The Fiery Arrow – Free Fiction

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We were supposed to save the world.

Yesterday.

We missed the fucking deadline and I’m in this overstuffed, hideous brocade Victorian chair sitting still as the dead right now because if I wasn’t…If I hadn’t slowed my breathing and my heartbeat down, if I hadn’t calmed my central nervous system and adrenal glands with the sheer force of my will…

Some things would be on fire.

And by things, I mean whole buildings. City blocks. Cars.

And the Cohort would be strung up somewhere, bleeding, even though none of them deserve it.

I’ve forced myself to sit in this wood paneled room, on this overstuffed chair, in front of the leaded glass windows framed by floor to ceiling velvet drapes with their disgusting, musty, ancient smell, because things would be on fire, people would be injured or dead, and that can’t happen.

I’m staring at the sagging, horsehair couch with its fancy carved legs in this half-abandoned house owned by our Benefactor, mind racing even as I’m shutting all my other systems down.

Because it’s all my fault.

It’s my fault I’m not kicking back in my Danish Modern apartment right now, enjoying a celebratory shot of icy cold Grey Goose with a side of lime.

It’s my fault because I thought I should learn to be more diplomatic. I thought I was too harsh. I was pushing too hard. My impatience was getting the better of me, and it was making people unhappy.

And now the world is doomed.

Those crackling, orangey-yellow fires I never started? They were going to burn anyway. Those people I wasn’t killing with my bare hands? They were all going to die.

The asteroid was due to hit in days. We weren’t sure exactly how long it was going to take. All we knew was that it was coming, and we had missed the window to divert the hunk of rock and iron hurtling itself through space.

There were babies being born –right now– that would never learn to walk. There were songs that would remain unwritten and unsung. There were lovers who would never get a chance to kiss, trees that would remain an idea enclosed inside an acorn, and butterflies forever wrapped in their cocoons.

I still couldn’t believe I could have allowed this all to happen. All because I wanted to be nice. Give someone else a chance.

I could hear Jackson in the next room, talking. He must have Cora on the phone. Speaking of babies, she was six months pregnant, dark and gorgeous with the glow.

My timing for self-improvement projects sucked. I couldn’t have waited, could I? Oh no. I wanted to be less impatient right now. It was going to make me a better person. I’d be more helpful.

People would like me.

And now we were all screwed.

I didn’t think The Cohort would forgive me. There wasn’t going to be time for that before we were all crushed and compacted into a crater, slowly oozing our way into oil, going the way of the dinosaurs.

From the time I was a little girl, I wanted nothing more than to be a superhero. I wanted to help people, that was part of it, but mostly, I wanted the ability to make the hurting go away. To vanquish evil forces that made mothers cry and fathers despair. To bring smiles of hope to the faces of children in the streets.

I wanted to make a difference in this world. People didn’t even have to know it was me, Darya. They could think it was Fiery Arrow, the woman in the warm red hoodie over a black t-shirt inscribed with flames, tucked into tight black jeans and combat boots.

Fiery Arrow was everything I wanted to be. Ever. She was tall. Her muscular shoulders strained against the jacket, and beneath the jeans, her thighs were powerful. She appeared just when a child was being bullied. She showed up in court, when the weeping family was about to give up. She saw what needed to happen just before events unfolded.

Fiery Arrow was prescient. Direct. Sharp. Strong.

I sighed, finally admitting myself to myself: what made Fiery Arrow the champion of the people was the very thing I –Darya– had just tried to take away.

Fiery Arrow was always just ahead of the bending arc of justice because she was impatient enough to care, and fast enough to see.

I had failed everyone because I had failed myself.

I didn’t see how this could be repaired, or if The Cohort would forgive me before we all died.

Jackson was making signing off noises in the bedroom. I could hear his soft “I love you, baby. I’ll let you know.” Then his heavy-booted footfall on the creaking hardwood floor. I straightened up a little in the chair, bracing myself. Really wishing for that vodka right about now, but knowing I didn’t deserve anything to soften the blow.

Jackson’s tall, broad frame was a little less upright than usual. I’d never seen the man bowed before. Most people wouldn’t notice, but I knew him really well. Anyone else would still see a broad beamed man with a narrow waist, long legs in brightly polished engineer’s boots, green t-shirt emblazoned with a stark black fist. His deep brown skin was scarred from old wounds: knife slashes, bullets dug out from muscle, and the light scoring from fingernails filed into weapons of war.

His eyes were shadowy in the gloomy light of the room and his usual smile was gone.

Sinking into the couch on a puff of fifty year old dust –probably the last time this old pile had been cleaned– he leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

“Don’t blame yourself, Arrow.”

A pinprick of irritation flushed my skin. “Don’t call me that.”

His eyes opened and cheated toward me at that. “C’mon girl. You still the Arrow. We all get to make mistakes sometimes. Just because we’re heroes don’t mean we get to act like gods.”

Huffing out a sigh, I didn’t have much of a response to that. So I said nothing.

What the hell could I even begin to say? I had no good excuses other than I’d been feeling out of sorts. Unsure. Less certain that my snap decisions were the right ones. Wondering if the Arrow’s aim was true.

“Yeah. You’re right, as always, Defender.” Jackson X, Defender of the People. Right hand man of the Fiery Arrow. Co-leader of The Cohort, aka the Alliance of Righteousness. Yeah. A bit over the top, but people need their superheroes to be grandiose. Otherwise, what’s the point?

We sat quietly in the gloom of the crumbling Victorian. Just breathing together.

Dust motes scrambled through the air, swirling as though there was a draft. Those leaded windows had tiny chinks. They weren’t well sealed and made this place impossible to heat, but no one had the heart to replace them with double paned glass that opened easily to the world outside.

The Victorian was our Bat Cave. Our Isle of Themiscyra. Our clubhouse, war room, and meeting ground. And, when things were going wrong in someone’s life, our safe-house and our home.

It wasn’t going to protect us from this one.

What the hell were we going to do?

“Hey, Jackson?”

“Darya.” He said, eyes still closed.

“You got a plan?”

“Hell no. That’s your job, Arrow. I’m the muscle here. You’re the vision maker and motivator. Selena is our think-outside-the-boxer and animal saver, and Sweet William reminds us of the long view. Plus he can talk his way out of anything.”

“He hates it when you call him that.”

“Then he shouldn’t go around with his heart bleeding every fucking where.”

William’s alter ego was The Brain, but Jackson was right, his heart was huge: sometimes an asset, and sometimes a big liability.

Selena’s name was Swift. She laughed at that at first but said, “It’s better than The Crip.” Selena’s compact chair had the biggest tires I’d ever seen, and no handles on the back. When I asked her about it, years ago, she slung the sheet of black hair from in front of her eyes, gave me a scornful look, and just said, “Please.”

With her legs strapped down, and bright yellow gloves on her hands, Selena was the fastest thing I’d seen and could maneuver out of situations that made me want to shit my pants. Her emblem was a sideways lightning bolt, bright yellow, sharp and clean.

William’s emblem was some mathematical equation I couldn’t understand, but apparently there was a joke in there somewhere. Of course.

I sat up straight in the overstuffed chair. Mad at me or not, I needed The Cohort around me. Especially if we were all going to die.

But really, what I realized was that I needed them even more if we were going to have a chance to live.

***

To live as a superhero in a world that needed hope was a gift we all held dearly, though we never said as much.

We all had our day jobs, flexible things that allowed us time to take off when needed. Without our Benefactor we likely would never have survived. Some of us would have put our powers away, on a dusty shelf of childhood dreams, not believing what was possible even though we’d seen it, felt it, and tasted it on the winds that rose in spring.

I could see it in all their faces, sorrowful, angry, and weary as they were. I’m sure they could see I felt the same. We had our gifts and it wasn’t just our job, it was who we were, to use them. Without Swift, Serena was just another basketball playing, wheelchair using barista. William was a programmer and part-time physicist when his heart wasn’t hooked up to his brain.

Jackson? He ran a copy shop and loved his wife. Not a bad life, but also not the revolutionary dream his parents had instilled in his idealistic head.

And me. I don’t really know what I would have become without impatience. Without the Fiery Arrow blazing her course. A college professor? I don’t think my impatience would have let me jump through all the hoops. Admin assistant? More likely. Easier to move on when I needed to.

As it was, with the Arrow strong within me, I got to advocate for foster kids in a system that wanted to lose them, forget them, or lock them away.

And on our off time, The Cohort and I got a greater chance to save the world.

We were all gathered in the living room. The Brain had opened one of the old windows, clearing some of the musty stillness from the room.

Swift brought coffee in a cardboard four pack, sugar and cream on the side. The scent alone was making my brain move faster as I ripped open two packs of sugar and stirred in a packet of cream.

Jackson had opened up the hulking wooden breakfront that I was sure used to store china and silver candlesticks and other precious things. He’d long removed the shelving and put up a giant whiteboard in their place.

Planning without a whiteboard was possible, but you know, may as well use the right tools for the job. Jackson turned and nodded at me. I walked to the whiteboard and cleared my throat.

“I’m sorry.”

William the Brain crossed his arms over his chest at that, and Swift rocked back on her wheels and snorted.

“You think that’s why we’re here? To listen to you boo hoo all afternoon? Fuck that,” Swift said.

Jackson held out a placating hand. “Just let Arrow speak.”

“Thanks, Protector.” I wanted to pace, but set down my coffee, shook out my hands, and rolled my neck instead. Then I took a deep breath.

“I needed to apologize, because I did let you all down. I let myself down too. But I think I learned my lesson.”

Swift sipped at her coffee, yellow gloves enfolding the white cardboard cup. Even just drinking coffee she was so alive. If she was paying attention, that was good. It meant she was interested, which meant investment wasn’t far behind. Swift moved quickly in all things. Faster than me physically, she didn’t lag much on anything else when a situation got down to the wire.

Jackson was standing up a little straighter again. That was good. I was going to need him at my back. Now, I just had to convince The Brain.

Without his calculations, there was no way my idea could work. I needed him to tell me it was possible. Or if it wasn’t possible, I needed him to figure out a way to make it happen anyway.

My palms were sweating. Fuck it. I wiped them on the denim of my black jeans and started drawing pictures on the board in bright red marking pen. Pretty soon, I hoped, William would take the pen from me and start sketching out equations. Swift would break out a laptop to confirm. Jackson would tell us how much muscle we would need, and what we could use as a lever.

And I would tell them when we had to try this thing, no matter how much more time we needed, no matter how unprepared we felt. No matter how stupid or outlandish or high risk this idea of mine was.

It was my job to make them feel the possibility in their bones. It was my job to fill their hearts with determination.

It was my job to get us all to act, becoming the Alliance of Righteousness for real.

There were all kinds of dangers and sorrows in this world: greedy corporations, corrupt police, starving families, raped girls, marauding governments, and psychopaths large and small. We had faced them all over the last decade. We had done a lot of good and some small harm.

That was still our major work and we all knew it. This piece was just outside our ken. But if we weren’t willing to risk saving the world from some hurtling outside force, everything else was for nothing. There wouldn’t be another chance to save a child from bullying, or a town from being razed.

They were all looking at me –The Cohort, this Alliance– and behind them I saw lines of every person, community, forest, animal, and ocean that needed help. It wasn’t just The Cohort in this old Victorian parlor. Gathered with us was the world.

“Come on, Arrow. Stop stalling.” Swift was always the goad, which irritated, especially when she was right.

I picked up my coffee and took a sip of the rich brew, just to goad her back. But she was right. I was stalling.

“It’s going to take a lot of work and we don’t have too much time. We’ll have to call on everyone we’ve ever helped and everyone who stepped up when we’ve needed them before. The Benefactor is will have to pony up more cash for materials.”

I looked at my comrades, my co-workers, my friends.

“Brain, I need you to tell us what the calculations are, and I’m going to need them fast. Protector, you’ve got to gather the troops and figure out where to place them to be ready when the Brain and I figure out exactly what to do.”

“What about me?” Swift tossed the sheet of her black hair over her shoulder. She’d be binding that hair back soon, ready for action.

“You? You and I will lead the charge. I can’t do this one on my own. We’ll need some close coordination.”

William stepped forward, I could feel the gears ready to start moving in his skull. “Are you going to tell us what your grand plan is so I can get to this need-it-yesterday work you want me to do?”

“Yeah. Yeah. I’m going to tell you.”

I took another sip of coffee. Light and sweet. It was a flavor that deserved to be saved, along with the snails in the garden and the people heading in to work. Coffee, and flowers, and old growth stands of trees. Starfish and lemurs, pizza and laughter. We were going to save them all, if it was the last thing we ever did.

I felt myself, surrounded by the best people I knew. My heart filled with gratitude for this life of mine, and for the mistake I had made that brought us all here.

In the briefest of pauses, I whispered a thanks to the impatience that made it possible for Fiery Arrow to pull up the hood of her red jacket, widen her stance and speak:

“We’re going to have to move the earth.”

***

Standing on the street, the light was eery. There was a greenish cast to the sky and winds were whipping us from multiple directions, tossing our hair and buffeting our ears.

The birds were silent. No cars honked.

I could hear a slight squeaking from my boots whenever a new round of wind hit me, making me sway. My hood was up and I was glad for it.

Swift was rolling back and forth next to me, hair bound tightly in a long black plait. I could tell she was ready to go.

Not quite yet.

People chatted quietly in small groups of ten and twenty, put into position by Jackson. There were thousands of them and more were still arriving. Jackson’s team made sure the intersections remained clear and there was space for maneuvering, but otherwise, the streets were getting pretty packed.

It had taken us four days to plan this, and to get everyone together. Things were as perfect as we could make them.

And I knew, in the cold pit of my stomach, that we might still fail.

The plan was stupid.

It was genius.

The Brain said it just might work. Jackson and Swift said we might as well try.

But we still didn’t know if the rocket scientists at Livermore had come through.

A rhythmic shushing sound moved toward us, down the hill. Then some whooping voices.

“Here they come,” Swift said.

The skateboarders were arriving. Scores of them, aged ten to thirty, crazy grins on their faces. Happy to be alive. The screeched to a halt in front of us, snapping their decks up into their hands.

“Reporting, Arrow!”

I couldn’t help but grin back. “Thank you for coming. Report to Jackson over by the oak tree in the park. He’ll tell you where to position yourselves.”

“Right, boss.”

The careened off to the park half a block away.

“The chairs coming?” I asked Swift.

She scanned the street. “They said they’d be here, but they might be having trouble getting through.”

My phone buzzed against my thigh.

“Arrow.”

It was The Protector. Telling me two wheelchair brigades had just shown up at the parking lot across from the park, right on time, but the scientists weren’t there yet.

And no one had heard from them.

Despite the winds, I started to sweat a little in my red hoodie. Without the scientists, this shit was doomed.

I rang off with Protector and called The Brain. Right after I dialed, I realized I needed to pee. Typical.

Ratchet up the tension and nerves sent my bladder a signal that couldn’t be ignored.

“Hold on a second, Brain.” I pressed my earbud to mute.

I turned to Swift. “Hold things down here for a minute, right? I’ve got to get to the Victorian. I’ll update you as soon as I can.”

“Fuck you, Arrow. You’re always pulling this shit at the last minute. What am I supposed to tell these people?”

I scanned the crowd. They did seem to be getting a little antsy, and starting to shiver in the cold.

“Have them do jumping jacks or run relays to warm up or something. Tell them we’re almost there.”

She looked at me, eyes dark, face pointed and stark without that sheet of hair to soften the planes.

“That better be the case. I’m giving you ten minutes.”

The pressure on my bladder was growing more insistent. “I’ll be back.”

As I loped toward the Victorian, thank the Gods it was only a block away, I pressed my phone mic back on.

“OK Brain, we have trouble with your geeks. They aren’t here yet.”

He swore in my ear. I fumbled my keys out of my pocket and ran up the scarred wood steps to the massive carved door.

Before I got the keys in the scarred, bronzed lock, I heard a throat clear, and something caught the corner of my eye.

I turned.

There they were. The life-haters.

“Brain? Work on that please. I gotta call you back.”

There were one dozen of them, dressed in grey jeans, grey hightop sneakers, grey sweaters or grey jackets. Male and female and everything in between. The only color on any of them was their skin or hair. They were a diverse bunch, I’d give them that, despite their limited clothing choices.

The Nihilists always dressed in grey. “The color of the void” they said. To which I always replied, “How would you know?”

They didn’t like that much.

They didn’t much like me.

“Arrow.”  One of them stepped forward, all blond and pale. What was their name? Something gothic…

Despond. Right. Good Gods they were pathetic.

“I’m a little busy here.”

They smiled, thin lipped and caustic.

“We won’t take up too much of your time. We just wanted to let you know you won’t succeed.”

There was a snort from another of the group, a short woman with dark skin and darker hair. “Don’t want you to get your hopes up.”

“Why are you here?”

Despond spoke again. “We wanted to offer you one final chance…”

“To what? To join your sad sack bullshit? I don’t think so.”

I turned back to the door and shoved my way into the house. After locking the door, I ran to the first floor toilet, need warring with anxiousness.

Those people wanted something. They were up to something.

Usually the Nihilists left us alone. They were the sidewalk preachers and the nightclub spoilers. They collected disaffected youth, depressed by lack of possibility.

I heard they threw pretty good parties, though. Hah.

What the hell were they doing here today? They should be holed up in their grey-walled enclave on 9th street, getting ready for the –literally– ultimate party.

I flushed the toilet, washed my hands, and hurried back out the door, right as The Brain started buzzing my ear again.

Hurrying down the crowded sidewalk to where I’d left Swift, I noticed people looking at me. Parting. Making room.

Sometimes being the Fiery Arrow was convenient, if not a little strange.

“Talk to me, Brain.”

His voice came, low and precise into my ear. “The scientists said that someone came in last night and trashed a key chip that powered the system. It took them two hours this morning to figure out the problem.”

Damn. I skirted through a crowd of white clad Sikhs doing asana in the middle of the street. Non-Sikhs were joining in around the edges. I heard the man leading the exercises say, “Let us all begin the breath of fire. This will build our strength for what is to come.”

I saw Swift in her chair just up ahead, Jackson crouched down at her knees. They were deep in conversation. Why had he left the park?

“Brain, what’s happening now? Can they fix it?”

Jackson and Swift both looked up at that.

“Fix what?” Swift said. I held up a hand.

“Great.” I clicked off my ear piece, and looked around. We were our own little island in the sea of people. The Alliance of Righteousness commanded enough respect that when it looked like we were in a conference, people gave us space.

That was convenient, since I didn’t want to have to clear people away right now. We needed everyone on our side and couldn’t afford to piss folks off.

I could smell my sweat turning acrid in my armpits. My hippie deodorant didn’t work for shit when I was under high stress. If I lasted through this day, I would need to remember that.

“Brain says the scientists were sabotaged but they can fix it. It just means the timetable is off and I hope that’s going to be OK.”

Jackson stood up from his crouch. “Does he know who?”

“He doesn’t but I just had a little encounter at the Victorian.” My mouth tasted sour all of a sudden. I glanced at Swift. “You got some water?”

She held it out, “You can have some, but only if you tell us what the fuck is going on.”

I grabbed it, popped the cap, swished out my mouth and spat onto the tarmac.

“The Nihilists paid me a visit when I went to pee. I’m sure they’re at the bottom of this somehow.”

Swift got really still. Never a good sign. But sometimes we could use it to our advantage.

She looked at me and Jackson, one at a time, with her dark, dark eyes, sober in her face.

“We need to change the plan,” she said.

 

***

Twenty minutes later, we were still arguing.

“I am not going to let you sacrifice yourself!”

Swift adjusted her yellow gloves and tightened the straps around her legs.

“I don’t recall giving you control over my life,” she responded.

The engineers and a few physicists had arrived by that time, but were still busy running scenarios and reworking calculations in the back of their van.

I wasn’t sure I trusted their figures either. But I really didn’t like the thought of Swift…being Swift.

The Brain had gotten a call in to the Livermore crew before they left the lab. They’d managed to come up with a giant, flexible band that the other folks in the ‘chair crew were busy stringing through the backs of their chairs, helped by the skateboarders and a handful of Sikhs.

That band wasn’t going to be enough. I just knew it. We were putting Swift in danger.

“Look, Arrow, we’re all about to die. Why not let me choose the way I go?”

I looked into her brown eyes. They were perfectly clear. No guile. No hiding anything.

She was right.

“Okay,” I said, nodding. “Okay.”

Then I ran to pass the word.

***

Protector had all the other crews grouped in formations of one hundred.

“What are we gonna do now?” he asked.

“First off, we need some crews at the perimeter, in case the Nihilists show up again.”

I looked out over the crowd. It was a beautiful sight, that any other day would have filled my heart with joy. Today? It left me cold with dread. All these people, looking to us for guidance. Convinced that they could help.

That their lives were going to have meaning.

That we were going to do this thing. Together.

Except maybe we weren’t.

“And second of all?” Protector asked. The black fist on his shirt taunted me. Like yeah, I was supposed to be strong. But I wasn’t The Protector, was I? No. I was Fiery Arrow.

So what the hell was I supposed to be doing now?

“I’m going to inspire the fuck out of these people and hope something comes to save us while we wait.”

***

And I did. I got people clapping and dancing. I got people hoisting one another on their shoulders. I got them all fired up to fight, not just the Nihilists, not just the asteroid, but nihilism itself. Death itself.

By this time, the Nihilists were gathering, a gray smear at the edges of the crowd. Our shining faces turned toward them, some with smiles of love, others with the fierce grins of battle.

The Nihilists began to shout, “Death to Life! No-thing Ma-tters! Death to Life! No-thing Ma-tters!”

“Life to Death!” I screamed. The people near me looked around, excited. A mighty roar arose.

“Yeeeaaaaaahhhhhh!”

Then, feet stomping, hands smacking, skateboards thumping, the chanting rose, moving like a wave, beating through us all.

“Life to Death! Life to Death! Life to Death! Life to Death!”

I ran again, true as an arrow. All the way to Swift.

“Swift!” I shouted over the thousands of voices. “It’s time!”

She flung black braid over the back of her ‘chair and grinned a feral grin.

“Fuck yeah, it’s time,” she said.

One of the engineers ran toward me, loping, out of breath. He was carrying old fashioned red leather high top shoes, the kind with heavy velcro around the ankles. The kind with thick, red soles.  The Brain followed close behind him.

“Arrow!” Brain called out.

Behind me, Swift, the ‘chairs, the skateboarders and two other crews were getting into position. One long vee, with Swift at the apex. I couldn’t yet figure out exactly how they expected the physics of it to work, but had to trust at this point.

The shouting continued all around us, for what seemed like miles.

Brain and the other engineer reached me. The engineer thrust the red shoes toward me, then bent over, panting, sweat running down his face.

“They made these for you,” Brain said.

“What are they?”

The other engineer panted, wiped a hand across his face and stood.

“Thrusters,” he said.

I bent down, ripped off my boots, sat down on the tarmac and reached for the shoes.

This just might work after all.

“How are the physics,” I asked the Brain, not looking up from tying laces and smacking velcro into place.

“We have no idea…” he started.

“But this has as much a chance as anything else,” the other engineer finished. “My name’s Hyun, by the way. Hyun-Tae.”

“Nice to meet you. Name’s Arrow.” He was pretty cute now that he wasn’t bent over and gasping for air. Cute and smart, just my type.

“Yeah, I know who you are. We all do. Um…any chance you can introduce me to your friend?”

I bounced up to my feet, testing out the shoes. They felt great. Soft, but solid. Good support. Like I could run into any situation and turn on a dime.

“What friend?”

He nodded to the line of chairs.

Swift. Of course. All the guys thought Swift was hot.

“I’ll introduce you to her after you two tell me how these shoes work.”

Brain’s face lit up, making him look around twelve.

“It’s great, Arrow! They worked it out so all you have to do is click your heels together…”

“And say ‘No place like home?’”

Hyun-tae rolled his eyes at that. Not scoring any points with him at all.

Hyun replied, “No. You tap the heels and you get a thrust from the rear sole. Tap the toes together, the thrust is from the front. The front thrust isn’t as strong. It’ll help you regulate your speed and trajectory.”

“And if I tap them both at the same time?”

“Guess you’ll find out. We didn’t have time to test that one out.”

That didn’t make me feel exactly great, but what’ryagonna do? Asteroid was on its way.

The chanting died down. I looked around. Jackson was standing on top of a park bench, palms of his hands down, like a conductor closing out a symphony.

The hush rippled toward me. Even the birds were quiet, the way they got during a solar eclipse. I didn’t see any squirrels. No dogs. Just an ocean of people.

Our people.

“Let’s do this!” I shouted, then ran toward Swift and the ‘chairs, engineer and the Brain hot on the heels of my new red shoes. Fiery Arrow. That’s me.

A little girl ran toward me, brown curly hair rubber banded into puffs on top of her head. She held a well loved skate deck in her arms.

“This is for you,” she said. “Thanks, Arrow.”

Okay, I may not be able to impress geeky engineers, but impressing little girls was the bomb.

“How did you know I’d need this?” I asked. “And what’s your name?”

“Ashley,” she said. And she pointed to Jackson, still standing tall above the crowed, huge smile on his scarred up face.

“Thanks Ashley, he was right.” I crouched down to look at her. “Make sure to come get your medal of commendation once this is over.”

Her eyes grew wide at that.

“I will, Arrow.”

Then she walked away, slipping into the crowd.

“Chairs!” I shouted.

“Here!” they shouted back.

“Skates!”

“Here!”

“People!”

“Heeeeerrrreeee!”

“Let’s go!”

I grabbed the belt someone had tied through Swift’s ‘chair. I had wondered how this sketchy, last minute plan was going to work, but every step I hadn’t even thought of, it seemed someone else had.

Tears pricked my eyes. Damn, these people were amazing.

I took in a deep breath.

Swift was looking over her shoulder.

“Ready, Arrow?”

“Ready.”

And then the chairs and skateboards were rolling with a mighty rush down the four lanes of the street. Gripping the belt, I wished I had Swift’s gloves. Too late now.

My feet shifted, knees sought out the right balance on the board beneath the new red shoes. My toes gripped too hard and the board began to wobble.

Relax, Arrow. They got this.

And they did. The skaters and the ‘chairs were moving faster and faster, the outside of the vee moving ahead.

Then I saw what they had planned.

Where Swift had started at the head, she and I were going to end up at the back.

And fast.

And faster.

The long band stretched. And stretched. And stretched.

Then snap! Swift and I were flying forward.

I tapped my heels, feeling the thrust off the board, smelling flame on rubber.

It wasn’t enough.

“More, Arrow!” Swift shouted into the wind.

We were fucking airborn. Holy shit!

I tapped the shoes together, frantically. Felt the front thrusters engage.

My lips peeled back from my teeth with the force. The red hood of my sweatshirt flapped behind my head.

I crashed my heels crashed to together and the rear thrusters engaged, hurtling us toward the clouds.

We were flying. Up and up and up and up.

And I had no idea if the band was going to break.

Sproing!

We catapulted backwards. Swift and the ‘chair crashed into my gut, expelling my breath. I slungshot forward over her right shoulder, grabbing desperately for the arms of her ‘chair.

Her hands grabbed onto mine. Thank all the gods she was strapped into the ‘chair. Otherwise, we’d be dead.

Might still be dead.

“Aaaarrrooowwww!” Swift’s voice was sucked into the air rushing past my ears.

And then we slammed into the earth.

***

Everything hurt. Sharp spikes poked my torso. My right ankle screamed. And my skull throbbed. It felt like my brain was shaken.

Should’ve worn a helmet. Stupid.

I opened my eyes. Jackson’s beautiful brown scarred up face stared down at me.

“Swift?” I croaked out. That hurt, too.

“She’s good. In better shape than you, in fact. She landed rubber side down.”

“Asteroid?”

He grinned, showing teeth.

“Well, the engineers are still doing calculations in that van of theirs, and scurrying around, checking guages, temperature, who knows what else.”

“Asteroid?” I asked more firmly. Cut to the chase.

“They think it worked. They think the force we generated shifted Earth’s orbit just enough for the asteroid to miss.”

I exhaled a breath I didn’t even know I was holding.

“Thank the gods.”

“Damn right,” the Protector of the People replied.

***

It turned out the wild scheme actually worked. The sheer force of all of the ‘chairs and skaters slamming back to Earth had shifted the planet enough on its axis to bring us a hair’s breadth out of the asteroid’s path. Give or take 10,000 miles.

Or maybe the asteroid hit something en route, and shifted away from our planet, changing its own course. But the engineers didn’t think so. They were all trying to figure out how to write up a series of papers on the project. A few of them even whispered the word “Nobel.”

As for the Cohort, our benefactor gave us huge bonuses, which made us all breathe easier. Well, that, and still being alive.

Vanity Fair wants to have us on the cover. We’re still squabbling over whether it’s worth it.

But other good things are happening here on Earth:

The Protector’s wife Chloe had a gorgeous baby girl. They named her Charlaine.

The Brain got a new research grant, but he won’t tell us what it’s for.

Turned out engineer Huan-tao dug quick and sexy Chinese-American girls, and Swift thought geeks were pretty okay too. So they’re dating. At least for now.

Me? I finally got the tape off my broken ribs, but my ankle’s still healing. Crutches are a drag, but better than the alternative. I’m spending a lot of time in my Danish Modern apartment, where it’s easy to get around.

And the little skater girl? Turns out her mom is pretty hot.

We might be dating, too, if watching old movies on my computer and eating too much popcorn counts. And maybe she’s kissed me a time or two.

We’ll see what happens when my ankle heals.


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