Jessica stood in a gray room, with six gray people in it. Well, five. One of them wasn’t really a person anymore. And another wouldn’t be one either, soon enough. So only four people, really, not counting herself.
The room had once been the ‘secret’ headquarter of a local branch of the Yakuza, or so she’d been told. Not that she cared. It took Hemming all of three minutes to deduce the location of the place and take them inside. They killed everyone there quickly enough, except for a girl with some kind of power Atrocity found interesting. That one wasn’t allowed to die.
Not that Jessica cared. No one here could have killed her. It didn’t help her mood that they’d finally been attacked by Desolation-in-Light, and she’d just ignored Jessica. She’d been attacking her, interposing herself to take attacks on the others, but she hadn’t even tried to kill her.
Slowly crushing the skulls of these Japanese criminals, watching the life fade from their eyes had made her feel… a little better. But she’d also felt jealous.
“Aren’t you done yet!?” spoke up a muted, annoyed voice. Jessica looked up, taking her attention away from her misery for a little. Not that she could ever fully forget it, since even sounds were muted. Gray, like the rest. Everything and anything that could possibly cause her discomfort filtered out. People could scream into her ear and she’d hear them just fine, while also hearing everyone else in the room talk, all their voices muted, filtered. She’d once gone into a rave concert, and yet she’d heard everyone’s screams and begging just fine, despite the blaring (muted) music.
She saw the closest thing she had to a friend, Fire Burial – Seanna – sitting on the lap of the thing that had once been her father, naked as the rest of them. They’d tried, once, to be together. But it just didn’t work, not when Jessica couldn’t feel anything. She could sense touch, but it was all the same, just raw sense with no feeling, muted like everything else. And Seanna was such a physical person, always hugging, kissing, slapping and just expressing herself through body contact. Jessica loved her, she was the only thing she’d miss if she died, and she loved her even more for at least trying to stay friends.
Seanna had spoken to the scrawny guy who was crawling around the floor of the hideout’s training room (there was some Japanese word for it, but she couldn’t care enough to remember), using a thick, black marker to write down diagrams that seemed to shift every now and then, as well as strange, flowing writing and numbers she couldn’t really read, no matter how much she tried.
The guy – he really looked out of place in this company, scrawny and not all that attractive, his brown hair wiry, his nose hooked – threw an annoyed glance at Fire Burial, stopping his work for a moment. “If you rush a miracle worker, you know what you get?”
“A pissed off nerd?”
Jessica really loved Seanna, but even she had to admit that she didn’t have enough brains to know when to not insult people (with one exception).
“Shoddy miracles. Now shut up.” Fortunately, he wasn’t the kind of guy to get easily pissed off. Instead, he continued drawing on the floor.
Seanna opened her mouth to retort, but Lars, who was sitting at a nearby table drinking tea, cut her off. “Seanna, be quiet please. Let the man do his work.” He was the only one in the room who was wearing clothes… technically. The blue three-piece suit he wore was actually a part of his body that he’d simply shaped to look and feel like a suit (not that Jessica could tell).
“But I’m bored!” she protested. “Daddy’s just drooling like a zombie – what a surprise – and we can’t go out and have some fun, you said! I’m going stir-crazy!” She pointed at her ‘Daddy’, the contraption that was left of Mindfuck. Before her manifestation, Jessica would probably have thrown up just looking at it – the body of a boy, older than twelve, but not yet sixteen, certainly, ephemerally beautiful with dark brown hair and brown eyes, and stark naked, connected to a metal frame that wrapped around his body from head to toe, piercing his flesh to connect to his bones, with tubes and other pieces extending into his body, keeping him in some semblance of half-life where he could still use his power… barely. His left eye was missing, with various wires and tubes entering his head through the empty socket. His mouth was slack, drooling, as his daughter (who looked more like his older sister), sprawled on his lap.
“If we go out, we’ll be found,” Lars replied, sipping tea. “We’re too vulnerable right now, and you know it, Seanna. So let him work, and we’ll soon return to our game.”
“Ugh.” She finally fell quiet, and silence returned to the room, save for the scrawny guy on the floor and occasional twitching gasps from the Japanese girl they’d caught, while Atrocity worked on her.
Jessica floated over to her (she’d long since stopped using her legs – there was no point to it, she never felt any strain, anyway) and looked, hoping for some distraction.
Atrocity had laid the girl out on a table and cut her suit off, leaving the eighteen-something girl naked… not that that was important in this company. Her small body was covered in tattoos, elaborate scenes from Japanese mythology. Of course, now, Atrocity had cut her back open from the top of her neck down to the crack of her butt, pulling the skin open with two of her arms, using pliers to move muscles out of the way and work directly on other pieces. The girl’s eyes were wide open, conscious (Atrocity did not use painkillers. Ever) but unable to do a thing – Atrocity had disabled her ability to control her own body, even for something like screaming, and she now only made sounds whenever her tormentor touched the wrong nerves. She’d probably also disabled whatever part of her body could numb the pain naturally, just to make sure she’d feel it all.
Said tormentor was standing tall next to the table, bent forward, with six of her currently eight arms working on her victim, replacing organs with artificial ones, reworking the girl to her liking.
Atrocity’s body was always a sight to behold. She varied it, almost as often as other women changed clothes, always working on it, improving it, adapting it. Right now, she was nine feet tall, though bent over to look down at her work. To go with the theme of the group, she’d designed the body to look like that of a nude woman… barely. The torso certainly looked human, with smooth white skin covering it, stretching over a modest (for her size) pair of breasts and an equally smooth crotch, both styled to look authentic (and even feel real, or so she was told). But everything else was… less human. The sides of her waist were covered by a clear plastic, revealing the white metal and clear plastic Atrocity favoured in her bodies. The legs looked like they’d been made by crossing an insect’s hind legs and those of a bird, ending in seven very dexterous, long toes (fingers, really, only even longer and with more segments) tipped by cruel claws. From her shoulders, four pairs of arms emerged, each a good seven feet long, with two forearms each sprouting from the elbows, one forearm of each pair tipped by long, slender, feminine hands and the other with four-fingered hands (without thumbs), tipped by vermillion-coloured blades.
Her head was the strangest part, though. It looked like that of an attractive, white-skinned woman with long, lustrous black hair and bright, vermillion-coloured eyes. But that face was too small, made for a normal-sized person. Behind it, a larger, stark white head that was actually big enough for the body was attached to the body itself by a long, sinuous neck to the torso. The skull had no face, but instead several cables that connected to the actual face.
Atrocity was humming some tune as she worked. It was the tune to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, that damned thing. Jessica didn’t get annoyed by many things anymore, but how that woman could keep repeating the same poem over and over was just… aggravating.
When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.
And so it went, while she turned her newest guinea pig into one of her cybernetic slaves.
Seanna was quiet, Lars was working on the sixth edition of the D&D rules (Jessica wondered if the people at the publishing house and the fans even suspected that he was applying his super-intelligence to perfecting their game, and if they’d even care), Mindfuck was drooling and she herself was just floating in place, alternatively watching Atrocity work (throwing pieces of the girl she didn’t need anymore over to Seanna, who roasted and ate them), Seanna eat, and Hemming drink tea.
She wished she could partake, but the… field that ‘protected’ her extended into her body, covering her tongue, her taste buds, and all her innards… if she ate anything, it just came out the other way undigested, since it never actually came into contact with her body in any way.
So she watched the others, while she herself did nothing. As usual.
Her train of thought usually revolved around her own misery, and her lack of anything to really care about. There really wasn’t much else to think about.
* * *
After about fifteen minutes, Atrocity closed the girl’s back, sewing it up so expertly you could barely see the scar. And Jessica had perfect vision (she always saw everything in shades of gray, no matter the lighting or actual colour – whether it was completely dark or a bright day).
“Now, let’s see how this works. Up with you!” Atrocity chirped, slapping her new toy’s butt.
The girl squirmed, arms and legs twitching, before she slowly stood up, moving in a crude, puppet-like manner. Jessica knew that she would eventually move in a much smoother manner, once Atrocity adapted the programming of the implants to her body, and implanted some more advanced circuitry (and more weaponry) into the rest of her body.
“Run a few laps, my dear. Be careful not to step on any of the drawings,” Atrocity ordered. “Also, sing ‘Doh Wah Diddy Diddy’ from Manfred Mann while you do so.”
The girl (who Jessica was pretty sure couldn’t actually speak English) twitched and squirmed for a moment, tears running from her eyes, then started to run laps around the room, stark naked and loudly singing that song.
Seanna laughed out loud. “Looks like another success, Auntie!” She began to sing along, which probably sounded much better (everyone told her that Seanna had a gorgeous singing voice), but to Jessica, she sounded no different from the cyborg Atrocity had just created.
“I need to work some on the voice module. Her singing’s off-key,” Atrocity complained in her usual monotone.
No, wrong. I only hear a monotone, but they speak in their own voices. It was hard to remember, sometimes, that the world wasn’t gray and monotone all over.
“Maybe we should pay a visit to New Lennston soon,” Lars threw in without looking up from his work. “Audio-equipment is Polymnia’s speciality, after all,” he added.
Atrocity looked up, all movement stopping. Jessica knew she was using her secret power, the power of her eyes now.
“No, we shouldn’t. Not yet,” she said. “I can’t… I need more information on Gloom Glimmer.”
“Why?” Seanna threw in. “She another of your blind spots?”
Atrocity nodded, ignoring what was probably an insolent tone of voice. “Not as much as Ember, Desolation-in-Light or Pristine are. She’s not an absolute blind spot, but rather a… flickering, like the way the picture looked on those old televisions, when the antenna wasn’t calibrated right. And she’s really close to Polymnia, so even kidnapping her would be too dangerous – not to mentioin that Gloom Glimmer could most likely follow her even into our pocket dimension, much like her sister can enter and leave at will, apparently.”
Now Jessica got interested. She hadn’t even considered this, but if anyone was capable of killing her, then it was Desolation-in-Light… except DiL had simply ignored her any time she’d run into her. But Gloom Glimmer…
“Do you think she could… kill me?” she asked Lars.
He didn’t bother to look up at her. “Maybe, but not at her current level. She may have the potential to become as powerful as DiL, she may not, but either way, she’s not quite there yet. I’m afraid it’ll have to wait, my dear.”
“Oh. Alright. Maybe I’ll get her sister to finally notice and kill me, meanwhile,” she replied, though she didn’t have much hope. She’d been thinking about it for a long time, but anything she’d tried so far had proven ineffective.
“I doubt it. She’d have to notice you first,” Lars replied.
“Why is that a problem? Jessy’s a rather obvious target, you know?” Seanna replied as she finished eating the last piece of the new cyborg’s liver (right when she passed by on her lap around the room).
Lars sighed, looking up from his work. “I don’t think Desolation-in-Light actually uses her human senses. And if she does, then they don’t mean anything to her. They’re just… background.”
Everyone in the room turned to look at him. He shrugged and put his pen aside, turning so he could look at all of them at the same time (without growing extra eyes).
“We all know that Desolation-in-Light seems to ignore non-powered people. She’s never directly attacked a powerless person, though her powers certainly cause enough collateral damage to make up for it. I think her problem goes further – she can’t even sense people without powers, and if she does, they do not register as people, much less as threats. If she’s even capable of comprehending the concept of a threat.”
He stapled his fingers in front of his face, still smiling. “That’s why conventional attacks are simply ignored by her, unless executed by people with powers. That’s why she seems to focus on the biggest threats within her range – not because they actually pose a threat to her, because they clearly don’t, but because they’re just the most obvious, easily detectable individuals to her. Everything else is just background noise.”
“B-but what does that have to do with her ignoring Jessy?” Seanna asked the question that burned in Jessica’s mind.
Sighing, he gave Seanna a disappointed look, like a teacher who’d just been asked a stupid question. “Seanna, please, think. Why have we been able to avoid detection so far? I mean, at the very least, powerful precogs should have been able to predict where’d we show up and station troops there. Yet that hasn’t worked so far.”
He waited, but no answer came. Jessica knew what he was saying, but she didn’t see the connection to DiL ignoring her…
“Look, Jessica’s power is absolute. It shields her both from all harm, and all powers – that includes perception powers. So she’s a massive blindspot to any precog, preventing a reliable prediction of our moves, since we act as a unit.”
“But Auntie can see her, right?”
“Not the point, but it won’t hurt to teach you some,” Hemming replied. “Atrocity, dear, do you want to explain it to them?”
“It’s nothing complicated. I know Jessica well enough to construct a reasonably accurate mental image of her and use it as a stand-in for the blind spot she produces, allowing my power to work despite her influence. It still degrades the visions I get, but it’s functional. That’s why I need more information on Gloom Glimmer, to better get around the effect she has on me.”
“But back to the original issue – since Jessica is completely shielded from power-based perception, Desolation-in-Light’s main senses most likely can’t detect her. She’s a non-entity to her, something that doesn’t exist within her ‘world’, so to speak. She’ll never notice her, unless Jessica learns to deactivate her power-” God, I wish I could, “But she wouldn’t need Desolation-in-Light to kill her, if she managed that.”
“Yeah, I’d do her in in an instant,” Seanna threw in, wiggling around to get more comfortable.
The promise almost made Jessica cry in joy, but she knew it was futile. She couldn’t deactivate her power.
“Finally! Done!” the scrawny guy shouted, throwing his arms up.
Everyone turned to pay attention, and a silent command made the cyborg stop next to Atrocity and watch, too.
“Will you begin the ritual now?” Lars asked, putting his work away.
“Yeah, let’s get this miracle done.”
* * *
I’ve been looking forward to this, Jessica suddenly realized. There were few things that excited her, still, and this was one of them, even if she saw it rarely enough lately.
Everyone retreated as far back from the diagrams on the floor as they could, even Jessica. She didn’t want to somehow interrupt this.
He stepped into a circle that was five feet away from the center of the ritual circle he’d created, knelt down and began to chant.
Almost immediately, the room seemed to… stretch. Jessica couldn’t feel any difference, but Seanna had explained to her that it felt like the difference between standing inside a building and outside one. When he cast his big spells, it always felt like you were in an open, infinite space.
His chant rang in the air, and somehow, just barely, she could almost hear beyond the dull monotone of her world. Almost.
The chant grew, or at least she had the impression it did, because it sounded just like it did at the beginning. The diagrams on the floor began to drift, then glide around, shifting from shape to shape, forming more and more complex patterns as a flicker of light gathered in the center of the diagram.
Then, there was an impression of collapse, as the light compressed into a sphere the size of Jessica’s torso. The monotone sound of an air cannon reached her ears, then another, and another.
And with each sound, another sphere collapsed into existence, as light was gathered and compressed. She knew the end result, but it was an interesting process to observe as his chants built and built, creating more and more spheres, then rods which were of a different shade of gray.
But then it wouldn’t stop. He made more and more spheres and rods, and instead of stopping with the usual humanoid shape, they kept gathering and building into a larger, less human form…
It took nearly a half hour for the ritual to finish, and by the end of it, a dragon was standing in the center of the ritual circle. Its body was the size of a minibus, made of two massive spheres comprised of countless smaller ones, connected to each other by rotating rods. Its hind legs were shaped like a cat’s, its front legs like a human’s. It had a long, long tail made of numerous shorter rods, large wings made of long rods that connected to each other via spheres and his customary halo of rods around the head, which was made up of that original sphere he’d created, and nothing else but the halo and the neck that attached to it.
“Gorgeous,” Atrocity commented as Ben rose to his feet, turning around to face them with a smirk.
“Behold, Heretic 2.0!” he spoke, and the dragon-thing behind him spoke in the exact same voice, creating an odd effect. “I increased its bandwith, so I’ll be able to channel more power in shorter time through it, and I’ve added every single concealment spell to its connection to me that I know – even DiL shouldn’t be able to follow it back to the pocket world I hide in!”
Lars clapped, slowly, smiling. “Why the new shape and power?”
“Well, if the bad guy is defeated, then he needs to come back stronger, don’t you think?” Ben replied, chuckling. “After all, the heroes levelled up, and we can’t have any Villain Decay, now can we?”
He stretched his body, and Jessica could hear some pops in his shoulders. He usually forgot to limber up.
“It’s good to know that you still remember my lessons from way back,” Lars agreed, chuckling. “So, are you ready to re-open the way into our headquarters? Our lads must be getting stir-crazy in there.”
“Sure, sure. I’ll get right to work, mate,” Ben replied, and Heretic spoke along.
* * *
Thirty minutes later…
They were back in their game room, a large, dungeon-like place with a massive, tricked out table in the center (Atrocity’s work), arrayed around it. Even Ben’s new puppet fit in nicely, and Lars was sitting at the head of the table behind his screen, with that ridiculous paper hat and mask on his head.
The table itself was displaying a map of the planet, with dots showing the cities.
“Now, it’s time to decide where we strike next!” he shouted, and threw a pair of dice in front of everyone, even Atrocity (she claimed that she didn’t use her precognition to cheat here, and why fuss about it?). “Everyone, throw in the place that is your first choice!”
“New Lennston,” Jessica said and threw a chip onto the dot denoting the city. If there’s even a chance…
“Toronto,” Atrocity said. “I’d like to tussle with the girls again.”
“New Lennston, too. I wanna play with this Brennus guy,” Seanna said and added her chip to Jessica’s.
Bless you, love.
“Versailles. They’re just getting into their world war, let’s cause even more confusion,” Ben threw in and levitated a chip onto the capital of the PATO.
“Hmm, I’m in the mood for Moscow, to be honest,” Lars finished, stretching out an appendage to place a chip. He might have been the gamemaster, usually, but this game was equal for all. He could override it and enforce a target, but he rarely did. “Any objections? I think Atrocity still has a veto saved up.”
“I’d like to veto New Lennston, but since two people chose it, it’d be a waste. I’ll save it up,” she said.
“Alright! Get your dice, get your sheets, and let’s roll! Let’s see if we can take our game to the next level!“