The first week of the new school term meant that Gerald Centone and his sector at the Department of Education had been kept quite busy with the new load of work to process. In fact, it was almost a relief to him when he learned that on Friday afternoon he was being summoned to meet with his superior at Lifeline, Wallace Landsley.
The Lifeline department in Marine Cove City was rather small, consisting of no more than two small offices tucked away inside the building housing the Public Safety Commission, rather meager accommodations considering the amount of money the organization usually received. Gerald left his own workplace a little early in order to insure that he would make his five o’clock appointment, and on the dot he lightly knocked on Landsley’s office door.
‘’Come in.’’ a slightly muffled voice called out, and Gerald stepped inside into the cluttered and tiny office.
‘’Good afternoon.’’ he said as he closed the door behind him. There wasn’t much standing room between the desk and the doorway.
‘’Good afternoon to you too, Mr. Centone.’’ the other man responded in kind. ‘’Please take a seat.’’ He made a gesture to hold down a stray piece of paper that had been disturbed by the change in air. ‘’I apologize for the mess, by the way. Since we’re finally getting Trident up and running, these papers keep coming in faster than I can file them.’’
Gerald took a seat in a chair wedged in the corner of the room. ‘’I don’t mind.’’ he said. ‘’My own office isn’t exactly a paragon of cleanliness either, sir.’’
‘’Good to hear.’’ Landsley smiled briefly before adopting a more serious expression and he began to tap the surface of his desk with his index finger, a tic that always showed when he was being especially serious. ‘’So, how are the Stargazers under your custody faring?’’
‘’They’re doing well as far as I can see.’’ Gerald replied. ‘’They leave for school on time, attend all of their classes, and when it lets out they are free to do whatever they wish as long as they meet the dorm’s curfew. I haven’t heard of any problems being reported.’’
‘’I see.’’ Landsley continued to tap. ‘’You don’t think that you’re…being a little too lenient on them, allowing them free reign around the city without supervision?’’
Inwardly, Gerald felt himself sigh. He knew that this would be coming eventually. ‘’With all due respect sir,’’ he began, trying to choose his words carefully. ‘’They are young adults, not children, and I do not believe that they need to be looked after as if they were.’’
‘’Young adults with powers beyond anything that should be natural.’’ Landsley corrected. ‘’No matter, I just thought I should bring that up considering what’s been happening in this city during the past month or so. You’ve been keeping up with your news tablet, I assume?’’
Gerald nodded grimly. He was certainly very familiar with the incidents that Landsley was referring to.
‘’Well, let’s not dwell on that for now; that’s why we’re having this meeting.’’ Landsley went on. ‘’Before you came in I was on the phone with the chief of police. One week from now, on Friday the 19th, we plan to conduct with them Trident’s first operation.’’
‘’So soon? Isn’t that unusual?’’ Gerald asked, frowning as he adjusted his glasses a bit.
‘’So soon?’’ Landsley repeated. ‘’You were the one who insisted that they didn’t need to undergo any additional combat or psychological evaluations and training.’’
‘’Oh, yes.’’ Gerald muttered. ‘’I apologize. I must be getting more absentminded in my old age.’’
‘’Aren’t we all.’’ Landsley said ruefully. ‘’As I said, this operation will be a joint effort between Trident and the city police, with the aim of capturing the Beings’ leader. You’ll get more precise outline of things in the near future, but for now here’s a rough outline of the plan.’’ He picked one of the many papers stacked on top of his desk and handed it to Gerald to read.
‘’Is this all?’’ Gerald asked as he scanned the document. It was a simple raid, really. The three Stargazers would go in first and sweep the target site and subdue or otherwise incapacitate any adversaries that they came across, with the police moving in afterward. It put most of the burden on Trident, but it was a simple plan nonetheless.
‘’For now, yes.’’ he superior said, replying to Gerald’s question.
‘’Well in that case, I’ll make sure to inform them of this and to tell them to prepare in any way they can.’’ Gerald promised, tucking the paper into the inside of his jacket.
‘’Good.’’ Landsley said. ‘’We’ll be counting on them.’’
* * *
The next Tuesday morning came around, and the first thing Terry did after shutting his alarm off was to go back to sleep, as he had been up late the previous night finishing an analysis paper for his literature class. As a result, he came dangerously close to excessive oversleeping and had to scramble in order to dress, get breakfast, and leave for school at a semi-reasonable time. Akira and Daniel had already left without him, leaving him no one to be kept company by during his trip to school.
Once on the train he had a few moments to spare and he took out his cell phone, only to nearly drop it when he turned it on as it began to vibrate unexpectedly, indicating that he had some new unread messages. One was from Akira, wondering why his phone was off and where he was, one from Daniel saying pretty much the same thing only with a bit more tact, and finally one from Mr. Gerald.
Now what could Mr. Gerald want with him, Terry wondered. A quick glance at the subject gave him a decent idea, as the words ‘’important’’ and ‘’members’’ quickly jumped out at him. Within:
To all members of Trident,
On the 19th of September we will be carrying out our first operation. Don’t make any plans for that Friday afternoon, and needless to say, don’t tell anyone outside of Trident of this. You will be required to return to the dorm directly from school on that day. More details will be given to you then.
- Gerald Centone
Terry returned his phone to his pocket and gazed out at the city passing by through the window. So there it was. He hadn’t forgotten the fact that he was now a part of what was in essence a special strike force cell, but with school starting and the new responsibilities that came with it, it had been pushed to the back of his mind. Now that it was coming back to him, he found that he wasn’t really afraid of what was coming and what he might have to do, but nervous? Maybe a little. There were definitely some feelings of apprehension lurking deep within his chest. But no matter, as just as right before his trial against Captain Ganut, he realized that it wouldn’t do him any good to worry himself to death over this. He would just have to take things as they came.
He made it to school a little later than he would of liked, but still managed to make it before homeroom started. As had become usual, he spent a little time chatting with Akira and Bar, the former of which made sure to rib him a bit for oversleeping, and then Ms. Fencen arrived to take attendance and make any announcements that needed to be made before the students were off to class.
The morning was rather unremarkable, save for Ms. Fencen snapping at Vanon for falling asleep during History, thereby proving half of Akira’s hypothesis from the first day. Terry managed to lose sight of him while he was standing in line during lunch inside the crowded cafeteria. As a result he was left standing around awkwardly trying to see if he could spot someone he knew or otherwise recognized amongst the throngs of students. He couldn’t spot Akira despite being on the lookout for spiked hair, but he did see Karen across the way, her white hat instantly giving her away.
‘’Mind if I sit here with you?’’ he asked once he had made his way over to the table she was sitting at.
The girl looked up, a little surprised to see him. ‘’Oh, sure, go ahead Terry.’’ she said, scooting over a little to give him a little more room. There were two other upperclassmen seated at this table, but they weren’t paying her any mind, so she was probably grateful to have a classmate to sit with, Terry thought.
‘’Where’s Akira?’’ she asked. ‘’I always see you two together.’’
‘’Lost sight of him somewhere.’’
‘’Oh.’’ A few silent moments passed before Karen got an emboldened expression and leaned in so that her voice wouldn’t carry to the upperclassmen, though with all the background noise she probably needn’t have bothered. ‘’Hey, I’m trying to get a few friends together to go out and do something at the end of the week, like going out and seeing a movie, getting something to eat, or something else like that. Would you like to come?’’
As soon as she had said ‘’get a few friends’’ Terry had felt a bit of a sinking feeling come over him. Of course something like this would come up on the very day he had received his first set of marching orders, as it were. This was always how these things seemed to play out. He adopted an expression somewhere in between apologetic and downcast, and prepared to let her down gently.
‘’Well, I’d really like to.’’ he began. ‘’But unfortunately I already have plans for that night. Certain circumstances and all that. Maybe some other time.’’
‘’Oh.’’ Karen looked much more crestfallen than Terry had expected her to. ‘’Oh. That’s too bad. Sorry for asking.’’
‘’Nah, I’m the one who should apologize.’’ Terry insisted. The truth was that he’d much rather prefer to spend his Friday night unwinding with friends, but instead he’d be out there doing who-knew-what, possibly risking his life, even, and that was only the beginning, who knew how many other times stuff like this would come up where he’d have to put aside a normal social life due to being led down a different path from most people?
Terry and Karen didn’t really talk much during the remainder of lunch, both parties feeling differing degrees of awkwardness. Terry turned in his paper during Literature when it rolled around and when the bell rang indicating that the school day was over he hung around for a little bit before meeting up with Akira at the school’s entrance to go home.
‘’Where’s Daniel?’’ was the first thing Terry asked when the two met up. Normally, the glasses-wearing boy would already be here waiting for them.
‘’Ah, I just got a message from him, actually.’’ Akira said as he absentmindedly scrolled through his cell phone’s inbox. ‘’He said he left to go back to the dorm right away because he already has a test to study for. Can you believe that? We’ve only been here a week.’’
‘’Hm.’’ Terry looked down in a slightly pensive manner as they began to walk down the pathway leading to the bridge. ‘’Did you get the…other mail?’’ he ventured.
‘’Yeah, of course I did.’’ Akira said, not breaking stride. ‘’Let’s not talk about it right now. Let’s save it for later.’’
They returned to the dorm, where for the next two hours Terry spent his time in his room, working on his homework. By the time he was done it was starting to get dark outside, and he was considering spending the rest of the evening surfing the Internet when his cell phone began to vibrate. ‘’Hello?’’
It was Akira. ‘’Hey, you wanna go out and get something to eat?’’
‘’Sure, just let me change out of my school clothes.’’
‘’Cool. Meet me in the lobby downstairs when you’re ready.’’ He hung up.
Terry spent a few moments gazing at the home screen before slipping his phone back into his pocket. Akira’s offer to go out was surely a cover for them to discuss the upcoming operation privately amongst themselves. That was fine with him. It would do him well to discuss what he was thinking about with someone who was in the exact same position.
Once he was changed he grabbed his leather jacket off of his closet’s inside hook and headed downstairs, where he found Akira already there waiting for him.
‘’I asked Daniel if he wanted to come too, but he said he wanted to study some more.’’ he said. ‘’I’m actually glad he isn’t coming though. Not to be mean, mind.’’ he added. ‘’We’ll just have more privacy.’’
Terry nodded. ‘’I understand. Where are we going?’’
‘’I actually don’t really know yet.’’ Akira admitted, shrugging his shoulders slightly. ‘’I was just thinking a restaurant or something.’’
‘’Two guys going alone to a restaurant together?’’
‘’You’re right, that would look odd.’’ Akira conceded. ‘’Well, we’ll find something just by walking around. It’s a big city.’’
It was much cooler outside now than it had been earlier, and with the sun down and a light breeze blowing in from the east it was going to stay that way. On their street streetlights were automatically beginning to switch on to full power in order to safely illuminate the surroundings, while what was visible of Heion behind a cloud was lighting up the night sky with a soft glow. Terry and Akira spent an hour or two just walking around with no particular destination in mind, making light conversation but still avoiding that one topic that they both knew they would have to touch upon eventually. They eventually settled on stopping at a hole-in-the-wall pizza parlor to have dinner at, and afterwards another hour of walking had them on a street that ran along this part of the shoreline of the river that separated the two halves of the city. It was here that Terry finally decided to broach the topic.
‘’So… How do you feel about Friday?’’ he asked, in a tone that felt close to casual indifference. ‘’You know, the operation?’’
‘’The operation…’’ Akira repeated, the pace of his stride slowing. ‘’Well,’’ he began. ‘’I guess on some level, I’m kind of apprehensive, maybe a little scared, but I think more than anything else, I’m actually looking forward to it.’’
That made Terry curious. The few times that he had heard him refer or allude to his own Stargazer powers, he had treated them rather lightly. It was probably simply because he had had them for much longer than Terry himself that on some level he took them for granted, but that had always struck Terry as a bit odd. Akira was comfortable with them on a level that Terry certainly was not, though one day he might reach that same point.
‘’So I suppose you’re looking forward to testing out your skills like you told me before, huh?’’ Terry told his friend.
‘’I guess so.’’ Akira replied. He stopped walking and spent a few moments studying Terry’s face. ‘’Alright,’’ he said. ‘’I can tell that you want to hear my full story, don’t you?’’
‘’What? No, not necessarily.’’ Terry backpedalled, not sure if he should be embarrassed or not that the normally goofy Akira had just seen right through him.
‘’That’s okay, I’ll tell you anyway. Get a load off my mind.’’ Akira said, leaning back against the railing that overlooked the river. ‘’Do you have any siblings?’’ he asked after a brief moment of silence.
‘’No.’’ Terry said, shaking his head. ‘’I’m an only child.’’
‘’Well, I have an older brother.’’ Akira said, his voice getting a bit lower and more contemplative. ‘’His name’s Shigeru. He’s smart, serious, has ambition – maybe a little too much – and manages to do quite well for himself.’’
So as you can imagine, my parents often compared us. ‘Look at what your older brother can manage to do, why can’t you follow his example?’’’ He gave Terry an aside glance and smiled slightly, his face and eyes brightened by the light coming from across the river. ‘’You know, the old story.’’
‘’There was a time when I tried to be like him.’’ he continued. ‘’But nothing ever worked out for me, so I thought ‘what’s the point?’ and stopped. Trying to deceive myself and be someone I’m not isn’t going to work for me. That’s one of the reasons I came all the way out here to go to school; to get away from my family and just do something different with my life for once, instead of having others trying to set me down a path of their choosing.’’
He turned to fully look out over the water at the lit skyline. ‘’And now look at me.’’ he went on. ‘’Now I’ve got something that only I can do, and no one can ever imitate. That’s why I like having this power and seeing what I can do with it. It’s proof that I’m myself, my own person.’’
Terry was busy taking this all in. ‘’Well, I envy you on this.’’ he said as he joined his friend in gazing at the lights. ‘’I wish I could be as sure as you about things.’’
He sighed a little bit. ‘’When I first came here, I didn’t have much in the way of expectations, and I suppose I was just coasting through life. Now look at me, I have supernatural powers and am part of a secret ops cell. Go figure.’’
‘’What would you have done otherwise?’’
‘’Normal things, I suppose.’’ Terry said as he closed his eyes. ‘’Go to school here, go on to a decent college afterwards, get a girlfriend, a steady job, get married, raise a family. You know, normal stuff.’’
‘’You can still do those things, you know.’’ Akira said, yawning a little. ‘’Just because you’re a Stargazer doesn’t mean you can’t live a normal life these days. I mean sure, we face things that normal people don’t, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t do what you want to in life.’’
‘’Well, I guess I just wasn’t really sure what to do exactly to reach that point.’’ Terry continued. ‘’I just didn’t have as much ambition as I would have liked. But now I’m involved in something I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be. I’ll have to find a new path for myself.’’
‘’Well, is there any one certain thing you want to do?’’ Akira suggested. ‘’Maybe you could start from there.’’
‘’Maybe, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with this.’’
‘’Aw, come on, tell me.’’ Akira said, nudging his friend playfully. ‘’It’s nothing embarrassing, is it?’’
‘’Oh all right.’’ Terry took a step back from the railing and pointed upwards to the night sky. ‘’Just once, I’d like to go into outer space. See what Lagoon, Heion, and the stars look like from up there.’’
‘’That’s cool.’’ Akira said, nodding in approval. ‘’You could be an engineer or an astronaut or something. I’m sure SARA would be thrilled to have someone who could control electricity.’’
‘’Nah, I’m not brainy enough to be a scientist.’’ Terry said, still looking up at the sky. ‘’But these days, there are plenty of ways for a normal civilian to get up into space.’’
He shifted a bit and stretched his stiffening shoulders. ‘’But for the present I guess I’ll just have to give it my all, I suppose.’’ he said. ‘’I’m glad we talked about this stuff. I’ll figure out what my path will be.’’
Indeed. This was really the first time that he had had this sort of conversation with someone. All of his problems hadn’t been solved, not by a long shot, but just by confiding in someone, it felt like a cloud was clearing up inside his conscience. He’d do well to heed Akira’s story and find a way to forge himself a new path and a new personal identity.
‘’I’m glad too.’’ Akira was saying in the meantime. ‘’So, uh, where are we?’’
The mood instantly evaporated. ‘’What?’’ Terry repeated dryly, in disbelief.
‘’No seriously, where are we?’’ Akira repeated, looking around a bit. ‘’I don’t recognize this place.’’
‘’I thought you said you knew your way around the city!’’
‘’I said I knew it pretty well, not flawlessly!’’ Akira retorted. ‘’Does your phone have a GPS? Mine doesn’t have that app.’’
‘’Yeah, but I think it’s still in the pocket of my school pants.’’
Akira let out an exasperated sigh, something that Terry thought was hardly fair given who was uttering it. ‘’Well, let’s go find a street sign, or something.’’
Once they found the name of the street they were on, Akira brought up a map on his phone so that they could figure out how to find a way back to the dorm. ‘’It’s a bit of a walk back to the nearest train station.’’ Akira observed as his eyes followed their projected route as displayed on his phone’s screen. ‘’We’ll have to cut through Sunport too.’’
‘’What’s Sunport?’’ Terry asked.
‘’I’ve never been there myself.’’ Akira said. ‘’But Daniel once told me that it’s home to a bunch of small, independent businesses.’’ As he was speaking he was keying a number into his phone.
‘’Hello?’’ Daniel’s voice came over the phone.
‘’Hey, if we miss curfew, could you cover for us?’’ Akira asked.
‘’Huh? Where are you?’’
‘’Lost.’’ Akira said simply. ‘’But don’t worry, we’re on our way back now. Just have to cut through Sunport to get to the train.’’
There was an audible sigh over the phone. ‘’Oh, fine, if I have to, I’ll try to get you off the hook.’’ came Daniel’s voice. ‘’Curfew’s at 10:30, so you don’t have very much time left. Are you sure it’s a good idea to go through Sunport at ni-‘’
‘’Thanks man.’’ Akira said, cutting him off and hanging up, much to Terry’s quiet disbelief at his display of rudeness.
‘’We’ve got a bit of a walk ahead of us.’’ Akira said. ‘’Let’s get moving.’’
The two boys once again began walking through the city, this time with an actual path laid out for them to follow thanks to Akira’s phone, which he checked and rechecked every now and then to ensure that they were on the right track. As they went on, Terry began to notice that, despite the small office buildings beginning to line the streets being well-lit and clearly still occupied at this time of night there weren’t all that many people out on the streets themselves compared to the other parts of the city. What’s more, those few that were out seemed to be deliberately moving in groups of at least two, and rather furtively at that. The air was tense, and something was clearly up.
‘’You get the feeling that everyone here’s really on edge?’’ Terry asked, a bit of wariness creeping into his voice.
‘’Huh?’’ Akira looked up from his phone. ‘’I’m not really paying attention, but I guess there should be more people out now that I am.’’
‘’Something’s off with this neighborhood.’’ Terry muttered, turning up the collar of his jacket to ward off the growing cold. ‘’How much farther is it to the station?’’
‘’Just over a mile.’’ Akira told him. ‘’Can we take a quick break though? My feet are starting to ache from all the walking we’ve done tonight.’’
‘’Alright, but make it quick.’’ Terry sighed. ‘’I don’t like the feel of this place.’’
They rested at a bus stop, at which no buses were stopping at during this time. Terry was one-hundred-percent certain now – he didn’t like the atmosphere that this part of town was giving off. But he couldn’t think of any reason for it to feel like this. A run-down or otherwise dangerous neighborhood certainly, but not a business district, however some at may be. The people here, it seemed to him, were afraid of something, but what could it be?
His thoughts were interrupted, however, by the sound of sirens blazing. Looking up, he saw two police cruisers and an ambulance speed down the empty street and take a right at the intersection just down the way, their bright lights and shrill sirens piercing through the still night.
‘’I wonder what that was all about?’’ Terry said as he gazed off in the direction that the vehicles had vanished in. ‘’Some kind of crime or incident?’’
Akira shrugged, apparently done with playing with his phone. ‘’Who knows? Wanna go check it out?’’
Terry shook his head. ‘’If it was any other time, maybe, but right now that would just make us late for sure.’’
‘’Guess so.’’ Akira admitted, pocketing his phone and getting up again. ‘’Well, I’m all rested up now. Let’s go.’’
As they walked further down the block Terry saw a few more people hanging around outside than he had before. The air was feeling even tenser than it had been before, so he assumed that they had been lured out here, against their better judgment, by the sounds of the sirens from earlier.
Still though, he wondered, unless it was something particularly he couldn’t imagine a crime being that big a deal in a big city. Then again, what did he know, he hadn’t actually lived in a big city until now. Well, whatever was going on, it didn’t have anything to do with him, and he already needed to be somewhere, so no reason to dwell on that.
After a bit more walking the sidewalk took them past a small park, similar to the one that Terry had first met Akira in, located on the corner of a block and with a few small lamps to provide illumination. Akira came to a stop and his body slumped a bit as he let out a quiet, exasperated-sounding sigh. ‘’Not again.’’ he muttered. Ahead of them, clustered around a bench were three troublesome-looking kids. They were muttering to each other, and one of them nudged his head a bit in Terry and Akira’s direction.
‘’Whatever you do, don’t beat these guys up.’’ Akira whispered. ‘’Just ignore them.’’
But that, unfortunately, was not possible. As the two came closer, the group fanned out a bit to completely block the sidewalk. Unlike the thugs from Terry’s first night, these three looked to be around his own age. His intent was to go right through them, but he had to stop when the lead punk brought out a small baseball bat that he had been holding behind him, out of sight, and held it out, blocking the way forward.
‘’What the hell, man?’’ Akira said irritably, well and truly exasperated right off the bat.
The punk with the bat ignored that. ‘’I haven’t seen you guys ‘round here before.’’ he said. ‘’You’re not the one who’s been going around knocking off our buds, are you?’’
‘’I don’t even know what you’re talking about!’’ Akira exclaimed, bewildered. ‘’We’re just passing through here!’’
‘’Hey, we’re not taking no chances no more.’’ the punk said, moving a few steps closer to Akira. ‘’You don’t look like you belong here, you’re on our turf, and from the sounds of those sirens coming from your direction, someone just got wasted. I say you’re plenty suspicious.’’
‘’Oh come on.’’ Terry spoke up. Even if this was only the second time, he had to wonder what he had done in the past to deserve drawing this kind of attention whenever he went out at night. ‘’We have nothing to do with whatever it is that has you guys so riled up! So let us pass in peace!’’
‘’Are you trying to be a smartass?’’ the punk said threatening, brandishing his weapon and taking a step forward to intimidate. ‘’That’s not how things work around here.’’
Terry tensed himself, and could feel Akira do the same next to him, albeit for different reasons. These guys didn’t scare him at all, but they also didn’t look like they’d listen to reason. He supposed if worst came to worst he could give the three a little jolt and make a break for it…
Or maybe not. ‘’H-Hey Mano…’’ One of the other two punks was rapidly going pale. ‘’I-I think I know how that is! You’re trying to start shit with that lightning freak!’’
‘’What’re you…’’ The lead punk, Mano, Terry presumed, briefly scrutinized Terry as if suddenly seeing him for the first time before he too went pale and leapt backward as if Terry had actually shocked him. ‘’Holy shit you’re right!’’ he exclaimed in alarm.
While Mano’s one-eighty from a tough-guy to a frightened child was admittedly somewhat funny to watch, Terry couldn’t help think that this was just great. Did the entire city know that he was a Stargazer now? He had no choice but to feign ignorance, the fat lot of good that would do him. ‘’The hell are you talking about?!’’ he said, sounding as bewildered as he could.
‘’Yeah, yeah, I recognize him from the description!’’ the second unnamed punk exclaimed, backing away to join the other one. ‘’A kid in a black leather jacket accompanied by an Oriental kid! It’s him!’’
‘’Hey, I’m far from the only Oriental guy in the city!’’ Akira said, sounding genuinely indignant. ‘’You’ve got the wrong guy, I tell you!’’
Mano gripped his weapon tightly, seemingly unsure if he should foolishly try fighting or just run away and keep his well-being if not his dignity. The decision was made for him though, when a hand reached out grabbed hold of the bat, wrenching it out of his hands. ‘’Who’re – ‘’ Mano began to shout, but as he got a good look at the owner of the arm that they hand was attached to, he shut up and went even paler.
It was a tallish, built young man with a well-defined jaw line and deep, almost cherry red hair that fell around his shoulders. His face and mouth were set in an expression that was nothing if not stern, and his brow was furrowed into a death glare strong enough to intimidate even the most hardcore of gangsters. This was someone who was clearly not to be trifled with.
‘’What do you think you’re doing, Mano?’’ he demanded, his voice a low growl.
‘’W-We…’’ Mano began to sputter, wilting already under the glare coming from the young man’s cold blue eyes. ‘’Th-These guys are suspicious, they could be the culprits!’’ he finished lamely.
‘’Seriously?’’ the newcomer said. ‘’Do you honestly believe that these two are the ones responsible for what’s been going on here, truly?’’
‘’But, but he’s a Stargazer!’’ one of the other punks insisted. ‘’I know he is!’’
‘’Please.’’ the newcomer sniffed. ‘’There are lots of other people who could fit that description, and you can’t just decide
that someone’s a Stargazer just like that.’’ He then jerked his thumb in Terry’s direction. ‘’And ‘sides, you really think someone with a clueless expression like that’s going to be going around picking fights with the underground?’’
Mano looked hesitant, as if unsure of who he was more frightened by: the teenager that might be a Stargazer, or the guy who was a good foot taller than him and much more muscular.
‘’Well regardless, get out here.’’ the young man said. ‘’I don’t want to see your faces around here again. Oh, and one more thing,’’ he added. ‘’If you’re trying to find the culprit, don’t. It’s a good way to get killed, Stargazer or no.’’
The three punks finally turned and fled. ‘’Hmph, pussies.’’ the young man sniffed before turning his focus to Terry and Akira. ‘’Now for you two…’’
‘’Nova!’’ Akira gasped now that they were free from the punks. ‘’What’re you doing here?!’’
Terry’s eyes widened a bit. That
was the elusive Nova? Akira had said that he was only a year older than they were, but he found that hard to believe, actually looking at him.
‘’I should be asking you that.’’ Nova said, taking a few steps off to the side to deposit the club he had snatched away into a trashcan. ‘’I came back to the dorm to find Daniel fretting over you two being late and going through Sunport at night. What the hell were you thinking?!’’
‘’What do you mean?! Akira retorted right back. ‘’What’s wrong with Sunport?!’’
‘’Have you looked at the news at all?’’ Nova asked, his own temper clearly boiling just below the surface as his voice took on a dangerous tone. ‘’Pay any attention to what we were just talking about? Did you even see those cop cars just now or hear the sirens? People have been getting attacked here at night recently – horribly burned – a few have even died, and I’d bet ten-thousand yura that a Stargazer is behind it!’’
‘’So that’s why this entire neighborhood’s on edge!’’ Terry exclaimed. Of course, the answer had been so obvious. Why had it taken him this long, until someone had pretty much spelt it out for him, to realize it?
‘’See, this guy has a least some sense of perception.’’ Nova said, pointing in Terry’s direction. ‘’You’re that lightning kid, aren’t you?’’ he asked.
‘’My name’s Terry.’’ Terry replied, not wild at being called that.
‘’Well, sorry we had to meet like this.’’ Nova told him, shrugging a bit. ‘’I’m Theodore Bown, but you can call me Nova if you like, I really don’t care. Now come on, if you two miss curfew you’re going to get hit with demerits.’’
‘’Why’re you after us, anyway?’’ Akira asked as they walked down the street, his voice sour. ‘’We were on our way back anyway.’’
‘’I came home to the dorm to find Daniel fretting about how you guys were late.’’ Nova began to explain, roughly. ‘’I asked if he knew where you guys were, and he said you two should be going through Sunport. Again, what the hell were you thinking when you decided that?! You're lucky I still have some clout on these streets.’’
‘’Well, what’s wrong with Sunport?’’ Akira demanded.
‘’So what if it’s dangerous?’’ Akira shot back. ‘’We’re not babies you know. We can take care of ourselves.’’
For what felt like the umpteenth time, Terry gave an odd glance. This coming from the guy who had freaked out at him fighting back against some thugs?
‘’Maybe, but you don’t understand, do you?’’ Nova gestured towards Terry. ‘’Thanks to the stunt this guy pulling in zapping that guy ‘bout two weeks ago, damn near the entire city underground knows that there’s a significant Stargazer presence in the city and are all on edge.’’
‘’And I don’t know about you,’’ he continued. ‘’But I take my job as a Trident member very seriously, so I had to get to you first in case you pulled something stupid out here. If you pull stupid shit that’ll compromise our operations, there’ll be more than Hell to pay, I swear to you.’’
And that was the end of that. Nova did not say one more word to them the rest of the way back to the dorm, and for their part Terry and Akira also remained silent. While they ultimately managed to get back just before curfew, the rather sour turn the evening had taken towards the end there did not help Terry’s mood, and the upcoming operation was weighing on his mind anew.