I didn't miss the obvious recognition between Frog and Cassie. The whole Frog and Newt similarity didn't escape me either. I wondered at the symbolism behind the nicknames. Who was this guy? How close were he and Newt?
And more importantly, would he be competition?
Cassie laughed softly and I screwed my eyes shut in annoyance and embarrassment as she once again read me like a book. Frog looked first at Cassie, then at me, then back to back to her, confusion painted on his face. Cassie, or Newt as I'd have to start calling her around other people, waved away his unspoken questions even as she continued to laugh.
"So..." I asked after clearing my throat, "Where are we?"
"Ah yes, where are my manners?" Frog gestured at the sparse room, "Welcome to... ah... our base."
"Our?" I asked, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.
"The resistance" he said, and after a silent minute he continued, "the opposition, the rebellion, the-..." he took a deep breath, "We're your friends."
"Why?" I asked a bit tersely. After all that happened in the last few days, I wasn't in a very trusting mood. Totally unexpected, I know.
"Yes, well we're not fans of Superpowers Inc. Not in the slightest. And in light of recent events, I can't believe that you would be any different. The enemy of my enemy is my friend as it were."
Frog blinked and looked up quickly, as if remembering something important. A smile, at least I think that's what it was, came to his face and he said, "Speaking of friends, please, follow me."
Cassie and I shared a quick look as we trailed behind, not daring to believe that he could be referring to Apex and Lorrie. I didn't even know if they were alive still, I hadn't seen them in-
"I saw Lorrie yesterday... or whenever it was, I don't know anymore. And-" she bit her lip, "I saw Apex too, but he was being carried by Meta."
"Meta?" I asked.
"The big guy."
I shivered at the thought of him and his eerie, soulless voice tearing through my head. If he had Apex-
We had come to another room, nearly identical to my own. Before we even stepped through, Lorrie burst out and enveloped Cassie in a hug. After releasing her, she turned to me and tentatively held out her arms. I hesitated for a brief moment, the awkwardness of our last encounter coming back all too readily. But all it took was a moment to realize that Lorrie was a friend, a good one, and I was happy to see her.
And by golly I was going to hug her.
"Where's Apex?" I asked after the happy moment had passed and we separated.
Lorrie winced and motioned behind her at the room. "He's still-"
She was cut off by a weak interjection, "I'm... I'm here."
Apex stumbled out, his silver hair a little less shiny, his bright orange eyes a little less firey, but it was him, and he was alive. Lorrie spun at the sound of his voice, her hands doing a spastic dance as she tried to figure out what to do with them. She settled for grabbing his head, and pulling him into a kiss.
I blinked and looked down at the floor, a little embarrassed. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Cassie shaking in silent laughter. Several long seconds went by and then finally the two separated, neither of them looking like they could quite believe what had just happened.
Frog, whom I had forgotten all about in the last few minutes, cleared his throat and motioned with his hand, "Yes, ah follow me I guess. I'll take you to Randall."
"And who's R-" I started, but Frog, anticipating my questions, cut me off.
"If we had a leader, he'd be it. He'll fill you in on what happens next."
The four of us stopped dead. I opened my mouth to object, but was beaten to the punch by Apex, his voice sounding a little stronger than it had been at first.
"We're not your friends" he said flatly.
"As I explained to your compatriot, we have no love for-"
"We're not your friends" Apex said again. "You don't like Superpowers Inc. That's all great, but we didn't escape just so we could be someone else's pawns."
Frog floundered for words before falling into silence. With a sigh of exasperation he plodded on, not looking to see if we followed or not. Sharing a glance we tacitly decided to follow him for now, but it was clear that we all shared Apex's sentiments.
We trudged through a maze of hallways that culminated in a pair of large double doors. Frog pushed them open and then stepped to the side so we could enter. All conversation in the room had fallen silent when we entered, and not knowing what else to do, we just stood there, casting furtive glances at all the unfamiliar faces.
Finally, a young man, not so much older than us, stood and approached. He was smiling, but it didn't have the touch of malevolence that we had gotten used to under Kobish's thumb. It was a smile of genuine... joy. The man, I assumed he was the Randall Frog had mentioned, seemed to guess our thoughts, and his smile took on knowing look.
"No doubt joining us is the last thing on your minds," he started. Apex snorted, but the man ignored it, "but we hope that over time you will grow to trust us." He looked down at the floor, and when he spoke again, it was obvious he was choosing his words carefully.
"I'm going to be very frank with you" he said, still looking at the floor. "We covet your... unique abilities. Your actions, while completely understandable, unwittingly threw a host others into motion. Things that, believe it or not, are bigger than Superpowers Inc."
He had started pacing, but now he stopped and turned to look at us once more. "We need you. And if we're correct, so will the people of Mars."
"Why?" Lorrie asked somberly, "What could be that important?"
"Planetary war" came the simple reply.
Oh, was that all?