Muffled sounds. Voices.
Everything was dark. Black. But still somehow blurry and shaky.
“…isten… … …ar…”
Somebody was talking. It was impossible to tell who, or from where. But there was a voice. Austin was able to recognize that much. His mind felt too heavy to process much else.
“…refo… … …urry…”
“…reform… ar… … …hurry…”
The voices began to fade again. What little of Austin’s vision that had returned, faded back to black.
* * *
Austin’s eyes fluttered open, the rest of his body numb and unmoving as he slowly came to. He remained still for several moments as he simply stared at the white ceiling above him. …Where am I?… Why is everything so numb…?
He slowly curled his fingers and attempted to flex various muscles, gradually encouraging them to wake up. Before long he could feel his body again; his feet, his legs, his arms and hands. Sitting up slowly, he continued to check over the rest of his body until something in the corner of his eye caught his attention. He glanced over, curious, and then fully turned his attention to it in awe:
Through the entire wall and a small part of the floor, Austin could see Earth. The planet appeared to rotate slowly from some distance away; nearly the whole of North America was visible, indicating that wherever he was, it was probably in middle Earth orbit. And just as he was thinking that, the memories of the past several days hit him like a brick — the Chaos Energy Quake, the discovery of the twins’ powers, the reveal that he had an impersonator, SERRCom arresting him and his friends, a robot attack on SERRCom headquarters —
— and the loss of his left arm.
…the same left arm, in fact, that was now somehow reattached to his shoulder.
“The hell…?” He stared at his left arm incredulously. He reached up with his right hand to lift up his shirt collar and inspect his shoulder; there did not appear to be any seams, stitches, or scarring. Puzzled, he held his left arm up to his ear and then knocked on it with his right fist. What followed was the familiar thud of flesh against flesh.
“Not a prosthetic,” he muttered. He warily balled his left hand into a fist and then relaxed his fingers. “…The hell is goin’ on? …Did all that stuff actually happen?”
A quiet hissing sound drew Austin’s attention to the right, where the room’s door had just opened. Just as he noticed the two guards standing outside, Twy virtually flew into the room, catching herself against the rail at the foot of Austin’s infirmary bed.
“You’re awake!” she exclaimed, a relieved smile plastered across her face. “How’s your arm?”
“Huh?” Austin stared at her blankly as she approached and began inspecting his left arm. “…Wait… did I actually…?”
“Lose your arm? Yup, you sure did.”
Austin looked back to the door, through which another three women entered. He didn’t recognize the somewhat scrawny, pale-skinned, blond-haired woman who just spoke, but he did recognize the tall woman with a dark complexion behind her who was present during his arrest on Earth; the patch sewn into her black jacket just above her left breast pocket confirmed her name as “Hackett.” In the back was a young tan-skinned woman with long black hair, tied back in a ponytail. Her metallic right arm, black crop-top, and green waist cape easily identified her as Danielle Carver of the Eximius Vir.
Upon recognizing Hackett and Danielle, Austin tensed up, and his face darkened.
“Heh, I told you he’d recognize you,” the blond-haired woman commented with a smirk as she glanced back at Hackett.
Hackett simply grunted in response, leaning on the wall next to the door as Danielle and the blond woman approached Austin.
“’Ello! I’m Senior Researcher Sarah Tobias!” She thrust her hand toward Austin. “You can call me Sarah. Nice to meetcha!”
Austin stared at her hand warily for a couple moments before looking over at Twy.
“It’s fine,” Twy assured, “you have her and Danielle to thank for getting your arm back.”
“What?…” Austin questioned, confused. “How the hell—?”
“I’m a Transtechnic,” Danielle stated. When Austin gave her a blank stare she continued, “you know… shape-shifting?” She held up her right arm and transformed it into a normal human arm. “See?”
“…What’s that got to do with me gettin’ my arm back?”
“That’s ‘cause you’re a Simulator Psychotechnic,” Sarah declared. “We just had to get you close to Danielle and you shape-shifted yourself a new arm! Hmm, you must really have been out of it to not remember that. It was actually quite cool! I’ve never had a chance to see a Simulator up close before!”
“Alright, hold it, hold it…” Austin held up his hands as if gesturing for Sarah to slow down. “…The hell are you goin’ on about? Just what happened?”
“Almost immediately after you passed out from losing your arm, Spike and Sky arrived,” Twy explained. “With their help, we were able to destroy the robot. Its laser blast cauterized at least part of your wound, so you lasted long enough for Spike to carry you to the infirmary. That was when Sarah suggested bringing in Danielle to fix your arm.”
“Okay…” Austin nodded slowly, and then turned toward Danielle. “So… you fixed my arm?”
“No no no.” Sarah shook her head. “You fixed your arm. You’re a Simulator Psychotechnic, okay? That means you can copy the powers and abilities of other people near you. So if a Transtechnic like Danielle is near you, then you gain the ability to shape-shift yourself, and that’s what you did to get a new arm.”
“…I’m a… Simulator Psychotechnic…?” Austin frowned. “…How do you know?”
“At first, it was just a hunch. When you and your friends got arrested, you were able to resist Mote’s lightning attack like you were an Electrotechnic. And then, according to Mark and your friends, when that robot attacked you the first time, you stood up to it — as if you were a Forcetechnic. But then, the second time you were attacked — with the laser that blew your arm — you didn’t have any sign of the increased durability that Forcetechnics have… because you weren’t near any Forcetechnics.”
“What really sealed the deal was watching you shape-shift yourself a new arm. You didn’t do it until Danielle approached, but once she did, you did it immediately and subconsciously — which is exactly how Transtechnics react to taking mortal damage.”
“That doesn’t explain how he was able to immobilize Emerson,” Hackett interjected.
“Mm, it isn’t uncommon for Psychotechnics to be dual-types.” Sarah shrugged. “He’s probably also an Imperator-type. Imperator and Simulator. Not a bad combo.”
“What’s… ‘Imperator’?” Austin questioned.
“You can assert temporary physical control over any object you touch,” Sarah replied. “As I understand it, it takes a lot of effort to get the hang of, but once you do, it’s quite powerful.”
“…Right…” Austin’s brow furrowed as he took in all of the information he had just received. As he thought back over the past week and a half, Sarah’s claims began to make sense. There were a handful of times that he had spontaneously demonstrated some skill or ability that he had never actually learned; if he truly possessed the powers that Sarah claimed he did, then that could explain it all. “…So I’m a Psychotechnic, then…? That just makes it sound like I’m crazy.”
“Wouldn’t be entirely false,” Twy joked.
“Even if you aren’t sure what Chaotic type you are now, there’ll be plenty of time to figure it out in the near future,” Hackett declared as she stepped away from the wall and approached the foot of the bed.
“…No…” Austin frowned, growing wary as Twy’s face darkened as well. “Is this about that conscription bullshit?”
“It is,” Hackett responded sternly. “You and your friends are to start full Chaotic training beginning Monday.”
“What?! You can’t do that!” Austin countered, jumping out of the bed in order to face Hackett fully. He drew back slightly when he realized that she was just as tall as him, but he remained otherwise steadfast. “Show me the law that lets you conscript people. Show me!”
Hackett narrowed her eyes and then glanced away. She sighed impatiently before responding, “the Colonel and I have already been over this with your friends. You are going to join SERRCom, and that’s that. Every other nation in the galaxy would do the same.”
“That doesn’t make it right!”
“Mmm…” Hackett grunted, and then shrugged. “It is what it is. I almost doubt you’re an Earthian anyway, and in that case—”
“Don’t go down that road, Major,” Sarah interjected. “Besides, DNA tests say that they’re all Earthian. No aliens here.”
Hackett gave Sarah a wary glance before turning back to Austin and Twy.
“…If you know what’s best for you,” Hackett continued, “you’ll shut up and listen. I know you’re angry. But in this world we live in, there’s no other choice.”
“Hell of a rationale,” Austin retorted.
The Major didn’t respond verbally. Instead she closed her eyes, sighed again, and turned toward the exit. “…Your friend can lead you to your quarters. If you have any questions, Lieutenant Cox or Captain Travis should be around to answer. But don’t try anything fishy. This station has cameras everywhere.”
She then left before Austin could argue further.
“…You’ll have to excuse the Major,” Sarah spoke up after a moment of silence, “she really is a good person. She wouldn’t do this if she didn’t have to.”
“What, because of ‘orders?’” Austin spat, “so, what, can the guy in charge just make any damn order he wants and the whole of everyone just rolls over for him ‘cause he said so?”
For a moment, Sarah gave Austin a pained expression, but she quickly replaced it with a polite smile. “Ah, what I wouldn’t give to be young and idealistic again…”
“Aren’t you only 24?” Danielle questioned.
“…Anyways!” Sarah quickly made for the door. “I have work that I should really get to. If you have any questions about anything related to Chaos Energy or Chaotics, I’m your lass! Assuming I’m not busy, that is. Which is most of the time. But, uh.” She stopped for a moment to give a casual salute. “See you later!”
As she disappeared through the door, Austin gradually relaxed. He realized that he had become incredibly tense while arguing with Major Hackett, and must have looked more like a scared child than an adult making a reasonable argument.
“…What’s wrong with conscription?”
“Huh?” Austin turned toward Danielle, who was still in the room. She had her hands clasped behind her back, her right arm once again taking the appearance of a metal prosthetic as she gave Austin and Twy her full attention.
“Are you…” Austin glanced at Twy incredulously, but Twy simply returned the glance. “…Are you being serious?”
“Uh…” Danielle’s expression turned sheepish. “Sorry, did I say something stupid…?”
“You could say that,” Twy responded with a sigh.
“Conscription means bein’ forced into somethin’ against your will.” Austin crossed his arms. “It’s always wrong to force someone to do somethin’ against their will.”
“Hmm…” Danielle looked down, her brow furrowed in thought. “…I guess that makes sense. Hmm.”
“…What, did you join SERRCom voluntarily?”
“Not really…” Danielle shook her head slowly. “But, then again… I don’t really think we had any other options.”
“Ah, sorry. I’m not really good at this kind of deep thinking stuff. You’d be better off asking Mark, or Mote. Maybe even Kate.” Her face lit up. “Oh, Kate wanted me to do something— ah, I gotta go! Sorry!”
“What…?” Austin stared after Danielle as she rushed out of the room. “…The hell?”
“Yeah…” Twy sighed warily. “I wasn’t too impressed when I first met her, either.”
“Between her and that Mote guy…” Austin shook his head and sat down on the infirmary bed. “…The Eximius Vir really aren’t what I was expecting.”
“They aren’t perfect heroes, that’s for sure.”
“Mark seems like a reasonable dude, at least, but… still won’t do anything to stop this conscription bullshit.”
“And what do you want him to do? Just turn on the entirety of SERRCom for a handful of people he doesn’t know?”
Austin passed Twy an irate glance. “So that’s it? You’re fine just takin’ this lyin’ down?”
“Well, no,” she countered, her bow furrowed. “Trust me… if I thought we could fight our way out of this, I’d lead the charge. But we have to be realistic…”
“Is that what they’re callin’ it now?”
“Don’t you get mad at me,” Twy retorted. “We’re in the same situation. But SERRCom is a huge organization! We could resist, sure, but would you really prefer the zero freedom of a jail cell to whatever small freedom we’ll have doing whatever it is they’ll have us doing?”
Austin simply grunted in response and looked away. “…Where’re Spike and Sky?”
“…I’m not sure. Last I saw them, they were with Mark, trying out their powers.”
“So they’ve just accepted this, too?”
Twy sighed again as she turned away from Austin and toward the display of Earth below. “…Just what do you want me to tell you? What is it that you want to hear, that you think will suddenly make everything better?”
“I’m not…” Austin pursed his lips in frustration. “…This is wrong. I don’t wanna join the fucking military! I never asked for this goddamn Psycho-whatever bullshit. Nothing about this situation is normal, how can you be so calm about this?!”
“I’ve had about a day longer than you to think about it.” Twy turned back to face Austin. “But just because I’m acting calm doesn’t mean that I am calm. I’m just as mad as you are… but there’s nothing we can do. Me, you, Spike and Sky — none of us really know how to take advantage of our powers. We can barely fight as is, there isn’t a chance in hell that we could take on SERRCom and survive! Hell, Mote took all of us out all on his own, without even trying!”
“I agree that it isn’t right… but it’s what’s happening to us right now. Might as well make the best of it. Besides… there must be some reason we all suddenly got powers, right?”
Austin made a face at her. “Don’t go sayin’ you’ve found Jesus or somethin’…”
Twy narrowed her eyes. “You know what I meant.”
“Uh huh, sure. Next you’ll be tellin’ me that we’re the goddamned chosen ones of prophecy.”
“Hmph…” Austin grunted in response. “…This whole thing sucks. My life sucks.”
“It’s not just you,” Twy countered. “Don’t forget me. Or Sky, or Spike. We’re in this together. Trust me, they don’t like this situation either… but there’s no use just moping about it. Might as well make something out of it. If nothing else, it’d be nice to get back at that impostor of yours, wouldn’t it?”
“…Yeah…” Austin nodded slowly. “…Guess so.”
Twy smiled broadly. “Glad you agree. Now… we should probably go see Sky and Spike. I’m sure they’ll want to know that you’re okay.”
“…Alright, sure.” Austin sighed loftily as he stood up and stretched. “…Guess we should get used to the sights around here, huh? Well… lead the way.”