Sarra passed over the ocean, fully cognizant and very grumpy after being tasked with finding out where Clive had gone. An hour had passed since Clive was detained, and Sarras on-the-spot plot for revenge had been thwarted by both a now-telepathic moron, and her own sister. She figured that finding a chunk of ice would not be that hard, but it was far more difficult than she would have liked. Sarra thought of the search as a metaphor for how Clive was more experienced than she was, not just in hiding, but also in fighting skills, trickery, and overall being an EnWol. This made her even grumpier.
Sarra headed back to shore, swearing her nonexistent lungs out. She passed over the several twisted freight ships, unaware of the sphere of melting ice that had wedged itself between a pier and an oil tanker on that late afternoon September day.
Dr. Garner walked with a low slump to his back and a shuffle as he was escorted into the back seat of a police car. His shield had faded away completely. Anne Redford floated nearby and watched him. She couldn’t help but feel sorry to see him go. Garner looked up at her, his face drooping and tender. Anne fought her tears, but the effort was for naught. She said good bye to her best friend and flew away.
“Alright,” Juno said; a computer tablet in hand. “These data says that Anne’s power ascended into absurd levels without any lasting effects. Levan, having been a dope by trying to save her, actually succeeded and gained some of her power. Because Anne held so much of her ballooned power and with Levan’s copying ability, Levan’s gain of Anne’s power is permanent since there was so much for her to give.”
“Precisely. Whatever that means.”
Juno made a sarcastic laugh, sounding not unlike a goat.
“You’re cute, now, what eludes us all is: One: how did Clive get himself to split into independent parts when every single post-human EnWol can only operate in one-one synchronicity when split. Two: why was the odd, ethereal tone that reportedly came from Levan so effective? And three: how in the name of Gaia’s womb did you, sir, with your reputation, make such a deduction right on the spot that you did not know would work at all?”
Juno pointed at Levan, her finger inches from his nose. He leaned back and put his hands up, his stretching power gone.
“Lady Juno, I am as unfathomably unsound as you. To paraphrase, the solutions to the problem stem from the ether and abruptly disembark from my thought process. I cannot express sufficient regret for my absentminded predicament. In short, I find the circumstances incalculable.”
Juno sighed and threw her upper body on the console, her arms supporting her.
“I don’t know if you know what you’re talking about or not.”
Florence walked up.
“Maybe we need to regroup and talk to Bronson about the... odd behavior and give time for Levan to gather his thoughts.”
Juno held her hand up and dropped it, signifying her lack of decision. Florence tilted her head to emphasize her order.
“Go home, Levan, we’ll let you know when we need you. I’m not sure if Juno wants to test you out or not.”
Levan frowned and left without a word.
Anne floated up and watched him go. The heroes could tell that she felt a little better after seeing Dr. Garner go.
“He’s pretty silly.”
Florence sighed and put her hand on Anne’s shoulder.
“Not as silly as he looks.”
Lora and Tench roamed the cave, trying to find out where Morgan had gone. The cave remained a monument in the rubble as the only sign that anyone had been there at all.
Tench knocked a few times on the structure.
“Behold the cave of junk; a great mystery that was built long ago by the same civilization that built Stonehenge, the pyramids, the Easter Island idols, and of course, Fred King on the news channel.” Tench said.
Tench shared the laugh and walked over to where Lora had said Morgan was last seen. There was a slight, human sized depression in the burnt and wet grass. He shrugged.
“I might be way off on this, Pink, but I’m pretty sure that she escaped.”
“Is that bad? I mean, are there ways to track her down?”
Tench shook his head.
“Not really, but you know, you wouldn’t believe how often bad guys get away. It happens all the time. The good part is that they usually come back to do another dastardly deed and we nab them then.
One of the things that Florence teaches new heroes is that small battles have to be lost to win the war. We lost this bogey and Clive, but we’ll get them next time.”
Lora looked away, remembering what Morgan had told her. About her decisions hurting others, and finding only loneliness in a world full of people. Lora bit her lip and her heart shuddered.
Tench frowned and gently took her chin.
“What’s wrong? We saved the day and kept everyone from suffering a permanent relocation to toy land. Who cares that the bad guys escaped today? We all know that they’ll be back, and we’ll be stronger than ever when they do.”
Lora looked up at Tench and thanked him with a smile. She didn’t want to burden her with her worry, and felt that it would bring him down.
Tench backed off and leapt into the air, hovering a few feet up.
“Hey, let’s report in and get that arm patched up. You never know too, we might be able to talk Bronson into fixing up that patch for you too, an EnWol ex machina, if you will.”
Lora laughed and jumped into the air.
“Awesome! Let’s go. I don’t want this to get infected.”
The two sped off back to Meta Corps and into the sunset.
The wound had blossomed into something terrible, and Lora was its victim. She and Tench hovered down the hallway leading to Bronson’s lab with hope that he had worked out the error with the gauntlets.
“That’s good, stay airborne; it won’t jostle it as much.” Tench said. Lora held her arm just below the slash with an iron grip; she was trying not to cry.
“It’s alright. Bronson knows you’re coming. If this works, it will be better than any surgery, Lora. Trust me.”
Lora sniffed hard and nodded with a grimace.
Sarra leaned on the wall outside of Bronson’s door, eyeing her sister and Tench.
“For pity’s sake, Sarra,” said Tench. “Can you help us?”
Tench and Lora stopped outside the door.
“I want to talk to you alone.” Sarra said.
“What?” Tench and Lora said simultaneously.
“What on earth are you—” Tench started. Sarra assumed full height and jerked her head toward the door.
“Send her in and we’ll talk.”
Tench glared at Sarra and started to growl. Lora put her hand on Tench’s shoulder and gave a small smile.
“Sarra’s a good guy, Andy. I’ll be fine.” Lora’s face soured and she hissed as she went in.
“Lora! Okay, I have some food for you; you’re going to need it to help regenerate yourself for that wound. It won’t work otherwise.” Bronson said before the door shut.
Tench approached Sarra, who sunk back into the wall.
“Blast you, Sarra, what is so important that—”
“I have a hunch about you that says you’ll be around a while, around Lora.” Sarra said.
“What? Sarra, what do you mean?”
“Oh you two, lovey-dovey on the first day with similar power sets and ambitions. You’re the same person with different hair lengths.”
Tench’s brow furrowed.
“You want to assume there’s a relationship because of that? This is what’s keeping me from helping Bronson in there?”
Sarra walked up to him and forced his attention on her.
“Hey turkey, my hunch is pretty strong, and it says that there’s a possibility for disappointment between you and Lora. Listen to me; I don’t want you to fuck around with her, I’m serious. Do not disappoint her, or I’ll kick you in the teeth. Got that?”
Sarra’s face was inches from Tench; her message started to sink in. Tench stood tall and he took a breath.
“All the truth serums on the planet would make me say the same thing. I don’t have plans to, and I never will. Trust me.” He smiled again, but it was overflowing with serious intent. Sarra saw it as being cocky and shoved him.
“Look flyboy, I’m a good guy with no tolerance for anyone’s stupid bullshit, especially from the bad guys and dumbass heroes. Think about this; I’m a nasty bitch, but all the things that I’ve done to pick on Lora are nothing against some compatible looking boy breaking her heart.”
Tench deflated. He frowned and took a step back. He licked his lip and nodded.
“Yeah…” He said, barely above a whisper.
Sarra stretched her arm out to the doors sensor and it rolled open.
“Great minds gestate in the same pod. Don’t be the rotten end.”
Tench nodded and headed inside.
“Great Gaia’s Ghosts, that’s a good one!” Bronson said as he hovered near Lora’s shoulder. Her suit stretched out over her wound to expose the injury. Lora’s shoulder was spilt open, deep enough to burn white hot, but shallow enough so that it did not hit a major artery.
Tench grabbed a first aid kit and worked to clean the wound. He took over from holding the suit from Bronson.
“I didn’t know that the suit was a weave that allowed bleeding through.” He said with a slight waver in his voice.
Bronson shook his head and flew back to the controls.
“I guess that Lora expected it to be like that on a subconscious level.”
Tench wiped the blood away and leaned in to study it.
“I gotta say though that it looks a lot like a pomegranate.” He said.
Lora squeaked and her face paled. Tench grimaced and held his hand up.
“Sorry, sorry. I’ll stop making comparisons.”
Bronson called back as he fiddled with his computer.
“I found out the problem after you left, but I haven’t had time to implement it since Juno had asked for help with the afternoon’s debacle.”
“Oh yeah? What was up?”
Bronson worked on fixing his mistake as he talked about it.
“In section 85,634-B, I forgot to put in some particular values pertaining to human fingernails. The system knew that something logical went there, but it wasn’t pulling anything from the data buffer, and instead of letting our Lora here sprout very thin strands of intestines when she recovered from an injury,” Bronson paused to let Lora express how disgusted she was. “Instead of, well, that or some other horror, the machine knew that that was not right at all, and came to a full stop. Everything bottlenecked from that and thus the system overheated. Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.”
Tench was taken aback.
Sarra entered the room and stood nearby. She changed from her costume to her civilian clothes consisting of some jeans and a black top.
Tench glanced over. He turned away to ignore her, but decided against it.
“Hi Sarra.” He said. Sarra ignored him.
She stretched her neck out to look at her sisters wound.
“Sick.” She croaked.
Bronson finished the code and saved it to the flash drive. He turned around and saw Sarra.
“Oh, good. I was about to call you in. Fork over the gauntlets, we’re going to try this again.”
Sarra took her gauntlets off and Tench took Lora’s off. Lora was whimpering, her shoulder panicking liberally. Bronson took the gauntlets from Sarra and Tench and set them up.
“I still think that there’s a snuff film hidden behind all this.” Sarra said.
“Please hurry…” Lora said softly, quiet sobs erupted from her. Tench went back to stand with her.
Sarra crossed her arms as Bronson loaded the machine.
“Don’t worry; you’ll be back to being Dr. Lora Lessbleeder in no time at all.” Sarra said.
Tench looked back at Sarra, his eyes were half closed.
“No one likes a smartass, Sarra.” He said in a hushed tone.
Sarra stared at him and felt very cold all of a sudden. Images of her father sprang to her mind. She pointed at him, her closed fist facing up.
“Dude, that’s frickin scary.”
Tench shrugged, misunderstanding her.
“Nah, I was already the guinea pig for these things and that code here and there. Bronson’s just going to put the new stuff in and send you two off. That’s all.”
Tench looked at the gauntlets in their chamber. They sparked up and interacted with each other, looking normal.
Bronson studied the sparks and nodded with a smile.
“It’ll work now, supposedly, just remember to take the gauntlets off when a battle’s over. Of course, when Lora gets them back, there should be no trace of her injury.”
Sarra snorted, dismissing the eerie comparison between Tench and her father.
“With how she got that injury in the first place, I would think that she would either have her arm ripped off,” Sarra was interrupted by Lora’s squeak. Sarra held her finger up and raised her voice a little bit, to be heard over her sister.
“Or, I think that she would have been killed right there.”
“Well, it’s good that this is the only thing that happened. A dead Pink Lemon fresh into her first day would hurt our reliability, trust and by extension, both Meta Corps funding and stocks.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
“Where would we be then?” Tench asked.
“Overrun by a paranoid sociopathic meta dictator.” Sarra said.
“Yep, that’s exactly right. No one wants that to happen again.”
Sarra glanced at him and then scoffed and rolled her eyes.
Within a few minutes, the gauntlets had completed their new upgrade. Bronson removed them from the chamber and floated up to present them.
“Alright, each lady gets two cheap and disgusting microwave burritos. Dig in.”
“Diarrhea in a tortilla. Yummy.” Sarra said. She hooked her gauntlets back on and they resumed sharing Sarra’s fluidity.
Tench carefully slid Lora’s suit back up her shoulder. She gasped and flinched.
“Isn’t it going to get infected if you do that?” Lora asked.
Tench shook his head.
“It won’t matter if Bronson’s upgrade works. I’m being baby soft, so it shouldn’t hurt that much.”
Tench took the gauntlets from Bronson and put them on Lora. There was an odd whirring noise, and then Lora burst with a thin pulse of light. A stronger glow came from the gauntlets, and scanned her body up and down several times. With each pass to her shoulder, the bloodstain diminished, leaving no trace behind.
“Hah, it’s working!” Bronson yelled.
As if on cue from the exclamation, the scan stopped and Lora’s glow subsided. She hovered an inch or two off the ground and rubbed her arm.
“It should be fine.” Bronson said.
Lora patted her shoulder, waited for a reaction, and smiled.
“Oh it is, Mr. Bronson. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Just be careful on the field.”
Lora went up to hug him and she giggled.
“Oh, hey, you bet.”
Lora backed away and studied her formally hurt arm.
“I don’t feel any different though...”
“Well, you shouldn’t.” Bronson said. “It should work on a normal basis, I mean, the worst that could happen is that you turn into some kind of shapeless goop.”
Everyone laughed and Bronson gave Lora a wink.
“On a normal basis?” Sarra asked with a raised eyebrow.
Bronson wrinkled his nose, an odd sight since he appeared to lack the protrusion of one in the first place.
“Or it will work every single time, all I’m saying is that neither Lora nor her heroic ascendants should have to worry about getting hurt from a lack of elasticity.” Bronson paused. “That’s why the EnWol transformation is there in the first place.” He chopped his hand with each word.
Lora nodded, understanding why there was a transformation.
Tench cleared his throat.
“Bronson, while we were in the toy land back there, the scene shifted to one of Clive’s memories, particularly how he became EnWol.”
“An incorrectly overclocked EnWol. He had the sand that I was threatened to forge in 1970, and consumed enough for forty; I knew that. The silver sand became the sand of time, lost in its new namesake because we could not find it in the remains of Max Doom’s stronghold.” Bronson pointed at the women. “History lesson.”
Tench held his black gloved finger up.
“A-ha, but there’s more. We found out that the sand was given to Sergei Slade.”
Bronson’s eyes widened.
“No. No way, man. If Slade had the sand than he would have an EnWol army that would have attacked Meta Corps by ‘75, I bet. It’s not his style to just sit on something that powerful for,” he blew a curt raspberry, “forty years.”
“That’s what I saw, and Clive reacted pretty strongly to it. I think that what we saw was true.”
Lora floated up.
“Excuse me, but who is Sergei Slade? I know that he was there when I got the gauntlets, but I didn’t know much about him.”
Bronson looked at her and laughed.
“You were in Costa Mesa? Okay, that makes sense. Slade must think that he needs the gauntlets to enable the elasticity. We’re lucky that you got them in that explosion instead of him.
Anyway, Lora, the Russian born Sergei Slade is an extremely elusive weapons industrialist with a fondness for, in his own words, ‘what can hurt the most.’ He’s a master at hiding, so this search may be very difficult.”
“So, getting the sand back is going to be impossible then?” Sarra asked.
Bronson shook his head.
“I don’t know; we’ll have to find Slade first. I just wish that I could converge the sand that Sarra has into both chambers on all four gauntlets, but there’s a different system for each and there’s no compatibility. What got the previous EnWol in Lora’s place up and running was that I had a small reserve that I thought would last a lot longer than it did. A lot longer. Slades reserve is the mother lode, ready to be converted and assigned to each chamber for when the gauntlets run out. Otherwise it converts unceremoniously.”
Sarra crossed her arms.
“How do we find the panzer sucker then?”
Tench glared at her, trying not to laugh. Bronson shook his head.
“I have no idea. I’ll take it up with Florence and Clark and see what they say. There’s not much that we can do about it now. Thanks Tench, that will help us out significantly.”
They said their good byes, and went their own ways. Lora and Tench stayed together and talked as they roamed the underground waterfall.
“So, how did you like your first day, Pink?” Tench asked. Lora watched the waterfall and frowned.
“I don’t know yet. I had a friend back in Orange County named Cindy. She was a stretcher too, like Rachel. I think that the EnWol elasticity makes Cindy look like a tight little hair bow next to a glass of water. The idea of Sarra being like that, and myself before today, was a little daunting.”
Lora sighed and rubbed her arm.
“It’s just sort of yucky, I’ve told everyone that.”
Tench nodded, and Lora continued.
“Cindy also said something about how… how I’m submissive and always do what I’m asked. She thinks that I’ll get in trouble because of it.”
“Well, it can’t be blind yes’s, you’re smart enough to say no when someone asks if you can swim around in toxic filth, jump off a cliff, or put on some strange gauntlets and become some kind of silver goop.”
“Oh, you quit it. Cindy said that I’m too passive and agreeable. I could see it a little, but her advice was that if my conscience says that saying no feels right than I should say no. Before that, I just pushed it aside and tried to please whoever was requesting my help.”
“I’m sorry, Lora, I don’t see your point. All I can figure is that Sarra enjoyed your time for all the wrong reasons.”
Lora swept herself in front of Tench and stopped him.
“Oh, she did, but… Andy, my conscience said no to being a Pink Lemon because I’m afraid that I might hurt someone, or get hurt myself.” Lora rubbed her arm where her gash used to be.
“The problem is that a lot, a lot of people have relied on EnWol to run out and save the day, to be an idol, and now Sarra and I are next. I don’t want to let them down by screwing up.”
Lora started walking again.
“My first day opened my eyes to how heroes really operate. Violence, cruelty for selfish reasons, I was kicked in the stomach repeatedly.”
Tench’s eyes widened.
“Yeah, it wasn’t fun.”
“Yeah. Being a hero is grittier than I could have ever imagined, Andy. My first day’s opinions… well, I don’t know…”
Lora’s hand shielded the side of her face opposite Tench, as if she did not want to be seen.
“Well, you know, Lora, not all heroes and villains reflect the reality in The Little Squirts. Do you believe everything that this rubber Cindy says about you?”
Lora rubbed Tench’s arm.
“She’s a good friend to laugh and shop with, but, well, she’s a little challenged sometimes.”
“A little dumb?” Tench asked.
Lora made a noise of disapproval.
“That’s okay, not everyone can be Juno Osbourne. Listen, it sounds like she means well, but frankly, this is your decision, Lora. If you’re worried about hurting people and letting your fans down on the first day, I would stick with it, see if it gets better. If you’re still here a month, a year, two, three years and you still feel like that then hey, by all means, quit. Take the gauntlets and leave them in a park, someone will find them, and become the next Pink Lemon, or Dazzling Blaze, or whatever they want to be called. Give it some time, okay?”
“Okay.” She held up her hand. “I think that I need some more practice with my powers.”
“Yeah a little bit. I could tell that you were on the ball with your reflexes, but your ice was a little wild. Here, come here.”
Tench walked over to the waterfall. He sat at a ledge and twirled his finger over the still water. He glanced at Lora.
Tench dipped his fingertip in the water and swished it around. Lora copied him. They made a frozen base that sunk to the bottom. The two added to the base and molded a thorn that broke the surface and curved in on itself. It was held steady by the base. Lora’s fell forward.
“Oh! Oh no!” Lora held it straight up and tried to balance it.
“Let it go, it’s alright.” Tench said. Lora ignored him and supported the base with some new ice. It tipped to the side, but it remained stable. She looked at him and chuckled nervously. Tench nodded with approval.
“That’s pretty good; much better than some guys that could do that since they were born.”
Lora tried to stabilize the tilted sculpture.
“Oh really? That’s cool.”
Tench cut his hand through the air.
Tench rubbed Lora’s shoulder and looked at the twin ice hooks.
“Lora, listen. Do you need practice with the ice? No, I don’t think so. That’s bullcrap. Are you brave, yes, I would say so. I was impressed with your wanting to defend your sister, but it’s good to remember that she can no longer get hurt. Most EnWol have to have that driven into their heads.” Tench said.
Lora looked at him.
“Well, I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing. Even after I escaped the vortex, I flew right back in to save both you and Sarra.”
“Really? I’m impressed. That took guts.” Tench patted Lora’s back.
Lora started to laugh.
“Aw, thank you.” Lora said.
“That’s a really good quality, Lora. Facing the odds when they are against you and persisting anyway. It’s just the kind of person you are. You persist because it’s the right thing to do, and I think that’s very heroic.”
Lora smiled and felt her delight grow. Her fear washed away with the realization, and Lora felt the world tumble from her shoulders. She held her cheeks and giggled.
“Hey, I’m glad that you liked that. For every good, there’s a bad though, and I want to look at some first day jitters that you had...”
“Go right ahead.”
Tench blew air from puffed cheeks.
“I noticed that you had a little bit of hesitation. This is bad, Lora, a small delay can kill you. That’s it. This happened when Clive showed up, when Sarra was interrogating that one innocent, and, although I can barely blame you for it, you’re passing out at Clive turning into a nightmare.
I can see that you’re a passive person. Yes, it’s apparent that you took self-defense courses, but I’m afraid that you might not fight back for fear of hurting the assailant.”
“I…. I’m trying not to worry about it.”
“Well, if you do fight, why not use your passive nature instead of trying to run? Instead of trading blows, why not sneak in some attacks while defending yourself?”
“I was trained by my sempai to defend myself over attacking. That’s what we paid for.”
“Hey, it’s different now, Lora. Florence wanted equality between metas and humans and taking some self-defense classes did it. We’ll see if you can be shown how to be offensive. Defending yourself all the time though, that’s the polar opposite of what Sarra would do. You saw her with Clive.”
“Yeah, poor Sarra. I’ve never seen her panic like that before.”
Tench curled his lip and shook his head.
“I don’t know about Sarra. After what Florence told us about how she reacted to orders, I have a suspicion that she might go rogue. I think that we both know what a rogue EnWol can do as of today.”
“Oh boy, no doubt. I don’t think that Sarra would do that kind of thing though. She’s very particular in her ways.”
“I don’t know. I have a bad feeling about her, Pink.
Anyway, I want to make another point about your first day, and it regards your flying. Using your ice gives you a better degree of control when out of control. I’m not sure if you’re immune to the cold like I am, but when I’m flying and I lose it like you did, I create a huge slide.”
Tench made a dramatic U shape with his arm and a wide candy cane like shape that was made of ice appeared over the water. Tench took a hold of it before it sunk and showed it to Lora. She proceeded to run her fingers across the inside rim. She giggled.
“Ooo, that’s fun.”
“Yeah, during peace time they are. These take a lot of practice to create and they have saved my life more times than I can count out on the field. I shoot a burst of ice at a surface at an angle, and bring the slippery side to me. This way, if it doesn’t break first, I fly off into another direction where I can have the opportunity to regain control.
Just don’t overdo it. I’ve passed out maybe once or twice from blowing out too much ice. You can’t regain control when you feel like you’ve blown too much air into a bunch of balloons.”
Lora smiled and looked at the small-scale slide with more interest.
“Man, Andy, you know a lot about this stuff.”
“Not really, the ice powered EnWol can run rings around me. These are just some tricks that I learned.”
Lora held his shoulder.
“Yes you do know a lot about having ice powers. More than I do, anyway. These are really wonderful ideas and I really think that you should get them out there.”
Tench shook his head.
“They’re just little things.”
Lora grabbed his chin and looked at him with a hopeful smile. His face went slack and his heart beat faster.
“Can you show me then, please? My ice cream man?”
Tench’s grin grew wide. He shook his head.
“Sure Pink Sugar. Where do you want to start?”
To be continued…
If you would like the whole book, a souvenir of the experience, check it out at Smashwords here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/87111
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