“Who are you, mijito? Are you lost?” The gray-haired grandpa asked for the third time.

The young boy, Diego, flinched every time his Abuelo said those words. Sitting on the kitchen countertop, he attentively monitored the old man before him. Cardonado was once a strong railroad worker, but the years had worn his body down to a wisp. It caused his head to droop over the pot of pozole he absent-mindedly stirred. The air filled with the savory smell of a hearty vegetable and meat stew.

The smell reminded Diego of his childhood and he swung his feet playfully. His brown, curly hair bobbed back and forth with the motion. He remembered when they’d play soccer for hours outside in the dirt street. How Abuelo would carry him back to the house and nurse his scrapes and bruises. Now the young boy was the caretaker for the gray-haired, elderly man.

From an early age, he picked up the habit of the townspeople to mix English and Spanish in conversation. Diego, realizing his grandpa was still staring at him, finally responded. “Soy yo Abuelo. I’m your grandson, Diego, remember?”

The old man opened his mouth to respond but returned a shaky smile instead. His attention returned to the soup he stirred methodically. Diego jumped down from the countertop. Like clockwork, the boy snatched a red, plastic bowl and set it beside the pot. Abuelo stopped churning the soup and stared into the liquid as if it stored some long-forgotten secret.

“I need to taste it first.” He delicately brought the spoon to his mouth and slurped. Satisfied, he set the utensil down and right into the red dish Diego had set out. Cardonado stared in disbelief at the bowl that had conveniently appeared.

Diego smiled innocently. “I put it there, Abuelo. So you wouldn’t spill.”

“Ah yes, thank you, mijo. Very good. Very good.” His grandpa cracked a tender smile. “You’re such a good helper for me in the kitchen. How old are you?”

Diego shied away. “I just turned thirteen. Remember we had my birthday party last week? All my friends came over, and there was a huge piñata with candy inside, and you made the best chocolate cake, and papa-” His voice croaked and he swallowed the lump caught in his throat, “Papa stopped by to drop off a present. You gave him a hug before he left, Abuelo.”

Cardonado looked at him with concern. “I don’t remember, I’m sorry. Sounds like you had fun though. That’s good.”

Diego dragged a chair to the countertop and sifted through the cupboard overhead. He stacked three bright green, plastic plates and hopped off to set the table. As he finished, he stared back at the calendar on the wall. There was an X marked over today’s date, March 7, 2037. With a quiet sigh, he returned a dish and sauntered back to his seat.

Mama’s having a night shift at the hospital again.” Diego frowned. It was quickly replaced by a mischievous grin. “Can we have the punch in the fridge, Abuelo?”

“Of course, mijito. I won’t tell if you don’t tell.” Cardonado opened the fridge and reached to the back where several other goodies were stashed away. He poured two glasses of bright pink juice and brought them to the table. Abuelo ruffled Diego’s curly hair.

“But you have to say bendiciones before we eat,” The old man closed his eyes in prayer.


The police station was a rare kind of quiet this morning. An occasional shuffling of papers, the odd coffee machine noises, and a low murmur from the break room. For Officer Espinoza, it was the perfect moment to recline in his chair and relish the silence. His stocky frame filled the seat with his head lying just short of the headrest cushion. With his long arms and squat body, he never found chairs or clothing that fit well.

He pitched forward slightly to grab a picture frame on his desk. It was a sun-bleached printed photo from five years ago when he took his kids to the Grand Canyon. He preferred the tangible over the digital as he could feel the weight in his hands. It helped him feel close to his family even when he was away. He yanked on his ill-fitting sleeve jacket and wiped his oily fingerprints from the corner of the glass enclosure.

As he sunk deeper into his chair, the station stirred awake. Frantic chimes from phones rang out, police officers barked orders, and chairs squeaked into their upright positions. Another gang hit. Officer Espinoza returned the picture to its rightful place and watched the commotion unfold.

Officer Tolieza, the newest hotshot of the force, charged straight toward the Captain’s office. No doubt to try and ensure he’d be on the mission. His entrance into the new Police Potentia program made him eager to prove his newfound powers fighting the gangs. Espinoza remembered being that naïve as a new recruit, but his family quickly changed that.

He leaned over to the adjacent desk, “Oye Galfan, where’s Ortega? Or is Tolieza begging the Captain to send them out again?”

The quiet, lanky man beside Espinoza furled his wiry eyebrows. “He won’t have to beg much. The new programa is the only thing keeping Prosperidad in the spotlight and keeping us well funded. She’ll send Tolieza and Ortega out but not without proper firepower for backup. You remember how the last raid with those two went.”

The two earnestly watched the police captain juggle Tolieza’s eager pleas. Galfan continued, “I’m betting this bust relates to La Jauria again. Their gun trade has ramped up and still no clues as to how they get them. Hopefully, this mission gives me a trail to follow. The superpowered wonder duo keeps knocking them out cold so I don’t have many leads to follow.”

The skinny man combed through his eyebrows with his fingertips. Galfan was the head detective, or rather their only detective, tracking down gang activity related to black market firearms. Ancient guns, those without modern fingerprint sensors, had been outlawed in Prosperidad. Galfan hoped to uncover the players who supplied La Jauria and cripple the gun supply once and for all. The gangs hadn’t managed to stabilize their own potentias so the police still had the advantage in raw firepower for now.

Espinoza drifted back to his desk and watched Officer Tolieza leave the Captain’s office. The young man swaggered to the break room in search of his next victim to brag to. His ash blonde hair and light skin stood out among his peers. He certainly wasn’t trying to become compadres, or friendly, with the veterans in the force. Then again, most of the seasoned police sided with the Naturalists so they held Tolieza in disdain.

A majority of the town was Catholic, so the idea of man created in God’s image was foundational. Some considered genetic modifications equivalent to sacrilege of the soul. These were the Naturalists. Espinoza didn’t try to pick sides. He’d seen both the power and the pain these potentias gave.

A buzz from the visiwatch on his wrist interrupted his thoughts. He touched the call icon and felt the Captain’s voice reverberate through his arm and amplify into his skull. “You’re on babysitting duties this time, Espinoza. The mayor’s office wants footage of their investments for reelection. So give the freshies some screen time using their potentias. Just make sure they don’t hurt themselves.”

He complied and pried himself from his cushioned chair to holster up. Tolieza stepped out of the break room and gave Espinoza a wink and finger pistols. Babysitting duties were a walk in the park compared to this. Now how to keep them from killing the thugs and themselves?


Ritualistically, Diego and Santiago sat on the cement outside for lunch. While other students gossiped at the lunch tables the two boys sat outside to talk about comics, videogames, or the newest potentias. They plopped in the shade of a worn-down building to escape the scorching Texas sun.

Their middle-school was simply three portable classrooms sitting atop a solid concrete base adjacent to the larger elementary academy. It was much smaller because many students dropped out to work with their parents to support their family. A recent global supply-chain collapse forced Prosperidad, and many other Texas towns, to fend for themselves in the broken economy.

Although only fifteen, two years older than Diego, Santiago’s height, clipped hair, and sparse facial hair gave him the appearance that made adults treat him as an equal. Meanwhile, Diego with his curly hair and chubby face looked all too much like a middle-schooler.

Santiago pulled out a coin from his khaki uniform pants and began to scrape the existing groove they’d started last year. Their concrete block overlooked the parking lot and sandy grounds punctuated by rusty metal structures and grass patches. Teachers called it the playground. To the middle-school boys it was a battlefield for the next Lucha Libre; the wrestler’s stomping ground.

Diego continued their previous discussion. “I’m telling you El Mago is going to win the Copa De Venganza tournament. He’s beaten the other luchadores in the past five fights. He’s going to charge his opponent, wrap them in his cape, and take them down!” He threw a punch to emphasize the point.

“No no, Diego. You got it all wrong. It doesn’t matter how many fights they’ve won, it’s the look in their eyes that tells you who’s the winner. Escorpión has the look and he’s after revenge. He fights to protect his family and he can take a beating. My bet is on Escorpión and that’s that.” Santiago carried a smug look as he imagined the scene unfold.

They fell silent as Santiago continued etching the concrete. Diego stared at the battleground before them and sighed. “Do you think the fighting will ever stop?”

Santiago dug deeper with the coin. “They have to stop sometime. The gangs will kill each other until there’s no one left.”

Diego brought his knees close to his chest. “I know but it just feels like they’ve always been fighting and kidnapping people. My Mama warned me not to bike home on Ventura anymore because she’s scared I’ll get snatched. I just wish I was strong like the luchadores to fight them.”

“Me too, Diego. I promise, when I’m the mayor I’ll make sure they can’t hurt anyone.” Santiago palmed the coin in his hand, placed it over his heart, and raised his other hand as if being sworn into office.

Diego mustered up his deepest voice, “Santiago Alonso, you are now the Mayor of Prosperidad! What are you going to do first?” Diego chuckled softly as he tried to maintain a serious composure.

“No more schools! And-” Santiago paused, “And free ice cream and Lucha Libres for all!” Santiago straightened his poise and looked over, “My trusted advisor, Diego Alejo, will also get his own lab.”

Diego’s eyes sparkled. “I could do so many cool experiments!” He raised his fist triumphantly. The two burst out laughing.

“I know you’ll do great, Diego. Helping our community, our familia, to become just as great as Goldstone City.”

Their dreams were cut short by a high-pitched ringing from the class bell.

Diego scurried away. “I don’t want to be late again! I’m going to run to class. I’ll see you after school in front of the arcade.”

Santiago nodded and sat there. He clutched the coin in his hand and imagined what being mayor was like.

His musings were interrupted by a quick swoosh beside his head. Bits of rubble pelted his back. Santiago turned to find a fresh bullet hole in the concrete block.

As he inspected closer, police sirens blared in the distance. Close by, Santiago heard the distinct sound of an ancient, gasoline-powered truck. He watched as the rust brown and orange getaway car careened through the streets. Two police cars in hot pursuit fired several pellets that popped their back tires.

Santiago froze. This can’t be happening.

The stolen truck crashed through the fence and into a parked gray Desperado. Two shady looking men in baggy, red jackets scurried out of the damaged car wielding black market assault rifles. The driver stayed inside and fumbled with the ignition.

The armed thugs split and took cover behind a midnight black Alta, no doubt the principal’s, and a bright green compact car belonging to one of the new teachers. They aimed their weapons at the entrance where the police were stationed.

Failing to restart their getaway vehicle, the driver punched the steering wheel and jumped out. He pressed on his forearm to activate his fire potentia. Inside his arm, genetically altered muscles began to pump liquid hydrocarbons stored inside tiny storage pouches. The flammable substance sprayed through sweat glands in his palm as a fine mist. He painted a trail starting at the hood of the truck until he reached one of his buddies behind cover.

Officer Espinoza, who had been watching the thugs closely, warned the others. “Oye, Tolieza, be careful. I think I just saw one of them press their forearm. They have black market weapons so they probably got their hands on knock-off potentias.”

Tolieza tapped a silver disk embedded behind his ear and subvocalized his response. The device interpreted his subtle lip movements and transmitted his voice to the others. “You hear that, Ortega? Our potentias against theirs. You got the drones recording our performance, Espinoza?”

The veteran cop shouted back, “Drones are up and ready. Don’t do anything stupid, Tolieza. I’m serious this time.” He piloted the drones from behind the car and called out to the thugs through a megaphone, “You are under arrest for the unauthorized possession of illegal firearms and suspected use of unregistered potentias. Drop your weapons and come out of hiding with your hands in a y-formation.” The police had been caught off guard before when criminals raised their hands up and activated their potentia secretly. They weren’t taking any chances.

Santiago’s eyes fixed on the scene before him. His mind screamed out for him to move and he could see his hands trembling, but he was frozen in place. If he made any movements at all he’d be dead.

The thugs ignored the police, stood their ground. They exchanged curt, heated shouts in Spanish. The driver pressed on his forearm and shouted, “Preparanense!”

Everyone stiffened. Santiago felt his lungs strained from holding his breath.

The driver knelt and rubbed his hands together in a quick swipe. The modified callous grown on his palms struck together like a match against a striker. A small spark leaped from his hand, igniting a small fire on the floor that raced away. Part of the flame reached back up and licked his fingers. He screamed as the blaze raced up his arm and onto his body.

The ravenous fire spread out and raced toward the truck. It vaulted onto the hood and seeped into the engine. A fireball engulfed the gas-powered vehicle. A shockwave buffeted the air and popped Santiago’s ears. Shaken out of his stupor, he scurried to safety into a nearby classroom that was open.

Inside, he found a lone student in uniform curled up below the window. Santiago thought he recognized him from two grades below when they had gym class. The huddled child sputtered Catholic prayers in between sobs. Outside, machine gun fire and Spanish profanity rained down.

Santiago’s curiosity took a hold of him and led him to peek outside the window by the entrance. He spied a clear riot shield wall that covered Tolieza and Ortega. A steady march advanced the barricade. Rapid-fire bullets whistled and bounced off the shields. The officers halted and sheathed their handguns. They pulled out thin, metal disks.

Ortega lobbed the disk over his shield where it landed within arm’s reach of one of the gunmen. The confused thug dropped his weapon and covered his face. A bright light, followed by a puff of smoke enveloped the area. He slumped to the ground. Small dots danced in Santiago’s eyes from the abrupt flash.

The remaining gunman took advantage of the chaos. He fired a barrage at Ortega’s exposed arm from the throw. A single bullet buried into the officer’s shoulder and brought him to his knees. His upper body was exposed. The gunman aimed for a headshot.

Before the thug could steady his rifle, Tolieza threw his shield to cover his partner. Exposed and without his gun drawn, he lobbed the metal disk from his hand. The gunner heard it whiz by his head and flinched. Tolieza pressed his forearm and rushed forward to touch the bright green car covering the gunman. An arc of lightning emanated from his fingertips and burned through the metal hood. The electricity found a path through the gunman’s body and into the floor. The thug convulsed as the high current shocked every muscle in his body.

As he flailed about, the rifle swung through the air. He involuntarily squeezed the trigger causing a volley of projectiles to spray all around. Santiago ducked as bullets collided to his right.

Once silence returned, Santiago’s muscles eased up. He looked at the havoc of broken glass and perforated walls around him. A cloud of dust danced in the air and washed out the vibrant classroom decorations into a dull monochrome scene.

He reached out to the student curled up beside him. “I – I think it’s over,” he gently nudged him. His unflinching movement prompted a stronger prod from Santiago. There was still no reaction.

Oye, amigo. We’re safe now. It’s okay.” A croak in his voice betrayed his reassurance. He pushed them harder. The child rolled over, exposing a pool of blood soaked through his shirt. Santiago opened his mouth and let out a blood-curdling scream.

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