This whole section is scheduled for a major rewrite at the soonest opportunity. The writing improves a lot over the next few arcs, and the serial is generally considered to have hit its stride somewhere around B004 or B005.
A loud voice rang sharply through the bedroom door.
“Basil, what in the hell are you doing in there?”
Basil rubbed his eyes, the fugue covering his mind clearing. Why on Earth was she- oh, yes. He had forgotten to cook dinner for his sister. Panicking, he quickly cleared his room of the detritus from his work, he then cracked the door, peeking with wide eyes at his sister.
“Just a minute Amy, …”
“Just what are you hiding in there? Not another stray cat, I hope?”
He looked up at her with a wounded look: “Would I do that to you? After what happened last time?”
She did not even bother to answer, instead just turning around and walking towards the stairs. Because he totally would, if he could just find a cat that insane again.
Basil closed the door and leaned against it, breathing deeply. Really, the cat would probably have been less problematic than the ray gun he had been fiddling with.
* * *
Five minutes later, Amy was sitting at the kitchen table, eating a rich salad as an appetizer, while Basil worked on making some good hot chili. They did not talk until it was done and they had both emptied their bowls.
She wiped her mouth as he cleaned up and put the dishes into the dish washer.
“So, what were you doing that you forgot about dinner?” she asked nonchalantly.
Basil tensed up for a moment and said, without turning around to face her. “Oh, just working on a school project. Nothing interesting,” he said, trying to deflect her from further questioning, all while avoiding looking her in the eye.
He could not see her face, but he could easily imagine the smug look on her face when she said: “Oh? Then how come it could distract you from making dinner?”
Basil could tell from her tone that a smirk of victory was across her face.
Damn, why do I always screw this up!?
“Well, you see…” he started, but she cut him off.
“Can it,” she said sharply. “Don’t bother lying little brother, I know you and I know you know you can’t tell a lie to save your life.”
Only to you, he chimed in mentally. I’m usually pretty good at it.
“What. Were. You. Doing?” Now she’d gone from playful to angry.
He winced again.
Ever since their parents’ death last year, Amy had taking her new role as parent to heart, refusing staunchly to give him away. She was working a job that usually took up her whole day and many a night, while also making time to spend with her baby brother (though he hated it when she described him as such).
Despite being only five years older than him, she had risen to the challenge and managed to not only keep their old house, but make enough money to eventually move to a better part of town and pay for him to go to a very prestigious school.
In fact, to the amazement of everyone, their living standards had gone up, going from high-end working class to high middle class almost over night.
She had become really protective of him as well, almost to the point of being uncomfortably paranoid about anything and everyone that he came into contact with. Feeding her paranoia was not going to help.
“Why don’t you come up and I’ll show you?”
* * *
They walked up the stairs, towards Basil’s room on the second floor, right under the attic. Their new home – they had moved in barely two months after their parents died, about a year ago – was a large stone building with no less than five floors: one basement, the ground floor, first and second floor and the attic.
As they went up past the first floor where his sister’s bedroom, office and private bathroom lay (along with a guest room), he looked at his sister in the mirrors that ran along the stairs.
Amy was a tall woman, a hundred and eighty-seven centimeters on her bare feet.
She had inured him permanently for any woman he might ever meet by being far and away the most beautiful person he had ever seen (and also the most embarassing, but that was another story). Tall, curvy, with really long black, wavy black hair. And she had the same eyes as he did – black to the point where one could not distinguish between the iris and the pupil.
Personal reflection on his own appearance showed a discernible contrast in their looks, Basil was no Adonis. Tall for his age, fourteen, and still three inches shorter than his sister; a thin body and even paler skin than her, outfitted in clothes that didn’t quite fit his body, and long unkempt black hair made deepend the contrast further. Style was not his forte, his red, white, and green checkered summer shorts hung just over his knees, a button-up shirt that was checkered in black and white and simple sandals. Retro-geek-chic.
Basil’s door and the secrets behind it stared him down, hand on the door knob, he turned it to enter into the blue lit darkness of a ramshackle laboratory, computer lights twinkling like a child’s lite-brite.
Time to face the music.
* * *
The door opened to what had once been a rather average bedroom, once filled with bookshelves, a large bed and a desk to work on, the white plastered walls covered in posters of various book series and that season’s top movies.
Things were different now, Basil had changed and a new thought pattern had taken over Basil’s mind. The books had been removed, and the shelving had been stripped down into their constituent parts to create more work tops for various blinking and flickering pieces of technology that now littered the room.
Where posters had once been pasted, blueprints now covered the wall; neat hand writing and finely wrought equations now decorated every available space. The window and its view were hidden by a whiteboard, covered in minute calculations etched with a steady hand in black marker.
His primary work station was littered with a hodgepodge of home-brewed technology. At one end of the work table stood four twenty-two inch monitors arranged in a square and linked to a tower custom built from parts he had salvaged from old computers. A gutted toaster, a mobile phone, and a microwave lay around a half-completed ray gun.
Custom made tools covered the free wallspace, hanging off of various hooks.
In the middle of the room stood a contraption he had frankensteined together from further parts from around the house and other sources. It looked like a robot had vomited on the ground and then tried to form a termite hill out of it. A soft blue glow emanated from within and several thick cables lead from it to the computer tower and some other gadgets at the workstation.
Basil walked in and turned around once he stood in front of the drawing plate. Amy had stayed at the door, looking quite shocked. He offered her a sheepish smile and said:
“Well, it’s not a cat…”
Amy walked in, turning her head to take everything in. She walked around the the contraption in the middle.
“What is this thing? Why is it glowing? And wait, is that the coolant from our icebox?”
“No,” said Basil, “it is from a junkyard actually.”
Basil took a deep breath and answered: “It is an electromagnetic power generator. There was no way I could get enough energy out of the local grid without drawing notice, if at all, so I built my own generator. Unfortunately, I did not have the best parts to choose from, so it isn’t as efficient as I wanted it to be. That’s the reason for the glow, it is an effect known as ‘Cherenkov Radiation’.”
Seeing Amy’s eyes widen at realization, he quickly added, “Don’t worry, it is safe.”
“And what is this?” she asked, pointing at the bulky computer tower under the workbench. “Did you buy another computer? I got you one just a month ago, didn’t I?”
“No way that is a computer from the private market. Not even a high-end model could handle the kind of calculations I needed, so I built the individual parts from scratch and worked on them until I was able to build this,” he explained gleefully. “I’ve clocked this one in at one and a half petaflops.”
She picked up the gun he had been working on, quirking an eyebrow. “And this? I didn’t exactly take you to be the ray-gun, space cadet type.” Her tone was faintly disapproving.
“Well, that is supposed to be a remote detonator for inorganic, rigid matter. However, it does not quite work right. It merely overheats objects instead of causing them to explode. I apologize for using your hair dryer; I will get you a new one,” he finished.
Amy looked like she was was going to rebuke him, but instead changed the direction of the conversation to something that had been bothering her more.”Where in God’s name did you get all of this gear? And how were you able get all this stuff into the house and build it without my notice?” she asked him after putting the detonator down.
“I ordered most of it online from various sources and with various names. I worked out a series of scripts that allowed me to pay through non-existent bank accounts, and still have it all delivered to our house.”
“That still doesn’t explain how you were able to work on it without my notice.”
With a chagrined look he continued, “You have been absent for the last three days and the walls are pretty well insulated against sounds, so even if you were here, you would not have been able to hear me.” Gesturing around the room, Basil indicated the egg-crate like material on the walls and ceiling of his bedroom.
“Wait. You did all of this in just three days?” Her widening eyes hinted at her growing surprise.
“No. I just said that you were gone for three days. I started two days ago. I paid for express shipping on all of it…” Basil paused, caught his breath and then spoke quickly, “None of the money is yours, by the way, I hacked into some bank accounts I tracked back to the mafia. They’ll never catch me, even if they notice the missing money. It was not that much, you will not believe how cheap computer parts are if you only buy outdated ones and upgrade them yourself,” his voice pitched as he tried to say everything as quickly as possible before Amy could interrupt him again.
Expecting his sister to show some manner of anger at the fact that he was stealing money, she instead had a indiscernible look on her face that puzzled him.
Then, a large toothy grin, similar to that of a shark, spread across her face.
“This is so great!” she said in obvious excitement. “I’ve been hoping you would finally get a power of your own!” she continued, taking a step back as if to release him, but instead grabbed his head and pulled him in for a quick kiss on the forehead.
* * *
It took him a few moments to gather his thoughts. All the while, Amy was jumping up and down and talking rapidly to herself, much like an exciteable young schoolgirl.
“Wait…” Basil paused, confused by her excitement, “You are okay with -” he paused again as his sister’s earlier words solidified in his head, “Wait, hold up, stop!” he finally said, stopping his sister’s excited jumping long enough to ask his final question, “What do you mean, ‘power of my own’? Are you saying that you are a metahuman?”
Amy winced, acting like a little child caught with her hands in the cookie jar, and finally said in a sing-song voice: “Whoops, busted.”
A giggle burst out of her and she quickly covered up her mouth with one hand. “Oh well, it’s not like I wasn’t thinking about bringing you in anyway,” she said. “Wait a moment, I’ll be back in a minute.” She left quickly and he could hear her skip over to her bedroom, leaving him alone with the race in his head to process the information he had just aquired.
Amy, a superhe-
Quick as a flash Amy was standing back inside his room, his initial thoughts of ‘superhero’ quickly snuffed when he took in her full appearance. Composing himself, and deciding the exact wording of his question for her, he asked: “You are… Mindstar?”
Clad in a pure black bodysuit made of spandex with a dark purple star-burst across her chest, everything about her body was emphasised, the revealing spandex leaving very little to the imagination. Dark purple gloves and sharp-heeled thigh-high boots of the same colour completed the outfit along with a mask that covered the upper half of her face, reminding him of a purple butterfly, if only remotely. Her skin, strangely enough, was bleached white with purple lips; her eyes were the same shade of purple. Even her hair looked unnatural, with moving purple highlights.
He would have probably made a crack about her choice of colours if he had not immediately recognized her costume. His sister was Mindstar.
An S-class Supervillain. Basil’s mind went into overdrive as he picked over every piece of information he had on her both his sister and the supervillainess.
A young supervillain who debuted two years ago. Originally classed as an A-Class with ridiculously powerful Telekinetic abilities and estimated to be able to lift about ten tons including the usual degradation of fine control the more force she put out. A bit more than a year ago, she had made headlines when Amazon, a major local superheroine and fellow A-Class switched sides and joined her, ostensibly because she had ‘seduced her to the dark side’, as the papers put it.
Then, a month later, it turned out that she had not been seduced, but brainwashed. Mindstar was not just one of the more powerful telekinetics on the planet, she was also an equally powerful telepath. The revelation that she possessed one of the, if not the most feared powers out there kicked her up into the S-Class.
Shortly after that, she joined ‘The Dark Five’, the premier supervillain group under the lead of the Dark.
Even later, she went up against Lady Light herself and, while having been defeated, had actually managed to rip off a piece of the cape of the Queen of Superheroes and actually escaped (if barely). Since then she had committed various high-profile crimes, though unlike most members of The Dark Five, both past and present, she seemed to actually go out of her way to prevent civilian casualties.
Then he went to realign this information with what he knew of his sister. He remembered how, two years ago, she had acted quite strange for a while, being irritable, daydreaming and often gone for hours at a time. That had been about a month before Mindstar’s debut. Later he had noticed how she had been able to afford new clothing and other things better than they were used to, explaining it and her regular disappearances with a new and often changing job.
Then, shortly after their parents’ death, he had thought it strange how the judges had so quickly agreed to let her be his guardian.
However, there were some discrepancies.
“Your job at that agency – is that even real?” he asked.
Mindstar, or rather his sister as he reminded himself, was momentarily taken back.
“That’s your first question?” she asked jokingly, but then got serious: “It’s real, but the agency belongs to the Dark Five. I do some real jobs there – it’s always good to have legal funds as well as connections in the actual business world – but mostly it’s just a front.”
“And what’s with those heels! Don’t you fall over every second step!?” he continued on, now exasperated at the impracticality of her outfit.
That caused her to let out a deep belly laugh. After a few seconds, she calmed down, breathed in and said: “That’s your next question?! Good God, your priorities are screwed!”
Basil just raised an eyebrow.
She raised her hands in a gesture of defeat. “Alright, I’ll answer. The heels are detachable. I’ve got a knife in one of them and a communication device in the other. I usually float or fly around and when I don’t I instead use telekinesis to reduce my weight and stabilize my walk,” she explained with mirth in her voice.
“And your eyes? Your hair, your skin?”
“Some minor shapeshifting. I can freely change my coloration, if nothing else.” With those words, she switched between various skin tones, eye and hair colours, until she ended with her first white-and-purple-coloration.
But he wasn’t done yet. “How did you never get recognized? I mean, you look rather distinctive, and now that I know what to look for, I can easily recognize you!”
“The shapeshifting, of course. And you’d be surprised how much can be done just by clothing and the right posture. But enough of twenty questions. I don’t even need telepathy to know that you have already drawn all the right conclusions. Even without any powers, you’ve always been so bright,” she continued, now far more somberly. “So let’s get down to business. I’m really glad that you’ve got this kind of power. Hopefully, you’ll realize it means you can fight effectively from far behind the front lines. And since you are a Con-“
“No,” Basil interjected, startling her.
“No what?” she asked.
“This is not Contriving. I’ve run all the tests. I’ve compared notes. It’s all real. This is all actual science. I am not a Contriver,” he said, unable to keep a bit of Pride from showing through.
For the first time, Amy was truly and completely startled. Her mouth hung open as, this time, she had to absorbed the meaning of his words and work through all the implications.
“Oh my… THIS IS INCREDIBLE!” she shouted out. Without another sound, she glided towards him and wrapped him in another bear hug that made him grunt in surprise and discomfort.
“Do you have any idea how much money you’ll be able to make with that?!”
“What do you mean?” he asked, flabbergasted.
She looked at him with a frustrated look: “Basil, think about it, what is a Contriver?”
He answered without needing to think: “A Contriver is someone who creates Contrivences – a term describing technology that is not in line with the scope of real world technology. Anything the Contriver creates is unnatural, in most cases its used for the explicit purpose of expressing a power.”
Not even pausing for air, Basil continued, “A Contriver usually believes his creation to be a product of sound science and many of them react violently when confronted with the true nature of their work. Contriving can not be analyzed, replicated or adapted by anyone other than the original creator, not even by other Contrivers. Due to their extreme versatility, they are widely considered to be one of the most powerful types of metahumans. However, they are also exponentially more likely to have one or several kinds of mental illnesses, possibly due to their power making it difficult to draw a line between fantasy and reality. The best known Contriver is A-List superhero Doc Feral.”
“But you’re a real gadgeteer – they are even rarer than most people think. And people shit their pants when one of you turns up because you do real science – only decades, if not centuries ahead of our time. That means that, while a gadgeteer may start out barely more than a normal guy with a tricked out stun baton, there is no upper limit to how powerful he can get, though most settle into a particular mold and stay there.”
She was getting more and more excited, her eyes filled with the kind of pride normally reserved for a mother watching her child win a state championship. Plus, she was giggling more and more. Basil, on the other hand, felt his mood worsen more and more as the implications of what she was saying sunk in.
“Best way to illustrate it is the rating system. You know how metahumans are rated, right?”, she asked.
“Of course. We commonly use a numerical scale starting at level 0, people who are technically metahuman but do not really express any real powers and going up to thirteen, where we have powers like those of Fleur, Quetzalcoatl and so on. This does not include Desolation-in-Light, who is considered to be beyond any meaningful classification. The average power level, discounting DiL, is a three – clearly metahuman. A second rating scale is the class-scale, which measures a metahumans threat level. It goes from E, which is basically an average civilian to S, where you need an army of lesser metahumans to stand a chance and, of course, S+ – Desolation-in-Light again – where even the combined power of the entire S-Class can only hope for a stalemate. From a B and up, a metahuman is usually considered to be beyond the reach of even the most elite baselines – only other metahumans stand a chance. Did I miss anything?” He really liked it that Amy never broke up his expositions.
“Well, one thing, really. And that’s the fun part. Gadgeteers are rated on the one to thirteen scale as well, but in their case, it does not measure raw power – how could it, you do not have any measurable power by yourself – but rather the rate at which they can come up with new technology. Sovereign, for example, is only a level seven Gadgeteer, but he has been around for decades and is so skillful with his inventions that he has been able to rule half a continent for nearly a decade. So no matter your rating, you are going to be at least a B-Class! And everyone will want a piece of you!”
* * *
Basil sat down on the floor. “Great. I just became a target for everyone,” he moaned, then buried his face in his hands.
Amy raised her hand to her mouth, looking shocked. “Oh, Basil, I’m sorry. It’s not that bad,” she said, reaching out to him. “You’ve got to remember that Gadgeteers are always a great asset to have, so every team, be they heroes or villains, will want you to join and they’ll fight tooth and nail to keep you safe and happy.”
Abruptly, Basil stood up and threw his arms over his head: “You know, you really suck at this whole ‘introducing me into the metahuman world’ thing! You’re basically saying that I have to become someones gear-factory that every one of their enemies will target or be probably killed off immediately! Well, neither of those options really appeals to me!”
His sister took a step back, startled by his sudden outburst of anger.
“But let’s forget the whole ‘I’m basically screwed no matter what I do’ thing and go back a bit to the whole ‘my sister is a supervillain’ topic, shall we!”
He took a deep breath as he prepared his next word barrage. Now that his initial surprise had worn off, he was finally able to properly work through everything she had told him.
Before he could say anything more, she cut him off with a cold look on her face. “Careful, little brother. Remember that I prevented you from ending up in the child care system,” she said.
“And I am thankful for that – but with this kind of power, couldn’t you have been just as successful as a hero? Or in the civilian sector?!” he asked her.
“I could have. I didn’t want to,” she answered flatly. “I didn’t become a supervillain for money or an agenda or any such thing.”
“Do you remember how I had all that trouble in school, two years back? When I found out that my boyfriend had been cheating on me with my best friend? And when my asshole of a Biology teacher tried to get me to be his lover and then tried to ruin my life with rumors when I refused?”
He remembered all too well. It had not been a good time for her and, by extension, for him. But then it had been rather suddenly resolved in a spectacular chain of events and confessions, including a double suicide…
“You used your telepathy to kill your ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend and expose your teacher,” he concluded.
“Yeah, exactly that. But it wasn’t what I did at first. I initially just tried to get away from all that. I did my first crimes simply to escape from my normal life, I built up a second identity I could use to deal with how my life sucked. It was only later that I decided that I was a villain either way, whether I killed a bunch of gang members that came after me or the assholes who abused me in my normal life.”
“I… let’s stop here.”
“We’ve been running our mouths and now I at least have a definite case of information overload. I need to sit down and think about everything. By myself. Could we continue this talk tomorrow?”
“Well, alright. I kind of see your point,” she said softly, hugging him once and walking out of the room.
Basil pulled a stool over and sat down.
* * *
The next morning, Basil woke from a not-so-restful night, put on a bathrobe and went into the bathroom to take a shower.
Afterwards, he went down to make breakfast, only to find his sister sitting at the kitchen table in a white bathrobe, combing and drying her hair while dishes distributed themselves onto the table and knives worked to cut bread, vegetables and anything else they might want to eat.
“Did you sleep well?” she asked softly without taking her eyes off her work.
“Not really. I stayed up until the morning hours, then I barely got any sleep. But I didn’t want to sleep in,” he answered while sitting down.
“You should have. Today’s Saturday and I’ve taken a free day from the job.”
“Wow, so you basically called The Dark and asked him if he could give you the day off? How did that go?” he asked, half in jest.
“Oh, he said it was alright. Seems he already knew about you and was expecting something like this,” she answered.
Basil dropped the glass full of milk he had been about to drink. Before it could shatter – or even spill – an invisible force caught it and lowered it gently down onto the table.
“Oh, the look on your face!” Amy giggled as he just stared at her helplessly.
“Yeah, really funny. So now The Dark, the king of all supervillains, knows about me. So, he’ll probably pop up sometime and tell to ‘join or die’, right?”
“Basil, please. Even if The Dark operated that way – which he doesn’t, he insists on making sure that his subordinates work with him willingly – he’d keep his hands off you. We already have a gadgeteer on our team, so I’m far more valuable to him than an additional gadgeteer,” she soothed his worries. “Now, let’s dig in before we get down to business!”
* * *
After a filling breakfast, they moved over to the living room. Amy sprawled over the couch, while Basil sat down on an armchair.
“So, did you think through everything?” she asked.
“Yes. And I’ve come to a few decisions,” he replied.
She raised an eyebrow and encouraged him to continue with a smile and a wave of her hand.
“First of all, I do not approve of what you have been doing. Regardless of how your life sucked, you had no right to cross the line like that.”
“Fair enough. But I-” He cut her off.
“Let me finish. I do not approve. But I still love you. And I hope I can convince you to turn over a new leaf – though I know that that would take a lot of time and be really difficult,” he continued.
“Not to speak of dangerous. The Dark’s a great boss, but he hates traitors,” she added. “Regardless, thank you. I was really worried you’d be too angry at me to, you know, go on like before.”
“Not angry. Disappointed. But regardless of that, I am certainly not going to abandon you,” he told her. “I am, however, not going to join your side, either.”
With a raised eyebrow, she asked: “Oh? And what are you going to do then? Become a hero? Join the United Junior Heroes?”
He just smiled at her and answered: “Neither. I’m going to fly solo.”
That made her sit up. “No. Way. That’s too dangerous!” she shouted at him. “Didn’t I explain to you what happens to Gadgeteers who don’t join a team out there!?”
“You did. But you also told me, once a few years ago, that I should not let fear guide me in my life. And I am going to stick to that,” he countered. Then he raised a hand to cut off her angry reply. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to go out and just start shooting bank robbers and gang members with stun blasts. I actually have a plan for how to proceed.”
Seeing the determined and self-confident look in his eyes, Amy relaxed a bit and leaned back down onto the couch. “Alright, you definitely have made me curious. I’m listening, little brother…”