CHAPTER ELEVEN
FADING INTO SEPTEMBER

     As the hands of the clock showed it was just before one, Scott hurried to Mainframe. He then teleported to the woods to meet with Crystal. Almost noon her time, she was already there waiting for him. She was feeling too excited to wait till later.
     “Hi Scott!” she greeted with a wave.
     “Hi! I just thought I’d fill you in. I’ll come to the edge of the woods where the trail starts around ten tonight. Meet me there and we’ll go to Mainframe,” he told her.
     “Okay. How long will we be at Mainframe?” she asked.
     “Training doesn’t really take that long… We’ll have to introduce you to the other three, but maybe plan to go home around eleven your time?” Scott suggested.
     “So an hour visit. Sounds good but short,” Crystal agreed, clasping her hands together behind her back. She swayed side-to-side with a smile.
     “Hey Crystal…” Scott began, crossing his arms and glancing down at the leaves and twigs below their feet.
     “Yeah?” she asked, encouraging him to keep talking.
     “Why didn’t you tell me you controlled temperatures!? I thought you had ice powers so I kept coming up with cold sounding names, and now I find out you can heat things up, too?” he shouted in a sort of teasing frustration.
     “How do you know I can heat stuff up?” she asked inexpressively.
     “Mainframe. You know, hero tracking thing. It can give us a bit of information on how someone’s powers work, although it doesn’t always tell us the full extent of someone’s powers,” Scott explained, then sighed. “So yeah, I guess the name Frostbite doesn’t really work.”
     “But I like it. I’m not changing it if that’s what you’re angling for,” she told him with her usual stubbornness.
     “All right, all right! I wasn’t going to make you change anything, I just thought you might want to,” Scott commented.
     The two ended up spending a good amount of time in conversation, talking about their powers and common interests, then goofing around before finally parting ways until evening.
     As the night grew dark and they arrived one by one at Mainframe, Scott headed back for Crystal. He stood anxiously waiting on the outside of the woods, having a view of her house and feeling tense and somewhat bothered by how dark it was. The lack of company certainly didn’t help as he stood there awaiting her arrival, though he would never admit it out loud. He tapped his foot, twiddled his fingers and tried not to jump when he heard the sound of coyotes howling a good distance off. When he saw Crystal sneaking out from the house, he felt a great relief knowing they would soon be back at Mainframe in a brightly lit room. He would be far away from wild animals and the abundance of insects that were there around him.
     “You weren’t waiting here long, were you?” Crystal asked between breaths in a hushed voice as she ran over to meet with Scott.
     “No. Let’s go,” Scott replied and offered his arm to her. She didn’t hesitate to grab on and soon they were back in Mainframe, where April and Demitri stood waiting and Matthew had yet to show.
     “Welcome,” Demitri greeted with his armor on and arms crossed. April also was fully dressed in uniform and armor, but she remained silent and gave a shy wave with her fingers. Crystal stood up straight and stared a moment, unsure what she should say.
     “I am the leader of our group. My name is Demitri,” he said then leaned his head to his left. “This is April.”
     “Hi,” April said softly.
     “Ohh, nice to meet you! I’m Crystal!” she said without hesitance or shyness and offered to shake hands.
     “And a pleasure to meet you,” Demitri said as he uncrossed his arms and obliged to her handshake.
     “You’re really tall,” Crystal commented afterwards then shook hands with April. “And you’re really tall for a girl. I’m feelin’ short here,” she said with a grin.
     “How do you think I feel?” Scott remarked. “I’ve been the shortest and youngest one in the group for the longest time, and you’re still just as tall as I am!”
     “Oh, how old are you, Scott?” Crystal asked in reply.
     “Sixteen,” he answered and she smiled, but tried not to laugh.
     “Well then you’re still the youngest!” she said as she stretched her arms into the air. Demitri glanced at April, shaking his head with a smile hidden by his helmet.
     “Wait a minute! What about you?” Scott asked in disbelief over the idea that she could be older than him.
     “Seventeen!”Crystal said triumphantly.
     Scott crossed his arms and looked pouty for a moment as he thought of a comeback. “Yeah, well I still got my powers first!” he bragged in his own defense.
     “Hey, you should enjoy being young,” Demitri told Scott with a nudge. Crystal looked around a bit, then up at Demitri.
     “So what are we doing?” she asked, feeling ready to try out anything.
     “Right now we’re waiting for Matthew to join us, then we’ll be going down to train,” he answered. “In the meantime, do you have any questions?”
     “Mmmmm…nope. I pretty much asked Scott everything last night,” she replied and Scott hung his head.
     “She did!” he added.
April waited to see if anyone else would be talking, and seeing her chance, inserted herself. “May I ask a question?” she said to Crystal, though all paid attention.
     “Sure,” Crystal replied casually.
     “How long have you had your powers?” April asked. It didn’t take much time to reflect on it for Crystal to reply.
     “About a week.”
     “And she’s already got the hang of them, too,” Scott added, sounding relatively impressed. Hardly a moment after he spoke Matthew arrived.
     “Welcome, Matt,” Demitri said and Crystal and Scott turned around quickly to see him.
     “Yeah, yeah. If anyone tries to wipe their feet off on me I’m gonna pound them,” he jested in a mutter then stared at Crystal. Crystal gave an awkward smile. “Oh right, new kid. We sure are getting laid back about bringing the newbies in, I don’t even have my helmet on yet,” he commented as he brushed past the others to fetch his armor off the wall to his right.
     “And who do we have to blame for that?” Demitri questioned.
     “Oh come on, I was distracted. I’m not that late,” Matthew defended. “Anyway, kid, I’m Matthew. Try not to be jealous when you see me dominate in the training grounds,” he said as though he were serious.
     “I’m Crystal! Nice to meet you,” she replied. “Hey, do we get to pick what color our costume is?” she asked in general.
     “Did you get to pick your name?” Matthew asked in response while slipping the armor onto his arms.
     “Yeah,” she replied and he suddenly stopped to turn and look at her. He raised an eyebrow as if he didn’t believe her answer, but she stood casually turning her shoulders back and forth with her arms behind her while sending a genuine smile in his direction. “…So is that a yes, then?” she asked and Matthew glared at Demitri as he resumed fastening on his armor.
     “Everybody but me,” he said in response to their hero names.
     “Like I was saying the other day,” Scott said and pulled Crystal’s attention back to him. “Demitri makes the armor. He’ll pick something out for you.”
     “Unless there’s a specific color you’d like,” Demitri inserted and Crystal smiled while Matthew glared.
     “I like the color green. Other than that, I don’t really care. Although I kind of like the armor color Scott and Matthew have,” she replied.
     “All right then. I’ll keep that in mind,” Demitri replied, then went to open the elevator.
     “I’ve been here the longest and I get the least say in my alter ego,” Matthew griped as he finished fastening his armor on around his chest and rolled his shoulders a bit.
     “Aw Matthew, your ego’s too big to alter!” Scott teased.
     “Watch it,” he commented as he put his helmet on. Scott couldn’t help but snicker.
     “All right, let’s go do some training!” Demitri said as he stepped to the side and April went ahead and entered. Scott, Crystal and Matthew weren’t far behind, and once all were inside, Demitri entered and set the elevator to head down.
     “We get many more newbies and we’re going to need a bigger elevator,” Matthew commented as they started downward.
     “Yes, after all this time it’s hard to believe one year would turn out three new heroes,” Demitri replied. Of course, he was very pleased by the increase in numbers.
     “If we get that many members then we can take turns coming down,” April stated, seeing how there was still room for all of them to move about.
     “True,” Demitri said.
     “Maybe take turns running shifts instead? Have five or six heroes here while the rest take the week off, switch it around next week and so on,” Matthew suggested.
     “Oh sure, Matthew. Of course, you already take more time off than anyone else here so you won’t get a week to yourself, but I’m sure our other members will greatly appreciate it,” Demitri teased and April giggled.
     “They’re pretty much always like this,” Scott whispered to Crystal and she grinned.
     “Hey, you got something to say, kiddo, say it to the group!” Matthew told Scott and Scott raised his hands in surrender.
     The elevator landed and opened up, letting the group out into the training room.
     “Wow!” Crystal exclaimed and ran out to get a good look around the enormous room. “This place is huge!!” she yelled, causing a brief echo.
     “Yep,” Scott said as he walked out after her with his hands behind his head.
     “What sort of training do we do?” she asked eagerly.
     “The useless kind,” Matthew answered.
     “Hey, that’s not true! We dodge lasers as if we were dodging bullets, take down machines and get a good workout in the process!” Scott defended while Demitri listened in, then glanced toward April.
     “I have been thinking about adding something else,” Demitri said to her in a whisper as he set the controls on the wall. “But then again, if it’s not broken, why fix it? This certainly prepares us to defend and fight under fire,” he commented while Scott, Matthew and Crystal continued talking noisily behind them.
     April gave a simple “Mmhm,” with a nod in response.
     “Wait, wait. Lasers?” Crystal questioned back at Scott and Matthew in disbelief. “Are you guys for real, or was that a joke?” she asked, honestly not sure if they really meant it or not.
     “Okay guys!” Demitri began to announce before she could get an answer. “We’re doing a ten minute round set on an average to hard difficulty. Lasers can make contact, but will be less than a bee sting this time. It’s just enough to let you know you got hit.”
     “Oh gosh, you guys weren’t joking,” Crystal said quietly to Scott and Matthew while Demitri spoke.
     “I didn’t know he could lower the pain those lasers gave!” Scott said in a harsh whispered voice, sounding a bit outraged.
     “…and make sure you help each other out to avoid injury and deal out some damage. Any questions?” Demitri asked the somewhat distracted bunch.
     April raised her hand. “I have one,” she said and he gave her the go-ahead to proceed. “Crystal is new to the group and this is her first time here, so shouldn’t we have things set easier and without painful consequences in getting hit?”
     “Normally, yes. However, with such a big team now and how good at this we’ve gotten, I don’t think it would really count as training to do something that easy this time,” Demitri explained.
     “Makes sense,” Matthew commented while April remained quiet.
     “Anything else?” Demitri asked with one last look around. “Okay then. We’re going to get started. One thing to take note of, Crystal, when we’re in our armor we’re to refer to each other by our hero names. This will be good practice for that.”
     “Oh yeah, because she’s just now learning our real names, why not make things more complicated!” Matthew said sarcastically as he threw his arms into the air.
     “Ahem,” Demitri grunted to Matthew and he quieted down. “Anyway, I’m King, Matthew is Force, April is Hope and Scott is Valor.”
     “And I’m Frostbite!” Crystal added cheerfully then gave a thumbs up. “Got it, King!”
     “All right team, let’s get started!” Demitri said and the sound of the large equipment moving underground and in the walls could be heard. The loud noise from all around halted as the machines were revealed. Crystal readily watched the others to try and figure out what to do. “One last thing guys, only hit the machines if the light on them is red!” Demitri shouted and a signal sounded to let them know to engage.
     Scott immediately ran after the closest machine while Matthew moved in the opposite direction, leaving Crystal, who had been standing right between them all alone. Crystal looked to see April run for cover, looking for machines without a red glow to hide behind while Demitri just vanished all together. When Crystal saw a machine rotating toward her after its original target disappeared, she ran in Scott’s direction just in time to avoid getting shot. When she looked ahead, another machine was already focused on her. She tried pulling the heat out of it in order to freeze it up. The machine still fired, though, and Crystal swayed to the side as the laser whizzed right between her arm and body, just barely missing her. She continued pulling the heat out from the machine ahead, trying to get closer and behind it at the same time. Once she was close enough that she could actually touch it, the machine froze completely. What little moisture was in the air around it crystallized as the red light on the machine went out.
     “I did it!” she exclaimed, feeling proud of herself. She turned to her right just in time to see Scott blowing up a machine. He had been the target of more robots than she, so it took a little longer for him to get in range. Once he did, though, Crystal was awed by the blast from his powers, which were far more impressive here in combat than back at her home where he had set off sticks with small sparks.
     Crystal reached forward as she focused on the leftover flames caused by Scott’s attack. Out they went, to his confusion, before looking back to see her smirk of confidence. He smiled, then quickly focused his attention back on the machines, this time eyeing two that were mounted on the wall.
     “Come on!” he yelled and Crystal followed his lead towards them. Meanwhile, Demitri had already taken out two machines, while Matthew was working on his first, though trying something new this time. Instead of pulling a wire or tricking the machines into blasting each other, he placed a force field over a machine and continued expanding its size until the machine was crushed enough that smoke and sparks went up. Matthew took in heavy breaths through his nostrils and gave it one last push, while April tried to help. She was actually feeling a surge of energy in herself as he forced the machine down and crushed it.
     April grinned and stood up. “Did you feel that?” she asked excitedly. Matthew grinned back as he started to glace up to reply, but suddenly his eyes widened and he created another force field around her, blocking two hits from two different directions.
     “Focus, this is no time to chat!” he scolded and hurried to destroy one of the two machines. April ducked back down, her happy feeling being replaced with a sinking one. She peeked around the tranquil machine she hid behind, observing Crystal and Scott from across the room. They were working wonderfully together as they both set fire to the machines on the wall, then Crystal pulled the heat from the flames and caused them to quickly dissipate.
     Demitri was doing brilliant as always, running faster than anyone else, though April could only see him as he appeared over one machine and ripped out cords, then he disappeared before getting to the next.
     Matthew was making the most of his powers with both defensive and offensive techniques. April felt like she was seated so far away from the rest, but they certainly appeared to be getting by without her. How much help was she, really? she wondered. Her pondering was cut short when she felt a sudden sting on her back. She turned around quickly to see a machine about ready to fire and hit her a second time, but as she began to scramble to get up, Matthew came up over the top of the machine behind her and jumped overhead, charging at it and creating a shield to keep from getting hit. Demitri suddenly appeared just as Matthew reached it and pulled the wires out before he could finish it off.
     “Beat you to it!” Demitri bragged and Matthew pushed him while a sound buzzed to let the team know training was over.
     April rose to her feet and brushed herself off. The sting from being shot had already faded away, but a different sort of sting took its place when Scott and Crystal ran past her to boast to Demitri about neither one of them taking a hit.
     “Good job,” Demitri said while Matthew crossed his arms.
     “Same here,” Matthew commented, while April walked over to join them. “But I did have to block a few for miss Hope over here,” he pointed out with a look in her direction. April hung her head low and rubbed her arm.
     “And that’s what we’re supposed to do. We need to know we can count on one another when the going gets tough,” Demitri said. “Good work, team. I think that’s one of the best rounds we’ve had,” he congratulated.
     “That was really epic!” Crystal replied happily. “I can’t wait for the next one!” she said and Scott grinned from beneath his helmet as he thought about it.
     “We make an awesome team,” he said and Crystal nodded.
     “Yeah, we do!” she agreed then looked at the rest. “All of us do! I’m even more excited about joining you guys now,” she said with a laugh.
     “I’m glad,” Demitri replied, then began walking back to the wall where the elevator was hidden. “Well, what do you say we head back up?” he said with a glance back over his shoulder, then continued walking with the rest following closely behind. Up they went, back to the main floor. Crystal and Scott were talking the whole way about what they had done and how they had worked together.
     “I’m glad you two were able to use your powers together like that,” Demitri commented as they got out of the elevator. “And Crystal, your ability to put out fires is really something. You could do a lot of good with it.”
     “It’s nothing much,” she said modestly. “I just pull the heat out from them. Controlling temperatures is pretty handy, though!” she said with a smile. Demitri and the others began removing their armor and hanging it up for the night while Crystal watched. “Hey Demitri, how come you get a cape?” she asked out of curiosity. Demitri shook it out a couple times.
     “Because I’m the leader. And I like capes,” he said as he hung it up.
     “Doesn’t it snag on stuff, though?” she questioned.
     “…Sometimes,” he admitted then laughed while Scott and Matthew snickered.
     April hurried along to get her armor put up and Scott noticed her speed.
     “What’s the rush, April? Aren’t you gonna hangout?” he asked and she glanced his way briefly between mounting things up.
     “No. I’ve got to get my sleep for work tomorrow. Besides, I have a friend who has a birthday coming up, so I need to hit the stores and see if I can find him something,” she replied.
     “What friend?” Scott asked.
     “Lance. His birthday is September seventh,” she answered as she hung up the last of her armor.
     “Hey, same as mine,” Demitri commented, he and the others listening in to the conversation.
     “Really?” April asked and he smiled.
     “Yep. I wasn’t really planning on doing anything special, though, so I’ll still be coming in that night,” Demitri answered and Matthew leaned back on a wall with his chin held high.
     “Oh really? So what, no cake?” he commented as though Demitri were being selfish.
     “Well if you guys want cake-”
     “And ice cream!” Matthew interrupted, to which Demitri shook his head.
     “Am I supposed to bring it?” he said with a laugh and Matthew nodded.
     “It’s your birthday. I’m not buying you a cake,” Matthew remarked.
     “Hey, that doesn’t sound right at all!” Crystal inserted as she crossed her arms and Scott laughed while April glanced around and stepped back a bit.
     “I’ve got to get going,” she said.
     “All right. Let me go set things up for you,” Demitri offered and they stepped aside. Matthew rubbed his forehead while Crystal and Scott swayed back and forth as though waiting for something.
     “This team sure grew fast,” Matthew remarked and Scott nodded. “Seems like Demitri’s getting a little too casual about all this, though. Let’s just let whoever in now!”
     “Matthew, I’m standing right here. And I think you’ve expressed your concern about that enough now,” Demitri commented from across the room and April lowered her head to hide a smile.
     “So are the random people you let join our team!” Matthew exclaimed back at him.
     “Wait, we’re not random! We’re the only people in America with these powers!” Scott said triumphantly.
     “Well, we haven’t really checked out Canada, or a number of other places, but yeah, the States…” Matthew mumbled, getting off his original subject.
     “Bye guys!” April said with a wave that caught their attention.
     “Bye April!” Scott yelled.
     “Bye!” Crystal said simultaneously while Matthew just gave a relaxed wave goodbye.
     Demitri rejoined the group in discussions and plans for the morrow while April headed out. She was considering Demitri’s birthday, pondering what sort of things Demitri might like. It seemed like she knew him really well until she started to consider a present, then it seemed like she knew nothing about him.
I’ll think of something while I’m out tomorrow, she thought to herself as she got ready for bed. When she had her teeth brushed, pajamas on and alarm set, she tucked her blankets up close with hands by her face and thought over the evening, mostly about Crystal. Crystal’s powers were really something, and she didn’t need anyone else to teach her how to use them. April wondered if she would have ever learned about her own gift if Demitri hadn’t come along.
     The following morning came and went, and the moment April was off work she headed straight for the store. She strolled through the aisles, trying her best to think of something Demitri might like. What do guys even like? she wondered to herself in mild frustration. Coffee! she suddenly realized as she walked by an aisle with freshly ground coffee, the delicious aroma drifting through the air and reminding her of all his visits to the café she worked at.
     April hurried in the aisle to browse the flavors. She picked a few different kinds, including some instant coffee with an added hint of vanilla and caramel. Once she had his gift picked, she carried it in her hands, then went to look at cards. She stuffed the packages of coffee between her arm and stomach so she could have a hand free for picking something out. She was far too persistent in her method of carrying things now to go back for a shopping cart. Most of the cards she pulled off the rack she quickly put back, then finally she came across the right one. It took her fancy and she thought he’d like it. It was a bit more extravagant and expensive than the others. Designed with a shiny dark blue cover, pulling out from the side with bold letters and becoming the size of three cards once fully opened, it was a nice choice. After getting Demitri something extra nice she recalled her original plans and picked out a little something for Lance then went ahead to the checkout with just the coffee and cards. Once finished, she made her way through the parking lot, leaving the items in her car before walking back to hit the next store. She browsed through CDs until finding something newer that she had a pretty strong hunch Lance would like. Upon purchasing the CD, her shopping trip came to an end.
     April drove home. When she arrived she carried her purchased goods straight to her room. She made a trip downstairs to grab scissors and tape, then rummaged through her mother’s stash of wrapping paper before returning to wrap up the gifts. She felt relieved once all was said and done. She did prefer to get things taken care of sooner rather than later, after all.
     Between then and the start of September things moved on as if nothing had changed. Crystal was welcomed right into the group and had already grown accustomed to coming every night she could. On the first of September she received her very own hero uniform. The design was like April’s, but the color of the armor matched Matthew and Scott’s sleek silver, and Demitri had incorporated her favorite color in the suit and details. It was a deep green base with lighter green stripes up the side. Crystal immediately loved it and could hardly wait to try it on. In addition, Demitri and Matthew had installed a fifth rack for her armor to hang on and Demitri finally found and added two more matching chairs to Mainframe’s main room.
     With his birthday fast approaching, Demitri decided there was something special he would like to do. As they wrapped up the evening and the second of September changed to the third with the stroke of twelve, he proposed his idea.
     “A camping trip?” Scott questioned while Matthew leaned his head back and rolled his eyes.
     “You’re kidding, right?” Matthew remarked and Demitri shook his head.
     “I know Crystal isn’t familiar with it, but you all remember our campsite, right?” Demitri inquired looking to April, Matthew and Scott. “I was thinking since the weather is supposed to be cooler tomorrow night, we should take advantage of it. It will be nice! A good change of pace from our training, missions and bowling routine,” he explained.
     “I guess so,” Matthew said, rubbing at his ear.
     “I think it sounds fun!” Crystal said optimistically. “Will we set tents up and everything?”
     “Yep. I have two huge tents we can use. One for you and April and one for us guys,” Demitri answered.
     “Can we do s’mores?” Scott asked, already planning things in his mind as if going were absolutely certain.
     “Of course!” Demitri replied.
     “…I’ve never had s’mores,” Matthew commented.
     “Then it’s settled! One way or another, we have to do it now. You’ve got to have s’mores at least once,” Demitri said.
     “How have you never had s’mores before?” Crystal asked.
     “Well GEE, it’s kind of hard to do s’mores over a fire when you live in a big city where fires are illegal!” Matthew replied, to which Crystal raised her eyebrows.
     “…Okay!” Crystal said as she put her hands in the air.
     “S’mores are really good,” April commented and Matthew smacked his forehead.
     “Can we drop the whole s’mores thing now? I get it!” he demanded and the others snickered and laughed.
     “All right, then. Let’s meet here at the usual time tomorrow. Come casual. I recommend wearing something you’re comfortable sleeping in,” Demitri told them. “Also, bring your own sleeping bags and pillows, plus any snacks you want. I’ll provide water and everything we’ll need for s’mores.”
     “What if we don’t have a sleeping bag?” Matthew raised his hand and asked while Crystal sighed as if he were hopeless.
     “If you don’t have a sleeping bag you can bring a comforter or something else that’s big and soft to sleep on. Any other questions?” Demitri asked and looked around to see their heads shaking no in reply. “All right, good! Then I’ll see you all tomorrow night,” he said and the group dispersed as, one by one, they all teleported back home.

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