I named this chapter after the song Cosmic Castaway by Electrasy, but I own everything else.
1 - Cosmic Castaway
He lay in his cell gazing at the ceiling. All around him the walls were made of solid brick and painted a dull green. Above him, a bright fluorescent light was glaring down, making his head ache. He shut his eyes.
The light was on. That meant it was morning. Probably early, about "six or seven a.m." would be the phrase used. He did not know what a.m. meant. He should probably ask Munroe. He had to ask her to explain things a lot. He did not understand very much here.
He had understood much more back home. Home. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to get them to close tighter, to take him away from this cell. Bright colours flashed in the back of his eyelids, and the light from above made what would usually have been darkness to his closed eyes a dull, painful red.
Exhaling heavily, he sat up and opened his eyes. There were footsteps coming down the corridor towards his cell. The grate at his door was pulled aside, and a pair of sharp blue eyes examined him coolly. He gazed back, not moving, not even twitching a muscle in his face. There was no point. The door opened.
Munroe entered his cell, her posture straight and stiff, her baton under one arm. She was a tall, solid woman in her middle years with a stern, lined face and her greying hair clamped back into a painfully tight bun. They continued to look at each other for a few moments more, then, without a word, she turned and walked out. He rose listlessly and followed her.
They moved down the corridor, the same dull green as in his cell. He hated that colour. It was flat and dead, and covered almost every wall of this empty, echoing prison.
"Today is your last day in training." she said eventually.
"Is it?" he asked back in a neutral voice.
They entered the gym, one of the rooms he had spent the most time in, and one of the only rooms he did not despise utterly. In the gym he could escape, forget about everything but his training.
"The bureaucrats have spent as much time as possible trying to keep you in limbo, which is why you've been in quarantine for so long, but this morning they finally admitted defeat. You now officially exist. Well done."
He didn't reply, unsure of how he was supposed to react to this. He had always existed. A person who walked around and was physically there had to exist. That was common sense.
"There will inevitably be mountains more paper-work and several miles of red tape to go through, but the upshot of it all is this: After your training is finished today, you will be free to go. The government will have no right to further keep you within its main federal building and security zone." she said.
That surprised him. He hadn't thought they would let him leave. It meant he would go outside. The thought brought a wave of mixed emotion. He had seen Outside on the television set (Now that was a strange thing and no mistake. A year ago if someone had told him there was a device that could create moving pictures, he would have laughed in their face). Outside was strange, all covered in their roads (tarmac...that was another strange thing here...like a stone river) and great smoking cities, with those metal horse-less carts (cars....they were frightening...) screaming up and down and everywhere, and above it all, the monorail system. A great black spider web above the city, rushing back and forth all day, cramming people into tiny little compartments and carrying them over the square, grey buildings.
No, Opidan was not like the land back home. How he missed his home. He lay awake at night sometimes agonising over it. Why had this happened to him? What had he done to deserve such a twist of fate? He had replayed every scene countless times in his head, trying to make sense of it all – trying to make sense of the day It had happened.
The sun had risen hot over the rich, green lands of his father's estate in Erland. His father had been one of the Honourable Erinian Paladins: a knight, a warrior of truth and justice. On that particular day he had worked hard under the blistering sun in the Practice yard. He was sixteen, soon he would be old enough to travel into the world and prove his valour, earning the title of Knight. He could hardly wait. His whole life had been spent in training, from the moment he was born. It was all he had wanted: To uphold truth and justice and to bring honour to his family. That afternoon he had stretched himself, performing parries and sword manoeuvres with the blunt wooden practice blades as the sun beat down on his head. Then, mid-afternoon the heat broke and storm clouds had filled the skies. He had put away the equipment and was turning to enter the manor, when lightning suddenly struck one of the fence posts, and the heavens opened.
In a matter of seconds he was soaked through to the skin. The wind lashed around him, making him stumble and lurch like a marionette. He heard a shout for him to come inside. He struggled, but the winds pulled him off his feet and dragged him back. He was spun around by the roaring gales, his feet barely staying on the ground, and the horrifying sight which met his eyes made him whisper a prayer. Where only a few hours ago the sun had shone and the breezes been gentle, there was now a horrifying vortex of lashing rain, savage winds, and jagged lightning bolts, and he was being pulled steadily towards the very centre of that furious cyclone, into the heart of the maelstrom. Screaming, all he could hear was his own pounding heartbeat, while thunder boomed dimly beyond. He tried to fight the storm and the winds, but he could no more control his own movement than a puppet could control its own strings. Unable to struggle against the pull, he screamed again, the world spun sickeningly on its head, and then everything turned black.
He had woken up feeling dizzy and faint, a distant rushing sound in his ears. He sat up slowly, massaged his left temple, and looked around. The land was similar to Erland, with grass and trees, but he was sure he had never seen this place before. Perhaps the storm had merely dropped him far from his home; this was certainly nothing like how he had imagined the afterlife... The rushing sound was still in his ears. He shook his head a few times to try and clear it, but the noise persisted. Then he realised it was not in his head. It came from the other side of the slope he was on. He crawled carefully up the slope, perhaps he could spot a landmark from up there which would tell him where he was. The sight which met his eyes, however, was not one he had could ever have imagined, even in his strangest and most frightening dreams.
A great black, solid river ran from one end of the land to the other, as far as he could make out. Shining, roaring creatures flew back and forth upon it, producing that strange rushing noise which intensified as he stumbled nearer. He staggered onto it, looking around himself with wild, frightened eyes. There was a screech from behind him, and one of the creatures spun out of control and slid to a stop with an unholy shriek. More and more shrieks rose up around him as the creatures all slowed down and halted. Then a deafening honking filled the air, drowning out his gasping breath and even the thoughts in his head. Hands clamped to his ears he fell forward onto his knees, his eyes squeezed shut. The honking intensified, and then he heard a voice break through the walls of sound: "Hey, kid! What the hell you doing in the middle of the road! Kid! Kid
He glanced up. A man with a bald head and red face was leaning out the side of one of those creatures. He spoke with an odd accent.
"Yeah, that's right, I'm talkin' to you! What the hell you doing?!"
"Where am I?"
"Where are you?! Where are you?! You're in the middle of theXXXXXXX road that's where youXXXXXXX well are! Now get theXXXX outta the way of the traffic!
Shocked, he stumbled back. These shiny creatures...they were... carriages? Where were the horses? Another noise filled his ears from behind, a jagged hum which drowned out even the honking from the "traffic". A strange floating…thing, with big flat blades whirling above it, hovered in front of him. Several figures leapt down from it and surrounded him, pointing long black sticks menacingly. A solid looking middle aged woman with greying hair clamped back into a tight bun made her way to the front of the group and looked him up and down speculatively.
"Who are you?!" he demanded, bewildered and afraid.
"Who are you?" she asked back coolly.
"What do you want with me?! Where am I?!"
"Do not tell me to be calm! Tell me who you are!"
"You are in no position to make demands of me. I could order these men to kill you right now and not feel even the slightest qualm." Her voice was cold and icy, completely without feeling. He swallowed, feeling more than a little cowed by her authoritative manner. What was going on here? She was a woman, yet she spoke like the commander of a battalion!
She took a deep breath, released it slowly, and began speaking again, her voice softening a little.
"However, if you co-operate with me, I give my word I will do the best I can to help you. So what do you say?"
They stared at each other for a few minutes. Finally, he nodded.
Several of the men sighed in relief and the sticks were lowered. Munroe smiled approvingly then looked at the figures standing around her.
"Come on boys, let's get back to base."
He smiled wryly at the memories, remembering his confusion and bewilderment during the first few weeks after his arrival. He was better now, more competent. He had trained every day with Munroe (One of his first lessons had been in Gender Equality. He still was a little suspicious of the logic behind that, but if ever there was proof of woman being as tough and authoritative as man, Munroe was it.). He had spent this time perfecting his technique in combat, learning the martial arts fighting styles common to this new world. She had also taught him something about the lifestyles and societies of Opidan, so he would not be afraid when he...left? He had never thought about what would happen to him when his training was finished. Perhaps -
His legs were kicked out from under him. He blinked, surprised, staring up at the ceiling. Munroe's face appeared.
"Stop daydreaming. I've told you to warm up three times now. Let's begin."
He began to stretch, loosening out the muscles in his shoulders and legs. Munroe began to slowly circle him, her face unreadable as always. Without warning she lunged forward, her arm lifted up and ready to strike. He dodged sideways, grabbing her wrist and twisting it round. There was an immediate prick in his side, and he froze. He looked down to see her free hand holding a small knife against his rib-cage.
"You're dead." She said matter-of-factly.
"That's not fair! I'm unarmed!"
"I'm sure your enemies will spare you on that premise." She replied dryly.
"You're the only person I know. I have no enemies."
"A dangerous assumption to make, especially in your circumstances."
"Well, it's true." He said stubbornly.
"Are you so sure of that?"
Sighing, he released her wrist. In the split-second that followed she moved to sweep his feet out from underneath him, but he had been expecting it and vaulted backwards, lightly using his hands to flip himself over and onto his feet again. Munroe smiled in approval as he held his fists up in front of him in readiness for another attack.
"You've improved greatly."
"Compared to you, that means nothing."
"True." She shrugged unconcernedly, "I just thought you'd appreciate the compliment."
With that, she launched into another attack. In the lesson that followed she killed him five times. Eventually she nodded, signalling the training session was over. He exhaled, letting the tension and adrenaline drain from his body, and began to stretch out once more.
"You were distracted today." She observed, offering no other comment. He said nothing, pretending to concentrate on the cooling down exercises.
"Don't worry. The government won't abandon you on the nearest street corner. You're far too atypical for them to let you go so easily."
"So what will become of me?" he asked, trying to keep any nervousness from his voice.
Munroe opened her mouth to speak – but at that moment another voice echoed through the gym.
"So, Munroe, this is your child prodigy, eh?"
He jumped, quickly straightening up and turning to face the direction of the speaker. A middle-aged man, slightly younger looking than Munroe, was approaching them. He had a wide, fixed smile on his face and thin, greying reddish-brown hair. Munroe raised an eyebrow at him.
"What are you doing here, Crowe? I left specific orders that no-one was to interfere with my pupil's training."
"Well, he's finished now, isn't he? This was his last session. Besides, I was curious. Can you really blame me?"
"I can expect you to mind your own business." She replied coolly.
His smile didn't falter, and he even had the audacity to wink at the boy, who regarded him suspiciously.
"Well, Munroe, aren't you going to introduce us?" the man said eventually. Munroe turned to the boy.
"The man you see before you is named Eros Crowe. He is another government agent and was assigned to be my colleague several months ago." She said nothing else, and a cold silence grew.
Crowe refused to be put off by this, and offered out his hand to the boy, who glanced at it warily before reluctantly extending his own. They briefly shook, then dropped their hands to their sides again.
"Crowe. What do you want?" asked Munroe pointedly.
"I want to know about your little project. You know, the…"
Crowe's voice trailed off as Munroe glared at him.
"I will talk to you later, Crowe. Go away and leave my pupil and I in peace."
"Okay, I'll see you later. It's a date!"
Crowe winked at the boy again before leaving. Munroe's pupil gritted his teeth and, but winced suddenly, a peculiar prickling feeling playing upon his mind. It faded immediately, and he blinked in puzzlement.
"Munroe?" he asked as they made their way back along the corridor.
"Yes?" she replied, guardedly.
"What was that man, Crowe, talking about?"
"Nothing." She said firmly.
"It's about me, isn't it?"
"If it's about me I want to know!"
Her steps slowed, and then she turned off to the right and led him to a room with a large mirror for a wall. It was used as a side-hall for training.
"Look at yourself." was all she said.
Gazing solemnly back at him was a short, slender boy with a tanned complexion, intense brown eyes, and a mop of curly black hair that after sixteen years was still untameable and hopelessly messy. He had gotten his hair from his mother's side, he had always been told.
Frowning, he glanced at Munroe.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"I am..." his voice trailed off. He was drastically different from the boy the government had picked up several months ago. Almost a different person. That boy hadn't known about cars, or televisions, or martial arts, or that the world could be round (He still wasn't sure whether Munroe was making that up. Gravity or not, surely people would fall off....). That boy hadn't known about other worlds at all. He studied his reflection in silence.
"You claim to come from a world no one knows exists. Your family, your life is back on that world and we have no idea how you got here and so no idea how to send you back." said Munroe quietly.
"Everything you had built your life towards is effectively now nonexistent. What are you going to do now? You are at a crossroads. There are two paths you can take."
He looked at her guardedly. "Continue."
Munroe shut her eyes for a second, and then took a deep breath.
"For several months now, I have been suggesting to my superiors that we initiate a...special group with...individual talents, both to carry out sensitive missions and to act as protectors of the people, assisting with the government's pledge to crack down on criminals. Government hired super-heroes, effectively."
"And you wish me to be in this team?" he asked.
"I would like you to lead it. The others I am considering have little or no combat experience."
"...What about the other option? You said there were two."
"Well, you offer your services for the team, or you get sent to a different facility, also funded by the government. I believe it's called The Lintortia Institution For The Clinically Insane."
"Apparently Erland isn't recognised by our government as a foreign country. They're under the impression you're suffering from a severe mental illness."
"But I'm not!"
"Do we have any solid evidence to the contrary?"
"I suppose this is an offer I cannot refuse..."
"Exactly." her tone softened "Look, this is a new start for you, probably the closest thing you're ever going to get to becoming a knight.... I've organised you with a government file. You accept this offer, and you'll be an official citizen in our country. You'll have a legitimate past, a new identity, a second chance."
He bit his lip thoughtfully, and then gave a small half-smile.
"Very well. I shall offer my services to this project."
"Excellent." Munroe shook his hand, "Congratulations on being the first recruit for The Tempest Team. Mr William Blake, I believe?"
"That is my name now?"
"I believe so."
"Oh. Right. So, when do I begin?"
"As soon as the rest of the recruits arrive."
"When will that be?"
"Soon. Very soon."