Mayella Island, North Atlantic International Waters – Friday, the 22nd of June 2012. 05:45 PM.
He tried to kill you, but I killed him first.
Still reeling from Samael’s attack, it took Radiant a second to absorb what the teenage girl told him. His head still swam, his breath came in rattling puffs, and he had to verify the status of his helmet’s integrated tech to ensure he hadn’t misheard. He came here to protect that girl. To keep her safe from the Sleepwalker and Samael, help her deal with the threat and see her safely back to the island. She had become his responsibility.
He squeezed his eyes shut in dismay, feeling the crushing weight of the world on his shoulders. For better or worse, all his efforts to avoid killings and the political fallout of their aftermath had been for naught. He was still struggling to process what had just happened.
“You shouldn’t have risked your life for me,” he gasped out to the girl who was hovering in front of him. “I was hoping to avoid this. The killing.”
“But you couldn’t,” she shot back. “I waited to see if he would talk to you first. He approached from above, going straight for the kill. If I hadn’t countered his power with mine, he would have crushed every bone in your body.”
Somewhere deep inside, he knew that she was right. The confrontation had been unavoidable. Their timely withdrawal would have delayed it, but for how long? Samael had never listened to reason before, especially not when it came from Radiant. Their fates were set to clash the day Radiant decided to believe in Dancer rather than demonize her.
Currently he wasn’t sure how much he still believed in her– she was undoubtedly dangerous, and as far from Shanti’s altruistic, peace-loving mindset as the sun was from the moon – but he still wasn’t willing to give up on her. Not even now, even though her decision to kill Samael was inevitably going to cause a political apocalypse.
He could only hope the other heroes shared his perspective. He had his doubts about Rune, who had only reluctantly agreed to give her a chance instead of pumping her full of Power Zero at the first opportunity, as the European Union had demanded.
“Thank you, Sarina,” he said, breaking the tense silence that hung between them. “I didn’t want this to happen, but I appreciate that you looked out for me. We’re going to have much to talk about. I hope you understand that Samael’s death is going to have consequences – for you, for me, for everyone I work with.”
Dancer cocked her head, looking down at the crumpled body that lay in the crimson snow far below them, enclosed by a corona of dead silver ribbons. This was the reality of most battles involving superpowers – the better prepared party or the one that struck first ended the fight in seconds.
“Emily’s with the UNEOA, isn’t she?” Dancer asked, her bruised face overshadowed by the dark clouds that coalesced above them both.
“Yes, and we have to assume they know about Samael already. All Covenant heroes are equipped with life monitors. Let’s be smart about this. We’ll work Emily’s rescue out on the island.”
She frowned. “I shouldn’t come with you. Legion is looking for me, right? Patrick was keeping me hidden from everyone, but now that he’s no longer with me… let’s just say I don’t want to lead Legion straight to your island.”
“We have safeguards in place, and he won’t catch up with you so fast,” he assured her. “We do need to talk. And you might want to get some rest before you speak to your brother.”
The mention of David took the hard edge from her face. For a heartbeat she was a seventeen year old girl again, swept up by events that were too much for her. “He’s coming soon, right? He’s just returning the car?”
“He’ll be gone for a few hours at most.” Radiant assembled a reassuring smile, enjoying the way it lit up her eyes, erasing her doubts. The girl he’d pledged to find, the one he swore to protect was still somewhere in there, he knew. A minute ago she might have turned down his help. Now she would hopefully be willing to work with him instead of undoing all his efforts to maintain peace.
“We’ll take care of things here.” He looked down at Samael’s broken body one more time before averting his gaze. “I’ll ask Checkmate to come pick you up.”
To his relief, she didn’t protest.
Athena did, however—in her own way, using a channel that went directly to his ear bud and couldn’t be overheard by anyone else. “Are you wondering how she did it?” Her voice was as cold as the starlight that was her new home. “She emulated his power. Extreme localized changes in air pressure. The fact that she did it so easily after watching him do it once should give you pause.”
“I’ll take it into consideration,” he replied, well aware that Sarina was listening. “I appreciate the information. Right now, though, we need to figure out how we’re going to salvage the recorded footage, and what we’re going to do with it. The world will want to know what happened here.”
“It took her a fraction of a second to not only copy his power,” Athena retorted, “but to decide she was going to kill him. Does that give you pause? I appreciate that she intervened on your behalf, but her power gave her other options, and you had the option of listening to me and getting out. Do not give her encouragement and a pat on the head because you somehow still see Shanti in her.”
“That’s not what I’m doing,” he argued, swallowing the painful memory that Alexandra and Jordan – Samael – had been friends and perhaps more. She had a point, but this wasn’t the time or place to be arguing over it.
Sarina tilted her head at him. “Is there a problem?”
“Nothing that can’t be worked out,” he told her, pointing at the nearest settlement that was still lush and green, beyond the Sleepwalker’s area of influence. “If you head down to the town over there, and I’ll ping Checkmate to come pick you up. Kathy will take care of you until we find the time to talk.”
Sarina stared at him for a second before nodding. “Okay. See you there.” She vanished and reappeared several hundred feet away, giving him another long look over her shoulder before she teleported herself to the indicated location. Something about her expression had changed during that final moment. He didn’t know what it meant, but he assumed that if it mattered, he was going to find out.
Following suit, he beamed himself into the air a hundred feet above her and relayed Sarina’s position through his armband to Checkmate.
“Dancer will to have to wait,” Athena told him through the ear bud, reverting back to her professional tone. “Morpheus and I located Mascot. She is floating in the Pacific, alive but severely wounded.”
If her intention was to distract him from Dancer, she had succeeded. His pulse sped up. “You found her just now? If you give her position to Checkmate–”
“We don’t have the exact position,” she cut in. “Our combat units do not have sufficient fuel to continue the search. One of the beacon drones got a visual before running out of energy. We need you to verify her exact position and call Checkmate in.”
“I’m going,” he said. “Coordinates, please.”
The requested information flashed across his visor. He did a last check on Dancer to verify that Checkmate had arrived by her side before beaming himself seven thousand miles to the southwest, traversing half of Europe, the Pacific and North America in the blink of an eye. He materialized in a cloudless sky that was lit by a brilliant sunrise. All around him were luminescent shades of blue, gold and orange, reflected by the vast sapphire ocean below.
Since he had seen nothing but encroaching storm clouds for the past hours, the sunrise renewed his hope that his heroes would push through the current crisis and continue to build a better future. A reunion with Christina was sure to lift their spirits.
Not wasting any time, he identified the exact position Athena had given him and scanned the nearby ocean, moving several feet above the water in short bursts. Iris displayed the flow and relative speed of the currents, helping him to identify the direction the castaway Guardian might have been swept off to.
It took him a few minutes to locate her. She was submerged to her chest, clinging to what appeared to be a small wooden table to keep herself afloat as she drifted in the water. Her hooded sweatshirt looked to be the same one she’d worn the day she disappeared, though it was torn and stained with blood now. Her face was pale and her eyes closed, her cheek sticking to the table’s surface.
“Christina!” he shouted, his brief spell of optimism ended by the sight of her helpless drifting. Nothing about her suggested that she was still alive.
No reaction came.
Radiant absorbed energy from the sunrise and burst forward in a rush of brilliance, lighting up the sky above and the ocean below him. He let himself drop into the water and stabilized his position ahead of the floating table, fighting the pull of the current with his own body. Christina’s face was now inches from his own. Close enough to see that she had a mangled, bloodied pair of sneakers, tied together by their shoelaces, secured about her neck.
If Radiant hadn’t been so concerned about her well-being, he might have given the shoes more than a passing thought. They were too large to fit her size.
“Christina,” he called again, softer this time.
She lifted her head with visible effort. Her eyes cracked halfway open at him, but only began to focus on him when he spoke again. She was not shivering, and given how cold the water was to him, she should have been. She’d been in it much longer than he had.
“I’m Radiant,” he told her. “Athena found you. I’ve come to pick you up. Can you hear me?”
“Radiant?” she croaked. She attempted to say something else, but her words were broken by a hacking cough. Her chin sank to the table again, her fingers tightening about its edge.
He tuned back into the channel Athena had used to contact him. “Can you see my exact position? I’m with her now. She needs urgent medical attention.”
The response was prompt, but the words were quiet and mingled with static. “I see you, but the signal is too weak to pinpoint your exact position. I will work something out and let you know before you summon your Teleporter.”
No wonder. We’re in the middle of an ocean.
He lifted his arms onto the table, steadying it so it didn’t crash against him with each rise of the waves. “Thank you for being here with me. Could you inform the others that I’ve found her?”
Athena didn’t respond. He pictured her in her tiny shuttle among the stars, fingers flying across her control desk in a frenzy as she worked to fix too many problems at once. No, he couldn’t fault her for keeping communication to a bare minimum.
“Christina? Are you still with me?” He curled his fingers around one of her clammy hands.
“I’m here.” Her words were barely intelligible. “Haven’t fallen asleep yet.”
The next wave that lifted them up was a big one. Radiant held on tight to the girl’s arms, keeping her from slipping further into the ocean as the wave tossed them back down. Her fingers wrapped around his wrist with surprising firmness.
“Don’t fall asleep.” He gave her a gentle nudge. “Want to tell me what happened while we wait for Athena to get her big fishing pole?”
Her eyes cracked open. “I killed Gentleman.”
Keeping her gaze steady on him, she whispered, “Yeah. Sorry. Beat you to it.”
He squeezed her hands with his own. “You’re sure it wasn’t one of his illusions? Gentleman feigned his death before.”
“I’m sure.” Another cough, more violent than before, forced her to withhold the rest of the story until she could breathe easily.
Radiant watched over her, keeping her stable and secure on their shared piece of flotsam while the news sank in. The victory this young heroine had scored for their team – no, for every person on Earth – was more impactful than she could possibly know. It put an end to a long series of schemes and manipulations that had affected everything from mass media to international politics.
My family is safe. The thought released him from the fear he’d carried around since the day he found Gentleman sitting on his brother’s couch. It was invigorating.
“I’ll let everyone know. What you accomplished is worthy of the Medal of Honor,” he told the girl when her coughs died down. “I only wish I could have been there to see it. Wait for me before you deal with Legion, all right?”
His words didn’t produce the smile he had hoped for. Christina’s face fell, initiating an uncomfortable silence that hung between them until he broke it.
“Is this Gentleman’s desk we’re dangling from?” Spoken aloud, the joke wasn’t nearly as funny as it seemed in his head. But at least it got her talking again.
“I don’t know. Maybe. The whole place blew up after I got out.”
“You don’t sound happy about it. Is something wrong?” He regretted the question the instant it left his mouth. The girl was floating in the middle of the Pacific, more dead than alive, so things had obviously gone wrong.
Her hand let go of his arm to clutch one of the sneakers that hung from her neck. “I need to know something. No bullshitting. Did the Sleepwalker surge?”
As much as Radiant wanted to calm and reassure her, he didn’t have the heart to fob her off with a lie. “Yes. We’ve already dealt with him. Why do you ask?”
“How did you deal with the Sleepwalker?” Her voice was quiet again, nearly drowned out by the murmur of the ocean.
“We found Dancer. Would you like me to introduce you to her when you’re feeling better?”
Christina didn’t respond. She rested her head on the table again, shutting her eyes. Radiant checked the water around them for traces of blood and was relieved to find none. The girl had managed to stay conscious for this long; now she just needed to stay with him a little longer.
Come on, Athena. We’re pressed for time.
“Stay with me, all right?” He rubbed Christina’s shoulder with his palm. “You and Dancer have both accomplished things most everyone thought impossible. Look at me – I haven’t exactly lived up to my reputation. My speed of light isn’t fast enough to keep up with the two of you.”
The words came out slightly bitter, spoiling his attempt at lightheartedness. Given the devastating potential of his powers, he should have accomplished more. But instead of saving the day, he had gotten himself harpooned and drugged while trying to save his home town, and had been forced into a passive observer’s role during Legion’s attack on San Francisco. Dealing with Buddy’s gang in Smolensk had been a team effort in which Overdrive and Spirit played the most important roles.
Christina’s words interrupted his brooding. “You’re a really good guy. The knight in shining armor who’s leading the way. Reminding us which side we’re on and why.”
“Why would you need a reminder?” he asked, amusement tugging at his lips.
The smile faded when she didn’t respond. There was something disconcerting about the way she stared off into space, looking not at him but through him while her fingers caressed the bloodied sneakers.
“You called me a Beacon the last time we met. Do you remember?” he asked in an attempt to pull her mind back from wherever it had gone.
She blinked. “Yeah. You bring people together and make things happen. You’re there for the others and give them a place to return to.” She paused for a long moment before finally saying, “And You don’t kill. Not easily, anyway.”
Before he could ask her what she meant, Athena reported back through his earbud. “My long range sensors are now calculating your exact position. I suggest we deliver Christina to a secure hospital in the United States; she is more likely to receive fair treatment from her home nation than from anyone else.”
“Ten-four. Let me know when Checkmate’s ready to make the jump.” To the young heroine he added, “Would you like your parents to visit you at hospital?”
“I don’t know,” Christina muttered. “I’m someone different now.” She lowered her chin onto the bloodied sneaker and guarded it within the crook of her arm.
Radiant gave her hand a squeeze before pulling back to scan the ocean around him. “I doubt that. Are you ready for the big trip?”
Once again, the girl’s response threw him off guard. She spoke with visible effort, barely able to keep her eyes open. “You should ask Morpheus about me. Gentleman. About Dancer’s friend Jasper. We… we talked. He’s somewhere in the world. Morpheus knows where.”
“Jasper Davis?” Radiant asked, his surprise turning to anger, though it wasn’t directed at the teenager in front of him. He needed to know this sooner. “Why haven’t I heard about this from Morpheus, Athena?”
“He only reunited with his child mirror a short while ago,” she replied. “You had more important and immediate problems. You may want to save this discussion for later. Checkmate is ready.”
On cue, the young Teleporter appeared less than ten feet away, inches above the water. He dropped into the waves, prompting Radiant to push the floating table in his direction before the Pacific got the chance to pull them in different directions. Checkmate grabbed the table with one hand and touched Christina’s arm with the other.
“Hey, Mascot. Let’s get you to New York, all right?”
After murmuring something unintelligible, she vanished along with the teleporter, leaving Radiant to ponder her final words to him.
Kathy interrupted his musings. “Get back here when you can. It looks like Gentleman left the world with a goodbye present.”