Today was the today. New Year’s Day.
A little less than four months ago, just a short time after Carter first became Lightning Bee, and around the same time Raina became Queen, a string of murders began in Bluejay City.
After being pre-occupied with each other for a little while, the kids and I ended up tracking down the man behind the murders. A man still known only to us as Smog.
Put simply: He wrecked us. With strength and abilities beyond what a human is capable of, Carter, Raina, myself, and even Olivia were taken down with ease. We only survived because he wanted to play a game of survival with us. However, Erica didn’t. And neither did my left arm.
As we’d later learn, the reason Smog’s powers were beyond human capabilities was because he wasn’t human. And according to him, he wasn’t a demon either.
We’d seen him a few other times since then. Once, he fought Raina and a bunch of her friends. Once again, Smog won with ease, the group only surviving by the skin of their teeth. Around a week ago, we got a videotape from him, which basically amounted to him taunting us, and telling us the date the game would end. That night though, Shay and I had actually run into Smog, and even though we were suspicious of what he was up to, we were helpless to do anything.
If the super strong smoke man with an abundance of broken powers wasn’t bad enough, he also had two others serving him.
One was a vampire named Salaran who was frighteningly loyal to her “master.” All we knew about her strength wise was that she was good enough to beat down an already injured Raina. So basically, we knew nothing.
The other was a motherfucking angel…named Gordon. He was a weird one, fascinated with the most random of things. He’d helped us during Demongeddon, and he honestly didn’t seem like a bad guy. I had no idea what he was doing with Smog. If Erica was still around, her aura reading maybe could have helped me figure it out. We may not have had much of an idea about Salaran, but we definitely knew what Gordon was capable of. Namely that he was capable of cutting apart demons with ease.
And today, a mentally struggling Carter, a physically injured Shay, and myself, by far our team’s weakest link, were going to have to fight those guys, and if we didn’t win, everyone in Bluejay City would die.
Basically, we were all fucked.
“Alright, let’s recap, so nobody forgets what could be important in a crucial moment,”Shay said, the four of us standing around in my apartment, save Carter who was sitting down on the couch.
After Carter’s failed attempt to take down Adam, he and Shay had gotten evicted. With Eve having moved out awhile ago, my sisters and I were the only ones living in the apartment, so I’d invited Shay to stay with me, and naturally, that meant Carter was coming as well. It wasn’t a bad living situation though. Shay and I shared my bed, although we still hadn’t had sex, and Carter had been crashing in Eve’s old room. Joey was the only one here who wasn’t living here.
Shay, Carter, and I were all in our costumes, if you could call my jacket a costume, while Joey had wisely chosen not to put on the Captain KO gear, instead just wearing all black, combat attire.
“Malcolm, as requested, has no guns on him.” After what had happened to Erica and Lillian, I wasn’t bringing any of my sisters to fight against people with powers ever again, let alone Smog. “So, strapped to his leg is a billy club, strapped to his back is a katana, and in his pockets are knuckles, all of these weapons of course made of anti-Demigod metal, and on his belt are several grenades.” Raina may have turned against us, but at least she’d stocked up on weapons for us before she did so. “Me though? I’m going in packing heat. M16’s on my back, desert eagles in my thigh holsters, and I’ve got a spare DoubleTap hidden in my breasts. I’ve also got my standard gear of my own anti-Demigod baton, and my pepper spray. Whether the latter will have any effect on Smog at all, I don’t know. And Carter won’t be taking any gear. His lightning is probably more effective than anything we’ll be throwing at Smog.”
I turned to look at Carter, sitting on the couch with his face in his hands. The kid had been in a funk ever since Christmas, and no matter what we’d tried he hadn’t snapped out of it. Shay had gotten him a Blueray of one of his favorite animes and binged it with him. I’d taken him to the firing range. Joey had played “Guardianship: The Fighting Game” with him for hours. Nothing had worked.
He hadn’t even suited up as Lightning Bee in days. Wasn’t acting like himself at all. Everything with Eve and Olivia. The Guardianship. Adam. Raina. Poor guy was a wreck.
Shay hadn’t even originally planned on him coming after Smog with us. She was still pretty confident that this was all about her somehow, and both of us prided ourselves on being a great team…but we’d stopped kidding ourselves.
Fact was, even if Carter had failed to do anything to Adam, he was still unbelievably powerful, and him being with us was going to increase our chances of survival by at least a little bit.
Shay was basically in the same boat I was mentally, but she hadn’t fully recovered from her injuries at the hand of Raina. We’d tested her yesterday, and while her reaction time was a bit slowed down, and parts of her body felt sore, she still had little trouble kicking mine and Joey’s asses simultaneously.
“Uh,” Joey raised his arm. “Why have I not been geared up?”
“Joey,” Shay said sympathetically. “I thought we were clear on this. Stuff like this is out of your league. If you came with us, you most likely wouldn’t be of any help, and you’d definitely get killed.”
“Then why am I even here?” Joey asked.
“Because, like last time we went over this, I’ve got a different job for you.”
“What?” he asked sarcastically. “Want me to plan a victory party?”
“Most likely there isn’t going to be a “victory party.” None of us are in great shape right now, and Smog, Gordon, and Salaran are as powerful as ever. This is basically a suicide mission for us, but one we have no choice but to attempt.” Shay bit her lip, and took a breath. “We’ve…Malcolm and I have accepted this. But there’s no reason you and everyone in this city has to die too.”
“We got you a bus,” I jumped in. “We’ve got a little over an hour till Smog arrives at City Hall. We’re hoping he’s making last minute preparations or some shit, and won’t be paying too much attention to the city. A full-scale evacuation he’d notice no matter what, and he’d probably just kill everyone there. But a single bus? A bus filled with anyone who’s willing to listen that if they don’t get out of this city they’re going to die? Those might be the people who can keep their lives.”
“We’d also like you to contact Troyan,” Shay continued. “Talk to him, and any other of our old pals from the force. See if you can get them driving buses out of the city too.” Shay nodded as she continued to talk. “Millions of people may die today because of us. Joey, we’re trusting you to at least help save a few hundred.”
Joey looked petty dumbfounded. This was probably the most responsibility he’d ever had placed on his shoulders. And to be fair, it was more responsibility than most people ever had put on them.
Shay and I didn’t have much too experience with these kinds of stakes either, but we’d still played much larger roles in stopping Demongeddon than Joey.
Teeth clenched, Joey nodded.
“You can count on me,” he said. “But…please. If things look bad, just run. The world needs you guys. Certainly a Hell of a lot more than it needs me.”
Shay smiled slightly and lightly punched Joey’s shoulder.
“Bro, if you do this job right, no one who gets out of this city alive is going to agree with that.”
Joey seriously looked like he was about to tear up with joy.
“You called me Bro,” he said, his pudgy face filled with momentary happiness.
Guess it really is the little things in life that bring joy, I thought.
As I slapped Joey’s back, Shay turned her attention to the motionless Carter, sitting down next to him.
“How you feeling, dude?” she asked.
Carter remained still and silent.
“Come on kid, tell us what’s going on in your head,” I said.
Carter coughed before speaking.
“I’ve been thinking. I can’t come with you guys.”
As she put an arm around him, Shay asked, “What? Why?”
Last week, his ego has soared high for the first time, and it was immediately brought back down following his beatdown at the hands of Adam. Didn’t take a genius to figure out he was worried about if he was good enough for this fight.
“Raina,” he said flatly, instantly proving me wrong.
Seriously? I thought. I care about Raina too, but with all the things his mind should be focused on, this is starting to border on obsession.
“Adam is on top of most things,” Carter continued. “No doubt when you start fighting Smog, he’ll be able to sense it or some crap, and have a news crew sent over to broadcast our failure.” He pulled his face out of his hands and glared at me. “But he doesn’t know what Smog has planned. He doesn’t know that if we lose, everyone dies. Raina…Raina is at home in her mansion. And Adam, according the news, is off on some bullshit business in China. She’s in her home…defenseless.”
Oh my god, I thought, frustrated as Hell.
“Kid, are you saying you’re going to leave me and your sister to fight Smog alone, because you want to protect someone who wants to wipe out humanity, and, oh yeah, hates yo…” Jesus Christ. “Carter, are you just doing this because you want Raina to forgive you? Because if so that is…remarkably selfish.”
“Nah, that’s not it. Right, Carter bro?” Joey asked.
“Don’t answer that,” Shay said, hugging Carter tighter.
“Uh, Shay, I’m not sure now is the right time to be comforting,” I said.
Shay turned to me.
“Babe, Joey, can you give us a minute alone?”
Was she serious? Was she serious?!
“O’course,” Joey said, walking into Carter’s room.
I stood my ground though.
“We need to get over to City Hall to evacuate it. We don’t have time to coddle him.”
From the look on Shay’s face, I’d clearly just pissed her off.
“I’m not going to coddle, I’m going to talk. Now go.”
I glared at Carter before accepting that I wasn’t going to get anywhere here without really making Shay mad. And that I wasn’t willing to do. I nodded and made my way into Carter’s room, closing the door behind me.
Thankfully, these doors were hardly soundproof, so I was still able to listen in on their conversation with my year against the door, Joey on the other side of the room, checking his phone.
“You know I don’t like Raina,” Shay said. “I never really have.”
“Yeah,” Carter moaned. “Wish it wasn’t the case, but yeah, I know.”
“Buuuuuuut,” Shay started. “That obviously never stopped you from spending time with her. No matter how much I protested. No matter what new evil or amoral thing she was up to. And now I can see why. You love her. And I don’t just mean in the same way you love Malcolm and Joey. Really, really strong friendship. It’s not love in a familial way. How we love each other.”
“Does she think that Carter is into Raina?” I whispered.
“Not love in a romantic way either,” she said. “Like Eve and Olivia.”
“No,” she went on. “What you feel for Raina…well, how would you describe it?”
It took around half a minute for Carter to answer. He’d probably been softly mumbling or whispering in that time.
“I guess,” he said. “I guess the love I feel stems from my hope for her. Yeah, she’s just awesome to be around, and regardless of any deeper connection, she’d still be my best friend. But I’ve always been able to see what she could become. Who she really is. Yeah, me and Olivia have always been there to give her the push she needs, but whenever she’s strayed from the light, she’s always found her way back. Even now, I screwed up. And Olivia won’t be able to help her either.”
“And you really think she’ll figure everything out on her own?” Shay asked.
Finally, Carter started speaking with an emotion in his voice: Pride. Pride in someone else.
“If she does, and I know she will, it’ll mean I was right from the start.” He took a breath. “Heroes have been popping up all over since I became Lightning Bee, but when was the last time you heard about any of them doing anything? Of doing anything but fighting thugs? Not volunteering, not fighting super villains, not helping out charities. Raina though? She’s gonna be a real hero. The best hero of a new age. I know it. And when I see her smile, it makes me think that the cruel world we’re living in is only temporary…and that a new golden era is on its way.”
“And what about me?” Shay asked in a lighter tone. “Don’t love me as much as her because my big nose gets in the way of the ALL IMPORTANT SMILE?! She jokingly asked, emphasizing the last 3 words.
“Don’t be stupid,” he said with a little more emotion. “Come on, you’re my big sis. Of course you mean the most to me. And right now, you are totally the best hero around. It’s just…ever since Christmas, I’ve been thinking. We got into this because while yeah, we wanted to do good, we also wanted to be like our heroes. I think Raina’s motives are a little more pure.”
“I don’t know if you’re right,” Shay started again. “Maybe you are. Maybe you’re way off. But don’t you think the best way to protect Raina is to help us beat Smog? If we can’t beat him all together, you wouldn’t be able to stop him from getting to Raina.”
“I know, but…”
“Yo Eavesdropper Bro!” Joey exclaimed in a muffled scream as I turned away from the door. “They had us come in here cause they wanted privacy.”
Damn you Joey, I thought, unable to hear them anymore. You are so getting decked if we survive all of this.
“Seriously, I don’t think Shay’s the kind of woman who’d appreciate being spied on.”
“Joey, that kid’s emotional state might get us all killed. It’s important for me to know what’s what.”
“It really isn’t though,” he said. “This is between them. And whether or not this crap gets resolved is gonna be on them. So chill.”
“You know what I mean,” he said, seeing my “WTF are you talking about?” face. “Chill about what you have no control over, and focus on what you do. Namely, kicking that motherfucker’s ass later.”
“Now that,” I said, shaking my finger. “That’s something I’ve been worrying about for some time. This may be a suicide run, but I do have some ideas.”
“Righteous!” he screamed, extending his arm for a fist bump.
“Malcolm, Joey, you guys can come on out!” Shay shouted, her conversation with Carter apparently over.
Joey’s arm was still extended.
Ah, what the Hell. Guy’s gonna be doing good work today, I thought, bumping him.
“Oh yeah!” Joey said, satisfied, as the two of us re-entered the living room.
Shay and Carter was standing, and while it wasn’t his normal, dopey smile, Carter at least looked not miserable.
“Alright boys, we’ve got a new play here!” Shay shouted excitedly, barely a fraction of the stern side of her present at the moment. “Joey, your role is still the same.”
“Already started,” he replied. “While you guys were talking, I sent a mass text with the details of what’s going to every cop whose number I have, and made sure they knew that I wasn’t joking.”
“Excellent,” Shay said, still really energized for some reason. The compliment from Shay had also made Joey light up. “Malcolm, Smog is all ours!”
“What?” I growled, trying to stay civil since this was Shay I was talking to. “You’re seriously letting him leave us out to dry?”
“That’s not it,” Carter said. “When I was saying why I couldn’t come, it wasn’t because I was afraid of Smog, or because I thought you’d die and Raina would need my protection. You two are the best. Even with all the power in the world, without the skill and knowledge you guys have, I’m not as qualified for this. And I know for sure that you two are gonna kick Smog’s ass. The ultimate duo is gonna save the city.”
Huh. Guess all that pride from a few days ago had jumped out the window, and been replaced with what I was trying to tell him. Nice.
“Wait,” Joey said. “Then why were you even talking about Raina?”
“Because, if it was just a matter of me being worried I’d make a strategical error, it wouldn’t be an issue. I’d follow orders. But knowing that if we fail, millions of people, including a defenseless Raina, will die…it’d be on my mind for however long the fight lasted. I’d hesitate and someone might die because of it.” He shook his head. “I’m not taking that risk.”
“That’s…surprisingly well thought out,” I commented.
“Yeah, well, I’ve been mulling it over the last week. It just seems like the smart thing to do. Especially since I know you two are gonna get the job done right.”
“Damn straight we will!” Shay cheered, putting Carter into an affectionate headlock.
Could we actually beat him? Even with all our gear and skill? Guess we were about to find out.
After Shay let Carter go, and Carter took in several breaths of air, Joey asked a good question.
“So where are you going? Gonna drive a bus out of the city?”
He shook his head.
“I’m going to Davenport Manor. I know Raina won’t want to speak to me, and I’m not worried that Smog will show up. But Gordon or Salaran might. Smog’s been making up the rules to his game as they’ve gone along. He may have given Raina a “get out of death free card”, but he may want the board cleared today if the game’s ending.”
Carter wasn’t always being a goof. He was completely capable of being serious when a situation called for it. I’d seen it plenty of times.
But seeing him like this. Thinking intelligently, not making bad jokes, Hell, he hadn’t even brought up the Guardianship. Despite all of these kind of being good things…it wasn’t Carter. Even with his bonding session with Shay, something was definitely still wrong.
“Well, if that’s all settled, let’s get to work,” Shay said.
We started moving towards each other, and before Joey could open his mouth, Carter spoke.
“Nobody say goodbye,” he said. “We’re all coming back here.”
Joey and Shay smiled at that, and I followed suit.
“Dosen’t mean I can’t still wish you two good luck,” Joey said, wrapping his arms around Shay.
Surprisingly, she actually hugged him back.
Carter and I stared at each other. The smallest hint of a smile on his face, he nodded.
Pursing my lips, I nodded back.
Shay and Joey’s hug ended, but we didn’t go our separate ways just yet.
“Alright everyone. Hands together,” Joey said, sticking his hand out. Shay and I chuckled while Carter’s smile widened a little more. We each put our hands in the pile. “Team Lightning Bee on 3, OK?”
“One,” we said in unison. “Two! Three! Team Lightning B…”
As what was probably a bad omen, our cheer was cut off by the ground shaking, sending the four of us to the floor, the TV and several hung up photos following suit.
Thankfully, the shaking stopped after just a few moments.
Still, a new layer of concern on top of everything else arose as the four of us looked at each other, and, being the only person here not from this city, I asked a simple question.
“Guys, has Bluejay ever had an earthquake?”