Violence and death; corny movie quotes.
September 22nd, 2020. Tuesday. Mostly sunny, with scattered clouds.
I met with the Doctor today, to follow up on our previous conversations. We compared notes, showed each other the results of our investigations, and there is no doubt about it: what we had feared is true.
We have to do something about it. Anything. But what can we do? By the way things look, it will be all but impossible to resolve the situation working from the inside. And we can’t join Lorem’s family either – they, too, are compromised at the highest level, even though I don’t think she’s involved.
Maybe there’s another way. Work outside either group. Involve more people.
But we have responsibilities, both me and the Doctor. Big ones. We can’t just up and leave without explaining things, they’d never let us go. And we can’t just leave either, or they’ll surely chase after us.
Maybe we could fake our deaths! Ha ha. That would be funny.
“Are you sure she was a Defender?” General Ryder asked for the fifth time.
I let out an exasperated sigh. “It’s like I told you, General,” I explained yet again. “She morphed right before my eyes, and called herself ‘Defender Silver.’ I don’t know anything beyond that.”
He rubbed his chin pensively. “This is troubling,” he said. “Beyond us and the Repulsoids, no one should have the technology to make morphers.”
“Maybe she’s a rogue Repulsoid Leader?” Amelia wondered aloud. “Someone who has an axe to grind against their leadership?”
“That doesn’t explain why she protected Stephanie,” Megan interjected. “Rogue or not, the Repulsoids are our enemies, and there’s no reason she would be different. It would’ve made more sense she’d waited for Beetle to strike at Steph, and attacked him after that.”
“No,” I said. “She was definitely human.”
“Are you sure?” Clyde asked. “Did you see her eyes? Or her ears?”
“…I didn’t,” I admitted. “But she didn’t have a tail.”
“Ipsum didn’t have one at Dayton, either,” Mae said. “He’d hidden it in his pants.”
“No, I think I would’ve noticed,” I replied.
“Alright,” the general said. “I think that’s enough speculation for now; we won’t know for sure until we actually hear from her.”
“You mean from Defender Silver?” Meg asked.
“Precisely,” General Ryder nodded. “So next time you meet her, I want you to talk to her. Ask questions. Try to find out who she is, where she got her morpher, and what she wants to do. But be careful: she seems to be on our side so far,” he put a significant stress on those words, “But there’s no telling if she’s actually our ally, or what.”
We all nodded in response.
“Very well. You all can go. I have a Leader to interrogate,” he said, jerking his thumb towards a screen, which showed the cell we’d put Beetle in.
After Silver had teleported away I’d tied him to a pillar using some rebar as rope: thanks to my suit, I easily bent the metal into the required shape. Then I went to help the other three Defenders fight Emerald Scarab, but she’d escaped as soon as she saw me approach. Then, after I’d explained the situation, the four of us went back and collected Beetle, and brought him back to base. The general had been elated, and complimented me: it was the first time someone had managed to capture a Leader, usually they fought to the death rather than letting themselves be caught.
We started moving out of the situation room, but I put a hand on Mae’s arm to stop her. When she turned to look at me, puzzled, I said “I want to talk to you.” She nodded, and we left the room together, splitting from the others.
She led the way to a corridor that was in a secluded part of the base, off the beaten path, which very few people walked through; she leaned back against a wall and looked up at me.
“So?” she asked.
Gone was her usual good-girl demeanour; I could tell by the way she moved, by the look in her eyes, that the person in front of me was clearly Defender Black. I was amazed by the fact that she could apparently switch personalities and behaviour at the drop of a hat, and once again found myself wondering which one was the real Maelyn: the sweet, kind girl who acted as mission control, or the cold and callous Defender Black?
But there was a more pressing question I wanted to ask.
“Who is Defender Silver?” I asked.
She looked at me for a moment. “No clue,” she replied.
“Mae, seriously,” I said. “Do you really expect me to think that a new Defender would appear out of the blue, just like this? She’s clearly another one of the… Secret Defenders? Black ops? Whatever you want to call them. Just like you are.”
“Never met her,” she said, waving her hand dismissively. “If she is a ‘Secret Defender,’ as you called her, I wasn’t told about her.”
“And you’re okay with that?”
“Why wouldn’t I be? General Ryder doesn’t tell me everything he does, obviously. National security, top secret information, and all that jazz.” She shrugged. “What, did you think I’d be jealous?”
“No, it’s just…” I shook my head. “I just thought you might know something.”
“Well, the one thing I can tell you is that this was the first time she went into action,” she replied.
“Are you sure? She seemed to be quite experienced from what I’ve seen,” I said.
“Must’ve been a result of training,” Mae explained. “Had she been active for a while, we’d have heard about it. A new Defender, going around beating up Leaders? I can guarantee the Repulsoids would’ve mentioned it in their communications. I mean, you’ve seen me in action. I’m really good at what I do, and even then I’ve been spotted enough times that they can recognise me as the Ebon Ghost on sight. No one is able to completely avoid being detected. Which brings back to my original point: this was the first time she acted.”
“How do you know she wasn’t mentioned before?” I asked.
“I’m the one who decodes the enemy’s transmission,” she said. “It’s my job, when I’m not being mission control, or shanking Leaders in their sleep. If she’d been mentioned, I would know.”
I stared at her. “And how do you know you’re telling me the truth?”
She tilted her head to the side, put a hand to her chin, and smiled, looking at me. “You don’t.”
There was a moment of silence as I digested what she’d told me.
“Are we done here?” she asked.
“Good. Have a good day, Stephanie,” she said, and walked away.
November 30th, 2020. Monday. Overcast, with some rain.
Everything is ready. Tomorrow, the Doctor and I will be off to the conference. I asked her several times if she’d done her part, and each time she confirmed it. I guess this is it. We’ll see how it goes from here on.
Just as a precaution, I’ve written a letter to Stephanie. I’m not going to post this letter, though: I’ll leave it here, in my journal. So that when she gets my personal effects… Well, they’ll probably give them to mom and dad, but I guess – I hope – they’ll hand her the letter. When she gets it, she’ll realise something is off, and start investigating. I don’t know what she can do, being a civilian and all, but it’ll be good to know that she’s at least aware that something isn’t right.
My only regret is that, also as a precaution, I was unable to tell Lorem anything about the Doctor’s plan. I hope she won’t take it too badly. I hope she won’t cry too much. And she’d even helped me discover myself, too: we’d made really big progress on my identity over the past few months, and now it’ll all go to waste.
Well, maybe not. This will be a fresh start after all. What’s stopping me? Might as well.
But it’s still sad. I finally meet a girl I like, and who likes me back, and I have to leave her for the good of the world.
I hope she will forgive me.
That was the final entry in my brother’s diary. I closed the journal, and stared at the cover.
I could more or less piece together what had happened. Mark and Doctor Winters – he’d never mentioned the name of ‘the Doctor,’ but it was obvious who that was – had found out something important, and bad, was going on here at Defender base, and they’d planned to reveal it to the whole world at the conference. But then, someone had leaked their position to the Repulsoids, and they were ambushed and killed before they could say anything.
I was upset. No, scratch that: I was mad. My brother had tried to do the right thing, and had died for it.
I needed to find the ones responsible for this, and make them pay.
I looked up to the ceiling as the general alarm rang once again.
…I’d need to do that in my spare time, though. Right at that moment, I needed to get to the situation room with the rest of the team.
“Mae. Situation?” White asked.
“About a hundred Repulsoids, spread in small groups all over the city,” Maelyn replied.
“Okay,” White said. Then she sighed. “This is becoming the usual, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I’m afraid so. I guess they want to spread us as thin as they can.”
“Well, nothing to it,” Green interjected. “We’ll just have to split up and be careful, as we always do.”
White nodded, and looked pointedly at me. “This time, call for backup if you meet a Leader, Red.”
“Okay, I will,” I replied, a bit sheepishly.
“Let’s go, team.”
We split up in front of the warehouse we’d teleported into, each of us going off on their own. As always, I soon found the first group of Repulsoid soldiers, and I soon dispatched them. This was becoming a pattern; if I was right, just about then…
“Hello, Defender Red,” Emerald Scarab said, stepping into view.
“Hello to you,” I replied. “Here to talk some more?”
“I’m not. It’s like I told you: no more talking.” She took a stance, her sword raised high in front of her. “Especially not after you killed another one of my comrades.”
“Sapphire Beetle is alive,” I said.
There was surprise in her voice. “He is?”
“He is,” I nodded. “When I fought with him, he was about to kill me; but then, a new Defender appeared. They fought, and Silver – that would be the new Defender – defeated him, took his morpher, and teleported away.” Scarab tilted her head to the side at my words, and I continued: “Beetle is still alive. Injured, and locked in a cell at our base, but alive.”
“A new Defender,” Scarab said.
“Yes, a new Defender,” I replied. “And no, she’s not our ally. We have no idea who she is or where she came from.”
A moment of silence hung between us. Then Scarab spoke.
“A likely story. It’s so far-fetched I actually admire you for having the guts to tell it.” Her stance shifted slightly, her muscles tightening. “Did you really expect me to believe it?”
“But it’s the truth,” I protested.
“That’s right, it’s the truth,” said a new voice. “She’s not lying.”
I turned to look at the speaker: walking calmly, at a comfortable pace, Defender Silver made her appearance, rounding a corner about a dozen metres away from us.
Scarab glanced at her, and then at me. “This would be Defender Silver?” she asked.
“That’s right,” Silver nodded. “And I have a request for you.”
“Yes,” Silver answered. She stopped in the middle of the street, and drew her sword. “I would like to have a duel with you.”
Scarab’s stance relaxed, and she straightened up out of it. “A duel,” she said, a tinge of amusement in her voice. “Really.”
“But there’s two of you here.”
Silver shrugged her shoulders. “We’ll just have to ask Red not to interfere with our battle.” She turned towards me. “Will you do that?”
I was watching their exchange, but I shook myself; the two of them were both looking at me expectantly.
“I will,” I said.
There was a moment of silence, then Silver spoke again. “This is really important. Please, promise me you won’t get between us.”
I was honestly puzzled; why did Silver care so much about fighting Scarab on her own? “I promise,” I said.
Silver nodded, and turned towards Scarab. “So what of it? Would you duel with me?”
In response, Scarab fell into a stance again, without speaking; her action was immediately mirrored by Silver, who squared off against her, holding her sword in front of her with her left hand.
Scarab tilted her head to the side, in a gesture I’d come to recognise as being of amusement or puzzlement, but she said nothing.
“Begin,” Silver said.
They sprung towards each other, and the battle was joined.
I watched them in awe: they were moving so quickly, their swords were almost a blur. Both of them were clearly giving it their all; I was having trouble following their movements, and found I had to pay close attention not to miss anything.
At first, their fight was just like any other: attack, parry, riposte, attack, parry, riposte, over and over and over again. But then, something changed: suddenly, their swords crossed but didn’t separate right away as they had until then, and Scarab looked up at Silver, staring at her intently. Then she moved back a couple steps, as did the Defender; they paused for a moment, and went at it again.
That time, it wasn’t a battle: it was more like a dance. A choreographed set of movements, still lightning quick, but I could see they were holding back – there was no real intent behind any of their blows. It was as if they were testing each other, one of them would make a move not aiming to hurt the other, but just to see how she responded.
Their swords clashed over and over and over again, for several minutes, as they circled each other; then, after one final attack, Scarab fell back again, and stood up straight, her sword pointed at Silver.
“You are wonderful,” she said.
“Thank you. I’ve worked hard to become so,” Silver replied.
“Who are you?”
“No one of consequence,” was the answer.
There was a brief pause, a moment’s hesitation, then Scarab spoke again: “I must know,” she said.
Silver shrugged her shoulders. “Get used to disappointment.”
Another pause; Scarab’s sword wavered, and the tip dropped, to point at the ground.
“Em. Emmy. It’s you,” she whispered. Then, more loudly, she repeated, “It’s you, isn’t it?”
Silver nodded. “Yes, Lorem. It’s me.”
I blinked. Wait. Lorem? What? Lorem was Emerald Scarab’s name? But that… That would mean my brother had been unknowingly dating a Leader the whole time.
Until then I’d thought Scarab was an honourable person, so the fact that she’d somehow worked her way into my brother’s affection – to act as a spy and gather information on the Defenders, most likely – came at a complete surprise.
But I didn’t have time to dwell on it, Silver and Scarab were still talking.
“But this is impossible,” Scarab said, shaking her head. “You were dead.”
“Death cannot stop true love,” Silver replied. “All it can do is delay it for a while.”
Obviously I couldn’t see Scarab’s expression, since her helmet covered her face; from her body language, however, she seemed to be in shock. She took a step backwards, and her sword dropped to the ground. “It is you. But how?”
Silver sheathed her sword, and held out a hand towards Scarab. “Come with me, and I will explain.” She paused. “No, it’s too much. I’ll sum up.”
Scarab took a step towards Silver, her hand rising to reach the Defender’s, but then hesitated, and froze.
“Lorem. Please,” Silver said.
One moment more, and the hesitation was gone. “As you wish,” Scarab said, stepping forward and taking Silver’s hand.
Silver gave me a brief, momentary glance, and then they were both gone, teleporting away in a flash of greyish metallic light.
“…And then they disappeared. Together,” I said, concluding my report.
A long silence, which stretched for several long seconds, hung in the situation room.
“It’s as we feared, then,” General Ryder said, finally. “This new Defender, Silver, is our enemy.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Meg said.
The general turned to look at her. “What do you mean, Lieutenant Walker?” he asked.
“I mean, from how Stephanie described things, Silver is definitely working with Emerald Scarab. That much is certain.” Everyone in the room nodded. “But… Is Silver working against us?”
“Well, the friend of my enemy is my enemy,” Amelia said. “Isn’t that how the saying goes?”
“True,” Meg nodded. “But if that were true, why did Silver intervene to help Stephanie twice already? First against Beetle, and now against Scarab. If she truly were working with the Repulsoids against us, wouldn’t it have been better for her interest to just let the Leaders kill Steph?”
“That is weird, now that you mention it,” Clyde replied. “I honestly cannot think of a good explanation for Silver’s behaviour. I mean, if she’s our enemy… What you say. If she’s our ally, why doesn’t she just talk to us, and join us on the battlefield?” He shook his head. “This doesn’t make any sense.”
“Still, the point stands,” General Ryder said. “We cannot allow Defender Silver to just keep running around doing as she wishes. So, from now on, you’ll have the following standing orders: if you meet Defender Silver, you are to capture her, and bring her in for questioning. If you can’t do that… Then take her down.” He looked around the room. “Is that clear?”
The four of us snapped at attention. “Yes sir!” we replied.
“You’ve all had a difficult day. Go and get some rest. Dismissed.”
That night I just couldn’t fall asleep; I laid down in bed, but I just stared at the ceiling. General Ryder’s voice echoed in my thoughts: “Bring her in, or take her down.”
Was I really supposed to do that? Silver had saved my life against Beetle: I just couldn’t believe she was an enemy, as the general seemed to think. And, besides that, she’d managed to talk – actually talk – with Emerald Scarab. To convince her not to fight. Which was what I wanted to try and do, with all Repulsoids. Even though she seemed to have a connection of sorts with Scarab – with Lorem – and she’s apparently been a spy for the Repulsoids all along. That was a thing to keep in mind.
And what about Mark? From his journal, I knew he’d found out something wrong going on at Defender Base, and whoever was responsible had killed him, along with Doctor Winters, by leaking their location to the Repulsoids. But what was, exactly, the thing that Mark had discovered? I had no idea. But I simply couldn’t leave it at that: I had to finish what my brother had started.
Which meant that I would have to start investigating on my own. Covertly. And being careful to cover my tracks, hoping whoever had engineered Mark’s death wouldn’t find out I was on their tracks before I discovered the truth.