Training at Sector 43 was grueling. It was exhausting. Some days, the recruits looked like the Spartans of old. They ran the obstacle course with pride and solved riddles with scary efficiency. Then, there were the other days. The days the recruits could barely stand. Days where they couldn’t solve the simplest puzzle. It was on these days, that the recruits began to ponder their existence, more specifically, their importance. Melissa Johnson, a young, fiery recruit pondered more than most.
It happened on a day that was supposed to be simple. A day that was supposed to be filled with boring lectures and presentations. Earlier that week, a shooting had happened. A police officer had killed an unarmed woman in Saint Aquinas. The great city. The magnificent city. What was only a small pool of blood on the concrete felt like a blanket over everyone. Melissa felt it the most.
Lecture four of the day. A class detailing the history of the Sector. Melissa was up to give a presentation. It was supposed to be easy. Her assignment was to write up a report on something that interested her in the Sector’s history. She would turn in the written report to her teacher and give an oral one in front of the other recruits. Except, the shooting had been bothering Melissa all week. Had gnawed at her existence. Was it because the woman was black? Was it because she looked like Melissa? No one, not even Melissa knew why, but what should have been a simple presentation turned into a moment for the young astronaut. A moment of reflection. A moment of pain. A moment of growth.
People ridiculed her passion. Mocked the way she saw the world and mocked the struggle of black women. Melissa talked about the fake utopia of Saint Aquinas. How it had been built on lies and the Sector should hold more responsibility in protecting the people, not just space. Her classmates, most of who were people and women of color, called her emotional. They called her other things too, but all that Melissa remembered was emotional. It was something she hated, being fueled by emotion. But some things in life demanded it. Right? She thought so, but the longer she studied at Sector 43, she realized this place didn’t care about that.
But they required emotion every morning. That damn jingle rung loud in her ear. ‘Destiny. Desire. Drive.’ She showed all three during her presentation, made sure they were the pillars of her project. And yet, they laughed. Melissa failed the assignment and was assigned to kitchen duty for a month. One night after closing, she stayed in the kitchen by herself. She sat down on the floor and began to cry. No one was there to call her emotional now. So she let her emotions fall from her face to the floor. That’s when someone walked in.
“Someone in here?”
Melissa got up to her feet quickly.
“Just me,” she said wiping her face. Her face wilted when she saw who it was.
Miles Orlando. The only person who was more of an outcast than she was. Weird boy. No one knew anything about him. He showed up every day, scored perfect scores on his test, and left.
“Oh, right. Well, I was just leaving.”
“No you weren’t. I heard you. For the record, the way they laughed at you last week was lame.”
He was there? Of course he was. There weren’t that many of them.
“Umm, thanks,” she said. “You don’t have to say that.”
“I liked your report.”
Melissa made a face.
“No really, I did. It was passionate, well-researched, and factual. Should have been a hit.”
Melissa sat back down on the floor and resumed crying. The weird genius followed her and sat next to her.
“Then why wasn’t it?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Figures, this is the one thing you don’t know.”
Miles just sat there, saying nothing.
“Sorry,” she said.
“It’s alright. Look, you know just as well as I do why they didn’t like your presentation.”
Melissa didn’t say anything.
“They don’t care about us. Hell, I’m still trying to even figure out why they recruited us. But, there’s a whole world out there. Saint Aquinas, New York, Chicago, New Detroit, it’s all outside of the Sector. But, the world keeps moving. People get shot, people protest, and the next technological fad hits. You know they have android pets now? Crazy stuff.”
Melissa laughed a bit. And the genius boy continued.
“I don’t know. I see how everyone looks at me around here. I’m not stupid.”
“Everyone knows that,” Melissa said.
“I get it. But like I said, the world keeps moving. And in here, the world sucks. I hate it. Hate the classes, the running, the food, hate it all. Sector 43 doesn’t give a shit about us.”
“Doesn’t give a shit about what we say,” Melissa said quietly.
“There you go. I could’ve told you that you were going to ger laughed out of the building last week. Maybe I should have. But, I guess I was just waiting.”
“For what?” she asked.
Miles stood up. He smiled and extended his hand to Melissa.
“For a partner,” he said. “I’m positive I’ll get chosen to go into space. Probably would run away or something if I wasn’t. But they told me I could pick who I want to go with me, no questions asked. That passion you have? That intelligence? I need that. All we have to do is get through these next few months.”
Melissa grabbed Miles’ hand and he helped her to her feet.
“Then,” he said. “They’ll have to listen to us. There’s a whole galaxy out there waiting for us.”
“Wha—What happened?” Miles was fully awake now, rod was still in his stomach.
“Well, we were shot out of the sky by the biggest ship I’ve ever seen in my life,” Melissa said.
“Seriously, ugh, this hurts.”
“I know. I’m trying to figure something out.”
“Where’s Mystic Man?” Miles asked.
“I don’t know. Right when the ship appeared, he sort of vanished. Something weird was happening, because he looked like he was trying to fight it.”
“Not his fault,” Miles said. “He did the best he could. So, biggest ship you’ve ever seen huh?”
Melissa described the wild sequence to him. One moment, she was the greatest pilot her galaxy, and maybe this one too, have ever seen. Enemy ships attacking from left and right, but she was too quick. Then, a ship the size of Texas, appeared out of thin air. It blasted the ship with an EMP, disabling everything. Melissa explained to Miles that’s when he went unconscious.
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t help.”
“I’m not done with my story yet.”
Miles thought that was it, but of course it wasn’t. Melissa told him about how she figured out how to activate the backup generators. And she did, she could feel the crew on the Texas-sized ship sweating. They were too slow, and too stupid to stop her. It took almost twenty minutes, but she penetrated it’s shields and was able to detonate a bomb.
“Inside the ship? How?”
“Not inside, but it did affect the entire ship. Remember my magnet bomb?”
Impossible. Miles couldn’t believe his ears. For years, Melissa had been working on a bomb that turned their ship into the galaxy’s biggest magnet. It could pull ships over ten times their size. Not only did it do that, but it set off a series of explosives in the enemy ship. Melissa didn’t want to leave any survivors. Miles never thought she would use it, but desperate times.
“That’s how we ended up on the ground?”
“For the bomb to work on that ship, I had to be attached.”
“So, they’re grounded too?”
Melissa tapped her suit a few times. The window next to them revealed an enormous city that reminded Miles of Chicago from his universe. On the edge of the city, was the ship that Melissa described. She wasn’t lying. Miles had never seen something so massive before. No doubt there were casualties. Miles could see a few buildings on fire, and at least three were destroyed. Cars were toppled, the street was unrecognizable, and Miles noticed the gigantic, yellow words on the side of the ship.
“Sector 43,” he said.
“We have to go help those people, Melissa. This is our fault.”
The sharp pain in his stomach was getting worse.
“I know,” she said. “But I didn’t have many options.”
“You think any of the Sector 43 agents survived?”
“Not sure, but if they did, I’ll kill them too.”
“Hold on now, Melissa. Think this through. You can’t just go out there and start shooting Sector 43 agents in the head. And we have no way to get home without Mystic Man. And who knows when he’s coming back.”
“So, what are you saying Miles?”
“Get out of here. Make a life for yourself. Figure out a way to get home.”
Melissa stood there, frozen.
“Or don’t. You saw how primitive this world is. How much help they need. That city the Pinnacle? Give me Saint Aquinas any day. You can help them.”
Melissa didn’t say anything.
“Look,” Miles said. “I’ve lost too much blood. And I’m delirious as hell right now. I’m okay, Melissa.”
Tears started to stream down her face.
“I don’t want to leave you,” she said. “After everything we’ve been through. All the times we’ve helped each other. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have gotten through training.”
“And I’d need a list longer than that ship for all the times you’ve helped.”
Melissa turned away from Miles.
“I can’t—I—I miss my family. You’re all I have left.”
Miles couldn’t respond. He wanted to. More than anything he wanted to respond. But, all he could taste was his own blood. His vision was blurry now too. Miles had used all his energy just to stay awake while Melissa was talking. Now though, he couldn’t fight his body any longer. He said one more thing to Melissa before closing his eyes.
“Sector 44. Truth. Compassion. Pride.” he said it so quietly, he wondered if she heard him. Then, he closed his eyes…
TWO HOURS LATER
Truth. Compassion. Pride. The words ran through Melissa’s mind constantly. They circled through her brain as she approached the wreckage of the Sector 43 ship. There were a bevy of people around the wreck, but no one paid attention to her. Using her suit, she scanned for life inside the ship. Nothing. Melissa had no idea how many government workers were on that ship. She also didn’t know if they even truly deserved to die. It was something that would haunt her for the rest of her life. As she looked up at the burning building, a firetruck sped past her. All of a sudden, the noise of the city hit her like a sledgehammer. People were screaming, crying, and debris was still falling from the ship and surrounding buildings. Helicopters were circling the area now too. Melissa knew she didn’t have much time. She quickly went back to her ship to pack her things.
The first thing she decided to do was cut her hair. It already wasn’t too long, but she didn’t want to take any chances of anyone recognizing her. Next, she found some civilian clothes and changed. After gathering some essentials, she activated the ship’s self-destruct sequence. She had about ten minutes.
Melissa walked over to where Miles was. There was no doubt, Miles Orlando was dead. It sort of seemed anti-climatic for sure, but just like the tragedy outside, it was her fault.
No. Dammit, no. Melissa didn’t want to fall into this cycle. She acted. And her actions had consequences, but this wasn’t her fault. All she ever wanted to do was explore space. Help people and propel humanity into a brighter future.
Sector 43. The numbers felt like nails on a chalkboard. It was their fault. They were the ones who recruited them, the ones who tried to indoctrinate Miles. They tried to trap them in space, and when Miles and Melissa proved themselves worthy enough to find their way home, Sector 43 acted. They would have rather killed them. And they sent an entire army after them. An army Melissa bested. No, this wasn’t her fault. It was theirs and they needed to pay.
“Thank you for everything, Miles.”
Melissa noticed a weird light coming from Miles’ suit. It was coming from the center of his chest. As she got closer, she noticed that light appeared to be some sort of button. She still had a few minutes, so she pressed it. When she did, a hologram appeared, and it was in the shape of Miles. It began speaking.
“Hello, friend. If you’re viewing this message, it means that I’m dead. I know, it sounds cliché.”
“Seriously though. Melissa, you are the strongest person I have ever met. I figured that if I died with you it wasn’t anywhere near our planet. So, I’m guessing you’re somewhere foreign.”
“You can say that again,” Melissa said quietly.
“That’s good. Don’t go back home.”
Melissa looked at Miles’ dead body for a second, then back at the hologram.
“I don’t care what I said before I died. Maybe I told you to figure out a way back. But you’ll only be putting yourself and your family in danger if you go back and upset the Sector in any way. So I have something for you.”
The hologram changed and expanded into some sort of map of the galaxy. This one or her home one she couldn’t be sure. The hologram then began changing into what looked like schematics, and above them read the words. Sector 44.
“We can be better,” the hologram said. “You are better. Sector 43 was designed to lead humans into a better future. You are that future. I stayed up long nights designing and planning something similar, but superior to Sector 43. The only reason I didn’t tell you was because I didn’t think it would be needed.”
The hologram paused. Miles looked as if he was going to cry.
“But I guess I’m dead now, so it is needed. Take these plans, Melissa. Make a better world wherever you’re at. Be what Sector 43 couldn’t be. Attached to your suit are all the files you’ll need to start. I just came up with the concept. I know you’ll make it your own.”
“I love you, Melissa. Thank you for being a friend to me for all these years.”
Melissa didn’t have time to waste now. The hologram disappeared and she hurried out of the ship. Seconds later, it exploded.
Her brain had a hard time processing everything that she had just heard. She had a lot of options. All which she had no problem doing. But, honoring Miles seemed to be the most important. He didn’t deserve to die. She was sure of that. If Sector 44 was his dream, then she would make it a reality. No matter the cost. It would be an institution built on those three principles he said, right before he died.
“Truth. Compassion. Pride.”
She stood just outside of the city. The debris continued to fill the atmosphere with smoke. Melissa Johnson knew she had her work cut out for her. She sighed deeply and began walking towards the debris.
“First thing’s first,” she said. “I have to find Mystic Man.”
That’s it! Sector 43 is finished and another addition has been added to the Mystic Man Universe! Melissa’s journey has just begun and look for her in other stories from me in the future. I hope you enjoyed this story. If you liked it, and want to learn more about Mystic Man, please check out his novel. Also, the story titled “God Killer” on here. It serves as a prequel to to Mystic Man. Sector 43 slides right into my world and is something I’m extremely proud of. Looks like we’re heading to Sector 44 next so be on the lookout for that. And last thing, the next superhero who gets their chance to shine in my universe is Victoria Gonzalez aka The Shade of San Juan. Look out for her book later this year or early next year. And soon after that, David Ba gets his chance to shine as the DreamCrusher, protector of Africa.
Okay, I’ve talked long enough. I’m just really proud of everything I’m building and I’m happy as hell if you read this story. You’re a part of it now and that’s amazing. Remember to follow me on Twitter @peacelovecomics and share this story, and all my stories, with everybody. Until next time!