After seeing Dick in the hospital, Jae couldn't help but see his face on every dead body he was called to and every dying man he tried to save. It haunted him more than he wanted, and for a week he finally felt the weight of the deaths that happened around him. Complacent citizens said nothing in protest when the homicide rate reached record levels. He grew tired of it, picked up his phone, called Karen and asked again, "What's Galileo?" He needed to find out what had nearly killed his cousin, and he needed to prevent it from happening again.
A day later he found himself sitting shotgun in Karen's new car. It was impossible to explain to her insurance agency that her car was demolished by a hitman and a superhuman. Somehow, though, she ended up with a brand new sports car. Jae wanted to question whether she had tapped into Dick's massive savings funds that he had inherited or if she was just well off herself. That would make her the first girl to pursue his cousin for something other than money.
"Do you even know where we're going?"
"I know this town better than you. It's my job to."
Jae could only give her a lopsided frown and a raised brow. She was a bit much for him. The uncomfortable fear that crept up his spine had him scoot closer to the passenger side door. He had to ask, "Why exactly are you so hell-bent on figuring out this case, anyway?"
"Again, it's my job," was her answer. She could tell that he didn't find it satisfactory as he kept staring at her, waiting for a better explanation. A sigh escaped her lips. "When I first got this job I didn't think much of it, but people were glued to the – I don't know – bleak, depressing aspects of this shithole town. Couldn't talk about the kid who saved his dying aunt in a house fire, but if I had a picture of a body on the front page, big bold letters that read: 'GRUESOME CRIME OF THE CENTURY,' then I could sell a paper. I'd sell all of them. So that's what I did."
"And that's why you're out here risking your life and the life of your employees?"
"That's how it started. I just got curious."
"And people will die just because you're curious?"
"Why are you so obsessed with dying?" Karen snapped. Jae was taken aback. "Seriously, is that all you bitch about? Yelling at your stupid hooded friend in the hospital the other day, it was all about people dying. Sometimes it's about who lives, you know?"
"I'm sorry. I just don't feel like we have the right to decide who lives and dies."
The apology was accepted, although she didn't vocalize it. Silence settled in the car, but it wasn't an uneasy one. It was welcomed. Despite such little conversation having ever taken place between the two of them, they felt as though they understood each other. Besides, she agreed with him. It wasn't their place to decide someone's fate. Yet she sure as hell was not going to pass up the chance to report on someone's life or death. Some people considered it coldhearted, but to them she would just say, "And how did you plan on learning about current events, if I didn't objectively report them?" The title of "supreme bitch" was popular at her workplace and throughout the town. She embraced it.
Both had forgotten about Cy sitting in the back until he said, "So here's what I can tell you about Galileo. They're a trinity. Don't know much about 'em other than the girl is a big heffa, ya know what I'm sayin'? Never seen them other two guys before, though. I know everybody calls 'em Bricks an' Mortar. Girl goes by Lucille, but most guys in downtown call her Loose Wheel. They're running the shots with the cops, no doubt. I heard Trent's in charge of keepin' the dicks and pigs out of their turf."
"How will we know when we finally meet one of these trinity kids?" Jae asked.
"So we're just supposed to guess?"
"Nah, I mean you won't meet them."
Jae could only throw his hands up in defeat. He found this excursion to be pointless. Perhaps Galileo wasn't even real. He shook his head at that last thought. He had spent too long trying to decide what was real and what was fantasy. It was time to focus on getting results regardless of the legitimacy of his reality.
Stopped at a red light, Jae allowed his vision to gaze outside. With his head rested in his hand, he watched as people went merrily about their way. Any concerns of drug trafficking in their town didn't appear on their faces. Perhaps they didn't know about it; perhaps they didn't care to know about it. He knew about it. Before anyone else, probably. All of the calls he had answered as a first responder made it clear to him there was a problem. He just wasn't like James. He still didn't believe killing was going to solve anything. He had seen enough bodies to prove that fact in his own mind.
A car pulled up beside them. Absentmindedly, he kept staring out the window, unaware of the newcomers. Reflected sunlight washed out his vision. After he winced, he opened his eyes back up. He was staring down the barrel of a gun.
He threw his hand up to protect his face while the other grabbed the door handle. He had no idea why his reached for the door, and he knew a hand wasn't going to stop a bullet. Neither mattered, though. Karen slammed on the gas pedal and they sped through the red light. The gunman started to unload his magazine mere seconds before they drove off.
The first two bullets hit the front passenger door. One struck Jae in the leg after grazing off of his arm; the other bullet hit his side, which had been left open when his hands flailed about. Another bullet shattered the window. The rest were unable to do any damage other than put a few fresh holes in Karen's new ride. Whether the gunmen decided to pursue wasn't immediately known. All Cy and Karen could hear was the startled howls and curses of shock and pain from Jae. He had fallen over, his body barely held up by the seatbelt.
Karen was trying to drive like a state trooper through downtown traffic so she couldn't assess Jae's injuries. Cy had ducked once he heard gunshots and hadn't gotten back up. As they weaved toward the interstate on-ramp, Karen peeked down at Jae briefly to see if he was even alive. The confused, erratic breathing and constant, "Shit. Oh shit. God damn, shit!" was a strong indication he wasn't dead, but a visual was needed.
Jae, too, hadn't opened his eyes to look for himself. The pain was crippling. There didn't seem to be any way to concentrate enough to focus on what was happening. Eventually he peeked down at his hands, which had been soaked heavily in his own blood. It looked like he had stuck his hands in a bucket of paint. Drops accumulated and fell. His entire right side was stained. It was enough to make the gunshot wounds ache a hundred times more.
Cy finally popped back up. "I told you, you're not gonna meet them!"
"Fuck you. Get me to a hospital," he forced out.
"I thought you guys healed fast?" Karen asked.
"Not faster than I'm bleeding. Holy shit. Auughh."
A weird groan of pain followed by a pathetic attempt to roll over was Jae's only physical move for a few moments. Karen swerved onto an off-ramp and they ended up back in town. She pressed hard on the brakes. The sudden stop had Jae's injuries forced up against the unrelenting seatbelt. A wretched protest flew from his lips in the form of a curse.
"We can't go to the hospital," she told them.
"What?!" Jae yelled as loud as he possibly could. "Why?!"
"She's right, man. They saw you get hit. Blood was everywhere. Pretty sure the entire block heard you scream like a bitch. They'll be waiting for you," Cy said.
Jae couldn't formulate a proper argument. Silence strangled the car. In a life or death situation, his mind became clear. "I'll need to stitch myself up – and fast. At least we found out Orbit doesn't make you invincible."
A wail of a siren and flashing lights came from behind. All three had their attention turned to the distraction. No one knew how to react. They weren't sure whether they could trust the cops or not. A lone officer stepped out of his vehicle and made his way toward them. It wasn't until a second man appeared that Karen cursed. It was Harrington; he exited from the passenger side and adjusted his cap as he joined the other officer.
Karen held her hand out to Jae and said, "Open my glove box." Without a word, he reached up from his position and opened the glove box. She reached over him and snatched a pistol. The weapon was kept tight in her hand as the first officer knocked shined a light inside.
Temporarily blinded by the flashlight, Jae didn't see what transpired next. Gunshots rang out from very close range. His entire body jolted and his eyes clamped themselves shut in fear. A grunt followed by shouts from all directions and then the sound of screeching tires fell on his ringing ears. The only definite noise Jae made out was Cy screaming, "You crazy bitch! You shot him!"
"Calm the fuck down!" she shouted back. Cy muted himself. After all, she had a gun. "I only hit his arm. He'll live."
"I'm talking about Harrington!"
"Of course I shot him! He tried to kill us!" she argued.
"I know! That's not why I'm yelling!"
Jae's eyes were open and clear again. His head was getting light but he forced himself to focus. Using all of his strength, he sat himself back upright. They were on the freeway again. Other cars were passed with ease. A glance at the dashboard and Jae saw they were going near double the speed limit. Nausea hit him. He wasn't sure whether it came from the gruesome gunshot wounds, the fear, or the insane speed they were traveling at.
Vomit reached his throat. He keeled over again. Just as he thought he was about to spill his guts for the last time, a few more gunshots had him jump back up. He peeked out his broken window and saw a car traveling right along besides them.
"Holy shit, Harrington!"
Oozing blood from his throat and driving at breakneck speeds was Harrington in the cop car. One hand covered the wound, the other yanked on the wheel as he attempted to ram them. Karen jammed the brakes; Harrington didn't react in time. The patrol car relied on two wheels after that daring stunt before Harrington got it under control again. As Karen turned around and started driving the wrong direction on a busy freeway, Jae reached into his pocket.
Shaking and smearing blood all over his phone screen, he typed in the one name he felt like he could count on – James.
James almost ignored the call from Jae. He was still angry. Yet he had never purposefully missed a call from his best friend and he couldn't excuse himself if he ever did. When he answered, all he could hear was Jae screaming at Karen and her muffled rebuttal. Jae cursed quietly, complained about the gunshot wounds, and then finally said something to James. All he could get out was, "James, I need your help, there's a huge mess on the freeway – "
Then the call was cut. The only time Jae ever sounded anything other than calm was when he was angry. To hear him sound truly frightened startled James. To make it worse, "on the freeway" was a rather large chunk of the Earth. He wasn't sure if he could even find him. Still, he knew he had to get out there. He wasn't going to let Jae down.
Charlie had seen the corner of James's lips curl downward, his eyes shutting tightly as he tried to brainstorm. Without hesitation, she told him that she was going to help. "Whatever it is, I'll be there," she said. Despite the uncertainty of his friend's situation, he smiled at her words. He knew that it wasn't meant to be taken in a romantic way, but he couldn't stop his heart from beating just a tick quicker. Perhaps it was because it reminded him of better days, before the war changed him and before the changing times infected his town; or, maybe it was because he truly wished for the future to seem as bright as the past.
Regardless, he shoved feelings aside for the sake of haste. For the first time since he received the power of Orbit, James got into a car. Charlie claimed it would be faster to reach the freeway if she drove. Her driving was mediocre at best. Still, he didn't argue, but then again he never argued with her. Once they reached the onramp closest to her apartment, they knew exactly what Jae was talking about.
Traffic was backed up far enough James and Charlie had to squint to see the end. The car was abandoned. Rushing to the center of the mayhem, they passed by several wrecked cars and confused spectators. There didn't seem to be any seriously injured, so they couldn't understand why Jae seemed panicked. Then they reached Karen's car.
Bullet holes littered the side of it, all of the windows were broken, and the entire backend had been crushed in. Cy's body was hanging outside the back window like a wet towel out to dry. Karen was standing outside the vehicle, her door having been completely removed. Constant shots emitted from the pistol she held, but her aim was uncharacteristically off. The damaged leg and arm probably had something to do with her bad posture. The source of her frustration was an officer in plain clothes. James recognized the man immediately.
His instinct was to charge Harrington. The sight of Jae sliding out of the car caught his attention. Instantly he was turned toward his injured friend. By this point, Jae had lost enough blood he was weakened physically and mentally. Somehow, he remained focused enough to keep pressure on the aching hole in his side. He could feel the wound closing, but the fact was his body would need time to replenish the blood supply. Orbit was keeping him alive – for now.
James grabbed him, but Jae waved him off. He was about to warn him that Harrington was on a hellish, rage induced rampage. The words never left his lips. Harrington reached the car at record speeds and smashed the hood as hard as he physically could. The quake from the hit sent vibrations to the Earth and obliterated Karen's new ride. For once there was no bitchy shout from her. She was too focused on keeping herself out of Harrington's way to bother with opening her mouth.
James dropped Jae rather unceremoniously. From his spot on the pavement Jae could see James charge. Blow after blow, James let loose a furious attack on Harrington. Each hit was enough to rattle every bone in James's body. Shockwaves from the sheer power was enough to split their skins. Crippled and stunned by James's onslaught, Harrington faltered. He collapsed. James considered the fight over. If the pain Harrington suffered was even a tenth of how James's knuckles felt, he wasn't going to get up.
Again, James turned to Jae. With bloodied knuckles he helped Jae to his feet. Happy to see James and excited to still be alive, Jae embraced his friend. They stayed like that long enough for Jae to say, "Thank God you're here."
"I am kind of like a god, you know?" James said. It was meant as a joke more than anything. The memory of their previous fight crossed Jae's mind and he smiled. There was no point in denying it; after all, James had just saved his life. What kind of gentleman would be to argue with his friend at that moment?
Harrington was seeing red. Soaked in blood from his own body and that of James's knuckles, he struggled to stand. Once he felt as though his footing was secure, he sent his eyes all over the scene. He needed to find a weakness. He needed to eliminate everyone and everything that got in the way of him strangling James Wade.
James was open, his attention focused solely on the weak Jae. Yet he knew that James would probably turn any attack he made quickly around. The drug dealer that had been seated in the back was clearly dead; the crazy woman that shot him was injured and didn't appear to have any worthwhile connection to James. Now, the woman that had arrived with James? That was another story.
With the last of his strength, he dashed to Charlie's side. He snatched her arm. A small, surprised yelp escaped her lips but was silenced immediately when she focused, reeled back and punched him. Precise, consecutive hits struck him on the slow healing bullet wound on his neck. Strong enough to stun him but nothing more, the blows were shrugged off. His fingers dug relentlessly into her shoulder. An attempt to ignore the pain was futile; his fingers crushed through the skin, the muscle, the bone – the shoulder was fragmented just by his grip.
As her body went to fold he made sure to seize her again. This time, it was by her throat. James and Jae had no chance to react. Once more his fingers dug deep. They pierced through the skin, ripped through the bone…
James leapt from his position, grasped Harrington's head between his hands and seethed, "You're not getting up this time!"
He crushed his skull like it was as fragile as an egg. Brains and blood splattered over his hands and face. Harrington's lifeless body wobbled and sank to the ground.
Jae hadn't seen any of that. His attention was solely on Charlie. Whatever pain he had was gone; despite being lightheaded because of a lack of blood, he was fully focused again. He scrambled to be by her side after she smacked against the pavement. Reckless James was too hell-bent on killing Harrington to even bother with making sure she didn't crack her head on the ground. Jae knew that point was moot; the gruesome puncture marks on her neck were probably fatal.
At her side, he tried to convince himself there was something worth saving. Digging into his memory banks, he retrieved the scene of that fateful car wreck many years ago, when he brought her back to life as they waited for the paramedics to alive; he remembered the relief he felt when he heard her heart beat on its own again; he tried to muster up that feeling of destiny he had as a boy when he saved a life for the first time. Nothing happened. No feelings of anxiety or accomplishment. He sat idle by her body, his mind blank.