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-
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!‘
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
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)
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
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
* * *
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.