Episode Thirteen: The Blue Flash
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Violence and death.

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January 29th, 2020. Wednesday. Mostly sunny, with some clouds.

Well, here I am back at Defender Base. I miss Stephanie already; I don’t know when I’ll see her again.

I cannot fucking believe our parents have been so mean to her. She’s their only daughter, and they’ve thrown her out just like that. At the very least I can provide her with some spare cash, but I don’t think it will be enough: she’ll likely have to rely on financial aid if she wants to go to college.

God damn it. I wish I could do more, but I’m stuck here, without knowing when I’ll be able to get another extended leave. And even then, Steph has been moving around, couch-surfing so much, it’s difficult to keep track of her; luckily she keeps me updated whenever she settles down somewhere for a while.

If only this damn war was over… Then I won’t have to worry about the Repulsoids. I could just quit the Army, and spend all the time I wish with my sister. Ah well. At least I’m not in any real danger; there’s no way the enemy will be able to hurt me, now that I have the morpher. Though I wonder why they haven’t given up yet: they must realise it’s hopeless now that the Defenders are on the field, right? It’s been more than a year, and they keep on going with their hit-and-run tactics.

I wonder if they’re planning something.

 

 

I looked up from the diary, and smiled ruefully. This was the Mark I remembered, his thoughts bare, right on the page. God, I missed him. I missed my brother.

And now it was me who was stuck here, picking up from where he’d left off, trying to fight the Repulsoids and protect civilians. I couldn’t wait for this war to end, and to be able to get back to my normal daily life. Though admittedly, I had no idea when it would end: the finishing line was nowhere in sight. It had been more than eight years since either side had been able to make any serious gains, and in the last month, after arriving at Defender Base, I’d noticed that there didn’t seem to be any real plan on how to deal with the Repulsoids in the long term. They kept attacking, we kept reacting to their attacks, and that was it. No mention of strikes in their territory, no mention of trying to capture a city that was behind enemy lines, no nothing. It was seriously puzzling; though maybe I didn’t hear anything about any plans because I was just a second lieutenant, and it was being done at a high level, without involving rank-and-file soldiers like me.

Ah well. Time would tell.

I stood up from my chair and stretched; then I laid down in bed, and turned off the light. The day had been stressful enough, I desperately needed some sleep. I resolved I would read more entries from my brother’s diary the following evening, after the day’s training.

 

 

“Alright, today we’re doing something different,” Clyde said.

I looked at him; ever since I’d rebuked his attempt at being friends with me, weeks earlier, he had been nothing but professional, and he hadn’t tried to engage with me outside of training or when we were on a mission together. At the very least, I could respect that.

“Okay,” I said. “What is it?”

“Morphed training.”

My eyebrows rose. “Morphed training?”

He nodded. “You’ve been working out, building up your body; you’ve also been training in combat with me. And you’ve practised to control your amplified strength and speed when morphed,” he explained. “But the one thing you haven’t done yet is putting it all together, fighting while morphed.” He tilted his head to the side. “You did it a few times on the field, but still, you can definitely improve.”

“Then why didn’t we do it from the very beginning?” I asked.

“For safety,” he replied. “The first times you morphed, you didn’t know how to use your suit properly. You didn’t know how to control it. I mean no offence by this, of course: all of us in the Defender Squadron went through an adjustment phase when we first got our morphers.”

“We did,” Amelia spoke up from halfway across the room; she was sitting in a machine, doing chest presses, grunting occasionally. “It wasn’t easy.”

I thought back to my first battle, back when I’d attacked the Repulsoid soldiers who were standing guard outside the café; I’d tried to jump at them, but almost missed because I wasn’t used to my increased strength. Clyde was right. I nodded in acknowledgement.

“Morphed training is dangerous,” he continued “Even though the suits provide a good amount of protection, if someone doesn’t know their own strength they might still do some serious damage to their sparring partner. This is why we’ve waited so long before moving on to the next step.” He smiled. “But now you’re ready.”

“Okay,” I replied.

Clyde held my gaze for a moment, then pushed the buttons on his morpher, and flicked the lever.

Welcome. Standby. Power Up!

“Let’s begin, then,” Defender Yellow said.

I nodded, and morphed too; Yellow pulled out his sword, and fell into a stance.

“Wait, hold on,” I said. “We’re sparring with our actual swords? Not with training blades?”

“Nope,” he replied. “Training swords aren’t an exact match, the weight and balance are slightly off, so it’s better to train with real weapons. That’s why it’s so dangerous.” He paused, and then added, “But I trust you. I’m sure you won’t accidentally cleave me in half.”

“Do be careful, though,” Amelia spoke up again. “First time he and Mark did this, your brother was a bit too eager and struck Clyde in the leg; it took the best part of a week before he could walk properly again.”

“And it still aches a bit when it rains,” Clyde joked. “Let’s just take this slow to begin with, and we’ll be fine.”

I gulped, and pulled out my weapon. “Alright.”

The rest of the morning, luckily, passed without incident: I took things slowly, trying to get a feel for how my strength and speed were enhanced by the suit, while at the same time trying not to kill or maim Clyde – even though I still thought he was an ass, he certainly didn’t deserve to be hurt during training.

“That’s it for today,” he said once we were done, flicking the lever on his morpher back to the original position. “We’ll pick up from here tomorrow.”

Power Down,” my morpher announced as I demorphed too.

“Shall we get to lunch?” Amelia asked; as always, while Clyde and I were training, she was working out – it was actually impressive how dedicated she was. I nodded in return, and we left the training room.

“I’ve been meaning to ask,” I said. “Do the suits have any special powers?”

“Special powers?” she asked, her eyebrows rising.

“Yes, I mean,” I explained. “When I fought against Ruby Scorpion, he was able to generate flames and shoot them at me. And I’m pretty sure Emerald Scarab can do the same with electricity.” And Mae used her morpher to turn invisible and project illusions, I mentally added. “So I was wondering if we could do something like that.”

“I… Don’t think so?” she answered. “I mean, it would make sense now that I think about it, but I never heard anything about stuff like that.” She paused, then continued. “Though it would be very useful. Just imagine, being able to blast your enemies with lightning.”

“Yeah, or--”

The blare of the alarm cut me off. Mae’s voice came from the loudspeakers in the corridor: “Alert! Repulsoid attack confirmed! Defender Squadron, assemble in the situation room!”

“Ugh, now?” Amelia complained. “But I’m hungry!”

“We’ll eat when we come back,” I said, taking off at a run down the hallway. “Come on.”

 

 

Blue tapped the side of his helmet. “Mae, what’s the situation?”

“No more organised Repulsoid activity,” she said. “Just a few stragglers here and there. I think you’re done for today.”

“Alright,” he nodded.

“Just Soldiers, then?” White asked.

“Why, are you complaining?” Green said, stretching her limbs.

“No, I’m just puzzled,” White replied. “I mean, the last time something like this happened, Maelyn got kidnapped. But it seems everyone is accounted for, so why? Why aren’t there any Leaders out here today?”

“Beats me,” Blue shrugged. “Shall we head back to base?”

“Yes, let’s,” Yellow said. “Yellow ready for transport.”

He was gone in a flash of yellow light, followed in short order by Green, Blue, and White.

I tapped the side of my helmet too, then I paused; all the way down the street, I thought I saw something glimmer, like sunlight reflected off a shiny surface, with a sort of blueish tinge to it. I stared in that direction for a minute or so, but the light didn’t come back; I must have imagined it.

“Red ready for transport.”

 

 

February 17th, 2020. Monday. Rain.

Welp, the other shoe finally dropped. A new kind of Repulsoids showed up: these ones are humanoid. Well, more human-looking than the others, at least: they look… Well, they look very similar to us. To the Defenders.

They have been officially classified as “Repulsoid Leaders,” or just Leaders for short; the ones we’ve faced until now are just Soldiers.

There are three of them, and they’ve been each given a codename: Garnet Tarantula, Emerald Scarab, Turquoise Shieldbug.

No, I have no idea who comes up with those.

They seem to be quite dangerous, too: even though I haven’t fought any of them as of yet, Eli, Meg, and Amelia each engaged one of them, and they said that they had quite a bit of difficulty. The Leaders only retreated because Clyde and I arrived on the scene, and they found themselves outnumbered.

We’ll see what will happen next, I guess. I just hope I won’t have to kill them: they don’t deserve that, after all aren’t they the same as us? Soldiers thrown into a war against their will?

Maybe.

Time will tell.

 

 

Amelia leaned back in her seat, rubbing her belly, a satisfied expression on her face.

“You okay now?” I asked with a smirk.

She grunted affirmatively in return. “A big breakfast is the best way to start the day. Gives you energy.”

“Honestly, with all you eat, it’s a wonder you don’t get fat,” Mae said, smiling.

I frowned slightly; in the couple days since I’d learned she was Defender Black, seemingly nothing had changed: she still joined Amelia, Meg, and I for breakfast and, if our schedules lined up, other meals, too. And she kept being cordial whenever we found ourselves together.

But it made sense, didn’t it? If things suddenly changed between us, it would surely draw someone’s attention, and we didn’t want anyone to ask uncomfortable questions.

“It’s because I burn everything I eat,” Amelia replied. “Energy, fat, protein. It all goes right here.” She flexed her bicep and pointed at it.

“How much do you lift anyway?” Meg asked. “It’s been a while since I last asked, I forgot.”

“Deadlift, snatch, or clean and jerk? Unmorphed or morphed?”

Meg stared at Amelia for a couple moments, then shook her head. “Showoff,” she muttered.

“It’s what I do,” Amelia said, shrugging. “Speaking of which, Steph has been really improving. She’s really good at physical stuff.”

“I am?” I replied, puzzled. Honestly, I hadn’t noticed any significant improvement during my training; I was getting better at fighting, true, but I was sure my strength was still lacking.

“Yeah, you are,” she replied, nodding.

“But… I haven’t even started to increase the number of reps I make,” I protested. “Or the weight, for that matter.”

“Oh, I’ve been increasing that for you,” she said, matter-of-factly.

I blinked. “Come again?”

“I’ve been setting up the machines, dumbbells, and barbells, right? I’ve been swapping the plates for heavier ones. You’re now lifting almost twice the weight you did when you first started. I thought you’d noticed.”

I stared at her in amazement. “No, I hadn’t.”

“And besides that, you’ve pulled your weight very well in the field so far,” Meg added. “Both with the whole team, and when you went off on your own.”

Mae smiled. “I can attest to that. If Steph hadn’t been there, who knows what would have happened to me.”

I kept a neutral face, but grimaced inwards. That was a blatant lie, and she knew it: it made me feel really uncomfortable.

“Thank you,” I replied, then I got up from my seat. “Come on, Amelia, we have to get to work.”

She nodded, and got up too. “Have a good day, girls,” she told Meg and Maelyn, and we walked off.

We were quiet for a while as we moved through the corridors towards the training room, then she spoke up again.

“Did something happen between you and Mae?”

“Wh—” I said, before I managed to catch myself.

She stopped and turned towards me, frowning. “So I was right.”

I stopped too, and looked at her for a few moments, then sighed. “How could you tell?”

“I just could,” she replied. “I may be a muscle-head, but that doesn’t mean I can’t catch on to things.”

I sighed again. “You’re right, something did happen between us. But,” I continued, raising a hand before she could interrupt me, “I can’t tell you what it is. It’s a private thing, between me and her.”

Amelia held my gaze for a few moments, then nodded. “Alright. But I’m always available, should you need someone to talk to, or just to vent.”

“Thank you,” I smiled. “You’re a good person, Amelia Miller.”

She smiled in return. “That’s what they tell me. Now, shall we get to work?”

I nodded, and we started down the corridor again; we’d only made it a few steps before the alarm blared.

“Alert! Repulsoid attack confirmed! Defender Squadron, assemble in the situation room!”

Amelia cursed under her breath, turned around, and started running, with me following close behind her.

 

 

“Mae, status report,” Blue said.

“Looks like… There’s still a group, a dozen or so, a few blocks from you,” Maelyn replied over the radio.

“Roger that,” Blue acknowledged, then turned to us. “Let’s go and finish this thing.”

I nodded, as did the three other Defenders, and we set off at a run towards the location Mae had supplied. Soon we reached it, and stopped before rounding the corner that would’ve brought us face-to-face with the Repulsoid soldiers.

“Alright,” Blue nodded. “There are just a few of them, let’s--”

“I’m sorry, can I try something first?” I interrupted him.

Everyone turned their heads to look at me. “Try something?” White asked.

I nodded. “Yes, I want to see if we can’t… I don’t know. Talk to them. Convince them to surrender.”

There was a short pause, then Blue groaned. “Hell, Red, you really are Mark’s sister.”

“…What do you mean?”

“Mark was also like that,” Yellow said. “He wanted to try to find a peaceful solution if possible, he wanted to try to talk to the enemy first, instead of fighting.” He shook his head. “Nothing really came of it; he was unable to get through to them.”

I hesitated. “But surely--”

“Look, Red, I understand the point you’re making,” Blue cut me off. “I agree that we should try to minimise casualties, on both sides. But this is war, and right now we have the element of surprise. Let’s not squander it.”

“Okay,” I reluctantly said. “But if I see a chance to talk the Repulsoids down, I will take it.”

“…Fair enough,” Blue said. “Now, let’s go. In three, two, one…”

The five of us drew our weapons simultaneously, and rushed around the corner; the dozen-odd Repulsoid soldiers were just standing around, seemingly waiting for something, when they saw us, and they turned to face us, lifting their weapons.

The Defender Squadron at full force, against a dozen Soldiers. It was over almost in a flash; soon most of the Soldiers were lying on the pavement, dead or dying, with one still standing.

I looked at them: they were about ten metres away from me, and they were holding the two useless halves of their plasma rifle in their hands – it had been slashed in half by White before she moved on to another Soldier. I saw the panic in their eyes, they were clearly scared shitless, glancing around, looking for a way out.

Green took a step towards them, blade raised, but I stretched out my arm to block her path. “Wait,” I said.

I put away my weapon, my sword folding back into a cylinder, which I clipped to my belt. I raised my hands in a peaceful gesture.

“Easy now,” I said to the Repulsoid. “We don’t want to hurt you, if we don’t have to.”

Their eyes snapped to me; they seemed to be… Less scared now, and maybe a bit puzzled.

“Do you understand what I’m saying?” I asked. “If you surrender, no harm shall come to you.” I gulped. “Just raise your arms, like I’m doing, if you surrender.”

They kept looking at me for a few moments more, then slowly, hesitantly, they started lifting their arms.

Suddenly, a bolt of plasma lanced through them, and they fell lifelessly to the pavement.

I instinctively swore, dropped to the ground, and started looking around, trying to see where the shot had come from. None of the other Defenders had their gun out, so it couldn’t have been them; what’s more, the beam had scorched the ground behind the Soldier, almost as if it was coming from… Above?

I looked upwards, scanning the windows and roofs of the buildings which surrounded the street; the only thing I saw was a momentary flash of blueish light.

“What… The hell just happened?” White asked; she, like the other Defenders, had dropped to the ground too when the Soldier had been shot.

“I have no idea,” Blue said. “Did anyone see where the shot came from?”

Everyone shook their heads.

Blue sighed. “Alright then.” He tapped his helmet. “Mae, situation?”

“No more Repulsoid activity,” she replied. “You’re in the clear.”

“Fine. Let’s go home.”

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