Scenes from a Changing World 6

Kismet watched Dame Danger fidget on the floor with a partially dissected piece of technology she’d been given as a gift from Japan’s new leadership, uncomprehending. When the jet had landed, in a moment of terror and confusion, their powers has all slipped away. The entire island nation had been blanketed with Dr. Destructo’s nullifiers.

“If you die with one of those implants, when you come back, is that still… you?” Jessica had asked Raine when she had taken Adam’s backup to be installed in his new body as it grew. “I mean, you have the same memories, but all the neural connections… it’s not just your memories, is it?”

“It doesn’t just store memories,” Raine had reassured the young tinker. “It creates a full backup while you sleep so you can retain any skills you learn.”

Something about that still bothered Kismet. Nobody really knew what the mechanism was for metahuman abilities. If it was biological, they might not transfer over to a new body, and you could lose them forever. At the same time, if it was biological, you could deliberately move yourself into a body that’s a clone of a powerful hero or villain and maybe gain their abilities.

But if they did transfer over, was that possibility really any less worrying?

Dame Danger growled in frustration and pushed the circular white disk away from her.

“I wish we could go out and explore,” she said. “I can’t believe they’re keeping us locked up in here.”

“I can guarantee we would get lost,” Kismet said half-heartedly.

“Yeah but that would at least be interesting!” Jessica countered. “My brain feels totally numb.”

Kismet looked up, then nodded. She leaned towards Jessica.

“So, how much do you still know?” Kismet asked. “If you learn something through your power, do you keep that?”

“I think so,” Dame Danger said. “I still remember how all my tech works. I think I could probably recreate something I’ve already made? I just, couldn’t make anything new.”

“So you’re still smarter than me,” Kismet said.

The younger girl smiled. “Thanks. It still feels weird though. When I look at a piece of tech I can usually just tell how it works, like reading a sign. It’s hard to look at it and not read the words, even if they’re in a different language or I don’t understand what they mean right away.”

“So now it’s like you can’t read,” Kismet said, and Jessica nodded. “I can see how that would be annoying. For me it feels more like there’s a few seconds of lag between when I decide to do something and when it actually happens. I’m just… slow.”

“That’s rough,” Jessica said.

Kismet hesitated for a moment before asking the question burning in her mind. “Have you ever looked at the Nullifier?”

“I-” Jessica paused and looked away, abashed. “Yeah. Dr. Mind always said he couldn’t understand it but I was desperate to find my specialty. I was trying everything.”

“And?”

“It didn’t make any sense!” she said, throwing out her arms in exasperation. “It was so simple. There were no advanced components at all, just… shapes. It looked like one of those fake infinite energy machines.”

“Huh,” Kismet said. She furrowed her brow. “

“I was thinking maybe it’s psychosomatic or something, but it still works when you don’t know it’s there.”

“So that means it’s not a placebo?” Kismet said.

“Yeah.”

“Huh. I wonder what’ll happen if they turn all of ’em off here.”

“You think they will?”

“I dunno. I’m not sure it would be a good idea.”

They lapsed into sober silence.

“What even is this place?” Kismet asked, gesturing at the blank white walls. “A hotel?”

“Huh?” Jessica said. “No, it’s a hospital. Or something. They can grow you a whole new body here.”

“Hm. Makes sense.” Kismet sighed. “I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that they can do that.”

“Seriously,” the tinker agreed. “It’s like something out of cyberpunk. I think it was Altered Carbon or something.”

“Oh yeah, I heard about that show.”

“I meant the book, but same concept.”

“So would you do it?”

“Uh,” Jessica said. “I dunno.” She stood up and sat down on the other bed. “I think I probably would, to be honest. Local backups only, though, and that is one EULA I would read all the way through. How about you?”

“I really don’t know. Like, the idea is cool, but it’s also kinda gross, you know?” Kismet said. “It makes you wonder like, how much would a new body cost? Probably hecka expensive, right? ‘Cause nobody’s going to decide not to buy one if they can just because it’s too expensive. But then what if it is too expensive? Will only poor people die?”

“Oh yeah.” Dame Danger looked thoughtful. “Plus overpopulation is already an issue, and if people keep having kids, things will get really bad really fast. There’s an easy solution to that one though!” She grinned. “Let’s colonize space!”

“An easy solution?” Kismet laughed.

“Sure, why not? I bet we could do it at this point. Just get a whole bunch of tinkers together and give them us each a million dollars when we solve it. Boom, done.”

“I notice you included yourself in that.”

“Heck yeah! It was my idea!” Dame Danger kicked her feet. “but you’re right. It could be really cool, but it could also get really bad.” She shot Kismet a sly look. “We’ll just have to make sure it doesn’t.”

“Hell yeah!” Kismet agreed.

The next day, the team was gathered back together. Eve and Lilith sat apart from the others, talking softly with one another, while the others were less subdued.  

Raine entered the waiting room and the conversation died off almost immediately. She swept her gaze around the room, and her eyes lingered on Eve. Her face locked into a neutral expression and she looked away. Eve clenched her eyes and turned her head to face towards a wall.

“You’ve all been very patient so I’ll jump straight to the good news,” Raine said. “Your friend is doing fine. I’m told he finished installing last night, so should be waking up a few minutes.”

A cheer went up from the collected teens.

“His c-stack had schema for most of his nonstandard augs, and his sisters were able to provide the rest. They decided to exclude a few of the more… questionable ones, and some needed upgrades, so he should be better than new.”

“That’s some crazy stuff,” Legion said with a huge grin. “Pretty soon I won’t be the only one on the team who’s died.”

“Dude,” groaned Jet with a grimace.

“What? It’s true. Seriously, you should all see if you can get one of those things installed.” He made a motion like he was plugging a cord into the back of his head. “It’s super cool.”

“I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than that,” Plateau said skeptically. “Look what happened here,” he turned to Raine. “No offense.”

“None taken,” she said. “You’re right, though. It has brought us great hardship, but now that we have it, we can’t take it away. That would be murder,” she sighed. “There’s was a group here once that thought that immortality devalues human life, that a thing can only be beautiful if it is fleeting. A very traditional notion.”

“Was?” asked Jessica.

“By their own metric, I suppose, they were beautiful,” Raine said, eyes distant. “We have a long road ahead of us to restore our culture.”

“I’m sorry,” Eve said quietly, eyes downturned. The others shifted uncomfortably and gave each other uncertain glances. Even Raine seemed at a loss for what to say. Lilith put a comforting arm around her and pulled her close.

“No,” Lilith said. “You don’t have to be sorry. None of what that narcissistic asswipe did was your fault.” Lilith’s brow furrowed with anger. “You are awesome and beautiful and strong. Remember that.” Eve hugged her sister and buried her face in Lilith’s shirt. “Don’t you ever be sorry.”

The door opened again, just a crack, and every head in the room turned to look with bated breath. Eve sniffled but stared with wide eyes. A moment later, Adam entered.

He looked exactly the same. He saw his friends gathered around the room, and his sisters with light in their eyes. He gave a tentative smile and a wave.

“Hi,” he said.

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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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