Chapter VI: My Beautiful Rescue
“-not entirely sure about ‘Augurer’,” Solon was saying as he followed Torrent up the ramp and onto the Blackjack II. “I mean, ‘Warlock’ sounds too pedestrian and ‘Thaumaturge’ doesn’t necessarily roll of the tongue…”
Torrent stopped at the top of the ramp. He threw his head back and unleashed a groan before slowly turning to face the magus. “Dude! I don’t fuggin’ care, okay? No one cares what you call yourself!”
“Apparently they do as they won’t let me call myself ‘the Aurelius’.”
“Because you’re not the fuggin’ Aurelius! Get over it!”
“Boys,” Chienne boomed. She looked to Fossick with a worried expression. “Been like this long?”
“Ever since Detroit.”
“How’d that go?”
As if to answer Chienne’s question, two more boys followed Solon into the cabin. The first was tall and muscular; his head was shaven except for a short Mohawk. The tight jersey he wore had long ago been acquired by his mother during Molly Hatchet’s 1983 tour; though faded and splattered with a little of his blood, it was one of his most prized possessions.
The boy who followed him couldn’t have been more different: a few inches shorter than the other boy and without an ounce of muscle on him, his brown hair was a wild, unkempt mop that capped his skull and partially hid his emerald green eyes. Scrawny legs poked out of plaid shorts and his white T-shirt depicted an eye chart composed of pi—as the numbers became increasingly smaller, they vanished into the hem. Both the shirt and the boy looked as though they had not been washed in days.
Neither of them could have been much older than fifteen. “I give you Lloyd Hilton and Jude Bellows,” Fossick said raggedly, “the newest students of the New Vindicators Academy of America.”
Chienne looked to the two sitting in the back of the plane. Maxwell Swift was a boy she had plucked from the streets of Juneau. Tall and with an athletic build, Max sported a light-brown crew cut and eyes of two different colors: heterochromia left the boy’s left eye red and his right eye blue. Max wore a red and black plaid flannel shirt over his plain black T-shirt and ill-fitting carpenter’s jeans.
Across the aisle from him was Pandora Filash, a short, pudgy girl whose purple hair sported pink highlights. A barbell piecing went through her right eyebrow—just under a subtle burn she had sported since she was young—while a tiny stud rested in her nose and a faint ring pierced her lower lip. Her skirt matched the blood red tie that hung loosely from the open collar of her white dress shirt—her black jacket was folded over the back of her chair.
Like Lloyd and Jude, they were also new additions to the sophomore class.
Once Chienne had introduced them, Torrent looked over their gathered forces. “So, why did we meet up here instead of at the school?”
“I just got word from Doctor Howell—reports of another kid came across the wire, and he wanted to make sure we had all the firepower we needed.
“According to Doctor Howell, this kid’s name is Andrew Woodford and his Neo-Sapien powers only manifested this morning. Apparently, he’s the first SPB most of the people of Clay County, Mississippi have ever seen and they reacted by beating the boy senseless, locking him in the cell normally reserved for the town drunk and are trying to make contact with the Church of Genetic Purity.” She sneered as she pronounced the name of that sect of humanity: the Church of Genetic Purity was an offshoot of the Ku-Klux Klan, devoted specifically to the eradication of all Super-Powered Beings…
It was an organization founded by the man who raised her: Forrest N. Bedford…
“I’m willing to bet that were Mister Woodford offered another alternative, he’d accept it. I’m going to take Prompt, Torrent and whatever Solon wants to call himself into the town, spring the kid and get back to the ship. The rest of you kids can just hang loose with Miss Wellor here in the plane until I get back.”
“No way!” Lloyd bellowed. “When I first got my powers, I got thrown in jail too! I can’t just sit back and do nothing while this kid’s treated like crap for something he has no control over! Besides, I can handle myself in a fight!” As though it might prove his boastings, the boy with the Mohawk flexed.
“Same here,” Pandora declared. “You said he’s in a jail cell, right? My blasts can cut through metal!”
“You’re expecting these guys who locked him up to be a problem?” Max asked. He held out his hand and a flame danced atop his fingertips. With a wave of his hand, it was gone. “I’m very effective at taking out problems.”
“Yeah, and the school would throw a hissy fit if they knew I brought you kids along with me,” Chienne said. “You guys have zero field experience-”
“Neither does Solon,” Jude thundered. “I mean, he’s only been at your school a day and he’s already going on missions!”
“You told me this school would teach me to protect myself!” Pandora boomed. “How am I supposed to learn that sitting in the plane and waiting?”
“Thunder-thighs has a point,” Max said.
“Watch it, homeless boy!” Pandora snapped as Jude thundered, “Don’t talk to her like that!” The young woman folded her arms across her chest and dropped her gaze to the floor. “I’ll melt your face…” she mumbled under her breath.
Through it all, Prompt sat back, watching the bickering spiral further and further out of control. “I think I need to take the new recruits into town while the rest of you stay here,” she announced. Sensing Chienne’s baleful glare on her, Prompt rounded on the would-be educator. “If the town tossed him in jail for being a Neo-Sapien, do you really think they’re going to be pleased when we start making our way down the street dressed like this? The rookies are in street clothes, Chienne! They’ll fit in…” She trailed off as she looked to Pandora, whose pink and purple hair and various facial piercings meant she wouldn’t fit in anywhere south of the Bible Belt. “Most of ‘em will… One of the Espers I met back in Peoria was this bitch who used illusions to morph her appearance. I can make myself look however I want but I won’t be able to use any other powers in the process.
“Look, this kid is in trouble and every second we sit here arguing amongst ourselves is one more minute he’s not getting out
of said trouble. By all means, feel free to stand here and argue it but the best course of action is to send the newbies with me into the field.
“If we run into any problems, I can drop the illusion for a different power. Three of the four have combative abilities. All we need to do is get Jude to the cell and he can ‘port the new kid back to the jet, right?”
“They don’t have any training!” Chienne hissed.
“I doubt every person in this town is a black belt in karate!”
“Their odds are not what I’m afraid of,” Chienne said. “What happens if things do escalate into a battle and they’re forced to use their powers? All it takes is one dead Louisianan to have the country back to wanting our heads on pikes, Christmas! One accident here—just one!—and everything we’ve been working towards since the Basileus went down will have been for nothing…”
“I’ll be careful,” Lloyd promised.
“I’m not worried about you
…” Chienne said softly. Prompt’s eyes went to Pandora. It was her file Doctor Howell had handed to Chienne—her file he wanted to keep private from Christmas. The only thing that kept the Esper from reaching into the Nephilim’s mind and taking the information was the fear of her dream coming true: months ago, a Neo-Sapien had used his powers to put her and her allies in a state of enchanted slumber. They all dreamt of a life they yearned for. It was so enthralling that they hadn’t wanted to wake up.
While Cassandra had dreamed of a world where her family was together and Owen dreamed of a world where he wasn’t cursed by his powers, Christmas dreamed of a world where she was the most powerful being on Earth—so powerful that she had destroyed all opposition, including the Vindicators.
She was a tyrant. In her dream, she was a tyrant, and she wanted that life so much that she couldn’t free herself from the illusion. Now, she was determined to do whatever it took to deny that part of herself: she was struggling to stamp out any negative feelings for the fear they would give rise to the evil version of herself she dreamed of being.
She couldn’t go into their heads and pry the knowledge away. Similarly, it wouldn’t be right to use Candace Strange’s ability to force them to tell the truth. All she could do was sit back and wonder what had happened in Pandora’s past to merit such secrecy: Prompt hadn’t been allowed to read the file and she had been told to stay on the plane with Max while Chienne went to collect Pandora.
Something wasn’t right and now there was this new wrinkle added: why was Chienne afraid that Pandora might hurt a human? As if to confirm the girl’s suspicions, the next words out of the Nephilim’s mouth were, “Maybe Pandora should stay.” Suddenly, she moved to cover her tracks. “She stands out more than the others do…”
“Fine,” Christmas said. Suddenly, her image changed: she was now a stunningly attractive woman in her early twenties, whose shoulder-length blonde hair was pulled into a ponytail, showing off her high cheekbones and ice blue eyes.
Skin-tight jeans covered her long legs while a white tank top clung to her ample breasts and narrow waist. Standing there in cowboy boots, she was the perfect image of Chienne Bedford, when the woman was not coerced into wearing the standard uniform of the Vindicators. “Don’t wait up for us,” Christmas said as she led the three boys off the jet.
When the group was out of earshot, Max hustled to walk beside Prompt. “So… you can just… look like anyone?”
“Anyone,” she said, flashing him a flirty smile and a wink. “Who did you have in mind?”
“Actually, I’ve always had this thing for Megan Fox…”
It didn’t bother Prompt that he only began showing interest the moment he realized she could be anyone he wanted. It didn’t bother her that he was only attracted to her so long as she looked like someone else. It didn’t bother her that he never a word to her while they waited for Chienne and Pandora on the plane. She had once offered to switch herself and Connor Crete into whatever pair of bodies he wanted, just so she could be with him. She had gone into Jordan Frazier’s head to exercise the memory of his uncle molesting him so that the two could make love. She wasn’t above using her powers in such ways so long as she benefited from it. Suddenly realizing that, however, made her grimace: it was just one more aspect that was guiding her towards the destiny she saw in her dream.
“Sorry,” Prompt growled. “Sometimes what you see isn’t what you get.”
Max froze as the senior continued marching through the forest. Jude hurried after her while Lloyd paused long enough to shrug sympathetically at the other youth. As they continued their march downhill, Jude began to exercise his Neo-Sapien ability to teleport ahead in short sprints. “So, do we all get codenames for this mission? John said his codename’s ‘Torrent’!”
“Yup. All of the good water-codenames were taken.”
“What’s your codename?”
“Ooo. Is it, like… Latin for ‘illusion’ or something?”
“It means ‘to activate’. It’s also a synonym for ‘mnemonic’, a learning technique that aids memory. I’m not a Neo-Sapien like you guys—I’m an Esper, someone who simply uses more of their brain than the average person. Every Esper I meet, I catalogue their powers. I can call them up one at a time to fit whatever task I’m facing.”
“Cool,” Jude said, obviously impressed by her ability. “So… about my codename?”
“You teleport? I don’t know. Not a lot of good names for teleporters. ‘Peragrine’, perhaps?”
“You could be Teleport Boy!” Lloyd laughed. “Me? I’m thinking something awesome like ‘Hammer’ or ‘Green Fire’.”
“Those are awesome?” Max laughed.
“Yeah, well… what else do you call what I do?”
“Hellfire,” Prompt said as she continued their march. The copse of trees ended and the New Vindicator found herself standing on the side of the road. “Same power Chienne—Miss Bedford has.” Prompt loathed having to call the teachers by their last names when just months ago, she had been their equal. “All Nephilim do, just with different colors.”
“Nephilim?” Max couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow.
“It’s complicated,” she offered dismissively. A few houses dotted the landscape ahead—a small cul-de-sac or two, some secluded farmland and hopefully then the city. “We should have brought the freaking wizard with us,” she grumbled.
“What about ‘Maalik’?” Lloyd asked.
Prompt turned to him with a confused expression on her face. “Huh?” she asked. “Who’s Maalik?”
“Me, maybe. In Islam, Maalik is the angel who guards hellfire.”
“You’re a Muslim?” Jude asked, failing to mask the surprise in his voice.
“Yeah,” said a guarded Lloyd. “You got a problem with Muslims?”
“But… you’re white?”
Prompt rolled her eyes. “White people can be Muslims, Teleport Boy.” For a brief moment the illusion of Chienne was dispelled while she accessed Fossick’s ability to locate anyone. She concentrated on Andrew Woodford and sensed him to the east of them…
East and miles away…
“Let’s get to walking,” she said as she assumed Chienne’s guise once again. As she led the New Vindicators across the street and across the farmland that surrounded West Point, Mississippi, she found herself forced to endure more of her underclassmen’s prattle.
“It’s kind of how my powers appeared,” Lloyd said. “A while back, my mom and I converted over. Some other kids were giving me lip about it—asking if I was going to blow up the school for my jihad or whatever. They tried pushing me around—got in a couple of good hits—and suddenly I was wielding this flaming hammer.”
“My mom was on my case about me getting a D on this stupid test,” Jude said. “First test I’d taken all year and she goes nuts—starts telling me no more movies until I bring my grade back up… I was mad and didn’t want to hear it anymore. Next thing I know, I’m in my room.”
“My, uh, class was on this field trip… to Alaska. I fell in the water and when they pulled me out… I was cold… My powers warmed me up.”
Prompt stopped long enough to fix Max with a suspicious glance. There was no mistaking that his story sounded phony. Why though? Why lie about something so simple as how his powers manifested?
“Lucky you, man,” Jude said. “After my folks saw what I could do, they tossed my butt out.”
“Why?” Max asked. “I mean, if you’re a speeb, one of your folks had to be, right?”
“I was adopted,” Jude said. “I have no idea who my real parents are. They gave me up at birth…”
“Yeah, same here,” Lloyd said. “Well, okay, not the exact same… I never met my dad—my mom raised me by herself. My dad took off way before I was born… Still, I figure he had to have been a Neo-Sapien: mom never had any sort of ability like this…”
“That you know of,” Max added.
“Oh, no,” Prompt said. “Trust me: it was his dad.”
Lloyd looked at Prompt’s back quizzically. “How would you know?” he asked.
Prompt sighed. “Look, the whole… flaming eyes and energy weapon thing kind of marks you as a Nephilim. You probably hear voices sometimes when you get excited, right? Nephilim are… well, they’re the children of a human woman and…” She trailed off as a truck slowed beside them.
Hurrying up to the side, Prompt looked in through the window and smiled at the truck driver. “Hi,” she said. “Our car broke down some ways back—would you mind givin’ us a lift into town?”
“I can do you one better, pretty lady,” the middle-aged man said through a toothy smile. “You happen to be talkin’ to one of the best mechanics in all of Clay County. I can get my brother-in-law to tow y’all to my garage and-”
“That’s not necessary,” Prompt said. “I couldn’t pay you-”
“Don’t go worryin’ about payin’ me—just doin’ what’s decent.”
“Really, I couldn’t-”
“I insist,” the man said, leaning across the truck’s seat to tug at the door’s handle. With a strong push, the door opened, unleashing a horrible creek as it did.
“It can’t ever be easy, can it?” Prompt asked the sky. Suddenly she reverted to her normal appearance and took control of the man’s body with an ability she had imprinted from her roommate. She forced the mechanic to shift his truck into park and sit quietly in the driver’s seat. “Okay, here’s how this is going to go: we’re not bad people but… desperate times—blah, blah, blah. We’re not going to hurt you but we need your help to save this boy whose life in danger. I’m sorry about this—really didn’t want things to go down like this but… whatever.”
The New Vindicator turned to the trio of boys with her and focused on Max. “Take off your shirt.”
“Turn into Megan Fox.”
Prompt rolled her eyes. “I need something to cover my uniform, jackass. You’re the only one with two shirts so… hand it over.” Max slipped out of the makeshift jacket and handed it over to the young woman. She hastily donned the shirt and buttoned it up before slipping into the cab. “All right,” she said, “get in the back. I’m going to get our new friend here to drive us into town and take us to the county lockup—how are you not sweating in this thing? Once we’re there, Max and Lloyd are going to get Jude inside. Once he knows where he’s going, he can ‘port in, grab this Andrew kid and get out. I’m going to have to stay in the truck and make sure our driver doesn’t try to sic the po-pos on us. Just remember: don’t hurt anybody. Got it?”
One-by-one the boys climbed into the bed of the truck. Once they were in place, Prompt commanded the driver to take off. It was awkward: she was controlling his movements—the amount of pressure his foot applied to the gas or the degree at which his hands turned the steering wheel—but she was doing it from the passenger seat.
At first, the truck moved slowly and then it suddenly accelerated, only to slam on the brakes in an attempt to slow to a more acceptable speed. The truck veered into the other lane and rather that steadily shift over the truck jerked. It careened around corners and tossed the boys in the back about. The ride was rough, but the young woman didn’t see what alternatives she had…
They could have forced him out of the truck and left him stranded alongside the road. It wouldn’t take him more than a few minutes to walk to one of the houses though and from there he could easily contact the sheriff and tell him that he had been carjacked by a girl in a Vindicators uniform. They could have incapacitated him; Prompt lacked any ability that would merely put him to sleep or force him into unconsciousness—at least, none that were pleasant to experience. She could have turned the Damned’s pain-inducing ability on him or let Lloyd or Max have at him but that would just vindicate claims that SPBs were a danger to normal humans.
There existed another route: Tapion’s telepathy included the ability to completely alter someone’s mind. She had had success with using such a power on Jordan—at least until he touched the Black Box. Still, it was a risky thing to try, as Jessie Martinez would verify.
Suddenly, Prompt realized that the Black Box had undone her alteration of Jordan’s mind—it could do the same for the catatonic girl she had abandoned a year ago in Peoria. Making a mental note to pay the comatose Esper a visit, Prompt tried to focus on the mission at hand: they had entered West Point and were getting nearer the young man they had come to save.
Finding the prison was difficult. If Prompt were to use her telelocation to find Andrew, she had to first free their chauffer. The instant he was in possession of his own actions again, he might start screaming or try to make a run for it. If he drew attention to them, this would escalate into something considerably more difficult.
For several minutes, Prompt simply had the driver guide them through the streets in search of something that looked like the county lockup. Jessica Martin’s puppeteer power wasn’t a form of total mind control: she couldn’t demand information from the driver or even let him talk. She had full control over his physical body. She couldn’t give him control over his tongue or jaw—it was all or nothing.
Realizing that they had no idea where they were going, Jude knocked on the back window of the truck and signaled for Prompt to pull them over.
Once the truck began to idle, Jude pounced over the side and nearly fell over in the process. “I have an idea,” he said nervously. He hastily explained his plan and with nothing else to help them, Prompt agreed to let him give it a try. “Just… be ready to follow me.”
“Don’t get shot, broseph,” Lloyd said, thrusting his arm out towards Jude quickly. Jude flinched as if he were about to be punched, only to realize Lloyd was offering his knuckles to the man. Jude hesitantly bumped fists with his would-be classmate and evoked a shared look of confusion between Max and Lloyd in the process.
Prompt watched as a jittery Jude stood on the sidewalk, apprehensively looking both ways down the street. Only when he saw a police car slowly appear from around the corner did he move: the young man began frantically waving for the officer to pull over. Soon, the squad car pulled to the side of the street and the officer got out of the vehicle. “What’s wrong, young man?” the officer asked.
“I… I need you to arrest me,” Jude said. He didn’t need any help in feigning fear: he was terrified the mustachioed black man would draw his pistol and shoot him repeatedly after his confession. “I’m a Neo-Sapien… and I need you to put me with the other one.”
The man stared at Jude strangely. Jude simply took a newspaper out from under his arm; pilfered from a nearby trashcan, it was to be the proof of his powers. He rolled the paper up and held it a safe distance from both himself and the officer. With his other hand he gave a fancy gesture—like he’d seen stage magicians perform—and the tip of the rolled up paper burst into flames.
Jude set the newspaper down and looked at the officer with pleading eyes. “You have to take me in,” he said.
“Kid…” The black man hurriedly stomped out the flames and then began looking around nervously. West Point was a small town but they weren’t exactly alone. His eyes found the truck where the other New Vindicators sat; they then went to a jogger who’s attempt to blow off steam from a long day at work had been stopped by the sight of the combustion. Two men were in the process of stepping into Benny’s Shrimp and Corn Boil until one caught notice of the display of power; he had slapped the other in the shoulder and continued to point towards Jude even after his friend had directed his attention there. “I ain’t too thrilled to be holding one kid who didn’t do anything wrong…”
“For my own safety!” Jude said. “You know what will happen if anyone finds out what I am!”
The officer nodded somberly before putting a hand on Jude’s back. As he led the boy towards the parked squad car, he craned his neck to speak into the radio strapped above his heart. He called in the small fire and informed dispatch he was bringing another Neo-Sapien in.
As the squad car pulled off, Prompt made the mechanic take off in pursuit. Jude’s plan worked: he had successfully been taken in and helped lead his teammates to the jailhouse. With the truck parked outside, Prompt watched as Jude was escorted into the building. “Nothing to do but wait,” she said. “Good thinking, Max.”
“Don’t look at me,” the athletic youth said, “it was all Teleport Boy’s idea. He figured my powers made a better demonstration than his—especially since telling them he teleports might hurt our chances of breaking the other kid out.”
“Yeah, but you heard the cop, right?” Lloyd said. “He didn’t want to bring him in—didn’t even want to lock the other kid up! We probably could have just had the teachers flash their badges or whatever they’ve got, explain why we’re here and they’d have handed the kid over! Not everyone in the south’s a total bigot after all, I guess…”
“Dude was black,” Max muttered. “You expected him to be a bigot? Really?”
“Is it racist to assume black people can’t be bigots?” Lloyd asked.
Prompt could only sigh at the duo’s conversation and wonder if she had sounded so stupid when she was their age. “This kid might have only been locked up to keep the people from lynching him,” Prompt said darkly. “Ten-to-one odds they called the CGP in to help them storm the jail and take the kid out by force.”
Suddenly, Jude was standing outside of the jail, clutching a young man with bleach-blonde hair. An instant later they disappeared and reappeared in the back of the truck. “Drive!” Jude ordered. He was on the verge of hyperventilating.
“This the kid?” Lloyd asked. He sniffed the air. “What smells funny?”
“This is the kid—NOW DRIVE!” Jude thundered.
Prompt hurried to oblige. At her command, the driver pulled away from the jail and began to make his way west.
Jude’s sudden teleport had created confusion inside the jailhouse. The sudden disappearance of two teenage boys from a locked jail cell left the officers watching over them momentarily stunned. The truck had already slipped around a corner before any of them had thought to step outside to investigate the disappearance.
Prompt tried to keep her attention on the road ahead of her but she nervously kept looking through the truck’s rearview mirror, checking for flashing lights. Only when she saw none did she release the breath she was holding. “We did it,” she said. “We actually did it…”
“Who are you people?” Andrew asked from the bed of the truck. “Where are we going?”
“We’re superheroes!” Jude declared triumphantly. His part in the jailbreak left him feeling invincible; he had forgotten how—just minutes ago—he had been on the verge of wetting himself.
“We’re from a school for speebs,” Max said. “Name’s Max; I make fire with my mind.”
“I, uh… I’m Andrew Woodford,” the new boy said timorously. “I make things white.”
“What? Like… bleach?” Lloyd stared at Andrew strangely before sniffing the air again. “That’s it!” he bellowed. “That’s what that smell is! You smell like the stuff my mom puts in with the whites!”
“Yeah,” Andrew said mournfully. “For lunch, the cafeteria was serving pizza. I took a bite out of it and a glob of sauce dropped on my shirt—the brand new, white shirt I just bought! I was s’posed to meet my girlfriend behind the school afterwards and I thought maybe I could get it out, y’know? So, I licked my fingers and I tried to rub the stain out. It worked! I mean, my shirt was a little damp but the stain was out…
“That’s… when the smell started…” he added sheepishly. “Everyone else started to notice it too. I pulled my shirt up over my nose and took a whiff—man, I stank. Everyone around me was sniffing the air… It was a little bit later that people noticed it was me. Some of the kids in my class wanted to know why I smelled like bleach—my girlfriend asked if I’d been bathing in it. Well… someone eventually figured that I must’ve been a Neo-Sapien and that’s when they came after me.
“Officer Gooding saw the crowd and came by—he reckoned they were about to kill me so he took me into custody for my own good.”
“Yeah,” Jude said, “that’s when we got word of what was happening down here.”
“Those people called the Church of Genetic Purity, man,” Lloyd offered sympathetically.
“Not to be a buzzkill or anything,” Max said apathetically, “but shouldn’t we snag his parents? I mean, they may be from the south but they’re not that stupid: they’re going to realize if Andy here is a speeb, his parents are speebs.”
“Dude, stop saying ‘speeb’,” Lloyd growled. “It’s not P.C.”
“Max has a point,” Prompt said over her shoulder. “We need to get Andrew’s parents to safety too.”
Andrew sighed. “It’s just me and my dad, actually,” he said. “He should be at work right now-”
“Wait, they arrested his underage son and he’s still at work?” Prompt asked. The truck swerved out of the right lane as she turned around to look through the back window. “Either the cops in this town are crappy or your dad is…”
“It’s not anyone’s fault,” Andrew said. “Dad drives a truck for a local company—he’s probably only just on his way home from Aberdeen by now…”
“Works for me,” Prompt said. “We’re almost back to the jet. Once we’re in the air, we’ll find your dad and pick him up. Hopefully then we can head back to New York…”
To Be Continued... wrote:Portal's fears, Hourglass' tears.