit of finesse, which is your specialty.  I figured we should be prepared.”

Natalie folded her arms, raising an eyebrow.  “You know, if you were looking for that kind of tag-team, Parker and I would have worked best.”

“Parker’s unavailable right now,” Agent sighed.  They’d had this conversation before. “You know that.”

“Right,” Natalie said, nearly snarling at him.  “He’s busy.  He hasn’t even been back to the Asylum in two weeks, because he’s busy.”

“Nat,” Agent said, “there’s nothing we can do right now.  I’ve already promised you a hundred times that I’ll do my best to keep your brother safe.”

“And then you send me to a party,” Natalie pointed out.

Agent gripped the bridge of his nose, as if he had a headache.  “I’m sending you into a fight,” he said. “An exhibition, sure, but I thought it would take your mind off things.”  He glanced at her through his hand, adding, “But if you like, I could always send Haley. She is stronger than you, after all.”

Natalie shook her head, knowing that he was trying to provoke her but becoming provoked anyways.  “Damn it,” she finally said, storming to the door. “I’ll go to the stupid party.”

“Make sure you bring something nice to change into!” Agent called after her.  Chuckling to himself, he turned back to his monitors. The grin fell off his face as he changed the parameters of his search for bird-satyrs in the city.  “Where are you?” he muttered.

It’s hard to keep someone safe when they fall off the grid.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City Museum.

King Enterprises Annual Charity Benefit.

They really rolled out the red carpet for this, Natalie thought as she stepped out of the limo onto a literal red carpet.  Flashes went off in her face, and belatedly she remembered to smile for the cameras as David got out after her.  Agent came up on her other side, also smiling politely, and the three of them made their way into the building.

“You clean up nice,” Dave told her, flashing her a teasing grin.  “Not a handkerchief or swear word in sight.” Natalie was wearing a dress that had been laid out for her, since she didn’t have any fancy clothes of her own.  It was a very flattering cut for her figure, and easily the most expensive piece of clothing she had ever even seen, much less worn.

“I barely recognized you without the dirt,” Natalie shot back, also smiling.  “Did you actually take a shower?” Both David and Agent were wearing tuxedos tonight, but since Agent usually wore suits it didn’t look so odd on him.

“A bath, in fact,” he grinned.  “Lilac-scented bubbles, for the manly man.”  As they made it to the door, he struck a pose.

“Children,” Agent scolded from behind his own smile.  “Cameras.”

“They eat this stuff up,” Dave said, striking another pose for the cameras.  He waved jauntily at them before the trio went inside.

Agent turned to them.  “You have a half-hour to mingle before the match,” he said.  “Then go to the rear exit – we’ll have your uniforms waiting for you there.”

“Relax,” Natalie said, picking up a drink from the tray in front of her.  “We got this.”

“No drinking until after the match,” Agent said, taking the glass from her and putting it down on another waiter’s tray.

Natalie stuck her tongue out at him.  “Spoilsport,” she muttered, moving over to the buffet.

David and Agent gave each other an exasperated look.  “I’ll keep an eye on her,” David said, jogging to catch up with his teammate.

Agent watched them walk off, before grabbing his ever-present umbrella and joining the party.

Natalie didn’t like social functions.  She was fully intent on settling in a nice, cozy corner somewhere until the match started, but she was stopped by a man in his thirties.  “Nice night for it,” he said, looking at her with piercing blue eyes.

The eyes caught her off-guard.  “Oh, um, hi. Yes,” she stuttered, finally getting out, “it is a nice night.”

“Sorry,” the man said, flashing her a smile.  “I didn’t mean to startle you. You’re Natalie Fawkes, right?  The Asylum Watcher known as Trick?”

“Yes, that’s me.”  Natalie really wanted to go to her corner, but she also knew she had to play nice at a function like this since she was representing the Asylum.  “I’m sorry, but you are?” she asked.

“Mr. Hannah!” came a startled voice from behind her.  Dave walked up on Natalie’s right, saving her from embarrassment.

“Ah, you must be David Perry, known as Earthborn,” the man said.  “Forgive me, Trick; I’m not used to having to introduce myself any more.  I’m Sean Hannah, CEO of Pharos Industries.”

“Oh, so you’re the guy who signs our paychecks,” Natalie said.  “Nice to meet you!”

“Very direct, isn’t she?” Sean said to Dave, who looked like he wanted to melt through the floor.

“We’re working on that,” he said, shaking the CEO’s hand.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir,” he added pointedly, glaring at Natalie.

“Yes, it’s nice to meet you,” she repeated, shaking his hand in turn.  “Sir,” she added when Dave kicked her.

Sean laughed, not offended in the slightest by her behavior.  “I hope you’ll give us a good show,” he said. “I have a bet with King that you could take on anything he could throw at you.”

“So these are your champions, eh, Pharos?” came another voice from behind him.  Natalie began thinking longingly of her corner, where she wouldn’t have to deal with people, but it looked like she was never going to get the chance.

“Mr. King,” Sean said, greeting his business’ rival with a pasted-on smile and false sincerity.  “Thank you so much for hosting this event!”

“My pleasure,” King said.  “Here, I don’t believe you’ve met my daughter, Lena,” he added, gesturing to a pretty blonde girl next to him.

Chip had told Natalie about Lena, but it hadn’t prepared her for the actual person.  Chip had described her as a technical genius who could build her own computer stuff. She mentioned that Lena liked clothes and shoes, too, but Natalie had been picturing a glasses-wearing nerd, probably with mousey looks who wore clothes that tried too hard to be fancy.

The person standing in front of her was a cheerleader, dressed to the nines in a long, backless dress that flattered her figure.  Her blonde hair was pulled back in an elegant bun, and her smile seemed to light up the room.

Remembering what Chip had told her, Natalie greeted her with, “Nice shoes.”  They were nice shoes – strappy black pumps with four-inch heels that showed off her perfectly-manicured feet.  Not sure why they cost so much, Natalie thought to herself.  But the compliment made Lena’s smile brighten further.

“Thank you,” she said.  “I really like your hair.”  Natalie’s hair was pulled up into a braided bun, which she could easily let fall into a braided ponytail for the exhibition.  The spiked strap she had braided into it poked out in what she hoped was a decorative fashion.

“And this is Skyler Greene,” King introduced the other girl trailing him, “also known as ‘Skylark’.  She will be your opponent in this evening’s match.”

Skylark was dressed just as elegantly as Lena, but with none of her warmth.  Even when she smiled and shook Natalie’s hand, it seemed more like a taunt than a greeting.  “I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “My channel’s viewers really want to see me take down some Watchers.”

Natalie pressed her lips together as David gave her a subtle kick.  We’re representing the Asylum, she told herself.

Putting a smile on her own face, she said, “I’m looking forward to the match as well.  It’s always fun to put on a show.” There, she thought as David rolled his eyes behind her.  Subtle, but insulting.  Let her stew on that.

“I think we need to get going,” David said, steering Natalie away from the fancy people.  “It was nice to meet you, but we still have to change for the match.”

“Of course,” Sean said, before turning back to King.  The battle of subtext was more his arena than theirs.

As David led Natalie away, he hissed, “Next time, just don’t say anything.  Okay?”

“We win this match, I won’t have to say anything,” Natalie whispered back.  “Next time, I’ll just go to my corner and not have to interact with any more people.”

They made it to the back door, where Agent stood holding their uniforms.  “I see you met the CEOs,” he said.

“I think they wanted to see who they were betting on,” David said, grabbing his and unbuttoning his cumberbund.

“You guys can change behind those curtains,” Agent pointed to where they were supposed to go.  David moved off, but agent stopped Natalie. “Hey, Nat – thanks for doing this,” he said, smiling at her.

“I’m still mad at you,” she said, smiling despite herself.  “But with any luck the next part will be fun.” She moved to go to the changing area, but Agent put a hand on her shoulder.

“One second,” he said, unzipping the back of her dress for her.  “There.”

“Thanks,” she said.  Natalie went to the dressing room without looking back.  The chilly night air was giving her goosebumps, and she wouldn’t be comfortable until she got out of the girly dress and into her uniform.  If her face was flushed, it was because she was getting pre-battle nerves. Nothing else.

* * * * * * * *

A half-hour later.

Trick and Earthborn, ready for anything.

“We got this,” Earthborn said, giving Trick a fist-bump as they entered the makeshift arena.

The museum’s garden was surrounded by a large, blocked-off parking lot where the museum gave a fireworks show on the Fourth of July.  This was also where Trick and Earthborn would face Skylark’s creation.

The event guests were gathered in the garden, looking forward to a good show.  Trick felt a lot more comfortable in her trench coat; here she could throw one of her tricks if she needed to get away.  While she waited for an opponent, she pulled out her deck of cards and started shuffling it nervously.

“I’ve always wanted to learn how to do that,” Earthborn said, enviously, watching her twirl the deck around.  “I can barely shuffle them the normal way.”

“I could teach you sometime,” Trick offered, starting to show off now that she remembered people were watching them.

Earthborn smiled, pulling gravel up around himself in a make-shift suit of armor as the air began to crackle with a static charge.  “I’d like that,” he said.

THUMP.

The ground began to shake, but Earthborn hadn’t caused it.  Trick could see Skylark off to the side of the spectators, holding a data pad in one hand.  She had some kind of visor over her eyes, and her hands were busy typing something on her data pad.

THUMP.

The ground shook again, and Trick and Earthborn braced themselves for whatever was coming.  In the background they could hear Agent announcing the match, but the sound was echoing across the pavement and they couldn’t make out the words.

THUMP.  THUMP. THUMP.

Whatever it was began to run.  Trick stole a glance at Earthborn as they got into fighting stances.

THUMP THUMP THUMP – STOMP!

A giant robot jumped over the tree line and came to a stop in front of them.  It was man-shaped, with a big chest and thinner arms and legs. The head swiveled around, able to look in all directions.

“Looks pretty smash-’em-up to me,” Natalie muttered.  Her subtlety didn’t seem to be of much use against a twenty-foot robot.

A loud whistle blew, and the match began.  Earthborn started forward, bringing the ground up to hold the robot’s legs in place.  He gathered a bolt of lightning in his hands and flung it at the robot’s chest, but it glanced off harmlessly.

“Darn,” he said.  “Must be insulated.”

“It wasn’t going to be that easy,” Trick pointed out to him.  “Let me try something.” She pulled two mirrors out of her pockets, palming them without thinking about it as she had been taught.  On her palms were two buttons, connecting to small devices up her sleeves. One led to a fire trick, and the other was a high-density laser that could be used as a welding torch – that one was Chip’s design, but Trick loved using it.  From another pocket she pulled out a prism, and she shot the laser from her right hand directly into it.

A bright flash pierced the air, and rainbow-colored lasers washed over the robot.  The prism diluted the laser’s power, but enhanced its range so that she could hit it without being too close.  Sparks flew from the robot’s body, but it still managed to free its legs from Earthborn’s trap.

The robot began running at the Watchers, its arms transforming into octopus-like tentacles as it ran.  It whipped one at Earthborn, knocking him off his feet, before turning the other on Trick.

Seeing the move coming, Trick jumped up and onto the robot’s arm as it passed under her.  The arm whipped around, trying to shake her off, but she held on. Her mind briefly flashed back to hanging onto a building for dear life, and she figured out what she could do.

When the arm whipped close to the robot’s chest, Trick gritted her teeth and jumped, landing on the robot’s front as her arms scrambled to find a hand-hold.  She managed to grab onto the robot’s face with one arm, and she remembered the visor that Skylark wore – could King’s tech be watching the battle through the robot’s eyes?

She waved with her free arm, giving the robot a cheeky grin as she scrambled up to stand on its shoulder.  Grabbing one of the handkerchiefs in her front pocket, she pulled it out in a swift flicking motion. Glitter rained down over the robot’s face, and the arms came up to wipe at its eyes.

Skylark was definitely watching it from the robot’s eyes.  Grinning, Natalie called to Earthborn, “Crackle maneuver, forty-three!”

Earthborn nodded, understanding, as Trick redoubled her grip on the robot.  The arms had come up again, trying to get her off its back, but for them to win she had to hold on tightly until the right moment.  The robot was so focused on her that it had forgotten about Earthborn; she had to keep it that way until he could get into position.

Suddenly, the robot tripped.  Earthborn had changed the terrain around it so that it couldn’t get its footing.  Trick jumped off its back, rolling to keep the landing from hurting her. She could feel the crackle of electricity in the air, and she knew Earthborn had almost collected enough energy for her plan.

Running back to the robot’s head, she took out her larger scarf and wrapped it around the thing’s eyes.  Skylark had to take off her visor to see anything, and the octopus tentacles started turning back into arms to shake the scarf off.  “Now!” Trick yelled, diving out of the way.

Earthborn shot a direct bolt of lightning at the robot’s head, hitting the ground all around its upper body.  The robot stopped thrashing, and flopped to the ground, dead.

Trick stood up, dusting herself off as she went to give Earthborn a high-five.  His eyes glinted red through his rock helmet, but it seemed to be a trick of the light – the lightning had been blinding from that close, and Trick was still seeing spots.

“No!” came a cry from Skylark’s direction.  She pounded on her control, trying to make the robot move.  “Come on, get up! It didn’t even touch you!”

“Electromagnetic pulse,” Trick called over to her.  “The lightning drained its power source, and it won’t be operational for hours.  If this had been a real fight, we’d be tearing it apart now.”

As if to prove her point, a large spike of dirt shot up from the ground, spearing the robot through the chest.  “A little excessive,” Trick muttered to Earthborn, “but nice touch.”

The Asylum had won a decisive victory.

* * * * * * * *

Back inside the museum.

Natalie Fawkes, stuck at the party.

“Why do I have to stay?” Natalie asked Agent, trying and failing to sound like she wasn’t whining.  “David got to go home!” She was back in the fancy dress, looking around the party with a shudder.

“David has a kid at home,” Agent reminded her.  “Dale wanted to check you guys out later this evening, and he can’t stay out too late, so he got to leave first.  You, on the other hand, get to enjoy this lovely evening with me as we finish representing the Asylum.”

Natalie’s mouth twisted in a pout.  “I’m not talking to any of the fancy people,” she said rebelliously.  “I got my fill of that before the match.”

“Fine,” Agent agreed.  “Then dance with me.” When Natalie glared at him, he added, “Your choices are dancing with me, where I can guarantee that I’m the only person you have to interact with, or stand here and be accosted by anyone who wants to congratulate you on winning the match.  Your choice.”

Natalie glared at him, but dragged him over to the dance floor.  He knew exactly how to manipulate her, and she didn’t really like it.  Agent grinned and spun her around into the steps, in time with the slow waltz playing.  Surprisingly enough, Natalie let him lead, and she wasn’t a bad dancer.

“They teach you to dance at the Agency?” she asked, equally surprised that he knew the steps.

“Standard lessons,” he said.  “Never know when you have to attend fancy functions like this.”

“Like your suit,” Natalie nodded.  “You once told me you always look your best because it opens more doors than anything else you wear.”

“Exactly,” said Agent.  “Now, where did you learn to dance?”

“Parker… he and I learned when we were kids,” she told him, pausing for a second when she mentioned her brother’s name.  “Mom gave us lessons.” She looked up at Agent as they moved around the room, adding, “You really think you can take Claw down?”

Agent nodded.  “This is the closest we’ve ever gotten to stopping him for good,” he said.  “Parker’s a big part of that. But you know I won’t let anything happen to him,” he added.

Natalie put her head on his chest, hiding her face.  She still smelled a little singed from the lightning, but she had also put on some kind of perfume to cover it.  “I believe you,” she said. “I want to believe you.” She looked back up, meeting his hazel eyes with her bright blue ones.  “Don’t make me regret it.”

Agent smiled back at her.  “I won’t,” he said. “I promise.”

* * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters.

The next day.

“Some party, huh?” Frank asked as Natalie entered the kitchen at noon.  Her hair was in disarray, and she’d slept later than usual.

“Uhnn,” she grunted back at him, still tired.  “I had to stay there until two in the morning, and then Dale wanted to give me a check-up before I could go to bed.”  She groaned again as she looked in the fridge for some orange juice. “He took away some of the ouch, but I’m stiff all over after that fight.”

“I saw,” Frank grinned.  “Skylark was streaming it live from her channel.  We were watching it here with some of Reiki’s barbeque.”

“Lucky,” Natalie said, thumping him on the shoulder.  “What’d you think?”

Frank looked thoughtful.  “Nice work on the EMP,” he said.  “But Dave seemed to be in bad shape afterwards.  What would you have done if it didn’t work?”

Natalie shrugged, grimacing at the movement.  “Probably would have lost,” she said. “It was just an exhibition match.”

“Why do you think King wanted to test it out against Watchers?” Frank asked rhetorically.  Natalie froze halfway through pouring her juice. “Who would he sell something like that to?”

“I’m not sure I want to know,” Natalie muttered.  “Maybe we should come up with other ways to beat it, just in case?”

Frank grinned, lifting the mood.  “I’ll meet you in the training room this afternoon,” he said.  “I’ll get the specs from the video, and we’ll get the training room to give us a simulation.”

“Fun,” Natalie said dryly.  “Can I get some food first?”

Frank grinned, grabbing the last pop-tart from the pantry just as Natalie reached for it.  “Sure,” he said innocently, moving to the elevator with the poptart in hand. “Oh, by the way – we’re out of pop-tarts.”

Flashing her a grin, he stepped onto the elevator as it arrived and left.  Natalie grumbled to herself as she went to the cereal cupboard to see what was left.  She’d make him pay for that on the practice courts later.

Right now, she had other concerns.

* * * * * * * *

Trailer #3 – Project: Asylum

Former Team Ark Headquarters, three years ago.

Derek Hessing, formerly known as “Marauder”.

What the hell am I going here?

Derek Hessing stepped through the open doorway of the building that he had once called “headquarters”.  That was back when he went by the name “Marauder”, while he worked with Team Ark. It was a bittersweet moment for him – the memories associated with this place were mostly good ones, tainted by the horrible memory of the last time he set foot here.

He had thought that he would never return.

The building was enormous, meant to house training rooms and living spaces for a dozen people.  The lobby looked like any office building or apartment complex in Eon City, but the entryway to the main living area was exactly as he had left it.

Three years’ worth of dust had settled, disturbing the home-like feel that Derek used to know when walking in.  None of the old team had set foot in this place in years, and it showed through the little details: there was no flower vase in the front hall from Kindred’s love of plants.  No smell of delicious meals came from the kitchen, as Sparrow wasn’t cooking. No sharp sounds came from the metal shop where Star used to work in her downtime. The security cameras had no red lights, as Agent hadn’t turned them on in years.  Derek could almost hear the thuds from the training room where he and Striker used to spar, but Striker was long gone…

Derek stopped in his tracks.  No, he wasn’t imagining it: there were definitely sounds coming from the sparring room.  Hardly daring to hope, he ran in that direction as he allowed his feet to take him down the stairs and through the familiar hallways.  Could Striker really be back? He’d disappeared without a trace five years before; surely he would have found his old teammates if he was still alive…

Derek came to a halt outside the training room.  His shoulders slumped slightly when he realized that it wasn’t Striker in front of him, but he straightened again when he realized that he had never seen the intruder before.

“Who the hell are you?” he asked, storming in.  It was a testament to how long it had been since he had last used his Third Gen ability to subdue someone that he did not think to use it now.  Instead, he moved towards the sword area where he kept his practice katana; they were still there after all this time.

The intruder straightened, turning to face Derek.  The young man seemed to be in his early twenties, around Sparrow’s age the last time Derek had seen her.  He wore a tank top and sweatpants, and he didn’t look like he intended to run – which implied that he had been staying there for a while.  “I could ask you the same thing,” he said evenly. His eyes sparked with excitement, as though he was daring Derek to try something that would start a fight.

Derek side-stepped, never turning his back on the other guy.  “My name is Marauder,” he said, relishing his old name as he used it for the first time in five years.  “This is Team Ark’s headquarters, and you’re the one trespassing. I’ll ask again: who the hell are you?”

“’Name’s David,” the young man replied, shrugging.  “Some people call me Earthborn.” He didn’t seem concerned when Derek picked up the wooden swords, suggesting that he thought Derek either couldn’t or wouldn’t use them.

As he stepped forward, Derek nearly stumbled over a small pile of rocks.  Straightening back up, he raised the practice sword and pointed it at David.  “What are you doing here?” he asked.

David just shrugged at him.  Derek fought back a grin; the young man reminded him a lot of his old friend Striker.  He waited in silence for a moment to catch the young man off-guard, and then sprang forward onto the sparring mat.  Whipping his sword around in a fluid motion, Derek lunged at the intruder, aiming for the young man’s legs to knock him to the floor.

A small, sharp pain hit his arm, knocking his sword off-course.  Derek looked around for the source, but all he saw was David standing in exactly the same spot as before.  A smug grin spread across David’s face, which only made Derek want to knock it off. He gripped the wooden sword tighter and swung around for a new attack.

It happened again!  This time, Derek managed to catch the assailant out of the corner of his eye: a rock had flown up from the pile on the floor, hitting him just hard enough to knock his swords off-course.

Derek looked back over at David, who was still smugly standing there.  The name “Earthborn” rang in his ears, making him roll his eyes in frustration: of course the kid was a Third Gen.

But then again, so was Derek.

“Nice trick,” he said, standing to face the young man.  “Want to see a new one?”

He lunged forward once more, but this time he kept his mind focused on one word: funny.  At the moment when the rock should have hit him, Derek heard it clack back onto the floor as “Earthborn” started laughing uncontrollably.

The sword connected with the young man’s leg, forcing him to drop down to one knee.  David wasn’t laughing anymore; the command had only been for a second, but it was long enough to give Derek the upper hand.  He was putting one of the swords at the kid’s throat, intending to make him talk through intimidation, when he heard the crackling sound.

A flash of light threw him across the room, where he just barely managed to stay conscious.  The kid walked towards him, electricity crackling around one of his hands.

He can throw both rocks and lightning? Derek thought.  Not fair.

Just as David began to loom over him, Derek heard an impressed whistle from the elevator doors.  “Wow,” came a familiar voice from the same direction. “I mean, I’d heard about you, but that was incredible.”

Derek looked up, laughing.  “About time,” he said to Agent.  “Mind helping me take out the trash?”

The young man glared at him, electricity sparking back up in his hand.  Agent propped his umbrella up against the door, saying, “Not really. I mean, I did invite him here.”

Derek shook his head to clear it, standing up as the kid backed off.  “What the hell do you mean, you ‘invited him’?” he asked, confused.

“David,” Agent said, “I’d like you to meet Derek, otherwise known as Marauder of Team Ark.  Derek, this is David: he’s going to be on the new team.”

“You’re kidding.”  Derek got to his feet, still unsteady after the fall.  “When you said ‘new team’, I thought you meant you, me, Kindred, and Sparrow would stick together.”

Agent sighed, leaning against the edge of the sparring ring.  “Kevin is still helping take care of the kids,” he explained. Derek and Agent had both known their old team so well that their code names and real names were interchangeable. “Their youngest is in high school, and he says that both he and Sara have been enjoying their retirement.”

“And Sparrow?” Derek asked.

“Casey told me,” Agent cleared his throat, and gave a bad impression of the girl’s voice: “’Go fuck yourself.’”  He gave a weak laugh, adding, “Her words, not mine. I guess she’s not quite over what happened to Striker.”

“And you think I am?” Derek said, pushing past the new guy to stand in front of Agent.  “The team broke up that day,” he said. “You and I tried keeping it together for a while by ourselves, and that didn’t work out so well, either.  What makes you think getting a newbie would make any difference?”

“Four new members.” Agent corrected him.  “Earthborn isn’t the only person I asked.”

“You know, Earthborn is standing right here,” David said, raising an eyebrow.  “I’d like to know what the hell’s going on, too.”

Agent shook his head, smiling again.  “Alright then,” he said. He walked back over to the elevator, picked up his umbrella, and motioned for the other two to join him.  “I’ve been tasked by my superiors to start a new team,” he explained as they all crowded into the elevator. Hitting the button for the debrief room, he added, “It’s called Project: Asylum.”

* * * * * * * *