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Part One - Mychael
Mychael read the invitation again as he stood outside of the door to the Rho Alpha Delta, or R.A.D., fraternity house, wondering why he would have been summoned to join their New Year’s Eve festivities. He didn’t participate in any of their events during Rush Week. He didn’t know any members, that he knew of. In fact, before he got the letter, he never heard of the group.
“What do I have to lose?” Michael asked, emboldening himself to walk up the stairs to the front door. “Could be fun, right?”
The house was quieter than he expected as he walked up the stone steps, but the three-story house was constructed out of large stone bricks making it virtually soundproof. The stained-glass windows bore metal grates over them, giving the entire building a medieval cathedral vibe. Two upright mastiff figurines completed the aesthetic as they flanked the entrance like guard dogs.
If it weren’t for the flashing lights twinkling behind the windows and the long red carpet flowing from the door to the street, Mychael wouldn’t have believed any social event would be taking place inside. A hand-scribbled note on college-lined paper hung on a golden chain in the statue to the right’s mouth.
Music is loud. Don’t knock. Come on in.
If his flight hadn’t been canceled for his trip back home for the holidays, Mychael would never have been here. He far preferred quieter, more cerebral activities. Board games or trivia contests with his small group of friends. Playing poker and winning extra bux while fleecing entitled rich kids who had the funds to burn. Solving crossword puzzles from the Sentinel News’s all-time hardest collection his parents sent him for Christmas. Mychael ran his thumb over the lucky totem on his keychain kept in his coat pocket.
Even though luck couldn’t be proven by any mathematical equation he’d seen so far, he believed in it. Luck never guaranteed the certainty of good things, but it did explain some of the more unexpected results in his young life. Praying to it never hurt either.
Out of habit, he politely knocked on the heavy wooden door and waited for a response, which didn’t come, before opening it. As soon as it cracked open, loud music burst out into the quiet night air. If it had been possible, the stone statues might have winced as the wall of sound struck them. He recognized the song, a popular E.D.M. number called Heroes Rising by Darksound. A large group of people danced in the room past the small alcove of the entranceway, their hands bearing Solo cups of every color held high in the air.
Mychael slipped in and closed the door behind him, not that anyone seemed to notice him. He saw an empty set of pegs on the wall to his right, recognizing it as a place to hang garments. He moved his keys to his pants pocket and shrugged his coat off, grateful to find a place to hang it. The music continued to play loudly as the horde of people danced in the next room, which spurred a question in Mychael’s mind.
Why weren’t there other outside clothes hanging here with so many others in the house? And why could he hear the music but no other sounds coming from the party? No shouting? No calling out? No YOs, BROs, or F$s which were the nature of people his age?
Something grabbed his arms, pulling them behind his back as rough cloth engulfed his head. He struggled, but being more brains than brawn, he couldn’t break free. A strange, unpleasant chemical smell filled his nostrils, making breathing even more difficult within the bag tightly pulled over his face and taught at his neck.
by Doctor Mythos
Earlier in the day, New Year’s Eve
“After what happened here at the Hallows Port, is it wrong for us to expect more from our heroes than to simply fight, destroy, and then disappear to their haven in the sky above us all?” Ruby Sinclair asked from the podium, her arm stretched out to draw the camera’s attention to the ruins behind her. Hulls of hundreds of ships of all sizes and shapes littered the bay, even two years after Lady Phoenix’s attack. Or was it Krampus’s? Stories varied depending on the source, as most new reports did.
“It is difficult to believe that with all the abilities of the heroes and alien visitors to our humble planet more can’t be done to not only clean up their messes, but to also improve our world rather than constantly fight one another.” She pressed a button on her remote and a holographic image of several prominent superpowered individuals in battle appeared beside her. “This one frequently claims to be the bringer of the destruction of the world. This one was responsible for incalculable damages in North Onnotangu.”
She went on and on for several minutes referring to many notorious characters with clips of their wakes of destruction during battles. Then she switched to a projector on her other side, projecting images of other heroes. “I don’t want to be characterized as one-sided, so there are multiple individuals who truly do go above and beyond with their service to humanity. Crossroads saved a planeload of passengers from death during the Battle in Bursa. Last year, hundreds of heroes collected food and tools for displaced by the World Corps activities. After Las Vegas, Washington D.C., and Hollywood were decimated.”
Images of the destroyed streets and buildings in each area played to her audience of news journalists and gathered citizens attending her media conference. “Multiple cities destroyed. One food drive. Is that enough?”
In the crowd before her, a hand went up into the air. “Excuse me but is seems to me you are trying to ask for regulation of the activities for BADGE and the world’s heroes. In these times, isn’t that like pulling the police off the streets during a crime wave?”
“Impatient as ever, Mr. Hamilton,” Ruby replied. Possessing a doctorate in civil engineering, she made herself the forerunner in the newly created field of integration of powered individuals. “Questions were to be taken at the end of the presentation, but I will answer that one. The addition of enhanced Morphonic individuals to our society must be measured and evaluated to determine how best we can incorporate them and survive as a culture. If we don’t, eventually a new order will be imposed upon mankind as we know it by one or more of these individuals out of the theory that might makes right. Look at what the World Corps recently attempted under BADGE’s nose.”
“That’s unfair to say, Dr. Sinclair. BADGE did everything it could to put a stop to them and uncovered not only extraterrestrial but extratemporal interference by unknowable entities manipulating those in charge of the World Corps,” Chaz said forcefully. His role as BADGE’s official Sentinel News liaison clearly made him protective of the heroes of the world. “They have fought on behalf of humanity and the world far more than you give them credit for ever since Legion first appeared.”
The rest of the crowd grew quiet, sensing the beginning of a debate that would provide vital soundbites to share.
“They have. I am grateful for that fact-,” Dr. Ruby Sinclair leaned on the podium and brought herself closer to the microphone to punctuate her next statement, “-but that DOES NOT DO ANYTHING BUT PROVE MY POINT. Fighting. Waging war on other powerful beings. Why does having an enhanced ability only seem to result in fostering a need for conflict? For destruction?”
She leaned back from the microphone, searching the crowd to see if her comment struck a chord with any of the audience. She straightened the lapels on her business jacket, her hand brushing against a pin she had made from a broken piece of glass butterfly wings found in the jewelry inherited from her mother’s mothers’ estate. Just thinking of her grandmother emboldened her, recalling the emotional stories of building a new life after immigrating to America last century.
As if on cue, a temporal rift, similar to those on the BADGE Orbital Space Station last New Year, opened up next to Dr. Sinclair. Before anyone could call out to warn her, an armored arm reached out and grabbed her by the neck. Ruby screamed as she was pulled into the shattered aperture in reality and disappeared as it closed.
Chapter Three: (Bernard Burko)
“What should I do tonight, coach,” Bernard, or Burko as most people called him, said as he stepped off the final step of the bus. “What do they do in America for the night before a new year?”
“You mean New Year’s Eve. That’s what they call it here,” Coach Reagan said as he marked the box next to Bernard Bunko’s name on his clipboard. “It’s a shame we couldn’t arrange for a later flight so you could have stayed in Bursa with your family through the holiday.”
“No worries,” Benny said with a wide smile, his accent reminiscent of merchants on the streets of Istanbul. He had a deep, resonant voice, easy to listen to and, combined with his polite mannerisms, offset the intimidating nature of his massive, muscular build. “I’ll have better stories about America to tell my little cousins when I get home. My father’s sister and her family live with my parents ever since, well, you know, the Jinn destroyed most of Bursa. Their house was smashed, so all seven of them fill our house to rafters. It is good I am here for some time. Gives them room to breathe.”
“It’s good of your family to make room for them.” Coach said as he struggled to pull Burko’s duffle out storage in the bottom of the bus.
“Evet.” Burko hoisted his belonging over his shoulder with ease. “Yes. It is what family does.”
“You’ve got your room number and everything you need? Maybe I could get one of the junior assistants to give you a tour of the campus--“
Burko held up a hand, silencing his coach with a slow shake of his head. “Not needed. I will be fine. I’ve traveled much and am used to… how do you say… finding my own path.”
“Way. Finding your own way.” Coach Reagan held out a hand to his newest recruit to the Olympic training program, headquartered in New Amsterdam. “I can’t wait to get started on your regimen.”
“Finding my way. Thank you.” Burko took his coaches hand and shook it firmly. “Much worth it if you can aid me in furthering my putting. I have much competition back in Europe.”
“OK then. I’ll see you on Monday.” Coach Reagan stood and waited as the bus pulled away before walking to his car in the parking area of New Amsterdam Athletic’s housing structure. He waved over his shoulder as he hustled toward his remote started car. “Welcome to America. Get some rest.”
Burko gave a brief wave back in response before walking under the stone arch in the wall surrounding the dorms. He followed the instructions he had been given to find the right building, and then room, he had been assigned to. Once inside, he tossed his bag of belongings onto the first chair he saw and looked for the bathroom. Catching his reflection in a mirror through a door behind him, he removed his coat, shirt, and the rest of his clothes as he made his way into the room to shower. All that he wore was a leather cord with a small glass bauble, resembling a stopper to a wine decanter, hanging at the end.
As he turned on and tested the water while standing otherwise naked in the room, a chime came from his discarded pants piled in a heap where he had dropped them. He spun around, pausing only for an instant when catching his reflection in the mirror and smiling as he flexed his pecs. “All right, all right. Give me a moment.”
A second chime sounded notifying him of another text. He hurried over and dug out his phone from a pocket.
THERE IN 5. B RDY
“Always in a hurry, this one is,” Burko said as he put the phone on a nearby countertop. He returned to the bathroom, now full of steam from the cascading hot water.
Evan pulled up in his rented car, eager to see Burko again. They had met several times over the last few years at various European competitions and fate bringing them together on New Year’s Eve in America was an opportunity not to be missed. Once he had put the car in park in the bus lane outside the dormitory compound he too resided in, he checked his appearance in the mirror. Satisfied, he texted Burko again.
HERE. WHERE U
Then again, a few minutes later…
BEEN HERE 5 MINUTES DUDE GET DOWN HERE
Four minutes later…
BURKO WHAT WRONG
Three minutes later…
YOU NOT HERE? STILL ON PLANE
One minute later, after texting with Coach Reagan…
COACH SAID YOU HERE. WHERE U AT
Evan got out of the car and phone in hand headed to Burko’s room. He knocked on the door, finding it open and unlocked, he made his way in. Clothes on the floor, bag where it had been tossed, steam coming from the running shower in the bathroom. “Burko. Come on man. New Year’s Eve. Places to be. Mess around later.”
Walking into the room, Evan found the shower empty except for a large dent in the tile of the wall, a bright red stain trickling down as water poured over it.
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