Scene 9 – October 28th
Interior MLED Compound, Late Afternoon
Holly had been an endless font of costume ideas – it wasn’t surprising that she was creative, she had an incredible artistic eye – but none of them had been possible. Most of her ideas would have required far more time than I had, some of them being completely impossible for someone without her illusory abilities. And while she said that she intended to go to the party too – for the first time, in her case – and would be happy to maintain an illusion for me, I had to decline. It just wasn’t the same as making the costume myself, I had explained, and she hadn’t argued.
Hypnos had had a more realistic idea – one that would have me purchasing a generic costume and then making some alterations. It was both reasonable for the time I had and acceptable for my standards. After agreeing to his idea, I took my leave of them and went into the adults’ lounge, where I found Canaveral and Vulcan sipping beers and watching a game of football. Canaveral was half-costumed, his cowl pulled down to reveal his face, and Vulcan didn’t have much of a costume to begin with – he was in a button-down shirt which, at the moment, was left undown enough to show off his collarbones.
“Oh, sorry,” I said, hesitating in the doorway and trying not to blush seeing Vulcan – the man really did have jawline like an anvil, and showing off his collarbones like that just wasn’t fair. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
Canaveral paused the game and waved me in anyway. “You’re not interrupting – this is recorded. Just don’t tell us the score and you’re fine.”
“Couldn’t tell you even if I wanted to, I don’t watch football.” I entered and, still a little anxious – I had only been in the shared lounge space before – took a seat on the unoccupied couch.
“Care for a beer?” Canaveral – Abraham? – asked.
When I nodded, he began to rise, heading towards a cooler sitting in the small kitchen area. I forestalled him by opening it myself using my telekinesis, and floating a bottle to me. He grinned as I popped off the cap and took a sip.
“I’m a little jealous,” he admitted. “My powers don’t have that kind of mundane utility. Even Vulcan here has a leg up on me – he can keep his beer as cool as he wants.” Then he seemed to have a realization. “You haven’t met Vulcan yet, have you?”
“No, I haven’t. He was on console when I first came, I think.”
“Well let me introduce you. Vulcan, this is Quinn, or Newton. They’re a recently-empowered metahuman who hasn’t made their mind up about heroing yet.”
“A pleasure,” Vulcan rumbled. His voice was quiet, soft-spoken, but remarkably deep. It sent a shiver down my spine – seriously, he was too much!
“You turn into metal, right?” I asked. “And control heat?”
He waggled his hand in a ‘sort-of’ motion. “I can absorb and project it, but it’s not complete control. And when I’m not in metal form it’s much more limited – my body won’t let me absorb or project enough heat that I would harm myself, so my limits are lower in human form. There’s also only so much I can have absorbed, and I can theoretically run out of heat, but… well, I do a lot of training to expand my capacity, and usually run about half full so I’m prepared to either absorb or project as much as necessary.”
I nodded. “I’ve got something similar, I think,” I told him. “The costume that activated my powers seems to insulate me from the backlash to an extent, so I can use a lot more force when I’m wearing it. When I’m not, I can’t do any more than I normally can physically – I can just do it at a distance. With the costume, I can use way more force. Messing with my ESP is easier, too.”
“Do you know what your upper limit is, other than the backlash?” Vulcan asked.
“No. I’m sure I have one, but whatever it is, it’s well above what I was willing to test on my own.”
Canaveral nodded. “Smart. It’s better not to test your limits without safety precautions.”
Scene 10 – October 28th
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
“What brings you into the lounge?” Vulcan asked. “We were watching the game, you know.”
“Don’t be rude,” Canaveral scolded, and the younger hero muttered an apology.
I took another sip of my beer, using the brief pause to figure out exactly what to say. “Looking for advice, basically. I’m still trying to decide whether or not I should register as a hero.” I set the bottle down and leaned forward. “Can I ask why you all joined?”
The two heroes locked eyes with each other briefly, then glanced up. “What do you think, Anima?”
“Be honest with them,” advised the heroine’s voice through the speaker system.
Canaveral nodded. “That’s what I was thinking – glad you’re on the same page. I’ll go first.
“Susan – that’s Director Shepard, to you,” he clarified, “would want me to give you the MLED’s party line, which is that if you have superpowers, you’re morally obligated to use it to better the world. You know the one – power, responsibility, yada yada yada. That’s the official stance of the MLED. If anyone asks, that’s what I told you,” he told me in an overly-stern, almost mockingly serious voice, and I nodded with a smile. “At the very least, they’d want me to say that it’s because it’s the right thing to do, and I’m just so darn good-hearted.
“The truth, though, is a little different. Not to imply that there isn’t an element of truth in both of those – I do believe that there’s a certain level of obligation inherent in being able to help. If you have money to spare for charity you should donate some of it, if you see someone being hurt you should try to help, that kind of thing. But my personal beliefs,” he was explaining, “don’t require me to actually go searching for that kind of situation in the way that heroes do. Hell, even if I did, being a hero isn’t the only way to help the world – it’s one that’s available to me as it isn’t to a lot of people, because I have powers and because they’re combat-capable, but being a doctor improves the world just as much, if not more.”
Canaveral sighed. “No, the real reason I became a hero is pretty simple – I wanted to. Every since I was a little kid, I idolized heroes, and I wanted to be one too. So of course, when my powers finally came in, I became a hero.
“That’s the only reason you should become a hero, in my opinion,” he said, his voice more serious than I had ever heard it outside of fighting Legion. “It’s a big commitment – outside of the training stage, at least – and you shouldn’t do it just because people want you to, or because you think it’s what society expects from you, or out of some moralistic notion that it’s the most virtuous thing to do with your life. You should only become a hero because you want to.”
“That’s… pretty heavy,” I admitted. “I admit, I hadn’t really considered the question of whether or not I actually wanted to.” I had barely discovered my powers before people started pushing me towards heroism, and much of my musing had been over whether or not I could or should – far less had been over whether or not it was something I wanted.
“I’m sorry if I was pushing you into it,” Canaveral apologized. “I won’t pretend that I don’t want you to join – I like you, I think that we have a lot in common, and I think it would be great to have you as part of New Venice’s heroic scene. But you shouldn’t worry about what I want for you.”
“Abe is somewhat more self-centered than the carefree image of heroism he maintains might suggest,” Anima observed. “Fortunately, his self-centered desire is to be a socially-oriented, morally upstanding pillar of the community, admired by all and for the best of all possible reasons. I dread to think what he could have become if he wanted something less positive for the world.”
He rolled his eyes while I tried to digest this remarkably cynical view of a hero I had admired for years. “You make me sound like some kind of psychopath,” he complained. “I was just like any other kid! Who didn’t want to be a superhero when they grew up? It’s no different from wanting to be a football player or an actor, and working towards that. We don’t scold them for wanting it because of the prestige, money, whatever, rather than for love of the game or the art. Besides,” he added, “I did say that I do still consider it a moral obligation to help people, and that it really is the right thing to do. It just wasn’t my primary motivation.”
“In any case,” she said, “I think it’s my turn. Unless you want to go next, Vulcan?” He shook his head, and she, apparently, could see this from the console room, because she continued, “Right.
“Mine is a little less philosophical than Abe’s, I suppose. I really did join because of the party line in a lot of ways – to help people. I want to make life better for people, and it really is a responsibility. Do you know my powers?”
I blinked – that seemed like something a non sequitur, and it took me a moment to respond. “Not in a ton of detail. You can animate objects right?”
“That’s part of it, but not the biggest part. Basically, I’m an energy absorber and projector, like Vulcan, only a bit more metaphysical. He deals with heat, but I deal with lifeforce.”
“Is that like the soul? Holly tried to explain that to me, but I’m not sure how much I understood,” I admitted. It had been interesting and I had tried to come off as understanding it all, because I kind of liked her and didn’t want to seem stupid, but it had gone a bit over my head. I didn’t think she had noticed, thankfully.
“Sort of. Magic is insanely complicated, if you hadn’t picked that up.”
“I did get that impression, yeah. It’s interesting, though – I’d love to learn more about it.”
“There are a ton of different… layers to reality, I guess is the way to put it,” Anima explained. “The material plane or the physical world is just one of them. The plane that soul energy lies on is another, and I know Holly thinks it’s the one that’s most important for magic, but it’s really all up for debate.
“Personally, I think it’s like… well, you know how there are four fundamental forces of the universe, each with their own particle that conveys them? Gravity, electromagnetism, strong nuclear force, and weak nuclear force? Plus mass, maybe?”
“And then spacetime is its own thing entirely but still interacts with the others?”
“Well, I think magic is a lot like that – there are a bunch of different kinds of metaphysical forces, all of which interact with each other and with the material plane,” she told me. “Holly is a brilliant girl, but I think she’s getting a bit ahead of herself – she’s looking at the energy of the soul as a grand unifying theory of magic, or something along the lines of that. A single connection between the material plane and the metaphysical planes, that can explain it all, or at least a lot of it. But I’m pretty sure it’s a lot more complicated.”
“I did get the impression it might be,” I agreed. “She made brief mention of illusions being connected to a psychic plane and the impression of thoughts, but didn’t really explain how that was different from the mind shaping a soul.”
“It’s pretty interconnected and not fully understood – I don’t know if even Arthur Peregrine really understands it all.” Anima commented. “This is getting a bit far afield though.”
“Mages of any stripe love talking about magic,” Canaveral interjected. “Get them talking about it and they won’t stop for hours – it’s something they all have in common.”
“Well of course they would! It’s fascinating! And besides, don’t you also use magic?” I asked him.
He frowned at me. “That’s a bit of a secret. Anyway, I’m not a mage – just a natural talent. I’ve never taken the time and effort to expand my one kinetic manipulation trick – I don’t have the right mindset for it.”
He waved a hand dismissively. “Like I said, I’m not a mage. Get Holly or Anima to explain it, they’d do a better job anyway.”
“The point,” Anima said, “is that my particular brand of magic involves the lifeforce of living creatures. I can drain that energy from others and deposit it elsewhere. I can mess with my own – or rather, my own plus whatever I’ve taken recently – and do interesting things with that as well.
“So yes, I can dump lifeforce into an object to bring it to life and control it. I can also burn it up to temporarily enhance my physical or mental abilities. I can give it to others, too, in order to heal them, which is what I meant to be getting at.”
“Hold on,” I interrupted. “We can come back to the healing. How do you get the lifeforce to work with? I mean, you said you were an absorber, right? That means you’re not just generating it, you have to get it from somewhere, just like Vulcan does. But he can step into a furnace or something, yours would have to come from living things… wouldn’t it?” The implications were… not all that pleasant.
“Well,” Anima said after a moment, “I do generate some of it. Part of my magic has resulting in me having than others to start with, and produce it faster, as a consequence of all the times I’ve drained myself and my body worked over time to produce more.. And when I’m on patrol I can drain people just enough to knock them out. But…” she sounded a little uncomfortable, and I felt bad about asking – it was obvious she didn’t like doing whatever it was, “yes, I do have to get it from somewhere when I need a lot. I, um. I go to animal shelters that have to put down animals, and drain them so that it’s painless. It…” She sounded choked up now, and I really wished I hadn’t asked. “I wish I didn’t have to, but…”
“I’m sorry,” I said quietly, then repeated a little louder, not sure if the microphones would have caught me. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked – that was obviously a sore spot and I should have known even before asking that it would be sensitive. I just…” Fuck, here I was screwing up my relationship with the team before I even joined!
“It’s okay,” she said after a moment. “Just.. the point was that as a healer, I feel obligated to help people. Heroes, ideally, because they’re the smallest group that makes the largest difference, at least in my estimation. So… yeah.”
Vulcan hadn’t had his turn yet. But my thoughtless question had stalled the conversation pretty effectively, and after a few minutes of awkward silence, I left.