Interlude 7 – Monkey Business (Part 4)

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I stood there, my… daughter hugging me hard enough to crack a tree (she was strong) and I was just slackjawed.

My life has officially passed from straaaaaange to… I don’t even know to what.

Still, despite the… sensation of mentally running into a wall, over and over, this girl here was my daughter, I was sure of it. That the monkey did not urge me with dark suggestions was proof enough, as were her eyes. And she had obviously been looking forward to this reunion for quite some time. No reason to make her feel unwanted.

So I put my arms around her, slowly. She only hugged me harder in response.

“I’ve dreamed of this day, you know?” she whispered.

“I see.” What was I supposed to say? I’d already been completely out of my depth with Hennessy. The situation may have been different now (I wasn’t getting smacked around, for one – though that could still happen) but… I had nothing. I had no idea what to say or do.

Less than four hours ago, I’d been out to find my ex-girlfriend, maybe hoping to get a second chance with her… now I had two teenage, almost grown-up daughters, one a severely damaged superheroine, the other an active supervillain with a lot of clout and they were supposedly archenemies.

Fun times. Stars above…

I pushed her back a bit so I could look down (even with her substantial heels, she was still way shorter than me) at her face.

She was biting her lower lip, looking insecure.

God, she looked like a child, all of a sudden.

“Don’t take this the wrong way – I know you’re my daughter – but how? I know I used protection the one time I slept with your mother.” Please don’t take this as a rejection.

She bit her lip harder, for a moment, looking away as if ashamed.

I saw her shadow – it looked like it had been circling us – rise from the ground, filling out into a three-dimensional, solid black copy of her. A perfect reflection, but there was no distinction between her clothes and her body, and her face, though perfectly detailed, was empty, emotionless, her eyes as dark as the rest of her.

Something about that shadow just creeped me out.

“Um,” the Matriarch – I so needed to know her name, no way I was calling my own daughter ‘Matriarch’ all the time – tried to speak up, commanding my attention again. “We shouldn’t… shouldn’t discuss this here. Come, let’s go somewhere more private, alright?”

Taking a step back, her hands grabbed my own and tugged, gently. Still insecure.

I nodded and followed her, nodding towards Cartastrophy, who managed to look depressed despite his costume. I gave him a look, and he nodded slightly. He knew not to talk about Chayot. That was not for him to share. I wasn’t even sure if I had the right to share it.

Followed by her now very physical shadow, my daughter pulled me past her divan and through a barely visible door in the wall behind it, then through the hallway beyond the door.

The room at the end of the hallway was far less… ostentatious than the hall. It was circular, with a large circular table, big enough for a group to have dinner together, small enough to still feel private and homely.

It was pretty much the only piece of furniture left in the room from the time I’d last been here. There were new, more modern cupboards along the walls, a large flat screen television and a lot of other stuff. Last time I’d been free and in America, we’d just gotten the first three dimensional screens for home use (they’d sucked). I idly wondered if the technology had taken off or just faded away again.

My attention was pulled back to more immediate, more important matters when my daughter turned around and hugged me again. Hard.

Is this normal? Or is there a special reason for why she seems so… desperate?

I hugged her back, still not sure how to react. Waiting for her to let go once she felt ready.

After a while, she relaxed and stepped back. “Thank you,” she said with a soft voice.

Now I was really confused. “What for?”

That got a weak giggle out of her. “You didn’t push me away. I mean, I’m just a stranger to you, and I just told you I’m your daughter – no proof, nothing – and you still let me hug you. That was nice.”

Well, I had the advantage of the monkey at least considering her a non-target, so I knew there was something special about her.

“To be honest, I just know that there is some connection between us. Can you answer my question now?”

Suddenly, she was all nervous again and walked over to the table, sitting down on a chair her shadow pulled out for her.

I sat down on the opposite side of the table, trying to look more confident than I was (no idea if it worked).

“You… remember that night? With my mother?” she asked, avoiding my gaze.

“Yes… she’d hired me for a caper – needed some muscle in case the heroes showed up, which they did – and after we got away… barely, and all the others got caught… we kind of… ended up back here. We were both euphoric, half-dead from the beating we’d both taken and really… in the mood,” I said, quite uncomfortable with discussing this with my daughter. “We both celebrated a little… right here… with some drinks and then…”

I looked over to the door opposite the one we entered. “Yeah, we went in there. But… I know I used protection, I remember making sure of it.”

She looked down, fidgeting on her seat. Opening her mouth, she almost started to speak, then went quiet again – and then her shadow poked her shoulder… and everything poured out of her.

“It was a setup,” she began. “All of it, the job, you two being the only ones to get away, the drinks, everything. She even… well she sabotaged the… the protection.”

Oh ewww…

“She even made sure it all happened while she was… ovulating. And she took some kind of contriver stuff to make herself extra… extra fertile,” she finished, looking ashamed.

Double eww.

“Why?” Did she know about…

Her shadow put a hand onto her shoulder, making her look at it. I heard something, a whisper I couldn’t understand.

The girl looked back at me. “She… she never did tell me. All I ever heard was that blood was thicker than water, which is just amazingly unhelpful.” She rolled her eyes, or at least I thought she did.

She knew, dammit. No oth-

My eyes fell on her shadow. Standing behind her, its shoulders were shaking… it was laughing, silently and, somehow, smugly.

It knows, I’m sure of it.

I looked back at the girl. She was still avoiding eye contact, but I could also tell, from her face and her eyes, that she was annoyed at the lack of an answer she got from her mother.

Throwing the shadow a suspicious glare – it had stopped moving and was just… well, I was pretty sure it was looking at me, but it was hard to tell… anyway, I was pretty sure that it knew, but she didn’t.

And it knew that I knew that it knew. Because it put a finger to its lips, as if to hush me.

The bottom fell off my stomach, and I felt my heart – and other assorted organs – drop down into my shoes.

She was in the same boat as Hennessy, if in a different way. Her power had a mind of its own, and it could keep secrets from her.

And now I knew, beyond any doubt, that she was my daughter. Even without the eyes, and her mother’s manipulative nature (she’d been famous for it, even without factoring in her power), which when coupled with her legendary lust for power certainly made such a plot probable, I’d always known that having children might be a bad idea. One of the few advises my father gave me, which I actually was thankful for (most of them were just… creepy to give to your child) was that I should be extremely careful about having children… that I should be absolutely sure that I wanted a child, and that I should make sure to be present for it… because they were likely to have issues with their powers.

Though, as usual, he hadn’t explained why any of my children would have issues with their powers. He was an asshole about that.

And now both my daughters… I remembered the figure I’d seen inside Hennessy’s head (or wherever the hell we’d been), and that thing had certainly been alive, though it had not been as overtly distinct from her as this girl’s shadow was.

“… papa?”

“Huh?” I looked up. She was staring at me, worried.

I noticed that I’d been brooding. “Sorry, I spaced out, didn’t I?”

“Uhh, yeah, you could call it that…” she replied, sounding shaken.

Strange.

“I know this is a lot to drop onto your lap all at once, and I know you don’t owe me anything, but…” She stopped, staring to the side. Her shadow whispered something, again, but she waved it off.

I waited for her to continue, folding my hands in front of my face and looking at her over them. I wasn’t the most… savvy person, especially regarding the feelings of others, but I could tell that she was, for some reason, close to a breakdown.

And I had no idea how to deal with it.

Wrapping her arms around herself, she gave me a longing look. “I… If you want, we could… I mean, you probably want to reestablish yourself here, and if you want, you can work with me… or I can work for you, I mean, you’re way more experienced… and it would be really useful for both of us, if…”

Her shadow put a hand to its forehead, shaking its head while she continued babbling.

I just rose from my seat and walked around the table. She only sped up, trying to throw more good arguments at me for why I should join her, or she join me, or… well, she certainly was no smarter than I was, it seemed.

Stopping next to her, I grabbed her by her shoulders and pulled her up into a hug, lifting her off her chair and off the ground, her feet dangling in the air as I buried my face in her rich hair.

“What’s your name?”

She choked, then answered: “Elouise. Elouise Luviere.”

“I’m Kevin Paterson. Call me Kevin, or papa if you insist.” I hugged her close, but not hard enough to risk hurting her.

“Are you… do you mean it? I mean, you never wanted me, and my organization isn’t that great an-“

“Oh, shut up.” I hugged her harder. “I don’t give two shits about any organization or power or money or political advantage. Don’t need any of that, as far as I’m concerned, anyway.” I tried to put as much… how to even call it… you know, that fuzzy tone fathers can put into their voice when they want to reassure their children? I hadn’t exactly gotten much of that, in my time (though I’ll admit that my father tried to be like that), so I didn’t exactly know how to call it. But I tried a fatherly voice, going by what I’d heard from others over the years. “I don’t know you… but I’d like to change that. Try to be a family.”

And I wish I could have just said that to Hennessy. Why didn’t I get my act together back there?

She shuddered, then hugged me back. I thought I heard her crying, but I don’t think she’d have appreciated me commenting on it.

I held her. Don’t ask me how I felt for the year or so we spent like that, because I honestly can’t tell you. It was intense, but that’s all I can put into words.

* * *

After some time – don’t ask me how long – I felt her grip relax. Slowly, more reluctant than I’d thought I’d be, I let go, lowering her onto the floor.

She took a step back, turning in the same motion, right into the handkerchief her shadow was holding, and which it used to clean up her face before I could see it.

I resisted the urge to spout some pun and just waited for her to feel up to talking again.

Maybe I’ll be up to it by the time she is.

Once her shadow was done, she turned around. Her eyes were a little red, and her nose too, but otherwise she looked fine.

“Thank you,” she said, again.

I smirked. Then I reached out with both hands for her mask. She tensed up for a moment, but didn’t resist when I pulled it off.

Underneath she was… surprisingly cute. I mean, she was as beautiful as her mother had ever been, even more so. But where her mother had been gaunt and sharp-featured, she was just… soft. She looked younger than her eighteen-odd years, and I realized that her mask was designed specifically to make her look older. Pair that with her dress and she could pull off twenty-one years, I guess.

“Elouise… do you have a nickname you prefer?” I asked while putting the mask aside on the table.

“Uhh, Lise is fine, I guess,” she said. “Never had a real nickname, to be honest.”

“Really? With a name like Elouise, I’d have thought your friends-“

She laughed out loud – but it wasn’t a happy laugh.

“Friends? You really didn’t know my mother,” she said. “I had peers, rivals, sure. People I could measure myself against. But friends? They would have been a weakness. So she made damn sure I never made any.”

And I thought my dad’s an asshole…

“No friends at all? Even after… when did she die, anyway? How?”

Her face fell, again.

“Oh, uh… did you hear about the whole incident with the Ascendant, five years ago?”

I had to restrain myself not to show the sudden surge of rage I felt at being reminded of him. Her shadow seemed to notice, taking a step closer to her. Ready to protect her.

At least it keeps her safe, huh?

Somehow, that movement calmed me down. Reminded me that I needed to be on my best behaviour.

“I’ve heard of it. What exactly happened to her? She was not a frontline fighter, so…”

She looked away, again. “The boy… they call him Jabberwocky… he had some kind of danger sense and tracking, or maybe a strange kind of precognition. Could tell where the biggest threat to himself was, went right after it. So, the first thing he did was attack the base where the hero and villain superminds were. The precogs, the super-strategists, the data-analysts. It faked out the fighters, faked out even the superminds, came up in the middle of them… and started killing. They didn’t stand a chance. Mom was there because of… well, she had a slew of perception powers, as you probably know. Some low-level precognition, some enhanced awareness, empathy, and so on. A little bit of most. But… Jabberwocky could somehow resist perception powers, if he was close enough to their users, and he took almost all of them down.”

She said all this in a strangely calm voice. I couldn’t tell how she felt about it.

So I decided to just ask.

“How do you feel about that?”

Her mouth clenched up, as did her fists, and it took her a while to respond.

“I hated her, you know? I mean, I loved her, still do, but I also hated her. Still do. I’m just…”

Again, her shadow reached out, pulling her around to face it. It spoke in that incomprehensible whisper again, and she relaxed.

Turning around again, she faced me as her shadow put its arms over her shoulders, letting them dangle limply as it put its head next to hers.

“Sorry, I’m a little… emotional today,” she said.

God, she takes way too much after me. “I can tell.” I took her hand and sat down, pulling her down onto my lap. Thankfully, her shadow melted away, sinking back into the floor.

Maybe it doesn’t see me as a threat anymore?

“Look, Lise, there is a lot I want to talk to you about, but I think we both need some time to really let this sink in, alright?” I certainly do. “Also, I did come here for some business that is quite… pressing. Sorry for bringing it up.”

She shook her head, snuggling against my chest. Damn, she was young, younger than I’d been at her age. “It’s alright. I guess reestablishing yourself after eighteen years – by the way, you really need to tell me what you’ve been doing – is quite a chore.”

She thinks I want to be a supervillain again. I didn’t think that I wanted that. To be honest, my plans consisted of three points. Find the Ascendant. Kill him slowly and painfully. Take care of your daughters, moron!

Three simple points, no overarching plot or anything. Not that I’d ever been prone to those.

“Look, I heard the Ascendant is back in town. I need to find him. Preferably before he pulls any large or small operation.” I managed to restrain the hatred in my voice, and I prayed to God her shadow wouldn’t pick up on it and tell her. It seemed to be… sensitive.

“What for? Do you want an in with him? You’d have all the heroes around after you, if you did. Especially that bitch Chayot and her pals.”

Now I felt like slapping her for using that kind of word in regards to her sister. But she didn’t know. And I wasn’t comfortable with complicating things even more right now.

“Let’s just say there is some old, unfinished business between us. And it’s really urgent. If there is any way for you to get me an in? Just an audience?” Her organization may be diminished, but she is the heir of one of the old guard.

She nodded, never parting from my embrace. “I’ll see what I can do.” Her shadow slithered out of the room. “But it’ll probably take a while.”

“Sure thing, sweetie.”

She giggled and snuggled closer.

This is actually nice. And the monkey hadn’t even tried pissing me off for a while.

* * *

After a while, Elouise had to take care of some business. She put on her mask, aging by at least three years with it, kissed me on the cheek (I kissed her on both, and on the top of her head, which for some reason made her giggle) and went off to work, inviting me to make myself at home.

I told her I wanted to visit my old house and gave her my address and my phone number, both of which she took gleefully in exchange for her own (she lived at the casino, but she had a private cellphone number).

Then, me and Cartastrophy left, taking his car back home.

“Damn, now I’ll lose the other poster, too,” he grumbled.

Thinking about it, I actually said: “Dude, she gave you that one herself. It’s alright, keep it.”

He shook his head. “No way pal. You know why I like those posters. No way I’ll have my friend’s daughter on one of those posters.”

I grunted in affirmation.

We reached the block next to the one I lived at, and I got out of the car to walk the rest of the way.

Merlin Street hadn’t changed at all in the last eighteen years. The houses still looked like they came out of a cheap horror novel, all faux-victorian stonework and stuff. Really gloomy, but with way too much colour in the flowerbeds and on the roofs to feel depressing.

My house was unchanged, too. Someone (probably Dad) had been taking care of it.

I stepped into the old, almost fortress-like building, and was immediately assaulted by the smell of old books, musty wood and carpet.

And there was someone there. The monkey wasn’t smelling anyone, but I could hear someone riffling through my bar. The bottles were clinking against each other.

Without hesitation, I stormed into the living room, half-ready to manifest my monkey hand-

A man stood behind the bar, clad in a dark blue robe with a hood and wide sleeves. As I entered, he turned around, unconcerned, with two glasses and a bottle of seventy-year-old scotch in hand.

“Want a drink?” the most powerful man in the world asked in a thousand and no voices. I could barely see his mirror-like, featureless facemask. It was more of a helmet, really, but almost skintight and shaped so at least a nose and some basic facial lines were suggested by the mirror.

Not that anyone ever paid attention to the mirror itself, because the images it showed usually commanded all of your attention.

Though, seeing how they never made any fucking sense, I’d just gotten used to not paying them attention.

“Hello Journeyman. What have you been up to?” I sat down on a stool in front of the bar counter.

He filled the two glasses, then held out one for me. I took it, we knocked glasses and drank. His glass moved through his mask like it wasn’t even there.

Ah, life gets immediately better once you drink a scotch that’s twice as old as you are.

“Journeying around the world, of course. And then some,” he answered in his freakass voices, his mask showing… images of countless people. Some of them looked like heroes, or villains, or people out of a fantasy novel.

“Anything in particular?”

“Spaceworms,” he said. “Godlike spaceworms, and dancing. But in the end it came down to a little girl with serious control issues.”

“You still don’t make any sense.”

He chuckled, which was really creepy, because it was like a whole opera house was chuckling all at once.

“I pride myself on that. I hear you’ve had some… interesting experiences?”

I took another swig. “Did you know about my daughters?” No use trying to keep a secret from this guy.

He shook his head, his mask flashing through images of Hennessy and Elouise, from childhood to now. Some of them scared me, a lot.

“Had I known, I would have brought you back here immediately. Alas, even my knowledge is limited.”

I snorted and took another drink (Journeyman always knew when to fill up and when to stop).

“I need a break. Got any funny stories to tell?”

“Well, there’s this one about magical lost romans who fight naked elves on giant sloths.”

“Sounds like my kind of story. Shoot.”

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Interlude 7 – Monkey Business (Part 3)

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Promising your ex to murder your daughter’s tormentor must be a great way to fix up a relationship, because five minutes later, we were sitting on the same couch (though we did keep a certain distance) and chatting.

She was avoiding the question I knew she wanted to ask, perhaps even more than the question for me to kill someone. I wasn’t sure I could have answered her, anyway. It wouldn’t have been fair.

“So, you and Phil? How did that happen?” I asked, maybe a bit too curious. He wasn’t anything like the kind of guy I’d have thought she’d ever fall for.

She looked down at her feet (wearing plush pink slippers that looked like cats – something told me Charity had chosen them), half sad and half smiling.

“Uh, well, after… after you left, and after Henny was born, I kind of lost interest in… in bad boys. And the life, as a whole. I just wanted something stable, for myself, but even more for Henny,” she half-whispered.

Punch. Gut. Hurts. Deserve it.

“I’m glad you found him. That you found what you looked for, without me,” I said with total (fake) honesty. My dad was an asshole, but at least his lessons in proper lying turned out useful. “You deserve this and more.” That, at least, was no lie.

She looked up with slightly wet eyes, nodding. “Thank you, for… for understanding it.”

I snorted. “You talk as if I had cause to hold it against you. I screwed up, not you, so don’t you think you need to thank me for anything,”

Suddenly, I clapped my hands, loudly. She jumped in her seat.

Then she looked at me, and giggled. “Oh God, you still do that?” she asked in between trying to take a breath.

“Some things never change. And it got me a smile and a giggle,” I replied, winking. “Now, I’d like to talk to Hennessy before I go. Do you know how long she’ll sleep?”

Tamara shrugged, looking so helpless I wanted to hug her. I didn’t. I didn’t have that right anymore.

“I… I don’t know. She’s only lost control a few times like that. Once, it only took three hours for her to wake up. Another time, nearly a week.”

Reaching out, I took her hand, holding it with a light grip. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have just turned up like that.”

“No, no, you couldn’t have known. I just… I wish you’d shown up earlier. The day after you left, with that surprise you promised me,” she said, half-choked.

Stab. Twist.

“Do… do you want to know? What I wanted to do?” Please say no.

She shook her head. “I… I think it would be better if I didn’t… didn’t know. For now. Maybe… maybe once I’ve worked this out.”

Same for me, I think.

“Tamara… I’m sorry. I just need to say it again. I’m sorry I wasn’t here, and I… I hope to make it up to you. And I don’t mean killing that piece of scat.”

She looked choked, then insecure, then… I couldn’t tell.

“Don’t. Don’t make it up to me, you didn’t wrong me,” she said. Her eyes were wet again. “It was Hennessy who suffered. Even before… even before he took her. She always yearned to know her father, but I couldn’t even tell her your name. She didn’t know whether to hate you for leaving, or to long to see you again, and it’s torn her up inside.”

That… hurt worse than getting pounded by Desolation-in-Light. Way worse.

“I will do whatever I have to to make amends. I swear it,” I said, as fervently as I could.

“Do so. It won’t be easy. She hates you… and she loves you. Even if she doesn’t know you at all.”

Suddenly, she gripped my hand like a steel vise, and her eyes transfixed me, as if she was looking right down into my soul. Hopefully not. She’s never seen the monkey.

“You won’t disappear again, understand?” Her voice was steel and her nails were digging into my arm, cutting into the fabric of my suit. “If you vanish again, I’ll come after you, and I‘ll kill you. got it? You will not abandon your daughter, is that clear?”

She’s never looked so beautiful. “Crystal. I’m here to stay.” There was nothing else to say.

As if on cue, Dearheart – Camille Schmitz, as I’d learned earlier – came down the stairs, dressed in sweatpants and a shirt. “Henny has woken up.”

* * *

Hennessy was lying on her bed, dressed in a pink silken pajama covered in hopping bunnies. Something told me that the princess ruled this house.

She looked at us, her purple eyes tired, but awake. She looked at me, paused… and looked away and at her mother.

Of course. I’m still the badguy.

“Oh Henny!” Tamara knelt down next to her daughter’s bed and took her hand in both of her own, squeezing it hard.

I expected them to talk, but they didn’t. Instead, they just looked each other in the eyes, and seemed to be communicating that way.

Leaning over to Camille, I asked: “How… how does her power mess up her speech?”

She gave me a scorching gaze that, by all means, should leave only a blast shadow of me on the wall, but answered, “She can’t speak. She can’t read or write, and she has no unconscious body language. She has trouble understanding body language, and she needs to really, really strain herself to understand spoken language.”

I’m almost tempted to ask dad for help with the Ascendant. Almost.

“So we can only really communicate through mental contact?”

This is going to be bad. Real bad. Fucking monkey.

“Right. I so look forward to having her brainblast you to next month.”

I didn’t reply.

A minute or so later, Tamara rose from her position and came over to us.

“She’ll speak to you – alone,” she said, looking years younger, now that her daughter was well again. Or as well as she could be. “Camille, come on, let’s leave them.”

Camille looked ready to object, but then she turned to face Hennessy… and walked out with another word, closely followed by Tamara.

Leaving me alone with my daughter.

We looked each other in the eyes, and I could feel her power reach into my mind, slipping right past the monkey. If I was right about my suspicions, this was not a quirk of her power, but due to the… contact we’d made all those years past. Somehow, the monkey didn’t really recognize her power as foreign, and thus did not defend against it all that well.

Also, if what I’d learned so far was right, then even this power, elementary though it was, drained her already limited reserves. Even her sole, reliable means of both interpreting others and expressing herself were limited.

Least I could do was make it easy for her, so I suppressed the monkey as far as I could, and opened myself up as far as I could.

Yeah, I wasn’t really good at either.

“Hennessy, may I come closer to you?” I said, speaking loudly and clearly, even though I felt like whispering.

It visibly took her a second or two to understand the sentence, then she answered.

Acceptance.

Whoa, I thought, but then I tried to answer in kind as I approached. Gratitude. It wasn’t pure, I could tell, not as simple as hers – there was also relief, and hesitation, and a host of other emotions mixed in.

But she nodded, so she’d gotten the message. Probably had learned to seperate the important parts from the chaos of human emotions.

I knelt down in front of her. That was a gesture she should be able to easily interpret, regardless of all issues. I didn’t touch her though, didn’t take her hands into mine, even if I ached to get closer to her.

To tell her that everything would be alright. That I was sorry. So incredibly, incredibly sorry.

She laid her head to the side, as if looking at something strange, unfamiliar. I couldn’t read her, at all. Her face was calm, solemn, emotionless.

All the markers, all the usual hints we humans used to understand each other, even if it was subconscious… they weren’t there.

She smells good, at least. Like flowers, though I’ll be damned if I could tell which ones.

And I was getting sidetracked at least. A lifetime of not taking things too serious, catching up now.

Soft, smooth fingertips touched my cheek. Warm, they were so incredibly warm.

I looked up again, not having noticed how I’d been looking at the ground. She was as solemn as ever, but her eyes were pained, though I couldn’t tell by what.

Clarity. Sadness, Emptiness.

“I’m so sorry, Hennessy. I should have been here, with you.” I always promised myself I’d be a better father than my own had been.

Her eyes half-closed, and she raised my chin.

Lack.

It wasn’t enough. My remorse, it wasn’t enough for her.

“What can I do? Tell me, I’ll do it!”

Clarity.

“About what? Clarity about what?” I focused on the confusion, trying to get it through to her.

Clarity. Sadness. Pain. Loneliness. Anger, rage, hatred.

She was all but pounding my head, trying to get through my thick skull.

She wants me to feel all that she felt.

“Do it. Show me.” Acceptance. Gratitude.

She reached out with her hands, cupping my face. Leaning forward, she pressed her lips to my forehead.

Any other moment, I would have loved it, but she didn’t let me enjoy it even for a second.

Instead, once again, she let the world break.

* * *

I was drawn into a maelstrom of emotions and memories, drowned in it.

A memory, her mother putting her to bed in that dingy old apartment of hers. She was barely five, and a happy child, though she always got sad when her mother cried.

And her mother cried a lot, but never in front of her. She put her to bed, then she went into the living room – the apartment only had a bedroom and a living room – turned on the TV so Hennessy wouldn’t be able to hear (but she still did) and just cried.

Deeper, deeper…

The other children always made fun of her, because her clothes were old and she had no daddy. At the school, on the playground, most of them were so mean, and she couldn’t really get why.

I saw the garden again, limbs and bodies and more still, but less than before, pieces burning away as she used her power to show me.

Age nine, close to christmas. Her mother had lost another job. They barely had enough money to eat, no money to keep the heating up. They’d huddled together under all of their blankets for the night, and her mother was reading her a book.

It was too cold for her mother to go cry in the living room at night. She wouldn’t let her daughter freeze. So she waited until she thought her asleep, and cried then. Not as often as earlier, when she’d been younger, but she still did it every now and then. Santa Clause wasn’t coming this year. Again.

Her twelveth birthday and mommy was taking her and Marge to the movies! Tickets had become really cheap, because of Screensaver, who was now her super-favourite hero, even if he couldn’t fly! She could finally go to the movies with her pocket money, not just when a friend took her on a birthday or something!

The movie had barely started when she suddenly started getting drowsy, dizzy. It wasn’t boring, so why was she falling asleep? She turned her head to look at her mother, to ask what was wrong with her, but that movement was enough to make her fall off her seat.

The world got blurry as she saw her mother slide down onto the floor, trying to pull her into an embrace. She could taste the buttery popcorn they had bought on her tongue, but also something bitter.

Hands in black gloves grabbed her mother, pulling her away. Other hands in black gloves, strong and ungentle, grabbed her, lifting her like a wet sack. She saw men in black costumes, with angel’s faces on their masks, grabbing Marge and other children. Her whole body was so numb, so weak, she couldn’t even try to push the bad man with the angel face away.

The man stepped over her prone mother, but she tried to grab him, even though she looked so weak. He kicked her in the face, and the last thing Hennessy saw before she blacked out was blood gushing from her mother’s shattered nose.

She woke up again to see the man who’d taken her, who’d kicked her mother, take his helmet off as she lay on a cold table. Another man in a priest’s robe with a white angelmask walked into her field of vision, holding a syringe.

Her tongue was still numb, her whole body was, and she could only watch as he moved the syringe towards her right eye… she couldn’t even move her eye around, she felt so heavy. And then the needle went into her eye, there was pain and then pure bliss…

* * *

My eyes flew open after what felt like hours and hours and days of torture that made my last eighteen years seem like a holiday vacation.

Even if it hadn’t been my daughter who went through it, it would be crushing. But it was her, and I felt like exploding, going on a rampage, killing and killing everyone even tangentially responsible.

I looked up at her from the ground. She was so beautiful. So solemn. A serene judge (in pink bunny pajamas), sitting on the edge of her bed, looking down on me with those purple eyes. My eyes. Exactly mine.

She went through it with me. Crazy girl, you shouldn’t have.

I threw myself at her, wrapping my arms around her waist. She didn’t flinch, probably saw it coming, or maybe her body really was that devoid of unconscious reaction.

“Oh Hennessy, I…” I choked, unable to form words, but she could probably feel what I was feeling, right now.

I don’t know how long I cried into her lap like a baby, but I finally regained my composure and pulled back, looking up at her empty face.

There were no tears in her eyes. But the emotions she was projecting… so much pain, so much hatred. Not just in regards to me but…

She suffered so much, and I became the target of all her hatred and frustration, I realized. Every time she was hurt, every time her mother was hurt… I was the only one she could really blame for it all.

And she was right to, as far as I was concerned.

I opened my mouth to say something, but she put a finger on my lips.

Refusal. Betrayal. Pain. Rejection.

Understanding, I took her hand with my own. It was so slender, so warm… so soft. Not like my hands.

Before she could react, I kissed the palm of her hand, then its back. Then I rose up, bowing.

“I’m here to stay, Hennessy,” Reassurance, Sincerity, “If you want anything… need anything, no matter what, just call this number,” I wrote it down on a post-it note, folding the paper so the sticky side was covered up, and put it into her hand, “Or just come to four-one Merlin street. The house with the red door.” I’d checked by phone, my old place still stood, and it was still mine. Something to thank Dad for, probably.

She didn’t respond, didn’t give any response, but she didn’t discard the paper, either.

I left her room.

* * *

Camille, Tamara, Phil and Charity were all waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs.

Camille looked like she was just waiting for an excuse to tear me to shreds (I was sure she was sincere), Phil looked sympathetic (the guy was way too nice), Tamara looked hopeful for a moment – until she saw my facial expression – and Charity looked confused at the whole scene.

“I’ll be going now,” I said to Tamara. Then I turned to Phil, saying, “Thank you for being so… nice about this. I probably would have reacted worse in your place.” He just shrugged.

I knelt in front of the little princess. “I’m sorry for scaring you, my dear. Please, don’t be angry at or afraid of your sister. She deserves neither.”

Nodding at Camille as I rose (she didn’t nod back and kept staring daggers) I opened the door. Then I turned around just in time for Tamara to hug me as hard as she could.

Old memories reared up, of tender nights and- No, that way lies madness.

For just a moment, I rested my chin on top of her head (being six foot ten made that easy), hugged her back, and then I left without a word.

That part of my life was over. Of our life. I knew I had no chance to ever get back with her again the moment she asked me to commit murder, no matter how justified it might be.

And Hennessy was unlikely to ever forgive me, regardless of what I did.

I got into the car and drove away.

* * *

I drove to Cartastrophy’s workshop over near the industrial district (well, what little of that remained). It was just as well-hidden as ever, basically an oversized garage-slash-basement-lair underneath (fittingly, or perhaps ironically) a car repair shop operated by his sister and her boyfriend.

Husband, actually. They’d actually gotten married, she told me after a series of hugs and kisses (she’d first gone after me, but I’d never shown any more than polite interest, and she’d only later fallen for Warren’s older brother). And they’d had six children (which showed, if barely, on her hips and chest), one of which was a Gadgeteer like his uncle and had joined the Junior Heroes, while one of their daughters had turned into a flying brick and was working for the Matriarch now (of course, she was still around. She’d been one of the first supervillains, back in the day, and she’d probably be around long after I bit the dust), which made family gatherings awkward, even if her hero brother didn’t know about it…

And she kept on chattering until we reached the secret entrance to Warren’s underground workshop, where she just let me enter and went back up.

“Aap? Is that you, buddy?!” shouted a high, agitated voice from a mound of half-assembled car parts.

“Who else could it be?” I asked jokingly, buffing my suit (Vek had fixed it after the fight – that woman’s power was way useful for this kind of lifestyle).

He leapt out of the pile of scrap and tackled me into a hug – ruining my suit, because he was, as always, covered in grease – though I barely moved. Even if I didn’t have the monkey’s passive enhancements, Warren barely cracked five feet, was underweight even for his height and had even lost what little hair he’d had back in the day (curse of genetics – his whole family had to deal with early loss of hair). Dressed in a dirty white undershirt and greasy overalls of indeterminate original colour, he was the very image of the underground, low-level techno-villain.

I hugged the little man right back, laughing. “God above, how I missed you! How’s it going, Cartastrophy?”

He chuckled, pulling back to look up (and up, and up), “Awesome! I got nephews and nieces crawling up my butt, I got a few patents going through my nephew over at the Juniors and I won the lottery a few years back, so I’m set for life!”

Chuckling, I patted his back as he took me towards the living area of his workshop. Which was also his home, all in all. He rarely left.

Then I saw the poster over his workbench, and froze.

“… and little Quentin is al- Aap? What’s going on, budd- oh, you’ve seen it? Hot, eh? Cost me a mint to get it.”

He had a life-sized, full-colour poster of Chayot and Dearheart on his wall. The background looked like a blasted battlefield, the two of them were barely decent, their costumes torn, and they were wrapped around each other, kissing passionately. And not in the “we’re really good friends” way, more like “we’re way past the fourth date and home base” way.

“Guy who managed to get the shot was auctioning it. Cost me ten grand to get it, and I was lucky,” he explained with utter pride. “Keeps me warm at night, you know. I mean, I know they’re underage, but they’ve got to be the second and third-hottest girls in the state, and Chayot could probably tie with number one if she wasn’t always dressed like that.”

He pointed at another poster next to it. It showed a stunning young woman – a girl, really, probably around Hennessy’s age – with long, lustrous white hair, purple eyes and full, pouty lips. She was dressed in a black costume somewhere between a skintight suit and an evening dress, skintight above the waist, less tight below, with deep red stockings beneath, very elegant while still showing off that she was very obviously a high-level adonis and proud of it. And yes, her costume incorporated high heels. Very pointy ones, in fact. Finally, she also wore an elegant golden half-mask, covering her eyes, nose and part of her forehead, finely wrought to suggest some manner of bird, or something similar, perhaps.

She was also, quite clearly, posing for the shot. No way it was accidental, with the way she was sitting, one leg pulled up so her cheek was resting on her knee.

“Matriarch the second, that is,” explained Warren.

“Seriously? Did number one finally bite it?” I was surprised. The first matriarch had possibly been the first female supervillain, ever. She’d been around since the early twenties, and she’d never been caught. She’d also been a really good lay, even if I’d only had the pleasure once before I got together with Tamara.

“Yeah, she did. Three years ago. But her daughter had already been her sidekick, and she took up the name and what she could salvage from her old organization. Seeing how it was basically a family business, most of her mom’s people stuck with her, and she’s already the local Queen of the Underworld,” he said. “Also, quite hot, just like the other two. And Chayot’s archenemy, they got a real classic rivalry going. Man, some of the stories that go around ab-“

“Warren, before you put your foot into your mouth any further, I should tell you that Chayot happens to be my daughter,” I said quickly, before the urge to break his legs (and other parts) became too strong.

He turned as pale as a corpse. “Oh shit!”

Running forward, he tore the poster of my daughter and her lover (this actually explained a lot about Camille’s behaviour, I thought) off the wall, feeding it immediately into a nearby furnace.

“Sorry man, I didn’t kn- shit man, your daughter!?” He turned to look at me. “Wait… Meow-meow’s and yours!?”

I nodded, relaxing. “Yeah man. Found out just a few hours ago,” I replied.

He walked up to me, taking my hand in his, squeezing it as hard as he could.

“Man, I don’t know what… I mean, you had… I’m so sorry man, had I known, I’d have been keeping an eye on her, you know? But… shit man… What about Meow-meow, is she taking you back?”

I shook my head. “Married, got another kid by the new guy. She’s happy there.”

“Shit man.”

“Yeah, shit man,” was all I could say. I sat down on a stool, and he pulled another one over to sit opposite of me.

“Have you heard about…?”

I nodded. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m here. He’s back, and I want his head,” I explained.

He nodded. “There isn’t much I can tell you, I’m afraid. The Ascendant is way, way above my weightclass. But I know he’s a major member of a bigger group, calling itself ‘The Companions of the Future’. Real crazy old-school supervillain group, trying to turn everyone into metahumans and kill all those who can’t manifest.”

“Sounds a lot like Weisswald’s ideology,” I said. I’d heard rumors about the Companions before, but never anything concrete.

He nodded, his face serious. “They’re way old, some say they go back to the late twenties. There are even rumors that Weisswald used to be a member, or at least had some ties to them.”

“I see. Do you have any idea how to find the Ascendant? I really want to get my hands on him.” Some of the monkey must have shown through my eyes, because he flinched, growing nervous. He’d seen me let the monkey out, once.

“No, buddy, sorry. But,” he replied, looking at the poster of the Matriarch. “If anyone knows, she does. And I’m sure I can get you a meeting.”

Raising an eyebrow, I asked bemused, “Oh? The basement dweller knows the queen bee of Chicago’s underworld? How come?”

He snickered. “Hey, I didn’t buy that poster at the shop, you know? I do jobs for her, fixing her cars or motorcycles and all. Plus, she really likes stories of our old pranking days.”

“Well, maybe she’ll even like me then.”

He snorted. “Oh, shut up. You’ll probably have her swooning.” He’d always been jealous of my looks, even if I’d never lorded them over him.

“Now, let me make a few calls,” he said as he walked towards a wall-mounted telephone.

* * *

Warren changed into his Cartastrophy costume – basically armoured overalls with lots of tools and special parts in pouches and on several belts, and a helmet that looked like a motorcycle helmet with a car’s grille on the front, all in chrome and black. If he wasn’t, well, barely five feet tall, he’d probably strike an imposing figure in it.

We took his current favourite car – he was always overhauling them, to the point where no single car really lasted more than a few months at a time, even if it wasn’t destroyed – outside and made our way to the Matriarch’s base – the Seventh Cloud Casino. It stood right in the middle of the entertainment district of Chicago and was incredibly garish. Always had been.

“What can you tell me about the new Matriarch? Same powers as her mother?” Things might get difficult if she had her mother’s mental abilities. I’d have a hard time convincing her to help me piss off the Companions.

“Not quite. She’s only really got one power, apart from her physique six rating,” he explained.

“Physique?” That was a new one.

Slapping his forehead (fortunately, he’d taken off his helmet, or he might have hurt himself) he replied: “Ah, you don’t know it yet. We got a new rating system for powers. Way less confusing than the old one. I’ll explain it later, when we got more time.”

I nodded and urged him on to tell me about the Matriarch.

“Well, she’s a spawner – formerly Tiamat – and an Apex Tier to boot. Her shadow’s alive, and it’ll strangle you to death if she wants it to. Also, it has some weird precognition, or maybe just a really good danger sense going, plus a host of other minor powers,” he explained. “Defends her, keeps her out of danger and all. Also, knocking her out or mind controlling her – someone tried, once – ain’t smart, cause her shadow is always active and it’ll tear you to pieces for even trying.”

“Damn, the kids keep getting stronger nowadays,” I sighed, rubbing my forehead.

“They do. Reason why I’m not out there any more, not actively. Though even if not, I’d have probably hung up the helmet anyway when the Speedfreakz disbanded.”

I choked, hard. Even though I hadn’t been drinking. “The Speedfreakz disbanded? Why?” They’d been some of my favourite adversaries.

His shoulders slumped a little. “Savage Six attacked Austin about a year after you went off to war. The Speedfreakz happened to be there. Twinkletoe and Celeritas died. Afterwards, Hotrod went into support, he’s just building vehicles for other heroes now, and Ignipes just vanished. Rumor has it that he adopted Twinkletoe’s and Celeritas’ child. They’d just had one.”

“Fuckin’ damn.”

“Amen, brother.”

I pulled myself back out of the memories that were welling up – I’d have to visit their graves as soon as I worked things out here – and continued: “Back to the matter at hand. Anything else I need to be aware of for this?”

“Yeah, my oldest niece is working for her. Girl got a screw loose, but she’s still family, so no fighting, alright?”

“Of course. Though it does worry me that you consider her to have a screw loose.”

“You’ll see what I mean.”

* * *

We reached the Seventh Cloud Casino and he drove into a back entrance that led us into an underground garage. A valet took the car – Cartastrophy already knew him – and we took the elevator up.

When the doors opened, we were greeted by the most ridiculously dressed teenager I had ever seen. She could not be more than sixteen years old, had a body like a pornstar, peroxide blonde straight hair in lots of braids, and was wearing the upper half of… a blue japanese school uniform? It barely covered her breasts, revealing the lower half, and were connected to a barely existent skirt by a set of pink suspenders. She was also wearing thigh high white socks and high-heeled boots. Really high heeled boots. Also, a traditional japanese fox mask.

Cartastrophy took a step forward and embraced her in a tight hug, which she returned.

Well, now I know.

“Aap Oordra, may I introduce, my niece Kakitsune,” I almost slapped my forehead, “Who is one of the Matriarch’s chief enforcers.” Either this girl was more powerful – and competent – than she looked, or the new Matriarch was really starved for metahuman muscle.

“A pleasure to meet you, my dear,” I said, focusing my eyes solely on her mask.

“The same, man. I’ve heard a gazillion stories about you, you know?” she replied with a drawl in her voice I couldn’t quite place. Maybe a badly affected accent?

“Ka-chan,” Slapping my forehead was getting more and more seductive, “My dear, we can chat later, can you take us to your boss quickly? I’m afraid our business is urgent,” he said. She nodded, fortunately, and took us through the hallway to a grand double door.

Through it, we entered a hall covered in heavy carpet, with a ceiling so high it could have been a cathedral, and pillars covered in mythological imagery. The original Matriarch had been grand on showmanship, and her daughter had obviously kept the decorations.

I also noticed a human-shaped shadow gliding over the floor, walls and ceiling, all around the grand room. A shadow no one was throwing. So, a living shadow, huh?

Said daughter was reclining on a divan, looking quite restless despite the relaxed setting. She was ringed by eleven minions – twelve, counting Kakitsune – who were very obviously metahumans (four of them didn’t look human, and the rest were way too beautiful to be normal).

We approached, and I realized that she was even more beautiful in the flesh than on the poster. A match for Hennessy, dark where she was light. They make good archenemies, I’m sure.

She rose from her divan as we approached, seeming… nervous.

Could I have a groupie here? It would make things considerably easier. Man, I hoped it was that.

“Greetings, Ma-” Cartastrophy began, but she just barreled past him and threw her arms around my neck.

What?

“Finally, you’ve come,” she said, looking up at me with misty, purple eyes. My eyes. “I’ve been waiting for you, papa.”

What.

Previous | Next

Interlude 7 – Monkey Business (Part 2)

Previous | Next

That looks extraordinarily unhealthy – for me.

She pounced on me, wings folded back, spear thrusting at me, clearing several hundred feet in a single bound. The monkey afforded me a lot of protection, even if I only used it partially, but… I had no idea how her power actually worked, and while she seemed to be largely limited to the paragon and apex tier (those exploding spheres had gotten intense), there seemed to be no clear theme to her capabilities, nothing to catch on to; telekinetic blasts, then remote kinetic detonations, receptive and projective empathy, flight, enhanced vision (and probably other senses, as well), protective force fields, fire balls, exploding fire balls, not to mention all the limbs and now full angelic bodies she created; I couldn’t be sure that I’d be able to defend myself against those burning weapons if I took a direct hit, so I evaded by burrowing.

Why did I feel as if I was over my head while fighting a seventeen year old girl? Alright, I’d fought Desolation-in-Light a few times, back in the day, when she’d still technically been a toddler, but…

Hell’s Bells, I’m comparing my daughter to Desolation in Light! Get your act together, buster, and find a way to stop her from tearing you to pieces!

All of those thoughts shot through my head in the time it took me to dig about thirty feet directly downwards, to get some space to breath – yeah, underground breathing room, but still better than staying up there with pointy fire death sticks and my estranged, probably-at-least-partially-insane and definitely-pissed-off-beyond-belief daughter.

That was not to be, however, as I suddenly felt a tug on the small of my back, and then I was torn out of the earth and right into the path of a swing of that wicked, long sword. That very long, very sharp and very hot sword.

Jesus fuck this hurts!

The blade bit into and through the partially manifested chest of the monkey, through my suit and into my skin – if it wasn’t for the monkey, it’d have bisected me for sure.

Oh nonono, no-

I cut myself off before I could flip out and hurt her. That was just the monkey, losing what little restraint it had… and this was my fault, after all, not hers. I was not going to hurt her over this.

Repeating those words in my head, over and over, I did my best to put some distance between us – her new form was not nearly as fast as before, and she seemed to have lost her ranged offense, or perhaps discarded it – so I kept retreating to the back and the side, leading her on circles as all her legs tore into the ground to catch up to me.

She’d make a great plough.

The monkey was already knitting my flesh, closing the wound she’d cut into my chest, but I was not up to going face to face with her unless I let the monkey out entirely, and that would be… unacceptable.

I need some time.

Using her powers cost her. I knew that much, from the vision earlier. She had a well, and it was finite. I didn’t know how deep it went, nor what would happen if it ran dry, but I hoped that, at some point, she’d be forced to conserve her resources, whatever they were.

I need to talk to Tam, to her teammates. They’ve got to know something that can be done.

I circled around her, hoping to fake her out or somehow trap her.

Chayot – not Hennessy, not now – pounced once more, even though she was further away from before, using her wings to carry herself over the distance she could not clear with a simple jump.

But she was still jumping, not flying, and that gave me an opening. I dove down into the soft earth she’d just torn up, tapping into the monkey’s speed and strength to tear into the soil.

For just a moment, underground, I let the monkey cover all but my face, and I moved like a fish in the water, tearing through the earth, breaking it down.

When Chayot landed, she sunk to her… gut… into the earth, howling in frustration as I pulled her lower body down deep, fixing it in place with a few boulders. Then I burst out of the earth some distance away, with the monkey once more only covering half of my body, and made a beeline for our spectators.

Something pulled on my waist, stopping me dead in the middle of the run. Looking behind, I saw a golden thread run from my back to one of her snake limbs. Probably how she’d wrenched my sorry ass out of the earth earlier on.

Ah, baby girl, you don’t wanna get into a wrestling match with me.

Not that I’d ever refuse a friendly one.

Still, I had her where I wanted her and there was no use in pulling her out of the sinkhole I’d made, so I grabbed the glowing line – damn, this burns! – and snapped it with raw strength.

She howled as if someone had cut her arm off, and for a moment I was afraid I might really have hurt her; but then I realized the howl was just one of rage, not pain, so I ran quickly over to the others. Everyone but Tam, Vek, Dearheart and a goat-like boy – Is he Vek’s child? – had fled the moment Hennessy had turned into the pseudo-cherubim. Something tells me they didn’t flee due to cowardice.

“Tam!”, I half-shouted, stopping in front of her. “What is going on, and how can I help her!?”

You, help her!?” shouted Dearheart. “It’s your fault she’s flipped out this bad in the first place, dickwad!”

What a pleasant girl.

“Dearheart, shut up,” Vek said. “Mister Paterson… Aap Oordra. Chayot has always had issues controlling her power. And I’m afraid the agitation from the battle today, plus, well, your… return, was just too much for her all at once. Her power is based completely on emotions-“

“Really? Because it seems to me like her power really is built on knocking me around and trying to roast me alive,” I couldn’t stop my mouth from rattling off. “Not to mention all that pretty angelic imagery and inappropriate groping of herself.”

Dearheart almost threw another insult at me, I was sure, but Tam put a hand on her shoulder, while her eyes remained transfixed on the thrashing monstrosity that was slowly clawing her out of the trap I’d improvised.

“She eats emotions. People give off emotional energy like body heat, and she soaks it up. All of her powers burn through her reserves, no matter what she does with them – just maintaining them costs her,” she explained in a monotonous voice. “If she absorbs too much of a single emotion, and is also provoked into indulging in that emotion herself, she might lose control and… that happens.”

Breathing deeply for a few seconds, she calmed herself. “The others left so they don’t provide her with more energy. We need to knock her out before she burns herself out – it might be lethal!” She was almost crying with fear at the end.

I had to swallow a few times to get the lump out of my throat. My life. Hate it.

“She has a weakpoint,” Vek threw in. “Trained herself to always include that crystal, in case she ever went berserk and needed to be stopped. Find it, crush it – it’s really durable – and her power will shut down.”

“Don’t tell him that!” shouted Dearheart, again. “He’s a villain, remember!? What if he uses that against her, or sells it to o-“

Tamara whirled around and slapped Dearheart, hard. She wasn’t all that strong, by Adonis standards, but it still had a lot of weight behind it.

“Young lady, my daughter needs help, now! Shut your mouth and help him, we can sort everything else out later on!” she half-screamed.

Dearheart looked stunned, and Vek took charge: “I can’t help much here, so I’ll stay with Mrs Benning. Mister Paterson, please, you have to help us here, Dearheart and Slough can’t stop her by themselves!” She gestured at the goat boy and little miss rudeness.

“I shall, but you all should lea-“

“No,” Dearheart simply replied. “I’m not leaving. My power can counter hers to a degree. And Slough here might be able to help, too.” Goatboy – Slough – nodded fervently.

There was true steel in her voice, and I suddenly liked her a little more. No matter what else, she obviously cared about Hennessy.

Speak of the devil – I heard a massive rumbling, and then the earth around Chayot burst apart.

Both Dearheart and I took off, she flying up while I circled towards Chayot, so she wouldn’t attack in the direction of her mother.

The teenage heroine approached me and said: “Her crystal core is always somewhere different, but she can’t move it once her form is set.”

Chayot leapt out of the smoke, her legs morphed to all resemble a spider’s legs with cloven hoofs, her lower body swelling in size, and threw her spear at us, the blazing projectile flying faster than any cruise missiles I’d ever seen before.

I got ready to evade, but Dearheart simply raised her right hand, pointing at the spear – it flickered, then exploded into harmless sparks, which promptly vanished into nothingness.

She raised her other hand, pointing the palm at the charging Chayot,who stumbled, then fell, as all of her limbs seized up at the same time. At the same time, a burst of scarlet fire from her lower center head (the ox) destroyed said head.

It made all of remaining her mouths scream, but at the same time, the arms of the upper body disintegrated, as did its wings, and then a halo of five floating arms, two tipped with razor sharp nails as long as I was tall.

“What exactly is her power?” I asked.

“She’s a power shifter. Takes on different powers, but just maintaining, much less using, them costs her. Luckily enough, she’s limited to apex tier powers at most.”

My mouth gaped open. Of all the fucking unfair, broken powers out there, she just has to be a power shifter. And what does that mean, limited to Apex Tier? That’s NOT a limit! You can level a city just fine by combining the right apex powers! You can fuck up anyone’s day by choosing the right ones!

The spear piercing Chayot’s chest faded away, just as three of her free-floating arms (one of them with the freaky pointy death blades) opened fire on us, unleashing lightning bolts, a stream of acid and her earlier fire spheres.

I evaded the spheres and the lightning bolt, but Dearheart charged forward and made the acid vanish simply by pointing at it.

That’s one hell of a power she’s got.

Unfortunately, Chayot could tell as much, because she let the three arms she’d used disintegrate and the other two got into position.

“Dearheart, get away!” I screamed, but she didn’t.

I tapped deep into the monkey’s speed, ran up to them and jumped off, tackling Dearheart out of the way of the reaching unclawed hand trying to grab her.

“Get your hands off me!” she shouted in exasperation.

You try to be a hero, and what do you get?

“Need to g-“

Chayot slapped me down, hard, with a swing of her right snake limb, driving me into the ground.

Dearheart growled as I threw her aside at the last moment, then aimed her hand at Chayot again before she could follow up on the strike.

Pointing at the upper body – personally, I’d have gone for the lower one, bigger target, more likely to house the core – she used whatever kind of power she had. The golden woman’s flesh began to twist and boil, whole sections of it just sloughing off and disintegrating.

No wonder I had gotten odd vibes from these two earlier. Whatever the particulars of their powers were, they were not normal.

Either way, her power was useful, and Chayot seemed slow to push the advantage of her power. Or maybe she was instinctively holding back to conserve energy?

So I charged into her, slamming right into her lion-head’s mouth, letting the monkey coat the lower right half of my body too, as well as my right forearm. She probably screamed, but I couldn’t tell, because I was already tearing into her flesh, digging deeper into her body.

Find the core. Great advice.

I let the monkey’s eyes emerge so I could actually see something, then I simply tore apart her lower body, looking for anything that might constitute a core. She seemed to have most major organs covered in this form, and they even seemed functional, which implied that destroying them would disrupt her, so I did just that while working my way through to her rear end, bursting out of it in a shower of blood that turned into fading motes of light before it even touched the ground.

Behind me, her form collapsed – or, as I saw when I turned around, she’d simply dropped the lower half and was now a floating sphere formed by two rotating, eye-ringed rings topped by golden body that was twisting and boiling under the sustained effects of Dearheart’s power.

New flesh was already blooming on the lower end of the sphere.

“I can’t lock her down for long, asshole! Find the core, crush it!”

Such a charmer.

Just at that moment, Slough – whom I’d completely forgotten about – dove out of the ground, now looking more like a cross between a snake and a mole. His back arched, then turned hunchbacked, and then it split, the outer layers of his body sloughing off to let a new form emerge and dive into the mass of flesh that was forming – rather slowly, compared to earlier – underneath the sphere. He looked like a hermaphroditic marble statue now.

No matter what was going on with that power, the two of them gave me an opening – and I jumped directly onto the rotating rings, grabbing the outer one.

Unfortunately, there was no outer one – the two rings were of equal size, yet still somehow moved within each other at the same time. When they intersected, they sheared through my monkey hand’s fingers and I would have dropped had I not grabbed one of the rings and used it to propel myself upwards.

Careful to stay on the golden figure’s back – I didn’t want to get hit by whatever effect Dearheart was putting out – I started to rip into her surprisingly tough flesh, even as her burning wings struck again and again, burning into the monkey’s back – but thankfully not through it, at least not yet.

Dearheart screamed, and I felt something shatter again.

* * *

I saw the world of flesh again, though this time, a whole section of the forest of limbs had been cut away, leaving bare bleeding flesh behind to form a lake of the red liquid.

I looked up and saw a… a portal, or maybe an intersection, between this world and another. Light, flashing randomly in all colours, making my head hurt just by looking at it, was pouring into this vast world, causing pure chaos. And yet, it was not wholly unwelcome here. Part of Chayot was accepting the intrusion, I could just tell.

Must be Dearheart’s power.

I looked, and I saw – there was one figure I had not seen before. It floated above the land, a towering beauty at least twenty feet tall, her body woven of pure black light and marble white flesh. Her beauty was solemn, inhuman, utterly alien and yet incredibly alluring. She also had no eyes, only smooth flesh stretching over her eye sockets, with locks of black light almost hiding them.

Hennessy, curled up into a fetal position – and thank God for that, because she was naked here, and I did not want to piss her off more by seeing her naked – was floating inbetween the figure’s half-cupped hands.

What are you, and what are you doing to my daughter?

The figure looked at me without eyes and suddenly I knew her.

* * *

Nearly five years ago, during a particularly bad time for me, I’d found myself in a dream one night.

It had started innocently enough, mostly me, lying on an indistinct hill under the starry sky, with Tamara in my arms after we’d made love. She was asleep and I was just luxuriating in the warmth of her body, the scent of her sweat, the sound of her breathing.

Even though I had known it to be a dream, I couldn’t help but enjoy it, despite the inevitable disappointment and despair upon waking.

And then, a star had begun to flicker, then burn several times brighter.

I had reached out to that star, and somehow, we’d connected, if only for the fraction of a second.

Now I knew who that person had been.

I had met my daughter, back then.

* * *

I know you.

She unleashed a wave of raw dread on me, every single fear of my life crashing down on me at once – but the monkey was still there, even here, and took the brunt of the attack.

I know you. We met before. You know me. Please, stop this.

The dread changed into blind rage, goading me to just attack, but that was something I was intimately familiar with, and didn’t even need the monkey to block.

I could see her burning away flesh from beneath to maintain the attack.

You know me. I know you. I am no enemy. I have failed you, failed you as no father should, but I am not your enemy, nor will I ever be.

Crushing sadness, loss, a deep longing for connection.

My eyes teared up – could they even do that here, since I assumed I wasn’t in my body right now? – and I had to fight not to break down, as her attack slipped past my own defenses, and was only stopped by the monkey interposing itself to take the brunt of it.

Even then, it almost made me give up and go silent.

Please, I am sorry. Give me a chance to make it up to you, in any way possible!

She couldn’t speak, probably had trouble with normal language. I guessed, since her power was so deeply entrenched in emotions of all kinds, that she communicated primarily through them. So I poured all my regret, my desire to apologize, and what love I could muster for this half-strange girl I had only just met.

The figure – was it Hennessy, was it just a manifestation of her power, or was it something more… strange? – tilted her head to the side, and then my vision blinked out.

* * *

I was back in my body, and still clinging to the golden woman’s back.

But just as I was regaining my bearings, her body began to dissolve into motes of light that faded away, dropping me.

“Henny!” screamed three voices – Dearheart, Tamara and a distorted voice I guessed belonged to Slough.

They all – even Tam, bless her heart, who was far too far away to catch her daughter in time – dove towards her, Slough even, well, sloughing out of his current form into a new, insectoid one to catch her even though he was falling beneath her.

But I was faster, air jumping to her and grabbing her in a bridal carry.

I landed on the ground, letting the monkey absorb the entire impact, cradling the child I had never known of and yet met before.

You reached out to me, once. Across the world, even though we’d never known each other.

She was so light, seemed so frail.

I’d never really thought about having children. Or rather, I’d been planning to think about the possibility of considering children together with Tamara, all those years ago. I’d never seen myself as responsible enough to do right by a child. People with my kind of background usually ended up screwing their children up something fierce.

But now, holding her small, warm body in my arms as the monkey melted away, I suddenly had to fight back the tears at everything I had missed… I had failed her, in more ways than I’d known. What must she have gone through to become this?

Could I have prevented it?

Somewhere else, Dearheart was shouting at me to let go of her, Slough was bristling for some reason and Tamara and Vek were running to get to us, Tamara running so fast she left the other woman behind.

But right now, I could only look at my daughter’s unconscious face, and wonder.

Wonder about how I could have been so stupid, back then.

Wonder about whether or not she would ever accept me.

Wonder about how many people I would have to pull apart piece by piece, until I got my hands on whoever had done this to her, if there was someone responsible – oh please, let there be someone.

Wonder about how I could ever make it up to her, express just how sorry I was.

* * *

Two hours later…

It took quite a while to sort things out – the local director tried to stick me with the responsibility for starting the battle and endangering innocents – but Vek, Tamara and the other heroes, save for Dearheart (who wanted my head on a platter, preferably with my balls in my mouth) vouched for me, plus I still had that nifty medal.

By the time we got back to Three Heavens Gates – Tamara insisted that it was best for Hennessy to rest at home, where she had a gentle, familiar emotional backdrop – nearly two hours had gone by.

So we took her there, and I was even allowed to carry her out of the armored taxi they provided and into her bedroom (she had a lot of plush toys in all sizes) and to lay her to bed.

I almost kissed her on the forehead once she was lying there, but Dearheart – Camille when out of costume – would probably have ripped my crown jewels off to arrange said platter if I’d done that, so I restrained myself.

Besides, that was a right I had yet to earn.

Dearheart threw me out, saying that she would change Hennessy’s clothes, giving me a murderous glare as if daring me to demand to do that, while Slough remained outside the door to stand watch, now looking like… well, he had a lot of dog and some bird in his form.

What kind of perverted scumbag did she take me for?

Tamara took me down to the empty living room and we sat down, her on an armchair, me on the couch.

I idly wondered where Phil and the little princess were.

“Phil took Charity out for a walk, to calm her down. She’s never witnessed Henny lose control like that before,” she explained, interpreting my curious glance just right.

“I see.”

We sat there, looking at each other.

After about ten minutes, I finally spoke up.

“Tamara… there is so much I want to tell you, to explain to you…”

“Yes?” she asked, perhaps a little hopeful?

“But… what in the name of God’s light switch happened to her!?

She turned pale, looking down at her feet in shame.

I gulped down the anger, feeling ashamed in turn. If anyone deserved being accused of not doing a proper parenting job, it was me, not her.

“Tam, I’m sorry, but…”

“No, I understand,” she whispered, then looked up at me. “How do you know something bad happened to her?”

“Five… no, six years ago. Or at least almost six years. Closer to five, to be honest… I felt a… a connection. My power reacted, I reacted, and I connected with someone, someone suffering unimaginably, but still… well, that person helped me a lot, actually. Even though I thought it a fever dream until just a few hours ago.”

She paled even more… and then she looked me straight in the eyes, transfixing mine to hers.

“I… I need your help, Aap,” she said.

Using my cape name. She wants something bad.

“Say it.”

Not smart, to give her a carte blanche. I didn’t care.

“When she was twelve… there was a supervillain. A contriver, calls himself ‘the Ascendant’. Real madman, wants to elevate all humanity to godhood, yadayada…”

My stomach began to twist as I was already connecting the dots. Though I couldn’t tell if it was dread, sadness, shame or murderous hatred. Probably all four.

“He… he kidnapped sixty-six children and… he did things to them. Drugged them up with contrived drugs, tortured them, put them into death courses…” Her voice broke for a moment, and she pulled a handkerchief from a pocket, wiping her nose.

I, in contrast, was already cool. Really cool.

“She… most of them died. Only four survived for more than three days. The… the UH had just tracked him down, was attacking his base, some hellhole beneath a cabin in the woods outside the city, when he decided to bet it all on one chance. He… he overdosed all four of them. Lethally.”

Please let him still be alive and at large.

“They all triggered. Manifested. Whatever. All four of them, two girls and two boys. But…” She broke down again, sobbing.

I moved over to kneel in front of her, cupping her cheek with one hand. Cool. Totally C.O.O.L. Not even a hint of a tremble.

“Shsh. Tell me at your pace if you need a break,” my mouth said.

I want names, details, targets, now, my brain thought.

The monkey was even more single-minded.

“One of the boys… he manifested first. A… an S-Class. His power was… it was just wrong. And it somehow tainted them, even as they… as they manifested while they lay dying,” she sobbed.

“Then the other three manifested… the heroes, some villains who’d been helping with the search – even the Dark was helping, he thought it was disgusting what the Ascendant was doing – they managed to take the poor boy down. Killed him. Had to kill him. And even then, if it wasn’t for the three children helping, he might have broken through to the city.”

“What happened to the other two children?”

I could guess already.

“Dearheart and Slough. They all joined the Junior Heroes, after two years of largely unsuccessful therapy,” she explained.

No wonder these kids had such messed up powers.

“What happened to the Ascendant? And what do you need my help for?”

“He escaped. And he’s back. That’s why she’s wound so tight, why Dearheart is so aggressive. They’re all terrified.”

She looked at me, pure hatred in her eyes.

“That monster came back here and sent them a letter. Said he wanted his children to return to him.”

If I’d been an unstoppable rage monster, I would have gone on a rampage right about now. Fortunately, I had the monkey to outsource that to, for the moment.

She took a deep breath, drying her eyes and cheeks with a handkerchief.

“I want you to kill him.”

With pleasure.

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Interlude 7 – Monkey Business (Part 1)

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The second blast took me right in the face, knocking me to the ground.

If it wasn’t for the monkey protecting me, I’d at least be missing my teeth right around now.

I sat up, dazed, but before I could react, and do anything other than prevent the monkey from going on the offensive, I heard a strange, animal-like wailing, and then something slammed into my throat.

I choked, gasped, and saw Hennessy’s solemn face, her mouth open in that strange wail, her hand around my throat.

Wings bloomed from behind her back and she took off, pushing me by the throat over the water of Lake Michigan.

She was fast, and all the time she was pounding me with telekinetic blasts to my face and emotional pressure, raw, burning rage pounding against my head, so I did not really manage to do much for a few seconds – but then I got my bearings.

I drew my arm up and slapped – gently – her arm aside, breaking her grip on my throat and dropping down before she could react.

The cold dark water of Lake Michigan came close and closer, but I was not interested in taking a bath right now. Calling on the monkey, I allowed it to manifest around my legs, blue-black shadow-like fur manifesting inches from my skin around my ankles and lower shins, as I landed on the water, the monkey absorbing the impact and allowing me to stand on it.

I immediately took off, running for the nearest island while pouring on the speed, Hennessy’s wail following me as she hunted me, shooting her telekinetic blasts – she had incredible aim, smacking me around on the water and very nearly getting me wet. In fact, I was forced to let the monkey emerge around my wrists and forearms, so they too could help me maneuver on top of the water.

Those blasts hurt, but they’re not as strong as what she loosed against the villains. Was she holding back, or was she weaker for some reason?

I took the blasts, rolling with them, until I reached, strangely enough, a pier on an island. I remembered the island (good place to take your SO for a date, especially when you wanted to get her out of her clothes) from many a date with Tamara.

Now that I thought about it, this might have been the place in which we conceived Hennessy.

My life is straaaaaange.

There hadn’t been a pier here before, and the new one looked kind of haphazardly built of old tires, driftwood and other planks scavenged from wherever.

At least the lighthouse atop the island’s raised plateau still stood in all its dark glory, as did the ruined old town near the shore.

I swear this place can feel like gloom and doom in broad daylight. Probably not a good sign for me.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t gotten much all that ahead of Hennessy, and I’d stopped just long enough for contemplation that she’d caught up. I knew so by virtue of the blast that took me in the back – and then the world broke.

* * *

I’d always been a fan of fairy tale imagery. Mythology as well, and old testament stuff, too (not the wishy-washy new testament things).

Especially lost woods. I don’t know why, but the image of a gigantic, labyrinthine forest just drew me right in. For a while, I’d spent quite a bit of money (one thing I never lacked for) collecting pictures that fit my little fancy, and I’d built up quite the collection.

Actually, I should check up on my safe houses, see if my stuff is still there.

But nevertheless, I had never seen a picture of a lost wood that compared to what I saw now.

I saw… flesh. Mounds and hills and mountains of flesh. I saw the arms of a slender woman growing from a ground that was smooth flesh, or raw hide, or scales. I saw the same arms, repeated innumerably around me, colossal in size, forking at the joints to grow branches of limbs, all reaching out in gestures of gentleness, offering help and comfort to whomever passed by.

There were the heads of lions, male and female, growing like a bush nearby, the legs of an eagle emerging from the center, the wings of doves and stranger things, repeated a thousand thousand times, sprouting from the back of a colossal female torso with skin whiter than marble, but no head or arms, emerging from the waist up from the ground.

There was an ocean of boiling hot blood, set ablaze with red, blue, green, purple and black flames that reached to the skies, there were plains covered by tentacles and legs swaying in a wind that came from an ox’ head as big as the Empire State building.

I saw a gentle world made of flesh, human, animal and other things. And there were the eyes. Everywhere, all over everything, whether human limbs, or torsos, breasts or heads, bird’s wings or bat’s wings, eagle’s talons and ox’ horns, everywhere there were glowing red eyes, in all sizes, but always the same, shaped like Hennessy’s, with only the colour different. Blood red orbs stared at the world of flesh, almost glowing with gentle fire.

I saw streams of blood, boiling hot and almost freezing cold, in all colours of the rainbow, pour down from the skies and into the burning ocean.

And I saw it bleeding, cutting itself off, every movement, every little action demanding that it mutilate itself, burning away pieces of itself as fuel.

* * *

Another blast hit me and smacked me into a rock the size of a car, breaking up the vision I’d seen just now.

What in the name of Lady Light’s billiard cue collection was that?

Hennessy was still wailing, and I noticed a tell just before she smacked me through the rock with another blast.

Every time she fired off one of her blasts, her wailing rose in pitch for a moment, then dropped off again.

That was all I needed to know to take her down, within seconds if I wanted.

Now there was only one problem. Namely, the fact that I wasn’t going to. Even if I barely knew her, even if I hadn’t known about her until minutes ago, she was my daughter. I had done many a bad thing in my life, but beating up my daughter, even when she was attacking me with near-lethal force, would not be written down on that list any time soon.

So I took the next blast, rolling with it to put some distance between us. There was something off about them, and I needed more information, hopefully to find a way to stop her without hurting her.

As I flipped backwards, I let more of the monkey emerge, coating my left arm and leg entirely, and crawling up the left side of my neck. Jet-black flesh, with even darker nails, emerged out of thin air just inches around my hand, forming my namesake monkey hand. I dug it into the ground and ripped out sod and dirt, throwing it in the air the moment the pitch of her wail rose.

Her blast took me in the chest with full strength – and it did not pass through the dirt I had thrown up, even though it was exactly in between us and I’d been hit from her direction.

Damn that hurts.

I let the monkey cover the left half of my body and my lower left jaw, the black fur flowing as if there was a strong wind blowing. Hopefully, this would be enough, because I dared not unleash more of him – the monkey was almost in battle rage, and I didn’t want it to hurt her.

The next blast, I blocked with the monkey’s left hand, enlarging it to double size – and she still tore into the black flesh, almost to the bone.

My little girl’s got moxie.

Another blast, and I blocked it again, the hand barely healed as she flayed it to the bone.

Wait a minute…

I jumped backwards, nearly half a mile, and threw up dirt and sod again. Her blast hit again, without disturbing the dirt – but it was blocked by the rejuvenated monkey hand.

If I’d been a cartoon character, a little light bulb would have lit up above my head right around now.

These aren’t blasts, not really. She creates them anywhere within line of sight, even if there’s something in between.

Which didn’t fit, because in her fight against Patchwork and Necrophobe, her blasts had definitely had to travel the distance, allowing the villains to evade.

Whatever was going on with her power, I needed to stop her, because I could tell that her attacks were growing stronger. And as if that wasn’t enough, I saw a lily white arm bloom out of thin air, inches from her thigh, it’s nails made of crackling blue fire.

I need to get out of her field of vision.

Suiting action to thoughts – hehe – I pulled one of my favourite moves, diving towards her, ducking forward. She was so surprised by that, apparently, that she focused her sight over me, creating an explosion of soil.

Her eyes tried to follow me, but I poured on the speed before she could angle her flight to follow me and jumped up to reach her from behind.

And then glowing red eyes opened all over her seven misshapen wings, staring in every direction at the same time.

You have got to be kidding me.

She blasted me back towards the water, flipping me tail over tea kettle – and where in God’s name does that saying come from? – which revealed to me a sight I was not really glad about. Several figures were flying over the water, towards the water.

I landed on the pier and, before she could attack, let the monkey cover my left eye, it’s burning red eye appearing over mine, zooming in on the approaching metahumans.

Her team. Great. And Tamara, too.

This was going to turn into one hell of a clusterfuck, especially if they recognized my power… recognized me.

I heard her wail’s pitch change and jumped again so strongly I cracked the wood of the pier – only for it to be torn to kindling as her blast hit it.

Soaring up above her, I focused on my – on the monkey’s – feet and jumped again off the air, creating a booming sound as I flew towards her.

There was always a three second gap between her attacks, if not more. I didn’t know what I could do without hurting her if I got close, but I wasn’t gonna resolve this by just evading her attacks, either.

Only I hadn’t taken the arm with the burning nails into account – it reached out and pointed at me, a sphere of fire the size of my chest flying at me at a blinding speed.

Ah crap.

I raised my left arm and tried to grab the sphere with my monkey arm – sometimes, it interacted weirdly with ranged attacks, allowing me to catch and throw them back.

Not with this one, though. It burned into the arm – and then kept on burning, eating through the flesh and towards my real hand.

Double crap.

I pushed the monkey’s flesh out, excising the afflicted portion, letting it drop and disintegrate as the fire ate it up, regrowing it as quickly as I could.

Her next blast drove me so hard into the earth it created a small crater, and then her wailing got louder and I saw a female leg, black as the night, and a golden – literally golden, not just yellow – talon emerge from the crystal floating behind her back. At the same time, her wings expanded, and though still misshapen, were now thrice the size of her body, dotted with eyes ranging from the size of a finger nail to football size.

Mouths appeared in the gabs between eyes, soft rosy and red lips with vicious pointed teeth, and then in the palm of the fire-nailed hand, along it’s length and all over the flesh of the jet-black leg.

I could guess what was coming, and let the monkey cover my ears, too.

Not a second too early, for the wailing scream that followed shook me, dizzying despite the protection my monkey provided.

I should have been annoyed, or worried, or angry. Instead, I just felt proud.

My little girl’s a powerhouse!

A bubbling, deep belly laugh overcame me, and I shook on the spot even as her wailing scream shook the very earth around me, pounding me with the kind of decibels you don’t get even at the most hardcore rave.

The emotions she was projecting changed, adding exasperation to the burning rage – maybe not the smartest move on my part – and she charged towards me, her wings melting together into something more akin to a pair of feathered bat wings with eyes. The arm she’d manifested earlier shifted upwards and back, floating in the air next to the crystal at her back, and shot a steady stream of fire spheres at me.

Oh no my dear, this is the kind of stuff I have more experience with than you.

I dug my monkey hand into the soil, enlarging it to car size, and threw a large chunk of earth against and through the spheres.

The following explosions tore it appart, and she shot through the dust – only to find me gone, because I immediately dove into the hole I made and dug downwards.

Moving forward a few meters, I burst out of the ground, reaching for her dirt-covered body with both my monkey hand and the other one, trying to get her into a bear hug.

* * *

Vek and her team – what little remained with most of the veterans now at the wall – landed on the very edge of the island, just half a mile from the two battling metahumans.

Mrs Benning tried to run towards them, only to be stopped by Dearheart – Give the girl her due, she’s got brains, if not manners – and shouted: “Henny! Kevin! Please, stop!

Neither of the combatants reacted to her words as Mister Paterson – the Aap Oordra, one of Chicago’s most beloved thrill-villains and pranksters – kept coming at her, despite getting knocked down again, and again, and again.

“Give that asshole points for persistence, at least. Not smarts, but persistence,” commented Dearheart with a sneer, while the rest of the juniors, and the two only other adult heroes, took up fighting positions around them.

“Dearheart, be quiet, please. Does an-“

She was cut off by the sound of the very earth breaking.

* * *

“You need to attack less and plan more, Hennessy!” he shouted, evading another fire sphere. She’d stopped using her – ultimately ineffectual – kinetic blasts and had spent the last few seconds trying to burn me alive.

I evaded another sphere and the accompanying explosion – she’d had a second fire-nailed forearm and hand sprout from the elbow of the first one, and from then on, the spheres had exploded like high explosives, with both fire and kinetic force – and threw rocks at her.

Yeah, rocks. I know, I should at least be chucking cars, or bystanders, but there were none around.

With an explosive motion, six more arms, now normal-sized, sprouted from behind her, wrapping around her dirtied body, grabbing hold of her, two even groping her own breasts.

For some reason, that bothered me a lot.

The rocks smacked into an invisible armor around her, barely touching her – though they did move her.

I chucked three more football-sized rocks at her, evading another two spheres in the process, fliping around like a, well, a monkey, trying to find an angle for attack.

“Listen, Hennessy – or do you prefer Chayot? – I don’t want to fight you. I know you’re angry, maybe you even hate me, but we can talk, I promise!”

She looked at me, with tears forming in her eyes, and made a gurgling sound.

“Ghuu-glll aaaaahhww.”

What?

At least she’d stopped chucking fire spheres at me, and even her mental assault – How in God’s name is she getting past the monkey? – lessened.

“Please, let’s sit down and just talk, alright?”

“Wrrrr-ssssss iallllliiii,” she hissed.

An idea started to form in my head.

“Hennessy? Can you… understand me?”

“Ullackkkkk,” she gurgled, then nodded.

Oh God, no.

My daughter couldn’t speak. I’d known a few cases like that, metahumans who couldn’t communicate normally – one of them had been a good friend of mine – and they were rarely… well.

I felt pity for her, and I immediately realized that that wasn’t a good thing to do in front of an angry teenage empath.

Gggggguuuuuuuuahaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!” She screamed, and her scream kept building – until she started having a seizure.

“Hennessy!” I shouted, shocked, but she just thrashed around in the air… and then went limp.

Hanging in the air, as if suspended by her shoulders, flesh blooms from all around her, masses of limbs and eyes and torsos enveloping her fragile looking form.

The flesh was moving as if it boiled, forming and then again absorbing limbs and heads of all kinds of animals, and then it parted like water, horizontally, revealing her form once more, curled up with her arms wrapped around her legs, her eyes closed, her face solemn as ever.

Metal formed around her, two golden rings turning within each other, missing sections along their lengths, covered inside and out with red eyes. The flesh above and beneath her twisted and grew.

Below, it formed a lion-like body, all catlike grace and savage strength, with pure white fur and an ox’ hooves for the last four limbs. Yes, last four. It had seven pairs of legs, two pairs of ox-like legs, two pairs of lion-paws, two pairs of eagle-talons and a pair green-scaled red-eyed snakes, as well as a dragon’s neck and head for a tail. Instead of one head, it had three, ox, eagle and lion. Behind those three legs was a half-spherical depression in which the sphere formed by the two metal rings rested.

Above, the flesh formed into a nude, golden-skinned woman, ending at the waist, which formed a half-spherical opening to connect to the sphere, essentially having Hennessy in her two wheels as the gut. From the back of the woman, six burning wings sprouted, her face was beautiful and solemn, her hair made of fire and in her hands she held a fire saber longer than she was tall and a spear that was twice that length.

All of her heads save for Hennessy’s real head opened their mouths, howling in rage.

Oh, joybunnies…

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Interlude 6 – The Sleeper Must Not Wake! (Anniversary)

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September 3rd, 2012

The man named Roy Smith climbed off the old, beat-up boat that had taken him all the way from Japan to the Installation. He was more than glad to get off the old rust-bucket he’d been forced to pay for, since that bitch had stolen most of his funds.

But now, at last, he had arrived. He ran his fingers through his blonde hair as he stepped onto the pier. A group of heavily armed guards in full-body armour walked past him. They’d dispose of the crew of the ship, scavenge it for anything useful and then dispose of all the traces.

On the pier, two women and a man stood. The man and one of the women wore white lab coats, while the second woman was dressed in the same armour as the guards, only without the helmet.

She was tall, fit, and just generally so beautiful that he immediately pegged her as an Adonis-type. The effect was lessened a bit by her completely shaven head and the frown on her face.

The man in the lab coat looked like he belonged into a comic book, playing the mad scientist – he was reedy, had bad hair, bad teeth and oversized, tricked-out goggles over his eyes.

But Roy only really cared for the other woman, the one in the lab coat. She was the reason he had got this far, the reason why he would be able to support their most noble cause.

She was a short Chinese woman, maybe a breath taller than five feet, with straight black hair she’d tied up into a very tight knot fixed with two lacquered chopsticks, a very austere but pretty face and dark brown eyes.

“A good day to you, Mister Smith,” she said with what might have been a smile, offering him a gloved hand.

He took it, shaking it delicately. He didn’t want to risk setting her off – her temper was legendary.

“It is an honour to meet you, Miss Dusu,” he replied with an honest smile.

* * *

“May I introduce our chief of security?” Dusu said, turning to the shaven woman in battle gear. “This is the thirteenth Skulls, our organization’s most highly decorated officer.”

Roy nodded, offering the woman his hand, but she did not take it. “You got the rule book?” she asked with a voice that stood in stark contrast to her cruel, disapproving expression – deep and rich with dulcet tones.

He nodded as he pulled his hand back. Damn, I feel like I should freeze on the spot.

“Then you know the rules. Break them, and I will kill you.” With those words, she turned around and left the pier with quick, long strides.

Man, that’s a fine piece of ass. Though I guess my chances to tap it are in the negative range.

Then again, he might very well be the only other Adonis on the Installation.

Suddenly, the man in the lab coat grabbed his hand from the side of his body and shook it with a wide smile. “Welcome to the Installation, Mister Smith! Don’t mind Skulls, she’s always like this. And don’t be discouraged, even I got to tap that primo ass,” he welcomed him, speaking within a single breath in a high, nasal voice. He had really bad breath.

Roy was unsure how to react for a moment, but Dusu cleared her throat, which made both of them pay attention. “Mister Smith, this is the seventh Geek. He is in charge of the contriving half of the Installation, while I lead the gadgeteering half. Please follow me.”

She walked down the pier, her steps so silent he barely heard her move.

* * *

“The Installation is the second-largest manmade island in the world, and the largest floating island – the whole structure is exactly two hundred and four square kilometers in size, divided into two equal halves with a central section that serves as the command center and the living quarters for all of us, though we researchers get the better rooms in the upper levels, as opposed to the guards and support staff,” Dusu explained with a proud voice as she lead him deeper into the artificial island.

Roy was immediately smitten – his power’s focus was on biochemistry, but he could still very much appreciate the craftsmanship that had gone into the clean, futuristic complex.

“How many people are on the Installation?” he asked, trusting to his enhanced sense of balance to not trip while look pretty much everywhere other than towards the way he was going.

“Five hundred and seventeen, both researchers, guards and support staff. And one thousand six hundred fifty-eight test subjects,” she replied immediately.

“One thousand four hundred and one test subjects. We lost two hundred and fifty seven during the last round of yesterday’s tests on my side,” Geek threw in.

Dusu gave him an annoyed glance. “You burn through test subjects too quickly. We’ll need to purchase a new batch by the middle of the month if it goes on like this.”

Geek raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I’ll strive to improve efficiency. Promise.”

“See that you do,” she replied, then turned back to Roy. “The organization usually provides us with more than enough test subjects, mostly from the South Asian or South African war zones. But we still need to be careful no one locates us – our protection is not perfect – so we can’t afford to waste them.”

He nodded absentmindedly. “And I will be working with you, Ma’am?”

“Yes. Your specialisation should prove compatible with my own. Unfortunately, my last assistant proved to be literally too dumb to live,” she replied, frustration seeping into her voice at the end.

“What happened, if I may ask?” What I mean is, did you kill her, and what are my chances for dying that way?

Geek giggled, his goggles shaking wildly. “Stupid little girl, she got a bit too careless working with one of the samples, and-“

“You have samples?!” he all but screamed, stopping in his tracks. “I didn’t know it was possible to extract samples!”

“Oh, it wasn’t for quite a while. But Dusu here figured it out just a year after she joined us, and we’ve been extracting them ever since. Lost nearly half our staff in the beginning, before we figured out how to properly secure them, not to mention all the test subjects we wasted,” explained Geek.

Dusu snorted in a decidedly unladylike manner. “And the little idiot went and still screwed it up.”

Geek giggled again. “At least we got a fine new test subject out of it. And she screams in the prettiest way, I gotta show you sometime, Roy-boy,” he said between giggles.

Roy shuddered a little at the utter callousness in his voice, but caught himself before anyone could notice. Don’t want them to think I’m soft.

“I’ll strive not to disappoint, Ma’am.”

“Do so. I would hate to hand over another assistant for testing. Or disposal,” she said. Then she continued, shaking her head: “And I had such high hopes for the last one.”

“I shall do my best, Ma’am.”

Geek just giggled again.

* * *

They’d parted from Geek a few minutes ago, and Dusu had taken him right through the gadgeteering complex. After a few minutes of walking and taking elevators downwards – the biggest part of the Installation was actually beneath the water – they arrived in her lab.

“This is awesome, Ma’am,” he sighed as he saw all the cutting edge equipment, including…

“Is that one of Sovereign’s Cloning Chambers!?”

“Aye, it cost me quite a mint but I was able to purchase it,” she answered, now far more relaxed than before.

He almost popped the cork right then and there, and wouldn’t that have been embarassing?

“But let’s get to the important part – our work,” she said and walked towards a large circular table that doubled as a screen.

Touching a few buttons on the screen, it lit up and showed… it.

“Oh God, I’ve never seen such a clear picture of it,” he sighed, putting his hands on the edge of the table and leaning in as far as he dared.

She nodded. “We’ve got cameras and access pipes that allows us to get within centimeters of it. We need them, really, to extract samples, hopefully to find a way to wake it,” she explained.

“I… let me take a look? For a few minutes? Please?” he asked, enraptured by the sight.

“Of course. Five minutes, no more, though. We do have a schedule,” she replied, then fell silent.

* * *

The cameras reached all the way down to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, and the soft, almost gentle glow given off by the Sleeper’s body provided enough light to see it in all its beauty.

After a few moments of enraptured non-action, he tapped a few icons that had appeared on the screen, calling up some data on what he saw.

There were, of course, the coils of its beautiful serpentine body, one thousand and thirty-one miles long, roughly three-point-one miles in diameter on average. It wasn’t covered in scales like a snake, but instead had a thick, smooth white skin that looked more like that of a jellyfish. The computer informed him that the current theory was that this was merely its coloration during its hibernating state, and that it would change upon awakening, as any samples extracted also changed their colours in unpredictable patterns.

What was probably the back of its body was covered in crystalline growths that were currently semi-opaque and colourless.

Roughly at the center of the mass of flesh was a particularly thick, tall pile of coils, and atop it rested its magnificent head – it was made of the same crystal as the growths on its back, and he could make out an indistinct humanoid shape where its tongue would be, as well as four pairs of eyes, each the size of a large building, and a single eye thrice that size, situated vertically on the center of its draconic, smooth head.

There were no limbs to be seen, unless its tongue had any.

The Sleeper’s body was still, unmoving, hibernating.

It was everything he could have hoped for and more.

* * *

“It… it’s so beautiful!” he whispered in adoration.

“It is. She is.”

He looked up at her. “She?”

“Quite so. At least, the humanoid tongue in its mouth appears to be female,” she explained.

He gulped, looking back at the monitors.

“And we shall wake her,” he said, then he looked at her. “Why do you want to wake her? If it is not too much to ask, Ma’am.”

She fell silent and turned around, making him afraid he’d overstepped his boundaries. But then she spoke: “You know what I do. What I did. All those projects, all the sacrifices… and nothing came of it. The world is still wretched, still choked by all those disgusting monkeys. I decided that, no matter how hard I worked, I’d never be able to push mankind to enter the true age of metahumanity.”

Turning around, she gave him a feverish look. “We need a gamechanger. Something, someone to wipe the slate clean of all the trash. We need her to push us to the next level.”

He nodded with every word, watching her as she calmed herself down. She’d looked beautiful herself when she spoke of her visions.

“And you? I didn’t inquire about your motivation before, though I know you’re a member of the True Believers,” she continued, back to her usual calm self.

He shrugged. “It’s nothing special, Ma’am. I believe it is Ember’s fate to usher in a new age. And I believe that, if the Sleeper were awoken, she, Desolation-in-Light and Ember shall become a new Trinity that will lead us to… well, to the same goal you dream of – the True Age of Metahumanity!”

She grinned again, stunning him with the unrestrained brilliance of the expression, and gave him an ID card. “Good. Very good. Welcome to the Installation, Roy Smith. And welcome, to the Companions of the Future!”

Previous | Next

Notification: Power System Overhaul

Alright everyone, I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I ran it past the people in the IRC channel, and they all agree it works better this way.

I am officially retconning/overhauling the power classifications. Not completely, but there are two noticable changes:

  1. The Variable rating now becomes the ‘Meta’ rating. It now describes all powers that deal with powers. Power Enhancement, Granting, Suppression, Theft, Mimicry and Shifting, etc
  2. The scale now goes from 1 to 13. 1 through 3 is Exemplar, 4 through 6 Paragon, 7 through 9 Apex, 10 through 12 God and 13 is Transcendent (the former 10+)

I’ve rewritten the Introduction to metahuman studies chapter, and I would ask all of your help in tracking down any instance in which the old system is being used in order to rewrite it. Just post whatever you find into the comments below.

The more you help me, the less time I need for this and the more I can spend writing the next chapters 😉

Greetings,

Tieshaunn

B007 Big Game Hunt (Part 8)

With a final clicking sound, Brennus opened his armour up into standby-mode – open along the back, but not fully disconnected into the individual pieces. That way, he could get out with a step backwards, and just as easily step back in. The downside was that this armour was not quite as durable as the original version.

Finally, he put his cloak back on over his black bodysuit – it was a bit oversized, as he had tailored it for his armoured form – and stretched his neck to get a few kinks out.

Power armour was not really all that comfortable, no matter what you did to make it so.

With a flick of his fingers, he activated the secondary voice distortion device he had built into his face mask, then he turned around to face the girls.

Polymnia was not even looking at him, her eyes glued to his discarded armour, leaning to the side to look around him.

Gloom Glimmer had taken her cloak off and thrown it over a chair, and she was definitely paying attention to him… very closely.

“Stop that, please,” he said while adjusting his coat.

“Stop what?”

“You are analyzing me. Considering what I know about your power, that means you are most probably using some manner of clairvoyance or telepathy. Maybe both,” he replied, carefully picking his words. “Please stop it. I came here to help in good faith, not to have my secrets laid bare.”

She flinched and pulled a small canister out of… somewhere, swallowing four pills she took out of it.

Where does she put that?

“Sorry. Force of habit,” she almost-whispered, apparently ashamed.

“Do not mention it. Now, Pol-“

“What I am not sorry about is pointing out that you’re supposed to drop all of your equipment. But I count a computer, a hard drive, four knives and twelve explosive charges on your body.”

“Uh… this is awkward,” he grumbled, scratching the back of his head. “But I would kind of need to strip naked to get rid of all of those. Besides, I doubt I could harm you even if I had all of my equipment. And you are more than capable of protecting Polymnia, even if I blow myself up. Which I do not want to do. Ever. At all. Under any circumstances.”

She sighed, swallowing three more pills. “Alright. Keep the rest. But I won’t be responsible for what Tartsche does to you if he finds out. He takes stuff like this very seriously.” She took another pill.

She has got to have more canisters, if she goes through them this quickly.

“Thank you. Now, Po- Where?”

She had vanished from his sight while he had been focused on Gloom Glimmer. Turning around, he found her inspecting his armour, having bent over to examine it.

<So you have redundant controls for fingers, toes and your mouth? Talk about prepared,> she commented, the fingers of one hand flying over a small vocoder that produced a surprisingly human voice, as opposed to the usual monotone.

“Never know when I might be mostly paralyzed, or restrained in some other way, and thus unable to control the suit and its systems normally. I also use voice commands as another redundancy,” he replied while walking around the workshop.

He stopped in front of a larger table covered in what looked like gutted speakers and robotic limbs.

“You have… been trying to upgrade your limb system? With what goal in mind?”

She turned away from his armour and pretty much skipped over to stand next to him. <I thought about making the armour more mobile, since no matter how much I reinforce it, there’s no way I’ll be able to take more than a few hits from the kind of villain I’ll be running into, so I’m better off evading,> she explained in what would have been a single breath for someone talking with their own mouth.

Ohh, how I can relate to that problem. “That vocalizer of yours sounds great – it even gets the contractions right and all the inflections – I can barely tell it apart from a real voice.”

She smiled and pulled a second vocalizer out of a drawer, handing the small device to him. It was barely as big as a tablet, and had more keys than any piano he had seen.

He turned it over and opened the casing, his power immediately pointing out the screws he needed to remove (there were more than enough tools lying around). Once he got a look at the insides, his power immediately went from its normal low-level activity to near-full idea-making.

<This is the most recent version of my second invention. Both my sonic cage and sonic blast technology is derived from the work I put into the wave modulation of this little baby. I wanted to make sure that I could still sound mostly like a normal human, and now it’s become the basis for most of my work. The other was my first own violin, I’m sure I have an upgraded version lying around somewhere>

“Sonics, wave modulation, harmonics… Ah, I see. You are using the principles of heterodyning to… can I see your sonic cage projector?” He put the vocalizer down.

She nodded and walked over to another workstation where said gadget – by far her largest work, and the main reason why she needed those extra limbs (apart from the keyboards).

While she explained it to Brennus, he looked into the gutted system – she had been trying to upgrade this one, as well – to work it out. He could not study her blueprints, and her verbal explanations where very basic, incomplete, as she could not put her symphonies into words, but put her words and what he saw together, and…

“Do you think we can apply this concept to light waves?” he asked suddenly.

<Probably. Light and sound are rather similar, in many ways. I think. My power is telling me so, at least. What did you have in mind?>

“High-powered lasers.”

This time, she made that strange squeeing sound he had heard from Hecate a while ago.

* * *

Fifteen minutes later…

Irene leaned back against the wall while watching the other two teenagers going at it.

She’d spent quite a lot of time looking in on other people – in fact, she was still doing it now and then – during precarious situations. In other words, she was used to being a voyeur. There was really no shame left in it for her.

Yet she felt inexplicably dirty watching those two go at it. They were geeking out like two kids who’d, for the first time, found a playmate in their chosen hobby.

It was cute, it was dirty (for her, because her power was giving her ideas, and it was as usual very single-minded), it was frightening what they were discussing…

She needed some soda. And popcorn. Lots of popcorn.

* * *

At the same time…

“Should I feel concerned that Gloom Glimmer just got herself a bucket of popcorn almost as tall as she is?” asked Tyche, who was splayed over a couch in what was the Junior Heroes’ common room. And a way nicer one than ours. They even got a pool table.

“I am… growing concerned,” Tartsche admitted. He was the only one in the room who was still tense after the last fifteen minutes. “She was supposed to stand watch all the time. How come no one in this group listens to my orders?”

“Maybe because everyone knows you’re way too nice to actually, you know, punish insubordination?” Spellgun replied with a grin as he leaned against his boyfriend.

Who just groaned.

“Relax, Gloom Glimmer’s back inside, and Brennus wouldn’t hurt Polymnia anyway… if he knows what’s good for him,” Hecate whispered, glaring jealously in the direction of the workshop.

“And if he tried, our lil’ two-point-oh would squash him like a bug,” came a comment from Outstep, who’d sidled up to Tyche on the couch and was assuming a pointedly relaxed position on it. Not that he had much success in disguising the fact that he was checking out her body, which would have been barely covered by the armour even if it wasn’t mostly transparent (and she hadn’t taken her leather jacket off). Brennus had really done an outstanding job of making it skintight despite the scales.

“Two-point-oh?” the readhead asked with a very satisfied smile at finally having someone actually look. She was tired of having to hide at school and only have Brennus around when she could show off. That boy had a lot of appreciation for forms, but only in technical terms.

“You know, she’s… the white-haired freak’s sister, and they got basically the same power, so…” Outstep explained slowly, hoping that she wasn’t overly sensitive to this stuff.

“Oh. Oh.” She giggled into her hand, trying to stiffle it.

The others simultaneously slapped their foreheads.

Oh ye Gods and little fishes, don’t let her join us. I can’t take two of the sort, was the only thing Tartsche could think.

* * *

Forty-five minutes later still…

Reassign patrol routes, recall any adult heroes we can spare on the Iron Wall, somehow convince those three to join us… the list keeps going, and that doesn’t even include all the administration issues that I still haven’t been able to work through.

Jason walked through the hallways of the headquarters, flanked by no less than five secretaries – actually just one woman who could split into seven clones of herself – who were working through data on their pads with him. He always liked to walk around while doing his work, it helped him stay fit and avoid back problems.

And I should look in on the kids… who knows what they’re up to this time. It wouldn’t be the first time that a junior team acted against orders to help with an S-Class situation… or any situation that was way out of their league. And he was quite sick of losing his kids to that kind of stupidity.

He entered the juniors’ common room, and found them immersed in a discussion they cut off the moment they heard the door slide open.

Jason looked around the room with a raised eyebrow. Tartsche and Spellgun were sitting next to each other, as usual. The witch-girl, Hecate, was sitting at the very edge of the same couch, as far away from anyone else as she could without being obvious about it, though she appeared to have been taking part in the discussion. Bakeneko had sat down in a much too provocative form, probably trying to measure up to the two vigilante girls, but no one was paying the shy girl much attention it seemed. Osore had fallen asleep on a stool. That boy can sleep anywhere.

Outstep and the redhead, Tyche, were sitting way too close to each other for his sensibilities, especially considering how Outstep was pretty much openly undressing her with his eyes – and she didn’t seem to mind.

Ye Gods and little fishes, not this again, he thought.

As for Brennus, Polymnia and Gloom Glimmer…

“Where. Are. The. Others?!” he asked while running his fingers through his hair. He could already see the catastrophe looming.

Tartsche jumped up, which all but threw a yelping Spellgun off the couch. “Here! I mean, in the building! They’re still here, Sir, don’t worry!” He was making placating gestures, and it was actually working.

Tartsche has never lied before, he wouldn’t, not to cover them breaking the rules. He repeated that sentence a few hundred times in her head, until he was calm again.

I need to stop getting excited so easily. Not good for the heart.

“Alright. Alright. Where are they and what are they doing?”

The children relaxed, and Hecate spoke up, despite sounding a bit intimidated. “Uh, they’re in Polymnia’s workshop, Sir. Brennus wanted to work a bit wit-” She stopped when she saw the vein start pulsing on his forehead, right over the left eye.

This is murder for my heart.

* * *

Four almost-strokes later…

“Tartsche, you put two teenage Gadgeeters, one of whom is yet unrated into one workshop!? Are you out of your mind!?

Tartsche was looking ashamed, even though his helmet was covering his entire face. The others were following a few steps back as Jason ran towards the workshop.

“Sir, calm down, Gloom Glimmer is there to stand watch, so she should be safe!” Spellgun threw in while easily keeping up with the steps of the only two people in the group without physical enhancements.

It’s not them I’m afraid of, it’s US I’m scared FOR because they might actually HETERODYNE THEIR POWERS!” he shouted over his shoulder.

“Heterodyning? What’s that!?” asked Bakeneko, probably speaking up for the first time today.

Spellgun explained to her as they approached the entrance to the workshop. “It’s the process of aligning two or more powers of a similar type to enhance them beyond their normal bounds,” he explained. “Like when two laser-projectors line their powers up to produce a laser far more powerful than their individual lasers combined.”

And Gadgeteers are NATURALS at doing that among each other, EVEN ACROSS TIERS!” shouted Jason. He reached the door. “Teenage gadgeteers are even worse and the last time we let two of them work together unsupervised no, Gloom Glimmer doesn’t count, you need someone trained for that – they almost blew up the entire city block!”

He opened the door and they all stormed in.

* * *

Irene’s power had provided her with short-term precognition, so she’d be able to react in time if (or maybe, when) something blew up, so she saw the others coming before they even reached the door, much less opened it.

Popping five pills to fight the precognition down so she’d be able to focus on the present, she took another handful of popcorn out of the almost empty bucket and gulped them down. Next time, more butter.

This was way better than TV. She’d always thought the whole ‘staring at stuff open-mouthed’ thing was just hogwash, but they all looked like that now. And it was hilarious.

Jason was the first to regain his composure and speak: “Gloom Glimmer, what in God’s name are they doing?”

She almost broke out into giggles, but stiffled it quickly. “They started talking about harmonics and wavelength modulation, then about lasers, and then thought about working on some improvements on her spider-limbs,” she began explaining.

And how did they end up building a giant gun?!” Hecate almost screamed.

Irene giggled again. “They got carried away when they came up with a ‘sonic detonator’.”

No one spoke as they watched the two gadgeteers – one of whom was giggling the whole time, and the other one looked like she would be giggling if she still could – climb all over a twenty-foot long gun as thick as either of their bodies.

“I’m getting a bad feeling from this,” whispered Outstep.

* * *

Five minutes later

“Why do I feel like I’m watching techno-geek-porn?” asked Outstep, which immediately set Irene off again.

She had to fight to get the giggles to vanish.

When she got herself back under control, everyone else had taken a few steps back from her, save for Jason.

Did I do something freaky again? she asked herself, but shook her head when her power tried to give her postcognition. Six pills took care of that. Not now, I need to keep up the precognition.

Brennus and Polymnia had not reacted at all to their audience, and the gun they were working on now looked like a cross between a spear and a gun-barrel, without a trigger and twenty-five feet long.

I wish I could concentrate on something for that long.

They kept watching in silence, until her power reacted and then the door slid open.

Jason turned around to the new arrival – and froze, even as the others all retreated from the door.

“Hello father,” she said, a bit restrained, as she turned to look at him. He was in his usual tall form, his six eyes glowing in the darkness of his wraith’s ‘flesh’.

Their argument still rang loudly in her ears.

“Greetings, everyone. I have bad news,” he said, rather matter-of-factly despite his claims.

Everyone tensed up and even Brennus and Polymnia stopped their work for a moment.

“What is it?” Jason asked, having regained his bearing.

Desolation-in-Light was just sighted over Kansas City. We will deploy within minutes,” he explained.

She didn’t need telepathy or anything to feel everyone’s bottom drop off their stomachs.

Not now, oh stars above no.

“Sir, what will happen with Hastur?” asked Jason. “The situation is far from resolved!”

“Hastur will have to wait. Amazon will participate in the defence of Kansas City – we cannot afford the risk of Desolation-in-Light somehow compromising our country’s breadbasket. You are all to stand by and wait for us to resolve that situation before tackling the Hastur issue. That, by the way, is an order from Amazon,” he continued, looking directly at the teenagers in the room, one after the other, making them cower before him (except for Irene, who was his daughter after all, and the two Gadgeteers who were still riding the high of their powers’ going into overdrive).

“Understood, Sir,” replied Tartsche in a subdued voice.

The supervillain nodded, then stepped closer to Irene and enveloped them in a dome of darkness.

She slid up to him and hugged him, her body slipping easily past his darkwraith to hug the man underneath.

“Are you sure I shouldn’t come along? With my power, I-“

“We’ve had this talk before, baby girl. The risks are too great. All of them.”

She nodded. She didn’t like it, but she knew that she wouldn’t win this argument. Her mother would be backing him up, for one.

“You be safe, you hear me? And make sure mama’s safe, too,” she whispered.

“Of course, baby girl. You know us, we’re invincible.”

“Pride goes before the fall, papa,” she half-sobbed. She hated it that people were so… fragile. Even her parents. Especially her parents.

“I have yet to see that proverb be proven. Arrogance goes before the fall, my dear, not pride. There is a difference. Ask Brennus about it, I suspect the boy knows,” he replied and squeezed her, hard.

She squeezed right back, and then she let go, watching him sink into his own shadow, leaving her standing in a rapidly dissolving dome of darkness.

Drying her tears, she stepped out of it, dispersing it. The others were staring, except for Brennus and Polymnia, who were back at work.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this. The timing is just too bad.

Minutes later, Jason got a call. He listened, his face turning white.

She didn’t listen to him when he explained to the others. Her precognition had already told her the moment the cellphone rang.

Hastur has been set loose. And the hunt begins… but who’ll be the hunter and who the game?