This is chapter four in a story about a teenage superhero.
The rain is starting to become a downpour by the time I descend below the clouds. From the presence of mountains, I can tell I’m getting close. The once-thick forest that coated the enormous mountainsides have now all but disappeared, to be replaced by a blanket of snow, which hides jagged rocks underneath.
I shiver as the rain’s icy fingers plunge down on me, once again soaking through my suit. The sheets of water pound on my helmet and my muscles jump up and down in an effort to keep warm. Usually, when I come through here, it’s snowing. But since it’s warmer by a fraction of a degree, I get freezing rain instead. My shivering starts to disrupt my flight pattern, and I think to myself that I prefer the fluffy, slowly falling flakes.
I soar closer to the mountains, hoping their mass will shield me from the storm. Making my way through the huge towers of rock and snow, I notice that flying is a bit harder. Since the reason I can fly is based on my ability to control gravity, all the water my suit has accumulated is dragging me down, requiring a greater effort on my part. Good thing I don’t have to go much further, then.
As I soar nearer and nearer to my destination, I look for signs of scanners, out of habit. I know there’s one right under that ledge. And under that bush that somehow survives at this altitude. But I know that the computers behind them won’t shoot me out of the sky with the hidden blaster cannons. The programs and sensors can detect a friendly face from a hostile or unknown intruder. I’m perfectly safe in the knowledge that I am an ally. In fact, if a gunner did blast me to smithereens, let me just say he’d be in some serious jelly.
As always, I use the smaller entrance. Most use the much larger one complete with a hangar, built for ships from civilian aircraft to massive cargo transports. But, as I’m just one person, I enter via the one built back when we were a smaller organization.
I touch down lightly on the mountainside and trudge through the snow until I reach a hatch buried underneath the snow. A gesture of my hand and the metal is visible, its ice-cold disguise hovering a few feet in the air. I bend down to pull on the handle and hear a creak as I lift the small, round hatch into the air. No one ever bothered to cover it, because the snow stays here year-round. I climb into the dark tube I have just revealed, which is an old elevator that follows a chute underground. Remembering, I reach up to close the hatch and let the snow fall back on top.
Once the hatch shuts, the lights flicker in a feeble attempt to illuminate a box with a single button. I press it and it’s a moment before the old machinery remembers it’s supposed to go down.
Most of the technology in this vast, underground base isn’t as whiny and slow as this elevator. The only reason the sluggish tube is still around is because I use it all the time. Otherwise, some other use would be found for it, like an exhaust pipe or something. I pull my helmet off and shake my head. My hair, dark red and waterlogged, splatters rain everywhere.
Something in the elevator produces a muffled ding and the door slides open. Well, actually the door only makes it about halfway before I have to pull the rusty old thing open myself.
I blink a few times as my eyes adjust to the light. It’s bright, but not stark. This is my home, HQ, base of operations. I used to imagine bases as pristine white places, with futuristic robots, spaceships, and blue lights. That, or rough, no-nonsense, metallic places. This strikes a balance between the two. It’s functional, but not uncomfortable. In some places, it’s almost luxurious, but not extravagantly so. Everything here works like the cogs in some massive machine. There are always voices, hurried footsteps in the often-crowded halls. But in the more industrial part of this place, there’s always the grinding sound of sliding metal or sparks from welders going about their business. This isn’t a conventional home by any means. But it is my home, and that’s enough to bring a smile to my face any day.
I step out of the elevator, and onto a polished stone floor. An attendant separates himself from the stream of people in the hallway and takes my shiny, wet helmet. I hand it over with a murmur of thanks and look all around me.
The wide hallway is full of people busily walking to and fro. Several notice me and give a nod or cheerful wave. In this sea of dull grey and brown jackets, I’m hard to miss- I am clad in bright yellow, after all. But what makes me really distinctive, more so than my suit’s color, is who I am. Nova. Their girl hero.
Striding proudly, with my chin up, I try to live up to their expectations, shrugging off my natural tendency to slouch. I make my way through the sleek stone hallways, slide into elevators among crowds of people. Every eye turns toward me, and I shiver slightly. By now, I’m used to the attention, but that doesn’t keep the spotlight from getting uncomfortable from time to time. Hands clap me on the shoulder, with phrases like,
“Hey, good job out there, kid,” or
“We’re proud of you Nova!”
One woman I don’t recognize - maybe she’s new here - even lets out a delighted shriek. I nod courteously and smile. And eventually have to let the elevator doors close after she reaches her floor. Much faster than the ancient one, this elevator whooshes me and a few others downwards, soundless on its well-oiled tracks. One by one, the occupants of the elevator step off at different levels, until only I am left, humming a bit and rocking on my heels to pass the time. For the place I am going is deep, far below the snow.
The elevator slows, and a synthesized voice tells me I’ve reached Level 42, which contains the Control Room, Conference Hall, and the Janitor’s Closet. I step off and into the maze of flawless stone hallways. Even though it’s lit as much as the upper levels, it feels darker down here, like the ground is somewhat opposed to all the bright lights buzzing it awake. Looking around, I notice not a soul in sight. I figure they must be in the Conference Hall or something. On my way there, I pause when I reach a line of several portraits hanging on the wall. Each depicts a brave face hardened by trying times but possessing an air of nobility and courage as well. I know each one. Not personally, but through my studies of the history of this place, I’ve learned a lot. A lot about who they are. Who I am.
Centuries ago, there was a civil war on this planet, Tairan. I’ve never known all of the details, but of one thing I am sure - it involved a weapon. Its abilities have since become lost to the mists of time, shrouded in mystery. The only hard fact historians have is that it possessed unspeakable power.
Created in a hidden laboratory deep in some desolate, hidden country, the weapon was something unlike anything the citizens of Tairan had ever seen. Once knowledge of its horrific power was leaked to the public, the people debated endlessly on what should be done. Some thought that the weapon should be hidden where no one could ever find it, or better yet, destroyed. Others thought only of the immense power at their fingertips, arguing that the weapon was a gift to mankind. These arguments drove a wedge between the people, pushing society over the edge into a full-scale war. The people who had argued in the weapon’s favor became the Union of Tairan’s Gift. The weapon became their symbol, of domination. Those who had only wanted to protect and preserve humanity called themselves the Komyn, after a martyr. These two sides clashed, each equally strong. The war between them dragged on, seemingly forever to those on the sidelines. Friends and family who had gone off to fight would never return, it seemed. Raids, attacks, battles were all anyone ever heard about.
Then something happened that no one expected. A young man appeared, one with supernatural abilities. Unlike anyone before him, he was able to read minds. Using this power, he fought, for the Komyn. He could read the thoughts of commanders on the other side of the battlefield. He interrogated people without them noticing. He helped the Komyn win the war.
When the side of the greater good emerged victorious, it was at the great expense of their world. Despite their righteous intentions, so many people died, and the consequences of war had brought the civilization to its knees. Where there had once been cities growing and expanding technologies, there were ashes. What had once been a carefully preserved, lush forest was now a shriveled, black and burned wasteland.
But the survivors of this civil war slowly but surely put Tairan back together. Flowers grew over the burned cities, a better society was erected, and the people vowed never to create once more such horrors as had started the war. But the weapon, for reasons unknown to me, was not destroyed but hidden away, never to be seen again.
And their hero, who they nicknamed Psyche, was remembered too. As a beacon of light during wartime, he enjoyed a well-earned life of ease. It was true, he was never the same after the war. But he came as close as he could to a peace of mind.
But then something truly remarkable occurred after Psyche died of old age. On the other side of the planet, a young man with the ability to manipulate sound waves, Cacophony, appeared, not one month after Psyche was gone. This young man became a hero as well, eliminating any pockets of crime, and earning his spot in the halls of fame as well. After he passed, another hero with supernatural powers came. For every generation since the war, there has been a single hero. One at a time, though. History has shown they could be anyone, come from anywhere. Once people realized this was more than coincidence, an organization was created to protect the heroes from radicals and to help them in the gargantuan job of protecting an entire planet. The main headquarters of that organization, called Synergy, is where I am right now.
I think for a moment about how the phenomenon of this line of heroes has embodied Tairan’s culture. These heroes are the faces of good; everyone looks up to them. They are valiant, strong. Mythic. That title, the one that at times feels like a burden, has now come to rest on my shoulders. I am now one of the Lone Guardians.
I tear my eyes away from the line of heroes’ portraits and keep walking. I reach the door of the control room and punch the passcode into the keypad on the wall next to it. It takes a few seconds to verify the code. I hear the rumble of voices coming from inside. The spotless metal door slides open, and I enter.
Immediately I notice Kythe Garnd, the head of Synergy’s base. An older man, his jacket adorned with various medals, he says,
“Ah! Nova. Congratulations on your defeat of the mechanical beast.” He holds out a mug of something hot, as if in a toast, and takes a sip. The medals clink and glisten as he turns to look at the countless screens lining one wall of the room. There is a person with a headset sitting under each one. I study the screens more closely and notice that each one is showing a different stage of my recent battle in slow-motion. I’ve never seen this before, so I watch for a moment, fascinated as one of the screens displays me about to hit the creature. My fist draws back, so slow it’s almost frame by frame. Then, it gradually becomes brighter, wreathed in flames. The robot gives a drawn-out snarl, and when I finally punch it, the explosion grows, expands, then dies.
Kythe must have noticed my awed expression because he gives a small chuckle and looks at me.
“We use the cameras from traffic monitors, and collect the footage. It’s a way to help us understand,” he says, “when we watch the playbacks of your battles. Your enemies, that is. We can piece together where we think they came from, who they are, what they want. Always know who your enemies are.” I nod, silently. Then I frown, thinking.
“But...what if you don’t know who your enemies are? What if you can’t?” Kythe’s face hardens.
“Then you’ve just lost one of your most valuable assets.” He looks back at the screens displaying the agonizingly slow battle. Kythe bends down and mumbles to one of the people in headsets to report any more findings. Then he straightens up, strides out the open door, and beckons to me to follow. I glance back at the screens for a moment, then turn swiftly on my heel and follow.
Once we’re out walking in the hallway, Kythe speaks again.
“We’ve been closely watching the replays of your last few battles. We think there might be a connection.” I blink, confused. A connection? I think back to my most recent battles. There was the robot earlier today, and before that, a boy who managed to get his hands on some prototype weapons. And last week, a well-known criminal woman who was caught escaping her high-security jail cell. She’s actually just a few floors below me now. I don’t know how these could be connected unless the boy built the robot. But he didn’t seem very tech-savvy to me; it took him about a full minute to find the ON switch of the plasma vaporizer.
“Hmm,” I say, thinking. “But they seem so..random. Not really connected at all.” I put my hands on my hips and shrug. “This kind of stuff happens all the time. What makes you think this is any different?”
“I know it seems unlikely,” he says, “but my gut tells me something is off here. And when your gut tells you to do something, you always listen. Always.” Oh, boy. Here we go again. “My gut’s never failed me. Computers and satellites are fallible, but not instinct. You’re only...how old are you again?” He asks.
“Fifteen,” I reply.
“Exactly,” he says, snapping his fingers, “When you are as old as I am, you will understand that technology is no match for human insight.” To stop him from going on another impromptu speech about the superiority of living beings, I ask,
“Where are you taking me?” I shake my head, realizing how the question sounded, “I mean, where are we going?” He just looks at me and chuckles, shaking his head.
“I’m going to catch a flight to the Ka’schun Territories, to organize help with the recent tsunami over there.” I open my mouth, but he cuts me off. “You’re going to train with Thania.”