Chapter 9 – Hidden From the Few
— Wednesday, September 7, AD 2129 —
«…To start with, some of you may have heard that the SERRCom office in Austin, Texas was attacked a short time ago. Both this attack and the attack on the Denver office a night or so ago were committed by the robot forces of yours truly…»
A skinny, tan-skinned man idly watched the news broadcast on the lone screen in his small apartment living room. The message being delivered by the scruffy-haired man on the screen seemed important, but as far as the tan-skinned man was concerned, the message was simply blocking him from playing games. He simply slouched back even further on his couch, idly sweeping his long brunette bangs out of his face and adjusting his long ponytail to not get caught between his back and the couch cushions. Combined with his plain gray t-shirt and black shorts, he gave off an excessively casual aura — and with the complete lack of facial hair, he looked more like a high schooler playing hooky than the college student that he actually was.
«…Well, I’m here to expose SERRCom for the shabby house of cards that it is, and once they’re done, I’ll take over…»
The tan-skinned man yawned, opening his mouth wide and making no attempt to cover it or complete the yawn quietly. He then looked down at his right hand; his hand promptly disappeared, with his arm seeming to fade into nothing at the wrist. A moment later, his hand reappeared. His brow momentarily furrowed as he looked his hand over, as if inspecting it.
Knock knock knock
A banging noise drew the man’s attention to one of the room’s windows. The blinds were closed, so he couldn’t see what was making the noise — but his apartment was on the second floor, so it likely wasn’t anything important. Just as he turned his gaze back to the screen, however, another series of knocks emanated from the closed window. After a moment’s pause, the man slowly extricated himself from his chair and sauntered over to the window, at which point he raised the blinds. Outside, he saw nothing but clear blue skies, green trees and grass, and the other apartments in the complex; at almost ten in the morning on a weekday, the place was rather quiet, as most people had already left for their jobs or other daily activities. He spent several seconds simply looking at the environment before preparing to close the blinds again, but just before he did, the dirty blond-haired head of another young man suddenly popped up from below the windowsill and grinned.
“Ack!” The tan-skinned man jumped back in surprise, his entire body — and clothes, as well — disappearing into thin air. The blond-haired man outside the window replaced his grin with a confounded expression as he began scanning the interior of the apartment in confusion; a moment later, the window seemed to open on its own.
“Uh… Conrad…?” the blond-haired man questioned warily.
“Dude, Pierce, what the hell, man? What are you doing?”
“Conrad…?” Pierce stared up at the open window incredulously from his perch on a tree branch just outside. “Where’d you go?”
“Just get inside already!”
“Okay…” Pierce waited a moment as the window screen inexplicably removed itself from the window; as soon as the opening was clear, he leaped through it and landed inside the apartment with a roll. The window screen immediately replaced itself, followed by the window slamming shut, the blinds closing, and then the tan-skinned man reappearing just beside the blinds.
“Dude…” The man sighed wearily. “You really startled me, there…”
“Damn, Conrad, you were never so easy to spook before,” Pierce retorted with a smirk. “Looks like you got new powers too, though. Gotta say, they really suit you, man.”
“Yeah… I guess so,” Conrad muttered, looking down at his hand again as he momentarily turned it invisible. “Look, man, could you keep this a secret? I already told Kestrel, but…”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Pierce rolled his eyes. “Shit, dude, Phoenix was already all over my ass about this, I don’t need you adding to that.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“You aren’t the only one who got superpowers, you know,” Pierce replied. “Me and Phoenix got powers, too! I can run super fucking fast, it’s hella cool.”
“Really? How fast?”
“Well, it took me less than an hour and a half to get to your apartment here in Berkeley from New York. That has to be Mach 3, at a minimum!”
“Shit, that’s hella fast, man.” Conrad then looked over Pierce from head to toe. “…Huh, you look fine.”
“Of course I look fine. I always look fine.” Pierce regarded Conrad with an incredulous expression. “Why? What would make you think I wouldn’t be?”
“I mean… c’mon, dude. You were supposed to be home a week ago, but then a fucking galaxy-wide disaster happened. This is literally the first I’ve heard from you since the beginning of that.”
“Oh. …Yeah, I guess I didn’t really check in after the Quake ended…”
“No kidding. Your mom has been calling me nonstop, worried her ass off about you. Did you at least call her?”
Pierce glanced away. “Ah, I just got back to Earth earlier today, man.”
“Dude, you said it yourself, you have superspeed. It would take you two seconds to go home and tell her that you’re okay, so she can stop fucking calling me so much.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. I’ll do that later. What about your powers? So you can turn invisible?”
“Huh? Oh. Yeah, pretty much.” Conrad shrugged. “I can mute sounds, too. Pretty handy during boring classes.”
Pierce smirked. “For a slouch like you, those sound like the perfect powers.”
“I guess. Apparently Kestrel got powers too, though. Something about controlling air, or wind.”
“I would’ve thought a giant like her would get superstrength, or something.”
“Giant? That’s kinda rude, man.”
“Dude, she’s taller than me! That makes her over six feet tall. That’s tall for even a man, for a woman it’s hella crazy.”
“I guess… still, though…”
“Alright, alright, sheesh.” Pierce rolled his eyes.
“And what about Phoenix?” Conrad questioned, “you said she got powers, too?”
“Yeah, some weird Chaos Energy bullshit that makes her voice sound all weird. She’s gotten real self-conscious about saying the word ‘chaos’ because of it, it’s kinda funny.”
“Not wanting to get caught isn’t funny…”
“Man, again with this? You and Phoenix both need to take a fucking chill pill.” Pierce sighed. “I only came here to try and spook you, and now you’re lecturing me. C’mon, dude.”
“Alright, whatever.” Conrad simply shrugged in response. “Though, maybe we should call up Phoenix and Kestrel, you know, get all of us on the same page. If all four of us have powers, it could be useful.”
“Get on the same page? What are we, a fucking superhero group?” Pierce’s expression suddenly lit up as he held a thoughtful hand to his chin. “Actually, that’s a cool idea…”
“I somehow doubt Phoenix or Kestrel would agree…”
“Well there’s no way to know but to ask!” Pierce shoved past Conrad toward the lone computer in the room, its monitor no longer hijacked by a mysterious video. “Let’s see what they have to say about this.”
Conrad sighed in response, but made no attempt to stop Pierce. Instead, he sauntered over to his computer and watched as Pierce initiated contact with their two other friends; within moments, the audio connection was up and ringing.
The first to join the connection was Kestrel; after the computer indicated that she had joined, only silence followed.
“Hey, Kestrel,” Conrad commented casually.
«…Hey,» came the quiet response.
“Yo,” Pierce added in. “How’s it going? I heard you can control wind or some shit!”
“Way to just jump in head-fucking first,” Conrad remarked. “C’mon man, let’s at least wait for Phoenix a bit.”
«No need. I’m here. What’s going on?»
“Oh. Hey,” Pierce commented, just now noticing that Phoenix had joined the call as well. “Damn, you picked up fast!”
«I’m sitting bored at an airport, what else am I supposed to do?» Phoenix questioned; Pierce could hear a hint of irritation hidden in her voice. «Though it looks like Kestrel’s on the line? Are you there, Kestrel?»
«Oh, it’s so nice to hear your voice after so long! I really missed you, you know!»
“Hey, Conrad’s here, too. You not going to say you missed him?” Pierce remarked cheekily.
Conrad simply sighed and shook his head as Phoenix responded, «it sounds like you’ve already done my job for me, seeing as you and him are talking from the same place. How the hell did you even manage that? We only just got back to Earth, what, two hours ago?»
“I ran. Duh.”
«You—! Damn it, Pierce, what did I tell you about being careful? And about keeping secret?!»
“Relax. Conrad and Kestrel got powers, too!”
“Yup,” Conrad replied. “I can turn invisible. It’s pretty cool. And Kestrel can control the wind.”
«Really? Kestrel, what do you think about this?»
«…It’s okay,» Kestrel responded.
“It’s way more than just ‘okay’, if you ask me,” Pierce declared. “Can you imagine the stuff we could do?”
«I’m going to intentionally not,» Phoenix retorted, her voice low. «Not while I’m in a public fucking airport, at least. And certainly not after the recent news.»
“What recent news?”
“Oh, are you talking about that weird video?” Conrad questioned. “With that guy with the messy hair?”
«If you mean terrorist who attacked SERRCom, then yes, I do. It has everyone on edge… and that’s not it. There are rumors cropping up all over the Internet about SERRCom showing up for an arrest down in Texas shortly after the video aired.»
“Sounds like the problem’s been dealt with, then,” Pierce remarked.
“Wait, didn’t the video only just air a few minutes ago?” Conrad frowned. “How did SERRCom already find the guy?”
«Who knows. The idiot did blatantly declare his name in the video, and he clearly showed his face, too. He probably wasn’t hard to track down.»
“That’s still pretty fast…”
“Not as fast as me, though,” Pierce interjected.
«Pierce, you can’t keep this up,» Phoenix insisted. «If these rumors are true, they prove that SERRCom means business. We can’t risk attracting their attention, alright?»
“You keep saying that, but I’m sure we’ll be fine. Just don’t do anything illegal, and we won’t get arrested. Easy.”
An audible sigh could be heard over the call before Phoenix continued, «Conrad, Kestrel, what about the two of you? What do you think? Should we be trying to… avoid attention?»
“Doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me,” Conrad commented, drawing an annoyed glance from Pierce. “Though I’m not really sure why SERRCom is so scary.”
«It’s less about SERRCom itself and more that Chaotic conscription is a universal policy across the entire galaxy. Would you really want to bet your life that SERRCom will buck that trend?»
“SERRCom has nothing to do with the rest of the galaxy, you know,” Pierce interjected.
«And that’s where you’re wrong. SERRCom has been incredibly transparent in its attempts to get noticed by the rest of the galaxy, and its attempts to get Earth involved with the galactic community. Just what the hell do you think was the point of us going to Ainminthalus?»
“…I’ll concede that point.”
“When you put it like that, I guess it does sound pretty bad,” Conrad said.
«Exactly. What about you, Kestrel? What do you think?»
«…Should be cautious,» replied Kestrel.
Pierce snorted. “Figures you guys would all out-vote me.”
«If you actually took a second to set aside your ego and think about this, you’d see that we have a point,» Phoenix countered.
“What the hell does my ego have to do with this?”
«Don’t try to pretend you never said those things you said, back on the roof in Alus.»
“Oh please, that was a joke.”
«Knowing you, it was only half a joke. But that’s not the only reason I’m concerned about you.»
“I don’t need your concern.”
«That attitude is exactly why you do need it. Look, of all of our new… abilities, yours is the one most likely to accidentally trigger. Especially since you’re on a track team!»
“Is that what this is about? C’mon. I can keep track of my speed.”
«You say that, but I know how you get when you get competitive.»
“As if you don’t get exactly the same way.”
«This is what I’m talking about—»
“Alright, alright…” Conrad interjected, placing a hand on Pierce’s shoulder. “Didn’t you guys just get back to Earth? Let’s put the arguments on hold for at least a little bit.”
«Agreed,» commented Kestrel.
«…You’re right. Sorry about that.»
“I guess that’s just how things go, huh?” Pierce commented with a smirk.
«I do think we should discuss our options further, though. Maybe we should all meet up in person.»
“What?” Pierce stared at the monitor in front of him incredulously, though Phoenix had no means of actually seeing his expression. “Where? And when? The two of you are clear across the country from us, you know that?”
«Maybe… but I also just want to see you guys, and visit home. I haven’t had a chance to see my parents since before we left for Ainminthalus.»
“Oh. Right,” Pierce responded curtly, ignoring a side glance from Conrad.
Conrad then turned toward the monitor. “I should be able to get you and Kestrel back here,” he said, “assuming you’re both fine with that, of course.”
«When?» Kestrel questioned.
“Hmm… good question. Probably not until next month. Any sooner, and you’d have to find your own way back.”
«You know we can’t afford that,» Phoenix countered. «I guess we’ll wait, then. Try not to get into trouble before then, alright, Pierce?»
“Sure thing, mom,” Pierce retorted.
“It’s nice to see that even a galactic disaster won’t change how much you guys bicker,” Conrad remarked.
«Oh! Right!» Phoenix exclaimed, «we haven’t even had the chance to tell you about our time off-world, have we?»
“I mean, we did keep in contact over the Relaynet for most of the past few months. It’s just the last couple weeks that I don’t know about.”
Pierce snorted. “And what a few weeks those were.”
«I still have some time before my flight leaves,» Phoenix commented.
“If it’s an interesting story, I’ve got time,” Conrad replied airily. “My only classes today are in the afternoon.”
«And you, Kestrel?»
«Mmhmm. Tell us.»
«Alright! Well, then. Pierce, should you or I do the telling?»
“Man, there was a lot of shit that happened,” Pierce remarked with a sigh. “You start, if you get something wrong I’ll just correct you.”
«I’m sure you’ll find plenty of opportunities to do that.»
“Depends on how shitty your memory is.”
«Just keep your interruptions to a minimum. Anyways, when was the last time I messaged you on the Relaynet, Kestrel?»
«…Two weeks ago.»
«Really? Ah, right, we were talking about our upcoming exam. Well a lot happened after that, as you may have guessed. See, on the day after we last talked, Pierce and I…»
The four friends continued to while away the time as Phoenix and Pierce recounted their final weeks away from Earth, pleased to finally have someone with which to share all of their new powers, discoveries, and activities.