CHAPTER FIVE - ADVENTURE AWAITS
CNN was playing on the large plasma screen television in Cain's study. The screen stretched the entire width of the wall behind his desk. Cain was standing to the side, hands clasped behind his back, watching the breathless, dark-haired reporter explain the escalating crisis in Horizon's Edge.
Damien ambled into the study, pasting a bored expression on his face, even though he was anything but bored at hearing that some Changed had finally decided to challenge the human authority. He casually leaned against one of the bookshelves that lined the walls, arms loosely wrapped around his chest.
Jamie joined him, standing close enough to show affection, but not to draw attention. Damien turned his head and gave the other boy a quirked smile. Jamie's cheeks pinked, but he smiled back widely before dropping his gaze to the Oriental rug that covered most of the study's floor. He surreptitiously brushed his fingers over one of Damien's palms. Damien wished at that moment that he could hear Jamie's thoughts, but the strange silence was there instead.
He doesn't want me to think he regrets what happened earlier. Neither do I. In fact, I can't wait for us to be alone to do it again and then some.
Damien's thoughts were cut off as Stephan strode into the room. His white-blond hair gave off a haloed reflection as the overhead lights hit it. He almost looked angelic if one ignored the angry tilt of his head and the clenched jaw. He adored Cain, but Damien had always been favored above him.
He has no idea why considering he's been Cain's lap dog for years, Damien thought with a snort. I could tell him that Cain doesn't respect dogs, but that would mean I cared enough to bother. And I don't.
"Is it only the four of us?" Damien asked. "I thought we were having a big family pow wow."
"The others are working. They'll get here soon. We can't all be rolling around on the ground outside," Stephan sneered. "Some of us have important things to do."
"Quiet, Stephan," Cain said without turning around.
Cain's eyes were fixed on the television. Damien turned to see what was so enthralling him.
"It started earlier this afternoon, as an unknown number of Changed, in a coordinated attack, took control of City Hall," the reporter on the television said. "The police who responded to the scene were neutralized as a Changed young woman melted their weapons and set their vehicles alight. Evidence of her fiery power can still be seen behind me. Buildings continue to burn out of control as the fire department simply does not have the resources to quench them all."
Behind him was an impressive fire blazing in one of the tall high rises, sending thick black smoke up to obscure the blue sky. The streets of the normally busy metropolis were empty except for the reporter and a few fleeing civilians. Damien felt a surge of satisfaction at seeing the destruction.
We should be feared and respected. Our powers make us dangerous and better than those around us. Cain had told him these things for years. Damien had believed them even as his own powers started to frighten him in some ways. He had never been one of the Changed to lament their abilities. He always wanted to improve on his.
Jamie though looked stricken as he took in the destruction that the Changed girl had caused. His hands clenched at his sides and his nostrils flared. "Did they say if anyone was hurt?"
"Who cares? Anyone who was foolish enough to stay around while she's turning their weapons to slag is a fool," Stephan said.
Jamie's wide-eyed gaze turned to him, shock causing the young man to open his mouth in a quiet gasp. "But they're people! Just like us. We can't hurt them!"
"She just hurt them before they hurt her," Stephan said. "She had no choice. I doubt the police were going to do anything but shoot her after the Changed took over City Hall."
"You don't know that!" Jamie objected.
Stephan gave him a tight smile. "I know cops. I know what they do to Changed kids."
Jamie was about to open his mouth to object again when Damien put a restraining hand on his arm to stop him. This wasn't an argument that Jamie was going to win.
Maybe I think that because I agree with Stephan. I spent too many nights fending off cops when I was living on the streets. They find out you're Changed and it's like open season. Civil rights are something that doesn't apply to you. But that clearly wasn't Jamie's experience. Again, Damien felt stunned at how much the other boy's parents had shielded him from the realities that many of the Changed understood from the get go.
"Don't, Jamie. It's not worth it. You won't change his mind," Damien whispered.
"It's wrong to use our powers to hurt people, Damien. You know that, right?" His expression was so full of hope that Damien didn't have the heart to tell him what he really thought.
"I don't know what happened in Horizon's Edge to make her act in that way," Damien said, not answering his question.
"But her powers were not the most spectacular," the reporter's voice rose. "For another of the Changed was able to send some kind of massive mental wave that caused people to fall unconscious and when they awoke they attacked their fellow citizens. Soon the entirety of the police force was under the Changed spell and instead of protecting the citizens of Horizon's Edge, they were attacking them. Even killing them."
Footage of people running screaming down the street being chased by cops with eyes the color of dull pennies. The cops' faces were filled with an almost maniacal light. The Changed who sent them on their manic tirade was a slender boy with a startling shock of red hair and a dreamy expression on his youthful face. He wore a black spandex outfit.
"What the hell is he wearing?" Damien asked.
Stephan snorted. "They all have these uniforms."
"Like comic book characters," Damien said with a touch of both derision and awe. As a child, he had devoured comic books, seeing himself in the super-powered villains and heroes. He understood the anguished passions that moved the villains more than he ever did the soulful determination of the heroes to protect everyone, even when they were rejected by the populace they served. And now some of the Changed had decided to act out those comic book dreams. "Interesting choice."
"My god, what are they doing? How can they do this?" Jamie whispered. His skin had gone white as he saw a woman trampled underfoot of the frightened mob.
Damien's gorge rose a little, too, as he saw her skull crushed underneath a hulking Changed's boot clad foot.
The image froze on the craggy, snarling face. This Changed was over seven feet with shoulders as broad as a Mack truck's. His lantern-like jaw jutted forward. His beetling brows showed two soulless black eyes. He ground his heel downward on the woman's head. It broke apart like an egg's. Brain and blood gushed out onto the cement. Damien was shocked they allowed the image on television.
This new Changed man looked more like a hulking ape than a human being, which was probably the point, as the reporter said at that moment, "The sheer brutality of the attacks has stunned observers. Many have decried the terrible conditions that most Changed live under, but it will be hard to muster sympathy after this."
Damien gritted his teeth. We don't need sympathy. We need strength to not care about the whims of humanity. If we're strong enough, they can't keep us down.
"We're told that the National Guard has been mobilized and that martial law has been instituted," the reporter said. He pressed the listening device in his ear. "I'm hearing now that the leader of the Ruling Class, Joaquin Brask, is going to hold a press conference at City Hall in one hour. But there's lots to report before then --"
Cain muted the television.
"Seems like someone decided they didn't want to bow and scrape anymore," Stephan remarked with a wintery grin as footage of the burning and broken Horizon's Edge was shown on a looped feed.
"Foolishness. Amateurish," Cain sneered as he turned around. "Ah, there you are Damien. I wondered where you've been all day."
"They were outside," Stephan began.
The image of Damien and Jamie kissing flashed through Stephan's mind. His desire mixed with disgust felt like a thin layer of slime on Damien's mind. Damien yanked his mental shields down, not wanting to be assaulted with Stephan's conflicted desires.
Although, Jamie and I looked even better together than I thought, he realized with a trace of amusement.
"We were studying. Best to spend time outdoors rather than cooped up inside." Damien shot him a nasty look that had Stephan shutting his mouth from saying anything different.
"Outside? I thought you hated sunlight and the elements," Cain mused, but he looked distracted. Damien's motives in being out in the yard were lost as he glanced back at the muted television. "Damn them. They could ruin everything."
"Ruin what?" Jamie asked.
"What we're trying to do here," Cain said. He began to pace.
"And what is that exactly besides line your pocketbook and gild our cage?" Damien asked.
Stephan looked ready to pounce on him for the insult, but Cain just chuckled.
"Those things are the American way, Damien. The pursuit of wealth is understandable to the public. This type of criminality, however, is not." Cain pointed to the television. "This reminds them too much of what they've feared the Changed are here to do all along: to be the Grays' ambassadors of destruction."
"They're just criminals, but instead of guns they use their powers!" Jamie said with a shake of his head. "This has nothing to do with the Grays and everything to do with just being people."
Cain nodded. "That is true, Jamie. But this display puts first and foremost in the minds of the citizenry the fact that the Changed are loaded weapons that could go off at any time."
"They should be reminded of that. Maybe it will keep them from harassing us," Stephan said mulishly, his arms crossing over his chest.
"It will more than likely lead to greater restrictions. It will inspire the zealots that want to bring back the camps," Cain said softly.
All three Changed boys blanched at that. The camps were the first solution to the Changed "problem." Tens of thousands had died for lack of basic necessities in them such as food and clean water. Disease ravaged the children, spreading like wildfire from barracks to barracks. Armed guards had used deadly force at the slightest provocation. The sound of gunfire had been almost constant at night. Finally, there had been murmurings of mass executions. Why bother with the camps at all? Why not just kill all the Changed? But the madness had been stopped just in time. Cries of "Remember the Holocaust!" had been shouted in the streets and all but the most ignorant and bigoted had backed down eventually.
"They wouldn't do that," Jamie whispered.
So even his parents didn't shield him from knowledge of the camps, Damien saw. He had spent the first few years of his life in one with his mother, but knowledge of that time was like a sepia-toned photograph that, thankfully, didn't seem real and faded in the light of memory.
"The only reason that the camps ended was because the Changed were seen as victims rather than violent aggressors. But any more of this and public opinion could be swayed again to a less agreeable tone," Cain explained.
The momentary good will Damien had had for these costumed Changed turned at that statement. Cain was right. He could almost feel the reporter's thoughts on the matter through the screen. The better story would be to tell of dangerous and psychopathic Changed. The journalists might offer the theory that these Changed, after years of repression, had finally struck out, but that explanation would be shouted down. The "experts" would come on and conclude, as they always did, that there was too much unknown about the Changed, but this behavior showed that this lack of knowledge could be dangerous.
I love being turned into an easily digestible sound bite, Damien thought with a disgusted snort. What the hell is this Joaquin Brask's endgame? Some kind of concessions that will never be given? Does he think he can hold City Hall forever against the might of the military and police? It just can't happen.
"Who is responsible for them?" Stephan asked.
"Responsible? What do you mean?" Jamie asked.
"He means who are their keepers. Like Cain is our keeper. These Changed were kept by someone," Damien broke in.
"They think it might be a military group," Stephan responded.
"They escaped from Uncle Sam?" Damien asked with a groan. This had shit storm written all over it.
"The most radical Changed programs are being formed by the governments. This level of ... discipline, however ill-advised, shows military characteristics," Cain said. "In fact, I know it's military."
"Great, so it won't be long before the tanks roll in." Damien sighed. He liked Horizon's Edge, but it would probably be a crater by that evening.
"Will we be staying here or going to another of the estates?" Stephan asked, taking out his Blackberry to start making whatever plans were necessary to get them away. The estate was only thirty miles from Horizon's Edge.
But Cain didn't seem to hear him at first. He was staring at the television screen pensively. "Neither."
"What?" Stephan's mouth fell open.
Damien, too, was surprised. He fully expected Cain to want them out of harm's way. After all, his Changed family was an asset in his mind. But when Cain turned to face them, his expression had Damien standing up straighter.
"We're going to Horizon's Edge. Actually, Damien, you and I are going," Cain said.
"No fucking way," Damien retorted with an uncomfortable laugh.
"Unfortunately, we have little choice. How I know that this group is former military is because I was contacted by General Sam Parsons. He wants our help in stopping the Ruling Class," Cain said.
"And you just said, sure? Not a problem? Are you insane?" Damien goggled at him.
Cain smiled. "I didn't specify how we would help. Only that we would try."
"It's not dark yet so I can't use the Shadows. So what use am I going to be against these Changed?" Damien asked.
Cain merely tilted his head to the side with that irritating smile plastered on his face. It was the expression that said: you can figure this out if you try.
Damien gave out a bark of angry laughter. "This General Parsons is going to be there, right?"
Cain smiled wider.
"You want me to read the military's minds, don't you? You want to know what they've been working on and what they're planning," Damien filled in the blanks.
Cain buttoned the front of his black suit. The crimson silk tie he wore glimmered hotly under the lights. "Come now, Damien, aren't you the tiniest bit interested in what the men and women of our fine military are thinking in regards to the Changed?"
Damien's eyes flitted past Cain to the television. More smoking buildings. More flashes of the lantern-jawed Changed man crushing the girl's skull. Cain was right. He was interested in knowing how this had all began.
And how it'll end. So it doesn't end all of us, Damien thought sourly.
"All right, let's go then," Damien said. "But this will cost you."
"What? Another sports car?" Cain laughed. "I'll buy you a fleet of them if you tell me exactly what's on General Parsons' mind."
"That will be the least of my requests if you expect me to be snooping into every military officer's mind today," Damien said.
"The helicopter should be here in a moment," Cain remarked.
Jamie grabbed Damien's arm. "If Damien's going then I am, too!"
Damien opened his mouth to object, but Cain was already agreeing.
"That's a good idea. Until night falls, Damien's other powers are not as useful. We might need protection when we're there," he said.
"Jamie, I don't think that's a good idea," Damien began.
"I don't care what your objections are, Damien." Jamie had a mulish expression on his face. "I'm going. I have to keep you safe."
Damien felt Cain's eyes on them both. He knew that the other man was filing that statement away for later. Stephan was smirking at him and shaking his head.
"Is the lap dog coming, too?" Damien tipped his head towards Stephan who flushed an angry red.
"He'll be staying here and coordinating with your other brothers. We don't know what will happen in the next 24 hours. Best to be prepared," Cain said mildly.
The muffled sound of the helicopter cut off any more conversation. Cain grabbed his long coat off the back of his chair and gestured for Damien and Jamie to follow after him.
"Come, boys. Adventure awaits," Cain said with a laugh.