March 4, 2013 by Vee Villarreal
“Why didn’t you send word that you’d arrived?” Kai was anxious to get some answers before Jean and Reggie returned from the kitchen with refreshments. Today was turning out to be quite the exciting day for new arrivals. The conversation with Reggie about Cyrus had to be put on hold, and now Rex was here. A week he’d said in his correspondence, that was nearly two- no, three months ago, but that was Rex for you, did everything on his own schedule. Now the smug bastard sat, slumped comfortably in one of the armchairs that faced the large, cherry-wood desk in Reggie’s office, looking pleased that he’d caught everyone off guard.
“I just spent three days on some very rough roads getting here. I wasn’t in the mood to waste time.”
Kai darted his tongue over his lip, rubbing the spot just behind his right ear, his own personal worry stone. “The Thomas boys are back, Rex.” Rex’s grey eyes were always alight with the formulation of a new plan or gleaning a new resource, but the shimmer died at the mention of Caster and Cyrus.
“They’re on our side now, Kai.” It was meant to be reassuring, but it didn’t do the trick.
“Perhaps, but you assigned them to Zone 23. What are they doing here?” Kopi hung in the doorway, playing lookout while Kai pressed Rex for answers. Rex might be the rebel leader, but he was still shiftier than a feral cat.
“I’ll find out. Don’t worry about it.” There was that shimmer again. Kai sighed as he realized he’d lost Rex’s focus. “So, Kopi, Friend,” Rex shifted his attention, “Have you thought on my offer?”
Kopi hesitated, he was caught off guard by the question and now he searched his brother’s face for a clue as to how to answer. No matter how old they got or how many trials they overcame together, Kopi could still turn from age twenty-four and grown all the way back to six in a heartbeat. This time big brother didn’t have an answer. Of course, he didn’t want Kopi to leave or to fall on some battlefield somewhere, the last link to his parents cut forever. But Kopi was a grown man and he had to make his own choices.
“I-I have.” Kopi’s eyes trailed to the ground at his feet.
“I need you by my side when we make our primary assault. You’re one of the best I’ve got.”
Kopi nodded curtly and stepped aside to let the Hardings by with a tray of beverages.
“I see you all already know each other.” Reggie’s tone was much cooler than normal as he took his seat in the high-back chair across from them at the desk. Jean stood at his side and neither of them reached to pass out the glasses. Kai couldn’t help, but feel a streak of shame knowing that they were being dragged into this mess and it was, if not entirely, at least mostly his fault.
“I’m afraid we do, Dr. Harding,” Rex switched gears into diplomat mode, “But it’s really you and I who need to get better acquainted.” Rex stood with a whimsical flair, uncommon in military leaders. “I am Rex Echevarrio; merchant, traveler, escapist-extraordinaire,” he bowed flamboyantly over the desk before raising himself up again, “and general in the Mutant Resistance Army.”
The surprise was evident in both doctor’s eyes. Kai was certain they’d never met a member of the MRA before, they may not have even been sure the army truly existed before now. Would they realize that he and his brother were members as well? And not just members; zone leaders.
“The Mutant-Resistance Army? Are you based here in the Pacific?” Reggie quickly shrugged off his shock and set down to the business of figuring this mess out.
“We’re everywhere, Doctor, even in your precious capitols.” Rex slinked back down into his seat. He was enjoying this charade. Jean’s eyes widened noticeably and Kai grit his teeth.
“Are you here to flaunt your power over us, General?” Reggie leaned forward over his desk, for once devoid of papers, steepling his hands in front of him.
“Of course not. I’m here to ask for your assistance.” Rex waited for his voice to sink in before continuing. “I’ve heard of your benevolent deeds from my friends here.” Rex motioned toward the brothers and Kai sighed, unable to look up and face the Hardings reactions. “You and your family have good hearts and from what I hear your avid equalists, a rare quality among the GP.”
“Kai…Kopi, you’re rebels?” Jean’s voice was soft and disbelieving as she looked upon them. Kai met her eyes, out of respect, and was surprised to find no hate there, just hurt.
“I assure you, General, we are equalists despite our genetic profile, but you should know that our funding comes from Globalnetics. I’m not sure how much help we can be to you, without compromising what we’re trying to achieve here.”
Raised voices sounded from the main room causing everyone to turn toward the door where Kopi was still keeping guard. Three smiling faces appeared from behind him. Miranda, Summer and Jaxon Pate were all standing at the entrance to the office.
“Why’s this place on lockdown all of a sudden?” Miranda pushed her way past Kopi and stood stunned at the sight of Rex. “Oh!”
The General struck swiftly, seeing Miranda, gorgeous vision that she was, was too much for the philanderer to resist. He planted a kiss on her outstretched hand and her cheeks flushed a bright crimson.
“That’s enough, Rex.” Kai pulled the general back into his seat. The Harding girls took their places near their parents.
“Wasn’t Jaxon with you, dear?” Jean asked Summer. Kai remembered seeing him in the doorway, but there was no trace of him now.
“He said he’d come back when you didn’t have company. What’s going on, Mom?”
“I’m afraid we’ve been duped, the Gresham brothers are enlisted in the Mutant Resistance and they’ve brought their leader here to try and conscript our help.” Reggie was understandably upset.
“We didn’t tell Rex to come here-”Rex put up his hand, signaling Kopi to stop his protest.
“Now you’ve got things all wrong, Doctor Harding.” Rex leaned against the edge of the desk. “I don’t wish to press you into any kind of service, but seeing as we’re kind of on the same side, I thought you and your family would be interested in assisting me in a local task that would serve all of our interests.”
“If we work for your enemy, I don’t see how we can be on the same side, General. Perhaps, Kai and Kopi didn’t inform you of this, but my own son is an officer in the Globalnetics Army.”
“That’s hardly my concern, though I would advise you, that if you want your son to remain whole you might suggest a new line of work to him.” Rex paused seeing that his efforts were only creating more animosity. “I think I should give you more information about the mission of the MRA. While our main goal is to free the world of Globalnetics domination we don’t limit our vision of that to violent offensive alone. Primarily, we focus on liberating focal points of Mutant oppression.”
“And by that you mean?” Reggie was visibly frustrated, but his curiosity was piqued.
“Have you heard of Compound 17?”
Kopi made a guttural noise low in his throat and turned to flee the room down the hallway. Kai couldn’t blame him, the camp was no one’s idea of pleasant conversation, especially not if you’d had the pleasure of living there.
“Recently, yes. It was some sort prison camp for Mutants.” Reggie answered.
“Indeed. Some years ago, Globalnetics assigned a team of their scientists to construct a facility here for medical experimentation and observation of Mutants. There are dozens of compounds like 17 across the globe and all of them are kept secret from the general public; easy enough to do when you build them in undesirable locations. Have you attempted to learn anything about the compound?”
“I have, but I can’t find any documentation on its creation or who was sent there. All we have to go on is my son’s testimony and the local legends.” Reggie was definitely getting interested now, though Kai knew he should also be wary of what Rex was planning to involve him in.
“And you won’t find much, Doctor Harding. You could search for the rest of your days in the archives for some kind of paper trail, but you’ll find nothing. Unless, of course, you know where to look.”
Reggie raised an eyebrow at that, “And where is that?”
Rex stood slowly and began to pull out his button-down shirt from his pants. “Do you examine the Mutant Registry profiles of your employees before you hire them, Dr. Harding?”
“Not as a habit, no.”
Unbuttoning his shirt the general continued to probe. “But you have access to the registry, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course. General, where is this going?” Reggie leaned back in his chair, keeping a cautious eye on Rex.
“Why don’t you access the registry now for me, Doctor.” Rex tugged his shirt off his shoulders, standing shirtless in front of the family. Everyone shifted uncomfortably seeing the inappropriate display. Reggie moved hesitantly to the computer, hands hovering over the keys. “It’s alright, Doctor, I’m just making a point.” Rex turned his back to them and Miranda responded immediately with a shocked gasp, covering her mouth with one delicate hand.
It wasn’t the network of hardened scars across the surface of Rex’s suntanned skin that had surprised her; she’d seen Kai’s scars and they were not something unfamiliar to her. When she looked down at Kai’s face and tears sparkled in her eyes he knew that it was the small black tattoo that had caught her attention.
“Every prisoner from the Globalnetics compounds is in that registry, but their profiles won’t tell you that.” He turned back around, shrugging into his shirt, but leaving it unbuttoned and gaping in the front. “Not directly anyways. At the bottom of the screen you’ll see the notation of a seemingly meaningless stream of characters and dashes. That entry is a code that is encrypted so that even the military and bureaucratic agents that use the registry everyday won’t understand its significance.”
“Kai, stand up.” Rex’s tone was uncharacteristically demanding and Kai followed orders. “Now, show the doctor your mark.”
Kai froze at the command, unwilling to do what his leader asked. Rex saw the disobedience in his eyes and attempted to counter it with his tone.
“Don’t be shy. You spent ten years displaying that mark on command, no need to hide it now amongst friends.”
“No, Rex. This is inappropriate.”
Rex’s expression hardened. “I wasn’t asking. The doctor needs to understand our situation.” Kai hesitated, but slowly drew his shirt up enough to expose the back of his shoulder and turned to face the wall, glad that his brother had left before he had to witness this circus sideshow.
“Good. Now, please look up Kai Gresham’s profile in the registry. Not much to it, is there? A whole life reduced to a few basic facts and entries, but there at the bottom you will see this,” Rex’s finger drew an invisible line under the tattoo on Kai’s back causing him to visibly shiver.
“I don’t understand what this is supposed to mean.” Reggie’s face was lit artificially by the brilliance of the computer screen and in the reflection of a photo frame on the wall Kai could see the Hardings staring at his bare back.
“It’s simple enough once you understand the pattern. This first part,” Rex pointed, using Kai for visual instruction as you would a black board, “’P17’, stands for the Pacific Sector, Compound 17. That’s were Kai was interned. And the second ‘17’ here is the home zone of the Mutant. Mine for example says ‘6,’ for Zone 6. The next part, ‘We/Fe/EeEm,’ that part is a pedigree of sorts. These are clinical notations for the type of powers the Mutant possesses, as well as those of the father and the mother. Kai being a water elemental, W-e, and his father, a fire elemental, F-e. His mother was an earth elemental and emotive, hence the double notation. I always thought it was odd to have so many combinations of elementals in one family.” Rex directed the last part straight to Kai, who shuttered at the implied critique. “And finally, the last section is not denoted on all specimens, but Mr. Gresham here is something of a rarity, so he has an ‘M’, which identifies that he was modified either physically or genetically in the camp.”
“Why are you showing us this?” Summer chimed in; the same critical look her mother had on her face. Without waiting for permission Kai covered himself and sat back down in the chair, concentrating on controlling the powerful flush creeping over his cheeks.
“Because if we’re to work together you need to be informed. More than half the population of this zone survived Compound 17 and some of them now work here on your estate.”
“I have to admit that this is all quite enlightening, and I’ll need to address this new information with my employees.” Reggie shot Kai a quick glance, telling him that conversation, however unpleasant, was coming. “What I fail to understand is what exactly you want our help with general?”
Rex chuckled to himself, “Yes, my apologies. Kai can tell you, I have a tendency to be rather longwinded. The point is this, as a former prisoner in this zone and with the heavy population of survivors here I have vested interest in these people. The MRA works to find and destroy the inhumane research facilities of Globalnetics, but we also work to keep them and other networks that might crop up from setting up new exploitative measures in Mutant-heavy zones. That’s where you come in.” Rex sat down. “I have reason to believe that there is a pharming operation in place here in Zone 17 and I want it stopped.”
“What do you mean ‘pharming,’ this is an agricultural area, I assume that’s not what you are referring to?” Jean asked.
“I mean drugs, Dr. Harding, pheromones. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the street value of these chemicals.”
“Yes, of course, but those are synthetic.”
“Are they?” Rex was being facetious now, just adding to Kai’s growing irritation with the man. “Some are, but most of the chemical hormones used by Globalnetics are harvested from emotive Mutants and then they’re often weaponized and used against other Mutants and even GP populations. Test the circulated air in the office buildings and hospitals back in your capital cities and I bet you’ll find calming pheromones there, of an organic origin. Some poor Mutant was tortured and drained for those chemicals, Doctor. Will you stand for that?”
Reggie pushed a button on the computer screen turning it off and pressed his fingers against his temples. “I believe that’s enough for today, General. I need to discuss all of this with my family before we speak of our part in all this. If you’re interested we can give you a tour of the grounds here and you are more than welcome to dine with us tonight, but the answer you’re looking for will have to wait.”
“Absolutely. I’m afraid I’ll be leaving the zone before nightfall, but I will take you up on your offer for a tour.” Rex stood and gestured for Kai to follow his lead. “Perhaps we’ll consider setting up a school like this back home.” Reggie nodded and moved around the desk to lead them all out for a tour.
Before Kai could exit the office at the tail of the group Miranda stepped into his path. Her eyes were slick and dark, but there was an aggression to her approach.
“I thought we were friends.” She sighed and shook her head, voice barely above a whisper. “Why couldn’t you just tell me?” She didn’t wait for an answer leaving him to sink in on himself in the now empty room.
The tour was moving along uneventfully as Reggie pushed the group on toward the future site of the gymnasium, which Kai understood to be some sort of multipurpose indoor gathering place and sporting complex. A very odd idea really, why play games inside when there was plenty of space outside? It all seemed terribly claustrophobic. This section of the estate was relatively open, set between the big house and the garden where the children took their recess.
Reggie led the tour into the gymnasium; structural beams were already in place, corrugated metal lay overhead and the back wall was almost completely bricked. A secondary wall was portioning off the future kitchen, but for the most part the building was still open to the elements.
A sharp, throbbing pain began at his temples, overwhelming him with its suddenness. The afternoon sun, reflected off of Rex’s sunglasses, stunning Kai with a wave of pain-induced nausea. Where did this headache come from? Kai steadied himself against one of the steel beams and Miranda turned to see him languishing to the back of the group. The hesitation was evident in her eyes; she was still too upset with him to ask what was wrong. Kai made his excuses to Reggie and Rex and headed out of the structure to sit for a moment on a neat pile of plywood boards lying near a large shipping container that had contained some of the building materials for the gym.
He rested his aching head in the palms of his hands, hunching over his legs as he tried to drown out the pain. Dulcet voices carried back to his sitting area from the tour group, assuring him that he still had some time before they moved on, but the way he was feeling he didn’t think he’d be able to continue with them. Now was definitely one of those times that he wished pain killers worked on him. The container door screeched open, catching his attention. Looking up to see who might be working at the site by themselves, Kai had failed to notice any other workers on site when they’d arrived, the sun blinded him momentarily over the corner of the rusted metal door, but he could have sworn he saw the top of a head. That was almost impossible, they’d have to be seven feet or taller, no one at the estate was near that height.
Focusing on the door his vision slowly cleared, though his head was still killing him. From around the other side of the door appeared a dreaded, but familiar face. Caster Thomas. The man was a goliath; standing over seven feet tall and wider than most door frames, he was built of solid muscle and had a wicked disposition to match his impressive girth. Kai edged cautiously off of his seat, watching Caster with apprehension. A sinister smile was the only warning he got before all four hundred plus pounds of Mutant came rushing toward him. Even without the added stimulus of fending off his massive attacker, Kai would have found it difficult to focus in his present state. Every movement was jarring and sent his stomach lurching its contents up toward his mouth, the taste of bile and acid was growing stronger. With the behemoths appearance it was obvious that this quickly manifesting pain had to be Cyrus’ work; a distraction to facilitate this attack.
Before he could deflect the violent charge two arms wrapped around his torso and lifted him bodily into the air for just a moment before releasing, slamming him against the ground. Nothing would be broken, but the pain was enough to darken the edges of Kai’s sight. Kai was slow to lift himself up off the ground; luckily, Caster was momentarily distracted by the tour group reappearing near the container. Standing shakily Kai had seconds to gain his bearings before the giant charged him a second time. This time Caster pushed him into the structure of the gymnasium and against a steel beam with a jarring thud.
“Stand down!” The command rattled loudly around in Kai’s head as his vision began to clear. Rex stood with his side arm pointed at them, his eyes set on Caster, daring him to disobey and invite him to pull the trigger. At least Kai could be fairly certain Rex hadn’t ordered the mongrel to attack him.
Surprisingly, the seven foot monster actually listened to the general. He stood shocked, but still as he stared at their commanding officer who had his gun trained square on his chest. Big as he was, he wasn’t bulletproof. Caster took a slow step back and waited, confused and hesitant, for further orders. Kai slid slowly to the ground to catch his breath, where Jean and Reggie swarmed him with questions he didn’t bother to take in and hands that probed him for injuries. Kai tried to push them back, Caster was momentarily at bay, but who knew when he’d snap back into attack mode and the doctors would be in the way.
“Stay back. I mean it; I will not hesitate to shoot you.” Rex continued to shout out commands, his voice growing in volume.
From his position on the ground Kai could still see Caster clearly; standing still, his arms held out at his sides and empty of weapons. Scanning back to where Rex was standing, Kai noticed his pistol now aimed at Cyrus, who had manifested from inside the shipping container. Still feeling dazed from the brawl Kai tried to wave the doctors away, but they were insistent. His warnings grew more agitated knowing that Cyrus could change this now calm situation into a bloodbath if it suited him. Before Kai could communicate just that, Cyrus demonstrated it.
Boldly stepping forward, Rex warned him again sternly, but his weapon faltered. Kai willed him to shoot, but he didn’t take the shot and before long the general cast it aside as though it were a foul creature in his hand and not the only weapon they had against Cyrus’ control. Rex curled in on himself in a terrified fit, there was no telling what images and deeply nestled nightmares Cyrus was provoking in his mind, but Kai wasn’t keen to find out. He shoved at Jean who was palpating his ribs for breaks, but her only reply was to chastise him verbally and continue her probing.
“Now, Cousin, if you’d kindly move the doctors out of our way, we can continue. But take care, no collateral damage, remember?” Cyrus was crazy and sadistic as ever, grinning madly as he watched the color drain from Kai’s face.
Caster pulled Reggie away, one massive paw on the doctor’s shoulder; he landed five feet from them into the gymnasium. Jean proved more difficult to remove gently, so Caster picked her up bodily and deposited her roughly near her husband. Jean protested vulgarly till she was bright red in the face, which probably would’ve been an amusing sight, were it not for the present circumstances. Caster returned his attention to Kai. Feeling cornered, Kai hesitated to find a quick solution, he knew he had no chance of taking the behemoth on. Even with his skeletal and muscular enhancements, Caster would likely just beat the holy hell out of him without Kai so much as making a dent. The only problem being that Kai could take a lot of beating, and that wasn’t something he looked forward to. His only chance was to take care of things the quick and dirty way. Anticipating his decision though, Cyrus bombarded him with a powerful and incapacitating wave of fear, followed by pain. A growing, intense pain that shot through him like lightning and causing him to scream out. Caster took that opportunity to pull him to his feet.
A loud crack caught his attention and Kai turned quickly to see where it had come from, suddenly made much easier by the disappearance of the thundering pain inside his skull. Kopi stood over Cyrus’ prostrate body holding a two by four that he promptly discarded at his feet.
“Why don’t you pick on someone more your size, Caster. And since no one fits that bill, you’ll just have to settle for me.” Kopi gestured boldly for the bully to come at him, positioning his feet to provide better balance.
Cyrus lay face up in the grass, out cold, but his chest rose and fell gently letting Kai know that the little creep was still alive. A confusing mix of relief and anxiety followed that realization. As predicted, Caster took an immediate interest in the new target. Seeing an opportunity unfold before him Kai slugged Caster in the face as hard as he could with a balled fist. It stung, splitting the skin of his knuckles. Caster stumbled for just a moment, staggering back into Kopi’s charge. Faster than the eye could follow his brother tackled Caster and the two of the slammed into the side of the shipping container, creating a large dent. They scuffled; all the while Kopi was edging him back, farther from the structure and the risk of hurting any bystanders.
Kai recovered to the side of the fight, keeping an eye on Rex, who was still convalescing from his mental ordeal, and Cyrus who was beginning to stir. Kai snapped to get the general’s attention and pointed at Cyrus. Rex quickly rose, picking his disguarded gun off the ground and held it over Cyrus’ limp body. The emotive villain fluttered open his eyelids and seeing the weapon trained on his face, smiled wickedly.
“I don’t think you want to do that, General.”
With that note, Rex’s expression changed, softening into an unfeeling and fish-eyed gaze, before his grip released from around the pistol and it dropped once again to the ground. Rex fell to his knees in the grass, head heavy in his hands and a soft keening noise coming from his throat. Kai crawled on all fours toward the gun lying in the grass, but Cyrus stopped him short. They grappled on the lawn. Kai was careful not to dangerously injure the man, but he wouldn’t relent and blood stung in Kai’s eyes as it oozed from cuts in his face and scalp. It was becoming more and more difficult to see and the panic made him careless. Cyrus bombarded his consciousness with frightening images of their imprisonment and the sinking feeling of sorrow, all of it making a burning fury grow within him.
Meanwhile, Kopi and Caster were matching each other swing for swing, but for all of Kopi’s skill and bravado, he didn’t have the larger man’s natural strength and he panted with the effort to keep up. The only thing that helped him avoid the brunt of the assault was that his reflexes were faster than Caster’s allowing him to duck out of the way in time. Until that is, the giant threw two punches in quick succession one from the right and the next from the left, as Kopi recovered Caster managed to sneak in a third, which sent him to the ground. The goliath pinned him on his stomach against the earth with his massive frame and locked one thick forearm around Kopi’s neck. Clasping his wrist in the opposite hand he squeezed the hold tighter as Kopi struggled futilely beneath him.
Kai, frustrated and in agony, reached out for Cyrus jaw and caught it in his hand. Wanting to end the fight quickly and no longer interested in controlling his strength, Kai concentrated on filling Cyrus’ lungs and throat with water. It worked, Cyrus lost control over Kai’s thoughts and he released his grip on the elemental’s shirt to vomit and cough up the water that was choking him. Rex tried to rush him while he was still distracted with trying to breathe, but Cyrus beat him to the gun, holding them back with a shaky hold on the weapon.
Kopi’s movements were losing their force as the edges of his vision turned black from lack of oxygen. He gasped for air, but Caster’s arm only drew in tighter. With extraordinary effort he was able to inch his hand out from under his body and press it against the first thing he found that wasn’t his own flesh, and then he turned up the heat. He was just conscious enough to increase the energy of his aura, but not enough to control the increase or the focal point. His body heated up enough to create a visual disturbance in the air around him and his skin began to ooze a protective gel. Caster screamed loudly in Kopi’s ear as the heat seared his flesh and suddenly Kopi could take in air again. He lifted himself up and took in huge mouthfuls until his lungs burned. Caster stomped around him crying in agony and patting down his blistered flesh as if it were on fire.
In the distance, Kai could hear the commotion of the guard house soldiers approaching. They must have heard the noise coming from the yard and were coming over to investigate. Cyrus panicked, still holding them at gunpoint, he called to his cousin and Caster noticeable soothed. Cyrus had to be relieving the pain, because it would have been intense, but now Caster moved as though the front of his body wasn’t even singed. The two of them made off quickly between the buildings and past the outskirts of the estate before the guards arrive. Kai rested against the wall of the container, blood still dripping down his face in a red sheet.