B010.3 Falling Hearts

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Basil lowered his arm, removing the knife from her throat. “Hello. I did not expect you here,” he greeted her.

She rubbed her throat, as if checking for cuts – but he had not even nicked her skin. He was surprised to see that her hair was brown, which he really had not expected, not with the way she ran around in costume; but he could still recognise her by her pink visor, which she apparently kept at hand just like he always had his soft mask with him at all times.

<Brennus? Is that you?> she asked, her lips unmoving except to breathe. He looked down and saw that she was wearing a slightly bulky glove, blue with wires running through it, and her fingers were moving as if she was tapping keys.

“Just like how I control my suit’s functions,” he said, taking a closer look at her glove.

<Oh, I knew you used a similar system, I saw your fingers move every time you were in that suit!> she replied, her earlier question forgotten. She lifted the glove to show it off. <It’s still rather bulky, and easily damaged, though.>

“Why did you bring it along, then?” was his reply as he looked at it from beneath while she typed. A speaker was worked into the palm, and he could tell that the glove extended further down her arm, probably with some power source hidden somewhere beneath the bulky sweater. “Better bring a sturdy unit attached to your belt, or something in that vein.” He quickly looked her up and down – winter boots, baggy black pants, a blue turtleneck sweater. Nothing like his quickly converted costume. “Speaking of which, do you not have an emergency costume?”

She gave him a sheepish glance. <I didn’t think to make one – it’s not usually a problem for us official heroes, since we’re not supposed to do heroics at all when off duty.>

He stepped back, smiling (which should show, slightly, through his mask). “Why are you back here, then, attacking me?” he asked.

<How things are and how they should be are two vastly different things; that’s why we put on costumes and go out risking our lives, after all, right?> she answered with another question. <And speaking of costumes, how exactly did you work that jacket, did you have a second one over it as cover or…>

“Stop!” he said, raising a hand, palm out. “I just realise that we are taking an unnecessary risk staying here and chatting up… though we certainly should compare notes on those control gloves, at a later point in time,” he continued, trying to steer them away from the Gadgeteer Zone they would probably slip into in a moment.

She nodded. <Do you have a plan?>

Flipping the knife into the air and catching it, he said, “Get access to the surveillance system to destroy any recordings of the two of us, somehow contact the outside – hopefully, they did not cut all connections to the outside world.”

<Right. Let’s do that – but I need a costume first, or I can forget my secret identity as soon as someone snaps a cellphone picture of me.>

“I think I saw a SuperWear shop earlier. It should be nearby, and I can disable the cameras inside – though that will alert our opposition, if they took the surveillance system over, which I will assume they did.”

<Let’s hurry then.>

* * *

 

A few minutes, two disabled cameras (he had not had the time to tie them into loops) and one popped lock later, they were in the shop – and what a shop it was.

The original SuperWear had been the first commercial store for superhero and -villain costumes, founded in the late Twenties by the man who had been making and fixing Lady Light’s costumes (she used to go through a lot of them, before she mastered her powers) so as to make a living out of his talent (and make it tax deductible). He had provided custom-made outfits for anyone who could pay, thus preventing supervillains from coming after him – they were his customers, too, after all.

From there, it had grown and grown, and was now the biggest retailer of all things costume-related (they did not provide hand-tailored custom works anymore, though).

The one they were in had been hailed as the largest SuperWear store in the world, taking up space on every level of the Bright Arcades. Its interior was well-organised, easy to navigate and utterly exploding with colour. Basil had to blink when he first entered and turned the lights on.

“Well, at least you are sure to find something to wear,” he said, as Polymnia looked around in glee, then ran over to the girl’s section.

<No peeping!> she shouted back as she vanished among the racks of clothing.

“Not interested!” he shouted back, annoyed. As if every guy was a horn-dog like Outstep (or Dalia). “I will stand watch near the staircases!” And he proceeded to do just that. Fortunately, the lockdown had also closed the shutters of all shops; and though the front door had been opened again, most likely by the criminals so as to collect the customers and herd them all into one place. These guys work fast.

As was to be expected from criminals led by a mastermind. Kudzu was not exactly one of the big names – he just about cut the middle class – but Basil had, nonetheless, heard a bit about his exploits. He did not remember any flaws in his power, or even how exactly it worked – which was too bad, because people with mastermind powers usually had built-in blind spots their power could not account for (like Formula, a villainess whose power over math let her calculate even the future, but was utterly incapable of accounting for positive emotional factors).

Which would have been really good to know when going up against such a mastermind. If at least I knew whether he’s a precog or just a super-powered planner.

Either way, he closed the main entrance again (the shutters were mercifully quiet) and then disabled the mechanism, so it could no longer be opened from the central control, only from within the shop. Keep an escape route open to you, but deny your enemies the entry. Always a good thing to keep in mind.

Now if only I could access the cameras outside. But that would have to wait until they got to the control room (which was likely to be heavily guarded now, as Kudzu would almost assuredly be there) or some other access point to the system. Like perhaps the maintenance room? Only he had no idea where it was.

His train of thought was derailed when Polymnia stepped out from the racks of clothing.

<Done!> she said. <They actually have a bodysuit styled like my armor! Doesn’t it look great!?>

“It certainly looks… colourful,” he supplied. “But would not some more… uh… coverage, be good?” There were a lot of transparent parts to it. “How about you put that sweater on over it?”

Her face fell, and he got the feeling he said something wrong. <It doesn’t look… good?> she asked, the artificial voice sounding a little disappointed.

She even has mood settings for that thing – I so need the technology for Eudocia. “Oh, I’m sure it looks good… if you just want to, uh, you know, show off. But it looks a little bit, uh… indecent? As in, a lot? You are a little… young to wear that, I think.” Not to mention way too busty.

<I guess I’ll, uh, pick out something else…> she said, crestfallen.

“Please do. It really does not suit you. And do hurry, we do not have much time before someone gets here and tries to take us out!”

She hurried back into the racks of clothing, while Basil went back to watching the entryway, sliding behind a nearby rack of masks – and not a second too soon, as soon he heard someone shout on the other side.

Though he could not tell what was being said, the other person seemed agitated. He heard someone answer, and then the sound of something being stuck to the metal shutters.

“They are about to break through, I think!” he said in a normal voice – according to her public profile, she should be able ot easily hear it.

<I can hear them; coming through!>

And she stepped back into sight, now wearing a simple blue bodysuit with pink boots and a pink glove on her free hand, and a pink scarf that hid her face from the nose down. She had also gotten a wig in her usual colours.

Talk about garish. But it probably looked great to most guys – it was not her fault that Basil preferred a much more clothed style. “Get behind some cover,” he told her, pulling a stun grenade from his belt. “And cover your e-“

<Can you disable their communication equipment?> she asked suddenly, cutting him off, while she remained standing in full view. <If you can, I can take care of the rest.>

“I have a single emp grenade with me. Short range, so it should not affect your equipment. Do you have any weapons with you?”

<Kind of. Watch and be awed.>

“Guess I will have to trust you…” He took the grenade and threw it over to the entrance way, where it stuck to the doorframe over the door, ready to be set off. “I sure hope you know what you are doing.”

With some luck, she will show off some new invention of hers. If she is this confident in it, it ought to be good.

* * *

 

There was a surprisingly quiet series of explosions – really more of a succession of ‘plops’, each accompanying a circular part of the shutter being melted, forming the outline of a door.

Basil drew his knife in his left hand, and a stun baton in his right. He was still hidden behind the rack, using a nearby mirror to keep an eye on the entrance.

When the outline had been melted into it, a stiff kick dropped the whole section into the shop, and six men streamed inside, clad in battle fatigues and wielding highly tricked out assault rifles…

Oh, this is just too rich, Basil thought as he set the grenade off. There was barely any sound, just a short crackle, and then the men were inside, moving to surround Polymnia, guns held ready.

“Freeze!” their leader, a man wearing a red beret over his full-face mask, shouted as they formed a circle around her. “Surrender and you won’t be harmed!”

I do hope those rifles are not EMP-proof, Basil thought as he got ready to attack – they would probably search the shop, and he might catch one of them, at least, off-guard before anyone noticed their weapons were not working…

<Right back at you, Sirs,> Polymnia responded, setting her vocalizer to ‘cocky’. <You do know who I am, right?>

“Polymnia, Junior Hero, Sonic Gadgeteer, enhanced hearing,” he shot back rapidly. “We’ve read up on all the locals, girl. Now, take off that glove, get on your knees and put your hands behind your head! Right now!”

<Take off this glove? Sure, Sir,> she said, pulling her vocalizing glove off – very carefully and slowly. Basil could see the men get nervous, even though they were basically surrounding (well, they had formed a half-circle, to avoid crossfire) a teenage girl in a garish costume, taking off a strange glove…

Well, the had a lot of reason to be nervous.

“Get a move on, girl!” the leader shouted at her.

She smiled sweetly, and dropped the glove.

And then things went in a totally different way than he expected.

* * *

The men’s eyes tracked the glove for a fraction of a second, and that was enough, it seemed. Before even Basil could react, Polymnia had lashed out, kicking the leader so hard in the balls, he fainted on the spot.

Basil, and every other guy in the room, crossed their legs in sheer, instinctual, sympathetic reaction as the man simply collapsed with an almost gentle sigh.

Ow.

One of the men got his bearings back before the others, and aimed for Polymnia’s center of mass, squeezing his rifle’s trigger – and nothing happened. Much like Basil had expected, their rifles were the modern, highly modified type, probably some lesser version of Gadgeteer work.

Polymnia reacted instantly and, without ever putting the foot that had just crushed the leader’s family tree down, she swung around on her other heel and clipped the chin of the wannabe-shooter, knocking him out.

Now the others reacted, squeezing the triggers of their weapons – to no avail, as Polymnia moved faster than any human should, punching the next two men in the line-up with a fist to the chest for each, throwing them back into a rack of villain costumes for boys, which tipped over and buried them both.

She has been holding out on people, Basil thought as he stared, watching in awe as the petite girl whirled towards the men to her left (she had basically taken out the four in the middle of the half-circle) and threw herself at them, swinging her arms in two perfect (if rather lacking in a formal style) punches to the gut.

Basil was so stunned by the display that he almost did not react when the two criminals behind her dropped their rifles and drew simpler handguns in swift, smooth motions, opening fire.

“Look out!” he shouted, more by reflex than any conscious decision. It was that same reflex that made him vault out from behind his cover and throw his knife into the shin of the nearest gunman, while his baton hurled towards the other man’s arms.

The first man’s shots went wide, but the other was lucky enough to only take a glancing blow – and instead of shooting Polymnia in the back of the head, he shot her in the chest as she whirled around.

“No!” he shouted, running towards them, reaching for his second knife and a medikit… but Polymnia moved before he reached them, reaching out to crush the gun with one hand.

“But you’re just a-” the gunman began before she knocked him out with a single punch.

Basil reached her, staring. “W-what?”

She looked at him, then down herself, inspecting her suit. There were three holes in the chest, but the bullets had not penetrated her skin – only left slightly reddened skin, which was already fading. She sighed as she saw the damage.

“You are a brick?” Basil asked, surprised.

She looked at him, annoyed, and bent down to pick up her glove. When she had put it back on, she said, <I hate that word. I’m no brick! But yes, I’ve got Paragon-tier strength and toughness.>

Wow. “I never heard that you have that kind of power before, and I read up on you very thoroughly!” he replied, exasperated.

In response, she just smiled sweetly. <Well, no one expects the cute, multi-coloured music tech-girl to be able to shrug off small caliber fire and punch through concrete, so I keep it a secret. You know, just in case.> She winked at him.

And Basil thought, I know what Amy would say now, and it would not even be perverted. “That only makes you cuter, I think.”

She smiled even wider. <I know, right?!>

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B010.2 Falling Hearts

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Kudzu was not a very intimidating figure to look at. He was tall, too thin to be entirely healthy and had cheekbones you could cut titanium with. His black hair was curly, but not very long, his eyes had a kind of wet, blue-green colour, like the water at a shore full of algae. His overall image was not improved by his perfectly ironed white shirt, the professional pocket protector holding several pens and his casual-office-wear-style jeans and white sneakers. And the cheap-looking blue cloth mask he wore, covering his face from his nose and up, did not do him any favours, either.

All in all, the man calling himself Kudzu did not look like the supervillain he professed to be, and he certainly could not be threatening to anyone who wasn’t deathly afraid of clerks.

Not that he minded. He’d built most of his early career on not being taken seriously. When the heroes came after a villain group, they tended to ignore the guy who looked like a clerk and focus on the garishly clothed ones – giving him a good chance to use whatever escape plan he had ready. And Kudzu always had an escape plan ready. Or twenty. Wiggling out (or into) things was kind of his speciality, after all.

Another difference between Kudzu and the average supervillain was that he mostly worked as a consultant, helping other villains along with their crimes – for a price. It was rare indeed that he took point on a venture, such as today.

Unfortunately, the job had been quite urgent and he hadn’t had the time to find a suitable figurehead. Especially since he’d had to hire his minions through the Syndicate, using the cheaper options (always wiggling out of a bad situation unfortunately didn’t include always getting away with the money, not to mention the fact that locked up supervillains were unlikely to pay what he was owed), and had gotten stuck mostly with teenagers. He’d blown most of his reserves on prep work, hiring a true professional to procure some sensitive information necessary for the job itself – there’d been no other way to get it, even for someone with Kudzu’s mind.

Since no one would believe a teenager had been the mastermind behind this action over him, especially not once they figured out what he was actually after, he didn’t even bother, and was taking the helm for this.

He threw a glance over his shoulder, at the three figures that were with him in the central computer and surveillance office. One sat in front of the monitors, working furiously to twist the system to their use. One of the rare teenage gadgeteers out there, and a specialist for surveillance, as well. It was only thanks to his inexperience that Kudzu had been able to afford him. He’d do his job, hopefully.

At least I lucked out on the other one.

Behind the pudgy boy, two girls stood, both, ironically, dressed in cloaks with hoods, but with far different styles.

One wasn’t even really a member of his team. The Syndicate had sent her along to observe – most likely a mastermind in training. He’d been offered a bargain in hiring the other cloaked girl, in exchange for bringing her along and answering any questions she might have. Her cloak was dark blue, and fell over her shoulders to hide her whole body, unless she moved too vigoriously. He didn’t even know her name. And frankly, she’d proven more than a little annoying so far – not due to her questions, they were usually restrained and on the mark, but rather because she had some manner of enhanced perception like him, perhaps even some minor precognition – just being around her made his power have to work overtime, accounting every possible change to his plans that needed to be made simply because of her effect on his calculations.

But she was worth it, as he got a true heavyweight along with her – just in case the peacekeepers realised something was amiss and came in to fight.

He watched the red-handed girl in the dirty, ragged cloak, as she didn’t seem to notice his attention while she watched the computer screens. Her cloak was in bad shape, not due to her style but simply due to lack of care. Ragged, torn, exposing too much flesh to be decent when she moved the wrong way – but she didn’t seem to care, at all. There was even the smell of old alcohol and worse on that cloak, though she was mercifully sober right now (a professional, even in her current state). The other two took care never to take a breath with their noses in her direction. He didn’t know what had happened to her, but whatever it was, she was obviously not dealing well with it. One could almost taste the pent-up need for aggression, for release inside her.

Which meant that, if it came down to violence, she’d be more than willing and able to provide most of it. And that was what he needed her for.

“Leet, anything strange going on?” he asked the young Gadgeteer.

“Nope, Sir,” came the reply. “The mall is locked down – thank God for easily hacked security systems – our people are patrolling the place looking for any stragglers, and I’ve got the surveillance system dancin’ to my tune.”

“How’re the specialists doing?”

Leet tapped an icon on the screen and called up a particular security feed from what seemed to be a vault room. Several men of very impressive strength were tearing up the floor with their bare hands, slowly uncovering a hidden vault door worked into the reinforced concrete of the place. “We’re still true to your schedule, Sir! This ought to be easy wo- huh.”

“‘Huh’?” asked Kudzu. He hated it when people cut a sentence off like that. It usually meant something was not going according to plan. And he loathed it when that happened.

“Um, I lost a camera, down in the employee hallways of the clothing section. And one of the shops,” Leet said, sounding annoyed.

“Can you tell whether they were destroyed, disconnected or just turned off?” the cloaked girl asked the question Kudzu would have asked next.

Well, she’s certianly picking it up fast.

Leet shook his head. “I got nuthin’,” he said, surly. Kudzu was ninety-two percent sure that he had a crush on the girl in the cloak, and would have preferred to impress her.

At least he’s properly motivated. “Call up the security feeds from all the stores and hallways around that shop, now. Which one was it?” he asked.

SuperWear, a shop for hero and villain costumes and such,” Leet said. “No idea why anyone would want to get into that in such a situation…”

This time, Kudzu got it first. “I can. It’s a great place for a hero who was here in their civilian identity and doesn’t have his or her costume at hand – even if they can’t find a replica of their usual costume, there’s still enough there to conceal their identity.”

“So, we have at least one unidentified metahuman of unknown intention in here,” the cloaked girl. “Depending on his or her abilities, that might be a problem.”

“Maybe. But I did plan for this. Send in team three – they are allowed to use lethal force if necessary, but should try and get him or her alive to us,” he ordered. Leet immediately send out the orders.

“Why take them alive?” the cloaked girl asked, confused. “Wouldn’t it be more prudent to just shoot them?” Despite her words, she didn’t seem to like the idea, though.

“Ah, let me guess, you read that ‘Evil Overlord List’, right?” Kudzu asked. Maybe having a mastermind in training along wasn’t such a bad idea – it gave him something to amuse himself with while waiting for news.

“Yes.”

“Good stuff, good stuff… I wrote some of it. It’s mostly rubbish though, you know? We need the drama, and the heroes surviving, because villains who go around killing willy-nilly tend to attract uncomfortable attention,” he explained patiently as he saw, on the screens, how team three – six heavily armed men, trained to fight metahumans – took place outside the store on both ends – the employee entrance and the main entrance.

“What exactly do you mean?”

“Well, why do you think supervillains mostly keep to a certain code when doing their deeds?” he asked. “It’s certainly not because we’re all such nice chaps, you know? It’s because those supervillains who murder without restraint, or take certain… freedoms,” he explained, avoiding the use of the proper word in front of the three teenagers (two of whom were almost certainly minors), “with defeated enemies, or otherwise don’t restrain themselves, invite increasingly escalating response from the United Heroes. All the way up to Quetzalcoatl and, ultimately, Lady Light (and, I guess, Gloom Glimmer – she certainly has the power). Not to mention that, though villains are more numerous and more powerful on average, heroes are far, far better trained and organised. So we play nice and, in return, heroes refrain from killing us and try to bring us in alive.”

He looked straight at the cloaked girl. “Get it? A dangerous villain reads the list and acts accordingly to it. A competent villain knows when to show mercy and be inefficient, in exchange for the insurance of not being attacked with lethal intent.”

“I guess that makes sense,” the cloaked girl replied contemplatively. “I’ve heard people complain about heroes being too soft on villains, about them having to use more force…”

“Which would only lead to escalation. We’d go right back to the early days, before the time of the United Heroes and the Syndicate. The only reason there’s still an America left to make those claims is that there were so much, much fewer metahumans than nowadays, back when there was no code. So we’ll play nice and try to capture whoever is in that shop and see how we can use them to our advantage… while still playing nice.”

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B010.1 Falling Hearts

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November 10th, 2:00 pm

Basil was walking through the Bright Arcades – the city’s biggest shopping and entertainment hub, making up the center of the Brights. He was not usually comfortable here – too many, way too many people, no way to keep an eye on them and that just made him jumpy – but he had some shopping to do.

Another problem was that he was quite angry right now.

Basil was not used to being angry. Oh, he got angry during combat, every now and then, and sometimes he read or heard or saw something that made him furious – but he found it hard to stay angry – it usually discharged quickly, and not too rarely in the form of either violence (if in battle) or some manic (well, more manic than usual) work on some gadget (or several). But this… this shimmering anger, and the headaches that went with it, ever since he had finally worked up the courage to confront Amy – they had just finished dinner (she was usually in a calm mood after a meal), sat down on the couch together to just relax, and he had… brought the issue up. It had not gone well.

That had taken place last wednesday, three days after his talk with Magnus. Amy had not talked to him in the two and a half days since, which was longer than they had ever spent without talking to each other. She did not even sneak into his bed at night anymore, which was just worrying. She had been doing that ever since he could remember… all the way back.

Not like he wanted her to – she had completely blown him off when he had tried to explain to her why he was upset, that he wanted her to turn over a new leaf – and frankly, the more he thought about it, the less he understood why he had waited for so long to confront her about it. These last few months, ever since he had manifested, had just been… intense. Too much to deal with, and he had somehow been able to push the whole issue with Amy to the back of his head. Again and again.

I should have spoken out on the first day I learned about it. He was just as angry with himself as he was with her. But the biggest reason why he was angry was because he was powerless.

If he was honest with himself, then he was really way in over his head. Ever since he jumped into his suit for the first time, he had been tangling with people way over his weight class. The Snow Queen had been downright harmless. Just on his team, he had an incredibly powerful and rare true probability manipulator, a contriver who could pretty much make anything, given time (she was already working on a teleportation ‘enchantment’) and a projector who could go toe-to-toe with a giant fecal monster and emerge unscathed. And let us not even get started on Gloom Glimmer. He was boxing way out of his weight class.

And his enemies… two S-Class threats in less than three months. Most superheroes got through their career with no more than three such events total. Not to mention apparently having the eye of the Savage Six on himself.

And my sister is on the same level as those monsters, he thought as he looked through a storefront advertising stuffed animals. No, not her style.

And even if he could influence her – what would the Dark do in response? He certainly had an interest in Amy being as amoral as possible (while still being controllable).

“No one’s ever achieved anything by giving up”, Magnus repeated in his head, waggling a finger.

So, despite all the issues, Basil was going to… negotiate. He was going to get back into Amy’s good graces, and do what he could to change her, and fuck the consequences.

Thus, he had asked Prisca what to do (without explaining the specific problem – he just said that he and Amy had had a fight and that he wanted to mend things again), and she had advised him to get her a present. All fine and well.

Next, he had asked her what present to get her, which had caused Prisca (currently using her power – he was still not allowed to see her real body, as her mother had climbed to new heights of paranoia) to hit him over the head and tell him that he had better know what to buy his own sister.

So he had gone and talked to Vasiliki (who said she would kick him in the ass if he asked her that again), to Timothy (who had no more a clue than he did), to Aimi (who just looked at him as if he was being silly) and then, out of sheer desperation, to Dalia. She had been acting kind of weird since last monday, and he had not expected much, but…

It is kind of sad that Dalia is currently my only source of useful advice, he thought. She had told him to get Amy something that he would not normally have gotten for her, to show that he was really putting some thought into it, and not running on autopilot.

Which meant buying something instead of making it himself.

“Also, make sure it’s something that really fits her, to show you’re thinking about her. And something nice, too. You’re thinking nice stuff about her.”

If he was not so focused on Amy, he would probably be a little disturbed by how… smart Dalia could be every now and then.

So now he was looking through the stores – the Bright Arcades were really the best place to shop for just about anything (there had even been a rumor about a shop that sold superpowers here, though it had been thoroughly debunked).

Maybe some pony merchandise? She is really into that show… He looked at a store for little girl stuff as he walked by. What is the name of the purple one ag-

Unfortunately, walking around the Arcades without looking forward was a good way to run into someone, and so he did.

“I am so sorry!” he said, looking at the woman he had almost bowled over.

“Oh, not to worry – I wasn’t paying attention myself!” said the dark-skinned woman. She looked vaguely familiar, beautiful but not extremely so, with a colourful peacock pin in her hair. Checking her watch, she gave a small start, walking quickly by him. “I need to go! Goodbye, Macian!”

“What!?” He whirled around, but she was gone already. What the hell?

She had called him Macian. Who was that person!? And why did she call him that?

And just then, his plans were completely derailed as the Arcades locked down.

* * *

The automated blast-proof door- and window-shutters slammed down with booming sounds that made the windows of the shops rattle. The lights went off, all at once, and the screaming started.

What the hell!?

Basil had been just standing next to a shop’s door, and he moved into the door, to avoid getting trampled. And then, the lights went on again, and a voice came out of the public announcement system.

<Hello and a good day to you all! This Kudzu speaking, supervillain extraordinaire and your hostage taker for this fine saturday afternoon,> said a voice with a cultured New England accent. <Please remain calm and gather in the central atrium on the ground level. Behave, and no one will be harmed – scout’s honor! If you try to leave, contact the outside world – don’t bother with cellphones, we’ve cut the Arcades off completely – or hinder us, me and my associates will use force to… chastise you.>

Kudzu, Kudzu… He knew that name, but he could not quite remember the details. A mastermind kind of villain.

Meanwhile, the people outside were already moving towards the atrium with a minimum of fuss – there were regular drills on proper behaviour in this kind of situation.

Drills Basil did not intend to obey. Moving deeper into the shop, he pulled his cellphone out, but found that even his connection to the outside world was cut off – both telephone and internet were down. Great. And Eudocia probably will not notice me being offline, since she is having a girl’s day with the others. Why had he not thought of installing some automated alarm in case his connection cut off? It was so basic.

Nonetheless, he was not without means as he moved into the staff room in the back (no cameras there). Pulling his jacket off, he opened a latch, reached inside and pulled, inverting the jacket – now it was white, with his emblem in the back. The whole thing was made of two layers of kevron with a wire mesh made of his ceramic in between to stop knives and other pointy weapons. From a pouch on the inside, he pulled a black full-face mask out, followed by a belt with some basic equipment he kept hidden in his bag.

It was not much, but it was better than nothing.

From the staff room, he entered the staff-only hallways, narrow ways that were supposed to allow quick movements around the Arcades out of sight of the customers. There were cameras here, again, but there was nothing he could do about that right now.

I need floor maps of the Arcades, and I need to find the central computer room – destroy any recordings of myself, open a channel to the outside. There was no telling if people outside could even tell that there was something amiss in here. At least, the chance that they could not was too high to rely on a swift rescue.

A mastermind would not pull off something like this without making sure he could keep the heroes away.

He saw an elevator (bad idea) and a door into a stairwell (better idea). The computer room was probably in the administrative area at the top of the football stadium sized Arcades.

Off we go, I g-

Ducking, he barely, barely evaded a scything kick to his head, drawing a knife in an unconscious motion – and then he was up, grabbing a punching arm to twist his attacker around and slam them into the wall, knife to their thro-

“Oh. You,” he said in a surprised voice.

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Short Delay

The first chapter of Falling Hearts won’t be up until tomorrow afternoon to evening, depending on how work goes.

Sorry everyone, but Stuff Happened again. Nothing bad, just lots of work 😉

Good night everyone, and until tomorrow!

B009.b Strange Fish

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‘Café Rosso’, New Jersey

“Two chocolate pancakes and two coffee for table six!”

Elsbeth – Elsi to her friends – hurried over to the counter to pick up the order, balancing it on a tray which she held with one hand up next to her shoulder, and walked towards the table – two guys were sitting there, so she put some extra swing into her walk, hoping for a generous tip later on. They’d certainly stared at her enough already to warrant it.

Once more, she doubted her decision to work in this place, as her movements to put the food and drinks on the table showed off more cleavage than she was really comfortable with. This place was known for its rather provocative waitress uniforms – cut to emphasise the best parts of the wearer – and for only hiring pretty girls for the job. It paid well, and Elsi was trying to pay her way through college, so she’d taken the job. And honestly, I shouldn’t complain so much – it really does pay well.

Elsi was pretty, but not pretty enough for a job in one of the really expensive places, or as a model or anything – it was nearly impossible to compete with the metahumans there, or the girls who’d been able to afford plastic surgery by Doctor Beauty (be it with money or for ‘favours’). Working in this place had been the only job she’d been able to find that didn’t involve sleezy work, at least at a reasonable distance to the flat she shared with three other girls her age.

So she brushed a blonde strand of hair behind her ear, flirted a little with the guys and then went to pick up the next order. The next one certainly wouldn’t make her feel so… on edge. Her favourite customer had ordered his usual breakfast earlier, and she saw Waldo, the cook, put the eclectic menu on the counter for her to pick up – no need to call out, there was really only one person who bought that combination, and it was always her who served him.

Quickly, Elsi picked it all up – extra-thin pancakes, a cup of honey, a cup of strawberry jam, fried bacon, canned pineapple and hot milk – and took them to the rearmost table, which stood in the corner and allowed one to see most of the place without being seen all that well in return.

A week and a half ago, a new customer had sat down there, and Elsi had been the first to serve him. At first, she’d thought he was some kind of pervert, come here to watch all the pretty girls and eat cheap food. But no, he hadn’t looked at her cleavage once, and she was pretty sure he’d never bothered to watch her ass, either! In fact, he barely flirted with her, unless she initiated, and even then, only to humor her, she was sure.

Honestly, he seemed a little shy, which was just crazy, considering how good-looking he was. Not superhero-stuff, no, but definitely above the average. His name was Cedric, he was a travelling artist who was spending a few weeks in New Jersey to search for ‘inspiration’, and he was the nicest guy she’d ever met. It helped that he was too old to be interesting for her, so no crush to screw things up (Elsi was very awkward around people she crushed on).

“Hey Cedric!” she greeted him with a genuine smile.

He looked up from the book he’d been reading (one of Shakespeare’s plays, though she didn’t know which one) and smiled back, making dimples appear on his cleanly shaven face. His messy red-blonde hair had been washed and combed into a semblance of order, his teeth were white as new tableware and his warm brown eyes made her think of molten chocolate, the overall look complemented by lots of laugh lines around his eyes and mouth. He looked a lot like her father – or at least, how she’d always imagined her father would look like, if she ever met him. A little too short, but otherwise just right.

“Hello Elsi honey,” he greeted her, voice as warm as his eyes. “Ah, you know how to make a man happy!” he added when she put his breakfast down, and he immediately went to work – half the honey into the steaming hot milk, the rest onto the bacon. Jam and pineapples spread over the three pancakes, followed by bacon for each, and then he rolled them up.

The first time she’d seen him do this, she’d felt like hurling, but by now, she’d just accepted it as one of his quirks (God knew he had enough of them).

“And how is your day treating you so far?” he asked, waiting a little for his milk to cool while he used a spoon to stir it up and dissolve the honey.

Looking quickly around, she saw that no one was paying attention right now – people rarely did, when she was this far back (in fact, the other waitresses barely noticed Cedric – it was always Elsi who picked him out and served him) – so she had a minute or two to chat. “Same as ever, really. You’d think with the winter weather we’d have less tourists, but they still pour in in droves. Lots of legwork.” She tapped the side of her bare leg (these skirts were seriously tiny), winking at him.

“Eh, something tells me there’s gonna be less work for you in the near future,” he said, still stirring his milk. “And how’s college? You had an exam yesterday, right? Introduction to Metahuman Legal History, if I remember it right? How did it go?”

“Like you ever forget anything, Cedric,” she replied merrily. “Thanks for asking, and it went great – your help with my prepwork really paid out, thank you!” He’d been reviewing her practice exams, and discussing the subject with her during her breaks. It was almost a shame he was an artist, because he’d have made an awesome teacher – somehow, he could just get you to pay attention and focus, something she’d always had trouble with before. “And now that I got that out of the way, it’s smooth sailing until the end of semester exams…”

And that was another great thing about Cedric – he listened. He was perfectly content slowly sipping his milk and taking small bites out of his rolled-up pancakes while she told him about her day at the university, about her problems with her flatmates (Jenny and Jessy had broken up – again – and were on the warpath with each other – again – until the inevitable make-up-sex – again), about that one teacher who seemed to have it in for her, the other one who was always looking at her ass, her bitchy boss here at work…

Speaking of which, the nearby door into the kitchen had swung open when one of her colleagues rushed through, and she saw that that fat bitch Clarice had just started chewing out one of the new girls again – a mousy little thing named Marcy, who’d just barely made the cut, but they needed more waitresses to deal with all the customers they were having lately. Apparently, the girl had messed up two orders, and one customer had complained about it, which of course meant that Clarice was now in the process of humiliating the girl in front of half the staff – like a small mistake like that couldn’t happen to anyone here!

“I’m sorry, Cedric, but I gotta help Marcy,” she told him regretfully. They had little enough time to chat as it was, without her being distracted.

He didn’t seem to mind, though. “Don’t mind me. Just bring me a slice of that strawberry chocolate cake on your way back!” he told her with a wink, putting the empty jam cups onto her tray, making the corner of her mouth twitch as she picked her tray up and walked towards the two women (thank God the cafe didn’t insist on high heels, like some places – it’d be hell!).

She knew that Clarice had all the attention span of a lemming – which made the insults she was throwing at Marcy over one confused order quite ironic – so she went for the direct, simple solution: walking straight through the space between the two with a whispered ‘excuse me’, she rattled the tray a little – distract the bitch.

And it worked. Cedric had been telling her this’d work since the third time he’d been there! Clarice turned after her, as if to fire off a reprimand, and Marcy took her chance to go out to the customer area, where she was safe. Elsi, on the other hand, put the dirty dishes away, grabbed a slice of the cake and went out the other exit before Clarice was finished thinking up something to say (no one ever accused her of being quick).

“Welcome back, brave hero,” Cedric said, having apparently finished an entire pancake roll during this short interlude. “And I see you even brought me spoils. Gimme.” That last word was pronounced the way a child would have, and she gave him the plate with a smile.

“You were right, she really doesn’t have a measurable attention span!” she told him, looking around to make sure no one was paying them any attention.

“I know all about attention, my dear. It’s my bread and butter,” he said as he polished off the second pancake. “Speaking of bread and butter, I’m sad to say that I’ll be moving on soon.”

Oh. She’d known that was coming, he was a wandering artist after all (when she’d asked him what kind of art he did, he’d replied ‘performance art’ and neglected further comment), but still, she’d miss him.

“Such a shame… When are you leaving?” she asked, feeling far less chipper than just a moment ago.

“Very soon, I’m afraid,” he said with a sympathetic smile on his face. He seemed just as sad as she was. “I got a message earlier this morning – a commission for a private performance up in New Lennston – and it’s too good an offer to pass up. I should be on the train already, but I wanted to say goodbye first.”

Suddenly, her eyes were wet, and she nodded. She’d really come to like this quiet, slightly crazy man with the disgusting eating habits and the ability to listen to a teenage girl bitch and moan about her life while still paying attention and without getting annoyed. “I’m sure you’ll knock’em dead.”

Laughing out loud, he took his fork and ate a piece of the cake she’d just brought him. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, and I promise I will! Now, be a dear and bring me… let’s say, two bananas, and something to pack the pancakes up for the way.”

She nodded and hurried off, drying her eyes with a napkin on her way to the counter, where a basket full of fresh fruit stood, and took a paper bag for takeout along, too.

Back at the table, she quickly packed everything up for Cedric while he finished his milk and his cake quietly.

“Will I see you again?” she asked in a subdued voice as soon as she finished and put the bag down on the table.

“On the television? Most likely. In person? I don’t want to make any promises there,” he said as he pulled his wallet out, giving her the money for his breakfast (if you could even call it that). She put it away. “Here, this is for you.”

Her eyes went wide when he handed her eight fifty dollar bills. “W-wha- I can’t accept this!” she gasped, looking at the bills on her hand. That’s three month’s worth of rent, and some extra!

Smiling, he took her hand with both of his, closing it around the bills. “You can use it better than I, and besides, I got plenty more where that came from.” Rising to his feet, he leaned forward to plant a gentle kiss on her forehead. “Be safe, Elsi. And be strong. I know you’ll be a great one.”

She was too choked up to reply, and just nodded through the tears. He pulled his brown coat on, took his bag and left with one last wink, leaving just after Clarice, who always took a break around this time.

Elsi already missed him.

* * *

Cedric pulled his collar up against the cold, stretching until something stiff popped in his neck. I’m getting old, he thought as he walked down the sidewalk, keeping a discrete distance from Clarice – that woman was just unpleasant. And the way she treated her waitresses was just appalling. He couldn’t imagine how Elsi and the others held themselves back from punching her in the face every time they saw her.

Ah, sweet Elsi. Such a good lass. So polite, so nice. Rare, nowadays, and besides, it had been quite a while since he’d had such a pleasant model to work with – the last nine before her had just annoyed him, eventually.

Speaking of annoyance, Clarice had just stopped at an intersection, looking impatiently at her watch as she waited for traffic to stop and let her pass. Her attention switched between the traffic light and the watch.

He looked down the street, quickly, and saw a garbage truck approach at quite the speed – the traffic lights had just switched to green, so the driver wouldn’t have to slow down – but he was focusing on the street. Reaching out, he plucked the man’s attention off the street, redirecting it to a passing group of sparsely clad schoolgirls (despite the winter weather!). At the same time, he took Clarice’s attention off the street and the lights, too, and made her focus more on her watch – she was always running late with her breaks, anyway, and this was just the right nudge to make her step carelessly out onto the street to cross it.

Thunk.

Soon, the screaming would begin, but he was already walking down an alley, peeling a banana as he made his way to the university, redirecting any strand of attention that he sensed attach itself to him.

Elsi had really endeared herself to him, and the rules were clear – if, after a week or two, his current model did not endear him- or herself to him (or at least amused him), he killed them. If they were annoying, or downright unpleasant, he killed their friends and family, too, at least the closest ones. But if they were alright, he went on his way. And if they grew on him the way Elsi had, he did them a few favours.

Because he was such a nice guy, after all.

Finishing his second banana, Cedric Cullen, better known to the world as Caliban, went on a stroll towards Elsi’s college. There was a lot one could do with two banana peels and some attention control. Besides, Elsi deserved better than those teachers.

I still have some time before the train leaves, anyway. College, then New Lennston. He began to hum the melody to the Beverly Hills Cop theme. One of his favourites.

No one paid him any attention.

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B009.9 Family Matters

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Roughly at the same time

Basil was starting to doubt his sanity. Or at least, his memory. Sure, it was supposed to be inviolable, memories beyond the short term were supposed to be safe, but… every rule has an exception, right?

And right now, he was really doubting his memory. After Vasiliki had left, he had started working on his new armor design, and made some good progress – but then he had decided to see about setting his scripts back to work for some money, and…

They were not there. Not the scripts he had used.

Or rather, they were there, but they were useless. Half-finished, ideas and first attempts, but nothing functional.

He was sure he had used just these scripts for it, but now… it would not be the first time his memories were wrong. Only now there was the question of…

Where did the money come from?

Working through the account data, he found that it had been deposited in the accounts he had been using… about five and a half years ago. Way before he remembered setting them up in the first place.

Twinkle twinkle little star,

He shook his head, trying to focus. He had to track these. Normally, he would have Eudocia do it, but she was off playing with Prisca (she could only be at one place at a time, a limitation of her code). So he had to find out who had deposited the money himself, and why…

“How I wonder who you are. Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky,” sang a soft voice.

Basil whirled around on his seat, drawing and throwing a dagger by sheer reflex.

A vermilion-coloured blade shot up, striking the dagger out of the air before it could touch the pure white face with the vermilion eyes.

He did not stop to think, or even feel confused about her being here – only an amateur would do that – but he vaulted over the table, away, towards the door to his store room.

I need weapons. But he had just finished taking most of them apart!

She followed, moving leisurely, but her many limbs nonetheless gave her enough speed to keep up with him as he ran through the door, slamming it shut, pulling the lever for the emergency seal.

There was a crash, and then the sound of a saw winding up, followed by the sound of screaming concrete and metal.

He looked around the storeroom – most things here were useless right now, and the few that were not would not cause any damage to her body. Her bodies were always insulated against electrical attacks, it was just necessary for being a Gadgeteer out in the field…

She was already halfway through the door, by the sounds of it, and the glowing orange line that was slowly travelling around the door.

What do I use, what do I use… He could not focus.

He blinked, and the door fell out of its frame. Her body contorted, somehow squeezing its entire mass through the frame without touching the edges. It was black, with fine silver details, and some transparent spots to show off pure white inner workings. Overall, it looked like some kind of snake-spider hybrid, coiling its long body up to form a spider’s abdomen.

“Then the traveller in the dark, thanks you for your tiny spark,” she continued singing, never moving her lips – her voice just barely sounded mechanic.

Again, he ran, towards the back end of the store room and… and there was an opening there that he had not noticed before, leading into a hallway. Do not let her trap you! He took it, closely followed by her, using all twelve limbs without blades gripping the floor, the walls, the roof, to propel her forward, always just a step behind.

What do I do, what do I do, what…

His mind was running in circles, unable to come up with a solution, he just wanted to run.

“In the dark blue sky you keep, and often through my curtains peep; For you never shut your eye, ’till the sun is in the sky…”

A right turn ahead, just when he started to feel like she was catching up (he did not dare turn around to look), and he took it, hearing the tell-tale sound of sharp blades piercing the concrete. He ran, his legs already burning – strange, he had been working out for ages now, and he was already getting tired? – deeper into the dark-

Ow.

He ran into a wall, unable to see it coming, and bounced off of it, falling backwards.

“As your bright and tiny spark, lights the traveller in the dark; Though I know not what you are, twinkle, twinkle, little star.”

Do not stop moving! he thought to himself, trying to get back onto his feet – and then something hard slammed into him, throwing him against the wall again.

His head rang, and though he could not see anything to begin with, he still felt his vision go black as his ears rang.

There was only one sound, really, the singing voice, gentle and soothing, as cold hands gripped him, propping him up against the wall as several lights on her body turned on, illuminating the room – though he saw little other than her skull-like face, those wide open vermilion eyes.

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are,” she sang, just staring at him. “How I wonder what you are.” A slender hand with vermilion nails caressed his face, making him shiver with fear. “Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky…”

This is wrong. Fight! Fight her! You still have seven knives on your body! But he could not move, he was paralysed with fear!

More arms joined the two that were holding him, and the one that was caressing his face. These ones had no delicate woman’s hands, but instead claws with blades as long as his legs, no less than sixteen blades approaching his body, two of them aiming for his eyes… slowly.

He could not even speak.

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are,” she sang as the blades stopped just millimeters above his eyes and body. “How I wonder what you are…”

They plunged in.

* * *

Melody was sitting on a chair in front of Director Ryan’s oaken desk, looking at the stout, muscle-bound man with the awful haircut – it was shaved around the sides and back, short on top and sticking up, like an extreme army buzzcut. It didn’t help that it was bright red, with some silver inbetween. He was wearing an immaculate maroon suit with a fitting tie on a black shirt.

To the side stood a tall and very thin man in his late thirties, with short black hair, a widow’s peak and a regal nose, with watery blue eyes, in a black suit and green tie. Sarah was there, too, as short as she was despite being twice her age, daughter of Chinese immigrants. She was wearing a simple skirt suit in blue, and looked very worried.

And as if all that wasn’t disconcerting enough, Patrid was there, too, in his usual white suit, with that goatee and the blonde, slick hair, looking like the devil incarnate. He was lounging – not sitting, lounging – on his chair, the only one in the room who seemed completely calm and relaxed.

<What’s going on?> she asked, feeling small and vulnerable. She’d just quickly tied her hair back and put on underwear and a knit dress, and her sandals. Nothing like presentable, but Sarah had insisted that it was urgent. <Am I in trouble?> She looked from the director to Sarah to Gerden, avoiding looking at Patrid. He still gave her the creeps, more than the Spiteborn or BigShit or Hastur ever did.

“Nono, you’re not Melly!” Sarah reassured her, or at least tried to – she was obviously still nervous, as her heartbeat proved. “We just need to… ask you some stuff. About this morning, and yesterday.”

Melody blushed. Dratz. They found out? <What about, exactly?>

“Your mother called us, told us that Miss Whitaker had dragged you out of their home in a rage, and that you then both vanished. And now you show up back here, alone, in a… worrisome condition,” Gerden said, looking quite… not unconcerned, but preoccupied, maybe?

She blushed even more. <She took me to Italy,> she began, making them stare in disbelief. Typing quickly, she poured out an answer, hoping to get this over with quickly. She had a bad feeling. <I was upset, and she thought some good ice cream might help. We ate some ice cream, talked, then went and…> She hesitated, not sure if she should continue. She didn’t want to get Irene into trouble.

“You can talk, Melody,” Sarah said, looking sympathetic. Why? “We won’t judge you.” Gerder and the director nodded. Patrid just watched her, looking barely interested. His gaze gave her goosebumps.

<We got drunk… Irene passed out, and I wasn’t well, but I didn’t want to go to the local UH division, so I… I used her cellphone to call her dad, and he picked us up and dropped me off here.>

She was barely finished when everyone but Patrid made an uproar, looking at her like she was insane.

You called the Dark without permission?” the director shouted, aghast.

You got drunk with a dangerously unstable metahuman?” Gerder shouted.

You drank alcohol!?” Sarah shouted at her, looking ready to faint.

“You called the Dark, on cellphone, for a ride? Glorious,” Patrid chuckled.

She felt like she was about to turn infrared in the face. <I hoped no one would notice, and I could just… go to sleep.> She couldn’t stiffle a yawn.

“Melody, putting aside the gross violations of protocol you committed,” the director began, making her feel even more ashamed. “You risked more than just bodily harm, are you aware of that?”

Gerder leaned closer, putting a hand on the desk. “Do you even know what that… girl… has done to others? On a whim? Her file is very extensive, and I’m absolutely sure it’s not nearly complete.”

<I am aware of it,> she said, her blush gone. Now she was looking coldly at them. It all makes sense. They think she… did things to me.

Well, she almost did, didn’t she? whispered a treacherous little voice in her head.

No. She stopped. It’s not her fault she got a power like that. Not a good sign, talking to herself like that.

“Aware?” Patrid asked, an eyebrow raised. He was the only one who seemed to be amused by this turn of events, while the others ranged from horrified to stunned.

She nodded at him, finally turning to face him fully. Apart from her, he was the only other metahuman here… he might sympathise more easily. <She told me everything. About her lack of control, and her problems, on the first day. The details, later on. I knew all that, and I went with her willingly.>

Gerder’s mouth was moving like a fish, opening and closing. Sarah seemed to be no better. The director was just stunned, while Patrid still looked amused.

“Y-you went with her, when you know that she’s a habitual rapist?” Gerden finally asked.

<I object to that term, Sir! She’s as much a victim of her power as anyone she abused with it!> she responded, the voice from the vocoder turning angry and hot. <And besides, didn’t the United Heroes vet her, before they let her join? Why is this still an issue!?>

“We did do some rudimentary testing, but…” Director Ryan began. Gerder continued, “There’s not much we can do to really vet someone of her power level. And besides, Lady Light insisted that she be taken in, and the Board agreed too readily.”

<Well, she IS kind of our l->

“Gwen Whitaker is not the leader of the United Heroes,” Patrid suddenly butted in, serious for once. “Keep that carefully in mind, Melody. We are lead by the elected board of directors, a board she is not and can not be a part of, as she does not fulfill the requirements for extended registration – it is only due to her reputation and history that no one tries to arrest her for illegal vigilantism and use of metahuman abilities, as she is not a formal member of the UH, despite being our founder.” He smiled again. “Though it helps that she could probably beat us all up if we tried, too. Doesn’t mean we don’t listen to her, though. But Miss Whitaker Senior has never sought nor accepted any official position of power, nor formally laid claim to the title of superhero. Do you understand what I am telling you?”

People are uncomfortable that she still holds this much power? It seemed pretty obvious. Like it doesn’t even matter that she’s spent the better part of a century doing nothing but fight the good fight and save billions of lives. She nodded, still.

“The problem here is that a minor who is under our protection went missing – along with possibly the second-most dangerous and unstable individual in the world!” Gerder said as forcefully as he could, making her (and Sarah) flinch. “Miss Stenton, I am sorry to say this, but for your own safety, the Board of Directors has to hereby formally forbid you from closely associating with Irene Whitaker, also known as Gloom Glimmer, beyond the direct, qualified scrutiny of a designated handler or superhero judged capable of protecting you!” he rattled off.

Melody turned white, then green, nauseated, then… shock and hurt turned into fury.

She jumped onto up, wishing more than ever that she still had her own voice, and didn’t need to type on a freaking vocoder!

<I refuse your orders, Sir! You cannot tell me who to be friends with!> she said, instead, sounding calmer than she felt – the vocoder wasn’t really built for the kind of emotional outburst she wanted to make right now. Before anyone could object, she continued, <We are teammates, and BFFs besides, and if you don’t want to let us associate, then I’ll leave. No one gets to tell me who my friends can or cannot be! And if I leave, consider the damage that’ll do to you all! My album sales are at an all time high, almost all fans of my music now support my superhero career, and I’m a freaking Gadgeteer to boot! The third-highest rated on your payroll, if I may say so! So you better think twice about telling me who I can hang out with!>

She turned and stomped to the door, not wanting to hear any reproach. She had to get away, before her nerve failed her. <Also, has anyone ever considered that ostracising Irene might be just the straw that’ll break the camel’s back? Ever thought about that!?> With those words, she slammed the door shut, stomping off.

Faintly, she heard Patrid’s amused voice say, “I told you so…”

* * *

Basil’s eyes flew open, and his heart lurched into triple-overtime.

Bending over, he would have thrown up if he had eaten anything recently. Instead, he retched dry, before he felt over his face, his eyes… they were still there. He was somewhere completely dark, but his eyes were whole, and the only pain he felt was a faint soreness in his muscles.

W-what is going on!?

Had he… really been attacked by Atrocity just now? No, that made absolutely no sense. He did not doubt she could circumvent his defenses easily, but why would she be here? And why would she leave him alive?

Blind, he felt around the room, until he found the empty doorway, and got up, walking forward – until he saw a faint light ahead. Turning a corner, he could see into his storeroom again.

The door to his workshop was closed, sealed.

Was it just a dream?

He stopped at the door, turning around to look at the way he had taken earlier. I did not make that. Months ago, he had started digging, using robots to create his lair…

Only when he thought about it, he did not have an robots around here, except for a few half-finished ideas and his ravenbots!

The memories of getting the money had been fake… were fake, too. Were his memories of constructing the lair fake, as well?

Is there anything I can be sure about!?

Only one way to find out, mate. Investigate.

He listened, and he ran to pick up a torch… a flashlight. Why had he used the other word in his thoughts?

Back down the hallway… smooth rock, it was dug right into the bedrock. No signs of claws digging into anything.

Again, the room. It was not very big, but smoothly made, yet without any lighting. There was nothing there, except…

He bent down, picking up an old, worn notebook. It was quite heavy, and he could see that several pages of a different kind of paper had been added to it, making it thicker than it should be.

The cover bore the words ‘Property of Macian. Hands off!

Macian again

He opened the notebook on the first page, and froze. It was covered in pictographs, just like his own, only… cruder? Or maybe just crudely drawn. Going through it, he found countless designs for all manners of gadgets, ranging from stuff he would be ashamed to work on – way too crude! – to force-fields! Nothing complete enough to use, most of it incomprehensible, but…

Then, suddenly, actualy writing took over. Notes from this Macian.

Intrigued, Basil took a closer look.

* * *

Some thoughts on my visions, and those of others I have been able to aquire

Henry

The Shaper, unbound from anything but imagination. -> Henry?

The Maker, mad and yet sane, rising ever higher. -> Me? Dunno if I’m sane or not, though my money’s on ‘bugfuck crazy’

The Dreamer, a gilded knight that glowed like the sun. -> someone with armor-based powers? too simple

The Defender, another era’s fallen idol, given a second chance. -> Heretic? But he wasn’t ever really an idol… maybe the Dark?

The Lover, wielding the primordial power. -> What can be considered a ‘primordial’ power? Fire? Intelligence? Technology? (the last one might be wishful thinking or simple self-importance)

Heretic

The Shaper, unbound and gentle… -> certainly sounds like Henry. That boy is too nice for his own good

The Lover, driven by the primordial power. -> again the primordial stuff. Something really simple, but powerful?

The Dreamer, a gilded knight, brilliant as the full moon… -> Amanda is quite the dreamer? Might it be this literal? Probably not, heh

The Shepherd, a broken star that sought redemption… -> Hemming? … Perhaps Emyr? His power seems like a fit, as does his story

The Maker, a blazing well that sought to rise… -> seems familiar

Me

The Orphan, abandoned but not lost. -> Connection to the ‘Orphan Star’?

The Defender, fallen but not dead. -> fallen as in defeated, or fallen from grace? A fallen hero?

The Lover, lost but not alone. -> first time this one’s mentioned without the ‘primordial’. No idea what that means

The Maker, broken but not shattered. -> could that be me? I certainly feel like I’m in pieces

The Emissary, driven but aimless. -> someone who has a mission, but doesn’t know how to complete it?

Who is Rei? She sings a lullaby no one hears. -> connected the Sleeper?

Who is the Sleeper? What’ll happen when it wakes? -> apocalyptic?

Who is Bree? Someone cries her name, but she can’t hear it. The crying person sounds so sad, I cried when I heard her voice (I’m not prone to crying).

What is broken may not be shattered. What is shattered may not be lost. What is lost may yet be found.

What is the Orphan Star? A person, or a power? (It seeks something that doesn’t exist, but it won’t give up. Ever) <- sounds like my kinda gal. Assuming its a female, of course.

On second thought, do these titles describe people or powers?

Note: Research presence or absence of power sentience!!!

A friend says:

All the Lost Ones shall Gather -> I’m plenty lost. Henry, too, as is Amanda. Does this mean we’ll all get together again? I’d love that. Amy would love Henry to bits. He should be able to fix her, too. Maybe we can be a family?

All the Brave Ones shall Advance -> Probably means that at some point, there’ll be something epically nasty to fight (can’t wait!)

All the Bright Ones shall Rejoice -> A happy ending? That’d be nice.

Are these prophecies? How certain could they be? Far as I know, precognition can only show possibilities, never certainties? Maybe the fact that several people over such a long time have similar visions means these are particularly probable probabilities? (probable probabilities – there ought to be a better way to phrase that!)

Where does Journeyman fit in? I don’t think he’s a normal metahuman. Something is… off. (I realise that I’m not one to throw stones here). I have a feeling I’ll run into him again. He did give me a nice idea for a gadget, though.

Note: Research instant barbecue machine!

There’s a connection between Journeyman and that ‘friend’. J mentioned him obliquely. (I can’t believe I just used the word ‘obliquely’ in a sentence)

What is this ‘a friend’? Is it some kind of metahuman? Or whatever is at the source of the powers? Maybe some kind of manager? There seems to be some biblical imagery tied into that – he sure seems plenty godlike, though he did claim that his appearance and manner depended on whoever witnessed him -> might have been me, making him seem godly and stuff

-> Lady Light & the Dark might know

Note: Try and contact them as soon as possible

I-

* * *

The notes cut off at that point, and the following pages were all blank. Basil still leafed through the book, until the end, just to be sure.

Somehow, those notes make no sense, and yet they seem so reasonable… I think I might need someone to help me make sense of them.

He pocketed the notebook, then looked around the place one more time. It was empty, nothing else to be found. Then he went back to his workshop… which now felt much less like it was his.

I feel like something is going to break, too. I just hope it will not be my brain.

He went to the couch, turning on the television. Right now, he really, really needed a break, first of all.

An instant barbecue machine is a great idea, though.

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