Chapter 5 – Helping Hands
The Next Morning
“Aight, put that one over there. I’ll take it out to the car.”
“C’mon, bro, you don’t have to be light on me. I can take it the whole way myself!”
“Sure, but those weights are kinda heavy—”
“Ha! I know you’re super strong now, but that doesn’t suddenly make me weak. You straighten shit out here, I’ve got the car.”
“Alright, alright…” Spike raised his hands in surrender as a young woman, with a similar dark complexion and hair color to his own, effortlessly carried a large box out the front door of his family home. While the top of her head only barely reached Spike’s shoulder, her outfit — athletic shorts, a yellow tank top, fingerless gloves, and workout shoes — showcased her obviously muscular build, rivaling Spike’s own. In fact, her overall appearance bore a striking resemblance to Spike, with her height and dreadlocks being the only obvious differences.
“Where’d your sister go?”
“She’s carryin’ some of my old weights out to her car,” Spike replied as he turned toward the stairs, where Mark was descending with another box in hand. “Figured she could have ‘em, since I don’t have much of a use for ‘em anymore…”
“Sounds reasonable,” Mark commented as he reached the bottom floor and gingerly placed his box on top of a stack of boxes in the living room. “Moving is always a good time to get rid of things you don’t need anymore.”
“I’ll say!” Spike’s sister remarked as she re-entered the house and closed the door behind her. “I was already looking to replace my old weight training equipment, so this whole thing where you got super strength and can’t use your old stuff anymore has sure worked out for me!”
“Chipper as ever, huh, Aqua?” Spike commented with a smirk. “…Uh, sorry — Lindsey…”
“Ah, c’mon, you know I don’t mind when you use my first name. And it sure ain’t every day I get to see my little bro,” she replied with a grin as she playfully punched his arm. “I’ll be damned if I miss helpin’ you out.”
“And I appreciate the help, but Mark and I could’ve handled this ourselves.”
“Nonsense! More hands make for faster work. After all, you might be super strong, but you sure ain’t super fast.”
“Heh… guess so.”
“Still, we’ve been movin’ shit around for a straight two hours now.” Aqua glanced over at Mark and the stack of boxes next to him, and then at the five other piles of boxes in the living room. “…We’ve made good progress, I think. At this rate, all of Spike’s stuff will be out by mid afternoon! So how’s about a break?”
“Tired already?” Spike teased.
“Please. I could still run laps around you.”
“I certainly won’t argue with a break, myself,” Mark commented. “Even if you don’t need to rest your body, it’s always nice to rest the mind.”
Aqua pointed at Mark and winked at him. “That’s it exactly!” She then placed her hands on her hips as she eyed Mark from head to toe. “‘Sides, I’d like a chance to get to know the folks who’ll be takin’ my favorite little brother under their wing.”
“I’m your only brother,” Spike retorted.
“Shush, you,” Aqua shot back before returning her attention to Mark. “So what’s your deal, huh?”
“My… deal?” Mark questioned, confused. “Are you asking about what Spike will be doing with SERRCom…?”
“No, no, no.” She shook her head. “I already heard the details of that from Spike himself. Some… conscription bullshit. Which isn’t great, but I can’t hold that against you. Unless you’re the one who gave the order.”
“No, that was the General…”
“Good to hear! Whoever that is, I can punch him out later, but I’ve got no beef with you. What I wanna know now is your story. What makes you tick, why’re you here? That stuff.”
“Oh. Well… there’s not really much to say, there.” Mark shrugged. “I joined SERRCom because I’m a Chaotic, and I’ve been working for them ever since, as part of the Eximius Vir. Insofar as what I’m doing here, well, I’m just helping Spike and his friends to pack their things for their trip offworld, is all. I’m supposed to tag along there, as well, now that I think about it.”
“Wait, offworld?!” Aqua’s eyes widened with surprise as she glanced between Spike and Mark. “That’s the first I heard that part! You mean you’re leavin’ Earth?!”
“Oh… I missed tellin’ you that?” Spike scratched his head uneasily. “Oops.”
“Sounds like the part you should’ve lead with!” Aqua punched him in the arm again. “So where you goin’? Somewhere exciting, I hope?”
“Nimalia,” Mark replied. “The homeworld of the Nimalian Union.”
“Ooooh! I’ve heard plenty about the Nimalians, and their pretty little homeworld. You better take lots of pictures while you’re there, Spike. They’ve got some fantastic sights that you’d never be able to see on Earth!”
“They do?” Spike responded cluelessly, “I never really looked Nimalia up, so I wouldn’t know…”
“Go figure. Well, I’m sure Sky’s done her research. She should do well enough in draggin’ you everywhere you oughta go!”
“You know Sky?” Mark questioned.
“Do I know Sky?!” Aqua echoed incredulously, and then scoffed. “Of course I know her! And Austin, and Twy, too. The four of ‘em have been practically glued together since they were kids. I always thought Spike would end up with one of the twins, and then what do you know, Sky actually came to me for advice on askin’ him out a few years ago.” She then turned toward Spike and grinned. “The two of you make a cute couple! Make sure you keep it up and get Mom that grandkid she so desperately wants!”
“What, so she can stop pestering you about your lack of a boyfriend?” Spike shot back.
Aqua responded with a wink. “You know it!”
“Heh,” Mark released a small chuckle as he watched the two siblings’ banter. “If you don’t mind me asking, have the two of you always gotten along this well?”
“Yeah, pretty much,” Spike replied.
“We’d get into fights a lot, like, physically,” Aqua added, “but it was all in good fun. Right, bro?”
“Well, there was that one time you accidentally broke a couple of my ribs…”
“And you broke my arm during that same fight, so I’d say we’re even.”
“Ha! Ah…” Spike looked down at his hand. “…Too bad we won’t be able to do that anymore.”
“I guess it would be a pretty bad look if you accidentally put your hand through my stomach,” Aqua quipped.
“H-hey!” Spike regarded her with an unamused frown. “It’s a legitimate problem, not somethin’ to take lightly…”
“Hmm? Judging by how you handled all these boxes here, you sure seem to have your newfound strength under control.”
“Yeah, but… still…”
“Spike is right, to an extent,” Mark piped up. “New Chaotics can typically keep their powers under control in normal circumstances, but they can still easily lose control when stressed or under pressure. That’s one of the things I hope the Nimalians can help you with, and in the meantime, it can certainly be beneficial to be careful.”
Spike passed his sister a knowing glance. “See?”
“Alright, alright, I’ll lay off.” She threw up her hands in surrender and then bowed her head slightly. “I’m sorry if I pushed any buttons.”
“Good to hear.” Aqua began doing a couple stretches as she continued, “well, we should probably get back to work and finish this up. I’ve got an evening class to prep for, after all, and if I tell my students to just punch dummies all night, they might catch on that I’m just makin’ it up as I go! Ha!”
“And I told Sky that’d I’d help her move her stuff later, as well,” Spike declared as he rolled his shoulders. “So I’m with ya!”
“I can hardly argue with that enthusiasm,” Mark replied with an amused grin as he moved to pick up a stack of boxes and begin moving them toward the door. “Let’s get to it, then!”
1 Hour Later
“There… oof. Why do I have so much stuff…?”
Twy stared down at the small pile of boxes in front of her, each filled near-to-brimming with folders, binders, and notebooks of old drawings and notes. …I hope all of this can survive in storage, she thought to herself warily, and then glanced around herself at her surroundings: a modest bed covered in pale blue sheets, a couple shelves filled with books and manga, a small desk bearing a small cup with a variety of different pens and mechanical pencils, a dusty easel sitting in the corner, and nearly a dozen posters and paintings lining the walls, most of them featuring views of natural landscapes, both real and fantastical. These were the contents of her bedroom in her family’s home, the objects and furniture she had left behind after moving south for college — and the items that her parents now insisted that she completely pack away.
With a sigh, she grabbed an empty cardboard box from next to the door and carried it over to her bookselves, where she began unloading the books into the box. Five boxes in, and I still have these books leftover. Not to mention my old paintings. What am I even supposed to do with those? She paused to look up at one of the paintings on the wall next to her bookshelves, just above the head of her bed. Bright blue and white strokes came together to form the image of a massive, majestic waterfall under puffy clouds, with a lush, green forest in the distant background. It’s been quite some time since I last made one of these paintings. I should get back into it. If only I had the time…
Her contemplative gaze drifted down from the painting to her right hand. With an uneasy frown, she furrowed her brow and focused for a brief moment, after which a flash of white light burst from her hand, followed by the sudden appearance of a recurve bow. The bowlimb was swathed in extravagant, if somewhat futuristic silver and gray geometric designs, as well as softly growing white orbs set near the top and bottom of the bow, around where the string attached to the bowlimb. This bow… she looked it over before pulling the string back. The moment it was displaced by more than a couple centimeters, an arrow of bright, silver light sprung into existence, with its end remaining attached to the bowstring. Twy played with the string a bit, watching the silver arrow morph with her movements before slowly and cautiously returning the bowstring to its normal position, at which point the arrow blinked out of existence. So this is… an Ayas Weapon? This is the reason that Pallan guy thinks that we’re… what, ‘Keys’? She sighed as she allowed the bow to disappear in a flash of light. This… I don’t know what to think of all this. But, for a weapon… why a bow? I’ve done a little bit of archery, but not much, and never outside of school. I just don’t get it…
As she went back to packing her things, her mind drifted to her friends, and the weapons that they were now able to summon. Spike could cover his arms in extravagant gauntlets of red and gold, and Sky could bring about a green and silver staff; as both of them were involved in martial arts to some degree — Spike far more so than Sky, to be sure — Twy figured that their new weapons fit them well. Her own bow, as well as Austin’s sword, however, seemed comparatively out of place, given that neither of them were skilled in the use of their weapons. In fact, while Austin had once started kendo lessons at Spike’s behest, he had actively avoided continuing them ever since. He was even less of a swordsman than Twy was an archer — though just as she thought that, she recalled the moment barely two months ago when she had challenged Austin to a duel and lost. …Maybe he’s better than I thought. Or maybe his weird level of skill that night had to do with our new powers. I do remember Sensei mentioning something about longsword techniques, and Austin’s blade is definitely some kind of longsword. Hmm, perhaps we’ve all suddenly gained a basic level of proficiency in our new weapons? I should test that. …Just as soon as I finish packing…
“Hey, sis! Sis! You done yet?”
Twy released a sigh and glanced toward the doorway just in time for Sky to pop in and begin scanning the room’s interior. “As you can see,” Twy replied impatiently, “no, I’m not done.”
“Oh. Damn.” Sky frowned. “I was hoping you could help me with my own stuff…”
“What do you even have left to pack? I thought you brought almost everything down to our apartment.”
“All the easy to carry stuff, yeah. But I left all the big stuff behind, you know, the furniture, most of my camping gear, some of my old climbing gear… heh, guess I won’t ever need that again, huh?”
Twy shook her head in resignation as her sister grinned and briefly lit a spark in the palm of her hand, as if to drive home her point. “You really have embraced your new powers, huh?”
“Well of course!” Sky exclaimed, “I can control fire and summon a cool-ass staff out of thin air, that’s fucking awesome!” Her previous grin was quickly wiped clean and replaced with an irate scowl. “Though I guess our powers are the reason we got conscripted, which is really not cool. …But!” Her face lit up again as she unconsciously jumped and pumped her fist. “Because of our powers, now we get the chance to check out an alien planet! How fucking cool is that, huh?!”
“You seem really fired up about all this…”
“Hey, no, that’s my line! You can’t steal the puns from me!”
“What? …Oh.” Twy rolled her eyes. “I’ll try to remember that.”
“I think you’re just being too down about everything,” Sky declared. “Not everyone gets superpowers, you know? You should try to enjoy it! Hell, your water stuff has way more practical use than my fire.”
“I’m well aware, but being able to control water doesn’t help much with packing.”
“Why not? Can’t you just carry things around with water? I’ve seen you do it with people.”
“Yes, but the thing about that is that anything water touches tends to get, you know… wet. Which isn’t good for cardboard, the last I checked.”
“Aw, you’re no fun,” Sky responded with a pout.
“If you want to see me try that badly, then we can start with your stuff,” Twy retorted.
“Can’t you just, like, control the water so that it can carry things around, but doesn’t actually get absorbed? That’s a thing your kind of Chaotic can do, right?”
“Maybe, but I haven’t practiced nearly enough to manipulate water with that level of precision. I can make bubbles and jets, and that’s about it.”
“Well that’s something to try for in the future, then! Imagine how easy it would make moving if you could do it without moving your own body!”
“That would be nice… but for now, I’ll have to make do with my own two hands.” Twy then resumed moving books into the box sitting in front of her. “You should probably get back to packing.”
“Yeah, yeah…” Sky sighed. “Wouldn’t want Dad to just throw everything away, huh? Though I guess tossing everything in storage is basically the same thing, isn’t it?”
Twy shook her head. “I don’t think Dad’s the one who would care the most—”
“Twy! Sky! Can I have a moment?”
“…Well, speak of the devil,” Sky replied with an annoyed smirk as an older woman’s voice emerged from down the hallway.
“What does Mom want now…?” Twy questioned uneasily as she stood up and approached the door. “Doesn’t she have Danielle helping her?”
“Ah, you know her. She just can’t stand the thought of idle hands.”
“Says the person who’s been standing here doing nothing.”
“C’mon, I was just tryin’ to cheer up my wonderful twin sister—!”
“Twy, Sky!” came the older voice again, “did you hear me?”
“Coming!” Twy shouted into the hallway, and then passed her sister an annoyed glance. “Let’s go already.”
Sky made a face back at Twy, but the latter simply didn’t respond as she led the pair down the hallway and a flight of stairs. At the bottom was a modest living room, outfitted with a couch, a recliner, and a TV mounted on the wall. A handful of boxes occupied space on the floor, as well as a ladder — on top of which was Danielle, with her right hand transformed into a power drill as she drilled a handful of holes into the ceiling.
“Ah, there the two of you are!”
Twy and Sky turned their attention past the ladder to the kitchen on the far side of the living room, where they spotted an older woman with a short stature and a bob cut.
“…What’s even going on here?” Twy questioned as she looked up at Danielle again. “Mom, are you really putting one of the Eximius Vir to work for you?”
“Nah, it’s fine!” Danielle exclaimed from atop the ladder. “It’s just a ceiling fan! Well, and fixing the fence in the backyard. And replacing some of the light bulbs in the kitchen… the ceiling in there is really tall, you know?”
Sky stared up at Danielle incredulously. “Are you serious?”
“Of course I’m serious,” their mother replied from within the kitchen as she scrubbed down a dirty dish in the sink. “With your father always at work, and all you kids away at college or whatever it is Clarice is up to right now, no one’s ever around to help.” She then nodded up at Danielle. “But this kind young woman volunteered her abilities. And how useful they are! Just turning into whatever you need at a moment’s notice!”
“Glad to help!” Danielle replied cheerfully.
“And I’m glad to hear that!” The twins’ mother then glanced over at them. “Are the two of you as useful as her?”
“Need anything cooked?” Sky questioned with a smirk as she lit a small flame on her fingertip.
“Put that fire away. You were already good enough at creating fires out of nothing while cooking as is, the last thing you needed was the ability to make flames at will.”
“Aw, c’mon, Mom! I’m at least good at grilling stuff. And making camp food, too!”
“Well we aren’t camping right now, are we? Anyways, the kitchen and the atrium need sweeping. You know where the broom is. Get to it.”
“Didn’t you want us to pack up our rooms?” Twy interjected, “something about using them for other purposes?”
“Yes, yes, I know. And I still do. But the cleaning comes first, and it would get done faster if you didn’t stop to argue with me.”
The twins passed each other annoyed glances before sighing in tandem. “Alright, Mom. Whatever…” Sky muttered as she moved over to the broom closet.
“And what about you, Twy?” Their mother gently set a clean dish off to the side and then looked up at Twy. “What was your power, again? Some… nature thing?”
“Water, Mom,” Twy replied. “I can control water.”
“Well why didn’t you say so earlier?! Water is exactly what the garden needs right now. And your father’s tool shed could use a wash, as well!”
“What? But that… I can’t really—”
“Surely you can. It isn’t as though watering plants or washing a couple walls is all that difficult. I’m sure you can manage.”
“I…” Twy sighed again in resignation. “I’ll… see what I can do.”
“Wonderful! Now get to it, there are a couple other things that I’ll need both of you around to handle afterward—”
Their mother was cut off as three loud knocks emanated from the front door, followed almost immediately by the door opening and Spike’s head appearing through it. “Excuse me, anyone home?”
“Spike! You came!” Sky exclaimed gleefully, rushing over to the front door as Spike pushed it fully open and then leaping at him — only for him to step to the side, causing her to stumble past him. “What was that for?!” she muttered irately as she turned to glare at him.
“Oh, is that Spike? Wonderful!” The twins’ mother raised her hand to wave at Spike from the kitchen. “Excellent timing!”
“It’s good to see you again, Mrs. Chao,” Spike greeted cordially as he stepped inside and removed his shoes. “Everythin’ well?”
“More than well, thank you for asking. In fact, I was just having the girls help me out with some cleaning. With you around, I’m sure it’ll go even faster!”
“…Cleaning, huh?” Spike questioned stiffly, just now noticing the broom still in Sky’s hands as she stuck her tongue out at him.
“Cleaning isn’t so bad,” Mark commented as he stepped inside just after Spike and closed the door behind him. “It’s always good to keep a clean home, I say.”
“Mark!” Danielle exclaimed, and waved down at him with her drill hand. “Hey! What’re you doing here?”
“Oh?” The twins’ mother regarded Mark with a curious expression. “And who’s this?”
“Ah, apologies, ma’am.” Mark straightened up and offered a quick salute. “I’m 1st Lieutenant Mark Cox, from SERRCom. A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“Oh, you’re one of those Eximius Vir fellows, aren’t you? Even better!” The mother grabbed a towel and began drying off her hands as she gestured up at Danielle. “Why don’t you help your friend, here? Setting up the ceiling fan should be a walk in the park for you both. And after that, the AC unit out back could use some work—”
“Mom, seriously?” Twy interjected, stepping in between her mother and Mark. “Spike and Mark just got here, and you’re already putting them to work? Aren’t you the one always telling us about the importance of hospitality and all that?”
“Hmm? What’s the matter?” Her mother passed her a curious glance before lowering her voice to a stage whisper. “Are you interested in the young man in the back? Is that why you’re concerned?”
“W-what? N-no! Of course not— that’s not the point!” Twy’s face flushed red as she gave her mother an annoyed look. “You can’t just order people around like this, is what I’m saying!”
“So feisty. What’s gotten into you? You’ve never talked back like this before.”
“That’s because I—”
“Well, no matter.” Her mother turned around and began rummaging around in one of the cupboards. “The way I see it — if SERRCom is going to go off and draft two of my children, then the absolute least they can do is help out around the house in return. I see nothing wrong with that.”
“What? But, that’s… that’s not what I—”
“It’s fine, Twy, really,” Mark stated as he stepped forward and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “This kind of help is what I’m here for, after all. …Sort of.”
“I only came to help pack, personally,” Spike commented, only for Sky to impatiently jab him with the end of her broom. “…But, uh, I guess I can help with the… cleaning.”
“See, Twy? It’s no problem!” Her mother remarked. “Now let’s all get to work, everyone! That’s enough idle chit-chat for now!”
“Wha…?” Twy looked around as Spike and Mark moved into the living room to begin working on their new tasks, and Sky began sweeping the atrium. The twins exchanged a brief glance, only for Sky to shake her head in resignation; in response, Twy simply sighed and turned toward the front door. …Well, she thought to herself as she stepped out the door and looked to her left at the small front yard garden, …just leave it to Mom to be complete unfazed by having five different Chaotics in her living room. This really is how I remember home… She then shook her head to clear her thoughts and summoned up a small bubble of water, beginning the process of watering the plants in front of her.