B013.1 Call of the Sleeper

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Yesterday was a big day, for yesterday was the day, on which the first of the Chosen of the Blood, of whom our Leader speaks so much, has visited Germany.

They call her Lady Light across the sea, and by God Almighty, a more fitting name, I can barely imagine. Angel, perhaps.

Goddess.

She came to us glowing like the sun, brilliant and flawless, escorting the American President on his way to a peace conference. A sham, really; no one here in Europe actually wants peace, I think. But at least it allowed me to lay eyes on her.

Later, many of my landsmen spoke about how she was living proof of the Truth of Blood and Heritage, even if she was a woman, at least the first of the Chosen had been a true Aryan, the rumors of her relationship to one of the accursed Jews notwithstanding. Personally, I never saw the point in despising people merely because of race. Yes, some people are born inferior to others. Others superior. That is nature.

That is no reason to hate, though. Pity, perhaps, for those less fortunate, but certainly no hate. Disdain, for those who refuse to recognise their place, but certainly no rage.

Besides, even in my limited experience, I have come ot realise that the same differences exist within the German – or Aryan – race, as well. Perhaps not to such extreme extents – other races are definitely more different from us than we are among each other – but the difference exists. No one would ever say that I was an average member of my race and I say this without a hint of vanity. I had proven myself to be better than most even before my blood awakened.

Perhaps if I tell myself that often enough, I’ll even convince myself that I didn’t end up proving to be less than most, too.

I am rambling again. Mother always tells told me that I tend to ramble too much, if I don’t have others to keep me on track. Adelheid just says said I’m addicted to the sound of my own voice. It is quite likely that she is right.

Where was I… ah, yes, Lady Light. Such a simple name, to encompass such an enrapturing creature. At first I thought, this is it? This is the first Chosen? She was… thin. Almost a head shorter than I, and looking so fragile. Weak. I could pass for her older brother, even though I’m barely half her age.

And yet… and yet, there was something, something that drew one’s eye to her. A quiet confidence, a core of will, of conviction, as uncaring for what us mere humans may do as the sun itself is, and just as brilliant. A blazing sun in human form. I have never seen its like before, not even in the Leader.

She did not talk to me – why would she, I was but one lesser chosen among several gathered there? – but her gaze passed over me. It felt like she was staring right into my soul.

Whatever happens… whatever else comes of the next few years… I pray that I shall meet her again.

***

8 am, November 17, the day after the Crocell Incident

The door to the container ‘hangout’ that Basil used as a cover for one of the entrances to his base opened, and Vasiliki entered alongside Tim and Dalia, studiously trying to ignore her friend’s choice of clothing. Fashion was just one of the many subjects which they clashed on, and she wasn’t going to get into another discussion about how appropriate skimpy tops and miniskirts or hot pants with tights were, especially during winter. She’d just quietly stick to a nice (hand-made) long skirt and a comfortable (hand-made) sweater.

Maybe some day, Dalia would learn. And until then, she’d keep entertaining Timothy, who clearly did not mind her fashion sense at all.

They walked to the elevator, that would lead them down to the base.

“You think B-Six is already awake?” Dalia asked lightly, smiling as she moved with a casual, unconscious grace which Vasiliki greatly envied her for. “Or perhaps still? Could see him skipping sleep, after yesterday.”

She wasn’t wrong, though. “I can imagine that being the case, yes,” she admitted while they pressed the hidden switch beneath the counter to take them down. The elevator started to move without a sound. “Studying that monster, then getting a chance to work with three other gadgeteers, on Sovereign’s equipment, no less, well…”

“Basil got his hands on new tech?” Timothy asked, sounding like he couldn’t decide whether to be amused or horrified. “I bet he was… ecstatic.”

That elicited a giggle from Dalia. “He must’ve had such a huge nerdgasm!”

Vasiliki rolled her eyes at the crass language, though she couldn’t honestly object to the point made. Basil could be very easily excited by anything to do with his power, and the fact that he’d somehow convinced Gloom Glimmer to take him straight back here, right after the battle was over, spoke for him being almost out of his mind with new ideas. Otherwise, she was absolutely certain he would not have left them behind.

Not that Vasiliki wouldn’t have stayed anyway, to help with search and rescue. It had still been an unpleasant surprise to find out that he’d left so suddenly, and without even telling them that he’d survived.

Vasiliki had been scared for her friend.

He’d better have a damn good excuse, she thought to herself, while also trying not to think about all the corpses they’d pulled out of the flooded rubble and collapsed buildings.

So many corpses, even though an anonymous hero had been going around helping evacuate the civilians…

She was distracted from that train of thought when the elevator reached the living room and ‘command centre’ of the base, where they were immediately greeted by Eudocia’s emblem appearing on the large central screen.

“Hi you three!” she chirped, sounding to all the world like an over-exited preteen. Which, in some ways, she pretty much was. “How’re you doing?”

“We’re fine, thank you for asking,” Vasiliki replied. “Is Basil in his lab?”

“Yup, he’s been there since he came back. Didn’t even sleep. If it wasn’t for Prisca, he wouldn’t even have eaten,” Eudocia complained sullenly, as usual exasperated in how hard it was to pursue her self-imposed duty of looking after Basil’s oft-neglected health.

At least he keeps himself nearly obsessively clean, Vasiliki thought, thanking the gods for their small favours. “Do you know what he’s been working on?”

“Nope! Whatever ideas he got, they’re way beyond me,” the AI replied, chirpy again. “First thing he built was some kind of headgear he used on himself, but I have no idea what it really did, he wasn’t being too chatty. Seemed to give him a headache, though. Since then, he’s been working on some kind of bracer or gauntlet. He cannibalized most of his stuff to make it, even his vibrosword!”

Dalia whistled, though even she looked like she could see the issue with that. Vasiliki couldn’t help but frown, too. She knew that Basil’s resources were running thin, which explained why he had to take apart previous projects – or unfinished ones – to make new stuff, but sacrificing his sword?

Well, it wasn’t like he’d used it all that much to begin with – he didn’t like killing any more than Vasiliki did, and the vibrosword was pretty much only useful for taking apart inanimate objects, unless you wanted to kill your opponent.

“We’ll talk to him,” she stated firmly, sorting out her thoughts. “Try to figure out what’s going on.”

“Yeah, time for a little reality check,” Dalia said in a similar tone of voice. She hadn’t taken him just leaving them behind much, if any, better than her. “This is weird even by his standards.”

“Thanks. I hope you’ll talk some sense into him,” Eudocia said, opening the door that lead down to the lab proper.

The three of them walked down the short staircase and entered into the lab… which honestly looked not much different than usual, at least to Vasiliki’s eye. It had always been a strange mixture of obsessively neat and absentmindedly chaotic; several worktables with half-finished or just-disassembled projects laid out in what seemed to be utter disorder, to the point where she sometimes suspected Basil might have an eidetic memory, just to explain how he ever found anything, contrasting with the neat, orderly way that said tables and projects were laid out in the room, with clear, neat pathways between them, everything stationed so that, no matter at which one Basil was sitting, he could look at any other project by turning in the right direction.

She’d never admit it to him, for fear of his head swelling even more than it usually did, when it came to his gadgets, but watching him work, seeing all the strange stuff he was working on, was a really fun pastime for her, trying to figure out what the hell he was fiddling with at any time and all. The fact that he tended to get so absorbed in his work, he’d likely not notice her even if she was standing around naked and singing in Greek, made it all the easier to observe him in his ‘natural habitat’, as she and Dalia tended to joke.

It had changed over the last month or so, though. Vasiliki had been aware that he was having trouble continuing his work, both due to his power being baulky and due to dwindling money, he’d complained about it a few times, and Eudocia had shared some of it, as well, but right now, it was as obvious as ever that he was starting to run out of resources, at least.

Half the lab was empty, really, with only a few small parts and tools on most tables, his work mostly concentrated on the five centre tables, one of which being his computer station, at that.

She couldn’t even begin to guess at the purpose of most of the things he was working on, but one table, at least, was easily identified – the one he’d been performing maintenance on his battered armour (as skillful as he could sometimes be, somehow he still managed to get it wrecked a whole damn lot), the individual pieces laid out along with the bodysuit worn underneath them, looking like they were back in top condition.

The other tables were far less obvious. One sported what she assumed was a computer tower as tall as she was, standing at its centre. It seemed to have been built by cannibalising damn near every other computer in the room, fitting all the necessary parts together into an amalgam that would have made Frankenstein proud. With all the wires leading out of it, and the irregularly spaced amber-coloured cooling lines, it reminded her kind of of some japanese anime’s idea of a mechanical tree or such. And that was only the most obvious piece, as its wires connected to a variety of other devices, which were interconnected in turn, the whole construct so expansive it extended onto another table, all of it ending up in what looked like a twisted, uneven VR headset that had to weigh as much as a small child at the least, currently resting on the table in front of where Basil would normally sit.

Another table sported what looked like three hollow, egg shapes that fanned open like flowers, the insides of the petals covered in countless tiny spines, with one of Basil’s hand-made laptops wired up to them, running some kind of program with a progress bar that was half-done.

Finally, there was one last table on which lay a single gauntlet, sized to fit over Basil’s forearm and the back of his hand. Unlike the rest of his armor, it wasn’t made out of the black ceramic he tended to use, but of several overlapping half-rings of silvery metal, covered in gold and copper circuits which seemed to serve no purpose whatsoever (though Vasiliki knew better than to assume Basil would waste resources on mere aesthetics). The table was actually clean apart from that, all the tools put neatly away, signifying that this work, at least, was complete.

The one responsible for all that, Basil, sat at his computer terminal, wearing black dress pants and an unbuttoned white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his biceps, lounging on a swivel chair, turned halfway towards them.

Vasiliki felt her face heat up a bit, hoping to all spirits that her dusky skintone would hide the light blush as she was reminded that Basil had been… really getting more attractive, ever since she first met him.

Oh, he wasn’t turning into a supermodel, and he likely never would be; but gone was the gangly, messily black-haired, stick-thin nerd with the sharp black eyes she’d first befriended. His hair had grown long (and stayed messy, in spite of his attempts to keep it under control), nearly touching his shoulders by now, and his face had lost a lot of baby fat it’d still sported just a few months ago, making it look even sharper than before (which was saying a lot), his cheekbones looking like she could have sliced bread on them. His unbuttoned shirt and rolled-up sleeves showed the results of working out regularly, nevermind all the combat training they did whenever all three of them had the time, nevermind the regular patrols; he was still a little too thin and she doubted he’d ever look like a body-builder, and he often looked like he was tired due to what seemed to be some natural wrinkles around and underneath his jet black eyes, but…

Damn it, I’m feeling a little jealous of Prisca now, she thought. All in all, she wouldn’t be surprised if Basil wasn’t going to be getting a lot of hopeful suitors, come prom time – traditionally, Diantha High always had girls’ choice there, and Prisca wasn’t around to lay claim to him.

Oh Goddess, what the Hell am I even thinking? I have way more important things to worry about! she thought to herself as the two of them walked up to Basil.

“Hey, B-Six!” Dalia greeted him cheerily, and Vasiliki noticed that the red-head was clearly not as restrained as she tried to be about ogling the eye candy. “Did Prisca just leave?”

Timothy coughed suddenly, looking away.

Basil looked up at her, raising an eyebrow. “Just a few minutes ago, yes. Her charge ran out and she had to wake up. How did you know?”

Yeah, how did sh- ohhhh, Vasiliki caught up just a second later, and felt her face heat up even more. She really had to get herself a boyfriend already.

“Female intuition, I guess,” Dalia quipped brightly. “I see she got you to eat, huh?” she continued, nodding towards an empty plate on the table next to the computer.

Their friend shrugged. “I was not really hungry, but Prisca was really… insistent,” he said casually, as if it was nothing special.

“I really need to get that far with my girlfriend…” Vasiliki heard Timothy whisper from behind her.

Amen, she thought. And I need to find a boyfriend in the first place.

“Anyway,” she spoke up, trying not to focus on her relatively irrelevant relationship status. “We’ve got to talk, Basil.”

He turned his chair to face them fully and she realised that it wasn’t just his natural look she’d picked up on earlier. He really did look tired, though not as badly as he’d gotten before their intervention a while ago.

Perhaps we should keep a closer eye on him again, I don’t think that Eudocia is really cut out for watching over her ‘father’.

“Let us talk then,” he said with a smile. “What can I do for you?”

“What happened at the end of the battle?” she asked straight out, not wanting to beat around the bush anymore. “Why’d you just dump us to come back here, and why’d you risk showing Gloom Glimmer our base?”

He flinched a bit, looking actually guilty. “I… I am sorry for leaving you behind. I am not entirely sure of all the details, but when Crocell died… well, you noticed his death throes, right? They call it a ‘psychic scream’, I think.”

Vasiliki nodded, shuddering at the memory. It had been profoundly unsettling, not to mention painful – her headache had lasted for hours. She knew that Dalia’s experience had been no better, either.

“What did you experience while it happened?” he asked them, gesturing for her or Dalia to take over.

“Flashes,” the latter immediately spoke up. “Flashes of colours and shadows, and weird sounds, like whale songs,” she explained as she sat on a chair Timothy had pulled up for her.

Vasiliki looked around and saw that he’d done the same for her, and was now sitting on one of his own, too, so she sat down as well, the four of them forming a loose circle among Basil’s workstations.

“My experience was very similar,” she continued once it became clear that Dalia was finished. “But even less distinct. Just shadows and screeching, but muted, echo-y, like it was underwater,” she described as best as she could, while Timothy remained quiet – he was the only one here who hadn’t been present. “I think there was more, while it happened, but it… didn’t stick in my mind.”

Basil made a thoughtful sound as he intertwined his fingers beneath his chin, elbows on the armrests of his chair. “I saw… much more. Perhaps because I was so close to it. Images, mostly. Memories, I think, of Crocell. To be more precise, his birth… and his creators.”

“What!?” Vasiliki shouted, jumping up onto her feet. “That thing was made? And you know who did it?!” She’d track these monsters down and blow them to high heaven!

He raised a hand in a calming gesture. “I will get to that,” he said, standing up as she sat down and buttoning his shirt closed, before he walked over to the huge computer tower to flip a single switch, causing it to boot up quietly, numerous fans that were hidden among the already extensive cooling lines starting their work. “I can not say whether it happened due to Crocell’s presence, but during the battle, it was like my power… came unstuck.” He gestured towards the gauntlet with one hand, using the other to type something on the tower’s keyboard without even looking at it. “That is how I was able to figure out how to kill the beast. Anyway, my memory of the contents of its scream began to fade quickly, and that is when I came up with this.” He gestured towards the computer tower and the headpiece it was connected to. “A neural engram recorder and visualiser,” he explained. “It can read the neural signals of the brain’s visual cortex and record them, provided one focuses long enough on an image – I used it to save as much of these visions as I could, before they faded from my mind, as well.”

The three of them just gaped at the boy, but he didn’t seem to notice, or care, as he continued on.

“Now, as to what I saw…” he stopped, suddenly, and turned to his computer terminal. “Eudocia, how is Prisca doing?” he asked calmly.

“She’s awake and talking to her mother,” the AI replied. “It seems like it will take a while, but I can’t be sure, since I’m not allowed to listen in on private conversations without permission,” she continued, sounding sullen.

“Good,” he said, sitting down again. “She will have to hear this, too, but… I would rather discuss it with you all first.”

And with that cryptic comment, he tapped a few keys on his terminal, calling up an image of… some kind of underwater scenery, a trench maybe. A slick rockwall could be seen, covered in corals and illuminated from below in all colours of the rainbow.

A tap of a key called up another image, looking up said wall towards the surface of the water, though little could be seen of it.

“I was not able to save much,” Basil continued, as he moved on, going from picture to picture. Crocell – it had to be him – was swimming up, it seemed, approaching a jet-black shape that seemed to float on the water’s surface, something like a huge octagon. “Here is where it gets interesting.”

More pictures came up, until Crocell seemed to break through the water’s surface, looking up at the starry sky.

Then, he climbed on top of the water, and looked down and out over a huge, almost city-sized floating island of metal, formed like an octagon.

His gaze swept over several people who’d gathered on some kind of platform at the edge of the installation, and focused closer on them.

Vasiliki felt her heartbeat speed up as she saw what she assumed to be the villains behind all the murder and bloodshed these monsters had caused over the last day. There were many, and not all were distinctly visible – the image quality was not the best in every shot, probably because Basil had had trouble remembering every detail – but a few stood out.

A woman in what looked like a samurai-themed knight’s armour mixed with a black-and-purple ball gown, wearing a helmet which reminded her of a bird, and a katana strapped to her side. Another woman, short, Asian, in a lab coat, with an ecstatic look on her face, her black hair drawn back in a bun. Next to her, a pimply, gangly man who looked like the stereotypical nerd in an oversized labcoat. And finally, a black-skinned woman in a smaller, tighter labcoat, her hands in her coatpockets as she seemed to look almost condescendingly at the viewer – at Crocell.

Others were around them, but they were indistinct, blurry. The focus was clearly on those four.

“That’s them, huh,” Dalia whispered. “Anyone recognise the bitch in the fancy costume?”

“No, I have never heard of anyone with that costume,” Basil replied, both Vasiliki and Timothy saying the same.

“Nor have I found any images on the internet which match her,” Eudocia added, her voice much more serious than usual.

“I did recognise one of them, though,” Basil continued, zooming in on the short Asian woman and the gangly nerd. “Eudocia was also able to identify the man – he is known as ‘the Geek’, a legacy villain who disappeared a few years ago. But it is this one that I am most interested in.” He zoomed further in on the short woman. “That… is Dusu.”

You could’ve heard a pin drop in the resulting silence.

Vasiliki stared at the image of the woman who’d ruined Prisca’s life, and that of so many others – no wonder Basil didn’t want to confront her with this rashly. The crippled girl would go ballistic.

She very deliberately did not ask whether Basil was sure – he would never speak about this unless he was absolutely sure.

“Is there a way to tell where this place is?” she asked instead, her voice barely more than a whisper. “There were some images of the stars earlier, perhaps one could determine its location that-” She cut off when she saw Basil’s grim smile.

“I did just that,” he affirmed, tapping a few keys. The images of the starry night showed up on the screens, one in each, and graphs began to appear, measuring the distances between stars, shapes they formed and more. “I also calculated how deep the trench Crocell rose out of must have been, based on the speed at which he rose and the height we observed when he first surfaced at Esperanza City. With those values, I was able to determine that it must be built somewhere above the Mariana Trench, specifically this general location.”

He called up a map of the Pacific Ocean, zooming in on the relevant portion and highlighting an area with a red circle. One quite near to the Challenger Deep, Vasiliki’s geographical knowledge told her.

“It is only accurate to within about a hundred kilometres, but nevertheless – whoever these people are, their base is somewhere there. And I am going to tell the United Heroes about it soon enough.”

Vasiliki swallowed dryly at the thought of the kind of violence that information would unleash – there was no way the heroes, and even a lot of villains, would hold back, not after the massacres caused. Nevermind governments like that of Japan, who’d been hit the hardest hit.

She wished she could participate. She’d drawn children out of the rubble of Esperanza.

“Damn, B-Six, that’s just… that’s so awesome,” Dalia said, hushed, her hands on her cheeks.

“Yeah, man, this… this is huge,” Timothy agreed, after having been quiet for most of this. “Are you… are you certain? I mean, I know you wouldn’t say this lightly, but if you’re wrong…”

Basil shook his head. “I am certain in what I saw, and the conclusions drawn. Crocell was made and he was made there. And Dusu,” he all but spat the name, “was involved in some fashion.”

He smiled grimly, showing teeth, the sight making Vasiliki shiver down to her toes. “This will not just be a chance to punish them for the monsters they unleashed. I intend to take the chance to find a cure for Prisca’s condition; if anyone has it, then Dusu, the one who created that plague in the first place.”

The Greek sorceress leaned back in her seat, running her fingers through her hair as she took a deep breath. “By the Goddess, this is… this is so much, Basil. Too much. We need to, to think this over, plan… and we need to tell Prisca, too. She deserves to know.”

He nodded, sitting down again. “Yes, yes she does. And I will. As soon as she comes back – I want to do it face-to-face, or as close as it gets with her insisting on the projection over her real body.” He sighed, leaning back as well.

“So, how are we going to tell the UH?” Dalia asked thoughtfully, an expression that was just weird on her, in spite of the situation. “Just give them a copy of the images and all?”

“I can not think of a better way,” Basil answered. “It will probably take a while to convince them that it is reliable, but I do not think that they will dismiss it, in the end. They need to take the chance to nip this at the bud, before even more monsters are created and let loose.”

Vasiliki nodded in agreement – that was paramount. Followed by punishing them for what they’d already done, of course.

She wished she had the power to directly send such villains to Tartarus herself.

“Alright, let’s talk about how we’re going to get this information to them in the most efficient, convincing way p-” she began, but was cut off when Eudocia suddenly butted in.

“Father!” she shouted, sounding panicked. “You’ve got to help!”

Basil turned his chair around, sitting straight and with alarm. “What is going on, Eudocia?” he asked briskly, but calmly.

“It’s Prisca!” the AI exlaimed, seeming to grow more and more panicked. “She just had a stroke!”

Basils knuckles turned white as he gripped the edge of his table. “Status report, now,” he hissed as Vasiliki just stared in shock.

The screens changed to ECG readings and other information that Vasiliki couldn’t even begin to make sense of, making her briefly wonder where he was getting them from… until she remembered that he’d built most of the medical equipment currently sustaining Prisca, and there was no way he hadn’t left himself a connection to it for just such an occasion.

She watched as Basil’s eyes flew over the information, seeming to absorb it in record time. “Any reports on the other surviving victims?” he asked, his voice tight.

“Two of those whom I have access to had strokes over the last hour, one of them fatal,” she replied, her voice growing calmer, more mechanical, now that she was getting orders to pursue. “I’m hacking into what little there already is on their hospitals’ networks… nothing conclusive, as usual, but it seems like the plague is attacking their brains more aggressively than usual.”

She saw Basil tremble, even though his face – which she could see from the side, sitting where she was – was completely calm. “Keep collecting data. I want every byte you can get, he said calmly, leaning back on his seat.

Vasiliki couldn’t sit around anymore, though, and leapt up. “We should get to the hospital, see what you can do for her… or maybe me, if all else fails,” she said, turning around to go for where she had her spare costume stashed. She knew her healing magic -what little of it she was capable of – was not the most reliable, but if all else failed…

Dalia got up to join her, her face tight with worry.

“No,” came a sharp, cold voice, freezing them both in their tracks. “We are not going to the hospital.”

They turned around, both of them, and Vasiliki felt her blood run cold as ice.

Basil was leaning back on his chair again, his fingers intertwined as he’d put his hands together over his lap, his head slightly leaning forward.

His eyes were cold as ice and blacker than the darkness itself.

“W-why not? We need to help her!” Dalia protested, but Vasiliki just stared at her friend, who was looking into the distance with those cold, hard eyes.

“We will be of no help rushing to the hospital,” he spoke calmly, ignoring Dalia’s protests. It was like someone completely different was speaking. “I have already done all that I can for her, with just my skills and resources. Vasiliki’s magic is not compatible with my gadgets, and no one knows how it might react to Dusu’s plague.”

“W-what are we supposed to do, then?” Vasiliki asked, her voice trembling, and not just for fear for Prisca. This Basil… she’d known that there was something cold, and hard inside of him, some part of his that couldn’t be explained by the life he’d lead so far, but that was nonetheless there, but she’d never thought she’d see it so clearly.

He was scaring her.

“It is simple,” he said with that ice-cold voice. “There is only one person who knows how to save Prisca,” he continued, calling up the image of those four villains again. “We are going to go after the source of the plague.” He tapped her face on the screen.

“Are you crazy!?!” Vasiliki shouted, unable to restrain herself. “There’s no way we have enough time to wait for the heroes and the government to gather their troops and get there, Prisca will be dead or brain-damaged long before that!”

Basil remained maddeningly calm, in the face of her outburst. “I never said we would wait. Or I will not, at least. I will go after her as soon as I can arrange for some transportation, and gather up as much firepower as I can on short notice.”

She gaped at her friend, unable to believe he was being so reckless, so… so stupid, even with his girlfriend’s life on the line! These were some major supervillains, and there could be a whole army on that floating island!

The other two seemed just as shocked as she was, unable to protest, as they watched Basil pick up his cellphone from the table.

“How… how are we even supposed to get there on our own?” Vasiliki asked weakly.

“Yeah, unless you got a jet stashed somewhere around here, there’s no way we’re getting there anytime soon,” Dalia agreed.

Basil just punched a number into his cellphone and lifted it to his ear. Whoever was on the other end picked up quickly.

“Gloom Glimmer,” he greeted the other side. “Brennus here. I am calling about that favour you said you owed me…”

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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.

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.

B004 Introduction to Metahuman Studies (Part 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?!

Melody didn’t respond.

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

Lady Light’s power classification appeared on the whiteboard.

Adonis 10

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

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

New words appeared next to the old ones.

Physique 12

Damage/Protection 7

Meta 12

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

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

Contriving

Control

Damage

Gadgeteer

Manipulation

Morphing

Movement

Perception

Physique

Protection

Spawning

Meta

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

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

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

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

Tell me about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, you’re so mean.

Don’t complain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

“Basil? Did something happen?” asked Tim.

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

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

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

* * *

Somewhere, at the same time…

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

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

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

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

B004 Introduction to Metahuman Studies (Part 1c)

He’d changed. And it wasn’t a new change, not entirely.

Many small things he had noticed earlier now made more sense – the distance, the aloofness. He’d been acting deliberately ‘normal’, hiding the changes he knew they would pick up.

Or, perhaps, the changes only Tim would have picked up – Aimi wasn’t the most observant of persons.

Either way, Basil wasn’t hiding it, not here. He was sitting on the couch across from Tim, looking at him with a serious expression. He seemed both alert in that he was ready for trouble, but also relaxed in the way only a person could be who was sure they were capable of dealing with whatever came their way.

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B003 Forbidden Garden (Part 10)

Gloom Glimmer had teleported the two of them back to HQ after gathering her ruined equipment. She’d left Polymnia in her workshop to try and salvage as much of it as possible, but the most important parts, her sonic system, were also the most vulnerable.

Two suits trashed in less than two days. This doesn’t really say anything good about my future as a superhero.

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B003 Forbidden Garden (Part 2)

“Did you sleep well?”, asked Amy as she emptied her third plate, finally slowing down enough to talk. She had thrown one of her silk robes on and looked suitably mussed for someone who had just gone from bed to breakfast without a stop in the bathroom.

Basil was sitting on the other side of the table, having just started on his morning salad – he rarely ate much, often even skipping breakfast.

“Yes. It was nice, sleeping together again. We have not done that since-” you manifested your powers.

“Yeah. We ought to do it more often. Though your girlfriend might get jealous”, she replied with a smirk. All the while, more and more food was being prepared by invisible hands.

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