I didn’t want to be back here. What brought me back?
The gun grew heavier in my hands as the Anarchist hovered in the corner of my vision. I couldn’t turn my head; I was forced to look at my bound family and friends. I couldn’t even close my eyes.
Her voice was distorted, twisted.
No, I wouldn’t. I couldn’t.
“You have to.”
Suddenly, my arm moved on its own, lifting the gun into the air. “No! No! No!”
“Choose. You did this to them, now choose!”
The gun was leveled at Corey’s head, and I could feel my finger moving. No, please no. I needed a way out, there had to be a way out…
I tried to fight it as tears rolled down my face. My body was shaking, but I couldn’t stop. My finger pressed lightly on the trigger. This was it.
A massive boom shook the dream, throwing off my forced aim. From somewhere behind me, a light glowed to life, casting otherworldly shadows the other’s faces. My grip relaxed; I could move again! I dropped the gun and spun to face the source of the light.
What I saw stopped me in my tracks. It was a loose sphere of swirling light, like a vortex of shattered glass.
“We know what you did!”
This time, the voice didn’t belong to the Anarchist. I looked back to see my team had broken their bindings. They looked furious; their faces twisted into something…inhuman.
“You betrayed us!”
“You will pay!” They charged with murderous intent clearly written in every step they took. I stumbled back until I felt the small shards of the vortex brush past my arm. They weren’t sharp or painful; if anything, they were…welcoming.
It was either the ball or death. In a heartbeat, I stepped backwards and let the vortex take me.
I woke up with a jolt, like cold water had been splashed on my face. Something was wrong, though. I was standing and surrounded by the swirling shards of glass. No, had to still be dreaming. I tried walking out of the sphere and found there to be no resistance.
When I reached the edge of ball, I found myself surrounded by skeletal trees just like the ones from my dreams. Was I still dreaming? No, I was lucid, I was sure of it. Everything was too real for it to be a dream this time. The pale trees were exactly as I saw them, the ground still covered in the mist…
And the presence…
I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being watched. I couldn’t see anything through the corridors of tree trunks that stretched on for miles, but that didn’t put me at ease. Malicious tranquility filled the place, like it was…waiting to unveil something terrible.
“What’s going on?” I asked aloud. Even talking was alien here. It was like the very air soaked up the words. I walked over and touched one of the trees. Its surface was rough and dusty, almost like it was made of chalk.
But then, the trunk started to glow with what looked like the same energy I summoned to make my suit. I pulled my hand away, but the glow continued to spread out from where I made contact. Glowing blue bark began to cover the dead trunk as the energy flowed upwards, and when it reached the canopy, leaves took shape.
For a moment, the tree came back to life. Well, I still didn’t know if I would call it living. It still looked ethereally beautiful, like a ghost. Did trees have ghosts? Either way, the glow started to fade until the tree was back to its bleached look.
I needed to know what this place was and why I had such a strong connection to it. Out of curiosity, I held out my hand and tried summoning my energy.
That was odd. Now I was even more intrigued. I walked up to another tree and touched it. Just like before, blue energy started to flow around the trunk. I did the same thing to several others and all of them responded to my touch the same way.
It was neat, but I started to wonder just how I was going to get back. I turned to look at the swirling vortex, and to my horror it was fading. I broke into a run, but it was shrinking and fading, like it was dissolving or closing. On the ground, the mist seemed to be parting before I even ran through it, like it knew I was about to disturb it.
The ball was barely visible by the time I reached it, and when I ran through it, nothing. I was still in the forest surrounded by skeletal trees.
“No! No, no, no. No!”
Was I stuck here? I’d heard the horror stories of metahumans using their powers to get somewhere only to wind up dying of asphyxiation or dehydration when they couldn’t control their powers well enough to get out. Was there even water or food here? I doubted it. Everything seemed dead.
I walked back to where the strange sphere had been, but it didn’t look any different than the rest of the mist-covered ground. Fuck. I looked around, but the forest seemed to stretch on forever anywhere I looked. My heart skipped a beat as panic started setting in. Still, I felt something in the back of my mind, a pull of some kind. It seemed to be getting stronger, like the forest was reaching out.
No, I have to get back, I thought to myself. This had to be tied to my powers, right? I couldn’t use them here, but the trees and the mist reacted to me.
Where did that come from? I whipped my head around, trying to find the source of the voice. It was strange, I felt the word more than heard it. Along the ground, the mist started flowing like a massive gray river.
Well, it was either wait with no plan, or see if the creepy mist lead to an exit. I walked a few steps before a thought hit me: what if the portal opened here again while I was gone, and I missed my only chance to go home?
Again, more urgent this time. Despite my better judgement, I turned away from my hope of salvation and followed the mist. Maybe my sense of time was off, but it felt like I had barely gone three steps and everything around me looked completely different. The mist flowed down a gradual bank and across a small stream of sapphire energy.
I bent down and tried to touch the surface of the “water”, but as I reached for it, it seemed to shrink away. It reminded me of what happened when water touched a hydrophobic surface, but on steroids. There was at least an inch of space between my hand and the liquid. I pushed my hand deeper into stream until I was up to my elbow. Still, it wouldn’t touch me.
The mist seemed to pick up speed, and I had my fun with the river. I started wading across, and the liquid passed around me, still not making contact. After a while, I realized the mist wasn’t flowing in a straight line. It curved slightly, but it was starting to bend more and more. It reminded me of a hurricane, spiraling towards a central point…
I followed the mist to a clearing scarily familiar to the one from my nightmare. In the middle of the clearing, the fog spiraled together to a point like a massive, lazy maelstrom.
My brow furrowed as I looked around, confused.
“I thought you wanted me to stay?”
“Great, you aren’t gonna talk to me?” I asked, waiting for the voice to come back.
“Fine, how do I leave?” I shouted at the sky. That was the first time I really looked at what was overhead. It was breathtaking. Shades of purples and blues swam together in waves and spirals like a Van Gogh painting.
“What is this place?”
“Alright, I’m trying!”
I walked towards the eye of the spiral, but disappointingly, nothing happened. Maybe I was early? I looked around trying to find a button or lever or even a glowing magic rune with “Home” written above it. I even shouted, “Open Sesame,” to the void. Nothing.
“What’s your game, stupid voice? I don’t know what I’m doing here! Can’t you just tell me what to do?”
“Ugh, I know, but I don’t know how! I don’t know what I’m doing here, hell, I don’t know why I’m a hero! If you brought me here, you better send me back right fucking now.”
Nothing. No response from the forest; the fog just kept swirling.
“Come on, give me something!”
Of course, I wasn’t going to get any handouts.
“Why would I?” I shouted out to the forest hoping it would hear me; that someone would hear me. “I never had any before. This is alllll because of my powers, isn’t it? Of course, it would be! They’re fucking worthless. They took everything from me!”
I tried to take a breath, but I couldn’t calm down, I couldn’t think of any way out of this one. I wasn’t on Earth; I was almost sure of that. Would anyone find me here? Doubtful. The only metahuman I knew that could travel to other dimensions at will was Genesis, and he was too busy to find and save someone like me.
“Just let me go, please. I want to go back.”
I just wanted to go back, I willed it to happen, and I started to feel…something. A soft blue light started to gain intensity around me, and I latched onto the feeling. If summoning my energy was like turning on a valve and firing my energy blasts like pushing through a wall, then this one was like prying open a door.
The glow kept getting stronger the more I focused on it. Cracks began to form in the ball of light as it broke apart into the small shards I saw in the thing that brought me here. More of the mirror-like shards began to form and swirl around me until I couldn’t see the forest anymore.
“He’s, back, safeties off!”
What? Whose voice was that? I didn’t recognize it. The ball- or I guess it was really more like a portal- faded around me until I could see I was back in my room, but I wasn’t alone. Once the portal faded completely, I could count six soldiers in gray uniforms aiming rifles at me.
“Oh my god! Don’t shoot, It’s me, Nate!”
I tried summoning my energy armor, but a sudden humming filled my skull: a power dampener. The energy faded out of existence before it could even barely cover my chest.
“I’m part of-” I tried to say, but the Argus grunt wasn’t having any of it.
“-Hands up or we shoot!”
I swallowed my protest and tried to oblige, but my right side burned in protest. I only managed to get my left arm all the way up, the other one hovered at about haft mast. That was apparently all the soldiers needed. The furthest one to my right lowered her rifle and rushed forward with a pair of handcuffs.
She roughly bent my hands behind my back and slapped on the cuffs. I had to focus on not crying out in pain, not that they would have cared. What the hell was going on? Why was Argus putting me in cuffs?
“I’m Prophet, I’m one of the Argonauts!”
“Shut up, traitor!”
As they marched me out of the room, I looked over and my hope sunk like a stone. My team was standing off to the side watching everything. Erin and Ian looked furious while Corey and Whitney looked betrayed. Adam was wearing his mask, so I couldn’t judge how much he wanted me dead.
Seeing them standing there gave me a terrible realization: The Anarchist knew I’d been found out.
“Guys, my family, you have to keep them safe!”
The solders shoved me forward, but I could see a hint of realization on their faces.
“Please, you have to protect them, it’s not their fault!”
“Please!” I screamed as the soldiers forced me out of the room. More uniformed agents with guns were waiting in the hallway to form a moving barricade around me. I couldn’t use my powers, I couldn’t run.
I couldn’t save my family.
Frustrated, I struggled against the large clamp-like cuffs the soldiers shoved my arms into. A large power dampener was bearing down on me. I had a headache hammering away that was getting worse by the minute.
I’d been trapped in here for what felt like hours not knowing what was going on. How did they find out? Every second that went by could mean the Butcher was tearing apart the people I loved. My breathing was unsteady as I fought off the sting of tears. I knew this was coming, and I did nothing. It was all my fault.
The dampener on the ceiling let off a series of warning chirps as my powers flared. Specs of blue popped up in my field of vision only to hastily disappear. That meant the dampener was having to up it’s effect and that only made me feel sicker.
The room was bare except for a table and two chairs, one of which I occupied. Other than that, there was a large mirror on the wall across the table from me; probably two-way glass. I wondered if anyone was watching.
Finally, the door opened and Grey- Mr. Hollands- walked in. I couldn’t read his face, but that wasn’t new. He sat down and simply stared like he could see my soul.
“How long have you been a double agent?”
Straight to the point, I guess.
“I’m not a double agent-”
“-Then why were you in contact with the telepathic villain known as the Anarchist?”
I didn’t have a good answer for that.
“Suddenly not talkative? That’s fine, it’s not often I get to do all the talking, so I’ll oblige. Ian became suspicious on the first day when the Anarchist contacted you. His power allows him some limited interpretation of signals, including the ones from your phone. Of course, he couldn’t prove much at first. But then, you were hurt.
“Erin lied to you in Kansas. Ian did get a ping from New Orleans, but he was able to pick out signs that it was just a potential exit point. At the same time, he found a much closer location for Euclid-”
“Euclid?” I asked.
“It’s what we’ve chose to name the operator of ‘the goo’. Now, after you were injured, the Argonauts, Boondock, and Paladin attacked the real location of Shard and his team.”
“Who won?” I asked hesitantly.
“Unfortunately, our adversaries had two new teammates we didn’t account for. One of them is what we believe to be the operational form of Obyek 41. The other is a known villain known as Narcosis.”
I had heard of her before. She could produce a sort of miasma that could cause…unpleasant symptoms.
“Still, we managed to catch them off guard, it just didn’t work out. “
“What does this have to do with me? I was here the whole time, and I didn’t talk to anyone…”
“Really? Then what about when you vanished through a dimensional portal just a few minutes ago? Right after we spring a surprise attack, the person we suspected of feeding our enemies information vanishes. Seems odd, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t know what happened, I just woke up and I was somewhere else! I don’t know how it happened. I think it was just part of my powers that I’m not sure how to control. Please, they’re going to kill my family!”
“Who? The Gold Diggers?”
“Yes! They’re the ones that forced me to do this. After they broke into my house, they- they threatened to kill my family if I didn’t become a hero.”
“Alright, I’ll play along,” Oh no, he wasn’t buying it. “Why did you join the Argonauts and not the Regents?”
My heart was beating like crazy; I couldn’t convince him. He was like a brick wall. A judgmental brick wall.
“Can you please just make sure my family is safe? Please!”
“Answer the question, Mr. Peterson.”
“Damn it! I’m not a fucking villain, and I never wanted to be a hero. I’m here because I thought it was the only way to keep the people I love from being torn apart! Can you understand that, or are you just an unfeeling sack of shit?”
Hollands didn’t react in the slightest, he just kept staring.
“I joined the Argonauts because I didn’t think I would do as much damage. The Regents are the best team in the world, and the Argonauts are nobodies! And they were the only ones that would take me…”
He looked like he was about to say something, but the door swung open revealing a flustered looking Argus solider.
“Sir, the Torus is landing without authorization. Cypher is here.”
Hollands rolled his eyes, “Of all days…”
“We aren’t done here,” He said to me before walking out the door with the soldier.
“Wait, save my family!” I shouted to no response.
Shit. He wasn’t going to listen. None of them were. “Fuck!” I shouted, knowing no one was listening. I had messed up; I was going to lose everyone again.
And it was all my fault.
Tears that had been brimming in my eyes finally came running down. My power fucked everything like they always did. I wallowed in my self-pity until I heard a strange sound coming from the large mirror. Glowing lines spiderwebbed across the surface, and I suddenly realized what was coming.
I closed my eyes and turned my head away from the wall a split second before it exploded inwards.
“Whitney…? Corey…?” I asked confused by what I was seeing.
They jumped over the low sill where the mirror used to be and stared at me like I was an alien.
“Nate, you better tell us the truth or so help me God I will blow you apart, do you understand?” Whitney said, a small amount of smoke falling from her hands.
I nodded; the message clear.
“Did they really threaten your family?”
“Yes,” I said weakly.
“Is that the only reason you betrayed us?”
“Yes, I swear.”
She and Corey looked at each other and nodded. Corey reached up with his wings and tore the dampener off the ceiling. My eyes widened in surprise, but they weren’t done.
“Summon your energy,” Whitney ordered.
“So she doesn’t blow your hands off,” Corey said as Whitney put her hands on the large pair of cuffs.
“Ah, right,” I said as I felt the cold blue flow over me.
Whitney put her power to work and the cuffs blew apart.
“Why are you two doing this?” I asked, trying to wipe the tears from my face as manly as possible.
“You saved our lives, we owe you,” Whitney said.
“And we don’t think you’re a bad person,” Corey added. “By the way, we just set off like twenty silent alarms, so we need to move.”
“Okay, thank you both so much.”
“Save it, lets go,” Whitney said, herding us back through the mirror and out the unlocked door to the observation room.