B011.15 Monkey Family

Previous | Next

I bolted off at my top speed, leaving everyone else behind. For once, the monkey was being cooperative, and fully so, pouring on the speed; one step carried me across the old sewage plant, to a tunnel that led towards Old Downtown. Another step and I crashed through a wall at the end of the tunnel without slowing down by a noticeable amount.

When I made my fourth step, sounds vanished as I shattered through the sound barrier.

I hadn’t reached speeds like these with such ease since I’d fought my demented half-sister during the war; even before that, I’d only managed them less than a dozen times, tops. I was soaring, I was roaring as a primal joy filled me, howling right along with the monkey as our thoughts lined up and we tapped reserves of power I’d forgotten I’d had.

We broke through more walls than I could be bothered to count, all but disintegrated a rusty old school bus when we went through it, gave a rather diverse-looking gang gathered around a portable television a nasty case of burst eardrums (and a shattered television); I focused ahead, I sped up and we. Went. On.

I felt the monkey’s skin attach directly to mine, mingling, melding, the separation vanishing for the first time in nearly two decades; my senses were escalating even faster than my speed did, the world around me slowing to an almost still image I was soaring through, every step taking me several hundred feet ahead. I could see every speck of dust in the air, I could feel the ground crack and liquefy with every step I took, I could feel the air slam into me over and over and over, trying to skin me alive, to shatter my bones, yet unable to do more than stir my fur and draw my lips back further widen the manic grin I felt stretch across my face, two rows of teeth revealed in all their sharp deadliness. I felt more than fast, more than powerful. This, this was what my power, what I was made for, just utter abandon and speed; In that moment, I felt more than human, more than metahuman – I felt like a god, utterly free and untouchable!

This, I could do forever. But alas, the downside of being as fast as me was that, even with my rapidly accelerated perception, the journey was not all that long. Eight steps, in total, until I burst through a wall thicker than many a skyscraper – or perhaps it hadn’t been a wall at all, it might just have been undeveloped earth and rock between the last tunnel I’d been in (less than a tenth of a step long) and the water distribution centre.

I don’t know what the Ascendant and his people had expected to see coming, if they’d expected anything at all, but I was entirely sure they hadn’t expected a furry blue monkey to burst through the wall and scream bloody murder.

To be perfectly honest, I liked what I saw. There were thirty-three people in the room (super-fast perception plus infravision equals lots of battlefield awareness) and all but three had an abnormally high body temperature, practically glowing to my vision.

Two of the three people without the spiking body temperature were in the back of the installation, out of sight of my normal vision – even their heat signatures were hard to pick out through all the intervening material.

The third person was much colder than a person should be, and a look through normal sight revealed a literally white-skinned woman with blue lips, wearing winter clothing; she was standing atop a railway that overlooked several water-purifying tanks, the metal around her iced over; looked like a pretty classic ice cowl, really.

The thirty burning people – all of them also enlarged to ridiculous degrees – were spread all around the place. Those I could see looked like the thugs I’d seen in Chayot’s memory, wearing dark clothing and masks – only the Ascendant must’ve shot them up with something, because they’d all grown to over ten feet of height, ripping through most of their clothing – the only things that still fit them were their masks, which still sat on their now ridiculously small heads, in between shoulders that big enough for someone like Volca or Tamara to fit into without trouble.

I could have – and probably should have stopped, looked around and made a plan on how to proceed, but I hadn’t reached this kind of level in a long time, and if I was honest with myself, I just wanted to cut loose.

Never mind that I was still angry as all hell and wanted to take vengeance on these people. I hadn’t forgotten the burning rage that had driven me earlier, and now was my chance to teach these clowns that you don’t mess with my family.

All these thoughts and observations went through my head in the time between bursting through the wall and landing on the ground, almost exactly beneath the cold woman.

And then it was monkey fun time.

***

My first move was as simple as it proved to be effective – I kicked off the ground, going straight up towards the cold woman. I didn’t know how exactly her power worked, but given the choice between taking out two of thirty juiced up normies (there were two that I could hit at once, just a few feet ahead of me) and one unknown metahuman… Well, I picked the popsicle.

I’d slowed down a lot, and no longer moved at super-sonic speeds; thus I could hear her try to shout something – or perhaps scream in horror – before I hit the railway from below. I reached out with my hands, grabbing the metal and tearing it in half right beneath her feet. Then I used both my momentum and my hands on the two halves of the railway to soar higher, tackling her.

Bones broke audibly, specifically those of her legs and she got all of a second of screaming in before my tail whipped up and wrapped around her throat, cutting it off. What most people don’t realise is that, if you do it right, choking someone out is a matter of a few seconds, tops.

I landed on the left side of the railway, letting her dangle off my tail, legs shattered, until she passed out – in plain sight of the mooks.

They didn’t take it well, at all. No less than eight of them leaped at me from below, but I’d been counting on that. I tossed the woman aside, to the far end of the railway, and went to work.

Reaching around me with both arms, one leg and my tail, I ripped huge chunks of the railway off and threw them at the four closest mooks. Before the projectiles were even halfway to their targets, I leapt off the railway, over the vats. I’d seen three enemies close together, and I flew straight at them. I couldn’t see their faces, but I could see their eyes through their masks – they widened in surprise at my high-velocity assault on them before they’d even gotten close.

Tough luck. You shouldn’t have taken this job, I thought as I gut-kicked the one in the middle with both feet. As he folded over, the air knocked out of him, the other two tried to grab me as they flew past – but I was faster; I grabbed each of them by their normal-sized heads, wrapping my hands around them, and pulled them down after me.

The one I’d kicked hit the ground with an impact that created an actual crater around him. Coming to a dead stop, I swung the other two head-first into the ground to his left and right.

All three went limp, but I didn’t waste any time – before their bodies had even fully touched the ground, I’d already kicked off towards five charging brutes.

I slammed into their leader just as the chunks of rock and concrete from the hole I’d blown coming in hit the ground and I did not rip off his head, as quick a solution as that might’ve been.

I did, however, see my father come through a wall (without blowing it up. Negative points for the weak entrance) dragging Warren, Malphas and Volca through (he was stretching his role there, I was sure; still, such an ability could easily be explained as a capability kept secret for emergencies, so…) and I decided to let them in on the fun, so I slammed my forehead into the centre of the guy’s face, grabbed the mooks to his left and right and threw them right at the group.

Then I went to town on the two still standing and trying to tackle me.

Tackle me.

The result was as hilariously one-sided as one could expect.

I don’t think that I broke their spines, but at the very least, they’d be in a lot of pain, for a long time, unless whatever they’d taken came with a lot of regeneration.

Warren, Malphas and Volca were getting ready to intercept the two I’d thrown at them and my father was running towards one of the metal vats. Seven enemies were down, two more about to get the shit kicked out of them. Leaving twenty-four targets.

I shouldn’t give the Ascendant too much time to do whatever it is that he’s doing, I reminded myself between seconds.

Twenty-two thugs left. They were gathering in one spot and seemed to be hefting weapons – I had to move fast.

Fortunately, moving fast is part of my power description.

There were twelve huge vats for water purification before it was fed into the city’s pipes. They were organised in four rows of three vats each, with the control room and the central access pipe on one side of the huge installation and my entry point pretty much on the opposite side. I was right in the middle of the vats, and the thugs were gathering behind the next row.

I don’t have much time – but I only need to scatter them, I realised and ran towards the gap between two vats. The sound of the rocks I’d blown into the facility impacting the floor reached me just as I reached twenty of the remaining thugs, who were busy picking up what seemed to be heavily customised rocket launchers.

Those were most likely no threat to me, or to Dad, but they could very well kill any of the others. Not that I would’ve let them pull off whatever they were aiming for anyway.

The juiced-up thugs didn’t even know I was there until I slammed into their midst at two hundred miles an hour, clotheslining no less than five of them as an opening move, two on the left and three on the right; I’d always rather enjoyed mixing wrestling moves into my fighting style – they were surprisingly effective and watching professional wrestling matches on television used to be something me and dad used to bond over, before things went bad.

The five unlucky assholes I hit first were down and out instantly, save for the third one on my right side (I hadn’t managed a full hit), and now I was in the middle of the group, which meant they’d have to be utterly insane to use their weapons on me.

Fortunately for everyone involved, these weren’t the kind of weapons you just had to aim and pull the trigger to use – never mind that they were still in the process of assembling half of the human-sized things, anyway. Unfortunately for them, I was also too fast to give them the chance to put up an effective defence, anyway.

I roared at the top of my lungs, not long but short, explosively – I’d shattered glass and burst eardrums with my roar before – to stun them, and then I went apeshit on them (heh).

My fists flew, breaking bones left and right – though I limited myself to striking at extremities, to reduce the chance of lethal blows; Hennessy’s and Camille’s request sat oddly with me, as did Journeyman’s words. I’d never really lost sleep over killing. Not during my stint as a villain, certainly not during the war, nor during the years after. But now…

I’d been told, from two sources that had a great deal of weight with me, that I shouldn’t kill. Journeyman, who’d so often given me good advice (and was the closest thing to a true friend I’d ever had, aside from Warren), and my own daughter and her girlfriend. I wondered whether Journeyman had known that they’d ask me that… no, stupid question; of course he’d known. There was no way this was a coincidence, not when he was involved.

But why had he preempted the girls’ request? Because, now that I thought about it, it had been more than just a plea to spare the Ascendant. They’d pretty much told me that they didn’t want me to kill, period. Not just in this one case.

Because, one way or another, it’d be on them for not stopping me. At least, in their heads, it would be, as unreasonable as that was.

And I couldn’t do that to them, not to Hennessy and, yes, not to Camille, either. She might have rubbed me the wrong way, but she was good to Hennessy, and that was more than I could say about myself.

All I could do, in the end, was to sigh. Which brought me back to the here and now – among the broken – but still alive – bodies of twenty enhanced thugs. Two of them hadn’t even hit the ground yet, still falling down in slow motion as I refocused on the present.

Two thugs left. As well as the Ascendant and whoever the other one with him is. I looked around, with both my normal and infravision, only to find that my team had taken care of the rest. Malphas, Volca and Warren had downed the two whom I’d thrown at them, my father had taken out (non-lethally, which was pretty surprising to me) the other two and was waiting near the place where the last two active heat signatures were.

No time to waste. I went and joined my father, after telling Warren to stand watch with the others.

I didn’t want them involved in the finale. However it turned out, they’d sleep better if they remained ignorant.

***

We didn’t bother with big entrances, not at this point. Father and I just walked, without a word, down a short hallway made of concrete and lined, left and right, in pipes of various sizes and colours. It ended in a reinforced steel door with the words ‘Central Pipe Access’ written on it.

Father and I raised a foot each and kicked the door out of its frame, sending it flying across the room beyond.

There was a yelp, and the sound of a gun being drawn and cocked.

Father let me take the lead, and I simply walked in in full monkey form, stooped over to fit through the door, with my hands entwined behind my back.

Within, I found two men standing over a contraption they were about to lower into a hatch in a big red pipe. The machine looked like some kind of tubular nightmare made of brass, gold and plastic, and did not inspire confidence at all. Of the two men, one was reasonably tall, thin, and wearing a pure white priest’s robe, with a mask depicting an angelic face; the other one looked like the thugs outside, only he was still normal-sized and fully clothed; he was holding a pretty heavy-looking handgun and put five bullets into my chest, and three more into my head, before I’d even fully entered.

I barely felt them, but still. I had to set the tone of this meeting, not them. To that end, I took a single step towards them, ignoring the burning desire for bloody murder at the sight of the Ascendant, and backhanded the last of his thugs, throwing him across the room. The man slammed into the wall and slid down with a sigh, the breath knocked out of him. Father walked over there to stand watch over him, while I approached the other one.

“The Ascendant, I presume?” I asked, without bothering to mask the pure hatred I felt for the man, the desire to kill him; nor did I hold back the monkey’s growl. “I’ve been hoping to talk to you for a while now,” I continued, while I reached out with one hand and pulled the contraption off the hatch.

“N-no, put that back!” he shouted in a shrill voice, all but leaping for the contraption – though there was no way this scrawny guy could lift it, not unless he shot himself up with his own drugs – it was almost as big as he was, and probably quite a bit heavier. “I need the dispenser, I need it!” he shouted as he tried to reach it, with me holding it out of his reach like a school bully denying a smaller boy his action figure or something.

Good God, this is the monster that hurt my girl so much? THIS? I thought furiously as I brushed him back. He fell on his ass like a freaking pushover, and started sobbing. Sobbing. For crying out loud, he was… he was acting like…

“I need that! If I don’t do this, they’ll take my name away!” he cried. “I need it, I n-“

“Oh, shut the hell up,” I said as I lashed out with my tail, hitting him in the gut. He slid back against the wall, the air – and fight – knocked out of him. Then I looked at the contraption. “This. It’s supposed to poison the water supply, right?” I asked the Ascendant, though it was my father who answered.

“Yes. He’s used a similar contraption before,” he said from where his hulking grey form stood over the downed minion.

I nodded to myself – and then I squeezed, crushing it. The Ascendant made a desperate, weak scream as I snapped it in two, watching various fluids spill over my hand and onto the ground, as the pieces tumbled down and hit with a metallic crunching sound.

“He’s not going to use this one, though,” I said with a satisfied growl in my voice.

The… little man in front of me was just sobbing now.

“I can’t believe it. This man, he created all this misery? I expected more from the Gefährten,” I almost-whispered.

“I guess we know now why they wanted to purge him. Can’t have been hard to find someone more appropriate to the job,” he replied casually. “Though my reports suggest he used to be much more… together. Perhaps his power has degraded his mind. Or perhaps just the threat of disappointing the Gefährten was enough to make him crack.”

“Yeah,” I breathed, though I wasn’t sure what I was agreeing to. This was… not what I’d expected. “We’re done here, let’s go,” I said, turning around – though I didn’t leave him behind. I picked him up with my tail instead.

“Why not just kill him here?” Father asked. “We have time. We can enjoy it.”

“No,” I said firmly. “He’s going to the authorities, and he’s going to stand trial and be judged fairly.”

Father tilted his head, clearly confused – or at least surprised. “Seriously? Why the sudden about-face?” His voice almost slipped into his natural tone, for just a moment. I enjoyed that way more than I should.

“H- Chayot and Dearheart contacted me, asked me to spare him. To have him stand trial, as he should,” I said. Then I had a thought, and I reached around myself with my tail, so I could look straight at him. Snot was running down from beneath his mask, and his eyes were bloodshot and wet.

So pathetic. “Did you hear that, you piece of trash? The only reason you’re living through this is because the girls you hurt, the children you tortured, they want you to be treated fairly. No, not fairly – better than you could ever deserve. Do you get that!?” I screamed the last sentence into his face, revealing rows of teeth and covering him in spittle.

He nodded frantically in between sobs, but then he shook his head. “It don’t matterrrrrr,” he whined. “Th-they’re… they’re going to kill me, anyway. Just for failing. And so I don’t t-t-talk.”

“He’s right,” my father agreed. “He’s dead already. And we do need some intel, to be perfectly honest.”

I turned to look at him. He approached me in turn, leaving the thug behind. “I’m not going to kill him. Not going to leave any evidence. But it would be irresponsible not to extract as much information as we can from him, before he vanishes either into prison or is killed by his own people,” he stated firmly.

Why does he have to constantly make sense? I asked myself, but there wasn’t really any argument to be made. Really, I had no reason to even think it over – the Gefährten were major trouble, way worse than the Syndicate, and any edge against them was worth this.

“Alright. But be quick about it,” I said, dropping the Ascendant.

While my father went to work on him – I doubted there’d be much of a challenge, not with a man this broken – I went to take a look at the thug I’d downed earlier.

There, I met my next big temptation. His mask had fallen off, revealing features I’d seen before.

It was the same man I’d seen in the visions Hennessy had shown me. The one who’d taken her.

The one who’d kicked Tamara’s head when she’d already been on the floor, paralysed by poison and half-mad from fear for her child.

Boots, all around us. Boots, kicking. Boots, falling.

I blinked, looking down at his bloody face – I’d broken his nose. He wasn’t unconscious, though. But he wasn’t all there, either.

A black boot, dropping down. I remember the sound, the crack. The spray of warm blood, its taste when some droplets flew into my screaming mouth.

I shook my head, realising that I was bent over the man, ready to tear into him, to rip his fucking head off with my bare teeth!

I remembered the light dying in those big, warm brown eyes, I r-

I pushed myself away from him, growling under my breath.

This isn’t the way, I thought to myself. Not anymore. Really, it never was. They were never worth it to begin with. And there… I felt a kind of peace. I still hated them, but… no, it was done.

Once more, I looked down at the thug. He wasn’t anything else, after all. Just a thug. He’d hurt those I loved… but that was over. He was over, as surely as if I’d bitten his head off.

There was no need to literally do it, not anymore.

I waited for my father to finish extracting as much as he could out of the former Ascendant, then we left together, taking two criminals with us.

I did make sure to have him tell me what he found out, though. Just in case.

***

The next three hours passed in a blur. I mostly let my father do the talking. Warren snuck off with Volca and Malphas, after they made me promise to meet them all later on.

We called down the authorities, and the actual adult superheroes of Chicago showed up to pick up the trash. I hadn’t seen or heard from any of them, aside from Vek (who was just staring at me, as I stood in my pristine suit and tie in front of the piled up thugs – who were slowly reverting to normal size – and the tied up (and unconscious) Ascendant.

I smirked at her, while my father introduced himself as my hireling and handled the nuts and bolts.

Honestly, I couldn’t care enough to participate. I smiled at the cameras as journalists had gathered near the entrance to the water works, reporting as the police carted the goons out, and two men dragged the Ascendant to the paddy wagon. People cheered when they did that.

I just felt… pleasantly numb. It was only thanks to my father’s ingrained lessons that I bothered to smile and do some pleasant chit chat with a few reporters, giving them some nice soundbites.

***

Before I knew it, we were standing in front of Tamara’s house, just as the sun was setting. Father was back in his Dark form, though I doubted anyone but me could see him.

“Will you be alright from here on out?” he asked.

“Yeah. Yeah, I want to do this on my own,” I said. “Afterwards, though… I’d like to talk to you. At my place.”

“Yeah?” he asked, and I heard something almost like… hopefulness in his voice(s). I couldn’t be sure, but… it was a nice thought.

“Yeah. Drinks are on me.”

“I’ll be there,” he said, before he sank into his own shadow and vanished.

I smiled to myself – though I couldn’t tell why, things were just… just a blur right now. I looked at the house – nice and sturdy, picturesque really – and I tried to put my current state into words.

The closest I could come up with was a feeling like… like something had been knocked loose. Something old and scabbed over, broken and yet so persistent. I wasn’t miraculously healed of all my issues or anything, but…

But for the first time since mother died, I felt like I could finally start to heal.

I walked up to the door and rang the doorbell.

***

Little feet pounded the stairs and then the little princess opened the door. She was now wearing a bright yellow dress and a matching tiara, with diaphanous golden butterfly wings and a golden wand in her hand.

She grinned up at me. “Hello, Mister Henny’s-other-Dad!” she chirped, and I couldn’t help but grin right back.

“And a hello to you, too, dear Fairy Princess,” I said, just as Tamara rounded the corner into the hallway.

She was dressed in casual stay-at-home clothes, and looked like she’d been crying – she didn’t look sad though. When she saw me, she smiled brilliantly, and even more so when the little princess turned to her and asked, “Mommy, how’d he know I’m a Fairy Princess!? I’m supposed to be in disguise!”

Tamara laughed and picked the little girl up, then she looked at me, looking radiant herself.

God, I could just look at her all day. As inappropriate as that would be now. And as if to underline that fact, Phil joined us, putting a long, thin arm around her shoulders.

“Hello, Kevin. Or Aaron, I guess,” he said, and he looked like he couldn’t decide whether to smile or frown at me. “They’re in the living room. Take your time.”

Tamara mouthed a ‘Thank you’ before she leaned closer to give me a kiss on the cheek (causing the little princess to giggle, and give me a mirroring one on the other one). Then she went up the stairs.

I looked at Phil, again. He looked back. I grunted. He grunted. I entered, taking off my shoes, and went to the living room.

When I entered, I saw Hennessy (in sweatpants and a pink baby tee) and Camille (in a matching outfit, only with a green top instead of a pink one) sitting on the couch, their eyes wet as they watched the television, holding hands.

Well, Camille was watching television. Hennessy was looking at me, and I got the feeling that she’d been tracking my movements as soon as I’d entered the range of her ability.

Camille turned, as well, and I got another memory for the records; I had made a lot, in my life, but this one, this one was unquestionably beautiful: Both girls broke into relieved, radiant grins, and then Hennessy literally leaped across the room and into my arms, wrapping her legs around my waist for some extra hold.

And when I wrapped my arms around her, I felt like I’d finally done something good.

***

It was nearly midnight before I got back home, but father was still there, despite my tardiness – and he wasn’t alone.

He was sitting at my bar, the living room lit brightly by numerous indirect lamps, without any wraith to obscure him, in his black robe and skin-tight suit; and on the other side of the bar, currently mixing some manner of cocktail, was Journeyman in his dark blue robe.

Just like the last time (many years ago) I’d seen them both together, I was struck by how similar their costumes were, save for the colour of their robes and Journeyman’s mirror mask.

Neither of them had ever told me what was up with that. Or rather, Journeyman hadn’t. Father claimed he didn’t know why Journeyman dressed the way he did.

But that wasn’t important right now. Instead of pursuing the thought, I took off my jacket and tie, opened a few buttons on my shirt and sat down next to my father.

“Gimme something good, barkeep,” I said in the worst Chicago accent I could think of. “I got a lot to  celebrate.”

“Most certainly,” he said, as he filled a big glass with whatever he’d been mixing – obviously, Journeyman had known just when I’d show up, and what to prepare for me.

“I gather that the girls were pleased,” father said as he raised his own drink, the tip of the glass vanishing in the shadows of his hood. He sounded… quite pleased himself.

“Very much. I’m now invited to their bi-monthly Saturday barbecue; they want to introduce me to the rest of their team,” I said happily.

He nodded.

Journeyman filled a third glass with a sparkling blue concoction for himself.

We drank in silence.

Really good stuff.

After a while, father broke the quiet. “I have a confession to make,” he said, his voice even.

I looked at him with suspicion. How foreboding, coming from you of all people, I thought but didn’t say. Instead, I let silence speak for me.

“While you were busy with the girls, I snuck into the house,” he said. When I opened my mouth, he raised his hands to forestall an angry comment. “I had good reason to do so. Let me explain.”

I closed my mouth again and nodded. It couldn’t hurt to hear him out, and he usually did have a good reason for anything he did… unless that reason was ‘to annoy someone’.

“These last few years, I have been paying a lot of attention to the rising number of second-generation metahumans,” he started.

I blinked. I had not expected that. “Second-gens? What’s so special about them? I’m second-gen,” I said. “We’ve been around for ages, there are even third- and fourth and fifth-gen, probably even more, out there.”

He and Journeyman both shook their heads. “No, you’re not a second-gen metahuman, Aaron,” father replied, taking another sip from his drink. “Your power is… connected to mine. Your… power certainly took some inspiration from mine, thus explaining the visual similarities,” he explained. “But you’re still a first-generation metahuman. It takes more than simply being connected to another metahuman to become a second-gen. And the differences between first- and second-generation powers are… profound.”

“How so? And what does this have to do with you sneaking into Tamara’s house?” I asked with a frown. I was getting pretty worried there – he wasn’t usually this talkative when it came to powers.

“I’ll get to that. Anyway, second-generation metahumans are a result of multiple very precise circumstances,” he continued, his drink now put aside to let him gesture with his hands. He’d turned to face me, and was getting quite animated, as he usually did when it came to subjects he was really interested in. “Keep in mind, though, that a lot of this is just conjecture – there haven’t been enough cases I could study to draw definite conclusions yet – and whatever Gwen may have found out, she does not share with me.” He sounded quite annoyed by that, but continued in the same tone of voice as before. “It takes two metahumans to produce a second-generation metahuman. They have to both be close enough to heterodyne, and be doing so frequently. They have to both be emotionally and physically close to the recipient – like, for example, living in the same house, or working at the same place – and they have to repeatedly heterodyne their powers over a period of at least a year, it seems. In this case, it just so happens that…”

“That Hennessy and Camille did just that… and with no less than two normies around who spend a lot of time with them;” I concluded, thinking of Phil and the little princess.

He nodded. “Yes. The girl, Charity – she’s a second-generation metahuman, though she hasn’t manifested yet.”

I… didn’t know how to take that. That could be a bad thing… or a good thing. Or neither. But there was one thing… “Wait, what do you mean, she’s a metahuman, but she hasn’t manifested yet?”

“I told you. Profound differences,” he replied casually. “A second-generation metahuman is already connected to their…” He searched for a word. “How to call them…”

“Tenants,” Journeyman suggested. “I call them the Tenants.”

Father shrugged. “As good as any. Yes, such a person – like Charity – is already connected to her tenant. With her, it’s not a question of if she’ll manifest – just when.”

Tenants, huh? This was so much new information. Focus on Charity first.

“And anything could set her off,” Journeyman continued. “The… threshold is far lower. Something as simple as being shoved during a game or losing a toy might be enough to make her manifest.”

“Oh no… I have to warn them!” I said, my head filling with horrific visions of Charity randomly getting powers and hurting the others, ready to jump up and-

“Relax!” they both said in unison.

I didn’t relax, but I stayed in my seat.

“First of all,” father said, “I’ve already taken precautions. The girl is being watched, and I have a wraith ready to intervene, if worst comes to worst. Second, second-generation metahumans – those I know about, at least – are amazingly stable. Not a single one of them that I know about – save for two extreme examples – gained powers beyond their control; and the likelihood of derangements is so low it’s almost non-existent, compared to first-generation metahumans.”

Taking a deep breath, I drank from my glass again. “Alright. Alright. But…” I frowned. “Didn’t you say Mindstar’s a second-generation meta? From what little I’ve heard of her, she’s anything but stable.”

“Mindstar was broken long before she gained her powers,” he replied casually.

I frowned some more. There was another question… the answer to which might clear up a lot. “The two extreme cases you mentioned… Desolation-in-Light and Gloom Glimmer, right?”

He sighed, slumping a little over the bar. “Yes. Let’s not go into that.”

I let it drop, though I was a good deal wiser on the subject now. If the threshold that has to be reached for manifestation is lowered, then that could explain how DiL manifested so early.

Though that didn’t explain how that same thing could happen to their next baby, and even give it such similar abilities.

Questions on top of questions.

We all fell silent for a while.

Journeyman refilled all our glasses with different concoctions. We drank. They were good.

“I’ll still tell them… tomorrow. Since there’s no need to rush it.”

“Of course. They ought to know anyway.”

More minutes passed.

“What will you do now?” Journeyman asked, looking at me. Father also turned to look at me again, clearly curious.

“I… have the beginnings of a plan forming in my head,” I said, surprised to find that, yes, I was working out a plan. “A plan that’ll involve Warren, Volca and Malphas, especially. And the entire rest of the city, too.”

“Care to share it?” father asked with some amusement.

“And ruin the surprise? Hell no!” I grinned at him. I couldn’t see his face, but I was pretty sure he was rolling his eyes. “But it won’t be anything you’d expect, I promise.”

He sighed. “Alright. I’ll look forward to it, I guess.” He emptied his glass, then rose up. “I have got to go. There’s lots of work to do… and no small bit of paperwork, either.”

I chuckled to myself. “You sound like a paper pusher from a bank or something.”

“Yeah, sometimes, it feels that way,” he said as he walked towards the door.

He stopped in front of it, his hand on the door knob.

I suddenly realised that Journeyman was gone. Just vanished. I looked at my father. His head was slightly lowered, enough so to be visible even from behind, despite his robe.

Time passed.

“Aaron?” he said, softly.

“Yes?

“I was afraid,” he admitted, though I had no idea of what. Not that it mattered. I’d never heard my father say anything like that. “I was so afraid, after your mother died,” he continued. Then he shook his head. “No, even before that. But then, I always had her to reign me in. After she died… I was so afraid, that this world would swallow you up as well. That you wouldn’t be ready to face it.” He took a deep breath, before the words continued to explode out of him. “I’m not trying to excuse how I treated you. I don’t expect you to forgive me. I just… I ask you to understand – I was scared, and I just wanted you to be safe. To be strong and cunning and ready, so you would be safe, and able to keep those you love safe, too.”

I stared at him, my mouth wide open, and I was infinitely grateful that he stood with his back to me, so he couldn’t see the tears running down my face.

“I just… I’m sorry. That’s all,” he finished.

***

An infinite amount of time passed, before I found my voice again. Time during which I relieved all the memories I had of our time together – both the good and the bad – and my limited interactions with my own children.

I thought about it. I reviewed it. And I concluded… “I can’t forgive you, dad,” I said, my own voice choked up for more than one reason. “But… I’ve got children of my own now… and I… I understand.”

He nodded quietly. Then he pulled the door open.

“One more thing,” I threw in. “You… you had another child. Gloom Glimmer.”

“Irene,” he said gently.

“Yes. Um… I just hope you…” I didn’t know how to say this without being hurtful.

Fortunately, he said it for me. “You hope I won’t screw up the way I did before.”

I nodded, even though he couldn’t see.

He continued nonetheless. “I’m still hopeless, I’m afraid,” he said, his voice dripping with… some emotion I couldn’t parse right now. “Fortunately, I have Gwen to reign me in. Irene has grown up to be a fine young hero, despite my worst efforts, and she’s got a stronger moral  compass than either me or her mother.”

“That’s… good, I guess.”

“Yeah. Though…” He chuckled. “She asked me for dating advice. Me.” He sounded self-recrimating when he said that, weirdly enough.

I tilted my head. “Why’s that so funny? You know a lot about dating. And seduction. And all things interpersonal.”

He laughed quietly, this time. The first genuine laugh I’d heard from him in a long time. “Oh, I know all the ways the game is played, but… I’ve only ever been in love four times, I’ve dated three women, and I only got serious with two, in the end. And one of them, I was born and grew up with.”

“Oh. Yeah. Funny that she should ask you.”

“Yeah. Well. Have a good night, Aaron.”

“You too. Sleep tight… dad.”

He left.

***

I turned around, and there he was again. Journeyman.

He put a glass filled with something fizzy and pink in front of me, and I took it. He was holding one that was as yellow as a canary.

“What a day,” I said.

“There are days like these,” he agreed, putting his elbows on the bar and leaning on them. He had a question. Unspoken, but there. I could tell, just by glancing at the images in his mirror, by reading the atmosphere.

I looked down at my drink. It wasn’t pink, really. Darker, more purple. Like Hennessy’s eyes. I thought about all that had happened. All I’d seen, and heard, and felt, and done, and not done, and thought about, and not thought about. Along the way, I also decided there was one more stop I had to make, before I could turn in for the night. But that was for later.

Now, I had to answer the question. The same question he’d asked me after I’d run away from my father. The same one he’d asked me before I left for the war. The one he was asking now.

I thought of Hennessy’s smile, and Elouise’s smile, and how it felt to hold them in my arms. I thought of father’s apology and Tamara and so much more.

There were still dark spots. I still didn’t know who’d paid those assassins to come after me – I’d have to follow up on that, perhaps arrange a meeting with Sara. I still had to find my place here in this city. See if my plan was viable, what could be done. My future was still unsure. Heh, I thought to myself. Why should I be any different?

Then I smiled, looking at him again. “Yeah. I think I’m going to be alright.”

He raised his glass. “Cheers, mate.”

***

I’d breezed past the guards and security measures, making sure not to alert anyone. I’d snuck through the building, until I found the door.

It was perhaps not entirely appropriate, especially at this time, but… I didn’t want to miss one more second.

I knocked on the door with one hand, the other holding a big bottle of chocolate milk and a movie disc.

The door opened after a minute, and Elouise looked at me in surprise. Her white hair was a mess, she was wearing a crooked green nightrobe and her face looked a little pale without her make up – but when she saw my smile and the bottle and the disc, and she smiled back, it lit up the world.

Previous | Next

Vote

Advertisements

B011.14 Monkey Family

Previous | Next

We all stared down at the dying villain, as he squirmed weakly on the ground, a sound coming from his mouth that was too ragged and burned to be called a moan.

“Fuck me, he’s still alive,” Warren whispered, clearly audible thanks to his helmet’s effect on his voice.

“Not for long,” Volca snarled and bent down, lifting her transformed arm.

I caught her by the wrist, ignoring the damage the heat did to my monkey skin. When she looked up at me with murderous eyes, I just sighed. “He’s already dead,” I told her. “His body just hasn’t caught up to it yet.”

She snarled at me but her arm reverted back to flesh and bone. “He’ll suffer more like this, anyway,” she concluded. “So, what’s next?” came the follow-up question.

I looked up from the squirming form on the ground to see Warren and Volca both looking intently at me (I couldn’t see Warren’s face, obviously, but I could feel his attention). Waiting for leadership. Fuck, why am I the designated leader?

Well. No use in complaining. I straightened up. “First, we need to take care of Volca’s wounds, and check up on Malphas.”

“He… he’s still alive?” Volca asked, her voice half hopeful and half incredulous. When I nodded, it was like a hundred tons had been lifted off her shoulders. Meanwhile, Warren had picked up his severed arm and attached it to his armor’s back, possibly with magnets of some kind.

“Warren, pick up the trash. I’d rather not leave him lying around unsupervised, not while he’s still alive.” He obeyed, using four smaller arms (including the one that had previously held a gun) to pick up the dying supervillain. I picked up Volca against her protests, and far more gently than Warren did with his charge, and we walked to where I’d left Malphas earlier.

Instead of the crippled preteen boy, though, we found my father – in his Rhino form – and a giant made of metal.

It stood a good twelve feet in height, its torso bulky, reinforced in the most simple way – by making it of a lot of steel. A lot of it. Its head was ridiculously tiny compared to the rest of it, a half-spherical helmet with a small eye slit and a crown of horns. Its arms and legs were oversized, too long, and made of tightly wound cords of metal, like exposed muscle in copper and steel, its hands and reverse-jointed, digitrade feet ending in razor-sharp claws.

Judging by the huge chunk of metal missing from the tenements, several tons of material had gone into its construction, metal compressed as far as it was possible – perhaps even a bit further. No way to tell, with how some powers could just plain ignore minor details like time, space and common sense.

Father was watching it as Malphas tested the movement of his new armor, before he turned to face the three of us.

I didn’t know about Warren, but Volca and I were staring at him, slackjawed, a particularly vivid expression in my case, since I still had my monkey skin up, and its jaw included two rows of razor-sharp teeth the size of an adult’s fingers.

“I’m good to go,” came Malphas’ voice from the headpiece, seemingly recovered from the ordeal.

I looked at him, then at my father, narrowing my eyes. Had he done something to give the boy a boost?

“You need to rest, Malphas,” I told him instead of pursuing that point right now. “You lost too much blood, you have to recover first.”

He shook his head – or rather, slid the slit he was looking through left and right – and lifted his new right arm, palm up. Then he clenched it into a fist, the metal flowing in smooth, life-like movements. “I’m good. And I need to go after the guy behind this, even if his patsy is down.” He threw a hate-filled look at the burned form Warren was carrying around. Blauschwinge had gone mostly still, the only indication of his not being dead being the odd squirming motion, and that ragged moan.

“Same here,” Volca said as I put her back on her feet – groaning when her weight settled on her cut and bruised legs – and got ready to say something more, when her gaze fell on Lag’s remains.

I didn’t want to watch. I’d seen this scene play out far too often in my life, yet I couldn’t avert my eyes from the sight of something behind her eyes breaking, couldn’t close my ears so as not to hear the soft, broken sound she made as she stumbled over to her, pulling her mask off to throw it aside.

She slid down onto her knees, a hand reaching out to touch Lag’s cheek. Warren turned away, Malphas looked down in self-blame, father looked at her in what I recognised as a pensive mood.

I approached him, leaning in to whisper. “No.”

He looked at me, his eyes amused. “No?”

“No.”

He nodded. “Alright.” He stepped away.

I approached the sobbing girl – and I couldn’t think of her as a woman right now, all I could think of was the lost girl I’d seen in her eyes, heard in her voice – and knelt down next to her, dismissing my monkey skin entirely. She didn’t react when I put an arm around her shoulder. I didn’t talk. As bad as the situation was, we could afford to give her a few minutes.

“I should be the one who died,” she finally said.

“Why?” I said, not bothering to contradict her. She wouldn’t be receptive to that.

“He hit me. I was reckless, and he hit me. I thought I was dead, I knew I was dead but she… she…” Her voice broke, she hunched over more and sobbed desperately, making small, sad sounds.

“She took the harm, took it on herself. But it was too much, all at once. Even her power couldn’t compensate,” I finished for her. My gaze went to the dead girl’s head, and I reached out to remove that featureless mask. Beneath, she looked so very… cold. Not peaceful. Just dead, but… there was something graceful about her delicate face. Death had lifted all pain and stress from her. You must’ve loved her so very much.

“Sh-sh-she always did that,” Volca sobbed, and then it all came out like a flood. “When my mom died, her family took me in. She took me in, like I was really her sister, not her dad’s by-blow with a hooker. When her parents died, she took care of me. When we ended up on the streets, she took care of me, always… always being there. I was such a little bitch, I screwed it all up. Got powers, became a criminal even though she wanted me to be better. Got hurt, she got powers and took the hurt away, all for me. And now… I dragged her into this, I… she’s dead…”

I pulled her close, holding her with one arm while she cried and shivered. I didn’t speak – I’d gone through this often enough to know that platitudes like “it’ll be alright” or “you shouldn’t blame yourself” wouldn’t mean shit.

Instead, I waited for a minute or two, then I looked at my father. Wordlessly, he produced a compact first aid kit and handed it to me. I let go of Volca and started taking care of her wounds.

“What did you find out?” I asked him, while I worked on her.

“I found the Ascendant. He’s holed up in the lowest level of the Undercity, beneath the old Downtown area,” he explained calmly.

I nodded. Figures he’d go deep. “Defences?”

“About two scores of juiced up thugs, but no other metahumans, as far as I can tell,” he replied. “This… is troubling. It’s so very unlike the usual Gefährten operations. I can’t begin to guess what they’re up to, as it is.”

I frowned, and turned to Malphas, who was watching me and Volca. “Did Blauschwinge say anything? Why’d he attack here?”

“He came after these two for not killing that lawyer,” Malphas explained. “He wanted me to hand them over, but I wouldn’t do that, so we fought.”

Volca spoke up, though her eyes remained glued to her sister’s face. “He kept ranting something about some kind of test he had to pass or something.” Her voice was calm now, steady, but the hurt showed through still.

“Test? Are you sure he spoke of a test?” father asked, his voice animated. It was more of a reaction than I’d seen in him show at my running away from home, though that might’ve been simply due to the role he was playing, and not genuine agitation. It was always hard to tell where the mask ended and the man began.

“Yes,” she replied simply, without paying him further attention.

“I heard him rant about it, too,” Warren confirmed her story. “He also said something about ‘that bitch Skyfall’ – in German, though – and a ‘fearless leader’.”

“Aap Oordra,” my father snapped. “I need to talk to you. Privately. Now.”

I looked up at him with a frown, having just finished applying first aid to Volca’s worst injuries. “I’m not done h-“

“I can do that,” Warren threw in. “I’ve got first aid training and all.” His armor opened up, letting him climb out in full costume.

I nodded and let him take over – not that Volca seemed to notice – so I could walk a big away from the group and behind some old, rusted machine that still stood there.

“What is it?” I asked my father.

He turned around from where he’d been watching the group, leaning against the edge of the machine. “That’s an interesting group you’ve gathered,” he said, apparently unconcerned about anything.

“Yes, they are. Now, why’d you freak out? Don’t deny you did,” I cut off his denial. “Who is Skyfall, and what’s this thing about a fearless leader?”

“Not a fearless leader. Just Fearless Leader. It’s a codename… though an informal one, I think,” he explained. “It’s how the members of the Gefährten refer to the organisation’s leader, instead of using whatever his actual codename may be.”

I goggled at him. “Wait, are you implying that even you don’t know who’s behind all this?” The Dark not knowing about his greatest rival for the title of ‘Number One Supervillain’? That was about as realistic as there being a sin the Devil has never indulged in.

“I’ve never been able to find out. Gwen doesn’t know, or at least she won’t share. Any member I’ve ever interrogated either didn’t know or didn’t give it up. For all I know, Fearless Leader may as well not exist, and the three top executives are just pretending like he does while being the actual leaders.”

“I assume Skyfall is connected to these top executives?”

He nodded. “They are the Gefährten’s elite. The most powerful, devious and successful of its members. The names have been passed down since the inception of the group, from person to person, usually upon the former bearer’s death – sometimes at the hands of their successor.”

“Bad news, eh?”

“Very. Heaven’s Dancer – the only one with but a single bearer, she’s an original member of the group – is by far the worst of them. Then there’s Cloudlander – he’s held his name for almost twenty years now, longer than anyone else save for Heaven’s Dancer. And they have a recently ascended member, Skyfall. I only knew that it’s a teenager behind that name. Now I can infer that it’s also a girl or woman.” He sighed. “Gathering intel on them is a pain.”

“I guess so. So, why’d you freak out so much? You didn’t pull me aside just to expose on this.” He tapped his foot, annoyed, at the accusation of a freakout. Ah, pride is so easy to tease.

“Because I think I know what’s going on here – and it’s worse than them just being after your daughter and her friends,” he said calmly without responding to my jab any further. “They’re testing the Ascendant and Blauschwinge.”

“Testing?”

“The Gefährten have long traditions associated with the codenames they use. Both ‘the Ascendant’ and ‘Blauschwinge’ are legacies passed down for the better part of a century. You don’t just get one of these names for free. You’ve got to earn it. And then you have to keep it.”

I frowned, crossing my arms in a move that, though I’d never admit it out loud, mirrored his own stance almost perfectly. “So this is all… a performance review?”

He chuckled. “Never thought of using that term, but yes, that applies. Blauschwinge is… was famously unstable, and too arrogant. He got his name by killing his predecessor, and he hasn’t exactly performed well. Too many failures, too many retreats without accomplishing anything other than mindless destruction. It’s their practice to put people who are not living up to their name to the test. Send them out, tell them to do something that’ll impress the leadership – or die trying.”

“So what, he and the Ascendant are causing chaos just so they’ll get to keep their names!? What kind of priority is that!? And why’s the Ascendant on review?”

“Their names are their lifes, Aap Oordra. They live and die with them, unless they step down to pass them on – and neither of them is likely to want to give up the power and prestige that comes with those names, especially the Ascendant; he’d lose all or at least most of his funding without the backing of his name. And as to why he’s on review…” He shrugged, rolling his huge shoulders in an equally huge motion. “I can only speculate, but the Ascendant’s purpose has always been to find means by which to ascend humans – to let them manifest powers. Yet the current Ascendant has been… less than successful. As far as I know, he only had one truly impressive success – the incident during which Dearheart and her friends gained their powers, and even there, his success rate was just barely above the normal power distribution. This is just speculation, but his superiors are most likely fed up with him and have given him this one last chance to retain his name.”

I looked down at my feet, not sure how to react to this new information. All this, for what amounted to a performance review? I shook my head. No use brooding about morals right now. “Do you think he’s going to go after Chayot and the others?”

He shook his head. “No, or at least not primarily. Capturing them won’t help him retain his name – he needs to validate that he can live up to it, which means…”

“Somehow causing multiple manifestations in a short amount of time,” I concluded. “We need to take him down fast, before he causes a tragedy… another tragedy.” I looked at the others – they were talking among each other, with Malphas having opened his armor, reshaped the chest into a comfortable-looking seat for him to sit on. Volca seemed to be focused on Malphas’ injury, her own now properly taken care of. “Let’s involve them. They might come up with a good idea.”

He shrugged and followed me back to the group. I quickly explained the state of things to them. “Now we need to figure out what he’s up to, and stop him from doing it.”

“The guy wants to make lots of people manifest, right?” Malphas spoke up, his eyes dark and focused. “From what I know of history, most who want that try to just hurt as many people as they can.”

I snarled under my breath, though I immediately regretted it – the sound, twisted and amplified by my monkey skin, made everyone but my father flinch. “Judging by his history, I doubt he’ll be any more inventive.” I looked at my father. “So the question is, how is he going to do it?”

“He’s a contriver,” my father explained. “He has a huge breadth of options to choose from; however, to my knowledge, he prefers to use drugs and potions – he usually has several thugs with him which have been empowered by his creations – as well as long-term torture, both physical and psychological.”

My monkey nails dug into its palms as I was reminded of what he’d done to my daughter. “So, how could he use that to affect a large enough number of people… can he make poison gas? A hallucinogenic, perhaps? It would be easy to affect a lot of people with that.”

Volca bit her lip, shoulders hunched, and shuddered. I couldn’t tell Warren’s reaction, but it couldn’t be good. Malphas shivered. Father seemed fine.

“I can’t be certain, but I believe he’s only ever worked with liquids,” he stated.

I nodded. Warren shook his ‘head’. “This is crazy,” he breathed, exasperated. “What kind of madman… how’d he even spread a drink like that around? And why’s he beneath Old Downtown?”

“Because…” I began, but cut off. I had no idea. There wasn’t really anything interesting there, not since large parts of Chicago had burned down back in nineteen-seventy-two. “I don’t know. There isn’t much there, it’s mostly just some public facilities, like the power station, the purifi-“

“The water works!” Malphas shouted in horror.

We all looked at each other for a moment, and I was sure even my father shared our mortification.

Then we all ran towards the Old Downtown area.

Previous | Next

Vote

B011.13 Monkey Family

Previous | Next

I curved around the little show Blauschwinge seemed intent on putting on and reached the actual tenements. The warped structure seemed to have been hit by a giant’s fist or something, though I was hoping that Blauschwinge wasn’t actually capable of this kind of destruction with but a single blow – that’d put him right up there with Lady Light in terms of raw offensive power, and I’d learned my lesson about challenging someone like that a long time ago (or perhaps not, seeing how I’d actually tried to fight my even more destructive half-sister).

Getting into the tenements was the next problem I found myself faced with. The structure had been warped so badly – both by whatever attack had first deformed, and then by what I assumed to be Malphas’ power used to retaliate – that even the formerly open walls were mostly gone, and where they remained, they had been turned into small slits or holes, many leading nowhere. I had to rely on my sense of smell more than anything to navigate, and raw strength to actually open up a path, most of the time.

While Warren made a mess outside – I could smell whatever napalm-like compound he was using burn – I followed the scent of blood, and the two young people it originated from.

Lots of blood, and even the monkey had gone deathly quiet now.

I forced open a twisted mess of pipes and metal wall and stepped into an uneven cave of a room. Lag and Malphas were there, lying in total darkness. It was only thanks to my monkey’s sight that I saw anything at all.

Any help I might have rendered came too late for Lag. Something had cut through the woman, from her left shoulder down to her right hip, the wound ragged, rough, unlike anything I could compare it to off the top of my head (and I’d seen a lot). I was glad that her mask covered her face entirely, so I didn’t have to see her facial expression. Poor Volca…

I stepped over her torso – the rest of her had been caught up and crushed by the twisting metal, with blood still dripping down from the ceiling – and waded through inches of blood to Malphas’ side.

His right arm was missing from just below the shoulder, cut in the same manner as Lag’s body. Whatever power Blauschwinge – and I had no doubt that he was the one responsible – used, it had gone through his metal armor the same way as it had through his flesh and bone. The boy was breathing heavily, but he barely bled – his power was at work, metal moving, stopping the bleeding by forming a tourniquet on his short stump. It was temporary, at best, and he needed some help, stat.

I knelt down next to the boy. “Malphas, can you hear me?” I said, opening the monkey’s jaws wide, pulled back to reveal my head. “Can you talk?”

“Y-yes,” he said with a thin, shaky voice. The bravado from our last meeting was gone, and he sounded like he would be crying, if only he had the breath to spare. He sounded like a child. “F-f-fucker… killed… Lag…”

“I know.” I made a quick check, but there really wasn’t much I could tell about his state with his fullbody-armor still in the way. “Malphas, I need to get you out of here,” If only so you can breathe properly, “and I need to check you over. Can you open up your armor?”

It took him a moment to mull that over, his head turned so his eyes were fixated on me, or perhaps it just took a while for him to properly process it. Then he nodded, and his armor opened up in a single fluid, but slow, motion that looked weirdly organic. “Talk to me, Malphas,” I said as I waited for him to open it up. “You have to stay awake.”

“Uhu. What should… I say?” he asked, his voice too weak, especially without his helmet’s distortion at work, now that it had opened, finally giving me a good look at the person beneath.

I had speculated that he was a young teen before, then considered that he might even be barely a teen. Both had been wrong.

“Anything. Where do you come from?”

If the boy I saw lying there in a shirt and short pants, with a mass of steel around the stump of his arm, was a day over thirteen, I’d be very, very surprised. In fact, I would’ve bet him to be closer to twelve than thirteen.

“South Africa. I was… born in some place… South Africa. Don’t remember the name. But… don’t remember it. Left when I was a baby. We fled from… warlord… Aheri… ethnic cleansing…”

Fuck, he’s younger than I was when I set out on my own, I thought as I urged him to keep talking. If he was talking, then he was awake, and I’d know instantly if he slipped into unconsciousnes.

“Came on… ship… me and dad and mom and my big brother, but… ship sank… miles before coast. Dad swam all the way… to land… carried me and bro… mom drowned.”

Using my ridiculously oversized left hand, I carefully craddled the boy to my chest and took him quickly outside the structure, into more open air. “Keep talking, son. Tell me more.” Not that I hadn’t known people with the background I saw unfold before. It was all too common for people from that region, unfortunately enough.

I’d never heard of Aheri, though. Then again, most of those warlords usually cycled through every two or three months, anyway.

“Lived on… streets… Undercities… Dad and Bro worked, but… Bro angry, ’cause Dad didn’t save Mom, too.” He sobbed, and I wasn’t sure whether it was due to physical discomfort, or the memories.

I could barely hear the fight as I put him down – wincing along with him when the movement caused him even more pain – and carefully tore his shirt open to check his torso.

“One day… Bro went to work… didn’t come back… Never found out why. Dad just… he stopped. On the inside. He kept going on the outside, working to take care of me, but… a year later, he stopped on the outside, too. I was… six?”

It was a mess of blue and green bruises, and I felt at least two broken ribs when I checked over his ribcage with one hand (causing him to gasp for air). I had to work hard, and for that, I dismissed the monkey’s skin, taking off my expensive jacket to turn it into practical bandages. “How’d you get your powers?” I asked, just to keep him talking.

“Undercity… cave-in. I was stuck… under rubble…”

I nodded. Classic, straightforward trigger for such a power. “Why’d you become a hero?” I removed the metal from the stump of his arm, using a rag of my jacket to clean it off – despite his cries – and then made a proper tourniquet with several of my impromptu bandages, so it’d hold even if he passed out and his power stopped working.

“After dad… stopped… was in… Vegas. Savage Six came. Mindfuck, he came after me, other kids. We ran, tried to flee, but how do you flee from someone coming after you inside your head?” He cried out again as I began to wrap his ribcage, to provide some stiff support for his ribs. “Then I saw… him. Boy, just a bit older than me… killed him. He killed him, just like that.”

I sighed, knowing where this story went. I’d never run into the Six myself, before, but I knew their MO, especially Mindfuck’s. Everyone did, really. “You watched the boy die, and decided to protect people?”

“N-no. The boy… he killed Mindfuck. Saw it through… Mindfuck’s eyes. Boy killed him. Did worse to him, before he killed him.”

Wait, what? I stopped my work on the bandages to focus on his face. He had a mystified expression on it, but he seemed to have his wits about him. A kid killed Mindfuck?

“I thought… he was just… nine? Something like that. If someone that age can… kill a monster like that… then surely I can… I can do some good, too? So when I… when I got my powers, I decided to… to make a place. For all the lost ones, like me and dad and bro and that boy. So I made my tenements…” He turned his head to look at the smashed structure, and now I saw tears come out of his eyes. “I’ll have to… start over again.”

And over, and over. Such things don’t last in this world, I thought, but didn’t say. “I’m sure you will,” I said instead. Then I covered myself in my monkey skin again, listening to the battle – I could still hear Warren’s armor move and shoot, so I knew he was still alive. Judging by the amount of rage-fueled screaming, Volca was still alive, as well. “I need to go fight.”

He looked at me, his eyes glazed over with pain, but nodded. “Can you… put me closer to it? I can still… control the metal… for protection… if I touch it.”

Carefully, I picked him up and carried him to the warped structure. As soon as I leaned him against it, the metal flowed under him, forming a solid metal chair he could sit on. Some more movement deposited Lag’s remains nearby, as well as bits and pieces of other people.

I averted my eyes and turned to go, but a tendril of cool metal reached out, grabbing my elbow. I looked over my shoulder at the boy, feeling the monkey’s face distort in annoyance at the delay.

“W-wait!” he said. “Got to… tell you… his power.”

Ah. Yeah, that would be useful. “I’m listening.”

“Flies… not very strong… not very tough… but more than usual. Blast attack… but not very strong, either.” I looked up at the damage the guy had done to the structure, then back at him. The monkey’s face wasn’t that good at conveying skepsis, but I did my best. “Real power… in his eyes. Looks at things… weakens them. Gradually, but quickly. Attacks loose… force… defenses become… weak… bodies…” He glanced at Lag’s remains and at his stump. “T-t-tested… before he… hit me. Power only works… on what he sees. Effect fades once… once he’s not focusing his sight… on target. Raised metal wall… he made it weak, I could feel it… through my power.” He stopped, taking a few quick breaths. “Drew in… affected material, replaced it. Effect faded… within seconds.”

“So he’s not very tough, nor very strong, but he can weaken attacks and defenses enough that he’s functionally far more powerful,” I summarised it. I glanced at Lag. “And it apparently circumvents certain defences entirely.”

He nodded, but didn’t respond. I nodded back and left.

***

Thank God for supervillains in love with their own voice. As annoying as they can be, the advantage it poses to those of a more pragmatic disposition is simply invaluable.

When I came around the warped tenements, I found Blauschwinge in the air, unharmed, his long cape waving dramatically (how do they do that? I’d never been able to do a cape, and I’d tried) as he ranted something in heavily accented English. I didn’t bother to listen, and just looked for my allies.

Volca was standing behind a torn and partly melted mass of rusty pipes, just barely out of sight from Blauschwinge and just barely in my sight, her chest heaving as she tried to catch her breath. Her costume had taken some damage, as had her body undearneath – so much so that I suspected she was only a short while away from passing out due to blood loss.

Warren was nearby, the bulk of his power suit barely hidden from Blauschwinge’s sight by a piece of the ground that had risen up due to an earlier impact. The right arm was wrecked, mostly gone beneath the elbow and the rest that remained twisted and useless, but he seemed to have sustained no further damage.

Nor had he caused any to Blauschwinge, however.

Well, that’s what I’m best at. Causing lots and lots of damage.

And if Malphas’ analysis of his power was correct, then that meant I could probably take him down with one hit.

<Aap, you hear me?> Warren’s voice suddenly rang in my ear, startling me. I’d completely forgotten that I was wearing an earpiece of his – how embarrassing.

“Loud and clear, my friend. How’re things going?” I said as I hid behind the corner of the tenements. “Need me to speed blitz this ass?”

<I don’t think that’s going to be so easy. I’m not sure how he does it, but he’s been slowing down my shots, making them stupidly easy to dodge, if they didn’t just fall to the ground halfway to him.>

Well, that was interesting. Disconcerting, but interesting. “Malphas briefed me on his power, but he didn’t tell me it also sapped speed.”

<Yeah, this ass is a lucky one. Seems to cover all the bases. He’s countered everything angry girl and me threw at him, just by looking at it. And he’s royally messed with my armor!>

Somehow, I was sure he’d have preferred it if he’d lost an arm, not that armor of his. “I have a plan. Can you distract him?”

<His sight even works on motherfucking acid, dude. I’m not sure I have anything that could affect him.>

Wow, that’s one hell of a power. “You didn’t answer my question. Can you distract him?”

<I can try. Just tell me when, and I’ll give it my best shot.>

I didn’t hesitate. “Go!”

He rose up from behind his cover, aiming his gun at Blauschwinge. The villain immediately turned to face him, which gave me a clear shot at his side, just barely out of his peripheral vision.

I ran, without even bothering to wait and see what Warren would fire at him. There was no way I could use my top speed – there wasn’t enough room, and I was more likely to simply run into a wall than manage to hit shit at top speed, anyway – but going from zero to a hundred and forty in three seconds flat was still pretty good.

The sewage plant had taken heavy damage, the ground was cracked… really, the entire foundation had probably taken too much damage by now. No way this was safe anymore. But it did provide me with a lot of small ramps to pick and choose from, and I ran straight for one halfway between me and Blauschwinge, and just leapt up and towards him like a monkey-shaped missile, aiming for his neck (I’d only promised to bring in the Ascendant alive, if possible).

He whirled around as soon as I kicked off the ground, even though there’d been no way he could’ve seen or heard me coming. As soon as his gaze fell on me, I was hit with the full force of his power.

God. Fucking. Dammit! I could feel myself slowing down even before I visibly did so, I could feel the monkey skin weakening, and I could very much see his fist moving to intercept my flight.

I didn’t know whether he was strong enough to kill me with one punch, without my monkey skin’s protection, I didn’t know whether it maybe reached beneath the skin and into my actual body – so I decided not to risk a direct hit, and I aborted my attack, crossing my arms in front of me to take his punch; even if I were to lose them, as long as I survived, I was sure my father’s people could put me back together.

His fist connected with my crossed forearms and punched through the monkey’s skin like the Fist of God.

It was far less godly when it connected with my forearms. Though it hurt – pound for pound, he was probably stronger than me, not counting monkey skin and weakening gaze – it only threw me away from him without causing further damage.

“Ha, I knew you’d try an underhanded trick like thaaaaaa-!” His boast was cut off as my tail wrapped around his throat from behind. I pulled, swinging myself behind him and out of the area of effect of his gaze.

As soon as I left it, I felt the effect start to fade, though if it’d penetrated to my actual body, I would not have trusted myself to survive, say, a hug from Princess Charity without major damage. But my tail had remained unaffected, as I’d first hidden it behind my body, then reached around beneath and behind him – Malphas had been right, he needed to actually have the specific object he wanted to weaken in his sight, and my tail hadn’t been.

The villain sputtered, choking as I landed on all fours behind him and pulled him down with my tail.

He made a most satisfying crack when I slammed him into the ground, but it didn’t put him down for more than a few seconds – I felt him grip my tail a little away from his neck and simply tear it apart as soon as his gaze got a hold of it. Moments before I would’ve crushed his throat, too.

Annoying power. I didn’t waste time turning around, and just jumped backwards, to slam into him before he could use his power on me directly, turning only once I was airborne – but he was fast, faster than I would’ve expected, rising up from the ground in a practiced pirouette that made his cape flare dramatically, and also served to throw off dust.

His gaze hit me moments before the green-blue energy blast from his clenched fist did, his face twisted in anger. It didn’t have time to really weaken me enough to cause serious damage, but once more, he arrested my movement, interrupting my assault on him. And this time, he also blasted my tail away with a shot from his other fist.

“You! Will! DIE!” he shouted and flew towards me – only to pull off an impressive evasion, twisting like a corkscrew, to dodge Warren’s own tackle. He simultaneously looked at my friend’s power armor’s shoulder, and kicked it, tearing off his remaining arm.

Prescient, maybe. Smart, definitely not. He’d turned his back to me, never a good idea when dealing with a Speedster.

I capitalised by slamming my hands into the ground and throwing two chunks of concrete the size of an adult at him, following closely with the projectiles doubling as cover.

Again, he reacted faster than any human could on his own, blasting my projectiles to bits – and turning them into nicely concealing clouds of concrete dust.

I soared through the dust, using my scent to keep track of him, but again he acted too quickly even for me, flipping up over my attack before I’d even started emerging from the cloud.

His blast knocked me into the ground, tearing through the back of the monkey. Fuck me, this almost hurt.

He was laughing again, a demented, all-too-familiar laugh. “See? See!? You can’t stand against me, I’m-“

Warren interrupted his tirade by throwing his disconnected arm at Blauschwinge, but the villain only caught it, rather casually, with one hand, holding it by its upper portion, the elbow bent and the gun swinging wildly left and right as he shook it in contempt.

“Was that supposed to hurt me, little Tüftler? Throwing pieces of your little toy at me? What’re you going to do next, throw yourself at me?” He grinned wildly at my friend, and I almost took the chance to leap at him, but then Warren surprised both of us.

“No,” he said out loud, but calmly. “I’m going to use the remote control.

Blauschwinge’s eyes widened, his face turning towards the canon even as he threw it away from himself – but it was too late. It lit up, firing a glob of blue-hot liquid fire at his face.

I could see his power working on it, immediately, much faster than it had worked on my monkey skin, the heat diminishing visibly, reduced to a red glow, but he could not evade it anymore, and it took him in the face, more napalm splattering onto his shoulders and chest.

Blauschwinge screamed louder than I’d heard anyone scream in a long time, his arms clawing at his face, trying to scoop the napalm away – but that only served to burn his hands too, and it let some of it flow into his mouth, turning his screams into gargled sounds of pain. I heard his flesh sizzle before I even smelled it.

But Warren was not done. As the arm fell to the ground, he fired a second shot, and without Blauschwinge’s power to lessen it, it took off the man’s right leg at the knee.

Blauschwinge collapsed, even though he was still floating above the ground, screaming and trashing around, face, neck, chest, arms and leg stump burning as he thrashed around to no avail.

Both Warren and I approached him slowly, ready to strike again, but it seemed he was done.

“Time to pay the piper, asshole,” Warren said as a smaller, human-sized (but clearly robotic) arm folded out of the chest of his armor, holding a simple handgun. “No one touches my family and gets away with it!” He pulled the trigger.

My hand shot forward, the bullet hitting the monkey’s open palm to no effect. “No,” I said firmly.

His ‘head’ turned to look at me, and I could guess what kind of facial expression he had there. “Why’re you stopping me?”

“You’re no murderer, Warren. If you want him dead, I’ll do it. But not you,” I said calmly, far more gentle than I was used to while covered in the monkey’s skin. “It would haunt you forever.”

“Aap, I…” He turned to look at the struggling man, as did I – just in time to see Volca get behind him and punch him with her volcanic arm.

Blauschwinge’s head rocked back as her fist punched cleanly through his chest, back to front, the heat so great it burned the wound shut before any blood could flow.

He collapsed entirely, going limp, and slid to the ground as she lowered her arm, her other hand still normal flesh, applying pressure to a wound on her side.

We all looked down at the figure, his face and hands burned down to an unrecognisable mess, his eyes gone entirely. He looked almost pathetically small now, wasted.

“No one fucks with my family and gets away with it, either,” Volca snarled.

Previous | Next

Vote

B011.12 Monkey Family

Previous | Next

“You know, I always thought it was freaky how you could just pretend to be someone else at a moment’s notice,” Warren spoke through his armor, as we were making our way down into the Undercity. He’d been forced to hunch over and contort his armor in order to get it into the former shop, and now he was bent over, using the large wheels on its ankles and a set of smaller wheels that folded out of its elbows (with its arms bent until they were forming a V) to roll down the tunnel. “But that was just wrong. Has he always been like that?”

I nodded. We could afford to talk, as my father had gone off through the wall to scout the Undercity, connect to Wyrm, do whatever to locate the Ascendant’s base of operations (or at least his current location). So I felt safe in talking openly – though I was keeping my monkey skin up in its entirety, walking on my knuckles to match Warren, trusting my superior senses to alert me to any trouble. “Always, since mother died. I once saw him go through twenty-seven personalities in a little over an hour, while we were going from shop to shop to strike up conversations.”

“God,” he just said, emphatically. There wasn’t really much else to say. After a minute or so of silence, he spoke up again. “Where are we going, anyway?”

“We’re pretty close to the lair of a guy I met recently. His name’s Malphas, in case that means anything to you,” I replied.

“Malphas… yeah, I’ve heard some of him. Some kind of charity cape. Takes care of the homeless. Or at least some of them,” he said. “He got some fame for taking down the local Alpha chapter.” The armor’s head swerved around to look at me. “You know the guy? Is he really a preteen? Rumors say so.”

It took me a moment to reply, since I was digesting that tidbit of information – the Alphas were a big gang, and the Chicago chapter had been their original one. Taking them down was… more than just merely impressive (I’d had my fair bit of trouble with them, back in the day). “I’m not sure whether he’s a preteen – I thought he might already be into his voice change, but I might’ve been wrong due to his armor – but he’s most certainly very young. No more than fourteen, I’d say, less is likely.”

“And why’re we going to meet him?”

“Because he’s powerful, and he has a stake in this – two of his tenants are very probable targets of the Ascendant’s people. And besides, his tenements are at a pretty good spot to work from, once the Rhino gets back with some information.”

“Alright. Oh, before I forget it, take one of these,” he said, a hatch on the side of his armor opening. Curious, I reached in and pulled out an earpiece with a flat penny-shaped disc sticking to it out.. “So we’ll be able to talk,” he explained. “There’s a throat microphone attached to it.”

I nodded, pulling the throatpiece off the earpiece, and put them where they belonged, doing a quick check as well.

We went on in silence, for a while. The Undercity had only become more labyrinthine since back in my youth, and even the two of us together had to take care not to get lost.

I wasn’t sure what Warren was thinking about, but I myself was mostly busy placating the monkey. It was seriously pissed, and I could feel the telltale pressure behind my eyes that I usually felt when it was trying to take over. Calling my father in, not fighting him, not charging in to kill the Ascendant and everyone even remotely cooperating with him. Not punishing Volca and Lag for their transgressions had pissed it off, not punishing Sara, not…

Well, the monkey always had its reasons to be angry, no matter what I did or didn’t do. I’d just have to pacify it once I got my hands on the Ascendant… neither it nor I would have any objections to what I was going to do to him, nor would anyone else I suspected…

The ringing sound of my cellphone made me jump, and I pawed for it in surprise. Not used to having a cellphone, I didn’t get it, as it was beneath my monkey skin. I had to stop, reach through it and carefully pull the phone out with my real hand, the monkey’s flesh and fur vanishing like a dream.

I checked the caller ID (I could still remember a time before there was such a thing as caller IDs), but it was an unknown number – no surprise there, I only had Warren and Elouise in my contact list.

“Hello?” I asked. Not the smoothest opening, line, but I was in a hurry.

“Hello,” said a young female voice back, and it took me a moment to place it – Camille. “It’s me, Camille. Hennessy is with me, too.”

Oh. Of course, I thought, chiding myself for the momentary surprise I felt at being called by her. Of course someone other than Hennessy would have to call me for her. “Hello, Camille. Hello, Hennessy.” I assumed she was listening in. “What can I do for you two?” I noticed Warren’s suit’s head swerving around to look at me.

“Look, we, ah…” she began, but stopped. She seemed uncomfortable. “We were talking, and… Tamara kind of… spilled the beans. On what she asked you to do.”

Ah. “I see.” Don’t confirm or deny. She might be fishing for information. And that though, right there, showed how paranoid I got when my father was around. “You want to talk about that?” If they want to get at him personally, they’ll be mighty disappointed, I thought quietly to myself. There was no chance in heaven or hell that I’d let Hennessy anywhere near the guy, ever again.

“Yes, we… we talked it over, Hennessy and me,” she said carefully. Something wasn’t right. She didn’t sound angry at all, nor eager. “And we want you to stop.”

I did stop, standing still. What? “You don’t want me to go after him anymore?” No way, dear. He’s going down, today.

“No no, not that,” she replied, now more agitated. Once again, I noticed that her voice really was extraordinarily pleasant to listen to. “He’s a criminal, and a monster, and he has to be stopped.”

“I don’t see the problem then. I most certainly am going to stop him. Hard.”

“I said he has to be stopped. I never said he has to die,” she countered, and her voice became harder. “I… we want you to bring him in. Alive. So he can stand trial.”

“He deserves to die, Camille. For what he did to you, to Hennessy, to everyone he’s harmed,” I replied. “It is only just that he suffer for his sins.” As we all do.

“There’s a difference between justice and vengeance. Please, do it for us. We don’t… we don’t want anyone to die on our account,” she said, voice faltering towards the end. “And if you hurt or kill him now, you’d be doing it for us. For Hennessy. She doesn’t need that on her conscience.”

She was making it very hard for me to object. “Does Hennessy agree with that?” I really, really wanted a reason to object.

“She didn’t, but… we talked, and she’s agreed with me. The Ascendant has to be punished, but he has to be punished right, or we won’t be better than him. We don’t ask you to risk your life just to bring him in alive – but if it’s possible, and not suicidal, then please, don’t kill him. Bring him in to face justice.”

I can see what father meant. I resumed my walk, taking a deep breath with the first step. “Alright.”

“Alright? Just like that?” she asked, surprised.

“Yes, just like that,” I said, a smile tugging at my lips. “What did you expect, that I declare my hatred is too great to be contained?”

“Kinda? I mean, with your dad’s rep…” She was back to sounding insecure. Careful. “I mean, there was this whole thing with him going after people who… who hurt his family.”

She’s afraid of saying the wrong thing. I’d misjudged this girl a great deal. “I am not my father,” I said lightly. “And besides, that wasn’t him, actually. He just took the blame to protect the actual culprit.”

“Oh. That’s… unexpected,” she replied. There was a pause, as if she was quietly talking – or perhaps communicating in another way – to someone. “Who did kill that mob?”

“I did,” I said, pushing down the sudden surge of rage from the monkey. “They killed my mother. I was there. I manifested and killed them back. Father came in too late to do anything other than whisk me away and destroy the evidence.”

Oh,” she said, quietly. “I… uh…”

Great conversation killer, Aap. “That’s in the past now,” I said. “Look, I have to hang up – but I hear you. Both of you. I’ll do my best to bring him in alive and able to stand trial.”

“Alright. Thank you, uh… I don’t actually know how I should call you. Aaron Goldschmidt, I guess?”

I chuckled. “No, my parents never married. My birth name is Aaron Alexandrou. I guess I’ll go back to using it.” Mother would have liked that.

“I see. Well, thank you, Aaron. And… be safe, I guess.”

“You’re very welcome, both of you. I’ll see you soon.” She hung up, and Warren and I continued our way to the tenements.

***

The tenements were under attack.

We’d heard the noise of battle long before we actually reached the old sewage plant, and we’d both hauled ass (Warren’s armor was fast, and it actually cornered better than I did at top speed), but by the time we got there, the fight was already well under way.

Civilians ran by us, forcing us to dodge (I ran along the wall on all fours, while Warren drove along the wall, one set of wheels on the floor and one on the wall), giving more than a few people one hell of a scare they really didn’t need. Even Warren actually looked pretty fearsome in that armor.

The people running away… I recognised the smells and voices of a few of Malphas’ tenants, and I assumed that the others – mostly really young and really old people, with more children than I was comfortable seeing in such a situation (that is, there were children) – were also from the tenements. No one seemed to be hurt, though, at least not beyond a few cuts and bruises here and there.

We didn’t even slow down for them, rounding a corner that led, through a broken wall, into the old sewage plant, and right into a piece of expressionist artwork.

The tenements had been smashed, the whole structure distorted as if a giant fist had slammed into it from one side. Tendrils of steel extended out of it, some having sprouted blades, but they were inert now.

A figure shrouded in an aura of blue light was flying around, casually dodging orbs of blazing heat. I could hear him laugh from all the way across the plant.

“Blauschwinge!” I said, for Warren’s benefit. “He’s one of the Ascendants people.”

“So, that’s his name,” Warren said calmly. “Fucker nearly punched a hole into my niece.” I heard gears shift, his armor’s stance lowering, somehow becoming more… threatening. “He’s mine.”

I had a wildly inappropriate thought along the lines of Wow, Warren’s grown some balls, before I nodded. “I’ll take out any support he has, and run interference when necessary.” The monkey howled within me, ready for battle, but I didn’t let it out. Yet. Soon.

Warren took off in his armor, wheels screaming on the concrete that the plant was based on, and I leapt into a mass of pipes, out of sight, overtaking him. I needed to get a lay of the land, find out who was there and what to do. I hoped Malphas wasn’t dead, at least, but I had to be ready for anything.

I was also keenly aware of the fact that I had no idea what Blauschwinge was actually capable of, short of some manner of ranged attack that took down both Volca and Lag in one go (the fact that he’d apparently circumvented Lag’s power was… worrisome to say the least).

The terrain, at least, favoured me. Pipes and other equipment were still around, where it hadn’t all been scavenged, and even where the metal was gone (no doubt harvested by Malphas for his tenements), there was still plenty of cover left over in the form of holes in the ground and slabs of shattered concrete that were rising from the ground.

I snuck towards Blauschwinge’s general position, though ‘snuck’ might’ve been the wrong word there – I was moving faster than most cars, just really, really carefully, and I got close enough to get a detailed look in less than a minute.

Bri- Volca was on the ground, firing blasts of super-heated air at Blauschwinge, who was dodging them rather easily – whenever he didn’t just remain in place, letting the blast splash harmlessly against him. All the while, he was laughing, sometimes shouting something in German – unfortunately, my German wasn’t good enough to understand what exactly he was saying, especially since he had a pretty weird accent, but I was pretty sure he was throwing some manner of insults at the young woman fighting him. She, in turn, was screaming incoherently with every blast.

Something’s off, I thought as I watched him. Most of Volca’s blasts were completely ineffectual, actually shrinking until they were barely visible before they touched the man, barely ruffling his long, curly blonde hair. But some weren’t diminished much, or at all, and he dodged them instead. Curious.

I couldn’t make out Malphas, Lag or any other combatants – had this guy really come here on his own? Either he was an idiot, insane or just that powerful.

Hope for the first, prepare for the second, be ready to run from the third.

First, however, I had to find Malphas. If nothing else, I wanted to make sure that he was still alive. I’d have to trust in Volca and Warren while I did that.

Sneaking around the fight – if you could even call it that, with Blauschwinge not bothering to actually attack Volca – I contacted Warren. <Cartastrophy, be careful. This guy has a weird defensive power. It seems to only work occasionally, though I can’t pick out the pattern yet. He’s fast, though, and I know that he has a powerful ranged attack.>

<Don’t worry, fucker won’t know what hit him!> came the excited reply.

Oh well. Let’s hope he’ll distract him long enough for me to find Malphas. Then I can help. I just hoped he wouldn’t get himself killed… or that the monkey wouldn’t snap before I got into the fight and go on a killing spree.

And then there was the Ascendant himself, and whatever he could bring to bear apart from Blauschwinge. And whatever scheme my father may or may not have got going. And…

Feels just like the good old days, really.

Previous | Next

Vote

B011.11 Monkey Family

Previous | Next

As usual, he managed to deliver such heartwarming words with casual, deadpan routine. And the saddest thing was, I believed him.

I decided to focus on something else. “Cartastrophy,” I said, looking at my old friend in his chromed costume. “Did your niece get through it?” I’d been so worried about Elouise, I hadn’t even considered that his niece had been in that fight – and that she might’ve been among the casualties.

Fortunately, he just shrugged – couldn’t be that bad. “Girl got knocked around a bit, but she’s nothing if not tough.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” I crossed my arms, looking at the passing scenery – there weren’t that many entrances to the Undercity this close to the lake.

Nevertheless, we reached one soon. It looked like an abandoned storefront – one of those old retail stores that you expected to see a kindly old lady in, asking what she could get you. It looked like it had been cleared out a long, long time ago, the window glass long gone and replaced by boards, but there was a subtle Undercity tag over the door.

There were a few people out and about at this time, even here – mostly teenagers – but no one noticed Warren’s car, or the Dark in the backseat.

Warren turned to look half at me and half at him. “So, what’s our next step?” he asked, and I knew him well enough to be able to tell that he was pissed.

I looked at Dad – he’d want to lead this one, and I’d asked him to help, anyway.

“Don’t mind me,” he said to my surprise, as unreadable as ever when weearing his wraith.. “I’ll follow your lead on this.”

Huh. Fancy that. I hesitated for a moment, before I crossed my arms and thought it through. “What resources can we tap?” I asked him. “Is it just you and me-“

“And me,” Warren threw in. “I’m coming along, as well!”

We both looked at him, and I, at least, was surprised.

“Are you sure? Can’t really bring a car along down there, and he’s way out of your weight class, anyway,” I cautioned him, feeling my face twist into a concerned frown.

“I don’t give a shit,” he replied angrily, leaning in closer to me. “They hurt my niece. I pretty much raised that girl. What would you do?”

I just nodded, but I had to add, “How do you intend to help? You’ve never been much of a frontline fighter, and…”

He leapt out of the driver’s seat. “I’m a gadgeteer, Aap,” he said as he walked around the car, to its trunk. Me and dad got out and followed, with him staying quiet on this. “I may be bottom-rung, but I’ve had my powers for twenty years. I’ve had money, I’ve had a workplace, I’ve had time.”

The trunk opened as he approached, and a huge assembly folded out of it, as he himself turned his back to it, spreading his arms.

Two mechanical clamps connected to his shoulders, then one each to each wrist and another to the back of his waist. I watched as a mass of… stuff… folded out of the trunk and wrapped around him, lifting him off the ground. Gears shifted, connectors snapped into each other, pistons worked and a few moments later, there was an eleven-foot-tall metal giant standing where the barely five-foot-tall gadgeteer had been.

The armor was big and very bulky around the shoulders, getting more narrow towards the ‘crotch’. Its main chassis was big enough to contain all of Warren’s five feet and there was another foot added by its head. The legs looked comparatively short, ending in claw-like feet with big wheels on the sides that weren’t touching the ground. Its arms were disproportionally long and got bulkier from the elbows onward, the left one ending in what was unmistakably a huge gun – a cannon, really – and the right one tipped by a metal claw that was reinforced by honest-to-god industrial pistons. A sharp claw that looked better suited to cutting or crushing than holding things. Judging by the size of the ‘forearm’, there were probably more gadgets hidden in there. The head itself was basically a chrome dome with a single red eye… it was basically a simplified Zaku head, from that anime he never, ever would stop gushing about. The whole thing was mostly painted a dull black, with chrome details and a flame design on the cannon.

“Dude, when the hell did you start making power armor?” I asked, flabbergasted. Dad was already looking the thing over, his inner tech geek drawn to the huge claw and the assembly beyond it.

The eye turned to look at me. Warren’s voice came, barely distorted, out of the headpiece. “I’ve been trying to upgrade from cars to power armor for years now. Since you left, actually. Never got really far at it, I mean, I just couldn’t get a good chassis and joint system going, but I’ve been fiddling with the weaponry and overall design for almost fifteen years. Then I got lucky – my nephew specialises in heavy-duty power armor. The joints, chassis and the leg assembly are mostly his work.”

“You’ve been stealing your nephew’s designs?” I asked, surprised.

“What? No!” he said, sounding insulted. “He knows. I mean, the statute of limitations ran out on my crimes a long, long time ago. Even my work on the Matriarch’s cars is not illegal, and he doesn’t know about that, anyway.” He made the huge machine shrug, which looked… very expressive, thanks to its articulate, piston-supported shoulders. “He’s new to the game. Having free access to my work has given him one hell of a boost. And in exchange, he helped me with this baby, though I had to promise not to commit any crimes with it.”

“Vigilante justice is a crime,” my father threw in as he inspected th cannon. “Napalm cannon? Nasty. I like it.”

“This asshole hurt his sister. I’m sure he’d understand,” Warren replied. “And the cannon fires a semi-solid napalm-like compound. Ignites upon contact with the air, and it burns even underwater. I have a spray to put it out, though.”

“Oh, I like that! But this,” he pointed at a few bits that looked… pretty much like the rest of the cannon to me. “It’s modular – what else can it do?”

“I have a rocket launcher, containment foam, acid spray and a diamond-tipped chainsaw in this one, for when I’m out of ammo,” Warren replied, happy to present and explain his work. I opened my mouth to interrupt the geekfest, but he just went on. “And I have another chainsaw here, in my right arm, and the claw, and a drill. And some more stuff in the shoulders and chest, and some light weaponry and heat decoys in the legs. Also…”

“Oi! Enough!” I shouted, interrupting him before he could get really going. Both of them turned to me. “We’re on a schedule here, guys! Leave the nerdgasms for later!”

Father sighed, and turned to Warren. “He’s right. Still, we ought to talk later on. I’d be willing to pay top dollar for this work, or arrange a trade.”

“I can’t share anything my nephew made, not with the Syndicate or other criminals, SIr,” Warren said. “I promised him.”

“Understandable. But I’m honestly more interested in these modular weapon mounts, and your napalm cannon. I know a lady who’d pay good money for the designs, and I’m sure she’d be willing to share some of hers, too.”

“Sounds good to me, Sir. But lets focus on the job, now, before Aap’s head explodes.”

“Thanks for your consideration,” I said between clenched teeth. “So, back to my original question. What kind of resources are you willing to commit?” I asked my father.

“Any necessary. I’d obviously prefer to keep things small and contained, of course – if only to obscure the connection between me, you and your children – but I am willing to call in anyone whom you feel necessary, up to and including Wyrm and the Five.”

I blinked. Wow.

“Who’s Wyrm?” Warren asked, his ‘eye’ moving back and forth between the two of us.

After a moment, I turned to look up at him (any other time, I’d be laughing about the Irony of me having to look up at Warren). “Someone I wouldn’t like to set loose on anyone less despicable than the Ascendant.” I looked at my father again. “If we want to keep your involvement down, then you shouldn’t appear as yourself. Nor should the Five meddle. As for Wyrm… a cyber attack would be useful, I can’t imagine someone like the Ascendant not using a network of some kind, but I’d rather she didn’t show up in person.”

He nodded. “I think I have something in mind,” he said, and the wraith around him began to move. Warping, it changed him. Gray armor plates emerged as his form became shorter, closer to a normal person’s height, but bulkier, like someone who worked out.

Warren and I watched as he changed into a well-muscled man in a jetblack bodysuit, with gray armor plates on his chest, shoulders and arms, as well as gray greaves and boots. He was wearing a bulky gray helmet with a thick, curved horn emerging from the forehead, and intelligent brown eyes looked out from the only openings in his costume – though even they were covered by a clear plastic of some kind.

“Holy shit, the Rhino?” Warren asked. “The Rhino is actually the Dark?!”

Typical, I thought. “Have you been moonlighting as random supervillains again?” I asked, frowning again.

“Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a good workout when most people shit their pants at the mere mention of your name,” he said. His voice was different, nothing liked the polished perfection he used when he was ‘normal’, and not the Dark’s usual chorus. A gruff, strong voice, but not as brutish as you’d expect from a person of his appearance.

He seemed to follow my train of thought, because he immediately added, “Playing a role too perfectly is just another way of betraying that it’s a role. Controlled flaws in the performance help sell it.”

I could still remember the lesson, back then, and I had to blink for a moment. It was, perhaps, not the best thing he could have done to put me at ease – he had to know that his lessons were still a sore point for me – but it helped to know that he wasn’t acting too hard.

Unless it was his lesson at work here, him inserting deliberate flaws in his performance to sell it… but then again, I’d long since given up any hope of being able to trust him unconditionally. Best not to dwell on it.

“Why would this Rhino help me in fighting the Ascendant?” I asked, instead of responding to his comment.

“The Rhino is a pure mercenary. He fights for anyone who can pay him, hero, villain, government, it doesn’t matter,” he replied smoothly – a tad too smoothly, he wasn’t quite into the performance yet. “He only takes jobs that promise combat, preferably combat against capes or cowls, and he only kills against a big raise in pay. He never breaks a contract once he’s been paid, and he’s notorious enough to demand being paid in advance.”

“So I hired the Rhino and he’s supporting me for purely mercenary reasons,” I asked, while I watched a group of teenagers pass us by, their eyes turning glassy. “How much did I pay him?”

“A lot, but you don’t have to quote a rate. The Rhino does not discuss his contracts with people not directly involved with them.”

I nodded. Nice and simple roleplay, then. “What can the Rhino do?” I should now what I had to work with, so I didn’t depend on him doing anything out of character.

“He seems to be a straight brute at first glance,” he replied. “Not as tough as you, but tough. Almost as strong as you, and he regenerates. A quirk of his power allows him to regenerate his clothing, as well. He also has a limited ability to teleport through non-living solid objects – for example, when he’s charging a foe and he runs into a wall, he does not break it, but rather runs into it and out of another surface of sufficient size and made of the same material, with a range of about three hundred feet. The faster he is upon entry, the farther he can teleport.”

Interesting. “I can see how that would catch people off-guard,” I admitted. And it’ll be a killer in the Undercity. “Alright, do I need to know anything else?”

“Not really. I’ll just beat up whoever you tell me to,” my father replied before laughing quietly. “It’ll be a novel experience, if nothing else.”

“True that.”

Previous | Next

Vote

B011.10 Monkey Family

Previous | Next

Light yellow/green-dark red-… Hennessy blinked, trying to focus. Her mother was talking to dark dark blue-darkest purple/dark blue-light orange… to her father. She couldn’t hear them, but it was easier to keep track of their conversation by way of their emotions than their words, anyway – a physical screen meant nothing to her. She was…

Her attention was drawn away by the constant pressure of darkest yellow-darkest light blue…

She shook her head, trying to push away the intense emotions that her en- her ri- her sister was radiating. She moved her eyes away from dark blue… the D- her father’s… her grandfather, and looked at her, her…

All she saw was a tangle of colours, an impossibly complicated effigy woven out of pure light in more colours than could be counted. There was a blinding yellow tinged with light green and a blazing blue. There was a very light red tinged with a brighter blue. None of the shades of purple, though, that she was used to seeing from her whenever they fought, or the dark red and occasional darkest red, or…

She blinked, and she saw a white-haired girl with eyes like hers, wearing a pretty dress and trying to jiggle closer to her without sitting up, making small hops with her chair. Again and again, Camille reached out to push her away, connecting to her with light dark green-dark red-dark light blue strands.

Hennessy could feel Camille’s emotions like a warm blanket and cool armor, wrapping around her. She knew how hard a situation like this was to her, and she was trying to drown out the storm of emotions from her sister and her parents… but she was only partially succeeding. Too much, it was too much, her sister was like a furnace of emotions that were pushing against Hennessy’s consciousness, strands of brilliant colour wrapping around her as if for an embrace – or to choke. She was having a hard time telling them apart from what she herself was feeling, which was why she wasn’t reacting to anything… she didn’t know whether the joy and the surprise and the fear and the remorse she was feeling were her own, or whether everyone around her was influencing them, and she had to disentangle her own emotions from theirs.

Sadly enough, the one revelation that should’ve shook her the most – being the granddaughter of the Dark – was the easiest to deal with right now. When they’d arrived, she’d felt her father inside, and the strangely muted employees of the restaurant – she could tell that someone was dampening their minds – and she’d been able to tell that someone was there with him, because of the way his emotions were focused on a present person… but she hadn’t been able to tell who it was, because everyone else was so muted.

Then they’d come in, and she’d seen him. Really seen him, without the tangle of emotions blinding her to his appearance. Usually, she had to take a few seconds to focus her sight on the real world, as opposed to the sight her tenant had gifted her with, but he was so muted, his effigy barely visible, a tightly controlled dark light blue of surprise, a little light dark blue of pensiveness, a light orange of interest, the telltale mixture of dark light blue and light dark green, that being awe… but so little of it, the strands so fine she could see through them to the matter beneath.

Right now, as things were, he was the least troublesome person in the room to her, and so she focused her gaze on him, focusing on his emotions. Normally, she used Camille or her mother as an anchoring point, because she knew perfectly well how they felt about her, and how she herself felt about them. Extrapolating from there to untangle her own emotions from those of her surroundings had become almost an instinct to her, one of the few ways she had to preserve her sanity. But her mother was a tangle of colours and emotions right now, and Camille was too angry and surprised and terrified to help. So instead she focused on the Dark, on his muted emotions, and on what she felt about him. She focused on the tangles of light yellow and light dark blue and darkest light blue and dark dark green that connected from her to him, compared them to the strands which emerged from him towards her, and worked from there to untangle all the colours that were choking her.

Of course, that was all grossly simplified. She saw so many more colours than the human language had words for, not just shades of colours that humans knew, but whole new colours that she’d never seen before or since, except when viewing people’s emotions… and sometimes those of their tenants. It was there that she usually found these eldritch colours that made no sense to anyone else.

Still, during therapy, her counselor had suggested that she simplify the process, using clear colours to break down what she saw and classify it. Amazingly, it had helped get a measure of control over her tenant and lately, she’d actually been able to walk through a mall with Camille and see the world, not just the tangles of colours from everyone around them.

Her parents were still talking to each other, their emotions straightening themselves out. That made it a little easier to distinguish what she felt and what they imposed on her through simple proximity; it helped that her father’s (it still felt unfamiliar, applying that term to a real person she wasn’t fantasising about) emotions were always threaded through by those strange other colours that she’d come to associate with a particularly strong influence of a person’s tenant on their emotions – she knew it from her own, but from few others, though no metahuman was completely free of it. Soon, she’d cut them out as well, much like her grandfather before. Next, she untangled Camille’s emotions – which were ever so familiar and dear to her, but nonetheless, she needed some space in her head right now – from her own (there’d be time to drown in each other later, when they were alone and safe). Finally, she slowly separated herself from the wellspring of emotions that was still trying to come closer to her, though it took her two whole minutes to do so and actually look at her newfound sister… half sister. She looked so… stunningly normal. So unlike any other time they’d met (which had almost always been in battle). She was a tangle of emotions, of course, but somehow… simpler than most metahumans.

Usually, she had to disentangle a metahuman’s from those weird ones that came from their tenants, but the Mat- Elouise’s effigy (a word suggested by her counselor) was two-fold, half around her, half within her shadow – and the eldritch parts were mostly limited to the shadow, which she could ignore completely. She was almost as easy to read as Camille was, to her, despite the lack of familiarity.

She looked at her new family member and thought about how weird it felt that, after spending her whole life dreaming of having a father, and a sibling her own age, she’d get both in the span of just two days, and a grandfather as well… only two of them were villains and her father was… almost as twisted inside as she was

Her eyes moved from her sister to her grandfather and then to the screen that her parents were talking behind, and back to her grandfather.

She probably shouldn’t be surprised that they were all messed up, seeing how his blood ran through their veins.

Hennessy released a breath she hadn’t even realised she’d been holding, just as her parents came back. Her head was starting to hurt, as it always did when she tried to focus on words and faces. She blinked, having long since figured out that her tenant didn’t like it when she relied on normal human communication. It punished her, usually starting with migraines, whenever she spent too much time blocking out peoples’ emotions.

But she needed to hear this. To see their faces, to be human just for a little while.

Just give me a few minutes, she thought, not sure whether her tenant could even understand her. I just need a little time.

***

Tamara sat down to join Hennessy, taking a chair between her and Elouise – which put a hold to Elouise’s attempts to get closer to Hennessy (though by the look on her face, she was already plotting how to close the distance regardless of the new obstacle).

I, on the other hand, sat down on the empty side of the table opposite of Elouise, with my father to my right. “Alright,” I said, drawing the attention of everyone other than Camille, who was watching my father like a hawk… a very obviously scared hawk.

Please, God, don’t let her try and use her power on him. If she did… I didn’t believe for a moment that he didn’t have something lined up in case she tried, or else he wouldn’t be here anymore. But if she lashed out, it might provoke a reaction from Elouise, which would provoke a reaction from Hennessy…

No, best to keep everyone focused on me and busy. “I apologise for springing this on everyone so suddenly,” I said once I was sure that everyone was focused on me.

“No shit,” Camille helpfully threw in. “What’s next, is Di-fucking-L gonna walk in and join us?”

“Language, young lady,” Tamara reprimanded her.

I ignored the little exchange. “So, obviously, you’ll all have some questions. How about we get them out of the way? Ask, and I’ll answer to the best of my ability. No lies, I promise.” I looked around the table, to see who’d speak up first.

To my surprise, Hennessy was the first one to move – literally, she raised her hand onto the table and tapped a finger on the polished wood covered by white cloth. There was no projection of emotions, though, for whatever reason.

Instead, she looked at me, then pointed at Elouise. Then she spread both of her hands in a questioning gesture.

It was the single most normal way she’d expressed herself to me, so far (while awake, at least), but I shelved my curiosity for now. “You want to know how I happened to have a daughter with the Matriarch,” I translated her question. She nodded, and so I regaled to them the (really uncomfortable) tale of how Elouise came to be.

Afterwards, everyone just stared at me; or at least Hennessy, Tamara and Camille did. Elouise seemed embarrassed by the tale, but mostly she was still focusing on Hennessy, while my father was… being very quiet. He was just looking at Elouise and Hennessy (or so I guessed – hard to tell, since he might not even be facing in the direction his wraith was looking) and not doing anything.

“So… the Matriarch basically tricked you into putting a baby into her in order to… control you?” Camille asked slowly, as if she couldn’t quite believe it. “Isn’t that a tad extreme? Even if you’re a real speedster, having a baby with you just to get her claws into you seems… way over the top.”

“Not at all,” Elouise countered. “To my mother, that was just a ‘strategic initiative’. Truth is, she’d done it before, over the decades.” She looked at my father, then at me. “To be honest though, seeing who my grandfather is, makes me believe that she probably knew about your connection to him – she was always a little too insistent in using him as an example for my training; she was probably hoping that he’d feel flattered by me and thus support her endeavours more openly.”

So, you don’t have any illusions about her feelings for you, either? I thought to myself, trying to swallow the bile that I felt creeping up my throat.

Hennessy was giving Elouise a look that told me she probably felt the same.

“Wait wait wait wait,” Camille spoke up again. “Your mom had you just to impress that guy!?” She pointed at my father (I was starting to doubt that the girl could feel real fear). “And you knew it?” She was looking horrified.

Elouise shrugged. “I love my mother, but I’ve known since I was eight that the feeling was never mutual.” She turned to me. “Who’s your mother? She must’ve been quite the character to… um… draw your attention, Sir,” she finished in a more respectful tone directed towards my father.

I felt one side of my mouth quirk up. “She sure was. Her name was Wanda Alexandrou. She was an immigrant from Greece, by way of Britain. You may have heard the story of a psychologist trying to ‘cure’ him,” I replied, nodding towards my father. “And falling in love with him in the process. That was… well her.”

Camille gave me a weird look and opened her mouth. “Wait, weren’t that woman and her child l-“

Hennessy either picked up on my emotions or simply remembered how I’d reacted back when we’d looked at the photographs, because she put her hand on Camille’s shoulder, silencing her.

My father was still not reacting. At all. I was starting to get worried.

“Any other questions?”

“Is this connected to the Ascendant’s return, and do you know why he’s attacking me, as well?” Elouise asked.

“Wait, he attacked you? Why would he?” Camille exclaimed, and Hennessy’s body language revealed similar shock to what I heard in her girlfriend’s voice.

“I just asked him that, so I obviously don’t know,” Elouise replied with a rather annoyed look on her face.

I decided to interject before Camille could reply, because I was pretty sure the two of them couldn’t stand each other. “I don’t know why he’s doing what he’s doing – what I’ve been able to find out about him only makes his behaviour more baffling,” I said urgently, now focusing on Elouise. “I gathered you all here because… well, because I saw where this was all heading. The secrets, the unknown factors. I decided to cut the Gordian Knot, so to speak, and just put all the cards on the table. And I was hoping to enlist your help in taking the Ascendant down for good,” I finished with a look towards my father.

He still didn’t react.

“Is something… wrong with him?” Camille asked carefully, as if she was afraid of insulting him (she did have some common sense, then). “He’s being so… quiet.”

What’s wrong with him? Where to begin? Still, it was a valid question, and so I turned to him. “Father. Father! Dad!” I shouted, and he flinched.

He flinched. In front of others. Not a good sign. Then he looked at me. “Yes, Aaron?Using my real name when there is someone other than me present.

Tamara mouthed the words ‘Your name is Aaron?’, but I ignored them and focused on him again.

“Is something wrong? You are being… uncharacteristically quiet in the face of this scene,” I asked as diplomatically as I could.

He looked at me, then at the girls. Then at Tamara, and back at me. “You’ve… had children,” he said, his choral voice at odds with the flat intonation of his words.

“Yes, that is rather the point,” I replied. What is going on here?

You had children,” he said again. “You. Not just one, but two. I am man enough to admit that I never truly considered the possibility.

Ah. That explains it, I thought, even as I felt a (hopefully) faint blush creep up on my cheeks. “Well, it happened. I don’t see why it’s such a big deal.” For all his brilliance, he’d never been that good at accepting things he’d not seen coming at all. Not that I knew what was so unexpected about this.

He tilted his head to the side. “I remember a certain someone swearing, with the help of various invectives which I shall not repeat in this company, that he would never, ever, under any circumstances, even if he was the last man on Earth, have children.

I sighed. “I was thirteen. It’s been more than two decades since then.”

It’s been twenty-two years, three months, a week and a day since the last time we spoke,” he said. “You will excuse me if it takes me a little while to update my mental image of you.

He rose up from his seat – and everyone except for me tensed up. I saw Elouise’s shadow partially rise from where it’d been clinging to her chair, and I thought I saw a glimmer flash in Hennessy’s eyes, for just a moment. My father, however, ignored that, and then…

And then his wraith faded away. I didn’t expect that. I don’t think anyone expected that.

I hadn’t seen this form since I’d been twelve years old. A tall, slender figure wearing a jet black, featureless bodysuit that extended seamlessly into a pair of equally black, featureless boots and gloves. Over that, an equally black coat not unlike Journeyman’s – it was, in fact, identical down to the wide sleeves. The face beneath the hood was hidden in shadows, though I knew that the bodysuit he wore extended to a completely featureless, skintight mask. All in all, his costume and Journeyman’s were identical, save for the colour of their light robes.

He ignored the stares he was getting (or perhaps he enjoyed them) to walk around the table and put a hand onto Elouise’s shoulder. She shivered as he continued to walk, his gloved fingers sliding over her bare shoulders, and rose from her seat when his hand wrapped gently around her biceps, pulling her along. He took her past Tamara – who looked more tense than I’d ever seen her, turning on her chair to watch them intently – and reached with his other hand for Hennessy.

Camille didn’t give him the chance. “Keep your hands off of her!” she shouted as she rose to interpose herself between my daughter and my father, and something struck him, knocking him off his feet and at least ten feet away!

Oh, she did not just do that! I thought to myself, half-poised to leap across the table and interject myself, but to my eternal relief, father just got up with a chuckle, dusting himself off while Elouise just stared at him, mouth open, and Tamara and Hennessy stared at Camille.

“Excuse me,” he said, his voice normal for once. Still finely honed steel wrapped in silk, as I so often pictured it, but now recognisably human. He approached again. “I mean none of you any harm,” he said calmly, as if she hadn’t just knocked the King of Supervillains around. “Camille, would you please allow me to properly greet my granddaughter?” he asked her in a soothing, polite tone of voice.

She looked at him, then looked over her shoulder at Hennessy, then back at him. She chewed on her lip for a moment. “Alright. But do anything weird and I won’t hold back next time!”

He nodded, as if there was any possible way for her to actually harm him. But it seemed to be enough for her – barely – and she stepped aside.

Hennessy rose up and approached him, together with Elouise. He looked them both up and down, and Elouise at least seemed pretty embarrassed – like she was afraid he’d disapprove of her appearance in some fashion.

Is that just how a normal child would react when first meeting her grandfather, or is that her mother’s education, her desire to please the Dark? I couldn’t be sure, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be sure.

“I’ve never had grandchildren before,” he said quietly. “If I’d known, I would’ve brought presents.” He looked at me, as if telling me that we had to go shopping for several year’s worth of presents.

I was seriously getting creeped out by his casual attitude right now.

“Nevertheless, let me just say this – I’m perhaps not the ideal grandfather you could wish for, but I do intend to be there for you from now on… provided that you want me to.”

And then the jerk hugged them both, if briefly. I haven’t even gotten to do that yet.

Hennessy gave no indication at all as to what she was feeling, but Elouise looked ready to burst with joy.

Before she could blow up and make a mess, though, he let go, and Hennessy was pulled back by an invisible force, straight into Camille’s arms. The young blonde hugged my daughter close, throwing murderous looks at father and me.

Elouise looked at her, as if she couldn’t believe how she was acting.

“Now, I believe there are some urgent matters to discuss,” father continued, and he turned to look at me. “I presume that you are worried about the Ascendant?”

Thanks for steering the conversation back on track, I thought. Not that I was sure we’d ever been on track before, but still. “Yes. I’ve found out some troubling news – namely, that he’s a member of the Gefährten.”

“Ah,” he replied simply. “That makes sense. You need my help to deal with them.” It wasn’t a question.

I didn’t even bother to nod.

“Who’re the Gefährten?” Tamara asked. “Their name is German – that can’t be a good sign.” She was focusing on me, not my father, and I was pretty sure she was feeling way out of her depth.

I’m sorry for putting you through this. “They’re an old villain organisation. Older than the Syndicate. They’re the kind of people that made monsters like Weisswald possible.” There was no use in sugarcoating things – they had to know, so they’d be careful.

Elouise and Tamara both paled, while Camille and Hennessy hugged each other tight. Way to scare the most important people in your life, Aaron.

“You needn’t be afraid,” father interjected in his smoothest voice. “I shall take care of this. Aaron,” He turned to me, then hesitated, then looked at the girls, then back at me. “I shall wait outside. Join me when you’re ready.” His wraith rose up again, wrapping around him, and he left the restaurant.

I exhaled, relaxing a bit. That went better than I expected.

“I think… that’s more than I can take for a day,” Tamara said, leaning back on her seat. “Kev- Aaron, what were you thinking?”

“I was thinking that I need the biggest guns I can get in order to keep my family safe,” I said as I went around the table and to Elouise, who was standing there alone. I put my arm around her shoulders and walked towards Hennessy and Camille.

My daughter disentangled herself from her girlfriend and met us halfway, and I pulled her in for that long overdue group hug.

“No matter what else happens, or what you may think of me, or each other,” I whispered to them, “I’ll keep you two safe, by any means necessary.”

They both shivered and hugged me back.

***

I left the restaurant a few minutes later, after organising a family get-together of sorts (I was exploiting their stunned state of mind for all it was worth, trying to set things up as favourably as I could while I still had the momentum on my side), to find my father waiting there in plain sight, in his wraith form, leaning against a lamppost.

That was expertly played,” he said when I approached him, while I sent a message with my phone.

“I wasn’t playing, Dad,” I replied, annoyed. Of course he’d think that. “I wasn’t intending to manipulate you, or them. I simply want to keep them safe, and to stop with the lies.”

He looked at me for a moment. “I believe you,” he said simply and turned to look down the street just as Cartastrophy’s heavily modified vehicle raced around the corner. “What’s your plan?

“Take down the Ascendant and his people with extreme prejudice,” I replied. “If possible, take slow, long, delicious vengeance on him for what he put my child and her loved ones through.”

That is acceptable. Let’s turn it into a father-son outing,” he said as Cartastrophy pulled up next to us, retracting the roof of his patchwork car to goggle at the two of us. “I know you dislike my ways, but they are more appropriate for this than yours.

“I wouldn’t be asking you for help if I wasn’t ready to work with you,” I replied, opening the back door of the car for him. He got in while Cartastrophy was staring at me (I didn’t need x-ray vision to picture his facial expression behind that face-concealing helmet). Then I got in on the passenger’s side. “Cartastrophy, take us to the nearest entry into the Undercity, please.”

“Seriously?” he asked, even as he took off. “You called him in? It’s gotten that bad?”

I give him an ‘isn’t that obvious’ look.

He knows?” Father asked with some surprise in his voice.

“Of course he knows,” I answered him without bothering to look at him. “He’s my friend. You do know what that is, right?” I couldn’t stop myself from saying.

He gave me one of his patented maddening chuckles. “I am aware of the concept, though I’ve never bothered with any myself.

Previous | Next

Vote

Interlude 7 – Monkey Business (Part 4)

Previous | Next

I stood there, my… daughter hugging me hard enough to crack a tree (she was strong) and I was just slackjawed.

My life has officially passed from straaaaaange to… I don’t even know to what.

Still, despite the… sensation of mentally running into a wall, over and over, this girl here was my daughter, I was sure of it. That the monkey did not urge me with dark suggestions was proof enough, as were her eyes. And she had obviously been looking forward to this reunion for quite some time. No reason to make her feel unwanted.

So I put my arms around her, slowly. She only hugged me harder in response.

“I’ve dreamed of this day, you know?” she whispered.

“I see.” What was I supposed to say? I’d already been completely out of my depth with Hennessy. The situation may have been different now (I wasn’t getting smacked around, for one – though that could still happen) but… I had nothing. I had no idea what to say or do.

Less than four hours ago, I’d been out to find my ex-girlfriend, maybe hoping to get a second chance with her… now I had two teenage, almost grown-up daughters, one a severely damaged superheroine, the other an active supervillain with a lot of clout and they were supposedly archenemies.

Fun times. Stars above…

I pushed her back a bit so I could look down (even with her substantial heels, she was still way shorter than me) at her face.

She was biting her lower lip, looking insecure.

God, she looked like a child, all of a sudden.

“Don’t take this the wrong way – I know you’re my daughter – but how? I know I used protection the one time I slept with your mother.” Please don’t take this as a rejection.

She bit her lip harder, for a moment, looking away as if ashamed.

I saw her shadow – it looked like it had been circling us – rise from the ground, filling out into a three-dimensional, solid black copy of her. A perfect reflection, but there was no distinction between her clothes and her body, and her face, though perfectly detailed, was empty, emotionless, her eyes as dark as the rest of her.

Something about that shadow just creeped me out.

“Um,” the Matriarch – I so needed to know her name, no way I was calling my own daughter ‘Matriarch’ all the time – tried to speak up, commanding my attention again. “We shouldn’t… shouldn’t discuss this here. Come, let’s go somewhere more private, alright?”

Taking a step back, her hands grabbed my own and tugged, gently. Still insecure.

I nodded and followed her, nodding towards Cartastrophy, who managed to look depressed despite his costume. I gave him a look, and he nodded slightly. He knew not to talk about Chayot. That was not for him to share. I wasn’t even sure if I had the right to share it.

Followed by her now very physical shadow, my daughter pulled me past her divan and through a barely visible door in the wall behind it, then through the hallway beyond the door.

The room at the end of the hallway was far less… ostentatious than the hall. It was circular, with a large circular table, big enough for a group to have dinner together, small enough to still feel private and homely.

It was pretty much the only piece of furniture left in the room from the time I’d last been here. There were new, more modern cupboards along the walls, a large flat screen television and a lot of other stuff. Last time I’d been free and in America, we’d just gotten the first three dimensional screens for home use (they’d sucked). I idly wondered if the technology had taken off or just faded away again.

My attention was pulled back to more immediate, more important matters when my daughter turned around and hugged me again. Hard.

Is this normal? Or is there a special reason for why she seems so… desperate?

I hugged her back, still not sure how to react. Waiting for her to let go once she felt ready.

After a while, she relaxed and stepped back. “Thank you,” she said with a soft voice.

Now I was really confused. “What for?”

That got a weak giggle out of her. “You didn’t push me away. I mean, I’m just a stranger to you, and I just told you I’m your daughter – no proof, nothing – and you still let me hug you. That was nice.”

Well, I had the advantage of the monkey at least considering her a non-target, so I knew there was something special about her.

“To be honest, I just know that there is some connection between us. Can you answer my question now?”

Suddenly, she was all nervous again and walked over to the table, sitting down on a chair her shadow pulled out for her.

I sat down on the opposite side of the table, trying to look more confident than I was (no idea if it worked).

“You… remember that night? With my mother?” she asked, avoiding my gaze.

“Yes… she’d hired me for a caper – needed some muscle in case the heroes showed up, which they did – and after we got away… barely, and all the others got caught… we kind of… ended up back here. We were both euphoric, half-dead from the beating we’d both taken and really… in the mood,” I said, quite uncomfortable with discussing this with my daughter. “We both celebrated a little… right here… with some drinks and then…”

I looked over to the door opposite the one we entered. “Yeah, we went in there. But… I know I used protection, I remember making sure of it.”

She looked down, fidgeting on her seat. Opening her mouth, she almost started to speak, then went quiet again – and then her shadow poked her shoulder… and everything poured out of her.

“It was a setup,” she began. “All of it, the job, you two being the only ones to get away, the drinks, everything. She even… well she sabotaged the… the protection.”

Oh ewww…

“She even made sure it all happened while she was… ovulating. And she took some kind of contriver stuff to make herself extra… extra fertile,” she finished, looking ashamed.

Double eww.

“Why?” Did she know about…

Her shadow put a hand onto her shoulder, making her look at it. I heard something, a whisper I couldn’t understand.

The girl looked back at me. “She… she never did tell me. All I ever heard was that blood was thicker than water, which is just amazingly unhelpful.” She rolled her eyes, or at least I thought she did.

She knew, dammit. No oth-

My eyes fell on her shadow. Standing behind her, its shoulders were shaking… it was laughing, silently and, somehow, smugly.

It knows, I’m sure of it.

I looked back at the girl. She was still avoiding eye contact, but I could also tell, from her face and her eyes, that she was annoyed at the lack of an answer she got from her mother.

Throwing the shadow a suspicious glare – it had stopped moving and was just… well, I was pretty sure it was looking at me, but it was hard to tell… anyway, I was pretty sure that it knew, but she didn’t.

And it knew that I knew that it knew. Because it put a finger to its lips, as if to hush me.

The bottom fell off my stomach, and I felt my heart – and other assorted organs – drop down into my shoes.

She was in the same boat as Hennessy, if in a different way. Her power had a mind of its own, and it could keep secrets from her.

And now I knew, beyond any doubt, that she was my daughter. Even without the eyes, and her mother’s manipulative nature (she’d been famous for it, even without factoring in her power), which when coupled with her legendary lust for power certainly made such a plot probable, I’d always known that having children might be a bad idea. One of the few advises my father gave me, which I actually was thankful for (most of them were just… creepy to give to your child) was that I should be extremely careful about having children… that I should be absolutely sure that I wanted a child, and that I should make sure to be present for it… because they were likely to have issues with their powers.

Though, as usual, he hadn’t explained why any of my children would have issues with their powers. He was an asshole about that.

And now both my daughters… I remembered the figure I’d seen inside Hennessy’s head (or wherever the hell we’d been), and that thing had certainly been alive, though it had not been as overtly distinct from her as this girl’s shadow was.

“… papa?”

“Huh?” I looked up. She was staring at me, worried.

I noticed that I’d been brooding. “Sorry, I spaced out, didn’t I?”

“Uhh, yeah, you could call it that…” she replied, sounding shaken.

Strange.

“I know this is a lot to drop onto your lap all at once, and I know you don’t owe me anything, but…” She stopped, staring to the side. Her shadow whispered something, again, but she waved it off.

I waited for her to continue, folding my hands in front of my face and looking at her over them. I wasn’t the most… savvy person, especially regarding the feelings of others, but I could tell that she was, for some reason, close to a breakdown.

And I had no idea how to deal with it.

Wrapping her arms around herself, she gave me a longing look. “I… If you want, we could… I mean, you probably want to reestablish yourself here, and if you want, you can work with me… or I can work for you, I mean, you’re way more experienced… and it would be really useful for both of us, if…”

Her shadow put a hand to its forehead, shaking its head while she continued babbling.

I just rose from my seat and walked around the table. She only sped up, trying to throw more good arguments at me for why I should join her, or she join me, or… well, she certainly was no smarter than I was, it seemed.

Stopping next to her, I grabbed her by her shoulders and pulled her up into a hug, lifting her off her chair and off the ground, her feet dangling in the air as I buried my face in her rich hair.

“What’s your name?”

She choked, then answered: “Elouise. Elouise Luviere.”

“I’m Kevin Paterson. Call me Kevin, or papa if you insist.” I hugged her close, but not hard enough to risk hurting her.

“Are you… do you mean it? I mean, you never wanted me, and my organization isn’t that great an-“

“Oh, shut up.” I hugged her harder. “I don’t give two shits about any organization or power or money or political advantage. Don’t need any of that, as far as I’m concerned, anyway.” I tried to put as much… how to even call it… you know, that fuzzy tone fathers can put into their voice when they want to reassure their children? I hadn’t exactly gotten much of that, in my time (though I’ll admit that my father tried to be like that), so I didn’t exactly know how to call it. But I tried a fatherly voice, going by what I’d heard from others over the years. “I don’t know you… but I’d like to change that. Try to be a family.”

And I wish I could have just said that to Hennessy. Why didn’t I get my act together back there?

She shuddered, then hugged me back. I thought I heard her crying, but I don’t think she’d have appreciated me commenting on it.

I held her. Don’t ask me how I felt for the year or so we spent like that, because I honestly can’t tell you. It was intense, but that’s all I can put into words.

* * *

After some time – don’t ask me how long – I felt her grip relax. Slowly, more reluctant than I’d thought I’d be, I let go, lowering her onto the floor.

She took a step back, turning in the same motion, right into the handkerchief her shadow was holding, and which it used to clean up her face before I could see it.

I resisted the urge to spout some pun and just waited for her to feel up to talking again.

Maybe I’ll be up to it by the time she is.

Once her shadow was done, she turned around. Her eyes were a little red, and her nose too, but otherwise she looked fine.

“Thank you,” she said, again.

I smirked. Then I reached out with both hands for her mask. She tensed up for a moment, but didn’t resist when I pulled it off.

Underneath she was… surprisingly cute. I mean, she was as beautiful as her mother had ever been, even more so. But where her mother had been gaunt and sharp-featured, she was just… soft. She looked younger than her eighteen-odd years, and I realized that her mask was designed specifically to make her look older. Pair that with her dress and she could pull off twenty-one years, I guess.

“Elouise… do you have a nickname you prefer?” I asked while putting the mask aside on the table.

“Uhh, Lise is fine, I guess,” she said. “Never had a real nickname, to be honest.”

“Really? With a name like Elouise, I’d have thought your friends-“

She laughed out loud – but it wasn’t a happy laugh.

“Friends? You really didn’t know my mother,” she said. “I had peers, rivals, sure. People I could measure myself against. But friends? They would have been a weakness. So she made damn sure I never made any.”

And I thought my dad’s an asshole…

“No friends at all? Even after… when did she die, anyway? How?”

Her face fell, again.

“Oh, uh… did you hear about the whole incident with the Ascendant, five years ago?”

I had to restrain myself not to show the sudden surge of rage I felt at being reminded of him. Her shadow seemed to notice, taking a step closer to her. Ready to protect her.

At least it keeps her safe, huh?

Somehow, that movement calmed me down. Reminded me that I needed to be on my best behaviour.

“I’ve heard of it. What exactly happened to her? She was not a frontline fighter, so…”

She looked away, again. “The boy… they call him Jabberwocky… he had some kind of danger sense and tracking, or maybe a strange kind of precognition. Could tell where the biggest threat to himself was, went right after it. So, the first thing he did was attack the base where the hero and villain superminds were. The precogs, the super-strategists, the data-analysts. It faked out the fighters, faked out even the superminds, came up in the middle of them… and started killing. They didn’t stand a chance. Mom was there because of… well, she had a slew of perception powers, as you probably know. Some low-level precognition, some enhanced awareness, empathy, and so on. A little bit of most. But… Jabberwocky could somehow resist perception powers, if he was close enough to their users, and he took almost all of them down.”

She said all this in a strangely calm voice. I couldn’t tell how she felt about it.

So I decided to just ask.

“How do you feel about that?”

Her mouth clenched up, as did her fists, and it took her a while to respond.

“I hated her, you know? I mean, I loved her, still do, but I also hated her. Still do. I’m just…”

Again, her shadow reached out, pulling her around to face it. It spoke in that incomprehensible whisper again, and she relaxed.

Turning around again, she faced me as her shadow put its arms over her shoulders, letting them dangle limply as it put its head next to hers.

“Sorry, I’m a little… emotional today,” she said.

God, she takes way too much after me. “I can tell.” I took her hand and sat down, pulling her down onto my lap. Thankfully, her shadow melted away, sinking back into the floor.

Maybe it doesn’t see me as a threat anymore?

“Look, Lise, there is a lot I want to talk to you about, but I think we both need some time to really let this sink in, alright?” I certainly do. “Also, I did come here for some business that is quite… pressing. Sorry for bringing it up.”

She shook her head, snuggling against my chest. Damn, she was young, younger than I’d been at her age. “It’s alright. I guess reestablishing yourself after eighteen years – by the way, you really need to tell me what you’ve been doing – is quite a chore.”

She thinks I want to be a supervillain again. I didn’t think that I wanted that. To be honest, my plans consisted of three points. Find the Ascendant. Kill him slowly and painfully. Take care of your daughters, moron!

Three simple points, no overarching plot or anything. Not that I’d ever been prone to those.

“Look, I heard the Ascendant is back in town. I need to find him. Preferably before he pulls any large or small operation.” I managed to restrain the hatred in my voice, and I prayed to God her shadow wouldn’t pick up on it and tell her. It seemed to be… sensitive.

“What for? Do you want an in with him? You’d have all the heroes around after you, if you did. Especially that bitch Chayot and her pals.”

Now I felt like slapping her for using that kind of word in regards to her sister. But she didn’t know. And I wasn’t comfortable with complicating things even more right now.

“Let’s just say there is some old, unfinished business between us. And it’s really urgent. If there is any way for you to get me an in? Just an audience?” Her organization may be diminished, but she is the heir of one of the old guard.

She nodded, never parting from my embrace. “I’ll see what I can do.” Her shadow slithered out of the room. “But it’ll probably take a while.”

“Sure thing, sweetie.”

She giggled and snuggled closer.

This is actually nice. And the monkey hadn’t even tried pissing me off for a while.

* * *

After a while, Elouise had to take care of some business. She put on her mask, aging by at least three years with it, kissed me on the cheek (I kissed her on both, and on the top of her head, which for some reason made her giggle) and went off to work, inviting me to make myself at home.

I told her I wanted to visit my old house and gave her my address and my phone number, both of which she took gleefully in exchange for her own (she lived at the casino, but she had a private cellphone number).

Then, me and Cartastrophy left, taking his car back home.

“Damn, now I’ll lose the other poster, too,” he grumbled.

Thinking about it, I actually said: “Dude, she gave you that one herself. It’s alright, keep it.”

He shook his head. “No way pal. You know why I like those posters. No way I’ll have my friend’s daughter on one of those posters.”

I grunted in affirmation.

We reached the block next to the one I lived at, and I got out of the car to walk the rest of the way.

Merlin Street hadn’t changed at all in the last eighteen years. The houses still looked like they came out of a cheap horror novel, all faux-victorian stonework and stuff. Really gloomy, but with way too much colour in the flowerbeds and on the roofs to feel depressing.

My house was unchanged, too. Someone (probably Dad) had been taking care of it.

I stepped into the old, almost fortress-like building, and was immediately assaulted by the smell of old books, musty wood and carpet.

And there was someone there. The monkey wasn’t smelling anyone, but I could hear someone riffling through my bar. The bottles were clinking against each other.

Without hesitation, I stormed into the living room, half-ready to manifest my monkey hand-

A man stood behind the bar, clad in a dark blue robe with a hood and wide sleeves. As I entered, he turned around, unconcerned, with two glasses and a bottle of seventy-year-old scotch in hand.

“Want a drink?” the most powerful man in the world asked in a thousand and no voices. I could barely see his mirror-like, featureless facemask. It was more of a helmet, really, but almost skintight and shaped so at least a nose and some basic facial lines were suggested by the mirror.

Not that anyone ever paid attention to the mirror itself, because the images it showed usually commanded all of your attention.

Though, seeing how they never made any fucking sense, I’d just gotten used to not paying them attention.

“Hello Journeyman. What have you been up to?” I sat down on a stool in front of the bar counter.

He filled the two glasses, then held out one for me. I took it, we knocked glasses and drank. His glass moved through his mask like it wasn’t even there.

Ah, life gets immediately better once you drink a scotch that’s twice as old as you are.

“Journeying around the world, of course. And then some,” he answered in his freakass voices, his mask showing… images of countless people. Some of them looked like heroes, or villains, or people out of a fantasy novel.

“Anything in particular?”

“Spaceworms,” he said. “Godlike spaceworms, and dancing. But in the end it came down to a little girl with serious control issues.”

“You still don’t make any sense.”

He chuckled, which was really creepy, because it was like a whole opera house was chuckling all at once.

“I pride myself on that. I hear you’ve had some… interesting experiences?”

I took another swig. “Did you know about my daughters?” No use trying to keep a secret from this guy.

He shook his head, his mask flashing through images of Hennessy and Elouise, from childhood to now. Some of them scared me, a lot.

“Had I known, I would have brought you back here immediately. Alas, even my knowledge is limited.”

I snorted and took another drink (Journeyman always knew when to fill up and when to stop).

“I need a break. Got any funny stories to tell?”

“Well, there’s this one about magical lost romans who fight naked elves on giant sloths.”

“Sounds like my kind of story. Shoot.”

Previous | Next