Chapter 8 – Old Memories I
“…And that park over there! That’s where we spent most of our time as kids. I had a lot of fun there!”
“A lotta scrapes and bruises, too,” Spike remarked.
“Oh c’mon, like you’re one to talk,” Sky shot back as she elbowed him in the side. “You got hurt more than the rest of us, combined!”
“Yeah, but I can take it. You, Twy, and Austin? Especially ten years ago? Y’all were basically twigs!”
“Hey, I can take a hit from you! Uh, well, not now… but I used to be able to!”
“Heh,” Mark chuckled, drawing the attention of Spike and Sky. “This all is just… so interesting to see. And not in a bad way, mind you.”
“Hmm, guess so…” Spike turned away from Mark to look out over the residential park in front of the trio. The park greens spanned half a block on each side, with a smaller wood chip-covered play area featuring a swing set, see-saw, and various other pieces of playground equipment. A handful of old-growth oak trees dotted the premises, providing plenty of shade against the Texas sun — shade that Spike, Sky, and Mark gladly took advantage of. Spike and Sky had just finished packing barely an hour ago, and the two — along with Mark — were due to meet up with Austin, Twy, Luke, and Danielle down in the state capital of Austin, Texas later that evening. The city of Austin was around a four hour drive from the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, where the trio currently were; as they didn’t need to leave just yet to arrive in Austin by 6pm, Sky had suggested that the trio take one last walk around their home neighborhood.
“This place really takes me back,” Sky declared as she continued surveying the park. “Though, it hadn’t really occurred to me until just now that the last time we spent much time here was years ago.” She glanced toward Spike. “Can you believe that?”
“We did graduate from High School two years ago,” Spike commented.
“No, it was before that! Do you not remember?”
“…I guess you’re right, huh.”
“Did something happen to make you stop going?” Mark questioned.
“Nah, nothin’ like that,” Spike replied airily as he took a seat on the ground with his back against the trunk of a large tree. “We just kinda stopped hangin’ out outside. Partly ‘cause Austin and Twy preferred the indoors.”
“Those two never did like a good adventure,” Sky huffed, and then looked up at the tree. “Hell, they never even liked climbing trees! And that’s, like, the quintessential little kid thing to do!”
“…I suppose I’m not too surprised to hear that,” Mark commented, watching as Sky approached the tree Spike was leaning against and began climbing her way up the trunk. “But the four of you have been friends for a long time, then, I take it?”
“Yep!” Sky exclaimed gleefully as she jumped up onto a branch, where she perched on her feet and began looking for another branch within reach. “I’ve known Spike for over half my life!”
“When’d we meet? Second grade, right?” Spike nodded as he watched Sky’s climbing out the corner of his eye. “We woulda been around… eight, huh? I guess that adds up.”
“How did you first meet?” Mark asked.
“Heh,” Spike chuckled in amusement. “Austin and I were playin’ off on our own one day, and then outta the blue, Sky just ran up, introduced herself, and joined in the fun.”
“I remember Austin being really butthurt about it for a while,” Sky remarked, now straddling a thick branch nearly fifteen feet in the air. “He really didn’t like me at first.”
“Ah, he came around eventually,” Spike replied. “Twy was almost the same way with me.”
“I’m a little surprised to hear that,” Mark commented. “You’re saying that Twy didn’t like you at first?”
“More like she just didn’t like people,” Sky responded. “She really liked staying all cooped up in her room. It actually wasn’t until we got Austin to play with us regularly that she joined in!”
“Is that so?…” Mark looked up at Sky, and then down at Spike. “Are… the two of them—?”
“Together?” Spike shook his head. “Nope.”
“But they should be!” Sky declared, and then swung out of the tree, using a brief burst of flames to slow her descent just before she landed in Spike’s lap. “They should really take a page from us!”
“Hey, watch it!” Spike exclaimed irately, “that could’ve hurt!”
“Ah, you’re fine, though, right?” Sky playfully punched his chest. “It’s that super durability! I bet you can take anything that I can throw at you!”
“For better or for worse…” Spike grumbled, only to sigh in resignation as Sky kissed him on the cheek. He then looked down at her with a mixture of amusement and frustration. “You cheeky little…!”
“Well, I can see that the two of you get along well enough,” Mark observed with a grin.
“We are a couple, and I say there’s no shame in letting the world know that!” Sky declared as she repositioned herself in Spike’s lap to nuzzle his chest with her cheek.
“Sure, but there are still limits,” Spike insisted.
“I thought you liked it when we cuddled!”
“W-well, yeah, but not in public—!”
The two momentarily stopped bantering and turned their attention toward Mark, who was covering his mouth with his hand as his shoulders slightly shook.
“Sorry, sorry… heh…” He held up an apologetic hand toward the duo. “It’s just… well, out of everyone in the Eximius Vir or CSF-1, I think Major Hackett is the only one in a relationship, and I’ve never even met her significant other.”
Sky raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Not used to public displays of affection, eh?”
“You could say that—” Mark began, and then suddenly glanced off to the side. “…Hmm… Mote’s calling me. Sorry, I should probably take this.”
Spike stared after Mark as the latter moved away, with his hand cupped over his ear. “…Look, you done scared him off.”
“Ah, like a little bit of cuddling would scare him off,” Sky responded dismissively, and then looked up at Spike with an annoyed expression upon her face. “But I got something to talk about with you.”
“That’s never a good sign,” Spike replied flatly.
“Hey, I’m serious,” Sky insisted. “Why don’t you touch me anymore?”
“Seriously? You haven’t noticed?” She looked down at his hands, which both rested on the ground by his side. “You aren’t holding me, or stroking my hair… what’s with that? Normally you’d tousle my hair all the time, but the last time you did, was, like… over a month ago!”
“…Oh…” Spike glanced away and took a deep breath. “Look… things are different, now.”
“Different my ass!” Sky countered, “what, you mean our powers? So what? What’s that got to do with what I asked?”
“Are you kiddin’?” Spike responded incredulously, and then moved his right hand against the bark of the tree trunk behind him. Effortlessly, he shoved his fingers into the tree, and then scooped out part of the bark as easily as if it were sand. Then, he closed his fingers around the bark in his palm, forming a fist and utterly crushing the bark. When he opened his fingers a second later, only dust-like specks of wood remained.
“…What, are you afraid of hurting me?” Sky questioned after watching the display of might.
“Aren’t you?” Spike questioned back.
“I mean… a little, I guess. But it can’t be that much of a problem, can it? You don’t see any stories about other superstrength Chaotics accidentally crushing people.”
“That’s because we’re on Earth, where there ain’t any Chaotics.”
“Okay, true… but you’ve always been way stronger than me, you know? What’s different now?”
“This superstrength thing is an entirely different order of magnitude. I used to be stronger than you before, sure, but I couldn’t fold you in half and throw you across a football field!”
Sky grimaced. “That’s, uh… one hell of an image.”
Spike looked away. “Sorry…”
“No, don’t apologize!” Sky guided Spike’s gaze back to her own with her hand on his chin. “That wasn’t— well, I think I understand what you’re getting at, at least. Still, though… with your type of Chaotic ability — that is, Forcetechnism — doesn’t your innate durability get passed on to whoever you’re touching? At least partially?”
“Huh?” Spike looked down at her with surprise. “How do you know that?”
“I looked it up, silly,” Sky remarked with a smirk. “I am capable of having a smart thought every now and then.”
“Heh, guess so. Still…” Spike looked down at his right hand. “I just… can’t bring myself to be as physical with people as I was before. It’s just…” His brow furrowed. “I don’t…”
“Hey, hey… it’s okay.” Sky reached up to loosely embrace him. “I understand. It… well, I’m gonna be honest, it kinda sucks, but I get it. You don’t want to hurt me, and that’s cool.”
“Sorry. I’ll try to get a handle of my new powers as soon as I can… then, we can go back to normal.”
“Sounds like a plan to me! You better not keep me waiting too long!”
“You really can be impatient sometimes, you know that?”
“You should think of it as a compliment! Your girlfriend is saying she can’t wait for you to touch her! What guy wouldn’t like that?”
“You—!” Spike sighed as a bemused smile crossed his face. “I dunno what I’m gonna do with you.”
“Well, once you get those powers under control…” Sky lowered her voice as she raised an eyebrow suggestively. “I have a few… suggest—”
“Alright, I’m back. Hope I didn’t keep you too long.”
“Oh, no,” Spike replied, offering Mark a curt wave as Sky drew away from him with her lips pursed in annoyance. “We were just wrappin’ up a nice little chat.”
“Hmph,” Sky pouted, and then glanced up at Mark. “…Well, hear anything important?”
“Nah, nothing much,” Mark responded. “Mote just… wanted to talk, we’ll say. You know how he can get, sometimes.”
“Sky, really?” Spike admonished.
“Oh c’mon, I’m right and you know it,” Sky retorted. “That guy really needs to pull that stick outta his ass.”
“Funny, Kate says the same thing all the time,” Mark commented, and then looked up at the sky. The autumn sun was beginning its descent from the height of the sky, indicating a time of early afternoon. “…Well, I think we should probably get going, if we want to reach your friends before sunset.”
“Yeah, true enough,” Spike remarked, and then glanced down at his girlfriend. “Hey, get off me.”
“Wow, not even gonna ask,” Sky replied cheekily, though rolled off his lap and then jumped to her feet all the same. After brushing herself off, she glanced between Mark and Spike expectantly. “Well? Shall we go?”
“Aye.” Spike nodded as he led the group away from the park. “Back to our apartments, we go…!”
Several Hours Later
“Alright… I think that’s it.”
“Yep… all that’s left is the furniture,” Twy remarked as she wiped her hands. “And Sky’s room, I suppose, but she and Spike can handle that when they get here.”
“And now we just have to wait for the food,” Austin replied as he practically threw himself onto the couch that remained in Twy’s apartment near the campus of the University of Texas. He, Twy, Luke, and Danielle had all arrived earlier that day to begin the moving out process, and now — just before sunset — they had finished packing all of the loose items in Twy’s bedroom, the living room, and the kitchen. A handful of boxes sat in the corner of the living room, designated to be donated or sold off, while the few items that Twy wished to actually take with her were packed into a couple of suitcases.
“Still… gotta be honest, I expected this to be more of a pain than it was,” Luke commented as he leaned against the living room wall near the couch. “I’m glad you made it easy, Twy.”
“I just like to keep things clean, that’s all,” she responded with a shrug. “And I try not to keep too much ‘stuff’ around…”
“Yeah, you had a lot more stuff back at your home in Dallas!” Danielle exclaimed from her perch on the arm of the couch. “Why’s that? Don’t you live here, not there?”
“Well, yes, but moving things back and forth can be really annoying, so I just left most of my things back home. Sky certainly has more crap than I do.”
“If Spike’s complaining is anything to go by, she probably has the most stuff out of the four of us,” Austin remarked. “Something about having shit scattered all over her room?”
The corners of Twy’s lips pulled up into a resigned smile. “It’s pretty messy, alright. But she’s at least able to keep her mess confined to her room, so I can’t complain… too much.”
“Is Sky hard to live with?” Danielle questioned.
“Hard to live with…?” Twy echoed as she passed Danielle an incredulous glance. “I mean, I wouldn’t say that. I have some complaints, sure, but there’s no such thing as a perfect roommate.”
“Yeah, the only perfect roommate is no roommate,” Austin interjected. “Man, I wish I could afford to live alone…”
“You even got problems with Spike, huh?” Luke commented with an amused smirk.
“Spike himself is fine. I like havin’ him around, actually. But when Sky comes over…”
“…Ah, yeah.” Twy laughed uneasily. “I know what you mean.”
“Huh?” Danielle glanced between Austin and Twy with a confused look on her face. “What are you talking about? Is something wrong with Sky?”
“Don’t worry, Danielle, nothing’s wrong here,” Luke stated, his smirk growing into a grin. “They’re just sayin’ that Sky and Spike might enjoy each other’s company a bit too much.”
“What are you—?”
“Sex, Danielle. They’re talking about sex.”
“W-well I wasn’t going to say it,” Twy insisted, as her face flushed red.
“Oh, right… I’ve heard Kate talk about that sometimes,” Danielle remarked, placing a thoughtful finger on her chin as she looked up. “Mote always gets mad when she brings it up, though. Supposedly it feels good, but I’ve never tried it.” She looked over at Twy, and then Austin. “What about you guys?”
“Uh— w-what?” Austin spluttered; he and Twy briefly made eye contact, only to quickly look away. “Th-that’s, um. Well, I mean, no?”
“H-how does this matter to anything?” Twy questioned, her gaze diverted and face fully flushed.
“I just wanted to know,” Danielle replied as she glanced cluelessly between the two. “What’s wrong? Is it embarrassing to not have had sex?”
Luke chuckled for a moment before responding, “it is for people who take themselves too seriously.”
“I don’t— I don’t take myself too seriously!” Austin quickly countered, “this is just, you know. Way too sudden of a conversation topic!”
“Weren’t you the one who brought this up?” Danielle asked.
“W-well, kinda, but… that…!”
“Ah, ha ha…” Twy laughed uneasily as she rubbed the back of her neck. “Maybe, um, let’s… talk about something else?”
“I don’t really know what’s going on, but sure,” Danielle replied. “What about Nimalia? That’s where you guys are going, right? Do you know exactly where, yet?”
“Not even the Colonel knows,” Luke answered. “All we know is that they’ll be studying under one of the former members of Hero Machina, at one of the so-called ‘Schools of Chaos’.”
“Whoa…” Danielle stared at Luke, wide-eyed. “A School of Chaos? …I’ve never heard of it before, but it sounds really cool!”
“The Schools of Chaos are six private institutions that were set up to teach Chaotics,” Austin commented. “They’re each headed by one of the old members of Hero Machina, the people who saved the galaxy from the Nanocreatures twenty years ago.” He then grinned. “And we’re gonna get to learn from them directly!”
“Sounds like someone’s been doing research,” Twy replied.
“Well, yeah. I mean, c’mon! Back when you heard that we were gonna be learning from some of the galaxy’s literal heroes, weren’t you interested in learning more, too?”
“Sure, but… are they really that big of a deal?”
“Literal. Galactic. Heroes. Do I really need to say more?!”
“To be more specific,” Luke spoke up, “according to the reports, Hero Machina was a group of six Chaotics who confronted the leader of the Nanocreatures in battle, and killed him. Twice. If you believe the Nimalians, anyways.”
“I mean, I believe ‘em!” Austin declared. “It all lines up, the timing, the explanations, the everything. No one else can explain why the Nanocreatures all just up and dissolved outta no where!”
“You talk awfully authoritatively for someone who was less than one year old during the Nanocreature War.”
“So? You were only ten!”
“Alright, so they saved the galaxy once. That’s great! And I really do mean that. But…” Twy glanced doubtfully between Austin and Luke. “How do we know that they’ll actually be able to teach us about our powers? Or that they’ll actually want to?”
“Yeah! Being really strong doesn’t mean that you know how to teach others,” Danielle added. “Like, everyone always says that my shapeshifting is really powerful, but I wouldn’t even know where to start if I had to teach someone else.”
“How powerful is your shapeshifting?” Austin questioned.
“Ah, well… I don’t really know how to define that, in the first place…”
“Well, for one, she can turn into a Frigate,” Luke remarked.
“What?! She can turn into a—!” Austin whipped around to stare at Danielle incredulously. “You can turn into a whole fuckin’ Frigate?!”
“Well, yeah. A small one, but…” Danielle shrugged. “I mean, it’s not that hard, but apparently it’s impressive or something…”
“From what I’ve heard,” Luke commented, “the largest and most complex things most Transtechnics can turn into are mechs or fightercraft, and even those are rare edge cases. So, yeah, a spaceship 80 meters long is impressive.” He then turned to face Twy. “Anyways, Twy, as for your question… I really don’t know. I’ve looked the Schools up on the Relaynet as well, and they do seem to be considered prestigious, so there’s that. But I’ve never actually met any of these Hero Machina folks. The Colonel briefly met with two of them… what were their names… Densalon and Yumat, I think?”
“Kievkenalis Yumach,” Austin corrected. “Currently, the Dean of the Yumach Chaotic University of Riverana. And a Chaos Conduit! Literally the only one in the galaxy, aside from one of the Drakkar Faction Leaders! And then Kaoné Densalin is the Dean of—”
“Right, right…” Luke passed his nephew a glance before looking back at Twy. “Regardless. Based on what the Colonel said, it could be a mixed bag, insofar as them liking you or even wanting to teach you. Though I guess there is one key thing that they’d agree with y’all on…”
“…And what would that be?” Austin prompted after a moment of silence.
“You should know if you looked up as much information on them as you said you did,” Luke replied. “They’re all pretty anti-conscription, all things considered.”
“Oh…” Twy’s expression clouded. “…Right.”
“You guys really don’t like conscription, huh,” Danielle observed.
“It’s fuckin’ stupid, that’s why,” Austin retorted. “But hey, if they don’t like conscription, then maybe we can convince ‘em to convince the General that this whole thing is fuckin’ stupid!”
“Wait, this doesn’t add up,” Twy interjected. “If they don’t like conscription, then why are they willing to teach people who were just conscripted?”
“Maybe they just sympathize with us. It’s not like this whole thing is our fault.”
“Still, and I mean this as lightly as possible — don’t get your hopes up,” Luke responded. “The Colonel said that Yumach and Densalin both seemed to defer to Archoné Culana a lot. There’s a chance the Archoné is just pushing Hero Machina around.”
“Archoné Culana? You mean that Pallan guy?” Twy frowned. “I don’t know why, but he rubs me the wrong way…”
“He can be pretty damn self-righteous, that’s probably why,” Austin replied. “Still, he was the one who figured out that we’re ‘Keys’ or some shit, so hey, he can’t be all bad.”
“Assuming that even means anything…”
“It means we get cool-ass special weapons and special teachin’, that’s what!”
“I guess, but what about all that other stuff he mentioned, about prophecies and stuff? That sounded a bit ridiculous to me.”
“Eh… I guess…”
“It sounds like there’s a lot you guys don’t know,” Danielle commented.
Luke sighed. “I’ll say. Not really a fan of walkin’ into this with so much unknown… but that’s basically been life for the past couple months, so hey, can’t really argue.”
“Oh, it’s been a hard couple months for you, huh?” Austin snorted.
Luke passed his nephew an incredulous glance and opened his mouth to respond, only to stop himself and then shake his head. “…Never change, Austin. Never change…”
“What? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m sure you’ll learn, one day,” Twy responded as she rolled her eyes, and then glanced toward the front door when she heard a loud knock. “…But for now, that should be our pizza. Let’s eat some dinner, shall we?”
“Yes, please!” Austin exclaimed as he leaped off of the couch and watched Twy open the door to greet the delivery person. “Nothin’ like pizza to close out a long day of work and a heady talk…”