- October 9, 2022
The Wolf Pack (Chapter 11)
The Elder’s Lesson
Right now, Uub has the team mediating, and by team, I mean Emily, Tommy, and Marie. The Hood is off somewhere around here…
Uub has them in a room, surrounded by Darwin’s floral paintings on the walls, filled with magical incense, and lined up sitting in pretzel form. He told them this room will allow them to connect on a spiritual level as they meditate.
In reality the incense is just a really shitty smelling flower to irritate them. He waits to see who will break first, and who they will blame.
And by mediating… it’s really Uub’s trick to test their patience with each other. There’s no way he can teach them to go to some astral plane or find their inner selves in a few days, definitely not even months. I really hope we don’t have to stay that long.
It’s clear they’re faking it, it’s all I did when Uub put me through the same training, and all I did was twitch because I had an itch over my nose.
That’s what I bet Emily is doing right now, based on how her nose is scrunched up. Tommy on the other hand, looks like he’s fighting the urge to sneeze. Marie is actually meditating pretty well, probably because I had her train with a martial arts teacher who had her mediate.
They’ve been at it longer than I expected, so it’s surprising that they haven’t snapped yet, especially Marie.
Uub didn’t let me sit in, being that I know the tricks and my presence isn’t exactly calming. I’ll be honest and admit I can’t argue with that. I just placed a bug on Tommy, an old trick that always works, and cut a hole in the wall. Darwin will get over it.
I wait by the door, where I can see the silhouettes of them sitting inside, while getting eyeballed by people as they walk by. If they recognize me, they know they can’t or shouldn’t mess with me, because I’m the only one with a power that works here.
I still heal. Perks of a magic-based power. Sorcerers, warlocks, and wizards are rarely allowed for that reason.
It goes on a little while longer, and I find out I was wrong and right. The second Tommy sneezes, Emily goes, “Fuck it,” and scratches her nose, and Marie groans rather loudly.
Uub, ever the actor, asks them, “Why do you think you haven’t been able to connect with each other?”
None of them are willing to answer immediately. They stay silent, and I see Marie do this thing she does where she internally blames someone else, and rests her head in her palm.
Uub is not one to miss it, and asks her, “Miss Xu-Lin, what do you think is wrong here?”
“What’s wrong?” Marie repeats. “Everyone keeps telling us we’re a team when half of us don’t even like each other, and one of us isn’t even here!”
That’s surprising, she thinks the Hood is one of her teammates.
“Who doesn’t like whom?” Uub asks, and this is where he turns from generic old wise man, to old patronizing jackass. The best part is, they don’t seem to notice.
Marie has no problem admitting, “Me and Emily hate each other, and the boys fight all the time!”
“I don’t hate you,” Emily mutters in response, “I- I actually respect you.”
God, I’m glad I can see the look of disgust on Marie’s, it’s this strange mix of confusion and revulsion that makes her expression priceless. It’s like she just saw her parents make-out, that’s the kind of disgust that’s on her face.
Then she retorts with, “Bullshit.”
Uub shifts the conversation, centering in on Tommy. He points out, “You’re oddly quiet, Thomas,” and that makes Tommy twitch. I see Tommy shrug, and that’s not good enough for Uub. “You don’t have anything to say?”
“What do you want me to say?” Tommy asks back, this quiver in his voice. “I, I try to make friends with that asshole. I feel like sometimes he likes me and other times he couldn’t care less. I just… I don’t get him.
“And I could describe this whole job that way. We do something, we stop a bad guy or an out-of-control superhuman, and then we wait for the next one. We do something but nothing changes, ever, so what’s the point?”
Tommy stands up to his feet, flexing his arms like he would when he’s lighting up.
“I light on fire, I’m not supposed be like a fireman, clearly. I… we should be solving problems, not symptoms.”
“Oh Tommy,” Emily sighs, placing her hand on his shoulder, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“Yeah, I… never knew this all affected you like that,” Marie admits.
I think Uub has figured out the problem by now. “You have real concerns, Thomas, you worry that the job of being a superhero is one for life. People and society can improve, but as much as they improve… there will always be the bad that the good to fight. There’s no cure for evil, and not everyone is up to fighting it forever.”
“I’m not saying I want to quit,” Tommy says, “I get that fire powers don’t actually mean I get to change the world, but I just want them too. I get that these powers were given to me for a reason, mama and pa say God, but I want the reason to be because I’m part of a cure for the disease, not the symptom…”
Tommy lets his shoulders fall, and his arms dangled before him. “It’s…”
“Freeing to say that out loud?” Uub asks and Tommy shrugs. I wish I could see more than the back of Uub’s head. I want to know if he’s as surprised as I am that Tommy was the one to snap first.
“Evolution, god, the Spaghetti monster, whatever you think,” Uub tells Tommy, “it gave you a mouth so you should use it, and both of your friends appear to care enough to listen.”
There’s a silence, tense more so than awkward, one that becomes even more intense as Tommy stays on his feet. “I love these two, but that’s never been true,” he says.
He starts walking away towards the door, the girls calling his name, sounding quite shocked, but I can’t say I remember the last time either talked to him about himself.
I eavesdrop on them a lot, I know that they spend more time talking about their own problems than asking him how he’s doing or how home is.
Uub stops him with his hand as he walks past, and tells Tommy, “Like any young adult, you’re filled with anger and resentment, and like any person, you must talk it out. If not with your friends, go to the garden, there’s someone there who would be happy to listen.” Tommy takes his hand back and shakes his head, and as he walks out, he warns him, “And if you don’t, we can skip to physical training, if you like sparring with Mongols and Roman centurions.”
Tommy twitches at the thought, but cedes, “Um, I’ll go to the garden.”
Uub nods his head with acceptance, and Tommy slides open the door. He looks down at me and we give each other the nod of recognition.
He starts walking left past me and I correct him, “Wrong way.”
He sighs and does a one-eighty. “I knew that.”
I go to shut the door he left open but Uub tells me, “Wait,” and turns towards the girls. “Conversation and opening up isn’t a problem reserved for men, you two need to talk and not by insulting each other or tearing the other down.”
Uub goes to stand, and Marie reaches out, “Hold on, you can’t make us talk!”
“There’s the Persian Immortal and the Spartan for you two that says I can,” and with a cheeky smile, “after I shut this door at least.”
Uub shuts the door, and goes a step farther to lock it. “I didn’t even know you had locks,” I whisper.
“I need them when I threaten trainees with Spartans and Persians I don’t have,” Uub jokes. “Though, it might be harder with you making holes in walls.”
When I make no move from my seat, Uub informs me without brevity, “We’re not going to listen in, unlike you I know what’s my business and what isn’t. What they need to talk about isn’t yours, and besides,” he pauses, giving me the chance to narrow my eyes, “we both know there’s more to why you’re here than just their training. You want to see the sword.”
“I don’t want to, I have to, there is quite a difference.”
This is so stupid, the Hood isn’t being made to talk to anyone, but I have to? I’ve done well so far, why should anything change? I can connect just fine with Emily and Marie, it’s them who can’t connect.
Where the hell is this garden? I’ve been walking through this huge place for so long; I don’t care how cool it looks.
Then, I smell the aroma as I start to get over the fear of fighting some Roman or Mongol. The aroma is growing more potent as I come up on an opening ahead. No doors, the wall ends and turns, and I see the light that comes in from the sky.
When I get to the edge, I overlook this beautiful spot where greenery flourishes. This huge cherry tree sits in the middle of other gorgeous flowers and tall grass, but not the gross kind. Best thing, no bugs.
I hope that no one’s here so I can just hang here by myself-
Who is that?
There’s this girl, she’s sitting under this tree, don’t know how I didn’t see her before. She’s cute, like, really cute. Circular glasses, long auburn hair, and she’s dressed like a hippie in a denim dress, which means she’s not from my time… Fuck.
But, maybe, maybe, she just likes to dress retro, if the 70s count. Maybe.
I walk through the garden and it occurs to me that this may be the person Uub told me to look for, but that seems strange because she doesn’t seem any older than me. Seems kind of rude to just randomly dump your shit on someone, that’s what therapists are for, metaphorically speaking. Actually, shouldn’t dump your shit on someone literally too.
This girl looks up at me as I walk towards her, and a dozen feet in front of her I forget what to say. “Uhh,” is the best way to greet a girl, always, of course.
“Can I help you?” she asks me, lifting a finger from a pretty big book to push her glasses higher on her face.
“Uh, yeah, I uh,” what the hell was I here for? Uub sent me here for… “Uub sent me here to, find, someone?” My answer really shouldn’t be a question, she wasn’t there.
She smiles, and I can see in her face that it clicks. She’s caught on faster than me and I was the one given instructions.
She asks me to be sure, “Uub sent you to me to talk, right?” I nod my head, and she starts to stand up to her feet. “I’m Andrea, I run the garden here, follow me.”
She gets up and starts leading me towards this greenhouse I just… totally missed. Don’t look at me, if you saw her first, you’d stop noticing things too.
“Hey Andrea,” I say back, trying to gain my speech back. I go in the wrong direction by saying, “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but it seems strange to be asking you to talk.”
Andrea’s lips form a thin line as she leads me into the greenhouse, and turns her head to the side. There’s this familiar look in her eye with the way she side-eyes me. She’s not hostile as she asks, “And what does that mean?”
Shit, that makes it sound like I don’t want to talk to her because she’s a woman, abort, abort, abort.
I wave my hands in front of me saying, “No, no, no, I mean, I mean because you’re so, so,” she arches her brow as I fiddle through my words, and I look for a word mama says all women like to be called, “young?”
Wait, no, that’s like for elderly relatives. That’s not gonna work with her, girls who are actually young don’t care to be called young. Hell, dudes don’t care to be told their young.
Though then again… it’s kind of weird that I’m going to a kid for what seems like therapy. “I mean, you look around the same age as me, and I’m 18, wouldn’t it make more sense to talk to an adult?”
Andrea’s expression softens, and she smirks instead of frowns. She nods her head and admits, “I am 17, so I guess I would seem kind of young, you know to be a therapist, though I’m not a therapist, I’m actually a botanist,” and then she chuckles as she wiggles her fingers at me, “and a bit of witch!”
You know, I light on fire, and I’m in a magical place with people throughout history. Let’s just go with it.
“You don’t believe me,” she says, not getting angry, but arching her brow and having a bit of a smirk.
“I want to keep an open mind,” I tell her, “sure, I know where we are but…” I kind of shrug at her, “you know, you just don’t believe things until you see them.”
Andrea nods her head, as if making fun of me, “Sure, science guy.”
“Oh, I’m not a science guy, not that smart.” That makes her laugh.
“Well, I guess I’ll just have to show what potions I’m making,” she says as we head into what seems less like a greenhouse and more like a laboratory. There are plants potions, and mixtures everywhere. I don’t know if I believe she’s really a witch, and more so a mad scientist.
“I shouldn’t expect a love potion, should I?” I ask.
“No, you need a truth potion, but like… not one that makes you share things no one needs to know, you know… like…”
“I’m not gonna finish that sentence for you.”
We both giggle, mine being a bit undignified, which she laughs and tries to hide it. I try not to get red because my giggle sounds like a little boy who never hit puberty.
She leads me over to a table, and looks through these bottles, and claps her hands. “Oh thank god, there’s still some left, I don’t have to make anymore!”
“Oh good,” I sigh, looking at this green potion Andrea pulls out of its holder and pours into a cup.
When she hands it to me… it honestly doesn’t smell that bad. I consider asking her what it is, but I’m not gonna lie, with the way she’s looking at me, a part of me hope she’ll be impressed with me implicitly trusting her.
So ,I down that shit, and it actually doesn’t taste that bad. Like green apple. Being that it’s a fruity liquid makes it feel weird, but its doesn’t taste bad.
Suddenly, she has a clipboard out and I’m doing a double-take.
“Uh,” I ask as she starts writing things down.
“This is for me, to make sure my potions are working as designed, and you get some magical help getting your deep thoughts off your chest.”
“So what, it’s supposed to make me talk-y?”
“Maybe?” she says, as if she’s not sure, “Hopefully? I’m honestly experimenting with the ingredient amounts and what magical items I’m using, so…” then she sort of shrugs.
This is when I realize I’m basically testing her drugs.
And I’m not mad, honestly. That maybe the drugs.
“What’s your name?” she asks me.
“Huh what?” I ask back with a shake of my head.
“Your name,” she says in a laugh, “you never told me.”
“Shit, how did I forget that?” I curse and I extend my hand and tell her, “I’m Tommy.”
She looks at my hand before taking it. Maybe it’s a strange gesture for her? Her smile solidifies when she takes it, and she tells me, “It’s nice to meet you, Tommy.”
She writes something down, probably my name, and asks me, “What year are you from, so I don’t get myself stuck here?”
“Wow,” she says as her head picks back up, “you’re from the future! Well, to me anyway.”
“What year are you from?” I ask, to which she only stares, and I add, “If you feel comfortable with that.”
She shakes her head and assures me, “Yeah, sure, I don’t have a problem with that, I’m from 2004, so not too far away.”
Damn it, I mean, she’d be 32, probably still gorgeous but out of the range of appropriateness.
Actually… isn’t relationships with client’s prohibited? Eh, oh well, it’d be pretty funny if it turns out I already know her, at least. It’d make for a good story.
It’d be wild if I met her already but she couldn’t say anything and I get back and she’s all like, ‘Do you remember me now?’
Yeah, small world.
“Tommy,” she asked me.
“You know you said all of that out loud?” She tries to hold in laughter as I’m sure all the color drained from my face.
Oh god, I’m so embarrassed, I called her-
“Tommy, you’re still doing it.”
“I don’t even realize that I’m doing it!”
She makes a face of concern and goes back to her potions. “Try not to think, we’re not trying to embarrass you here, though I will take the gorgeous comment personally.” I try to empty my mind and consciously hold my mouth shut as she tries not to laugh at my expense.
She comes back with a blue liquid that smells… like medicine let’s say.
She offers it to me, saying, “It’ll lessen the effects, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to give you such a strong potion.”
I say, “It’s all right.”
“You’re describing what you’re doing just before you say it, and you don’t realize it, so I don’t think you’re all right.”
I down it before I say things I don’t realize I’m saying.
It tastes… horrid, it makes my stomach rumble, and it leaves this sickening aftertaste, and I gag a bit.
“Did I say everything I just thought?” I ask her.
“You mumbled, but I didn’t get a word,” she says, “which is much better.”
“Good.” Now I just sound like a lunatic.
“Let’s try the questions again, all right?” she says, and I nod in agreement.
Then she asks me as she grabs her clipboard again, and writes things down, “Why did Uub send you to me, Tommy?”
I shake my head, remembering why I came here in the first place. I wish I had just come to talk to her, not to talk about… anything else.
“He… he said I need to talk about something bothering me,” I mumble as I scratch behind my head, but I assure her clearly, “but there’s nothing bothering me, honest.” As I said those last words, I felt myself fighting against something in my throat. Something was trying to come out, and what I said pushed it back down.
She lets out a really quiet scoff but not quite enough for her to think I didn’t hear. “That’s what they all say,” she mutters to herself. I squint my eyes at her, mocking being mad until I realize that I feel a little patronized and maybe actually a little mad. “Now, carefully tell me about your life, without revealing the future please, I don’t want to be stuck here.”
I wonder if saying I have superpowers is off the table, but then I think about where I am and tell her, “I have powers, abilities,” and her eyes dart from her notebook to me so I throw up my hands, “hey, I figured considering where we are, superpowers wasn’t too spoiler-y.”
She nods her head once in confirmation. “Okay, what are your powers?”
“I light on fire,” I say as I restrain the urge to put my arms behind my head, “and I can fly,” but I can’t fight the urge.
Her eyes raise to see me and she shakes her head, commenting, “I bet.” When she finishes writing that down, she looks up and makes eye contact with me. “You must use those powers to help people, right?” A question to which I nod my head. “You must be in danger a lot,” and I nod my head, “have to make tough decisions, where someone might die if you do something wrong.”
Okay, now she’s getting too serious for me. I usher her to, “Slow down there,” with a mocking chuckle, “no need to be so melodramatic,” and I feel that pull again.
“It’s not melodrama, my father fought in Vietnam before he had me, this is what he dealt with, and you’re dealing with something similar I’m sure,” she explains to me. “This is the same kind of thing cops do too, talk to someone about the pressure of having someone’s life depend on your actions. This isn’t abnormal, you can talk about it, kind of what my potions are here for.”
I stare at her for a second.
“I wasn’t really cut out for psychology, okay,” she says, “I like plants more than people. I can like a person, but…”
“People and a person are two different things,” I say, and she nods in agreement. “Fair enough, I can’t vibe with sociology either.” She arches her brow at my slang but doesn’t look annoyed.
I wonder if I’m still quietly mumbling my thoughts.
I shake my head, trying to tell her, “Though I wouldn’t say my job is like being in war though.” She arches her brow at me, and she’s not smiling or patronizingly smirking at me this time. “Trust me, it’s not the same, there’s not always a clear-cut bad guy all the time, sometimes there’s just a lot of good people who endanger other good people.”
“The same thing can be said in war, my father, he came home with people spitting on him and calling him a baby murder, saying that he didn’t kill bad people, and he admitted that he was never sure. Have you had to kill people?”
I shake my head and I give it a good swing. I’ve never killed someone; I don’t know how someone who’s not a complete psychopath could ever do it without hesitating, and then you’re usually dead. Even self-defense sounds like a stretch to me.
When her face reeks of doubt, I assure her, “I’ve never had to, the times when it came down to life and death, other team members have had to do it instead.” If Marie hadn’t been there, they would have picked me to kill Atlas as the second option.
“Can you tell me about the most recent time you remember?” she asks, and I think about the kid, the crying time-bomb.
I shake my head, and the pressure in my throat makes me literally choke on my words. “No, I can’t.”
Her eyes carry so much pity, too much. “Tommy, you can never get past anything if you don’t say anything. The potion is supposed to be helping you, and as interesting as it is to see you fight it… no one wants to get worse.”
I look away, as I realize what should have been obvious. The potion is pressuring me to tell the truth, but with the lesser dosage, I’m not spilling everything, just what matters… to my brain. You’d think said brain would take that as an obvious message to spill but…
“It’s not something I can just, talk about.”
“You can, it’s not easy but you can,” she assures me, “you will, or else it will drown you from the inside out, forever.”
“Jeez,” I say before I suck in my lip, and bite down on it hard. I know she doesn’t want to know, but she has to press anyway. “You really want to know?”
She doesn’t answer me, she stares at me, because I challenged her.
“I don’t want to know, Tommy, I want to help you, so I have to.”
“My teammate, he put a bullet in a baby’s head,” I say, the words come out of my mouth, and suddenly I start feeling this swirling current behind my eyes. My thoughts become actual spoken words again, but I can notice it this time. “He put a hole in the head of a kid who was barely a whole day old,” I say again. Andrea doesn’t flinch, maybe the hardest fact will make her. “When all was said and done, no one stepped forward to arrest him, no one told him he was wrong until it didn’t matter. He got a pat on the back, and was told he did the right thing.”
“Were they right?” she asks me immediately.
I don’t understand the question, it takes my brain so off guard I need to ask her, “What?”
“Were they right, that he did the right thing?” she asks me, like that’s an actual question. “Was it for the greater good, or not, in your opinion?”
Whether or not it’s for the greater good or if it’s the right thing aren’t the same thing. The greater good? They say a newborn baby, needed to be shot… but others would have died, many more would have died. That, that is the ‘greater’ good, one life for others, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, two is more than one.
But the right thing? How can that be the right thing?
I tell her, “Whether or not he did the right thing isn’t the same as asking if it was for the greater good, because yeah it was for the greater good.
“Killing a child wasn’t the right thing though, he didn’t do the right thing.”
“He,” Andrea repeats, and I realize that I put emphasis on the who of it all, not her. “Are you angry with your teammate, is that what’s bothering you, impeding your progress with Uub?”
“No, he isn’t even training with us,” I explain, and detail how it can’t possibly be why I can’t connect with Emily and Marie. “The Hood isn’t trying to connect with us, how can he get in my way with them?”
Andrea looks away as she raises her head, seemingly figuring out what I meant, either by ‘connect,’ ‘them,’ or ‘the Hood.’ Maybe all three, she has to be overthinking this more than I.
“Are you angry with the Hood specifically for this child’s death?” she asks, not giving the child any sense of sympathy. I can’t think of this kid without speaking through pain or wanting to say ‘poor baby’ every time.
But to her question, am I mad at him? Yeah, but, I’m not any madder at him than I was before. I should be, but I’m not. I just don’t feel any more anger than I usually do.
“I’m not mad at him,” I admit, I think it’s the first thing to come out of my mouth that I’m not conflicted about. “I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, I mean I should be shouldn’t I?”
Andrea’s face is a prime example of a non-committal answer, with the way she tilts her head to the side and sucks in her lips.
“I mean he killed a kid,” I point out, but I take a breath and remember how I felt when I heard, I tell her how I felt. “The moment I heard what he had done, I didn’t feel angry, just sad.”
Andrea reaches over and grabs my hand, prompting my eyes back to her so she can ask, “Is it possible that you understand the necessity of his actions?”
“It shouldn’t be necessary!” I yell at her. I don’t mean to yell, it just comes out, but I think she knows that because she doesn’t flinch.
Andrea looks like she’s one twitch away from smiling with her mouth open. “Then maybe you’re angry your friend was even in such a position, that he shouldn’t have even had to make such a choice.”
We’re not friends, but what she said is, is…
“Actually, I think that’s exactly it, I mean, how fucked up is it that the world we live in is one where kids are walking time bombs? Where it’s either kill the innocent or allow hundreds, maybe thousands to die?”
She shakes her head, and at first, I think she’s without an answer, but instead she tells me, “If you think about how the world used to be… one person dying to save millions isn’t the worst outcome to find ourselves with. Think of the kind of people here, from the past. They’re apart of times where millions die for nothing, and at least we live in a time where we’ve got it down to one life to save many.”
God, I know she’s not wrong, her logic stands but I don’t like it. Just because things have gotten better doesn’t mean they’re good. I dig my hands in my hair, thinking about how the world works now.
“It’s not fair,” I complain, “and I want to be mad at so many people, the Hood included, but I don’t have any good reason to be mad at them, or at him. This is the world we live in, and if he hadn’t done what he did, we’d be dead. But then there’s the fact that I wish he could be human about it, show that I’m not driving myself crazy here and that our situation is messed up.”
“Do you want to know what I think?” she asks me. Considering how she’s gotten deeper in my head than anyone else with only a drink, I’m willing to hear just about any of her ideas, so I nod my head. “I think you want him to be human because of what that says for you, am I right?” I realize now that I’m not going to like anything she says, even if makes a lot of sense. “Are you worried that you could be like him?”
No, I couldn’t be like him, I couldn’t take life so naturally. I couldn’t be so cold, I’m fire, I burn, I cause pain… but I don’t kill.
Maybe fire wasn’t the best power for me.
But… Marie thought the same thing though, and then she was put in an impossible situation. How long before that’s me? I’m so sick of talking about where I’m headed, and it’s getting to be too much.
I don’t answer Andrea’s question. Instead, I compliment her, “Man, you really know what you’re doing.” Maybe that answers her question, complimenting her hypothesizing skills.
She smiles a little. “Thank you.”
I want to talk about something else, I rather learn about her. “How do you know all this stuff, or how to do it?”
She sees what I’m doing immediately, leaving a millisecond of hesitation. She maintains eye contact with me as she shakes her head, which makes me feel some guilt. “No, no, we’re not talking about me, we’re talking about you, you’re the one who drank the potion,” she tries to affirm, but I can’t keep digging into myself, or let her dig into me.
“Yeah, but maybe it might be easier to open up if I know who I’m talking to.”
She points her finger and pokes my arm, reminding me at the same time, “You drank the potion.”
“Maybe it’s wearing off.”
She drops her smile and leaves her finger hanging there. I think she understands that I’ve hit the wall on how far I want to go, even if I feel like throwing up the longer I hold back my tongue.
“Come on,” I say as I find and sit the nearest seat, it even spins.Then I gesture to her as I say, “I can’t be that interesting to talk about.”
Andrea snorts as she brings her hand over her eyes. She takes a moment to exhale and shake her head, hopefully not growing aggravated with me. “Alright,” she mumbles, and again with a shrug, “alright, what do you want to know about me?”
I gesture to the place around us and figure to start with, “How about why you need to come here?”
“The garden or the Palace?” she asks, and when I squint my eyes she laughs and tells me, “You’re funny when you look all mad!”
I squint even harder at her and she laughs more until she burps. She waves her hand over her mouth and apologizes, “I’m sorry, whatever they serve here doesn’t agree with me, but as to why I’m here…”
She pauses to look up at the tree. She’s got to be thinking about why, or maybe she’s thinking of how to put it.
Andrea’s eyes shift to me, and she asks, “Remember how I said my dad served in Vietnam?”
I nod my head because I do.
“My dad, he came back broken, my mom wanted to fix him but she was just a clerk, and just being there wasn’t enough.” She tilts her head back down as she looks at the ground, rolling her tongue in her mouth, and I realize she has trouble dwelling just as I do. “My dad, he’d have nightmares so bad he’d choke her in his sleep sometimes, leave bruises, and he’d be more sorry than anything. He slept on the couch when she was pregnant with me, many nights after, and not because she asked him to.”
Then Andrea smiles just as her voice cracks a little, “But I never got that, I used to fall asleep in his arms on the couch until I was in middle school, I used to wake up to him protecting me, from himself. He protected me from everybody, always, he gave me everything he had until he couldn’t handle himself.
“Now he’s in a mental ward and no one will help him, so I don’t care that I have to miss out on high school by skipping grades, he needs help now, and the faster I’m able to graduate from college and get my doctorate, the faster I can start paying him back.”
“But… you’re doing potions.”
That’s when she smirks again. “Well, my mom may just be a clerk, but she comes from witches, who have magical items and stuff that we can draw power from. She never wanted anything to do with it, and when I realized that one was going to let me psychoanalyze my father, I decided to combine my education, with my mother’s magic.”
“That sounds like two degrees in one.”
“You would be right, and that takes a lot of time.”
I squint my eyes as I begin to draw a picture here.
She didn’t come to this place to hone her body, she’s honing her mind, using the time to drill information into her head and learn about what can help her dad. My dad and my mom gave me a home when I was born without one, but I don’t know if I have the strength or will to give back what she’s trying to give.
I’m a little speechless, and awestruck by someone so strong in a way I’m definitely not. All I’ve got is, “Wow, that’s, that’s…. just, I want to say inspiring but that would be corny.”
Andrea giggles and her dimples are more prominent. “That’s okay,” she tells me, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with corny, being corny is being sincere.”
I scratch the back of my head and mutter, “Good, because then now we know everything there is to know about what makes us tick, and for me, intelligent and elegant anecdotes are not it.”
“That one was pretty good.”
“It was also all the big words I know.”
She squints at me as she smiles, not believing me for a second. “That’s a load of horseshit but I’ll let it go.” I let out a huff at the inability to get away from her hungry lust to study me like one of her plants. She hits me out of left field when she asks me, “Do you know why we were able to get such a good start so fast?”
“Because you know what you’re doing, like a lot?” I ask back, a hundred percent using my ability to kiss ass.
She shakes her head, then adds, “That too, but it’s really because you like talking, Tommy, it could be your greatest weapon, so don’t ever stop talking.”
“I think a lot of evil-doers are going to wish you never told me that.”
“We’ve been in here for almost an hour now, would you talk to me?” Burke asks me, but I’ve been considering whether or not I could take a Spartan without my powers. Sounds like a worthy skill and character-building experience…
“You know what, Marie,” Burke says now as she shakes her head all sad, “if you’re not going to be honest with me, I’ll be honest with you, I know why you hate me,” a statement which I don’t believe, “I know what happened to your dad,” then I question my belief, “and I remember how I bullied you.”
Well, it’s about time she remembered.
The first thing I tell her, “Too bad it’s a couple years too late.”
Burke stands up to her feet, crosses her arms and looks down at me like she always does. “I’m the one slipping money to your brother and sister,” she tells me, “I made a savings account for you too, it should have a couple hundred thousand dollars in by the time you graduate college, it should be more than enough to take you anywhere you want.”
I stand up too. I stand up and get in her face. I demand to know, “Who the hell do you think you are?”
“Someone who has had everything taken care of for me; a girl who couldn’t fathom the idea of having to take care of my little brothers; I’m a bully who couldn’t even remember the name of a girl I made fun of as a kid.”
“What, is that supposed to absolve you? Throwing your money at me and admitting what you are? It doesn’t change anything, Burke.”
“It could change life for you, you don’t have to work for S.I.L.A.S. to support your family, that’s not something that you should have to do.”
What, what does she know? I’d rather work and be the one who’s there for my family than have to rely on someone who can’t understand the value of what she has. I’d rather work my hands bloody raw, being the test rat for whatever Claire wants than know Shelley and Bruce think some white lady needs to give us her weekly allowance so we survive.
I jab my finger at her and tell her, “Stay away from my family!”
If I don’t leave, I’ll beat the snot out of her, but when I turn to leave she takes my arm, and tries to stop me. “Marie, wait! You need to listen to me!”
I shove her off me into the wall. “I don’t need to listen to anything you have to say! The worst things in my life stem from you and your family!” I scream at her.
She falls down the wall, shook and looking up at me with the same fear people have when they look at the Burkes. It makes me want to scream some more, because I know I can.
“You say you know what happened to my dad, then you must know how he drank himself into a car crash because your mother fired him, fired a man from North Aeg with a wife and kids, someone she knew couldn’t fight back! There’s no one way we could afford a lawyer, no one to afford anything. We didn’t have a savings.
“Tell me, Emily, have you ever gone hungry, I have, my family has, before my powers showed up, we were starving! We had nothing!” I scream.
I remember, my mother didn’t do anything, she was gone, traumatized. I remember working through the summer knowing I couldn’t work full time because I was underage. I remember taking jobs under the counter so we could eat. Shelters were where we slept, and the only thing we had was each other so I could keep from getting sucked up in North Aeg’s foster system.
I place my hand over my chest, and I let Burke know how we survived.
“My heart had to literally freeze over for someone to give a shit and help us, and even that help is barely enough to get out of the shittiest place in the state.”
I kneel down in front of her. I want to see the fear in her eyes. I’m so sick of the expectations she always has when she looks at me, but all I see now is pity.
“You get to sit up in your nice ivory tower, looking down at the rest of us, but you want me to tell you that slipping a couple hundred dollars under a doormat relieves you of that guilt? Because you take money from mommy and daddy that they make back the next minute? I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t feel guilty.
“I’m going to tell you that even if my dad was around, even if money was never a problem, you’re still the bitch who drove girls cut themselves, myself included.”
I’ve never told anyone that, but it came out so naturally, because I can see that it hurts her enough. She should be hurt.
I ask her now, “Do you get it yet? Do you get why I don’t want to be friends with you, why at the end of the day I can only ignore who you are for so long?”
Burke clambers back to her feet, and she says something I’m not prepared for.
“Hit me,” she says.
I don’t believe it, the idea that she wants me to hit that pretty face of hers.
“You heard me, hit me, Marie, because I can’t understand what you’re going through, I can’t go back and change what I’ve done or what’s been done to you, but I can feel it. You can let it out on the person you think responsible.”
“You, you actually want me to hit you?” I question, taking a step back.
Burke’s step forward, cementing that while she may not know what she’s doing, she’s still giving me permission.
She states, “I want you to hit-”
I don’t hesitate, don’t let her finish, I punch her in the face, I smash my fist into her cheek. I hit her face so hard it hurts my hand at first.
Then when she slams against the wall again, and I punch her in the stomach. It’s therapeutic, feeling everything I’ve got pent up inside move from me and into her feels good, but I don’t feel less angry, or less sad.
Maybe I have to hit her harder, see the face that symbolizes everything wrong in my life bloody and broken.
She’s groaning and moaning throughout, whether I’m hitting her or not. I grab her by the shoulders and toss her to the ground onto her back. I get on top of her and keep hitting her face,
At some point, I’m pulling back my fist and I see it. I see her face already swelling and the blood trickling out of the corner of her mouth as she coughs. She’s just looking up at me with her right eye, waiting for the next hit.
I feel the pain in my knuckles, but I’m not supposed to feel pain, she is! Nothing’s left me but the energy to act, this is supposed to help me but I’m still angry. Other people can pound away but… but it’s not helping me.
I roll off of her, and look up at the ceiling, feeling my heart really beat in my chest. This didn’t help me at all, finally sticking it to the person I blame for everything wrong didn’t help. If that didn’t then what the hell else am I supposed to do?
“Please don’t ask if we’re good, we’re not,” I tell her.
“I figured… we weren’t, aghh,” she answers, and groans through the painful aching I’m sure she feels in her face. “Consider…ing you… you stopped, and… and you don’t look… any less… unhappy… I bet you feel… pretty shitty.”
She’s right, I don’t feel better at all. At least I’m not angered by the fact that she’s right.
“All I feel now is tired.”
“I feel pain.”
I laugh at that. She tries to but it surely hurts.
“I still need help,” I realize. I bring my hands over my face and repeat, “God, I still need help.” So much help, in more ways than one.
Burke nudges me with her arm, and I open my eye through one finger. She tells me, “I would like to help you.”
I groan because in honesty, she’s the only one offering. That’s… that’s one of the worst things for me. She’s the only one offering to help me.
“Just, just keep doing what you’re doing, not really anything else you can do,” I tell her. Beating her up has done nothing.
“Well… we’re not going… to connect on any… spirit… spirit… spiritual level.”
“Yeah, for sure.”
“Do we… still have to… fight… all the time?” she asks.
“No, just don’t tell me what to do, there’s already another bitch in my life to do that.”
“Fair… and I’m sorry.” She could be sorry for so many things.
I warn her, “Stop saying sorry, saying it so much makes it mean less, saying sorry should mean more.”
Below the Timeless Palace, lies the door to something sinister, the demon I’ve wrestled with most of my life, and one the Hood will have to contend with eventually. Underneath it all, the elders have kept it hidden from the world of man so that none can take its power without its offer.
We walk down the stairs, through the dark cavern stairway made of old and crumbling stone. This is only part of this place that seems to show a hint of age. The moment we reach the bottom stair, metal pyres lining the path ignite.
“How the fuck do you get that to work?” I ask Uub. He shrugs his shoulders with a smirk on his face, finding it more entertaining to not tell me.
The path isn’t that far, and I see the humongous golden doors in their entirety. A red metallic crest swirls as if alive as it keeps the doors shut. I’ve actually had the courage to touch it once and it felt like metal despite acting and looking like a liquid. A perfect doorway for a demon.
Good thing we’re not here for him.
In front of the doors lies a sword, an old Mongol saber. While the material used to make it wasn’t important the last time I saw it, I bet anyone can guess what it’s made out of.
Around the world, superpowered mercenaries are stealing this metal no matter the amount contained. Dr. Magician stole the largest chunk in the U.S. when he ran into the Hood and Espada, taking it from some stupid archeologist who thought he could keep it safe. I guess it was smart considering it was the last piece the Savaage found, so maybe points.
The only thing is, even that large chunk wasn’t pure cantorium. There are minerals and other metals that have fused with it, like a solution, not a compound.
I think that’s how James described it…
But filtering out all the unwanted elements to get pure cantorium is a bitch, and I’m willing to bet it doesn’t give the Savaage all that they need. It would explain why they’ve used the byproducts and the unpurified cantorium to make Atlas, infect that kid, and do who knows what else.
That sword is the largest concentration of purified cantorium that’s not being worn as an armored suit. Someone’s going to want it.
When we walk up to the sword, it’s not ceremoniously encased in glass, just a simple holder. I grab the sword by the hilt and hold it in my hands, feeling how light it is compared to other swords in this style. It’s why my son was so deadly with it.
“Would you like a moment alone?” Uub asks, being all polite and caring, but it’s unnecessary. Other people may need to be handheld, other mothers, but with Zander… there’s not a lot of love lost like with all the others. He’s the only one Alet didn’t kill…
I turn around and give Uub back the sword, which confuses him.
“There’s no love lost between me and my second son, you know this,” I remind him, and his head dips, wishing that circumstances had been different. He had cared for Zander, but we can’t change what he tried to bring about.
It’s time I informed him of the other reason I came to the Timeless Palace, the cantorium. My hands naturally move to my hips, the bossiness in me clawing out.
“I’m not sure what you know about what’s happening in my time, but someone with power and resources is collecting cantorium, the stuff that makes up that blade,” I inform him with a finger pointed to it, “and you needed to be warned to protect it.”
I think about how while this place is hidden, no one is guarding it.
Too many guards will lead to someone being manipulated by the demon behind the doors, and that risk is too great, but someone here for the sword can just pop in and out.
“You should probably hang onto it yourself until you see Ali again, and give it to her, she’ll protect it just fine,” and with a look over my back at the red swirling crest, “you only need a metal detector to find this thing, let’s not let anyone know about what else is down here.”
“I agree,” Uub says, which is nice, I could do without an argument, until he suggests, “but that means I only need to hide the blade, Claire, are you sure you don’t want the hilt? That’s all Zander’s design.”
I’m sure, I don’t need to think about it.
“I want it.”
It took me longer than it should to copy down his movements. The slouch in his shoulders, the arms tight to his side as he walks, the way his head tilts downward no matter where his eyes are actually looking, I’ve got it all now. But reading his mind should have taken seconds to get what I wanted, not minutes.
He’s not as dumb as he seems, he’s not empty-headed, actually I’d say he thinks too fast sometimes. Doesn’t matter, he went to find Uub for some advice, which means I have free reign to walk around with his face.
It’s also useful that he sleeps in the room next to the Hood’s, saving me time searching for it. It looks like any other generic, flowery door in this place, but it has a big payday for me. I wonder if Ion would pay me to not keep the Hood’s suit for myself. Though, something tells me it doesn’t shift to my size.
I know the job was to be a distraction, but once I get the suit, I’ll be distraction enough, and then a double pay day. The Hood will cry about I’m sure, but his boss will make him a new one, he’ll get over it.
I move to open the door, checking and listening for any traps the Hood would have set, being the paranoid bastard that he is. After checking all I can from my side, I take the risk and slide the door open.
No one’s home.
He hasn’t been here long, which means there isn’t anything he’s added or changed about the room. There’s a mat to sleep on and the dresser for a change of clothes, that leaves his suitcase right out in the open.
Right against the wall where he sleeps. I go to grab it and check the lock. Thumbprint and passcode. I can copy the thumbprint, but I don’t think he’d leave the passcode the same as last time, ‘Assassin.’ Surprised he didn’t put a ‘the’ in the passcode. Fastest option would be to shift into something small, like an insect, but this is airtight. No earthly insects, but I’ve seen a few alien ones.
There’s this gooey green insect that’s really only an insect to me because it’s small. It’s like a huge bacterial cell, and turning into it allows me to creep in through the suitcase’s semes. Shifting is a feeling best described as my body morphing. It’s like changing from a certain spot then outwards. If I morphed into a snake from the head down, my body would squeeze together and stretch as my arms would mold into my body like a fluid.
Once I’m the alien lifeform I only wait for a little bit of me to get inside before I expand into an armadillo and blow this case open. I turn back to my disguise, the process of shifting as painless as always.
My excitement is not unscathed though, because the damn thing is empty, I probably could have just pressed on the damn button if it was empty!
That means he’s wearing it, the only reason for it not to be here. That means it’s time to move on to distraction time, but for that, I have to make sure I’m not near Uub. That would risk the whole point of a distraction if I’m close to the most important crime.
I close the broken suitcase and put it back, but there isn’t much else I can do. I go back to the door to slip out, and as I close the door-
I turn my head to see this girl with glasses standing with a textbook and checkboard in hand. I thought this place was for warriors.
She repeats the name, “Tommy,” the name of my disguise, and asks me, “I thought you went back to Uub?”
Like opening a door, I let my mind flow free towards her. She’s not a telepath or trained in any kind of protection so her mind is an open book.
Her name is Andrea Ray, studying psychology, therapy, yadda yadda yadda, daddy issues but not the fun kind, and oh, she played therapist for the boy.
Before I take too long to answer, I stay in character as I assure her, “Yeah, I just needed to get something for the Hood, about to finally start on some physical training.”
“Oh, good,” she says as she steps closer to me. I check her mind for romantic interest or if Tommy and her did any funny business. It’s a possibility but if she doesn’t leave me alone, I may have to kill his chances.
She asks me with all of this worry, “Are you going to be okay being around him?”
I can’t keep reading her mind, Tommy’s talks even when he has nothing much to say, and this is small talk. I scratch my head, right above the nape of my neck like Tommy, and assure her, “Yeah, I’ll be alright, I mean I hate the guy but what else can I do?”
Andrea tilts her head to look at me funny. I read her mind, and realize that hate is a strong word.
“Maybe we should talk some more,” Andrea offers, moving her hand to my shoulder. Goddamn it, if I wanted a therapist, I’d get my own, not use another guy’s… with said guy’s face.
I try very hard not to roll my eyes at her, but I manage somehow. I try to assure her, “Listen, I’m fine I-”
“So, you’re telling me it was all bullshit? I got my face smashed in for nothing?!” I hear Espada yelling down the hall.
Next comes the Director of S.I.L.A.S., the Hood’s grandma with a lot of greats in the front, telling her, “Hey, you didn’t have to let her punch you, I can teach you how to fight just fine.”
I turn back to Andrea who was listening to them too, about to tell her how I should probably catch up with ‘my team,’ at least until, I hear Tommy’s voice, “I think I’d rather train with Uub.”
I feel the chill that’s running down her back go down mine. As Andrea’s eyes twitch, in that moment the world is completely wrong.
Before she can say a word, I grab her by the throat and slide open the door to the Hood’s room. I pull her in before they even start rounding the corner, my arms wrapping around her airway, my hand using my sweatshirt to cover her mouth and nose.
She struggles but it doesn’t mean anything, I can hold her. I try to listen to what they’re saying as she tries to kick her feet against the ground. To stop that, I change my lower half to an anaconda and wrap around her, squeezing her into unconsciousness.
I listen to them all go back and forth, the Director, Espada, Pyre, and Icicle, detailing their plans, splitting off. Pyre is actually going to Uub, so I guess that’s out of my hands, but I learn that the more important ones are the three women going to the dojo to spar in wait.
Andrea falls unconscious in my hands as I figure that the next best way to proceed is to find the Hood and lure him to the others. This way Hundress only has to deal with Uub and a depowered Pyre. I’m sure she’ll be fine.
I let the nerd fall out of my arms so I can shift back into my usual gas mask. Stealth, information, infiltration, they’re reasons why someone hires Shadow Mask.