Aster – Issue #1

“Do you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese on Centauri Prime?” asked a bemused teen. Her neon yellow school uniform reflected in her stark blonde hair. It made her smirk glow an unnatural gold in the afternoon sun.

“Let me guess,” a young boy in a matching uniform said without looking up from his communicator. “Is it something unintelligible and hard to say?”

“Don’t be a prick,” she snapped.

“Shut up, Courtney,” he said.

“Don’t call me that. Courtney is my Earth name,” she said floating to his face. Noses pressed together.

“Oh, my mistake.” The boy ran a hand through his dark brown curls. “Sorry, I mean, SHUT the HELL up Aster.”

Her hands were around his collar of his jumpsuit and they were hundred feet in the air before he could catch his breath. His sunglasses were ripped off by the sudden thrust. They spiralled toward the ground. She shook. The air became thin.

He gasped, “What are you gonna do, Tauri?”

“I could drop you. Say it was an accident.”

He laughed weakly, “And how exactly did I accidently get up here? Flap my arms?”

Lightening glinted as her teeth ground back and forth. She dropped him. He kept eye contact with her as he fell. She watched him drift back toward the rooftops.

Below on the ground, a frail hand picked up a broken pair of sunglasses. Looking from side to side, they searched the rooftop. Putting down a bag of junk food, they looked up. They saw the limp body falling to the ground. Cursing, the small form concentrated. Vines erupted from the building, blooming just in time to catch the boy in blue petals.

“What on Gaia did you say to her this time? I was gone for like ten minutes and you nearly got yourself killed?” The person also wore a yellow jumpsuit. Bushy leaves sprouted from their head and neck. Deep red eyes that looked closer to wood than glass lightly glowed under mossy eyebrows.

“I was just having fun with the alien,” the boy said. “I just like getting her riled up, Thorn.”

“You keep that up and I may not catch you next time.”

“Whatever, like I need the help.”

They eyed one another a beat. “Yeah? Maybe you’d make better fertilizer than a patrol partner.”

“Ouch, I’m hurt Thorn,” he said. “The screwed up part is I can’t tell if you’re serious.”

“I would never lie to you,” replied the plant. “Hey, Havoc, if you die, can I keep your wand?”

“What? Did you grow a sense of humor at the corner store?”

It shoved him and they laughed. The girl floated silently, ignoring them. She watched the sky. Wispy clouds scrolled across the city. She could make out the first star of the evening. The cold air of the stratosphere wicked her tear away.

A small voice in her head said, “Hey.”

She tried to ignore him, but it said, “I’m sorry. Can you… let me in?” Aster relaxed part of her mind. The voice grew in strength and said, “Thanks. Listen. Thorn brought some food. How about you come back down and tell me about your summer vacation.” Effortlessly, she turned in the air to face the rooftop. She could barely make them out, even in their jumpsuits among the flowers. She wiped away her tears, swallowed back a lump, and soared toward the ground.

The city was a patchwork of grays, tans, and glass. Blocks of marble carved like Rome palaces. Temples made of steel and light were piecemealed together in uneven rows. Streets of polished jet stretched in every direction. Domes dotted the city, rolling hills of concrete. The outer wall blanketed part of the city in an early night broken only by a gate twenty stories tall. In blocky peeling letters, it read ‘0-9’. Rising above highrises, a single tower rose in the distance. It was a windowless monolith of hard angles. A scar carved into the western sky.

A figure watched the girl sail toward the building. Hidden in the shade of a billboard, they glanced quickly at a glowing device affixed to their wrist. The names of the teens flashing by Captain Havoc, Thorn, Courtney “Aster” Grim. Words, numbers, and symbols followed. Nodding, the dark figure pressed a switch. Below them, a busy street bustled with people. The people flagged cabs, said their greetings, and walked along the packed sidewalks. There was a calm. A normal afternoon. Then chaos as it became a war zone.

Six massive robots burst from the street. Cars careened into one another attempting to maneuver out of the way of the machines. The crowds cried out in fear. Unfolding from the asphalt, mechanical men took tentative steps toward a nearby bank. They stood two stories high. Their bodies were rough cubes with hard edges. Spindle thin arms and legs carried them in lazy stiff strides. Holding their arms out straight, they burst into the bank through plate glass. They stooped to crawled into the lobby.

Havoc tied to swallowed a bite of an oversized burrito. He said, “We’re up team,” through chews of burrito.

Aster gracefully dived off the roof and stayed low to the ground, skimming the road by inches. Thorn jumped onto a wave of vines. Havoc took a few steps back, got a running start, and leapt from the building. In mid-air, the boy drew two gnarled wooden handles from leather holsters on his hips. Pointing them at the ground, a wave of cold darkness emitted from his arms slowing him. Havoc ducked and rolled into a sprint.

Inside the bank, the robots swatted away security and broke through the teller line. They gathered at the vault. Their powerful arms thrust into the wall and took hold of the steel reinforced container. Together they heaved till the cylinder came loose from the concrete. Four of the robots took a hold of the container like pallbearers. With effort, they marched toward the entrance.

“Hey, bolts for brains!” A blast of dark energy cut through the lead robot. It took two steps toward the source before every joint fell free into a pile of rubble. Cogs, gears, and springs scattered against the smooth marble floor. The second robot braced for an assault. It dropped to a knee and held an arm front of its body. Vines broke up through the ground beneath it. They closed around the robot, snapping it in half. More vines drew the robot back into the earth as it clawed at the sides before disappearing. The robots holding the vault kept marching forward. A wind flooded the room as Aster flew through the open wall. She brought two fists down on the head of the nearest robot, crushing it into a crumpled ‘U’ shape. The machine reeled back from the force waving its arms until falling over. The vault slipped from the other three robots. Letting go, each robot rushed the teenagers.

From the shadows, the dark figure brought a menu up on their wrist computer. Code whizzed by. The three remaining robots blinked before charging into a fight. Captain Havoc drew his wands and fired another blast of dark magic. The wave passed through the robot with no effect. The robot kicked him square in the chest. Thorn summoned a flurry of vines to hold back all three machines. The vines wilted and withdrew as the machines grasped them. Aster drew back her fist and threw her full weight into a punch. Her hand crumpled at the first touch of the steel chest piece. The force broke every finger in her hand. The robot watched her, then tore her other arm clean from her body. Lastly, it kicked her clean of its exit. Thorn ran to her side.

The machines assessed the heroes. Then they took up the vault and began sluggishly carrying it out of the bank. Havoc tried to stand but coughed blood. Aster faded in and out of consciousness. Thorn swore vigorously.

Out of the shadows, a figure appeared. “Looks like you all could use a hand,” said the figure. She wore a bright purple suit with silver armor plates on her arms, legs, and belt. A breathing mask covered her mouth. A large silver ‘E’ was emblazoned on her chest. One of the robots went to step on her but she stepped to the side. It drew its arm above her head. Its forearm was larger than her entire body. Bringing it down, it stopped at her touch. With one hand, she tossed the robot over her head into a wall. Smashing through the wall, it broke apart into a heap.

The remaining robots took the vault and hurled it at her. Breaking into a dead run, she backflipped over the vault. It crashed into the streets outside. Using her arm computer, she rapidly wrote a line of code. Hitting send, the robots blinked and took a swing at mystery woman. She weaved and dodged their assault. She ran toward an opposing wall and ran up the surface. One of the robots followed her. Its arms swept towards her missing by inches. Pushing off the wall, she took a hold of the robot and threw it into the other robot. Both crumbling into millions of pieces.

She took a series of calming breathes. “Is she okay?” the woman asked. Thorn nodded slowly. He said, “She is unconscious but I think I stabilized her. She’s a Centauri so she should be fine.” There was a loud clapping at the entrance to the bank. A seven foot tall woman was grinning from ear to ear. Next to her was a shy teenager in a yellow jumpsuit. The teen ran at the sight of Aster.

“Well, well, not bad. I don’t know if we’ve had the pleasure, I’m Bison.” The tall woman held out her hand.

“Echo, charmed I’m sure,” the purple woman said.

“Are you new in town?”

“Just arrived.”

“Well, good thing you did,” Bison said taking in the scene. “Hey, Captain, what the hell happen?”

The boy took a shaky step, holding his stomach, and said through bloody teeth, “It was the weirdest thing. They… adapted… It was like one minute we were fine and then we couldn’t touch them.”

“Whatever, rookie, looks to me like you just got your ass handed to you cause you were sloppy.”

“Oh, screw off, Bison. You have some nerve calling anyone sloppy. After what happened with that kaiju last week.”

Bison was suddenly a foot taller. She pressed a heavy finger into Havoc’s chest pushing him back. She said, “What’s that, rookie? What’s that?” He looked down at her finger only to have her drag it up to his nose and shove him over. She threw her head back and laughed. “Oh man! You fell for it! Ha! Oh, Dennis, your dad is gonna bust a gut.” She wiped a tear away from her eye. “Oh, that’s too good. Hey, get your tank to a medical center. Yo, Echo, we should take you to Central Citadel. Get you registered. Can’t have you running around town without a license.”

The two women walked toward the hole in the outside wall. Bison smoothly put an arm around Echo’s shoulder, “Afterwards I could show you the best shawarma place in New Norville, if you want, Echo.”

“I think I’d like that.”

Bison looked back, “Come on, Wisp. She’ll be fine.”

The teen gave Thorn a reassuring shoulder squeeze and ran after her partner. Havoc walked over to Aster and collapsed next to her. He leaned over. The girl’s eyes fluttered. He thought to her with all the strength he had left, “Hey.” She thought back, “What’s up?” The captain produced a burrito from his utility belt and thought to her, “I saved you a burrito.”

All three broke into laughter.

The End… for now.

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