Chapter 18 – A New Future
2 Hours Later
“So that wasn’t you?”
“No, Dad, it wasn’t. C’mon, you didn’t really think it was, did you?”
“Well… I must admit, he certainly did seem much more competent than you’ve ever been.”
Austin sighed as he glanced absentmindedly around the room. Shortly after he and his friends finished off EA’s mech, the rest of the SERRCom forces arrived on the scene and promptly shunted them onto Mote’s Frigate, which rushed them back to SERRCom’s primary space station. Austin hadn’t had the chance to stick around and assess the damage to the neighborhood, or to even make sure that his family was okay — so the moment he had any downtime, he found a phone and called his father.
Startin’ to wonder if I should have even bothered, Austin thought impatiently. His father was hardly a mean person, but his constant jabs could get tiring.
“So you’re okay, then? And your friends?”
“I’m the one who should be askin’ you that,” Austin countered. “Our house got fuckin’ blown up! How aren’t you more concerned about that?!”
“Three words, son: Homeowners Insurance.”
“Is it? Ah, whatever. This is at least a good chance to take care of some remodeling. Maybe replace your room with a den…”
“…You aren’t takin’ this seriously at all…”
“I’m fine, Austin, really. So is your mother and your sister, we’re all fine. They’re a bit shaken up about it, of course, but… nothin’ we can’t handle.”
“I’m more worried about you. What the hell’s been goin’ on? Something about you havin’ superpowers and bein’ conscripted? And then fightin’ a giant mech in the middle of Plano?!”
“That’s… yeah, that’s basically it. Me, Spike, and the twins all suddenly got superpowers, then SERRCom decided to conscript us, and… well, the rest is history.”
“Is that legal?”
“That’s what I wanna know…”
“Damn. Have you seen Luke? What’s he got to say about this?”
“…He said he thought it was a good idea…”
“He did? Bah. That good-for-nothin’ bastard never had the spine to stand up to authority.”
“Isn’t he your brother?”
“He’s closer in age to you than to me. Given how much he liked to play with you and your friends, he always felt more like a son than a brother… why am I even telling you this?”
“Hmph. Next time you see him, tell him I’m gonna give him a proper ass-whuppin’ at the next reunion.”
“I’ll be sure to do that…”
“But, seriously…” His father’s tone grew solemn. “I’m with you son, I really am, and I’ll do everything I can to get you out of there. Your mother’ll make sure of that. But… I gotta be honest, trashin’ the neighborhood like you did ain’t gonna do you any favors.”
“That wasn’t my fault! It was my stupid impostor!”
“I know! I know. But we’ve already got the neighbors raisin’ a stink about this whole thing, and the city, too. Hell, the whole nation seems to be in an uproar. …You know, before today, people really seemed to be on your— er, your impostor’s side. Really wanted to stick it to SERRCom, if you know what I mean. But, boy, I don’t think I’ve seen a faster about-face of public opinion in my entire life. Your battle has people runnin’ scared, sayin’ they don’t want untrained Chaotics free on the streets…”
“…Ah, sorry. Shouldn’t’ve said that…”
“No… I think I might say the same, if I were in their shoes…”
“You’ll make it through this, I know you will. Your friends are there, right? Between them and Luke, you should be just fine.”
“Weren’t you just shit-talking him?”
“Bah. He’s a spineless little brat, but he’s still a good person at heart. I’m sure he’ll do everything he can to help y’all out… so long as it doesn’t go against his superiors. Ha.”
“I don’t know if that’s reassuring or not…”
“Well, hold tight. I’ll talk to my lawyer and see what I can do. You sure you’re okay?”
“Yes, Dad, I’m fine…” Austin sighed again, glancing to the side as his uncle entered the room. “…I think it’s time for me to go.”
“Are you bein’ punished? You better not be punished.”
“I’ll be fine, Dad, really. I’ll talk to you later.”
“You damn well better. Try to stay on long enough to talk to your mother and Maddie next time, okay?”
“Okay, okay, I will…”
“Love ya, son.”
“You too.” Austin put the phone down and exhaled deeply.
“…That was Chris?”
Austin looked back at Luke before standing up and stretching. “It was my Dad, yeah.”
“Oof…” Luke grimaced. “Did he say anything about me?”
“Yeah, he said that he’s going to ‘give you a proper ass-whuppin’ at the next reunion.’”
“I figured…” The Captain shook his head warily. “…This is about the conscription stuff, isn’t it…?”
“Of course.” Austin crossed his arms impatiently. “You’ll get no sympathy from me here.”
“Well, you’ll get another chance to talk to the General about it, at least.” Luke gestured toward the door. “He wants to see you.”
“Oh, great…” Austin followed his uncle out the room. “This’ll be fun…”
* * *
“…I think I can speak for everyone when I say that this situation did not resolve at all how we expected.”
“He was a slippery bastard, alright…” Colonel Saito sighed as he responded to General Lead. He then glanced to his right, where Austin, Spike, Sky, and Twy all stood. “I don’t think there was any way to stop him from giving us the slip.”
“You may be right.” Lead clasped his hands on top of his desk, his gaze slowly sweeping across Austin and his friends. “I’d like to hear it from the four of you, though. Exactly what happened?” He turned to face Austin directly. “What happened between you and EA, while the two of you were alone?”
“Not a lot…” Austin frowned as he recalled the conversation between himself and his impostor. “He just said that he thought he was a better me than me, and that he was gonna try an’ take my place… somethin’ about bein’ able to better help SERRCom than me…”
“Help us my ass.” Saito snorted. “He attacked us, multiple times. And then leveled a neighborhood!”
“Look, I don’t know what’s goin’ through his head…”
“Isn’t he supposed to be you?”
Austin scowled. “He looks like me, but I don’t think he thinks like me. I don’t know how the hell he’s reached the conclusions that he has, or what the reasoning behind his plans are… but he did say that he’ll eventually attack SERRCom again if he doesn’t think you can do your job.”
The General pursed his lips. “That’s… concerning.”
“Yeah… then he gagged me and tried to pass off as me when you all got there.” Austin turned toward his friends, his eyes narrowing into an annoyed glare. “And y’all fuckin’ fell for it, too!”
“What?!” Twy exclaimed indignantly, “we did not—!”
“I knew it…” Saito sighed warily as he shook his head. “I told you guys he was too dense.”
“Huh?” Austin glanced between Saito and Twy in confusion. “What’re you talkin’ about?”
“We were only pretending that we thought EA was you,” Twy explained, “we thought it’d be the best way to get him into SERRCom custody…”
“Yeah! And then you went and blew it!” Sky added with an accusatory tone.
“Did you really think we thought EA was you?” Spike retorted with an amused smile. “We aren’t dumbasses. The fact that your arm looked normal instead of like a prosthetic was tellin’ all on its own.”
“Oh…” Austin glanced down at his exposed arm. Since EA had exchanged their outfits, Austin was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and a vest, while EA had on Austin’s training uniform — which included a long-sleeved jacket. “…There’s a problem with that line of reasoning, though. EA can project some kinda hologram around his arm and make it look like a real one. He showed me.”
Twy’s face fell. “Oh…”
“Figures he’d have even more tricks up his sleeve…” Saito muttered.
“This seems to be a running theme with this individual,” General Lead commented. “Always one step ahead of us, in both plans and technology. It’s my understanding that he beamed away all of the SERRCom forces before engaging you in battle with his…” He took a moment to glance at a monitor on his desk. “…’Bug Crawler?’”
Austin nodded. “That’s what he called it…”
“Did he say anything to you between beaming everyone away and attacking you?”
“Uh… he said that he scattered everyone across the city. Not much else, though…”
“So he knew what he was doing after all?” Saito questioned incredulously.
“It certainly is very… convenient.” The General frowned, his brow furrowing in concern. “Very little of what EA does makes any sense. He demonstrated that he has access to a beaming system that can defeat our beam jammers, but all he did with it was prevent SERRCom forces from interfering in his battle with you. He could have just killed everyone with them, but he didn’t. Furthermore… he also beamed away all civilians in the area.”
“Wait, what?” Austin stared at the General in disbelief.
“Yes. No deaths or civilian casualties occurred as a result of your battle with EA.”
“That’s a relief…”
“Do you have any idea why he did any of what he did? On paper, this almost seems… childish. Like he just wanted to play around.”
Austin rubbed the back of his neck uneasily. “Uh, well, I kinda think that’s exactly what happened…”
The General breathed a lofty sigh. “This is worrying. An explicit enemy to SERRCom, with technology that surpasses our own…” He looked over at Colonel Saito. “Was the mech recovered?”
“Last I heard, it was,” Saito replied. “MacTavish said she could handle it. I wager her father will want to take a whack at it, too.”
“Hey, Austin.” Spike glanced over at his friend. “…Didn’t that thing look familiar?”
“Hmm? Is that true?” The General quickly turned his attention to Austin as well.
“Well… yeah,” Austin admitted. “It’s… it was one of the things I made as a kid with LEGOs. EA explicitly said that he designed the mech after that.”
“I don’t know about the rest of what he’s done,” Sky piped up, “but that certainly sounds like something you would do.”
“Yeah, but I wouldn’t go chargin’ around blowin’ up a neighborhood with it…”
“Are there any other such… designs that he might use against us?” the General questioned.
“Uh… I guess so. I mean, I played with LEGOs and other toys a lot, you can’t really expect me to remember and outline every last thing I made…”
“I’d still like you to report as much as you can. The more we know about EA, the better.”
“You want me to write a report…” Austin echoed, and made a face. “You’re gonna keep us around, then…?”
“…Ah, you mean the deal I made with you earlier.” The General leaned back in his chair and pulled his hands back to rest in his lap. “If you’ll recall, letting you go was contingent on you capturing EA.”
“Oh, c’mon!” Sky protested, “we did our best! We had him! It isn’t our fault that he could just magic himself away!”
“You aren’t wrong…” Lead sighed again. “…And under normal circumstances, I might be inclined to release you anyways. But these are far from normal circumstances.”
“Is having Chaotics really that important to you?” Twy questioned, “don’t you already have the Eximius Vir?”
“We do, but this isn’t about that. This is a matter of public safety and opinion.”
“Oh, no…” Austin muttered. His brief conversation with his father came to mind; he promptly braced himself for the worst.
“After seeing the damage wrought in your hometown, the public seems torn as to whether to blame SERRCom or EA… but there is one thing that they’re practically unanimous about: they don’t want untrained Chaotics on the streets. And frankly, I’m inclined to agree.”
“You can’t seriously be blamin’ us for what EA did,” Spike growled, “he’s the one who wrecked the neighborhood. Not us!”
“Yes, but a more competent group of Chaotics could have greatly minimized the damage. Any single member of the Eximius Vir could have defeated EA in a fraction of the time that you did.”
Sky scowled. “Bullshit. You… you’re lying.”
“No, he’s not…” Austin muttered. “…I was just talkin’ to my dad before this meeting, and he said the same thing. About public opinion turning on us, at least…”
“But, that’s… it hasn’t even been half a day!” Twy exclaimed, “that’s hardly enough time to make a decision like this!”
“When you’re in my position, with my experience… it is.” The General stood up, his hands on his desk as he looked each of Austin, Spike, Sky, and Twy in the eyes. “You will continue your training with CSF-1 and the Eximius Vir, and become officers in SERRCom.”
“Or would you rather spend the time locked up in the brig?”
Austin scowled — the choice before him and his friends was hardly a choice at all, it was more like an ultimatum. It was clear that the General had no intention of letting them go free, and for that, Austin was furious. But then, his thoughts turned to EA. His impostor had caused immense stress for him, and attacked SERRCom, to boot. And then, when confronted, he was anything but remorseful. He even attempted to take Austin’s place, even if his attempt at doing so was somewhat half-baked. As Austin thought about these things, he felt his anger redirecting. EA was dangerous, but more than that, he had challenged Austin. Challenged his ability, challenged his skill, challenged his very sense of self. He insisted that he was the same as Austin, but as far as Austin could tell, they couldn’t be any more different… and for some reason, that made his blood boil. Austin needed to face EA again, even if only to remove his impostor from existence, but in order to do that…
“…Fine. I’ll do it.”
“Austin?” Twy glanced at him warily.
“The General’s right,” Austin responded, “we’re untrained Chaotics. If we want to get better, and get back at EA, well…”
“Ha!” Spike snorted. “Turn this into a revenge plot, huh?”
“You gotta admit, he did kinda destroy our homes,” Austin pointed out. “Sure, he didn’t kill our families, but he still hit us where it hurts.”
“Our house is just fine,” Sky countered. “It’s only yours that got wrecked. Well, and everyone else on your street…”
“But if you’re willin’ to go along, then so am I!” Spike smashed his fists together eagerly. “If gettin’ back at EA is the name of the game, then I’ll do anything!”
“Then, me, too!” Sky quickly spun around to face the General. “Wherever Spike goes, I go!”
“…You’re sure about this, Austin?” Twy questioned, her attention focused on him.
“Well… as sure as I can be right now, at least.” Austin shrugged. “Might regret it later, but… hey, it ain’t everyday that you get superpowers.”
“…Then I suppose I’m in, too.” Twy turned back to the General and nodded resolutely.
“…I’m glad that you all have a newfound determination…” the General responded with a smirk, “…but you were going to be a part of SERRCom regardless.”
“Oh… right…” Austin deflated slightly.
“Regardless, this makes everything much easier. For now, you can set up in the short-term lodging on the station; Colonel, I want you to look into getting more permanent housing for our new enlistees.”
“Yes, sir.” Saito offered a quick salute.
“With that settled… hmm. Well, I believe that’s it for now.” The General straightened up and clasped his hands behind his back. “Welcome to SERRCom! I look forward to seeing what the four of you can achieve — and hopefully, I’ll never truly need to.” He nodded once. “Dismissed!”
The End of Chosen Few
To Be Continued in Chosen Elite…
* * *
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