The First Mission

The First Mission

When Mikayla Alave received her first official mission, she was in the middle of hand-to-hand combat training, trying very hard to not wallop her opponent and getting rather walloped herself for her efforts. She didn’t have anything against the young man; in fact, she thought he seemed like a rather decent fellow. But lately, every one of her punches seemed to move faster and contain more force than it ought.

She sensed, rather than saw, her opponent’s punch headed for her gut. She dodged and instinctively started to try to kick his legs out from under him, but stopped herself just before her foot could hit. Slower. Slower. Go easy.

Her opponent’s fist hit her nose squarely. Off-balance from stopping her kick, she fell back and hit the ground. She shut her eyes and bit back a groan. Beaten again. What’s wrong with me?

“Cat! Night! Enough!” Her trainer’s sharp voice broke through Mikayla’s thoughts. A hand closed on her shoulder and jerked her to her feet. “What’s the rule when you’re beaten but aren’t seriously injured, Night?”
Mikayla forced her eyes open and looked her trainer in the eye, as she’d been taught. “Get back up again immediately, ma’am.”

Her trainer nodded. “And why is that the rule, Night?”

“Because if you don’t get up immediately, you’re likely to get killed,” Mikayla mumbled. She wished her trainer would let her be just this once. Couldn’t she understand that sometimes, even if you weren’t seriously injured, you didn’t quite feel like you could get up again?

“Correct, Night.” The trainer crossed her arms, switching her steel-grey gaze from Mikayla to her opponent. “Cat. You did well. Take a breather and I’ll be with you in a moment so we can talk about how you can do better.”

The young man nodded and sprinted off towards the benches lining the training room. Mikayla watched him go, fighting a sense of envy. She knew what was coming.


Sure enough, her trainer looked down at her once more. “What’s wrong with you, Night?”

Mikayla struggled to think of an answer that would satisfy both of them. “I was reacting too slow, ma’am?”
“Worse.” The trainer shook her head. “You weren’t reacting at all, Night, except to dodge. I’m sure your mother taught you to turn the other cheek, but if you want to be a Silver Bullet, you’re going to have to hit back.”

Mikayla nodded. “Yes, ma’am.” She tensed, praying that she’d be permitted to go now.

She wasn’t. Her trainer went on, “But there’s something else, Night. Until a week ago, you weren’t having this problem. You were one of my best students. And then suddenly you seemed to decide that you didn’t want to fight anymore; you just wanted to dodge. When you did hit back, you did it much harder than you needed to far too many times. So, what’s wrong?”

Mikayla started to drop her gaze and corrected herself at the last moment. “You wouldn’t understand, ma’am.”

The trainer raised an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t?”

Mikayla shook her head. “No. You wouldn’t. May I go now?”

“Yes. Dismissed. For the day. There’s someone outside who wants you.” Her trainer shook her head and placed a hand on Mikayla’s shoulder. “You’d be surprised what some of us can understand, Night. When you’re ready to talk about what’s wrong, come find me. That’s what I’m here for.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Mikayla shrugged the trainer’s hand off her shoulder and walked quickly to the door. It opened before her, releasing her from the warm, humid air of a training room filled with people into the cool hallway.

A man dressed in the dark blue of the Silver Bullet administrative staff was waiting for her in the hallway. “You’re Night?”

Mikayla nodded, knowing the question was rhetorical. “Yes.” She wondered what this man wanted with her. If she was going to be pushed back to a lower class in her training, her trainer would’ve told her, wouldn’t she?

“You’re to come with me.” The man turned and started trotting down the hall without waiting to see if Mikayla was following him.

Mikayla walked after him, keeping pace easily. She knew better than to ask him questions; he wouldn’t answer. That was the way of things with the Silver Bullet. Generally, no one was told more than they needed to know. That way, should they be captured, the information they could reveal was at a minimum. That was the reason for the code names as well. No one in the Silver Bullet called anyone else by their real name unless they were related, and even family members were ordered not to use others’ real names in public.

The man led Mikayla through the halls, down a flight of stairs, and along more hallways. Mikayla’s nervousness spiked, and she had to struggle to ride the wave rather than letting it drown her. Though not as unheard-of as being called down to the administrative level, three floors beneath the surface, trainees were rarely permitted on the second level down. In general, it was reserved for official Silver Bullet agents, and there were only two reasons Mikayla could ever remember trainees being allowed down here: she was in very big trouble, or she was to be given a mission.

They stopped before a door identical to nearly all the others they’d passed. The man pressed his hand to the lockscreen and the door swung open. “Go in.”

Mikayla obeyed. The door whooshed shut behind her as she looked around. The room she’d entered was plainly furnished. A dozen chairs were set around a black table with a spherical holograph projector in the center. A black screen adorned the far wall.

There were four other people in the room, all sitting around the table. The first, seated directly in front of the screen, was a short, lean man wearing the uniform of a Mission Tactician, one of the administrative staff in charge of planning missions of all kinds. The second was another man, this one of average height and build, dressed in the standard black of a Silver Bullet general agent, one who had no specialized skills but was considered at least competent in most areas. Of course, what was called competent by Silver Bullet terms would be called quite skilled by any normal person. The final two, a man and a woman, were also average in terms of physique, but their more fitted uniforms and the faint smudges of paint on their faces revealed them to be Shadow Agents, agents who specialized in stealth and spying.

Having decided that there seemed to be no reason for her to remain standing, Mikayla walked to the table and sat down. Only then did the others seem to notice her, though she knew that the Tactician and the adult agent, at least, had both been aware of her from the moment she entered the room. The Tactician cleared his throat. “You are all here. We will begin.”

Mikayla nodded, and saw the others do the same.

The Tactician pulled out a remote and pointed it at the screen. It flashed to life, displaying several images: a sticklike man with an equally thin salt-and-pepper beard, a low, black building that seemed to have an oddly reflective surface, an half-finished schematic for an unfamiliar device, and an insignia that Mikayla recognized instantly: a black and white motif of two hands, one grasping a knife, the other clasped around a bolt of lightning. Her grip on the arms of the chair tightened. I thought I was done with that world.

With the press of a button, the Tactician enlarged the insignia. “You all know of the Brotherhood.”
It was not a question. Every member of the Silver Bullets knew of the Brotherhood, along with the other numerous people and organizations that had surfaced after the third World War ended just over twenty years ago, leaving the nations ruined and much of the leadership shattered. Since then, it seemed that anyone with any weapons or power left had been trying to take over everything they could. That was why the Silver Bullets existed: to protect the people caught in the middle of the power grabs.

The Tactician pressed another button. The insignia shrank and the image of the man enlarged itself. “This man is Darius Antollae. For some time, he has been working in concert with us, using his power, influence, and resources to provide a refuge for those wishing to escape groups like the Brotherhood. Eight days ago, he was captured by the Brotherhood. He must be rescued.”

Next the Tactician brought up the schematic. “Also, we have received intelligence indicating that the Brotherhood has developed a new superweapon, one far more deadly than any of the nuclear weapons created to date. However, we were not able to get the full plans for this weapon. This information must be taken from the Brotherhood vault.”

The schematic was replaced by the image of the building. “Your mission is to infiltrate Brotherhood headquarters, rescue Darius Antollae, and retrieve the plans from the vault.” The Tactician pointed the remote at the holograph generator. A 3-D diagram of the Brotherhood headquarters appeared, revolving slowly in midair. “Both the vault and the cells are located in the lowest level of the building. Your route there, along with two alternate routes, have been planned.” Red lines appeared through the diagram. “Maps showing these routes will be delivered to you, along with your other supplies for this mission. As always, memorize these routes before the mission.”

The holograph disappeared. The Tactician looked over the group. “You have been chosen because all of you have had previous interaction with the Brotherhood and, we believe, came out of it on top. Blade, you led the last strike against the Brotherhood, just as you will be leading this mission.”

The general agent nodded, his face remaining a blank mask.

The Tactician went on. “Hawk and Raven, you were recently sent to infiltrate and gather intelligence on several of the Brotherhood outposts. Due to your efforts, successful strikes have been made against two of these outposts.”

The Stealth Agents also nodded. The female’s eyes sparkled with pride and excitement.

The Tactician finally looked to Mikayla. “Night, you have not been with us long, but you have proved yourself to have extraordinary skills. Also, you spent much of your life before joining us living among the Brotherhood. You know them better than any of us. And so you will join Blade, Hawk, and Raven.”

Mikayla forced herself to nod and unclench her fists from the chair arms. She cringed at the dents she’d left. “Sir, if I may ask, are you sure that sending me is wise?”

The Tactician eyed her. “What grounds do you have for doubt?”

She hesitated, trying to find the right words. “I have not been doing as well lately as I should be. Ask my trainers.”

“Your trainers have informed me of your issues of late, Night,” he replied. “Nonetheless, we have decided that you will come.” He rose to his feet. “Supplies for your mission will be delivered to your quarters. You will meet at the South Exit to depart at fifteen-hundred hours. Dismissed.”

Mikayla and the others stood. One by one, they departed the room. Mikayla returned to the room she shared with three other trainee agents, all of whom were still training. Once there, she walked slowly to her bed and sat down. “Why’d they have to choose me?” she muttered. “I don’t want to go back there.”

Memories scurried to the surface. Her mother and father, arguing and shouting while she hid in her room and pretending she couldn’t hear. Her fists hitting a punching bag over and over while voices screamed at her to hit harder, to move faster, to prove she’d inherited her father’s powers. Her father, telling her why he still wasn’t satisfied and trying to mold her into the daughter who’d succeed him. And finally, her mother, whispering forbidden songs to comfort Mikayla, encouraging her no matter what, praying with her every night, making plans to flee with her children before her husband went too far, and screaming out in pain when the Brotherhood caught them just a half-mile from the Silver Bullet outpost.

Mikayla cringed. She’d been the only one to make it to that outpost. Even at fifteen, long before her abilities so suddenly grew, she’d been fast, and fear had burned like fire behind her, driving her on faster than she’d ever gone before. But she’d left behind her mother and her little brother, and she hadn’t seen them since. She didn’t even know if they were still alive.

The door opened. A young female trainee limped into the room without a word and set a black cloth bundle on Mikayla’s bed. She turned and started back towards the door.

Mikayla rose to her feet. “Thank you.”

The girl glanced back, nodded, and walked out the door. Mikayla picked up the bundle and inspected it. It was secured by a thin silver cable that extended from a small black box. The free end of the cable was hooked to the opposite side of the box. She unhooked it and the cable swiftly retracted into the box. Mikayla set it aside and unrolled the cloth, which proved to be a new black version of her uniform. Of course. Agents always wear black on missions, unless it’s an undercover mission. Wrapped in the uniform were her other supplies: a folded paper map, a lightweight charge pistol, extra powerpacks for the pistol, a small, rectangular object wrapped in paper, and a Video and Audio Jammer, VAAJam for short, a wristwatch-like device which emitted a signal that would jam the feeds of any security cameras within fifteen feet. Unwrapping the paper around the unidentified object revealed an unmarked ScanChip. It appeared to be just like any other ScanChip: silver-grey metallic surface on one wide side and the thin edges and glossy black with electric green lines on the remaining side, which was where data was exchanged with the chip and the computer. Writing on the paper revealed this particular ScanChip’s purpose: it had been equipped with a program that, when loaded into the computer, would hack past its security and download any files containing information on the superweapon. Once one agent on the team had received the information, they were to copy the information to the ScanChip of at least one other agent.

Mikayla swiftly changed into her new uniform. She clipped the pistol and the box containing the cable to her belt and slid the extra powerpacks and ScanChip into her pockets. Then she unfolded the map and studied it carefully. She could tell this would not be an easy mission. In order to get to the cells or the vault, they’d have to go to all the way to the lowest level, and she remembered quite well that the lower you went in the Brotherhood headquarters, the higher the security became. She couldn’t help but wonder how much help she’d actually be; of the five belowground levels, she’d only gone past level three once. That one time had been the day after her fifteenth birthday, when her father had taken her down to the vault and shown her just how much power, just how much control the Brotherhood had. He’d told her that, one day, if she did as he said, she could, like him, be one of those who controlled that power. She hadn’t dared tell him that she never wanted to be anything like him. She’d hoped for a long time that she wouldn’t be. That she wouldn’t have inherited anything more from him than her dark hair and one or two other lesser parts of her appearance. But she knew now that it had been a false hope; at least a portion of his darker abilities had been passed to her as well. Now she simply prayed that this unnatural strength and speed would be all he’d given her.

Mikayla shook her head slightly and forced herself to focus on memorizing the routes outlined on the map. Still, the thoughts and memories remained, hovering at the edge of her mind like dark shadows waiting for the lights to be turned off so they could spread over everything. Once she had finished memorizing the routes, she slipped the paper in a pocket and looked at the clock. 14:39. Still a bit of time. She slid off the bed and knelt. Bowing her head, she whispered, “God, I’ve prayed to You for safety a hundred times in my life, and since I’m still alive, I suppose You must be protecting me. Please, keep protecting me, and protect my team as well. Give us success and bring us all back out of the Brotherhood alive. Most of all, God, please, give me courage for this mission, because I’m scared of what’ll happen if we’re discovered. And give me strength to keep going no matter what and, if I’m discovered, to resist, to not become like him, because however strong I am, I don’t think I’m strong enough. Amen.”

There was no reply. Mikayla had never in her life heard a reply, though her mother had said that God still spoke to those willing to listen. Still, she felt a tiny bit less frightened now. She rose to her feet and walked to the door. It swung open before her with a whoosh. She stepped out and set off down the hall to the South Exit, moving as quickly as she could. She was stuck with this mission; she’d better not be late.

The rest of the team was already assembled at the exit when she reached it. The two men nodded to her as she approached, and the woman smiled at her. Mikayla nodded back, and they set off. A Shadowcopter carried them most of the way, its invisibility shields running the whole time, and they traveled the last mile on foot. Evening was beginning to fall by the time they reached the Brotherhood headquarters, for which Mikayla was glad. Even though security was higher at night, the lengthening shadows would make it much harder for her team to be spotted as they approached the building.

They circled around to the east side of the building, where the shadows were deepest, and crept towards the door. Two guards stood outside, and Mikayla knew that security cameras were watching the area. “VAAJams on,” Blade whispered. Everyone obeyed. He pointed to the building. “Raven, get going.”

The female Shadow Agent nodded, her face now serious. She slid off into the shadows and Mikayla lost track of her. Only five minutes later, first one guard, then the other slumped to the ground. Raven appeared by the door and beckoned.

In single file, the rest of the team crept up to join her. Raven already had a guard’s hand pressed to the lockscreen by the door, which slid silently open. Blade slipped inside first. Hawk entered after him, then came Mikayla, and finally Raven. The doors slid shut behind them and locked with a click. Mikayla forced herself not to shudder. We got in. Surely it’ll be easier to get back out, unless we’re discovered.

Blade set off down the brightly-lit halls. The others followed close behind, moving silently and swiftly. On this uppermost level, the halls were mostly deserted, and they were able to traverse all the way to the emergency stairs without seeing another soul.

Blade pushed the door open and beckoned for the others to enter. They did so, and he followed, releasing the door. Once it had swung shut, he whispered, “No more cameras until we get to the second underground level. Correct, Night?”

Mikayla jumped and then nodded. “Yes. The first underground level is just sleeping quarters for the ordinary people. Brotherhood leaders and their families are housed on the second underground level.” She suspected the others had already heard that information, but saying it out loud reassured her. Unless someone was taking the emergency steps, they’d have nothing to worry about for two levels.


No one commented on her information with anything more than a nod. They set off down the concrete stairs, continuing to move cautiously and quietly until the stairs stopped at the fourth underground level. Blade gave his orders in a whisper. “Hawk, Raven, from here on, take turns scouting ahead. All three of you keep your weapons ready and set to low power, just enough to knock out anyone who finds us.”

Mikayla nodded. She pulled her pistol from its holster and slid the power switch to the lowest setting. She gripped it tightly, trying to keep her hands from shaking, as Blade opened the door and Hawk stepped out. A moment later, the rest of them followed.

This level was much busier than the uppermost level had been, though Mikayla knew it was much less busier than it could’ve been had they come at a different time of day. They crept through the well-lit hallways far slower than they had before, always waiting for Hawk or Raven to give them the signal before turning a corner, always listening and searching the halls for guards. Several times they had to wait for what seemed like an eternity before a passing guard would move on or a guard stationed by a door or hallway would look away for a moment. Mikayla gave thanks that at least their route had been carefully mapped out to avoid halls where guards were permanently stationed.

The number of guards increased the nearer they came to the central stairs, making their progress slower than ever. At last, however, they reached the open area surrounding the column that enclosed the stairs. A guard marched back and forth outside the door, a pistol held ready.

Blade touched Hawk’s shoulder. The Shadow Agent nodded and took a step forward at the same moment the guard turned and saw them. The guard shouted and brought up his pistol at the same moment as Hawk took aim. Mikayla heard two soft, electric zings. Then the guard fell back, stunned. Hawk went down as well, clutching his leg. He was back on his feet in a moment, however. “I’m fine. Let’s go.”

Blade nodded and crossed into the open. “Move fast. More guards will be here any moment. Hawk, Raven, cover us if any more show up. Don’t give them a chance to shoot. Night, help me.”

All three obeyed immediately. Raven and Hawk each drew a second pistol and swiftly made their way to the column. Raven took up a position on its right side; Hawk circled to the left, limping slightly. Mikayla helped Blade drag the unconscious guard to the door. Blade ripped off the man’s glove and pressed the exposed hand to the lockscreen by the door. It turned red and beeped. “Access denied.”

Another zing came from Raven’s side. Mikayla glanced over and made out the form of another unconscious guard in the hallway. Blade let out a growl. “I’m going to have to hack this.” Mikayla nodded unsurely and watched as Blade set to work, first with a screwdriver and a variety of other odd-looking tools she’d never seen. Every so often, another zing would come from one side of the column or the other, followed by the sound of a guard slumping to the ground. Mikayla grasped her pistol tighter, wondering if she’d be able to shoot as accurately under pressure as the Shadow Agents did. 

One last zing came from Hawk’s direction before both he and Raven rejoined Blade and Mikayla. Raven set off down the stairs first, and the others followed. Blade pushed the door shut behind them. “That’ll hold them for a while. It won’t open from that side until they get a techie to undo my work.”

Mikayla nodded nervously. Raven beckoned from several steps down, and they set off once again. They met no one on the steps and so reached the lowest level in under a minute. Blade held up a hand and looked to Mikayla.

It took her a moment to figure out what he wanted. Security. Right. “No guard patrols, but guards are stationed in rooms throughout the level in case they’re needed. Lockscreens, passcode bolts, or both on most doors. A network of laser beams a half foot off the ground in the hallways. I think they’d be easier to avoid if you stay close to the walls.”

Blade nodded at her. “We split up now. Raven, Night, retrieve the schematic. Hawk and I will rescue the prisoner. We meet outside at twenty-one-hundred hours. That gives us a little over an hour.” He paused, apparently waiting to see if anyone else would speak. No one did. “All right. Let’s go.”
He pushed the door open, glanced around, and stepped out.

The others joined him at once. Raven and Mikayla turned to the left, while Hawk and Blade broke off to the right. At the edge of a hallway, Raven paused. Mikayla stopped as well, scanning the hall. She could just make out the reddish spiderweb of lasers projected over the floor.

Raven moved to the wall and continued on, high-stepping over the beams. Mikayla followed, struggling to avoid the lasers a bit more than the older woman did. She knew that beyond this point, they were within the vault. Doors on either side led to planning rooms, briefing rooms, and, most importantly, information rooms. Each section of rooms had access to a different part of the information stored in the walls, a security precaution to make that information harder to steal. For the schematics, she and Raven would have to go all the way to the outer edge of the vault, get the information, and return.

Both Mikayla and Raven moved as fast as they dared. Mikayla felt exposed under the bright lights and clumsy in comparison with Raven’s graceful gait. Every noise set her nerves more on edge, and she had to force her hands to not hold the pistol any tighter for fear of crushing the grip. Voices came from two of the doors they passed, and Mikayla half-expected guards to dash out and start firing. Not even one guard appeared, however, and as they drew near the room they were looking for, Mikayla felt confidence begin to push back her fear.

Then, she tripped.

Immediately, alarms began to blare. A computerized voice echoed through the halls. “Intruders detected. Lockdown initiated. Intruders detected. Lockdown initiated.”

Raven’s hand grabbed Mikayla’s shoulder and jerked her upright. “Run!”

Mikayla wasted no time in obeying. She dashed forward towards their goal, quickly outstripping Raven now that there was no point in avoiding the lasers. She skidded to a stop, however, when she heard a zing behind them and Raven’s voice crying out in pain. She whirled around just as another supercharged bolt zoomed past her and saw three guards dashing towards them. She raised her pistol, aimed as fast as she could, and fired off three shots in quick succession. The first two missed, but a guard crumbled to the ground with a third.

There was another zing, this one much closer, and another guard fell. Mikayla glanced at Raven to see her crouched on the ground, holding a pistol. The Shadow Agent waved a hand. “Go. Get what we came for. I’ll hold them off.”

Mikayla aimed at the final guard, shot, and just barely missed. He stumbled, but didn’t fall. “You mean leave you?” The all-too-clear memory of what happened the last time she left someone behind began to crawl out of the hole she’d pushed it in. I haven’t seen her since . . .

“Night. Go.” Raven brought down the third guard with a well-aimed shot. “That’s an order.”

Mikayla reluctantly turned and took off down the hall, though every instinct told her to stay with Raven. She couldn’t disobey a direct order. She kept her pistol at the ready, and was quite glad of it when she turned a corner and nearly ran into a guard. She fired instinctively, and at that range, she couldn’t miss. He went down in a heap, and she charged on.

She finally reached her destination. A lockscreen and a passcode bolt guarded the door. Mikayla’s mind raced. How to open it? How had Raven been planning to open it. She shook her head. Raven probably had been given some kind of tools to open it, or else some other special instructions she hadn’t been able to pass on.

An idea occurred to her. Father told me the override code for one of the doors when he brought me down here. Maybe it’s the same for all of them. But what was it? She struggled to remember, but years of trying to forget had made the memory reluctant to come into the light.

Footsteps pounded closer through the hallways. Mikayla turned around and raised her pistol, ready to shoot if anyone appeared. Come on. It was an unusual word. I didn’t think it was real at first. What was it?

A guard appeared from another hallway. Mikayla aimed, willing her hands not to shake, and pulled the trigger. He fell to the ground with a thud. Come on. Dina- deena- dýnami! That’s it!

She turned around and jabbed her finger at the emergency override button on the passcode bolt console. An electric voice emanated from the device. “Please state emergency override code.”

As clearly as she could, Mikayla spoke the word. “Dýnami.”

  “Override code accepted.”

The door slid open. Mikayla breathed a sigh of relief and stepped inside, then froze as she saw the man leaning against the far wall inside. She started to take a step back, but the door slid shut behind her. Trapped. Oh no.

The man straightened up. “So, Mikayla. You came back after all. Your mother said you wouldn’t, but I knew better.”

Mikayla scanned the room. Yes, there! There was the row of indentations that marked the ScanChip access ports. All she had to do was find a way to hold her ScanChip over one until it had the information they needed. As subtly as she could, she began working the ScanChip out of her pocket. “I didn’t come back because I wanted to see you.”

Her father took a step towards her. “Perhaps not, but you are here, and here you will remain.”

“I won’t.” Mikayla edged away from her father and towards the ports. “I have another home now. A better home.”

“With the Silver Bullets, I take it?” He shook his head disgustedly. “I am your father, Mikayla. You belong here with your brother and me.”

Mikayla took another step towards the ports. She was nearly to the closet one now. “What about Mother?”
Her father hesitated, a look of what seemed to be genuine sorrow crossing his face. “Your mother died shortly after she was brought back here. I tried to save her, Mikayla, but I couldn’t. There was nothing I could do.”

Mikayla struggled to fight back tears. “Oh.” She’d guessed as much, but even so, knowing that her mother was gone felt as if someone had struck her heart with a whip. She forced herself to keep moving towards the ports. “Even if she were here, though, I wouldn’t stay.” She navigated the ScanChip into the indentation and felt it click. How long will it take? How long will I have?


Mikayla’s father stepped towards her again. “Why not, Mikayla? What does the Silver Bullet have? They aren’t your family.”

Mikayla felt the urge to move away again, but she didn’t dare let the port become uncovered. She hesitated, trying to figure out what to say. “I thought I wasn’t good enough for you.”

Her father shook his head. “You’ve trained with them, Mikayla. You wouldn’t be wearing their uniform if you hadn’t. Don’t your trainers there criticize? They and I both do it for one reason: so you know where you need to improve.”

“At least they recognize that I’m doing my best.” Mikayla met her father’s endless black gaze defiantly. “You never did. I tried my hardest to please you, but you always demanded more. You never told me what I was doing right. Only what I did wrong.” Her voice gained force with every word.

Her father scowled. “Coddling brings weakness. I wanted you to be strong. Only the strong make it to the top in this world, Mikayla.”

Mikayla shook her head without breaking his gaze. “Is it coddling to show that you care? Can someone who’s broken truly be strong?”

Her father took another step towards her. “I refused to coddle you because I cared. And the strong will refuse to be broken.”

Mikayla tensed as he drew closer, ready to dodge away if he even tried to touch her. “Sometimes even the strong people can’t help being broken if people chip away at them enough. And did you really care? Or did you just want me to become like you?’

Her father spread his arms wide in an almost pleading gesture. “What would be so bad about being like me, Mikayla? I have power, riches, influence, anything you could name. I am the epitome of success.”

Mikayla hesitated, searching for the right words. “Power and riches are all well and good, but becoming like you would mean doing things that are wrong. I don’t want to achieve what you call success, only to lose what matters most.”

The ScanCard let out a quiet buzzing noise. Mikayla put her hand over it just in time to catch it as it popped from the port.

Her father frowned. “What was that?”

Mikayla didn’t answer. Moving as fast as she could, she shoved the ScanCard in her pocket and dashed to the door. Like a charge from a pistol, her father was there in front of her, blocking her path. “You sound like your mother, Mikayla. She was a lovely woman, and her ideas were sweet, but she’s gone now, and you and I aren’t.” He grasped her arm and met her gaze once more. “I can see you’ve inherited my powers after all. Face it. You’re already becoming just like me.”

Mikayla dropped her gaze, unable to meet her father’s eyes. Is he right? Does having his powers mean I’ll be just like him? She searched her mind for something, anything, that would prove him wrong. What if he’s not wrong? I’ve hurt people before. Hurt them recently. Since those powers had shown up, she’d caused more than a few broken bones by hitting people too hard. That was why she’d tried to avoid hitting-
That’s it. Realization lit up her mind like an electric light. I try not to. I have a choice. She looked up and met her father’s gaze squarely. “Maybe I have your powers. But I have made my choice, and I will never become like you.” She pulled away, trying to wrench free.

His grip tightened. “Perhaps that is your choice now, Mikayla, but you are not leaving, and you may well change your mind after spending some time with me.”

“I’m not staying, and I’m not changing my mind.” Mikayla jerked harder, but couldn’t get free. She tried kicking his leg, but her foot seemed to stop a few inches from him. An idea suddenly struck her, and she pulled her pistol from its holster.

Her father made a grab for her arm, but she dodged away just in time. She slid the power switch to the highest level and pointed it at the door. She pressed the trigger and then had to avoid another attempt by her father to grab her weapon. She aimed and shot twice more in quick succession, dodged a third time, and pulled the trigger one last time. This time the charge hit the lock and the door, with nothing to hold it shut, slid open.

Just as she’d guessed, the sound of the door opening caused her father to turn and look. As he did, his grip relaxed just slightly, allowing her to jerk free. She tore out the door and down the hall, back towards where she’d left Raven. When she reached the hallway, however, it was empty of everyone, even the guards. She hesitated, but knew that she couldn’t afford to stop. She could hear her father behind her, chasing her. There was no time to spare. Maybe she got out already. Even if the Shadow Agent hadn’t, though, Mikayla wouldn’t squander the sacrifice she’d made.

She ran through the halls as fast as she could, dodging around any guards she came across. She knew instinctively that she’d have to blast open the lock on the staircase and she didn’t dare expend more than she absolutely needed of the energy still in the pistol’s powerpack. After all, she had no idea how many more of the high-powered shots it would be able to manage.

She reached the stairs and took the lock out on her second shot. The stairs forced her to slow down slightly, though her father seemed to have no such issue. He seemed to gain a little with every step. She pushed herself harder, trying to urge her legs to still greater speeds, though she felt certain that she was going as fast as she could, and that she would collapse before long. Please, God. I don’t think I have the strength for this. Please help me. I don’t have any other options or plans. You’re my only hope.

Like before, she heard no answer, but she found that she wasn’t as close to collapse as she thought. Every time she thought she could go no further, she found a little more strength, a little more energy to keep going. And though her father wasn’t falling behind, he didn’t seem to be catching up with her either. She ran up, up, up until she reached the very top of the stairs. There she fairly threw herself at the door. It opened, and she dashed out into the halls-

Straight into the path of a guard. She barely had time to avoid running straight into him, but she dodged at the very last moment. She heard him turn and begin shooting after her; felt the burn as one shot hit her left upper arm. But she didn’t stop. She knew her father would be hot on her heels.

The shots whizzing by her stopped, and she guessed that her father had passed the guard. Good. She made a sharp right turn, dodged another guard, and turned left. This hallway had two guards in it. She dodged one, but the second managed to grab her by the arm. She didn’t hesitate a moment before kicking him in the leg as hard as she could. He groaned and released, and she charged on. Another left turn and she knew she was almost there. Only one more right turn to make and a short hallway. Then she’d be at the door, out the door, safe.

She spotted three people moving towards her from the other hall. Two ran at normal speeds; they could be no one but guards. The third moved far too fast to be a guard. Father. He must’ve gone the other way. He’ll cut me off! She strained to put on one last burst of speed. God, please, help!

She made it to the turn only seconds before her father. She felt his fingers brush her arm as he made a grab for her and missed. But she was in the home stretch now; she could see the door before her. She aimed and shot with her pistol once and again, shattering the lock keeping the doors shut. The guards turned in surprise, but she shot past them and towards the shadows where she and the rest of her team had crouched before.
From those shadows, she saw the lights of charge pistols. The sounds of people tumbling to the ground behind her mixed with the footsteps of her pursuers, and had she not been saving all her breath for running, she would’ve sighed in relief. At least two other members of her team had gotten out, at least.

She reached the shadows to find Blade and Hawk waiting for her. Another man, who she recognized as Darius Antollae, sat behind him. She frowned. “Where’s Raven?”

“Raven didn’t make it out,” Hawk said, quietly. He lowered his pistol and tucked it in his holster. “Come on. Blade made an emergency call. The Shadowcopter is coming in close.” He turned and led the way into the forest.

Mikayla headed after him with a heavy heart, and she heard Darius Antollae and Blade following as well, Blade’s pistol zinging every few minutes as he continued to discourage any would-be pursuers. It seemed to take no time at all for them to reach the Shadowcopter. They climbed in silently and the copter lifted off, headed back to headquarters. Mikayla stared out the window, back towards the Brotherhood headquarters. She thought back to Raven and her excitement at the mission, at how fearlessly she’d faced down the challenges, and how willingly she’d stayed behind, alone, doubtless knowing that it could mean her death.
Mikayla bowed her head. God, I thank you for getting us out alive. I thank you for helping me through this mission. And I thank you for Raven and her sacrifice. I ask, God, that when it’s my turn to face death, that You would help me do it as bravely as she did. Help me be willing to lay my life down for others, just like Raven did, and just like Your Son, Jesus Christ, did. Amen.

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