“How did she stop you?” Sirvanna asked.
“I’m not sure,” Ines admitted. “I didn’t see anything hit me.”
“All right,” Sirvanna said. “Go after him from all sides. She shouldn’t be able to block all of us.”
Omicron surged forward.
One. Alena was thrown backwards and collapsed on the floor.
“Alena!” Yuni ran backwards to her.
“My legs feel heavy,” Ines thought. “The path to him shouldn’t take this long. Unless…”
Two. Ines felt a heavy pressure in her stomach. She went down.
“Ines!” Sirvanna cried. She fired several bolts of lightning at Naoko. Who vanished only to reappear in front of Sirvanna.
Three. Naoko’s leg slammed into Sirvanna’s face. Sirvanna staggered for a moment and Naoko’s fists came down on the back of her neck. She collapsed to the floor.
Katelyn and Alexa reached the spot where Michael had been. Only to find him missing.
“Well, this is going well,” Katelyn said.
“What’s her power anyway?” Alexa wondered.
“She moves where she wants to, when she wants to and hits hard,” Katelyn said. “We’d better keep her back while we think of a plan.”
Katelyn telekinetically grabbed a bunch of objects to swarm around them while Alexa created set up heavy winds flowing all around them.
Boo. Naoko appeared behind them and tossed them forward. They slid for a while before regaining their footing. The winds and floating objects were gone.
“Where did it all go?” Katelyn wondered, scanning the floor.
“Unforgivable!” Yuni screamed. the two looked back. She was cradling Alena’s collapsed form, with tears streaming from her eyes. “It’s absolutely unforgivable!”
A burst of light propelled her forward after Naoko. Naoko gestured and bursts of flame came up after Yuni. She ignored them and tossed beams of light at Naoko in response. Naoko vanished.
Yuni stopped in her tracks. “Where is she?”
Four. Naoko appeared beneath Yuni and launched herself from the ground, decking her. Yuni fell back a few steps and let out a blast of light. Naoko held out her hands and bounced it back at Yuni.
“How?” Katelyn asked.
Alexa rushed forward but Naoko was gone again.
“How does she do that?” Alexa asked.
“Reality is warped and space is bendable,” Katelyn replied. “It’s just like the physics of a bad action movie.”
Five. The ground opened up and warped itself around Alexa. When it opened she was unconscious.
And Six. Walls of flame surged at Katelyn.
“Not quite,” Katelyn said. Waves of water crashed around her and the flames extinguished. Naoko reappeared and glared at her.
“I figured out your little game,” Katelyn said. “It’s not that you have an inexhaustible supply of powers. You’re a psychic. This whole time we’ve been fighting on some kind of mental plane. We didn’t know the rules so you were able to knock us around at will, hoping we’d stay ignorant. But that was your mistake. You took out Alena, Ines and Sirvanna right away because you knew that they were the most likely to figure it out. But that left you weakened and you had to try and toy with the rest of us while rebuilding your strength.”
Not bad. You’re more clever than I anticipated. However, we are still in my realm and now it’s just you against me.
“Bring it on,” Katelyn said.
Michael gently placed Alexa’s unconscious body with the others.
“My, my,” he muttered. “It seems like she’s doing well.” He walked over and braced himself to catch Katelyn when he noticed a pipe floating slowly towards Naoko. “Ahhh, so she figured it out.” He walked over and moved the pipe several feet away. It instantly started its slow trek again. “But can she really afford to divide her attention?” He moved it backwards again.
Your mind isn’t bad. Naoko evaded the slew of projectiles coming at her. But mine is sharper.
She sent a mental bolt hurtling into Katelyn. Followed by another and another. Katelyn staggered but stood firmly.
“It’s… only in my… mind,” she muttered.
Perhaps, but your mind houses your consciousness. It’s your most vulnerable point. When I defeat it,, you will fall. Naoko split into five and they swarmed all over Katelyn.
Michael sprinted to catch Katelyn’s falling form before it hit the ground. The pipe fell harmlessly to the floor.
“I trust you didn’t hurt them too badly?”
They’ll be fine. They’ll just wake up with severe headaches. There will be no permanent damage.
“That’s alright then,” Michael said. “Take them to the guest rooms, I’ll speak with them when they wake up.”
Sirvanna found herself in a comfortable bed with lots of cushions. She sat up and looked around. There was a plate with some kind of rice dish in it on a table that clearly wasn’t made for chairs in the middle of the room. The room did have an easy chair, which was facing some kind of electronic screen. The room was otherwise unfurnished but it had two doors.
Sirvanna walked over the plush carpet and tested the first door, locked. She sent a burst of lightning into it. The bolt dissipated around it. Some kind of shield?
She moved over to check the other one. It led to a simple bathroom. A change of clothes had been left sitting on the cabinet.
Alexa looked at the change of clothes that had been left for her. Yeah, she wasn’t getting naked in this place. It didn’t look like there were any cameras in the bathroom. The tile, walls and ceiling were all completely solid, but she wasn’t risking it.
She glared at the dish they’d left. Poisoned? She had to find some way to escape.
Yuni spread out across the bed. Alena had felt dead when she’d touched her. Tears streamed down her face.
“Please,” she sobbed “tell me it’s a lie.”
“What, no bell to ring for room service?” Katelyn asked. She smelled the dish that had been left for her. “What is this stuff anyway?”
She took a bite.
“Actually, that’s pretty good.”
Alena finished her careful examination of the room. She tried punching one of the walls, her hand bounced back like she had hit rubber. It looked like the only way out was going to be through the locked door.
She looked at the cylindrical device she’d found under the chair and turned it over in her hands. It seemed to have some kind of circuitry in it, but why?
Ines paced. She’d eaten her food, showered, changed clothes and couldn’t figure out how the screen turned on. Now she was bored.
The screen flickered on and Michael Wagner appeared.
“Ladies,” he began. “Now that you’ve had time to eat and take care of other needs, we can talk. The chairs in front of you have microphones beneath them. He held up a small electronic cylinder. The buttons are at the bottom. You may press them to ask questions or otherwise communicate with me.
“Why not just talk to us in person?” Sirvanna asked
“Because I respect your abilities,” Michael answered. “This seemed like the most efficient and safe way to talk with you.”
“Then why did you kill Alena?” Yuni cried, her voice shaken.
“I’m not dead,” Alena said. “Please don’t cry.”
“What you perceived as her death was an illusion created by my friend,” Michael said. “I apologise. Had I known that you were under that impression I’d have arranged for you two to see each other before this conference. I had no intention of worrying you needlessly. As you may know, multiple governments tested a synthetically enhanced strain of the plague on several orphaned or discarded children in Munich some time ago. There was one survivor, me. They ran endless tests to try and figure out what gift I had developed. Little did they suspect that my cognitive abilities had been enhanced. After many events that don’t need explored at this juncture, I decided that the most reasonable course would be to use that gift to unite the planet.”
“If you’re so smart why haven’t you cured the plague?” Alexa asked.
“A fair question,” Michael said. “Tell me, do you know why we all develop different gifts as a result of the plague?” He waited for nearly a minute. No one spoke. “It’s because our bodies develop different defenses against it. The antibodies that enable us to survive are also what cause us to develop gifts. However, since everyone has different ones finding a way to cure the plague has proven a very formidable challenge. I have tried synthesising a cure using various types of anti-bodies, but they’ve all proven ineffective. The anti-bodies from one gifted individual simply don’t function for another person.”
“Why jump straight into fighting?” Alena asked.
“I know what you mean,” Michael said. “There should be a better way, shouldn’t there? However, our people are suffering. We’re herded into prisons, killed, experimented on and given all other manner of vile treatments. I will not stand idly in the face of such injustice. I swiftly realised that I had two options. The first being to start a civil rights movement and the second being to unite the world under one banner and give our people equal rights and protections under the law.”
“Why not the civil rights route?” Sirvanna asked.
“Trying to acquire civil rights peacefully is an arduous process,” Michael said.”Trying to do it on a global scale even moreso. And I was unwilling to sacrifice all of the innocent lives that would be lost while waiting. No, better, in this case, to fight and save as many of our people as possible than to allow them to keep being sacrificed.” For a moment he seemed to be looking directly at them through the screen. “Take yourselves as an example. Your government locked you in cells without you having committed a crime without any kind of trial. With the intent of leaving you there until your deaths. And now that they’ve been forced to go to you for help they’ve placed these…” he held up one of the explosive implants in a jar. “in your heads to force your compliance.”
Sirvanna rubbed the back of her neck. “Is that…” she began.
“From you?” Michael said. “No, this one came from Miss Doyle.”
“Me?” Alexa asked. “But there isn’t a mark on me.”
“There won’t be a mark on any of you,” Michael said. “Although you’re all officially free.”
“How?” Alena asked.
“Let’s just say I know a lady with a gift that enables her to do wonders in medical matters,” Michael said. “Now, your lives are your own. You have three choices. One, you can join me. Two, you can withdraw from the battlefield. I’ll provide you with a safe place to live behind the lines until the war is over. Three, you can continue to fight against me. In which case I’ll have to have you relocated as prisoners of war. Where you will be welcome to try to escape should you wish.” He rose. “I know that this won’t be an easy decision. I’ll give you twenty four hours to decide. In the meantime, we will see to your needs. Should you decide sooner, you can use the communication devices to summon me.”
“Rose told me you wanted to see me,” Mary bowed. “How may I serve you.”
“There’s no need to be so formal,” Michael said. “The reason I asked to see you is that I have a job for you. Don’t worry, it’s nothing too dangerous. However, I suspect that one of our new friends will need you.”
Alexa felt the back of her head. She had fought before because she’d had to, just to have some taste of freedom. Now, she was free. But to do what? Live in peace, after all she’d seen it seemed… difficult to walk away. Fight then. But for who? She stared at the ceiling.
Katelyn waited, her door opened.
You asked to speak with me?
“Yeah,” Katelyn said. She gestured and a harmonica appeared in her hands. “Don’t trust me enough to actually open the door?”
This realm will be sufficient. What is your question?
“If you’re psychic, you should already know,” Katelyn said.
I will not read your mind without cause.
“Fine,” Katelyn said. “It’s a simple question, why do you follow Michael Wagner?”
Because I believe in him. He’s physically weak but he’s the type of person who would step in to stop a group of thugs from beating an unfortunate in an alley. With no thought of personal safety or reward.
“That’s it?” Katelyn asked.
“This may be disorienting,” a mechanical voice warned.
Yuni nodded and closed her eyes as the mist enveloped her.
Her head spun and she found herself facing Alena.
“Alena!” she ran forward and hugged the other woman, burying her head in her chest. “You are alive.”
Alena stood with her arms awkwardly hovering above Yuni’s back.
“I… umm….” she blushed.
“You can hug me back,” Yuni said. “If you want to, anyway.”
Alena’s arms came down.
Ines tapped her feet impatiently. She’d been through every scenario she could think of in her head. She couldn’t think of any reason for them to be kept alive, to be offered this choice. Unless Michael Wagner really was genuine. But he did have enhanced intelligence.Or was it enhanced intelligence? Maybe he was manipulating their minds… No. She was fully cognizant of everything. She was weighing his arguments just like she normally would. Enhanced intelligence seemed like a likely candidate from what they’d seen of him. Maybe this was all a calculated ploy to gain their loyalty. Then again, he had more powerful people. So gaining their loyalty wouldn’t do that much for him. But on the other hand…
She didn’t know what to do. On the one hand, his reasoning did make sense, but were his methods really justifiable? Besides, even if it did have problems America was her home. Could she really betray it?
“Miss Bowman, it’s time,” a mechanical voice said. “You will now be sent to see Mr. Wagner. The trip may be a little disorienting.”
Sirvanna stood. A mist surrounded her and, with a bright flash of light, she was elsewhere. Ines, Alena and Yuni were all nearby. Michael sat in a chair, facing them.
“Where are Alexa and Katelyn?” Sirvanna asked.
“They’ve already made their decision,” Michael said.
“Bull,” Sirvanna said. “There’s no way they wouldn’t tell us. Ines.”
Ines ran right at him, but her feet lifted off the ground and she was pushed away. Sirvanna rushed towards her and a violent wind blew them both back.
“Please don’t touch the pretty boy,” Katelyn said. ” I know it’s tempting, but it’s not okay, unless he says you can.”
Alexa floated down beside him. “Are you alright, Boss?”
“I’m fine,” Michael said. “But as I recall I asked you two to wait outside.”
Katelyn shrugged. “We knew they’d freak out without us. After all, I’m the cute one and Alexa has all that hot air.”
“Shut up,” Alexa said.
“I appreciate the gesture, but I’m going to have to insist that you leave me to speak with them,” Michael said.
“Fine, just don’t expect me to nurse you or anything,” Katelyn said. “Alexa might if you ask her nicely.” She and Alexa took their leave. Alexa hit Katelyn’s shoulder on the way out.
“Sorry,” Michael said. “I didn’t want them to influence you. So, have you made your decisions?”
“I have,” Alena said. She stepped forward. “I thought about it a lot. If we fought against you and won, we’d have a difficult task of gaining civil rights. So, I’ll fight with you.”
“Alena…” Sirvanna began.
“I want to protect Yuni’s smile,” Alena said. “I don’t want to see her suffer or cry. If… If we can make his dream a reality, she’ll be able to live in a world that accepts her, where she can stay happy. So, I’ll fight.” Alena took Yuni’s hands. “Please, find somewhere safe to live in peace until this is over.”
“I can’t do that!” Yuni cried. “What kind of happiness do you think I’ll be able to find if something happens to you?” She looked at Michael. “I’ll fight for you too, to protect what’s important to me.”
“I don’t agree with all of your methods,” Sirvanna said. “But Alena’s right. If we win against you we’ll be spending our lives trying to create some semblance of the world you’re trying to make. So, I’ll fight with you.”
“I… can’t,” Ines said.
Sirvanna looked over at her, a pained expression on her face.
“They’ll kill my parents,” Ines whispered. “You’ll just have to take me as a prisoner of war,” she said more loudly.
“Is this about your family?” Michael asked. “I can tell by your expression that it is. If you’d like, I can have them rescued.”
“You’d do that?” Ines asked. “And how do you even know about them?”
“Of course I’d save them,” Michael said. “They are innocents in this, after all. As for how I know, I have a confession, I’ve seen your dossiers. Yours mentions that your parents were pardoned in exchange for your cooperation. It stands to reason that they would be being guarded as a guarantee of your obedience.”
Ines bowed “Please, save them.”
Michael grabbed a small communication device. “Mary, commence the operation.”
After thirty seconds a woman appeared in the room with an older couple.
“You’re that body builder from Theta,” Sirvanna said.
“Mama, Papa!” Ines ran to them.
“I’ll have them transported somewhere safe,” Michael said. “You’re welcome to go with them.”
Ines looked from her parents to him. “I will,” she said. “But I’ll be back after they’re settled. Consider me a part of the team.”