He left the bedroom (after checking that he was still clothed – Amy liked her pranks way too much) and all but burst into the control room, ready to ream Amy a new one…
Only to find her and his friends sitting in a loose circle, talking amicably. And fully clothed.
Amy looked up and winked at him with a split-second wicked grin – she probably knew what he was thinking – and then her face turned to worry. “Should you be up already?”
The others turned around and looked at him with varying degrees of worry on their faces, and Prisca greeted him happily, though with concern in her voice.
Eudocia said they were being influenced… but there’s no way she could affect Prisca from all the way over here, so it couldn’t have been anything too bad or obvious without cutting her connection.
“I’m fine, really. Had the weirdest dream, though… can we talk? Privately, I mean?”
She nodded and stood up. “We’ll continue later on,” she said to the others, then followed him down to his workshop.
* * *
He shut the door behind them, then made sure to lock the workshop down – he didn’t want anyone to listen in, not even Eudocia.
Amy had walked over to near the center of the room, where his current project lay, and was now looking at the parts.
“They thought you were building a new suit… but this looks more like an android,” she said after a few seconds.
He stood behind her, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “I figured it might help to have another body in the field, especially one that is expendable. But it’s not really workable, at least not yet.”
She looked around, noticing the irritation in his voice. “That… that’s the reason you were pushing yourself like this, isn’t it? You couldn’t get it to work, and you couldn’t accept that,” she said with a mixture of exasperation and mirth in her voice.
He blushed a bit, but frowned back at her. “No. Yes. Not really. I’ve been pushing myself for days. The loss, and the wall I hit working on this only made it worse,” he explained reluctantly. Looking back at it, he really should have paced himself, but… “Nice one… changing the subject by talking about my work. What were you doing up there!?“
She shrugged. “What I do whenever I can. Helping you,” she explained, as if it was all just obvious.
“What. Did. You. Do to them?”
Raising her hands in a placating gesture, she replied: “Calm down, baby brother. Nothing bad, I swear. I was just… helping them focus, and think over what happened. Especially the girls. They need to improve, you need to improve, or you’ll die or worse. If it weren’t for those lovely twins, you’d be dead or slaves!”
A deep breath, then two. Not… not good. But not nearly as bad as I feared. “You didn’t do anything else?”
Her whole stance changed into a more serious one, straighter. “Nothing, baby bro. I wouldn’t mess with your friends, I promise! Though Dalia is awfully cute…”
He snorted and walked past her to look at the beginnings of what was supposed to be a combat android. I’ll have to deconstruct it. Use the parts for something that actually works. And still, he was sure he could make it work, if only he had the time.
“… and either way, Prisca is all the way over in the hospital, and I’d need to fly over fast enough to delete her short-term memory before it became a long-term memory…”
He gave her a deadpan look. “You’ve really thought a lot about messing with my friends’ heads, haven’t you?” She just gave him an unconvincing innocent smile and he turned away to look at his work again.
“Basil?” She wrapped her arms around him, resting her chin on his shoulder. “Why did you push yourself so hard? Honestly, now.”
“It’s always there. Always blazing,” he whispered. Suddenly, he didn’t sound half as self-confident as before.
“My power. It’s like there’s a lamp, a sun right behind my eyes, shining out of them with a blazing light. I can’t shut it off. I can’t even ignore it.” He shivered.
“Oh Basil, why didn’t you tell me?” she asked with a pained voice – she could feel his distress.
“What for? It’s my power, there’s nothing you can do about it,” he replied. “It’s… it’s…” just like in Macian’s memories. He couldn’t stop, either “it’s just a part of me, I guess. I’m sure I can learn to deal with it.”
“I could have helped. I can help you. Help you keep tabs on it, help you sleep when your power won’t let you,” she replied, sounding slightly irritated… and really, really worried.
“That… might help. Maybe you could look into my head, try to talk with that damn sprite?” he asked, hopeful. Maybe, if he could somehow force the ‘Blazing Sun’ to talk things through…
She nodded, her chin rubbing against his shoulder. “We could… organize a session. Take some time off, both of us. Sit down, and I’ll get into your head. Look for a solution. We should have thought of this sooner.”
“Yes. We do that. But first, I need to finish up here. There’s another reason why I got so out of control after the battle.”
“What is it?”
“I’ll tell you along with the others. Let’s go back up. And no using your power on them anymore, alright?”
“All right… for now, baby brother. I won’t stand for them dragging you down through incompetence or stupidity,” she replied.
He knew he was not going to get her to agree to more.
* * *
They returned to the main control room, where the others were in the process of discussing something, but stopped once they came back up.
The girls, as well as Tim, all turned to look at them, but no one really said anything. Tim looked as calm as ever, Vasiliki looked thoughtful, Dalia was… blushing?
He walked until he stood next to them, then said: “First, I’m sorry about earlier. You wanted to help me, and I just went mental on you guys.” He gave a slight bow.
“Nonono, you were right, really,” replied Vasiliki. “I mean, you didn’t have to be a jerk about it, but we did survive solely due to blind luck – if the twins hadn’t shown up, we’d have been screwed.” She stopped, thinking it over, then looked at Dalia. “Which kind of makes your power real creepy – just how far does it reach?”
“Uh, I, well, no idea,” stammered Dalia, tearing her eyes off Amy.
What the hell did you do to Dalia? he asked angrily in his head. He knew Amy would pick it up.
Nothing, really. Want me to take a look and see what’s going on?
No! Stay out of her head! All of their heads!
Jeez, you don’t need to flip out like that! I’ll be nice, scout’s promise!
Didn’t you almost blow up the local scouts’ headquarters last month?
Never said I was one of the good scouts.
The whole exchange took less than a second (speed of thought was handy that way), so Basil could respond without a noticeable pause: “Still, I shouldn’t have gone on like that. But I’m afraid we have bigger problems than me being unable to handle defeat.”
“And what would those be?” asked Tim.
He sat down at the console, turning the chair around to look at all of them. “I broke the code on the Black Panther’s files. Remember, from the video, how he threatened to sell us into slavery?”
They all nodded, and he heard Amy chuckle inside his head.
What would you have done, had he tried to sell me to you?
You mean before or after I made him eat his own genitals?
“Well, they bought someone. A girl. A metahuman.”
“What?!” shouted an outraged Vasiliki. “That’s disgusting!” Dalia nodded in agreement.
Prisca continued: “And why is it always girls, anyway?”
“Well, nearly seventy percent of all metahumans are women. Theories abound, but the most commonly cited one is that the still present discrimination against women leads to…”
Prisca cut into his starting rant: “What he’s trying to say is that the Man is putting us sisters down, so we get powers more often.”
“Finally, someone who talks English!” shouted Dalia in relief. Basil just grumbled something unintelligible.
Fortunately, Amy moved them back on track. “So, about this girl? What’s so special about her?”
“Well… according to the messages I intercepted, she’s estimated to be a new S-Class threat… and they think they can use her to wipe out their competition, as well as threaten the UH into staying away from the fighting.”
You could have heard a pin drop in the silence that followed.
“Uhh, how is that our problem?” Prisca asked with a desperate note in her weak voice. When everyone turned to look at the camera, she continued: “I mean, apart from the fact that you guys almost died – or got sold into slavery – just yesterday, an S-Class threat is way, way out of your league. This is Cabal business!”
“The Shining Guardians are quite preoccupied right now. The local heroes won’t call them in unless they have definite proof of the threat,” replied Amy.
“True. But either way, we need to warn the United Heroes. At the very least, we could use their help in tracking down the girl and getting her into protective custody. They can secure her, we can’t,” continued Basil.
They nodded. “So, we contact the heroes. How, do we just call their hotline?” asked Dalia.
“I got all their phone numbers. Best to call Amazon, instead of going around her, I think,” explained Basil. “After all, she’s the leader now.”
“And she’s got experience. Few metahumans in her class have taken part in as many S-Class events as she has. She won’t dismiss you out of hand, if only because she knows how bad things can get with S-Class metahumans,” Amy added.
I guess you’re sure?
Of course. And shut it, I could have known this simply through research. Her resume is available to the public.
“Then do it, Basil!” Vasiliki said, all but shouting.
He nodded and turned around to the console.
* * *
First, calibrate the microphone, so it will only catch what I say. Then, initiate the voice changer. Now, set up anti-tracing measures – all of them.
Basil worked through his mental checklist, to make absolutely sure they could neither be overheard from his side, nor he himself traced back by them.
It took him almost three minutes before he felt completely safe to initiate the call to her UH phone. And he put on a pair of headphones, too. If only because it annoyed Amy.
Amazon picked up on the third ring.
<Who is this?> she asked with sleep in her voice.
She just woke up – it’s nearly afternoon!
“This is Brennus. Good… afternoon, Amazon,” he replied.
<How did you get this number!?> Now she was awake.
“Not important right now. I have bad news. The really bad kind.”
Someone spoke on the other side. A man… and he recognized the voice, even if he couldn’t understand what was said. Amazon shushed him with a few affectionate words.
Way to go, Jake.
<Alright. Tell me everything.> He thought he heard her stand up.
“Me and my team got into an altercation with the Black Panthers last night. During it, Panthera Rex attacked us, but was killed when an unknown third party intervened.”
<Did you identify the third party? Do you have proof of their involvement – proof that it wasn’t you?> She remained calm.
“I have a video recording of the battle. If you want, I can send it to you.”
<Please do. Dammit, this is gonna be chaos pure.>
“Panthera Rex’s death is not the bad news. Or rather, it’s just one thing that makes it worse.”
<Oh, what could that be now? If you tell me there’s some S-Class involved somewhere there, I’ll call bogus on you. It’s already bad enough as it is.>
“You might want to take that statement back.”
<No. No way.>
“Yes. I was able to hack into their computers and access their communication records. They purchased a newly manifested, female S-Class metahuman from a metahuman trafficker. They were hoping to use her as a deterrent against the competition and the local heroes. But, according to some other mail, Panthera Rex was pretty much the last individual holding the more extreme members back from using her offensively.”
<And he’s dead now.>
“How do you wish to proceed? I think I speak for my entire team-” He looked at Tyche and Hecate, mouthing his question – they both nodded. “- when I say that we’re willing to fully cooperate with you, provided our identities remain secret.”
<Shit, shit, shit, shit. And I can’t call in the Shining Guardians without definite proof. Send me the video and e-mails.>
He did so. It took her a few minutes to read through everything and speed through the video.
<Alright. I’ll con- Wait a minute, I’m getting another call. Hold the line.>
He turned around, pulling the headphones off. “She’s getting another call, but it seems she’s taking this very seriously.”
Dalia grinned and said: “I knew she looked smart.” Vasiliki and Timothy nodded.
Prisca spoke up again. “Are you going to fight… that girl?” She sounded terrified.
“Not if we can help it. Our goal should be to save her. And take down the assholes who buy others to use as weapons.”
They all nodded at that (except Amy, who just looked thoughtful), and Prisca sighed audibly.
Then Amazon came back on the line and this time he put her on the speaker. <We just got a threat from the newly minted leader of the local Black Panthers, Panthera Avis. He wants the murderers of his former boss delivered to him alive or dead, otherwise he’ll unleash an S-Class threat on the city.>
“Even if I were willing to barter their lives away, I wouldn’t know how to contact or where to find those two to begin with,” he replied with a tone that allowed for no discussion.
Amazon seemed offended. <The United Heroes do not negotiate with terrorists, nor do they sacrifice anyone at the demand of a madman. We need a war council, and we need it now. Are you in?>
“Where and when?”
<Our headquarters. Guaranteed privacy and right to leave at any time. An hour from now.>
“We’ll be there.”
* * *
They arrived at the United Heroes’ headquarters fifteen minutes early. And they weren’t the only ones.
A man who identified himself as Jason Widard, Chief Mission Control, led them up to a war room.
There was a trio of chinese men, all in red robes, with heads shaved save for a single long braid each. Representatives of the local Dancing Dragon Triad, probably, though Brennus did not know them. He did take pictures of their faces, for later research.
Also present was a dark-skinned man in a three-piece suit. Elrik France, a known mob associate.
And finally, to his surprise, a brown-haired man in a white suit, with a blue shirt, white tie and silvery greaves and bracers engraved with flowers and trees. Rising Tide, the leader of the Foresters – a group dedicated to Weisswald’s ideals.
Amazon, Jason Widard, Mr Patrid, Gloom Glimmer (sitting side-by-side with Polymnia, whom Hecate greeted with an ecstatic wave) and the other junior heroes made up the United Heroes contingent.
Opposite of them sat the Dark, alone. He looked at Brennus, Hecate and Tyche and gave them a brief nod of acknowledgement.
Ah crap. This is getting out of hand.