Time seemed to slow for Andy. The damned cane had killed him. Something meant to help, something his mother insisted he used, and now he was dead. The car was spinning, completely out of control, and headed straight for him. If being run over didn't kill him, it would almost certainly carry him over the cliff instead, killing everyone.
Time seemed to move so slow as something inside responded to his moment of need. Pain shot through his entire body as his hands raised up as if to push the car away. His scream of rage, of fear, seemed to take physical form as a steely determination rose within him.
He would not die! Not like this, not now! The disease might take him off one day, but he wouldn't let this destroy him. He. Would. Not.
The pain rose to a blinding crescendo, and then the moment before the car hit him it shifted. It moved through his arms in an instant, blasting out to strike the car. It wasn't controlled, it wasn't directed, it was a simple shove away. By pure chance it struck the car slightly off center, breaking the spin, but Andy didn't see.
"It's probably just exhaustion, ma'am," a man was saying. "It's not exactly normal for someone to pass out right after the first time they use a power, and we definitely need to get him to a hospital just in case its Augmentation Sickness, but I wouldn't worry until-"
Andy groaned as he tried to open his eyes. He didn't hurt too much, but he was tired. So very tired. And he needed to move because...
Andy's eyes shot open as he looked down at his pants and groaned. "What's wrong? Are you alright?" his mother asked anxiously.
"Please tell me Donny isn't here," he begged, more out of desperation than any actual hope that the answer would be 'yes'.
"You're brother is in the car, and he's fine," his mother tried to reassure him.
"He saw, didn't he?" Andy moaned.
"Of course he saw, I mean how could he miss that car heading right for you! And the way it just bounced away..." Mom shook her head in disbelief.
"The car!" Andy managed to get himself upright. "What happened?"
"Allow me to answer that question, young man," the strange man Andy had heard earlier broke in. "My name is Micheal Ericson, and I work with BEST. I don't often get called on to handle this type of situation, I usually just push papers around for the people who do the real work, but I know more than enough to recognize that you, son, are an Augment."
"An Augment?" Andy's eyes went wide. "I'm not a bad boy!"
Mom groaned. "I'm sorry, his father... it's a long story, but way back when, his entire town was treated to a song and dance routine by a couple of augments who decided to use their powers to bilk people out of their money. To the tune of bankrupting his entire family, amongst others."
Ericson winced. "That is exactly the kind of irresponsible..." he sighed and shook his head. "Alright little guy, I know you're a bit confused. Augments aren't all bad people. Some augments do some really bad things, and they give all augments a bad name, but not all augments are bad people."
"But my dad-" Andy began.
"You heard your mother; he had a bad experience once upon a time as a kid," Ericson tried to explain.
"But Dad says augments are all bad men!" Andy protested, not understanding.
Ericson sighed. "Lord, give me strength," he whispered. "Andy, your father is wrong. He probably believes he's right, but he's mistaken. Augments aren't all bad people. Some augments are bad people, and they give the rest a bad name."
"Perhaps we should handle that discussion later," Mom suggested. "Is Andy going to be alright?"
"He'll be fine," Ericson reassured her. "We need to call my superiors at BEST and get a real agent out here ASAP, but I'm sure he'll be fine."
"Then call them!" Mom snapped angrily, hugging Andy close to her and kissing his head. "I couldn't stand loosing you," she whispered as Ericson walked off, cell in hand.
"Mom," Andy asked hesitantly, "can I please change my pants?"
Mom started laughing, "Of course honey, I'll go get you a spare pair, you can stand behind our car to change so no one sees you."
"Donny's probably already seen," Andy complained. "He's going to say-"
"He won't be saying much of anything on the subject, I assure you," Mom laughed. "I'll see to that myself, right now."
"Mom-" Andy tried, but she was already off. Andy levered himself up and started waddling the walk of someone whose pants were uncomfortably wet and rapidly growing cold.
Donny was never going to let go of the fact that Andy had just pissed his pants like a little baby, Andy just knew it.
"He's a baby pants pisser!" he heard Donny giggle as Mom talked to him, confirming his fears. And Ericson had prayed to God for strength! Like he was going to have to deal with that kind of shit from his little brother!
After getting behind the car, Andy stripped his shorts off, leaving him in his tighty formerly whiteys, and dropped them on the ground beside the car. Mom herded Donny out of the car, and Andy crawled into the backseat and changed into the new set of clothes his mother had left for him. It wasn't perfect, but being a bit damp around the edges was better than being soaked.
"My superiors have an agent en-route, and are contacting the leader of the local HAWKS squadron. She's in the area doing some training, so she can probably get here pretty quick just in case we need some-" a loud honking noise interrupted Ericson.
"Is everyone alright?" a guy asked as he climbed out of his pickup trick. "What happened?"
"There was a small accident, thankfully everyone came out alright," Ericson said politely to the stranger. "We've already called the authorities and they're on their way."
"You need any help?" the man from the truck asked, smiling, as three more men climbed out of it. Something about the entire situation made Andy feel uneasy. The men didn't like them, he knew it. And they were all big, strong men, wearing big boots and tight fitting jeans. And they weren't happy.
"We're fine, we don't need any help," Ericson said amiably. "I've already called the authorities, they're on their way."
"You keep saying that," the strange man commented. "But I have a scanner in my truck and happen to know that the local police haven't heard a thing."
"I can't speak for what has, or hasn't, gone out over the scanner by now," Ericson told him, eyes narrowing as he backed up, "but I can assure you, the authorities are on their way. And if you leave right now, maybe they won't go looking for you."
"Is that a threat?" the man sneered. "You threatening me, Ericson?"
"You appear to have me at a disadvantage," Ericson said nervously. "Who are you?"
"That doesn't matter. What matters is how a godless heathen like you survived our little surprise," the man growled. "And I fully intend to find out, seeing as how there is no way you called out from here, we jammed all cell phones before you ran into our little trap."
"You... jammed the cell lines?" Ericson asked.
"Yes, which is how I know your little call to your bosses didn't go anywhere," the man smiled. "There wasn't any coverage for you to make it, after all!"
Ericson's eyes flickered over the four men facing him. "You gentlemen have me at a complete disadvantage, might I at least know your names?"
"You don't need to know our names," one of the men said. Andy frowned. He knew that voice!
"Jeremy Watson, what the hell has gotten into you?" Mom started scolding.
"Excuse-" the man started, then paused. "Mrs. Webster! What are you doing here?"
"I was taking my children on a small trip," she said icily. "Now, why are you threatening this man?"
"We haven't exactly-" one of them began.
"Kyle Anderson, I am not an idiot!" Mother cut him off. "You may not have come out and said it, but your implications are quite clear."
"Ignore her;" the leader ordered, "her husband will deal with her."
"My husband," she said slowly, and very evenly.
"Yes," the leader sneered, "he may have decided not to become actively involved, but he's provided enough support that if you go to the authorities he goes to jail. So he won't let you."
"Won't let me?" Mom asked dangerously. Donny opened the door behind Andy and crawled in behind him.
"I'm scared," Donny whispered.
"Mom will protect us," Andy reassured him, "and I'll protect you too!"
"What's that?" Donny pointed past the little drama unfolding in front of them.
"I'm not sure," Andy told him, crawling further forward and looking up. "Oh, wow!"
The road here was running through the hills, and the builders had -- somehow -- carved out a level surface between two sets of cliffs. At the top of the cliff above them a number of individuals were swinging down ropes, the bottoms of which hung mere feet over the ground. The rapid swinging was moving the ends of the ropes around, drawing Donny's attention. In mere seconds they'd reach the bottom of the cliff.
"Cool!" Donny exclaimed. "They'll be down here quick!"
Andy unrolled the window. "Mom!" he shouted.
"Back in the car, son!" Mom ordered firmly. "Stay out of this!"
"Mom, there are more of them! Look!" Andy pointed.
"What?" the leader exclaimed, following Andy's pointing hand.
By now the figures had rappelled halfway down the cliff and the men looked at them in shock. Before they could react, the figures were on the ground and moving to surround the area. Andy was shocked to notice that they were almost all kids! And not only that, but they didn't look very happy.
They ranged from kids a little older to Andy to high school kids, and they were all wearing a uniform with a brown-gray camouflage pattern. The uniform looked a bit bulky on them, and they had all sorts of electronic gadgets, ropes, and tools stuffed in pockets and hanging from hooks.
"Hello everyone," a tall... something said. It had slid down the ropes with the rest, but it looked more like some monster from Hell than a kid. Its skin was some kind of brown leather, and spikes stuck out of it in various places. It smiled, and its teeth were more like fangs than anything else. It stood nearly six feet tall and had a tail longer than it was tall, with a weapon of some kind attached to the end. Why it had bothered to rappel down the cliff Andy couldn't figure; it had a set of wings on its back to fly with! "Is something wrong?"
"Devil!" the men started screaming, and ran back to their car. "It's a devil!"
"Actually, I'm Demon," the thing growled. "And I'd really appreciate it if you didn't try to take off!" Andy couldn't believe his eyes; one moment the thing was standing still, and the next it was in motion, bounding along the road and using its wings to semi-glide between steps. It didn't move all that fast, but it still reached the truck as the men were yanking on the doors to get in. It's arms reached upward, and the spikes at the wrists suddenly exploded outward, growing in an instant from less than half a foot to nearly three feet of curved, gleaming ivory. The thing, the Demon, slammed its spikes into the truck's engine block and yanked back and forth, with a terrible screaming sound. It then pulled its spikes out, retracting them back to their shorter length and proceeded to shred the hood of the car. It ran its fingers over the metal and it just sliced clean through, quickly destroying the hood by carving it into little diamond shaped sections. "Do I have your attention now?" it growled as the men fell out of the car trying to run.
"Please! Have mercy!" one of them pleaded.
"Please?" the demon sneered. "Mercy, for you?" The thing laughed, a terrible sound.
"Enough, Demon!" Ericson snapped. "We have a new augment here who doesn't need to get the wrong idea!"
The demon growled. "I forgot about that," it said, turning around. Its skin began to change, going from a dark, leathery brown to a well-tanned but very human color and texture. The thing wrapped it's tail around it's waist, carefully aligning the weapon at the end with the small of it's back, and pulled it's wings in tight. It didn't look quite so inhuman like that, and with a moment of shock Andy realized that 'it' was a 'her'; the face was clearly a woman's, and the breasts were clearly visible under a specially designed undershirt.
"Hello Ericson," she said. "How are you doing?" She turned and looked at the terrified men behind her. "Secure them for me, would you?" she asked, and several of the kids moved in and grabbed the men. Two of the men resisted, but one of the kids simply touched one, and he fell limp into the hands of the people holding him, while another kid just used brute force to haul the second, much larger man back.
"I was doing just fine," Ericson said unhappily. "They didn't tell me you were the one who was coming."
"They never do warn people," the demon sighed. "I'm glad to see you're alright."
"And I will admit, I was glad when you showed up," Ericson said. "I've got a brand new augment, first use of his powers."
The demon snorted. "And they sent you to deal with it?" she asked, incredulous.
"More like I was already on the scene" Ericson nodded at his car, where his kids were busy hiding under their luggage. "Come on out guys, everything is fine!"
"But the monster!" one of the kids protested.
"She isn't a monster," Eric said firmly, "and she is a friend. Come on out and say hello."
"No!" they shouted, digging in under even more luggage.
Ericson sighed. "I'm sorry."
"I'm used to it," the demon said. She was standing taller now, and actually looked a lot less... demonic. Not very human, but less demonic. "Now, who is this new Augment?"
"Over there," Ericson pointed. "Be careful; his mother isn't very happy with the situation."
"Problems with her son being an Augment?" the demon asked, turning to face Mom.
"No, problems with his health to begin with," Mom told her. "I don't believe we've been introduced; I'm Sarah Webster," she added in an effort to make nice.
The demon looked down at the proffered hand and took it gently, smiling. "Not many people offer me their hands," she told Mom. "My name is Demon."
"Excuse me?" Mom asked, confused.
"Don't ask," Ericson told her.
"I refuse to go by the name my parents give me when I was born," Demon said, turning away. "And that leaves me the name they gave me later. When I... changed."
"A lot of people don't react very well when their children turn out to be Augments," Ericson said sadly. "Demon's story... it's not very nice."
"And it's not up for discussion," Demon said firmly. "The past is the past."
"Perhaps, but my condolences for the difficulties you've faced," Mom said, smiling gently. "I fear my son isn't going to find life very easy; his father doesn't like Augments very much, though at least he has a reason."
"A reason?" Demon asked, curious. "What kind of reason could justify blind prejudice?"
"When he was a child, a pair of Augments used their powers to fool an entire town into believing in a fraud," Mom explained with a sigh. "Many families, his own included, lost everything when the truth came out."
"More justification than most, I suppose," Demon answered. "Perhaps I should talk to him."
"That..." Mom hesitated. "It might not be the wisest idea for the moment."
Demon grabbed Mom, gently, by the jaw. "Your first duty is to your children, not him."
"I know that!" Mom jerked loose of Demon's grip. "I essentially hit him with an ultimatum the other day; he either reconsiders his position, or..." Mom looked away, twisting her ring.
"I think I understand," Demon sighed. "So you knew your son was an Augment?"
"No, he's... he's ill," Mom answered uncomfortably. "The only hope for him is a recently opened medical facility out east; apparently they have a couple of Augment staff members who can do some kind of healing for his nerves."
"St. Damien's Neurological? I know the people there. Good people." Demon said, smiling.
"You know them?" Mom asked, surprised.
"One of them used to work with me," Demon said, touching her side. "He's a doctor who used to work extensively with BEST, until it was realized that he was a very weak Augment himself. After that, he changed fields to focus on using his healing ability to its fullest, and stopped working with BEST as much."
"He stopped working with them?" Mother asked, curious. "I would think an Augmented healer would be even more valuable to them!"
"Yes, and no," Demon responded. "His ability is very weak, and very... focused. He's able to help reverse degenerative neurological damage, and not much else. It's a unique ability, and very useful, but not for BEST. BEST usually deals with traumas; gunshots, knife wounds, burns, and the like. Occasionally some poisons. Neurological diseases are somewhat outside our normal purview. It's too bad, really; I read his paper on the effects of mitoxantrone injections on previously undiagnosed-" Demon shook her head. "Sorry; you probably aren't interested."
"All I know is that he's my boy's only hope. They don't even know what's wrong with Andy, and-" Mom turned away, voice trailing to nothing. "I'm sorry," she whispered, almost crying.
Andy opened the door and crawled out of the car, despite Donny clutching onto his legs trying to pull him back in. "Don't go out there! The monster will get you!" Donny protested.
Andy walked over to his mother and hugged her as best he could. "Thank you," Mom whispered, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.
"Love you," Andy whispered before letting go. "Hello Mrs. Demon," he said, holding his hand out. "I'm Andy."
"Pleased to meet you, Andy," Demon took his hand with a smile. "Aren't you afraid of me?"
"We're not," one of the kids she'd brought with her quipped, "why should he be?"
"You know me," Demon answered.
"True, but you just rescued him. And you aren't half as ugly as you think you are," the boy replied, smiling.
"Danny," Demon said testily, "do you really want to spend the rest of this trip engaged in hand-to-hand practice?"
"Depends," Danny said with a grin. "Do I have to spar with you, or can Justine and I spend some time together?"
Demon tossed her head back and laughed. "Sorry, your parents were quite clear: no hanky-panky allowed!"
"Oh, you can always supervise," Danny laughed, "I'm sure you'd have all sorts of comments to make on our forms."
"Danny!" one of the girls shouted, blushing, "you wouldn't!"
"What are you talking about?" Danny asked, and then blushed. "Oh. I didn't mean it like that!"
Everyone laughed, though Andy didn't get the joke. "What's so funny?" he asked, setting the laughter off again.
"If he doesn't already know, I'm not telling him!" Danny protested when everyone insisted he answer the question.
"Shall we move on to slightly less... amusing topics?" Demon asked with a laugh. "Now, Andy, I understand you did something unusual today?"
She asked it so dryly Andy couldn't help but laugh at the obvious joke. "I pushed a car across the road without even touching it!"
"And how did you do that?" she asked. "Could you show me?"
"I just... I... I pushed," Andy said. Raising his hands, he tried to push at her, then howled and collapsed to the ground as agony roared through his body. "It hurts!" he cried.
Instantly one of the kids was standing by him, laying his hands on Andy. "I can't heal it, whatever it is," the kid said after a moment. Andy already felt the pain ebbing away though, and sobbed in relief.
"You said the kid has some kind of neural disease?" Demon asked Mom.
"Yes," Mom answered, "he does."
"What kind? Exactly?" Demon demanded.
"They dunno," Andy answered. "They're still trying to figure it out."
Demon and Ericson exchanged glances. "It's possible, I suppose," Ericson mused. "It certainly wouldn't be the weirdest thing I've ever heard of."
"Going to make training him a steel-plated bitch, though," Demon replied.
"Would you care to speak English?" Mom asked, irritated.
"It's not certain, but it's possible that using your son's augmentation causes him pain when he uses it," Ericson said. "It'll make training him to use and control it very difficult, but..." Ericson chewed his lip. "If it hurts that much, I imagine he'll get control over it very quickly," he said, looking at Demon.
"Possibly; he might just try and lock it back up rather than learn control, and that would cause all sorts of long term problems," she answered after a moment. She raised her hand, and Andy watched in surprise as short, gleaming claws extended from the tips of her fingers. "I almost didn't learn to control this, initially I just tried to suppress the extension reflex. I got pretty good at that... and then couldn't call them on demand."
"Still, if it hurts him this much..." Ericson commented.
"That's for whoever ends up training him to decide," Demon reminded him. "But I suspect that, initially, they'll accept that as a form of control. Getting him into the hospital is more important; if this really is a degenerative illness curing it may help whatever is causing the pain."
"It's not even certain we're getting him in the hospital," Mom told them sadly. "My husband will have to sign off, and we have to hope that they'll take him as a charity case."
Ericson and Demon looked at each other. "Ma'am," Ericson said slowly, "are you aware of the... government benefits that come with being an Augment in the BEST program?"
"Benefits?" Mom asked. "You fix whatever damage he does, right?"
Ericson and Demon exchanged another pair of glances. "You're the paper-pusher, you probably know more than I do," she told him.
"Ah, but you have more experience with this conversation!" he countered.
"A perfect reason for me to supervise, while you learn," she smiled at him.
"You are an active duty agent," he trumped her, "I am on vacation and would like to get back to it now that a competent authority is on the scene."
"We'll talk again at next month's budget meeting," Demon told him, flicking her wrist in dismissal.
"Yes, and I'll owe you a big favor, won't I!" Ericson laughed as he turned back to his car. "Dammit, I'm going to have to get a tow truck out here..." he shook his head as he surveyed the damages. "At least you guys weren't hurt," he told the kids in the backseat, "but your mom is going to kill me when we get there!"
"Ah, poor Ericson," Demon laughed. "Now, I believe we were talking about benefits?"
"Yes, we were," Mom told her. "I don't suppose we're lucky enough that medical is covered?"
Demon smiled. "Assuming you're willing to let him remain in the BEST program, you could say that..."