Liz woke on her own. It was her day off and all her classes were afternoon or evening ones so she could afford to sleep in. She stretched out, warm and comfy, but… She was alone in bed. It hadn’t been something they’d really discussed, but she’d sort of assumed that she’d be spending time with Hector today.
She was a bit disappointed but she got that his job was important, obviously. If there was something he had to do then she understood. Still, it would’ve been nice if he’d said something before he left or at least- Liz felt the last bits of sleep induced fog leave her as she snarled in irritation.
Hector was a duplicator, quite possibly the strongest one in the world and certainly the strongest she’d ever heard of. There was literally no reason for him not to be here. She sat up and rotated so that she could feel around on the floor for her slippers. She winced as she touched the cold hardwood then found the fuzzy receptacles and slipped them on.
Phoenix wasn’t exactly famous for its cold mornings but she liked to keep the AC on high at night, cold air made warm covers feel even better. As far as she was concerned, that alone justified the nominal monthly fee she paid for access to the solar network.
Moments later, robe clad and fully awake, she left her room for the kitchen. She wanted a mug of hot chocolate before she made any other decisions. Yes, coffee was more traditional but chocolate had more than enough caffeine and sugar to get her going and she got too much of the bitter stuff at work as is. The smell was wonderful but coffee’s appeal began and ended right there as far as she was concerned. The smell of… well, of too many delicious things to parse correctly hit her and the determined expression she’d worn slipped into what she feared was an entirely too silly grin instead.
“There’s no way we can eat all that.” she said. “And I have no idea where you got most of it. I’m pretty sure I didn’t have the stuff for waffles in my fridge, not to mention… well.” She gestured to indicate the plates that covered her table. Waffles, biscuits and gravy, bacon and sausage… it went on and on but the most appetizing thing she saw was the chef.
“Yeah…” Hector’s grin was less cocky than usual and more than a little embarrassed.
He had his pants on but he was still shirtless and Liz’d be damned if it didn’t look good on him, off him, whatever. It was early-ish, her thoughts didn’t have to make sense.
“Some nice young man might have decided to stop by a grocery store and deliver a few things earlier, while we were both still asleep. Hope that’s okay. As for the extra… well, it won’t go to waste.” Whatever workout operatives got must’ve been pretty effective. He didn’t have a bit of fat that she could see anywhere on him and his bronze skin looked gorgeous in the morning light. “Are you drooling?”
“Yes.” Liz snapped out of it. “Because I’m hungry.” Flawless.
They ate. It was delicious. Eventually, Hector put on a shirt. Dammit.
“So, I’m free for the day. Anything you’d like to do?” she asked him, once they’d settled on the couch.
There was still a lot of food on the table but she could get to that later. Hector would probably help. He seemed like the type that cleaned as well as cooked, what her mom would’ve called a keeper.
“Actually… yeah. There’s something…” He went from relaxed to tense in a moment. “Well, I’ll let him handle it.”
Before she could ask what he meant, there was a knock at the door. With a mental shrug, Liz decided to just go with it and answer.
There were three men on the other side. The closest, presumably the one who’d knocked, wore an off the rack business suit, black with a matching tie, and a white shirt. Behind him and to either side, there were two men in what she recognized as standard issue Citadel combat gear. It was a black body suit with armored plates on the chest, forearms, shins and thighs. Their faces were concealed by the accompanying helmets’ mirrored faceplates but she had a pretty good idea what they looked like.
“Good morning Ms. Potts. I’m Analyst Hive and there’s something I need to speak with you about. Do you mind if we come in?”
Rather than answer him, Liz turned to face her… boyfriend. Huh, she hadn’t thought of him like that before but it certainly fit now, kind of nice too. She gave her boyfriend and accusatory stare.
He shrugged, sheepish. “Sorry but these things have to be done in a certain way.”
Grumbling under her breath about smartasses, she stepped back and opened the door wider. The two operatives, each with an assault rifle slung across their backs, bent to pick up a pair of duffle bags before they followed the analyst in.
Jason didn’t duck when he got out of the helicopter. It didn’t really matter, Hector knew. Unless you were a lot taller than either of them were, you weren’t going to catch a rotor to the side of your head and Jason didn’t wear a hat. Most people would’ve done it anyway, either from an instinctive fear of the loud spinning thing above them or just from observed habit. People always crouched a bit when they got out of a copter on TV.
He did keep a hand up to hold his sunglasses in place though. Hector smiled. His helmet stayed right where it was supposed to without any effort on his part. The two operatives strode away from the noisy vehicle, Hector in the lead. Once they were far enough away to allow normal conversation, Jason spoke up.
“Are you willing to explain why we are here yet? Or, for that matter, where we are?”
Hector stopped and looked around. “What do you see?” he asked.
Jason either took the question seriously or was willing to indulge his friend’s taste for the dramatic. The first would’ve been Hector’s assumption a few months ago, maybe even a few weeks ago. After a few weeks under Jessica Healer’s care, he’d been a little less… predictable. It was probably a good thing. After this, Hector and Jason were going to have to have a conversation that that he really wasn’t looking forward to. He’d had a good reason not to explain what Mary had done, or so he’d thought, but it was past time.
“Grass and… I believe that is wheat though I am not certain. It could be some other, similar, type of grain. That is all.”
He was right. The wheat field started about fifty feet in front of them and stretched as far as either one could see. The grass did the same.
Hector nodded. “Yep. We need to go a bit further but someone should be meeting us soon.”
Jason gave a quiet sigh, sounded like frustration to Hector, or maybe exasperation, but he didn’t say anything more. Less than a minute later, with a rush of wind, a man in a familiar black and white uniform approached through the sky and landed in front of them. The tall grass they were standing in, previously gently bent under a steady breeze, stood perfectly straight after his arrival. The air around them was dead still.
“Grim and Hive?” the stranger asked. They both nodded. “Authentication?” Elsewhere, Hector entered a few lines into a computer. The stranger’s wrist communicator beeped and he raised it up to get a better look at its screen, then nodded. “Try to hold still and I’ll get you there in a moment.”
The wind picked up suddenly, stronger than the downdraft they’d just left by an order of magnitude but far more focused. They were in flight, something Jason obviously found uncomfortable by his clear attempts to keep from flailing his unsupported legs and arms while Hector simply maintained a relaxed pose, arms crossed behind his back while his legs and feet hung straight down.
The stranger set them down in what Hector knew was the middle of the wheat field, Farm One it was called, and stepped aside. An older man with a receding hairline, sun-darkened skin and a slight paunch was waiting for them. He wore the black and grey of Citadel Support and greeted them with a polite nod.
He flinched when he met Jason’s eyes. Shit, he’d lost his glasses in the flight.
“Please don’t.” the man whispered. Jason looked away.
“I will not harm you without cause.” he stated calmly.
It didn’t seem to do much in the way of reassurance but it did help a little. Hector pulled a pair of spares from one of his pouches and handed them over to Jason.
“Sorry.” Hector said. “Jason I didn’t-”
“It is alright Hector. I realize you could not predict this and should have taken care to retain my eyewear during the flight.” He turned to face the Support member. “Sir, please accept my apology. The effect is involuntary and while whatever you saw in my eyes is true, it does not mean that I actively wish you ill.”
The man swallowed. “Um, thanks. I’m-” He took a steadying breath then resumed. “I’m Robert Farmer, Bob. As you can guess, we grow wheat here. At least, we do this month. In a few days we’ll be switching over to potatoes. We have to keep a careful rotation to make sure the soil doesn’t deplete.”
Jason cocked his head. “I am not familiar with standard agricultural practices but I did not think this was growing season, much less time for harvest or planting.”
Bob gave a proud smile. “We get a crop in, from planting to harvest, every twenty four hours. Could do it faster but we’d need sunlamps at night and I’m told it’s not worth the extra exposure.”
“Impressive. I assume this is the result of an Empowered ability, or perhaps several?” Jason asked.
“Just me, florakinetic. I can speed up growth and a few other things over… a fairly large area.”
“Hector, while I am always willing to meet a fellow Citadel member, I am still unsure why you have brought me here.”
Hidden behind the faceplate, Hector smiled nervously. This was either going to be a good day or a very bad one. “In a sec, Jason. First, the rest of us need to get out of here.” He nodded to the still unnamed stranger and, moments later, Bob and Hector were accompanying him through the air. Hector looked down as they went and saw that Jason’s hair wasn’t even disturbed. That level of control from a wind manipulator was damned impressive.
Once he judged they were far enough away, another him called Jason’s com.
“Yes?” his friend answered.
“Okay, we came out here for two reasons. First, we need to get you a good store of plant life. I can pump you full of flies any time we need, but that takes some time and you can’t just walk around with a huge store.”
“Agreed. The level of care it requires to avoid damaging my surroundings is not something I can keep up for long periods of time, especially during normal activity.” Jason replied.
“Second, we need to measure your ability.” Hector said. This was the part he wasn’t so sure of.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re in the center of a massive wheat field. No other human being for miles so you don’t have to worry about… accidents. I want you to use your ability but… whatever it is you do to focus on a given target… well, don’t do that.”