The day afterwards, after I got home, I had barely any time to change and eat before I left the flat again to go to the youth centre. I hadn't been there before, but I knew the way, and I had my phone with me so I could Google it whenever I wanted.
Westopolis was an ugly city. Even an architect from 30 years ago couldn't deny that. It was designed as a "modern city for a modern world". By "modern" it meant "functional": everything was laid out logically and used the smallest number of bricks required to make it. The buildings were also ridiculously tall, as building up took up less space than building to the side. It was completely different from Iravia, with its twisting streets and beautiful architecture. I miss that city, but there's no point thinking about it now.
The youth centre was in a modern part of the city called the Crater. It was called that because, not that long ago, that's all it was: the Black Comet warped down here, and when it was destroyed, the area it was on went with it. It was rebuilt by Kabletech into an ultra-modern complex of apartments, parks and other things for the locals. Including the youth centre.
The centre was a square building about two stories tall. It was covered in graffiti that Kable the Fox himself had commissioned. I walked through the glass doors into a room filled with pool tables and other teenagers talking, human and Mobian. A few people looked up as I walked in, but didn't talk to me. Instead, I turned off into one of the smaller side rooms: a rectangular room with several couches and the occasional armchair.
Right now, there were 4 other people in the room. One was a Mobian polar bear, obviously extremely fit from the appearance of his biceps. He was wearing a blue hoodie, black tracksuit bottoms and white and blue trainers. He hadn't chose to sit down, despite the fact that there were plenty of chairs in the room, and had instead chosen to lean against the wall. He probably thought it looked cool, despite the fact that it looked really stupid.
One of the sofas was currently occupied by a female Mobian fox, her red hair cut short and a confident smirk on her face. She was wearing black jeans and a leather jacket, with a T-Shirt under it with some kind of writing that was impossible to read. She was tapping the sofa's arm impatiently, as if waiting for something to happen. Which it probably would in a few moments.
The third was a Mobian hamster, a fairly rare species of Mobian and more respected for it. The hamster in question was the shortest in the room, fidgeting and looking at the floor, clearly nervous. He was wearing shorts and a T-Shirt, the latter of which had a pixilated heart on it with the words "You are filled with determination" under it. No clue what that meant.
The last person was a Mobian hedgehog with purple fur. He was wearing grey and white boots and grey gloves. A grey streak ran along his left arm. He was the first to notice i'd entered and smiled as soon as I entered the room.
"You're Sasha's daughter, aren't you?" he said as as I sat down on one of the armchairs. I nodded in reply.
"Great," he said, perking up a little. "Well, I think that's everyone." He got up, checked the door was shut properly, and turned to the others.
"Well, it's nice to meet you all. Just to check before we begin...you have all got powers, haven't you?"
"Phew!" he said, slumping slightly. "Well, I've got one thing right. Anyway, now we're here, let's introduce ourselves! Going round clockwise" (the polar bear looked slightly annoyed at this seeing he was first up) "we're all going to say our name, something we like and what our power is. Starting with you." The hedgehog pointed to the polar bear.
"Name's Rugal Paramount," the polar bear said. He sounded completely uninterested and I don't honestly blame him. "I like boxing. My power is that I can overheat my attacks."
"Overheat? What's that supposed to mean?" the fox replied. Her accent sounded like she came from somewhere like Station Square.
"I absorb heat and it makes me hit harder," Rugal replied with a smirk.
"Technically, increased heat shouldn't increase the kinetic energy behind your punch," the hamster interjected. No one replied, although Rugal gave him a stern look that shut him up.
"Why are you standing up, anyway?" I asked. "Do you have chairphobia?"
"It's cathedraphobia, actually," the hamster mumbled under his breath.
"The question is, why are you sitting down?" Rugal asked.
"Because it's comfortable?"
"Ah...fair point." The polar bear looked slightly disheartened and sat down next to Angel.
"Moving on," the hedgehog said before pointing at the fox. "Who are you?"
"I'm Angel Skyheart," she said, looking around the room. "I like sprinting and my power is that I can attack super fast."
"Like the Flash?" the hamster chipped in.
"Kinda, I guess." Angel replied. She was the first person to acknowledge the hamster, even though it didn't look like she cared. "Like, I can't run fast, but I can punch fast."
"Yeah, you stupid ham..." Rugal never got to finish the sentence. A second later he was clutching his stomach and Angel was looking rather pleased with herself.
"Well, at least we know what it looks like now..." the hedgehog muttered. He was still standing next to me by the door. "So, moving on, what can you do?" he said, pointing to the hamster.
"Oh, right, uh..." the hamster said extremely quickly, not looking like he was ready. "I'm Carl, the, um...hamster."
"Carl the Hamster?" Rugal snorted. "What are you trying to be, the next Sonic the Hedgehog?"
"What's wrong with Sonic the Hedgehog?" I asked.
"Haven't you seen him, he's all like 'Oh, I can run super fast, i'm going to save the world for the fun of it, screw having an actual...OW." Rugal soon went back to clutching his stomach.
"Look, Angel, you can stop now," the purple hedgehog said. That didn't change the expression on the fox's face.
"Er...Anyway," Carl continued, "I'm Carl the Hamster, I like Star Wars" (Rugal looked like he was trying to avoid snorting so Angel didn't punch him again) "and my power is that I can control technology."
"To what extent?" the hedgehog behind me asked.
"Well, er, I can control software, delete files, move machinery, that sort of stuff."
"So you could reset my phone password?" I asked.
Carl's hand glowed and he smiled for the first time he had been here. "Just done it."
I checked my phone immediately afterwards. He had.
"Could you tell me what it is, please?" I asked.
Before Carl could tell me, the hedgehog behind me stopped him.
"Maybe it's not a good idea right now. We'd prefer you to keep in the conversation here and now and not back in Iravia...come on, it was obvious from the accent. Anyway, who are you?"
I sighed. Here we go.
"I'm Natalie Walker, I like...Snapchat, I guess, I dunno."
"And what's your power?" Angel asked. She seemed more interested now than she had the entire session.
"I'm...er...not...sure," I replied. Rugal looked extremely annoyed at this.
"Are you joking? We got the hang of our powers, so how come..."
"Angel, no," the hedgehog interjected.
"...how come you can't?"
"Well, like I said, I don't know what it is."
"Then let's work it out," the hedgehog said. "When has your power manifested yourself?"
I didn't exactly feel comfortable talking about this to anyone other than mum, but hopefully it would mean I knew what it was, and hopefully, how to control it.
"The first time, somebody tried to punch me and...I just knew when he was going to do it. I don't know how, but I just knew."
"Sounds like telepathy," Carl said.
"And then yesterday, this guy in front of me randomly started having spasms of pain."
"...brain manipulation?" Carl suggested.
"How's that, genius?" Rugal asked.
"She could have activated the pain receptors in his brain," Angel said.
"That...actually makes sense." I said. "Thanks, I guess."
"Anyway," Rugal said, turning to the hedgehog, "Who are you, exactly?"
"Me?" he said. "I'm Johnathon Persona, I like Guilty Gear and my power is...uncontrollable."
"What is it?" said Angel.
"I have multiple personalities. One's me, one's a hero like Sonic, one's an anti-hero and one's a villain. I have drugs to control it, but it means I either have my power on full throttle or don't have it at all."
But I wasn't listening to that. At least, not intently. There was a whispering in the background. No one else had noticed it. I focused on it as hard as I could.
"Sol...Badguy...is your main?" I said. That's what I'd heard.
"In Guilty Gear, yes. Well done." John smiled. "I don't expect you to understand it, by the way," he said hurriedly, seeing the confused look on my face, before looking at the rest of the group.
"So, in case you're wondering what we're doing here, every week we're going to meet up at exactly the same time. We're going to practice using your powers, talk about anything that may be on your mind...that sort of thing. If there's something power-related that you can't tell anyone else, here is the best place to do it. According to that clock, we've got a good half an hour left. So..." He clapped his hands together. "What do you want to talk about now?"
My immediate reaction when I got home was to use my phone to check what Guilty Gear was. When I remembered that my phone was still on the password Carl set it to, I borrowed mum's laptop instead. Well, apparently I had read John's mind.
The question was, now what? I had no idea how I had done it. The information had just come to me. I had no control over what I read. I tried to read mum's mind at dinner, but nothing came in the same way it did for John. So how was I supposed to control the power?
School was a little different now. The bullies who had attacked me before now averted their eyes from me like I was the sun. The rumour that a guy had randomly broken down in agonising pain in front of me spread like wildfire. None of the teachers believed me and no one had come forward to say they did it other than the people who had attacked me, so no charges were ever brought against me. Still, that didn't exactly make things better. It would've been great if I could talk to Marcee right now wherever she is in the world, but of course Carl locked me out of my phone.
The next time the club met, the first thing I did was ask Carl for the password to my phone. Before he could say anything, Rugal intervenes.
"You're kidding, right?" he said. "You're meant to be a telekinetic..."
"Telepath," Angel corrected him.
"...Whatever. Anyway, you're supposed to be able to read minds. Can't you just read his mind and work it out?"
"No!" I replied, slightly annoyed. "You know I can't control it!"
"You read my mind," John said. He was taking a less active role in the proceedings this time, hanging back while the rest of us worked things out by ourselves.
"That was different! It sorta just came to me. I didn't try and do anything!"
"Then maybe you're trying too hard," Angel said.
"What do you mean?" I asked. Angel was the one person in the room who sounded like she knew what I meant.
"Whenever you used your powers, you never focused that hard on using them. Maybe if you just stop trying to get them to work and just let them?"
"Yeah...that's how my power worked," Carl interjected.
"Ok..." I said quite slowly before looking at Carl. "Can you tell me how you did it?"
Carl shrugged. "I dunno. I just told them to work and...they did."
I raised an eyebrow. "Are you trying to be unhelpful?"
"Look, I'm just telling you what I know."
I sighed. "No, I get that. Thanks anyway."
"So..." John said. "Do you want to try it on someone?"
"Yeah, sure," I said. I didn't know if anything would happen, but I might as well try.
"Just relax. You can do this."
I relaxed. I tried to just let my power do whatever it liked. I could hear the whispers again, like I heard a week ago with John. I tried to focus on one of them as hard as I could and they just...disappeared.
"Try again," John said, as if he already knew I had failed.
I tried again. The whispers were fainter than before, which was probably down to me being less relaxed after my last attempt, but they were still there, which I suppose was something. Instead of focusing on them, I just decided to let them come to me. I was instantly bombarded by useless information, and I wasn't even sure whose thoughts they were. I tried to push past them, find something useful. Then I found something and the whispers disappeared.
"Carl," I said, looking slightly annoyed. "You seriously set my phone password to 12345?"
Carl shrugged. "It's the one you'd most likely guess first."
"Nobody ever sets their phone password to 12345!"
"Regardless of who set whose phone password to what," John interrupted, "you still read his mind."
"Well...yeah." I said. I'd been so annoyed by my own stupidity that I'd forgotten I'd just read Carl's mind.
"It's a start, I guess," John said. "Try it out on some other people at school or home or something."
"I don't have any friends at school."
"Try it out anyway."
"That's just creepy."
"You're reading somebody's mind, Natalie. It's going to be creepy however you look at it."
"Well, that makes me feel a whole lot better."
"If they're not your friends, why do you care?" Rugal asked.
"Because they're still sentient beings." I replied.
"Er...ok," Rugal replied, looking slightly confused.
"I'm a social worker, not a philosopher," John said. "Natalie, your homework is to read people's minds. Anything else you guys want to talk about?"
The others got back to talking about...stuff. Something about Carl's T-Shirts. I decided to read Rugal's mind. Push past the useless information. Find something I want to know. What I found was...interesting, to say the least. We'd have to talk at some point.
The next day at school, a boy went missing from one of the lower years. Rumour had it he froze a lake by touching it.
Lots of rumours had been circulating about people with powers. Scientists had been researching "power genes" for 3 decades, but it had never been widespread. Now prejudice had spread like wildfire and there were rumours of raids by some unknown group who specifically capture Mobians with powers. After the boy disappeared, I focused a lot more on practicing mind reading. It became easier to push past the stuff I didn't need. However, there was some stuff I needed to learn that I couldn't find anywhere else.
As Carl said, I could use my power to manipulate people's brains in other ways (something about nervous centres?). I hadn't figured out how, though. All I got when I used my powers are whispers. I hadn't found a way to directly enter someone's mind. I tried, but I couldn't figure out how to do it, so I kept to mind reading for a bit.
People were more suspicious of me now. Since the sudden rise in power hate and the boy disappearing, everyone stayed away from me at school, even a few of the teachers. Either they assumed I was going to disappear at some point, or they now believe the rumours and didn't want me to mess around with their brain. I honestly didn't care what they thought of me, and they'd always seen me as a weird hedgehog with a weird accent anyway, so I guess the feeling was mutual.
2 weeks after the boy disappeared, I dropped off my rucksack at home and left to meet up with the Powers Club, as we'd been calling it recently. However, I left slightly earlier and, on the way to the Crater, I changed my route slightly. The week before, I used my telepathy to discover the route Rugal took to get to the Crater. I still needed to talk to him.
I walked past the youth centre and turned right into a small park. It was essentially just a square of green grass around 7 metres wide with a tree in the middle and a few benches around the outside. It was completely empty right now: most of the people who lived here hung out round the skatepark. I sat down on one of the benches further away from the youth centre and waited. I checked my phone a few times for texts from Marcee or even Ollie. I hadn't heard from him in a whi...
I jumped and turned round. Angel had sat down on the bench. She looked as surprised to see me here as I did her. She didn't have the same cocky attitude in her voice as she did when she was talking to the others.
"Oh...hey," I replied rather sheepishly. "I didn't realise you'd sat down. When did you get here?"
"Literally just now," she replied. "I go to school in the Crater, so I usually just hang around a bit before I head to the youth club. Do you...?"
"What? Oh, no, I live in a flat outside the Crater. I'm just early."
"Why are you early?"
"No real reason...you haven't seen Rugal anywhere have you?"
"I...read his mind a few weeks ago. There's some stuff I need to ask him about."
"Oh...ok." Angel suddenly looked slightly saddened by the idea. "What stuff?"
"I...I can't tell you," I said. Somehow the words were hard to get out. I felt like I could trust Angel with this, more than I could trust John or mum. I didn't want to deny her what I knew, even though I had to. There was nothing stopping me, but I knew I had to keep what I knew to myself: if I didn't, I'd be betraying Rugal. But why did this feel so much worse?
"Ok...that's fine," she said. She then checked her watch. I never noticed she had one before. "Wow, guess we've got to go."
I checked my phone. We were running late. We both stood up together and walked towards the building.
"Oh, I forgot to ask," Angel said as we walked. "Could I have your phone number?"
"Yeah, sure," I replied, as I got out my phone and started reading out my phone number to her. I couldn't exactly write it on the back of her hand. Mobian fur didn't take well to ink.
"Thanks," Angel said as she typed in the 11 digits and put her phone in her jacket pocket. We were outside the youth centre's glass doors now.
"See you inside," she said, and she walked in and turned into the small side room.
I stood there stunned for a moment, completely ignoring the fact Angel had gone in. I looked at my left hand for a moment. Was it me, or had Angel just squeezed it?
I shook my arm a bit and followed her in.
I finally did it.
It was around a month after I'd talked to Angel in the park. I'd been trying for ages to find out how to do the thing I did to the bully: to access the brain and directly control the brain's functions. It was actually much easier than I thought. All I had to do was to tell the other person's brain to do something: just think what I wanted them to do and they would do it. I showed it off at the next meeting with the Powers Club, primarily by making John cluck like a chicken, much to everyone's amusement.
Things at the club were slightly different now. Carl was talking less, although I had a fairly good idea why. Angel was slightly more withdrawn when she was talking to me, although she still kept the same cocky personality when talking to everyone else. Rugal was fairly normal, although he did glance at me a few times, as if he knew what I needed to ask him. John was also talking more, which usually only happened when we ran out of conversation, which couldn't be a good sign.
A week after I figured out how to do my brain manipulation thing (what are you meant to call it, anyway?), I decided it was time to approach Rugal. As i'd found out when I met Angel at the park, Rugal regularly got to the Crater very early. So 20 minutes before the end of the day, I made everyone in my last class believe I was ill and hadn't turned up before walking out. It was hard, considering I had to do everyone individually, but it worked out in the end. I really should have done it more often. It would have saved me from jeers and mountains of science homework.
I walked to the crater and hid in an alley near the park that Rugal walked down. I was earlier than he was, so I quickly checked my text. Angel hadn't texted me since I gave her my number, and Marcee had been acting oddly recently. That didn't matter right now, though. The moment I'd been waiting for for the last month had come. Rugal was here.
He walked past me, clearly not seeing my face in the alley. Then, just as he walked past me, I spoke.
Rugal spun round almost before I'd finished the sentence, his fist on fire. I was planning on freezing the muscles in his arm, but it came so quickly I didn't have enough time to focus. My face slammed against the wall and I crumpled to the floor.
"Who the hell are you?" Rugal said standing over me, his fist still burning. I almost didn't hear him: I was dizzy, my ears were ringing and I felt like I was going to throw up.
"Rugal..." I said, barely having enough consciousness to talk. "It's me...Natalie Walker..."
I thought this would make Rugal come to his senses. Instead, he dragged me by the collar and pulled me up, his flaming fist raised.
"Who are you really?" he asked, with an expression of thunder and yet a hint of fear. "Did Thundereye send you? To spy on me? To bring me back to his insane slug fest?"
"No..." I said. I'd really screwed up my opening. "I don't know...who Thundereye...is. Just...let me...go."
Rugal let me go and I fell back to the floor. His fist stopped burning and he looked slightly less angry.
"Fine, I believe you," he said. "Sorry about that. It's just..."
"It's fine," I said, my senses slowly coming back to me. "I understand. I just chose a rubbish way of starting."
We were silent for a moment, the only sound being my ragged breaths. Then Rugal spoke up.
"You wouldn't open with that unless you really wanted to talk to me. What did you find in my brain?"
"I found Disaster Club."
"I understand. You didn't have a choice. You did the only thing you could. That's not what I'm here for." I tried to stand to my feet, but I immediately fell to the floor again. "And damn, you punch hard."
Rugal shrugged. "At least you know where I get it from now. What do you want?"
I looked him in the eyes as best I could. "Carl. What did you to Carl?"
Rugal's appearance suddenly changed.
"Look," he said, "I'll take too you later. We're running a bit late..."
"Don't give me that rubbish," I said, slowly getting to my feet. "What did you do to Carl?"
"I'll tell you afterwards, OK?"
"I mind-wiped my entire class to get out this early. I've been waiting to talk to you since I first used my telepathy. What did you do to Carl?"
"I'll do it la-"
"TELL ME NOW, YOU BITCH!"
My anger bubbled over. My hands went to his head. I pushed through into his mind in a way I'd never been able to before. It felt like I'd fallen over and been trapped in a washing machine, my body tumbling around in ways I'd never felt, or really wanted to feel again. Then I rolled out into a street. Not an alley. A street. I stood up and looked around. My knowledge of telepathic hijinks only really went as far as what I did before, but I'd heard enough stories about the X-Men from Carl to know where I was.
I'd entered Rugal's memories.
I felt like I was in a dream. I couldn't feel my body: I felt like I was floating in mid-air. I wasn't breathing or blinking and I felt fine. Every bodily response I had had disappeared. I didn't even have to walk to move forward: I just willed myself to move and I did. As strange as it felt, it beat the dizziness and nausea I'd felt before.
I was in a typical Westopolis street, with its horrid square buildings that touched the sky. This was probably one of the worst off areas of the city: litter floated around on the air, the streets were covered in flattened gum, and illegible graffiti covered the lower half of most of the buildings (and sometimes even the higher sections). There were only two people on the entire street, and it took me a moment to recognise them.
One was Rugal. He was younger, at least a year younger, and yet he looked much more aged. His fur seemed darker than now and it was covered in dust. A dark red scar ran down his cheek, which must have healed fairly recently. He lacked his trademark blue hoodie and wore a red fabric jacket instead. His tracksuit bottoms were the same, but his shoes were a black and white version of his current ones.
The other was Carl. He too looked younger, but otherwise looked exactly the same. Oh, and he was covered in bruises and burns.
Carl was stumbling back towards where I was. Rugal's fists were both on fire. He looked angry, although I had no idea why he was like that: I couldn't read people's minds in their mind. Rugal threw a punch to Carl's face, knocking him to the floor in a similar way he did to me. Then he grabbed Carl by the collar and pulled him so quickly part of the hamster's shirt ripped.
"What are you doing, exactly?" Rugal asked, a sneer forming on his lips. I'd never seen him like this before. He lacked the self-assured confidence he had before: now, he just radiated hatred and cruelty.
"I...I'm...I'm lost" Carl stuttered. "I m-moved here from Central Ci-"
"I don't give a damn about where you're from, you dumb hamster," Rugal sneered "So you're lost, huh? Well, you got lost in the wrong damn place." After saying this, Rugal hurled Carl into the wall. He stood away slightly, looking at the limp body like an artist surveying his work.
Then Carl got up and ran.
I could see his hand glowing blue like it did when he reset my phone: he was trying to use his power. There was nothing digital he could use, though. Rugal was far more athletic: he rushed the hamster down in a few seconds. Rugal cut to the left of Carl and tripped him up before striking him in the side with a flaming fist. The punch was strong enough to knock him away, his body landing just outside a dark alley. I swore I heard a crack somewhere.
Rugal walked over to Carl, looking like he was about to break into hysterics.
"Just make things easier and stop trying, kid," Rugal said. "You ain't going anywhere."
"Yes. He is."
A blue glow radiated out of the alley, blinding me and everyone else in this strange place. Then I had that crazy tumbling sensation and returned back to the real world.
I stumbled away from Rugal, partly because I was surprised about regaining sensation, and partly because I didn't want to touch Rugal right now. Rugal was breathing hard, like he'd just been underwater for a long time and had just come up for air.
"What was that?" I asked Rugal. I tried to sound fierce, yet I couldn't keep the fear out of my voice. I couldn't look him in the eye:every time I did, I just saw that insane sneer and the scar that ran along his cheek.
"I...dunno. I just...I blacked out and Carl...was gone. It...it must have been Kable Enforcement or some..."
"NOT THE LIGHT, YOU IDIOT!" I shouted. I had no idea how long I'd been in Rugal's mind. "You beat up a random kid in the street? Why? What the hell could have made you attack a kid like Carl?"
"I..." A single tear fell from Rugal's eye. "I just...all my life was pain...I just...wanted to enjoy something..."
"So you beat the crap out of Carl? Is that it? How long did this go on? Who else was on the receiving end of your enjoyment?"
"I...I'm sorry, Natalie. I...I've changed since then..."
"That's the thing, though. You never apologised to Carl. And judging by the fact that I found it so easily, you don't regret it. You still enjoy it."
I read his mind. He was lying. He still bullied Carl outside of the Club, even though it wasn't a full blown beat-up like before. Then I started crying. Tears rolled down my face before I could try and hold them back. Rugal looked terrified, yet I still couldn't look at him without seeing that sneer.
"I TRUSTED YOU!" I raised a trembling finger and pointed Rugal. "I thought you'd changed. I thought you'd done something with your life. I thought...I thought you were my friend."
"Natalie...I am your friend."
He walked towards me and put a hand on my shoulder. For the first time since seeing the memory I looked him in the eyes.
"My friends wouldn't do this," I said. "Angel wouldn't do this. John wouldn't do this. Carl wouldn't do this."
"Natalie, just give me a chance! Please!"
I stayed silent, letting the tears roll down my cheeks. At last I spoke.
"I...I can't believe you."
I walked away, heading away from the youth club and towards home, ignoring Rugal's pleas for forgiveness.
Things went downhill from there.
When I went home that day, Mum asked me what was wrong. I ignored her: no matter what Rugal had done, I still wouldn't betray him. I told her I would recover, and on the outside, I did. But every time I went to the Club, Rugal and I kept glancing at each other. It was almost like a mental conversation, repeating the last words of our meeting in the alley, and although I couldn't see it on his face, I still saw that monstrous smile in my nightmares.
I knew I wouldn't tell anyone, not even Carl, that I knew. Yet the concept of telling Angel was still in the back of my mind. I thought about her a lot more recently. Sometimes I checked my phone just in case she texted, even though she hadn't said anything. We hadn't talked much outside of stilted conversation in the Powers Club, and she always lost a bit of her cockiness around me.
Another kid disappeared from school, this time one who melted a test tube rack. I was feeling more and more insecure at school, to the point where I was actually scared to use my power there under any circumstances. Some people said there were even anti-power groups who wanted us to be demoted to second-class citizens, and some people at school were so paranoid that I felt like rendering them incapable of speech for the next hour to see how they reacted.
None of that prepared me for what came next.
4 weeks after I met with Rugal, I went to the club as usual. Everything seemed normal, although everyone had grown quieter in the past few weeks, namely because of my chats with Angel and Rugal. I sat next to Rugal in the corner: I decided it was harder to look at him if I was closer. I was slightly late: John and Carl were talking to each other about something called frame data, and Rugal and Angel were having some heavily stilted conversation about what they were doing at school. I joined in, trying to liven up the conversation a bit, but only succeeded in making it worse. Rugal moved over to talk to John, seeing the conversation wasn't going anywhere with him in it. Angel and I sat in silence, glancing at each other, trying to figure out what to say.
"What's up?" I asked. "You've been like this for weeks."
"Nothing," Angel said hurriedly. "Nothing's up."
"Angel, if you have a problem with anything, just tell me...or the others," I added.
"It's nothing...it's just..." Angel looked straight at the floor, trying to avoid eye contact.
"Look, it's just..." Angel looked straight at me. "I was surprised to see you in the park. I just wanted to talk. And then when you mentioned Rugal...and something inside me broke. I dunno, I just..." She looked at Rugal. "I hope you two are getting on well."
It took me a few moments to realise what she was saying.
"Angel," I said hurriedly, "what I wanted to talk to him about was nothing like that...it was just..."
And then the robot fell out of the celling.
It was a robot hedgehog of some kind, and it phased through the ceiling like some kind of ghost. No Mobian features stood out other than the shape: the face was covered by a red visor of some kind which much have functioned as an eye. The rest of the body was covered in sleek, dark grey metal, with the only visible machinery being the robot's joints.
Rugal reacted first, jumping out of his chair, his fists ablaze. The robot obviously didn't care: he lifted his hand and shot a red energy blast at Carl, who shot through the chair he was on and fell limp.
Angel and I got up, Angel already in a fighting stance. I looked at Carl's limp body.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"I am Wraith the Cyberhog. Surrender or run."
Rugal charged at the robot and swung a fiery punch. It went straight through the robot, who didn't even flinch. Rugal stood there, stunned, as a blast of red light hit him square in the chest. He fell near John, who was just standing there, his mouth wide.
"No..." he was mumbling. "Not now...not now..."
Angel was on the robot the moment Rugal hit the floor. Surprised by the quick reaction, Wraith wasn't ready to phase through the attack. A blur of punches and kicks struck the Cyberhog, and there were probably some so fast I couldn't see them. I was about to join in with a psychic attack of my own, but John ran over to me.
"Natalie," he said. "You need to run. You can't win this. We need help."
But before I could ask him, he already had his phone out and was texting.
"Go home. Get out of here."
I did as he was told. The last thing I saw was Angel getting hit square in the chest by a laser blast.
I'm sorry, I told her using my telepathy. I'll come back for you if I can. I swear.
And then I bolted.
I ran straight out of the youth centre. Some people were running towards the room trying to find out what was going on. Good. A crowd would give me more cover.
As soon as I got out of the Crater, I slowed down and tried to blend in with the crowd. I had a feeling that whatever had happened back there wasn't the end.
When I got back to the flat, mum was already there.
"John texted me," she said. "This isn't good."
"What's happening?" I asked. "Mum, what's going on?"
"People have been going missing. John was scared you'd be next. So we made precautions."
"To save me? What about the others?"
Mum ignored my last question and walked off into the kitchen. I followed her.
"We need you to disappear," she said. "Go under the radar for a while. The people hunting you are going to come here first, and their going to find me and you. You're going to get away."
"Why fight here? Why not just send me straight to a safe house or something?"
"Because people will follow you there. This way we get them off our trail."
"But how can we fight them? You don't have powers."
Mum smiled, not in a way to reassure me, but in a confident way.
"I don't need powers, Natalie. I have my own stuff."
Mum went over to the sink against the far wall and held onto the hot tap for 10 seconds. Then the sink moved back and the wall opened up. I staggered back, shocked.
"Was this here when we moved in?" I asked.
"No," Mum said. "I had it fitted."
"I have an uncle?"
"Why are you surprised?"
"You never mentioned it before."
"Lots of people have brothers, Natalie. Now come on."
The wall had fully opened up, revealing a room inside. It was a circular room covered in black metal, with lines of some kind of blue energy flowing through it. And in the centre of the room was a sword floating in mid air.
The sword was a thin, oblong shaped object with a handle in the top right corner of the oblong. It was coloured in a perfect white, with occasional black marks running along the blade. I was about to touch the blade, but mum put her hand in the way.
"Don't touch it," she said. "The Cryosabre's power is addictive if you don't know how to deal with it."
"And you do?"
Mum smiled. "Of course. Why do you think I still have it?"
"Where did this come from?"
"The planet Kardanon. Beautiful place. I went there on a dare from the Assassins Guild."
"Planet...you're an alien?!?"
"No, but that doesn't mean I'm not from outer space."
I wasn't sure if I'd actually heard her correctly.
"Look, Natalie, we don't have a lot of time. I can answer your questions about me and dad if and when we get out of this mess."
I paused for a moment. It was the first time she'd every given me the chance to hear about dad.
"You promise?" I asked.
"I promise. Now let's get ready."
Mum grabbed the blade handle and pulled it away. Several things whirred and clicked. It might have been the light, but I swore I saw her pupils dilate.
We both walked out into the kitchen. Then we heard banging from the front door.
"KABLE ENFORCEMENT! OPEN UP OR WE'LL BREAK THE DOOR DOWN!"
I looked at mum. "Kabletech are hunting people?"
"Yeah, that could take a while to explain, too. Put it this way: Kabletech is actually evil."
I shrugged. It always had an evil corporation feeling about it, I guess.
By this time, the Kable Enforcement soldiers had broken down the door. Mum raised her sword and a bolt of ice flew out, turning the soldier into a block of ice in the hall.
Well, I guess it was called the Cryosabre for a reason.
Bullets started flying and mum and I ducked behind the kitchen top in the middle of the kitchen. I disabled the use of one of the soldier's arms and legs and made another start doing the Macarena uncontrollably. Mum was having a harder time, not being able to rise and fire the sword for more than two seconds without risking being shot. The barrage continued, a bullet narrowly missing me even though I was in a relatively safe position. I took a second to look round and saw that the hall had basically turned blue from the number of ice blocks there were, and anyone who wasn't frozen was either crawling on the floor or dancing. After a few minutes of constant bullet fire, Mum created an ice wall blocking the doorway and we both got up.
"No matter how well this bit goes, we can't win this," she said. "Either the soldiers will overwhelm us or they'll send someone like the guy who attacked you before. I have a plan, but you need to get out of here."
"How?" I asked, pointing towards the doorway. "The door is blocked by a block of ice! Unless you mean..." I looked over at the window at the back of the room. Mum nodded.
"I know it sounds crazy, but I have a plan and it's the only way out."
"Just to ask, what's the chance I'll die if I do this?"
"Well, either you have a chance of dying or you definitely die, or worse. I don't like the idea any more than you do, but there's no other option."
Mum walked over to the windows and blasted it with the Cryosabre, freezing it. She then smashed it apart. I'm not sure why, but at that point a single tear ran down my cheek. I might not see my mum again, never know who dad was. I might not even see anything again. Mum must have seen it, because she put the sword down and hugged me.
"We'll find a way out of this," she whispered as she let go. "I promise."
I could hear noises on the other side of the ice wall. I walked over to the shattered window, trying to force myself not to look down: this wasn't the time for vertigo to kick in.
"Remember, kids," I muttered to myself, "don't try this at home."
Then I jumped.
It felt like gravity had realised where I was and had redoubled its efforts. I flew down faster than I could comprehend. I tried to streamline my body like divers on TV, but my whole body felt like a pendulum that kept swinging back and forth and wouldn't stay in the middle. Then I hit the ground and felt my legs shatter before I blacked out.
The first thing that surprised me when I woke up was that I could still feel my legs. I could wiggle my toes and move my knee joint, so they obviously weren't broken or mechanical or something. In fact, despite jumping out of a window, I honestly had never felt better. Then I opened my eyes and I saw a Mobian artic fox standing over me.
I started and she moved back slightly, clearly glad to see I'd healed.
"Hello," she said, in a rather quiet voice. Her accent was also similar to mine, which indicated she must be from Iravia somewhere.
"Who are you?" I asked. "And why the heck are you looking at me like that?"
"I'm Gabriela Angel," the fox said. "And I was checking if you were awake. My healing hasn't failed me before, but just to be sure..."
"You healed me?" I asked, although I shouldn't exactly be surprised. There wasn't anything in the room we were in other than 2 beds and the walls were grimy. Gabriela nodded.
"How exactly did you find me?" I asked.
"Your mother told me something bad was going to happen and I needed to be ready to heal you. I saw you jump out of the window, and then I brought you here."
"Where is 'here'?"
"Several blocks away from your apartment. They won't look here."
I stood up, testing my legs. They didn't even feel stiff. They felt like they did before I jumped out of an apartment window.
"What happened to mum?" I asked.
"...It's easier if you see for yourself." Gabriela said after a slight pause.
I went up to Gabriela and touched her on the head before going into her memories like I did with Rugal. I appeared at the bottom of the flats with Gabriela next to me. I watched myself jump out of the window and hit the ground...needless to say it wasn't a pretty sight. Gabriela picked me up off the pavement and walked away. At that point, there was a massive flash of light from my flat. After the light died down, I saw that that entire floor had turned to solid ice. Mum must have used the Cryosabre to freeze all the Kabletech soldiers and more than likely herself. That's why I needed to get out: so the sacrifice, whether temporary or not, was worth it.
I returned to reality and staggered back. Although mum was more than likely alive within the ice (I'm not sure whether that made things better or worse), it still felt like I'd lost someone. Mum had been my only friend coming here that wasn't a string of text on a phone, and the only friends I'd made since were the Powers Club. And for all I knew, they might be gone too...
It was hard not to start sobbing, to just give up and hand myself over to Kabletech. The situation was completely hopeless. There was nowhere to go: no master plan of how to strike out at whoever did this and save everyone. All there was was me, a hedgehog who'd only just learnt to use her power, and an arctic fox who just happened to bail me out of a bad situation.
"How long was I out for?" I asked Gabriela, unable to keep the shakiness out of my voice.
"Two days," she said.
I looked at her, completely stunned. Anything could have happened in that time.
"Two days?" I repeated. "Has anything happened in that time?"
"G.U.N said the attack on the Youth Club was carried out by Eggman's robots. Apparently the area is still under police investigation."
"And nobody's questioned the block of ice currently taking up my house?"
Gabriela shrugged. "Kable Enforcement has ways of keeping people quiet."
I sighed. "So what do we do now?"
Gabriela shrugged again.
"Geez, thanks," I said, and sat down on the bed again, trying to figure out what to do. I kept glancing at the door, feeling like it was going to break down any minute and Kable Enforcement officers were about to run in. I used my telepathy, just to make sure no one was nearby other than Gabriela.
And then I found out we weren't.
I jumped off the bed and put an ear to the floor, as if it would help me read someone's mind better. From what I could gather, someone seemed to be on the phone to Kabletech. He was so panicked, though...I had no idea what he was saying, or what Kabletech wanted. The general gist was obvious, though: Kabletech were coming here, and they were looking for me.
I stood up and turned to Gabriela.
"I need to get out of here. Can you manage on your own?"
"They never follow me. I can get myself out of situations."
I had no idea what she was referring to, but she clearly knew what she was doing. I didn't want to get going this quickly, but clearly I didn't have time. A safe house this was not.
"Thanks for your help," I said as I walked out of the door.
The apartment was clearly run down. It must have been at least 3 stories high (probably more, knowing Westopolis), yet the only platforms that spiralled round the walls looked like they could collapse any minute, as did the doors and, to make things worse, so did the ceiling. Me and mum weren't that well off, especially after moving to another country, but compared to this we lived in a mansion.
I walked down the stairs as calmly and quietly as possible, trying not to attract attention to myself. As far as I knew, no one from Kabletech was in the building yet, so running down the stairs would attract too much attention to myself. I knew it was way too soon to leave: I'd been unconscious for 2 days and had regrown all the bones in my legs, and I'd barely been up for 10 minutes. If Kabletech was coming, though, I had to have a head start. It was just...this made an already desperate situation worse. Gabriela almost certainly knew something to help me, even if it was only something little like what direction the cyborg left the Youth Club in. Yet now I was just a Mobian hedgehog with nothing left.
I got to the bottom floor and opened the door that looked like the exit. The first thing I saw was the barrel of a gun.
"Would'cha look at that," the Kable Enforcement soldier said. "It worked. Jason, you owe me 20 bucks. Let's see what Kable does with ya."