Amanda sits at the window one minute before noon, waiting anxiously for a black Porsche to arrive. She looks at her watch every second, waiting for it to be noon, while Saira sleeps in her bed. As soon as both hands touch twelve on her watch, a black Porsche pulls to the curb in front of her house.
“Saira, wake up. Looks like the mystery person is here.” Amanda walks over and shakes Saira, waking her up. “The car just pulled up.”
Saira yawns. “What did you come up with to tell Mom and Dad?”
“Nothing yet. I’ll just make up something on the way out the door. I’m taking Ameena with me just in case this person tries to kill me.” She walks out the room and down the stairs with Saira following. She sees her mom and dad sitting on the couch and tries to hurry past them. She opens the front door.
“Where are you going?” Logan asks.
Amanda stops in her tracks. “Dad, I’m eighteen now. I don’t have to tell you who I’m hanging out with.”
“If that’s how you feel, don’t be surprised when you can’t get back in the house. Grown-ups live on their own and have their own car and money,” Jean scolds her.
“I don’t know who I’m hanging out with. It’s a random person I met off the internet. If I go missing, you should probably call the cops.” Amanda closes the door and walks to the car with Ameena, and the person inside rolls down the window. Amanda sees a man with a short dreadlock mohawk wearing a black suit and sunglasses. “Who are you?” she asks. “Are you from the Men in Black agency?”
“No. My name is Kid, and today is your training day.” He glows green.
“Are you going to kill me?”
“No. Why would I do that?” He glows green again.
“Are you going to take me somewhere where people are going to kill me?”
“No.” He glows green for a third time.
“Can I trust you?”
“I’ll be one of the most trustworthy and honest people you meet today.” He glows green for the fourth time.
“You haven’t lied yet, so let’s keep it that way, Kid.” Amanda opens the door. “Come on, girl, get in.” Amanda whistles for her dog to come.
Kid holds out his hand, trying to stop the dog. “Woah, no animals allowed.”
“But this is my deity!”
“No deities allowed, either. They’re unpredictable and put everyone in danger. Not my rule, but the agency’s.”
“Well, alright. Go back in the house then, I guess, Ameena.” Ameena barks and begins walking down the street. Amanda shrugs her shoulders, then gets into the car, and they drive off.
Amanda looks Kid up and down, then looks around the car. “Why is there a sheathed sword behind your back? You plan on slicing something today?”
“For protection from strangers. You weren’t the only one nervous about meeting a stranger today.” He drives with one hand on the steering wheel. “It’s not comfortable, I’ll tell you that much.”
“So, where are we going?”
“We are going to the Acolyte Threat Response Agency headquarters. We are the law when it comes to keeping acolytes under control. Not many acolytes know we exist. If you do, it’s because we’ve made ourselves visible to you or you’ve done something wrong and we’re paying you a visit.”
“So, why’d you come get me?”
“Because you’re the acolyte of truth. The one who’s going to keep and restore peace when things go bad. It’s your destiny to join us, just like the reincarnations before you. There are many stories about the acolyte of truth being a powerful leader and the strongest of all the acolytes, so I’m interested to see what you can do.”
“You might want to take me back home, because I don’t fit any of those descriptions.”
“Ha! That was a good one.”
Amanda gives Kid a sly look. “I warned you.”
“So, tell me about yourself.”
“No, you tell me about yourself and how you made it into this secret agency.”
“Okay, well, I struggled with school and life and eventually joined the U.S Army. Within months of me joining, the third World War began. Years of bloodshed and nonstop battle. We were close to defeat, and I had just been stabbed. I looked up at the sky and saw an electric blue dragon looking down at me. I kid you not, a literal bolt of lightning came crashing down on top of me, and that’s how I became an acolyte. With my new powers, we won three days later. Before the agency could erase everyone’s memories of my existence, I became well-known as a hero. The good guys called me Jupiter, but my enemies referred to me as Lightning Beast due to the demon face I wear in order to kill enemies. When the war was over, the agency picked me up and asked me what my purpose in life was. Like you, I didn’t have an answer right away. After thinking about what happened to my parents, I told them I wanted to continue to serve my country and protect people from what killed them. Now, I’m here talking to you.”
“What happened your parents?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. Too depressing.”
The car picks up speed, driving toward a brick wall. “Are you going to slow down?” Amanda tightens up and presses an imaginary brake with her foot, trying to stop the car.
Kid gives a hearty laugh. “Why would I slow down? Not scared to die, are you?”
“Stop! Stop!” Amanda stomps the floor even harder and covers her eyes. “I didn’t plan on dying today!”
Kid laughs uncontrollably. “Death is a part of life! We’re going to die!”
“But it won’t be today,” Kid calmly says as he drives through the wall, barely missing civilians on the way in, “because we’re here already.” They begin driving through a tunnel with lights strung vertically on the ceiling.
“What the hell is wrong with you? Look at my hands!” Amanda holds it up. They’re shaking uncontrollably. “You’re crazy!”
“So I’ve heard.”
She starts to calm down. “Well, that was quick. We weren’t driving for that long.”
“Lucky for me, you live close to a portal. Just turn the beacon on, and you go right through.”
“My sister is going to freak out when I tell her about this!”
“Be my guest. We’ll just erase her memory.”
“She’ll be excited about that information too. She’s an acolyte, so her memory can’t be erased.”
Kid gives a quick, hearty laugh. “You got me there. What’s her power?”
“She’s really smart and can teleport.”
“We have tons of smart people here, and teleporting isn’t that impressive, so her services won’t be needed. The acolyte of truth might have a little pull here, though, so maybe you can get her in.” He pulls into a normal-looking parking garage and parks his car. “Welcome to ATRA.”
Amanda gets out of the car and looks around. “Well, I’m not impressed so far.”
They walk through the entrance, and Amanda can’t help but marvel at the massive room with multiple stories. The walls are wooden, and there’s a large golden triangle covering the middle of the white marble floor. At each point of the triangle, there’s a pair of gray stone pillars with vines and flowers wrapped around them, with a flowing waterfall between each one. The ceiling is holographic and looks like a beautiful sunny sky with birds flying in it. Everyone looks relaxed and casual, like they’re not at work. People are eating, on the phone, and sleeping in chairs. Amanda feels like she just stepped into a resort.
“Welcome to our version of paradise. We spend a lot of time in this place, so it was made to make us feel like we’re on a working vacation,” Kid says. A woman walks up to Kid with a tray of fruit cups, and he takes one. “See? Paradise!” He takes a grape out of the cup and eats it.
Amanda gapes. “This place is so cool! I want to work here.” Everyone stares at Amanda and whispers amongst themselves as she walks by. “Does this happen to all the new employees here?”
“What? The people staring at you? Yeah, we don’t see new faces often. Everyone is curious about who you are. No one knows any details about you yet.”
A muscular man with thinning black hair in casual clothes walks toward Amanda and Kid. “Welcome to ATRA. I’m Richard. What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you. I’m the person who runs things around here. I feel honored to be in the presence of the legendary acolyte of truth. I can’t wait to see the extraordinary powers you have.” He lights a cigar.
“They aren’t extraordinary—average, at most—and it says ‘no smoking’ on the sign over there.” Amanda points at the sign.
“If you read the fine print on it, you’ll see that’s for everyone else around here. I’m the only one allowed to. When you deal with this shit, you need something to help calm you down. I actually didn’t start smoking until I became head of this place.” He blows smoke out his nose.
“What happened to the last person in charge?” Amanda asks.
“He…” Richard uses air quotes. “‘Committed suicide.’”
“Alright. Sorry I asked. Smoke away. Why did you do…” Amanda does air quotes. “that?”
“You see, although I’m in charge, there’s a group of people above me. No one has ever seen them, and they only communicate when they feel like they need to get something done. They’re called the council, and they run everything. The last person in charge was trying to go against them because of some differences they had, and out of nowhere, he just committed suicide. That’s suspicious to me. When they tell you to do something, you have no choice but to do it.”
Amanda gives Richard a pained look. “Well, that doesn’t sound like a healthy work environment, and it’s a very bad start to this tour.”
“Unfortunately, that comes with the job. Luckily, they don’t get involved with too much. I’ve only heard from them three times, and I’ve been doing this a long time. Let me show you around. Follow me.”
Kid, Richard, and Amanda walk over to a section of the room that looks like an actual beach, with sand and water and people enjoying themselves.
“This was just recently installed. No matter what time of the year it is, the beach will stay the same temperature. Can you picture yourself lying there, Amanda?” Richard asks.
“Yeah, can I go home and grab my bathing suit?”
“Sure, after you’re hired! Let’s go to the next location.” They walk down a long hall and end up at a game room that looks like a galaxy, full of arcade games and a bowling alley.
“This place is so sweet. I could live in this building! Okay, where’s my job application?”
“We’ll get to that soon. Let’s continue.” They continue walking, passing a tennis court in one room and a basketball court in another, and eventually come across a pharmacy. Inside are people wearing white lab coats and goggles in front of complex machinery. Although some of the flasks leak smoke into the air, they don’t leave any odors due to the large air vents constantly sucking in and purifying the air.
“Alright, this is the pharmacy-slash-chemistry department. If you’re an acolyte, we pretty much have a cure for everything. Being in the field, you’ll run into some stuff you normally wouldn’t run into if you were human, and we’ve got the cure for it. If you did run into it as a human, you’d probably die because our medicines don’t work on humans. Now, on to the next.”
They continue to walk until they come across a room with twelve lined-up stretchers. Two people sit in the middle of the room, playing on their cell phones. They see Amanda and wave with a smile, and she waves back.
“Here is our emergency room. As you can see, there’s not much in there because we have the two best healing acolytes around. If you’re in critical condition, they’ll get you stable. So, if you’re seriously injured, come here instead of the hospital. Before you leave, we will give you a teleportation disk that brings you here in an instant. It will only work for you, so don’t try and sell it.”
They continue to walk and end up in an all-white room.
“Well, this room is pretty plain compared to all the rest,” Amanda says.
“It looks plain, but it’s the most action-packed room here. This is the training room. Here, you will hone your battle skills. As part of the hiring process, a sparring session is mandatory. You and Kid can step into the battle chamber. Kid is one of our top warriors here, and I want you to give us a little taste of what you can do.”
“Um, I didn’t come in to fight anyone today, especially not the strongest person here.” Amanda begins looking around. “Which direction is the exit?”
“Life is full of unexpected scenarios. You have to be ready to act no matter what,” Richard says.
“Okay, let me explain some important information to you. Every new employee here starts off making one million dollars annually. Prove your worth, and you can make even more than that. Kid makes eight figures, but he also takes on dangerous assignments. Fighting now will let me know what type of missions you can go on, or if you should be on any missions at all. Maybe you need a desk job here, but those positions are all taken. So, if you walk out of here now, the chances of us contacting you again will be slim to none. It doesn’t matter if you are the acolyte of truth. So, what’s your answer?”
Amanda puts her hand on her head and starts tapping her foot. “You’re giving me so much anxiety. Kid, how often do you go on dangerous missions?”
“I’ve only been on one this year, and it’s already July. The higher your rank, the fewer assignments you go on. I only go on S-rank assignments, which involve threats with the potential to wipe out entire cities. And of course, all these threats involve acolytes. We let the humans take care of any non-acolyte problem. But there are exceptions, like if a comet is getting ready to wipe us out. Oh, and one more thing: if you join us, you’ll get free healthcare and the full protection of ATRA. Any acolyte or non-acolyte problem you have automatically becomes our problem, and we will do our best to solve it.” Kid grins, showing his pearly white teeth, and winks at Amanda as he gives her a thumbs-up.
“Eww! You’re weird, but I’m convinced. Kid, let’s go in so I can beat you down.”
“Sorry to interrupt, but I overheard you’re the acolyte of truth. If you don’t mind, I would like to fight her, Richard,” says a woman standing close by. She has curly hair, glasses, is wearing a white blouse, black jeans, low heels, and holding a clipboard.
“Amanda, meet Iri. Iri, Amanda,” Richard says.
“So, what type of powers do you have?” Amanda asks her.
“Doesn’t matter what her power is. When you’re out there in the real world and you’re up against a threat, there is no small talk. It’s either you or them. Always fight to kill. Whoever gets the upper hand first is usually the one who stays alive. Now, I can’t predict what’s going to happen in there, so fight like your life depends on it,” Richard says.
“Do you still want to fight?” Kid asks.
Amanda pretends like she’s wiping sweat off her forehead. “Yes. My prayers were answered. I’d rather fight her than you.”
“Step inside the room,” Richard says.
“Hey, Amanda, tag me in,” Leyna says.
This is not a place to get ice cream. Didn’t you just hear the man? Live or die!
“Exactly. You should let me handle this. You’re not ready for a real fight yet! You only shot your guns in my realm, and it will feel very different there. It’ll take more effort to pull the trigger—they start to feel heavy after holding them for a while, and the kickback on those guns is no joke.”
What’s the difference between me being in control of my body and you being in control?
“Me being in control would be like an overdose of adrenaline for your body. Your body’s reflexes will be sharper, and you’ll be stronger and faster. Since I’m the one who created your powers, and using them feels as natural as talking to me, you should let me take her on until you’ve had practice.”
You should have a little more faith that I’ll handle this. I doubt she’s going to kill me. It’ll probably be a light sparring match. I’ll just get close and kick her ass in hand-to-hand combat.
“Amanda, not having second thoughts, are you?” Richard asks.
“Nope!” Amanda walks into the all-white training room, and Iri follows behind her. “Activate force field,” Richard yells.
“Are you ready?” Iri begins stretching.
“I’m so ready, I don’t need to stretch.” Amanda sticks her tongue out at her.
“Good. Nothing can get through, so everyone on the outside is safe from our fight but can witness me fighting the acolyte of truth.”
“Enough small talk. Start the fight,” Richard yells.
“The fight has started. Do you mind if I cool it off in here? I’m a little hot.” Iri fans herself. A circle of ice large enough to enclose Iri’s feet appears. Richard knocks on the force field, and Iri turns around. Richard shakes his head no. “You’re no fun. Hey Amanda, sorry if this fight gets a little boring. Richard won’t let me go all-out. That means you take it easy on me too, okay?” The circle of ice disappears from around Iri’s feet.
Amanda sighs. “I guess I can do that.”
“What are you waiting for? The fight has started. Bring out your guns. Take control of the fight,” Leyna says.
Right. Amanda begins running toward Iri.
“Your guns! Your guns! Bring them out,” Leyna urges.
Shut up! Not yet.
Iri whistles the first line of a Christmas carol, and four massive snowflakes form behind her back and float there in a square. There’s a large hole in the middle of each snowflake, and inside of them, an alternate dimension filled with snow can be seen. Iri’s skin turns slightly blue, and water vapor begins to come out of her nose. She begins to dance around gracefully, while the snowflakes behind her slowly turn. While she moves and twirls, sprinkles of snow come from the snowflakes and spiral around her.
Amanda reaches her and begins to throw punches and kicks, but Iri gracefully dodges them and throws snow in her face and laughs. Amanda wipes the snow off her face and keeps attacking, and Iri keeps dodging. “Your moves are too predict—” Iri is cut off by a backhand to the face.
“Don’t underestimate me.” Amanda continues to throw punches.
A crowd begins to form outside of the room.
Iri thrusts her left hand forward, and the two snowflakes on her left side shoot snow out like a firehose, knocking Amanda back and engulfing her with snow.
“Are you ready to switch yet?” Leyna asks.
No. Bringing out my guns now. Amanda pulls herself out of the snow and pulls her guns from the rift. Alright—cloud of cinnamon powder. She fires her gun, and the kickback forces the gun to fly out of her hand. Before the bullet reaches Iri, she blows a powerful, freezing wind from her mouth, stopping the bullet and making it fall to the ground.
Alright, maybe you were right. Leyna, switch!
Amanda’s eyes turn a staticky white color. Leyna has now taken over. She shivers as she feels what it’s like to be cold for the first time. She picks up some of the snow. “This snow feels so weird between these fingers. It’s so cold! This is amazing.” She drops her gun, then begins playing in the snow.
“We’re in the middle of a fight, if you forgot,” Iri says.
“You’re right. Let’s end this.” Leyna, in Amanda’s body, gets out of the snow and shakes it off, then picks up her guns. Leyna covers her eyes with her arm and fires one toward the ceiling. The bullet explodes, creating a bright light and temporarily blinding Iri. The forcefield quickly tints, blocking the light from affecting Richard and Kid. Leyna dashes toward Iri. The snowflakes begin to spin behind Iri, and she raises both of her hands, creating a blizzard that eliminates Leyna’s visibility and covers the floor with thick snow.
“Found you!” Leyna punches Iri in the face. The thing she punches crumbles into snow. Patches of Amanda’s skin begin to change to look more like Leyna’s.
“No, I found you.” Iri throws a punch, knocking the Leyna to the floor. Iri stops the blizzard, and the snowflakes behind her stop moving.
Both girls can now see again. Six snow clones of Iri form from the snow on the ground, and they all run toward Leyna. Leyna fights them off, throwing punches and dodging kicks, but the snow clones keep coming, beginning to overwhelm her. Leyna’s quickness and agility begin to increase as she continues to fight, beating away the snow clones and making them crumble. The crumbled snow around Leyna’s feet tightens around her ankles, trapping her.
Kid places his hand on Richard’s shoulder. “Stop the fight.”
“Why? It’s just starting to get good.” He begins to clap. “Nice job, girls. I’m excited to see who’s going to win.”
Kid leans down to Richard’s ear. “Look at Amanda’s arms and face. Patches of her skin are beginning to look like a kundalini’s. I could tell when she switched because her fighting style changed, but I’ve never seen someone’s skin change from switching before. This could be dangerous.”
“Let them fight. I’m sure she knows what she is doing. This is probably a part of her amazing power.”
Leyna points her gun at Iri and fires. Iri waves her hands and quickly creates a snow wall. Leyna uses her other gun to fire a rubber bullet toward the ceiling and over Iri’s snow wall. Once it hits the ceiling, it bounces off and goes toward Iri’s face. Blue paint erupts from the bullet, splashing Iri in the eyes.
Hey, Leyna. I’m getting ready to switch back. I think I can handle it from here. Leyna’s eyes flicker, then stop. Amanda is in control of her own body again, and her eyes go back to normal.
Amanda begins to pant. “Leyna, what’s wrong with my body? My chest—it hurts! Why are parts of my body looking like yours? What did you do to me?” Amanda falls to her knees, gripping her chest.
“I didn’t do anything! I swear.”
Amanda faints, falling to the floor.
Kid reclines in a chair, reading a book in the agency’s emergency room. Amanda suddenly rises and looks over at Kid from her stretcher.
“What happened?” she asks.
“You passed out in the middle of the battle. Your skin began to look like a kundalini’s. Do you know anything about why that happened?”
“No, it shocked me too! That was the first time I let her take control, and it turned out bad. I remember pain, then fainting. What happened to me after that?”
“You lost and ended up in here. That’s what happened!”
“So, I guess I didn’t get the job?”
Kid closes his book. “Worse: you’re stuck being partners with me.”
“Great.” Amanda rolls her eyes. “I guess I have to go on dangerous missions now?”
“I didn’t sign up for that. I have a little sister who needs me, plus other stuff!”
“I’m going to assume ‘other stuff’ means nothing. You’re right that your sister needs you, which is why it’s important for you to get stronger.”
“I don’t have to do anything. There’s no reason to get stronger, knowing you guys exist. That snow-lady’s power was amazing! I can’t compare to that. Just give me a desk job in here, and I’ll be happy. Better yet, pay me to be a lie detector. No one here can detect lies.”
“Remember what you fought against today. Imagine you bump into someone who isn’t so nice with that type of power, and you have your sister with you. Are you going to scream and hope we show up? Because we’re not quick enough. By the time we show up, you’ll already be dead. Now, let’s place a stronger Amanda in the scenario. You beat the acolyte and save yourself and your sister. But as of now, that will never happen, unless you let me help you.”
“I’m over this. Am I all better? I’m ready to go if I can.”
“They said you were healed of all ailments, so you should be fine. Let’s go!”
Amanda gets dressed, and they head down to Kid’s car, then drive off into the night.
“So, as your new sensei, your first lesson of the night is to never let your kundalini take over your body. They don’t understand their power is limitless, while your body has limits. There are things your body must work up to before you should actually do it. For example, imagine a person who’s never run a marathon before trying to run one. You know your limits, so you’ll stop and take a break when you’re tired. But when your kundalini takes over, it doesn’t take breaks when it’s tired. It goes faster, harder, pushing your body beyond its limits. It can’t tell what damage is being done to your body unless something severe happens that decreases your mobility. The only time it stops is when your heart stops. Being pushed close to death will increase your body’s endurance, making it more durable without consequences. But using your kundalini can put you at a huge disadvantage in a long battle, so I suggest you don’t use it at all. Just get stronger on your own. Do you know which side of your powers you’ve unlocked?”
Amanda pretends to be asleep, snoring. Kid shocks her in the arm with a spark of electricity.
“Ouch!” She rubs her arm. “No, I know nothing about what you’re asking. Did you do that?”
“Yeah. I’m trying to talk to you about something important, and you’re messing around. What color is your kundalini?”
“White. Well, that means you’ve only unlocked the yang side of your powers. Those are supposed to be the non-lethal side of your powers but can still kill if you try hard enough. What the user gains in versatility and control, they lose in sheer power. The plan with you is to unlock the yin side of your powers—the bad side. When that happens, your kundalini will turn black. That side of your power damages, destroys, and consumes, representing your hazardous, destructive side.”
“What side of your powers have you unlocked?”
“I’ve unlocked both, and it would really help your sister if you do unlock these powers. I already explained why, but honestly, you can do what you want. I’m not going to force you to do anything, or even talk about it anymore.”
“How do you plan on unlocking my yin powers?”
“I have a friend named Ana. By day, she’s a psychiatrist; by night, she’s a psycho. You know what? She’s crazy during the day too—maybe just not as crazy. I don’t know how she’s going to do it. Just to give you a head’s up, she’s probably watching me right now, listening to my conversation. Once she sees you in person, she sees you all the time.”
“That’s a little weird. I don’t want to meet her. She probably watches you pee.”
“I hope not. The crazy thing is, even I’m kind of scared of her. Her power is out of this world. If she asks you to do something, she’s really telling you. If you deny, all hell breaks loose. She asked me to bring you to her while you were unconscious.”
“So, are you going to kidnap me and take me to her?”
“I’m not taking you anywhere you don’t want to go. Like I said before, this is your life, and you can do what you want with it. Just because I’m scared of her means nothing. I’d rather die than turn on someone who’s put their trust in me.” He looks over at Amanda, and Amanda looks at him. They both smile at each other. Amanda vomits in his face.
Kid swerves the car and slams on his brakes, causing a white van to ram into him from the back. A cop notices the accident and drives over to the two vehicles.
“I’m sorry, I don’t even know why that just happened. I didn’t even feel it coming.” Amanda wipes her mouth. “God, it’s everywhere.” She sees Kid glaring at her. “Don’t look at me. You’re making me feel bad.”
“The accident is more important than your vomit right now, unless you have some disease I should be worried about!”
“Not that I know of.”
“Probably just a side effect from something the treatment team gave you back at ATRA. This car’s pretty durable, thanks to ATRA, so we’re fine. I just hope the people behind us are, too.”
Kid looks out his rearview mirror to see what’s going on with the people in the vehicle behind him. He notices the blonde woman driving the van is screaming in a panic, and the van is rocking aggressively back and forth. The woman tries to start the van, but the motor just clicks whenever she turns the key in the ignition. She gets out of the van in frustration, places her hands on her hips, and stares at Kid’s car, then the van.
“Well, this doesn’t look good. By the way she’s acting, I’m guessing she doesn’t have insurance. Hopefully, she wants to handle this in a civilized way,” Kid says.
Amanda looks out the back window. “I’m getting a bad feeling about this. Has there ever been anything good inside of a two-door white van with only two windows?”
“You’re just overreacting.”
A cop taps on Kid’s window, signaling him to get out of the car.
Kid gets out of the car. “Hey, sorry about the crash. It was completely my fault. My friend got sick, and as you can see, I’m covered in vomit.” Kid looks over at the woman. “Are you okay? Is anything hurting?” The woman gives Kid a hard stare. Muffled sounds come from inside the van.
The officer hears the sound and gives the woman a serious stare. “Ma’am, how about you show me what’s inside the van?” The woman puts her hands in the air, then puts her palms out in front of her. “Are you asking to be arrested?”
The woman takes her right hand and pretends she’s dipping a small sponge in her left hand. Then, she takes her right hand and begins to stipple the invisible product on her face. Her face begins to cover itself with white paint, instantly making her look like a mime. She grabs the front of her clothes and snatches them off, revealing a mime outfit. It’s Nancy.
Kid touches the officer and shocks him, knocking him unconscious. “You should sit this one out.” He catches the cop as he falls and lowers him to the ground. He looks at Nancy. “I just have one question. Do you always have that mime outfit under your clothes?”
Nancy shrugs her shoulders.
“This is an unfortunate situation for one of us. How about you let me look inside that van? The sound of muffled screams always brings out my curiosity. Amanda! Get out of the car and come open up this van.”
As Amanda gets out, Nancy pretends to pull a heavy weapon from her back and points it at Kid’s car.
“Hey, stop moving!” Kid warns, reaching for his sword.
“I’m guessing she’s an acolyte too. This is so weird. Was it necessary to knock out the cop? And of course, there’s cameras around. I’m going to jail. This is the worst day ever,” Amanda complains.
“Amanda! Not the time for this. This is a serious situation. As my partner, you need to keep me safe, and I’m not safe if I’m yelling at you and repeating myself. Just do as I say.”
Amanda puts on a serious face and acknowledges what Kid has said with a nod.
Nancy’s body jerks back as if she just shot a rocket. There’s silence; then, from out of nowhere, Kid’s car explodes, flipping the white van and sending everyone flying backward.
Amanda recovers first and gets up to run over to Kid, who’s lying on the ground. “Hey! Are you okay? Can you move?”
“Only my pride is damaged. Everything else is fine.”
“Get your ass up before she makes something else explode!” She helps Kid off the ground.
Nancy sits up and shakes her head. “Well, this is a mess. If he asks, I’ll blame it on them, I guess.” She stands and dusts herself off.
The van’s back doors flap open, and two children jump out and begin running in separate directions. Nancy pretends to get on a motorcycle, then grabs one of the kids and rides off on it.
“Shit—Amanda, go get the other child. I’ll get the mime.”
A black-cloaked figure shoots out of the van and goes after the other child. Amanda looks at Kid in concern.
“You’ll be fine. I believe in you. Now, go and save that child.”
Amanda nods and begins running at full speed. Kid turns into a bolt of electricity and gets absorbed into the nearby power lines. Sparks fly as the bolt of electricity travels swiftly down the lines, following the mime and her invisible motorcycle. Multiple bolts of lightning fly from the powerlines toward Nancy. The first set misses, but the next set hits her in the back. She falls and rolls to the ground, and the child falls and bangs his head hard. Blood begins to pour from his head, and Nancy quickly recovers and pretends she’s trapped in a box with the child. Kid materializes from the lines and turns back into a person, then quickly runs toward Nancy, but he’s immediately stopped by an invisible wall. Kid begins to punch the invisible wall, electricity sparking from his hands with each punch. He screams at her as she holds the bleeding child in her arms.
“Are you proud of that? Killing an innocent child?” he asks. The mime shakes her head no and begins crying over the child. “I feel no sympathy for you. I’m fully charged and have enough electricity in me to fry your ass like you’re in the electric chair without a sponge. You can’t stay in there forever.” He punches the invisible wall again. “I’ll have you in my hands before you can even blink.”
On the opposite side of town, Amanda continues her chase on foot for the other child. She stops to look around and sees nothing but neon signs and a few people walking the streets.
“Hey, did you guys see a monster around here with a kid?” she asks a group of people. They look at her and laugh, then keep walking.
She hears a scream coming from a narrow, wet, exceedingly dirty alley and dashes off into to it. She hears another scream and picks up the pace, running past a black cat that hisses at her. She ends up walking down a dark alley with flickering lights. It’s so quiet, she can hear drops of water dripping into a puddle.
I can’t believe I’m doing this, Amanda thinks to herself. “Small child, where are you?”
She makes another turn and sees a small girl at a dead end, thanks to the small glimmer of moonlight creeping over the edge of the tall buildings. The path to the child seems cold and uninviting, and Amanda wonders why she would choose this of all places to hide. She power-walks to her, ignoring the vermin along the way, and as she gets closer, she sees the little girl is wearing oversized men’s clothing.
“Glad I found you first. Let’s hurry and get out of here.” She grabs the little girl’s hand and turns to see a tall, black-hooded figure holding a rose-covered scythe.
“For some reason, it seems like our fates are intertwined. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” the hooded figure says. He takes his hood off, revealing his face, and Amanda recognizes Jamie. His pupils change from bright white to a sparkling red, and Amanda becomes frozen in fear. “I don’t know what to do with you now. I didn’t plan on this big of a screw-up—wait, I’ve got it. This may be a good opportunity for both of us. You may be the only person who understands me and what I’m going through. I think we are exactly alike, and I remember both of us saying we would do anything to keep the ones we love alive. I told you the story about my son and how he’s sick. I found a way to save my son, and you saw firsthand what I did for your father. Join me and help me save my son, and I will make sure no one you love ever dies again. So, what do you say? How would you like to join a team that’s fighting for a good cause? Wait… I’m getting too excited. Do you even have powers? I remember something on the elevator about you hearing voices in your head.” His pupils change back to white, releasing his power over Amanda, and she’s able to move again. “Show me what you can do.”
Amanda’s eyes light up at the thought of none of her family ever dying. “So, as long as you’re alive, no one I care about will die if I help you out?”
He smiles. “That’s right.” He glows green, and Amanda sees he’s telling the truth.
“I would like that,” she says.
“Amanda, Leyna speaking here. Are you going to ignore the scared and frightened child?”
“Right. Why do you have this child?” Amanda demands.
“I take them and put a tiny bit of their energy into my son. Then, I release them and give them back to their parents. It’s all completely harmless. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get out of this stinking, disgusting alley. But first, show me what you can do.” He fixes a smile back on his face.
“Okay.” Amanda prepares to bring out her guns.
“Amanda, activate your freaking eyes. He could have just lied to you. Stay focused. Is nothing about what he’s saying suspicious to you?” Leyna asks.
Who cares? I care about my family more than anything else in this world. If he can keep them alive forever, then I should let him.
“At what cost, Amanda?” Leyna asks.
“Time is ticking, and I’m growing impatient,” Jamie warns.
“Amanda, whatever you do, don’t accept that offer. Activate your truth-telling powers and ask about the children again,” Leyna suggests.
“So, you release the children after you feed some of their energy to your son. Nothing bad happens to them, like permanent injuries or death?” Amanda asks.
“That’s right.” His face becomes unreadable, and Amanda can tell he’s becoming impatient by the tone of his voice. He glows red, and Amanda sees he’s lying.
“Amanda, if you accept that offer knowing he’s harming these kids, what would your family think? They would be disappointed and ashamed. I never pictured you as a child killer. This little girl probably has an older sister waiting for her safe return. How would you feel if you were the older sister of this little girl who’s never going to come home? How would you feel if you had to suffer countless nights of waiting and crying and never giving up hope, even though you knew deep down she was dead. You’d be heartbroken Please don’t do it!” Leyna argues.
“You helped me; it’s only right that I help you out. I’ll show you my powers.” Amanda does her routine and grabs her guns.
“Of course you would have guns. That further proves we belong together. Guns and roses symbolize turning negatives into positives, and that’s what we’re doing. Are these regular guns?”
“I’ll show you!” Leyna, I’m sorry for even considering this clown. She points a gun at Jamie’s forehead. “I’m taking this child, and if you try to stop me, I’ll blow your head off.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way. That’s not the answer I was looking for.”
A blade goes through Amanda’s back and comes out the other side. Amanda turns around and sees the kid, who has an evil grin on her face. The child morphs into Jacob, and his blade turns back into a hand. Amanda recognizes him as her neighbor as she falls to her knees and coughs up blood. She quickly fires a bullet into the air, where it erupts into bright colors that spell out the words “help me” and lets off a wailing siren.
“I wish you hadn’t done that. I was going to offer you a second chance at life and the opportunity to rethink your decision, but you just blew it.” Jamie spins his scythe, then swings it toward Amanda’s face. Inches before it touches her, the streetlight sparks, causing him to pause. Kid comes out as a bolt of electricity, quickly manifesting into his human body and landing on his feet. He grabs Jamie’s scythe by the handle and punches him in the chest with an electrified fist. Jamie goes flying backward through a building and out the other side, into the street.
“Kid, look out!” Amanda gargles blood as she warns him.
Jacob tries to stick his hand, which is now a long metal spear, into Kid. Electricity dances around Kid, and he stops the man by taking control of his metal spear arm using electromagnetism. He quickly raises him in the air and shoots him away into the sky. Kid grimaces at the hand holding the scythe. He drops it, and it disappears. Kid’s arm begins to slowly decay from the hand up.
Kid reaches in his pocket and throws his teleportation disk on the ground, and it expands. “Let’s hurry and go!” Kid helps Amanda and himself onto the disk, and the disk disappears.
They both arrive back at ATRA. Kid screams out for a medic. “Someone cut off my arm! Cut it off now!” His arm continues to decay.
Amanda falls to the floor in a pool of her own blood. The medic comes over to Kid.
“Take care of her first,” Kid orders.
The medics pick Amanda up, and Kid follows.
Back in the city, Chigaru appears from a portal where Jamie is covered in bricks. “I saw the whole thing go down from my world, and that guy made a fool out of you.” Chigaru crosses his arms and turns up his nose.
An eagle flies down from the sky and transforms into Jacob. “That lightning guy is a lot scarier than you are. Hey, are you dead? Yes! Finally, I’m free!” Jacob pumps his fist.
“If he died from that, then he’s a disgrace. Acolytes should be able to take way more damage than that and live,” Chigaru gripes.
“Hooray, he’s still alive,” Jacob says sarcastically.
“What happened?” Jamie asks.
“Lightning-guy and that girl defeated you,” Chigaru says, plucking at his fingernails.
“Oh, yeah. I’ll deal with those two later. We need to get that child back to my son. Where’s the mime with the child?”
“I haven’t heard from her,” Jacob says.
Jamie struggles to his feet, reaches into his pocket, pulls out his cell phone, and calls the mime. She picks up.
“Where are you and the child?” He puts her on speaker phone.
“I want to cry because while fleeing, the child accidentally died, and this is not a lie, but know I did try—” she rhymes before the doctor hangs up on her.
“The child is dead. Now, what?” Jacob asks.
“I’m going to take that girl’s sister,” Jamie says.
“Well, I’m glad I’m not going. Her sister is an acolyte too, and I can only take one ass-whooping a day!”
“Acolyte! How do you know?”
“She’s my next-door neighbor. I saw her teleporting.”
“Hmm,” Chigaru says. “I just thought of something you’ll be intrigued by, boy. Have you tried using a child acolyte to heal your son? Acolytes live a lot longer than humans, and that just might be enough to give your son a long life.”
“And how do you know that’s even going to work?” Jamie asks.
“It might work, or it might not. It would entertain me to see you try to catch one,” Chigaru says.
“That punch did more damage to me than I thought. It did something to my nerves, and my mobility feels limited at the moment, so I can’t fight right now. I’ve got a plan to get her, though. Her father owes me a favor. Jacob, I want you to meet me at that girl’s house and find an opportunity to turn into something small, then latch onto her until we meet again. Don’t worry; I’ll find you. In the condition I’m in, if she can teleport, she could possibly escape me. Chigaru, I need you to meet me there, too.”
“Fair enough. Jacob—I want you to be at that house now. I’m begging you, please make this work.” Jamie struggles over to a shadow and is sucked into it. Slowly, the shadow crawls down the street, mingling with those cast by buildings and offices until it reaches the residential part of town.
The shadow cast by Amanda’s house seems to flicker.