Chapter 22:

Brightstar Arc 5 (Chapter 1)

Brightstar: The Rising Superhero

It has been a week, and the days have been nothing but torture. Each morning, a scientist and two guards came into the room and asked us who would volunteer. No one in their right mind would come forward, and I don’t blame them. The experiments conducted here were horrid.Bookmark here

Today was especially rough. The scientist dragged Zanny into the room and tossed her to the floor. Half her body was bandaged up, and her hands could be seen trembling, but somehow she found the strength to smile.Bookmark here

They made their way to me and escorted me out of the room. As if I had a choice, after all, I was strapped to this cart with steel restraints and a suppressor collar around my neck. They brought me to the red room.Bookmark here

It was a room where they conducted experiments. It was called a red room because everything in it was painted the colour red, from the wall to the floor, even the ceiling. I heard Zanny's conversation with other lab rats; they said a powered once blew up in this room and bathed the entire room with his blood. And they didn’t bother to clean it because it was easier to have the entire room red when the test subject either started bleeding everywhere or puked out blood.Bookmark here

They carted me into the centre, four cameras were pointed at me in the room. Afterwards, the scientist pierced my skin with a bracelet full of needles and a long-running tube from the ceiling connected to the bracelet. It hurt worse than a bee sting. I tried to struggle before, but I know how useless it was.Bookmark here

After leaving me alone in the room, I had no choice but to wait for the worst part of the experiment. My eyes darted to the purple liquid running down the tube. I bit down the gag and closed my eyes. The ominous liquid slowly entered my vein. It felt like saltwater entering a wound. It’s itchy, painful, and searing at the same time.Bookmark here

My arm jolted involuntarily against the restraint and slowly the rest of my body spasmed violently. My body was forced to turn into a hard light, but the suppressor would force me back to normal. I had to endure it repeatedly as every transformation sapped my strength away. The strength I need to hold the pain at bay.Bookmark here

However, today wasn’t my lucky day as my leg turned into light and went through the steel cuff and returned to normal at an unfortunate time. My leg materialized back before it could pass through. My eyes bulged as I screamed through the gag. I tried my best to keep my leg from moving or the cuff would shift inside my flesh. But since I can’t stop the spasm, my leg accidentally jolted forward and the cuff was torn out from my flesh.Bookmark here

The last thing I saw before the lights went out was the back of my eyes.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Kusagi’s Workshop.Bookmark here

Ria flicked the switch and the ceiling lights brightened the dim-lit basement. She gasped in surprise when the light revealed a woman with rabbit ears standing near a large table. The room was a mess, nothing but empty cup noodles and scraps of paper on the floor. Even the couch where Kusagi slept wasn’t picture perfect, it’s dirty and unkempt.Bookmark here

A sigh escaped Ria as she brought the food supplies to the couch. After leaving it on the couch, she walked to Kusagi and stood behind her. Her eyes lowered to the black attire she had on. She wanted to place her hand on Kusagi’s back but stopped herself.Bookmark here

“You missed the funeral.”Bookmark here

“I know. I’m not senile yet.”Bookmark here

“I don't understand why you didn’t come. She was your sister.”Bookmark here

“You know I can’t. I can’t waste time. There’s a new lead.”Bookmark here

“It’s not a waste of time. You need to mourn, Aunty. We all do.” Ria’s eyes started to well up.Bookmark here

“I’ll mourn when I make sure Kenn is safe. Right now, more than ever, I need to find him. I can’t lose him.” Kusagi clenched her jaw.Bookmark here

“Me too. I want to find Kenn, but Aunty Catty was your sister. You knew her your entire life. She was your family. You deserved to mourn. To say your last goodbye.”Bookmark here

“You think I don’t want to?!” Kusagi swiped the stacks of papers off the table. “Catty would understand why I need to do this. Keen is not just a nephew for me. He is more than that. He’s my only son.” Her grip over the crumpled paper tightened.Bookmark here

Ria widened her eyes. “Wait, what are you saying?”Bookmark here

Kusagi turned her head away. “Forget what I said.”Bookmark here

“You can’t…” Ria took her arm. “Kenn’s your son?”Bookmark here

Kusagi had no intention of telling her, it slipped out from her tongue. “It was supposed to be a secret. I’ll tell you, but you need to keep it a secret from anyone, especially from Kenn.”Bookmark here

“I won’t tell anyone. I swear on my life.”Bookmark here

“Catty can’t have kids on her own, she was infertile, but I wasn’t. She covered it up for me because I forced her to. It wasn’t Catty that used Haru’s DNA to get pregnant. It was me. I was dumb and young. At first, I thought it would be easy to raise a kid, but when he was born, everything changed. I knew from that moment I wasn’t fit to have him, so I gave him to Catty.” Kusagi raised her chin while trying to keep her eyes from welling up.Bookmark here

“Why didn’t you tell him when you got the chance?”Bookmark here

“Because… have you seen me? I am a mess. I used to work as a mercenary, for god’s sake. I took people’s lives away for money. I am a criminal. I am everything wrong in this world and I don’t want him to end up like me. Alone and angry.” Kusagi slammed her fist on the table and broke it in half. “He’s out there somewhere and no matter how many leads I chase, I feel like he’s getting further away from me.”Bookmark here

Ria clasped Kusagi’s hand. “We’ll find him.”Bookmark here

The slow clapping hands caused Kusagi and Ria to turn their heads at the staircase. A dark-skinned man dressed in a black suit sauntered down the steps. It ignited Kusagi’s anger. Bradford took a file from his pocket and waved it with a smile. “No need for violence. I came here bearing a gift.”Bookmark here

“Bradford, you snake! What are you doing here?” Kusagi broke the table leg and was ready to hit the man with it.Bookmark here

“I repeat, there’s no need for violence. One of my agents, Sister, you met her before, right? She found where they are keeping Kenn.” Bradford tossed the file to Kusagi for her to catch. “So, when are we going to bring him back?”Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

“What do you mean, he’s not Silver Cloak’s son?”Bookmark here

“We tested five-time. It isn’t the same as the gene from the database.”Bookmark here

“Then who is his real mother anyway?”Bookmark here

“We don’t know. It isn’t listed in any database.”Bookmark here

“Come on, let’s leave him. I want to get an early lunch.”Bookmark here

What did they mean by that?Bookmark here

After the two scientists left the room, I opened my eyes. I took a long breath before grimacing at the bandaged leg. They treated my injury and kept me under sedation, I didn’t have the chance to escape before they put me back into the restraint. At least they took off the gag, it’s easier to breathe now. My eyes wandered to Zanny. She was curled up into a ball but still held her smile underneath.Bookmark here

“Are you okay?”Bookmark here

She groaned. Her weak gaze turned at me. “I’m fine. Today was rough, wasn't it?”Bookmark here

“The worst so far.” I grimaced at the sudden wave of pain. An itch from underneath my bandage followed behind. My shoulders loosened from the fatigue. I tried to keep my head straight but found no strength within me to do so. My head dangled forward.Bookmark here

“I found out I can teleport stuff. It’s weird. I never had any special ability before, and I checked.”Bookmark here

“It’s the stuff they injected us with.”Bookmark here

“What else could it be?” chuckled Zanny. “This is the first time I heard your voice. I thought you didn't want anything to do with me?”Bookmark here

“I don't… but talking helps with the pain.”Bookmark here

“I can't remember the last time I was outside. I used to live near a beach when I was a kid. I would go there a lot, but I could barely remember how it looks now. Still, I can still recall the feeling I had there. The itchy sand beneath my feet. The cool breeze from the oceans. The vibration from the crashing waves.”Bookmark here

“How long have you been here?”Bookmark here

“It has been a while. I think I lost count.” She laid on her back with a grunt. The smile she had never disappeared. Even if she was staring at nothing.Bookmark here

“I don’t understand how you could keep smiling. I have only been here for a week, but I felt nothing but anger and hatred.”Bookmark here

“Well, suck to be you, then.” Zanny chuckled. “The reason why I keep smiling, because I got nothing left. You see, I was born with nothing. My parents sold me for a hundred bucks when I was twelve. I have been stuck here since then. But I ain’t giving up. Someday I will escape this place and till then, I won’t let them take the one thing I have. My smile.”Bookmark here

Two scientists and soldiers entered the room. The room became quiet again. They walked to Zanny. She looked at them with a raised eyebrow. Without hesitation, they grabbed both her arms. Bookmark here

“Wait, what is going on?”Bookmark here

“We need you for another test.”Bookmark here

“But, I already had mine.”Bookmark here

They started to drag her toward the door. The fear in her eyes caused the anger inside me to rise. I struggled against the restraints. “Didn’t you hear what she said? She did the test. Let her go!”Bookmark here

“Take me instead!” I yelled.Bookmark here

My request was nothing to them. The soldiers brought Zanny out of the room. I fear for her. I need to get out of these restraints. She won’t survive another experiment. I knew it. She knew it. There must have to be something I could do to stop them. My struggles against the restraints proved to be a failure.Bookmark here

Suddenly, the lights in the room turned red and a blaring alarm could be heard from the other side of the door. I glanced around me in panic. My attempt against my restraints doubled. Zanny could be in trouble. I need to find her.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Above Utah.Bookmark here

A modified C-130J Hercules civilian aeroplane with four propeller engines flew above the clouds. It was made to carry cargo up to 44,500 pounds or 20,227 kilograms equivalent to 92 paratroopers, but today, it was carrying one motorcycle and four people.Bookmark here

Kusagi sat with her back against the plane wall. She clasped her hands together to prevent them from trembling. Bookmark here

“Hey, Darling.” Cindy wrapped herself around Kusagi’s. “He will be there. Bradford promised.”Bookmark here

“That’s the problem. I don’t trust him.”Bookmark here

“We don’t have any lead left. Are you sure you want to go through with this? I could hire someone else.”Bookmark here

“I can’t let him wait. Sacrificing my pardon for his safety is a choice I'm willing to make no matter what.”Bookmark here

“Reckless as always, I wonder where you got it from. If only Haru was here to talk sense into you.” A glare from Kusagi stopped Cindy from proceeding with the topic. “Alright. I need to see Elena and her son in the cockpit. Are you going to be fine without me?”Bookmark here

“I’m not a kid anymore, you know that, right?”Bookmark here

“You will always be one to me.” Cindy smiled before leaving her.Bookmark here

Kusagi muted her surroundings and focused on her heartbeat. It was a technique she learned from a monk back in Japan. It soothed the mind before a battle and sharpened her senses even more. Her rabbit ear perked up. She caught something, it was Cindy, and she was flirting with Elena. It was not something she wanted to hear. She could even hear the grossed out groan came from Elena’s son.Bookmark here

A smile appeared on her face. The red light above blinked repeatedly, her smile was replaced by a flattened lip. She stood up, then adjusted her military tactical gears into a more comfortable position. Afterwards, she checked the ammo pouches and the two Uzi strapped on her waist, then she made sure the combat knives were secured.Bookmark here

The blinking red light turned yellow. She turned to the motorcycle helmet on the bench. Ricky had given the helmet to her a while back. It was designed to be sleek and focused on bullet deflection. A rainbow-coloured, bulletproof, and one-way view mirror was screwed in front of the helmet, so it doesn’t sacrifice sight and protection. It also hid the wearer identity.Bookmark here

Kusagi had personally requested this helmet because it was owned by her adopted father, Haru. She remembered he used to wear one back in the days when people called him the Oni. On the account of the helmet used to have a demon horn in front of it.Bookmark here

“Darling, get ready!” yelled Cindy from the cockpit.Bookmark here

The woman saddled on top of her motorcycle, a modified scrambler Ducati made for riding in a desert. It has rough wheels, a muffled exhaust, so it doesn't make too much noise, and enough plastic explosive inside this bike to knock down an entire house. She grabbed the handles and started the engine.Bookmark here

“Here we go!” yelled Cindy while Elena was laughing hysterically.Bookmark here

Kusagi felt the sudden shift of the forward as its nosedive. She almost lost her grip but kept her thighs anchored to seating. The plane position shifted again, it pulled up at the last second. Then the light turned green, the cargo bay opened, and Kusagi was smiling ear to ear. It’s time to get her son backBookmark here

She kicked it in first gear and went full throttle. The lock detached itself from its body. The front-wheel raised in the air before she launched herself out from the plane with the bike saddle underneath her. It was a short jump, nothing special, her eyes darted to the facility, and she turned her bike toward it.Bookmark here

The plane flew back up in the sky, the military trucks scrambled to chase after it. Kusagi didn’t care for any of it. She needed to get through the hangar door before it closed. She drove through mound after mound of dirt. The hangar doors slowly closed and no one had noticed her yet.Bookmark here

It was a narrow gap, but she passed it. After seeing the thick steel door that led to the underground, she planted her leg against the floor and used the bike momentum to flung it toward the door. The bike crashed into the door spectacularly. Kusagi took out a trigger and pressed it.Bookmark here

The bike exploded on command, enough to tear down the door. It shook the entire hangar wall and filled it with enough smoke that no one had any idea what’s going on. Kusagi moved at breakneck speed and leapt into the door.Bookmark here

The first thing she met on the other side was two well-equipped soldiers. Their eyes went wide, but it was too late, Kusagi used her leg and kicked one of them into her partner. They both hit the wall beside them and were knocked out. She dashed forward again.Bookmark here

Speed was her ally here, she needed to find Kenn before the alarm went off. However, it didn't take long for the alarm to blare in the hallways and the lights turned red. She halted her advance when four highly armed robots blocked the back and the front of the hallways along with four soldiers.Bookmark here

Underneath the helmet, she gritted her teeth and lowered herself into all four like an animal. She went into a breakneck speed. The armed robots and soldiers started firing, but Kusagi jumped into the wall and to the ceiling and back to the ground while kept advancing to her goal.Bookmark here

In a matter of seconds, she was on top of the robot. She took out her Uzi and blasted the other one full of holes before tearing the head of the robot she stood on. The other soldiers took a step back and aimed their rifles. But it needed only one good kick from Kusagi to break those rifles, and she did it with ease.Bookmark here

She dropped to the floor and took one of the soldiers by the head and tossed him back at the other robots, then throat jabbing the other one. The last one was used as a shield for the other robots. The soldier struggled with the grip over her head.Bookmark here

“Where are the test subjects?” Kusagi asked calmly.Bookmark here

“I’ll never tell you!”Bookmark here

Kusagi slammed him against the wall repeatedly. Blood and teeth smeared the wall. “Where are they?”Bookmark here

“Floor thirteen ‘cough’ please let me go.”Bookmark here

She tossed him to the advancing robots and rushed toward the nearest stairs, but not without heading to the security office first. She needed to let someone into the system.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

The alarm blared from the hallway, I glanced around me in panic. Suddenly, the restraint unlocked itself and released me. The suppressor collar around my neck unlatched itself. I turned to the other lab rats, and they cowered in fear near the corner. It seems all of their collars were unlocked.Bookmark here

“What’s going on?”Bookmark here

“Hey, Firefly. It’s your favourite gal, Cindy. Kusagi is here too, but she is busy rampaging to get to you.” The voice came from the speakers in the room. Bookmark here

“I unlocked all the restraints and collars. You should be able to move around. I suggest you head toward the nearest staircase.” The door to the room opened by itself. “Come on, get going. We don’t have much time.”Bookmark here

My eyes darted to the other lab rats. There’s no way, I’m leaving them here, but I can’t carry all of them. “We have a chance to escape. So, I ask you this, are you going to die here, or die out there?”Bookmark here

They glanced at each other. A brand-new resolve rose in them. They wanted to escape, but they needed the right moment and right now is the best as any. They all nodded their heads and followed my lead. Bookmark here

I crept near the doorway and peeked outside for any soldiers. When it was clear, I gestured them to follow me until I found myself with two choices, head to the stairs, or head to the red room where Zanny is held. I can’t leave her here. After turning to face the rest of the lab rats, I pointed to the emergency staircase. “Through there is your escape. I can’t go with you. Not without Zanny. So, be safe, don’t take unnecessary risks.”Bookmark here

They were hesitant to leave me but nodded their heads. I left them and ran toward the red room. My legs slowly gathered my power and turned it into hard lights. By using my power, I was leaping at a fair distance.Bookmark here

It wasn’t a lonely journey as I expected it to be. A soldier popped out from the corner, he didn't spot me yet. Before he could, I whacked him right in the cheeks with my fist. His lights went out in seconds. I took his rifle, but in truth, I had no idea how to use it. However, I also took the retractable baton from his belt.Bookmark here

Another soldier appeared from another corner, I took out the retractable baton, hit it against his head. It stunned him, but not enough to knock him out. Another soldier was behind him, so I took the stunned soldier by the collar and pushed him toward his friend. When they both were against the wall, I kept hitting them in the necks and heads until they both were knocked out.Bookmark here

A blunt object hit me on my back, I stepped away with gritted teeth. When I turned around, a soldier stood with a baton in his hand. He took out his rifle, but I closed in and hit his hand away from the trigger. Using my feet, I sent my foot flying toward him, but he caught my leg and used it to swing me against the side of the wall.Bookmark here

The soldier pressed his rifles against my neck, hoping to choke me out. Before asphyxiation set in, I kicked his leg out under him and elbowed him in the face. His light went out before he fell face-first against the floor.Bookmark here

I stumbled a few steps. Trying to keep the weight off my injured leg proved to be harder than I thought. I arrived at the door, which led into the red room. After a quick breath, I readied the rifle and busted the door open.Bookmark here

Zanny was writhing in the restraint, I glared at the scientists while pointing my rifle at them. “What did you do?”Bookmark here

“Woah! W-We didn’t do anything. The machine haywire when the alarm was set off. It could be because the reserve generator kicked in.” He raised his arms in the air and so did his friends.Bookmark here

“Get her out of there!”Bookmark here

“We can’t. We don’t know what will happen if we stop the transfusion mid-process.”Bookmark here

“Do it!” I jammed the gun nuzzle against his head.Bookmark here

“Alright, don’t shoot me.” The scientist scrambled to take the needles out of Zanny and released her from the restraints. Bookmark here

Zanny fell on fours, violently twitching and trembling beyond belief.Bookmark here

“What’s wrong with her?”Bookmark here

“We can’t say. It might be because we stopped mid-process. It could be because of the short shut off before the reserve generator kicked in. Anyway, she’s responding violently to the serum.”Bookmark here

“No shit. Her organs might break down any minute now.” The scientist’s partner spoke up.Bookmark here

“Is there any way to help her?” My grip tightened around the rifle.Bookmark here

“We have no idea how to stop this.”Bookmark here

“Get out,” I ordered. The scientists left the red room without a complaint.Bookmark here

I kneeled in front of Zanny, then took her hand. “Zanny, can you hear me?”Bookmark here

She looked at me with wide and bloodshot eyes. Sweats washed over her face, barely keeping her twitches under control. “I heardー I can hear. No. What? Why are there so many of you?”Bookmark here

“There’s only one of me. Focus on my voice. We are going to get out of here.”Bookmark here

“Yes. What? No. No. It’s too late.”Bookmark here

“It’s not. Come on.” I slid myself underneath her arm and raised her off the floor.Bookmark here

“No. You don’t understand. We can’t. I can see it.”Bookmark here

“Zanny, you are hallucinating. You need to stay focused here. Just imagine the beach you talked about.” We started walking toward the door and out into the hallway.Bookmark here

“The beach… I want to go there. It’s so close.”Bookmark here

“Don’t. Stay with me. We can make it out of here. Together.”Bookmark here

As we walked down the hallway, a blast door came down and blocked our path. I glanced around in the hallway, and each door in the hallways was sealed shut. My heart pounded against my ribcage as I slammed my fist against the steel door.Bookmark here

“I don’t know what happened, Firefly. They locked me out fromー” Cindy’s voice suddenly cut off.Bookmark here


=FIVE=Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

A nondescript rusted van parked over an underground access point. A wire led up from the access point into the van and connected to the minicomputer inside the van. A girl with golden locks as bright as the sun sat in front of it. She typed in a couple of codes before turning her head to the dark-skinned man beside her. He was none other than the famous Agent Bradford.Bookmark here

“Her connection to the system has been cut off. We have full control of it now.”Bookmark here

Bradford stood in front of a screen with flattened lips. The screen showed Kenn and Zanny stumbling in the hallway. He turned to Juliet on the seat right next to him with her fingers over the computer keyboard. “Initiate the purge.”Bookmark here

Juliet’s finger hovered above the Enter key. She was hesitant to press it.Bookmark here

Bradford noticed the girl’s pause. “Why don’t you take a break?”Bookmark here

“Why him?”Bookmark here

“Take a break, Juliet. That’s an order.” Bradford stared at her with cold eyes.Bookmark here

Juliet left her seat with her hands balled into fists. A lump clogged her throat, which she promptly swallowed down. Her legs froze while she was in the doorway. A glance caused her heart to tighten. Bookmark here

Bradford tapped on the Enter key without even any hesitation or a second thought. The blast doors in the hallway came down. Kenn and Zanny’s escape was blocked without them even knowing the cause.Bookmark here

Her chin lowered in sorrow as she walked through the door. It was done. Kenn will be gone, and she could have done something to stop it. However, she couldn’t betray her adopted father. The one person who once saved her when she was a child.Bookmark here

Bradford smiled. It was time for the next phase of his plan.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.