Meanwhile, Aurora and Libby were heading back to the garage, giggling over their most recent purchase. Libby turned Carl’s new outfit over in her hands, basking in the glow of their conspiracy.
“It’s PERFECT for him, wouldn’t you say?” asked Aurora demurely.
“I couldn't agree more. It’s about time someone gave that boy some edge.”
Aurora laughed. “I can’t wait to see the look on his face when he gets a load of this!”
The two of them exchanged a high five, and in their ensuing giggle-fit, Aurora blundered into a passerby. She stopped to hurriedly apologize, only to be struck speechless by the heartbreakingly beautiful alien before her.
“OoOo!” The alien woman’s sparkling orange eyes trailed over Aurora. Her blue cheeks flushed not with color, but with a faint shimmer, and for a moment she stood like a statue. When she spoke, her voice was like falling silver. “Are you…Aurora Vortex?”
Aurora crossed her arms. “Who wants to know?”
With a murmuring sigh, the gorgeous creature fell to her knees and tilted her head in a gesture of submission. Her wine colored hair spilled over her shoulders and came to rest on the tiled floor.
“Aurora Vortex. Forgive me for blundering into you. Please, I wish to thank you.”
“You what? Why?”
“Allow me to express my gratitude,” repeated the woman. “You are solely responsible for my salvation.”
Aurora took a step back and raised her palms. “Hold up a second, lady. What are you prattling on about? I’ve never…”
“You might not remember me, Aurora, but I remember you. I believe that on your human calendar the date was June 5th, three years ago. Three years ago, on the fateful day when the Dictator attacked Li’ilia Prime, my home world.”
Aurora’s breath caught in her throat. She tilted her chin back ever so slightly, whirlpools of emotion churning acid-like within her eyes.
The captivating alien continued. “On that day, we were faced with complete destruction, and in the wake of such carnage I saw no future left. I remember...I remember seeing you. I saw you and the other members of the resistance fighting a battalion of mercenaries before my very eyes. I shall never forget the dedication and fervor with which you fought.”
Aurora dipped her head, and her bangs spilled forward, plunging her face into shadow as the alien went on.
“I will never forget your courage, your strength…and I will never forget the end.” With this, she reached out and touched the tip of Aurora’s boot in a gesture of quiet empathy. “I thought that you would surely die, Aurora,” she said, her voice lowered to just above a whisper. “When he captured you, I thought your life was lost. But when I heard that you had escaped – that you had survived against all odds – it showed me that I, too, can survive. And for that, I am eternally in your debt.”
She touched her graceful head to the tiles of the floor.
“I know I can never truly thank you enough. I hope someday the Gorlocks and my people will be able to join together and learn from one another in the peaceful days ahead. And if you're willing, when all is over and you have killed him, I would like to meet with you once again.”
She stood up and breezed away without another word. Libby stared after her for a moment, and upon turning back she barely had time to see the heart-wrenching expression on Aurora's face before she covered it with her mask.
“Girl...you didn't ever tell me about this. That alien...she said DJ captured you. Is that true?”
But Aurora was far away, lost in memory. “Yes, I remember that day too. June 5th…It was my eighteenth birthday. Eighteen and at war. Eighteen. Eighteen, and HIS prisoner.”
She slowly wrapped her arms around herself, as if to shield her body from a draft of cold air. Images of the past flickered through her mind: ships streaking across a starry sky…fiery explosions...rubble...people screaming...laughter…the clink of chains…a pair of piercing blue eyes and a cruel smile…
Libby regarded her with sympathy. “Cind? Do you wanna talk about it?”
“No!” shouted Aurora, suddenly straightening. “I'm fine. I don't want to talk about it, so don't you ever bring it up again. And my name is Aurora, not Cindy. Get it?”
She whirled and took off, her jaw set grimly beneath her silver façade. Despite Libby’s attempts at further conversation, Aurora was dangerously silent the entire walk back. From time to time Libby snuck glances at the woman who had once, in another lifetime it seemed, been her friend.
Thoughts of the past weighing on her mind, Libby heaved a sigh as they entered into the service garage. She barely had time to inhale again before a wrench came sailing past her. With astonishing reflexes, Aurora’s hand shot up and caught the tool. She turned it over in her palm before speaking in a low, threatening voice.
“What’s going on, April…”
April marched over, in a huff. “I’ll tell you what is going on! These mechanics aren’t even worth the oxygen they consume! Jimmy did all the work, and I see no reason why we should pay them!”
“B-but, my esteemed G-Gorlock,” protested Flint, “w-we did assist him in his…”
April grabbed another metal tool from the ground and pitched it at Flint, who ducked just in time to miss being hit. He was still yelping and flailing in a cowardly display when another mechanic let out a scream.
“Holy *%#$!!! Her hand is glowing!”
Cries of amazement erupted from around the workshop. Libby swung around in confusion, but when she turned to Aurora her half-formed question froze on her lips. Green light trickled down Aurora’s left arm and pooled into a rippling electric cloud around her hand. Sparks flickered in center of the aura, and the wrench wilted in her hand like a dying flower. The molten metal trickled harmlessly through her fingers and splashed to the ground with a sizzling spatter.
The mechanic turned to her, breathless. “What…what in the world ARE you?”
“This suit that I'm wearing…” said Aurora, without the barest hint of emotion in her voice, “do you know where it came from? Do you know how it works? I’ll tell you this much: it’s powered by my thoughts and emotions. The more I feel, the more energy I unleash. Perhaps you would like to see just what it’s capable of?”
Aurora’s entire body stiffened with concentrated rage. Waves of green light spilled down her arms and swarmed around her clenched fingertips. After a moment the light coalesced into a fireball. She tightened her fingers around it, and with a shout, hurled the glittering meteor at the nearest wall.
Flint flung himself onto the ground to avoid the collision. The bolt sailed overhead and smashed into the concrete, and when the dust cleared, a gaping hole smoked where the wall once stood.
“You…you…” choked Flint. “You almost k-killed me!
Skleem stepped forward. “Forgive my rudeness, human with the silver mask. But I think it would be in everyone's best interest if you left at once.” He helped a shaking and pasty-faced Flint to his feet, then glared at April. “Take your ship and go, the repair is free. Just never come back here again.”
Aurora was in the act of tightening her grasp around a second energy bolt when Sheen and Carl strolled mindlessly in on the scene.
“Achoo!” Carl sneezed. “Boy, sure is dusty in here.”
“I’ll say. We should suggest investing in a Swiffer.” Sheen looked around, then waved at Libby. “Hey babe, check it out! I got an alien freak to sign me, and it only cost me five bucks!”
He lifted up his shirt, revealing the words 'stupid humans will buy anything' scrawled across his bare chest. “Pretty cool, huh? I can’t read what it says, but I hope it’s good, 'cause this stuff’s permanent!”
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. With Sheen and Carl’s arrival, the tension dissipated, and Aurora’s fire flickered and winked out.
“It’s a good thing you two showed up when you did,” huffed Aurora, “or I might have had to show these losers a few other tricks of mine. But since you’re here…”
Sheen scratched his head. “Wait a minute…was your hand just on fire?”
Aurora rolled her eyes. “Can we discuss this on the ship?”
“I second that,” said Jimmy. “There's a couple things we need to talk about.”
Cindy threw him a nervous glance as the group plodded past the aliens and up the ramp-way into the Desperado. The door clamped shut with a hiss, and as soon as the outside world was barricaded, Aurora peeled off her silver mask and tossed it to the floor. The kids quickly swarmed around her.
Libby was first to speak. “Girl, how did you do that? That was…”
“…unbelievable!” completed Cindy. “I’ve never anyone so terrified in my life!”
Carl shifted his weight forward, balancing on the tips of his toes. “Can you show us again?”
“I’m more interested in how the suit functions, and how you acquired it,” said Jimmy. “Why didn't you inform us of this ability before?”
“I figured it was on a need-to-know basis,” replied Aurora with a sideways glance.
“Need to know?” rasped Sheen. “You’re a walking firecracker! Of course we need to know!”
Cindy folded her arms. “Sheen’s right, for once. Start explaining.”
“All right, all right, hold your horses.” Aurora indicated the silver tubing that crisscrossed her body like strands of spider’s web. “As you can see, my suit contains a complex network of organic links that tap into my central nervous system. The links supply the suit with energy and allow me to control it with my thoughts and emotions. That little demonstration I just gave didn’t even scratch the surface of its capabilities…it’s designed to be an advanced weapon.”
“Did you build it?” asked Jimmy.
“Not exactly. I sort of...stole it.”
“…YOU, Jimmy. Well, your alternate self at any rate. He designed it for his own use, but luckily I got my hands on it before he got a chance to finalize it.”
Cindy looked confused. “When did this happen?”
“It was when you were his prisoner, wasn’t it?” asked Libby softly.
Aurora turned away. “Yes.”
April looked sharply at Libby, and Cindy’s eyes grew wide.
“You were his PRISONER? When? How?”
“It’s a long story, and since it doesn’t concern you, it’s pointless to explain. I will say, though, that I ended up with this suit and a very good understanding of his stronghold's inner workings. I’m considered the expert on his operations thanks to my time there.”
The kids exchanged glances.
“But that’s all in the past. Right now, I’ve got a supply of new clothes for everyone, plus a few other surprises. I'll get you set up with some changing rooms, and we’ll rendezvous in the cockpit in ten minutes.”
-> Chapter 13
Big thanks to Filipino manga-ka Bob Raigen for the guest illustration!