The bat clinked and the ball soared. They could barely see it as it sailed through the sky. Though it was on fire, the trails of smoke occluded its position. “Four hundred and fifty kilojoules,” Damian exclaimed, “nice swing!” With a load cell inside the baseball tee, and a digital read-out, he measured the pure amounts of explosive force exerted into each ball as they were launched. Damian couldn’t believe this kid’s progress. Arms bulging, he’d already moved on to the next set of weights, and his control had improved tremendously. Though there was still lots of potential to explore.
The load cell gave off another reading. “Ooh, eight hundred!” Damian cooed. “Whadja do that time?”
Walt shrugged from the end of the dock. “I dunno,” he called, “just a fluke.”
“Well, keep getting flukes!”
He picked up another ball from the bin and propped it up on
the tee. Gripping the aluminum bat, he twisted his hands around the handle.
Striving to repeat his last effort exactly, he put in a few practice swings.
Then, taking a deep breath, he stepped up to the plate. He didn’t bend his
knees or raise his elbows like any good baseball player should—that wasn’t the
point of this exercise. Instead, he focused on getting the most explosive force
he could muster.
Drawing a sharp breath through his nose, Walt lifted his frontward foot and stamped it down, pumping his arms into the swing as hard as he could. He twisted his torso into it as well, forcing the air in his lungs out in a forceful huff.
Taking a downward angle, the ball went straight for the water, skipping across the tide three or four times before plunging below. “Seven hundred and twenty that time. Not bad.”
From somewhere behind Damian, a soft chime rang through the air. Kriskin appeared soon after, calling Walt’s name. “Yeah?” he called in return, setting up another ball.
“Do you have a minute?”
They both looked at Damian for his approval. “Yeah, yeah, go on,” he waved his hand in dismissal. “It’s almost time to pick up Riley, anyway.”
Walt tossed the bat into the sand and carried the ball bin to shore. “What do you need?” he asked as he approached Kriskin.
“Walk with me, I’ll show you.” One after the other, they climbed up the rocky crevice leading out of the cove. Kriskin lent a hand, pulling him up over the edge. He got fresh soot all over the end of her sleeve.
“It’s fine,” she said, wiping what she could on her skirt as they began their walk. Walt asked her where they were going. “To the other cove, under Pinky Point.”
That was the last they said to each other. Walt noticed that Kriskin was dressed just as warmly as Damian was, and looked up at the sky. It was overcast and dreary, a blanket of grey clouds drifting over the island. With a sigh, he put his hands in his pockets and picked up the pace to keep up with her. She looked up at him and grinned, then looked away before he could grin back.
That’s a nice necklace you’re wearing, she wanted to say to him, like so many times before. Did Faith pick it out for you?
Yeah, she did, he would reply, smiling at his feet. Then she’d ask to look at it. Maybe he’d undo the clasp and hand it to her, maybe he wouldn’t. It didn’t matter. Either way, it would be so easy to take it by the links and tear it apart, one by one. Worst of all was the pendant. He wore it so proudly, as if he knew what it meant to her. Maybe not. Maybe he was just as clueless as he looked. A blank slate, like the square-cut stone bouncing off his collar.
Walt could only watch the path ahead, walking as fast as her pace would allow him. They used to take friendly walks like this almost daily, but he couldn’t stand them anymore. Despite the silence between them, he wanted to tell her the big news. He felt like she was the only one he could confide in, like the many times he’d done since coming to the island. Then again, while he and Faith grew closer, they had gotten more distant. It was strange to think that they were complete strangers only a month ago. And strangers they would be, it seemed. The sooner they reached the other cove, the better.
“Here we are,” Kriskin piped up. Similar to where they’d started, they stood before the gap between the bases of Pinky Point and Ring Rock. Behind them was the outer wall to the Paw, the zoo in which Drea supervised. Though there didn’t appear to be much below, Kriskin tossed a ring down the gap and opened her portal. Just as she had said, it was another, albeit much smaller cove. Only a thin wedge of space between sand and rock, Walt had to crawl behind Kriskin to move around. “See this?” she asked, planting her finger on the ceiling, crouching under a slightly roomier part of the shelf. The spot she pointed at was a shade rustier than the sediment around it, and much glossier. “This is a massive deposit of pure iron ore.”
“You sound like a geologist,” Walt remarked.
“I want to make a ring out of it. A big one.”
Walt blinked. “How?”
“You’re going to burn a hole through it.”
Now he stared.
She elaborated, “To make it a ring that I can control, I need your talent to melt a hole through it.”
Walt looked up at the rock. “Why do you need a ring this big?”
“Because,” she began to sound excited, “on this kind of scale, I could sense it from another continent! Do you know what that means?”
He paused, thinking it over for a second. “You could come back to the island whenever you wanted.”
Kriskin nodded, “Bingo! Just start burning a hole through the ore right here—and try to keep it as small around as possible. I can’t pretend to know how your talent works, so you know. Do what you have to.”
“Alright,” said Walt, poking at the spot she’d designated. Kriskin moved out of his way to let him work. His fingers brushed over a small divot in the ore. “Did you try drilling it?”
“All I could find was a pick axe, but it’s such a weird angle. It took me like thirty minutes just to do that much.
“Okay. Let’s see if this works.” With concentration, he focused on the end of his finger and imagined it getting hot. This was a skill he’d discovered on accident, when his abdominal wound was giving him pain. When he willed it with enough effort, he could set dry leaves on fire just by pinching them between his fingers. He wasn’t sure how it worked, but if he could burn through stone, he would be satisfied.
Sure enough, as he focused with all his strength, the stone began to give way. Kriskin squealed in delight as the spot turned bright red and dissolved. The small drop of red hot liquid then dropped onto Walt’s bicep, sizzling as it touched. Kriskin sucked wind through her teeth at the sight, but Walt reassured her. “It doesn’t hurt. But I don’t want to get it on my shirt.” After wiping the blob off his arm, he unlatched his wrist weights, then peeled off his shirt. Kriskin had to look away, feeling her cheeks turn red. Now free from hazards, Walt dug away at the rock one molten drop at a time. It was gradual, tedious work that fatigued him from time to time. Once in a while, he needed to stop to rest and regain his focus.
When enough of the molten ore accumulated in the sand, Walt would stick his finger through the globs. From there, Kriskin could take it up and cool it off in the ocean water, adding more rings to her collection. This process went on for a long while, and soon the both of them needed the silence to break. “Sorry this is so boring,” said Kriskin.
“Heh,” Walt chuckled, “boring.”
When her laughter subsided, Kriskin began to tell him about her mission to Mahzen last week with Drea—until Walt interrupted.
“Yeah, you told me,” he said, “I think. You brought back the uh, bat girl, right?”
Kriskin cocked her head. “When did I tell you that?”
“The other night.”
She narrowed her eyes and nodded. “So, what’s new with you?”
Walt smiled, “I don’t know if Damian told you, but—“
Kriskin gasped, “He cleared you to take on missions!”
“I guess he did,” Walt snorted under his breath.
“Congratulations!” she cheered, “James has one coming up, maybe you should go with him!”
His smile faded. “I’ll think about it.”
“Oh, come on. You don’t still hate him, do you?”
“’Hate’ isn’t the word I’d use, but…I dunno.”
Kriskin turned to sit on her knees. “Mm, if you want, I’ll see if I can get clearance to come along.”
Walt dropped his hand from the rock. “About that…the rules don’t allow for co-ed pairs taking missions. Why were you and James the exception?”
Her face turned pale. “Well, Dust wanted a hundred percent success rate. James is the best at finding people, and I’m…the best at detaining them. So….” Walt looked her in the eye for a long while. “…What?”
“Tide’s coming in.” It hadn’t reached her feet yet, but the approaching waves had wetted the hem of her skirt. “Gah!” she growled, crawling towards Walt. “How far did you get?” she asked, leaning towards him to get a closer look.
“Er, you’re a little close.”
“Oh.” Realizing again that he was shirtless, she blushed and shrank back. “Um, let’s get out of here.” She opened a portal, Walt gathered his things and they reappeared on dry land. “I guess it can’t all be done in one sitting. You wanna wait ‘til the tide goes back and keep going?”
Walt glared at her through the opening of his shirt as he put it back on. “You really want this, don’t you?”
“As soon as possible, yes.”
“I’d love to wait with you, but I told Faith I’d be meeting her in a few minutes.”
“…Alright,” she shrugged, avoiding his eyes. “Um, another time, then?”
Walt grinned, fastening the clasp of his training weight with a click. “Sure.”
“Hey buddy! It’s Dust. I heard from Damian that you finished your training.”
“…Buddy?” Sitting on his girlfriend’s couch with her leaning on his shoulder, Walt wondered, “How did you get this number?” He hadn’t seen nor heard from the man in a month.
“Not important. I just wanted to tell you that since you got your first assignment, we’re gonna celebrate!”
“It’s gonna be at our place, open to anyone that wants to come! There’s gonna be food, dancing, light shows….” As he described the coming event, Faith continued to wrestle, trying everything she could to get his arms around him. He only grinned and pushed her attempts away with one arm. “…There’s gonna be an eating contest, too I think. Not my idea. Anyway, it’s gonna be a lot of fun. See ya tonight!” Click.
Walt put his phone away. “Doesn’t anyone say goodbye anymore?”
Faith giggled. “What was that about?” she whispered, running her webbed fingers through his hair.
“I’m not sure,” he sighed, looking into her bright, pink eyes. “But I guess I’ll be leaving the island in a few days.”
Her expression sank, lips forming an adorable pout. “Aww, I’ll miss you!” she mouthed, pulling him in for a hug. He wrapped one arm around her as well, shifting the rest of his body the other direction.
“I should only be gone for about a week,” he informed, recalling what little Damian had told him. “I’ll be back before you know it.”