! When Terry awoke the next day, it was to a mild sense of discomfort and soreness. His body still hadn’t fully recovered from the strain it had been subjected to the night before, and there was a dull, throbbing sensation emanating from his injured hand. A few brown stains on the bandage told him that it had bled a little bit through the stitching. With a groan, he rolled off of his bed, shook off his clothes, and dragged himself into his bathroom to take a shower.
! Though he wished that there was a bathtub to soak in, the hot water pouring from the showerhead did him good, and he felt quite refreshed upon finishing. After re-bandaging his hand and getting dressed in a fresh pair of clothes, he picked up his phone up off of his desk and found, much to his surprise, that it was nearly two-thirty in the afternoon. That meant, as his stomach so conveniently reminded him at that moment, that he had missed both breakfast and lunch, and would have to go out if he wanted to get a decent meal. But before that, at least he could still get something to drink. Grabbing his jacket and wallet, Terry headed downstairs to the rec room, where the vending machines were.
! When he reached the downstairs and opened the rec room door, he found Nova sitting on one of the sofas, thumbing through something on his cell phone. ‘’Afternoon.’’ he commented briefly before looking up to briefly study Terry’s face. ‘’You look better than you did last night.’’
! ‘’I heal quickly.’’ Terry said simply as he went over to the drink machine and inserted a five yura bill. ‘’Do you know where everyone else is?’’
! ‘’I don’t know where Akira is.’’ Nova replied. ‘’Daniel I think went home for the weekend, and from what I understand, Mr. Centone is over raising hell at his office over last night.’’
! ‘’Mr. Gerald? Raising hell?’’ Terry stooped down to retrieve his dispensed drink. He was having a really hard time imagining that kindly man getting angry.
! ‘’Yeah, he’s not happy at all with how the mission was planned.’’ Nova said. ‘’We could’ve used a lot more support than we ended up getting. Maybe now the police will realize that we’re not superheroes or anything like that.’’
! ‘’Superheroes, huh?’’ Terry took a sip from his drink and thought about that. The very idea of being considered a superhero felt patently ridiculous to him. ‘’I think I prefer being treated just like a regular human.’’
! ‘’Yeah, I feel the same.’’ Nova said, putting his phone away before resting his chin on his hands.
! ‘’Look…’’ he began. ‘’I…I’d like to apologize for giving you a hard time over the last few days. I’ve just been on edge with what’s been going on: the mission and some other things. I had no right to come down on you like I did last night, because I probably would have done the exact same thing if I had been in your shoes.’’
! ‘’Well, it’s okay really.’’ Terry said. He was feeling a little awkward, even a little taken aback by Nova’s sudden apology. ‘’I mean, I let myself be provoked; it was my own fault really.’’ he insisted.
! ‘’We’re just going to be going around in circles like this, aren’t we?’’ Nova said, his normally serious face almost looking a little bemused. ‘’Let’s just forget it then and bury the hatchet.’’
! ‘’I agree.’’ Terry made his selection on the vending machine’s touch screen. ‘’You know, you kind of reminded me of my uncle.’’
! ‘’Pardon?’’ Nova was looking a little wary all of a sudden.
! ‘’Well, don’t take this the wrong way,’’ Terry began as he bent down to retrieve his dispensed drink. ‘’but at first you came off to me as a hardass workaholic. Perpetually cranky, but you still have some truths to say, like what you said at the meeting last night about responsibility.’’
! ‘’I…see.’’ Nova looked like he was busy processing that information and was at a loss as to how he should respond to it. Eventually though, he seemed to give up, for after a few moments of silence he stood up. ‘’I’m heading out.’’ he said. ‘’Have a nice day, Terrence.’’
! This was probably, no, certainly not the proper time for it, but Terry couldn’t help himself; there probably wouldn’t be any more chances in the near future to ask the question that was lurking in his mind. ‘’Hey,’’ he said, lowering his drink. ‘’did you used to be a member of The Beings?’’
! Nova, who was almost at the door, turned his head slightly to look at Terry from out of the corner of his eyes. His expression had reverted to its old stoniness, and from the angle his face was at his bangs appeared to cover his right eye, enhancing his intimidating look.
! ‘’What makes you say that?’’ His voice was calm, deathly calm.
! ‘’Uh well,’’ Terry tried hard not to lose his nerve as his gaze met that piercing blue eye. ‘’Well, you have a nickname just like all the other members apparently do, and you seem to know a lot more about the shiftier parts of the city than anyone else here, so I assumed-‘’
! ‘’Yeah, I used to be a member.’’ Terry was surprised to hear Nova come right out and say it, without a hint of hesitation or denial. ‘’But that’s not where my nickname came from, and that’s the only reason I still allow it to be used.’’
! ‘’Oh, I see.’’ Terry wasn’t sure how much further he should push this. It felt like he was intruding upon something very private. ‘’Um, then…why did you join Trident?’’
! Nova was silent for an agonizing minute. It looked as if he was mulling something very serious over.
! ‘’Do you really want to know?’’ he said finally, very quietly.
! ‘’Well, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, of course!’’ Terry said, hastily backpedalling.
! ‘’If you really want to know, then put on that jacket and follow me.’’ Nova said.
! Terry was very unsure at first, as he briefly wondered again if he should be poking his nose around in this matter. But as long as Nova was offering, he might as well take it. It might be his only chance to learn the story behind his older and mysterious companion, so he followed Nova outside and into the city.
! They took the monorail all the way to Axis Station, where Terry had first arrived in the city, and from there they took a bus line that he was unfamiliar with further out away from the city center. During their journey, Nova did not say one word, and Terry couldn’t bring himself to speak either, though he was wondering where Nova was taking him.
! The bus ride lasted nearly forty-five minutes. They had left behind the concrete and metal buildings of the downtown, and had now arrived at a more residential, green area of the city, where the busy streets gave way to quiet, tree-covered neighborhoods with the occasional small business district.
! They finally got off at a stop situated near a red brick school building. The traffic was pretty light here, though the buzzing from cars whizzing by on the main road several hundred meters away could be heard in the background. This neighborhood was on a gradually sloping hill, and in the distance Terry could see the skyscrapers of Marine Cove’s North Side poking above the trees.
! Nova gestured for Terry to follow. They ended up on a quiet side street, a canopy of trees overhead. They approached a white house a little ways down. It was two stories tall, somewhat old-looking, and had clearly seen better days. The small lawn was a little uneven and in need of a little trim, the wood of the porch creaked noticeably under their feet, and the whole thing could’ve used a new coat of paint to cover up the fading and the cracking. Terry felt a little bad for noticing these things, given that this was surely Nova’s home, but he had some experience with this kind of thing thanks to living with his uncle, and couldn’t help himself.
! At the door, Nova reached into his pocket as if to take out a key, but he stopped himself and instead rang the doorbell. After about a minute, there was the sound of movement on the other side, and it opened to reveal a short woman with gray hair that was styled short as many middle-aged women tended to have it.
! ‘’Oh, Theodore!’’ she said, sounding mildly surprised. ‘’I didn’t know that you were coming!’’ She peered around Nova’s body to spy Terry standing a little behind him. ‘’And who is this?’’ she asked.
! ‘’This is one of my dorm mates, mom.’’ Nova told her, stepping to the side so that he was no longer blocking Terry from his mother’s view.
! ‘’Hello, I’m Terry.’’ Terry said, trying not to sound a little sheepish as he raised a hand in greeting. ‘’It’s, uh, nice to meet you.’’
! ‘’It’s nice to meet you too dear.’’ Mrs. Bown said, holding out her own hand. Terry shook it, but as he did he noticed the woman’s eyes drifting down towards the conspicuous bandage on his injured left hand. He quietly moved it behind his back and out of sight.
! ‘’I’m surprised, though.’’ Mrs. Bown said after she was done with shaking Terry’s hand. ‘’Theodore’s never brought a friend home with him before. What happened to change your mind?’’
! ‘’Are you going to keep your guest standing out here on the porch, mom?’’ Nova spoke up.
! ‘’Oh yes, of course!’’ Mrs. Bown shifted to the side. ‘’Please come in.’’
! Terry and Nova stepped inside into the foyer, and Mrs. Bown closed the door behind them. ‘’Let’s see… You can leave your coat in Theodore’s room, dear.’’ she told Terry.
! ‘’Where’s Liren?’’ Nova asked as he took off his own coat and slung it over his shoulder.
! ‘’Oh, she’s in her room. I’ll let her know you’re here, and make sure you introduce your friend to her, okay?’’ his mother replied. ‘’I’ll go to the kitchen and start making something, and I’ll call you when I’m ready. You really should have let me know that you were coming…’’ She headed off down the hall. Terry could see that she had a rather noticeable limp.
! ‘’Come on.’’ Nova said. He led Terry up a flight of stairs to the second floor. It appeared to be much smaller than it had seemed from the outside. ‘’We got this house from our grandparents.’’ Nova explained.
! His own room was pretty small, definitely smaller than the rooms back at the dorm. From what he knew of Nova’s personality, Terry wasn’t surprised to see how neat and tidy it was. The bed was perfectly made, and the floor was spotless. Aside from the bed and a chest of drawers, most of the floor space was taken up by a writing desk, atop which sat a stereo system which was quite old, and a neat, organized stack of exam prep books. On the wall was a poster of a sports team, and, much to Terry’s bemusement, a pin-up of several bikini-clad women.
! ‘’Just put your jacket on my bed there.’’ Nova said offhandedly as tossed his onto the bedpost. Terry felt a little guilty for destroying the bed’s immaculate look, but complied.
! Back downstairs they went. Now, Nova led Terry down the short hallway that his mother had disappeared. Right before they reached a living room, Nova stopped before a side door that was slightly ajar and lightly knocked while Terry’s picked up the sounds of a TV show coming from within. Nova gently pushed the door open and they stepped into this new room.
! It was a bedroom, but it was much more spacious than Nova’s, which probably meant that it had been converted to one from something else. The entire floor was covered by a soft, heavy rug, which was the same off-white color as the room’s wallpaper and ceiling. There was a large bed in the corner, opposite a TV, and next to it a girl was sitting upright in a large chair, wrapped in a blanket as the room was rather cool compared to the rest of the house. Terry could tell that she was younger than he was, but by no more than a few years. He was amused to see that she had the exact same cherry-red hair as her brother, meaning that it was apparently natural after all.
! ‘’Hey, Liren.’’ Nova said as he stepped instead. His voice was a little softer than it usually was. ‘’How’re you doing?’’
! The girl looked up from the TV. ‘’Oh, hi Nova.’’ she said, not sounding nearly as surprised to see Nova as her mother had. ‘’I guess I’m going okay.’’
! She peered around Nova. ‘’Who’s that?’’ she asked, pointing at Terry.
! ‘’His name’s Terrence.’’ Nova replied. ‘’He’s another resident of my dorm.’’
! ‘’Hello.’’ Terry said, waving his hand a bit.
! ‘’This is my younger sister, Liren.’’ Nova said to Terry. ‘’She’s what…four years younger than me.’’
! ‘’Three!’’ Liren corrected his crossly. ‘’And don’t tell him that!’’
! ‘’My sister likes to think she’s bigger than she really is.’’ Nova remarked, a very faint undertone of teasing to his voice. ‘’So what have you been doing today?’’ he asked before his sister could launch a retort.
! ‘’Just watching TV.’’
! ‘’That’s no good.’’ Nova chided, going over to the window to see if it was open or not. ‘’Why don’t you read something instead?’’
! ‘’I have!’’ Liren declared. ‘’There isn’t much else to do around here; it’s boring! Why don’t you take me somewhere?’’
! ‘’Can’t.’’ Nova answered. ‘’School just started. We’re both busy. Maybe once things settle down, we’ll go somewhere, okay?’’
! ‘’All right…’’ Liren said in the drawn-out sort of way kids did when they weren’t fully satisfied with an answer as she pulled her blanket tighter around herself. ‘’Do you go to school with my brother?’’ she asked, now addressing Terry.
! ‘’I do.’’ Terry replied. ‘’But I’m not in the same grade; I’m a year younger than your brother.’’
! ‘’I can’t believe you had the window closed.’’ Nova said as he came back from the sill. ‘’You need fresh air, you know?’’
! ‘’I know, Nova, I know.’’ Liren sighed, tightening the blanket around her again. ‘’I’m not a little kid you know? You don’t need to baby me, mom does that enough already.’’
! ‘’It’s just that I know if I left you to your own devices, you’d just read and watch television in here until you turned into a plant.’’ Nova replied, a note of disapproval in his voice. ‘’So if I don’t make sure that you at least get some air, I’d be shirking my role as an older brother.’’
! ‘’He’s right, you know.’’ Terry decided to put in. ‘’It’s healthier, too.’’
! Liren looked at him, and then frowned at her brother. ‘’And now you’ve got your friend bugging me too.’’ she said, a little indignant at a stranger taking her brother’s side.
! Nova sighed. ‘’Fine, I’ll back off.’’ He glanced at Terry, a glance that told him to do the same. ‘’I’ll talk to mom and see if she can’t take you outside more often.’’
! At that moment, the distant voice of Nova’s mother echoed throughout the house, calling for her son. Nova turned his head towards the doorway and sighed. ‘’I’ll go see what she wants.’’ he said. ‘’Sorry to do this to you Terrence, but can you stay here with Liren until I get back?’’
! ‘’I guess I could, sure.’’
! So Terry was left alone in the room with Nova’s sister. It had been kind of fascinating to watch Nova and his sister go back and forth, but now he was expected to sustain conversation with a complete stranger without any support. He was wondering what he should say when Liren herself spoke up first: ‘’So what’s your power?’’
! That was not what Terry was expecting at all. ‘’I’m sorry.’’ he began, trying to sound politely puzzled at that question. ‘’What do you mean by that?’’
! ‘’I know you know what I mean!’’ Liren said, a kind of fire coming into her blue eyes. ‘’I know that my brother is a Stargazer, and about that group he’s a part of. If you’re living in the same building as him, then you have to be one too! Come on, show me please? I won’t tell anyone!’’
! Looking into this girl’s eyes, Terry saw plainly that he had no choice. ‘’All right, fine.’’ he said. ‘’But you probably shouldn’t tell your mom or your brother that I showed you this.’’ He held up his hands and let a tiny arc of electricity pass through the space in between his index fingers. Liren’s eyes widened in fascination as she watched the small blue-white arc flicker and undulate.
! ‘’Wow, that’s so cool… Your eyes even changed color…’’ the girl said, awestruck by that simple display. ‘’I heard that there are different types of Stargazers, which one are you?’’
! ‘’There are seven types, I’ve been told.’’ Terry decided to explain. ‘’I’ve been told that each type is tied to a specific element. I’m a Gemini, so my power is electricity-based, while your brother’s is Taurus so his is earth.’’
! ‘’Do you get to choose what kind of power you get?’’ Liren asked.
! ‘’Heh, I don’t think so.’’ Terry answered. He was feeling a lot more comfortable now in talking with this girl. ‘’I didn’t ask to become a Stargazer or anything; it just sort of happened out of the blue.’’
! He spent the next few minutes fielding Liren’s questions about being a Stargazer. It was mostly simple stuff, like explaining the seven different types as best he could, or what he could do with his own ability. Terry surprised himself a bit with how comfortable he had become about talking about his powers. He’d only been a Stargazer for about two weeks, yet already he had reached the point where he himself took them almost for granted, in a similar manner to the fighting skills that he had trained developed over the years.
! ‘’Hey, what do you think of your brother being a Stargazer?’’ he eventually asked Liren. He was curious as to what she thought about having a Stargazer as a family member. Eventually, he’d have to tell his own family that he was one, as he knew that this wasn’t a secret he’d be able to keep forever.
! ‘’I think it’s really cool.’’ Liren answered quickly, but then her tone became a bit more somber. ‘’But Nova doesn’t really talk much about it, or about the group he’s supposed to be a part of, and mom doesn’t like talking about it either.’’
! Terry sensed that he was approaching territory that he should definitely avoid intruding upon and decided that he should back off. Trying to shift the topic, he cast his eyes about the room for something to latch onto, and eventually settled on something that had been sitting right next to him. Resting on Liren’s bed was a small stack of DVD cases. Looking at their spines, they appeared to all be travel documentaries; presumably what she had been watching when he entered the room had also been one.
! ‘’You like these?’’ he asked, thinking that they should be safe to talk about.
! ‘’I love them!’’ Liren exclaimed, with just as much enthusiasm that she had had regarding Terry’s Stargazer powers. ‘’When I’m older, I want to travel all around the world and visit all of the big cities and sites out there, especially the city of Fium’stella with its marble aqueducts and gondolas, and one of the wonders of the world, the Statue of the Reconciling Kings off the coast, and…’’
! She went on like this for maybe ten or so minutes, listing off all of the many locations and monuments that she wished to see. Terry listened to every word she said, putting in his own thoughts when he could. He had thought that talking alone with her would be a difficult thing to do, but here they were, having a rather lively conversation. It was good that she had a dream that she was so passionate about. That was more than Terry could say about himself.
! ‘’But my mom and brother both tell me that I should be more concerned with looking after myself before I think of anything else.’’ Liren finished. ‘’But I hate it when they talk like that, especially Nova.’’
! ‘’Well, they are your family.’’ Terry ventured, trying to think of what was safe to say, for he felt that they were drifting toward personal territory again. ‘’They’re just looking out for your best interests, right?’’
! ‘’Mmm, I know.’’ Liren laid back in her chair. ‘’But I still don’t like it.’’
! A brief silence hung, and then Liren spoke up again. ‘’Well, I know that Nova has a lot to deal with, with that organization Trident and all…’’ Her eyes darted briefly at Terry.
! ‘’Ha, sorry, but I don’t think that I should be saying anything either.’’ he said, again moving his injured hand out of view.
! Liren was on the verge of saying something again when Nova returned. ‘’Oh, you two seem to have gotten on just fine.’’ he observed before turning to Terry. ‘’I know that this is kind of rude, since you’re our guest, but I’d like to speak with Liren in private for a bit.’’ he said. ‘’My mom said that she’d like to speak with you. She’s in the kitchen; it’s connected to the living room at the end of this hall.’’
! ‘’Sure, that’s fine.’’ Terry said, thinking that he should probably do what Nova told him to. ‘’Nice meeting you, Liren.’’
! ‘’Bye.’’ the girl said in farewell.
! Even without Nova’s instructions it wouldn’t have been difficult to find the kitchen, since as soon as he had stepped into the hallway he could smell the scent of food being prepared, and all he had to do was follow it. He reached a small, but packed kitchen, where Mrs. Bown had apparently started preparing something immediately after leaving him and her son in the hall. She was busy cutting greens on a cutting board while a pot of water and some kind of sauce were being heated over the oven range.
! ‘’Oh, hello.’’ Mrs. Bown said as Terry entered. ‘’Please sit down.’’ She gestured to a small table that was situated across from the refrigerator. A teapot began to whistle and she hurried over to the stove to remove it. ‘’I hope you like orange tea.’’
! ‘’Do you need any help?’’ Terry asked, eyeing the woman’s limp again.
! ‘’No no, I’m fine.’’ she insisted as she took the pot off and began to pour the tea within into a cup that she had set out.
! ‘’I just met your daughter.’’ Terry said as he was served his tea. He hadn’t drunk much tea in his life, let alone specially-flavored tea, so the taste as he carefully took a sip wasn’t something that he was very used to.
! ‘’Did you?’’ Mrs. Bown went back over to the oven range and back to preparing ingredients. ‘’How did she look to you?’’
! ‘’She was quite talkative, considering that I was a total stranger.’’ Terry admitted. ‘’She seems very interested in geography and visiting places.’’
! ‘’Yes, that girl does like to learn about all manner of things.’’ Mrs. Bown remarked. ‘’And I’m grateful for that.’’
! ‘’I was actually a little surprised that Nov – I’m sorry, Theodore,’’ Terry corrected himself. ‘’that he had a younger sister.’’ He took another sip of his drink. ‘’Their personalities are quite different.’’
! Mrs. Bown finished her work at the stove and went over to sit down at the table across from Terry and began to pour herself a cup of tea. Now that they were nearly eye-to-eye with one another, Terry couldn’t help but notice how worn her features were, making her seem a few years older than she probably was given the ages of her two children. Aside from her limp her actions didn’t outwardly show it, but looking at her eyes, Terry could tell that she had been through a lot.
! ‘’How is Theodore?’’ she asked. ‘’As a member of your group?’’
! Terry took another thoughtful sip, and then spoke. ‘’Well, I’ve only known your son for a few days, so maybe I’m not being the best judge, but he’s…’’ He thought some. ‘’To be honest, at first he kind of came off to me as a jerk. He takes what we’re doing very seriously, like he has more at stake in it than we do, but he keeps it to himself.’’
! ‘’Though I don’t suppose I can’t sympathize.’’ he added. ‘’There are things about myself that I’m not ready to tell others about yet.’’
! ‘’I see.’’ Mrs. Bown put her cup down on its saucer. ‘’That does sound like him. He’s always been rather introverted, more so in the past than he is now. He tends to put walls around himself when it comes to things that he doesn’t want to talk about or share. I’m very glad that he decided to invite you over today.’’ she said. ‘’It means that he’s finally bringing down some of those walls.’’
! ‘’So you live with your uncle? What does he do?’’ Mrs. Bown asked.
! The early dinner that she had prepared was laid out handsomely on the dining room table, and the four of them, Terry, Nova, his mother, and Liren, who had been carried into the room giggling by her brother, were just beginning to dig in. Both Liren and Mrs. Bown were beginning to ask Terry about himself.
! ‘’My uncle runs his own private contracting firm.’’ Terry began to explain. ‘’Home improvement and renovating, roofing, plumbing, electrical work, carpentry in his spare time… Basically if he can get the materials, he can he can do the job. He’s kind of a rough person, so the work suits him.’’
! ‘’So what’s Severstone like?’’ Liren asked as she loaded her plate up with pasta and greens. ‘’All the books and stuff I read only talk about the plains and farmland.’’
! Terry couldn’t help but sigh a bit as he heard that. How he hated that stereotype! ‘’The West is more than just its plains. There’s also Lake Crensty and the Aurelian Sea, you know?’’ he started to say. Liren was nodding a bit as he mentioned those places, obviously having read up on them. ‘’And the Drevak mountain range too. In fact, the part of Severstone where I live is near the tail end of the Drevaks, where the mountains are still green and below the clouds. I did a lot of hiking and exploring on my own when I was younger.’’
! ‘’Oh, then moving to the city must have been quite a large change for you.’’ Mrs. Bown commented.
! ‘’Yeah, I suppose it was a little overwhelming at first.’’ Terry admitted, thinking back to his first night in the city and those hours he had spent wandering Marine Cove’s streets before meeting Akira. What would he have thought back then if he had known how things would’ve turned out? ‘’But luckily for me I met people who were willing to show me around and help me learn some of the ropes of living in a city, so I feel a lot more confident now.’’
! ‘’What was it like hiking on your own?’’ Liren asked, apparently still wanting to talk about Severstone.
! Terry put his fork down on his plate and began to think back, to reminisce on those times. ‘’At first it was a little scary,’’ he began. ‘’I was a little kid, and all alone, too. But then I decided to view my hiking trips as little adventures, and as opportunities to toughen myself up, so even when I got lost or hurt, I didn’t mind. But it drove my uncle quite crazy, let me tell you.’’ He finished with a little chuckle, namely because he could sense Mrs. Bown’s disapproval at the idea of a child roaming the wilderness all on his own.
! ‘’That’s also how I got interesting in astronomy and stargazing.’’ Terry went on. ‘’Without city lights, you can see a lot more of the stars in the night sky in the country than you can here, and Heion’s much more brilliant too. It left quite an impression on me back then.’’
! ‘’Astronomy is how Theodore got that nickname of his.’’ Mrs. Bown put in.
! Obviously, Terry had figured that out already, but he wanted to hear the full story behind the name.
! Nova sighed a bit and set his utensils down, preparing to speak for the first time since they had sat down to eat. ‘’When Liren was four,’’ he began to explain. ‘’she was looking through a news magazine – this was before most of the mainstream ones went digital – and saw an article featuring color photographs sent from some new orbital telescope of SARA’s.
! ‘’Since she was a little kid, she was drawn to the pictures instead of the words, one of which happened to be of the remnants of a supernova.’’ he went on. ‘’After mom told her what it was of, she wouldn’t stop calling me ‘Nova’, since my hair was the same color as the picture. Of course, she didn’t realize that her own hair was the same color.’’
! ‘’But it’s a cool name, isn’t it?’’ Liren insisted.
! ‘’It’s good enough.’’ Nova replied, going back to his food.
! ‘’C’mon, Nova, can’t you ever say something positive?’’
! ‘’That was positive.’’
! ‘’No it wasn’t! Why are you always so terse about everything?’’
! ‘’None of your business, it’s just how I am.’’
! ‘’You two! We have a guest!’’
! ‘’Fine, mom.’’
! ‘’Uh huh.’’
! As Mrs. Bown spoke up again, Terry’s thoughts turned briefly inward. So this was what it was like, he thought as he watched the three Bowns talk, to sit down at a table and have a family meal. To simply relax, be together, talk in a casual familial setting, and leave behind the day’s stress. It was…a nice sensation.
! They continued to talk for a while, even after they had eaten dessert. Even though it was still relatively early in the evening, Liren was growing tired, so Nova carried her back to her bedroom while Terry helped Mrs. Bown clean up in the kitchen and wash the dishes. Afterwards she offered to brew him some more tea or coffee, but Nova insisted that they should be leaving, as it would take them a while to get back to the dorm.
! ‘’It was nice meeting you. Thanks for dinner and having me over on such short notice.’’ Terry said as he and Nova were, standing on the sidewalk outside, about to leave.
! ‘’Not at all.’’ said Mrs. Bown, smiling. ‘’You’re welcome back here any time, Terrence. And Theodore, dear?’’
! ‘’Yes?’’ Nova asked as he was buttoning up his jacket.
! ‘’You should bring some of your other friends over some time. I’d love to meet them, and I’m sure that Liren will too.’’
! ‘’I’ll consider it.’’
! Mrs. Bown let out a little huff of exasperation at the laconic nature of her son’s reply and held out her arms. Nova bent down a little to hug her, which was admittedly a little funny to watch, given how much taller he was. ‘’I love you, and be safe.’’ the woman said.
! ‘’Yeah, I love you too.’’ Nova replied. For the first time since they had met, Terry saw that Nova was genuinely smiling. It was a soft, almost sad smile, so unlike his usual stoic expression, and to Terry, wholly foreign. ‘’Say goodbye to Liren for me.’’
! ‘’And that goes for you too, Terrence.’’ Mrs. Bown said as she disengaged from her son. ‘’Be safe.’’
! ‘’Thanks.’’ Terry said, understanding what she was referring to. ‘’I’ll do my best.’’
! The three exchanged a last set of hand waves, and Nova’s mother went back inside, leaving Terry and Nova alone on the street.
! ‘’Are we taking the bus back home?’’ Terry asked.
! ‘’Yeah.’’ Nova said slowly, as if he had something on his mind all of a sudden. ‘’But first, I want to talk. Follow me.’’
! Just like earlier in the day, Terry followed Nova, neither of them saying a word. They were going in a wholly different direction from the bus stop that they had arrived at. They continued up the sloped street, until they reached the hill’s summit, where the trees thinned and a public park and playground sat, facing in the direction of the city, bathed in orange light from the setting sun.
! ‘’Wow, nice view.’’ Terry commented, putting a hand up to shield his eyes as he admired the sight of the sunset reflecting off of the shining skyscrapers. It was nothing compared to some of the vistas that he had seen back in Severstone, but it still wasn’t half bad.
! ‘’Yeah, it is, isn’t it?’’ Nova said absentmindedly as he watched a mother pushing her child on a swing set over in the playground while the father looked on. ‘’My mom often brought Liren and I here to play when we were younger.’’
! He took a few moments to collect himself, then spoke. ‘’So, what did you think of your visit?’’
! ‘’Well,’’ Terry thought some. ‘’Your mom was a nice person, and your sister was really energetic and eager to learn new things. It was fun talking to her.’’ He paused for a brief moment, wondering how he should phrase his next statement. ‘’But…I could tell that they were also worried about you. They told me that you tend to put up walls around yourself, and that you don’t like to talk about things that are bothering you with them.’’
! ‘’Yes, I suppose so.’’ Nova agreed. ‘’I suppose it’s good that we’re all worried about each other. It’s proof that we are close. But…we weren’t always like that.’’
! He paced a few steps, inhaled, then exhaled before his next words came out. ‘’Liren’s crippled.’’ he said in a quiet voice.
! Terry’s brow instantly furrowed in confusion. ‘’She’s what?’’
! ‘’Just what I said; she can’t walk.’’ Nova said curtly. ‘’You probably didn’t notice, because she was wearing a long nightdress, but the bones in her legs are just barely being held together by a network of screws, bolts, and rods. She can’t walk, she can’t even stand or support herself on her own.’’
! Terry slowly sat himself down on a bench and let that slowly sink in. He had simply assumed that the reason she had been confined to her room was because he had just happened to be sick, but this… Suddenly her dream to see places around the world and her hunger for knowledge seemed very sad and depressing to him.
! ‘’How…did that happen?’’ he asked hesitantly.
! ‘’You wanted to know my history with The Beings and Trident, didn’t you?’’ Nova replied, now staring out at the city. ‘’Well, it’s a long story. I might as well start at the beginning.’’
! ‘’I was always a bit of a rebellious kid when I was younger.’’ he began. ‘’I suppose becoming a Stargazer helped me think that way, since that made me different from most people. As I began to approach my teenage years I started falling into the company of delinquents and other shady people, and eventually I became one myself. That was how I met Deck.
! ‘’Deck’s a little older than me, and by the time that I first met him he had already built up a fair amount of notoriety of his own thanks to the fact that he made no attempt to hide his powers. He wanted to start a street gang, and was gathering members. He learned that I was a Stargazer and knew that I would be a valuable asset, so he recruited me.
! ‘’We formed The Beings, and began to expand throughout the South Side. At first it was a lot like a game; you know, gaining territory and new members. It was easy at first, even a little fun. Many of the small-time gangs we encountered surrendered without a fight once they saw that we had Stargazer powers. But then we started going after the larger and more violent gangs, as well as having run-ins with the police. Our confrontations got a lot more dangerous, and I was causing my family great worry, since I was rarely home during those days and when I was, it was obvious that I had been getting into fights.’’
! Nova paused here, and took a few more paces before resuming his story. ‘’Things were no longer fun for me. There were a few others who felt similarly to me, but Deck didn’t share our feelings. He relished the challenge, basked in the new-found attention – I’m sure you saw all of this the other night – and began to ratchet things up even more. In order to compete against these more violent groups and win, we had to get more violent and notorious ourselves. I grew tired of the dangerous lifestyle that I was leading.
! ‘’I eventually realized that The Beings that I had originally joined was no longer the group that I had known, and decided to quit that life. I even told this straight to Deck’s face, that I was through. I left The Beings and the underworld behind, returned to my family, and did my best to make amends with them and turn over a new leaf. I wanted to make up for the time that I had thrown away, so I helped my mom and Liren in whatever ways I could, and resolved to elevate myself to become a productive member of society. I felt like a great cloud had been dispersed. I felt free.
! ‘’But Deck wouldn’t just let me go. Over the months he sent people to stalk and harass me, hoping that I’d give in and rejoin The Beings. Finally, just over a year ago, I finally agreed to meet with Deck one last time, to declare to him in no uncertain terms that I was never coming back. If he was going to be so insistent, I was going to lay my foot down.’’
! ‘’And how did he take that?’’ Terry asked.
! ‘’Well, we met.’’ Nova replied. ‘’We talked, and then departed on not-exactly amicable terms, to say the least. But at least he finally gave up on me. He said so himself. I thought that I was finally done with him for good, but as I was leaving our meeting, I received a phone call that changed everything.’’
! Terry was rapt with attention as Nova was reaching his tale’s climax.
! ‘’That day,’’ Nova began, his eyes looking distant, seeing things no one else could. ‘’Liren wanted to go into the city for something or another, I don’t remember exactly why. Normally, I would have gone with her, but as I wasn’t there at the time, my mom went with her instead. They were going to take the bus in to the city, but somewhere along the way they got involved in a really bad traffic accident involving the city’s buses. Thirty-four people were injured and six died.’’
! He sighed heavily, wearily. ‘’My mom broke one of her legs really badly – I’m sure you saw her limp – but Liren, well, she wasn’t so ‘lucky’. The bones in her legs were crushed. My mom, well, she told me that she would recover, and she did, but Liren? The only way she’d ever be able to walk again or live independently would be with very specialized care, and there was absolutely no way we could possibly have afforded something like that.’’
! ‘’I guess I don’t really need to tell you how shocked and horrible I felt.’’ Nova continued, ruefully. ‘’Even now I don’t want to dwell on it. Everything just came crashing down for me on that day, and I-‘’
! Terry was taken quite aback. Nova was keeping things together, but beneath his stoic and tough exterior, it was clear that he was being eaten up inside by all of this. ‘’But, it wasn’t your fault.’’ he said weakly. ‘’You can’t blame – ‘’
! ‘’I’m not!’’ Nova snapped, startling Terry. ‘’I know I had nothing to do with that accident, but the what-ifs are still going to haunt me! I wouldn’t have been able to stop it, but perhaps my powers could’ve made a difference? Maybe I would be the one grievously injured instead, or maybe nothing would have changed at all?’’ He shook his head, trying to stop himself. ‘’Enough of that. Anyway, there I was, with a crippled family who could take care of themselves. I had to do something.’’
! ‘’What did you do?’’ Terry asked.
! ‘’Isn’t it obvious?’’ Nova seemed puzzled that his younger companion couldn’t figure it out on his own. ‘’The next day I marched myself right down to the branch office that Lifeline has in this city and declared that I was a Stargazer and that I wanted to speak with the person in charge.’’
! ‘’How did that go?’’
! ‘’No one believed me until I showed them my arm, right there in the reception area.’’ Nova snorted. ‘’Scared the shit out of the receptionist, let me tell you. And then when they learned that I had been a member of The Beings, there were more interested in throwing me in jail rather than talking!’’
! ‘’And how did that turn out?’’ Terry asked, incredulous.
! ‘’Fortunately for me, Mr. Centone eventually stepped in.’’ Nova replied, smirking a bit at the memory. ‘’He’s a good man, even if he needs some prodding sometimes. Anyway, he sat down with me in private and listened to my entire story. As it turned out, he was looking to organize a Stargazer cell to fight back against Deck and The Beings, and heavy crime in general. Obviously, that’s Trident.
! ‘’So, we eventually worked out a deal. I’d work for Trident and in exchange, Lifeline would provide for my family. Of course, Deck found out about this, and then rumors of a second Stargazer, the serial burner, eventually began to pop up. Mr. Centone was given a deadline for putting Trident into action, but with only one person, we couldn’t really do much. The deadline loomed, and Mr. Centone was going to look into transferring someone in from another branch, but then Akira came along, and then you, and here we are.’’
! The sun had almost completely set by now, and the family at the playground had left. Silence hung in the darkened air.
! ‘’Liren’s a strong kid.’’ Nova said at last. ‘’Her condition’s tough for her, and there are times when she gets angry and frustrated at it and can’t do anything but cry, but she tries to look past all of that. She throws herself into her studies to distract herself, and tries her best to not dwell on her disabilities. She’s had a couple of reconstructive surgeries already, with several more lined up in the future and lots of rehabilitation afterwards, and she already spends a loy of time at the hospital. It’s tough on her; it’s tough on all of us, my mom especially, since one of her kids is crippled, while the other is a Stargazer doing who-knows-what. The desire to see my family whole again, that’s what’s motivating me to fight.’’
! Terry, seated on his bench, said nothing at first, thinking deeply. Before, he had speculated to himself that Nova had to have reasons for his initially-abrasive personality, but to have such a storied and difficult history… He himself didn’t know exactly what he would do if faced with such a situation, but he did know that he probably wouldn’t be able to shoulder such a burden without complaint like Nova was.
! ‘’Well, I don’t really know what I should say to you.’’ he admitted. ‘’I mean…I guess, compared to what you’ve been through, what you’re still going through, I guess I realize that my own problems don’t seem to be as bad after all.’’
! ‘’That’s fine, you don’t have to say anything, I’m not looking for pity or anything like that.’’ Nova told him, now staring out at the abandoned playground. ‘’I’d actually like to say thanks to you for listening to all of that. It was very cathartic.’’
! ‘’You know, I find it impressive that you’re family has managed to remain as close as you have.’’ Terry decided to say. ‘’My family, well… My uncle and I, we don’t really get along all that well, and my parents…I don’t feel anything for them.’’ He sighed, and stood up. ‘’I guess what I’m trying to say is, tonight was really the first time I’ve sat down and experienced something that normal families, or at least my perception of them, do.’’
! He got up from the bench and stretched a bit. ‘’I never really had a proper family life compared to other kids my age growing up.’’ he said. ‘’I went to school and studied, worked for my uncle during some of his bigger projects, hiked in the mountains, and trained myself to fight. There was always tension between my uncle and me, so I never felt like I could simply hang around and relax.
! ‘’So what I think,’’ He looked right at Nova, into those stern, piercing eyes of his. ‘’is, to put it simply, it’s very impressive that you three are still close even after all that’s happened to you.’’
! Nova shrugged. ‘’Liren sets a good example for us, and well, my mom and I can’t fall apart after seeing how she handles herself, can we?’’ His tone had softened again, to one of mild amusement at his own words. ‘’Now come on, it’s going to be a long way back to the dorm.’’
! Terry let himself smile a bit and thought as he took one last look at the city skyscrapers when they turned to leave. When he had first met Nova during the week before, he would never have imagined that the older boy could possibly have had a side to him that wasn’t strict and harsh. But now he knew what had made Nova the way he was, and that he just preferred to keep his lighter side under wraps, but under those wraps, past those walls, he was still a good, reliable person.
! He wondered what Akira would have thought of that.
! The John Rendale Memorial Park, located near the center of Marine Cove’s downtown district, was not the largest public park in the city, but thanks to its location relative to several key monorail lines, it was always full of people going to and fro, especially now in the early evening with adults getting out of work and young adults heading out to have a good time. Watching the passerby from one of the park’s benches, the young woman Sayren couldn’t help but smirk inwardly to herself. She loved the anonymity that the large city could provide, she thought as she watched the crowd. All of them were preoccupied with their own trivial troubles or desires, all of them ignorant to the fact that the serial burner, who had brought panic to parts of the city, was sitting right there in their very midst!
! ‘’You know,’’ a voice from her left said. ‘’considering the amount of trouble you’ve caused, you sure are a difficult person to track down.’’
‘’Who the hell are you?’’ Sayren grunted in annoyance as a man sat down next to her on the bench.
! ‘’Oh, come on, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten me?’’ the man said, grinning. He took the baseball cap that he was wearing and turned it back-to-front briefly.
! ‘’Oh, you.’’ Sayren muttered. Even if he wasn’t wearing his usual outfit, that aggravating, arrogant grin could only belong to one person. ‘’Piss off.’’
! Unsurprisingly, the woman’s coarse reply did nothing to dampen Deck’s spirits. ‘’Ha!’’ he chuckled. ‘’It’s always a pleasure meeting with you!’’ he said sarcastically.
! The two sitting side-by-side on the same bench provided a noticeable visual contrast. While Deck was a rather large person, helped by the heavy coat he usually worse, who had light hair, Sayren was anything but. While she was a little tallish for a young woman, she was also rather skinny, wore thin clothing, and had jet-black hair. Both of them were alike, though, in the fact that they were both Stargazers, and quite dangerous people.
! ‘’So,’’ Deck began after a moment’s silence. ‘’I heard that last night you sent two more people to the hospital. That’s what, the ninth, tenth victims in the last two months?’’
! ‘’Fourteenth.’’ Sayren corrected, her tone one that suggesting that she was thinking of making Deck her fifteenth.
! ‘’Fourteenth, then.’’ Deck amended. ‘’So then, why are you doing this? Attacking people like you are?’’
! ‘’You really want to know?’’ Sayren responded, her eyes closed and her tone unpleasant. ‘’Because I can. I don’t need a frikkin’ motivation or shit like that.’’ Indeed, why should she let something like ‘’reason’’ constrain herself? She had the power to do whatever she wanted, whatever amused her, and right now, what she enjoyed the most was the fact that people feared her.
! ‘’Okay, fine then.’’ Deck said, shrugging his shoulders as if completely unfazed by his benchmate’s declaration. ‘’I’ll just get to –‘’
! ‘’I know why you’re here, you think I’m retarded or something?!’’ Sayren snapped. ‘’It’s the same thing every goddamn time!’’
! ‘’That makes things quicker then.’’ Deck said, unfazed by the woman’s ugly language. ‘’So how about it?’’
! ‘’Goddammit…’’ Sayren rolled her eyes incredulously. Whenever Deck got like this, she wanted nothing more than to inflict great pain upon him. ‘’I’ve told you before, and I’ll tell you again, for the last time: I’m not joining your gang!’’
! ‘’Come on, don’t be like that.’’ Deck said, trying to sound smooth. ‘’We’re both Stargazers – we need to look after one another. And your name’s perfect too, we could call you Siren and –‘’
! ‘’Just shut the hell up.’’ Sayren muttered. ‘’I don’t even know why I’m bothering to put up with you…’’
! ‘’Well before you blow me off, at least let me say something.’’ Deck said, going with his new tactic. ‘’Some things have changed since the last time we met.’’
! ‘’What do you mean?’’ Sayren asked, her eyes narrowed in suspicion.
! ‘’Well first,’’ Deck began, shifting in his seat a little. ‘’you might have heard already, since news travels fast in this city, but there’s a new Stargazer cell in this city called Trident.’’
! ‘’Really now?’’ Sayren didn’t look very enthused, but Deck felt like he had grabbed at least a small bit of her attention.
! ‘’Yeah.’’ he affirmed. ‘’I’ll even tell you what I know about its members, on the house, even.’’
! Sayren folded her arms. ‘’I’m listening.’’ she said tersely.
! ‘’The first guy’s actually a former member of my gang.’’ Deck started. ‘’His name’s Theodore Bown, but he’s known on the streets as Nova. He has a Taurus ability that lets him turn his arm to metal and boost his strength. Something of a one-trick pony, really.’’
! ‘’You’re selling out one of your own men?’’ Sayren questioned. ‘’And I’ve heard that the leader of The Beings would never do such a thing.’’
! ‘’As I said, he’s an ex-member.’’ Deck replied, adjusting the brim of his cap a bit. ‘’If someone wants to leave my gang, that makes them a coward. But not only did he leave, but he sold himself to the government and thus betrayed me. I don’t forgive traitors under any circumstances, and he needs to be made an example of for anyone else who may be havin’ bright ideas.
! ‘’The second guy is some Oriental kid. Akira Kami-something-or-other.’’ he continued. ‘’He’s Sagittarius and can control wind, but I’m not worried about him, his ability’s pretty harmless. I don’t even think he can even fight properly.
! ‘’The last guy is some kid from the boondocks named Terrence Eaves, I think it was. He’s a Gemini who can control electricity. I actually fought him last night. He can actually fight a little, but it’s so easy to mess with his head! I’d be worried if he weren’t such an amateur.’’
! ‘’Oh yes, I think I’ve heard of him.’’ Sayren muttered, absently. ‘’I’ve seen a couple guys worrying that the new Stargazer was going to electrocute them or some shit. Cowards.’’
! ‘’Heh, you’d love to meet him.’’ Deck said, smirking.
! ‘’And what is this other thing that’s changed?’’ Sayren asked.
! ‘’Ah that. Well,’’ Deck motioned out towards the seemingly endless stream of pedestrians before them, and then even further out to take in the skyline. ‘’how would you like to see all of these people panicked and trembling in fear?’’
! ‘’What do you mean?’’ Sayren asked, eyes narrowed still further. ‘’How could you possibly go about pulling something like that?’’
! ‘’It’s still in the works.’’ Deck admitted. ‘’But we’ve got tabs on the police. They’ve underestimated us, as have you, it seems. We’re much larger and more organized than they think, and we know –‘’
! ‘’Just get to the point!’’ Sayren snapped, her already-worn patience with Deck’s prattle at its end. ‘’What do you have planned?!’’
! ‘’Fine, fine.’’ Deck said, gesturing for her to settle down. ‘’In about a month, on Landing Day, we’re gonna riot.’’
! ‘’Riot?’’ Sayren repeated.
! ‘’Yep.’’ Deck said. ‘’This city and its people are too complacent, not to mention willfully blind. They need a good shock to their system, and be sent clear message. A message that we’re not intimidated by their pet Stargazers, and that we’re not gonna be ignored. My guys are raring to go.’’
! That wasn’t entirely true, though he certainly wasn’t going to tell that to Sayren. While it was true that many of his boys were chomping at the bit for the chance to finally cause some real damage, there were others who were more hesitant, fearful of the possible repercussions. Which was silly, for once he got Sayren on their side, and crushed Trident, The Beings would be unstoppable and have a free reign over the city streets.
! ‘’So once again,’’ Deck went on. ‘’How about it? With us, you’ll get the chance to go after some better prey than street urchins, homeless bums, and random civvies, eh?’’
! ‘’I’ve told you this before, jackass,’’ Sayren started, not caring how coarse her language was, for she truly despised this man and his ridiculous pride. ‘’I don’t need to join you or anyone else in order to strike fear into this city. In fact, I’m doing a perfectly fine job of it, or don’t you have a new tablet to read?’’
! ‘’Perhaps, but think about it like this.’’ Deck suggested, deciding to try a new tactic. ‘’You and us, it’s like we’re in a cause-and-effect kind of relationship. If, perish the thought, but if we’re somehow taken out, you’ll be next, and you’re just one person. You don’t have access to the resources that we do.’’
! ‘’You’re saying that I’m only still here because of your shitty gang?!’’ Sayren said angrily, grinding out each and every word with pure venom.
! ‘’Whoa, no!’’ Deck said hurriedly, as he could feel the temperature of the air around him rise by a few degrees, and there was no way he was looking for a fight at the moment. ‘’All I’m saying is that it’s in both of our best interests to join forces. But it’s not like you have to be a full member of The Beings or anything! You can still do your own thing, just as long as you still help us on occasion!’’
! Sayren could see right through Deck. She knew that what he was after was her power, nothing more, and that he would try and throw her away when he had no more need for her services. She despised him, that didn’t need to be repeated. But then she thought of something. While she had no interest in the man itself, the idea of meddling in his personal war with the city sounded like it could be very entertaining, and it was true that she’d love to get her hands on the new Stargazers and crush them. And since Deck was so confident in his plans, beating him to the punch and crushing them all herself would deal a tremendous blow to his manhood and pride. She liked that idea. She liked it very much.
! ‘’Fine,’’ she said finally. ‘’If it will get you out of my hair, I’ll…collude with you for the time being.’’ Anticipating Deck’s reaction, she added, with plenty of ice: ‘’But don’t you friggin' dare, for even a second, that you’re going to boss me around, or else I’ll kill you. As soon as I lose interest in your fight, I’m going to do whatever I want, and you won’t stop me.’’
! ‘’That’s fine with me.’’ Deck said. ‘’But,’’ Now it was his turn to speak in a deathly manner. ‘’if you lay even a finger on one of my boys, I’m going to be the one to kill you.’’
! ‘’Sure, whatever.’’ Sayren said dismissively.
! Deck sighed. ‘’Fine, let’s not start off on the wrong foot shall we?’’ To Sayren’s surprise, he held out his bare hand. ‘’We’ll agree to a ceasefire.''
! Sayren looked at Deck’s extended hand for a moment, apparently unsure of how to respond to this bold gesture, but in the end, she shook his hand, or rather, very briefly grasped it before withdrawing with a speed that suggested she had gripped something repulsive.
! ‘’You know,’’ she said, surveying Deck with an expression that managed to be simultaneously bored and amused. ‘’that was all it would have taken for me to hurt you really, really badly.’’
! ‘’But I knew you wouldn’t.’’ Deck was quick to say. ‘’Because now we’re partners, yeah?’’
! Sayren had to exercise all the self-restraint that she could possible muster in order to not unleash her power upon this idiot. Oh how she truly despised this man!
Anyway, geez, this chapter was the longest one yet, outstripping the previous one by a considerable margin. I guess that's not necessarily a bad thing, but man, it's something. It's only been two full chapters and I've already filled up half of the new notebook I'm using to write my first drafts. Yeesh.
Coming up with locations for my imaginary world is fun (deliberately mangling the language I studied for four years in highschool was a bit painful, though). I should draw and put up a map of the world or something similar.