Two days later, and Charity was well into recovery. Drake could stop pretending he didn’t care, pretending he wasn’t white-knuckling it as he watched his friend recover from something that could have killed her.
He still loved her. No matter how many times he told himself to let it go, it just never worked. He knew damn well it was a weakness, but he couldn’t help it. When she broke up with Eric, a spark of hope lit in his heart, that just maybe… It was taking every ounce of willpower not to try to initiate a relationship now that she wasn’t dating Eric anymore. But he refused to be the rebound guy. If it was going to happen, it would happen.
Poor Marcus was entirely befuddled by his new situation. He’d signed the paperwork readily enough, and being a bit of a sullen loner was working for them. He didn’t have any close friends he’d have to keep this new secret from. The boy had apologized once and then deliberately avoided Drake after that, spending most of his time making sure his sister wasn’t going to die on him.
He didn’t really blame the kid. It wasn’t his fault that things had gone south so quickly. Well, it was, but it wasn’t. If Drake had actually managed to unscramble the communications, they could have found out who he was, and they would have been prepared. Because of his unstable powers, though, Marcus found snail mail to be a more reliable method of communication, and then later, paper notes dropped in a tree trunk. And that, even Drake couldn’t track electronically. He might as well have used a courier pigeon. It was very 1980s. Really, who did that anymore?
Well, now he was free to focus on the puzzle in front of him. Drew Herrington’s archeological dig had been more than a historical curiosity. It had been a battleground between an Ereakthc possessing a Dreydria, and an Ereurtc in a mechanical power suit. The implications of that was staggering. The Ereakthc were beings of pure energy from a world known as Arlethae, and were much like that reality’s ‘angels’. The Ereurtc were that dimension’s mortals. The power suit was also of Arlethaen origin and design. The Dreydria, on the other hand, was native to a dimension called Myrathelle. What the hell they were doing on Earth was anyone’s guess.
The suit was what interested Drake at the moment. At rest it didn’t look to be much more than a rectangular metal box, roughly four inches long, two inches wide, and an inch and a half or so in height. It was a little heavy for its size, weighing in at about five pounds. Its composition was unlike anything he’d seen on Earth. The material looked and felt like metal, but it didn’t behave like any metal he’d heard of. It had a magnetic field, like all matter, but it didn’t respond to his powers like a ferrous metal.
When activated, the box dissolved into countless microscopic particles that flowed like a liquid over the user’s body till it formed an almost chitinous armor plating. Drew had worn it in battle against the thing they’d fought. A lot of good it’d done him.
Drake’s observations were interrupted by a pounding on the door. The hell? He flicked at his computer display till it showed the image generated by the front door’s security camera. Eric? What the bloody hell is he doing here? Briefly, he considered testing out the security drones he’d programmed over his lunch break, but decided he’d let the man live for now. He could tell immediately by the way he swayed back and forth that Eric was drunk out of his mind. Against his better judgment, he made his way to the door.
The second he opened it, Eric grabbed Drake by his shirt collar and shoved him against the door. It was unsporting to take too much advantage of a man so incapacitated, so Drake let him.
“What the hell is going on?” Eric slurred his words. If Drake didn’t already know he was drunk, the other man’s breath would have been a strong indicator.
“Global Warming, the war in Asia, the presidential election? You’re going to have to be more specific.”
“Follow the money,” Eric said, letting go of Drake and wandering into the foyer. “That’s what my dad always said.”
“No no, by all means, come in.” Drake shut the door against the night air, since it seemed Eric wouldn’t be voluntarily going anywhere for a while. Besides, if he let him go in this condition, something was bound to happen to the man, and Drake wasn’t going to have that on his conscience. Worse, Charity would kill him.
“I knew something was up. We…we had a thing, you know? It was something special, more than you see in those movies. ‘N then bam, out of nowhere it was over. She loves me, I know she does, so why lie to me? So I checked her accounts.”
Drake thought about making a snarky comment on Eric’s choice to delve into the private finances of the woman he loved, but it would go right over Eric’s head at the moment. Better to keep that to himself if he ever needed to blackmail the billionaire.
“It took some digging. Layer after layer of shell companies are paying her something. And you know what I found?” He waved a finger in Drake’s direction. “You. You pay into those empty companies with meaningless names. There’s something going on. What is it, some kind of giant government conspiracy? What the hell is happening? Tell me!”
Drake looked at him for a moment. This was what broke Eric and Charity up. Charity’s secrets separated them. Eric was closer than he realized, and with a bit of encouragement, he’d unravel Delta’s secrets on his own. Not to mention the suit was technically his property anyway, given that it was discovered by his brother. It was the perfect excuse to bring him into the fold. But that would bring Eric and Charity back together. Drake would never have a chance with her after that.
After a moment’s contemplation, Drake made up his mind.
“No. Not till you’re sober. Take the couch, sleep it off. We’ll talk in the morning.” Eric looked like he was going to protest, so Drake continued. “Don’t make me knock you out.”
That seemed to convince him. He found the couch without being told again and passed out with the air of someone who was used to sleeping off a stupor in odd places.
* * * *
Eric rolled over and was nearly struck blind by the sun coming through the windows. He grabbed franticly for a pillow and nearly fell off the furniture before he realized it wasn’t his couch. The embarrassment of the night before came crashing down on him.
He pulled himself into a seated position, and heard the clunk of a mug of coffee set on the end table beside him. He peered through red, watery eyes at Drake. “Don’t suppose it’s going to do any good to apologize for last night.”
“Oh, hell no. I’m never going to let you live that down.”
“Thought not.” He picked up the mug and took a gulp of the hot, black liquid. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it. Do you remember anything?”
“I remember figuring out that something was up with Charity and you had something to do with it.” He looked Drake dead in the eyes. “I know something is going on. And I will figure out what it is, one way or another.”
“She knows something about Drew that I don’t.”
“You’re not wrong.” Drake set a silver metallic box on the end table. “This was discovered by your brother. So, technically the answers within are yours as well.” He barked a command in a language Eric didn’t understand, and the box morphed into a holographic projector. “I’ll give you a minute.” He walked away.
Eric was dumbfounded. Could it be that easy? Was he really about to find out, not only Charity’s secret, but what happened to his brother as well? For a second he wasn’t sure he wanted the answers. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is, his dad always said. Of course, he was usually talking about business deals, but it still applied. Eric sensed he was on the threshold of a monumental discovery. It felt a little melodramatic to think that his life was never going to be the same, but that’s exactly what was going on here. Is this what Drew felt on the precipice of a new discovery? No wonder he wanted to be an archeologist.
Regardless, he didn’t know how to stop the device from playing. Short of walking away, there was nothing he could do to remain ignorant. He remained glued to his seat.
At first, all he could see was dust and rock. A voice said something in a foreign language unlike he’d ever heard before. Then the scenery was moving. It was a first-person point of view of…something. He saw Drake. So the man had been involved.
“W-wait! Let me help you!” The voice didn’t come from Drake. With a start, Eric realized he knew the voice. Drew? Why was the recording from Drew’s perspective? He didn’t understand.
“Stay out of this, Sir. We’ll handle it.”
“Wait! Please. This is my fault. That…thing. I released it. Please let me help.”
Then Charity appeared in the screen. Eric’s heart skipped a beat. She and Drake were wearing matching black army jackets with a symbol he hadn’t seen before. It looked like a pattern of triangles, each one a different color. “Sam’s deployed backup, but they’re too far out to do any good. Jay and John are deep undercover, out of radio contact. We’re on our own.”
“Look, people are going to die!” Drew said. “Please, just let me help!”
A loud crash sounded, accompanied by a wave of dust and debris, which somehow never touched the three standing beneath the rock outcropping. It cleared in time for the camera to catch a glimpse of what was causing the destruction. It was monstrous. Towering at least twenty feet tall, the creature had a wing span that easily matched his height. Great horns encircled his head. Glowing eyes burned an iridescent white.
Drew gasped involuntarily. “Oh, my God.” The camera rocked like he took a startled step backward.
Drake looked at the camera. “You know how to use that suit?”
“Uh…no. But I think the suit does.”
Another loud crash. Drake looked frustrated. “Okay. I’m not letting you do anything. But I’ve got far better things to do than to spend the time and energy it would take to stop you. Just don’t—“
The rest of what he said was lost in the roar of Drew’s takeoff. The scenery blurred, then resolved itself to a dirt hole surrounded by a grassy field. A gigantic claw swiped through the air toward a group of interns. In a flash, the camera was beneath it, an image of the terrible instrument of destruction so clear, that Eric could see the palm lines and corded muscles. “Run!” Drew screamed. The kids didn’t have to be told twice. The camera picked up the sounds of their feet moving faster that one would have thought possible.
Then the view swiveled around. It spun crazily, and Eric could tell Drew wasn’t doing this on purpose. It stabilized for a second, long enough to see the creature’s face. Its mouth was feral, and it let out a bellow of pain as it was struck with an invisible blow. Drake floated impossibly beside the monstrous head. There was a creaking sound, and Drew let out a matching scream.
The camera shook. It turned to find Charity perched on the thing’s arm. “If you’ve got any electricity protection, now’s the time to turn it on!” she yelled. Blue lightning arched over her body and gathered in her fingertips. She slammed her hands down on the monster’s huge arm.
There was a loud crack of thunder. For a second, Drew was free. The camera turned end over end until Eric couldn’t tell the difference between earth and sky. Then he was caught again. The claw closed in over the view, and then everything went black.
Eric realized he was holding his breath. He let it out with a gasp, breathing heavily.
“For the record, I told him not to do anything that would get him killed.” Eric jumped. Drake was standing behind him.
“Safe, thanks to your brother.” He pointed at the device. “That thing can morph into a suit. He wore it into battle against the Dreydria.”
“Oh, is that what that was,” Eric said, as if it made it all clear. It didn’t.
“The site your brother was investigating was once a battleground. The original user of that device was an extradimensional alien called an Ereurtc. They call their world Arlethae. Actually, you’ve met a couple of them. Remember those twins we hung out with in high school?”
“Yeah. Charity’s best friend. Her brother always wore those dark glasses.”
“Yeah, a common trait of the Ereurtc is their gold colored eyes. Meryl could change the color of her eyes because she’s a shapeshifter.”
“Naturally.” Eric shook his head. This was all so bewildering. “Wait, does that mean Charity’s…”
“Oh, she’s very much human. She just happens to have super powers.”
Drake chuckled. “Put on the suit, Herrington. I’m about to blow your mind.”
* * * *
Charity viciously yanked off the Virtual Reality helmet. Marcus laughed at her in spite of himself. “I’m sorry,” he said, trying not to smile. “I shouldn’t have pressed my advantage there.”
Charity swore under her breath. “No, no. I left myself open. You won fair and square. I just can’t believe I let myself be distracted.” She felt like she was going to cry. She was tired, and her side was beginning to throb. The stab wound was healing nicely, but weaning herself off the pain medications was proving to be difficult. Anger spiked in her head, frustrated that she let herself feel this. On impulse, she flung the helmet into the side of the room. She ran her hand through her hair. Maybe she should grow it out again. Eric always liked it short.
It was as if thinking about him summoned his voice. She turned on her heel, and he was there. She blinked, positive she was imagining things. Tears clouded her eyes. She blinked them back, and he didn’t disappear. “It’s really you,” she whispered.
He chuckled. “Yeah.”
She was in his embrace before she really knew how she got there. In that place she never thought she’d be again. Now she really did burst into tears.
“You have some ‘splaning to do, young lady,” he teased. His voice was choked, as if he was trying not to cry himself.
“’Explaining.’ So that’s what you kids are calling it these days,” Drake said, unhelpful as always.
Marcus gave an exasperated sigh. “Too much information,” he complained.
Charity decided to roll with it. “So. My place or yours?”