• “I wish I was Beautiful... I wish I was Strong... I wish I was...”
    Imagine looking at the world when you are potentially a GOD. Strength, beauty, intelligence. The lot... no limits...
    Imagine a set of devices that allows this to happen. Now...
    Imagine an organisation that possessed this technology.
    Imagine the power they could wield.
    If you had the power to change the world in your hands, what would you do?
    ... And what is the price for using this power?

    I sat on the corner of the roof, watching the neighbouring building. There were no windows to the room, but the target was clearly visible to me. I shivered. Damn. I hate night missions like this. It’s so cold! ...Work to do... I scanned the area for potential future problems. None. I watched the two figures enter the building and make their way to the Target – a hacker who had been causing problems for us... I scanned the area again, removing the figures from CCTV as they went...
    “T-t-target seen, scanned. Sleeping – REM phase.” A pause. ”Y-you in?”
    “Yes. We’re in. Target identified.” I smiled. That means the mission will be over soon. “Mi-chan, can you check status?” A young, charismatic voice.
    “Watch your mouth, Sword. She’s called Dark, remember?” A steely reply from an older, cold voice. Ouch. That had to hurt, surely?
    “Dexie, there’s no need for that.” The young voice was tinged with playfulness.
    “That’s Dextera, to you, Sword.” The older voice was stressed. I decided to put a stop to this.
    “S-s-stop it. The Target remains asleep. J-j-just. Do it. And... status re-re-remains green.” I could hear the Target snoring. The snoring abruptly stopped... silence. Heart stopped, too. I once more checked the area for removal of evidence and for potential problems. There was a pause.
    “Phasing out. Target eliminated.” A pause – then a gust of wind announces the arrival of two figures behind me. I stood up from my sitting position and turned around. Two familiar men. The owner of the young voice stepped forward.
    “Y’know... when I asked about status, I was asking if you were alright.” I smiled.
    “I’m f-f-fine.” I didn’t convince him. He stepped forward until he was right in front of me. I was on the edge of the roof – he was less than two inches from me. His waist-long hair billowed in the wind as he pulled me close to him. He was warm – I didn’t object. The taller – owner of the older voice stepped towards us.
    “It’s your own fault, Dark – if your Mithrim wasn’t so...”he sneered. The owner of the young voice had been stroking my arm – when the other man sneered, he squeezed my arm defensively.
    “Dex! You can’t blame Mi-chan. We all know that our Mithrim reflect our personalities.” He said defensively. So sweet... He put his arms around me. “You’re so cute, Mi-chan!” He turned to the other man. “You need to lay off her.” There was anger in his voice this time. The other man turned his head away from us.
    “Pfft. Return us to base, Dark. We...” I phased us all back to base. “...need to return. Don’t do that midsentence.” I looked at the tetchy man. Samuel Palmsmith. A doctor. His red eyes, pale skin and platinum blond hair all conspire to make him look vampire-like. Hard as stone, too. Meh. His Mithrim reveals his toned chest, and his ability... makes me shudder. He can read minds. I sometimes feel his presence at the edge of my mind...
    “Mm-mmmmmmmm.... mmmm mmm mm mmmmmm-mmm mm mmmmmmm mmmmmm.” I look down at the source of this strange sound – and feeling. It was then I remembered what happened when we had phased back to base. Yes.... he had been holding me, then... we fell over, me providing a cushy landing. He seemed happy with his head between...
    “Ri-chan! Can you repeat that? With your head out of there, preferably.” Ri-chan lifted his head.
    “I said... Mi-chaaaan, please don’t stare at bitter-gourd face for too long – you might catch his grumpiness.” This is Ragi, my Ri-chan. Alex Caragiri. An angel, as far as I’m concerned. His deep green eyes glinted. “You can stare at me for as long as you like.”
    You need to lay off her. Faaaaaar away from her.” He then glanced at the white door. I should explain about ETHER Academy (EA). The room where we return to base into has many doors to confuse would-be invaders. Black, White, Red, Blue and Green. Since the corridors shift, you have to be able to predict where your door is. Some doors don’t open, some doors lead to a dead end, others to different rooms or walkways. And it changes randomly. That means... some sort of precognition is needed around here. Alas, my talent lies not in precognition... actually, I’m not sure what my ‘Special Ability’ is... well, the point is that I don’t always get it right. Everyone else usually does. Ri-chan rolled me over, then stood up, pulling me with him. The door opened. A woman with familiar red eyes, pale skin and curly platinum blond hair stepped elegantly through it. This is Samantha Palmsmith... Samuel’s twin. Although she is the warm, kind twin... don’t let that fool you. Her ability is far scarier than her brother’s. She can force illusions on people – good or bad – and she is made stronger the stronger you feel in her illusion. She turned towards me and Ri-chan.
    “Master Dark... How did it go?” I smiled.
    “Umm... It went okay...” I blushed. There was a pause. Dexie looked annoyed.
    “Dark... You are useless in the cold. Your Mithrim...” He stopped as Sinistra glared at him. Apparently, the fear of her ability is enough to stop him... Ri-chan stood behind me and wrapped his arms around my body.
    “You shouldn’t insult your superior like that. ... You’d have issues with the cold too, if you did surveillance instead of the hard grind, right, Mi-chan? And look at her skin...” He lowered his head to touch my bare shoulder, and then kissed my cheek. I blushed crimson. “Aww, she’s so cute when she’s like this.” Sinistra smiled as he tickled my nose with the end of his long brown hair. “She’s like a reptile... the cold makes her slow. Hmm, she’s also long due for sleep.”
    “Well, it’s warmer in Debrief, remember? Master Libra is waiting.” So we left the entrance behind and – after several detours – we reached Debrief. Everyone else was already there. A woman with freckled tanned skin sat at the end of the long table that dominated the room. Her nearly black hair moved slightly as her deep coal eyes looked up at the four of us entering.
    This is Libra, Jess Jones. Her demure appearance masks a little mean streak... but her ability to track people is a very good Leadership skill. By her side stood an athletic redhead with copper eyes, who scrutinised every action of mine. Michelle Megumi, Light, who always seems to hate me. It seems my Ri-chan was very much wanted by her. Her skills aid her sheer physical strength – clairalience and clairaudience to help fighting and defence. Closest to us, on our left, sat a curvaceous girl with long, dark brown hair. Katherine Caragiri, Tsu-chan, or Shield. Ri-chan’s sister. She specialises in Hypnosis... Her hazel eyes flickered to us and then back to the women at the end of the table. Who smiled at my entry...
    “Dark. Welcome back. Riiiight... report?” She smiled warmly. I bowed slightly (by this time, Ri-chan had released me) and stepped forward.
    “Master Libra... Target eliminated. Target simply stopped breathing. According to his medical records, he suffered from Sleep Apnoea. Method unobtrusive – a simple hit of a pressure point. No signs of disturbance to others, all CCTV has been cleared and all evidence has been removed. All triple checked – the next person to enter will be the cleaner in three hours and...” I paused, counting out five seconds with my fingers.”- twelve minutes. No further problems detected for this case.” Libra smiled again.
    “Hmm. That’s good work, Dark. Thorough as usual.” She turned to the athletic redhead. “Light. Show the video to them.” A screen of sorts descended from the ceiling. It flashed on.
    It seemed to show a very dark alleyway. A girl came running down the alley and tripped. She backed towards the wall.
    “No... leave me alone!” A behemoth of a person in black stalked behind her.
    “You... You are in league with the Caragiri...” He moved closer and closer.
    “I have no idea who you’re talking about!”
    “You are in league with the scum that abused the Goddess...” He loomed over her, obscuring her from the sight of the camera.
    “No! No! No, no no, no, no! Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” Her scream ended abruptly – the screen was splattered with a red liquid. There was a flash of light and the picture showed... I stared at the mess as... huh? Fingers? Ri-chan had put his hands over my eyes. The room was silent... and I couldn’t see a thing through Ri-chan’s fingers. But I could see he was shaking. After what seemed an age, the fingers lowered and I heard him sink to the floor behind me. I looked at him. He was still shaking as he kneeled on the floor, head bowed down. I kneeled down in front of him – just on my knees, his head was below mine. I put my head on top of his and my arms around him, resting his head in the hollow of my neck. I could feel his breath was erratic against my neck and bosom. He was limp and unresponsive, even to my touch. I could feel his shock and pain, quite clearly... as if it was my own. Crimsons and blacks set against a shocked orange.
    “It’s okay, Mi-chan.” The words felt funny against my neck. He moved his arms to hold me closer to him, his arms tightening around my waist. “I... I ... didn’t want you to see that. I...” He reversed the positions – I was now being towered by him, my lips reaching his collarbones. I kissed them tenderly where I could feel bare skin. Tsu-chan came and put her arms around us. This affects her, too... But Light, being the firey, tempered one, was getting a little tetchy. I’ve only once felt the effect of her anger... long ago. It’s normally Tsu-chan, the bubbly one who calms her down.
    “Shield.” An order. Light walked out of the room, leaving the three of us there. Tsu-chan couldn’t refuse an order... she slowly removed her arms, stood up and followed Light out of the room, leaving me and Ri-chan alone. He lowered his head to whisper in my ear.
    “We need to think about getting you home. It’s getting late.” His lips grazed my ear. “... We could take a leisurely drive home and let you sleep or make out like rabbits and speed home.” I poked him in the ribs.
    “No compromise?” He chuckled.
    “We need to log out first. You can’t stay logged in forever.” I sighed. Damn, he’s right.
    “I... I just wish I could...” He stroked my cheek with a thumb, then started tracing a path down my neck to my waist. “...stay in this form forever. My...” I grimaced. “... Usual form is... repulsive... horrible... slow and... well, you know...” He put his hand under my chin and pulled my face to level with his, smoothing my lips shut.
    “Never say that...” He put one arm around my waist. “You can change. You... are beautiful because...” His other hand traced down my neck to my chest. He pointed at the place where my heart was. “...your heart is large. It beats for others first, yourself last.” I smiled, but tears welled up. He leaned in and kissed my forehead. His hands moved up and gripped my face, and then he wiped my now tears away with my thumbs. I blushed deeply.
    “Ri-chan...” His eyes flashed with anger before softening.
    “Oh you...” He logged out with me still in his grip for a change. The Mod Units flew out and flew to their storage units as his Mithrim returned to its sludge-like state and flowed into the floor for storage. He has the perfect body of a... he let go of my face in favour of my waist as I looked down. I went crimson as I saw... well, everything. My eyes lingered on his chest, where his family symbol was tattooed, before lingering on something else... He chuckled playfully. “Your turn.”
    “I-I-I-I re-r-re-refuse!” He chuckled again.
    “I won’t let you go or take you home until you do.” He smiled grimly. “And you know I’ll be true to my word.” He tightened his grip slightly, then loosened it again. “And you can’t break my grip. You know that.” He leant over to whisper in my ear again. “You don’t have much of a choice. Just... log out, Mi-chan.” I sighed. Damn, he’s right. I scowled. Of all the time we’ve known each other this well, we’ve never been nude with each other. It’s embarrassing...
    “Fine. But...” I logged out in his arms, my Mod Units and Mithrim going elsewhere for storage... Damn... I quickly moved to cover as much as I could. I’d just inflated, now fat and ugly. You see, whereas everyone else just changes a bit of colour here and there... I change form completely to a... well, my ideal of perfection. He just smiled. I pouted, really annoyed. “You’re smiling at this? Why?” He grinned.
    “We’re both skyclad and on our own. What’s not to like?” I blushed deeply as he leant in. Luckily, our clothes re-materialised on us then. I hate the fact that sometimes the clothing storage system is slow to return our clothing... almost on purpose. He sighed. “Damn.” I froze as he swept me off my feet.
    “Wha- Put me down!”
    “Weeeeell... No. I’m taking you home. Remember?”
    “B-b-but you’ll...” He laughed out loud.
    “No worries. You know I have more than three...”
    “What?! ...Oh yeah, Telekinesis...” He smiled.
    “Only for objects very, very close, remember? You feel like you are only 2kilos! You needn’t worry about me!” He carried me in this absurd manner to his car. Everyone stared at the sight of me in his arms like this, but said nothing. Libra smiled, seemingly holding back a laugh. He opened the back door to his car – damn shiny Lexus driver – and lowered me onto the back seat. He leant over me. “You need to sleep.” He fastened the seat belt around me, then hit a pressure point near my neck. Out like a light. The next thing... I could smell the mustiness of my room and my bed sheets. Damn, out for an hour – even with his speedy driving, my house to EA is just under an hour’s drive. I opened my eyes to find his face inches from mine. He smiled.
    “Ah. Wha- What time is it?” He moved closer, face just centimetres from mine.
    “Hmm. 5.20. Enough time for you to nap, Mi-chan. Relax...” He kissed my forehead softly before he stood up and walked to the open window. “Well, time to go! See ya later, Mi-chan.” He leapt out with a wink. I heard him shut the window behind him. So wily – he can open and close my bedroom window from the outside, and get in and out without much noise. I used to be scared, but... heck, I’ve gotten used to it now. And he’s so good at it. That’s what happens when you come from a family of assassins. They start training young for that sort of stuff. Ri-chan and Tsu-chan are the last of the Caragiri family... the rest killed off by Clan Wars or by rival assassins. Their Mother, Hakura, was killed... Now they’re alone. Poor kids. Okay, Ri-chan’s older than me... but still. Tsu-chan’s just a little younger, so that term’ll do...
    I stood alone in a dark place. There was just enough light to see a wall to my right. I span around to put my back to the wall. I heard menacing laughter from above me. I looked up to see a bloodied blade glint against a dark grey billowing cloak. I couldn’t move. Ragi! All I could think of was Ri-chan... What happened? Was he safe? Where was everyone? No... I felt another mind stir inside my heart. Two, three, four... six little sparks faded. I felt the blade... warm liquid trickled down my exposed legs as they collapsed beneath me. I looked up to my attacker. Senran. Raphael Senran. His mangled face twisted into a smile. No... Help Me!
    *** (College)
    “My insides all turn to ash, so slow... And blew away as I collapsed, so cold... A black wind took you away, from sight... And held the darkness over day, that night...” My alarm. Reality. “And held the darkness over day, that night... And the clouds above move closer, looking so dissatisfied... But the heartless wind kept blowing, blowing...” I grabbed my cellphone, turning off the alarm. It was only a dream... thank goodness. I didn’t want to feel that again... it felt as if a part of me died. 6am. I slid out of bed and downstairs, moving quietly. Nieesh. Need tea. Caffeine. Chocolate. Energy. ETHER nights always mean I need more energy. And my parents still don’t notice? Meh. I think they think that I’m a typical teenager – lazy, messy and generally full of angst. No, it’s just the tiredness. Ugh. Fix breakfast... My Dad came up behind me as I put the kettle on.
    “Morning, Dad.” I paused, furrowing my brows. Grey, blue and yellow. News, travel and joy. “What’s wrong?”
    “Well, me and your mother have been given a free dinner and an all expenses paid trip to Paris.” He sighed. “...Unfortunately, it’s tonight until Monday...” I smiled.
    “Dad... It’s okay. Go. I can survive one weekend. I’ll invite a couple of girlfriends over and...” Dad smiled.
    “If you’re sure...” I grinned.
    “I have plenty of homework to do. Don’t worry.” Dad grinned again. “Well, you’d better get to work... earn the money to pay for my hunting trip this weekend...” He laughed and walked out the door.
    “See you tonight!” Hmm. Mum must be still in bed. Preparing a long list of notes for the weekend, perhaps? Ah well. I’ll have to talk to Ri-chan tonight, then. A weekend with ETHER, perchance? Ha. I made toast, got dressed and headed to the bus stop for college. It passed as a blur until I stumbled up the science stairs. Everyone was laughing as I struggled to get up. Damn nerves in my leg. My nerves are very unstable. Sometimes they work fine, other times they stop working and sometimes they cause pain spasms. Oh, and sometimes I get both – painful paralysis. My first ‘price’ for ETHAware use. My second? The whole tiredness, stress and the fact I’m now tied to ETHA until death. Or does that count for more? Heck, I don’t know. I was pulled up to my feet by a somewhat friendly arm.
    “Hey, can’t you move or something?” I looked at the boy. Hmmf. Matthew Reish. So blunt. Damn hot arrogant beggar. Smart, strong and beautiful. But cocky. If he had waist-long brown hair, green eyes and a little more curvature, he’d look like Ri-chan... Stop, must not think like that...“Damn it. We need to get to Chemistry, and if you’re like this... handling that burning alcohol will kill us all. Move it.” He pulled me up the stairs and into the chemistry room. We were the first there. We sat down in our seats. I began massaging my legs.
    “Hmmf. So... why’d you help me, then? Thank you, but...”
    “You were causing a blockage. I removed it.” He sighed. “Look... If you’re not feeling well, then go to the Medical Room.” He went a bit pink. “Look... you need to take care of yourself. Sleep, eat properly and stop worrying about the other jerks around here.” He smirked. “I’d like to live until the weekend. I have rugby practice.” Wh-Was he worried about me?... No, just himself... The waveform must be wrong. It was then the teacher walked in and started the lesson. Everyone else was late. We didn’t actually burn the alcohol that day. Probably for the best... the day blurred from then on. Nothing interesting in Physics, Maths or Biology. Not even Art held much interest. Lunch. Hmmf. Nothing interesting to eat – just pasta and apple juice for me, followed by a chocolate dessert. I looked around the canteen. Three girls waved at me. I smiled. Ivy, Ren and Alice. Part of the ‘Misfits’.
    You see, college is split into three distinct groups. ‘Popular’, ‘Unpopulus’ and ‘Misfits’, in order of popularity and teacher preference – the ‘Popular’ are the effective social ruling class, few but powerful. The ‘Unpopulus’ are the majority, and are the peasants. The ‘Misfits’ are the lowest of the low – always picked on, always bullied. We never get picked for anything, and if a ‘Misfit’ is involved with anything... well, everyone blames the poor beggar if anything goes wrong. Oh, and ‘Misfits’ are the ones forgotten, the ones to stay away from. Actually... I don’t fit in, even amongst the ‘Misfits’ because I talk with the ‘Popular’ and ‘Unpopulus’. I sat down next to Ivy. Her green eyes glinted.
    “Hello there, stranger... Any news, AnjelisGrimn?” I smiled as she fiddled with her raven hair. She’s after gossip and any potential parties. Any excuse for our favourite sport – Party Crashing.
    “Three. Ferrison, Smith and Adams. Adams being the most crashable, of course.” Ren’s eyes flashed at the sound of that. Her intense black eyes matching the black streaks in her otherwise blond hair, and pink lips flushed with excitement.
    “What night?” Alice glanced nervously at her. I put my hand on Alice’s shaking hand. Alice... used to be a ‘Popular’ person. Her very clever makeup hides scarring. Scarring which was done by jealous girls – they tried to claw her eyes out with their long, hard fake nails. Alice suddenly hissed.
    “Reish and groupies, 5’o’clock...” We all glanced at the groupies. Yes, all of them after Matt Reish... The same girls, no, monsters that tried to claw Alice’s eyes out. I remember that. I was on my first ETHER mission... I sat on a roof, as usual. I looked down into an alley and... saw a bloody scene unfolding. I had to stop it. No-one deserved that. They were ripping Alice’s hair out, scratching her skin to shreds. Then they tried to claw her eyes out. That sight... unlocked a deeply hidden ability. With the Mod Units, from then on, I could heal people. I called an ambulance but healed what I could. I saved her sight and her life. My actions went down badly with Light and Dextera. Everyone else understood, thankfully. In fact... Hakura was delighted...
    “Earth to Space Ranger. Beam down, Scottie!” Ivy poked me. “We can’t get to him. The groupies, remember?”
    “No, no... I was just remembering things... really some very dark ideas.”
    “Just don’t do it now. Too much mess if it’s anything like that...”
    “Chloroform. Pressure points.” Ren’s intuitive, as usual. I smiled casually. She’s too damn intuitive. I think she knows a lot about what happened to Alice. She might even know how much I lie about things...
    “As I was saying... Ferrison Friday night, Smith on the Saturday. Adams... I think it was later Saturday night. In other words, people will arrive drunk at Adams after drinking at Smith’s.” Ivy and Ren grinned, while Alice simply smiled.
    “Up for it?” I shook my head.
    “No, sorry... parents not letting me out this weekend.” After their disappointment, the conversation moved to more gossip – meh, nothing too interesting. Haha. My information gathering skills come in handy for this sort of thing. It always reminds me that I don’t really fit in any group... not a misfit, more of a ‘can’t fit’ or... just one of a kind... The afternoon blurred. Even the ‘Great Parent Send Off’ blurred into the evening. Okay... so I’m alone for the weekend now. My Mum didn’t disappoint with a long list of Do’s and Don’ts and where she’d left my dinner. I told her I’d invited girlfriends over to stay... she seemed okay with it all. They’d been out of the door for less than a minute, and as their car pulled away, I was dialling Ri-chan. Well, contacting him using my ETHAwared phone, anyways. He sounded happy and said he’d be over as soon as he could. I asked about Tsu-chan... he chuckled and said she had other plans, but she’d come with him today. He hung up. Hmm... I mused with his odd tone of voice. Something just didn’t add up... but I didn’t complain. I ran around the house, clearing things up and getting out spare bed linen and extra pillows, just in case they wanted to stay a night. Not likely... Nearly two hours of running about like a maniac later and the doorbell rang. I sprinted to the door, hanging up my apron on the hooks as I passed. I opened the door... and was dazzled...