Scenes from a Changing World 5

The leader of the squad on Riley street turned away from the barricade that had been hastily erected around the sphere of darkness that enveloped a fair portion of the city. The sound of engines approaching cut through the eerie quiet that had fallen over the city.

“Are we expecting backup?” asked one of the men under his command.

“We’re not. Everett, Holcomb, Whitney, with me. Everyone else, keep an eye on the orb.”

The designated soldiers formed up along the opposite side of the barricade, facing out into the city.

“Hopefully this is just a news van and we can turn them around without any trouble,” he started to say, but that hope was dashed the moment the vehicle entered his line of sight. An armored personnel carrier, wedge-shaped front, camouflage-patterned, and half again as wide as the traffic lanes. It drove straight down the center of the street without regard for traffic laws or safety.

The APC rumbled to a halt in front of the barricade and the back lowered down, forming a ramp down onto the street. The man in charge approaches the vehicle and rapped on the window. The driver, army, like he was, mouthed,

“I’m sorry,” through the glass, but didn’t roll down the window.

A pair of heavy boots hit the ground behind the truck. A moment later, a searing light filled his world.

Temple took a deep breath before he spoke, mentally preparing himself to speak the truth. 

“I am in command of this unit,” he said, the strange harmonics in his voice rumbling through the bones of his skull and chest. He could feel his mind shifting, and he knew that he was in command.

“Yes sir!” said his subordinate, with a hasty salute.

Temple approached the squad of soldiers manning the barricade. “I am in command of this unit,” he repeated, to a chorus of similar replies. “When this event ends, you will maintain a perimeter around the affected area and watch for a man matching this description,” he said. “Randolph Ermen. German, Five feet, six inches tall. Blue eyes, brown hair, balding. Wears a ragged tan or brown suit. If you encounter this any matching this description, you will kill him without hesitation.”

The acknowledgement was immediate and enthusiastic. It was only reasonable, of course. This man needed to die, plain and simple.

Temple nodded, satisfied, and turned to return to his vehicle. Since he’d lost access to the precog Brandon Lim, he had lost a measure of control, but it was no matter. His secondary objectives in this city were already complete, and his primary goal was closer than ever.

The driver started the armored vehicle and began to drive towards the next barricade.

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Scenes from a Changing World 4

Richard Denzien paced back around his house, mind busy. There hadn’t been new Nightmare-class metahumans in the states in years. Not since the Rose of Thorns first made her debut in 2000. And now there had been two new Nightmare events in the same city in one month. And his son, Will, was right in the middle of both.

He’d tried calling. During the first one Will had picked up and assured Richard that he was fine. But this time, there was no response. Not even voicemail. Just “your call could not be completed as dialed.”

The TV was on, volume up so he could hear the broadcast throughout the house. He’d given up on actually watching it. A warbling tone echoed through the house as the landline rang. It wasn’t Will, he would have called Richard’s cell phone, but Richard was too nervous to care.

When he snatched a corded telephone from the wall, a female voice said,

“You are receiving a call from Stonewall Penitentiary. Would you like to accept?”

Richard’s stomach lurched and he immediately started to say, “no,” but thought better of it.

“Yeah,” he said, throat tight.

“Richard,” said Baron Denzien. He’d never lost his Polish accent, though he’d even changed his name from Bazyli to an english version.

“What do you want?” Richard said.

“I want to know that Will is safe.”

“I don’t know!” Richard exclaimed. “His phone-

“Maybe I wasn’t clear,” Baron interrupted. “I don’t want to know if he’s safe. I want to know that he is.”

The line went dead as Baron hung up. Richard stood there holding the phone for a moment, before gently placing it back in its cradle. Without a word, he walked to his bedroom and opened the closet door, then pushed through the hanging clothes and lifted the hidden latch he’d installed himself some years ago. The purple bodysuit was just as he’d left it. God, it even smelled the same. Like gunsmoke and cash. Like a life of crime.

He still didn’t understand how he’d never been caught. It had come close, sure, but even when Baron Denizen’s identity became public, nobody had investigated his son, or even given him a second glance. Perhaps the Denizen of the Dark’s reputation was more powerful than he’d realized.

Richard made his decision. Fifteen minutes later, he threw a small suitcase into the back of his car and himself into the driver’s seat. 

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Scenes from a Changing World 3

Wren sat on his bed, laptop open on his lap. He stared at it for a few full minutes before starting to type into the search bar. He stopped, hesitated for a moment, then opened an anonymous browser and started again. He browsed briefly before finding what he was looking for.

Advice for new metahumans

You don’t have to register

This is incredibly important, and it’s something people get wrong a lot. Despite what a lot of people think, you don’t actually have to register. It is recommended, but not mandatory. You can still even use your powers recreationally. Committing crimes (even minor ones like speeding) without registering has higher penalties, akin to committing a crime with an unregistered firearm, and it is illegal to make a profit off your abilities without registering first.

You don’t have to tell anyone

This is a tough one, though it kind of builds on the last point. Being a metahuman is a permanent aspect of who you are, but it’s deeply personal. Interestingly, we have good numbers for how many people are metahumans but never open up about it. Have you ever noticed that the metahuman community has a much higher rate of openly LGBTQ people than the general public? (Or, you know, the other way around). If you assume that someone who’s open about their sexuality is more likely to also be open about being a metahuman (and vice versa), you can compare the proportions of metahumans in the LGBTQ population to the proportion of all metahumans in the entire population. A census study a few years ago did just that and found that nearly 60% of metahumans haven’t “come out of the closet,” at least to the public. We’re a bigger community than you think.

You don’t have to be a superhero

You don’t have to be a villain either, not that I’d ever advocate that. The vast majority aren’t either. Consider the possibility similarly to working in other law enforcement jobs– if you wouldn’t otherwise be interested in being a police officer, there’s no need to force yourself into that career path. Plus, it’s much more profitable to get a job where you can use your abilities to excel. As a metahuman, you have one of the best bargaining chips in the job market: a completely unique skill. But…

You don’t have to let it define you

A lot of metahumans start to feel that their ability doesn’t fit who they are, or that it’s some kind of message about who they should be. It took me a long time to figure out that this just isn’t true. If your ability would be great for gardening, but you hate plants, there’s no point in forcing yourself to do something you don’t like. Just do what you enjoy and let your abilities to make your life more interesting.

Up until now this post has been about dismissing some myths associated with being a metahuman, but here I’m going to change the tone this last one.

You have to accept it

It may be uncomfortable, but this is a part of who you are. You can’t change it, you can’t turn it off, and you definitely can’t get rid of it. Try to imagine how you might use your ability in your daily life. Try to imagine how you might use it at work. Be creative, experiment, flex it a bit. You might be surprised what you discover. I know I was.

Wren leaned back against the wall, deep in thought. He still hadn’t internalized the fact that he was a metahuman. His parents had been… less than subtle about their opinions of the demographic, and he suspected that at least his dad was a member of the metahuman hate group that had a presence in his hometown, Homo Purum. They had stoked the natural jealousy almost all normal people had towards metahumans into something dark and bitter. He himself had only broken out of it when he learned that Kevin was a metahuman. It had been even more shocking than learning Kevin was gay the year before.

He gently placed his laptop on his desk and walked over to the dresser. In what had previously been the shorts drawer (the shorts had been packed away under his bed when the weather had gotten colder), he’d stashed his experiments so far. The first, a rain jacket that made its wearer invisible, passively, and with seemingly no energy requirement. That alone, he suddenly realized, he could sell for an astronomical sum of money if he wanted to.

Among the others were a mug that would teleport straight downwards the moment there was nothing supporting it and a pocket calculator that could now be bent completely in half and still function. Less useful, certainly, but still interesting. So far all he knew was that for each other metahuman he touched, he could “enchant” one object, but there didn’t seem to be a limit to how many he could have. Thinking about it now, he wasn’t sure when he’d started thinking of it as magic, but it seemed right.

And then it hit him. He might have the most useful ability he’d ever heard of. Maybe not the most powerful, but all he had to do if he wanted to be invincible is get a morphsuit and shake hands with Bulwark. He could turn invisible. If he figured out how to move the enchantments around, he might be able to teleport. Every metahuman he came into contact with could expand his collection.

And he was at the school with the highest concentration of metahumans in the country.

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Scenes from a Changing World 2

Pierce Honnete scanned through the newspost, eyes flashing across the screen of his tablet. Already his imagination was running wild with the implications. The nullifier had been cracked, and more importantly, leaked to the public. with the right parts and equipment, and some electrical engineering knowledge, anyone could make one.

“This changes everything,” he said, tapping the screen with his index finger. “Has this been published yet?”

“Thankfully, no. They sent me an advance copy for,” he paused, “-personal reasons. We’re already looking for ways to install them in public buildings and equip our police force. Given the events of the last month or so I don’t expect much public resistance.”

“I’ll be willing to help in any way I can. With your son leading the local branch. I’m sure we’ll be working together closely over the next few years.”

“About that,” the mayor said, shifting to break eye contact. “Robert won’t be able to accept the position.”

Pierce furrowed his brows. “He already took the job. He can’t back out at the last moment- it would jeopardize the trust I’ve been rebuilding here after the Lim fiasco.”

“I’m sorry,” the mayor said. “Gentlemen,”

On cue, the doors burst open and a trio of armed men burst into the room. Pierce jumped back, startled. “Adrian, what is this?” He said, backing away as the men advanced.”

“I’ll explain soon, I just need to know.”

Two of the men seized Pierce by the arms. He tried to tear himself away while the third jabbed him in the neck with a cylindrical jet injector, and then they let him go. He stumbled back against a bookcase, one arm up to ward them off. They backed off, but didn’t leave the room.

“What was that?” he cursed, a hand clapped to the sore spot on his neck.

“Neuraplast,” said the mayor.

“What?” Pierce said, stunned. “Why?”

“What do you know about Temple Sun?”

“Your son hired them. Security for the event. Glad he did.”

Adrian nodded. “The assassination attempt. I suspect it was staged.”

“What?”

“Have you ever seen a bright light and been unable to move?” asked Adrian, voice intense. “Like a deer in the headlights?”

Honnete narrowed his eyes.

“One of their members has the ability to… influence people,” the Mayor said.

Pierce went quiet. “After the fundraiser they insisted on sending guards with me to the hotel.” He said. “One of your local vigilantes showed up, and that was how they chased him off. I don’t,” he paused. “No, I remember.” His eyes went wide. “Oh god.”

“He’s the one behind the Nullifier schematics.”

Honnete looked up sharply.

“He had you, my son, Brandon Lim, and God knows who else, and that’s what he decided to do with it. He stole the Nullifier, but then released it to the public. He’s shot himself in the foot.”

“Unless this was his goal,” Honnete said.

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Scenes from a Changing World 1

author note: I think it’s become abundantly clear that I can’t continue to do this regularly. I really want to continue but it seems was though every week there extenuating circumstances. Expect very infrequent updates. I have a few short vignettes queued up, though, to remind folks that this is still on the burner. 

***

Carl stood in front of the row of whiteboards that had been commandeered for the secure conference room full of some of the brightest minds in computer security (who, she noticed to her disappointment, were almost exclusively men). She had decided to wear a labcoat today– not out of any actual need, but because it got her in the right mindset for the task before them. Plus, she preferred the idea of lab-coated individuals discussing the topic at hand over suit-wearing individuals any day. 

Once the bureaucrats who had arranged the meeting finally agreed to leave, with the security team that would be stationed outside, she spoke. 

“Thank you all for coming here, I know you’re all very valuable, and your time is busy.”

This got a few chuckles. She smiled. 

“I believe the invitation said that a new technology that has the potential to disrupt society on a global scale has been invented, and we’re creating a panel of experts to ensure that it’s safe for widespread use, yes?”

She got a few nods, and the feeling of intense curiosity from the audience sharpened to a razor’s edge. 

“Given the news out of Japan, I suppose some of you can guess what this technology is, but for those who don’t follow the news, here it is.” She steeled herself to say the words that she’d been waiting to say all her life. “We’ve created immortality.”

She paused and let it sink in, but before anyone could respond, she continued,

“This technology is not secret. It will leak. We need to get ahead of it and make sure what happened in japan never happens again.”

A few cheers went up, but the rest sat in sober silence. 

“Ground rules for the discussion: I am moderating the discussion. In the interest of fairness, I will allow anyone to speak, so if I tell you to let someone else talk, do. Second, no social implications. I repeat, no social implications. That is for the other committee. All I can say is that no country wants to be the last to give their citizens immortality. And finally: everyone who dies while we’re discussing this is on our hands, but so is everyone who dies because we make a mistake. I need your best efforts here today.”

She proceeded to give an overview of how the technology worked, along with the requisite quantum leaps in storage density and brain-computer interfacing. 

“And remember, this is a preliminary discussion, so we don’t need specifics right out of the gate. We have tinkers on call to make the design changes and provide insight into possibilities we may have overlooked.”

She paused, not sure how to signal that she was done, then settled on, “Begin.”

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Cross-Promotion: No Honor Among Thieves

My brother has launched a kickstarter for the card game he’s been developing, No Honor Among Thieves. Back it at any level to recieve a track I produced, or watch the video for a preview of the track. 

The game is a fantasy heist card game inspired by the likes of The Lies of Locke Lamora. If you’re at all interested in tabletop gaming, check it out!

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Interlude: Distance

Translocator adjusted his grip on the new space station module. It was difficult to really grip anything with the spacesuit gloves. Some Korean and Chinese engineers droned on behind him about how important it was that he be close enough for the astronauts on the station to begin the docking procedure. He nodded and pretended to be following along with the translation streamed to his helmet. You miss the ISS one time and nobody ever let’s you live it down. He thought to himself with a wry smile. 

“Translocator, we’ve got a call from the United States liaison,” the ITAB dispatcher said in his ear. “They want you back in Colswell.”

He groaned inwardly. “Kindly tell them that I’m not their lapdog. I helped clean up, but I won’t help rebuild. Not since you-know-who sued me.”

A pair of important-looking people shook hands in the live feed from the mission control room. 

“That’s not it. He says they’ve had another nightmare attack.”

“What?” his voice rang in the enclosed helmet. 

The engineers gave him a concerned look. Evidently they’d heard his outburst. 

“All good,” he said to reassure them, giving them a thumbs-up. 

A countdown started, translated into several languages for the benefit of the international audience. 

“We’re trying to get Monitor to confirm, but you know how he is.”

“Asleep?” Translocator asked.

“Indeed,” dispatch said with a wry quirk to their voice. 

“I’ll be there as soon as I’m done with my trip to space. Countdown’s almost done.” His previous excitement had faded, replaced with a hard knot in his gut. 

The ISS is moving at a bit over Mach 22. The speed of sound is about 340 meters per second, so that puts it at about 7500 meters per second. The countdown just hit five. 7.5 kilometers per second over fiv- no, four seconds. That’s 30 km away and [[X]] km up. 

Translocator bent his knees and took a few deep breaths as the countdown approached zero. 22.5. 15. 7.5. The countdown hit zero. He jumped. 

His suit expanded slightly as the pressure around him dropped from one atmosphere to zero. Fortunately for him, this one was designed specifically to handle that. The rushing wind was replaced with the sound of the compressed air tank adjusting the suit pressure. His ears popped and the sudden lack of gravity made his head spin. 

“Translocator to ISS. This will never get old,” he said as he looked down at the earth below him and tried to relax into the lack of gravity.

“You got that right,” came the reply from Commander Louis Beor, crisp and clear, with no atmospheric interference. “Let me know if you ever decide to go to Mars. I’ve got dibs on second place.” 

“I’d rather not get out of eyesight of home. Buy me a telescope and some booze and maybe we’ll talk.” In truth, Translocator shuddered at the idea of being unable to find the earth. He had firsthand knowledge of just how small the planet is. 

“Fair enough. Your aim’s getting better– we’ve got you a few kilometers east and up.”

“Face towards Europe. Got it.” He knew the comment about his aim was a joke, but he still winced. 

Translocator used his grip on the satellite module to turn until he was facing the right direction. As soon as he spotted the station hovering above the clouds he moved in closer. The earth didn’t seem to move, but the station now loomed large in front of him. It still felt odd to see it hovering, perfectly still, as the earth scrolled past below, knowing that he was moving at 22 times the speed of sound. The fact that he could match speed like this and that he wasn’t limited to line of sight was what made him the most powerful teleporters ever.

“Bring it around to the other side and we can take it from there.”

A few more jumps to circumnavigate the station and he had the module in position. 

“You need it any closer?” he asked. 

“That’s perfect. Get clear and we’ll start the docking procedure.” 

Translocator moved himself out of the way and watched as the astronauts tethered to the station pulled the new module in with a slow, gentle touch. 

The trip back down had much less fanfare than the trip up. Normally he’d stay and watch the docking procedure, but the news from Colswell gnawed at the back of his mind. He teleported back to the International Threat Assessment Bureau headquarters in Brussels where he stored his jet. It wasn’t really his jet, but the bureau leadership gave him full access to it at any time so he could respond to emergencies without needing to wait for council approval. 

The jet was powered up and ready to launch in just a few minutes. He’d have to fill out requisition forms for the fuel later, but fortunately that was handled post-op. 

“Dispatch,” he said. “Give me the distance to Colswell city,” he said to the air as the VTOL thrusters on the plane powered up. A rather unique vehicle, with Translocator aboard it didn’t have to move very fast, just stay fixed in the air easily. It would be more accurate to call it a hovercraft, in that regard, but the overall design looked more jet-like than anything else because that’s what the chassis was based off. 

“That’s 5682 km at 243 degrees,” said a very similar voice, but this time with a distinct Belgian accent.

“Thank you.” 

One jump and he was there. As soon as he appeared in Colswell he started receiving a transmission on the emergency-band radio. 

“-is in effect. Evacuation is not necessary. Remain in your home. All streets are closed to non-emergency traffic.”

The bottom dropped out of Translocator’s stomach as he emergency broadcast continued, listing hotline numbers for different emergencies to take the load off the primary line. 

“Get me into contact with whoever’s organizing response,” he said as he stared at what the city has become. Two thirds of the city was consumed by a sphere of pure black, rimmed in gold by the sun rising behind it, the buildings around the edges twisted and distorted as though they were being sucked into it in extreme slow motion. 

It felt wrong. His intuitive sense for distances told him that he was looking into a hole so deep he could fall forever and never hit the bottom. It like staring into the empty space between the stars.

“Translocator, thank god you made it,” said an official-sounding voice from the radio. “We’re cut off from most of the city’s law enforcement and infrastructure. Power and water are out for most of the city, and whatever that is, it blocks radio.”

“What can I do?” Translocator asked. He teleported the jet down towards the edge of the bubble, where he saw a line of US military vehicles parked across one of the broadest streets in the city.

“We have a few options. We’ve calculated the center of the area to be Durian Park. There was an outdoor screening scheduled there and local heroes were spotted moving towards that area shortly before the event.” The speaker held a brief, quiet exchange with another person before continuing. “If you’re willing, we’d like to send you in.”

Translocator looked into the void again and shuddered. “Have you sent anyone else in? Did they come back?”

There was silence on the line. “…no.” 

Typical. “Then that’s my answer.” Translocator relaxed. He had an out. 

“We sent in a drone, but we lost contact with it.” The speaker had loss the sense of certainty they’d had moments before. 

“And that makes you think it would be safe for me?” Translocator said. “Since we lost Foresight we can’t risk our lives like that.”

“I don’t know how your thing works! That’s why I asked!” There was a pause. “Look, why don’t you come down here and we can talk? We’ve got plenty of people on the ground who need help, and you won’t do any good up there.”

Translocator spent the next hour or so moving patients from Colswell City hospitals to those in safer areas. The hospitals here were already crowded and overfull, thanks to the previous nightmare event and the recent transfers from parts of the city without power. It wasn’t glamorous work, but it was necessary, and just as important as the flashier uses of his ability. 

And then the bubble burst. The black hole, as those outside it had come to call it, vanished without a sound. Translocator was interrupted from his work by a voice in his earpiece informing him of what had happened. As soon as he was able, he teleported to Durian park. He’d taken a moment earlier to look at a map of the city and learn where the park was, so when the time came, he was ready. 

He arrived at the edge of the park when the sun was just peeking in over the top of the shortest building nearby. A line of dead cars clogged the road, but the air was thick with exhaust fumes, like they’d been driving all night. He gagged at the smell, and tried to teleport away from the road towards the center of the park, but couldn’t. He swayed on his feet, then staggered back, disoriented. 

“There’s something interfering with my power,” he said to his earpiece, disbelieving. 

“Translocator?” The voice that responded sounded raw, but familiar. He recognized it from his previous work in the city– Director Jamisson, the local Metahuman Affairs liaison. “This isn’t public knowledge, but Dr. Destructo’s null-field generator has been out of our hands for a few months now. If you find it, do not deactivate it. It may be what ended the event.”

He walked towards the center of the park, one arm over his mouth and nose to filter out some of the smog. 

“Who is this? This is a government channel.” demanded he man Translocator had been dealing with previously. Jamieson disregarded it and continued. 

“The source of the event was Locus, of the Wardens of Justice. If he’s still alive, do not move him out of range of the nullifier.”

“Randwulf,” Translocator cursed. “Dr. Ermen. He must be in the area.”

There was a clatter and a quiet curse from the other end of the line. The man who had been directing response from outside the bubble seemed to realize who he was talking to and stayed silent. Translocator squinted against the increasingly putrid air as his eyes started to burn. His foot hit something on the ground and he tripped. When his first reflex, to use his power to teleport away and right himself, failed, he couldn’t recover and landed hard on one arm. His wrist twisted sharply and a spike of pain jolted up to his shoulder.

“Aaagh!” He shouted in pain and surprise. 

He rolled to the side and pulled the injured arm close. Only then did he see what he’d tripped over– a body collapsed on the ground in a parka and wrapped in a blanket. The body stirred, then took a deep shuddering breath and coughed. Every few seconds some part of him kept trying to teleport out, screaming at him, you’re in danger! Get away! Get safe!

“H- hello?” Called a voice somewhere nearby. A child started to cry. 

“-breathe! I can’t breathe!” Gasped another voice. Translocator’s own chest felt tight, like he couldn’t fill his lungs quite all the way. 

Someone ran past, a blur in the smog. Translocator jerked away, startled. 

“I can’t,” he said. He stood and turned in the direction he thought he’d come from, but something was wrong. The sun wasn’t in the right place. He was all turned around. He ran, his wrist sending stabs of pain up his arm with each footfall. He could feel his reflex to teleport away butting against the inside of his skull, unable to actualize. More and more voices called out in the smog, blending with the voice speaking to him through his earpiece. 

And then he was in the hangar in Brussels. The air was clean and clear, but his breathing stayed rapid and ragged for several minutes. He hunched over, hands on his knees while he calmed himself. 

Coward. He thought to himself. Coward

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