Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Uplift Protocol: Issue 13

Issue 13: MiB

“Arthon, somehow Ritark managed to slip by the security systems of Area 51. We have a feeling its mostly due to his innate curiosity but considering his dual nature, it’s imperative that we re-acquire him immediately. The last known position we managed to scry of him puts him at a shopping complex within the city limits of North Ashbury, Texas. IRIS operatives are already en route but you can get there quicker with our Leyline Gates. We must not let the Void Walkers get him. Not only is he a citizen of Atlantis but Litari as well. The Night of 1000 Stars must not repeat itself.”-Nuul, High Muthra of Atlantis.

We need fresh genetic material for the Project. Since Earth is now under “Interdicted” status, do not, under any circumstances use any abilities other than standard Terran tech. We don’t want those IRIS nats to catch wind of what we are doing. Or those damned Typherians. It’s bad enough that our previous efforts somehow went Silent. We will eventually re-acquire that target. Until then, this other sample is quite promising. They have left the protection of Area 51 entirely. –The Director, orders to capture the subject known as “Sweetpollen.”

What is past, is prologue, but sometimes its also the future. The Ur-stone was only the beginning. I found myself on the receiving end of Atlantian symbology. Arthon is a fiery fellow. While our initial meeting wasn’t ideal, eventually we developed a rapport of respect. If I were to describe the overall team dynamic once Arthon joined: Fire vs Ice. Lorain is giving me a rather old fashioned gesture right now. If a demi team says things went swimmingly from the start: that is highly suspect. To put things politely. We all had our growing pains. Our actual demi team name was quite apt. Once we got around to it. -Sleeping in Starlight, a memoir of the 22nd century.

Area 51, Litari Embassy
Earth (US Facility, Groom Lake)
July 31st, 2092

  Ritark linked into his cover ID: Lee Amari, son of the Pacific Endurance Pact ambassador to A51. The suit still felt clunky. Its arms were ponderous but he was getting the hang of it. Everything about this containment encounter suit made him feel like a stranger floating underwater. His plain slanted brown eyes opened wider as he tested the responses. A mop of black hair was combed back in current earth fashion. He donned the rest of his walking clothing. A loose set of jeans with a simple black t-shirt. Which said “Rock On”. He sent an update message to Eliza. He dearly wished to see her again. Even for a bit.
//LA to EM: Hey! They let me out of the diplomatic wing. I'll head to New Ashbury’s Mall of America. I want to see what kind of chocolate cakes are there.//
He set the message for a time-stamped delivery. He didn’t want the Bardaxians to get wind of his little adventure. In many ways, the rules of Uplift were pretty constraining for the less humanoid type of visitors. Besides, he only wanted to see his friend again. What harm could that be anyway? He grinned at his odd human-shaped face, genuinely perplexed by its movements, why did they bare their teeth like that? It seemed far too intimidating but that’s how they all greeted one another. He liked how Eliza communicated though. He could tell what her intentions were because her mind matched her actions.
After a while, the old Basset Hound stopped trailing “Lee.” So he took his chance, using the Muthra Leyline to transport himself to the nearest anchor. His eyes drank in the sights and sounds of New Ashbury. Behind him, a man in a plain black suit, with a gray tie followed.
His dark sunglasses hiding the ominous black within black orbs eying the young Litari with cold precision.

Area 51, Typherian Embassy
Earth (US Facility, Groom Lake)
August 1st, 2092

            Arthon’s blue gaze turned toward the voice emanating from the wall screen. The Typherian Ambassador had on her standard combat gear, emblazoned with the Twin Suns of Typha, lending an air of mystery about her.  A rather tall human male, easily 6ft or more, clad in U.S Army fatigues stood protectively by. The patchwork indicated over 40 years of service. His hands were at the ready. A trained warrior. Even as young as he was, a mere 23 standard cycles, he could appreciate the resolute countenance of the man before him. He offered both a curt greeting.
            “Will I have any backup madam ambassador?” Arthon’s voice contained a note of impatience. While her face was not visible under the silver visor of her helm, her voice reached his ears quite easily. “Indeed. The United States, in the spirit of cooperation, will lend you one of its most promising trainees, The Star-Spangled Banner. Most just call her Star for brevity's sake.”
From the Ambassador’s body language, the young Atlantian could detect a slight feeling of pride, like she knew this hero somehow. For his part, Arthon didn’t care for Demis. His world had been embroiled in the conflicts of the surface for far too long. Since the days of the Throne Breaker. Arthon suppressed a shudder at the thought of Thoth. The exiled Atlantian king had much to answer for.
He gave them both another nod, “I will make haste. Our symbology places him within New Ashbury. Our people are using various cameras to pinpoint his exact location.”
She merely replied, “I have a feeling that he will pop up sooner rather than later.”

Camp Osiris, Murphy Household
USA (Texas)
August 1st, 2092

            I looked at Horus with absolute horror. “That’s not how you cook bacon!”
            The stove was a mess. He had attempted to prepare Cooper his ultimate favorite snack but in the process, burnt the ever-living junk out of the morsel. My favorite dog rounded the corner, his nose quivering, then the sneezing started in great swaths.
            He floated upwards. His ears drew back as he saw the fate of the pork product in question. Deep soulful eyes stared at the frying pan. Trying to will the meat back to perfection. Normally I didn’t do this much but the fate of the kitchen depended on it. In a flash, I cleaned up the nightmare. One: So gran-gran wouldn’t faint. Two: Mom wouldn’t laugh. Three: Dad would not know of this package’s fate. I unceremoniously dumped it all into the trash.
            As I was about to grab another offering to the Bardaxian gods, I could hear my grandparents enter the house.  Cooper pranced in circles around my head. How he kept up his weight, I would never know, do Defender belts burn that many calories?
            He started to bark, offering greetings in the ancient ways of his people, dashing off into the living room at great speeds. Grandma’s low murmuring turned to delight, “Whos a good boy! Who is? You are. Such a good boy!”
His tail indicated triumph.
I smothered a grin. “So what is the plan for today? Get Horus some cooking lessons?”
Grandma dashed to the kitchen.
With extreme irritation: “Eliza Murphy! DO NOT GIVE ME PALPITATIONS!”
My mother just pinned me in place with a look. “He’s not built for cooking my dear space cadet. From what your father tells me, he’s mostly recon.” My dad hid his grin behind his holo-news feed. While pop-pop shook his finger at me.
“Don’t scare your grandmother.” The slight twinkle in his eye wreaked a very serious tone.
Lorain and her mother entered the house as well. Along with Agustus. The corgi ruled all of heaven and earth according to Doc. His little legs kicked up a storm of clicks as his paws hit the ground. Dashing over to Cooper. They both started chasing each other around the house. My grandmother brought out her holo recorder.
Jennifer made room on the couch for both Lanis’ women. “I think its time for a family outing. Besides, you and my husband have been quite busy at the office.” Lorain frowned slightly, her expression clearing when she saw Eliza pick up both dogs, putting one on each shoulder. “Stay still! Grandma wants pictures!”
Grandpa Murphy started to choke on his coffee as his wife started positioning Eliza for the best angles. “More fun for my wall. Don’t you start Abraham!”
Eliza asked Commander Lanis, “So what kind of trouble are you and mom cooking up for today?” Ever since that trip to the Moon, Eliza had noticed a very real change in her mother, she was far more protective than ever before. Meanwhile, the Commander had been over almost every week, usually on a Friday, to discuss various things with Thomas. But after those meetings, she would usually take a moment to pull Jennifer to the side to plot even more. Lorain would send a mountain of texts, mostly consisting of:
//LL to EM: You have any idea what our parents work on at the base?//
//EM to LL: Not really. Besides my father gets this look on his face, like he swallowed a whole swarm of bees. He doesn’t get angry, he legit gets scared if I ask anything so I don’t pry. Mom will also give me the LOOK. Like she already knows. My momma’s gaze is like a well-meaning basilisk. Again, I don’t get a sense of anger at me. She’s irritated with something though. //
I glanced at my communicator. A message blinked in the corner. I tabbed it open. “NICE! Hey guys, my old penpal is at the Mall right now.” Mom and dad froze. Then my mother linked into my device. Grabbing the keys as she went, “Well let's not wait. Maybe we can beat him to the food court.”

Horus entered stealth mode and entered the vehicle. His mental calculations rining within my head. While Cooper jumped into the front seat next to me, his bright green collar had some stencil work that looked very familiar. His nametags flashed golden in the sun. He buried his black nose in my neck and makes very contented woofs. Then he found the most optimum spot to hang his head out the window.
<< I watched Animal Planet in SR HD to make sure I maintain proper Earth canine procedures.>>
Meanwhile, Lorain and her mother entered their vehicle. 

North Ashbury, Mall of America
USA (Texas)
August 1st, 2092

Cooper let out a welcoming bark as he made a bee-line for Lorain. <<YES! More joyous therapy!>> His tail was a blur of motion. She didn’t pick up on his mental speech. He’s mostly broadcasting for Horus and myself. Lorain gave him some very serious consideration then gets on eye level with him, then replied, “Who’s such a good boy? You are!”  
She bestowed a vigorous amount of chin scratches.
Cooper took this all in with the grace of a king getting his due. He buried his head in Lorain’s chest for good measure then let out some more boisterous woofs for his audience. Then he turned to the Commander. The black-furred  GSD does some joyful leaps around her then demanded some more petting, in the name of all dogs past and future.  Lorain walked over to me and took one of my arms, “Well let's get on with this mission shall we?” She looked like she was on Cloud 9, humming to herself and ever so often glancing up at me, giving off that same emotional mixture from the Grav-train incident. I focused my senses outward. The thrum of humanity echoed back. Various heartbeats. Snippets of conversation. Other dogs barking. 
I shook my head to clear it. Stay focused.
I kept giving my mother some questioning looks. Then updated them all, “Looks like he is over by the food court.”  
Mom just smiled and gave Cmd. Lanis a wink. For her part, the golden-haired navy commander gave no outward sign of glee, just an air of professionalism. But then I caught the look in her green eyes. Comradery.
A maternal conspiracy if there ever was one.
Everyone was an emotional cocktail of Concern, Excitement, and what could be called Duty or obligation. Especially from the Commander. The bright displays of the food court come into view. Along with all the smells. I can tell that’s Cooper’s favorite part. Horus, at his perch on my head once more, linked in: ((Ah! I wonder if he will go for what is called a corndog first. Is that like cannibalism for bardaxians?))
My mother took my other arm. Brought me in close so Lorain could hear too, “Once we find Lee, don’t leave his side ok?” I glanced down at her, “Of course! What will you and the commander be doing then?” There was that Look again. I held up my hands in surrender. “Alright. Got it.” Part of me was intensely curious though.  But I stomped down on it for now. Another entry for mom’s acts of weird.
She gave us both a hug. We all enter the foodcourt proper and find Lee staring at Madame Tia’s Express, a very concentrated look on his face. I called out to him, “HEY! I can give you a recommendation! Start with the Hot Tamales!” He gave me a huge smile, dashing over to us, then stopped short. Giving my mother a very worried look. His eyes locked onto the floor. With my hearing, I can pick up on the slightest whisper. He kept saying, “I didn’t mean any harm. I just wanted to see…”
The Commander walked up beside him, “Hey kid. Your family is worried you know.” He’s blanched. Nodding rapidly. “I know. I just wanted to see Eliza. She doesn’t get to come to the embassy much.” We all walked over to the tables. I raised my hand, “Ok, who wants what? Ill order!” Cooper sat down next to me, then gave me the most pitying look possible, his tail drooping for maximum effect. <<What flavor tastes best? Can I have ice cream? >> Lorain saw all this and punched me in the shoulder.
Her green eyes light up with good natured humor.
“You better feed that lovely dog of yours. Just look at him.” Lorain kissed Cooper right between his eyes.
That Bardaxian is a master. Impressive. I gave him a very serious look. “What flavor do you think he’d like? I could always buy him some chicken nug----” The lights in the food court start to sputter. My mother and the commander immediately grabbed for Lee.  A rather unpleasant miasma started to rise from the tilework beneath us.
It was laced with a dark crimson ichor. We just look at one another for a moment, then I scoop Cooper up in one go, on my left side. Then I lift Lorain off the ground, using my right arm to hoist her up onto my shoulders.
Not letting her breathe in any of that stuff. No way no how. My mother, Mary, and Lee were already on the stairway conveyor. I made a mad dash for the stairway at the center of the food court. It led to the 2nd and 3rd floors. Other people started to phase in and out. Like one of those old-time film reels. Flickering shapes. Then somewhere above us, I could hear someone talking, its voice was like sandpaper, all dry and warped:
Find the target. Let Medusa handle the IRIS irritants. Even now that damned researcher from Osiris is calling in reinforcements. Remember the Earthers must not be alerted to our presence.
From what I could tell, even on the 2nd level, most people weren’t even aware of what was happening. They just went about their business. I put Lorain and Cooper down. I could still see the miasma seeping in but for now, it remained localized to the first floor. Lorain stayed close to me, also looking over the banister, her face white as a sheet as she saw the miasma overtake the entire food court. It’s inky tendrils snaking forward as if compelled. Then she grabbed my hand in a vice-like grip.
Barely above a whisper: “Cornfed, what the hell is that thing?” I focused on where Lorain indicated, my enhanced senses capturing everything. A golden snake woman flowed through some sort of sickly gate. Her skin was cracked. Like she was shedding a second layer. Her razor-like claws dragging across the floor like some neanderthal. Her jaw extended, forked tongue tasting the air, while her eyes flashed in the semi-darkness like a cat’s.
I could hear Cooper growling deep in his chest. Barely audible but there. Then I felt a tug on my flight jacket. I clenched my teeth. Determined not to make any sudden movements or sounds that would scare Lorain. Or give away our position to the enemy.
I looked next to me.
A hand was gripping my shoulder with so much force that it nearly hurt.
Mr. Apple looked terrified. Tell your mother and the commander this word: Keepers. Do it! NOW!
“Mom, Keepers. 10 of them. All in black. Sick Auras.”
Mom’s eyes opened wide in shock. The commander nodded. “Which way Eliza?”
I spoke softly to them, “4 total on the first floor. Two with snake lady. 4 on the 2nd. Crawling along the elevator shafts. The 3rd floor has 2. Something is coordinating with them. His aura is the darkest.”
Cmd. Lanis nodded, her eyes never leaving mine.
I scanned around the mid-level plaza then find what I am looking for. I motioned for everyone to follow. My mother grasped my left hand. Nearly as hard as Mr. Apple. I didn’t realize I was speaking at all until Lorain murmured, “Betrayers?”
Mr. Apple was materializing constantly. He kept pointing towards the east.
My mother nearly tripped. We all duck inside Berry’s Sporting Goods store.
I whispered to them: “Alright, I don’t know how but it's like that time with the bombs. That weird stuff is on some of the walls is here in the mall.” Mr. Apple blinked rapidly.
Say this to your mother: The Science Division is compromised.
I do as instructed. Cupping my mouth and whispering the command into my mother’s ear. She placed a hand on the back of my neck. A weird sort of jolt runs up my spine. Mr. Apple bowed at her.
<<I am the Last Scholar of the Infinite known to Utasa Sector and beyond. Do not worry, your daughter cannot hear this. The Betrayers must not know. But neither shall the Uplifted Community. They would endanger everything in their ignorance. I tell you this because you will not reveal your own daughter’s part in all of this. She is one of the few who can detect them.>>
J’ino blinked rapidly. Then rubbed her eyes.
A Scholar, of all things, was attached to her daughter?!
Unlike Eliza, he didn’t look like Captain Cosmos to her but something akin to pure energy. His voice echoed once more in her head: <<I have shielded certain memories within Eliza. It is required. Listen to her when she talks of the Shadow Man. That is Chronos himself. But tell no one. We are not ready yet. Convergence has not arrived. Even some of your people are infected by the Keeper influence. Be cautious.>> Then the shimmering entity sunk into Eliza. Her daughter turned to look around, “The 3rd floor is clear for the moment. We should move.”
She grabbed her daughter’s hand once more. “Lead the way.”
I am never letting go. Never.
Horus filed all this away so deep, that even the council of elders wouldn’t be able to pull it out of him. Highmaker had mentioned this. Or something like it. He would not jeopardize the overall mission. They would have to destroy him first. Out of all of them, only himself and J’ino saw the Scholar. That would be for the best. Even Cooper wasn’t of the proper clearance.
Mom kept looking at me. Emotions flaring to the surface. Foremost was love. Underneath: An odd flash of serenity. Like she finally put some sort of puzzle piece together. She smiled at me, filled to the brim with encouragement, I grinned back. “Let’s see how well these MiBs can think on their feet.”
Everyone followed my lead, staying low to the ground, waiting when I stopped to listen.
I pressed my face into the cool floorboards of the side shop. I made out dark leggings. With obsidian colored shoes to match. The glossy surface showcases immaculate polish. I can hear them speaking into headsets. After a few moments, three sets of footfalls move off to the south. I slowly got up from the floor, making sure to stay within a crouched position then I scanned the room further. Using my multi-spectrum vision, I could see an emergency exit 5 stores down, in the direction the MiBs went.  Snake Lady was currently gliding one floor down, directly below us, disfigured skeleton swaying at incomprehensible angles. Bones are not meant to bend in those directions.
I indicated where all of the bad guys were at by highlighting the Holo-map of the mall. Lorain turned her gaze upward, scanning the ceiling, a smile forming when she spotted something. She took out her coms and brought up my HeroNet Profile. She highlighted the Ice Breath sub-folder. Making sure to indicate the Fire Extinguishing system. Time to put these agents on Ice then.
Lee tapped me on the shoulder. Putting his device next to mine. Then blue and green sigils flashed across the screens.
 I brought up the 3d display and write the same symbols on the communicator’s surface. It went blank for a moment like it was rebooting, then a man’s face appeared. He wasn’t much older than me or Lorain. Lee repeated some symbols into the pick-up screen. The man’s harsh face relaxed and he messaged me with a map. To the roof of the Mall. He looked kind of greek in complexion. But his eyes were an even darker blue than I normally see. His unruly black hair had a blonde streak in it. Only one other message was left on the screen:
//I have a way out but you have to get through the Pitless Ones first. Along with the Medusa. The Water of the First World is in his blood. Use it to shatter the Snake’s Coils.//
 Lorain gave the map further inspection. Then from behind the wall of clothing displays, she noticed something rather useful, the main fire breaker. It would coat the entire floor in glorious H2O! I grinned at her. Then whispered: “Think these bogus MiBs can skate?”
She grinned and took my hand.  I use my sight to check as many corners as I’m able then we walk as causally as we can to the other side of the plaza. I put on a Big Bills ballcap, complete with its silly burger mascot, to hide my glowing eyes. Then I borrowed a set of black-framed reading glasses. I figured these mooks would hone in on people that looked out of sorts. Especially with the Medusa special downstairs. We pretended to look like a family going out for a stroll with our family guide dog. We even clothed Lee in a light windbreaker. With a simple ball cap. Commander Lanis grabbed something from her pocket. The voices on the other end sounded calm. She placed the device on Lee’s neck. A holo overlay formed, changing his features.
Man, what other kinds of super-spy stuff did they have with dad’s project?
 Making convincing noises at the products on the display case in front of us. One of the MiBs glided right past us, his hand to his ear, his nondescript face, and buzz cut as immaculate as the rest of him. Almost like they were clones of each other. All the parts were there to make them look and feel human but it was like staring at a husk.
Their emotional auras were pitch black now. Mom quickly grabbed my face. Only then did I realize that my nose was bleeding. She was using her handkerchief to staunch the flow. “Next time we are getting allergy meds so you don’t blow your nose out, “ she muttered with intensity. I gave her a half hug in return. I could feel her relax against me for a moment. Everyone was tense as the other entity passed by. Linking up with its partner. They continued to patrol along the other side of the floor. Lorain pulled my head back slightly. Her hand applying gentle pressure.
Lorain made a “tut-tut” sound at me as the trio of Mooks gathered some feet away from us. 
She added: “ Just because I am going to med school doesn’t mean I'll let you fall apart on me. Free practice right, Cornfed? ” Lee gave a small laugh. His eyes kept traveling to the MiBs. I gave him a friendly punch on the shoulder.
I pitched my voice an octave lower than normal and pretended to activate an earbud,
 “Yeah yeah! I know the project is due, don’t worry Mr. Robinson, I may be a paid intern but I graduated top of my class. That financial report will be turned in tonight. I promise. Otherwise, my family will just disown me.”
Lorain gave me a mock glare, “Your damned strait Jacob!”
Good idea. That might buy us even more time. She then replied, “You cut yourself too close with these deadlines.”
Cooper used our bodies as cover to trot on over to the display, slowing inching towards the fire system on the left, as he made some rather pitiful barks. Pulling on the leash for extra emphasis, trying to paw at the hover ball display next to the truck. From downstairs, I can hear a commotion forming. Mom positioned herself next to Cooper, trying to look very stern, “No, not everything is for you!” Cooper’s tail drooped convincingly as he began to whine. Horus remained frozen upon my head. I couldn’t even feel any energy coming from him. Completely dormant.
The Commander made a tiny motion with her hands. If I hadn’t been glancing at her I wouldn’t have noticed.
The Wump! of multiple hits echoed throughout the mall. Medusa let out an ear-piercing howl. At the same moment, Cooper hurled himself upon the fire emergency mechanism and water started to pour out of all the sprinkler systems on the 2nd floor. Lorain threw herself into my arms, doing her best to mostly react to the sudden deluge, I could feel her mouth the words as she wrapped herself around my neck.
Five stores down. Ice it!
I pulled my flight jacket over my head as a makeshift umbrella. As we ran past the last five stores, right near the base of the emergency shaft, one of the MiBs made a high pitched warble of alarm. I made a motion with my nose and hands like I am sneezing, then I let my ice breath blast forth, it instantly froze everything in front of me in a coat of frost. Including the water still escaping from the sprinklers.
Hell on Icecapades.
That provided us precious moments. I pulled open the door, a silent alarm triggered in the main security office. I could feel the vibrations of it. I looked upward, the elevator itself was at the bottom floor, so I scooped up everyone in my arms and hurled myself aloft. I bypassed the 3rd floor and the maintenance floor, going straight for the roof access. I pried open the elevator doors. Then turned. I set everyone down. I called forth the plasma, shooting it outward, sealing the elevator behind me.
The sky was as normal as always. But I could hear the eerie chanting. It was coming from the strange symbols the MiB’s had placed around the whole mall. It set my teeth on edge. Then a chirping sound alerted me, it was coming from my belt:
I answered it.
General Murphy was on the other end, very concise: //Solar 1, Stall them, do not let them hurt or abduct anyone with you. The 7 Wonders and Bulleteer are here but Medusa is interfering.//
I gave my jacket to Lee, then took a few steps back, started to rapidly turn, almost as fast as a cyclone.
Then I wasn’t me anymore but the Star-Spangled Banner. Lorain nodded with some satisfaction then I looked to Cooper, “Protect them at all costs.” He nodded resolutely, his teeth pulled back in a growl. From the other side of the rooftop, a familiar shape appeared. His harsh blue gaze softened as he saw  Lee. He gave me a strange salute, with two fingers over his heart then said, “We only have a few more moments before they get here. I will form the circle of protection but I will need someone of purity to seal it with some of their blood. That is serviceable: life’s water.”
Lorain held out her hand. He pricked it with some sort of needle, the metal reflecting a turquoise color. The ground under us starts to glow. A circle formed, I could feel the heat rising from it, encasing Lorain, Cooper, Lee, and our mothers within its protection. He then wrote some symbols into the air, I could feel something glide over me, like a glove.
Then he repeated the process on himself.
The black-clad MiBs, I could see them through the walls. They were crawling up the other elevator shaft alongside the opposing side of the building. The outward shapes were human but I could see the structure underneath. The skeletal structure. 

Blood as cold as ice.
Capture the target. Unknown Power. Must study it.
It called.

Pain shot up my spine and I had to turn my gaze away from the figures.
There must be something in them that scrambled heightened senses. It would make things much more difficult for other supers to find them. Or people like me. Jesus. What have we gotten into the middle of? Well no use crying about it. We had people to protect from these things. Get your head in the game Murphy!
Mystery Man took up a defensive stance. I aimed my hands then fired a continuous blast at the other elevator, sealing that one as well, it might buy us more time. I scanned the rest of the roof area for anything else we could use….what did he say, the water of the first world. 


I grinned. A whole coolant system was right where we needed it. In a flash, I whipped around the entire roof, priming all the various fire extinguishers, ready for hell on ice 2.0. As I returned to my start position, a concussive blast created a hole in the elevator before us.  All nine of them crawled out of it. Bringing their firearms to bear down on us. I position myself in front of everyone, then give Lorain the signal to cover her ears. She grabbed Cooper and Lee, shielding them as best she could.
Mystery man’s gaze became wolfish as he yelled some sort of obscenities at the MiBs.
A thunderclap resounded in the small space as I brought my hands together. As one unit, they started to scream. Most of them dropped their firearms, one even discharged, firing up into the creature’s leg as he hit the ground. The fluid looked crimson but when it splattered, it started to sizzle and disintegrate.
No physical evidence.
The echoes traveled outward, setting off all the extinguishers, I drew in a deep breath.
I added my ice to the chaos, great swaths of it formed around the MiBs, reaching the mid-thigh. One of them shot me a glance. His pupils went completely dark.
It started to hiss at me.
Mystery Man started to chant rapidly. His body swaying with the rhythm. I could hear scratching behind me. I glanced backward and could see a clawed hand digging through the half-melted doorway.
Indignant screeches echoed from within. Muffled words.
 I encased that entryway in a thick sheet of ice. Then Lee put his hands on its cool surface. Symbols formed in rapid sequence, reinforcing the ice with some sort of rune barrier, he gave Lorain a satisfied grin. 
The sky above started to crack. Great swaths of orange and golden lightning struck all around us. Causing our would-be abductors to retreat into the elevator. Then the heavens shattered like glass. Revealing the face of Sir Avalon, Sorcerer Extraordinaire. Leader of the 7 Wonders and the Master of the Tower of Icarus. His deep baritone reverberated through our very souls:
“Summoned from the Depths, the Lost Race of Man, the First Tounge formed. Those that hide in the shadows are known, cleansing atonement, repelled! You have no power here.”
The last of the MiBs faded from my sight. Evaporating in a cloud of smoke. The last thing I see of it is those obsidian eyes, eyeing me with ill intent, then it smiled, the teeth stretching over its mouth like a parody.
“I know the taste of her tears.” Its murmur was familiar.
He began to laugh. The sound tearing at my ears.
I felt some wetness.
I brought my hand to my nose, it came away tinged with my blood.
Shadowman. With many faces.
With one last look of utter contempt, he faded completely, his gaze never wavering from mine.
The pressure all around us dissipated.
Medusa was nowhere to be found either.
In the air, unmarked hover copters descend, General Murphy was manning one of the side gunner positions. His face is a mask but then it cracked when he saw that we are safe. He lept out of the vehicle as it touched down on the roof.
Two armored individuals exit behind him. Their plain armor indicated they were a part of dad’s unit. Cooper gave a joyful bark. His tail a blur of activity. Mystery man looked at me, then back at my mother, then he offered his hand.
“I am Arthon. Atlantian Enforcer and Protector Trainee. A Muthra. As it is known in our language.”
I gripped his hand firmly. His eyes light up as Lee strode over as fast as his legs could carry him. Lorain was currently entangled in her mother’s arms. Her face showcasing a look of relief mixed with irritation. Her curiosity was an asset but I could already tell it would also cause just as much trouble. I wouldn’t want it any other way. If I was honest with myself. It was a part of Lorain I admired even if it came with many close calls and daring heroics.
Her eyes soften slightly when she catches me looking at her and her mom. I can hear her whisper: “We will talk later. Promise.” Cmd. Lanis brought her hands up to cup Lorain’s chin. Then she takes out a medical scanner. It started to beep in a continuous tone as it scanned all of her vitals. They both started arguing about safety. I refocused elsewhere to give them privacy.
Arthon gave Lee a firm handshake, then said: “This wayward charge of mine is quite the trouble. He’s an interesting case. I can’t say more for now. Until my embassy gives the go-ahead.”
I eyed them both, replying “That he is. Then again, aren’t we all? Well, that’s one myth busted. Anything else you can tell me about the strange snake lady?”
Arthon bit his lip, then said with an apologetic tone, “Sorry. I can’t say for now.” His face was flushed. He gave off sharp spikes of guilt.  I shrugged and raised my arms over my head to stretch out a bit. Then I place my hands behind my head and give him a grin of my own.
“The story of my life so far. It’s alright. From the looks of it, the less I know the better for my allies. Granted it can be pretty frustrating at times but at this point, based on my skillset:  Launch me at the problem. The bullet of justice fires ever forward. “
The Atlantian laughed as I quoted Bulleteer’s favorite catchphrase. So that meant he had some surface information. Then my mother and father approached. My father held out his hand.  I take it. Giving him a good handshake.
 “How can I help you, General?”
His battle helmet tilted upwards. It’s black tinted surface cleared ever so slightly. He’s smiling. I can tell.
“Well since we have a full military alliance with The Legion of Tomorrow now. Quite a bit.”
I braced to attention. Then I blinked in surprise as the Golden Bulleteer appeared beside me. He placed a hand on my shoulder. “Well Lt. Star, it’s going to be quite the operation. Luckily for you, we have the perfect team in mind.”
He crossed his arms and nodded to himself.
Arthon just shook his head ruefully.
Our gaze met. He gave me that polite unusual salute once more.
I barely had time to react as Lee came over and exclaimed, “Make sure to keep me up to date!” I grinned, realizing now he knows about my dual nature. “Will do! Guess this makes us Mystery Friends.”
His eyes light up at that. My mother shot him a warning glance.
Oh boy. Yup, this is going to be new territory.
I arched an eyebrow. Trying to look all official but the stupid grin on my face must have ruined the effect. I didn’t care. I cleared my throat. Then with as much command voice as I could muster: “Well that makes the roster pretty full now.” Cooper barked rapidly. He leaped into the rightmost Hover Copter. Mom was talking with my father. He nodded and motioned for Arthon to follow him into the left copter.
She walked over to the rest of us. “Well, its time to go. General Murphy has quite a few things to submit.” She poked my chest for emphasis: “We will talk later.”
I must have looked a bit nervous because she gave me a little shake. “You are not in trouble, ok?”
Mr. Apple appeared next to me. I noticed mom turn her gaze toward him. Based on her vitals, she was able to hear him speak because her heartbeat accelerated: Tell no one at your office of this. For once, you and your daughter will have something to yourselves.
I gave my mother a reassuring smile. Glad someone else knew about him now.
She gave me a rather poignant look. Then she got into the hover-copter. I joined her.  Lorain gave my hand a tight squeeze. I decided to take it in stride. The mysteries of the world would reveal themselves. Like gran-gran always said: Some flowers took a while to bloom. Whatever came next, I could face it because I wasn’t alone, the burden shared between the stars. Even though the Terran Alliance had only colonized a few systems so far, everything felt new, each breakthrough a solid promise to the future.
Still: the feeling remained.
A team.
I had a genuine team.
Even if I didn’t quite know how Arthon would fit into things. Or even Lee. All this time. He had demi powers. Actual magic like Sir Avalon. Well, maybe not quite the same. Avalon didn’t need to make symbols in the air. He commanded the very sky and lighting to his will. There was so much I didn’t know but I wanted to find out.
Atlantis was real. Imagine that.
J’ino sent out various encoded missives as Horus remained inert on Star’s head. She knew why of course. So the others in the know wouldn’t realize he was here at all. From a hidden compartment in her amulet, she pulled out a small ivory ring, after everyone else had disembarked, it was only her and Star remaining. She held it up, “Once this goes on your finger, tell no one about it, understood?”
Star nodded, her shimmering golden eyes burning with the power of the cosmos, as she put it on her right hand. Sliding it along her index finger. J’ino activated the combined Atlantian and Typherian codifiers. She would have to thank Lady Sul-Sandra for this gift later. Even the Atlantians had tricks that her people weren’t aware of yet.
She relayed a message to the ring:
<<As long as you wear this you can send messages to me with your thoughts, usually this is given to certain parties to make communication’s swifter, but in our case, I primarily want you to use it for keeping tabs for me. About any kind of Shadowman movement. Got it?>>
Eliza’s whole demeanor changed, excitement and a sense of duty took over, she replied, << You got it! It’s like having a secret decoder ring. Does dad have one too?>>
J’ino nodded. <<Yes, but say nothing. Remember, you do not know of any of this.>>
The Star-Spangled Banner stared down at her. <<Yes Ma’am.>>
The Typherian ambassador gripped her amulet. Wishing for the day she could show her true face to her daughter. She reached out and hugged Eliza with all the strength she had. Star’s eyes widened with the sheer ferocity of emotions boiling under the surface. <<I promise you, mother, I won’t fail. I'll protect everyone. No matter what happens. Its what we do!>>
J’ino held her breath.
Rulers protect my daughter from the trials ahead.