Earlier, the same day
“Melody. Wake up…”
She didn’t want to. It felt so comfortable, lying in her bed, wrapped up in her blankets.
“Come on… we have to get ready…”
Please, I don’t want to perform today. Just let me sleep another day or so.
“No, silly, this is about the debriefing. It’s due in half an hour.”
She turned around, pulling the covers up over her head.
Suddenly, they were pulled off and she felt someone turn her on her back. Something hot hit her face.
Her eyes snapped open in surprise.
Irene was kneeling over her, her hands on Melody’s wrists, her (too hot) breath on her face. She had never noticed before – probably because she had only touched her under the nearly boiling shower or in uniform – but her skin was hot. As in, she felt like she had a near-lethal fever.
Then she noticed that Irene was kneeling over her, her face only inches away from her own. When that realization struck, she suddenly felt the same sensation as the first time they had met – a kind of arousal that was too strong, too intense to be her own. Her face heated up as she felt an almost irresistible desire to close that small distance between their lips and find out how hot they really felt…
Then, suddenly, Irene disappeared from above her. Melody let out a breath she had not noticed that she had kept in.
“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry!”, said a distressed voice.
It took her a few seconds before her heart calmed down and she could turn her head.
Irene was in her room, now over at the door. She wore an ankle-length red skirt and a green blouse. And though the clothes showed no skin except for her face, hands and bare feet, the sight of her made Melody feel hot and…
A look of dawning horror hit Irene and she immediately left the room, closing the door behind her.
It took Melody five minutes before she could will herself to rise from her bed. Her blankets had been pulled off and thrown down on the ground. She was naked, which, all things considered, was a reason to worry – until she remembered that she had, last night, gone directly from a healing session with Irene to the shower and then into her bed, being too tired to do anything else.
Still agitated, she put on her bathrobe and took her shower stuff, then she left the room – slowly.
Outside, she saw Irene, gulping down pills by the handful, drool covering her chin and wetting her shirt. Judging by the empty containers at her feet, she had already emptied two boxes and was now working on her third.
Still, the memory alone was enough to flush her face again. She quickly turned away from the girl and walked into the showers, glad that Irene at least looked like she had already taken a shower.
* * *
When she left the showers, there were barely more than ten minutes left until the debriefing. She rushed to her room – Irene was nowhere to be seen (and thank God for that reprieve) and quickly pulled on a pair of blue sweatpants and a fitting pullover.
Then she was faced with the problem that her hair was really long – and really wet. Just as she was trying to decide whether to use the hair blower or just brush it out and pull it into a ponytail, someone knocked on her door.
“Can I come in? I promise, I’ve got a lid on it now”, said Irene’s voice.
Melody swallowed as another wave of arousal hit her – only she could tell, it was just the memory of earlier this time, not Irene’s power.
“Sure. Come right in“, she typed into her vocalizer.
The door opened and Irene entered the room. She looked… controlled. Since Melody had seen her before, she had pulled her hair up into a ponytail. There were very slight black rings around her eyes she had not had before, but otherwise she looked as well as ever.
“What happened?“, Melody asked. She felt inclined to shout at her (indirectly), to throw something at her or throw her right back out of the room. But she told herself that there had to be a good reason for everything, so she reigned in on her urges.
“Not now. We have to hurry. If you want to, I could dry your hair in a second”, Irene said.
She was a bit wary about letting her use her power around her in any way, but it was also obvious that, right now, Irene needed some kind of reassurement.
“Sure. Please do.“
Irene smiled at her – which made it quite difficult, not to think about how soft her lips looked – and raised her hand. She waved it down, as if she was pulling at something. The water in her hair was drawn out of her hair.
“Let’s go – this is going to be… interesting”, Irene continued.
* * *
They had gathered again in the debriefing room. This time, none of them wore their costume. In fact, Irene, Jason and Patrid were the only ones in proper clothing – everyone else was wearing sweatpants, shirts and other assorted morning clothing. Even Amazon was in civilian clothing.
Irene and Melody sat down next to each other, with Outstep on Irene’s left and Tartsche and Spellgun to Melody’s right.
“Alright, ladies and gentlemen, I’m glad to see that you are all here. We have a lot to go through”, began Jason.
“Can’t we postpone this? I could use some more sleep”, said Outstep between two yawns. “Like, another year or so.”
Jason shook his head – not annoyed, but rather apologetic – and replied: “I’m sorry, but no. We have to go through this, because the media is going to be all over it in about one and a half hours – we can’t hold them back any longer.”
“So, the quickest way back to bed is to get this over with. Let’s skip the introduction and jump right in, alright?“, Polymnia said.
All around the table, people nodded in agreement.
“Great. First, Patrid has something to say to you all”, replied Jason.
Patrid stepped forward, as he had been standing a bit further away from the table, giving Jason the spotlight.
He was just as immaculately groomed as ever – the only difference to his appearance yesterday was a slightly different tie. And, just like always, he gave Polymnia a shiver just by letting his eyes pass over her.
“Where to start, where to start. First, this: Yesterday was, overall, a great night for us”, he began.
Everyone else around the table, barring Irene and Jason, looked at him as if he had just professed to being in love with echidnas.
“Oh, don’t give me those looks! It was a great night, relatively to how it could have gone. The spiteborn only managed to kill a few isolated supervillains. There were no civilian casualties. And, we managed to take down an entire acre, a root and a blossom. Moreover, the team responsible for that consisted of our two rising stars – Polymnia and Gloom Glimmer – as well as our two new recruits – Bakeneko and Osore. If only the Snow Queen hadn’t been there and the other three had joined us…” – he looked at Amazon, who just glared at him – “… the night would have been perfect.”
He paused to let that sink in, then he continued: “As for everyone else – Outstep, you really made up for your poor performance yesterday. We ought to find ways to improve your skill at evacuation even more. Tartsche, Spellgun, great teamwork, as always. Amazon, great work at coordinating all the independents. And now I’m handing the scepter back to Mr Widard.”
Jason took a step forward and started: “Alright, let’s get the easy stuff out of the way.”
The holographic table flared to life, projecting a life-sized 3d-image of the Snow Queen.
“We – and by that I mean the Board of Directors with my and Mr. Patrid’s recommendation – have decided to upgrade the Snow Queen’s rating to B+. It is more than obvious that she has been keeping a low profile. What she demonstrated during the fight goes up and beyond a B-. The only reason we are not moving her up to A- is because we do not estimate an increased threat from her – she will likely return to peddling drugs.”
Spellgun raised a hand: “Sir, Ah’m sorry, but this is just as ridiculous as giving Gloom Glimmer an A+ rating and not the S-rating we know she deserves. What if someone who hasn’t seen the recordings has to fight her and assumes her to be weaker than she is?”
“You’re touching on the main misconception about ratings, Spellgun. I have said this before and I will say it again: the ratings do not represent the combat-power of a metahuman. They are representative of what the board of directors believes is a metahuman’s overall potential to harm society. Which is why mind controllers are always rated at an A at least, why universal telepaths-” Amazon flinched “- are always S-class and why Great Britain is devoting more money to make sure that no one gets into the Protectorate than the NATO devotes to maintaining the Iron Wall. Just because the Snow Queen is personally more powerful than we knew doesn’t mean that she is more dangerous to society as a whole. So, she gets a B+ and we move on to far more important matters.”
The image changed to that of Bakeneko and Osore.
“Bakeneko. Proteus 6, capable of freely shifting her form, so long as she remains in an organic form and does not alter her total mass. Osore, Adonis 9 and Psi 6 – he generates a kind of black blast that forces whoever it hits to relive their most fearful memories. The two of them were members of the Onis, but were attacked by the spiteborn during their first outing, so they do not have any crimes under their belts yet. And they agreed to join us.”
He paused for a moment, then said: “Still, they only get probationary membership. Don’t tell them your real names and if any of you have a problem with them seeing your faces, then we will need to work the patrol schedules around.”
“No problem here. Haven’t had a secret ID since I was ten”, replied Outstep.
“It is not a problem for me”, agreed Irene.
“Ah guess it’s no problem so long as they don’t know mah real name”, said Spellgun.
“Likewise”, came from Tartsche.
Polymnia hesitated for a moment, then: “I won’t tell them my last name or anything about my family. Other than that, I do not have a problem.“
“Alright. Bakeneko and Osore are going to join us then once we have screened them. They should be on patrol duty by wednesday. Now, the spiteborn…”
The image changed, until the table was covered in a three-dimensional map of the acre.
“We were able to reconstruct the acre thanks to the records from Polymnia’s suit. The cavern was completely destroyed and collapsed when that bomb went off, but we were able to figure some things out. First, there was a strange pit at the backside of the cavern, into which the remaining pods were being dropped once the battle got out of hand. Such behaviour has never been observed before, so we are very concerned – especially since Brennus’ bomb made sure that we can’t investigate any more.”
“And now I’m taking over again”, said Patrid and stepped forward. Jason stepped back just as the image shifted to show the three independents – Brennus, Hecate and Tyche.
Outstep whistled appreciatively. “Those are some fine bod- hey!”
A glowing hand had appeared out of nowhere and slapped him over the back of the head.
“Watch your mouth”, Irene said to accompany it.
Outstep just grumbled something unintelligible.
“These three identified themselves as Brennus, Hecate and Tyche”, Patrid continued as if nothing had happened. Tags appeared next to each of the three.
“Let’s start with the one we know the least about. Tyche.” The other two images vanished, leaving only Tyche standing in the middle of the table.
“We have classified her as an Adonis 7. Unfortunately, we don’t know much beyond that, since she fought mostly outside Polymnia’s cameras’ fields of vision and was taken out rather quickly. We do know this, though.”
The image zoomed in closer to her, showing her body and legs. Outstep almost whistled again, but then he noticed the three white hands floating behind him.
Another picture of Brennus’ armor was projected next to hers.
“We can tell that her body armor and Brennus’ power armor use the same material – a material we have not been able to identify yet. She also uses a telescoping staff. We assume that both her armor and her weapon were made by Brennus. Unless we get any evidence for further powers, we can rate her as a D-Class and be done with her. Which brings us to the next one.”
A picture of Hecate appeared, in full costume. “Hecate. Given her accent, of Greek origin. We can safely tell that she is an enchantment-type Contriver, though we cannot yet make any guess on her actual power level. Also, a low-level adonis, probably only a 1, given her body shape. We are rating her as a B-. Hopefully, she cannot use any ‘summoning’ magic, or we will have to move her up to B+, maybe even A.”
“Well, this has been pretty straightforward. Unless this ‘Brennus’ is some kind of super-metahuman…”, Outstep began.
“Brennus IS the problem”, said Patrid and Jason at the same time. They looked at each other, then Patrid continued as the picture shifted at Jason’s command to show Brennus in his cloak and armor.
“Codename ‘Brennus’, which was the name of a gallic leader of the 4th century BC who attacked and sacked Rome. He wore a helmet shaped like a raven’s head to battle.”
“Yeah, he is the guy who made those killer-ravens, right?”, asked Tartsche.
“Yes. Now, our problem, first and foremost, is that he is a Gadgeteer. To be precise, a Gadgeteer who is NOT on our side, but considers himself an ‘independent’ hero.”
The image changed to show not only Brennus, but also one of his ravens, his stun batons, his stun gun and his vibrating blade.
“You’ve all read ‘Whitaker’s Guide to Metahumans’, I hope?”
Everyone around the table nodded. Irene said: “My mother wrote it, so yeah. Bedtime stories for me.”
“Good. You know that Gadgeteers are almost as rare as Power Mimics or Power Shifters like Gloom Glimmer here. Moreover, no single power-classification has changed the world as much as gadgeteers have – several studies show that we would only just now be getting the first privately usable 3d-screens, that the Internet would only have become available to the wider public in the nineties and sicknesses like AIDS or Malaria would still be incurable. We would still not have a moon base, and we would yet have to send a woman to Mars. Gadgeteers have massively sped up the worlds technological development in almost every field. So we have a standing order to take in any and every Gadgeteer we can – without breaking any laws, of course – and always offer them a deal, even if they are villains.”
Taking a deep breath, Patrid continued: “Now, this would be bad enough, especially considering that this one seems to be capable of constructing a vibrating sword in one afternoon, if his claims are to be believed.”
“They are. He was completely sincere during our conversation”, said Irene.
“Right. But we have a much bigger problem. Look at this:”
A 3d-recording was replayed. It showed the final moments of the fight in the acre, from the point at which Brennus reentered after getting Osore and Tyche to safety up to the final explosion.
Polymnia’s mouth fell open just as Spellgun whispered: “Holy Mother of God…”
“You see it. For those who don’t get what this means – it can be seen that Brennus managed to construct a bomb with enough destructive power to collapse the cavern out of a gun, a stun baton, a raven-robot and one of Polymnia’s speakers – a technology he had not worked with before in practice, only through pictures and only for a few hours. That’s not a level 3 gadgeteer like Polymnia. That’s not even a level 4 like Hotrod, the highest-rated gadgeteer in the UH. That’s something only a level 5 can even hope to do, and I wouldn’t bet on it.”
He paused again to make his words sink in, then he continued: “We are tentatively classifying him as a Gadgeteer 5. I would have liked to alter the recording before we put it out to the public, but it is too crucial a part of the whole battle to be removed without obvious traces. In fact, I would have voted to completely hide this video from the public, so as few supervillains as possible would find out about it – only the Snow Queen already saw it. Worst of all, we know that at least three of the Dark Five are in the city – and Mindstar might decide that having this kind of gadgeteer under your thumb could be worth the fallout from mind controlling a mino-“
He was cut short by the screech of crushed metal. Everyone turned to see that Amazon had crushed the armrest of her chair with her hand.
Patrid waited a few seconds before he continued. “So, any and every chance you get, I expect you all to explain the situation to him and do whatever you can to pull him in. Got that?”
Everyone around the table nodded, except for Amazon, who said, in a much too calm voice: “What would happen if Mindstar got him under her thumb?”
Patrid looked at her with a wary eye. “Mind controlling a minor beyond a life-or-death situation? She would get a kill order on her head faster than you can say ‘mind rape’. No negotiation, no second chance. She crosses that line and I’ll personally sign you a permission to join – maybe even lead – a kill team to take that bitch down.” Amazon grinned in a way that could give even the Dark goosebumps.
“Are we sure that that is even a possibility? I mean, I know Mindstar is bad news, and I certainly don’t want to belittle what she did to you, Amazon”, began Tartsche. “But she has never, to our knowledge, used mind control, even temporarily, on a minor.”
Amazon opened her mouth for a heated reply, but Jason cut her off. “I understand what you are saying, Tartsche, but we have to assume the worst. We are talking about a boy who could be the highest rated gadgeteer in the Western world. With that kind of prize, people’s inhibitions tend to be lowered a lot. And Mindstar’s inhibitions are already barely existent.”
Tartsche nodded at that and leaned back in his chair.
Patrid spoke again: “So, the board of directors has issued a permission to make large concessions in order to recruit this Brennus, along with the permission to use any amount of force necessary to keep Mindstar away from him. Let me make this clear for you: If you see Mindstar get close to him, you are allowed to use up to lethal force to get her away from him again! She is NOT to get within ten meters of him and certainly not close enough to even touch him, got that?”
* * *
Prepairing to dive into Basil’s mind, her arms wrapped around his naked chest, Amy suddenly felt the urge to blow someone a raspberry.
* * *
“Alright, I guess everyone understood that. Last thing: we are rating Brennus as an A-Class metahuman. And, before I forget it: due to the necessity of putting most of our adult superheroes on the Iron Wall or deploying them elsewhere around the world, the government has decided to repeal the Minor Superhero Protection Act until the situation has returned to normal, meaning that any restrictions as to who you may be deployed against now lie solely with us. After careful consideration, the board of directors has decided to allow any junior hero with a rating of B+ or above to engage B-to-A-class metahumans, if absolutely necessary. Though the usual procedures for engaging Class A’s still apply. Understood? Good. Any more questions? I didn’t think so. You have the rest of the weekend for yourself – but I want to see you back on patrol monday morning. Dismissed!”
Without much ado, the heroes scattered, all of them too tired to make even small talk.
Melody and Irene walked in silence. However, when they reached her room, Melody pulled Irene in after herself and closed the door.
“Alright, spill it. What the hell happened this morning!?“
Irene lowered her eyes, looking, for the first time Melody could remember, like a normal teenager – and one on the verge of tears, as well. She suddenly felt the urge to close the distance and hug her – and it wasn’t her power at work this time.
“Well, this is… awkward. But I guess I would have to tell you, sooner or later.”
She raised her head for a moment, then lowered it again. Taking a deep breath, she looked her in the eyes again.
“Let’s start with this: I’m actually two years younger than you. In fact, I was born on January 1st, 2000.”