This wasn’t fun anymore.
At first, Sayren had been thrilled to have finally found someone who could actually give her a challenge, someone whom killing would give her the rush of her life. But the longer she fought with this Trident kid, the more that sensation faded away, replaced by a burning frustration. He was like an irritating fly, flitting around and dodging all of her attempts to swat him. It wasn’t as if the fight was entirely one-sided either, the trickle of blood on his face and the burns on his forearms were proof of that, but nothing she threw at him seemed to keep him down. Worse, his own blows struck with the force of missiles, sending flares of pain through her body, and his electricity burned like fire before robbing her of all feeling.
‘’Damn you,’’ Sayren spat as Terry dodged yet another blast of condensed hot air. ‘’Just…just die!’’ she shouted, frustrated and in deep annoyance.
‘’I’m not like your other victims, I’m not going to just roll over for you!’’ Terry retorted. Sayren had started using her powers a lot more when it became clear even to her that she couldn’t beat him in a contest of physical strength, keeping him on the run from her searing projectiles. Terry knew that if he was herded over towards the container area he’d lose the upper hand, and he needed to bring an end to this contest soon. He was starting to run out of stamina, and while his injuries didn’t bother him much at the moment, the toll was adding up, and despite Sayren’s weak frame she proving to be able to take a truly surprising amount of punishment.
For the umpteenth time he futilely tried to wipe the sweat from his brow. The air inside the depot had become truly stifling, and it was starting to make him feel lightheaded as he lost more moisture to the heat. Sayren took advantage of his momentary distraction to lash out at him with a glowing red kick, which he countered by shooting off a short burst of electricity. Sayren recoiled with a cry and found her opponent’s palm in her face again.
‘’Shit!’’ she managed to get out before Terry blinded her a second time. As she reeled he drove the tip of his foot into her exposed side and followed with a vicious electrified hook that slammed into her cheek and knocked her clear off of her feet. Her body arched in the air before crashing back down to the floor in a heap.
‘’Why, dammit, why?!’’ she demanded, her voice rising to a higher pitch than she’d had before. ‘’Why-can’t-you-just-die?! You’re just a kid who came out of friggin’ nowhere! Why are you able to do this?!!’’
‘’I already told you why.’’ Terry responded, doing his best to keep his cool as he watched the young woman’s breakdown through unwavering eyes. ‘’I don’t know a thing about killing people, and I never want to, but I do know a thing or two about fighting. I know that someone who’s never challenged themselves and has no patience can never succeed at this.’’ He steeled his expression some more. ‘’I’m not going to let myself get killed, especially at the hands of someone like you!’’
‘’What did I say about lecturing me you arrogant little shithead!’’ Sayren shrieked back. Once again the air temperature spiked, and Terry leapt back and away from her, as despite the heat he still had more than enough wits about him to stay clear of his adversary when she pulled that trick. He felt a flash of pain shoot through his singed legs in protest when he landed, but he quickly forgot the sensation when he saw what was happening to Sayren.
She was standing upright again, and covered by a bright orange glow. This wasn’t like her previous attacks where she’d superheated her limbs. This time it was her entire body, from the soles of her feet all the way up to the hairs on her head, all glowing brightly like a beacon in the dim chamber. Terry was forced to raise a hand in front of him to shield his eyes from the light. The waves of heat rolling off of her distorted the air around her, making the outline of her body appear slightly blurry and indistinct. It was an incredibly surreal sight, the likes of which Terry had never seen before.
‘’You’re done!’’ Sayren snarled as the air swirled and billowed around her. Terry could barely see her mouth moving or pick out her features through the glow. ‘’Die you piece of shit!!’’
What felt like a small explosion rattled the building as the air before her seemed to combust into flames and a condensed blast of air so hot and focused it looked almost like a faint laser beam exploded forth from her. Terry did the one thing he could think of – he ran, ran from the terrific burst of searing heat and dived to the floor, hands covering his head. The very atmosphere burned, tormenting his exposed skin, instantly stealing his breath away and making his throat feel like sandpaper. He felt like his body was going to desiccate and wither away.
But, almost as soon as it began, the rush of air faded away. Terry could hear the sound of something crackling as the scent of smoke reached his nostrils. Strangely enough, he didn’t feel much pain, no more than he had before, at any rate. Cracking open his eyes he risked a glance at his exposed arms. He had expected to see blackened and charred flesh, but instead he merely saw an angry red hue that was slowly fading away, so that his arms looked only mildly sunburned. He felt relief at the fact that the burning wasn’t coming from him, but quickly realized the implications and stood up to see what was really burning.
A large, fan-shaped section of the floor before Sayren to his left had been scorched black by the tremendous heat. The black scar extended back into the container area where the sturdier metal containers closest to the edge were scored with soot, but the smaller ones which weren’t made out of metal were warped and twisted from the heat and flames were licking their corners and protective tarps. Terry gulped. He was lucky to have been able to dodge that blast, for if he had been in the middle of it…
‘’W-Why…? The last time I did that, I…everyone…’’ Sayren gasped, sounding dazed. She was no longer glowing. She was holding her body stiffly and her eyes were wide and empty. Her expression was the very definition of a thousand-yard-stare as her vacant gaze passed through the flames as if they weren’t even registering in her mind.
‘’Forget it!’’ Terry said, clenching his teeth as he nervously eyed the fire. It wasn’t very large at the moment, but it could spread easily and his eyes were already starting to sting from the smoke that was getting into the air. ‘’There’s no time for this anymore! Just –‘’
‘’Shut up, shut up, shut up!’’ Sayren screamed at him. She had truly lost it now, her expression had suddenly warped from that of someone who was seeing things no one else saw to unbridled, raw fury. ‘’I’m not a weak person!! I…I can still kill you!!’’
Taking no heed of the flames, Sayren began to stalk towards Terry as if possessed, her body starting to glow once more. Terry cursed to himself and summoned up all of his remaining strength. He was amazed at how much punishment the young woman could take, and had clearly underestimated her on that count. He was in rough shape himself. It hurt to move quickly, and he was starting to feel quite lightheaded, as if he had spent too much time in a shower, and drawing breath was becoming harder and harder. This was the absolute end for the both of them.
Something cold and wet suddenly blanketed his body at the same time that his ears registered the ear-splitting wail of an obnoxiously loud buzzer. It was water, he quickly realized. Triggered by the flames’ smoke, the building’s sprinkler system had activated and the sprinklers located on the beams crisscrossing above his head were dutifully dousing the area with water. The suddenly cold jerked Terry back into full awareness and felt like a salve on his skin. He looked over at Sayren. She was hunched over and frozen in place, seemingly shocked by the sudden deluge. Her body was no longer heated or glowing, and a sizzling sound could be heard as the water turned to steam upon contact with her.
The downpour abated, leaving both Stargazers drenched and staring at each other in mutual befuddlement. Terry quickly realized that this was his chance and quickly released a large discharge of electricity both Sayren could recover, as much as he could muster, and directed all of it at his opponent. The young woman let out a horrible scream as the bolts hit her again and again, her body jerked into an upright position as the electricity crackled and snapped through her, the noise almost drowning out the fire alarm.
Fearing that he was going to kill her, Terry let up his attack. Sayren’s head was hanging back, but she was still standing somehow, Portions of her clothing had been burned through in several places, exposing nasty-looking electrical burns underneath. For a moment she didn’t move, but then suddenly, impossibly, her head snapped forward to flash him an expression of deep, smoldering rage and hatred. Slowly, she put one foot forward, and then the other, staggering painfully, arduously, towards him.
Terry found himself rooted to the spot by his own disbelief. After all of those lightning strikes, after all of those blows that she had taken, how could she still possible move? It was just inconceivable, as if this woman, nothing more than a black hole full of malice and anger, was pushing every fiber of her being to its limit for the sole purpose of killing him, the one person who had forever shattered her aura of invincibility. As Sayren weakly reached out and laid a hand on one of his shoulders he realized that the emotion keeping him bound in place wasn’t simply exhaustion or disbelief, it was fear.
‘’I…win.’’ Sayren managed to whisper, a look of triumph on her tired and battered face. Her grip strengthened briefly before slackening as she swayed to the side and finally collapsed to the ground.
Terry felt his own energy rush out from him like air from a balloon and went down on one knee in exhaustion. His chest heaved as sweat ran down his face, mixing with the water and the traces of blood that were still on his face. With the final defeat of his chosen adversary and the conclusion to the most difficult fight he’d ever been in multiple emotions were rising to the surface. The first one was naturally relief, but the second…wasn’t an expected sense of accomplishment, but instead one of uncertainty and doubt. Could he really call that a win? Had Sayren’s strength not given out when it did, would he still be standing here?
He frowned and shook his head. No, there was no use second-guessing himself anymore. He had proven to be the victory of their little struggle, and that was all that mattered. His hadn’t been a tournament or sparring match, it had been one of life-and-death. He should just accept what had happened and relish his win and survival.
He looked up as the fire alarm finally let up. While the sprinkler system had been successful in suppressing the flames, it had not quite fully extinguished them. There was the possibility that the conflagration could start back up again, and it wouldn’t due to become trapped in with them after narrowly surviving Sayren’s last-ditch effort to kill him.
Slowly, haltingly, he hauled himself up to his feet. It was time to go.
Nova caught the tip of Deck’s spear on the overlapping metal edges of his right arm. The gang leader grunted and after some exertion tore the blade free, angling upwards and leaving a vertical cut on Nova’s cheek. Not that it really mattered since his face was already drenched by blood. After quickly attempting, and yet again failing, to flick blood out of his eyes with his free hand he swung his armored arm into Deck’s, causing him to grunt in pain and drop his spear. Even so, he quickly recovered and lashed out with a set of powerful punches, one of which caught Nova in his injured side. Nova gasped as a flash of fire rolled through his abdominal area and fell down one knee, his hand reflexively clutching the small bloodstain at his ribs.
‘’Come on!’’ Deck laughed. ‘’I know you can put up a better fight than this! I wouldn’t’ve recruited you otherwise!’’
Nova did nothing but glower as he got back up. It was frustrating how disadvantaged he was: Deck had plenty of range and he was older, bigger, and stronger than he was. Deck was a man who craved power, no matter how well he tried to hide it, so it was only natural that he had expanded and improved upon his Stargazer powers over the years. Martial arts seemed to be a big part of Terrence’s life, so it wasn’t surprising that he’d be driven to strengthen and improve himself. He himself had never really been thrown against such a wall before. Even after he first met with Mr. Centone and become Trident’s first member nothing had been asked of him that he couldn’t already do. But now that wall was before him in the form of his former boss, and he had to overcome it no matter what.
That left him with the conundrum of how he could improve or build upon such a basic-seeming power. Looking at his arm, the plating design looked too elaborate to just be for augmented strength alone, it looked more like part of a suit of armor to him. There had to be something more to it, some skill that he had yet to figure out and unlock, but even so he had absolutely no way of knowing that for sure, and he didn’t have the luxury to stop and puzzle this out. Deck was doing a good job of keeping him on his toes with repeated spear thrusts, and he couldn’t even get close enough to deliver a solid blow without putting himself in harm’s way. I want, no, need to hit him from a range. Nova thought to himself, but there was nothing in the hallway that he could use as an improvised missile, leaving him with only his own strength.
A rather ridiculous thought hit him as Deck’s spear nicked his left arm. Wherever he transformed his arm he had to expend a slightest bit of mental energy to do so. It was unconscious, similar to how people blink or breathe without thinking about it. It seemed silly, but if he actually concentrated on his arm, and tried to coax a new skill out of it, he might succeed. Concentration and effort were the keys to improving one’s
own skills, weren’t they?
Nova ducked low and sprang forward, arms up in a classic boxing guard. He lashed out, focusing as hard as he could on his arm as he swung forward. Deck danced out of the way and bolted down the corridor again, his mind had apparently turned once more to flight, and Nova could understand why, for his ears managed to just barely pick up the sound of distant, muffled footsteps. No doubt the police had finally begun to raid the building. Nova cursed to himself and ran after Deck, despite the fact that he was starting to feel a little bit dizzy. While he could just leave Deck to them, he didn’t have a huge amount of faith in them after recent events. He needed to end this by his own hand.
The hallway hit another dead end further up, though he saw the tail of Deck’s coat disappearing through a large side door. Beyond it was some sort of wide, open studio, perhaps a room for gym equipment.
‘’Getting antsy, are we Deck?’’
Deck whirled around to face his former underling. ‘’You really want to get the shit beaten out of you some more, huh?’’ he said in an annoyed
tone of voice.
‘’This isn’t like you Deck.’’ Nova pressed on forcing a confident smirk to his face. ‘’I guess you’ve finally realized that you’ve run out of tether.’’
‘’Shut your mouth, this isn’t the end, not by a long shot!’’ Deck shouted, his hand making a defiant slashing gesture. ‘’This is only a temporary setback. My boys are all over the city, and I can get more easily. So what if you take down this hideout?! I have plenty more backups!’’ He summoned a halberd and swept it at Nova’s side, but Nova caught the blade on his metal forearm.
‘’You’re mistaken,’’ he grunted, staring right into Deck’s sunglasses as he struggled to angle the axe-head away from his body. ‘’First of all, not everyone is on board with your plan. Didn’t we just go over this outside?’’
Deck snarled in response and pulled his weapon back before summoning a second halberd in his other hand and lunging at Nova, forcing him to jump back and away from his advance.
‘’Second of all,’’ Nova continued as he jockeyed around Deck’s weapons. ‘’Your entire plan is nothing but a stupid pipedream!’’
‘’What?!’’ Deck grunted, lashing out with a kick that knocked his opponent back and away.
‘’You heard me!’’ Nova retorted deliberately twisting back with the impact so that he ended up sidestepping the two spears that had popped into existence with the attempt to skewer him. ‘’Sure, maybe The Beings are the largest gang in the city, and maybe you are the strongest guy on these streets, but you must know that once you start tangling with guys like the Red Claws it’s going to be a bloodbath, and don’t even get me started on organized crime or the police!’’
‘’You think I don’t know that?!’’ Deck shouted back moving into to exchange blows with Nova. ‘’Why do you think I went to all that effort to lay low and keep tabs on what you were doing, or why I brought that Sayren bitch on board?!''
‘’Speaking of her,’’ Nova said as he ducked under Deck’s fist and drove his elbow into the larger man’s sternum. ‘’Taking on someone who’s clearly batshit insane? You’re smart enough to realize what an idiotic idea that is! Then again,’’ he stopped to catch he breath as Deck tried to recover from the blow. ‘’you’ve clearly gone off the deep end yourself, haven’t you?’’
‘’Tch, of course I know the risks!’’ Deck said. ‘’She’s easy to manipulate, but even if she is a useful pawn she’s going down if she steps out of line!’’
‘’Pawn, right.’’ Nova smirked. ‘’And just how useful has she been to you, huh? Well, it doesn’t matter. Terrence should be taking her down as we speak.’’
‘’I wouldn’t count on that!’’ Deck said, thrusting his weapon forward, warding Nova back. ‘’I told you, Sparky’s as good as dead!’’
‘’And that brings me to my final point!’’ Nova said. ‘’You’ve underestimated the people you’re up against!’’ In truth he had no idea how well Terrence was doing against that girl, but if he was able to survive encountering her once, he surely do it again. He grabbed Deck’s weapon with his right hand and punched him as hard as he could in the jaw with his left.
Deck swore viciously and fell back from the blow but he quickly regained his balance a couple of yards away. ‘’Okay, Nova.’’ he growled. ‘’If you really want me to so badly, I’ll finish you off right now!’’
He raised his hands and a whole array of weapons appeared in the air around him. Spears of varying design, hatchets and battle axes, knives, maces, rods, spikes, hammers, halberds and pikes, seeming dozens of them appeared before the leader of The Beings, points and blades all oriented in Nova’s direction. He took a step back in shock at how many weapons there were, forming a virtual wall between him and Deck, stretching almost wall to wall.
‘’Goodbye, Nova.’’ Deck said. Nova could hardly see him through the forest of metal and wood before him, but he could hear his former boss’s voice, completely flat and devoid of humor. The weapons stiffened with a clatter, and then began to fly.
To Nova, everything seemed to slow down, first slipping into slow motion before finally coming to a complete halt. As caught up as he had been in his verbal assault on Deck, perhaps he really had finally bitten off more than he could chew. There were too many weapons to dodge. He couldn’t come up with a single maneuver that wouldn’t ultimately result in him getting turned into a human pincushion. Dammit, this can’t be it, it just can’t! His mind raced. I’m not going to let it end here and have everything I’ve done come to nothing! I’m going to seal this shut with my own hands!!
Hands… The only constant throughout his life had been his Stargazer powers. His armored arm had come through for him in plenty of fights in the past, what was one more? Time seemed to speed back up as he gritted his teeth and pulled his right arm back, focusing as hard as he could on it. In his mind he pictured an aura of sorts surrounding forearm, and then extending it in front of him. With a cry that was half desperation and half kiai he swung his fist forward towards the hail of weapons that was heading for him, hoping with all his might for this to work, for something, anything to happen.
And then something did.
His armored fist made contact with one of the projectiles and instead of simply deflecting that singular weapon, Nova thought he saw a brief flash of light emanate from the edge of his fist which was suddenly followed by a concussive blast that blew a hole clean through the hail of weapons. The weapons that were directly in the blast’s path were blown apart, sending pieces of snapped wood and metal flying backwards, while the ones that weren’t directly in his path were knocked to the ground or continued to sail on harmlessly past. A small shock wave rocked the space before him, sending the fragments and debris skittering across the floor. Deck was staggered from the impact of the shock wave, but
he stayed on his feet even as the shattered remains of the weapons knocked against his feet and legs.
‘’What…the hell was that?!’’ he gasped, his eyes going wide behind his sunglasses. ‘’How the hell did you do that?! Where did that come from?!’’
Nova suddenly felt a jolt of pain lance through his arm, like that of a pulled muscle. Normally he didn’t feel anything from it at all no matter how much punishment it took, but it seemed like he wouldn’t be pulling whatever that was off again anytime soon. ‘’I guess…’’ he breathed. ‘’…that there’s a lot more to my powers than I thought.’’ His chest heaved. He couldn’t remember how he had originally activated his Stargazer abilities, but he had heard that Terrence’s power had activated when he had been attacked by a knife-wielding thug. Perhaps, he thought to himself, that whatever it was that gave Stargazers their unique superhuman abilities responded to certain stimuli within the body, just like how a people could perform seemingly-superhuman feats when in danger.
Deck grunted in frustration and kicked the scattered debris away from him and snatched up two intact spears from off the ground and dashed forward with a cry, aiming both of the points straight at Nova’s throat. Despite the soreness of his right arm, Nova reached out and caught both spears with his fist. Deck came to a sudden halt and his leftover momentum made both of them stumble, but Nova managed to hang on. ‘’What’s wrong?’’ he grunted. ‘’Finally released how screwed you are?’’
‘’Shut-the-hell-up!’’ Deck grunted, straining as hard as he could against Nova’s vice-like grip.
‘’Nothing more to say, huh?’’ Nova asked. ‘’You’re really done this time, huh? You never would’ve been able to take over the city. Your plan was doomed from the very moment you thought it up!’’
‘’You must think that it and the government that’s supporting you is so great, huh?!’’ Deck put on as much pressure as he could, but he could barely budge his former subordinate’s arm. ‘’One day you’ll see the world’s true ugly side, mark my words! Let’s see what you have to say then, traitor!’’
Nova tightened his grip, and the two wooden shafts in his hand let out a crunch and splintered, leaving Deck holding two useless broken sticks. He threw them away but before he could throw a single punch Nova’s metal fist collided with his jaw with enough force to temporarily knock the big man off of his feet. He stumbled, and for a moment looked like he would recover before he simply fell to his knees and folded over, silently and without fanfare. His sunglasses, broken as if to symbolize his defeat, fell off of his face and to the floor with a soft clatter.
Nova made to stumble over to lean against the wall in exhaustion, but instead he almost collapsed, suddenly feeling every bruise, every stab wound, every laceration, and every drop of blood that he had lost over the course of the fight. Slowly, he gingerly lowered himself to the ground
and sat down on the floor.
‘’You know,’’ he said, speaking to Deck’s unconscious form. ‘’despite everything that’s happened, I’m glad I met you.’’ he admitted. ‘’Even though you ended up losing yourself in the end, you were a good guy once. You gave me and a lot of other people a place to belong.’’ He scratched his head, and winced as he accidentally scraped his fingers against his wound. He didn’t really know where he was going with this, but he continued. ‘’In a way you helped make me what I am today, but now, I no longer need you. I’m going to go on with my life, and whatever the world is going to throw at me in the future, I’ll face it with everything I have.’’
As he finished he became aware of a tinny buzzing in his ear. At first he thought that his head was still ringing from when Deck had smashed his head into the wall, but then he realized that not only was it coming from only one ear, but that he could also pick out small fragments of speech. They were coming from the small wireless transmitter placed in his ear that he had forgotten about once the fighting had started. The transmitters were rather short-ranged, which meant that it had to picking up a signal from close nearby. He stood up, and as he did a group of riot policemen burst into the room through the far door.
Fashionably late of course, Nova thought to himself as he switched his transmitter off.
‘’Bown?’’ the leader of the six-man squad asked as the others behind him came to a halt and fanned out around the room.
‘’That’s Deck.’’ Nova said wearily, pointing at the sprawled body before them.
‘’Secure him.’’ As the squad moved forward to carry out his orders the captain stepped forward to scrutinize Nova, his eyes narrowing behind his faceplate. ‘’Good work.’’ he said. ‘’We have full control of the building now. I’ll have someone escort you outside so that the paramedics can have a look at you.’’
‘’I can still walk in a straight line, I’ll go by myself.’’ Nova said, but despite his protest, the captain insisted, so he resigned himself to having another officer give him a shoulder to lean on on the way out of the building.
When he finally stepped outside he felt the night air hit his face again. It was a cool sensation, like a balm applied to his wounds. It also felt a little symbolic, he thought, as if blowing away those old days. That was fine with him, he decided. As he had said back inside, it was for the best that those days were gone now.
The front of the Moseseon Building was a flurry of activity compared to how dead it had been when he and the others had first arrived. Cop cars and vans were pulled up in front of the entrance, their lights illuminating the scene in surreal red and blue hues. Police officers were going in and out of the building’s front entrance, or were on stand-by near their vehicles. A medium-sized group of captured gang members were being led into the vans. Some of them recognized Nova and glared or hurled obscenities at him, but they weren’t any sort of danger anymore. Nova ignored them.
The officer accompanying him steered him towards an ambulance that was located towards the back of the cluster of vehicles. There he was immediately set upon by a paramedic who had a first aid kit waiting. He sat down on the bumper and offered no protest as she began to clean him up.
Nova turned his head in the direction of the voice to see that Akira was sitting on a gurney that was sitting next to the ambulance. He wasn’t strapped into it though, instead he was reclining on it like it was a bed, arms folded behind his head.
‘’Geez what happened to you? Your face is covered with blood!’’ Akira remarked, sitting up a little more on the gurney. He had a bruise on his forehead, but otherwise looked and sounded intact.
‘’I fought Deck, that’s all.’’ Nova replied simply before wincing a bit as the paramedic began to disinfect one of his cuts. ‘’What happened with you?’’ He didn’t feel like talking about his newfound ability just yet.
‘’Well,’’ Akira began, a sense of eagerness creeping into his voice now that he had a chance to relate his deeds. ‘’After you two left this really big guy joined up with that Den kid. He had a huge length of chain with him, if you can believe it.’’
‘’A huge chain?’’ Nova frowned. ‘’That must’ve been Tank…’’
‘’Anyway, there was no way I could take both of them on in a straight-up fight,’’ Akira continued, getting more animated. ‘’So what I did was I made like a huge air bomb. It was really tough to make, but it worked! It knocked both of them out cold!’’
‘’That was you?’’
‘’Oh, you heard it? Yep, that was all me!’’
‘’I see.’’ It looked like he wasn’t only one who had managed to improve this evening. ‘’Have you seen or heard from Terrence yet?’’
‘’Terry? No.’’ Akira shook his head, then his expression became a touched concerned. ‘’Where’d he go? Did he find that Sayren girl?’’
‘’Yeah, he went off towards the depot.’’ Nova gestured in that direction, and then paused. He hadn’t seen this Sayren yet, but based on what he had heard from Terrence and her general reputation, she was quite willing to kill him outright. Terrence had been pretty confident in his abilities, justifiably so perhaps, and he was willing to trust him, but it was still worrying nonetheless.
He was about to suggest trying to see if the transmitters would work when Akira suddenly spoke up again. ‘’Hey wait, do you smell that?’’
Nova crinkled his nose a bit. Yeah, he did smell something in the air. It smelled like smoke, he realized, and it didn’t seem to be coming from the Moseseon Building…
‘’Hey, I think –‘’ Akira started to say, but there was no need for him to finish. Both he and Nova turned to look towards the depot, and the smoky scent grew stronger. Even at this distance, they could see a faint flickering orange glow visible in the darkened windows high up on the building’s
‘’I’ll call the fire department!’’ one of the nearby officers said as he hurried back towards the parked cruisers to get on the general radio.
‘’Shit, do you think?!’’ Akira had leapt down from the gurney and was facing off in the depot’s direction, a look of grave concern on his face.
Nova cursed and stood up. Ignoring the protests of the paramedic who was trying to bandage him he dashed off across the parking lot, Akira right behind him. The scent of smoke became stronger and thicker as he got closer to the building, and he hoped that Terrence wasn’t inside,
caught or trapped by the growing conflagration.
As they reached the front of the building he raised his finger to the transmitter still in his ear, but then he saw, much to his relief, that he didn’t need to use it, for he could see a familiar figure, shoulders slumped in exhaustion but still very much alive, sitting on one of the concrete barriers a fair distance away from the building.
‘’Terry!’’ Akira called. Upon hearing his name, Terry perked his head up. ‘’Oh, Akira, Nova, you’re all right.’’ His voice was tired, but he quickly became more lively. ‘’You look like shit.’’
Nova snorted. ‘’You’re one to talk.’’
‘’I don’t look half as bad as you do!’’ Terry’s face was dirty and had a trickle of drying blood from a cut on his temple, while his clothes were frayed and burnt in many places and one of his hands appeared to by raw and blistered. But he was still alive, still intact, and still sound of mind.
‘’Is that…?’’ Nova began to ask, gesturing towards the second figure sprawled on the ground at Terry’s feet.
‘’Yeah, it’s her.’’ Terry reply came with a touch of consternation. ‘’I dragged her out of there so that the fire wouldn’t get to her. More than she deserves, if you ask me.’’
Nova took a few moments to observe the fallen Leo Stargazer. He’d seen a lot of crazy things during his life on the street, but he still found it hard to believe that all along the serial burner had been this scrawny, swarthy girl that he’d have probably mistaken for an androgynous boy at
first. Then again, the world was a vast place, filled with all sorts of people both good and ill.
‘’So how’d things go for you two?’’ Terry asked.
‘’It went well.’’ Nova replied, putting his thoughts aside. ‘’Deck should be in custody by now, and the members of The Beings who are here are being rounded up as we speak.’’
‘’Just wait until I tell you how I beat two guys all on my own!’’ Akira said eagerly.
‘’You can tell me later.’’ Terry said, smiling. ‘’Right now I just want a big glass of water – I’m parched.’’
* * *
‘’Well I must say, I am quite relieved that all of you managed to come out of there in one piece.’’ Mr. Gerald was saying, the relief evident on his face. It was late at night, several hours after the conclusion of the raid on The Beings’ hideout. Mr. Gerald, Daniel, and the three Stargazers were crammed into a room in one of the city’s main hospitals. Terry and Akira weren’t badly hurt: moderate bruising was the extent of Akira’s injuries, and though Terry’s burns were more serious he was feeling fine now that they had been sterilized and anti-burn pads and bandages had been applied to the worst of them. The band-aid over the cut at his temple was largely hidden by his bangs, so the only outward sign of injury he had was his bandaged hand.
Nova, on the other hand, had more extensive injuries. The bruises and lacerations he had suffered in his battle with Deck had been bandaged, but some of them had needed to be stitched closed. And the doctors wanted to have him undergo a head scanning to back sure that his head didn’t have any internal damage from being slammed into the wall. He was going to have to remain in the hospital for a few more days, something that he wasn’t happy about at all.
‘’Of course we did. We’re Stargazers after all.’’ Akira replied from his chair. He had been in a great mood following the operation’s conclusion, and had wasted no time in telling Mr. Gerald and Daniel all about how he had taken down two of The Beings’ officers all by himself.
‘’Easy for you to say.‘’ Nova grunted from the one of the room’s hospital beds. ‘’You didn’t get cut up and have your brain get rattled around inside your skull.’’
‘’Hey, it could’ve been worse.’’ Terry shrugged, unscrewing the cap off of yet another bottle of water. Already a small pile of empty ones were beginning to build around his feet.
‘’Man, I don’t understand how you can talk so causally about being in such danger.’’ Daniel put in. ‘’You do realize that you could’ve, you know, died back there, right?’’
‘’Well, like I told her, I don’t plan on dying anytime soon.’’ Terry took a sip of water before flicking off a patch of dead skin from the bridge of his nose. ‘’If you go into any situation already thinking that you’re gonna die, then you’ve already lost, simple as that.’’
‘’Erm, well anyway…’’ Mr. Gerald cleared his throat, clearly disturbed by the direction this conversation was taking. ‘’I just want to reiterate that I’m glad that you’re all okay.’’ He features softened into a smile. ‘’And how proud of you all I am. You were faced with dangers that people your age should never have to face, yet you all preserved and pulled through admirably. You did everything that was expected of you, and more.’’
‘’It’s too bad we won’t be getting any recognition for this, isn’t it?’’ Akira asked. While the media was no doubt already trumpeting the capture of the two criminal Stargazers who had terrorized the city, the existence of Trident had to be kept a secret from the masses. The public would never know that those responsible for their apprehension were three teenage boys.
Terry for his part, shrugged. ‘’I don’t really care. I told Nova something like this before, that while the idea of being treated like a hero may sound nice, in the end I think I’d rather prefer being treated like a normal person, Stargazer or no.’’
‘’Yeah, I can agree with that.’’ Akira said, nodding. ‘’However…’’ His eyes narrowed and his gaze landed directly on Mr. Gerald. ‘’some sort of reward would still be nice. Like, a fancy dinner. I’m getting tired of having to eat our dorm’s catering all the time.’’
Mr. Gerald chuckled. ‘’I think at least that can be arranged.’’
Terry took another sip of cold water and placed the bottle on the floor along with the others. ‘’So…what’s going to happen now? I mean, with The Beings, and all? I mean, didn’t they have a couple hundred members? Are all of them going to be hunted down?’’
‘’I don’t think that’ll be necessary.’’ Nova said. ‘’Deck was like the glue holding them all together. Without him, the grunts won’t have any direction. Sure, some of them will still try to cause trouble, but on their own they shouldn’t be much of a threat.’’
‘’I’m sure the police will be able to handle the remnants on their own.’’ Daniel said.
‘’Hmph. After all this, I’m not trusting the police with tracking down stolen property, let alone rounding up a scattered gang.’’ Nova snorted.
‘’And Deck and Sayren?’’ Terry asked. ‘’What’s going to happen to them?’’
Mr. Gerald’s face hardened again. ‘’Anthony Balast will most likely be sent to a maximum security prison facility until he stands trial. Given how dangerous he is as an individual, and the crimes he orchestrated on Landing Day coupled with all of the misdeeds perpetrated throughout the years…he’ll be put away for a very long time, to put it mildly.’’
‘’Are you okay with that?’’ Daniel asked Nova.
‘’I already settled things with Deck.’’ Nova said shortly. ‘’What happens to him now, is none of my concern.’’
‘’And what about Sayren?’’ Terry asked.
This time Mr. Gerald remained silent for a few moments before answering. ‘’To be honest, I’m not exactly clear on what the government does with Stargazers like her. But, I assume there is some sort of facility out there that is designed to house Stargazers as dangerous and unstable as she. I don’t think she’ll see the light of day ever again, at any rate.’’
‘’Hm.’’ Terry picked his water bottle up again and took a long swig from it. ‘’I never did learn what made her so unhinged… Ah, whatever.’’ He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. ‘’It’s over. It doesn’t matter anymore.’’
‘’Yes, I too hope that the city can finally close the book on this chapter and start anew on a fresh page.’’ Mr. Gerald agreed. He checked his watch. ‘’Well, it’s getting quite late, and you three have to show up at school tomorrow. I’ll go speak with the nurse about getting you two out of here.’’
‘’Wait, even after all this we still gotta show up at class tomorrow?!’’ Akira looked stricken. ‘’Don’t we deserve at least a day off to rest?’’
‘’Why shouldn’t you?’’ Daniel asked, looking genuinely puzzled at the suggestion. ‘’You’re not hurt badly enough to justify being absent.’’
‘’Oh come on, it’s not like you were out there fighting!’’ Akira insisted. ‘’Come on Terry, back me up here!’’
‘’I don’t really care.’’ Terry remarked. ‘’I heal quickly. After I rest up I’ll be back to normal, more or less.’’
‘’I’ll just leave you four be.’’ Mr. Gerald sighed as he made to duck out of the room. ‘’I’ll be back in a few minutes. Don’t make a racket while I’m gone or the staff will yell at you.’’
''Wait!'' Nova called.
The older man stopped halfway through the door. ''Yes?''
''Make sure to tell the police that the safety vests they gave us were pieces of shit.''
''I'm remember.'' Mr. Gerald replied in a bemused sort of way. He nodded at Terry, Akira, and Daniel and took his leave from the room, leaving the four teenagers alone together.
Akira sighed in quiet exasperation and then, clearly looking for a way to cheer himself up, turned to Nova. ‘’Don’t look so glum, Nova. We’ll visit you here tomorrow afternoon.’’ he said, his familiar grin returning to his face. ‘’We’ll even bring you some flowers if that’ll cheer you up.’’
‘’Oh yeah, and I have to look for some new sneakers tomorrow.’’ Terry sighed. He was wearing a hospital patient’s tunic because his outfit had been declared to be unsalvageable after his fight. ‘’I liked those shoes, too…’’
To no one’s surprise, Nova did not take his comrades’ irreverence very well. He frowned and shifted in his bed so that he didn’t have to look at the others. ‘’Oh shove it.’’ he muttered in annoyance as he closed his eyes to get some much-needed, much-deserved sleep.