Doors 14-IV

You Can Only Anticipate What Someone Is Going To Do If You Know Exactly What That Someone Has Just Done.

The heroes’ faces were inscrutable behind their masks. I really wished, in that moment, that I had some emotion to work with, because I was completely floundering.

“Calm, Hannah. Just think it through.”

Right, right. The Tower had Black Armor- Stonewall, Skew had called him. Of course they did. It made sense. He'd been at school, and he'd made himself a priority target. Then, not a day later, the Outliers had been fingered as suspects in a high-profile robbery. No wonder the Tower had gone after him first. Skew hadn't been able to contact him because he'd been here. In a cell. Behind an energy barrier.

I stared at the captive vigilante, feeling the gazes of the heroes on the back of my neck. Was this… a test? Their lack of comments made me think so. “Why is he still wearing his mask?” I asked softly. It seemed like a good, non-confrontational point to start on.

Neither of them responded, sharing a quick glance. Then, Comet spoke. “It is a complicated legal issue. Legally speaking, our superhero identities exist separately to our civilian ones. Unfortunately, due to the government having a less than favorable view of our organization, that same clause applies to those operating outside the law. If he removes his mask while in custody, the identities are confirmed to be related, and he can be prosecuted under either. If we remove it, however, he is free to walk, because, technically, he’s a completely unrelated person we are illegally detaining.”

I frowned, thinking that tidbit over. “That makes… no sense whatsoever. I can’t think of a single reason that should work like that.”

Comet sighed. “That’s because it doesn’t. That was the lies-to-children version.” Wait, did she just- “The real explanation is infinitely more complicated and convoluted. If you would like a two-hour lecture on the fine points, I’d be more than happy to help you.” She didn't even sound sarcastic. “Seeing as you don't, though, it'll have to do for now.”

I made a noncommittal noise, and turned back to studying Stonewall. He didn't seem to be able to hear us. Given that his head hadn't turned even slightly the entire time we'd been standing there, he probably couldn't hear us either. He was sitting on the bed, staring straight ahead at the wall in front of him. His broad face was scrunched up in an almost-comical expression of concentration. I wondered what he was thinking about. “What's he being charged with?” I asked after a moment.

Comet replied. “Illegal use of a metahuman ability, multiple counts of reckless endangerment and vigilante activity, obstruction of officers of the law.”

“It's the standard for situations like these,” Stump interjected.

“Yes. Situations like these.” There was a subtle emphasis in her words, and I knew without a doubt that it was a warning directed towards me. No doubt she knew I hadn't registered, and all the charges she'd described could easily apply to me. Maybe not the last one, but they might be able to spin my involvement in that situation with Valiant into something similar. I wasn't in one of these cells yet, though, so I was obviously being given some leeway. At least, I hoped it was leeway. The other option was 'rope to hang myself with’. I doubted it, though. Stump had seemingly taken an interest in me, although I couldn't possibly imagine why…

Hmm. Could he be someone I knew, from school? One of the other gymnasts? There were some guys there that I was on speaking terms with. Outside of that, and Sabi, I didn't have any relationships closer than a casual greeting in the hallways or class. Still, it would be enough for him to show an interest in me if he recognized me. I hadn't exactly done anything to hide my voice, and my particular shade of strawberry blonde wasn’t too common (it's almost like a very dirty pink). It was the most likely explanation, but it could be something else entirely.

It felt wrong, seeing the man who had quite possibly saved my life, as well as many others, locked away in a cell. But as impulsive as I am, I'm still not stupid, and I knew there was nothing I could do about it. Technically, he was a criminal. But then technically, so was I, and I wasn't in there. I resolved to tell the Outliers what had befallen their comrade. It was the least I could do.

I tore my gaze away from him, and towards the exit. “Well,” I said with obviously faked cheer, “this has been very informative. Really, very interesting. But, we were going somewhere?”

Comet fixed me with her gaze for a second. Suspicion, my instincts read in it. She didn't act on it, though, merely nodding and moving towards the exit.

It was a relief to be out of the creepy cells, even if it was just more of the featureless steel corridors. There was no slope this time, but we did make three 90 degree right turns in the span of twenty seconds, which really should have just made a rectangle.

“So who was the woman in there?” I asked after a period of silent walking.

Comet didn't even seem like she'd heard me, but Stump replied. “That's… classified, I'm afraid.”

“What, really?”

“Nah, I've just always wanted to say that. Her name’s Ado.”

“What, like Shakespeare?”

“No, apparently it's a Biblical thing. Woman who got turned into a pillar of salt.”

“Oh. So let me guess, salt shifter?”

He nodded. “Got it in one. She's leader of a meta gang called the Cabal of the Enlightened Savior, though I think they just go by the Cabal these days. Under previous management, they had a whole cult thing going, which is why she's got a Biblical name. Real bunch of nutters. Since she took over, though, they've reformed as more standard criminals.”

“How'd that happen?”

“Murder, we think. The previous leader, a gifter called Sacrament, and most of the hardliners from the old lineup disappeared in the span of a week. A few days later, Ado shows up in charge of what was left. Considering there's not been a trace of the disappeared since, it's assumed she killed them all.”

“What, by herself?”

He shrugged. “Apparently. She was a member while it was still a cult, so maybe she took advantage of that.”

“Wow. That’s… scary. Especially considering her power doesn't sound that impressive.”

“Then you underestimate her severely,” Comet said from ahead of us. I hadn't even realized she'd been listening.

“Er, right.” I turned my attention back to Stump. “Why'd she do it?”

“Dunno. Personal reasons, most likely. It's not confirmed, but Sacrament was almost certainly a relative of hers.”

“Whaaaaa.”

“Yep. Similar appearances, age difference that'd match a mother and daughter.”

“So she killed her own mother.” I shivered involuntarily. “There's no way she can get out of that cell, right?”

He laughed. “Not a chance. And the woman led a creepy religious cult that sacrificed people. I doubt she was a particularly good mother.”

“Still.”

“Still,” he agreed.

“So that's the back story. What's the plot?” He looked at me questioningly. “Why do you have her now?” I clarified.

“Oh. She's tied into this whole business with that robbery, somehow. Ops thinks she might've stolen it originally. She's definitely got some connection to the Outliers. As an identified point of importance in the criminal world, she was already on certain lists, and this bumped her up them. Thrust and Fog brought her in.”

“You sure know a lot about the procedures in this place for someone's who's only been here a few months,” I noted.

He coughed. “Well, I'm a quick study.” I looked towards Comet, expecting some kind of response or commentary, but she just kept striding on ahead.

When she stopped, it was sudden, and I almost ran into her back. “We're here,” she said curtly, gesturing towards a door. I was 100% sure this time that it hadn't been there before she pointed it out. “The others are already assembled. Wisp, wait outside. I do not want you starting a fight with my team.”

“Hey,” I protested, “I've never started anything. It's always been other people.”

Apparently, she didn't find that very reassuring. “Just wait outside, please.” I nodded, moving to stand beside the door so I wouldn't be visible from the inside. She tapped something on the wall, and the door swished open. Followed by Stump, she strode inside, marking a hush into the buzz of conversation that the opening had let loose.

I closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. You've got this, Hannah. Kick their ass- wait, no, do the opposite of that.

“Wouldn't that be getting your ass kicked?”

...just don't screw it up.

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Doors 14-III


Murder, Conspiracy To Commit Murder And, I Don’t Know, Possibly Littering.

I stood, awkwardly fidgeting with my clothes, as Stump and Comet held a hushed conversation, backs turned to me. The experience was taking me back to the time I had to wait outside the principal’s office in grade six after pulling the fire alarm. Not as a prank: I just wanted to see what would happen. I'd had to sit there for an hour, stewing in my own juices.

I could hear snippets of their conversation, but I consciously chose to not listen in, as a gesture of good faith. I mean, they wouldn't actually know that that was why I was doing it, or that I was doing it all, but it was the principle of the thing? I think? Instead, I took the opportunity to have a proper look around.

The hangar was maybe half the size of a football field, and at least five meters tall, with arched and latticed supports. Ventilation ducts dotted the stainless steel walls at regular intervals, which didn't quite seem necessary considering it opened up into the sky. That exit had closed since we'd entered, which I hadn't noticed for obvious reasons. It was two panels that met in the centre, sliding out of the floor and ceiling. A clear panel sat in the middle of the top half, giving a good view of the slightly overcast sky. They couldn't have made it out of glass, it'd be too fragile. Plexiglass? Or that transparent aluminium stuff, maybe?

The group of bikes where we'd landed was slightly off and back from the centre. Against the wall on the left stood a half-dissassembled mech suit, innards exposed, plating removed. A few smaller exoskeletons leaned against the wall next to it, looking old and worn down. Further down that same wall was what looked like a cross between one of those powered diving rigs and a jetpack, sitting next to a few cells of something glowing ominously. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the way the project were arranged: random tools and parts were scattered about in between the occupied spaces. It was a wonder I hadn't tripped over any of them while dealing with those guns.

At the back of the room was the main entrance, a doorway wide enough for two people to pass shoulder to shoulder. A thin metal wall sat in front of it, blocking it from view, making anyone who wanted to use the door circle around first. Probably a protection against the wind. Wait, no, that doesn't make sense, I realized. If the wind was a factor, all these projects wouldn't be left sitting around in the open. They must have some protection against it, which would also explain the ventilation ducts.

Over on the other side was a smaller doorway, next to some windows with metal shutters covering them. Presumably, this was the workshop of that nutjob Graves. I was pretty sure I'd seen him disappear back into there. The door was closed, a solid block of steel, and orange light was flickering and flaring from underneath it. He must be good at his job, I reasoned, for the Tower to keep him on with a personality like his.

A noise behind me caught my attention, and I turned to find Comet stalking towards me, Stump trailing behind her. She stopped just in front of me, uncomfortably close. I was taller than her by a good few inches, but I sure didn't feel like I was. “Stump has convinced me that you are attempting to be cooperative and helpful.” Now that she was calmer, I could hear a distinct accent to her voice. Something… silky, South American if I had to guess. Chalk it up to nervousness, but I had a sudden flashback to some… risque material I'd viewed that had featured a similar accent. Do not learn to get turned on by angry people, Hannah. Nothing good that way lies. “It is entirely possible that your incident with Fog was truly her fault, but it is equally possible that you instigated it. Your involvement with the Outliers is harder to brush off, but Stump has vouched for you. As such, I am giving you one chance. One. Before you try anything, remember that you are in the Tower, and think again. There is nowhere you can run. There is nowhere you can hide.” Her voice was barely louder than a whisper, and I was caught between trying to lean in to hear her properly and trying to lean back and get her the heck out of my space. “Understood?”

I nodded quickly. “Yes, ma’am,” I replied, my voice a lot higher than I'd have liked.

She stared at me for a second, then gave a tiny nod, and spun on her heel. “Follow.” She stalked towards the main door, and I fell in behind her, suddenly sweating.

Stump locked pace with me, wringing his hands together. “I promise she's normally nicer than this. It's just been rough for her recently.”

“Right,” I said distractedly. Note to self: check if 'scareoused’ is a word. If it is, consider suicide. “With what?”

“Well, that whole business with the Dresden Four and the Outliers.”

“The Dresden Four- oh, them.”

He nodded. We were passing through the doorway, leading into a long metal hallway with glowing white lights embedded in the walls. Oddly enough, it was sloped upwards. I had thought we were pretty close to the top already. “Yeah. Someone in Ops just started calling them that, and it stuck. I think it was after they figured out that there were four of them; the Dresden Three doesn't have quite the same ring to it.”

“Wait, you knew there were four of them?”

“It's a very recent development. Bits and pieces in the trail they left behind that didn't match to any of their power sets. We didn't know exactly what she could do, though. Still don't,” he acknowledged.

“Hmm.” Yep, we were definitely moving upwards. Suddenly, Comet hooked a right, into a doorway I could swear wasn't there a moment ago. We followed her, and found ourselves standing at the bottom of a stairwell.

“Okay,” I said as we started on the steps, “I'll bite. Why are we going upwards?”

There was a beat of silence. Then both of the heroes began laughing simultaneously. “What?” I asked, a little indignant. “What's so funny?”

“Everyone does it.” Stump explained, still chuckling a little. Something about the laughter was really setting off a tingle of familiarity in my brain, but I couldn't pinpoint it. “Everyone, in the exact same way. I did it too.”

“Okay,” I said, mollified. “But why are we going up?”

“We're not,” Comet replied without looking back. Her tone was softer now. “Direction, orientation, spacial dynamics, none of them work quite right in here. This route is taking us down to a situation room on the 32nd floor.”

“Wow.” I took a second to comprehend that. “That’s… fascinating! Is there a consistent pattern to it? Does it ever change? Are there rules it sticks to or is it random? Do people get lost and die?” I winced, realizing how that sounded. “Okay, that was kind of morbid. But it does happen, right? If the geography, for lack of a better word, is random, then it'd had to have happened at least once. Unless… is there a map? Ooh, a constantly changing 3D map! There totally is, isn't there?”

For some reason, Comet shot a glance over her shoulder at Stump, who shrugged half-heartedly. “Yes, yes, yes, no, yes and yes,” she rattled off, amused. "And no, there is not a map. Not exactly. But we can generally make do.” She reached a landing, and turned left through another doorway, then stopped. She sighed. “Until we don't.”

I came up behind her, and peered over her shoulder through the doorway. The room was dark, a large corridor lit only by the glowing fields set into the walls at regular intervals. They cast a soft, eerie blue light that reminded me of a swimming pool.

“What is this?” I asked softly. It didn't seem right to speak at normal volume somehow.

“This,” Comet replied tersely, “is the detainment centre. Or part of it. And it should not be accessible from that door.” She drummed her fingers against her leg for a second. “Unfortunately, we're going to have to go through it, unless the entire Tower has shuffled again, which hasn't happened in years.”

“Uh, boss?” Stump interjected nervously. “What about-?”

She waved him down and began walking. “She’ll find out sooner or later.” I looked to Stump. His blank face was inscrutable, but his body language was hesitant. Well, never let it be said that Hannah Kingsford shied away from knowledge. I entered the corridor.

Most of the cells we passed were empty. Dark steel squares, with a bed on the left and a toilet/shower combo on the right. There were small windows that looked out onto the city, just below the tops of the skyscrapers. We got about halfway down before we saw the first occupied cell.

She was sitting in the back corner of the room, on the floor. Lank hair fell over her eyes, dark with a streak of white. She was almost rail-thin, and dressed in generic white cotton slacks. A whirring cloud of white buzzed around her hands, and she seemed to be staring into it with all her focus.

As we passed, her head snapped up. The two heroes kept walking, looking straight ahead, but I was already watching her, and she locked her eyes onto mine. Dark brown and narrow, they burned with hate and more than a little madness. Somehow, I managed to drag my gaze away and move on. I could still feel her stare boring into my skull until she was out of sight.

The second occupied cell was right at the end. I actually heard it before I saw it. A loud voice was belting out a tune, badly enough that I could only barely recognize it. I think I'd heard it on an Arabic radio station at Sabah’s house once. Stump’s pace increased subtly as we drew close, like he was nervous, and as the cell's occupant came into view I understood why.

Sitting on the bed in the cell, still wearing his brown jumpsuit, was Black Armor.

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Doors 14-II

Plans Are Like Buses.

I yelped and jumped backwards as the guns choomed. The substance that hurtled out of them towards me looked like nothing so much as half-chewed gum. Two globs splattered on the floor where my feet had been, instantly hardening and solidifying. Gross. The guns, large imposing chunks of gleaming metal, tracked me as I moved, seemingly with no lag, and fired another salvo of the gum at my feet. I dodged again, but this time, they immediately fired again, anticipating my movements, aimed at my chest. I stumbled, trying to stop myself from running straight into them, and they shot by in front of me, but the chooming warned me of another shot, one I didn't think I could dodge.

Thankfully, I didn't have to. A tentacle snaked through the air and slapped the glob down onto the ground. “Stop!” Stump bellowed. “Not an intruder!”

The guns ignored him and kept firing. The tentacle knocked the first few down, but they just kept coming. I couldn't dodge that many, so I just faded out instead, and watched them pass right through me.

As soon as I did, the torrent ceased. The floor was littered with the off-white gum, most of it behind me. The guns were still pointing at me, but didn't seem to be doing anything. “Well,” Stump said, “sorry about that. It can be-” The guns began hissing, and a thick grey cloud began spilling from the end of the barrel. It hung in the air for a moment, before swirling straight towards me. “Oh you've got to be kidding me.”

I couldn't see how the cloud was being controlled, but it obviously was: it followed me as I try to run, dodging around and between the bikes. “What the heck is this stuff?”

“Knockout gas,” he called back.

“That’s real?!”

“No, it's imaginary knockout gas. What do you think?”

The guns were still following me. I think they must have been controlling the cloud. “Well, there's no need to be a jerk about it.”

“Just relax. You'll be fine anyway; it's not like you need to breath.”

I was basically running around in a circle now. “What? What makes you think that?”

“O-oh,” he stammered, “the intangibility.”

“Oh right, yeah. But no thank you, I am not going to expose myself to some unknown gas just because you say it might be knockout gas.”

“You said might, not me.”

“Oh, hush. Besides, this thing seems to have a policy of escalation. If I prove that the gas doesn't work, it's just going to try something else. So I’ll-” a tendril broke off from the main cloud and whipped by my face. I jerked back just in time to avoid getting a faceful of it. “Gah. I'll just keep dodging it, while you go and get someone to stop this.”

“No need,” interjected a new voice. A short man with a salt and pepper beard, dressed in stained and dirty overalls, was stalking towards us.

“Mr. Graves,” Stump said with obvious relief. “Could you please get the guns to stand down?”

“As quickly as possible, please.” I added, juking back and forth to try and keep the cloud in one place. It worked for a few seconds, but then it seemed to figure it out. Darn adaptable programming.

“Hmm,” Graves said. “Can. Won't.”

“What?!” both of us cried simultaneously.

“She's an unknown,” he said to Stump. “If you're going to bring in a saboteur, I want to make sure she's at least competent.”

“What is wrong with you?” I asked him incredulously. “Stump, what's wrong with him?”

Stump sighed. “Please, sir. We're in a hurry.”

“Then she'd better hurry up about it,” he grunted as he turned away.

“Seriously, what is wrong with him?”

“I wish I knew.”

“Is-” More smoke began billowing from the guns. “Goshdarnit! Is there any way to shut them down?”

“Uuh… break them?”

“Won't Graves kill me for that?”

“I think he's already trying to, so what difference will it make?”

“You are taking any and all consequences for this.” Then I turned my attention to the guns. That was a mistake, though: I should've turned it towards the cloud. It swarmed around me, displaying for more speed than it had before, and I instinctively gasped. I immediately clasped a hand over my mouth, but the cloud hadn't changed at all. I hadn't breathed it in. I let out a sigh of relief (which I now realized must just be psychosomatic) and lowered my hand.

“Wisp?” Stump asked nervously. “Are you okay?”

The smoke wasn't affecting me, but it was still blocking my vision. “Yeah, I'm okay. Hold on.”

Okay, f=ma. It was practically becoming my catchphrase. So if I do this… I raised my arms, crossing them over like I was protecting my face, and then take a deep breath, and… Holding my breath, I went as dense as I could manage and quickly swept my arms outward.

The grey cloud practically ripped apart, as the wind generated by my movement tore through it in two directions at once. I allowed myself a little smug smile as I watched the little wisps try and reform, and fail. Take that, science.

I returned to my normal mass, and tried to turn back towards the guns. For some reason, though, the movement unbalanced me, and I fell forward and hit my face on-

Nothing at all. It took a second for the realization to sink in. I was floating. I twisted my head around, and saw that the guns were glowing the same green as the bike had been. “Oh, you have got to be pooping kidding me.”

Okay, okay, antigravity. That's fine, that’s okay. I've seen movies, read books: I knew how to move around like this. Right now, I was spinning slowly forward, face headed towards the ground. The floor was smooth and featureless: nothing for me to grip onto. Unless, of course, I made some.

Slowly, I reached out until I was almost touching the floor. Then, I went dense again and dug my fingers in. The steel warped like putty, and I had myself a handhold. I used it as a lever to lower myself until the balls of my feet were touching the ground. Then, with a screeching of metal, I straightened my legs, pushing into the surface and creating little depressions for my feet.

Now I had a launching platform. I just needed to launch. Both guns were still trained on me, glowing their eery green. They were equidistant from me, so I picked the one on the left. I tensed my legs, leant back into it, and pushed off-

And I was buried in steel. I blinked, confused. What… where am I? I could still see steel above me, but the light was reflecting off it differently. And was that Stump, standing upside down on the…

Ohh. Comprehension set in. I was on the ceiling- well, in the ceiling. I glanced around, and I could see little crushed fragments embedded in the surface around me that looked like the belonged to one of the guns. Well, that worked. Hannah Kingsford, the human cannonball! It has a nice ring to it. Maybe if I ever need a different superhero identity, I could use that. I'm thinking, heavy armor plating on the head and shoulders, in grey and… orange. Yeah, orange. Or maybe purple. Ooh, I could do a new persona, like, all tough and brash and-

I jolted as gravity suddenly reasserted itself. Suddenly, instead of sitting snugly in my little crater, I was falling out of it, way too quickly. I squeaked, and faded out just in time to avoid making a matching dent in the floor, landing on my hands and knees. The one remaining gun was glowing orange now, bright and fierce, ready to fire.

I didn't give it the chance. Barely even conscious of what I was doing, I scooped out a chunk of the floor in one hand, compressing it into something resembling a sphere, and threw it overhand with all the strength I could muster.

The briefest lick of flame managed to escape the gun's barrel. Then, it exploded.

I shielded my eyes as the debris sprayed everywhere. One small piece bounced off my arm, but most of it had gone away from me, following the trajectory of my makeshift projectile, which was currently embedded in the ceiling, actually glowing slightly. I… hadn't meant for it to be that strong.

“Impressive,” said a voice that sounded vaguely familiar. I spun around to find a new figure standing next to Stump, who was looking as awkward as it's possible for an eight-foot wooden behemoth to look. The figure was a woman, almost as tall as me, dressed in what looked like a stylized fighter pilot’s gear, with heavy armor around the shoulders and bright orange and red detailing. “Especially considering she's a complete unknown.” There was a sharp bite to the words.

“Ah heh heh,” Stump laughed, sounding pained. “Wisp, I'd like to introduce Comet, leader of the Guardians.” The helmet’s visor covered her eyes, but I could feel her glare burning through it.

“P-pleased to meet you,” I squeaked out.

She didn't respond, instead turning to Stump. “I expect this to be good.”

He laughed again, somehow even more awkwardly, glancing back and forth between us. “It's… a bit of a long story.”


She sighed. “It always is, isn't it?”

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Doors 14-I

HANNAH

What Does It Take To Impress Young People These Days?

With a grunt of effort, the manhole cover popped out of the road, flipping up into the air. Brown tentacles slithered out of the now-open hole, forming a net that caught the heavy metal disc before it could hit the ground. Carefully, they placed it to the side, then spread themselves around the edges, digging into the concrete. They tensed, some unseen weight pulling them downwards, and then a brown mass sprang up through the center.

Stump landed on the tarmac, smaller than he had been before, the tentacles sprouting from his back and trailing behind him. He paused, then shifted his stance slightly, and the appendages shot back towards his body. There was a blur of motion as they wrapped around his body, and then he was back to his original size, the tentacles integrated so well that there was no sign of them.

He sighed, and turned towards where I was standing off to the side, having just faded right though the cover. “Of course you can do that.”

I shrugged with a half-hearted smile. “Hey, I don't pick the powers.”

“If you did, we would be having some words,” he muttered. I don't think he intended me to hear it, but I did. What's that supposed to mean?

“It means, you dummy,” I replied, “that he's obviously been transformed into a being of living wood, which must, you know, suck.”

Oh. Wait, I assumed he was a shifter.

“No shifter can maintain an alternate form for as long as he's done.”

How do you know that?

“We know that because Sabah’s talked about it before. I had to remind you because you were too busy checking out Francois Bellevue to listen.

Wouldn't that be your fault, Miss Libido?

“...he had both a sexy accent and sexy bod. I cannot be held accountable. The point is, he's likely actually made of wood, which would suck for all sorts of obvious reasons.”

Is that even possible?

I don't know. Would it be any stranger than creating mass-shifting clones?”

I think they're more like projections than clones.

“A stick is a stick is a stick. Doesn't matter what you call it.”

It's about the terminology, though. A clone implies that it's actually making real copies of me and then giving them the mass-shifting power. Given the smoke, and the mass-shifting, it's more likely that it's a function of how the copies are made. Ergo, projections, not clones.

“Well, that's simplifying it to a-”

“Wisp?” Stump was looking at me with concern. “Are you… okay?”

“Hmm?” I replied, shaken out of my reverie. “Oh. Yeah, I'm fine, sorry. Just lost in my own thoughts.”

“Should've guessed,” he muttered. “Okay, hold on a second, I need to get us a ride.”

“A ride? Why? Can't we just walk?”

Silently, he pointed. I followed his finger, and saw a crowd of civilians pointing their phones at us and chattering.

“Oh.” Instinctively, I reached up to check my scarf and goggles were still in place.

He nodded, raising one hand to his ear. “Dispatch,” he said, “can you patch me through to Mr. Graves, please?” Pause. “Hello? Sorry to interrupt, but I need a ride.” Pause. “I'm really very sorry.” Pause. “Thank you very much.”

“So what kind of ride are we talking about here?” I asked, as he lowered his hand.

“Wait a moment and see for yourself.”

I harrumphed and folded my arms. But sure enough, within a minute, there was the sound of an engine, and some kind of flying platform swooped down towards us. About eight feet long, it was sleek and silvery, and looked like a motorcycle if motorcycle had glowing green plates instead of wheels. It hovered about a foot off the ground, perfectly still in the air.
“See? Just took a little patience. Hop on.” He strode over to the ‘bike’ and swung a leg over it. Oddly, it didn't move at all as he mounted it, which just looked strange.

Cautiously, I approached the bike. “Question. Is it going to drive us back, or fly?”

“Fly. Why?”

“Right. Right.” I licked my lips nervously. “I'm not… great with heights.”

“Oh just get on the d*mn bike,” he replied, an eye roll implicit in the tone. “You have density powers and you're afraid of heights.”

Oh. Good point. I could just float safely down, couldn't I? Besides, I definitely wasn't staying here with the paparazzi. I climbed up onto the seat behind him. There didn't seem to be any handholds, so I wrapped my arms around Stump’s torso. It felt… warm, surprisingly enough. Almost like it was alive. Maybe he was actually like that. Did he still need to eat? What about the... opposite end? Was there a brain inside that twisting mass of tentacles?

I was jarred out of my thoughts by the bike suddenly rising into the air. I clung tighter to Stump, but the motion was ridiculously smooth. If I'd closed my eyes, I doubted I’d have noticed we were even moving. I wasn’t going to do that, though. The only thing worse than being able to see the terrifying drop was letting my imagination fill in the blanks.

The crowd ooh-ed as we took off. Shouldn’t this have been normal to them. I asked Stump as much. “We try not to use these very much,” he replied as the bike spun to face the Tower. “I’m really the only one who can’t get around on their own, and I’m fairly new. All the cape nerds know about it, but it’s entirely possible this is the first time these people have seen the bike.”

“S’that what you call it?”

“Well, Mr. Graves has some complicated name, but yeah, we call them the bikes. Saves time.”

I'd been so distracted by the shrinking figures below us that it took me a second to realize we'd started moving. I'd been in maglev trains with rougher rides than this. “How does this thing work?” I breathed in awe.

Stump chuckled. “Antigravity. It's Graves' specialty. To the bike, it's not so much moving as falling very slowly.” The ground below started moving by faster. “Okay, so maybe not so slowly. Hold on.”

I gulped, raising my head. The Tower glittered ahead of us, rapidly getting larger. I almost faded on instinct (and it was strange, how quickly it became so), but stopped myself. The wind was tugging at my legs, and the only reason I wasn't feeling it worse was because the hero in front of me was blocking it. If I went light, I'd get pulled right off. I made do with clinging to Stump like a vice. Once I wasn't experiencing mortal terror, I expected I'd feel embarrassed about that. The hero seemed unfazed, but then again, how was I supposed to tell otherwise?

As we approached the Tower, wind now strong enough to be pulling at my hood even behind Stump, we didn’t seem to be slowing down. “Stump,” I yelled over the noise, “please tell me we’re not going to crash into the side.”

“Relax,” he replied, sounding calm. “We keep the hangar closed most of the time for safety.”

Sure enough, a segment of the shining silver surface was sliding open, revealing a spacious hangar. We shot inside, rapidly decelerating, and the momentum squeezed me against Stump’s body. I figured we were inside now, so I went light, and the pressure lessened. We came to a stop directly in the centre of the large room, in the middle of a few identical bikes sitting haphazardly on the ground. Our bike hovered for a second, then slowly lowered itself down.

I stepped off, glad to feel solid ground underneath my feet again. But as soon my feet touched the ground, a klaxon blared out, painfully loud, and two large guns dropped from the ceiling, pointing directly at me.

“UNAUTHORIZED INTRUDER DETECTED,” a robotic voice boomed. And then the guns fired.

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3RD MISCELLANY


Excerpts from J. Walsh: 'Arms and Armor: Industrialized Superpowers'.

Perhaps the most important of these, though, was the advent of a young man named Callum Forsyth in the year [REDACTED]. A teenager from Las Vegas, he came into his powers right after 9/11. To understand why and how he became a global industrial power, one has to understand the situation in America at the time

At that point, national sentiment towards metahumans was one of distrust and suspicion. Not without reason, either: they had just experienced one of the biggest acts of terror ever committed, perpetrated by two metahumans. An entire city and tens of thousands of people, wiped off the map. The entire southern coast of Lake Michigan rendered uninhabitable by deadly radiation, to the point where some began referring to it as the 'Second Chernobyl'. Even now, [REDACTED] years later, the entire area is still quarantined by the government, and even stepping foot inside the walls they have erected is an instant death sentence.

More than the loss of life, though, the incident became responsible for one of the sharpest reversals in policy ever seen (excluding, that is, those that came about due to a change in regime). Pre-9/11, the United States had one of the laxest policies towards costumes vigilantes in the world, behind only Australia and New Zealand. The period is often referred to as the Golden Age of Superheroics, for obvious reasons. Costumed vigilantes often worked closely with police and emergency services, and existed in the public eye like any other celebrity. Although the Watchtower Conglomerate’s heroes were the only ones with actual legal status, public opinion and general goodwill, plus a healthy superhero culture, kept these technically-criminal crimefighters in legal good graces. Some even gained status as national figures: there is of course the famous photograph (pictured right) of Pyrrha shaking hands with then-President Bush. Multiple attempts at creating a national registry of metahumans had been swiftly shot down in the Senate, as public outcry against them only grew greater with each attempt.

Afterwards, all of that changed. Within a month of a tragedy, a bill passed the House and Senate near-unanimously, requiring the registration of all superhumans within the United States. Those with powers were given two months to voluntarily register themselves consequence-free, and two more months with a fine. The Department of Miscellany, a formerly-minor government sub-branch, was flooded with funding and elevated to be the premier handler of all metahumans in the United States. The Metahuman Emergency Response & Intelligence Taskforce was established soon after, and the former vigilantes were given a choice: either register and join the Taskforce, register and retire immediately, or be considered a criminal under the law.

Initially, they had trouble upholding this threat, as the few meta-rated prisons in the country were either private contractors or Tower subsidiaries. The issue of incarceration had always been one of the main talking points of any registration bill: although the Tower had a higher success rate than the private enterprises, neither was particularly effective at containing the truly determined supervillains. The sudden arrival of Blacklight Services on the world stage, however, provided a solution. Appearing as if out of thin air, the mercenary army contracted with the U.S. government to create the Nevada Metahuman Penitentiary Facility, the huge underground labyrinth in the state's expansive desert that is more commonly known as The Pit. Boasting a successful long-term incarceration rate more than twice that of any other, it quickly became the standard, with many countries across the globe often shipping their most dangerous repeat inmates to be held there. This represented a complex web of tangled agreements and backdoor politics, which…

-----

And so it was into a very different world of superheroics that Callum Forsyth emerged. As little as a year earlier, there was little doubt that he would’ve taken up heroics in some manner, or possibly even supervillainry. However, he instead arrived onto a scene of fear and mistrust of heroes, and in fact metahumans in general. The ‘cape culture' in the United States had become effectively dead, and even the Tower had pulled back their activities to a bare minimum. Many would have simply given up, or followed the current and joined MERIT or the DoM, but Forsyth saw another way.

His power was a standard projection type, creating strands of a strong, thin, silk-like substance. Multiple supers with similar abilities had made a good showing of themselves, but he took a different approach. Testing the qualities of his silk, he discovered that it bore similarities to spider's silk, in that it was incredibly light and flexible. More important, though, was the fact that unlike some projection powers, once it was created it stayed that way. Although admitting in interviews that the process was incredibly tiring, he nevertheless was able to produce staggering amounts of the material, which he took to calling Steelsilk. He made the first jumpsuit by hand, teaching himself to sew from scratch, and then posted a video on the internet of it withstanding a full three seconds sustained fire from an automatic rifle. The video, of course, went viral, and orders began flooding in. Within a few months, Forsyth Defense Apparel had gone from one young man in his garage to a fully-fledged company, the first in the world fully based around super-made products. FDA opened the floodgates, and soon the market was inundated with young supers trying to make their fortune.

-----

Despite making what is essentially military-grade body armor, FDA has rebuffed any and all attempts at limiting their customer pool. Steelsilk is freely available to anyone with an internet connection and cash to spare, even though the government has made many attempts to change that, some above-board, some less so.

This Walsh seems to know an awful lot about some fairly private information. I’d like to suggest a detail be placed on him, see if he’s being informed. Failing that, a tap should be the bare minimum.

-----

On the other end of the spectrum is the fittingly-named Spectre Armaments. The company exists behind a maze of shells and false fronts, a legal maze that no-one has yet been able to unravel. And countless many have tried.

Although they are most well-known amongst law enforcement agencies and other professions as the manufacturer of shock rounds, Spectre Armaments are far more than a one-trick pony. It’s impossible to buy from them directly, but if you know the right people, you can get your hands on all sorts of powerful, exotic and highly illegal weaponry.

I’d like to upgrade that suggestion to a firm direction. How does he know this?

All of their weaponry and equipment is Forged tech, or otherwise utilizes meta-made materials to make it unique. Despite this, all attempts at reverse-engineering their technology, a strategy which has had success with other Forged tech before, prove futile. Much like the company themselves, there are multiple layers of fail-safes, obfuscations and safety features specifically designed to prevent the inner workings being tampered with, or even observed. The most notable incident of this was back in [REDACTED], when a Spectre weapon accidentally landed in the hands of a Boston engineer, Angela Masterson. Eyewitnesses reported seeing the building Masterson was in, as well as three to either side of it, warp in an unnatural manner, before being sucked into a tiny sphere. The sphere, with a diameter of approximately ten centimeters and the combined mass of the seven buildings and all of their contents, immediately sank straight through the earth, and is yet to be recovered.

That entire incident was classified! Who is this guy?

-----

The example I was shown, from a source that will remain anonymous, was a large rifle. It was sleek and slightly bulbous, its surface a dull chrome. Thin lines of light ran down its sides, and nearly invisible symbols were etched into the metal in various places. I was warned by its owner not to touch it. They implied it would not be pleasant for either of us.

The target for the demonstration was an old tree. A tap on one of the symbols caused a small scope to pop out of the main body of the gun, and they aimed down it and pulled the trigger. The lights on the gun pulsed, but nothing came out of the end. Instead, a section of the tree was encased in a sphere of pure black. The section of the tree outside of it immediately began falling in, and kept doing so until nothing was left. When the sphere disappeared, nothing but ashes filled the space it had occupied.

The gun bent light, the owner explained, refracting and enhancing it within the sphere until it was hot enough to melt titanium. It had no visible power source or ammunition, and seemed no worse for wear for having just destroyed an entire tree, long-distance, in a few seconds.

Given the display, I had no doubt in my mind why even owning these weapons is considered tantamount to a war crime. If the criminal element in many cities got a hold of technology like this… I balk at the thought.

Okay, I’m making the call. Priority One on Walsh. Send a strike team, whatever’s necessary. Make sure this isn’t published, and find out what he knows and how he knows it.

I suspect we may have a leak.

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