Chapter 4 – Investigation

– Friday, September 2, AD 2129 –

“Finally! We’re here!!”

“…And there she goes,” Spike commented flatly as he watched Sky rush off to the pool’s edge — and then cannonball into the water. “Not even here for five seconds and she’s already in the water.”

Twy waved him on. “You go on after her. Austin and I will find a spot for our stuff.”

“Huh what?” Austin looked back at Twy, as though previously distracted. “…Wait, why me?”

“You weren’t even going to get in the water, were you?” Twy replied, glancing over as Spike removed his shirt and jumped in the water after Sky. She then began walking to the side, addressing Austin without looking back at him. “You never actually go swimming when we go as a group.”

“…Hmph.” Austin wanted to argue, but Twy was right. He had no fear of water and could swim well enough, but he wasn’t fond of it all the same — and as such he had no leg to stand on. Dejected, he trudged after Twy, absentmindedly thinking back to the past week. Despite everyone’s worst predictions, no significant or unnatural disasters had befallen any community on the planet. So far, the Chaos Quake seemed to have had little effect on the regular public — aside from cutting them off from the rest of the galaxy, of course — and as such, people seemed to be returning to their normal lifestyles. A little too quickly, maybe, Austin thought to himself as he surveyed the pool. There were several groups spread around the large public area, many of them college-aged; while the pool wasn’t nearly as packed as it normally would have been on a summer afternoon, it was still populated enough to make Austin wary.

“…Are you going to help, or not?”

“Huh? Oh.” Austin shook his head to clear his thoughts and set to helping Twy drop down a couple chairs to mark their spot. She then dumped a bag of towels next to one of the chairs before taking off her shirt, revealing a rather plain pale blue bikini. Austin stared for a couple moments before catching himself and suddenly looking away, just as Twy glanced back at him.

“You sure you don’t want to swim?”

“…Nah.” Austin shook his head as he took a seat in one of the chairs. “I’ll watch our stuff. You can go in.”

“Swimming is hardly any fun without friends,” Twy pouted.

“What, are Spike and Sky not your friends?”

“Of course they are, but they’re also a couple. As much as Spike claims to be the level-headed one… give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile. If you know what I mean.”

“Sure, but it’s not like they’re gonna have sex in the middle of a public pool.”

“No— of course not!” Twy’s cheeks flushed red as she crossed her arms in irritation. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Yeah, yeah, I get what you mean.” Austin sighed. “Sometimes, I think that if they had gotten their own apartment instead of splitting up and renting with us, we’d never have seen them again.”

“Exactly.” Twy nodded once. She looked over at the pool, and then glanced back at Austin. “…Last chance to change your mind.”

“You’re the one who said I never go swimming,” Austin retorted. He waved toward the pool. “We only got a couple hours. If you don’t get in, you’ll be the one who regrets it.”

“Hmph. I suppose so,” she responded flatly. She then turned on her heel and broke into a full sprint before catapulting herself into the water and entering with only a small splash.

Austin whistled quietly in amazement — her skill in the water was clearly better than his. He then smirked as he realized the thought had a second meaning; she could control water, after all. A moment later, his smirk transformed into a scowl. Shit… Twy and Sky wanted to come to the pool to show off their powers, didn’t they? Damn it, they better not get careless…

As the thoughts crossed his mind, Austin became increasingly anxious. The rumors of an EIIC investigation had turned out to be true — ever since Monday, the capital city of Texas had been nearly swarming with SERRCom officers. It was clear that they thought that something was amiss in the city, but Austin had no idea what. If everything he had read about the first Chaos Quake over 40 years ago was correct, then it was radial with an origin far outside of Earthian space. Presumably, whatever caused the first Quake also caused the second… but what were the chances of that cause being on Earth?

“It’s more likely that they’re looking for Chaotics…” Austin muttered. It was the only solution he could come up with; what else could possibly be worth searching for during a Chaos Quake? Then again, since all Chaos Energy had been rendered inert, conventional wisdom would hold that Chaotics wouldn’t be able to use their powers. Twy and Sky were exceptions, but with Chaos Energy inert, there was no way to track its use — and thus no way to track down the twins. So just what was SERRCom looking for?

“…Hello?”

“What—?!” Austin jumped, startled. He whipped around to see two individuals — a man and a woman — standing next to him. They both seemed to be in their mid thirties and were dressed casually, but aside from that, there was little remarkable about their appearances.

“Sorry to bother you,” the man spoke up, “but you’re Austin Travis, right? Luke Travis’s nephew?”

“Uh… yeah.” Austin glanced between the two in confusion. “…You know my uncle?”

“Yeah, we worked with him a few years back.”

They worked with Uncle Luke? Austin stared at the newcomers blankly as he processed this information. …Wait, then that means—!?

“Agent Rayne, of the Earthian Interstellar Intelligence Command.” The woman flashed a badge before returning her wallet to her pocket. She then gestured toward the man. “And this is Smith.”

He offered a curt wave. “Nice to meet you.”

“Yeah…” Austin’s brow furrowed.

“Ah, don’t worry, we aren’t here to arrest you or anything!” Smith chuckled. “We just wanted to ask a couple questions, is all. Didn’t even know you were here until we walked in.”

Austin simply responded with a wary stare. I guess that explains why they aren’t wearing uniforms…

“Anyways,” Rayne spoke up, “I’m sure you’re aware of the ongoing Chaos Energy Quake event, yes?”

“You could say that…”

“We’re looking for any related information. Anything you have.”

“…Why do you think I would know anything? I’m just some guy in college.”

“Hmm, is that so.”

Austin felt an impulse to give a sarcastic response, but managed to hold himself back. He had no desire whatsoever to be on the bad side of an EIIC agent.

“We have reason to believe that the Quake was triggered by an event in this city.”

That said, Austin’s impulse restriction had limits. “Oh, is that why y’all are crawlin’ all over the place like ants?”

Rayne’s gaze hardened, but Smith simply sighed and brushed his hand through his hair.

“More to the point,” he continued, ignoring Austin’s comment, “we think that something happened at the Nature and Science Center on Sunday.”

“And we couldn’t help but notice that your name was on the visitor list,” Rayne finished.

Shit. Austin scowled. ‘Didn’t even know I was here’ my ass. Fan-fuckin-tastic.

“So, yeah,” Smith commented airily. “Did you see anything suspicious while you were there?”

“Uuuuuhh… I think I want a…”

“…You want a… what?” Smith echoed incredulously, “come again?”

Austin didn’t respond for several moments. His attention was instead focused beyond the two agents, at the part of the pool his friends were currently swimming in — the same part from where short bursts of steam were emerging. Is that—? For fuck’s sake—! Why are they being so careless?!

“…Something wrong?” Smith questioned as he began to glance behind himself.

“N-no! No, no, nothing’s wrong,” Austin quickly replied, drawing Smith’s attention back to himself. Good. I think. Damn it all… “I was just, uh. Thinking.”

“Thinking,” Rayne echoed flatly.

“Yes, thinking.” Austin threw her an impatient glance. “You can’t just walk up to some random person in the middle of a public place and expect them to drop everything and immediately answer all your questions.”

“Maybe you can’t,” Rayne responded, her tone low, “but we are EIIC agents. If we think that you could help us, then you will.”

“What my colleague means to say is that we’d really, just, we’d really appreciate any help you could offer us,” Smith quickly spoke up, inching closer to Rayne to insert himself between her and Austin. “We don’t mean to pry.” He glanced toward Rayne. “Right, Sophie? No prying.”

“We’re still on the clock. It’s Rayne.”

Then why aren’t you wearing uniforms? Austin kept the question in his head, but he couldn’t help but feel uneasy about the situation. He glanced back at the pool… and then balked when he failed to spot Twy. Where’d she go?!

“Back to the topic at hand.” The woman turned her attention back to Austin. “The Chaos Energy exhibit at the Nature and Science Center, Mr. Travis. What happened?”

“Nothing,” Austin insisted. “…Or at least, I didn’t see—!?”

His eyes widened in concern — just behind the two agents, Twy had leaped out of the pool, clearing several feet in what was clearly an unnatural exit from a body of water. And to make matters worse, plastered on her face was a mischievous grin, and around her right hand was a small — yet highly noticeable and obviously unnatural — sphere of water.

Austin immediately began shaking his head in panic. As soon as he did so, Twy’s gaze moved over to the two EIIC agents — who had just started to look behind themselves at whatever Austin was looking at. She quickly hid her hands behind her back and awkwardly shuffled forward, already too close to be able to escape discreetly.

Rayne eyed Twy suspiciously before turning back to Austin. “What was that about?”

“Uh, I just, uh, had to clear my head,” Austin stuttered out an excuse as Twy approached his side, careful to keep her back away from the two agents. “Best way to, uh, help you, and all that. …Yeah.”

Rayne’s eyes narrowed — Austin could tell she wasn’t buying it. She then snapped her attention to Twy. “Who are you?”

“You first,” Twy shot back.

“Ah, pardon my partner’s manners.” Smith extended his hand toward Twy. “I’m Smith, of the EIIC. She’s Rayne. Nice to meet you.”

Twy glanced down at his hand uneasily. What followed was a rather conspicuous splash on the ground just behind her before she reached out her own hand — which Smith quickly withdrew from. Realizing what the situation may have looked like, Twy’s face flushed beet red and she quickly turned away.

“Well.” Smith flashed a quick smile. “I think we’re done here. Right, Rayne?”

“…Yes. Fine,” she huffed, and turned to address Austin. “You’re off the hook for now. But if we learn you were withholding information from us—!”

“Relax,” Smith interjected, “it was pretty silly to expect anything in the first place. Let’s go.”

Austin and Twy silently watched the two agents as they made for the pool’s exit. Just before stepping out, Smith offered one final wave, which Austin reflexively returned. By the time he realized what he had done, the agents were gone.

“The hell was that?” Twy questioned.

I’m the one who should be askin’ that,” Austin hissed, “what the hell were you thinkin’, messin’ with water like that in public?!”

“I—!” Twy started, but glanced away uneasily. “…You’re right. I got carried away. I’m sorry.”

“’Got carried away’ is one way to put it,” Austin growled. Irritation flashed across Twy’s face and she made to retort, but before she could, Sky rushed up.

“What was that? Who were those people? What were they doing? What did they ask you? Did they see Twy’s water?!”

“Slow down,” Spike commanded, approaching from behind her and tousling her hair. “Kinda hard to get answers if you don’t give people time to respond.”

“You can say that again,” Austin snorted.

“Hmph,” Sky pouted, but then adopted a serious expression. “But really— who were those people?”

“…EIIC agents.”

Spike’s expression hardened. “Shit.”

“Wait, the EIIC? That’s that thing that you said was like the CIA, right?” Sky questioned, “what were they doing here? Did they figure us out?!”

“Hey, hey, watch it,” Austin leaned forward and spoke in hushed tones, “don’t just bring up that topic in public, who knows who’s listening?”

“It’s still a fair concern,” Twy asserted. “What did they ask? And what did you tell them?”

“I didn’t tell them jack shit,” Austin declared, “…but as far as I can tell, they aren’t lookin’ for Chaotics. That said… they know we were at the museum Sunday afternoon, and they seem to think that the Chaos Quake was caused by somethin’ happenin’ at the museum.”

Spike frowned. “I don’t remember anythin’ happening…”

“And that’s what I told ‘em. Still… this is a bad sign.”

“No shit. I think you should try talkin’ to your uncle. The sooner, the better.”

“I’m not so sure. Those two agents claimed to be coworkers of his, from a few years ago at least. If I talk to Luke now…”

“…It might get back to them,” Twy finished, and then sighed. “Great. Just great.”

“This isn’t how it was supposed to go at all,” Sky complained. “Superpowers are supposed to be fun! We shouldn’t have to worry about all of this bullshit…”

“I’d like to agree with you, but this is the world we live in,” Spike responded. “If we want to keep our lives as normal as possible… we need to do everythin’ we can to make sure that SERRCom pays us no attention.”

“Which means no carelessly doing things in public,” Austin interjected as he passed the twins an irritated glance.

Twy bristled. “One warning is enough.”

“Hey,” Spike cut in, “we’re all in this, arguin’ won’t help at all.”

Austin and Twy exchanged annoyed looks before sighing in tandem.

“Well this just put a damper on the whole pool experience,” Sky pouted. “Barely here for half an hour, and already the day is ruined!”

Austin sighed with irritation. “I told y’all the EIIC was no good.”

“Yes, yes…” Twy rolled her eyes. “Anyways, it’d probably be best if we left. I don’t think sticking around is a good idea.”

“The mood’s been ruined anyways,” Sky sulked. “The last Friday before school starts, too! Damn it! This sucks.”

“Not as much as getting caught by the EIIC and whisked away, I’m sure,” Austin retorted.

“Alright, alright, enough with the complainin’,” Spike declared as he began gathering up the chairs and equipment they had brought along. “Let’s get goin’.”

“Hey, look on the bright side…” Austin smirked as he glanced upward at the rapidly darkening skies. “Looks like we’re still gonna get plenty wet.”

“Argh, even worse!” Sky growled, “the forecast said nothing about rain earlier this week!”

“We can discuss just how everything went to shit when we get outta here,” Spike insisted, now carrying most of the equipment. He then set off for the exit, with Austin, Twy, and Sky in tow. “C’mon. Let’s go.”

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