Rosso proceeded down the large hall that lead to the meeting room. This New York City skyscraper had many such halls and rooms, including more than a few secret ones. Two agencies made use of these secret rooms—the CIA and L’Ordine. Rosso’s first meeting was with L’Ordine and he arrived early, taking a side entrance where they had complete control over the surveillance cameras.
The meeting room was barred with two thick metal doors unlocked only by the correct combination of a biometric scanner and keypad. After the biometric signature passed, Rosso entered the four digit code. It wasn’t the code that mattered, but the energy sensors beneath the keys, which registered that he had Karashingan powers and promptly unlocked the door.
Izo Inahka, the District Commander of Asia and Rosso’s half brother, sat at the head of the table. “Good of you to join me, brother,” he said, not trying to hide his disdain. As of yet, they were the only two in the room.
“Let’s not quarrel,” Rosso retorted. “This is about the cause. Something that is far greater than us and our measly troubles.”
Soon, two more Karashingan agents arrived. Jacque Chaussure, District Commander of Western Europe, and Sophia Katharós, District Commander of Eastern Europe. Rosso wasn’t originally from the United States, but in his years stationed there he was made the unofficial authority for the region. This was a relatively small gathering, as there were many other regional commanders, but Izo had called these together specifically.
After everyone was seated, Izo began. “The Detective Program was a failure,” he said, eyeing Rosso. “We lost the American detective, Leor, and Titus Musibet is pushing the limits of our unspoken accords. As a result, Karashingan City has ordered his capture.”
“And how do you and the City expect to succeed where the program failed?” Sophia asked. “Titus has set his headquarters in Sibera. It’s reportedly well guarded and the weather is treacherous.”
“That is precisely why we’ve decided to task you with the mission, Sophia,” Izo smiled. “Your agents are far more experienced with the territory. You may also borrow whoever you like from the other regions, as you see fit.”
Sophia shook her head, “And if the ancient power is awakened? What then?”
“This is a dangerous mission,” Rosso agreed. “I think it should wait for a little longer until we learn more about Jake’s abilities.”
“You want us to rely on a teenager?” Izo scoffed. “No. His abilities are unusual, but we haven’t found a successor for Lucio in centuries. It’s doubtful that such a Karashingan would choose a boy.”
“In the Detective Program, we found talent in the most unexpected places,” Jacque remarked. “So Jake may be the successor, I won’t discount that. But we don’t know for sure, and Titus is primed to act. You know this, Rosso. We all do. We must act fast.”
“The Dark Karashingan is already after Jake,” Rosso said. “Of that I have no doubt. If we don’t utilize him, they will. There’s more to this than Titus.”
“And Aedus is plenty capable of protecting him,” Izo assured his brother. “We’ll take one thing at a time. Jake can wait. Titus will not.”
“And the ancient power?” Sophia repeated. “Will it wait?”
“Titus cannot be so ignorant to try and awaken it,” Izo said. “He would be making his own grave.”
Jacque touched the table in front of him and a screen came to life. He swiped through a few pages of documents and then turned to Rose. “I’ll offer Rose and Blake for the mission.”
“Very well,” Sophia said. “Cніг will be their guide.”
Izo looked pleased. “You have your strike team. Now, Rosso, what will you do with your boy?”
“I’m confident in his abilities. They simply need refined. Aedus and I will train him.”
“Everything you’ve reported of Jake is indicative of failure,” Izo said. “Some among The Order believe as you do. I, however, do not. Train him at your own peril.”
• • •
Jake awoke in a moving car. His gaze darted to the imposing man seated at the wheel—red haired, emerald eyed, toned, and with a gun at his side.
“Where am I?” Jake blurted, still dazed. He glanced at the back of the car, which had hundred dollar bills strewn across the seats, and then to the car door.
“Before that…” the man began. “I’m Aedus. Elbert may have mentioned me. We’re in a rental car from Rosso. And here, have some coffee.” He motioned to a cup of Sunbrock’s coffee. “Just don’t spill.”
Jake took the coffee and sniffed at it. It was straight black. He wrinkled his nose but took a sip anyway. It tasted bitter. He set the coffee back into the cupholder. He could ask a dozen questions, but he was too tired to be bothered. Instead, he settled for one. “Did you save me?”
“Yes,” Aedus replied. “Although you hardly needed saving. You took those guys out.”
“Are they… dead, then?”
Aedus shook his head. “No, no. One’s unconscious, and the other has a broken rib cage, but both are still alive.”
Jake took a deep breath and watched Aedus for a minute. Aedus frowned and turned to focus on the road.
“You’re not here to see Elbert, are you?” Jake asked.
Aedus laughed. “You’re asking all of the wrong questions! But that’s fine, we’ll get to the other stuff later. No, that’s not the main reason. But I did want to visit Elbert. The main reason is… I’m a substitute. I was supposed to keep track of you.”
“So, spy on me?” Jake lay against the headrest and closed his eyes.
“That’s about right,” Aedus nodded, with a smirk. “But it’s to protect you. Rosso has been watching out for you all the time before.” Jake was quiet, so Aedus continued. “We know about your abilities and you’re of great interest to us. You’ve also caught the attention of criminals. People who would like to us your power for their benefit.”
“How are they going to use my super senses?” Jake asked. “I’m not a sniffer dog.”
Aedus laughed again. “Props, Jake. You’re funny, even when you’re half awake.”
“And you’re a poet. Where are you taking me?”
“I’m not sure yet,” Aedus admitted. “Just driving around. You’re not my prisoner though. I’m just keeping us moving until we settle on a place. Are you hungry?”
Jake’s stomach growled at the thought. He felt like he hadn’t eaten in days. “Very.”
“Burgers sound good?” Aedus asked.
Jake nodded. “Anything sounds good.”
Aedus pulled off to the side of the road and looked at the map. “How’s Chuck’s Burgers and Pork?”
That’d be right by Jake’s house, and the owners knew Jake and his family well. It’d be the best place to make an escape. Although maybe he wouldn’t have to. He felt like he could trust Aedus. “That works great,” Jake said. “They have good food.”
“That’s where we’ll go then,” Aedus said. “Are you done with the coffee?”
Jake looked back at the cup of tar. And then he eyed Aedus. “Why?”
“I figured it might give you some energy. Otherwise I’ll drink it.”
Jake took the cup again and put down one large gulp. His face contorted in disgust and he held the cup out to Aedus. Aedus popped off the lid and drank the entire remaining cup.
Jake shook his head. “How do you do that?”
“Do what?” Aedus asked, setting down the cup. He shifted out of park and drove the car back into the traffic lane.
“Drink that sludge. How can anyone drink that?”
“I like it,” Aedus said.
Jake blinked twice, incredulous. “Okay then.”
Aedus followed the directions on the map while Jake collected his thoughts. His mind was beginning to clear up, but he still felt tremendously sore and hungry. “You didn’t answer earlier. How are the criminals going to use my abilities? And why is Rosso involved?”
“Rosso is involved because he’s an important member of The Order, the organization that has taken interest in you. The same organization that recruited me when they discovered my powers. It’s all part of a project to find superhuman beings and ensure they make use of their abilities for good. The criminals are on the other end. They use their powers for their own advantage. And they’d love to have you join them.”
“Because your abilities are unusual. It’s thought that you may have the same power as an ancient member of The Order. He once locked away a great power to protect it from misuse. They would use you to unlock it. Rule the world and all that.”
Jake set his head back on the headrest. “I really am a superhero,” he murmured, recalling what Michelle had said earlier. “It’s like I’m friends with a superhero. You have had these incidents, and these powers that are beginning to surface, and next you’ll be saving the world.”
Aedus made a turn and looked back at the map. “What’s that?”
“Nothing,” Jake replied. “Does Rosso have powers too, then?”
“Oh yes,” Aedus said. “He’s one of our most powerful. And it runs through his family. Elbert doesn’t have powers, if you were wondering.”
“Aww, that’s too bad.”
“Heh, it’s better that way. He’d want to follow me everywhere if he was recruited. Not that I’d mind…. but it’s not safe.”
“Am I going to be recruited then?” Jake asked. “Will it be dangerous?”
“That’s your choice,” Aedus answered. “And Rosso and I are here to keep you safe either way.”
“But you said you were a substitute? So Rosso isn’t here?”
“No, he’s out of town. But he’ll be back to take over soon. Then I’ll probably be off again unless I’m needed longer.”
The map app announced that they’d reached their destination. Aedus parked the car towards the front of the restaurant and unclipped his phone. “Let’s eat!” he said, eagerly.
Jake unbuckled, opened the car door, and stepped out of the car. He closed the door and stumbled forward, suddenly lightheaded. Aedus rushed to his side and took his right arm, helping him to the door. “Take a breath.”
Jake took in a deep breath and looked to Aedus gratefully.
“Can you make it in?”
“Yes,” Jake nodded. “It just caught me by surprise.” The entrance was equipped with a handicap rail and Jake took ahold of it as he walked inside. Aedus remained at his side, but let him move along on his own.
The owner, Chuck, came to the door and greeted them. “Welcome! Are you from out of tow—” He noticed Jake. “Ah, Jake! It’s good to see you again. But you don’t look so well.”
“He overworked himself today,” Aedus explained. “And now he’s just lightheaded. And hungry. He tells me this is a good place?”
“Oh yes, he and his parents are regulars. But who are you?”
Jake steadied himself and let go of the railing. “He’s a co-worker.”
Aedus raised an eyebrow.
“And a friend.” Jake smiled. “He suggested we get some lunch after work today. So I told him we should come here.”
“That’s my boy,” Chuck said with a laugh. “You keep bringing them in.” He looked around the restaurant and spotted an empty booth. “Here! We’ll get you seated right away over here.”
Chuck guided Aedus and Jake to the right side of the restaurant and past the bar towards the center. Aedus kept a careful watch of Jake, but he seemed to be recovered well enough to walk. They sat down and Chuck fetched them a couple of menus and wrapped silverware.
“What can I get you both to drink?” Chuck asked.
“I’ll take a black coffee,” Aedus said.
Jake inwardly cringed. “I’ll have the root beer, thanks.”
“I’ll be right back with those,” Chuck said, and hurried off.
Aedus waited for a moment, looking at the menu, and then turned to Jake. “Does Chuck run the whole place himself?” He said half joking. “I don’t see anyone else.”
“Nah,” Jake replied. “Only on the off hours. There’s probably still a waitress in the back though.”
“Ah okay,” Aedus nodded. He glanced at Jake’s righthand pocket. “Can I see your phone, Jake?”
“Sure, but why?” Jake asked, slipping out his phone.
Aedus reached his hand into his own pocket and pulled out an adhesive button. “This button contains a disruptor that will prevent common communication signals within a ten foot radius. That way, no one can listen in from the outside.”
Jake set down his phone and let Aedus apply the button to the back of the phone. “There we go,” Aedus said. “All set.”
Chuck returned with the drinks and set them down on the table, along with a plate of hot, buttered bread rolls for starters. “Here we are. Do you gentleman know what you’d like to eat?”
“I’ll have the Kobe jalapeño burger,” Jake said, almost drooling from the thought. “With fries and mashed potatoes.”
Chuck jotted down the order and turned to face Aedus.
“And I thought we Irish liked potatoes,” Aedus snickered at Jake. “I’ll have the kobe jalapeño burger as well, but with the broccoli and baked beans.”
“Got it!” Chuck said. “I’ll go put that in.”
As Chuck left again, Jake picked up a bread roll and stuffed a large bite in his mouth. Aedus grabbed on as well, and applied some strawberry jam.
“Why didn’t you order any potatoes?” Jake asked between bites. “If you like them so much.”
“I was only kidding,” Aedus replied with a grin. “We had to survive on potatoes for the longest time. It’s not that we’re all naturally drawn to them. I’ll eat them in stews and whatnot back home, but I try different things when traveling.”
Jake finished off his roll, grabbed another, and drank some root beer. His strength was gradually returning. “Does Elbert know what you really do?
“No.” Aedus paused to look at Jake. “He’s young, like you. I don’t want to involve him. I wouldn’t involve you either, but that wasn’t my choice.”
“Whose was it? Who made the choice for me?”
Aedus frowned and took a buttered roll. “Rosso and The Order. We have agents everywhere. The moment you started having those daydreams, you were on the map. And even before.”
“How did they know, though? Street cameras? Trackers? Did Rosso watch me even before I did anything?”
Aedus pointed to Jake’s phone on the table. “There, for one. The Order has their hand in the tech industry, and has a proprietary sensor built into every major smartphone. But it’s hidden amongst other components and is built using nanotechnology. So the average teardown isn’t going to uncover it. The manufacturers themselves aren’t even aware of its presence. The sensor detects certain energy signatures. You gave off a form of Karashingan power.”
Jake appeared confused. “Karashingan?”
“Yes, that’s what we call the energy that fuels our abilities. The reason you could lift that motorcycle wasn’t because you’re super buff. Your body was enhanced by the Karashingan. It can be like adrenaline in some ways. Or cast out as powerful blasts.”
“So like energy beams?”
Aedus laughed. “Similar. It doesn’t seem like you can do that though. Your powers are probably dormant and awakened by your mission state—when you’ve sleepwalked or chased after the bank robbers. That’s The Orders’ theory anyways.”
Jake thought about the movie trailer for Colonel Weak, Now Strong. It was filled with explosions, drama, and romance. It wasn’t the quiet life. “How come superheroes and villains aren’t in the news?” Jake asked. “If you can blow things up, wouldn’t that have happened? Wouldn’t someone know about it?”
“There are incidents,” Aedus admitted, taking a drink of coffee. “But we’re hesitant to use our abilities outright. Say there’s a super-powered bank robber. If he uses his powers to threaten the clerks or break in, then he’s on the radar. We’ll hunt him down. You don’t hide energy blasts. And neither side wants media coverage. Even the most ambitious among us know to work from the shadows. We’re not interested in another war between Light and Dark. Not until the power balance has shifted, anyway. That’s where you come in.”
“The great power that was locked away,” Jake guessed.
“Exactly. If the Dark Karashingan side had that power, they wouldn’t need to stay hidden. They could overtake us.”
“What about The Order? Do they want that power too?”
Aedus cast his eyes around the room and then back to Jake. “Everyone wants power, Jake. Whether it’s over circumstances in life or over others. But I’d like to think The Order is wise enough not to unlock that power. It’s destructive and hard to control. Even if you can be used to control it, there’s no guarantee for how long, or that you’ll stay loyal to one cause or another. You’re a kid. And I don’t mean that wrong. I’m not that old myself. But that kind of thing wouldn’t appeal to the elders among us. People like Rosso.”
Jake could relate with that. Rosso couldn’t depend on Jake for a good grade in English, much less great power. He would never entrust him with that kind of responsibility.
Aedus continued, “And that’s a good thing. That way, you’re no one’s pawn. I’ll make sure of that. You can make the choice if you want to join us or not.”
“What does Rosso want?” Jake figured Rosso would want him to join. Keep him close and supervised.
Aedus dismissed the notion, “It doesn’t matter. What do you want? And no hurry now. You’ll have time to think about it.”
Will I really have time? Jake wondered. If there’s people after me… I need to choose. Quickly.
Chuck returned with a tray of two kobe jalapeño burgers and sides and set the food on the table. As he left to get drink refills, the door to the restaurant opened, and a man walked in. He was over 6 foot tall with short cropped black hair and a build like a pro-wrestler. He walked over to Jake and Aedus’s table and sat down next to Jake, who quickly shifted over.
“Ammon Jónsson,” Aedus said plainly. His phone vibrated at his side, but he ignored it and quietly drew his gun instead. “What do you want?”
Ammon set his hand on Jake’s shoulder. “You know what we want. And you’ll comply if you want to see your brother and his host family again.”
Chuck was coming back from the bar when he saw Aedus’s gun under the table and Ammon seated across from him. He hurried to the back of the restaurant.
“What have you done?” Aedus growled.
“Nothing yet,” Ammon shrugged. “But I’m not patient.” He set a budget smartphone on the table with a map and navigation preset. “You’ll follow the directions and drop the boy off at that location. You have an hour. Don’t let your burgers, or your brother’s life, go to waste.” He stood and tousled Jake’s hair. “I’ll see you soon, kid.”
Chuck ran over to the table after Ammon had left. “I called the police. What happened?”
“The police can’t help,” Aedus murmured. “There’s nothing they can do.” He picked up Ammon’s phone and looked at the map. It didn’t show the destination, only the first direction. Smart.
“Are we going?” Jake asked.
“No,” Aedus said. “I’m figuring something out. Eat your burger.” Aedus took a spoonful of beans, looking contemplative, and Jake began working on his burger as instructed.
“What is going on?” Chuck repeated. “The police will be here soon. Are you really Jake’s co-worker?” He turned to face Jake. “What’s going on, Jake? Do your parents know you’re here?”
Jake stopped mid-bite to answer, but Aedus motioned for him to continue. “Let them come,” Aedus said. “I’m working with Jake, but to keep him safe. His parents have no idea, and it needs to stay that way. We need to handle this ourselves.”
“No, you need to wait for the police to arrive,” Chuck insisted, settling a hand on top of Aedus’s booth and wearily eyeing the gun.
The door to the restaurant slammed open and a SWAT team filed inside while in formation. Their guns immediately trained on Aedus.
Jake set down his burger and turned to look at Chuck, and then to the SWAT team. “This is a mistake!” He said. “Aedus isn’t doing anything wrong! The real criminal left already. He’s holding my friend and his family hostage!”
Aedus stood up, hands in the air, with his cell phone in one hand and his gun on the table. The phone’s screen was flashing red.
“Drop the phone,” one of the SWAT officers ordered. Aedus let go of the phone as instructed, and it bounced on the ground, protected by a thick rubberized case.
The door behind the SWAT team opened again and a trio of FBI agents hurried in. “Weapons down!” one of the agents ordered in a French accent. He had a curly mustache and black, wavy hair. The SWAT team lowered their guns slightly.
The head officer looked to the FBI agent who had spoken. “We weren’t told that the FBI would be involved.”
The agent flashed his badge. “Short notice.” He nodded to Aedus. “This man is part of our investigation. You can head back to the precinct.”
“What’s the FBI doing here?” Chuck asked. “I called the police.”
The officer raised an eyebrow. “This isn’t customary.”
“It’s also not customary for local police to interfere or question my authority,” the agent retorted.
The officer frowned and motioned for his men, promptly filing out.
“I don’t like this,” Chuck said. The lead FBI agent walked towards him. “What’s this all about?”
“Jake is friends with a boy who is currently in a pending investigation. This gentleman, Aedus, is with us.” The agent explained. “Would you give us some privacy?”
Chuck shook his head, bewildered, but left for the back of the restaurant again.
“Did you get the message?” The agent asked Aedus, with his other agents taking up positions around the restaurant.
“Yes, Jean,” Aedus replied. “But I just saw it a moment ago. Didn’t help much. It’s good to see you again.”
“It’s good to see you as well, mon ami,” Jean smiled. “It’s been some time.”
“Yes, what brings you from France?” Aedus asked. “And FBI?”
“There is… another case,” Jean replied. “And no, I’m not really with the FBI. Although L’Ordre has cleared my badge and I’ve been supplied with genuine agents. I’m also free to help you as you need.”
Aedus picked up his burger in the foil it had come in and looked at Jake’s food. He was almost finished. “It’s time to go,” he said. “I’m going to find Elbert and the host family. But I need to leave you in Mr. Rusé’s protection, if you don’t mind, Jake.”
“No, that’s… fine,” Jake said. “But what are you going to do? Where am I going to go?”
“Wherever it’s safe, definitely not with Ammon,” Aedus answered. “I have about 45 minutes now, but I think that’ll be enough.” He gripped Jean’s hand, shook it, and smiled slightly. “I’ll see you both again soon.”
“À plus tard,” Jean said in goodbye. “Be safe.”
Aedus pat Jake on the back, “You’re more than capable, Jake. And Jean is one of our best. A good friend of mine too.”
Jake nodded. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” Aedus said gruffly, retrieving his phone, gun, and Ammon’s phone.
“I just wanted to make sure I had the chance.” Jake replied, feeling a sense of déjà vu. Wasn’t that a movie quote or something?
Aedus nodded appreciatively and left. Jean stood at Jake’s side. “You can finish your food first, then we’ll get you somewhere safer.”
“I’m not very hungry anymore,” Jake frowned. “Not with everything going on.”
“Il faut manger,” Jean insisted. “We may not eat again for some time. We’ll be on the run.”
“Okay,” Jake relented.
Jean reviewed a case file on his phone as Jake finished his mashed potatoes and fries. It had been some time since anyone had been under his protection. Not since…
“I’m done,” Jake announced, wiping his mouth clean with a napkin.
“C’est pas vrais!” Jean cried. “That was very fast!”
“Why do you keep speaking in French randomly like that?” Jake asked. “You do it a lot.”
“Hmm,” Jean contemplated. “It’s my unique flair, I suppose. Are you ready to go, Jake?”
“Yes,” he replied. “But to where?”
“They may track us if we travel far by car, but I have a ship on the coast that we can take. And we’ll figure it out from there. Does that sound alright?”
“That’s fine,” Jake said. So much had happened in so little time. He had caught bank robbers, discovered that he lived in a world with other super humans, and now he was on the run from a man who had his friend held hostage. He didn’t know what to do or how to choose, and so he was carried by the moment.
Jean paid Aedus’s tab and then Jake followed him outside to an awaiting luxury car. “Seulement le meilleur pour toi, mon ami. I arranged for comfort and safety. Comfy seats and bulletproof glass. Hopefully we won’t need to make use of the glass.”
© Copyright 2016 Zechariah Barrett
All Rights Reserved
The characters and events of Project Ordine are fictional constructs and are not intended to represent any actual people or events.