Seventeen

Phantom's eyes were locked onto the hypnotic red of the Shadow's. He felt a feeling- thick and hot, like blood- rush through him, looking for control. He shoved it away, tearing his gaze from the Shadow's and turning to Jaaz, instead.

She was pale, hissing in pain on the ground and holding her left arm, tears streaking trails through the sweat and grime that covered her face.

Phantom glanced back at the Shadow, not looking at its eyes. Its mechanical anatomy mimicked that of an organic one, and Phantom could make out muscles and joints and so forth. The Shadow was tense and ready to attack, which meant no sudden movements.

"Dan-E," squeaked Jaaz, "help."

He wanted to. Really, really badly. But if the Shadow attacked, both Phantom and Jaaz would be killed.

"Hold on, Jaaz," Phantom murmured. "I'm coming."

He had no plan. What was he going to do?

Phantom wasn't the brainiest guy on the planet, and Dan-E hadn't been, either. He couldn't think of anything genius. He felt trapped.

Oh, whatever, he thought. He figured that his best shot was to go with the obviously stupid option.

Or, perhaps, the stupidest option.

He lunged at the Shadow, taking it down by its legs. Thank God that he was strong enough to break the metal; otherwise he really would have been a moron. And a dead moron, at that.

The Shadow retaliated, and with much more force than Phantom could handle. It shook its now broken foot, throwing Phantom off, and made the hiss/creaking sound again, its eyes blazing.

The Shadow's voice filled Phantom's head: You will pay for that, Prince.

Phantom caught himself in midair and snapped his head in the Shadow's direction. Why had it called him "Prince"?

Unfortunately, the Shadow took this as an opening, and it snapped its teeth, which were taller than Phantom, at him. He dodged it, but it still tore a piece of his flesh from his torso, along with a part of his jacket, away.

Shouting in pain, Phantom lost focus and fell to the ground. Jaaz was hyperventilating through her teeth, still clutching her arm.

Luckily for him, Phantom's pain subsided within two seconds, and he took the opportunity to get back on his feet, a low, guttural growl emitting from his throat.

He launched himself at the Shadow, gripping its tail and twirling it around, something that should have been impossible. He slammed it into the cement, making sure not to hit Jaaz, and broke its tail off.

He then dove inside its metal ribcage and snapped the "bones" apart, tossing them away into the dead city. The Shadow roared in pain and tried to slash at Phantom, but its claws were too large to fit through the gaps, and it ended up only helping Phantom in his job.

Phantom then shot out of it, flying up to its eye, dodging the vicious swipe of claws at him, and thrusting his hand into the socket.

To his surprise, he did not punch out a light.

He found something much, much worse.

(-Y-)

"Mommy, are you okay?" D4nn-E frowned at Sa5m with concern.

7ucker and Grandma MAN501\1 stared at her in shock for referring to Sa5m as her mother, but Sa5m continued to wolf down her breakfast, nodding.

"Just fine, kiddo," she assured her, her words muffled by food.

Before she knew it, she'd already gone through her entire breakfast. Being so small, the scanner that had gone over her had decreed to the cafeteria that she didn't need much food to sustain her normal amount of energy. But Sa5m wanted to eat more than usual. She wanted to put some meat on her bones and add at least a few inches to her height. Then she'd be able to fight even better than she already could, and Xith wouldhave to let her into the Militia.

Sa5m cleared her place and jogged away from the table, waving at her strange family as she left. She headed down one of the many corridors throughout the bunker and came to a stop at a door to her right labeled "Gym".

Sa5m hopped on a tracker platform, placing the helmet from its stand onto her head and saying, "Activate Tracker Simulation."

"What would you like to do, ma'am?" the tracker asked.

Sa5m replied immediately, "Training combat. Partner: equivalent weight and size. Similar skill."

The simulation took over Sa5m's mind, filling her vision with a plain grey room. The floor was a large mat; standing in front of Sa5m was a faceless, humanoid being, her exact height and size.

"Simulation beginning," the tracker told her.

The humanoid dashed at her.

(-Y-)

Phantom clutched what felt like nothing, but when he pulled his hand back, it was a strange, almost-intangible wisp of red mist.

"What the skitz…." He muttered, staring at it.

The end of the mist raised itself and dug into his arm. Despite its almost non-existent feel, the pain that surged through Phantom's body was unbearable. He cried out and fell to the ground, clutching his arm.

Images flashed before his eyes. He couldn't see them all; they were too quick. But some stuck in his head.

He caught an image of and endless, swirling green chasm. Multiple screams filled his head. He saw a dark-skinned girl take out a knife and stab him in the stomach. Jaaz with a gun pressed to her head. Zombie-corpses, reaching out to him, whispering for help. Himself, eyes glowing blood red, teeth long and sharp as knives, standing on a pile of pale, lifeless bodies.

The images made his heart race and climb up his throat. He screamed to the red mist, "Get…out….of….me!"

Something wrapped huge, icy-cold arms around Phantom, and he let out a wail of agony.

When he opened his eyes, shivering, the mist was out of him. It began to crawl back to the Shadow's body, but Phantom grabbed it again. His fingers began to glow bright green as he thought of how much he hated all of this crap, how he'd never asked for any of this, and how much he just wanted the stupid mist to vanish and never return.

His fingers blazed completely white, and the mist disappeared. Phantom looked back to the Shadow's body; it disintegrated on the spot. However, instead of turning to dust, it fell to little glowing red marbles, which disappeared, as well.

Phantom was breathing heavily, sweat covering his skin and plastering his hair to his face.

His arm beeped. He rolled up his sleeve and found his power level.

Power level: 236/1000. Need rest.

Phantom just then realized that he was completely and totally exhausted. But, with a glance at Jaaz, who was still shaking and pale, he knew that he couldn't rest yet.

He crawled over to Jaaz's side and threw her over his shoulder, darting across and around rubble and broken bodies until he found their Cubes.

"Activate Healing Mode," he told his own Cube, setting his sister down. It scanned both him and Jaaz, turning from clear to red as it passed over her arm.

Immediately, it set to work on his sister. Phantom curled up at her side and whispered, "Jaaz. Are you alright?"

She barely nodded. "I….I think I'll manage," she choked. "You get some rest. I'll tell you if something attacks."

Phantom nodded, closing his eyes. While he didn't like the fact that he was automatically the protector, he already knew that it couldn't be helped. He was the strongest, the fastest, the most capable. And now his job was to protect his sister while they searched for other survivors.

As he fell asleep, Jaaz tried for a smile and lightly tousled his hair. Even through this whole mess, she couldn't help but think of what an amazing brother he was. She was glad that it wouldn't be so easy to lose him.

"Thanks, Professor," she murmured.

(-Y-)

Sa5m glowered at her opponent, who had barely any energy left. She herself didn't have that much, but it was a lot more than the simulation.

She grinned and swiftly used her pointy elbow to jab it in its stomach. As it doubled over, she followed the jab with a spin-kick to the head. When it went down, Sa5m backpedaled, raising her fists. Even if this was a simulation, she wanted to fight fair.

The opponent stood slowly, and then weakly ran at her. Sa5m grabbed its wrist and tried to remember that it was a simulation as she snapped it and threw the opponent to the ground.

It raised it hand, which produced a white flag. Sa5m's lips pulled into a full-out smile.

"Impressive," a harsh male voice said.

Sa5m removed her helmet, and, surprisingly, found Xith Sitting on the tracker across from her, sharpening his pocketknife, His expression was unreadable.

"You took it down within five minutes," he continued. "That's pretty good."

Sa5m set the helmet down as she looked at Xith suspiciously. "Why are you here?"

"I got notified in the Master Control Room that someone was on the tracker. I got curious. So, of course, I find you here, beating the crap out of a simulation."

"Is that the real reason? I mean, I have things to do. You might as well cut to the chase." Sa5m raised her eyebrow.

Xith leaned back against the wall. "Fine. I'm curious. Why, exactly, would a skinny little girl want to risk her life in the Militia? You're looking for a thrill, you're suicidal, your parent's in the Militia…..I mean, it's kind of psychotic to ask for something like that, don't you think?"

Sa5m rolled her eyes. "If you really want to know that badly, I hate it when people see me as weak."

Xith whistled. "You must think that your entire life is dotted, then."

Sa5m glared at him. "Shut up and let me finish. Because I hate being weak, I hate people going out of their way to do something for me. I want to do things by myself. And I especially don't want anybody risking their life for my sake. If I joined the Militia, it'd be pretty even."

"Oh." Xith nodded. "So, basically, you're just dottedly selfless."

"No, I'm not. I'm not anything," Sa5m corrected. "I just like to pull my own weight. And others' weight, if necessary."

"Dottedly selfless," Xith sang.

Sa5m sighed, rolled her eyes, and chucked the helmet at Xith. "For a grown man, you act like a skitzing kid."

Xith smirked, catching the helmet. "Who says I'm a grown man?"

"And that's supposed to mean what, exactly?"

Xith waved her closer. Sa5m, scowling, sat down next to him on the tracker, leaning on the wall. Xith whispered, "I'm seventeen."

Sa5m stared at him in shock. And, as she finally saw his face eye level and up close, she cursed herself for being so dotted. Besides the scar, the messed up eye, and the bloodshot good eye, his face was young enough to be seventeen.

Maybe it'd been covered up when his face was so grimy the morning that she'd first met him that had thrown her off, because now he was perfectly clean, something that Sa5m assumed was attributed to the showers (and thank God that the bunker had those).

"Wow," she said, smacking herself on the forehead, "I am completely dotted."

Xith chuckled. "That might be the case. But, besides the fact that I'm only- how old are you?"

"Fifteen."

"Besides the fact that I'm only two years older than you- and I'd thought that you were thirteen, by the way- I'm still head of this bunker. Don't forget that."

Sa5m rolled her eyes for what felt like the millionth time. "Whatever," she replied.

Only two years older than you, he'd said.

Wait just a skitzing second.

"You hypocrite!" Sa5m stood and pointed at Xith. "So you're under the age of eighteen, and you join the skitzing army, get appointed to be the leader of both the bunker and the Militia, and then I can't even try to protect myself? How the fwitch is that fair?!"

Xith's smirk dissolved, replaced by a blank expression. He focused his muddy brown eye on the wall behind Sa5m. "I guess it's not. But, if you think about, it, I've been training my entire life. I'm tall, fast, strong, and physically capable in every way. My dad, the leader of District NA6's army, is the person that made me the leader."

Sa5m glowered at him for a few more seconds before asking, "So, are you planning to come up with your own answer, or am I just going to have to take the one that our government no doubt had you recite over and over?"

Xith sighed and glared at Sa5m, finally focusing his sight on her face. "My dad gave me this job, okay? He made the rules specific. I'm the one exception. You're pretty much the only one that knows my real age."

"So why tell me?"

"I can tell, just by the few minutes of arguing, conversing- whatever it is that we do- that you're really perceptive. It would've been futile to lie."

"Well, you're not as dotted as I thought you were."

"Why, thank you for realizing that." Xith sighed. "But you can't tell anyone, okay?"

"What, they can't figure it out like I can? Do they need someone to tell them the obvious?" Sa5m highly doubted that anyone was that dotted.

"Well, yeah and no. I act more mature around others than I've been acting with you. I don't know why. I just do. I guess that you're dotted and unnecessary maturity makes me feel like I don't need to play the role of the adult when you have it more than covered." Xith smirked at Sa5m. "But that doesn't change the fact that you aren't allowed in the Militia. If anything, it makes that fact more prominent."

Sa5m sighed and shook her head, snatching the helmet from Xith and placing it on the tracker that it belonged to. "Whatever. This isn't finished."

"It never is," Xith agreed wearily. "I'll be seeing you, ma'am."

"The name's Sa5m MAN501\1," Sa5m snapped.

"Oh. Well, in that case, later, Sa5m."

Sa5m didn't respond as she walked out of the door.

Xith bit back a hysterical chuckle. Oh, skitz. This girl was going to mean a lot of trouble.

(-Y-)

"Dan-E, wake up." Jaaz shook her brother's shoulder. It'd been an a few hours since his power level had returned to normal, and nothing had attacked. It was peaceful, in a way, but Jaaz couldn't shake the feeling that they were never safe.

Phantom opened his eyes. He felt great. A bit too great, actually.

Wait a second.

He sat up and checked his side, the memory of the Shadow ripping at his flesh and jacket completely prominent in his mind. But there was nothing there. No blood. His jacket wasn't even torn.

"Jaaz," he began, "did you do something to my side?"

Jaaz, who had been trying as hard as possible not to black out rather than focusing on the battle, looked confused. "No. Why?"

Phantom shook his head. "No reason," he muttered. Maybe that had been a trick of his imagination?

But no. He could still feel the Shadow's teeth sinking into his flesh and pulling until it was ripped apart. He could still remember the pain, which was gone in all of two seconds.

He shook his head. He'd figure it out later. Maybe it wasn't that important, and he was wasting time trying to figure out what had happened.

He stood and, gazing at the thick, light grey haze of the sky, activated his Cube into Hovercraft Mode. Jaaz's arm was now in a cast, so she felt fine as she hopped aboard with her brother and closed the door behind her.

Staring at her arm, she noticed the teleportation ring and felt completely and totally dotted.

"Humanity," she told it, grabbing Phantom's hand. He looked over and saw the ring. A grin spread across his face.

But nothing happened.

Disappointed, Jaaz shook her head. "I guess that it only takes real addresses," she concluded.

"Guess so," Phantom mumbled, dejectedly leaning against his window.

The two siblings sat in silence for the rest of the drive.

(-Y-)

"Xith! There's been a security breach at the entrance!"

Sa5m snapped her gaze from her dinner to Xith, who was darting from his table to the long, dark corridor that they had arrived from.

She set down her utensils and, without a word, ducked past the gathering crowd and ran after him, leaving her family wondering what, exactly, the teenaged Goth girl was up to now.

Sa5m silently stopped next to Xith, who was now almost to the end of the tunnel.

"What is it?" she asked.

Xith practically jumped three feet in the air at the sound of her voice. He glared at her, shining his flashlight in her direction. "Go back to your meal. This doesn't concern you."

"Tell me."

"Go. Away."

"Xith. Tell me what the fwitch is going on."

"I'm pretty sure that you heard."

"Then who breached the security?"

"That's what I'm about to find out, genius."

"Any suspicions?"

"Oh, just shut up and arrest me already," a new voice said. Xith shined the beam of light ahead of them.

There stood a girl about Sa5m's age, with dark curls framing her chocolate-colored face and cold blue eyes. She wore a black bodysuit with red designs all over it and a red triangle on the chest, as well as a red backpack. A black-and-red helmet was tucked underneath her arm.

"The name's Va1r-E. Va1r-E GRE," she said with a roll of the eyes. "And you guys really need to get better security."