Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Blue Nexus #89 - Invitations (Or, How Space GPS Works)

Previously in "Blue Nexus": Following the epic battles in the Magus War, where magic made its long-awaited return to Earth and has since sent humanity into a bit of a tizzy over how handle the outburst of magic, Kyle Raiden and his best friends have begun adjusting better to his life as a superhero, despite all the wackiness that's been going on. Kyle's powers with the Nexus have grown, as have some of his ally's abilities: allies like Brenda aka Shindari, who is a mage, and Sandy, aka Violette, another mage and a fledgling one at that. Best of all, Kyle's landed a solid spot on the lacrosse team and finally managed to get a girlfriend, an alien named Ven. Kyle also made a few ventures out into space...ventures that gave him as much notoriety out in the cosmos as on Earth...
            Kyle, Kip, and Luke stared at the small box TV hanging at the corner of their cafeteria, watching with mediated interest while the closed-captioned news reporter rambled on about the strange ship or plane that’d been hovering over the Atlantic Ocean for about an hour before vanishing from any satellites.
            Kip had tried to get Kyle’s attention about it, but he found himself far more interested in the last few texts from Ven than whatever UFO showed up on Earth. Luke didn’t seem too bothered by it, though he had to turn his back and strain himself to look at the news.
            “Think it landed around here?” Kip asked.
            Kyle shrugged. Luke just ignored the question. Kip rested his chin in his hands and leaned forward, like a kid watching a TV show. Several of the other students were fixated on the TV, or on their phones, where they either checked up on social media or on the report as well.
            When Kyle finally looked up to the TV, he grimaced at the sight of the ship. “Never seen that kind before.”
            “You seen a lot of alien ships?” Kip asked.
            “I mean, I’ve flown by an armada or two,” Kyle said. “I can guarantee that one’s not Martian.”
            “Good, we’re not being invaded,” Luke said.
            “What if it’s an emissary, a scout?” Kip asked.
            “At that size? Probably not. Also he wasn’t all that subtle about his landing,” Kyle said, setting his phone down.
            “Man, how are you so lax about this?” Kip nudged Kyle, who frowned and laid his hands bare on the table.
            “I mean you want me to be honest or you want me to pretend like I’m ever going to see this?” Kyle asked.
            “Oh, wow, Mr. Attitude over here,” Luke said. “Something up?”
            Kyle strummed his hands on his phone. “No, nothing really.” He tried focusing on the closed captioning, then shook his head.
            “Oh, God, is this about her?” Kip asked.
            “What? No,” Kyle said. “We’re fine, everything’s all good. I’m just…”
            Luke nodded before Kyle could put the words together. “You’ve just been off duty for a while, right?”
            Kyle stole a glance down at the Nexus bracelet and nodded. When he and Ven decided to become official, he had barely a spark of Nexus power. Now, about a month and a half later, he was still just getting that power back. The Starlan that drained all his power also did a number on his physical health; he’d only just gotten over a really weird funk where he would get randomly exhausted after doing the most meager of things, like standing up or walking from one class to the other.
            It came in bursts and thankfully not all that often during practice or, worse, games. He was given time enough to rest during the games whenever he had one of his fatigue flashes, since he could just be rotated out, so thankfully his position on the team wasn’t all too jeopardized. Kyle never performed as optimally as he wanted to until recently, but it was still good enough for the team to be making decent headway in the district as they prepared for the playoffs.
            Ven attended all of his games, and afterward he, Kip, Luke, some of Ven’s friends, and Mira with some of her friends would all go to the local ice cream place to just relax for a bit. Andreus joined them on occasion, but it was almost always a very special occasion.
            Andreus strolled through the cafeteria, underneath the TV, and eyed Kyle for a moment before returning to whatever conversation he was having with his friends. Kyle sighed.
            “So that’s it, you just want to get back out there?” Kip asked.
            “Yeah, it’d be nice,” Kyle said. He took a hard look this time down at the bracelet on his wrist. “Haven’t really gotten to fly around in a while or head out to the city to see what’s going on. I’m sure everyone’s doing okay without me, but, still.”
            “Have you heard from Sandy at all?” Luke asked, his voice low.
            “No,” Kyle said. “Which is either really good news or really bad news.”
He did manage to keep in constant contact with Brenda and she even had some free time to hang out with him every now and then when she wasn’t out teaching new mages about their abilities or helping to stop catastrophes wherever they may pop up. But she hardly mentioned Sandy in those stories at all.
            The bell rang overhead and the three of them stood up, gathering their trash and their lunchboxes. Kyle shouldered his backpack, stealing one last look at the TV.
            “Oh, wait up,” Kyle said, and snagged Kip back. Kip spun around and faced the TV.
            “Oh, yeah, what’s up with that?” Kip muttered.
            The news report had changed from just a reporter going on and on about the UFO to them finally managing to locate it. Kyle recognized that road all too well: it was the interstate that ran from Adelita to East City. All traffic had ceased on the roads while some police and other government agents began to approach the site.
            Kyle felt a sudden buzzing in his pocket and a smile sprouted across his lips. He took off his backpack and handed it to Kip.
            “Well now,” Kip said. “Looks like all you need to do is ask.”
            “They probably heard you,” Luke said.
            “I’m not sure I’ll be back, just leave it in my lax locker,” Kyle said. “See you later, I’ll tell you all about it!”
            Kip and Luke nodded and Kyle moved through the lunch crowd with glee filling his steps. Each time he bumped shoulders with someone he put that much more effort into his steps, just trying to get out of the cafeteria.
            He finally burst free of the doors and sprinted ahead, but had to stop and run in place. Cameras everywhere. Ah, well, Detective Patton and Principal Walters knew who he was. They wouldn’t mind, would they?
            Kyle dashed into the gym hallway, the one that was almost always empty. He sprinted down it, gaining speed until he crashed through the other end of the double doors and sprinted into the field. He leapt into the air, swiped his fingers over the Nexus bracelet, and let the cosmic energy consume him.
            A dark blue shirt and pants replaced his old clothing, and he gained a short dark blue cloak around his body, the hood latching over his face and protecting his identity. The blue lines around his body glowed in resonance with Nexus energy. Kyle curled his toes inside his lightweight boots and then channeled all his energy around him into a burst and he shot through the clouds in seconds. He curved hard in the air, doing a small spin before straightening out and rocketing for the interstate.
            The scene came into view up ahead and Kyle realized he hadn’t actually answered the call from the Zanderia. Ah, well, too late now. He shrugged and started to descend. The ship, an oval, had a thick metallic shell, one so thick it was unlikely any human weapons could penetrate it.
            Kyle slid down about twenty yards from the scene and all attention immediately turned to him. His stomach flipped end over end when he saw the storm of police headed his way, while the government agents remained by the site. Kyle gulped and tried to maintain his cool. It’d been so long since he had to deal with this sort of pressure.
            “Hey, hey, let’s all just…one at a time,” Kyle said, feigning a smile.
            “My, Blue Nexus, I don’t seem to recall you being so antisocial!”
            Everyone, including Kyle, glanced overhead. A scarlet mage dropped from the sky and landed right next to Kyle, braced herself, then managed to stand straight up with a smile.
            “Good to see you, Shindari,” he said. “It’s been a while.”
            “Indeed,” she said. “Now, shall we? I assume you’re not here to play press.”
            “I’m so glad I’m not,” he said, and gestured at the crash. “After you.”
            “I recommend everyone stays back,” Brenda said, raising her voice so even the government agents said. A few of them turned and scowled at the heroes while some others yet just ignored the two of them outright.
            “Rude,” Kyle muttered.
            “They won’t know what’s going on, anyway,” Brenda said.
            “Any idea how to open this thing?”
            “No need. Look at it. This wasn’t a crash, it was an impromptu landing.”
            “You’re just making that up.”
            They stopped at the small rut that the ship created. Brenda gestured at the agents again and this time none of them responded. She and Kyle rolled their eyes.
            The ship did nothing when they came to a halt for just a moment, then a wash of light came over it and the outline of a door flickered. The ship came to life with a low hum. The agents all braced themselves. Brenda weaved her fingers around to warm her magic up. Kyle summoned some energy into his fists but did not raise them at all.
            The humming died down and the door slid open. A figure rose from it: slender with light blue skin and four arms and one eye. It had an ovular head, like the ship it came in, and unfolded its body like one would a piece of paper. It had a straight mouth and some wisps of hair on its head.
            “Just the one I wanted to see,” he said. Brenda glanced at Kyle.
            “You understand him?” Kyle asked.
            “He’s speaking my native language,” Brenda said.
            “Welcome to Earth,” Kyle said. “We can only assume that you didn’t take a wrong turn here looking for a rest stop.’
            “Nonsense, I came to see the famed Nexus of Earth,” he said. “As he calls himself, the Blue Nexus.”
            Kyle raised an eyebrow. Who in outer space knew him as the Blue Nexus? Maybe some that overhead one of his teammates calling him that while they were out on an assignment, but this guy didn’t look like any of the people Kyle had ever saved.
            “What’s your name, stranger?” Brenda asked. Her accent changed; a bit deeper, but her speech came out far more fluid.
            “Eltar,” he said, and bowed, with his four hands impossibly folding behind his back. Kyle nodded his head back and Brenda did nothing.
            “What brings you to Earth, Eltar?” Kyle asked.
            Eltar gestured back at the ship. Kyle peered over the blue alien’s shoulder to inside the ship, where there was only a single cracked screen.
            “I came to deliver a message, though it broke upon entry of your planet’s surprisingly strong orbit,” Eltar said. “At least, stronger than my home world’s.”
            “Which is that?” Brenda asked.         
            “I come from Xenomark VI,” Eltar said.
            “One of the Kingdom Planets?” Kyle asked, and Eltar nodded with a massive grin on his thin blue lips. Kyle felt a small shiver run down his spine. “What does Xenomark want with Earth?”
            He tried looking to Brenda for answers but she was simply staring at Eltar; not in a way where she was trying to read him, but in a way where her eyes settled on something while her mind was somewhere way off in the distance.
            “You have been invited to a grand festival that the great Sovereigns of our kingdom have decided to throw,” Eltar said. “You and one other, though I would not wish to burden you with searching for her.”
            “The great witch Shindari. Her skills are legendary throughout the near galaxies. We would be honored if you two great heroes could attend.”
            Kyle shouldered Brenda. “Yo, hear that? We’re going to a party.”
            Brenda blinked. “Xenomark? Where…”
            “We’re a relatively small system, but one with great fortune, and power,” Eltar said. “I come on behalf of the Sovereigns who have heard much of your exploits. There will be other great warriors from across the galaxy gathering there, as well some royalty. I’m sure you recall your meeting with Princess Raeala?”
            “She’ll be there?”
            “She recommended you, but unfortunately her father has spirited her away for some family business.” Eltar waved it off. “There is more information upon that small device, but unfortunately, as I said, it was damaged.”
            “Shouldn’t be a problem, I’m sure we’ll be able to download whatever’s on it,” Kyle said.
            “The Zanderia.”
            Eltar’s face lit up. “Oh! What a lucky day. I can meet the Zanderia of Earth. I’ve always wanted to do so ever since Riko and Eclipse first arrived on our world.”
            Kyle hesitated, then nodded. “Must’ve been pretty great.” Eltar nodded eagerly, and Kyle pointed to the ship behind him. “It’d be best if you followed us in that ship, or I think some of the locals here might try and run away with it.”
            Eltar grinned. “Indeed. You lead, and I shall follow.”
            Kyle tapped his Zanderia communicator and waited for Eltar to be in the pod. “Phoenix, you there? Any chance you can get some tech running at a place nearby? We’ve got a guy here looking to show us something.”
            A moment  of silence passed. Brenda had shifted in her position, now rubbing the top of her head as if trying to rustle the information out of her brain.
            “Xenomark? Xenomark. Xenomark?”
            “Yeah, meet me in Alexandria,” Phoenix said. “I’ve got a place by the shore we can meet up. What sort of tech are we talking?”
            “Kingdom Planet level stuff,” Kyle said, and Eltar’s ship started to float. The humming consumed the sound of the area once again. “And Phoenix? Make sure it’s good tech.”
            “No problem,” he said. “Meet you there soon. I’ll flag you guys down once you get near.”
            “Thanks,” Kyle said. He turned to Brenda, who had eyebrow raised but she was facing him, at least. “Come on, we’re going on a beach trip.”
            “Where have I heard that name before?” Brenda asked. “It’s going to kill me.”
            Kyle stepped behind her and grabbed her shoulders tight, then started to float up. It took her a moment for her to snap out of it and catch herself mid-flight. They floated up a few hundred feet before Kyle blasted off to the northeast toward the shore. He flew slow, giving Phoenix enough time to get set up, but also because he didn’t want to lose Eltar.
            He turned when they were halfway there to face the ship. The last time he went to a Kingdom Planet, Black Nexus had just finished destroying one of the planets, killing the prince of the empire while he was at it. Each Kingdom Planet also tended to follow one of the War Gods rather tightly, like how the Orion System followed Eru and Mars followed Cata. What about Xenomark? Where even was the Xenomark system?
            Eltar looked nothing like any alien Kyle had encountered before, so perhaps it was far out on the fringes of the northern galaxies. He rubbed his chin and focused back on his direction, shooting across the sky like a straight blue line, ripping through the clouds with ease and accruing some moisture on his face.     
            Brenda caught up with him when Phoenix shot the signal flare and the two properly changed their trajectory to match their new destination. Eltar did the same, but remained at a decent distance behind the two.
            They made their way through the clouds and back to full visibility. A small shack sprouted out of the ground in such a jarring way that Kyle had to wonder how they ever managed to hide the thing. Then he noticed the sand running down it, put the pieces of it being an underground facility together, and felt a bit dumber.
            Phoenix, in his red costume, stepped out and faced them. Kyle flipped once and landed in the sand with ease. He shook himself down, beaming at how great that felt, then approached the senior Zanderia member.
            “Welcome back to the field,” Phoenix said when they clasped hands.         
            “Glad to be back,” Kyle said. “And I even brought someone with me.”
            “A friend?”
            “A messenger.”
            Brenda landed next to the two and Eltar’s ship hummed too loud for them to make any conversation until he cut the engines and the doors started to open.
            “From the Xenomark Kingdom Planets,” Brenda said.
            “Never been there before,” Phoenix said. “You?”
            “I…gah, I just don’t know,” she said.
            Phoenix nodded. “Guess we’ll learn more about it in a few minutes.”
            Eltar stepped from the pod the same way he did before, but this time held the tablet in one of his four arms. The other three folded behind his back in reverence to Phoenix.
            “The great Phoenix of the Zanderia,” he said. “Your wit is revered far throughout the galaxies.”
            “Not my charming attitude?” Phoenix asked. “Welcome to Earth, friend.”
            Kyle cut a glance to Phoenix, who didn’t seem to notice. “Eltar, the tablet?”
            “Of course,” Eltar said, and handed the tablet over to Phoenix with his stringy arms. Phoenix took it from the man and then waved it to Brenda and Kyle.
            “It’ll only be a second,” Phoenix said. “Come on inside, everyone.”
            Kyle and Brenda let Eltar go in first, who shrunk his form down some in order to fit through the doorway. Brenda went in before Kyle, allowing Kyle to soak in the wonder of the small shack. It didn’t grow any larger, but it looked like an exact replica of the Zanderia moon base, just with far more condensed walls. Phoenix had the laptop attached to the back wall and a series of ones and zeroes ran down a few screens.
            “We’re downloading it now,” Phoenix said. Eltar leaned against the side wall. “So, what brings you to Earth?”
            “You lot do,” Eltar said. “My good Sovereigns of Xenomark asked me to come find you lot and invite you to the festival we shall be holding.”
            “A festival on Xenomark?” Phoenix asked. “Interesting. And, how exactly did you manage to locate us? My understanding is that it’s quite the trip from Xenomark to here.”
            “My device,” Eltar said. “I was able to hone in on the signal generating from your Moon base and from there input the coordinates.”
            Phoenix unfolded his arms and nodded. The screens went black and he went to work, allowing Kyle to ask,      “So, what all’s going to be happening at the festival? Like, games, awards, lots of food?”
            “All of that and more,” Eltar said. “For you, Blue Nexus, we would have a special request.”
            “You see we’ve been gathering some of the greatest warriors we can get our hands on,” Eltar said. “And we would much like to see how their skills in combat can truly shine against one another. You are one such warrior.”
            “A tournament, then,” Kyle said. “Are there other Nexus there?”
            “You were the only one we thought worthy. And that we could find, of course. You lot are so scarce nowadays.”
            Kyle grimaced. “And Shindari? Phoenix? What about them?”
            “As one of the great mages in the cosmos, Shindari would get to spend her time with others of her kin,” Eltar said, grinning widely to Brenda. Her brow furrowed once more. “And our dear Phoenix, if he wouldn’t mind, could work alongside some of the other heroes who shall be in attendance. I’m sure you’d love time to catch up with those you’ve met along your travels.”
            Phoenix nodded, still messing with the device. “Indeed, I love some good intergalactic small-talk. No end of conversation about the weather.”
            “Though there is one more I would truly like to extend an invitation to,” Eltar said. “Where is Lalay, the daughter of the wind?”
            “On assignment, she’ll be back later today,” Phoenix said.
            Kyle crossed his arms. “Why her?”
            “One of the Four Elements?” Eltar chuckled as if Kyle said something stupid. “We simply must have her! The Sovereigns ask for the highest caliber of guest, and I have been sent to deliver that.”
            “You’ve certainly come a long way,” Phoenix said, and turned from his screen. It projected onto one of the computer screens. “Though from what I recall, Xenomark VI wasn’t the eighth planet in the rotation.”
            “I do not live on Xenomark VI, of course,” Eltar said, his voice cracking.
            “Of course not,” Kyle said, unfolding his arms. “If you did you’d know that Eclipse never shows his face on a mission, not even on an intergalactic one. Eclipse never went to Xenomark VI.”
            Eltar fumbled for a response but a wave of red washed over the room and Brenda’s magical aura flared.
            “I remember now,” she said, her voice little more than a snarl. Eltar clenched all four of his fists anxiously. “I remember why Xenomark was burned so far into my memory, why I refused to recall it. I lived there once, as a little girl.” She raised an arm to Eltar. “Your people are slavers, monsters. The Sovereigns were all wiped out before I arrived there by Ytu’s filthy dogs. You serve her, you serve the underground!”
            Eltar’s mouth slacked open and he raised three of his four arms. Phoenix grinned and took the tablet off the wall.
            “Why are you really here?”
            Eltar glowered down at the super hero, then his face dropped and his lips turned to a smile. “Because I wanted to be the last thing you damn heroes ever saw, to be the one that collected all of the reward!”
            He revealed his other hand and before any of them could react pressed a button on it. The walls behind them shattered, pushing Kyle and Brenda forward. Kyle slid to his feet.
            The pod he traveled in broke into pieces that quickly reformed into thick metal armor around Eltar’s entire body, creating a massive metallic creature. Kyle held his arm out but was hit in the gut and shot out of the building.
            He flipped end-over-end until he caught himself and slid along the sand. Brenda shot out of the back and landed next to him. Eltar ripped through the remaining metal of the shelter and stepped forward.
            “Well damn,” Kyle muttered. “Didn’t expect this much action today.”
            “Can’t believe I forgot about Xenomark,” Brenda muttered.
            “Eltar!” Kyle called out. “How much of that was true? Are we really invited to some festival?”
            Eltar stopped his walk. “You are invited to your death, should you chose. The greatest collection of power gathers on Xenomark, but you will not live to see it!”
            Kyle didn’t give him a chance to continue speaking. He blasted across the way, leading with his knee, and slammed it into the thick metal hide around Eltar. A red barrier appeared overhead that crushed him.
            Kyle landed and kicked the helmet off his head, exposing the thin, frail head of the blue alien. The single blue eye blinked away the sand so close to its face.
            “The greatest collection of power?” Kyle asked. “Care to elaborate?”
            “No,” Eltar said. “Just know that the time of the Zanderia meddling in the affairs of the true rulers of these galaxies is over.”
            “You don’t speak for Ytu, do you?” Brenda asked. Eltar did not respond. “Didn’t think so.”
            “But my kin, the Demi-War Gods, I speak for them,” Eltar said. “For the ones that will be pleased enough to know that the bounty on your heads has just gone up, that they will get a far greater reward for my sacrifice!”
            Before he could let out his evil cackle, a wave of electricity came over him. Kyle stepped back, a bit shocked, then saw the wire leading from Phoenix’s bracer. He recalled it, snapping his wrist back up and scowled.         
            “He wasn’t entirely lying,” Phoenix said. “And I’m pretty sure that if we don’t do something about all this mess, we’re going to see way too many Demi-War Gods headed straight for Earth real soon.”

Next time: Phoenix reveals more informaiton about this supposed festival and gathering of Demi-War Gods on Xenomark VI, and decides that the Zanderia will need to confront this problem head on, but the question is, who should handle this? Find out next time in "Blue Nexus #90 - Bounty Hunted"! 

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