Chapter One: Taya
“Well, hello there,” remarked a friendly voice. I opened my eyes to see a Jack, sitting at the end of my bed, grinning like a jester; sharp jawline, dark hair, piercing brown eyes and all. His training gloves were still on his hands. Sweat dripped down his forehead. Then, seeing that we were sitting in bed, he smirked. “Slow start this morning?” he said, his dark eyes blazed with delight. I sighed and rolled my eyes; this wasn’t the first time he’d just shown up at dawn.
Theo kicked back the covers and stood up, revealing his bare chest. “Anything but.” He smiled lazily and raked his hand through his dark hair.
“Well, I guess this is good morning then,” I said, getting up out of bed. I took a deep breath and felt the morning sun on my skin as I pushed open the blinds, smelling the beginnings of spring in the air. It was going to be a great day; I could feel it already. Out the window, a blue jay flew by, its wings floating on the breeze. The trees were beginning to show their first signs out life, little green buds popping up on their branches. The world was awake, and now so was I. “Would you like some coffee?” I asked him, walking past him toward the kitchen to set a pot on.
“I would before we get down to business,” Jack stood and followed me into the kitchen. He was so close I could feel the heat of his sweat as it curled off his skin.
“To business?” I asked, throwing my messy bed-ridden hair into a bun and peering into the fridge to find something to eat.
“Of course, unlike you two, I don’t spend my days lounging around in bed. The world turns, I might as well keep up with it”
“Actually, we were in the middle of something rather important when you barged in.” Theo interrupted dryly as he rubbed his tired brown eyes and grabbed a mug from the cupboard.
“Oh hush. You’ve had three lovely weeks off, it’s not like your important things were that pressing of a matter.” Jack quipped, sitting down at the kitchen table, his boxing gloves carelessly thrown on the seat next to him.
“Like you and Luce haven’t been joined at the hip all this time,” I called back, pouring some powder into the coffee machine. “How is she anyway? I haven’t seen her in days.”
“She’s spent the last few days in her fortress with nothing but cup-o-noodles and her computers to keep her company.” AS I turned to look at him, I notice that he wasn’t the same happy Jack I was used to. His eyes seemed to droop, and his body seems to sink in, collapsing under the weight of the stress he carried with him.
“Oh Jack.” It wasn’t the first time Luce had holed herself up, and probably wouldn’t be the last. That’s why Jack usually was here, either to keep his mind off her or to declare another one of her brilliant discoveries.
He sighed, watching a squirrel scamper up a nearby tree. “Never mind that, it’s because Baylor’s got the kid.”
“What?” Theo inquired, joining Jack at the table with his steaming coffee and a bright red apple.
“I don’t know. But it means that the endgame is nearing, and we’ve got to be prepared.” Jack’s fist connected with the table and made a defiant “thud”, mirroring my heartbeat in my chest.
We were agents of the government, Jack, Theo, and I, as well as five others. Dangerous. Deadly. Mysterious. We were the ones the Board of Ethics called when they need something done right and done quietly. Besides that, we were also the legendary eight pledged to fulfill a prophecy, the prophecy, if you asked the right people. And unfortunately it began with the uniting of the Omni. The Omni were the two most powerful mutants who ever lived, unfortunately we hadn’t found them yet.
We had been keeping tabs on a young boy, Campion, whom Baylor suspected was one of the two prophesized Omnus. And now, it seems like he’d captured him once and for all, speeding up our timeline. Professor Radcliff Baylor was the owner and head operator of the Global Civil Institute for Higher Learning and Development, or CIVINST. He was under direct management from the Board of Ethics, an assembly of elected global officials who unified the planet under a single code of law. So, it was a big deal that Baylor just grabbed this kid all of a sudden, there was absolutely no room for error when kidnapping was involved. Because if the public ever got wind that something like this had happened at all? Hell would be raised, and the Board of Ethics would collapse, which would mean, probably, another world war.
It made me anxious. I wasn’t sure I was ready, ready to set our plan into motion. How could we be sure that this was all going to work out, how could we be sure, that this was the real deal? Campion was a fifteen-year-old kid, ripped from his life of privacy and happiness and plopped here, where life was sure to be nothing less than a living hell for him. The Professor would stick and poke him, torturing him until he got what he wanted, whatever that even was. I’d seen it before with my own eyes. I’d lived it. And I wasn’t sure what I wanted to put my life on the line unless we were absolutely sure that this wasn’t a false alarm.
“Isn’t there another way?” I protested. We all knew what it meant; it was only a matter of time before the end started, and none of us were leaving this fight without consequences.
“Taya-” Theo reached out to console me, but I pulled away.
“No, Theo. I don’t think you’ve contemplated how dangerous this will be. What we’ve got now. I don’t want to lose it; I don’t want to lose you.” There was a certain amount of blind faith needed to carry out this grand plan (whatever it was, because even I didn’t really know). Faith that it would all work out for the best, faith that each one of us would know what to do when our time came. It was hard, having that much blind faith, especially when it meant life or death.
“This is all part of the plan, you know that love, it’s gonna be alright.” Theo’s mouth was saying one thing, but his face told me he was just as uncertain as I was, just as unprepared as I was. It would only be a matter of time before we were screwed.
“Have you ever wondered what the prophecy really says? I mean, all of it. At every turn, we will face things that nobody can expect, not even Luce and she knows more than all of us. What we’ve prepared to do, we’re going to ruin this kid’s life. And it’s not going to go back to the way it was for him, ever, especially if he isn’t Omni.” I challenged, looking at the boys. Hoping that one of them would challenge me back with a well thought out idea, maybe even a definitive plan. It was one thing to be like us, with time to get ourselves together before we found ourselves in the thick of the battle. But this kid was in the dark; he had no idea of the forces at work in his life, or what he was about to go through. I was scared for us, but I was even more scared for him. I couldn’t imagine being that young and about to go through so much.
“We need to tell the others,” Theo said, brow furrowed as he looked at me with concern.
“Charlie, Sam, and Navi are gone. Luce is deep within her fortress. Who knows what Roo is getting up to?” Jack replied. “And do we really need to tell Charlie? He’s only the team leader on the things the Civil Institute is involved with. No matter what, he seems to think.” Jack said Civil Institute the same way we all did, sarcastically and with a grain of salt. Because if the last decade hadn’t proven how inappropriate the name was, nothing would. This place was the opposite of civil and more of a prison than any kind of institute.
“I want to see him,” I remarked suddenly. “I want to go to Cell 21 and talk to him.”
“I just need to see him for myself.” I took a sip of my coffee. “And then I need to talk to Luce.”
“You know that’s not possible, Taya, when she goes in-” Jack protested, shaking his head sadly. There have been many nights Jack has called me, exhausted, after trying to get Luce back after hours and hours. But this time it had to be done, this was the beginning of the end after all.
“I know. Theo, please?” I begged, hoping that just once, he’d let me use his powers for personal gain.
Theo looked at Jack uncomfortably. “I don’t know.”
“Jack, you’re worried about her as much as I am. Please.”
“Fine. But leave me out of it,” Jack mumbled. If it blew up in Cell 21 or in Luce’s bunker, we were going to have a big problem on our hands. Cell 21 I can handle, but a mad Luce? Yikes. I would try to distance myself, too, if I was Jack.
“I need to see the kid first. I have a feeling not even Professor Baylor knows if the kid is really the one we’ve been looking for all these years, and we need to start with all of the same information that he has.” I said, walking into the other room to put on some presentable clothes.
“I’ll handle Luce, she’s my best friend after all.”
I changed, grabbed a notebook and pencil, and headed out. Theo opened a portal for me, pressing the tips of his two index and thumb fingers together and slowly drawing them apart. Before me a shimmering clear window opened, I stepped through, and suddenly I was outside cell 21A. Making sure no guards were around, I typed in the code and walked in.
The room was dimly lit, a fluorescent light flickering above my head added to the intrigue. There was a small bathroom to the left with nothing more than a toilet, sink, and shower. No mirror. To the right was a table with a single chair, as well as a panel covering a slit in the wall for the guards to slide in a tray of food. The cell had no clocks, no sunlight. A soft hum signaled the presence of energy inhibitors. I felt weak and slightly dizzy, but I pressed on.
I walked into the cell cautiously. If Campion was as powerful as we believed him to be, he could know I was coming.
I pulled a granola bar and a tangerine from my pocket, hoping that fresh food would ward off any sort of attack. “Hello?” I walked through a larger room with a cot and a worn rug on the floor. “My name is Taya. I come in peace.” I heard movement from somewhere around me, so I cautiously put the food on the weathered cement floor in front of me. “I’m not here to hurt you. I promise.”
“Nothing you can do can hurt me, not in here.” his voice came from all around me like he was the cell itself. He sounded weak, and in pain. With the inhibitors at this level, I couldn’t imagine how he was still alive. I’d been here five seconds, and I could already feel the effects, and for someone as powerful as him? Poor thing didn’t stand a chance. No wonder Theo could only get me as close as the door.
“You’re hurt. I can help.” I suggested.
“I don’t want your help.” he spat back weakly. He was trying to put on a brave face, but it wasn’t working.
“Here. Food that hasn’t been tampered with. It’ll help.”
“Why should I trust you?”
“I’ve been here before. I used to be the ward of cell 18B. I lived there for over a year, having no contact with the outside world. I remember my time there and how awful it was.”
“But you got out?”
I sighed. There was no point in lying to a kid who was having the life sucked out of him. “Not really. Just traded this prison for another. Come on, eat. It’ll help.” I called, placing the tangerine on the floor. The air crackled around me, and I turned towards the bed. Sitting on top of it was Campion. He was looking very, very ill. His eyes were sunken in, his skin was clammy and pale, his body was covered in bruises and dry blood, and his hair was slick with sweat. He breathed uneasily.
I took a step toward him, and he got blurry, like a camera going in and out of focus. I reached out to touch his hand, but it wasn’t there. Baylor was killing him. The inhibitors in the room were ripping the energy out of his cells. Campion’s eyes rolled back into his head, and he slumped down. “Hey, hey. Stay with me.”
His body became tangible again, and his hand clasped mine. For the first time, he looked at me with big blue-green eyes, swirling pools of emotions.
Outside the cell door, a guard banged on the wall. “Mealtime kid.” he barked like a rabid dog.
I swallowed all of my bad memories of my own cell, let go of his hand, and grabbed the food I’d left on the floor. I shoved them inside his pillowcase. “Hide these, best you can. I’ll be back soon with some more things. It’s going to be alright, try to stay strong.” I said, tapping on my watch. Hopefully, Theo would still be able to get me out of here.
“Okay, and Taya?”
My heart broke for him, he had no idea what was to come. And that I played a bigger part in his story. More than the good Samaritan. In fact, I was anything but.