Tihati was telling Nate that she loved him as only the Moons of Athnos could love each other, eternally following each other’s orbit, yearning for an embrace that would never come. She told him this in her native tongue, Uwasi, where the word for I was nine syllables long, and the word for love had eleven thousand synonyms.
She draped him in her masterly verbiage, eyes sparkling with magic, fingers running up his chest with anticipation. She waited for his reply, singing soft tunes into his ears. Nate, in the meanwhile, contemplated what he could possibly say to the three hundred year old alien who had just proposed to him.
“I am flattered, Tihati, but this is a pretty big decision. Give me some time?”
It took Nate almost a whole minute to say that. Since he lacked the flourish of a native Uwasi speaker, he sounded as uncouth as a braying donkey. Normally, Nate would depend on his translator to do this kind of work for him. But this was Tihati, and it called for something special.
Tihati nodded once she had absorbed what Nate told her, calmly laying a hand on his back as she lead him towards his sky tent. She told him that he could take the night to think on it, and it was completely okay if he wasn’t into it. There was still time for him to grow into a strapping man and think on this later, especially given that he was only eighteen.
“Your days are only but a whisper to us, Nathan. Do not worry, there is, as you say, no pressure.”
Nate wondered if she really meant it when she said it. He had spent most of his life dealing with pressure- with the weight of others’ expectations. Having an alien superhero for a father and a divine goddess for a mother does that to you.
Of course, he had his ways of coping. That’s why he was here, all the way out in Andromeda, vacationing here away from all of his worries. Out here, he was almost a nobody. And that’s why getting involved with someone like Tihati put him between a rock and a hard place.
He was sure that Tihati was a wonderful person. But the last thing he needed right now was commitment.
Nate reached into his bag, grabbing his cannabis stash along with some space shrooms for good measure. He wasn’t exactly sure how well the two would mix, but he could probably handle it. This wasn’t half as dangerous as the time he laced his heroin with Amigdala’s psychotropics. That laid him out for a whole day. Compared to that, this was child’s play.
Just as Nate was finished with rolling a blunt, however, a searing noise popped up inside his head.
“So this is what you spend your free time on, huh? I am disappointed, but not surprised.”
Nate groaned, palm pressed against his temple. “Not the best time, sis. Knock me back, like, tomorrow. Or the day after.”
The voice in Nate’s head scoffed, pausing. “Yeah, that’s not going to work, Nate. You kinda need to be here. It’s Bob.”
Nate knew what this was before hearing it. Bob Ward was 102 years old. There weren’t many things that could happen to a man at that age.
“Uncle Bob passed? What took him?”
“He…well. He turned into Jupiter a few hours ago, and flew to the moon. And then he just sat there. Until his time ran out.”
Nate didn’t know what he was going to say to that. So he focused his mind on what lay in front of him, one hand rolling the blunt diligently as another reached for the lighter.
“How far are you, Nate?”
“I am somewhere in Andromeda, sis. Don’t really know where. Telescopes don’t see this far. It’s going to take me…three days, I guess.”
His rolling finished, Nate lit the blunt and inhaled deeply. Nate’s synapses lit up like Times Square on a New Year’s Eve, his neurons running on overdrive, forging new pathways around his cranium at lightning speed.
When he exhaled, it was as though a singularity opened inside his head, draining the inky blackness away from his soul, leaving the aftertaste of bad memories behind.
“Jesus, Nate,” Leah said. “Take good care of yourself, okay? The funeral’s in two days, from what I have heard.”
“I will be there.”
“Yeah. Thanks for letting me know,” Nate said, grabbing a pen and a piece of paper from his backpack. “You stay safe, right?”
“Yeah. See you soon.”
Once Leah had disconnected from her telepathic link, Nate started writing an apology note for Tihati. He wrote with care and sincerity, his meticulousness bordering on the cusp of calligraphy, explaining that he wished they met under better circumstances. He wanted to come back here again, but to tell the truth, he didn’t know if he would get the chance to do that.
The shrooms were just starting to work. As Nate swungs his arms into his backpack’s straps, the lonesome pillars in the middle of the Citadel started to blur, as did the serene music emanating from other sky tents nearby. He braced himself, focusing his attention towards his legs, curling them as he prepared to fly. He took off, a light burst of air trailing behind him, the world in front of him swirling into a kaleidoscope of airs and colors.
He pushed his speeds as close to light speed as possible, searching for the divine drafts of hyperspace floating around the planet’s blue sun. They were hard to find, but then again, he was Mercury reincarnated. Discovering hard to find things was part of his forte.
By the time he passed into hyperspace, his mind was slightly askew, the kind of askew you would find in a library room where the books have been randomly replaced and thrown about with abandon. There was a comfort to be found in such moments, where being lost is the default state, and not an anomaly that needed correction.
As he flew, stray lyrics of songs he had heard- and a few he had composed- flew past his mind, hurtling at speeds faster than the mind could think. They struck at his subconscious, the way fishes hit against fishnets, writhing, frightened and full of life.
And in those fleeting moments, Nate felt more alive than he had felt in months.
Sentinel stood, blood pouring from his his forehead freely. He slipped his cowl off his head, wiping the blood away from his eyes. Scattered noises of gun shots and artillery fire rocked the Ardennes. He looked at the horizon, searching for signs of reinforcement.
There were none, as he expected.
“What are you waiting for?” Sentinel yelled, clutching his shield tightly. “I don’t have all day.”
He saw the first punch coming, aimed at his jaw. Sentinel raised his shield, twirling to the side as the Ubermensch flew straight past him, crashing loudly into trees. He leapt, driving the shield’s pointed end deep into the back of his enemy’s head, cracking the helmet and cutting past the leathery epidermis. By the time he reached for his hand gun, he was caught off guard by a swinging back hand, which sent him flying a good twenty feet. Something creaked in his back by the time he hit the ground, rolling to break his fall.
This was the longest he had lasted in hand to hand combat with a full Panzer grade Ubermensch. Sentinel was the first super soldier, and even as the war grinded towards a grim, bitter end, he remained the only Allied super soldier in active combat. He had Graves, but even he was too human. And this Ubermensch was decidedly not.
As Sentinel waited for the Ubermensch to renew his assault, he spotted a faint blur speed through the horizon, glowing dimly against the setting sun. It materialized in front of Sentinel, into the form of Britannia, who grinned at him, hand primed on Excalibur’s hilt.
“This looks like a mean bastard, Alan,” Britannia said, unsheathing her sword, the runes on the blade glowing bright. “I reckon it might take five strokes to take him down.”
“Please, Edith. I have seen your swordsmanship. It’s going to take ten hits, at least.”
“Sure. Loser pays for the drinks.”
Britannia rushed forward, parrying blows with ease, slowing down the Ubermensch with each cut. When he lead with his right shoulder, attempting to tackle her to the ground, Britannia weaved to the side, before spinning like a top, her heel digging hard into the man’s wounded neck. A gush of blood spurted forth. He gasped, sinking to his knees, frantically trying to stem the blood loss.
But he was done for. As he sunk towards the ground, gurgling, he reached out with his other hand towards Britannia, his eyes pleading for help. Britannia’s expressions softened; she knelt, holding the man’s hand, whispering into his ears. As life fled from his eyes, his mouth twitched, beginning the first few motions of a smile that would be never finished.
“Right. You are buying me scotch when this is over, Parsons,” Britannia said, sheathing her sword, smiling wanly. “That was…easy and not easy at the same time.”
“What did you tell him?” Sentinel asked.
“What he needed to hear. He doesn’t have Avalon waiting for him, but whatever’s there, it’s better than this mess of a world.”
Sentinel nodded. “This is it, isn’t it? This is when we either win the war or lose it.”
Britannia nodded as well, smiling, a sea of emotions whirling behind her eyes. She began the trek back towards the battle lines; Sentinel paused a moment, searching the dead Ubermensch’s pockets, finding a wallet and a piece of paper. He pocketed the items, joining Britannia by her side, trudging through the snow. They walked northwards, where bursts of gunfire echoed, punctuated irregularly by artillery fire.
“Two hundred and fifty thousand krauts. Around a hundred Ubermensch among them. It’s a thing of beauty, isn’t it?” Britannia asked.
“Well, we are taking the scenic route, I will give you that. Not sure if I am as keen as you are about our circumstances. The Huns…they are different this time. I spotted three Panzers in the skies this morning. It’s been three weeks already. At this rate, I would rather take the tanks over the labrats.”
“Come on, Alan. Have some pity for the dead and the dying. You know about the Charge of the Light Brigade, right?”
“Yeah. Read that when I was around ten or eleven. “Into the valley of death, rode the six hundred.” Nice words, but I don’t see the poetry here. Not even a verse of it, especially since Normandy.”
“That’s the thing, Alan. We are driving deep into the heart of the beast. We are hitting pretty close to their homes. And believe me when I say it, it’s not a pretty sight for them.
Theirs not to make reply. Theirs not to reason why. Theirs but to do and die.
We are winning this war, Alan. You will see what I mean when we get back to the front lines.”
It took another five minutes for the two of them to reach the front lines. When they did so, they found that half of their work was already done. Jupiter was high in the skies, raining down thunder-strikes on nearby German squads, while Paradigm was calling shots for American artillery, using his long-range vision to mark targets. Neptune was already negotiating the surrender of three platoons worth of men, while Pluto talked with the commanding officer, his eyes boring into the man’s soul, searching for his resolve, so that he might break it.
“You boys don’t really need us, do ya?” Sentinel yelled, grimacing as he approached Paradigm. “At this rate, the war might as well be over by Tuesday!”
“Let’s see, Parsons,” Paradigm said, grinning sheepishly. “This is more like the beginning of the end. But yeah, who knows? Their metahuman reserves are depleting fast.”
“You have got a Sheila waiting for you home, Kev?” Britannia asked.
“She’s more of a Peggy. But yeah. She’s doing well. She writes for a paper. Pretty good at it, too.”
Sentinel retreated as Britannia and Paradigm furthered their conversation, keenly aware that Britannia fancied Paradigm a lot more than she fancied him. Britannia was a dynamite of a girl, and she knew it.
He had a Suzie of his own back home, but she had stopped replying to his letters three months ago. He had no illusions about what that meant.
As he approached Neptune, he took out the wallet and paper he got off the Ubermensch. He could barely make out the words: they were in runes, infused with some kind of magical essence.
“You know what this is, Birch?” he asked Neptune, who took it and surveyed the page keenly.
“It’s Norse. Figures. Tell you what, I bet you fifty quid it’s Loki.”
“Do you think he’s got the other heavies on his side? Like Thor or Odin?”
Neptune scoffed. “Please. You don’t know them like I do, kid. They have enough on their own plate as it is, doesn’t make any sense for them to help the Huns, especially at this point of time. You see that maniac up there, right? He’s the best deterrent there is. No one’s going up against that.”
Sentinel nodded. He could feel the sourness in his mouth, percolating with the uncertainty in his thoughts. What was Jupiter going to do when the war was over?
That was a question he truly didn’t want to answer. But it was gaining more importance by the passing day.
Jupiter landed on the ground a few minutes after, right beside Pluto. He remained stony faced as he surveyed the commander. “You value your boys’ lives, right?”
“Yes, I do.”
“And they look up to you?”
“I suppose so.”
“Good, then. You will do.”
Jupiter grabbed man’s hand, electricity shimmering off his skin. The lightning danced off his limbs, climbing up and down the commander’s arms, shredding skin, inch by inch, like a microwave oven overcooking meat.
Jupiter held the man’s hand for three minutes. By the second minute, the stench was overwhelming. By the third, the commander’s flesh had fused into his skull, his eyeballs plastered around the cavities. His muscles lost weight, and the man’s body collapsed on itself as Jupiter released his grip.
“He went out easy,” Jupiter spoke in fluent German, grimness set in his voice. “I can cook each and everyone of you a thousand times slower. Give yourself up. Unlike you, we have Geneva Conventions. There’s gruel and soup waiting for you in our mess halls. Make the right choice.”
Jupiter brushed past Sentinel, walking back towards their base. When they locked eyes, Sentinel saw something in Jupiter’s gaunt expression that made him recoil inwardly.
It was a rage of divine proportions, undimmed by time, untempered by society. It’s the kind of rage he had read about in books, the kind of rage that chained Prometheus for eternity.
“Is he always like this, Mikhail?” he asked Pluto.
“No. We saw something, Parsons,” Pluto explained. “During a recon mission. Ward hasn’t been the same since then.”
“What did you see?”
“We saw the depths of depravity. And you know what’s the worst thing? All we could do was fly away.”
Sentinel sighed. “The Krauts are doing something back in Germany, aren’t they? The way you are telling it, makes the Blitzkrieg sound like a picnic.”
“Yeah. They have been doing it for years, probably. You will know soon enough, Parsons. Walker’s been there, too. It’s the kind of thing you don’t easily forget.”
Parsons nodded, patting Pluto on the shoulders. He rejoined Britannia and Paradigm, who were now discussing about the finer details of France’s vineyards.
“Why so dour, Alan?” Britannia said, hands on waist. “Our work is done for the day.”
“It is. Let’s swing by that bar in Bastogne, eh?” Sentinel said, lips pursed and slanted. “I have some sorrows I need to drown.”
“As do we all. You coming Kev?”
Paradigm shrugged. “Yeah, I can grab a beer or two.”
“Oh, you poor lightweight. Come, come, we will make a man out of you yet.”
As the three of them withdrew from the battlefield, Sentinel looked at the carnage wrought across the snow-filled plains. He had heard from his father about the inhumanity of man, how the trenches became home and coffin for so many of his friends. But what Sentinel had seen in these last few years was, perhaps, worse than what his father and uncles went through in the Great War. The machines of war were better, and the generals in command were hungrier.
And of course, there were people like him, Britannia, Paradigm and the Triumvirate. The humans faces- and hands- of this world war. What were they going to do once this war was over?
That was an easy thing to answer. They were going to live, and the rest of the world would have to get used to living with them.
And sometimes, living your life, surviving on a day to day basis, is the hardest thing you can do.
This is an original multi-chapter story that will be updated periodically.