September ?, 2111
Okay, I don't know where I am. I'm not even sure what day it is. My head hurts like crazy and there's a sizeable gash above my right temple. My right leg was buried under rubble when I woke up. I was able to dig it out, but I'm pretty sure it's fractured, if not broken.
From what I can tell, I'm in a cement tunnel somewhere underground. It looks like an abandoned subway track. When I say abandoned, I mean it's likely I'm the first person to be down here in a few decades. It's partially collapsed and there are scorch marks on the wall. They look like laser blasts. I think I was in a fight. That would explain why my uniform is torn and my utility belt is in pieces. All that's left are my flashlight, part of my med kit, and (miraculously) my tablet. My intercom and emergency homing device are completely destroyed so I can't call for help.
I'm trying to remember what happened before I got here, but I'm drawing a blank. My head must have been hit pretty hard for me to have memory loss. The last clear thing I can remember is leaving my house this morning (if it's even the same day) to go to the Bureau. Challenger had called me in for a new assignment. If only I could remember what the assignment was. Then I could at least figure out where I am.
Oh no. What if no one else knows where I am? I have a history of not always following orders. What if I was stupid enough to come down here without telling anyone?! Surely I had told someone what I was up to. Maybe Reader or Lupine? I usually tell them everything. But still, what if I didn't?
No. I have to stay calm. Challenger will notice I'm missing. He will come and find me. I just have to be patient.
September ?, 2111 (3 hours later)
I'm starting to lose my patience. How is it that my tablet is intact enough that it shows the time but not the date? Either way, I decided to try and figure out where I am. Of course, I couldn't go anywhere with my leg in the condition it's in. I passed first aid when I was at Helios, but I'm still terrible at making splints. At least there were enough bandages left in my med kit to cover up my head wound. After I had patched myself up, I started flying down the part of the tunnel that hadn't collapsed. My whole body hurts and I'm already exhausted, so I flew slowly so as not to overexert myself.
There are faded street names on the walls. I was able to recognize some of them. I think I'm under New York City. Still not sure why I'd be in an abandoned subway tunnel under New York City, but at least I know I'm under New York City. Hopefully, if I keep heading down the tunnel I will find a stairwell or a subway platform that will lead to the surface. Then I can call for help.
Wait a second. I hear voices! They're faint, but I definitely hear them coming from farther up the tunnel. I'm going to go check it out. Yeah, it might be a stupid idea. For all I know, it's the people who hurt me in the first place, but I don't have a lot of options right now. They could also be people who can help me. Given the state I'm in, I'm willing to take that chance.
Sunday, September 6, 2111
Well, I know what day it is now. I'm also securely in the Bureau infirmary. Those seem to be the only good things that happened since I went down the tunnel after the voices. Here's what happened.
I stopped short of the voices' origin and hid in the shadows like Resolute taught me. Imagine how upset I was when I realized the voices didn't belong to any of my allies from the SAA. Now imagine how shocked I was when I realized the voices were talking about me!
"Are you sure she won't be a problem anymore?" the first voice, a man, asked.
"You saw what she did to that tunnel. Most likely she got buried when it collapsed," the second voice, a woman, answered.
"I dunno," another man retorted. "We managed to escape and we don't have superpowers. She's a telekinetic or something. Why wouldn't she be able to get out? Ow!" he screamed in pain.
"Stop squirming," the woman ordered him. "I have to get the bleeding to stop."
"Are you really qualified to be stitching me up?" the injured man asked.
"Well, Dean, we can't exactly take you to a hospital. We're felons," the first man told him matter-of-factly.
Felons. So I had come down here chasing a group of criminals. And I guess I was responsible for the tunnel collapsing. But what pushed me to do that in the first place?
"We have to hurry up. The others are waiting for us to regroup," the first man said impatiently.
"They won't be happy, Taz," the woman told him somberly. "We were supposed to test these new weapons on the supers. Instead, that sidekick," she said bitterly, "broke two of our guns and buried herself before we could test out the last one."
"I'm with Mel on this," Dean moaned, still in pain. "I'm in no rush to tell our superiors that we didn't succeed."
"This is just one battle," Taz told them. "The war is only beginning. Our fellow Preservationists will be pleased that Challenger's apprentice was buried alive tonight."
The Preservationists! That name certainly jogged my memory. Challenger had called me in because a group of anti-metahuman extremists were causing trouble in New York City. They were calling themselves Preservationists. We were sent in to resolve the situation before it escalated into something worse. Although, it sounds like they're hoping for something worse.
I started remembering the fight too. Challenger and I had been chasing three armed people on the streets of New York. They were able to outrun us long enough to retreat underground. We followed them down into an old subway station. With no clue as to which direction they had gone, Challenger ordered us to split up. He went down one tunnel and I went down another. If I found the felons first, I was not to engage. I would wait for Challenger to come back me up. Of course, things don't always work out as planned.
The Preservationists ambushed me. They were good shots too. I was using every trick I knew to avoid their lasers. Even then, I was still grazed a few times. They managed to land a hit on my utility belt. The laser hit the pouch holding my small explosives and activated them. Thinking quickly, I detached the pouch and threw it at my attackers. They dodged and it hit the wall instead, leaving a huge crack when it exploded.
Collapsing the tunnel was a complete accident. I was trying to get some pipes loose to throw at them, but I made the ceiling a bit heavier than I intended. A huge chunk of concrete broke free and fell. All three of them were hit, but Dean got the worst of it when a large rock smashed his shoulder. The other two were forced to drop their weapons and help him. I was lucky they had since I was too focused on keeping the tunnel in one piece to defend myself. With part of the ceiling missing and the damage left by my explosives, the rest of the tunnel started to crack and crumble. I concentrated all of my energy on the cracks, making the surrounding areas lighter to reduce the stress.
Dean and the others thought I was deliberately trying to bring down the tunnel so they ran for it. Desperate, I tried to hold the tunnel up long enough for me to go after them. But it was a losing battle and I knew it. When I didn't have the strength to hold up the tunnel anymore, I flew as fast as I could and hoped I wouldn't get hit. Well, even though I don't actually remember getting hit, it's not that hard to put two and two together. The tunnel collapsed and I was almost buried alive.
The scary part is that this whole misadventure started twenty-four hours ago and I had been missing for nearly twenty of those hours. Now, I was hungry, injured, and drained of energy. I knew I was in no condition to try and fight off the Preservationists if they realized I had survived. They were preoccupied with their discussion of what to do next, so I turned around to go, unnoticed, back the way I came. It was a mistake to try and walk away instead of fly. My injured leg nudged some loose gravel on the ground. It was enough noise to alert my enemies of my presence.
"It's her!" Taz shouted and picked up their remaining gun. He didn't hesitate to shoot at me as I flew down the tunnel. At every junction, I made a turn, hoping to either find an escape route or lose the tailgaters with the big gun. My exhaustion began to take its toll as everything began to swim in front of my eyes. I pushed myself through the dizziness, telling myself that I had to keep going. After a few lucky turns, I found myself at an old subway platform with stairs leading upwards.
I fell to the ground as soon as I saw the platform, unable to keep myself in the air anymore. Helpless and running out of time, I hobbled towards the stairs. No surprise, my pursuers were faster than me. I looked over my shoulder just as Taz raised the plasma rifle and aimed it at me. The shot fired and hit just below my right knee. I've been on the receiving end of lasers in the past, but nothing could have prepared me for that kind of pain. You know how wood splinters into a millions pieces when it's shot with a bullet? Yeah, that's how my leg felt.
My scream echoed off the tile walls as I collapsed face first to the floor. Tears streaming down my face, I dared to look at my leg to assess the damage. Bits of shattered bone were embedded in my leg muscles and blood freely flowed from what was left of my calf. If Taz didn't kill me with his next shot, I would die from blood loss in a matter of minutes.
Taz didn't get another chance to shoot. Two seconds after I hit the floor, a deep howl resonated through the subway tunnels. A giant, brown wolf with red eyes leapt from the dark shadows of the tunnel and landed directly on my attackers. He began biting and clawing at them with intense ferocity. Taz's rifle was smashed into pieces beneath the wolf's giant paws. Wounded and terrified, Taz and Mel sprinted back down the tunnel. The wolf let them go, barking until they were out of sight, then he turned his attention to me.
After jumping onto the platform, he began to change form. His snout shrunk, fur disappeared, and paws turned into human hands and feet. Once Lupine was back to his usual form, he ran to my side and began to tend to me. The first thing he did was tie a tourniquet around my right thigh.
"This doesn't look good, Nebby," Lupine told me, voice wavering.
"How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that?" I said weakly.
"Maybe next time I'll listen," he answered, trying to keep the mood light. But I could tell he was scared. "Challenger, Shifter, I found her. She needs a medic now!" he relayed over his intercom. So Challenger had gathered a search party to look for me. I knew he'd come back for me.
A minute later, Challenger and Shifter, along with four other heroes and two medics, had joined us on the platform. The medics went to work on me, doing their best to stop the bleeding. Shifter gathered the pieces of Taz's rifle to inspect later. Challenger had to thoroughly check that I was alive before giving out any orders. The other heroes, who I didn't recognize, left to continue the search for the three Preservationists.
The Bureau infirmary was my next stop. It's a miracle that I survived the last twenty-four hours and the doctors at the infirmary had their work cut out for them when I was brought in. After a blood transfusion, head scan, several bone reconstructions, and lots of accelerated muscle regrowth, I am finally in one piece again. All of the procedures took more than twelve hours to complete and I still have to stay here overnight for observation. I should be able to go home in a couple of days, but I have to stay in intensive care for a few more hours. Just until the muscle regrowth is done.
The doctor's gave me strict orders to rest and relax until I was released. That is proving difficult for me. I got a good look at the plasma rifles Taz and the others were carrying. Though it had been months since I had seen the tech, just looking at the barrel and power cell was enough for some terrible memories to resurface. The Preservationists have access to Ricky Drake's confiscated weapons stock. After tonight's demonstration, I think it's safe to say that the technology to specifically target metahumans does exist. And I have to wait another nine hours before asking Challenger about it.
Monday, September 7, 2111
I've finally been moved from intensive care. Challenger was the first person to come see me once I had been moved to a regular room. Lupine and Reader came too, laden down with get-well messages and gifts from my parents, our former classmates, and other heroes. Apparently going missing and nearly dying makes everyone worry about you.
Visitors came in and out of my room all day to wish me a speedy recovery. I politely smiled and thanked everyone. Inside, I wanted them to leave. I desperately wanted to ask Challenger what happened to the Preservationists and, more importantly, the plasma rifle. Lupine, who refused to leave my bedside all day, could see my anxiousness and sent everyone away.
"Does someone want to tell me what happened?!" I asked angrily, all manners forgotten.
"Don't worry, they got the three you were chasing yesterday. After you give your part of the mission report, they can be processed for trial," Lupine explained.
"Good. But that's not what I want to know," I said, crossing my arms impatiently. "What about the plasma rifles? What did Challenger find out about them?"
"That's what you're worried about?" he asked, confused. "They're plasma rifles. What do you expect him to find?"
"More than I'm at liberty to tell you," Challenger told us as he entered my room, holding a long package under his arm. "Lupine, if you don't mind, I need to speak to Nebula about her mission report."
Reluctantly, Lupine got up and exited the room. Challenger took a seat next to my bed and sighed. Slowly, he laid the package across my lap. Cautiously, I opened the lid and found the reassembled rifle inside. Just looking at it gave me flashbacks of the events on the subway platform. My instincts told me to throw the gun across the room, but I fought the urge.
"Are they what Drake said they are?" I asked quietly.
"Tech and I spent hours analyzing these weapons. We looked over their construction, power cells, materials, and the injuries they caused," he motioned to my leg. "We are about 85% sure that they are designed to specifically target metahumans."
My heart sank. Knowing that this kind of tech existed was disturbing. It was alarming to think of a group that hated metahumans having access to said tech. What do the Preservationists have against metahumans in the first place? I still didn't really understand who they actually were.
"How did they get the guns? I thought Drake's whole stash was confiscated," I asked, concerned.
"The weapons acquired at the Seattle pier are still in police custody. However, I'm assuming that the whole operation was not shut down."
"But Drake is behind bars. He can't run his weapons empire from prison," I protested.
"No, he can't," Challenger answered. "He must have passed the torch before his incarceration. Someone else is making sure that these weapons are being produced and distributed."
"Are the Preservationists doing it?"
"That's one theory. If it's true, they're not doing it for a profit. Their mission is much deeper than that."
"Would you care to elaborate?" I had a feeling I would regret asking that, but I had to know what we were up against.
"The Preservationists are essentially a cult. They firmly believe that metahumans are dangerous, immoral, and unnatural. They think that the human race is in danger of disappearing if metahumans continue to exist," Challenger told me hesitantly. It was clear that he didn't want me to deal with the horrible truth. "Their mission is to preserve the existence of humans by exterminating all metahumans. They are prepared to start a war in order to achieve that."
"But it's been scientifically proven that metahumans are born with a rare gene that changes our bodies and gives us powers. There are several studies to show that," I protested. "If they eradicated all metahumans, they'd essentially be destroying a whole part of the gene pool."
"They call it preserving the human race. Almost five percent of the world's population would disappear if the Preservationists accomplished their goal." Challenger shook his head sadly. "With this technology at their disposal, they might actually have a chance to do that."
"No," I gasped. "That can't happen! We can't let that happen!" I threw the rifle away from me and tried to stand up. My newly formed muscles screamed in pain as my jerky movements tore apart my fused skin. Challenger forced me back down on the bed.
"Take it easy!" he ordered me, panic in his voice. "We already have telepaths interrogating the three we captured last night. We'll get some answers to where the weapons came from. I promise I will tell you what they find."
"They shot me! I almost died and you expect me to just sit here and wait?!" I protested, trying to pull his strong hands off of my shoulders.
"That is exactly what I expect you to do!" his voice bellowed. "You can't help anyone else unless you take care of yourself first." It was the first time in months he raised his voice at me. I guess I deserved it, but I was still shocked to hear him.
"I've seen what those plasma guns can do," I whimpered, touching my injured leg. "I can't let them do that to anyone else."
"We won't let them," Challenger promised as he gently let go of me. "Now get some rest." He left the room just as the clock struck 5:00 pm, marking the end of visiting hours.
I'm still shaken up by what happened, and let's be honest, who wouldn't be? At least I've calmed down enough that I can think clearly. Taz said that a war was coming. Challenger said the Preservationists were prepared to fight for their cause. To some degree, they're right. How am I supposed to fight against them when there are horrible metahumans like Illusion running free?
Thursday, September 10, 2111
Who would have thought that spending the last three days in the infirmary would make me miss school? Last night, one of the doctors informed me that my leg had healed enough for me to go home. My parents were overjoyed to see me limp through the front door on my crutches. They weren't allowed to visit me at the Bureau. This morning they didn't even want me to leave the house, but I convinced them I couldn't miss any more school. Classes only started a week ago and I can't afford to fall behind.
At school, every teacher came up and wished me a speedy recovery. Most of my classmates did too. Of course, none of them knew the truth of how I was hurt. Jack and Ravyn told them a produce truck hit me when I was visiting my grandmother over the weekend. I'm surprised everyone believed them.
Either way, it was the most relaxed day I've had in a long time. And I'm not just saying that because Challenger has postponed my superhero training for the next week so I can let my leg heal completely. Although, it was a little sad watching Ravyn leave for the Bureau without me. We've gone in together every day since our apprenticeships started last year. It's weird for what little routine I have to be so out of whack.
So, instead of going in for training with Ravyn, Jack accompanied me home on the bus. His training sessions are scheduled later in the afternoon. I'll admit it was a little awkward. We haven't spent a lot of time together, just the two of us, since our adventure with the police scanner. When I think about it, aside from the superhero thing, we don't have a lot in common. We only started hanging out because he and Ravyn were friends first. Even so, I decided to break the silence after we got off at my bus stop.
"Jack, thank you for saving me the other day," I told him graciously.
"It's no big deal," he said, shrugging off my comment. "You would have done the same for me."
"It is a big deal. It can't be easy to be assigned a rescue mission knowing it's your friend that needs to be rescued."
"I wasn't assigned to the mission. I volunteered." I almost tripped over my crutches. He did what? "As soon as Shifter told me what had happened, and that they were gathering heroes to help with the search, I told him I refused to be left behind." Wow. I never realized that he cared that much.
"Why would you do that?" I asked, still shocked by his actions.
"Because you're my friend. Do I need a better reason?"
"I didn't think you liked me that much," I admitted. "You're always teasing me."
"I've been doing that for so long, I guess it's become a habit." He scratched his head, a little nervous. "It doesn't mean that I don't care about what happens to you," he muttered reluctantly. I blinked, surprised that he was sharing his feelings. Aren't guys allergic to emotional things?
"It's strange seeing you be so serious," I snickered. Yeah, laughing was immature, but I couldn't help it!
"Don't get used to it. I smell cookies. Did your mom make cookies?" he abruptly changed the subject as we approached my front door. I started laughing. Who'd have though Jack's laid-back attitude would actually be a comfort right now? Then again, things are always so unpredictable in my life. It's nice to know some things don't change.