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Super Sound Blake. Pt 2

Hello, Hello Lovelies!

Today, I'm back again. After a lot of medical trouble and illnesses last month, I've come with a treat--part two of Super Sound Blake! I wanted to post it last month but here we are. Thank you for your patience. I wish you all the happiest and healthiest of holidays! Please enjoy the next part of Blake and his family's journey💚💚.


Day 91.

It took longer than Blake thought to return to the forest. On their way, Ark cried often. He was scared. Blake couldn’t blame him for that. It felt entirely different with just the two of them traveling on foot such a long distance. They hardly stopped to rest in the two towns. A feat somehow made easier by Blake's generally sleepless nights.
Whenever Ark was too tired to keep walking or refused entirely, Blake hoisted him up his back and held his legs, piggybacking him for as long as he could. Usually after a nap with his face nuzzled into his shoulder, his little brother was more willing to continue their journey. Sometimes, it even lessened his complaints for a while. For that, Blake had been more than grateful. For however long it lasted.
The last official stop they'd made was the convenience store. The very same that Blake and their father stopped by. It was the only closed space he felt comfortable enough to sit still. Even if that wouldn’t have been for very long. Moreover, the store was much closer to the outskirts of the forest, and they were low on food.
When Ark saw the Choco bars, his face lit up. Blake told him that they would be sure to get some but first, they had other things to get. He recalled the moment with clarity. The clerk stepped out of a brown door, tucked away in a corner behind the counter Blake hardly recalled seeing his last time there. The moment their eyes met, the man adjusted his glasses with a cheery smile. By some miracle, his shirt almost fit him that day.
"Well, well. Welcome back. Did you enjoy the sweets?" He beamed. He looked at Ark and raised a brow. His eyes surveyed the empty space in the store. "Who's this little guy?"
Ark quickly shrunk behind Blake. Maybe he'd learned a lesson after the incident with Jake. "This is my little brother. He doesn’t like people much lately. The candy was great, thanks." Blake was being honest. He'd forgotten about them when they initially left the motel, but on their long trek aiming for the woods, they occupied Ark for a time.
"Man. Join the party. I haven’t liked people since the day I left the womb." He huffed, unoffended by Ark's behavior. Fog spread across his lenses, which seemed to go unnoticed. "Can't blame him for it. Especially with the people on your mom's side, right?"
Blake blinked as he masked his uncertainty. He quickly realized he was referencing the previous conversation with their father. Although it had been full of lies. What had his father said about their mother's 'family' again?
"Did anyone come here, looking for us?" Blake asked, careful.
"Yep." The man nodded as he grabbed a Choco bar from the front, ripped it open and took a bite. Ark shuffled forward and stared at him with wide, unmoving eyes. Practically drooling. "I was planning to tell your dad, but I don't see him."
"We're here by ourselves this time." Blake searched his brain for an unsuspicious lie. He wasn't sure where the ideas were supposed to come from. Lying wasn’t his specialty.
The clerk choked on his chocolate. "There's nothing out this way, though? How far have the two of you..?"
Blake shook his head. "Not far." He lied.
"Dad said it is important for us to be able to survive on our own, but I don't think he really meant it." Ark's head whipped hopefully in his direction. Blake gave his hand a squeeze and shook his head as he spoke. He hoped he would understand. Or at the very least, keep quiet. "I've seen him watching us a lot and today's the last day. If you tell me what happened I'll let him know." He looked at his brother and then back to the clerk. So far, so good.
The clerk silently looked them over and took another bite of the chocolate bar, prolonging Ark's agony. Then he shrugged. Maybe the lie was convincing. Or he didn't care enough to question it. Blake wasn't sure which, but it was better than him calling the police.
Either way, their luck hadn't quite run out yet. As Black Diamond put it, many ingredients make a hero. Including 'a little luck and a whole lotta badass.' He was sure she hadn't said it about 10-year-old Super Sound, but he figured he would grow into it. Like a pair of shoes three sizes too big.
"Well, you tell him that there was a whole group of military-esque looking fuckers around here a couple days ago." He quickly looked down at Ark, frowned, and shook his head. He grabbed a Choco bar and tossed it to him. "Excuse my French."
Blake smirked. It pleased him somehow, to be on the other side of things. "Thank you for the Choco bar, those are his favorite, but he's heard worse." What did he mean, military-esque?
The clerk laughed and went on. His smile replaced by a look of annoyance as he spoke. "So, as I was saying. There were a whole group of them wearing similar clothes. They didn't really look alike or anything but most of my cousins don't either, so I don't judge. They went around the store and one of them went in the bathroom. A few of them eyed the booze in the back, then they surrounded the counter. When they described your dad, I knew this was some sketchy stuff.
"He was right, of course. They gave me the 3rd degree. Asked if I had seen him with a woman and a boy. Never seen your mom of course, but they described her real pretty-like."
"Mom's beautiful." Blake nodded. Then he gestured for him to go on. This wasn't the time. The men that suddenly showed up looking for them were the current priority.
"Right. Of course, she is." The clerk snorted with an amused look on his face. Blake didn't think he was being rude. It wasn't disbelief. "Well, they tried to intimidate me, but I don't scare so easy, right? I was thinking, these guys think they're so tough. I don’t know if your dad was ever in AA or what, but they kept hounding me!"
"What's AA?" Blake asked curiously.
"Alcoholics Anonymous. If you've got a drinking problem, you go to these meetings and talk about your feelings with a therapist. Other people share their stories about what made them start drinking away their livers and the whole deal. Basically, they help you try to get sober again."
"I don't think my dad's ever been in that kind of program. Aside from work, he never really leaves."
"No extended solo-trips? No hush, hushed vacations? He never left you with just your mom?"
"None of that stuff. Unless trips to the grocery store count."
"Was he there overnight?"
"Who spends the night at the grocery store?" Blake asked sarcastically. Although now that he thought about it, a grocery store would have been much better than going to the forest right now. But those weren't safe. This wasn't like the Canine comics. Blake and Ark weren't dogs, and the world wasn't full of zombies, abandoned places and half empty stores ripe for the taking.
"Oh? Probably not then." He shrugged. "But you wouldn't know it the way those guys were acting!" He smacked his hands against the countertop. "All of that just for some beer? They're too strict!"
"Family, what can ya do about em?" Blake shrugged, mimicking a scene from a tv show he'd seen a couple years ago. He had no idea what the man meant, but he liked his accent, and it always got a good laugh out of whoever he was talking to. The clerk was no different.
He slapped a hand across the counter as he laughed. Ark smiled a clueless smile, but he seemed amused enough. His attention was still focused on his remaining chocolate. That day, as excited as he had been to get it, he picked it apart in small pieces to eat. Maybe he was worried about not having any more, but Blake had told him they would buy some. That one he just so happened to get for free.
The clerk pushed up his glasses with a proud expression. He tried to puff out his chest, but it did more with his round belly than it had for his upper half. "You tell your father that they didn't get me.
"I told them that the store had been empty all day just like I'd said I would. The losers stomped right back out the door. They asked me about the video tape, as if they had the authority for that. I told them they needed a warrant for it but it wouldn’t matter because the video is backed up somewhere else by the owner and wiped from the store."
"Is that true?" Blake questioned. Considering that he had already lied to them once. After all, he and his father had gone into the store that day.
"Sort of. They do need a warrant. The videos go to this old school tape thing in the back, but the owner is the only one who can work the thing."
"Then, you're not the owner of this store?"
"I'm not," he chuckled, "but my grandma is. They don't need to know that. They looked like a bunch of bullies. I'd die before I let them intimidate my nana."
"Thanks for doing that. Dad would say thank you." Blake gave a polite smile. On the inside he was grateful, of course, but he was also anxious.
He'd wondered more than once who they were running from but he never expected to be this close to finding out. After all, if they'd only missed them by days then they were closer to them than he thought. It felt even more dangerous when Blake considered that they had no idea how close or far behind his parents were. Going back to the forest was probably the right decision.
That trip to the store was three days ago now. The emergency money their father had given them was spent there. Mostly just on fruit, water, and Choco bars. Not surprisingly, Ark loudly complained of missing the motel bed and the tv. It was cold, much more so now than it had been weeks ago, and every night the dark unsettled them more than it should have.
There was something about impending danger, a wet, forest night, and no knowledge to build a fire that solidified every wave of anxiety and fear crashing around inside him. Blake couldn't catch anything either because he lacked skill. He wondered if Super Sound should have used his power to render a wild animal helpless, but it felt too villainous for comfort. The world had enough of them as it were. So, Blake spent most of those three days mimicking forest noises and having Ark guess what they were.

Day 92.

The next day they had to stay put because of the rain. Which only made the cold that much worse. Their bodies shook, their shoulders brushing each other, huddled together under the motel blankets in a partly hollowed out tree trunk. For a long time, they silently watched the rain pouring down to the forest floor. Eventually, Ark was the one to break the quiet.
"Blake, do you really have superpowers?" Ark asked quietly.
Blake was surprised but tried not to show it. He supposed they never really talked about it. And with the motel incident, Ark had hidden himself under the bed where he wouldn't have seen anything. For his brother's ears, Blake was sure his headphones forced the world to a complete silence. It was probably a good thing that Ark only saw the aftermath.
"Yeah." Blake sighed. "I do."
"What kind of superpower do you have?" He asked with focused eyes.
"I don't really know..? Sound powers, I guess. That's what it seems like. That's why they call me Super Sound." Blake answered and reached past Ark to grab hold of his headphones. "I hear a lot of stuff. A lot of the time, stuff no one else hears. Which is why I wear these. Mom and dad had them made for me so I could sleep. Well, not just for that I guess."
"Wow." Ark mouthed breathlessly.
"What did you think they were for?" Blake asked, now curious. Albeit a bit embarrassed by his reaction.
"Dunno." He shrugged. "You always wear them. I thought it was music and I wanted to listen." He replied in a thoughtful tone.
"Huh. Well, that does make sense." Blake nodded. "Too bad though, there's no music."
"Yeah. Too bad." Ark shook his head. "Blake?"
"What do sound powers feel like?"
Blake blinked. He'd never really thought about it before. "I guess.." Blake looked off in thought. "Kind of shaky."
"Like an earthquake?" Ark asked, his mouth open.
Blake shook his head. "Not that shaky. More like..the kind that happens when you say hmm. Like the vibrations in the back of your throat and it tickles a little, but in your ears."
Ark nodded a bunch, as if he understood. Then proceeded to constantly say 'hmm' in different pitches. Then he went silent again.
"Blake?" Ark called, breaking their silence for the second time.
"Hearing sounds is how we got away from Jake?"
A pain struck Blake's chest as Ark's question sunk in. For a moment, he saw the man's image again. His broken sunglasses and awkwardly angled body against the cold metal staircase. The lack of noise around the motel as they made their escape floated somewhere nearby in the back of his mind. "No. Not exactly."
He didn't have the words to explain what he had done to him. Nor did he know how to describe what it felt like to manipulate the sound from his throat. He didn't know if those red blotches that sometimes crossed his vision were related or not either. Luckily, Ark didn't ask.
"Yes, Ark?"
"It's cold."
"Yes it is." Blake frowned. He felt emotional. He didn't know how to make a fire. If he did, he'd have done it days ago. The blankets weren't enough. He knew they couldn't keep this up forever. Super Sound didn't have the power to combat the cold.
"If I had superpowers, I'd make it rain Choco bars." Ark said excitedly.
"Oh yeah?" Blake gave an amused smile.
"Yep! We'd never be hungry. And I'd start fires with my breath!" He exclaimed, blowing out his mouth with pursed lips. A swirl of air became visible ahead of them. "That'd be cool, huh?"
Blake wrapped his arm around him with a nod. He tried to remember when and why his little brother became so obsessed with chocolate. Not that he didn't have a point. They wouldn't come close to starving if every drop of rain could potentially be chocolate bars. It was unique. He didn't recall a single super with that kind of power, but he knew for certain that he'd be sick of them after a few days. "Those would be very useful powers."
"Yep! Super useful!" Ark celebrated. When he yawned, Blake knew he'd soon be off to sleep.

Day 93.

Near dawn, Blake awoke to the sound of footsteps. Realizing that he must have fallen asleep curled up in the remaining warmth between Ark and motel bedsheets, he woke his brother. "Someone is coming." Blake told him with a finger to his lips. "Don't move from this spot, okay?"
Ark nodded, but his eyes were already filling with tears. Blake leaned forward on his hands, put an ear towards the open trunk, and listened. He filtered out the unimportant noises as he closed his eyes. Every raindrop. The sound of Ark's rapid breaths muffled by the sheets. The flapping of a nearby bird. The scurrying of a four-footed animal on the other side of the tree. Even an insect whose fast-fluttering wings nearly sounded like buzzing.
Blake realized he recognized the tired footsteps shuffling through dry leaves. As they closed in on the other side of the trunk, he was sure there was no mistaking it.
"It's okay, Ark!" Blake smiled. "It's safe! It's mom!"
"Mommy?!" Blake watched as he fought his way out from under the blankets, kicked one of the pillows with his foot as he rushed out into the open. "Mommy!!" Ark cried as he rushed toward her. Blake couldn't contain himself and ran to her side too, immediately aware of his lip quivering.
Their mother sobbed as she dropped to her knees, her belly pressing into Ark's face. They embraced each other as she kissed them noisily.
"My boys. Oh, my sweet boys! Your father and I were terrified!"
"Are you and the baby okay?" Blake asked. He remembered all too well how pale she'd been the last time they saw her. Just as well, their father's intense worry as they drove to Beckham's Motel. Last he'd heard, they were going to the hospital.
"Yes. Mommy and the baby got a little sick and had to stay in the hospital until your sister was all better. Daddy was there with me the whole time, but we were so worried about you two." She kissed them again.
"We had to leave the motel." Blake frowned. "It wasn’t safe anymore."
"Yeah. Blake used his powers to get rid of Jake. I think he died."
She looked at him with wide eyes. "Who is Jake?"
"The bad man. Not everyone with Choco bars is good, momma." Ark shook his head in disappointment. Almost as if he was giving them much needed life advice. He was the only one almost tricked by a villian with chocolate.
Blake felt tears threatening to fall but he wiped them away. "He said his name was Jake. He tried to get into the room but I wouldn't let him. He almost tricked Ark twice, but it was all my fault. The first time I didn't know he had left the room. Even though dad said we had to stay put. And then he broke the door and Super Sound blasted him away. He fell on the steps, but Ark's right. I think he died. I left a note."
His mother pulled them in even tighter than before and kissed them again. When she looked back at them, tears slid down her cheeks. "I'm so sorry. None of this was your fault. You did so good, Blake. Protecting your brother. We should have been there."
"Did you get my note?" Blake asked. "From the suitcase?"
She gave a curt nod. "Yes. The door was broken in. Our things were there, untouched. We found your note. We probably missed you by hours, at most. Only..there wasn't anyone on the stairs." Blake's heart raced away in his chest. He tried not to speak since he was sure his voice would shake. He didn't want to scare Ark again. His stomach was in knots again. "To be more specific, there was no one at all. Not a single soul around. Even the lady who checked us in, according to daddy, was nowhere to be seen. It was too empty."
"What does that mean? There weren't a lot of people, just a few guests other than us, I think. But..."
"Your dad and I had a few guesses. It looked like someone might have been in a rush to clean up something, but you don't need to worry about that now. We had some car trouble, but we knew where you were headed. Daddy was fairly confident that you would avoid people until you made it here. He was so sure." A sad smile crept across her face. "You made it here safely, so I guess he was right. We split up to find you so all we have to do is sit still. Daddy will come and get us."
"We did talk to one person." Blake admitted. "The clerk dad spoke to before. Where we got fruit."
"The convenience store where you..picked up the diapers and Choco bar?" Their mother asked, clearly avoiding anything close to the word steal.
"Yeah." Blake nodded. "But he won't tell because we spoke to him last time. And probably because of his nana, too."
"His na--I see." His mother clicked her tongue. Blake wasn't sure she truly understood but she didn't ask for details.
"He said that 'military-esque' men came looking for us." Blake cleared his throat. He tried to be careful with his words. Maybe if he said it right Ark wouldn't realize it was something more to fear.
"Military..." His mother repeated quietly, her face showcasing her unease. As she opened her mouth to speak, their father's voice bellowed from the distance.
The panic and urgency shrouding his voice made them freeze. They looked at each other. Their mother scurried to her feet and pressed her palms to their backs, forcing them forward. "Run." She said in a harsh whisper. "As fast as you can."
Ark had begun to pant long before they took off. In no particular direction, their soles crunched against the leaves, their surroundings lost to a blur. Eventually, Blake and Ark fell slightly behind their mother, too worried to be in front as she struggled. Her hands cupped her stomach. Following the same motion of her chest with every rise and fall. Blake couldn't focus his ears well as they cut between the trees. He wouldn't be able to figure out where their father was like this.
Panic rattled around his insides. He watched puffs of his warm breaths clash against the cold air as he followed at his mother's back. How long would they have to run? Their mother couldn't keep this up forever.
A quick whistling through the trees redirected his attention and Blake turned his head to look around them. He heard another, then another. The sharp noise chased after them, but he couldn't pinpoint their original direction. As Blake turned his head back ahead of him, intent on warning his mother that something was coming, his eyes caught a flicker of light. It shot passed him towards her. Too fast for him to utter a word.
She staggered. Ark slowed to a stop, having realized that something was wrong. Blake called to his mother as she took a few more unsteady steps ahead of her and fell forward. Down a large, uneven slope. "Mommy!" Ark cried, as her body rolled to a stop.
Their father's voice called out to her. Blake could see him closing the distance between them. Only, he wasn't alone. A shadow of a man creeped out from behind a tree. Ark tried to climb down the slope after their mother as Blake screamed a warning in his father's direction. "There's a man behind you!" He shouted. He could hear Ark below him, trying to force their mother awake. As he started towards them and down the drop, he paused. His father struggled with the shadow as several other voices cut in from behind.
"Fuck me." A man cursed. The wind blew past them. Blake could feel his body shaking. Was their mother alright? Ark was crying uncontrollably now. Could Super Sound do it again? The thing that he'd done to Jake? Even if he could, this distance would be too much. He'd have to let them get closer. He fought to keep his head fixed in their father's direction. If he looked back towards their mother instead, he wasn’t sure what would happen.
"I told you to be careful with your aim, stupid." Another sighed in frustration. Their silhouettes just becoming visible slightly further behind their father and the first stranger. Their father was on his knees now. His breathing labored. He sounded hurt. Blake reiterated it to himself: he couldn't reach them from so far away.
"What if the baby dies?"
"Wake up! Wake up please!" Ark shouted in a broken voice.
"How was I supposed to know she'd fall down a hill in the middle of the forest? It's uncharted territory in the area. Literally." The other dismissed with a tone of annoyance.
"Kuh!" The man in the back made a stifled noise as his father broke away from him. The guy sucked air between his teeth with a curse. "You mother--!"
As he began to chase after him, one of the others stopped him. Blake and his father met eyes for an instant. Just enough time for him to register his panic and fear as he stumbled towards him. But his father's focus was behind him. He wanted, Blake knew, to check on their mother.
"Daddy! Mommy is--!" Ark called from the bottom. Blake tried to keep still as their father continued to try and cut their distance in half. His movements were abnormal. He couldn't put weight down on his other ankle properly. Was it bruised? Broken?
"Right. The next time you get stabbed I'll let the guy go too." The first man scowled. Obviously unhappy that one of the other two intervened.
"They're not going anywhere anyway. Mom's out cold and might need medical attention. Plus, the others are only a few minutes--" A series of beeps cut him off. "Speak of the devil."
Blake made out the sound of shuffling closing in around them. A crisp jumble of quick footsteps and snapping twigs. Distinctly forming the shape of a crescent as they inched near. He was able to make it out that time, as the small pointed metal passed his face. The thing that made their mother fall just minutes ago. If he'd have blinked, he would have missed it.
Their father crashed to the ground on his side. His trembling hand stretched out in his direction. Blake could only take a single step forward before he felt something sharp sting him in the neck. He turned around on dizzy feet. Ark's sobs stopped abruptly as he slumped over their mother's chest.
Blake could feel his body swaying moments before he dropped on his back. His head hit the ground with a painful thud as the men's faces came into view above him. He opened his mouth to send them flying but his voice was nowhere to be found.

Day ??

"Thought we'd take a little off the top for the company's pain and suffering. You know? You understand, don't you?"
"A little off the top my ass! You stole everything!" Blake made out the sound of his father's anger-soaked voice. He didn't know the other person.
"What did you expect to happen? You ran off with Alister's favorite toy. Pretty little E-dash-zero of all things. I can't knock your taste; I'll give you that. Besides, who do you think paid you most of that money?
"Although, all things considered, it did take a while to weed you out. What's it been? Five. Six years? Did you think we wouldn't find you? We've practically got unlimited resources nowadays." Who was he talking to? Blake became vaguely aware of opening his heavy eyelids. Of turning his neck in the direction of their voices. His head ached. The movement made his tongue heavy and moist. Was he going to hurl?
"Don't you dare talk about her like that! Her name is Eliza! Where is she?!" Their mother? Blake felt every time he closed his eyes to blink it became harder to open them again. His vision was unclear.
"Right. Well, she hasn't been Eliza since the day she fell into Alister's clutches now, has she? But you knew that. My God. I forgot you actually went and married her, didn't you? Eloped. You didn't even tell me of all people. Alister wants to destroy you."
"I didn't know whose side you were truly on, and it was dangerous. I couldn't give you the option to pick a side. What if you hadn't picked mine? Why are you doing this, Cayden?" Who was Cayden? Blake had never heard that name before.
"Uh, because it's my job? Unlike you, I love it here. So, I guess I can't blame you for the lack of trust. And it pays well, so who can complain? Oh. Other than you, I mean."
"Fuck you!" Blake could hear the quick movement of his father's feet as he rushed forward in his anger. Overlapping footsteps stomped from different corners of the room then paused abruptly, eventually receding. They weren't alone.
Blake couldn't handle the extra nausea that came with moving his head, so he opted out of looking around to see them. There were a lot of people along the edge of the room. His father coughed painfully as Cayden's fist struck his abdomen. Blake watched his blurred form drop to his knees with a grunt.
"Come now, Gabriel. Don't you see the odds aren't in your favor? Although if I know you at all, that's kind of your thing. Isn't it? Any one of these men could have decided to end you right there. To make you a red stain on an otherwise clean and polished floor. Hell, I'm showing off my favoritism just talking to you here." Blake didn't like the way he spoke. If it was favoritism, why didn't he just shut up then? As he watched, his vision cleared up. Only, not nearly enough.
Was that thing some kind of dart? Was it poison? Super Sound wasn't immune to poison. Or at least, he was fairly sure. How should he know? He'd never been poisioned before. What if it wasn't? What was that stuff? Would he ever be able to see again?
If he remembered correctly, in one of his comics there was a blind guy who retired from being a hero. He said all his senses strengthened when he lost his sight, even his hearing. Which is how he defeated a gang of intruders one winter night. If he went blind could his power get even stronger? What are you thinking? Blake chided himself. Being blind would be bad. Very, very bad. Especially in some place you've never been.
He focused his attention back ahead of him. Ugh. He shouldn't have gotten carried away thinking about blind retired heros. It didn't help his head. More than that, what if he had missed something important while spacing out? Super Sound might not make it to his own retirement if he kept that up.
"If I'm honest, the place has been such a dud without you. And you were so good at your job, you know? I even asked Al to let you back in. Even if it meant we had to chain you to the equipment and watch you 24-7. I wouldn't even attempt that for anyone else.
"Although I don't know if he will accept my proposal under the circumstances, you know? You brought her back pregnant after all. He hates your guts. He probably wants to string them across his office like a garland. It's been 5 days since you got here. You're lucky he's still deciding." Did this man, Cayden, like his father or hate him?
His father, having recovered from the earlier assault, edged forward on his knees. "I didn't 'bring' her back. You bastards hunted us down and dragged us here. With my fucking children, no less." He locked eyes with Cayden and blinked away the expression on his face, though it was still out of focus for Blake.
He assumed at the very least, his father's face was deluged in anger. He watched as he quickly pressed his forehead to Cayden's shoe. Something he'd never seen him do before. "Fuck. I'm sorry. P-please! Listen. Eliza..the baby. Is our daughter alive? When you surrounded us Eliza took a nasty fall. Cayden, please!"
Cayden recoiled with a look of unmistakable disgust. Disgust that quickly morphed into anger as he yanked his father to his feet by the collar. "What the fuck is wrong with you, Gabe?! Sorry? You're sorry?! Don't lie! You used to hunt, didn't you? Say it!! We hunted you like wild rabbits!!
"You meant what you said. What do you think you're doing right now, huh?! Groveling to me like some weak, pitiful, insect? Are you a dog? Do you lick shoes for fun now??!" He shouted, shaking his father violently. Then, in the heat of his anger, he raked a flurry of hard blows across his face and threw him to the floor.
Blake felt a rage building up in him as his blurred vision eyed the scene in front of him. He couldn't move his body. He couldn't make a sound. His attempts only fueled his nausea. He wanted to help his father. Wanted nothing more than to send this man flying across the room or somewhere else, like oblivion. Oblivion sounded good, even if he didn't exactly know what it was. Maybe that was a good thing. If everyone knew where the end was, it wouldn't be far enough.
What had they done to him? Doesn't matter, Blake thought crossly. He's one of the bad guys.
His father spat a line of blood out of his mouth then looked up in Cayden's direction again. Blake could see his face already beginning to swell. He could hear the sound of his quick, raspy breaths clearly from across the room. His fists opened and closed. His wrists scraped noisily behind him, chained by two thick, heavy chunks of metal. Some sort of handcuffs from the look of it. Blake wondered if he was also wearing them. He didn't know. His body was too heavy. Too numb.
As many of the booted men along the walls snickered and made snide remarks as they watched the scene unfold between them, Cayden turned his anger on them. "Shut the fuck up you worthless pieces of shit!! This man is worth his weight in gold three times over! His pinky is worth more than the sum of your lives!!!!" The men fell silent, though many of them still grumbled their displeasure as Cayden passed them. He headed towards the double doors at the other end of the room.
Blake listened to several beeps and a rhythmic jingle as he pressed buttons on a box near the doors. When they opened, Cayden paused and turned back to face them, eyeing his father, still seething. "E-0 was taken to the infirmary." The doors began to close and jolted to a stop, likely registering him on a sensor. "She retained minor bruises excluding her broken wrist, and a bump from the fall. That baby is fine, shockingly. Although I don't know what Alister plans to do about it."
His father's head dropped backwards and he let out a shaky sigh of relief. Cayden didn't share his feelings. The rage on his face seemed to increase with every passing moment. "That stunt you pulled a minute ago? Don't you ever do that pitiful shit again. I don't know what happened to you out there while you were playing house, but that's not a version of you we can use. He's the one that gets you killed."
He turned back around and stepped the rest of the way through the opening. "Hell, I'd probably kill him myself if I see him too often. Even if Alister doesn't." He jeered, and the doors shut smoothly behind him.

Day 100.

A large man with tawny skin fumed his way through the doors. He passed another booted stranger with a glare as he went. His hand scratched away at his trimmed beard as he tramped across the floor. Blake thought, if not for the endless noise, he might've been able to eavesdrop on the people around him. Especially the ones that strolled in and out of the double doors at all hours of the day. Not that he had a good concept of time in the well-lit building, but he would have known what was bothering him. Maybe, he'd even have made better sense of the other men as well.
Truthfully, Blake would rather hear some news of his family than listen to any random bit of information he could otherwise acquire had he been less bothered. He hadn't seen his father since the heated exchange with Cayden. In fact, save for a few similarly dressed men with rock hard expressions and little words, he'd seen no one. The man with the dark hair and copper glasses was the first face he'd seen wearing an actual readable expression in front of him since he found himself behind the bars of his current boxed space.
"Hurry up my ass." The man scoffed bitterly. Blake swallowed. Mustered up his courage to try and talk to him after days of radio silence from the others.
"What's wrong?" He asked as he looked over the man's clothes. Like the others before him, he wore all black attire. Save for his colored glasses and a blue-pocketed belt around his waist.
He flicked his thumb across the corner of his mouth repeatedly, then frowned deeper. "Can't smoke in here." He seemed to say more to himself than to Blake. "You got any friends?" He asked.
Blake nodded.
"Well, you're a kid so you probably don't know it yet, but not everyone is your friend. There's different levels to it. That's why we give people labels. So, we can distinguish between the ones we like, hate, and anything in-between. There are people in this world that will stab you in the back. Some people are just jerks. Some hate you secretly.
"Hell, even the ones you save could stab you in the front-end while they look into your cold, dead eyes, and sleep like a baby the next day. You'll learn that lesson when you're older. We all do." He stopped talking with a groan then shook his head. Blake was only certain that the man was bothered. Why did he bring up friendship? Why death? Had someone betrayed him? "We have to get going. You've got somewhere to be, apparently, and I'm your escort."
Blake didn't know what he was talking about, but he was afraid to go. Maybe it was worse than the cage with the constant hum. He'd seen how they treated his father and last he'd seen him, he wasn't even in one. Besides that, he still felt drowsy. His body was heavy, and it felt like he had water in his ears. Still, his mind was clear enough. And right then, he was attempting to use it.
Blake recalled the conversation in the car with his father the day they met the foggy-glasses clerk betting on sports games from the radio. He'd said "talking to people can do a lot of things. It can give you information about people and how they are feeling--It can even buy you time in an uncertain or dangerous situation." Now seemed as good a time as any. They were alone, and this guy, Swanson as per the shiny name tag, was already talking.
"Is Alister hard to get along with?"
Swanson paused, squinting behind his glasses. "What do you know of him? I've only seen the guy once, but damn right. He's all of the list and then some. Bastard thinks he's better than everyone, too.
"You don't have to be around him long to realize he's a sick one either, but being a psycho must pay well since he heads all this lettuce." He gestured to the space around them then leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. "If I didn't need the money and hadn't owed a favor, I'd have left this dump my first day here last week. Or never shown up at all."
"I've never met him. I've only heard his name. In my comic books, we call people like that a villain. Is he a bad guy?"
Swanson laughed, amused. "He is in my book. I'm sure I'm not the only one with that edition, eh? Then again, I don't think anyone in this line of work belongs exclusively to the light."
Blake shook his head. "My dad isn't a bad man and he's here. Used to work here..?" He wasn't sure which was most relevant to their conversation. In any case, he knew his father was a good man. That wasn't up for question.
Swanson gave him a long look and clicked his tongue. "Well, I wouldn't know him. I just got here. Who knows? Your dad might be a white knight in this place." He cleared his throat and scratched his head. "So, you like superheroes and comic books, eh? I used to love that kind of stuff when I was a kid. What do you like? Got any favorites?"
Blake nodded. He was fairly sure this conversation was going well. At the very least, Swanson smiled at him now. That, and he hadn't stopped talking yet. "I like to read Captain Bubble, Canine, and The Invisible Spark. Sometimes I watch Gyre Power on tv. And I like Black Diamond too, even though everyone says that's for girls."
"Black Diamond, eh? Sounds like a hot chick. Is she hot?" Swanson smirked, rubbing his hands together.
Blake shrugged. "I don't know."
"Damn, you must be young. You look it." He shifted on his feet against the wall. "I got it. What kind of suit does she wear, this Black Diamond hero?"
Blake thought back to the images, not entirely sure what importance it had but didn't mind it so long as he kept talking. Maybe he could stay there the rest of the day if he kept him going long enough. "A black leather suit. With gold and blue jewelry and stuff. And her weapon is made out of diamonds."
Swanson clutched his hand closed and clicked his tongue triumphantly. "Hell yeah. A leather suit with blue and gold accents? And she's loaded? Hot. I knew it. She's a babe. Bonus points if she's deadly. How good is she at getting the bad guys?"
"She's really good, actually." Blake bobbed his head. He was being honest. Black Diamond was probably the most capable lady hero he'd seen. It was his personal opinion that she made even better known heroes look like amateurs. Of course, Super Sound aimed to one day surpass her in the hero business.
The box near the door beeped twice and flashed green. It really was the same kind Cayden used when he abused his father. Even if this one didn't play a beepy tune. The large doors slid open and another man, dressed similarly to Swanson, shook his head at them. "Yo, Swanson! What's the hold up? You were supposed to bring W3 for a check-up 10 minutes ago."
"I dozed off," Swanson lied. "What are you gonna do?"
"You don't look sleep to me." The man scoffed.
"Because that stupid door beeping woke me up, asshat."
"I told them they need to get rid of the old guys." The man shook his head. "You already losing your memory, old man? We have to get moving! Put today's code in. I'm not getting docked for you."
"What do you mean today's? And fuck you, you infant. I'm 35. What are you even? 13? Do you even have hair on your sack yet?"
The man stomped over to them, slid down a black matte cover from a keypad on the outer column, clicked an asterisk, then angrily stabbed a series of buttons. Blake read the name on his chest. Reede. "The fucking codes change every week, grandpa." He glared at Swanson as he turned around.
The constant hum finally slowed to a stop. Almost a dream come true, if only Blake was allowed to stay there and sleep instead. A few seconds later, the bars quickly disappeared into a space above his head. "And I'm 19, for the record. Move your asses. Now!" He tipped his head to one side then the other as he pitched his voice higher. "You even have hair on your sack yet?" Reede mocked.
Swanson watched him go towards the doors and flicked him off when he wasn't looking, motioning for Blake to follow. "Right. 19. So, that's a no on the sack then!" He looked down at Blake and raised an eyebrow with a wink. "Apparently even the young ones are screwed too, eh?"
Blake found something about their interactions amusing but he was much too afraid to laugh. Where were his parents? Was Ark okay? What was going to happen to them? Where were they taking him?

Day 102.

"I came bearing gifts like the wise men and that little shit tried to turn me away."
Blake eyed several men as they walked through the door from his place in the corner. He slowly crawled forward to get a better look, almost certain he knew that voice. "When that didn't work, he nearly rendered me deaf. For three days I couldn't hear shit. And I had a concussion. Don't get me started on the rest. It was ugly business. I told them to do something about his mouth, but apparently my word's not good enough."
The man, who once claimed the name Jake, strode towards Blake as he spoke. His heart pounded painfully. He could clearly see his silver bangs now. On his face, he sported a new pair of sunglasses.
A dark smile spread across his lips as he slid them up his forehead to reveal his light brown eyes and peered down at him. When their eyes met, Blake thought he'd have to clutch his soul to keep it from leaving his body. He blinked away his disbelief. Super Sound had made a rookie mistake. He hadn't made sure the villain was dead. The dead don't talk. Or at least, he didn't think they did. He eyed the tag on his shirt. Willow. Blake knew it the day he saw him. His name totally wasn't Jake.
Still, it couldn't have been good that Jake-not-Jake was alive and well. Especially now that he was there in front of him, clearly healed up like new and still sending chills down his spine. Save for the man's words and his own memory, Blake had no indication that their motel showdown ever happened. Why was that? Where were his scars? His broken bones?
Worse than seeing him was knowing he remembered their entire encounter. His fall to the stairs hadn't been enough to make him forget what happened. Nor did it instill fear in him that would keep him from opening his big mouth in the first place. He fit the expression too well, this 'Jake-not-Jake.' This Willow was a wild card. They don't exactly teach you how to deal with those in the comic books.
Blake registered the annoyance that poked its head out from beneath his blanket of fear. He had been worried about him that day, and haunted by his image. Now, as he stood in front of him, Blake wished nothing more than to go back in time. For Willow to have never been capable of peeling himself off those cold, metallic steps of Beckham's Motel.
"Willow, sir. It looks like he doesn't like you." One of the others laughed from behind him. Sir? Was he important? Even more reason, Blake thought to himself, that it would have been better for him to have never returned. Had Ark seen him? He hoped not.
"I'd say so." Willow flashed him a dark but entertained smile as he leaned in towards the bars in front of him. "The feeling is mutual, little shit."
Blake imagined grabbing him by his ears and ramming his face against the bars. Maybe it would break whatever was causing the hum if he did it right. In reality, of course, he knew he was too weak to do it even if he tried. And it probably wasn't a good idea either way. He was locked in a cage-room. Totally at a disadvantage.
"What happened to your ear anyway?" Blake frowned as he looked him over again. His left ear had a sizable chunk missing from the top. Curved and jagged. Almost as if it had been bitten off. "Mr. Jake-not-Jake?"
His words must have struck a nerve. Williow's face fell dark as he grabbed hold of the bars and his sunglasses fell noisily back over his eyes. Blake could hear the sizzle and broken pop pattern as smoke rose up from his hands. His body jerked, but his twisted smile didn't fade. The men behind him took an uncomfortable step backwards.
"Sir, let go of the bars. You'll be killed!" One warned. Willow didn't listen, assuming he could. He didn't spare them a glance. Blake swallowed as he saw his hair jut out from its proper place. A peculiar smell filled his nose and Blake realized with every jerk of Willow's arms; he was being shocked. There was no possible way that he wasn't in pain.
"Sir!!" The other called. Both hesitated to touch him. "We can't let you touch W-3. Alister's orders!" Again, with the strange title. They'd done it with his mother too. What were they calling his father? His baby brother?
They couldn't open the cage. Which meant Willow would continue to be shocked. It disturbed him to be watching, but somehow Blake couldn't turn his eyes away. Especially with Willow's glasses trained on him. Almost as if he were daring him to be afraid. Instead, they rushed out of the room, informing them that they would return with help and a medic, as quickly as possible.
Blake got the feeling that this man, with the chilling smile, would not die so easily. Willow, as far as Blake was concerned, was crazy. And crazy normally didn't. In this case, he definitely hadn't died the first time. The question now: How much of Willow's crazy was going to pose a problem for his escape? Not that Blake had it all figured out yet. In fact, he had very little figured out at all.

Day 104.

Swanson shut the doors and quickly shuffled over to the bars, peeking away occasionally. When he stood across from Blake, he sat down on the floor with a childish sway to his movements. The smile on his face and the glint in his eye revealed the level of excitement his large frame couldn't openly display. "Check it out. I got a surprise for you, kid."
Blake scurried forward, putting his hands on the bars. The steel bars zapped his palms. With a grimace, Blake quickly pulled his hands towards his chest and took a step backwards. Swanson cursed under his breath and a part of his glee faded away with it.
"Don't touch those things. They'll fry you quick. It increases every time it registers touch within seconds of each other. Although holding them won't get you any better result than playing hot-and-cold with it."
Blake thought back to Jake, aka Willow, with a slight nod. He knew as much. He'd witnessed it first-hand.
"Look there." Swanson motioned to a long horizontal piece the bars of the enclosure attached to towards the polished floor. "There's about a quarter of an inch between the floor and the base. I'll pass it under there."
Blake nodded, crouched down, and carefully pulled the booklet inside. In his hands he held the first issue of Canine. He looked up towards him after admiring the cover. Swanson gave a series of short, quick nods. The man looked very pleased with himself. Blake could almost see the glint in his eyes shining past his lenses.
"I figured we could pass some time like this. Since I'll be keeping watch over you for a while." He pulled out another book, held it up to his chest, and pointed at it. "I even got this one." He said, a shaky smile slowly forming across his lips again, betraying the rest of his composure. He smiled back himself as he eyed Black Diamond's powerful pose on the front.
Blake wanted to be happy about this moment without reservations, but he couldn’t. What if this was simply a ploy from Alister or whomever else? What if Swanson was doing this for some nefarious purpose? To trick him into trusting him? To use him? Maybe that didn't matter.
After all, he used Swanson to stall for time before. It wasn’t as if things were getting better in the cage. The noise never stopped so he couldn’t sleep. Blake was sure he could read anything a million times a night if it would pass the time. Especially comic books. At least this was something he liked. And he did need more time.
Time to figure out how things worked there, to gather information, and plan his next move. That was the kind of thing superheroes had to master if they were captured. Besides, even if it turned out to be true that Swanson was simply trying to build his trust and use him, how would it really matter?
Right now, Blake himself was willing to do the same thing. He wondered if he had to lie to do it. Even though he managed with the clerk in the convenience store, he didn’t like it any more than he had when he did it to Ark. So much for hoping he would never have to do it again. But maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t have to. At least, maybe not to Swanson.
Day 106.

"Sound has to reach roughly 105 decibels to shatter glass. 150 to burst an eardrum."
"And your son? How does he do?"
"I don't know."
Blake looked across the room from his place in the bed. Rhythmic beeping sounds overlapped each other. His father stood next to Cayden, eyeing him sadly, their bodies partially blocking a large computer screen from his view. He could see the hint of his face, a graph, and words too small to read from the distance. He wanted to talk, but the thing the men before them stuck in his mouth forced him to silence.
"What do you mean you don't know?" Cayden scoffed as he followed his father to something on another side of the room.
"I mean, I don't have a damn clue."
"And you actually believe I'm going to believe you?"
"Fuck you and whatever you believe!" His father hissed. Blake still wanted to send him to oblivion, this Cayden. He struck a wounded man to the face and dropped him like he had meant nothing. Even though his leg, from the sound of his father's footsteps, was all better now, and so too the swelling from his face. Even though Cayden also said that his father was worth gold. Blake didn’t understand him, but he didn't like him either.
"Fuck you too, Gabe. Come on, even if you never actually did it, there's no way you weren't curious. You mean to tell me that you never, not even once, wanted to study him? You know? Never once felt that itch?"
"He's been a kid as much as I could let him. Some itches you just don't scratch, Cayden."
"Bullshit. You know, I bet you did. Of course, you did?"
His father slammed him against the machines whirling and beeping behind them. Tracking some sort of data and feeding it into the computers. Blake's heart jumped as his father's voice dropped, as cold as winter. "Did you not hear what I just said? Do you think being my son is a joke? This is the problem with you! Back the fuck off! I said I'm not doing it! You can try to make me but it'll be over my cold, dead, body!"
Cayden raised his hands in the air, a gesture of submission, and shook his head. "You're right. It's the same reason I didn’t end up being found, living in the middle of a forest. Some fucking father of the year you are."
"I will end you." His father spat, smacking him against the machines again. They shook in unison. Blake willed them to fall. They didn't. He wished he had telekinesis. Maybe in another life. Sometimes heroes got those.
"Look. This is more complicated, you know? If you can think about killing me, and I've been helping you, your head's not on straight. There you go again with that pitiful bullshit."
"Are you telling me not to think like a father? Not to care about my family and my kid?! You are helping me now, is that it? But you also helped them find us. Don't you start with this trust bullshit today. You don’t have a family to protect!"
Cayden flinched at his words. He struggled to loosen his father's grip. "That's why I'm saying your head's not in it! You said over your dead body. That's the truth, isn't it? If you aren't useful, you fucking die. Alister still wants you dead. His hatred clouds his judgement! Don't let being a father cloud yours in the middle of a goddamn minefield! You know? Your son is in the same spot!"
Blake watched a shadow fall over his father's features as some realization hit him. He glanced in his direction looking more than wounded. With a tone heavy with misery, he stepped away from Cayden and stopped in front of Blake on the bed. He gritted his teeth and dropped his head as he lightly stroked his face. "You bastard. Why didn't you just come out and say it? You gave me all that shit about not saying what I meant.."
Cayden straightened his clothes and cleared his throat. "You're just having a hard time hearing. If you had your son's ears that wouldn't be a problem."
Blake wanted to ask him what was wrong. He hated the look on his face and the tears filling his eyes as he looked at him. And he still hated Cayden. He wasn’t sure he was helping them at all. He heard his words but didn't understand him well enough.
"You're saying that it could be over my dead body or his. That if I don't do it, if I don't test my son and give Alister the information he wants, someone else will."
What kind of test? What did Alister want? Blake wanted to know how they could escape. Where was his mother? Where was Ark? He was probably terrified right now. In this large, endless building with booted strangers, alone like he'd never been before.
"I'm so sorry, kiddo." His father closed his eyes. "I'm so sorry. I wish I could have your ears. I wish I could take your place."
Blake's eyes shook painfully in his sockets as his father fed something from a syringe into his I.V. He quickly lost focus and a threaded darkness surrounded his vision. They continued to swipe across his father's figure like pen marks to a detested photo until he couldn't see him or anything anymore.
"Good choice." Cayden's voice arose, sounding far away and garbled. Like he'd been speaking underwater. Blake hated that it was the last thing he heard. Why had he almost sounded impressed? He thought that if he could see him, Blake would have found a smile spread across his lips.
Day 110.

At some point, Blake could no longer feel excitement when he was wheeled in the bed, chained at the wrists, and brought into laboratory 6 where his father and Cayden were waiting for him. They never got to speak. His father's eyes glossed over into a nothingness, and his tone gave nothing away. He never asked Blake how he was doing. It was almost enough to question if he had really stood up for him that day with Cayden after all, or if he had simply imagined it.
Every time, Blake had only a handful of minutes to take in his surroundings. To peep a few sentences from the open tabs on the computer screen, and then be sent into an etched-out darkness. Only to wake up an unknowable time later, back in the humming cage. The sore veins, a pricked finger, and a few new band aids were all that remained from his time there. That, and the headache that he suffered for several hours upon waking.
He tried to think positively. At least he was resting in a way. He didn't feel so exhausted after the drowsiness wore off. And, he knew that his father was okay. That Alister, whoever he was, hadn't decided he wasn’t useful.
But aside from his conflicting emotions concerning his dad, Blake was anxiously awaiting news about Ark, or their mother. He didn’t like the knowing. And it was at precisely that time, when he was raking his brain on how to find out, that Blake saw an opportunity. Swanson, for whatever reason, was not in the chair across from him.
He eyed the stranger, who looked much too like all the rest, snoring with his head rested against the wall. He couldn’t see his nametag clearly. He called to him, anyway, echoing a "Mr." in the most child-like voice he could muster. Eventually, when he finally stirred, the man walked towards a squirming Blake. He pressed a hand towards his legs and the other behind his butt. In a similar way to what he once saw Ark do. His little brother had been even younger then.
"What?" The man asked with a hint of annoyance.
"I'm sorry mister but I have to go, really bad."
"You can't hold it for another hour? I'm trying to catch some Zs."
Blake made a show of squirming again and shook his head furiously.
"Damn it." He mumbled under his breath and jabbed the keypad with his thumb. "It's hard enough to sleep under these damn lights."
The cage's sounds faded to silence and the bars disappeared above him as they always did. Blake tried not to scoff. He complains after hours. Meanwhile, he himself had been stuck behind bars like he'd committed a crime. Blinded by the same lights every day without end, trying to keep his sanity intact in spite of the annoying hum. He almost welcomed the looming unconsciousness laboratory 6 would afford him.
Swanson had tried sharing some eye band he was using a couple times, but the noise was so loud it chased away Blake's exhaustion. Nowadays, Swanson came prepared with an arsenal of goods to watch him. Where was he anyway? It was probably for the best. If he'd been the one watching him now, Blake wasn’t sure he would feel up to putting the plan he had into action.
It was easier than he suspected, duping a sleepy booted man into a trip to the bathroom and rendering him unconscious with the sound of his voice. Even though Blake understood nothing about the mechanics. He just pretended to stumble, waited until the man bent his head down towards him, and put his mouth to his ear. He almost wished he could ask his father about it as he struggled to pull the man into a stall.
Super Sound needed a sidekick for moments like these. Maybe someone who could slinky any of those booted oafs into a stall without difficulty, so he'd never have to do it. Or strong enough to break through the bars of his cell and stroll out the doors without breaking a sweat. Blake looked at the nametag and read the name. Tyler. He nudged him with his toes as a trickle of blood slid out the man's ear and to the floor.
He shook his head as he unclipped the man's access card, locked the door, climbed out the stall, and exited the bathroom. Super Sound would be rendered the sidekick if ever a man like that existed beside him. He couldn't step out of a person's shadow as big as that. He'd probably end up nameless. That wasn’t going to work. How could he expect Super Sound to one-up Black Diamond if he was swallowed up in someone else's shadow?
Blake shivered as he peeked around the corner. The floors were cool under his feet. Colder than in his cell. A part of him wanted to go back to the bathroom, huddle up in a stall, and take a rest in the absence of the hum. He let the thought pass. It was possible that he wouldn't have another opportunity like this.
There was a clock on the wall diagonal to his current position. It was 3am. He ducked back towards the bathroom and focused on the space around him. He hadn't seen anyone yet, but he could hear talking in the distance. And a soft whirling sound, overlapping at slightly different intervals nearby. It didn’t take long to realize they were the sounds of cameras. He needed to get a closer look.
Blake expected more men to be guarding the halls at that time of the night, but he soon realized why it probably wasn’t necessary. He eyed the large round glass with a series of lenses behind it as he pressed his body against the wall and tip toed in the opposite direction than where Tyler had brought him. The camera followed. Flashing a menacing red in the middle. Blake tested the device, and even tried to escape to what seemed like a blind spot underneath it.
When the dot disappeared, only to reappear larger right above his head, Blake shuddered. Creepy. And totally not safe.
Blake realized how crazy it was for him to have any plan in his head about a place he'd hardly seen. And with a series of freaky stalker cameras along the walls, without a man on the inside to hide your movements, or some electric superpowers, sneaking around was out of the question. A heavy dread swept over him; anxiety close behind. Just minutes ago he thought he needed a sidekick. Now he knew why superheros worked in teams. He needed a group. His own arsenal of capables just to get out of there.
What does a superhero do when their plan is not an option? Blake sighed and pushed himself off of the wall. They wing it. What choice did he have? The reality was, he might have been caught already. But if that was the case, why wasn't he rounded up by the bootmen? Either they were laughing, enjoying the show like that had the day Cayden struck blows to his father's face, knowing there was no escape, or maybe they weren't doing their jobs. Someone was off getting a snack, or maybe even dozing off. Even Tyler was attempting it before.
Blake made up his mind. His bare feet tapped quickly and quietly across the floor. His ears could steer him away from people, even if he could do nothing about the cameras. He would just try to take in as much information as possible and get a good look around. Maybe he'd stumble upon a few exits that they could use to escape in his next plan. Whatever that was going to be.
In the back of his mind, Blake thought about what he would do if he really found an exit. Could he make it out the doors and find his way to freedom? No. Probably not. And even if he could, his family was still inside somewhere. Or at least he was pretty sure they were. Likely trapped behind a door or another set of bars in the seemingly endless, nearly identical hallways.
Just as he was rounding another corner, Blake heard the sound of a familiar voice. He scurried backwards and pressed his body to a corner as doors slid open. Two men with their arms full exited. "Just throw one of the boxes down there. I'm tired of using the card to open it with my arms full every time."
"But protocol.." the other began.
"No one cares about that in the middle of the night. Most of the guys are living it up in the rooms right now. Lester brought back a bunch of goodies from his last trip. While we are stuck here slinging boxes. If we hurry up, we can get something before it's all gone. Or are you saying you want to miss out?"
"I missed the last two guys bringing stuff back too."
"Exactly. So just leave it. We're going right around the corner dipshit." The first ordered as their voices drifted further away.
Blake supposed that answered that. He didn’t know who Lester was. Nor did he care, but he'd given him an opening. And because of him, apparently no one was watching the cameras tonight. Even side characters have their uses. Though, Blake was cautious. Blessings in the villain's lair never lasted.
He followed the familiar sounding voice to the other side of the doors. He walked around stacks of boxes with sticker labels, detail numbers and words he couldn’t begin to understand. Past a large desk and swivel chairs to a old chunky box in the corner. A fuzzy video played on the screen. Behind it, a wall with a solid white bottom and large glass windows. He could just make out the image of several other men on the other side.
"What are we even looking for in this mess?"
"Some damn video for the boss upstairs. Who even has VCRs anymore?"
"Alister is old-fashioned. Of course, he wants to watch old movies."
"Will you two shut up? I'm trying to get out of here."
Some mixture of arguments and complaints ensued as Blake caught the shadow of the first two men skate across the glass. He ducked behind the desk as they loaded their arms up again. As they went out again, Blake realized the voice he knew was coming from the video ahead of him. It was his mother.
He could just make her out in the dark corner of the screen. She was wearing a long dress. Her hair, too, was much longer than he'd ever seen it before. Someone, out of view of the camera, called to her. A slither of her face caught the light. "A friend?" His mother's voice sounded small and insecure. It didn’t hold the same presence as it did today. Still, he was sure it was her. He'd heard her voice all his life after all.
"Yes. I want you to be happy, E-0. You're better when you're happy. The light's going out of your eyes again. And that won't do. So you can pick one from the laboratories downstairs. Any one you want."
Blake watched his mother's face bathe in the yellow light in the room as a man's hand turned her face from one side to the other. There was a visible open scar across her cheek and a line of blood dripped to her shoulder and stained her dress.
Blake stomach churned. His mother's eyes looked empty. As hollow as the tree trunk he and Ark huddled inside those days in the forest, waiting to be found. The man was right. Light reflected in her irises, but caught nothing. As if they were the eyes of a new doll. The video ended there. And when the men came back to grab another arm full of boxes, Blake ducked out from under the desk and made his way back to the hallway.
He felt an unnatural sense of urgency as he followed the halls further away. It took everything he had not to shout after his mother. Where was she? Locked away in this fortress of a building. Behind one of those doors? Which one?
His thoughts became more jumbled and panic stricken as his feet slapped against the floors. At some point, he stopped caring about being stealthy. He wasn’t so careful with his path or to keep away from the voices on the other side of the doors. He didn’t understand what the video was, why it was taken, or what it meant. He only knew that it was that place, or one just like it, that was responsible for that nothingness behind her gaze. They had been there for too long already. He needed to find her and the rest of his family.
And as if by luck, or by curse, Blake bumped into a booted man. One accompanied by a woman marking something off a board in her hands, and Ark. His wrists weighed down with the same heavy metal cuffs he'd seen on his father after their capture. As their eyes met, Ark's eyes bubbled with tears, and he immediately crashed into Blake's stomach.
His sobs echoed through the hallway; his words muffled by something in his mouth. Blake only had moments to embrace him before the booted stranger, with the ugly spiked hair, struck his face with his fist. For a moment, Blake thought he'd been sent to oblivion instead.

Day 118.

A series of events followed the day of Blake's temporary escape. Several, of particular importance. First, Blake awoke with a raging headache and a very tender blackened eye. He had no clue where Ark was taken but he had heard several complaints as he was wheeled through the dizzyingly florescent hallways of a little brat that kept biting everyone. A problem that immediately got worse after the day's events. It was then that Blake understood why his brother's mouth had been closed.
He figured maybe Ark's questions had started it, but turns out he had been fighting in his own way. On the one hand, it was impressive. On the other, very worrying. That spikey haired bootman didn’t hesitate to punch him square in the face. What about his little brother? The thought of them touching a single hair on his head made his mind haze with fury. That was, until his conscious mind was swallowed by nothingness.
The next time Blake remembered anything, he'd heard his father and Cayden. Arguing in harsh whispers about what would happen when Alister realized he had altered the data. Which would, according to Cayden, happen sooner rather than later. His father's words, besides something directed at Blake's bruised face, floated away from him like a dream. At just the moment that his father, given Cayden's audible reaction, punched a sizable whole through one of the computer screens in the laboratory.
The time after, Blake's wrists and ankles were dreadfully weighed down by large cuffs. Identical to those he'd last seen on Ark. He was shoved into an unfamiliar room with even more unfamiliar people. Dressed in white coats, comparing something on charts to the rest of him. Soon to be strapped to a chair, loaded up from syringes, in a dark room no one else would enter.
Wires connected to everywhere he could see, practically glowing in the dark, were his only company. Save for the voice on the speaker that asked him questions that he never knew if he answered. The voice became quieter every time it spoke. Until it was practically not there at all. Blake had been glad to be out of the light, but he'd had the faintest feeling that he had some reason to be worried.
What followed the eventual disappearance of the voice in the dark room was only disaster. Blake could hardly recognize his own thoughts in the moments of silence. All short lived. The black box soon became his own living hell. An uncountable number of distinct noises and sounds of every day life bounced around the room. Each one louder than the next. And more painful than the last.
Until a sickness overcame him, and he cried. Until vomit burned its way up his throat and his eyes rolled to the back of his head, finally ending his torment. Only to repeat again and again. Encouraged by the speaker's voice, between questions he no longer understood. For an endless time. To the point that Blake almost no longer knew that Super Sound ever existed at all.

Day 122.

It took several days for the fog in Blake's mind to lift. To recognize that he was back in the place he'd started, behind the bars of the steel-caged room. At first, he didn't even hear the hum.
Swanson was back. Assuming he wasn't hallucinating, of course. Blake was vaguely aware of something like that. Some memory teasing his consciousness. Something recent..
A conversation about comics and heroes and villains. Of the mystery man Alister's head on a spike, roasted over a fire by Jake-no. Willow's hand. The entire building melted away like warm ice cream. Into a sizable puddle. Not unlike Captain Bubbles the time he was tricked by Spike. There was more, he was certain, but couldn't make it out.
"Kid?" Swanson called from the other side of the bars. The free side. Or so it was supposed to be. The expression on his face made Blake think that he was the one trapped inside instead. He felt a kind of pity for him but it soon got lost in the thickness swimming through his veins. It both terrified and disgusted him. Blake didn't know what they'd been giving him, but it felt foreign and intrusive. A sneaky nano culprit, altering his body chemistry. Stealing his functions away. Probably to control him.
Blake looked at Swanson weakly. Had he always been a twin? God. Why couldn't they stay still when they spoke?
"It's the first time you reacted to anything I said since they brought you back." His voice was distorted by his double. Their voices overlapped at the wrong intervals.
"I met your father recently." He continued. "When he thought I was responsible for your black eye." Blake wished one of them would shut up so he could hear.
"Dad..?" A small, dry voice asked. It sounded like his own, sort of. It took time to register that it had been.
"Your father's ballsy, eh? Seems like." Swanson smirked.
"Maybe." Blake shrugged. Or at least, attempted to. He wasn't sure he ever moved his shoulders.
"I did some digging. Your mom's E-0 right?"
"No!" Blake shouted, making his ears ring. Swanson winced. "Eliza. Don't call her that." He fumed, though he hadn't meant to yell.
"Shhh!" Swanson cursed. "Keep it down, boy. The security's tight as is. Since your little escape." Swanson explained. "I get it. Got it. Eliza, then. Though apparently that's what they call her in here. She had a baby recently, right? A little girl. Couple weeks ago, I think."
"Mom had the baby..?" Cayden's words came back to him then. Alister hadn't decided what to do about it. He'd made it sound like he had a bad plan in mind. Blake remembered that. His mind battled the heaviness in his head. He felt sharps pains attack him from the inside. He could hear himself whine.
His mother had the baby in that terrible place.
"H-hey, don't cry." Swanson said, his hand zapped from the bars. Blake couldn't tell if his arms were moving towards his face to check or not. Was he crying?
"Listen. In a few days, we might have a shot. I don’t know if everything I heard about you is true, but it doesn't matter right now. On the third day, you can't take the medicine. Whatever you do. Fight it."
Last time he got in trouble, they sent him to the box. Blake didn’t want to go there again. "To the box again? No..please." Thinking was painful. He wanted to stop thinking.
"The box? What box? Did they put you in something last time? Don't worry, eh? Wherever they put you, if they do, I'll find you and bring you out."
"I don't know days." Blake attempted to explain his loss of time. He didn't know one from the next. How was he supposed to know what to do or when? He didn't even know when they gave him medicine. Had they done that today already? What about his family?
"I'll be here. You listen for me and I'll tell you. I'll count them up." Swanson offered. "They've gotta come in the middle of the night and top it off."
Was it a trap? What difference would it make if it was? Blake couldn't ask another question. He couldn't try to make sense of anything else anymore. And listening to both of them was numbing his mind. Or maybe the pain was doing that? He didn't know anymore. In what felt like seconds, the world was swallowed up behind Blake's eyes until there was nothing left.

Day 123.

Swanson's voice echoed out into the nothingness around him. Blake wasn’t sure if he'd ever opened his eyes that day. For all he knew, the world could have come to an end. Was it a consequence of the medicine or his time in the box?

Day 124.

He definitely never opened his eyes. Nope. That wasn't it that time. A temporary blackout? At least according to a fitful curse on the other side of his cage room. Had there always been someone on the other side?
Blake knew it was really happening now. Or at least, that something would. It was easier now, somehow, to pinpoint the sounds nearby. Even though the medicine still filled his veins.
Blake heard the sounds of heels clacking away towards the doors. Fifty-two heels to the exit, though he didn't exactly remember counting them. He heard Swanson shifting in the corner. Could almost see his shape outlined in the dark. "Right on time." Swanson's low tone suggested a mixture of pride and relief.

Day 125.

At the sound of Swanson's deep voice, Blake felt as if his entire body was on fire. Heated like a gas flame whose knob had turned too quickly. Swanson's words echoed through his head. Whatever you do, don't take it.Fight it, he'd told him. He would fight. He had to. Super Sound had to. If it wasn’t a trap, this might've been the last opportunity he had in the making.
There was something in his mouth. And a band around his head. His eyes shot open. Blake made out the woman with the familiar footsteps. Accompanied by four men he didn't recognize.
She smiled in his direction. He didn’t know if it was genuine. Or even if he wanted it to be considering the woman was walking towards him with a double syringe. Blake wasn’t confident he could take on them all in his current state. He tried to force a whistle past whatever was obstructing his mouth as words or screams weren't an option. Nothing.
They'd expected, as per the woman's words, that he wouldn’t wake up as always. The smile on her face had been mostly one of surprise. She didn’t seem worried, even though only his chest was strapped in place. How lucky for him. He would make them regret it.
As the woman came closer Blake lashed out like a madman. He kicked her in the chest, hard. She cried out and dropped the syringe. The needles broke and bounced off the floor. The containers cracked but didn’t break open.
The men in boots wasted no time to charge at him. Before they could secure him, or maybe punch him unconscious as he'd experienced recently, Blake wrapped his fingers around the I.V. tubes in his left arm and yanked it as hard as he could like he'd seen in the movies. He felt his face contort and a broken whimper escaped his shaking lips.
He blinked, trying to will his mind to the other side of his pain. To the place where it wouldn’t hurt anymore. Or at least, that he would be more capable of ignoring it. The second whimper told him that it wasn’t working. He felt blood running down his arm but still reeling from the forced out I. V., didn’t manage to get a good look at it.
What followed was a colorful amount of curse words, fumbling about, and the woman scrambling to do something about his arm. They forced his arms under the straps while she fixed him up and two of the men slammed his legs back down and held them still. He should have known better.
The stunts on tv didn’t prepare him for this. No one ever bled that much when they ripped out their I. Vs on television. No one said how painful it was. It was better now than the first 30 seconds but there were still lingering sharp pains, throbbing, and the memory of almost passing out the moment he'd done it.
Blake eyed the broken syringe. At least he didn’t take the medicine. She'd have to get a new one, or transfer the contents, assuming it was possible to do. For the moment, he accomplished the goal, but what about now? How was he going to keep it that way?
As he began to wonder how he was supposed to take out four beefy guardsmen in leather boots and the medicine lady in the current situation, Blake saw a figure dart past him. The two men responsible for tucking his arms hardly had time to struggle before they dropped noisily to the floor. By the time Blake's brain registered the familiarity of Swanson's form, he had already taken care of the other two men at his feet. He wasn't sure what impressed him most, the short time it took him to deal with four men, or how light the sound of his movements was.
The woman squealed and Swanson tutted at her. "Quietly finish up with him. No medicine. Then you wait here without a word, or I'll deal with you like one of these annoying men, eh?"
The woman bobbed her head quickly as Swanson freed Blake from his confines and watched him sqeeze all four men under the straps in his place. It looked like someone froze the frame during a very uncomfortable gymnastics stunt. Even when they get unstrapped, they'd have to unwind from each other first. For some reason, it made Blake uncomfortable just thinking about it. But the feeling passed quickly, replaced by amusement.
The woman soon finished with Blake's arm and was directed to a back corner. She slid slowly to the floor in quiet submission. Then, Blake supposed for good measure, Swanson used a extended I. V tube to tie her up. When he was satisfied with his work, he turned towards Blake and asked if he was feeling well enough to walk.
"I can walk." Blake nodded. He was fairly certain of it, though he hadn't taken many steps from the immediate area yet. He was no longer bound, but his heart was still racing and he didn’t quite feel less trapped. They still had to find his family. They still had to get out of the building and away from what was probably a terrifying amount of bootmen.
Swanson released him, and as grateful as he was, he had questions. Was he really helping him or was it a trick? Maybe he was set up since he escaped last time? "Perfect. You did good, eh?"
Swanson gave a hearty pat on the back. Blake stumbled. He wasn’t feeling that good. "Oops. Sorry about that. Let's go. We'll be short on time soon." He started towards the doors.
Blake hesitated. "You said you heard a lot of stuff about me. I escaped last time. Did you hear about that?"
"Don't do this. Let's talk and walk, eh? Our window of opportunity is small."
"I need to know." Blake answered, his voice less forgiving than intended. Even if he was telling the truth.
"I heard about it. Everyone has. Plus, the stuff Willow has been saying. They were getting something big ready. And a series of new rules were going to be set in place tomorrow. For you. Or you and your family. So, we are right on time."
"But I lied. I used that man to get out.." Blake started. Feeling a tinge of guilt, but he knew he would have done it all over again. If not for that day, he wouldn't have seen Ark. Or understood how dangerous that place must have been for his family.
It was one thing to see Cayden's interactions with his father or hear their exchanges. It was a whole other to know what it could do to his mother. She was so kind and lively. In the video, she looked almost lifeless. Beatings and pain were bad enough but there was something much more terrifying about a place that could take you away from yourself.
"I know you used him. Messed him up pretty bad too, eh? He's deaf or something, I hear." Swanson shrugged. "It doesn't come close to anything I've done. I would've done it too. Sometimes you gotta use people."
"Did you also know I was using you?" Blake asked nervously. He didn’t know why it was important. It just was.
"I know you tried." Swanson sighed.
"And you're still helping me? Why?" Blake asked. Maybe this was why it mattered. He needed to know the motivation behind this man's actions. Why risk helping him? Unless he wasn’t helping him at all, really. Swanson could lie. Maybe he would, but Blake hoped he would be able to tell the difference.
"Of course, I knew. I didn't know if you were just a master at manipulation or what. I wondered if you were as dangerous as they say. But I was also so God-damn amused. I thought, 'man this kid's got some balls, eh?' And I really did end up venting here or there, just like the first time, without meaning to. You were a good listener and a better conversationalist than I expected.
"Also, like I said. I'm new here. This whole thing," he said motioning frustratedly with his hands, "is not my thing, eh? If not for owing a favor, I wouldn’t even have been here. I know something weird is going on in this building, and you're part of it. I heard some wild shit about you every day. All of what's going on here's just about anyone's guess, and we can't afford to have that conversation now when we hardly have time for this one, but there's a few things I am sure of.
"One, you're still a damn child. Whatever is going on, there's no way you should be doped up in here like that, losing your senses half the time, and constantly separated from your family. Two, I'm not a good guy. I've done some messed up shit in my lifetime. I've killed many people, even caused deaths of more than a few children. Whether I knew it or not. I have tried to live, and want to continue to, making up for those mistakes. Some shit, I don't feel a shred of remorse for. But there's also things that I have and would regret.
"This is one of those. So, I'm also using you. To absolve me of a little guilt. To confirm that I'm still choosing the light in spite of other circumstances. Sometimes, usury is multifaceted and mutually beneficial.
"Last but not least, number three." Swanson urged him forward then. Hearing his words, Blake was fairly sure he was being honest. It wasn’t that he understood everything. Nor that he had any real way to check his statements. It was just a feeling. Some solid, warm inkling settling in his body. Something that, without clear explanation, gave him the confidence to be led forward. Swanson gave Blake a bright wink. His face exposed a mixture of pride and absolution as he finished, "Alister can kiss my ass."
Blake followed Swanson closely through the building. Not particularly paying attention to anything around them. He ignored the labels at the doors, felt no need to peek through windows, nor cared about the secrets hidden behind the other doors. He was worried about his family and how much time they had before someone looked for the missing men strapped in his place, but Swanson had reassured him that they had a plan.
In fact, between his time stealthily taking down men that Blake made sure to warn him of nearby, Swanson quietly offered him more than just reassurance. He'd given him useful information and boosted his mentality because of it. Though Blake had mixed feelings about one part in particular.
According to Swanson, the building has 13 floors. They were currently on the 6th. Which is where they've been keeping Blake since their arrival. Downstairs, unsurprisingly, the security is the tightest. It's where all the exits are, "plus a shitload of nasty stuff they don't want getting out the doors," Swanson remarked. He said that it was never an option to go out the from the first. Or floor zero which is some sort of unofficial basement level. He never offered details about it.
Alister's office takes up half of the 13th. Clearance is crazy difficult up there so he's never been. However, he gathered enough information to know that on the opposite side of the same floor Blake's mother was there. Which highlighted a potential problem. She would have been the most difficult to reach.
A problem, which found an unexpected resolution. It was also the part of the plan Blake was most conflicted about. Even more than how ever they would actually get out of the building. The solution to getting Eliza from the top floor was Cayden. Someone who apparently laughed when he found Swanson snooping around. And showed footage of catching a glimpse of him sneaking away from restricted areas.
When Blake questioned him about it, Swanson shook his head. "There was no way to know it was actually me. Nothing was caught on video that even suggested it. Not a hair, eh? I wasn't wearing a nametag when I did it. I took every precaution. Ones that you wouldn't understand if I told you.
"To top it off, my friend that got me into this mess took care of those cameras. He's good at what he does. It was some lesser scale of what we are using now. A device that slowly disables the links the cameras have to each other for seconds that don't show on the clock. Somehow without detection. He explained it but I don't understand all the fancy bits, eh? I just about zone out when he gets all 'genius brain' on me.
"Anyway, that Cayden bastard confronted me and somehow knew it was me. He laughed and left. After three days of silence and no one coming after me, I assumed he either wanted to blackmail me with it, or had something to hide himself. I'm not the guy for waiting around to see which one, eh? So it was my time to confront him.
"Before I knew it, I was having hushed conversations in a dark room. Like he was waiting for me to come to him. He didn't explain much. But I've done sketchier ops on less info with people even less trustworthy than him so when he said I wasn't going to get it done without him, I chose to believe it. All in all, he was right. At least not without some more guys, resources, and time. I was short on them all. There weren't a lot of options."
After hearing Swanson's explanation, Blake figured he couldn’t argue with the logic. He wondered if Cayden really knew it was Swanson sneaking through the building and what he might have seen doing it. He questioned if Cayden was a double agent in their plan. Could he really be trusted? If memory served, his own father opted out of that when they escaped before.
Blake tried not to let his mind run wild. He had other questions too. About his mother and father, their relationship. Why they escaped the last time and why he felt something familiar tugging at the back of his mind every time the thought crossed it. He didn't have time to get lost in those curiosities.
It was obvious that Cayden had enough clearance to get to his mother. Who, Swanson reasonably suspected also had access to the baby. I.e. Their new little addition to the family. Who was also undoubtedly being watched sound the clock. If nothing else, the baby was a bargaining chip. Swanson said that Cayden told him very matter-of-factly that he would have two guys pushing her in a cart away from level 13.
Apparently carts regularly exited the floor for different reason. He wasn't going to man the cart himself because it would raise suspicion. At that point, Swanson was sure to tell Blake that he thought there was some truth to that, but Cayden also said he "never does those meaningless tasks" so he was pretty sure it was more about him seeing it as being beneath him than trusting the process and lack of suspicions. Blake considered what Cayden had said about his father when they first arrived. It seemed extremely likely that he was right.
"What about Ark? He's my brother. And dad?" Blake eventually asked. Surely their plan had to include them too. Somehow.
"Cayden said your brother has been kept on the 10th floor somewhere. He and your father came up with something so he could go get him. They're probably together right now. Our meet point is on the 8th floor. Since there's a space we can use if we are quick enough."
"Dad will definitely bring him." Blake said with conviction as he followed Swanson up a large staircase behind an unmarked door. He read the sign on the wall. Level 7.
Just as Blake turned his attention back towards Swanson, a deafening sound pierced his ears. So unexpectedly loud, high-pitched, and excruciating that it stopped Blake in his tracks. He uselessly covered his ears as his tears dotted the floor. He couldn't scream. He couldn't speak.
Blake barely registered Swanson's touch as he caught his arm. Saving him from a all-too-possible deathly fall down the stairs. He didn't seem bothered by the sound. Almost as if he couldn't hear it. Blake could see his mouth moving, probably full of silent curses as lights flashed around them. He knew then that someone realized they were missing. One of them, or all of them. But it did nothing to keep him from losing consciousness a moment later.

Day 127.

By the time Blake regained consciousness, he saw that he was no longer on the stairs. He was in a dark room, with minimal light touching the floor from small, single square windows lining a wall to his left. It was an incredibly large wall. Nearly identical to a blank canvas if not for some box and a switch in the corner. He looked around, almost expecting to see something terrible. Instead, he saw his family, Cayden, and Swanson who had him fastened onto his back by a dark strap. Not unlike the ones that held him captive during medicine time. Just a different color. And thicker.
Blake felt a familiar weight over his head and took comfort in the silence around him. It took some time to realize he was wearing his headset. Or at least, he saw after pulling it down around his neck, one similar. When Swanson felt him shifting against his back, he quickly set him free again.
"You good?" He asked with a face showing genuine concern. "The color's back in your cheeks at least, eh?"
"What happened..? We were on the stairs..." He tried to offer up his memory quietly. Aware that something else was happening now and they were right in the middle of it.
"You were knocked out as soon as the alarms went off. You were bleeding out your whole face. I've never seen that shit before." Swanson sighed. "I hauled you up the stairs and everyone just barely made it to the 8th floor. The safe spot was compromised. Your dad handed me those headphones and said they were special. I asked if he knew what was happening to you and he said that he saw something that gave him pause after news of your escape. When they took you to a black room.
"I guess it was the box you mentioned, eh? He said that he eventually managed to get the data from those days. Something about testing frequencies and your threshold in the dark room? He used it to make that headset. I understood that much. The rest went away from me. Your father has a 'genius' setting too, seems like."
Blake was in awe. He had no idea his father made the first ones. He was equally thankful and impressed. Every day he was more convinced than the last that his needed to learn more about his parents. "They really helped."
"That's good, but the situation was still a shitfuck. We couldn’t stay exposed so we had to make up another plan. We ended up finding a suitable entrance into the ventilation shaft. Spent a day backtracking and then finding our way up towards the top floors.
"Security on the lower side would be a million times worse, not to say most of the building isn't similar. Some of the men are off on other jobs for Alister so that helped. We ended up following Cayden here. I know a way to another exit out of an unused room, but we are on the 12th floor. Which we can't stay on.
"We ended up in here and they've been talking since Cayden closed this room off from the other side. I've never been in here but once we are out I can get my bearings. Only thing is, there's two controls in here. Cayden seems to know something about it."
Blake wondered if this was the moment. Where Cayden would show his true colors. If he was about to betray them and use his secret knowledge against their family amidst their escape. If he tries it, Blake thought, Super Sound will send him flying just like Jake-not-Jake. Or Swanson can pummel him. At least, he was pretty sure he could with the way he took down those other men.
"I was being honest, you know? When I said this place was a dud without you." Cayden scoffed as he spoke, facing their father. "I was hyper focused on getting you back here after a while. Especially after S-4--I mean, Sarah.. Especially after Sarah was gone. It's been so long since I said her name.
"It struck me that day in the lab, you know? When you got angry at me for bringing you to work on your son. When you said I didn't have a family to protect. I haven't been able to say it aloud since. Since she died..the two of you, and E--"He cleared his throat.
"The two of you, and Eliza by extension, were the only family I had. I could bury myself in my remaining interests. You know, scientist by heart and all. But I couldn't escape it. The mudane. The atrocities committed behind every door. I couldn't escape my place in it. Likely, I never will. This place will follow me. Karma, you know? For us following you, maybe.
"I was too afraid to leave when I should have. If I had been brave, Sarah and I could have found you two on the other side somewhere. We could have lived some kind of life. Who knows? Living in a forest wouldn't have been so bad either, you know?
"We would have made it. The four of us. I thought it all the time. More since you've been back. Hated myself for not doing it. I should have followed you back then. If not for me, Sarah would still be alive. I should have escaped with her, you know?
"I think I always saw it when I looked at you. Especially since you've been back. We're so alike, you and I. You once offered to be my brother, do you recall? I couldn't give you an answer.
"Likely because we felt like that. Actually, much more. So similar in any way that mattered. Like the same soul in different bodies. A few more of my choices and you would have been me. A few more of yours, I could have been you. It's uncanny when you think about it, you know?"
"Cayden I--" his father began, stopped by a shake of the head.
"Don't interrupt me damn it! Just listen." Cayden hissed.
Blake watched his father's frown deepen but he obliged. Cayden continued on, his voice calm yet solemn again. As if he'd never been interrupted. Somehow, his ability to do so creeped Blake out to no end. "If I'd known what I do now, I'd have probably steered them away every time they got close. You know? Kept them far away from your family. I can't erase that. Sarah and I couldn't escape it. But you and your family, you just might. Forever this time."
"Then come with us. There's room for you too, Cayden." His father said, his voice hoarse and emotional. He stuck out his hand but Cayden slapped it away and took several steps backward.
"I don't know what your son did, but he got one of the only good ones by his side. The kind that played by the books in everyone's faces but did his own thing when no one was looking, y'know? Swanson doesn't take any shit. Never seemed to like Alister either, by my estimation."
Blake turned his eyes toward Swanson who shrugged a shoulder with a tilt of his head. Seemingly in agreeance.
"Swanson is very experienced. He's patrolled the outskirts as well. You always did like shotty chances, didn't you Gabe? Well, the odds are against you, but I think you can make it." Cayden turned his eyes towards their mother.
She looked tired but more alert than Blake expected. Her eyes were sad. It hurt him to see her expression, but he was glad to witness any feeling in her at all. It was better than the doll eyes he saw on that video. He hoped he would never see it in person. Hoped, she would never go through it again. A bundle was in her arms. Ark clutched her leg tightly.
"Sarah always loved Eliza. And your love. She's probably going to escort you out of here personally. From wherever souls go. Assuming they ever go anywhere. I'm a man of the technical side of the sciences. I'm not very informed on the rest. But I hope she is here, watching me get my shit together."
"Just come with us already, you damn idiot!" Their father shouted.
Blake took notice of the blood staining his shirt. Small splatters were on his pants too. Just what else happened when he wasn't awake? How did this change things? Did this make Cayden a bad guy or a good one if he didn't betray them?
"He's one of the greys," Swanson said with a curt nod, almost as if he had read Blake's mind. "The guys that aren't hero or foe. Right now, you're watching a grey with a whole lotta dark, officially turn to the light."
Swanson's words felt heavy and meaningful. Like the kind of quote that deserved a fancy speech bubble with bold letters in the comic books. He was sure he'd never forget it.
Blake's mother cried silently. He didn't know how to feel, but wondered if she pitied Cayden. "Let's go together. We're one soul. Remember?" His father offered in a desperate tone. One that suggested to Blake that his father's feelings towards the man with the light brown ponytail, still wearing a clean white lab coat, was much more complicated than his own.
"That's just it," Cayden said, typing away on the keypad across the room. "That's not probable. Once I figure this out, we have one shot. You have to put the code in simultaneously or it won't work. It will lock and the code will reset in seconds. There's no conceivable way I'll get across this much distance in time. Don't be an idiot. You see it, too."
"There's another way. There's always another way." His father voiced, his poster deflated like an old balloon.
"No. This is it. This is the right way. Besides, you think I came out here, showed my cards and then want to go back to the magic show by tomorrow? I'm not that pitiful, you know? This place is going to die forever. And all of us left are going with it." He said, revealing a flashing red button stowed away in his coat.
A timer slowly ticked away, silently flashing 27 minutes left on the countdown.
"Swanson knows where to go for the quickest way out of this place. And, as luck would have it, he can fly a damn helicopter. Get out before you get swarmed in the building. Alister's leather-booted-trash fucks are looking for you as we speak. Of course, they don't know time is running out. Nor who is helping you. Yet."
Cayden and Swanson's eyes met, their stares unwavering and stark. "He'll probably be waiting for you out there, you know? Somewhere. Too bad I can't tell him off to his face after all of this. But actually, I'm okay with it like this, you know?" A soft smile lit up his face.
For the first time, Blake couldn't see anything malicious or uncomfortable behind it. The keypad shined green beneath his fingertips. He turned around and nodded towards the other side of the room. Swanson quickly shuffled across the floor as if he'd been waiting for the opportunity. Then put his thumb in the air.
"Go on." Cayden prompted.
Their father hesitated. "Daddy?" Ark called, his eyes filled with tears. "I want to go home." Blake blinked away his own. This was no time for Super Sound to get emotional. The danger wasn't over yet.
"Gabriel, please." His mother implored weakly. "We need you." Their baby sister cooed against her. Younger siblings had it easy. Most of the time. He really hoped she'd have the easiest life of all.
Blake turned his attention back on his father and watched nervously as emotions fluttered across his face. He knew his father was fighting in that moment. Some cruel battle between his past with Cayden, the present, and the future. Important men tended to have that problem because they cared. Heros too. His father was probably a hero in his last life.
"Same souls." His father echoed painfully. A final attempt to oppose the inevitable.
Cayden laughed and shook his head. "I'm actually okay with it like this, you know?" He repeated. "Because the truth about the two of us having the same soul in different bodies is...we wouldn't do so well in the same one. Eventually, we'd have to make a choice. About which of us would obtain limitless freedom and happiness.
"I don't want to rough it out with you, Gabe. My joy left me a long time ago so it's not a hard decision. And I like being the one making all the choices. This time, I just so happen to be making this one. Although, it might be the dumbest one I've ever made. Or, if you live, I guess it would be the smartest. So, please make my dumb ass, fucking decision the right one. I almost wanted to live for a second, you know."
A tear slid down their father's face and he turned around and let Blake and Ark lead him to his mother's side. There was relief in his eyes when he met Blake's, but the sadness on display never faded. His father kissed their sister's head and turned to look at Cayden again while their mother thoroughly checked Blake's face and ears.
"I'm sorry for not trusting you back then. Maybe things would be different now." Their father said. And Blake knew it was an honest statement.
"Maybe," Cayden shrugged as he turned back to the keys. "Or maybe not. You chased your freedom long before I could ever look straight at mine. My fear trapped the love of my life here, too. So, you know, it actually could have been just the same. As for your sorry...apology accepted.
"Asterisk!" He called loudly as he pressed the button on the keypad, effectively ending their conversation.
Swanson quickly followed suit. "Asterisk." He repeated.
"E. Zero. A. Six."
"That sick son-of-bitch." His father hissed under his breath. E-0. Their mother's alphanumeric title, although Blake couldn't place any relevance to the others.
"E, 0, A, 6." Swanson echoed back as he fumbled his way around the keys.
"Nine, four, K, One. Pound."
"9, 4, K, 1, #." Swanson finished.
Both keypads strobbed green, and the doors opened. Their father and Swanson directed Ark through the gap as soon as they were able. Then passed him their baby sister and told him to craddle her head. It was smart. Going as it opened could give them a few more seconds.
As their mother stepped through the opening, Blake felt time stand still as their father bolted across the room in the other direction. Just as quickly and without thinking, he followed close behind. Blake felt like he had seen it coming all along. Knew in his bones that his father would try something.
Shocked, their mother cried out to them at their backs. Swanson cursed as he paused, then forced her forward. The doors were nearly completely open now. His father's face fell as he looked over his shoulder to Blake dashing a step behind him. Clearly terrified that they could all end up trapped on the wrong side of the door. Truthfully, so was Blake. But, he had an idea.
Cayden's face was full of surprise as he registered what was happening with the two of them thundering his way. Gabriel, his father with apparent nerves of steel, had decided they were going to make it out - if they could- together. Even if he hadn't accounted for one of his sons following suit.
They lept across the last legs of space between them and his father grabbed Cayden by the arm, dragging him towards the opening as fast as they could go. Their window of time was closing. The doors were beginning to shut. And if they did, they'd be lost with the rest of the building soon enough. To make matters worse, according to Cayden, those doors weren't controlled by motion sensors.
Please, please work. Blake pleaded with himself. Be, Super Sound! He demanded as he turned and pressed his back clumsily against their large adult frames. He grabbed hold of their clothes at the sides, nearly toppling over. Then when he found some semblance of footing again, he let out a loud, hard, reverberating belch.
The sound sent harsh waves around the room and broke apart the first door and the opposite wall, yet somehow left the keypad untouched. Blake, his father, and Cayden were hurtled across the room. Their bodies rotated to the side as they flew through the doors and crashed painfully down several feet away. Ouch. From their messy pileup on the floor, Blake eyed the doors and the red button Cayden had been keeping tucked away in his coat. In just enough time to see the number 10 get crushed between them.
Swanson, Ark, and their mother, now with the baby back in her arms, rushed over as the three of them groaned. They untangled themselves and made their way to their feet. Cayden, suddenly enthusiastic, slapped his hands on Blake's shoulders. "YOU'RE A HOLY FUCKING GRAIL, KID! How did you think that one up??" He turned towards his parents. "How did that sound not kill us? Or the crash?! Your son might be a genius! You know?!"
Their parents scowled. Clearly unimpressed. "Or not so much a genius..." their mother shook her head.
"--As a very, very, dead Super." His father finished.
"No time." Swanson said quickly, forcing them away in another direction. Thank you Swanson! Blake sighed as they were guided quickly down the hall. They turned right. Blake allowed himself to feel just a moment of relief. Somehow, they managed.
He wanted to celebrate their lives, but his parents had been upset. He hated when they went all angry-in-sync. He was going to get in so much trouble later. Swanson may have saved him for the moment, but sooner or later he wouldn't be able to save his ears from all their shouting if they ever made it out of there.
The noise of their narrow escape had attracted more than a few men in boots. Blake warned them as they inched closer, tried to tell them each direction as they went. Until, eventually, they were closing in on them from every direction. He was really getting tired of being surrounded with his family.
The men in the hallways were clueless. Meanwhile Blake, just like the rest of the group, had the misfortune of being aware of a very important detail they were not: the entire building was minutes away from being blown apart. Cayden had made sure of it. Blake didn't suppose there was an undo button.
"We tried." Cayden shook his head. "We really tried."
Swanson slid between them and rushed to a nearby window. He looked out and motioned for them to join him with a smirk. "You heroes afraid of heights?"
"Probably." Blake answered nervously. "Especially from this height..." They were 12 floors too high for his comfort. If his feet were going to make contact with the ground and not air the moment that he stuck a foot out of the window, he'd have had no complaints. Clearly that wouldn’t be the case right now.
Blake watched the adults look out the window and his mother cast a look of concern in their father's direction. Whatever it was, it wasn't good. Maybe worse than he thought.
"Seriously? With the baby?" His mother asked, hesitant.
Their father clicked his tongue. "It's the only way," he said as he took their sister from her arms,"but I'll protect her. I promise you."
Their mother didn't argue. She simply grabbed hold of Blake and Ark, directed them to keep their eyes closed and their hands over their heads. "Tuck your knees in really hard towards your stomach. And pull your elbows in as tight as you can." She said sternly, showing them as best she could what she meant. Blake's heart thumped away an anxiety induced crescendo as he tried to imagine what was next.
Swanson used a small tool to scrape the glass. Then, kicked his boot hard against the window until it broke away. Then again for the rest. And, without pause, used the bottom of his foot to swipe away the excess shards.
Swanson pressed Ark to the floor in the position their mother said to do. Again, just the same for Blake. Without warning, he felt his body sway. Moments later, they were freefalling.
Blake could just see Ark ahead of him, his eyes shut tight. His clothes shook wildly as he teetered from one side to the next. The only sound audible as they continued to fall was the wind as it loudly whistled around them. His own clothes flapped like birds with broken wings.
Soon, Blake found himself wishing he had listened to his mother and closed his eyes. The air stabbed away at them like sharp, angry needles. He would have screamed too, if the wind hadn't kept his mouth shut. And a bubble of air hadn't been pressed to the back of his throat.
Their terrifying descent led to a long shade attached to the side of the building by brown ropes. The diagonal slope kept them sliding down the fabric, faster with each passing second. It was uncomfortable, and Blake was sure that nothing good could await them on the other end, but it was better than pins and needle eyeballs in the sky. Grunts of effort made him turn his head.
Spinning down the shade to his right, Blake made out Swanson quickly passing him by. His copper glasses, he was almost sure, had been clenched between his teeth. And once he was several feet ahead of him, Blake watched curiously, albeit nervously, to see what would await him. Swanson, however, looked more focused than nervous as he grabbed a knife from his pocket. How was he able to do anything while rolling that fast?
"To me!" He shouted towards Blake, holding out a hand. "Roll down, now!"
Blake gulped, but tried his best to channel his fear. He reached out a hand and pushed himself forward on his side. At first he wasn't sure how it would work, but his velocity carried him on.
His spin down the shade rocked the rest of the world around in an almost nauseating loop. He could hear the sound of decompressed air and the fabric underneath them coming apart as his body suddenly jerked and swung painfully to the side.
When he opened his eyes again, Blake let out a small cry. His body was dangling over the edge of the fabric, caught by his Super Sound Cape rather than his arm. Unsure about the slight blue movement below him, he instinctively clutched the fabric nearest his neck. Afraid the thread would snap and send him to his death.
Swanson's knife had cut the shade apart and effectively slowed them down to a stop mere inches before the fabric ran out. Ark was caught on his other shoulder, wrapped around his arm, staring at the blade with wide eyes. The rest of his family swayed against the far end of the shade.
His father held their sister in one arm and a large bundle of the knife-cut fabric in the other. Cayden's elbow was wrapped around his feet. And their mother's arms and legs were clutched tightly around Cayden's body. Her feet pressed into the back of his knees and one of her hands clawed nervously at his hair, yanking his head backwards. Blake wondered if it hurt as much as it looked like.
In the end, they were told to let go and dropped down into a bed of water Blake hadn't clearly seen from above. He hadn't lost his mind from spinning after all. By the time they came up for air, the building had begun to blow, several floors at a time. The sound was too much for Blake's ears and he fell back into the water. Lost to time.

Day 128.

When he awoke sometime later, Swanson was carrying him again. This time, towards a large truck.
"Swanson?" Blake called, groggy. He looked down at him and motioned towards his parents slightly behind them.
"What happened..?" He said, his head throbbed. Blake felt sick and his ears hurt.
"You passed out on us in the water. Do you remember what happened, kiddo?" His father asked over Swanson's shoulder. He looked relieved. Without the sadness this time. Nothing in front of them looked familiar.
Blake touched his ears, seeing blood. "The explosion was loud. Why did you use the knife on the thingy?" Blake directed at Swanson as he put him down and fastened his seatbelt.
"So we didn't die." He answered back with a chuckle. The point of stopping, Blake had been told, was to save them from hurtling themselves straight into the water. The pressure from the drop, going that fast, could have easily killed them. A dislocated shoulder was better than death.
Swanson looked fine enough. If he dislocated something, Blake couldn't tell. He smiled and closed his eyes. Maybe he was getting good at this. Superheroes escaped death often. How many times had it been now? He was exhausted.
The seven of them were still trudging forward through unknown terrain when Blake stirred awake. His head still hurt, but it was manageable. His ears ached, but they had stopped bleeding again. He was fairly sure the dried blood had clogged them a bit. A surprising comfort for the time if there ever was one.
His mother sat across from him, asleep. The baby was awake but quiet, cradled in his father's arms. Ark snored away splayed along the third row seat behind them.
"Where are we going?" Blake asked through a yawn. His father looked up and shook his head.
"Somewhere else."
"To the helicopter?" Blake asked. He'd never been in a helicopter. In the comics someone was always dangling from them with the threat of death looming overhead. He never wanted to see one after that. But now, having been thrown out a window a deathly number of floors above ground, freefalling, and pretty much dangling nearly to his death anyway, they didn't seem quite as terrifying.
If he was in danger of falling maybe he could belch himself to safety or something. Although he didn't have a clue how to do it. He'd never meant to burp in the first place. Not to mention, he didn't really know how the other part of his power worked. The only things he ever tried to 'train' were his ears.
"Not the helicopter." Swanson answered from the driver's seat. "It's not an option anymore."
"Why not?" Blake asked.
The car fell silent until Cayden broke it. "What's the point of not telling him? Might as well. He is going to deduce it one way or another with those ears." He huffed. "We went there, to the place with the helicopter. It was gone. You and your brother wouldn't know that though. You were out cold and he cried himself to sleep, you know? The boy's definitely a crier. I can tell. Pitiful fucking thing."
"Cayden you watch your mouth or we'll have to stop this car." His father threatened, not missing a beat.
"I meant it in the least offensive way possible, I assure you." He mumbled.
"What do you mean? Why was it gone?" Blake asked, not bothering with the other topic.
"Alister took it." Swanson scoffed.
"By my estimation, right around the time you blasted us through the doors." Cayden sighed. "According to a note tacked to a nearby tree, he heard everything. Or rather, most of it."
"The intercom system is very advanced in the building-or rather, it was." His father chimed in, watching their sister shift in her blanket.
"To put it simply, he eavesdropped on us in the room. Not that he was should've been awake but most of the building is like that. Excluding the ones with the most equipment, since it interferes with the rest of the tech." Cayden explained. "So, places like the labs and security room are excluded. Although, there are a few exceptions outside of those. Most notably, the ones related to the barracks. Anywhere his leather-booted shits stain the place on a regular, masturbate, or rest their heads, aren't on this list."
"Cayden!" His father exclaimed, trying not to shout.
Cayden raised his eyebrows with a laugh. "What? He's a growing boy. I mean, he's probably already done it. Right? You've done it haven't you?" He asked Blake, turned around in his seat.
"Done what?" Blake asked, aware of his father's unhappy, watchful eye. He was absolutely lost.
"Solo time with your winky. You know? Extra fun in the saddle? Tissues for your lotion issues? I don't know what you might call it instead."
"What's a winky? Why would I have a lotion issue that needs tissue?" Blake asked, genuinely confused.
"Oh. My. God. What kind of-what do you do all day at home??"
Blake shrugged. "Read comics. Eat food. Play outside?"
"Play outside? As if children do that anymore. You surprise me. You seemed more mature for your age so I just assumed--" Cayden rambled. Blake was still uncertain.
"He's talking about bullshit you will be interested in at your own time." His father said. His eyes sharpened daggers ready to plunge into their next kill. Cayden, amusingly enough, seemed first on the list. Blake didn't know if he was still supposed to want to blow him to oblivion or not.
"Cayden you sound like a damn pervert. Mature for his age? Maybe he's just smart enough to care about other things more right now. If you ask him another question even a foot away from that line, I will wrap that lab caot around your neck and have Swanson go for a joyride."
Cayden gasped sarcastically. "You would go through all that trouble to save me just to kill me? Besides, maybe it isn't that he cares more for other things so much as he doesn't know what he's missing and you got lucky. The boy idolizes humans in spandex for crying out loud."
"I tried to save you when I felt bad for you. My son selflessly saved your life and now you want to corrupt him. The moment has passed. I can get rid of you without guilt now." His father scoffed.
"Swanson we've worked together in the same hell. We just survived death together. Would you kill me?" Cayden asked coyly.
"A few weeks ago I didn't even know you." Swanson said dryly. "And you're not his father, eh? Don't overstep."
"But a few weeks ago you didn't know them either, you know?" Cayden emphasized with an air of disbelief.
"Yeah, but I like them." Swanson smirked as he turned into a dirt road. Blake smiled. He didn't know that his conversation with Swanson would lead to this moment, but he was really glad it did.
"Then luckily for me, I know Gabriel secretly loves me and doesn't actually want me dead. You prick."
"I thought you loved mom." Blake more stated than asked.
"You know I do. There are many kinds of love in relationships. He's saying useless bullshit. Ignore him." His father said with another quick look to the passenger seat.
"Does Alister know how to fly a helicopter too?" Blake asked. Cayden said Swanson could do it. As if he couldn't be any cooler. Maybe Swanson could become Super Sound's sidekick. Wait, he ruled cooler people out of that. Swanson would definitely overshadow him.
"Nah. He's the egotistical type who thinks everyone is beneath him. As far as he's concerned, most of the world is his for the taking. Filled with endless servants to do all the things he can't be bothered about, eh? Learning to pilot a machine? It's not his thing." Swanson said, certain.
"Which means he would have left knowing the place would blow up, and took someone with him that could. Apparently Swanson wasn't his regular." His father chimed in.
Swanson nodded. "I never flew it once. He must have a few options. My work changed often but I ended up babysitting as soon as you guys got there."
"One of Alister's worser qualities, considering his personality, is that he isn't totally mindless. When it comes to planning<