False Dawn #16: Out of the Pan
Part Two of Five: Class Is In Session.
Short Story Format
Devin Leigh Michaels
You ever want to go back in time and change those little events you screwed up? Like the time you asked Jenny Miller to the dance, and she totally laughed at you in the middle of the school cafeteria? Or maybe when you gave your mom some attitude you know she didn’t deserve, and she grounded you until The Dark Knight was out of the theatres?
Yeah, this isn’t one of those times.
Standing before a blue-haired teen a little younger than Lance (well, depending on how you look at it), I double-take between him and Jayden.
“What—What’re you talking about?”
Jayden glanced at the blue-haired guy, an understanding flashing between them, before focusing his otherworldly eyes on me. Really, Jayden’s eyes are purple? “Your shadow powers. They can get you in and out of the Director’s faux-office, and then you can save—”
A metal door slams against the wall, and Jayden and I whirl toward the corridor just outside the lab area. The blue-haired guy’s eyes widen, and he muffles something to Jayden.
“Hey, you!” a new voice yells, and a blaze of laser fire burns our way.
Jayden grabs my elbow and yanks me back. With a yelp, I slam to the blue-hair guy’s feet.
Jayden looks up and nods. “We’ll be back, bud. Promise.” Then he touches two fingers to my forehead.
“What are you doing?” I demand, and then, my leg burns. It burns like hot, red fire like when Casia engulfs me with her flames.
Jayden interrupts, “I’m just gonna—”
“Ow! Ow! Make it stop! Make it—”
I gasp and shoot upward, feeling a pair of tan, tender hands entrapping my hurt leg. White fire burns about them, and then I see the person attached. It’s good ol’ John Adams from the cafeteria, his eyes glowing pure white like he has no pupils. He’s young, maybe ten at the most, and when he gasps and tumbles back, his dark pupils once more complete his eyes.
Before he crashes against the floor, Jayden catches him and tucks the kid underneath his armpit. The kid smiles up at the rancorous glare Jayden gives.
“He smells, Jay.” His little nose crinkles. “He smells like the Darkness.”
The kid shakes his head at Jayden. “Aw, come on, Jay. I had no choice. He’s going to joust today. If he didn’t have all his—it’s nuth—”
The kid puts his weight down on his left leg—my bad leg—and collapses to the ground.
“Hey, you ok—” I swing my legs around my bed and forget to grab my crutches.
And I stand without pain.
The boy hisses when Jayden helps him to his feet. “Next time, please don’t play with lances or swords or anything this dangerous.”
I roll up my pant leg and gasp. There’s minor scarring where the Shadow Lord impaled my leg, but the wound, the damage—it’s healed.
The door crashes open, and Sierra bursts into the room sporting a tight T-shirt and jeans from the project. If her face weren’t so furious, it might be beautiful.
I mean…not in a kidnapper-slash-warden type of way.
“Rio, we’ve been looking all over for you,” Sierra cooed, her voice forced with kindness. “What’re you doing in Jayden and Ral’s room?”
As she takes a step forward, Jayden places himself between her and Rio. He says nothing, but his facial expression screams one thing.
You will not hurt him.
Sparkles flicker upon Sierra’s silver hands, and I remember the last time we met. She upheaved the ground. The earthquake only stopped because Casia was there, and she’s not here now.
I miss her.
And I’m alone with Jayden, who doesn’t talk outside of Dream Land and a tween who just took my pain and injury into his own body, so I can survive whatever the hell this joust is.
Great. Whoever thought I’d be the experienced fighter?
“Sierra, hey. I’m glad you stopped by.” I step between the two forces. “I’d heard in the mess hall about this kid who could heal injuries, and with my leg—well, I hate crutches. Ever since I tore the ligaments in my ankles playing b-ball—”
“You forced him to take your pain into himself?”
Ouch! Jayden just pinched my back.
“Well, I really didn’t give him a choice.”
Elevator and incredulous eyes greet that response. Sierra doesn’t believe me, and right now, I don’t need her to. I just need her to be unsure, and when she motions for Rio to come forward, I think I’ve succeeded.
“Come on, kiddo. Let’s get you patched you up, maybe get you some of that herbal tea you like.”
Rio looks up at Jayden uneasily, and I physically have to unlatch Jayden’s hand from Rio’s red hoodie. Sierra comes around and takes Rio by the shoulders, helping him out of the room. Once he’s clear, she narrows her glaring eyes at us.
“Jayden, you have been warned, and do not follow his example, Ral. I’d hate to have to discipline you, too.”
The door slams shut, and I whirl to Jayden, who taps his neck. I realize he doesn’t talk because he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t talk because they stole his voice.
NORTH END, BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS
“Are you sure about this?” Casia asks.
Lance spares her the sideways glance. “Do I have a choice?”
“Not if you want to live. Addy’ll kill you.”
Sitting cross-legged against the wall of the Old North, they both stare into space as the sun creeps over the old buildings of Old Boston.
“…I was thirteen.”
Casia blinks. “…What?”
“They found me on a farm in Nebraska, stole me from my birth parents, and brought me to their headquarters. When I refused to follow their commands, they killed me.
“I was thirteen, Casia.”
Now, he meets her gaze, worried and not doing a good job of hiding it. “You really think Ral’s gonna listen to them?”
“Do you want my professional opinion,” Donnellie asks as she emerges from the shadows, “or was that a rhetorical question?"
“I’m gonna die, aren’t I?”
Jayden, of course, says nothing but patted my back in encouragement. His face speaks for him.
Yeah, ya are.
As soon as breakfast finished, the residents of Project: Avatar went their separate ways—apparently into classes or various activities. Sierra came for Jayden and me and brought us to the Blender, as the gym’s dubbed. To be fair, it’s elaborate like the rest of the facility with state-of-the art work-out equipment, simple mats for various routines and exercises, and a glass-encased boxing ring.
I can practically feel Jayden’s purple eyes burning the skin off my cheek, but what can I do? Run? Sierra would catch me, and how many more of her does this place have on staff? Everyone?
A dark-skinned man who’s built like Superman and has the glasses to match leaps upon a platform before the glass ring—oh! It looks like a Blender—and he waves his arm like a politician.
“Good morning, children, and welcome our new recruits to your first day of training. I’m Agent Darnell Towne, head recruiter and physical education instructor here at the project. We’re going to start today with a little demonstration. Johnson, would you enter the Blender, and…ah, Vinny Peters. Join Johnson, will you?”
Johnson looks a thug I’d hate to meet in a dark alley with streaked red hair and a demon’s smile. His hoodie’s orange.
“Orange will kill you.”
Vinny’s a built kid, probably was a quarterback in high school, with spiky hair and intense, frightened eyes, and a green hoodie.
“Green’s against and will eventually perish.”
I look to Jayden, who doesn’t meet my stare. He can’t, even when Sierra wraps an arm about his shoulders. “Oh, don’t fret, Jayden. Vinny knew this would happen as did you.”
Vinny’s hands clutch and release as he stares down his opponent, and it’s not from anticipation. It’s from fear. His arms shake; his face tenses. Sweat and tears run as one, and I lunge forward. Why aren’t these people fighting? Why aren’t they saving this guy?
Strong arms grab my torso, pulling me back.
“Jayden! We have to—”
“This is Vinny’s fault,” Sierra explains as Johnson’s hands burn gold. “Take this as your first lesson, Ral. Follow directions.”
In a flash of gold, Johnson disappears and reappears behind Vinny, who moves too slow. A blast of gold cuts through his shoulder like a sword, and he collapses to the ground. As Johnson dives forward, Vinny fights to lace his fingers upon the ground as the Blender’s floor ebbs and flows before tentacles grow to wrap about Johnson’s body.
“Follow directions?” I ask, looking back and forth between her and the fight. “What directions? Why am I here, Sierra? Why’re any of us here?”
“Defense,” Sierra replies sharply, like a military cadet. “You are here to learn how to use your powers to protect the United States and her allies from those who wish to attack us.”
“I’m not a soldier.”
Johnson’s gold power wilts the vines.
“No, but you will become one,” Sierra challenges.
“I don’t want to be one.”
“I’m sorry,” and her voice sounds sincere, “but you don’t have a choice. None of us do.”
I look at Vinny as he tries to wield a vine as a tourniquet about his shoulder. “Yes, I do.”
I cut through the crowd.
All thirty-something students do nothing as Johnson breaks through the vines and lunges. They do nothing as Johnson’s hand burns gold. They do nothing but watch, but I tug the lavaliere from my neck. Somehow, I still have it.
The sword forms in my hand, and I hold my breath as I thrust my sword into the “glass,” slicing through the barrier like it’s cheese.
Johnson, straddling Vinny’s hips, whirls toward me, a shocked expression etched upon his face. “…Uh, who asked you to join the party?”
Vinny sneered, “I did!” and places his hand on Johnson’s chest. The gold climbs Johnson’s arms and swirl about his chest, about Vinny’s hand.
“Hey, hey, man, what are you—”
And the gold swallows Vinny whole, like a spark or a flare, and then the gold turns to blue—the same blue as that guy’s eyes and hair who’s being held under the Director’s office. Vinny disappears, leaving nothing more than a scorch mark.
I stare where Vinny laid, Johnson now kneeling on the floor, and I know what will happen next. A blast of gold rushes for me, and I deflect it with my sword. The aura dissolves against what is left of the barrier like smoke from a cigarette.
“You think you can interrupt my fun?” Johnson snickers, and on the receiving end of that bloodthirsty glare, I can think of only one answer.
I duck a shot of gold and force the bunt of my sword into his gut. “Please. You haven’t had fun until you’ve met me!”
He staggers back, but I don’t give him any room. A punch, a kick, a knee to the groin, and as he’s whimpering on the ground in the fetal position, I place my blade just under his chin.
“Let’s party like it’s 1999.”
The applause starts slow with just Towne and Sierra before it infects the entire crowd.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had a student who could beat Nicholas Johnson, Mr. Dawson,” Towne greets, stepping through the door I created and patting me on the back. “You have promise. I like that. Sierra! Get the boy a blue hoodie.”
Johnson’s eyes glow gold as he stares up at me and moans.
A clash of thunder jolts me awake, and I look left, then right.
“A blue hoodie! How the hell did he get himself a blue hoodie?” Jayden, I hear.
“Calm down, T.J. We’re figure this out.” New voice. Totally not Rio with just a hint of an Asian accent. Japanese?
“The point was for him to save you, Will. Not the other way around.”
“I thought the point was to save all of us.” Ah, there’s little Rio with his soprano voice still.
“Good luck with that.”
My eyes flutter open as the sweet scent of peaches and strawberries waft into my nostrils, but I hack at the sickening stench of smoke and fire. Another rumble of thunder shakes the ground, and if I didn’t know any better, I’d say that was an explosion. Of course, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say I’m sitting on a couch swing in a deep Southern-looking house that faces a conduit of the Union Army.
“Ah, there’s the idiot of the hour.”
Jayden I recognize immediately. He’s sitting across from me in a white straw chair, shaking his head at me. Next to him on either side is the blue-haired teen from the lab, who is now sitting cross-legged on his own chair and staring at me with a mixture of amusement and compassion. Rio’s across from him, smirking and trying hard not to let his excitement show.
“So…anyone want to give me Cliff Notes?”
The blue-haired teen laughs. “First thing’s first. ‘Do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.’”
Rio joins, “ ‘Genius is sorrow’s child.’”
Jayden grumbles, “ ‘Be polite with all but intimate with a few.’”
I look at each of them as they stare at me expectantly. What? I’m supposed to say something? Okay…“Um…Named must be your fear before banish it you can.”
Blue laughs again. “Yoda is now one of the Founding Fathers, huh?”
“And Will Rogers is?” Jayden smirks.
“To some people.” Blue shrugs and looks at me. “We quote the Founding Fathers, so we know that we don’t have a spy in our midst. You’re Ben Franklin, but if you want to go with Yoda…they actually look a lot like each other. Bald, big-eared, makes comments no one really gets, right, Jayden?”
Blue brushes him off with a wave. “We can’t be any more secure. You’re dream-walking. I’m manipulating the time period. And we’re screwed now anyway.”
First dream-walking. Now manipulating the time? “What the hell is going on here? And just who are you?” I look at Rio. “And how did you steal my pain?”
“How do you make shadow tentacles?” Kainoa shoots back.
A blast shakes the entire house when a cannonballs lands right in the road, spitting dirt all over us. Blue barely flinches as Rio coughs and Jayden curses.
“And just where the hell are we?”
Blue sighs and ruffles the dirt from his shaggy hair. “Welcome to 1860s Savannah. I’m sure you’ve heard of Sherman’s March to the Sea?”
Savannah? I’ve been here. Oh my God. I’ve puked right over there when there was pavement and cars and a Paula Deen tour. “Uh, Civil War, right? Doesn’t he burn down Savannah? We really should—”
I’m half-way out of my seat by the time Blue puts a hand on my arm. “You’re thinking of Atlanta. Sherman spares Savannah for President Lincoln.”
Either he’s really good at history, or something’s up. “How do you know all this stuff…and why does it smell like poop?”
The Union Army’s marches down the road with their horses. The freakin’ Union Army!
“Because right now your mind is actually in 1860s Savannah. I thought Jayden explained this to you.” Blue takes a sip of sweet tea. “My names Kainoa Ryder, but to time deceivers, I usually go by ‘Destiny.’ ”
To Be Continued…