by Nicholas Ahlhelm
Bagheera crouched in the high grasses of the Serengeti as the herd of gazelles made their way passed him. He could smell the blood in their veins. He licked his lips as he remembered the taste.
You’re not an animal anymore, Bagheera. He blinked his eyes and focused his attention on an older member of the herd. A weaker buck, lame in one leg. I hunt only for food, for survival. I am human.
He streaked from his crouch straight towards his prey. The herd scattered as they recognized him as a predator, but the aging animal could not move so fast. Bagheera sprinted to it easily. His claws sprang from beneath his fingernails as he pounced.
His attack tore through the animal’s throat. Blood sprayed and the gazelle dropped to the ground.
Bagheera immediately set to work cleaning the animal with his claws. He needed to work fast, before he attracted any other predators or scavengers. A scrap with a lion or a hyena pack would help neither him nor them.
Bagheera shook his head. I need to find out what brought me to this life. Who abandoned me in these plains without my memory. Someone must know, but all I’ve managed so far is to edge closer to my animal side.
He sliced off a large piece of the gazelle’s haunch. It would be enough for today. I don’t need to attract anything by carrying the remains. Better to let the Serengeti claim the rest.
He buried his incisors in to the meat and ate freely. He wouldn’t go in to this hunt hungry.
Devil Boy helped the last few students from the shelter, but his mind was elsewhere. He turned to Rico, one of the older students at sixteen. Rico’s face looked elephantine, but his body seemed dangerously thin, even anorexic. Rico could absorb the properties of any material, making him potentially very powerful. He held his powers with a great deal of responsibility. Perfect for Devil Boy’s needs.
“Rico, I want you to get everyone back to their rooms. We’re on lockdown for the night until Athena can make sure the academy is one hundred percent secure.”
“No problem, DB. You can count on me.”
“You’re a good man, Rico,” Devil Boy said. He gave the younger man a pat on the back. “I’ll be back as soon as possible.”
Devil Boy already was on his way down the hall by the time the word left Rico‘s lips. He took the corner at a full tilt and charged down the hallway to the senior dorms. He slowed only when he reached the door of the room he and Thief shared.
He threw the door open.
A suitcase sat half-filled on the nearest bed. Clothes flew toward it seemingly by themselves.
“Don’t hide from me please,” Devil Boy said. “Let’s talk about this.”
Thief appeared across the room, holding a t-shirt. He threw the shirt on top of the clothes in the suitcase. “Look, there’s nothing to talk about. I can’t deal with this right now.”
“I’m sorry, Mac. Really. Don’t leave.”
“This has nothing to do with you,” Thief said. “I need to go anyway. I can’t deal with this with you right now. Just—just not now, okay?”
“Okay. Fine. I’m sorry, really I am. But please tell me what’s going on. Why are you leaving?”
Thief looked across the bed at him. Devil Boy could see the pain in his eyes.
“I can’t, Trey. Not now.”
Thief snapped the suitcase shut and walked around the bed. Devil Boy stood firmly in place, cutting him off from the door.”
“Please let me leave, Trey.”
The suitcase caught Devil Boy in the gut. He doubled over at the sudden blow. It took only a moment for him to regain his composure, but it was long enough. Thief was already gone.
Devil Boy slumped down in to the bed.
Over the next several hours, Flint and Athena saw to their younger charges while maintaining security on their prisoners. The cybernetically-enhanced soldiers offered no information. They didn’t even make a noise. Though most were still alive, they seemed to be little more than blank slates.
ACTION agents arrived the next morning to take the soldiers in custody and mop up some of the mess. Director Blake was noticeably absent. Blake and Wave had been allies and sometimes friends. Athena wondered if she should worry about his lack of contact with the school since Wave’s death.
The ACTION team offered no more information than Flint and she already knew. The cyber-soldiers seemed to come from nowhere with no notice and no agenda. Flint could feel Athena’s frustration as a palpable force, but he had his own focus now.
Beauty still sat her vigil over Air Raid in the med lab. The young woman looked tired and strained. She didn’t even turn as he entered the room and walked up to her from behind.
He gently placed a hand on her shoulder, confident his rocky hide would protect him.
Beauty flinched and pulled away. “Don’t touch me!”
“Calm down, Beauty.” He held up his cobalt-colored hand. “You can’t hurt me. My skin’s made to be burned.”
Beauty held herself tight. “Please, just no touching. Okay?”
“All right,” Flint said. He looked at the data pad attached to Air Raid’s diagnostic table. “It looks like our boy’s doing fine. If he stays stable we should be able to take him off the tranqs in no time. He should be as good as new.”
“Really.” Flint walked across the room and keyed a command in to the wall computer. A few feet from where Air Raid lay another diagnostic table rose from the floor.
“Now it’s your turn,” Flint said.
“What are you talking about?”
“A little over twenty-four hours ago you read as a baseline human, Beauty. Now your powers are suddenly back and from what you did to your attacker, stronger than ever. We need to find out how and why.”
“I’m not some guinea pig for you to poke and prod.”
“No one said you were, and if I implied that, I’m sorry.” But the entire Negate program opened up hole after hole in everything we know about metagenetics. This sudden return of your powers makes for even more questions. We don’t know if your powers could grow to harm even you.”
Beauty looked down at Air Raid as he slept peacefully. “That’s never happened before, but—”
“We’re start with the basics,” Flint said. “By the time Air Raid wakes up we might just have some answers. All right?”
“On the table with you then.” Flint only wished he was as confident as he sounded.
Things seemed to finally be getting back to normal, Bobbi Kwok thought. Just over a day after the paramilitary assault, with ACTION‘s repairs almost done, the academy seemed to be growing back in to home.
Not to say the student body didn’t have its share of scars. The death of their headmaster and tow of their teachers still rippled through the thoughts of her fellow students even after over a week. A few of the youngest students, barely even school age, were having horrible nightmares. Armand, an eight-year old telekine, suffered from night terrors so severe that his thoughts had woken her from her own slumber on the other side of the school.
Bobbi climbed out of her own bed and walked to the younger boy’s room. She pushed the door open and as she entered, she sent a suggestion to each of Armand’s three roommates to keep them asleep. She sat down on the floor next to Armand’s bed. She collected her thoughts, focused them, and projected calming images to the sleeping boy. After a few minutes, Armand’s nightmares faded away and Bobbi passed out on the edge of her bed.
She woke with a start the next morning. Oh, god, she thought. I’ll never live it down if the other girls see me coming out of a second grader’s room.
She left Armand his roommates all another suggestion to continue to sleep before she hustled back to her room.
She headed down the hall towards the ladies’ showers, hoping to wash her feelings of embarrassment away.
The sudden link hit her mind like a bullet. Images flooded in to her head.
Bobbi cried out and dropped to the floor, clutching her skull.
Devil Boy grew more and more frustrated as he searched the room. He hoped for a clue, anything at all that would help him figure out where Thief might have went. Unfortunately, Thief seemed to be as good at covering his tracks as he was at vanishing from sight.
The room was in shambles. After spending hours looking through everything Thief might have touched, he spent another couple hours turning the room upside down. All for nothing.
There’s got to be something. He’s not this good at disappearing.
Devil Boy’s eyes lingered on the computer that sat on his and Thief’s shared desk. He had checked the hard drive, but he was by no means a computer expert. But…
He ran out the room and down the hallway. He stopped short six rooms down and knocked rapidly at the door.
“Hold on, I’m coming.” The door opened and Devil Boy looked down at fourteen year old Sid Lieber. The young epsilon stood only 3 feet tall and his arms reached down nearly to the floor. He looked like a cross between a chimpanzee and Quasimodo.
But the monkey-like young man was a cyberpath. He could access any computer or advanced electronic device just by touching it and concentrating.
“Sid, I need your help with my computer but I need you to be discreet. You think you can help me?”
Sid scowled. “What’s it worth to me?”
Devil Boy restrained a scowl. “Fifty. And fifty more if you find the info I need.”
“Deal. Let’s get to it then.”
Sid followed Devil Boy back to the room. He pushed the larger degen out of the way and laid his hands on the computer.
“What do you want to know?”
“Flight plans, travel itineraries, anything about outside locations and any travel to them.”
“Give me a minute.” Sid closed his eyes to concentrate. The screen flashed from image to image at lightning speed.
Just under two minutes later the screen suddenly stopped. “Found it,” Sid said.
“Spill it then.”
“Looks like Thief is on his way to Federation. A flight booked for yesterday. He’s got a suite at the Hilton too. Ultra swank.”
Devil Boy pulled a pair of fifties out of his back pocket. “You are a god, Sid. Worth every penny.”
“I aim to please.”
“All right, I’ll see you later then.” Devil Boy rushed across the room to the closet where he pulled out specially designed shirt and shoes.
I’ve got to move, Devil Boy thought. Like it or not, I’m going to find you, Thief.
“I don’t understand it,” Flint said.
“What?” Beauty said. “What is it?” She glanced over to Air Raid before returning her vision to Flint.
“None of these readings make sense. Forty-eight hours of tests and I’m still no closer to understanding your renewed powers.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means your genetic makeup seems to have went haywire. Your entire DNA code is in flux. I have no idea what it could mean for you in the long run. It’s something completely undocumented in Metahuman research.”
“Am I going to die?”
Flint shook his head. “Your health seems to be in order, but your metagene could do anything at this point. We have no idea how your powers could be affected.”
Beauty looked back to Air Raid. As if what I did wasn’t bad enough.
“So what do we do with me?”
“I’m not sure yet. We’ll have to keep running more tests on you overnight. On the bright side, you’ll actually have an excuse to be here all night with Air Raid.
“I’m not sure as of yet. We’ll have to run more tests on you overnight. On the bright side, you’ll actually have an excuse to be here when Air Raid comes to.”
Beauty absent-mindedly nodded her agreement. But what would he wake to?
Bagheera found himself falling in to the same patters of life he came from a decade ago when Wave and Geotherm first found him. Hunt, kill, feed, and move.
His struggle came from the sheer size of the plain coupled with his attempts to remember decades old memories that were at best, hazy. Images of some kind of relay tower and the bunker at its base. Visions from who knows when. The Serengeti could have consumed the station years ago if it ever existed at all.
It must be out here, he thought. I can feel it. I can feel it calling to me. But from where?
Bagheera climbed to the top of a outcropping of rocks. He saw nothing but more grass. Damn it! Where are you?
“You are never gonna find it, cat-boy.”
The fur on Bagheera’s neck rose at the vice from behind him. He snarled as he turned and pounced.
His target was already on the move. She dodged at lightning speed, her naked form moving lithely.
She landed in a crouch several feet away. She used the lower two of her four arms to brace herself against the ground. Her upper two arms quickly morphed from sun-darkened flesh in to razor-sharp metal.
Bagheera growled her name. “Feud.”
Feud smiled, showing off row after row of pointed teeth.
“Hello, honey. Ready to die?”