Monday, April 22, 2019

The first installment of Lightweight... free! Read "Dreams" right here, right now!

This story is already available for free from multiple sources. But I also wanted to make it free to everyone even a little curious about Lightweight. For an ebook edition, you can head over to Smashwords. To buy this story and the rest of Lightweight: Senior Year, head over to Amazon.

Lightweight: Senior Year
Nicholas Ahlhelm

I floated in the air. I was on my back, a pillow beneath me, but around me was the wide open sky. The wild blue yonder, my uncle in the Air Force used to talk about.
I knew it was a dream, but in some way that I can’t even begin to explain, I also knew it wasn’t. Like it was real and a dream all at the same time.
I could feel the cold air across my skin as I laid there, my eyes closed. My body was chilled like I was sitting in front of an air conditioner, but I knew I should be much colder. I wore only the boxers I normally stripped to before bed.  
I really didn’t want to, but I knew I needed to open my eyes. I knew this dream—or whatever it was—wouldn’t end until I did. I sat up gingerly. Even if this was a dream, I still couldn’t get over the fear of falling and like I said, I was on a cloud. I was a bit worried about that.
I slowly let my eyes crack open. The world rushed into my eyeballs with a blast of color. The sky was darkened and rusty colored, the kind of red sky that sailors apparently always go on about.
But it wasn’t the weird sky that really drew my attention in. It was the random objects floating around the cloud and me. A blender. A toaster oven. An old tire. A box of tattered Archie comics. A six pack of Mountain Dew. A ten speed bike. An M-16.
I looked over them with confusion as they slowly circled around me. I decided this had to be a dream. I couldn’t be flying and all these random things certainly couldn’t be making a slow rotation around my cloudy perch.
They were like a half dozen little moons all floating around me like a tiny planet.
Far below me, I could see the lights of Federation stretched out. Hundreds of them, tiny cars moving like tiny lighted insects. Five million men and women slept or did whatever people do in the middle of the night. Or they would be, if they were real.
I wanted down and out of there, but no matter how long I wished for the dream to end, it wasn’t going anywhere. Whoever said that dreams end when you tell yourself to wake up clearly never made it into this dream.
I tested the cloud again with my hands. It was soft, but supportive, not unlike the bed I wished I could reach from this dream.
Take me out of here, I thought. Just take me home.
The cloud suddenly shifted beneath me. It shot downwards. In seconds, I soared straight down, the darkened ground rushing towards me. I plummeted through the night sky, but I felt no fear. Somehow I knew I was safe. I was in control. This is what I was meant to do. It was as natural as walking. As breathing.
I was free.
“Kevin! Kevin! Are you awake?”
The pounding on his door forced Kevin Mathis to open his eyes. His mom’s voice echoed through his skull as he shook off the dream. He stared up at the ceiling of his room. Only it was far too close to him. He could reach out and touch it. But how—
Kevin dropped down out of the sky. He crashed back first on to the mattress of his bed. The sudden shock of pain took him by surprise, but it was nothing like the realization that he had been airborne.
It was just a dream, he thought. It could only be a dream.
His blankets were wrapped around him, almost knotted by his sudden—whatever that was. He worked them off his body and stumbled out of the bed.
His mother knocked again. “Kevin, are you all right in there? Do I need to get the key?”
“I’m fine, Mom. Just fell out of my bed.”
“You better hurry up and get ready. Your friends will be here in fifteen minutes.”
Kevin glanced at his clock. He cursed under his breath as he ran for the dresser.
Exactly thirteen minutes later he was showered (more or less), dressed and in the kitchen. As he grabbed a pop tart (always brown sugar and cinnamon) from the box, he heard the horn outside.
Mom sat at the kitchen table as he frantically put his breakfast together. She rolled her eyes as she sipped at her coffee. “You know you could tell your friends to stop in once in awhile. I don’t think I’ve seen Andy once since he got that Taurus.”
Kevin leaned down and planted a quick kiss on his mother’s cheek. “That’s because Andy doesn’t leave it unless someone makes him. He would take his classes in that thing if they would let him.”
He gave her a wave as he grabbed his bag and headed out the door. Andy was double-parked in front of the duplex. Millie was already walking down the street from the next house over.
“Hey, stranger,” she said. “Ready for one last year of this?”
“Ready for it to be over. Nine months and counting. Oh, I got one for you. What do high school and Lauryn Hill have in common?”
Millie rolled her eyes, even as she pushed her long black hair out of her eyes. “Fine, what?”
“Both will kill you softly.”
“Do you ever tell good jokes?”
“I only share the very finest humor.”
Andy honked again. Kevin and Millie both turned to see him waving them down towards the car.
“Let’s not keep our ride waiting,” Millie said. “He might leave us.”
“That would be less time in his precious. You and I both know he wouldn’t give that up.” Despite his words, Kevin joined Millie in the few short steps to Andy’s car. A moment later, they were on their way to their last first day of high school.
Kevin was sure that despite their protests, most kids loved school. The preppies and jocks loved the adulation they received. The nerds loved their chance to flex their mental muscles. Even the druggies appreciated the easy connections they could find here.
Unfortunately for him, he fit in none of those categories at Herbert Hoover High School. He wasn’t an idiot, but he wasn’t a brain either. School work wasn’t hard, but it offered little to interest him.
He wasn’t rich enough to hang with the preps. He wasn’t much of an athlete either. He always remained in decent shape despite never really exerting himself. He meandered around the skiing club for freshman and sophomore year, but a broken leg in his second year ended what was at best a mediocre career on the snow.
Popularity eluded him, though he gave up trying to impress anyone before he moved to the city anyway. He fell in naturally with Andy while Millie’s house next door made her instantly easy to reach. She was far smarter than both of them combined, but Kevin always assumes she stayed in their clique out of convenience and loyalty.
Whatever the reason she was there, he was happy to have her and Andy beside him. Their group kept him sane when surrounded by several hundred hormone-filled borderline sociopaths with attention deficit disorder. More importantly, they served as an early warning system for George.
Nearly nineteen, six and a half feet tall and rippling with every muscle human growth hormone could provide, George Arnold was the poster child for poor impulse control. And he despised Kevin more than anyone else.
This time they proved no help. Neither Millie nor Andy saw George coming. But Kevin sure felt the football smash in to his lower back. He stumbled forward, barely saving himself from a face full of asphalt.
He turned, ready to face down his bully. Kevin was just over six feet himself, but his frame was much smaller than George’s. He couldn’t hope to beat the guy in a fair fight.
That didn’t mean he wouldn’t try though.
George walked up to him, flanked by two other defensive linemen on the football team. Together they probably weighed half a ton.
Kevin didn’t care. He picked up the ball between himself and the players as he stared George down.
“Sorry,” George said. A smirk filled his face. “I lost the ball. Hope it didn’t hurt anyone.”
Kevin raised the ball and spiked it hard against the cement. It flew up in to the air and over the jock’s heads.
“That’s unfortunate,” he said. “Seems I can’t keep a hold of it either.”
George stepped forward and shoved Kevin. Kevin stumbled back. He never took his eyes off George for a second.
“You gonna do something, punk?”
Kevin stepped towards George, but Millie grabbed his arm. She held him back. “Not here. We don’t want to get expelled.”
“I don’t care. I—”
“I care,” Millie said. “I can’t be part of this. I can’t risk a scholarship over a stupid fist fight. Think about it—for me.”
Kevin sighed. She was right. She and Andy would certainly be pulled in to any trouble Kevin was in.
Kevin looked at George. “Better grab your ball before someone else does.”
Would serve him right if someone threw it at him now, Kevin thought.
“GAAH!” George’s cry took everyone by surprise, but not as much as the football smashing into the back of his head took him by surprise.
George spun around as he grasped the back of his head. “Who threw that? Who the hell threw that ball?”
No one answered, but everyone turned to look at George as he nursed his head.
“Come on,” Andy said quietly. “This is our chance to jet.”
Millie pulled Kevin away, but Kevin couldn’t take his mind off the ball.
I did that. I made that ball move without even thinking about it. It’s a dream. It is only supposed to be a damn dream.
First period was calculus, which Kevin found pointless and challenging. English lit was next. The professor immediately assigned them to read an old Thomas Hardy novel. Kevin has some doubts this Hardy came with any detective skills.
Third period was computer science. Kevin was pretty sure he could teach the instructor a few things that would blow his mind. He looked over at Millie a few desks away more than once, as this was their first class together. She was far superior with a PC than he was. Only the fear of getting caught kept her from becoming a full on hack-master. But she still listened intently to Mister Van Horne, taking notes on her laptop.
“How do you do that?” Kevin said after the bell, as they both walked to the lunch line.
“Do what?”
“Act like Van Horne says anything interesting at all ever. The class will be an easy A, but he’s so damn boring. His knowledge of computer science stopped with Windows 3.1.”
She shrugged. “He’s not so bad. I wish they had a more advanced program, but Van Horne at least has some different perspective on things.”
“Like what?”
“He still thinks the world is an inherently good place.”
“And you don’t?”
“I may be a few months farther from eighteen than you, Kev. But in my three years here, the school has had seven deaths in just that time. Suicides, car accidents, even a murder. I can go down a hall and find every drug known to man available for purchase. If high school doesn’t teach you the world’s a hard place, I don’t know what does. “
“I guess I never thought about it.”
“Really, not even with George around?”
“He’s just a thug. He’s not representative of society as a whole.”
“I swear you can find the good in places they never existed.” Millie brushed her long black hair out of her face, a nervous twitch Kevin noticed every time she was a bit frustrated. “I guess it’s one of the traits I like best about you. Definitely more than your need to pick fights.”
“I don’t pick fights, Millie. But I also don’t run away from them.”
“It’s a noble trait, or it would be if you didn’t get your ass kicked so much.”
“I’m not that bad, am I?”
They reached the head of the lunch line finally. Both bypassed the brown gel (marked as salisbury steak) for the pizza station. It still wasn’t exactly good, but at least it seemed edible.
“You suck,” Millie said. “You ever consider some karate or judo?”
“You going to teach me?”
“Just because Mom’s Korean doesn’t make me a martial arts master.”
“No but the black belt and gi in your closet do.”
“How do you—” She smacked him in the shoulder. “I’m never letting you in my room again.”
“Oh, come on. You left the closet door cracked once. I was just curious.”
They sat down at their usual table, a corner setup that only seated four. Andy hadn’t made his appearance yet, so they were still alone.
“Curious, huh? You know what I am curious about?”
She leaned in close and her voice dropped an octave. “How did you make that ball hit George in the head?”
“It came at him from behind. I didn’t have anything to do with it.”
Millie put her pizza down, her face now serious. “I saw it all, Kev. I could see past George. I saw the ball come up off the ground. I saw it fly through the air. And I saw it smash directly in to the back of George’s head. No one touched it. And I sure as hell didn’t see any wires. So how did you do it?”
“I—” Kevin shook his head. He felt like his world was suddenly collapsing around him. “How do you know it was me? Why would you think I have some kind of power?”
“I saw the look on your face when that football hit George. I saw a bit of excitement, but mostly you looked surprised. And that’s not a look I see much when you’re knocking heads with George Arnold.”
“It came out of nowhere. Anyone would be surprised by that. I—”
“Don’t lie to me, Kevin Edison Mathis. We know each other far too well for that.”
Kevin opened his mouth, ready to defend himself, to make up some other lie. But he stopped, his mouth still hanging open. He knew he couldn’t keep up this charade, not with Millie. “I-I’m not sure. I—”
“What’s up, peeps?”
Andy flung his body in to the chair between Millie and Kevin. They both stopped to look at him.
“What?” Andy said. “Did I do something wrong? Were you both professing your true love to one another?”
Kevin and Millie met eyes, but quickly turned away from each other. Shut up, Kevin thought, loudly projecting those words towards Andy. He hoped he wasn’t turning beat read in front of Andy and Millie.
The truth was he did have feelings for Millie. He loved her—or at least he was pretty sure he did. He didn’t know for sure, because she was the first person that ever made him feel that way. But she was also his best friend. He was mortified he could screw that up if he made a move on her. What if she didn’t feel the same way?
“No,” Millie said matter-of-factly, finally breaking the uncomfortable silence. “We were just discussing—” She paused and met Kevin’s eyes. Kevin prayed she wouldn’t give his secret away. “—a special project we might do for computer science class. Isn’t that right, Kevin?”
“Uh, yeah, a project.”
Andy looked at them both and shook his head. “You’re both acting weirder than usual. And that’s saying something, you know what I mean? You sure you’re not hiding something from me, maybe a little smoochy smoochy?”
“No,” they both said at once.
Andy shrugged. He looked at both their trays. “Anyway, you going to eat that pizza?”
Millie didn’t know what to make of Kevin’s evasiveness. He told her everything. Or so she had thought until today. He definitely told her a lot. It sure seemed like everything.
But not this. And this was something big.
Kevin had super powers.
The whole idea made her smile as they all rode home in Andy’s car. She sat in the back seat as Kevin deflected all of Andy’s plans for afternoon grand adventures. He glanced back towards her each time he told Andy he had no interest in McDonalds, skee ball or an all-night drive to Minneapolis or Chicago.
Millie kept silent. She wasn’t sure if Kevin really wanted to talk about his special abilities or just wanted to get the conversation about them over. She worried sometimes if she pressured him too much. Maybe he didn’t’ want to spend all the time he did with her.
Despite her best hopes.
She pushed that thought back in to its resting place. It wouldn’t help her or him if she focused on some dumb teenage unrequited love.
Andy pulled the car up to the front of the twin brownstones that Millie and Kevin called home. Millie gave Andy a pat on the shoulder and a quick thanks before she climbed out of the car.
“My place or yours?” She realized how the words sounded as Andy pulled away. She could feel the heat rise in her face.
He either didn’t notice her double entendre or didn’t care. “Let’s go to your house. My dad will be home soon.”
“All right,” she said as she pulled out her keys. Her parents regularly worked late. Both were in their fifties and worked as adjunct professors at Crockett College only a few miles away. They trusted her to get her schoolwork done, feed herself and stay out of trouble. In exchange, they kept her with a healthy allowance that meant she didn’t need an after school job.
They made their way into the living room and dropped their bags. Kevin sent a quick text, probably to one parent or the other. He grabbed a soda from the fridge as she made herself comfortable on the couch.
Kevin walked back out of the kitchen area and met her eyes. “So,” he said.
“So,” she said. This all felt terribly awkward. Her fingers found her long black hair. She twisted it around her hand as she waited for him to talk.
“I—I’ve been having these dreams.”
“Dreams? What kind of dreams?”
“I’m flying, floating on the clouds really. There’s stuff all around me, forming rings. Mostly junk like, toasters, clothes, car parts, just weird stuff. I—somehow I know it’s there because of me.”
“And you have these dreams regularly?”
“Almost every night,” Kevin said.
“For how long.”
“Almost six months now.”
“Six months! Kevin, why didn’t you tell me?”
He shook his head. “At first, I thought it was no big deal. By the time it started to feel like a problem, I started to notice things.”
“What kind of things?”
“Things moving in my room while I slept I thought maybe I was sleepwalking, so I set up a camera. I thought it would see what I was doing before I talked about it with anyone.”
“And? What did you see?”
Kevin looked past Millie. He focused on something behind her. She turned just as the lamp on the end table lifted up in to the air. She gasped at the sight.
“I don’t know exactly,” Kevin said. “It started in the dreams, then I realized I was doing it in my sleep. It didn’t take long to realize I could do it with just a bit of willpower.”
“You can lift anything?”
He shook his head. “Nothing alive. Plants, animals, people—I don’t know why, but it doesn’t work on them.”
“What about plant materials? Cotton or wool?”
“Clothes are fine, as far as I can tell. As long as it’s non-living, I can lift it. Within limits, I guess, but I haven’t really tried on anything huge.”
“Can you make me fly?” Millie shook her head as she realized his words said he couldn’t. “I mean, not me, but use my clothes to lift me up.”
He looked at her, but didn’t say anything. She could barely contain her excitement, but he didn’t answer.
“Well, can you?”
“Yes, but—”
“Do it!”
“Let me see it. Lift me up.”
Kevin sighed, but he closed his eyes and seemed to concentrate.
Millie let out a sharp, shocked cry as her blouse and jeans suddenly pulled on her. They yanked straight upwards. The fabric pulled on her, dug into her skin as it moved ever upward. Her feet left the ground even as her jeans gave her a heck of a wedgie.
Her feet waved in the air as she continued to slowly float above the room. She reached out and touched the high ceiling. The living room had about twelve feet from floor to ceiling. She looked down to see she floated well over three feet off the ground, maybe four.
“This is awesome!”
Kevin looked up at her now. He still looked worried.
“I’m flying,” she said. “How do you not do this all the time?”
She heard the distinct sound of cloth tearing. It confused her for just a second. She couldn’t figure out where the noise came from.
Then her blouse ripped away under her arms, both seams giving away as one. She tumbled forward, straight towards Kevin, suddenly wearing only a bra.
She crashed down in to him, landing on top of him in an uncomfortable pile on the couch.
Kevin didn’t move. He stared at her shiny black bra. His hands gripped the couch tightly as they stared at one another.
That’s when the front door opened.
Before Kevin could even process everything that was happening, he was being smacked by a folded newspaper.
Mrs. Bryant was at the other end of the paper, swinging it wildly at him. She was just a slip of a woman, barely a hundred pounds, but she swung with all the fury she could muster.
“Keep your hands off my daughter,” she screamed in her Korean-accented English. “You keep way from her, bad boy. Bad boy!”
“Mom!” Millie yelled behind her, but Mrs. Bryant showed no sign of hearing her daughter. “Mom!”
Kevin covered up, trying to protect himself from her fury.
“Mom!” Millie grabbed her mother and pulled her away from Kevin. “Mom, we weren’t doing anything.”
“You’re no whore,” Mrs. Bryant said. “We talked about this. You no do this!” Her English grew worse with her fury.
“We didn’t do anything,” Millie said. “I was—I thought I saw something, a spider maybe. I reached up to grab it, but it was a stretch. I started to fall, but Kevin grabbed me. Only he just got my blouse and it ripped. I swear. You can see it on the floor. It’s completely ruined.” She pointed down at it.
“Why you on boy then?”
“I fell on top of him. I promise. Kevin and I, we’re just friends, mom. I told you that.”
The just friends stung a bit, but less than an angry Korean mother with a newspaper.
“No babies, Millicent! No babies!”
“No babies, Mom. I promise. Not until I’m done with college and meet the right guy.”
Mrs. Douglas stared at her daughter. She seemed to be studying every slight movement her daughter made. Millie stared back, set in her ways.
“You go dress! Go now!” Millie gave Kevin one last glance, her apologies obvious. She ran up the stairs to her room without looking back.
“With her gone, Mrs. Bryant’s ire turned back towards Kevin. “You bad boy. I tell my husband this, but he does not listen. You get out. You go now. And you stay away from my Millicent, you understand?”
“Mrs. Bryant, I—”
She raised the newspaper again and waved it threateningly. “You understand?”
“Yes, ma’am. I understand.” Kevin backed towards the front door. Mrs. Bryant followed him all the way back.
“I really am sorry, Mrs. Bryant. I—” Kevin ran in to the door. He grabbed the handle and quickly pulled it open. He stumbled on to the sidewalk. Mrs. Bryant continued to stare daggers at him as she grabbed the handle and slammed the door shut.
And this is why I wanted to hide all this. Damn all of this.
I floated high above the city again. But the objects were gone. I stood naked upon a drifting cloud. I was cold and terribly, terribly alone.
It was dark. Darker than it ever was before. Only the stars lit the sky around me. I could feel it. Something was there with me.
Something not right. No, something very wrong.
Only a blast of cold wind answered me.
“I know you’re there. Show yourself.”
The chill grew deeper, but nothing answered. Only the ever growing howl of the wind.
I realized it wasn’t the wind at all. No, this was something unnatural. Something…else.
With that realization, I saw it for the first time. Two massive yellow eyes, barely visible. They glowed malevolently in the darkness. They saw me. They watched me. Suddenly they rushed toward me.
I saw a massive dark maw open. Rows of jagged teeth lunged towards me. Consumed me.
Kevin shot awake. The digital clock beside his bed read 6:04, but he knew he wasn’t going to get back to sleep.
He glanced out the window and saw Millie’s light on across the narrow alley between them. He picked up his phone and quickly texted her, “You awake?”
Ten seconds later, his phone vibrated with an incoming call. It was Millie.
“I’m awake. Some of us wake up more than ten minutes before school.”
“Yeah, I guess. How are things with your mom?”
“I’m not sure she believes me, but Dad calmed her down. I’m not allowed to have anyone over after school for a week. But I’m allowed to be at your house as long as one of your folks are there. Also, if I go boyfriend hunting, I will be locked in the basement for the next hundred years.”
“They know you’re old enough to think for yourself, right?”
“Yes they do, but they worry. You know the story. They tried to have a kid since they first met in the seventies. I was the happy surprise twenty years after they first married. It’s only child syndrome mixed with a healthy bit of the dreaded Asian mother malady.”
“I guess.” Kevin fell silent, searching for the words he needed to see. “I—”
“You had the dream again, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, I did, but it was different. And I—look, can we talk about it later.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, well, I think so. I’ll be fine. I just don’t want to focus on my dreams right now. Sometimes I would rather think about anything else.”
“You want to talk?”
“No, it’s okay. I should get ready, I guess.”
“Okay, I’ll see you in an hour and a half.”
“Yeah, see you then.”
Kevin walked across his room. For the first time, he realized that his floor was once again in shambles. Clothes, electronics, books, games—all of it littered the floor. It seemed the alarm clock was the only thing that didn’t move during his dream. This nightmare left the room worse than it ever had been before.
He opened the closet. Inside, everything remained in place, untouched by his powers. He shoved his hanging clothes to the right, exposing the plastic containers that covered the bottom of the floor. He pulled the lid off the top box and started to throw sweaters and blankets on the floor of the room. He dug out everything in the case, all the way to the bottom.
He pulled the final item out, a ski suit. It was light gray in color. A stylized sun radiated from just below the left shoulder, its golden strips swooping across and down the sleeves.
He designed it himself, ordered it off a specialty retail site. It was meant to be his outfit for the first ski meet of his sophomore before injury derailed that dream. He knew no one else had even seen the thing.
Now something told him he needed it.
I’m crazy for even thinking this. I’m no hero, but I’m already picking out a costume.
He lowered the ski suit back in to the box. But he didn’t let it go. He stared at it for several long moments. He stared at the long gold stripes. Something about them just seemed right.
Kevin pulled the suit from the closet. He carried it across the room, towards his bed. His backpack lay in a scattered heap at the foot of the bed. He shoved the costume inside.
He stood back up and looked around the room. He had a lot of cleaning to do before school.
Andy was his usual over-excited self as they drove towards the school. His high spirits helped break the uncomfortable air between Kevin and Millie. For that Kevin was eternally grateful. He couldn’t get the thought of yesterday out of his head. Every time he looked at her now, all he could remember was her half naked, pressed against him. Despite the nightmares, the powers and another inevitable confrontation with George, all he could think about was her bra and what was beneath it.
It wasn’t like he never saw breasts before. He was a seventeen year old boy with access to the internet. But these weren’t the same. Millie close to him like that, her skin against him…
He shifted uncomfortably in the passenger seat. He needed to think about something else before he reached school. He closed his eyes, tried to focus on something, anything else.
A flash of jagged teeth and glowing yellow eyes.
Kevin’s eyes flashed open as he gasped in shock. He could feel it. Something wrong was nearby.
But it is only a dream, isn’t it?
Andy’s chatter suddenly stopped. “You all right, bro?”
Kevin nodded. “Just dozed off I think. Didn’t sleep well last night.”
“Don’t be doing that in class, man. That’s my thing after all.”
“I’ll do my best, Andy.”
Kevin glanced back at Millie. She said nothing but she could see concern for him in her eyes.
Kevin fidgeted in his seat as they closed on the school. He couldn’t help but worry too. The second dream had only been a split second, but it felt dangerously real, like a warning. He thumbed the zipper on his backpack, his mind a stew of Millie, super powers, costumes, nightmares and worry.
This needs to stop. I didn’t ask for any of this. I just want a normal life. I don’t—
The car screeched as Andy suddenly slammed on the breaks. It broke to the left. Kevin braced himself as he saw a flash of something massive and metal before they rode up on to the sidewalk. The car smashed hard in to a fire hydrant, coming to an instant halt.
Kevin tried to comprehend what happened. They were stopped. Water crashed down on the front of the car. The grind of metal still surrounded them though, filled his ears.
“Out!” Millie screamed. “Everyone out!”
She threw herself through her door as Kevin turned around just in time to see the massive saw blade cut through the roof of the car. It streaked down, straight towards him.
A hand grabbed him by the shirt collar. Kevin barely kept a grip on his backpack as he was pulled back and out of the car just as the blade passed through the area where his head had been a moment earlier.
Kevin tumbled out on to the wet sidewalk. Andy stood over him, still holding Kevin’s collar. He pulled Kevin upright.
Kevin got a good look at their attacker for the first time. It was shaped like a human, but that was where all similarities came to an end. It stood ten feet tall at least. It was clearly made out of some kind of metal, but the plates were black and matte. It barely had a head, just a simple orb jutted out over massive shoulders.
One arm ended with the saw blade, but as Kevin watched it, he saw the thing’s massive forearm open above the saw blade. The blade retracted in to the opening even as a two foot blade shifted down past it. The forearm clanked back shut, but even as it did, the metal monster raised its other arm.
This one didn’t feature anything like a hand either. Instead a massive rotating cannon stuck out from its base, not unlike the ones Kevin saw in numerous first person shooters. He knew the weapon could turn them all to paste in a matter of seconds.
Kevin didn’t even glance back at Millie and Andy. He simply yelled, “Run!”
Kevin backpedalled away from the robot. He raised his hands. He knew he needed to act, needed to stop this. He heard Millie and Andy running. He turned just long enough to see they were getting away. He would give them all the chance he could.
He focused his attention on the vulcan gun. He knew that his hand motions didn’t really have any control over his power, but as he pushed them up, he knew they helped him focus on what he needed to do.
And he desperately needed to focus every ounce of his mind.
The robot opened fire, but the spray of bullets never reached their target. They shot up towards the sky as Kevin forced the massive machine’s gun-hand upward. The metal monster’s body shifted slightly, as if it focused all attention on Kevin.
“Recalculating.” The voice was masculine, but emotionless.
Kevin ran.
Millie heard the gunfire as she ran. She spun, still backpedalling. She needed to get away, but she needed to see, even though the thought of what she might see terrified her. She needed to know whether or not Kevin was all right.
She saw the bullets fly upwards, occasional tracer rounds marking their line of fire. Kevin’s hands were up and she realized he somehow kept the bullets from striking their targets. As she watched, the robot stopped firing and seemed to look at Kevin.
Kevin turned and ran, but not towards her. He sprinted towards the nearest building, thankfully still very much alive.
His powers. He saved himself. He saved us.
“Millie, come on!” Andy’s words brought Millie rushing back to her current situation. As the robot turned to follow Kevin, she turned and continued to run after Andy. They ran towards the school even as she heard the sounds of police sirens approaching.
She could only hope Kevin could somehow manage to stay alive.
Kevin smashed through front office doors and found himself in some random lobby. The road to the school was littered with random lawyers, accountants, doctors and realtors’ offices. But whoever was supposed to be here already manning the front desk was gone. They probably ran as soon as they saw the first sign of the robot. The building was eerily quiet after the high decibels of the gunfire outside.
Kevin dropped the backpack from his shoulders and ripped it open. He yanked the ski suit out.
Someone has to stop that thing. By process of elimination, it will have to be me.
Kevin quickly stripped down to his boxers and threw the suit over his body. He pulled the pair of reflective sunglasses in the side pocket over his eyes. He didn’t have any other way to conceal his identity. He doubted too many people would be chasing that thing down anyway.
He took a deep breath as he stood alone in the room. Am I really going to do this?
He heard the sound of machine gun fire outside. That thing would keep killing until it was stopped. He knew that, even if he didn’t know why. He couldn’t be sure if it was there for him or just for random destruction.
I have to know and I have to stop it.
Kevin turned and walked out the door.
Cars burned while water flooded the streets from the broken hydrant. The street was splintered and cracked, while pockmarks left by bullets littered the remaining concrete. In the midst of the disaster, the robot walked slowly. It ripped apart everything near it as it moved. It stopped suddenly as Kevin found his way back on to the remains of the street.
The robot’s focus turned towards him.
“What, you big bastard?” Kevin fought to keep the fear out of his voice as he yelled. “Do you want a piece of me?”
“Target located,” the robot said in its cold soulless voice. “Commence termination procedures. Titan battle mode engaged.”
The robot aimed its vulcan gun again.
Kevin threw up his hand and focused on this Titan, as it seemed to be called. He pushed the guns aim off to the side.
The bullets ripped apart the office complex he just left instead of him. Kevin could count that as a small victory at least. He wasn’t dead yet, but he still had no idea how to stop this thing.
Clearly I can move things as easy as I can lift them, Kevin thought. I need to find a way to damage Titan.
“Long range attack ineffectual. Commence Titan close range fighter mode.”
The cannon clicked and fell from the robot’s arm. Kevin could only watch as a huge pincer extended from the wrist where the gun was a moment ago. It looked like a crab’s claw, only much, much longer and made of sharpened steel.
His attack mode ready, Titan wasted no time. He charged toward Kevin.
Kevin threw up his hands and pushed back against the machine. Titan stopped suddenly like it struck a wall. In a way Kevin realized it was, a wall of pure will.
I’m holding it back. But for how long?
As if in answer to the silent question, the robot took a step forward. It moved slow, but Kevin’s blockade wasn’t stronger than the robot’s legs. It pushed forward another step.
Kevin pushed harder. He could feel the energy, whatever it was, flow through him. It oozed out his pores as he raised his hands and used every ounce of his will to force Titan back.
That’s when his hands started to glow. Just a whisper of light for a moment, but it quickly rose to a burning brightness. He realized it wasn’t just his hands either. His entire body was glowing with a shining light. It didn’t seem to hurt him at all.
It must be some side effect of the power. I sure as heck don’t have time to figure it out now.
Even with all the will he could exert, Titan took another step towards him. A few more and the giant robot could slice him in two.
This isn’t working, he thought. I have to change strategies. I’m not planning on dying today.
Titan took another step towards him. It loomed over Kevin, blocking out the sun. Only the strange glow rising off his skin broke through the shadows. The light bent around him, clung close to him.
I’m going about this wrong. If I can’t keep him away, why not bring him closer?
Titan took another step. Lightweight reversed the force he used against the giant robot. Instead of forcing it back, he pulled it suddenly forward. The robot flew at him.
Kevin dove to the ground. Titan hurled through the air, up and over him. Kevin switched the force from pull to push again. The robot hurled straight in to the bullet ridden office complex. It smashed hard through the wall. Cement, concrete and plaster flew everywhere. Kevin fought all natural inclinations and ran towards the downed robot.
It was on its side, using its pincer to slowly push off the ground. The plating on its blade arm was bent and cracked. Circuitry sat exposed at the joint.
Kevin focused on the hole in Titan’s armor. He visualized the circuitry in his head and pulled. Ozone fumes filled his nostrils as the joint snapped and smoked. It took several long seconds of pulling before the circuits gave.
“Unit sustained heavy damage. Primary weapon disabled. Continue?”
It stood silent for just a moment before saying, “Acknowledged.”
Clearly it was talking to someone, though Kevin had no clue who that might be. It didn’t matter. The robot wouldn’t tell him. And they clearly were not done here.
Titan focused its attention back on Kevin, clearly ready for round three.
Screw this. Time to finish it.
He pulled the broken arm up off the ground again even as Titan lumbered towards him. Kevin used his power to slowly turn the weapon around. The blade faced the back of its former owner.
“Hey, Titan! What did the man say to the dead robot?”
Titan said nothing. Kevin didn’t expect a reply. The light around him burned even bright as he used every ounce of his focus to send the blade hurling forward, straight towards Titan.
It struck the robot in the chest. The force was enough to tear through the black armor. The robot stuttered in its movements as the appendage ripped straight through him.
With a roar that echoed through his skull, Kevin forced the blade to travel straight upward. It sliced through the robot like a hot knife through butter. The top half of Titan ripped in two. Titan took one last step before it toppled forward.
“Rust in peace.”
Kevin stood alone. Everything seemed terribly quiet now. Titan was down, done. He had won.
He looked around him. I need to get out of here. He searched a moment for his bag, but it was gone, buried somewhere under the robot and the rubble. His mom would be pissed that his phone was gone, but he hoped the fact that he was alive would calm her a bit.
None of that got him home. He looked around him for any means of transportation. His eyes fell on the rubble around Titan.
It’s worth a try. He found a decent sized piece of concrete, one at least big enough for him to sit on. It was at least five feet long and maybe three feet wide. It looked to be a piece of wall, as the top side was mostly flat. He climbed on top of it and set his feet. He crouched down on it and got his bearings. Then he hesitated.
It’s now or never. Let’s do this.
The stone beneath his feet slowly lifted from the ground. It shook as it moved. Kevin almost lost his footing. He dropped one hand down on it to stay steady. Then he brought his ride higher in to the air.
Slowly he rose over the damage. He looked down one last time at the remains of the robot.
This is the end. My life just changed forever. And someone out there knows why. I need to find them before they find me.
Kevin flew his rock out over the city, a glowing beacon of light over Federation.
“I’m okay, Mom. I’m okay. I promise. I saw the thing, but it didn’t hurt me at all. I just got separated from Andy and Millie when we ran away. I think I lost my bag in the car and my phone was in it.”
Mary Mathis heard her son, but Kevin wasn’t sure she was listening. She was more concerned with sobbing and hugging him tightly.
She arrived home maybe five minutes after Kevin did. He just had enough time to change in to normal clothes before she ran in to his room.
The next ten minutes had pretty much been the same: a repetitive litany of how all right he was. Kevin thought about telling her about Andy’s car and exactly how close Titan came to killing him, but it just felt like it would be too much for her to handle immediately.
After everything he did today, Kevin was amazed at how well he handled it. He felt he should be a bundle of nerves now. He faced down death today, but it only made him feel more alive.
He pried Mom off of him. He forced her to look at him. “I’m fine, Mom. But I do need to check in with Millie and Andy. They could be trying to call and like I said, I lost my bag in all the mess. Okay?”
Mary handed him her phone. Kevin took it and gave her a peck on the cheek. “It will be all right, I promise.”
She left the room, but she didn’t take her eyes off him for a moment. He didn’t really expect her to either. He knew after nearly eighteen years she could be a bit overprotective. Nothing compared to Millie’s folks, but still.
Kevin quickly keyed in Millie’s cell number. She answered three rings in.
“Mrs. Mathis, I—I—”
“It’s me, Mil.”
“Oh thank god! I saw you stop and block the gun, but I thought you were going to die. I thought that thing would—”
“I’m fine. I’m more than fine. I beat it, Millie. By myself. I cut it in two, left it completely destroyed. Just me.”
“You mean with—well, you know.”
“Yeah. Is Andy with you?”
“Yeah, we’re both with the police. They got ten full blocks cordoned off. They have us and a bunch of other kids waiting for our folks. But we’re good.”
“I’m glad,” Kevin said. “Can we talk more later, under slightly better circumstances?”
“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea. I’m glad you’re okay.”
“I’m glad you’re safe too. Bye.”
The phone clicked off and Kevin walked over to his pile of dirty clothes. He found the ski suit buried beneath the top layer. He lifted it up, stared at the star. He knew he would be wearing it again.
George Arnold watched Millie Bryant talk on the phone. He could see the relief in her eyes. He knew who was on the other end of the phone. Fucking Mathis.
George hated that little prick with all his heart. He hated him with a fire unmatched by any other passion. Football, girls, weights—none of them motivated him his hatred for Kevin Mathis.
And now… now Mathis had one up on him. George saw the robot land on the street. When everyone else ran away, he didn’t. He needed to see what that big ass thing would do. So he ducked into a building and watched.
He watched the robot fight. He watched the robot fall. He watched it all. He saw Mathis face it down and take it out. He didn’t know how the punk ended up a metahuman, but he knew the little bastard must have used his powers the day before. George remembered the ball hitting him in the back of the head all too clearly.
He knew Kevin could kill him at any time. And he knew that no one would ever know that Mathis did it.
He pounded his hand hard against a fire truck. I need an edge. I need to find a way to use this against him. I need to be able to beat him. And this time, I need to break him.
George knew one way or another, he would see Kevin pay.
Forty-eight hours passed like a weird second summer. The school canceled the rest of opening week to give the police time to run a thorough security sweep of the area. The FBI and the National Guard patrolled the entire area.
Millie knew it was all a waste of time, but she realized it gave Kevin and her time to talk, even if it did take time to convince Mom they weren’t just meeting for sex.
They still couldn’t meet anywhere that wasn’t public, so they sat down at one of the numerous Starbucks within a mile of home. It was busy enough to allow them to talk quietly in the corner with no one eavesdropping. And busy enough that Mom wouldn’t see it as a date.
They both sipped at their drinks, hers a simple iced coffee, his a triple caffeinated mess of chocolate and cream. Millie pulled up an article on her phone and slid it in front of him.
“Someone got pictures, you know.”
“What? I-I—”
“Calm down. Take a look.” He glanced down at the photo. Millie already knew it well. It was a grainy image of Kevin battling the robot, clearly blown up from a zoom lens. The costume was clear enough, but his face was a mess from the low resolution and glare of the light coming off his skin.
“Don’t scare me like that. I’m not even ready to tell my mom about this, let alone go public.”
“That’s not the biggest part of the news,” Millie said. “Look at the headline.”
The words were emblazoned in massive type atop the page. WHO IS THE LIGHTWEIGHT?
Millie laughed. “I can think of a lot worse names. Count your blessings you got someone creative at the paper. I can think of half a dozen names that would make you sound like something off My Little Pony.”
“Twilight Sparkle might be a better name.”
She shook her head. “You lose boy points every time you name a character from the show.”
“That sounds like something Rainbow Dash would say.”
“Enough,” Millie said. She forced her voice to turn serious. “Are you really going to keep doing this? You could have died against that thing.”
“The city needs me,” Kevin said. “Federation isn’t the city it used to be. It needs a hero.”
“But you—you’re just a—”
Millie stopped herself unable to say anything too negative. She met Kevin’s eyes. She saw the determination there. It was unlike anything she saw in him before. He wanted this. And he wanted it bad.
“Let me help you at least. If you’re going to walk in to a fight you should have an idea of how to defend yourself.”
“My powers—”
“You have to know you won’t always be able to rely on your powers. I’ve got at least enough knowledge to give you some self-defense training.”
“Okay, but this stays between you and me.”
“Not even your mom and dad?”
“Not yet. I’m not ready.”
Millie didn’t like it. Kevin’s parents had a right to know their son’s activities. But she nodded.
“Now we need to talk about a mask…”
He stood in the shadows as he always did. Carolyn Bates stood farther out, illuminated by the single iridescent light in the massive underground chamber. The hollowed out tunnel was shaped like a massive amphitheater. But they were alone.
“Your machine failed,” he said.
“On the contrary, Titan-1 performed admirably. He flushed out the subject, and then collected and collated massive amounts of data on him.”
Carolyn knew she treaded on dangerous ground speaking up to the arrogant bastard, but she knew they needed her more than she needed them. Dozens of organizations could use her skills. This creep knew how important she was.
“We will look over this data, Ms. Bates. But we are troubled by the boy’s actions. We didn’t expect him to fight back. It is not the way of his people.”
“As I said, it is doubtful he even knows his people. He is on his own, a lone wolf easily trapped.”
“Perhaps, Ms. Bates. Perhaps. But often the lone wolf is the most dangerous predator.”
Carolyn nodded in agreement. The fool was buying in to her next play.
“Alone perhaps. But once the wolf becomes the hunted, it is just a matter of time. I think it’s time to call in Ronin.”

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