Solve for x
Kam rubbed his eraser against the edge of the page, cutting away clumps of pink rubber with the paper. Math was one of his favorite subjects, but this sort of rudimentary equation was too boring to even try to solve. Boredom wasn’t his only problem, though. Kam felt out of place.
Being unceremoniously shoved into the body of a teenager was now at the top of his list of “Disturbing and Traumatic Experiences.” In fact, he would have given this round an award for being the most awkward as well. What was he supposed to tell a fifteen year old girl when she gave him love letters? ‘Sorry babe, I’m actually thirty. I’ve had at least three long term relationships, a college degree, and four failed careers.’
Some things stayed the same when everything else changed. He glanced across the classroom to find that Freya had her head tucked down, busily scribbling on her paper. For the first time in two days she wasn’t making what she thought was flirty eyes at him.
Putting down his pencil, Kam massaged his temples in an attempt to force himself to concentrate on the test. What was the point of trying, though? Did this world really exist or was it just a crazy dream?
Squeezing his eyes shut, Kam tried to block a blooming headache; the result of tense shoulders and hunched posture. ‘How did I even end up like this?’ he wondered. Sweat trickled down the center of his back. It was uncomfortably hot.
The scent of burning plastic filled his sinuses as he drew a deep breath. Shifting his crouch to ease a cramp in his foot, Kam opened his eyes to the noise of something metallic hitting the floor beside him. The cylinder rolled to a stop against his foot. He gripped his riffle to his armored chest as the word ‘Grenade’ flashed through his mind. Instinctively, he struck boot leather to pavement, breaking cover from behind a marble tiled pillar, away from a bank of desks and wall of melting Plexiglas. Kam ran left as bullets hit the marble tiles behind him, chipping sharp shards into the air electricity crackling off the edges.
Scanning for an exit, he spotted a large glass door that had been blown in, but the people shooting at him effectively blocked that avenue of retreat. Paper and still bodies dressed in bloody business casual littered the floor.
“Kam! Keep your stupid head down!” a woman’s voice ordered over the headset built into his helmet.
He vaguely recognized her, but her name evaporated in the face of slightly more pressing concerns. He leapt over a body sprawled on the floor as the grenade exploded behind him. A large chunk of the pillar and floor evaporated in an electric-lined blast. The high ceiling cracked ominously.
Rolling behind a podium, Kam clutched his gun, panting in terror. Someone beside him moved. He looked right, coming nose to nose with a man in dirty rags with a garishly colored bandanna tied over his greasy hair.
Their eyes met. A moment of awkward slack-jawed silence passed.
The man fumbled his pistol and pointed it at Kam.
Armored fist lashing out, Kam punched him in the face and started running again.
‘Leap of assumption: I’m a cop, they’re the robbers. Can I go back to the math test?’
A shower of electro-bullets blew pieces of the wooden podium away as he ducked and rolled aside and came to his feet again, running for the next piece of cover he could find; another marble tiled pillar in the grand room that he finally determined looked like a bank of some kind due to the pretentious decor. The ceiling above shook with a solid boom he felt through his futuristic blue armor and in his bones. Dust and tiles fell, one landing on a body and confirming Kam’s suspicion that everyone but he and the robbers were dead. Tucking behind the pillar, he clutched his gun to his chest and wondered why he was even bothering to hang on to it. Shouldering the weapon, he rounded the pillar and fired at the first gaudy bandanna to show itself.
The man he hit shouted and went down, twitching. ‘Non lethal apparently,’ that at least made him feel slightly better about taking aim at the next person. He was no marksman, but he had played a video game or two in the past.
His next several shots missed, but at least the greasy pirates ducked for cover, giving him the chance to change position again behind the next podium, though he had no idea where he was going or what the point of this gunfight actually was.
Movement on the far side of the room caught his attention.
“Their ship has come in, Kam! Get out of there!” the woman’s voice on his headset demanded.
His gaze landed on Freya’s large dark eyes as a pirate pulled her out from behind one of the podiums. The greasy man pressed his pistol up against the side of her head. “Fall back men!” he shouted.
Something seemed off about Freya’s expression. Kam couldn’t quite place it, but he did determine that she was likely in trouble; he already knew the dark-haired young woman was trouble, but felt compelled to at least try to save her.
Creaking ominously, the compromised pillar gave way and brought part of the ceiling with it. Kam rushed the man holding Freya hostage.
The robber’s eyes widened, he pointed the gun at Kam.
“No!” Freya objected, fear making her crimson-painted lips tremble. Her captor shoved her away abruptly and ran. His thieving friends dashed for an exit as the ceiling collapsed.
Catching the curvy girl, Kam pulled her down and slid across the tile floor to pin her against the reinforced desks, his armored back protecting them both from falling debris as the Plexiglas finally gave way in an explosion of hot globules and smoke poured into the room to mix with the dust and insulation.
Freya lay limp beneath him, tucked in the angle between him and the floor.
Kam squeezed his eyes shut. ‘Please switch me!’ he thought desperately as the hot air seared his exposed skin and made Freya’s short hair curl. He held his breath and gasped in relief when fresh air rolled in through the broken front door to fill the gap left by the explosion.
“Kam! Kam! Answer me damn it!” the woman shrieked in his ear.
“I’m alive…” he said in wonder and sat up slowly to look down at Freya. She sprawled on the floor beneath him and after struggling with his glove for a moment Kam managed to get it off and checked her pulse. “So is she.”
“Well great. You at least managed to save something. You know this is going to tank your ratings,” the woman in his headset muttered.
“Uh…” He pulled his glove back on and gathered Freya into his arms. She wasn’t a light woman by anyone’s standards, but his body armor augmented his apparent natural strength. Around the room, bodies lay haphazardly amid the ruins and spreading fire; charred, crushed, shot, dead.
“I’m going to kick your butt when you get up here, Kam. I swear that you are a disgrace to everything!” The woman on his headset raged, he could nearly hear the spittle flying. “At least you saved the President’s daughter. Biometrics shows a concussion though. News vans have arrived. At least make a dramatic exit.”
“By the Lights, Kam! Do I have to tell you how to do your job?”
“In this case… yes please?”
Kam kept low as he ran across the room towards the destroyed front doors. He exited into the bright light of day at the top of a set of grand stairs, smoke pouring out behind him. Above, tall buildings cast shadows across a platform that looked more like a balcony patio than street though vehicles were flying past beyond.
A crowd of people had gathered on the pavement in front of the burning bank. Several rushed forward with wireless microphones. “Captain! Can you give us a-”
“Extraction coming in,” the woman on his headset said. A shadow flew overhead and he looked up, squinting to see a flying boat the same color as his armor hovering above.
“No,” Kam said, figuring that was his best option. He handed Freya over to one of the reporters and caught the drop line that landed on the ground next to him. As soon as he fit his foot into the loop on the bottom the rope began rising, taking him with it and the flying boat took off, swinging him between the tall buildings.
The underbelly of the ship drew closer until he was inside and a hatch closed beneath him. He blinked in the suddenly dim light and swiveled his head to look around at the small room. The door to his left swung open with sufficient force to bang, light silhouetting a stout figure.
“Kam Hilliard! If I were taller I’d slap the stubble right off your stupid face!” she shouted.
Kam shook the rope loop off his foot and turned in time to take a clip board to the face, flung from a distance of half his height. His helmet protected him from most of the blow, but the corner still struck him in the cheek. He blinked down at the woman as she thumped her fists on her wide hips.
“Nice to see you too, Stretch?”
She rolled her head in exaggerated frustration. “Oh- now I’m ‘Stretch’ again? You’ve been acting like a real jerk the last few months and now this!” She threw her hands out in a vague direction. He assumed it was probably the fiasco he had just barely survived. “You just let fifteen people die while you hid behind a table. I can’t believe you! Where’s your work ethic? I’ve about had it with you!” She turned away and stalked out of the airlock.
Picking up her clipboard, only to find that it was actually an electronic pad of some kind, he rubbed his face with one hand as he followed her into a larger room lined with boxes, a narrow path along the center. “Look, Stretch, I can try to explain.”
The short woman stopped abruptly and spun to face him, her ponytail swinging to strike the side of her face, brown eyes narrowed in dangerous fury. He knew that look and backed out of her reach. If this woman was like the Stretch he knew, she could move surprisingly fast and had no problem with hitting below the belt.
“Try? Try!” She laughed hysterically in a high pitched cackle that grated on his ears, abruptly cut short as she turned away and humped off towards the steep stairs on the other end of the cargo room.
Kam groaned under his breath. “That – that wasn’t me who let those people die,” he said as his head came above the stairs into a plush living room area.
Stretch was already across the room, standing on a stool at a bar. “Wasn’t you?” She slammed the bottle she held hard enough to slosh amber liquid across the polished stainless steel bar top.
“No! Look. Something weird has been happening to me. I honestly don’t know what’s going on.” Deeming it safe to come the rest of the way up the stairs, Kam looked around briefly and went to one of the couches to sit, dropping the electronic pad on the cushion nearby. He could already tell that this Stretch was in a foul mood and was unlikely to take him seriously. The Stretch in the High School world had been completely excited to buy into his crazy-sounding explanation for why he had been acting different.
Stretch topped her glass off again and jumped down off the stool to stomp over to stand in front of him. “This again?” she asked, stubborn jaw jutted forward.
“You really are a joke, and not even a funny one.” Stretch downed her glass after visibly considering throwing it at him. “Is this because of something they did at the training center? Was it when Shadow Iron threw you into a wall? You’ve knocked your brains around.”
Kam collapsed back into the cushions of the couch and stared at the ceiling.
Kicking his shin, Stretch snapped her fingers at him. “Hey! Don’t just sit there in your armor!”
“I have no idea how to get out of it,” Kam admitted, already tired and defeated by the day’s events. He was pretty sure his day had only just started.
“Still not funny.” Stretch hobbled off in her distinctive half-limp half-hopping stride she had adopted to be able to keep up with the majority of people who inhabited the world with her.
Pushing off the couch, Kam followed her through another door behind the narrow stairs and into a sterile closet-like room divided by a glass wall on one side. Stretch was already in the booth, perched on a tall stool, her stubby fingers poking buttons on the see-through dashboard. She paused to knock back the last of her drink and set the glass down. With little idea or direction of what he should have been doing, Kam wandered into the other half of the room and jumped back when an arm extended from the wall. He wasn’t fast enough to dodge it and the probe latched onto his breastplate with a metallic clang. Another arm caught his shoulder while more were reaching out of the walls.
The first arm came away with his breast plate. Others took off his armor piece by piece, leaving him in a form-fitting body suit; feeling like a snail that was just forcibly pulled from its shell. Stretch scowled at him from her booth as he staggered around, pulled left and right by the mechanical suit-remover contraption.
Kam panted for air in a minor panic attack as the arms and the armor he had been wearing retreated into the walls. “I hope I don’t have to put that on again while I’m here…” he peeled the tight hood off his head, freeing his dark, sweat soaked hair.
“You realize that you’re in a hell of a lot of trouble for what happened earlier today. It’s only a matter of time before they call you in,” Stretch folded her arms on the dashboard.
Stealing a glance around the room, Kam flexed his fingers. His body was in much better shape than he had ever before known he was capable of.
An alarm sounded and Stretch squeezed her eyes shut, fingers pressed to her temples before she hit a button on her dashboard. Kam headed into her booth as the glass barrier lit with the face of an older man dressed in a suit. Kam supposed the guy was a politician of some kind; he just had one of those faces.
“I hope I’m not catching you at a bad time, Mister Hilliard,” the man intoned.
“Ohh, no, not at all, President Henebury.” Stretch awkwardly laughed.
Kam leaned against the wall behind her. This was going to end poorly.
The President adjusted in his chair, lacing his fingers together on his desk. “The public is demanding an explanation for what happened today.”
“Accidents?” Kam said.
“You are a Hero, Mister Hilliard. Heroes don’t have accidents.”
“Sure they do. I stubbed my toe just this morning,” Kam said.
“The security feed distinctly shows you fooling around, Mister Hilliard. It’s all over the net,” the President raised his voice slightly and set his shoulders. “There are theories that you had an ulterior motive; sympathies with the pirates being one of them.”
Kam closed his eyes. “I honestly don’t know what was going through my head at the time,” he said.
President Henebury slapped his desk with a fist. “I’ll not take that as an answer!”
“You wouldn’t believe the truth either.” Kam shrugged and left the booth. He honestly didn’t want to deal with anything more today. Pressing his fingers to his temples, he sighed.
“Okay. There’s the Kam I know,” Stretch said as she followed him into the living room. She put her fists on her wide hips and tapped a toe.
“I’m a super hero, right? Can’t I just go… incognito?” Kam scratched the back of his head, fluffing his hair a bit to help cool off the back of his neck.
Stretch burst out laughing and threw herself onto the couch. She picked up her epad and after a second, looked up at him. “You’re not joking. Wow.” She shook her head.
“Uhm. Don’t I have a secret identity?” Kam asked as he sat down beside her.
Using her e-pad, Stretch slapped him in the abs. “By the Lights! You are the most – I don’t even know what to do with you anymore! Secret identity? You’re not Shadow Iron! Moron! Everyone knows who you are!”
“Ugh.” Kam turned and fell onto the couch beside her, hands dangling between his knees. “Stretch, can you just… humor me for a little? We’re friends, right?” He looked at her.
“I thought we were until you started acting weird,” Stretch said, folding her arms. She set the e-pad aside and sighed. “Quit… with that face. I’ll suspend my disbelief for a moment.”
Kam snorted. “I run around as an armored vigilante that doesn’t answer to anyone and you need to suspend your disbelief? Okay. Here’s the brief. I don’t know what’s going on, but every so often reality rearranges itself. Some things are the same; usually people, sometimes places. Yesterday I was fifteen and just before I came here, I was in the middle of an algebra test.”
Stretch looked at her wrist and lifted a brow.
“That wasn’t short enough for you?” Kam thumped a knuckle into her head.
“I’m only three-five and you expect me to believe a tall tale like that?” Stretch smoothed her hair and glared at him. “There are two possibilities. You’ve lost your marbles entirely or what you’re saying is true and this whole world is a figment of your imagination.”
Kam put his hand over his eyes. “That’s essentially the same thing.”
“How so? Either this reality is the real one and you can’t keep yourself straight, or this you is the real one and you can’t keep your realities straight.” She passed him. “Let’s ask someone with more credentials to look into this.”
“Oh great, who?”
“Who else? Your best pal ever.”
Kam leaned against the wall behind her as Stretch climbed onto her stool behind the glass wall again and hit a couple buttons on the dash. “The way you said that makes me think I don’t like this person much.”
“Whatever do you mean? You love Doctor Blackstone!” Stretch threw her hands into the air.
The airship changed directions, reminding Kam that he was not on the ground, but jetting through the air in a boat that resembled something that should have been on the ocean back in the world he remembered growing up in. Kam rubbed his eyes. “Where do we keep the food on this tub?” he asked.
“You don’t even remember where the kitchen is?” Stretch looked back at him. “Wow. Your head really is screwed up. To the sitting area, up a level. I hope you can remember how to make a sandwich on your own.”
“Even if I couldn’t, I wouldn’t ask you,” Kam said. “You’d put things in it.”
Stretch gasped, pressing a hand to her breast. “What? Me?”
“Yes. You. Putting two pieces of bread on either side of a shoe doesn’t make it a sandwich.”
Her eyes widened. “I have never done that! Though it sounds like a great idea.”
Kam walked out as she was speaking, following the directions Stretch had given him to the ladder-stairs and up another level where he found a room that looked enough like a kitchen that he was fairly confident that he could figure the rest out himself.
* * *
Stretch looked up from her e-pad. “What is this?”
She gave him a deadpan look as he shook the paper notebook at her.
“Everything that’s happened to me so far. I don’t expect you to believe it. But I’d like you to keep it safe and if I change again, ask me about this. Ask me if I remember writing a notebook and leaving it with you.”
When Stretch hadn’t called him down after he finished eating, Kam had taken himself on a solo tour of the ship. He found what he assumed was his room, taken a shower, gotten dressed in comfortable clothes. Getting out of his body suit hadn’t been the easiest thing he had ever done and he had a new respect for stunt people and actresses.
Kam had discovered the notebook amid the things on his desk. The first few pages were covered in doodled armor designs. He had torn those pages off and pinned them to the cork board next to the bookshelf.
She rolled her eyes, kicking her short legs out as she leaned back on the couch. “You wasted paper on this silly delusion?” But she took the notebook and flipped through it with a gusty sigh. “You expect me to read this?”
“I was more hoping that you would explain what’s going on here? I don’t care if you read the notebook or not. You said it yourself, either I’m real, or this is real and I don’t know what’s real anymore, so I’m leaving records.” Kam turned away to go to one of the porthole windows. “I felt the boat stop while I was in the shower. Why didn’t you call me down?”
“Blackstone wants to talk to you, but he’s in a meeting right now.”
“Wonderful,” Kam said and looked back at her. “Care to tell me who Blackstone is?”
“Only your boss.” Stretch slapped the notebook on the couch beside her, scowling in frustration.
Kam shook his head. “Please, just pretend I’m not the ‘Kam’ you know? Two hours ago I was in a math test, and then I was getting grenades thrown at me. I’m lost and this world is way more dangerous than any of the others I’ve been in. I need to know what’s going on.”
“Well, what about me? What about my feelings?” Stretch demanded. “You’ve really been a jerk these last few days. Acting like you don’t even know me or what we’ve been through together and now you’re acting nice again and I just want to punch you in the balls!”
Realizing that she was honestly upset, Kam stood in front of her. “Do you want me to kneel, or do you want to see how high you can jump?”
Stretch scowled at him.
He dropped to a seat on the couch beside her, arm looped over the back behind her. “Scarlette,” Kam said, using her real name. “On behalf of whoever I was last week, I apologize. You’ve been the only one I could count on whenever things have changed. If you need to punch me to get back at me for being a jerk then go ahead.”
Thumping her fist into his thigh, she shook her head. “Fine, I’ll read your stupid story.”
“How about you give me a run down on who Blackwell is?”
“Blackstone,” Stretch corrected. “He’s the guy who funds you. His daughter is the one who builds your suits and stuff. If you really don’t remember who he is, just – uh. He expects a bit of attitude from you, but try to be polite.” She pinched her fingers. “A little.”
Kam sat forward from his relaxed pose to pay full attention to her. “What else? Who is uhm. Shadows? Does he hate me?”
“Shadow Iron? No. She’s another hero. Works with Black Out but comes to train with the heroes from other agencies from time to time. Her tech is always a step ahead of yours, so don’t tick her off.”
The phone alarm went off. “I hope that’s not the President again.”
Stretch slid off the couch and hurried to answer it. Kam followed and stopped outside of the partition as Stretch climbed onto her stool. “Mister Blackstone is ready to see you now,” a man said after the call was answered. He hung up abruptly.
“Are they always like that?” Kam asked with a gesture towards the glass.
“Uhm… Could you go with me? I don’t exactly know…?” Kam asked nervously.
Stretch gave him a look and smirked. “Aww! Poor baby scared to go see the boss? All right. I’ll take you there.” She hopped off her stool again and hurried from the room, tromping up the stairs before he could even get back to the sitting room. He heard thumping and a bang from above and suddenly she stuck her head down into the sitting room. “You coming or not?”
Suspecting it was a mistake to ask her to come along, Kam mounted the stairs. Stretch was already at a door with a keypad that Kam had noticed before but been unable to open. She punched in a code and the door swung open to reveal a deck. Kam followed her into the sunlight and squinted up past the sails of his blue-painted flying nautical transport. “Hasn’t any time passed?” he asked. “Why is it still noon?” A constant wind pulled his clothes and hair. No clouds marred the dusty yellow sky and something about the cityscape was mildly unsettling. He couldn’t put his finger on it. Vehicles flew by beneath and between sky bridges that connected some buildings to others with moving sidewalks.
“Wow, you really are out of it,” Stretch said. “It’s not noon. Why would you look at Lumesc and call it noon?” She pointed at the sun. A black block of shadow had eclipsed part of it, casting the city to his right in a hazy twilight.
She squeezed her eyes shut and put a hand to her face. “By the Lights… I… I don’t know what to do with you anymore, Kam. I’ve explained to you several times in the last few weeks alone about Lumesc and I swear if you call it The Son again I’m going to head butt you in the crotch.”
Kam bit his lips together. “Let’s just talk about that later and uhm not keep the boss waiting?” He gestured for her to get moving. She turned away and busied her hands fixing her ponytail as she led him towards a ramp. Their flying boat was docked at a tall building amid many other tall buildings in the city, but this was certainly the tallest. He looked over the edge of the dock. Boats of all shapes and colors floated past below, their decorative sails flapping in the constant breeze. Stretch had already left him behind. Kam jogged to catch up with her.
“You done gawking at things you’ve seen a million times?” Stretch asked.
“Did you forget our earlier conversation?” he asked. They passed into the shadow of the open-sided building and headed for a set of double doors.
Stretch gestured at the doors. “That way leads to the boss.”
“What about you? Where are you going?”
“I’ve got other things I wanted to check on while we were here. I hope Amber is around.” She grinned and skipped away.
Expression and shoulders falling, Kam sighed. “Great,” he muttered and placed a hand on the door. It automatically opened, revealing a large room that made the desk at the other end look tiny and insignificant. Large windows gave a grand view of the city, though Kam didn’t see how it was any different from the view from the dock. A man in a black suit stood near the window, hands clasped behind his back, a curl of smoke coming off his cigar.
“I’m surprised you showed up,” the man intoned, “given your complete disregard for authority, your duty, and everything else lately.”
“Uhm. I have a tiny portion of an explanation?” Kam pinched his fingers together with a cringe as he came closer.
The man’s shoulders stiffened. “Your behavior lately has shamed our company. People are beginning to ask if you’re in support of the Pirates. Kameron Hilliard.”
“Uh. Kam. Just Kam,” he corrected. “Kam Jay Hilliard if you want to be exact on that full-name reprimand. But I think you would do better listening to my explanation?”
Turning on his heel, the man stalked across the room to Kam’s face, lifting a finger to point at his nose. “I have had it with your attitude! I put up with it previously but combined with your negligence today, I’ve come to the conclusion that you are a liability and I will not have you on the payroll any longer! Turn in your gear and get out of my building!”
Kam scratched the back of his head in confusion. “Um. Okay? Is there like an elevator I can use or am I supposed to be able to fly?”
“Get out!” the man shouted and jabbed a finger at the door.
Cringing as he backed away, Kam turned and exited. “Well, shit…” he muttered as the doors closed behind him.
* * *
Pinching the bridge of his nose as the door to Blackstone’s office closed, Kam heaved a sigh. ‘At least now I don’t have the weight of being a super hero or… whatever? I don’t even know anymore.’
“Fired? I’d told you before to tone down the attitude. What’s wrong with you anyway?”
Lowering his hand, he turned to look, finding a tall redheaded woman striding towards him, an e-pad in her hand. “Hello to you too, Amber,” he said, recognizing her at last. At least, he hoped that was who she was in this reality. She had been much older the last time he had seen her and had a different last name.
She pushed her half-frame glasses up with a single finger, causing light to glint off the lenses and briefly hide her eyes. “Yesterday you didn’t know me. Changed your mind today, I see.”
“Hardly my fault,” Kam said. “Where’s Stretch?”
“On your yacht overseeing the removal of your gear,” Amber said. “What are you going to do now?”
“Uhm. I have no idea.” He rubbed his forehead. “I don’t even know what’s going on.”
Amber flipped her wavy hair away from her shoulder as she passed him. He followed her out onto the dock where men were using high tech anti-gravity equipment to removed boxes from the blue-painted boat he had come in on.
Kam chewed his lower lip, wondering if he was going to get to keep the boat or not. He had no idea where he was supposed to go otherwise. Stretch hobbled to the top of the gangplank and waved at him. After glancing at Amber, Kam decided to get off his ex-employer’s dock. He sprinted up the ramp and folded his arms.
“Can’t say that was unexpected,” Stretch said.
“Now that we’re out of my father’s hearing,” Amber said. He frowned at the woman, surprised she had followed him onto the boat. “How about you explain what you meant by there being a reason for your behavior lately?” Amber continued, adjusting her glasses slightly again before lifting her e-pad and pulling a stylus pen out of the side. “After all, this complete nonchalance over getting fired from a job you took much pride in… is incredibly out of character. I would almost think I was looking at a different person if your biometrics didn’t match.”
“Uh. Right.” Kam muttered and looked at Stretch.
Stretch slapped a hand to her face with a groan. “I asked Amber to help out, Kam. She might be the only the person who can help you get yourself straight.”
Amber tipped her head with a deadpan expression. “Might? I will get to the bottom of this.”
“Okay. We’re not going to wait for these guys to get off the ship?” Kam gestured at the men taking the equipment away. “Not that I care if people know I’m messed up. Doesn’t make any difference to me right now. For all I know, I’ll be gone in the next hour and in some other crazy place.”
“Which is why it is important that I gather as much detail as I can right now, should your personality change again,” Amber said.
“Then read that notebook I wrote,” Kam said. “Not much I can explain that I haven’t already written there. Just make sure to give it back to Stretch.”
An explosion erupted in the city, causing everyone on the pier to turn and look.
“Another attack? Already?” Amber asked. “Hardly their usual mode of operation, but there’s nothing preventing them from changing tactics.”
“Attack?” Kam asked, looking down at Stretch.
“The pirates,” this friend supplied. “You know, those guys who were shooting at you earlier?”
Kam’s slow nod turned into a shake of his head. “Pirates… Of course. So you guys have a pirate problem. You know, maybe if you didn’t have all these flying boats it might cut down on the problem.” Amber and Stretch stared at him blankly. “You know… Never mind.”
“That was like the Kam we know,” Stretch said to Amber with a gesture towards him.
Amber was writing on her e-pad. “Yes, although he still seems generally confused.”
“Is no one going to do anything about that explosion?” Kam asked, looking out towards the city again. The men removing boxes and equipment from his boat had gone back to work as if this kind of thing happened every day. “Or – that was my job, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Stretch agreed. “It was.”
“It’s good to see a resurgence of your altruistic side,” Amber said as she continued writing on her e-pad. “Quite different from your lack of interest yesterday.”
Kam folded his arms and sighed in irritation.
“What’s your problem now?” Stretch asked. “Please don’t tell me you’ve decided to change again?”
“I’m just wondering how standing around here is supposed to do anything to fix anything?” Kam said. “Is no one going to go at least put the fire out? Who is in charge of that anyway?”
“The fire department or Icer will do something about the fire,” Amber didn’t look up from her e-pad. “Scarlette, notify me if his personality changes again. In the meantime, may I borrow that notebook?”
“Sure,” Stretch said and hobbled back into the cabin. She emerged a moment later with the notebook and handed it to Amber.
“Paper?” the redhead asked and lifted a brow at him. “How antiquated…”
“Just go do what you’re good at, Amber,” Kam groused.
Amber’s full lips curved slightly in amusement. She turned away and strode off his boat.
“She’s not interested in you.” Stretch slapped his thigh.
“I can still appreciate the view,” Kam said. “And I wouldn’t even think of touching her. I respect her too much to hit and quit and that’s the only kind of relationship we would ever have.”
Stretch nodded once. “By the way, Freya Henebury called from the hospital. She wanted you to visit her.”
“Not happening.” Kam said.
“Then what do you plan on doing instead?”
“Getting a nap. Maybe investigating more about this place. If it’s all in my head then there should be holes… or things that don’t make sense or have logical explanations.” He turned away and headed into the cabin.
* * *
It wasn’t as if he had expected sleep to magically make things better, considering that it hadn’t in the past few months. Kam was actually expecting the opposite. He woke to the sound of angelic music echoing from outside his wall.
He threw some clothes on before exiting his bedroom. The music was coming from outside his boat. Heading up the stairs, he went to the deck. Overnight, Stretch had moved their boat out of the city and to a large lake. But the sound of singing came from the ground itself, impossibly clear and ethereal. His friend was standing on the deck as well.
Feeling as if this moment were one of reverence, Kam was unable to find his voice to ask. The song ended in a final high note that descended like a falling feather or a mote of dust in a slant of sunlight through a window.
Stretch turned to look at him, wiping a tear from her eye.
“You never were much for history,” she accused.
“The music was beautiful? The meaning escapes me is all.”
Closing her eyes, Stretch took a deep breath and let it out as she clenched her fist. He instinctively backed away from her. “It’s the one-hundred year anniversary of the death of President Braum Barber; the woman that led humanity to Blue and forged the treaty with the people of Lumesc. She ended the war and gave human kind one final home before we were wiped out entirely.”
“That kind of patriotism isn’t…”
“She wasn’t just the President! She was more… she was given to us by the Cosmos and granted humanity one last chance! And now we’re screwing it up with this stupid war with the pirates!”
“So she was human?” Kam asked and backed away quickly as Stretch turned a heated glare towards him. “And what are the pirates even after?”
“They’re out to bring down society as we know it and piss off the Lumesc.” She gestured upward, towards the sun.
“Obviously if they’re upset enough to kill people over it, couldn’t there be some reason? Has anyone tried talking to them?” Kam asked.
Stretch’s jaw dropped. “You do sympathize!”
“I don’t even know what’s going on except that they shot at me yesterday. There are at least two sides to every story. And the surest way to make it look like you’re right is for the other side to be demonized and called names, and then any casualties on their side are completely justified. So what do they take when they pirate? What do they call themselves?”
“I can’t believe you’re bringing this up!”
“Answer my questions!” Kam shouted back.
“They call themselves the Underminers. They steal food from banks,” Stretch answered. She breathed between clenched teeth.
“Underminers? Is that a pun? If they were going for scary, they should have gone with ‘Undertakers’.”
Stretch looked away. “Yesterday was the first time they actually killed anyone. Mostly because of you.”
“Hey now, I don’t even remember much of yesterday.” Kam raised his hands. “So up until now they’ve caused property damage, stolen food, and not hurt anyone?”
“Oh, they hurt people. But not fatally. Not until yesterday,” Stretch said. “But their targets are always really expensive.”
Kam began pacing around the deck as he thought. “Expensive how?”
“Buildings that were expensive to build in the first place and even more expensive to repair,” Stretch said. “It’s been such a bother that the government has had to go underground for enough labor to get everything handled.”
“Underground?” Kam asked, turning abruptly to look at Stretch. “Who lives underground?”
“Uh…” Stretch’s face paled and she slapped her hand to her face. “By the Lights why… You’re right. The Underminers – they’re from below! They’re doing this for…” She looked up at him with an ill expression. “Kam, you’re a genius sometimes. Even when you screw up.”
“Catch me up please? I’m missing something here.”
Stretch barreled past him, grabbing his sleeve and dragging him towards the door to the cabin again. She thankfully let go of him as she hit the stairs and used her hands on the railing to slide down. Kam hurried after and was just in time to catch her going into the operations center. He hadn’t been in there since the people had taken his equipment and he was mildly startled by the changes. The wall panels were stripped out except for the booth Stretch sat in. She already had the display glass lit with a call.
A masked person answered. “Black Out H.Q. Hello Scarlette.”
“Kam figured it out!” she said excitedly, leaning on her desk. “The whole plot of the Underminers – it’s incredibly simple! It’s brilliant even!”
“Woah. Back up!” the masked person, Kam couldn’t tell gender by the voice, lifted their hands.
“The Underminers target expensive buildings and food banks. They haven’t cause casualties until yesterday, just minor injuries and those were generally because the Hero involved screwed up.”
“We’re aware of that,” the person in the mask said.
“Think about it though! They go out of their way to be visible, predictable, but not so predictable that we can catch them and stop them. They don’t want to destroy society; they want to help their people! The people who live below!
“Below?” Kam asked again, though he suspected he wouldn’t get an answer to that question anytime soon.
The masked person leaned forward. “How do you figure that it’s them?”
“We don’t even know how many of them there are and shipments of standard amounts of food and clean water are sent to depots monthly, but that’s based on a census record that is at least fifty years out of date! The people who come up to work on the destroyed buildings are getting paid for their work, labor laws dictate that they have to be! Which means that the Underminers are from below and are only doing this to aid their people! Everyone up here has utterly forgotten they exist!”
Kam shook his head. “I’m still lost.”
Slapping the desk, the masked person got up and dashed off.
“Stretch, seriously, what is ‘below’? Why would people live there?”
She squinted her eyes as she turned to face him. “Below – you know? Under the surface? Where all the guts of our world are?”
“Still not following you.”
“Ugh!” She turned towards her screen again, flicking through files to bring up a picture of something that looked like an egg on its side. “This is Blue. This is our world. We’re here,” she pointed at the inside. “That’s Lumesc,” she pointed at the center. “And out here is Below.” She pointed at the shell.
“We’re in a Dyson sphere,” Kam said in sudden realization. “Oh. Wow.”
“You’re so stupid,” Stretch grumbled.
A curvy woman in tight clothes sat down, flipping silver hair off her dark-skinned shoulder. “So you believe the Underminers are from Below?” she said. “I suppose it makes sense, given the situation. But that doesn’t explain why you would let people die, Captain…” She adjusted the cats-eye mask that obscured the upper portion of her face.
Kam could only shrug. “Exposing the flaws in the system?” he said helplessly. It was the first bullshit answer that came to mind.
The woman gave a throaty laugh. “What? That it’s silly to put the safety of the people in the hands of a few who happen to have technology and some sense of altruism or cocked up idea of justice?” She paused. “Hm. Interesting way to go about making that statement, though.” She placed a long hot pink nail against her lips. “The problem is that you’ve made it difficult for all of us now. Sure some aren’t in it for the joy of saving people, but those of us that are won’t be able to operate as freely as we once did.”
“Quit the martyr act,” Stretch sighed. “Is Shadow Iron around?”
“She isn’t. I’ll let her know about this little theory of yours, though.” The woman kissed her claw tips and flicked them at the screen before disconnecting.
“Is she always that rude?”
“Surprised she didn’t stick around to hit on you more,” Stretch said and shrugged.
The screen lit again with a call, causing Kam to jump back at the noise. Stretch answered it.
“Kam,” Amber Blackstone said as she adjusted her glasses. “I’ve finished analyzing your notebook and the data of your behavior for the last few months. I would like you to come to my personal laboratory for further study.”
He cringed at the thought. “That doesn’t sound very inviting at all. So I’ll have to decline.”
“That wasn’t an invitation,” Amber said flatly and disconnected.
Kam swayed backwards against the wall as the boat moved. “What-? Where are we going?”
Stretch scrambled to look at her instruments and files. “I can’t tell!” She looked at him with panic in her eyes. “Our ship is under remote guidance! I can’t hack out of it.”
Rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms, Kam turned away and headed for his room. “I should at least go shave and put on a better shirt before getting probed…”
* * *
The light outside his window-porthole went dark. Kam moved to peek out. At first, he was unable to discern anything in the darkness, but as the boat slowed, a dock loomed into view. Tucking his shirt in, he headed out of his room and up the stairs to the deck. The woman’s hair was the first thing he saw as the boat pulled to a stop. She shifted her weight to the other hip, her curves trying to bust out of the top of her tight fitting top. She wasn’t wearing the cat mask this time, leaving her brilliant green eyes and dark skin visible. She looked like a storm witch, her cloud of hair floating around her shoulders like she had antagonized it to that preposterous size. Somehow it was still fetching on her, despite being mildly bizarre.
“Shadow’s decided to take you in. I don’t know why,” the woman folded her arms beneath her breasts, giving them an extra hoist out of her top.
Stretch made her appearance finally, slamming the door open. “He’s not goin anywhere without me!” she announced dramatically and stopped. “Er… wait…?” she looked around the dark hangar they were parked in. “Where are we?”
“That’s not for you to know… Yet,” the dark-skinned woman said. “Come along then.” She turned away and sauntered down the dock with a rolling stride that gave her hips and short flare of skirt attached to the back of her skin-tight pants swish. Stretch waited for the plank to extend before huffing down the dock after the woman. Kam simply hopped the gap and turned to look around now that his eyes had adjusted to the dark. Exposed pipes lined the walls, old and rusty. Sounds echoed in the room and he could vaguely make out another ship-like shape beyond his little blue boat.
“Hurry up!” Stretch called.
Kam turned to look and jogged over to where the curvy vixen and his friend waited at a door.
Placing her palm on a pad, the woman unlocked the door and led the way in. They stepped into a brightly lit lift. The door snapped shut behind Kam, nearly on his heel and immediately their car was on the move, shooting upwards at a dizzying rate. “Could this thing go faster?” he asked sarcastically as they abruptly slowed and stopped. The door opened again on a large windowless room decorated with mechanical equipment and sterile white tile. A mad scientist’s lab if he was to judge.
Amber strode across the room from a computer, e-pad in hand and a scanner in the other. “So good of you to come, Kam,” she said. “Welcome to Black Out’s base. Until you’re deemed to not be a safety hazard, you will be confined here.”
“Uh…?” Kam said, lifting a finger in confusion. “What about my rights?”
“The media is calling you a criminal,” Amber said dismissively as she flashed a bright light in his eyes. “Everyone is questioning whose side you’re really on and even my father has determined you are a loose cannon and he doesn’t know where you went or what you plan on doing next.”
He blinked rapidly to clear the bright spots from his vision.
“In fact, that concerns me as well. Perhaps it was all part of your plan to make people question the validity of out peace keeping methods, but if your idea of justice is to carelessly allow people to die when you could have easily saved them, I’m afraid I don’t trust you.” Amber turned away and walked towards a work bench where she set down her e-pad and docked her scanner. “As for Miss Scarlette, I’m officially offering you employment with Black Out. I am already aware that you have loyalty to Kam, regardless of his mental stability and I value your capabilities as an Operations Handler.”
Something cold clamped around Kam’s wrist and he turned to the left to see the silver and black vixen smiling at him with obviously sharpened teeth. “Safety precautions,” she said and strutted away to hop onto the edge of a work bench and crossed her legs.
He looked at the bracelet he now wore in confusion.
“A dampener?” Stretch demanded. “You really don’t think he would use his powers against you, do you?”
“His behavior has been odd over the last few months. I’m not putting anything past him at this point,” Amber said and turned to face them, flipping her auburn hair off her shoulder. “I’m sure you understand, perhaps on some level, Kam.”
He rubbed his temples. “Honestly? I have no clue what you’re talking about. I’m so lost right now and even if I did ask questions, I doubt you would answer them.”
“Of course you can ask questions,” Amber said, surprising him. She did pick up her e-pad again though. “If you’ll come have a seat over here,” she gestured at a mildly frightening contraption that looked like a cross between a dentist’s chair and MRI machine. “Ask all the questions you want.”
Kam hesitated. “Uh… I… Uhm.” He shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot.
“Seriously,” Stretch said, putting her fists on her hips as she frowned at Amber. “All your research and you don’t know that he’s got a problem with confined spaces?”
“I’ll give you something to help with that,” Amber said dismissively. “Sit.” When he continued to hesitate, she sighed. “You do want to know what is going on, do you not?” she asked.
“I… yeah.” He forced himself to walk forward and sat down on the edge of the seat. Amber was there with an alcohol prep and stuck him in the arm with something before he could even flinch at the cold.
“Count backwards from thirty,” Amber told him.
He didn’t get past fifteen before the world was swaying. Amber guided him back in the chair and tilted it back until all he could see was the ring of plastic and metal around his head, obscuring view of the rest of the room. “Guess that’s why I didn’t have a mask…” he mumbled out loud. “That wasn’t supposed to be out loud, by the way.”
“I think this is a violation of his rights,” Stretch said. “You’ve kidnapped him, now you’re drugging him. For what?”
“Science,” Amber said. “Kam, can you give me your full name and date of birth?”
“You proposing to me? You’re pretty and all but I’m not really interested,” Kam said, knowing that he hadn’t meant to say that out loud. He tried to move so he could see her. Sweat started to gather at his hairline and down between his shoulder blades.
“Sit still, Kam. I want to know what you think your full name is,” Amber insisted.
“Kam Jay Hilliard. I’m thirty-two. I was born February ninth, twenty-sixty-two. Aquarius if you want to know my sign.” He shifted again uncomfortably. “I still don’t like this hood thing. Can we do this without it?”
“Sit still, Kam,” Amber ordered. “What is today’s date?”
“I don’t know,” Kam said and tried to move his arms. “You strapped me down to this thing. What are you doing to me anyway? What is this thing?”
“It’s a scanner. High resolution imaging. I’m just taking pictures of your brain, Kam. It’s not going to hurt you.”
“Please stop this,” Stretch requested.
“What exactly is making you uncomfortable?” Amber asked.
“I can’t see,” Kam blurted. He could feel his heart beating harder against his chest, heightening his senses. The hood surrounding him swayed and tilted in his vision.
“I need you to stay still.” He heard her moving on his left. Clenching his fists he pulled at the arm restraints. They didn’t budge. He pushed his feet against the bottom step of the chair, trying to writhe in such a way so he could see past the hood and make sure where she was. “Kam. Lay still.”
“I can’t see though. I don’t know where you are. I can’t breathe.”
“You can breathe just fine.”
“Amber Blackstone, that’s enough,” Stretch said firmly. The chair started moving, tilting forward and gave him view of the room once again.
“Scarlette, don’t touch that,” Amber said firmly.
“He’s having a panic attack and you’re just going to stand there and let it happen,” Stretch said in disgust. “Kam may not be right in the head at the moment, but he’s still my friend and I’m not going to let you torture him like this.”
Suddenly feeling cold, Kam leaned forward in the chair and shivered so hard his teeth rattled.
“Kam. I need you to tell me why you’re afraid of small spaces.” Hands touched his shoulders, pushing him back in the chair. He opened his eyes and forced his gaze to focus on Amber’s face.
“My brother and his friends tied me up all the time and put buckets over my head… They pushed me into traffic or down hills or into holes and I couldn’t see where I was going until too late.”
“Not quite what I have on my file,” Amber said and unstrapped his wrists.
“You said I could ask questions,” Kam objected as he stumbled out of the chair and away from her, thumping into a bench hard with his elbow. He gripped it as he turned to look at her. Stretch was standing near the controls for the chair. Or he assumed that’s what she had her hand on. The woman with dark skin and white hair had disappeared. “Who am I supposed to be here? What day is it supposed to be? What’s going on?” The hair on his arms stood on end, giving him minute warning before someone kicked him from behind. His knees buckled. The floor rushed up to meet his face.
* * *
Kam pressed his palm to his forehead, the ache in his skull reminiscent of the one he normally got when he switched realities. Opening his eyes cautiously, he shaded his eyes from the fluorescent lights overhead and glanced around. He was in a small room with a cot and toilet. ‘Jail this time?’
Not that he was particularly surprised.
“Brielanya was not supposed to break your nose, by the way,” Amber said.
He looked to the left, view having been blocked by his hand. ‘Still in the flying boat reality then.’ Kam realized as he looked at the redheaded woman. She stood on the other side of a glass wall that gave view to the lab he last remembered. “Does your dad know about all this?” he asked as he slowly sat up. He twisted the odd bracelet on his wrist, unused to wearing anything there.
“No,” Amber said dismissively. “It isn’t his business either.” She looked down at her e-pad and tapped it with the stylus. “What I could get of your scans were inconclusive,” she said. “I will have to study you further to see if this is a new manifestation of your abilities or if you have just gone through an early midlife crisis.”
“Or just crazy,” Kam said. “Honestly I don’t know either.”
“I do find it odd that you are so calm about the treatment you have received lately,” Amber said. “Why?”
Kam rubbed his head again, carefully touching his nose. It was sore, but didn’t feel broken. “Why what? Why anything? I’ve had reality change on me six times now. Getting upset and overreacting to everything is just exhausting. Besides, it doesn’t help me figure out what’s going on.”
“A very mature way of viewing this although inconsistent with your previous reactions as reported by Scarlette.”
Kam could only shrug.
“Scarlette had some interesting theories. I would like to know your view of them.”
“Either I’m crazy or some kind of Chosen One?” Kam said and squinted at her. “I have no evidence either way.”
“Tell me, from your point of view.”
“You read my notebook,” Kam gestured vaguely. “What more is there to say?”
Amber shook her head. “It was very vague in places, although your rune drawings were intriguing. They almost looked Lumesc.”
“I didn’t have much time to write it and a lot of it was boring,” Kam said. “High school drama isn’t exactly the most fascinating topic. As for the pictures, I don’t know what they are, but some crazy guy shoved a paper into my hand with that written on it. He said the storm was coming. I’m pretty sure I included that part.”
Without looking up, Amber continued to write on her e-pad. “The boring parts, as you called them could have clues as to what might be going on in your head. Did you recognize the school?”
“Yes and no. Parts of it looked familiar, other parts were completely new.”
“What parts were familiar?”
“The people. Teachers, students. They seem to reoccur. You were the science teacher there. Though I meet new people occasionally and sometimes they have different names than what I’m used to. I usually recognize them by the Constant.”
“Yeah. Like… Freya is always obsessed with me. Stretch is always short. You’re always…” Kam closed his mouth, figuring it likely wasn’t a good idea to continue that statement.
“Right,” Amber said as she wrote on her e-pad. “I’ve sent your brain scans off to a friend of mine who might be able to interpret them. Perhaps within the next hour we can have a prescription for you.”
Kam shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t-”
Amber shifted her balance to keep from falling as an impact or explosion shook the building. Kam gripped the edge of his cot. Red lights flashed and an emergency siren blared from an unseen loudspeaker before a male voice cut in. “Kam Hilliard. You have hidden long enough. Surrender yourself to justice immediately and spare the innocents of this fair city!”
With a great sigh and roll of her eyes, Amber tucked her e-pad under her arm. “Great. Cybrex.”
The door to the lab opened, Stretch huffing as she jogged in. “They hacked the computer on the yacht!” she announced, “I should have remembered Blackstone had the code to that still! We’ve gotta get out of here!”
Kam stood and looked at Amber with a slight lift of his brow. “So… going to let me out or turn me over?”
“Turn you over, of course,” she said. “You’re not worth losing my base of operations for.”
“But-” Stretch objected. “But he didn’t do anything?”
“Negligence,” Amber said dismissively and headed over to a computer desk where she accessed the screen and issued an order to the masked person who answered. “Inform Cybrex that Kam is in Black Out’s lock down and we will turn him over peacefully. Cease fire immediately.”
The lab door opened again. The dark-skinned woman had changed her hair color. She was now sporting fluorescent blue with matching lipstick and eye shadow, her amazing curves contained in a corset Kam was sure had been glued in place rather than donned in any normal fashion. Vaguely recalling the effect Amber’s drug had had on him earlier, he was also simultaneously glad that had at least been processed from his system or he might have said something embarrassing. Again.
“Can you believe this crap?” the woman asked as she gestured at her e-pad. “The media is saying Hilliard is holed up here and there’s a hostage situation! I’ve half a mind to go out there and slap that man in the face a few times.”
“Don’t compromise our position,” Amber said. “We’re turning him over to Cybrex immediately.” She turned to look at the woman. “Get him to the roof dock. I’ll meet you there as Shadow Iron in a moment.”
“So… you’re not going to do anything to clear my name,” Kam said as he pieced together the plan. “You’re going to let the media report that I’ve got hostages, then show up as the heroes of the day and deliver me to this Cybrex person as if you had stormed the building.”
Amber smiled at him. “This is different… You never were so quick witted before.”
“I’m starting to wonder about this reality’s system of justice if the ‘heroes’ are as morally grey as you,” Kam pointed out. “Ever considered that maybe I’m a victim of something gone wrong too? Maybe I have no damn clue what’s going on?”
“If you suspected you had mental issues, you should have resigned immediately,” Amber said clinically and set her e-pad down on a work bench. “You’re not worth risking my base of operations for, however.” She nodded to Brielanya and the woman sighed as she stuffed her e-pad into her pocket before heading for his cell, cracking her knuckles.
“Shadow Iron!” Stretch objected as she followed Amber from the room. “You’re not serious-” her voice was cut off by the door closing.
Kam stood slowly with a sigh. He held his hands out, wrists together. “You can stop with the menacing act, you know. I’m not going to resist.”
Brielanya hit a code pad on the wall and opened the cell. She smiled at him. “Not even for a little fun?” she asked as she sauntered closer, clipping metal braces around his wrists. She leaned in closer. “You know it takes Amber forever to get into her armor. It’s functional but not very practical when she’s in a hurry.” Brielanya smiled at him with a flick of her lashes as she glanced up at him.
“I’d… normally take you up on that kind of offer, but I don’t think right now is the time. Unfortunately.”
“Pity.” Brielanya sighed with a roll of her eyes and turned away.
“Can I ask you a few questions?” Kam asked as he followed.
“Shoot.” Her hand went to her hip as she strode through the door into the lift from before. The door nearly clipped his heel again.
He rubbed his nose with a finger. “You’ve obviously got a secret identity… Aren’t you going to uh… ‘suit up’ before being seen in public?”
“They won’t see me,” Brielanya said. “I guess you forgot that, hmm?”
Shrugging, he dropped his hands again and leaned against the wall as the death box shot upwards and came to an almost sudden stop. The new room was some kind of sitting area with view out to a dock. A figure Kam assumed was male hovered outside. The man wore metal armor with a face-covering mask, purple and green cape floating out behind him as he floated just inches off the ground, arms crossed in a stern pose. “Does he realize how stupid he looks?” Kam had to ask.
Brielanya made an unladylike snort and covered her mouth.
The doors to the elevator opened again. Kam turned just in time to get knocked backwards by a flying woman in black armor. She grabbed the chain of his handcuffs, dragging him bodily across the floor by his wrists.
“Holy shit lady! I’m not fighting!” Kam shouted as he struggled to get his feet back under him.
“Ladyblade,” the flying armored woman said, “Suit up, Pirates are attacking from below.”
Brielanya yelped and dashed away as the elevator doors blew inwards with a fiery explosion. The floating power-armored woman blasted the doors to the dock, shattering the glass as she flew both herself and him out into the air at high speed. Twisting his hands, Kam grasped for the woman’s wrist, trying to take some of his weight off the biting sharp edges of the handcuffs. He swung wildly over an infinite abyss as she spun around to fire a shot from her other palm towards the oncoming mechanical beast that looked like modified construction equipment.
The man Kam could only guess was Cybrex was slung aside by a giant yellow gripper claw. Apparently hovering was the best he could do in the flight department. He fell over the side of the dock shrieking.
A pirate clinging to the side of the construction-mech let loose a spray of electro-bullets. The woman dodged sideways, swinging Kam wildly beneath her as she tried to fly while her balance was off.
Cuffs biting harder into his wrists as he precariously clutched at her hand, fingers slick with suddenly sweaty palms. “Left!” he called as movement caught his eye. It was too late. The rocket was already too close for her to dodge and struck her shoulder, knocking her backwards. She hit the dock hard, releasing him midair. He flailed for the edge of the platform, his fingers just brushing the surface as it rushed past him.
Wind whistled through his ears as he helplessly fell. The buildings grew taller and taller above him.
Twisting to look down, though he knew it was a bad idea, Kam was just in time to slam face-first into the sails and rigging of one of the flying boats. He had reached traffic level, apparently. The decorative sails were only enough to slow his fall. He ripped through them, grabbing at anything he could. Ropes seared his hands and he hit a railing hard with his ribs, sliding off the side of the flying boat, too stunned to even draw breath.
Something traveling at high speed slammed into his back. He fought darkening vision, but when he suddenly jerked to a stop, Kam lost the fight and succumbed to unconsciousness.
* * *
“Kam. Dear? Please be all right? I didn’t mean for them to treat you so rough. Please forgive me!”
Her voice dropped to a whisper.
“Please open your eyes…”
Michael: Shadow Iron/Amber Blackstone
Alexa: Dyson Sphere world
WanderVerse by K. E. Ireland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://keireland.com/.
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