Melody had met up with Irene and Aimi after school and Irene had teleported them back to the HQ. There they’d split up. She had walked straight back to her workshop, only pausing to change into her workclothes, while Irene walked off with Aimi to eat.
Now Melody was sitting at her worktable (again) and tried to work out the emergency equipment Brennus had constructed for Prisca Fion (again) and was flabbergasted at his work (again).
Apart from the incredible speed at which he’d constructed them, he’d scavenged his stun gun for parts. With Irene’s help, she’d been able to isolate all the pieces that used to be part of the gun, as opposed to the other parts used. Unfortunately, by the time they’d been done, her time at the workshop was over and she had to go to sleep (stupid workshop rules for teenage gadgeteers and contrivers…).
Now, finally, she’d get to work through it.
Strange that this is what I spend most of my time in the workshop doing since I debuted. Then again, I wouldn’t have been able to upgrade my armor like I have if it wasn’t for his ravens and his anti-emp system…
* * *
“So I get to do whatever I want with the money?”, asked Aimi.
Irene shook her head in frustration. “This is the seventh time you’ve asked this question since you joined. You get to do anything that is not illegal”, she explained over a platter of Rainbow Bomb Salad.
“Sorry, I just don’t get it. They’re just giving us five hundred dollars a month, just to be members?”, Aimi asked back.
“Well, there’s more to it. You have to be available during your designated hours, you have to stay in shape, you have to attend the training programs and you have to keep up a minimal grade point average in school. That’s what the five hundred dollars are for.”
“And we get more if we go out and fight crime?”
“Yes, you get more for fighting mundane criminals, even more for super-villains depending on their class and a huge bonus anytime you go up against an S-class threat. So you’ve already made a nice amount of money for the whole fight down at the Acre. Though this money goes into a trust fund, to finance your education after graduating from high school. Anything that remains is paid out to you”, Irene replied.
“Man, that’s a lot of money!”
“Remember, you get it for risking your life. Supervillain fights are not a laughing matter.”
Aimi thought that over. “That explains the bonus money, but still, five hundred dollars just for being on call and doing some training? Plus, they’re picking up all the fees for me going to Diantha High!”
Irene rolled her eyes. “Well, that last part ain’t so big – remember, my mom owns Diantha High. As for the rest – I’m sure you know the statistics, right? So you should understand why they want to make sure you’re happy here and get an education.”
But she didn’t – Irene didn’t even need her power to tell her that the girl wasn’t following her train of thought. Good God, is she really this dense?
After a minute of Aimi eating quietly and trying to figure out what Irene meant, she relented. “We’ve got a serious imbalance between heroes and villains. The necessity for a traumatic experience to achieve powers, as well as the staggering chance for mental illnesses mean that for every heroic or neutral metahuman out there, there are four supervillain. The good guys are very interested in making sure that you remain on the side of the angels.”
Aimi nodded, finally understanding, and went back to her three plates of food.
Irene herself swallowed two of her pills, then finished her salad. She wasn’t all that hungry, but she’d learned the hard way that neglecting her body’s physical needs would make her power compensate, making it harder to stay in control.
And she needed to stay in control, especially around the junior heroes. Melody may have accepted her despite her lapse in control, but it was unlikely that the others would be as accepting – especially Jared.
So she finished the (gorgeous) salad and ordered another round, just to make sure.
* * *
The hospital had been repaired quickly after the Hemogoblins attacked – Basil could not make out any sign of recent repairs.
Well, if mankind had not figured out how to repair buildings quickly by now, no city in the world would still be standing…
<Father, my scans show a visitor in Ms Fion’s room>, said Eudocia, speaking to him through an earbud he had linked to her box..
<Oh? Who?>, he asked, using a subvocal microphone to answer without even moving his lips. There were only one or two people who could be visiting Prisca. One would be bad, the other would be really bad.
<Facial recognition identifies the visitor as Primrose Tamara Fion>
Yeah, really bad. Prisca’s mother… did not like him.
Still, he had come here to meet Prisca and he would be damned if he did not go through with it just because the scariest woman in the world was there as well.
So he walked to Prisca’s new room – she had been put in a more secure room, pretty much in the center of the hospital and underground. While he was pretty sure that Prisca at least did not like this new arrangement, he was glad for the extra protection.
In front of the room, he found a tall, tall man in a black suit and tie. Sebastian, the Butler of the Fion family and Primrose’s bodyguard. He had done some research – Sebastian was actually a very old metahuman, born back in 1934. He had manifested at age seventeen, when he had taken his father’s place as the Fion family’s butler and the then-head of the family had been assaulted by the Dark. He’d managed to save his master and escape and he had been the families most loyal servant since then.
As he approached, he was struck by how tall the man was. Two and a half meters of lean, iron-hard muscle, with shoulder-length golden-white hair, he was rated as a Physique 10, with Protection 7 for his regeneration, Perception 5 for his enhanced and expanded senses and Damage 4 for his enhanced striking power. He could be a top-class cape, even if you did not factor in his sixty-two years of experience, but he had chosen to remain loyal to the Fions.
The butler took one look at him from behind his black sunglasses, which he wore even at night or in a building – they did not impede his vision in any way, but gave his already intimidating presence a barely needed boost and protected him from being staggered by sudden brightness – and nodded, stepping aside to let him enter. He did not pat him down or anything, as his x-ray vision allowed him to check him for any hidden weapons or similiar things. Of which he carried none. Basil had even made sure to leave Eudocia back in his lair, because her box stood out under x-rays.
I would really like to know what goes through the mind of a man like this. To dedicate himself so fully and completely to a family. I hear he has never taken a vacation in over sixty years of service.
He passed by the man and entered the room.
Inside, he found Prisca on her bed, hooked up to her machines. Next to her, on a stool, sat her mother, Primrose.
Ever since he had first met the woman, Basil had felt… uneasy around her. She made no secret of her disdain for him, though he could not guess why she did not like him.
Primrose looked the way Prisca should look, if it was not for her disabilities. She was as tall as Basil, and since she always wore high heels, she stood even taller than him. Her hair reached down to her waist in carefully styled ringlets, with any grey she might have gained by now well hidden. She was no adonis… well, she was no metahuman and so had no Physique effect, but she could still have modeled. Even at forty-five years, she was still stunning, having aged in as dignified a way as one could hope to. The only trait she did not share with her daughter were her pale blue eyes. Prisca had inherited her father’s eyes. In addition to that, she was dressed in a dark green, knee-length dress, a stylish black jacket and the aforementioned high heels. But above all else, the woman had presence. She could intimidate him better than anyone he had ever met.
When she saw him, a frown appeared on her face, but she did not say anything. She stood up, kissed her daughter on the forehead and left without looking at him again.
He did not relax until he heard the door close behind him and the sound of her pumps walking down the hallway. Then he let out the breath he had been holding.
“Has she ever told you why she does not like me?”, he asked.
Prisca shook her head. “No, she just says that you’re giving her a bad feeling. Also, some stuff about you simply not being good enough for me, but I think she’d say that about any boy I might like.”
He nodded and took Primrose’s seat. Then he took a good look at Prisca.
Her kidnapping and the ensuing operation had taken their toll on her. She was paler than usual, her hair stringy and brittle, her limbs even more drawn-out. And her eyes looked so tired.
“How are you feeling?”, he asked, taking one hand between his two, giving it a light squeeze.
“Awful, really. But I guess that is to be expected”, she replied, squeezing back.
“What is the doctor’s diagnosis?”
She averted her eyes. “More damage to my lungs, though less than it might have been and they should recover – a bit. Same for my stomach. But they’re afraid they’ll have to remove a kidney, though they’re going to wait and see if it might recover.”
He caressed her hand with his fingers. I wish I could have made those assholes suffer. Instead all but the Goblin got away scot-free.
“Well, I have got some good news at least. Something positive about this whole business”, he said.
She turned back at him. “How could any of this be positive?”
“Well, you remember how I said it would be difficult for me to help you with some gadgets? How it would be suspicious if Brennus just turned up and left you some advanced tech?”
She nodded, not understanding what he wanted to say.
“Now that Brennus saved you, it would not be that strange for him to take pity and make an effort to help you – I might even be able to work out some arrangement for me to directly examine you!” He was getting more and more agitated. If he could get a chance to use his own equipment to examine her, he might be able to actually find a cure, small as the chance might be.
Her face brightened up immediately, making his heart flutter. I love it when she looks like that.
“Are you sure? You could help!?”
“I can not promise you a cure – but I should be able to make things easier for you, maybe even create some compact machines so you could go outside in a wheelchair!”
She drew him closer, throwing her arms around his neck.
“Oh, thank you, thank you!”, she sobbed, burying her face in his neck.
“Now, now, why do we not wait until I actually manage to help you?”, he said, softly patting her back.
She let go and he helped her lean back again, her short burst of strength already spent.
“You saved me from those villains, remember? You already helped.”
He shook his head. “First, it was mostly Gloom Glimmer who helped you. Second, they would not have kidnapped you in the first place if it was not for the sake of drawing me out.”
“Not your fault. Besides, did you find out what they wanted from you?”
* * *
“So the Savage Six thought you were some other gadgeteer they’ve been looking for? And they organized a city-wide crime spree, just to test whether or not you might be that person?! What the fuck?!”
“Yeah, it sounds strange. I mean, what kind of person must this Macian have been, to make them do something like this just on the off-chance that it might be him?”
“Probably some kind of uber-gadgeteer. A 13/13, maybe? That would make anyone who knows about him go to any length to get their hands on him.”
He turned that thought around in his head. “You know, I think if there was a gadgeteer out there with that kind of rating, he would not remain an unknown for long. I mean, he would have the most sought after power ever, short of the Protege of course.”
“Yeah, something like that. Still, he’s got to be quite the character.”
“Hmhm. So, you have already read about the new Werdenfeld-Manning-System for power classifications?”
“Not read. I watched Gloom Glimmer’s lecture.”
“Didn’t I tell you? I’m going to be following the lecture by video. I’m already enrolled at Diantha High, though I mostly get private tutoring, but since I can’t get Gloom Glimmer over here, I’ll be following the whole course online.”
He smiled, amused. “So there is something your mother can not buy for you?”
“Are you kidding? We’re talking about the daughter of Lady Light and the Dark. Either of them is probably richer than the entire Fion family!”
“Oh, I know. Just teasing a bit”, he replied, giggling. “So, what did you think of the lecture?”
“It was fun, though I must say, she can make her exposition almost as long-winded as you do”, she said.
“Hrmpf. Just because I like to be thorough with my explanations…”, he snorted.
“Hihi, you’re just too easy to tease, you know. I swear, you could be a hundred years old, and you’d still get riled up whenever someone made fun of that.”
He blew her a raspberry.
“Oooh, how mature. That sure put me in my place.”
He snorted again.
“Well, either way, I have something else I wanted to ask you”, he said.
She raised an eyebrow. “Oh? What could that be? Will it be just as much of a surprise as earlier?”
Shaking his head, he answered: “No, I do not think so. But you will like it nonetheless. You see, I want you to do some testing for me. Something to occupy you.”
“That sounds really interesting. Tell me more!”
He pulled a hand-crafted tablet computer out of his backpack. It was a bit larger than the usual tablets, with a rimless screen the size of the usual printer paper. However, it was so thin and light, even Prisca would not have any problem holding it.
“Here, take this. I have already put in your fingerprints as the key to the lock.”
She took the tablet, curiously, smiling when she noticed the light weight, and pressed her finger on the screen.
It lit up, revealing several pre-installed programs and a white background with two black ravens biting each other’s tail, forming a circle.
“What is that symbol?”
“It is Brennus’ emblem. Do you like it?”
She nodded. “It’s nice, and so very you. But isn’t it dangerous, giving me something with your cape’s emblem on it?”
“First, only you can access this tablet. Second, who is going to check? Your mother is not going to rifle through your computer, right? And even if someone sees this, you can just say that you took the emblem as your background simply because he saved you and you like it.”
She nodded and he started explaining what it could do.
“It has got the usual features – internet access, high-definition graphics, compatibility with pretty much everything I could think off, a four-month battery life assuming two hours of use every day and so on. But the really interesting stuff is this little icon here.”
He pointed to a black icon with a red eye on it, formed like lips holding a circle between them. Eudocia’s emblem.
“What does it do? And what’s that symbol?”
“That is a secret – it would not do to spoil the testing by telling you what is behind it, you know.”
She pouted, which looked cute despite her cracked, thin lips, but he did not relent.
“It can only be activated with your fingerprint and you have to also type in the words ‘the world is vast’ as a password.”
“The world is vast?”
“Something that just came to mind. Feels incomplete, but I can not think of the rest of the phrase. Either way, try it out.”
She did so, tapping the icon and then putting in the password.
A black window appeared in the upper right corner. It was empty.
“If you tap this window, you can write into it, you can speak and you can drop in text, audio or video data. It will give back responses to anything you put in. I want you to challenge the program – give it any question, give it riddles and so on. You can even drop in games and watch it play them – or let it play in the background. You can also play against it, if the game allows for it. The purpose of the whole exercise is to see if you can find any flaws – anything it can not deal with, which causes it to fail.”
This way, you get to have some fun and I can outsource Eudocia’s testing.
“What kind of program is that?”
“As I said, telling you would spoil the testing. Do you think you can do this for me?”
She giggled. “Sure I can. And I can just throw anything at it?”
“Of course. If anything makes it hang up, I will know immediately and it will help me work some stuff out.”
“This sounds like fun!”
“I hope so. Now, I will leave you to it – I have work to do today. Specifically, working on that new equipment for you”, he said.
“Sure, sure, you go do that”, she said absentmindedly, already typing something into Eudocia’s chat window.
He smiled, giving her a light kiss on the cheek. Then he picked up his backpack and left, off to his lair.
Time for some work. Besides, Timothy would be there, together with the girls. He wanted to see whether or not they would like him.
* * *
The man (really more of a boy) that they called Hopscotch for the scars on his back that formed one such, had joined the Hemogoblins because… well, because of the girls. Or rather, one girl. The Goblin Queen. He’d first seen her when she’d robbed a bank he’d been in with his mother – she’d just smiled at him and he’d known that he wanted to work for her.
And at first, it had been awesome. Robbing people, assault, some rape, some other fun and, of course, sex with an awesomely hot woman whenever he did good work.
Then, last weekend had happened. Now, the Red Goblin was dead and Switchbitch and Redder were missing, with no trace to be found of either of them.
The queen had been less than pleased, to say the least. She’d been raging and screaming for two days, then started planning to retaliate againt the United Heroes. And Hopscotch would have been more than happy to help her – he might even get some more time with her, now that she wouldn’t be getting more goblins anymore and had to rely more on her real servants. Even though she’d just gotten a new metahuman, a young Japanese guy, as her right hand man, she’d still be thankful for his loyalty, he just knew it.
One minute ago, all of her and Hopscotch’s plans had been torn apart. Two girls had just appeared in the middle of their gathering, right out of nowhere. They wore identical skintight bodysuits and face masks that lacked even eye-holes, coloured Blue and Yellow, respectively. The suits were quite a bit thicker than usual, designed for efficient protection and movement instead of good looks, but they still did not hide that there were two real beauties beneath.
Before anyone present knew what had happened, the two had dismantled the fifteen baselines and two metahumans in the room, killing the twenty-three goblins they still had left.
Now, the Goblin Queen, herself dressed in what amounted to a barely present, black bra and loincloth, was lying on the ground, her hands nailed to the ground with her own knives. The new guy was unconscious, as was pretty much everyone else.
The girl in the yellow costume was standing over the Goblin Queen (she’d been the one to nail her to the ground – somehow), while the girl in blue was at the edge of the room, keeping a lookout.
Hopscotch had fallen where he’d stood, a single blow to his gut taking him out of the fight – though he was still conscious and able to watch.
Through the pain in his gut he watched and listened as the girl in yellow questioned the Goblin Queen about something, though the pain was just too much to really follow. Something about something called ‘Macian’, that asshole Brennus and the Savage Six. Why would they ask his mistress about the Six? Why would someone as magnificient as his mistress ever associate with the Six?
His mistress, of course, refused to answer – but that only made the girl in yellow take another knife that was lying around and impale his mistress’ foot, nailing it to the ground. He cringed in sympathy as she screamed in pain.
An outrage unlike anything he’d ever felt gripped him at the sight of his mistress being tortured, but his gut wouldn’t let him move.
The bitch in yellow questioned his mistress again, and this time, she answered. Though the bitch didn’t seem pleased by the answers, going by how she twisted the knife in his mistress’ left hand. Another round of questioning, and she seemed satisfied.
The blue bitch approached and held her hand out, which the yellow bitch took – and they vanished, just like that.
A minute later, he could finally move again, just in time for him to hear police sirens and watch as they stormed in.
* * *
The moment they arrived in their apartment, the two of them stripped out of their costumes. Both of them hated being part of the spandex crowd, but it was necessary to keep their identities secret as well as be more inconspicious.
Bluebell had laughed hysterically for ten minutes straight when she realized that wearing bright and flashy colours was less conscpicious than wearing normal stuff.
Glik immediately went to her computer, entering what little they had learned.
“Well, that was a bust”, Bluebell commented to her twin, walking up behind her to gather her long blonde hair in a ponytail.
Glik nodded, then stood up to return the favour.
“Do you think we should approach Brennus directly? If he’s Macian, he should recognize us immediately, right?”
Her sister nodded, but then raised a finger.
“But we have to be careful, I know. If he isn’t Macian, if the Six have him under surveillance, if, if, if.” She threw her head back, groaning. “Dammit, this almost makes me hope for another crime spree. It would be easy to contact him discretely if he was out fighting someone.”
Glik nodded again.
“Maybe we should actually contact the United Heroes?”
She shook her head.
“No, you’re right.” If only we knew how loyal Gloom Glimmer is to the Dark. Can’t have her rat us out to him.
Glik sat back down, typing something into her computer, pulling up a webpage.
Bluebell bent down to look over her shoulder. “Ooh, that might work…”
* * *
“Honey, I’m home! I’m hungry!”, Basil shouted as the elevator reached his actual lair.
He was greeted by confused stares.
“Hmph. No one appreciates the classics anymore”, he snorted.
Looking around, he could see his entire ‘team’ – if you could already describe it as such. Dalia was wearing an atrocious combination of orange hot pants and a purple top he hesitated to call anything other than ‘boobstrap’ while taking up an entire couch. Timothy was sitting at the console together with Vasiliki, who was showing him how everything worked (at least everything she could get to work) and Stephie was sitting on another couch, reading a comic book.
Tim spoke first: “It’s more like no one but you even bothers to watch most of the stuff you get your lines from.”
The girls giggled and Basil rolled his eyes.
“So, I guess you guys hit off with each other?”, he asked into the room while putting his backpack away.
“Well, we didn’t kill each other, at least”, said an irritated Dalia.
Stephie explained: “She’s just pissed that everyone’s been making fun of her outfit.”
“Oh, shut up, Mouse Girl”, replied Dalia, making a rude gesture. Stephie just giggled and turned back to her comic book.
Foreseeing more than enough occasions to ridicule Dalia’s wardrobe, Basil decided to let it rest for now.
“So, did anyone pick anything up?” He was referring to his surveillance systems.
Vasiliki answered: “There’s something going on with the Black Panthers. I think they are preparing to purchase something big, but no details yet.”
“Alright, we should keep an eye on that. Dalia, would you man the console? Maybe your power will help?”
The girl snorted, but stood up and walked over to the other two. Though she sat down as far away from them as possible.
“Anything else?”, he asked.
“No”, replied Stephie.
Dalia said nothing.
“I’ll just give Timothy a complete introduction, unless you want to do that?”, said Vasiliki.
“No, I would rather go down to my workshop. I have got quite a bit of work to do.” She nodded and turned back to the computer console.
He went down to his workshop.
* * *
An hour later, Brennus had made quite a bit of an advancement to his work on Prisca’s equipment. It felt strange, but somehow, his power was working more… cleanly right now. There was no other word to describe it. He was far more focused than usually, with less than five or six distractions every minute. Usually, his mind was working on at least twelve different projects simultaneously, though most were dead ends or forgotten before they could solidify.
If it went on like this, he’d be able to deliver the first package by the end of the week!
He was disrupted by Eudocia speaking up.
<Father, you may want to take care of this personally.>
He turned to the screen to his right, where she pulled up a video feed from one of his ravenbots.
This particular one stood on the edge of a rooftop in the Downtown. It showed a young man, twenty-something from the looks of him, standing next to it on the edge.
<An analysis of his behaviour returns a probability of eighty-nine percent of him committing suicide>, explained Eudocia.