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It’s dark when you arrive at the Youth Center. You look back over your shoulder and can still see the pulsating and flashing lights. Blue and red.
Jackie is always fascinated by the images you send to her. The colors back home are slightly muted in comparison. You wonder how she is and if she is safe.
“Computer,” you say after initiating communication with your pod. “Status update.”
“What in the world is that?” Dante says, crouching down next to you. You’re next to a construction site. A poster on the chain-link fence reads “Future home of McAllister Organics. World quality food at local costs.”
“All secure,” Computer relays to your ear piece. “Return sequence initiated. Departure time nineteen hours and forty-six minutes.”
You gasp softly, but loud enough for Dante to hear.
“What? What’s going on?” he says. You ignore him.
“Computer, who initiated Return?” You fear the answer.
“ProtoTerra emergency notification. All communication lost with Home-ship. They have considered you lost.”
Your mind is racing through what could be happening off-Earth. You need to get out of here.
“Someone’s coming,” Dante says, tapping you on the shoulder.
You slip your communicator in your pocket as you look towards the Youth Center. A man wearing a black hoodie is walking towards the front door and stops. He looks around before knocking on the door.
It cracks open momentarily before fully opening. He enters but, before it closes, you see another large figure who then shuts the door.
“That’s Bruiser!” Dante says.
“Let’s go,” you say standing up. You are tired of this world.
“Wait,” Dante says grabbing your arm. “What if someone’s watching?”
“I don’t really care.” You jerk your arm loose then walk toward the center.
Someone walks from out of the shadows to the left of the building and stops. Another comes from the right. This one’s resting a baseball bat on his shoulder. Two more exit a building two doors down.
You stop and raise your hands up to shoulder height. The street is silent. A dog barks in the distance.
“I’m looking for Kayla Robinson. Kid Sensation. I mean no harm.”
The front door opens and Bruiser walks out, closing it behind him.
“Kayla isn’t here, so you need to turn around and go back where you came from.”
“Bruiser, I just need to make sure she’s OK.”
He looks at you for a moment.
He walks forward until he is standing about ten meters in front of you. He is tall for his age. At least seven feet and packed solid muscle.
“Who are you?” he says.
“My name is Sojourner. I am a… friend… of Kayla.” The words make little sense to you and you wonder if they sounded as awkward to Bruiser.
He squints his eyes. “Friend? Kayla has never mentioned a friend named Sojourner. I’ve seen you on the news. We saw what you did. You’ve exposed someone who did not need exposing.”
You hang your head slightly, still angry with yourself, but knowing you must move forward.
“I’m sorry. That was a mistake. I was trying to help.”
“Kayla’s not here.” He looks at you a moment before he turns and walks back towards the building.
“You’re not safe here,” you say. “None of you are. If they know who Kayla is, then they know you.”
Bruiser turns around. You can see the anger in his face. You see his fists clench. He walks towards you, his long legs closing the distance in seconds. You know not his intentions, but you stand fast. He stops inches away from you and places a finger on your left temple.
“You’ve killed us all,” he says through clenched teeth.
He shoves your head with a finger, causing you to lose your footing and stumble backwards. You’re embarrassed that at being caught off guard.
“What do you want me to do?” Now you’re walking toward him.
“Sojourner,” Dante says. “Don’t.”
You don’t listen. You grab Bruiser’s right wrist with your left hand and spin him around. He looks surprised by your strength. In one move he snatches his hand away and grabs you by the throat. You feel yourself being lifted off the ground and you struggle for breath.
“Let her go!”
Out of the corner of your eye you see a figure. You can’t make them out, but you know the voice.
“Kayla,” Bruiser says as he lets you go. You gasp for air as you steady yourself.
“Everybody inside. Now!” she says.
She shoves past you and walks toward the front door.
“What about her?” Bruiser says thumbing to you over his shoulder.
She stops in her tracks, then spins around.
“What part of everybody didn’t you hear?”
Bruiser throws up his hands and nods.
You look over to Dante. He looks as confused as you feel and shrugs.
A siren sounds in the distance. Maybe several.
Bruiser turns to you.
“Kayla’s my girl,” he says just above a whisper. “She’s saved my life. More than once.” He’s in your face again, but it’s different this time. Something far more compassionate has replaced the anger.
“Have you ever been in love, Sojourner?”
A lump catches in your throat and you immediately understand.
“Yes.” A tattle-take crack of the voice.
Bruiser regards you for a moment, squinting his eyes as if he were peering into your soul. He changes his focus to Dante.
The auditorium of the Youth Center feels like a prison. You feel trapped and can feel your heart beating faster than normal. Compared to the cramped setting of your pod, this room is a great expanse.
But you’re indoors.
On ProtoTerra they taught you to avoid being indoors at all costs. You could see why now. Who is outside? The Enforcer’s troops could surround the building.
“What are we going to do, Kayla?” Bruiser says. He and the others are down on one knee encircling her. Their respect is palpable.
Kayla is looking at her mother, who is sitting in a chair near the front of the auditorium. She seems like a wiser, older version of Kayla herself. She could be your older sister if you had any siblings.
You and Dante chose a seat in the back of the auditorium. He’s attempting to rub something off of his right hand and sits up. Your chair creaks as you shift in your seat.
Kayla switches her eyes to you. Her jaws clench before she speaks.
“We no longer live in the shadows,” she says, looking to those around her. “We must consider our old selves dead.”
The others shift uncomfortably, taking quick glances at each other.
“I have a family,” a boy no older than Kayla says. He brushes his red hair out of his face.
“Godfire,” Kayla says, placing a hand on his shoulder. “We all do.” She moves back to center circle.
“None of us can go home tonight. Or any night. At least not yet.”
Everyone remains silent as the reality sinks in.
And for the first time, you don’t feel alone.
You stand up to make your way to the front. Your chair seat slam upward causing everyone to turn to you.
A thousand different thoughts on what you want to say go through your mind. You play each out in succession, hating the outcome of every scenario. Stepping into the circle next to Kayla. You say the first words that come to you.
“Let’s make the next move.”
Confusion envelopes the faces of the kids. You’re not sure you mean what you’ve said or even why you said it.
“She’s right,” Godfire says.
“What? That makes no sense,” Bruiser says.
“No. I’m serious. Think about it.” His hair seemed to shift to a deeper red as he spoke. But you’re sure it must be the light. “We’re always running. I mean, sure, we poke at the bear every now and then during the protests. But what do we ultimately do?”
“Run.” Kayla’s voice is quiet. She’s looking at Godfire, but looking through him to some other place that you wish you could see.
“Exactly,” he says, giving her a quick point of the finger. “What if we take the fight to them?”
“There’s only eleven of us,” a small girl—the youngest looking of the crew—says. “And they’re, like, an army.”
“An army under orders,” you say. “I’ve been on this planet long enough to know that—”
“Wait… what?” Bruiser says. He looks at Kayla. “What did she say?”
“Everybody, this is Sojourner Truth. Visitor from a distant planet, blah, blah, blah,” she says dismissively. “Let her finish.”
Kayla meets your eyes and you feel the encouragement. No forgiveness, just support.
“I’ve been observing this planet long enough to know that, like the military on my world, troops must follow orders. No matter how fast the communication channels, there is a delay in reaction. The only response to a surprise attack is a quick defense.”
Kayla moves by your side. You continue. “If we come at them with a team as small as ours, as quick as ours, they won’t know what hit them.”
“But what’s the goal?” Dante is still sitting at the back of the auditorium. “What’s our end game? Justice? Revenge? Murder?”
A silence falls over the room. Kayla is looking around at her team. No one meets her eye.
“What have we been fighting for?” she says.
“Spider? Bruiser? Glow?”
The little girl stands up. “To be heard.”
“Yes!” Kayla is excited. She hugs her. “Yes, Violet. Yes!”
“They don’t hear us. They fear us because we’re different. But we’re just the same as them. Hell, some of them grew up in this very neighborhood.”
You smile as the excitement builds in the team. The New Recruits remind you of the camaraderie building exercises they put you through on ProtoTerra. They dropped you off with eleven other trainees in the desert of Mansala and had to come together to mount a siege on a faux enemy stronghold. Everyone butted heads at first, but then eventually you would unite.
An explosion outside rocks the theater. The lights dim as they struggle to maintain power and dust falls from the ceiling.
“Caleb, report!” Kayla says into a miniature walky-talky.
Others are moving into various positions in the theater. Two to the front, two to the back of the stage, one each on the exit doors on the sides.
Bruiser jumps up to the balcony at the back of the theater. It’s at least a ten meter leap. You haven’t seen him use his power-set since you’ve been on Earth and are intrigued.
“I can go out there,” you say to Kayla. “You all stay inside.”
Kayla ignores you.
“Bruiser!” she shouts above the commotion. “What do you see?”
He’s peering at something on a console. The monitor illuminates his face with a pale white light.
“Troops moving in.”
“How did they find us so quickly?” she says.
Bruiser is clicking buttons and shaking his head.
“We’re surrounded. We’re trapped.”
Everyone turns to look at Kayla.
She’s breathing heavy and looking around. She turns to you.
“I don’t know what to do.” Her voice is quiet. You understand.
“What are your choices?” You want her to decide. This is not your fight.
She thinks for a moment, then turns back to the others.
“Defensive positions everybody! If they attack, fight back with everything you’ve got!” She turns to her right.
“Violet, take Bruiser’s position at the console. Bruiser come down here.”
Violet smiles. In an instant she glows a purplish hue. She puts her hands off to her sides, bends her knees, then pushes off. She floats lightly through the air leaving a trail of what you would probably describe as purple pixie dust, sparkling through theater. You put out your hand, marveling as it settles in your palm before fading away.
Bruiser fist-bumps Violet as she lands then jumps off, landing a couple of meters away from you. You barely hear his feet hit the ground.
“What’s the plan, boss?” he says to Kayla.
“Option one, we stand fast and wait. Option two, as the leader, I go out to negotiate. Option three, we send a team out blasting, hoping to draw them away.”
“Those aren’t great options,” Bruiser says, then looks at you. “What do you think?”
“Option four, I go alone. I can shield myself and talk to them. If they fire at me or try to take me out?” You shrug. “Then you do as you please.”
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