Hey again, everybody! It seems I took an unintentionally looong break (over half a month), and I apologize for the absence. I hope you all haven't forgotten about me! XD
Anyway, here we go. As always, a Like and a Comment would be greatly appreciated, as I enjoy the feedback and discussions. Cheers!
CHAPTER THIRTY: CROSSED OVER
It was definitely the same building that I remembered from my youth. The sign above the door was also the same, even though it was faded and worn. The biggest differences were the boards on the windows and lack of a welcoming warmth that originally attracted me to the store.
It was undeniably where Tyler’s antique shop had been, but it was no longer a shop at all.
“I don’t think this place is open,” said Gary dismally as he gave the unoccupied building a once-over.
“Man, no way!” James grumbled. “Now what? This was our only lead, and it’s a dead end.”
Gary walked up to the entrance and examined the door.
“It’s locked, of course,” he said. “The place looks condemned. It’s in pretty bad shape.”
“Yeah, I wonder what happened,” James added, crossing his arms. “This sucks.”
“I wonder if it’s for sale,” said Gary.
James glanced around.
“Hmm, I don’t see a realtor sign, or anything.”
After a moment, Gary said, “Okay, keep alert. If an alarm goes off, we’re gonna have to run.”
“Whoa, wait.” James sounded nervous. “You’re breaking in?”
“We came this far. Might as well see if we can find any clues. If we can’t find the book, maybe we can find Tyler … maybe.”
“That’s a longshot,” James chuckled, “but whatever.”
The handle on the front entrance door was a simple doorknob, and Gary grabbed it, then heated it up with his flames. While he did so, I noticed Brittany was looking around the area. For the most part, everything was how it had been during my teenage years.
“This is a quaint, pleasant town,” she told me with a small smile. “Is this where you grew up?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I have a lot of memories of this town.” I gripped the sides of my jacket. “But I don’t really know how I feel about it anymore.”
Brittany looked down the street.
“I assume it’s beautiful in the summer,” she said sweetly. “The ocean is so close. Is that the Gulf of Mexico?”
I nodded as I heard Gary push the door open.
“We’re in,” he said, “and I don’t think there’s an alarm system.”
“Breaking and entering,” said James deviously, “I can cross that one off my list.”
“You had THAT on your list?” Gary asked.
“Meh, I didn’t even know I had a list to begin with.” James shrugged.
The inside of the shop was empty. Most of the shelves had been taken out, and the few that remained were bare with the exception of dust. There had always been a rustic smell, but it was now a dead and moldy smell, rather than inviting and nostalgic. As we searched for anything that seemed like a clue, I couldn’t help but feel like I was investigating the inside of a tomb.
“There isn’t much here,” said James as he checked the area.
“Keep looking,” Gary told us.
“I’ll check the room in the back,” I said.
“Okay,” Gary replied.
I entered the old room where we used to spend time with Tyler. Brittany followed me, which was unexpected, but I didn’t mind. In fact, I wanted her to be with me. The lack of furniture and various assortments of inventory made me sad, and I wished I could’ve introduced a better setting to Brittany. Even the nice table with the woodgrain patterns was gone. For some reason, I felt like a disappointing host for her. As I breathed in the air, more of the dead smell filled my lungs and seeped into my heart.
It didn’t take long for me to figure there was nothing worth checking out in the room. When I looked at Brittany, I saw a slightly pained expression on her face.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her concernedly.
“Oh, nothing to worry over,” she told me, quickly covering up with a smile.
“If you don’t feel well, then don’t push yourself.” I almost laughed, thinking how much I sounded like Gary saying that.
Looking at the ground, I could tell that Brittany was thinking of something to say that wouldn’t make me worry more. At least, that’s what I thought until she actually spoke.
“I sometimes feel a lot of pain.” The tone of her voice was dull and graven. “It’s just a natural occurrence for me, considering my … condition.”
I tried to comfort her.
“You should take it easy,” I said. “We’ll take care of things. If we can help you, then we’ll do our best.”
Brittany turned away so that I couldn’t see her face.
“There’s nothing you can do. Especially since I’m doing it to myself, because I’m choosing to be around you, your husband, and friend.”
My mouth went dry as James hurried into the room, his eyes bright. He interrupted my opportunity to ask Brittany what she meant.
“In here!” he called to Gary. “I feel it!”
“Huh?” Gary followed him. “Feel what?”
“Luminae,” said James boldly, looking around. “That book was fused with Luminae, right? I can sense it.”
James slowly moved across the room, using his powers to locate the source of Luminae. He stopped, stomped his foot on the floor a couple times, then looked at us with a big grin.
“I think I found it,” he announced.
“Uh, okay,” Gary replied skeptically.
Without hesitation, James knelt down and gripped the floorboard, then ripped it up. Old nails and splinters scattered in every direction before he thrust his hand into the opening.
Just like that, he removed an old book from beneath the floor and held it in the air, as if showing it off to the world.
“Y-you found it!” said Gary excitedly.
Gary and I rushed over to James as Brittany remained off to the side. When James handed the book to me, there was no mistake that it was the book in question. Just holding it in my hands made me feel so much better. It reminded me of Charlie, the lab worker in Base 15 who had raised me while I lived there. I thought about the sleepless nights he had, staying up to write his notes in that very book.
“Good job, man!” Gary patted James on the shoulder.
“Heh, no problem,” James replied proudly. “C’mon, Krystal. Check it out.”
I placed the book on the floor, Gary and James peering over me. However, our moment was ruined as soon as I opened the book. I had forgotten that it was not written in English.
“Oh,” James muttered. “That’s right, it’s in Greek.”
“Latin,” Gary corrected.
“Does it matter?” James grunted. “We can’t read it!”
“It’s in Latin?” Brittany asked from across the room. When we all looked at her eagerly, she added, “Sorry, but I’m afraid I know nothing of the language.”
With a prolonged groan, James rolled onto his back and lay on the dusty floor.
“What a letdown! Now we need to find a translator. No … we can’t do that. Then the translator would know stuff he shouldn’t know.”
I flipped through the pages, hopelessly viewing the cryptic words, begging them to reveal their information to me. There were several sketches, mostly of scenery and cityscapes, but there was one picture that stood out … a picture of a grand piano. My eyes locked to the sketch, almost bound to it. That piano was one I had seen for myself, and had heard it’s melodies with my own ears.
A loud noise came from the front of the store, catching our attention. James quickly jumped to his feet as I snapped the book shut.
“What was that?” James whispered, staring at the door to the room we were in. “Police?”
“Maybe,” Gary replied quietly. “There could be a silent alarm. Damn.”
Footsteps were heard approaching the door. Gary, James, and I tensed up in anticipation. Brittany, however, stood in place, looking calm and unreceptive. After a few seconds, the footsteps stopped just outside the room.
“I know you’re in there,” a voice called. I recognized who it was. “This is Kevin. You can’t hide from me.”
“Ugh, he found us,” James sighed. “I knew he’d be back, too.”
“What do you want, Kevin?” Gary demanded.
“I just want to talk,” Kevin replied from outside the room.
We exchanged glances. I clutched the book tightly, not willing to let go of it.
“Fine then,” Gary answered.
James looked at him, as if to ask whether or not it was a good idea. From what I could tell, we didn’t have much choice. Kevin appeared in the doorway, standing tall and upright while looking around at all of us, his headgear’s holographic displays scanning us the entire time. Knowing that I was being analyzed by a machine would make most people uneasy, but I was used to it. Two machines had raised me, after all.
“Alright, spit it out,” said James curtly to Kevin. “You’re stalking us, so let’s hear your excuses.”
“I’ll get straight to the point,” said Kevin dutifully. “This has been a setup.”
“What do you mean by that?” Gary asked angrily.
“I knew you’d be here,” Kevin told us after his holographic images vanished. He pointed to the book I was holding. “I knew you’d be looking for that eventually.”
I hugged the book closer, taking comfort in its softened edges. Gary and James moved toward Kevin.
“I really wanna break your face off,” James growled, brandishing Flare Blade, “but a small part of my humanity is keeping you safe.”
Kevin showed no signs of being intimidated and continued to explain.
“My organization has acquired significant information on Krystal and everyone closely affiliated with her,” he said. “In short, it was apparent that that book was valuable to you three. It was also apparent that this particular location was valuable as well. When the silent alarm was activated, I had good reason to believe it was you who had broken in, and the Soulpower scans immediately confirmed it.”
I looked at Gary, who remained silent with an aggravated expression. There really had been an alarm system in the building.
“That book belonged to an old friend of ours,” said Gary firmly.
“Tyler,” Kevin answered quickly, “I know.”
“So, how’d you get it?” Gary asked, squinting at Kevin. “What happened to Tyler?”
“Tyler passed away almost four years ago following a heart attack seven years ago,” said Kevin in a strictly-business tone.
A solemn silence fell upon the room. Due to his old age, Tyler’s death was inevitable, but it was still heartbreaking. However, now was not the time for mourning.
“He died, huh?” James spoke softly. “He was old, though.”
“Before his death,” Kevin continued, stepping further into the room, “he entrusted my organization to that book, namely to me, specifically. His final wishes included that Krystal receive it.”
“He wanted me to have this?” I looked down at the book I was hugging, and it suddenly felt like I was holding a long lost friend. “But why didn’t you just give it to me?”
“For one, I would have given it to you if you’d cooperated with me during our first encounter,” Kevin replied. “Instead, you chose to resist, which led to violence. That is why I had to bait you with it.”
The guilt pressed onto me as Kevin spoke. Could so much difficulty had been avoided if I had gone along with him from the beginning? I tried to console myself by the fact that being approached by a suspicious stranger wearing advanced technology would have made anybody uncomfortable.
“Are you really not our enemy?” Gary still sounded unwilling to fully believe Kevin.
“To be clear, I am not your enemy,” said Kevin, “nor is my organization. Now that Night Stallion has gotten away, I can focus on my mission once again.”
“Night Stallion!” James pointed his finger at Kevin. “What else do you know? Start talking!”
“You know about Darknae and Luminae, don’t you?” Gary studied Kevin’s expression very closely.
Kevin didn’t say anything, but his face acknowledged that Gary was correct. All of my uncertainty about Kevin seemed somewhat impractical at this point. Kevin appeared to be on our side. Perhaps it was time to try to trust him.
“Okay,” I said quietly. “I’ll do what you want.”
Surprisingly, Gary and James didn’t object to my offer to cooperate so willingly. Instead, they both watched Kevin closely, as if expecting the answers to start magically jumping out of his pockets.
“I will explain everything to you three since you are directly involved,” said Kevin. “However, this girl is not allowed to know anything.”
He beckoned toward Brittany, who was still silently standing by herself.
“But she uses Soulpower!” James argued. “She fought Night Stallion face-to-face! That should make her directly involved.”
“I’m sorry,” said Kevin, not swayed by James’s argument, “but I have not been given permission to inform anyone of this situation other than you three. Additionally, if she doesn’t know anything, then she’s not entitled to get involved to begin with.”
There was an awkward silence with the exchanging of glances. Brittany remained off to the side, her eyes slowly moving around, watching us. I really wanted her to come with us. After learning she could use Soulpower, I only felt a greater sense of connection with her.
“She already knows a lot,” said Gary. “We’ve had a deep discussion about our powers and everything. Not only that, but she’s friends with Krystal. They’ve shared a lot of information already, and they know almost all there is to know about each other.”
I could tell that Gary was stretching the truth a little, but it was a smart move on his part. Kevin looked at Brittany, who gave him an innocent smile.
“I don’t have any records of you,” Kevin told Brittany. “Involving you would go against my orders.”
“Understandable,” Brittany replied modestly.
“This involves highly classified government information,” said Kevin straightforwardly. “It is sensitive and can’t be disclosed to most individuals.”
“You’re involved with the government?” I asked timidly. “This is … the government’s information?”
“That’s right,” Kevin answered.
“Hey, you said you had a lot of dirt on people close to Krystal,” James blurted, looking at Kevin, “but you don’t know anything about Brittany. I guess you ain’t very good at your job, then.”
Kevin stared at James, who wore a smug grin.
“I have to contact headquarters,” said Kevin, stepping away. I watched him use his high-tech headgear to make a call as he left the room. His equipment was indeed impressive.
“What a day,” James muttered, leaning against a wall. “Back to doing the same crap we used to do, huh?”
I remembered those days years ago when everything started happening. Everything was so confusing at that time when we tried to figure it all out. Even after accomplishing so much, there were still a lot of things I didn’t know.
“Understood,” I overheard Kevin say. “I’ll return right away.” He walked back into the room, and we looked at him eagerly. “I just spoke with the director. This girl, Brittany, has been granted permission to accompany us.” He turned to me. “Krystal, you and everyone else follow me.”
“Oh yeah!” James cheered, looking at Brittany. “You’re one of us now.”
“Thank you very much.” Brittany looked delighted, which made me feel good.
“Where are we going?” I asked Kevin.
“Back to headquarters,” he said dutifully. “The rendezvous point has been set up. We must go immediately. Follow me.”
We followed Kevin out of what used to be the old antique store. Outside, I silently bid farewell to the place as Kevin closed the door, which wouldn’t latch due to Gary damaging the doorknob. Walking away, I somehow knew that I would never return to that old building.
The five of us walked down the sidewalk, keeping a noticeable distance from Kevin as we tailed behind him. James moved next to Brittany, and I could’ve sworn I saw her grimace as he got close to her. It wasn’t merely a look of annoyance by James’s proximity, as I would’ve thought, but a look of pain and torment, like she was seriously uncomfortable. However, it was very brief and she quickly recovered as James spoke to her.
“I don’t think that dude’s too happy about you coming along,” James told her. When Brittany didn’t reply, he turned to Gary. “Are you sure this is gonna work out? Mr. Secret Agent didn’t want her to come with us.”
“I think it’ll be fine,” Gary replied flatly. “It’s probably for the best. If we’re going to go against Night Stallion again, we’ll need all the help we can get.”
“What if she gets hurt?” James asked concernedly. “She’s got her whole life ahead of her.”
“She’s probably older than we were when we started doing these things,” said Gary. “I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
The walk through town wasn’t very long. We followed Kevin to a black sedan with dark tinted windows, chrome trim, and a shiny paintjob that didn’t seem to have a speck of dirt on it. At least we had a nice car to ride in.
“Do all secret government guys ride around in these black cars?” James asked as he got in the front passenger seat. “Shotgun!”
“You’re supposed to call shotgun before taking it,” said Gary, climbing into the back with Brittany and I.
“I apologize for the small vehicle,” said Kevin. “I didn’t expect to have an extra person, or I would’ve requested an SUV or van.”
“It’s quite snug, actually,” said Brittany.
The car was very comfortable and clean. There was no telling what was going to happen next, so I wanted to take the opportunity to relax the best I could, but anxiety lurked in the back of my mind.
Not long after the car started moving, however, did James decide to break the silence.
“So, Kevin, just who are you?”
“I am an agent for the secret government operations in Base 15. My job is to defend against any threats related to Darknae and Soulpower.”
Of all the answers, I sorrowfully expected that one. Things were about to get complicated, I could tell.
“Are you serious?” James became all ears. “Base 15? That secret military base that was destroyed … how many years ago?”
“I was sent to retrieve Krystal and anyone connected to the Night Stallion events from over ten years ago,” Kevin explained in his all-business tone.
“We defeated Night Stallion and Darknae, though,” said Gary. “Why do we need all this government business this time?”
“Haven’t you noticed how Night Stallion is much more powerful this time?” said Kevin.
Gary, James, and I looked at each other. Although our recent encounter with Night Stallion had been brief, it had been hinted that its capabilities had increased.
“Yeah, why is that?” Gary asked. “It really is stronger, then.”
Kevin took a deep breath.
“How’s the best way to explain this?” he said to himself. “It is true that you defeated Night Stallion, and it remained dormant and inactive for a decade. However, that was not originally what happened.”
There was a small silence.
“What does that mean?” James asked quietly.
“I’m not the one who will tell you everything. I’ll let Thomas explain most of it. After all, it was his experiment that caused all this, and he knows more about it than I do.”
“Thomas?” I perked up instantly. “You know Thomas? Is it the same Thomas I know?”
“Yes,” Kevin replied, “you know him very well, Krystal.”
“Wait, hold on,” said Gary. “Is this the guy who did that thing to Krystal’s soul?”
“Correct,” said Kevin, not taking his eyes off the road. “I see you know about the experiment Thomas performed. That will make the explanation easier.”
“I told them about it,” I said, “and about my life at Base 15.”
“So,” Gary spoke slowly and quietly, thinking as he went along, “this experiment he did is somehow responsible for Night Stallion being more powerful?”
“Not just Night Stallion,” said Kevin, “but Darknae in general. And it doesn’t seem to have a direct correlation with Darknae, per se. Darknae no longer seems to be focusing on Luminae as its main adversary.”
“Something else is threatening Darknae?” Gary asked.
“You’ll know everything when we get to headquarters,” said Kevin. “I, myself, don’t fully understand everything just yet.”
“Well, if you don’t know anything else,” said James, “why don’t you start telling us more about yourself?” His eyes narrowed with suspicion. “What’s up with the weird stuff you use?”
“I am equipped with standard SP equipment,” Kevin replied automatically. “Everyone in my unit is required to use this level of SP technology for our basic operations. I was also equipped with a special SP weapon designed for defense against Darknae, but you destroyed it in your struggle to evade me the other day. It was when I utilized the large limb-like extensions.”
“What’s SP technology?” James asked.
“Soulpower technology,” Kevin answered. “It channels the user’s Soulpower and converts it into energy. As a person who can’t naturally use Soulpower, I am able to achieve similar effects of Soulpower usage through the aid of SP technology.”
“So, during combat,” said Gary, “you actually use Soulpower, but only because your equipment lets you? Heh, leave it to the government to invent something like that.”
“But you were pretty strong,” said James. “Is SP technology more powerful than natural Soulpower?”
“Our weapons developers have been unsuccessful in creating SP weaponry more powerful than the actual thing,” said Kevin. “You haven’t mastered your abilities yet, so any SP technology you come across may actually be more powerful than you at this time.”
“But with enough training,” said Gary, “I can become even more powerful than you?”
“Correct, according to theory,” said Kevin. “Also, SP technology users don’t have the individual effects found in natural Soulpower users. Everyone who uses Soulpower naturally possesses unique attributes. Soulpower is ‘elemental’, meaning it takes the form of a particular ‘element’ depending on the person.”
“Elements?” James rubbed his chin. “You mean like helium?”
“Methane in your case,” Gary muttered quietly.
“The classical elements, actually,” said Kevin. “The only recorded Soulpower elemental types are earth, lightning, fire, and water. The energy created through SP technology is neutral. No amount of research has explained why.”
“Well then, that explains why all the people we’ve seen use Soulpower have different abilities,” said Gary thoughtfully. “Is there a connection between the Soulpower’s element and the person?”
“Yes,” said Kevin. “Numerous reports indicate a connection between personality and Soulpower elements. However, I don’t know any of the details. What I do know is that fire and lightning are the two most common and that earth is rarer. Water is an extremely rare case. Less than one percent of recorded Soulpower users are water elemental.”
I looked at Brittany. She was staring quietly at her shoes with a fatigued look. When she noticed me, she smiled back, then stared back down. She looked so sad, but I didn’t think I could do anything to help.
The more Kevin continued to drive, the more familiar I became with the area. He was taking us to the city, and Thomas was more than likely there. At least that’s what Thomas had told me when I was younger. Night Stallion had shown me the memories that were erased, and Thomas said he had a degree in the medical field. Being that the hospital was in the city, it only made sense that Thomas would be there.
“Our headquarters has moved after the destruction of Base 15’s original facility,” said Kevin, as if reading my mind, “which is now referred to as the Desert Facility. We currently operate out of the city in what we call the City Facility. The base relocated there to keep a close eye on you, Krystal.”
So much trouble just because of me. I knew that I was an important part of their operations, but I never knew just how important I really was. More and more did I realize that most of Project Darknae and Thomas’s experiment revolved around me. I started to wonder if I was actually doing the right thing by cooperating with them.
The trees whipped past the window. I began to recite the alphabet backwards in my mind. When Gary looked at me, I realized that I was actually reciting it aloud. The fingernail on my left index finger was bleeding. Had I been picking at it?
“Can I ask you something, Kevin?” Gary asked. There was a short pause. “What exactly is Thomas’s experiment? It sounds like a pretty big deal, especially if you went through all this trouble just to get us to partake in it.”
Kevin didn’t respond right away, but kept his eyes on the road as we reached the outskirts of the town on our way to the city. Just as I assumed that Gary had been ignored, Kevin finally answered.
“It’s called Project Heartfire,” he said. “I’m not at liberty to explain it any further, but I don’t know much about it to begin with.”
“Heartfire?” I said. There it was again. I knew that word sounded familiar, but I couldn’t figure out where I had heard it before.
“You really don’t know very much about all this, do you?” Gary asked Kevin.
“I’m told only what I need to know,” said Kevin. “I don’t research any of it. My job is to perform tasks outside of the facility. My superiors are strict about any information released regarding the operations at headquarters.”
“Why are you doing this kind of work?” James asked. “I bet you make a lot of money. You’re probably bankrollin’!”
“That’s classified,” Kevin replied plainly.
The entrance for the secret City Facility was located in the back of the city’s hospital, which correlated with my suspicions. Pushing a button on the dashboard, Kevin had the windows immediately darken to the point where we couldn’t see outside at all.
“We’re about to enter the facility,” Kevin announced. “Please keep the doors and windows closed.”
“Hey, what’s going on?” James asked, trying to look through the windows. “Why can’t we see outside?”
“We’re not allowed to know how we enter the facility,” said Kevin. “We will arrive momentarily.”
There was a loud, low-pitched sound as the car began to vibrate. I expected something jarring to happen, but everything stopped and became quiet. The windows faded back to normal, and we found ourselves in a strange parking garage.
“How did we get here?” Gary asked curiously.
“No idea,” Kevin replied. “You may get out now.”
We all opened our doors at once. Almost instantly, I noticed that the air was different. It seemed clean and pure, but strangely unnatural. The lighting was also slightly different from anything I had ever seen, and everything was oddly white and contrasted. It was almost as if the atmosphere itself was artificial.
Brittany looked around, taking in everything around her. For the first time ever, she actually appeared more happy than sad. Whatever she was looking for, maybe she was finally about to find it.
“This is the employee parking center,” Kevin explained as we followed him. “Only the top members are allowed to know how we enter and exit, but I believe it probably utilizes some kind of Luminae energy. However, it could be alien technology for all I know.”
“Aren’t you uncomfortable with not knowing anything about the people you work for?” Gary asked.
“Yeah,” James chimed in, “I would at least like to know how I got to work each day.”
“It doesn’t bother me,” Kevin replied.
“Are we under the hospital?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said Kevin. “I’m not even sure if we’re underground right now.”
“Oh, great,” James groaned. “We could be in some communist country for all we know.”
“I doubt that,” said Kevin, “however, it is a possibility.”
We followed Kevin to the elevator. As soon as he pushed the button to call it, the door opened, almost like the elevator was waiting particularly for us. When we all stepped inside, James remained outside.
“What are you doing?” Gary asked him impatiently.
“Uh, I’m not too sure about this,” said James, staring at the elevator. “How does this elevator work?”
“It’s a basic machine hooked up to pulleys and cables, operated through simple programming used by pushing these buttons in here,” Kevin told him, sounding like a professional technician.
“In other words,” Gary told James, “it’s a normal elevator. Now hurry up.”
“Just checking,” said James, stepping inside.
The elevator took us down a considerable distance. When it came to a stop, Kevin was the first to step out. Without a single word being spoken, we continued to follow him.
My breath hit a blockade in my trachea as I took in the sight. Like returning to the despised home from my distant past, the feeling of reminiscence was extremely uncomfortable.
The first thing I noticed about the new facility was how much it resembled the old one, except this new one was much bigger. The hallways were larger and wider, and there was an overwhelming sense of technology that hung in the artificial-feeling atmosphere. All of the floor tiles seemed unworldly due to their perfect shine and cleanliness. In fact, it felt and looked like a completely different planet. Nothing seemed to be made out of materials and textiles that I was familiar with. Maybe it was just my imagination.
“What’s with the white color scheme?” James asked bluntly as Kevin led us down the endless artificial corridors. “Seriously, the only other colors I see are us.”
Eventually, Kevin stopped in front of a door. To me, it looked just like all of the other hundred doors we passed, but that just showed how much Kevin knew his way around the facility. Using his headgear as a phone of some sort again, he connected with somebody to let us in.
“This is Agent Kevin 321,” he said. “I have the target in my custody and request a meeting with Alison …. Thank you.”
The door opened immediately after Kevin was done talking, and we were greeted by a young woman with glasses. She was in a white lab coat, making her look just like a stereotypical scientist or lab worker.
“Hello, Kevin,” she said, sounding like a lawyer talking to a jury. “We’ve all been waiting.” Her eyes immediately met mine, and she had a smile that seemed half fake. “You must be Krystal. I’ve been looking forward to the opportunity to finally meet you. My name is Alison.”
She reached out and shook my hand. Her grip was a little firmer than I had expected.
“Hi,” I said, smiling weakly.
After all of the formal introductions, Alison invited us in. We were in a conference room with a large table surrounded by chairs. As soon as we all took our seats, Alison switched to business mode (which wasn’t much of a switch to begin with).
“Where’s Thomas?” I asked before we got into a deep discussion.
“He’s busy,” Alison replied flatly. “Now before we begin, is there anything I can do to make it more comfortable for all of you?”
“Yeah, I have a question,” said James, raising his hand.
“Yes?” Alison asked, peering at him through her glasses.
“Why is this place all white?”
Gary grabbed his forehead and groaned a little bit.
“No, seriously,” said James. “Is there an actual reason for everything being white? I’m about to bust out a box of crayons and redecorate this place.”
Alison stared blankly at James for a few moments. I was used to James’s unnecessary outbursts, and I had to force myself from giggling. Suddenly, Alison cracked a smile and laughed.
“I’ve wondered the same thing, actually,” she replied. “I guess a little color wouldn’t hurt.”
James had a look of small contentment on his face as he leaned back in his chair. Gary shook his head and sighed.
“Now, are we ready to begin?” Alison asked.
“Excuse me.” Brittany’s sweet voice seemed to fill the void that lingered in the air everywhere in the facility. “Do you have any tea? I would be very thankful if I could get some.”
“I’m sorry,” said Alison, “but we don’t have any tea. May I offer a cup of coffee? Or some flavored water, maybe?”
“Oh, no, that’s okay,” Brittany replied with an angelic smile.
Alison looked at Brittany for a few seconds before saying something.
“Brittany, was it? I don’t remember hearing about you in any of the official reports.”
“It was a last minute decision,” said Kevin. “This girl is a Soulpower user, and she was already aware of Luminae and Darknae.”
“I see,” said Alison. “Well, if she was already aware of the situation, and if Thomas approved of her presence, then there shouldn’t be any problems with having her here. I’m sure the higher officials would never turn down the opportunity to recruit a natural Soulpower user.”
“Recruit?” James sat up. “You’re looking for people to hire?”
“Something like that,” said Alison dismissively. “Now, if everyone is ready to begin, we can discuss the matter at hand.” When nobody spoke, she took a seat at the end of the table and continued, “First off, this is the City Facility, the new headquarters for the Base 15 operations. Its location is confidential, even to me. I am the head researcher for Project Heartfire, working directly under Thomas. Thomas is the head director of Project Heartfire.”
“Are you going to tell us what Thomas was trying to do?” Gary asked.
“Yes,” Alison replied, “I will inform you of everything you will need to know about Project Heartfire. Originally an experiment to potentially bridge Project Darknae and Project Luminae, Project Heartfire is the result of a brand new discovery made during that experiment. Thomas’s original objective was to extract part of Krystal’s soul that was damaged due to a close encounter with Darknae. It was a proven fact that Darknae can have adverse effects on a person’s soul, and we wanted to conduct further research on such effects.”
“I smell an info dump here,” James muttered to himself.
“Thomas was able to successfully extract the damaged part of Krystal’s soul using a unique type of energy called Heartfire. Heartfire is a manmade energy that can be used to perform surgical procedures on souls. How it is created is highly confidential, and I am unauthorized to explain it any further.
“However, something happened that Thomas did not expect. The combination of Darknae in Krystal’s damaged soul extraction with the Heartfire created some kind of reaction. That reaction is the reason behind all of us being here.”
Alison looked around at all of us. Nobody had anything to say as we were intently listening to her every word. Finally, everything was about to be explained. The truth was going to come out at last. I could feel it. Charlie’s book was still in my grasp, and I hugged it unconsciously at first, then hugged it tighter as I realized I was still holding it.
“At first, there were no signs of any anomalies,” said Alison. “After the destruction of Base 15 caused by Night Stallion, Thomas managed to move his experiment to a hospital in Florida where he also kept a close eye on Krystal as she grew up. She was a crucial part of his experiment. The remaining survivors of Base 15 slowly built this new facility and we continued our research.”
“So, that’s where our tax money was going,” said James jokingly.
“Thomas requested that the robotic department build two top-notch humanoid SP weapons to keep watch over Krystal,” Alison continued. “They were extremely realistic in human nature, using organic substances found in food to keep them charged, rather than electricity.”
“Wait a minute,” said Gary abruptly. “You’re talking about Jack and Laura, right?”
“Correct,” said Alison.
“It’s true, then.” Gary looked at me grievingly. “Just as you said, Krystal. They weren’t real people.”
“I really feel bad, though,” I told Alison quietly. “They were such high-tech equipment, and I destroyed them.”
There was an uneasy quiet that filled the room. Everyone was looking at me curiously.
“You destroyed them?” Gary told me. “When did you do that?”
“The Jack and Laura units are still fully functional,” said Alison, staring at me quizzically through her glasses. “You didn’t do anything to them, Krystal.”
An overpowering sense of confusion fell over me. I immediately felt stupid for thinking that I had destroyed Jack and Laura. However, although I knew that I hadn’t, I still had some kind of memory of it happening ….
“I think I understand,” said Alison. “Just as we thought. Her memories are still crossed over. This is to be expected. I’ll explain that later.”
Memories crossed over? Gary put his arm around me. Alison cleared her throat and started explaining again.
“Shortly after relocating to this city eleven years ago, Thomas began to notice severe changes in the energy being released by Krystal’s soul extraction. The Darknae readings were eventually replaced by Heartfire and grew at phenomenal rates. Very little was known about the full potential and capabilities of Heartfire, so these results were both exciting and frightening at the same time. Nobody knew what was going to happen until it was too late.”
Alison stopped talking and looked around at all of us. The silence was killing me. I longed to know what was happening. After a brief pause, Alison swallowed and spoke.
“Ten years ago, the entire universe was destroyed and rebuilt on a separate timeline. The cause was Krystal’s mutated soul in Thomas’s experiment.”
A cosmically powerful vision erupted in my mind. The white, lifeless wings fanning out behind the hollow-eyed angel. She looks just like me. Her violet Heartfire halo absorbs the souls of anyone who comes too close.
“Kristy.” My lips were cold with terror as the vision disappeared. I quickly looked at Gary and James, who had also seen the vision. Both of them looked shocked beyond words.
“The angel!” James blurted out. He looked at Gary and me with bewilderment. “That’s it! I remember it! I remember it!”
“That’s right.” Gary looked directly into my eyes. “The angel girl, remember? She looked like you because she was born from your soul.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Everything had finally clicked. All the pieces of the puzzle had come together. Brittany quietly sat and observed all of us. She must have been confused, though she didn’t show it.
“Krystal,” said Alison.
“Yes?” I replied timidly.
“Your crossed-over memories are a result of these separate timelines,” she told me. “Our most important memories are stored in the soul, so it’s likely that some of your memories have been carried over from the original timeline to this one.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right,” said James thoughtfully. “An old friend of ours told us that the soul can hold memories.”
“Tyler,” Gary murmured. “Alison, can you tell us more about the angel girl?”
“Her name is Kristy,” said a voice coming into the room. We all turned to see an older man with gray, scraggly hair walk in. My heart flopped around in my chest. “That was what we named the specimen.”
“Hello, director,” said Alison. “I was just explaining the situation to them. This is Thomas, everybody.”
“Yes,” Thomas replied, “and it appears that you have just reached the climax of your story.” He looked over at me, and I stared straight back. “Let me take it from here. Thank you, Alison.”
“Not a problem,” said Alison, smiling.