Scene 18 – October 21st
Interior Hideout, Morning
I yawned as I stepped out of the shower, already clad in the illusion of my true appearance, but not bothering to wear my suit. After all, I wasn’t planning on going anywhere as the Magnificent Maxwell, today. Well, I’m always magnificent, but I wasn’t going to be Magnificent. It was just another day of internet research, along with the usual daily routine.
After my successful theft of Dallas’s thesis, I had read through it to learn where Merlin’s introductory guide had been when the thesis was written in 1964. I had hoped that I would be able to take a brief jaunt to wherever it was and steal it immediately, but had run into a problem.
The book had been in storage in a London museum – the fools had no idea what they had had – but when I took a moment to check that museum’s files, I discovered that it had been transferred to a different branch of the museum for display in 1971. Then in 1976 it was put back into storage, until 1984 when it was gifted to a different museum…
It was tricky enough to track it, given how few of the museums kept their records online, that I completely understood why it had gotten Dallas his thesis. I had spent the last two months tracking the damn thing, and was still only up to 2009!
The latest problem that had risen in my tracking was that the book, along with a number of other artifacts, had wound up back in London in what was apparently the site of the original Camelot, for a cultural heritage festival or some such thing. The festival had been attacked by a magical supervillain and defended by a magical superhero and, with all the magic flying about, most of the relics had somehow managed to fall into the foundation stones of Camelot!
The hero had been very apologetic, of course, but it had been a huge blunder – particularly since she had been unable to recover the items from the stones. Apparently there had been a preexisting enchantment which had probably been laid by Merlin to use the stones as storage, and it was that enchantment which had malfunctioned from the various energies being thrown around. She said that the extradimensional space had been thoroughly locked to her, and there was no way to bring them out.
Well, maybe Murphy Fox was so easily stymied, but extra-dimensional pockets were exactly my area of expertise. I was confident that I would have no trouble extracting the book when I got my hands on the right stone.
The trouble was, no one had made note of which relic had fallen into which stone. From one book, I suddenly had to track 14 large stones, each of which was displayed in different museums across the globe. And when I figured out where they were, I would have to check each one for its contents!
Supervillainy didn’t pay enough for this, I mused as I picked up a phone to dial today’s museum, and put on a British accent. “Hello, Carnegie History Museum? This is Wynne Jones, from the British Museum. No, the one in Denver. I’m calling about an item that our museum donated to yours in 2009, a stone from the foundations of Camelot…”
Scene 19 – October 21st
Exterior Restaurant, Noon
I took a break from calling museums and occasionally hacking databases around lunchtime to, well, get lunch. I had forgotten to go grocery shopping last week and a man cannot live on cereal alone, so I had to venture into the world and acquire food.
I picked a rather nice place downtown that Emilia had introduced me to last year – some truly excellent steak, although the potatoes I had ordered with it today weren’t the best. I spent a pleasant lunch flirting with the corporate-looking woman eating a solitary lunch of her own at the table next to me, and had just asked for the check and a doggie bag when an acquaintance showed up.
“Maxwell Copperfield,” said the hero Starling, as he stared down at me with disdain. “What are you doing here?”
I raised an eyebrow at the man. “Lunch,” I told him.
He rolled his eyes. “I can see that. Why?”
“…I need to eat, Brant,” I reminded him. “Magic can do a lot of things, but I still need food.”
He glared, leaning over the table at me. I refused to give him the satisfaction of leaning back. “I’m watching you, Copperfield. Keep your nose out of trouble. Don’t do anything you’ll regret.”
I opened my mouth to respond, but he was already walking away, swirling his green cape around him as though he looked cool doing it. The man absolutely had to have the last word. “Asshole,” I muttered to myself.
“Sorry about him,” apologized his partner for the day, Referee. She was the youngest of the Journeymen, and in my opinion the most powerful. She emitted an magical aura around her that averaged out people’s abilities, putting everyone on an fair footing. The weak became stronger, the fast became slower… even the effects of chance were neutralized, supposedly. Everyone was equal in whatever contest took place in her aura, whether it be a fight or a game of football. All that remained was skill. “He’s in a bad mood because Legion isn’t in custody yet.”
I blinked in surprise. “Legion is in town?” She nodded. “How many?”
“Three,” she told me. “Apparently she arrived last night, a few hours before my flight touched down. Canaveral had a run-in with her so we know that she’s only here to talk to people, but…” she sighed. “I’m worried that he’ll want me along next time she shows up. He didn’t have much success against her, so…”
Referee was in high demand for the effects of her aura, I knew – along with civilians who wanted her overseeing tournaments and the like, every MLED director in the country wanted her to help with whatever overpowered menace was threatening their city that day. With her along, anyone was able to take on threats like Legion or Graviton, while without her there were only a few who could do so and have any hope of succeeding.
“How can they justify having you on patrol with her out there?” I asked.
The kid shrugged. “Danger ratings don’t really apply to me,” she pointed out. “Legion isn’t any more or less dangerous to me than anyone else, so…”
“Point.” I glanced at where Starling was sulking a little ways down the street, signing an autograph for someone. “Do you know why he confronted me? Usually he just pretends I don’t exist. Even when we’re out with friends, actually. Very rude.” I idly opened up a pocket and snatched the ink out from the pen he was using for the autograph, and the hero muttered as it stopped writing in the middle of his signature.
“We’re supposed to give you a message,” Referee told me. “Apparently one of the things that Legion is in town for is to talk to you, specifically.”
I turned my attention away from Starling. “What? Why would she want to talk to me?”
The junior heroine shrugged. “I wasn’t told the reason – all I know is that she’s looking for you.”
“Hmm.” No one really understood what Legion was up to or what her motives were – she had been a mystery since she appeared. “Well, I’ll keep an eye out. Thanks for the warning, Molly.”
“Hey!” She jabbed me in the shoulder. “It’s Referee when I’m in costume, Max.”
I smirked at her. “Well then, it’s Magnificent to you.”
“You’re not in costume-” she began, but stopped when I snapped my fingers and instantly donned my suit. “Touche.”
Scene 20 – October 21st
Interior Hideout, Early Evening
I was grateful for Referee’s warning, but to be honest, I didn’t change my plans at all. It wasn’t as though Legion could do any harm to me, after all – few could, when I could dump anyone without magical resistance into a pocket dimension and dispose of them however I chose. Legion, to the best of my knowledge, had nothing to do with magic whatsoever, so there was no reason she would have any magical resilience.
I saw no reason to fear the woman – however many of her there were, I could dump up to three tons into my pocket dimensions. And yes, the various tools and tricks I currently kept in them took up probably half a ton – I kept a lot on hand, just in case – but that was still two and a half tons of space if I needed it. If she showed up, I’d simply drop her into a pocket dimension and deal with her later.
So after lunch, I returned to my hideout and continued my work. Not the drudgery of tracking stones through museums – that I left relegated to the morning. No, the afternoons were reserved for my real work, my passion, my one true love – magic.
It was a constant struggle to advance my magical knowledge and skill. Oh, it was a struggle I was up to, yes, but magic was so esoteric and complex that it was extraordinarily difficult and time-consuming to expand your knowledge at all. Every type of magic seemed to differ from every other kind – the one illusion spell I had managed to learn required a completely different mindset than my dimensional pockets did. Everyone who used magic, whether magician, wizard, or conjurer, had a particular type of magic that they excelled at, something which came naturally to them. When they sought to learn something new, it was far more difficult. But the closer it was to something they had already mastered – or better yet, to their particular specialty – the easier it was. That was why, as I sought to expand my magical repertoire, I was beginning with a modification of the dimensional pockets I had, at this point, mastered.
Typically, when I opened a pocket and dumped something in, it lost all kinetic energy – no matter how fast it had been going, the energy was lost when I reopened its pocket and deposited it back into the world. I had high hopes that I could do the opposite as well – release things from their extra-dimensional storage with more speed. That alone would vastly increase my prowess, but even more than that, it could be my gateway from dimensional manipulation into kinetic manipulation, and from kinetic energy it should be a short step into thermal energy, sound energy, and more…
But first, I had to crack the secret of adding kinetic energy back.
I had tried a number of modifications to my mental state as I cast, most of them simply causing the spell to fail. One, that I had filed under ‘never try this again,’ had apparently released the matter that I had dumped from its pocket as energy instead – a complete matter-to-energy conversion. It had been an enormous explosion, which I only barely managed to contain by pocketing all the air in my test chamber – the shockwave had been unable to travel, and while the incredible heat had scorched the walls, they were made from sturdy enough stuff that it had survived. It was a good thing that I was doing my experimentation on such small objects, too – individual granules of flour, typically.
My current line of experimentation was based on that failure, though – if I could release the things I pocketed as energy instead of matter, perhaps I could release only some of it. Certainly, I could release only a part of an object – that had been easy. But releasing most of it normally while selecting only a few atoms to convert to energy, and attempting to limit it to kinetic energy? That was more of a mental balancing act.
Part of the reason that magical experimentation is so slow is that when you’re creating a new spell, it takes a long time to fix it in your mind. The ways you have to bend your thinking to cast magic at all are as twisted as a hose after a winter in the garage, but it becomes easy with practice. Trying to tie your mind in an entirely new knot? You’re lucky if you can make more than one attempt an hour, between the lengthy meditation and the struggle to figure out what went wrong in the previous experiment.
All of that to say that I made only a few attempts that afternoon. My latest failure had nearly worked, but the energy had come out as thermal rather than kinetic, causing a brief spark as the single grain of flour burst into flame and then burned out. As it was nearly dinnertime, I was about ready to call it a day, when a voice came from behind me.
“Ah, Max,” it said, in a pleasant soprano. “So good to see you.”
I whirled on the intruder who had dared to enter into my hideout. “Who the hell are you?” I demanded, producing one of the guns that the woman from Ambrosia had lost to me last week. I usually didn’t keep guns, returning them to the NVPD for the bounty on criminals’ guns that they paid, but I hadn’t had a chance to bring the latest batch over yet.
The intruder, a woman in green who was built like an amazon, ignored my question. “Silly of you not to move after last week, but I suppose you never were a smart one.” She smiled at me. “And don’t bother trying to drop me into your hammerspace,” she warned me as I tried to do just that without success. “I ate a tree or two before I came in – I’m a little beyond your weight limit right now.”
I blanched. “Legion.”
“The one and only,” she said with a smirk, giving a brief bow. “…well, I suppose that’s not quite accurate.” The villain laughed. “But you have no need to worry, Max. I’m not here to fight – in fact…” She grinned fiendishly at me again. “I’m here to help.”