Chapter 2- Questionable Futures
Jack was rudely awaken by his alarm clock the next morning, only to slam his fist at it, aiming for the sleep button but ending up knocking it on the floor. He woke up about 45 minutes later, due to first period in ten minutes.
"Crap, I'm gonna be late!" Jack exclaimed after examining his watch while also looking at his broken alarm clock. He frantically put some clothes on and took about 30 seconds to fix his hair before deciding a hat would be a better idea. Running down the stairs and into the garage, he jumped in his car and sped off to TCU (Trann City University) where he was just about through with first semester of his freshman year. Upon arrival, he pulled into the lot and made a mad sprint for class.
"Maybe I won't miss the second…" his internal monologue was cut short by the second bell, signaling him late. "Bell," he finished. He walked into class three minutes late, in the middle of the teacher beginning to give his lesson on ancient Guardia government. The heads of everyone turned as Jack burst into the room and walked to the back of the class to find his seat.
"Mr. McKlane, are you done interrupting my class?" asked the teacher, a middle aged man with graying hair.
"Sorry sir," Jack said, "I overslept."
"Don't make habit of it," the teacher said bluntly. "That's three marks if you do it again."
"It won't happen again," Jack was pretty sure of that anyway. He wasn't normally late, and this was the only teacher that gave him a hard time about it. He was widely considered a genius by most of his professors, but Doctor Sutton tended to not give him any slack. After the professor began speaking again, Jack started to zone out. His mind drifted off to his upcoming promotion, beating Sean, Sarah, and most of all, the big lacrosse game against ACU (Arris City University) this afternoon. Time seem to go by and he found himself still sitting down while everyone else was leaving class. He stumbled up, grabbed his bag and walked out, only to be confronted against Doc. Sutton.
"Jack, don't let that happen again. Just because you think your smarter than everyone else doesn't mean you can come to class late."
Jack thought something along the lines of 'but I am smarter than everyone else,' but held that in. "Sorry sir. It was an accident. I accidentally smashed my alarm clock."
"It doesn't matter what the reason is. There are lots of reasons to be late for class, and none of them are good ones. You are dismissed." Jack began to leave. "And Mr. McKlane?"
"I don't like daydreaming in my class. Try not to do that anymore either."
"Yes sir," Jack said, looking at the floor. He turned and left the room. He couldn't be bothered by petty things like ancient Guardia governments. He had more important things to worry about. When walking through the halls to his next class, Zealian Literature, a guy a little taller than Jack with blonde hair partially concealed by a backward baseball cap came up to him.
"What's up man?" the young man asked.
"Oh, hey Keith. Nothing much." Keith was one of Jacks closer friends. They had been tight for as long as he could remember, which was actually only about second grade. Actually, to Jacks memory, Keith was one of his first friends. They drifted apart a little in junior high school when Keith moved from his previous location across the street from Jack, but the clicked back together for some reason in high school. Keith had always been the ladies man, making Jack feel somewhat inferior, but Jack always told himself he had better things to do.
"Your startn' today right?" Even though it was winter, the environmental control of the major cities allowed for any sport to be played in any season. Lacrosse was biggest in the winter in Trann, even though it was previously played in the springtime.
"You know it." If Jack did anything good, it was probably lacrosse. It amazed some of his friends that he found time to practice with his schedule, but many people were starting to call him 'the teams first hope.' The first hope at beating Arris in over a decade that is.
"Let me come out straight and say it then. You gotta score at least four goals this afternoon."
"Why. Why set my sights so low?"
"Well, I've been playing bookie, and I got five to one odds on you. Just help out your old friend, okay?"
"What's in it for me?"
"I didn't know such a great competitor such as yourself need anything except self accomplishment," Keith said sarcastically. Jack punched him in the arm.
"Yeah, whatever man. I'll do it, but just for you." Jack took a smile to his face. "In fact, how about another wager. You give me half your winnings if I can score twice that."
"Eight goals?!" Keith was in shock at even Jack's ego now. "Don't you think you're just a little overconfident?"
"Just watch." They stopped to grab a soda from one of the many machines littering the campus. "If I can't, I'll pay twice what I would have won."
"Jesus Christ man! Are you mad?!" Jack started to speak, but Keith cut him off. "Never mind. Anyway, you commin' to the party at the TJR's tonight? They've got at least twelve kegs and there's gonna be mad hot girls there. I hear that they've got some hotties from Arris and Proto coming in too. It's the talk of the college world."
"Sorry man, I can't. I got that whole SSAF thing tonight."
"How do you manage a social life with no free time. What's the point of that thing anyway? You can't miss it?"
"Are you kidding? It's more important than a stupid kegger."
"This isn't just any kegger dude." Keith paused. "Wait a minute. It's not because of that whole Sarah shit is it. I thought you were over her."
"Shut up man. It's not just that. I've got a promotion to…" Keith jumped in before he could get another word out.
"Your gonna miss one hell of a party. But whatever, if you want to take hopeless love as the path of choice, be my guest. I gotta go, I'll see you at the game."
"Cool. You can't miss me. I'm the one with the blue hair coming out of the back of his helmet." With that, the pair split and headed on to their respective classes. Jack didn't think about the rest of the day too much. He dozed through advanced physics and chemistry and daydreamed some more through modern trigonometry. He had his mind set on one thing, the game. Maybe he was a little hasty in saying he could score eight goals, he had never come close to that before. He only averaged about 1.9 goals a game in high school, now he was betting on eight.
"Your out of your mind," Sarah remarked bluntly after their last class. They were heading across campus. They usually went to SSAF after school together, but on game days and when Jack had practice, Sarah was nice enough to walk him to the athletics complex.
"What, so you don't think I can do it?" Jack took it as a minor insult, only because he was second-guessing himself now too.
"No, I don't think you can do it. This is something even you can't do." She nudged him playfully.
"So not even my friends think I can do this." Jack wasn't going to get discouraged yet.
"Let me guess, Keith doesn't think so either huh?"
"How'd you know?"
"I was talking to Cara earlier. He tells her everything." Cara was Keith's girlfriend even though it was widely suspected that she cheated on him with guys outside of the student body.
"It doesn't matter. I've got to try anyway in about an hour." He finished right as they walked up to the athletic complex. "I gotta go. You gonna watch?"
"Of course. I wouldn't miss seeing an opportunity to make fun of you more than I do."
"Thanks for the support," he said he said sarcastically
"No problem," she came back in the same tone.
"That was sarcasm."
"Same here, so don't worry. I'm gonna go get some headache pills and then I'll be in the stands. See ya" Jack walked off and waved as he walked into the complex. Jack walked to the halls to the locker room, where some of the team was waiting. He was greeted by some, ignored by others busy getting ankles or legs taped and lavishly greeted by yet others. The team was starting to get their equipment on, preparing for the biggest game of the year.
Sean was in the massive library at SSAF HQ. He sat at a table with many books piled around him, thumbing through one right now. He had been there for the past two hours, going through every book he could find on what he was looking for. After laboring for a while, he finally found it.
"We're gonna nail these guys down good today," said Coach Jackson in the pre-game pep talk. The entire team was on a knee in full equipment listening intently. "This is what we've been getting ready for. All of you know that we haven't beaten Arris in over a decade, but this is the year. With some of our new help, and our seasoned veterans, this is the year!" The entire team went into a roar of cheers until the coach got them calmed down.
"Okay. Samson, McKlane and Jarred are starting at middie. Holst, Frost and Nikkar, you're starting attack. Revand, Oparse and Kalm are taking up the big sticks and Soladas is puttin' on the mask. I'm calling the rest of the lines as I see them. McKlane, take the face-off. Everyone got it?"
"Yes!" came the rather loud echo.
"All right," Coach Jackson said, getting loud himself now. "Everyone in, win on three. One! Two! Three!"
"Win!" The team broke and ran out onto the playing field like knights charging off to battle, swords in hand. The came in just as they were being announced.
"And now," came the announcer from the stadium. "Your TCU Diamond Backs!" The entire stadium, full to the brim, roared with the sound of hyped up fans as the team came running onto the field to do stretching and warm up.
Sarah gulped down a pair of more painkillers and put the container in her pocket. "I must be getting sick. I'm feeling it all over and it's not time for that yet." She grabbed her jacket and ran off to catch the start of the game.
The starting lineup stood in their positions, waiting for the whistle to be blown. Jack was in the middle, matched up against someone bigger than he was, both of them kneeling with their sticks on the ground. The ball sat, waiting to be picked up at the whistle. Then, out of the silence, came the screech.
"Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!" came the sound from the referee's whistle, signaling the start. Jack and his opponent fought for the ball, the other four middies rushing in to help their teammates. After a short grapple, Jack flicked the ball off the ground to Samson, and then the six middies all ran down to the opposing field. Taking a bit of time to set up their defensive ring, Arris was caught of guard by the aggressiveness that Trann took. Samson gunned the ball to Frost and when he was immediately double teamed, Frost gunned it back to Jack. As fast as the game had started, Jack wound up and gunned a hard sidearm shot to the upper left corner for a very quick one-nothing lead.
The crowd went nuts. Only forty seconds into play and Trann was up. The ball was placed back in the center and the game was started again. Trann got the ball the same way and pulled the same trick again, but when Jack got doubled, he tossed it off to Nikkar and cut to the goal, quickly receiving a pass that he caught and shot in seemingly one motion. Lower right corner, goal two. The crowd exploded with excitement.
"Cover number 5, cover number 5!" screamed the Arris coach. The attempts failed, as Trann soon scored again, with Jack putting a behind the back shot in a corner of the net as he ran past the goal. At least Keith looked like he would be making money.
"Time out!" screamed the Arris coach. The referee blew his whistle and the teams went into huddles. "Okay, listen up," the Arris coach addressed his team. "Number five is doing all the work for them. Don't let him get open, don't leave him open, don't even let him get the ball." The team counted off to a cheer and started to go back to the field when the coach grabbed the big middie Jack faced off against by the jersey. "Take him out," he said coldly. The big middie nodded and ran out to get the game going again.
Sean had closed his books but left them on the table as he left the library, in a hurry too. Walking fast, then starting to run, he was worried. "I didn't think now was the time. I've got to warn people," he mumbled to himself. "But who's going to believe me? I didn't believe it at first. It's all up to me…"
Trann was in possession in the Arris zone, throwing the ball around in a circle, slowing the action down. In a sudden dash, Jack made a cut and was about to get a pass when the big middie came storming in. Putting his shoulder into it, he got down low and lifted up, slamming Jack in the back, sending him in the air. The crowd got mad, Jack got even madder.
"Okay, buddy, that's two minutes," the referee said as he announced the penalty. The big middie walked off the field with a smile on his face, the coach of Arris was also smiling. Jack slowly got up and rubbed his back, then he ran off to get ready to play. The Arris coach swore under his breath, the big middie wasn't so polite.
Still somewhat dazed, Jack fumbled back to receive the pass to start the game, but his mind was elsewhere at this point. Being quick to hand off any pass that came his way, he waited for assailant to get out of the penalty box.
"You've got to trust me on this one sir," Sean pleaded with the high commander of SSAF. "We have to move everyone into underground shelters. Something big is coming."
"And what might this big thing be commander?" The high commander wasn't to thrilled at being told he had to relocate the entire population of the world into shelter domes.
"Imagine," Sean thought about it for a while. "An evil so great," he began "an evil force that is so big, that it can destroy everything with a rain of fire that will pour down the havoc and destruction depicted in our religious descriptions of Armageddon. The clouds will rain fire and blood. Ash will fill the land. Those who survive would be killed by the nuclear winter that followed."
"You've got my attention."
"Well that force is living under the ground and if my calculations are right, it's gonna wake up real soon." The high commander looked at him and then just started to laugh.
"Your telling me," he paused to laugh some more. "That an evil demon is gonna burst out of the ground and kill us all. I think your due for a mental checkup session commander."
"Sir," Sean was fuming now. "This is not a laughing matter! It happened once and it will happen again!"
"This meeting is over commander," he said, still laughing, "go back to whatever you were doing before this." In an extreme exercise of self-control, Sean walked out of the room merely screaming.
"Your all going to die you fools! Don't you get it!" He stormed to the armory to get what he needed. It looked like he was going this one solo.
Back at the game, Trann was up 8 to 1 with two minutes to go in the half. Trann was on defense, protecting their lead. Jack soon found himself against his new rival, playing defense.
"That was a cheep shot you had back there," Jack screamed so he was heard by the big middie.
"That's the game for you," he shot back. "If you can't take it, sit on the bench.
Jack started to glow a faint green. "Yeah, but I don't like it when people don't play by the rules…"
"What the hell?!" the middie screamed but was cut off by Jacks shoulder hitting his ribs at what felt like a million miles an hour. The power of the shot hurt so much, he didn't even realize that he had been thrown about ten feet back. The referee blew his whistle and the Arris trainer came running on to the field. The Trann team gathered on the sidelines around their coach.
"Nice shot Jack, way to give it back to him," came the cheers from most of the team. The coach wasn't so happy.
"What did I tell you about that Jack?" He was calmer than Jack had expected. "You can't go around doing that."
"Doing what?" asked some of the team. The others were just quiet. The referee came over to the team and pointed to Jack and Coach Jackson, motioning for them to come over to see him.
"Is he okay, ref?" coach Jackson asked. The referee ignored him and looked at Jack.
"You broke at least seven of his ribs, son. He's lucky you didn't crush his lungs." The referee was pretty mad. "Are you SSAF?"
"Yes sir." Jack was covering up his pleasure with a little bit of acting sorry.
"That's what I thought." The referee blew his whistle. "Your out of the game." He walked to the sidelines to announce the penalty. "Illegal use of Force Tech. Number five is ejected from the game." The crowd got mad, Jack felt he had gotten even at a good price and walked over to the bench without so much as looking at the hurt player.
The half soon expired and both teams went to their respective locker rooms. The coach wasn't happy about the Force Tech thing Jack pulled, but they were up 8 to 1 so he couldn't be upset.
"That was a good half guys. We have to thank Jack for scoring his five goals before he got kicked out of the game." The team laughed. "So anyway we've got to…" the coach was cut off by the sudden appearance of a man in the door to the locker room.
"Coach Jackson?" came the voice. Jack immediately got up once he heard the voice of Sean. Sean walked into the room and addressed the coach. "Sean Koren, SSAF commander." Jack and Frost, who were both SSAF, stood at attention. "At ease." Sean said. Jack and Frost relaxed. "Anyway, coach, I have to take Jack away. I hope you don't mind."
"Well, Jack just got himself kicked out of the game so I'm not gonna put up much of a fight. He's all yours."
"Jack?" Sean looked a little peeved.
"I Force Teched a check." Jack looked at the ground.
"We'll talk latter. Anyway, come with me." Sean left the room. Jack wanted to stay but he prioritized and followed his commander out obediently. Jack was surprised when Sean broke into a jog, but he kept up.
"Where are we going?" Jack asked, speaking over the noise of their feet hitting the floor.
"First, we have to meet Sarah, then, we're going to SSAF HQ."
"Where are we meeting her?"
"Right about," he paused and to Jacks surprise, Sarah came running down one of the halls and started jogging with them. "Here."
"How did you talk with her?" Jack didn't really like it when he didn't know what was going on, and the whole thing seemed a little to X-Files-ish to him.
"My mom bought me a cell phone for my last birthday," Sarah said, reaching inside of her jacket and taking out a cellular phone to show to Jack. "Sean has the number just in case he needs to summon me to lead me off to somewhere that he refuses to explain," she put an emphasis on the last part trying to get Sean to give an explanation. He didn't stop to talk though, and soon Jack and Sarah found themselves in the back seat of Sean's car, driving at to far over the speed limit for Sarah's liking.
"I'm bringing you to see something." Sean said, not turning to look at the other two who were in the back seat. "But we have to get to the armory first."
"What?!" Jack was getting a little angry now. "With all due respect Mr. Fearless Leader, couldn't this have waited until after the game?" Sarah was quicker to pick up on the more important point.
"The armory?" she asked, unsure of the whole situation.
"Remember when you got to try on that SSAF battle gear last year?" Sean asked, picking up speed.
"Yes," they answered in unison.
"Your gonna need it again." At that point, they pulled past a security building and into SSAF HQ. "Everyone out," Sean said, pulling into a parking space. Jack and Sarah got out of the car and followed Sean into the building, trying to keep up with his run now.
"Has Sean gone insane?" Sarah whispered to Jack.
"I don't know," Jack responded. "Something's definitely up and he won't tell us anything so that makes me even more unsettled by the whole thing." The continued to run through the halls until Sean came to a stop and pulled out an ID card and swiped it through a slot in a wall unit. The doors they were facing slid open revealing the multi-leveled SSAF armory.
"Follow me," Sean said as he walked inside. At least he was walking, Sarah and Jack were thankful for that. The trio walked down three floors and then walked into a room lined with SSAF battle gear, full body armor that incorporated automated Force Tech to enhance abilities of the wearer.
"Wow," Jack mustered at the sight of the full room of the amazing battle suits. When he was given one to try, Sean had simply brought the two suits for him and Sarah to a training room. He had actually never even been in the armory. "Something is definitely up."
"Each of you, take one suit, take it apart and put it in these bags," he tossed each one of them a SSAF duffel bag.
"Are we gonna steal these?!" Sarah asked.
"We're just borrowing them without asking," Sean said. "I can guarantee that they won't be missing them." Jack and Sarah hesitantly started to disassemble and pack their borrowed suits in the bags. Once they were packed up, Sean started to leave and Jack and Sarah followed. They were questioned a few times on their business at HQ and what was in the bags, but with a wave of Sean's commander ID card, no guard pursued it further. They went back to Sean's car and he just started driving again. It was about 4:35 now.
"Sean, are we gonna miss the dinner for this?" Jack asked, worried more about getting his promotion rather than seeing whatever it was Sean wanted them to see.
"Jack, the dinner is nothing compared to this. I'm gonna bet that the dinner is going to be canceled anyway," Sean said, matter of factly.
"Canceled?! Can they do that?"
"You'll understand everything in about," Sean looked at his watch, "twenty five minutes." Shortly after, the trio pulled out of Trann City and continued until they drove into Guardia Park, which was somewhat of a nature reserve outside of any domes. Sean drove through the park until he came to a clearing. There were no people around. "Now get out and put those suits on," Sean said.
"Sean," Jack said as he started to unpack the bag. "I think that we deserve a serious explanation as to what's going on." Jack was trying to stay calm, but it was getting hard.
"Yeah Sean," Sarah said. "You are kind of acting like the world is going to end here."
"Don't worry." Sean said, grabbing his own duffel bag from the trunk of the car. "I'm almost positive that you two will be okay. You don't have to do anything, just get those suits on for your protection and take a seat until the show starts."
"What show!" Jack said, not containing his anger anymore.
"Just get those suits on," Sean said and didn't speak after that. He started putting the multiple layers of the battle suit on. The other two had to watch him at first, but they got the hang of it. The first layer was mostly a series of rings that go around certain points on the limbs and a set of wires that bind them together. Next came the plating for the lower arms and legs, then plating for the upper arms and legs. Armor for the joints then locked in were it was needed, and the shoulder plates were also locked into place. The team put on the chest plates and helped each other with the back plates. Sean put on a helmet but told Jack and Sarah that they didn't need one. It was now 4:50.
"So now what?" Jack was getting really pissed with the whole affair.
"Sit down and wait over there," Sean pointed to a rock formation and then reached into his bag and took out the TAG that glowed a dim red. He then sat down as well and started to meditate.
"He's definitely gone off his rocker," Jack said, still wondering why they were even there.
"No disagreement here," Sarah said, scratching her head. "I just don't get it."
"He says that we're gonna see something but doesn't say what," Jack added. "To be honest, I'm not to thrilled with our fearless leader right now." The three continued to sit down until Sean's watched beeped, signaling five o'clock. Then the young SSAF members got to see what Sean was waiting for.
It started as just a rumble in the ground. Then the ground around them started to crack and an intense heat shot up from beneath the earth. The cracks in the ground shot out from a central point until the starter of the ruckus showed up. It started by the protrusion of several large spikes coming out of the ground. Soon, more, smaller spikes were visible. The air was getting very hot and everyone was happy when the battle suits' internal cooling system kicked in, but they weren't really worried about overheating right now. Everyone's' eyes were fixed on the spike covered dome that was rising out of the ground. Lava started to shoot out from around the thing until it stopped rising. Just above ground level was a smaller dome covered by three prongs.
"Looks like the life of the party's finally here!" Sean screamed over the immense wind that had started to pick up. He grabbed the mystery TAG and turned in on, revealing a brilliant red blade.
"What the hell?!" Jack said, finally getting words out.
"Is this what you wanted us to see?!" Sarah screamed.
"This," Sean said, "and what's about to happen." As if on cue, the thing let out a sound that humans could never hope to reproduce and the three prongs on the front dome opened revealing a giant eye. Then it fired off what seemed like thousands of red beams from his shell. "Get closer to it!" Sean screamed.
"What?!" Jack screamed back. He and Sarah didn't move, until one of the red beams landed four feet from them, the explosion throwing them where Sean had wanted them to move. There was a crater ten feet in diameter where the beam landed. Red beams landed all around and all over the world as it seemed to them. The immense heat that kicked up from their impact gave the feeling that they were in a volcano.
"Alright Lavos!" Sean screamed at the thing. "Play time's over!"
"Is he gonna fight it?!" Sarah screamed at Jack.
"I don't know!" Jack couldn't find any other words.
"I've got a present for you!" Sean said, bringing the red TAG forward. The beast let out a small cry, but then everyone realized that it was actually laughing. "Your pride will be the end of you, planet slayer!" Sean screamed as he jumped at the beast and thrust his weapon into the center of the eye. He leapt back, checking out his damage. The thing soon retaliated, firing beams in Sean's direction. Sean dodged and counter attacked, ripping a gash in the shell. The beast let out its 'laugh' again and them blasted more shots at Sean. Jack and Sarah could only watch in horror.
"Are you insane?!" Jack screamed at Sean. Sean didn't answer but made more cuts at the beast, then flipped back to face it again.
"Your times up Lavos. It's time to die!" He made a leap and glowed bright green, but at the last minute, the thing blasted a green beam, this time nailing Sean in the midsection, throwing him back to where Jack and Sarah were. It let out its roar again.
"Oh my god!" Sarah screamed with fright when she saw Sean. A gapping whole had been torn through his midsection.
"Sean!" Jack screamed, now ignoring the monster standing not fifteen feet from them.
"Just as I thought," Sean said, his mouth full of blood. "I'm not good enough."
"Sean, don't speak," Sarah said and kneeled down to try to get a better look at his wounds.
"Don't be a fool Sarah," Sean said, coughing up more blood. "Your smart enough to know that this is fatal."
"Sean…" Jack whispered.
"Jack and Sarah, you must listen very closely." Sean coughed again, heaving the red substance into the air. Jack and Sarah were covered in his blood at this point. "Jack, you are a very important person. You are one of 'hope' Jack. You must survive to find the 'truth.'"
"Sean, I don't understand," Jack said, dumbfounded.
"You will understand in time," Sean continues. "Sarah is also important to the space-time continuum. Protect her, Jack. You must seek out," he paused and coughed again. "You must seek out the boy Cro," he coughed again, "Cro," he managed to say again, but couldn't find the rest of the word. He went into a convulsion and then was still.
"No!" Jack screamed. Jack opened up his TAG and ran towards the monster. He made many cuts at the monsters shell, but the all didn't even leave a mark. Suddenly, a light filled the area and he was thrown back to were Sarah was still standing, dumbfounded.
"You're not even a snack for the mighty Lavos," said a voice that seemed to come from nowhere. "What do you hope to accomplish?"
"Who are you!" Jack screamed. "What are you!" He got no answer. In an instant, a black piece of matter seemed to start to grow underneath him and Sarah.
"Jack?" Sarah managed to say. "What is it?""I-I don't know," Jack answered. The black mass became bigger until the circle on the floor was surrounding them. The voice then let out a mighty laugh as Jack and Sarah found themselves falling. Falling into nothing.
To Chapter 3
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