Mach

Chapter 119: Watch

Hawthorne had already left by the time he reached the hospital room. Mach…Tina was still there, staring at the news. The newscasters weren’t talking, but Miss Mirror and Allspades’ names were on the scroll at the bottom, alongside Jaegers.

He forced himself into existence slowly. Tina acknowledged him with a nod.

“John.”

He nodded back, but remained focused on the news.

Allspades had been blown the far side of the damaged block; it wouldn’t take him long to get back, but he would have to unbury himself first.

Jaeger squared off against Miss Mirror. The newscaster was talking now, but her voice was quiet and muffled.

John glanced over at Tina, but his gaze didn’t stop until it landed on Mitch, still sitting on the bed. He saw Tina nod slightly when he did. “What are her chances?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “15 years ago, there were only a few heroes who could take him on. He was faster than any runner at the time, possibly the fastest since walkers were revealed. His powers are gravity based, and the only gravity manipulator around had to put a lot of effort into overpowering him. He had a habit of messing with other people’s powers. He used the wake from his power to make it difficult for them to use.”

Miss Mirror had looked like she was putting up a good fight, but Jaeger was doing something to her now. She was floating but it didn’t look like she was in control.

“Not good then,” John said. “She’s tough, but she’s only been active a few years. She’s never fought someone who could affect her powers.”

Tina’s brow furrowed. She was clutching the wheels on her chair; her knuckles were slowly turning paper white.

“What do they need to know?”

“What?” Tina’s hands didn’t loosen, but the worry had faded from her face for now.

“They’re going to fight him. We can’t fight with them, but we can help.”

Mach slowly nodded. Her eyes closed.

John pulled out his phone and quickly called Burnout. He answered immediately.

“They need to be ready for his wake. Even if he doesn’t touch them, he can hurt them. And if they want even a chance of winning, they have to stop him from moving. Not just his legs, or his arms, they need to keep him as still as possible. They’ll have to trap him somewhere that Hawthorne can wrap him up before he can use his powers.”

Unimportant waited for more, but Mach stopped talking. Her hands were still clutching the wheels, but she was breathing more steadily.

Jaeger jumped over something in his path, breaking the trap he’d caught Miss Mirror in.

The newscaster’s voice finally came through clearly. “Another hero has arrived on the scene. We are getting confirmation on the identity now-”

Tina muted the TV. “She arrived faster than I expected.” She had released her wheels and blood was slowly returning to her hands. “Thank God.”

“Burnout should be right behind her.”

They stared silently at the news, but didn’t turn the sound back on. Hawthorne and Burnout’s names joined the others on the scroll.

John walked to the other side of the bed and sat down. He had had to watch his teammates fight before, but there was always something he could do to help. Against this opponent, with so little time, he was useless. A weight settled on his shoulders and he felt himself sagging into the chair.

“You’re not useless,” Tina said.

John’s eyes slid off the TV and to her.

“I own enough mirrors to know the look.”

“I don’t like sitting around doing nothing.” Tina raised an eyebrow at him. “I didn’t mean-”

“I know you didn’t. I don’t like it either. I used to be able to fight with them. I built the weapon that drove off Frankenstein, and now the best I can do is offer some good advice. I can’t even control the powers I have.”

“So how do you get through it?”

“If you had the powers you needed to help, you would. If I could still walk, I’d be right there beside them.”

“That’s enough?”

“No. It’s never enough. It’s barely even a comfort. But I know that I would never forgive myself for not helping if I could. That’s the best I have.”

John didn’t have an answer for that, and Tina didn’t seem ready to give any more.

A blue sphere took up the entire screen. It looked like they were trying to catch Jaeger.

John stared intently at the screen, barely catching the slight movement out of the corner of his eye.

And then the sphere exploded.

“No,” Tina breathed. She bolted upright in her wheelchair and had to catch herself before she fell off.

Jaeger was already charging at Hawthorne.

And then the fight was over. He’d taken out all three of them in moments, and now he was dragging Burnout back to pile them together.

John couldn’t take his eyes off the screen. Even with everything he knew about Jaeger, he never expected the others to lose. They’d taken on a man capable of throwing buildings and using their own blood as a weapon. Compared to that, this should have been easy.

Unimportant started to fade and jumped to his feet.

He ran for the door. He’d never get there in time to stop anything. He wouldn’t even get there in time to see Jaeger leave.

Tina didn’t say anything when he passed. Her eyes were clouded over, and he could see the tears starting to form at their corners. Her hands gripped her wheelchair again, but she made no move to release the brake.

He opened the door, and something blurred past him.

Unimportant and Tina both looked at the now empty bed.

Tina looked back at the news. “He’ll get there in time.”

Unimportant didn’t say anything. He ran out the door and straight for the stairs.

Tina rolled out after him, but didn’t rush. There was nothing else she could do.

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Chapter 109: Disappearance

Will stared at the ceiling.

It had been eight days. More than a few people had knocked on his door, but it wasn’t hard to convince them he wasn’t there. The only one with a spare key was Lux, and he should be out of the city for a few more days at least.

He hadn’t stayed shut in the whole time. He’d helped look for survivors in the wreckage, and he’d found more than his fair share of them. But after a few days, all the searches were done. After that he’d come home and spent the next day sleeping.

And then he’d just stayed in bed. He’d gotten up when he needed to, but he’d never had to leave the apartment. He pretended that he needed the time to think, but he’d spent most of the time avoiding anything he should be thinking about.

What he really wanted was a distraction, and it had come in last night.

Will was hiding and he knew it. But he was also waiting. His father was calling in the favor he owed, and that meant that some time in the next few hours, he’d be answering the knock at his door.  And then he’d be put on a plane that would fly in circles for a few hours to try and keep him from figuring out where he was going.

The last time he’d owed his father a favor, he’d had to take down an underground base that his father refused to confirm belonged to aliens, despite the fact that he’d met aliens multiple time before. The time before that he’d ended up at a party spying on some annoyingly rich people his father thought might be funding criminal organizations. Before that his father had taken him fishing.

That one had actually been the worst. Even halfway across the country, he could occasionally feel his father’s powers influencing him; tiny ideas and emotions would pop into his brain for no reason. When they got too close, his father’s powers became a constant buzzing in the back of his head. He could ignore it, just like most people did without even thinking about it, but it was a constant nuisance and he hadn’t been able to sleep for the entire three day trip.

Technically, he had only offered one day. But his father would use that day for all it was worth. And the day didn’t technically start until the mission did.  A one day debt could keep him gone for a week if it was spread out enough.

There was a knock at the door.

Will took his time getting out of bed. He grabbed his crumbled coat off the ground and shook it out. There was another knock, more insistent this time. Will grabbed a drink from his refrigerator and took a long sip before he opened the door.

A black suit stood on the other side. He held his tongue professionally, but there was extra effort going into his stoic face that made Will feel a little better.

“Time to go,” Will said.

The suit turned around and led Will down the hall and to a plain black sedan.

It was time to see how long his father would make the day last.

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Rachel Chase waited outside of her brother’s hospital room. She’d spent as long as she could inside, but she couldn’t stand it any longer. He spent most of his time staring blankly at the TV, whether it was could barely even get him to eat, and he’d left half his meals unfinished.

She needed to move. She turned down the hall and went to Tina’s room. Visiting her had been one of the few things that let Rachel stay at her brother’s side without breaking down. But that wouldn’t last much longer. She’d be checking out in two days, and Rachel would lose the only distraction she had left.

Rachel paused outside the room. Voices floated through the cracked door.

“I know you haven’t been able to leave the hospital, but we’re asking everyone who’s had contact with him recently. No one has seen him in a week, and when they finally got into his apartment, it looked like he was preparing for a trip.”

She recognized the voice, but she couldn’t remember his name.

“No, he didn’t stop by. I haven’t seen him since before the attack.”

“I thought as much, but people are starting to worry. He hasn’t disappeared in quite some time, but when he does, something usually ends up happening.”

“I’ll let you know if I hear anything. Thanks for stopping by, Aidos.”

Rachel heard him walking towards the door, but didn’t move. He didn’t look at her when he passed by, he just turned the other direction and walked away.

Rachel waited a few seconds before she walked into the room.

Tina turned toward her with a smile, but it quickly fell away. “You haven’t gone home yet, have you?”

Rachel froze and, eventually, shook her head.

Tina sighed. “It’s been a week. Driving yourself crazy isn’t going to do him any good.”

“What am I supposed to do? I can’t leave him here.”

“Mitch isn’t going anywhere. When he comes out of this, do you think he’ll want to see you looking like that?”

Rachel shook her head.

“Good,” Tina laid back in bed. “If you go now you’ll avoid traffic. We can talk then.”

Rachel turned to walk out. But she paused.

“What was that guy in here before me talking about?”

Tina turned back. “He was my contact for the meetings. The Council has been sending people out asking if anyone’s seen Will. They’ll probably ask you too.”

“Will’s missing? Who could-“ Rachel paused. Tina didn’t know who Will used to be. She hadn’t heard the same stories, or at least didn’t know he had anything to do with them. It didn’t sound like anyone had taken him against his will, but if someone had managed to do it, and been able to do it without raising chaos, then that meant someone was planning something huge.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Rachel said. “Will can take care of himself. They didn’t trust him with you guys for no reason.”

She wished she could be so sure.

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Chapter 108: Broken Steel

She knew where she was before she opened her eyes. There were people around her speaking quietly, and others whose voices were muffled by a closed door. The bed beneath her was hard and she could feel the head being sucked from her arms into the metal bars on either side. But the smell was all she needed.

There aren’t many places that smell as artificial as a hospital room. The sheets that smell clean only because they don’t smell like anything, the spiceless food sitting by her bed, the cleaning chemicals in the air that barely cover the almost sour taste that gathers around aging medicine. It was almost enough to distract her from the headache.

Tina opened her eyes.

The chair to her left was empty, but the blanket crumpled on top of it belonged to her mother. She wouldn’t have even brought the blanket if she hadn’t had to stay the night.

The voices on the other side of her hushed. Tina took a deep breath and turned over. George was there; that wasn’t too surprising, he and her father had gotten along the few times they’d met. He was one of the few people her parents would call.

Rachel was there too, and Tina’s stomach tightened a little. She’d been avoiding Rachel’s calls since she quit her job. There were rings around her eyes, and they had sunk deep into her skull, but she offered a half smile and Tina relaxed.

She almost didn’t recognize Jack; she hadn’t seen him since she had to stop working at the coffee shop and his arm was in a sling. He shouldn’t even know he was in the hospital, and how did he know George?

Her power woke up and her vision went white. Images flashed before her eyes, too fast for her to focus on. She caught a glimpse of Jack as she’d seen him in the coffee shop, and her times with the support group, but the image her powered settled on was the sight of Allspades in a warehouse with water raining down around him.

“Allspades,” she said quietly. “Jack.”

Her headache spiked, but it faded fast.

When she recovered, George was at her side, and Jack had gone to the door and looked to be waving somebody over. She tried to sit up.

“Slow down.” George gently grasped her shoulder. His face was twisted with worry. “You passed out during the attack. The doctor said to let her look at you before you move too much.”

Tina took a slow breath and lied back down. “How long was I out?”

“Three days,” a new voice said. Tina turned to look at the doctor walking into the room. Her eyes were glued to a chart in her hand. “In that time you’ve been put through more scans than most people get in a lifetime. By the time you got to us, your brain activity was completely normal. Since then we’ve just been waiting for you to wake up.”

She paused and glanced up at Tina, but Tina stayed quiet. The last time she was in the hospital, she was put through the bad news routine a few times a day. She knew when there was a “but” coming. The doctor looked at the others in the room and shooed them to the door.

“You’re going to be here for a while. At least a week. With your recent brain damage, we can’t take any risks. I was told that your power may have acted up during the attack. Do you remember anything?”

She did. She remembered every second as hundreds of deaths imprinted themselves onto the collapsing building.

Tina nodded.

The doctor waited for more, but when Tina didn’t speak, she nodded. “We can get someone for you to talk to about it if you want. It would help get you released, but there’s no hurry. Just let me know.”

She turned and walked out of the room. Tina relaxed back into the bed and counted down from ten.

When she reached zero, George was back in the room.

She kept her eyes on the ceiling. “What happened?”

“Most of the city was knocked out by a spell. They’ve had it carved onto billboards for months. We would have been asleep too-”

“But you tripped it early.”

He nodded. “The Court held out as long as he could. He managed to use me to wake the rest of the group up. We tracked down the leader and beat him. Will found the mage casting the spell and woke everyone up.”

Tina looked at George again. He wasn’t injured as badly as Jack had been, but she could see the bandages peeking out from under his sleeves, and there was a sickly purple welt covering half of his neck.

“Is everyone okay?”

George shifted uncomfortably. “Hawthorne has some broken ribs and she’ll be using crutches for a few weeks. Unimportant is mostly fine, but he has some road burns from jumping out of a car. You saw Allspades. I got away with some bruises.”

Tina tried to catch George’s eyes, but he was staring at the floor.

“What happened to Red?”

George shook his head. “He…he wasn’t hurt.”

If she waited for the “but” it would never happen. “What happened, George?”

“Someone died in front of him. It was before any of us had met up. Will and Hawthorne left him somewhere they thought he’d be safe, but he wasn’t there after the fight. Will said he showed up at his sister’s house a few hours later. We haven’t been able to see him, because-“ George made a vague gesture to his face. “But Will’s been talking to his sister. He said that Red’s barely talked since the attack ended. The doctor’s gave him some sedatives today because he hasn’t been sleeping.”

There were tears running down Tina’s cheeks. Rachel had been there, waiting in her room instead of her brother’s. George still refused to look up from the floor, so she quickly wiped them away.”

“George, can you send Rachel in. I need her to get some things from my house.”

He started to say something but started coughing. “Sure,” he said eventually.

Rachel closed the door behind her, and sat next to Tina.

“I’m sorry, Rachel.”

It was the smallest thing she could say, but there was no time to say more.

Rachel didn’t ask how she figured out that Mitchell was Red Racer. She probably didn’t even care.

“I don’t know how to help him,” she said softly. Tina reached out and took her hand.

Rachel started to sob. Tina hugged her friend as closely as she could from inside the hospital bed. Warm tears soaked into her hospital gown.

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Chapter 103: Anger

It had been quiet for so long. Maybe everything was okay. He raised his head out from between his knees, and the grip of his arms loosened.

At least a few of the others thought so. Their voices were growing louder, hopeful. They were shushed quickly, but the mood had lifted. He didn’t look at them for long

And then the world started to end. The ground shook. Metal screeched, echoing so much it had to be miles away but so loud that it must have been right next door. The others screamed. He saw them again.

Their guns were all pointed right at him. He couldn’t see their faces; he hadn’t gotten a good enough look the first time, but he could see their sneers, he could see the black pits where their eyes were and he knew they were death.

He took a rattled breath and buried his head back between his knees before she showed up, and he saw the rest. He knew he was shaking; he could feel the wall vibrating against his back. The gunshots rang out. He flinched, and was thrown back against the wall. But no bullets flew.

He peeked. The others had retreated back against the far wall again. None of them looked at him, they hadn’t spared a glance when he crawled under the racks and hid in the dark corner. The guns were gone, but he knew they’d be back.

He could feel them. Waiting on the other side of his eyelids.

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She watched the building collapse, and there was nothing she could do. Just like she couldn’t do anything when she first woke up. Just like she couldn’t do anything when the gunshots echoed around the city.

She’d tried to ignore it, for a while. TV and video games helped, but you could only ignore the gunfire and explosions outside of your window for so long. Eventually, she wheeled herself over to the window and watched the occasional flash of a muzzle and bright red streak of a tracer round fired into the sky. Sunrise had ruined that.

She had wandered into the kitchen in the time since, and the remains of her peanut butter still decorated the floor. Even across the room, she couldn’t not see the zeppelin coming down.

And then she’d seen the building. She’d been staring right at it when it fell. She felt her heart freeze in her chest and her stomach felt grotesquely empty. And then the screams started. Hundreds of thousands of minds had imprinted onto the collapsing building just as they died and every one of them tried to force their last thoughts into her head. Even asleep as they all were, the last moment of pain echoed.

Every neuron screamed as she felt herself being crushed a thousand times over. She felt herself trying to breathe only to realize there was no room for her lungs to expand. A metal birder had chopped off one of her legs. Her right was gone, leaving a trail of blood along her cheek as it rocked back and forth.

The building fell beneath the horizon and it stopped. The pain was gone, but she was rubbing her eye, oddly comforted by the pressure when she pressed on her eyelid.

She didn’t understand why, but she knew that the way the building had fallen had been unnatural,  forced. It had bulged before collapsing, as if it was being forced away from something she couldn’t see.

The news echoed behind her. It had taken the world outside the city four hours after she woke up to realize something had gone wrong, and they still hadn’t risked sending anyone to investigate.

But they’d seen the building too. It had been from the safety of the surrounding countryside, but she could hear the reporter failing to describe what he was seeing.

And as her power faded into the corners of her mind, she felt the strength in her arms fade and her vision went black.

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He had had a lot of bad ideas in his days, but this was by far the stupidest thing he’d ever done.

The wind whipped past his ears, drowning out the shouts form behind him.

The building had finished collapsing almost as soon as he’d left the copter. There weren’t any screams, but in the dark corners of his mind, he heard them echoing.

He’d never had a chance to talk sense into King. He’d never been able to tell him that he still believed the good natured asshole he’d spent years with was still in there. He’d never given him a chance to repent.

And now he never would.

Pain echoed up through his chest and tore itself from his throat in a yell more savage and wild than any human should be able to make.

He’d stopped thinking about the ground, but it was coming up fast. He knew he could survive the landing; he’d been rated for jumps from heights half again as high as the copter had been. But there were some fears that refused to be ignored.

His scream grew more and more panicked as the ground got closer. He barely had the sense of mind arrange to land feet first before the ground slammed into him.

Every joint in his legs threatened to shatter. The ground beneath them did. The street had turned into a crater, and cars on either end were threatening to tip over and roll towards him at the center. He gritted his teeth and slowly started to stand, forcing the half formed scream to stay quiet in his throat.

The first sound he heard was the groaning. Every building was screaming its pain from King’s passage, but the sound had stopped moving away from him.

Slowly the sound came closer until he could see a single figure walking down the center of the street.

Allspades took a deep breath. One by one, the muscles in his body tensed as he brought his hands up and clenched them tightly.

The collapsed building just behind him gave one last moaning grunt before it settled.

A white glow rose form his skin as the white burinng rage tore itself form his throat.

“KING!”

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Chapter 82: Reign

The library was silent, and Jack was doing his best not to fall asleep at the desk. With the storm raging outside no one had come further into the library than ducking into the vestibule to escape the downpour.

He’d tried going online to keep himself distracted, but after spending the night jumping on the rooftops and stopping a few muggers, he couldn’t concentrate on the screen long enough to stop his eyes from drifting shut.

Bouncing a ball off the high ceiling wasn’t much better, but at least it kept him moving. He kept himself entertained by adjusting the throws to see just how close he could get to the ceiling without touching it.

He kept throwing the ball when he heard the outer doors opening. Even if they came into the library, whoever it was wouldn’t be checking out any books without plastic bags to put them in.

Jack leaned back to catch the falling ball, but just before he could something crashed into it with the force of a bullet and send it rocketing away from him.

Jack slowly looked at the entrance. His eyes widened and he felt his heart start galloping in his chest.

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Rose watched the last of her employees rush out of the office before they closed the roads. With the amount of rain coming down, it was a miracle the storm drains hadn’t already overflowed.

She turned and stared out the window; the rain beating against it sounded more like bullets than it did water. She should be leaving too, but there was some paperwork that had to be finished today if she wanted to sleep this weekend. In the worst case scenario, she could leave her car in the garage and take a straighter path home. She could grow something to keep the rain off her if it came down to that.

The nearly blank document on the screen behind her beckoned and Rose bit back a sigh and forced herself to sit down. She tabbed over to a new window and turned up the volume on her computer; it was the only perk being alone in the office was really offering her today.

She typed along with the music as quickly as she could, but she quickly caught her fingers dragging on the keys. She kept typing the same letters over and over again. She couldn’t remember when the song had changed.

Rose felt her eyes grow heavy as a long string of ks began filling up her screen.

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John listened to his mother moving around in the kitchen below. After nearly two days of spending as much time with her as he could, she’d finally ordered him to go upstairs and play some games before he drove her insane. He’d obeyed reluctantly. He couldn’t help but feel like he might vanish again as soon as he was alone.

It was a pointless fear; he knew how to return now, but the hollow echo of the Between still lurked in his mind and made his heart clench in his chest.

He had the TV on its highest volume, gratefully listening to every second it didn’t reverberate through him like he wasn’t really there.

John leaned back in his bed and let the sound wash over him. It wasn’t anything he needed to see the screen for, just some over the top action movie he’d seen a thousand times. Instead, he stared at the city map he had taped to the ceiling. Dozens of pins stuck out of it in places all across the city; the feeling of pride that had filled him the day he’d stuck the first one in rushed back into him. His brother’s drug dealer had been a good place to start, but it had only been the first step in his crusade.

For a brief moment, John let himself sink into the memory. The sound of the TV faded into nothing as he closed his eyes and fell asleep.

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Mitchell sat on the bus from school, and it was killing him. He could have been back in less than a minute if he ran, but if his sister realized what he’d done then he’d be stuck with granola bars as the dessert in his lunch bag for weeks.

Even though he’d had his powers for less than a year, Mitchell couldn’t understand how people could live with moving so slowly. His teachers always spent so long talking about a single thing he could have read a library book about it faster than they finished. And none of his classmates ever seemed to notice. They took notes on every word as if they hadn’t heard the same thing literally seconds earlier.

He’d lost count of the number of times his teachers had picked him out for a question, trying to prove he wasn’t paying attention when he’d already copied their entire slide of notes before the transition animation was done.

When the bus finally dropped him off, Mitchell had to run slowly enough indoors that the rain would actually get a chance to soak his shirt until it clung to him like plastic wrap. He grimaced and tried to pull the garment away from his skin but it slopped back the moment he let go.

At least there was supposed to be a meeting tonight. Even with this rain they could probably still meet. Everyone there talked slowly too, but at least they were usually interesting, especially with Unimportant back. It was better than he’d been expecting when his sister forced him to go that first night. Even if he knew that he was going to be a hero no matter what, he had started to understand why the others were thinking about quitting. Plus, he’d actually made friends with other heroes. That was something he may have had to wait years to do if he hadn’t joined the group.

Mitchell pulled off his wet clothes and plopped down onto his bed. He’d take a shower before the meeting, but first he wanted to take a nap.

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Tina slowly stood up from her wheel chair. The mechanical joints next to her kneed whirred to life at the twitch of her thoughts and slowly lifted her onto her feet. She stood up and almost immediately collapsed back into her wheel chair.

The assister was working correctly, but the amount of conscious thought and physical effort it took to do simple tasks still bothered her. She’d been told a hundred times already that it would become like second nature with practice and that her legs would get their strength back with use. She knew it was true, but it didn’t stop her from wanting to break down in tears every time she had to practically crawl into bed.

Thirty minutes twice a day. It was all she was allowed to practice for the first week. It was the third day now, and she was lucky if she managed to make it twenty minutes into practice before she was too exhausted to continue.

She’ was only ten minutes into it today and she already felt like collapsing. Tina closed her eyes to take a deep breath and was instantly asleep.

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“Thomas, you’re…you’re alive!”

“Hey…Mason.”

Jack easily leapt over the desk and raced to his old friend. Thomas seemed uncomfortable but let his former teammate wrap his arms around him and lift him into the air as easily as he’d been tossing the ball a second earlier. It was almost a full minute before Jack let him down and let him take a step back.

“Where have you been? I thought you were-“

“I know. I would have come sooner but I was…busy.” Thomas slowly ran his hands over the bleach white suit he wore, carefully smoothing any of the wrinkles left by Jack’s manhandling of him.

“Well you took too damn long,” Jack’s smile faded slightly, but still held strong. “You couldn’t have called, sent me a letter, anything?”

“I’m sorry, Mason, but I don’t have time for this right now. I came to give you an offer, and if you accept I promise we’ll have all the time we need to talk about it.”

Jack’s forehead creased as his smile dropped from his face. “What are you talking about Tom?”

“I’m going to change the way the world looks at us, Mason. I’m going to show them what happens when they turn walkers into their puppets like they did us.” For the first time Jack’s eyes locked with Thomas’, and he felt himself burning beneath them. “They treat our kind as if they deserve our protection no matter what they do and how they act. I’m going to prove them wrong, and I’m starting with this city.” Thomas’ smile nearly split his face in two, but his eyes still burned. “And I want you to help me.”

Jack took a step back. “What do you-?”

Thomas shook his head. “I see. You’ve already been corrupted by this notion of hero. I was afraid that I’d be too late. I really should have come sooner, Knight.”

He turned and started walking for the door. Almost immediately, Jack dropped to his knees. Exhaustion flooded through every bone in his body.

“Maybe when you see what I’ve done, you’ll understand.”

“K-King!” Jack managed to call out.

Thomas looked back, for a moment Jack swore that the fire behind his eyes dimmed. “I threw that name away, Mason. When you wake up, tell them to call me Trump.”

Another wave of exhaustion hit him, and Jack fell asleep.

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George Sadler ran through the streets. His eyes darted back and forth constantly, looking for a sign that anyone else was still moving.

But it was pointless.

Burnout was the only one still awake.

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Chapter 75: Talk

“This isn’t working.” Allspades said over the support group’s radio frequency. He was standing on the far side of the roof rom Porticus, his accompanying slider, and talking quietly enough to avoid being heard.

“Maybe,” Hawthorne said, speaking just as quietly. “But what other option is there? We can’t track him, and we can’t contact him. We know he’s still after Asclepios’ warehouses, so this is all we can do.”

“But we don’t even know where half of them are. And we can only cover half the one’s we know about. It could be weeks before he hits one of the ones that we’re patrolling”

“Then we have to draw him out somehow,” Burnout said.

“Will talked about that-at, but none of us know enough about him to find a way to signal him. I’m still the only one who remembers him, and I don’t remember him saying much about himself, or much of anything at all, really.”

“Which is what put us here in the first place,” Allspades said. He sighed and looked over at Porticus. The slider hadn’t said a word to him all night. Even the way he breathed was annoyingly quiet, and it was driving Allspades up a wall.

“Don’t worry about him. We just need to find your friend.”

Friend? If Red Racer was right, then even before he disappeared, Unimportant hadn’t been particularly close to any of them. Not that any of them were particularly close anyway. Burnout was the only one who’d even known Mach was a girl before she was paralyzed.

For all the talking they’d done, for as much as they’d complained about how their powers and lives weren’t mixing, Allspades couldn’t honestly say he knew anything about any of them.

“You called me blonde chick for the first year we knew each other.”

Allspades shrugged at the voice in his head. After Stalker told him that she was real, that Page was actually talking to him, her words had started making a lot more sense. Nowadays they could have actual conversations that didn’t dissolve into headaches and nonsensical ramblings.

“I’m a brunette, Mason.”

Allspades sighed. He had to admit, for as little as he knew about the others, he had grown to look forward to the meetings. When he learned that Mach wasn’t going to be able to be a hero, that the choice they’d all come to make had been stolen from her, he’d been angry and hurt. It hadn’t been as bad as losing his old team, but it was a different kind of pain, one he didn’t quite understand. He honestly didn’t know what would happen if one of the others vanished like she had.

“See? That sounds like friendship to me.”

He honestly didn’t know how they would have felt when they found out he left. Hawthorne had obviously cared enough to go after him. If he had known that losing Mach would make the room feel so empty, would he have been so willing to leave? Had revenge clouded his mind so badly that he hadn’t even considered what leaving would do?

“Well, to be fair, you also thought you were going crazy. I’m pretty sure I was keeping you from sleeping too.”

But even that wasn’t an excuse. With or without Page in his head, he’d chosen to become Knight again, he’d decided that his old life was more important than his new one. He was almost certain that he wouldn’t have made the same choice again, but there was still a doubt lingering in the back of his mind.

Maybe they needed a chance to talk, outside of the meetings, away from walkers and heroes and villains.

“Red, what do you remember about Unimportant?” He asked. “Is there anything you can think of that doesn’t have to do with his powers? Why does he hate Asclepios so much?”

“I don’t remember too much-uch,” Red Racer said. “But I think he said someone close to him had died. His friend overdosed on Asclepios’s drugs.”

“I might be able to narrow it down then,” a new voice joined in the group, one all of them recognized. Allspades felt his heart lighten at its sound.

“Mach!” Burnout and Red Racer shouted excitedly. “What are you doing here-ere?”

“I gave you all this frequency, remember? I noticed a lot of chatter going on and decided to take a look. Do you mind catching me up on everything?”

Red Racer hurriedly told her everything that had happened that day. In a little less than ten minutes, she was caught up to speed on Unimportant’s existence.

“That’s…a lot to take in, but I think I might be able to help,” Mach said. “Let me check something.” They heard the clacking of a keyboard over the line. “It looks like there are only two of Asclepios’s drugs that can actually cause an overdose; he tends to avoid it to make more money. If we can figure out what warehouses are holding them, we might be able narrow it down.”

“How can we do that?” Hawthorne asked. “Do you have some kind of chemical scanner we can pick up?”

“Yes,” Mach said. “Sort of. Do you remember the chem trails that I used to track the cars from Asclepios’ gas attack? If we can get a mecher the right chemical signatures, then they should be able to figure out what warehouses have that drug.”

“On it-it.” There was a sudden rush of wind coming from Red Racer’s microphone. Their radios picked up on it and quickly cancelled it out, but they had an idea of his goal.

“Will!” They heard him shout before he turned off his radio.

Allspades and the others waited for Red Racer’s voice to come back on the line. Allspades caught his foot tapping along with the breaths of the others.

He glanced over at Porticus, who was staring at him strangely, but the other hero never said a word.

“I got to Will-ill.” Allspades barely kept himself from jumping at Red Racer’s sudden return. “He said he’d tell Slipstream and see if anyone else could join in.”

“Glad to help,” Mach said. “But I should probably get going.”

“Wait.” With the silence that followed the one word, Allspades was pretty certain everyone was a little surprised at his interruption.

“I mean, it’s not like we’re going to be off the radio; at least not until we hear back. There’s no reason you can’t stick around, Mach.”

There were sounds of general agreement from the rest of the group.

“Okay,” Mach said. “I can’t say I don’t miss being able to talk with you all. But we’re going to have to think of something else to call me. Mach just doesn’t feel right anymore.”

“Don’t worry,” Hawthorne said. “I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to think about it.”

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Memoirs of the Second Age 2: Mach

I’d like to tell you that I eventually managed to walk again.

Technically it wouldn’t be a lie. We’ve gotten pretty far these years, and the improvements I’ve made to the leg attachments have let me walk, run, and occasionally even fight again. But no matter how close I’ve gotten in was never the same.

Those first few weeks were the hardest. Learning how to not walk was difficult, but learning how to use my power at the same time was nearly impossible.

I still made an effort to go to the meetings, but I never felt like I belonged. Red Racer couldn’t stop shooting looks at me for a while.  He didn’t’ mean any harm, but it made me feel like I wad more broken than I knew I was.

Hawthorne was the nicest about everything. She was sympathetic, but she never treated me like I couldn’t do anything. She also managed to talk to me like a normal person. I think I got closer to her in that first week than I had in the months we’d known each other beforehand.

Allspades was distant. He was going through his own problems at the time, and I think he thought a lot more of my frustration was directed at him than really was. It was years after I changed names that we had a chance to really get to know each other. But that isn’t really a story for this book.

Burnout…In a lot of ways Burnout was probably the worst. I think he blamed himself, but I have no idea what he thinks he could have done. At first he was doting on me, and then he was avoiding me. Even after we recovered, there were times that he just couldn’t talk to me like he used to.

A part of me wonders what would have happened if I’d never been hurt. Burnout and I…we’d gotten close before Frankenstein appeared. We might have actually had something if I’d managed to stay Mach. But we’d lost the biggest thing we had in common right when we were becoming real friends. It didn’t really set us back, but it kept us distant for a long time.

Unimportant? He was missing at the time. That was the deepest he’s ever slid without losing ground in our reality; we didn’t even know he ever existed back then. I kind of wish he’d been there. For as flat as his powers made him, he always had a way of letting us know exactly he felt. If he’d been putting out those waves of his then the others might have gotten a better idea of what I really needed back then.

Will, this was back when we had no idea who he used to be, he was actually more kind and helpful during those few weeks than he’d ever been when I was still mach. I guess my situation got to him a little. He never had any problem with me showing up to meetings after the incident. He was there to help us make a decision, but since mine was made for me, I guess he just wanted to do his best to make me believe it was a good way to live.

I never really believed it though. And honestly, I’m glad I didn’t. It was almost a year before I figured out how I could be a hero without my legs, but I never regretted getting back into the life. I liked being Scanner a lot more than I’d ever enjoyed being Mach. Sure I couldn’t fight anymore, except for a few tricks I built into my assister, but I never felt like I had to run out into every crisis again. I could do just as much good, save just as many lives, if not more, from the background as I could on the front lines.

I stayed in touch with the group, of course. Even after Eclipse, I made sure that everyone got together every once in a while. We were never an official team, but none of us could deny that we worked well together. Most of our members managed to float between teams seamlessly after that and I’m pretty sure that’s what got Hawthorne to where she is nowadays.

…Regrets?

I have a few. Everyone does. I regret not hanging up my cape then and there. I regret going out that day and letting Frankenstein catch me off guard. I regret not figuring out my power sooner; if I had I might have been able to be Scanner and Mach at the same time. Mostly? I suppose I regret that I wasn’t the last one.

No; I really don’t feel comfortable talking about that day. It hit all of us hard, and unless Hawthorne’s willing to talk, I can guarantee no one else is going to want to think about it.

What happened next? That isn’t really my story.  Back then the most pivotal thing happening to any of us had almost nothing to do with me. You’ll have to track him down, because you’re going to want that story. If you want to know how we came to know who Will Writer really was, who Rumor really was, then that’s the place you need to start. Good luck.

No. I haven’t talked to him for a few weeks now, so he could be literally anywhere in the solar system. I notice myself not thinking about him sometimes though. I’d probably start back in Macrocity. It’s a good place to be when you travel as much as he does.

He’ll get in touch with me next time he’s grounded. I’ll let him know you’re looking.

Of course it’s important for you to talk to him. If you really want an idea of how the world was going to end, then he’s the place to start. As little as he did, there was no one more in touch with what was going on than Unimportant.

-Scanner
Memoirs of the Second Age

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Chapter 68: Letting Go

Tina stared at her legs.

Her parents were here now; they were talking to the doctors. She wasn’t paying attention, but the word ‘options’ was coming up repeatedly. It didn’t matter anymore, she’d stopped listening when they told her she’d probably never be able to move them again.

She glanced up at the doctor, and immediately had to look away. His pen, his lab-coat, even his tie were all inherited from his father. He power had grabbed onto everything both doctor’s and all of their patients had placed into them.

She hadn’t looked away quickly enough. She felt the bile burning the lower half of her throat as she forced herself to take slow, deep breaths.

“Tina.”

A hand on her shoulder brought her back into the present.

“Tina.

She kept her eyes closed until she was sure she was looking at her doctor’s face.

“I’m fine,” She choked. “It’s just a lot to take in.”

The doctor nodded and looked to her parents.

“It might be best to keep her here another few days. That way you can discuss how best to handle her new situation.”

Her mother couldn’t speak without sobbing.

“We’ll see what we can do,” her father said.  “Thank you for everything.”

The doctor nodded and walked out of the room.

Her father turned to her. “Are you going to be all right here tonight? One of us can sleep on the chair if-“

Tina shook her head. “No. Please. I think I can manage for tonight.”

Her father nodded reluctantly. “One of us will be in first thing in the morning okay? Call if you need anything. No matter the time. Got it?”

Tina painted a smile on her face and nodded. Her mother leaned down and wrapped her arms around her, letting her tears soak into the hospital gown.

When she spoke it was muffled and quiet, but Tina understood.

“I love you too mom,” she said. “Make suere you get some sleep tonight, okay?”

Tina felt her gown shift under her mother’s head as she nodded. After a moment, her mother reluctantly let her go and stepped to the side. Her father hugged her too, much more briefly and less mess, but just as caringly.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow,” her father replied with a nod.

She watched the door close behind them, and she kept watching it until the smiling nurse came in.

“Is there anything you need to do before we turn the light out?”

Tina shook her head.

“Okay. Just remember to press the button if you need anything.”

The smiling nurse flipped the switch and shut the door behind her.

She would have been in complete darkness if not for the small reading lamp above her head. A small part of her wanted to turn it off immediately; her power had a hard time picking up on anything she couldn’t see. But her power wasn’t going away anytime soon, and she couldn’t’ avoid looking at anything of value for the rest of her life.

She started by focusing on the small mirror next to her bed. It was cheap;, mass produced, but enough people had stared into it at some of the worst times of their lives that it couldn’t help but pick up something of them.

She was so focused on the mirror that she almost didn’t notice the second face reflected alongside her own.

The mirror flew through the air and landed further down on her lap. Tina quickly checked each direction and behind her. There was o one to be seen. She tentatively reached for the mirror again. The face was still there, sitting beside her.

“Sorry about that. I probably should have given you some warning.” His voice was quieter, less powerful, but she knew it all the same.

“You were inside of my head.”

He nodded. “Good. I hoped you’d remember that; I suppose that I have their intrusion o thank for your recollection.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m you,” the man said. “Or rather, I’m a part of you mixed with something else. Most of me has been here since the day you were born. Although, neither of us were quite aware of that at the time.”

“Azriel.”

The man nodded. “When he healed us, he left a little piece of himself behind. Not enough for either side to suffer, but enough to change my nature, if only the tiniest amount.”

The man seemed antsy, as if he despised being trapped in the mirror almost as much as she was stuck in this bed.

“I’m sorry, and I’m sure you have many questions. But I am afraid that I can only keep myself visible to you for so long. I hope you don’t mind if I hurry.” The man began to pace within the confines of the mirror. “I want to know what you’re going to do next.”

Tina stole another glance at her legs. “I don’t know if there’s anything to do,” she said. “I can’t control the suit right if I don’t have legs.

“Nonsense. You might never fly around again, but that doesn’t stop us. It can’t stop us.” The man sounded overly certain, maybe even desperate.

“A wheelchair bound hero isn’t exactly what the world is screaming for,” Tina said. “I would die if I went out there like this.” She vaguely waved her hand towards her legs. “I think it would be best to just…let it go, and move on.”

“But-“

Tina turned out the light. She could talk to her delusions when she felt less crazy for doing so.

She heard his voice muffled in the back of her mind, but it wasn’t anything she couldn’t ignore, just the faintest murmuring in the background lulling her to sleep.

Tina closed her eyes and tried to push the thoughts of the day out of her mind. It couldn’t be done; even without the mirror man’s voice, her own thoughts crashed around inside her head like thunder.

She tried in vain to push them aside for hours, until exhaustion finally won out and she fell asleep.

She dreamed of flying,

 

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Chapter 67: What Happens Next?

There were only four chairs.

Will stayed in the shadows by the entrance as the group filed in one by one into the empty auditorium. It was the quietest they had been since the first meeting. Even Red Racer’s energy was drained to nothing.

Burnout didn’t sit down.

He vaguely stared at the last empty chair before walking around and sitting on the stage.

Will gave them a few moments before he walked out of the shadows.

Burnout met his eyes.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

*16 Hours Earlier*

Nobody? What do you mean nobody can help her?”

Will didn’t turn from the window. Burnout had followed him when he walked the agent out of the hospital, and he’d made sure to lead him a room far from Mach’s.

“It’s not the kind of damage that can be fixed. The part of her brain that controlled her legs has been fried. She’s lucky that’s all she lost.”

“She’s a mecher. She’ll find a way around it.” Burnout nodded forcefully as he spoke.

Will shook his head. “If it was something in her spine sure. A healer would even be able to help with that. Or if it was actual mental damage a good tel could help her. But even if she made something that walks for her, she’d have to think about every step. She has a chance to walk, but she’ll never run, and she definitely won’t be able to fight.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Will looked away first. He had three others to worry about.

“For most of you, this is the first teammate you’ve lost since you put on a mask.”

He hated this speech. Even before he’d quit being a hero, he’d had to give it half a dozen times a year. It changed each time, but it made him feel like a cardboard cutout with a voice box taped to it.

“And for the rest of you, you’re learning that it doesn’t hurt any less. It never does.”

But that didn’t mean you couldn’t get used to it.

“And sometimes it hurts a lot more.”

An image flashed before his eyes. She had her back turned to him, but he’d recognize that shade of brunette anywhere. The smell of warm apples brushed against his nose and a soft song reached his ears. He tried to run after her, but his feet didn’t move. He watched as she slowly drifted into the distance.

“Some people will call you lucky. Mach’s alive. They think that that’s the better option.”

But she would never be Mach again. The girl behind the mask would have to find an excuse for why she would be crippled for the rest of her life.

“But that’s a lie. The fact is that the girl you knew will never stand by your side again. You might stay in touch, you might even be best friends the rest of your lives, but it will never be the same.”

Because neither of you will ever look at the other the same way again.

“Because you’re the hero who gets to keep saving people. And they’re the person you couldn’t save. No matter how much time passes or how close you get over the years, that will never change.”

This was the part he hated the most. He was telling them something they already knew, something they’d already admitted to themselves. But it had to be said, because they would spend the next decade trying to figure out what they could have done differently.

Will took a breath.

“You’re going through one of the worst times of your lives as heroes. That also makes this one of the most important times of your lives. Because soon, you’re going to look in a mirror, or stare at the stars, or just freeze, and you’re going to ask yourself a question.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

*16 Years Prior*

Rumor stayed in the shadows as they lowered the coffin into the grave. The name on the stone was Blake McGuile, but he’d never known him by that name.

He wanted to get closer; he wanted to be able to pay his respects before they filled in the grave, and to tell Blakes mother that her son had been brave and selfless and that he didn’t deserve to die. But he wouldn’t be welcome. Rumor may not have been the one to throw him off that building, but he had been the only one who had a chance of catching him.

Blake’s mother was whispering to the grave now. A line of family and friends had already formed behind her. One by one they carried their flowers to the grave and tossed them inside.

Rumor stayed through it all. There wasn’t anywhere he needed to be more than here right now. Here, he was surrounded by the dead. It felt like he belonged.

A small cat wandered through the tombstones and stopped next to him. It stared blankly at him before sitting down and absently started to bathe itself.

The crowd was walking away now. It was time.

The cat followed Will as he approached the grave.

Memories flooded his mind with every step. Had it really only been two weeks?

I’m the Wizard Baroque, and you would do best to remember it.

I know I’m not the best mage around, but I’m not gonna let that stop me.

I’m going to people remember by name. There won’t be a prowler or jaunter around who won’t run away when they hear I’m coming.

And then it had been over.  Bunyan had tossed him off the side of the building like it was nothing. And nobody could reach him in time.

Rumor stared at the gravestone.

“I know it doesn’t mean anything, but I’m sorry. You were supposed to become the best hero in the city, and I let that giant oaf to ruin it for you. It won’t mean much, but I’ll never forget your name, Baroque.”

He walked away from the grave, with the cat following close behind.

A single question ran through his mind.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

“What happens next?”

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Chapter 66: What’s Left; What’s Lost

She didn’t know where she was. She remembered a monster chasing her. She remembered doing something to drive it off. But now she was standing in a field of mirrored grass, and even those few memories were being crowded out.

Noise filled her ears. Noise like she had experienced as a child, when everyone was talking but she couldn’t join in. She searched for something, a strand of coherent thought that could make everything make sense. But there was too much.

She collapsed.

She was staring at the boots of someone she didn’t know. Or maybe it was someone she used to know. He stood above her, conducting the meaningless noise as if it were a thing of beauty.

She tried to stare at his face, but it kept changing. It was her father, it was Burnout, it was Rachel, it was Will. The faces all fit perfectly, but none of them belonged.

Tina opened her mouth, but no words came out. The man-thing in front of her stopped. His eyes searched across the field, towards the city in the distance.

His mouth opened and a powerful voice rippled towards the city.

“The city is built on the souls of its founders.”

For the briefest moment, the noise stopped. Tina felt her muscles relaxing for the first time since she had awoken in the field.

He looked down at her.

She tried to say something again, but he shook his head.

The man dropped to one knee and placed a single finger on her forehead. A whisper echoed between her ears.

Do you know who I am?”

She managed to shake her head, and the man’s face dropped. All at once the noise returned. Tina pulled her legs towards her chest and focused all of her attention on the man’s shoes. For the briefest moment, it worked. But the noise was too insistent to be blotted out by such a cheap trick.

“The buildings have memories.’

The man’s voice rang out again. This time, it did not stop the noise; the meaningless sounds only grew louder, as if they were trying to push the one coherent sting in their mass as far away from her as possible.

Tina covered her ears and shut her eyes. The man didn’t stop conducting the noise, but his whisper echoed in her head once again.

You can’t escape; you can’t hide; you cannot control what you will not face.”

The noise doubled in strength. What little help covering her ears had done, it now only trapped the noise closer to her brain. The sound reverberated in her skull and in her chest, forcing the air out of her lungs. She tried to scream, but it didn’t make any difference. The only one who might have been able to hear her didn’t even glance at the girl at his feet.

Tina crawled towards him, reaching out to grab onto something; praying that he could stop the noise even for an instant.

Her fingers brushed against his shoe, and the noise stopped.

“The streets are filled with the pain stamped into them day after day.”

And you ignored it.

The venom behind the whisper drained the warmth from her blood. The man’s eyes met hers for the first time, and the icy blue gaze pierced through her. A little bit of strength started to work its way into her.

“No.” The sound of her own voice surprised her.

Yes.” The man raised his hands again, but the sound did not return yet. “You failed to listen. You failed to hear their cries. Now, it is all you shall hear.”

The noise came back, louder than ever. Only now, it wasn’t random. She could hear scream sof pain and rears of joy. She could feel the rivers of sorrow being boiled into steams of hatred.

“You wasted me on toys. You saved a few when you could have saved thousands.”

A man imagined the stain his fall would leave on the pavement in front of where he worked. It was the funniest thing he’d thought of all day.

A killer felt the weight of the gun against his thigh. He walked slowly away from the aller as the sirens drove past him.

Tina pulled at her hair. Every thought every emotion these meant felt echoed through her entire body.

“Why?” She croaked.

It is who you are. It is who I am,” The whisper echoed. “We collect what they leave behind. You chose to take what you could use. They chose to keep what gave them joy. Now everything left behind flows into the only source it has.

In the next instant, Mach was on her feet.

You cannot control what has passed. You can only choose what to do with what is left behind.”

He turned towards the city again. Tina followed his eyes and saw two figures approaching.

They were made of mirrors too. Effigies of humans made from silver and glass. One moved quickly towards her. It was trying to say something, but it had no mouth to talk with.

She looked at the man.

They have come for you. They want you to wake up.”

She stared blankly at him, and turned backed towards the mirror-person. He was gesturing towards the man; he seemed to be concerned, but she didn’t know why. The noise didn’t seem nearly as loud as before. He gestured for her to follow him; to go away from the field.

You can leave if you go to the city. But it will only grow worse if continue to act as you have.”

The mirror-man nodded and made a gesture to follow him. Tina took a step forward, the silver grass was surprisingly soft against her feet. She turned towards the man.

“Who are you?”

The man began to conduct the noise once again.

I am what was left behind.

A thunderous clap echoed through the field.

I am what was always here.”

The noise seemed to swirl towards him. The mercurial sky began to bulge towards the field.

I am what gives you strength.

The sky burst and a flood of liquid metal spiraled down towards him.

But I am not what makes you strong.”

The flooding silver forced Tina towards the city. The mirror-people were already gone.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&7

Mach woke up.

There were people around her. She recognized them, but it took her a moment to understand who they were.

Burnout leaned in from the side of the bed. “How do you feel?”

She groaned as the light hit her eyes. She felt the needle sticking into the back of her hand. She felt the bed pressing up against her back. She felt the cool metal pressing up against her arm.

“I can’t feel my legs.”

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