I am the light in the darkness.
But right now, I just need a light. I can’t see a thing.
Theo raised his watch to his face, and the screen lit up his face with a faint glow. He rotated his wrist and shined the light over the dashboard, looking for the start button.
I really need to figure out how to change these labels to English, he thought.
After a few mistakes, Theo’s thumb came down on the right one, and the engine hummed to life. Theo slipped his arms into the control straps as the hovercraft lifted off the alley floor and floated above the pavement.
A notification popped up on his watch. “WAGON ACTIVATED” it read.
Theo swiped away the security alert.
I know, I’m the one who activated it, he thought.
The wagon, as well as the watch and the suit, was a gift from Chip, his friend at the Academy. It was forged by elves in the Arctic Circle and intended as a high-tech transporter. But with all the maniacal devices of Colony Darkstone embedded in the machine, Chip figured Theo could use it in his solo escapades.
Theo nudged the joysticks forward, and the wagon responded. He edged out of the dark alley and pulled onto the road.
Theo reached a railroad crossing and pulled onto the tracks. It was late at night on the outskirts of the city, but he still didn’t want anyone to see him.
Academy Bloodstone’s existence was a secret, as well as the powerful Alphas it housed. The secrets it held were beyond anything the world was ready for. Which was why Theo was so surprised that Winters had kicked him out.
A month ago, Theo had discovered he was an Alpha, and Academy Bloodstone had taken him in. Before he was ready, the Academy had sent him on a mission to stop Katie Winters, an immortal Alpha gone rogue. That mission ended with the death of the Director of the Academy and his One, Liz, in a coma. Winters had secretly taken the place of the Director as some sort of sick plan to infiltrate the Academy.
And just a few days ago, after another disastrous mission at a concert, she cut him loose, threatening to kill his family if he did anything she didn’t like. He knew if he kept his identity hidden, he could fulfill his role as an Alpha. The Academy was the only thing Winters really cared about.
Theo pushed hard on the joystick, and the wagon raced down the empty tracks. He undid the arm straps and fiddled with a few dials as he drove, trying to turn on the police scanner Chip had installed.
It’s got to be one of these. Come on.
His fist brushed a bright slider on the left of a console, and a small map appeared above the screen. Theo used a finger to slide the dial all the way to the right, and the map enlarged to a recognizable size.
It was Columbus. Theo could see his marker moving along the tracks. There were dozens of blinking dots along the edge of a circle. Theo tapped one of the dots, and the mapped zoomed out until both the wagon and the dot were visible on the map.
An audio player appeared next to the map, and a voice spoke into the wiring in Theo’s mask.
“…my car is gone, that’s what I’m telling you!” a female voice shrilled. “Somebody stole it!”
These are 911 calls, Theo realized. Curious, he tapped on another dot, one closer to him.
“…he just came out of the store with a gun, I think they robbed the place.”
Theo shoved his arm back into the control sleeve and pushed the wagon to go faster. He saw an overpass just ahead and banked hard. The wagon careened onto the access path and rocketed up the hill. Theo’s stomach dropped as the wagon landed back on the main road. He swerved to avoid the oncoming traffic and merged back into his own lane. Seconds later, Theo reached the store, a small CVS along the main road.
The parking lot was deserted, except for the employee cars in the back. Theo banked the wagon into a spot and jumped off. He slapped the sleek black side, sending it into cloaking mode. He tapped at his watch, reaching the preset for his “civilian clothes.” He pressed it, and his black suit disappeared. The mask vanished, replaced with a ball cap. The cosmetic changes took a fraction of a second, and Theo pushed open the door of the CVS with confidence, feeling good about his command over the advanced technology.
The clerk was cowering behind the counter. Theo ran over to her.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
She gasped when she heard his voice and ducked her head lower.
“No, it’s okay, I’m here to help,” Theo said.
“I’m fine,” she sniffed, “but he took everything.”
Theo rested his hand on her back. He felt the girl shaking.
“The police are on their way,” he said. “You’ll be okay.”
He glanced down the aisles of the pharmacy. There were a few frightened customers in the back, but no clues that would help him find the robber.
He heard sirens in the distance as he walked back to the wagon. He bumped into the side, causing it to decloak.
I’m not good at this, he thought.
Theo climbed back onto the wagon and navigated back to the train tracks before the police arrived. He pulled over beneath the underpass and shut off the engine.
He sighed and pulled up the map again, staring at the blinking dots.
How am I supposed to help anyone if I get there too late?
Theo didn’t have a good answer to that, so he pressed on another call. This one was across the city, so he tapped on it again to pause the audio.
I wonder if there’s a way to filter these by a keyword or something.
Theo spent the next twenty minutes trying to achieve that goal, but was unsuccessful. He checked his watch and groaned.
It’s almost midnight. And I have an eight a.m. tomorrow. I should get back.
He yawned and rested his arms on the console, pressing another button in the process. A different scanner popped up, with yellow dots instead of blue.
Frowning, Theo tried to close the new scanner, but instead another audio file popped up.
“…I think there are still people in there! Please, you have to hurry!”
“Stay calm, ma’am,” the dispatcher replied. “First responders are on the way.”
“You gotta hurry,” the caller pleaded. “The fire’s getting really bad.”
A fire! Finally, something I can help with.
Theo pressed a prominent button on the console. The underpass vanished, replaced with total darkness. He was back in the storage shed where he kept the wagon. One of the limits of the teleportation built into his watch and the wagon was that you could only jump back to the same place you started from. Chip had explained the reason to him once, but it went over his head.
But now that he was back in the shed, he was ready for a new jump. He programmed coordinates near the fire and slammed the button.
The lenses on Theo’s mask filtered out the sudden lights of the city. He was alone among the empty cars in the parking lot, so he climbed off the wagon, cloaked it, and switched his suit to sweat pants and long-sleeved shirt. He jogged toward the fire, groaning as his stiff legs stretched for only the second time that night.
The apartment complex was ablaze. The warm glow radiated for blocks. Firemen were already on the scene, trying to keep the disaster from spreading to the adjacent restaurant. Theo stared at the large building in horror.
That’s a lot of apartments.
He jumped back onto the sidewalk as another fire truck screeched to a halt in front of the apartments. Even from across the street, Theo could feel the heat on his face.
As the firemen jumped out of the truck, he moved around them and ran toward the side street. He grimaced as the warmth of the fire became a sharp pang on his skin. Theo glanced around, but no bystanders had noticed him dart into the alley. He jabbed at his watch until his Academy suit took on the desired form.
It covered every part of his body, except for a small circle on the palm of his right hand. It was black, with small blue circuit board patterns running the length of the suit. Theo liked to think of is as his stealth suit.
He looked at the palm of his hand. His Alpha tattoo swirled at him, the vortex of black and white gently swirling in a dizzying pattern.
It doesn’t feel warm. I can’t feel the fire.
With the cool cloth pressed against his skin, Theo raised his hand up to the nearest window.
Careful. I don’t want to take out this whole wall.
The tattoo on his hand vibrated with power. Dark, smoky tendrils seeped out of his palm and spiraled toward the window. Theo concentrated hard, and the dimensional rift slowed but didn’t stop. It covered the window and began to spread along the brick wall.
Theo yelped and jerked his hand back. The inky blackness snapped back into his palm.
The window and wall were still intact. Theo sighed.
I still can’t control this stupid thing. New plan.
There was a dumpster to his left. Theo took a running start and grabbed the top, using his momentum to pull himself onto the top. He gathered himself and jumped for the small ledge between the first and second story windows.
He missed, hitting the wall and landing hard on the sidewalk. The suit absorbed the blow, and he barely felt a thing. But his cheeks were red as he climbed onto the dumpster again.
He grabbed the ledge on the second try. One hard punch shattered the weakened window frame. He was inside.
It was a nightmare. Smoke and flames obscured his vision. Everything in the apartment was already melted or turned to ash. Theo took a quick breath of clean air.
At least the air filtration works. Definitely a good idea, Chip.
Theo barged out of the room, listening for cries for help, but there was only the roar of the fire. He hurdled a collapsed inner wall and ran for the stairs.
On one end of the hall, the floor was crumbling, but on the other, a family huddled in fear. Theo yelled to get their attention. The dad turned around and flinched.
“Who are you?!” he cried.
I probably look terrifying, Theo realized. He raised his hands and slowed to a brisk walk.
“It’s okay, I can get you out of here.”
The dad pulled his wife and daughter close to him. “Are you with the police?”
“Uh—yeah, sure. Look, just hold on to me, all right?”
“Take Nikki first,” the man begged. Theo realized he meant the toddler.
“I’ll be right back,” Theo promised. He wrapped his arm around the little girl and pressed his watch.
The fire vanished. They were back in the parking lot, next to his wagon. The girl screamed and pulled away from him, but she fell into a coughing fit before she got very far.
“Don’t move,” Theo told her and slapped his watch.
He stood in front of the terrified parents. The man tackled him as soon as he reappeared.
“What did you do with her?” he howled.
Theo grappled with him as the fire raged. He struggled to break his arms free, desperate to press his watch.
The smoke saved them. The man inhaled and clutched his lungs, giving Theo just enough time to smash his watch against the man’s head.
In the parking lot, the man rolled off him, stunned.
“Daddy!” the toddler cried.
“Nikki, you’re safe,” the man said, pulling his daughter into his arms. He looked up at Theo, and then toward the glow of the fire.
“What…what are you, man?”
Theo just sighed.
“Please, you have to—”
“I know, I’m going,” Theo said.
A few seconds later, the wife was reunited with her family.
“Get somewhere safe,” Theo told them, and tapped his watch again.
He looked down at his watch as the apartment burned around him.
“TELEPORTATION RESET,” it read.
I can’t jump out of here, he thought, or I’ll have to jump right back. If there’s anybody else up here, I’ve gotta find them.
The stairs creaked and shifted in the stairwell.
Theo shoved open the door and raced up the stairwell. As he climbed, he thought back to the alley.
There’s no emergency exit. It’s a four story drop from here.
The fourth floor was clearer. Theo made his way down the floor, checking each apartment for residents.
There was one woman in the middle of the hall. She was back in her apartment with the window open, calling for help. Her window opened to the alley, which was now too dangerous for the firemen. As Theo dragged her away from the window, he could see colored flames shooting from the first floor. The floor beneath his feet vibrated as the wall started to collapse.
The woman screamed as she followed him into the apartment.
“Come on,” Theo yelled. They made it to the stairs, but she could barely stand.
She’ll never make it down there, it’s too hot.
Instead, he pulled her arm around her shoulder and helped her to the roof access door. Theo pushed it open as the stairs collapsed behind them, the warped metal falling in a tangled heap.
The rumbling grew louder as the north side of the building collapsed into the alley. Theo led the woman over to the other side until the restaurant was just below their feet.
“We’re gonna jump, okay?” Theo yelled at the woman, who was visibly shaken. He glanced over his shoulder at the exact moment the roof caved.
Theo grabbed the woman and jumped. Bricks and sparks surrounded them as they plummeted onto the restaurant roof two stories down. Theo twisted his body until he was below the woman, protecting her from the impact.
The landing jarred her loose, and she flew from her arms. Theo lay on the roof, gulping for air and letting the panic wash over him. Eventually, he regained the ability to breathe, and rolled over to face the woman.
She remained motionless. Theo crawled over and shook her.
“Hey, wake up,” he groaned.
She stirred but didn’t wake.
At least she’s alive.
Theo pressed his watch, sending them back to the parking lot. He lay there for a while, listening to nothing. The building’s collapse had extinguished the fire, and the silence felt louder.
Eventually, he pressed his watch and teleported back to the restaurant rooftop. He walked toward the rubble and plotted his route down.
Something pressed against his leg. Theo yelped and kicked out.
The cat greeted him with a startled hiss and a hurt glance.
“Sorry, you scared me,” Theo said as his heart restarted. He frowned. “What are you doing up here?”
The cat sat down and meowed. Its green eyes gazed into his.
“Um…well, I’m gonna climb down now,” Theo said.
Stupid, talking to a cat.
He made his way down the wreckage. The dumpster was buried under the remains of the building. Emergency lights shone on him as he maneuvered toward the street.
“Are you hurt?” one of the firemen called.
Theo ducked down until he’d switched his clothes.
“I’m fine,” he responded, brushing past the fireman.
“The residents are gathered over there—”
“Not a resident,” Theo said over his shoulder. He walked casually away from the scene, doing his best to not raise suspicion. But the emergency personnel had other things to worry about than a strange bystander.
The woman from the apartment was gone.
I hope she found the rest of the residents, Theo thought. He felt around for the decloaking switch on the side of the wagon.
A cat hopped onto the wagon and hissed at him. Theo fell back onto his rear, cursing.
What…that’s the same cat from the rooftop.
Theo got up and waved his hands at the cat.
“Go away. Come on, go.”
The cat cocked its head, whiskers twitching.
Is it laughing at me?
“This isn’t funny,” he said. “You’re in my seat.”
In response, the cat hopped onto the back end of the wagon seat.
“No, get off,” Theo said. He reached for the cat, but it swiped at his hand and hissed again.
Theo pulled his hand back and studied the cat. It was black except for the white tip on its tail. A month ago, he would have just dismissed this as a strange incident. But after seeing spaceships, battling snipers, and being a superhero, he knew nothing was as it seemed.
Theo tilted his head, looking for a collar.
“What’s your name, little guy?” he asked.
The cat’s eyelids drooped, as if to say, “What a dumb question.”
“Yeah, I know,” Theo muttered. “Am I gonna have to make you get off?”
The cat meowed and curled up on the seat.
“No, come on,” Theo said. He snatched the cat before it could react and tossed it off the wagon. The cat skittered on the pavement and jumped back onto the seat before Theo could climb on.
Theo sighed and checked his watch. It was almost one o’clock.
“Fine. Do what you want,” he told the cat. He swung his leg over the seat and powered up the wagon, pressing the teleportation button as soon as the function was active.
His eyes adjusted to the dark shed, and he made his way over to the entrance. When he opened the door, the cat slipped between his legs and darted into the night.
Good riddance, Theo thought.
He locked the shed and braced himself for the half-mile walk to his apartment.
I know it’s good I didn’t use up my jump by coming here, but I wish I could just teleport back. Ugh.
Ten minutes later, he pushed open the apartment door, exhausted. The apartment was dark—his roommates were asleep.
The cat raced past him into the kitchen.
“What the—get back here!”
Theo chased the cat around the apartment, but it was too quick. Theo remembered his bed and lost the motivation to chase it.
“You’d better not mess up the carpet,” he warned the cat, and went to his room, wondering if “Zara” would make a good name.