The four of us were inseparable, had been ever since I can remember, and I can remember back to diapers, at least a little. Over the years, we trained hard and played harder, but we were always together. The only time we weren’t was when we went to bed - Tika went to her room, Jon, Mike, and I went to our room across the hall.
The separation here was more than just the fact that Tika was a girl and we three were boys. Tika was the emperor’s daughter, and on the day she was born, we three were picked from the newborn orphans across the land to be her bodyguards for life. All the royal families did much the same thing these days. There were hundreds of orphaned children in every district. When his first son was born, the emperor decided that if there were less orphans left to grow up stealing and killing for a living, there would be less crime. Did it work? I don’t know, but I wasn’t about to complain.
When we became teenagers, we each got this body suit we were required to wear every waking moment. It was close fitting and comfortable, but it was a nuisance to put on, and I hated the color. It was an iridescent blue – not my color, though it looked really nice on Tika. It was the same color as her eyes. I know, I’m not supposed to notice such things, but I think she’s pretty, and her eyes are probably the most startling thing about her since her other coloring is really rather dark – shiny black hair, cut to shoulder length and skin that looks like she’s always in the sun, even when she isn’t.
The suits were because, now that we were teens, we would be venturing into the public eye a little more. The suits were body armor. They zipped from hip to ankle, elbow to wrist, and up the front only up the left side, or in Mike’s case, up the right side. Zippers were weak spots and you didn’t want weak spots going right up the middle, so they put them on our most defended side – Mike was left-handed.
The collar reached right up under my chin, but leaving it unzipped was out of the question. The first time I tried, the suit complained with a soft beeping. It wasn’t so loud as to be hard to listen too, but it never let up unless all the zippers were completely joined. Once zipped up, the seam was nearly indistinguishable from any other seam in the suit.
Most of the time we wore clothes that covered the suit, but once in a while Tika would wear something to purposely accent the blue. The way she dressed sometimes, it would be impossible to tell that the blue was body armor.
Now that we were wearing these super suits, our training took a new bend. We needed to know what our suits could do, and they could do quite a lot. They weren’t only for defense, though they did that very well. Being shot is definitely no fun, but I’ve seen the result of someone being shot when they wore regular body armor. I walked in on one of the royal troops changing at shift end. We’d withstood a skirmish assault the day before and he’d been one to catch a bullet. He was okay – nothing broken – but the bruise was a spectacular display of red, yellow, and purple.
Wearing the suit, getting shot was like getting punched really hard, or maybe kicked by a horse, but the suit dispersed the force of the blow, and while you were usually knocked from your feet, you could still jump up and continue the fight. Mike would bruise some, but I think it only showed up better on his pale skin. He said they never hurt much, and they were mostly gone by the next day.
Our suits also provided us with a range of communications and tactical displays, as well as, well, pretty much anything we asked for, provided it wasn’t something physical. Mike asked for a ham sandwich once, and the poor suit gave out the funniest static sound, like it was saying, “Uhhhhh” until it errored out and reset. Mike laughed about that for the rest of the day, and even incorporated the sound into whatever he was saying. It was a funny sound, but Mike made it funnier.
As our training evolved, we three fell into our niches. Tika was our commander – of course she was – and I was the second in command – that might be because I was the biggest of the three of us guys. Mike became our communications officer and Jon was our tactical officer. We were rapidly turning into a well-oiled machine, and we frequently talked about becoming the emperor’s secret weapon on some under cover mission or other. Yeah, we were really full of ourselves.
In reality, we really were good, but we forgot about one very important detail. That Tika was always a target. We were out back in the royal ‘back 40’ as it had been unofficially dubbed, and we were running an exercise outlined by our trainers. We were only fourteen, but it was a day I will remember for the rest of my life. In our minds we were an arrow, ready to be let fly from the royal bow, but then things went terribly sideways.
Shots rang out and I watched Tika go down like a rag doll. It wasn’t the right kind of going down we associated with shots. The shot that took me down was, and I was sent sprawling back. It the moment it took for me to look again, I saw someone pick the limp Tika up from the ground and hustle her into a van I now saw parked among the trees a few yards farther away. I will never forget seeing her arm flop limply as they angled to get her and them into the vehicle, her hair blowing in the breeze over the man’s shoulder.
I sprinted after her, and alarms were sounding back at the palace; they had been watching our exercise. Standing where she had fallen, I watched them out of sight. We were here for one reason and one reason only – and we had failed. For a moment I was in shock as reality hit me blunt in the face. We four were this fantastic arrow, but now someone had broken the arrowhead off. Now we were just this shiny blue stick with a couple fancy feathers attached to it.
Another car roared toward us, more than likely palace guards. Where were they when we needed them? How could they allow someone from outside back here, close enough to take my friend, my Tika, my purpose for existing?
I looked at the ground and spotted a few drops of blood – Tika’s blood, then I turned to sprint for the approaching car. Almost before they had come to a full stop, I pulled the man out and tossed him aside. I had no time to question him. Mike and Jon had caught up to me, and Jon pulled the passenger out while Mike jumped into the back seat. We all were on the same page. Mike leaned forward between Jon and me. Both were waiting for orders. I gave them.
“Mike, call home and tell them what happened. Tika has been wounded, but it wasn’t bad – not enough blood, and if she were dead, they wouldn’t have taken her. We’re going after them. Tell them I expect full support. Jon, zero the satellite on us and find that car. While you’re waiting, look up that plate number and find out who it belongs to.” I was already hot on its trail, and I intended to eat dust until I could stop them.
Mike leaned back so his talking to home wouldn’t interfere with the information Jon was feeding me.