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Lukysha A. Sims-Neal
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When the ceiling splits open above my head, I know I've made a mistake.
My chair tips over with a clatter as I leap to my feet. Rain spills through the widening crack in our warehouse roof, misting my face as my gaze darts around the room--crap, should I hide? My uniform sparks as the shadows disappear around me...
"Guardians!" Booms the voice from the sky as giant hands rip our roof in two: "Meet your Master!"
I'd really rather not. I, uh, thought I carefully controlled who I chatted up online: small-time villains we really gotta stop wasting time hunting down. They come to us, we put 'em away, we go get pizza. Now, now--holy crap, how the heck did I get Zeus himself?!
I don't think I'll live to get pizza.
My heart, or maybe my stomach, sinks down, down, like I'm full of lead. I'm slow, still, standing on my two feet staring up at the grey clouds. A hand reaches down for me. I'm a rat in a box. This is my own freaking fault. Holy crap, why was I so dumb?
I jump to the side, diving past the couch as the gleaming, golden-skinned Greek giant snatches at me. He's throwing a fit when he sees me alone. "Where are the others? I was promised all the Guardians, in one place!"
"Well, no Guardians here!" I shout up nervously as he bats the sofa out of the way. "No Guardians, no sir! You got the wrong address, probably!"
His fist crushes the table, and the chairs, and also dents the cement next to me because his hand's so freaking big. Robot-man's tools bounce in the air to clatter around me--I'm dodging wrenches and drills here as a computer topples. The fridge spills into the air under Zeus's slap, spraying soda and ice cream around the room as I dart from place to place, trying to stay away from the walls so I don't get trapped. Gotta get some leverage, a draft, something for my boots to skate on so I can get away--
I leap into the air as his hand throws up wind. One step on his finger, and then another hop off it--I feel the tingle in my soles as the air-jets in my shoes finally activate, and I'm thrown sky-high by the swoosh of Zeus's swiping hand.
My team-phone buzzes on my belt. Man, this was the wrong time to stop silencing those calls!
I answer with a groan, mid-somersault in the air. "Look, Robotman, I'm a little busy right now--"
"Butterfly's been captured. We need all hands on deck to this location!"
I bite my lip. I'm trying to dash away--I'd love to go to that location, sure, that would be great, but the jerk-face who calls himself the god of thunder has just started a wind-tunnel around me, and it's sucking me towards him, and I can't take this guy on myself, no one can, come on, man, everyone knows only Robotman can fight Zeus alone, and that's just a maybe!
I open my mouth, and then close it again with gritted teeth. If I say anything, Carl will have to choose. Go save Butterfly, or come save me. Save the girl who spills herself out trying to save everyone, or rescue the dummy who told Zeus where we live. Asia or me.
Screw that. "Save her," I say into the phone. "I'll be there as soon as I can."
And with that, I hang up, and my stomach leaves as a tornado sucks me towards the pavement.
I'm probably going to die.
There's only one superhuman in this state who's got a license to carry Thunder.
And that's me.
I hear the wanna-be deity from miles away. Who can't? It's on the police radars in minutes, on the weather channel in seconds, and tingling in my rings the moment it happens. These jewels are as good at picking up sound feedback as they are at shooting it out, and it doesn't take me long to figure out the storm's over the Guardian headquarters. I strap on my mask, point my fists at the ground, and steady my shoulders as the sound rockets me into the air.
For all the talk though, for real, this guy's huge. Huge, and as ancient as a grudge, hated by every girl who knows his story well enough. He's the kind who won't take 'no' for an answer, and if you do answer yes, because, you know, overpowered sky being and all, then you've got his jerk wife to deal with. We'd all love to mount an army to take him down…but we still can't find Olympus.
The rain, the sleet, the snow sprays at me in a wild arc like shurikens spinning out of a ninja dance party. Frigid air stings my exposed arm and cheeks. Through the darkening clouds I can see shoulders, a head--oh gosh, he's huge. I'm not even close enough to see the Guardian roof, and I can already see the details on his regal golden laurels. The flap of his toga in the wind sounds like thunderclaps. I buzz within range to fire a sonic shock--I say buzz, 'cuz with this freak's size I'm like a big wasp.
Well--naw, I'm at least a hamster, and I used to have the meanest hamster who could kick my butt. I got this. With a punch into the air my blast ripples towards the back of his skull. He stumbles forward with that head-slap and roars like a naughty kid that just got whapped. His whirlwind stutters, and sideways out of it flings a small, sparking figure. "Aaaaaaa---"
I'm in my free-fall already. I fire another blast downward, right on top of Zeus's head, and rocket towards lightning boy.
"Where's your team?!" I shout when he's close enough to hear me.
"Saving Butterfly!" he shouts back, still spinning in the air, out of control, and there's a tree waiting to break his back--
I get there. He tumbles into me, knocking my wind out as I fire my rings behind me to counteract the force and save us from the tree.
Oh hell it's like my shoulders are ripping off! Something tears through the front of my left shoulder--with Skye's force slamming me backwards and the force of my rings shoving me forward along the axis of my arms, my shoulder, my shoulder's like shoved to the front while I go back and I hear a cracking POP amidst the whirling and roaring and will Zeus just please freakin' shut up OW--
Skye stabilizes, with me on top of him, and we land softly, on his feet.
"Crap, crap!" He looks to my shoulder, and back to the giant now stomping towards us. "Robotman taught us this, this is a dislocation, I can--" He's white as those peaceful clouds far, far away, outside this swirling grey storm we've got into…"I can pop it back in!" Skye says it without much certainty, like he had to swallow thirty half-truths before the words would fit in his mouth. I wanna just lie down and cry and curl up in those clouds.
Snap out of it. "Watch out!" I point with the other arm as the giant stomps beside us.
Skye scoops me up in his arms--pretty strong for the skinny guy I thought he was--and leaps to skate on the wind. I point my rings behind us, at Zeus's foot, and the ricochet of power gives Skye some speed as we jolt into the air.
"Give me the Guardians, or give me an acceptable sacrifice!" Zeus roars as lightning twines around us.
"Thanks for saving me from that tree," Skye yells in my ear. Rain's splattering the small space between our faces, and framing his wide face like tears. "I'm sorry you came to help me and got your shoulder screwed up."
"Boy you really aren't focusing on the situation at hand!" I yell back.
"Because how can I focus on anything else but you?" He flits ably from side to side, dodging lightning and Zeus's thick fingers like it's nothing, and I see now that when he's not caught in a whirlwind he's pretty agile.
How can he focus on anything but me? That's corny as a field in Kansas, but when he says it, it's not a play, or a flirtatious joke, even though it should be. It's like he's talking about my well-being, and not trying to get anything from me, and that's--nice.
"You'll be okay attacking from behind him if I distract him away from you, right?" Skye asks.
"Sure, whatever." I want to hide my face in his shoulder because my cheeks are suddenly warm, and this is a big waste of time even though it's not slowing Skye down a bit as we just weave through the air, and--and--I can't hide my face in his shoulder 'cuz that looks weird, too, so I'm just looking over his shoulder like I'm really pissed off, and we're circling Zeus--
Skye takes us in a big ellipse, up towards Zeus's head, where I fire another thunder-punch at the Greek's face, and then dooooown towards his heels where he drops me off, and then before I can blink he's back up in Zeus's face again, before the giant even turns around. Skye gets a few good hits in at the monster's eyes, firing lightning from his fingers, and I'm all set to trip the guy from the back with one, big, solid thunder blast when--
Zeus catches Skye in one big hand.
Pain splinters up my sides as my ribs crack one by one. I can't breathe. Something aches in the pit of my gut like I'm gonna vomit, or poop myself, or both, and it hurts and there's sinking dread and oh crap I've ruined everything.
"Wait," I choke, waving down Natasha, who's about to knock this guy over and make him drop me or send me flying or squish me. I'm also waving down the Big Kahuna himself, who's about to, you know, crush me in his grip. "I'm the one who called you here. Me. I did. And I'm a Guardian."
"Puny Mortal, you think I do not know who you are? Of course you are a Guardian!" He shouts. Can this guy not speak below jet engine volume? My ears beg. "And no one summons me--I summon myself. But if you did call me here--" he pauses, and confusion splits across his giant face, and I know I've got him. "Why would you be so foolish?"
"Some of us are just born fools." I force-crack a grin. "I thought you were someone else. But now that you're here, you can get what you want."
"Yes, and I intend to!" But his grip's not as tight as it was. I feel the loosening, and my sides scream in pain as the ribs move, expanding into that empty space as I breathe. "Save your bargaining manipulations for your mortal enemies."
My breathing--man, I don't want to breath, it hurts so much-- "Look, man, just tell me what you want, we can work something out. That's why I called you here. Well, not exactly why, but you know. We can make this work!"
Zeus thinks for a moment. "Bear my name and honor me," he says. "You use my elements, you and your weather wench."
"Whoa, buddy, not my weather wench!" I don't want Natasha mad at me! "She's not even a Guardian, and def not mine. Don't get me in trouble here."
Zeus looks around, as if trying to find Natasha. She stays out of his line of sight, running while clutching her shoulder. "You fear her wrath?" he asks, turning back to me with a smile. "Ah, then you are destined for each other."
I know my myths well enough to know he's thinkin' of his scary wife. I'm not gonna take relationship kudos from a guy who turns girls into cows, but still. "I wouldn't mind that destiny," I say. "What do you say we shake hands in the name of whipped men everywhere and call it a day?"
Butterfly would kill me for that joke--she's starting to get into my head with all her lady-stereotypes-talk--but Zeus guffaws.
Holy crap, his hand tightens when he laughs! No no no--
Zeus yells out of surprise more than pain as I get a mouthful of thick leathery skin. I can't believe I bit him--it's like biting a couch or something--but it made him drop me, at least, and now I'm free, still skating near him. Oh no, he's mad again.
"Sorry about that," I say right away. "You were squeezing again."
"I can squeeze whatever I want to!" he snaps. Man, he's like a little kid.
"How can I pacify you, sir? Something about your name?"
He puts both hands on his hips like a toddler pretending to be a mom. "You must be my name-bearers, and do all your exploits in my name!"
"Like a branding deal? That's not terrible." All these Olympians ever want is name recognition. Maybe--
Natasha shouts. I look down to see her crossing her forearms over each other in a very angry no-go sign. Not sure why, but I trust she's got an angle I'm missing.
"Eh, sorry dude, can we buy you dinner or something instead? You like oxen, right?"
"I do," he says, thinking--maybe back to days when people worshipped him and stuff. "Well done, none of that rare stuff."
Natasha shakes her head. My team-phone lights up with a buzz, and I look--
NO NEGOTIATING WITH TERRORISTS!!!
Wow, all in caps, and from her! Another buzz:
Where are we gonna get an ox, anyway??
Hey, she kept my phone number! Even though I almost dropped a spaceship on her! There's a happy feeling deep in my chest.
"She texted me," I tell Zeus, lifting my phone. I'm grinning like a big idiot. "I think she likes me!"
He smiles, too. "I believe so," he says.
"Hey, you're a romantic, right? Infatuated easily?" I ask.
He puffs out his chest. "I have taken women and men numbering in the dozens."
Yuck, man, get over yourself. "Well, see, I haven't. Between you and me, you think you might come back and kill us later after we--" I point from Natasha to me. "--fall in love or something? You're talking dozens, man, I just really want the one."
Zeus ponders that. Natasha glowers behind him. Yeah, she's gonna kill me looong before he does. Fortunately, he thinks her anger's cute.
"Your request is granted, by my infinite mercy," he says.
Oh gosh thank-you thank-you thank-you. "Thank-you so, so much, great Olympian. We'll be in touch when it's time for you to kill us."
He smiles. I bow low, really a bow to Natasha for my successful performance, but Zeus doesn't know that. The sun splits through the storm clouds and the great Olympian dissolves into a shimmering cloud of golden droplets as a rainbow bursts through the wreckage and cuts between Natasha and myself…and finally, as the rain trickles into a mist and fades away, it's over.
I collapse to the earth, my knees buckling as I land. I wanna curl up with my head in my hands, but my sides'll tear or something if I do anything other than lay flat on my back and never ever breathe again. Dammit, am I crying? No way. Not in front of her!
"I'm so so sorry," I gasp. My ribs hurt, they just freaking hurt, and every breath makes it worse, and I can't even think of a way to describe it. "I know that was messed up. I just really really didn't want him to kill me. I'm sorry."
A shadow falls over my face as she kneels beside me, still clutching her shoulder. It's hanging forward funny off the joint.
"I'm so so sorry about your shoulder. I'm such an idiot."
She doesn't say anything for a second. She just sits there looking at me. "Yeah, you are," she says. Then she grins: "You just gave up the chance to be my boyfriend forever, just to stay alive."
I stare up at the sky as she keeps rubbing it in: "You know that's what you did, right: now we can't ever get together without your boy from Olympus killing us afterwards."
I drop my palms over my face and sigh. "Yup. Yup, and I destroyed our home base."
Holy crap, I destroyed our home base! I sit up suddenly: "Holy crap I--ooooow!" My ribs scream at me, and I lie back down with a cough-groan. "Robot-man is gonna kill me when he gets back from--Butterflyl!" I turn to Natasha and grab her uninjured arm: "We gotta go help Butterfly!"
"Boy, you're not helping anybody but me right now." She surveys the wreckage, the bits of roof strewn everywhere, the half-fallen left wall of the storage space we rent…the smell of melting ice cream fills the air.
The sinking feeling in my gut just will not go away.
There's something special about the aftermath.
Skye shoves my shoulder back in its socket. It takes a lot of shouting, and configuring, and weird positioning, but Robot-man taught him well. I get Skye to a doctor. It takes a lot of fighting, and complaining, and weird bargaining, but I know a guy who knows a guy.
I feel bad for the Guardians, I do, and for Skye, and for Butterfly, and I call Robot-man as soon as we're stable. Take care of one thing at a time, I always say.
But in a really special way, I feel good, for me. I don't know why. It's got nothing to do with accomplishment, or helping--'tho I totally kept Skye from selling himself to Zeus as a publicity slave back there, and from stealing someone's cows, because with these gods it's never enough--but I don't know, I just feel happy. I'm alive, Skye's alive, and now we've got this secret about Zeus, and for some reason I'm really, really grateful. Maybe it's the sunshine reflecting off the clearing rain. Maybe it's the mist on my face, and the left-over adrenaline filling my veins.
But that's enough. One step at a time and it's time to move forward.
Time to figure out what happened to Butterfly.