David Bernard shivers slightly as he steps into the large gym. It’s large, and mostly empty—most people are at work, and the few who are there are sticking to the stationary bikes.
It’s a well-provisioned gym. There are the traditional stationary bikes, ellipticals, free weights, bench weights and weight machines, as well as some devices David recognizes as specific to physical therapy and rehabilitation. He hadn’t used any of them—healing from the concussion came first—but they were all in his future, once upon a time.
Not any more. Creepy magic island took care of that.
David turns, surprised, and sees Jenny Forrest standing no more than three feet away from him. She’s dressed in jogging shorts, tennis shoes, and a t-shirt. Her face and hair are plastered with sweat.
“Oh… Zero.” David steps forward and to the side as he realizes he’s been standing in front of the door the whole time. “Sorry. I’ve been getting distracted lately.”
“No problem. And unless you’ve joined Crossfire, please call me Jenny.”
David smiles slightly. “I don’t think I’m Crossfire material. ‘Jenny’ it is.”
“You shaved,” she says.
David’s hand drifts up to scratch his newly-bare chin. “Yeah. That beard was making me crazy.”
He suddenly feels very awkward being at the gym. Jenny has Liberty’s abilities, and she’s radiating so much health and vitality that he feels as if he’s about to topple over by comparison.
“Are you… here to work out?” Jenny keeps her voice neutral, but she eyes him critically.
David looks around the gym again. “The doctors say not yet.”
He’s completely unprepared for the bitterness in his voice. He’s also completely unprepared for the emotion that comes with it—frustration, impatience, rage at being constrained. Something slithers just beyond his conscious mind, he can almost hear it whispering yoU neeD nEveR be deniEd mAsHEuDh if yOu but loOsE mE
“Hey.” The firmness in Jenny’s voice cuts through the rage and chases the something else away, back into dark corners. David focuses on her. She stares at him cautiously.
“Sorry.” David takes a deep, steadying breath. “Sorry.”
“You all right?”
“It’s been a long year,” David says. “Things got weird at the end.”
Jenny snorts. “Tell me about it. Actually—hey, that’s not a bad idea. I’m starving, you look like you need to eat more than you need to bench, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the food here is actually pretty good. Let’s go to the cafeteria, and you can tell me how you went from Sky Commando to Weird Magic Guy.”
David starts to refuse, still unsettled by his sudden outburst, but his stomach starts to growl.
Jenny grins. “I’ll take that as yes.”
David sighs. “Yeah, OK. But Weird Magic Guy?”
“You’re a superhero again,” Jenny says. “Crossfire has to call you something.”
“Right,” David says. “Shit. I forgot all about that.”
“I guarantee they haven’t,” Jenny says. “Also, Red Shift and Street Ronin found a website with a superhero name generator. If you don’t come up with a name soon you might wind up Commander Rapid Catman…”
* * *
Jenny is right—the food in the cafeteria is pretty good. When she gets to their table, her tray is full of salad, lean chicken, fruits, and fresh vegetables. David’s, on the other hand, is full of fried food, greasy food, and salty food.
“You eat like CB,” Jenny says. “But he smokes, so it’s not like he can actually taste any of it. What’s your excuse?”
David laughs. “I was stuck for a year on a creepy magic island with nothing to eat and drink but fruit, orange juice, and milk.”
“Right.” Jenny eyes David’s lunch warily. “Is that why you’re so skinny? No offense, but you actually look worse than you did last week.”
“I am.” Suddenly his meal doesn’t look as appetizing as it did a few moments ago. He forces himself to take a bite of fried chicken, forcing it down before replying further.
Actually tasting the food helps. Grease is delicious.
“It’s complicated,” David continues. “The food I was eating on the island… I can’t really explain it very well, but basically the island is locked in the last 24 hours of its existence. Everything on that island resets to whatever state it’s in when the 24 hours begin.”
Jenny mulls that over. “So the food you ate basically disappears from your body and reappears on whatever shelf you found it on?”
“Yeah, actually. I guess it’s not that complicated.”
“No,” Jenny says, “that sounds pretty complicated. How did you manage not to starve if you couldn’t actually permanently eat anything?”
David shrugs. “Magic, I guess.”
“I thought magic was evil.”
“It is,” David says. “This is more of a byproduct of what the magic did to that island. Anything trapped on that island can’t really change, and I was at least partially trapped for most of my time there. That mitigated some of it.”
“So it’s catching up to you now?” Jenny frowns. “Shouldn’t you be on a 24/7 IV or something?”
“At this point it’s not the food,” David says. “It’s the magic.”
“Right,” Jenny says. “That’s the part I want to hear about…”
David tells her about the island, the trap, and how he managed to escape it by dreaming. He describes learning to manipulate the island while he was dreaming, and how he rescued Artemis LaFleur from Artigenian’s mark, absorbing a piece of Artigenian’s power in the process. When he finishes, he can feel that power stirring again, and for a few moments the room spins as the whispers in his mind grow stronger.
He forces it back, then shrugs.
“The Law of Unintended Consequences. As soon as we got off the island I started cocooning. Apparently stealing an evil wizard’s power does things to you.”
“I guess so.” Jenny studies him closely. “How does it feel?”
“Sometimes I feel normal,” David says. “Sometimes it’s weird. I don’t think I can explain it any better than that just yet.”
“Fair enough,” Jenny says. “But you’re totally a wizard, now, right?”
“Not if I can help it…” David decides it’s time to change the subject. “But now it’s your turn, Zero. What’s this I hear about you taking on Johann Richter?”
Jenny reddens slightly. “It’s not a big deal.”
“Great-granddaughter of Liberty inherits his powers and winds up kicking the ass of his arch-nemesis? That’s a big deal. Tell.”
Jenny pokes at her food, voice subdued. “There are parts of it I’m still working through.”
David shrugs. “So don’t tell me those parts. I didn’t tell you everything.”
“There’s more?” Jenny shakes her head. “Well. OK. Then I guess it starts when CB and I head over to his apartment, where he stashed some of his old gear…”