Chased by the Past: Part I

Jaeger Arc II: Chased by the Past

Three weeks later

White light burned my eyes, blurring my vision. I immediately held out a hand to block it out and froze, seeing blood dripping from my fingers. The light dialled down enough for me to see I was sat in a pool of the stuff. I lept up, the invasive scent clung to my skin as I tried to assess my surroundings. I went into echo and a low buzz intervened, like static on a transmission, and prevented me seeing anything.

“What are you scared of?” I spun at the voice to see a latina women with long black hair. Her image haunted me and I slipped into echo but she was still there, her hair curling as if on fire, her eyes burning me with judgement.

“Get away from me!” I yelled, turning. The white light blinded me again, forcing me to shut my eyes.

“You can’t run here,” a male voice whispered in my head, making me shudder.

“This isn’t real,” I said to myself, opening my eyes and lowering my arm. She was in front of me again, this time I could take in her torn clothing and a hole dripping thick blood in her chest.

“Well don’t just stand there,” she said, an unnatural grin stretching her features. “Or she’ll get you first.” She lifted her hand, pointing behind me. I hesitated before turning. A person was there but they blipped away before I could place their features.

“Who will betray who first?” the women said behind me. I gritted my teeth, turning to shout at her but it wasn’t her and the voice was much more recognizable all of a sudden.

“You really think the past won’t catch up to you?” I clenched my hands and realised I was holding a gun. A click made me look up and I realised the girl before me had one too, aimed at my chest.

“Kellen-” I began, then cut myself off. She looked exactly as I remember. Caramel skin, perceptive hazel eyes and I could see bright green nail polish on the fingers that held the gun.

“Do you really think I won’t break it again?” she whispered, quiet confidence in her tone and expression. “Do you really think we’ll forgive you?”

“Heppenheim left me first!” I yelled back but all she did was laugh, her upper body shaking with the movement and yet somehow that gun maintained a steady aim at me.

“Why wouldn’t he?” Kellen said. “After all, you’re nothing but-” before my eyes she morphed back into the other woman. “-a murderer.” she pulled the trigger and I cried in pain.

I opened my eyes to someone shaking my shoulder and immediately moved away from them, knocking the table as I stood. Ms Contreras paused in whatever ethical speech she was giving to regard our table with a raised eyebrow.

“Of course no parahuman got far by falling asleep in class,” she commented dryly, causing some giggles in the classroom. My face flushed with embarrassment as I sat back down.

“I tried to wake you sooner,” Sanjay murmured as the teacher resumed talking. I nodded, the nightmare still clinging to me and leaving me mute. I’d always had nightmares but ever since I got here they had been getting worse. However, despite Ms. Contreras comment, focussing on schoolwork was the easiest distraction. I was aware of Sanjay watching me as we ran laps but ignored it.

“Are you okay?” he asked. I rolled my eyes and sent him a ‘really?’ look. “Just checking,” he said. On the plus side there was only homeroom left and then the school day was done. There wasn’t much chance of falling asleep again all things considered. When homeroom finished Mr Martin asked me to stay back. I knew I was still sneaking off-site but it wasn’t telling me off for once.

“Take a seat Jaeger,” he motioned to the nearest desk as he took a seat himself. I did as he asked, wondering why he was hesitating. “I wanted to let you know ahead of the others, parent’s evening is soon.”

“Oh, okay,” I said on reflex then the implication hit me. “I’m kind of lacking in the parent’s department though, in case you were looking forward to giving me a glowing report.” He didn’t laugh at the joke, his expression remaining serious.

“Actually there is someone travelling here for you,” he promised. I frowned, even if they had caught Heppenheim, there is no way they would risk bringing him here. Not only would it reveal my identity but he would figure out a way to escape. If they had caught him that is. I somehow doubted he’d risk blowing whatever cover he had just to see me.

“Now head home, and don’t tell the others,” he said, standing up.

“Seriously, why keep it a secret?” I asked, standing up myself.

“So you can get a pleasant surprise. Besides your patience still needs work,” he replied, holding open the door for me. It took self-control not to flip him off as I left.

The moment I got back to the house I went into Sanjay’s caravan where I’d made a little corner for doing homework. The evening was much more predictable from there. A mixture of me telling Sanjay random zoology facts in exchange for his help from time to time with homework. Although we did get a surprise visitor, Yougen. I was still restless after the nightmare though but knew Leonine was busy tonight. So I settled for sneaking out again.

Kelfire: Part I

Kellen Gustke, present day

The white building looked nondescript. Blending perfectly into it’s surroundings in this small sleepy town. However I knew it was armed to the teeth with defenses and a security system that would rival even the most advanced banks. The government thought if they hid these things in tucked away places like this we would never find them. Unfortunately their staff were their own downfall.

You sure this is the place?

Yes.

Somebody had skipped their breakfast this morning. Don’t get sharp with me, I thought back. Mariusz, known more commonly as The Black Ace or simply Ace went quiet, apparently not interested in saying anything further.

“Ready to do this?” I asked, shooting my partner a side-glance. Nyesha nodded. She wouldn’t speak right now, her voice was usually muffled by her full black bodysuit. Since this was a small town knee deep in the bible belt and it was mid-morning Sunday, everyone was on the other side of town in Church. I approached the building carefully, seeing where there was a opened window. Eventually I spotted a basement with small windows next to the ground. They were dusted but I could see well enough. I focussed on a spot and let my power do it’s thing.

I blinked my eyes and I was in a small basement that smelled strongly of bleach and had what looked like the aftermath of a bad mold infection on the walls. I pulled out my handheld sensor and it warned me there were beams at the bottom of the stairs and also at the windows. There wasn’t any on the stairwell itself though. Stairs were more tricky but luckily there was a banister. I blinked and gripped the banister instantly. Good thing I did as I wobbled on the corner of a step. My teleportation wasn’t 100% accurate unfortunately. I checked and saw there was a trip on the other side of the door which made things more difficult. I grabbed a laser cutter from my belt and got to work making a small opening. I had to be fast here. The moment it began to fall and I saw the other side I blinked, spinning and catching the fallen debris in the nick of time.

I let out a breath and checked the handheld. Nothing to see. I continued making my way through the building, avoiding any alarms until I found the room I was after on the third floor. In side were servers filled to the brim with information. It was one of five or six the Legion had scattered across the globe. They acted as a back ups if their main server hub in space went down for any reason. I plugged in the decrypter and went about preparing the upload of info to our own secure server. Admittedly the Syndicate doesn’t usually target parahumans, rarely employs them either. Apart from in America for some reason. I was sure arguments were had over Ethan’s approach to management but he liked having his own specialist parahuman unit, and it paid well too.

I checked in with Nyesha who was playing look out somewhere in the shadows no doubt but she gave the all clear. This was the part of the process that could trip an alarm. I looked at the time estimate, ten more minutes. I suppose it would take time to download and upload their whole entire database. If we actually got useable information was another matter for our in-house tech genius Yvanna. The decrypter was top of the line but the Legion had parahumans who specialized in making new and more difficult technology. It was entirely possible the decryption would fail and we would have terabytes of useless data. It was trickling down to two minutes when an alarm was sounded. I saw the machine screen hijack before my eyes and cured.

“Nyesha, what’s going on out there?” I asked.

“Noth-” she was cut off by a hiss and I could hear the wind around her whipping. I also heard another voice talking about arrest, etc but it was so fast I could barely track it. Tachyon, just great. I manually hacked my way into the house security quickly and saw where things like traps were set. I also saw a blur on the camera footage. I couldn’t hang around. I hit go on all the traps that weren’t right by the door and heard an explosion go off. Below and to the right of me. One minute to go. I dialled Ace and hung up to let him know I needed an update.

Give me a chance, she’s doesn’t just talk fast, this is difficult to follow.

If she was still thinking then this didn’t work. I checked in with Nyesha but she was busy fighting someone else. Of course an attack on their data was a serious thing so more than one would turn up. 50 seconds to go. I heard another trap trigger much closer and muttered a curse, pulling out a small gun in one hand and a curved knife in the other. In close quarters next to the machinery I couldn’t use my bombs.

Abandon the mission, there are ten on their way. Looks like something tipped them off before we arrived.

Shit! I gritted my teeth and looked at the terminal. 43 seconds. Three versus ten wasn’t good odds though, no matter how good we were. I yanked out the equipment taking whatever we had and threw a bomb at the far wall just in time for Tachyon to arrive. I teleported the heck out of there and outside. The s

un blinded me for a second and I saw Nyesha trying to deal with two people at once. Ace was quiet but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was trying to help from a distance. I raced to her and gripped her arm, pulling us both down to dodge an attack.

“Time to bail!” I teleported us as far away as I could on the road, where conveniently our escape vehicle sat. Ace was waiting inside as our driver. We dived in and he sped off quickly. I checked our rear cameras but nothing was giving chase. Then someone was, Tachyon. Perhaps the only time you can see her without a blur is when she’s chasing a speeding vehicle. It meant I had a better shot though. I reached for a bomb but Nyesha stopped me. She lifted the hood of the vehicle and waited, watching her. When she got within Nyesha’s dead zone she hit her. I saw the moment Tachyon felt the impact of Nyesha’s power, her body stuttered and she squeezed her eyes shut to fight the assault. I used the distraction to grab a much nicer gun from the backseat. I easily sniped one of her knees to hell and she disappeared behind us in a whirl of dust and limbs.

“Guess she’s out for the count for a while.” Ace commented. “She was thinking pain then passed out.”

“Sure she isn’t just dead?” Nyesha asked but he didn’t even bother replying. Ace was very adept at knowing the difference.

“Good. Let’s get back to base asap. We’ll need to switch vehicles under cover, they’ll already be following us on satellite.”

Changing Faith: Part VIII

Changing Faith

Part VIII: My New Normal

The teacher wasn’t racist, being black themselves. I sat with Tyler again, everyone had apparently decided it wasn’t worth the effort to acknowledge my presence now which was an improvement. I could still feel glares from Allison though. When class ended I decided to check out the library where I spotted a noticeboard about various clubs in the school. I spotted one about the choir and hesitated. I looked around but no one was paying attention to me. I’d actually got used to strange array of students by now. I ripped off a contact details slip and put it in my wallet. I checked a computer and found the section on human rights. I blinked at the person I found looking in the same area. She was dark-skinned with braided black hair, her back to me. I could hear the sound of pages turning and wondered what she was reading.

“Hi,” I said with an awkward wave. She had looked normal enough from behind so I was startled when she turned and I saw small horns either side of her mouth. I immediately recalled my mum saying the Tzari were about as demonic as an alien could get and shook my head slightly, looking downwards.

“Yes, I am female,” she immediately said.

“Do people ask a lot?” I blinked.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Huh,” I murmured. I always assumed long hair meant girl. Although I guess Sage had shown me gender wasn’t that black and white.

“Can I help you?” she asked, closing what looked like some kind of law book, heavy reading material for an alien.

“I was just looking for, erm, history on, erm, LGBT stuff?” I wasn’t sure if I got the acronym correct. She smiled and motioned to a shelf of books near her. I nodded my thanks and approached them, trying not to feel self-conscious about the person behind me.

“I didn’t expect to see a Tzari here,” I said, trying to sound casual. I suspected it hadn’t worked based on the side-glance she sent me, regarding me calmly.

“In the library or Ravenhold?” she asked, surprising me.

“Oh, erm-” a short girl or boy – another Sage? – rounded the corner of the shelving before I could continue.

“The book isn’t here Shekaree, someone else must have gotten it out already. I’ll need to ask the librarian if there’s an electronic copy so-” they paused, realising I was there. “Hi, newbie?” I blinked at him.

“Yeah, my name’s Allen,” I said.

“Well, welcome to Ravenhold I’m Sasha,” they said, grinning. Something about them reminded me of Jaeger, only they were a much nicer version. “Is this your first time meeting a Tzari?” they asked. Had they overheard our conversation?

“Y-yeah,” I replied, feeling embarrassed. Shekaree looked unphased however, she must be used to this.

“Ah, well there’s plenty of interesting characters I’ve met so far,” they said before checking the time. “We better go, or Harley will complain for a week how we never make dinner on time when its our turn.” Shekaree laughed at the comment and nodded.

“I hope you settle in okay,” she said before following Sasha. I took a moment to process the encounter before turning to look at the books. A lot where help books on things like coming out. The book on understanding LGBT for dummies was probably a good idea but I couldn’t see anything that stood out as being about intersex individuals. I really didn’t want to ask a staff member about it so I decided I’d look again later. Maybe the books were already out. The internet was always there but as my step-dad would always say, the internet is full of “sourced” articles that are only backed up by other “sourced” articles.

When I walked in I found Caroline on her own in the kitchen, a helper short for once.

“Do you always make the food here?” I asked, remembering Sasha’s comment. In their house there was some kind of rota in place I guessed.

“Eh, pretty much. Cooking is like my number one passions and so I cook a whole lot at home too. Kind of helps me wind down after a long day too.”

“Maybe I could help?” I offered, expecting a ‘hell no’.

“Sure, help is always welcome,” She answered with a smile, surprising me. “Do you cook often?”

“Yeah, my mom works at night a lot so I make dinner for myself often. Fresh food is better than frozen crap, y’know,” I said.

“Yeah and that’s cool, Do you know how to make fresh pasta? ‘Cause that’s what’s for dinner.” I blinked at her.

“No… You make your own pasta?” I said, admittedly impressed.

“Heck yeah, my grandma’s Italian and she thinks premade pasta is of the devil. We also make some of our own cheeses, sausages, grow our own veggies, the works really.” I choose not to explain what my mum thought were the works of the devil.

“You’re Italian?” I asked.

“Quarter Italian, quarter Scottish and half French Canadian actually. Although I only learned the French part recently,” she explained.

“You only learned about it recently?”

“I’ve never met my father, I was raised by my mom and grandparents. My mom always avoided talking about my father for complicated reasons to say the least.”

“Oh I see…” My dad was a deadbeat living in Texas last I’d checked. I wonder how he would react to all the new types of friends I’d made recently.

“But now; Pasta time,” Caroline said, disturbing my line of thought. I let her guide me through making the dough, glad for the distraction. It was more involved than I expected, no mixer or bowl, all from scratch.

“Congrats, you’ve made your first dough,” she announced when I finished. “Looks great too, trust me my first was nowhere as good looking as this.” she said with a smile. She held up a hand and I hesitantly gave her five. “Now we just gotta wait a few minutes for the dough to rest before we make it into pasta.”

“That was pretty cool,” I said, going to the sink and washing my hands.

“I’m glad to have had you at my side. If you ever want to cook with me, just ask. Charlie sometimes tries to help, but just between you and I? You’re a thousand times better than Charlie at this.” She said with a laugh. “She’s a ninja when it comes to superhero stuff, but give her a chef’s knife and she’ll probably lose a hand.” I laughed at the comment and began filling the sink to wash the tools we’d used. I kept glances back as she worked but there wasn’t really any outward sign in her appearance that she was trans. It made me wonder who else I might know who was actually trans.

“Alright, I can see you’ve got questions you’ve been wondering about all day, you can go ahead and ask them.” She said turning toward me. “But if you ask me about my junk, I’m going to throw you out the window.”

I stopped mid-washing, soap running down my arms. I hesitated before grabbing a teatowel to dry my hands, using the moment to mentally word my questions.

“So eh… How did you know you were trans?”

“I think people think about being transgender the wrong way. It’s not about being a boy and wanting to be a girl or vice versa. It’s more like you know what you are but everyone else insist that you’re wrong, sometimes violently so…

I knew I was a girl since I was little. To me being a girl was what felt right, the very idea of being considered a boy felt so horribly wrong and grossed me out. But everyone told me I was a boy because of how my body was and it got in my head to the point I started believing it and did everything I could to try to make it fit, but it didn’t… The more I tried to be a boy, the more I hated myself, wanted to mutilate my body and just die.

When I finally transitioned and started presenting and being seen as a girl, it was like years of pain went away. I finally started feeling comfortable in my skin, sure, it’s not perfect, but I don’t hate myself or my body anymore because I don’t let it define who I am.”

“I guess it’s something you can only tell me about and I’ll never really ‘get’ it.” I said, surprised by the long explanation but it made more sense than I expected. “I’m glad you’re happier.”

She nodded and checked on the pasta. I chewed my lower lips and decided if anyone was going to be trustworthy enough to talk to, it was probably Caroline.

“Do you know about intersex stuff?” I asked.

“I’m afraid I don’t know much on that front. Why?” she answered, an understanding already in her eyes.

“It’s not important…” I murmured, wanting to change the subject. I saw the pasta machines and jumped on the opportunity. “Should we roll them out?”

“Eh it’s better to wait some more, letting the dough rest will make it less rubbery and it’ll be softer too. But it’s five on a Thursday, we can definitely watch power chef in the meantime.”

“Power Chef?”

“It’s a cooking competition for parahumans. You’ll see, it’s awesome,” she said. She opened the TV by the kitchen and set it to a channel called ParaTV. It had everyday TV shows only with parahuman hosts and guest stars and everyday parahuman civilians. I glanced at the TV schedule briefly and decided I’d have to watch more of it later.

“That’s so weird…” I mumbled, watching a contestant use his abilities to slow-cook a brisket for hours within their assigned forty minutes. Another female contestant used duplicators – that sounded like a much more useful power than walking timebomb.

“You’ve never watched ParaTV?” Caroline asked.

“No. We have cable at home, but not this channel…”

“It’s one of my favorite network, people focus so much on superheroes and villains that they forget that we parahumans aren’t all about violence. Our powers are useful for so much more; whether it’s to be creative or help others.” I nodded. The only everyday use for something like my power would probably be free nuclear energy. I didn’t really like the idea of spending my life cooped up in a big metal box underground though.

“I think the dough’s rested enough. Ready to make pasta?” Caroline asked.

“Yeah… Sure.” I said, returning to the present. It was nicer than the gloom future I was thinking about.

“Oh and Allen?” She said, making me frown.

“Yeah?”

“If you need someone to talk to, about anything. I’m here, okay?” I blinked at her words. She was the only person around here who seemed to actually give a damn about me anymore. Sage was there but it was on probation rather than an actual friendship.

“Thanks. I’ll erm… try to help in return. You’re smarter than me though, probably won’t need my help,” I replied, trying to settle the heavy atmosphere with self-depreciation.

“You never know,” she replied. We got to work making dinner, Caroline continued to find amusement in my reactions to the various abilities on show on ParaTV. After food was in the oven I went back upstairs, wondering where Sage had been. They were on their bed, notes from class with them on the bed. I blinked at them. No make up or skirts, instead they were wearing jeans, a shirt and hoodie. They looked much better like this.

“Hi,” Sage said. “Did you take notes from history? I’m stuck something.”

“Erm, yeah,” I said. I walked to my side of the room and grabbed my notepad from my bag. I flipped it to the last filled in page and handed it over.

“I didn’t know you could draw,” they said.

“I don’t,” I replied, confused by the question.

“Maybe you should, you’re not half-bad,” they said, motioning to the lazy doodle I’d made the margins. “You don’t use your pad for note taking so you obviously enjoy it.”

“Drawing is for girls,” I said, splaying onto my bed. The phrase coming from my step-father out my lips.

“Drawing is drawing. You can’t gender an activity,” Sage replied, sounding annoyed. I sighed at them, feeling burnt out from the past few days.

“Yes you can. You can gender everything. You wear skirts when you feel girly, right?” I shot back.

“I wear skirts because I like wearing them. The fact society generally sees them as feminine is society’s issue,” they shrugged.

“Well you would have a lot less issues if you dressed as you are now, just saying,” I shrugged back.

“Actually, I’ve barely ever encountered issues. I surround myself with accepting people. The only person who has ever given me real grief about being myself is sitting across from me.” I sat up, surprised. I began to reply and stopped. They took this so seriously, I couldn’t even have a jokey debate. I’d been trying to compliment them actually but it clearly had not been received.

“I wasn’t trying to-” I stopped, realising there was no point trying to make excuses. Sage was beginning to strike me as being a very ‘militant liberal’ as my step-dad would say. “Sorry,” I murmured.

“I’ll study downstairs actually,” Sage said. Now they were just being immature.

“Dinners ready, by the way,” I said. They nodded, not pausing in their stride as they left. No point in sitting up here on my own feeling bad. I grabbed a quick shower and change of clothes. I joined the others in the living room, staying quiet as conversations went on around me. Ahti sat next to me and I pushed away my inner recoil. I needed to make this work, and truth be told they were all nice enough people. This was my new normal, as abnormal as it seemed.

Origins: Jaeger 1.8

Origins Part 1: Indoctrination

Chapter Eight

“They were a mixture of escaped convicts, homeless people and people who had betrayed our organisation,” Ace said, disturbing the silence.

“So…you never intended for anyone but me to get out?”

“The boy you ran into and left alive was also of the correct age. He was newly involved in the drug ring here although Gregor had preference for a girl since he would like to send Kellen to a particularly prestigious all-girls school.” I nodded, feeling a weird numbness physically and mentally invade me as I realised I was always going to end up here.

“Who cleaned and dressed me?” I asked.

“Heppenheim. He’s waiting in another hotel room to say goodbye and has packed your things already.” I didn’t choose to correct him, my things were still packed since arriving. So much for Newcastle being our new home.

“I don’t get on with school,” I said, making Ace laugh.

“As long you maintain the same grades as Kellen so you’re in the same classes it will be fine. You are already her friend and if you do a good job we will train you further. This is a very good thing for you Juliette, a job for life that does pay rather well.”

“How well?” I frowned. I hadn’t even considered money through all this conversation.

“£5000 a month.” I laughed, he didn’t.

“Shit, you’re serious.”

“I very rarely kid. Now go say your goodbyes and then come back here. We have a jet ready to take both of you to your new school.”

Kellen was gone when I left the office so I went straight to the hotel room Ace had directed me too. I knocked once and walked in to see Heppenheim pacing impatiently. He gasped upon seeing me and then froze, unsure of what to say.

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” I said, closing the door. “To Jacob about Kellen,” I added.

“I should’ve tried harder to stop it,” he immediately cut in.

“The Black Ace organised this. I just met Gregor Gustke.” Heppenheim paled slightly before nodding. “Is Jacob here?” I asked.

“No, I don’t know where he is,” he sighed, sitting down. I knew he was old, of course I did, but I saw the age now in the lines on his face and greying hair. How much stress had he endured with tonight?

“They’re going to pay me to stay with Kellen in some fancy boarding school and protect her,” I said. “It’s a lot of money, more than enough to get a better house when I come back.”

“That’s good,” he said, something about his smile seemed sad. “I had hoped to avoid getting you involved though.” I frowned, what did he mean by that?

“Ace said my stuff was here. I don’t think we have much time,” I said, changing the subject.

“Yes,” Heppenheim sighed. He pointed in the direction of a small dining table where my stuff was collected in the same bag as before, with an additional bag that looked new. Heppenheim had mentioned I would need new stuff when we moved but I hadn’t expected him to buy it so fast. I hefted the shoulder bag and backpack and turned. Heppenheim was standing by the doorway, that same bittersweet expression still on his face. We stared at each other for a moment before I hugged him. I only meant to do it briefly but I held tight, memories of the maze still haunting me. I knew it would take me days to process it along with everything else that was now happening.

“I’ll miss you, but I’ll see you again,” I promised. He smiled and nodded.

“Yes, you know the address to send letters in any case,” he said. I promised I would and went back to the penthouse. Kellen was standing by the windows of the main living area, three huge suitcases packed by the L-shaped sofa. I left my stuff with them and joined her.

“So, you really are joining me?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I replied. She blinked and I realised my tone had been cold. “Sorry, tired,” I lied. It wasn’t fair to take any of this out on her. Time to go. I shuddered at Ace’s mental voice.

“Let’s go,” I said. Kellen frowned, apparently he had only spoken to me. “Follow me,” I said, grabbing my bags and also carrying some of her. Leaving her to pull along the lightest. I had a feeling generally looking after her was a part of the contract. Ace gave me directions to the roof where a small jet waited. I saw Jacob up there speaking to some guards. He regarded me with an unreadable expression when our gazes locked. I suspected this wasn’t the last I would see of him.

“Come on, we can’t stay in this city any longer. No doubt our enemies know Gregor was here,” Ace whispered to me. I nodded and followed him on board with Kellen. We settled down in fancy leather seats and I looked out the small window into the clouded night sky. No stars tonight.

“So where are we going?” Kellen asked next to me.

“Rodeon, it’s a boarding school in Brighton,” Ace supplied, sitting opposite us. His phone rung triggering him to stand and speak in a quiet tone.

“Oh, I’ve always wanted to visit the beach! We didn’t get the chance to do it when we were traveling,” Kellen said excitedly. She shared her excited look with me and I forced a smile. If she noticed she didn’t show it. I decided there and then I would never tell her what I’d gone through. She had no control over what her uncle did and seemed so genuinely happy I was with her.

Origins: Jaeger 1.7

Origins Part 1: Indoctrination

Chapter Seven

When I opened my eyes I was in a closed off lounge area, lying on a red sofa. The carpets were a dark yellow, a few shades off gold, and the walls a muted green. The combination should’ve looked ugly but instead it matched the loud opulent nature of the rooms furniture. I sat up slowly, trying to remember what had happened. I looked down to see I was dressed in plain jeans, top and grey hoodie, a weight in the pocket. I frowned and reached in, pulling out a gun. Then I did remember, the horrible scenes playing out too fast for my emotions to keep up. I choked on a yelp and threw the gun into the wall on the other side of the room.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. You’ll need a weapon in your new work.” My neck snapped to the owner of the voice that sounded disjointedly familiar. The man sat in an elegant armchair didn’t seem particularly interesting. Nondescript suit and build, a mop of brown hair and lightly tanned skin. His eyes though, something unsettling shined in the dark blue depths.

“You were the one talking to me in … there,” I added emphasis to the word, as if he might somehow not know what I meant.

“Yes, I am known in the syndicate as The Black Ace,” he replied, his voice surprisingly smooth and soft for someone in his line of work. I felt my eyes widen for a second before recovering. The Black Ace was called as such because he was hidden ace up Gregors Gustkes sleeve in tight situations. His right hand man who had abilities that have, according to stories, made assassins walk out of a room and shoot themselves in the head. And for some reason he had been watching over the maze and speaking to us, and saw god only knows what in our minds.

“Gregor is waiting to meet you. If I were you I would not keep him waiting.” I blinked at him, Gregor? Waiting for me?

“This is what you wanted, no?” he asked, standing up. I screwed up my face but he had already turned his back on me and started walking. I rushed and grabbed the door before it shut, following him through a windowless corridor, with the same thick carpet but this time the walls had dark wood paneling. We passed other doors and then into a elevator. I fidgeted nervously as it ascended to the top floor. If Ace could sense my nerves – and he most certainly could – he didn’t say or do anything in response. I jumped as the elevator dinged and we were in a penthouse suite of what must be a very expensive hotel.

“Juliette?” I glanced to the left of the penthouse and saw Kellen was nestled in the corner of a fancy L-shaped sofa, a tablet laptop on her lap.

“This way,” Ace said, placing a gentle hand on my shoulder and guiding me away from the quizzical look on Kellens face and to a door on the right. He knocked the door once.

“Come in.” It was said with a tone that demanded respect. I gulped and looked at Ace who merely motioned towards the door handle. I licked my lips once nervously and opened the door. I really hoped he didn’t want to shake my hand, because my palms were definitely sweaty. I walked in to see a clean shaven man with a heavy tan, who no doubt walked and breathed authority while wearing a polished suit. He was stood by a floor to ceiling window, looking at the darkness outside. Was it still the same night I had been taken? Or had a day passed? I’d have to ask someone later. So many questions were swimming through my mind. Why had Ace been involved in that trial? Why had I been put in that trial? Who had the others been? Why was Kellen here? Why did Gregor want to speak to me of all people? Also, who the hell cleaned me up and changed my clothes? I felt violated without that knowledge. Or maybe I was just hyper sensitive after everything that had happened.

“Juliette, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” Gregor said, turning to look at me with a proud assessing look. “Kellens spoken about you quite a bit since she got here. I also understand from Jacob you were concerned about her wellbeing.”

“Is that why you put me in there? I wasn’t going to blab her location to anyone outside the organisation,” I replied. I blinked at my own tone. I was talking to the guy who led the syndicate in Europe but I was bone tired and ever so slightly annoyed by everything I’d been through; I guess the combination gave me a bit of an attitude problem.

“Of course,” Gregor laughed, apparently indifferent to my tone as he sat at his desk and motioned to the seats before him. Ace took one, I choose to stay standing.

“The trial is a mandatory test for anyone wishing to act as a bodyguard for a very important persons,” Ace quietly put in. I don’t know how but the sound of his voice helped me take a calm breath. Even so I could feel some anger building.

“Jacob told me you would take over keeping her safe, and I took that to be the end of it,” I said.
“Well, yes, and I intend to keep her safe. However I cannot do that by keeping her with me. I sometimes travel to dangerous situations, and tend to attract a few enemies just by being in the area. I am going to arrange to send her to an all-girls private school. Very remote, very safe and an excellent education for herself and the person I send with her; someone to keep her safe in the unlikely event something were to occur.” I blinked, as understanding dawned.

“What about Heppenhein?” I asked.

“His type of work requires a lot of industrial space. There is a nearby city but it won’t suit his needs. However we have organised a house there and during holiday periods you will both stay there with a female housekeeper acting as a parental figure as far as the school will be concerned. I would permit Heppenheim to visits but the risk someone might recognise and tail him in too high.” I nodded, taking in what was being asked of me. I didn’t like the idea of being far from Heppenheim.

“Who were the others in there?” I asked. Gregor frowned.

“She means in the trial,” Ace supplied.

“Oh, I left it to you to organise all of that. Any questions about the trial you can ask Ace. While I can already assume the answer, will you take the job?” I glanced at Ace who was watching me intently, I couldn’t read his expression though.

“What if I decided I wanted to stay with Heppenheim?” I asked.

“Jacob will throw you in the chimera pens,” Gregor answered without missing a beat, not a hint of remorse in his voice. Of course on the scale of horrendous things he’s no doubt done, blackmailing a teenager to go to school with his niece probably wasn’t high on the list.

“Then I guess I’ll take the job offer,” I replied.

“Excellent!” Gregor said, standing up and clapping both hands. “I need to get a flight out of the country now but Ace can cross the I’s and dot the T’s.” And like that he left and I was alone in the fancy office space with Ace.

Outlands: Part VIII

The Human Outlands
Part VIII: Worry, worry, worry.

Although the next morning was normal — Well, Sage had hurt themselves but Allison told me they’d take him to a doctor so it was okay— it all changed when lunch arrived and Mr. Rook came to see us while we were eating to do what he had done in our previous class with him to our new friends. When it was finished, Jaeger even had blood coming out of his mouth!

So me and a few friends brought him to see a doctor, Caroline and Charlie included. As he saw the doctor, we waited in the other room. I found myself shaking, what if Jaeger was seriously hurt? You don’t bleed for nothing…

“Are you okay, Ahti?” Caroline asked, putting her hand on my shoulder, surprising me.

“Yes, but what about Jaeger, is he going to be okay? What if his arm is broken, is it going to heal, what if he doesn’t? I Jaeger going to leave us? I don’t want him to leave, I just met him and he seems nice. I don’t want to lose a friend…” I said, letting out a few whines at the idea of losing a brand new friend.

“Hey relax, little one.” She said, rubbing my head with her finger. I came closer to her and pressed against her as she gave me a hug. “I’m sure it’s nothing serious, beside I’m sure the doctor knows how to treat anything.”

“Really? You’re not just saying that for me, right?”

“I know Jaeger’s going to be fine. He’ll just need a day or two and he’ll be back to top shape.”

A day or two? That was way too fast for someone to heal! But Caroline looked confident, maybe humans were different? Jaeger came out not long after and he didn’t look too distressed…

***

After classes ended, we all went back home to relax. Since I was feeling well, I didn’t take a nap right away I had some time to have fun before that. I went to my room and looked around my thing until I found what I wanted; a still unopened box. With it in hand, I went downstairs. Finding Annabelle with Tyler, at their computer.

“Annabelle, do you want to play with me?”

“I’m sorry, I already promised Tyler I’d do this thing. Maybe later?”

“Okay.” I dragged my feet a little. I’d really wanted to show my favorite game to my best friend. But she wasn’t the only human friend I had!

After looking some, I found Rowan outside in the backyard, speaking with Yikaru in a corner, sitting on a bench hidden behind the bushes. I hadn’t talked to Yikaru a lot in the past few days, so I didn’t know her well but she seemed very shy, she was often alone and away from the others.

“Rowan!” I said coming up to them “Oh hello Yikaru!” I made sure to show her my teeth.

“Ahti?” Rowan said, looking at me strangely.

“I’ll talk to you later.” Yikaru mumbled before leaving us. My eyes followed her as she went back inside. Why did humans always leave so strangely when I was there?

“Is she your friend?” I asked.

“It’s complicated.” They said, exhaling a lot of air in one go. “So, what can I do for you?”

“I wanted to know if you wanted to play Sankinu with me?” I answered, showing them the box.

“What’s that?”

“It’s my favorite board game. I play it all the time with Kulaat and my zuzuk. Before I came here, I got a copy in English specially so I could play with my new human friends.”

“Sure, why not?” They said raising their shoulders. “But how do you play?”

“I’ll show you it’s very simple.”

We went inside where I quickly opened the box and set down the game field on the floor between Rowan and I along with the cards.

“We’re explorers who have to work together to reach the magical city of Sankinu. You chose a character which has its own deck of special cards to help the journey, but there’s a villain who tries to stop us, but we don’t know who until the game begin we also don’t know the terrain until then.”

“Who plays the villain?”

“It plays itself, all the cards tell you what to do on the villain’s turn.”

I kept explaining the rule and the different characters, and how the game always changed each time depending on what we had. Rowan seemed to struggle a bit at first but they understood the rules quickly enough. As we played, Charlie came out of her room holding the Nibbles in her arms. People went to see it but she told them to keep away.

“It’s the Nibbles!” I said waving at it as they passed by to sit on the couch. “But I don’t think it likes me, it keeps getting away.” I then whispered to Rowan.

“It’s probably just shy. It’s a prey animal, it’s afraid of things it doesn’t know.” Rowan said, putting a card into play. “Your turn.”

I played my turn but focused on the Nibbles, seeing it eat an apple along with Charlie.

“Do you think if I give the Nibbles an apple it would like me?”

“You probably shouldn’t feed it without Charlie’s approval. It might be bad.”

“You’re right.” I said, feeling sad.  

I focused back on the game for a time until I saw that Charlie had come close —having left the Nibbles with Sanjay— and looked at our game. She had a cup filled with a light brown paste, which she dipped a spoon into before bringing it to her mouth.

“Want to join us next game?” I asked.

“Eh, sure.” She said.

“What are you eating?”

“Butterscotch pudding.”

“I don’t know what that is. Is it good?”

“I like it.” She said with a shrug. “Do you want to try?”

I nodded and she sat down next to me, dipping the spoon into the cup and bringing the thing out. She turned the spoon toward me and I ate the pudding. It was amazing; sweet but also a little salty, with a rich taste and a creamy texture but it was also a little sticky.

“Oooh that’s good. Is there more?”

“Sure, want a cup?”

“Yes!”

She got up and went to her room before coming back out, giving me a full cup with the paper lid still attached. She opened it and gave it to me along with a spoon. I couldn’t stop myself from wunning, it was that delicious!

***

After a fun evening of games and food without a nap, I lied down for a long night of sleep, my whole body exhausted from staying up for so long. Earth days are far too long for me.

I woke up in the middle of the night with a loud screeching sound woke me up, sending my hearts beating and my brain into alert mode. In the moonlight, I couldn’t see anything, Jaime was sleeping peacefully on her bed so that hadn’t been her. I looked around and outside to find the source of the noise but couldn’t. So I left my room, making sure to walk on my tippie-toes and looking around for danger.

In the upstair living room, I found Rowan curled up into a ball and lying on the floor in front of the television, which played some strange movie.

“Rowan?” I called out but they didn’t answer. “Are you okay?” Again they didn’t answer, making my hearts beat deeper. What if the noise had been them getting hurt?

I quietly approached touched them. Rowan jumped on all four, looking around until their eyes fell on me.

“Are you okay?”

They looked around for a moment.

“I must have fallen asleep.” They yawned. “What are you doing up?”

“There was a scary noise and it woke me up.”

“I’m sure it was nothing.

“I can’t sleep, I’m too scared. Can I sleep with you instead?”

“Why not?”

They nodded toward the stairs and we went down and into the room they shared with Allison. They climbed into bed, taking most of it and I joined them. They quickly put their arms around me, their whole body curling to embrace me.

“Are you comfortable?”

“I feel safer with you.”

“I see. Goodnight.”

Into the Unknown: Part I

Caroline arc II: Into the Unknown

Part I: Surprises

Three Weeks Later

September passed by at record speed, every moment we weren’t training was spent with my new friends and my new girlfriend. I still didn’t know what I was, but if there was one thing I knew was that I loved Charlie and she loved me back. And that was all that mattered really.

On a late September Friday Charlie decided she wanted to impress me with her moves, and by that I mean she wanted hangout in the park where she skateboarded around, doing tricks on whatever was lying about. Which admittedly, she was pretty good at those things. It was a really warm and sunny day so I didn’t mind. As she skateboarded her heart out, I browsed around on my tablet until I stumbled on news about the Menagerie; the supervillain group my dad belonged to…

The Menagerie wasn’t one of the bad groups, as far as villains went. They were thieves through and through, but they weren’t bastards about it. Didn’t harm civilians, avoided collateral damages, didn’t kill. Mostly they robbed banks, casinos and jewelry or electronics warehouses.

“What are you looking at?” Charlie asked, hopping off her skateboard, drawing me out of my focus.

“Nothing!” I said hiding the screen by laying it against my belly.

“Woah, okay…” She said with a frown. “Nevermind then.”

“Wait…” I sighed. “You just startled me. If I show you, do you promise you won’t tell anyone, especially not your dad or the teachers?”

“Yeah, sure.” She said sitting next to me. “You’re not going to tell me you’re really a serial killer, are you?”

“Haha. Very funny.”

I removed the tablet away from my belly and showed her the page I was on.

“Chat Noir, eh? I didn’t know you were into furries. Maybe I should put a pair of cat’s ears on too.” She said and I just glared at her. “But in all seriousness, why are you interested in him? He’s just a low-tier burglar.”

“Because he’s my dad.”

“He’s your dad?”

“I only learned about it recently.” I sighed. “He and my mom had a thing when she was in college, she knew he was a villain but they broke up before he even knew I was born, so I’ve never met him.”

“Oh.”

“Ravenhold doesn’t know, nobody but my mom and I do, actually, and I’m kind of scared people would treatment differently if they did. Like they’d think there’s something suspicious about why I came here, but I didn’t even know before I came here. My mom told me while we were waiting for the ferry…”

She wrapped her arms around me tightly.

“Hey, relax. You don’t have to get upset.” I was about to protest, but only then could I feel the stiffness in my jaw and tightness in my chest… “I get it and I swear I won’t tell anyone.”

“Thank you.”

“It’s no biggie, but you’re welcome.”

I put my hand on her cheek and pulled her closer into a series of long kisses. I might not have known my romantic orientation, but sure as heck knew I liked kissing her. After a minute of sloppily making out on a park bench, we parted ways equally out of breath.

“So, do you want to go to my house this weekend?” Charlie asked, once she’d caught her wind back.

“Eh, we’ve been there for the last three weekends, I think it’d be nice to spend one with the rest of the class. And beside, there’s never anything good in the kitchen at your place.”

“My dad orders the best food you can get.”

“Yeah, but it lacks the most important ingredient; homemade-infused love. Not my fault you can’t see the value of a home cooked meal over catering or deliveries. Which reminds me, I need to take the brisket out of the oven soon.”

I grabbed her hand and practically dragged her back to our dorm.

As I prepared dinner, my ID came to life, beeping. I took out it out of my pocket and saw the small electronic band on it saying ‘RETURN TO DORM ASAP’ repeating over and over. I frowned but there wasn’t anything I could do, so I put it back in my pocket. I took a quick look outside and everything seemed 100% alright. A few people with badges seemed to pass, not having received the same notification I’d had.

The others who’d been outside quickly came rushing back to the house with everyone assembled in the common room, just exchanging puzzled looks.

A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. I rushed toward it and opened it only to find our homeroom Teacher waiting on the patio.

“Hello Mr. Martin.”

“Good evening Caroline.”

“What can I do for you?”

“I’m doing a routine inspection.” He said. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not.”

He started pacing the dorm as everyone just watched him. He checked cleanliness, the general state of everything.

“Is everything satisfactory?”

“Some of the bedrooms could use a little work and there’s an unauthorized pet, which miss Yeun should have cleared with administration beforehand, but everything is fine. Now to the other reason I came here.”

“Other reason?”

He walked to the front door and opened it, letting the first person out of a crowd in. At eight feet tall, deep chestnut hair and those big blue eyes, there was only one person in the world I knew who fit the bill.

“Mom?”

“Hey Peanut.” She said with a grin. “Missed me?”

She stepped inside and several others came pouring in, only to rush to the side of someone else; sharing kisses and embraces. Before I could process what had happened, I found myself surrounded by my mom, my grandparents and my aunt Jenna.