Of Thorns and Lightning

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The Youngblood Project

“You took something you’re not even supposed to have in the first place!”

♦️

“William, they know. They read the files.” Peter admitted his head in his hands and feeling as if part of this was his fault.

“Okay. That’s fine. There were a lot of code words and they didn’t have it for long. We were going to take them after graduation, but we’ll take them earlier. It’s fine, Peter. It’s not your fault, you just did what I asked. Don’t worry about it, kid.”

♦️

“Peter won’t talk to me, Meaghan.” Maize spoke as they walked down the hallway of their high school.

“Rightfully so. You took something that wasn’t yours.”

“Yeah, tell me something I don’t know. But I’ve called a million times with an apology, but he won’t talk to me. We’ve always worked things out before.”

“This isn’t like before. You know it. Now, go kill that debate. Don’t let this impact your grade. We’ll work it out together later.” Meaghan assured, dropping her forlorn friend at her classroom.

Maize walked into AP Government feeling dejected. She plunked her backpack down next to her seat and pulled out her notecards, studying the content before she was due to debate with one of her classmates.

She was one of the first called and she still wasn’t feeling confident all because of her mistake with Peter earlier in the week. Though, she stood up, cleared her throat, straightened her white button up blouse and went up to the podium. During the middle of her rebuttal, two men in suits looking like the secret service pulled aside her teacher. Maize still didn’t stop speaking, keeping one eye on the ordeal by the door. Her teacher told her to wrap it up and she skipped to her conclusion, to the confusion of her classmates as the men allied towards her, prepared to take her out of class.

“And let me remind you that there is no RSVP on the Statue of Liberty. Thank you.” She concluded, actively being escorted. She grabbed her things, having too many questions running through her head to find the right one to ask. Maize looked at her phone since it kept pinging in her pocket, all of the messages from Meaghan vaguely explaining what had happened. Maize was still confused and starting to get concerned. She didn’t know if she needed to start escaping the light but tense grip of the hands of the men.

When they reached the front doors of the school, Maize saw the helicopter sitting in the parking lot, its blades blowing everything in sight. They followed her into the helicopter, making escaping at this point impossible. Meaghan was already there, looking excited while Maize looked terrified.

“Can someone tell me where we’re going?” Maize shouted into the headset, still unable to hear over the roar of the helicopter.

“You’ve been selected for a special program and you will be briefed when we arrive.” The stoic agent spoke. That didn’t answer any of her questions. Her heart rate skyrocketed as they lifted off the ground, Maize completely uncomfortable with the situation. It didn’t feel right. It was so out of the blue, seemingly not connected to anything until she remembered the contents of the flash drive. If this was the Youngblood Project, she didn’t want it. It scared the hell out of her, and they had barely taken off.

They had flown out of the city, deeper into New York. She didn’t recognize any of her surroundings, not even as they got closer to the ground to land. Below them was an enormous white building enclosed by endless acres of immaculately landscaped lawn and forest. The helicopter landed and both the girls grabbed their things, being sternly escorted out towards the main entrance where William Townsend was waiting.

“William, what’s this all about?! I was in the middle of giving a speech in class for one of my final grades of the quarter, but I was actively removed. I have homework due this week that’s not going to do itself, Mr. Townsend. This really should be important, sir.” She asked, then wriggling out of the grip of the agents.

“Where do you think I’m going, guys?! Nowhere! Is the grip really necessary? Please get your hands off of me, I don’t want to be touched.” She requested and they complied, still standing attentive.

“Come on inside, ladies. You were promised a briefing and you’re going to get one. Follow me.” William said, getting right down to business. They followed him, Meaghan trying to look around the entire place, taking it all in at once. William swiped them into the conference room where it was then just the three of them.

“Take a seat, girls. We have a lot to discuss here.” William began, sliding two file folders across the extensive mahogany table.

“Welcome to the Youngblood Project. This plan was put in place by the Gods for the security of the future without them. We’ve carefully selected the replacement for each member after years of searching and vetting. Our rigid criteria left us with the results of exactly who was destined to be a God. Maize, you fit the profile of Thor, the god of Thunder, and Meaghan, we’ve determined that you embody Dike, the Greek goddess of justice, moral order and judgment. This is final, no switches or take-backs. Go read the rest of the file and then you have to sign about a million pages of stuff.”

“Yeah, and then we can go home, right?” The girls wondered since no one knew the premises of the project and what their terms were.

“Sure. To get all your things. Listen, your parents have already been informed and agreed on this.”

“Since when?! What about college? I’m going to NYU and she’s going to Syracuse, as full-time students! We can’t stay here that whole time, and we’ll have to lug our dorm stuff back and forth.” Meaghan realized.

“That’s not what I’m worried about! I’m worried about finishing out the year and walking at graduation, as well as being forcibly removed from my home to be an unwilling participant in a project-” Maize objected.

“For the greater good. You don’t have much of a choice in this.” William interrupted.

“For the greater good? How?”

“This is cute because you’re his replacement, but Thor is always saying do what is right, not what is easy. I can promise you this isn’t going to be easy, but it will work, and it’s the right thing to do if you like it or not. I wish it just wasn’t like this since it startled every one of the other initiates and they had exactly the same response as you girls. Unfortunately, there is no better way to do this, and we’ve gone through them all. I’m sorry. If you want a lawyer to help you read over the papers you have to sign, I can call one in easily. Let’s get started.” William explained. Meaghan and Maize were still uneasy, and they called for the lawyer to help them better understand the wording and the meaning of everything they were currently agreeing to. About two hours later, the paperwork was complete. They were Gods in Training.

William had presented the girls with their identification cards that unlocked the doors for them and gave them access to everything. Meaghan was reveling at her picture since she said she looked amazing, but Maize was displaying a straight face with no smile, just a smize to the camera with her eyes. She was neither satisfied or dissatisfied with her picture; she had much bigger problems at hand than how she looked on her ID card, not with everything going on around her and changing before her very eyes.

“When you’re ready, Artemis will give you the tour,” William said, leaving them in a comfortable living room to relax and process everything so far. Maize and Meaghan didn’t talk to each other. The only words spoken were from Meaghan who said she was ready for the tour about a half an hour later. Maize reluctantly followed her lead. She didn’t think she was ready yet, but then again, she might never have been ready.

Artemis appeared in the room, and she was hard to miss. She was wearing boots, black cargo pants, and a white tank top. She was absolutely ethereal.

“Hello, ladies, I’m Artemis. Are you ready to be shown the ropes?” She asked in a polite and calm but not overly enthusiastic voice. They nodded.

They were speechless on their tour, desperately not wanting to mess something up already as well as still processing what was happening to them. They took the elevator up a few floors and had to swipe their ID cards in order to get into the room where Artemis was leading them. In that enormous gathering room, there was a group of scattered teenagers and young adults mostly keeping to themselves. Even when the three women entered the room, it was like the door never swung open, slammed shut and Artemis was talking. Maize didn’t know if she liked being invisible. Meaghan just wondered if she could start new with these people; create a whole new life for herself. At least one of them was trying to be positive enough for both of them, but there wasn’t any room for emotions right now. Maize had flipped the switch and felt almost robotic.

Artemis began walking, introducing each person in the room to the girls who were following behind Artemis at a safe distance. They were still starstruck by her.

“This is Talia Townsend, William’s daughter. She just finished her junior year of college, studying engineering. She will be learning from Thoth, the Egyptian god of writing and science. ” Artemis introduced first. Talia wasn’t really paying attention; her square black-framed glasses were tilting low on her nose and she was working at the table with a graphing calculator and some heavy-looking work. She glanced up and eyed down the last two initiates.

Talia was effortlessly chic, her deep red lipstick contrasting her gold nose and ear piercings, and her eyeliner wings were sharp enough to kill. Maize was instantly attracted to her in a dangerous sort of way, and she hoped to God that Talia’s stern expression and body language was just in that moment.

“Meet Ariel DiMarco, she’ll be replacing Diana. She’s the best archer in the nation for her age in the highest and most elite category. She went to the Olympic Trials as well.”

“The new Menoetius, the god of violent anger and rash action, Jordie Jones. Neuroscience major, captain of the top college hockey team on the east coast, with some naturally bred anger issues.”

“Meet my replacement, Angelina Foster. She’s the Eastern Zone winning all-around gymnast and has been holding the number one spot for the girls on her Division 1 college team.”

“And Arachne. Well, Peter Lannigan. Loves computer science. None of us are exactly sure how William knew his Aunt Malorie, but we picked him up from Queens and he turned out to be pretty good.”

When Maize first saw Peter, her heart skipped a beat and her stomach dropped right through the floor. What was he doing here? Is that why he had the file on the flash drive? Is this what this is? How long has he known? Did he know the three of us would be in it from the start? She thought.

“I’m well aware of Peter Lannigan, I’ve known him since I was born.” She responded monotonously, her mind was distracted by too many other things. She didn’t lose eye contact with Peter’s steely glance, his eyes piercing into her chest. Already, she felt like she couldn’t breathe.

“Now, all of you, meet Maize and Meaghan. Maize will be replacing Thor and Meaghan, Dike.”

Some were shocked that two young girls from Queens would eventually be replacing two immortal men; the girls themselves were shocked at it as well. Maize understood why they picked Meaghan for Dike’s place, she fit the role to the tee. Herself? She never felt as strong and diplomatic and selfless and strong as Thor, and she didn’t think she could ever be. As she looked around at her fellow initiates, they all fit the description and were already flawlessly playing their part, and Maize didn’t know how she fit in there.

There must have been a mistake.

There was no other way Maize could explain her presence in front of gods, heroes. She, herself, was not a hero. She knew that for sure. She wasn’t qualified by any stretch of the imagination. A god? She felt that title was questionable for her and she didn’t deserve it.

Thor, though, felt differently.

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