Scene 28 – October 23rd
Interior MLED Compound, Early Afternoon
Holly and I had parted ways not long after dinner, but the following morning she texted me to let me know that Legion had been captured – or one of them had, at least, and the other two were have thought to left the city – and as such the Compound was no longer on high alert. She had invited me to come by whenever I was available to spend more time with the Journeymen, since my visit had been cut short. So after my classes were over for the day, I headed over to the Compound.
The receptionist was the same young man I had met a few days ago, and he greeted me politely. “Welcome back to the Metahuman Law Enforcement Division’s New Venice Compound,” he said as I approached the desk.
“That’s a bit of a mouthful,” I noted.
He shrugged. “There’s a reason it usually just gets called the Compound. Are you here to register with the DMO today, sir?”
I bit my tongue – it wasn’t worth arguing about – and shook my head. “No, I’m here to continue the visitation that was interrupted on the 20th.”
“Of course. I just need to call ahead to confirm your invitation.” He pressed a button and picked up the phone. “Hello, Anima? The young fellow who was visiting a few days ago has come again.” The receptionist listened to her response, then nodded. “I’ll send him right up.” He smiled at me. “You remember the way?”
“Yes. Do I need a new passphrase?”
“Yes, one moment…” he tapped at his keyboard for a few seconds, then said, “your passcode for the elevator will be…” He sighed. “Holy elevating machine, Starling.”
“It’s a random generator, four words from the dictionary. It’s not usually that relevant or coherent.”
“Right, it was ‘correct horse battery staple’ last time.”
The man shrugged. “Anyway, you’re clear to head on up.”
I didn’t bother to pull on a mask from the elevator’s visitor tray this time. After all, I had already decided that I wasn’t going to keep my identity from the heroes, whether or not I ended up joining.
Scene 29 – October 23rd
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
When I reached the central common room, I saw a couple faces I recognized and a couple I didn’t. Simone was there, playing a video game with Hypnos, and they were joined by a redheaded man in a tank top that showed off a muscular build almost as impressive as Simone’s. Along with the three gamers there was also a young ginger girl watching them play, and a curvy ginger in a blue bodysuit and green jacket that I recognized as Anima, the most senior member of the New Champions.
I raised my eyebrows as I stepped into the room. “Should I have dyed my hair red? I feel like I missed a memo here.”
Anima chuckled, then stepped forward and shook my hand. “Quinn, right? I’m Anima. It’s nice to meet you properly.” I must have been visibly confused at the ‘properly’, because she explained, “I was on console duty the night you ran into Abe.”
“Ah.” I glanced at the other two redheads. “Can someone finish the introductions? You two weren’t here last time, I don’t think.”
The redhead grinned up at me from where he sat. “I’m Jack Forester – Sequoia. I was on patrol with Anima that night.”
“I’m Molly Madigan, aka Referee,” said the girl with a shy smile. “I was out of town.”
“She travels all the time!” Simone complained, grabbing the younger girl in a hug and pulling her close. “She’s our baby and she’s always gone!”
“…let me go, please?” Molly quietly asked, and the black girl released her without protest.
“Why do you travel so much?” I asked. She couldn’t have been out of high school – was she an athlete? A performer?
She mumbled something that I didn’t catch. “Speak up, dear,” Anima encouraged her.
“I go to martial arts tournaments a lot,” she said a little louder. “They pay me for my aura of fairness, and I usually get private lessons too.” Then she pulled her legs up on the couch and hugged them.
“She’s shy around people she doesn’t know,” Jack told me. “It’s nothing personal – I’m sure she’ll warm up to you soon.”
I nodded and made a mental note not to press her, then glanced around. “Where’s Holly?”
“Loki is on console with me this afternoon,” Anima said. “I stepped away for a moment to meet you. I should go join him again, though.” She glanced at a clock on the wall. “Actually, he goes off console duty in just a few minutes. I’ll let him off early.” She smiled at me again before leaving. “Maybe we’ll get to actually talk next time.”
“So,” I said, leaning over the back of the couch between Jack and Hypnos. “What are your pronouns?”
“He/him,” said Jack.
Molly mumbled into her legs, which Simone translated as, “She/her.”
“Anima uses she/her as well,” Hypnos finished.
I nodded. “Noted. I use they/them, myself.”
“And I’m using he/him, since I’m in costume,” came a familiar voice from behind me.
I looked over my shoulder and grinned at Loki, who cut a very different figure in a tight black bodysuit than he did in the loose flowing garb he had worn on the previous occasions I had met him. Not only was he presenting male rather than female – and still quite attractive, in an androgynous way that I aimed for but couldn’t pull off nearly as well – but his hair was far shorter and darker, a stylishly-unkempt black mess rather than flowing blonde locks. Even his eyes were different, deep black instead of bright blue.
“Great to see you again,” I said, offering him my hand. That made all five of the Journeymen in one room!
He glanced at it, then back up to my face with a raised brow. “Seems a little formal, don’t you think?” he said, then pulled me in for a hug.
“Unexpected, but far from unwelcome,” I said after a moment of stunned surprise, returning it.
“…kiss, kiss, kiss…” came a soft chant from behind me, and Loki and I both glared at Simone, who quickly turned back to the TV as though still immersed in a video game. Her deception was undermined by the fact that it was paused.
“Do I need to use the spray bottle again?” Loki asked, one materializing in mid-air next to Simone, who vanished and reappeared on Molly’s other side, jokingly hiding behind the younger girl.
“Hey, speaking of powers,” I began, leaning over the couch again. Loki pulled his mask down to hang around his neck and moved to lean over the other couch in a similar position, between Simone and Molly. “How does that work, exactly?”
“How do powers work?” Hypnos asked.
“No, that.” I pointed at the spray bottle.
“I explained yesterday, didn’t I? It’s a mental construct built from soul energy which-”
“No, I mean how does it actually spray someone? It’s just light and sound, right?”
“Sound waves are a vibration of air molecules,” Loki began, “and if they’re being excited just right, your brain will interpret them wrong – particularly when paired with the right image. It took some experimentation, but I figured out how to make it feel like you’re being sprayed with a light misting of water.”
“How long did that take?”
He shrugged. “A few months, maybe?”
“And how often does it come up?”
The bottle dodged around Molly and sprayed Simone, who yelped. “You’d be surprised.”
“Oh, hey, you probably don’t know our powers, right?” said Jack. “I assume everyone who was there told you, but…”
I made an uncertain, ‘sort-of’ gesture. “A little bit – you’re public figures, after all. But not fully, no. You turn into a tree, right?”
He laughed. “That’s one way of putting it. But no,” he flexed, and his body quite suddenly was wood-grained with green, leafy hair rather than flame-red. “I transform into a sort of magical wood, not fully into a tree. The family legend is that we’re descended from a dryad. I get stronger and tougher, and…” he held up one hand, and the wood began to grow. In a few seconds, he had produced a rough but identifiable wooden sailing ship the size of a beer bottle, which he handed to me. “I can’t grow anything too complicated, at least not yet. They also crumble to nothing when I turn back.” He did so, and the ship broke apart like a dry leaf. “It’s classed as Self Buff 1 and Touch Control 2.”
“I have an aura that buffs and debuffs people to make things fair,” Molly spoke up, surprising me a little. “Area Control 2.”
“I have ESP and weird Newton’s-Law-Enabled Telekinesis,” I told them.
“So, do you have any questions for us?” Jack asked. “I was told that you’re still making your mind up about whether or not to register as a hero, right?”
“Yeah, I’m trying not to make any snap decisions,” I said.
“Well, if you have any questions for us, feel free to ask.”
“I’m kind of curious about scheduling, I guess. What are you all expected to do? How much of a time commitment is it?”
“It varies from person to person,” Loki told me. “Molly and Jack are both under 18, so there’s legal stuff preventing them from working even as much as Simone and I do. There’s 4 mandated training hours a week, but beyond that it tends to be what the boss thinks you’ll be useful for and what you’re willing to take – the full heroes don’t get to veto their hours, but we do, since the whole Youth MLED thing is supposed to be for training purposes.”
“My boyfriend here is the only one who actually is here just to train his powers,” Jack said, nudging Hypnos. “So he never takes shifts with combat expected.”
“I usually get paired with people who can’t travel as fast on their own,” offered Simone. “No one in the New Champions is slow, really, but Canaveral and Zookeeper are much faster than, say, Vulcan. And he and Starling are both faster than Anima, so I’m with her a lot when she patrols.”
“Who sets those schedules?”
“Canaveral, as the team leader for the New Champions,” said Loki. “He works with either Director Shepard or Deputy Director Blackmire to put them together. Sometimes they pull me in – they put me on a leadership training track last year.”
“So who do you think I’d be working with most of the time?” I asked him.
He tapped his chin thoughtfully, and my eyes were momentarily drawn to the curve of his jawline and his lips before he spoke. “Well, you’ll have at least one shift with all the Champions, either on patrol or on console – that’s standard, to see how you work with everyone. After that… I’ve heard that you move a lot like Canaveral does, your powers have a bit in common, and he’s certainly taken a liking to you, so I’d guess that you’ll be working with him a lot.”
“Enough boring superhero talk,” said Hypnos, startling me as he had been quiet for a while. “What do you guys think will happen with Legion?”
“Freezing seemed to work to stop her from shapeshifting,” Jack commented, “so maybe they’ll stick her in a walk-in-freezer and call it a day.”
“Don’t be silly,” Simone said. “They’ll have to incinerate her. No other way to keep her from escaping.”
“I literally just said that the freezing works-”
“Canaveral told me that she can resurrect the people she’s killed,” I said. “I imagine that they’ll try and convince her to bring back a hero or three, as well as to say why she was here.”
“That seems like there would be a high price,” Jack said dubiously. “If my understanding of her powers is right, that would effectively be her giving up her life, right? There’s no hivemind, so each of them is a person all on their own.” I hadn’t thought about that – was the MLED really going to ask a prisoner to commit suicide for them?
“The problem is that there’s some people who are incredibly difficult to actually hold if they don’t want to be there,” Loki said. “Teleporters are one of them. Shapeshifters aren’t, usually, but they don’t usually have the level of combat ability that Legion has, or the simple breadth of different options.”
“Wait, but aren’t there ways to shut down people’s powers?” I asked. “Drugs and control collars and such?”
“Control collars aren’t real,” Hypnos said dismissively. “Neither are power-dampening drugs.”
“Yeah, that’s just Hollywood,” Simone agreed. “Shock collars triggered by power use, maybe, but power dampening isn’t a thing unless someone else’s power is doing it. And those powers are in short supply.”
“No, that can’t be,” I protested. “There’s definitely a drug that can shut powers down! It was used on Canaveral and I the night we met!”
Everyone stared at me in confusion. “You must have misunderstood something-” Simone began.
“It’s called equality,” Loki said, and all eyes snapped to him. “It shuts down most cosmic or natural powers, but doesn’t work on most magical powers. A rainbow-looking gas, right?” I nodded.
“How did you know about it?” Simone asked.
He shrugged. “Prisons don’t use equality for a simple reason, though – no one manufactures it. Or almost no one,” he allowed when I raised an eyebrow. “It’s expensive and difficult to make, and there are villains who’ll destroy anywhere that they even think is producing it. Whoever made the vial that was used on you,” he said to me, “must have been either very brave or very crazy.”
If you enjoy my writing, please consider sponsoring me on Patreon. If you can’t afford a recurring donation, you can make an individual donation through Paypal, or purchase one of my books. You can even support me for free by voting for Paternum on TopWebFiction every week. The more I make from my writing, the more time I can devote to it, which will improve both the quantity and quality of my work.