Chapter 18:

Brightstar Arc 4 (Chapter 2)

Brightstar: The Rising Superhero

The alley was stink from the overflowing dumpster. Even though it was still daylight, the alley was quite dark. It was due to both buildings being too close to each other and blocked out the sun at a certain time of day. However, the gap in the middle of them allowed for a small vehicle to pass through. No one would take the chance though, not with all the rubbish dumped here.Bookmark here

My handler voice was clear as day, but she hadn't noticed me yet. I overheard her conversation over the phone, and it doesn’t sound good. “Sir, I can’t do this. I tried to guide him, but he won’t listen.” She paused. “No. You’re right. We don’t accept excuses in E-HAD. Thank you for the second chance, Mr Bradford. I won’t fail you again.”Bookmark here

After ending her call, she crossed her arms and glared down. I scratched my head before I got closer to her, so she could notice me. “Was that Bradford?”Bookmark here

“Yes.”Bookmark here

“What did you both talk about?”Bookmark here

“Nothing.” Sister sighed before she walked toward the driver side. Her expression hardened with a subtle frown. “Get in the van.”Bookmark here

We both climbed inside. Bookmark here

Without saying a word to each other, she started driving while she occasionally scanned the tablet on the dashboard. It showed a map of the city with a marker that’s moving through the street. Comparing between where we were and where the marker was, it wasn’t tracking us. From what I can guess, It was tracking our mission’s target.Bookmark here

The silence was unbearable. Not even the song played over the radio could soothe the awkwardness inside the van.Bookmark here

“If he got mad at you, just tell him it was my fault.”Bookmark here

“Do you think that would make things better? Even if I put all the blame on you, it won’t change the past. Besides, this is my operation. My responsibility. You wouldn’t understand.”Bookmark here

“Why not try? We are supposed to work together. We can’t do that if we are at each other's throats.”Bookmark here

“This isn’t a job to me, nor a duty. This is my life, and unlike you, I got no second chance at it. If I fail, and they kick me out, I will lose everything.”Bookmark here

“What do you mean?”Bookmark here

“E-HAD has a habit of recruiting children who have nothing and can’t gain anything. By doing so, they gained our loyalty, but they also gave us purpose and took care of our needs. And for an orphan who has no future, it’s a deal too good to be true. However, it came with a price. E-HAD is an organization shrouded in secrecy. It’s how they operated for centuries. So when we can’t fulfil our given mission, we are considered dead weight.”Bookmark here

Sister’s grip tightened over the steering wheel. “A dead weight is useless to them and liable to be removed. And when that happens, the thing we have, our education, our training, our history, our property, our records, and anything that could lead back to them will be wiped out. We will be thrown back to the streets with nothing in our name, no security, no future. Now, do you understand why this mission is important to me?”Bookmark here

The ride was again blight by the silence we found ourselves in. It was hard for me to answer her question because anything I say will only be taken with a grain of salt. So it’s better to leave it there until we arrive in the city’s industrial area.Bookmark here

The mission’s target brought us to a seemingly abandoned warehouse. In the following hours, the tracker showed no sign of movement. So we waited for them to start moving again.Bookmark here

I’ve never been to a stakeout before. I always thought it’s all about bonding with a partner using the vast amount of time given to us by the circumstances of our situation. With the bonding part out of the picture after what happened, the time we had was spent with boredom and silence.Bookmark here

“How long do we wait?”Bookmark here

“As long as we can, we need to know more before you can infiltrate.”Bookmark here

“Okay.” I tapped the dashboard repeatedly. “If you don’t mind, can I ask you something?”Bookmark here

“What is it?”Bookmark here

“Did you help me earlier with the traffic lights?”Bookmark here

“It doesn't matter if I help or not. It got nothing to do with the mission.”Bookmark here

“You’re right then why did you help me?”Bookmark here

“I’m your handler. Despite you disobeying my order, my duties are to guide and support you. And I will admit that I was a bit harsh on you.”Bookmark here

“I’m sorry that I caused you trouble, but I won’t admit what I did was wrong. I wanted to be a hero to help people, and that’s my priority.”Bookmark here

“I understand.”Bookmark here

“Thank you for helping me.” Even though she didn’t reply to my gratitude, I did manage to pull a glance from her. That’s all I need to know that she appreciated it.Bookmark here

From where we parked, I noticed a soup kitchen opened in front of a thrift store. A line of unfortunates from non-powered to powered waited for their turns to get a plate of warm meal for the day.Bookmark here

However, amongst the volunteers who were helping the scene was Juliet. I couldn't believe my eyes at first, so I squinted and carefully zoomed in. My doubts were banished when I realized it was Juliet except with a ponytail and an apron on. She wore the biggest smile on her face while enjoying talking to the surrounding people.Bookmark here

“You need more information, right?”Bookmark here

“That’s correct.”Bookmark here

“I got just a thing. See those people there?”Bookmark here

Sister turned to where I pointed.Bookmark here

“I bet I can get a few tips about the warehouse from them. Besides, I know one of them. She’s a close friend of mine.”Bookmark here

“Hmm, go ahead, but don’t reveal the nature of our mission to them. We don’t want a civilian to get involved.”Bookmark here

“Roger.” I zipped up my jacket, hid my suit and pulled down my mask to reveal my face, so I don’t look sketchy. Lastly, I fixed my hair. It was necessary, so I looked nice before I met her. I mean there’s nothing wrong with trying to look good before I meet someone. I shook my nervousness away and left the van.Bookmark here

After patting the imaginary dust off my chest, I leaned slightly to the left and placed my hand on the table. I waited for Juliet to turn and notice me, but I didn’t realize the table wasn’t properly secured. So in a hectic fashion, the table flipped on top of me along with all the food that was on it. I fell hard against the concrete causing the surrounding people to turn their attention to me.Bookmark here

From amongst the crowd, I heard someone say, “Nice move, Romeo.”Bookmark here

Underneath all that spaghetti, my cheeks flushed red with embarrassment. It was so bad I didn’t even want to get up. I rather fake being knocked out than meet Juliet’s gaze after what happened. This was even worse than the time I accidentally pulled my pants down in front of the school.Bookmark here

“Kenn, is that you?”Bookmark here

“Yeah…”Bookmark here

Juliet hid a laugh, “What are you doing?”Bookmark here

“I was trying to look cool, I guess.” A sigh escaped me as I pushed myself up. The surrounding crowd dispersed as Juliet helped by picking off the rest of the noodle from my clothes.Bookmark here

“Wait for? You already are cool.”Bookmark here

My cheeks blushed bright red while a quivering smile crept on me. “I know you well enough to know that you meant that, but still, I appreciate you saying it.”Bookmark here

Juliet picked a single piece of noodle from my cheek and slurped it without a second thought, “Yummy.”Bookmark here

“Don’t eat that. It’s dirty.”Bookmark here

“Dirty?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, it just fell on top of me.”Bookmark here

“But you’re not dirty at all. I think you’re clean and nice.” And again, Juliet meant what she said. She doesn’t even realize it, but she makes it harder to look her in the eyes.Bookmark here

With a loud huff, I scared away my bashful nature and started cleaning the mess I made. Juliet brought me a broom and helped me along the way, but I refused her when she tried to take on most of the work. It was my mess, and it’s my responsibility to clean all of it.Bookmark here

After a couple of minutes of rigorous housekeeping, somehow, I found myself with an apron and doing most of the grunt work here. Not that I’m complaining. Also, I didn’t mind it all. It helps keep my mind from remembering the embarrassing incident earlier.Bookmark here

“Hey, you’re that ‘Kid’ Jules always talked about right?”Bookmark here

I turned my head and met with a tanned and well-toned woman. If I could call her a woman. If not for her bustier chest, I would have mistaken her for a man. Her eyebrow furrowed together while she glared at me with an annoyed frown.Bookmark here

“Jules?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, Juliet. Don’t play dumb with me kid, or I tear your head off.” Either she was joking about it or she meant it, anyway, I shouldn’t stoke the fire even further.Bookmark here

“Oh, Juliet? Yep. She’s a friend from school. Is there something wrong? Wait, she talked about me?”Bookmark here

“I said don’t play dumb.” She forced my back against the wall. “She always talked about how kind you were, how amazing you were, how cool you were, and how every single time you take a bite of a sandwich there’s a small adorable smile that comes with it. A bunch of bullshit if you ask me. I know your type so don’t you dare break her heart. If you do, I will break every bone in your body.”Bookmark here

My gaze dropped while I bit my bottom lip.Bookmark here

I couldn’t even hear the rest of what she said over the sound of my throbbing heart. The moment she told me about how Juliet praised me in front of other people, my ears blocked out the rest. I couldn’t believe she talked about me like that. It makes my heart throbbed even more to know that.Bookmark here

“Claire? Oh, you’ve met Kenn?”Bookmark here

“A little shorter than I imagined.” She backed away from me. “I’m going to go and help the others. So don’t get too crazy, yah?”Bookmark here

“We promise.” Juliet patted the well-toned woman on her back before she left then she turned to me. “So what did you both talk about?”Bookmark here

“Nothing!” I blurted out. I didn’t mean to raise my voice but seeing her after what I know is harder than it looks.Bookmark here

“Oh, do you want to help me with something?”Bookmark here

“Sure.”Bookmark here

Juliet brought me to the back of the store and pointed to the stacked cardboard boxes beside the door. There weren't that many of them, but it was too big for one person to carry. We both grabbed each end and lifted it together. Surprisingly, it was heavier than I thought. I could handle it, so does Juliet. With a bit of teamwork, we carried it into the backroom.Bookmark here

“Claire, she seemed nice.”Bookmark here

“She’s a little rough to new people.” She paused for a quick second then a smile appeared. “But if you got to know her, she’s a real sweetheart.”Bookmark here

“This volunteering stuff doesn’t seem like a new thing to you. Do you always volunteer here?”Bookmark here

“When I have the time. I like it here. Everyone here is so nice.”Bookmark here

“You are full of surprises, Jules. It makes me realize that I barely scratch the surface in getting to know you.” We brought in the last box and took a break near the store’s counter. “I got to ask you why the volunteer work? I know we don’t need a good reason to help people, but I’m curious, and if you don’t mind I would like to get to know you better.”Bookmark here

“No secret here. I know what it felt like to not be wanted. To have people forget about you. To have nothing. I’m rambling, I know. Overall, I just want to make them feel at home even if for a few hours. To feel like they weren’t a burden to anybody.”Bookmark here

“You said as if something bad happened to you when you’re still a child.”Bookmark here

“Back when I was an orphan, my parents sold me to a lab because of my… Whatever it was, it doesn’t matter now. One day, a chemical explosion collapsed the lab. I was trapped for days. Since I got no record whatsoever, no one bothers to look for me in the rubble.” A quivering smile appeared as if she was trying to conceal her true emotion. “My dad, my adopted dad, he found me, took me in, and raised me. I am indebted to him.”Bookmark here

“I didn’t know that happened to you. I’m sorry for bringing it up.” I placed my hand on her shoulder to comfort her. In response, she leaned against me, tugging the bottom of my jacket. Her trembling breath grazed upon my skin. “Did you ever find out who your parents were?”Bookmark here

“I don’t know who my parents were. They never bother to try and find me, so it’s clear that they don’t wish to know me.”Bookmark here

“Did you try to find them yourselves?”Bookmark here

“Why should I do that?” There was a tinge of anger in her voice. I noticed it even though it was subtle.Bookmark here

“Because, who in his right mind would abandon someone so precious as you? You’re kind, beautiful, you speak your mind, and the more I get to know you, the more I’m afraid to lose you.”Bookmark here

Juliet lifted her chin to meet my passionate gaze. She pouted adorably and backed away slowly. Her apron came undone then placed to the side, and one by one, she unbuttoned her shirt from top to bottom.Bookmark here

I quickly covered my eyes while my cheeks grew red, “Jules? I don’t think you should…”Bookmark here

Without even a doubt, she took my hand and brought it closer to her belly. “I want you to know me. This is me. This is my past.” Her skin was warm to the touch, but at the same time, it was rough. The tip of my finger ran against a rounded scar bigger than a golf ball. Bookmark here

“What happened?”Bookmark here

“A piece of rebar once pierced me right through here. My dad said there’s nothing wrong with it, but sometimes when I think about it, I can feel it move.” Her hands were trembling. “I never showed it to anyone else before, not like this.”Bookmark here

“Juliet, I一” A suspicious black SUV strolled down the street and into the warehouse. My phone ringtone suddenly went ablaze. I took it out and saw ‘Sister’ in the name tag. “I’m sorry, but I need to go.”Bookmark here

“Wait!” She stopped me. “Don’t go into the warehouse. It’s dangerous.”Bookmark here

“What do you mean?”Bookmark here

“There’s a gang there. They come and go, but there’s a lot of them. Most of them carried big guns. I think there is a secret entrance inside that leads into their base.”Bookmark here

“How do you know this?”Bookmark here

“Uhm...” Juliet paused and she averted her gaze. “The homeless folk told me.”Bookmark here

Without warning, I pulled her into my arms and I felt her heartbeat matching mine. Then with a big assuring smile, I say, “I promise I come back to you. No matter what.” Bookmark here

Juliet was hesitant to let me go, but after what I said, she finally gained the courage to do so. Bookmark here

I tossed the apron aside and rushed out of the store.Bookmark here

With no time to waste, I made it back to the van. Sister was already waiting for me with a single gauntlet. “Use this. It can erect an energy shield powered by a Stoalium battery. You’ll need it.”Bookmark here

“Thank you. Sister, a friend of mine told me that there’s a secret entrance inside that leads into their base.” I pulled up my mask, unzipped my jacket, and lastly put on the gauntlet.Bookmark here

“Good. I already called the backup. My intel suggests a deal is about to go down. It could be a lead. All the paperwork has been applied, so now it’s your turn to do the rest.”Bookmark here

“So, how do we do this?”Bookmark here

“Listening to me now?”Bookmark here

“Of course. We’re a team, aren't we?”Bookmark here

Sister laughed softly then passed my katana to me. “We go in using stealth. I pulled up the schematic and found a small entrance in the roof you could use.”Bookmark here

“Entrance. Roof. Stealth. Got it. Anything else?”Bookmark here

“We wait for them to show us the goods first. Confirm it and then we can act. One more thing. Be careful. We don’t know how many of them inside. If you find yourself overwhelmed then buy yourself some time till backup arrives.”Bookmark here

Despite the dread whisperings coming from the katana, I carried it behind me. It felt weird having this sword on my back. I wondered whether it was my imagination or not, but I felt this sword getting slightly heavier than when I first got it. Though, I already had my suspicion that this sword was haunted.Bookmark here

{Mic check.}Bookmark here

“Loud and clear,” I replied.Bookmark here

Time to get serious. I made my way along the warehouse fences until I arrived at the back of the building. With no easy access, I climbed over the fence and then hid behind the oil drums. Bookmark here

Sister’s drone hovered above the warehouse, I could see it if I squinted my eyes and focused hard. She kept her drone at a safe distance so no one could spot it. Having a personal guardian angel wasn’t so bad. It’s calming knowing someone is looking out for me.Bookmark here

{To your left. There should be an emergency ladder you can use to reach the roof.}Bookmark here

My eyes scanned the building’s wall and found none. “I need to get closer.” With my utmost vigilance, I got even closer till my back was against the wall. A few crates to my left and a big empty bin to my right, still no sign of it. However, after scanning the edge above me, I finally found what was left of the ladder. It must have fallen off from all that rust.Bookmark here

{I’m pulling up the schematic for another way in.}Bookmark here

“It’s okay, I think I got it.” After clapping my hands together, I grabbed the side of the bin and used it as a platform to get above the canopy. After skipping a few of the canopy, I arrived at an edge where I could reach and used it to get to the roof.Bookmark here

It wasn’t so bad. I was really out of shape when I climbed that tree. I’m glad all that training paid off. Bookmark here

The roof was shaky at best and a hazard at worse. I felt the structure creak and groan beneath my feet as I made my way forward. After carefully choosing where I took my step, I finally reached the opening Sister mentioned. Bookmark here

It was a hatch that had rusted from all the years of neglect. Even though it may seem unusable. When I tried it, I had no problem opening it, but it needed a bit of my strength to do so.Bookmark here

I dropped to the walkway below and kept my head down. The chatter of men pulled me toward it. A black SUV parked beside an insectoid hybrid with his armed posse. I couldn’t see who it was in the vehicle, but I planned to get closer.Bookmark here

They exchanged duffel bags. One of the hybrids brought a bag to a table where he unzipped it. After a closer look, the small vial reminded me of a battery I saw in a commercial from the power company, and he has tons of them. Bookmark here

{Stoalium batteries. Hard to get, and to have an absurd amount of them. They must be powering some kind of heavy-duty machinery. With that many, they could even power the city of Las Vegas for the next six months.}Bookmark here

The person in the car called one of them to him and gave him an EpiPen. However, it doesn’t look like a normal EpiPen. Besides, I doubt he’s using it for any ordinary allergies.Bookmark here

{That’s it. That’s our goal. The report stated your friend had been injected with something before he went mad. You got the green light to act. Proceed with caution.}Bookmark here

“Are you sure?”Bookmark here

{It all adds up.}Bookmark here

Collin was a good man. He did nothing wrong. He only tried to protect his home. These people. These criminals had no regard for anyone and injected poison into his body. Turned him into a raging beast that destroyed his home and almost hurts the people he has sworn to protect. How could they do this? How could they turn a man against his people?Bookmark here

My teeth gritted together. Just trying to imagine Collin on his hospital bed and barely able to breathe was heart-wrenching. Anger grew inside me and turned into pure rage. Bookmark here

Yes… Let it all out.Bookmark here

Kehehehe… I’m loving this. Bookmark here

Without any regard for my safety, I took out my katana and leapt off the walkway. Aimed at the SUV hood, my arms turned into hard-light, and with every bit of strength I have, I slammed the katana down. Its engine was crushed under my blade while the back of the vehicle raised in the air.Bookmark here

The suit inside the SUV was in a state of shock. The hybrids started firing their firearms, but it was useless, I was too quick. The closest hybrid to me became my first victim. I changed my stance into ‘Air’ and threw him across the warehouse with one swing.Bookmark here

One of them shot me in the back, but thanks to the suit, the bullet didn’t pierce through. However, taking a shot from this short distance was painful as hell. Despite it all, I turned and brought my katana upward against the hybrid's arm. Bookmark here

A crunching noise can be heard followed by his bones broken in two and a scream of terror that echoed throughout the empty warehouse. Bookmark here

The man couldn't even hold his firearm before he fell to the ground, sobbed furiously while he mended his broken arm.Bookmark here

The last hybrid tried to aim his automatic firearms at me, but before he could fire, my shield was already up. The bullets fell to the floor, fear began to rise inside the hybrid. It was already too late. Bookmark here

I charged forward into his chest. Using my hand around my hilt, I punched him in the face. It didn’t stop there. I turned off the shield then grabbed him by the throat and kept punching him.Bookmark here

Yes. Unleash everything.Bookmark here

Because of him, they turned Collin into a monster.Bookmark here

Because of him, you had to hurt Collin!Bookmark here

“AARGH!”Bookmark here

I didn’t even realize my hand was normal until a trickle of my blood splattered across my face along with his. The hybrid’s face was a mess, nothing but a mush of red meat and shattered carapace.Bookmark here

I was finally brought back to reality when a familiar voice called out to me.Bookmark here

{Brightstar!}Bookmark here

My hand trembled when I realized what had happened. I turned to a broken mirror on the floor and saw my blood-stained face reflected. I had lost control again.Bookmark here

“I… I’m not you.” I dropped the coughing hybrid on the floor.Bookmark here

We both know that’s not true.Bookmark here

{Brightstar, the other one is getting away.}Bookmark here

I glanced behind me. The hybrid with the broken arm headed toward a doorway. After shaking my head, I started chasing after him through the winding hallways until he ran into a bathroom. I kicked the bathroom door down and saw an entrance that led to a tunnel.Bookmark here

He had disappeared into that tunnelBookmark here

{Don’t go in there. We don’t know how many of them. It could be a trap. So wait for backup.}Bookmark here

“I need to go after him.”Bookmark here

{I know there’s nothing I could say to stop you. Okay fine, but keep your head in the game and don’t rush in. I will try to track your signal using the drone. Report anything back if you notice anything suspicious. The backup will be here in 5 minutes.}Bookmark here

I charged into the tunnel as I made my way deeper, the structure changed. The tunnel itself became more hexagonal and resembled a honeycomb. In the faint distance, I saw my target run as fast as he could. I thought he was running from me, but the blinking red lights along the tunnel said otherwise. Bookmark here

It was a series of explosives planted into the wall and the ceiling. They had planned to bury the tunnel along with me.Bookmark here

My legs picked up the pace. Sooner than I thought, my target was an inch away from me.Bookmark here

The ground shook, and the walls collapsed as thousands of explosives embedded in this very tunnel was triggered. A cloud of dust and the falling debris was coming for me. Faster than I imagined. I gritted my teeth and glanced behind, then back at my target. There’s no way he could make it out of here, not with a broken arm.Bookmark here

Against my personal feeling, I swung my katana against his back and threw him forward out of the tunnel. With him secured, it’s time to save my butt from being buried alive under a pile of rocks.Bookmark here

In a state of calm, I needed to channel all my power into my legs. Focusing at the tip of my toe and slowly travelled up to my waist. It was my first time turning both legs into hardened energy and when it did, I was astounded by the result. I had managed to launch myself into a speed that I couldn’t believe I was capable of achieving. Faster than anything I could muster if I was using my normal legs.Bookmark here

Just before I reached the end, I leapt forward, barely missed the collapsed rubbles, and rolled till my back crashed into a stone column.Bookmark here

A cloud of dust filled the room.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.