FOUR YEARS LATER
The alarm began beeping, signaling it was 8:00am. The snooze button was pressed down by an invisible source. Angel sighed and turned the other way. She didn't want to wake up, it was May 18th. Today she would rather spend the day in bed and eat oreos than be working out the weekly schedule.
"Wakey Wakey Eggs and bakey! C'mon guys, I'm serious about the bacon, Emma, Becca and Matt brought it back from their last op." Trev's voice was amplified through the webbing of halls and rooms, leaving no sleeping person. Angel groaned, the doc had told her 8 to 9 hours of sleep a night but if she tried to finish off her last few hours she wouldn't get any bacon. A tickling feeling brushed her consciousness and she recognized it as Trev. He had a metallic color, tinted with green and always left her feeling slightly stupid.
"Hey Angel, don't worry about getting up, I hid some bacon for you behind the celery." His voice was soft but clear, even though he was in the hall and she was on the far side of the room. She could always count on him, like a little brother. "If you need anything else, just ask."
"Thanks Trev." She responded with their Empathic connection.
"And I'll try not to use the intercom for a while." Her Gift could feel him lean against her door. "We'll find him or he'll find us. I promise." And then Trev broke the connection to join the rest of their friends upstairs in the dining hall. Before she drifted back to sleep, she gripped the pillow tighter, wishing it were a person, her other half.
"This is where we live. I'm sure you saw some of it last night but a real tour is helpful once you're here." Two girls were walking down a curling staircase into a basement. The older girl was somewhat average height with Asian features. Her hair was long and straight, braided down her back. Her companion was a younger girl with sandy blond hair that was trying to escape from the tiny clips that held it away from her face. The differences extended to their clothes as well with a simple and put together outfit contrasting very worn jeans and a shirt that screamed mountain hippie from areas like Charlotte Northern and Old Asheville.
"When Dr. Gibaldi and Angel bought the land, who ran the hotel?"
"We used to. Jamie, you have no idea how much better it is now. There were less of us and we had to split time between missions and housekeeping. Some of us still lead the Adventures of course; it helps with the safety of our guests." Ana the older girl pulled on a hanging chain in the basement, the wall slid up to reveal a hall.
"One of the reasons the founders like the hotel so much was the underground tunnels. This door is new and much more high tech but the underground system is from when this place was still a ski resort. The staff lived down here and they stored stuff. There are even tunnels that span the whole property so the workers could get to places without dealing with snow. The storage rooms are now our practice rooms for everyone, one for mediation, one for Gift training and two for sparring and such. Jesse's also got a virtual hospital in the first manager's suite." Jamie was amazed at the renovated rooms, trying to imagine rows of skis instead of pillows, ferns and trickling fountains.
"Where do we sleep?"
Ana smiled. "That's the best part. I thought it would be bunk style in huge rooms with no privacy but it's not. The rooms are pretty small but you get one all to yourself. We do have to share bathrooms but it's like being at summer camp all the time." Jamie didn't bother to mention she'd never been to summer camp. She was too excited about the room…her room. Sure it was small and plain but she could fix that. The important thing was it belonged to her.
"If you want, some of us could take you shopping. I know you have some clothes and we can find you some sheets but if you want to decorate."
"I don't have any money. Not until I get paid at least." She could tell that Ana was the kind of girl who always had money in her pocket in some form, even just a little. Besides, she had lived in places that made this bare room look regal. The older girl smiled gently.
"Jamie, we take care of our own. Jesse always gives you a little advance and then you can pay it back however you like. And you don't have to worry about your stuff; the only reason to lock your door here is so you don't get pranked."
"Or to keep the boys from walking in when you're changing," Supplied a new voice. Angel smiled and held out a pair of earrings and a small bandaid. "Welcome to the family Munchkin."
Angel felt herself relax a little. No matter the situation she always felt happy when they helped another Gifted. It was even better when that person wanted to stay and help them and was a match with their group. Jamie had the tour and met some people but to really understand their history, Angel stepped in.
The recording had been one of Jesse's neurotic ideas. It was inspired by his great grandfather's journal that held stories of the first Gifted generation. Angel had hated the idea of it; Jason had egged him on, simply to annoy her. Finally she gave in, better to record the truth so they weren't regarded as heroes or vigilantes in the future. The three of them sat down at Jesse's manor and began to write their story. The doctor had the medical knowledge, Jason and Angel had the first hand experience.
Both Jason and Angel were 3rd generation Gifted. Their great grandparents had bought prescription drugs from Eden Pharmaceuticals. Many of the Eden products included chemicals that were made with unstable chemicals that worked by altering DNA. Soon, people began showing abilities, mutations. These were eventually tracked back to the pharmaceutical company and Eden was shut down. The problem was just beginning; it was much larger than anyone knew. Eden had tested their drugs on volunteers, usually poor street teens, not known for being puritanical. Children born of the affected with the mutations as a part of their DNA, not just added to but woven in, giving these people stronger and more controllable Gifts.
Gifted people were considered to be anomalies, freaks, and second class citizens. If you lived on the streets, your Gifts helped you survive but you still weren't accepted, just left alone. For the affected suburban population they tried to blend in, try not to be noticed and hid their Gifts so they wouldn't be ostracized. The second generation of Gifted continued the line, not only stronger but a wider range. Most of the second generation Gifted felt more oppressed than their parents and looked for people like themselves. The result was a third generation that had multiple kinds of Gifts.
The government needed a way to research and handle this outbreak so they funded a medical facility through back channels to study Gifted people. This company yielded results quickly, learning that almost all with a mutated strain reacted differently to Mononucleosis. The onset was much faster, Gifteds had higher temperatures and they contracted a rash instead of the normal symptoms. The medical group began exposing populations and identifying Gifteds. The company was run by a young doctor named Chris Adams who saw Gifted people as a threat to humanity. He encouraged the government to gain funding to create a medication that could block the transmission to the section of the brain that controlled the Gift. He began abducting people, placing them on the drug or performing experiments to further the understanding of a Gifted makeup. Whenever a Gifted was identified, a five point black star was tattooed on the back of their right hand, an uncanny parallel to the Jewish stars of the Holocaust.
Jesse, Angel and Jason were determined to change the way society looked at Gifted and so they set about rescuing those targeted, new Gifteds before Adams and then relocating. Jesse insisted on a 'family photo' and the teens indulged him. Trev was the first find, more of a lucky streak if anything. His family was upper class, friends with Jesse and knew of Jesse's specialty. His parents were very open minded and excited about their son, their precious gift. The whole family fit into the profile the trio was looking for; honest, looking only to live normal lives, gain control of their Gift so that it didn't interfere with what they wanted to do. Neither of his parents had particularly strong Gifts but Trev was a special baby, an extreme newborn that had to be incubated in a top of the line artificial womb. Technically baby Trev spent over a year developing. It was his body that couldn't function, his mind continued to develop, and when Trev began to grow his mental prowess was astounding. After meeting Angel and Jason, Trev wanted to stay with them, help the cause. Trev recorded how he came to be a part of the little band of misfits and another family photo was taken.
The three teens were now staying with Jesse on the Gibaldi manor and working on a strategy to accomplish their goal. Trev was a certifiable genius, hacking into government data bases to give their small operation equal information. Jesse was furiously testing the three, excited by the idea of understanding the way the Gifts manifested in people and Jason and Angel were testing their own limits, something that the Gibaldi manor made possible.
"Angel?" Jamie's voice cut through the haze of memories the blonde was experiencing. "How smart is Trev? I mean, your passage even says that you don't want anything to be exaggerated but all of this talk about him hacking government information…wasn't he like, 12?"
Angel's smile was surreal; everyone always asked the same questions. "Take the top 10 most intelligent people you've ever heard of, combine them into one person and they might be able to compare to Trev. He actually knows what Jesse is talking about, they can have a conversation about genetic makeup and it makes sense. He's got enough information in his brain to have several degrees of a master level."
"But, he seems normal, really smart but normal." Jamie replied. The other girl understood the feeling, trying to truly fathom what Trev was capable of, she had seen it on select occasions.
"Yeah, that's a developed skill. When we first got him, our little Brain was not really good with people. Our group grew slowly at first, exposing him to more people in small increments. At the same time Jase and I were working with him to develop his Gifts, his Empath abilities allow him to pick up on other people's feelings which really helped his communication skills." Jamie went back to reading the history, for Angel it simply replayed in her head as a series of memories and snapshots.
Roxie McAllister was the second recruit. Trev found her in a halfway house after monitoring news feeds. She was a bystander who had mysteriously survived a drive by without any injuries whatsoever, a red flag for a Gifted. When Roxie came, everyone learned new things, Jesse began to classify the Gifts and they learned about the element of exposure. That was when they truly became the founders, they came up with a name (Association of Gifted Individuals) and decided to create a base of operations, Jesse's home was too obvious. They sold the manor, bought the mountain property that used to be a ski lodge and started the Extreme Adventure front company. Trev ran the company for fun, researching the competition and the clientele. Along with working their Gifts they learned how to rock climb, repel, hang glide and all kinds of outdoor skills.
They gained more Gifteds, splitting into teams and sometimes entering more offensive missions. They raided one of the medical facilities, Angel remembered it as a huge victory at the time, but she didn't have a real perspective then. Most of those kids went into the relocation program, some of them still kept in contact with the AGI. They planned a second raid, a different facility but they weren't prepared, they were still kids at heart simply playing heroes. Jesse, as smart as he was, didn't know all the experiments that Adams was performing or the scope and the second raid reflected that. Numerically it wasn't a big loss but emotionally it was huge. AGI rescued over 15 kids but Jason didn't make the rendezvous point. Angel had to be restrained and taken back home to prevent her from rushing the compound by herself.
This was the part she hated, remembering all the innocent Jason times and then reliving the loss. Once she realized he was gone she threw herself into the history record, determined to document everything that Jason would miss for his inevitable return. She could see Jamie reading, learning, understanding. Only now did Angel realize that frequent glances were being made.
"This is why May 18th is so important." That was a statement. "Do you know how far my Gift extends?"
That was a new question, enough to focus Angel. "I know you're an Empath and that you're powerful enough to make Jesse swear."
"One of my specialties is sensitivity to people, I am aware of their motivations and how they play out…You won't find Jason but that doesn't mean you should stop looking for him. The more you look, the easier it is for him to find you." The two girls shared a comfortable silence, enhanced by their shared Empathic abilities. "I can read this on my own, I'll be fine, you take care of you today."
Angel cocked her head to the side, a common trait. "You're gonna be good for this place but you don't know me, we share an understanding but you don't really know me. If you did, no Empathic feelings would tell you that I'm not the one to find Jason. It won't be me finding him or him finding me, we will simply be together instead of apart. If you are equal it is a shared experience, you'll understand when you find your other half. Until then, you are only guessing at interpreting what you pick up." Angel gathered her water bottle and sweat shirt and headed for the door.
"And Munchkin? Put the band-aid on, it's your tracker so we don't lose you. I really want you to stay."
The whole underground complex flooded with the sound of the emergency alarm (the equivalent to 18 different cop car sirens) and Trev's voice requesting Angel's presence in the meeting room. Angel was unjustly jarred from her evening nap but ready in under 5 seconds. She knew that it had to be a particular May 18th situation for her to be called, especially if he had used the alarm system.
Roxie, Ana and Emma were already waiting at the large table, Emma spinning her bar stool in quick circles. The whole meeting room was an exercise in the abstract art. The table was a massive circular object that could change shape and size by remote. There were currently 15 chairs surrounding the table, each to suit their owner's desires. Angel made a note in the back of her mind to get Jamie a chair and an engraved placard for her spot at the table. The girls waited to see who would debrief their op and chattered mindlessly, none of them invited her into their conversations.
"Thank you for coming girls." All four looked up at Jesse with smiles of varying degrees. "This looked pretty routine at first but I'm not so sure."
The doctor continued to scroll down his clip board while he explained their plan of action. A police scanner had used several trigger words that suggested Gifteds were behind the attack, a fair range of abilities from the descriptions. There was a house party in the well off part of a coastal city and a group of Gifteds used that as a cover to steal but then decided to join the party. The group had been terrorizing the party guests; a fact only discovered when the neighbors called the police after a virtual lightshow started going on.
"So it's just a pissed off group of Gifteds having some fun with a bunch of country clubbers, are we just going to grab the harassers and scold them before trying to force them into the underground?" The blonde girl raised an eyebrow; she had been woken specifically for this?
"Can we at least have some fun before we end the party? I haven't had a good romp in a while." Emma complained.
"Trev will be flying you in the Hawk. Angel, I know it seems routine at first but then I started looking at details. The light show is like nothing I've seen before, there were images projected on a frozen screen, several were dragons, angels and devils along with other animals. But watch this," Jesse's fingers danced across the touch screen of his clip board to pull up a security tape. "We accessed these after I heard about the projections, watch." A hand shot straight up in front of the camera and the image began to blur. Seconds later the hand was removed but the picture remained blurry. "Angel, they put an object in phase mode and left it without continued contact. I have only seen three people do that before and two of them are in this room."
Roxie was out of her seat, staring at the blurry images of sparks and flashes, the volume of the music on the video was changing erratically. "You know how long it took to get me to do that Ang, and who else would start a light show on the 18th? That city is close enough that we would have taps but far enough to not give away our base."
"Do we have tentative numbers for them?" Angel asked, shifting into her commanding position for the first time that day.
"Five or six, it's hard to tell."
"I want to take Ry and the new girl with us if that's ok. We've never dealt with this light thing before so the extra Empath could be a bonus and Ry is intimidating and he speaks money well." Angel couldn't take it, she felt so many emotions. Damn it, this happened every May 18th, always got her hopes up and it wasn't him. Still, kicking some ass was always a good second place.
"Get dressed girls; we're goin' to a party."
Music thundered from the mansion. The lights were flickering and flashes of light were shooting up from random spots. A wall of ice could be seen extending above the walled in backyard. For the most part, it was a typical rave party. At Angel's order, the girls fell instep, the blonde in front and the others fanning out behind her. The leader twirled a finger through her newly lengthened blonde curls. Jason had been in favor of matching suits, to indulge Jesse's superhero fantasy. She and Roxie had been able to convince the boys that everyday civilian clothes would be better for undercover work. The memory made her smile, imagining walking into this party in the carbon weave imitation leather catsuits that Jason had designed instead of the jeans and tank top she was wearing.
Angel rubbed the spot on her hip out of habit. Some people signed the cross or kissed a keepsake but Angel had her luck tattooed on her skin in the form of angel wings with red horns holding up a halo. Jason had a lizard tattooed on his hip and together they had imbedded small magnets underneath the painted skin. It had been a celebration of their 16th birthday because they had the same birthday of course. She gave the final once over and her team entered the house.
Jamie was uncomfortable, in the revealing clothes she was wearing, standing in the back next to Ry. She had been told to watch for any surprise attacks since there was a new power in the group. Angel had also required her to stay near the blind guy. The blind guy. It was about the time she was thinking this when she tripped over a beer bottle and 'the blind guy' caught her. He picked up the bottle and sniffed before a tight smile pulled at his lips.
"Hey Devil, can we steal some of their beer? It's the good stuff."
"It'll be the secondary mission." Was the reply. These people were strange the young psychic realized.
Although there were no people in the lobby of the mansion, the team switched to using call signs instead of names. They all wore microphones and transmitters in various places, Angel refused to lose another operative to the enemy. Despite the communication devices, the best thing was the open contact by the Empaths. Even non Empaths could talk back; all they had to do was think the words and the familiarity of their group made connections with each other easy.
"Still all clear here. Most of the kids were in the basement or back yard, there's a small group in the room straight ahead though." The hallway branched out and a set of stairs descended. Jamie, Ry and Roxie were sent down to the majority while Angel followed her instinct to the small group. Emma and Ana followed their commander into an open room.
"Girls, I think we found our party."
"It's about time." Emma commented, rolling her shoulders. "I'm wired." The three girls entered casually and joined the small group dancing so they could get the layout of the room. A male stood on the balcony, watching and possibly controlling the lightshow. The AGI could identify their targets, all were wearing animal masks. One was dancing with a girl and showing off his hydro control. Another was a girl having her way with several civilian boys. Angel wanted that new power and she wanted the leader on the balcony, she wanted the chase and the thrill. Mentally she encouraged Emma and Ana to continue mingling. Angel suppressed a shiver as she walked onto the balcony. The mask worn by this one was a lion, the king, the leader.
"Are you enjoying my party?"
The blonde leaned out over the railing. "Very much, especially your little cartoons. How are you doing that by the way?"
"Professional secret I'm afraid." Angel pushed away from the railing while asking for a report from the lower group. Roxie id'd three more masked Gifteds including one guarding a stack of bags that Jamie said were filled with food. The blonde heard it all as she stepped closer to the lion masked male.
"Too bad. But what I really want to know is why you aren't having any fun at your own party." Her blood pounded as she put herself more in danger, slipping an arm up his chest. "I could help you have fun." She felt a tug at her hip and suddenly one of his large hands was around her neck. Angel reacted with equal speed, gripping his neck with unexpected force.
"I think you should leave." He threatened.
"I think you should come with us and leave these pathetic children alone." She countered, nails extending into his neck flesh.
He roughly pressed her against the railing, leaning her over it backwards. "Who are you?" By now the pull on her hip was strong; the chance that her magnet was reacting to some stray key in his pocket was small so she ripped off his mask with her free hand. The next instant was a struggle as he tried to push her off the balcony but she clung to him, determined not to move. Angel weighted herself, the opposite of phasing and returned her facial appearance to its real state.
"Jason, Jason stop, it's me." Their tussle had attracted both pairs of Gifteds in the room who were now crowding the doorway to the balcony, waiting for an attack prompt from their leaders. "Oh God, it's me." She let go of his pressure point to yank down her waist band and show the tattoo before wrapping her arm around him again.
"Angel? Oh, Jesus… God …Angel adorable." She knew it was him then, with all her heart. Both lay, breathing deeply, clutched together while the party raged on.
"I can't believe it's you, Jase. It's real too." He stroked her hair, eyes closed to enjoy togetherness. "You gotta teach me how to do that light thingy."
The AGI team had no problem convincing the masked Gifteds to return to base with them. They followed Jason like little ducklings, albeit sometimes fierce and defensive little ducklings. His team of five grouped quickly at a signal, it was apparent they had done this kind of party hijacking before.
"You really don't need all that food." Jamie said, looking skeptically at the bursting back packs.
To her surprise, Ry backed up the newest member. "Forget the bulk. We have food at home but we could use some beer."
"Giggles, you and Wendy take care of that." Jason ordered casually, fingers still intertwined with Angel's. The girl on his team physically balked at the backpacks.
"Aw, come on Captain, why me?"
"What have I told you, enamored boys are harder to lose than cops and you've got about 4 following you. When you switch out the beer have a nice moment with Giggles."
One of the other boys in his crew coughed unhappily about this. "Oh please, you were supposed to control her tonight and I could have asked her to make out with Skids over there."
In response to this a shorter guy wearing a cheetah mask pumped the air with a "Hells yes!"
About this time, Angel flicked her right earring; the motion always caused a hideous static sound on the receiver end, currently in the Hawk with Trev. It was the signal for him to start up the jet and head to the rendezvous point. She couldn't explain the way she felt, it was so wonderful. The reunion had been fast with Jase recognizing Roxie and Ry on the spot but she had intentionally not told him about Trev in the jet. That would be the second most important person; she was sure because they both considered him to be a little brother.
The two last crew members returned, straining under the weight of the beer laden backpacks which were soon given to Jason, Angel, Ry, Emma, one of the unnamed boys and Giggles, all Ferals with varying degrees of enhanced strength. Even as they left the party and began sneaking down the street Angel refused to release the hand she held, she would not lose him again. When the group got to the nearest park, the AGI crew continued across the open field leaving the others confused.
"Check this out Jase, you're gonna love it." With a shimmer, the Hawk came into view, door open and Trev at the top.
"Holy…oh shit!" The young pilot wore a goofy grin that only he could get away with as he saw who Angel was leaning against.
"I leave and you get a fucking jet? How is that justice little brother?" Ana volunteered to pilot since Trev was still spazzing out, bear hugging Jason in a display of man love and babbling about the past two years.
"So are you all going to stay with us or do you want to be relocated in the underground? I can find you all really nice places, wherever you want, not a problem." The five unknown Gifteds were slightly shocked by all the excitement and it was much easier to see because they had unmasked.
"I think I speak for all of us when I say we'll fight. We don't really know what else to do, there's no way we could go and live normal lives and forget about Adams." Said the tall blonde boy called Giggles.
"Well in that case, welcome to the family." Angel smiled a real smile that she hadn't felt for three years. Jason sent a wave of emotion through their connection, trying to express what he was feeling.
And then Jamie fainted.