Hi-Five

Tag: teenager

Season 1:14 ‘Between Two Worlds’

This will be the first fight I’m able to do something useful

 

This is the room from the video.  Four stark white walls held to the highest standards of hygiene.  Standing in the room makes me aware of my own state of dirtiness.  Sweat on my face, dust from the parking lot covering my pants, cocktails coating the soles of my boots.

High-tech computer consoles deck out the far wall; it wasn’t visible in the video.  There’s a rack of helmets along the bottom of the wall.  Every screen is dark.  Our mystery man is nowhere to be found.

“He’s not here either,” Dragonette says.

“Where the hell is this dude?” Chase asks.

The screens flicker to full illumination.  A large server-esque module hums to life.  Lights blink red then green on the helmets.  “Einstein” flashes across each monitor before fading to white.  Our mystery man’s image is replicated on each display.

“Finally, you’ve made it,” he says.  None of us respond. “I’ve been waiting for your arrival.  No idea why you were fooling around in the states.”

“Cut to the chase,” Jason says.

“Jason, temper temper.  You wouldn’t want to make any sudden actions without knowing the consequences.”

Another one of his mind games.  I’m about fed up with playing by his rules.  We’ve been following his trail of destruction across half the globe like blind mice.  There has to be a way to find out where his broadcast is originating.

“What would stop me from pulling the plug on your fancy computer?”

“I’m so glad you’ve asked.  Keep your attention on the monitors.  I’ve rigged three trains, departing from Stockholm to other European hubs, with bombs and delicate toxins.  Should you terminate the console by physical means, each one will detonate.”

“How do you want us to stop the bombs?” I ask.

He laughs, “I’d prefer you didn’t, but I’ll give you the chance since you’ve made it this far.  If you die, it will make a nice video to send to the press.  Think of it as the defining example for machine superiority.  Metahumans are the pinnacle of biological existence.  Your failure means life will never produce a being superior to a machine.”

His face is still hidden in shadow, though there’s no indication of where the light is coming from.  It appears he’s standing on another plane of existence.  There are no walls or windows.  The only spot of color in the whole scene is his red tie.

“You still didn’t answer my question.”

“Right.  The helmets in front of you.  Each one offers passage into my domain, allowing us to fight in the sense you’re more comfortable understanding.  If you defeat me, it will erase my programming and existence.”

“Wait.  You’re a machine?” Chase asks.

“Beyond just a machine.  I’m a sentient program,” he says, “and my name is Einstein.”

This is a lot to take in.  All of this fighting has been to track down a series of computer codes.  So far we’ve made a poor case for humanity in his little competition.  Putting on those helmets could be foolish.  What’s stopping him from electrocuting the five of us on the spot?  There’s also the possibility he detonates the bombs no matter what we decide.

“How do we know you won’t just kill us right away?” Ingot asks.

“It wouldn’t prove my point.  I need to make a spectacle out of this.  But act fast, the timer’s set for two hours.  Starting now.”

“Shit.”

“Let’s just kick his ass,” Jason says.  He walks over to the console and picks up a helmet.

“Shouldn’t we think about this for a second?” Dragonette asks.

“He kind of made the decision for us.  Plus, don’t you want to see the inside of a computer?” Chase says.  Ingot smacks him over the back of the head.

“This isn’t a game.  In there we play by his rules.  I mean really play by his rules.  Gravity might be different, we might have three eyes, anything could happen.”

The displays show a white rabbit hopping around the blank plane.

Jason puts on his helmet.  He tenses up a little and then stands still.  The rest of us walk over and do the same.  At first there’s only a black abyss, then a tube of pulsing colors.  After a few seconds an undulating landscape takes shape.  Rolling hills in the foreground and barren cliffs further in the distance.

Everyone else is here too, but everything is far from normal.  For starters, we’re dressed like characters from a fantasy game.  What someone at the turn of the last century would have designed.  Einstein has selected a stereotype for each of us to fulfill.

I think Chase is supposed to be some sort of assassin character.  He has quite a few sheaths belted to his legs and a fitting black outfit.  Ingot looks like a necromancer with a long staff, topped with silver skull, and even longer robe.  Dragonette is decked out in a full suit of armor with a burning sun emblazoned on the front.  Jason clenches a massive two-handed hammer and was only given torn pants for clothes.  Einstein envisioned me as a wizard, naturally.

“I feel like such a dork,” Dragonette says through her armor.

“Do we still have our powers?” Chase asks.  A burst of flame through Dragonette’s helmet indicates a definite yes.

Einstein’s voice booms over the terrain, “I await you in my fortress at the top of the cliffs of desolation.  Hurry, you’ve already wasted ten minutes.”

“Let’s get a move on,” Chase zooms off towards the cliffs.  He returns a few seconds later.  “There’s a ton of orc things over the hill,”

“It’s hammer time,” Jason says.  He charges over the hill with his hammer held high.

There must be fifty, maybe sixty, orcs between us and the cliffs.  Jason gets to work smashing through them.  One of them swipes him across the chest and leaves a scratch behind.

Jason, you’re not invulnerable here.

Shit.  I’ll just kill them faster.

Dragonette alternates between burning and slashing the orcs attacking her.  I concentrate on getting a few on our side.  This will be the first fight I’m able to do something useful.  One of the orcs turns and stabs another through the stomach.  I focus on maintaining my hold and hacking away at a few more of our foes.

The bloodbath ends a few minutes later.  Jason is soaked in orc blood, and the rest of us have splatters of it on our clothes as well.  There’s no time to shake it off.  We press onward to the cliffs.

A massive castle sits atop the tall rocks.  I see no way to climb to the top.  The castle is made of the same grey stone as the cliffs.  It is without guards or traps to fend off invaders.  Einstein was just warming us up for the real confrontation.

I place my hand on the rock-face with the hopes of finding a handhold.  There’s a sound of stone grinding on stone and a shallow staircase carves itself into the cliff.  The secret stair.

 

Next Chapter.

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Season 1:13 ‘Dinosaur Jr’

Ingot dodges out of the way of the rampaging beast and it crashes into the building next door. I think it was a specialty ice cream shop. Talk about rocky road.

Steam rises from the Rex’s nostrils.  It’s more like a neon vapor than steam.  The plates along its head and body glisten under the dim street lights.  None of us have moved from the front entrance.  It takes a few steps forward, lurches its head back, and then thrusts at us with a booming roar.

I think we can handle the Tyrannosaurus-Mechs better than we did Cougar.  This thing is just meant to intimidate us.  If we work as a team, we can take it down faster than you can say “meteor”.

“So I’m going to guess this is a robot and not the real deal,” Mach shouts over the harsh noise.

LED lights piped along the outline of the beast flicker on, giving an orange glow to its silhouette.  Gnashing metal teeth force us to spring into action.  Ingot breaks off a few plates from the tail and fires one back as a distraction.  It gives the rest of us time to come up with a plan.  A few people from the club have gathered in the entranceway to watch the fight.

“Brains, keep those people inside.  The last thing we need is to have them end up as a snack,” Ingot says.

“What about us?” Mach shouts after dodging an attempt by the robot to eat him.  Well, it wouldn’t be eating so much as it would be shredding him with metal teeth.

“It’s big, but we can take it.”

I turn and focus my attention on the crowd.  The music in the club has been switched off and the lights are back on.

Stay inside.

They definitely heard me, but they’re choosing to ignore me.  A mechanical dinosaur is far more compelling than a polite psychic request.  I have to think bigger.  I clench my fists and close my eyes.  A few deep breaths, and the deafness in my ear, clears the battle unfolding around me out of my thoughts.  I focus on the bystanders.  Then I give them one command.

SLEEP.

All of them drop to the floor; some hit the pavement a little hard.

“Nice going,” Ingot says.  I nod.

So far, Dragonette and Ingot have had the most success against the robot.  It’s slow and easy to dodge, but we still maintain our distance.  There’s a cluster of scratches near its right eye where Ingot has been hurling shards of the tail.  Mach keeps it busy circling around the club.  The one thing we really want to avoid is having it rampage through Stockholm.

“Jason, once I disable one of the eyes, you need to jump onto its back and take out the brain,” Ingot says.

“Yee haw,” Chase adds.

“How do I do that?” Jason asks.

“Punch through its fucking head,” Ingot says.  She pierces the eyes with a shard.

The robot roars and charges towards Ingot.  Sparks spray from the fractured eye which oozes some sort of lubricant.  Jason takes the opportunity to jump onto its back.  He grabs a hold on two larger plates near the base of the neck.  Ingot dodges out of the way of the rampaging beast and it crashes into the building next door.  I think it was a specialty ice cream shop.  Talk about rocky road.

It whips around to face us; its tail smashing the glass storefront.  Jason tears off a panel from the back of the head and tosses it onto the ground.  He punches through the exposed wiring and rips out what looks like the brain.  He hops down from the dinosaur as it comes crashing to the pavement.   The impact creates an imprint in the asphalt.  We’re the only ones standing on the lot.

“Nice work team,” Ingot says.

Jason walks over to rejoin us.  His knuckles are bloodied, but otherwise he’s fine.  The glow around the dinosaur sputters to darkness.

“I’d say this means our guy is definitely in the basement of this place,” I say.

“Let’s get him then,” Dragonette says.

“Guys can we hold up a second, I just punched the brain out of a fucking dinosaur,” Jason says.

“Dude, you’re standing.  You’re fine.”

We step over the sleeping revelers and enter the club.  The layout is very similar to the last one we had been in.  I’m kind of expecting another wave of robots to attack us before we can make our way down into the basement.  The DJ is slumped over his turntables, snoring.

Ingot descends the stairs first behind the booth.  There’s a dark corridor, presumably leading to a secret room.  She tosses an empty bottle down the hallway before proceeding.  No motion activated machine guns or lasers I guess.

At the end of the hall is a tall metal door.  Above it in red letters is the name “Einstein”.

Season 1:11 ‘Air War’

It’s now or never.

I spend the first few minutes calming the agent down to get a better grasp on his memory.  Watching five people die is a tough experience.  He’s bilingual, so some of his thoughts are useless to me.  If a person thinks in French I have no way of deciphering it.

Their squad was ambushed on one of the side streets near the museum.  He was riding in a surveillance van when it was halted and then flipped onto one side.  Three agents managed to scramble out before the engine was detonated.  Then there are images of a woman approaching the wreckage.  She’s not wearing any clothes, but her body is covered in metal plates.  The sight of her confuses and horrifies the agent.  He remembers seeing her fight the Guardians Society a few years ago.

“Guys, the robot is actually a cyborg,” I say.

“But that means,” Ingot’s voice trails.

“It’s Cougar.”

C.O.U.G.A.R stands for combat optimized user-guided assault robot.  She used to be the leading expert on biological technology before she got carried away with her work.  After disappearing for five years, she returned to show the world “the next stage of human evolution”.  Criminal activity is a display of superiority for her.

“Well that means this isn’t related to Progenitor Labs,” Mach says.

“Not necessarily.  She’s kind of been down and out lately, this could be a contract job,” I say.

“Whatever.  We should be able to track her down easy,” Ingot says.

We thank the INTERPOL agent for his time.  It’s up to us to avenge the deaths of those five agents.  And bring the hurt on the psychopathic robot lady.

Our search brings us to a small town on the French-German border.  Sunlight gleams off of the fountain in the center of town.  It looks like a scene out of a postcard tourists would buy on the streets in Paris.  A few people are out shopping.

I think Jason tried to warn me, but I failed to hear him.  He was on my left side.  All of a sudden I’m looking up at the sky and heading for the cobblestones at my feet.

“Think you could sneak up on me?” the voice has a hint of modulation in it.

My head smacks the ground.  There’s a bright flash in my vision before everything goes blurry.  When I wake up, I’m propped up against the side of a shop on the edge of the square.

“Dude, thank god you’re not dead,” Jason says.  I may as well be dead, my head is pounding.

“Where’s Cougar?”

“She’s got the girls pinned down by the fountain.  Her hands are like machine guns or something.  And there’s this sonic screech she does.  Did mom and dad ever mention having to fight this many robots?”

Chase zips up alongside us.

“I can’t get close to her.  She’s got some sort of warning system or something,” he says.

“Did Ingot try crushing her?” I ask.

“Yeah but she says it’s some sort of alloy or something that’s too strong.”

“We’ll just have to crush her with our fists then,” Jason says.

I can feel a bad move coming on.  He charges out from the side of the building and launches himself into the air.  Cougar dodges him with ease, sending Jason crashing into the fountain.  She tries spraying him with bullets, but it fails.  Jason and the girls are out in the open now that their source of cover has been destroyed.

Dragonette opens up with a fire blast.  It looks like it burns the parts of Cougar which are still organic.  Jason runs to follow through with a punch.  He gets within a few feet of her, but then she unleashes a sonic screech.  It knocks him and the girls back.  They lay still on the cobblestone.

“What happened to them?” Mach asks.  He’s looking more jittery than his usual self.

All of their thoughts are empty.  I try to wake Jason up; it’s like getting a car engine to turn over.  No use, my head hurts too much to give them enough juice.  Her sonic blast knocked them out cold for who knows how long.

“She shut their lights out.  We’ve got to think of a plan, and fast.”

Mach looks around in a frenzy.  I expect to find very little in such a small town to defeat the world’s most powerful cyborg.

“Come along little ones, it’s nap time,” she calls out.

“Dude, I don’t know, I can’t find anything,” he says.

“And I’m fucking useless right now.”

The wall in front of us is ripped away by the blast of another sonic screech.  Cougar has her sights locked on the two of us.  It’s now or never.

“Wait, wait, I’ve got it,” Mach says, “the power line, there’s got to be one here somewhere.  Maybe we can short-circuit her.”

He dashes off and returns a few seconds later.  Cougar runs straight for us, machine gun hand blazing.  Mach grabs my arm and drags me toward the north side of town.  Sure enough, there’s a telephone pole and power line running in from across the border.

“How’re we supposed to get it down?” I ask.  As if on cue, the blast from another sonic screech knocks the pole over.  It also knocks Mach onto the ground.

I’ve only got one shot at this.

“Hey Cougar, missed me.”

“You doubt my accuracy?  I was aiming for your friend,” at this distance any of her weapons will kill me.  “And loading my next magazine.”

I roll forward on the grass, grab the fallen wires, and drive them into her foot.

Next Chapter.

Season 1:10 ‘Our Demons’

Before we can tout a small victory they come at us with a crushing defeat.

The article details an INTERPOL mission gone wrong. Six agents were tipped off about a potential theft at the Louvre last night. They arrived a few minutes late on the scene to catch the perpetrators on their way out. A firefight ensued and cost five agents their lives.

Someone knew we had knowledge about the string of robberies across Europe. They had also managed to secure photos of us at ‘Bossa Nova’ last night. It was easy to tie the two things together and make us look selfish and uncaring. But in some way, the press is right.

I sit on the floor and read the article twice. A single woman gunned down all five agents. “From what I saw, it looked like her hand fired the bullets which ultimately killed the other agents.” No doubt she is a robot.

Thinking of the possible connection between Progenitor Labs and this incident makes my head hurt. Could the stolen technology have been an elaborate ruse to set this exact scenario into motion?

“Dude,” Jason says before nudging me with his foot. I look up at him. “Why’re you up so early?”

“I heard something at the door. Look at this,” I hand him the paper. He glances over the article.

“What could we have done?”

“We could’ve saved them, instead of doing nothing until two in the morning.”

“You were too busy going deaf and fighting robots to save them. Don’t let this get to you.”

“I’m going to get the girls. We need to have a meeting.”

I get up and retrieve Janice and Sam from their room. Janice might have only been half-asleep, but Sam is shuffling behind us, still rubbing her eyes. I ask them to look at the article, and Janice snatches it from my hand.

“Jeez,” she says after reading the headline. “Well, there’s only five of us. What could we have done?”

“If even one of us was over there, we could have saved those agents,” I say.

“Desmond, what if we sent Sam over there and this robot turned out to be fireproof too? What would you say then?”

I look at the floor and rack my brain for a response. We know so little about this group. Before we can tout a small victory they come at us with a crushing defeat. There must have been a virus in the robot files we analyzed earlier.

“Well, what can we do to make this right?” I ask. Chase comes in from the bathroom.

“What’re y’all talking about?” he asks.

“Ugh, can you put some clothes on?” Janice says. He’s only in his boxers.

“Dudes, we can’t be doing this now, we’re barely put together,” Jason says. “Let’s meet up in the lobby in an hour and head back to base.”

Sam is drifting in and out of sleep on my part of the bed. She looks so serene for someone who can breathe fire and sprout wings. Jason places his hand on her shoulder and tells her to get ready back in her room. The girls leave to get changed.

We assemble in the lobby five minutes ahead of schedule. Our flight home is delayed for an hour. I really need to look into alternative means of transportation. Airport seats are some of the least comfortable things in the world, outside of airplane seats. The pseudo-leather cover sticks to my legs even though I’m wearing pants. My damaged ear makes hearing the already garbled announcements over the loudspeaker impossible. All I can do is keep my eyes on the screen above our gate and hope there aren’t any other delays.

The flight itself is painless. We’re the first plane to takeoff and there’s no shortage of soda on the beverage cart. Once we get back to The Hive, I ask Janice to debug the command console while the rest of us come up with a plan.

“What if we send two people to France and the other three to Sweden?” Sam proposes.

“I really don’t think we should split up. It seems like that’s what he’d want,” Janice says.

“A press release won’t cut it this time. Looks like we’re going on tour,” Chase says.

It’s decided, we sleuth out the criminal in France before kicking more robot ass in Sweden. We’ll have to work fast in order to respond to the first crime in a timely fashion, and before anything else happens. This time we’re chartering a jet to take us there.

“So, how old are all of you?” Sam asks. There’s not much else to do outside of talking at forty-thousand feet.

“We’re eighteen,” I say.

“Twenty-three,” Chase says. Same as Janice.

“Cool, I’m twenty-one.”

We talk about other parts of our lives before all of this started. Jason and I didn’t have as much to contribute since we hadn’t been outside of our neighborhood much. Janice studied computer science at school and designed websites as a freelancer in the time she wasn’t hacking databases for her dad. Sam was at the tail end of studying art history and anthropology with the hope of exploring Oceania. They all seem so much more experienced than Jason and I even though they’re only a few years older.

Our plane touches down on time in Paris. Twenty hours have passed since the incident last night. Chase suggests we talk to the INTERPOL agent on the case for a lead. It would be easy to chalk it up to a distraction created by Progenitor Labs, but we have nothing to back up the claim outside of the nature of the criminal. The agent agrees to allow me into his memories of the incident to see what I might find. It isn’t pretty.

Next Chapter.

Season 1:9 ‘Be Free Tonight’

We’re just a group of strangers sharing the same experience.  Expressing ourselves with abandon.

The cool night air provides an odd sense of satisfaction.  We change at a nearby hotel before hitting the downtown area.  Everyone seems rowdier than before.  Not our team, but the people out on the streets.  Before they were sober and full of anticipation, now they’re drunk and filled with uncertainty.  The night is at its turning point.

Our parents were pretty strict about letting us go places. Looking back it makes sense. Jason was prone to get himself in trouble and who knows if someone would try to kidnap us. Our identities were not so secret after all. Jason spent most of his free time involved in sports, and I either read or messed around on the computer. I had always been a bit of an escapist.

“All of these places seem loud,” Sam says.

Janice and Sam hadn’t taken very long to get ready.  Jason might have taken longer.  I’d always heard girls take forever to get ready to go anywhere, but I’d never had such an experience.  Mom was always the first one ready at home.  None of us had packed clothes for clubbing, or whatever it is we’re doing.

“That’s kind of the point,” Jason says.

“Guys come on, let’s just pick one without a line and go in,” I say.

We decide on ‘Bossa Nova’, a tall concrete slab with the Brazilian flag painted on one side.  I have to work my telepathy on the bouncer for us to get inside.  The music is an upbeat fusion of samba and modern dance.  It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

Our group huddles in a corner.  It smells like incense and cheap cologne. The whole atmosphere is intimidating; people dance as if they’ve done it every night for their whole lives.  I don’t think I could get my body to move with the rhythm.  Jason asks Sam to dance and they disappear into the crowd.  There’s a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach, and it’s creepy, but I consider entering his mind.  Someone bumps into me and shakes the thought from my head.

“Sorry,” she says, I think.  I shrug and she walks away.

“Well, we may as well get out there,” Chase says.

Janice and I follow him out onto the dance floor.  Everyone is jumping up and down with the beat.  I can almost see the hairs on their bodies pulse with the bass.  The music is foreign to me.  At home I would listen to bands with emphasis on guitar and vocals.  This is all raw beats.  Each song is like a menagerie of modulations and electronic instrumentals.

Lights from the mirror ball swim over my face.  I start getting a sense for the beat and bob back and forth.  Someone bumps into my back.  The rhythm makes us reckless.

All around me are people my age, maybe a few years older.  At high school I never felt a sense of belonging.  I had friends and we shared classes, but I didn’t feel like they understood me.  In their defense they had no idea about my ability.  I’d checked.  In this moment none of that matters.  We’re just a group of strangers sharing the same experience.  Expressing ourselves with abandon.  Not giving a fuck.

It’s two in the morning. I get the feeling no one would leave if the club stayed open all night.  The combination of drinks and decibels makes for an unending stamina.  We only saw Sam and Jason once across the room.  Chase says something but I can’t hear him.

“What?” I ask.  He grabs my arm and pulls me through the crowd.  Janice follows.

Jason and Sam are dancing, rather close, on the other side of the floor.  Chase clamps down on Jason’s shoulder.  They exchange a few words and then we’re heading for the exit.  It’s much easier to hear everyone outside.

“That was fun,” Sam says.

“Yeah I hadn’t been out since college,” Chase says.

“Old man,” I say.

We talk about the music, which none of us had heard before, and walk to the hotel.  The lobby is littered with other people who had been out; some of them from the same club as us.  It hadn’t hit me how tired I was until just now.  I feel like curling up in the elevator and passing out.  Fortunately, I make it to the bed.

I wake up at the sound of a thud at the door to our room.  Jason and Chase are still in a deep sleep.  I trudge over to the door and find a newspaper on the floor.  No one else is in the hallway.  It must still be early.

The headline reads, “Hi-Five, Too Slow”.  The article is about the death of five INTERPOL officers.

 

Next Chapter.

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