Gotta move! Next to me, Charity braced herself, and cold billowed off her as she drained heat from the air around her. Why didn’t the Cocatrice affect her?
Myriad grinned, one arm over her eyes to sheild against the Cocatrice, the other outstretched, two fingers out and her thumb pointed up- a finger-gun.
I teleported back into my footprints as Myriad’s hand jerked, punching a hole in the plaster of the wall behind where I had been moments before. Oh no. The carpet shredded as Charity dashed towards Myriad, flinging herself across the hall with her power. No, no no! Myriad crouched and thrust her left forearm out in front of her. With a *Clang!* Charity collided with an invisible wall, stopping short of Myriad. I tried to move, but I was locked in place by the Cocatrice. Myriad’s other hand, still in her finger-gun, jerked again.
Charity stumbled back and clutched her hip. I tried to dive towards her and failed, unable to budge my clenched muscles. How can she move and I can’t? Charity started to fall.
Neuraplast, I remembered. I dosed her with Neuraplast. I teleported the jet injector to my temple, not even bothering to use my hands, and pressed the button. A stinging pain jabbed me briefly in the temple and the injector clattered to the floor. My clenched muscles loosened as the Neuraplast took effect almost immediately. Look at that. I teleported to Charity and caught her as she collapsed, then I looked up into Myriad’s hand, and behind it, she smiled.
A cold wind blew through the hall like the breath from the mouth of a cave, raising hairs on my arms.
I dashed out of the way, swirling down the hall in a cloud of black fog. Charity was covered almost immediately. I need to get her somewhere safe. I teleported to Dr. Mind, still carrying Charity.
“Mind,” I said immediately as I appeared, along with a pool of darkness that spread around me like a puddle of water. “I have Charity, but she’s hurt.”
Dr. Mind turned, startled, but only briefly. “Jamisson, we have Charity,” he said as he stood.
“Good. I’ll call the rest back,” said Jamisson from the intercom.
I placed Charity on the nearest clear lab table and withdrew the darkness from her. There was a hole through the gold accent on her hip, stained red by blood. My arms were sticky with it. Oh no.
“I couldn’t stop it,” Charity said, her voice faint.
Dr. Mind rushed over with medical supplies.
“She’s going into shock. It may have hit the iliac artery,” he said with a detached calm. “We need a healer.”
My mind raced. Healer… I can get Claire and Marrow. I moved my communicator to my hand and dialed Sasha’s number. The phone rang twice.
Pick up, pick up…
“Hello?” Came Sasha’s voice. Yes!
“This is Shadow, from the Wardens of Tomorrow,” I said, careful to modulate my voice. “We need your help. Teleport to the Wardens’ building, now.”
“Uh, what?” she asked, bewildered.
“Do it now!” I barked into the phone.
“Yeah, hold on.” There was a pause. “Okay, I’m coming out of the lobby bathroom.”
I hung up and rushed through the halls with a cloud of darkness trailing behind my feet. I used my power to take the stairs at full speed, redirecting my velocity to take the 90-degree corners without even touching the stairs. I made it to the lobby in record time and burst through the doors along with a cloud of shadow.
Sasha was waiting in the otherwise mostly vacant lobby when I arrived. I sprinted up to her and tagged her on the arm, marking her.
“Collswell University infirmary, now.” I said.
“What’s going-” she started to ask me.
“Go! No time to explain.” I commanded, then turned my back.
I felt her disappear, replaced by a block of air from the university. I followed close after, and appeared in the hall around the corner from the school infirmary.
“I’ll take it from here,” I said as I gusted past her.
“-what…? No way,” Sasha said behind me. “Denizen?”
I paused. Damn.
“No, Denzien,” she continued. “Will?”
No time for this now. I continued into the infirmary. I turned the corner and walked directly into Claire and Marrow.
“Ladies, you’re coming with me,” I said to healers as I covered the them in darkness with a touch, then teleported the three of us back to Dr. Mind.
“What the hell?” exclaimed Claire.
Marrow remained silent, but bone spurs erupted from the skin around her joints and fingertips.
“Sorry for the inconvenience,” said Dr. Mind, “I’m Dr. Mind of the former Wardens of Justice. This woman needs healing. The iliac artery has been punctured and her hip is shattered. I’ve stopped the bleeding for the most part, but there’s still internal-”
Claire shushed him and placed her hands around Charity’s wound. Charity was sedated now, and hooked up to a complicated series of IVs and a heart monitor.
“You’re right. It’s bad,” said Claire, eyes closed. “No exit wound… but no bullet. You remove it already?”
Dr. Mind shook his head. “No bullet. It was a power. Can you fix it?”
I leaned on a lab table, suddenly exhausted.
“Yeah.” Claire’s brow furrowed. “Rebecca, I need you. A piece of her hip is what punctured the artery, and I need it out of the way.”
Marrow- Rebecca, I guess? –stepped up to help.
I could feel the marks fading, starting with the most distant- first Sasha’s, still at the infirmary, then Guardian Angel’s, on his way back now, then Jamisson’s. Ugh, tired.
Dr. Mind approached me and said, “Shadow, was that your first time overloading?”
“Overloading?” I asked, confused. I guess we haven’t gotten there yet in class.
“In high-stress situations, the adrenaline can alter how a metahuman’s abilities function,” Dr. Mind explained in a hushed voice. “Especially with trace amounts of residual Chems in your system.” And the Neuraplast, I remembered. Dr. Mind continued, “Afterwards, you may be unable to use your abilities for a short time. It would be a good idea to leave now, since you rely on your power to conceal your identity.”
Ironic that it might work the other way. I nodded and let myself out of the lab. I took the stairs one at a time this time around. As I exited the building, I could feel my power slipping. Not yet, I thought, gritting my teeth against a sudden pounding headache, but the headache was short-lived, fading almost as fast as it appeared. Thanks, Neuraplast.
The cold hit me as soon as I exited the building. Holy crap, it’s cold! How did I not notice… Actually, this is my first time outside today, isn’t it? As I walked, I pushed the air that intersected with my body along with me, keeping a blob of warmer air around me. A gentle breeze blew down the street, and I had to split it around me so I wouldn’t freeze.
I managed to make it back to where I’d stashed some clothes before I let go, allowing my shadow to fade and pushing out the air that intersected with me. I shivered and hugged my arms close to my chest. I really need to figure out how to manage the cold. It’s not even below freezing yet, I don’t think.
I made my way back to the university, shivering.
Jamisson watched Shadow leave on the cameras, only relaxing once he was finally gone. Christ, that was frightening. Shadow looked almost exactly like Denizen of the Dark when he was overloading. He replayed the video. On the console, Shadow ran through the halls, figure indistinct as the darkness spread in his wake, an absolute, impenetrable blackness which reminded Jamisson of the videos he’d been shown in training of the kind of thing he might have to deal with.
“Okay, we’ve fixed her hip and patched up the torn artery, but we can’t restore the blood she’s already lost,” said a voice from one of the other screens. Jamisson shifted his attention to the laboratory feed. He attributed the voice to the blond one on the two healers Shadow brought in.
“That’s all I needed,” said Dr. Mind. “I can do a transfusion- I still have some of the synthesized O in stock that’ll do until I can get something real in her.”
“She’s B negative, by the way.”
Jamisson pressed the key to broadcast his voice and said, “Sorry to interrupt, but full recovery is expected?” The healers looked up at the intercom.
“Correct,” replied Dr. Mind.
“Can you have her conscious by tomorrow?” Jamisson asked. “I need her to testify in the Upright Man trial.”
“I can’t honestly guarantee anything,” repliedDr. Mind, irate. “But yes, I expect she’ll be awake by then. She’s only sedated to reduce her heart rate.”
The console made a sound like an old-fashioned telephone, and Jamisson gestured to answer the incoming call.
“Director Jamisson, this is Doctor Grainge, we have good news. The woman you transferred here has woken up.”
“Oh, good! To be honest, I needed some good news. Have you told her brother?”
“Oh, he was there. Hardly left her side. You want to talk to them?”
Jamisson started to respond, hesitated, then started again. “No, give them time,” he said finally. “They’ll report in when they’re ready.”
The call ended and Jamisson returned to trawling the internet and police reports for signs of metahuman crime. Jamisson bookmarked one particularly promising lead- someone calling himself “Randwulf” was making rounds, so far robbing a few stores by the docks, but nothing major. Reports seemed to indicate that he was a metahuman, but until there was conclusive evidence, the police department would handle it, if the Anchor Boys didn’t get him first.
There was another ring, and once more Jamisson answered. This time, he recognized the number.
“Paragon,” he said. “Why aren’t you back yet? You were just supposed to do the paperwork to officially dissolve the team and give a speech or two.”
“I’m sorry,” said Paragon. He sounded genuinely sorry, and tired. “It got complicated. I got pulled into a congressional investigation. This man, Honnete, was arguing that Umbra was ineffective. He was good.”
“Pierce Honnete?” Jamisson asked. “The head of Virtue?” The other shoe drops.
“That’s the one.”
Jamisson swore quietly. “How bad is it?”
“They got an amendment through.” Paragon paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “The records they subpoenaed showed that the youth programs ‘lead to an increase in mental instability and are a reckless endangerment of minors.’ You’re losing funding.”
Jamisson froze, stunned. “Completely?” he choked out.
“There’s more,” Paragon continued. “You have no established team, and now no youth team. You’re going to lose the building.”
“I-” Jamisson couldn’t finish and sputtered out. “What about Dr. Mind?” he asked once he had collected himself.
“The powers that be already transferred their research to an in-house team. You could probably transfer somewhere else. With your experience… I-” It was Paragon’s turn to stumble over his words. His voice cracked with emotion as he continued. “I knew dissolving the team would have consequences, but I had no idea…”
“You couldn’t have known there was a congressional investigation,” said Jamisson tightly.
The line was silent as Jamisson slowly clenched his fists.
Paragon started to say, “Are-”
“Goddammit!” Jamisson burst out. “We lost! We got out-played.”
“What do you mean?” asked Paragon.
“Virtue! They had a precog. They planted Labyrinth because they knew it would cause the team to break up. The Upright Man would have killed Plateau if not for Kismet, and Chastity -almost- lobotomized Cryoclasm. All Virtue. There’s no way this wasn’t planned.”
“Virtue did that?” Paragon sounded confused.
“The Upright Man is Brandon Lim. He was recruited by Virtue after his son died.”
“Brandon Lim… I recognize-“
“His son was Phenomena.”
“Oh…” Paragon trailed off. “Why would Virtue employ a precog? Aren’t they anti-metahuman?”
“We thought they might just be a splinter group, but Chastity implied that there were more of them, including a Charity and Honesty.”
“Charity, the hero?”
“We have her,” Jamisson waved it off dismissively. “Hopefully she’ll testify tomorrow and we can build a case against Virtue, and if not, we have her in custody. But it’s Honesty that worries me.”
“Honesty? Why…” Paragon paused suddenly. “Oh my god. Honnete. ‘An Honest Man.'”
“We can’t go after Pierce. We’d get torn to shreds. There’s no way it won’t look political.”
“I know, but that should change after the trial.” Jamisson had calmed down a bit, and his voice became iron with determination. “I may not have the team, but I’ll take this case as far as I can.”
“I forgot you went to law school.”
“Damn right I went to law school,” joked Jamisson, voice hoarse. “While you were all wasting your time being all heroic I got a goddamn degree.”
The line was silent again.
“I haven’t heard you swear in a long time,” said Paragon.
“Maybe not when you could hear.”
There was a beep, signalling another call.
“Sorry Ben, I’ve got a call waiting. You’re coming home now?”
“Good. See you soon.”
Jamisson hung up and answered the other call.
“Director Jamisson, this is Howard Blaine,” said the gruff voice on the other end of the line.
Jamisson sagged in his seat.
“Commissioner Blaine,” he said. “I suppose you’ve heard the news.”
“I have. You have my condolences. I was calling because the Department of Metahuman Affairs told me we’re getting an armored unit and a few snipers. I asked where the budget was coming from, and, well…”
“Ah.” Jamisson rested his forehead in his hand.
“They’re transferring your jurisdiction now that there’s no official team. All the folks over here were sad to see the Wardens go. You really helped us out of some tight spots.”
Jamisson leaned back, smiling. “Now you’ve got me waxing nostalgic. Remember Fusilade and Barrage?”
“I do. I was still an officer then.”
“That reminds me, do you have anything on this Randwulf guy?” Jamisson asked, getting to business.
“Can’t tell you anymore, sorry. Not your jurisdiction, remember?”
Jamisson’s face fell. “Right. Anything else?”
“We’re getting the building too.”
“I’d wondered what they were going to do with it. Looks like I’ll have to find an apartment while I try to get an official team together,” Jamisson said.
“You live there?” asked the commissioner, bemused.
“Well, it has the rooms and it’s cheaper than renting.”
“Hm. Well, I have business to get to. Get drinks some time?”
The commissioner hung up, leaving Jamisson alone. He slumped in his leather rolling chair, hands fidgeting with a pen. He waved his hands to clear the console and stared at the blank monitors.
The Department of Metahuman Affairs seal flashed on the console with a whoop and jerked Jamisson out of his seat.
“Accept,” he said, confirming the call.
A woman in a suit appeared on the console.
“James-” she started.
“Why do you call me that?” Jamisson snapped. “It’s not my name.”
The woman’s lip twitched. “Agent Jamisson. Is that better? I’d hoped to speak as a friend, but obviously you don’t want that right now.”
“My apologies.” Jamisson fell back into his seat. “Today has been a bit of a rollercoaster. We got Charity back, and I hear Cryoclasm’s awake, but I’m losing funding. Oh, and the building.” He paused for emphasis. “Where I live.”
“You live there?”
“Yes! I live here! And for that matter, so does Adam! Why does this surprise people?”
“I wish I’d been able to bring that up at the meeting. Maybe I could have let you keep it. Believe it or not, I really am still on your side.”
“I know,” Jamisson sighed. “What do you want?”
“Well, I was told to give you the news, but it looks like you already know. I was going to offer you a position here in DC, if you wanted it.”
“No,” Jamisson refused without hesitation. “I won’t abandon Collswell. I’ll recruit, try to get a full team. Pyroclasm, Cryoclasm, Shadow, and Guardian Angel are all old enough. That’s just one short, if I can’t convince Paragon.”
“Tipping Point,” suggested the woman. “He’s overkill out in Redlake.”
Jamisson considered it for a moment. “Fair point, but he won’t help us against Blackwell, and I doubt he’ll want to move to the city on a permanent basis.”
“Make it temporary then. You have a member -Plateau, I think- who’ll be graduating this year.”
“We’d have to bring in Basilisk and Pitfall too. It’s not practical, but I’ll think on it.” Jamisson paused. “You know I’m not going to be able to stop the kids from doing… what they do, right? Except now they won’t have my oversight.”
“I think nobody really expects that except maybe the Subcommittee,” the woman said crossly. “This is the end of all the youth teams in the country, James. I don’t think anyone’s happy except maybe the parents.” She glanced to the side briefly. “We’re not supposed to let them continue heroics, but I doubt we’re going to enforce that. We just can’t endorse it anymore.”
“I understand. Thank you. Now I need to start looking for apartments, so, unless there’s anything else-” Jamisson paused, remembering something. “Oh, hold on, one favor.”
“Don’t send Flax. He’s insufferable.”
The woman smiled. “I’ll see what I can do,” she said, and the screen went blank.
Jamisson sat in the darkened room, thinking. After a few moments, he pressed the key to broadcast to Dr. Mind.
“Mind, get up here,” he said, then hesitated. “I have something I need to tell you before the team gets back.”