One was starting to feel really self-conscious about Headache. Although he was used to wearing the modified UBTs for extended periods, the units were a bit on the bulky side. One wondered if he should send the equipment back to the Elsewhere.
He needn’t have bothered; as they walked up the steps to the entrance to the Security Force Headquarters, they passed a man with cybernetic arms that stood out more than Headache.
“Yeah,” Cid commented, following his gaze, “Ya get a lot of scraps around here since they lowered the price on synium. I thought about getting an arm or leg upgrade myself, but the jack’s enough for me. Where’d you get your arms done, anyway?”
“My arms? Oh, Headache’s not cybernetic. See?” The shoulder grip detached, allowing One to remove a Headache unit. He put it back on almost immediately. It felt strange to only be wearing one of them.
Cid seemed impressed. “Exterior augmentation, eh? Made it yourself?”
“Yup,” One said with a touch of pride. “I call it Headache.”
“Y’know, I’ve always wondered,” Teria asked, her arms stretched behind her head as she walked, “Why Headache?”
“I was trying to cram a fusion unit, a bolt-driver, a magnetic grapple, extensor arms, and strength augmentation into a single unit for working on large-scale projects.”
“Like what?” Cid asked curiously.
“Dreadnaughts, space stations, airships, that kind of thing.”
Cid snorted. “Airships, huh? Haven’t heard someone say airship since my high school class on post-Calliban history.”
“I like tinkering with old designs,” One said a little defensively.
“Ever work on an airship with an old sailing-vessel’s hull?” Cid asked, smirking.
Glaring at him, One continued, “Anyway, I was trying to make a multi-purpose tool for large-scale building. Due to some faulty wiring and a little impatience on my part, when I activated the prototype, all of the systems just started randomly activating. I tried to disengage the unit, but the locking clamps were stuck. It was a nightmare! For days, I had to deal with enhanced strength randomly kicking in or the fusion cutter slicing whatever I was working on in half. I almost blasted a few cadets when the rivet drivers started acting up. Finally, my best friend, Monkey …”
A sudden spike of pain shot through One’s head. It wasn’t debilitating, but it was definitely enough to make him stop walking.
Looking worried, Teria asked, “Are you okay, One?”
Nodding, One said, “Yeah, I’m good. Anyway, Monkey finally offered to help me dismantle the thing. Unfortunately, when he started to remove the casing on the power core, the extensor arms activated and sent him flying. I started to help him, but the magnetic grapple activated and caught on the side of the Dream Chaser, another project I had been working on. The electric pulse ran along the wire and jump-started it. It started flying out of the workshop with me still attached.”
Teria had to cover her mouth to stop laughing.
One nodded, a dour look on his face. “Yeah, that’s just what Monkey said. It took them three hours to catch the Dream Chaser, another two to pry the magnetic grapple off. As if that wasn’t enough, when I finally did manage to get the unit off, the extensors activated again, hitting me square in the jaw and giving me a minor concussion.”
“Thus the name ‘Headache’,” Cid said, grinning.
“You got it. Ah, we're here!”
They were now just outside a line of glass doors that lead inside the building.
“Okay,” One said as the three of them stared at the doors. “What’s the plan?”
“We go in, head up to archives, and use the computer.” Without another word, Cid opened the door and went inside.
One glanced at Teria, who simply shrugged. Shaking his head, he opened the door for Teria and followed her inside.
The lobby of the Security Force Headquarters was pristine and orderly. Dark walls blended with metal supports, creating an overwhelming sensation of authority to the place. Of course, this was no doubt what the designers intended.
One and Teria caught up with Cid just as he neared the front desk, a gleaming marble slab emblazoned with the insignia of the Ronisgald Security Force. A middle-aged galden woman sat behind the desk, a cluster of screens surrounding her as she typed away at her keyboard.
“Name?” She asked, not bothering to look at them.
“Come on, Barbara! It’s me, Cid!”
The screens deactivated instantly. She looked down at Cid, smiling. “Ah, the young Mr. Hacker. Is it time for another system flush already?”
“I had a slot open, figured I’d go ahead and knock it out while I was thinking about it.” Glancing back at Teria and One, he added, “Oh, these are my apprentices, Glen and Tia Gineros.”
The woman behind the counter beamed at them. “Ah. Married?”
One opened his mouth to answer, but Teria was just a bit faster; she put an arm around One and drew him close. “Just recently. We’re very happy, aren’t we honeybuns?”
One nodded as best as he could with Teria practically choking him.
The woman chuckled. “All right you two, save it for your bedroom.”
As the woman brought up another console, he managed to wheeze, “Air …”
Teria released her grip a little. “Sorry.”
The woman behind the desk handed ID cards to each of them. “Here are your identification cards.”
One glanced at his picture on the card. As usual, he was blinking. He looked up to see the woman looking at him, or more precisely, his arms.
“Sir, are those combat-capable?” The clerk asked.
“They’ve got a few construction tool modules,” One replied instantly, “I’m sure if used improperly they could be used for bad things, but that’s not what they were designed for.”
“I understand. Still, I have to ask you to turn over your power cores. Security Force policy, I’m afraid.”
Cid started to argue, but One cut him off. “No problem. The internal power should be enough for this kind of work.”
He tapped the sides of Headache together. Instantly, two small capsules filled with blue liquid emerged from the twin units.
One pulled the capsules out and set them on the desk. “Keep ‘em safe, okay?”
“Of course sir.” She carefully set them inside an insulated container inside a small pneumatic tube system, where they were quickly whisked away.
She handed him a receipt, saying, “Don’t forget to stop by before you leave to retrieve your power units, sir.”
“Come on.” Cid said, motioning for One and Teria to follow, “Let’s get to work.”
As they walked away, Teria hissed, “What if we run into trouble?”
“If we run into trouble, I’m sure two canisters of crystallic cider won’t make much of a difference, though Sam’s probably gonna be sore at me.”
A nearby elevator opened to reveal several soldiers and a celestial monk. One instinctively started to raise Headache, but Teria stopped him.
“Low profile,” She hissed through her teeth, forcing a smile as the group stepped out of the lift.
Neither the soldiers nor the monk paid them any attention. Breathing a sigh of relief, One followed Cid and Teria into the lift.
As the doors closed, Teria let out her breath. “So the Revs are just walking around with the Security Force HQ, huh? I shoulda snapped a couple of pictures with my cell phone.”
She took out her phone and stared at it contemplatively.
“Don’t think about it,” Cid warned, “Every transmission in this building is monitored.”
“I know. I’m just worried about sis.” Teria slipped her phone back in her pocket.
“Relax, Teria,” One said, “Tirinia’s most likely still with Mikaen, and you know he won’t let anything happen to her.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Despite her words, Teria let out a sigh. One didn’t need any Dreamer abilities to know that she was worried about her sister. He had seen the same behavior before, when they traveled together as teenagers.
“Say, Teria,” One said, hoping to get some conversation going. Unfortunately, nothing else came to mind. He wracked his mind for something to talk about, but came up completely blank.
Teria patted him on the arm. “It’s okay, One. We all do that from time to time.”
Cid started tapping his foot impatiently. “Man, the lifts are slow today. We should’ve been there by now.”
One glanced through the clear elevator walls. Sure enough, the lift was barely past the fourth floor.
Teria pointed at the other elevator as it whizzed through the next tube. “Doesn’t seem to be bothering that one.”
“Weight limit, maybe?” One wondered aloud.
Cid tapped the ‘nearest floor’ button. Nothing happened.
“I swear,” He muttered, kneeling down beside the control panel, “This system was programmed by a bunch of apes.”
One winced as Cid slid a long probe into the datajack on the back of his neck.
His hands worked the console with the skill of an accomplished pianist, his fingers moving so fast that they were little more than a blur. The door slid open in a matter of moments, halfway between the fourth and fifth floor.
As Cid unhooked himself from the controls, he said, “There we go. We can hop out when we reach the next floor.”
When the floor was level with the elevator, the three of them quickly got out.
One watched the elevator as it continued its slow climb without them. “I wonder what that was about?”
Cid waved it off. “Programmers on government wages. Come on, let’s take the other elevator.”
As the lift neared them, One commented, “Let’s hope this one-”
The lift doors opened, revealing at least ten security force soldiers.
Both groups stared at each other for a long moment.
“Well? Going up?” One of the soldiers asked, sounding impatient.
“Er …” One glanced at the others who nodded. “Yeah.”
“Then get onboard. Some of us are on a time table.”
Trying to not let his alarm show, One motioned for Teria and Cid to follow and stepped inside the lift.
“What floor?” asked the soldier near the control pad.
“Thirty-four,” Cid replied instantly.
With a press of the button, the lift doors closed and they once again traveled upward.
Each lift in the Security Force Headquarters is designed for six people to stand comfortably or ten people efficiently. With fourteen passengers, things were a little cramped.
Whether through design or chance, Teria ended up pressed against One. It was more than a little awkward, as they were literally chest to chest, staring at each other. One could tell from the mischevious look in her eyes that he was in trouble.
“So,” she said after a time, “We still going out after work?”
One of the soldiers leered at her. “Dump the scrap, babe. Let a real man take care of you.”
“Stuff it, Gal-” she began.
Reacting quickly, One kissed her, cutting off the rest of the word ‘Galden’. Her eyes opened wide, but she played along … at least, One hoped she was just playing along.
“Looks like she’s already got a real man.” One of the soldier’s friends said while several other soldiers laughed at their embarrassed compatriot.
The elevator stopped moments later. Thankfully, the soldiers left the lift. As the doors began to close, the soldier who had teased his friend poked his head around the corner, grinning. “Get a room, you two!”
Teria and One released, One’s face flushed.
“Thanks for that,” Teria said, the barest trace of pink beneath the white fur on her face.
“Anytime,” One said before he could stop himself.
“Oh? Are you sure? I might take you up on that.” Teria's hand paused just an inch from his cheek before she pulled it back with a laugh.
As she sauntered out of the elevator, Cid asked, “Does she have a kid sister?”
One pushed Cid out of the elevator. “Just keep walking, Cid.”
The hallways of the thirty-fourth floor were typically institutional. White walls, black tile floor, and the occasional artificial plant, all impeccably clean.
A few clerks were walking around busily, barely taking notice of One and the others. A few gave half-hearted waves to Cid, but most just ignored the group altogether.
As they reached a rather nondescript door with a keypad access, Cid pulled out his interface cable. “Keep an eye out for a sec.”
As Cid's eyes glazed over, One whispered, “Hey, Teria.”
“Yes, dear?” She batted her eyes at him, drawing an annoyed look from the Dreamer.
“Could you focus for a sec? I mean, doesn’t this seem a bit too easy?”
Red lights and sirens suddenly filled the corridor.
Teria glared at him. “Nice going, One!”
“I didn’t-” he began to protest, only to be interrupted as a group of office workers rushed around the corner.
One and Teria blocked Cid from view as best as they could, but the office workers didn’t pay any attention to them as they were far too busy running for the exits.
One kept his eyes open for any members of the Galden Security Force, but it seemed like the entire floor was completely vacant.
“I don’t like this,” One muttered, his metal hands clenching. “Cid, you almost there?”
“Just a sec!” Moments later, the door slid open.
Cid jerked the interface cable out of the door console. “I’m sure I didn’t trip anything. Something else tripped the alarm.”
“Something else?” asked Teria, her keen eyes darting at every corner.
Cid shook his head. “I don’t know. Whatever it is, it’s going to make our job easier. Come on! Let’s get what we came for.”
As they walked into the room, Teria put a hand on One’s arm.
“Maybe I should go check it out,” she suggested quietly.
One raised an eyebrow at her. “Tired of me already, huh?”
A pang of pain shot through his head, making him wince.
The playful smile vanished from Teria's face. “Are you okay?”
He nodded with a little difficulty. “Yeah, sorry. Just had a bit of a headache, that's all. Are you gonna be okay on your own?”
“Never stopped me before.” She paused, a slight look of guilt on her face. “I didn't mean …”
“I know.” He sighed and nodded. “Go ahead. Just … be careful, all right?”
Tirinia watched for any sign of the super-beings as she and Jek carried Rena through the power facility. The entire place seemed to be falling to pieces around them as Blackal Suon and the blue hero fought. It seemed as though the two super-beings were following the three of them.
Tirinia quickly punched the emergency bulkhead release as they passed into one of the corridors leading out of the facility. As two massive slabs of metal sealed off the way they had come, Tirinia let out a breath and rested against the wall. She was only slightly winded thanks to her tigreth genetics, but her confrontation with Blackal Suon had her heart beating madly against her chest.
Jek fell to his knees, barely able to hold on to Rena.
“Thank the Creator,” he wheezed, “I feel like my arms are about to fall off.”
Tirinia helped him set Rena down. She looked in bad shape; her face was contorted in pain as she clutched her stomach.
Remembering Blackal Suon’s words, Tirinia was worried for both Rena and her unborn child. She only hoped they’d be able to get help in time.
“Who the heck was that?” Tirinia asked when she found her voice.
“Blackal Suon. By the Creator, I can’t believe he’s real!”
“And the blue man?”
“Blue Impulse. He’s one of the good guys.” Jek shook his head, muttering, “At least, according to the comics.”
“Yeah. Blackal Suon, Blue Impulse, Ricochet … they have comic books in Longshore, right?”
Something smashed into the bulkhead doors.
“Break’s over!” Tirinia shouted, picking up Rena’s limp body.
They rushed down the corridor, and not a moment too soon. Blackal Suon smashed through the metal doors moments later, dark energy streaming around him.
As he shot a burst of dark energy toward them, Jek suddenly spun around and caught the dark blast with his guardian gauntlet as though it were a kyon. With a flick of his wrist, he sent the energy surging back toward Blackal.
The dark energy caught Blackal Suon full in the chest, knocking him back just as the blue burst of energy that was Blue Impulse shot through the hole in the bulkhead doors. A stream of blue energy shot from the glowing superhero’s hands, wrapping around the body of Blackal Suon.
“Let them go!” Blue Impulse hissed through his teeth before jerking the dark villain back. “It’s me you want!”
“Why settle for dinner when I could have a feast?” Blackal spun in midair, trying to catch Blue Impulse off guard, but he simply wasn’t as fast. Like a burst of light, Blue Impulse leapt over the blow and managed to strike a glancing blow against Blackal’s shoulder.
Dark energy spewing from the wound, Blackal said, “Very well, hero. Let us settle this … but first …”
A surge of black energy shot toward Tirinia with frightening speed. Even with her naturally enhanced reflexes, she couldn’t react fast enough.
Suddenly the floor beneath them tore apart. The metal plating was tossed aside as thick vines ripped through the floor and blocked Tirinia from the blast.
A white-haired, green-skinned woman dressed in modestly placed leaves rose through the dirt beneath the floor just in front of Tirinia.
“Clover!” hissed Blackal Suon, “Ever the saint.”
Clover gestured to the blocked exit. In an instant, dozens of thick vines shot through the floor and blasted through the debris, knocking the door clear off its automatic hinges.
“Go now!” Clover said, her startlingly-blue eyes on Rena.
Nodding, Tirinia rushed out of the building with Rena in tow, Jek close behind. As they exited the power plant, a dozen security force soldiers swarmed around them.
“Quiet!” Seargant Jures shouted, pushing through the pack. His eyes fell on Rena.
“It was that guy, Blackal Suon,” Tirinia said quickly, “He did something to her.”
Quickly taking her from Tirinia, Kevin said, “We’ll let the medics figure it out. Soleil, Korins, get Lieutenant Sakamota into Rover. Everyone else backup the Eternians and try to keep the damage contained.”
Rover was a six-wheeled vehicle that looked like it could’ve tackled a mountain with ease. Tirinia and Jek climbed inside as Kevin set Rena in the passenger seat. Once Rena was secure, Kevin took the drivers seat and activated the vehicle, saying, “Hang on! This may get a bit wild!”
Tirinia and Jek exchanged alarmed looks moments before being flung back in their seats as the rover shot forward.
Rover shot through the streets like a jet-fighter with wheels instead of wings and a stuck turbo mechanism. Blasting easily past several floaters, Kevin said, “Don’t worry, we’re almost at the waypoint. Thank the Creator someone was smart enough to build the hospital right next to the Security Force Headquarters.”
Jek made the mistake of glancing out the back window just in time to see a black burst firing toward them.
“By the … INCOMING!”
Kevin glanced back and immediatly made the rover swerve, tossing Tirinia and Jek against the side of the cabin as Rover made a sharp turn and shot through a massive metal gate. The moment they passed beneath the gate, a bright light surrounded them, only to fade almost immediately to reveal they were in the urban part of Kelshira.
Kevin’s skill at the wheel could only be described as psychotic. He drove Rover with reckless abandon through three dimensions of traffic: ducking, weaving, and jumping past hundreds of floaters, some missing the rover by mere inches. It was an impressive performance for a wheeled vehicle. Despite his skill, however, Tirinia could still see the swirling energy of Blackal Suon in the distance.
“Why’s he chasing us?” Jek shouted over the blaring of horns and the screeching of metal. “I thought he wanted the power station?”
Kevin shook his head, but didn’t respond. It was just as well, Tirinia thought; he needed his concentration on where he was flying.
Tirinia’s cell phone went off abruptly, filling the car with a gentle melody that clashed oddly with the situation.
Recognizing the song, Tirinia pulled the phone out of her pocket and flipped it open. “Teria?”
“Who’s Teria?” Kevin asked, narrowly avoiding a neon fast-food sign as he rushed toward the ground.
Tirinia shook her head, straining to listen to her sister over the noise from the rover’s motor and the honking of other floaters.
“… in the Security Force HQ. One thinks … Okami or something … you okay?”
“We’re on our way to the hospital right next to the Security Force HQ. We’re being chased by some freak called Blackal Suon.”
“The comic book character?”
“I dunno, Jek; what I fought definitely wasn’t a cartoon.” Tirinia glanced up. The Security Force Headquarters lay before them, the white pillars and gleaming marble of the Revahn-Eld Hospital almost directly beside it.
“Hang on, we’re almost there.” Tirinia said before closing her phone.
Something hit the back of the rover hard. Kevin jerked too hard on the controls and accidentally ramped off another vehicle.
“Dammit!” He shouted, fighting to maintain control, “Everyone, brace yourselves! This one’s gonna be rough!”