Fire & Ice

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Chapter 8

I go to the tower on Wednesday for more than one reason. All of the drugs I was given in my last visit to the Riveras’ humble abode are quickly exchanged for the money provided by the League. I tuck the white envelope full of worn money safely into the bottom of my bag and leave it on a couch on the common floor. Max accompanies me to the elevator that we take down to the athletic floor.

I can’t ignore the fatigue that’s blanketed over my body as I find a spot on the floor by the sparring mat to tie my running shoes. The reality of how quickly my League career has started is finally starting to set in. There’s a reason new agents tend to be eased in. The learning curve is steep. I’ve been forced into a position where I’m not taking a slow trek up that curve but instead forcing myself to sprint my way to the top. It’s exhausting.

The Rowan situation is weighing on me like a ton of bricks, also. He may not be as connected to his family’s business as I previously thought, but family is still family. The relationship between two counterparts is like no other and yet I’ve been lying right to his face about my family, my friends, my past, and my career. We’ve grown quite close even in the few days we’ve known each other. Will I anything I have to say possibly be enough to make up for a betrayal as big as the one I’m actively committing?

I push all my worries aside to focus on the task at hand. Training. Anything Max can teach me is more important now than ever. When I’m finally ready to go, Max points to the track. He runs with me this time. Well, he tries, at least. By lap six he’s gasping, so that’s the number he decides we’ll stop on for the day.

“Grab a drink of water, you look like you need it,” he says, patting my the shoulder as he passes by, “Don’t wanna push you too hard, you know.” A laugh blurts out of my mouth as he stumbles over to where he left refillable water bottle, huffing as panting as he goes. My breathing is a bit elevated, as well, but we really only kept a jogging pace the whole time so I’ve barely broken a sweat.

When he’s finally collected himself, he gets to his feet and points forcibly at the ground before me. He has me do push-ups until my arms give out and I’m left laying on the floor like the sad sack I am. I glare up at him and see the exact smirk I expected to be on his face. This seems just a bit like payback if you ask me.

“You been getting behind on your program?” he says from above. The playful tilt to his voice is hard to miss.

I groan from the floor in response. He’s right. I’ve barely been able to remember to take a morning run ever since I started trying to worm my way into the Rivera group, let alone anything strength related.

“Alright, up, c’mon,” Max commands, taking my hand and yanking me back to my feet. “Let’s do some throwing, huh? Something easy.”

“Why easy?” I say as I allow a smirk to creep it’s way onto my face. “You going soft on me now?”

“Nah,” he replies with a rolls of his green eyes before strolling across the main floor to the knife rack. “You just look a bit run down these days, Ford. Undercover work is tricky business, so it’s honestly what I expected.”

“I was kind of hoping we could do some more range training. I barely know how to hold a gun.”

Max’s eyebrows raise a bit in surprise. I don’t normally try to dictate what we go over every week. I’ve let him lead the way since all the way before I was even an agent.

“You think you’re better than what I have planned for today?”

I stride across the room and take the knife from his hands. I definitely have the hang of knife throwing from last time so it only takes me a moment to get into the proper stance. My arm rears back and then I fling it the knife as hard I physically can. It lands smack in the middle of the target with a resounding thunk.

“Alexander Rivera is not a fucking joke,” I say quietly with my face turned away from the man. “He’s psychotic. He is a laugh-while-you-threaten-someone’s-life kind of guy. I don’t even think it’s the Valerie that made him that way. What I guess I’m trying to say is that I would very much like to not get shot in the face because I can’t figure how to load a fucking gun.”

Max’s skin pales a shade at the end of my outburst. His mouth opens to answer, but he is ultimately cut off by the room descending into a flood of blue light. A mission alert. Max and I look at each other for only a moment later before we both dash to the elevator and take it all the way up to the tenth floor where the missions headquarters is.

I’ve only seen the mission alert light come on once before. It was back before I became an actual agent when all I was really doing was following the team around like a lost puppy. It was sort of terrifying and I had no clue what do with myself. Max eventually made the decision that it’d be best for me to stay in the tower while they went to take care of whatever the problem was. I’m an actual agent, now, so it’s go time. I can barely keep up when Max practically flies off the elevator the second the doors open.

“What have we got, Flint?” Max says, jumping straight to business.

“There’s a kid with NAE’s loose in Time Square. He’s out of control,” Flint reports as he types away at the keyboard beneath his fingertips. He drags up what looks to be a life feed of that very location, pinches the hologram that’s projected over the computer monitor, and flings it to the large flat screen for all of us to see. “D.C. already called in the Quantum team but they’re failing quite spectacularly.”

“What’re NAE’s?” I say dumbly.

“Newly acquired enhancements,” Flint replies absently as his eyes flick wildly over the live video. “Looks like he’s got dual powers, concussive and metal manipulation.” Max’s eyebrows jumps into hairline as I look to the video in surprise.

Most people who develop powers only get one or their powers revolve around one main concept. I can wield ice and water which isn’t incredibly unheard of, but a combination of concussion beams and metal is intriguingly rare. Something tells me that there’s no one is this kid’s life to support him through the transition. Comorbidity of two powers that are so incredibly different only complicates the transition from normal life to controlling the roar of energy that comes with enhancements. This kid is melting the sides of building and cars as well as sending anyone that comes near him soaring in the other direction. I’ve seen the Quantum team’s track record and the general consensus of the public is that they are a group of hotheads. Their team is just about the last one I would call into such a charged situation like this one.

“I want everyone in on this one,” Max announces. “Cecelia, Cally, Tony, and Nick, I want you guys on crowd control. The rest of us will take care of the kiddo. We got a name?”

“Local PD are saying James Fisher,” Cally calls out from where she’s standing a bit away with a phone pressed to her ear. “He’s sixteen.”

“And Quantum couldn’t take care of this because…?” JD says with a roll of his brown eyes.

“They’re a team of hot heads which isn’t a good fit for talking a teenager down,” Max says as he kicks off his shoes. I’m confused for a second until I remember that we’re in a serious time crunch and we have to suit up.

All of our suits are kept in the locker room on this floor. The room is like a high school locker room on steroids. There’s a set of metal lockers that sit back to back in the middle of the room with women on one side and men on the other. That’s just about as far as the gender separation here goes since privacy isn’t a top priority when we’ve been called upon to take care of an emergency. One of the walls are lined by glass cases that hold specialty weapons and gear for the team. There’s a small hallway that leads off of the main room to some sinks and a few showers.

JD’s already suited up so he stays behind to continue coordinating with the police while the rest of us swarm the locker room to change.

I press my finger into the fingerprint scanner on my locker and watch as it pops open. This is the first time I’ve gotten a look at my uniform. Tony went with a simple pants and jacket format. They’re both made with thick navy blue Kevlar. The jacket has silver accents strewn throughout: a thin stripe runs down each sleeve as well as the top of the collar. The domino mask that’s been placed on the top shelf of the locker matched the blue of the suit and is lined artfully with silver trim, as well. I’m happy with how subtle and quiet Tony’s managed to make it.

I also seems that Tony took it upon himself to kit me out with knives instead of guns. Nobody but Max has seen me throw so he must have been talking about it with the others. I struggle a bit with putting the entire suit on for the first time. The boots take me longer than the rest since they have complicated buckles but I eventually get it together. As the only other agent on the team that hides his identity, Flint shows me how to glue the domino mask onto my face.

Finally being all suited up like a real League agent makes me feel more like a real member. It doesn’t do much to make me feel any more prepared, however. I may be in the middle of an undercover operation but I only have to be myself minus some key information for that. There aren’t an news channels broadcasting a live feed of every decision I make while in the Rivera household, but that’s how this mission is going to be. Any move I choose to make will be watched by thousands and scrutinized on late night talk shows because that’s the sort of magnification every League agent is constantly under.

“Jinx on Quantum is opening a portal for us,” Max voice rings out through the locker room as everyone is pulling themselves together.

Jinx’s only power is creating portals. He’s an example of why League agents are trained in combat and on how to wield weapons with deadly force. Just because they have a superhuman ability doesn’t mean that they’re magically great at everything physical automatically. The director of the League has stated on many occasions that powers aren’t what make League agents. Character makes League agents. It’s why people like Dylan Dodson are turned away.

A flash of light explodes into the room only a couple minutes later and suddenly there is a portal hanging in the air just outside the locker room. Wendy leaves the room with an encouraging nod from a nearly dressed Max. She disappears from view before she steps through the portal so she can go ahead of us and secretly scope out the situation.

Everyone moves back to the tech center so Tony can set us up with comms like he did with Wendy. We waits around for a bit as we wait for Wendy to give us the all clear to follow after her.

“He’s melted all of the local PD’s guns,” Wendy’s voice finally crackles over the comm connection with a slight amused tilt to her tone. “Puddles of them all over the place. Nobody’s approaching him anymore. There’s a huge crowd of civilians, so we’re definitely gonna need crowd control. He’s formed himself a nice little spot outta a light pole. That set of red bleachers is in pieces, though. Probably the initial loss of control for the kid.”

“Clear for us to join ya?” JD chirps.

“Yeah, portal’s a good few hundred feet from him. We seriously need so crowd control, some A-Hanced people are here and they’re a step away from a full blown riot.”

A-Hanced, as in anti-enhancement, are a group that protests just about anything to do with enhanced people. Even as an enhanced person myself I can see where they’re coming from. There’s no shortage of instances when people with superhuman abilities have severely abused them. A person with average human abilities has the right to voice concerns over individuals who have powers that have the possibility to become a threat to them. The problem with the A-Hanced group, however, is that they have quickly morphed into a violent organization that have on more than on occasion hunted and even murdered enhanced people. James Fisher is the exact situation the A-Hanced crowd tend to have a field day over. Thy are constantly looking for someone to hang and jump at any opportunity to do so.

JD goes first through the portal, shooting through the opening in the world, so fast he’s nothing but a blur of black Kevlar. His suit is pretty similar to mine but it’s mainly black instead of blue with silver accents. It’s better to stick with darker colors in our line of work, but there are always agents who decide on more conspicuous designs like Nick with her white dress.

Calling it a dress would actually be doing a disservice to Tony’s work because the fabric is as thick as our Kevlar but stylish at the same time. He’s done her angelic side justice with the dress as well as the white thigh high boots she wears under it. She has a literal halo that she wears on her head which is actually a deadly weapon. Nick’s weapon of choice isn’t a knife or gun but a beautiful glowing band of metal that goes razor sharp with the touch of a fingerprint. Anyone she’s ever fought has probably been in for a surprise when she went from sweet to slice-happy in the blink of an eye.

Max follows closely after JD and tugs me along with him. There’s this really weird feeling like I’m being pulled apart at the seams for a second and then the world opens up suddenly into the middle of Times Square. The rest of the team appear right after us and those Max ordered to take care of crowd control split off to start herding the civilians back away from the mess that James has created.

He can definitely see us. He has found his way to the top of a light pole and melted himself a nest of sorts. None of us will be able to reach him on foot. Max nods to Nick, whose wings whoosh out of the back of her uniform in a loud flourish before she takes flight a moment later.

James obviously sees her coming.

“Get away!” he shouts. “I said no League!”

I can’t hear what Nick says from where I’m still standing on the ground but there’s only a brief pause before Nicks comes hurtling towards the ground as the effects of his concussion beam send her slamming into the concrete. She’s almost immediately back on her feet, visibly distraught and sore but not critically injured.

“Kid really doesn’t wanna talk,” she says, hissing as she rolls her shoulder, “I asked nicely and everything, boss.”

“Shame,” Max says and sighs as he looks back at James. This is a very interesting situation so there will have to be an equally or more interesting solution if we’re going to take care of it without anyone getting hurt. “Hurricane, can you just freeze him?” I don’t understand what he’s talking about for a second until I remember. I’m “Hurricane.” League teams strictly use code names on all missions and operations.

“I mean, I can, but you don’t want to try to talk him down?”

“Angel, did he seem very keen to see you?”

“No,” Nick replies and laughs with a shake of her head, “definitely not. He’s not down to deal with the League, so I think our job here is just to apprehend him and then we’ll deal with him later. Situation’s too charged to take another chance.”

“Alright,” I say, sighing quietly to myself. I’ve accidentally frozen parts of myself in the throes of a nightmare when I was just learning how to control all of my powers and I can’t say that the experience is pleasant. It’s not my first choice in dealing with a volatile kid but it is the safest for everyone including him.

“Can’t you just come down here?” I try anyway by shouting up to the kid.

His response is one of those nifty concussions beams projected directly into my chest. I fly back just like Nick did but I don’t have any fancy angel wings to dampen my fall. I slam back into the concrete and narrowly avoiding smashing my skull to smithereens. My ribs are aching as flares of pain run from one side of my torso to the other. I drag myself into a sitting position and try not to grimace. We’re in public. Times Square is quite possibly the worst place to be called to for a League mission in terms of privacy. Everyone is watching our every move.

JD flashes up behind me and helps pull me to my feet. He holds on for a second until I wave him off and he releases me. It looks like there really is no talking this kid down.

I steady my hand up in the direction of the kid and release a long stream of frozen crystals which shoot out and encase his legs from hips to feet. A shocked expression jumps onto his face and he raises his own arms, ready to retaliate, but I freeze his hands into blocks of ice before he can react. That will only hold from so long so Nick swoops right in with Max in her arms so he can slap a pair of power inhibiting handcuffs onto James’s forearms. If any of us had hesitated, James would have had enough time to figure out that his concussion beams would easily break the ice from around his hands.

My ribs tug at my attention the entire way back to the portal. The others are still controlling the crowd but it appears that the local police department has finally gotten their shit together. They’ll be able to handle everything once our team is gone from the looks of it.

The agents on team Quantum meet us by the portal that Jinx has once again opened up for us.

“Those were some good moves, kid,” the man standing next to Jinx says. The guy towers nearly a foot taller than me. I’ve seen him before. Tidal Wave. He has dyed turquoise hair that makes him quite memorable. He controls water like me but lacks the control that I have over ice. For a second, I think he’s talking to James, but when there’s an awkward pause of silence among all of us agents, I realize his compliment was directed at me.

“Oh,” I say before an awkward laugh breezes through my lips. “Thanks.”

The awkward silence breaks when Max, who’s wearing an easy smirk on his face, nudges me with an elbow.

“Kid’s always on another planet, don’t mind him,” he says, easily patching over the strange space I’ve managed to create between our two teams.

Tony stays back to touch base with the local police department while the rest of us file back through Jinx’s portal to the tower. Max immediately moves James into one of our holding cells on the appropriate floor and the rest of us take some time to cool down and regroup.

“I know he messed up your ribs, Lake,” Nick says as I watch Cally wrap a gash on her side with bandages. “We all saw the way you landed.”

“I’m fine, Nick,” I say before with of roll of my eyes. I keep careful control of my face as I get to my feet, hyper-aware of the eyes on me that are surveying for any sign of discomfort or pain. I’ve never liked having people watch over my health and just because I’m a League agent now doesn’t mean that’s going to change.

“At least let me look them over,” Cally reasons before patting Nick on her uninjured shoulder to indicate that she’s all set. “The advanced healing is probably gonna take care of it quicker than anything I can do, and ribs can’t exactly be wrapped or casted, but you know that internal bleeding can kill you, right?” I take the lecture for what it is and nod in understanding.

Cally knows the most about medicine on the team since her mother was a nurse and pushed her to become one as well. She majored in nursing for three years to appease her family but inevitably switched to studying astrology. She told me all about the pull she’s always felt to the stars a little while after I met her. She joined the League as an afterthought when she discovered she had powers. Since her abilities are on such a scale where they’d only really be useful in the event of a nationwide or worldwide cataclysmic event, she’s technically only a consultant on the team. The part time work she does with us gives her tons of time to act as a technician at NASA. Apparently she’s been to space twice before.

“They’re fine, Cal,” I say more forcefully. “I know what broken ribs feels like. There’s no bruising yet, so there’s no bleeding, okay?” I don’t take my shirt off for just anyone. Danny may be the only one I’ve willingly exposed myself to like that and that’s how I want to keep it for now.

“How would you know what broken ribs feels like? Has that undercover op you’re on been getting out of hand?”

“No, nothing like that,” I reply, shaking my head and crossing my arms over my chest. “You guys do know I’m an orphan, right? There’s a reason I’m not too broken up about it.” This small truth, a single glimpse into what I’m like outside of this tower, has varying forms of uneasy expression spreading across their faces.

“So, not a big deal, and I’ll be just fine,” I plow through the dead air that’s fallen upon the room and shrug. My phone vibrates in my pocket and I pull it out, thankful for the distraction.

R u alive???, the messages reads. It’s a text from Atlas.

I saw u on the news!!! Well, I saw the whole Quantum disaster, & then u guys were there

everyone’s freaking out, man

they have no idea who u R, its kinda hilarious tbh

I begin typing back a reply as I carefully ignore the team as they start moving around me. The shock from my previous words must have finally worn off. Cally disappears with Wendy in tow. JD and Flint clamber into the kitchen to more than likely raid every cabinet for food. Tony and Cecelia quietly slip away to the elevator and I can only imagine what they’re about to go do. Max finds a spot at the table in the kitchen where he can go over the files the local police department had on James.

Oh? I haven’t even seen the news, lol, I text back. Are they being nice abt me??

The situation with James isn’t exactly uncommon so there really wouldn’t be a crazy amount of media coverage if I wasn’t there. That sounds quite conceited but it’s truly the reality. Fresh faces, though they may be covered by domino masks, are practically devoured by the public. The fact that I’m the youngest agent as of right now has nearly tripled the public’s interest in me. I may have been able to coast through the mission without attracting much attention but since I was really the one who subdued James.

The attention definitely terrifies me but they don’t have much information on me. They have my codename and my age as well as my rank since it’s all public League record. The League decides if they release their agent’s complete. power specifications. Any person who was at Times Square or saw footage of the altercation obviously knows that I can control ice, but that’s about it for now. That’s about as how far the information they’ll ever have will go and I’m glad. I’m sure that being the center of attention will always make me uncomfortable.

This doesn’t keep the media from having an absolute field day. There are pictures of me shooting the stream of ice as well as when I got knocked on my ass. There’s a photo of me talking to Max and Nick. There are fangirls freaking out. The media circus and social media reaction was expected but it’s still stressful. Hundreds of people I don’t and never will know are demanding more information about me that I still haven’t even offered to my team.

Lots of good things, man, Atlas replies. Also lotsss of questions, tho.

I smile and shake my head.

Well, I’m ok. Probably bruises ribs but no big. As 4 the media circus, it’s kinda terrifying

I text Atlas back and then shove the phone back in my pocket. My side may ache every time I move but I’m no stranger to pain. This kind I’m specifically well acquainted with. Dad liked kicking.

“I’m gonna head back to my apartment,” I call out to whatever few members of the team are in hearing distance. “I’ll see you guys later.”

JD flashes from the kitchen to where I’m about to get on the elevator in a second. He shoves a Cosmic Brownie into my hands and then calls out a goodbye before sprinting back to the kitchen. I shake my head as I get onto the elevator and tuck the brownie into my pocket so I can eat it on the train ride to my temporary apartment.

I finally get a good look at my ribs once I’m in my apartment. There’s purple blooming up and down my sides where James’s concussion beam hit me straight in the chest. They’ll most likely be gone within the next few days so I’m not particularly worried. I’m pretty sure I’d be throwing up and feeling ready to pass out if there was any internal bleeding, so I seem to be in the clear.

I roll into bed at around six after forcing my way through a very light dinner and an incredibly ginger shower. My ribs throb but I’m so tired that there’s thankfully no time for me to dwell on them.

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