Previously: Rise of Hellion ch4: Into the flame
I was pregnant, that much was certain. (The influx of hormones explained a few moments that I’d rather forget.) It all started when Anya and I hitched a ride to Seattle with a van full of stoners, heading to a music festival. My metal legs were in decent, usable shape although the straps had seen better days. I was struggling to keep up with Anya’s able-bodied, human legs, but I was grateful to have her as my friend.
She walked with a sweet, sensual confidence; something that made people want to trust her, to know her. Along the way, we got free cigarettes, food and even money. We met the sexy college-age stoners (three men and two women) in a truck stop in Oregon. I never even had to talk.
I was offered copious amounts of pills, cheap vodka and weed. I tried to take just enough to relax and sleep my way to Washington. But through it all, I started to remember more and more details of my encounter with Noah. Piece by piece, each moment came back to me in the form of the Flower Child (my neon glowing guardian angel) leading me through a series of rusty metal doors. Each door led me to a different part of that night’s conversation. Apparently, I had told Noah about my past sexual abuse, running away from home, and getting my legs blown off: total cringe.
“I feel like I was put on this earth to serve powerful men,” said the drunk, past version of me.
“Powerful men?” Noah said with a chuckle. “Like congressmen and shit? Good thing there are no powerful men here, just a bunch of screw ups and good-old-boys.” Noah put his arm around me, holding me close. “And you, our newest teammate.”
“You were great out there,” he said taking another drag off the cigarette. “A real assassin.”
I cupped his face, with the biggest smile. “What would you say if I kissed you?” Before Noah could reply I brushed my mouth to his. “Sorry.” I was giggling uncontrollably.
Noah smiled sweetly, placing a finger to my cheek. “Do I make you nervous?”
I bit my lip, lost in his eyes. “I feel like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”
A jolt of pain blinked me back to reality as my head smashed into the roof of the van. We were flying, falling, eventually crashing. I was already in the back, comfortably wrapped in a blanket, so I was able to punch my way out of the back window. Looking around I could see the van had fallen down a steep cliff, landing on a beach. “Anya!” I shouted, hoping to God she was alive.
I struggled to my feet which was difficult to do with my left leg falling off. Suddenly, two arms grabbed me, pulling me backward towards the water. I tried to scream, but was too injured to fight back, especially when my captor started to pick up speed. This was a human, flesh and blood but he was moving as fast as a car.
So, I just buried my face against the abductor’s chest to protect myself from the g-force. We landed on a wooden surface with a thud. I expected to hit my head, but the man carried me like a bride, placing me down carefully on a hospital bed. When I caught my breath, I sat up just enough to look around; somehow, we were on a boat. “Did you just walk on water?” I asked with a forced chuckle.
“Just one of my many superpowers,” replied a familiar voice.
“Tony!” I shouted. My body filled with energy, I sprang up, throwing my arms around him.
“I miss you too, kid.” Tony returned the embrace, looking over my shoulder. “Yo, Axel.”
“Axel’s here?” I heard his footsteps before I heard his voice.
“Is the target secure?”
“Affirmative,” Tony replied.
“The target?” I asked, suddenly feeling less homesick for my TAC friends.
“Just a formality,” Axel said as he patted my arm. “We’re glad to have you back.”
“Me or just my bionic legs?” Both were still attached but holding on by a thread.
“You would be technically correct,” Axel said with a friendly smile. “Your legs are lo-jacked. I’m surprised the Lifers let you keep them.” Our fearless leader went to the front of the boat, steering us in the direction of a very noticeable helicopter. “We tracked you to the artic base, that was why we sent the unit in after the battery.”
“Um, what?” I felt like I’d been stabbed in the heart. I was the reason why Noah was in trouble, and possibly dead.
“TAC wanted it’s property back, but we wanted you back.”
“Who’s we?” The people who love me? Was that what Axel was going to say?
“I for one, and certainly Tony.” Axel made it to the pickup point, signaling for the chopper to lower the ropes to attach to my bed.
“Yes, sir,” Tony said, taking a seat on my hospital bed. together we were raised up to the cargo hold. Upon reaching the landing pad, the door shut.
I could see where a single pilot was controlling every aspect of the process. The roar of the engine was so loud, speech was impossible, as I found out the hard way. “Where are we going?” I shouted as loud as I could.
“What?” Tony replied.
My throat was already sore, and I didn’t feel like repeating myself. Instead, I simply rested my body while blinking tears from my eyes.
Tony took it upon himself to hold me close, rocking me in his arms like a frightened child. “We’re headed to Vancouver, you’ll love it there, I promise. I’ll be with you every step of the way.”
I sobbed, burying my face in Tony’s shoulder. Grateful that I somehow heard his words of kindness over the roar of the wind.
He held my hand, giving my fingers a squeeze. I could imagine he was thinking about all the horrible things Anya and Baron had done, how I must be crying out of fear or even pain. He would never in a million years, guess why my heart was broken.
Tony’s breath was trembling. Was he cold? Or did he truly care? The very idea seemed so sweet. And that was why I kissed him.
Tony closed his eyes and smiled. Maybe he silently mouthed my name, I wasn’t sure, but I’d like to think so. I placed my hand to his chest. He was wearing body armor, so moved my hand lower, to his belt. I knew the pilot could see us, possibly even heard us, but I didn’t care.
Tony could have stopped me but he didn’t. I’d had sex with beautiful boys like Tony before. He was so open and gentle, possibly a virgin. The idea made me want him even more; I wanted to be the one to make the robot-superhero-boy into a real man.
We held on to each other even after landing in Canada. “I’ll give you two a moment,” the pilot shouted from his seat. There was other stuff to unload from the back, giving us time to make ourselves presentable.
“Was I your first,” I asked with all the flirty seduction of a teen prostitute who watched too many Disney movies.
Tony laughed awkwardly as he helped me off the cargo ramp. “I still can’t believe that just happened.”
“Yeah,” I muttered. I was a slut; I was a whore, but at least I was the one in control. “I just needed to feel something.”
“Love?” Was he being sarcastic? I couldn’t tell. Yet in that moment he sounded human.
“Sometimes I feel like I don’t know what love is.” Looking into Tony’s dark eyes, I knew my plan; I would learn to love Tony, I would give Dr. Toki the super soldier baby that she wanted.
Which brings me to today.
It had been a little over a week of working out, eating great food and spending time on the beach. I had been feeling a little sick, so I was given a pregnancy test in the form of a urine strip. It was the kind that was supposed to show either one or two lines. It showed nothing, as if I had no female hormones at all. (Apparently that was not uncommon for females who survived trauma.) I was told to return to training; weights, cardio etc. The Vancouver TAC base was a nice enough facility but there was no outdoor gym, not even a track. I would work out with Tony, competitively trying to stay on the treadmill longer (I’d given up on trying to out lift him.)
During our downtime, we were watching cartoons while drinking weird Gatorade mixtures, when suddenly the local news reported a breaking story. “What the hell?” I groaned. “What could be so important that they had to interrupt syndicated reruns of Bob’s Burgers?”
“A team of heavily armored individuals have been attacking parked vehicles in the downtown area.” The camera zoomed in on a masked man wearing Noah’s armor. Was this Noah, was he alive?
I gripped my chest, sinking my nails in to my skin. Was I high? Was I dreaming? I could feel my heart pounding right before I fell forward.
Tony rushed to my side, and stayed with me even as I started vomiting. I went limp in his arms as he carried me to the medical ward.
That was when I was given a blood test, followed by an ultrasound. I was unquestionably pregnant. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep but no sleep came. The last thing I remember was holding Tony’s hand.
“Does Tony have access to the third floor of the sub level?” the voice came from everywhere and nowhere.
“What?” The words made no sense given the vast number of buildings on the base. There could even be a sub-terrain lower level I didn’t even know about.
“Never mind,” the echo said with a groan.
I awoke gasping for air. I was no longer in a bed but rather on a rooftop in the pouring rain. I wanted to pull my legs close, in to a fetal position. If only to stay warm, but my prosthetics were gone. “Fuck my life.”
In the distance I could see a human figure; a man walking a large animal, like a lion or a bear. “Noah?” I said in a whisper. What was he? Did he take me from the clinic? Was he going to kill me?
The human figure let go of the animal, before taking a few steps back. The animal made a deep, sickly, inhuman sound but did not advance further. The human groaned, still standing out of view. He moved his hand, striking the creature in the back. The sound was sickening as metal tore through skin.
“Noah, please stop!” I crawled to the injured creature. Clearly it didn’t want to hurt me or anyone. I reached out my hand, the way I would for a stray dog. But once I was close enough to see the creature’s face I screamed. “Oh, dear God.” Even through all the armor and mutilation, I could never forget his blue eyes. “Noah, what did they do to you?”
Noah had deep scars all over his body; arms, shoulders, and back. On his neck was a collar held on by two spikes; one in his throat and another in his spine. The wounds were fresh, he had been bleeding very badly. It was clear he wanted to speak but couldn’t.
“It’s ok, I’m here.” It wasn’t ok, nothing about this was ok. I reached for his hand, but Noah shook his head. There were large metal braces on his hands, strange black spikes that made him look like the Marvel comic character Venom (or a demon from hell.)
Since it was clear Noah had no intention of attacking me, I stayed where I was. But if the restrained beast was Noah, then who was the standing figure? It had to be the infamous Feng, sent on behalf of Kitsune after Anya and I went missing. That made sense. And now I was completely sure I was going to die.
Noah opened his mouth, struggling for breath, “You- will- prevail.” He coughed up blood, his body convulsing. “I’ll never forget you. I could never forget you.”
I wanted so badly to hold him. Maybe I could save him or at least die trying. “I love you…” my breath trailed off. I wanted to vomit or at least scream. What kind of person falls in love with someone they knew for a single night? This isn’t a fucking Disney movie! Yet here I was. I wanted to die.
Noah swallowed hard, causing his throat to spasm as he spoke, “I will die loving you.”
The words cut me to my core. I screamed into the rain, as the standing figure pulled on the leash, dragging Noah away. All that was left of that moment was a streak of blood along the concrete roof.
I rocked back and forth crying. ‘Who was that? Where were my legs?’
“Hard to tell who you can trust,” a male voice said from behind me.
“What’s stopping me from hurling myself off this roof?”
“I don’t really know,” the voice replied. “The story would continue; Noah, Anya, Baron, etc. It would just be the end for you.”
“Am I the battery? Is this some kind of DaVinci code shit?” I started to scoot backward if only to adjust my weight, and immediately fell off a ledge.
My guardian angel grabbed my arm. “Hey, be careful.” It was the Flower Child but he seemed older, stronger, with a face weathered by time. “Maybe later, after you get rid of the passenger in your womb.”
“Are you saying I should get an abortion first?” I asked sarcastically, through tears.
Flower Child chuckled as he took a seat at my side. “You’re welcome for saving your life, Miss Nicki.”
“What are you?” I violently jerked my arm away. “Are you even real? Or are you some kind of mash up of every guy I’ve ever fucked?”
My emotional outburst was met with laughter. “You mean I’m your dream date? Am I your Ken, Barbie girl?”
I shook my head. “You’re imaginary. I’m just talking to myself.”
“Do you remember the Junior nationals, when you won your first medal?”
“No,” I replied quickly. I remembered; I just didn’t want to continue the conversation with my imaginary friend.
Flower Child nodded and stood up. “The day you won that medal was the day you became something more than a scared little girl.”
“Sure.” And now my brain was forcing me to remember that day. I had qualified for the vault finals but for whatever reason my coach pulled me from the rotation. No, actually I knew perfectly well why. He wanted to punish me for hiding in the bathroom when getting dressed. He liked all the girls to change in the public hallway, where he could ‘supervise,’ because we were all so disobedient.
I knew that for a fact. I still got dressed and walked out with the rest of the finalists. Right away I was pulled from the rotation. My coach had told them I was unfit to compete, which was clearly a lie since I had no injuries. I told the advocates what was happening; what my coach had down to me ever since I was six. There were tears in my eyes and I knew for a fact my coach would make my life a living hell, but was allowed to vault.
Assuming I was not in the running for a medal, I tried a vault that I had only been allowed to do in practice; The Produnova. For those of you non-gymnasts, it’s when you run up to the spring board, and do a mid-air summersault without landing on your head. The legendary Elena Produnova could do two maybe three summersaults before landing. I always thought she looked like a bullet or a cannon ball.
I can remember doing my run, flying higher than I had ever been, and then landing on my feet. Every muscle in my body wanted to fall over, but I held strong. I was going to stick my landing even if it killed me. The audience was silent, in shock, awe and horror. A junior level gymnast was never meant to land The Produnova. I was supposed to be dead, crippled but I wasn’t. I was a performer and I did that vault for myself. After taking point deductions for doing the wrong vault (technical shit,) I got third place. Not that I even got to keep my medal. No one spoke for me, but no one could ever take away what was rightfully mine. But what did I have now?
The Flower Child started to walk backward, into the shadows of the rain storm. “I’ll leave that choice up to you.”
I didn’t scream or cry. in all honesty I didn’t care. He wasn’t real, he was just the part of me that needed a good kick in the ass. I needed to find my way off the roof, and I needed to be smart about it. I spent the next few minutes scooting on my hands and my butt, making every movement count (as to not accidently fall to my death.) Eventually I located what was clearly a door.
Balancing on my leg stumps, I could barely reach the door handle. I tightened my core muscles to execute a leap, pulling on the handle with all my strength. It was, of course, locked. At least I had a place to rest my back. I waited until the rain stopped, taking a moment to breathe. “I could really use a rescue from a handsome prince. Or maybe a chubby-cheeked plumber named Mario? Yeah, right.”
I suddenly heard a thump on the opposite side of the door, as if something had dropped down (or teleported.) “Hello?” I said with a tap. “Anyone there?” Just as I spoke, the door opened, causing my exhausted body to fall backward into a dark hallway.
I was indoors, that was something. I took a moment to lean back, anticipating my next move. I really needed to find my prosthetic legs (or some kind of replacement) so I wouldn’t have to bruise the shit out of my arms and wrists. Until then I would have to deal with scooting around like a crippled puppy.
I made my way across the hall, down a set of stairs. I wanted to scream for help but there were no security guards or human life of any kind, not even any cameras. The first hallway was lit by a single halogen bulb with a metal door (possibly a fire escape) waiting for me at the end of a short path. I went through, only to find a stairwell with only a single set of stairs going down only a single floor. “What the?”
I made my way down, then across a different hallway. Door after door had been left open, in a very distinct path. Was I being led into a trap? There were no windows, only digital lights that seemed to mark rooms with unintelligible binary numbers.
After a while, I saw a few security cameras (the kind that look like glossy black balls, or eyes, attached to the wall.) Was I being watched? The idea sort of pissed me off. Was I an experiment, a rat in a maze? Before every open door I heard a thud. It was sometimes loud, sometimes soft. The variation lead me to believe it was organic. Someone was physically opening the doors for me; they had a plan, and endgame. And I was just a plastic piece on a checkerboard; only exploring as far as my overlord wanted me to go.
The final door unlocked a server room where dozens of towers were being housed at refrigerated temperatures. The jungle of cords seem to lead to a central point. In the center of the room was a red, open suitcase with wires coming from all angles. It seemed alive, kind of like a digital sea creature. In the middle of the case, where a clam would typically house its pearl, was a small glowing D-cell battery. “The battery?” This was what Kitsune was fighting for; what Noah died for?
Every single tower appeared to be powered from the suitcase. A sound theory until I started to look closer at the plastic cylinder, housing the ‘battery.’ It was freezing cold, except for the areas near ports. That meant I was wrong; the room full of servers were trying to unload the files from the small device (resulting in a massive outpour of energy.) “Wow,” I muttered. “This must be what a Yoda byte looks like.”
My comment caused laughter; a deep, male voice spoke up from just out of my line of sight. “You’re standing in the presence of project Neptune; aka The Battery, one of the modern wonders of the world.”
“The battery is a massive glorified flash drive?” I asked, taking a step back.
“Pretty much. The only person who could have deciphered its contents is long gone.”
“Noah? He was guarding it, right? Why didn’t he ever try to open it?”
“I imagine it was for the same reason why you’re not trying to make a grab for it: the damn thing’s more trouble than it’s worth.”
“You didn’t lead me here?” I turned expecting to see the Flower Child. I don’t know why, maybe on some level the voice was similar. “Axel?”
The tall imposing man stood in full camo armor. He crossed his arms, looking at the battery with a sense of nostalgia. “Noah wanted to invent his own creations,” Axel said with a sigh. “And, well between you and me, I think he already knew what was on it.”
“Hi,” I said in a squeaky voice. My mind was a mix of sadness, and fear, combined with the physical pain of having walked on my hands for the past few hours. “Am I in trouble?”
“No, but you were being tested.” He picked up his com-radio. “Target is secure, stand down.” He returned his focus to our conversation. “You were taken from the clinic under the veil of bad weather. We had no idea where your assailant had put your body, until you were spotted by the cameras. Clearly someone was tracking you; someone who knew the location of the battery.”
And whoever it was, hoped that a legless teenage girl would be allowed to escape the base with the high-value target. “So, how well did you know Noah or Cronos or whatever?”
“Noah Garrison was a military asset who went AWOL. It’s assumed he suffered a mental break.”
“But you don’t believe that.”
“I knew him before he disappeared,” Axel said with a nod. “He was a genius, a warrior, a friend.”
“I didn’t even know his last name.” I bit my lip, trying not to cry. “I’m just some stupid kid at the zoo who keeps falling head first in to the animal enclosures.” That sounded about right; some were helpful creatures while others seemed to want my blood.
“Had you made a play for the battery you would have had the full force of TAC on your ass, but as it stands, I am of the belief that you are being stalked by the international terrorist known as Faust.”
“Faust?” My entire body went limp. I was now crying uncontrollably and was moments away from vomiting the contents of my empty stomach.
“Lift your arms,” Axel said like a comforting parent. “Not to be disrespectful, but I want to get you reunited with your legs as soon as possible.”
I nodded and he lifted me like a crying toddler holding me close. With his free hand he pushed a button to open a previously unseen side door. Curious, I turned my head just enough to see the massive amount of armed guards.
Axel waved his arm, and the armored soldiers stepped to the side allowing him to pass. I had never felt so safe and so loved.