The Wardens of Tomorrow were all assembled when I arrived. The team was all together, except Shockwave, who was still off on personal business.
“Shadow. We were just going over the plan. Shatterpoint’s given us the location of the Upright Man’s lair on the condition that we put his daughter in this ‘redemption program,’ that Jamisson mentioned. She’s manifested powers and he doesn’t want her following in his footsteps.”
“We would have probably done that anyway,” I said. “Or I would have at least offered.”
“Government subsidy of superheroes doesn’t apply to children of villains. It’s a way to escape from having to be a villain to make a living.” Kismet appeared to understand now. I had told her earlier that my father was a villain.
“So, are we going to take this guy on?” Asked Plateau.
“Actually no,” said Guardian Angel. “It’s in a place the CCS just claimed as their territory. They’ve been expanding while our phone line was out.”
“Oh. Dang,” said Dame Danger.
The Colswell City Specialists were a trio of metahuman criminals who subscribed to the superemicist attitude that they were inherently better than regular humans. People like that tend to attract a lot of villain-worship, kinda the inverse of superhero groupies. They got the bright idea of recruiting from this pool and started making enough money to employ some other metas as well. They’d become one of the most powerful -though not the largest- gangs in the city.
“We need to dislodge them from the area before we can take on the Upright Man. Oh, and Legion; I’m going to have to ask you to stay behind when we go against the Upright Man. He has the nullifier, and if he cancels your power with it you could die for real before you even know it.”
“Oh,” said Legion, disheartened but knowing it was true.
“Okay, here’s who we might be going up against. Okay, Maeve might be a problem. She can synthesize some chemicals and disperse them through the air, where they are absorbed into your bloodstream through the lungs. We don’t know her limits, but she tends to fall back on alcohol and some narcotics. She is considered quite dangerous to be exposed to, so we take her out from range.”
“Um, problem with that,” said Dame Danger. “If she’s putting out alcohol fumes, they could explode and kill her, or us. Either way, not good.”
“Hmm, you’re right.”
“Hey, I don’t need to breathe,” I prompted. “Shouldn’t be a problem, I think.”
“Oh, that works. Next is Bindle.”
“Really? What a name,” scoffed Plateau.
“He’s actually one of the more dangerous metahumans in the city. He can generate limbs from his body, which makes him incredibly versatile and hard to take down.”
“That seems kinda vague, as powers go,” said Plateau.
“Trust me, it’s not that bad. Next is Scrapyard, but we shouldn’t have to worry about him. Pyroclasm and Cryoclasm are going to be distracting him. We may also run into Marrow; she’s new. An osteokinetic, we think. Can move and shape her bones.”
“I hate Osteokinetics,” I commented. The others looked at me, questioning. “Nothing I can tell you about, sorry.” They could probably figure it out though; there weren’t many osteokinetics.
“Okay, let’s get going,” said Guardian Angel.
* * *
Shortly after we set foot in CCS territory, we ran across a group of thugs loitering on a corner. They scattered when they saw us, shouting profanity and calling it in. We were still a few blocks away from the Upright Man’s lair when we saw a trio walking down the center of the street toward us. It was composed of two women and a man. The two on the left wore expensive clothes were tattered and stained, as if they had enough money to buy them but didn’t know how to care for them. The woman on the right wore what appeared to be a nurse’s uniform with a number of small, round punctures in it. They were all clearly very unhealthy, the two women sharing a glazed look. The man’s joints were swollen grotesquely and clicked as he walked, though he otherwise looked barely older than I.
As they walked, the man nodded to the woman in the nurse’s clothes and a disturbingly wet ‘pop,’ reached us from as far apart as we were as his swollen elbow burst forth an entire arm, then another, faster and faster until it was a constant sound and he was consumed in a rolling, writhing mass of hands and arms.
The woman he had nodded to, who I now realized was Marrow, sighed blandly and began to rise off the ground. It took me a moment to realize she was supported by thin spikes of bone jutting from various points on her body, like an enormous bone spider. She shuddered in pain as one of the legs snapped under her weight, and as she formed a new one
I realized then the glazed expression on her face was from painkillers. Her power hurt her to use -that would explain her falling in with the CCS. Judging by a possible addiction to painkillers her attire, and her age, I’d guess she was a med school student. Possibly kicked out for stealing painkillers, to support a career as a hero on the side. And probably antidepressants too, judging from how stressful that would be. A sad story but it fit.
How can I use that? I wondered.
Our group was starting to spread out, grouping up to focus on who we thought we’d fare best against. I wanted to focus on Marrow, but I needed to deal with Maeve before she started affecting the others. Maeve was the woman on the left, from whom I could feel the fumes rising and spreading in a cloud around her. I couldn’t tell what they were, but I’d guess it was some kind of alcohol. I hoped it would pass through me like the rest of the air did, but I remembered something that gave me pause. I didn’t need to breathe when I covered myself in darkness, but I needed to get oxygen somehow. I vaguely rembered doing something about that in high-school Bio.
Who’d’ve thought I’d need to remember that stuff? I thought self-critically.
As I hesitated, Bindle engaged Guardian Angel and the others. I shook myself from my thoughts and ran towards Maeve. It hit me like a wall, a wave of dizziness and nausea. I could feel the fumes condensing on my clothes and in my lungs as I passed through the air in which it was suspended. I stopped as quickly as I could and backpedaled hastily. Maeve laughed. I retched on the sidewalk, my head swimming and my healing rib aching. It was affecting me even worse than the others, because it simply collected as I passed through the air, rather than being absorbed from the air.
I stumbled over to where Legion was fighting Marrow, dodging skewers of bone.
“Legion,” I said, a horrible idea forming. I handed him a lighter from one of my pockets which I had brought in case I needed to do this. “New plan. Take this, light it, go that way.” He hesitated and I shook it at him, growling, “Do it!”
He took it and ran, lighting it as he went. A short distance from where the cloud started, he split, one copy turning and running the other way. Maeve saw him coming and her eyes widened, rinning to get out of her cloud. There was a ‘wumph,’ as the fumes ignited in a blue fireball. I barely even felt the blast, but Maeve was tossed back and rolled to a halt. A section of Bindle that had been too clise had been singed off, withering and sloughing off. Legion stood over Maeve, holding the lit lighter protectively in front of him.
Guardian Angel, Plateau, and Dame Danger pressed the attack. Plateau tried to crush bindle between two walls, but a number of hands grasped the edges of the vise Plateau had created which Bindle used to pull himself out. He reached out with a hand made of arms to grab Plateau, but Guardian Angel landed in front of him, slicing of the reaching arms with his flaming sword. There was no blood, only a viscous yellow ichor which evaporated as the detached limbs withered away to nothing.
I turned to face Marrow, who had surrounded me in spikes of bone while I had been distracted. She was fending off Kismet on her other side. I sat down, not trusting myself to remain standing.
“You don’t have to do this, Marrow,” I said, speaking carefully. She twisted to face me.
“Yes- yes I do,” She said, furrowing her brow. “I need the money. And… and the drugs.”
“I know how you could use your power to help people and get paid for it. Without it hurting you, and without working for these assholes.” I was unable to resist wagging by finger at her sarcastically.
“What?” She asked, disbelieving.
“Work at a hospital. You could set broken bones better than anyone else. That’s an invaluable skill. Most healers can’t work with bones, you know.”
“But I’m not a healer,” she was confused.
“You just never tried to be. I’m sure the Hero Program at Colswell University could use someone who can work with bones.” I remembered my broken rib, which still hurt from my fight with Spit. “Broke my rib earlier, still hurts.”
Her expression cleared for a moment, then she pulled herself over to where Kismet was fending her off on her many long, thin legs of bone.
“Stay here a moment,” I heard her say gently, and she swept over to where the others were fighting Bindle. She stabbed a spear of bone into the writhing mass of limbs that enclosed Bindle. Bindle stiffened as his bones rebelled against him, twisting and breaking. The flesh began to wither as he abandoned his many limbs to escape the pain. Guardian Angel looked over at me.
“What did you do?” I could make out him saying. I remained sitting, unable to stand. I could make out Bindle collapsed on the ground, unconscious from the pain. Guardian Angel called in a containment van to take them away, then he and Dame Danger rushed over to me. Guardian Angel used his wings to keep his balance, lifting off the ground on some of his long strides. He had been affected by Maeve’s fumes, but not nearly so bad as I had.
“Hey, no flying while drunk,” I muttered as my vision faded to black. He looked at me strangely as Kismet strapped a complicated device to my arm.
“Sorry, no time for anesthetics, but boy am I glad I brought this,” she said and pressed a button. I barely managed to escape the pain by passing out, but by how it felt later I would guess it was significant.
* * *
I shifted to standing and looked around. I was relieved to see my darkness had stayed on me. In fact, it had started to pool on the ground around me. I was feeling much better than I had earlier, and the device on my arm was chugging away uncomfortably, occasionally sending spokes of pain through my arm. I walked over to where I saw the rest of the team loading the defeated villains into the containment van.
“How long was I out?” I asked.
“Only about 15 minutes,” said Guardian Angel. “You okay?”
“I think so,” I rubbed my arm. “What is this thing?” I directed at Dame Danger.
She looked over from her conversation with Marrow, who seemed to be cooperating. “It’s a blood-scrubber,” she said, then clarified, “it scrubs your blood. Dr. Mind has been working on it for medical use, and thought this might be a good chance to test it out. I think it’s done.”
The display on it was blinking green, so she pulled it off and attached it to Guardian Angel, who got the next largest dose. It beeped, prompting Dame Danger to replace a filter and start it again. It only took about 30 seconds on him, so we were ready to move out by the time the van peeled out with Legion. Marrow, and the two unconscious villains. We set out to the Upright Man’s lair.
* * *
When we reached the address Shatterpoint had provided us, I could almost not believe it. It seemed to be just a normal house, crammed between the buildings on either side like most homes in the city were.
“He’s got the nullifier, so be prepared to fight without powers. Hopefully, we outnumber him,” said Guardian Angel.
“Hopefully?” Asked Plateau.
“Well, we don’t actually know his powers. Nothing is certain when facing an unknown.”
We found the door locked. I knelt down and blew into the lock, feeling out it’s mechanism, then picked it easily, knowing exactly what to do to make it open. We entered the house and started searching for the Upright Man. It seemed like any normal house, but it was neat to the point of uncanniness, not an object out of place.
Kismet was wandering through what appeared to be the living room when she said, “What the hell?” and kicked the couch. It collapsed into a heap of plywood and tacked-together scraps of cloth. “It’s fake.” The others entered the room, drawn to the sound.
“Woah,” said Plateau. “That’s weird.” He extended a segment of the wall and used it to knock over an armchair, which with some persuasion similarly collapsed. “That’s kinda spooky actually. Who has fake furniture?”
“I’m pretty sure nobody lives here,” called Dame Danger from the kitchen.
“How do you figure that?” asked Plateau. Dame Danger pointed into the refrigerator, which she held open. I moved to get a better look in.
“No food,” she started, then walked over to the sink and turning on the tap, “No running water,” not even the barest trickle came out of the faucet, “No electricity,” she flicked the lights on and off and nothing happened -we hadn’t bothered to try, being bright daylight outside- “and no heat,” she finished, waving her hands in the air. It was about the same temperature inside as out, which is to say reasonably cool. “Seems pretty obvious. Plus, the fake furniture is kinda a giveaway.”
“These are real,” commented Plateau, dropping a round peppermint candy back into the small jar of them on the kitchen table.
“Is this a trap?” asked Kismet, warily.
“The thought crossed my mind. If it is, though, why hasn’t it sprung?” Said Guardian Angel.
“Maybe it has,” suggested Plateau, “and we just haven’t noticed.”
Dame Danger went to the door and opened it. It opened easily, revealing the same street we had entered from.
“Nope,” she said. “Door still works. We’re not trapped or anything.”
“We do know the Upright Man was here. Shatterpoint had no reason to lie,” I said, “so there must be something here that can lead us to him.”
“Well yeah, you’d think that, but he’s proven to be really good at misdirection,” said Kismet almost before I had finished, opening a drawer to reveal that it was full of nothing but paper. “Could be he just wants us kept busy here.”
* * *
The van screeched to a halt as a battle crashed it’s way across the street. The enormous figure of Scrapyard, formed of scrap metal, parts of cars, and mangled steel girders glowing red- hot in places tumbled over several vehicles, adding their crushed form to his. Pyroclasm and Cryoclasm followed shortly after, the street becoming slick with a sheet of ice as Cryoclasm exerted her power, and Pyroclasm bathed Scrapyard in a torrent of incandescent flames. The air crackled with the temperature difference, rippling with heat in some places and filling with mist in others as the saturation point of the air dropped.
Legion turned to the driver, who was armed for handling escape attempts, an idea forming.
“Do you have a grenade I could borrow?” He asked.
“What?” The driver asked, confused. Marrow watched the combat happening in the street with her eyes wide.
“I’ll give it back,” Legion continued.
The driver glanced towards one of the compartments. Legion leaned over and popped it open, grabbing the first explosive-looking object he saw.
“Thanks!” He said over the driver’s protests, climbing over Marrow to get out.
Legion approached the fight, reading the label on the grenade he’s grabbed. It read:
Nonleathal containment foam grenade Mk. II;
Mind over Matter
The ‘Mind over Matter,’ inscription marked it as Dr. Mind’s work. He remembered seeing the Mk I used at some point, but it had been too slow to be effective in combat. He hoped the Mk. II was better in that regard. He drew his handgun from his utility compartment.
“Here goes nothing,” he muttered, throwing the grenade towards Scrapyard and waiting for it to activate. There was a puff of steam from where it was lodged in Scrapyard’s body and it quickly expanded into a blob of rubbery yellow-white foam, pushing segments of his form apart and disrupting his balance. Satisfied with the result, Legion shot himself through the head.
There was an intense burst of pain and he found himself standing with the grenade in his hand again.
“Here goes nothing,” he heard his own voice say, and he stepped to the side to get a better view. His duplicate, him several moments ago, threw the grenade and he watched it detonate a second time. He flinched at the retort of the gunshot beside him and the clone burst into ashes and mist. Interestingly, the foam the grenade had created also disintegrated, leaving a gaping hole in Scrapyard’s armor. Pyroclasm took advantage of the opening and hammered him with another barrage of fire.
Legion threw the grenade again, and this time it stuck one of Scrapyard’s monstrous metal feet to the street for a moment before it dissipated, interrupting a lunge at Pyroclasm. He stumbled and, slipping on the patch of ice Cryoclasm had created under his other foot, fell heavily. Cryoclasm tried to freeze him to the ground, but he shrugged the building ice off as he stood.
We aren’t doing any real damage, thought Legion. We can’t hit hard enough. He turned and saw the driver calling in backup. And nobody can get here fast enough. He tossed the grenade again, but it went off target. Scrapyard turned and saw Legion. He charged, pounding across the pavement and rearing up to crush Legion. Legion thought his power might save him, but wasn’t sure what would happen if both copies of him were crushed at once.
He didn’t get to find out, because in that moment there was a nearly deafening concussion which toppled Scrapyard backward, tearing parts off of his enormous scrap-metal armor. Legion saw a figure he recognized riding Scrapyard down. Shockwave leapt off Scrapyard’s collapsing body and landed next to Legion.
“Sup,” he said, though legion was having trouble hearing him. “What’d I miss?”
* * *
“Hey, basement door,” called Plateau.
“Let’s check it out,” said Dame Danger. “Careful, though.”
We headed down the stairs in a line. To my airsense the room felt impossibly large, which ought to have tipped me off.
“Shadow,” said Guardian Angel behind me. I spoke without turning.
“What?” I asked, realizing what he was talking about. My voice sounded normal, without the distortion I normally applied with my powers when in-costume. I looked down at myself to see that I was no longer covered in darkness, exposing the body armor and, more worrisome, my face.
“It’s the nullifier. Here, I’ve got an extra,” said Dame Danger, glancing back at me and tossing a thin black mask at me. “You know, just in case.”
“How do you carry all that stuff around with you?” Asked Plateau.
I slipped the mask on under my helmet and looked back. Guardian Angel sucked in a breath and took a step. The glow in his eyes went out like a light, and his hair faded back to it’s normal color. It was probably a good thing he had pulled his wings when he entered the building..
The basement was actually fairly small, though I couldn’t quite convince myself that without my power feeling out the air. I hadn’t realized just how much I had come to rely on it. We all entered into the basement. It was stark concrete with metal pillars supporting the ceiling. Tied to one of the pillars was a girl in a hoodie and jeans, slumped limply against her bonds. She looked up at us when we entered, fear in her eyes and in that moment, I recognized her. She was Shatterpoint’s daughter, but I knew her from high school. I’d never suspected she was related to Shatterpoint, even though our fathers had worked together from time to time. Kismet set about untying her from the pole. Occasionally, she would pause for a moment, disoriented by not being able to see what would work in advance.
“So how does this work?” Plateau asked Dame Danger, pointing at the grey box bolted to the concrete of one wall- the nullifier.
“I don’t know,” she replied.
“Huh?” She tapped her head.
“Power’s not working remember?”
“Oh, right. Remember anything useful?”
“Uh, let’s see, it’s DestrucTech. Made by Dr. Destructo a while back. Dr Mind never figured out how it works because every time he tried it would turn on and shut off his powers so he couldn’t understand it, kinda like it’s doing to me now,” she rattled off uncertainly.
“How did Dr. Destructo build it, then?” Asked Kismet.
“His genius was natural, not granted by powers. His power was generating electricity, which he used to power his equipment. That’s why he hated Dr. Mind. He thought Mind was given his power unfairly,” she shook her head. “Ugh, my memories are so jumbled. I can remember everything I’ve done, and I remember understanding it, but I don’t understand it now. This is giving me a headache.”
“Can we turn it off, or at least bring it with us?” Asked Guardian Angel.
“No, not really. It’ll stay on for… Six to twenty four hours? Yeah, depending on how much juice he gave it. Until then it’ll be too dangerous to transport. I think?” She trailed off, shaking her head. “Now I know why he gave Dr. Mind so much trouble. This sucks.”
Kismet finished untying Emily and she dropped to her knees. She tore off the tape covering her mouth. “Who,” she began, “the fuck,” she continued, getting to her feet, “are you guys?”
* * *
Legion turned at the sound he could hear even through his hands clamped over his ears. Marrow and the driver had stumbled out of the car, coughing and choking. With Shockwave -now jet- helping they had managed to pin down Scrapyard, actually being able to hit hard enough to slow him down. It looked like their luck was shifting back the other way as Bindle shoved the back doors of the van open violently.
Pyroclasm and Cryoclasm were trying to weaken Scrapyard’s armor like they had with Golem, but it didn’t seem to be having as much of an effect as it had on Golem, as Scrapyard’s metal form was more malleable. Jet was rushing past Scrapyard repeatedly, spinning him and tearing pieces off, but the Scrapyard was able to draw the pieces back into himself, grinding across the asphalt and slamming back into him, melding back into him.
Bindle’s arms had reached all around the van now, countless hands grasping onto wherever they could find purchase. With a tear, he pulled himself and Maeve free of their restraints and out of the van. He moved sinuously over the van after placing Maeve gently down on the ground. He didn’t walk on his hands, rather extending more in front of him and letting the arms behind him retract back into his body. Throughout, he made that popping sound that accompanied him sprouting a limb and the clicking of hundreds of joints. Legion threw the containment foam grenade at Maeve and Bindle, but Maeve exhaled a solvent that dissolved the foam. Legion executed the clone that threw the grenade so he hadn’t wasted it.
Pyroclasm turned towards the sound and spotted the new threats. Legion dodged to the side as a furious torrent of fire blasted toward Bindle, the air crackling and hissing as it heated to hundreds of degrees. Bindle shifted out of the way and shielded himself with his many arms. The flesh blackened and charred, burning away with a putrid odor like rotting wood which was to legion quite unlike what it seemed like it ought to smell like. Legion remembered the lighter Shadow had given him. He figured Pyroclasm could handle Maeve easily.
Scrapyard took advantage of Pyroclasm’s distraction and lunged for Cryoclasm. She coated herself in ice like armor, but he shattered it easily, lifting her bodily off the ground. She cried out, her power depositing frost on Scrapyard with amazing speed, but it has little noticeable effect on him. As Pyroclasm turned back to help his sister, Scrapyard slammed her down on the ground, hard. Pyroclasm roared incoherently and erupted in a pillar of flames that was painful to look at. Jet blasted away from him before he could be engulfed by the flames.
After several seconds, out of the flames walked Scrapyard, glowing white-hot, igniting the pavement where he stepped and the air around him rippled with residual heat. The metal sagged and bent as he moved, heated almost to it’s melting point. Legion and Jet backed down as he rejoined Bindle and Maeve, knowing themselves outmatched. The three villains walked off quickly, not wanting to be caught if reinforcements arrived. As he passed it, Scrapyard tore a chunk of metal off the van and absorbed it into his body to replace lost mass from the fight.
When the fire died down, Pyroclasm was revealed kneeling over Cryoclasm. There was a ring of melted and charred pavement in a circle around them, but the center was unharmed, a layer of frost covering the ground. Pyroclasm moved and a thin layer of ice that had formed on him shattered off.
“We have to get her somewhere safe,” he said, his voice rough.
* * *
“We’re the Wardens of Tomorrow,” said Guardian Angel, taken aback.
“Okay,” she appeared to calm down a bit, then pointed at me and asked, “Then what the hell is he doing here? Why are you working with a villain?”
“What?” The rest of the group turned towards me. They all looked surprised, but Kismet looked betrayed. I couldn’t defend myself, though, because Guardian Angel/Sean and Emily would recognize my voice without me being able to alter it with my power. I turned my back and started going back up the stairs to where I could alter my voice.
“Where are you going?” asked Kismet, her voice cold. I continued walking, but Guardian Angel put a hand on my shoulder, stopping me from continuing. I had a brief flashback to when Liam tried something similar recently, but this time I stopped myself. An idea occurred to me. I pulled my communicator out of my pocket and typed out a message to the group.
Going somewhere I can talk.
The others all looked at their communicators. Emily looked over Kismet’s shoulder.
“Going somewhere you can escape? Why didn’t you tell us this?” said Kismet. I wasn’t sure if she meant the villain thing or the not-talking thing, so I replied:
You didn’t need to know.
The others came to an agreement and escorted me and Emily back up the stairs. As I left the nullifier’s range, I felt momentarily deafened by the return of my wind sense. The eddies and vortices left in the wake of our passage stood clear as day. I cloaked myself in shadow again and said,
“Ahh, that’s better.”
“Okay, now explain yourself,” said Guardian Angel. I pulled the mask Dame Danger had given me off and handed it back to her.
“The body armor I’m wearing is made by a tinker who custom-makes it for villains who happen to have a lot of money lying around- she probably recognized it because her dad has a set or two.” Emily looked surprised we knew her dad was a villain.
“How did you end up with it, then?” asked Plateau. Kismet’s eyes widened before I even responded.
“Got it from him for my birthday. He was a friend of my dad’s.”
“What?” Exclaimed Plateau, Guardian Angel, and Dame Danger. Emily merely looked surprised, and Kismet looked embarrassed. “How are you a hero, then?” Asked Emily. “Uncle Sam won’t pay kids of villains.”
“The Redemption Clause. The same thing Jamisson mentioned to Shatterpoint and Limit Break. It’s a loophole around the restriction. Same thing that you are going to go through.” I directed the last comment at Emily.
“What? No. I don’t want to have to stick to some strict-ass rules just to ‘clear my name’ of something I didn’t do. That’s messed up!”
“You will, you want to know why?” I said angrily. “Not because you deserve a chance, but because your father deserves a chance. He turned to crime because he had to, before the time of government sponsorship. He deserves to see his daughter not follow the path he took. You go through this, then walk away and get a civvie job, or even turn villain? Fine. At least you will have had the option, and when we take you down you’ll be facing the consequences of your decisions and not because some stuffy DC bureaucrat doesn’t trust kids.”
“Fuck you. You don’t know-” she began, but I cut her off.
“I know exactly how you feel. I spent a third of my childhood living with Psyghast and Spectre. I know how easy it is to commit a crime, but I also saw how hard it is to stop. Don’t do that to yourself. You think you’ll live a normal life? You know you can’t. Every day those powers would burn, yearning to be used. They only grow with use. You slip and use your powers, and in that moment you see how much better you are, how easy it is to hold yourself above them, the normals. It’s the easy road to villainy.”
My rant was brought to a halt by a call from Jamisson.
“Yeah?” Asked Guardian Angel.
“Have you retrieved the nullifier? That’s going to be very useful shortly.”
* * *
Legion began to approach, but stopped, splitting into two and watching the copy that continued forward suddenly fall forward and shatter on impact with the ground.
“Holy crap,” said the remaining copy.
“I can carry her back to headquarters,” said Pyroclasm, gently lifting Cryoclasm up off the street.
“Uh, bad idea,” said Legion. “I don’t know if you noticed, but the area around her is cold enough to kill a normal person. It’s not a good idea to take her back to HQ, especially with the police setting up there.”
“Wait, why are the police setting up at HQ?” asked Jet.
“Oh yeah,” Legion replied casually. “Shatterpoint demolished the police station.”
“What?” Jet was stunned.
“Yeah, you kinda missed a lot. Good to have you back, though,” Legion’s voice was heavily laced with sarcasm. “Maybe could swap stories later. Not really a priority right now.” He pulled out his communicator. “Jamisson, the CCS got away, Cryoclasm’s unconscious and her power was left on. It could get dangerous. Where can we put her until she wakes up?”
“Hmm, that’s not good. Hold on a moment, I think I have an idea.” There was a pause, then Jamisson returned. “Okay, take her here:” the GPS interface appeared on his communicator appeared, pointing back the way they had come.
“Oh, and could we get another driver? I think this one’s way over the legal BAC now and I don’t think Pyroclasm is in any state to drive. Also, uh, Scrapyard kinda trashed this one.” Jamisson sighed.
“I’ll send someone along to pick him and Marrow up. For now you’re going to have to walk, sorry. Other van’s still getting repaired after Spit knocked it over and the others aren’t back from carting Labyrinth and Masquerade around yet.”
“Darn,” said Legion with forced levity and closed the call. “Okay, this way,” he called to Jet and Pyroclasm. They followed.
* * *
Pyroclasm arrived carrying his sister, following Legion and Shockwave. There was a trail of frost in his wake, slowly thawing behind them. We all cleared out of the way.
“Down in the basement,” said Guardian Angel. Pyroclasm entered the house, and the wood door-frame warped and cracked from the intense cold.
“Shockwave, good to have you back,” Guardian Angel said.
“Thanks. It’s Jet now, though.”
“Cool. So it looks like we’re walking back to HQ?”
“Yeah,” said Legion, “Maeve got the driver. They sent a police cruiser to pick him and Marrow up.”
“Why doesn’t one of you drive?” Asked Emily.
Guardian Angel explained: “Legal reasons. We can’t actually prove any of us has a license without revealing our identity. And before you suggest it, you can’t because at the moment you are considered ‘in custody.'”
“You may want a mask if you’re going to be walking in public with us,” said Dame Danger to Emily, proffering the mask she had lent me.
“Yeah, fine,” she sighed and slipped it on.
“So, what do you do?” Plateau asked her as we started walking.
“Um, good question. Something like this.” As she walked, glowing lines of energy spread formed on her clothing. They formed intricate patterns and fractals, shifting as she moved. She left in her footprints similar patterns of glowing lines which spread and faded as she got farther away.
“It’s pretty, but they don’t seem to do much.”
“We’ll figure it out,” said Dame Danger.
We walked back to headquarters, enduring the gawking of the lingering tourists and the cold stares of the jaded locals. We returned to an unfamiliar sight. The Warden’s building’s lower floor was bustling with police who had relocated there after Shatterpoint had lost control and demolished the police station. On the way back we had seen one if their remaining cruisers going to set up a perimeter around the Upright Man’s lair. We pushed through the crowd of officers and other various employees setting up in the first floor. We got a few glances now and then, but they were very professional. Jamisson was showing the chief of police around when we found the conference room we’d been using for planning.
“Jamisson, a moment please?” asked Guardian Angel.
“Sure. Just a moment, Blaine. So, what do you need?”
“This is Shatterpoint’s daughter. We need her fitted up for a costume and have her powers assessed.”
“Sure thing. I’ll tell Mind. He can do her and Adam together. He’s been wanting something to distract him. I think he’s been missing the action. Oh and Paragon’s been delayed. Now if you’ll excuse me. Emily, up the stairs to the third floor, third door on the left. Usually.”
Jamisson returned to the police chief’s tour as Emily sulked off in the direction Jamisson had pointed.
* * *
The politician leaned into the podium. He was grinning fiercely, with the strong emotion that was his hallmark. He was working up the crowd quite well. Soon they would be repeating his speech to others, each time becoming more and more convinced of what he was saying.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, each year, the government spends millions of dollars funding superheroes. Remember Mister Marvelous? He was the most ineffective hero ever, taking down a total of one super criminal in his entire career and only preventing five crimes, four of which he was supported by other superheroes, which is to say, he sat back while they did the work. Do you know what he was paid? $120,000 per year. That’s more than the police chief of Colswell City, the city with the highest metahuman crime rate in the country. Howard Blaine, the police chief, personally prevented more than thirty crimes last year and organized the prevention of and response to countless others in the last year alone. Without powers. How is this fair? Why is he treated worse by the government because he doesn’t have special powers? It is against the spirit of the constitution and the american ideals. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new warrior race: the metahuman.”
The crowd cheered at his condemnation of superheroes. His speech was radical, it would make the local news and people would talk, and soon the whole nation would see it, and talk about it with others, convincing each other he’s right. “It’s time we stop treating them better than people like you or I just because we’re afraid of them. My affiliates in congress know this is true but they are too cowardly to tell you the truth. But I can assure you one thing above all else.
“I am an honest man.”
* * *
I returned to campus in time for what appeared to be a marathon of old superhero movies. Kevin apparently had a sizable collection and, shocked that Josh had never seen the Mister Marvelous movie, dragged him, Wren and I into one of the lounges to watch it. At some point, Sasha appeared around a corner and joined us. I think she’d been looking for Wren, and she managed to masterfully ignore Kevin’s glare. I wasn’t sure what was going on there -though in retrospect I’m surprised it didn’t tip me off immediately. Sean came through on the way to our room at one point like I had, but couldn’t stay for the rest of the movie; he still had work to do.
The movie was terrible, as usual, so naturally we laughed our way through the whole thing. There was one scene towards the end that was easily the hammiest thing I’d ever seen. For days afterwards, Josh would occasionally shout:
“I. AM. MARVELOUS!”
Then break down into irrepressible laughter. The fight scenes with Denizen of the Dark were entirely absurd, getting his power totally wrong.
“Aren’t you related to him?” Asked Wren over a plastic-helmeted Denizen cackling madly at the Guardians’ defeat. That had actually happened, but it most certantly wasn’t Mister Marvelous who saved the day.
“Yeah. He’s my grandfather.”
“Seriously? You’re related to Denizen?” Asked Josh.
“Yeah. Only met him twice, though. He was in jail by the time I was born. Always liked to say that he only stayed for the free food.”
“Seemed to break out easily enough that one time,” noted Sasha.
“Yeah,” I said, mildly embarrassed, “that was so he could show up at my birthday. Totally freaked out my parents.” That wasn’t entirely true. Only my mom had panicked.
“Oh man, that’s great-” Wren broke off, coughing. “Hold on, I’ll be right back.”
* * *
Pyroclasm watched his sister’s unconscious form. He had promised to protect her, and when it had really mattered, he had failed. He remembered back to when he had first gotten his powers.
A young pyroclasm squared off against the bullies. It was almost pathetic how much smaller he was than them.
“Hey, that’s my sister,” he said angrily.
One of them turned curiously. “And?” He asked, raising an eyebrow.
“And, and you should stop messing with her,” Pyroclasm continued uncertainly.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do about that,” said his sister’s tormentor with strange glee.
Pyroclasm looked away, thoughtfully, then looked the bully square in the eyes, full of fire.
When the flames died down and the bullies fled, Pyroclasm looked at his sister. He was crying, much like he was now, as he said, “look sis, I punched them so hard they caught fire. Look what I can do. They won’t bother you again.”
Pyroclasm shook his head, clearing away the memories. His sister was lying on the concrete once more, but this time he was without his powers. She was there because he’d failed. He stood up from the folding chair he’d been given by the officers outside and knelt over Cryoclasm.
“Don’t you dare die on me,” he whispered. “I would never be able to forgive myself.”
When he stood, he spotted a note taped to the back of the chair. He pulled it off and read it. It said, in handwriting he recognized all too well:
this was a successful trade
two for one
* * *
Later that night, Colswell City Specialists returned to their base. It was a strange juxtaposition, a mixture of decrepit squalor and opulent wealth. They were in a loft above a warehouse or an abandoned factory. Atop a rickety plywood table was an enormous widescreen television and a stack of game consoles. They didn’t seem to know how to handle the wealth they collected from their criminal activity, bingeing on expensive luxuries but ignoring the necessities. Maeve fell back into the couch.
“Dammit,” she said, rubbing her forehead. “Burned my eyebrows off.”
“Hey, you’ve got it easy.” Bindle hoisted himself over the back of the couch with a number of atrophied arms.
“That is still disgusting, did you know that?” Said Scrapyard. He had shifted back from his metal form once he cooled down, leaving a pile of metal scraps in the main area of the warehouse.
“You’ve said. Seriously though, you gotta relax. You did great, we got away. Put that girl in her place.”
Maeve shot Bindle a dirty look. Scrapyard threw off his coat.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m still jittery though. That heat didn’t do me much good at all. It doesn’t feel right, feels like we got away too easily.”
There was a rumble as the door of the warehouse below them trundled open. Scrapyard went to meet whoever it was. Their subordinates were supposed to knock, then wait for permission to enter. Through the open door, they heard Scrapyard say,
“So, you two are back for more?” Followed by a voice saying,
“No. Just me this time.”
And the world went white.
* * *
Dr. Mind bid the two budding heroes goodbye and returned to his lab. Adam he had pegged as some kind of conditional heavy-hitter. It was unusual, but it made sense knowing his strange origin. The girl, Emily, he wasn’t sure what to make of quite yet. She was still quite overwhelmed by her powers and was not the most cooperative. She was almost the opposite of Adam’s meek, submissive demeanor. He sent his report up to Jamisson, who in turn passed it on to the higher-ups in the Department of Metahuman Affairs.
Jamisson was very pleased with the Redemption program. After it’s rough start, it was working quite well. The ‘Urban Metahuman Bastion and Response Act’ was a blessing in that regard, creating protocols for dealing with heroes, superheroes, villains, and supervillains. It also created a system of government sponsorship for superteams, which ended the era of corporate-sponsored and for-profit heroes, which were widely criticized as being worse than some villains Later amendments were added for accidental damage caused by powers, and for dealing with reformed villains, the latest.
This last was what Jamisson cared about. It provided an escape for children of villains and supervillains, and would in the long run ease the pressure from the new generation of supervillains. He flipped to the next page of the reports he had stacked on the desk by the console. It detailed the steps taken to integrate Limit Break into the superteam in Boston, the Guardians. There had been a minor incident with Spit using ‘excessive force,’ in stopping a bank robbery, but apart from that they were doing well. He was glad his theory about them going wherever the money was turned out true, because a government sponsorship is as reliable an income as it gets.
This Upright Man was proving to be a bit of a problem. He seemed to have been manipulating Shatterpoint and Limit Break. Jamisson flipped through some records. The first fight with limit break, possibly to distract the Wardens of Tomorrow from the CCS. The second to take them out of the equation. Shatterpoint broke out Masquerade to distract from… something. Perhaps it was to keep Savage busy. That was one avenue he would have to look into. The police station could have been not part of the plan. As far as he knew that was just Shatterpoint losing it when he heard from the police that his daughter had vanished, but that could have been part of the plan as well. Thinking about it more, the second fight with Limit Break had likely served to distract from that. It was the nullifier that Shatterpoint had stolen that had let the Upright Man keep her there. The fight with Labyrinth was probably just to get him into the building, and the Wardens of Justice broke up at an unfortunate time, -or was there more to that? The fight with the CCS was an interesting oddity. They escaped, and neither side really gained anything. Jamisson’s train of thoughts derailed briefly as he realized something.
Emily was put in the Upright Man’s lair so the Wardens of Tomorrow could find her easily. He wanted her on the team. What’s more, Cyroclasm and Pyroclasm were now in a place he could reach them easily, as a result of rescuing Emily. It was a hostage exchange and they hadn’t even noticed. He threw the papers onto the table in a loose pile and spun his chair to the console. He had some calls to make.