For reference: https://imgur.com/gallery/OawUY
“Through here!” Alli called to me, her voice barely audible over the rumble of machinery. “We’re close now!”
“Close to what?” I shouted back, although I knew that it wasn’t of any use. The girl had already dashed too far ahead to hear my response, and even though she’d disappeared out of view, I saw a door fly open ahead of me.
Shaking my head, I hurried after her. What we were even doing here, in this dangerous factory, wasn’t clear to me. But this girl was my only contact, and I had to follow her.
On either side of the narrow walkway, massive vats of molten liquid bubbled, sending heat up in waves through the still, heavy air. The walkway had rails on the sides to prevent anyone from tumbling in, but those still seemed like scant protection against the crushing heat.
Hurrying along the walkway before that heat could get to me, I saw the door that Alli had pulled open still standing ajar. It looked as though she’d broken a lock that had been holding it shut, but that didn’t surprise me. Despite looking in appearance like a normal high school girl, albeit it one with pure silver hair, Alli was much stronger than she let on.
Aluminum, I reminded myself as I ducked in through the door. Lightweight and strong.
“Hey, guys!” I heard Alli call out in this new chamber we’d entered. “I found a new one!”
“What!?” came an immediate reply from a male voice, delivered in sharp and disapproving tones. “And you brought her here? Do you know what a betrayal of trust this is-“
“Oh, can it, James,” snapped a new voice, a deeper female voice with tones of mingled annoyance and amusement. “You react too strongly to everything.”
I stared around as I entered this new chamber. Huge steel apparatuses sat in two lines running down the length of the chamber; they looked like molds of some sort, perhaps for the molten metals in the previous chamber. From one far corner, I could see a purple glow rising up, stronger than the orange lights that illuminated the rest of the chamber.
Alli stood in the middle of the room, her hands on her hips as she glared around. “At least come out and meet her!” she called out, directing her voice deeper into the room.
I slowly moved in closer to the other girl. Alli at least seemed to have some idea of what was going on. “Alli, what are we doing here?” I asked.
Before she could answer, however, the purple glow grew stronger – and I saw a man step out from behind one of the huge metal molds. Staring at him, I felt my mouth drop open.
The man looked a bit like some sort of science geek – He wore jeans, a tight black sweater, and a pair of rectangular frameless glasses. He didn’t have an ounce of spare fat on him, and even his face looked to be all lines and angles. His mouth was also set in a thin line, frowning at me.
But that wasn’t why I stared.
The man held one palm out, his fingers open, and in that palm danced a guttering purple flame! Some of the purple glow radiated out from that flame, burning on nothing, but the rest seemed to come from his very body.
He glared back at me. “So, Aluminum, who is this and why shouldn’t I burn her to ashes?”
My eyes went wide at that threat, but Alli just grinned back at him. “James, this is Ellen – although now maybe we’ll call her Beryllium!”
“Well, well,” called out the other voice I’d heard, the deeper, more mature female voice. “So you found one of the Top Ten?”
I turned to this new speaker. The blonde-haired woman who emerged from behind another mold looked to be in her thirties, but she couldn’t have stood more than five feet tall, even in the heavy steel-toed boots she wore. The rest of her was covered up by a bulky navy-colored jumpsuit, and she held a large wrench in one hand with a casualness that suggested she often put it to use. Now examining me, she crossed her arms and regarded me flatly.
“It doesn’t matter which element she is – she still shouldn’t have come here without us knowing-” James began again hotly, but this new blonde-haired woman turned to him and raised the wrench threateningly, and he reluctantly shut his mouth.
“Ellen, how much of this do you understand?” she asked me, turning back to me.
I threw up my hands helplessly. “I have no idea what’s going on,” I confessed honestly.
She nodded, as if this was what she’d expected. “Well, let’s start off with some introductions,” she said, as if this gathering in a factory was nothing new. “You’ve met Alli, who’s got Aluminum. James over there is Potassium, and I’m Lena, and I’m Vanadium.”
I just shook my head blankly. “I still don’t understand,” I groaned.
Lena glanced over at Alli, raising her eyebrows slightly. “You said she’s new; how new?” she asked the silver-haired girl.
Alli grinned. “Brand new.”
Despite my silver-haired guide’s grin, Lena just sighed. She turned back to me, shaking her head a little.
“Okay, Ellen, or whatever your name is, listen up,” she said, in a lecturing tone. “Here’s the deal. You know the periodic table of the elements, don’t you?”
Staring back at her, I nodded wordlessly.
“Well, out there in the world, there are a hundred-odd people who are a lot more connected with that table than anyone else knows. Each of them can control a certain element – but has some effects of that element controlling them, too.” Lena lifted the wrench. “Take me, for example. Vanadium – it’s used to harden steel, so I tend to be most comfortable around steel tools, in places like this.” She slammed the wrench down on her thigh in the jumpsuit, producing no measurable effect. “It also makes me a bit harder, too.”
“Now, take James over there,” Lena went on, nodding at the still-grimacing man with the purple flame. “He’s got a reactive element, and he can put that reactivity to use. But as you’ve already seen from his temper, it’s a double-edged sword.”
“So what about me?” I asked, already feeling overwhelmed.
Lena shrugged. “You’ve got to figure out your own element,” she said shortly. “But I’d start figuring it out soon.”
Alli started to open her mouth, but Lena spoke first. “Because someone out there is hunting us,” she said simply. “We don’t know who, and we don’t know why. But someone out there is killing off the elements.
“And you could be next.”