B006 Big Game Hunt (Part 6)

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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)

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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.

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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.

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.

Continue reading

B003 Forbidden Garden (Part 6.1)

They left the house in casual clothes, though Amy was, for a change, dressed appropriately for the weather in jeans, boots and a shapely black jacket (though only because she was wearing her costume, minus the high-heeled boots, underneath).

Since she absolutely insisted on him being fully equipped for visiting the house on the mountainside – even if his ravens had already scanned it and designated it as abandoned for years – they had to go to his lair first.

Fortunately, the girls had left to go home to their worried families and they would not be back until later in the afternoon to watch the TV special. So they were free to enter and suit up.

Continue reading

B003 Forbidden Garden (Part 1)

“…When the blazing sun is gone,

when he nothing shines upon…”

…Through the duct, into the next room. He could hear the corpses…

They banged on the door, but they could not get through. Yet. He needed something to dis…

The little girl again, crying. Something for him to protect, they were s…

“…As your bright and tiny spark…”

Vermillion blades, crawling…

…e was almost upon him, the blades cutting through…

No. Not this one. Look this way…

Continue reading

B002 Rising Stars (Part 4)

“You think he’s ever going to tell us what he found?” Dalia asked, sitting in the upper room of the lair on one of the couches. Basil had all but thrown them out of his workshop after they wouldn’t stop asking him about his outburst and what he had suddenly started working on.

Now she was reclining on the couch and watching some high-grade TV on one of the Pay-TV channels Basil had hacked for his base. He probably hadn’t even noticed (or cared) that he also hacked into pretty much every major porn channel as well. Not that she was about to complain, especially since it drove Vasiliki up the wall.

Truth be told, she wasn’t that interested in porn, or even sex, as she made out to be. Sure, she appreciated good looking guys (like that gorgeous Outstep) and girls (like that blonde number up on the TV right now – probably a level 0 adonis-type – or that absolutely gorgeous Gloom Glimmer. Seriously, she was almost as hot as Lady Light and she wasn’t even completely grown up yet!) but she was mostly acting like that to tease and drive her new two friends up the wall. Not that Basil gave her much in the way of a reaction. He hadn’t even looked twice the one time she had walked into his workshop naked! Just greeted her, told her to get dressed so she wouldn’t catch a cold and turned back to his work. The boy seemed to have all the sex drive of a plastic shovel. But Vasiliki was giving her more than enough reaction for two.

“Could you please switch to something else! This is completely tasteless!” said witch shouted at her from behind.

“Says the girl who’s currently crouching buck-naked in the middle of a pentagram she drew with magic marker!” Dalia shouted back over her shoulder.

“Well, some of us are trying to prepare for our next patrol! So I’m trying to empower my cloak with a hiding spell! How about you do something useful? And now I’ll have to redo the entire spellwork!” came the angry reply.

Dalia allowed herself a small smile of victory. Though she did turn off the TV. She’d gotten her fun, no reason to prevent her from being ready for a fight.

“Well, it was getting boring. If I wanted some real action, I’d just walk over to the harbor and get me some live action porn. Interested?” That drew a shocked gasp. The icing on the cake. But enough of that. Vasiliki was right, even though she would never, ever admit it: she had to do something to be ready for tonight.

Moving over to the computer console, she threw the recordings of the ravenbot’s onto the screens next to television feeds, varying web pages and hacked telefone lines, all chosen at random. Basil had written the scripts she was running the day after they had teamed up. From what she understood, he’d had a dose of his inspiration when she told him how she saw Vasiliki running through the harbor by accident, following her to the warehouse.

The theory behind her watching more or less randomly as every possible information source for New Lennston was tapped was that her power should allow her to notice useful or suspicious stuff ‘by accident’ – or have it caught by a camera in the same way, if her power was as long-reaching as they thought. After all, her power seemed to concentrate on the principle that it first kept her safe, then helped her with whatever striked her fancy – and since she and her new friends were itching for some action, it should allow her to find some clues as to where to go.

* * *

 

Barely an hour later, Basil finished his work. The stun-gun he had been unable to complete was now finally working – he had already tested it on a bunch of dummies he had created that simulated the effect it would have on human bodies. It worked like a spell.

The gun looked like a very heavy taser mounted on a gun-hilt with four instead of two prongs encircling the business end of it. He had gone for substance over style, so it did not yet fit his raven theme – but he could live with that for now. He was just glad that the inspiration he got from Polymnia’s stun sounds and the mechanism in her speakers had allowed him to finally develop a working delivery of the stunning electricity over a distance. The rest had already been done, so it had not taken him that long to adapt the already manufactured pieces into his new design, cutting the time needed short. And he had adapted the same energy transfer interface he used for his stun batons. Unfortunately, charging the gun while also using it would not work, as it required too much energy, so he would have to sheath it every six shots for recharging, which would itself take twelve seconds per shot recharged, for a total recharge time of 72 seconds. Not to speak of the drain on his battery, so he would have to use it sparingly.

His next order of business was Tyche’s armor. He had had another idea how to accomodate her tastes without compromising his design ethics and he worked to manufacture the necessary ceramic scales. Thankfully, he had been able to speed up the process, though it was still quite a drain on his ressources. He had to aquire more money, fast.

Now if only the other idea he’d had while working through Polymnia’s chips could work out – but he was running against a mental wall, time and again. Mostly due to energy requirements. There was now way his suit would be able to sustain electrostatic levitation for over a minute or two, not along with everything else. So he had to shelve that idea – he hated shelving ideas. But what can you do? It’s not like I can run around with a cold fusion reactor on my back all the time. Not even if I managed to make one small enough.

After another two hours, he was finally done. The armor would be finished automatically within the next three hours, so he could take a break – it was, after all, dinner time.

* * *

 

Going up into the control room, he found Dalia hard at work at the console, using the scripts he had written for her to gather information. And he had to turn away from Vasiliki because she was naked inside what looked like a magic circle done with magic marker, doing some kind of slow dance that would have been beyond obscene if a pole had been involved.

“Did you find anything?” he whispered to Dalia.

“I’m pretty sure the mayor just went into the Velvet Room. But that’s not something we can use, so no,” she whispered back.

“Well, keep it up. I’ve got your armor almost ready, the last parts are being done automatically. I’m going out to meet some friends and have dinner,” he told her.

“Are you going to tell them about your little lair here?” she asked.

“No. I don’t want to risk having them caught up in anything they won’t be able to deal with,” he gave back.

“Well, alright. Your decision. What about Vasiliki’s BFF?”

“We talked about this. She can know that Vasiliki has teamed up with Brennus and Tyche, but nothing more.”

“Just wanted to check. Have fun.”

“Thank you.”

Walking over to the bedroom, he changed into more appropriate clothing than his protective undersuit (just in case anything went down the explosion road) and a lab coat.

Dressing in a pair of jeans, t-shirt and a blue pullover, he pulled on his jacket and rode the elevator to his secret hideout – from his secret hideout. Maybe I should build a third, even more secret one. Just for fun.

* * *

 

“Wow, this joint is really great,” said Tim. Or at least, Basil thought he did, because he was talking through a mouthful of dolmathakia, a Greek side dish made of green leaves folded around small portions of rice.

“Spoken by a true expert,” said Aimi, who had ordered only a small menu. She was looking noticeably slimmer than just a week ago, not to speak of the last month. Basil was surprised at how fast she had managed to lose weight. Surprised and concerned, considering the amount of contriver-drugs available for stuff like this. Mad scientists the world over were finding easy money sources in young people who wanted to look like Adonis-types. He just hoped she was not one of them. I should better put a ravenbot on surveillance duty, just in case.

“Also, did your mother not teach you not to talk with a full mouth?” he asked before taking a big bite out of his pita.

Tim just flipped him off with a roll of his eyes and continued to eat. It was really an experience, watching Timothy Louis eat. It was like he hated everything edible, and he had taken it upon himself to destroy any food he came across. He seemed to have a metahuman ability, just for completely obliterating food. There was never anything left. You could have taken his dishes and reused them immediately, they were that clean.

“So, guys, what are you doing after dinner?” asked Aimi.

Tim mumbled something. Sounded like “Nothing much”. Probably.

“I am going to meet Prisca. Later, I have some work to do,” Basil replied.

“When are we going to meet this mystery girl?” asked Tim, this time with nothing in his mouth. “I mean, bad enough you just suddenly have a girlfriend – but why ain’t we meeting her?”

All the while, Aimi was starting to chant “Basil has a girlfriend, Basil has girlfriend,…”.

He just rolled his eyes at them. “Honestly, I told you, she does not like people seeing her. It took me two months to get so far that she would agree to a visit,” he told them. “And I guess I did not tell you because I did not want you guys needling me all the time.”

“And why are you asking? Got any plans?” he asked Aimi, trying to change the subject.

“Wanted to show you guys something,” she said with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. That is new, too. That confidence, he thought.

“Well, since I am going to meet my girlfriend, how about you take some time for your boyfriend,” he replied with a nod towards Tim, who almost spit out whatever he currently had in his mouth.

Aimi just snorted. “Please, I would not go out with Tim if he was the last guy on the planet,” she said scathingly. The one so rejected grabbed his heart as if it was hurting and sagged in his seat. Aimi just blew him a raspberry.

“Well, I will leave you two lovebirds to yourself. Food is on me, by the way,” he said, leaving some money on the table and walking away before they could say anything.

He was barely out of sight when his cellphone rang. He saw Dalia’s ID on the screen – a code made up of various signs – and accepted the call. “Hello. Did anything happen?”

“Yeah, I found something! Dude, this system you’ve got here is scary, I mean, it hacked a secure call from some kind of mafia guy who apparently commissioned a villain team to provide protection during a deal this night at one o’clock,” she said, her exciting making her speak so quickly he could barely follow.

“What else did you find out? And what kind of villain team?”

“Well, apparently he’s going to make a deal with the Snow Queen – remember her? – and he doesn’t trust her, so he bought some new team for protection – he doesn’t like them, but they were the only ones available. The call was him complaining to a business partner that he had to pay a bunch of ‘teenage meta-punks’. Called them the ‘Onis’. Guy was so pissed off, he pretty much ratted the entire operation out. Though I guess he didn’t expect someone to listen in on that call. Anyway, I got time and place – tonight at the south end of the harbor in the old toy factory. You coming over? I’d like to make some kind of plan,” she elaborated. He was momentarily taken aback by the wealth of information. I had expected her power to make this go smoother than it should, but not to thi- oh, of course. How did I not see this – the decryption programs use randomly generated passwords to hack into other systems – her power could be influencing those as well!

“Not now – I’m off for a visit. It should take about two hours, so I’ll be back at about nine o’clock,” he answered.

“Dude, come on, this is serious! What kind of visit could be more important?”

“How about you do not complain and sit down together with Vasiliki to do some research? An ‘Oni’ is a kind of Japanese demon, so they may be a Japanese gang or have a Japanese theme. Look them up, there might be something on the net about them,” he told her.

“Can’t, at least not with witch-girl. She’s still doing yoga in her magic-marker-circle. Not that I’m complaining about the sight, but she’s kinda useless right now,” she replied. “But alright, I’ll do it. If you’ll tell me about this visit.”

He rolled his eyes, even though no one could see it right now. “And what if I do not? Will you refrain from collecting possibly vital information? But alright, if you must know. I am going to visit my girlfriend.”

You have a girlfriend?!” she practically screamed into the phone. But not loud enough to drown out Vasiliki’s outcry when she slipped and messed up her spellwork.

“Yes, I have a girlfriend. Now, get to work, I’m off to see her,” he said and hung up on the flabbergasted young woman. Off to Prisca, now.

* * *

 

Prisca’s family was very, very rich and so she was housed in a special room in the long-term care wing of the Petal Memorial Hospital – which meant that there were no limitations on the visiting hours.

The woman at the reception already knew him and waved him through. He walked through several corridors and then up a stairwell to the second floor. There, in front of Prisca’s room, he met Charlotte Smith, an older nurse who worked mostly in the long-term care wing of the hospital. The gray-haired, pleasantly plump woman always seemed to smile and greeted him with a cheery “Hello Mr. Blake!” as she pushed a food cart towards Prisca’s room.

“Mrs. Smith, good to see you well. Call me ‘Mr. Blake’ again and I’ll sue the hospital,” he replied nonchalantly.

“What are you going to sue it for?” she asked, repeating their greeting ritual.

“Don’t know. Slander, maybe,” he answered. He suggested a different cause every time.

“Ha! You have no idea how many of those we get! Anyway, this is Prisca’s meal for the evening. Do you want to help her eat?” she asked.

“Well, of course. You just go and do whatever wretched stuff nurses do when they are alone.”

She gave him a smile and let him take over the food cart. Then she walked away towards the Nurses’ room as he entered Prisca’s room.

“Good evening, beautiful! I bring food and news,” he said cheerily as he entered the room. It was pleasantly lit, as always, the walls covered in varying wallpapers of outside scenery. The wall opposite the door had a large window and a wallpaper of a forest in deepest winter. To the right was another window, as this was a corner room. The wallpaper here showed a forest during spring. The wall with the door he came through sported an ocean at noon, while the wallpaper behind the head of her bed showed a starry night sky with a full moon.

Prisca lay on a large, comfortable looking bed in white sheets that was raised at the head end so she was in between sitting and lying. She had the sheets pulled up to her belly and was dressed in a blue button-down shirt above that. Several tubes were leading under the covers, as well as some wires that disappeared under them. Several more wires disappeared under her shirt, sticking to her chest. She had a large screen on a telescoping arm over the bed and a keyboard he had made just for her. It was formed so her wrists could rest in special depressions, with all the keys arranged so she barely had to move anything other than her fingers to type.

The girl under all of this was barely more than a meter and sixty centimeters tall, even though she was almost exactly his age (three days younger). She had long hair that was carefully brushed, but its colour, which was supposed to be a deep, dark red much like her mother (who was a stunning woman), was dull and faded. Her face was drawn out, as was the rest of her body. Her arms were thin and weak, so weak that she needed his special keyboard to be able to type for more than a few minutes at a time. Walking around was completely impossible – while her muscles were not atrophied despite being barely mobile for nearly a decade, mainly because of regular assisted exercise, they simply did not have the strength to support her. Her hands and fingers were long and delicate and pretty much the only parts of her body that looked normal, even conventionally beautiful. Her face was thin and unnaturally pale, her green eyes ringed in black from a lack of sleep. It all went hand in hand with crushing self-esteem issues, which were the reason why she refused to have any more people see her than absolutely necessary. Apparently, he had been the first non-family non-medical person to meet her in four years.

She greeted him with a white-toothed smile that made his knees weak and said: “Mmm, that smells tasty. It smells like… a protein shake with… some kind of tasteless gruel filled with everything my body supposedly needs.”

“Aye, it is an insult to you. Which is the reason why I brought a special little something along!” he said as he lifted the cover off her food tray. Under it was said meal, made so even her digestive system could take it.

Of course, the doctors here did not have the advantage of Gadgeteering applied to both medicine and cooking. Which was why he pulled out a little flask filled with a red fluid. “Today, I bring you strawberry for your shake…” Another flask, this one a dark brown. “… and chocolate for your gruel, sweetie.” He emptied the flasks into the respective food and drink, then lifted the tray onto a table that could be moved to hang in front of her. Bending down, he gave her a too short kiss on the lips that brought some colour to her cheeks. Smiling, she said: “Thank you… sweetie.” He grinned at her.

She lifted her hands from her keyboard and took up her spoon. It was part of their ritual, a ritual they had worked out pretty much the first time he had visited her during meal time. She was too proud to let herself be fed by him, so she would eat by herself until her arms gave out. Then, and only then, was he allowed to help her out.

Not wanting to distract her, he watched in silence as she alternatively raised the spoon to her mouth and pulled the long straw leading to her shake to her mouth. She managed almost three minutes of eating, eating about a quarter of her gruel, before she sighed, tired, and her hands fell down into her lap. Basil reached out to catch the spoon before it soiled her shirt. Without a word, he took her hand into his and gripping the spoon with it. He put his arm behind her back, raising her a bit and holding her head up with a hand. Then he helped her feed herself, giving her small kisses on her cheeks and mouth every now and then. It took almost five minutes, because she had to pause a few times between swallowing her food. All of this without a sound from either of them.

When the bowl was empty, he let her lean back again while he pushed the table away, taking her shake into his hand. When she motioned for it, he held the straw to her mouth so she could drink. There was not much left, but it still took her almost a minute to empty it. Then she closed her eyes.

“Mmmh. That was great, Basil. Thank you,” she whispered. Then her face twisted into a frown as she tried to stay awake. Basil held her hand waiting to see if she would manage and she did, opening her eyes again half a minute later.

“Sorry. I almost fell asleep again,” she said, her voice getting stronger.

“Do not worry. I would not blame you. And I am glad you liked the flavours.”

“Just flavours? Or did you put anything else into them?”

He shook his head. “Nothing apart from some extra nutrients. I am sorry, but I have not been able to find something to really help you, yet,” he said, referring to his ongoing search for a cure for her.

“Don’t apologize. You don’t have to cure me. Sticking with me despite everything is already more than I ever hoped to have,” she replied. He saw her eyes grow sadder as she thought about everything her sickness was denying her.

When she had been barely six, she had been caught up in Dusu’s attack on Hawaii, where her family had been on a vacation. The bacterial poison gas she released all across the island had killed almost everyone who did not get away fast enough. Prisca had lost her father and nearly all of her siblings. She herself had barely survived, only to be crippled for life as the poison lingered in her body, impossible to remove through science or contrivance, with only Dusu having the knowledge on how to heal her – but the insane super-villain terrorist could not have cared less about helping a little girl. By now, the mutated bacteria that lived inside her body and produced more of the poison had adapted so much to it that any cure was pretty much impossible. The only thing keeping her alive, apart from dumb luck, were various counter-poisons that at least counter-acted the poison enough to prevent any further damage. Unfortunately, the poison had also turned her allergic to many, many artificial materials, meaning that implants could not help either.

And the existing damage was horrifying: her nervous system had been permanently damaged, causing her sudden and unpredictable pain attacks that rarely let her sleep properly; her digestive tract still worked, if barely, and only if she ate very specifically manufactured food, but her heart had been weakened to the point that it could not support her body if she strained it in any way – even standing upright with help was simply too much. Even too much excitement could kill her – even if she had had the strength to sleep with a boy, the strain of doing so would almost assuredly kill her. A prolonged kiss was too much for her heart, which was the reason for the short kisses he was giving her even though he would prefer to glue his lips to hers – as well as the reason why she had expected him to dump her at any moment during the first two weeks of them hooking up, especially after she learned of his teammates and how the two of them looked.

Thankfully, she was not in any way contagious – the bacteria died off immediately upon leaving her body, making her safe, but making it also impossible for anyone, even another gadgeteer like Basil, to analyze them for a cure.

“But I want to. Though I think we should drop this line of conversation for now. I do have better news,” he said. Handing her a thumb drive, he said: “I got you several recordings of the fight between the United Junior Heroes and the Rabid Eight, including some taken from my ravens. As always, they are encoded so you need to use the password and thumb print scanner I gave you.”

She smiled at him, the superhero-fangirl in her coming to the fore. Ever since her being crippled, she had been fascinated by metahumans (a manifestation was pretty much the only chance she had left to ever be cured). “Thank you so much. And I have something for you, as well,” she said, pointing at the topmost drawer of the cupboard next to her bed.

Opening it, Basil found a beautiful drawing of a truly stunning superheroine. She was about their age and built like a professional dancer, with dark red, smooth hair reaching down to below her butt. She was dressed in a dark green, black-rimmed calf-length pleated skirt and belly-top. The top extended into a high neck and long sleeves fanning open at the ends to show delicate hands and fingers. Black, low-heeled boots showed under her skirt and she wore a cape of an even darker, almost black green fastened to her shoulders.

Basil gave the gorgeous picture an appreciative whistle – though he felt more like crying. This was very much a picture of how she hoped to look, of what she dreamed of – and might never get.

“This is gorgeous, Prisca. How long did it take you to make it?”

“I’ve been working on it since, well, since you first visited me,” she said, her cheeks glowing even hotter.

“Are you going to go out tonight again?” she asked suddenly, as if trying to move the topic into safer territory.

“Sure, sweetheart. Dalia said she found some new competition. We are going to go and check them out,” he said. They did not know who might be listening in on this, so they did not discuss his secret openly unless they used a secure connection over her computer. “Now sleep. This was quite enough excitement for one evening,” he told her.

She just nodded and slowly faded to sleep. At least she could fall asleep whenever she wanted.

It had been barely half an hour since he arrived, but he was already used to only having a short time with her.

Now he tucked her in, turning her computer off and pulling the drapes closed. Before he left, he gave her another quick kiss on the forehead, eliciting a small smile from her. Then he turned off the lights and left, pushing out the food cart with him. Depositing it near the nurses room, he went off to leave the hospital and get to his hideout for some planning. He had a need to deliver some kind of beating to a villain or two. And then, someday, he would get his hands on Drusu.

He had already invented a very special bacterial poison, just for her.