previously: Rise of Hellion ch 15
Being homeless was never fun. I don’t know why I even thought it was. I guess I could chalk it up to first world problems. Walking the streets of a place called, ‘Independent nation of New Cebu,’ I experienced a level of sadness and fear, I’d never thought possible. Or perhaps that was just because I was trying to save the life of my only child, a full-grown man who had already lived through decades of war. I was weak, pathetic and unworthy.
I’d been able to un-crucify my adult son using just my knife (and some level of mom power super strength.) Abaddon was badly injured, unable to walk on his own feet. Sitting on the floor of the cathedral he was waiting for me to return with help.
Luckily help found me. Apparently, Cebu was an island in the Philippines and they were friendly to American and European forces. I learned this because Abby spoke decent Tagalog and the locals spoke near fluent English. With the aid of the local militia, my son and I were taken to a public shelter.
The locals gave us a care package of bandages, blankets, food and water. Thankfully, we found a space to rest for the night. The dirt floor was soft and comfortably warm. After making himself comfortable and attending to his own wounds, Abaddon rested on his back, and closed his eyes.
I didn’t say anything; he deserved to sleep, and I needed to act like a big girl. Looking around, I could see several sickly children, in fact the majority of the occupants were small children. A little girl came up to me offering a small doll made of straw.
“Is this an orphanage?” I asked out loud.
“Probably,” Abaddon replied. Apparently, he was not asleep. He positioned his arms behind his head, like a vacationer on a beach. With wrinkles and scars on his face he reminded me of my father (more so than my offspring.)
“We are so screwed,” I muttered with a nervous laugh.
Abby opened his blue eyes for a moment, just enough to glare at me like a child. “Because this is an orphanage in a third world country?”
“Sorry,” I said, swallowing a lump in my throat. The last thing I wanted was to come off as a stuck-up, spoiled American girl. “I’m a little out of my element.”
With his eyes still closed, he chuckled to himself. “That’s not something my mother would ever say.”
“I wish I knew her,” I said with a shrug. “She was probably amazing. Let me guess, she died doing something heroic, right, like stopping a nuclear weapon by punching it to death.”
Abby turned to me, eyes closed, as a single tear dripped down his cheek. “My mother died of cancer. she was a hero, my hero, just not the type that go down in history.”
I nodded. I desperately wanted to change the subject. “So, where are we? Whose territory is this?”
Abby sat up, putting weight on his injured hands. “What did you say?”
“Who controls this area? Cleary, by the presence of local soldiers, this is an active warzone. Therefore, someone important to the axis has to be stationed here. We just need to attack them at their home base.”
Abby chuckled. “Knock on the door to the hive, to get a meeting with the queen. Not a bad idea.”
After a few days of rest and recovery, we learned the country was occupied by Axis forces under the command of General Rin Ito, a small female with the face of a beauty queen. Her publicist made it known she was the descendent of Yakuza leaders. She had posters and advertisements all over the city, proclaiming herself to be the next savior of the land (like the musical Evita or a Disney princess movie.) After talking to various business owners who posted her image, Rin’s goal was to drive the city into a state of lock down, to force a ‘democratic election’ to establish herself as the ‘voice of the people.’
This meant she was not shy about public appearances. There had been more than a few assassination attempts, but all failed due to lack of teamwork. It would take more than a single sniper or suicide bomber to get past Rin’s security detail.
Under the leadership of Abby (as the experienced American military officer) we established a multilayer plan with the local forces. During the weeks that it took for our plan to come into fruition, I got to know my adult son’s tragic past. In this reality I lived long enough to see him graduate from West Point Military Academy at age nineteen (he skipped a few years of school.) He was a tech specialist who later transitioned to special forces, under the guidance of the man who raised him as his father: Julian ‘Axel’ Diaz.
I didn’t know what to make of that.
In the days leading up to the attack, a plan was put in to place. Group A would take on the military guards, Group B would attack the crowd causing further disruption and chaos (and ideally, minimal casualties.) Group C would back up Abby, keeping Rin from escaping while he took a shot with his custom sniper rifle. It was the perfect plan; Rin would be eliminated, allowing for the local groups to all take credit for liberating their city. And then Abby got sick.
The injuries to his hands and feet had become infected. He had tried to hide the painful, swollen lesions under layers of dirty bandages. By the night before the mission his hands were noticeably weak.
We had been staying in a small room with a bare mattress and a makeshift hotplate. Our allies supplied us with rice, and dried meat. Abby added some of our filtered water to make a soup, while I warmed my hands against the candle flame. “Did Julian ever cook with you?” I asked. I had never seen Axel cook but I had to assume he possessed survival skills.
“You were the one who taught me how to cook.” Abby served the night’s meal in our two bowls. His was made from wood while mine was an upcycled metal can.
“I mean, Julian raised you. I just assumed he taught you some of his super soldier skills.”
Abby looked at me with a raised eyebrow, as if questioning the legitimacy of my inquiry. “I was raised by you.” With trembling hands, he paused to take a sip of the warm liquid. “In this timeline.”
“Have you met yourself in other timelines?”
“I haven’t really tried, or rather I’ve never been given the opportunity via any assignments. I have a feeling, the only reason I was able to make contact with you is because you’re already dead in this timeline.” Abby took one last sip before putting the bowl down and resting on the bed. He motioned for me to sit by his side.
That was the first time I rested my head on his chest. (Prior to that, it felt a little awkward, so we instead slept side by side like siblings.
Abby had lost so much weight I could feel his ribcage; I could hear his breath, and heartbeat. “Did you miss her?”
“When you died, it left a hole in my heart. I filled my days working to be the best soldier I could; someone who’d make you proud.” He reached for his soup, attempting to lift his arm, but the pain proved too great for him to take a sip. “I can still remember the day we scattered your ashes on the beach. When the sun hit, I could feel you smiling down on me.”
“The beach? In New Jersey?” I couldn’t wrap my mind around taking my son to a place where I’d experienced so much pain.
“No, there was a location further south, I think it was somewhere in North Carolina. It was a private beach that we went to every summer, and sometimes over Christmas. We would go camping, hiking.”
“Hiking?” I could picture myself going on walks with my baby on my chest. Perhaps, as he grew, we could go on adventures; collecting rocks, climbing trees, like I used to as a kid. Just the idea of having little Abby by my side, as my sidekick and best friend filled me with a sense of joy.
“You introduced me to the beauty of the world.” Abby lifted his arm, exposing his badly injured hand. He motioned to a scar on his palm, just below his thumb.
“It kinda looks like a shooting star.”
“That’s what you told me back then, too,” he said with a laugh. “This was from the first time you taught me how to swim. I was five years old, got pulled out by a wave. You always let me play in the water, collecting shells, those creepy little crabs.” The exhausted soldier smiled wide as he chuckled at the nostalgia. “I was pretty fearless as a kid; I could walk into water up to my neck. The first time I saw an actual fish, was the first time you realized I didn’t actually know how to swim.”
I buried my head on his shoulder, as I laughed harder than I ever thought possible. “I’m so sorry.”
“That wasn’t the worst part. When you pulled me out, I was fighting to keep hold of my little fish friend: a piece of driftwood that was cutting my hand.”
“Seriously?” I could visualize the moment; me cradling my sweet little boy as he cried over a fake fish and blood covered hand.
“You bandaged my hand, and gave it a kiss. I took a nap with the wooden fish in my arms, but when I woke up I just cried and cried, because I thought I’d never get to see a real fish.” Abby laughed through a pain-stricken cough. “You went out and found a bunch of empty water bottles and made flotation devices.”
“Like a life jacket?” I had seen such a thing on the internet but never had the chance to try it in real life.
“You started with a lifejacket; I remember you wanted to be able to keep my cut out of the bacteria-infested ocean, but then it moved on to making kickboards and other water toys.”
I reached out to hold his hand. As my fingers caressed his, I could feel a noticeable, tingly energy. When I closed my eyes, I could see glimpses of the mysterious beach. It was someplace I had never been before. In the distance, I could hear my son’s laugh. “Was I a good mom?”
“You were a great mom.” Abby paused blinking tears from his eyes. For a moment we just stayed in the position, looking at our united hands. “Promise me something?’
“Of course.” I was fighting back tears. He was my son, my child.
“If you have the chance to go back, I want you to take it. I don’t even know if it’s likely, but if it’s possible I want you to have a chance at a life.”
“Even if I never see you again?”
Abby turned to me. Looking directly into his eyes, I could see a lifetime of pain. He knew how sick he was. “You’ll see me again, I promise.”
“Ok.” I could only assume he meant in heaven or the afterlife. I held him close, I could feel his body trembling; he was in pain, but at least he was alive. I fell asleep in his arms, but awoke alone. Terrified, I sat up, immediately fearful of having been left behind.
“I’m still here.” Abby was already awake, attempting to get dressed in the body armor we had salvaged.
Immediately, my eye was drawn to the massive bruises (and even open wounds on his back.) “Abby?” I couldn’t hide the terror in my voice.
He flexed his shoulders, as he put on a shirt and then his bulletproof vest. “I’ve worked through worse pain.”
I knew what that meant; Abby no longer cared if he lived or died. “You can’t go on this mission; I won’t let you.” I knew I was crying but Abby didn’t turn around.
“What’s the alternative?” he asked as he packed up his weapon kit. “The locals won’t follow you into battle.”
He was right, I didn’t look the part. “Well, I’m not leaving your side. If something goes wrong, I can take the shot.”
I expected him to laugh in my face. His sniper rifle was his baby. After getting captured by Faust, his original kit had been all but destroyed. Abby had been able to recover bits and pieces of his beloved weapon and combine them with parts supplied by our new allies.
“I can live with that,” he said with some level of confidence.
He would have to.
The mission went ahead with all the teams falling in to position while Abby and I took our place on a nearby rooftop. I watched through binoculars as he lined up the shot, took the shot, and missed. Well, to be fair he didn’t miss; he shot her in the shoulder, inadvertently giving away our location.
Abby let out a string of silent curse words as he reloaded. “Prepare for an ambush.” He realigned his sights, so I had to assume he had a view of Rin. I readied my knife and rushed at the troops that were already at the door of the office building.
I knew there were people in the office, innocent souls who were about to become collateral damage. Best I could do was try to make sure the bad guys didn’t make it to the top floor. I fought a few soldiers, disarming them with well-placed cuts to their hands and arms. Someone reached for a dropped handgun, so I reached for it at the same time. That was how I came face to face with Rin. She was a small woman, no taller than myself. The way our eyes locked, she knew who I was, or at least what I was. She shouted something in her native language before diving for the gun, firing in my direction. Thankfully her arm was too injured to aim. A bullet flew by my head, close enough to singe my hair.
With a hop and a spin, I kicked her in the face. A normal foot would have left a bruise, but my prosthetic left her with a bloody broken nose. Rin charged at me, slamming against a wall. This got the attention of several of her bodyguards. In a few seconds the fight was going to be ten vs one with me most likely getting shot to death or arrested and put in a military prison where I would be begging for death. So, in a moment of panic I grabbed Rin in a bear hug and dive-bombed the nearby window. I didn’t feel the breaking glass, the bullets, or even the live powerline.
I felt a calming numbness, followed by a light. Was I dead? Assuming death worked like it did in the movies I attempted to stand up, preparing to walk in the direction of the light. That was when the pain kicked in. I felt like my body was on fire. I coughed once, then couldn’t stop despite the fact that my throat was filling with blood.
“Nicki!” shouted a male voice from the light. “Are you down there?”
Down there? “Yes, it’s me. Where are you?” The light was taking on a distinct shape: it was a rip in the fabric of time.
A man appeared with blue armor and gold streaks in his otherwise dark hair. It was Baron. “Nicki! Damn girl, I’ve been looking all over for you!” He held out his hand. “Come on, hurry!”
I grabbed his hand. if nothing else it represented something familiar. For a moment I felt guilty, sick to my stomach. I wanted to take my son with me. Abby didn’t deserve to die here. I looked towards the rooftop, just in time to see the building start to collapse. I couldn’t see where Abby was. All around me I heard screams, crashes. The layer of smoke, blood and gore framed the clean glowing space where Baron was.
I placed my second hand on Baron’s arm, and he (logically) took this as his cue to pull me up. When I was safely in Baron’s embrace, I took one last look at the war-torn fiery vision of Hell. Abby was gone (in that one reality, anyway.) I needed to focus on my baby son, who still had a chance.
We flew upward, out of the rift, landing on cold, wet grass. The sensation of the rift closing felt like a gust of wind laced with flickers of electricity.
Baron stood up, stretching his back as he got to his feet. “I guess I can cross that off my bucket list.”
I sat up, looking around the park seemed to be normal, modern. “Where are we?”
“Minnesota, I think.” He looked down at his wristwatch. “Home base, come in. Axel do you read me?”
“In route,” the watch replied.
“How did you find me?” I asked. I was still in too much pain to stand up. “Is Lucy ok?”
“Let’s just get you some medical attention first.”
That was not the answer I wanted. “What happened to Lucy?”
Baron sighed. “Kitsune has her.”
“Oh.” I nodded. “So, we failed.”
“For now,” Baron said, taking a seat beside me. “Much like Feng, Lucy is worth more alive than dead. We just need to head back to Siberia, attack Kitsune at her home base.”
“You’re right,” I said with a sigh. “I’m just ready to go home.”
“Are we going straight to Siberia?” I asked, gripping my shoulder in pain. My entire body felt numb. “I don’t think I’d be good for much.” That, and I wanted to see my baby.
“You’ve been missing for three weeks,” Baron explained. “Searching for you has been my private project, while Axel has been using his TAC network to track Kitsune and her brother.”
“Ok,” I said with a nod. “I understand.” I blinked tears from my eyes. “You need me as backup. I mean, you did save my life, I owe you that much.”
In less than a minute the medevac plane arrived. Axel greeted me with a hand shake as he helped Baron put me onto a stretcher. “Get her on an IV,” Axel said casually.
“Julian?” I whispered softly, reaching for his hand. “Where’s my baby?”
“We need to get going,” Axel replied firmly. He would be getting the last word. “We can talk later.”
I felt Baron poke my arm to start a saline line, but within seconds I was passed out. I didn’t dream; instead, it felt like a blink of an eye, before I awoke in Dr. Toki’s lab. My wounds were bandaged; hands, back, shoulders. The skin felt tense, but not unbearable. I took a breath, taking in the cold, sterile air. My heart ached for Abby, I could still feel his warmth, his heart.
Did I really leave my son to die in a warzone? I should have been the one to die, that’s what a decent mother would have done. My heart raced as I started to uncontrollably sob. Did he suffer? Was he all alone? I closed my eyes, struggling for breath.
That was when I felt a small hand on my chest. “Hi,” squeaked a familiar voice. My baby had crawled on to my chest. His bright blue eyes staring into my soul. “Hi, Mama.”
He rested his chubby baby cheek, pressing his soft skin against my bloody bandages. It took me a second to realize what he was doing but once I did, I could not stop laughing. “Are you breastfeeding?” He was. The fit of laughter gave me the energy to sit up (or at least raise the angle of the bed.)
That was when I spotted Baron. My guardian angel was slouched in a metal office chair Asleep wearing his armor. He moved his hands over his arms, freaking out for a moment before fully opening his eyes. “Really?”
Little Abby took a moment to look in his direction, giggling sweetly.
“I swear to God.”
“Not in front of my little angel, you don’t.”
That got a laugh. Baron sighed as he ran his fingers through his hair.
“When I fell asleep holding the baby, he was acting like a normal three-month-old. That thing is like the reincarnation of Deathstroke.”
“You mean Tony.”
“Yeah, Tony.” Baron reached for the baby, lifting him from my arms.
Abby scowled. “Ma-ma.” He started to fidget and squirm, fighting his way out of Baron’s grasp.
I screamed as Abby fell to the ground. I instinctively jerked to the side, to see if he was still alive, causing the wounds on my back to rip open. I bit my lip so hard I drew blood. That was when I saw Abby standing up all on his own.
“Mama!” he slapped his hands joyfully.
I was about to reach for him when he started to climb. “What the?” I knew the grip of a baby was abnormally strong (ask anyone who’s ever gotten an earring ripped out by a kid who could barely lift its own head.)
“I’ll let Dr. Toki explain,” Baron said as he returned to his seat. He knocked on the wall. “Yo, Doc, she’s awake!”
Dr. Toki entered the room with the biggest smile on her face. “So, did you tell her?” she asked Baron.
“Tell me what?” I asked apprehensively.
“Abby is coming with you to Siberia.”
“We’ve learned a lot in the past three weeks,” she said patting Abby on the head.
Abby turned and lifted his hand for a high-five. “To-ki!”
Dr. Toki lifted him up, placing my son in my arms. “Your son is the next stage in human evolution.”
I had to admit he was abnormally strong. Even when he laid in my arms, his body felt like a doll made of the same material as truck tires. “You mean until he falls into a vat of acid and you strip him for spare parts?”
“That’s not going to happen.”
“Why? Did you spray him with a bulletproof coating?”
“Even better, he has a robot exoskeleton.” Dr. Toki snapped her fingers, causing the door to open again.
I could hear the sound of heavy robotic footsteps. I looked down at Abby who was hopping excitedly. Apparently, he had already met who or whatever was behind the door.
He clapped his little hands, before saying a word that would cut me to my soul. “Nash!”
“Nash?” I cupped my hand over my mouth. There was no way. But there he was, the neon orange robot with the face made of LED lights.
“Hello, Hellion, long time no see.” The robot walked over to Baron and gave a high-five. “The band is all here!”
‘Except Noah,’ thankfully the words never left my lips. The child in my arms was someone special. “Let’s go rescue Lucy.”
Abby seemed overjoyed at the prospect. Nash picked him up, holding Abby’s small body in a sweet, tender embrace. Abby was sucked inside. But since he was still smiling, I knew not to scream. My baby turned around, apparently, he could ride inside Nash’s stomach cavity.
“Um, ok.” I shuddered. “My mind went straight to ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.’
Baron laughed out loud. “I know, right! He looks like that one character; the evil alien brain that lived inside a robot body.”
“Mama?” Abby looked towards me, his lower lip trembling.
I reached for his soft little face. “You don’t look like a scary brain. You look like a hero.”
This was what my adult son wanted; for me to have a chance to be a mother, because if I could be brave for him, maybe I could find myself.
next: Rise of Hellion ch17