B006 Big Game Hunt (Part 6)

He left the bedroom (after checking that he was still clothed – Amy liked her pranks way too much) and all but burst into the control room, ready to ream Amy a new one…

Only to find her and his friends sitting in a loose circle, talking amicably. And fully clothed.

Amy looked up and winked at him with a split-second wicked grin – she probably knew what he was thinking – and then her face turned to worry. “Should you be up already?”

The others turned around and looked at him with varying degrees of worry on their faces, and Prisca greeted him happily, though with concern in her voice.

Eudocia said they were being influenced… but there’s no way she could affect Prisca from all the way over here, so it couldn’t have been anything too bad or obvious without cutting her connection.

“I’m fine, really. Had the weirdest dream, though… can we talk? Privately, I mean?”

She nodded and stood up. “We’ll continue later on,” she said to the others, then followed him down to his workshop.

* * *

He shut the door behind them, then made sure to lock the workshop down – he didn’t want anyone to listen in, not even Eudocia.

Amy had walked over to near the center of the room, where his current project lay, and was now looking at the parts.

“They thought you were building a new suit… but this looks more like an android,” she said after a few seconds.

He stood behind her, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “I figured it might help to have another body in the field, especially one that is expendable. But it’s not really workable, at least not yet.”

She looked around, noticing the irritation in his voice. “That… that’s the reason you were pushing yourself like this, isn’t it? You couldn’t get it to work, and you couldn’t accept that,” she said with a mixture of exasperation and mirth in her voice.

He blushed a bit, but frowned back at her. “No. Yes. Not really. I’ve been pushing myself for days. The loss, and the wall I hit working on this only made it worse,” he explained reluctantly. Looking back at it, he really should have paced himself, but… “Nice one… changing the subject by talking about my work. What were you doing up there!?

She shrugged. “What I do whenever I can. Helping you,” she explained, as if it was all just obvious.

“What. Did. You. Do to them?”

Raising her hands in a placating gesture, she replied: “Calm down, baby brother. Nothing bad, I swear. I was just… helping them focus, and think over what happened. Especially the girls. They need to improve, you need to improve, or you’ll die or worse. If it weren’t for those lovely twins, you’d be dead or slaves!”

A deep breath, then two. Not… not good. But not nearly as bad as I feared. “You didn’t do anything else?”

Her whole stance changed into a more serious one, straighter. “Nothing, baby bro. I wouldn’t mess with your friends, I promise! Though Dalia is awfully cute…”

He snorted and walked past her to look at the beginnings of what was supposed to be a combat android. I’ll have to deconstruct it. Use the parts for something that actually works. And still, he was sure he could make it work, if only he had the time.

“… and either way, Prisca is all the way over in the hospital, and I’d need to fly over fast enough to delete her short-term memory before it became a long-term memory…”

He gave her a deadpan look. “You’ve really thought a lot about messing with my friends’ heads, haven’t you?” She just gave him an unconvincing innocent smile and he turned away to look at his work again.

“Basil?” She wrapped her arms around him, resting her chin on his shoulder. “Why did you push yourself so hard? Honestly, now.”

“It’s always there. Always blazing,” he whispered. Suddenly, he didn’t sound half as self-confident as before.

“What is?”

“My power. It’s like there’s a lamp, a sun right behind my eyes, shining out of them with a blazing light. I can’t shut it off. I can’t even ignore it.” He shivered.

“Oh Basil, why didn’t you tell me?” she asked with a pained voice – she could feel his distress.

“What for? It’s my power, there’s nothing you can do about it,” he replied. “It’s… it’s…” just like in Macian’s memories. He couldn’t stop, either “it’s just a part of me, I guess. I’m sure I can learn to deal with it.”

“I could have helped. I can help you. Help you keep tabs on it, help you sleep when your power won’t let you,” she replied, sounding slightly irritated… and really, really worried.

“That… might help. Maybe you could look into my head, try to talk with that damn sprite?” he asked, hopeful. Maybe, if he could somehow force the ‘Blazing Sun’ to talk things through…

She nodded, her chin rubbing against his shoulder. “We could… organize a session. Take some time off, both of us. Sit down, and I’ll get into your head. Look for a solution. We should have thought of this sooner.”

“Yes. We do that. But first, I need to finish up here. There’s another reason why I got so out of control after the battle.”

“What is it?”

“I’ll tell you along with the others. Let’s go back up. And no using your power on them anymore, alright?”

“All right… for now, baby brother. I won’t stand for them dragging you down through incompetence or stupidity,” she replied.

He knew he was not going to get her to agree to more.

* * *

They returned to the main control room, where the others were in the process of discussing something, but stopped once they came back up.

The girls, as well as Tim, all turned to look at them, but no one really said anything. Tim looked as calm as ever, Vasiliki looked thoughtful, Dalia was… blushing?

He walked until he stood next to them, then said: “First, I’m sorry about earlier. You wanted to help me, and I just went mental on you guys.” He gave a slight bow.

“Nonono, you were right, really,” replied Vasiliki. “I mean, you didn’t have to be a jerk about it, but we did survive solely due to blind luck – if the twins hadn’t shown up, we’d have been screwed.” She stopped, thinking it over, then looked at Dalia. “Which kind of makes your power real creepy – just how far does it reach?”

“Uh, I, well, no idea,” stammered Dalia, tearing her eyes off Amy.

What the hell did you do to Dalia? he asked angrily in his head. He knew Amy would pick it up.

Nothing, really. Want me to take a look and see what’s going on?

No! Stay out of her head! All of their heads!

Jeez, you don’t need to flip out like that! I’ll be nice, scout’s promise!

Didn’t you almost blow up the local scouts’ headquarters last month?

Never said I was one of the good scouts.

The whole exchange took less than a second (speed of thought was handy that way), so Basil could respond without a noticeable pause: “Still, I shouldn’t have gone on like that. But I’m afraid we have bigger problems than me being unable to handle defeat.”

“And what would those be?” asked Tim.

He sat down at the console, turning the chair around to look at all of them. “I broke the code on the Black Panther’s files. Remember, from the video, how he threatened to sell us into slavery?”

They all nodded, and he heard Amy chuckle inside his head.

What would you have done, had he tried to sell me to you?

You mean before or after I made him eat his own genitals?

Ah. Nevermind.

“Well, they bought someone. A girl. A metahuman.”

“What?!” shouted an outraged Vasiliki. “That’s disgusting!” Dalia nodded in agreement.

Prisca continued: “And why is it always girls, anyway?”

“Well, nearly seventy percent of all metahumans are women. Theories abound, but the most commonly cited one is that the still present discrimination against women leads to…”

Prisca cut into his starting rant: “What he’s trying to say is that the Man is putting us sisters down, so we get powers more often.”

“Finally, someone who talks English!” shouted Dalia in relief. Basil just grumbled something unintelligible.

Fortunately, Amy moved them back on track. “So, about this girl? What’s so special about her?”

“Well… according to the messages I intercepted, she’s estimated to be a new S-Class threat… and they think they can use her to wipe out their competition, as well as threaten the UH into staying away from the fighting.”

You could have heard a pin drop in the silence that followed.

“Uhh, how is that our problem?” Prisca asked with a desperate note in her weak voice. When everyone turned to look at the camera, she continued: “I mean, apart from the fact that you guys almost died – or got sold into slavery – just yesterday, an S-Class threat is way, way out of your league. This is Cabal business!”

“The Shining Guardians are quite preoccupied right now. The local heroes won’t call them in unless they have definite proof of the threat,” replied Amy.

“True. But either way, we need to warn the United Heroes. At the very least, we could use their help in tracking down the girl and getting her into protective custody. They can secure her, we can’t,” continued Basil.

They nodded. “So, we contact the heroes. How, do we just call their hotline?” asked Dalia.

“I got all their phone numbers. Best to call Amazon, instead of going around her, I think,” explained Basil. “After all, she’s the leader now.”

“And she’s got experience. Few metahumans in her class have taken part in as many S-Class events as she has. She won’t dismiss you out of hand, if only because she knows how bad things can get with S-Class metahumans,” Amy added.

I guess you’re sure?

Of course. And shut it, I could have known this simply through research. Her resume is available to the public.

“Then do it, Basil!” Vasiliki said, all but shouting.

He nodded and turned around to the console.

* * *

First, calibrate the microphone, so it will only catch what I say. Then, initiate the voice changer. Now, set up anti-tracing measures – all of them.

Basil worked through his mental checklist, to make absolutely sure they could neither be overheard from his side, nor he himself traced back by them.

It took him almost three minutes before he felt completely safe to initiate the call to her UH phone. And he put on a pair of headphones, too. If only because it annoyed Amy.

Amazon picked up on the third ring.

<Who is this?> she asked with sleep in her voice.

She just woke up – it’s nearly afternoon!

“This is Brennus. Good… afternoon, Amazon,” he replied.

<How did you get this number!?> Now she was awake.

“Not important right now. I have bad news. The really bad kind.”

Someone spoke on the other side. A man… and he recognized the voice, even if he couldn’t understand what was said. Amazon shushed him with a few affectionate words.

Way to go, Jake.

<Alright. Tell me everything.> He thought he heard her stand up.

“Me and my team got into an altercation with the Black Panthers last night. During it, Panthera Rex attacked us, but was killed when an unknown third party intervened.”

<Did you identify the third party? Do you have proof of their involvement – proof that it wasn’t you?> She remained calm.

“I have a video recording of the battle. If you want, I can send it to you.”

<Please do. Dammit, this is gonna be chaos pure.>

“Panthera Rex’s death is not the bad news. Or rather, it’s just one thing that makes it worse.”

<Oh, what could that be now? If you tell me there’s some S-Class involved somewhere there, I’ll call bogus on you. It’s already bad enough as it is.>

“You might want to take that statement back.”

<No. No way.>

“Yes. I was able to hack into their computers and access their communication records. They purchased a newly manifested, female S-Class metahuman from a metahuman trafficker. They were hoping to use her as a deterrent against the competition and the local heroes. But, according to some other mail, Panthera Rex was pretty much the last individual holding the more extreme members back from using her offensively.”

<And he’s dead now.>

“Quite so.”

<>

“How do you wish to proceed? I think I speak for my entire team-” He looked at Tyche and Hecate, mouthing his question – they both nodded. “- when I say that we’re willing to fully cooperate with you, provided our identities remain secret.”

<Shit, shit, shit, shit. And I can’t call in the Shining Guardians without definite proof. Send me the video and e-mails.>

He did so. It took her a few minutes to read through everything and speed through the video.

<Alright. I’ll con- Wait a minute, I’m getting another call. Hold the line.>

“Yes ma’am.”

He turned around, pulling the headphones off. “She’s getting another call, but it seems she’s taking this very seriously.”

Dalia grinned and said: “I knew she looked smart.” Vasiliki and Timothy nodded.

Prisca spoke up again. “Are you going to fight… that girl?” She sounded terrified.

“Not if we can help it. Our goal should be to save her. And take down the assholes who buy others to use as weapons.”

They all nodded at that (except Amy, who just looked thoughtful), and Prisca sighed audibly.

Then Amazon came back on the line and this time he put her on the speaker. <We just got a threat from the newly minted leader of the local Black Panthers, Panthera Avis. He wants the murderers of his former boss delivered to him alive or dead, otherwise he’ll unleash an S-Class threat on the city.>

“Even if I were willing to barter their lives away, I wouldn’t know how to contact or where to find those two to begin with,” he replied with a tone that allowed for no discussion.

Amazon seemed offended. <The United Heroes do not negotiate with terrorists, nor do they sacrifice anyone at the demand of a madman. We need a war council, and we need it now. Are you in?>

“Where and when?”

<Our headquarters. Guaranteed privacy and right to leave at any time. An hour from now.>

“We’ll be there.”

* * *

They arrived at the United Heroes’ headquarters fifteen minutes early. And they weren’t the only ones.

A man who identified himself as Jason Widard, Chief Mission Control, led them up to a war room.

There was a trio of chinese men, all in red robes, with heads shaved save for a single long braid each. Representatives of the local Dancing Dragon Triad, probably, though Brennus did not know them. He did take pictures of their faces, for later research.

Also present was a dark-skinned man in a three-piece suit. Elrik France, a known mob associate.

And finally, to his surprise, a brown-haired man in a white suit, with a blue shirt, white tie and silvery greaves and bracers engraved with flowers and trees. Rising Tide, the leader of the Foresters – a group dedicated to Weisswald’s ideals.

Amazon, Jason Widard, Mr Patrid, Gloom Glimmer (sitting side-by-side with Polymnia, whom Hecate greeted with an ecstatic wave) and the other junior heroes made up the United Heroes contingent.

Opposite of them sat the Dark, alone. He looked at Brennus, Hecate and Tyche and gave them a brief nod of acknowledgement.

Ah crap. This is getting out of hand.

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B006 Big Game Hunt (Part 5)

Saturday Noon, Half a day later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vasiliki, you stupid cow!” shouted Vasiliki back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For once, people listened to her.

* * *

Mindstar was doing paperwork.

She was doing paperwork for the Dark Five.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<Yes, Ma’am. As sure as we can be.>

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then Amy arrived.

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

Of course you’d focus on that…

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

It feels nice talking with her…

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

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

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

“Show me the video from the ravens.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amy looked aroused. She was loving th-

Vasiliki shook her head. Huh, what?

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

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

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

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

“Amen, gal. Amen,” said Tim.

Amy just looked pensive.

* * *

Neverhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pro- no, Ember.”

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

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

Ember didn’t respond.

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

Negation.

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

“We can communicate another way, though?”

Affirmation.

“Why am I here?”

Curiosity.

“Am I here because you are curious?”

Negation.

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

Negation.

“Am I here because I am curious?”

Affirmation.

Basil thought it over.

“Do you know about my memory problems?”

Affirmation.

“Do you know why I’m having them?”

Indecision.

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

Negation.

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

Affirmation.

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

“Do you know about Macian?”

Affirmation.

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

“Do you know how we’re related?”

Affirmation.

“How?”

Refusal.

“You don’t want to tell me?”

Negation.

“You can’t tell me?”

Affirmation.

“Why not?”

Time.

“You mean it’s not yet time?”

Affirmation.

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

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

Affirmation.

“Are they good?” Keep the questions simple.

Affirmation. Affection.

“You know them personally?”

Affirmation.

“Are they good for me, too?”

Affirmation.

“Should I try to find them?”

Negation.

“What am I supposed to do then!?”

Indecision.

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

Affirmation.

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

Affirmation.

“What?”

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

All the world went white.

* * *

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

I need to improve her voice program.

He moved, flinched. Then he rose up.

I had the weirdest dream.

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

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

Then he remembered the urgency in Eudocia’s voice.

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

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

Ah crap.

B006 Big Game Hunt (Part 2)

Okinawa was sinking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ha, tru- You call her Liki?”

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

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

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

“That chick is so hot,” commented Dalia.

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

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

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

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

He snorted at her.

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They both fell silent, watching the tragedy unfold.

* * *

An hour later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

We need laws to protect children from school.

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

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

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

I wish I did not need to sleep anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<And I answered as thoroughly as I could…>

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

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

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

Basil sighed, sitting down on a stool.

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

Prisca nodded, probably understanding the situation.

<Sorry Father.>

“Do not call me father.”

<Alright, father.>

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

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

<Hey!>

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you sure? This sounds pretty serious.”

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

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

* * *

1:12 AM

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

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

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

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

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

And they were going to declare war on them tonight.

We really need a teamname.

B006 Big Game Hunt (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<Be safe. Wish I could help.>

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

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

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

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

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

Alright, alright, they’re taking precautions.

<Good luck.>

She didn’t reply.

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

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

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

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

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

“Dude, did y- Oh, you’re watching!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

“Why’s she doing that?” asked Dalia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Basil?” Dalia spoke up, sounding pensive.

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

“That’s her permanent defense, right?”

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We will have to look in-“

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

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

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

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

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

That guy, he made her flinch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We will s- Oh shit.

B004 Introduction to Metahuman Studies (Part 2)

Confusion spread through the hall as Gloom Glimmer walked onto the stage and to the podium standing at its center.

“What the hell is that girl wearing?” asked a bewildered Aimi.

Gloom Glimmer was wearing a dark blue pleated skirt that reached down to just above her ankles and a black, long-sleeved shirt – and, if his eyes did not deceive him, neither any kind of footwear nor any bra. At least there were no bra-lines to be seen. Her black hair reached down to her shoulders and her eyes were almost glowing.

All in all, she would have drawn the attention of everyone in the room even if she had been sitting in the back of the hall.

“Guess growing up with Lady Light as your mom might give you a more old-fashioned fashion sense,” commented Tim.

“Seconded,” agreed Basil.

Just then, Gloom Glimmer cleared her throat – and he could hear it where he sat just as well as if he had been sitting in front of her.

Some kind of minor power to make herself heard clearly everywhere in the hall? Very useful for any lecturer, he thought.

The various conversations died down immediately.

“A good morning to everyone. For those of you who haven’t noticed yet, I am not Lady Light,” she began. Behind her, words began to appear on the whiteboard in a flowing, yet easily readable style. Irene Whitaker.

“My name is Irene Whitaker when in Civilian clothes and Gloom Glimmer in costume,” she continued. “I will be holding this seminar in place of my mother, as she is currently too caught up with the international trouble that Desolation-in-Light’s last attack caused.”

She stopped for a moment, letting her words sink in, then she said: “Now, let’s get the boring stuff out of the way – this is a two-hour seminar that will be held once a week for the entire semester. That means that, to get full credit, each of you needs to write either an exam – which I think is very ineffective in order to test your knowledge of the subject matter and thus, will not happen – or three essays building on what we discuss during class. Whoever wants extra credit can also write a term paper.”

Pausing, she seemed to look into empty space for a moment, then she continued: “Read the course syllabus if you want to know the specific rules for essays and term papers. As for the seminar itself – I expect regular attendance from everyone unless there is a very good reason for your absence. If that reason is sickness, then I require a doctor’s referal. Talk to me ahead of time if you know you won’t be able to attend on a particular date and we can work something out. My office hours are each tuesday from twelve o’clock to two o’clock, though, considering my main occupation, they might fluctuate. You can find me in my mother’s office during those times.”

After that, she paused to catch her breath. Suddenly, her head snapped up, looking towards the left side of the center rows. “Mr Polin, I would prefer it if you would pay attention to what I have to say instead of commenting on the shape of my ass,” she said.

The boy she had adressed went beet read, while everyone looked at her with a shocked expression.

“Yes, I can hear every. Single. Word spoken inside this hall. So you’d better not goof off during lecture time. And I can see what people are writing as well, Ms Fitzhampton!”

Basil snickered at that, but stayed otherwise silent.

“Let me make this clear,” she said, raising her voice to address everyone in the room. “This is not just any high school! In most high schools, it is taken for granted that pupils are going to be bored and not pay attention, that only a few will always participate. Not. Here!”

She walked forward, standing on the edge of the stage. “This school was built upon the place where Lennston High stood. It was here that my half-sister, Diantha, gave her life fighting off Desolation-in-Light, when the latter attacked Lennston! My mother founded this school because she wanted to honor the memory of her daughter, because she thought that turning her memorial into something actually useful would be a better way of remembering Diantha’s sacrifice than some big rock with her name on it! And you better believe that I’ll make sure you honor that as well! This school doesn’t just want to prepare you for turning hamburger patties in some fast-food chain, or being just another wage-slave in some crummy call-center! You are here to learn so as to be the best you can be! And one aspect of that preparation is giving you some basic knowledge of metahuman history and the metahuman contidition! Because, like it or not, we are living at the dawn of the Age of Metahumanity! So you’d better pay attention! If you just want to sit around and be lazy, go to another school!”

“Welcome to your first session of Introduction to Metahuman Studies!”

The hall went silent.

Ah, what the hell, thought Basil and started to clap.

He was almost immediately followed by the dumpy looking girl sitting next to him and soon more and more of the shocked students fell in, until the hall roared in clapping.

Who needs telepathy to control a crowd?

* * *

The clapping died down after a while.

On the inside, Irene was all but glowing red – she’d kind of let herself go during those last few sentences. That hadn’t been planned.

Wow. You really did get some of your dad’s love for drama, didn’t you?, asked Polymnia through their link. Irene could feel her snickering on the inside.

You try and get through his drama lessons without them rubbing off.

Wait, he actually-

That was a joke.

Oh. Good. Now you better get on with the lesson.

Sure thing.

* * *

“Alright, let’s get down to brass tacks,” Irene said.

Basil perked up, pulling out his PDA to take notes.

“This course is split into three parts. First, you will learn about the Metahuman Condition. Then you will learn the history of metahumanity right from the beginning. Lastly, we will discuss the effects that Metahumans have had on the world.”

Words appeared on the whiteboard, outlining the schedule.

“During this first session, we will outline the mechanics of manifestation and the power classification system. The last one is of particular note, because we will NOT be using the old Cruse-System, but rather set up the new Werdenfeld-Manning-System, which is generally accepted to be much more concise and accessible.”

She stopped for a moment, and Basil leaned forward a bit. This was going to be interesting – there were many, many theories out there regarding how and why people manifested, one more outrageous than the other. He’d read up on what little Lady Light had published regarding that subject – it seemed to be a subject she did not want to discuss at length – and he was curious to see whether or not Irene would adhere to that or have her own theory.

“So, manifestations. You all know what that means – the event that causes a metahuman’s powers to manifest, turning them from an average human to, well, a metahuman. What do we know about it? Here are some facts:”

She turned towards the whiteboard as it was wiped clean, and a list began to appear as if being written by an invisible hand:

1. Manifestation usually takes place between the onset of puberty and the attainment of complete physical maturity.

2. Manifestations that take place outside of this time frame almost always result in unusual powers and/or extreme power levels. Manifestation at a younger age tends to produce more powerful metahumans and vice versa.

3. Manifestation is triggered through traumatic experiences that push a person to their physical and/or mental limit.

4. Physical trauma usually produces physical powers, mental trauma mental powers.

5. The intensity of the trauma required to cause manifestation varies.

6. The more intense the required trauma, the more powerful the resulting powers (with some notable exceptions).

7. Manifestation can not be forced! Every single such attempt has gone horribly wrong, barring some singular successes.

8. Manifestation can not be reversed.

9. Manifestation is usually instantaneous. There are some rare reports of manifestations that take up to 48 hours, but the length of the manifestation does not seem to give any information about the resulting powers.

10. Manifestation is nearly always just as traumatic as the triggering event, if not more so. It always burns itself into the subject’s memory, along with the triggering event that precedes it.

11. There are reports of vision quests, glimpses of the past, present and/or future and contact with strange, non-human entities during manifestations. No two such experiences are ever the same.

12. Manifestation is currently still regarded as a purely supernatural event and impossible to be directly analyzed. We can only research the results of manifestations.

He wrote everything down. Most of it was stuff he had already known, except for the bit about the long-lasting manifestations. They had to be pretty rare.

“Well, this is basically the sum total of what humanity knows about manifestations. Everything else is just speculation. Some few people may know more, but if so, they don’t share.”

She turned back towards the pupils. “Before anyone asks: no, I don’t know any more than you do. Just like everyone else on this planet, I believe that my parents know way more about it. Just like everyone else in the world, I can’t get them to tell me. And I won’t bother giving you my own personal theory, either. Don’t bother asking.”

Taking a deep breath, she began to walk up and down the stage.

“At this point, it would be necessary to talk about non-standard manifestations in order to better understand the whole concept. However, non-standard manifestations almost invariably lead to non-standard powers, so we will first set up the power classifications and briefly discuss the individual powers,” she continued.

“So, let’s get to the power classification system. First, the rating scale.”

The whiteboard was, again, wiped clean. Numbers appeared, going from 1 to 13.

“Powers are rated on a scale of one to thirteen. This scale can further be subdivided into five ‘tiers’, consisting of one to three, four to six, seven to nine, ten to twelve and thirteen. Within these tiers, the difference between the individual ratings are flowing and hard to quantify, with a more noticeable jump from tier to tier.”

A circle appeared around the numbers 1, 2 and 3.

“This is the most common power level. Sixty-eight percent of all registered metahumans are assigned ratings between one and three. Powers from this class are clearly beyond human abilities, but not necessarily beyond the capabilities of technology. They tend to be the most ‘realistic’, for lack of a better word, and the most easily controllable. Examples would include the ability to flash freeze moderate amounts of liquid, restricted flight – meaning that air currents, inertia and gravity are still in full effect – or the ability to create tricked out but still logical weapons of one type – like Spellgun’s… spellguns. Metahumans with this rating have the best chance not to develop mental defects. Also known as the Exemplar Tier.”

The circle moved to the numbers 4, 5 and 6.

“This would be the power class known as the Paragon Tier. This is what most people think of when they speak of metahumans. From level four and up, powers become clearly and undeniably supernatural. Adonis-types of this tier have clearly supernatural beauty and capabilities and flight can often ignore some laws of physics at least partially, like allowing turns that should not be possible. Another example would be Outstep’s ability to twist his personal time to such an extent that it effectively gives him super speed. Unfortunately, the chance for mental defects jumps up considerably with each level, ranging from eleven percent at level four to twenty-three percent at level six.”

Now the numbers 7, 8 and 9 were encircled.

“Now we get to what is commonly called the Apex Tier. At this point, it is rare for a metahuman to be assigned a rating below B. Combat-oriented powers in this tier allow for massive devastation, making the use of mundane weaponry usually pointless for their users. They also tend to be far more versatile than Paragon Tier powers. For example, a level six Kinetic would usually be limited to a specific material he or she can control, like stone, metal, wood or water, while a level seven Kinetic is more likely to have outright Telekinesis. The chance for mental defects rises along with the intensity of the powers, ranging from thirty-eight to fifty-six percent.”

Finally, the numbers 10 to 12 were encircled.

“And now we get to the feared ‘God Tier’ – though most religious groups hate that term. At this point, metahumans become nearly impossible to handle for baseline humans. Examples would be flight that completely ignores the laws of physics, allowing 180° turns without any loss in speed, or instantaneous stopping, the ability to create large numbers of independent agents or lift a skyscraper with nothing but a thought. The jump in power from Apex Tier to God Tier is very nearly exponential. However, the jump in chance for mental defects is also quite extreme, with a chance of seventy-nine to ninety percent.”

Some people raised their hands, but Irene waved them off.

“Yes, I know about the thirteen rating. After all, it has been applied to me. Let’s make it short: the thirteen means that, basically, there is no point in rating the power any more, because it breaks any and every frame of reference. It is also called the ‘Oh God, No Tier’ or, if you want to be vulgar, the ‘Fuck You Tier’. Mostly, it is called ‘Transcendent’, which should tell you all you need to know about it. A transcendent power goes up and beyond anything else. There is no point in discussing this rating in detail, because there are no details, apart from the chance for derangements going up to ninety-nine percent.”

The board was wiped clean again.

“Now, let’s get to the individual power classifications.”

B003 Forbidden Garden (Part 7)

“Are you sure you want to do this? You are hurt“, Amy said.

Basil just nodded and stared at his mobile phone – tracking the movements of the so-called Switchbitch.

Amy’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. “The Hemogoblins…”

“…are a C-to-B-Class gang, mainly due to their leadership consisting entirely of metahumans, with their actual leader being a B-Class Contriver”, continued Basil. “Their metapowered members are…”

“Alright, alright, so you’ve done some research on them”, Amy cut him off before he could launch into an exposition-rant (not that she didn’t like to do that once in a while. Just not as much as he did). “Still, do you think you can do this? You. Are. Hurt. And your teammates are certainly not up to this – leave it to the heroes! That’s what they’re for!”

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B003 Forbidden Garden (Part 6.2)

Getting to the Hospital did not take long – before the reconstruction of the city even began after DiL’s attack, it had been decided that the new public transport system was going to be the most efficient in the world – and they had succeeded (at the time). And while Washington had managed to snatch that title away during their 2001 reworking of their public transportation system, New Lennston’s was still one of the world’s finest. The magnetic trains moved almost soundlessly through the city and one needed half an hour at most to reach any station from any other.

So he entered Prisca’s room just as Mrs. Smith was leaving with the food tray. She did not even notice him, as she had to hurry to bring the tray to the kitchen and then run along to the next patient needing help with eating. And then the next one. Plus those who needed help with going to the toilet – a problem which Prisca wished she had, because it would mean that her bowels still worked well enough to actually process food – and so on.

Which meant that he and Prisca would be undisturbed for at least an hour and a half. Perfect.

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