Fallen Stars

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Repetition 1.4

--Of course, it’s a self-contrary idea.

That hardly makes it false.

-Hardly.

We will be going ahead as planned then?

-Verily.

--Fair enough.

Nihilium walked down the sidewalk, an expression of utter boredom on his face. It was late in the afternoon, a cool summer breeze carried the sound of an orchestra of cicadas. The wind pushed and pulled the trail of cigarette smoke. He pulled the cigarette out of his lips with a contented sigh. He closed his uncovered eye. Slowly he breathed in through his nostrils, taking in the not unpleasant scent of suburban summer and cigarette smoke.

“You know that’s bad for your lungs, correct?”

“I know.”

“And despite that, you smoke?”

“Yep.”

“You haven’t changed a bit, Nihilium. But I suppose that is part of what it means to be human, isn’t it?”

Delirium appeared to simple walk up from the shadows behind Nihilium, seamlessly entering the three-dimensional world from the flat shadow he had stepped out of. Within moments he was walking alongside Nihilium, and the contrast between the two was quite the sight to behold: an average-sized, silver-haired, pale man walking next to a hulking, shadowy – as the darkness of Delirium’s form was not that a material has, but only the shadows have – man walking beside him.

“You have something important to discuss, I assume? You seem to only approach my physically when you do.”

Delirium’s dark face split open with the redness of his mouth, a smile that split the shadows. “Yes. It is about the girl.”

“Raelyn.”

“What?”

“Her name is Raelyn.”

“Oh, yes, her. Raelyn, is it? It’s about her,” Delirium said, pausing as he regained his composure; he hadn’t expected the man to correct his method of addressing her. After waiting to see if Nihilium had any further corrections, he continued. “It seems that she has a larger role in future events than I had thought. I would... recommend not trying to discern her fate any further. It would most likely end poorly.”

“And what do you mean, ‘end poorly,’ Delirium?” Nihilium asked in response, glancing towards the Angel.

“You’ve forgotten what happens when you stress your powers too much?”

Nihilium merely nodded once.

“The use of your powers to discern the fate of multiple individuals, over a significant amount of time, puts tremendous stress on time- it has to balance the multiple possibilities of each individual’s future, and not merely the possibilities of one. This is put on your body, since you are the point seeing into the future, and... well, your state when you woke up near the wreck was the result of trying it.”

“So... I didn’t listen beforehand apparently. What did I try to see that was so important?”

“I cannot say, I never knew.”

Nihilium nodded and glanced at the ground, his cigarette returning to his lips. He closed his eye for a few moments before opening it again, looking at Delirium now. “So what’s stopping me from doing it again?”

“I can only hope that you don’t.”

Nihilium nodded again, pulling his cigarette out to blow a poof of smoke. “How do I know any of the stuff you’re talking about even happened? I mean, I have no memory of it – for all I know, you’re just making stuff up.”

Delirium was silent for a few moments before he shrugged. “I can’t prove any of it, you’re right. But I need to go now, Nihilium. I’ve been looking into some... strange happenings. Just... remember what I said. I benefit from your health.”

“Yeah, I’ll try not to do anything stupid,” Nihilium said with a shrug as the Angel sunk back into the shadows just as he had originally walked out of them. As the silver-haired man started up the driveway of the small, yet nice looking, home. Raelyn’s car was parked in the open garage door, and Nihilium casually walked around it as he approached the garage’s door to the interior of the house; the front door was locked, he knew, but the garage entrance was never locked.

“Raelyn, it’s me, Nihilium!” he shouted as he opened the door. The door knob, oddly enough, seemed to turn itself.

The purple-clad woman crashed into him as they both opened the door simultaneously, and he only managed to stay on his feet by holding onto the door knob. Raelyn fell against the wall behind her with a thud, but propped herself on it as she laughed and shook her head.

“Sorry,” Nihilium said as he found his footing again. He let go of the door knob and offered a hand to Raelyn, who took it as she stepped forward from the wall.

“It’s fine, we both did it,” she said with a short laugh and smile. She noticed that she was still holding his hand and quickly pulled her hand away from his, before she continued: “I was going to head to the store, actually. I’d rather not leave you here alone though, so I hope you don’t mind joining.”

“I’d be fine going with you,” Nihilium said with a short nod, placing his hands into his pockets. Raelyn walked past him and into the garage, and he shut the door on his way to follow her to the car.

She got in and he walked around it. When he opened his door she started the engine, the radio began blasting some alternative rock as he sat in the passenger chair. He glanced over to her as she reached towards the radio to turn the volume down, but neither said anything.

She pulled out of the garage and down the lane in silence, and in a few moments they were on their way down the road.

“So do you remember anything more?”

“No, unfortunately.”

Raelyn nodded, and took a quick glance towards Nihilium. “You know, I had a weird dream during my nap earlier. This... well, he wasn’t a human, but he wasn’t an animal. Anyway, he came into the house and told me something about me having some power.”

Nihilium turned his head and looked at her, the rest of her details not meaning much to him – she had been told that she had powers? Was it possible, then, that she had gained an Angel host?

“Did he claim to be an Angel?” he asked, interrupting her mid-sentence.

“No- wait, yes, he did,” Raelyn said, before pausing. “How did you know?”

“And what did he say your power was?”

“It was... something with metal. You seem awfully interested, Nihilium. Why?”

Nihilium paused for a few seconds, before shrugging. “No reason. Just thought I’d ask. Sounds like something I heard of before, but the details are hazy.”

“Oh. Well, that’s weird.”

“Heh, yeah, it is. Might have just been a movie I saw once, though.”

The two fell into silence again, a smile on Raelyn’s face. Whatever her dream had been, it had helped Nihilium remember... well, she wasn’t sure what he had remembered, but it was better than nothing. With a laugh she shook her head, she couldn’t think it was actually countering his amnesia – it was just that it seemed familiar to him that made her happy.

“What is it?”

“Nothing, just thought it was funny that my dream helped you remember something.”

Nihilium nodded. Of course, perhaps it truly had been a dream; but the fact that Delirium had told him to not look into Raelyn’s future...

He’d have to wait and see.

The car came to a stop at a red light, the highway ahead bustling with cars moving. The radio began to play static and Raelyn muttered something about it acting up. She hit the button for the radio to seek, and only static continued to play as it filtered through the stations.

After it went through every frequency the first time, she pressed seek again. “Maybe it’ll stop acting up soon,” she said with a shrug, and put her hands back on the wheel.

The traffic lights went out and the static was replaced by the sound of an emergency broadcast’s buzzing in the beginning. The lights in the houses lining the street went dark, and the buzzing stopped.

“This is an emergency broadcast; there has been an explosion on Third and Main Street of Freeton, Nebraska approximately two minutes ago. If you are driving, pull over to the side of the road until further notice; if you are in your home, remain indoors. Authorities are investigating. We will be keeping you updated.”

The broadcast repeated as Raelyn backed up slightly before pulling ahead and to the side of the road. “Just our luck,” Raelyn said with a shake of her head and a laugh, Nihilium nodding in response.

“I’m sure that it’ll be taken under control quickly.”

“Yeah, probably. Sounds like it was an accident since they didn’t say it was an attack or anything.”

Nihilium nodded and closed his eyes to rest, but he was quickly greeted by another vision. After the blast of light that always accompanied the visions he could see himself and Raelyn running from something – something he couldn’t make out entirely, though. It appeared to be early in the night, perhaps an hour from the present, but the thing that was chasing them was giving off light on its own.

The Raelyn he saw in his vision shouted something about running to the old subway tunnels, and the vision ended with a secondary flash.

He opened his eyes in a panic, and looked around – it was clearly lighter out than it was during his vision, but it was still evening. They had time to get out of here.

The sound of gunfire filled the air, and he immediately realized that the vision hadn’t been near the car. His gut sunk as he turned to look in the direction of the gunfire. There was steam or smoke, he couldn’t tell which, maybe a block or two in the direction of the explosion, and an occasional burst of light – followed by the sound of gunshots.

“Raelyn, we have to go,” he said as he turned his head back to find her turning the key in the ignition.

The car engine didn’t even try starting, and the radio died. Whatever was happening, they wouldn’t be able to drive away from it.

“Shit,” Raelyn muttered as she turned the keys again and again. “We’re not going anywhere.”

“We can go on foot.”

“But we’ll look suspicious if we’re running.”

“I’d rather look suspicious than get caught up in whatever’s going on.”

The sound of something roaring loud enough to drown out the gunshots echoed throughout the evening, and Raelyn moved faster than Nihilium as she grabbed the door handle and unbuckled her seat belt. Nihilium found himself following in her lead again, the young woman getting out of her car without a word.

“You know the area, where can we go?”

“We’ll just head towards the station, it’s on the highway in this direction,” Raelyn said as she began walking from the car. “I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re right – we have to get out of here.”

Nihilium nodded as the two began running down the highway, the cars on the side sitting silent. Others were beginning to make their way down the highway away from the sound of gunfire, while others remained in their cars obediently.

Kyosu had a grin that went from ear to ear plastered on his face as he leaned forward, looking at the portal. Even though it had been a full day since he had gotten his power, he was still unable to stop messing with it. He had ended up staying at Bellona’s place for most of the time since then, the young woman saying that he could stay there to practice his power while she ran some errands.

That he didn’t want to run into the Aces anytime soon helped, of course.

In the background the television was in commercial break from the newest episode of “The Adventures of Emerald Knight” - the season premiere.

“I wonder how far away I can open these,” he said as the portal in front of him closed. He looked around the apartment for an idea of where to put his next portal to; he hadn’t done too much traveling, although he had managed to go on a few trips out of state with a childhood friend’s family.

Maybe he could try it out by opening a portal to some national monument he had visited as a child, or perhaps he could pop over to Chicago for some pizza...

And then a memory of his came to the front of his mind; a memory of visiting Mount Rushmore one summer, with the family of his best friend as a child. It had been the only time he had seen the national monument, or the surrounding Black Hills, and ever since he had wanted to go back – something about it struck a chord with him, although he couldn’t figure out what.

And besides, with his power he could just pop in, see it, and pop back over to Bellona’s apartment; it was a flawless plan. He wouldn’t even need to let her know what’s going on.

He focused on the memories, concentrating with all his might to remember specific details of the monument’s plaza. The only memories he could pull to mind were of the walkway that led towards the monument itself though, and a few moments later the portal was opened. The plaza between the visitor’s center and the monument was in the middle of a downpour, but with a shrug he stepped through.

He shivered from the sudden temperature change, and as he pulled himself through the portal he realized that something was off; the area was empty.

He glanced back towards the portal he had left open, the sound of a news jingle filling the air. He stood still to listen to what the television had to say, curiosity getting the best of him; after all, there was no nine o’clock news.

“Breaking news, an armed group has just attacked Mount Rushmore – we have no confirmation as to who the gunmen are, as of now, but they have managed to successfully take control of the monument. Reinforcements for the police forces are arriving at the scene currently...”

Kyosu froze in place, realizing exactly what he had walked into – of course there was no one here on the plaza if a group of armed men had attacked.

The portal closed without warning, and a sudden feeling of pain shot through his chest – it was as if he had just ran a marathon. With a pained grunt he reached into this pocket and quickly pulled out his flip phone, opening it with shaking hands. It was the same exact pain he had felt after a long run before, and when he tried to open another portal now it didn’t work; the wall he had stepped out of remained solid.

He found Bellona in his contacts and hit call. He put the phone to his ears and heard the ringing on the other end.

“What do you want?” a voice answered from the other end, agitation obvious in it. “I’m busy right now. You didn’t get in trouble did you?”

“No, of course- well... kind of,” Kyosu said, breathing heavily as he put a hand over the left of his chest.

“What did you do? Were you running away from someone again?”

“So, I, uh... I thought I’d try out my power... and well, I used it to go to Mount Rushmore, and it turns out there’s some... trouble here.”

“Kyosu, please tell me you’re joking. What on Earth did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything. There’s, you know, gunmen – I haven’t seen them, but I need your help.”

Gunmen!? Do you have any idea how dangerous that is? Just use your power and get back here.”

“I can’t , that’s the thing – my power’s not working like it should be. I can’t open a portal, and I need you to come here and-”

“How do you want me to come there?”

“I don’t know, use your power somehow maybe?”

“I’d run out of energy.”

“Okay, then, I’ll open my portal as soon as I can, you can come through and help me-”

“Look, I’m not putting my neck on the line by getting involved with gunmen – why would I go through your portal? Just open it and get out when you can.”

“But you could just freeze time, help take care of the gunmen if they’re still a problem!”

“We aren’t superheroes. I’m not using my power more than I absolutely have to. Just go through your portal to get out of there.”

“But Bell-”

“Good bye, Kyosu.”

“Bu-”

“Good bye.”

She hung up before he had a chance to respond, and as he shut the phone he only sighed. She was right, it would be dangerous... but it wasn’t as if the gunmen could fight against her ability to freeze time.

“I mean, it seemed like a good idea,” he said to himself quietly. He paused, glancing around the plaza. It felt far too quiet, but with a quick glance to the immediate south he could make out the lights of police vehicles. If he could make his way there without the gunmen finding him, perhaps he could get out of this safely yet. At the same time, however, it was still risky.

He let out a gasp of fright as he felt an arm wrap around his neck, a hand over his mouth to keep him from yelling. An overweight, yet overly strong, man pulled Kyosu away from the door without so much as a grunt. Kyosu struggled against him at first, but stopped when he felt the grip around his neck tighten – besides, this would lead him to the hostages.

“I don’t know how you snuck past the others, but you were a fuckin’ idiot to think you could walk around here without getting caught,”

The boy felt his feet slide across the ground as the brute pulled him. He couldn’t tell from the angle he was held, but the man wore a black hoodie with a red flame that merged with a skull on the front, a pair of black, angular sunglasses over the skull-flame – the outline of them against the black border the same color as the skullflame. The rest was pitch black, and the man’s jeans were a similar black. Only the red gloves and shoes stood out from the rest of his outfit, and Kyosu realized that only the man’s face was not covered then and there – for being with the gunmen, he hardly seemed as dangerous as one might expect.

Yet he let the man drag him into the visitor’s center through another door. Two men in the same attire were sitting on either side of it in some chairs. Behind them was a door that had a blanket of smoke in front of it from their cigarettes. Immediately Kyosu saw the pistols they each held, and was grateful his initial captor didn’t have a gun.

One pulled the cigarette from his mouth and blew a ring of smoke as he turned his head to look at the Kyosu. “You thought you could get away from the King’s Foot, did you?” he asked, Kyosu shaking his head quickly. Kyosu’s heart was racing as the man who had just spoke aimed the gun towards him – something about the look in his eyes sent a shiver down Kyosu’s spine.

“Well, I hate to crush your hopes, but you’re just a fucker who choose the wrong day to go on holiday. I feel like having fun,” the man said as he got up, gun still pointing at Kyosu.

“Shit, Franklin, point that gun somewhere else – you’re gonna shoot me too at this rate.”

“You tellin’ me what to do, bitchtits?”

“No, I’m just sayin’ is all – shit, man, we can just put him in with the other hostages. King said we can’t kill any hostages, and fuck, I don’t wanna get in trouble.”

“Yeah, I can dig that thought process. Yeah, we’ll toss him in with the other fuckheads.”

Kyosu sighed silently when the gun dropped to the man’s side, and the other got up from his chair. He pushed the door open to what had been, in better times, the gift shop for the visitor’s center. Now though it had a group of huddled people, the doors and windows blacked out with big black curtains.

The overweight man threw Kyosu into the room, and with a thud the young man crashed to the floor just past the door. Franklin – or who Kyosu had assumed was Franklin – laughed as he walked in through the door. The other hostages pulled themselves back as he walked towards Kyosu, who was just pushing himself off the ground.

“Stay the fuck down,” he snarled as he stepped on Kyosu’s back, pressing down. Kyosu stopped moving, and then felt the foot pull off of him.

And then Franklin kicked him hard, the man letting out a gasp of pain. The gunman kicked him again before stopping, and laughed at the man’s pained breathing.

Kyosu pushed himself up slightly and turned his head, looking in the direction of the gunman – he was walking away, and Kyosu smiled slightly.

The gunman stopped – Kyosu let himself drop to the floor again. His chin hit the floor harder than he had expected, making an audible thump.

“I thought,” the gunman said as he turned around. “I told you...” he was walking towards Kyosu now, the young man pushed himself away and up at the same time – the look in the man’s eyes was terrifying. “To stay the fuck down!”

He kicked Kyosu hard, sending Kyosu sliding across the floor and into a rack of clothing. The gunman grabbed him from the ground, holding onto him by the shirt, and glared at him.

“I-I’m sorry,” Kyosu said, and the gunman gave him a smile.

“The King’ll have some fun with you, fucker. For now though, it’s lights out.”

Franklin turned Kyosu around and wrapped his arm around the young man’s neck; he squeezed tightly, and in a matter of just under a minute Kyosu was overwhelmed by the black nothingness of unconsciousness.

The setting sun set the world aflame as Ariel walked down the sidewalk. The small town had turned a deep orange, and the sound of cicadas still filled the air. She had been working all day and was glad to finally be done at the Redcliffe Grocers, which was not exactly a tough job – but it was definitely not a fun one.

She sighed and closed her eyes, enjoying the relative peace and tranquility of the sidewalk. While there were cars driving to and fro, they were all relatively quiet. She opened her eyes and looked off to the countryside just out of town, the rolling hills of soon-to-be-harvested crops had an amber glow about them in the sunset’s light.

There was the sound of a bigger vehicle approaching and she glanced back to see what it was; as it turned out, it was not just a vehicle.

Three military transports were approaching from the north, all armored and a few with gun turrets on the top. She paused to watch each pass by on their way west, into the setting sun, and continued to watch without moving until they were out of her sight.

“That’s odd,” she remarked after a few moments. She began walking again, although slightly slower. “Why would the military be passing through here?”

No one answered of course, and she continued walking. The cicadas continued to buzz and whine in the distance, even as the sun began to sink beneath the horizon. She smiled softly and silently laughed at herself for having asked the question aloud.

When she at last arrived home the sun had set completely, the darkness of the night beginning to overtake the quiet town. She shut the door behind her and turned on the light to her house with a quiet yawn, to reveal the emptiness of it. Of course, that it was empty was no surprise – she hadn’t expected to find anyone home today.

With a sigh she walked through the entryway and into the living room. She crawled over the top of the couch’s backrest and fell onto its cushions with a soft thud, a smile spreading on her face. She grabbed the remote and turned the TV on, not much on her mind as she flipped through the channels for something interesting.

“It’s kinda odd,” she muttered to herself quietly as a smile spread on her face, “that despite having a superpower now, I’m just lounging on the couch like I would be otherwise.” She laughed slightly, and put the remote down. “Nothing good on TV right now though, it seems.”

She closed her eyes and rubbed her eyelids with a sigh before sitting upright and looking around the room. It was odd to think that just last night an alien being had stood in this very room, telling her that she had gained the ability to control shadows; that it was just a dream had passed through her mind, but testing the power showed that it was either very real, or she was still dreaming.

She looked at the shadow of the remote and willed it to expand, and it did. With a shrug she let it go, though, and the shadow returned to its normal state. “I’m not even sure if it’s a power I can use for anything,” she muttered with a short shrug, laying back onto the couch. “Of course I’d get stuck with the useless power.”

Her eyes shut for a few moments, and within less than a minute she was asleep.

The shadows crept around her as she slept soundly, the television commercials continuing throughout her rest. The shadows around her danced as she began to get restless. This continued for nearly an hour, the young woman’s powers working on their own as she dreamed.

And then, suddenly, the sound of knocking woke her up, the television still on. The shadows returned to their natural places, and the light of the television gave her light enough to see. She groggily pushed herself up and off of the couch, blinking a few times. Another three knocks, followed by a familiar voice: “Hey, stop being lazy and answer the door. I know you’re in there, dumbass!”

“I’m coming, Christina, just give me a second!”

Ariel yawned as she took a hold of the door knob, a hand over her mouth as she pulled the door open.

The instant the door opened Christina barged in, pushing Ariel out of the way – she hit the wall behind the open door with a soft grunt, the blond hitting the light switch. “Why are you living in the dark?”

“I was asleep,” Ariel said as she stepped from the wall and closed the door. She rubbed the back of her head slightly with a groan and walked towards the blond as she sat on the couch.

“That’s stupid, it’s not even late.”

“Yeah, I know... so what are you up to? You don’t usually come over uninvited.”

“I...” Christina paused for a few seconds before glancing down. Her hands were grabbing one another as she sat silently, and Ariel walked towards the couch slowly.

“Christina, what is it?” she asked with a short frown, an eyebrow raising as she approached the girl.

“Well... I... you know that limpdicked fucker that appeared last night when we were watching that movie?”

“Yeah, you mean Michael?”

“Well,” Christina paused before grabbing the remote and turning the TV off, looking at Ariel. “He came to my house this morning.”

“What?”

“He just appeared, I guess, I don’t know – fuck, Ariel, I don’t know who he is but he’s not safe.”

“Christina, what happened? What did he do?”

“He made everything go dark, Ariel, what the fuck do you want me to say? He’s a monster, a fucking monster, Ariel. He told me not to tell you – but fuck that fucking fucker, I don’t want you to get hurt.”

Ariel sat down on the couch besides Christina, glancing at the floor and back at her. “Christina, why would he attack you?”

“Of course you don’t believe me,” she said with a sharp glare. “I knew you wouldn’t, he has you hooked on that power doesn’t he?”

“No, Christina, I believe you – I just want to know why he would, if you have any idea.”

“Probably because I didn’t trust him, he probably just wants to make sure I don’t make you not trust him,” Christina said, pushing herself away from Ariel. “Not that I would, if he didn’t care so much – it’s not like I want to keep you safe for your sake.”

Ariel rolled her eyes and laughed slightly. She put a hand on Christina’s upper arm and patted her slightly, a short smile on her face. “I’ll make sure he doesn’t hurt me – or you. I mean, he is my Angel,”

“I am indeed.”

The Angel had appeared much like he had before: from out of thin air. With a short gasp Christina pushed herself against the couch’s armrest, eyes wide as she found herself unable to move much further without falling off the couch. Ariel quickly moved to in between the two, eyes on the Angel’s.

“What the hell were you doing, attacking Christina?”

“I have no idea what you are referring to, Ariel,” Michael responded immediately, glancing between the two. “I have been investigating the energy I felt – I didn’t do anything to Christina.”

“Don’t you fucking dare!” Christina shouted. She was glowering at the Angel with a look that, if looks could kill, would be on par with a mass murder. Michael tarted to say something, but was silenced by Ariel’s stepping into the two-way.

“I don’t know why I’d trust you over someone that’s been my friend for years,” Ariel said, her eyebrows furrowed as she looked at Michael. “You better have a good explanation of what the hell happened if you’re claiming it wasn’t you.”

Michael looked at Christina and then back at Ariel before he responded, somewhat slowly. “I don’t have any reason to harass your friend in any way. I do not know what your friend saw, but I can assure it was not me – I was investigating the Ogallala Sea.

“And even if I both wanted to and returned in time to attack you, Christina, I would not given what is happening there.”

There was nothing but the sound of silence. Christina’s eyes had dropped from the Angel to the floor, and Ariel turned to look back at her as the three stood in silence. Christina closed her eyes and felt herself shaking as she tried hard to push the thoughts of betrayal and hatred out of her head, the idea that Michael was here to take Ariel away from her kept nagging at the back of her mind.

Yet, he claimed something was going on that was on such a scale that it made attacking her not worth time.

“What is happening there?” Christina asked, looking back up towards Michael.

“I’m not sure how precisely powerful of an Angel is involved, but they are using more energy than a normal Angel. To what purpose I’m not sure on either, but they seem to be altering the weather – possibly to make a storm.”

“Why is that so big of a deal?” Ariel asked as she looked back at Michael. If Christina was going to listen to him, she would too. It was her friend’s choice to make, she was the one that had been attacked.

“Because if whoever is doing it wants to, they could easily use that amount of energy for untold destruction – have you ever been in a hurricane?”

“Of course not, dumbass, we aren’t near the oce- you mean that they could make a hurricane, don’t you?” Christina’s eyes suddenly went wide, the realization of what exactly the Angel meant hitting her. She didn’t know if he had honestly not attacked them or not, but there was no way he’d lie with something this big – it would be easy to show wrong when it never happened, after all.

“I do.”

“And if you could make a hurricane, a tornado wouldn’t be out of the question.”

“Hardly.”

“So what you’re saying is... there’s a pretty big threat going on,” Ariel said, looking between the two. “Well, what is there for us to do about it? It’s not like I have any spectacular power, and Christina doesn’t even have a power.”

Michael shrugged. “I do not know yet – it is possible that the threat is only in power, and that they won’t try anything. I will try to find out where exactly the Angel host is.”

“I still don’t trust you,” Christina said, getting off of the couch. “Even if you claim you didn’t attack me, I know you did – don’t be an idiot and think I trust you for a second, even if I believe what you’ve said is happening.”

Michael laughed quietly and shook his head. “I figured you wouldn’t.”

Ariel said nothing as she sat back down on the couch, a hand going to rub her chin as she closed her eyes lightly – open enough to see movement, but nothing else. She couldn’t possibly balance both the attack Christina claimed to have gone through, and the... thing in the Ogallala Sea. “Michael, if I find out you truly had attacked her I will never forgive you.”

“What else would have happened?”

“It’s possible you had sleep paralysis,” Micheal interjected after a short pause. “But there are more pressing matters. More lives at stake.”

“I hate to admit it, but the fucker’s right,” Christina said after a short pause. “Even though he attacked me for whatever fucked up reason, that there’s bigger threats isn’t something I doubt.”

“So we don’t have to do anything right now, right?” Ariel asked, looking between the two. “I mean, if you haven’t figured out what’s going on with the storm.”

“No, I don’t believe so – for now it should be safe.”

“Good. I don’t know if I want to get involved with other Angels.”

Michael nodded, and just like he had appeared he vanished. The two sat alone in silence.

Christina grabbed the remote and turned the TV on. She leaned against the couch’s arm rest and looked over at Ariel. The shadows were dancing on the young woman, and while Christina clearly saw the movement she couldn’t make out the intricate pattern that the shadows were forming.

“What’s happening to you?” Christina asked quietly as Ariel fell asleep, watching the shadows moving on her. “You’ve become a freak... you’ve started not siding with me automatically...” Christina fell silent, and the only thought left in her mind was a simple sentence, only four words long: She will betray you.

It was not her thought, it was that feminine voice that she had found the last time she saw Ariel. Yet she found herself treating it as if her own, and she shuddered. She didn’t want Ariel to betray her.

She only wanted the girl’s loyalty.

Alexander Stoneheart walked through the basement halls of Stoneheart Labs, his shoes clacking against the cold, blue tiles. The air here was chilled to exactly freezing, and he had dressed appropriately – a thick, black cotton jacket over his usually suit and tie, a pair of white gloves over his hands. He wore a thick, white scarf around his neck, and a pair of red earmuffs sat on his head. The hallway stretched on for almost two hundred more feet, three doors on the right and two on the left.

He stopped next to the second door on the right before pulling off one of his gloves, putting his bare hand on the scanner to open it. The door slid open automatically, revealing a small laboratory, the only remarkable feature being the large, bell-shaped containment chamber in the center. Ami Ikari was writing on a clipboard as she looked inside of the chamber, her lab gear clearly designed for the cold – insulated heavily, only her finger tips and face exposed to the cold.

“Miss Ikari.”

“Oh! Mr. Stoneheart, sir, it’s a pleasure!” She had jumped slightly from his sudden entrance. She smiled, cheeks rosy from the cold – she had been working for quite some time.“I forgot you were visiting the lab tonight, I got a bit carried away with some work, but I can show you the main lab.”

“Fine-tuning the containment chambers, then?”

“Yes, I thought that it might be good to experiment a bit on some of the new ideas I have for it. The Magis suggest that the ideas would work, in theory at least.”

Alexander nodded once, and watched as she set the clipboard down.

“Follow me, then, sir,” she said as she walked past him, and Alexander followed in silence. “As you know, our ability to contain the ur-fravashi is only possible thanks to the sub-zero temperatures that temporarily cease their production of AA Fields inside the Atomic Nullification Bells. However, we can only slow their life processes down. Despite our efforts, stopping the life processes is still impossible. Even the least likely simulations ran by the Magis – that took money as a non-issue – showed that as impossible. Of course, you already knew that I’m sure.”

“Of course.”

They walked through the hallway and to the last door on the left side: Lab 004. Ami Ikari scanned her hand and led Stoneheart in. The room was downright freezing, a few computer monitors on the walls were being constantly scrapped by a mechanical squeegee to keep the condensation and ice off of them. The ceiling stretched up at least several stories – it was in the center of the building, and by stretching up so far there was plenty of room for heat to dissipate as it rose.

It was not the computers or the incredibly tall ceiling that was the main feature of the room however. That went solely for the seven bells that sat in a circular pattern – the seventh in the center. These bells were made of steel and wires, with coolants pumped in and atomic manipulation done by constantly rotating magnets. These were the Atomic Nullification Bells. “Things seem to be as expected from your report.”

“I would hope so, sir – nothing has changed since then, as I haven’t been able to implement the new ideas.”

“Of course not. But I like to check on the lab myself, I’m sure you can understand that.”

“Certainly – and it’s nice to see you down here, sir.”

Alexander Stoneheart nodded as he rubbed his hands together through his gloves, looking at the ANBs that filled the room. “It’s surreal, to think that we were able to tame them.”

“It was a shame that N-Three R-Zero had to re-”

“I don’t want to hear about N-Three R-Zero, Miss Ikari.”

“Sorry, sir, I was just musing to myself, I’m not used to having company down here since usually I work in my lab alone, so sometimes I think out loud,” Ami Ikai said, words rolling from her lips like water downstream. Alexander Stoneheart merely put an open hand up, and she immediately stopped.

“It’s alright, Miss Ikari,” he said quietly, walking towards the circle of ANBs. He lowered his hand and glanced back at her. “I’d like to spend some time with my thoughts.”

“Certainly, sir – I’ll be in my lab if you need me, then.” She left promptly, and the door slid closed behind her almost immediately.

Alexander Stoneheart walked through the circle clockwise, his hand brushing against the central containment chamber. When he finally came across the front he stopped, putting his other hand on it as well. “So you’re trying to wake up,” Stoneheart said with a smile. “We’ll see who wins this bet though – soon enough, you won’t be a threat anyways.” He laughed and shook his head, his right hand reached into his pocket to grab his case of pills.

“I just have to keep you from calling your bet for another six months.” He took out a pill and, with a shaking hand, placed it in his mouth. He swallowed hard, forcing the pill down his dry throat. He turned and began to walk towards the door in silence, pocketing his pills once more. “And then you’ll finally be useful.”

The door slid open as he left, his body shaking. The door to the main lab shut behind him and he calmly walked down the hall again, passing by Ami Ikari’s lab without a word.

He never had liked the cold.

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