- March 13, 2021
Guardians: Heroes of the Milky Way Chapter 4
Chapter Four: Clayton Knight
“They took the girls in, the, the big building. The square building! In the basement,” the boy stutters to me.
“The compound? Make sense,” I tell myself. “The basement is probably made out of solid concrete. That explains why I can’t hear anyone other than the usual thugs.” I look back down at the small kid and take out the money I promised him. He holds his hands out as I kneel down to his level and hold my hand over his. “This money is for food. Go buy some tomorrow in a nearby village. Make sure no one you know can ask where you got this money. Don’t give it to anyone at home so they can use it on something else,” I instruct him. He nods his head and reaches for my hand. I take it back and affirm my point. He groans and assures me he will do as I have said. Then I drop the money in his hand.
He thanks me and starts walking off, but I call to him. “Hey, for more money would you tell me where you learned English? Niger’s native language is French.” The little kid smiles and shakes his head before running off. Well it was worth a try.
I turn towards the compound as I squat down then quickly launch myself up into the air to fly about a mile up above the ground. Thankfully my go to jacket matches the night sky.
I gaze down at the compound and count the lowlifes down there. I count seven, all armed with AK47s, all probably members of Boko Haram. I need to get rid of them before I try and find the girls they kidnapped a week ago.
I see two standing by the entrance, I’ll get them first. I let myself fall like a bomb and aim myself between the two thugs. When I hit the ground, I create an impact that sends both thugs spiraling backwards across the ground. I hear their bones break, but that’s not good enough.
The one to my left starts screaming and in a flash I’m next to him, bringing the heel of my foot down through his skull. The other on my right has a better pain tolerance and is already struggling to his knees. I quickly dash the yards between us to kick him in the gut with great force; I can feel the wind gust as he flies across the ground. I send him straight forward and through the fence.
The others come out, guns raised, to shoot at me. The bullets come out in a flurry but I raise the temperature of my body. When some bullets hit me, they go through my shirt, and disintegrate when they hit my skin.
I start walking towards the thugs as they continue to open fire. As they watch their bullets do nothing to stop me, one tosses his empty gun down in terror and runs back into the compound. Some of the others are frozen and one still tries to reload his clip.
It‘s all pointless.
I charge my energy and pool it into my eyes. I release it in a beam of heat just like I can with my hands, only more accurate and precise. I aim my eyes at their lower halves and burn them in half. I then walk over their bodies to move to the door.
I punch the door to the compound and send it flying to the other side. As I walk inside, I look around and to my left is a bus. It must have been the one these low-lives stole with the girls. I can use it to get them out. Then I hear a clang to my right where the guy who ran inside is still trying to get away from me.
I dash to his left and kick him in the knee, shattering it. I let him scream it out for a minute before I grab him by the cuff of his cheap shirt. “Girls! Basement! Where are they?!” I try to shout in simple words, odds are that he doesn’t speak English.
“Heh?” he groans with a face still full of pain.
“Girls?! Basement!” I yell at him with burning eyes. I point down to see if he’ll get the memo. He looks at me confused as he grits his teeth. Then it clicks for him and he starts pointing behind me. I shove him along in the direction he’s pointing. He keeps clutching on to me and screams out when he has to use his left leg, but I don’t care.
The thug leads me to a ripped-up sofa and points at it. I assume he means the door to the basement is under it. I shove him away from me and he hits the ground with a thud. I rest one hand under the sofa and toss it over onto its side. There’s a blanket being used as a rug under the sofa and I pull it to the side to reveal the door underneath.
I grab the handle and pull it off its hinges. Then I notice to my right that the thug is trying to crawl away. I walk besides him and bring the door down on his head, he won’t be needing it. I grab the blanket and proceed down the stairs.
The hallway at the bottom is dimly lit where I can hear the whimpering of children, then I also smell something burning. I look at the blanket in my hands and I notice my body temperature is burning the cheap thing. I lower the heat I’m giving off, which means I’m powering down. I must have killed all the men here anyway, if there are more, I would have heard them.
I turn the corner and I find them. The girls kidnapped on their bus by Boko Haram. I quickly take a headcount and there are only 6 here, no older than eight, and one older woman sprawled out on the ground unconscious. She must have been their teacher.
They are beaten and bruised from who knows what. When I walk towards them, they whine and back away in fear. I stop and hold out the blanket. I kneel down and inch towards them slowly, trying to offer it to them. I just keep inching towards them, but I stop firmly when one girl screams at me in French.
I’m not sure what to do at this moment. I can’t speak to them because of the language barrier, and they are understandably too terrified to consider that I’m not here to hurt them.
Then I realize a mistake I made.
Light footsteps come up behind me, so quiet I only hear the last step. Being powered down, I’m not fast enough to stop the first bullet from hitting me in the back.
The pain is piercing, and as I power up time slows. I move faster but that means I can feel the bullet moving slower. It has already ripped through my skin to crack into the back of my rib. I heat up just in time to disintegrate the bullet before it can reach anything important.
Now moving as fast as I can without causing a sonic boom, I turn and see the other bullets flying towards me, and the girls. I quickly count nine bullets flying sporadically so I have to move fast.
I move as if I am normal and everything else is in slow motion. I grab the bullets and count them one by one.
The one heading for my elbow is the first one.
The one heading to my left, towards one of the girls makes two.
The two going for my chest are three and four.
The one going near my right leg marks five.
The two that will miss me but hit the girls count as six and seven.
There’s one going over my head, but I grab it just to be safe, counting eight.
Where’s the ninth? I quickly look back and forth, then behind me. I must have walked past it trying to catch the other bullets. It’s heading for the closest girl’s head. I lunge and grab it.
With all of the bullets caught out of the air, I turn my sights at the man I somehow missed. I see the next bullet sliding into the chamber of his gun, his face one of wrath. He’s about to feel mine.
All while still moving faster than everything else, I dash to him to tear the gun from his hands and toss it away so that it will shoot down the hallway. Then with the bullets in my right hand I shove them into his face, feeling them spark in my palm.
Then slowing down to normal time, I continue to shove his head and smash it into the wall, shattering it into bloody pieces.
This time I actively listen for more men. This time I’m sure there is no one else in the basement for sure. I turn around and the girls have taken the blanket I’ve dropped, still shaking in terror.
Except for one.
One stands up, with shaky legs and walks up to me, looks me in the eye, and then races past me to get up the stairs.
The other girls stare at me dumbly after seeing one of their own leave so suddenly. I decide to move out of the way against the wall and hold my arm out as if gesturing for them to leave. This causes them to hesitate for a bit before they look and whisper between each other. The girls are understandably uneasy, and slowly get up, eyes glued to me. I decide then to look away, thinking that I can seem less intimidating by not meeting their gaze. The girls then in pairs walk past me.
Once they are gone, I hurry to the side of the teacher on the ground. I put two fingers to her neck to check her pulse. I should have heard it when I walked in and I didn’t, but I have to make sure. She’s gone, but her family deserves to bury her. I pick up the limp body, but rigor mortis hasn’t set in yet. Damn it, that means she died recently, if I had been earlier….
No, I can feel sorry for myself later. I still have to get the girls who are left out of here.
Then I start hearing gunshots.
No! No! No!
I run like a madman quickly around the corner and up the stairs. I can’t let those girls die, if they die it would mean-
No one was shooting at them. When I get upstairs, I see a very different image from the one I expected.
One of the girls has picked up a gun from one the thugs, and is laying bullets into the corpse of the thug I crushed with the basement door. She’s crying as she fires the clip into his body, and when it’s empty, she keeps trying to pull the trigger so more bullets would come out. The other girls are huddled together, frightened by one of their own.
I quickly set down the body of the teacher and rush to the girl with the gun. I cool myself down and then push the gun out of her hands. She screams at me and tries to shove me away, but I hug her close. She cries into me, slamming her fists at me, but I don’t let her go. She keeps crying, but her fists slow, and then she stops hitting me. She only cries.
The little girl takes some time to finish crying, and when she does, I move away, keeping my hands on her shoulders. She looks at me with such sadness, her face wet from tears. I can’t imagine what she’s been through. I can imagine her seeing her family again though, so I have to make sure that happens.
I bring my hand up to her face, and wipe away her tears. I turn around and point to the bus. She looks between it and me before nodding her head in understanding. We walk up to it hand-in-hand as the other girls follow us. I walk them to the bus’s door and open it with my hands, then gesture them in. I take a headcount as they board and they’re all here. I make a gesture to strap the seat belts and I know they understood when they buckle up in the seats.
I give them a thumbs up and then I get off the bus to go back to the teacher’s body. I pick her up to carry her to and through the bus’s door. I lay her down in the front passenger seat, and strap her in. I gesture to them to wait as I walk out of the bus.
I walk in front of the bus and look for a way to open the garage. I find a chain that needs to be pulled down. I grasp hold and start pulling up. The chain keeps getting stuck, probably because of rust, and I try to be careful not to break it. The garage is halfway open when I hear yelling and tires screeching. I hold the chain still and lean out to see what’s coming.
Two vehicles are heading towards us with what I can assume to be more members of Boko Haram. As they come through the gates I destroyed earlier I groan, then let the garage door fall so I can exit. One vehicle has a mounted gun while the other has a thug with an RPG. He has it ready and trained at me. I start flying as he pulls the trigger. The RPG moves straight at me, and I fly into it. When we collide this time, I am prepared, and it feels like being hit with a snowball that also destroys what was left of the clothes covering my upper half.
As I emerge from the smoke, I see the looks on their faces start turning from smiles to looks of terror. Swiftly I hold both hands out and fuel them with my solar energy. I blast out beams of light that incinerate the gunner, who never gets to fire a shot, and the thug with the RPG launcher. Then I swiftly move the beams down to incinerate the two drivers. By the time I’m done they’re half dust and the two vehicles are partially melted and melting.
I fly up a couple yards and survey the area to see if there are any more reinforcements. I also notice that everyone is hiding in their homes, so just maybe there will be less people knowing about me.
I turn around and land in front of the garage door which is shut. I’m not wasting time with it again. I wrench my hands through it and tear it off the wall to throw it to the side. I look back at the bus to see if the girls moved, but they are still seated. I hover in front of the bus’s window and peer in to double-check on them. They wave at me all confused. I give them the thumbs up then descend to the ground. I walk around to the side of the bus and put my hands under it. I then lift it slightly off the ground and bring it outside. Once it we’re outside, I move the bus directly over my head so I can hold my arms up straight. I dig my fingers into the metal so there isn’t a risk of it falling out of my hands.
Once I am ready, I steadily start flying up and out of the hell hole. I plan on taking this bus load of girls to Galmi Hospital nearby. I’ve dropped people off there before, but never this many in this fashion. Hopefully I can count on there being room and secrecy.
It doesn’t take long for us to get to Galmi Hospital. As I’m landing doctors or nurses, are already walking out to meet us. I land smoothly and rest the bus down as quietly as possible. I open the door and the girls start unbuckling to get out.
I turn to the doctors as they hesitate over whether or not to approach me. I decide to speak first to ask, “Does anyone know English?” One man raises his hand. I point to the girls as they walk out. “You know about the girls that were kidnapped recently?”
He makes a confused face, then one of realization. Quickly he takes off his white coat and speaks in some dialect of French to the other doctors. He wraps his coat around one of the girls as the others make their way to help out. The doctor who speaks English walks up to me.
In a heavy accent he asks, “You saved them? What are you?”
“Someone you never saw,” I reply without really answering his questions. “Will they be safe here? Can you get them home?”
“Yes, but will they come for them?” the doctor asks.
“The ones who took them are dead,” I inform him. Then I recommend, “I wouldn’t make a big deal out of their return so others don’t try to take them back.”
“Did you kill them?” he asks me. He knows the answer, I’m sure of it.
“Just take care of them, and don’t say anything about me,” I tell him sternly. Then I start floating, which causes him to jump back. “Not that anyone would believe you,” I add. Then I grab hold of the empty bus and fly up with it. I don’t want to leave it behind for anyone to ask where it came from.
Once I’m in the clouds I speed up to break the sound barrier, and head towards the atmosphere with the bus in hand. With every mile I pass my speed increases, and I keep going until I get to the exosphere of Earth. I’m so high pass Earth’s satellites. This is where I take the bus and push it to the side to revolve around the planet or burn up on reentry.
Then I look down at the planet. I am anywhere from 400 to 800 miles above the Earth’s surface; I barely make out the shape of Africa. It’s a pretty sight; looking at it now, one would never know the hellish nightmares that happen down there.
I come up here when I can, not specifically over Africa, but the atmosphere in general. When I want, I can listen for people in need, or at least I try. Almost always I get overwhelmed, by everyone who needs help, who needs saving. I can hear the whole planet, and yet I almost never hear anyone who’s happy. I only hear the screams and cries as they overshadow everything else. But I shouldn’t ignore them. I’m supposed to do my best to help, but I’m supposed to do so secretly, without letting the world know I exist. That doesn’t allow me to help most people.
I have to listen anyway, I have to try, I have to pinpoint someone who needs my help, someone who I can help.
I let go of my own mental restraints on my senses. I close my eyes and the voices come rushing in.
“Please! I’m trapped!”
“Get off of me!”
“Oh god, it hurts!”
“No, please no!”
“I’m going to die!”
‘Enough!’ the demon interrupts. ‘If I want to join you in your pointless endeavors, I’ll tell you.’
This is my body, I remind it. My ears, my mind. Your opinion doesn’t dictate how they are used!
‘Do not challenge me boy,’ it threatens.
I feel an excruciating pounding in my head flare up suddenly. “Graaaagh!” That would be the noise my screams are making if sound could travel regularly at this high in the atmosphere. My hands clutch my head as it feels like my brain is pulsating. I can’t concentrate and keep myself elevated. I start falling back down to earth.
“Stop!” I scream as I fall down to Earth, my velocity quickly gaining. I guess I wasn’t as high as I thought because when I hit a new part of the atmosphere I light on fire. I come down like a meteor as my demon causes the pains my head.
Then it stops. ‘Never forget who else lives in here,’ the demon warns.
As soon as I regain control I crash into the water. I quickly fly back up to see myself surrounded by water for miles. I’ve landed in an ocean thankfully.
Then I look down. I’m buck naked. ‘That would happen when you burn in the atmosphere,’ it kids.
“I really hate you, Sera,” I say out loud.
‘You say that now,’ it snickers. ‘Now hurry home before the sun reveals you to everyone, completely.’
Thankfully, I arrive at my suburban house in Custard, Georgia right before sunrise. I quickly run through the door, going to the first hallway on my right. I lean over first to see if Zeke, my stepfather, is awake. The hallway is empty and I hurry down to the last door on my right, my room. This is a one-floor house so hopefully I didn’t make any creaking footsteps; I didn’t really pay attention.
In the minor sanctity of my room I can now quietly and calmly put some clothes on. I walk over to my closet and take inventory. I only had three outfits left that I had made with the Rango’s Proto-analyzer. They all look the same just how I like it, and they can somewhat withstand my body’s high temperatures. Not bullets, or lighting on fire, but one set of clothes can last through high speed travel. I’m going to have to be more careful around firearms if I want to have anything left. I rather not wear normal human clothes that fall apart or freeze so easily.
I put on my heat-retardant underwear, jeans, shirt, shoes, and jacket. Now that I am all comfortable.
Then I hear a car door open and shut outside. I move to the window that gazes at the driveway, it’s empty. I look around and it’s only my neighbor. I’ll admit that I am expecting government agents to check in on me again after my fall from space. NASA probably went crazy over something randomly falling like an asteroid into the Atlantic.
Then I hear a creak of my bedroom door, and the smell of alcohol. I hear footsteps creeping behind me. I don’t move, not revealing that I know who it is. Apparently, he wants to have his arm broken again.
Then he lunges at my back. Swiftly I duck and stick my foot out backwards, straight into his gut, which sends the man flying back through the door frame. I turn around quickly to see him slam his shoulder on the frame and turn to hit the opposite wall of the hallway. He immediately begins to groan in pain. I also catch sight of the knife he was holding on the floor.
I begin walking towards him and pick up the knife. When I get to him, he’s on his ass leaning against the wall. I kneel down and bring the knife up, then slam down into the floor between his legs.
“Did you forget what happened the last time, Zeke?” I ask rhetorically. “I broke your arm without even using my powers. You’re ‘attacks,’” I say in quotes, “never work, and they never will.”
“Demon,” my stepfather spits out right before he actually spits at me. “I saw you come back. What did you do that you had to be naked?”
“That, uh, that was an accident,” I say as I stand back up. Zeke continues to looks at me with hate. “Doesn’t matter, you never believe me anyway.”
“Why should I? None of your ‘deeds’, ever bear fruit, make a difference. Why should I believe them?” he says venomously.
I don’t answer his question, I act as if it were rhetorical. I walk away back down the hall, and stop at the last room before the living room.
“Leave her alone, devil!” Zeke yells as he starts struggling to his feet, also picking up the knife.
“Calm down, you drunk!” I yell back at him. “I can visit my mother if I want to.” Then I open the door. I walk in on the same sight as always.
Mom’s in her bed with the medical tubes coming out of her. Always skinny and frail. I walk to her bedside as I commonly do. She has damage to her brain, her body is functional, but not her mind. Essentially in a permanent vegetative state. She can’t move outside of blinking. Her eyes are open right now but they don’t move or show signs of consciousness.
She’s been this way for several years now.
The memory of how this happened always floods back into my mind whenever I walk in. We had been driving home from the store, like any other time. Sitting and talking like normal mother and son do. Someone mistook a green arrow for a green light and hit us.
‘That’s not what put her here,’ Sera reminds me.
When the car hit us, we were fine. It hit my door, and I freaked out. My powers freaked out. She never got the chance to calm me down before I flew up and out of the car, but not before flipping it over.
I was fine after shooting out of our car, but she hit her head hard when I burned the seatbelts and she flew out.
I hear Zeke open the door. Without looking at him I ask, “Have you calmed down?” He doesn’t answer. “Has she eaten yet?”
“Too early. I’ll feed her in an hour. The water bag needs changing,” he replies as he walks around me to her machine to work on it. Zeke is a nurse; he knows what he’s doing. One of the reasons my mom is home instead of in a hospital. He met mom before I was ten, but was always afraid of me. He loved her though, loves her still, that’s why he’s always refused to leave her alone with me, still thinking me in danger of hurting her.
‘You have already,’ the demon says.
I ignore it, and watch Zeke as he moves. Looking at him and my mother, you’d probably think he was my father. He looks more like me than my mother does. He’s Israeli and has my same slightly darker skin tone. My mother is a pale Irish woman, with hints of other things. I’m admittedly slightly darker than Zeke, which makes me assume my father was African or Indian. Mom never spoke of him, or ever really talked about him other than to tell me that she didn’t want him in my life and will never tell him about me. I have his last name, but I’ve found hundreds of others with it, of different ethnicities and faces that do and don’t match me. I gave up on trying to find him a long time ago.
I see Zeke fiddling with Mom’s machine. I ask him, “Shouldn’t you wait until you’re sober?” He stops and considers it.
“I’ll go drink some water first,” Zeke agrees. He starts walking out and stops in the doorframe when he realizes I’m not moving. He accepts it and leaves.
I stay with her for a while that day. I do that sometimes, where I just sit, sleep, or read in here. I like being near her, especially when it is just the two of us when Zeke goes to work.
“Kid, wake up,” I hear someone say as they tug at my shoulder. “Kid, we need to talk, now,” she says more angrily. Then she grabs hold and shakes me by both shoulders. “Wake up Clay!” I twitch as if someone has just spooked me. I blink my eyes a couple times to see who it was who woke me. “About damn time. I didn’t take you for a heavy sleeper.”
It takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust. I recognize that I had fallen asleep in my chair next to Mom’s bed. Then I look at the person who woke me.
“Agent M, what a pleasant surprise,” I say sarcastically.
Agent M grimaces at me, and takes out a pack of cigarettes. “Let’s talk outside,” she says with a nod. “I can’t smoke in here.” She moves to the doorway and when I forget to follow her, she stops. “Well?” she asks all annoyed. She begins making a waving gesture to motion me out.
I groan and get up to follow her.
We walk through the house to the front door and to have the door held open for us by Zeke. He glares at me as I walk out, but is polite to Agent M.
“Do you want something to drink, Miss Milton?” Zeke offers, slurring the last word, failing to hide that he was drinking. Marissa Milton is her actual name, she’s been coming around enough to be on a first name basis, but since she calls me kid, I call her Agent.
Agent M holds her pack of cigarettes and tells him, “I’m good.”
He nods then enters the house to leave us alone.
There are two cheap plastic chairs that we both sit in. I turn to look at Agent M as she takes out a lighter and plops a cigarette into her mouth. “As always,” I comment on her attire.
“Do you purposely try to do a bad impression of James Bond or is that just on accident?” I ask sarcastically.
“I dress like this on purpose,” she replies simply, and in an annoyed tone. “I tell you this every time you ask.”
“Sorry, I forget,” I lie.
Agent M scoffs and lights her cigarette. She moves a strand of her brown hair out of her face before she blows smoke. “Let’s not waste any more time, shall we?” she starts. “You know why I’m here. Your stunt in Africa, and then the fall from orbit. You know you can’t be doing that.”
I inhale loud enough for her to hear before I sigh too. “The falling from orbit was Sera’s fault for being a-”
‘I wouldn’t finish that sentence,’ Sera says, interrupting my thoughts.
Agent M immediately catches on. “I’m assuming she just interrupted you.”
Then Agent M blows some more smoke. “Well then, she may have caused you to fall, but you flew up there in the first place, which was right after your stunt in Niger.”
“Stunt?” I ask with doubt. “My stunt saved the lives of those girls, and ended those piece of shit terrorists.”
“Sure,” Agent M replies sarcastically. “You saved some girls to die from hunger or war instead. And those terrorists, they’ll just be replaced with some boys from the nearby towns.”
I’m not going to let her put me down. “I have these powers for a reason. You and everyone else in this country may be able to ignore the rest of the world, but I can’t.”
“Sure, you can,” she says with a smile. “You’re an American, it’s natural for us to watch everyone suffer on the news, say how terrible it is, and then go back to eating dinner. That’s what you did before you got powers anyway.”
“You’re all terrible,” I tell her.
“Maybe so,” Agent M replies nonchalantly, “but this is how we live. If we all got hung up and depressed about everyone else, how would anyone here be happy?”
“By helping other people,” I claim. She starts laughing when I say this.
Then she turns to me with a smile full of doubt, as if she just caught me lying. “Does saving the defenseless make you feel happy?” I don’t respond. Happiness most assuredly is not what I felt after my trip to Niger. “Didn’t think so. You know what I think?”
Now it is my turn to be annoyed and listen to sarcastic excuses. I ask in a challenging tone, “What?”
Then Agent M goes on to really hurt me. “You save people so you don’t feel guilty.”
“What do I have to feel guilty about?”
Agent M continues to smile. “You feel guilty about having powers that should, but don’t, help anyone. Everyone else can live in their own bubble, but not you, because you think we’d all be better without it.”
“I’ve seen it, Milton!” I yell at her. “I’ve seen what happens when people come together to care for each other. I’ve seen species uplift others, just because they can! And now they’re equals and working together. They can unite like that, but we can’t get along to pick a goddamn president!”
Knowing that I am talking about the Regamorphs and Techanots, she replies coldly, “Clay, if one is why another continues to survive and thrive, the two are most certainly not equals. Your need to save people is pointless, it does nothing. You don’t stop terrorism, you don’t make lives better. You just spare a few out of millions of a bad fate that will be replaced with another bad one eventually. What you do in the long run, truly means nothing.”
I am taken aback, but in a growl, I tell her, “I cannot do nothing.”
She then looks me dead in the eye, and says, “Yes you can. Just stop listening like everyone else.”
“If the world knew of me, the terrorists would stop out of fear,” I challenge.
Then Agent M chuckles again as if she had this portion of the argument in the bag. “Sure, they may stop in fear, but what would a figure with the power to raze the planet do to the minds of people? They can’t even handle others with different religious or political beliefs. Tell them that a god walks among them, and they’ll lose their shit. Religion would fall apart, every government would waste billions of dollars trying to appease or kill you, and then the third world countries will probably start to worship you, judge and force others to praise your name. If the world knew of you, there runs the significant chance that the world would stop out of fear.”
I don’t know what to say after that, I’m not sure how to argue against her. The other species already went through their respective evolutions of acknowledging their Guardians, which probably made it easier for countries on those planets to unite.
I look away from Agent M, then she looks away and sighs, looking sadder than annoyed now, she informs me, “Clay, my superiors are giving you an ultimatum.”
I sigh and turn back to look at her with clearly restrained expression.
“If you use your powers like you did in Africa again, we’re not paying your mother’s medical bills,” she informs me.
‘Playing dirty I see. Surprised it took this long,’ Sera comments.
This moment will define the relationship I have with the U.S. government. They can’t beat me, can’t overpower or physically threaten me. I hold solar deterrents over their heads, so they go after me in a way I can’t go after them. They threaten to stop helping the ones I care about, because at the end of the day, I’m still a kid without a job, living my stepfather’s house, whose health insurance doesn’t cover my mom’s medical bills.
“You know I don’t like doing this, I much rather do something dirty like blackmail you with a secret, or threaten you with a gun,” Agent M says.
I tell her, “I’d respect that a lot more honestly.”
We sit there for a while looking out at my poorly kept yard. Neither of us feeling comfortable leaving or speaking.
Then Agent M takes out her pack of cigarettes and offers me one. “It could take the edge off,” she says.
“That doesn’t do anything for me,” I inform her.
“Oh right, sorry.”
Then we continue to sit there. I just listen for noise to drown out my inner thoughts for a while. Eventually I hear a strange noise above us. When I think above us, I mean like really high above, outer space above, so Agent M most certainly doesn’t hear it, but I know what it is.
‘Been some time,’ Sera says unhappily.
“Wait here, Miss Milton,” I tell Agent M as I get up from my seat.
She looks at me with her usual annoyed expression. “I hate being called that.”
Quickly I go back to my room, get my one-strap backpack and stuff my clothes and some pictures in it. Then hurry back outside.
“Hey, would your superiors have a problem if I left the planet?” I ask her.
Agent M looks at me bewildered. “If you left, I bet they would be ecstatic. You can’t cause problems, and they don’t have to give me a bonus to be your handler during that time.”
“Would they still take care of my mom?” I ask tentatively.
“Yeah, I would make sure of that,” she confirms.
“Thanks,” I say with a smile.
Agent M looks at me with a look of confusion. “What are you-”
That’s the sound of the Rango landing in my front lawn. The invisibility shield is broken.
Without freaking out or changing her demeanor Agent M looks at the Rango and says, “Oh, should have realized.” Then without getting up from her chair she throws down her finished cigarette and takes out another.
“Not surprised, Agent M?” I call back as I walk away.
“Too jaded to be affected by this. Seen too much shit,” she admits. “I’ll take care of everything, good luck.” She waves goodbye from the cheap plastic chair.
As I walk up to the Rango, the ramp comes down and Alloya is walking down it to meet me.
“Listen, Clay, I know this is short notice and you have a life here. I’m probably interrupting something, but I-” Alloya stops talking when she sees my face and I raise my hand.
“No need to ask. I’m ready, let’s get the hell out of here,” I say as I walk back onto the Rango. She stays speechless and stares at me the whole time as I walk on.
How? That’s the only word that can accurately describe what I’m feeling right now seeing Clay just walk onto my ship without needing to be asked. I don’t feel this way because I don’t need to sell him on anything to come back, while that is surprising.
What is shocking is that he hasn’t aged a day. He should be decades older; the Earth is in the farthest time zone from the Dion. What the hell happened?
The Rango said that it couldn’t tell how much time had passed in this time zone because there wasn’t any technology compatible with its computer systems. It was faster to come down here without knowing how much time had passed on Earth, and I did not expect it to be nothing at all. Is it possible that human Guardians just don’t age? Has to be.
I recognize that I have spaced out too long when he walks into the ship. I move to follow him as the hangar ramp starts closing. When I enter the Rango, I see Clay starting up the stairs, probably going to meet everyone else. I hurry after him. I get to the bridge as he is saying hello.
“So, everyone’s here, but Womby?” Clay says with a smile. Then he notices Aleti sitting in her seat by the Captain’s chair, staring at him with a grin. Terra’rork is facing him in the pilot’s spot, wide-eyed and confused. Hideo is laid back, probably incapable or distracted from recognizing that Clay hasn’t changed. Then Clay walks up to his old friend and asks, “Who’s she?” He is talking about Aleti.
“My daughter,” I tell him, alerting them all to my presence.
Clay turns around with a confused smile, then looks between Aleti and me. “Uh, what?”
Terra asks first, “How long had it been for you?”
Clay turns around to face him. “What do you mean? Why would it be any different from anyone else?”
Hideo finally realizes that all is not okay and whistles to realize something is strange about Clay. Hideo informs Clay that, “Time hasn’t worked right since what happened with Jackal and the Dion. Time has passed differently for each of us.”
Then the Rango adds, ‘Time has been passing faster the closer a planet is to the Dion. Earth is farthest away so the time alone should have been the longest for you. That does not seem to be the case based on your appearance.’
Clay is beginning to realize what was going on. “How long has it been for each of you?” he asks everyone.
Hideo speaks first. “Three years.”
Then Terra says, “Five years.”
Then Clay turns to look at me with these pained eyes. I tell him it has been, “Twenty years.”
Clay’s expression is one of heartbreak. He says, “You all waited so long to get back together? That’s all I’ve been thinking about, but I didn’t know any way back, I’m no astronomer. I thought you guys missed this as much as I did, but maybe that’s not the case.”
I tell him, “Clay, it’s not that simple. There are reasons that we couldn’t come back. Terra’rork and I were grounded by the government, and Hideo’s people still are in trouble.” This turns Clay from sad to angry, but then he smiles. “What are you smiling about?” I demand to know.
He purses his lips before saying, “Well, you said that the Regnorian government grounded you. The same government you served and swore by, defended and argued for whenever I made comments about their big brother attitude.” He trails off before finishing his sentence, but I see where he was heading.
Then Clay walks up to me as if he is going to hear something. I tell him, “I know what you want me to say, and I’m not going to.” Then he’s disappointed. Then in a sarcastic tone I add, “And do you want to know why? Because I’m the Captain and I don’t have to say shit for you.” I assume everyone finds my response comical as they chuckle. Then I command Clay, “Now stop beating around the bush, how long has it been?”
He sighs and tells us, “It’s only been three months.”
That’s not good at all.
Quickly I move past Clay and tell Terra’rork, “Hurry and take us to the Regnorian time zone, time is passing by too slow here.”
Terra’rork nods and quickly starts doing what is necessary to beam us out.
“Does someone want to explain the problem?!” Clay yells.
Hideo informs him, “Since time is passing by that slow here, that means everyone else’s time is passing by. My people, our mission,” Hideo starts stuttering, “We can’t afford to waste time like this!”
“Oh,” is Clay’s simple response.
“Everyone, get in your seats!” Terra yells back.
Clay is going to say something as he struggles to get his seatbelt on, but then we jump into the wormhole without warning.
After a few minutes we come out the other side in the Regnorian time zone.
Everyone quickly unbuckles out of their seats. Hideo asks, “Okay Captain, now that we don’t have to panic, what do we do next?”
Everyone else turns to face me. “Well, first I’m going to inform you of what our strategy is, what our goal is on Riverteria, and then we’re going to go there.”
“How long do you think it’s been for Womby?” Aleti asks.
The Rango burst into the conversation to say, ‘Before we could have relied on the idea that since Riverteria is roughly the same distance from the Dion as Reganora, the time zone should be the same or at least close. After seeing what has happened to Earth’s passage of time, this assumption can no longer be trusted.’
“There’s no possible way for us to know,” Terra’rork says. “It could be a really short time difference from when he was dropped off, or incredibly far away. We just have to wait until we get there.”
I slump back into my chair and sigh. My plan hinges on convincing Womby to compete in the Ruleden Tourney. I already know that it’s happening soon based off the news networks back on Reganora. I simply hope that it hasn’t been too long there and he’s hasn’t grown too old to compete. There are twenty-five years between each one, and I don’t know how many tourneys have gone by.
Rivertans also have a shorter lifespan than the other species, especially the Watree ethnicity, and that’s what Womby is. If there has been even one whole waiting period between tourneys then Womby can be too old to compete. There might even be a new Guardian who doesn’t know us.
Please don’t tell me I am too late.