“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
I’d never been good at physical exercise. I could play sports and all but when it came to lifting weights and running for certain amounts of time and squatting and doing pushups and chin ups, well let’s just say I’m pathetic. Iris promised me that in a short amount of time, my endurance and strength would increase exponentially. She explained that my body was already going through changes now that I was on Vasileia. I appreciated her trying to ease my conscious about the situation but I knew I was going to be so sore tomorrow.
And the day after that.
And the day after that.
My first lesson was with Killian. Iris hadn’t been joking. His muscles really were twice the size of her head. He was a tall, buff, muscular guy with blonde hair and blue eyes. He wore a shirt that seemed to be just a tad too small but it defined every perfect feature of his body.
“Lilly, this is Killian Rogers. Killian, this is Lilly Snow,” Iris introduced.
“Hello sir,” I greeted. He smiled at me, shaking my hand.
“Welcome to Vasileia, Lilly. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Thank you. Um, I didn’t quite know what to wear so I hope this is okay,” I said, glancing down at my workout shorts and tank top. Also, thank god sports bras existed on this planet.
“It’s absolutely fine. There’s no strict rules on workout gear here so you work out in whatever you’re comfortable in.”
“Just out of curiosity, how long will training sessions be?” I inquired.
“Depends on your skill level. Since you’re a beginner, it’ll be an hour to an hour and half for each lesson. Today is just to see where you’re at in skill level.”
“Oh no,” I muttered.
Killian laughed. “You worried about something?”
“I will tell you right now my endurance is terrible and I’m out of shape. Also, all my strength is in my legs. I have practically no upper body strength.”
“Good to know. We’ll know what to work on. You’ll start with me every day Monday through Friday. Afterwards you’ll meet with Caleb’s brother, David, for weapons training. He’ll train you, see which ones you’re good at and ones you’re not so good at. Then you get the great opportunity to train with Iris’s brother, Jax. Then it’s stealth training with Ella, and last but not least, terrain training with Iris.”
“And it’s an hour to an hour and half each? So it’ll be five to seven hours of training?”
“Give or take a few. Depending on how fast you go and how fast you learn, it could actually be less than five hours or it could be more. Once we place your skill level, you’ll have more set times. For today, it’s just to see where you stand.”
Lovely. I thought.
“I have to go train but I’ll see you later okay?” Iris said. “Killian, take care of her.”
Iris walked out of the room. Killian turned to me. “Let’s do some stretches first, get your muscles loosened up to prevent you from being too sore tomorrow.”
“Where do we begin?”
Killian sat on the floor; I followed in suit. For about twenty minutes, we did a bunch of stretches, some super easy, some super not. Killian promised me I’d be able to do the harder ones in less than a week. After stretching, he led me to a door. Upon opening it, I was greeted by a beautiful park.
Killian explained, “This is the path that most of our runners take. It’s a run through Queen’s park. It’s two miles long. You ready?”
“We’re going to run two miles?” I asked in dread.
“Take as long as you need.”
“I can barely run a mile in under ten minutes…”
“You’re stronger than you think Lilly. Trust me on this. You can go as slow or as fast as you want.”
I nodded, mentally preparing myself for a two mile jog. I had never liked running for the hell of it. If I was going to run, then it should be in a sport. I’d always told Vivienne that if she ever saw me running, then she should start running too because something was after me. That’d always made her smile.
I set off at a normal pace, which for some people was actually fast. I had long legs which meant I had longer strides than some. Killian had no problem keeping up with me though. In fact, when we were barely half a mile in, I was already panting and sweating like a pig. He’d hardly broken a sweat. To keep my mind off of how much I just wanted to stop and lay down on the ground and relax, I asked, “So how many miles can you run? Iris told me your power is strength and endurance?”
“I can run about a hundred miles now. I’m trying to beat the record of a hundred twenty.”
“You can run a hundred miles?” I demanded. “How long does that take you and how does that not kill you?”
“It takes me a few hours. But, with the right music, I just kind of get lost in my thoughts and lose track of time. My power is super strength and endurance.”
“Can you have two powers?”
“It’s rare, very rare, and usually ends up badly for the person.”
“Why does it end up badly for the person?”
“I don’t know the science behind it. You’re friends with Caleb, right?”
“Ask him. He can explain it to you much better than I can.”
“I swear I’ve asked him about a hundred questions already.”
“Caleb loves it. He loves talking about powers and science. I like it too but not to the degree he does.”
I stopped talking, mostly because I could barely catch my breath. I did manage to puff out the question of how much longer I had. To my dismay, we had one more mile. It felt like I’d been running for ages before I was finally done. Killian glanced at his watch.
“You did that in… twenty-eight minutes. Not half bad for a girl who says she’s out of shape,” Killian told me with a smile.
“Thanks,” I wheezed out.
“Let’s go grab some water and cool down. We’ll use the remaining twenty minutes to test your strength.” He opened the door, walking to a fridge and grabbing two water bottles. I knew it was probably a bad idea but I chugged mine down.
“So, strength training?” I asked.
“Strength training. Follow me.”
I’d gone straight to my lab after breakfast and after walking Lilly to the training building. Iris had taken her from there. I was working on the explosive arrows when I heard my brother shouting my name from outside my lab.
“Caleb Queen! Where is my bow and arrow?!” David demanded.
I cringed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“My security cameras caught you in my flat! Give me back my bow!”
“Oh come on, I just need it to test one more explosive arrow. I’m trying to help you out here!”
“Let me test that arrow on you!”
“Hey, no need to get hostile. I’m coming. I’m coming.” I got up from seat to go open the door. My brother stood there, red in the face with anger. “Do you really need your bow right this second?”
“Yes. I have to train a newbie in a few minutes and I need it. Now give me my bow.” I sighed. Maybe I could convince Felicity to steal it back for me later. I grabbed my brother’s bow off the table next to me and handed it to him.
“You weren’t supposed to be back for another day,” I remarked.
“Change of plans. Now don’t touch my stuff again. I’ll see you later?”
“Yeah, see you later.” David jogged off. I went back into my lab only to have the door open again. This time it was Chad. Vivienne was with him.
“Hey you two,” I greeted. “What’s up?”
“I have a small break and I wanted to see your lab. This place is amazing! What is all this stuff?” Vivienne inquired.
“That’s a DNA tester. This here is a microscope. Over here is chemicals, used to make tranquilizers and other stuff. That over there is a medical bay. Sometimes the healers can’t actually help someone so it’s up to me.”
“When can a healer not heal someone?”
“That happens when the person is having problems because their power rather than the body is causing the problem.”
“That makes sense I guess. Listen, I have to go back because I only had a small break before it was time for lunch. I’ll see you at dinner!” Vivienne started leave then realized Chad wasn’t following. “You coming?”
“No, I need to speak with Caleb. Dylan will lead you back.” There was a flash of disappointment on her face but she said nothing, only nodded. Once the lab door was shut, Chad said, “I needed a break.”
“From her or from Dylan?”
“Dylan. She’s fine. She’s just always trying to get me to talk. I don’t know why.”
“Maybe she’s interested in you.”
My friend rolled his eyes. “What are you doing right now?”
“Studying Lilly’s blood sample. I can’t figure out her power.”
“Still? Maybe she doesn’t have powers.”
“No, I’m sure she does. I just can’t figure out which one it is. I mean I’ve heard of this happening before to the other scientists, it’s just never happened to me.”
“There’s a first time for everything.”
“Well I don’t want there to be a first time for this sort of thing.” I sighed in annoyance, and decided to change the subject. “How’d the meeting with your brother go?”
At the mention of his brother, Chad turned even grimmer than usual. “He’s fine. Looking forward to having parole.”
“Since when is he getting parole?!”
“Since he’s been on good behavior since he’s been in prison.”
“When does he get out?”
“They don’t actually know yet, just that it’ll be within the year.”
“It’s a mistake.”
“It’s not up to us. It’s up to Esmeralda.”
“She of all people would know better than to let him out. He’s dangerous, Chad,” I said.
“Well that runs in the family,” he retorted.
I glared at him. “You know what I mean. He’s dangerous on a completely different level than you. You at least have morals. What are you going to do if and when he gets out?”
“I have to make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid that could get him locked back up again.”
“But why do you have to watch him? Why not a guard or something?”
“Because he’s family. And any guard assigned to watch him would kill him because he’d get under their skin. He’s good at that.”
“Family doesn’t do what he did to you. Your family is me and Dylan.”
“He’s family by blood. I can’t ignore that.”
“Yes you can. You ignore a lot of things so why not ignore this too?”
Chad actually gave me a small smile. “I appreciate your concern. I should head back to see Dylan and Vivienne. I’ll see you at dinner.”
“Yeah, see you at dinner.” Chad left the lab. I went back to my work.
My head hurt from staring at the blood sample for so long. I hadn’t realized how long I’d been trying to figure it out until I heard Iris’s voice say, “I think you’re going to have a permanent ring around your eye if you stare through that microscope any longer.”
I looked up. Iris was leaning against a table, staring at me with her arms crossed.
“What?” I asked.
“I’ve been standing here for the past ten minutes without you so much saying a ‘hi’. What’s on your mind?”
“This blood sample. For the first time in my life, I can’t actually figure out what the power is.”
“Who’s blood is it?”
“Scientist-patient privilege. I can’t tell.”
“The only person whose power I don’t know is Lilly’s so it has to be hers.”
I sighed. “If, hypothetically, it was her, what would I tell her next time she comes in and asks me if I figured out her power yet?”
“You be honest and say you haven’t figured it out yet, but you will, because you’ve never encountered a blood sample you couldn’t figure out and you’re not going to start now. Caleb, you’re the smartest person I know. You’ll work it out.”
“Speaking of Lilly, where is she? She said she’d come back here after training,” I said.
“She’s taking a shower. Said she felt sweaty and gross. She’ll be down here soon.”
“How’d she do?”
“She was pretty spot on about not having endurance although she’s did better than some new recruits. Strength wise, she was right again; her legs are a powerhouse and while she can punch well, she doesn’t have a lot of strength in her arms. Relatively strong abdomenal muscles. With weapons training and hand-to-hand combat, she was a fast learner. Both came pretty naturally to her. Pretty good at stealth training, and adapts to any climate well. The only problem she encountered with terrain training was heights. We’ll need to break her of that fear.”
“So she’s… average? Above average? Below average?”
“Slightly above average in her skill level, but definitely above average in potential. She’s headstrong, determined, and competitive when it comes to proving herself and others wrong. With the right motivation, she could become a very strong soldier.”
“What else did you learn about her?”
“Other than what was observable? Not much. Lilly asks more questions than she gives answers. She’s certainly a curious person but she doesn’t trust much.”
“I’ve noticed. I was wondering if her traits might help me determine her power but nothing so far. Her traits span over too many different ones.”
“Which ones are you leaning towards?”
“I think she’s going to wield an element power, maybe ice or fire.”
“Very contradictory character traits.”
“Yeah I know.”
“You think she’s a dual?”
“No. Besides, if she did show any sign of being a dual, she’d be locked up. You know how people feel about duals.”
“Maybe she’d be one of the lucky ones.”
“Do you know how rare that is?”
“Are you going to give me a number?”
“I could but I won’t.”
“What are you not telling me?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Caleb, I’ve been friends with you since we were kids. I know when you’re not telling me something.”
“Okay fine. There’s one other power she might have.”
“What is it?”
“Darkness? You think that little ray of sunshine can control the Darkness?”
“Did you just call her a ray of sunshine?” I laughed.
“Lilly was quite cheerful around me. Once she’s comfortable around you, yes, she’s a little ray of sunshine.”
“Well then, that little ray of sunshine exhibits more than one characteristic of a person wielding Darkness.”
“I’ll keep an eye on her, but I don’t think that’s her power.”
“We won’t know until she actually gets her power. It’s strange. Most people have exhibited at least some sign of their power within the first forty-eight hours of being here. So why hasn’t she?”
“Maybe she doesn’t believe she has a power.”
“But I know she wants one.”
“Believing and wanting are two different things. Lilly believes in people possessing powers, and while she may want to have a power, she may not believe that she’s actually capable of having one. Why are you so worried about this?”
“Because I know she’s dying to know her power and I want to help her. It’s the least I can do after I helped kidnap her to a foreign planet. Besides, she’s fun to hang out with. I’ll admit, it’s kind of nice having someone interested in what I do. Most recruits hang out with Dylan because he can catch himself on fire instead of me because all I can do is… answer almost any and all questions about our powers.”
“Caleb Queen, you are the smartest, brightest, sharpest guy I know. If I ever have a question or a problem, I come to you. So does Dylan, and even on occasion Chad, when he has a problem. So what you can’t catch yourself on fire or make things levitate or control darkness. You know more about my powers and Chad’s and Dylan’s and pretty much everyone else’s, maybe more than we do ourselves. I know you could get yourself out of any situation with a super-powered being because even strength must bow down to wisdom, and you, my friend, are one of the wisest people I know. Not to mention, in our friend group, you are the rock. We need our rock. Or else we’d all fall apart.”
I smiled. “Thanks for the pep talk Iris. You should get going. Don’t you have a meeting with your dad or something?”
“Oh crap! I forgot! See? This is why we need you. I’ll see you later!” Iris dashed out of the lab. A few seconds later, Lilly walked in. She smiled sleepily at me.
“How are you?” Lilly asked, taking a seat on the one comfy place in my entire lab: the couch.
“I’m good. I’ve been working all day. How was training?”
Lilly stretched out on the couch on her stomach. In a muffled voice, she said, “I just exercised more in the past five hours than I have the entire past year. I need a medic.”
I smiled. “You came to the right place.”
I got up and grabbed something from the fridge. I tossed the bottle to her. She peered at it suspiciously before asking, “This isn’t some tranquilizer is it?”
That actually made me laugh. “No. It’s something most people our age can’t live without.”
“The only thing I can think of is the internet and I’m pretty sure the internet doesn’t come in the form of a liquid.”
“I’ll drink that.” Lilly unscrewed the lid and chugged half the bottle before stopping. “I have no idea what I just drank but it’s delicious.”
“That’s Dr. Pepper.”
“I knew I recognized it. How on earth did you get the formula for Dr. Pepper?”
“One of my friends knew the original maker of it and brought it back here once it was in production back on your planet.”
“I know this is going to come as a complete shock to you, but I have a question.”
“Ask me anything you want. I’m at your disposal.”
“I’ve noticed that people only have one power. Can they have more than one?”
“They can, it’s just rare. And extremely dangerous.”
“The powers are usually extreme opposites of each other which messes up the person’s chemical balances in their brain and it has… bad effects. In a nutshell, they go crazy. Some people try to hide the fact that they have two powers so people don’t report them and so they don’t go to jail.”
“That’s terrible. Have there ever been any cases where a person with dual powers is okay?”
“There is. Usually it’s because the powers go hand in hand, like with Killian, he has strength and endurance because even though they’re different powers, they feed off of each other. His endurance helps his strength and vice versa. Once in a while, a person with water powers might have ice powers as well. People with fire powers can have light powers. Even healers can have light powers because most healers, if not all, are completely on the light side.”
“This is sounding like Star Wars with the light side, dark side stuff.”
“Where do you think George Lucas got the ideas from?”
“You’re joking right?” I simply winked at her. “Okay, next question: are there certain powers that people don’t like or are taboo powers to have?”
I nodded. “You actually know one: Chad. Umbrakinesis is looked down upon because most people who have that power typically can’t stay on the light side. When they can’t, they’re imprisoned. Mind control is a big no-no and those people are watched very carefully. Most of them are good human beings but there’s been a few cases where they’re not good human beings. Super-speed is another one. The speed, like having two different powers, can unbalance the chemicals in the brain.”
“Can anyone be mind-controlled?”
“No, not everyone. The most susceptible are Healers not because they’re weak or anything, but I’ve noticed they’re more trusting of people. They always try and see the good in people. Other people are actually just weak-minded which makes them easy targets.”
“What if someone is close to the person with mind control powers?”
“It can actually go either way. Again, I think it has to do with trust and how guarded the person is in the first place.”
“Have you ever met one?”
“Did they try it with you?”
“Yes they did.”
“Did they succeed?”
“No, I’m too stubborn. In fact the person tried it on me, Chad, Dylan, and Iris at one point but got nowhere. We knew what he was trying to do and that helped. Also, again, those three are just as stubborn as me.”
“I’m sorry for all the questions. I really hope I’m not bugging you.”
“I enjoy the company Lilly. I promise. I’ve never had a recruit so interested in what I do and in everything in general.”
“You mean people never ask questions when they come here?”
“They do, just not to a fraction of the degree you do.”
Lilly blushed. “Sorry.”
“Like I said, I enjoy it.” I went back to my microscope, then to my notes on powers. I did this back and forth until I noticed Lilly had been strangely silent. I turned around to find her passed out on the couch. Not wanting to disturb her, I went back to my work.
Caleb woke me up for dinner. I groggily followed him up to the dining hall. Vivienne, Chad, and Dylan were already there. Iris joined me and Caleb while we in line. The two of them chatted while I tried to wake myself up. I never had been good at waking up from a nap, plus I was still exhausted from my workout earlier.
The three of us took our seats with our friends. Vivienne was halfway done with her dinner already.
“How was your day Lilly?” Dylan asked as he shoveled about six French fries into his mouth at one time.
“Long and exhausting. How about yours?”
“Exciting. I was training half the day, burnt Chad’s pants because he lied to me, and then I think I’m going to go see a movie later. Anyone want to join?”
“I’m game. I don’t have any plans tonight,” Iris said.
“Count me in. I need to get out of the lab,” Caleb added.
“Lilly? Vivienne? What about you?” Dylan asked.
“Out of sheer curiosity about what your movies are like here, I want to go,” I said.
“That curiosity is going to get you into trouble. What’s the saying? Curiosity killed the cat?”
“But satisfaction brought it back,” I finished.
“Until the cat runs out of nine lives.”
“Well then it’s a good thing I have four cats.”
“Twenty-five and you’re already turning into a crazy cat lady.”
“Animals tend to be more loyal than people.”
“Dogs are, cats aren’t.”
“I beg to differ.”
Dylan dropped the subject. “Vivienne? You going?”
“Can’t. I’m working overtime at the hospital,” She answered. “But thank you for the invite!”
Dylan hung his head dramatically. Looking up, he said, “Dude, you gotta get out of your flat at some point.”
“I go on missions and I train. I get out of my flat.”
“I mean other than my ship and the training center. When was the last time you actually went out and had a good time?”
“I’m not going.”
“Fine, kill joy. Be that way.” Chad rolled his eyes at his friend but said nothing else.
“Okay, I have to run. I’ll see you later!” Vivienne exclaimed, practically running off. I watched her go. I’d barely seen her since I’d been here. The only times I actually did see her was at breakfast and dinner and even then, that was only by five to ten minutes at the max.
Chad got up a few moments later, walking off to some unknown place. When he was out of ear shot, I asked, “Is he okay?”
“Who, Chad? Yeah, he’s fine. He’s always like that. I’d be more worried if actually accepted the invitation,” Dylan remarked. “Okay, everyone done? I want to get good seats!”
Caleb, Iris, and I nodded. The four of us got up and went outside. Iris and I walked in-between the two boys. The walk, I was told, was about ten minutes. I didn’t mind. I’d never seen the city at night so I got to take in the new sight.
Halfway to the theater, there was a loud boom far behind us. Dylan turned around, his whole posture changing instantly.
“What’s going on?” I questioned as I saw everyone else in the street turning around as well.
“I don’t know,” Iris said. There was another boom, but this time it lit up the sky, along with a wave of black dots. It took a few seconds to register that those black dots were actually ships. I had a feeling they did not belong to Vasileia.
“Caleb, get Lilly and Iris back to the lab. Now,” Dylan ordered.
“What’s happening?!” I demanded as Iris yanked me away from Dylan who had now flamed on.
“Enemy attack!” she shouted over the cacophony of other people.
“Why are they suddenly attacking now? They haven’t attacked in a year!” Caleb yelled.
“I don’t know!” Iris replied. We ran through the crowd at a breakneck pace. I was having trouble keeping up with them as my body was still mad at me for earlier. But I pushed myself, never letting go of Iris’s hand in fear that if I did, I’d get lost or trampled by the panicking population.
We arrived at the lab just when I thought my lungs were about to burst. Caleb, Iris, and I went to the back of the room. Caleb turned on a massive computer while Iris shut and locked the door behind us. Caleb flipped a few switches, typed in a password, and put on a headset.
“This is Caleb Queen. Shields for the Queen’s building are up,” he announced.
“Roger Caleb. This is Jax Martin. Shields for the training center are up.”
“Jax, it’s Iris. Where’s dad?”
“He’s here with me.”
A bunch of other people checked in. A grid on the computer began lighting up, or dots on it did, one by one. Pointing to them, I inquired, “What are those?”
“Those the shield generator locations. Each building in the city has one,” Caleb informed. “Whenever the dots light up, that means that shield generator is on.”
“The Malkans. Of course, why they’re attacking now I have no freaking idea.”
“So what do we do?”
Caleb grimaced. “All we do is sit and wait until we’re told it’s safe.”
“What about Vivienne? Is the hospital okay?”
“It’s one of the most secure buildings besides this one. She’ll be fine.”
I bit my lip, not fully believing him but knowing I had no other option but to trust him. I took a seat next to him. Iris was messaging people on the computer; Caleb was flicking between different screens, watching the fight. I watched with him, praying for the safety of the people of Vasileia.
“Caleb, turn the heating up, it’s cold in here,” Iris said. Caleb got up and did as he was told. The room suddenly got warm again. “Thank you.”
“My lab’s been weird lately. The heat hasn’t been working properly,” he muttered.
“Isn’t that dangerous for a lab full of chemicals?”
“If I wasn’t so meticulous about where I placed the chemicals, it might be. But it’s not, promise.” Caleb paused before adding, “It’ll be okay Lilly.”
“I’ve just never been in a warzone before…”
“We’re safe here. I promise.” Caleb put a comforting hand on my shoulder. I smiled gratefully at him. He got up from his post and grabbed a blanket and pillow. “Here, in case you want to go to sleep. It might be a while and you look exhausted.”
I thanked him, not thinking I’d actually fall asleep. I was wrong though. Within a few seconds of being cocooned in a blanket, I was out like a light.