CHAPTER EIGHT
HOPE

     Demitri looked over as Scott entered Mainframe at the early hour of eight. “Good evening, Scott. You’re here a lot earlier than I expected. How do you like the new chairs?” he asked as Scott looked at the white office-like chairs. One sat directly in front of Mainframe’s main screen, while two others were off to the side and out of the way.
     “Nice, but why the chairs all of a sudden?” Scott asked.
     “For the most part we don’t need them, but after all this time standing I just decided I wanted some. But don’t get any ideas, they’re not to be played with. Don’t let me catch you sliding them across the floor,” Demitri said with a smirk. “So what’s in the folder?” he asked as he eyed it from afar.
     “Just some paper and pencils. My parents went out to eat and are gonna be out late, so I thought I’d come here to work on my comics,” Scott answered.
     “Okay, make yourself at home,” Demitri welcomed as he spun his chair to the side and gestured his hand out to the room. “I’ll be leaving in a bit to get April…maybe.”
     “Maybe?” Scott questioned as he sat down on the floor and set his folder in front of himself.
     “Yeah, I’m not sure what approach I should take. It’s Sunday and she was off work. I’m still not in love with the idea of visiting her room, but I’m thinking that may be the only place I can find her. No saying when she goes to sleep, though,” Demitri replied, looking deep in thought.
     “Hm…” hummed Scott as he pondered the situation a moment. “I have an idea.”
     “What’s that?” Demitri asked.
     “Well with Mainframe we can find her house easily, right? Why don’t we go outside her room and throw rocks at her window like they do in movies and stuff?” Scott proposed.
     “Assuming we know which window is the right one, we don’t break anything, and she actually gets out of bed and looks out, that would be great,” Demitri said with a slight sarcasm at the end.
Scott scratched his head. “Aww, I guess you’re right. Well I thought it was a good idea,” he said in his defense.
     “It’s not that it’s a bad idea, I’m just really not sure she would go for that. April only just saw this place last night, and I think she would be more than a little uncomfortable if she found out we knew where she lived on top of everything else,” Demitri stated.
     “Yeah, she might think that you stalked her on her way home!” Scott teased, then stuck out his tongue.
     “I suppose we could always wait until tomorrow. I believe she works so I could meet with her there and see about bringing her here,” Demitri said.
     “I guess…I was just hoping we could all hangout tonight… When are we gonna show her the training room?” Scott asked.
     “Next time she’s here,” Demitri answered, then heard a sound go off as Mainframe signaled the scan for heroes was complete.
     “What was that!?” Scott asked, about ready to stand up.
     “Mainframe’s finished scanning. Let’s see if we’ve got any new heroes out there,” Demitri said as he scooted his chair in and checked over the information. “…Nope. Looks like it’s still just the four of us out there!” he said but paused as he stared at the screen, then began quickly typing.
     “…What’s wrong?” Scott asked, sensing something was amiss and getting up to see.
     “There’s something not right on here. See those areas marked with red dots?” Demitri said as he pointed out two red dots on a map the main screen displayed.
     “Yeah?” Scott replied, seeing the red but unsure of the problem.
     “This one is Matthew, and this one over here is April, but look around this area,” he said, pointing out the area around April.
     “It’s all…grayish or black. What’s that mean?” Scott asked.
     “I’m not sure. Maybe it’s a glitch in the system. I’ve never seen anything like that before,” Demitri commented as he stared closer.
     “Hey, is it spreading?” Scott asked as it widened just slightly, then suddenly the whole area disappeared and was replaced with a green color as it normally had. “Where’d it go!?”
     “Must have been a glitch… Well, don’t worry about it,” Demitri said, then turned to look at Scott. “This reminds me though, I still need to give you a lesson about using Mainframe, don’t I? How about we turn that into tonight’s project until Matthew gets here,” he suggested.
     “If he comes! You never know, he might bail on us,” Scott joked.
     “He might,” Demitri said in an undoubting tone. “But either way, I should be able to run you through the basics. Maybe a little more in-depth if you don’t mind putting your comic book aside for a while.”
     “Sure! I don’t mind. Let’s get to it!” Scott said eagerly and the two proceeded into a lesson. It continued until sometime after eleven thirty, when Matthew finally showed up.
     “Hey, sorry I’m a bit late tonight guys. A lot is going on with my sister so I was distracted for most of the day, then evening came and I just lost track of time,” Matthew explained before the chairs caught his fancy. “Heeey, you finally broke down and got this place some seating! Nice.”
     “Wait, you have a sister?” Scott questioned.
     “Good to see you, Matthew,” Demitri said then looked over at the chairs. “And I wouldn’t say I broke down, but I did find some that I liked and they blend in pretty well. Also, I figured with April joining it would be good to have some seating available.”
     “Yeah, if you don’t she’ll probably complain later down the road. You know, once she’s past that initial freak-out stage,” Matthew stated. “Next thing you know she’ll act like she’s the boss, gripe about anything that doesn’t go her way, blah blah blah,” Matthew said bluntly.
     “Are you having lady problems, Matt?” Demitri asked as he raised an eyebrow.
     “Ladies are problems,” Matthew replied without delay.
     “Uh, I’m still waiting for an explanation about you having a sister,” Scott threw in, hoping to get a response this time.
     Matthew actually looked down at him this time. “Yes, I have a sister.”
     “Since when!?” Scott asked.
     “Well she’s older than me, so since conception, whoop-de-doo!” he answered and Scott stood silently for a moment.
     “O-kaaay. I just thought we were all in the only-child group, since you never mentioned having siblings before. Then again, I don’t think I’ve heard you say anything about your family at all before now,” Scott remarked as he thought it over.
     “Yeah, I don’t feel the need to broadcast. So, are we doing anything tonight or just sitting in chairs staring at computer screens all night?” Matthew asked as he walked over closer, so he could see Mainframe’s main screen. “Whoa, hey! I just noticed you only got three chairs. Aren’t we up to four people now?”
     “Oh, yeah. There’s a chair for me, one over there for Scott and another for April when she comes. You just get to sit on the floor,” Demitri teased.
     “Okay, I’ve been around longer than both, I think I’m entitled to a chair,” Matthew argued with a smirk. “But no, seriously, why only three?”
     “That’s all they had available at the store. So until they restock and I drop by for a visit, this will do fine. And yes, they all have to match,” Demitri explained. “Enough about chairs, though. Let’s get to work! One way or another, tomorrow we’ll have April with us. That will be continuing throughout the week, so let’s do something exciting tonight before we have to tone it down,” he suggested and the others were happy to oblige.
     The three set off on one of their missions, eager to help the world in secret.

 

*  *  *  *  *

     Late into the following morning April got ready for work, feeling exhausted after two nights of losing sleep. She was having a challenging time keeping this secret of theirs, yet she was also far too scared to tell anyone about them, despite her unheard threats when trying to sleep. She worried that she would be mocked for such tales, or worse, that the three might show up one night and see to her silence. She did wonder why she hadn’t heard a peep from them since she left that place they called Mainframe. As the afternoon was fast approaching, she tried to brush off those thoughts and head off for work. Though even with all of yesterday’s time for thoughts, she still couldn’t get them off her mind.
     She got out from her car and straightened her pink skirt, which laid over her knee length white leggings. Being a bit early, she took her time walking to the café, but instead of enjoying the sunshine and smiles on the faces of people walking by, April stared off in a daze at the concrete ground before her feet. She continued to ponder about the supernatural and what seemed like pure fiction. She came into the café from a backdoor and got her work apron on. Her bosses Melissa and Whitney were already there, hard at work, and didn’t waste any time in sending her out to go clean tables.
     “Good afternoon,” Demitri greeted as April came out to clear off the empty tables. He sat alone, pleasantly enjoying a cup of coffee just as he typically did. Still, April’s eyes widened and she halted a moment.
     “Hurry up, girl! We’re busy today and we need those tables cleaned!” Melissa ordered as she squeezed past April and made a hasty sprint toward the back.
     “Yes, ma’am,” April replied and made her way back to the two empty tables near the window, just to the right of Demitri. She cleared things off into a trash bag, then got a damp cloth for wiping down the table and chairs. Demitri didn’t say anything or pay her any mind, but she felt uncomfortable the entire time. It felt far worse than the feeling of shyness that usually crept up her neck and caused her shoulders to stiffen. It was as though he could see her even when he wasn’t looking, as if he could read her every thought. Then again, she hadn’t really considered before if maybe that was a power he had. Just the thought of it gave her chills.
     She bent down on one knee to clean the surface and sides of a chair, really using it as a cover to see if Demitri was glancing her way at all, and to her surprise she found he wasn’t. It was as if nothing had happened. It made her worry she had dreamt the whole thing up, but she continued to remind herself it was very real. She stood up and made her way through the somewhat noisy room, slipping behind the distracted customers. She took the washcloth to the back and threw it in a sink before she washed her hands and prepared to go back out into the thriving room to help take orders.
     “April, could you give me a hand with these?” Whitney asked and April had no delay in coming to her aid. “We need two more of the sundaes, both strawberry. Thanks!” Whitney directed as she was finishing up a butterscotch sundae with a touch of whipped cream. “I’m REALLY glad you got here when you did! This place has been so busy since we opened this morning. The stress was getting to both Melissa and I!” Whitney said as April finished the first sundae and handed it to her, while simultaneously making a second with her other hand.
     “Yeah,” April quietly replied.
     “Something wrong? You seem a little rundown.”
     “Just… busy day at work, didn’t get much sleep. You know,” April told her, then handed over the other strawberry sundae.
     “I gotta run these out. Can you take a look around and make sure no one is waiting out there?” Whitney requested as she hurried through the doorway to deliver the tray full of ice cream. April followed after her, then looked around. But she saw everyone was served, and no one new had come in yet. She stood behind the counter, making herself available in case any needs sprung up. Amazingly, things slowed down, customers finished and the noise quieted to light chit-chatting. Melissa took the register, while Whitney and April cleaned up as people left.
     Demitri had finished his drink but stayed seated a little longer, and as the café entered a brief but refreshing time of tranquility, he arose from his place and saw to leaving a tip. He casually walked past April on his way to the door. Her chest felt tight for a moment, but as he went straight to the door she felt the pressure in her lungs release with an exhale of relief.
     “Oh, April!” he said as he turned back. She suddenly felt herself tighten back up. “You missed out on bowling!” he said with a smile.
     “Um…yeah. Sorry,” she replied, trying hard not to seem too conspicuous.
     “Well, don’t let it trouble you. We can meet up tonight. I’ll see you later,” he said then took his leave.
     April hardly knew what to say, but she had the feeling she would be going back to Mainframe soon, whether she liked it or not. She had agreed to join with them for a week. Even if she felt she was forced into it, it was her decision.
     April walked up to the counter, rubbing her forehead.
     “Ooooh, sounds like an adventure!” Melissa said as she approached, grinning a white smile and looking unusually giddy.
     “What?” April questioned, caught off guard.
     “Oh, come on, girlie! That guy is a catch! Annnd, you two seem to have hit it off pretty well,” Melissa teased.
     “Ohh, no! It’s not like that at all!” April assured her, but Melissa refused to let it go.
     “Oh, I think it is! He seems like a genuinely nice guy. He’s got a good head on his shoulders as far as I can tell. How old is he?” she inquired and April sighed.
     “I don’t know, Melissa.”
     “Well you should find out!” Melissa insisted.
     “No, look, he doesn’t like me or anything!” April said, in her mind feeling positive that the only reason Demitri came around was because he thought she had some sort of power.
     “You really can’t read guys, can you?” Melissa remarked and shook her head. “You ask that boy how old he is or I’ll do it for you. Though you know, age isn’t gonna stop true love, hon!” she teased.
     “Stop!” April pleaded as she glanced back and forth at customers, though they paid them no mind. “You say that about every guy.”
     “All right, all right,” Melissa said and turned away. “I’ll just let things be. But don’t say I didn’t tell you so when he gets down on one knee.”
     “I thought you said you were going to stop!” April yelled as she entered into the back room.
     As evening came and April got off work, she found Demitri already waiting outside for her.
     “It’s almost like you’re stalking me now,” she mused as he waved.
     “Well I’m dressed normally and visually present this time. That counts for something, doesn’t it?” he laughed and April nervously shook her head. “Come on, we have to go someplace a little less open before we can depart,” he said and began to lead the way. April felt uncomfortable, but followed him nonetheless. It was getting dark, but still light enough to see where they were headed. Going between two buildings, Demitri pulled up the sleeve of his white dress shirt and prepared his C-Cuff for their departure.
     “What’s that?” April asked as he set it.
     “This is what I use to teleport to Mainframe,” he answered, then offered his hand. “Here, take my hand,” he requested and she did so. Once he had hold, he teleported them both to Mainframe.
     “Argh, this place is way too bright to go to in the evening!” April griped as she pulled her hand away from Demitri and rubbed her eyes.
     “You’ll get used to it after a while. Now then, I asked Scott and Matthew to come early. Matt said he won’t be able to join us this evening, but Scott should be here any minute…” Demitri said as he walked further in. “You can have a seat until then if you’d like,” he offered and she nodded her head. She slowly walked across the room while Demitri took his seat directly in front of the main screen. April took hold of a chair from the wall and rolled it to where she would be able to see the screens, then she sat down and straightened her skirt before turning her chair to face Demitri.
     “So…what exactly do you…do?” she asked, trying to bring some noise in the almost silent room.
     “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought I’d mentioned it the last time you were here,” he apologized as he turned to give her his attention.
     “Oh, um, maybe! I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it all, so maybe I just forgot,” she said, glancing down.
     “Well, we help out those in need, though we do it in secret as often as we can,” Demitri explained, leaning forward with his arms rested against his legs. “As you’ve seen, we’re able to get around pretty easily.”
     “Yeah… So how can I help with any of this?” she inquired.
     “You’ll be able to make our powers stronger. My theory is that with your help, I’ll be able to conceal everyone in the team while Matthew shields us from harm. Scott would be able to distract or scare opposition, while I disarm criminals. You would be the most vital part of stopping serious crimes,” Demitri answered.
     “How do I do that though? I mean, power you up?”
     “I’m not entirely sure how your powers work. For Matthew, Scott and I, it’s pretty much the same. We have a strength well up inside of us that is then extended through the arms and down into the hands. At the start, it usually takes something exhilarating to help work up to that, but with time and practice it becomes an instantaneous event,” Demitri explained. “However, I’m not really sure if yours will work the same way. You were, um, and don’t take this the wrong way, quite excited when I brought you here last time, but I didn’t feel a difference in the power you were exerting.”
     “Wait, a difference? I wasn’t ‘exerting’ anything,” April claimed. Except…maybe fear, she then thought to herself, but didn’t dare speak it.
     “You’re constantly exerting it. You may not feel any difference, but I do whenever we’re in the same general area. Even my mind becomes clearer. The question is if we can focus your powers like we focus ours. I’m thinking the answer to that is yes, but we won’t know until we test it,” Demitri said.
     “Okay…well how will we test it?” she asked with uncertainty, but an open mind towards trying.
     “The training grounds,” he answered as he sat back in his chair and smiled.
     “Wh-where’s that?” she asked with an awkward smile. “I haven’t even seen a door out of this room, just that teleport thingy,” she commented as she nervously brushed her blonde bangs to the right side.
Demitri was just about to answer when the teleport gave a slight flash and Scott appeared.
     “Hey guys!” he greeted as he walked in.
     “Welcome, Scott!” Demitri greeted back.
     “…Hi,” April said shyly.
     Scott stopped a moment and looked Demitri over. “Hey, where’s your armor? You’re not even dressed in the uniform!” he remarked upon seeing Demitri in semi-formal attire and not in costume.
     “Well no need to go all out tonight. I had to pick April up while it was still light out, anyhow,” he replied, then turned back at April and stood up from his seat. “As I was going to say, there is a way in and out of here, aside from teleportation. We have an elevator, though we only really use it for going down into our training room,” he explained. “Come on, I’ll show you,” he said and she got up from her seat to follow him to the wall.
     “Um…?” she began to wonder but Demitri placed his hand on the wall without doubt, causing the area to glow in a blue light before vanishing and revealing the elevator’s entrance.
     “Right this way,” he offered and she walked in. She was followed by Scott, who was cheerful as could be, and lastly Demitri, who had the elevator set to descend into the training room.
     “Aw man, I feel pumped!” Scott said as he made a fist and clasped his other hand around it.
     April held her arm, her shoulders tense with anxiety. “So…how long have you been doing this?” she asked.
     “Who, me? Or all of us in general?” Scott questioned, then thought on it. “I didn’t really keep track of an exact date… It’s been at least a couple months I think… And Matthew joined a year before I did…” he noted one thing after another as he trailed off further into thought.
     “Um…how about you, Demitri?” April asked, hoping for a more precise answer.
     “Three years, at least. Like Scott, though, I didn’t keep an exact record. I had planned on doing something like this very early on, but I had to wait until Mainframe was fully functional,” he explained as the elevator landed.
     “How do you manage to forget when something like this happens? I’m definitely not going to forget when I got brought here,” she remarked.
     “Apparently so,” Demitri commented with a smile. “Well then, we’re here. Shall we?” he said as the elevator opened to reveal the massive training room.
     “All right!” Scott cheered as he ran out into it.
     “Whoa…” April said in quiet awe as she walked out from the elevator and looked around, finding her eyes drawn to the ceiling as lights came on and lit the whole place up from afar. Demitri made his way to the panel on the wall, setting things up while April was distracted.
     “Isn’t it awesome?” Scott said as he bounced around the room.
     “It’s incredible!” April remarked, still looking around at its expanse. Scott looked up at her and smiled. It was strangely refreshing seeing the reaction of someone new. Upon seeing her, he recalled how he felt the first time he saw Mainframe, the training area, and all the other first-time adventures he had. But something else was going on inside him at that moment. Scott could feel a strange sense of power building up, and he couldn’t wait to try it out on some of the machines.
     “All right guys. We’re due for some maintenance, so we’ll just be using a handful of the machines tonight,” Demitri said.
     “Machines?” April quietly questioned as he spoke, but went unheard as Demitri continued.
     “Don’t be afraid to cut loose, though. The goal is to destroy or shutdown all of the machines within five minutes. Oh, and I’ll just be observing this time, so Scott, work fast,” Demitri instructed.
     “Got it!” Scott said with thumbs up.
     “April, you only need to focus on that energy you’re exerting. Scott will take care of the machines, we just need to see if you can help him out, and from how much of a distance your powers work,” Demitri said as he activated a silent countdown to their training session.
     “I still don’t think I have any ‘powers’ or way to help,” she said anxiously.
     Demitri walked close to her and Scott. “I know you don’t feel it right now, but I’m confident you will. You need to believe it’s there, though. Concentrate,” he said and she glanced down at the floor, as she usually did when she wanted to avoid eye contact. Suddenly a signal sounded and five machines began to rise, each in a separate area, together surrounding the three targets; Scott, April and Demitri.
     “This is it! Now remember what I told you!” Demitri instructed as he stayed back by April. Scott confidently ran after the closest one in sight.
     “What are those!?” April shouted upon the sight of them.
     “Your targets, but don’t mind those. You need to focus on your power on Scott,” Demitri told her and she inhaled a deep breath to try and calm herself.
     Scott touched the first machine but the surge of power came faster and easier than he had expected. The machine blew up, knocking him into a backwards roll.
     “Did you SEE THAT!?” Scott said when his tumble came to a halt and he sat upright with his legs sprawled out over the cold floor.
     “What was that!?” April jumped at the sound but Demitri pulled her attention back to him.
     “Focus. Don’t worry about anything else going on around you,” he said while Scott got up from the ground and moved out of the line of fire. April was focused on Demitri and tried to remain unaware of all that was going on around her.
     “For just a second you almost had it. Scott was able to do quite a bit of damage. I also felt something,” Demitri told her.
     “But I didn’t feel a thing,” she said doubtfully.
     “That’s why you have to try again. Don’t let anything distract you, just focus…” he said in a calming way and April shut her eyes for a moment before exhaling. She started to open them and turn her head away from Demitri so she would have complete focus on trying to feel that energy he had talked about.
     Shoooom! came a laser which caused her heart to leap and her concentration to break. She reflexively grabbed Demitri by the arm and swung back behind him to hide.
     “No one said they were going to shoot me!” she squealed as she squeezed his arm tighter. He looked at her over his shoulder with a smile and held back laughter.
     “They’re just holograms, they can’t hurt you,” he assured her, to which Scott overheard.
     “Whaaat!? Why didn’t you tell me? I thought I was doing a great job dodging!” Scott said as he pushed aside the rubble from the second machine he had annihilated.
     April slowly let go of Demitri’s arm and took a step back as she nervously looked around.
     “April, you did it, though,” he said, turning around completely to see her. She wore a puzzled expression as she looked up at him.
     “Did what?” she questioned honestly.
     “Well,” he said with a grin as he looked downward and brushed the side of his nose with his thumb. “when you grabbed my arm I almost went invisible on the spot. It was like a surging chill through my arm and into the rest of my body, surely you felt it too?” he said as his eyes met back with hers, but she stared at him blankly and slowly began to shake her head.
     “I just didn’t want to get hit,” she admitted.
     “Hah, but it’s okay if I get nailed?” he jested. “Well I guess as a self-defense that works pretty well. You put your energy right into someone else so they can take the blow. I think it would be a good match for Matthew’s gift. I just wonder if it could be done at a distance since your powers already flow out like that. I mean, just look at Scott,” Demitri commented and they turned just in time to see Scott plant his hand down on a machine and blow it to pieces. April had a troubled expression while watching such destruction from such a young man. Scott stopped a moment as he stood up and saw them staring, then he waved hello with a grin before running after the next machine. He let its holographic lasers pass right through him rather than wasting energy on blocking or dodging.
     “I’m not responsible for that,” April stated bluntly in reply.
     “Haha, well not directly. His powers let him ignite things with touch, but yours make him a little more effective, even without trying to. You can probably help from a distance of one hundred, maybe two hundred feet? And once you learn to focus that power of yours, you’ll be able to help us significantly. And at your own choosing,” Demitri said as he watched Scott go. “It’s strange…I thought your powers were just immediate. Maybe they are and it’s just that I’m standing too close, but I still feel a sort of charge within myself. My mind seems so clear and focused…” he commented as they watched Scott finish off the last machine.
     April was shaking her head just slightly. Not to be noticed, but just in reaction to her own thought of his comment. I don’t think I helped with that either… she thought to herself and Demitri turned and looked at her.
     “But you did,” he said and she quickly turned and looked up at him.
     “Wait, what?” she questioned abruptly.
     “You definitely helped. Stop doubting yourself,” he said.
     The buzz that signaled the training session had ended beckoned and Demitri began to walk over to Scott, congratulating him on a job well done, while April stood back and stared off in a bit of shock.
I didn’t say that out loud, did I? she asked herself in thought.
     “April! You coming?” Scott yelled as Demitri touched the panel on the wall to reveal the elevator. April looked up and rushed over.
     “Yeah!” she replied, brushing her worries aside. The three began the trip up, discussing the training while Scott practically bounced off the walls talking about what it felt like.
     “I think tomorrow night we’ll try something a little different,” Demitri said as they stepped out from the elevator and into the main room.
     “Wait…that was it?” April asked in surprise.
     “It’s not so much about the time you put in as it is the effort. A little every day is what makes a big difference,” Demitri replied and Scott raised his hand. “Yes, Scott?”
     “What are we doing tomorrow night?” he asked.
     “How about I tell you when you show up?” Demitri teased and Scott hung his shoulders down as he rolled his eyes and tilted his head.
     “So what do we do now? I’m still new to all of this,” she commented.
     “We could play Go Fish!” Scott suggested enthusiastically and April gave him an odd look.
     “Haha! There you go! We pretty much just hang out and take it easy once training is done. You can head home, chitchat, whatever you’d like,” Demitri explained, seeming carefree. April just rubbed her arm and looked around the room, unsure what she should do. “Oh hey, we did things a little differently tonight since you’re new, but we usually meet up around eleven in the evening. Although I’ve been to the café and your time zone is a little different, so you’ll want to be ready by ten. If you can plan out a place I could pick you up, that would be great,” Demitri said to April.
     “Why so late?”
     “Because it works well for Scott since his parents are asleep, and works well for us as a team to stay out of the spotlight. People don’t wonder where we’re at, and people don’t see us in action… usually,” Demitri explained and April crossed her arms and thought it over.
     “…Would my backyard work?” she asked.
     “Probably.”
     “Okay then, I guess I need to write down my address?” April questioned and Scott grinned.
     “Nah, we can-” Scott began to say, but Demitri prodded him in the back to urge him not to speak.
     “Yes, that would be good,” he said to April and Scott kept quiet.
     “Okay, I’ll need something to write on…” she said, looking around but seeing nothing that would work.
     “Oh, just come type it up over here on Mainframe,” Demitri said and led the way over. Scott stretched his arms back, then began tinkering with things on the wall to keep himself busy while April gave the information to Demitri.
     “Okay, there you go,” she said as she sat up from the seat. She felt a little relief when they asked for her address, but a little silly as she now figured there was no way Demitri had been in her room on the nights she struggled with sleep. “If it’s okay, I’d like to go ahead and head back home for the night now. I’ve just got so much going through my head…” she said and began to awkwardly smile as she rubbed the side of her neck. “…I think I should probably go to bed early. Especially if we have to do training so late tomorrow night.”
     “Good idea. I’ll get things ready for you, one second,” Demitri said as he set things up. “Oh…I should probably head back with you. Just to walk you to your car,” he commented as he got things ready, catching Scott’s attention.
     “Oh, that’s okay! I’m sure I can find my way,” April said but he shook his head.
     “I’ll be sending you back between those buildings and it’s darker outside now than it was then. It’ll just be for the walk to your car, then you can go on your own,” Demitri insisted as the teleport showed it was ready to go. Though he didn’t say it, he was uncomfortable leaving her on her own. The chances of anything bad happening to her were unlikely, but Demitri felt responsible for escorting her back all the same.
     “Demitri, you’ll be right back, won’t you?” Scott asked before they stepped into the portal.
     “Yeah, it’ll just be a few minutes. You can hang here until I get back or go on home,” Demitri answered then activated the teleport for April and himself, whisking them away.
     “Oookay…I can’t see anything!” April said as they landed, the sudden darkness obscuring her vision. Demitri pulled up his sleeve and clicked a button on his C-Cuff, causing a small but bright light to come on.
     “There we go!” he said and pointed it out from between the buildings, lighting their path. “Always come prepared.”
     “Ohh! I should have just pulled out my cell phone! It has a light,” she said in frustration with herself and Demitri smiled.
     “Come on, let’s get you back to your car so you can go home and rest up,” he said and they began their walk.
     “Are you worried anyone will wonder about that weird watch you’re using?” she asked and he shook his head.
     “It’s not a watch, and I’m not worried. For the most part I don’t even see people out around here when the sun is down, but I’m sure people wouldn’t think much of it,” he replied calmly as he watched where they were going. Their eyes were beginning to adjust to the dark.
     “So if you don’t worry, why do you always hide it?” she probed further.
     “Heh, well when I don’t need it I try and hide it, just to keep the curious from asking about it. I wouldn’t want someone to see me in the café and ask for the time, when it’s for communication and transportation,” he explained.
     “And a flashlight,” April added with a smile.
     “And a flashlight!” he lightly chuckled back. After that things became silent, and April felt a little uncomfortable.
     “So…” she said as she tried to think up a quick conversation piece, but nothing seemed to follow.
     “Hm?”
     “Um, so…how old are you, Demitri?” she asked as Melissa’s question seemed to be the only one that came to her mind.
     “Twenty-three. Why?” he asked back as he looked at her and she quickly turned away.
     “Just asking! I…actually thought you were maybe a little older than that,” she commented. She was feeling a bit surprised but his answer swiftly settled in as a satisfying one, and for just a short moment she began to fancy some of Melissa’s teases about them to be true, even if she had argued that three years was too big a gap.
     “Hm…well I’ll be twenty-four early September,” he said and April’s fantasies came to a sudden halt as she realized September was just around the corner.
     “Oh,” she replied in an almost disappointed tone of voice. The age gap now seemed a lot wider to her, which at that moment caused her to brush aside any of Melissa’s previous statements as being silly or simply unreasonable. The two continued their walk, quickly arriving at April’s car.
     “Goodnight. I’ll see you again soon,” Demitri said as they went their separate ways.
     When Demitri returned to Mainframe he found Scott sitting in his seat, spinning it in circles to pass the time.
     “Oh hey!” Scott said as he noticed Demitri had returned. “Welcome back.”
     “Thanks,” Demitri replied as Scott got up for him so he could reclaim the seat in front of the main monitor.
     “So why’d you ask her for her address? We already had it,” Scott remarked as he pulled up his own chair to sit in.
     “Yes, but we’ve already been over this. She hadn’t given it to us. I’m sure when she learns more about Mainframe and thinks about it, she’ll figure out we could have found her place with very little effort. But we want her to have a sense of security. Asking for her to share her address rather than saying we already have it will make her more comfortable,” Demitri explained, then sighed.
     “…You seem tired,” Scott commented, a little surprised by his leader’s lack of energy.
     “Yeah, I guess a little. My…head feels kind of strange,” Demitri noted as he rubbed at his temples.
     “You mean like a headache?” Scott questioned but Demitri shook his head.
     “No. It’s…nah, don’t worry about it.”
     “Okay. We can go ahead and wrap up for the night. Besides, I’m really wanting to know what we’re doing tomorrow for training,” Scott said.
     “Always the eager one,” Demitri replied as he got up from his chair. “You can go ahead and head out then. I’ll shut things down,” he said then paused a moment in thought.
     “Kay,” Scott casually agreed.
     “Oh, but Scott-“ Demitri began and Scott looked at him attentively. “See if you can think of some good hero names for April. Maybe get her opinion on them tomorrow night before sticking to one.”
     “Sure thing!” Scott happily agreed. He then hopped to getting himself home, setting things up and whisking himself back to his room. He slipped out from his uniform and into something comfortable to sleep in, ready with high hopes for what tomorrow’s training might be. Something new, something different. Scott almost always loved the surprises unveiled at Mainframe. As he laid back in his bed, his thoughts shifted from his anticipations to his comics and team. He needed to think of a hero name. A good one.
     Night went on, the morning songs of birds came before Scott knew it, and the day passed before his eyes. He managed to come up with some names he liked and he couldn’t wait to get to Mainframe and tell them to April for an opinion. It was quickly approaching time to leave, and Scott began putting on his uniform just before eleven hit.
     Meanwhile April was nervously watching the clock, waiting until precisely ten in the evening to go out into her backyard. Still fully dressed, she quietly opened the backdoor, flipping a switch to turn on a backlight before she slipped outside. She gently closed the door behind her then looked back and forth, but saw no one there.
     “Demitri?” she called in a whisper but there was no answer. She gave a sigh and let her arms fall to her sides. She figured he had yet to come. She began to walk over to one of the outdoor chairs, thinking she would wait for him a while.
     “Ready to go?” Demitri asked and startled April, but she quickly sighed in relief as she saw it was him. “Sorry. You seem to startle quite easily,” he said with a grin.
     “That’s your fault! Why were you invisible?” she asked as she crossed her arms.
     “So no one would notice me. Plenty of people are still awake at ten,” he commented, then offered his hand with a more gentle and inviting smile. “Come on. Let’s go,” he said and she took his hand to be transported with him. Soon the brightness of Mainframe replaced the darkened sky above, and within seconds of arriving, Scott showed up, too.
     “Good, you’re here!” he said as he ran over to April and Demitri with a list in his hands.
     “We just got here moments before you did,” Demitri replied then glanced down at the paper Scott held. “What’s the list for?”
     “Hero names! I came up with some like you asked. April can tell me what she thinks,” Scott explained then held the list up for April to see.
     “I’m sorry, what’s this?” she asked, tentatively taking the list from Scott.
     “Hero names,” Demitri answered. “As a member of the team, you need a name for while we’re on the field,” he explained.
     “Something to help keep your identity a secret!” Scott added.
     “Um…but don’t you guys already work in secret?” she asked.
     “It’s also for fun. But it’s never a bad idea to plan ahead,” Demitri noted and April began reading over the list.
     “I tried to come up with names that would work with your role. For example, Demitri is our leader so his name is King,” Scott explained.
     “Hope?” she questioned as she came across it written on the list .
     “Yeah! ‘Cause your power increases our power, you’d be like our only hope in a tight spot,” Scott replied.
     “That’s a nice name,” Demitri commented. “Seems fitting.”
     “I…guess so,” April said, then began considering it when the teleport had a wisp of light introduce Matthew to the group for the evening.
     “Heeey. ‘Sup?” Matthew greeted as he joined in their circle.
     “Hi Matt!” Scott greeted back.
     “Hey, Matthew. April was just looking over some hero names,” Demitri said and Matthew glanced at the list before she lowered it shyly and stiffened up a little.
     “Hero names? Wait a minute… Can I see those?” he asked, holding his hand out to April to receive the list of names. She slowly handed it over and he snatched it up, reading a few. “Hey, how come SHE gets to pick HER name? I didn’t get any say in what I was called!” Matthew griped. Though he was really just teasing as usual, April thought him serious at first and felt put on the spot before Demitri stepped in.
     “Do you want to change your name?” Demitri asked and Matthew glared a moment as he thought about it.
     “Nah, I’m just giving you all a hard time,” Matthew replied in a cool and casual way, then smirked as he offered the list back to April. She began to reach for it but he pulled it away just before she touched it. She timidly retreated her hand before he grinned and gave it back. “So, what are you all up to, besides picking out a name for the new girl and plotting behind my back?” Matthew asked as he went to pull up a chair.
     “We haven’t started anything yet. I was waiting for you, but there’s no rush to start things. Let’s take a little time to unwind first,” Demitri said and followed Matthew over to the chairs.
     “Unwind, huh? So what, you can get us all wound up again?” Matthew jested as he sat back and spun his chair to look at Demitri. Demitri also took a seat and held a smirk as he glanced Matthew’s way.
     “On the contrary, to help us with the particular training I have planned for tonight relaxation is a must,” Demitri replied then closed his eyes as he laid back in his chair with his chin held high.
     Scott was anxiously awaiting April’s feedback about the names, ready to write her pick down to use in future volumes of Comic Book Hero. Assuming, that is, that she would choose to stay with them. April contemplated the names for a moment, then considering the positive feedback she received over the name she read out loud, she decided.
     “I’ll go with Hope,” she said, handing the list back to Scott.
     “You sure? There aren’t any other names you like better?” Scott asked and April nodded.
     “Hope is fine,” she said. It was easy to decide when thinking she may not even stay with them once her week was through.
     Scott ran over to where Demitri and Matthew sat, ready to get on with whatever Demitri might have planned. “All right, April picked a name, so let’s get to training!” Scott urged and Demitri sat up.
     “She’s going with Hope?” Demitri asked and Scott nodded. “All right, then!”
     “Do we need to get our armor on?” Scott asked as he, Demitri and Matthew currently only wore the uniforms that went on underneath.
     “Nah, we don’t need it for this. Actually, we don’t even need to go into the training room,” Demitri answered and faced his chair toward Mainframe’s monitors, scooting forward and setting a location for the teleport. “We’re going on a little fieldtrip tonight. I set a lantern by the wall over there. Grab that and turn it on before we leave,” he instructed Scott. Matthew stood up as Demitri did. April slowly approached them while Scott followed Demitri’s orders. “All set?” Demitri asked as he looked at his team.
     “Looks like it,” Matthew said.
     “Yep!” Scott chimed in.
     “Then let’s go!” Demitri said and led the way. The four teleported together and when they landed, Scott looked around with curiosity. His eyes quickly adjusted to the dark with a few blinks. Without looking he could tell his feet rested upon grass, and upon looking up straight above he caught sight of a night sky more brilliant than he had ever seen before. The stars in vision were vast and the moon seemed brighter than ever. The moon and yellow glow from Scott’s lantern were not the only sources of light. In a large circle around them stood little blue lanterns which Demitri had placed prior to their visit. The lanterns were low to the ground, just marking the woods around them.
     “Where are we?” April asked, Scott wondering the same thing as he noticed there was not a building in sight.
     “Think of this as our campsite. I found this spot, flat, peaceful, surrounded only by woods. If you walk in that direction,” Demitri began as he pointed the way, “the trees quickly start to thin out and there are some hills and things from there. Whereas if you walk in any other direction, there’s nothing but trees. So now you have a grasp on our surroundings, it’s pretty much just what you see. We won’t be heading off anywhere else. All of tonight’s training will be held right here.”
     “So what are we supposed to do out here? Test out our powers and knock down a few trees?” Scott asked eagerly while April felt uncomfortable about the idea.
     “No, leave the trees be. The point of this place is that it’s serene. There are no buildings, no people, no electronics aside from what we’ve brought. Our source of light comes from the solar powered lamps below and the mass of stars above,” Demitri said as he looked to the stars then back at the others.
     “I can see that,” Matthew negatively remarked.
     “So that means…?” Scott questioned, waiting for Demitri to fill in the blank.
     “Thus far we’ve pushed our limits under pressure, through timed battles against Mainframe’s machines. We’ve seen what we can do with a rush of adrenaline, now it’s time to see what we can do with patience and peace of mind,” Demitri explained. “We’re going to sit down, take in a deep breath and let it out as we focus on calming ourselves.”
     “…Are you serious?” Matthew asked, dropping all jokes as he stared at Demitri with disbelief.
     “Yes. I am. And once you feel nice and peaceful, focus your mind on your special abilities. Your gifts. That’s tonight’s training. Patience, focus, and repose. There’s to be no speaking until I say it’s time to go, and if I catch you sleeping you will be put through this again tomorrow night. You are to think only on the positive. Imagine yourself stronger and how you could use that strength to help others. That’s the assignment,” Demitri explained, proceeding to sit on the grass once he was through with his instructions.
     “We just sit on the ground?” April asked, looking below at the patches of grass and dirt.
     “Yes,” Demitri answered.
     “Is this really what we’re doing?” Scott asked with a slight whine in disappointment.
     “Yes,” Demitri answered again, having a faint smile on his face but looking just as solemn.
     “Let’s just get this over with,” Matthew said, dropping to the ground, then crossing his legs and placing his hands on his knees. April watched him do it, then saw Scott start to sit down, so she did as the rest but sat with her feet tucked under herself. She looked around at the others, just barely able to tell they had their eyes closed and were already at it. She inhaled deeply and closed her eyes, but she quickly felt unsure just what it was she needed to focus on. She didn’t know what her gift really was, despite their efforts to try and show her. She felt just the same as she always had.
     What is my gift? she pondered to herself, thinking heavily on their powers and unable to see her own. Can I really help anyone? she wondered in thought.
     “…For the record, I’m not a patient man,” Matthew commented, breaking the silence and throwing off April’s train of thought.
     “This feels like quiet time,” Scott whispered.
     “Shh,” Demitri hushed them both and the sound of chirping crickets resounded.
     April peeked around at the others, their eyes all shut as they tried focusing. She noticed Demitri remained seated upright, looking as composed and leader-like as ever. Scott seemed to be a little wiggly, likely moving with his imaginations. As for Matthew, he stayed surprisingly still and even seemed to be taking the mental exercise seriously, though he was a bit slumped over in his seated position. They all seemed like a true team, and April closed her eyes feeling a little distant. It wasn’t her wish to be withdrawn, only what came natural as she saw the bond between the three. In that moment of silence and contemplation, April wished she could feel like she really belonged.
     Scott tried to keep focused on the positive like Demitri instructed, but his mind was so busy with thought on what he wanted to accomplish next. He continually made plans in his head, thinking in ways to get from where he was to where he wanted to be and broadening his horizons as he did so.
     As for Matthew, he did try in earnest, which even he thought at one point to be unlike him. Still, much was going on in his life that he did not talk about. When he came to work alongside Demitri it was a chance to put the rest of his life on hold. He wasn’t a patient man, true, but he certainly was good about putting things off. Especially if he saw them as a hassle. Then again, most would probably find the hero business to be a hassle, but Matthew did discover some reward in it, which is likely why he kept coming back even when at times it was a drag.
     Demitri had them sit quiet and still for a solid hour before he got to his feet, opened his eyes and looked them over. “All right. We’re free to head back,” he said and Scott leaped from the ground up.
     “All righ-“ he began to exclaim but felt dizzy a moment from standing up so suddenly and had to regain his balance. “Right,” he said in a less exclamatory tone.
     “Well that was fun,” Matthew said less than thrilled.
     “Grab the lantern and let’s be on our way,” Demitri commanded and soon the four were teleporting back to Mainframe. Demitri took April as she still lacked a C-Cuff of her own. As they arrived she discreetly dropped back behind the others, giving herself the distance she felt. Demitri looked at Matthew and Scott who both stood before him but looked ready to depart.“Now everyone, I have one further assignment,” Demitri said, catching everyone’s attention. “I want all of you to do a bit of self-examination. Pick a flaw or area that could be improved upon and work toward fixing it this week. You don’t have to tell me what it is, but if it would help you resolve the issue you’re welcome to.”
     “Well you can’t get better than perfect,” Matthew teased as he gestured to himself. Scott shook his head but grinned at Matthew’s typical remark.
     “Matt, you can work on your ego,” Demitri jabbed.
     “Um…what do you think I need to work on?” April asked and Demitri turned around to see her.
     “I would like each of you to pick something out for yourselves. I was only teasing Matthew. Remember, if we’re to stand for justice we need to find ourselves just. None of us can be perfect, but that doesn’t mean we should give up striving to be,” Demitri replied.
     “Sounds good!” Scott said in agreement then gave a yawn. His eyes felt sleepy and his mind was now only focused on wanting to get to bed.
     Matthew had walked over to set the teleport for himself, but went ahead and got things ready for Scott instead. “I can tell you’re tired,” he remarked in reference to the lack of Scott’s usual overabundant energy. “You can go first, Scott,” he offered and Scott was grateful to go on ahead. One-by-one the four departed, ready for a good night’s rest.
     Scott arrived home and immediately laid back on his bed, still dressed in what he liked to think of as his super suit. He pulled off his C-Cuff and carelessly dropped it off the side of his bed. He was far too tired for messing with things and just wanted to get some rest. He did think it funny that sitting still for an hour wore him out more than all the running and jumping and fighting that they usually tackled. He certainly wasn’t used to slowing things down and sitting still for so long, and though he felt somewhat empowered by the fact that he did it once, he really didn’t want to do it again. At least, that’s what he thought as he turned onto his side and closed his eyes in slumber.

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