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.

Sky’s The Limit: Part IX

Sky’s The Limit

Part IX: Yet to Come

I woke up sometime later in the bed alone, dimly aware I should be worried about something but everything was too comfy and warm and soft and lovely for me to care. I blinked my eyes open again and registered where I was. Panic struck me and I sat up, checking the clock and groaned.

“Afternoon sleepyhead, or rather evening,” Allison joked, appearing in the doorway armed with what smelled deliciously like hot chocolate.

“Why didn’t you wake me?” I cried. I immediately regretted it, realising I had raised my voice. Allison themselves looked a little unsure, still holding the hot chocolate.

“Sorry,” I sighed, rubbing my eyes. “I shouldn’t keep falling asleep randomly like this. It completes throws my sleep schedule out and exacerbates my narcolepsy more,” I explained, not that it excused my yelling.

“It’s okay,” They replied. “ I didn’t realise. Next time I’ll wake you up,” they promised. They put the mugs on their bedside table and sat next to me, suppressing a giggle.

“What?” I asked, still feeling mildly irritated.

“You have cute bed hair,” they said, reaching a hair to fluff it up more. I reached up my own hand and cringed a little. My hair felt so dry and brittle.

“I should probably not bleach it again for a while,” I murmured.

“What’s your natural hair colour?” Allison asked, silently handing me hot chocolate.

“Thanks,” I whispered. “And it’s brown, not easy to make white,” I laughed.

“You should ask Caroline, she seems to have gotten it down,” Allison suggested.

“I might. Should probably ask how she keeps her hair looking all nice and not like this…” I replied, sighing.

“For the record, I think your hair is great,” they said, a small blush creeping on their cheeks. I felt myself burn up a little at the compliment. Did they feel the same about me as I did them?

“I think yours is so much better. Your braids were the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” I complimented back, grinning.

“Oh you big flatterer,” they said, laughing. “But if you like braids so much, I’ve got no choice but to do your hair now. And I won’t take no for an answer.” I blinked at her determined tone before letting out a small laugh of my own.

“As if I’d ever say no to you,” I said, hoping the meaning carried. I really wouldn’t say no to anything they wanted to do with me. The thoughts made me blush further.

“Turn around and prepared to be bored for a while,” they said, laughing more.

“Well, we can watch another movie. I can show you one of my favorites,” I suggested.

“That’d be great.” I quickly found one of my favourite films and relaxed, feeling their hands brush and work my hair. Their touch was soft and gentle, I caught myself before I let out a sound of enjoyment. That might have been a bit too comfortable. Although spending time with them always did feel that way regardless. I wondered if we would ever move past the friendship growing between us. I was happy to have Allison in my life as this or as more. There wasn’t much point overthinking it for now. The year had only just begun and I was sure there was plenty more silliness and drama to come.

When the movie was finished I went back to my room to grab a change of clothes and shower. I got dressed and settled down to do some homework. I was just wearing jeans, plain shirt and a black hoodie, my hair now a bunch of small braids. Admittedly this was about masculine as my clothing ever got and I was pretty sure I hadn’t had a more masculine day here yet but those were always rarer.

I looked up as the door opened and Allen walked in, immediately taken aback by my appearance.

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

“Erm, yeah,” He said, recovering from his surprise. He reached into his backpack and handed me a notepad. I blinked at the random doodles outside the margins.

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

“I don’t,” he replied.

“Maybe you should, you’re not half-bad,” I suggested, copying what I needed onto my pad. “You don’t use your pad for note taking so you obviously enjoy it.”

“Drawing is for girls,” Allen said off-handedly, flopping onto his bed. I frowned and looked up at him.

“Drawing is drawing. You can’t gender an activity,” I replied.

“Yes you can. You can gender everything. You wear skirts when you feel girly, right?” he replied.

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

“Well you would have a lot less issues if you dressed as you are now, just saying.” I started at his words before narrowing my eyes.

“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.” He opened his mouth to reply and stopped.

“I wasn’t trying to-” he cut himself off. “Sorry.” I let out a sigh and stood up.

“I’ll study downstairs actually,” I murmured.

“Dinners ready, by the way,” he said as I walked through the door. I nodded continuing to head downstairs. The year was just beginning, and I had a feeling there were going to be a few more clashes before Allen actually accepted everyone, if ever.

Leaving Darkness: Part XII

Leaving the Darkness

Part XII: Nurse Sanjay

I slumped into a seat next to Sanjay and half-listened to the teacher’s lecture about how the academy came to be. We had to watch a boring slideshow. I rolled my eyes at the whole ‘anyone can choose to be good’ ethos they were selling with the lesson. As if choice came into it. The only part that made the class enjoyable was making more short jokes at Charlie’s expense.

“You know she will get you back for those,” Sanjay commented dryly.

“I’d like to see her try,” I snorted. I lent with one hand on the desk and glanced over at his desk. He wasn’t taking notes, not that a lesson like this was a note heavy one. A quick internet search would provide you with everything.

“What are you doing this evening?” I asked. “Let me guess, lab?” I added before he could reply.

“Are you still annoyed from earlier?” he asked, frowning.

“I’ll be ready for the re-match,” I replied, well aware I sounded far more superior than I actually felt right now.

“I meant science class,” he said quietly. I clenched my fists on reflex and shook my head.

“I’m fine.” I thought I heard Sanjay make a tut sound under his breath but ignored it.

After class the group separated, with Caroline and Charlie going off for their own thing. I didn’t feel like going back to the house or bothering Sanjay more so I just grabbed some clothes and explored the campus. I found the gym soon enough. It was already full of students working out with various equipment. I went to the changing rooms, glad they had separate cubicles. I wasn’t interested in going on any of the machines so looked into the other rooms.

The sound of crashes and groans echoed from the far end of a corridor and I peered into a window on the wall. I was overlooking what must have been a basement level area. It was an expansive space made up like an outdoors tournament, and inside students were fighting.

“I see you found the arena.” The Rook smirked at my jump. “You need to be on your guard more.” I couldn’t try to argue but settled for sending a mini glare. The door into the arena opened and students poured out, some look hurt but proud whilst others look far from happy. The Rook glanced over his shoulder at the lot and apparently recognised someone.

“Ah Vanessa,” he said, speaking to a tall, lithe person. They had a thick mane rather than hair and sharp claws. I felt a chill run down my spine when she half-turned to look at us. I saw a brand on the right side of her neck that I knew all too well. This person had been a ring fighter chimera, created and used by the Syndicate. It’s almost what happened to me but Heppemheim managed to stop it. Although in that moment I was very aware of the brand on my left shoulder Kellens uncle was kind enough to give me.

“Hello,” she said, their voice low and masculine. At odds with the name the Rook had called.

“This is Jaeger. He’s another chimera. I thought maybe you’d like to show him the ropes with the arena,” The Rook said. Vanessa looked me up and down, frowning.

“He’s hurt. He won’t last a minute in there.” I felt my jaw tighten at the comment and their response was merely to cock an eyebrow.

“How about I just take you one on one then?” I suggested. She assessed me more closely before shrugging.

“I’ll be nice and avoid hitting your hurt arm.” I followed her to another set of rooms where there were mats and weapons already set up. Once again there was little in the way of firearms. However she completely ignored the weapons, so I did too.

“How’d you wind up a chimera then?” she asked as we circled each other, waiting to see who would attack first. There was no way I was telling the truth. I needed to have as few ties with the Syndicate as possible here; and there was no telling what she might or might not know if I said the wrong thing.

“I don’t have many memories of my past,” I lied. It was pathetic but whether she believed or not she accepted it. I wondered how well the lie would work on the others in the house though. Sanjay at least seemed to be perceptive; maybe too perceptive.

Vanessa lunged at me and I concentrated on the fight at hand. Letting echo guide my movements where required. I couldn’t help grinning as adrenaline took over. In the end we both took as many hits as we gave. I asked if she wanted to spar again another time and she agreed. I’m not sure why I made the offer though, it was risky to spend more time with her. Exhausted I grabbed a shower at the gym and headed back to the house, my heated skin enjoying the cold night air.

The house was quiet when I got back and I noted that Sanjay wasn’t in his lab. I moved quietly through the house, careful not to disturb anyone. I assumed Sanjay was asleep but when I walked into our room he was awake, reading something. It looked big and probably full of complicated English words I didn’t know.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hi,” I replied, heading straight for my bed to dump my used gym stuff. I went to the bathroom and got dressed and immediately winced. Apparently I had overdone it, I could feel pain spreading through my back. A quick glance in the mirror told me I’d managed to put too much stress on one of the deformed wings. A small tear had formed where the wing protruded from the skin near my shoulder blade. I must not have noticed until now thanks to the high of fighting.

I walked back to the bedroom and searched my things, looking for first aid supplies; although I wasn’t sure if i even had any.

“Are you okay?” Sanjay asked.

“Fine,” I replied. My hairs stood on end and I turned around to see he had stood up and was obviously examining my back. “It’s rude to stare you know,” I huffed.

“You’re hurt, I can help,” he offered. I ignored him at first, still searching for supplies before giving up.

“It’ll be fine. I’ll take care of it in the morning,” I said.

“You’ll wear yourself out if you keep getting hurt like this,” he muttered.

“I’ve dealt with worse,” I laughed, shrugging. I immediately regretted the movement, letting out a hiss of pain.

“Sit down, I’ll get the Medkit from downstairs,” Sanjay insisted. He left the room before I could stop him. When he returned I didn’t bother putting up anymore resistance. It felt kind of strange having someone care like this. Sure, Heppenheim and even for a short space of time, Kellen had cared for me but I knew the expected cost for that. What did Sanjay want from me?

“Done,” he said, before handing me some tablets.

“You trying to roofie me? You’re not very subtle about it,” I joked.

“They’re pain tablets,” he replied. “Label said they work fast and I figure your back and your arm is going to make for difficult sleeping.” I studied him but he had gone back to reading again. I stood up from my bed and sat on his, frowning.

“What?” he asked, sounding annoyed now.

“Nothing,” I said. I don’t know what my head is thinking today. Too much had happened. The fight with the rook. That stupid science teacher. And Vanessa who was a victim of the Syndicate. I took the pills and immediately felt them hit.

Work fast is an understatement,” I muttered. Sanjay frowned at me and I realised I’d probably spoken in German without thinking. I think Sanjay replied but I slumped into sleep too quickly. I felt something warm and soft under me and vaguely realised I’d slumped onto Sanjay, in his bed of all places. If I were more alert and not about to fall asleep I probably would’ve cracked some kind of inappropriate joke.

“I’m starting to wonder if I’m your roommate or your mum,” Sanjay sighed, his voice sounding close. It was probably the drugs but I said far more than I needed to.

“I may not know who my mum is but I do know that’s not possible. You look about twelve.”

“I’m sixteen,” he replied.

“Heh, baby. I’m seventeen,” I said.

“Yet you need my help in class all the time,” he joked. I tried to think up a good witty response but the medicine was really hitting me now. I was struggling to keep my eyes awake. At least he smelled nice.