B006 Big Game Hunt (Part 6)

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.

“What is?”

“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?

Ah. Nevermind.

“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.>

“Quite so.”

<>

“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.>

“Yes ma’am.”

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.

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B006 Big Game Hunt (Part 5)

Saturday Noon, Half a day later

“That could have gone better.” Tim was sitting on the couch.

Dalia snorted and made some derogatory reply, then turned back to watching some tv show.

Vasiliki was stretched out, on her stomach, her head resting on the opposite end of the couch, as she recovered from another one of Basil’s emergency operations. At least she kept some emergency clothing at the hideout, so she was dressed in blue sweatpants and a green t-shirt, instead of the rags of her (once again) ruined costume.

Second one now… I need better defenses, she thought. Maybe I should swallow it and ask Brennus for a set of Dragonscale armour.

Groaning in dull pain – painkillers could only go so far without affecting her thought process, and she absolutely did not want to space out – she shifted a bit to get more comfortable.

Girls often thought having bigger boobs would be great, and boys certainly thought like that, but no one ever mentioned how uncomfortable they could be when you had to lie on them.

I wonder how Polymnia feels about that, she thought idly. By the way, me, I really shouldn’t be focusing on breasts right now. That’s Dalia’s schtick.

No answer, obviously. Sometimes, she thought it would be great to have someone on the inside to talk to. She was not the type who could go for long without doing something, and since moving was out of question, she’d need some conversation.

Dalia was out of the question and Basil had locked himself down in his workshop (he really hadn’t taken the loss well, nor them being saved again) and was working on… well, she had no idea what he was working on, but she knew him well enough by now to know that it was a bad idea to disturb him while he was working.

Which left her with Tim. She was just about to open her mouth and talk to Tim about something, when they all heard a chime.

One of the screens on the control console turned black, with the word “Prisca”, written red, at the center.

<Hello guys? Is anyone there?> asked the ill girl – even over the phone, she sounded just constantly ill – while a request for a one-way video conference appeared.

Vasiliki made an annoyed face. She never agrees to a two-way. Always just watching, not showing. It pissed her off more than it should, that it was so unequal.

Dalia accepted the request. “Hi sweetheart,” she greeted her. The two of them had struck up an easy rapport, after Basil had introduced them all. Vasiliki had no idea why, but they really fit well with each other. Does that speak for Dalia, or against Prisca? “What’s botherin’ you?”

Why can’t you finish your word? Just one more letter!

“Um, it’s about Basil…” She sounded really worried.

They all looked up. “What’s wrong with him?” asked Tim immediately.

Prisca seemed to hesitate for a moment, then she said. “He hasn’t slept.”

Vasiliki snorted derisively. “Oh come on, we all know he pulls an all-nighter every now and then.”

“He…” Prisca started, but was cut short by Dalia flying in Vasiliki’s face.

“Could you stop being a stuck-up bitch for one second, Liki!?”

Vasiliki, you stupid cow!” shouted Vasiliki back.

Dalia opened her mouth to shout something back, but Tim whistled – loudly. Loudly enough to make both of them flinch, and Vasiliki groan as her back pained her.

“Prisca, what’s causing you concern?” he asked in a matter-of-fact voice.

“Basil… he hasn’t slept for at least two…” She stopped, almost as if listening to someone else. “Three days. Hasn’t slept for seventy-nine hours! And he won’t listen to me about getting some rest!” She was almost whining now.

Now they were all concerned. “Three days, and no sleep? Not even a nap?” asked Dalia.

“Not that I know of. He doesn’t even deny it, he just told me to let him work – he looks like he’s going to drop dead any moment!” There was panic in her voice, perhaps unreasonably so.

But Basil really can’t seem to deal with defeat… he might actually take it to the edge, Vasiliki thought.

“Alright, first of all, calm down,” she said in her most authoritative voice. Had to keep this under control. “Humans can go for three or four days without sleep before they run the risk of dying, and we don’t know how Basil’s power influences that. There are several cases of metahumans developing their powers only over time, so he might have developed some anti-sleep power…”

“But he really, really looks like he’s going to keel over any moment now! Please, you have to help him!”

“She’s right. Basil has always had a bad case of tunnel vision, and that kind of stuff tends to get worse when someone gets powers. We should at least talk to him, assess the situation. Dalia, you’re with me. Vasiliki, Prisca, watch over the cameras – if I understand this right, you have access to the workshop, right, Prisca?”

“Only if he allows it, and he’s cut me off. He never does that!” Now she was panicked.

Probably hasn’t had to deal with people being rude to her for a long time.

Tim sighed like a parent who’d had to deal with things like these for too long. “Alright, alright. Let’s go take a look,” he said, rising from his seat.

“I’m coming along,” Vasiliki groaned, slowly pushing herself up.

“Oh no, you don’t!” replied Tim, making a pushing-down motion with his arms – though he did not actually push her back down as she sat up, groaning under the pain.

“Yes, I do. Let’s cut this discussion short and have you help me get to the workshop. Now.

For once, people listened to her.

* * *

Mindstar was doing paperwork.

She was doing paperwork for the Dark Five.

She was assigning work schedules for her subordinates, organizing the next few capers, signing off on wages, explaining expenses…

I never, ever thought being a big-league supervillain would involve this much fucking paperwork. When I was flying solo, I at least didn’t have to do paperwork!

Mindstar leaned back on her seat, stretching. At least she’d taken her costume off before starting to work on this, or it’d smell by now. Nine hours of non-stop paperwork could do that even to a high-quality supersuit.

I should stop delaying this kind of work, she thought – and just then, her cellphone rang.

Normally, she’d ignore it right now, but it was Basil’s ringtone. Specifically, the one from his “lair”.

She picked it up. “Hey bro, how’re you going? I could really use a distraction right about now!”

<Uh, Hello Miss Blake?>said a girl’s voice.

Amy immediately droped the nice attitude. “Who are you?”

<This is Vasiliki Parapagadou, you may know me as->

“Hecate, yes. Why are you calling me? Did something happen to Basil!?”” She almost screamed the last part. If something happened to him, I’ll tear your-

<We… he hasn’t slept for more than three days, and we just tried to talk to him, and he just blew us off and got back to working on his new project.>

“Three days? You’re sure?” That sounds too much like Basil.

<Yes, Ma’am. As sure as we can be.>

“Alright, first, if you ever ‘Ma’am’ me again, I’ll get impolite with you. You don’t want that. Second, sit. Tight. I’m coming over.”

* * *

“You think she can help him?” asked Prisca.

“If not her, then no one can. I mean, she’s his older sister,” replied Vasiliki, trying to calm the frantic girl as she herself sat on the couch, refusing to lie down again before this was resolved. She hadn’t taken it well when they’d come back up only to tell her that Basil had blown them off.

“Well, at least we’ll finally get to know his uber-hot big sister,” leered Dalia.

“Dalia, behave. Prisca, calm down. Amy’s always been able to bring him back to reality,” Tim interjected.

“But why does it take so long?” Prisca continued.

She was really, really grating on Vasiliki’s nerves by now. She could understand the girl being worried about her boyfriend (or, as it seemed, her only friend), but her whining was getting bad.

“Probably because she doesn’t have any superpowers to fly over or teleport or anything, so she’s coming over by car or something,” replied Tim in as soothing a tone as possible.

And just then, they heard the elevator come down from the container.

“Dudes, how can she get in without setting off the alarms?” asked Dalia.

Vasiliki rolled her eyes. “Probably because Basil gave his sister the same kind of key he gave us.”

And then Amy arrived.

For the first few seconds, Vasiliki and Dalia just stared – the picture they’d seen had so not done her justice. Even though Vasiliki didn’t go for girls, she just couldn’t tear her eyes off of her.

And she wasn’t even wearing anything special, just a pair of not all that tight jeans, high heels and a white jumper.

Walking forward in a kind of natural power walk, she ignored them and went down to the workshop.

* * *

Amy came back up, carrying Basil in her arms without any visible effort.

It struck Vasiliki how drawn out, how pale he looked. Maybe Prisca’s worry was more justified than she’d given her credit for.

Without a word, Amy took him to the small bedroom, closing the door behind herself with one foot.

“Damn, that lady’s hot with a capital H!” gushed Dalia.

Of course you’d focus on that…

“I wonder how she got him to calm down? She didn’t hurt him, did she?” Prisca was still not calming down.

“Probably one of those brother-sister things. I know my siblings know how to push my buttons,” replied Vasiliki, who was this close to snapping at her.

Fortunately, they were all distracted as Amy came back into the main room.

“Alright, talking time. What the hell went on here?” she said. She was obviously angry.

* * *

They spilled all the details. Even though they were quite tired, it turned out to be quite easy to explain everything.

In fact, Vasiliki had never felt more clear, more focused.

It feels nice talking with her…

Amy turned out to be great at this. She’d sat down on a stool and talked them through the last night and the morning.

“So, you got beat down by a guy way out of your league, the two of you passed out. Then, when only Basil was left, two other metahumans showed up and one of them took Panthera Rex out in a few seconds. Basil got you both back here and treated you,” she summarized.

“Pretty much, yes, Miss,” replied Vasiliki. The others were quiet, focusing.

“Show me the video from the ravens.”

Vasiliki hurried over to the console, calling the video up and also giving Prisca permission to watch as well, all the while asking herself why she hadn’t yet thought of watching the records herself.

She sat down on the couch with Tim and Dalia while all of them watched the battle again.

Once the twins – and they so looked like twins, despite the featureless costumes, it was almost eerie – showed up, things got strange.

Bluebell’s a teleporter and that other one, Glik… holy shit.

No obvious power, nothing at all. She just moved, and she moved perfectly. Not a wasted movement, not a single strike that didn’t hit perfectly – and she only struck him three times, twice to break up his guard and then a single strike to the neck to finish him off.

It was terrifying, seeing someone take someone else apart so easily, so casually.

She threw a look at the other two next to her – they were equally terrified. But Amy…

Amy looked aroused. She was loving th-

Vasiliki shook her head. Huh, what?

She looked at Amy – she was as shocked as the others, as herself.

They continued to watch while the girls and Brennus administered first aid to them, then their way out, the ravens flying after them.

Finally, they caught that strange question, and then the girls were gone.

“What the fuck was that all about?” asked Dalia, putting to words what they all probably thought right then.

“Amen, gal. Amen,” said Tim.

Amy just looked pensive.

* * *

Neverhere

He was walking through a scenery right out of a fairy tale. One of the nice ones, or at least he hoped so.

The forest looked like it had jumped right out of a Ghibli movie. Lush flowers, gigantic trees, clear streams of water…

Man, this looks nice. I hope it’s not like Mononoke’s forest, though. Not in the mood for giant boars and wolves right now.

He took a few steps forward, then noticed that his feet were bare on the soft, warm ground. Looking down, he found himself dressed in a pair of jeans and apparently nothing else.

Shrugging – this was quite obviously a dream, and there was no use arguing with dreams about the state of one’s undress – he went on towards a rise, searching for an elevated viewpoint.

It was quite a bit easier than he’d expected, the terrain not being nearly as treacherous as it looked, considering how wild the forest was.

Up on the hill, he stopped. There was a small town in front of him, mostly overgrown by the forest, but still recognizable as a town.

And something told him that he had to get to the center of the town.

It didn’t take long, but on the way, he found himself distracted by the scenery.

The buildings had been partially broken down by trees growing through them. Every flat space available was covered in breathtaking paintings – if they even were paintings, they seemed to be part of the material.

They covered a wealth of scenes, from abstract swirls of colour to photorealistic pictures of what he recognized as London and some heroes like Lady Light. Also, a thin, scared-looking woman with bright red hair, surrounded by glowing protectors.

I’m sure I know who drew this, but I can’t quite remember…

He walked towards the center of the town, reaching the marketplace.

There was a working fountain at its center, with a magnificent tree growing above it, its roots drinking from the water.

A lone figure was sitting on the edge of the fountain.

Basil couldn’t tell whether it was a boy or a girl by sight, but he finally recognized the style of the pictures.

“Pro- no, Ember.”

The figure looked up. It looked like it was literally made of light, diffuse, flickering. Like he doesn’t know how he’s supposed to look.

He was dressed in a cloak with wide sleeves and a deep hood, made out of a patchwork of memories, each patch flickering through various images, never the same twice, but always fitting, part of the greater, harmonic whole of the cloak.

Ember didn’t respond.

“Can you talk?” asked Basil. This was surreal. He was dreaming of talking with what was widely considered to be the single most powerful being on the planet, and he was quite sure this was more than just a dream. Also, it felt eerily comforting just being in his presence.

Negation.

Basil shook his head as the answer hit him. Not a word, an idea, projected right into his mind.

“We can communicate another way, though?”

Affirmation.

“Why am I here?”

Curiosity.

“Am I here because you are curious?”

Negation.

“Are you curious about why I’m here, then?”

Negation.

“Am I here because I am curious?”

Affirmation.

Basil thought it over.

“Do you know about my memory problems?”

Affirmation.

“Do you know why I’m having them?”

Indecision.

“Are you indecisive about whether or not to tell me?”

Negation.

“Are you unsure about the reason for my issues?”

Affirmation.

Well, great. And he doesn’t seem capable of communicating in any complicated fashion. If this isn’t just a fantasy in the first place.

“Do you know about Macian?”

Affirmation.

He almost fainted (if that was even possible in a dream… or whatever this might have been) at the wave of emotions he felt. Ember so knew about Macian.

“Do you know how we’re related?”

Affirmation.

“How?”

Refusal.

“You don’t want to tell me?”

Negation.

“You can’t tell me?”

Affirmation.

“Why not?”

Time.

“You mean it’s not yet time?”

Affirmation.

Basil threw his hands up, running them through his hair. Yeah, so our resident godling knows the answer to my questions, but ain’t gonna tell me.

“Is there anything else… do you know Bluebell and Glik?”

Affirmation.

“Are they good?” Keep the questions simple.

Affirmation. Affection.

“You know them personally?”

Affirmation.

“Are they good for me, too?”

Affirmation.

“Should I try to find them?”

Negation.

“What am I supposed to do then!?”

Indecision.

“This is getting us nowhere, Ember. I’m allowed to call you that, right? Not Protégé?”

Affirmation.

“Is there anything else you want to tell me?”

Affirmation.

“What?”

Ember raised a glowing, flickering hand, reaching out with his index finger. Curious, Basil bent forward, and the boy touched his forehead.

All the world went white.

* * *

<Father? Father, are you awake?> asked Eudocia’s electronic voice. <Father, you need to wake up.>

I need to improve her voice program.

He moved, flinched. Then he rose up.

I had the weirdest dream.

Stretching, he wondered about how good he felt. Flinching, he looked at the clock. Just two o’clock… Amy had come to him around half past twelve, so he’d just slept about one and a half hours.

Not a dream. I really did meet Ember. How else could I be so… rejuvenated.

Then he remembered the urgency in Eudocia’s voice.

“What’s the problem, Eudocia? And please, stop calling me father.”

<Father, Amy is still here… she’s been talking to the others for more than an hour, and they are obviously being influenced by her.>

Ah crap.

B006 Big Game Hunt (Part 2)

Okinawa was sinking.

It began slowly, barely perceptible at first, but soon one could see the island rumble, throwing up waves around its coast.

And then you could see it slowly sinking, even as the newslady grew frantic, and heroes and villains together did their best to slow the collapse down and evacuate those inhabitants who had yet to be evacuated.

“Why the fuck is the island sinking!? She didn’t use any uber-power before she vanished, right?” asked Dalia with some exasperation.

Basil squatted down, folding his fingers in front of is face to think. Then he looked up at the video feeds again. “The power she used to twist the buildings – it must have reached downwards just as quickly. Judging from her position… I’d say it reached about one-thousand-and-nine-hundred-and-fifty metres into the ground… more than enough to compromise the foundations of the island. It just took some time for the damage to spread further and have it break down.”

They both fell silent, just in time for them to see Fleur use her power to try and delay the collapse, her ‘garden’ spreading out much like DiL’s ‘Desolation Field’ did, a sphere formed by a green-and-pink haze.

And once again, we see the difference between an S-Class metahuman and us mere mortals, thought Basil with some sour grapes in his thoughts. Sometimes, he thought he’d have preferred to just get a straightforward superpower like that of Fleur or Lung Moo or Sky High or the Boogeyman or even Defender, boring though the latter’s power might be.

Tears in reality opened above and below water from which giant, no, titanic trees emerged, shoring up the crumbling foundation of the island.

“Doesn’t look like she can stop it,” said Dalia.

“No way. Holding up an entire island like that? Weisswald may have been able to do that, create enough trees to stabilise it. But Fleur is far, far more limited than he was – for one, her trees are not permanent, they cannot exist outside of her ‘garden’.”

“A shame,” she replied, without her usual snark at his exposition. “It’s funny, though, don’t you think? How they all use spheres?”

His gaze turned from the news feed to look at her. “What do you mean?” he asked, momentarily confused… then he started making the connections.

She continued. “DiL, the Savage Six, Fleur, Defender, they all…”

“They all work with territories.” He stood up from his squatting position and went to the closest keyboard, moving the news feeds aside to the left end of the screen to call up several older recordings.

DiL’s Desolation Field at Okinawa, of course. Followed by Fleur’s Garden, Defender’s… Defender Field (he had no imagination), the Boogeyman’s Metaphobia, Sky High’s Heroic Wind (he had too much imagination), Heretic’s Pocket Dimensions (the latest one had stolen Osaka two days ago – Japan had no luck lately, with the Six in Osaka, DiL in Okinawa and the Kaiju attack on Tokyo)…

“Not spheres, that is just the form, the shape… they all have territories, fields within which their powers work… and not just them. Lady Light’s Aura, Cataclysm’s Domino Field. Most god tier metahumans with outwardly aimed powers have effects that evoke the sense of a territory, an area around them which they can affect with their powers.”

“You think there’s a reason for that?”

He nodded, writing these thoughts down. “There has to be. There are so many themes that are repeated among metahumans, and this one seems to be another one.”

He looked directly at her, throwing her a wry look. “You really sell yourself short, usually. You are far more perceptive than one would think from your usual behaviour.”

She snorted, then smiled. “Don’t tell Liki, she’d have a heart attack.”

“Ha, tru- You call her Liki?”

“Drives her nuts. She’s so easy,” she explained with her trademark leering grin.

He just shook his head. Mostly because he realized that she’d just managed to distract him from the tragedy onscreen, if only shortly. And she might not have noticed it. Full of surprises, she is.

They both turned back to the newsfeeds, just in time to see a close-up of Fleur.

“That chick is so hot,” commented Dalia.

Basil had to admit that Fleur was very pleasing to look at. She was tall, even for a metahuman, somewhere between one-eight and one-ninety, with fair but slightly tanned skin, bright green hair, light pink eyes and an elf-like, slender body (and pointed ears). She didn’t so much wear clothes as she had flowers and leaves grow around her body, winding and twisting to form a dress that ended at her mid-thigh in front, but hung down to her ankles on the back, and exposed a good deal of her back. She had more flowers grow in and out of her hair, but wore no mask (only some subtle make-up) and was barefoot as well.

Currently, she was atop a piece of rock floating above Okinawa, together with the metahuman responsible for levitating said rock – her younger brother, Terre (a legacy hero, the fifth of that name).

“She is good-looking, yes. Also, did you notice that her trees a-“

“Oh God, you see an essentially naked super-hottie and you think about her trees? You really are hopeless – poor little Prisca…”

He snorted at her.

* * *

About half an hour later, Okinawa was gone, sunk beneath the waters of the sea.

According to what little information was available at the time – the situation was quite chaotic – more than sixty percent of the civilians on Okinawa had been evacuated in time. The rest…

Also, as was usual for a DiL-Attack, the secondary consequences were often far worse than the initial ones (barring Caracas and a few other notable disasters). Fleur, later boosted by Lady Light and supported by the Dark, as well as aided by several hydro- and terrakinetics, had slowed the collapse of the island, allowing it to sink beneath the waters without causing a tidal wave… only for the support of the island crumbling almost instantly the moment their endurance was exhausted, the moment their powers failed.

The resulting tidal wave had already devastated the Ryoko and Okinawa Islands, and would shortly hit the Japanese, Korean and Chinese mainlands. Worse yet, though, was the chain reaction started by this – three more islands had sustained critical damage to their foundations and threatened to collapse, too.

“This… this is one of the really bad ones, isn’t it?” asked Dalia, her tone subdued as she watched the images on the screen.

Basil, once again squatting, his forehead on his folded hands, replied without looking up: “Yes. And she did not even have to build her power up – she just used what she had intelligently.”

How? She’s not smart, that’s supposed to be her only real weakness!”

He had thought about that, and was pretty sure he had figured it out. “Invulnerability, flight and the devouring light that sticks to her hair and nails are her standard powers. There is also a theory that she has another permanent power, some manner of enhanced perception maybe, but her immunity to perception effects has prevented any deeper analysis. Apart from those, she usually has three powers, one offensive, one defensive and one for utility. Only, during the final phase, she only had that one offensive power, the matter animation effect. Or so it seemed.”

“You think she had another perception power, stacked onto the one she’s supposed to always have? And what was the defensive one?”

He shook his head, again without looking up. “She does mix it up sometimes. And we know from Gloom Glimmer, who seems to have an almost identical base power, that perception effects take a tremendous amount of potential to manifest. And that animation effect was far more intense from the very beginning than her usual offensive effects. She probably split the potential that usually goes into added defense between offense and utility.”

They both fell silent, watching the tragedy unfold.

* * *

An hour later…

Dalia had gone to sleep before school (she needed far less sleep than a normal human, though she was not sleepless), chosing to stay at the lair and sleep in what was supposed to be the emergency bedroom, but was quickly becoming her bedroom.

Basil himself went back to work – no reason to stop work on his new grappling hook system. Until he found a way to fly reliably (and without half a ton of extra equipment), swinging around the city was the most efficient (well, most fun) mode of transportation.

It took him another two hours of work. It was not that he had to invent anything anymore, it just was a lot of very fine, very delicate work he could not outsource. The bane of every gadgeteer, they had phenomenal technology at their disposal, but most of them could neither explain their work to others, nor find a way for easy mass production – even building a manufacturing machine from scratch rarely worked out (you’d need a speciality just for that to make that alone work).

Maybe that could explain why no one had built a space elevator yet. Basil at least had already figured out how, he just could not work out an execution of the plan that would not require him to work on it for years by himself.

Of course, the fact that he saw his designs in pictographs made it difficult to translate it into something normal people could work with. And as far as he knew, it was worse for others – Hotrod was supposed to see his designs all as stylized gears and other machine parts and Polymnia had once commented that she heard her designs as melodies and symphonies.

It would be really interesting to learn how Sovereign or this Macian perceived their designs.

By the time he was done, he had to fight to stay awake, but the new system was complete – well, half of it – and he still had to go to school. So he jumped under the shower, dressed, grabbed his backpack and ran off to take the bus.

* * *

We need laws to protect children from school.

He was walking into the hospital as he thought that, on his way to visit Prisca. Thankfully, with his power, he didn’t have to put any effort into the science classes, and everything else was quite trivial for him. But still, he had not slept for more than fifty hours now, and he did not think he would sleep anytime soon, either – too many ideas, too much to do.

If the ‘Blazing Sun’ was actually the manifestation or personification of his power, than he could finally understand why it had that name. More and more, he felt like there was a light behind his eyes, pushing, burning, illuminating. The only way to alleviate it was to use it. To make something.

So, after he met with Prisca, he’d finish the second half of his new grappling hook system, then catch up on sleep. No patrol tonight for him. He needed to recover.

I wish I did not need to sleep anymore.

He reached Prisca’s room – and heard giggling from inside. Two girls, giggling. He couldn’t remember hearing Prisca giggle before.

Not quite thinking about it, he just pushed the door open without knocking. “Hi, Prisca, who is your… friend…”

Prisca was looking at him, surprised, in her usual position on her bed, and with the tablet he had constructed for her in her lap.

The second set of giggles cut off abruptly. It had come from the tablet.

“Eudocia…” he growled, closing the door behind him. This had not been a part of his plan.

<Uh, hi dad. How are you doing? You don’t look too good, maybe you should go home and sleep… forget about everything…>

Despite only having a rather monotone, electronically generated voice, she still managed to sound like a little child caught trying to snitch cookies from the cookie jar.

Prisca gave him her best attempt at a cute smile, but he had practice dealing with those looks. “Don’t be angry at her, I tricked her into revealing herself,” she said when she saw him scowl.

“Quiet, please.” He pulled out a few gadgets and checked the room for eavesdropping equipment. Then he set up a white noise generator, that should confuse most mundane recording equipment. “All right, now I know that Eudocia is smart enough to not be tricked easily, especially in regards to revealing her true nature. I am not angry, not really, just tired. So please, just explain.”

<Well, we were playing a game, and I was also watching two movies she’d given me…>

“And I asked her a few questions about them…”

<And I answered as thoroughly as I could…>

“Which I found strange, because she answered like a human, not a machine…”

<So she started asking questions about that, and well, I didn’t want to outright lie at her, so…>

“I kept needling her until she couldn’t evade my questions anymore, and she told me the truth.”

Basil sighed, sitting down on a stool.

“Well, so much for the experiment,” he complained, rubbing his temples. He was really too tired for this. “No matter. Just do not tell anyone about her, alright?”

Prisca nodded, probably understanding the situation.

<Sorry Father.>

“Do not call me father.”

<Alright, father.>

Prisca giggled while Basil groaned. Then she pouted, even though her thin, cracked lips did not lend themselves to it.

“So, why does my boyfriend come in here, when he forgot our last two dates, and just talks about a computer?”

<Hey!>

He flinched. “Sorry, sorry.” Standing up and bending forward, he pressed his lips onto hers, a short, but passionate kiss.

When he pulled back, he smirked at her. “But I am pretty sure I forgot only yesterday’s date.”

She frowned at him. “No, we were supposed to meet on Wednesday as well, for movie night.”

Now it was his turn to frown. “Really? I honestly can not remember.” He tried to remember, but he really couldn’t tell what he had been doing at the time. “Actually, I can not remember what I did at that time, at all.”

Now she looked concerned. “Why could that be? You never forget anything!”

He shook his head, confused. “No. I just have a better memory than most. And I have been…” Again, he shook his head. “No matter. I will deal with whatever is going on myself. Let us enjoy ourselves for now, alright?”

“Are you sure? This sounds pretty serious.”

He nodded. “I will handle it, promise.”

She nodded, too, conceding the point. Then, he pulled the stool over next to her and sat down.

* * *

1:12 AM

He looked down at the restaurant, then shook his head. What? Where am I?

Assessing the situation, he got bits and pieces of his memory. Full armor. He looked at the two boxes at his hips. Full new grappling hook system. Stun gun, batons.

He looked around. Tyche and Hecate where to his left and right, each with full equipment, and currently using binoculars to scout the place out.

Right. The Black Panthers. They’ve been moving a lot of merchandise and capital lately. Hit a minor hideout to get info on them.

What did he know of them again? Black Panthers. Started as a violent pro-civil rights group. Lost traction when King survived his assassination by manifesting metahuman powers. Devolved over the years to a simple, if powerful crime gang – not even exclusive to people of African-American descent anymore. Current leader supposed to be a major morpher, but no other details known.

And they were going to declare war on them tonight.

We really need a teamname.

B006 Big Game Hunt (Part 1)

“Desolation-in-Light was sighted four minutes ago, floating over the South coast of Okinawa. So far, she has remained inactive, though her Desolation Field has already been erected.”

Basil listened to the newscast while watching more than thirty video feeds – all recorded from outside of her field – on his wallscreen.

He’d been staying up late, working on his new grappling hook system late into Thursday night – now Friday night – and had thus caught the emergency broadcast, having let the television play on the side. It usually helped him keep track of time, without really distracting him from work – 99.9% of eveything on TV did not require any attention or brainpower to consume.

Of course, a DiL attack was more than that. He immediately stopped working and instead had Eudocia track down every broadcast and throw them all onto the wallscreen.

There was one, taken by a professional it seemed, that showed her floating in the air, her glowing white hair flowing and winding around and beneath her body, ten times longer than her tall body – she’s got to be almost two meters tall – looking away from the island to the sea, apparently not even noticing the town behind her. But her field was already present, spreading nearly three kilometers in radius, a flickering haze of light that had given her her name, enveloping her surroundings. He knew it blocked all transmissions from entering or leaving it – as well as all powers. No teleporting in or out of her field, or using long-range powers to attack her. And it also necessitated the use of long-range recording equipment to follow her attacks, as electronics within the field tended to malfunction.

I wonder if my equipment would work within her field. Gadgeteers were notoriously ineffective against DiL. Sometimes, mundane technology worked, but rarely for any significant stretch of time.

As he watched, more information came in. The UH DiL Response Team had already arrived at the site – Lady Light, all five members of the Cabal, The Dark and… Oh no… his five.

As if on cue, he got a message from Amy.

<Deployed against DiL. No worries, powers useless against her, support only.>

He took a deep breath. That was… not all that good, but better than he’d have hoped.

<Be safe. Wish I could help.>

Her power isn’t useful against DiL, they won’t put her on the front lines, her power isn’t useful against DiL, they won’t put her on the front lines, her power isn’t useful against DiL, they won’t put her on the front lines…

<You get to fight in a DiL battle over my cold, dead body, stupid.>

That stung. It was a condition that might be fulfilled after today.

<Just be safe, or I will be really angry at you.>

<We’ll have an ice-cream evening later on, alright? Don’t worry too much, the boss-man is giving each of us a Darkwraith for personal protection.>

Alright, alright, they’re taking precautions.

<Good luck.>

She didn’t reply.

Stretching, he walked a few circles – he’d foregone using any seating and instead raised the tables and workbenches to work on them while standing, since he spent so much time working here and he didn’t want to end up a couch potato.

Then, just as the newscast announced the arrival of several independent heroes, as well as the majority of Japan’s Sentai teams. Several video feeds switched over to short introductions of the participants.

Basil knew about the UH division (and about the Dark Five, of course), but he’d never paid much attention to the Sentais. They never operated outside of Japan unless they absolutely had to.

“Alien, Dino, Ninja… the three teams for the Tokyo area… and the smaller ones for the other areas,” he mumbled, watching. He mostly only knew about Alien Pink and Ninja Blue, both of whom were rather accomplished Gadgeteers – and the only ones among the Sentai’s ranks, at least in their combat line-up.

Then, he heard someone come down the stairs. Surprised – no one was supposed to be here – he grabbed a nearby stun baton and got battle-ready… only to feel silly when he saw Dalia enter the workshop, wearing a bathrobe and a ridiculous pair of bathroom clogs, her hair still wet.

“Dude, did y- Oh, you’re watching!”

“When did you get here?” he asked. His security should have told him she’d entered the base.

She looked at him, surprised. “What are you talking about? I got here hours ago! We talked, remember?”

He didn’t, actually. He remembered getting into the base at nineteen thirty-six, then starting work on… on what? And what had he done later… he remembered walking up to his worktable and then his next memory was of two hours ago, when he started working on his new grappling hook system…

“Oh, right, sorry. A bit overworked. Want to watch together?”

She nodded, pulling a chair over to sit down, never caring about how the robe was exposing her cleavage and legs (though he wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t notice in the first place).

Basil turned back just in time to see DiL begin her attack, opening up with a blue energy blast that levelled an entire row of houses.

* * *

The gathered heroes and villains entered the fray, opening up on DiL with a barrage of various attacks, looking for a flaw in her current powerset.

The attacks slammed into her current defense – or rather, they almost did, as space itself seemed to bend to divert them around her and back towards the attackers. Redirecting her blast, she aimed for the gathered long-range combatants, but they evaded her easily even as she flew further into the city, her hair flowing after her.

“Why’s she doing that?” asked Dalia.

“Huh?” Basil had almost forgotten about her, enraptured by the display of raw power.

“I mean, she’s supposed to be totally untouchable – why does she bother with a defense like that, instead of taking another offensive power?”

He looked at her, once again surprised about how observant she could be when she put her mind to it.

“No one really knows. But she usually splits her power set between three powers apart from her permanent defensive ability. One offensive, one defensive and one that is for utility. Though she does mix it up every now and then.”

They fell silent as someone erected a massive concave force-field to block DiL’s blast (Basil noticed that even this force-field cut off at the edge of her field above, despite looking like it could go further up) and she abandoned the power, a flicker of light marking the shift of her powers.

Basil and Dalia watched in awe as the heroes and villains – the latter were bolstered by a delegation of Yakuza villains, as well as some independents – engaged her with a massive display of powers, working in tightly organised groups to counter whatever effect she expressed, interfering with her every move and action until her aura flickered once more and she switched to a wholly different set of powers.

In short, the defender’s strategy aimed less on attacking DiL – they had long since given up on trying to harm her – so much as on distracting her, as she usually switched powers the moment something new popped up that somehow interfered with her actions, resetting her powers before they could build up to catastrophic levels.

“Why does no one ever try to hurt that bitch again?!” asked Dalia with incredulous disbelief. “I mean, I know she’s, like, untouchable, but there’s got to be some way to penetrate her defense! Some power that punches through?”

Basil thought it over. Has she never studied up on Desolation-in-Light? Maybe she just preferred to blend her out, ignore the danger.

“They tried that, but it has never worked. And it’s more important to keep her changing her powers – after each shift, they start out weak (by her standards) and gradually build up. If you let her build up for too long, you get nuclear wastelands like LA or tears in reality like the one in Caracas. So they keep throwing her off until she leaves, hoping that it’ll be enough to prevent any lasting damage.”

“Damn, I hope we never have to fight that monster,” she replied, pensive.

Basil turned back to the screen, watching the battle go on for another minute before DiL switched from her current powerset – a reflecting force-field that threw all attacks right back at her attackers and an aerokinetic power that created razor-sharp blades of wind – to wrapping her long, long hair around her body to form an all-concealing glowing armor and engage three sentais – Alien Blue, Alien Yellow and Dino Red – as well as Lady Light in close combat, flying faster than any of them, stopping and turning as if things like momentum or conservation of energy meant nothing to her.

The heroes engaged her in close combat – or rather, led her on, trying to keep her distracted without taking any hits. It worked for a few moments, until what looked to Basil like a momentary lapse in attention on Alien Yellow’s part led to DiL brushing her hip with a punch – and the heroine’s body disintegrating almost explosively.

The other three now kept more of a distance, until a winged-devil-shaped darkwraith joined the fray, DiL’s strikes disintegrating only small, quickly regenerated chunks of its dark flesh as they actually seemed to lead DiL back towards the sea.

But then, DiL’s hair loosened up, revealing her nude form again as she flickered and changed powers.

Light poles reached out for defending heroes and villains, crushing or piercing as many as they could, the streets opened up to swallow defenders unable to fly or evade, houses twisted around like baseball bats to swat fliers out of the air. Chaos spread as the effect built up, spreading from underneath her even as she weathered enemy attacks, all attempts at striking her simply not affecting her.

A close up of her (which seemed to focus on her bare chest, inappropriate though that may be in this or any situation), taken by what had to be a Gadgeteer-made long-range camera showed that all the attacks simply stopped about an inch from her skin, as if reality itself was simply saying ‘No’. Not to mention what happened to whoever or whatever touched her hair (slow and painful death as the light of her hair stuck to them and ate them up).

“Basil?” Dalia spoke up, sounding pensive.

“Yes?” he asked, annoyed that she would distract him right now, turning his head to look at her.

“That’s her permanent defense, right?”

“Yes.”

“It looks a hell of a lot like Tartsche’s Absolute Defense Stance, don’t you think?”

Basil turned back to the screens, tapping a few buttons to zoom in on some shots.

She really can be very perceptive. “You are absolutely right. And now that I see this…”

He pulled up a recording of Pristine fighting some Italian superhero, the latter’s attacks completely useless against her.

“It is the same. Pristine and Tartsche, they have the same defense, only weaker. Tartsche cannot be harmed or moved, Pristine cannot be harmed and can move, Desolation-in-Light cannot be harmed and cannot be moved against her will while still retaining full mobility.”

This has to mean something. Because the Pro- no, Ember – and why did he hate using that stupid other moniker instead of his chosen codename? – was supposed to have had a similar defense, according to eyewitnesses of the London Nightmare.

“We will have to look in-“

They were distracted again as Alien Red charged right at DiL even as her warping effect had spread nearly two kilometers out from her, slamming a large blue-black papersphere right into her chest.

The sphere imploded into a black marble-sized ball, then exploded like a reverse black hole even as another, smaller papersphere slammed into Alien Red, making him vanish in a flash of light, evading the black explosion that spread to nearly the size of a compact car. Another videofeed showed Alien Red reappearing next to an elaborate dressed, tall and broad-looking character in some manner of traditional Japanese robes coloured black, blue and gold, with a bucket-like helmet and mask. But none of that mattered as another shot showed the explosion and DiL from the side.

Basil dropped his remote as Dalia lost one of her clogs she’d been dangling off her toes.

The blast had made DiL flinch back, the warping effect that spread from her ceasing immediately as she roared, screaming so loudly it disintegrated a city block in every direction and spread devastation across the city, then vanished in a single flash of light.

Her field faded with her. The attack was over, and nearly a fourth of the city had only taken light damage and could probably be repared.

That guy, he made her flinch.

“Who the FUCK did that!?” asked Dalia.

Basil pulled up an image of the robed Japanese metahuman. He noticed him carrying what looked like one of those traditional Japanese pipes for launching fireworks. “I know that one, now that I think about it. Hanabi XII or XIV. A legacy cape, usually villains apart from two exceptions. First Hanabi was one of the very first Japanese capes and the first Japanese supervillain. Current Hanabi is supposed to be a low-level Contriver specializing in paperbombs of varying purposes. Contriver two or three, maybe.”

“That didn’t look like anything below a freakin’ eight to me!”

“No, that was… impressive. We can just hope that he can replicate that bomb.”

Switching the screen to show various newscasts, Basil judged that this attack had ended up being rather light on the casualties – DiL had spent a comparatively long time between her arrival and her attack just being inactive, allowing for a very thorough evacuation of nearly two thirds of the city’s population (though none of the rest had survived the warping effect that turned the very city hostile). And she hadn’t been able to build up her power to the point where it could have lead to a catastrophe.

“Well, this went rather well,” he commented. But Dalia looked unconvinced. “What?”

“I got a bad feeling about this. Dunno why…”

“We will s- Oh shit.

B004 Introduction to Metahuman Studies (Part 5)

The young man looked utterly unremarkable – he was the kind of person Basil would never have noticed walking down the street (then again, Basil was not the most observant of people). Neither tall nor short, average weight but soft, untrained. Short, brown hair, muddy brown eyes and a too large nose for his otherwise thin face. His clothing was equally unremarkable, a pair of blue jeans, a black t-shirt and blue loafers. Basil pegged him as a mid-twenty, at most.

And he was standing at the edge of the building, alternating between staring off towards the setting sun and down at the street.

As Basil watched, he took a deep breath and raised one foot to step off the roof.

“Stop please!” Basil shouted while simultaneously activating the speaker function of the raven.

Continue reading

B004 Introduction to Metahuman Studies (Part 4a)

Melody had met up with Irene and Aimi after school and Irene had teleported them back to the HQ. There they’d split up. She had walked straight back to her workshop, only pausing to change into her workclothes, while Irene walked off with Aimi to eat.

Now Melody was sitting at her worktable (again) and tried to work out the emergency equipment Brennus had constructed for Prisca Fion (again) and was flabbergasted at his work (again).

Apart from the incredible speed at which he’d constructed them, he’d scavenged his stun gun for parts. With Irene’s help, she’d been able to isolate all the pieces that used to be part of the gun, as opposed to the other parts used. Unfortunately, by the time they’d been done, her time at the workshop was over and she had to go to sleep (stupid workshop rules for teenage gadgeteers and contrivers…).

Now, finally, she’d get to work through it.

Strange that this is what I spend most of my time in the workshop doing since I debuted. Then again, I wouldn’t have been able to upgrade my armor like I have if it wasn’t for his ravens and his anti-emp system…

* * *

“So I get to do whatever I want with the money?”, asked Aimi.

Irene shook her head in frustration. “This is the seventh time you’ve asked this question since you joined. You get to do anything that is not illegal”, she explained over a platter of Rainbow Bomb Salad.

“Sorry, I just don’t get it. They’re just giving us five hundred dollars a month, just to be members?”, Aimi asked back.

“Well, there’s more to it. You have to be available during your designated hours, you have to stay in shape, you have to attend the training programs and you have to keep up a minimal grade point average in school. That’s what the five hundred dollars are for.”

“And we get more if we go out and fight crime?”

“Yes, you get more for fighting mundane criminals, even more for super-villains depending on their class and a huge bonus anytime you go up against an S-class threat. So you’ve already made a nice amount of money for the whole fight down at the Acre. Though this money goes into a trust fund, to finance your education after graduating from high school. Anything that remains is paid out to you”, Irene replied.

“Man, that’s a lot of money!”

“Remember, you get it for risking your life. Supervillain fights are not a laughing matter.”

Aimi thought that over. “That explains the bonus money, but still, five hundred dollars just for being on call and doing some training? Plus, they’re picking up all the fees for me going to Diantha High!”

Irene rolled her eyes. “Well, that last part ain’t so big – remember, my mom owns Diantha High. As for the rest – I’m sure you know the statistics, right? So you should understand why they want to make sure you’re happy here and get an education.”

But she didn’t – Irene didn’t even need her power to tell her that the girl wasn’t following her train of thought. Good God, is she really this dense?

After a minute of Aimi eating quietly and trying to figure out what Irene meant, she relented. “We’ve got a serious imbalance between heroes and villains. The necessity for a traumatic experience to achieve powers, as well as the staggering chance for mental illnesses mean that for every heroic or neutral metahuman out there, there are four supervillains. The good guys are very interested in making sure that you remain on the side of the angels.”

Aimi nodded, finally understanding, and went back to her three plates of food.

Irene herself swallowed two of her pills, then finished her salad. She wasn’t all that hungry, but she’d learned the hard way that neglecting her body’s physical needs would make her power compensate, making it harder to stay in control.

And she needed to stay in control, especially around the junior heroes. Melody may have accepted her despite her lapse in control, but it was unlikely that the others would be as accepting – especially Jared.

So she finished the (gorgeous) salad and ordered another round, just to make sure.

* * *

The hospital had been repaired quickly after the Hemogoblins attacked – Basil could not make out any sign of recent repairs.

Well, if mankind had not figured out how to repair buildings quickly by now, no city in the world would still be standing…

<Father, my scans show a visitor in Ms Fion’s room>, said Eudocia, speaking to him through an earbud he had linked to her box.

<Oh? Who?>, he asked, using a subvocal microphone to answer without even moving his lips. There were only one or two people who could be visiting Prisca. One would be bad, the other would be really bad.

<Facial recognition identifies the visitor as Primrose Tamara Fion>

Yeah, really bad. Prisca’s mother… did not like him.

Still, he had come here to meet Prisca and he would be damned if he did not go through with it just because the scariest woman in the world was there as well.

So he walked to Prisca’s new room – she had been put in a more secure room, pretty much in the center of the hospital and underground. While he was pretty sure that Prisca at least did not like this new arrangement, he was glad for the extra protection.

In front of the room, he found a tall, tall man in a black suit and tie. Sebastian, the Butler of the Fion family and Primrose’s bodyguard. He had done some research – Sebastian was actually a very old metahuman, born back in 1934. He had manifested at age seventeen, when he had taken his father’s place as the Fion family’s butler and the then-head of the family had been assaulted by the Dark. He’d managed to save his master and escape and he had been the families most loyal servant since then.

As he approached, he was struck by how tall the man was. Two and a half meters of lean, iron-hard muscle, with shoulder-length golden-white hair, he was rated as a Physique 10, with Protection 7 for his regeneration, Perception 5 for his enhanced and expanded senses and Damage 4 for his enhanced striking power. He could be a top-class cape, even if you did not factor in his sixty-two years of experience, but he had chosen to remain loyal to the Fions.

The butler took one look at him from behind his black sunglasses, which he wore even at night or in a building – they did not impede his vision in any way, but gave his already intimidating presence a barely needed boost and protected him from being staggered by sudden brightness – and nodded, stepping aside to let him enter. He did not pat him down or anything, as his x-ray vision allowed him to check him for any hidden weapons or similiar things. Of which he carried none. Basil had even made sure to leave Eudocia back in his lair, because her box stood out under x-rays.

I would really like to know what goes through the mind of a man like this. To dedicate himself so fully and completely to a family. I hear he has never taken a vacation in over sixty years of service.

He passed by the man and entered the room.

Inside, he found Prisca on her bed, hooked up to her machines. Next to her, on a stool, sat her mother, Primrose.

Ever since he had first met the woman, Basil had felt… uneasy around her. She made no secret of her disdain for him, though he could not guess why she did not like him.

Primrose looked the way Prisca should look, if it was not for her disabilities. She was as tall as Basil, and since she always wore high heels, she stood even taller than him. Her hair reached down to her waist in carefully styled ringlets, with any grey she might have gained by now well hidden. She was no adonis… well, she was no metahuman and so had no Physique effect, but she could still have modeled. Even at forty-five years, she was still stunning, having aged in as dignified a way as one could hope to. The only trait she did not share with her daughter were her pale blue eyes. Prisca had inherited her father’s eyes. In addition to that, she was dressed in a dark green, knee-length dress, a stylish black jacket and the aforementioned high heels. But above all else, the woman had presence. She could intimidate him better than anyone he had ever met.

When she saw him, a frown appeared on her face, but she did not say anything. She stood up, kissed her daughter on the forehead and left without looking at him again.

He did not relax until he heard the door close behind him and the sound of her pumps walking down the hallway. Then he let out the breath he had been holding.

“Has she ever told you why she does not like me?”, he asked.

Prisca shook her head. “No, she just says that you’re giving her a bad feeling. Also, some stuff about you simply not being good enough for me, but I think she’d say that about any boy I might like.”

He nodded and took Primrose’s seat. Then he took a good look at Prisca.

Her kidnapping and the ensuing operation had taken their toll on her. She was paler than usual, her hair stringy and brittle, her limbs even more drawn-out. And her eyes looked so tired.

“How are you feeling?”, he asked, taking one hand between his two, giving it a light squeeze.

“Awful, really. But I guess that is to be expected”, she replied, squeezing back.

“What is the doctor’s diagnosis?”

She averted her eyes. “More damage to my lungs, though less than it might have been and they should recover – a bit. Same for my stomach. But they’re afraid they’ll have to remove a kidney, though they’re going to wait and see if it might recover.”

He caressed her hand with his fingers. I wish I could have made those assholes suffer. Instead all but the Goblin got away scot-free.

“Well, I have got some good news at least. Something positive about this whole business”, he said.

She turned back at him. “How could any of this be positive?”

“Well, you remember how I said it would be difficult for me to help you with some gadgets? How it would be suspicious if Brennus just turned up and left you some advanced tech?”

She nodded, not understanding what he wanted to say.

“Now that Brennus saved you, it would not be that strange for him to take pity and make an effort to help you – I might even be able to work out some arrangement for me to directly examine you!” He was getting more and more agitated. If he could get a chance to use his own equipment to examine her, he might be able to actually find a cure, small as the chance might be.

Her face brightened up immediately, making his heart flutter. I love it when she looks like that.

“Are you sure? You could help!?”

“I can not promise you a cure – but I should be able to make things easier for you, maybe even create some compact machines so you could go outside in a wheelchair!”

She drew him closer, throwing her arms around his neck.

“Oh, thank you, thank you!”, she sobbed, burying her face in his neck.

“Now, now, why do we not wait until I actually manage to help you?”, he said, softly patting her back.

She let go and he helped her lean back again, her short burst of strength already spent.

“You saved me from those villains, remember? You already helped.”

He shook his head. “First, it was mostly Gloom Glimmer who helped you. Second, they would not have kidnapped you in the first place if it was not for the sake of drawing me out.”

“Not your fault. Besides, did you find out what they wanted from you?”

“Well…”

* * *

“So the Savage Six thought you were some other gadgeteer they’ve been looking for? And they organized a city-wide crime spree, just to test whether or not you might be that person?! What the fuck?!”

“Yeah, it sounds strange. I mean, what kind of person must this Macian have been, to make them do something like this just on the off-chance that it might be him?”

“Probably some kind of uber-gadgeteer. A 13/13, maybe? That would make anyone who knows about him go to any length to get their hands on him.”

He turned that thought around in his head. “You know, I think if there was a gadgeteer out there with that kind of rating, he would not remain an unknown for long. I mean, he would have the most sought after power ever, short of the Protege of course.”

“Yeah, something like that. Still, he’s got to be quite the character.”

“Hmhm. So, you have already read about the new Werdenfeld-Manning-System for power classifications?”

“Not read. I watched Gloom Glimmer’s lecture.”

“Huh?”

“Didn’t I tell you? I’m going to be following the lecture by video. I’m already enrolled at Diantha High, though I mostly get private tutoring, but since I can’t get Gloom Glimmer over here, I’ll be following the whole course online.”

He smiled, amused. “So there is something your mother can not buy for you?”

“Are you kidding? We’re talking about the daughter of Lady Light and the Dark. Either of them is probably richer than the entire Fion family!”

“Oh, I know. Just teasing a bit”, he replied, giggling. “So, what did you think of the lecture?”

“It was fun, though I must say, she can make her exposition almost as long-winded as you do”, she said.

“Hrmpf. Just because I like to be thorough with my explanations…”, he snorted.

“Hihi, you’re just too easy to tease, you know. I swear, you could be a hundred years old, and you’d still get riled up whenever someone made fun of that.”

He blew her a raspberry.

“Oooh, how mature. That sure put me in my place.”

He snorted again.

“Well, either way, I have something else I wanted to ask you”, he said.

She raised an eyebrow. “Oh? What could that be? Will it be just as much of a surprise as earlier?”

Shaking his head, he answered: “No, I do not think so. But you will like it nonetheless. You see, I want you to do some testing for me. Something to occupy you.”

“That sounds really interesting. Tell me more!”

He pulled a hand-crafted tablet computer out of his backpack. It was a bit larger than the usual tablets, with a rimless screen the size of the usual printer paper. However, it was so thin and light, even Prisca would not have any problem holding it.

“Here, take this. I have already put in your fingerprints as the key to the lock.”

She took the tablet, curiously, smiling when she noticed the light weight, and pressed her finger on the screen.

It lit up, revealing several pre-installed programs and a white background with two black ravens biting each other’s tail, forming a circle.

“What is that symbol?”

“It is Brennus’ emblem. Do you like it?”

She nodded. “It’s nice, and so very you. But isn’t it dangerous, giving me something with your cape’s emblem on it?”

“First, only you can access this tablet. Second, who is going to check? Your mother is not going to rifle through your computer, right? And even if someone sees this, you can just say that you took the emblem as your background simply because he saved you and you like it.”

She nodded and he started explaining what it could do.

“It has got the usual features – internet access, high-definition graphics, compatibility with pretty much everything I could think off, a four-month battery life assuming two hours of use every day and so on. But the really interesting stuff is this little icon here.”

He pointed to a black icon with a red eye on it, formed like lips holding a circle between them. Eudocia’s emblem.

“What does it do? And what’s that symbol?”

“That is a secret – it would not do to spoil the testing by telling you what is behind it, you know.”

She pouted, which looked cute despite her cracked, thin lips, but he did not relent.

“It can only be activated with your fingerprint and you have to also type in the words ‘the world is vast’ as a password.”

“The world is vast?”

“Something that just came to mind. Feels incomplete, but I can not think of the rest of the phrase. Either way, try it out.”

She did so, tapping the icon and then putting in the password.

A black window appeared in the upper right corner. It was empty.

“If you tap this window, you can write into it, you can speak and you can drop in text, audio or video data. It will give back responses to anything you put in. I want you to challenge the program – give it any question, give it riddles and so on. You can even drop in games and watch it play them – or let it play in the background. You can also play against it, if the game allows for it. The purpose of the whole exercise is to see if you can find any flaws – anything it can not deal with, which causes it to fail.”

This way, you get to have some fun and I can outsource Eudocia’s testing.

“What kind of program is that?”

“As I said, telling you would spoil the testing. Do you think you can do this for me?”

She giggled. “Sure I can. And I can just throw anything at it?”

“Of course. If anything makes it hang up, I will know immediately and it will help me work some stuff out.”

“This sounds like fun!”

“I hope so. Now, I will leave you to it – I have work to do today. Specifically, working on that new equipment for you”, he said.

“Sure, sure, you go do that”, she said absentmindedly, already typing something into Eudocia’s chat window.

He smiled, giving her a light kiss on the cheek. Then he picked up his backpack and left, off to his lair.

Time for some work. Besides, Timothy would be there, together with the girls. He wanted to see whether or not they would like him.

* * *

The man (really more of a boy) that they called Hopscotch for the scars on his back that formed one such, had joined the Hemogoblins because… well, because of the girls. Or rather, one girl. The Goblin Queen. He’d first seen her when she’d robbed a bank he’d been in with his mother – she’d just smiled at him and he’d known that he wanted to work for her.

And at first, it had been awesome. Robbing people, assault, some rape, some other fun and, of course, sex with an awesomely hot woman whenever he did good work.

Then, last weekend had happened. Now, the Red Goblin was dead and Switchbitch and Redder were missing, with no trace to be found of either of them.

The queen had been less than pleased, to say the least. She’d been raging and screaming for two days, then started planning to retaliate againt the United Heroes. And Hopscotch would have been more than happy to help her – he might even get some more time with her, now that she wouldn’t be getting more goblins anymore and had to rely more on her real servants. Even though she’d just gotten a new metahuman, a young Japanese guy, as her right hand man, she’d still be thankful for his loyalty, he just knew it.

One minute ago, all of her and Hopscotch’s plans had been torn apart. Two girls had just appeared in the middle of their gathering, right out of nowhere. They wore identical skintight bodysuits and face masks that lacked even eye-holes, coloured Blue and Yellow, respectively. The suits were quite a bit thicker than usual, designed for efficient protection and movement instead of good looks, but they still did not hide that there were two real beauties beneath.

Before anyone present knew what had happened, the two had dismantled the fifteen baselines and two metahumans in the room, killing the twenty-three goblins they still had left.

Now, the Goblin Queen, herself dressed in what amounted to a barely present, black bra and loincloth, was lying on the ground, her hands nailed to the ground with her own knives. The new guy was unconscious, as was pretty much everyone else.

The girl in the yellow costume was standing over the Goblin Queen (she’d been the one to nail her to the ground – somehow), while the girl in blue was at the edge of the room, keeping a lookout.

Hopscotch had fallen where he’d stood, a single blow to his gut taking him out of the fight – though he was still conscious and able to watch.

Through the pain in his gut he watched and listened as the girl in yellow questioned the Goblin Queen about something, though the pain was just too much to really follow. Something about something called ‘Macian’, that asshole Brennus and the Savage Six. Why would they ask his mistress about the Six? Why would someone as magnificient as his mistress ever associate with the Six?

His mistress, of course, refused to answer – but that only made the girl in yellow take another knife that was lying around and impale his mistress’ foot, nailing it to the ground. He cringed in sympathy as she screamed in pain.

An outrage unlike anything he’d ever felt gripped him at the sight of his mistress being tortured, but his gut wouldn’t let him move.

The bitch in yellow questioned his mistress again, and this time, she answered. Though the bitch didn’t seem pleased by the answers, going by how she twisted the knife in his mistress’ left hand. Another round of questioning, and she seemed satisfied.

The blue bitch approached and held her hand out, which the yellow bitch took – and they vanished, just like that.

A minute later, he could finally move again, just in time for him to hear police sirens and watch as they stormed in.

* * *

The moment they arrived in their apartment, the two of them stripped out of their costumes. Both of them hated being part of the spandex crowd, but it was necessary to keep their identities secret as well as be more inconspicious.

Bluebell had laughed hysterically for ten minutes straight when she realized that wearing bright and flashy colours was less conscpicious than wearing normal stuff.

Glik immediately went to her computer, entering what little they had learned.

“Well, that was a bust”, Bluebell commented to her twin, walking up behind her to gather her long blonde hair in a ponytail.

Glik nodded, then stood up to return the favour.

“Do you think we should approach Brennus directly? If he’s Macian, he should recognize us immediately, right?”

Her sister nodded, but then raised a finger.

“But we have to be careful, I know. If he isn’t Macian, if the Six have him under surveillance, if, if, if.” She threw her head back, groaning. “Dammit, this almost makes me hope for another crime spree. It would be easy to contact him discretely if he were out fighting someone.”

Glik nodded again.

“Maybe we should actually contact the United Heroes?”

She shook her head.

“No, you’re right.” If only we knew how loyal Gloom Glimmer is to the Dark. Can’t have her rat us out to him.

Glik sat back down, typing something into her computer, pulling up a webpage.

Bluebell bent down to look over her shoulder. “Ooh, that might work…”

* * *

“Honey, I’m home! I’m hungry!”, Basil shouted as the elevator reached his actual lair.

He was greeted by confused stares.

“Hmph. No one appreciates the classics anymore”, he snorted.

Looking around, he could see his entire ‘team’ – if you could already describe it as such. Dalia was wearing an atrocious combination of orange hot pants and a purple top he hesitated to call anything other than ‘boobstrap’ while taking up an entire couch. Timothy was sitting at the console together with Vasiliki, who was showing him how everything worked (at least everything she could get to work) and Stephie was sitting on another couch, reading a comic book.

Tim spoke first: “It’s more like no one but you even bothers to watch most of the stuff you get your lines from.”

The girls giggled and Basil rolled his eyes.

“So, I guess you guys hit off with each other?”, he asked into the room while putting his backpack away.

“Well, we didn’t kill each other, at least”, said an irritated Dalia.

Stephie explained: “She’s just pissed that everyone’s been making fun of her outfit.”

“Oh, shut up, Mouse Girl”, replied Dalia, making a rude gesture. Stephie just giggled and turned back to her comic book.

Foreseeing more than enough occasions to ridicule Dalia’s wardrobe, Basil decided to let it rest for now.

“So, did anyone pick anything up?” He was referring to his surveillance systems.

Vasiliki answered: “There’s something going on with the Black Panthers. I think they are preparing to purchase something big, but no details yet.”

“Alright, we should keep an eye on that. Dalia, would you man the console? Maybe your power will help?”

The girl snorted, but stood up and walked over to the other two. Though she sat down as far away from them as possible.

“Anything else?”, he asked.

“No”, replied Stephie.

Dalia said nothing.

“I’ll just give Timothy a complete introduction, unless you want to do that?”, said Vasiliki.

“No, I would rather go down to my workshop. I have got quite a bit of work to do.” She nodded and turned back to the computer console.

He went down to his workshop.

* * *

An hour later, Brennus had made quite a bit of an advancement to his work on Prisca’s equipment. It felt strange, but somehow, his power was working more… cleanly right now. There was no other word to describe it. He was far more focused than usually, with less than five or six distractions every minute. Usually, his mind was working on at least twelve different projects simultaneously, though most were dead ends or forgotten before they could solidify.

If it went on like this, he’d be able to deliver the first package by the end of the week!

He was disrupted by Eudocia speaking up.

<Father, you may want to take care of this personally.>

He turned to the screen to his right, where she pulled up a video feed from one of his ravenbots.

This particular one stood on the edge of a rooftop in the Downtown. It showed a young man, twenty-something from the looks of him, standing on the edge.

<An analysis of his behaviour returns a probability of eighty-nine percent of him committing suicide>, explained Eudocia.

Ah, crap.

B004 Introduction to Metahuman Studies (Part 3)

“First, I’m sure that you all know the old Cruse-System for classifying metahuman abilities, named so for Franklin Cruse, who organized and directed the convention that created the system back in nineteen-forty-seven, and which has been in use to this day. Whoever knows it also knows how incredibly confusing it can get, using mythological terms for some powers and a jumble of English terminology for some others. Does anyone here want to guess why it got so confusing?”

No one raised their hand. It didn’t surprise her – few knew this particular little factoid.

I’ve wondered about that, myself, but I could never make any sense of the whole thing, said Melody.

“Fun fact: It’s my father’s fault. The Dark’s. He thought it would be funny to make it as confusing as possible,” she said. People looked at her with disbelieving eyes.

Seriously? He thought it would be ‘funny’? And how did he pull it off?!

I asked him. He seriously answered that ‘It amused me’. And he did it mostly by sneaking into the convention led by Cruse and influencing the gathered specialists. He does stuff like that whenever he’s bored.

Good God, and you grew up with that? Explains so much.

Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?!

Melody didn’t respond.

She focused her thoughts back onto the lecture. “So, after sixty-five years, the Werdenfeld-Manning research team has developed a new classification system. The first and most important change is that it no longer bothers to differenciate between source powers and derived powers. What does that mean? Well, let’s take Lady Light as an example.”

Lady Light’s power classification appeared on the whiteboard.

Adonis 10

Generator 7 → Wild Card 10 (Hard-Light Armament)

“This is my mother’s classification under the Cruse-system. Observe how there is a distinction between her source power – Generator, her ability to create her hard light constructs – and the resulting Wild Card classification, a derived power. Her new classification is as follows.”

New words appeared next to the old ones.

Physique 12

Damage/Protection 7

Meta 12

“Notice first how it now lists the effects of her powers, instead of trying to denote a source power. Notice also how the Adonis-trait has been renamed – we will get to that shortly.”

“Now, you may ask yourselves what the big difference is. Simply put, this new system puts more emphasis on summing up what a metahuman can do, not why. It also necessiates more attention to the individual descriptions of the metahuman’s abilities. The main reason for this change is that it is basically impossible to properly determine source powers, or sum up the powers into a few words. So now, we won’t even try any more,” she continued. “Furthermore, all non-English terms have been replaced so as to make the classifications more easily understandable. This is now the comprehensive list of power effects.”

Contriving

Control

Damage

Gadgeteer

Manipulation

Morphing

Movement

Perception

Physique

Protection

Spawning

Meta

At least it’s all in English this time, she said to Melody.

Yeah, I never understood how they came up with some of the names they did.

Dad brought a Thesaurus into the convention and randomly dropped suggestions into the minds of the attendees.

The more I learn about your father, the less I respect him…

Tell me about it.

“Alright, we are going to work through this list from top to bottom, working through the effects. I stress, this will just be a short introduction – we are going to revisit it later on. Please make notes, you will need to remember this for every following session.”

The whiteboard was wiped clean again, then the word Contriving appeared.

“Contriving is, perhaps, the strangest power out there – at its most basic level, it allows the metahuman to create placebos through which various effects can be expressed. At higher levels, Contriving allows a metahuman to create pretty much any tool for any task, making it arguably the most dangerous classification aside from transcendent variable powers. At levels one through three, Contriving allows a metahuman to create fantastic equipment and effects within a narrow field. An example would be Spellgun, who can only create various guns and ammunition, and nothing else – all his gear apart from his arms and ammunition is actually mundane technology, only styled to fit his theme. From four to six, we see the capabilities of contrivances branch out – Doc Savage, for example, can bestow a variety of temporary powers with his Power Juice, both to himself and to others. Levels seven through nine, Apex Tier contrivers, are what everyone thinks of when they speak of Mad Scientists – while they may have a focus, they can apply their ability to nearly any field, giving them, perhaps, the greatest versatility of all metahumans appart from God Tier contrivers. An example of this would be Doctor Despair, while the Archmage is an example of a God Tier contriver at level ten. Speaking of God Tier, there is only one known contriver to ever be assigned a rating of twelve – that would be, of course, Memento. While he still specializes in creating numerous robots, he can give them pretty much any power he can think of, as well as create an incredibly variety of support equipment that goes far beyond robotics. Unfortunately, contrivers are the most endangered metahumans when it comes to mental maladies – you can take any of the chances I’ve named earlier and double them for contrivers, up to 99%, which, of course, means that any contriver from level eight and above is pretty much guaranteed to be deranged in some way. And no, we will not get into Heretic in this course. Yes, he is the most powerful contriver ever. No, he will be discussed in a course specifically dealing with contrivers.”

“Now, the Control classification specifies any metahuman effect that allows for controlling other entities, be they humans, animals or constructs, but does not entail the ability to create them. Exemplars can, at best, control insects, simple animals or influence human emotions. A well-known example would be Buggy, a much-loved superhero operating in China, who can control large quantities of bugs, but only within a limited range; or Racer, who can control any car with his insignia on it remotely. Paragons are capable of controlling human emotions to a greater degree, implant suggestions, control a single human under certain conditions or control large quantities of animals. Bestiality is one such controller, a woman capable of controlling entire herds of animals at a time. Finally, in the Apex Tier, we get the much feared true mind controllers, people who can either completely control one person or take control over more than one to a limited degree. An example would be the late supervillainess Darling, who could use pheromones to control anyone who could smell her for significant amounts of time or Mindstar, who can only completely take over the mind of one person at a time, but can manipulate entire crowds to a lesser degree. Finally, we get to the God Tier of controllers – of which there are only two confirmed cases. The -fortunately – late Mindfuck of the Savage Six, the single most powerful telepath on record, and Polis Megalos, the premier superhero of Greece, who is capable of controlling an entire city.”

She paused for while, giving the students time to write everything down.

“Something simpler, now. The Damage classication describes any inherent ability to cause physical damage. The most common example are energy blasts of one kind or another. The damage classification is rarely applied to powers that have an indirect way of causing damage as part of their abilities – for example, if someone can spawn a superstrong minion, they are only given a Spawning rating, not a damage rating – otherwise nearly every metahuman out there would have a damage rating, so it’s only used for specialized damaging effects. With Exemplars, the damaging ability is restricted to damage that can be duplicated by mundane weaponry, like the ability to accelerate small, bullet-like objects to terminal speeds. Paragons go up to the output of vehicle sized weaponry, like gatling guns or tank guns. Apex Tiers describe powers that reach and eventually surpass the potential of artillery or bombardement. In the God Tier, we get the truly terrifying powers, capable of tearing down a good chunk of a large city with a single use. Desolation-in-Light almost always uses at least this level of destructive capability during her attacks. Theoretically, a transcendent damage effect would equal the destructive effect of a nuclear bomb, but thankfully, there has yet to be a metahuman with such power. Except for Desolation-in-Light, though she only used such abilities a few times until now.”

“We are going to skip the Gadgeteer effect for now. Let’s tackle that at the end of the session.”

Oh, you’re so mean.

Don’t complain.

“Manipulation effects entail all effects that, somehow, affect the physical world and do not fall into another category, making it the most expansive power classification. It can range from simple telekinesis to the stranger powers of time manipulation or probability manipulation (which was formerly a Wild Card power) and it can be either ranged, touch ranged or personal. In the Exemplar Tier, we get almost exclusively low-level elemental manipulation, like pyrokinesis that allows the creation and/or control of limited amounts of fire, geokinesis of less than five hundred kilogram, simple photokinesis and so on. The Paragon Tier includes the first universal telekinetics, limited manipulation of time and gravity, and so on. Most electrokinetics also fall into the Paragon Tier, mainly due to their versatility. In the Apex Tier, we get the specialized kinetics who can move more than ten tons of material, universal telekinetics with up to ten tons of strength and this is also the minimal rating for true probability manipulators. Finally, in the God Tier, we find the manipulators who can move entire buildings, using skyscrapers as thrown weapons for an example. An old, thankfully dead example would be Earthmaster, a geokinetic villain who was capable of causing earthquakes that reached up to an eight on the Richter Scale.”

She let that sink in for a while – no one in this room was old enough to remember that asshole – he’d been one of her mother’s first recurring enemies, nearly ninety years ago.

How did Earthmaster go down, actually? I don’t think your mother killed him?

Nope, the Justicar killed him. With a sniper rifle, while he was sitting on the toilet.

“Morphing describes all effects that change the user’s physical form. At the Exemplar Tier, you can find effects like turning limbs into weapons, the skin into diamond or a single, natural form, like being able to turn into a single animal or into a single other person. The Paragon Tier includes the abilities to change into various forms within a single class – different animals, different humans and so on – shapeshifting your limbs into various forms of the same material – turning your hands into various metallic forms, for example – and the like. Apex Tier morphers are capable of freely adjusting their form, though they are generally held back by a single limit – for example, the new UJH member Bakeneko can freely shift her own form, her only limits being that she cannot adjust her mass and is restricted to organic forms. At the God Tier, we find nearly unlimited shapeshifters who are usually only limited by having to remain within a certain mass range. The best known example would be the leader of the Savage Six, Hemming, who can take on any organic or inorganic form and is only limited by his own imagination and his own mass – he has to remain within one tenth or about fifty times his own mass.”

“Movement denotes all effects that enhance a persons capabilities to, well, move around. Super-Speed, flight and teleportation are the most well-known examples. At levels one through three, you find people with exceptional, though not necessarily inhuman speed, the ability to stick to walls, walk on water or fly while still limited by natural laws. From level four through six, you get real Super-Speed, usually up to seventy miles per hour, short-range personal teleportation, the ability to move slowly through solid matter and true independent flight, often ignoring at least wind resistance. Levels seven through nine include flight that ignores most aeronautical laws and long-range teleportation and/or the ability to take other people along on your jumps. At the God Tier, we get people like the late Switchstep, who could teleport himself and up to six tons of mass from the surface of the Earth to the Moon and flight that completely ignores natural laws, including the laws of inertia.”

“Perception effects are all those power effects that enhance a persons ability to perceive the world, as well as all abilities that manipulate other person’s senses. This is perhaps the second-most variable classification, as it includes all enhanced senses, all supernatural senses, psychometry, precognition, as well as illusions, invisibility and other sensory concealment effects. I’m not going to go through the individual power levels here, as this category is far too complex to be quickly broken down into labels. We’ll get into that during the session where we will get into the specifics of the Perception classification.”

“Physique combines the former Adonis and Chimaera classifications. Some of you might know that there has been an ongoing debate over whether or not the Adonis- and Chimaera-traits should even be classified as powers and not as results of a one-time adjustment of the body, as they cannot be influenced by any effect that influences other powers, like nullification effects – even Dr. Null was never able to nullify the enhanced physique of Lady Light or other metahumans, nor reverse the mutations of the Chimaera trait. Well, now this question is no longer important, as the question doesn’t even figure into classifications anymore – we only classify effects from now on. Either way, Physique effects are all effects that improve and/or permanently change the body, including improvements to the brain, allowing for increased intelligence. They range from simply improving – or twisting – the appearance and performance within the normal human range at the Exemplar Tier to the completely inhuman capabilities of God Tier physique effects like Lady Lights ability to shrug off anything short of armor-piercing rounds and punch through concrete. Physique powers are also the only ones that can be assigned a rating of zero, which means that it merely affects the outward appearance and maybe the overall health of a person.”

“Protection effects are all those effects that protect their wearer in some fashion, from extremely tough skin in excess of the Physique rating to force-fields, the ability to turn insubstantial (which nearly always entails a Movement rating as well) and so on. Exemplar Protection grants the ability to simply resist mundane damage better, up to being nearly bulletproof at level three. From level four through six, we get truly bulletproof metahumans, low levels of insubstantiality and so on. Apex Tier brings us the first ‘invulnerable’ metahumans, like Amazon, who can take anti-tank rounds and keep swinging. In the God Tier, we get those rare few individuals who are almost completely untouchable by anything short of equally rated metahuman damage effects, such as the late Protector, who once survived a nuclear explosion and was only killed – in fact, only ever harmed when he ran up against DiL. Protection effects also include the common Regeneration capability of many metahumans.”

“Now, Spawning is one of the rarest and most versatile effects – the ability to create agents, ranging from simple remote-controlled automatons to fully independent, perhaps even sentient entities. It often also entails an unrated Control and/or Perception effect, allowing the metahuman to completely control their creations or share their senses, respectively. In the Exemplar Tier, we get effects that allow for the creation of small, non-sentient and non-powered entities out of thin air or up to medium-sized automatons out of existing material. An example would be the ability to create ‘insect’ swarms out of nothing or animate a single physical object. Levels four through six entail the ability to either animate several medium-sized constructs, a single larger construct, create medium-sized entities out of thin air or spawn semi-sentient entities of up to animal intelligence. At levels seven through nine we get the effects which allow the creation of several larger constructs out of existing material, large entities out of nothing, single, powered entities, and entities with near-human levels of intelligence. Among God Spawners, we get people like The Dark, who can create several independent, fully sentient and meta-powered entities, in his case ‘Darkwraiths’ or a single, extremely powerful entity. There is also a known level thirteen spawner, Weisswald, who could create self-sustaining, self-replicating entities, nowadays known as ‘Spiteborn’.”

“Finally, the Meta descriptor describes all powers that deal with powers. That means, all means of enhancing, suppressing, bestowing, mimicking, stealing or shifting powers fall under this classification. The breakdown of the individual tiers would take too long at this point. Let’s just say that this is the one rating which every tactician out there absolutely loathes to have on the opposing side.”

She stopped, taking a deep breath and letting her pupils jot down their notes. Leaning back against her podium, she got ready for the final part of this topic.

“Now, I earlier said that I’d explain the Gadgeteer rating at the end. There’s a reason for that, because Gadgeteer’s get a special rating scheme. Because Gadgeteering has the distinction of being the only supernatural effect to operate after natural principles – in fact, it ONLY works within the range of natural laws – it is one of the most interesting effects out there. Many people hope that the appearance of a sufficiently high-rated Gadgeteer might lead humanity into a new Golden Age, perhaps even push us towards a technological singularity. Regardless of that, the Gadgeteer effect gets a double rating, going from one-slash-one to thirteen-slash-thirteen. This is because it is important to both describe how fast a Gadgeteer can work and how far ahead of current scientific theory they are. Let’s take, for example, Polymnia. She was formerly rated as a Gadgeteer three for being able to produce extremely advanced acoustic equipment, though she usually only created advancements of existing technologies instead of new ones – her sonic cage invention being an exception. Now, her new rating would be five-slash-three, because while she seems to be limited to current scientific theory, she works a lot faster than any mundane scientist. At higher levels, we get the vigilante Brennus, who’s estimated to be a seven-slash-five, Atrocity from the Savage Six, a six-slash-five and, of course, Sovereign, a seven-slash-seven, with a current debate among several circles within the Department of Metahuman Affairs to re-rate him as a seven-slash-eight, perhaps even an eight-slash-eight. The highest rated Gadgeteer we know of would be the late Su Ling, who is estimated to have been a Gadgeteer twelve-slash-twelve.”

I wish I could get Brennus into my workshop. The inventions we could come up with…

Please don’t drool. Bad enough the boy next to you is drooling already from looking at me.

“Alright, that’s it for the power classifications. And it also looks like I managed to already talk us through most of today’s session. Now, we are also going to have sessions on the more outlandish forms of manifestations, including the much talked about, yet never quite proven process of inheriting powers, as well as metahuman families. Get ready to take a lot of notes, because I’m going to give you an overview of required and suggested reading, as well as some names among metahuman researchers to keep an eye out for…”

* * *

“Man, this was an interesting lecture. Except for that last part, of course…,” commented Aimi.

“Oh, I don’t know. I didn’t even know about some of those books she recommended. Now I finally have something new to read again!” replied Basil.

Timothy and Aimi rolled their eyes, but didn’t say anything. They left for their next class.

* * *

Later, when they had gotten through their last class for the day, the three friends left to walk home. They were on their way past the statue of Diantha Whitaker when Brennus suddenly had an idea.

He had been thinking quite a while on how to imitate Sovereign’s force-field technology, and while he still was not sure he could create real force-fields, it should be-

“Ack!” Basil shouted, holding his head with one hand as a sharp pain lanced through his head.

“Basil? Did something happen?” asked Tim.

He shook his head. “No, I just remembered – today is my first chance to see Prisca since the incident. I had almost forgotten! Now I need to get home, drop off my school things and get over to the hospital!”

“Well, then you’d better hurry, shouldn’t you?” asked Tim with a grin.

All thoughts of new inventions forgotten for the moment, Basil hurried on, running out of the gates of the school.

* * *

Somewhere, at the same time…

She affixed the last photograph to her pinwall. It showed this new Gadgeteer, Brennus, as he was in the middle of evading an energy attack by a spiteborn while simultaneously jury-rigging the bomb that would end the fight in the acre.

It joined an extensive collection of photographs, newspaper clippings and notes, all concerning various Gadgeteers and suspected Gadgeteers around his age that appearead over the last four years. Pins and threads were forming an intricate net, all centered around a central drawing of a preteen boy with long, shaggy black hair and a mechanical left eye.

“Have I finally found you, Macian?” she asked, softly touching the picture of Brennus with two fingers. “I hope it’s you. I don’t think I can take another disappointment.”

She shook her head. This wasn’t the time for self-pity. Pulling on her heavy mask, she turned around and vanished out of the room with a soft popping sound.