1.1. Intermission (Scenes 1-2)

Scene 1 – Eight Months Ago
Interior High Stakes Bar, Evening
Miriam Wright

Abe stared at the Magnificent Maxwell, matching gazes, refusing to back down. He wouldn’t lose this time, not again.

Max smirked. “Scared, Abe?”

“Not even a little,” he said, matching the magician smirk for smirk. “Let’s do this.”

They simultaneously picked up their glasses and downed them.

“How long has this been going on?” I asked, having only just arrived.

“Hey Miriam,” Ben said with a sigh. “It’s been almost ten minutes. They just keep staring each other down and flirting with each other between the drinks, it’s kind of nauseating.”

“Who got them started?”

Ben pointed at Emilia. She shrugged, clearly unrepentant. “Max downed his whole beer after he sat down, and I asked if they broke up because Abe couldn’t keep up with his drinking. Then…” She laughed, the statuesque woman’s voice like silver bells tinkling. “Ben may find it nauseating, but I think it’s adorable.”

“I think it’s great that they’re still friends even after breaking up,” commented Allesandra from where she sat in her girlfriend’s lap. She smiled up at me. “How are you, Miri?”

“You think everything is great,” I teased her as I took a seat. “I’m doing well, thanks for asking. How about you two?”

“I’m great!” came the immediate response, and everyone laughed. Except for Max and Abe, of course, who were still engrossed in what passed for a drinking contest between the two competitive men.

“And you, Maria?”

Maria, simply shrugged. She was a lot quieter than Essa, usually speaking up only to offer the occasional snarky comment.

I couldn’t help but smile, seeing all my friends gathered together. It was an odd little circle, considering that half of them were supervillains and the other half were superheroes, and she knew that Director Shepard had never understood it – on the other end of things, Essa often complained about other villains who didn’t get it either.

But it was good to have contacts on the other side, as I always said in defense. Not only was it possible to pick up useful information from them, it helped keep things less lethal when they had to come to blows.

Besides, I had known Essa since college, and I wasn’t going to lose the friendship of a ray of sunshine like her just because she broke the law on a regular basis. And hey, I had gotten into the hero business to help people, not to enforce the law, and it was undeniable that things had gotten better for sex workers in New Venice since the Crows had taken over the entire market and taken strict measures to ensure their safety. Not to mention how much regulation they’d brought to gambling houses.

“Do you think they know that they’re both cheating?” I quietly asked Maria.

The slim woman nodded. “I think that’s half the point,” she murmured. “They should really just get back together again, we all know they want to.”

“Oh no they shouldn’t!” Emilia objected. “You know I have my eye on…” she trailed off, glancing between the two men as they chugged yet another set of glasses, and bit her lip. “On one of them, at least. I don’t really care which.”

“Why not both?” Essa suggested.

The shape-shifting heroine smiled. “You might have the right idea there…”

Scene 2 – Two Months Ago
Bellini Archives, Late Evening
Maxwell Copperfield

I was inconspicuously clad in simply a hoodie and sweatpants tonight, and for once I wasn’t wearing the usual facial glamour that showed my true beauty to the world, instead reluctantly showing the bland face that I was born with. No one would associate the average-looking man hiding his shape with the glory that was The Magnificent Maxwell.

It wasn’t something I liked doing – I normally kept up the glamour even when I was in civilian guise, and I had nothing to be ashamed of when it came to my body. But tonight I was trying to be stealthy. You might think that stealth goes against my nature as a magician, but you’d be wrong. After all, slight of hand is the cornerstone of everything we do – and that’s what tonight was all about.

I had hired an old friend of mine from my stage days to pose as me for the night, applying the glamour to him instead of me and lending him one of my suits so that he was indistinguishable from me. Dave was currently performing his usual act downtown, very visibly. The MLED would be bound to have their eyes on him, worrying about what I was intending, and wouldn’t be paying attention to the Archives at all. Classic misdirection.

It would most likely reveal that I had command of some illusion magic as well as the dimensional pockets I was known to use, but in truth it wasn’t much of a loss. The only illusion spell I knew was the one which produced my true appearance, and I hadn’t yet been lucky enough to have come across texts on further illusory magic. The dimensional pockets I tapped into came much more easily to me – in fact, I was on the trail of how to add kinetic energy to objects when I summoned them back into the world, and I had high hopes that that discovery could lead in the direction of manipulating kinetic energy without pulling things into a pocket dimension. If I could do that, I would have nothing to worry about from my stupidly handsome boyfriend –

But I digress.

I was inconspicuously clad as I approached the Archives. They were closed at this time, but the front windows were glass, which meant that the lock was no obstacle to me despite counting as part of the building to my dimensional magic and thus being out of the mass range of my pockets.

For now. I was working on it – the limitation that kept me from pocketing only parts of objects was a stubborn one, and I had made no progress yet on breaking it. I was sure I would at some point, but so far it had been far easier to improve the range of mass that I could store. In the last year alone I had gone from being able to pocket anything less than a metric ton, to up to two and a half tons at once, with my total mass limit across all pockets being the same, and I saw no reason to expect the improvement not to continue.

In any case, it was good that the windows were glass. I could have picked the lock, obviously, but while my lockpicking skill was excellent, as all my abilities were, it was perhaps a little less excellent. And besides, there could be an alarm on it. But since the windows were glass, I could simply peer through and teleport inside.

Well, it’s not teleportation, exactly – I open a dimensional pocket where I’m standing while opening it where I’m looking, and am immediately spit out on the other end. Proper teleportation wouldn’t require me to see the target, would be instantaneous instead of taking about a second, and would be able to cover any distance instead of being limited to the range that I can open pockets, which is still only about 45 feet. My range is improving, of course, but it’s good enough for theater.

I found myself inside, and with a sigh of relief, I pocketed my current outfit while simultaneously releasing my suit, and was dressed as I should be. I took a deep breath in preparation for the illusion – as I said, it doesn’t come to me quite as naturally as dimensional magic does – and apply my glamour.

Finally, myself again.

I opened a few pockets around me and allowed a faint tracing of stage haze to leak through as I began to make my way through the building. The information I had received on my target indicated that there were laser wires in the lower levels, and contrary to what Hollywood would have you believe, lasers aren’t visible to the naked eye. Stage haze would show them without blocking their receivers, and being forewarned, I could simply teleport through. The security cameras, meanwhile, would…

Damn it, I always forgot about something!

Well, it would take some time for Vulcan, who should be on patrol tonight, to get to the Archives from where he was likely watching my decoy – he didn’t have great speed. Plus, he had only graduated from the Journeymen to the New Champions a few weeks ago – he should be no trouble to evade even after he arrived.

It only took me a few minutes to get to where I was going. After all, I wasn’t going to the boring layers of the Archive that were deeper down, where they stored the things that were too valuable to display openly in the Higgins Museum – I was just going to the first sub-basement, which held books that were of little interest to any but the most avid researchers.

Which, for this particular book, included me.

My target was a thesis called Ancient English Magicians: Tracking Their Artifacts Through History, which had been written a few decades ago by some historian called Mark H. Dallas. It did exactly what it claimed to – tracked magical artifacts created by ancient English magicians like Merlin and the Raven King to discover where they had ended up in the modern day. The particular artifact that I was interested in was a book that had supposedly been written by Merlin as an introductory text to magic of all kinds. I was quite skilled with my dimensional pockets, but there were so many types of magic and ways to cast it that it would take a century to expand my knowledge if that was my only starting point, even if my hopes of learning kinetic manipulation bore fruit. Something as simple as a broad introductory text could jump my studies ahead by decades.

I hate Arthur Peregrine above all other men in the world. He had been lucky enough to start with healing magic when he began learning, and had stumbled upon a type of ageless immortality early on in his career. Over the last two centuries he’s amassed enough magical knowledge to make him the greatest mage since Merlin himself, or so the man claims. But did he shared his magical knowledge as Merlin did? No.

He did share his healing power, I had to admit, and the man was without a doubt the greatest healer in the world. The one day a week that he appears in Peregrine Hospital and heals every man, woman, and child within its walls of all that ails them has saved countless lives since he began the practice, almost fifty years ago now. But how many more might have been saved if he spent another one day a week teaching his mastery of healing magic?

But I digress.

I had pocketed the thesis with little difficulty – I had ended up having to pick a lock after all, as it was locked in a cabinet, but it had been a rather simple lock – and made my way back upstairs to an unpleasant surprise.

“Words cannot possibly express how disappointed I am in you, Max,” said my boyfriend. “Not only are you stealing, not only did you seem to expect me to be fooled by such a transparent ruse as simply placing a doppelganger on the other side of the city, but you missed your date with Emilia last night!”

I sighed. “What are you doing here, Abe? I thought Vulcan was supposed to be patrolling tonight.”

“I’m covering his shift, obviously – he has a date that he isn’t missing. And you have a date too – with Chief Harrison.”

I rolled my eyes. “Hugo Harrison couldn’t get a date with me if he offered me Arthur Peregrine’s head on a platter. I’m way out of his league.”

Abe shrugged. “You’re the one who decided to break into the Archives.”

“They’re the ones who set up a system that kept me from accessing this thesis legitimately! Just because I don’t have a degree they consider connected to the damn thing -” I started.

He sighed. “I’m not in the mood for this right now, Max, and I’ve heard all your spiels before. Just put it back, and come back home to us. To me.”

“…this is the same thing that broke us up last time, Abe. And you know that I haven’t changed.”

“…maybe it was a bad idea to try again.”

“…maybe. At least we had another six months of bliss.”

Abe laughed. “Bliss might be understating it!” We both grinned at each other, thinking of nights out, with and without Emilia. And, of course, of nights in, with and without Emilia…

And then I summoned a sandbag over his head and he launched himself at me with the force of an oncoming car.

Relationships are hard.

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1.1. Scenes 22-23

Scene 22 – October 16th
Exterior Docks, Night
Quinn Kaufman

After an instant that felt like weeks, the world holding its breath as I stared down the barrel of a gun, a sigh came from behind the buyer.

“You know,” said a new voice, “I really thought you guys could handle this.” The sound of snapping fingers, and the woman’s gun vanished in a twist of smoke. “I’m glad I kept an eye out after all. You should be ashamed of yourself, Canaveral, bringing an untrained Journeyman into something like this.”

The buyer whirled on the newcomer as Canaveral and I turned our attention his way. He was a slender man in a well-tailored tuxedo, blood red and shining white. A red domino mask hid his identity without hiding his good looks, and he was toying with a top hat in one hand.

“Of course it’s you,” the buyer sneered. “What is it with our patrons getting in the way tonight? Is Starling going to show up next? Has Brewer sabotaged our purchase?”

The magician-looking man shrugged. “If you don’t want me interfering, you could offer me something in return. Or simply not conduct your business on my doorstep.” He smiled at Canaveral. “Hey Navi.”

The hero grinned back. “Max. Does this mean that you were the one who called in with that anonymous tip?”

I recognized the newcomer now, after Canaveral called him by his name. It was the Magnificent Maxwell, a local villain who themed himself after a stage magician, performing magically-enhanced tricks of prestidigitation and misdirection to commit his crimes – mostly theft, mostly from museums. Why was he helping us?

“Yeah, that was me,” Maxwell agreed. “These assholes were literally setting up a drug deal right outside my current hideout. I really don’t know what they expected.”

“Excuse me,” said the buyer in an icy voice, “I’m still here.” She reached into her jacket and pulled out another pistol, even larger than the other one, and pointed it at Max. How the hell had that fit in there?

He just snapped his fingers again and the second gun vanished as easily as the first. “Why did you think it would work the second time if it didn’t work the first?” he asked. “I mean, it’s not like equality does anything to me.”

“It’s a bit of an inconvenience for my friend here, though,” Canaveral said, inclining his head towards me. “Would you mind?”

“Not at all.” The magician made a wide, sweeping gesture, and the faint rainbow tint that the mist had added to the world vanished – I felt my ESP return with a momentary lance of pain to the back of my skull, as my brain readjusted to having an extra sensory input. “And since I’m feeling generous…” He swept his arm the other way, and all the fallen thugs were suddenly bound up in chains that coalesced out of thin air, as was the woman who had led the buyers.

“You’ll pay for this, Maxwell Copperfield,” she warned, glaring at the man. “Ambrosia won’t take this kind of interference lying down. You-” She was cut off by the sudden appearance of a gag across her mouth. Who was Ambrosia? I made a note to look it up later.

“Thank you, Max,” Canaveral said, walking over to the man. “It’s always nice to have you helping instead of hindering. Have you reconsidered joining the good guys?”

“Have the MLED expanded their library of magical knowledge?”

“Well…”

“Then no.” He gave an apologetic shrug. “You gotta do what you gotta do.”

“Um…” They both turned to face me.

“Ah yes. Max, this is a recently-empowered metahuman, currently using the nomme-de-guerre of Newton,” Canaveral said, introducing me. “They’re considering their options for when they register with the MLED, and are currently taking advantage of the vigilante rules to get a taste of heroing.” I hadn’t realized there were such rules, actually – I had just trusted that Canaveral knew what he was doing. “Newton, this is Maxwell-”

“The Magnificent Maxwell,” the Magnificent Maxwell interjected.

“-the Magnificent Maxwell, a petty thief.”

He crossed his arms. “A petty thief? I take offense, Navi.”

The hero shrugged. “If the shoe fits, wear it. You’re a thief, Max. Accept it.”

“I’m an artist,” he insisted. “Thievery is simply a necessity in my line of work.”

“Arthur Peregrine doesn’t need to steal.”

“Men like Arthur Peregrine hoarding all the magical texts is exactly the problem-”

“I hate to interrupt,” I said sarcastically, “but shouldn’t we be arresting you right now?”

“Ah, my sidekick brings up a good point.”

“Not your sidekick,” I muttered.

He flapped a hand dismissively. “Have you done anything tonight that I need to arrest you for?”

“Not in your sight, at least.”

“I didn’t think so.”

“Then I’ll be off, while you explain to the new kid what’s what.” He tipped his hat to Canaveral respectfully.

“Hold on! The keys to those chains?” the hero requested.

“Ah yes.” Maxwell dropped a keyring into his hand. “Terribly sorry, completely slipped my mind.” He then produced a large black sheet from within the jacket of his tuxedo and tossed it into the air. It obscured him from view as it fell, and when it hit the ground he was gone. A moment later, the sheet simply evaporated as well.

Scene 23 – October 16th
Exterior Docks, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

“Well, that could have gone better,” Canaveral sighed.

“Yeah, I got a gun pointed at my head,” I complained. “And you just let a supervillain get away!”

He shrugged. “That bit wasn’t as bad as you think, really. If Max hadn’t shown up, I would have let them leave and they’d just get picked up by the police that are surrounding this area. Speaking of which…” He pressed a hand to one of his cowl’s fins. “Send them in, please. As for Max, well… there are parts of this whole thing that a lot of people don’t realize.”

“Such as?”

“First off, there are supervillains and then there are supervillains,” he said. “Not everyone is an insane murderer like Cobalt Red or Graviton. Hell, not everyone is an incidental killer like Motael or Voltage. In fact, most villains try to avoid killing – particularly in New Venice, where the Mountain King redefined the rules of engagement back when he was active.

“Second has to do with secret identities. See, the MLED knows a decent number of villains’ identities,” the hero explained, “but we don’t make use of that information. Because there are also villains who know heroes’ identities – DMO servers aren’t as secure as they like to pretend, unfortunately – and there’s a truce of sorts to leave those secret identities out of the whole hero-villain business. If we go after them in their identities, they’ll come after us and our families, and vice versa.”

“Mutually assured destruction,” I commented as police officers began appearing and arresting various chained up thugs. One of them approached Canaveral and took custody of the keys that Maxwell had left.

“Exactly.”

“I guess I can see why Max might not be a high priority, if he’s no killer,” I ventured, “but he was right there!”

“I was getting to that. See, the other reason that identities are off limits is that there are so many shapeshifters, illusionists, roboticists, cloners, and the like out there.” He sighed. “And while it’s not exactly likely, it’s happened enough that someone thought to be committing a crime was actually being impersonated that any competent lawyer can get a case thrown out, if the arrest is only based on identity. Even between different appearances of the same costumed persona.”

“So…” I considered this for a moment. “Are you saying that you can’t arrest Maxwell because you didn’t actually see him commit a crime?” I asked. “And if you arrested him for previous crimes, his lawyer would argue that they were the work of an imposter?”

“That’s essentially it, yeah,” the hero confirmed. “It’s a pain, I know, but it’s the way it works. It’s pretty much impossible to connect different appearances of a costumed person in a way that stands up legally without using their actual identity. So even though I know that, say, Max stole a book on ancient English magical artifacts last month – even though I was there and saw him do it,” he complained, “I can’t arrest Max for it tonight, because it could have been an imposter back then.”

“…that seems kind of stupid and contrived.”

Canaveral sighed heavily. “Tell me about it, kid. I don’t mind all that much for Max – he’s not actually a bad person even if he’s a thief – but for some people…” he shook his head. “Anyway. The point of all that is that the MLED – which loves ranking people in fours, by some reason – has created a four-tiered system for how to respond to supervillains. Basically, it ranks people by threat level – low, medium, high, plus a null ranking for vigilantes – and gives guidelines on how to respond to people on each level.

“Max is ranked as a low threat despite his power and skill, because he makes an effort to be non-lethal – more than that, to not even really harm anyone. Since he’s ranked low, I ignore what I know of his identity and let him go, unless he’s committing a crime in front of me or I have reason to believe that he’s about to.”

“So he didn’t break the law tonight,” I said, working it out, “and he’s obviously about to go and move his hideout, so you don’t try to take him in.”

Canaveral stared at me. “Yeah, basically. Move his hideout?”

“He mentioned that the drug deal was happening right outside his hideout, and that’s why he sent in an anonymous tip,” I defended my reasoning. “That narrows his location down to just these four buildings here. He knows you know that now, so he’s probably going to move – it’s not like it’ll be much of a problem for him if he can teleport like that.”

“Well reasoned, kid,” the hero said after a moment. “Mazel tov.” I blushed at the praise, and found myself grateful for the mask that hid my face from my hero. “But honestly, I know Max pretty well. He’s probably not going to bother to move.”

“What would move Maxwell up the threat ranking?” I smirked. “If he started to act intelligently, and moved his hideout?”

Canaveral chuckled for a moment, before telling me, “If he started to kill or seriously injure heroes or civilians, that would automatically take him up to mid threat. His hammerspace magic is potentially very dangerous, especially since he’s recently expanded into teleportation, so he might even be bumped to high threat.”

“Is the only difference between mid and high how actively dangerous they are?” I asked, “with low being people who stick to non-lethal regardless of potential danger?”

“It’s all about expected danger, at least theoretically,” he said. “In low, serious injury or death is considered unlikely, whether because of a lack of power on their part or because of a lack of intent. In mid, it’s considered a strong possibility. In high, it’s considered nearly a guarantee.”

“That’s… not a lot of gradation.”

Canaveral shrugged. “Take it up with Director Shepard. I didn’t design the system – I complain about it for the same reason, actually. Same for the power classification system.”

“What’s that like?”

He glanced at his wrist for a moment, then at the police officers – they had finished carting away the subdued gangsters, and now seemed to be waiting for us to finish talking. “You know what? My patrol is nearly finished, and the officers here need to get our statements on this fight down before you can head home and I can head back to the MLED Compound for another debrief there. Why don’t you come around to the Compound in a few days, when I’m on-call instead of patrolling, and I can answer more questions then? I’ll introduce you to the Journeymen and any other members of the Champions that are around. That way you can see who you might be working with if you decide to register as a hero, and get more testimonials than just mine.”

I tilted my head at him. “You really think I’m still considering being a hero after having a gun pointed at me the first time I ever go out in costume?”

He gazed at me appraisingly. “Yes, I think you are. Are you?”

“… enough that I’m tempted to take you up on the offer of introductions for more reasons than just fangirling over Anima,” I admitted.

Canaveral wore an odd expression in response to my joke, but after a moment he said, “then come on out. Worst case scenario, you don’t like what you hear, and you decide to register with either the MED or MMD. Or just the DMO generally, I suppose, if you’re not going to use your powers in your career.”

I thought about it for a moment. It wasn’t a difficult decision, though, as it wasn’t exactly final. It shouldn’t even require me to make my decision when I came in, since I still had almost the entire one-month grace period. “I’ll have to check my schedule,” and talk to my dad about this crazy night, “but I should be able to. What would be the best time?”

“Well…”

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1.1. Scene 21

Scene 21 – October 15th
Exterior City, Night
Abraham Armstrong

It wasn’t too long before the two metahumans reached the dock where the sale was meant to be going down, and I took a moment to brief Newton on the situation. After a moment of levity that I had to struggle not to laugh at – I was a jokester too, yes, but I knew when to be serious, and briefings were one of those times – Newton asked good questions and, in my opinion, continued to show themself to be insightful and a prime prospect for heroism.

As they waited and I continued to share information with the kid, I kept an eye on the street below. It was dark, sure – all the streetlights in this area of the docks were “mysteriously” dark – but my mask included night vision. It was a necessity for anyone who wanted to leap between buildings at night, as streetlights didn’t send much light in that direction – I idly wondered whether Newton’s suit included night vision, or if their ESP was serving that role. Either way, it clearly worked.

Eventually the buyers arrived, and I sent Newton to flank them – it would serve the dual purpose of keeping the kid out of the fight initially and making people think twice about running away. Personally, I simply flipped over the edge of the building and, with a simple twist of kinetic force, landed softly on my feet.

“Bit late for a walk, isn’t it?” I asked, calling everyone’s attention to him while Newton propelled themself over the oblivious gangsters’ heads. As I approached the mob, I casually rested my hands on my belt – it had been designed by Starling, the New Champions’ resident gadgeteer, and the expanded space within its hidden pockets contained a wide variety of tricks that I wanted close at hand, depending on how the BB responded.

“Canaveral,” the apparent leader of the Buff Boys said in a tone that sounded halfway between anger and exhaustion. “You’ll forget what you saw here if you know what’s good for you.”

“I’m afraid that reliable sources tell me I don’t know what’s good for me!” I said, quoting Miriam. Regulations said to keep off the comm line during combat situations, but I knew she would be gritting her teeth. I grinned at the thought.

“You really don’t know what you’re stepping into the middle of here,” said the lead buyer, a 30-something woman in a tailored suit. I glanced at her, making sure to hold my gaze long enough that Anima would be able to snag an image of the woman from the camera feed in the fin atop my head. “Walk away.”

I sighed. “You criminal types never come up with anything new,” I commented, palming a handful of ball bearings from my belt in preparation. “It’s always either ‘leave if you know what’s good for you,’ ‘you don’t understand the full picture’, ‘I’ll give you a cut if you keep your mouth shut,’ or ‘hey, it’s that hero guy! Get him!’ Just once, once, I’d like it if you did something new. I don’t really care what.” I was stalling, making sure that Newton was ready for what was about to happen, which, from what I could see through the crowd of angry thugs, they seemed to be. It was hard to tell, though – sure, I was probably an inch or two taller than most of the the thugs, but the kid was almost half a foot shorter then any of them. “I guess I’ll keep up my end of the script,” I continued. “You’re all under arrest.”

“Get him!” roared the same Buff Boy who had spoken earlier, and most of the thugs rushed me. The rest, Canaveral was glad to note, weren’t going for Newton, who remained unnoticed – rather, they were simply hanging back so as not to get in each other’s way. With the exception of the leader of the buyers, at least – she was hanging back, but clearly wasn’t looking to join in the melee, simply observing.

A flick of the wrist and a mental twist, and the ball bearings I had palmed accelerated to several hundred miles per hour, cracking into gangsters’ shins, knees, and stomachs. All of the ones who had rushed me were sent to their knees, whether by the force or the pain – I had gotten quite good at that trick, and it was really amazing that so many thugs still fell for it every time.

With so many of them on the ground I now had a better view of Newton, who hadn’t moved yet – combat could be startling if you’d never been in it before, I admitted to myself. “Oh, and just so you know, it’s ‘bring your sidekick to work day’ today!” I called, trying to jolt them out of their paralyzed state before they were noticed and attacked. “Feel free to join in any time, Newton!”

They started moving at that, and with a flick of their fingers and a momentary stumble to the side, knocked the leader of the buyers off of her feet. “Your sidekick? Doesn’t that imply a preexisting relationship? We met barely three hours ago!”

“Well, I’m taking it on myself to mentor you,” I pointed out, “at least for tonight. You’re not experienced enough to qualify as a partner. You’re not a civilian. If the shoe fits, wear it.” As I spoke, I knelt and began cuffing groaning thugs – it would be a few seconds before those that were still up to a fight would be able to catch their breath and stand, and those who hadn’t rushed him were running – again, minus the leader of the buyers – so I had a moment. Over my earpiece he heard Anima calmly warning the police forces who had the area surrounded about the runners – typically they would have handled the bust too, but with the BB there was always the possibility of metahumans and power drugs being used, so the MLED had been called in and Canaveral sent in to handle the situation.

I had to stop subduing downed thugs when two of them managed to simultaneously get to their feet and produce vials of brawn. “I’ve got this, Newton,” I warned, producing a length of chain from another expanded pocket in his belt and advancing on the thugs. “Make sure none of the others get up.” Their telekinesis should be able to handle that without any trouble.

I twisted the kinetic force within the chain as I struck out at one of the thugs, causing it to shift at the last moment to wrap around the man’s feeble attempt at a guard. His mistake – the touch-range of my kinetic manipulation abilities extended partially through connected objects, and the wrapped chain counted enough that it took only a tug and a slight magnifying twist of energies to send the thug to his knees despite his currently-enhanced strength.

I didn’t have time to gloat though, as the other was boosted too, and the speed-boosting effect of brawn was already allowing them to respond to the swift takedown. It wasn’t a complicated response, just a quick punch, but the Buff Boys weren’t exactly known for their creativity. On the other hand, it would be too strong to block or even parry safely. Simple wasn’t bad, necessarily.

A twist of power and the chain unwrapped from around the first thug’s arms as I dodged to the side, instead looping around the second gangster’s waist. I then twisted once more, shifting the man’s kinetic energy so that the punch overextended and he had to step forward to avoid falling.

In the moment before the thug’s foot landed, I tugged on the chain, another twist causing none of the energy to transfer to the thug but all to me, pulling myself off my feet and towards the man at high speed. I body-slammed the boosted gangster with the force of a car, knocking him to the ground just like the other. I myself rolled over the gangster and landed on my feet.

Both thugs were now on the ground, but even now the first was beginning to rise – it was tough to put down someone on brawn, at least for more than a moment. The combination of toughness from mond and speed from axel was dangerous.

I released my chain with a flick of my wrist, twisting its energy as I did so to cause it to wrap around my target’s legs and arms as well as his waist. I then kicked the fallen thug, launching him a few feet into the legs of the rising one to knock him over once more.

It was at that moment that I heard the sharp sound of glass breaking. I turned to see the buyer lying on her back with one hand in the air, an iridescent rainbow cloud of mist hovering around that hand. She grinned from where she lay, and the mist swiftly expanded across the street until all that could be seen of it was a faint tinge to the air – an extra rainbow reflection to the world.

“Fuck,” I swore, my eyes flicking to Newton, unsure how she – they – would be affected. “Where did you get equality, lady?” Equality was one of the oldest, rarest, and most dangerous power drugs. It could be absorbed through the skin, penetrated through cloth, and took effect almost immediately. Anyone with a metahuman power that had any basis in their own biology would be unable to use it for as long as the drug lasted, their nervous system no longer able to handle nonstandard signals. Those whose powers were based in magic, such as mine were, would be unaffected, and so were some of those whose powers were cosmic, but not all.

“I told you you don’t know what you’re stepping into,” the buyer sneered as she rose, brushing shards of glass that must have come from the shattered vial of equality off of her gloves. She then produced a sizable handgun and pointed it at Newton. “Leave, Canaveral. Or I’ll have to do something to your sidekick that I’d rather not.”

Both Newton and I raised our hands, and I began moving towards the kid. My kinetic power could let me deflect bullets that struck him, if I was ready for it, and if she didn’t know that my power was still available then she might allow me to step in front – a gun like that gun would easily punch through me and into Newton, if not for my power. “Let’s not be hasty,” I said, trying to stall until I could get in front of the kid.

“Ah ah ah! Stay away from the boy,” she warned.

“They’re nonbinary, actually,” I started.

“Whatever. Stay away from them. I know that your powers are magical and equality doesn’t do shit to you – you’re not stepping in front of this gun.”

“…how the hell did you know that.” Only one group knew that my powers were magical, as far as I knew.

“The same way I got a vial of equality,” she teased. “Now then. You’re going to turn around and leave. These boys and I are going to go our separate ways. And your new friend is going to live. Sound good?”

That was a very bad sign, I thought, as unfortunately her claim added up. The Ambrosia Company was definitely able to procure equality.

“Do it,” Anima hissed in my ear. “The police can pick them up as they try to leave. Do not endanger that kid’s life any more than you already have!” I had to concur – it pained me to let someone like this woman walk even for a moment, but I had no choice.

Newton tilted their head towards me. “What were you saying about how it would be perfectly safe for me to join you?”

“I don’t think I ever put it in quite those words,” I protested. “I think I said something along the lines of ‘experience is the best teacher’.”

“And what am I supposed to be learning from having a gun pointed at my head?”

I shrugged. “What’s it’s like to have a gun pointed at your head, I guess.”

“It won’t be the last time, if you continue on this path,” the buyer commented. “So, heroes? What will it be?”

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1.1. Scenes 17-20

Scene 17 – October 15th
Interior MLED Compound, Evening
Abraham Armstrong

“Ready to go, Canaveral?” came the warm voice of Miriam Wright over his earpiece as I changed into my costume.

I pulled on my other glove, flexing my fingers to get it settled properly before I answered. “I’m ready, Anima,” I responded. “What have we got tonight?”

“Anything you see on patrol, as usual,” she told me. “We also have two things for you to check out in particular. One is that tip-off about the Buff Boys making a large sale around midnight – the other just came in, a security guard reporting a metahuman making a ruckus in the junkyard that he’s patrolling. Sending both locations to your heads-up display now.”

“Thanks,” I said, glancing at the miniature map of the city that hovered at one corner of my vision – the lenses of my mask added a number of useful details to my field of view. “Any details on the junkyard meta?”

“They’ve been mostly tossing around the junk, apparently. No hostile actions towards the security guard – although he said that he hiding in the booth, so he may not have been noticed. His description doesn’t match any metas we currently know of, though. Shortish, full-body costume, wearing a flannel shirt over it.”

“Probably a new meta testing out their powers. That description sounds like a homemade costume.”

“Probably, but don’t take any chances,” she warned.

I grinned. “What’s life without taking a few chances?” he asked.

The response that came through the commlink was a sigh. “You don’t know what’s good for you, Abe.”

“Hey! I’m in costume,” I scolded. “You never know when someone might be hacking the comms lines, right?” I struggled to hold back a laugh as I continued, “no sense taking chances!” Another sigh from the motherly woman. “Seriously though, I’m sure it’ll be fine. Powers testing in a junkyard at night? This is not a person who wants to hurt people.”

“Probably.”

“And, just to confirm, I’m not waiting on one of the Journeymen tonight?”

“Not tonight,” Anima agreed. “Its Hypnos’ night for patrol, but since he’s excused from patrols where combat is expected, I have him on console with me. Say hello, Nic.”

“Hello, Nic,” a deep, tired voice commented.

“Hey kid,” I said. “How you doing?”

“…”

“Great to hear it.” I stretched, pulling my arms behind my back and bending backwards until my palms touched the floor, then rose again. “Alright, no sense in waiting for Starling and Loki to get back when we don’t know how long junkyard kid will be there. I’m heading out a few minutes early.”
“Understood.”

Scene 18 – October 15th
Exterior Junkyard, Late Evening
Abraham Armstrong

I had to pause briefly to stop a mugging on my way to the junkyard, but I still arrived in good time. “Doesn’t look like they’re here anymore,” I commented. “I’m going to check in with the security guard.” I focused my power as I hopped off the edge and fell towards the ground, leeching away my energy at the last moment to slow my fall so that I landed silently. Unlike most telekinetics, I could affect myself, which allowed me to do fun tricks like… well, like that.

“Canaveral!” cried the guard as he landed. A middle-aged man, somewhat overweight and beginning to go bald – no wonder he hadn’t challenged the intruding meta, I thought, then immediately felt guilty for thinking. “Thank god you’re here! She just left.” He pointed eastward. “That way,” he added, unnecessarily.

“Of course,” I assured him. “We of the New Champions take these kinds of reports very seriously. I’ll follow the meta in just a moment, but first, can you give any more details about what you saw?”

A few minutes later, I returned to the skyline. The guard had described the meta moving erratically and throwing things around without touching them – some sort of telekinesis, likely not entirely under control, I concluded, and Anima agreed over console.

“I just hope I’m able to catch up with her,” I muttered to myself more than her. “I know getting these briefings from the witnesses helps, but it’s so slow.”

“Fortunately,” came Nic’s voice in his ear, “I projected out there to find the meta while you were talking to the guard.” After an experimental magical operation to cure his degenerating hearing when he was younger, Niccolo Mellas’s senses had been spatially disconnected from his body. He could project the point that he saw and heard from at high speeds, and still report back from his own body. “As of about thirty seconds ago, she was at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Grossman Street, heading east.”

I grinned. “Thanks, Hypnos,” I said, and launched myself onwards.

Scene 19 – October 15th
Exterior City, Continuous
Abraham Armstrong

It was only a few moments later that I caught up to her, and I paused briefly on a rooftop to get a good look before dropping in. “I can confirm the guard’s description,” I said. “Looks like she’s somewhere between 5’ and 5’6”, maybe on the taller end of that range, dark-colored bodysuit including a full face mask, wearing a plaid shirt. I’m going to go say hello.” I stood and called, “Hello there!” as I spoke – in my experience, people could tell when you smiled while speaking to them, and responded better to it. I had chosen to leave my chin exposed in my costume for much the same reason.

The costumed figure below froze the moment I stood, almost before I had spoken. “What brings you out so late on this fine evening?”

“Canaveral?!?” came the incredulous response. A deeper voice than I would have expected from a shortish woman, I couldn’t help but note.

I saluted, again deliberately projecting a friendly, irreverent demeanor – not that I wasn’t friendly and irreverent, of course – and leapt down to land in front of her. “That’s me,” I confirmed, smiling.

From up close, I could see more details of the meta’s costume. It clearly wasn’t homemade, as I had guessed at first – a pair of white boots were clearly crafted of some sort of tough, armor-like plastic, as were the gauntlets that were mostly covered by the plaid. The darkness of the bodysuit wasn’t completely black, from up close – it bore an faint, irregular pattern in purple, although I wasn’t sure of what. It definitely wasn’t just painted on, though – it almost looked like it was floating within the fabric.

“I have a poster of you in my bedroom!” she cried.

I chuckled. Yeah, this was no villain in the making. Villains didn’t idolize heroes. Well, they usually didn’t. I lifted a hand to one of my cowl’s fins as though touching a button, to signal to the kid that I was speaking to Anima, and said, “I don’t think she’s a threat, console.”

“Understood,” my fellow hero confirmed.

“What’s your name, young lady?” I asked the young meta, dropping my hand back to where it had been resting on my hip. “And what were you doing in the junkyard? Powers testing, right?”

“I’m not a lady. They/them pronouns,” the kid said.

“Apologies,” I told them, guilt writhing in my chest for a moment. I screwed up Loki’s pronouns on occasion too, and it always left me feeling like a shit, accident or not – I hoped that they would let it pass. Best to just continue, I decided. “My questions still stand, though. What’s your name, kid?”

It was a few seconds before they answered – probably trying to think of a name. I remembered that giddy time just after getting his powers, and not being able to come up with a name for a while. “Call me Newton for now, sir,” she said after a moment.

I decided to chuckle again. “I’m no sir,” I told her. “Just Canaveral is fine. Or Navi, if you’re feeling up to it,” I offered. “It’s what most of the Champions call me, since four syllables is a bit long.”

“Since when?” asked Nic. Wasn’t he supposed to be learning comms discipline?

“I think I’ll stick with Canaveral.”

“Suit yourself,” I said, shrugging. “Junkyard?”

“Oh! Sorry,” she – fuck, they said. “Yeah, it was powers testing, like you thought.”

“Mind if I ask what you found out?” Standard protocol – learn everything you can about the powers of other metas, hostile or not.

Newton scratched at the back of their neck. Probably nervous – maybe embarrassed? “Nothing too exciting,” they said quietly. “ESP and telekinesis, sort of.”

They seemed a little down, and I could never bear to see that. Well, I usually tried to keep the exact details of my power secret, but… “Hey, me too!” I told them, offering a high five.

It took them a moment before they responded. “I thought you had some kind of superstrength?”

“Nah. I control the kinetic energy of the things I touch,” I said. “Lets me pull off some tricks that usually require super strength, sure, but its a bit more versatile in some ways. Less in others, admittedly.” That was a pretty big oversimplification – my power was fueled by magic, so was shaped by my instinctive understanding of how kinetic energy worked. I should have been able to use it to do things like silence noises, freeze objects, or set them aflame, but I had trouble wrapping my head around kinetic energy on scales that small. “I sometimes have to ask Vulcan to help open the pickle jar,” I joked.

Newton nodded knowingly. “I usually go for the table saw when I have that issue,” they commented, then suddenly clapped their hands over their mouth.

It took me a moment to decipher that, then I couldn’t help but laugh – a real, genuine, belly laugh this time, not my usual act. “I like you, Newton!” I decided. “That kind of sense of humor is rare.”

“Not rare enough,” Miriam muttered into my ear. No wonder Nic was learning bad habits.

I ignored her. “Want to join me in the next leg of my patrol?”

“Really?” Newton asked.

“Experience is the best teacher,” I explained, “particularly when you have someone to help guide you. Besides, I’m just off to bust a drug deal – shouldn’t be any trouble for two heroes like us!”

“No,” Anima told me sternly. “That drug deal is too dangerous for someone with no training, no metas there or not!” I continued to ignore her. I was the leader of the New Champions, not her, and I wanted to take a chance on this kid.

“I… I don’t even know if I want to be a hero!”

“Really?” That was a surprise. “That costume looks pretty professional.”

They looked away a little. “I kind of… found this costume. It activated my powers.”

That… was suspicious. Not the idea of a special costume triggering powers, necessarily – there were metagenes that could be triggered by almost anything – but just finding a suit like that? “Where?” I asked.

“My patent’s attic. My mom made it.” the kid claimed.

“On second thought,” Anima murmured into my ear, “you ought to stick with them for a bit. It’s still possible that this is all above-board, but it seems unlikely. And try to find out their capabilities.”

Scene 20 – October 15th
Exterior City, Continuous
Abraham Armstrong

Learning the details of Newton’s powers wasn’t very difficult – the kid was happy to share what details they had learned about their ESP/TK combo. Not an uncommon set of psychic powers, although ESP paired with telepathy more often than telekinesis, but the specific manifestation of the telekinesis in particular was a little unusual. I gave them a suggestion or two to increase their mobility so that they’d be able to keep up with me, then simply watched.

Miriam made occasional comments over my earpiece, although I didn’t bother to respond to most of them as I watched Newton practicing using her – their, dammit – TK to move. I was more interested in making sure they didn’t hurt themself as they learned how to land safely than listening to Anima quietly inform me that Newton now had a preliminary MLED file giving them rankings of Self Buff 1 (Sensory) and Area Control 2 (Kinetic)* – I had never thought it was a very useful system for sorting powers anway, spreading some kinds of powers too thinly and packing too many others into one rating. Self Buff in particular covered so many different kinds of powers, from enhanced strength to extra senses to super-speed, that it was barely useful.

As Newton started to grow more confident in landings, I began to lead them across the city and toward the site that the drug deal was meant to be going down. “Any more details on that deal, Console?” I quietly asked Anima.

“Yes, actually,” she said. “The same anonymous source called in to say that none of the Buff Boys’ metas would be there.”

I furrowed my brow. “That doesn’t seem likely, not with a sale as big as this one is meant to be.”

“Agreed, but that’s the word.”

I couldn’t help but grin when Newton let out a joyous whoop as they leapt across 3rd Street. It was nice to see young metahumans take joy in their powers, as a surprising number seemed to view them as a curse. Take young Nic – he had only joined the Journeymen to get help training his sensory projection ability, which even now occasionally sent his senses to random locations when he was asleep. He had no intention of becoming a hero, which was why he was excused from combat patrols – in fact, to the best of my knowledge he had no intention of using his powers in his future career at all. Last I had heard, Nic was hoping to get a law degree and become a lawyer.

It seemed strange to me, as I had never wanted to be anything but a hero. But to each their own, I supposed.

“So, what do you think of Newton?” Miriam asked.

“They seem like a good kid,” I responded. “I intend to offer to introduce them to the Champions and the Journeymen whenever they come in to register their powers. Hopefully that will entice them to join.”

“You just want another flippant telekinetic on the team,” she teased. “They even move a lot like you!”

“I won’t deny that,” I admitted with an unashamed grin, “it would be fun to have a mini-me running around. But I do also think they would make a great hero.”

“Their powers would be incredible for search-and-rescue,” Anima agreed. “ESP to locate people, TK to extract them…”

“Exactly. But also, I just think that they seem like a good kid,” I reiterated. “I know first impressions can be deceiving and all, you don’t need to give me the lecture again, Mom-”

“Abe, Nic is right here!” Miriam protested. She didn’t hate being known as the team mom, but she preferred for her role not to be bandied about in public.

“What, you think we kids don’t know how much of a mom you are?” the kid in question asked. “When I came in tonight, you asked me if I had remembered to bring a lunch!”

“The cafeteria food in the overnight shifts is just so unhealthy!” she said before she could stop herself, and both Nic and I laughed.

“My point is,” I continued, getting back on track, “that I think Newton is a good person, and will be a fine hero. They just have to recognize that in themself.”

“What do you mean?” Nic asked.

“I mean that I think they have self-confidence issues. Did you notice how they downplayed their powers when they first mentioned them? Plus, a hell of a lot of people use humor as a way to cover up insecurities.”

“I… didn’t realize, but you’re right,” Miriam admitted, seeming a bit abashed at having missed it. “How did you spot that?”

“Not important,” I said, brushing it away and trying to move the conversation along before they realized – the reason I had spotted Newton’s insecurities so easily was that I had been exactly the same when I was that age. “Anyway, the other reason is that, while I don’t think that they stole the suit, it would be good to have it in an MLED facility where it can be studied. Not to mention that if they did steal it, I doubt it came from a morally-upright institution. They might need protection.”

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1.1. Scenes 15-16

Scene 15 – October 15th
Exterior City, Night
Quinn Kaufman

Canaveral led me across the city, helping me practice using my telekinetic power to move until I began to grow confident. As I learned, I found that maintaining a loose hold on the most solid parts of the world around me – buildings and the ground itself – I was able to guide my trajectory with relative ease and an almost instinctive grace. True flight seemed to be beyond me, sadly, but I was bounding around much as Canaveral did.

It was some time later that the hero paused me as we landing softly on a rooftop near the docks, at the end of Brockton Street. “Alright, time for details,” he said, his voice low. “The drug deal I mentioned earlier should be going down in about…” he glanced at his wrist as though looking at a watch, but it was bare. “…ten minutes or so. That means I have just enough time to brief you. Basically, it’s supposed to be a pretty large purchase of brawn from the Buff Boys,” he said.

I raised an eyebrow, then remembered that he couldn’t see it and tipped my head to the side instead. “Buying brawn from the Buff Boys?” I asked. “But boss, bodybuilders bamboozle and befuddle me. Those brutish bastards are barbaric, and there are billions of them in the barnyard below! Can’t we build a barrier to barricade the brawl before we’re beaten brainless?”

I couldn’t see his eyes, but Canaveral rocked back on his heels for a moment. “You done?” he asked.

I thought for a moment longer, but couldn’t think of any other B words that fit the situation. “Yeah, I’m done.”

“So like I said, the Buff Boys are selling a few cases of brawn to an out-of-town buyer. The tip-off said that none of their metahumans would be here, but with a sale like this one I expect that one of them will be here – probably Ridealong.” He paused. “Any questions?”

“Yeah, what’s brawn actually?” I asked. “I mean sure, I’ve seen movies where it makes people huge and super-strong, but I assume that in real life it’s not quite like that. And can you tell me a little bit about the Buff Boys? I don’t know much about them.”

He shrugged. “Well, you’re right that it’s not as dramatic as the movies like to make it, but it’s not far off. You do become stronger, but also faster and tougher. It’s…” he glanced at his wrist, then at the street. “Ah, we got time.

“So brawn, basically, is a mixture of three older power-granting drugs. I don’t know their actual names, just the street names,” he warned me, “but they do actually have legitimate uses. But they’re also used by gangs, because, well…” he spread his arms in a sort of ‘what can you do?’ gesture. “They give you superpowers.

“The first is gorilla juice, or just gor. Gor makes you stronger – it’s what the movie version of brawn is based on, mostly. Inject it into your muscles and they become way more powerful. It’s used in microdoses to help people with atrophied or otherwise weakened muscles. In larger doses, though…” he winced. “To put it simply, gor makes you very strong. But it doesn’t make you tough. You’ll bruise yourself just moving, and if you take too much of it you can shatter your bones by breathing. Not a pretty sight.”

“I can imagine,” I commented. It was a little gross, but I’d read about worse in various premed classes.

“Next up is diamond dust,” Canaveral continued. “Also known as mond. Mond is a powder that you snort, usually, and it makes you tougher, but also slows down your biological processes. You end up very slow. Again, it’s used in microdoses in a medical context.” He scratched at his chin, clearly trying to remember the details, and continued, “as I recall, it helps alleviate seizure symptoms and reduces the risk of heart attacks – or maybe just their severity? I forget. Anyway, it’s also found as skin patches in really high-end first aid kits, because in high enough doses it basically locks people into total immobility and invulnerability. It’ll basically put the person on hold, give them more time before they need medical help. Expensive, though.

“Last is acceleration, or axel.” He paused. “This is the nasty one, in my opinion,” he warned. “Drink it, or take it as a patch on your skin, and it speeds you up in time – your perception of it too, not just your movement. It tends to cause pretty nasty mental issues in people who use it for too long – you move so fast that you can’t interact with anyone else, and a lot of people get isolation-related trauma from it. And it’s addictive as all hell. But again, it’s got legitimate medial uses,” he allowed. “Microdoses of axel can help speed up healing and fade scars.”

“So…” I said, putting it together. “Brawn is a mixture of all three, covering for the downsides of the others. Gor doesn’t make you tough, so you add in the mond. But then you’re too slow to do anything, so you add in axel.”

The acrobatic hero nodded. “Exactly. For best effect it needs to be mixed specifically for each individual person, because the effects of each piece vary based on different factors. Gor is more powerful on people with more muscle mass to start with, but mond varies depending on bone density. Axel varies depending on the purity of the formula more than the person taking it.”

“Got it,” I said. “What about the Buff Boys? Based on their name, I guess they trade in brawn a lot?”

“Exactly right. They used to just do smuggling and a little bit of drug trade – power drugs included. But after brawn cropped up across the country about seven years ago – the three component drugs had never been mixed successfully before – and they were one of the main sources,” Canaveral elaborated. “We still don’t know exactly where it comes from, but almost all brawn in the Middle Atlantic comes through the one way or another.”

“Should I expect these thugs to be on brawn, then?” I asked.

“The Buff Boys, yes,” he confirmed. “They’ll be the ones in red headbands. The buyers, probably not.” He glanced over the edge. “Looks like the BB are there already, but we’re still waiting on the buyers.” I began to rise, but he caught me by the wrist and pulled me back down into a crouch. “Slow down there, kid! We can’t arrest them just for wearing gang colors. We have to wait and catch them in the act.”

“Aren’t they in possession of illegal drugs?” I pointed out.

He shook his head. “Like I said, all three components of brawn have medical uses,” he reminded me. “It’s not illegal to own any of them, or brawn itself for that matter. Buying any of it from outside a pharmacy, however, is. That’s why we have to wait for the sale.”

“I understand,” I promised. “…so you said that you expect there to be metas? Are you sure that I should still join in?”

He shrugged. “You don’t have to if you’re uncomfortable,” he promised me, “but I think you should give it a shot. I mean, technically being a vigilante is illegal,” the hero admitted, “but no one pays attention to that as long as you don’t go around crippling people. And I’m here, so you’ll be fine.”

I wasn’t as sure, but I wasn’t about to argue with Canaveral. “What metas can we expect?”

“The BB have two confirmed metas,” he told me. “The leader goes by Ridealong, and the MLED[Metahuman Law-Enforcement Division] believes him to be an uncontrolled shapeshifter – Self Buff, technically, but…” he shrugged. “He generally looks different every time he appears, which is why we think he’s a shapeshifter, but he always identifies himself by wearing a blue scarf. That’s why we think it’s uncontrolled, he wouldn’t need to wear something for identification if he could control his appearance.”

“What are his combat capabilities like?” I asked.

“Good question, but unfortunately they’re unclear. It seems to vary depending on his current body. Nothing beyond human, though, unless he’s on brawn at the time. Then, generally enhanced physical abilities.

“Ridealong is likely to be present – or I thought so, but I don’t see his scarf down there – but he’s not the only meta in the BB,” Canaveral continued. “The other is called Rube. A little under six feet tall, blonde, usually wears green. Again, their power isn’t 100% confirmed, but it’s believed to be an Area Control effect that makes them incredibly lucky. If they’re around, you get out,” he told me sternly.

“…lucky?” I asked. “Really?”

He nodded. “Really. It may not sound like much, but they’ve gone toe-to-toe with la Borda and – well, they didn’t win, obviously, but they escaped.”

I almost whistled, impressed, but remembered just in time to stop myself. I may not have known a much about the gangs in New Venice, but you’d have to live under a rock not to know about la Borda.

“Those are the only two confirmed metas that the BB has,” he said as he checked the street below again, “but there are rumors of a third. Remember how I mentioned that brawn is best when mixed individually for the taker?” I nodded. “Well, at first the Buff Boys were just selling generic mixes that weren’t balanced. You tended to end up bruised from not enough mond to balance out the gor, slow from not enough axel, whatever. In the last year, however, they’ve not only started to sell individually mixed brawn, their members have also been getting custom mixes.”

“They have someone who can mix it individually,” I concluded. “Does that person have to be a metahuman?”

“They don’t have to be,” he admitted. “But I have a hunch. They wouldn’t be here though, whoever they are – too valuable to risk sending out.” He glanced over the edge of the building once more, and tensed.
“This is it – the buyers are here. Eleven Buff Boys, assume all juiced or with brawn on them – Seven buyers, all in civilian clothing. No apparent metas,” he summarized in a practiced manner. “Leap to the other side of the road to flank them, on my mark…” He fell silent, presumably waiting for the sale to actually take place. “…three, two, one, mark!”

Scene 16 – October 16th
Exterior Docks, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

Canaveral flipped himself over the edge of the building and plummeted to the ground, landing lightly on his feet. A moment later, I jumped myself, pushing against the building while pulling on one of the ones on the opposite side to launch myself across the street as he had directed me. With a momentary grip on the world around me, I twisted in midair and adjusted my trajectory. One more push slowed me as I approached the ground, and my landing was only a little bit jarring.

On the other hand, even with the greater toughness that had come either along with my other powers or from the PA4, the backlash of my TK was starting to make me incredibly sore. It wasn’t exactly debilitating, but it certainly wasn’t fun.

“Bit late for a walk, isn’t it?” Canaveral asked the assembled gangsters as though they had just bumped into each other in the park. His hands were casually hooked in his belt as he began to stroll towards them.

“Canaveral,” growled one of the Buff Boys who seemed to be in charge, snapping shut a briefcase that my ESP told me was filled with cash. “You’ll forget what you saw here if you know what’s good for you.”
The hero responded with a cheeky grin. “I’m afraid that reliable sources tell me I don’t know what’s good for me.”

“You really don’t know what you’re stepping in the middle of here,” said one of the buyers, who also carried a briefcase – presumably the brawn they had just bought. “Walk away.”

Canaveral sighed. “You criminal types never come up with anything new,” he bemoaned as I hesitated. “It’s always either ‘leave if you know what’s good for you,’ ‘you don’t understand the full picture’, ‘I’ll give you a cut if you keep your mouth shut,’ or ‘hey, it’s that hero guy! Get him!’ Just once, once, I’d like it if you did something new. I don’t really care what.” He shook his head as though disappointed. “I guess I’ll keep up my end of the script. You’re all under arrest.”

“Get him!” roared the Buff leader.

That seemed to be the cue for the fight to begin, as the gangsters all rushed for Canaveral. He casually flicked a hand, something he had pulled from his belt spreading out and striking the vast majority of them, knocking most of them over. “Oh, and just so you know,” he called, “It’s ‘bring your sidekick to work day’ today, so I’ve brought a friend. Feel free to join in any time, Newton!”

I shook off my hesitation and flicked my fingers at one of the thugs who remained on her feet, pulling her legs out from under her and causing her to fall as well. The sudden feedback from my TK almost knocked me off my feet too, though – I would need to figure out how to compensate. “Your sidekick?” I asked Canaveral. “Doesn’t that imply a preexisting relationship? We met barely three hours ago!”

He somehow shrugged while handcuffing a groaning gangster. “Well, I’m taking it on myself to mentor you, at least for tonight. You’re not experienced enough to qualify as a partner. You’re not a civilian. If the shoe fits, wear it.” He smirked at me.

There was a guttural growl as two of the Buff Boys were rising to their feet and pulling vials of golden fluid from within their jackets. Canaveral turned towards them as they uncorked and drank the vials – brawn, I had to assume. Steam rose from their skin, which turned a vaguely golden color, and they visibly grew at least an inch in height.

“I’ve got this, Newton,” he assured me, producing a thin length of chain from within his belt. “Make sure none of the others get up.”

Without looking, I pushed at any who seemed to be getting to their feet, strongly enough to prevent them from making any headway. I could feel it nearly knocking me into the air, so I pulled at the ground, locking myself there as well. The forces canceled out, but it felt like being squeezed in a giant vise. I really needed to figure out a better way to do this.

I watched as Canaveral manhandled the two boosted thugs, using his control of kinetic force to manipulate the chain in impossible ways. It was impressive to watch. I was so wrapped up that I forgot to pay attention to the downed gangsters, and almost missed it when one of the buyers who had fallen on her back managed to produce another vial from within her jacket.

I whirled, and tried to pull it out of her hand towards mine, while pushing at her fingers to make her lose her grip. But I was already splitting my attention and power so many ways that she managed to hold onto it just long enough. She squeezed, and the vial shattered.

There was a moment of silence as all eyes were drawn to the prismatic cloud that briefly hovered around her hand before expanding to encompass all of us, and she grinned from her position on the ground. Suddenly, my ESP cut out, as did my TK.

“Fuck,” the hero spat. “Where did you get equality, lady?”

“I told you,” she said as she rose, glaring at him, “you don’t know what you’re stepping into. Leave, Canaveral.” She brushed a few shards of glass off of her gloves hands, then reached into her jacket again and produced a pistol, aiming it squarely at me. “Or I’ll have to do something to your sidekick that I’d rather not.”

Canaveral raised his hands, as did I. “Let’s not be hasty,” he said, his voice low, as he stepped over towards me.

“Ah ah ah!” she tutted. “Stay away from the boy.”

“They’re nonbinary, actually -”

She rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Stay away from them. I know that your powers are magical and equality doesn’t do shit to you – you’re not stepping in front of this gun.”

“…how the hell did you know that.”

She smirked. “The same way I got a vial of equality. Now then. You’re going to turn around and leave. These boys and I are going to go our separate ways. And your new friend is going to live. Sound good?”
There was silence for a moment, then I narrowed my eyes towards Canaveral. “What were you saying about how it would be perfectly safe for me to join you?”

“I don’t think I ever put it in quite those words,” he said. “I think I said something along the lines of ‘experience is the best teacher’.”

“And what am I supposed to be learning from having a gun pointed at my head?”

He shrugged. “What’s it’s like to have a gun pointed at your head, I guess.”

“It won’t be the last time, if you continue on this path,” the buyer commented. “So, heroes? What will it be?”

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. 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.

1.1. Scenes 11-14

Scene 11 – October 15th
Interior Townhouse, Evening
Quinn Kaufman

As promised, I returned home to change into the PA4 before venturing into the night to find somewhere I could practice with my powers. When I stepped out into the night air, however, I had discovered that the thin material of the suit wasn’t strong enough to stand up to the chill of the sea breeze, and that a temperature I considered quite pleasant in a full set of clothes was kind of cold in what, I bitterly considered, was the next best thing to long gloves, knee-high boots, and body paint.

I had gone back inside and grabbed the plaid shirt that I had been wearing that day, pulling it on over the PA4. Like most young queer adults, I had a large collection of plaid shirts of varying colors – today’s had matched the colors of the nonbinary flag. I grinned as I stepped out again, this time ready to face the chill of the night.

Scene 12 – October 15th
Exterior Junkyard, Late Evening
Quinn Kaufman

My practice session, I thought an hour or two later, had been pretty productive. I had figured out the limits of my powers, at least to some degree.

My ESP seemed to extend in all directions from my body, and was blocked by the first solid enough object it encountered. The farther something was from me the harder it was to sense – I couldn’t feel the moon at all, which was simultaneously disappointing and a relief, but I could vaguely sense a cluster of skyscrapers that touched the sky on the other side of the city.

It was hard to tell quite how precise it was – it certainly felt pretty precise, but I didn’t really have a good way to measure that – but I had figured out that if I focused, I could get a more clear picture of things – in the sense that I could kind of feel things out with other senses, not just proprioception. Doing so both limited all my other senses (including the expanded proprioception that the ESP normally manifested as) and gave me a headache, so I figured it wasn’t something I would do often if at all. But it had been interesting to see everything in my radius at once – if only I hadn’t gone mostly deaf while I was doing it. Similarly, the incredible fidelity and directionality my sense of hearing had when my ears were effectively spread over the entire junkyard had been incredible, except that I was the next best thing to blind.

So my ESP wasn’t bad. My telekinesis, though… well, it had its ups and downs.

On the up side was that as far as I could tell, I had no limit on how much force I could exert. At least, nothing in the junkyard had been too heavy for me to lift and toss – it was probably more likely that my limit was simply above the weight of anything here.

On the downside… when I started shifting things with more mass than a pair of glasses, I had quickly realized that unlike any other telekinetic I had ever heard of, I had to abide my Newton’s laws. Everything I moved with my TK moved me as well – lifting a pair of glasses had meant nothing, but when I began to lift an old car I had been driven to my knees. A fridge had been about my speed, though.

Back to upsides, it seemed that there was another bonus to the PA4. I wasn’t sure if it was because I was actively wearing it, or if this change would stick around, like my ESP and TK, but I was definitely considerably tougher than I had been. There was no way that slender, 5’4” Quinn Kaufman could have handled the force it took to lift a full-sized fridge two days ago, and a car would have completely flattened me.

Scene 13 – October 15th
Exterior City, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

I was just heading home when I was interrupted by a deep voice calling out.

“Hello there!” came the call from a nearby rooftop, a smile clear in the speaker’s tone, and I immediately zeroed in on him with my ESP. Tall, muscular (very muscular, I noticed with a little embarrassment – I hadn’t meant to look that closely), crouching with one knee on the edge of the building and a billowing cape behind him. “What brings you out so late on this fine evening?

I only knew of one person in New Venice who wore a cape like that. “Canaveral?” I cried, not sure if I believed what was happening.

The superhero gave me a cheeky salute, then launched himself off the building, doing an acrobatic flip before plummeting two stories to the ground and landing in front of me with a perfect three point landing that didn’t even damage the pavement. He straightened up and grinned down at me. His cowl revealed chocolate-colored skin and a wide grin. “That’s me,” he confirmed.

What I wanted to say was that I had admired him since I was 10. What I wanted to say was that he was one of my personal heroes. What I wanted to say was that it was an honor to meet him.

What I actually said was, “I have a poster of you in my bedroom!”

Canaveral’s grin cracked a little and my heart leapt into my chest – I had made it weird, I just knew it – then he laughed. And laughed. And laughed…

It felt like he laughed at me for hours, but it was only a few seconds before he was just chuckling – if it had ever been laughter, and not just anxiety telling me that he was laughing at me – and tapping one of the fins on the side of his head. “I don’t think she’s a threat, Console,” he said, clearly speaking into an earpiece, then focused on me again. “What’s your name, young lady? And what were you doing in the junkyard? Powers testing, right?”

I… hadn’t picked a costumed name yet, and however much I admired him I didn’t think I wanted to give my personal details to a super-powered cop, not if I didn’t have to. Also, “I’m not a lady,” I heard myself say. “They/them pronouns.” Fuck, what if he’s a bigot? I had just outed myself to the leader of the New Champions!

But Canaveral nodded in acceptance immediately, and I felt my racing heart settle, just a little. “Apologies. My questions still stand, though. What’s your name, kid?”

ESP was lame and probably taken, Psychic Augmenter was terrible and so were its derivatives, but… “Call me Newton for now, sir,” I said. “I don’t really have a name yet…”

He chuckled. “I’m no sir. Just Canaveral is fine. Or Navi, if you’re feeling up to it – it’s what most of the Champions call me, since four syllables is a bit long.”

I stared. I couldn’t believe anyone would call him that. “I think I’ll stick with Canaveral.”

He shrugged. “Suit yourself.” After a moment, he prompted me, “Junkyard?”

I jumped. “Oh! Sorry. Yeah, it was powers testing, like you thought.”

“Mind if I ask what you found out?” he said, sounding genuinely curious.

I nervously scratched the back of my neck. “Nothing too exciting,” I muttered. “ESP and telekinesis, sort of.”

“Hey, me too!” Canaveral held a gloved hand out for a high five. I stared at it for a moment before remembering how to work my arms and tentatively gave him five. He grinned as though this was a normal interaction – and, I supposed, perhaps it was for him.

“I thought you had some kind of super strength?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Nah. I control the kinetic energy of the things I touch,” he said. “Lets me pull off some tricks that usually require super strength, sure, but its a bit more versatile in some ways. Less in others, admittedly.” He grinned again – I wondered how often he brushed to get a smile that white. “I sometimes have to ask Vulcan to help open the pickle jar,” he joked in a stage whisper.

Without really thinking about it, I found myself replying as though it was part of the game with Dad, “I usually go for the table saw when I have that issue.” Then I clapped my hands over my mouth – well, where my mouth was, given that the PA4 had a full face mask – I couldn’t believe I had just said that to Canaveral!

He stared at me for a moment, mouth a little open in disbelieve, and I was about to continue berating myself for revealing what a weirdo I was to the foremost hero in the city, when suddenly he laughed. A big, booming, belly laugh that seemed more genuine than his previous friendly chuckles. “I like you, Newton!” he said, slowly calming down. “That kind of sense of humor is rare.” He smiled at me, pleased. “Want to join me in the next leg of my patrol?”

My jaw dropped. “Really?”

Canaveral nodded. “Experience is the best teacher,” he assured me, “particularly when you have someone to help guide you. Besides, I’m just off to bust a drug deal – shouldn’t be any trouble for two heroes like us!”

“I…” my head was spinning – I couldn’t believe he would put me on the same level as him! “I don’t even know if I want to be a hero!”

“Really?” He tilted his head as though confused. “That costume looks pretty professional.”

I blushed activated the mask as I looked away. “I kind of… found this costume. It triggered my powers.”

“Where?” Canaveral immediately asked, and my eyes were dragged back to his face. He had, very suddenly, become completely serious as he had not been before.

“My parent’s attic,” I confessed. “My mom made it.”

Canaveral studied me for a moment. “Alright then.” He smiled once more. “And hey, if you’re not sure, no better way to find out than to try, right? How about it?”

Scene 14 – October 15th
Exterior City, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

I had to think about it. I had promised Dad that I would be careful, but I would be with Canaveral, who was a hero and could surely keep me safe, right? “I’m still learning my powers,” I reminded him.

“I’m sure I can give you some suggestions,” he promised. “Can you give me a few more details? ESP and TK, you said? What’s the ESP like?”

I nodded. “I can sense the positions of everything in a pretty wide radius around me, and it’s more precise the closer it is to me. I can also spread any of my senses over the same radius, but the senses I’m not spreading get drained to almost nothing.”

The hero scratched his chin. “Alright. Stick to your default mode for now, assuming that doesn’t mess with your other senses.” I shook my head, and he continued. “What about the TK? You said it was only sort of telekinesis? What do you mean by that – can you affect yourself?”

“If only I could not affect myself,” I complained, and quickly explained to him how the TK pulled at me when I used it.

“Interesting,” Canaveral commented. “I certainly understand your choice of name.” He scratched again, deep in thought. “What’s the largest thing you tried to move?”

“A car. Almost knocked me flat on my ass,” I confessed, a little embarrassed by how limited I was.

“Hmm. Come over here, Newton,” he said, and led me to the building he had jumped off of. “Alright, I want you to put your hands on this wall. Now… try pulling the building towards you.”

I saw what he meant immediately, and took a step forward. I pulled, and felt everything shift as the force of my TK quickly outweighed gravity’s hold on me. A moment later, I was standing on the wall, my head now level with Canaveral’s – albeit at a 90 degree angle from him. I grinned at the hero, although I knew he couldn’t see it.

He grinned back, “Clever kid, aren’t you?” he complimented. “That’s what I was leading to, yeah. Most telekinetics can’t affect themselves – some can’t even affect things that would move them – but your version can actually boost your mobility.” He paused briefly, then asked, “are you negating gravity entirely, or…?”

I shook my head. “I still feel it pulling that way, a little,” I told him, gesturing to the ground, “but my TK is strong enough to outweigh it.” I paused, then added, “and I think I instinctively pulled at a slight angle, not head-on, so that’s helping to cancel it out. Definitely not negated though.”

He nodded. “That’ll be useful for you. Come down a moment?”

I stepped off. “Another idea for me?”

“Exactly. This is mobility too – try pushing on the ground, see if you can get a boost to your own jumps.”

“There’s a problem with that,” I pointed out. “Coming down safely. I feel like that would take more practice than launching into the air.”

The hero shrugged. “Just keep another soft push to slow you down when you’re falling. I’ll be right here to catch you if you need.”

I couldn’t argue with that – he was right that training next to a hero was pretty safe.

I was right that landing would take practice, though.

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. 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.

1.1. Scenes 6-10

Scene 6 – October 15th
Exterior Park, Noon
Quinn Kaufman

I got the scan.

The doctor, on hearing an abbreviated version of the story, agreed that it was probably best to check on my nervous system, and had even offered a discount ‘because David is such a good customer,’ he joked. But it didn’t show any irregularities.

Oddly enough, my itching cleared up around that time as well. I had developed a killer headache on the way home, but that cleared up after I got inside.

It was now the next day, and after outlining my Metahuman History paper I was going for a walk in a nearby park. I couldn’t stop thinking about the suit.

It was dangerous, Dad’s story had made that clear. It had killed whoever it was tested on, way back when. Or horribly injured them, at least. But all it had done to me was make me itchy, or so it seemed.

Reluctantly, I admitted to myself that Dad had been right – itching can be a sign of nerve damage. But since I had none, it clearly hadn’t been.

The suit was supposed to awaken psychic powers, and Mom had been convinced that it did – but the people it had been tested on simply didn’t have dormant psychic power. But what if that just meant they didn’t have the right metagene? There was, after all, the theory that cosmic metahumans actually just had undetected metagenes – not everyone who came into contact with alien technology gained powers, after all. Many of them died, perhaps because they didn’t have the right kind of metagene.

I didn’t have any known metagene, but if I did have one… would it have granted me psychic powers? I hadn’t noticed any changes, though. Maybe the PA4 had just stopped working, over the fourteen or more years it had been left in the attic.

I absentmindedly stuck a hand out and caught a frisbee that had been whirring towards my head from the side, then snapped it back at the guy who had tossed it for his dog. “SORRY!” he called, and I gave him a wave to let him know it was fine.

Yeah, the thing had probably just stopped working. And I should head home – while outlining my history paper was enough work on that for today, I wanted to go over my notes for the afternoon’s Organic Chemistry class.

Besides, I was starting to get a headache again.

Scene 7 – October 15th
Interior Townhouse, Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

A little later that day, I was sitting in a small circle in the regular after-class Orgo study group, when Susan Redhorn dropped her eraser, which bounced high over all our heads before coming down and rolling under a massive desk that took up most of the room we met in. “Shit,” she swore, “That’s a nice eraser. Anyone see where that went?”

“No idea,” came the resounding chorus from everyone – I supposed they had lost track when it bounced.

“It bounced into the ether,” Peter Smith said in his typical deadpan manner.

“Yeah, Pete’s right,” agreed Chris Timon. “That thing’s gone. Sorry, Sue.”

I rolled my eyes. “It ended up under the monster desk after it landed,” I told them, pointing.

She slid out of her seat and knee-walked over to the desk, leaning over to peer under it. “Quinn’s right, it’s down here,” she reported, “but I can’t reach it. My arms are too short.”

“Here, let me,” Peter offered, coming over to the desk. He lay down in Susan’s place and struggled. “No, my arms are too thick. I can’t reach far enough under either.”

“Maybe if you and I lift the thing up, Sue can grab it?” Chris suggested, wandering over as well.

“Let me have a go,” I said, knee-walking over like Sue had done. “I’m a few inches taller than Sue, at least.” Peter stood to allow me access, and I made my attempt. Unfortunately it was just out of my reach as well.

“Too far for you too?” Susan asked sympathetically.

“No, I think I can…” I shifted, turning my head to look away from the crack in the hopes that I could stretch that little bit farther. A moment later, I had my hand on the troublesome thing, and withdrew to present it to Susan. I went up to one knee and held it up to her like a knight making an offering to a princess. “Your trinket, my lady,” I joked.

“How kind of you, gentle knight,” she teased back, miming a curtsy despite her jeans before taking her eraser back. She cast a baleful eye over our study mates. “And what help were you two, I might ask? Two big strong men, unable to do such a simple thing for me?” She held the glare for a few seconds before we all collapsed into laughter.

Spending too much time on Orgo does strange things to the brain.

Scene 8 – October 15th
Exterior Hospital, Evening
Quinn Kaufman

When I went to visit Dad again the following day, I ran into a friend on the steps outside. Devon Durandel was one of the doctors at New Venice General Hospital, where dad checked in for his occasional relapses. During their residency, Devon had often been Dad’s attending doctor. We ran into them less often now that they had finished their residency and were specializing in Neurology, but it was always nice to see them.

“Hey, Quinn!” they called as I approached from the nearby bus station, dropping the apple they had been eating into a nearby bin. “Good to see you, dude. How’ve you been?”

“Premed is kicking my ass as usual,” I complained, hugging them. “You know how it is. What about you?”

“Same old, same old,” they said. “What brings you here? Don’t tell me David had another relapse!”

“I won’t tell you, then,” I said with a smirk.

Devon laughed. “I should drop in on whoever’s overseeing his care and make sure they’re doing it right.”

“It’s Mark Yaffe.”

“Ah, he’ll be fine then. Yaffe is a good guy.” They smiled at me, then jerked their head towards the basketball hoop a little ways away. “Fancy a game?”

“You know I suck at sports, Devon,” I reminded them.

“So do I. It’s nice to play someone at my level once in a while.”

I laughed. “Okay, one game.”

We grabbed a basketball from a nearby bin and squared off. Devon and I had tussled before on occasion – along with neither of us being very athletic, we were also around the same height, so it was a pretty even match. Or at least, they usually were.

Today, however, I was having an incredible streak of luck – I was handling the ball with grace and ease. It almost floated into my hands, always went where I wanted it to go, and on the rare occasions that Devon got ahold of it I could almost snatch it out of the air without looking. Within a few minutes I had spelled out H-O-R-S-E and won, without them getting a single letter.

“You’ve been holding out on me, Kaufman!” they complained. “Did you get bitten by a radioactive spider or something?

“No, although…” I paused. Weird things had been happening all day, ever since I had worn the PA4 the previous evening – the frisbee that I caught without looking or even paying attention, the eraser that I had tracked also without looking, and which had leapt into my hand despite my reach not being enough, this game… “Listen, I’m sorry to dunk on you and run, but I gotta go. I just remembered something important I need to talk to my Dad about.”

“Alright,” Devon said agreeably, returning the ball to its bin. “Tell David that I wish him a speedy recovery.”

“I will,” I called over my shoulder as I rushed into the hospital.

Scene 9 – October 15th
Interior Hospital, Evening
Quinn Kaufman

“…and that’s why I think it might have actually worked,” I finished. “But if it did, I don’t really know what it gave me.”

“Hmmm…” Dad rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Hard to say. The theory was that everyone’s abilities would have been somewhat different, because everyone’s mind is somewhat different, but the thing was meant to grant psychic abilities. Telepathy, telekinesis, extrasensory perception, that sort of thing.”

“Some combination of those could certainly explain today,” I mused. “Mostly the perception thing… but I haven’t noticed any new senses. Wouldn’t I have?”

He shrugged. “Could still be settling in, could be that your brain just folded whatever new thing its picking up into the senses you’ve already got. That seems more likely, to be honest.”

“I guess so. Neural plasticity and all, I’d probably be more likely to get induced synesthesia. But again, I haven’t noticed anything different about my senses. Haven’t seen anything weird, I didn’t hear anything special when the frisbee was coming…”

He flicked me in the middle of the forehead. “Use those bio classes I’m paying for, kiddo. You have more senses than the five obvious ones.”

I frowned. “Equilibrioception, thermoception, proprioception, nociception…”

Dad raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t take those classes. Which are those?”

“Sorry… equilibrioception is your sense of balance. Thermoception is temperature. Proprioception is the position of your body parts. Nociception is pain.”

“Well, I sure hope it’s not plugged into your pain sensors.”

I shook my head. “Definitely not. That I would have noticed. But…” I considered. “It might be plugged into my proprioception. That’s a pretty subtle sense to start with.”

Dad cocked his head. “What would that mean, exactly? To sense the world around you as though it was part of your own body?”

I blinked at him, and suddenly realized that that was exactly what it felt like. “That’s it…” I said slowly.

“That’s… Dad, you’re a genius!”

“That’s what it says on my business cards,” he agreed. “Why am I a genius?”

I jumped out of my seat. “Now that I’m paying attention, I can actually feel it!” I explained. “Everything around me… I know exactly where it is! How it’s moving!” I focused, closing my eyes. “I can kind of sense other stuff, too… their temperature, pressure…”

“How sharp is it?” Dad asked curiously. “Could you read a book from across the room?”

“No, it’s not like seeing.” I told him. “I’m not getting color at all. If it was braille, maybe… well, if I knew braille. But… there might be something else.” If I was feeling the world around me as though it was a part of me, then… could I move it as though it was? I thought I had done something of the sort with the eraser earlier, so…

I stared at my dad’s glasses, little half moons perched on the tip of a wide nose, and tried to imagine them moving. No, wait, that was wrong. You don’t move your arms by just imagining them moving, you just move them. I tried again, and he wrinkled his nose.

“Kid?” he asked.

I didn’t answer, and instead tried a slightly different tact. I was certain that I could do it without moving, but it seemed like it would take practice. For now, perhaps… I made a kind of ‘come hither’ gesture, and his glasses flew towards me. Before they struck me, I held my hand in a ‘stop’ motion and they halted in midair.

“Dad!” I shouted, ecstatic.

“Whoa!” He stared at his glasses hanging in mid-air. “I guess that settles it – you’re a metahuman, Quinn.”

“Yeah.” I couldn’t stop grinning. “I guess I am.”

Scene 10 – October 15th
Interior Hospital, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

Dad didn’t let me celebrate for long, though. “So what are you going to do with these powers? Hero work? Construction? The theater?” He gave a wicked grin. “Villainy?” he teased.

“Give me a second, Dad!” I complained. “I’ve only had them for like, a day. I don’t even know what I can really do with them yet. How am I supposed to know what to use them for?”

“You have to register with the DMO regardless,” he reminded me.

“I know, I know,” I agreed. “But there’s a one-month grace period, right?”

“Right,” he said. “After that, well… we can’t afford those fines.”

“I know, dad.” I said again. “I’ll register, I promise, I just want to figure out what I can really do first. ESP and telekinesis could be great or crappy, depending on what the limits are. I want to find those out before I share this with anyone.”

He watched me for a moment, then leaned forward to take his glasses back from where they still hung it midair. “I suppose I can’t argue with that,” he said, a little reluctantly. “Just be careful when you’re experimenting. There are dangerous people out there. The Buff Boys, the Crows…”

“Why do you automatically assume I’m about to go out and roam the streets at night, playing with my new powers?” I complained.

Dad raised an eyebrow. “Probably because you’re about to go out and roam the streets at night, playing with your new powers.”

I shrugged. “It’s a fair cop.”

He chuckled. “I’ve known you your whole life, Quinn. You’re not going to surprise me.” Then he sighed. “I know I can’t convince you otherwise, and you’re an adult anyway. It’s not my decision, just… promise me you’ll be careful?”

I leaned over his bed and hugged him, then gave him a peck on the forehead. “I promise. I love you, Dad.”

“I love you too, kiddo.” He smiled at me as I turned to go. “Wait!”

“Yeah?”

“I think that the psychic suit was meant to be armored as well – you should probably wear it if you’re going to go playing with your powers. And if it hasn’t killed you yet, it probably won’t.”

I nodded. “Good idea. It has a full face mask, too – I don’t know if I’ll want to keep my identity to myself, but you can’t untell a secret.”

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. 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.

1.1. Scenes 4-5

Scene 4 – October 14th
Interior Townhouse, Early Evening
Quinn Kaufman

 

I checked on the stew as soon as I got home and found that it wasn’t quite ready. It needed another hour or so, so I texted Dad to let him know that I wouldn’t be over with dinner until a little later.

In the meantime, I was already finished with most of my homework. All I had was the essay that Professor Marigold had assigned, and I wasn’t ready to start on that yet – I was still turning the question over in my head and hadn’t decided what to write. So until the stew was done, I decided to continue the years-long project of cleaning up the attic.

After mom vanished, Dad had packed away all of her stuff and left it up there. It hurt him too much to see it, he always said, and for much the same reason he rarely spoke of her. In the last few years, however, the wound had finally healed enough that the two of us would occasionally go into the attic and go through some of her things.

We had found some interesting stuff, as well as a lot of pictures and mementos that would invariably make Dad stare into the middle distance for a while before ending our cleaning for the day. Books on neurology (some of them written by Mom, others heavily annotated in pencil), pictures of the two of them on dates early in their relationship (it was interesting to look at the two of them together and catalog which of my features came from which parent – I had my fathers curly hair, wide nose, and olive skin, but my mother had given me my pale blue eyes, sharp chin, and, interestingly, her smile. We had the same crookedness to our smiles, making us seem mischievous even when we were sincere), and even a collection of fantasy novels that she had enjoyed (Dad had suggesting donating them to the library, but I had snuck them into my own room to read in my sparse free time). It was where we had found the poster of Aaron Atwick.

Tonight, it seemed, would be a somewhat boring one in that slow process. The wardrobe containing her clothes that I was looking through surely held stories, but without Dad here to share them, they were just clothes. I went about sorting them into three piles – one for clothes that had held up well enough to be donated, one for clothes that would need to be thrown out, and a small pile for intact clothes that I wanted to keep for myself.

After all, my stork of a father couldn’t wear them. I, on the other hand, was around the right size, and a single college professor’s income only stretched so far. No sense wasting perfectly good clothes, especially ones as nice as these. I couldn’t help pulling on a t-shirt that I particularly liked (both “Mr” and “Mrs” crossed out, with “Dr” circled) before continuing.

As I pulled out the lowest drawer, I resolved to head downstairs after finishing the wardrobe. I should check on the stew again soon, I thought, then stopped.

This drawer didn’t hold clothes. Instead, it was occupied by a wide, black box, with no adornment other than a white label reading ‘Psychic Augmenter Mark 4’. That wasn’t something I could just ignore.

Inside the box, I found a sheaf of papers which seemed to describe a series of experiments that had led up to the creation of the PA4. The way it worked was far above my level – I was pretty bright for a college student, and I certainly intended to go into the field of metahuman medicine, which this kind of thing probably fell under, but I was only a premed student – I wouldn’t graduate college for another few months! I hadn’t even heard of half of these terms.

I turned my attention to what lay beneath the papers, the PA4 itself. It wasn’t what I would have assumed a ‘psychic augmenter’ would look like – rather than a futuristic helmet, it looked like a relatively standard superhero costume. A dark purplish-blue fabric, almost black, which contrasted strongly with a pair of knee-high armored boots and elbow-length armored gauntlets, both in white, with a transparent, plastic-like material making up the soles and palms, respectively.

…was this what had happened to my mother? Had she been a superhero who had run afoul of something beyond her? Wouldn’t Dad have told me about something like that? He had been tight-lipped about her for years, yes, but he had opened up since we started going through the attic. And something this big…

Well, maybe he wouldn’t have told me. But on the other hand, now that I thought about it, it seemed unlikely. Mom would surely have been an incredible superhero, but she was a metahuman researcher – creating something which would augment at least certain kinds of metahuman powers would probably be right up her alley.

I started to pack up the PA4, then stopped. It was probably a bad idea, I admitted to myself, but I couldn’t help it. It was a genuine superhero costume, or at least, the closest I was likely to ever get to one. I had to try it on!

It was a little loose on me, which comes with the territory when you’re trying to wear what was a probably standardized outfit while being only 5’4” on a good day, but I found a button on the belt which seemed to bring the thing to life. My entire body tingled as it contracted to fit me perfectly – a little too perfectly, in my opinion. I wasn’t particularly body-shy, but I wasn’t eager to show off my figure in this much detail. Fortunately, the ‘fit me!’ button was inset into a dial, which I fiddled with and caused the suit to loosen slightly. Instead of showing every outline of my muscles, it was now about as form fitting as a typical piece of tight clothing. Interestingly, the transparent plastic had also lit up a bright blue, as did the buckle of the belt and the eyes of the full-face mask.

It was itchy, though. I stripped out of it as soon as I could.

Well, after taking some selfies.

 

Scene 5 – October 14th
Interior Hospital Room, Evening
Quinn Kaufman

 

“Your son is here to see you, Mr. Kaufman,” the nurse called to my father as she opened the door to his room. “Just remember, visiting hours are over in forty five minutes, okay?” she said to me.

I nodded politely, waiting until she had left and closed the door behind her to walk over to dad, grumbling, “One day, when I run this hospital, everyone will know what being nonbinary means.”

Dad smiled up at me from the bed where he lay. “You’ll change the world for sure, kiddo,” he agreed. “But in the meantime, you just have to struggle through. It’s not worth it to fight every little battle, not with people you’ll never see again.”

“I know, I know.”

“So…” he glanced around and lowered his voice as though about to discuss something illicit. “You got the goods?”

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, I got the goods.” I produced a container of stew and handed it to him along with a spoon. “I don’t know why you always have me smuggle this in. I mean, surely you’re used to hospital food by now, right?”

“It’s the principal of the thing,” he declared, popping it open. “Like the man says, ‘Tell me not, in mournful numbers, / Life is but an empty dream!— / For the soul is dead that slumbers, / And things are not what they seem.’ In other words,” he explained, taking a sip, “you have to take pleasure in the little things. Like good food, even when you’re in the hospital. And on that note, yum! How much garlic did you use?”

“I just threw in all the cloves I could find in the cupboard,” I joked.

He frowned at me. “You didn’t buy extra? I know I’ve taught you better than that.”

“I thought about it,” I explained, “but any more wouldn’t have fit in the pot.”

“That’s no excuse,” he scolded, “we have a bathtub.”

“But the bathtub is full of eels.”

“Why is the bathtub full of eels?”

“Couldn’t fit any more in the hovercraft.”

Dad broke down at that point, and that set me off. It was an occasional game of ours – to respond with more and more ridiculous statements until we couldn’t handle it anymore.

Eventually the laughter died down and we just grinned at each other for a moment. “Which man was that, anyway?” I asked after the moment past, scratching at the back of the neck.

“Hmm?”

“The poem you quoted.”

“Ah. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He wrote Paul Revere’s Ride, among other things,” Dad told me when I didn’t immediately recognize the name. He taught poetry at the University of New Venice, and was a world-renowned scholar in poetic circles. “That was the opening stanza of A Psalm of Life. You ought to recognize it – or at least the line ‘footprints on the sands of time’.”

“A good line,” I agreed.

“Indeed.”

I scratched at my wrist as I began telling Dad about my day. Whatever had made the suit so itchy had been left behind after I took it off, and I couldn’t wait to take a shower later tonight.

“You okay, kiddo?” Dad asked a few minutes later. “You’ve been scratching a lot. Do you have a rash? I could call the nurse back…”

“I’m fine,” I assured him. “It’s from… well…” I paused. “I was going through some of the attic stuff earlier, and I found something in the wardrobe while I was sorting through clothes.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, it was this weird thing that Mom made. A suit – like, a superhero suit.”

Dad went still. “Was it labeled?” he asked after a moment. “Psychic Augmenter?”

“Mark 4, yeah.” I told him.

He sighed. “That was a project which consumed your mother’s life for three years,” he told me. “You know Laura was trying to research cosmic-powered metahumans, right?”

“Yeah.”

“She had a theory that a commonality between a lot of cosmic-powered heroes was that their powers were psychic,” Dad explained. “Some kind of difference in the their nerves and brain tissue that broke the laws of physics in a different way than magically-powered heroes. She wanted to find a way to grant that to everyone – ‘to awaken the latent psychic powers in all of us’.”

“Sounds like a cool idea. What went wrong?” I asked. After all, if it had worked, the thing wouldn’t have been packed away in our attic – it would have revolutionized the world. “Funding dry up?”

He nodded. “The first version didn’t do much to the rats it was being tested on. The second seemed to do something, but it wasn’t clear what, so the third version was made for people. As I recall, results suggested that the nerves were being enhanced – faster reaction times and the like while wearing it – but people got incredible migraines after only a few minutes, and the results wore off. Laura was certain that the fourth model worked, and that it would awaken dormant powers, but…” He sighed. “Turns out that people don’t actually have dormant psychic powers. The migraines of the third model were precursors to people’s neural systems melting, which happened in only a minute or so with the fourth. Funding failed pretty quickly after that,” he said, dryly. “…you didn’t wear it, did you?”

I met his worried eyes. “Um…” He began to look panicked. “Just for a few minutes!” I tried to defend myself. “And I’m fine! Just itchy from whatever the thing was made of!”

Itchy!” he demanded. “Quinn, you could be hurt! What if the itching is a sign of nerve damage!?”

“I don’t think that’s how nerve damage works,” I said, trying to placate him.

“You may be a med student, but I was married to a neurologist for eleven years,” He insisted, pressing a button on the side of his hospital bed to call a nurse. “I’m getting you an MRI.”

“We can’t afford that, Dad!” I protested.

He glared at me. “We’ll find a way. I need to know you’re okay, kid.”

“Is something wrong?” asked a nurse – not the same one who had led me here – opening the door to see me and my father glaring at each other.

“My idiot child exposed themself to a substance that may have damaged their nerves or brain,” he told her, still glaring at me. “I’d like them to get an MRI.”

“I’m fine!” I said again. “I’m fine,” I told the nurse.

“Sure,” he said placatingly. “I’ll just get a doctor about those tests for your daughter, alright Mr. Kaufman?” he told my dad, then left before I could protest that I wasn’t his daughter any more than I was his son.

“Let it go, Quinn,” Dad told me as I sank into a seat. “And you’re getting that scan.”

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1.1. Scenes 1-3

Scene 1 – October 14th
Interior Classroom, Late Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

 

“…Aaron Atwick proposed a single metagene,” said Professor Marigold, “but we now know that there are over a hundred genes that can grant superpowers. Some of them activate during puberty, triggered by changing hormones, as Ms. Kennethson’s did,” She gestured to Nellie Kennethson, our class’s representative of the 15 percent of the population who had superpowers – Nellie’s hair and eyes could change color at her whim. “Many others activate during adrenaline rushes. Some are activated by radiation. A few are even active from birth. It’s part of why powers are unlikely to ever reach past 15 percent of the population – only around 15 percent of people are ever in a position where their metagene is activated, even though almost 85 percent of people now possess at least one metagene. Does anyone know if they have a metagene?”

I dutifully raised my hand. “I was tested once,” I said. “I’m one of the 15 percent that don’t have any documented metagenes.” Learning that when I had had the opportunity to take a test that detected them a few years ago had been a bit of a blow – like most people, I had harbored a childhood dream of having incredible superpowers and becoming a great hero. My drive to become a doctor was, perhaps, borne of that childish desire to help, now with a goal I could actually attain.

“I have one that can activate from adrenaline!” volunteered Todd Brickler. “That’s why I got into skydiving – I hoped it would give me powers. No luck yet though.”

“I have three!” Sarah Finely said proudly. “One of them is from radiation, but no one knows what would trigger the other two for sure!”

Professor Marigold held up a hand to forestall anyone else from volunteering. “I hope I’ve made my point – dormant metagenes are more common than active ones. Not to mention the relative scarcity of magical and cosmic powers, which aren’t granted by metagenes.

“Now, like most things relating to superpowers, these categories are approximate. There are those who argue that metagenes simply allow one to instinctually channel magic, thus breaking the laws of physics. There are those who suggest that cosmic sources actually just activate dormant metagenes – perhaps unidentified ones, but still the same type of power. There are even arguments that magic is simply sufficiently advanced technology, and that magic should therefore fall under cosmic – or that all three sources should be merged, as there’s little meaningful distinction between them. After all, there are magical metahumans with no need for chants or signs, natural metahumans who must interface with technology, and cosmic metahumans who use hand gestures or mantras to help focus their power.

“Your homework, then…” Marigold paused to let us all groan, grinning, then continued, “your homework is to write a short paper – three to five pages, due next week – explaining why you believe two of the three sources are the same or why you believe they’re different. Everyone got that?”

That shouldn’t be too hard, thankfully. My mother had studied metahumans, after all – I was sure I could find something in her old papers that would help.

The professor glanced at her watch as we wrote our homework down. “And that’s four o’clock, so I’ll see you all next week. Make sure you write those papers!” Typically she strode out of the room at that point, but this time she stayed, allowing the students to vacate instead. “Mx. Kaufman, would you mind staying behind a moment?”

I furrowed my brow as the rest of the class began to leave. What did she want to talk to me about? I didn’t think I had screwed up during the class. I had spoke up once before being called on, but she had asked for input from the class and I hadn’t been the only one. I had even been engrossed enough in today’s lecture that I hadn’t doodled in my notebook today, although I usually did. We hadn’t had any homework due to her today, and –

“Quinn,” Marigold said to me with a somewhat sad smile. “I heard about your father. I just wanted to express my sympathies.”

“Oh,” I blinked up at her, then laughed, running a hand through my hair. “Thank you, professor, but he’s fine.”

She raised an eyebrow. “He’s in the hospital again, isn’t he? I know I’m not incredibly close to David,” she said with perhaps a slight pang of bitterness in her voice, “but he is a co-worker, and I don’t think the inter-departmental gossip is that inaccurate. We do work in the same building, after all”

I shrugged dismissively, starting to pack up my things. “I mean, yeah, he’s in the hospital again, but, well… it happens from time to time. Chronic illnesses will do that to you.”

“You’re not worried?”

“Not especially,” I told her. “Dad’s beaten it back before and he’ll do it again. It’s not even the worst relapse he’s had. He’ll be out in a few days, I’m sure.”

She examined my face, obviously still concerned, so I made sure to smile reassuringly. I didn’t know what she was so worried about – Dad had been in and out of the hospital for years, and his current relapse wasn’t anything new. “Well, if you’re sure,” she finally said. “Still, please pass on my sympathies to him. If you need an extension on that paper, just ask.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’ve got it covered, professor. I was able to keep up in your class during midterms for Organic Chemistry and Abnormal Anatomy, I think I can handle one week without my dad to interrupt me when I’m doing homework,” I joked. “I’ll be fine.” I gave her a smile and left. As I went, I gave a nod to Todd Brickler, who had been standing by the door.

 

Scene 2 – October 14th
Interior Vituccio Hall, Continuous
Quinn Kaufmann

 

“What was that about?” Todd asked we left the room – he seemed to have been waiting for me, as he fell into step with me when I passed through the door.

I wasn’t sure why – we had worked together on a group project the previous day, it was true, but I didn’t exactly consider him a friend. Maybe my nod had given him the wrong idea. Still, I didn’t see any reason to be rude, so I answered, “She was asking about my dad – he’s in the hospital.”

“Oh damn, I’m sorry about that. Is he gonna be okay?”

I sighed. Honestly. “Yeah, he’ll be fine. It’s just a chronic thing that flares up every now and then.”

“Still. How did she know, though?” he asked.

“He’s a professor here as well,” I said. “He teaches poetry and literary analysis, most years. I think he started around the same time as Marigold?”

“Oh, neat,” Todd said, although from his tone I didn’t think he actually thought poetry was cool. “I guess you must be from around here, then?”

“Yeah, we’ve lived in New Venice since I was… seven, I think? We moved not long after mom…” I paused, unsure how to explain that my mother had been missing for most of my life. “Well, dad couldn’t support us just by raising me,” I eventually said.

“I guess you’re probably not staying in a dorm, then?” Todd asked. He tactfully didn’t press on the subject of my mother, for which I was grateful.

“Yeah, I’m still living at home. No sense spending money on a dorm when you don’t have to, after all.” It might have contributed to me not having many close friends at college, I supposed, but on the other hand it wasn’t as though I had a huge amount of time on my hands. I was handling it fine, but biology was a demanding major, particularly as I was planning to get a medical degree as well.

“Must be a bummer to have your old man around all the time, huh?”

“Nah, dad’s cool. We get along pretty well.”

“He doesn’t get upset when you bring guys home?” Todd joked.

“I’m single right now, actually. But no, he’s never minded me bringing boyfriends or girlfriends home. He likes to try and embarrass me when I do, though.” What was Todd getting at?

“What, you’re single? How could a girl as gorgeous as you be single?” he asked.

I blinked in surprise, then narrowed my eyes at him. So that was what he was getting at. “I’m not a girl, Todd,” I informed him – I was very open about the fact that I was nonbinary, and while it wasn’t always worth correcting the assumptions people made in one direction or the other, in this case I thought it was. “And yes, I’m single, but that doesn’t mean I’m interested in you.”

It was blunt, but sometimes that was the only way.

Todd grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, Quinn. Can’t blame me for trying, right?”

“I suppose not,” I admitted, “but the answer is no.”

 

Scene 3 – October 14th
Exterior City, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

 

Metahuman History was my last class of the day, so after that awkward conversation I was able to head home. Normally I would hitch a ride back from the university with my dad, but with him in the hospital it was public transportation. The busses in New Venice weren’t what I would call fast or reliable, but I should still get back home in time to check on the stew that I had set up before going to college for the day.

In the meantime, I decided to start sketching. My notes for today had only taken up three quarters of the page, so I had lots of room in the margins, and, glancing up on occasion for reference, I began sketching the city’s skyline. After a few minutes, I noticed a figure bounding between the rooftops – bright white costume against the sky, with a billowing red cape – and I couldn’t help but smile. Canaveral, my favorite hero of the New Champions, was on patrol today.

I added him to my sketch.

 

Not long after that, the bus arrived, and I had to return the notebook to my bag – no point sketching in a jerky bus. Instead I retrieved my notes from the morning’s Abnormal Anatomy class and began rereading them while I waited for the bus to take me home.

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. 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.

1. Act 1: The Morning’s Hush

When you awaken in the morning’s hush,

-Mary Elizabeth Frye, 1932

Scenes 1-2Scenes 3-5

Scenes 6-10Scenes 11-14Scenes 15-16Scenes 17-20

Scene 21Scenes 22-23

Intermission (Scenes 1-2)

Dramatis Personae

Principal Cast

Abraham Armstrong, the superhero Canaveral and leader of the New Champions, who commands kinetic energy. (he/him)
David Kaufman, a chronically ill poetry professor and Quinn’s father. (he/him)
Quinn Kaufman, a college student studying to be a doctor. (they/them)

A League of Heroes

Benjamin Brant, the superhero Starling. (he/him)
Emilia Alvarez, the superheroine Zookeeper and a friend of Abraham, Maxwell, and Miriam. (she/her)
Miriam Wright, the superheroine Anima. (she/her)
Niccolo Mellas, the young superhero Hypnos, who can project his senses at a distance. (he/him)

Various Villains

Alessandra DeVitto, a supervillainess and a friend of Miriam. (she/her)
Maria DeVitto, a supervillainess, Alessandra’s wife, and a friend of Miriam. (she/her)
Maxwell Copperfield, the supervillain The Magnificent Maxwell, who can magically store objects in a pocket dimension. (he/him)

A Collection of Civilians

Devon Durandel, David’s former doctor and a friend of Quinn. (they/them)
Joanne Marigold, a history professor concerned for her students. (she/her)