One by one their audio feeds crackled with white noise before cutting out entirely. Quake’s stomach turned to that familiar feeling of regret. Why did she let them go without her? Especially with Broadband and Dial-up off planet. She lifted up a fist, but stopped herself before the immediate urge to pound on the desktop manifested. She had ruined enough equipment accidentally that she was finally starting to learn some of the restraint required with the new depth of her powers. Quake gestured to the large screen before her and the view changed from the analytics screen detailing each hero currently on the mission to just a satellite overview of where they were. With another gesture a backward arrow appeared on the corner and she watched as blips appeared on one central location. The blips moved away from the building and took what she recognized to be a scouting pattern. She reread the names attached to each dot: Battlemaiden, Ichaival, Flare, and Gram. Not a terrible team composition, but it definitely had its blind spots.
Quake dismissed the screen and stood. Its contents disappeared from the monitor and reappeared projected from her wrist comm. She got her team into this, so she would be the one to get them out of it.
“CW. If my comms go dead like theirs . . .” She can’t finish the sentence.
“I will alert all back-ups and brief them on the situation.”
“Thanks.” She blasted off from the floor as gently as she could manage. The ground cracked, but it was nothing that the organic concrete couldn’t heal on its own. The ceiling opened up to accommodate her departure. The most trafficked areas of the building all had exits of their own. What good would a situation room be if you couldn’t get to the situation quickly.
She reached the city in nine minutes. From the sky all looked fine. Just as the satellite feed showed her. This wasn’t always the case. There was the time the whole eastern seaboard was coated with a mysterious purple haze that Aegis didn’t react to for hours because it tripped no alarms on their surveillance and anyone close enough to observe it was fast asleep before they could put out a distress call. She swooped closer and followed the streets from the sky, trying to see if she could find what had taken out the team. Something powerful. Something quiet. She wasn’t hearing any of the normals city sounds. The traffic and chatter. She stopped and concentrated for any hint of distress. Nothing. She didn’t have super hearing, but you would think she’d hear something. Anything.
Then, there it was. A single cry. A baby’s cry. She ripped through the air to its source. This was the point on the map where her team had disappeared. She stopped abruptly in front of the door. Quake looked around to asses the situation outside of the building. No movement. No people. Empty cars, and cups littering the sidewalk. Odd. She heard the sniffle of a baby coming from the other side of the door, and it distracts her from the weirdness of it all. Is this a mistake? The door flattened in front of her and she stepped inside. After that she floated. She stretched. Compressed at the same time. It didn’t hurt. She felt at peace. She didn’t even try reaching out to the forces of gravity around her to try to stop it. She felt safe. Secure. Contained. One.
Aster, Thorn and Havoc stood in the outskirts of Trogdon. Crickets chirped from the brush at the side of the road, but nothing made noise besides the constant ping coming from Thorn’s hand.
Thorn held up the blinking bit of his necklace and a map projected out of it. “The distress signal is coming from the middle.”
“It’s really quiet,” said Havoc.
“Too quiet,” added Thorn. “Maybe we should have told Hazel.”
“This is too important to waste on Hazel’s prudence. This is what will show that we’re ready.”
“But we’re not.”
Aster glared at Havoc.
“What? We aren’t.”
Aster huffs. “But we’re ready for more than they’re giving us. Recon missions? Back-up to the Back-up of the D-tier in Kaiju Defense? We’re better than that.”
Havoc looked down at the ground. “Maybe.”
“Besides, it’s an Aegis emergency beacon. We have an ethical and moral responsibility to respond to the emergency posthaste. Hazel would just slow it down with bureaucracy. Even if she let us come you know how it would be. Observe and Report. Watch the professionals do it so you can one day hope to do the same. Blah blah blah.”
“Where is everyone else?” Thorn asked.
“It’s a distress signal. We have to find the everyone else and save them.”
“I mean,” He lifted the blinking necklace up some, “Surely we weren’t the only ones called with this. Where’s the rest of the back-up?”
“I’ll scout out the sitch.” Aster pushed off from the ground.
“I’ll be right back. Plus, we have our comms if anything goes wrong.” She flew away before they could protest her decision.
“She’s more tree than me.” Thorn’s mouth slowly grew into the biggest grin he can manage.
“Your leaf jokes aren’t funny.”
“They’ll come back around.”
“They were never funny.”
Thorn laughed anyway. His laughs became the only noise heard, drowning out the beeping and the chirping. Then from behind them the sound of a jet engine. A small figure flew through the air in the distance. A vapor trail marking where they had come from
“Looks like the adults are here.” Havoc said and waved his arm at the passing figure.
It noticed them, or more accurately some computer tracking system noticed them, and the armor turned from its previous path and towards them. As it got closer, they were able to make out more details. The armor wasn’t sleek like that of The Cardinal Sentinels. Most of it appeared to be cobbled together out of other pieces leaving the armor as a whole with an uneven sillouette. The parts that were one piece like the metal covering the abdomen weren’t smooth either. Like they had been cut out of something larger and banged into the shape needed. The fists were too large for the body, and the faceplate lacked any feature that a face would usually have, giving the whole thing an uncanny vibe. It slowed as it got close so they didn’t get the helicopter effect that sometimes happens with those in power suits. Thorn didn’t have to readjust his leaves, but the boots kicked up some dust where it stopped.
“What are you doing here?” asked the robotic voice.
Thorn held up the blinking necklace but didn’t say anything. He let Havoc do the talking.
“On assignment.” Havoc took a step forward.
“Who gave you this assignment? No one should be entering the city.”
Havoc scoffed. “And we weren’t going to. It’s just a recon mission. They wouldn’t let students go into something like this. You know how it is at the academy. Observe and report. Watch the professionals do it so you can one day hope to do the same. You know the protocol. What’s the situation inside though?”
“Oh, uh, I don’t know.” The face mask lifted and revealed a face not much older than their own.
“Wait, you’re not—” A squawk from Havoc’s wrist interrupted.
“I’m not seeing anything from up here. Empty cars. No sign of any people.”
“Who’s that? I thought you said you were just recon.”
Havoc pulled up his wrist communicator and tapped to talk into it, but the girl in the armor pulled his wrist to her own mouth. “You need to get out of there. Nothing is coming back from the city. Get out while you can.”
“Who is this?” Aster asked
“It doesn’t matter. Just get out of there while you still can.”
“I’m going to go lower and look around first.”
The armored girl huffed and turned away. “I can’t even,” she muttered more to herself than the others.
“It’s weird. There are no people, but it looks like just a lot of cups and drinks all on the sidewalks.”
“Yeah, it’s real weird. Can you please tell us about it back here?”
With that word the new girl turned around and smiled. With her mission accomplished she relaxed. Like collapsing while you’re already sitting, her body went limp while still standing due to the armor.
“Wait. I hear a baby crying.”
Thorn had the map from the blinking necklace up in one hand and had her position tracked on his other wrist. The dots indicating both positions were in the same place. “Aster, no. That’s where the Aegis distress is coming from.”
“I can’t ignore a baby’s cry.”
The girl grabbed Havoc’s wrist again and cried “Don’t!” at it.
Havoc pushed a button on the side and prompted her to say it again.
“Don’t!” she repeated.
No answer returned regardless. Thorn, Havoc, and their new companion waited in silence for the outcome of Aster’s daring rescue. A breeze passed by disturbing Thorn’s leaves, Havoc’s hair, and nothing on the metallic suit with them. Then a sound of static graced their communicators before turning to silence once again.
The girl in the suit dropped Havoc’s wrist. “Just like the rest of them.”
“What do you mean? Who are you?” Havoc asked at her.
She stepped backwards few paces.
Thorn stepped between her and Havoc and extended a limb. “I’m Thorn.”
She held out her arm but before going for Thorn’s she shook her head and used her other hand to pull of her large gauntlet. She reached her hand to Thorn’s equivalent and they shook. Her thoughts briefly left the peril at hand and settled on the strange sensation of touching a moving tree. Rough like bark, but more alive, moving and pulsing underneath her hand. She continued the shake and watched as as the leaves around Thorn’s hand acted as feelers, obscuring her dark skin and red fingernails and revealing them as they found new places to land. It tickled.
Thorn continued his handshake. “And that’s Havoc.”
She broke away from the handshake. “Nice to meet you, I guess.”
Havoc turned away from them. “Let’s go rescue Aster.”
“What’s your name?”
“Do you have a code name?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Sparkplug?”
“Let’s go.” Havoc cried out as he walked away from them.
They followed Havoc into the city. They saw immediately what Aster had been talking about. All around the streets were drinks of every sort. A martini glass complete with olive. A pink sippy cup. A mug still steaming from the hot liquid inside. Every type of cup they had ever seen and quite a few they hadn’t before, littered the city.
“Anyone feeling thirsty?” asked Thorn.
No one responded. They looked to Sparkplug, but she was just looking forward. Then they looked over at Havoc who was also just looking forward. They kept looking at Havoc while walking, waiting for Havoc to look their way. Finally Havoc noticed. His face turned to confusion.
“I said, Anyone feeling thirsty?”
Havoc’s confusion turned to annoyance. He shook his head and turned his attention back to the walk ahead. They walked until they reached where the Aegis beacon pointed and where Aster had lost comms. Across the street was a building with no front door. They could hear a baby’s cry coming from inside.
“I think we should wait for more people to arrive,” Thorn said.
Havoc turned to Thorn. “We can’t just leave Aster to whatever happened to her.”
“How many did you watch come in here before us, Sparkplug?”
“I don’t know for sure, but at least ten.”
“But we have teamwork at least.” Havoc shrugged.
“And Aegis didn’t?”
“Maybe they were picked off one by one. We don’t know how they were taken down.”
“Isn’t knowing they were taken down enough?” asked Thorn.
“And isn’t knowing Aster was taken down enough to risk it?” asked Havoc.
Thorn looked down at his arm and picked at a leaf. They took in a deep breath. Thorn took it in not with lungs, though they had something similar, but through their whole body. They felt the air seep into every crevice. Then out. “Okay.” The word came out a near whisper, but Thorn was ready.
Havoc looked over to Sparkplug for her approval. She nodded and shrugged, but given how the suit was built, only the nod showed to the others. They crossed the street.
“It’s a trap, right. Some sort of baby cry to lure in do-gooders.”
“What have we got to lose?” Sparkplugs words turned robotic as she pulled the face mask down. She jumped through the doorway.
“I like her spirit.” Havoc rushed in after her, wands drawn.
Thorn started to say something before realizing they would be talking to no one and followed them in.
The transition between the daylight outside and the indoor lighting lead to Thorn not being able to see for a moment, When their vision adjusted, what they saw didn’t match what they thought they would see. Sparkplug and Havoc were nowhere to be seen. Thorn looked further ahead. Nothing. No, not nothing. More drinks. Drinks spotted the floor and the tables. The drinks seemed more concentrated here than they did outside. A few had communicators inside of them. Did someone take Aster’s communicator and put it in a drink? That would explain the static. Where were Havoc and Sparkplug? Thorn stepped forward and they knocked over a thermos. Luckily the top was on and nothing was spilled, but Thorn made sure to watch their step or pretty soon they’d be taking a bath in an assortment of drinks.
Thorn didn’t know where their companions went to, but they still heard the baby crying. The one sound left in the city. Well, that and their steps as they made their way through the drink minefield. The cry came from just the other side of the door at the back of this place. Thorn braced itself, not knowing what would be scariest to find on the other side of the door. Something monstrous, nothing at all? Thorn pushed through the door, and . . . spotted a baby. Crying as hard as it could managed. It’s face scrunched up and bawling. Thorn went and picked it up. They had never handled a human baby, but didn’t think it could be too different from saplings. Except saplings could handle a drop or two no problem and human babies seemed a bit more fragile from what they could tell. Thorn cradled it and rocked it, but the crying continued. Thorn spotted a bottle nearby lying on its side.
“Must be hungry.”
Thorn picked it up and brought it to the baby’s mouth. The baby latched onto the bottle.. It sucked down the liquid and the tears stopped coming. Thorn sighed. That’s one mystery solved, but where was everyone? They turned and walked through the door they had just come through to find some members of Aegis, Aster, Havoc, Sparkplug, and a few others standing there. All of them soaking wet. Each wore a look of confusion they were scoping out the room. Nearly everyone started talking at once, and the city was quiet no more.