Scene 18 – June 19th
Interior Convention Center, Continuous
Canaveral clapped me on the shoulder. “That one could have gone better,” he informed me, “but Rekha’s about as nice a person as politicians get.”
I sighed heavily as Anima and Zookeeper began to drift away. “Thanks, boss,” I said tiredly, already feeling worn out. “Any advice on handling this kind of big event?”
He tilted his head to the side a little. “Nice to know that you’re still willing to take my advice, after…”
I raised a brow, tilting my own head as well to signal it to him. “After what?”
“Well, after I misjudged your anxieties about this event. And after the thing in the car, too.”
“You’re still my mentor,” I reminded him, reaching up to pat him on the back. “Sure, we don’t agree about everything, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect you or that I don’t trust you to give me good advice. The occasional screw-up isn’t going to change that, not when you always try to do better the next time.”
It took Canaveral a moment to respond, and when he did it was by pulling me to his side in a half-hug. “You’re a good kid, Newton,” he whispered, sounding a little choked up.
I returned the hug for a moment before asking, “So… that advice?”
“Right.” He straightened and scratched the back of his head, putting his thoughts in order. “I think your best bet is to think of it as a game.”
“A game? What do you mean?”
“I think you mentioned once that you used to play Dungeons and Dragons, right?”
“I haven’t played since high school, but yeah,” I confirmed.
“And I’ve heard that you’re a pretty good impressionist, too. You’ve certainly got me down pat, judging from the security footage that Keeper showed me.”
I blushed under my cheeks and shifted uncomfortably, remembering the evening he must have been referring to – I had been playing a game of charades with the Journeymen and had been given ‘Cape Canaveral’ as a prompt. “It was in good fun?” I tried.
He laughed. “I know, I know! What I meant is that you should think of this kind of event as something like that. Remember Luke’s theory about heroic personas?”
I thought back to the meetings I had had with the MLED’s leading ‘strategic consultant’, a PR person’s term for ‘PR person’ if I had ever heard on. “Sure, I remember. A sort of character you play in costume, that the public will trust and also buy merchandise of.”
“Right,” Canaveral agreed, smirking at the merchandise comment. “What I suggest is drawing a mental line in between your civilian identity and Newton. It doesn’t have to be a thick line – it shouldn’t be, really, making a stark distinction causes problems of its own – but just enough that you can think of yourself as yourself, and of Newton as a mask, just as much as the actual mask you wear is.”
He gestured to the party. “All of this? This is something that you personally are uncomfortable with and are nervous about. Newton, on the other hand… Newton can be cool and confident in social situations. Newton can chat with unfamiliar people easily. Newton does do that, every time you comfort someone who’s been through a mugging or had to be rescued from a burning building. You are yourself. Newton is a character – and when you’re playing a character, you can hide behind them, a little bit.”
I nodded slowly. “I think I can do that. Thank you. Is that what you do?”
“It used to be,” he agreed, “back when I first started. Over time I got used to it – ‘we are who we pretend to be’, as Mark Twain said.”
“That was Kurt Vonnegut, actually.”
“Ah, close enough.”
We laughed, but were distracted yet again by a voice approaching from behind us. This time, however, it wasn’t a new voice.
“Canaveral!” Journey cried, shoving through the crowd. “The Round Table’s back!”
Scene 19 – June 19th
Interior Convention Center, Continuous
“Penelope Page” (Fancypants)
Sometimes I disliked being so loyal to the company that had saved my life. Various iterations of me had died for the Ambrosia Company so many times, falling in battle or sacrificing themselves to recreate a fallen hero as part of a trade or deal with the government. With the task I had been given, I was likely to join their number – but I didn’t have it in me to break away from my mission, to turn against those that I owed my life to.
At least, that was what I had thought when I was created and ordered to capture Loki from the East Coast DMO Convention. It was the largest collection of heroes for a thousand miles in any direction, and that wasn’t counting the even larger swarms of unaffiliated metahumans and even villains who would be in attendance. At least Aegis was in Antarctica right now – small mercies.
Fortunately for my survival prospects, my target didn’t seem to even be in residence, so I wouldn’t have to expose my presence – I could remain in the the guise of a waiter I had absorbed and shifted myself into. I had been eavesdropping on the New Champions as Newton met Maryland’s senators, and Newton had mentioned wanting to be at home with Loki. No point in me remaining here any longer.
Except… one of the Journeymen, the teleporter, had shown up and was telling Canaveral what little she knew about a situation unfolding back in New Venice, the reappearance of the Round Table. I knew a bit about them – another Legion had told me that they were one of the Ambrosia Company’s biggest targets at the moment. Each of the five members held a piece of the Mountain King’s Armor – which Madam Thornhill had wanted since before the company had even found me – and they also held a powerful power-amplifying artifact called Excalibur. Loki’s capture had been part of some plan to ultimately draw them out, although I didn’t know how.
Perhaps I could perform my mission more safely, I thought, still idly listening to Canaveral and Anima arguing over whether or not all four of the New Champions should return to New Venice or just a few, but how? Should I approach Canaveral in the guise of a hero attending the convention, offering to join them? There was no way that anyone could be familiar with every hero attending, after all. On the other hand, it would be tricky to find a place to shapeshift without someone seeing – again, the hoards of metahumans made it impossible to know what esoteric senses might be in play.
I could travel on my own, shifting into a flock of birds, but that would mean moving more slowly than the Champions themselves. If they arrived and drove the Round Table into hiding again, the attempt would be wasted. It they captured the villains, it would still be possible, but robbing the MLED was a tricky proposition. Not an impossible one, of course – versions of me had done so before – but not easily.
I could, I supposed, call on Canaveral’s last favor – he owed Ambrosia three, from the deal he had made when he purchased his power from the company. But it was a relatively small thing to ask, and I was reluctant to waste it – particularly after a version of me had already wasted his second favor.
The birds, I decided as Canaveral and Newton began rushing out of the building, Anima and Zookeeper remaining behind. It was the safest choice.
Scene 20 – June 19th
Exterior Highway, Late Evening
“Alright,” Canaveral said as the van began to speed off, the agent driving turning on a siren as we went. “The Round Table. What do we know?”
“Five people in medieval-style armor, wearing color-coded tabards and producing color-coded smoke,” I began. “Their names are… Dame Acumen, Dame Adamant, Sir Alacrity, Sir Amethyst, and… Sir Ardent, I think.”
He nodded. “That sounds right. Each seems to have one of the powers that the Mountain Kind had – invulnerability for Adamant, strength for Ardent, speed for Alacrity, and Terrakinesis for Amethyst.”
“That’s only four. What power does Acumen have?”
“…enhanced senses?” he speculated. “She saw through Loki’s illusory constructs, right?”
“Yeah. Seems like a decent guess, at least.”
“Their powers come from the armor they wear,” Canaveral continued. “Based on where they produce mist from, it’s the cape for Amethyst, the gauntlets for Ardent, the greaves for Alacrity, the breastplate for Adamant, and the helmet for Acumen. Now, most of that isn’t easy to disarm, but…”
“We could maybe pull off Amethyst’s cape, or Acumen’s helmet,” I said, nodded. “They’re the most dangerous of the group too, I think.”
“Acumen, not Alacrity? Superspeed should not be underestimated,” he pointed out. “Sir Ardent, too – strength is surprisingly versatile, if you’re creative with it.”
“Alacrity had speed, but not maneuverability,” I told him. “I don’t think he had the perception speed to use it to its fullest – Hypnos was able to dodge him with precog, but that wouldn’t have been enough on a real speedster.”
Canaveral nodded slowly. “They’re splitting up parts of a set – if that perception speed is part of the helm’s powers rather than the greaves’ speed… that would seem to support the enhanced senses theory.”
“That’s what I was thinking. As for Ardent, well… I wasn’t up against him myself, but from what Sequoia said I don’t think he was all that creative about it. Acumen, though? She was the leader, and she was smart, too,” I explained. “I’ve seen how much a good leader can contribute even without actually taking the field – I’m not counting her out just because her powers don’t seem that great on their own. Besides,” I added, “Holly said that she had at least some magical skill.”
“Hmm. Narrow mage or broad mage?”
“Not sure. She did some transmutation – I think that’s what Holly called it – which she implied only worked on objects, but she’s also presumably responsible for the stealth effect they used to escape…” I shrugged. “Hard to say.”
“So, unknown capabilities.” Canaveral sighed. “Better to overestimate her than underestimate her, then. A broad mage and the leader… she should be our first priority, and Amethyst second.”
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.