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Chapter Seventeen: Natalia

I woke up in a cold sweat. My lungs tried to suck in oxygen as quickly as they could as if the oxygen was pulled from my own lungs and not Melinda's. The monitor next to me beeped erratically, matching the rhythm of my own heart beat. A doctor and nurse ran in as if I was crashing, bringing a cart with them.

I started ripping cords from my chest before reaching for the IV jammed in my arm. "Natalia, we need you to calm down."

I ripped the IV out and pointed the needle at the doctor. It was barely a weapon, but it was better than nothing. "Where's Jesse?"

The doctor and nurse backed up. "He's close by. He got called into a meeting."

I stepped down onto the freezing concrete floor. I looked down to find myself in a pair of gym shorts and t-shirt that weren't mine. There were no socks or shoes on my feet either. "I want to see Jesse now."

The doctor nodded to the nurse; she ran out of the room. "I'm not here to hurt you. I just want to make sure you're okay" He took a step toward me.

I shook my head. "Stay back." I glanced at my surroundings; there wasn't anyone else in my room. "Where am I?"

The doctor cleared his throat. "You'll have to ask Jesse when he gets here."

I formed a pair of woolly socks and combat boots on my feet. I was ready to run at a moment's notice. "Natalia..." I jerked the needle toward the new voice.

Jesse walked into the room with his hands raised. "Where am I, Jesse?"

Jesse nodded to the doctor; he left calmly. "You're in a safe place."

I separated the needle from the Iv tubing for more control over my makeshift weapon. I levitated the needle in the air, glad to see my powers were working after the amount of energy I exhausted to destroy the TWA brigade earlier. "Cut the crap. I want to know where I am!"

Jesse put his hand out for me to take. "I'll show you."

I let the needle clang to the floor. I reached out and took Jesse's hand in mine. He led me out of the makeshift hospital and out into a larger warehouse.

The warehouse itself was gigantic. I spun around, taking in everything. There had to be at least four or five hundred people here from what I could see and I was sure I couldn't see it all. There was a large soccer stadium off to the side, making me think this place had once been some kind of indoor sports complex before the war. Now, the people here had decked it out to match the dreary reality we lived in.

Racks of guns, shields, and other weapons I couldn't make out, sat all around the warehouse for anyone to pickup. I opened my senses more than I usually did to notice half-telepaths, Telepaths, and humans mixed together.

The Telepaths were training with their elements in groups far from the rest of the population, most likely as a safety precaution. Humans were learning to shoot guns and some were using Telepaths as real targets to do so. I could feel half-telepaths expanding their minds and strengthening their mental defenses all while shooting paper targets with amazing precision. It was beautiful, a paradise among the apocalypse.

"What is this place?"

A girl about my age with blonde hair sticking up in all different directions, came out of nowhere and stopped in front of us. They must've been the welcome party I missed out on while unconscious. The girl had an Electro Telepath with her along with a human, representatives for every species in the warehouse. I could easily tell the girl with blonde hair was a half-telepath and the leader of this place. This was a meeting to decide whether they would use me for their own purposes or kill me. There was no way I was walking out of here with any of the freedom I had out in the world.

The girl stopped in front of me. Jesse took a step back, leaving me exposed. "Jesse here told me about your encounter with the TWA. It makes you a high priority target. I believe you know what position that leaves me in."

I nodded. "Yes, ma'am."

The girl beckoned me toward her. "Walk with me." I ventured off with her, leaving the Electro Telepath and armed human with Jesse. "I admit we've been watching you for a while now, Natalia. We believe you could be a key asset for our cause."

The girl opened a door to one of the many obscure buildings we passed. "Cause?" I stepped into the room along with her.

The girl sat down behind what was obviously her desk. "We're one of the headquarters for the Rebels."

I sat down in the dilapidated chair that sat alone in front of her desk. "So you think I could be one of your top officers or soldiers or whatever you'd like to call your lackeys?"

The girl nodded. "That's what we're thinking. Jesse provided me with some insight on you through the course of your relationship."

I nodded. "No disrespect..."

"Brittany," she replied.

"But what makes your gang of misfits capable of taking down an organization like the TWA?"

Brittany pulled her chair closer to her desk. "I mean no disrespect, but we have a better chance of doing so than rogues like you."

I smiled. "Fair enough. How am I supposed to change the game?"

Brittany propped her feet up on her desk, a cocky move if you asked me. "You took out over a hundred TWA officers all by yourself. Think what you could do with an army behind you."

I shook my head. "What I did was a onetime, desperate move. I nearly died eliminating those officers."

Brittany smiled. "That's because you're untrained. If you work with Jesse and some of my other top officers, you could recreate that desperate move without blinking an eye."

I crossed my arms. She had me pinned and she knew it. I could refuse to help her and, best case scenario, she'd dump me back in the world for the TWA to find. Worst case scenario, she'd send a bullet through my skull to ensure I'm not used against her. The bullet solution was already floating around her skull. She'd execute it without a second thought.

"I'll help out around the warehouse, but I'm not a soldier."

Brittany nodded. "Will you be a soldier when we rescue your parents?"

I sighed. "I thought that'd you'd be above that."

Brittany smiled slyly. She held no shame for using my family against me. "You're a big player. I will use every piece of leverage I have to get you on my side.

I leaned forward in my chair. I was starting to like this half-telepath. She had guts most of her kind didn't. "If you can find my family or any leads on them, I'll consider being a soldier in your war."

I got up from my chair. "It's your war too, Natalia." I headed out the door.

I found Jesse and Mark standing right outside the door. Mark wrapped me up in a bear hug immediately. "I was so worried," said Mark.

I laughed. "You can't get rid of me that easily."

"Looks like Brittany thinks you're Rebel material," said Jesse.

I looked to Mark. There was a smile planted on his face. "I didn't exactly have a choice."

Jesse smiled. "So it's my job to convince you of how amazing this place is?"

I stared Jesse down, not at all pleased. "You can try all you want."

Jesse twirled me around. "Come on. Let's get you assimilated."

Mark backed up in the opposite direction. "I have to get back to my chores. I'll catch up with you later." Mark ran off. He was already a part of this organization, while I wasn't even sure I wanted to be here.

Jesse led me over to the large soccer field in the middle of the warehouse. The molecules around the place were crackling with electricity and swirling with anticipation, while the ground vibrated as if someone was aggressively shaking it.

We entered the arena to find a Storm and Terrain Telepath on the soccer field, staring each other down. A referee was standing off to the side with a whistle in his mouth. The stands were filled with Telepaths, half-telepaths, and humans cheering for their favorite.

I looked over at Jesse. "This is an unusual set up."

Jesse dragged me up the stairs to a bench close to the action. "Fights used to break out all the time between Telepaths in the beginning of this base. Humans and half-telepaths always got caught in the middle, unable to defend themselves. Brittany decided to create the Arena to prevent the collateral damage. It grew much bigger than she anticipated."

"You've got this, Darrell!" shouted some human from the stands above us.

The ref blew the whistle. The Telepaths on the field let loose on each other. The electricity snapped in the air while the ground rumbled. "Do you ever pick a fight with anyone?"

Jesse leaned back and smiled. "I used to in order to stay sharp. I got my ass handed to me a couple of times at the beginning when I thought I was invincible because I was a Molecular. There were a few lessons I had to learn the hard way before I climbed the ranks. I currently hold the championship belt and no one's attempted to take it away from me since the day I got it."

The crowd roared. I looked down to the field to find the Terrain Telepath wrapping the Storm in grass. "I challenge you."

Jesse raised his left eyebrow up into his hair. "Do you think that's wise? You just woke up from a coma."

I leaned in closer to him. "Scared?"

Jesse cut the distance between us in half. "You're cocky. I like it." He got up and made his way down to the field to speak with the ref.

I sat there flexing my power a bit. I had to check for any residual damage from my run in with the TWA. There was no other way to see if my body cut off my access to any of the elements to repair itself. I reached out to every visible and invisible element to get an excited buzz from them all. It seemed they were pleased about my return to the conscious world.

I was a little nervous as I sat in the stands. This would be the first time going up against another Telepath on purpose. I wasn't sure I'd be able to outsmart Jesse when it wasn't a life or death situation. Usually, I ran on autopilot during one of those situations. What if attacking Jesse didn't come as naturally?

Jesse jogged back up the bleachers with a wicked grin plastered on his face. "We're up next. Nervous?"

I pulled him down onto the bench. "Only that you'll stop talking to me once I humiliate you."

Jesse chuckled. "You talk a big game." The ref blew the whistle.

I looked down to see the Storm Telepath unconscious on the field. A stretcher came onto the field to pick him up and cart him to the hospital. The Terrain Telepath and her fans were cheering her on as she made her way up the stands.

"We're up." Jesse and I ran down the metal steps, making a racket of our own.

Jesse took the far end of the field without asking if I had a preference. "Do you want me to take it easy on you?" he yelled.

I sat down on the ground. I brushed my fingertips along the grass. The earth below me was shifting with the energy the Terrains in the warehouse were pumping into it. It was truly beautiful to see all of this power being used freely.

"No," I whispered.

"Are you ready?" asked the ref. I nodded; he blew the whistle with a little roll of his eyes.

Jesse smacked the ground with his foot, causing the earth to quake below me. I easily steadied the ground. I wasn't ready to be thrown from my position yet. "Is that the best you can do?" I shouted.

Jesse threw up a wall of molecules in the center of the field; I left it alone. It was a tiny structure I could easily destroy when the time was right. "No," he replied. The grass around me began to turn against me.

The blades of grass shot up and wrapped around me until I was in a cocoon. I relaxed every muscle in my body to keep the grass from constricting before I broke through it with one push off the ground. I was now standing, charging the molecules in the air before sending a lightning bolt up and over the tiny wall Jesse created.

Jesse quickly redirected the bolt into the ground. The luscious green grass was charred instantly. It screamed out to me, begging for relief; I winced.

"You're going to have to do better than that." I flung Jesse against the wall of the arena resulting in him falling into a pile of limbs. I opened a portal and appeared in front of him ready to end the fight, but Jesse had already recovered.

He swept my feet out from under me. I hit my back against the ground, hard. Jesse pulled his fist back behind his ear; I rolled away as his fist hit the grass. Rolling to my feet, I regained my balance along with Jesse.

He shot fire out of his hand in a steady stream I was able to dodge without a problem. I threw a few punches that he blocked easily. He was much more skilled at physical combat than me. A mental approach was the only way I was going to beat him.

Getting into Jesse's mind was as easy as if he were a human, he needed better mental security. As I tore down his pathetic walls, he threw a couple more punches I was barely able to block. I found my way into his motor cortex as he laced his fists with fire. As he reared his fist back, I shut down everything non-essential in his brain.

Jesse fell to the ground. The crowd grew silent as they waited for Jesse to return to his feet as quickly as he had before. I looked to the crowd and the burst into cheers. I released my block on Jesse's brain, allowing it to reboot itself. The ref blew the whistle shortly after.

I helped Jesse up from the ground. "I let you win," he groaned.

I smiled. "Sure you did." I waved to my many new fans before leaving the stadium with Jesse. The smile never left my face.

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