Chapter 24 – Hidden Few

The Next Day

“Ah… fuck!”

Pierce kicked angrily at the invisible energy shield keeping him trapped in his cell, and then glanced over at Phoenix and Kestrel; Phoenix stood near the back of her cell, with her back facing Pierce, while Kestrel simply sat cross-legged on the floor of her cell with her head bowed. The several hours of fighting during the previous day, combined with the handful of combat rounds they had already been forced through today, showed heavily on everyone’s faces and physical appearances. Tousled hair, bruised skin, cut or otherwise partially destroyed clothing — Phoenix had long since discarded her heavy jacket and Kestrel had torn off her dress below her thighs for the sake of easier movement, further contributing to their worn and weary appearance.

As if I look any better Pierce scowled as he glared down at himself, wearing the same t-shirt, running shorts, and shoes that he had since yesterday. He sniffed once, and then scrounged up his face in disgust. EA had offered the friends food and water while in captivity, and they each at least had access to a toilet, but they had so far not been able to shower or change their clothes — a fact made all the more obvious by all of the physical activity they were forced into.

“…This sucks.”

Pierce glanced toward the wall to his left, on the other side of which was Conrad. “You can say that again…” he muttered in response.

“What a fucking situation to be in…” Phoenix turned around and approached the front of her cell, glancing between Conrad and Pierce with frustration wrought across her face. “I just… I don’t get the point of this. Why force us to keep fighting like this?”

“He wants to break us…”

Pierce and Phoenix both glanced to the side toward Kestrel, who had turned her head just enough to see Pierce out the corner of her eye.

“…Break us. Hmph,” Pierce snorted in response to her assertion, “I think we’ve made it obvious enough that we won’t bend!”

“This is one thing I can agree with you on,” Phoenix declared. “These battles are pointless. All EA is doing is wasting his robots.”

“And our time,” Conrad chimed in.

Kestrel glanced toward her left, where Pierce assumed Conrad to be standing, before closing her eyes and leaning back. “…Too headstrong,” she responded. “Everyone breaks… eventually.”

Pierce and Phoenix exchanged an uneasy glance, then looked to the side as a wary chuckle emanated from Conrad’s cell. “Ha ha… you’re being real ominous there, Kestrel,” he said.

She simply glanced at him, grunted in acknowledgment, and bowed her head again.

“…Well, regardless…” Pierce kicked at his cell’s energy shield. “We need to figure out a way out of here.”

“How?” Phoenix questioned, “we can’t use our powers here, and the arena we keep getting beamed to is blocked off by energy shields. We can’t get through.”

“I’ve broken through energy shields before…”

“Dude, you already tried to break the arena’s shield last night, and then again this morning,” Conrad refuted. “Last I checked, that didn’t really work.”

“So it’s a stronger shield than others that I’ve broken, so what? We can wear it down eventually.”

“And then what?” Phoenix pressed, “what about this beaming tech? If everything I’ve heard about it is true, then there’s no way to hide from it without specialized technology that we don’t have. Even if we were able to escape the arena, what’s stopping EA from just beaming us back into these cells?”

Pierce pursed his lips as he stared irately at Phoenix, unable to come up with an answer to her question. Eventually he tore his gaze away and crossed his arms. “Damn it. Well we can’t keep this up forever, you know. There has to be a way out of here…”

“Maybe if we play dead, EA will dump us in a field somewhere,” Conrad suggested.

“Now is not the time for jokes,” Phoenix countered irately.

“That was only kind of a joke,” Conrad refuted. “If this keeps up as is, then we’ll end up dying anyways, so why not try to fake it? At least we could get a nap out of it.”

“He won’t kill us.”

“Huh?” Pierce turned toward Kestrel again, who still had her head bowed. “And how do you know that?”

She glanced at him, her expression blank as she replied, “we’ve fought lasers, guns… a dozen times. Should be dead.”

“…You’re saying EA is holding back?” Phoenix questioned.

Kestrel nodded once. “Mmhmm.”

“I guess that makes sense…” Conrad admitted, “he does seem to really want us to join him. Can’t really do that if we’re dead.”

“Maybe, but knowing that doesn’t help us at all,” Pierce countered with a frustrated scowl. “C’mon, guys, think! There has to be a way out of here. We can’t just sit on our asses and hope for someone to rescue us—!”

No sooner had the words left his mouth than a low vibration reverberated through the walls and flooring, followed by the lights flickering.

“…Earthquake?” Conrad questioned.

“I somehow doubt we’re in California right now,” Phoenix responded, “but something seems to have messed with the power…”

“Hmm…” Pierce looked down at his foot contemplatively, and then kicked forward once more — only for his foot to be stopped again by his cell’s energy shield. “Damn it!” His scowl deepened; in the corner of his eye he could see Kestrel stand, but his focus remained largely on the still-intact shield in front of him. “What’s even going on right now? This is the longest downtime EA has given us. Where’d he go?”

“Maybe wherever we are is under attack?” Conrad suggested.

“That would explain the rumbling, and the flickering lights,” Phoenix said. “Maybe someone blew up a power generator or something.”

“Then they should hurry up and blow out these fucking shield generators, too,” Pierce replied impatiently. “Like hell am I just going to sit here and be rescued—!”

“Phoenix.”

“Huh?” Pierce and Phoenix both glanced toward Kestrel’s cell, where she was standing just in front of the wall dividing her cell from Phoenix’s.

“Stand back,” she added, cautiously stepping back and extending her arms forward.

“Uh… okay…?” Phoenix passed Pierce a wary glance before backing against the back wall of her cell. “Kestrel, what are you—?”

Mid-sentence, Kestrel thrust her palm forward, toward the dividing wall — and a second later, a large piece of the metal wall exploded away from Kestrel, as though she had punched a hole through the wall with some manner of invisible force.

“What the…!” Pierce stared at her, wide-eyed, as she gingerly maneuvered her tall body through the hole she had just created. “Wait— our powers!” He looked down at his hands, and then his feet, at which point he launched an experimental kick — a kick that impacted the shields in front of him with far greater speed and force than any kick prior. “Alright! Ha HA!” He grinned with glee. “Our powers are back!”

Chaos Cannon!” Phoenix called out, launching a projectile through the wall of her cell opposite the one Kestrel had punched a hole through. “I don’t know what’s going on, but let’s get out of here, now!” she exclaimed, “don’t bother with punching through the energy shields; just go through the walls!”

“Way ahead of you! Conrad, stand back!”

“Standing back—ack!” Conrad yelped as Pierce cannonballed himself through the wall dividing their cells, creating a hole more than large enough for both men to move through. A second later, he jumped through the hole back into his cell and then demolished the opposite wall, opening a path into an adjacent hallway.

“Is everyone okay?” Phoenix questioned as she and Kestrel climbed out of her cell into the hallway.

“Yeah, we’re… fine,” Conrad responded warily, “as fine as you can be when a big chunk of the wall flies in front of your face at supersonic speeds, at least.”

“Oh shut up, I didn’t hurt you,” Pierce countered, his attention already focused on investigating the hallway. “Time to figure out where the hell we are, and how to get out of here! I’ll scout ahead—”

“Pierce, wait!” Phoenix interjected; once he turned to face her, she continued, “the tech that disabled our powers may have been shut down here, but it’s possible that parts of this base still have negation fields. If you run off by yourself, you might just get trapped, or hurt.”

“Hurt?” Pierce echoed incredulously, “how? Have you seen how durable I am?!”

“Well, if you’re moving at Mach speeds when you enter a negation field, the field won’t stop you from moving at that speed, but it will prevent you from being able to stop without killing yourself.”

“…Okay, good point.” He whipped his head to the right as an explosion echoed down the hallway.

“So we should be running in the opposite direction of the explosion, right?” Conrad suggested.

“Ha! Maybe a normal person in a normal situation would, but nothing about this is normal!” Pierce replied with mischievous smirk — and then promptly broke into a run, albeit one that the others could keep up with, in the direction of the explosion noises. “C’mon! Let’s go see who it is that’s here to fuck up EA.”

“This seems like a bad idea,” Phoenix countered, but nonetheless caught up to Pierce and began running beside him. Behind her ran Conrad and Kestrel as she continued, “the only ones I can think of who would attack an EA base are SERRCom, so we could be running right into their hands!”

“Maybe. But the way I see it, if we run toward the fight, then we’ll be running toward EA — since he’ll obviously want to stop any intruders himself. And if we run into EA, then we have a chance to kick his smug ass across the horizon!”

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you want revenge,” Conrad remarked.

“What? Do you not?”

“I’d kinda rather just leave, take a shower, and get some proper sleep—”

The sound of wrenching metal interrupted Conrad, followed almost immediately by the wall behind him exploding inwards. A robot slammed into the wall across the hallway from the new hole, as though it had been knocked back by a fierce blow; Pierce quickly spun on his heel in preparation to attack it, but just before he lunged, a large man with short hair and a dark complexion leaped through the hole and smashed his fists into the robot’s chest. The robot reeled back, stunned from the blow — Pierce immediately seized the opportunity to launch himself forward and slam his foot into the robot’s side, sending it sliding across the ground.

Chaos Strike! Chaos Cannon!

A burst of lightning and a purple projectile leaped from Phoenix’s hands toward the robot, impacting it within a blink of an eye. Bright visual static swept across the robot’s armor, indicating that Phoenix’s attacks had overloaded its shields; immediately, Kestrel swept the robot into the air with manipulated wind currents before slamming it back into the ground. The armor across its chest, left arm, and left leg crumpled, but it still attempted to stand… only for the large man with a dark complexion to jump forward and slam his fists into the robot’s chest, completely obliterating all of the front-facing armor as well as most of the internal machinery.

“Spike, are you—! Oh, whoa! Who are you guys?”

Pierce turned his attention back toward the hole in the wall, where a short woman now stood. Her light skin and dark, wavy hair gave her a youthful appearance, though her outfit stood out the most: a set of military combat fatigues. I guess it really is SERRCom, after all, Pierce thought to himself, but still, these guys aren’t the Eximius Vir. …Are they…?

“Are you the new Chaotics that SERRCom conscripted?” Phoenix questioned, putting voice to Pierce’s thoughts.

“So you’ve heard about us, huh?” The large man replied, brushing his hands together as he approached the hole in the wall and peered through it. He then turned around to face Pierce and his friends. “…And y’all would be the unlucky folks that EA captured, ain’t you?”

Now that Pierce had the chance for a closer look, he could see that the man had a broad build on top of his incredible height. Shit, and I thought Kestrel was tall, but this guy must be six and a half feet tall and built out of pure fucking muscle! What the hell?!

“That would be us,” Conrad replied warily, glancing to the side as two more individuals appeared through the hole in the wall: another woman who looked incredibly similar to the first, except with straight hair tied back into a ponytail; and a tall, pale-skinned man with dark, unkempt hair.

“You—!” Pierce’s face contorted with anger as he lunged for the man, bringing his foot around in a fierce kick.

“Whoa, whoa!!” The man’s eyes went wide as he managed to deftly dodge out of the way of Pierce’s foot, but only by a hair. “Hey, we’re here to rescue you! What the hell, man?!”

“Rescue us?!” Pierce snarled, “you kidnapped us!”

“What—? Oh.” An annoyed frown crossed the man’s face. “I’m not EA. I’m Austin! The real Austin!”

Pierce glared back at Austin, his whole body tense. Eventually his gaze drifted toward the three newcomers. …Oh… that’s right. I do remember seeing two of them. And the rest are those guys who fought EA in Texas, so I guess it wouldn’t make much sense for him to team up with them… Gradually, Pierce relaxed his body and backed out of an aggressive stance. “…Right. I… knew that. I was just testing your reflexes.”

“‘Just testing’ my ass…” Austin scowled. “If I had been anyone else, you would’ve killed me!”

“Yeah, yeah…” Pierce muttered, and then jumped in surprise as a spinning disk of water zipped out from under his ear and back toward the woman with the ponytail — who he noticed was passing him a glare. What the? Was she about to attack me?!

“I apologize for his hastiness,” Phoenix spoke up, drawing the attention of Austin and his friends as she nodded toward Pierce. “But I think some proper introductions are in order. I’m Phoenix; the asshole over there is Pierce, and these two are Conrad and Kestrel.”

“I’m Twy, and this is Austin, Spike, and Sky,” the woman with the ponytail replied, pointing at each of Austin, the large man with the dark complexion, and the woman with the wavy hair as she listed off their names. “It’s nice to meet you, but I don’t think we have time for formalities right now…”

“Yeah, you guys are here to rescue us, right?” Conrad questioned eagerly, “well, let’s get out of here, already!”

“It’s not that simple,” Spike countered as he swept his gaze across Conrad, Kestrel, and Pheonix. “…Y’all helped destroy that robot, here. So I take it y’all can fight?”

“It’s all we’ve been doing for the last day,” Pierce responded. “Why?”

“In addition to rescuing you, we’re supposed to apprehend EA,” Austin replied. “If y’all can fight, then—”

“I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we’d be happy to help stuff EA’s foot down that smug little throat of his,” Pierce declared.

“Oh. Well… good.”

“You’ll want these,” Spike commented as he pulled four devices out of a pack on his back and tossed one at each of Pierce, Phoenix, Conrad, and Kestrel.

“They’re personal energy shields,” Twy explained as Pierce began to look the device over. “Just clip it somewhere on your body, and they’ll protect you from harm.”

“Not nearly as much harm as a full set of powered armor, though,” Austin added, “they’ll only block a couple blows before they overload.”

“But it’s still plenty enough!” Sky exclaimed, her fists planted on her hips and her chest puffed out as she grinned eagerly. “With these shields, we’re practically invulnerable!”

“That’s… literally the opposite of what I just said…”

“Sounds good enough to me,” Phoenix responded as she clipped the device to the side of her crop top. “Now… I think we’ve been standing around here for long enough.”

“No kidding,” Pierce remarked as he began jogging down the hallway, gesturing for everyone to follow him. “C’mon! The sooner we find this asshole, the better!”