The sun was just rising as Shatterpoint reached his house. He was wearing the Upright Man’s suit, having nothing else at hand and no time to change. The door of his house was unlocked, but he didn’t bother to turn it. He put his shoulder to the door and pushed through it as he shattered it into a heap of wood chips. He called out for his wife and daughter,
A knot was forming deep in his gut. He knew what had happened. He kicked the door shrapnel out of the way as he sprinted up the stairs, checking their bedrooms. Nothing. It was as if they had simply left the house for a walk, but he knew that couldn’t be true. He leapt down the stairs, coattails flapping behind him. It was the same in the living room, as if someone had just left the room. One difference caught his eye. The pictures. His family, the family he loved so much he had turned to crime to support, had always kept a row of pictures on the mantelpiece showing their family across the years. Every one was missing. Every picture which showed his family’s faces had been stricken from the house.
He entered the computer room to find the computer an empty shell, the hard drive torn out, and the stack of his wife’s manuscripts that had for so long built up next to the desk was gone. He had never thought he would miss it- he had always told her to keep it neat. She never did. All of her writing was just gone, no trace left.
He walked slowly into the next room, silently hoping it would all be a joke, that they would calmly be eating breakfast and waiting for him, but as he entered the kitchen he knew they would not. The sight of the room made his blood run cold. The photographs accumulated over the years of friends, relatives, and family vacations on the fridge were gone, the refrigerator bare, and on the kitchen table was a single sheet of paper. He mentally braced himself for what it would say. He closed his eyes when picking it up, as if willing it to disappear, and a tear forced it’s way out of his eye. He opened his eyes and through the tears beginning obscure his vision read the single line of text in the center of the square of paper, written in the Upright Man’s crisp handwriting:
you know where to find me
* * *
After turning in the assignment from the previous class, Professor Stone lectured at length about criminal psychology and assigned some reading on the topic before introducing our next project.
“Starting next class and for the next few weeks, we’re going to be doing a case study on a villain from a couple years back. He was a powerful villain who provides a nice exception to the categories I introduced last class. Our subject is Psyghast.”
I had to struggle not to react to that. It wouldn’t do to reveal that I had a connection to more villains than just Denizen I probably could have guessed he would come up at some point, but I didn’t think we would be doing a case study on my father. He would enjoy the irony in that.
“I’m telling you about this in advance so that if you don’t know who that is, though most of you probably do, you should do some research on him, just so you can get the context of next week’s discussion.”
* * *
Sean changed into his costume quickly and entered Davis Gymnasium. His back and shoulders were aching from all the flying he had been doing recently, but he wasn’t one to show it. Coach Mary gathered all the students together to talk to them collectively rather than splitting up to talk with them individually this time.
“As some of you may know, tomorrow is the first of the trials class. This class is will be competitive and will often, though not always, mind you, feature combat with your powers. This doesn’t really have anything to do with my class, but I wanted to warn you all.”
Some of the students obviously hadn’t known that the “Challenge,” class was and reacted with surprise at her warning. Sean hadn’t known, but did his best to act unsurprised.
“Now, your job for today is to do something with your powers you’ve never done before, or something you didn’t know you could do. This can be a fairly frustrating process for many, so I’m going to leave most of you alone. If you want help or want to demonstrate something, raise your hand and I’ll come over. Some of you, I have things I want you to try first, just to get a better measure of your powers. Spread out, use the whole gym. If you want a private room or one of the special rooms, just ask me.”
The group broke up and dispersed around the room. A copy of the coach approached Sean, less transparent than the class before.
“Guardian Angel, I understand you have some limited force-field generation as well as spontaneously sprouting wings.”
“Sort of. I can generate a weak field just above my skin, but it doesn’t actually have enough energy to knock anything away.”
“You should work on strengthening it. You probably could develop it into a full forcefield, or at very least use it to soak up a lot of the force behind a punch. Come with me.”
The coach-clone started walking towards one of the doors to the special training rooms.
“Coach Masters is better at this than me, so he agreed to help me out with this for a bit,” she said over her shoulder. Sean wasn’t too pleased with the idea of having both coaches in one room with him, but he didn’t say it. They left the gym and headed down a short hallway. Mary stopped at one of the doors and pushed it open. Coach Masters was waiting inside with a bucket of tennis balls.
“Here we go, the firing range. Okay, go down range.”
Sean hesitated, not sure he was liking the idea of being Coach Masters’ target practice.
“Go on,” urged the spectral form of Coach Mary.
Sean warily entered the range and stood across from Coach Masters.
“Now, try to stop or deflect them with your field.”
As she spoke, coach Masters held the tennis ball in his hand out at arm’s length and suddenly launched it towards Sean with a burst of force. Sean barely had time to react, throwing up an arm to block the it. It bounced off his forearm and ricocheted away across the room. Mary walked in and collected the ball, but not before Masters had blasted another ball at Sean. He had managed to power up the field which helped keep him aloft, and managed to take away a bit of the sting, but it was nowhere near actually stopping the projectile. As Masters fired volleys of tennis balls at him, Sean concentrated all of his will towards the field, but it had no effect other than making his arms twitch occasionally. The coach didn’t hold back, and Sean was pretty sure he would be sporting some impressive bruises soon.
After what felt like a long time, Masters stopped and said, “Take a break, I need to refuel,” and left the room.
Once he was gone, Coach Mary turned to Sean and said, “I have an idea of what might be going on. Think, what part of your body is affected the most by your powers?”
Sean had to stop and remind himself before responding that she would be talking about what would be most obvious to people other than him.
“My wings.” As he spoke he suddenly understood what she meant. “Oh!”
“It’s worth a try.”
Coach Masters returned after a few minutes and he and Sean squared off once more. Sean curled a wingtip around in front of him- enough to block with but not enough to block his sight- and cranked the force field up to the max. Coach Masters flicked out a hand and the tennis ball flew from his palm. There was a dull thump as the tennis ball bounced off an invisible wall of force less than an inch from his feathers. He felt the impact, but it was disconnected, remote.
“Huh,” said Masters, “looks like it’s time to stop taking it easy on you.
* * *
Shatterpoint walked up to the Warden’s building. The cameras on the outside tracked him, but they wouldn’t recognize him out-of-costume. That would change soon enough, but he didn’t care. He walked around to the side of the building that supposedly was closest to the metahuman containment cells.
He appeared to lean nonchalantly on the dark wall of the building, but his body was tight with nervous tension. The building was reinforced with Dr. Mind’s power-resistant concrete. He didn’t even know if his power would work on it, but he had to try.
He reached his power into the wall feeling it’s flaws, any weak points and cracks. A network of irregularities that could be exploited and expanded was conjured in his mind. It spread slower than normal, but it was working. Once it had spread enough, he pushed at the cracks, widening them, spreading through the thick wall.
There was a crackling sound as the small cracks formed, escalating to a series of sharp cracks. The wall began spitting shards of fractured concrete, then crescendoed into a sound like shattering glass but deeper and far more dangerous. The shards of concrete sloughed to the ground. His head was beginning to ache from the effort, but the rest of the walls were much thinner, he discovered. As soon as the outer wall was breached, however, the alarms began to sound.
* * *
Jamisson stared at the monitor in disbelief. The suited person who had just destroyed the outer wall seemed to have Shatterpoint’s power. That could mean one of two things. One, the Upright Man was or employed a power-copier, which was rare but not unheard of, but someone who had been so subtle before now they had escaped detection wouldn’t use so brash a tactic. That left the other option: The man in the suit is Shatterpoint, and the man in the cell is someone else.
Jamisson slammed the alert button on the console and followed up with one he hadn’t used in years. It was marked ‘assault on HQ.’
* * *
Shatterpoint breached the wall of the cell his contact with Underhand said contained the Upright Man. The cell was empty, apart from a piece of paper tacked into the concrete and his costume, neatly folded.
“Where is my fucking family?” Growled Shatterpoint at the paper over his splitting headache. Written in the Upright Man’s crisp handwriting, it said,
they are not dead
but you will never see them again unless you cooperate
Below that was a series of very precise instructions. Shatterpoint swallowed his rage and began to carry them out. He had no other option.
* * *
The team arrived at the building at about the same time, with the exception of Guardian Angel, who had apparently already been in costume. It would be the first time I would go into the Warden’s Building. Jamisson granted a temporary exception, as with Paragon in DC giving speeches and arranging for his national youth hero program, the Wardens were severely understaffed. Guardian Angel was flanked by Pyroclasm and Cryoclasm in front of the hole in the wall.
“Did Shatterpoint do that to escape?” asked Dame Danger, gesturing to the gap with the metal spike she was holding, wired to a battery pack on her back.
“No, he did that to get in,” Cryoclasm said.
“Huh?” asked Plateau.
“Evidently we took in the wrong person. Whoever was in the cell was someone else entirely. We’re guessing it’s the Upright Man.”
“Come, on, let’s go in. We should just need to follow the holes, right?” said Kismet, then furrowed her brow and said, “Oh, that’s not good.”
“It’s not that simple,” said Guardian Angel. “It looks like they let Labyrinth out too. We thought his power didn’t work on the power-proof concrete, but then again he said he had no control over his powers, so I guess we were wrong about that too. If I had to guess, I’d say he was playing us all along. The concrete does make him less powerful, but we have to stick together.”
“To hell with that. I’m going in,” said Pyroclasm impatiently, and stepped through the hole. Cryoclasm gave Guardian Angel an apologetic look and followed after him.
“Okay, stay close, and under no circumstances will we split up any more. I’ve got an idea,” Guardian Angel said, pulling out his communicator. “Director Jamisson,” he said into it and put it on speakerphone.
“Here,” said Jamisson’s voice from the other end. “I haven’t moved from the Console room. Labyrinth would make sure I never found my way back.”
“Good. Do you still have the camera feeds?”
“Most of them. They seem to be in the same places, but the places are moving around.”
“Good. Tell us if you see us or any of the Upright Man’s guys on the cameras.”
“I can do that. Paragon told me that Labyrinth has to stay in the same room for a while to spread his power into a building, so he’s still in the cell. He can’t effect that room, though, so pull him out and the building will go back to normal.”
“Okay, first priority is to stop Shatterpoint and the Upright Man from escaping. Second is to neutralize Labyrinth. Ready?”
The team nodded collectively.
* * *
Pyroclasm and Cryoclasm stalked the halls. Pyroclasm was getting visibly frusturated, to the point that Cryoclasm had to cool the air around him to stop him from erupting in flames. The doors and halls they had spent so long wandering from their years in the Wardens of Tomorrow were so familiar that they felt like they knew exactly where they were. As soon as they turned a corner or went through a door, they found themselves in a completely different part of the building.
“Hold on,” Cryoclasm said, putting a hand on her brother’s shoulder before he could round a corner. “Let me try something.”
She closed the eyes and started pulling heat out of the air, dropping the water capacity in the air. As the water vapor in the air condensed on the walls, she pulled again and the water froze. She had to do it in two steps like that, or it would just make snow.
When the buildup of ice had spread around the corner, she stopped and said, “okay, now let’s go.”
As they rounded the corner, they found the hallway frozen partially through changing. Two separate hallways side by side, one pushing the other away, slowly grinding away at the ice.
“Now then, shall we see where he doesn’t want us to go?” Cryoclasm grinned mischievously at her brother, and he grinned back as they headed through the narrowing gap.
* * *
“How is there still power?” Asked Dame Danger, pointing at the lights in the hallway with what I assumed was her latest project. “You’d think everything would get disconnected when it’s rearranged like this.”
“I think it’s all still connected. The building’s still normal, but his power’s shuffling around the space inside it,” I said. I couldn’t feel any air currents stirred up by the walls physically moving.
“That would explain how he works around the power-resistant concrete,” commented Plateau.
“Hey, that’s the door to the lounge,” said Legion.
“It’s not,” said Kismet before he opened the door, revealing what appeared to be the hallway to Dr. Mind’s lab.
“No, that’s farther away from the cells,” said Plateau.
I hadn’t been particularly helpful in this regard, as I didn’t know the building, but I noticed something.
“That doesn’t mean this doesn’t lead to them. He can rearrange the building, remember?” I said, “if you were him, would you keep the cell where it was, or move it as far away as possible?”
“Huh, you’re right. If anything, we should be looking for what’s farthest from the cells,” said Plateau.
“Let’s try this, then.”
* * *
Dr Mind got up from the lab bench and walked over to the storage room. He was mildly surprised, however, when the door opened into the generator room. He dialed the console on his souped-up communicator, which he had refused to turn in.
“Jamisson, did you let Labyrinth into the building?” He asked angrily.
“Yes. We didn’t think his power would work on your concrete.”
“I told you not to bring him in just in case it did! Ugh, never mind I’m setting up the tracking protocol I used last time we ran into him.”
Dr Mind heard voices approaching, one of which he clearly recognized as Shatterpoint and another he didn’t recognize. Thinking on his feet, he grabbed the wired-together Communicators and an energy handgun and pulled himself into a cabinet which was (thankfully) empty. Locking the door from the inside -a feature he insisted on for events like this- he resumed calibrating the tracking array. Once he was done, he pinged the active communicators with the message, ‘shatterpoint, other at my location.’
The door to his lab opened.
“Well,” said what Dr. Mind recognized as Shatterpoint’s voice. “Very useful, yes. I can see how it would not be pleasant to be working against him. Labyrinth, hold down the fort, will you?” Called Shatterpoint. “Remember, generator room next, then out. Now, where is it…”
Dr. Mind couldn’t make sense of this. Shatterpoint breaking out, commanding Labyrinth? It didn’t fit what he knew of either of them. He could hear the sounds of Shatterpoint searching through his equipment and experiments. He would have liked to have burst out and taken him on himself, but he told himself he worked best as support, and not having Labyrinth backing him up made doing so quite dangerous. Besides, he was retired. He just had to hope the heroes would arrive soon.
His heart pounded when the door of the cabinet jerked, but Labyrinth’s voice floated over, saying, “not that one.”
The search continued. The display on his communicator showed a group approaching, but not quickly enough.
“Ah!” Said Shatterpoint. “Here it is. All right, next door.”
He exited through the door to the generator room (neé storage room). Dr. Mind pulled himself out of the cabinet and said in an open channel, “Hurry up, he’s in the generator room. Through here.”
He started looking to see what he had taken.
* * *
Guardian Angel pulled open the door to the lab and entered. The beacon was inside the room. I followed him in, followed by the Wardens of Justice. Dr. Mind looked up at them.
“Through there,” he said, pointing at the door which used to lead to his storage room. Almost immediately afterwards, the lights flickered and the room went dark. Guardian Angel and I had already reached the door before the red emergency lighting came on, allowing the others to follow.
“Come on,” Guardian Angel said impatiently. The team hurried through the door. The generator room was similarly lit by the emergency lighting. The connection to the local power grid and the advanced generators that powered Dr. Mind’s more power-consuming equipment had been destroyed thoroughly, torn apart by Shatterpoint’s power. At the far end of the room, a maintenance panel hung open, daylight shining through. We all started sprinting towards the light, and as we neared it, Cryoclasm’s voice came over the communicators, “Got him!”
“Shit!” Said Dr. Mind from the room behind them. He wasn’t one to swear ordinarily, but he felt it was warranted. “They took the nullifier.”
As he spoke, there was a sharp snap and the world seemed to distort for a moment. When we reached the maintenance panel, all that was behind it was a tangle of wires and switches. He’d gotten away.
* * *
Jamisson watched as the man in the suit, whom he was now sure was Shatterpoint, destroyed the generators.
It’s out of my hands now, he thought, as the lights on the console went dark. As the emergency lighting came on, the only thing appearing on the console screen was a bar reading ‘98%,’ steadily counting down the amount of reserve power left. He had to hope Dr. Mind could get the power hooked back up in time. Jamisson reached for his book and a flashlight. He had stopped at a good part.
* * *
Cryoclasm hauled Labyrinth out of the cell. Almost immediately, the cell doors began to recede, replaced with the whitewashed lab hallway with a sharp snap as the building shifted back to it’s original position.
“Dammit Cryoclasm!” Came Guardian Angel’s voice over the communicators, now being routed through Dr. Mind’s communicator, with the console down. “They got away, and now we’re stuck in the generator room.”
Cryoclasm swore under her breath. She hadn’t thought that Shatterpoint and the Upright man had left the building. She was hoping that it would trap them inside.
“I’m coming down there,” camd Dr. Mind’s voice. “I need to get us back on the grid.”
“Sounds like you messed up,” commented Pyroclasm over her shoulder. He was holding a globe of fire for better light.
“Shut up,” she replied bitterly.
Dr. Mind ran past, grabbing the two of them.
“Carry this,” he said, handing a pile of tools to them, and ran back to his lab. He returned with more equipment and said, “follow me.”
They trailed him down to the generator room. When they had opened the blast door and let Plateau prop it up, Dr. Mind groaned.
“Dame Danger, I’m going to need your help.”
Dame Danger beamed.
* * *
“This is based on my work.”
Dame Danger looked up from her soldering. Dr. Mind was inspecting her lightning rod. She blushes and said,
“This is good work. I could never figure out how to direct the energy. I tended to go for lasers more. You’d get a lot of waste heat, but it’s good work.”
Dame Danger stopped her work. She didn’t trust her hands. She was getting praised by Dr. Mind.
Once she had gotten over the immense swell of pride, she returned to her work. Dr. Mind understood how great a gift he had just given her.
The others had gone to the warehouse, as it still had power. They were talking about how important communication was when Savage arrived. He had seen HQ in lockdown and followed the team’s trail.
“I’ve got him,” he growled around his prominent fangs. “Masquerade. I know where he’ll be tomorrow. Fucker’s going to the Opera.”