CHAPTER TWELVE
CAMPING FIASCO

     Scott looked over the assortment of items he had set out on his floor, mentally going through a checklist to make sure he had everything before shoving it all in his backpack.
A flashlight, snacks, cell phone and a portable game system, extra batteries, his journal and a couple pencils. All were packed one after another into his backpack. He wore his C-Cuff on his arm, put on a loose, light gray t-shirt and black shorts, then took his sleeping bag in one hand while he swung his backpack over his shoulder with the other.
     “All set,” he said in a quiet voice as not to disturb his parents. Scott then turned off the lights in his room and departed. He arrived at Mainframe to see only Matthew present. “Where are the others?” Scott asked as he slipped his backpack down his arm and held it by the straps, letting it dangle just above the tiled floor. “I mean, I know I’m a couple minutes early, but Demitri is usually here…” he commented with a glance at a large pile by Matthew’s feet, which included a cooler, a store-bought log, a sleeping bag, pillows, large tents in their boxes and a blanket. “Wait a sec-”
     “HA!” Demitri yelled as he grabbed Scott from behind and caused him to jump and scream.
     “WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM!?” Scott yelled. Demitri let him go, laughing to the point that he almost couldn’t breathe.
     “I expected you to jump but I didn’t expect you to scream!” Demitri said as he got it together and his laughter faded to just a grin of pleasure.
     “He got you good,” Matthew said to Scott, who was still very worked up.
     “Ya THINK? But seriously, what was that!? You’re acting like Matt!” Scott pointed out.
     “Hey, I don’t turn invisible and startle people,” Matthew teased in a serious tone of voice, casually leaning back against the countertop that Mainframe’s monitors sat on.
     “You know what I mean,” Scott replied with a glare.
     “It’s just a little vacation fun,” Demitri told him, then vanished again. “Now don’t tell April or Crystal, I’m going to try and get them both, too,” he said and Scott walked over to set his things in the stack by Matthew. Once unloaded, Scott sat back in a chair, twirling it around while they waited. As soon as he saw the portal light up and reveal April, he stopped turning the chair and watched readily. April took a few steps forward, dropping her sleeping bag and still holding her pillow while looking over at Matthew then at Scott.
     “…Why are you staring at me?” she asked Scott and he suddenly snapped out of awaiting Demitri’s surprise and tried to cover it up.
     “What? What?” he said, pretending as though he were spacing out.
     “Never mind,” she said, then felt strange, as if someone were sneaking up right behind her. She put her right hand on her neck as she glanced behind her shoulder, then looked back at the others. “Is Demitri here?” she asked and Scott, with wide eyes, shook his head just as Demitri started to appear behind her.
     “H--” he started to shout but April both jumped in fright and swung her pillow back, smacking him right in the face with it before he could grab her or yell.
     Matthew and Scott both stared, while April realized what had just happened and pulled her pillow back slowly, revealing a less-than satisfied expression on Demitri’s face.
     “Pffffff-AHAHA! Serves you right!” Matthew cackled while Scott laughed good and hard.
     “Wow! I didn’t think April was the type to react so violently,” Scott remarked in shared enjoyment.
     “Well that was unexpected,” Demitri finally said which caused even more laughter from Matthew and Scott, while April gave an awkward smile.
     Crystal arrived right then, in the midst of their laughing, dressed like April in comfortable pajama pants and a loose black t-shirt. She stood in bewilderment, puzzling as to what was going on, and tentatively walked over to set her things in the pile by Matthew and Scott.
     “What did I miss?” she asked and Scott caught his breath.
     “Nothing!” he said, still smiling.
     “Something,” she remarked with a glance back at April and Demitri.
     “I’ll tell you about it later,” Scott said.
     “All right. Everyone’s here. We all set to go?” Demitri asked and Matthew stood up straight, turning around to check Mainframe and open the teleport.
     “Aye, captain,” Matthew said, then reached down to grab his pillow and large blanket.
     “Okay then. Grab your things and let’s go,” Demitri instructed the others. He carried one tent over and set it in the portal, then went to get the other while the rest of the team got their things together and waited. Once all set, Demitri turned out the lights and they departed to the campsite, all ready for a great night of fun, and no one suspecting that the moment they arrived they’d be in a soggy mess. The ground was marshy from rain that had obviously been going all day, and now, though the night sky had mostly cleared up, the ground was left far too wet for fires and tents.
     “…Well this is nice,” Matthew remarked sarcastically.
     “Ugh… that’s what I get for not checking the weather myself,” Demitri commented.
     Crystal looked around, then took her load and set it on top of the cooler.
     “What should we do now?” Scott asked and Demitri looked torn. Crystal stepped over toward one of the lamps and kneeled to the ground while they were talking.
     “I’m not camping in Mainframe,” Matthew commented.
     “Hey guys!” Crystal called over and they turned to look at her. “I think I solved our problem,” she said with a couple knocks with her fist on the ground, which was now hard and dry beneath her.
     “Wait, what did you do?” Scott asked, noticing slight fogginess and a lack of water and dampness where she stood.
     “I heated the ground until the water evaporated. I think I could take care of the rest of the water within this area that the lamps are circling, but it might take a while,” she said.
     “Great idea, Crystal! Guys, help me move these things out of the way,” Demitri instructed. They began moving things aside while she tried evaporating the water in the places that were already cleared. “April, can you set your things down and help her? I think if you give her a boost she could do it faster and a bit easier,” Demitri suggested and April began focusing on Crystal.
     “Now that’s more like it!” Crystal said, standing up and holding her hands out toward the ground. A thick steam came up in front of her but not directly under her, and within moments, all the water was gone and a nice, flat and dry surface for camping remained.
     “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” Matthew said, carrying things back.
     “Way to go, Crystal!” Scott cheered.
     “We owe you one. Good work,” Demitri added.
     April stood back a moment as if in thought but then forced a smile. “Thanks, Crystal,” she said quietly.
     “Aw, it was nothing guys,” Crystal blushed. “Now let’s get those tents setup!” she exclaimed.
     Demitri opened up the large boxes. The bottoms of the boxes were already soggy from sitting on the wet ground, but the tents inside were nice and dry. Demitri pulled out the first tent while Scott got the pegs for it and followed after him. Matthew joined in setting it up to the far right of their campsite while April and Crystal got to work pulling the other tent out and setting it up on the far left. Once the guys had finished, they took over for the girls and hurried it along.
     “There we go. Tents fit for kings and queens!” Demitri said as they finished pushing the last peg into the ground.
     “Of course, the ‘queens’ get more room because there are fewer of them,” Matthew griped.
     “Matthew, you can sleep under the stars if you want to,” Demitri politely offered, to which Matthew quickly rejected.
     “It’s fine! I’ll sleep in the tent.”
     “When are we gonna do s’mores?” Scott asked while feeling more than ready to dive into the snacks.
     “Oh! Let’s get the fire started and we’ll do those right away,” Demitri said and went to grab the log he had brought along. He brought it to the center of the campsite and set it down while he sighed. “Well guys, I forgot matches.”
     “Wait!” Crystal chimed in and sat down next to the log, putting her hands out as if there were flames. She focused intensely on the log, then smoke started to billow up and it caught on fire. “There!” she said cheerfully.
     “Whoa! Good one!” Scott said as he went to sit down next to it.
     “Is there nothing you can’t do?” Matthew asked and she smiled sheepishly.
     “I’d have tried but I think the log would have blown into a million pieces,” Scott snickered and Crystal laughed with him. Demitri pulled out the marshmallows along with five forks perfect for roasting them from the cooler. He handed out the supplies and they all got started.
     “Okay! These catch fire way too easy!” Matthew exclaimed as his marshmallow almost immediately flamed up.
     “Blow it out!” Scott yelled.
     “I’m trying!” Matthew retorted and Crystal laughed.
     “Never a dull moment with these two,” Demitri commented while focusing on cooking his own marshmallow.
     “I actually like them charred,” April stated.
     “Well then here, trade me,” Matthew demanded as he handed her his fork and took hers. His marshmallow was no longer on fire but looked to be black all the way through.
     “Okay, this one is so scorched there’s no marshmallow left!” she said and Demitri and Crystal snickered slightly.
     “Here, the graham crackers and chocolate are on the top,” Demitri said as he got up and opened the cooler for April.
     “Thanks,” she said before leaning back to reach inside.
     “Argh!” Matthew suddenly yelled. “That is the second mosquito to bite me! How do you guys stand this sort of thing?” he griped as he swatted another one off his arm.
     “I dunno, they’re leaving me alone,” Scott said as glanced over his own arms.
     “I don’t like mosquitoes, but the weather sure is nice! It’s cool, but not too cool, and there’s just the right amount of wind to keep the fire going, but not cause problems,” Crystal said optimistically.
     “Of course, if the fire went out, you could just relight it. And if it tries to spread, you can always put it out. Handy powers. I’m almost jealous,” Matthew admitted and honestly complimented.
     “Yeah, I think out of all of us, Crystal’s powers are the most handy. I mean, you can have any beverage at just the right temperature, immediately boil water or make ice cubes, heat your food if it starts to get cold, it’s awesome!” Scott said and Matthew looked at him.
     “And notice how everything Scott mentioned had something to do with food or drink,” he said and Crystal giggled.
     “So it begs the question,” Demitri began as he pulled his marshmallow back from the warm flame and rotated his fork while he looked it over. “Why do you choose to roast your marshmallow slowly over the fire when you could have it held over your hand and perfect in seconds?”
     “Well I just want to do it the old fashioned way,” Crystal replied.
     “Well in that case there are sticks you can put your marshmallows on,” Demitri teased, pointing off to the woods around them.
     “No, no! I’m fine with the fork!” she laughed, and Scott and Matthew snickered. April sat quietly, eating her s’more. It was a strange feeling she had, but it wasn’t the first time she felt it. It was as if something inside her were sinking. Her chest felt tight, her stomach unsettled, and her mind seemed to slip into lonely and negative thoughts. Even with the others right there with her she felt alone and left out.
     “So, I’m going to go out on a limb and say after Crystal’s powers, mine are definitely most handy for life situations,” Matthew said.
     “How so?” Demitri asked and the others sat curiously waiting.
     “Well you see-” he began, taking his marshmallow off his fork and standing to go to the cooler and get the chocolate and graham crackers, “-if it rains I always have an umbrella. I mean sure, I usually have to stand in one place to use my force fields, but I’m starting to incorporate the whole shield while moving thing and it’s not that hard,” he explained, trying to stick his marshmallow onto the cracker and get it off his fingers. “Or say there’s a holdup when I’m at the bank-”
     “Because that’s a typical life situation,” Scott murmured sarcastically.
     “I could block a bullet and be on my way,” Matthew finished.
     “Well I guess I’ll give you points for the rain idea. I hadn’t really thought of using force fields like that,” Crystal commented and Demitri nodded.
     “Not bad,” he said as he reached into the cooler and pulled out a graham cracker and chocolate. “By the way, Matthew, you can leave the marshmallow on your fork until you’ve got your cracker and chocolate ready…” he explained as he put the cooked marshmallow on the chocolate and in between the two crackers, then squeezed them together as he pulled his fork out. “…then pull the marshmallow off, using the rest of the s’more so your hands don’t get sticky.”
     “Oh, now you tell me,” Matthew remarked as he bit marshmallow off his thumb.
     Their night continued on like this for hours. April finally excused herself and got in the tent to setup her sleeping bag. The others decided to lay their sleeping bags out too, though they were a bit too restless to fall asleep. Scott laid on his stomach and continued talking, and though a bit of space stood between the two tents, everything said in one could be heard in the other unless very quietly whispered.
     The hour got much later before they all finally fell asleep. At dawn, Demitri arose and stepped out from the tent. The morning light just barely started to creep up, but the trees shaded it so well it looked to still be evening.
     Demitri quietly walked away from the campsite to do some stretches and pray while the others were still asleep. Not long after Demitri had gone, April woke up and quietly slipped out from the tent. The troubles of the evening had followed her to the new day and she gazed at the ground while she stood deep in thought. The sun was up high enough now to cast long and cold shadows of the trees. The longer she stood there, the more uncomfortable she felt, till finally she put on her C-Cuff and began to walk toward the one thinned-out part of the woods. She quickly left the dew-covered grass of the campsite, now walking over the saturated soil around it. She moved at a slower pace once the campsite was no longer within sight.
     April watched the ground before her feet, giving just enough thought to avoid the puddles that scattered across the marshy ground. She didn’t really know where she was headed, she just knew she wanted to get away. All she could think about were reasons to leave and she thought time alone would help. She wasn’t the one who wanted to be a part of the team, they dragged her into it. She was more of a distraction than a help, anyway. At least, that’s what she kept thinking to herself as she wandered along.
     Then again, it may have been envy. In truth, the idea of having powers was a thrilling one, but the powers she had been blessed with felt more like a curse. Was she only meant as a battery to keep them running?
     She would have continued to think such things if it hadn’t been for the ripples she caught sight of in the puddle she had just stepped over.
     She paused, not turning back to look, but simply letting her head remain downward with her eyes fixated on the water to her left. She traced the ripples back to their source and found her initial thought to be right.
     “What do you want?” she asked and she glanced away.
     “I just thought I’d follow you. Where are you going?” Demitri asked as he appeared behind her. It was obvious he had planned on being caught, though it maybe took a bit longer for April to notice him than he had expected.
     “It doesn’t matter,” she answered. "It’s not like you guys even need me, now that Crystal is here,” she said indignantly.
     Demitri crept around her but she didn’t lift her head or even glance his way. “That’s not true,” he assured her with a smile.
     “I mess everything up. Besides, everyone seems a lot more interested in her than they ever were in me,” April argued.
     “You have to keep in mind that as far as Scott goes, she’s a lot closer in age to him than we are, plus they share a lot of interests. Now, I can’t really speak for Matthew, but as for myself, I’d argue that statement,” Demitri replied. “Crystal does have impressive powers, but her joining doesn’t mean we suddenly don’t need you. If anything, we need you even more now. Think of all the help you’ll be when the two of you work together, like you did last night.”
     “You mean when I boost her up! How is it I’m the only one in the team that doesn’t have abilities of my own? I have to help everyone else when I can’t even help myself! And everyone else can go out there, taking down machines or taking down vandals, while I’m stuck behind!” she retorted in a continuous rant, “It’s like I don’t even have powers!” she spat as she turned with a glare at Demitri, but when her eyes met his and she saw him standing tall with his arms crossed and that smile of suspicion, she hastily looked away. It was as if his eyes pierced right into her soul, and she quickly realized that the longer she looked at those piercing and brilliant brown eyes, the more insecure and embarrassed she would feel over what she had just shouted.
     “So this is really just going back to the idea that you’re somehow not cutout to be a hero, is that right? All just because your powers work a little differently than ours?” Demitri inquired but April only crossed her arms and stood with her back turned to him. “You know, all people, powers or no powers, have a special role to play,” he continued. “Some might not seem as important as others, but kind of like the different parts of a body, you need everyone to do their job in order for the world to function. Workers that do their best, no matter what the job, make a better world for everyone, don’t you think?”
     “Yeah? Well I’m feeling a bit like the garbage man right now,” April said bitterly.
Demitri shook his head. “Well I’m personally thankful those who are willing to work that job. I think they deserve a lot of respect and I’d hate to imagine life without them,” he said. “But that’s not the point. You’re needed, April. And you’re just as much a part of this team as me or anyone else.”
     April stood quietly. She didn’t want to try and argue anymore. She felt silly over her little outburst, but even more so over trying to leave the team on foot. Still, she felt her stomach turn at the thought of going back to their campsite.
     “April,” Demitri said and she gave a heavy sigh.
     “What?” she asked, turning around to look at him with an agitated expression.
     “If you don’t come back willingly, I’ll have to make you,” he said as a grin slowly crept across his face.
April tried to hold onto her bad mood. “You think you could?” she challenged.
     “Yes,” Demitri answered.
     “And just how do you plan to do that?”
     “First I would catch you, and if you tried to struggle I’d tickle you, and then I would carry you all the way back,” Demitri stated.
     An awkward smile started to creep across her face but April shook her head to shake it off.
     “You don’t believe me?” Demitri said as he raised one eyebrow.
     April took one step backwards, then paused, watching him all the while. “…No,” she answered.
     Demitri looked at her very seriously and she stared back at him, looking somewhat perplexed and unsure. She turned her head just slightly, when he suddenly dashed forward, grabbing her arm. She let out a high-pitched squeal as he pulled her closer and she tried to pull away. He got both his arms around her and in helpless laughter, she tried dropping to the ground, but he tickled her all the way down.
     “Stop!” she shrieked with laughter as she tried to stay squatted without losing her balance.
     Demitri laughed and ceased his tickling. “You give up?” he asked teasingly.
     “Fine, whatever! Just don’t make me fall in the mud,” April pleaded and he laughed some more.
     “All right,” he agreed and offered his hands as he was still bent over her. She took hold of his hands and he stood them both up. “Feeling better?” he asked her with a smile and she shyly glanced down.
     “Yes,” she admitted.
     “All right then. Let’s head back to the camp. The others might wake up soon and wonder where we’re at,” Demitri told her then turned in the direction of the campsite and tapped her arm. “Come on.”
     April let him take the lead then followed behind him with a smile that slowly faded. It actually might have been nice, she thought. It might have been nice if he had really carried her back.

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