Eight Years Ago:
"Sis... why do you think our father left us?"
"I don't know. My memories of him are only... fragments."
"I guess you were too young to remember much. He was always very distant, anyway."
"Yeah, he seemed so preoccupied with something other than his day-to-day routine. To me, it felt like he was aware of something that the rest of us weren't. He always seemed really bothered about something," the young man with teal hair said. His younger sister bowed her head and went quiet, causing him to realize he'd brought up some bad memories.
"Sorry, I guess we don't talk about this much, do we?"
The younger sister stared at him with wide green eyes, waiting for more information about the phantom figure who'd abandoned them eight years prior. After a few seconds of silence, it became apparent that the brother had nothing else to say about their father. He'd been burdened with taking care of his little sister ever since their mother passed away from illness. He blamed their missing father, who wasn't there to take care of her, for her death.
But that burden was lifted just a few months ago when their distant uncle from New York had tracked them down and took them in. Since then, the young man with teal hair became increasingly distant and frustrated. He wanted to know why things turned out the way they did. He wanted to know what their father knew that they didn't. But, most importantly, he wanted...
"Boy! Girl!" their uncle's voice boomed from within the house. "Dinner's ready! Get your butts down here before I feed it to the pigeons!"
"Eh? This is really early for dinner..." the girl murmured before shouting back at their caretaker. "What did you bring home?!"
"What do you think?! Leftover pizza from my restaurant!"
"Of course," she sighed in defeat. She wondered how her body was going to withstand consuming pizza every day of the week. "Oh no, I don't want to get fat... but I'm hungry. Arrgh.
"... are you coming?"
"No," her brother responded. He continued to lean over the railing on the balcony of their apartment and distantly gazed down at the countless citizens of Manhattan scurrying about their business. She hesitated and wanted to insist, but it seemed like he had a lot on his mind. She cast one last glance at her brother's crestfallen back before heading into the house. The brother could hear his sister and his uncle bantering loudly after she disappeared into the house.
"Could we, for once, have something other than pizza? My counselor says that eating it seven days a week isn't good for my nutrition. I shouldn't actually look forward to the stuff they serve in the cafeteria."
"Bah, my pizza is healthier than anything you can-waitasec, girl! What did you do to your hair?! It looks even weirder than before!"
"Umm, I bleached it. Durr."
"Why would you do something stupid like that? You look like a giraffe pissed on you!"
"Well my best friend did it... wait, why a giraffe?!"
The older brother sighed as he listened to them. He wanted to laugh, but he found that he was incapable of expressing himself in such a way anymore. He wasn't as easily distracted as his little sister. He needed to seek out his father and find out the truth. There were rumors recently that the artificial continent, Colonia, would soon be accepting applicants for residency. Their father's disappearance eight years ago coincided with the announcement of that project.
His mind was made up. His sister was old enough to take care of herself now. He knew exactly where he was going to find their missing father. Then his traitor of a father would finally be forced to answer for his crimes...
Volume 3: Beginnings
When the artificial continent of Colonia opened its doors to the public, the limited slots available to the first wave of immigrants filled up rather quickly. Though the country itself was no bigger than a few U.S. states and was situated right off U.S. shores in the Atlantic Ocean, it had enough different laws and features to make itself independent and appealing to potential immigrants. There were a number of small communities and towns within the country, but the large capital city was where most applicants hoped to live. Tempest City, as it was called, now held nearly 200,000 residents after the first wave of immigrants commuted to their new homes. With future waves it was predicted that the population of the city would exceed 600,000, and the country as a whole could go beyond ten million.
"Tempest City? I don't know about that name," a skeptical young man stated. He'd just arrived in the downtown district and was absorbing the sight of the immense skyscrapers that loomed overhead. His long brown hair was tied back in a ponytail and he wore a light jacket for the autumn months. "Sounds like there's bad weather ahead."
"Emperor Slade wanted to ensure that all the cities in his new continent had powerful-sounding names," his burly father, who had accompanied him on the boat ride to Colonia, informed him. "You should consider yourself lucky to live in the capital. With your admittance to CIU, you have an opportunity that many other new applicants do not."
"Yeah, yeah... just label me a typical, ungrateful teenager, then."
CIU was the Colonia Imperial University, named after the country itself. It boasted a large campus located in Tempest City's western district and was a major draw for potential new applicants of Colonia. Scholarships were handed out all over the world to eager youngsters that wanted both a new start and a higher education. The dormitories were built to house thousands of students, and there were also several off-campus housing options in the residential district that surrounded the university. Every student who accepted the scholarship had to undergo an entrance exam to enter Colonia, which included painstaking written and physical tests.
"So which way do we need to go to get to CIU? I want to sign up for my preferred courses before they're all filled up," asked a redheaded young woman who was accompanying the father and son duo. The father, who was an immensely well-built and muscular man, looked at a map as he tried to plot out their course. Even though he was involved in Colonia's construction, his memory and sense of direction were... shaky.
"Well we just travelled to Central Tempest City after getting off at the port in South Tempest City. The city is divided into five aptly-named districts. North is for recreational purposes and also where the wealthy have secured residency. South is mostly industrial, as you saw. East is residential, but it's not open to the public yet... hence this first, smaller wave of immigrants. West is where CIU is located, and is also considered residential. And as you can probably tell, Central is mostly for businesses and corporations."
"Each district is connected via bridges, correct?" asked the redhead.
"Exactly. You, no doubt, saw the large channels of water that run between each district to keep them segregated. We will have to cross another bridge to get to West Tempest City. We took this detour to Central so I can help the two of you pick out a new car. Rapid transit is still under construction and may not be completed for another number of years, yet."
"So getting around will be kind of a chore. And of course Sylvia doesn't have her license yet, so I'll have to do all the driving..."
"Well at least I'll get to start with a clean record. Remind me who's been given at least seven speeding tickets, Valor?"
"Do you have to keep calling me by my last name? I don't want everyone at Uni to pick it up..."
"Son, you never told me you had encounters with the law," his astonished father gasped. The muscular man punched his fists together and cast a wicked glare toward his offspring. "You must be punished for your impertinence so you'll never make the same mistake again! I'll crush you!"
"Stay away from me, you senile old bastard!" Valor exclaimed before attempting to dash away from his overbearing father. The older man was swifter than he looked, however, and caught his son in a crushing bear hug. Valor cursed her name as he was painfully engulfed by mass and muscle. "Aaaagh, damn you, Sylvia!"
"Hee hee hee."
As the trio persisted in their antics, a city-wide announcement began. All of the new residents turned their attention to the nearest of a number of large monitors that were strewn about the city. Many were placed along the skyscrapers and used for advertisements when they weren't in use. Colonia's enigmatic Emperor, Scott Slade, appeared to greet his new subjects. The powerful man was in his early forties and easily recognizable thanks to his signature white hair. He also wore a decorated suit that signified his status in the country that he forged through many years of hard work.
"Welcome, my new citizens, to a day that will most certainly go down in history. As many of you may know, the Colonia Project was passed down to me by my late father and I'm sure he would be proud to see it become such a monumental success. I know you've all done your research before making the decision to join us, so you know why our new continent is a great blessing. Your participation helps to spread out our world's population and also puts less strain on our collapsing environment. You should all be proud of yourselves for taking such a heroic step toward mankind's future."
"He says this artificial monstrosity will help to preserve the environment, but it's people like him who destroyed it to begin with," thought a young native man with lengthy brown hair. His name was Earnest Lightwind. Like Valor and the rest of the new immigrants, he was watching the broadcast from the streets of Central Tempest City.
"Watching this makes me sick. I'll be the one to assess whether this mechanical beast is beneficial or not..."
"Humanity has been through tumultuous times lately. Uncertainty has spread like a plague across the globe. We've invested in the brightest and most talented minds from countries around the world to ensure that our Colonia will withstand any sort of natural disasters. I have the best researchers and scientists working day and night to solve the problem of the elemental balance and secure our future."
"What does he know about this supposed imbalance, and why does he seem so confident that we can combat it...?" thought a blue-haired young woman. Her name was Mia Auria, and she gathered with several of her friends as they watched the broadcast. Among them was Scott Slade's own son, Serph Slade, who shared his father's signature white hair. His was cut much shorter, though. He had a distant look in his eyes as he watched his neglectant father speak.
"Father, is this the goal that you've been trying to achieve for all these years...?"
"I cannot promise a utopia, but I can guarantee you a sanctuary. The laws here may be slightly stricter than what you're used to, but they exist in order to preserve the limited space that we have. You were all aware of this before taking the entrance exams, so anyone who isn't compliant will be met with swift justice. If you don't appreciate this world that I've created, then you can leave so that someone more deserving can take your place."
"So he's basically saying we need to do what he says or we get kicked out," said another onlooker. He was a young man with short blond hair named Lee Trainer. He adjusted his glasses and turned to check his girlfriend's reaction, but was surprised to see that she wasn't paying attention in the slightest. She was more concerned with the newly-opened shops lining the streets.
"Amara, are you even listening?"
"Who cares about that boring blabbermouth? Well he's kinda hot, but that's beside the point. We need to shop like crazy while all the stores are still having their opening day sales! I've already located five promising jewelry stores that you need to take me to. Buy me stuff, buy me stuff, buy me stuff!"
Lee whimpered as he pried open his wallet and glanced inside. His woman's priorities certainly were something to be concerned about. Meanwhile, Slade's broadcast continued.
"With all of that said, I'll allow you all to get settled in to your new homes, schools, and workplaces. You'll have to adapt quickly, as there's another boat arriving shortly followed by more in the coming weeks. Colonia will continue to grow and prosper until we're officially recognized by the entire world. And by that point..."
The broadcast came to a rather abrupt stop at that point. It was unclear whether that had been intentional or not. Without giving it much thought, the majority of Colonia's new citizens did as told and continued to get settled into their new roles. Valor, however, wasn't quite so eager to go through the motions like a sheep. He glared defiantly at the nearest monitor that previously displayed Slade's face, though now it was just showing an advertisement for a new car dealership.
"Good eye, boy!" his father said before giving him a mighty pat on the back. Valor grunted and tried to keep his balance as his parent continued to speak."We can go there to find your new car. It actually doesn't seem to be too far from here."
"What's wrong?" Sylvia asked. She stepped up next to Valor and put her hand on his shoulder, sensing that he'd become upset about something. The young man continued to stare, seemingly out into space, as he acknowledged his her question.
"Slade seems a little too... righteous, doesn't he? I wonder what his real reasons are for doing all of this..."
Slade finished his broadcast and calmly undid his tie as he turned in his chair to face the window at the rear of his office. He looked down toward the crowded streets from the highest floor of the monumental city hall building that he governed. Knowing that he now had his own subjects brought him a great sense of satisfaction. It was still an empty victory to him, though. Bringing these people to his Colonia was only part of what he needed to accomplish. What these people didn't know was that the world was still on the verge of being destroyed.
"This had better work..." the man now-called-Emperor thought to himself. "I've used up all of my resources and called in every favor I've ever been owed. The stage is set for the world to be saved and ruled by me. The rest now depends on a scatterbrained scientist... and a master thief."
"Scott," his name was suddenly said aloud as the door to his office opened. He glanced over his shoulder to see his blonde assistant, Carol Savenoff, had come to retrieve him. She was about his age and dressed very sharply, giving off the appearance of a motivated career woman. She met his cold gaze without hesitation and displayed that she was one of the few people who was not intimidated by him.
"The council is requesting your presence."
"Of course they are, the savages..."
Scott descended a floor and arrived at the meeting hall that housed many of his co-conspirators on his projects. Though he was Emperor by title, he did not rule the country single-handedly. He could not have completed the project without the assistance of these benefactors and, thus, they also had a say in things. Nine seats around a rectangular table were filled by other powerful figures that now inhabited Tempest City. Clockwise from Slade's seat were Richard Lowell, Adam Mallory, Peter Gallagher, Jack Scofield, Garth Addams, Travis Smith, Charles Willington, Elena Whitman, and Herschel Domino.
Scott gave them all looks of disdain before finally taking his rightful seat at the head of the table. He folded his hands together atop the polished surface and subconsciously scratched at it with his right index finger.
"Okay, Slade, you've made your speech," spoke Smith, who seemed to be a very anxious man. "When is the other project going forward?"
"It already is."
"I don't think we should be rushing into this," Scofield cautioned both Slade and Smith. "I understand the need to control the elemental balance, but we can't just involve random, innocent people in the initial testing process. If we injure or kill them, the blood will be on our hands. Not to mention the moral argument that I could make..."
"Really, Scofield? You want to talk about morals?" asked Garth Addams. "Our world is on the brink of destruction. India is shattered by earthquakes, hurricanes tear through America, and a dormant volcano buried part of Japan. I don't think we should be concerned about skipping a few steps right now."
"Don't talk to me like I don't know what's going on. But these citizens don't even know about the elemental imbalance, let alone the Anomaly Project. Some of these people who've just come to this 'sanctuary' are children, our children. Let me ask... how many of you have kids that just immigrated to Colonia?"
Scofield raised his hand first, followed by Willington, Mallory, Gallagher, Domino, and Lowell. Smith, Addams, and Slade each reluctantly raised their hands as well once they saw everyone else's reactions. Scofield let out a sigh of relief after believing he successfully brought them back to reality.
"How would you feel if your child was one of the subjects targeted for this project and something went horribly... wrong? I certainly wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I put any of my three children in danger."
"Hah. You're so pathetic," Addams mocked him, showing that he didn't share the same concern for his own offspring. "This is why we don't have results yet. We're being too careful."
"Well this is why we should've tested this stupid project before even opening the doors to Colonia," argued Elena Whitman, who was the only female on the council and also the only one who didn't have children. "The country isn't even finished yet. We could've used more time to build the country and done our testing elsewhere."
"Not without violating the human experimentation laws of another country," Mallory pointed out. "There are no such laws here."
"Some of the foreign governments are in on this, though," said Gallagher.
"But imagine the public backlash if word got out. No other country will take that risk," countered Willington. "I'm with Jack on this one. Scott made the right choice by bringing the people here before we started, but we should start testing in an enclosed environment with a willing volunteer."
"Thank you," Scofield said as he let out a sigh of relief. Herschel Domino, who was by far the oldest man in the room, nodded along with Willington and Scofield's proposal. Whenever he spoke up, there was a sort of authority that even Slade didn't have the presence to command. The imposing CEO of the Domino Financial Group was also the wealthiest man in the room, which gave him even more room to stretch when he made a decision.
"We will vote on this. It's the only way to settle this childish argument."
Most of the other council members nodded. Only Addams and Smith seemed agitated by Domino's decision, but neither of them continued the argument. Slade realized he wasn't going to be able to raise a dissenting opinion here and allowed Herschel to continue doing as he pleased. He already knew how this would turn out.
"All in favor of testing in a controlled environment before we begin mass production?"
Domino, Scofield, Willington, Lowell, Mallory, and Gallagher all raised their hands. Smith, Addams, and Whitman each grimaced when they saw that they were outnumbered. Slade simply sat back with his arms folded and eyes closed, not even bothering to watch how the votes unfolded.
"Well that decides that," Garth Addams said after a few seconds of silence. The founder of Hypertech Corp. was clearly dissatisfied. Domino spoke again to clarify their point.
"We will not approve random selection until we're certain it works. We're short on time but we're not out of it... yet. We need to know how well human bodies can absorb and handle the elements. In theory, they'll be able to carry part of the burden that our world is bearing, but we don't know yet for certain. We need to find a willing volunteer and explain everything to them before we initiate the project."
"Then we must do this soon," Whitman said. She glanced around the room at her eight colleagues and waited for one of them to speak up. "Well? Any suggestions? Hell, I'll do it if I have-"
"No," Slade interrupted her. "Those as old as us will not be able to effectively harness the elements, according to our project lead. Young bodies are more adaptable. Why do you think I gave out so many scholarships for CIU? We have thousands of potential test subjects cramming into the dormitories as we speak."
"How will we approach them?" Scofield asked with concern in his voice. "I'm not very comfortable with the way you've deceived these young people. I'd like to oversee the process."
"You are not part of the Anomaly Project. Stay in your own area of expertise and leave these matters to me," the white-haired Emperor responded. He glanced over his shoulder at Carol and grinned as he spoke. "My good friend Joe Ausa has already volunteered a young lady that we may utilize..."
Valor and Sylvia were dropped off at CIU by Valor's father after he leased a new car. Though the car was technically for Valor, his father needed to use it for the rest of the day and took it with him. Valor wasn't really in a position to argue and decided he'd spend the rest of the day checking out the campus with Sylvia. The young woman had a very playful look on her face as she energetically strode toward the dormitories.
"What are you so excited about?" asked Valor.
"We finally have a car! It was so depressing when we couldn't get around before," the redhead answered. "My mom never liked you touching her car and I can't even drive yet. I wonder why your dad suddenly bought you a car, though. Did he suddenly get rich?"
"Well he works for the Colonia government, so he's certainly not poor… and it's my car, not ours. Let's go find out dorm assignments and then register for courses. I bet there's going to be a lot of competition to get into certain classes. I think I need some pre-requisites for Econ 330..."
"Umm, it should totally be my car too," said Sylvia. She suddenly stopped in the middle of the pathway leading through the courtyard and turned to face Valor. He felt a bit shy and glanced away when she made direct eye contact with him. "We've been friends since we were like ten. That entitles me to half ownership of your stuff."
"How do you figure that? You're not my girlfriend, you know."
"I could be if I wanted to."
"Pfft, dream on. I only like tall girls."
"I can be tall if I want to, too… if I wear heels."
"I bet they can't even make heels that-waaagh!" Valor exclaimed as someone suddenly walked into him from behind. He stumbled forward, crashed headfirst into Sylvia's chest, and knocked her onto her butt. He then felt the third party land on his back and crush his torso against the pavement. Valor deduced that the person who'd caused the accident was definitely a female, based on the soft protrusions he felt pressing against his back. He groaned in pain and looked up to see if Sylvia was okay. He then realized that he was looking right up her skirt.
Sylvia let out a disgusted grunt and crossed her legs before kicking Valor in the face. He clutched his poor face as he writhed in pain on the pavement. The unknown girl who started this mayhem pushed her hands against Valor's back, crushing him against the ground more, as she lifted herself up and let out a shocked gasp.
"Oh my- I'm so sorry! I wasn't watching where I was going because I was looking at my phone and then you were suddenly just standing there and you didn't move and I didn't see you in time and-"
"We get it. Just get off of him," Sylvia ordered. The blue-haired girl nodded and stepped off of Valor before reaching around on the pavement to find her glasses. Valor spotted the spectacles first and retrieved them before returning them to their owner. The first thing he noticed was how cute this fair-skinned stranger was, but Sylvia leaned down and pulled on his ear before he got any ideas.
"Ow, OW! First my dad crushes me, then this chick tackles me, then you kick me right in my money-maker. Haven't I had enough abuse for one day!?"
"There's never enough for you."
"I'm sorry, please don't fight because of me!" pleaded the new girl. She collected her books and got back to her feet at the same time Valor did. She hung her head in an attempt to apologize. "I'm just really clumsy, it wasn't his fault. M-my name is Harmony Chandra. I didn't mean to ruin your date!"
"We're not dating," Valor quickly responded. Sylvia's response to that was to pull on his ear some more. "Ow! Now what?!"
"Don't sound so proud of it."
"Hehe, you two are funny," said Harmony. She immediately resumed looking at her phone but attempted to keep the conversation going. "Are you new here?"
Valor and Sylvia exchanged glances.
"Aren't we all new here?"
"Oh, that's true I guess... well, I'll see you later! Thanks for talking to me!" Harmony said as she rushed off. Her destination also seemed to be the dormitories, just like Valor and Sylvia. Valor waved after her with a dopey grin on his face while Sylvia just crossed her arms and scowled. He noticed his companion's reaction and shook his head at her immaturity.
"Why are you always jealous? It's not like I made skin-to-skin contact with her."
"Airheads like her really rub me the wrong way. I hope we never see her again."
"Bet you ten bucks that she ends up as your roommate just because you said that."
Valor technically became ten dollars richer over the next hour, though he was sure Sylvia would quickly extort the money back from him. Once he got settled into his new dorm room, he went with Sylvia and her spaced-out roommate to register for courses. There were massive lineups so they simply had to take their place in line. Valor was quite proud to be in the company of two beautiful women, though Sylvia wasn't quite as pleased with the new addition to their clique. Harmony continuously played with her flip-up cell phone and barely looked up.
"I'm not going to get any of the courses I want, am I?" Valor asked as he stared toward the front of the seemingly endless line. It was a literal sea of hopeful and impatient students.
"Did you sign up for a program on the website before you came here?" Harmony asked. Valor and Sylvia stared blankly at the back of her head as she continued texting. Their silence said everything; suddenly Harmony had become the wise one of the group. She resumed playing with her phone after making her point, which started to pique Valor's curiosity.
"What exactly are you doing on there, anyway?"
"Talking to a guy I like."
"Why don't you talk to him face-to-face like a normal human being?" wondered Sylvia.
"Because he's not in Colonia yet, duh. I haven't even met him in person before. We met online and planned to get together after moving here."
"... what if he turns out to be in his forties? Or he likes Linkin Park? Ugggh."
Valor quickly lost interest in Harmony's activities and became distracted by another group of females that were just ahead of them in line. His attention was captured when he noticed a rather tall girl with blue hair that was the apparent leader of her trio. It was Mia Auria. She quickly noticed Valor's absent-minded staring and raised a curious eyebrow in his direction.
"Little did I know that, on this fateful day, I would encounter not one, but two girls with bizarre blue hair..."
"Excuse me, are you one of my fans?" Mia asked Valor, who flinched when he realized that he had attracted unwanted attention. She shook her head disapprovingly and presented herself in an arrogant manner. "I'll sign an autograph for two-hundred bucks."
"All I have is this ten I won earlier..."
"Wh-what? You're not actually famous, are you?" Sylvia asked. She felt immediately threatened by Mia's beauty and height. Mia casually shook her head and chuckled slightly.
"No, but your boyfriend's creepy."
"He's not my boyfriend..."
"I'm sorry but your hair is kinda hard not to notice," Valor tried to defend himself. "Is that natural? And that goes for you too, Harmony. I'm starting to feel like Colonia is some sort of convention for people with distracting physical traits."
Valor did his best not to make eye contact with Sylvia as he rambled on, knowing he was digging his grave deeper with every poorly-planned word that escaped his mouth. Mia had a couple of her friends with her as well. Neither of them were very impressed with Valor so far, either. There was Hayley Viola, a thin girl of medium height with brown hair. There was also Gabby Moreno, a comparatively shorter girl with a darker skin tone and even darker brown hair. Gabby crossed her arms as she scrutinized Valor in a similar manner as Sylvia.
"Ugh, creeps like you need be disciplined like the dogs you are. Menso."
"What did you just call me!? I don't understand Brazilian, but I'm sure it wasn't-aagh!" Valor cried out before Sylvia elbowed him in the ribs. He hunched over and clasped his wounded torso while wondering if he'd been cursed by some sort of vicious pain-loving deity while he was en route to Colonia. The redhead put on a false smile as she attempted to apologize on her clumsy friend's behalf.
"I'm sorry about him, he never bothered to take a second language in high school. He's also a serial pervert, as you've probably noticed."
"Oh please tell us more," said a very sarcastic Hayley. She crossed her arms and glared at Valor, who wanted to break down and cry after the brutal tarnishing of his reputation. Sylvia tried to smooth things over with the other girls, even though she was usually the least likely one to be outgoing and attempt to make friends.
"Maybe we should start over with a few introductions. I'm Sylvia, the girl who hasn't looked up from her phone is Harmony, and this unstoppable moron is Valor."
"Quit introducing me by my last name! I'm Ryan. R-Y-A-N."
"Okay, Valor," said Gabby. Mia and Hayley both seemed to be amused by their antics and warmed up quickly to the other trio. A short bit of conversation revealed that Hayley and Mia's room was very close to where Sylvia and Harmony were staying. Gabby was going to be taking a lot of the same courses as Sylvia, while Hayley was oriented mostly toward criminology. One thing that Mia had in common with Valor is that neither of them really knew what direction they were headed in, education-wise. Another was that they'd both been dragged to Colonia by their fathers.
"You think your dad is bad?" Mia asked. She seemed skeptical that Valor's tales of his muscle-bound father were true, but she also had her own to counter-attack with. "Mine constantly yells about justice and preserving the peace. He jumps out of windows spontaneously and has a police siren hooked up in the house to wake us all up..."
"And yet you're still a complete and total slob, despite how strict he is," Gabby proudly pointed out. Mia's face twitched in annoyance and she leaned down, butting her foreheads with her rival and uttering threats to her.
"You're talking pretty boldly all of a sudden. Want me to step on you, ant?"
"Try it. I bet you'll love having a broken foot, you gorilla."
"This is suddenly very intense. I like it," thought Valor. Hayley stood to the side and smiled nervously while her friends argued like children in front of complete strangers. The brunette with bright streaks in her hair turned to Valor and the others in an attempt to change the topic.
"You guys saw the broadcast earlier, right?" she asked. Valor and Sylvia both nodded while Harmony continued texting. Mia's face became more serious when the topic was brought up and she clamped her left hand down on Gabby's face, pushing her away while she turned to share her thoughts with her new friends.
"Scott Slade is full of it, if you ask me. I've never been a big fan of him, not even when I was a kid."
"Since you were a kid?" Sylvia wondered. "I'd never even heard of him until people started talking about Colonia actually happening. No one took it seriously until a few years ago."
"We went to the same school as Slade's son, who is a friend of ours," Hayley explained. "We've met Slade a number of times. He's always been cold, abrasive, and secretive. Colonia sure sounds good on paper, but we think there's some other reason for its existence aside from a 'sanctuary.' Slade used to be involved with the mint; he's all about profit. Where's the profit here?"
"I consider not dying in a tsunami or a hurricane to be a profit," Valor said under his breath. He then addressed the girls. "So you came to Colonia even though you don't trust the man in charge? Not that I do, of course. Did you come here to play detective?"
"Maybe," Mia responded. She had a sly smile on her face and held up her right index finger as she explained her inside track. "I can get pretty close to him. Slade is good friends with my dad and his son is smitten with me. He's sending me lovey-dovey text messages as we speak."
"It's pretty disgusting," Gabby commented. Mia and the others glanced at her oddly after that comment. She didn't seem to be a big fan of male-female relations. Suddenly the awkward silence was interrupted as Harmony let out a dramatic gasp. Everyone's eyes turned to her as she continued staring at her phone. She quickly noticed that she had attracted everyone's attention and decided to explain what had shocked her.
"Someone just posted that they spotted the Emperor on campus! Our campus!"
"Why the hell would he be here?" Valor wondered, leaning over to confirm what was written on Harmony's phone. Hayley nudged Mia in the arm and began to tease her.
"Maybe he bugged us all when we entered the country and is coming to silence you for your treasonous intent."
"... that's not funny."
As if on cue, the attention of the masses was directed to the entrance where the Emperor indeed made his appearance. He was accompanied by his assistants Carol and Joe, as well as a few bodyguards and a plethora of students who had questions for him. He answered a few minor questions as he strode through the room but remained aloof for the most part. The bodyguards did their duty in keeping anyone from touching or getting too close to him. Mia, Gabby, and Hayley recognized Slade's male assistant, Joe. He'd given them a tour around campus at Nash's request. Valor noticed that Joe also sported unusual blue hair.
"Mia Auria. It's been a while," spoke the powerful man, who approached Mia as soon as he spotted her. "You're growing up to be an incredibly lovely and strong woman. You would make a fine wife for my pitiful son."
"I don't date anything that's inherently pitiful," she retorted, causing a number of gasps from those within earshot. Harmony became really nervous and stepped further away when she realized that Mia had just insulted the Emperor. Valor crossed his arms proudly at Mia's defiance. Slade seemed to be amused by it as well.
"Your sharp tongue will be an asset to you in the coming days. I'd like to request that you come with me."
"And where exactly are you taking me? I've got classes to sign up for."
"There are more important things that you must do. I'll explain everything while we're on the way. I'll be inviting Nash along as well. Does that put you at ease?"
Mia hesitantly took a step forward to join the Emperor as soon as her father's name was mentioned. Valor noticed that Slade's assistant Joe looked especially grim after the most recent exchange between Slade and Mia. That was enough for Valor to decide that he wasn't cool with this. He stepped forward to stand between Mia and Slade. Sylvia and Harmony both gasped as their companion stared down the most powerful man in Colonia. Slade's bodyguards moved to take action but he indicated for them to stop. He decided to humor the boy.
"Afraid of telling her in a public place? Don't want any secrets getting out?"
"Young man, I suggest-"
"Valor, it's okay-" Mia swiftly attempted to dissuade her would-be savior, but Valor cut her off.
"No, it's not. This may be my only glance to ever get some answers out of this guy. And it's Ryan. Say it with me, now. R-Y-A-N."
"I do not owe an explanation to a scrawny child such as yourself," Slade informed the young man. He held out his arms and indicated the entire country around them. "You should be grateful that you're able to walk on my land and breathe my air. Remember that I built this sanctuary and I, alone, allow you to exist. Not only you, but your little friends as well."
Slade looked toward Sylvia and Harmony as he said that, enraging Valor. The older man smiled, confident that he had put the young man in his place, and motioned toward Mia.
"Dogs that bite at the hands of their masters will be swiftly dealt with. Now come along, Mia."
"Don't give me that, you bastard!" Valor shouted before rushing toward Slade. He was apprehended by the bodyguards and slammed against the floor before he was able to take more than a few steps. Slade turned away, taking his assistants and Mia along with him. Carol eventually recalled the bodyguards and Valor was left sprawled out on the floor.
"So how does it feel to be a hero?" Sylvia asked. She knelt down over Valor while he groaned weakly and stared up into space. He was frustrated that he couldn't get anything out of Slade. The pompous Emperor was quite the character, even in person.
"Is it bad that I'm getting used to being in constant pain...?"
"Why would Slade take Mia?" asked Gabby. She and Hayley stood in a daze while the rest of the crowd calmed down and filed back into the registration lines. They ignored the chatter and focused solely on their friend's safety. "As much as I like seeing that ape get taken down a peg... I feel a little worried."
"Yeah, that was definitely really weird. Let's go tell Serph and Alex what happened."
Elsewhere, in a location unknown to the public, there existed a large laboratory and testing site that was the true reason for Colonia's existence. Research was being conducted that would hopefully save the entire world from its crisis. The decade-long undertaking was codenamed the Anomaly Project. The ultimate goal of the project was to channel the berserk elements into human hosts in order to preserve the balance. If successful, these hosts would be considered unusual compared to the rest of the population, thus the term 'Anomaly.'
Gregory Booker was the man in charge of the project, but he also had a small staff that knew his secrets. The second-in-command was Jade Curtiss, a former military man with a sharp intellect. Jade had an underling of his own, codenamed Dist, who was both brilliant and obsessive. Those traits kept him focused and useful. In addition to the researchers, there were also two lead technicians who worked on developing machinery that could manipulate elemental energy: Eric Valor and George Baker. The four of them worked beneath Gregory with the ultimate goal of understanding and manipulating the power of the eight elements.
"Jaaaaade," whined Dist, who had shoulder-length white hair and circular glasses. He wore a suit decorated with a rose pattern. He turned in his chair and questioned his superior about a recent discovery made by Gregory. "Do you really think Professor Booker is telling the truth? Is there another dimension out there?"
"Well, if his research is correct..." Jade mumbled as he tried to make sense of the discovery himself. He held a tablet in his hand and was skimming through some of Gregory's recent journal entries. "There may be as many as eight other dimensions. Then one 'hub' which acts as the center where they all intersect. That hub is where our universe exists."
"That doesn't make any sense, Jade! Explain it to me with pictures!"
"If you don't mind being humiliated by your own lack of awareness, then I have no qualms with enlightening you."
"Grrrr..." Dist stomped his feet down as he threw a miniature tantrum. He was brilliant but acted very childish. He also suffered from a severe inferiority complex since Jade managed to constantly outperform him. "Fine, whatever! I'll never be able to surpass you if I can't understand everything first!"
"Now there's a good boy," Jade said. He moved to a nearby chalkboard and readied himself to explain things to his clueless assistant. "There are eight elements that make up our very existence, even you know that. As the discoverer of this, Professor Booker has named them Solid, Magma, Vapor, Flora, Mental, Plasma, Light, and Darkness. I think the names are each self-explanatory. Now the way an average person would look at things is that we live in a single world and our bodies, buildings, environment, and etcetera are composed of these eight properties merged together, right?"
"That's exactly how I understood it, you snake."
"Now, now, watch the flattery. Professor Booker has theorized, and I believe he's close to proving it, that our world is actually the result of an overlap between the eight zones. Let's say there are eight circles, representing the other zones, spread out through an area of space. Each of these eight circles is the home to a different element such as Solid, Light, and so on. Our world was only born because it was in the perfect spot where all eight of these circles intersect. In other words, all eight of the elements came together in harmony and created everything. Furthermore, we can also only continue to exist because they remain connected."
"So the reason for all the disasters lately is because they're... unconnecting?"
"Quite the opposite. They're fighting for territory and trying to push the others out. I highly doubt these zones are sentient; their own, expanding power must be repelling or overpowering the others. So what we're trying to accomplish is balancing out the elements by channeling them into human hosts. If successful, this will mean each of the eight elements are at equal strength and no longer thrashing against each other for control. Thus the world will continue to spin on and you'll be able to continue being useless."
"That's brilliant, Jade! We will use our own lives to support our world! Professor Booker is a genius!"
"It would be more accurate to say that he's incredibly eccentric and creative. I would never have come to the same conclusions as he did, even if I'd looked into it for decades. We can only pray now that it will work."
"It had better work," spoke another man who suddenly entered the laboratory. This particular visitor was incredibly well-built and sported a large, bushy beard. "We didn't work all these years just to have the world destroy itself anyway."
"Ah, Mr. Valor," Jade greeted Valor's father, who was one of the technicians. He was responsible for creating much of the equipment in the lab under Gregory's instructions. He was frequently tardy, which led to Jade's surprise at seeing him arrive so early before an experiment. "I'm glad you managed to get here during the day for once."
"I had to steal my son's brand-new car in order to do so," said Eric. He seemed a little too proud of that fact. "Right now, all I can use these amazing muscles for is making sure that the equipment functions perfectly. You two just worry about your part."
"Well there honestly isn't much for us to do other than monitor the energy readings," Jade said in reference to himself and Dist. "We need Professor Booker to properly start the experiment. Where is he?"
"Hmm, I wonder..." the elder Valor said as he sauntered off and climbed behind some of the machinery. Jade raised an eyebrow at the technician's cryptic response; he felt there was something going on that he wasn't aware of. Before Jade could ponder further, he heard the footsteps of more visitors. The scientists turned, hoping it was Professor Booker, but were greeted instead by the cold eyes of Scott Slade. He was accompanied by his two assistants, and also by Herschel Domino and Mia.
"Keep your mouth shut around the Emperor," Jade quickly whispered to Dist. The white-haired scientist tried to complain but was quickly slapped across the head by his superior. The former military man folded his arms behind his back as he moved to greet the group of five that had just arrived.
"Where is Gregory?" Slade asked. Jade returned his stare for a few seconds before responding.
"I was hoping you'd know."
"That lazy fool knows we're supposed to begin soon," the Emperor said as he pranced impatiently around the room. He cast out his arms and indicated all of the equipment he'd bought, forged, and stolen in order to create the lab. "What was all of this for if not this moment!? I've tarnished my own reputation just to get my hands on this equipment! We've all risked our lives on this project!"
"Remember what we discussed earlier during the council meeting? We're short on time but not out of it," Domino reminded Slade. Slade shot a defiant look back in the older man's direction and furiously gritted his teeth together. Carol clasped her hands together and made eye contact with the impatient Emperor, silently pleading for him to calm down. Slade eventually let out an exasperated sigh and stomped away to inspect some things on his own.
"You're not even the one who should be nervous here," the ever-reasonable Domino said. The powerful businessman turned his attention to Mia, who stood with her arms awkwardly wrapped around herself. "Mia, you understand exactly what's happening, right?"
"I do... I think. I understand the hidden meaning behind that broadcast from earlier and how you all plan to fight against the destruction of our world," she quietly responded. "But where is my father? You said he'd be here..."
"He actually is here..." Carol thought. She glanced over at Joe, who kept to himself. It was Joe who recommended that they use Mia for the experiment. He was her biological father, though he was unable to raise her since Slade needed him to work on the Colonia Project. Mia was instead raised by Nash Auria, who had grown up with Scott, Carol, and Joe. The blue-haired man felt incredibly guilty about never being there for his daughter and wanted to give her this great privilege in order to make up for it. Once successful, he planned to tell her about her true heritage. Slade scoffed at Mia's mention of Nash and spoke up again.
"We don't have time to wait for Nash," Slade said, though he had never actually notified Nash of what was transpiring. "The experiment must begin now."
"Only if Mia is willing to go forward with it," Domino reminded Slade. He looked back toward Mia, who seemed very uncertain. She gazed around the room at all of the foreign equipment that appeared to be taken right out of a sci-fi movie. She'd been debriefed completely on the crisis facing the world and how this group planned to save it. She wasn't selfish and she cared deeply about the future of all her friends and family. She felt that she had no choice but to go forward with the experiment.
"I'll do it."
"Oh, you're all here already. Neat," said a rather relaxed Gregory Booker. He appeared through a doorway that led to a deeper part of the testing site. His arrival startled almost everyone present, as they'd expected him to enter from the secured entrance that led to the surface. Jade was the first to question his master's unexpected appearance.
"You were in the lab the entire time? I swore I checked everywhere."
"Ahhh, well, that doesn't matter," he spoke in a laid-back manner that greatly irked Slade. "I've just made a wonderful discovery, but it will take too long to explain right now. I'm now assured that this Anomaly Project will be an overwhelming success. I guarantee it."
"How can you guarantee that?" Domino asked the question on everyone's minds.
"Because I can. Is everything ready, Eric?"
"Sure is," said the technician, who finished making his adjustments and joined the others as they gathered around a large, cylindrical chamber. It was big enough to accommodate a fully-grown human being. Most of the equipment in the lab was connected to this one, vital machine. Mia stared at it for what felt like an eternity. She started to wish she had more time before making the plunge. The main concern on her mind was if Gregory's guarantee was genuine. She was starting to fear that she might never see her loved ones again if she stepped into that chamber.
"This... won't hurt, will it?"
"It shouldn't, but you'll certainly feel different afterward," Jade said as he began to prepare her. "Your body will be absorbing a great deal of energy. You'll have to learn how to control it afterward and that may take some practice. We will have to keep you here until we're certain that you won't become a danger to yourself or others. We've planned for every possible outcome. We've spent years on this. You can trust that we're prepared to make sure you're nothing but a perfect prototype."
"Can we get this started already?" Slade asked. He was getting sour looks from nearly everyone else present but he paid them no mind. He'd been waiting forever to see if all of this investment would pay off. Gregory nodded in agreement with Slade's demand and looked toward his first test subject.
"As long as this young lady is ready," the slightly unreliable-looking scientist asked. "Are you prepared to take the first necessary step to save our world?"
Scott, Carol, Joe, Eric, Jade, Dist, and Domino all watched in anticipation of her answer. They were about to witness a moment in history. All of the sudden attention made the normally-outgoing Mia nervous, but she knew she had to do this. She swallowed her fear and clenched her fists with determination. If she could make the world safer for everyone by absorbing the burden, then there was no question as to what her response would be. The powerful moral code that she'd inherited from Nash wouldn't allow her to make any other choice.
"Then let's begin."
Meanwhile, in Central Tempest City, a man in his mid-twenties furiously marched down the crowded sidewalk in the pursuit of a certain goal. He was a tall, slender man with pale skin and lengthy black hair. He was poised and exuded confidence from both his expression and the way he walked. He brushed his way past several people that he considered to be beneath him. After some searching, the focused man finally reached his destination and thoughtfully stroked his chin as he contemplated his next move.
"Hypertech Tower certainly is one of the tallest and most imposing buildings in this metropolis. I may have been ridiculed for my way of thinking before, but I know there must be someone else out there who shares the same ambitions as I do. Hypertech's CEO could be my ticket back into the loop. I've witnessed his callousness before, now if I can just get an audience with him..."
The ambitious man wasn't even able to make it through the front door before being stopped by security. Two guards accosted him and prevented him from entering the tower, much to his chagrin. He glared at the duo barring his entry and showed no signs that he intended to cooperate with them.
"Get out of my way."
"As soon as you either state your reason for entry or show your employee pass, we will."
"I am here to visit Garth Addams."
"I'm sorry, sir, but Mr. Addams doesn't see anyone. He's a very busy man."
"Hmph, I highly doubt he's that busy. Now move, you imbeciles. This is a matter that concerns the very fate of our world!"
"Sure it does, buddy. Back off of the premises before I call for backup."
"Are you deaf?! I told you to move!"
As the young man argued with security, Addams' limo pulled up in front of the building. He was returning to his office after attending the council meeting and running some other errands. The CEO of Hypertech rolled his window down halfway as he glimpsed at the scene unfolding at his doorstep. Two additional security guards arrived to back up their colleagues and one of them seized the enraged young man by the arm. He pulled away and caused the rest of them to pile on.
"Who on earth is that fool in the white suit...?" Addams wondered to himself as he watched the episode unfold. "I feel like I've seen him somewhere before, maybe. Names and faces have never been my strong point. What is he screaming about?"
"Let me see Garth Addams! He's the only one who can help me now! Tell him it's about the imbalance and I'm sure he'll see me! He'll know what it means!"
"I keep telling you, he's not here!"
"Let that young man go immediately. Didn't you hear that he's an important guest here to see me?" asked the CEO as he exited his limo and approached the stairway. The quartet of guards all froze upon hearing their employer's voice and exchanged puzzled looks before backing away. Addams moved up the stairs and approached the young man, who was fixated on smoothing out his suit and fixing his hair after the brief tussle.
"You mentioned a very intriguing phrase just now. Common people aren't supposed to know about these things, boy. What kind of information have you got for me and how did you obtain it?"
"I used to work underneath Gregory Booker before I was forced out of the project. But I'm the only one who wasn't looking at the problem through tinted lenses. The path you've all chosen is only going to delay the inevitable. I know how to fix things... permanently."
"Join me in my office for a moment, then," Garth said after a few seconds of contemplation. He led the way up the stairs. After taking a few steps, he looked over his shoulder at the pale man and asked a question. "By the way, what is your name?"
TO BE CONTINUED
Author's Note: Recommended Reading
- The purpose of this arc is to cover the origins of the various characters and expand on the mysterious events that took place before the events of Anomaly. We'll learn more about the eight Elemental Gods, how the Anomaly Project unfolded, and the truth about the "five years ago" that was mentioned so much in the first story (it's eight years now, in Anomaly War.) That being said, there were a few chapters in the original Anomaly story that fit into the timeline of this arc. For a refresher, you can head back and check out the following chapters:
- Anomaly Extra: Blossoming Justice (this chapter features Scott Slade and some events leading to this arc)
- Anomaly Chapter 50: Insanity VI (there are some flashbacks about Mia's past in this chapter, which I won't have room to re-tread over during this volume)