Everything was black. The air was stifling, and a heavy weight covered his entire body. He tried to take a deep breath, but his nostrils filled with dust, and he coughed. The weight on top of him shifted in several places with his spasm. He stifled his wheezing and tried to remember what had happened.
The scarred man. The woman and the baby. And a light post.
He was still confused, but his muddled thoughts were clear enough that he knew he needed to get out. He bunched his shoulders and pushed upward, and the weight began to shift. With a mighty heave, the rubble moved, and he stood up with surprisingly little effort as the massive pile of rock and debris sloughed away like it was made of styrofoam. He looked down at himself, his clothes in tatters and covered with dust.
The scene of the recent battle was devastating, but the battle had ended. Of the two sides, only the people in the uniforms remained. They were occupied with tending wounded, clearing debris, and checking for survivors among the bodies of the many non-combatants who had been caught in the crossfire. Occasionally, a light would flash, and a group of injured would vanish.
“Hey!” a raspy voice called. “Don’t move!” He looked around and saw a slender man approach, clad in a tight leather uniform of brown and yellow. His legs and torso were protected by some kind of body armor, and he wore a mask with winged headgear that veered down sharply at the nose like a beak and covered his mouth and chin with thin cloth. The man strode up purposefully, his hand going to his belt to withdraw a small device from among the many that hung there. “Who are you?” said the man.
“I’m…” He was still confused, but he felt a sudden fear. With a deep gulp, he squared his shoulders and continued. “I’m
. Who are you?” Jack Forrest
The man consulted the device and pressed a couple of buttons. “You’re not in the registry. Where did you come from?”
“Don’t be an idiot,” rasped the slender man. “Of course you’re from Earth. We’d have known if there’d been any alien incursions recently.” The man snapped shut the small device and returned it to his belt. “Never mind,” he said, pulling out what looked like a button from another pouch on his belt. He tossed the button at
Jack, who flinched as it struck, but it only clung to Jack’s tattered shirt. Jack looked at it curiously. A small light blinked in the center of a gold disc. The man spoke into the underside of his gloved wrist. “Skywatch. Raptor here. Unregistered meta in sector four-twelve. Lock onto signal and transport to holding until further notice.”
“Affirmative,” replied a disembodied voice that sounded like a young girl, and
Jack looked around, startled. A shimmering light formed around him, and his vision began to fade.
“What’s going on?” asked
Jack as he began to panic. He tried to take a step forward, but he was frozen in place.
“Don’t worry about it, kid,” said Raptor in his raspy voice. “You’re gonna’ be fine.” The man turned and walked away as the light around
Jack intensified. Jack’s vision blurred until everything was a wash of color, and then the world winked out for a moment. The next thing he knew, he was somewhere else. The light was gone, and his vision was back to normal, but his surroundings were completely changed.
A jail. It didn’t just remind him of one; there was no doubt, it was a jail cell. He looked around and was certain he was right.
How had he gotten here? Why was he in a jail? He couldn’t wrap his mind around the thought. He began to tremble, terror biting at him, and a scream built in his throat. Before he could stifle it, the scream escaped through his taut lips, and he found himself yelling wordlessly at the walls. He rushed to the heavy metal door and began pounding on it with his bare fists. His guttural cries echoed from the walls, almost deafening him, but he couldn’t make himself stop. Even the sound of feet approaching rapidly outside the door couldn’t stop his screams.
“Hey!” called a voice from the other side of the door, a high-pitched female voice. “Dude, you gotta’ calm down in there!”
Jack jumped backward as an unnoticed slot in the door slid open, a feminine young face appearing in the opening. “What’s wrong with you? Do you want them to put you in a negator collar?”
The girl regarded him, confused. “You don’t know?” When
Jack shook his head, she merely blinked. “You’ve been taken in by the Conclave,” she said in a calming tone. “You’re lucky, too. It’s dangerous down there for people like us.”
“Dangerous? Down where?”
Jack took a step backward and sat on the metal cot. “What do you mean, like us?”
“I’m Beamer,” she replied, her voice light. “I was on Skwatch duty when Raptor called in. Listen, it’s okay. Everything’s fine. They’ll let you out before too long, and you’ll get to start your training.”
“To use your powers,” she replied matter-of-factly. “To join the Conclave. You’re a meta, and you need us to protect you.”
Jack repeated the unfamiliar word carefully. “Powers?” He looked toward the girl, and for the first time noticed the dents in the heavy metal door where his fists had pounded. The door itself was even slightly buckled.
“You didn’t know?” the girl asked brightly. “Well, aren’t you in for a surprise!” With a gleeful laugh, the girl slid shut the slot, and
Jack heard her walk away.
Powers?” he said again, shaking his head in disbelief.