Amanda hung up her cellphone, and hung her head. Sorry, Sarah.
“How did that go?” asked Miya across the lab from her.
Amanda set her phone down on the counter in front of her and replied, “Fine. She’s getting to a police station now in case the Siberians try to kidnap her.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Because she designed that brain wave and they might want her to do more. Oh, and the others should be back soon.”
Miya nodded. With all of the equipment shut down, the lab was an unnaturally silent room. Now that night had fallen, there wasn’t even the occasional summer student passing by.
“So…” began Amanda, trying to fill the lingering, awkward silence between her and Miya.
“How’s it going?”
Miya shrugged and replied, “Alright.”
Another pause. Come on, work with me here. “So I guess we haven’t talked much. Ever.”
“I guess not.” Or don’t work with me. Whatever.
“The others should be back soon,” said Amanda, refusing to let the conversation die in its infancy.
“Great. I’m starting to hate this place,” said Miya, a finger idly curling through her hair.
“What’s wrong?” asked Amanda.
Miya grimaced and said, “This place is weird.”
Amanda looked around the lab, at the solid blacktop counters and empty fume hood. Her own laptop sat nestled between two heftier desktops. “What? This is a pretty standard college lab.”
“No, not the lab. Never been here before. At a college, I mean,” said Miya, waving her hand around vaguely.
“Everything you ever dream of?”
Miya let out a humorless laugh, still refusing to meet Amanda’s eyes. “Never thought I’d step foot in a college,” she said, her words getting sharper as aimless anger rose in her voice. “I keep get the feeling I don’t belong here.”
“Really?” Where the hell are you getting that feeling from?
“Are you fucking kidding me? You’re talking to a high school dropout who’s never had more than a hundred dollars to her name. College? Are you fucking kidding me?”
“You dropped out?”
“Yeah. Didn’t see much of a point,” replied Miya.
“Much of a point to your education?”
“Who the fuck would hire me? Little Mexica girl with a criminal record? No, I’d rather save myself some time.”
“How about now? You could get a GED,” pointed out Amanda.
“Again, what’s the point? It won’t change anything.”
“That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy right there.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Seriously. Hear me out. If you give up on yourself, you’ll never get anywhere. So by approaching life thinking ‘I’ll never get a job’, then guess what? You’ll never get a job. You have to at least give it a shot. Do you really want to go through life having to tell people you don’t even have a high school degree?”
Miya nodded, biting her lower lip. I’ll shut up now. Just please don’t ignore me. Amanda returned to her laptop, keeping watch in case anyone suspicious tried to get in again.
Olivia, Ben, and Rob filed back into the lab a few minutes later. Ben kept hand on the pistol hidden in his waistband. Rob immediately stood beside Amanda, while Olivia approached Miya with a large red blotch on her arm.
“Let me see that,” said Miya, gesturing to Olivia’s scorched arm. “What happened?”
“One of the aliens had a laser gun thing. I tried to grab it from it, and it broke. This weird red gas came out of it, and the alien tried to get away from it. It got all over here,” replied Olivia, waving her free hand over the red blotch.
Miya glanced at her. “Why does every bad thing happen to you?’
Olivia gave a weary shrug. “I don’t know. But I’m fine. It’s better than it hitting you guys.”
“Incorrect,” said Amanda. “The best case scenario is none of us getting hit with anything, you included.”
“No problems getting’ back,” announced Ben, right beside the door. “I’m thinkin’ we’re good for now.”
Miya’s eyes grew unfocused as she laid her hands on Olivia’s arm. The red color lessened, though not disappearing completely.
“I’m not sure what the fuck this is. It’s not doing anything too bad, but it’s not exactly good.”
“It could have just been poisonous to the Siberian and not us,” said Amanda. “They are aliens after all.”
“True,” replied Miya. Her eyes refocused and she let go of Olivia. “I’ve stopped the worst of whatever it was doing. I’ll take a longer look once we’re out of here.”
Olivia nodded and said, “Thanks.”
“Now what?” asked Ben.
“If there’s any more Siberians they could come back here,” pointed out Amanda.
“Let’s call the cops, get them to lock this place up,” suggested Rob.
“Would they?” asked Olivia.
“This is half the human race at stake, they’ll figure it out real quick. We did, an’ we’re idiots. Hell, we can spell it out for ‘em, tell ‘em this is where the lab for that brain ray thing they found came from.”
“That sounds good,” said Amanda. The cops have more manpower than us, too.
“Are you OK to fly?” Miya asked Olivia.
“Alright,” said Ben. “I’ll make the call an’ we can get out of here.”
Amanda didn’t sleep that night. She volunteered to keep watch over the lair as the others drifted off to sleep with a pervading sense of unease. She tinkered with the railgun prototype for an hour It just needed one more part from Rob, he said he’d have it done by tomorrow night. She examined a bullet they planned on using. It wasn’t much different from a standard rifle round without the powder. Neither of them knew enough about ballistics to feel confident about developing their own munitions.
She moved on, hunching over the laptop she’d taken with her to the lab and trying to figure out how the Siberians had evaded her fail-safes so easily. I hate aliens. They got a head start on us. The weak rays of the early morning light caught her eye as she examined a USB port for the fifth time, learning absolutely nothing. I just pulled another pointless all-nighter, didn’t I?
Ben teleported to her side and poked her in the cheek. She jumped in her seat, her right knee slamming against the bottom of the solid desk, sending a couple stray bits of wire and her glasses into the air
“God damn it, you jackass,” she hissed for the benefit of the others still asleep, massaging her knee.
“Surprise,” he said with a grin.
“Fuck you and your teleportation.”
“Keepin’ a good watch?”
Amanda flipped him off and returned her attention to her laptop. Fuck it, I’m too tired to get anything done at this point. She blinked the sleep out of her eyes. Need to get these contacts out, too. Ben hopped up to take a seat on a nearby desk as she pulled out her contact case from a drawer.
He shivered as she peeled her eyelids open and popped her contacts out. “I couldn’t fuckin’ stand contacts.” A sudden grin split his face. “Good thing I don’t need ‘em.”
“Well aren’t you just a special snowflake?” Jackass.
“Damn right. You nearsighted? Farsighted?”
“Neither. Just some mild astigmatism,” Amanda replied. She screwed her contacts case shut and slipped on her thin glasses.
“Wait, astigmatism? Ain’t that just stigmatism?” He grabbed a long, thin length of metal Rob had left lying around and twirled it in his fingers.
“No, my eye doctor got kind of annoyed when I pointed that out to him. It’s actually astigmatism.”
“Huh. Learn somethin’ every day.”
He hopped down from the desk, stick of metal still in hand. What are you doing with that? He teleported over to Olivia’s beanbag, where she lay face down.
He poked Olivia in the back of the head with a, “Boop!” Aftera brief pause, Amanda spotted Olivia’s tail twitch.
Ben poked her in the head again. “Boop!”
Olivia let out a soft mumble, trying her best to ignore him.
“Come on. Why don’t you do that to Miya?” asked Amanda, fighting back a smile. Let’s see if you’re dumb enough to do that.
“Because she’ll fight back. Olivia is like a giant teddy bear that makes funny noises when you poke her.”
To illustrate his point, he poked Olivia in the back of the head again with another, “Boop!” eliciting a low, muffled grumble from the girl. He’s not wrong. Sorry, Olivia, I tried. Her right wing snapped out, catching Ben in the shins.
He laughed and hopped to the side, poking her in the head a couple more times. She flailed her hand pitifully in the air, trying to ward off Ben.
“The boops don’t stop,” she said. “I tried to fight back but the boops don’t stop.”
“Olivia, you may as well wake up now,” said Amanda.
“You underestimate my power,” mumbled Olivia, burrowing further into the beanbag. Did she make a joke? Have we cracked the shell? Ben doubled over laughing, tears now streaming down his face.
“You harassing her isn’t that funny,” Amanda said to him.
“Yes… yes it is,” he managed.
“What the hell?” asked Rob from behind him.
Ben simply pointed at Olivia with the stick. “Boop!”
An identical grin split Rob’s face. He rushed over and said, “Gimme, I wanna try.”
Olivia let out a low, threatening hiss. “I’m up,” she grumbled as she sat up, messy brown hair covering her eyes.
“Aw. I got up for this?”
“Next time,” said Ben.
He finally put the metal stick down and returned to the desk he’d been sitting on. Rob wheeled up a seat next to Amanda and sat down.
“I’m sorry they woke you up,” she said to him.
“No problem. I wasn’t really sleepin’ anyways. Miya still asleep?”
“Yep. You’re getting that last railgun piece done, right?”
“It’ll be done by tonight, then we can get to testin’ the gun.”
“Didn’t you do that already?” asked Ben.
“That was just to see if it could shoot in the first place. This’ll be to see if it works as a gun.”
“We’ll have to call ahead and find a range to test this at,” pointed out Amanda. This will be fun. I’ve never really done weapons tests before. Rob nodded in agreement.
“Why?” asked Olivia.
“People don’t like techies just showin’ up an’ testin’ out new shit. Good to call ahead an’ make sure the owner is OK with it.”
“Gonna make some armor piercin’ shit, then? Weren’t you talkin’ about electro-bullets, too?”
“Ain’t that hard to make a bullet that’s good enough. Now if we wanna make some exotic ammo, I got no fuckin’ clue, but we can deal with that when we get there,” explained Rob.
“Yeah, that’s what I figured we’d do,” added Amanda.
“Wait, what happened to the aliens?” asked Olivia.
“What? What about the aliens?”
“Well, why aren’t we worrying about them? There were a bunch of them, and now it’s back to normal? They were trying to kill us all.”
“It’s not exactly our problem anymore,” said Amanda. “That’s a problem for people way higher up the food chain than us.”
“Have you heard of anything happenin’?” Rob asked Amanda.
“Nope.” Out of curiosity, she opened up another free laptop. She’d set it to monitor any and all news organizations. “Most news agencies haven’t posted anything new at all since our little stunt.”
“Nothing. Not even celebrity gossip. A couple of them have gotten back up and started posting, but they only have a little bit piece on aliens so far.”
Ben broke the resulting silence. “This is super underwhelmin’. I was expectin’ missiles to fly or some shit.”
“Now what?” asked his brother.
“I don’t know,” said Amanda. “Do we have to do something else?”
“Didn’t we already do some stuff?” asked Olivia. “I was just wondering if we had to do more.”
“It just don’t feel right,” said Ben.
“Yep, you’ve said that before,” replied Amanda. A notice caught her eye, one from the White House’s website, no less. She read it and announced, “Well, this might be more interesting. The president is supposed to give a speech about the Siberians soon.”
She checked the clock. “In, damn. In five minutes.”
“We don’t got cable, they streamin’ it?” asked Rob.
“Yes, it looks like they are.”
She pulled up the video and moved her chair to the side so the others could see. They didn’t talk, instead fidgeting, waiting for any answers. After a few minutes, the presidential seal on screen faded away, replaced by a spokesman standing behind a podium. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, the camera shook violently. The microphone picked up shouting, not in English. It finally stopped with a view of the press room’s carpet.
“What the fuck?” someone said. The others in the room sat on the edges of their seats, eyes glued to the screen.
The background noise died down. The camera panned back up to the podium where a man in an impeccable suit and familiar grinning mask stood.
“I am Taauth and I speak not only to the people of the United States, but to all of mankind.” He paused. “For too long, the aliens, the Siberians, have profaned the surface of our planet. For too long, they have plotted to annihilate all of us, all of humanity, and the leaders of the world have done nothing. This must end, and soon.”
“Is he insane?” Amanda murmured in another pause by Taauth.
“They have developed a new weapon, a ray which can go through any armor, any material, and destroy the brain matter of any human in its way. The president here,” said Taauth, nodding to some point off camera, “would tell you that the situation is now contained. He would tell you sweet, empty, and cheap words of reassurance. I offer actions, not words. Even if the situation is truly contained now, the threat is still out there. It is only a matter of time before they develop anew weapon. I will end that threat, and I ask all of humanity to assist me. And if your government does nothing, is content with letting aliens threaten your lives, ask yourself, ‘Are they truly worthy to rule you?’”
With that, he stepped away from the podium. More shouting broke out as he stepped out of view of the camera. The feed cut to black a moment later.
“Alright, fuck it, enough of that shit,” said Ben. He and Rob got up simultaneously and spread out across the lair. What?
“Think we should pack guns?” called out Rob.
“Nah. Can’t get those on a plane,” replied Ben. “We need cash to get some once we’re there. It’s the Middle East, there’s guns everywhere I bet.”
“Gonna need cash for that.”
“How much we got?”
“Dunno. I got couple hundred. You?”
“Same, a little more.”
“We’re gonna need passports,” pointed out Rob.
“Think we can get some fakes, or we wanna get ‘em legit?”
“What the hell do you two think you’re doing?” demanded Amanda, breaking up their rapid fire conversation.
“Goin’ to talk to our brother,” said Ben.
“An’ maybe kill him.”
“Ain’t gonna come to that.”
“Whatever you say,” replied Rob with a shrug.
“What is you plan?” continued Amanda. “Do you have one. One at all?”
“Get there, wing it.”
“Did you two not listen to Cyrus?” she asked. Olivia had stood up, concern written over her face.
“Yeah, he’s got no fuckin’ idea why Taauth is here. But I know for a fact that’s my brother behind that mask.”
“Been waitin’ too long to do this,” said Ben.
“No more waitin’,” added Rob.
“We need a better plan than wing it,” said Amanda, folding her arms.
“This ain’t your fight,” said Rob with a shake of his head.
“Ain’t none of yours,” added Ben with a vague gesture to Olivia and Miya, just now starting to stir.
“Bullshit,” spat Amanda. “We’ve been working as a team for a while now, haven’t we?”
“Yeah,” said Ben. He pulled out a duffle bag and began shoving some of his clothes into it.
“But we don’t wanna drag you into the ugly family fight that’s comin’ up,” said Rob.
“And I don’t care, you two aren’t charging off after Sam on your own.”
“You ain’t even met him,” said Ben.
“He’s your triplet,” said Amanda.
“I don’t really see why-”
“Enough!” demanded Olivia, raising her voice. “Sorry,” she continued, her voice returning to normal. “But you two are being kind of dumb.”
“Come on, you too? This ain’t your fight,” said Ben.
“Why did you care? When you first met me, why did you care?”
Where are you going with this? Ben shared Amanda’s sentiment, shrugging his shoulders and exclaiming, “I don’t fuckin’ know.”
“You didn’t have to, though. I’ve never met Sam, but he’s your brother. I care.”
The brothers slowed to a stop. They exchanged a long, shared look. “You two sure about this?” they asked.
“Of course,” said Amanda, Olivia nodding in agreement.
“What, did you guys forget about me?” asked Miya as she joined them. “Before you start bitching at me, what they said,” she said, pointing to Amanda and Olivia.
Ben and Rob cracked identical smiles. “Fine.”
“We can’t just rush in without a plan,” said Amanda. “We need more information if you want to get to a head of state like that.”
“Shit, she’s right,” said Rob, glancing at Ben again. “Didn’t think about that. I guess Sam is a ruler guy now. Can’t just walk in through the front door an’ talk to him.”
“Exactly,” said Amanda. “We’ll figure it out together.”