by Ethan Lin
Art by Diya Mirji
Issue: Nostos (Winter 2019)
The 6:51 PM train from Metroplex City to Hembarton arrives on time, not delayed by a supervillain or monster attack for once. It eases into the station with a low, self satisfied hiss, the steam from the engine drifting lazily towards the drowsy, dark blue sky, subduing the neon billboards of the skyline. The man with round glasses standing on the platform wrinkles his nose at the ashen smell of a distant wildfire.
The world is quiet.
The man allows himself a weary smile. After all, he is the Sentry that had defeated the MechaHornet that threatened to hold up his commute.
Sentries. Some have superpowers, some don’t—no way for the criminals to tell, anyway. Though the abilities of the soldiers in their ranks are varied, their armored uniforms are not. Their masks incite fear in their enemies, the white and red lightanium hiding what fearsome powers the heroes have in store. It’s a job that is as honorable as it is secretive. Also, a damn tiring one.
The man with round glasses massages his right wrist, flexing his sore fingers. Sure, the gauntlets and his power to send out forces of gravity from his hands basically nullified the damage that landing the final punch on the MechaHornet would have had on his fist. But he had overdone it again, straining his ligaments—nothing an ice pack and a good night’s rest can’t fix.
The doors on the train slide open, and people meander in and out. The man with round glasses finds a seat, and slumps into it. Though he can fight the power of gravity with his hands, his eyelids can’t do the same. As the train slides out of the station, he slides into slumber.
* * *
If the sound of something smashing through a train window wasn’t enough to wake up the man with round glasses, the screams surely are. The man’s eyes fly open and his head jerks up. The fatigue that had held him down not a second before is forced off by an overwhelming, yet familiar wave of adrenaline. He almost jumps into a combat stance, a form forged over years of experience. But he stops himself. No, he thinks, I can’t. Exposing himself is against the Sentry Code. Anonymity is their strongest ally. There are supervillains out there that could target him, and use what he knew against the entire Sentry agency. One weak spot in the otherwise invulnerable hull of the Sentry force could be enough to sink the whole ship. Besides, a Sentry would be called over any minute now to take out whatever the threat is. It’ll all be over soon enough and he’ll be able to get home to those leftovers he had been looking forward to all day. He releases the tension in his shoulders, takes a deep breath, and looks around.
Standing in the middle of the train cabin is a mechanical monstrosity. It unfolds its insectoid body, metallic wings catching the last rays of the sun before the train enters a mountain tunnel. A pulsating abdomen unrolls itself, a needle-like cannon extending from the tip.
Goddammit, he thinks. Not again.
The MechaHornet MK.II buzzes menacingly. The passengers scream and push for the doors to the other cabins, a dense mass writhing desperately in the narrow walkway. The hair on the back of the man’s neck stands up, and the cabin begins to reek of ozone. The man’s eyes widen. EMP.
A blinding light flashes once, and energy explodes out of the robotic pest. There is no shockwave, but in an instant, all the lights are blown out. The screens of the frightened passengers’ phones flicker out one by one, preventing any signals from reaching the Sentry hotline. The backlighting of the EXIT signs dim to nothingness as the doors refuse to do their one and only job. The horrible sound of thousands of nails on a chalkboard reverbs through the long darkness of the tunnel as the train screeches to a halt.
They are trapped.
The cabin lays in an uneasy slumber. Nothing stirs in the pitch black, no sound is made. Then, the MechaHornet MK.II’s lights erupt, a sick, orange luminescence surrounding the monster. The tranquil darkness is shattered, the world is set ablaze. It steps forward, casting its harsh glare on the crowd cowering against the door that has betrayed its purpose.
The man in the round glasses rubs his forehead and cusses. He knows exposing his identity as a Sentry will put himself in danger. Worse, he remembers how exposed Sentries always disappear not long after they try to be a hero when they shouldn’t. He remembers his teammate who stopped a mugging but was found not a day later in an alley with four bullets in his head. But what good is being a Sentry if you’re willing to let the world be devoured by infernos? He recalls the day he joined, that determination to make a difference, to use his gift for something more than cheap party tricks. That resolve is weak now, but it remains. He holds onto it, and truly looks at it for the first time since that day. The man pockets his round glasses, and flexes the fingers on his left hand. He focuses the adrenaline pumping through his veins into familiar control over the gravitational forces that had served him so many times before.
He won’t let the fire spread.
The bug approaches the nearest terrified person. A young man, a backpack raised in front of him, as if the cheap nylon will stop the killing machine. The needle-like cannon glows with murderous intent, a cruel, garish yellow. It grows stronger, as if the mounting fear in the man’s eyes feeds it, gives it power. It reaches towards the man’s face, then stops. The beast struggles to budge, but it cannot. Slowly, it starts drifting backwards. It can’t comprehend why, as it accelerates, losing hold of the very ground it stands upon. There is nothing the MechaHornet MK.II can do as a fist explodes out of its face, extinguishing its ravenous fire. The fist retains its purplish glow for a second, and fades to camouflage into the dark, not betraying it’s owner’s identity.
The world is quiet once more.
Except for the muttered cursing of a man who needs two ice packs now.