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"5 seconds."

"10 seconds."

"1... 2... 3... 4... 5... 6... 7... 8. Damn it!" Thomas threw his hands in the air and slapped three bucks into my face.

"Haha, alright, last one, Exter. Five bucks for how long until that kid starts crossing the street," I pointed at a kid all dressed up in a hoodie and beanie, maybe 5 years old next to an ice cream store with his father.

"15 seconds," he said immediately.

"20 seconds," I said. Thomas always had this particular talent for pinning down exactly when things happen. Only five seconds off. I noticed. My advantage.

"Damn you, Zolcs!" Thomas threw another five bucks in my face and kneeled down in comic failure. I looked back at the stall and noticed the kid was gone.

"Hey, Tom," I panicked.

"Waddaya want, Mr. Money?" Thomas looked up at me.

"Where's the kid?"

"What do you mean?" He spinned his head around and started analyzing.

"Yo! There!" He ran like an Olympic athlete towards the road with fire blazing in his trails. I only caught sight of the kid a second later, ready to cross the road with the STOP light on. And cars crossing were aplenty.

CRASH! I skidded to a stop next to the road to see Thomas panting, holding the kid in one arm, and his other sank into a metal container that would've ran into the little kid if he were a second slower. One of my eyebrows were raised, my pupils dilated. Partially because I didn't know if it was possible to stop a truck moving at that speed, and partially because I was thinking 'is this really Thomas?'. He had smoke fuming from his shoulders and hints of flames blazing within.

"You didn't save the ice-cream..." I stared at the dessert melting on the asphalt. The dad spun his head around at the sound of the impact, gaped, and rushed forward without a moment's hesitation.

"Carter!" He shouted. He doesn't care about the ice-cream...

"Steel Force in action, put your hands behind your back!" A squadron of men dressed in silver-black uniforms, helmets, and masks with the sigil of the Steel Force appeared out of nowhere. I guessed they had plenty of teleporters in their force. Then it hit me. There was a streak of burnt asphalt and rubble that followed the impact... leading straight to Thomas. He destroyed public property.

"Hey, he saved a kid!" I grabbed one of their arms, but earned a mighty blow to the face that sent me meters away.

"Thomas Exter," the voice said. I recognized that face. Simon Dent's father, Fisco Dent, a captain of the Steel Force. I saw it in the SFI (Steel Force Index) once, while boredom reading. Captains wore pure black from what I had read, and it seemed to be true.

"Sir are you going to detain me?" Thomas glanced up at the looming figures, his arm still embedded into the truck.

"For destruction of public property, I would've. But seeing as you haven't taken the assessment yet, I'll give you a pass this time," he put his arms on his hips as if he were the absolute authority around here. I wonder how he keeps his job letting go of petty criminals all the time. Not that Thomas was a criminal, gods no, he saved a person. "Besides, you're one of Simon's friends, aren't you?"

"Um, sure," Thomas lied. "Yes, I am."

"We'll take care of this," the captain glanced at the destruction and patted his shoulder like it was nothing.

Thomas smiled, drew his arm from the truck and shifted his way towards me.

"Is that Simon's dad?" Thomas jerked a finger at the captain.

"Yep. We should probably get out of here before he decides to detain you."

"Good idea," Thomas acquiesced.

"Burgers?" I held up the money I had prevailed from him, and he gave me one of his cheeky grins.

"Say," I shoved a bite into my mouth. "How did you stop that truck like that?"

"Man, I don't know," he says in his muffled voice. "It's kinda just... instincts, I guess."

"Uh, instincts don't crush trucks," I protested.

"Look, I ain't a scientist or anything, but my guess is the fire boosted my strength, you know?"


"Anyways, eight for the part eh?" Thomas asked with giddiness. Party he says, but we both know it would just be a regular hangout between the two of us. "Hey, I gotta go consult the fire chiefs about my power, should try to keep it in check before D-Day, ya know?"

I lifted my chin up at him cheekily. "Run off, inferno boy," I said and waved a hand at him as he washed down the rest of his burger.

He gasped. "Inferno boy. I like that," he joked. When you became a recognized hero of the city, you tend to have nicknames.

"It's been taken. Seven years ago," I replied blandly.

"Nerrrrrrd," he says, laughing and managed to not burn the metal handles as he walked out.

I caught myself staring at my hands that night. Something was on my mind, I don't know what. I found myself wandering the casino. Security was tight in these parts of the city, so I slipped my way through without anyone questioning my age. I'm not sure what I was doing here, but I found the roulette table staring right at me. Chance. The word that rang through my head. I stared at the black and red tiles. I wasn't sure how the game worked, or what exactly I was trying to achieve, but I felt drawn towards it...

"Gin," a British voice appeared next to me. I didn't have to turn around to recognize that deep, experienced voice. "What are you doing out here so late?" You know, I never asked when my dad had adopted a British accent.

"Dad. How'd you find me?" I sighed and glanced at my watch. I didn't realize it had gotten so late already.

"I am the head of security around this area, you remember?" Nero Zolcs, aka my father, explained to me. "What are you looking at?" He put a hand on my shoulder and drew himself closer, that I could feel the warmth of his body.

"I don't know," I replied, my eyes locked onto the roulette table as the ball seemed to go into slow motion, with the anticipating eyes of each player eyeing the ball as if it were their own lifeline. Maybe it was, for some of them. But I watched as the ball spun and spun across the black and red tiles, and landed on black 15.

Black... black... black.

... it's so cold.

"... Gin!" My father's voice erupted through my ears and shook me.

"Huh? What? What happened?" I panicked.

"You passed out," he said. I was confused for a second, but when my eyes cleared, the unfamiliar lighting from the roof blinded me for a minute, creating afterimages that I had to shake out of my eyes.


"You passed out in the casino," he said as I realized I was in a hospital room. I looked down at myself and saw white clothing, and felt a bandage over my head. Consequences flashed across my head as I looked to my right and saw Thomas.

"Thomas? Gee, how long has it been for you to be here?"

"Awww, sweetie don't pretend like you don't wanna see me," Thomas joked. But he put on his serious face. "You were out for like, 3 days, like some kind of dark force took over you or something."

Darkness... cold air... I remembered feeling cold air swirling around me. Was that while I was asleep? Despite Ao having one of the lower temperatures around, that level of breeze would be considered a phenomenon around. I decided to keep my mouth shut about it. My father eyed me with concern, as if he had a gut feeling that something is happening.

"So it's... Monday, isn't it?" I winced with a headache and sat up.

"Yes, and you shouldn't be getting up," a feminine voice " gentle but strong " came from the door.

"Doctor, what exactly happened?" I sat on the edge of my bed.

"Something unidentifiable attacked your son, Mr. Zolcs," she said. I asked the question. Something was making her avoid speaking to me. I didn't feel anything different though...

"A prisoner? There have been incidents at the Void recently, but none of which should concern what attacked my son," my father protested. I felt good when he referred to me as his son with so much pride. I couldn't help but smile.

"No, Mr. Zolcs. Something much bigger is happening," the doctor said, and I felt a dark, nerve-racking excitement from her that made my bones soft. Something is wrong with her. Big time. My dad didn't seem to show any suspicion. Nor did Thomas. It was something only I felt. It was an aura... directed at me. But why? Was this the same person I felt after school that day? I"

"You should eat more!" I felt something soft being shoved into my mouth and realized it was a donut. The shover? Infamous Thomas.

"I'm not that hungry. And I can get up just fine," I rolled my eyes. "Unlike what that woman said."

"Woah, champion, when'd you have something against Dr. Wells?" My dad put a hand of concern on my shoulder. His big, firm hands, forged in the Steel Forces.

"Yeah, bro," Thomas punched my other shoulder. He laughed mischieviously. "She's pretty hot, if you ask me."

"Don't be fooled by appearances Thomas," I warned. Then I snapped back into reality and saw two looks of concern and confusion staring at me.

"You probably had a rough couple of days" my father said, rescuing me from the situation. "I say you rest." I made a mental note to make his favorite Danish bread for tomorrow's breakfast.

"Right. See you after school, buddy," Thomas patted me on the back as I crawled back into the blankets and felt a cold pierce staring me from the door. But when I looked, the person was gone... I need to get out of here.

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