CHAPTER NINETEEN: HEARTFIRE
We skipped school the next day. James had brought me some of his old clothes for me to wear since mine were torn and filthy from the previous night. Gary and James had resolved to train vigorously before searching for Night Stallion. As badly as I wanted to join them, Gary told me to stay with Tyler in his antique store, and when I protested he became very adamant and I agreed with him. I didn’t like to make him angry.
We knew that things would get hairy when the hospital learned of my disappearance, but there wasn’t much we could do. Night Stallion was out there somewhere, and taking care of it was much more important than letting the world know that a missing girl in a hospital wasn’t really missing at all. I didn’t need to go back to the hospital for treatment, anyway. My powers had mostly healed any physical injuries I had sustained. Jack and Laura would be looking for me, but I didn’t care.
Jack and Laura. In my restored memory, Thomas had said that two top-model robots would be taking care of me. The idea that I’d been raised by robots for about three years was mind-numbing. They weren’t real people at all, but just machines programmed to create simulated love for me. My heart sank into a murky lagoon when I realized that two people who I thought loved me didn’t love me at all, simply because they were fakes. I knew they always felt like empty shells.
Tyler agreed to let me stay with him for the day, although he looked worried for some reason. I still trusted him. He couldn’t use Soulpower to fight, but he exuded a strong and dependable personality. Luckily, Jack and Laura weren’t home when I returned for my medication, which I put into a plastic grocery bag.
“You didn’t change your clothes,” said James when I left my house.
“Oh, I forgot,” I said, looking at the baggy shirt James had lent me.
“It’s all good,” he replied with a grin. “I don’t usually get to have a girl wear my clothes!”
“Dude, you made that sound kinda weird,” said Gary flatly.
The front door to my home had been melted off by Gary since it was locked and I couldn’t remember what happened to the spare key. Somebody would probably notice it eventually, but at least Tyler wouldn’t have to witness one of my breakdowns without my medication.
Gary and James went with me to the antique store. It was early in the morning and the store wasn’t open, but Tyler let us in.
“Let’s go to the back,” said Tyler once the two boys had left. “You can tell me everything up to date. Would you like something to drink?”
I nodded, and he led me into the backroom. He gestured for me to take a seat at the table, and he went to the corner where a little refrigerator was and took out a can of soda.
“This is the only kind I have,” he said, handing me the can of lemon-lime soda. “Is that fine?”
“Yeah,” I replied with a smile. Tyler smiled back, then sat down across the table from me after handing me the drink.
“You kids have been through a lot, haven’t you?” He sounded worried, and his eyes were softer than I had seen before.
I looked at the unopened can of soda and nodded.
“So,” he said, sitting upright in his chair, “what do you three know that I should know?”
I told Tyler the same story that I had told Gary and James the night before. Everything from how Night Stallion showed me the vision to the last thing I remembered before my memory was erased. I even told him about how Thomas might have his experiment stored somewhere in the city’s hospital.
“Hmm.” Tyler looked as if he was putting everything together in his mind. “That is definitely informative. I wonder why this Night Stallion creature showed you that.”
Having Tyler readily believe me was relieving, but there was still a heaviness in my chest. A large part of me wished that none of it was true at all.
“I don’t know,” I said timidly. “It just did.”
“Maybe,” he said contemplatively, “your soul automatically was triggered by the sight of seeing it eye-to-eye. Think of it this way. If your brain was ridded of the memories because of Thomas, then the memories still remained in your soul. Night Stallion was such an important event back then, and the very sight of it was enough to activate those memories and restore them to your brain. Or it could’ve used some Darknae power to help restore your memories.”
“You think so?” I asked, staring at the table, running my eyes along the woodgrain patterns.
“Well, it’s just a thought,” he replied. “I really can’t be certain. It sounds like mostly every fella who knew the details about this topic … those lab workers … aren’t around anymore.”
“When it showed me my lost memories,” I said, “I think I felt and understood Night Stallion’s motives, at least a little. What Darknae wants to do is get rid of Luminae completely. To do that, it has to kill White Phoenix, Luminae’s physical form. It has to kill the Rionah Luminae first.” I tried to put all of the information together cohesively, but it was difficult and I was probably doing it wrong. “When it kills White Phoenix, Darknae will be able to make this its perfect world.”
Tyler was quiet.
“Is that the gist of it?”
I shook my head and said, “I don’t really know, really.”
“Tell me this,” said Tyler, trying to be uplifting. “You said there was an angel in your dreams and visions, right?”
“I don’t know much about dream interpretation, but this is probably a good thing,” he said with a smile. “Angels are messengers sent by God. I’ve heard that seeing them in dreams means that you’re being watched over.”
Spiny thorns crept around my heart. I could hear the stolen void of my soul whispering to me, but I didn’t want to listen to it. Whatever it had to say was resentful and harrowing.
“It was an evil angel,” I said dryly, gripping my soda can that was still unopened. “It’s not a real angel.”
Tyler looked at me.
“What did this angel look like?”
“Pure white eyes,” I told him quietly. “A little girl. She … she looks like me.” An emotion began to crack through my defenses. I assumed it was anxiety. The woodgrain patterns on the table were beautiful. Dust covered many things in the backroom.
“I have no idea as to what it could mean,” Tyler replied softly.
“The angel scares me,” I said, my voice starting to shake. “Something tells me that it’s bad.”
The whispering voice inside me grew fiercer as I squeezed the soda can so hard that the tab popped open, ejecting carbon dioxide laced with a sweet smell into the air.
“Why would an angel be bad?” Tyler asked with a chuckle. “I thought they were supposed to be good.”
“It’s not a real angel,” I said, “or I don’t think ….”
I opened the can completely and took a sip before any soda spilled onto the table. The bubbles fizzed in my mouth for a while before I swallowed, and the slightly crushed can felt extremely satisfying to grip, being molded to my grasp. My mind was completely full of worry and wonder.
“Well,” said Tyler, “I guess there’s only one way to find out what it is, and that’s to wait and see what happens.”
Of all the things I didn’t want to hear, that was probably the worst. I hated waiting for something without knowing exactly what it was or when it was going to happen. I traced the side of the can with my fingers, removed my pills from my bag, and took my morning dose with a huge gulp. The carbonation made my throat burn and eyes water.
“Sorry there isn’t much to do here,” Tyler apologized. “If there’s anything I can get you, just say something.”
“Is it okay if I leave the store?” I asked for seemingly no reason.
“You want to go somewhere, eh?” Tyler thought it over for a bit. “People might wonder why you’re out of school. That is, of course, if they knew you were a high school student.” He studied my face. “Ah, what the heck. I’ve seen adults that look your age. Just don’t go too far, ya hear?”
“Okay,” I said, getting up. “Thanks for being nice to me.”
“Just promise me this,” he said firmly, giving me a stern look that implied his strength and wisdom as an old man. “Promise me you’ll be careful and you’ll stay out of trouble.”
“That’s a good girl.”
Outside was sunny. Standing on the sidewalk, I looked around, letting my thoughts drift. I gazed in the direction of the city, thinking about the hospital. I thought about my bike behind the antique store. I put the thoughts of the hospital and my bike together, imagining riding to the city to see Thomas. Right then, I decided to make that thought a reality, walked behind the store, got on my bike, and rode toward the city.
Perhaps I was daydreaming, because the ride to the city seemed to take only several seconds. The lapse in time was accompanied by gorgeous sunlight and colorful birds, and I felt disconnected from the world as I pedaled through the city. There were cars and people everywhere, but I was just as alone as I would’ve been in Antarctica.
When I made it to the hospital, I became more alert. They had likely noticed I was missing by that time and the personnel would be on the lookout to find me, not to mention the possible police involvement, so I had to be as stealthy as possible. Dipping into a nook on the side of the building, shoving my bike into a thick shrub to hide it, and looking around to make sure nobody had noticed, I tried to think of a plan. As I sat on the ground, it was apparent that I was concealed well. The clothes James let me borrow were comfortable, and it was almost too easy to relax.
Time passed. Lots of time, it seemed. Months, millennia, and entire eras of Earth’s planetary history ambled and slithered across my thoughts. My head throbbed as a vision flickered in front of me. I snapped awake, feeling dizzy. My fingers were tingling and my toes went numb. The ringing in my ears subsided, bringing me to the fact that my ears had been ringing.
The sound of an angry voice made me jump. A middle-aged man with scraggly, graying hair glared at me from over the hedge I thought had concealed me. He was wearing a custodian uniform, and his firm, wrinkled face quickly went from anger to shock as I jumped to my feet.
I probably recognized him. I HOPED I recognized him. Thomas’s face was still in my memory, although a little fuzzy, and the middle-aged man seemed familiar. However, it was unlikely that he would be a custodian, considering his talents and knowledge, although it could’ve been a disguise or a simple part-time job.
“What are you doing here?” he asked quickly. Then he put his angry face back on. “You look like you’re up to no good. Hey, I think I know who you are.” He stared at me. “Yeah, I think I know. You’re that missing girl from last night. Dressing like a boy to disguise yourself! But you match the description.”
I didn’t answer, but continued to stare at the man.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” he asked.
“Who am I?” I asked quietly.
His expression was of disbelief. He gave me a strange look.
“How should I know?” he replied with a grunt. “They didn’t give me your name.”
“You don’t know who I am?” I asked, eagerness welling up inside of me.
“I don’t … I don’t think so,” said the custodian slowly.
I looked for a nametag on his shirt, but there wasn’t one.
“What’s in the hospital?” I asked. “Any secrets you’ve been hiding?”
His response was just what I wanted. He quickly became nervous, looking at me with fright.
“What are you talking about?” he asked. “There is no such thing!”
“I think there is,” I told him in almost a whisper, stepping toward him.
The custodian backed away. He wiped off his neck, glancing around to see if anyone could come to his aid. Then he took a sturdy stance.
“I told you,” he said sternly, “there is nothing like that here.”
“Like what here?”
“I’m going to call security!”
A tugging, nudging sensation rolled around inside me. It was similar to what I had felt during my fights with Dexter, Zenox, and Night Stallion. There was an innate truth screaming right in my ears, telling me that something in that hospital was linking itself with my powers. Whatever had been done to my soul in the past was clearly connected to it. The Heartfire energy that had cut away at my soul in Base 15 had a distinguishing feeling, and it reeled rambunctiously around and through me.
“But I feel something in there,” I said. “It’s some kind of energy. What is it? Please, tell me.”
The man’s lip quivered.
“I’m not telling you again,” he said shakily, losing his stern tone. “There is nothing here. It’s just a hospital.” He looked like he wanted to run, but I wasn’t worried. I could catch him.
“Tell me what it is,” I begged. “I have to know what it is. All this time, I could feel it inside me. The effect of Heartfire is —”
I shut up instantly. The man stared into my eyes with pure shock.
“What did you say?” He looked right into my two blue eyes, studying them. Then I watched his expression change slowly and drastically as something clicked inside of him. “This is impossible.” His voice was airy and breathless. “I erased your memory!” Right then, he looked scared more than anything.
“Tell me about the experiment,” I pleaded, advancing closer to the custodian.
“Stay away!” he said, stepping back. “That’s an order!”
“I’m not mad at you!” I tried to explain calmly and nonthreateningly. “Please, Thomas ….”
“How do you know my name?” He backed away more, looking completely terrified. “You’re not supposed to remember anything!”
“You know who I am!” I told him. “I won’t hurt you.”
“I’m sorry! I know what I did was wrong! Stay away, that’s all I’m asking!”
I pushed through the hedge to confront Thomas closer, but he responded with more fear.
“I warned you!” He reached a shaking hand into his pocket and pulled out a remote control. After pushing a button on it, he thrust it back into his pocket. “The Jack and Laura units are coming to take you back. They’ll erase your memory again, and everything will be back to normal, Kristy, I promise. It’ll all be okay.”
It was like a hand had latched around throat.
“No,” I choked. “You can’t erase my memory!”
“It’s for your own good!” Thomas told me, trying to sound comforting despite his own discomfort. “Everything will be better soon. Those memories will only hurt you. You’ll be able to start over again. A new life.”
My legs started to move, carrying me with them. I raced down the streets, pushing and shoving about a dozen people a second, knocking many of them over. I didn’t know where I was running, but I had to get away.
When I thought that I was in a big enough crowd far away from the hospital, I began to walk casually with the flow of pedestrians. I walked a few blocks, skittishly glancing over my shoulder every now and then for any sign of the laboratory robots … for any sign of Jack and Laura. A few blocks down was the mall, and I headed straight for it. Surely there was a large enough crowd for me to disappear into.
When I approached the automatic sliding doors, I was met by the cool air conditioning as they slid open. Glancing behind me again, I walked casually inside the mall, pushed my hair out of my face, and immediately tried to mingle with a group of five or six people.
The mall was big. I embraced a quick stab of agoraphobia, swallowed the panic, and forced myself to feel adventurous, an effective and lucrative lie to myself. Perhaps it was due to my current situation as somebody running and hiding, but an uncharacteristic anxiety of people and large places was attempting to overthrow me. There were two levels packed with stores, meaning that I had a lot of space to hide from the two robots. I followed a group up the escalator to the second floor. Trying to look as casual as possible while gritting my teeth and reciting the alphabet backwards to myself, I went inside a store that sold movies, video games, and music CDs. Looking around, I realized that I was in a place full of younger adults, and that I’d be with other teenagers if it wasn’t a school day. I just hoped Tyler was right when he said I could pass as being about five years older.
“Can I help you find anything?” an employee asked, coming out of nowhere. He was a tall, dorky-looking guy with slicked hair and glasses.
“No thanks,” I said quietly, my line of vision peering through an extra dimension between me and a display rack of new movie releases. “Just looking.”
“Okay,” he replied. “If you need anything, just ask.”
Hastily, I made my way to the back of the store, disappearing behind the racks. My eyes scanned over the different CDs to give the impression that I was looking for something, and occasionally picked one up and looked at it. After half an hour, according to a clock hanging on the wall, I decided to leave the store and try to go back to Tyler’s store, or to look for Gary and James if I could somehow detect their powers. Looking at a CD by a band named Short Tandem Bikeride, I remembered my bicycle was still at the hospital, and it would probably be left there for good, and it occurred to me that “Bikeride” was probably supposed to be two words.
I glanced quickly around as soon as I left the store. There was no sign of Jack and Laura, so I headed for the mall’s exit, believing that I might have gotten away from them. Feeling somewhat heartbroken, I walked over to the railing and looked down at the first floor. What would I do when it was time to go home? I shook my head. I had no home.
“There you are, sweetie,” said a woman’s voice from behind me.
I whirled around and found Jack and Laura standing a few feet away. Instantly, adrenaline pumped through me. Some sort of fighting instinct kicked in.
“We’ve been looking all over for you,” said Jack concernedly. “Come back with us, and we’ll make everything all better.”
“You’re going to erase my memory,” I said straightforwardly. “I’ll forget everything about this place, won’t I?”
“It’s for your own good,” said Jack gently. “Krystal, we understand how you feel —”
“You don’t understand my feelings,” I said. “You can’t understand, because you’re machines. You don’t have feelings.”
Jack and Laura looked at each other, then back to me.
“You know more than you’ll be comfortable with,” said Laura calmly. “If you let us rid you of all these painful memories, then you’ll be happy again.”
“No I won’t,” I told her. “If my memories are erased, then I’ll still remember this place as a bunch of distorted visions that pop up at random times. I know what it’s like not knowing what they mean, and now that I finally found out, I don’t want to go through all of that again. I like it here. I like the friends I made, and I’m not going to let you take them away from me.”
People were looking at us. I told myself they were just ignoring us, another lucrative lie.
“Krystal,” said Jack firmly, “remember those business trips that the two of us always went on? They were actually appointments to see Thomas so he could upgrade us and make us more efficient. We would give him our reports on you. He programmed us to possess special skills in case you would try to resist us. We are calibrated with your best interests in mind, and to apprehend you under any circumstances that are deemed necessary. You wouldn’t want us to use those skills, would you?”
By this time, a few people had gathered to see what was going on. But they were just ignoring us. Nothing we were doing made us stand out.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to get out of this with my memories intact,” I said.
“How do you expect to resist us?” Laura asked, beginning to sound cold. “You don’t have a weapon of any kind. We know you don’t use Soulpower.”
“I don’t need a weapon to fight you,” I told her, getting into a fighting stance. “I don’t need Soulpower.”
“So, it’s confirmed now,” Laura told Jack. “There is an undocumented power that she possesses. Dr. Grant’s reports can be reevaluated with this in mind.”
“Dr. Grant?” I asked. “He’s part of this?” Sadness descended into me. My doctor was one of the people I had trusted, if only to a certain degree. Why was everyone in my life staged to work against me? I began reciting the alphabet backwards again to myself, but I couldn’t get past ‘u’ as people continued to ignore us. I blinked, looking at my fists that were ready for a fight.
“Do you even know what that power is?” Jack asked me. “You know it’s not Soulpower, but you continue to use it without care?”
“I do what I must,” I said.
“Then you leave us with no choice,” said Jack. “We’ll have to persuade you with force, and then you’ll be a better person.”
The two of them immediately leapt into the air and landed on both sides of me. They started using martial arts-style attacks, which I blocked. I jumped back, knowing that I was going to have a difficult time fighting them.
Their attacks were quick, and blocking them was painful. It was apparent that they realized how tough my power had made me, so they came at me with an all-out assault. Jack grabbed me by the arm and tossed me onto the ground. I quickly rolled out of the way as he brought his foot down to stomp on me. As soon as I made it back onto my feet, Laura roundhouse kicked me in the back. Jack took the advantage to strike me in the back of my head, making me see stars for an instant.
I immediately retreated to the escalator. A little ways down, I was intercepted by Laura. The only thing I could do was block her attacks, owing to the fact that I didn’t have any training in their fighting style, or any other fighting style at that. Seizing a narrow opportunity, I kicked Laura in the stomach, and she rolled down the escalator. I jumped over her and tried to make a dash for the exit.
Jack managed to get in front of me and punch me across the face. I staggered for a bit, and received a mighty blow to the stomach. Forcing myself not to double over in pain, I returned a quick punch, but Jack blocked it, grabbed my arm, and slammed me into the ground with a painful thud as my mouth hit. I bit open my lip, and blood gushed out onto the floor.
With no second thought, I leapt back to my feet and blocked more attacks from Jack. Laura joined in and both of them managed to easily overwhelm me with attacks, ending with me stumbling back, wiping the blood off my face.
Not knowing where I was going, I ran through the mall and eventually into the food court. My power began to guide my actions, and I started lifting up tables and chairs with my mind and sent them flying towards Jack and Laura. Moving them was like moving my own hands and feet, an exhilarating feat that I had no time to take pride in. A chair collided with Jack and busted apart, slowing him down. Laura managed to jump over a chair aimed at her, but was hit with a table with food on it, which splattered everywhere on impact. People were running, and I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Everyone is ignoring us!”
I continuously pummeled the robots with projectiles, pulling them out from underneath people who couldn’t get away fast enough, until there were no more tables and chairs. Seeing that I hadn’t done anything more than slow the robots down, I made a mad dash for the exit. As soon as I reached the doors with the huge glass windows, I remembered the attack that I had used against Night Stallion; a force that had shredded the street and stripped the buildings.
Concentrating my energy into my right hand (the one without the scar), I waited until my fingers felt like they would explode, and thrust my open palm forward at Jack and Laura, sending a violent blast of wind towards them. The vacuum created by the wind blew the windows in, covering everything with glass. The floor ripped up and anything that was standing in front of me was no longer upright. With nowhere else to go, the powerful gust of wind traveled down the mall like a wind tunnel. People were blown off their feet. Nothing was spared.
Using this chaos to my advantage, I picked up a sharp piece of metal from the window frames and looked for the two robots. As soon as I saw movement, I hurled the piece of metal like a javelin, piercing Laura through the chest. She flew back and was pinned against the wall. Electrical components inside her sparked and popped as she hung motionless from the giant nail-like object.
“I see that you’re not kidding,” said Jack, getting up and dusting himself off. I stared at him, not daring to say anything. “It doesn’t matter, because you still have to deal with me. I’ll give you one last chance to come quietly. If you resist, I will disable my limiter and use one hundred percent of my strength. I’ve been using sixteen percent up until now. Give up.”
“Not by your artificial life,” I said stubbornly.
“Have it your way,” he said, getting into his fighting stance. An audible humming sound emitted from him, and his eyes turned electric blue. “Prepare yourself! Here is the maximum capability of a Base 15 humanoid SP weapon!”
With those words, I heard a crashing noise from above. To my shock and horror, I saw the demonic winged horse smash through the skylights, soar down, and land directly in front of Jack. The humanoid robot delivered a punch, an attack at one hundred percent strength. Using a headbutt directly into the brunt of Jack’s full blow, Night Stallion shattered the robotic arm and dug into his torso with long, wicked fangs. Jack’s other arm pummeled the horse in the face, but had his core processing unit bitten in half after several hits, making him go limp.
I gasped and stumbled back, watching nervously as the demonic winged horse chewed and swallowed the majority of the robot’s chest components. Electricity and fire spewed from the machine, having no effect on Night Stallion. It turned its head and looked straight at me, baring its teeth with wires and cords dangling from its mouth. Every part of my body trembled in fear as I desperately hoped that it would leave me alone. Suddenly, it spread its wings and took flight. I instantly prepared myself for it to attack, but it flew out through the broken skylights.
My muscles relaxed so quickly that I almost collapsed. As I stared up through the skylights, I wondered what Night Stallion was doing out during the day. I had automatically assumed that since it was Darknae, it wouldn’t be able to come out at any other time than night, but I dismissed it as a ridiculous assumption. The moon wasn’t out during the day, so what was Night Stallion doing? Why did it attack Jack, but not me?
I looked through the mall at the wanton destruction that I created, giving me flashbacks of the previous night. Guilt grabbed onto me, and I had to shake it off before it dismantled my resolve. I hurried out of the mall without looking back, unnerved by the thought that the fighting had probably been caught on tape, including my face and what I’d done.
My mind raced, trying to think of a way to get back to town quickly without using too much of my power and wear myself out and have to confront Night Stallion again. The public transit buses and trains would take me to the edge of the city, and then I’d have to use my own two feet on the way back. A taxi would probably take me all the way back to town, but I didn’t have a lot of cash on me and my running speed would be faster.
A roaring engine from behind caught my attention. Turning to see what it was, a very beautiful black car approached me. The car was pure black and very futuristic-looking. It was the same car Zenox had given to Dexter, one of the Zoe cars. They had been designed at Base 15 as an SP weapon. I never knew what an SP weapon was, but I had heard about them a lot. Jack had also mentioned that he was an SP weapon, and it was likely that Laura had been one as well.
“Hello, Zoe,” I said quietly, watching it closely to see what it would do.
The car pulled up next to me, its door opening up by itself. There was something very inviting about it, like it was smiling to me while offering me its hand. I climbed into the driver’s seat as the door closed. I had never driven before, but there was no better time to start learning than now.
My seatbelt buckled around me automatically. I put the car into drive and slammed on the gas. The wheels peeled out as I took off down the street, weaving in and out of traffic. I was living my dream of driving an awesome sports car. I was careening down a busy road in a strange vehicle without a license.
It was hard to tell for sure, but I could swear that the car was guiding me, helping me steer. In no time, I made it to the long road that led back into town. Seizing the opportunity for a max speed test, I put the pedal to the metal. The engine kicked into high gear, and I was pressed back against the seat. All of the trees on both sides became a green blur. My heart pounded excitedly as I enjoyed the sound of the wind whipping past me.
Just before I made it back to the town, I stopped on the side of the road to push the Zoe car into the woods and out of sight, but the car started up and hid itself on its own. Staring into the woods where the car had vanished, the sounds of the wild encompassed me. It was soothing to be out in nature, but I had to get back to Tyler.
“I’m back, Tyler,” I said, walking through the front door of the antique store. Tyler was dealing with a customer; an old man who looked older than Tyler was peering through the glass case at some guns.
“Oh, there you are,” said Tyler, looking at his watch.
I walked lazily to the backroom, dragging my feet across the floor.
“Are you feeling all right?” he asked. “You look a little tired and beat up.”
“I’m fine,” I told him. “Yeah, I’m just a little worn out from everything, and I got into … some stuff.”
Tyler looked upset, and I felt bad for breaking my promise to him. After all, I had just gotten into trouble, and some serious trouble for that matter. He didn’t say anything else to me and focused on his customer while I walked to the back. My nerves were still tense, so I took an extra dose of my medication and washed it down with another can of soda. I felt a little tired, but I didn’t know why. It didn’t seem like I had used that much energy during my fight. Perhaps fatigue had been accumulating without me being aware of it.
Leaning back, I let the time continue to slip away. After a while, the medication blanketed me and protected me from my sorrow. Jack and Laura were gone, but the woodgrain patterns on the table were absolutely intriguing.
“Hey there!” Gary had come into the backroom with James right behind him.
“Hi,” I said, standing up and hugging Gary.
“I feel so much better after all that training,” said James, flexing his biceps. “It’s like I’m ready for anything!”
“What happened to you?” Gary asked me. “You have cuts and bruises all over you.”
“Oh.” I looked at the cuts on my arms from when I fought Jack and Laura. “It’s a long story.” I looked around the room, feeling heavy and foggy. “Can we go back to my house? I wanna tell you two something.”
“Uh, sure,” said Gary. “Are you okay?”
I nodded, feeling happy that he was always concerned for me.
On our way to the neighborhood, Gary and James were telling me about their training session. They explained how their abilities were developing, and it was hard for me to pretend to listen. We were just on our way out of town when we saw Brandon talking with Stephanie on the side of the road. James made a throat noise, and I could almost feel Gary’s body tighten up.
“Oh, hi guys,” said Stephanie when she saw us. She didn’t sound very enthusiastic.
“Hey,” said James, “what’s going on here?”
“None of your business,” Brandon mumbled.
“Brandon!” Stephanie gave him a mean look. “I just broke up with Patrick,” she told us.
“I see how it is!” said James angrily to Brandon. “Trying to get back with her after a breakup. That’s pretty low, even for you.”
“Just go away,” said Brandon. “It’s not like that.”
“Actually,” said Stephanie, “I went to Brandon. Not to get back with him, but just to talk to him. He’s a really understanding person, and I thought he’d make me feel better.”
Gary and James exchanged surprised looks.
“Okay …,” said James after a while. “That wasn’t expected.”
“Yeah, okay,” said Gary, accepting what Stephanie had just said. “It’s good, though, what you’re doing.”
I looked at Stephanie and Brandon for a moment. All of the memories I shared with them were in danger of being forgotten if Thomas sent more robots after me. In the sea of medication that kept my emotions suppressed within the darkness of my deepest trenches, I still knew that it would be devastating to have the time spent with these people erased. While looking at the faces of Gary, James, Stephanie, and Brandon, there was no way to prevent the tiny smile that found its way to my lips.
That was when the void in my soul began to stir.
A horrible pain pierced my chest right where my heart was. I wanted to double over in pain, but it rendered me completely paralyzed, locking my joints and stiffening my back. My head burned and throbbed ten times worse than it did during my operation.
“Krystal!” Gary grabbed onto me. “What’s wrong?”
A vision of the angel repeatedly flashed in front of me, burning my eyes every time it did so. It felt as if I had swallowed lava, making it impossible to breathe. The pain in my chest raged, and I swore my heart was going to be crushed at any second. Right when I thought the cradles of death had come to whisk me away, I felt the agony slowly disappear as everything faded, leaving me in the dark.
The angel was watching me. Her voice was freezing and cavernous. She spoke from the stolen void of my soul, and I had no choice but to listen to the voice I despised with every part of my being.
“It is time for me to awaken.”
Thomas was in his secret laboratory in the hospital. The large glass chamber that held his experiment was in the corner. It was the same as the one in the old laboratory at Base 15. Nothing but a white cloud could be seen inside it, but it was releasing a substantial amount of energy. Undoubtedly, it was Heartfire, the same energy that removed my soul extraction from my body. I could sense it. Whatever was in that chamber wanted me to see this. I didn’t know where my body was. My eyes were not my own. All I could see was what I was being shown.
A computer on one of the desks started to beep. Thomas looked up curiously, then slowly made his way over to view the results on the monitor. His face went from excited to concerned as he looked over the data.
“What is this?” he whispered to himself. “These readings are all over the place.”
One by one, the other computers, devices, and machines began to make noise, warning Thomas of something he couldn’t see. The energy in the glass chamber began to rise as ice crusted over it, making it impossible to see what was inside. Thomas cautiously advanced closer to it, and then he scratched off some of the ice with his finger. To his surprise, the typically cloudy interior had cleared up, allowing him to visually view his experiment for the first time ever. Peering inside, Thomas had his breath snatched away as a pair of pure white, hollow eyes opened up.
“Kristy,” he choked. “Is that you?”
The glass chamber exploded, sending Thomas flying back, killing him instantly as his soul was lost. The computers and machines in his lab sparked and went out as the entire hospital shook. The empty part of my soul began to burn … and that was when that thing emerged from the shattered chamber.
It made its way out into the halls, instantly ripping apart the souls of anyone who saw it. Violet flares of evanescent Heartfire swept through the floors and walls. When the thing reached the reception desk, it blasted the entire front entrance of the hospital, removing several floors worth of the front of the building and deleting the souls of countless people before it took to the streets of the city. Night had already fallen.
Metal, concrete, and asphalt warped and bent under the power of her Heartfire. Glass windows pulsed to the wavelengths, shattering and blowing out. Cars twisted as the people riding inside lost their souls. Electrical appliances and devices shorted out as she fluxed time and space around her. Buildings bowed, the atmosphere cried, and weather patterns were already shifting to her will. The violet halo of Heartfire above her head emitted powerful waves of soul-eating energy, sending out dozens of terawatts of half-existing data that immediately snaked through the nearby cellphones and Internet-capable computers, ricocheting between every fax machine, spreading virulently through every connected satellite, prancing to the farthest reaching servers and devices, and rendering useless every bit of the world’s communication networks in a total of twenty-two seconds. In twenty-two seconds, Heartfire’s traces circumvented the globe.
She made her way slowly through the city, drifting inches above the ground that now gave her its attention, destroying any souls that came near her. Her long, blonde hair masked her white, hollow eyes. She was the little twelve-year-old girl in my dreams. She was the false angel.
She was Kristy, and she looked just like me.