Chapter 21 – Reunion

5 Days Later

— Saturday, October 15, AD 2129 —

“Wow, you guys were actually able to keep up with me this time. Seems like you’re getting better!”

“Oh shut up,” Nikki replied, rolling her eyes as she plopped down into one of the chairs outside of Caltech’s campus cafe. “Maybe it’s you who’s getting slower.”

“I was literally complimenting you,” Pierce retorted, his arms crossed as he watched Raj and Kieran take seats around the same table as Nikki.

“You might have been, but you should really work on your wording,” Raj commented. “You shouldn’t be surprised that people get mad when you deliver a compliment like it’s sarcasm.”

“Yeah yeah, whatever.” Pierce waved off Raj’s concern as he took a seat himself, finally engaging in some post-workout relief. Bright sunshine blanketed the campus in a late morning warmth while people went about their weekend business, which for Pierce and some of his track teammates, meant a regular practice run. They had just finished running a few miles through the neighborhood to the south of campus, and were now taking a break before doing a few more pre-lunch workouts.

Eventually, Raj sighed, drawing the attention of the other three sitting at the table. “I wish more of the team could’ve joined us,” he lamented.

“It is a little early,” Kieran replied.

“Early my ass, it’s 11 o’clock,” Pierce countered. “‘Early’ is before sunrise. Everyone’s just being lazy fucks.”

“I hate to say it, but I agree,” Nikki said. “Mornings are the best time for runs, and we need to keep up the practice even in the off-season, if we want to keep up our performance from last season.”

“But… weren’t most of our wins last season from Pierce?” Kieran pointed out.

“All the more reason to get in more practice! Do you really want this arrogant asshole here to have all the attention and credit?”

“Hey, I can’t help it if I’m just that good,” Pierce remarked with a smug smirk on his face.

“Ha!” Nikki scoffed. “You might be good at running and athletics, but you’re still shit at getting along with people.”

“I’m better than you, that’s for sure. I don’t go around randomly insulting people without provocation.”

“Maybe, but you do a great job of forgetting about them. Which I’d say is worse.”

Pierce’s smirk rapidly transformed into an irritated frown. “And just what the hell are you talking about, huh?”

“I think you already know,” Nikki replied coyly.

“Oh no.” Raj glanced between Nikki and Pierce. “Did Pierce break another girl’s heart?”

“I did not break her heart,” Pierce insisted. “And I didn’t forget the date, either — I just had to deal with something urgent. My home was attacked, you know!”

“You could’ve at least messaged her and rescheduled, or something. Or literally anything. Instead, you did nothing!” Nikki countered.

“Fucking what? I literally did message her to reschedule!”

“After the fact doesn’t count. You still stood her up, you know.”

“…Bah. So what? It was the first fucking date. If you get your heart broken because of a first date, then you have to get your head out of the clouds. Have some damn realistic expectations.”

“That’s… not a very cool thing to say,” Kieran commented. “I mean— this is about Andra, right?”

Pierce passed Kieran an irate glance. “Shit, you heard, too?”

“She is my friend, you know,” Kieran pointed out.

“Hmph. How the hell does everyone know about this already?”

“A week is a long time for the rumor mill to run,” Nikki remarked. “Not to mention it’s another story about Caltech’s darling track star messing around with a girl’s feelings. It’s too good to ignore!”

“It’s stupid,” Pierce countered. “I mean, c’mon! It was just one little slip-up. You three are all from the Bay, you had to have been concerned about that attack last Saturday, right?”

“Sure, but I didn’t miss out on my commitments because of it.”

“No… I actually agree with Pierce here, somewhat,” Raj commented. “Hearing that my home town was under attack by an enemy force was pretty stressful. Luckily, not a whole lot of damage occurred, but it was really hard trying to figure out what was going on while it was happening. I almost forgot about working on a problem set, myself. That said…” He turned to face Pierce. “Did you at least apologize for forgetting about the date?”

“I did!” Pierce exclaimed indignantly, “but it wasn’t accepted!”

“Knowing you, it was probably half-assed,” Nikki retorted.

“Andra said that you never even messaged her until the following morning,” Kieran stated. “That’s a lot of time when you could have said something, but didn’t…”

“I already explained this a thousand times: there was an emergency,” Pierce countered. “It’s like you people don’t even care about a fucking terrorist attack! Just like Andra, you’re all over-reacting to this one missed date.”

“Ha!” Nikki replied, “even if we are, your attitude really isn’t helping.”

“Unfortunately, that’s par for the course with this fucking asshole.”

“Huh?” Pierce looked up after hearing a familiar voice, only for his expression to scrounge up in a mixture of irritation and confusion. Approaching the table were three individuals — a short, dark-skinned woman with black hair tied back in a splayed-out ponytail, coupled with a long, thin braid just in front of her right ear; an average height man with a tanned complexion and long brown hair tied into a low, thin ponytail; and a pale woman of enormous height — a couple inches over six feet tall — with long white hair, tied back in a braid.

It was none other than Phoenix, Conrad, and Kestrel.

“The hell are you guys doing here?” Pierce questioned as they approached the table, with Phoenix leading the way.

“Don’t you play dumb with me!” Phoenix exclaimed, “I messaged you on Monday saying that we’d be meeting up. Don’t tell me you forgot!”

Nikki immediately burst into uproarious laughter while Kieran and Raj regarded Pierce with disapproving looks.

“Hey, this— stop laughing!” Pierce demanded of Nikki, and then whipped around to glare at Phoenix. “I didn’t forget, you just didn’t give me a time or a place! How the hell am I supposed to expect you if you don’t tell me when or where?!”

“He’s got a point,” Conrad stated, only to reel back when Phoenix passed him a fierce glare.

“Damn, Pierce, you really are something!” Nikki exclaimed, holding her stomach with one hand and wiping tears from her eyes with the other. “First Andra, now this!” She turned toward Phoenix, Conrad, and Kestrel. “Who are you guys? Friends of Pierce?”

“For better or worse,” Phoenix muttered. “Who are you?”

“An amused bystander,” Nikki remarked with a smirk before standing up from her seat. “C’mon, Raj, Kieran. Let’s leave Pierce to dig himself out of whatever new grave he’s made for himself.”

“Yes…” Raj frowned as he followed suit. “Pierce… you really need to be careful with your promises.”

“Hold on one fucking minute! I didn’t even promise anything here!” Pierce jumped out of his seat and glared after Nikki, Raj, and Kieran as they left the area. “This isn’t even my fault, you assholes!” he continued shouting after them, “just you fucking wait, I’ll show you up for assuming the worst about me!”

Nikki simply offered a casual wave in response, never once turning around to actually look at Pierce. Not long after that, she, Raj, and Kieran disappeared around the corner of a building.

“…Wow.” Conrad remarked flatly. “What was that about?”

“Shut up,” Pierce snapped. He then turned around to face his three friends with his arms crossed. “Way to fucking make me look bad.”

“Please, you hardly need the help,” Phoenix countered. “More importantly, we have a lot to talk about.”

Pierce pursed his lips as he glared at Phoenix, but eventually he glanced over at Conrad, and then up at Kestrel, who returned the glance with a blank expression. “…So all four of us have new… abilities, huh?”

“Sure seems like it,” Conrad commented.

“But this isn’t the place to talk about it,” Phoenix insisted. “Pierce, do you know a more quiet place to talk?”

He momentarily looked around at his surroundings; the clocks had yet to reach noon, but activity around the campus cafe was nonetheless increasing. With an impatient sigh, he replied, “yeah, I know a place or two.”

“Alright! Then what are we waiting for? Lead the way!”

“Sure. But first, I want to point out that I did not forget that we were meeting today. It’s not my fault that—”

“Yes, yes, I’m sorry that I didn’t give you proper details. Now can we get going, already?”

“Actually…” Conrad moved up next to Pierce, lowered his voice, and cupped his hand around the side of his mouth, as though to hide his next statement from Phoenix. “She did this on purpose. She said she thought you’d just run away if we told you we were coming.”

“At this rate, I might just run away anyways,” Pierce grumbled back.

“Hey! What are you two whispering about?” Phoenix demanded as she stomped over to them.

“Nothing. It’s nothing,” Pierce deadpanned. He then spun around on his heel and began jogging off to the south. “Now follow me! Let’s get this over with already…”

*     *     *

“…Really? A park?”

“Relax. It’s a big place. No one’s going to listen to us talking as long as we don’t cause a commotion.”

Phoenix regarded Pierce with a doubtful stare before sighing and turning her attention down to the park table in front of her. “There’s really no where on the campus we could’ve talked? Somewhere more private?”

“It’d be even more suspicious if we stayed on-campus. None of you guys are Techers, and a lot of people on campus know my face. They’d remember us walking around.”

“I think that ship sailed already,” Conrad remarked.

Pierce passed his friend an annoyed glare before gesturing at the park table. “C’mon already. Let’s get this damn ‘talk’ over with.”

“Don’t be so cavalier about this,” Phoenix countered as she sat down on the tabletop, her feet coming to rest on the bench that ran alongside the table. “This is a serious situation.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Pierce rolled his eyes as Conrad and Kestrel took seats at the table themselves, both of them sitting down on the actual bench, with Kestrel right next to Phoenix. Pierce remained standing, his arms crossed as he quickly surveyed his three friends. Conrad was wearing his normal gray t-shirt and black shorts, but Kestrel and Phoenix both were dressed far more heavily than was warranted for mid-October weather in Los Angeles. Phoenix wore a purple crop top partially covered by a thick, synthetic fur-lined black jacket, paired with black knee-high boots and a set of slim-fit jeans that nicely accentuated her thighs and buttocks; Kestrel, meanwhile, was wearing a white over-sized sweater on top of a light gray dress that went all the way down to her boots, successfully hiding what Pierce knew to be an athletically toned — if exceedingly pale — body. In contrast, Pierce was wearing a simple blue t-shirt and running shorts, his usual work-out outfit. They’re dressed for New England weather… Pierce noted mentally, they must’ve only just flew in, and then headed straight here. Damn. Phoenix really is serious about this…

“Well, we’re all here,” Conrad spoke up, looking each of the other three in the eyes before shrugging. “So, uh. …Why are we meeting up, again?”

“To figure out what’s going on,” Phoenix replied, “these kinds of discussions are always best to have in person.”

“What’s there to talk about, though? We already know the important details…”

“I disagree. We know that we all have new abilities, but we don’t all know the circumstances behind discovering those abilities, or what’s been done with them.” Phoenix glanced over at Kestrel, and then to Pierce. “If we put our heads together, we might be able to figure out why or how we got these powers.”

“Could just be random chance,” Pierce suggested.

“I find that hard to believe. Until just a few years ago, no one on Earth was a Chaotic. Even now, between the Eximius Vir, those four Chaotics that SERRCom conscripted, and us… that’s only twelve. Twelve, out of over ten billion people on this planet! With those odds, it would be an incredible coincidence for a small group of friends to all suddenly get new powers.”

“Could be more…” Kestrel commented.

Conrad nodded. “Yeah, we don’t know if there are more Earthian Chaotics than the ones we’re aware of. Maybe there are way more, and they’re just hiding it, like us.”

“Even so, the odds are against pure random chance,” Phoenix insisted. “Of all the races in the galaxy, the Dra’kis have the highest Chaotic potential, and even then, only 1 in every 100 Dra’kis is a Chaotic. So even if Earth suddenly has the same potential, that would still be a, what…”

“1 in one hundred million chance that all four of us had powers,” Pierce finished, and then frowned. “Yeah, that doesn’t seem very likely…”

“Exactly. Most Chaotics discover their powers before puberty, as well, but we — well, we’re adults!”

“I guess it is weird, huh…” Conrad admitted.

“Which is why I wanted to talk about it,” Phoenix said as she glanced between Conrad and Kestrel. “How did the two of you discover your powers?”

“I was in class, and wanted to take a nap… then, when the class ended, people started leaving and trying to walk through me like I wasn’t even there,” Conrad answered.

Pierce snorted in amusement. “Figures the lazy-ass would get invisibility powers.”

Conrad simply responded with a shrug. “I just need a lot of sleep, that’s all.”

“How you still manage to get good grades with that attitude is beyond me,” Phoenix remarked, and then looked over at Kestrel. “What about you, Kestrel?”

“Mm…” She blankly returned Phoenix’s look before looking down. “…My fan broke. Couldn’t fix it.”

“You discovered you had wind powers because your fan broke?” Pierce smirked. “How ridiculously benign.”

“I’m sure you’re about to tell us all about how exciting it was when you first discovered your powers,” Conrad deadpanned.

“If by ‘exciting’ you mean ‘suicidally dumb’, then sure,” Phoenix retorted as she passed Pierce an annoyed glance. “Mr. Overconfident Asshole over here decided that it would be a great idea to dare an armed burglar to shoot him. He was just lucky that he was suddenly able to dodge bullets; by all rights, he should be dead.”

“Nothing I said during that encounter was wrong,” Pierce shot back. “If I had died, either SERRCom or Nimalia would’ve had those burglar’s asses for breakfast. It would’ve been an intragalactic crime!”

“That doesn’t matter when you could have been fucking shot.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t matter either, because I can’t be shot. I’m bulletproof!”

“You still aren’t invincible. Remember what happened to Trenon?”

Pierce drew back at the mention, and promptly looked away with a scowl.

Kestrel glanced between Pierce and Phoenix. “…Trenon?” she echoed questioningly.

“You don’t need to worry about it,” Pierce insisted. “Anyways, we know now how we all discovered our abilities. And it tells us… absolutely nothing.”

“You guys were off world when it happened,” Conrad commented, “did anything weird happen out there that could explain it?”

“Aside from the Quake? Not really,” Phoenix replied. “I already told you guys about the satellite debris a while ago, but that was after we discovered our powers. The beginning of the Quake is the only weird thing that came first, and that…” She glanced down, her lips pursed, and then looked over at Pierce. “Do you remember anything?”

“I remember a lot of things,” he replied with a frustrated scowl. “But…” The memories of the beginning of the Chaos Energy Quake rushed across his mind. Celebrating in the bar, the attack by a berserk Chaotic, being saved from injury by Trenon, Trenon’s final wish, the blood that had covered his arm… as the memories flew by, Pierce’s scowl merely deepened, but then it softened with confusion and realization as he recalled one additional thing he had seen that night: a vision. A vision of burning buildings, of a wasteland, of two people he didn’t recognize, of a feral, wolf-like beast with metallic rashes that had lunged for his neck. Damn… I almost forgot about all of that. But what does it mean? Does it even mean anything?

“…Pierce?”

“Huh?” He looked over toward the table, where he saw Phoenix, Conrad, and Kestrel all staring at him. “…What?”

“You spaced out, dude,” Conrad replied. “You okay?”

“…I’m fine,” Pierce responded. “Just… thinking.”

“Looks like we’re back to square one, though…” Phoenix sighed. “We don’t know why or how we got our abilities… great. Just great.”

“Well, what now?” Conrad questioned.

“If we could just find a way to figure out what’s going on, then… hmm…”

“…SERRCom?” Kestrel suggested.

“What?” Phoenix glanced over at her incredulously. “What about SERRCom?”

“They might know.”

“I wouldn’t put it past them,” Conrad remarked.

“But even if they do, we can’t trust them,” Phoenix insisted. “You all saw what happened to those other Chaotics. We have to stay hidden, if we don’t want to be conscripted.”

“…Uh, about that,” Pierce spoke up, an uneasy smile upon his face.

Phoenix immediately whipped around to glare at him, her eyes narrowed with suspicion. “What have you done now?” she demanded.

“I haven’t done anything, not since you last messaged me,” Pierce countered. “…But, uh… I was approached by two EIIC agents.”

“EIIC?” Phoenix echoed, at first confused, though her expression was rapidly overwritten with a furious scowl. “You mean the Earthian Interstellar Intelligence Command? That EIIC?!”

“Yep…”

“What’d they ask you?” Conrad questioned.

“Well…” Pierce pursed his lips warily. “…They didn’t say it outright, but they seem to think that… well, that I’m the Speed Demon.”

“They WHAT?!” Phoenix exploded, “you mean they already suspect that you’re a Chaotic?!”

“Hey, calm down. They didn’t actually arrest me, so they must not be sure.”

“Calm down?! Pierce, this is exactly why I told you to keep your fucking powers to yourself! But did you listen? No! You never fucking listen! You and your fucking ego, you just had to go and expose yourself to the world, and now we’re all probably in trouble because of your shortsighted actions!”

“Don’t you get fucking mad at me! It’s because of my actions that the Bay was saved last week, you know!”

“And there’s that fucking ego. Of course. You are utterly incapable of restraint!”

“Oh shut the hell up. If I was actually incapable of restraint then I’d have run off by now. You think I want to stand here and listen to you yell at me?”

“Maybe if you were capable of properly internalizing risk, then I wouldn’t have to yell at you! But time and time again, you just keep pushing the limits. With those burglars, with the skyfall, and then repeatedly using your powers on Earth despite me warning you to stop! Why is it so hard for you to exercise even the slightest bit of caution?!”

“If I listened to you, then tons more people would be dead right now! On Ainminthalus, and on Earth! It’s because of me that the skyfall wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and it’s because of me that those robots last week didn’t have a chance to wreck the whole Bay. You’re just mad that you couldn’t do it yourself!”

“Are you seriously—?!”

“What’s that?” Kestrel interjected, nodding toward something on the ground.

“Huh…?” Pierce and Phoenix both momentarily stared at Kestrel, confused, before following her gaze to Pierce’s feet. On the ground just next to his shoes was a silver sphere, approximately the size of a baseball. It shone like a clean gemstone; it didn’t even have any dirt on it, despite currently resting on grass.

“The hell is this?” Pierce questioned as he stooped over to pick up the object. Once in his hands, he could feel an appreciable weight, as though the sphere were constructed entirely out of metal.

“Oh, don’t you think you’ll get out of our argument that easi—! Wait.” Phoenix squinted at the sphere, her face scrounged up in confusion. “…Can you guys feel that?”

Conrad glanced between Phoenix and the sphere blankly. “Feel what?”

“It’s like it’s… radiating something.” Her expression collapsed into a wary frown. “I don’t know why, but I’m getting a really bad feeling about this. Whatever that thing is, I think we should leave it alone.”

“What? It’s just a metal ball,” Pierce countered, continuing to turn it over in his hands as he inspected it. “…It is really smooth, though. And shiny.”

“I’m serious, Pierce!” Phoenix jumped off of the table and approached him, attempting to grab the sphere out of his hands — only for him to easily dodge and then hold the object well above her reach. “Damn it!” She scowled in irritation. “Won’t you listen to me, just once?!”

“Give me one reason to,” Pierce retorted. “Don’t think you can just order me around!”

“You should listen…”

“What?” He snapped his attention toward Kestrel, who had tentatively stood up from the table as she slowly swept her gaze across the large park they were currently inhabiting. Pierce couldn’t tell what she was thinking — her expression was blank, as always — but it wasn’t often that she would pipe up to reinforce Phoenix’s demands. The hell is going on? He began surveying his surroundings himself, but found little out of the ordinary. It was a simple park in the middle of the neighborhood south of Caltech, with a fair amount of midday traffic, but still no where near enough people to reasonably call it a crowd. What’s up with Phoenix and Kestrel? Are they just being paranoid—?

“Excuse me…”

“Huh?!” Pierce jumped, startled, as he felt someone tap him on his shoulder. He whirled around, accidentally knocking Phoenix to the ground in the process as he laid eyes on the man who had just spoke. The man’s dark hair was ridiculously unkempt, making Pierce immediately wary of him — though something about it also seemed familiar.

“Ah, sorry for interruptin’,” the man commented, glancing between each of the four friends before allowing his gaze to come to rest on Pierce. He then pointed at the silver sphere in Pierce’s hands. “There it is! You’ve found it. I didn’t mean to startle you, though…” The man grinned. “…Speed Demon.”

“What?!” Pierce’s eyes widened in surprise. Who the hell—? Wait…! In a split second, Pierce examined the man’s garb: a gray t-shirt, navy blue vest, and jeans. Coupled with his light skin; dark, unkempt hair; and metallic prosthetic arm… Pierce’s expression transformed into a irate glare. He recognized this man.

This was EA.

EA smirked in response to Pierce’s glare. “I see you recognize me.”

“Hmph…!” Pierce immediately crouched down and then lunged at EA, bringing his foot around in a supersonic kick. A split-second later, the kick connected against the side of EA’s torso, but the impact area lit up brilliantly as EA managed to weather the blow and remain standing. Shit, energy shields—!

As Pierce began thinking of another course of action, he noticed out the corner of his eye his friends slowly backing away — and then EA lunged forward himself, with his right arm outstretched. Into his open hand materialized a giant scythe, wreathed in magnificent silver, gold, black, and white designs, which he then swung at Pierce. Seeing an opening, the Velocitechnic opted to take the blow before moving in to tackle EA to the ground — he had taken hits from bullets and lasers, after all, so a single scythe swung at normal speeds was no threat. But as he allowed the blade to hit him in the side and prepared to lunge forward, he felt a peculiar feeling begin to emanate from his chest. Reflexively, he looked down, where he found his body rapidly dissolving into thousands of tiny blue particles—

— and then everything went black.