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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Machine Daydreams (non-story post)

I have an interlude almost done, but for various reasons (read: networking), instead of finishing it this weekend like I intended to, I created a blog to follow one of my other hobbies, generative machine learning models. Check it out, if you’re interested!

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Eclipse 9.9

Sean was sitting on the ground, when I found him, knees pulled up to his chest, hands shaking. His wings were gone, and his hair had lost its brilliant glow. Shit, he looks bad.

“Sean,” I said.

He didn’t look at me. “How are you here?” He asked, his voice low and hoarse.

“I teleport, remember?” I said, gently as I could manage in the state I was in.

“No. Get out of my head.” He sounded angry, but he still didn’t move. I kept my hand on his shoulder.

“Sean, I’m here,” I said awkwardly. How do I do this? “I have a plan to get us out.” Kind of.

“Get out!” he shouted. He grabbed my arm from his shoulder and turned to look at me. “I deserve this.”

His fingers dug painfully into my wrist. His eyes flared with light. My chest tightened with panic as I remembered being frozen by Temple. My first reflex was to cover my eyes with darkness, but what I’d seen in the darkness a few minutes ago stopped me.

“I saw it,” Sean said. “I fucking saw it.” Sean’s eyes carved dark trails in my vision. “Temple was right. We can’t fight that.”

The scars on his hands stood out, red and angry. He had taken off his gloves.

“Fight what?” I asked. His eyes, though blinding, didn’t have the same effect as Temple’s

“The thing on the screen. I only got a glimpse but it saw me.” He shuddered. “It can still see me.” He sounded more scared than angry now. His grip loosened a bit. “Fuck,” he said, voice quiet. “You’re real.” the light from his eyes dimmed, but didn’t fade completely. “I sound crazy.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. “I don’t know,” I said. “It sounds a lot like what Rob Banks said. Maybe-” I can’t believe I’m saying this. “Maybe Temple’s right.”

Sean nodded, as if it made sense to him. “So this…” He gestured at the wasteland around us. “What is this?”

“It’s Locus,” I said. “His power’s out of control, stretching everything out into… this.”

Sean nodded again, and the light in his eyes dimmed to a dull red glow through his eyelids as he closed them. He let out a deep breath. “I’m too fucking tired.” He said. “You said you have a plan? Do you need me?”

“I don’t know if I could bring you even if I did,” I said. I have teleported someone else before, I remembered. My memory of the event was fuzzy. Charity, after she got shot by Myriad. I could feel my hands shaking. But I doubt I could do that again now.

“Good,” He said, and let go. Once more, I was alone. Fuck. He needs help. I sagged with exhaustion that I had struggled not to show before. I need help.

When I found Locus, I froze with horror. His skin was ashen grey, his limbs distended to half again their normal length. His fingers twisted and splayed at unnatural angles, his mouth locked open, wider than should be possible.

My stomach lurched and I retched involuntarily. I stumbled a few steps away from where he was sprawled on the ground, using my parachute cord to get more distance.

“Oh god,” I croaked. What the fuck? I thought. What happened to him? I had seen the pictures of some of the Nightmares that had appeared over the years. An image of Molar, covered with calcified growths but whose limbs twisted and bent in impossible ways flashed in my head, and others, each more horrifying than the last. Creatures I’d studied carefully before deciding I wanted to take this path. I’d known that I might have to face one of them, or something like them, one day, but I never could have imagined that it would be in the form of one of the beloved heroes I’d looked up to for so long.

He moved without warning, turning his head to look my direction. His eyes were pleading, terrified. I have to help him, resolved. I reached down to the Nullifier and hesitated. If this doesn’t work, I might lose my marks. This might be my only chance.

And after that there’s only one option.

I turned on the Nullifier.

A wave of heat radiated out from the box as it activated and I could feel my darkness fading away, retreating back into my skin, or wherever it came from, revealing the body armor beneath. Locus writhed in pain, but the effect of his twisted power didn’t abate.

The air around us seemed to shake. Blotches appeared in the sky, like holes burned in film. The parachute cord stretched and thinned, and Locus started to move away from me as the space between us expanded.

No! I turned off the Nullifier and my darkness returned, covering me and the parachute cord in an instant, but too late. Locus was gone, vanished into the distance like all the others before. The wasteland seemed somehow different now– less indifferent, more hostile. The feeling of oppressive pressure redoubled.

The remnants of my parachute cord fell to the ground, snapped under its own weight after being thinned and weakened by Locus’ power. That was from just a moment looking at the screen, I realized to my horror. Same as Sean. Same as who knows how many other people.

I didn’t know what kind of effect it would have on people without powers. None of the other people I’d encountered seemed to have had any… symptoms, for lack of a better word, but most of the people I had tagged weren’t at the screening, and those that were were probably looking at me or Guardian Angel. Or at least I hoped they were. Another pulse of pain behind my eyebrows made my head spin.

I reached out to my marks to find that they were still there. That’s good news at least. I looked into the distance. No matter where I looked, I was looking into the distance. And after what Sean said, I couldn’t help but feel like something was watching me. No, not me, but looking my direction, but I was too small to notice.

I failed, I thought. I had one chance, and I failed.

I’m going to be stuck here forever. I sat down on the ground, then fell to my back. Moving made it worse. Given the lack of landmarks, I may have actually been spinning. I stared up at where the sky should have been been and tried to wait for the pain and nausea to pass. I groaned out loud.

“Fuck,” I said, then again, “Fuck!” My mouth was dry. “What the fuck am I supposed to do?”

I closed my eyes for a moment and then sat up. I need to do something.

“Fuck,” I said again. My voice sounded weak even to me. “I should have just killed him,” I said without conviction. My heart seemed too slow, and too loud. Each pulse pushed me down like one more brick dropping onto my shoulders.

I need to move. I stood, fighting against my body and the better part of my mind that wanted nothing more than to lie down and not get back up. I swayed on my feet, but stated upright.

Momentum. I need momentum.

I teleported to the first person I could reach. A young boy appeared beside me, curled on the ground, whimpering. I stopped, brain stalling. No. I need to keep going. I thought. That’s the only way I can help.

Pushing my doubt aside, I continued. The next few people had feared no better. None were still standing, except one who was walking blindly forward and got out of my grip almost immediately.

After what felt like a long time, I encountered for the second time the warden from the meta-max prison.

“Shadow. I thought you had a plan,” the warden croaked. “Damn but I’m thirsty.”

“I did- do,” I said. My thoughts, sluggish as they were, jumped into high gear when I spotted the blocky blue and yellow handgun on his hip. Not a standard-issue pistol. If it comes down to it, if I can get back to Locus, that might be useful. Even as I had that thought, another idea struck me.

“Denudine,” I said.

“Huh?” he asked.

“Do you have any on you?” I said.

He has to carry denudine on him. It wouldn’t make sense otherwise.

“I do,” he said. He reached into his jacket and produced a small pistol-gripped jet injector with a glass vial of clear liquid screwed into the back.

“I need that.” I might have a chance!

He nodded and handed it over. “Good plan. You can deliver it?”

“I think so,” I lied. I have to try. If I can’t… well, I guess I’d have to hope Locus would die of thirst first. It was a sobering thought.

“Good.” He unholstered his handgun and held it out to me. “Take this too.”

I hesitated, but still took it. Just in case.

“Good luck,” he said as I let him go.

Now I just need to get back to Locus. I thought. I reached out to my marks, pushing my awareness of them as far as I could. Like other senses, I couldn’t really make it better just through force of will, but I could concentrate and maybe find something I’d missed. My other marks didn’t get erased, but the one on Locus probably was. Unless…

The moment before the cord snapped, I covered it. If I remembered what I’d seen correctly, I’d covered the whole thing with one touch. If I managed to mark him, I might be able to find him again.

I searched through my marks, looking for one that fit the description. If the cord was still tied around his leg, I should be able to feel the difference in shape of the mark.

The distances involved as I scanned through my marks were dizzying. Not something I could fully process. Each mark didn’t seem to have a fixed position, just a direction, like stars in the sky. Wait, I stopped at one that seemed to fit the description. Could that be it? I reached through the connection and pulled myself through.

Locus appeared at arms length, separated by the snapped-off length of parachute cord. I took a step towards him, but he only got farther away. No! I teleported closer, but he slid out of my grasp before I could get a grip. I teleported to him again and used my power to press the jet injector to his neck in the same instant. I pulled the trigger and with a hiss of compressed air, it delivered it’s payload.

I was not prepared for Locus’ scream. It cut through the air and split my head in two. I fell to me knees but didn’t release my grip on Locus. I grasped for the nullifier and fumbled for the switch. My hand slipped off the metal surface, and I pulled it back and scrabbled at the metal before I was able to flip it on.

The world collapsed inward with a rush of air and sound. Walls rushed towards us from all sides, slamming abruptly to a halt at the edges of the park. Clouds dropped in from above, completing the feeling of a diorama being folded up around me.

Randwulf must have been caught in it too. He’s still nearby, I thought, even as my vision dimmed. I have to find him. I heard screeching tires and a crash from somewhere nearby.

I have to… I have to… I…

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Eclipse 9.8

I’m not sure how long it took us to chip through the crystal, but by the time we were almost through, I was starting to get thirsty. I’m probably better off than some, I reminded myself. The shards of quartz I pried away with the makeshift pick made from a segment of Mafic’s vines disappeared as soon as they were free. Once I had made it through to where the nullifier was on Ransom’s hip, I carefully extracted the black box from the crystal.

This is it. The original nullifier. I let go of Ransom and was alone again. My ears had started ringing at some point and weren’t getting better. In the emptiness, it seemed thunderous, deafeningly loud. I hope this works. The box had one switch, a silver on/off toggle, and no other external ports or controls.

I moved to test it, but stopped myself. I can’t risk losing my marks. From my experience, I didn’t always lose them when my powers were down, but sometimes I did. A headache started forming just behind my eyes and I let out a frustrated hiss of breath. I resumed searching through my marks, and soon enough I came across Dr. Mind. He sat on the ground, inspecting it with a careful eye.

“Shadow! It’s good to see you,” he said. “It’s good to see anyone.”

“Dr. Mind,” I greeted him. It felt odd seeing him in this context, for whatever reason.

He stood. “Well, there is some good news I suppose– it looks like don’t have a range limit. Have you spoke with any of the others?”

“It’s difficult, because I’ve lost track of which mark is who. I found Ransom though,” I said. “It wasn’t Temple at Locus’ apartment. He sent Ransom as a sort of… peace offering, I think. With this-“ I held up the nullifier with the hand that wasn’t in contact with Dr. Mind.

“Oh!” He said, eyes widening. “That is good news. Did you find Locus?”

“I marked him, but I haven’t found him yet.”

Dr. Mind nodded. “He’ll be at the center of this. I don’t know if that will work-“ he gestured to the nullifier, “-but you have to try.”

I nodded. Dr. Mind seemed lost in thought for a moment. The headache hadn’t receded in the intervening time, but stayed a dull ache in the front of my brain. I turned my head to look into the distance for a moment and my hands clenched involuntarily as the pain redoubled into a sharp stab of ice. I closed my eyes for a moment and it dulled, leaving the world spinning.

The air around me felt strange. Not like air, more like vacuum. I’d never felt a vacuum before, because I couldn’t feel air that wasn’t contiguous but there was simply nothing to feel. I knew that Dr. Mind was nearby, but I couldn’t feel his breathing or the disturbances from his movement.

“Shadow.” Dr. Mind’s voice brought me back to myself. I opened my eyes again and looked at him. “Go. Try to save him, but if you can’t…” Dr. Mind looked down, then back at me. “We all knew what we signed up for,” he muttered.

I let go of Dr. Mind and he was gone. I spoke with Lumen briefly, but realized that there was no need to tell her anything beyond Temple’s trick with Ransom. The next person I recognized caught me by surprise. The warden from the prison. He turned to me, startled, and caught my arm with his. I almost teleported away on reflex, but something struck me.

“What in holy hell is going on?” he demanded. He shifted his grip on my arm, and I used the parachute cord to make sure we stayed in contact.

“Nightmare event,” I said. Any other time, I would have found it found the irony of the situation amusing, but I found myself unable to muster a witty response. My voice sounded strange in my ears. Too dry, not natural.

“Shit. Sorry. I tend to be careful with precogs. They don’t stay locked away very long otherwise.” Oh right, the breakout. “We dosed him with Denudine as soon as we went into lockdown, but if this lasts too much longer, it’s going to wear off. If he has any time to plan, we won’t be able to stop him.”

He was right, I knew, but I couldn’t let myself worry about that now. As much harm as he’d done, he had just been a tool for Temple. The thought took me aback. Temple was trying to propose that we had a common enemy, that we could work together against Randwulf, yet his initial approach had been to conscript some budding supervillains and start tearing the city apart to find Randwulf. Between Masquerade and the Upright Man, he’d caused just as many casualties as Randwulf, though perhaps less structural damage.

What changed?

I teleported myself away from the Warden, deep in thought, and soon found Dark Archon, in his human form. “Kevin,” I said.

He turned to face me, his skin splitting to reveal the black crystal beneath.

I wonder if he’s related to Felsic. An unexpected thought. Not likely. He’s from out of town.

“Will! Get me the fuck out of here!” he said. A small shiver ran through him as he pulled himself back together, the cracks in his skin disappearing. He looked different than when I’d last seen him. Hollow and gaunt, like he’d lost a lot of weight very quickly.

He can split apart into smaller forms, I remembered. If some of him wasn’t connected to the main part when Locus… went off, they would get separated.

“I’m working on it,” I said. My voice sounded rough and tired, despite my efforts to be reassuring. “Don’t worry.” Empty platitudes, I thought. Despite, that he relaxed, or at least seemed to. “Just,” I didn’t say anything more. He looked at me, exhausted.

“Will,” he said. “I think I get it, but,” he hesitated. “I don’t think I can do this. Not right now. Not yet. I think-”

He looked away into the distance. “I think Wren was right.”

“Right about what?” I asked. I wasn’t sure what else to say. My mouth was dry.

“I tried to… lead a normal life, you know? Ignore… This. But I can’t. I fell out of a tree in fourth grade and my leg snapped off. He was the only one who knew.”

Fourth grade? That’s early. I didn’t find out until a year and a half ago. His words hurt my ears.

“Everyone hated metas back home. Hell, so did I.” He shifted a bit and glanced down, before looking back up at me. “I got blackmailed into fighting a superheroine. Myriad kidnapped my- she kidnapped Wren to get to me. And then we started working with her against Temple.” I could hear the disgust in his voice. ”We got mind-controlled by Temple and now we’re working with him against a guy who makes nightmares?” He shook his head. “How do you do it? Why? You could do anything else.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s just… What I do.” There has to be a better answer than that. I have a reason, don’t I? “I never really stop to think about it.” I wanted to… What? Prove that I could be good? That I didn’t have to follow my dad’s -and grandfather’s- footsteps? “I didn’t know there were other options,” I realized. “Not… really, anyway.”

The conversation died off. “I should go,” I said without conviction. He nodded.

I released my grip. He disappeared into the distance.

For a moment, I just stood there in limbo. My head was splitting. Pounding blood in my ears. High-pitched whine coming from inside my head. “I think there’s something wrong with me,” I muttered. I wasn’t sure what I meant.

I looked down at myself and saw stars. My eyes swam, unable to focus on my own body, stygian black against uniform grey. Sparks of light appeared in my vision.

I looked up, and the sparks exploded into dull spots, like warped film.

I pulled out some shadow, covering my eyes and ears. Sound and light vanished. Even the ever-present sounds of my biology faded away. I was transported from limbo to the void, but it was a familiar void.

I relaxed. The pain faded, replaced by a pleasant numbness. All sensation slipped away, even the pressure of my feet against the ground which I could no longer see. I floated blissfully in the void, recovering from the existential pressure of Locus’ limbo.

All at once, the feeling of ease vanished. I could feel something behind me. It had been there the whole time, and I hadn’t noticed. I turned in an instant, not trusting myself to turn slowly, and I could see it. An area of the darkness, indistinguishable from the rest, but which was somehow closer.

It moved, and I could see the stars behind it.

Adrenaline clutched at me and I pulled myself out, back to the empty grey desert. Sound returned with the thundering of my racing heart.

“What,” I gasped. “What the fuck?”

Was that always there? I shuddered with horror. I rested my hand on the nullifier where I’d clipped it onto my body armor. Was it even real? I couldn’t dismiss the possibility that I had started seeing things. I could tell Locus’ power was having some kind of effect on me.

I need to end this.

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Eclipse 9.7

Silence.

I hadn’t noticed how pervasive the sounds of the city were until all at once, they were gone. Replaced by the kind of silence you only really get in space or deep underground. More like deafness than a lack of noise. The air was completely still, even where it intersected with me.

In a moment, the buildings surrounding the park vanished into the horizon, which was lit in all directions by a sickly orange glow. The sky above faded to gray, like an overcast day, but more uniform, without any breaks or variation, and the ground beneath my feet was the same.

What just happened?

“Can anyone hear me?” I said into my comm. My voice was swallowed up by the space, offering no echoes. I began to feel claustrophobic, like a huge amount of pressure was pressing down on me from all sides.

I looked around, only to see the same bleak emptiness all around me. I could hear my clothes shifting against my skin, the fluids flowing in my mouth and throat. Dizzy, I reached out to the people I’d marked to orient myself, only to be struck by a wave of nausea. They weren’t where I’d left them. They were far away, farther than any distance I’d ever experienced. More akin to the distance between stars than any terrestrial measure.

Head spinning, I picked one and pulled. My stomach lurched, the world blurred and shifted, and suddenly I was holding a woman’s arm. She whipped her head around, then let out a startled scream and pushed me away. As soon as I was no longer touching her, she accelerated away from me and vanished into the distance faster than my eyes could track.

I remembered what I’d read of the Wardens of Justice. Locus could warp distances between objects, causing bullets to simply fall to the ground before they could reach him, or trapping criminals by bringing two buildings across the street together. This is Locus, I realized to my horror. This is what the Upright Man warned us about. Whatever was on the screen triggered his powers. My hands shook. What if I had been looking at the screen when it happened?

I could hear the dull, pulsating roar of the blood in my ears.

I reached for my marks again. I need to find Legion. I couldn’t identify who each of my marks were anymore, so I picked another at random and teleported to them. As before, it didn’t feel normal, some interaction between the two powers, perhaps. The world lurched and twisted and I appeared beside someone lying on the ground in a poofy coat I didn’t recognize. They didn’t seem to notice me beyond a brief flicker of their eyes.

I stepped away, breaking contact, and Locus’ power swept them off into the distance. The next person was a man, walking aimlessly forward. I lost contact with him almost immediately and he vanished like the others. How many people have I marked? I wondered. I’d never thought it would become inconvenient having too many marks. I tried to pick up the pace. It doesn’t seem like anyone’s in immediate danger, but the longer it takes to find him, the longer these people have to spend in this… Limbo. Face after face, appearing, then disappearing once I checked them against my memory of Locus.

Soon, I was stopped by a young woman who was recording with her phone when I appeared.

“Shadow!” She said, surprised. Her voice had the same dull quality to it mine had. The total lack of echoes somehow made it harder to understand. She turned the camera on her phone towards me. “What the hell is going on?”

“’I think-” I said, then paused, unsure how to explain the situation. I’d run into enough of this type of person since I started hero work to know this footage would end up online and maybe get picked up by the news, if she was lucky. I had to be careful what I said. A part of me insisted I shouldn’t say anything, as was standard policy, but at that point my head was spinning and I needed an excuse to stop and take a break. “It’s a Nightmare-class event, sort of.”

“Oh sh-” She cut off her swear. “But we just had one.”

“That’s why I said ‘sort of.’ This is a bit different.” Is it, though? “I know how to stop it.” Do I?

I hesitated, uncertain. I let go of her before she could notice and she disappeared into the distance. I remembered what Sean had told me of the Tide of Sky event. Will I to have to kill Locus? I stood still, staring blankly into the distance. I hope not. Locus had been one of my heroes– as much as any of the Wardens of Tomorrow were. They were beloved all across the country, but nowhere so much as in their home city.

I suppose I’d forgotten who I had marked, because I was surprised when I got to Temple, still locked in a prism of quartz and steel. I appeared beside him, paracord wrapped around his exposed head, anchoring us together. I almost jumped away, but something stopped me.

“Temple,” I said. “Why do this? Why surrender here?”

He mumbled something incomprehensible, then paused and repeated himself louder. “Need to give you something.” His voice didn’t sound right. None of the crawl-in-your-ear-and-hotwire-your-spine quality it normally had.

Something’s off. He had seemed smaller earlier, but I’d assumed it was the lack of armor. But what if… averting my eyes, I reached up and pulled the bandanna off his face. No light shone from it, so I risked a glance, and saw not the blinding face of Temple, but Ransom’s, haggard and unshaven.

“Ransom?” I said. How?

“I need to give you something,” he said again.

I recognized his voice. It was Temple, without question. I thought back to what seemed like only moments ago. The van. He was talking through the radio, I realized. Temple was never even here. That left one more question.

“Give me what?”

“The original. He doesn’t need it anymore.”

“The original? I asked, then my eyes widened as I realized what he meant. “The nullifier. You have it on you?”

He nodded, as much as he was able.

I stood still, stunned. If it works on Locus, I might be able to stop this. This was what Temple was offering. An overture of peace– giving us Ransom and the original nullifier was only a part of it. More than that, he was giving us a chance to save Locus, a way out that didn’t mean killing him.

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Eclipse 9.6

The street outside had been transformed into a battleground by Mafic and Felsic, making it difficult for the stolen SWAT vans to approach. Their reinforced wheels trundled over the thorn-covered metal vines that stretched across the street like spike strips, tearing off ragged chunks of rubber. In the air above, a massive clump of translucent white crystals dangled from similar vines. If Temple turned on the nullifier, it would cancel out Mafic’s powers and the hammer would fall.

They have to see that it’s a trap. I thought. Or maybe they just don’t care.

Temple’s voice boomed from the public address system mounted on the van. “You have spoken with my messengers. You know my cause is just.”

“Eat a dick, douchebag, you tried to kill my friend,” Lumen replied, her voice likewise amplified by her power armor.

The van’s engine stopped and the street fell silent. The only traffic sounds seemed distant and sourceless, somewhere out of sight. The back of the van opened and Temple stepped out, unarmored, with the microphone for the van’s megaphone held up to the cloth strip that covered his nose and mouth. Mafic, Felsic, and Seep conversed nervously inside the building.

His power doesn’t work through electronics. He’s not trying to control us, and he wants us to know it. Why?

“The loss of any single life is acceptable to safeguard the survival of humanity. My actions spared her from a much worse fate.”

I need information. “She was Randwulf’s next target?” I asked. My voice was small compared to the others, amplified as they were.

“Every metahuman is a target. The heroes, the villains, those in positions of power are most vulnerable. With Brandon Lim, I knew who the next victim would be. We were closer than ever when he allowed his thirst for vengeance to overshadow the greater good.”

“I found him,” Dr. Mind’s voice said in my ear. “Durian Park.”

“On my way,” said Guardian Angel.

“I’ll stay here and help clean up,” Dark Archon said.

Good, I thought, though I didn’t verbally acknowlege them.

“And Locus is the next target? He’s not here.”

“I’m not here for him. I’m here to surrender myself.”

I was stunned. Sirens echoed off the buildings from somewhere nearby. Reinforcements for the police line, I imagined. “Why?” I said.

“I am not your enemy, and you are not mine. We distract from the true goal.”

“Mafic! Felsic!” Lumen shouted into the building. The brothers stepped out into the street.

“What the hell is going on?” Mafic asked.

“He surrendered. Gift wrap him,”  Lumen ordered.

Mafic and Felsic expressed their disbelief, but started wrapping him in metal vines without protest. Temple stood stoic throughout the process, or so it seemed- it was difficult to tell, given that almost his entire face was covered. He dropped the microphone for the van’s PA system and the cord retracted it into the van.

I approached him cautiously, scouting out the van with my wind sense. As far as I could tell, it was empty, and peeking inside confirmed it. He was alone. I turned back towards Temple, now ensconced in a metal shell, and tagged him with the parachute cord, leaving a black streak across his clothes. Up close, he seemed much smaller without his armor.

“I’m here,” Guardian Angel said in my ear.

We have Temple, but Randwulf is still after Locus.

“I’ll be right back,” I said to the members of Blackwell, and then to Guardian Angel, “I’m porting in.”

I teleported to him and immediately started falling. On reflex, I used the parachute cord to close the distance between myself and the ground and rotated so that my momentum would be parallel to the ground rather than into it, forcing me to run to avoid tripping. Durian park was one of the city’s smaller areas of greenery, but was (for some reason) known for very strong cellular and wifi connections. The city had run with the idea and, contrary to their philosophy with the other parks, installed free wifi hotspots and charging stations around the park. Most of the few people still in the park despite the increasingly cold weather had laptops or tablets out.

I wonder how long this will take to end up on the internet.

“Do you see him?” I asked once I’d slowed down. I looked up to Guardian Angel glowing gold against the darkening sky. The sun had dropped below the buildings here, so the park was in shadow, and I could feel rushing wind from nearby.

“No, but uh, I don’t know what he looks like out of costume.”

“Neither do I actually,” I realized.

“He’s not answering my calls,” Dr. Mind said, “I’ve triggered the emergency beacon on his phone. You should be able to track it from yours.”

I teleported the smartphone I’d been issued to my hand and opened the screen that would direct me to nearby emergencies. There were a few active– I noticed that where I’d left Temple and Lumen was flagged as high priority by the police. The nearest was in the park, near the opposite side of the park from us. “He’s on the east side,” I said, turning to look that direction.

“Oh shit, this is bad,” Guardian Angel said, and I soon saw why. Taking a few short ‘ports in that direction, I could see the crowd of people gathered on the grass, lying on blankets or sitting on lawn chairs. More people, much more than I expected given the weather. Guardian Angel caught up soon after and drew quite a few stares. I doubt anyone even saw me– benefits of a less ostentatious power.

At the edge of the park, a huge inflatable projection screen rippled, kept upright by a set of fans that blew air into it continuously. An outdoor movie showing- probably the last of the season. I scanned the crowd for the projectionist, a feeling of dread growing in the pit of my stomach.

I flicked out the parachute cord, tagging as many people as I could as I moved towards where the beacon was located. I wasn’t sure how accurate the GPS was, but hopefully it would be good enough to pick him out of the crowd. I attracted more attention when I moved through the crowd, and a few surprised exclamations as people noticed me, but more people were still watching Guardian Angel circling above..

When I reached where the beacon, there were still dozens of people around. I tagged as many as I could, while I scanned faces. There a few people who could have been him, but everyone was wearing coats or covered in blankets, making it impossible to tell.

A cheer went up from the audience, followed by a disappointed sigh as the screen flickered for a moment, then went dark again. Oh no, I thought, dread solidifying into a solid knot. The projector we found in Davy Jones’ vault.

“The screen! Take down the screen!” I said to Guardian Angel.

Guardian Angel turned in the air and dived towards the screen.

Here goes, I thought. “Locus!” I shouted to the crowd. I turned a few heads, but one man sat bolt upright. That’s him.

At that moment, the screen lit up, and the world exploded outwards.

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