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The Sixth 5: Spirited
It is minutes past two AM when the meeting room clears. Mrs. Norman is walking down a lit corridor with Hunter, Michael, and Javier. The conversation is light and somber, things that could have been, had Cory not gotten captured. The Defender Wing will likely not mount a rescue under the circumstances. What an opportunity lost.
Michael bears his peace while they walk. He says nothing till Mrs. Norman bids them a good night and leaves. Once he’s alone with Hunter and Javier he starts talking about the talks they’d had. Something is wrong. This will be the only chance they have to talk candidly without ears trained on them. Mrs. Norman’s behavior was off. Michael has his suspicions, but he doesn’t want to lay unfounded accusations.
Hunter agrees for his own reasons. “I get the feeling something happened before we got back here. I doubt it has anything to do with, Cory,” Hunter says. It is a lie, but the truth may draw these boys into the suspicions surrounding him.
“What do you think it could be?” Michael asks. “Because that meeting didn’t feel right.”
Hunter quickly realizes both young men are waiting for him to answer the question. It’s apparent from their piqued stares, they want direction. He wonders if the two of them have heard something. It would be unlikely that they would be involved in what’s going on, but stranger things happen in wars. The problem the Defender Wing faced was worse than a war and Cory’s capture intensified things.
It wouldn’t be so surprising if the boys were being used to gather information. But would they do it? Then again, Hunter knew he had more experience than both of them combined. The Defenders still considered them kids despite what they did for the organization. Maybe this was a bit of information they thought the kids shouldn’t be involved in. Besides, these two were out of their element with the suspicion formed in their eyes.
“I don’t want to assume anything yet.” Hunter cautions. He catches the look on their faces immediately. They’re onto the truth. He doesn’t have to wait long to confirm it.
“Bull shit!” Javier’s look hardens. “I’ll call a joker a joker. I think we all know they’re going through your files, Hunter. It’s not even a question.” He’s looking through, Hunter. “You and Cory were close. This has everything to do with him and your relationship to him. We don’t have to assume anything. You’ve been thinking it since we got hauled aside by Mrs. Norman, after we debriefed. I don’t think she’s the last side-room talk we’re going to have.”
Hunter keeps walking calmly. “That stays between the three of us.” He cautions. There could be a lot of noise coming from this. The suspicion always fell on the people who betrayed the enemy first. Hunter had done that and taken one of their most prized possessions with him.
“We should confront them, if that’s what they’re…”
Hunter turns on Michael. Looks at Javier too. “There’s nothing to find. Let them look. I knew what I got into when I ran. I knew what I got into when I accepted Defender help. That kid has opened up a lot of questions about a lot of things. That’s all they’ll keep finding.” Hunter explains. Cory had been slowly exposing a lot of gaps lately. The Defender Wing needed to do some soul searching, like everyone else. Hunter sure as hell had been since meeting that kid. But he knew Gencor was no good, which is why he is still a member of the Defenders.
“Questions like what?” Michael looks confused.
Javier looks lost.
For a moment, Hunter can only stare at them. It is easy to forget how young and naïve they are. They had been through a lot together since he’s been part of Defender Wind. The looks on their faces give them away though. It looks out of place for what he knows them to be. But they are barely post-teens. There is still a lot the Defender Wing keeps from them.
Hell if they understood the games being played for their lives. They are children playing soldiers.
Hunter observes the corridor to make sure they’re still alone. He checks the position of cameras too. The guards could read lips. There isn’t much he could do against mental abilities so it didn’t matter if the Defenders had an empath reading him. When Hunter is sure they are clear he starts walking, giving a slow nod to let Michael and Javier know to walk directly beside him. What he’s about to say is only known among the most senior members of the Defender Wing. He immediately feels them put up a psychic block. Quick thinkers. He always appreciated that about the people he chose for his unit.
“My Sources,” Hunter begins, “inside Gencor labs have been getting me information they can about Cory’s test results. A lot of what we know about Cory’s powers we got from them. The tests done here have only been used to confirm what we learned.” It is the absolute truth.
“You passed on that information, didn’t you?” Javier questions.
“And told them where you got the information from.” Michael adds.
Hunter nods. “I did,” he says. “It was the right thing to do. I didn’t give them my sources. I don’t plan to. That’s been a problem for some. They want to know who I know inside Gencor. I won’t do that because these are good people who don’t want to lose their ability to feed their kids and who’s to tell them our choice is the right one.” Hunter intentionally pauses to bite his tongue so he won’t let slip his questions about which side is the right side. “There are bigger questions, at any rate,” he adds.
Both young men stare accusingly.
Hunter takes a breath. “Finding Cory gave the Defenders new hope to defeat and expose Gencor and all its practices.”
Javier blinks in disbelief. “New hope?”
Michael puts his hand on Hunter’s shoulder and stops him. “You’ve been holding out on us?”
Hunter presses them back to walking. His eyes telling a story. “Cory is more powerful than most people have been led to believe. The results of his tests aren’t widely shared. Most of it has been logged as inconclusive, both by Gencor and Defender researchers. You remember that incident out near the reservoir?”
“Yeah!” Javier says. He’d been the one to find Cory out cold and the beast known only as, Brick. There was a tree lying on top of Brick. There hadn’t been an explanation of how the trunk of the tree fell on top of Brick from over two hundred yards away. As he recalled, Brick was as near death, as Javier had seen anyone be.
Michael wasn’t there. He’d only heard about the fight. He shakes his head, no. “You mean Cory and Brick? Heard something about it. Why?”
Hunter feels a chill as he says “Yes.” For the sake of getting everyone on the same page, he continues. “Brick stumbled onto Cory at the reservoir. There was some bullying by Brick, according to Cory, which led to an all out brawl between the two of them. Cory, of course, says he was scared for his life when the fighting started.”
“You don’t believe that?” Michael asks.
“They believe Cory may have lied or is unaware of what happened that day.” Hunter holds his opinion.
“You want to explain that?” Javier hadn’t heard this part of the story. There had been a lot of speculation and still was, far as Javier knew. One theory was that Cory had a guardian angel who swooped down and crushed Brick under that tree. Funny, Javier had only seen bird feathers around that place.
Hunter looks around. “We found the thickest part of the trunk of a large oak on top of Brick.” Everyone knew that part. “It fell on him from over two football fields.”
“I know that!” Javier says impatiently. “I was the first person there. I got there right after the boom from the tree falling.”
Michael is starting to see where the conversation is leading. “You don’t believe it fell do you?”
Hunter checks the corridor. Shakes his head. “All ten of Cory’s fingers and both palms were dug into the lower trunk of that Oak tree. That’s not on any of the reports available outside of Defender upper-ranks.” Hunter grabs their arm to keep them walking when they pause. “There is also evidence that the boulder that struck the tree didn’t break it. It was ripped from the earth by extreme force and then snapped to the left before it found its way on top of Brick. Not to mention the damage to the tree from pummelling Brick more than once.”
Javier and Michael walk mechanically next to Hunter.
Hunter continues. “By all evidence, Cory ripped that tree from the roots. Hit Brick. Then, somehow, winds up unconscious two hundred yards from him.”
Javier blinks. Says. “Hunter, you’re talking about a solid Oak tree in solid ground, man.” He says incredulously. “You’re trying to tell us that skinny kid used it to lay the smack down on Brick?”
“That’s the general belief,” Hunter explains. “For all we know, Cory might have been so scared when he broke the tree, that his palms split the trunk of it with the sheer strength he held it with.” He lets it sink in. “For all we know, Cory may be stronger than Brick. But we never saw that strength ourselves no matter how hard Cory was pressed in training. Not a damned inkling of any such power. But if he did have that kind of strength, with his powers, Cory would set a new precedent for Sixths.” Hunter lets the truth sink in for the first time since hearing it. “I mean, the kid is already more powerful than most advanced Sixths we know of.”
There’s silence between them for a few minutes. Javier has believed he’s stronger than Cory since he met him. It is impossible, even with what happened at the reservoir to believe he isn’t. Cory was peaceful and didn’t show that kind of strength. But hearing that it may have been Cory that KO’d Brick, sends chills racing through him.
“If all the reports on Cory are correct, we’ve barely seen his potential. The researchers think Cory may be hiding a lot of power, or, has some dormant abilities that he doesn’t know about yet.” Hunter finishes his thoughts after a while.
Javier rubs his eyes in disbelief. “Cory?”
“Yes.” Hunter confirms. “Which kind of leaves open the possibilities that what Bradson picked up could be Cory, in my opinion. I think Mrs. Norman and Greg know that.”
“How will that affect, Simone?” Javier questions bluntly, after the chills run their course.
“I was about to ask the same thing.” Michael says.
It had long been reasoned that Simone’s potential and growing powers may one day rival that of the great power of Gencor leaders. Defender Wing rested on the hope that they could use her power to stop them one day. There were attempts at getting her to switch sides. Kidnapping attempts by Gencor. Then one day it all stopped. A short while after, Simone told them why. Months later they would be hauling an unconscious Cory from inside a guarded Gencor facility.
Hunter gives them sidelong glances. “No one’s complaining about how close they’ve become.” He says flatly. “And I haven’t heard any chatter about Simone one way or the other. If anything, she’s still the focus of the Defender strategy in the long haul. I think Cory added a new dimension they could exploit, if anything. And the budding friendship between the two of them revealed how well they will work together.” Hunter says. “It was absolutely encouraged.”
Javier looks at Hunter with new eyes. Encouraged? What exactly did that mean? What else was being encouraged? “Encouraged how, Hunter?”
“No one was going to stop them from being friends.” Hunter says plainly. “As far as I’m aware. And I think if they went beyond friendship, no one would try to stop them either.”
Michael snickers. “She’s like all of sixteen.”
“That’s not for me to condone or stop!” Hunter says.
Javier shakes his head. “Hunter, you yourself talked to Cory more than one time about their age differences.”
“Doesn’t mean I’d go against wiser heads.” Hunter says coldly.
They were going to leave it at that. When desperation called, men answered. It wasn’t like romance between different age groups didn’t happen. They’d all had crushes on older women. Mrs. Norman wasn’t a bad looking woman either, they’d all said more than once. And, in a place where it could actually help, there were people who were willing to help it happen.
Michael laughs. Javier shakes his head, says. “Anyway. When do we leave?”
Hunter looks at both of them. His face betrays no emotions until he starts to grin.
Simone is shoved against the wall outside her room. Rory is so close to her that their noses touch, her emerald eyes boring through Simone’s baby-blues. Her hands don’t leave Simone’s collar while they stare at one another.
“Are you crazy?” Simone whispers harshly. “Why are you still up? I thought you went to…”
“Quiet!” Rory whispers.
“What the hell for?” Simone squeaks.
“I know you’re going out there.” Rory accuses.
“Going where?” Simone whispers in a snappy tone.
“You’re going to go see if you can find Cory!” Rory tells her.
A pause. “No!”
“Yes you are!” Rory repeats. “Simone, you were too quiet on our way back here tonight, even for you. The only question I have is – are we getting some sleep tonight or are we getting out of here while everyone else is sleeping?”
Simone stares. Slaps Rory’s hands away and shoves her off. “We aren’t going anywhere.”
“Fine!” Rory says. “I’ll sleep with you tonight then. We need to talk.”
Simone scowls. “We don’t have anything to talk about.”
Oh yes they did. “Cory was afraid of something before he went flat.” Rory tells it. “You were so keyed on him, I picked it up without you knowing.”
Simone is shocked she’d been giving anything away. She’s usually careful in keeping her guard up at all times. It helped to keep the woman out. The one with the green eyes that tries to communicate with her. Eyes not entirely unlike Rory’s. Simone had actually seen the woman in a dream. The dream was perhaps a representation of Rory.
No one would ever know about that dream or what happened in it. No one would ever know Simone harbored murderous feelings for another human being.
But, Simone didn’t want anyone knowing about Cory’s problem. If anyone found out, it should be Cory telling them. Not her. Simone had given her word to Cory that she wouldn’t tell anyone. But Rory’s help was sorely appreciated whether she offered it or not.
“Do you think they know too?” Is all Simone can manage. Rory already knew about Cory’s inability to block his mental projections when he got nervous. Rory had been snooping one day when Simone got distracted. She felt bad, in a way. But it just wasn’t her fault.
“You didn’t answer my question!” Rory says.
“You didn’t ask a question. You said we were going somewhere.” Simone defends.
The sound of clanking heels coming closer pauses their argument. The girls lean their backs against the bedroom wall and stare at one another. A man and woman walk by them staring curiously at the odd teens who should be in bed at this hour. They keep walking.
“How are we getting out there?” Rory demands when the two adults disappear.
Instead of answering, Simone takes a moment to think about what was about to happen. In a blink, she grabs Rory by the right hand and runs down the corridor pulling her friend along. They were heading away from the sleeping quarters. They arrive in a wide underground garage where Simone takes a key from inside a pocket of the jeans she’s wearing. Rory snatches it.
“Give it back!” Simone argues.
Rory shakes her head. “I have my license. You don’t even have a permit yet.” Simone’s silent glare answers. “Which key did you take?”
“Number eight.” Simone smolders. Lightens when she sees the tense twitch, reminding her how terrified her friend is of the number eight key. It was a good choice.
Rory skids to a halt. “The friggin death trap!!?”
“You have your license!” Simone points a taunting smirk while dragging Rory toward the portals, to number eight.
Rory holds her ground. “You know I don’t play with two wheels, Simone.”
Simone nervously scans for anyone around. Then she stretches out her hand for the key. “You’ll be in back. I’ve ridden plenty of times.” She demands.
“It would be sensible to take one of the cars.” Rory argues. “The roadster is perfect for stealth. We don’t need that… thing.”
“I’m sneaking out, Ro.” Simone says coolly. She checks again to make sure no one is coming. “The whole point of sneaking out is so no one sees me. I can sneak into the garage and roll the bike out the back way. I’ve done it plenty of times. Then I can roll it right back in so they never even know I left.” Smoldering stares are exchanged. “We can’t do that with the roadster. I can’t push it out the back way. Can you?”
“Point taken.” Rory admits, though the snappish tone wasn’t necessary. She begrudgingly hands the key to Simone and is hauled away before she can protest one last time for precious safety.
Inside the actual garage, Rory freezes when she sees the young guard eyeballing her and Simone. They have been busted. Simone only stops when her hand almost pulls out of its socket. She turns and sees Rory staring at the guard.
“Seriously? You really need to catch up on this sneaking out thing, Ro.” Simone snaps. Rory doesn’t take her eyes off the guard.
“Do you not see a guard, Simone? Right there.” Rory points to him awkwardly.
It would help if she would move. Simone turns to her. “I see him. He sees us. We cool?” Simone gives the guard a playful wave. He waves back.
Rory is speechlessly gawking at both of them.
“Sneaking out sometimes requires a little sophistication.” Simone says. “Can’t always just jump out the nearest window.”
“How did you do that?”
A beaming Simone says, “I promised him help with his math homework.”
“Since when can you help anyone with math?” Rory snaps at her. A sudden feeling that she’d been had, creeping into her mind. Simone was always very careful. Would she suddenly be so careless to let Rory or anyone feel her being emotional tonight?
Simone blushes. “You’ll need to be available on Tuesdays.” Simone says. She shoves Rory through the garage and into portal number eight, where a midnight blue Honda motorcycle is standing. Simone kicks the stands up and rolls it through a door on the opposite side, with Rory following close behind.
A one-mile trot later the bike roars to life when Simone hits the starter and steps on the pedal. It comes to life on the first crank of the throttle with a smooth wail. Rory quickly mounts behind her and wraps her hands around her waist. Simone lets the Honda pick its own speed up to keep the engine noise level low. Two miles down the road when the bike hits sixty, she adds power to the throttle sending the bike wailing down the road.
Rory holds on for dear life with nothing more than goggles to protect her precious head.
Miles away. Hours from the California border, Cory wakes up. A pair of emerald crystals shines a foot from his face with blinding light behind them. The light hurts his eyes as things fade and come into focus. His head throbs.
The emeralds are eyes, he soon sees. Thick red bands dangle around them in cute coils on the brow of a woman. Though, with focus, her face is kind, Cory senses anything but kindness in her green eyes. There is a chaotic sense of urgency in those emeralds pleading for something. She is crouched next to him, her right hand trying to keep him on the ground.
Cory allows his eyes to find the room behind her. Light strips race along all four edges of the ceiling. Behind her, Cory picks out the top quarter of a door. He can just make out the plain concrete walls on four sides, shining in the lights. His focus returns to the woman when all he can see and hear are her thoughts.
[Next Chapter 6]
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