Monitor sat up abruptly, his milky white eyes flashing open. The motion sensors in his room beeped and automatically alerted government officials around the world that he was awake.
He stumbled over to his map, leaning on his bed stand as he made his way across the room. He placed a hand onto the map, feeling the ridges of the continents and skimming frantically over the small bumps that marked cities other and major population centers. With his other hand, he fumbled with a small box of pins, feeling out the shapes of the heads. The pins were all different, marking the severity of the power spikes he sensed, ranging from blue to red, each with a different shaped head so Monitor could tell them apart. There were also special black pins with spherical heads and white pins with heads shaped like tiny skulls, but there were only a few of those. There was also a single silver pin with no head, simply a small ridge so it could be removed.
The map was covered in the various pins, marking the positions of various threats and events- every known active nightmare was marked with a black pin, tracking their movements. Pins for dormant nightmares were stored safely in Monitor’s box. Other colors marked the last major power uses of dangerous supervillains and joker powers. The silver pin marked the current location of Atomic, also known as Landstrom Davis, the most powerful metahuman in the world.
Finding the bump and the pin he was looking for at the same time, he rammed the pin home. The conductive grid behind the map sensed the pin and, as Collswell is located in the United States, automatically updated the large map displayed in the United States Government department of Metahuman Affairs’ “War Room,” causing a large red “X” to appear directly over Collswell City.
Jamisson’s hand cramped suddenly, sending the pen skittering across the paper, slashing a jagged trail of ink across the “Request Denudine” and “Request Interdiction” boxes of the form he was filling. He almost swore, but caught himself. The Metahuman Special Trial Request form glared at him from the table. Jamisson growled at it, massaging his right hand with his left.
“Starting to wish you hadn’t let your assistants go?”
Jamisson’s back straightened in an instant and he gave a hasty salute, wincing as the cramp in his hand spasmed.
“No need to salute me, James. We’re beyond that now, don’t you think?”
The room was lit only by the light of the console, a small desk lamp which illuminated Jamisson’s paperwork, and the dim glow of the tablet computer Jamisson used when the console wasn’t handy. The console dominated the room; a bit of a relic, it looked like something out of a science-fiction movie, but had been refitted with state-of-the-art touchscreens and voice controls in place of the bank of cathode ray tubes that had once occupied its housing. The enormous curved screen was currently split into a myriad of windows, displaying protocol handbooks for the paperwork, a map of the Wardens’ building with power usage and markers for current occupants, and, in the center, a video conferencing window. Jamisson’s heart lurched strangely when he saw the person who had called, but his voice was calm and formal when he spoke.
“If you say so, Ma’am.”
“Oh please, don’t you start on that again now.”
“If that’s what you want. Now, why did you call? You know this is an inconvenient time.”
A bit of his frustration crept into Jamisson’s voice.
The voice coming from the console sighed. “James, every time is inconvenient these days. But you’re right, I suppose I should get to business. Monitor just told us you were having a series of abnormally large power spikes in the area, some exceeding k100, but he says they don’t taste like any known joker power. You haven’t made a report of any major events past the incident with Shatterpoint overloading and destroying the PD, so the Powers That Be wanted me to check up on you.”
“Hm. Let me check my notes.”
Jamisson shuffled through the array of papers lying on the desk that served as the base of the console. “The Upright man overloaded for a little while against Plateau, but there were no visible side-effects, and we could still handle him. Kismet had a minor overload, but she’s recovering rapidly.”
“None of that sounds like it would break k100.”
“No, a k10 at most for Kismet, probably closer to k5, maybe a k30 or k40 for the Upright Man if I’m bragging. No, make that 25. Let’s see… Blackwell has been fighting Charity for almost five hours now.”
“Blackwell has never gotten past k100 even as a whole group, and that was with a whole day of preparation, against the Rose of Thorns, no less.”
The scale used for measuring the intensity of powers was one cooked up by Monitor a few years back. It wasn’t the official standard, and it didn’t have any practical applications outside knowing how dangerous something could be, but that on its own made it useful enough to gain widespread use among certain circles. The ‘k’ preceding the power level was a remnant from Monitor’s old map. He had been marking events with notes showing how many people were killed. Once the map got too cluttered, since his old map was much smaller, he started abbreviating it to ‘k’ followed by a number. Some government official misinterpreted it as a measure of power spike intensity, and thus was born the Kill Scale: how many normal people a power could, in theory, kill at one time. The Kill Scale map is, interestingly enough, very similar to population density maps. The Ks level of Collswell usually rested at about 20, when adjusted to accommodate heroes- heroes counted negative: the number of people they could save at one time.
“I can’t think of…”
Jamisson spotted a report he hadn’t noticed on his tablet computer, appearing as a yellow triangle in the corner of the screen. “Hold on, there’s something here.” He scrolled through the report, skimming it for information before reporting it back. “Blackwell has a new member called ‘Dark Archon.’ A shapeshifter of some kind, but it looks like the full extent of his powers is as of yet unknown. He’s been trading blows with Charity for about…” he compared the time of the report to the current time, “…an hour, so I imagine he’s pretty powerful.”
“That could do it. I’ll get Think Tank and Knowledge Base on him right away. Thanks.” The voice hesitated for a moment. “You know, I could help you with the paperwork.”
“You know why I can’t let you do that.”
“Yeah, I know…” The voice trailed off, then blurted out, “I miss you.”
“That was a long time ago.” Jamisson hesitated for a moment. He knew the call was being monitored, but anyone watching probably knew his history and wouldn’t report him. “But I miss you too.”
The call terminated.
Jamisson sat with his head in his hands for a moment, but his moment of silence was short-lived, interrupted by a chime as the building’s sensors detected someone saying his name. He glanced at the map, where the infirmary was blinking with the text ‘Dr. Mind.’
“Dr. Mind, how is Cryoclasm looking?” Jamisson spoke to the console after tapping the infirmary on the screen.
“Not good. I’m only glad Chastity wasn’t able to finish whatever she was trying to do. But it’s, uh, hard to work with Pyroclasm glaring down at me from observation, and it would be a hell of a lot easier if I knew what Chastity was trying to do.”
Jamisson understood what Dr. Mind was suggesting and had some reservations, but he trusted the tinker’s judgement. “I can assign him to interrogate Chastity, if you want him out of there.”
“Okay, but make sure there’s someone else there with him. Putting him in there alone with the woman who lobotomized his sister is not a good idea.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem. He’s out of fuel. But just in case, I’ll put Adam there too. He’s pretty much fireproof, so Pyroclasm can’t threaten him.”
Pyoclasm’s power worked differently from most pyrokinetics. He didn’t actually create fire like a lot of them did- that required some particulate fuel to oxidize with the air to create that famous plasma. Rather, Pyroclasm used energy to somehow excite the oxygen in the air directly, creating a cool, smokeless blue fire out of thin air. Given fuel, though, and he could grow the fire from a match or a lighter into a blazing inferno, shaping and directing the reaction as he pleased. The concealed butane tanks in his costume reported to be empty when Jamisson prompted them from the console. He wouldn’t put it past Pyroclasm to carry a backup source in case he ran out, though, so that was no guarantee of anything.
Dr. Mind knew it too, so he advised, “Do that, but watch them. Be ready to lock down the room in case of an escape attempt or if Pyro lets loose.”
“You don’t need to tell me how to do my job, Mind,” said Jamisson tiredly.
“I’m not so sure. You’re taking too much on yourself. It’s too much a burden. Delegate, dammit, I can’t stand watching you falling apart like this.”
Dr. Mind sounded more frustrated than angry. Jamisson clenched his fists on the surface of the console.
“I don’t have anyone I can trust! I had to fire all of our paper-pushers when we lost the funding for the Wardens of Justice.”
“You have me! I can process paperwork faster than you can think, no offense, Jamisson. You have Guardian Angel. He’s supposed to be a leader, let him lead!”
“I can’t. I- I can’t trust them to lead themselves anymore. Not after…”
This was the most emotional Dr. Mind had heard Jamisson since last summer, and even then he’d barely cracked his facade. But Dr. Mind was a licensed psychologist, and he could see what was going on.
“You still feel guilty for Phenomena, don’t you?”
“No! Well, I didn’t, until he came back to haunt me. He’s almost gotten the kids killed twice now, because I cleared his psych eval. I knew he had a history. Fu- for crying out loud, his mother was-“
“None of that is your fault. The only reason he went bad was overloading too far. You know what that does to precogs.”
“I should have realized the possibility!”
There was a pause in the conversation as Dr. Mind weighed his options.
“You can’t account for everything, Jamisson.”
“But I have to.”
“No, you don’t.” Dr. Mind’s voice softened. “Now get that interrogation started. Here I am doing brain surgery and you’re up there distracting me with your problems. God, this reminds me of college.”
Jamisson smirked darkly, more a wince than any expression of happiness.
Several minutes later, Pyroclasm and Adam stepped into the observation room off of the “Tinkerbell,” so nicknamed because it was designed to contain tinkers.
“What did you do to my sister?” Growled Pyroclasm immediately upon entering.
“Straight to the point, aren’t you? I was expecting the classic ‘Who do you work for?’ routine.” She replied sarcastically.
“We know who you work for,” said Adam quietly.
“Then by now you’ve realized that you have nothing to threaten us with that won’t make your position worse, nothing you can bribe us with that we will accept.”
“How about life in jail?” asked Pyroclasm threateningly.
“Not without a trial,” she said mockingly. “You can’t disregard the fourth amendment that easily. Even if you had any evidence against me, which you actually don’t.”
“The courts are guaranteed to rule against you as soon as we get your identity from the lab.”
“Thus furthering our cause.” She sounded almost smug.
“How can you think that? People will look up to us for stopping you.”
Chastity laughed, a bitter, harsh sound.
“Why do you think we went along with Patience’s little vendetta, giving him powers and free reign in the city for a week? As soon as this little cycle of revenge hits the papers, people will start to wonder if this could have been avoided. If maybe it’s the treatment for a symptom that causes the disease.”
“You still haven’t answered my question.” Pyroclasm’s voice was laced with cold fury, and sparks started to dance around his feet. “What. Did you do. To my sister?”
“Oh you should have seen my work complete!” Her voice was intensely serious. “It would have been a kindness.”
Jamisson made the connection almost immediately, as he had been skimming a transcript of her conversation with the Upright Man. He replayed the relevant clip to be sure he was right.
“It would be a kindness,”
“Pyroclasm, I’ve got it. Good job” said Jamisson, then switched to the infirmary speakers. “Dr. Mind, Chastity was trying to disable Cryoclasm’s powers.”
“Well, it looks like she had to go through something else first. I can repair most of the damage, but brain surgery really isn’t my specialty- I can do it, but no better than the best normal brain surgeon.” Mind chuckled darkly. “I’ve used up almost all of the Neuraplast I had in stock, but without knowing exactly how it was before there’s not much more I can do.”
“I understand. Can I get chances of recovery?”
“Well, if she wakes up, the Neuraplast should be able to rebuild most broken connections, but there’s no guarantee she’ll wake up, or that is she does that she’ll ever really make a full recovery. It’s possible that she might need regular Neuraplast injections for the rest if her life if her condition starts degrading. The odds are to up to chance to give a good number.”
Jamisson clenched his jaw, limiting himself to the comment, “That stuff is expensive.”
Neuraplast was manufactured by the same company that made Denudine: Chlora pharmaceuticals. Chlora was owned by a tinker who specialized in drugs, so naturally she was the only one who could produce them. She’d made a fortune overnight when she revealed Neuraplast to the public, a drug which increased the plasticity and natural healing of the brain a hundredfold, effectively curing almost all brain disorders and becoming essential to any brain surgery. On top of that, there was a thriving black market for Boosters, people who use drugs to increase their abilities to extreme levels. Neuraplast has the side effect that it becomes much easier to learn or memorize things if used in high doses, making it possible to master skills in a day, but it permanently degrades other areas if it’s abused like that. Neuraplast junkies were often called ‘savants;’ genius at one chosen field, at the cost of everything else.
Jamisson looked back at the form he had been working on and, after some thought, checked the box labeled “Request Denudine.”
Chlora’s other major product, Denudine, had a similar impact on the public, though the actual effect was completely different. Denudine was a power suppressant: one dose could almost completely disable someone’s powers for up to half an hour. It was prohibitively expensive, however, and, like Neuraplast, very illegal without a prescription. Unlike Neuraplast, though, Denudine was very hard to find on the black market. This was mostly because of the smaller market and higher risk, but it was also partially because the Peddler didn’t want anyone to try using it on him.
A message from Shadow appeared on the monitor, interrupting Jamisson’s work once more.
“Jamisson, the situation here just got interesting up here,” came Shadow’s unnervingly deep voice. “This kid just vanished. Security swears he never left his room, and a tracker in the Hero program says his trail terminates abruptly at his dorm room.”
“That sounds like it needs to go to the CCPD Department of Metahuman Affairs, also known as us. I’ll try to get into contact with Savage. He has more experience in this than just about anyone else.”
Jamisson flicked his fingers across a keyboard, starting a subroutine designed to locate Savage. He used it as infrequently as possible, because it got harder to find Savage each time he used it. Savage didn’t like being interrupted from his hobby; hunting down drug and arms dealers.
Just then, the monitor beeped, displaying a high power use from the labs.
“Dr. Mind,” said Jamisson, calling the infirmary.
“Do you have equipment running in the lab?”
“No… Oh, but Dame Danger is in there. She was working pretty intently on something when I left. Sounds like she’s about done. I let her keep on working, because there’s a chance she’s found her specialty. I’ve never seen her so focused.”
“Oh, that’s good. I wonder what-“
“Guys,” interrupted Kismet over the infirmary PA system which Dr. Mind was talking with Jamisson over. “Turn on the news.”
Jamisson did, just catching what had prompted her to speak up. The screen displayed a surreal, nightmarish wasteland, made all the more disturbing when the helicopter camera zoomed out to reveal the city juxtaposed around it. Ruined buildings cluttered the battlefield, interspersed with spikes of glittering feldspar and quartz. Around every available surface wound thorny metal vines, grasping onto every structure. Pooling around them on the ground were puddles of noxious black ooze, which filled the air with an inescapable sense of dread.
After a moment of shocked silence, the news anchor spoke, “After almost six hours of combat, the fight between Charity and Blackwell has ended, and it’s not looking good, with three full city blocks demolished in the process, and more still damaged, possibly beyond repair. The casualty numbers are coming in now… Three civilians are confirmed dead, fourteen injured, and five more missing. It’s hard for me to say this, but for the first time in ten years, Charity has lost.”