February 8, 2317
City of James
Kristen turned away from the man in front of her. She put her hand against the brick wall of the alley and leaned out to see if she could escape. As she made to step out, a hand wrapped around her wrist and stopped her.
“What do you mean: you’re not supposed to exist?”
“It means I don’t belong anywhere. I don’t have a home.” She pulled her hand free and stepped out onto the street. She pulled the hood of her jacket over her head and shoved her hands in her pockets.
Someone fell into step next to her.
“People don’t normally kiss me out of the blue,” the man grinned. “Of course, I’m not sure anyone would be brave enough to kiss me—let alone get within a few feet of me.”
She glanced around and noticed many of those walking on the sidewalk abandoned their original paths to avoid them.
“Am I supposed to be scared of you like everyone else is?”
“If we are mutually aware of who each other is.”
“You’re asking for my name.” She narrowed her eyes.
He pushed a hand through his hair, and she noticed the red ends to the dark brunet strands. “I suppose I am. Though, I have to say, I’m more surprised you don’t know who I am.”
Kristen looked him up and down again. “I highly doubt you’re a celebrity.”
The man laughed. “You wound me.”
“If you’re not a celebrity, why should I know you?” She focused her gaze on the surroundings.
“Are you a resident of Elementōrum Patriam?” He hesitated and fell a step behind her. “Or since you said you don’t have a home, where do you sleep at night?”
“Trying to find your way into my bed?” She smirked.
“Answer the question.” His voice remained serious.
“I am a resident. Do I need to show you my ID?” She put a hand to her back pocket where she kept the physical card from America. She didn’t have an ELE ID. She guessed a number from briefly catching a glimpse of someone else’s. She didn’t have a government issued phone. She scammed her way into the country, her job, her housing—she survived on it until that moment.
“Yes, actually.” He stopped and folded his arms across his chest.
Kristen contemplated running. She took in the man’s form again. Only a few inches taller, he didn’t seem terribly bulky. She could take the advantage with her ability. She opened her mouth then ran.
Before she had a chance to slow down time, she connected with a solid object. Her head snapped back from the force of the slam and her body hit the pavement. Her butt ached from the impact and she recognized the tell-tale sting on her elbows.
“What do we have here?” The black man asked with a grin.
“Not sure.” The first provided. “She says she isn’t supposed to exist.”
“Interesting.” He ran a tongue across his lips. “In which way are you not supposed to exist? Illegal immigrant? Human outside of human bounds? Rogue? Un who made it out of the gate? I don’t see scars for that one to be plausible.”
Kristen swallowed and debated once again attempting to vanish with her powers.
“If you’re thinking of running, I wouldn’t do it.” The man in front of her warned. “You don’t know which elements we have on our side here.”
Kristen let out a heavy breath and slowly got to her feet. “My powers.” She held out her hands. “The things I can do. They aren’t supposed to exist. I don’t exist here or in the human world.”
The two men exchanged a glance.
“We’ll help you figure that out.” The first offered. “That’s part of our job, after all.”
“Officer,” the taller man raised a hand to a figure in the street, “bring me your handcuffs.”
“Yes, sir.” The officer jogged over and handed over the metal rings. They would lock off any ability from appearing while transporting a prisoner.
“What is your name and unit number?”
“Jonas Vogel from the ninety-ninth precinct, sir.”
“We’ll send over the money to requisition you a new set of handcuffs.” The man smiled as he clicked the cuffs into place around Kristen’s wrists.
“Thank you, sir—Tautona Tebogo, President Silverspoon.”
“Tautona? President?” Kristen panicked. “You’re the Council members.”
“Yes, newly unveiled and at your service.” Tautona Tebogo gave her a playful bow.
“I kissed a Council member.” She let out a small breath of air which took on the high-pitched tone of her voice. “I am so dead.”
“Kissed?” He looked over to the other Council member.
“I’ll tell you later.” President Silverspoon waved off his friend.
“We have the ride back.” The black man smiled wide. “So, the one who isn’t supposed to exist, what’s your name?”
“Kristen Delvenah.” She hung her head and focused on her worn tennis shoes.
“Miss Kristen, sorry to say, you’ll be going before the Council to plead your case for what happened here today.”
“Namune, get the pod, will you?”
“I’m not the person to normally kiss people I don’t know.” Kristen glanced up at the man next to her.
He quirked an eyebrow. “Why’d you do it then?”
“To get away from the police.”
“Quite the situation you put yourself in.” The Council member crossed his arms and kept a close eye on her.
A transportation pod moved through the crowded streets and stopped in front of them. The door opened and Namune stepped out.
“Dwayne, are you sure Luana won’t be mad at us for not completing our task?” He gestured for Kristen to step into the vehicle.
“I may be relying on Hans to help cover for us.” Dwayne stepped into the car and leaned back into the seat and stretched out his legs.
Namune followed his example and the barrier they created effectively blocked Kristen from attempting to run without tripping. She frowned.
“Are you going to ask me more about my ability?” She provided for conversation as the car lifted off the ground.
“Later—the whole Council will need to hear your confession.” Dwayne yawned and pulled out his phone. “Namune, I’m going to reschedule a few things. We’ll need to return to James tomorrow.”
“Is there anything I should prepare?” The brunet pulled out his own phone.
“Nothing more than you’ve already done. Luana might give us something else later—we’ll reevaluate then.”
“Are you sure you can discuss these kinds of things with me here?” Kristen cut in.
“Have you learned anything?” Namune turned to face her.
She thought back to the conversations. They didn’t say anything specific. She had nothing over them. “No.”
“Then, does it matter if we talk in front of you?”
She stayed quiet.
They didn’t scare her as much as she thought they would initially. After the rumors about the Council members and their actions in their own country and on the surface, she thought they would be dangerous. Perhaps they lied to her about their position on the Council? She shook her head. The Council uncloaked themselves recently—the officer they took the handcuffs from seemed plenty terrified of them and called them as they would the leader of their county. She supposed the robes beforehand created an atmosphere enough to sway them to fear. The unknown always created the most naturally terrifying ideas. Behind the robes, the Council members could be anything—disrobed, they changed and acted more normal than anticipated.
Kristen brough her thumb to her lips and bit hard on the nail. The edge cracked as she nibbled and turned away from the Council member. In hindsight, a couple of them didn’t scare her, but only a matter of minutes would pass before she sat for judgement in front of the Council of eight. Six unknowns. Eight judgements to condemn her to life or death. If only she didn’t get turned in for being on the wanted list. She wanted to fly under the radar a little longer before trying to figure out why her abilities varied wildly from the expected elements. Kristen leg bounced as her anxiety increased.
The Council caught her. She had no more opportunities to run—she had no means to get away. Her younger self should have known, but the truth haunted her. It wanted to be in the open. Its secrets no longer held behind the chains of her childish actions. If she kept running, if she didn’t grab Ethan, if she used her abilities instead in the dark alley she would be gone before anyone could tell where she went. A free convict. Instead, she had ability nullifying handcuffs and would be brought to trial before the incomplete Council.
Kristen slipped her thumb away from her mouth and watched the two Council members. They discussed the upcoming war. She frowned. Despite what Dwayne told her, she expected more questions from them. Her puzzled expression remained as she looked them both up and down. Ethan and Dwayne had similar clothing tastes. A loose shirt with jeans. Ethan wore a regular T-shirt with stiff cotton, while Dwayne donned a muscle shirt. She wondered what proper business the Council members could conduct in non-professional clothing. Maybe they rely more on their presence?
“We are curious about why you say you shouldn’t exist.” Ethan’s words interrupted her thoughts.
She jumped and blinked unsteadily at him for several seconds. “What?”
“Earlier, you said you shouldn’t exist. We are both curious, but anything you say to us will need to be repeated later in front of the rest. There’s no point in asking the same question twice.”
“Can you read minds?”
“Not that I’m aware of.” Ethan hesitated. “I don’t think that’s part of my element.”
“You don’t know?” Kristen raised an eyebrow critically.
Dwayne waved his companion down. “You mumbled a few things under your breath as you thought. Which, we weren’t doing anything terribly official today. It’s why we dressed a little more relaxed.”
“I see.” She returned to chewing the edge of her nail.
Ethan’s breathing deepened when a text notification went off on his phone. He quickly pulled the object from his pocket and displayed the message to Dwayne who nodded. Her curiosity got the better of her and she tried to angle herself to catch a glimpse of the name on the screen, but she could only make out a single letter S. Frustrated and antsy, she settled back into her seat with a small huff.
“I’m not allowed to know what elements you are. I suppose.”
“If you kept up with the news, you already would.” Dwayne grinned. “Not telling you is now part of the fun. It means you don’t know how much of a threat we are.”
Ethan pointed to himself. “The more threatening one out of us both.”
“I doubt she agrees. She kissed you.”
Kristen opened her mouth to reply, then she thought better of it and kept her voice off for the rest of the ride. She watched out the window as they approached what she could only think of as Olympus itself. The sun shone bright and golden off the edges of the buildings. Towers and high rises rose miles above what she thought would be a breathable atmosphere. The sprawling landscapes forced her jaw open as she took in the sights. A small Italy, miniature Greece, grandiose Spain, Valleys of Switzerland—Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Turkey, Cyprus, France, Slovenia, Monaco, San Marino. All laid out before her as a smorgasbord of countries she longed to visit. All readily available around the edges of the Academy itself. No travel necessary. The air in her lungs expelled as she realized she lost her opportunity to experience the one-hundred and ninety-five countries gathered in a single and welcoming home. Tears gathered at the edges of her eyes and she quickly wiped them away as the pod started its spiral descent. The Academy certainly stood as one of the most magnificent buildings on Earth.
The pod pulled into a large garage structure with mechanics and engineers working side by side on all vehicles. A set took over their pod immediately after the climbed out facing a large set of double-doors which led into the Academy. Dwayne and Ethan led her through the halls. Students of the Academy rushed out of their way as they passed. Curious whispers followed them through the long stretches of nothing. The slowly vanishing stripes of color on the wall indicating where they could go to access the areas of the academy based on element gave her little comfort. A painter stood at one wall adding a black and purple stripe in sections. She turned her head to watch him as they passed by with nary a word.
“He’s adding the Death and Supernatural elements.” Ethan supplied. “We opened some of the unused classrooms and boarding areas to the new elements—we simply don’t have people to fill them in yet.”
“I see.” One neutral gray line followed them all the way until they reached a door in the middle of an empty hall.
The door had no exorbitant decoration, a plain brown wood with a bronze handle. Attached to the door hung a sign with two words: COUNCIL ROOM.
“Welcome, Kristen Delvenah, to our home.” Dwayne graciously opened the door for her and waved her through.
Inside the main entryway, nine hooks hung empty on the wall, each with an element labeled on the wall above it. It looked empty without their red cloaks and she wondered if it would eventually be taken down in favor of the new order. They led her through a confusing maze of near dark hallways until she knew she wouldn’t find her way out again.
A messy haired brunette stood with her arms folded in front of a doorway a short distance ahead. Kristen took in her military style attire and decided she didn’t want to mess with her in any way—even if she did have her abilities intact.
They shuffled to the side and allowed Kristen to enter the room. Brighter than she expected, Kristen squinted as she made her way down the short aisle to a lowered down interrogation scene with a single chair. Her eyes adjusted to the light and she examined the strange amalgamation of people who made up the Council. A taller, bulky man stood guard by the door.
In the seats nearest the railing looking into the pit, on Kristen’s right-hand side, a woman with blond and blue hair reclined with her feet on the railing. She dressed in the brightest colors imaginable and it all matched. Next to her, a man with black hair dressed in all black held his phone in his hand, a game app pulled open, but abandoned upon her appearance. In the corner a woman with a medium shade of brown skin and long black hair dozed fitfully against the wall. She had a round face and looked young compared to the other occupants. On her left in their seats, a Chinese woman, with a black to blonde balayage, perched on the edge and watched her uneasily.
Kristen stepped down the stairs and turned to sit, just in time to see Dwayne swing himself over the back of his chair between the sleeping woman and the goth. Ethan took a seat next to the woman on the opposite side after she politely stood to let him move past her. They both repeated the same action when the woman with messy hair and the guard joined them in the loft.
“Would you state your name for the record?” The brunette demanded.
“Kristen Elizabeth Delvenah.”
“And what is your intent for illegally entering Elementōrum Patriam?”
“I wanted to discover more about myself and the abilities I have.” Kristen folded her hands across her lap and picked at her nail beds. “An elementalist already told me when I was little that I shouldn’t exist, and I should hide my powers. I only wanted answers.”
“What are your abilities?”
“There are a few of them.” She paused, and anxious gasps filled the room. “The one I use the most is to slow down time. If I drop something, I can slow down time and catch it before it breaks or spills. I can also slow down time if I’m running late and still move at a normal pace to make up those lost moments. I can separate the elements around me, and I can hold unstable ones in my hand without damage to me or the environment. If I want to, I can see the stars in space as if I’m right next to them, but I stay safely bound on earth. There are many planets which are beautiful up close.”
The Chinese woman flipped through several pages in a book before she handed it to the leader. She took it without question and read something on the page.
“Is this the general consensus from everyone else as well?” She looked at the other Council members and they nodded. “Kristen, we’d like to see a few of your powers in person. If you do try to run, we won’t hesitate to take you down.”
“I understand.” Kristen nodded and stood obediently when told. The main leader stepped down into the arena with her.
“If you try any funny business, I’m here to stop you immediately.” She warned.
The blonde repeated her earlier action and obediently held out her hands for the woman to remove the handcuffs. She flexed her fingers as the abilities interwoven into her genetic code reactivated. It tingled in a terribly pleasant way.
“Hans, if you would.” The hulk stepped forward and raised a hand. In his palm appeared a small ball of dirt. The brunette pointed to the far side. “We’ll have you start there. I will tell Hans to drop the ball and you will catch it before it hits the ground.”
“Easy.” She quickly retreated to the far side of the pit.
On the woman’s signal, Hans dropped the ball and in the next second, Kristen stood on the other side with it resting lightly in her palm. The chair rocked from her jump over it in the middle. She held the clod back up toward the man who made it disappear with a simple snap.
“Series, would you collect the Carbon-14 from the lab?”
“Liquid or solid?”
“Bring just a big of both. A small amount will kill her if she isn’t what we expect.”
Kristen’s eyes expanded to the size of dinner plates. She knew her death would be a big possibility once captured by the Council; she didn’t expect it come quickly. She thought they would deliberate like a court trial, but one of the tests for her survival had a high chance of killing her there on the spot. Panicked, her breathing quickened and her hands flew into her hair. She tugged at the strands and tried to remember how to breath. She felt a steady hand on her back and her mind cleared.
As she came to, she found a concerned Dwayne watching her. His hand rested now on her shoulder to keep her steady as the other processed her health.
“Panic attack, nothing else wrong.” He concluded. “Don’t worry, everything will be fine. We’re all ninety-nine point nine-nine percent sure the Carbon-14 isn’t going to hurt you.”
“Especially in light of that.” Ethan pointed at the ceiling.
Kristen turned around and where the dark ceiling should be, they stood on the cusp of one of Saturn’s rings and watched the gasses move across the surface.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. That happens when I panic. I haven’t figured out how to control it yet.” Her heart rate started to rise again.
“Kristen, deep breaths. Stop thinking. Take one thing at a time. It’s not a big deal.” Dwayne reassured. “We always wanted our ceiling to show something more interesting anyway. There’s no way any of us would have the chance to see Saturn this close up without you.”
Her breaths turned into hiccoughing laughter and the others in the room breathed a sigh of relief. The other blonde in the room collected some water from the air and dropped into a class created by Hans and the leader. Kristen watched them in awe as they used their powers cohesively and succinctly. The control they exhibited helped her feel at ease as she downed the drink.
“I wonder if I can do anything about this.” The brunette stared up at the ceiling with her hands on her hips. “My element is supposed to be stronger, isn’t it?”
Kristen watched the woman contemplate her options.
“Eilene, Hans, be at the ready should this go south.”
They both gave her thumbs up and she raised one hand to the ceiling. With a flick of her wrist the image above them burst into flames before it shattered and burned into nothing. No ash, no burn marks, nothing left behind.
“Interesting. It’s almost more like a mirage than it is reality.” She took a deep breath and turned back to Kristen. “We do still need to finish the tests. Are you okay to keep going?”
Kristen looked to the others around the room briefly before voicing her consent. Series walked forward with the Carbon-14 held tightly in gloved hands. She held out the small vial of liquid element first. Kristen took it from her with shaking hands. The Council waited with breaths held. Dwayne had his hands in front of him ready to read and document any of the results. She quickly pressed the tube to her lips and knocked it and her head back at full force. She felt whiplash run down her spine. The chemical burned for only a moment before it settled in her stomach. She let out a small burp and the exhale of air lit concern in Dwayne’s face.
“What is it?” The brunette looked as if she wanted to take a step forward.
“After ingesting Carbon-14, the breath expelled should be radioactive, and it is, but it only remains so for a few milliseconds. It stabilizes immediately after—almost as if her body is stabilizing the chemical.”
“She’s not the only one here who can drink strange things and survive.” Ethan grinned from the railing. “Where do we keep the poison again?”
Dwayne rolled his eyes. “What do you want to do, Luana?”
“We’ll keep her for a couple days. Confirm a few more things and make sure there’s no adverse reactions to the Carbon-14. I trust your medical diagnosis, but it would be best to know our ideas are on the right page.” Luana folded her arms. “We won’t do what we did to Ethan, of course. She’ll be our guest.”
“Why is there no jail cell hazing for anyone else? What did I do?” Ethan looked to the other Council members.
“You didn’t die.” The goth man gave him a small smirk.
Kristen ignored the rest of their joking conversation in favor of finding a safe place to set the empty vial. She decided on the chair where she could place it without fear of it rolling and breaking.
“Kristen?” Series leaned into her field of view, and the blonde jumped back. The native woman grinned. “I’ll show you to your room where you’ll stay—then I can show you around to where you can hang out during the observation period. Do you have clothes we can collect and bring here? If not, you and Eilene are similar heights, you might wear the same sizes.”
Kristen looked the other blonde woman up and down. Her clothes hugged her figure. “I think I wear larger clothes. I had a suitcase in my—uh—illegally obtained apartment.”
“We’ll get it back.” She reassured. “Come on.”
Series led her around the different areas and provided her with a temporary phone where she could see the map of the Council quarters. It listed each room and its purpose. The woman gave her a list of a few which she shouldn’t enter unless told to by one of them. At the end of the tour, they stopped outside the bedrooms—listed on her phone with names of who slept where. The door to Dwayne’s room left open and he and Eilene laid on either sides of the bed and threw popcorn at each other.
“They’re best friends.” Series whispered. “They had a blowout last year, though, so it’s great seeing them like that again.”
“This will be your room.” She pressed her hand against the wall and the door flew open.
Kristen peered around the corner and found herself in a completely blank canvas of white. At the end of the bed, her suitcases and backpack gave the room its only color.
“As is tradition, the only advice I will give you is to ‘ask and it shall be granted’.” Series grinned. “We’ll see you in the morning.”
“Thank you.” Kristen walked over to her belongings and lifted them onto the bed. She unzipped them and checked to make sure it still held all her belongings. Everything appeared to be there, which gave her comfort. She quickly changed into a pair of pajamas before she crawled into the bed. The white room reminded her she had no luxuries until the Council decided what to do with her and her abilities officially.
Lost in thought, it took her several minutes to realize she needed to turn out the light to sleep for the night. She crawled back out of the covers only to realize the room had no light switch. Kristen examined each wall carefully in confusion and even looked through the apps on her phone. She couldn’t find anything to control the lights.
“Can I even turn out the lights?” She muttered under her breath. “That’s terrible for the environment.”
A flash on the wall caught her attention. A small button highlighted near where she remembered the door stood. When she put her hand against it, the lights went out. Pleased, she retreated to the bed and curled back under the covers.
October 13, 2310
“Ah!” Robert Hatchbrooke cried out as his drink tipped. Kristen’s hand shot over and righted it automatically. Not a single drop out of place. He smiled at her. “I wish I had that ability.”
“I forget I’m using it.” Kristen pursed her lips and looked back at her half-finished sandwich. “I’m not supposed to use it according to your mom.”
“You can probably pass that skill off as quick reflexes.” Crystal Hatchbrooke opened the fridge and grabbed the bottle of juice to refill her own glass. “Using any of your other abilities is where it becomes more dangerous.”
“I don’t know how to turn it off. It bursts out of me most of the time.” She reached across the counter to the apple slices and shoved one into her mouth. She took another and set it on her plate. Kristen sat on a tall barstool at the high counter of the Hatchbrooke house. They lived a few houses away from her own. Robert and she became close friends after discovering their shared fascination over the elementalists in school. Most students tended to avoid them since the elementalists came across often as a taboo subject.
“At least you know you’re an elementalist. I haven’t shown any signs yet.” Robert pushed himself away from the counter and slid to the floor.
Kristen’s feet thudded against the cabinet as she kicked her legs. “It’s not that great when you’re the only one of your kind. I’m in constant threat of death, you know.”
“Who isn’t?” He teased.
“Robert, put the dipping caramel away.” Crystal asked from over the panini press where she held the lid down on her sandwich.
Kristen quickly finished her food in several large bites and slid off her own stool with crumbs spilling past her lips. She and Robert cleaned up their dishes before they retreated to the living room.
“Do you want to watch something?” He pointed to the TV.
“We haven’t watched the Discovery Channel in a while.” Kristen gave him puppy-dog eyes.
He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “I guess we haven’t.”
He shuffled to the TV remote and reluctantly turned the channel to play their scheduled science show. Kristen collected their backpacks from the entry way and settled into a comfortable position on the floor with her homework spread out in front of her. The program of the day featured an exposé on space.
“Space has long fascinated mankind. It led adventurers across the land and sea as they discovered the new world after the elementalists tore apart Pangea. In early discoveries of space, the mysteries of the heavens captivated and confused us. The Greeks believed the planets moved in a geocentric system—where all the planets and the sun moved around the Earth attracted to its gravity. The geocentric model grew in the ancient world as they could not see past the images of the planets they named.
“Many years later, the retrograde motion of planets confused astronomers who sought to know the secrets of the night sky. Many suggested the other plants moved on their own circular paths because of how the planets would swing from west to east and back. They called it the epicycle of the planet, found in the patterns of Venus and Uranus.
“New thoughts and ideas sprung about the globe as humans continued to make scientific and technological advancements. With our new knowledge we proposed and confirmed the Heliocentric diagram in which all the plants circle about the gravitational pull of the sun. Our closest star. The sun itself moves around the Milky Way Galaxy, pulled by the gravitational force of the black hole at the center.
“Every planet in our solar system has its own place. Each one rotates based on its mass and attraction to the sun’s gravity. None so inhabitable as Earth. Recently, scientists discovered one planet with a skewed rotation around the sun—Pluto.”
“You actually find this interesting?” Robert interrupted her rapture with the program.
She glanced at her homework, forgotten under her arm. “People are out there discovering this stuff. They’re learning about how we live in comparison to a much larger seemingly empty space.”
“Space is a habitat we can’t even survive in. They need to take all these steps just to insure people can live up there and they can only do it for so long. What’s the point in exploring something if it’s unhabitable?”
“Somewhere out there is something just as habitable as Earth, though. Somewhere, there’s another world with life and ideas and experiences all their own. With all the knowledge we gain, someday we’ll be able to go into the beyond and receive even more knowledge in return. It’s an ever-spinning wheel—beautiful and amazing.” Kristen turned her attention to her homework with a small smile on her face. “One day, I want to see it all for myself.”
February 9, 2317
“Tell us more about your ability.” Luana demanded over breakfast the next morning. She pointed her spoon at Kristen like a weapon.
“It’s dangerous. It can kill people when I’m not careful with it—sometimes even when I am careful.” She swallowed her oatmeal. When she put her spoon back to take another bite, a queasiness settled in her stomach and she pushed the bowl away.
“You have experience with that.” Hans' speech came across as a knowing statement.
“My best friend as a kid into young teenager—he recognized my abilities as something special at school because his mom is an elementalist. She told me to hide my ability, but over time it became too much to handle. I had an outburst one day and killed him without meaning to. I’ve been running ever since. Always a new home. A new job. A new state. I never stayed in one place too long.”
“Where are you from originally?” Ethan perked up curiously. “I ended up all over too—passed between one family member to another.”
“I was born in Montana.” Ethan grinned. “We’re almost on opposite coasts.”
“I’m from Arizona.” Series offered. “More West than Ethan.”
“Debatable. There it that one side that hangs over the line.” He pulled out his phone. “Which city you from?”
“Oh my gosh, petty much.” She rolled her eyes.
“I’m from South Carolina.” The man in black offered quietly.
“Oh, another Southern state.” Kristen perked up. “What was it like growing up a little more south?”
He shifted uncomfortably. “Lots of hurricanes.”
“I remember quite a few tornadoes in Tennessee, but I didn’t live there long enough to really know. It’s kind of more, relying on news knowledge.” Luana frowned. “There really are too many of us from America.”
Eilene laughed. “It helps to make those of us not from America all the more special and diverse.”
“Where are you from?” Kristen hesitantly pulled her bowl back to her. She leaned away when the queasiness didn’t back down.
“City of Barren, the Netherlands sector. I grew up speaking Dutch.” She paused. “Praten over koetjes en kalfjes.”
The group stared at her for a few seconds too long and her brows furrowed.
“I forgot, I’m the only one who speaks Dutch. I need to use it more.”
“I’m learning a new language today apparently.” Dwayne clapped his hands together. “Off to the library.”
“If you’re going to the library, take a team with you and research strategy and weaknesses we can exploit instead.” Luana growled.
“I’ll take Scott, Eilene, and Scarlet.” He agreed. The three chosen turned to him in surprise.
Luana frowned. Dwayne knew she liked working with Scott and Scarlet in particular. “Alright, I’ll allow it for today. You four better bring me some promising information. Hans and I will work on the public call for recruits to the army. Series and Ethan, I’d like you to work with Kristen and see what you can’t figure out about her abilities.”
“Agreed.” Series quickly cut in. “Well do our best with her.”
“Everyone split,” Luana stood and took her plate back to the dumbwaiter for its return trip to the kitchen.
Kristen considered her oatmeal for several more seconds before she decided against it entirely. She placed the half-finished bowl into the dumbwaiter and waited for Ethan and Series and lead the way.
“What room can we use for this kind of thing?” Ethan shoved his hands into his pockets and fell into step next to Series.
“There’s a gymnasium we never really use—it’s set up for a few different sports. I’m sure we could figure out a few things to do there.”
“Can you control which parts of space you can see?” He turned his head back to look at Kristen.
“I can control it.”
Ethan grinned. “Let’s explore space.”
When lunch arrived, the Council gathered back together as a group to eat and discuss the things they did during their team time. Eilene had three tosti sandwiches on her plate along with some slices of cold meat and an ice-based dish Kristen didn’t recognize. She sat immediately next to Scott who had a large plate of fries and three fried chicken sandwiches. Eilene scooted her dessert to the man. Both worked their way through the fries and desert together—it felt as if Kristen intruded on something she shouldn’t see.
Scarlet had her own version of the same ice-dish and several dishes she couldn’t name but identified as Chinese. She noticed all the Council members had large plates of food. Hans worked his way through several servings of a tomato-based stroganoff, while Luana had three double cheeseburgers in front of her, which she polished off quicker than Kristen could blink. Ethan had two large enchilada style burritos, stuffed to the brim with beans and rice. Series had a plate full of beans, corn, and a venison hash. Dwayne had two separate dishes: one consisted of a deep-fried bread covered in honey and ground beef; the other, a bowl full of an unfamiliar bean.
“Do you all normally eat this much food?” She felt embarrassed to only have a single American style taco in front of her with a side of tater-tots.
“We started training recently for the upcoming war.” Scarlet provided. “We started eating a lot more carbs to help sustain our diet as a result since we burn through them.”
“We didn’t eat nearly this much a few weeks ago.” Eilene confirmed with a grin.
“Training can make you hungrier?” She popped a tot in her mouth.
“Oh yeah.” Dwayne confirmed. “We have to keep our status as the strongest elementalists in the country. If we don’t have a wide range of control on our powers, and if we aren’t able to fight properly, it’d look bad on Elementōrum Patriam. Part of proper understanding and control is all in the training elements. We’ll be fighting right alongside our people—we have no intentions of sitting and commanding from the sidelines.”
“I think it’d be more terrifying to know you’re up against the strongest elementalist in the world as well. We’re hoping some fear might drive a few away.” Series chewed her meat thoughtfully. “Though, in some countries dying in war is a badge of honor.”
Eilene finished off her food and twirled her hair between her fingers as she waited for the others to finish. “Will we be doing the same tasks in the afternoon?”
“I would like us to continue—though Kristen, you can have free-time as I need Ethan and Series’ help.” Luana nodded to her companions.
“Of course. I think I’ll check out one of the entertainment rooms.” Kristen agreed politely.
“Ugh, I need to dye my hair again.” Eilene muttered under her breath as she dropped her hair back into place with a little more curl. “I’m heading off to the library.”
“I’m right behind you.” Scott quickly stood from his chair and the two headed off together.
Kristen’s brows furrowed together. “Are they dating?”
The Council shrugged before they stood and headed off to their own tasks. Left behind, she polished off the last of her food before she headed off to find something to entertain her for a few hours.
Kristen shifted uncomfortably in her bed. Something she couldn’t identify kept her awake—which annoyed her to the point she decided a late-night adventure would be more enjoyable. She pushed herself out of bed and hoped there would be a place she could get a breath of fresh air. Kristin slunk through the dark halls and hoped no one would stop her. As she followed one of the hallways to the main door, she noticed an ajar door with a light on. She crept toward it to get a better idea of how she could slide past.
“That can’t be right. Two-hundred and fifty million people in a single infantry? That’s too many.” Luana’s voice filtered from behind the door.
“Lu, children.” Hans.
“Right, children and elementalists still studying at the Academy—we wouldn’t draft them.” A pencil scratched a few notes. “Adjusted to two-hundred million.”
“Try one-hundred and fifty.” Another pencil. “There are going to be a number of people who do not wish to fight. We need to allow them that mercy—even if we don’t want to.”
“That’s a fall of seven-hundred million not fighting.” Distraught ricocheted off her tongue.
“We need people to run the country. We can’t have all of them fighting or we will have no production. Our people will starve on the front lines—we will have no means to fight outside of our abilities. I think it honestly may be too much to expect even one billion of our people to join us in war. There is so much which needs to be done to sustain our lands while we fight for our rights. Even if we do not reach these numbers, we will have a substantial army.”
“I want this to be over quickly. There has been too much talking of late and I’m ready to fight—I’m ready to get it over with. Be done. Kill Kim Rolfe and with him, his ideals.” A soft pounding on the table as something impacted it.
“That won’t be easy to do. Rolfe is praying on the weaknesses of humans. Their lack of compassion for the differences between even their own race will help to bring about their downfall, but those ideals will always persist in the ideals of man who search only for perfection.”
Kristen ducked quickly past the doorway and continued down the hall. She ended up leaving the Council chambers entirely. She slowed down time and watched at her own leisurely pace as people wandered the halls and the Earth made its slow rotation across the night sky. She smiled and let time return to normal as she reached the front entrance.
The marble steps glittered under the moonlight and the view of the City of Garden greeted her like the night’s smile. She felt peace come over her as she stepped away from the canopy of the roof and found the face of the universe watching her in its glory of rich purples, pinks, and blues. Her feet clicked against the steps as she descended and watched the night’s freckles wink and dance above her. Halfway down, the stairs came to a long landing with a rudimentary path to the right side. Curious, she departed the well-worn path for the dirt one.
A few yards away, Kristen came to a pond which reflected the majesty of the night-sky with such complexity, she believed it to be a mirror. She sat on the edge for several minutes before she ran her fingers across the surface and watched the ripples interrupt the star’s parade. She smiled and scooped the water into her hands and watched it trickle like a fountain back into its home. In the beginning of February, cold on Earth’s surface, she didn’t expect it to feel warm and welcoming. She liked the comfort of controlled weather courtesy of the Storm elementalists. They could have any weather they desired at any moment. It left her in awe of the greatness they boasted as a race. They had all parts of the world folded under a single banner: one unified country.
“I’ve always found water to be a strangely beautiful element.”
Kristen jumped and splashed a large amount of water onto her lap. She turned and found Hans standing behind her. He chuckled at the wet stain and ran a hand into the brunet pompadour of his undercut.
“Water has so much power over our world, over me, and yet it’s all the more fascinating to explore.” He joined her on the ground. “You should be glad I told Luana I would search for you outside. She isn’t as forgiving of rulebreakers. I’m sure she’ll be waiting to give you a piece of her mind when we return.”
“How did you know?”
“The front door has a silent alarm. It triggers in case of intruders—or in this case, escapees.”
“I couldn’t sleep. I feel at ease when I am closer to the stars.” Kristen pointed up.
“It is easy to feel cooped up in the Council chambers. Even when you feel like you adjust, there are days when you want to escape into the wild and be free from the pressures again.” Hans agreed.
“Did you often want to escape when you first joined the Council?”
“Of course. I think we all did at one point. After joining, we would see the consequences of our sudden end in the world out here.” He waved to the trees. “Our names no longer existed outside of the Council. We had fake graves made in our name. The Council told lies about our disappearance and every bit of it, we agreed to willingly. There were many times when I myself considered running away. I wished to void the pact I made because I thought running would provide me some peace of mind—reunite me with the family I lost.”
“Now, I am free to be known by my name again to the world, but it doesn’t change the losses I suffered in the years I vanished.” They sat quietly for several minutes. “It is a beautiful night. A perfect one to settle thoughts.”
“Are you going to drag me back to the Council chambers?” Kristen pulled at her wet jeans.
“I think if I tried, you would use your abilities to your advantage. If you didn’t, I would feel guilty. Instead, I think it’s best to wait until you wish to go back. It’s quite easy to get lost.” He smiled and laid back against the grass.
Kristen joined him but laid the opposite direction. She lifted her hand to the sky and traced constellation patterns across the stars. Each star twinkled a little brighter as her fingers trailed between them.
“Have you ever wanted to see a star up close?”
“I haven’t thought about it before.” He admitted.
“The dying ones are the most spectacular. When you watch them implode and leave behind trails of color as they turn into nebulas from the supernova. Although, the star nursery nebulas are stunning. They birth new stars as if mothers of the universe itself. How miraculous space is. It expands and acts completely of its own will, separate from our own. We have no control over it. I have no control over it. I can merely watch it unfold. In the grand scheme of the things, our lives on this planet mean nothing to the universe. Our struggles are irrelevant.”
“I wonder if you can control it and you don’t know it. If you’ve hidden your powers for so long, it’s possible you do not know their extent.” He sighed. “I would also suggest you stay away from motivational speaking. I feel more saddened after your speech.”
Kristen laughed bright and bold. “My apologies, Hans.”
They remained watching the sky for a while longer before Kristen stood and dusted grass off her pants. Hans followed her and walked at her side as they made the long walk back to the Council chambers. He had his phone out for part of the journey, but he didn’t mention anything urgent from the device. When they arrived, no one waited for them behind the door.
“Is Luana not upset?”
“I talked to her.” He waved his phone. “It’ll all be alright, provided you don’t go sneaking off again.”
“I won’t. I am going straight to bed.”
“I’ll see you in the morning, Kristen.” He nodded and headed down the hall.
She followed at a slower pace. In her mind’s eye, she should still see the swirling sky above her and the haze of approaching dawn.
February 10, 2317
Despite their late night out, Kristen rose bright and early the next morning alongside most of the Council. Eilene shuffled into the room in a daze and made a cup of hot chocolate in a mug which read “DON’T TALK TO ME UNTIL MY THIRD CUP” on the side. Scott looked in a similar state next to her, sans drink. They passed yawns back and forth between them several times.
Kristen pulled the yellow strap of her tank top back into place on her shoulder and collected her breakfast from the dumbwaiter in the corner.
“What do we have on the itinerary for our workout today?” Ethan took a seat at the table next to Kristen with a plate of pancakes and syrup.
“Strength training and hand to hand combat. In the afternoon, Luana wants us to focus on increasing the capacity of our abilities.” Series reported as she polished off her own breakfast.
“Where is Luana?” Ethan looked around the sparse table.
“Already in the workout room. She’s been up almost all-night, I think. Hans and Dwayne are with her.” Scarlet offered. She took Series’ and her own dishes to the dumbwaiter for return to the kitchens. “She’s pushing ring work, I hear.”
“Lovely.” Eilene let out another unwilling yawn. She used the hair tie on her wrist to pull her hair into a messy ponytail. She stood and placed her own dishes with the others before heading out of the room with Scott hot on her heels.
“Do you have a water bottle?” Ethan asked as he retrieved his own from under the table.
Kristen shook her head. “Lost it apparently. I think I dropped it in the Forest of Light when the police caught up to me. I had to drop it to get rid of the weight.”
“No problem, we have a cupboard full of them.” He opened one of the cabinets and produced a purple bottle for her to have. He headed toward the door. “I’m sure the rest expect you to join us for the day.”
“Do you have workout clothes?” Series pitched in.
“I don’t.” She declined.
“I can order them, and they’ll arrive shortly.” Series sat in the empty seat on her right. “This is the styling app. Choose as much as you like.”
Kristen browsed the catalogue and chose a few different work outfits she thought looked comfortable and a sports bra she hoped would fit based on the online measurements.
“Do you need any other clothes as well? It’s no problem to add them.”
“I can look through it later.” Kristen reassured. “I have enough clothes for a few days right now. These are just the essentials.”
“I’ll put in the order and have it delivered to the locker room directly.” Series took over control and started to tap the screen to place the order.
“You can do that?”
“There’s a lot of old delivery systems set up throughout the Council quarters since renovations here are fairly rare. It’s not hard to have them use the older ones.”
“Terribly efficient.” Kristen smiled. “Thank you for ordering me clothes.”
“Of course.” Series stood. “It’ll only be a few more minutes before they arrive. I’ll show you the way.”
“You go ahead. I still need to fill the bottle.” She shook the empty bottle. “I can find my way on the map.”
“If you’re sure.” Series hesitated but left at the affirmative nod.
Kristen walked over to the sink and ran the water until it turned cold and she filled the bottle. She took a few early morning sips before she refilled the gap and screwed the lid on tight. She followed the map on the phone to the locker room and found the clothes Series ordered waiting for her on one of the benches. She smiled and changed quickly before she joined the others in the large gymnasium area. Her outfit consisted of a nice pair of tennis shoes, a bright galaxy themed tank top, and a simple pair of small, black, exercise shorts.
On the far side of the room, a covered pool waited stagnate. A boxing ring raised above the rest of the room showed off Dwayne and Hans practicing against each other. Luana worked out on the gym equipment lined against the walls all the way around the room. Ethan and Scott took over the mats next to the ring—they practiced a form of martial arts Kristen couldn’t name due to her own lacking knowledge. Scarlet sat on an elliptical on the other side of the room and sweat beaded across her skin. Series laid out on one of the yoga mats. She moved fluidly between each position.
“Welcome!” Scarlet called when she spotted Kristen. “Choose anything to start working on.”
“Thank you.” She nodded and headed to the unoccupied sets of treadmills. She placed her water bottle in the cup where she could access it before she started the machine.
After several minutes running a few laps around the fake track projected by the machine, she noticed the Council members gathered around her to watch. She slowed her pace to a walk and considered turning the machine off altogether.
“Did you know you activated your ability while running?” Hans offered for explanation.
She froze and the conveyor built pushed her dangerously close to the end of the machine. Ethan grabbed her am and pulled her off before she fell and injured herself. It took all her thought capacity to convey: “I didn’t mean to.”
“It was like watching a cartoon where the legs move, but the body doesn’t.” Eilene laughed. “It’s amazing. You shouldn’t try to hide it.”
“If you stop hiding it, you’ll be able to recognize when you use it more and control your powers better.” Dwayne agreed.
Kristen tried to walk, but her legs felt shaky under her after running for so long.
“Come stretch with me.” Eilene took her hand and led her to the yoga mats. “You should rest after exerting yourself like that.”
She followed obediently. Before she stepped over to choose her mat, she placed her water bottle in the line with the others. A rumbling under the feet set them off balance and the room swayed around them.
“An earthquake?” Hans stared at the ground. “I don’t remember having fault lines this close to the Academy. Most of them are in Ricci and Barren.”
“Someone’s abilities?” Scarlet suggested. “It would be Earth or Storms.”
“They’d have to be pretty strong to hit that kind of impact.” Scott pointed to the cracked support beam nearest them.
“I liked when you talked less.” Dwayne narrowed his eyes.
Hans took a deep breath and held out his hand. A few of the other grabbed onto each other or stable objects as Hans reversed the damage.
“We’ll investigate behind the scenes.” Luana grabbed her phone and typed something into it.
The few hours between their morning exercise and lunch, the Council left Kristen to wander as she pleased. She couldn’t find anything interesting to calm her mind and settled on walking the walls in never ending circles. On one run, she decided to turn a different direction to create a new circle—for variety. Her pacing took her past a large meeting room. She noticed the Council members gathered around a meeting table. Scribbles covered the walls and more appeared as she watched. She tried to read the words backward and recognized the name: Kim Rolfe. Others graphed war expectations—battle formations, plans, rations. On a single panel by itself across the room, she recognized her name with several remarks under it. She quickly ducked out of the way of the walls and leaned against the door as quiet as she could.
The voices behind it remained muffled and she couldn’t make out what they discussed. She peeked around the corner and hoped they wouldn’t see her through the wall. She couldn’t make out any of the notes under her name at her angle and she frowned. Eventually she gave up and crawled back the way she came and retreated to her room.
Kristen busied herself with reading an eBook on her phone, but her mind kept wandering to her name on the wall. She knew the Council needed to discuss her and her abilities, but she also wanted to know what they thought. She wanted to know their plans. If they wanted to kill her, she wanted to be ready for it. To write a final goodbye—though, she didn’t know to whom.
Her bedroom door slid open to a dark hallway. Startled, Kristen didn’t dare go near it, but she also didn’t know where to hide in an open white room. She stood out compared to everything else. After several long moments of nothing, she crept toward the door and peered into the dark hallway. She didn’t recall it being incredibly dark when she returned to her room a couple hours before.
A light triggered at the end of the hall and she curiously followed it. She thought it might be a strange ritual for the Council to kill their victims—but either way, she wanted to know. The light vanished as she approached and another further down the hall attracted her. Eventually, they led her to an ajar door at the end of a long hall. When she pushed it open, she thought she accidentally stepped outside of the Academy. Several hundred feet up on a platform with floating hunks of rock in front of her guiding her across the open sky. She tried to turn back, but the door behind her vanished and she wasn’t sure how she found herself outside.
With no other option, she geared herself up and jumped between each platform. On the last one, her foot slipped, and she started to fall. Her abilities activated without her thinking; she managed to grab onto the rock and pull herself back into a position where she could make the last jump. Kristen stood in the middle of a large octagon piece of rock. On each side stood a stone monolith with a single gem embedded at the top. Each of them glowed with a different color: orange, blue, green, white, red, yellow, gold, and black.
“Kristen Delvenah.” Luana voice echoed around her in the sky. “We bring you before us today with a proposition—as the return of the Supernatural elementalists, we offer you a position by our side on the Council.”
Kristen collapsed to her knees in shock.
Ethan’s jovial voice came across the line. “I get the opportunity to ask you for your commitment to our ideals. We want to ask you if you are willing to serve for the rest of your life as a member of the Council which protects the elementalist people? Will you promise to bring them no harm by abusing your position? Are you willing to negotiate with those who oppose us? To keep peace between humans and ours? Currently, are you ready to fight and lead in the war for our continued existence alongside humans? Are you prepared to set clear lines between our laws and those which govern the Uns? Are you willing to be the ninth member of the Council?”
“Yes, yes, of course. If you’ll have me.” She nodded eagerly. “I will do it all for a place to belong.”
The sky faded around her and large archways replaced the open sides of the octagon. From those archways the eight members of the Council emerged with grins.
“Welcome to the Council, Kristen Delvenah.” As Eilene said those words, a surge of power erupted from them all at once. The wave rocked them on their feet, and they threw out their hands to keep from falling.
“Whoa.” Series gasped. “I guess that’s what it’s like when we actually have a full Council.”
“No kidding.” Luana agreed.
“Now you get to join us for meetings. You won’t have to be alone anymore.” Ethan held out his hand for her to take.
Kristen gripped his tightly and he hauled her to her feet. “I definitely like the sound of that."