Genre: Young Adult: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Title: Guard of the Ungifted: The Flight of Connor Gray
...No Gift shall be elevated above the rest…
When the drones passed, Connor flipped up his jacket collar against the cold and scanned the crowd of kids shuffling toward the entrance. A few feet ahead, a group from his school pushed their way down the sidewalk. Their leader, Max Anderson, shoved an Ungifted boy out of his way. The kid hit the ground with a loud oof.
“Watch where you’re going, junk-genes,” Max said.
Connor flinched at the hissed phrase. So much for Guardian protecting the Ungifted...Leave it alone. Don’t call attention to yourself. In California, he’d blown his cover by Telekinetically shoving someone across the soccer field. His mom would kill him if they had to move again this soon.
With a slow breath, Connor glared at Max as the bully jerked the Ungifted kid up by his collar. The tips of his shoes swung inches from the concrete. Every muscle in Connor’s arms shook, vibrating the concrete beneath him. Another breath and the Telekinetic tremors ebbed.
Don’t call attention to yourself. Connor clenched both hands in his jacket pockets and scanned the crowd near the front of the center. Traffic-bots stood close to the entrance, ushering kids and small handfuls of adults inside and directing air traffic. Counselors would all be inside by now.
Don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve almost made it an entire month under the radar…This time he glanced down the sidewalk for a Counselor.Come on, somebody, anybody...Connor’s hands itched but he forced himself to walk around Max and his victim. Don’t do anything. It’s too risky. Too many people around. Too many drones. If you’re not careful you’re going to expose yourself again.
Max shook the Ungifted kid.
Connor threw one last glance at the entrance, then pivoted to face Max and his crew. “Leave him alone, man.”
A group of other Gifted kids hovered around Max. Some wore aviator goggles over windswept hair; others tossed baseball-sized fireballs between their hands.
Fists still buried in his jacket pockets, Connor flexed his fingers. “Back off. You’re a Guardian, you’re supposed to be protecting people.”
“What, you the Guardian police?”
“Good one, Max,” a scrawny Pyrotech said.
Connor rolled his eyes. Original. “Whatever. Let him go, man.”
Max smirked. “Just reminding him of the pecking order. Guardians at the top, junk-genes on bottom, even lower than Animal Shifters.” Jerking the Ungifted boy by the shirt collar, the bully took a step toward Connor. “Lower even than Guardian Police, here. Sure Ellis is a Guardian, but his parents gave him up. Lives with Mercy parents now. Only junk-genes and mercy kids have to see the counselor once a month. How are those group meetings? Cry about how much your real parents didn’t want you?”
“You’re going there?” The sidewalk vibrated and Connor forced out a breath. Keep it together. He’s not worth another retreat.
Max laughed, but didn’t seem to notice the shake. “Gonna do something about it, mercy kid?”
Connor burst forward. The heel of one hand connected with the bully’s face. The crack of Max’s jaw bounced off the walls of the Counseling Center and his victim dropped. As the Guardian stumbled backward and let out a grunt, the Ungifted kid fled. Palms up, hands open Connor focused on Max.
The bully regained his balance and glared. One hand curled into a fist. When he swung, Connor ducked and threw out a hand to block him. The back of Max’s fist slid along his palm and off to one side. Max drove punches forward: right, left, right, left, duck. He moved slower than he should, giving away every move with each rotation of his shoulders. Connor blocked his attacks with a simple defense. Sweat formed on Max’s red face and he charged.
Connor caught his wrist and twisted until he’d pinned it behind the bully’s back. In one continuous motion, he spun Max to face his friends, a shield against attack. They scowled, but didn’t try to rescue their leader. Connor kept his voice low. “You done?”
Max jerked and arched his back. “Get off me.”
Tightening his grip, Connor asked again, “Are. You. Done?”
The bully strained; then growled. “I’m done.”
Connor released Max and took a step back, hands open in front of his face, ready for retaliation. Tension wound through Max’s back and down both arms all the way to clenched fists. No one from his group moved; their smiles had melted into tight-lipped glares. Any second they might launch a ball of fire or telekinetically propelled object in his direction. While using gifts outside of school wasn’t forbidden, there were rules. A Pyrotech setting one of their classmates on fire, for instance, was highly frowned upon.
In a flinch of muscle, Max wheeled around, one fist pulled back for a blow. He froze mid-swing. His hand dropped. Tension continued to tighten his jaw, but he managed to work up the semblance of a smile. A voice came from behind.
“Problem here, Anderson?”
Connor turned to face a bearded man he recognized from around the center. Apart from the bowtie and messenger bag, he wore a lanyard with his picture in a plastic pocket. Next to the outline of a bear, his name was written across the bottom: Mr. Hagan, Bear Shifter Counselor.
“No problem, Mr. Hagan. Just welcoming the new kid to Avon.” Max gripped one of Connor’s shoulders. “Never too late for that, right?”
Mr. Hagan lifted a brow. “That’s so nice of you, but I think it’s time for Connor to get inside.” He turned and the group started to move. Max pushed Connor forward, but Mr. Hagan put up one hand, a wry grin on his face. “Think I’ll have a word with Mr. Ellis, if that’s alright.”
Max’s smile jerked but didn’t fall. His fingers dug into Connor’s shoulder. “Sure. No problem. See you later, mercy kid.”
The last phrase scraped past clenched teeth, an obvious warning. Max and his group headed down the sidewalk away from the counseling center, their mutters and irritation barely concealed.
The Shifter glanced down at Connor. “So you met the welcome committee. Need to swing for a new one, but the city’s had budget cuts.”
“It’s the thought that counts.” Connor snorted and started toward the center. “You could have a bake sale. My mom makes great cookies.”
“Baked goods are a great place to hide weapons or amo. Granted they have to be pretty small. My mom’s bullet bundt cake is awesome...” As they weaved between Security-bots directing flying cars, Connor tugged his collar aside for the ID scanner at the door.
A blue light swept over his gifting tattoo and modified ID chip. As usual, Connor held his breath before the robotic voice greeted him.Welcome ConnorEllis.
Ellis. Good. The last chip update worked.