Archive for February, 2015

Lindsay White was bored. They were supposed to be in a mission briefing, but it hadn’t started yet, and everyone was so very hush-hush about what the mission was about. Sam was going to come explain it at some point. That is, Director Samantha Clive, but everyone called her Sam. Which always seemed strange because she referred to everyone with their title and last name. Lindsay still didn’t like being ‘Miss White’ but whatever.

“I’m telling you, it won’t work.” Jayson and Drake were arguing. Again. Jay was being the negative Nelly, though where he got off telling Mister ‘I can fix anything’ Drake if something worked or not, Lindsay had no idea.

Drake was wearing a loud Hawaiian t-shirt over a black shirt with the name of a popular metal band and black cargo pants tucked into his combat boots. The look was so last decade, but Drake could at least wear it ironically. The same couldn’t be said for Jayson, whose long-sleeve v-neck hadn’t been in style for a century.

“I’m not saying the whole area’s going to be sucked into another dimension. It’s just going to be slightly off-kilter from the rest of time.” Drake was being patient.

“Time doesn’t work that way!” Jay was being exasperated.

“So explain it to me!”

“I can’t. Time is just one of those…things, you know? It’d be like you explaining to me how gravity works.”

Drake quirked an eyebrow. “I can explain to you how gravity works. But I see your point, if this comparison hinges on you understanding it.” He grinned. “Not my fault you’re too stupid to understand.”

Jay opened his mouth to say something, then closed it with a lopsided smile. “I…walked into that one, didn’t I?”

Drake responded by holding up his hand with his thumb and forefinger spaced an inch apart. “Little bit. Just a little.” He shrugged. “Come on now. When have I ever been wrong about this kind of thing? Charity, tell this plebeian pedestrian that I’m right.”

Charity was just walking in with her boyfriend Eric. At least they had the ability to dress properly. Charity wore black slacks and a midnight-blue blouse with mother-of-pearl earrings and matching necklace. Eric had a pressed collared shirt that was tailor-made for him and a pair of blue jeans with ironed creases. His watch alone would have kept her father’s business in the black for a year. The two of them were almost cute, for older people. Charity scared Lindsay a little, but not too much. She was just convinced the woman hated her. She just didn’t think she was good enough to be dating her brother. Whatever. She and Marcus were soulmates.

Charity shook her head. “Oh, hell no. I am not getting involved in your arguments. Also, that’s sort of redundant, which really doesn’t make the alliteration work. Both ‘plebeian’ and ‘pedestrian’ indicate mediocrity, though you could use ‘pedestrian’ as a noun, which really… What?”

Drake was grinning at her, which meant he’d fully intended on sending her into a pedantic rant. “Too easy.”

Charity pointedly ignored him, and instead introduced the boy that had come in with her. “Guys, this is Allen. He’ll go by Spirit on the field. He’s also a paragon type, like Lindsay.”

“Woohoo,” Lindsay said excitedly. She pumped a fist in the air. “Go team smash.”

“Right,” Charity drawled, and Lindsay could almost hear the roll of her eyes. “Anyway. Allen, you already know Eric, Jay, and of course John.” Lindsay could never quite get the hang of calling her mentor anything but Stryker, and if the adoration in the kid’s eyes was any indication, he wouldn’t either. “The others are Lindsay, Marcus, and Mitch. Spryte, Spark Plug, and Inferno, respectively.

Lindsay waved at him with a grin. Allen gave her a timid smile. He looked a little like he’d rather be hiding under the table. Awww, he’s shy. That’s adorable.

“Excellent. Fresh meat.” Mitch grinned. He leaned his chair on its back two legs and propped his booted feet on the table. He was dressed in his Delta hero costume, a black, worn leather bombers jacket with flame decals that danced around the wrists and from the bottom hem. Other than that, he wore blue jeans and a plain black t-shirt. He waved one hand indifferently to Allen. “Newbie goes for the coffee run. I take mine with no cream, plenty of sugar. Black as the devil, sweet as a stolen kiss.” He gave Lindsay a wink.

Mitch was a flirt. Marcus didn’t like him for that reason alone, no matter how many times Lindsay assured him that there was nothing he needed to worry about. He was that way with every girl. Of course, he was super cute. And he had a whole ‘bad boy’ air about him, plus there was just something so adorably angsty about him.

Marcus rolled his eyes. “Don’t listen to him, he’s an asshat,” he said to Allen. He stuck out his hand. “Welcome.” Allen returned the handshake.

“…Be sure to reschedule my brunch with Senator Cole.” Samantha Clive’s voice floated down the hallway in time to the clip-clop of her stilettos. At the door, she turned neatly on her heel. “And light a fire under the accounting department. I want those financial reports on my desk by morning.” Now there was a woman who knew how to dress. A knee-length lavender skirt encased long legs that somehow seemed comfortable in her choice of sensible-but-stylish footwear. She wore a cream-colored blouse and gold minimalist jewelry. Her black hair was twisted into a French knot at the base of her neck.

“Yes, Ma’am,” her poor bedraggled assistant told her. Poor man. He was a speedster, but even he had a hard time keeping up with the demands of the high-powered woman. He scuttled off to do what he was told, and Sam stepped into the room.

“Ah, good, you are all here.” She walked to the front of the room and passed her hand over the commanding end of the table. A display woke up beneath the clear Plexiglas, and she used it to turn on the holographic display in the center of the table. It showed a three-dimensional image of a young, blond boy. “This young gentleman has made a name for himself by drawing out a mathematical proof of a working perpetual motion machine—one that could theoretically supply the planet with an unlimited source of energy. Mathematicians from all over the world have studied it. The fact that it’s written in crayon doesn’t seem to detract at all from its validity.

“Obviously, knowledge of this caliber is going to attract a lot of attention. This could solve the global energy crisis. Of course, that’s going to put power firmly in the hands of whoever controls him. The boy needs to get to a safe place before other governments try to make a war out of him.

“I’ve been in diplomatic talks with the Russians. Since we’ve gone public, several other countries wish to join in the world-wide Delta Division. As you know, the United Kingdom, Australia, and others are already part of us. As a global initiative, this makes us a neutral party that will be able to protect young Trevor here. Furthermore, it demonstrates our skills to the Russians, which will go a long way in our political ties.

“Your primary task, however, is to see to it that Trevor is escorted safely from his home on the outskirts of Saint Petersburg to the safe house we have prepared. Much of your path will be through the city streets in a public demonstration of our guardianship of the boy. Keep in mind that this is much a diplomatic mission as a military one. Mr. Allison will be your mission leader. His tactical skills will be invaluable.”

Then Jay took over the briefing, and mostly went into detail about who was going to be where and such things. Lindsay was only sort of paying attention. Her mind wandered to last night with Marcus. They’d gone to a bar together. She couldn’t get drunk, of course. But he could.

Not that it went anywhere. That was the problem with being Delta’s star couple, every bartender and bouncer in the city knew who they were—and more importantly that they were underage.

They finally got done with the briefing, and everyone loaded into the Maverick, a high-tech airplane that Drake had built. It was super sleek and shiny, which she supposed lent an extra level of stealth. It was cool, that was the important thing. They got to Russia—oh em gee, I’m in freakin’ Russia! –and met the kid. He was super cute, of course, though he didn’t talk much. At all, really. They piled together in the caravan of vehicles that was supposed to take them through Saint Petersburg to the other location. They were all set for their first Real Mission.

* * * *

Eric was keenly aware that he was the only ‘new guy’ that wasn’t under eighteen. No one else said anything, but it was obvious in the way anyone else in his age category just comfortably took command. Jayson was point man, so his commanding presence was necessary, but it was Charity in her gentle manner that corralled the kids into position.

Stryker, Sprite, and Spirit took a tri-corner position around the kid’s vehicle. They did make a magnificent sight, Eric had to admit, in full costume. For his part, he floated some distance in the air to give him the best vantage point of the entire area. Drake, along with Jayson, was even higher, in the Maverick in full stealth mode. If he adjusted the suit’s vision, he could see the plane, but it was beyond human sight, and even most technologies.

This suit was a marvel that he was just beginning to explore.

“Threat avenues noted. Contingencies in place,” intoned the female voice of the suit’s AI. The heads-up display marked circles around rooftops and building windows. At a thought, the suit would give a recommended battle plan on how to deal with each possibility of attack.

He dismissed the notifications on the display. “Thanks, Vorg,” he sub-vocalized.

“No problem, Eric.”

Not for the first time, Eric felt a twinge of amusement at being on a first-name basis with the AI of an alien suit of armor. Once, half jokingly, half apologetically, Eric made the comment to Charity about being inside his female suit. Charity didn’t get the joke at first, and then later said it was because she’d seen stranger things. Eric believed it.

It didn’t even occur to Charity to consider the suit a rival; and besides, she wasn’t the one that was uncomfortable with him wearing it. John was another matter entirely. The suit’s origins began in John’s home dimension. Its original purpose was to be worn by soldiers of the Old Order. It’s purpose: to kill Gifted. Suits designed by the Old Order emitted a variety of sound frequencies, one of which disrupted the connection that Gifted had with their powers. Drake had reprogrammed the shit out of that when Eric started using the suit.

The Paragon of Alliance City was the quiet sort. A man of few words, he had a genuine intensity and an air of unironic heroism that made Eric feel kind of bad for making the man uncomfortable by his very presence. The two had never sparred, something which Eric felt was unfortunate. He was curious how the suit would hold up under that kind of strength. Perhaps this mission would break the ice between the two of them.

Thundra, Inferno, and Spark Plug—that poor kid, what an awful name—were inside the car, taking positions close to the kid. If anything happened inside the vehicle, they’d be the first to know.

The crowd was immense. It was festive, though, which was a pleasant surprise to Eric. He was half expecting somber faces, staring morosely at the parade as it passed by. But most of the crowd was children, talking excitedly, pushing and shoving each other, and getting a little too close to the edge of the sidewalk. A few started spilling over into the roadway. The vehicles were going slow, but it was still dangerous, and Eric debated if he should fly down and help the police corral the kids.

Something flashed in his display. “Unidentified target.” What the hell? He focused on the area. The ‘kid’ didn’t look like a kid. Oh, it was about the right height and weight, but a closer look revealed pointed ears, a dark tinge to the kid’s skin, and eyes that were all black. He blinked. There had to be something wrong with the display. The kid almost seemed part of the shadow, but that couldn’t be right.

He hesitated. “Um, I…I think there’s something wrong with my display. It’s showing something a little strange.” It sounded silly. “I—I think…it looks like there’s some kid in the crowd with a…The color must be really off on this thing. Their skin tone looks gray.”

Drake swore.

* * * *

Drake’s boots hit the floor of the plane so hard it would have made Jayson jump if he wasn’t made of sterner stuff. There didn’t seem to exist enough profanity in any language known on Earth—and Drake went through every one he knew before he switched to otherworldly languages. Jay’s heart stopped for a moment before it began to race again. “How many of them do you see?”

“What?” Eric sounded confused. “A bit of an overreaction for faulty alien tech, doncha think?”

“He asked how many, Harrison!” Drake snapped. Jay grimaced.

“Thirty, forty maybe. They’re…not kids, are they?”

“No, Eric, they’re not.” Jay’s voice held a calm he didn’t feel. “They’re Fae. They can manipulate and teleport through shadows. And they mess with your mind. That’s why none of us are seeing this. Drake, I’m going to get the kid out of here.”

“No,” Drake said flatly. “I’ll do it. They can get into your head. Find the safehouse. I can keep ‘em out long enough.”

Jay looked at him a moment. “Fine. But take Charity as backup.”

Drake cast him a hard look. “Fine.”

He disappeared from the plane. Jayson hit autopilot and teleported to the ground. “Vorg, I’m going to need your eyes, since you’re the only one who can see the buggers. Where are they now?”

“Mostly on the sidewalk among the crowd. Wait! In the car! Marcus! Beside you!”

Drake was in the car not a moment too soon. A flick of his wrist on his hand device, and he was gone with the kid, the boy’s caretaker, and Charity.

Marcus reacted quickly. He flung his hands out and took a guess. He got lucky. A shadow swirled beside him and was gone. “I-I got it?”

“You got it,” Eric assured him. “Wait, it looks like…yes, they’re gone.”

Jay looked around. The crowd had thinned considerably. Those who were left were more than a little confused. He ran his hands through his hair. Sam was going to have a helluva time trying to explain this one to the press. And that wasn’t even the worse of it.

What the hell was the Fae doing here?

* * * *

Eric watched Drake pace the floor. He’d never seen the man this tense. Frankly, he didn’t think he was capable of this level of anxiety. Drake prided himself on being in control. Even when something went wrong, he had a backup plan. This was not the walk of a man with a backup plan.

“You know, eventually someone’s going to have to calm down and explain things to us uninitiated,” Eric finally said.

Drake glared at him. “I swear to Hades, if you’re telling me to calm down…”

“Hey, didn’t say it had to be you.” Man, the guy was really tense if he was walking into that one.

“The Shadow Fae.” Jay made the statement, efficiently getting the explanation underway before Drake could fly off the handle. “They’re creatures made of shadow, or the Darkness Element from the plane of existence called Myrathelle. Basically, think every whacked out fairy creature from ancient lore, and you’ve more or less got it.”

Lindsay raised her hand like she was in school. “So, we talking, like, Elves and the Shoemaker fairies, or scary fairies?”

“Scary fairies. The Darkness Element deals with the mind. They can twist and contort reality and your perception of it.”

“They’ve existed on this world for…oh, millennia,” Charity chimed in. “Lore tends to be vague on purpose. They can really be anything they want. Now, fortunately they’re incredibly disorganized. They rarely attack in large numbers. You might find one nuisance Fae every now and then when they get bored. But never this organized.”

“They respect power,” Jay continued. “They will follow the commands of someone they deem worthy. It’s this mastermind who will be responsible for their actions. Last time we saw them in this kind of number, they were with Kronos.”

Mitch blinked at them. “Wait…Kronos. As in…”

“As in the god of time, yes,” Charity said. “We beat him a few years ago, locked him in a sub-dimension of a parallel universe.”

“Oh, well, that’s okay then.” Mitch still looked entirely uncomfortable.

“The important thing is Kronos is out of their reach. He can’t give orders.”

“Right. Well, let’s hope some other god doesn’t get that idea,” Eric said casually. He saw the look pass between the others. “Wait, I was kidding.”

Sam had been listening quietly, but she chose this time to speak. “Ptah-Setker-Osiris had been quite silent for some time. Perhaps we should look into that.”

Charity paled and sat down. Concerned, Eric put a hand on hers. “You okay?” he mouthed. She nodded.

“We have intel on a base of theirs in the Sahara,” Sam continued. “Perhaps we should look into that. Tomorrow. You’ve had a long day. Rest tonight.”

Jay gave a nod to John. “We’re on patrol tomorrow night.”

Sam nodded. “Yes. Miss London, you’ll take mission lead.”

Charity blinked. “I—what?”

Eric looked back and forth between Sam and Charity. He didn’t like this idea at all. Charity had history with PSO, it was true—bad history. One tends to develop strong feelings after being kidnapped and tortured by a group like that.

“You are the most qualified. Meet back here at eight o’clock tomorrow for a briefing. Dismissed.”

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A sonic boom sounded in the skies over Alliance City. On his way to school, Allen Gray’s head jerked in the direction of the sound. His gaze followed the jet stream behind the man flying in the sky. Stryker. In the three years that the Paragon of Alliance City had been in the news, Allen had closely followed his career. The man was a hero. Moreover, he was the first hero.

That wasn’t true. Allen wasn’t quite naive enough to believe that, even if Samantha Clive hadn’t been forthcoming enough to say the Delta Division had been saving lives for decades in secret. Still, Stryker was the first one anyone knew about. For days after the press conference that announced their presence, no one really believed in heroes. Most thought it was some sort of publicity stunt at best; at worst, a practical joke.

Then a terrorist cell of political fanatics hijacked flight 783 from Boston to Montreal. The plane’s distress signal had barely rung before Stryker was deployed. Faster than the supersonic plane, he singlehandedly dealt with the threat. The homegrown terrorists were brought to justice and the lives of every man, woman, and child on that plane were saved.

Reluctantly, Allen brought his focus back to the sidewalk he traveled. If he didn’t hurry, he was going to be late. You could be one of them, a voice whispered in his head, and not for the first time. It was true. For a couple of years now, he’d known he was different. Once, when he was fifteen, he’d fallen from a tree at a height that should have broken at least one bone. It had scared the living daylights out of his best friend, Tracy. They’d attributed it to pure luck that he walked away without a scratch.

It wasn’t luck. Not long after, he found out he had powers similar to Stryker. Perhaps that’s why, even at a distance, he felt a kinship to the man.

But being a hero? The very idea terrified him. Not the inherent danger, but the…attention. He could barely talk to people at the best of times. He hadn’t spoken a word to anyone outside his family till grade school. And even then it was because Tracy Violet was determined to be his friend and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

As if contemplating their meeting summoned her out of thin air, Tracy walked beside him. “Hey.” He smiled.

“Hey yourself.” She gave him a brilliant smile. His heart did a quick skip before it settled back to its normal rhythm. He was falling in love with her, and he knew it. It scared him more than the thought of being in the spotlight, more than any danger he could face as a hero. She was his best friend, and he was falling in love with her. There was so many ways that would end horribly. He hadn’t even told her about his powers. How could he tell her he loved her?

They walked to school together in companionable silence. Tracy could hold up both ends of the conversation if need be, but neither of them were intimidated by the quiet either.

First period they had an English presentation, in which Tracy did all the talking, and Allen functioned as the assistant, flipping the holographic slides from the back of the classroom. Second period, Allen sat in History class, while Tracy went to Math. When the bell signaled his departure, he made his way to the cafeteria.

Billy Rivers had planted his behind on the table in front of Tracy. She stared at him with disgust.

“Don’t give me that, sweetcheeks. The dance this weekend. You and me. I’m not gonna take no for an answer.” His hand rested on hers.

Some girls might be swayed by his insistence and charm. Tracy wasn’t one of them. She yanked her hand away. “The answer’s no, Billy.”

“You just haven’t thought about it yet.”

Allen swallowed. He should say something. He walked up to the table. “L-leave her alone, Billy. She said no.” It didn’t come out nearly as intimidating as he’d have liked.

“Go away, Gray. No one asked you.”

In a remarkable feat of nerve, Allen didn’t go anywhere and looked him directly in the eye. “Leave her alone. Before I get upset.”

Billy laughed. “Oh, now I’m real scared. What you gonna do, Gray? Cry? Come on. Hit me? Go on.” He lifted his jaw and pointed. “Right here.”

Impulse simultaneously overcame his fear and good judgment. His fist was halfway to Billy’s face before he realized it. At the last second, he pulled his punch. He didn’t want to kill the guy. To his surprise, his wrist snapped inward, like he’d just punched a brick wall. Like he was a normal person who punched a brick wall. His super strength vanished. He was too shocked even to cry out. Tracy did it for him. “Guys, stop this really isn’t worth it—”

Billy wasn’t listening. He took a swing at Allen, which he ducked, but barely. As Allen took a step back, he noticed the weakness he felt in his body went away. He was no great intellect, but he could tell by pure instinct that something was happening. Billy was a metahuman, he was sure of it. Immediately on the heels of that conclusion, he realized that punching him in the face wasn’t going to do any good. The other boy drained his powers.

Time for a ranged attack. He took two steps backwards and reached behind him till his fingers closed around a lunch tray. He whipped it with only barely reserved strength.

It wasn’t a lunch tray.

The whole cafeteria table flew from his fingers and smashed into Billy’s arms, which he raised to block the hit just in time. The plastic and steel bent around the boy. His shock and bewilderment was only slightly less than the same on Tracy’s face, and no more than the look of horror on Allen’s.

“Fight, fight, fight,” a few kids chanted, then the rest of the students took up the cry.

Billy didn’t seem overly interested in continuing their battle. He shrugged out of the dismantled table easily, and took a stance with his fists protecting his face, but he wasn’t eager to take the initiative.

Then the principle stood between them. “Gentlemen,” he said. “My office. Two minutes ago.”

Allen swallowed.

* * * *

The silence was so heavy, its weight almost felt literal. Allen wasn’t entirely sure his difficulty breathing was psychosomatic. He and Billy avoided each other’s gaze. Tracy was there, but she wouldn’t look at him. She was angry.

You should have told her, you idiot! He chastised himself repeatedly. He should have trusted her, and he did, but of course she felt like he didn’t now. At least that’s what he hoped she was thinking. As awful as that was, it was better than the alternative. There was a small part in the back of his mind that was worried she would think him a freak. If she did…well, he didn’t know what he’d do.

“Boys.” The principle’s voice startled him, and he turned with a jerk. Allen’s jaw fell open.

He stood there. Stryker wore a gold-colored padded vest, something reminiscent of the plate armor of an ancient soldier. Thematically, that was carried through the helm he wore, open at the top, exposing his blond hair. It was a simple design and drew attention to his golden eyes that marked him as otherworldly. He was an alien from another plane of existence, evidently. Not that it really mattered. He was here, he was their hero, he was the Paragon of Alliance City.

Stryker gave them a lopsided, embarrassed grin at their adoration. He blushed a little, and Allen realized he wasn’t particularly fond of the spotlight either. “I am supposed to give you a talking speech about training and becoming good, better than yourselves, but…” He shrugged. “My English is not very good.” He spoke with a heavy accent unlike anything Allen had ever heard before. He smiled. “I believe you can be heroes. When you believe in something, you can fight for anything.”

He spoke to both of them, but Billy was staring sullenly at his shoes, so Stryker’s eye contact fell mostly it Allen. He could have been speaking directly to him. It felt like he was.

Stryker believed he could be a hero. This was beyond the standard recruitment poster. It felt so much more sincere than a man in a top hat pointing his finger. The Paragon of Alliance City wanted him, Allen Gray, to be a hero. He believed he could be a hero.

And suddenly, Allen found himself believing it too.

* * * *

The sun was settling into that obnoxious angle where it shone directly into Tracy’s bedroom. She sat at her desk, tapping her pencil repeatedly on her chemistry textbook as if that would magically make her pay attention to the formulas scrawled across the pages. Everything swam together. Tracy wasn’t sure if it was from the angry tears in her eyes, or from this new angle at which she saw the world after hers was turned upside down.

Motion on the sidewalk caught her eye and she glanced out the window.

Allen.

He looked up and their eyes met. He had the most sorrowful, apologetic look she’d ever seen, and she was almost sorry for the anger she felt. Almost.

Allen vanished beneath the gables and a half-second later, the doorbell rang. Tracy gripped her pencil so hard, it nearly snapped. She was alone in the house, so she’d be the one to answer the door, but right now she wanted to be anywhere but at that door, facing her best friend who had lied to her for God only knew how long. She didn’t want to look at him right now.

He’d left with Stryker and that smug-ass bastard Billy just after their introduction to the Paragon of Alliance City. Even Tracy had to admit she was a little star-struck. In his own stumbling way, Allen had tried to ask if she could come with them to their trip to the Delta Division headquarters, but Tracy just couldn’t deal with it. “That’s your world,” she’d said in a clipped tone, and marched out of the principal’s office.

That might have been a little harsh.

A noise on the shingles outside her window startled her. Allen landed on the roof. From the ground. He can fly. Of course he can fly.

Her bay window was cracked to let in the breeze, and it carried Allen’s voice as he took a seat on the roof, his back against the wall. She could see his profile, silhouetted against the setting sun. When he glanced in her direction, she looked away.

“You’re angry.”

And water was wet.

“You have every right to be. I should have told you.”

“Damn right, you should have told me.” For some reason, she had to force the anger into her voice. It came out sounding more hurt than anything.

“I don’t—I don’t know if it’ll make up for it, but if you’ll let me, I’ll tell you. Everything. The truth.”

She studied the wood grain on her desk. An eternity passed before she nodded, unsure if Allen could even see her assent, but she was unable to look up.

“I—I figured it out, maybe three years ago. I was stronger, tougher than I should be. And I could—I can—I can fly.”

“I noticed.”

“Maybe I should have joined Delta then. Be one of…one of them. But I didn’t want to stand out. I just didn’t know if I could be a hero, and I didn’t want to be in the spotlight.” He laughed a little, but it wasn’t a happy laugh. “Somebody filmed the fight with Billy. The number of hits on that video practically double every hour. So, um, yeah.”

She glance up just as he twisted around to look at her. “Tracy, if I could go back and do it over again, I would. I’d tell you everything because you’re my best friend, and you’re the only person who could really understand. But I can’t. I can’t change what’s already happened. The only thing I can do now is ask you to forgive me.”

A glance in his soulful brown eyes was her undoing. He was scared and overwhelmed, but excited at the same time, and she could tell that he wanted more than anything to share this with her. And she just couldn’t say no.

“Fine. On one condition,” she continued before the relief in his eyes could get any more penetrating. “Promise me you’ll never keep something like that from me ever again.”

He hesitated just a fraction of a second, and no one else but Tracy would have noticed, but he hesitated. Oh my God, there is something? What could he possibly be hiding? Don’t tell me he’s an alien or something.

“Okay. I promise. And if I’m going to keep that promise, there’s something else I need to tell you.”

Tracy’s mouth went dry. What in God’s name could it possibly be? What could be bigger than what he’s just told me?

“I love you.”

Tracy rolled her eyes. “Is that all? Seriously, we’ve been best friends forever, of course we—”

“N-no, Tracy, just listen. It’s more than that.”

The snark vanished from Tracy’s face, and her lips parted as the enormity of what he meant finally sunk in.

“I-I don’t even know when it changed. How it happened, I don’t know. All I know is that when I’m around you, I can’t imagine ever being happier than I am in that moment. Except that I’m always wrong because I’m even more happy the next time I see you. I love you, Tracy.”

Tracy forgot how to breathe in the stunned seconds that followed, their eyes locked together. Allen was the first to break, his cheeks flaming as glanced away. “Th-that’s all I got. I promise. That’s the only secrets I have.”

Tracy’s heart pounded in her ears, reminding her that eventually her brain was going to need oxygen. Biologically speaking, that rush of endorphins that flooded her system was probably from the deep breath she finally took, but all she could feel was an emotion so strong she was baffled as to how she never noticed before. At that moment, she couldn’t imagine anything else but a lifetime with Allen.

“I’m glad that’s out,” she said breathlessly. That emotion that welled in her heart seemed to fill her whole being until the corners of her mouth buoyed into a smile. “I think it might be worth seeing where it goes.”

Inexplicable joy lit Allen’s face, and she suddenly knew what he was talking about, because she couldn’t imagine being happier than she was at that moment.

John Smith lived alone in a smallish room nestled inside the Delta Division headquarters overlooking Lake Ontario. It was a nice enough room, filled with comic books and music. None of it reminded him of home.

He missed home often. When he closed his eyes, he could still see his mother’s smile. She’d been exceptionally kind. He saw her every day in his sister. Mata could see into a person’s mind; Meraliese could see into a person’s heart.

He often hoped he was like his father. The man had quiet, observant; always ready with a smile and a piece of wisdom when asked, but forthcoming with neither. He always felt the need to show his knowledge instead of telling it.

He missed the man more every day. He’d gained a good friend from the tragic events that had taken his parents, but sometimes he wondered if that was enough…

He could still see it. The warm day—unseasonably so for the time of year. It was getting on to a warmer season, but for the time of year, one could not expect the air to be as beautiful as it was that day. Mata was preparing dinner in the kitchen—one of her favorite fowl recipes, if he remembered correctly. If he closed his eyes, he could still see droplets of scarlet blood splattered across the browned, spiced breast meat.

She always made the seasoning herself. She was singing. He could still hear the song in his head, a song he often strummed on the guitar, or hummed when he was feeling lonely. He did that right now, remembering.

Fater was in the stable. He loved the animals. Mata often teased him that he ran an inn, not for the people, but for the animals they traveled in on. He never denied it.

That evening, Jay had been out for a run, and John was in the family room with his kittle, a stringed instrument he’d loved playing since he was four years old. Meryl’s fingers danced over her own musical instrument, and together they pieced together a melody to a song Jay had written. His sister was smitten with the strange boy that had so suddenly come into their lives.

That’s when a metallic figure walked into the room. It didn’t even glance at the twins. John had been too stunned by the absurdity to do anything about it, so the machine walked right by into the kitchen as they stared, stupefied.

Mata could never hurt a fly, but she knew what this was. It was something horrible, and it was going to hurt her kids. She focused on it and did the one thing with her Gift she’d sworn never to do. She searched out his mind, the mind of the man inside, and made it turn in on itself. John still remembered the auto-tuned agonizing scream of the man as he collapsed, the thousands of tiny robots that made the suit collapsing with him. Then Mata started running to her children to make sure they were all right.

She never saw the other one behind her. Never saw her death coming. The machine raised its hand and the air vibrated with a beam of terrifying sound that dissolved everything in its path…including Mata’s insides.

Too little, too late, John sprang into action. He dashed toward the machine and punched inside it. Even now, years later, he could still clench his fist and feel the warm flesh of the man inside the suit. He felt the sticky blood and he felt his fingers close around the man’s spine.

And then he tore it out. He tore the man apart the way his machine had torn apart his mother. He might have screamed, he still wasn’t sure. Screamed with the agony that can only be felt when watching the woman who gave you life die at your feet.

Then the sound came from the barn. “Joleon!” His sister screamed his name, and they ran. Together they ran to the barn as fast as his Gift could take them. Even with his incredible speed, he was too late. The machine had gotten the jump on Fater. His blood was scattered all over the wooden doors. This time it was Meryl who screamed.

Ceil had been with Fater. The boy was a little bit older than the twins, and much like a brother. Fater and Mata considered him a son. Ceil could regenerate, and in this, John took some comfort. It didn’t matter what they did to him, they wouldn’t kill him. They couldn’t.

The machine grabbed Ceil by the neck and together they flew into the air. John and Meryl joined them in the skies. The suit let out a strange sonic vibration, which made John feel nauseated, even at this distance. At such a close range, Ciel had it much worse. He let out a strangled cry, and looking back, John wondered if he saw death itself coming for him. For somehow his Gift was gone.

With a crunch of his hand, the machine broke Ceil’s neck. He tossed him to the ground. John couldn’t even scream. Then the machine turned his face to John and Meryl and positioned its hand to point at them. Every instinct John had screamed for him to run, but he could not. He couldn’t move. He willed himself to move, and nothing happened. The wail of the machine echoed in his ears, and all of the sudden, he felt himself falling. The ground rushed to meet him, and he knew he was going to die. That meant he’d be with Mata and Fater, but somehow he still fought against it. He needed to protect his sister, who was falling with him. At least they would be together in death.

But their God had other plans. John felt an arm around his waist and his sister’s sobbing breath against his ear, even as he knew it was Jayson who was with them. And then everything in their world changed. Everything.

That was how they came to be here. That was the day that killed the two people who had given him life and taught him how to live it. From that day, he’d had to figure out how to live it on his own.

Now, they were all super heroes. Samantha Clive had taken the unprecedented step of declassifying the clandestine organization. Now, the public knew that beings of extraordinary power watched over them, for better or for worse. Men and women of all ages looked to the sky to see him streak across the horizon on his way to save the world.

To John, this felt especially strange. In his world, they could not use their abilities for fear of persecution. The attack on his family was not an isolated incident. The Old Order feared the Gifted, and used whatever measures they could possibly find to make sure they were wiped out. Sometimes John feared they would succeed. He spent a great deal of time wondering if he should go back to Arlethae. How many more Gifted had died to the relentless oppression by the Old Order since they had left?

Yet something made him stay. God only knew what.

This world was strange to John. Never mind its fast cars, young sun, and baffling language; the people of this world were so unpredictable. Especially now that they knew of the existence of the ‘super heroes’. The humans viewed him as almost god like, and he suddenly understood what it was like for the First Created.

Legend had it that Creator had first formed the Ereakthc and granted them great power and immortality. But they lacked structure, ideas, mortality. Then the Creator formed the Ereurtc, the Second Created. To them he gave a short life, and from that sprang ambition and creativity. It was said that, as the Ereurtc told stories of the First Created, those stories became true. And so the gods and legends were born.

Over time, the wickedness of some of the gods could not be reconciled. They were cast out, some of them coming to rest on Earth for a time. There, they were worshiped, and they came to view life differently because they had people who looked up to them with such adoration. It was mesmerizing. And that’s how the people of Earth looked at the Delta heroes today.

John didn’t like it. He wanted to blend into the background and be left alone, but his heart ached with desire to help people. When he was granted his powers—his Gifts—he asked to be given the power to protect. More than anything, he wanted to keep others from harm.

“It’s not just your powers that protect people, Mr. Smith,” Samantha had said once. “The very name of Stryker will bring hope to this city, and it is that hope that will inspire people to look inside themselves for their own inner hero. An inspired people is a stronger people. Your name will help them protect themselves.”

At the end of the day, maybe that’s what kept him on Earth. He couldn’t protect his own world, not when his people viewed him and those of his faith with fear and superstition. But maybe he could protect this one.

His phone beeped with an appointment reminder. He set down his guitar and strolled at a leisurely pace to his sister’s office. Meryl had done well for herself here. His gentle sister had tried field work once, years ago, and it had gone badly enough that she wanted only to work from behind the scenes. Over the past few years, she’d blown through the schooling to acquire degrees in psychology and sociology, and she now worked as Delta’s resident therapist. She screened each hero, building a profile of both their personality and powers. It was her job to assign each new recruit a mentor.

When John walked through the door, he was greeted with Meryl’s patient smile and a teenager’s squeal of excitement from a girl perched on the edge of Meryl’s desk. The girl had short hair and a petite frame, and a grin that was nearly bigger than her face was. It made John smile. He loved to see the enthusiasm of the new recruits. Sam was right. These days, everyone wanted to be a hero, to save the City. Your strength inspired that enthusiasm. It was humbling.

“Hi!” The girl giggled, and somehow smiled even wider. “I’m Lindsay.”

John held out his hand. “John. It is nice to see, meet you.” He grinned, hoping the girl didn’t notice his slip of the tongue. He knew that wasn’t the right way to phrase that.

It was difficult sometimes for him to grasp English. He remembered making fun of Jayson for not learning Arlethaen right away. Now, he got it. English was such an idiomatic language, full of colorful imagery and references to the past, the future, popular culture, and all kinds of things John felt he would never understand.

Jayson said once that Arletheaen was really wordy. In his effort to translate, John often used multiple words to say the same thing, all jammed into one sentence. He never quite knew which one was the right one to use, so he used them all. It sounded right to his ear, after all.

But the girl didn’t seem to mind. She hopped off the desk and shook his hand. “So I guess you’re training me and stuff.”

He nodded. “Yes. You are done with your interview?” He glanced at his sister.

Meryl nodded. “Yes. I think you’ll find her quite entertaining.” The corner of his mouth tipped. John wondered what in the world she was getting him in to. He smiled back. This was his sister, after all, and he would do anything for her.

He nodded to Lindsay and gestured her toward the door. “We should start by measuring your abilities. If you will come with me to the training room we can get begin started.”

“Kay.” She nodded excitedly, and they walked over to the gym.

Later, Drake would program Lindsay’s abilities into the virtual reality training room, but they began in a real-life environment that provided weights and adjustable gravity to see how fast she could fly under what conditions. They went at it for a few hours. He tested her strength, flight, and speed under normal, less, and increased gravity.

The girl threw herself into her training. “You want to be a hero badly,” he said, teasing her a little.

“Yeah. Cause I’m awesome, and everybody should know that.” She flashed a smile.

He said nothing to that, then corrected her stance. “Feet apart, about the width of your shoulder. You are strong, but that does not mean you should strike without purpose. Let every blow you make be one that will mean something. When you overwhelm your opponent with strength, he will find a way to fight strength. When you fight with purpose, he must match your purpose or be struck down.” He set a dummy for target practice. “Strike.”

She did so in a pattern he’d previously instructed. Her blows landed weakly. He caught the dummy as it swung back before it could hit her in the face and then put a hand on hers. “Lindsay.” His voice was gentle. “What is your purpose?”

For the first time since they met, her cheery demeanor slipped. “I-I don’t know. Honestly? I just don’t know.”

John smiled and put his hand on her shoulder. “Admitting you lack something is the first step to finding it.”

He stepped away and gestured again at the dummy. “Again.”

No great city was built overnight, and the girl would need training before she could be a true fighter, but the more he drilled her, the more his confidence grew: this was what was meant to be. Everything he’d been through, everything he’d seen and done, this was the reason. He’d protect this city, this world, this girl that had been entrusted to his care. This was his purpose. His strength.

Mitch Roberts shut the door behind him, exerting whatever willpower he had left not to slam it. If he could not wake his mother up, that would be wonderful. It was two in the morning; her shift at the diner started in four hours.

She sat in the living room chair. Their house was small, so the chair saw nearly every corner of the house, and most importantly, the front door. The television played in the background. It seemed she had been up and attempting to keep herself awake. “Where were you?”

“Out.”

“Don’t give me that, Mitchell.” When she used his given name, he was in trouble. “Where were—”

“I said I was out!” He snapped at her without even meaning to. His voice softened. “You should be in bed.”

“Gee, ya think?” She gave him that look. “I was waiting for my son to get home.” She paused. “Mostly to find out why he just got expelled.”

God-effing-dammitalltohell. He set his bag down with a clunk, and noticed an acrid smell that by now was all too familiar. He made a visible effort to calm down. “Look, it’s no big deal, all right?”

“No big deal? Mitch, this isn’t suspension this time! This is a ‘go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done.’ You’ve been expelled. Do you not understand the gravity of what just happened?”

“No, you don’t understand!” he yelled.

“So, explain it to me!”

For a second, Mitch almost thought he could. He almost told her how he could control fire with his mind, how he could feel it burning with the anger that festered daily in his soul. That every time he beat the crap out of some bully, it was a minor victory that he controlled his temper long enough not to kill him. That every now and then he could hear what they thought.

Then she continued. “Explain to me how a kid as brilliant as you can make such a colossal wreck of his life.”

That was it. What every damn teacher ever would always think of him. “Brilliant but doesn’t apply himself.” “Excels at understanding the material, but needs to put in the work to make the grade.” Well, screw them all and their stupid rules. If his own damn mother wasn’t going to support him…

His fist shot out and went through the wall. He pulled it back, knuckles covered in blood and plaster. “Maybe because it’s my own damn life. Maybe because I’m sick of playing by someone else’s rules. I don’t give a shit what everyone thinks, and especially not you!”

She took a step backward, fear sparking in her eyes. Mitch instantly regretted losing his temper. His mind flashed back to a time where he watched his father lash out at his mother. “Shut up, woman, I don’t have to listen to you!” The memory and emotions were full of fear, terror, and love, and he knew he wasn’t just living it through his eyes.

Mitch made fists of his hands and held them to his temples, willing away the vision and memories, both his and his mother’s. He took deep, even breaths. Slowly, his temper began to subside. His mom was crying. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. He put his arms around her. She flinched. “I’m so sorry. I’m not Dad, okay? I’m not. I’ll never be like him. I promise.”

He finally got her into the kitchen and sat her down on the stool facing the counter that separated the kitchen from the living room. The screen’s glow cast strange colors on the cupboards. “You’re not going to sleep, are you?”

“Probably not.” She hadn’t really stopped crying.

“Call in sick tomorrow, then. Seriously. I’ll make some coffee.”

She wasn’t really paying attention. Her elbows rested on the counter and she stared at the television with her chin cradled in her hands. She was still terrified of him. He couldn’t blame her.

The television was replaying a broadcast from earlier that day. It seemed to be some major story. His mom was fixated on it. Some woman who’d been introduced as Samantha Clive stood at the podium.

“…Today marks a monumental occasion in history. Today we recognize a legacy of heroes who have worked tirelessly, unnamed and unsung for the people of this city and this world. This legacy reaches as far back as the nineteen eighties; their efforts were invaluable throughout the cold war, the war on terror, and countless disasters in the past few decades.

“Those heroes were part of something—a clandestine military organization, designated as the highly classified Delta Division. This organization was founded with one purpose: to train and deploy certain individuals with particular skills. Skills so particular in fact, that publicly they’ve been known only in fringe science and speculative fiction.

“To use the common vernacular, these people of Delta are…super heroes.”

Mitch stared at the screen, slack-jawed. He wasn’t particularly given to conspiracy theories, though in the light of his burgeoning powers, he’d begun to wonder if he shouldn’t shift his paradigm a little in that respect. If he was able to do something like this, it fell to reason that there was others who could do things like that too.

“We refer to people with these particular abilities as ‘metahumans’. Like everything else in human history, this is but one difference among many that will make us stronger as a people. Ultimately, I can tell each of you one thing: there is nothing to fear.” She said it convincingly; with sincerity and conviction.

“And to each of you young people out there, those of you who are struggling with the pressures of growing into adulthood—so hard and so basic to the human condition—and with the added bonus of suddenly discovering you’ve got abilities you’d never imagined. I leave you with a simple message.

“You are not alone.”

The scene shifted to a display of contact information. Mitch shook himself. His mother stared at the screen, stunned. She took a deep, shaky breath, and he noticed the tears that ran down her face. He watched her with growing unease.

“Mom…mom, are you…?”

“One of them?” She laughed a little, slightly hysterical. “No. but I…I think your father might have been.”

Mitch’s breath caught. “What do you mean?”

“I mean…I’d find his clothes like this.” She grabbed Mitch’s wrist and turned it up to the dim lighting. The cuff of his sweatshirt was charred and blackened. He jerked his hand away.

“I don’t suppose that has anything to do with why he left.”

She was silent for a moment. “I…I kicked him out.”

Learning that super heroes existed should have been the most worldview-altering thing that night. But this…this made him feel like he was punched in the stomach.

“He was a good man when I married him, he really was. I know that a lot of women say that about their men after they…well, you know what he was like. But I really mean it. He was the sweetest, kindest person I knew. He was a performer and a scientist. You know he used to put together the fireworks display for Alliance City every year?

“He’d have this area near the escarpment that he worked out of. He and I would work together to outdo his display from last year. But one time…” She paused and let out a laugh. “We had a little dog then. A little terrier he named Sport. Real original, I know. Well, there was this uncontrolled explosion, and the entire cavern threatened to cave in on us. The dog’s fault, you know. Well, we got out okay, but Sport ran back in, so of course Liam had to run after him.”

It was telling that she used his name. She never referred to his dad by his first name.

She shrugged. Tears pooled in her eyes. “The man I married never came back from there. He was buried under all that rock for three days. He shouldn’t have survived. But something did. Something that was just so…angry all the time. He left for a bit after that. Never said were he went, just that he got help. And everything was fine and fantastic…for a while. Then he started…”

She didn’t finish the sentence. “Well, you know. I put up with it for so much longer than I should have. But when you were born…I wasn’t going to let him hurt my baby.” She put a hand on his.

Mitch could see it. The backhand across his mother’s face as she held onto him as a tiny baby in her arms. Her body went flying. She sprained an elbow to make sure it took the impact of the floor instead of his head. “Get out,” she told him. She stood tall against the monster the man had become. “Get out of my house and never come back.”

“But he came back, didn’t he?”

“A few years later, yes. Said he’d gotten things worked out. And yeah…it was really good, and I thought maybe you’d have a father again, but…”

“But it wasn’t so good after Michaela was born.”

She shook her head. “To be fair, I really do think he had sincere intents to change. He just…”

“I know.” He held her there for a moment. “Hey, look. I don’t know if these people can help, but…well, it’s worth a shot, right?”

She shrugged, crying too hard now to really respond.

“Look, I don’t know if I can be a hero. I certainly don’t think I’m cut out to be one. But at least I can try not to be…like him. I can at least do that much. I’ll protect you from him.”

I’ll protect you from me.

* * * *

“You’re going to make me a star.” Lindsay White had certainly dressed the part for her interview with Miz Samantha Clive, Director of the Delta Division. She was dressed in a short faux silk and black leggings with thigh-high boots. She wore a blouse from that cute new store in the mall, topped with a black vest. They were in this season again.

She had potential, and she knew it. Her speed was already twice as fast as anyone else’s—although, all that meant to her father was that she could clear tables faster. She’d told him once, that something strange was happening to her. His exact words were “That’s wonderful, luvie, now be a dear and clear Tania’s section. She has to go for a dress fitting.”

It wasn’t fair that her oldest sister’s wedding was entirely taking everyone’s attention. The groom wasn’t even cute.

“Well, that’s certainly possible, Miss White. Just be certain you realize the impact a public identity will have on you and your family.”

“You kidding me? My family won’t even notice. Except maybe that’ll bring more business to the diner.”

“All right, if you’re sure. That’s a whole lot of consequences that can’t be undone.”

That’s all grown-ups ever talk about, is consequences. “Hey, you have a public identity.”

“I’m Delta’s public representative. People wouldn’t trust me if I hid behind a mask.”

“See, there. I want people to trust me and stuff.”

Sam raised an eyebrow. “Of course.” Lindsay could tell she didn’t buy it, but whatever. “I see you’ve listed flight and super speed as your powers.”

“Yup. And I could swear I’m getting, like, super strong too. And I picked up a hot pan the other day, and it totally didn’t even hurt.”

“Hm. That’s certainly something. Have you given some thought to a name?”

“Sprite. Like the fairy.”

“All right.” Sam made a note. “So, are you thinking something a little ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ for a costume?”

“Oh, nothing so on the nose. I’m thinking sexy thigh-high boots, not fishnets though, that’s so 2040. Full body suit, black with a purple gradient, and a cape. Definitely a cape, the same purple color, with gold trim. Oh, and long enough to make me look tall. I’m short enough as it is. The boots should be high heels too.”

Sam’s lips twitched with some amusement. Lindsay didn’t know why people should be so amused that she knew what she wanted. She was going to be a hero, a purposeful spectacle, so she might as well make it good.

“All right. I’ll send those specs to the costume department and register your name. You’ll be meeting with a designer later to solidify your concept.”

“I heard that you have Felina McKinley working for you in costuming. Omygod, she’s fantastic. Like, one of my idols, you know?”

“She’s most certainly talented. I’m glad this is something you’re pleased with. Now, you will have to go for a psyche evaluation with Mrs. Meryl Allison. Don’t be concerned, this is entirely routine. She will also place you with a mentor. Based on your power set, I’m going to assume it’ll be Stryker. He’s our best at training those with super strength.”

“’Kay. He’s super cute, so that works.”

Sam didn’t even flinch at that. Lindsay was half-expecting a comment about how the man was way too old, but she said nothing. She dismissed that with a mental shrug. “So, how do I get to the shrink’s office?”

Sam handed her a map that was surprisingly comprehensive. “That should be helpful.”

“Yep, got it, thanks!” Lindsay stood with a grin. “Thanks so much, see ya ‘round!”

Well, that was so much easier than she was expecting. She thought for sure the Big Boss was going to be a huge stick-in-the-mud that was going to make her tone down her concept. Instead, the woman embraced her, happy that she could help make Lindsay a hero. She skipped a little on the way out. This was going to be so much fun!

* * * *

“Because I said so, that’s why!” Charity stood with her arms crossed, a scowl on her face.

Marcus glowered at her. “I’m not going. You can’t make me.”

“Damn straight I can. Look, what’s wrong with the school here? You’ll like it. God, I would have killed to go to a school with other super powered kids when I was your age.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not you.”

“Tell me about it,” she muttered under her breath, so low, Marcus barely caught it. “Since when do you care about school anyway? I could never get you to go before.”

“And so now you want me to go to a school where you can keep an eye on me, of course,” Marcus said sarcastically. He didn’t even want to think about learning Shakespeare from his sister.

“That’s not the reason, and you know it.”

“Do I? Face it, Charity, you don’t trust me.”

“Well, give me one reason I should.”

Marcus jerked back as if slapped. “Really? Is that what you honestly think of me? Damn, and you wonder why I don’t want to be in your English class. Why I don’t want to be your sidekick.” He put as much venom into the word as possible.

Charity at least had the grace to look ashamed. “Look, Marcus I didn’t mean it like that. I think you’re perfectly capable—“

“If only I would apply myself, right?” He shook his head. Well, if she was going to bandy about words like weapons, two could play at that game. He fixed his hazel eyes on her. “You don’t have the right to give me that speech. Mom.”

It was Charity’s turn to look hurt and stunned. “That’s not funny, Marcus,” she said in a cold voice. Marcus did feel guilty. He didn’t really remember their parents. She did. To her credit, he had to admit Charity had been the best mother a girl could be to him.

“Look, I just don’t want to go, okay? I know people at the other school.”

Charity frowned. “Who could you possibly know?” Marcus rolled his eyes at her. “Oh, come on, don’t give me that look. I wasn’t exactly Miss Popular at my school either. Let’s face it, neither of us is any good at getting out of our shells. I’m asking honestly, do you actually have any friends there?”

Well, there’s this girl… He wanted to say, but didn’t. How freakin’ embarrassing. Unfortunately, his sister was too damn intuitive.

“Maybe there’s a girl,” she guessed. Marcus’ cheek colored, and Charity’s jaw dropped. “Oh my god, there is a girl.” Marcus just gave her a dirty look. “Or a guy, she amended. Hey, that’d be cool too. This isn’t exactly an area we’ve explored yet, so—“

“Just drop it, all right? Can’t it just be enough that I don’t want to go to your stupid school?”

“Marcus? Oh-em-gee, Marcus?”

He knew that voice. His blush deepened as he turned. A small part of him was appreciating the humor of the situation and the priceless look he was sure was on his face. Lindsay. Probably the cutest thing that had been placed on this planet. “Um, hey,” he muttered, stuffing his hands into his pockets.

“I’m so happy to see you! Omygod, someone I actually know, this is going to be great!” Lindsay threw her arms around him, and Marcus suddenly regretted that his hands were now intertwined in his slacks. By the time he gathered his coordination enough to pull them out, Lindsay had broken the hug. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, you know.” He gave a casual shrug. “The family business.”

Lindsay looked from him to Charity and back again. “Omygod you’re Thundra! That’s freakin’ cool!”

Charity laughed. “Well, we’re glad to have you. You signed up for classes yet?” Her gaze slid over to Marcus for a moment with a great deal of mirth in her eyes. Marcus suppressed a grimace. He was going to hear about this in a minute.

“Oh yeah, for sure. I’m so done with Central High. Boring! Besides, the smaller classes here are a good thing, right?” She gave Marcus’ arm a squeeze before she started walking backward down the hall. “So glad you’re here though. Catch you later!”

And with that, she was gone.

Charity smirked at him. “So…about those classes.”

“Shaddup.”