“It appears to be interference,” the man said, brushing the few gray hairs by his right temple back against the rest of his jet black hair. “Everything is still working. You said the gray area’s spreading, though?” he asked as he got to his feet and then looked at Demitri.
“Yes. Even just last Sunday it was better than this. Our newest member lives in that area and she doesn’t pop up when she’s overlapped by the gray zone,” Demitri explained.
“Hmm… There is reason to be concerned if it keeps spreading. I’ll come back and have a look at it again sometime next month, when my schedule’s a little less crowded,” the man said as he grabbed his briefcase from the cool tiled floor.
“All right. Thank you so much for coming in today, Uncle James. I really appreciate the help,” Demitri replied with a nod that was almost like a bow and his uncle smiled.
“And I appreciate what you’re doing. You’ve become quite the hero,” his uncle replied.
“Couldn’t have done it without your help,” Demitri replied gratefully.
“Though I suppose Mainframe does help, it’s not at all required. You know that,” he said with a smirk and set the teleport to go. “Goodbye for now, Demitri. Keep up the good work. It looks like you’ll be keeping busy until my next visit.”
“Yeah. Quite a surprise, but I think the others will be glad to hear the news. Bye, now. I’ll look forward to seeing you again,” Demitri replied, glancing to the screen after his uncle’s departure.
Scott was sitting on his bed flipping through the channels on his television and looking completely uninterested. His desk had a few sketches he had worked on over the week, mostly of April in her new armor. She really had become a part of the team now. Scott expected to see her each night just as much as he did Demitri or Matthew.
“Argh…” he said as he yawned and deliberately fell forward onto a pillow set in front of him. Just as he could barely stand his boredom, his phone suddenly vibrated to tell him he had received a text message.
Are you available to come in? the message from Demitri read. It was only four in the afternoon but he didn’t feel it was a problem. He sent a text back to confirm he was free, and at Demitri’s request he got ready to go. He shut his blinds, locked his door and hurried to put on his uniform. He couldn’t recall the last time he went in during the day and knew something big had to be up. It was Sunday, after all.
“Hey, Demitri!” Scott greeted upon arrival. “What’s the news? Did something happen?” Scott asked as he hurried to Demitri’s side.
“See for yourself,” Demitri answered, rolling his chair back and gesturing toward the screens. “I started the scan much earlier than usual so my uncle could have a look,” He commented as Scott stared at the screen, wide-eyed and almost jaw dropping.
“Is she one of us?” Scott asked and Demitri nodded with a smile.
“Well not officially, but she does have powers. I want you to go meet her,” he answered.
“Me? Have you met her already?” Scott asked but Demitri shook his head.
“No, but she’s around your age and I thought it might be good if you two tried to build a friendship before bringing her here,” Demitri explained.
“Oh, you mean like what you did with April.”
“Exactly. Although this should actually be easier. She lives out in the country so you can go to visit without worry of neighbors or cameras,” Demitri said, looking back at the screens. “Her powers have been on and off constantly, so I think they developed sometime this week and she’s already learning how to use them. I want you to encourage her to keep them a secret, find out who she’s already told, and just use your best judgment as far as when you tell her about Mainframe and the rest of us,” Demitri instructed.
“What are her powers?” Scott asked.
Demitri turned back and met his eyes with a smile. “I think you should ask her that,” he said then began setting things up for Scott to depart.
“I’m gonna put my armor on!” Scott said and rushed to grab it, feeling a twinge of excitement.
“Good idea. I did a little snooping around already. She should be out in the woods a ways so you’d be fine to approach her,” Demitri explained as Mainframe’s portal was set to go. “I’m going to be heading home after you leave, so don’t feel like you have to come back and report to me.”
“Okay, got it!” Scott replied as he wrestled the armor on over his shoulders. Once fully outfitted, he grabbed his helmet and put it on as he briskly walked to the teleport. “Bye!” Scott said with a wave to Demitri.
“I’ll see you tonight,” Demitri replied with his usual gesture of two fingers against his forehead, flicking them away to signal a sort of salute goodbye. Scott departed, whisking down into the woods near the girl’s house.
“It’s so humid here,” Scott groaned, looking up between the branches of trees to see thick, light gray clouds overhead. He looked around the area, watching and listening to get an idea as to where he should go, but he didn’t see or hear anyone. He began scouting out the woods and quickly came to a pathway that had been cleared. One way led up out of the woods, the other going deeper in. It would be easy to turn around and go the other way if need be. Demitri had mentioned she was in the woods, so Scott decided he would go in deeper. Not long after, the path widened and he could see a large clearing ahead. He saw her there, kneeling beside a small creek that ran through the woods, distracted with something down in it, though he couldn’t quite tell what. He started to walk closer to lessen the gap between them. He wondered if he should say something before he got too close to keep from startling her badly but that worry was quickly replaced with another when a slight sprinkle of rain began to fall, lightly tapping against his armor. The girl suddenly arose, but she didn’t look behind to see Scott, she only stared up at the sky through the trees, flipping her black hair back behind her shoulders and tucking the hair on the right side of her face behind her ear. Scott was just about to say something but noticed the tapping of the rain on his helmet ceased and large white snowflakes drifted down before him, gently melting away the moment they touched the ground. He watched as the girl caught one of the flakes. She looked it over after it landed in the palm of her hand.
“E-excuse me,” Scott finally said and the snow suddenly changed back into rain as the girl, startled, turned around quickly to face him. She didn’t feel any less startled when she saw the way he was dressed, but he quickly gestured with both hands held out in front of himself that it was okay. “Ah, sorry! I was trying not to startle you!” he apologized and she tilted her head to the side a little.
“That’s…okaaay, I’m fine… Um?” she hesitated, rubbing her hand against the side of her jeans to wipe away the moisture from the melted snow.
“Uh, I’m Scaah-ver-Valor! I’m Valor!” Scott stuttered as he suddenly decided not to use his real name, but his hero name instead. “So, what’s your name?” he asked, trying to sound friendly and start up a chat.
“Valor?” she pulled the conversation back to his name with a raised eyebrow. He simply nodded his head. “I’m…Crystal. Nice to meet you? But whaaaat exactly are you doing in our woods?” she asked, referring to her family’s property. The light drizzle of rain was becoming less and less noticeable as they stood there, a good distance from each other.
“Oh…uh, I came here because I wanted to tell you about… something,” he answered, not really sure what he was supposed to say at that point. It was apparent Scott hadn’t considered what he’d say upon meeting her.
“Okay…well first tell me why you’re dressed like that,” she requested as she pointed at his costume.
“This is my hero uniform!” Scott replied.
“Hero what?” Crystal questioned.
“You know… a super suit of sorts,” Scott explained further and Crystal stared at him blankly.
“Yooooouuuuur super suit. Are you serious?” she asked bluntly.
“Yeah! I’m a superhero!” he shouted, then put his hand on his helmet as if he had a headache. “Argh, it sounds stupid trying to explain it!” he said and Crystal giggled.
“Okay, so are you one of our new neighbors then? I know a family moved in about a couple miles east of us. I didn’t know they had boys but I can’t imagine you’d come this far out if you didn’t live nearby,” Crystal reasoned as she began to walk closer. “I take it you’re into superheroes and dressing up. That’s cool, I mean I like that sort of thing too, but could you take off the helmet and return to planet Earth for a moment?” she asked teasingly as she reached for his helmet to pull it off by herself.
“Hey, no!” Scott yelled as he stepped backwards. She laughed.
“Come on, I just want to see what you look like!” Crystal said and pursued after him.
“You’re not shy, are you?” Scott remarked as he evaded her reach a second time, running back behind a fallen tree.
“Nope!” Crystal said, taking a large step on top of the tree and balancing on it as she looked down at Scott. “Now come here!” she said as she jumped down, but he ran back towards the middle of the clearing.
“No! You can’t take off my helmet!” Scott said and she stopped chasing.
“Okay then, you take it off!” she demanded, standing confidently with her arms crossed over her green t-shirt.
“Why do you even need to know what I look like!?” Scott retorted as his best defense.
“Because it’s weird talking to a stranger that dresses so… strangely,” she said, then moved her hands to her hips. “Or are you trying to protect your secret identity, o great hero!” she mocked.
“Hey! I’m not kidding around!” he said sternly but his seriousness only made her giggle. “FINE! Have it your way! I’ll take off the helmet! But then you’ve got to do me a favor and hear me out, okay?” Scott bargained and she nodded her head with a smile.
“Okay, deal! Now take it off,” she urged. Scott slowly removed it, Crystal tapping her finger against her mouth while she watched.
“Hmmm?” Scott replied in an exaggerated mimicry.
“Not bad,” she said and he suddenly got wide-eyed and held his helmet back in both hands.
“What do you mean by THAT?” he questioned loudly and she laughed yet again.
“Didn’t you have something you wanted to tell me?” she reminded him and his reason for coming suddenly snapped back into thought.
“Oh right!” he said as he put his helmet back on. “What I was saying before, I’m a superhero! Or at least, a hero in training. But it’s not just a costume, it’s my actual suit. I’m just like you, I can do things other people can’t!” Scott explained and Crystal’s smile faded away.
“What do you mean ‘Like me?’ I’m not a superhero,” she replied and Scott sighed.
“Okay, I’ll just go ahead and show you. Don’t freak out, it’s no different from turning rain into snow, really. It’s just…hotter!” he said and picked up a small stick from off the ground. Crystal remained silent, surprised enough by his comments and concerned over his knowledge of what she was doing. She watched him with her full attention as he took a few steps back and held the stick out where it was clearly visible to her. “Ready?” he asked.
“What are you going to do?” she inquired in return and he squeezed it as each end of the stick suddenly broke off and sparks flew with it. “Whoa! How’d you do that?” she asked, thinking it to be a sort of magic trick.
“That’s my ability, or at least a mild version of it. I can make stuff blow up just by touching it!” Scott explained, but Crystal didn’t quite grasp it. “That includes things a lot bigger than sticks, but I don’t really want to start a fire…” he murmured while Crystal bent down and grabbed a significantly larger stick, one that would be great for walking with.
“Do it again with this one,” she requested, walking up and handing it to him.
“Uh, okay?” he replied as he took it from her. “You might want to step back, though,” he pointed out and she backed up a bit. Scott held the stick straight up. “I’ll just make the top part explode this time,” he said and soon after a large chunk of the upper stick flew off and spiraled to the ground, burnt and smoldering. Crystal stared at it in amazement.
“That’s…incredible! How did you learn to do that?” she asked in awe and excitement.
“I didn’t learn- well, I did but normal people can’t just learn to do something like this on their own!” Scott replied and crossed his arms. “…At least I don’t think they can…” he commented with an upward tilt of his head in thought. “Anyway, I’m getting off topic. I came here to meet you because I’ve heard that you also have powers like me.”
“Wait, what?” Crystal suddenly responded as though just snapping out of a daydream and back to reality.
“Did you hear anything I just said?” Scott asked as his shoulders dropped.
“Yeah, I just don’t understand. Why are you here? I mean, what do you want from me?”
“I want to invite you to join a league of heroes! We use our powers to help other people and stop criminals, just like real superheroes,” Scott explained and she took a couple steps back.
“Okay. So how do you know what I can do?” she asked, her previous happy-go-lucky attitude being replaced with caution as she distanced herself from him.
“Well I saw what you did and how the rain turned to snow. I don’t know what else could have caused white fluffy flakes to fall out here in August when it’s so hot and humid,” Scott replied.
“But how did you know where to come find me? Do you just wander through the woods and look for weird stuff? Or are you working for the government or some organization and hijacking my personal information? What’s your deal?” Crystal interrogated and Scott quickly found himself feeling very uncomfortable.
“Well we…we have a hero tracker! Sort of… It tells us, uhm, heroes, when someone else develops powers so we can find them and recruit them!” Scott explained as best he could on the spot. “For the record I DID have to search for you,” he added to help justify it.
Crystal hung her head down in thought. “So you know about it…” she said in a soft voice. “I wasn’t going to tell anyone... Not for a while, at least.”
“Well I’m not exactly sure what all you can do, honestly. Turn water into ice?” he questioned and she glanced back up.
“No, not just that,” she said. “But wait, before I tell you anything, I want to see your hero tracker. You’ve got the device, right? I want to see it,” Crystal demanded.
“I don’t just carry it with me! I’d have to take you to Mainframe to show you…”
“Mainframe? Is that your hideout?” Crystal asked with curiosity and interest.
“Uhhhhh, yeeeeaaah…” Scott replied, rubbing at his neck and glancing away.
“Okay. Show me,” she commanded upfront.
“Wait a sec! I dunno if I’m allowed to take you there yet!” he said as he waved his hands for her to slow down.
“Why not? You came here to recruit me, right? ‘Cause of what I can do? Why not just get it over with then?” she said as her rich green eyes gave a piercing look of determination that Scott couldn’t refute.
“All right! I’ll show you. But you can’t touch anything, okay?” he said and she smiled.
“Deal,” she agreed.
“Here, grab my arm or something,” he instructed as he held his elbow out toward her and began messing with his C-Cuff.
“Okay?” she replied as she firmly grasped his forearm.
“Here we go,” he said just before pressing his C-Cuff and whisking them into Mainframe. Crystal pulled away and looked around swiftly with a jerk to her right then back to her left where Scott stood.
“This…how did we get here!?” she asked.
“My device. It’s called a C-Cuff, and it teleported us here,” Scott answered, unsure how she felt about the whole ordeal. “Welcome to headquarters,” he added as he took off his helmet.
“THIS IS AWESOME!!” she squealed as her eyes continued to scout out her surroundings. Her eyes narrowed in on the armor to her right and she ran from Scott’s side over to get a closer look.
“Hey! Don’t touch, remember?” Scott retold as he ran after her.
“I know, don’t worry,” She assured him without glancing back. She put her hands down on her knees, bent forward and scanned over the armor. “Are all of these in use by other heroes?” she inquired.
“Yeah,” he answered.
“So there are only four of you, then?” she guessed after counting the racks they hung upon.
“Um, yeah. But if you join, that’ll take us up to five,” he commented.
“Will I get a costume like yours, or will I have to make one?” she asked, standing up straight and looking at him.
“Our leader makes the costumes. Once you’ve been a part of the team for a while he should make you one,” Scott replied as he mounted his helmet to give rest to his arms.
“Awesome! So what do I have to do to join?” she asked eagerly and Scott stared blankly, almost in disbelief.
“Uhh, you just show up every night and take part in training or doing missions to help people. There’s nothing else to it, really,” he answered and she gave a beaming smile.
“All right! What time?” she asked readily.
“Whoa okay, wait! You already want to join?” Scott asked, stunned by her willingness and acceptance.
“Of course! I mean, I don’t know if I’ll be much help, but I’m in pretty good shape, I’ve got a lot of energy and I’ve got those superpowers or whatever you were mentioning before!” she answered, sounding quite sure of her decision.“This is like a dream come true for me. I’ve always wanted to go on some adventures or be a part of some secret group like this. It’s just like a movie or book! Or like those old shows where you’d have five teenagers chosen to protect the world and stuff. It’s awesome!” she exclaimed with glee.
Scott gave an awkward smile and scratched his head. “Yeah, I guess.”
“So anyway, what time do I need to show up? Oh, and where’s that hero tracker you were supposed to show me?” she asked.
“Uhm, we usually come here at eleven, but it might be a bit earlier for you. I’m not sure…” he answered while considering her time zone. “You’ll have to have someone come and get you until you’re considered an official member. You’ll get one of these after a week or so and then you’ll be able to come here whenever,” he said in reference to his C-Cuff as he held his arm up.
“I see,” she replied.
“So, let me show you Mainframe’s technical stuff. That’s how we find heroes,” he said as he walked her over to Mainframe’s monitors.
“You guys really are like comic book superheroes, aren’tcha?” she remarked. “Aww, gee! This is just so unbelievable! I can’t believe I’m really in a place like this! Just taggin’ along with some guy I met in the woods,” she laughed and Scott grinned.
“It feels surreal for at least a month before it really sets in,” he replied then looked down at Mainframe’s monitors. He reached back behind himself to grab Demitri’s chair and pull it closer to have a seat. Once comfortable he got it to show the satellite scanner. “We run a scan over the United States every Sunday which can detect a certain biological thingy,” he tried to explain, though unsure of how to phrase it. “You know, people with unique powers? Anyway, they pop up on this map as little red dots and then we teleport down to find them,” he explained and she nodded.
“Okay, makes sense,” she replied.
After each explanation he gave, she had a handful of other questions for him. He sometimes was unsure what to say, causing him to reflect back on his own questions to Demitri when he was first brought to Mainframe. Demitri was so articulate, always having an answer ready. Scott did his best, but the more questions Crystal asked, the worse he felt about how many questions he had asked within such small periods of time.
Finally, after having satisfied her curiosity, the two returned to the woods where Crystal showed him how easily she was able to freeze the water within the creek.
“That’s so cool! I’ll come up with some hero names for you tomorrow and you can pick one out!” he said cheerfully.
“Hero names?” she questioned with raised eyebrows.
“Yeah! Like my name is Valor and our leader’s name is King,” he explained and she started to glare.
“Waaait a minute…you never told me your real name!?” she yelled and he suddenly retreated from his merriment.
“Oh yeah… I didn’t,” he admitted as he raised his shoulders and sheepishly shrugged. “My real name is Scott, but I go by Valor when I’m in my suit,” he explained.
“I see,” she replied, then turned and took a few slow steps as she held her hand to her chin and thought to herself. “I want a hero name now,” she decided and turned around quickly to look back at Scott, her hair whipping back behind her.
“Wha-now?” Scott stuttered and she gave an exaggerated nod.
“Why not? I’m going to join you guys, right? I want to come up with a hero name now so I can get used to it!”
“Okay. I guess we can do that,” Scott said, then began to ponder to himself. “Snow!” he said quickly and she stared at him disapprovingly.
“Nah,” she replied and he immediately got back to contemplating names without being disheartened.
“September is coming up and sounds cool. How about that?” he suggested and she shook her head. “Okaaay… Hmm…How about Ice?”
“No. Something cooler!” she said and his arms drooped down with his shoulders.
“What’s cooler than Ice? It’s LITERALLY COOL,” he exclaimed and she grinned. “Okay, fine! How about…Frostbite?” he asked and she perked up a bit.
“I like it!” she said, almost to his surprise.
“Okay…I thought Ice was just as cool but whatever you like, it’s your name. So, Frostbite it is!” he determined.
The two spent a bit more time together, but when they heard someone calling for Crystal, Scott made a hasty retreat after informing her to keep everything they talked about a secret. Crystal did ask if she should expect to see him that evening, but was told she would have to wait.
“I’ll come here again around noon tomorrow, will that work for you?” he asked in a hurry and she nodded with a yes. With that he took his leave and the two parted ways.
When the evening rode in, Scott sat in one of the chairs at Mainframe twiddling his thumbs until April and Matthew had arrived. Now with all members accounted for, it was time to tell the rest of the group about the new possible ally.
“So, what are the plans for tonight?” Matthew asked, casually walking about the room.
“Tonight I have a very special announcement to make,” Demitri replied as he stood up from his chair and all attention turned toward him. “We may have another member joining the ranks soon,” he stated.
“Uh, yeah actually, she’d like to come in tomorrow,” Scott chimed in quietly and suddenly all attention in the room was on him.
“Really?” Demitri asked, but Matthew was quick to cut in.
“Hold up! Who is it? What sort of powers we talkin’?” Matthew asked.
“Her name is Crystal. She’s only a year older than Scott and her power is over temperatures,” Demitri explained.
“Oh, THAT’S a real help. I guess if we’re caught in another wave of summer heat she’ll be able to cool us down?” said Matthew in a snarky tone of voice.
“She can freeze water!” Scott snapped in an intolerant reply, while April remained quiet on the matter.
“Thank you, Scott,” Demitri said, then continued. “She is able to control temperatures to an extreme in focused areas, or mildly over a vast amount of space. In other words, she can make things hot or cold enough to quickly freeze water or cause it to evaporate,” Demitri clarified.
“Wait a minute!” Scott poked in. “I didn’t know she could heat things up, too! We were talking about hero names and we were going to call her Frostbite!” Scott said.
“Wait, you already met her?” Matthew asked the same thing April was thinking.
“Yeah, and I showed her Mainframe,” Scott said.
“You sure don’t waste any time!” Demitri remarked with a smile. “But it sounds like things went over well?”
“Yeah! I told her I’d meet her tomorrow around noon. I’ll need to see what time that is where she lives compared to where I’m at, but I was thinking we’d meet up and I’d invite her to join us for training tomorrow at the usual time?” he explained, with uncertainty creeping in toward the end of his plan.
“Sounds fine. What do you two think?” Demitri asked Matthew and April.
“That’s fine!” April replied.
“Sounds good!” came Matthew’s overlapping words. “We just let anyone in right off the bat now, so whatever,” he then mumbled to himself.
“Then it’s settled. Send me a text if she needs to come sooner than eleven. Or ten, I think it’s ten where she lives. Either way, let me know and I’ll be here, otherwise let’s all plan on meeting here tomorrow at the usual time,” Demitri said and the rest nodded. “Now let’s see if we can help someone in need,” he commented as he reclaimed his seat in front of the main screen and the others gathered around him. It was an exciting night for Scott, and he could hardly wait for tomorrow.