B005 An Ember of Hope: Little Giants (Part 1)

Berlin, 13th June 2006

“An eight-year-old made this?” Alfred asked his companion.

She nodded, her complicated hair-knot bobbing up and down. “All of it. Not just this picture, everything you see here,” she replied seriously. “And all in less than a year, I hear.”

He shook his head, unbelieving. “That can’t be right. He a metahuman?”

“Apparently not. They actually got Lady Light to fly over and test him but she said no,” she explained.

“A hoax, then. No way a little boy did all of this, alone, in less than a year,” he continued, feeling his sensibilities as an artist insulted. It sometimes took him a year or two to make one picture like the piece in front of him – this one portraying Lady Light rising from the ashes of Berlin after the death of Weisswald in the last, final struggle of the Second World War. He had to admit, this was the work of a genius. He just didn’t want to believe that a little kid could do it.

“Look at the rest of his work. It’s all done by the same person, I’m sure of it. And, somehow, you can tell that it was done by a child.” His date grabbed his arm and pulled him into the gallery.

It was filled with nearly a hundred pictures of similiar quality, but with wildly varying themes. He looked at a few of them – a house by river, a knight fighting a dragon, a pirate on a ship – and he couldn’t deny the truth. This was all the same person. And… there was a sense of glee, of childish wonder, in each piece. The dragon and the knight were fighting like they’d jumped right out of a classic knight’s tale, but though the knight’s face was obscured by his helmet and the dragon’s maw was opened, breathing fire, there was just a sense of enjoyment woven into them that felt profoundly childish.

“My God,” he whispered as he realized that this may be it. A true genius, like the great artists of old. “Can I meet him?” he asked her.

She looked at him, understanding his emotions. “I hear he is in a separate room, working on a new picture. Anyone can watch, but you’ve got to be silent.”

He nodded and followed her as she pulled him in the direction of a doorframe with curtains instead of an actual door. On the way she said: “And you told me flying to Berlin would be a waste of time.” She stroked the pink-and-green peacock pin she had pinned on her dress, right over her heart.

* * *

Henry Appleton stood on a high stool, with a brush in each hand and his mother, dressed in her finest evening wear, holding his palette for him. He himself wore his favourite red shirt and blue pants, with an apron over them to keep them clean.

While he loved painting more than anything, he really hated having people watch him. At least, he hated strangers watching him. And right now, he had about a hundred people watching him as stood there, painting the Dark’s eyes. He’d been sketching this painting in his head for weeks and been working on it for two days already – he only had to finish the Dark and it was complete. But now his mother had told him that he had to finish it in front of everyone and he didn’t get why. Oh, he understood that it was good for making people believe that he really did it himself – only he didn’t get why it was anyone’s business.

“You’re doing great, sweetheart,” his mother whispered to him. “Just finish it and you can go to your room and be alone.”

He nodded without taking his eyes off his work, his hands flying over the picture, adding shades of black and red to the Dark’s face. People were whispering behind the red rope that held them back. He hated it when people where whispering around him. He hated crowds, because he hated the whispering, all the time, all around him…

He stopped working for a moment, closing his eyes to calm himself. He didn’t want to get stuck in his own head again. He’d just embarrass mother again and he didn’t want that.

After a few seconds, he continued his work, making the finishing touches to the six glowing red orbs. Then, as his mother had instructed him, he put his brushes onto the palette and turned around with a bow as the spectators began to applaud him.

* * *

“Is that his older sister?” Alfred asked in a whisper, aghast at the speed the boy was working. And with both hands at the same time. He needed to distract himself. The willowy, well-dressed young woman next to the boy was such a distraction. He noticed that the pin holding her bright red hair in a knot was fashioned like a cat. A very, very beautiful cat. Probably the boy’s work.

“Her? No, that’s his mother,” his date replied in kind, watching the boy with amused interest. She didn’t seem to be put off by the display.

“His-!? No. Way. The boy’s eight, right? And she can’t be more than twenty years old!” He almost raised his voice above a whisper and other spectators were giving him annoyed looks.

“Just turned twenty-one, far as I understand.”

“So she got pregnant at age twelve?”

“I hear she was kidnapped by a pedophile. Let’s not linger on this anymore,” she explained.

He visibly deflated. “Oh.” Then he looked for a different subject. Thankfully, he found one as the people began to stream out of the room while the boy was led away by his mother. “Any word on why he focuses so much on heroic imagery?” Nearly all of his pictures displayed some kind of heroism.

His date rolled her eyes. “Well, maybe it’s because he’s eight?”

He almost slapped his own head. “Right. Eight years old.”

“Let’s go and look at some of these beautiful paintings, alright? I think I saw one with a peacock, I’d really like to take a closer look at it.”

She pulled him back to the main hall of the museum.

* * *

“You did great out there, sweetheart,” Lara said as she used a towel to clean of his face in the room the museum had provided for the two of them to prepare.

Henry was squirming under her attention, groaning as she worked at a particularly persistent stain on his left cheek.

“I don’t know how you always manage to cover yourself in your own paint. You’re not doing this on purpose, aren’t you?” she asked with a smile.

He scrunched his nose. “Why would I do that, mama?”

“So you’d get me to clean you up again? I can still remember how you’d run out and jump into the mud, just so I’d give you another bath.”

“Muuuum! I was four! I’m older now!” he whined.

She giggled at his outrage. “Only four years older.” The stain finally admitted defeat and vanished.

“That means I’m twice as old now!”

“Yes, yes you are, my little sunshine. Now, let’s get ba-“

Suddenly, the lights went out. He and his mother froze for a second before they flickered back on.

“W-what was that?” she asked.

“Probably just a blackout, mama. Don’t worry,” he replied, stroking her cheek clumsily. “And the light’s back on any-“

<Achtung! Bitte bewahren Sie Ruhe. Die Wilden Sechs sind über der Stadt aufgetaucht und haben ihren ‘Vorhang’ errichtet. Bitte bewahren Sie Ruhe und begeben Sie sich zu den Luftschutzbunkern unterhalb des nächsten beschilderten Gebäudes.>

“Mama? Mama, what did they say?!” he asked, scared, as his mother turned pale as death.

She stood up so quickly that he almost fell off the stool he was sitting on. “Mama?”

“Grab your jacket, sweetheart, we have to go. Now!”

This time, he did fall of the stool, startled by her shout. He scrambled away, grabbing his patchwork jacket (he’d spent three days working on it, sewing it together out of countless small patches in every colour he could get his hands on. He’d even added a hood to it, which he now pulled over his head, suddenly wishing he could hide somewhere with his mother.

“Mama? What’s going on?” he asked again as he watched her put on her long brown overcoat over her dark green dress and grab her bag.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart, we’ll just go down into the air raid shelter. There is one right under the museum, we just need to go down a few-“

They had barely left their room when something hit the building with such force that it threw both of them off their feet. Henry yelped as he hit the ground with his head, hard. Everything went black.

* * *

“…be alright, please be alright, please be al…”

Silence, again. Only warmth remained.

“…please, open your eyes sweetheart, please open your eyes!”

He did, once he realized that it was his mother that was talking, desperately trying to wake him up. No, not right… Mama shouldn’t sound like this…

His eyes fluttered open. “Mama…?” he groaned as he suddenly noticed a dull pain in his head. Then he noticed that they’d been moving and had now stopped. Following that, he finally noticed that his mother was carrying him in a piggyback.

“Oh Henry, I was so worried…” she sighed and stopped, gently putting him down and leaning him against something hard and cold.

His head hurt so much. His eyes were open, but he could only see flecks of light dancing in front of him.

Soft, warm hands touched his cheeks, his lips, his nose. They moved over his head, touching a very tender bump on his head. She touched her lips to his forehead and he could suddenly see again.

His mother was looking at him, covered in dust, with streaks of tears leaving clean paths down her cheeks. Her green eyes (supposedly the same as his own, even though he was sure hers were half a shade brighter) were bright with tears. He had to look up a bit to see her face and so he could see that the sky was black, more black than any colour he had ever used, even when he painted the Dark. And yet it was still bright as day.

“Mama? What’s happened?” he asked in a whisper, his head hurting too much to speak any louder.

She caught on immediately – or maybe she was just so scared she didn’t dare speak any louder – and responded: “The Six. I-It’s the Savage Six,” she stammered. “Pristine hit the museum. She came after you. Said that M-M-Mindfuck wanted you, but that it wasn’t his turn yet. That she wanted to get back at him for some reason, so she was going to kill you before he had the chance to get you.” She was trembling.

He knew he should be scared, he should be terrified. He had heard the stories, what Mindfuck did with children he was after. But he was strangely calm. “How- how did you get away, mama?” He didn’t really know much about metahumans – they just weren’t as interesting as his art – but even he knew that the Six were pretty much unstoppable. His mother should not have been able to get him away.

She smiled without stopping to cry. “I… I think… no, I am a metahuman. I just grabbed you and just jumped into the next shadow. Kind of ironic, that I‘d get shadow powers don’t you think?” She chuckled sadly.

“You dove into the shadows? Cooool…” He blacked out again.

* * *

“Mama…?”

He was lying on something cold and hard. That was wrong. Mama would never put me somewhere this un-un-unnice…

His head hurt, though not as bad as before. He opened his eyes, staring up at the black sky – and parts of a destroyed ceiling and wall.

“Mama? Where are you?”

He looked around. Still inside the city, he was lying in the ruins of what looked like a former restaurant. And he could hear the sound of battle in the distance. Also, while it was still bright as day, the streetlights had been turned on. It’s probably night outside the curtain…

Trying to stand up, he merely flopped back down onto his butt, his head spinning. Lights were dancing in front of his eyes and his legs were numb. He put his hands onto his legs and kneaded them a bit until sensation returned to them. His head cleared as well.

Finally, after what felt like hours, he was able to stand up – though he was swaying a bit. His coat was ruined, stained with dust and torn badly by God knew what. He’d have to fix it, but he’d need some needle and thread.

Shaking his head, he focused his mind back on the here and now. Mama… where is mama? Suddenly, he was gripped by a deep-rooted fear. There was no way she’d leave him behind if she was still- No. Mama is alive. She just lost me, that’s it. She must have put me down to hide me and jumped into a shadow to do something and then forgot which shadow to go back to. Yes, that was good. That made sense.

“Hey! I think I found him!” shouted someone.

Henry whirled around. He saw a stocky man in a black and blue, armored costume with a concealing, featureless helmet. There was a white sextagon on his chest with six dots in different colours in it – black, blue, red, yellow, green and silver. A henchman?

Another person, a woman with a slender build, but the same costume, joined him. “Holy fuckin’ shit, that’s ‘im. Mindfuck is so going to reward us for this. He was afraid Pristine would get him first!” Her voice was grating and nasal, making him think of some cartoon character he had seen on the TV.

They approached him as Henry just stared, rooted on the spot in fear.

“Come’ere sweetie. We’re gonna get you to our boss and aaall will be great,” said the woman reaching out with her hands.

“Though we’ll have to get him to the boss without Pristine finding out about it,” commented the man who was following behind her.

“True dat. Now, come’ere sweetie,” she said again.

No, he thought. “No! I want my mama, not you!” he shouted, charging at her, swinging his fists. One connected with the chin of her armor, only to bounce off with a sharp sting of pain. It didn’t seem to faze her as he fell back onto his butt, tears running down his cheek as he held his hand.

The man chuckled. “Boy’s got guts, don’t h-“

Something shot towards him from outside of Henry’s field of vision, hitting his hand. He saw a black cable that led to what looked like a mechanical hand with spider-like, oversized fingers.

“What’s going on, pal?” the woman asked just as there was a thud.The man’s helmet and face liquified, splattering all over the remains of the wall. His headless corpse flopped to the ground and the hand was reeled back in.

The woman and Henry both turned around to see a young boy around his age stand there, the cable leading to his robotic left arm.

“No, not you, not you, not you please!” begged the woman as the claw shot back out, clamping onto her chest. “NO!!!”

Another thud and her whole torso liquified, splattering away from the claw as her arms, head and lower body dropped to the ground. Straight down without being thrown away from the claw by whatever struck her.

The claw… it bounced off only the second time. The first time, it didn’t even move when it made a thud…

Then he blacked out again, this time simply due to what he’d just seen.

* * *

Henry woke up again in a closed room. There was a warm, steady light in the middle of the room, coming from a cube the size of his fist.

“What happened?” he asked.

“You awake, mate? I’m glad, I was afraid I’d have to operate here,” said a young voice with a slight digital twang. Just from that, Henry could tell that whoever spoke probably wasn’t right in the head.

He sat up, stretching a bit and looking around. As his eyes fell on the boy opposite of the cube, he recoiled in horror.

He was his age, maybe a year older. His black hair was long and shaggy – on the right half of his head. His right eye was black as the night, so black he couldn’t make out a difference between his pupil and his iris. He was dressed in a simple black shirt and black pants, with grey-white sneakers.

The left half of his face had been burned down to an unrecognizable mess, his cheek mostly gone, his ear and eye apparently destroyed. The flesh that remained was warped and twisted, like melted wax that had been formed into a human face’s shape – by a blind monkey. Instead of a cheek, he had a clear plastic sheet that seemed to merge with his burned flesh in a way that was even more disgusting than the actual burned flesh. His teeth on that side were all metallic, as were parts of his jaw. It looked like he had a constant, deranged grin on the left side of his face.

Furthermore, his left eye was a metallic orb with glowing white and golden lines surrounded by bits of metal that protruded from his flesh. Instead of a left ear, he had something like a speaker (or maybe a flat microphone) built into its ruins and there were several pieces of metal, almost like antennae emerging from his head instead of hair.

The left sleeve of his shirt was missing, revealing a shoulder made of dull gray metal set into similarly burned and twisted flesh, with a too-long robotic arm tipped by a spider-like hand with fingers as long as Henry’s forearm.

The boy looked at him with both his organic and mechanical eye, a deranged glimmer in the right one. “Sorry ’bout the freakshow look, mate. I’m afraid I’m not going to win a beauty pageant any time soon.” He didn’t seem to be concerned about his look or his grievous wounds as much as he was concerned about Henry’s reaction. “What’s your name, mate? And why do these assholes want you so bad?”

He finally found his voice again, latching onto the question. “Henry. My name is Henry Appleton. I’m an-“

The boy’s eyes brightened at the name. Both of them, one metaphorically, the other literally. He rose to his feet and said: “Henry Appleton? The boy genius who’s been making Picasso look like a kindergartner with crayons?!” Now that he stood, Henry could see that his throat was burned as well, with some pieces of metal betraying implants of one kind or another, which probably accounted for the slight digital twang to his voice.

“That’s me, um, Mr…?”

The boy looked at him, thinking. “Hm. I’ve never had a name before. How about you call me… I don’t really have a name. Nor do I think I’m going to need one any time soon.”

“That*s strange. Didn’t your mother give you a name? Mine did. Hey, did you see my mother?! She has curly red hair, like me, and green eyes half a shade brighter than mine! She should wear a blue evening dress and a brown overcoat!”

The twisted boy shook his head. “Sorry mate, never saw her. Just saw those pricks try to get you and thought it would be better to have them dead. And no, my mother never gave me a name.”

Henry deflated, but then the statement stirred his memories. Dead. He killed them, just like that. Even though she was begging…

He keeled over, emptying his stomach on the ground. The twisted boy did not approach to help, just waiting for him to calm down as his body shook with heavy, almost spastic sobs. “You… you killed them. Just like that.

“They deserved it. They were going to give you to Mindfuck. You know, the guy who likes to rape little children to death and broadcast it across entire cities, into the mind of everyone he can reach? I should have done more than just kill them instantly and without pain.”

“I… I…”

Calm down, mate. You can’t change it, I can’t change it and you need to concentrate. You won’t survive this if you’re not all there, nor will you find your mom. Shelve it all for later, when the seven days are over.”

Henry nodded, feeling strangely calm despite the situation. He looked up at the twisted boy, meeting his eyes directly for the first time. “You need a name. I can’t just call you mate or boy, you know?”

“Hm… I don’t know. A name?”

“Yeah. Even if it’s just your cape-name. Something that has to do with your power?” Henry was absolutely sure this boy was a metahuman.

The twisted boy looked at his robotic arm, making it rotate a bit. “I make stuff, you know? So… why don’t you call me… Macian.

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B004.5 Worlds Away

 What people knew as the Protectorate was not an area of sixteen square miles. An area of sixteen square miles was the particular range which had to be kept clear of sentient life – so the defensive structures were all outside of the area, so as to keep all personnel outside of the range. Even remotely controlled equipment counted as sentient in this regard (the phenomenon was known as sympathetic empathy and was, like most of The Protege’s powers, completely unique to him) and since the exact limits of his empathy was unknown save for its range, the people in power had decided to simply keep everything that was even fabricated by humans out of his range.

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B004 Introduction to Metahuman Studies (Part 5)

The young man looked utterly unremarkable – he was the kind of person Basil would never have noticed walking down the street (then again, Basil was not the most observant of people). Neither tall nor short, average weight but soft, untrained. Short, brown hair, muddy brown eyes and a too large nose for his otherwise thin face. His clothing was equally unremarkable, a pair of blue jeans, a black t-shirt and blue loafers. Basil pegged him as a mid-twenty, at most.

And he was standing at the edge of the building, alternating between staring off towards the setting sun and down at the street.

As Basil watched, he took a deep breath and raised one foot to step off the roof.

“Stop please!” Basil shouted while simultaneously activating the speaker function of the raven.

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