AUTHOR’S NOTE] This is a short set in the Unlucky Seven universe (or Uni7erse as was recently suggested to me). If you like what you read here and you’re not familiar with the source material, check the links on the sidebar to buy/borrow Unlucky Seven and the Obligatory Sequel. You won’t regret it!
At this moment, everything in her world was ambient.
The waves crashed softly on the beach. The ocean breeze caused a hiss as palm fronds collided in the canopy.
The smell of sunblock mixed with sweat, the heat of the sun shining out of a clear sky, the hot grit of the sand under her bare feet – all these things were secondary. She was concentrating on one thing only.
Her opponent lifted off, causing a puff of sand to rise up from beneath his feet. The ridiculous unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt he was wearing flapped in the wind like a cape. His bare bald head was as pale as the beach on which they stood.
He led with his shoulder, faster than he had before, so fast that it was nearly unbelievable, even after all these weeks. Every one of these bouts increased gradually in speed over time. Pushed her. Forced her to react quickly and without thought. Taught her to rely on reflex alone.
She dropped to her knees, arching her back. As he flew over her, a brief moment of breathlessness in his wake changed the composure of the environment. No smells, no sounds, a strong cool wind. She ignored them all in favor of springing to her feet and turning to face him as he hovered a few inches above the sand. She stood at the ready, waiting for him to take another pass.
The world rushed back to her as he landed. She immediately blocked it all out again, waiting for his next move.
“Good,” Johnny said, “Now try to hit me.”
His posture was relaxed. Jess took no comfort in this.
She charged and leapt into a kick. Faster than she could see, he dodged and was now standing next to her as she landed.
She swung upward for his face with her left fist, the difference in their height two full feet. When he dodged that, as quickly as she could, she swung with the right. It was not fast enough. He swept the legs out from under her, putting her back in the sand. The impact was enough to disorient her temporarily and, before she had time to realize what was happening, she was in the shade of his wide shoulders as he was over top of her, his face close enough to exchange her winded breath.
He was looking into her eyes. She allowed her body to catch up with what had just happened. She took a deep breath through her nose, the coconut of the unnecessary sunblock on his invulnerable skin mixed with the ocean. Her eyes closed as her left hand reached inside his shirt to touch his back. She was trying to stay serious but could not help smiling.
“You ok?” he whispered, his mouth next to her ear.
She nodded. She was too breathy and overwhelmed to come up with an audible response.
His lips brushed her forehead. She curled her arms under his and lifted herself up to kiss him, the taste salty from an earlier swim and the sweat of training in the sun. They were both sticky and sandy from the day but she didn’t care. He was surprisingly gentle in moments like this, certainly not the person who she had first met on the other side of a fight she would rather forget.
Right now, there were no bad blood memories. Not here. Not in this place. There was only the feeling of his smooth skin beneath the tips of her fingers. The pressure of his hand pulling her close as it cradled to support her. Their lips nearly magnetic, not wanting to part.
As wonderful as this all was, Jess pulled away with a realization.
“We have to get back to work,” she said.
“Can’t we work on this instead?” he whispered.
“Come on,” she said. “There’s plenty of time for that later. We said we were putting aside this time every day to work and we always wind up distracted.”
“It’s a little more than just a distraction, ain’t it, darlin’?”
“We need to be ready,” she said, sliding out from under him and sitting up. “We have no idea what could be coming for us.”
“We know exactly what is coming. Not that they’re ever gonna find us.”
She stared at him, her brow furrowed. She silently waited until he turned to look at her.
“What?” he asked.
“You know they’re going to come eventually,” Jess said, “We’re wasting time.”
She stood up and took a few steps away from him, taking her ready stance.
He stood up slowly, sighing first, then smiling.
“Ok,” he said, speading his arms wide, “Have at it.”
She sprinted in again, swinging for his face. She telegraphed the blow and realized it just as he stepped aside. Her shin contacted with his extended foot and her momentum planted her face first in the sand.
Jess rolled onto her back.
Johnny chuckled. She narrowed her eyes at him, then widened them in shock.
“Johnny, look out!” she cried, pointing.
He turned to look just before he was set upon by a large shadowy form.
He fell to the ground, blindsided by the beast which was almost as big as he was – a large cat, resembling a panther but about three times the size. It appeared as though it were made from shadows. Wisps of black curled off its back like smoke and dissipated into the bright daylight. Its eyes glowed an angry red and, when it roared, it exposed a jagged maw lit by the same crimson. It turned to face him, a deep and rumbling growl now dominating the ambient sound of wind and wave.
“What the hell is that?” Johnny asked, standing up.
The beast slinked toward them, paying particular attention to Jess’ prone position.
Johnny appeared between creature and potential victim, readying himself.
The beast crouched down, preparing to pounce, which it did with incredible speed.
Johnny punched it in the side of the face as hard as he could just before it reached him. He looked surprised as the thing was not immediately launched several miles into the open ocean by this blow but instead had landed on its feet a few yards away near the tideline. It was now much angrier than it had been before.
So quickly that Johnny didn’t have time to perceive, the beast lunged again. It caught him and pinned him to the ground. He managed to get his right forearm up to stall its gnashing jaws and screamed as it bit down. His own blood spurted into his face as he managed to get his left hand free from the thing’s weight.
He swung his fist at the creature’s eye but did not connect. In fact, there was no creature. There was no wound and there was no weight holding him down.
Jess was standing over him. “Is it funny now?”
“You did that?” Johnny asked.
“You act like you’re surprised,” Jess said.
“You tripped me. Only fair that I trip you back. You’re supposed to be training, too, you know. Your lack of mental security is what brought us here in the first place.”
“Hey now,” he said, “Remember that you got infiltrated, too.”
“It was a special circumstance,” Jess said. “Psychic feedback or whatever. Joey tried to get into my head while I was trying to get into yours. I had the same trainer as she did, more or less. I’m good. You, though, need to learn what’s real and what’s in your head.”
“That’s much easier said than done. Can’t we just go back to you trying to punch me?”
“No. We’ve been ignoring this for too long. Joey is going to be one of their main weapons and you are going to need to be ready for her.”
“They know I’m with you,” he said. “Joey’s got the power to negate any other psychics in the area, but she can’t use her powers while she’s doing it. That was part of the plan when we fought you at the mill site. It takes her out of the game but it also removes you. Those hyper-realistic illusions are your specialty and, if you pushed it, they could take out an entire army. They want that contained.”
“I get that,” Jess replied. “But, it’s not like we’re always right next to each other. If I’m not there to be removed, she’s going to focus on you.”
“Then I knock her into next week,” Johnny said.
“Have you learned nothing, Agent Moorsblade?” said a stern voice from behind him.
Johnny turned to see Agent Williams standing on the beach: his suit crisp, his look clean, company issued sunglasses on his face, the XIII pin on his lapel glinting in the sun.
“Physicality does not always solve a problem,” Williams said, “Which is why you were partnered with Agent Phalanx and, later, given a team. You were engineered to be a one-man army but the war isn’t always being fought on an open battlefield.”
Johnny turned back to Jess. “Are you doin’ this?”
“You tell me,” she shrugged.
He leapt at Williams with a growl, fist extended for a devastating blow.
His fist was intercepted by Williams’ hand. He was stopped dead, unable to push forward even at the height of his strength. Veins bulged in his neck and arm. His skin began to redden with effort.
“Were you listening to what I just said, Agent Moorsblade?” Williams asked.
Johnny swung his other fist at Williams’ face. It was blocked effortlessly. Williams began to squeeze his hand. The pain shot through him, fast and hot. He grimaced. It was not a tempered response. He yelped and did not stay composed. This was still not something he was used to.
“Jess, stop it!” he cried.
“You stop it,” she said calmly. “You’re letting it happen.”
“She’s right, Agent Moorsblade,” said Williams.
“Shut up,” Johnny spat at Williams. “You’re not real.”
“I’m not?” Williams smiled. “Then who is doing this?”
He twisted, and Johnny screamed and dropped to his knees in the sand.
“You’re not real,” he muttered. “This isn’t happening and you’re not real.”
He repeated this as a chant, slowly standing up. His back was to Jess and, when he turned around, she noticed his eyes were closed and he was still mumbling to himself. He was taking long, deep breaths. The Williams illusion was still present for her. She could see that she was projecting it into his mind. She moved Williams nearer to him. Had him scream in Johnny’s ear and, when this produced no reaction, he took a few swings, his fists passing through their target.
She stopped the illusion.
“Good job,” she said.
“You don’t have to hurt me every time, you know,” he said, his eyes still closed, his voice calm.
“I think it’s good for you,” Jess said, “Keeps you human.”
“It doesn’t feel good,” he said.
“It’s not supposed to,” she laughed, “It’s pain. It’s not permanent. I can’t actually permanently hurt you.”
“I can make it better,” she said, walking up to him and putting her hand on his face, “Why don’t we call it for the day?”
He nodded, almost childlike, and they turned and started back up the beach.
A breeze blew over the deck.
Her airy skirt was caught and flapped in the wind. Her hair, still damp from the shower, blew around her face.
Jess placed her hand on the blank piece of paper in front of her on the table to prevent it from blowing away. She was lost in thought.
“Trying to write the letter again?” Johnny asked, wrapping his arms around her from behind.
“Yeah,” she said.
“Just tell them everything,” he suggested, “Don’t leave anything out.”
“Absolutely not,” she said, “Stop suggesting that.”
“Why?” he asked.
“I just,” she paused, “I just can’t. I can’t even begin to tell them everything: How it looked like you kidnapped me, but we were really running away together. The part where we dropped our communications devices to the bottom of Lake Eufaula, went off the map and found a private island where I promptly… convinced… the residents to leave forever. It’s too much.”
“Don’t seem like too much,” Johnny said, “You just said it all right there.”
“I neglected to explain how I wound up falling in love with someone we thought to be a gigantic indestructible murder machine who was trying to kill us,” Jess said, “No matter how I try to explain that away, they’re going to think I’m writing under duress. They’re going to think the Project has me as a prisoner or something and they’ll likely do something stupid.”
“You think they’re gonna come after you?” Johnny asked.
“Yes,” she said, “They would have done it for Kurt if I hadn’t stopped them. They’ll do it for me.”
“They’ll get themselves killed,” he said. “You know that, right?”
She twirled the pen between her fingers, thinking. “You’ll make sure this gets to them, right?”
“Of course, darlin’.”
She wrote quickly. There was no salutation, no signature, no indication of the note’s origin except for potentially the smell of the sea and an errant few grains of sand that they would never notice.
She folded it and handed it to Johnny. He nodded to her, walked off the deck and down to the sand, launched into the air and disappeared with a sonic boom.
She sighed with relief. A huge weight had lifted from her with just a few simple words:
Whatever you are thinking… Don’t.