Thursday, February 22, 2018

Blue Nexus #80 - Practice Makes Paranormal

Previously in "Blue Nexus": Kyle and his co-lacrosse team captain, Andreus, displayed that mages have truly come into their world during a fight at school. Kyle's secret as the Blue Nexus remained safe but the world at large discovered him as a Demon mage. He and Andreus have settled into their lives as mages, and have tried to live on despite this major bomb dropped on everyone's lap. 

            Kyle set some of his gear down in the locker before Coach and Andreus came barging in. Kyle took a moment, maybe just a second, to acknowledge them before continuing on with his process of taking off his gear. He knelt down to start untying his cleats when Coach approached the cage that the lockers were within. Kyle was with three other boys were who talking amongst themselves.      
            “Raiden,” Coach said, knocking on the cage. “With me, quick.”
            Kyle looked up at Andreus, who shrugged. Kyle nodded to them both and ignored his cleat laces and stood up, groaning as he felt the soreness in his leg muscles. It didn’t entirely come from practice. One of the players did hit him in such a way that he twisted his leg around, but it was mostly from the other night. He had an awkward landing after stopping a helicopter from crashing down on a hospital, tweaking his ankle in the process. He had to sleep before the Nexus could properly heal the wound, and hadn’t been able to get back in the Nexus since.
            He took off his shoulder pads and placed them on the hanger in the locker, and then followed Coach and Andreus into the other locker room. The clip-clop of he and Andreus’s cleats filled the locker room.
            They’d been having more meetings like this with Coach. Most of the time it was to make sure that Kyle was up to date with the goings-on of the team, despite the fact that he hadn’t missed a single practice since he returned from some of his missions out in space, and even then, the projection that Eclipse often had working for Kyle during school had been around, albeit in an “injured” fashion, to observe practice.
            They stopped in the middle of the room, near a rolling cart with an old TV on it. Coach leaned against it, grasping his clipboard tight to his chest. Kyle stopped close to Andreus, and felt the small simmering of magic energy beneath his shoulder tremble. He’d become so unconscious of his growing Demon mark, and yet Coach was eyeing it, and Andreus’s mark, quite noticeably.
            Most people did. Kyle’s mark now crept close to his elbow, so it was difficult to mask it during some of the warmer spring days. Thankfully, he wasn’t the most popular kid in school, but those that remembered the fight he had with Andreus about being a mage some months ago would ask about it. Everyone on the lacrosse team knew he and Andreus were mages, although they could all attest to neither Kyle nor Andreus using their magic.
            “Got a question for both of you,” Coach said.
            “What is it, sir?” Kyle asked. Coach eyed Kyle. Their relationship had improved dramatically since the fall semester, when Kyle was around very little as he dealt with Alucard. It didn’t improve much when Rafael and the Six Pillars came to prominence, but then, anyone could’ve been a mage, and when Kyle was exposed, Coach actually felt sorry for he and Andreus. For a time.
            “Just a quick thing,” Coach said. “We’ve got the spring sports pep rally coming up soon, and, me and some of the other coaches were wondering if you two would be, like, able to do anything for it?”
            “Like set it up?” Kyle asked. “Isn’t that a Student Government thing or something?”
            “No, I mean, with your powers or whatever,” Coach said.
            Andreus and Kyle both raised an eyebrow, and Kyle consciously crossed his arms to skim his fingers across the Demon mark.
            “Are we even allowed?” Kyle asked. “Principal Walters talked with us when she found out, she said we were definitely not allowed to use magic.”          
            Coach sighed. “Yeah but you can control it, right?”
            “Yeah,” Andreus said. “But magic, our magic, doesn’t really work like that.”       
            “We’re not good at it,” Kyle said.
            Coach’s mouth hung open. “I heard Andreus punch the metal door clean off the hinges. I heard you grew like some sort of freaky demon arm.”
            “That’s not…it doesn’t really generate hype,” Kyle said. “Now, like, if I were someone like Shindari or Violette, then maybe.”
            It was odd to refer to Brenda and Sandy by their Zanderia code names. He was so used to talking about them with their normal names around Kip and Luke, and he almost slipped up. It wouldn’t be too bad with Brenda, but for Sandy it would be pretty bad, if she were to ever return to Adelita, like for graduation or something.
            “I mean we would have something arranged around your powers,” Coach said.
            He was so desperately trying to build hype. Kyle wasn’t sure what for. The only people who actually enjoyed pep rallies were the senior class, and they only did it because the people running the show were often just pampering the senior class up, while trying not too hard to belittle the freshman and what not. Kyle and Andreus could certainly display their powers, but, to what end?
            “I think it would be a bit of an abuse of the abilities,” Andreus said. “We’re not showmen, we’re lacrosse players, right? We’re there for the team. We’d only be drawing attention to ourselves.”
            “Negative attention,” Kyle said. “Someone’ll probably take a video of whatever we do and then post it and then whoever we play will think we’re cheating because he and I are supposedly using our powers.”
            Coach nodded. “Didn’t think about that. Damn kids and your social media.”
            Kyle shrugged. Not all about social media, Coach, but whatever gets you on our side works. Coach eyed both of them, and then nodded.
            “Alright, fine,” Coach said. “We’ll do the inflatable thing again. Now go change and go home, don’t need you stinking up this part of the locker room, too.”
            He waved his hands through the air and left. Andreus watched until he was gone, and then turned to Kyle and sighed.
            “Close one,” Andreus said.
            “Doubt it,” Kyle said. “I never would’ve gone with a plan like that.”
            “You really can’t do anything with those powers?”
            “Not while I’m in control. Same with you. You can power up your arm and make things stronger, but, that’s only cool for a few seconds. It’d be such a downer to watch live.”
            Andreus nodded, and crossed his arms. “I’ve been practicing with it, though, like Tania used to tell me. It’s actually pretty damn helpful when I get in a tight spot when I’m working out. I don’t even need a spotter anymore.”
            “Well that is pretty useful, I guess.”
            “Plus none of the hallway doors are ever really locked for me.” Andreus grinned and chuckled, which made Kyle do the same. The two had grown so close of late, and not just out of necessity. Kyle often forgot that Andreus knew about the Blue Nexus. They only ever really met and talked around lacrosse time, but if they encountered each other in the halls it was a nice reprieve from the school day.
            “You gonna use your powers to get a prom date?” Kyle asked.
            “Ah, shoot, I gotta do that,” Andreus said.
            “No prospects?”
            “Like you have some?”
            “Like I’m even going to prom?”
            “You’re not?”
            Kyle sighed. “I might not be able to make it. If I get…” Kyle cleared his throat and lowered his voice. “If I get called off-world, how am I supposed to get back and change and take my date in time? Besides, who the hell am I gonna take? Mira?”
            “Well yeah.”
            “No, she’s gonna go with someone else. She’s always walking around with that guy in her Anatomy class, isn’t she?”
            “I don’t know, we don’t talk.”
            Kyle rolled his eyes. “But you seriously have no girls you wanna ask? How can any girl not wanna go to prom with you?”
            Kyle clapped his shoulder, and it was accidentally the one with the Power mage mark on it. Kyle grimace as he felt the shudder of power through his body. Andreus chuckled again, and patted Kyle’s forearm.         
            “I might ask Kaylie,” Andreus said. “The girl from the water polo team.”
            “She seems pretty cool,” Kyle said, and the two started back toward the locker room. “She’s into you?”
            “Other way around,” Andreus said. “With the season starting and all that I haven’t really had time to be socializing. Her and I have hung out a few times and, yeah, she’s pretty legit. If things go well, I’ll ask her.”
            “Out, or to prom?”
            “To prom,” Andreus said. “I need a prom date more than I need a girlfriend.”
            “A bit shallow, isn’t it?”
            “Says the guy who isn’t even going,” Andreus said.
            “I’m busy,” Kyle said.           
            “And if you don’t go, you’ll regret it forever,” Andreus said. “You can do what you do all the time. It’s not going anywhere…I think. But prom only happens once. Even if it’s boring, it only happens once.”
            Kyle waved Andreus off and said his goodbye, wishing him luck with anything about Kaylie from water polo. Kyle approached the cage. The other boys that had been there were gone. He looked to the door, and saw some golden light trickling through. Sunset had arrived, and his body was feeling it.
            He approached his locker again and removed his, and then approached his locker. He pressed once on the little button in the locker, and the small hatch opened up. His blue bracelet shown back in his face. Kyle slid the Nexus bracelet onto his wrist, closed the hatch, and then replaced the cleats. He did away with the rest of his gear, then made sure he had everything he needed in his backpack.
            Kyle smiled at the thought of the conversation with Andreus. It was simple, but, it wasn’t about how he was supposed to go to Planet X to stop Alien Villain Z from detonating some strange bomb with elements he’d never heard of. It was about some dude who liked a girl and wanted to go to prom. He liked that.
            He liked seeing Kip and Luke and getting to just walk and talk with them. He liked passing Andreus in the halls and exchanging a quick word or laugh. He even like the odd romantic tension between himself and Mira, where it was a constant struggle of him suppressing the urge to ask if she had a prom date yet. All of the “promposals” were appearing on social media and he had no idea what he would be doing if he were to ask Mira to go with him. It stressed him, but it wasn’t a dire stress.
            Kyle zipped up his backpack and then tightened it along his back. He slammed his locker shut, clapped his flip-flops together, and headed to the end of the cage when the door to the locker room from the outside slammed shut and only the dim lights above filled the room. Kyle froze, his fingers naturally holding themselves over the Nexus bracelet. With his foot, he slowly shut the door to the cage.
            His eyes quickly fell to any place someone could hide in. Without moving, he observed every shadow, every corner, and every possible entry point. His fingers never moved above the bracelet. He slowed his breathing.
            The doors at the other end of the locker room shuddered, and then the handles started to glow for just a moment before the iridescent light faded. Kyle felt a slight rush of wind, and the closed cage door rattled as well. He removed his hand and dropped his right arm, bringing up his left as his guard. He took a step out of the locker room, and felt everything around him suddenly come to a halt. The only thing that moved was a little droplet of sweat rolling down the side of his face. It dripped off his chin and crashed to the ground below.
            Things returned to normal. Kyle slowly approached the door, pooling Demon magic into his hand and then gripping the handle. His hand didn’t react, but he did notice some amount of sweat that was shimmering in the light. He glanced around again, and heard the back door open. A rush of wind entered. Kyle sprinted for the door, and one of the janitors stood on the other end.
            “Oh, sorry,” Kyle said.
            The janitor stared at his arm. Kyle blushed and shuffled the magic back. He glowered up at Kyle, who bit his lip.

            “You said you wouldn’t use magic on school property, Mr. Raiden,” Principal Walters said. Detective Patton was standing behind Kyle with her arms crossed. He had his head bowed, waiting for the principal to finish. “You broke a promise to me, one that I hold pretty damn close because it’s one that’ll keep my students safe!”
            Kyle raised his hand and felt Detective Patton squeeze his shoulder. “Don’t say anything stupid like you did last time.”
            Kyle grimaced, and nodded. Dr. Walters leaned in a bit more. He could smell her minty perfume from across the table.         
            “What should I do with you, Kyle?” Dr. Walters asked. “I have a janitor who has been with this school for years, one I consider a close friend, and now he’s scared to come back here.”
            “You’re really that careless, aren’t you?” Patton asked, and squeezed tighter. Kyle felt his muscles pinching but he didn’t resist. She relieved him and stepped back.
            “Tell him he was just tired and saw the shadows on my arm or something,” Kyle said. “Look, I panicked for a second.”
            “You were alone in a locker room,” Patton said.
            “I don’t think I was,” Kyle said. “I think there was something else in there with me.” He’d been thinking about it all night, and especially in the morning when he got a referral letter telling him to see Dr. Walters later in the day, when her schedule cleared up. He wouldn’t have minded except that Mira was in the class to see the referral being handed to him. “Either it was someone invisible, maybe some student that developed Reality magic to make himself invisble, or it was a ghost.”
            “A ghost,” Dr. Walters said. She looked up to the officer behind Kyle. “Detective? You seem to be dealing more and more with the supernatural.”
            “Yeah, and I finally got a raise that shows it,” Patton said. She sighed. “I mean, they’re not entirely unheard of. Though I think someone would sense that there were some sort of freaky disturbance here.”
            “I can’t sense magic when I’m not using it,” Kyle said. “And even when I activated my powers, for just a few seconds, I couldn’t notice anything. This may be a dangerous threat.”
            “But, did it do anything?” Dr. Walters asked.
            Kyle sighed. Here was his problem. “No.”
            And he couldn’t think of what the ghost would want. It opened the door, probably just moved around a bit, and then tried to leave. The same level of questioning applied to if it were some sort of Deception or Reality mage. They would have seen Kyle use his magic, but it wasn’t as if that were a big secret anymore.
            “And where’s your proof?” the principal asked.
            “My proof is that I wouldn’t just activate my Demon magic for no reason, and I didn’t even do anything with it,” Kyle said. “Check the locker room, bring in Shindari or someone else from the Zanderia. There’s no residual magic in there. I didn’t do anything.”
            “But you also have no proof that there’s a ghost, or whatever, in the locker room,” Patton said. “Is there anyone else that may be able to help, maybe, investigate?”
            “Not without causing a scene,” Kyle said. “Can’t have Shindari just pop into the locker room. Everyone would freak out, and my cover would be blown.”
            “Look,” Dr. Walters said, rubbing her temple. “Just don’t do it again, okay? Otherwise…” She sighed. “I may not suspend you but I’ll ban you from some games and I’ll have to take away your prom privileges.”
            “Done,” Kyle said, and held his hand out. Dr. Walters hesitated at his enthusiasm, and then took his hand and gripped it tight.
            The lunch bell rang as he was walking out of the front office. Detective Patton stayed behind, no doubt to try and find a way to either check out the locker room on her own time or manage a way to see if Kyle would trigger his own magic. It wouldn’t be worth it. His magic didn’t seem to do anything but make whatever was in there go away.
            He approached the side of the lunch table where he, Kip, and Luke sat at. The two of them were already there, standing at the end of the table talking to each other. Kyle opened his mouth to speak when he approached but someone rushed up to him and grabbed his hand nice and tight.
            “Are you in trouble, what happened?” Mira asked. Her hair fell in front of her face. She had much less makeup on than normal today, letting her natural beauty shine. She pushed her hair back. Some of cross-country friends approached from behind, silent, eyeing the two of them.     Her hand was right on the Nexus bracelet. Kyle was a stiff, and Luke and Kip had noticed as well. Kyle’s face must have been drawn from its color because Mira had nothing except concern written all over her face.
            “Nothing,” Kyle said. “Just something about magic.”
            “Magic?” she asked, then slapped her head lightly. “Oh, right. Forgot you were a mage for a second. Weird.” She giggled and stepped away, letting go of the bracelet. Kip and Luke sighed, and Kyle relaxed his muscles a bit.
            “Yeah, no big deal,” Kyle said. They were just doing, like a checkup on me, to see where I was at with all of it. You know, since there’s like the stuff going on with the U.N. and the mages and all that.”
            “Right, right,” Mira said, stepping back. She smiled, trying to wash the concern away. “Good to hear, let me know how everything goes.”
            Kyle wordlessly nodded, then faltered back to sit on the bench. Kip and Luke joined him. Kyle dropped his head onto the lunch table and groaned.
            “So what is it this time, is it an alien invasion, maybe a Demi-War God has come back?” Kip asked.
            “Or is it something probable like him failing a test?” Luke asked.
            “Neither,” Kyle said. “I’m seeing goddamn ghosts in the locker room.”
            “Ghosts in the locker room?”
            “Sounds like that new album I just downloaded.” Luke adjusted himself on the bench.
            “Whose ghost?” Kip asked.
            “Ghost, Reality mage, I don’t know,” Kyle said. “I’ll have to check it out more after practice, but it’ll be tough to make sure I’m the last one out two nights in a row. Normally Coach’ll meet with the Assistant Coaches, but he didn’t yesterday because they had some thing they had to go to.”
            “So you need to draw out a ghost without drawing attention to yourself?” Kip asked.
            Kyle felt a shift in the wind. He sat up from the shiver tingling up his spine. “Basically.”
            Kip said something again, which Luke sarcastically retorted against, while Kyle’s attention was drawn to the front office. Something shimmered in the window, then continued down the path toward where his next class was. Kyle didn’t move or make anything of it. He slightly turned back toward Kip, but kept his eye on the misty image that faded around the corner.
            There was nothing different about his next class, or any after that. No strange apparitions or ghostly images. It didn’t help that Kyle looked for it everywhere, either. His practice suffered for it, and Coach had to pull himself aside twice just so they could run proper plays. Kyle couldn’t, at all, get his head back in the game.
            He sat in his locker, alone, while some people offered words of encouragement. He accepted them all physically, but they all fell into a bottomless pit within his emotional core. He could only think of what this thing could be. The next big threat? Some sort of assassin? Maybe it was some dead kid from before that’d come back to haunt the school, and Kyle was incapable of stopping it.
            Kyle waited until the locker room cleared out and there was nobody left. He was hidden well in his locker, and Coach never locked the cages up. That was for the janitorial staff to do. He waited until the locker room doors closed one last time and then stood up, hearing the rustling of some dirt along the ground.
            Shadows slid down his arm as he stood up, bare-chested and wearing only his shorts and flip-flops. His body was chilled from the cool afternoon air, but felt strengthened from the magic flowing in his body. He checked to make sure he was alone and not being watched by Patton or men under her watch, and then stepped free of the cage.
            “If you can take some sort of physical form, hurry up and do it,” Kyle said, and watched the dust shift on the ground in front of him.
            He took three large steps and then turned toward the bathroom, where something faint touched the windows. That misty form from before stood before the window. Kyle reached out with his mage hand and felt nothing there.
            “What are you?” Kyle muttered.
            Kyle stared at the mirror, and watched as the word Trapped appeared as mist for just a moment on the glass, and then vanished.       
            “Alright, so, short answers only,” Kyle said. “Who are you?”
            A pause, and then, on the mirror: You.
            You? “Me?” Kyle asked. “You’re me?”
            The mist shifted, and then a trail of steam railed against the mirror before the wind shifted again, and Kyle heard the clinking of keys within the locker room door. Kyle immediately scuttled the shadows back into his arm and shifted from the shivers it always gave him. He nimbly recovered his things and left out the second entrance of the locker room.

            Sleep could never be easy to find for a curious mind, and Kyle’s mind had never been more alive with questions and a desire to know more about this ghost that claimed to be him. He sat in his bed that night just staring into the darkness until some form of sleep claimed him, and then it was his curiosity again that flung him from his rest. Kyle lurched forward, suddenly waking to the dim early morning sun. He wiped his brow and shook his head.
            Kyle, as he did first thing every morning, slipped his Nexus bracelet on, although did so much more hesitantly this time. When he dressed, he felt stranger, as if there were someone else watching him. Perhaps there was. He had no real idea where the ghost was. Kyle was tempted to almost just call in sick from school until he could get this sorted out, but that would rouse suspicion not just from Patton, but possibly from the Zanderia.
            On his walk to school with Kip and Luke, he told them about the ghost, and the boys tried to figure out what it could be. The dominant theory was that it was possibly some strange distortion in reality, possibly caused by a power-hungry Reality mage, that was glomming onto whatever magic it could, and then forming into that. Other ideas were that this was somehow Kyle’s form from the future trying to get a message to him. Kyle shrugged most of the theories off. They weren’t entirely outlandish, not in his experience, but there was no solid way to know. The ghost had been only able to get out a single word before going away.
            He needed to try and figure out an anchor for the ghost, some way of getting it to stay. He tried to get them to help him with that, but by that time they were already on campus and some people were walking by. No need to make Kyle seem crazier than some saw him, as a mage and all. Kyle approached his locker by himself, letting Kip and Luke loose.
            Kyle undid the lock with ease and eased the door open. He exchanged a textbook for another and then stared into the depths of his locker. Had the ghost been here, too? What if it really were Kyle, from the future or something? What would draw him out, what would he be able to do to make the thing stay?
            And why had it only been appearing in the locker room? Kyle grimaced and closed the locker door, but stayed by it for a few moments too long. Some people began giving him weird looks. Kyle just sighed and sagged his backpack over his shoulder.
            He sat in his first period like a sack of potatoes, just staring up at the front board and wondering how things would be different if Tania were around. He rubbed his arm with the Demon mark. She’d probably have the answer for this, and so much more. Kyle’s eyes fell to a student with Twitter open on his phone, and saw some tweets with headlines about more mages being found and getting active in the wake of some movements against them. Brenda was doing all she could, but it was hardly enough.
            “Everything okay, Kyle?” the teacher asked from up front.
            All the students cautiously turned toward him. Kyle realized his hand was still on his arm. Kyle sat up and smiled.
            “Yeah, sorry, just a little tired,” Kyle said, and quickly scanned over the board. His teacher raised her eyebrow.
            “Good,” she said, and returned her attention to the board. It took the other students a while to do the same. Kyle pretended to take notes, but snapped his pencil in frustration instead.
            By the time lunch came around, he had so few ideas about the ghost that he’d gotten quite frustrated with himself. He ate in silence while Luke divulged several plans to try and get one of the guys from the band that he was into to go to prom with him, while Kip discussed how well conversations and some time with a girl named Veronica had been going. She passed by the table and said hello to Kip. Kyle looked up at her briefly. She was a very pretty girl, and seemed rather interested in Kip.
            “Something’s a little off about her, though,” Kip said. “She’s not, like, weird or anything, but I don’t know.”
            “That literally doesn’t make any sense,” Luke said.
            “No, I mean, like, one time when we were hanging out we were going to get ice cream and when we got to the place she freaked out that ice was able to become, you know, cream,” Kip said. “Like she’d never heard of ice cream.”
            “You know it’s not everywhere, right?” Luke said.
            “Dude, she says she’s from Adelita, how the hell do you not know what ice cream is?” Kip asked.
            Kyle nodded, and his mind trailed back to the time Mira and he got ice cream after a particularly rough lacrosse practice. He’d only just become the Blue Nexus back then, and lacrosse had been going so well for him. He grinned, then raised his head.
            “I’ve been the Blue Nexus for over a year,” he said out loud, though quite soft.
            Kip and Luke both turned to him as if he were insane, and then Luke nodded. “Oh, true. I totally forgot. So much stuff has happened in between that I kind of forgot what it was like when you weren’t.”
            “Yeah, you could actually go to lax practice and hang out with us,” Kip said. “Although I don’t think you were nearly as cool.”
            “What?” Kyle asked. “That’s not fair. I haven’t changed that much, have I?”
            “Well for one thing you didn’t have as many fights at school,” Luke said.
            “Plus since you’ve become the Blue Nexus I’ve been able to talk to way more people,” Kip said.
            “What do my powers have to do with that?” Kyle asked.
            “Luck,” Kip said.
            Kyle sighed, and shrugged. “Still, it’s been a whole damn year and I haven’t gotten any closer to figuring out where my parents are. You’d think with the ability to jump through time and space it’d be easy, but man, it’s a big universe out there.”
            “Bet you thought you wouldn’t be saying that this time last year,” Kip muttered.
            “Or ever,” Luke said. “I remember watching this guy at lacrosse tryouts. Not once did I think he’d become a super hero. Look where we’re from.”
            “True,” Kip said. He reached out to Kyle. “No offense, of course.”
            “And now I can’t figure out this stupid ghost,” Kyle said.
            “He’s not even listening,” Kip said.
            Kyle raised his hand to his chin and stared at his untouched lunch. The bell rang overhead and Kyle still didn’t even more. A ghost claiming to be him in the locker room? If it were from the future, why would it contact him there? He was only in the locker room twice a day. A much wiser place to try and get to him would be somewhere at his house, like his room. It was trying to say something by being in the locker room. It entered the locker room, too, of all things.
            Was it looking for something? Certainly not the Nexus bracelet. It would’ve probably made a grab for that. No, instead it moved to the cage door, trying to get into the actual lockers. Was it going for Kyle, whom it didn’t know was going to be there, or was it going for something else?
            Kyle didn’t figure it out until late into his final period, and he was antsy to get going to practice all throughout the period. He actually grinned when he realized what it was, though couldn’t think of how it made much sense in his mind. He got giddy, and his mood changed dramatically in class. He became more fidgety until the final bell rang and he burst out to go to practice.
            Thankfully, practice was brief. Kyle worked up quite a decent sweat in his attempts to perfect drills, and used his status as captain to his advantage to encourage his teammates and get them to fly through the drills with relative ease as well. Coach was quite impressed, but Kyle blotted him out so they wouldn’t have to waste time talking.
            When they arrived back in the locker room, Kyle made sure to get his gear off fast, but didn’t put any of it away. He didn’t bother chatting with any of the other boys in the locker room, and once again waited for the locker room to fall silent and for the doors to shut before moving. He left the cage door open and the gear splayed out on the ground, and then slipped away to the other side of the corridor.
            An iridescent mist formed along the ground and Kyle felt a shiver rush up his spine. He crossed his arms and strummed his fingers, watching as some goo pasted upon the cage and then there was a faint glow in the room. Kyle looked away, and when he returned his gaze, a boy stood on the other end of the cage, wearing his lacrosse gear.
            It didn’t fit quite so great, as Kyle had buffed up over the last year or so, but still, it worked. The boy removed the helmet, looking down at it with awe. He then looked up to Kyle, and opened his mouth to speak, but Kyle instead said,
            “Are mom and dad alive where your from?”
            The boy, a spiting replica of Kyle, nodded. Kyle felt a knot forming in his throat.
            “I don’t understand how this is happening,” the boy said.
            “Probably just some weird cosmic convergence,” Kyle said. He raised his arm and showed off the Nexus bracelet. “Maybe something to do with this.”
            “What is it?” the alternate Kyle asked.
            Kyle got a better look at him. The alternate Kyle didn’t exactly fit into the uniform, but Kyle could see some tanlines on the boy’s body that showed he was in it far more than the regular Kyle. Kyle grimaced as the realization of who this version of him was.
            “A bracelet that gives me cosmic powers,” Kyle said. “It lets me become the Blue Nexus, a super hero.”
            “A super hero?” the alternate Kyle asked.
            Kyle nodded. “I was being bumped up to varsity when I found this thing. It’s in the shed out back.”
            “That got taken down years ago,” the alternate Kyle said. “Gave me more practice room.” He chuckled. “Damn, if I’d have known it were a super bracelet I’d wear it more often.”
            Kyle stepped forward, getting a closer look. This Kyle had a necklace around him, and a senior ring upon his finger. The alternate Kyle took off some of the gear, but treated it with great respect. No, that wasn’t a senior ring, Kyle realized. That was a state championship ring. Kyle felt the knot in his throat growing tighter.
            “So this is some alternate reality stuff,” the alternate Kyle said. “Think I’ll remember it when I go back to my Earth?”
            “I’ll be honest, I don’t even know if you’re real,” Kyle said. “This might just be your spirit or something, I don’t know. Could be that you’re stuck here now.”
            “I hope not,” the alternate Kyle said. “I’ve got signing day tomorrow.”
            Kyle smiled. “Better be somewhere good.” A tear slid down his eye. “Better be…”
            “Virginia,” he said. “Just like dad wanted.”
            Kyle bowed his head. “Yeah, he always said I’d make a good Cavalier. He’d always say that blue and orange looked good on me.”
            The alternate Kyle braced himself against the cage. “They’re not here, are they?”
            “Not dead,” Kyle said, shaking his head. “Just…somewhere. I don’t know.” He wiped his tear and laughed. “How are they with you? Good, everything’s going okay for them?”
            “They’re fine,” alternate Kyle said. “But, I mean, come on dude. You’re a super hero. What’s that like?”
            “What’s it like to win a state championship?” Kyle asked, and alternate Kyle grinned down at his ring. “You going to prom? That’s happening soon, right?”
            “I’m taking Sandy, yeah,” alternate Kyle said, and it made Kyle raise an eyebrow.
            “Not Mira?” Kyle asked.
            Alternate Kyle shook his head and sighed. “We started dating about a year ago but then broke up when school ended after I got into a bad accident. We’ve been pretty awkward since, but Sandy’s always been there for me.”
            Kyle kept his mouth open, like an idiot, and just nodded. When school ended? No way, that was around the time he and Shindari got into a fight with some mercenaries out in space hunting those rare crystals. He remembered that being some of the height of talking to Mira, too. Sandy, though, had distanced herself from him.
            “Crazy,” he muttered. “You excited?”
            “Are you not going to prom?” alternate Kyle asked.
            Kyle shrugged and showed him the Nexus bracelet. “Not sure. I’ve had to miss a lot for this. Couldn’t go to homecoming; kind of got busy fighting a demon lord and then recovering from all that.”
            Alternate Kyle shook his head. “I know I shouldn’t believe you, like at all, but I just know it’s true.”
            “Same for you,” Kyle said. “State champs. What I wouldn’t give for that, man.”
            “You don’t think being a super hero is worth it?” alternate Kyle asked.
            Kyle stepped forward again, uncrossing his arms. “To each his own, I guess.” He held his hand out. “What’s your secret, man? How’d you keep getting good with lacrosse? Did you put all your time into it or something?”
            “That,” alternate Kyle said, taking a step forward. “And I just figured that, you know, if you get passionate about something, you just go for it, man. But you, dude, you with the super hero thing. I mean, there’s a lot of responsibility there.”
            “I have people I can trust,” Kyle said, and the alternate Kyle recoiled a bit. Kyle still held his hand out. “Friends are the most important thing for me, since mom and dad left. I’ve relied on Kip and Luke for a lot, but there are so many others that have been willing to help. Keep an eye out for them, man, they’re there.”
            “Thanks,” alternate Kyle said, and then hesitated, but ultimately clapsed hands with Kyle. A white flash appeared between them, and Kyle’s alternate sighed as the mist began to form.
            “Hey,” Kyle said, holding him tight. “If you see mom and dad, if you remember this, tell them how much you love them. Always do that, okay?”
            “For sure,” alternate Kyle said. “And don’t forget to stick to your dreams. Being a super hero is awesome, don’t ever let it get you down. You’re able to fly, man, right?”
            “And you’re able to play much better than me,” Kyle said, and the two chuckled before alternate Kyle faded away, leaving Kyle’s gear a mess on the ground.
            Kyle smiled again, and felt the knot in his throat explode as he let the sobs out but still smiled. His parents were okay and alive somewhere. It was possible. He closed his eyes, and just started to laugh. Nobody would believe him about this.
            And yet, he couldn’t be happier for it. Because somewhere out there, in some reality, another version of himself understood just as well that the burdens of getting what one wants always come at a price, but if one can find the beauty in what they have, then they can never truly be sad.

Next time: A prisoner has escaped from the Cube, and Brenda is on the hunt for them! However, she quickly finds that something very strange, and very ominous, is afoot in "Blue Nexus #81: Prisoner 36"! 

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