Chapter 3 – Midst of Unknown
– Monday, August 29, AD 2129 –
Austin awoke with a start. He stared at the ceiling for a couple moments before rubbing his eyes and yawning. The bright sunlight pouring in through his window signaled that morning had arrived, and no amount of determination would allow Austin to return to the comfort of sleep. With an annoyed groan, he forced himself to sit up and then glanced over at the clock on his wall.
“Nine oh two…” he muttered to himself, his eyes reflexively squinting. “…Damn, another bright day. Just my luck.”
He yawned again before shaking his head vigorously in an attempt to rouse himself. As he did so, an intense feeling of unease washed over him. The memories of the previous day rushed into his awakening mind: the mysterious ball at the museum, the start of another Chaos Energy Quake, and two of his friends suddenly gaining superpowers. Now several hours and a good night’s rest removed from these surprising events, they hardly seemed real.
“Had to’ve been a dream…” Austin muttered as he climbed out of bed and trudged toward his room’s door. He threw it open haphazardly and stepped into the common area.
Spike nodded toward Austin from his position on the couch. “Mornin’.”
“Mornin’,” Austin greeted back as he approached the kitchen. But before he took too many steps he stopped in his tracks, his attention focused on a discolored patch on the dining area wall, just above the table.
It looked a lot like a burn mark.
“Yeah, Sky did a real number on the wall…” Spike scowled, apparently having noticed Austin’s stare. “Don’t worry, I’ll get her to fix it.”
“…So all that stuff really happened…?”
“Huh?” Spike gave Austin a confused look before realizing what he meant. “Oh… yeah, you mean the twins gettin’ superpowers? Yeah, that really happened. Thought it might’ve been a dream myself ‘til that spot on the wall reminded me otherwise.”
“Mm,” Austin grunted in response as he stepped into the kitchen and grabbed a clean bowl from near the sink. “Still pretty hard to believe.”
“No kidding,” Spike responded, raising his voice slightly so Austin could still hear him in the kitchen. “Before a few years ago, everyone thought we puny… what is it that the rest of the galaxy calls us?”
“Yeah, that. Everyone thought we couldn’t be Chaotics. Then suddenly we got the Eximius Vir, and now Sky and Twy. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say somethin’ fishy is goin’ on.”
“Something fishy is goin’ on,” Austin countered as he entered the living area with a bowl of cereal and sat on the opposite end of the couch from Spike. “We’re not supposed to be Chaotics. No one in Earth history has been a Chaotic. And now suddenly we have six? I mean, at least six, who knows if there are others out there in the same position as Twy and Sky.”
Spike shrugged. “Guess you’re right.”
“…This is just the worst.” Austin sighed in irritation. “Suddenly gettin’ superpowers… that’s just askin’ to get magic’d away by the CIA or some shit. And in a world where Chaotic conscription is universal policy? Even worse…”
“If they’re careful, they’ll be fine,” Spike replied. “The twins are smart, they can handle themselves. They aren’t careless.”
Austin momentarily stopped chewing as he gave Spike a level stare.
“Can you look me in the eye and honestly say that Sky isn’t careless?”
“And that’s why I’m worried. Part of it, at least. Even if we don’t have powers, we’re still witnesses to Twy and Sky, so if they get discovered… who knows what’ll happen to us?”
Spike’s eyes narrowed. “You ain’t tryin’ to suggest that we should abandon them… are you?”
“No! No, not at all,” Austin quickly refuted as he vigorously shook his head. “I’m just concerned, is all.”
“Well, no point in worryin’ about it for now…” Spike sighed. “SERRCom should be busy dealin’ with the fallout of the Chaos Quake, so that’ll buy us a few days, at least. In the meantime…” He stood up and stretched.
“You goin’ somewhere?” Austin questioned, still working on his cereal.
“Nah. Too damn hot out. Gotta save my energy for the dojo tonight.”
“Really? You got lessons tonight?”
“People still want fuckin’ Karate lessons in the middle of a Chaos Quake?”
“Kendo, not Karate, dumbass. And apparently yes. I double-checked with Sensei Roshu just before you woke up, and he still wants me there to help out.”
“Meh, Kendo, Karate, Tai Chi, Tae Kwon whatever, they’re all the same.”
“I’ve given you lessons in both Kendo and Karate, don’t tell me you’ve seriously forgotten.”
“Then I won’t.”
Spike shook his head and sighed of annoyance. He then stepped over to the main window in the living room and opened the blinds, staring outside into the rest of the apartment complex. “…I guess you have a point,” he eventually commented, “I suppose it might be weird that people still want to go on as normal during what’s basically a natural disaster. But then again, what else are people supposed to do? Cower at home in fear of some invisible bogey man? It’s not like Earth has any Chaos Energy-based infrastructure that’ll collapse.”
“Hey, who was it who brought up all those natural disasters caused by the last Quake, yesterday?”
Spike heaved a lofty sigh. “I know, I know. But a good night’s rest does a lot to calm the head, and I think we may’ve been overreactin’ last night.”
“Really? Now you say that?”
“Alright, smartass, I get the point already.”
“Though, honestly, I’m startin’ to think that maybe we weren’t concerned enough… this Quake is weird, man. You saw the twins use their powers yesterday, but that shouldn’t be possible without Chaos Energy!”
“So either everything I’ve ever read on the Relaynet is a big fuckin’ lie, or we just discovered something big about how the universe works that no one else knows about! And if the latter is true, then who knows what else could happen? Maybe this Quake will make the last one look like a fuckin’ walk in the park!”
“…Right. Now I’m sure you’re overreacting.”
“Hey man, you and Twy were the ones who pointed out that the last Quake brought with it a bajillion different natural disasters. You remember the West Coast Exodus we were talkin’ about yesterday? You know, the whole reason Sky and Twy’s parents moved to Texas in the first place?”
“I know, I know…”
“I mean, that shit was just ridiculous. I mean, can you believe that Seattle used to be a major city? Or that there used to be a peninsula up in Silicon Valley? Not to mention all the shit that got wrecked over in Japan and China, and South America. And I think the tsunamis nearly wiped out Hawaii, too…”
“Alright, alright, I get the point.” Spike scowled. “So the Chaos Quake is bad. Okay. Well what the fuck are we supposed to do about it, huh?”
“…Good question.” Austin shrugged, and then stood up to wash out his now empty bowl. “…I dunno.”
“Then like I said, why be concerned? At least in our case, we’re in the middle of fucking Texas, the worst we’ll see is the tail end of a Hurricane, or maybe some tornadoes. There’s no sense in walkin’ around in perpetual fear.”
“Mm, guess so,” Austin muttered. “…I guess a storm wouldn’t be too bad, actually. It might help out with the drought.”
“I’d prefer a light rain to an out-and-out thunderstorm,” Spike refuted as he turned back toward the couch and stretched. “Shit’s been dry for way too long. One lightning strike, and the whole Western Forest’ll go up in flames.”
“Well there’s your natural disaster to worry about, then.”
Spike gave Austin an irritated glance as the latter smirked back at him.
“The forest hasn’t been there too long anyways,” Austin continued as Spike retook his seat on the couch. “Probably ain’t much to burn, not as much as natural forests at least.”
“Sixty years is more than enough time for an artificial forest to develop its own ecosystem and shit.”
“Wait, sixty years? Really?”
“Yeah. They planted the thing back in… 2070, I think it was? Around then. So sixty years.”
“And how do you know this?”
“Well excuse me for wantin’ to learn a bit about our home here.”
“Bah, we’ve only been in Austin for two years, and only for college, at that. Speakin’ of which, classes start next week, don’t they—?”
Austin paused as a ringing noise filled the room. Both men turned toward the back corner of the living room, where a metal pad occupied the floor. On the wall above the pad at around chest height was a small touchpad, which was currently blinking.
Austin groaned. “Bah, who’s callin’ so early in the morning…”
“Early? It’s past nine. Stop bein’ a lazyass,” Spike retorted before raising his voice. “Holo, who’s calling?”
A semi-robotic female voice promptly replied, “Twy and Sky Chao.”
“Shoulda known.” Spike exhaled wearily and stood up again. “I’ll bet it’s Sky. Probably bored.”
“Tell her not to call until after ten at the absolute earliest.”
“You’ll be fine,” Spike deadpanned as he approached the metal pad. He tapped the blinking touchpad once; a moment later, a fuzzy blue hologram of Sky appeared.
“Hey!” she greeted cheerfully.
“Hey.” Spike nodded back. “What’s up?”
“The ceiling,” Austin quickly exclaimed.
Spike sighed in mild irritation; as he did so, Twy’s voice came over the speaker system. “Real funny, Austin.”
“I do crack myself up sometimes.”
“If y’all are gonna shout at each other over the speakers, then maybe you should step up to the projectors, huh?” Spike suggested, his tone not-so-subtly indicating a desire for both Austin and Twy to be quiet.
“No promises if Austin keeps making bad jokes,” Twy replied.
“Fuck you, too!” Austin retorted playfully.
“So!” Sky immediately spoke up, breaking off Austin and Twy’s jabs, “I was just wondering what you were up to.”
Spike snorted. “At nine thirty in the morning?”
“See, I told you it was early—”
“Austin, shut up.”
Sky made an expression that looked like frowning — it was difficult for Spike to tell, given the hologram’s low resolution. “Did I call too early? I can call back later.”
“No, it’s fine.” Spike shook his head. “I hope you don’t wanna go out today, though. It’s over a hundred degrees, and I need to save my energy for the dojo tonight.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. The heat isn’t a problem for me! Last night I figured out how to—”
“Whoa whoa whoa, hold it, hold it!” Austin immediately jumped to his feet and rushed over to the hologram and stood next to Spike. “Don’t talk about… that. Not over the holocoms.”
Sky stared at him blankly for a moment. “…Why?”
“Whaddya mean, ‘why?’ Someone might be listenin’ in, that’s why!”
“Oh come on, Austin,” Twy responded wearily, coming into view next to Sky, “holocom calls are encrypted. No one can listen in on what we’re saying.”
“Says you, but SERRCom is a space agency with access to all kinds of advanced alien tech! They probably defeated civilian encryption ages ago.”
“That doesn’t mean that they’re listening in on every single call across the whole world, though,” Sky countered.
“They probably got advanced computers that can do just that, you know. And with the Chaos Quake, that’s all the more reason to monitor civilian chatter.”
“I didn’t know I was best friends with a conspiracy nut,” Spike deadpanned.
“It ain’t a conspiracy,” Austin insisted. “Haven’t you heard about that mystery Battlecruiser SERRCom has? The one with all the advanced tech that they still haven’t completely reverse-engineered?”
“How the hell do you know about that? Wouldn’t that be classified?”
“Bah, like they could classify everything about that ship. How the hell do you think they started makin’ and sellin’ Subspace Drives, huh? As if SERRCom could make a discovery like that all on their own before anyone else in the galaxy!”
“I’m with Spike,” Sky interjected, “this sounds kinda far-fetched.”
“…Mmm, no, Austin might actually have a point,” Twy commented. “Now that I think about it, there were some rumors online last night about an EIIC investigation in Austin. …The city, not you, Austin.”
“What’s the EIIC…?” Sky questioned cluelessly.
“The ‘Earthian Interstellar Intelligence Command,’” Austin replied. “It’s like the CIA, except with more authority. And in space!”
“They’re also responsible for advances like the Subspace Drives you mentioned, which have revolutionized trade and transportation across the entire galaxy,” Twy retorted. “Not everything SERRCom does is nefarious, you know.”
“Says you, but if and when they swoop in and magic us all away for some reason or another, I reserve the right to say ‘I told you so.’”
“Enough with the stupid SERRCom stuff.” Sky scowled as she passed her sister an irate glance. “I wanted to talk to Spike! Not open a call for you and Austin to start arguing about whatever the hell it is y’all are talking about!”
“Ah, sorry,” Twy apologized.
“I swear,” Sky huffed, “Spike, we should really get our own holocoms. And make them red! It’d be so much better than blue!”
“How about we get full-color instead,” Spike snorted. “I don’t know why the hell we have a tinted system.”
“Tinted holocoms were cheaper than full-color ones,” Austin answered. “Well, back when we got this one, at least.”
“Why didn’t we just get a video system, then?”
“Because it’s the future, duh! Who the hell uses a flatscreen communication system when you could have fuckin’ holograms?!”
“People who actually want to see who it is they’re talkin’ to.”
“Hmph, you just don’t like havin’ fun.”
“Speaking of fun,” Sky immediately jumped into the conversation again, “Twy and I were wondering if the two of you wanted to do something later this week.”
Twy gave her twin an incredulous glance. “We were?”
“Yes, we were.” Sky conspicuously elbowed her sister. “It’s the last week of summer break, after all. We have to make the most of it!”
“Well I doubt we’ll be able to actually do much,” Austin commented, “with the Chaos Quake, I’d bet most places anyone would actually want to go to would be shut down. ‘Cause, you know, people are fuckin’ scaredy-cats.”
“Says the person who was freakin’ out about the Quake not even half an hour ago,” Spike retorted.
“I was not ‘freaking out,’ I was expressing legitimate concern.”
“Mmhmm.” Spike nodded patronizingly before turning back toward Sky. “Did you have anythin’ in mind?”
“…We could hit the beach,” Sky suggested.
“Bah, that’s a couple hours of sittin’ in a car.” Austin scowled. “I ain’t leavin’ the city.”
Twy nodded in agreement. “I’m not keen on going too far either. Especially with the Quake going on.”
“Hmph.” Sky pouted. “You guys are no fun.”
“We could try the pool instead,” Spike commented, “there are a bunch around here, and there ain’t much reason for them to be closed.”
“I guess that works,” Sky replied, “a pool should be more than enough to show off our—”
“Hey! Watch it!” Austin cut her off, “insecure connection, you know!”
Sky simply rolled her eyes in response. She then turned to address Spike directly. “I guess I caught you at a bad time, huh?”
“Nah.” Spike smirked. “If Austin’s like this now, then he’ll be like this all day long.”
“Hey!” Austin scowled.
“Well, I’ve got something I need to take care of,” Sky commented, “let’s say we’ll do the pool thing on Friday. Alright?”
“Yay! I’ll be in touch. Love you!”
“Love you too.”
The hologram then disappeared, leaving behind nothing but empty air.
Austin and Spike both exhaled deeply and glanced at each other.
“…Dibs on the main headset,” Austin declared.
“Sure, whatever.” Spike shook his head wearily and made for his room. “I’ve got something I should work on anyways. Talk to ya later.”
“Aye.” Austin nodded as he plopped down on the couch. “Later.”