Thursday, December 24, 2111
One day before Christmas. I had to be called on an assignment one day before Christmas. Since I’m not a fully-fledged hero yet, I’m supposed to have this whole week off from work. But Challenger had other ideas.
“I know you all had other plans, but you wouldn’t have been called here unless it was serious,” Challenger addressed me and about twenty other apprentices who were sitting around a conference table. He motioned to the holoscreen, which was showing recent weather patterns in North America. “There is a massive hurricane brewing in the North Pacific Ocean and moving towards the Gulf of Alaska. Every hour it gains size and speed. It is estimated to be a category 4 hurricane, but it could become a category 5 by the time it hits Juneau this evening.” We all stared at the screen. This isn’t exactly what I had in mind when Mom said it would be nice to have a white Christmas.
“Sir, how is it even possible for a hurricane to be that far north?” one apprentice boldly asked exactly what everyone else was thinking.
“We have reason to believe that outside forces are involved. The World Equality Summit is currently being held in Juneau. Given that its main focus this year is on metahuman civil rights, it would be a big target.” A big target for who? Metahumans who want to stand up to those who hate us? Or weather-manipulating scientists who want to take out those who fight for our rights? “Several heroes have already been dispatched to start evacuating cities up and down the coast, but it’s not enough. We’re spread out too thin and we need more manpower.
“Here is your mission. Each of you was selected because of your strength and unique abilities. Some of you will be on the ground fortifying the cities’ defenses. Some will be in the air helping monitor and contain the storm. The rest will be helping with the evacuation efforts,” Challenger told us in his commanding voice. “You will receive further instructions once you reach the drop-off point. A jet is waiting in Hangar 2. Are there any questions?” No one dared to ask a question. “Then go change quickly into snow patrol uniforms. Time is of the essence.” We all stood up and filed out of the conference room.
Challenger pulled me aside as the rest of the group walked ahead. “Nebula, I’m assigning you to the team monitoring the storm,” he told me firmly. I cursed under my breath. “Watch your language. When I say I need you in the air, I mean it.”
“I was afraid you’d put me there,” I admitted grudgingly. Hey, I know my powers are good for containment, but even with all of my improvements in the past months I’m worried it’s still too big a challenge for me.
“This is not up for discussion. Just follow your orders, listen to the other heroes, and try not to do anything rash. People’s lives are on the line. So whatever personal feelings or fears you’re holding back right now, put them aside completely. There’s no place for them tonight when I need you at your best,” he ordered me with a frown. He makes it sound like I think eating a holiday dinner with my parents tonight is more important than the job I have to do, but he’s wrong. I’m not scared either. I’ve faced mobsters, murderers, insane criminals, and massive explosions. A violent storm can’t be worse than any of those.
I am worried, though. Challenger is bringing in apprentices on a mission where the stakes are very high. This is the kind of thing reserved for certified heroes with plenty of experience, not sidekicks. He must be pretty desperate to bring us in and that’s enough to worry me. But, there’s not much I can do about it. Like Challenger said, I don’t have a choice. I’ll be spending Christmas Eve battling a hurricane.
Thursday, December 24, 2111 (later in the day)
I’m doing everything I can now just to stay alive. Things went horribly wrong. When was the last time I was on a mission where things actually went as planned and my life wasn’t put in jeopardy?! Seriously. I can’t remember.
The jet almost couldn’t land in Juneau since the wind was blowing at 120 mpr and steadily getting faster. It was 18ºF outside and my snow patrol uniform wasn’t doing a good job of keeping me warm. I shivered as all of the apprentices were divided up and sent to different locations. Those whose mentors weren’t here were handed over to another hero who would act as their handler. No apprentice was allowed to act alone tonight. A hero named Frostbite was assigned as a handler to me as well as Flux, who was also assigned to monitor duty. Challenger was managing the evacuation, not monitoring the storm. He waved me off as I flew into the sky, trailing Frostbite on his skycycle (he can’t fly).
Soon we reached the checkpoint, about a mile off the coast. Transfer was one of the two heroes who met us there. His darker skin was easy to spot, even through all of the snow. He was glad to see us.
“This storm is spreading too quickly!” he yelled over the powerful wind. “I’ve been monitoring it through astroprojection for the last hour up and down the coastline! We need to start Phase 1 of containment now if we stand a chance of getting the civilians to safety!” Phase 1 is where the heroes to spread out along the coastline and contain the storm at different points. We had weather witches, telekinetics, and matter manipulators stationed every half-mile, ready to do whatever it took to slow this thing down. Flux and I were sent south of the city, away from the worst of it. I held tightly to my hood as I struggled to maintain altitude in the oncoming ice and snow.
“Begin Phase 2,” Challenger ordered no sooner than I had reached my assigned coordinates. I, along with every other hero in the sky, began focusing my powers on the hurricane. With every breath I took I created a huge gravitational field as far in front of me as I could that pulled in all of the wind, snow, and ice. Essentially, I gave the storm as second, smaller eye.
It was working. The winds around me began to die down and the snow wasn’t pelting me in the face anymore. I could even see some of the lights from the city. We had temporarily stopped a hurricane in its tracks. I didn’t have time to feel elated or relieved or whatever other emotions applied. I had never created such a big grav field before and there’s a reason for that. If I felt anything other than intense focus, I’d lose control of the mini-eye. Or worse, it would take on a mind of its own and make the situation even more desperate.
There’s another reason I avoid making big grav fields. The bigger the field, the more energy I have to use to maintain it. I’m not sure how much time passed before I began to feel myself weaken. It felt like hours, but it was probably less than 30 minutes. I tried to contact some of the other heroes on the intercom to find out how long we would be holding back the storm, but there was too much static for me to get a decent answer. I was essentially alone in the bitter cold.
“Whatever,” I told myself. “Just keep focusing. Someone will come and get you if the situation changes.”
More time passed. My head was throbbing, heart pounding, and hands aching. I was running on fumes and there wasn’t an end in sight. Something unexpected came into sight, though. I saw the faint outline of a person flying with ease through the storm.
“Hello?!” I called out, thinking it was a hero sent to retrieve me. The person barely came into view. It was a tall, lean man wearing normal civvies instead of clothing meant for the harsh, northern climate. His long black dreadlocks danced wildly in the wind and his grey eyes blended in with the storm clouds. I knew right away he wasn’t an SAA hero.
There was no time for me to react. The mystery man, who turned out to be a weather witch, sent a large gust of wind at me, knocking me off balance. I had to release the mini-eye just to keep myself in the air. Well, that was my ill-conceived plan, at least. As soon as I released my grav field, I was swept up in the storm and sent hurdling far away from the city. With my strength spent, I couldn’t keep myself in the air any longer. All I could do was use what little power I had left to aim myself at a snow bank and hope for a soft landing. I tumbled head over feet for several yards before running into a tree. Given the speed I was traveling and the angle at which I hit the tree, I wasn’t too surprised to hear the sickening crack of my right leg fracturing. It was still unbelievably painful.
For a few moments, I lay still in the snow, stunned by what had just happened. Then the reality of my situation began to set in. Night has fallen. It’s so dark I can barely see my hand in front of my face. Juneau is nowhere in sight and I don’t have the strength to fly in the air to find it. All I’m getting over the intercom is static and I can’t seem to activate my emergency homing device.
I’ve curled up in a shelter I built in the snow, so at least I’m mostly out of the wind. But the weather is merciless and the temperature is dropping by the second. Hypothermia has already begun to sink in. My whole body stopped shivering. I don’t think I can stay awake much
Friday, December 25, 2111
I went in and out of consciousness for hours. Whenever I woke up, I heard voices and sensed someone, or something, moving nearby. I was always too weak and delirious to actually look around. About 12 hours had passed before my head was clear enough for me to better assess my situation.
I opened my eyes only to be assaulted by bright light. Once my eyes adjusted, the first thing I noticed was the wood ceiling. Someone had moved me inside and I was lying face-up on a bed. Carefully, I moved my head to check out my surroundings. I was alone in a small, one room cabin. The sturdy, wooden walls were well worn in and a layer of dust covered the floor. Clearly it hadn’t been occupied in some time. A fire was crackling in the fireplace and I could see out a window on the other side of the room. It was still windy and snowing outside, but it was significantly less severe than last night.
My uniform was hanging on some pegs by the door. I realized that whoever had moved me also changed me out of my wet uniform and into flannel pajamas. Had my identity been discovered?! An image of the man in the clouds entered my mind. He is not someone I want knowing who I am. I panicked and tried to sit up. A blinding pain in my right leg reminded me that I was injured. I pulled back the blankets to see the damage. My leg was splinted and bandaged. Judging by the neat job, I could tell that my rescuer had medical knowledge.
“Okay, calm down,” I silently reassured myself. “The cloud-man obviously tried to kill you. Whoever brought you here is trying to keep you alive. You’re probably safe.” I took a deep breath a laid back down.
By the time I had calmed down and started to adjust to the musty smell of the cabin, I heard the sound of a snowmobile outside. The door swung open and a man in polar gear walked in. I held perfectly still and acted like I was still sleeping. Hopefully I could learn my rescuer’s intentions before he realized I was conscious. He dropped a backpack on the floor and stripped off his coat and hat to reveal a very familiar dark brown ponytail. I let out a sigh of relief and wiped the nervous sweat off of my forehead. It was my brother.
“What’re you doin’ here?” I asked, my words slurring slightly due to my exhaustion.
Logan smiled at me. “Keeping you alive, of course.”
“I meant what’re you doing in Alaska,” I restated my question as I rolled onto my side to better face my brother.
“I have some friends in Juneau,” he explained. “As soon as they told me what was going on I came up here to help with the evacuation. In secret, of course.”
“Of course.” An uncomfortable knot formed in my stomach. “Did the evacuation work? Is everyone alright?”
“Don’t worry. All of the civilians and rescue teams made it out before the storm hit. There were a few injuries, but no fatalities.” I let out another sigh of relief.
“How did you find me? And where exactly are we?”
“The cabin belongs to my friend. He owns some land outside of the city and this cabin happens to be on his property. As for how I found you, well, to put it simply, I saw you fall.” He placed a three-legged stool at my bedside and sat down. I sensed I was in for a bit of a story. “I arrived early yesterday, hours before any of the heroes did. As soon as they landed I snuck out to help at one of the refugee camps set up for civilians. I eavesdropped on the civilian gossip about which heroes had come to their aid. Some of them talked about the sidekicks that were brought in with the heroes. One old woman even spoke of two teenagers that were sent to contain the storm, including, and I quote, the girl with the golden sun on her back.” His face contorted in disgust. He was as upset as I was about the SAA assigning apprentices to such a dangerous mission.
“As soon as the woman mentioned she saw you fly south, I went to go find you. With the heroes subduing the storm it was relatively easy to travel down the coast. Then the wind and snow suddenly became violent again. I looked into the sky just in time to see a streak of blue and gold fall out of the sky and land a half-mile ahead of me. Given the colors, I figured it had to be you. It took me some time to find you, even on my snowmobile, because the storm had covered up most of the trail you had left when you crashed. When I did find you, you were covered in snow and halfway to becoming an icicle. It took me all of a nanosecond to make the decision to bring you here to warm up.”
“Thank you for saving me. Again,” I told him. “How many more times can I expect you to save my butt?”
“Until one of us dies,” he stated with a smirk. I was about to interject with a comment about how he shouldn’t even joke about that since I did almost die, but my stomach interrupted by growling really loudly. We both smiled at the bad timing and I remembered that I hadn’t eaten in nearly a day.
“Please tell me you have some food,” I begged. Logan pulled several packs of freeze-dried food from his backpack and we had our Christmas dinner.
“Do you want turkey jerky?” Logan asked me, keeping the conversation light.
“No, I went vegetarian almost a year ago, remember?”
“I keep forgetting.”
“How are the carrots and potatoes?”
“Pretty good. Pass me the apricots.”
This went on for a few hours. We swapped food, talked about my school, argued about politics, and laughed about everything in between. Eventually we came full circle and last night’s mission became the topic of discussion.
“So, do you want to tell me what happened last night?” Logan blatantly asked me.
“I fell,” I stated simply. At this point, I wasn’t sure if the harsh weather and hypothermia had caused me to hallucinate about the cloud-man or not. Either way, I wasn’t sure I was ready to share that with Logan.
“Kyra,” Logan groaned, “you are a very good flier. You don’t just fall. Now, what actually happened?” He was not going to let me off easy if I kept something from him. So, ready or not, I started relaying exactly what happened after I was sent to contain the hurricane.
“The apprentices weren’t supposed to be stationed so far away from their handlers, but we didn’t have a choice here. There were too few of us to face the storm. I was handling my area just fine. Then a man showed up. He was practically walking on the clouds.” I paused, ashamed that I had let the cloud-man catch me off-guard. “He threw the wind at me and knocked me out of the sky. I had used up most of my energy on the storm, so I couldn’t land properly, let alone fly back to the city for help.”
Logan looked at me very seriously. “Could you describe the man?” he asked.
“Um, tall, lean, dark skin, and dreadlocks down to his waist,” I began describing what I could remember of the man. “Oh! He wasn’t wearing polar gear. He was in civvies. It’s as if the cold didn’t affect him at all.”
Logan let out an aggravated sigh. “Downpour,” he muttered.
“Wait, the man I saw was Downpour?! The metahuman criminal who is known for being the greatest weather-manipulator in the world?”
“Yes, the one and only. How could you not recognize him?”
“The SAA doesn’t have a picture of him on file. He’s been off the grid for years. Any hero who’s come even close to finding him hasn’t lived to tell the tale.” I couldn’t believe that I had survived a run-in with him. But more than that, the rest of Downpour’s profile started running through my mind.
“Well, if it really was him that you saw, then you are very lucky to have –”
“He’s a known associate of Illusion,” I interrupted Logan. He looked at me. “At the mission briefing, Challenger said that the storm was most likely manufactured to stop the World Equality Summit. Illusion must have sent Downpour to stop it.”
Logan blinked. “Why would he try to stop the Summit?”
“A major topic this year was metahuman civil rights. Maybe he wanted to prevent people from arguing against it. But I really don't know.” We sat in silence for a minute, mulling over my theory. “I have to tell Challenger about this,” I finally stated. I put a grav field around my utility belt and pulled it towards me. Maybe I could finally get someone on the intercom. Logan grabbed the belt out of the air.
“Oh no. You’re still healing. You still need to rest for a few more hours at least,” he ordered me.
“Logan, this is important,” I protested. “If Illusion is involved then Challenger needs to know.” I tried to get my belt again.
“You can’t even walk right now!” He held the belt out of my reach.
“SO WHAT?! THIS IS BIGGER THAN EITHER OF US! I HAVE A JOB TO DO LOGAN!” I started shouting.
“YOU ALMOST DIED LAST NIGHT! YOU ARE NOT GOING ANYWHERE UNTIL I’M SURE YOU’LL BE ALRIGHT!” he shouted right back at me. We stared at each other angrily for a moment. Logan took a deep breath. “I wasn’t joking when I said you were nearly frozen when I found you in the snow. You were barely breathing. I wasn’t sure you’d even make it back here alive.” My scowl softened as he lowered his voice. “Your job may be to tell your idiotic mentor about supervillain plots, but my job, above all else, is to protect you. It has been since Mom and Dad brought you home for the first time.” I felt really guilty about yelling at him.
“Fine. I’ll stay,” I relented. “But only for a few more hours. Once I’m strong enough to fly, I’m going back to Juneau.”
Logan sighed. “I guess I can agree to that.”
“And Challenger’s not idiotic,” I added.
“He is if he made the decision to send sidekicks to fight a man-made hurricane,” Logan retorted. Okay, I can’t help but agree with him on that. Logan sighed again. “What happened to you?”
I frowned a little. “What do you mean?”
“A few months ago you regularly questioned the SAA’s policies, disobeyed your mentor when you knew you could make a difference, and were even ready to give up your apprenticeship when you weren’t being taken seriously. Now, when Challenger sends you out to battle a hurricane, you do it without question.”
“You make it sound like I was a juvenile delinquent.”
“I prefer the term rebel,” he said, crossing his arms. Why do I have the feeling that he’s just defending the crap he pulled when he was in training?
“Logan, a lot has happened in the last few months. I’ve grown up a lot.”
“I didn’t think growing up involved you throwing away your beliefs,” he accused me. What the heck?!
“I haven’t thrown away my beliefs!” My voice started rising again. “There are still a lot of things the SAA does that I don’t agree with! I’ve just learned that it’s not worth it to fight Challenger over every little thing!” I stared Logan down with the most serious, grown-up look I could muster.
Logan shook his head and sat quietly for a minute, thinking about what I had said. “You and Challenger don’t fight anymore?” he finally asked.
“There’s still the occasional argument,” I admitted with a shrug. “But he actually listens to me when I have something important to say. It's easier to bring about change if I work together with him instead of starting a fight whenever I don’t like something.”
Logan looked uncertain after I finished talking. He looked down at his feet and twiddled his thumbs. I tried changing the subject but our dinner was finished in near silence.
I’ve spent practically my whole life idolizing Logan and trying to emulate his strength and character. After so many years of doing that, he’s probably a little hurt that I’m making different choices than him. I’m finally realizing that while I still want to be a hero, I don’t want to be just like my brother. Not anymore.
Saturday, December 26, 2111
At about 5 this morning, I felt strong enough to fly back to Juneau. Logan was not happy to see me go. The first thing I saw when I reached the city limits was a lot of police snowmobiles and two helicopters. One of the officers recognized me and took me to Challenger, who was waiting in town hall. Apparently, after he discovered I was missing, and the threat of the hurricane had passed, he summoned all every rescue team, police officer, and hero in the area to form a search party. Needless to say, he was very relieved to see me limp in on my broken leg.
“Thank goodness you’re alive! The rescue teams were ready to declare you dead,” he told me as some medics surrounded me to assess my injury.
“Yeah, I found an abandoned cabin near where I landed. I took shelter there until I got my strength back,” I lied. I know better than to tell Challenger that my brother was in the vicinity. “I did try to contact you on the intercom, but there was too much interference from the storm.”
Challenger shook his head and sighed. “I have to wonder how many more times I’ll have to send search parties after you.”
“Twice. You’ve only had to do it twice,” I argued. But, he has a point. Reader and Lupine don’t have to be rescued nearly as often as I do. Does that mean I’m more reckless than them? Or am I just more careless?
Anyways, as the medics changed the dressings on my leg, Challenger sat and listened to me tell what happened in the storm.
“You’re description does fit the physical profile of Downpour,” Challenger said, as I wrapped up my story. “And I wouldn’t put it past Illusion to try and break up the Summit.” Good, he agrees with my theory.
“But why would Illusion want to stop the Summit? Wouldn’t he want metahuman civil rights to spread worldwide?” I asked.
Challenger shooed the medics away, so he and I could talk privately. “No, and it’s because he doesn’t want equality between humans and metahumans. Illusion is a supremacist. He believes that metahumans are better and more powerful than humans and should therefore rule the world. In his mind, humanity should either submit to metahuman rule or die.”
“You sound like you know a lot about him and his goals.” I couldn’t help but call attention to that. There’s a lot about Illusion in his SAA profile, but nowhere does it mention his supremacy beliefs.
“Illusion and I have history. He and I have been fighting since before the SAA was formed. I know him better than anyone and I have tried to use that knowledge to try and stop him,” Challenger admitted to me.
“Do you think this hurricane is at all linked to the other incidents that have been happening?” I asked. Given how often Illusion’s name has come up in the last few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if this storm was somehow connected to everything else.
“I don't think so, but I wouldn’t put it past him,” Challenger said as he stood up, signaling that the conversation was over. “For now, let’s go back to the Bureau so you can rest. We can talk about Illusion another time.” I really hate it when he abruptly ends a discussion like that. Especially since Challenger’s comment about knowing Illusion better than anyone is really bugging me. If their history really is as extensive as Challenger said it is, then wouldn't Illusion be able to predict Challenger’s thoughts and actions too? He’s always two steps ahead of us. If we ever hope to catch him, someone other than Challenger is going to have to take him on.