"Honey: nature's most delicious invention. Honey is sweet and provides many health benefits that have helped mankind for thousands of years. Include it with tea, bread, or just eat it straight from the jar, they all taste wonderful. Unfortunately, with the continuous decline of honeybee populations and no further answers to this frightening phenomenon, honey may soon become a rare and expensive treat. However, nanoscientists have found a solution for the continuous demand for this sweet food.
"Thanks to the advancements of nanotechnology, artificial honeybees composed of nanorobots can mimic the honey making process, and the final result is honey that is produced at a faster and higher rate compared to living honeybees. It has the same sweet flavor and all the rich vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in traditional honey. And to prove this point, we have asked dozens of mall shoppers to sample this new product. Here is one example."
"After trying both samples, ma'am, can you tell the difference between the two?"
"No, both have the same rich flavor you taste from honey."
"Will this shock you that one of the two samples you tried is honey made by robotic honeybees?"
"No way! Wow…that's amazing. They both taste exactly the same. I'm definitely telling this to my friends and coworkers. What's it called?"
"Da Vinci's Honey: Nature Reinvented. Purchase it at your local food market today."
Gabe turned off the radio in his car. He was standing at the driver's side with the door open, leaning his arms on the roof as he watched bionic soldiers directing traffic in the pier parking lot. Ted stood beside him, wondering what to say. He could tell that Gabe was very tense, like he was about to crack and expose something he didn't want anyone to see.
Ted placed a hand on Gabe's shoulder. He immediately turned his face to Ted, and then he smiled, the cracks sealing back into place.
"I'm sorry, Ted. I must've been scaring you for the way I've been silent this whole time."
"No, it's okay. What I just saw there at the pier…it left me speechless too. It's scary, about the kid I mean. Who exactly are these terrorists? If you don't mind answering."
"I don't mind at all." Gabe turned his body to Ted. "These terrorists…are part of a growing cult that believes the apocalypse should happen by human intervention. They basically think an apocalypse would bring humanity back into following and fearing God. They use their followers who are compatible, sending them to a specific location and activate the parasite that then controls the user's body and nanites, turning them into hosts. They must've not agreed with the event fundraising progressive candidates who are mostly agnostics and atheists."
"It all started when a few nanoscientists went rogue and took all the information they currently had on nanotechnology, one of them included the former head scientist. They're using their knowledge to gather followers from the poorest regions in the world, people who are most susceptible to being brainwashed into their beliefs. Their symbol is the Vitruvian Man from Leonardo Da Vinci in a hollow circle. The child had the Vitruvian Man symbol attached to a necklace around her neck. I think this must be some kind of a message."
"What kind of message?" Ted asked, intrigued.
"A message saying that they're willing to use innocent children to cause the apocalypse. However, it could mean the number of compatible followers is dwindling since they never used children as hosts before. Bionics will figure this one out."
They turned to see Callaghan walking towards them, wearing the same armor and a cape. "Thanks to you and Lieutenants Johnson and Lockhart, no casualties have been reported. There are some distraught citizens, but nothing Bionics cannot handle. Great work."
"Thank you, Mr. Callaghan," Gabe said, receiving a pat on the arm.
"Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of what will become a war all across the world. But the good news is reporters from major news stations are already broadcasting yours and the Lieutenants' heroism and will definitely increase the morale of the people to support Bionics and our cause. I'll see you at Monday, Colonel Hernandez." Callaghan and Gabe saluted each other.
Callaghan walked away and Gabe turned back to Ted. "Do you want to get out of here?"
Ted smiled and nodded.
They got inside the car and quickly left the pier. On the drive home, a feeling in Ted's chest was slowly eating away at him. He wondered if he should confess to Gabe, but he feared what his response would be.
About twenty minutes later, Gabe arrived at Ted's neighborhood and parked the car in his driveway and turned towards him. "So…did you have fun?"
Ted chuckled. "Yeah, I did."
"Are you okay, Ted? I haven't asked you how you were back at the pier and I'm sorry. Is there anything you want to talk about?"
Ted hesitated, and he said, "I'm okay, Gabe, but there's one thing I want to ask. Do you…are you sure you want me to be your partner?"
"Of course I do."
"Because…I'm not really experienced with fighting hosts, mostly just oversized punching bags. I think I'll be more of a ball and chain to you than an actual partner. I…I don't want you to get hurt because of me."
Gabe's eyes became relaxed and then he placed a hand on Ted's cheek. "You won't be a liability, Ted. You're a strong bionic person and I'll be by your side as we train, making sure you're ready when the time comes and we'll be deployed to fight."
Ted leaned onto Gabe's hand. "You'll text me?"
Gabe kissed Ted on the lips. "Definitely."
Ted kissed Gabe back before saying goodbye. However, the erosion persisted after he left.
Ted opened the front door and was immediately confronted by an argument between his parents. He was immediately frightened because his parents rarely argued, at least not in his presence. They would disagree at the most about table manners and lifting the seat before using the toilet.
Ted walked in, making sure he didn't make any noise as he closed the front door and listened to the argument inside the kitchen.
"Chris, I don't want Ted joining that academy," Tina argued.
"I heard you, honey. I don't want him to join the academy either, but he's eighteen now and can be enlisted without our consent."
"I don't want to see our son dead, Chris!" Tina cried.
Ted's chest felt it was being ripped away. His mother's cry was like a rope that pulled him into her pain too.
"He's not the scared child we adopted from the orphanage anymore." Chris said. "He's already a stronger than average bionic human and joining the academy will only make him stronger. I thought about this all week and I believe he can become something more than just a soldier, Tina. He can become a leader, maybe even the President of the United States one day because of Bionics. And he has already found a partner."
"A partner? Who are you talking about? The man our son is dating?"
"Yes. He's an even stronger bionic human, the Colonel of the academy, and…and I also believe he'll protect Ted with his life, Tina."
"How do you know that?"
"Tina, I'm devoting my life to Bionics. It's a fact the connection developed between partners is strong, when a situation arises when one of them is in danger, the other will not hesitate to rescue their partner. I doubt Gabriel will put himself in danger because I've examined him. He's a very judicious soldier and I have no doubts about him anymore. Ted's in safe hands."
So Dad's on board about Gabe now?
"He's our only child, Chris," Tina choked out. "What if we just tell him how much we don't want him to join, or…"
"Tina, even if that works, Bionics will eventually make Ted join regardless if we want him to or not. I'll also make sure Ted is receiving the best training possible, and we both need to tell him how much we love him. Okay?"
Tina sniffled. "Okay."
Ted caught a glimpse of his parents hugging before he quietly walked upstairs and into his bedroom where he slowly closed the door and fell onto his bed.
"Ted, it's very good to see you unharmed," Leo said, climbing onto his chest and nuzzling his nose on Ted's chin. "I received breaking news about a disturbance that occurred at the Santa Felicidad Pier Amusement Park."
"I'm okay, Leo." Ted patted his head.
Leo cocked his head, the sign that he knew something was wrong.
Ted sighed. "I feel really guilty, Leo. I haven't really considered how my parents would feel about me enrolling into the academy. I heard them arguing about it in the kitchen and my mom sounded like she was about to cry. Fuck." He pressed his hands on his face, frustrated. "I can see why she's scared. A host appeared at the pier and it's happening because of a cult that believes it's their mission to begin the apocalypse. Can you believe that? And…I have to admit…I was scared. I froze when I tried to get near that thing. Missy, Angelica, and Gabe killed it. They were so fearless and I…I'm supposed to fight by Gabe's side. How can I do that if I'm so fucking scared?"
Ted was afraid of what Gabe would think of him. He could see the disappointed look in Gabe's eyes, and disgust that a man who seemed to have a limitless supply of bravery at the parking garage last week was such a fucking coward. He could tell Gabe had a lot of faith that their partnership would solidify, but Ted wasn't so sure. His fear was already liquefying their future together, and it would soon be left to evaporate and disappear into thin air.
"Being courageous means being brave despite fear, not without." Leo said. "It is completely understandable that you are fearful since you have not collected enough data on this type of terrorism before. Do you remember the first week you started driving after you received your permit when you were sixteen years old?"
Ted chuckled. "Yeah, I remember. I had to turn up the air conditioning because I was sweating like a sauna, and it didn't help me when Dad was clutching onto the armrest the entire time I was driving in the neighborhood at only five miles per hour and still managed to almost hit our neighbor's mailbox."
"You were scared, Ted, of damaging the vehicle and endangering your life and your father's, but you overcame that fear and gained experience from driving. Now you have your license and driving on highways without 'breaking a sweat.' I believe that when you enroll into the academy and gain valuable experience in combatting hosts, your fear will be overbalanced by your bravery and you'll feel worthy to be Gabe's partner."
Hope bloomed inside Ted.
Ted smiled. "Thank you, Leo. That really helped me." Ted sat up and hugged him. "I love you so much."
"Come on! Just ten more punches! I know you can do it!" Bao yelled.
Ted was sweating from top to bottom; his sweat was rolling down his face like a window on a rainy day and his shirt was soaked and stuck to every part of his abdomen. His gauntlets were fully materialized on both hands as he was firing them onto a reinforced punching bag repeatedly like a tank cannon. He was at the Olympia Health and Fitness Center in a room repurposed for his training sessions.
Bao, pronounced like bow and arrows, was his trainer since he was fifteen, training him five hours every Sunday from seven o'clock to noon. She was a Chinese woman in her late twenties and just shy of five feet and five inches in height, but her personality was everything but and overcompensated for her short stature. She trained Ted like she was the commander of an army, giving no mercy, taking no excuses, and always pushing his nanites to the limit.
After the last firing of his fists, Ted stepped back and placed his arms behind his head. "I'm done. Five hundred punches."
"In just under five minutes. You're improving at a steady and consistent rate as always. Great job!" Bao congratulated, looking at the timer on her smartphone. "Here's your reward." She tossed a bottle of water to Ted which he happily accepted.
"What's next?" Ted asked before taking a huge gulp of water.
"Actually, I think we made great progress today, so take a shower and I'll treat us with smoothies. Is that okay?"
"Definitely," Ted accepted, pouring some of the water on his face.
After taking a thorough shower, Ted met Bao at the cafeteria where they ordered smoothies and sat down at a two-seated round table next to the curved wall that had floor-to-ceiling windows. He sipped his strawberry and banana smoothie with soy milk, looking through the window and enjoying the sunny view of Santa Felicidad.
"So, Ted…are you planning to enroll into the U.S. Bionics Academy anytime soon?" Bao asked before sipping her mango smoothie.
Ted chuckled. "I was wondering when you were going to say that." He stirred his smoothie with his straw. "Yeah…I am. I actually already found a partner. His name is—"
"Gabriel Hernandez," Bao completed.
Ted raised his eyebrows. "You know him? Let me guess. You're more than just a trainer hired by my father to enhance my nanites' capabilities for research purposes."
"Yes, I was actually assigned by Bionics to train you to improve your skills in case they ever wanted to enlist you into Bionics. When I'm not training you on Sundays, I'm an instructor at the academy and Colonel Hernandez is one of my most prized students." Bao placed her smoothie down on the table. "Ted, I'm sorry I didn't tell you who I really was and what my purpose was to train you. You're a great student and you deserved to know the truth earlier."
Ted raised his hand. "It's okay, Bao. But if you want to make it up to me, can you answer some of my questions?" Bao nodded. "So…when I enroll into the academy, are you going to be my instructor?"
Bao smiled. "Yes I will, and don't think that just because I have other students to train that I'm going to give you any slack, understood?"
Ted chuckled. "Understood." He took another sip of his smoothie before continuing. "So, you also possess nanites that give you enhanced strength too?" Bao nodded. "And you were a student at the academy too, right?" She nodded again. "Have you ever fought a host before like the one at the pier yesterday?"
Bao sighed. "No, I haven't. I guess that's a good thing that the United States hasn't been attacked by terrorists prior to last night. But it's also bad because the students and active duty bionics don't have any actual experience fighting these monstrosities. They need to know that what we are fighting against causes death, destruction, and the lives of their comrades in battle and not just a game you reset when you fail. When a host kills you, it's game over for you permanently. Gabe, however, has plenty of experience."
"Yeah, I suspected that. Can you tell me about it?" Ted asked, leaning forward.
"You are going to have to ask him yourself. What I will tell you is that the nuclear meltdown thirteen years ago wasn't an incident. It was all a cover up." Ted nodded. "Do you have any other questions you want to ask me?"
"Uh, yeah. Do you have a partner too?"
Bao smiled at her smoothie. "Yes, I do. His name is Alfonzo Ramirez. He has enhanced telepathy and he'll be my husband for ten years in a couple months."
"Wow, happy early anniversary," Ted congratulated, tapping his smoothie with Bao's.
"Thank you." Bao sipped her smoothie. "I'm curious, have you and Gabriel synchronized your nanites yet." Ted shook his head. "Well, to keep it short and simple, synchronizing with your partner is the ultimate sign of trust. When two partners synchronize, their minds connect and both of them literally become one individual. They both feel each other's feelings, both good and bad, and memories."
"Memories?" Ted repeated, furrowing his eyebrows.
"Yes, synchronization results in the transference of memories between two partners. That's why it's the ultimate sign of trust. You trust your partner to have access to all of your memories, from past to present like the beginning and ending of a book. You're going to know every memory of Gabriel and he'll know every memory of yours. This fact is the reason why some bionics chose not to have a partner, most likely because they have secrets that they don't want anyone to know."
"Gabe never told me this." Ted clutched his smoothie.
"Gabe has many secrets, and mostly keeps to himself. He's probably waiting for the right time to explain this to you. All I advise is that if you two decide to synchronize, don't do it during battle. What often happens is that both partners become overwhelmed by the sudden transference of memories that it takes a period of time before both of them recover from the experience. The time varies and after the initial action, partners can synchronize and share each other's abilities with the flick of a switch."
"Whoa," Ted muttered. "Well, I don't have anything to hide that I can think of."
"Good. So, if you don't mind me asking, are you and Gabe…romantically involved or are you two keeping your partnership professional?"
Ted scratched his head. "You can say it's…romantic-ish."
"Don't worry, Ted, I believe love is love and Bionics is very accepting of same gender partners. We are far from the days of Don't Ask Don't Tell. I just wanted you to know that." Bao placed a hand on Ted's for reassurance.
Ted smiled. "Thanks, Bao."
They enjoyed their smoothies and talked about other topics on their minds.
Ted looked through the diverse menu of the Lobster Chest, a seafood restaurant located near the beach. He was sitting with Claire, Robert, and some members of the football team with their girlfriends. They sat at a table that was made to look like wooden boards from a pirate ship lying on barrels for legs with a fishnet-like table cloth next to an aquarium full of lobsters. Ted definitely loved the atmosphere of the restaurant even though he was not really a seafood fan and he decided to order just a hamburger with fries sprinkled with sea salt.
"Hey, Ted. I saw you at the fitness center today with an Asian girl," one of the football players said, his girlfriend rolling her eyes.
Ted chuckled. "She's just my trainer, and don't underestimate her because of her size. She kicks my ass after every time she trains me. And she's married."
"You should start dating again, Ted, there's already a couple girls looking at you to your left," Robert said who was sitting beside him.
Ted turned and saw two girls quickly turn their faces away and giggle with straws in their mouths. "Nah, I'm not interested."
"Playing hard to get I see." Robert chuckled and winced, touching the blue circle under his right eye.
"Hey, Robert, I'm sorry about what happened with Stevie. He didn't mean to—"
Robert raised his hand. "It's okay. I know he didn't mean to." He leaned in closer and lowered his voice. "I told everyone on the team that one of the trombone players accidently popped me with their instrument, and I convinced the coach to let Stevie be the mascot again."
"Whoa…that's real cool of you, Robert." Ted patted his shoulder.
"It's nothing. Stevie's a real nice guy and I know he's going to get grief for getting chased and tackled by the marching band. No need to add to it."
Ted clinked their drinks together.
"Do you want me to refill your glass, sir?" the waitress asked, holding a pitcher of water.
"Oh, yes, plea—oh, hey!"
Ted recognized the waitress as the daughter of the man he rescued from drowning yesterday. She was wearing a fitted white shirt with the restaurant's logo, slim blue jeans, and a red waist apron. She had a tan and her chestnut hair was tied loosely into a ponytail. She was definitely a beauty with round cheeks and pearl white teeth. She could easily rival against Angelica Lockhart.
"It's you!" Ted said, standing up and almost taking the table with him.
"Yeah, the name's Malana, but you can just call me Lana. It's good to see you again."
"The name's Ted." They shook hands. "It's good to see you again too, Lana. How's your dad?"
"He's doing great. He's cooking in the kitchen as we speak."
"Oh, he's the chef."
"Yeah, and the owner of the restaurant. I told him you were here with friends and I would like to say that all of your drinks and meals are on the house," Lana announced with a broad smile.
Everyone in the table cheered and Ted said, "You don't have to do that."
"You saved my dad's life, Ted. This is the least we can do." Ted smiled with appreciation. "Hey…is it possible we can talk afterwards?" Lana fumbled with her hands.
"Uh…y-y-yeah. My friends and I will be heading to the beach after to play some football. Do you mind getting your feet sandy?"
"Of course not. I'll see you there." Lana placed a hand on Ted's arm and walked away.
Ted sat back down and Robert lightly punched him on the arm. "Today's the day."
Ted chuckled nervously and saw Claire looking at him with a raised eyebrow.
The sun was touching the edge of the horizon, with an orange-hued sky with seagulls flying over the water. Ted decided to relish the beautiful vista and watch his friends play football instead. The girls were sitting on the sand and cheering for the team their boyfriends were on.
Also at the scene was a couple jogging by the shore and a man who tossed a flying disc into the water and his Labrador jumping into the water to retrieve it.
Ted watched Robert run with the football in his arms, maneuvering and dodging his opponents, and crossed the line drawn in the sand. He cheered and threw the football to the ground. The rest of his team high-fived him and ruffled his blonde hair.
Robert called for a break and jogged to Ted, "Ah man, Ted, you should've of joined us."
"Nah, it wouldn't have been a fair game." Ted smirked.
Robert wrapped his arm around Ted's neck and rubbed his knuckles on his scalp. "Yeah, like that stopped you from winning us the state championship."
Ted playfully pushed Robert away. "Come on, stop saying the only reason we won the championship was because of me."
"It's not only because you can push and tackle any opponent on the field. You encouraged and inspired us, Ted, in the locker room and as we huddled to plan our next strategy. I know it sounds cheesy, but it's true. You also taught the freshman about humility and you were the only one to actually make the coach smile and be less of a dick to us. Now that you're gone…"
"You're a great captain, Robert. We're winning every game—"
"Yeah, but not with the huge gaps like last year, and it's not like our best players graduated and left. And the coach is noticing and screaming at us to do better and the freshmen are so fucking cocky and—"
"Hey. Hey!" Ted turned Robert's shoulders and they were face to face. "Don't let that fucking person next to the devil on your shoulder called doubt influence you, okay? You're a great captain, Robert, and you need to show the team that you can lead them to the state championship again by using the same words I used, but also change them and make them your own. Tell those fucking freshmen that they're not gods and to work with the team, not against them. And do you want to know how I got the coach to smile?"
"I told him to shut the fuck up and go to hell when he said to me in his office that the team wasn't going to win the championship. I pushed back, and I believe that's the reason why he made me the captain after beating shit out of Stu. So, when the coach tells you that the team won't make it, push back and stand your ground. Stand your ground, Robert. That's the most important part. Okay?"
Robert nodded and they bumped their heads together. "Thanks, man. I needed that. If you have any favors you want to ask, let me know."
"Actually…there is one." Robert listened. "If there's any chance that I might not be there for Stevie, can you be by his side. It's a lot to ask, but—"
"You don't have to say any more. I'll do it, and not just for you, but for Stevie too. The mascot deserves the same kind of respect and dignity the team gets and I'll be there for him."
They grabbed each other's hand and bumped shoulders. "Thanks, man, I really appreciate this."
"You too, man." Robert patted Ted's shoulder. "Well, break's over and someone else wants to talk to you."
Ted turned around to see Lana smiling at him. "Oh, hey."
Lana was wearing a sleeveless white dress that reached her knees that flowed with the breeze from the ocean along with her hair that was let down.
"Hey back. That was a very inspiration speech you gave to your friend there. I should've known you played football."
"Thanks. So…do you want to walk and talk?"
Lana nodded and they began walking. "My sister, Kalani, wanted me to tell you that she's very grateful for what you did and I want to say that I'm grateful too. And I said grateful because I know saying thank you is getting redundant." She chuckled and looked at the horizon. "If you hadn't shown up, my dad would've been dead. Kalani has still not fully recovered after our mom died and losing our dad too would've broken us. So…thank you."
Ted smiled. "And thank you for the great food and excellent service. You got yourself a returning customer."
Lana giggled. "You're welcome." She stopped and cleared her throat. "You'll probably say we shouldn't, but my dad wants to invite you to our house sometime and serve you dinner as an ultimate way of saying thanks."
"Oh." Ted rubbed the back of his neck.
"And it won't be just seafood. He can also cook chicken, beef, pork...anything you like. My dad won't stop talking about it to me and my sister. So…will you come so you can rescue us?"
Ted chuckled. "Yeah…yeah, I'll come."
Lana looked down and smiled. Ted knew he should come for the dinner, accept the thanks from Lana's father and then leave after that, and not give her the impression that there was chemistry happening between them. But the pride he felt from attracting her interest made him want to swim further and see how far he could go. Oh, the irony! And he already had someone in his sights. Gabe.
Ted and Lana kept walking until someone familiar appeared in Ted's sight several meters away. The silver kit he saw at the locker room during the drill Friday. He was wearing a shirt, cargo shorts, and flip flops. He was staring at the horizon with a stoic expression on his face, letting the water crash into his feet and ignoring all external forces.
Lana turned and walked the opposite direction and Ted followed. "I feel so sorry for him."
"The guy with the silver hair?" Ted asked, turning his head to look at him again.
"Yeah, every Sunday he just stands there for about an hour, doing nothing but staring into the ocean. People said a year ago, every Sunday, he was seen with a girl, a guy like him sticks out, you know? She apparently passed away and I guess he's reminiscing the time they had on the beach together. That could've been me and my sister if you hadn't shown up."
Ted gave a small smile and turned to see the silver kit had disappeared.
Who are you?