1.2. Scenes 15-16

Scene 15 – October 21st
Interior Townhouse, Early Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

“…and after I was done crying, I walked back home and went to bed,” I said, wrapping up the tale of what had happened while my dad was out last night. “You weren’t home just yet, I don’t think, but both Legion and Canaveral were gone when I got back here.”

Dad was silent for a bit as he digested this. “I’m not exactly happy that such a dangerous villain was right outside our house,” he said eventually. “It doesn’t seem like there was anything you could do about that, though, and you did everything you could – more than you should have maybe, but you did great.”

I stared in surprise.

“What?” he asked. “Did you think I was going to be mad at you?”

“Well… you seemed upset about the gun thing,” I ventured.

He shook his head. “I wasn’t angry that you were in danger. Worried, sure, but if you’re considering being a hero, then you’re going to be in danger a lot, and that’s just something I need to get used to. I was upset because it seemed like you hadn’t noticed the danger, which is another thing entirely.”

Dad tapped his fingers impatiently for a moment. “I’m certain there’s a quote that’s applicable here, but for the life of me I can’t think of it,” he complained. “The point I’m trying to make, though, is that I don’t want you to rush into danger without being aware of it. That’s how you get hurt. And I don’t want you to forget when you are in danger. But what you did last night?” He took my hand and squeezed it encouragingly. “You knew that you were in danger, but you didn’t fall apart until afterwards. And then, when the danger wasn’t actually over, you held together until it was.

“I admit that I probably don’t know much about what it takes to be a hero, but I would think that being able to put things aside when you have to is important.”

I blinked at him. “Why I did think you didn’t want me to be a hero?”

“I have no idea, kid,” he said with a chuckle. “I would love for you to be a hero. I think you would do amazing. And I don’t want you to give up on that just because you don’t think you can – if you really don’t want to, that’s one thing, but…”

I sighed. “I honestly don’t know at this point, Dad. That fight was…” I drummed my fingers on the table beneath his hand, and he released me. “Exhilarating,” I finally said. “I know that probably sounds weird, but…”

“Not at all, a lot of people think adrenaline feels great.”

I ignored him. “I enjoyed it as I was doing it. But I was so useless. All I did was get in the way.”

“You’ll be trained,” Dad said, trying to comfort me.

“Training? What good will that do when my powers couldn’t do anything? I couldn’t protect myself, I couldn’t help Canaveral, all I could do was…” I sighed, looking away. “All I could do was run away.”

“Quinn. Kiddo.” Dad gently took my chin and turned my head so he could look into my eyes. “You’re letting your anxieties get the better of you,” he told me, seriously. “You’re a beginner at the hero thing – less than that, you haven’t even really started. You can’t compare yourself to people who’ve been doing this five, ten years, and expect to match up perfectly.”

“But I’ll have to, no one is going to slow down to match me -”

“How long have you been training to be a doctor?”

I blinked. “A little over three years, I guess?”

“Does that match up to actual doctors?”

“Of course not, they have another five years of schooling over me, not to mention years of residency before they’re proper doctors on their own-”

“Would you expect yourself to match up to a doctor, then?”

“Well, no, not until I’m through with school-”

“So why are you comparing yourself to heroes when you haven’t even had six months of training?”

I closed my eyes and leaned forward, resting my head on the table. “I guess you’re right.”

“I usually am, kiddo,” Dad said, and even though I wasn’t looking at him I could hear the smile in his voice. “And here’s another secret for you – if someone was injured, and the only other person to help them was some random guy without even your three years of premed, which do you think they would want to help them?”

“…me.”

“There you are then.”

I raised my head. “Maybe it’s just… I feel like I’d be throwing my medical career away, if I went into hero work. It’s not exactly a part-time job, once you’re through the Journeymen. It feels like I’d be losing the progress I’ve made towards one long and difficult career just to start all over in another.”

Dad patted me on the shoulder. “You’d be helping people either way, and either way I’ll be proud of you. And Quinn…” he paused, as though unsure he should say what came next. “Your mother would be too.”

Scene 16 – October 22nd
Interior Thrift Shop, Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

Instead of going home with Dad after school the next day, I decided to head over to the Waterfront district – I had some shopping that I wanted to do. While I still hadn’t made a decision about being a hero, I definitely didn’t want to stop going out and about as Newton – if nothing else, it made commutes much easier. And if I was going to go out in costume and plaid and get it destroyed as I had last night, I was going to need more shirts.

I mean, I wasn’t exactly planning on getting into more fights, but apparently wearing a costume made them inevitable – I was two for two so far. As such, I was out to find all the cheap flannel I could get in the thrift stores that filled the area.

It was going pretty well when I spotted a familiar-looking face – the blonde girl from the Compound, the one who had introduced herself as Loki’s secret identity. She was browsing a little farther down the aisle, with some finds of her own in a bag. What had her name been? Hollis? Sally? No, Holly!

“Hey, Holly!” I called, walking toward her.

She turned to face me, blinking in surprise. “Quinn?”

“It’s nice to see you again,” I said with a smile. “I didn’t expect to run into you!”

Holly smiled back, “It’s good to see you too,” she said, and glanced down at the bag I was holding. “Wow, that’s a lot of flannel.”

I shrugged. “One of mine got kind of destroyed by, well,” I took a moment to peer around with ESP to make sure no one was paying us any attention – it didn’t seem like it. “By Legion – the bossman probably mentioned what happened.”

“Only briefly. Are you alright?”

“Fine,” I assured her. “Tore through the shirt, but I think my suit must be tougher than it looks. I’ve got nothing worse than bruises.”

“That’s a relief.” Her eyes flickered up and down me for a moment. “Heh. I like your shirt.”

I glanced down to see what I had pulled out of my dresser today – it was the shirt I had found the same night as the PA4, the Mr. Mrs. Dr. shirt that had belonged to my mother. “Thanks! Seems fitting, you know? Anyway, I figure if I’m going to be wearing plaid shirts over my costume, I should probably have some extras. What are you looking for?”

She shrugged. “Nothing in particular, really, I just enjoy looking for deals, you know? I like browsing for stuff and then finding the same stuff, or similar, for less in other places.”

“I see.” I paused, then asked, “do you know if Legion’s been caught yet?”

She shook her head. “Not yet. She hasn’t been seen since that night, actually – the conversation you had with her after retreated from the battle was the last reported sighting.”

We stood there awkwardly for a moment, neither of us seeming to be quite sure where to take the conversation, before she shifted a little and spoke again. “You said the shirt was fitting – do you want to be a doctor, then?” I nodded. “What kind? Medical, scientific, magical?”

“Medical. I’m planning on specializing in metahuman medicine – right now it’s just bio, of course. What about you, are you in college?”

“Yeah, I’m a senior at UNV.”

“Oh hey, me too!” I offered a high five, which she returned.

“Nice! I’d say it’s weird we’ve never run into each other, but it’s a big campus and we’re not exactly in the same department.”

“I think we might have been in the same art history course sophomore year, actually,” I said, trying to think. “Big circular hall with a giant holoprojector in the middle?”

“Maybe,” she said thoughtfully. “I definitely took an art history course in that room – Pardee Hall, right? But it had so many people that I really have no clue.”

“Hm. Anyway, I think I interrupted you – what were you saying?”

“You’re good,” Holly assured me. “I was just saying that we’re in completely different departments – you’re bio, I’m magical studies and art.”

“Oh, you’re an artist too?” I asked. “What kind? I do a lot of sketching, myself.”

“Sculpture, mostly, although I dabble in all sorts. It helps with the…” she made a gesture which my eyes and ESP both insisted wasn’t possible – her fingers seemed to pass through each other, and she suddenly had too many of them, and also too few, and even though it took less than a second my head was starting to ache. When she was done blatantly breaking the laws of physics with one hand, she was holding a rose.

I tried to ignore the headache, and reached out. “May I?” She nodded, so I took the rose. I felt nothing, but it moved as though I was actually holding it. When I pressed my fingers together, it actually seemed to be depressing my flesh as though there was actually a stem in the way, even though I could feel that there wasn’t.

It was very, very cool, even if it wasn’t helping my headache to have my senses arguing about the truth.

“I don’t actually use illusions, I manually control photons and sound waves,” she told me, “so I need to understand what makes art realistic. All my work is in hyper-realistic styles to help me get that understanding, even though I’d prefer to work in a more cartoony style.” She sighed. “It would nice to be able to make a portrait in less than 20 hours, you know?”

I nodded. “I kind of get what you mean. I’d like to draw more realistically, myself, but I rarely have time for more than cartoony sketches between all my classes. Hell, I have to do most of that in class.”

“I’d love to take a look sometime, if you don’t mind,” Holly offered. “I can probably give you advice on making your drawings a little more realistic.”

“Would you? That would be great. Art classes just don’t fit into my schedule anymore.”

“Ugh, scheduling is the worst,” she complained. “Magical studies is easy, but like I said, hyper-realism is so time-consuming. Not to mention my, ah, part-time job, and my independent magical research. And just imagine trying to schedule dungeons and dragons around all of that!”

“How do you find time to sleep?” I asked. “Really, I’m genuinely curious.”

“I don’t,” she deadpanned, “I just cover my eye-bags with magic. Who needs makeup?”

We laughed. After a moment, though, I mentally backtracked. “Hold on, did you say that magical studies is easy? I heard that was one of the hardest majors?”

She shrugged. “Eh. It’s more frustrating than hard. So many mages hoarded – and still hoard – magical lore that there’s just not enough information out there. And there’s no practical magic at all, which is part of my frustration. I mean, how can you call yourself a magician without actually being able to use magic?”

“Or at least wearing a top hat.”

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1.2. Scenes 13-14

Scene 13 – October 20th
Exterior Vivaldi Park, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

“I’ve got to tell you, Legion, I’m a little fed up with this right now,” I said without turning around, instead tracking her with ESP as she approached. “I mean, I literally just ran into you a second ago, and here you are again!”

“Yes, I know,” she said. This Legion’s voice was a little deeper than the one Canaveral and I had just been fighting. She was taller and more broadly built, too – I supposed that there was a limit to how far she could compress the mass of the tree she had just been pretending to be. “She was meant to be speaking to – well, the important thing is that the two of us have swapped roles in this visit to your lovely city.”

“How did you do that?” I asked, trying to keep her talking and not attacking. “I thought you didn’t have a hivemind. Did she take a moment to give you a ring?”

“We don’t, and no – phones are too easy to trace. But we can communicate information by merging our nervous systems, so…” A bird sprouted from her finger and flew around me, then returned to her hand and was reabsorbed. “A little bird told me.”

“…and the other one went to your third incarnation.”

She was close enough now that even with my ESP not being incredibly precise I was able to feel her tilt her head a little in acknowledgment. “Exactly – although I don’t know what she was told.”

I turned to look at her. “You seem chattier than the green one. A little less murdery.” Her face was a little different too, I though – or maybe it was just that her hair was a little shorter, it was hard to tell.

Legion shrugged. “We’re all a little different,” she said. “Our powers let us perfectly replicate any biological structure that we’ve absorbed, yes, but they’re a little less precise when we’re following a template that we haven’t absorbed – although at least we can do it more than once.”

“Your brain,” I realized.

The shapeshifter nodded. “Each time we create a duplicate, the brain is a little different. Not much, but enough – particularly as we immediately begin having different experiences. We call it drift, and we try to keep the number of duplications since the original down – for example, I’m a third generation, so I won’t be duplicating myself at all unless absolutely necessary. I suppose the me you met may have drifted a little more aggressive, and perhaps I drifted a little less so.”

“Since you’re feeling so talkative, why are you here?”

“I drifted less aggressive, not more naive,” she said with a chuckle. “I’m hear to talk to someone – so is she, actually – but I’m not about to tell you who, or about what.” The woman eyed me. “Unless… no, best to be sure. I’ll do it another way.”

“…sure about what?”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll just say this. That suit you’re wearing? It granted you your powers, didn’t it?”
“How did you-”

“Not important. What is important is that my boss would be very interested in getting their hands on it. They never thought that it worked at all. I would consider very carefully who you tell about it, and try to stay out of the public eye.”

She gave me a surprisingly gentle smile. “And the best way to keep away from publicity is to not become a hero. Do something else with your life. Something safer.” The shapeshifter patted me on the shoulder, and I tried not to tense up to much. “Good luck, Newton. I truly wish you well.”

She walked back to where she had been hiding as a tree and extended a hand. Her arm stretched and bent and warped until the tree stood there once more and she separated from it, a good foot shorter and considerably slimmer as well. She then spread both arms and they extended into wings, and with one giant flap she was in the air and gone.

“We now return you to your regularly scheduled nervous breakdown,” I muttered, pulling off my mask and staring it. “…what the hell was that all about?”

Scene 14 – October 20th
Exterior Townhouse, Evening
Abraham Armstrong

“Alright, say your piece,” I spat at the shapeshifter. “What is it?”

“Ah ah ah,” Legion said, waggling a finger at me. “Not until we’re in a more secure location than, well…” she gestured to the townhouses around her. “And besides, I’m sure you have an earpiece, don’t you?”

I gestured to my uncostumed state. “Sure don’t. I was kind of in the middle of something when you showed up.”

Legion smiled – at least, she showed teeth. “Oh I see! You’re all alone then, aren’t you? You just sent away your only help. No back-up, no costume… poor little lost hero…”

“If you have something to say, then say it, before I go back to ripping you to shreds,” I growled. “I’m not in the mood for banter right now. You’ve kind of ruined what was supposed to be a nice night.”

“Oh? I didn’t interrupt anything private, did I?”

“I’m going to to give you until a count of ten. One…”

She rolled her eyes. “Just give me your assurance that you won’t put this little chat in your report, and I’ll say what I have to say.”

“Then give me a reason not to. Five…”

Legion produced a badge that read Ambrosia Co. “Is this good enough?”

“…talk.” I had had no idea she was part of Ambrosia. This… could explain a lot about her unpredictable activities.

She reabsorbed the badge and began examining her nails, as though they could be anything less than perfect given her shapeshifting abilities. “Madam Thornhill is a trifle annoyed with your recent drug bust,” she informed me. “She had plans for that brawn.”

I crossed my arms. “And? It’s my job. A job your company is responsible for me having, by the way.”

“Oh, she’s not annoyed at you,” Legion assured me. “As you say, it’s your job. No, her ire is directed at a friend of yours. One Maxwell Copperfield.”

My blood froze. “You’re here for Max,” I heard myself say, my voice thick with sudden worry.

“Oh yes. He’s had dealings with our company in the past, you see, and Thornhill isn’t happy that he decided to go against us.”

“What are you going to do to him.”

“Me? Nothing,” Legion chuckled. “And no, I don’t mean that a different me is going to kill him. I just want to talk to the man. He’s being given a second chance, you see.” She paused for a moment, but I said nothing. “It won’t even be a hardship for him – I understand that he’s already chosen his next target, and it’s exactly what we would have had him steal. All we want is to borrow it, a little.”

“So what are you doing here,” I stressed.

“Here? Nothing, anymore – I’ve passed that task on to a different me. I just need to know Max’s location,” Legion said. “After all, he gave away his hideout’s rough location to you a few days ago – he’s bound to have moved by now.”

“…I…” I rubbed my temples. Really. “What makes you think I’ll tell you?” I finally asked.

She shifted her hand into the badge again. “You still have two favors left, Abraham Armstrong,” she said. “…come now, surely you knew this was coming eventually?”

“So what, just tell you where you can find him, and, I assume, don’t stop you from doing so?”

“Precisely.”

I thought about it. It was certainly simpler than the last favor I had done for the Ambrosia Company. Less dangerous, too. And, I hoped, maybe less evil? …on the other hand, I had thought that I was rescuing someone, back then. Ambrosia had a way of making things more complicated – they told you only what you needed to know, and more than that, only what would be palatable to you. But, as I had learned from that favor, there was always more beneath the surface. What was Max planning on going after, and what would be the result of Ambrosia borrowing it?

“Fine, I’ll tell you,” I said after a few minutes as she patiently waited. “But you have to tell me what you intend on borrowing from Max.”

She shrugged. “There’s no harm in it, I suppose. He’s after an instructional book written by Merlin. Mr. Mercer would also very much like to see that book, which I don’t think will come as a surprise to you. So…”

“…fine. He’ll still be in his building on the docks,” I told her. “The man’s too lazy to move.”

“…he has magical powers that can literally pack up everything he owns in the snap.”

“And he won’t have used them,” I assured her. “He gets hyperfocused on things and forgets about everything else, unless something drags him out of his tunnel vision – and he doesn’t have anyone to do that for him right now.”

Legion facepalmed. “That’s what I get for assuming the best of people.” She turned to go.

“Wait,” I called before I could stop myself. “Why did you waste one of my favors on something so simple?”

She gave me a smile over her shoulder. “One good turn deserves another. You helped save my life, Canaveral – the least I can do is help you get out from under Ambrosia’s thumb.” Then she was gone in a flurry of black wings, rising up and away as a flock of crows.

I stared. When – how – what?

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1.2. Scenes 11-12

Scene 11 – October 20th
Exterior Townhouse, Evening
Quinn Kaufman

“Well, this is my stop,” I told Canaveral. “Thanks for escorting me home.”

“Don’t mention it,” he told me. “Seriously – don’t. Director Shepard would have preferred me to stay hot on Legion’s heels.” He shrugged. “She was gone anyway, and with the kind of luck you apparently have…”

I chuckled. “Yeah, I’m half surprised she isn’t waiting for us here.”

“Hey – don’t jinx it!” We shared a laugh. “Did tonight help you come to a decision, at least?”

“It…” I sighed. “Not really. This crisis kind of interrupted my thinking, if you know what I mean.”

“I think I do. Don’t feel bad about it.”

“Why would I feel bad about it?”

“Well, I feel kind of bad about it, so…” We laughed again. “If you’d like to come hang out on a night that we’re not trying to track down an unpredictable shapeshifter, give me another call. I’ll let you know if we’re available.”

“I will.” I turned to enter the townhouse my father and I shared and started digging in my bag for my keys – I had foolishly left them in my pocket when I had changed into my costume, and as dad was visiting a friend tonight the door was locked – but was interrupted by a strange noise behind me. When I glanced back, I saw Canaveral’s face covered by a long, grotesque hand that lifted him off the ground, claws digging into the white fabric of his temporary cowl as he struggled. A moment later it tossed him aside and its far-too-long arm retracted, revealing his attacker.

She was a little shorter than the previous versions I saw, but more heavily built. This one seemed to have settled on green as a color scheme – a green skirt so dark it was nearly black, a pale green sleeveless shirt, and green hair that obscured her face. And she was staring right at me.

“Who are you, child?” Legion asked. “What are you doing here?”

Legion

“What am I doing here?” I couldn’t prevent myself from shooting back. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that question? I mean, I’m the one who lives in this city!” I felt something moving from the direction Canaveral had been thrown, and hoped I wouldn’t give away what he was doing.

She sighed. “Of course you do. Well then, young -” Her head suddenly exploded as a manhole cover traveling at the speed of a freight train flew through it like a frisbee.

“Run, Newton!” Canaveral called, landing from a flying leap in between me and the supervillain, who had crossed her arms as though annoyed.

“I can’t just leave you!” I protested as Legion’s head grew back. Tendrils crawled out of her back towards various bits of gore, which melted and reformed into her body. “…besides, I think I’d vomit if I tried to move too fast right now,” I joked. “I mean, ew.

“Newton,” he growled. “Go.”

Instead, I dodged – I felt the ground cracking beneath our feet, and an explosion of spines and bones erupted under Canaveral. I pushed him, flinging him to the side and away from it and simultaneously sending me to the other side. Before I could touch the ground, I pushed against the earth, sending myself higher into the air.

It took me a moment to reorient myself – I closed my eyes for a moment to track the world with ESP, which didn’t seem to care what my inner ear was screaming about – then I pulled at the supervillain, launching myself towards her. Legion was rooted into the ground, having shifted herself through the asphalt to create that burst of spines. I came at her fist-first, not sure what I could do against her but knowing that I couldn’t do anything else.

She caught my fist in one hand, which extended to hold me above her head as I tried to grab at her. “Give me a moment, child,” she chided. “Let me just deal with this pest, and then we can talk.”

“Leave the kid alone!” Canaveral barked as he rushed in. He stopped on a dime as she swiped at him, staying just out of her reach – her reach at that moment, anyway – then bounced into the air to dodge her second swipe. His chain drove itself into one of her eyes and out the other – this was pretty gruesome, and I found myself thankful that I had never been squeamish.

“I just regrew my head, do you really think I put my brain back in it?” Legion asked. “Come now, Mr. Armstrong.”

She was clearly storing more mass than she ought to be able to in a body that size – I could tell from my ESP that she weighed far more than she should, not to mention how dense her fingers around my fist were – like rocks. And there was little reason for her to bother with fat when she had such complete control over herself – she was probably nothing but muscle and bone, given her incredible strength. If she even had to bother with such things when she could just shapeshift bones into whatever shape she wanted – on the other hand, she certainly moved like she had joints.

If she had joints, then she had weak spots, too.

I had never tried grabbing a specific location on an object before, but… I took hold of her forearm and bicep on the arm that held me with my TK, and pulled and pushed and twisted in opposite directions, as hard as I thought I could handle.

…ow. That was gonna bruise.

It had worked, though – with a stomach-churning squelch and pop, I had dislocated her elbow, and her hand and arm dropped, instinctively releasing me as muscles reflexively failed.

Again, I pushed at the ground before I could strike it, and found myself high in the air.

She glanced up at me, apparently unconcerned with Canaveral’s attempts to find her brain. “You’re not going to stop, are you?” she asked.

“Nope!” I said as cheerfully as I could manage, beginning to fall back to earth. “Not until I’ve put at least one of you behind bars, and preferably all three!” I was doing my best to channel the nonchalance and irreverence that Canaveral had had against the drug dealers, although with only limited success.

“At least one of three, hm? Well, I’m a little busy tonight. Places to be, people to see…”

“People to see or people to be? I quipped, and Canaveral snorted from where he struggled in her grip.

Legion laughed – the bright, tinkling laugh of someone enjoying themselves – and her hair parted itself to expose a pleased smile, curling up and tucking behind her ears. Was Canaveral really that low of a threat to her, that she had the mental capacity to not only banter with me but also mess with her own appearance, while still holding him off? “Just to see, tonight. No impersonations on the menu this time.”

I landed lightly on the roof of my house. I had to keep her talking as long as I could – not only would it give other heroes a chance to get here and help me and Canaveral, but any information on what she was doing was bound to be helpful. “Are you sure? Because you’re doing a great impression of someone’s older sister right now.”

She glanced down a Canaveral, who had mostly escaped her grasp but was now attempting to force his way closer to her despite one hand being firmly planted on the top of his head. “You know, you’re not wrong.”

“Newton!” Canaveral yelled. “Get the hell out of here!”

“Is that what you’re going by?” Legion asked. “Newton?”

“Dunno if I’ll keep it, but yeah,” I confirmed. I flipped off the roof and aimed for her elbow again. I didn’t really expect to hit, especially given how telegraphed this would be, so I prepared to alter my trajectory and strike her in the chest instead.

…well, I didn’t hit her elbow. I also didn’t hit her torso, as she expanded into a wide ring and allowed me to pass directly through her. I rolled and bounced off my feet, barely avoiding the tentacle that her unoccupied arm had turned into by dodging back around her – it came close enough that it tore my flannel, but it didn’t cut through the suit. “Speaking of people who don’t stop…”

Legion sighed. “This is getting very irritating. I hoped it would be the simplest stop, but no,” she complained. “You just have to make this difficult, don’t you?” Suddenly, the asphalt below me wrapped around my feet. I struggled, but it bound me too tightly to allow me to move, and it was creeping up my legs.

“How the hell?”

“Asphalt is made up organic compounds,” she told me, then turned to face Canaveral, who had backed away from her and was staring at me in horror. “Why don’t you settle down some, Canaveral?”

He balled up his fists. “Leave the kid out of this, Legion,” he ordered. “They’ve got nothing to do with whatever brought you here!”

She chuckled. “You think so, hmm? Well, I suppose so… but…” She gave him a sly grin. “You’ll have to give me a chance to speak, instead of launching things through my appendages. Deal?”

He gritted his teeth, but nodded. “Deal. Newton…” He glared at me. “Go.” The asphalt, which had by that point reached my waist, peeled away, splitting into a pair of large, dark birds, both of which flew off.

I glanced helplessly between the two of them, but after a moment I finally went.

Scene 12 – October 20th
Exterior City, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

It was painful, leaving Canaveral alone. On one level, obviously I knew that he was an experienced hero and had fought Legion before. But… he had clearly been struggling, and he had little backup. Her ability to consume organic matter was clearly far more dangerous than I had initially thought, with her having absorbed and controlled asphalt of all things, and that meant that the mass of the entire street was at her command (in retrospect, no wonder she hadn’t shifted even a little when I used her as an anchor for my TK).

As I moved, I couldn’t help but think… what had I just done? I had leapt into a super-powered battle without even thinking. Was I meant to be a hero after all?

…no, I had been useless, I realized. Worse than useless, in fact – I had probably been distracting Canaveral, and that was why he was having difficulty. He had been trying to get me to run the entire time, and what did I do? I stuck around and made things harder for him. What kind of shitty hero would I be?

Hell, Legion had clearly not been taking the fight seriously. She had barely paid attention to Canaveral and seemed to be trying to stay deliberately nonlethal with me. She had caught me twice, both without apparent effort, and could have almost definitely absorbed me then and there if she wanted to.

Unless the PA4 that I was wearing wasn’t organic? I had no idea what it was actually made of.

Still, I doubted it would have actually stopped Legion if she had been really trying. It was just a costume, psychic awakening or not, and it wasn’t even armored except from the knees and elbows onward (which, I had to say, is a weird place for it to be armored). If she could mimic asphalt, I was sure that she could mimic some kind of carbon-fiber blade and cut ribbons through me.

I had to pause on a rooftop as it suddenly hit me – I really had been close to death! The gun hadn’t seemed real and still didn’t, somehow – maybe it was because, like I had told my dad, I had never felt in danger with Canaveral there – he hadn’t been challenged at all by the gangsters. But Legion… she had been holding him off all on her own, with no difficulty at all. And she didn’t have to be on her own. Any time she wanted…

I suddenly felt the need to be closer to the ground. I needed a few moments to just… not be in this context. Not be in this costume, not be in this rooftop world, to not be Newton and to be Quinn instead.

I took a moment to leap off the roof, landing in Vivaldi Park, and sat down on a bench. I glanced around briefly with my eyes and ESP and, seeing no-one around, reached for the tiny button on the clasp of my belt that would loosen the PA4 and allow me to pull the mask off.

Before I could, however, a tree behind me warped and shifted and, bird in its branches and all, became a woman. I sighed, and put my nervous breakdown on hold for a moment.

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1.2. Scenes 8-10

Scene 8 – October 20th
Interior MLED Compound, Early Evening
Abraham Armstrong

“So,” I began, “the normal procedure when Legion is in town is to call in Aegis. He’s immune to everything she does – obviously,” I added, trying to bring a bit of levity into the situation. “Problem is that absolute invulnerability is in high demand, and he’s a very busy man. As of this morning’s commander briefing, he was dealing with an incursion from a parallel universe in California, and not expected to be available for another three days.”

“A parallel universe?” Simone asked. “Are those a thing?”

“Apparently,” I said with a shrug. “I’ll put in a request, but don’t expect him until then. Fortunately,” I said to the microphone in the wall, “we have an invulnerable man of our own. Isn’t that right, Vulcan?”

“Sir,” Adam protested, sounding embarrassed. “I’m nothing like tough as Aegis.”

“You’re probably tougher than any organic constructs she can put together, though,” Emilia pointed out. “And since you’re not organic yourself, in metal form, she won’t be able to absorb you.”

“Exactly,” I said, walking past her to the center of the room. I briefly touched her side as I passed, and she put a hand over mine – we exchanged a smile, then I continued. “So Zookeeper, I want you to relieve Vulcan of console duty. He’s going to be on stand-by to go up against any instances of Legion that we have a location on. You, Journey,” I said, turning to the young teleporter, “will be his transport.” Emilia nodded and began jogging to the console.

“I’m mostly out of distance,” Journey warned. “Depending on where in the city she’s found, I’ve probably only got one there-and-back trip left in me. I’ve been meaning to mention it, but…”

“Then that will have to do,” I said. “If necessary, I’ll head out as well, since I’m the fastest person here beside you.” I sighed. “We need to get you another cross country trip soon,” I noted, and the young heroine nodded.

At that moment, Vulcan stepped in from the console room. Adam Abelard didn’t have much a distinction between his civilian and superhero identities – the main difference was how formal his clothes were. The young man tended to wear button-downs and sweaters when he could, trying to reduce the intimidating effect of being a six-foot-four black man built like a truck by putting on a nerdy exterior, or so I had always assumed. Of course, my own goofy persona was at least partially for the same reason, so who was I to judge? The young hero entered the room halfway through pulling off today’s sweatervest, leaving him in khaki pants and a white button down. “Do we have any idea where she is?” he asked.

“Not yet,” I said. “But hopefully we will soon. Nic? She was reported about ten minutes south of the Compound.”

“Give me a moment,” the young man said, leaning against the wall. “I’m going to try to only send my vision so that I can still talk with you guys…” He closed his eyes and slumped a moment later. “… no, sorry, I can’t hear you,” he murmured. “But I’ll give you updates as I go. Right now I’m at the corner of Lander and Evans and continuing south. No sign of her yet.”

Adam walked over to Simone, giving her a shy smile. “How’s Megan?” he asked.

She sighed. “We’re on a break right now, unfortunately. How’s Tyrone?”

“Us too,” he said, gloomily. “At least the boss’s love-life is doing fine.”

Loki glanced at them. “Didn’t you hear? He and Emilia broke up with Max last month,” he said.

“Enough chatter,” I said, shooting the cluster of young heroes a glare, then winked to show that I wasn’t actually mad. “I don’t mind you gossiping about me, but seriously, eyes on the prize. Pay attention to Nic and keep an ear out for anything Zookeeper calls in with. Simone, Adam, you two in particular need to be ready to move at a moment’s notice.”

Nic continued feeding reports over the next few minutes, but Legion hadn’t made another appearance yet and without actually spotting her transforming, it was impossible to actually know who she was. It was shaping up to be a long night already.

I had to wonder what had brought Legion to New Venice. Her motivations tended to be a mystery – she sometimes mentioned having a boss, but other times insisted that she worked alone. And her actual actions held little pattern as well – in one city she would target one specific person and devour them, while in another she would steal an item from a museum. Here she would appear in public and fend off all attackers before leaving empty-handed, there she would quietly surrender to the MLED. It could be anything.

Anima and Sequoia had just returned to the Compound when I got a call on my cell phone. A quick glance at the screen said that it was Newton – I made a mental note to change their contact info now that I knew the kid’s name as I answered. “What is it? Don’t tell me that you’ve stumbled right into Legion,” I joked.

There was silence. “Kid?” I asked, starting to get worried. Had something happened? Was it just an accidental call? “Come on, talk to me.”

“You said not to tell you,” came the whispered reply.

“What!” I face-palmed, and put them on speakerphone. “You have the worst luck, kid.”

“Tell me about it. I’m on Shiketsu Street, between Hebert Avenue and Elm Street. There are two of her here right now – one with blue hair, one with purple.”

“Alright, someone will be there in a minute.” I glanced at Simone. “Journey, how many round trips could you make to Shiketsu Street?”

“Hm… only one, I think,” she said apologetically. “I could get there, back, and halfway there again, but then I’d be out.”
I glanced at Vulcan contemplatively. I could send the metal man in first and have Simone bring Quinn back to safety, and take the halfway trip myself. That was probably the best –

“Wait, shit, they’re both gone!” Quinn swore. “I don’t know where they went, I’m sorry!”

…or maybe I should go myself to check in on the kid. Plus I was better at pursuit and tracking than Vulcan – I had nothing against Adam, the man was a fast learner, but I had been doing this for seven years to Vulcan’s three. “One moment, Quinn,” I said, and hung up. “Journey, take me there. Then come back and bring Vulcan as close as you can. I’ll track down at least one of the Legions – once we capture her, hopefully she can tell us what the other one is up to.”

Scene 9 – October 20th
Exterior City, Continuous
Abraham Armstrong

A few seconds after I had pulled my cowl back on – there wasn’t time to done the rest of the Canaveral suit, but I’d manage – I was standing next to Newton, who had apparently changed into their costume at some point in the last half hour. Simone dropped his hand, gave Newton an encouraging smile, then vanished in a swirl of spacetime.

“…wait, why didn’t she take me back with her?” Quinn asked. “I figured you wouldn’t want me in Legion’s vicinity.”

I sighed. “Because I didn’t actually say for her to, and she apparently didn’t think of it herself. And it’s too late now – she’s used up too much of her built-up distance and can’t get all the way back here, let alone teleport anywhere once she arrived. I’m going to have to escort you to safety myself.”

Quinn nodded. “Still being trained?” they said sympathetically.

“She’s through the six-month training period, this is just an experience thing. But anyway, you said that you saw Legion?”

“Pretty sure,” they said with a firm nod. “My ESP picked up one person here, then two people a moment later, who might as well have been twins. Then one of them changed shape.”

“That seems pretty definitive,” I agreed. “Any other details?”

They shook their head. “Sorry. I tried to stay quiet and back from the edge, so I wouldn’t be noticed, and just called immediately. I peeked over again with my ESP – just stuck a finger over – and they were gone. Sorry for losing them.”

“No, you did the right thing. Legion is dangerous as hell.” I took a minute to poke around, but didn’t find much. Not that I particularly expected to, if I was being honest with myself. “Alright, let’s start moving. Where were you off to?”

“Just home – in Keystone Heights.”

“That’s closer than the Compound at this point, so lead the way.”

Scene 10 – October 20th
Exterior City, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

“Can you tell me a little about Legion?” I asked as we began moving. “I find myself kind of curious about the villain I nearly ran into.”

“Sure, what do you want to know?”

“She’s high threat level, I’m guessing?” Canaveral nods. “What’s the usual response to people like that?”

“At high threat level, we stop ignoring identities, for one thing,” he said. “Unfortunately it doesn’t much matter, in this case – Legion’s real name is Penelope Page, but we can’t exactly track her out of costume when she’s such a powerful shapeshifter.”

“I see the problem.”

“We try to only send in people that are immune to their most dangerous abilities,” he continued. “Aegis is the ideal, of course, but he’s not available right now – in New Venice, the closest we get is Vulcan.”

“She absorbs organic matter, right?” I ask. “He turns into metal, she can’t do anything to him.”

“She can’t devour him, no. Although to be honest…” he sighed. “Alright, this is a complicated thing and I have to back up a moment. Remember how she can recreate biological structures?”

“Yeah?”

“There are a lot of really scary possibilities with that. See, brains are also biological structures…”

I went pale. “Are you saying that she can read people’s minds after eating them?”

“No, reading information out of a brain isn’t so simple. But she can recreate a person’s head later, and interrogate them as much as she likes.”

“That’s somehow even worse,” I decided. “Being devoured and just dying forever is one thing, even if she knows everything you did. But if she can bring you back only to torture you?”

“Yeah, it’s not pretty to think about,” he agreed with a wince. “On the other hand, it also means that the people she eats aren’t necessarily gone forever. After one of Legion’s bodies is captured, she’s usually willing to bring back one or more of her victims in exchange for something.”

I considered this. “What kinds of things?”

“It varies a lot,” the hero told me. “Sometimes she wants to talk to someone in particular and deliver a message, other times she wants to have another prisoner released. It’s hard to predict. But that’s what we’re hoping for every time she shows up.” He sighed. “There are always more victims, unfortunately.”

“How can you know that it’s the person she brought back, and not just a sleeper agent?”

“Brain scans, like I said, and power testing. If it’s Legion’s brain – and we do have scans of her – then it’s her, and will have her shapeshifting power. If it’s not, then it’s the actual person, and they’ll be able to use their own power.”

“Is there a procedure for that?” I couldn’t help but ask. “People coming back from the dead?”

“For Legion in particular, you’re listed as missing-in-action rather than deceased, so you get back pay for the time you were taken,” he said. “If you’re a hero, at least – civilians have to make their own arrangements. People have come back from other things on occasion, but as far as I know she’s the only one that’s regular enough for a specific rule to have been made.”

“So she’s beatable then,” I optimistically said. “If people capture her and bring back her victims so regularly.”

“I wonder, sometimes,” Canaveral mused. “Her patterns since she first appeared around five years ago have been so irregular, no one really knows what she’s after. It feels like she’s playing a different game than the rest of us are. I’ve fought her three times – not here, this was before I was transferred to New Venice – and I can’t help but think that she let us win the one time we captured her.”

We fell silent until we reached my home.

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1.2. Scenes 4-7

Scene 4 – October 20th
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
Holly Koval

 

I had been having such a nice night, up until that moment. Sure, I would have had a good time at home, practicing my magical abilities and trying to get my parents to tear themselves away from their own magical research to help me – well, I would have had a good time with my research, trying to get my parents to pay attention to mine instead of theirs was like pulling teeth – but I tried not to get so wrapped up in research that I forgot about my friends. Coming in and spending some time with Simone was no hardship.

And the new kid that Armstrong was trying to recruit seemed like a good guy – not to mention that they were nonbinary too, even if they probably weren’t genderfluid as they only had one set of pronouns. Plus they were pretty cute – their eyes were a pleasant blue that stood out marvelously against the darkness of their hair, which was a curly mess of a jewfro that I wished I could just sink my fingers into. But, alas, I had just met them, and such things weren’t socially acceptable. Maybe if they joined the Journeymen.

…an amusing thought struck me: since my 21st birthday was in just six months, Kaufman’s graduation to the ranks of the New Champions – or whichever MLED team somewhere in America needed them most – would occur at the same time as mine, if they joined within the next month.

“Who’s Legion?” they asked, raising their voice to be heard over the alarm, and I refocused. “You mentioned them earlier, right Abe? But I don’t think I’ve heard of whoever they are. A supervillain, I assume?” I absently raised a hand, thinking a mind-bending thought and making an impossible gesture with the ease of long practice, and reduced the volume of the alarm to something less headache-inducing.

Armstrong nodded seriously, his demeanor visibly shifting. He was pretty light-hearted out of costume, not taking anything too seriously despite his status as the leader of the Champions. But when he donned the mantle of Canaveral, he took things far more seriously, became more intense. He was undergoing that shift now, a rare sight out of costume. “Legion is an extremely powerful shapeshifter, with no real limits aside from the amount of mass she has to work with. And she can consume organic matter to increase her mass.”

“That’s pretty scary to start with,” Kaufman noted, “but I somehow feel like there’s more.”

“There is,” Alvarez said, rising from her couch. “When she consumes something, she stores its pattern down to the atomic level, and can recreate it. Or mix and match as she desires. She can eat people and take their forms, and it’s impossible to detect without a brain scan.” Kaufman was going pale now, clearly imagining all sorts of horrible things.

“Even that’s not the worst part,” I couldn’t help but add. “She can duplicate herself, too. Spawn an extra body patterned after her own, and then there are two of her – both with the same shapeshifting abilities.”

“I don’t know much about her, to be honest,” Simone admitted. “When she splits like that, is it a hivemind?”

Canaveral – because he was Canaveral now, to such a degree that I could easily imagine his costume in place of the loose button-down and jeans that he was actually wearing – shook his head. “No, which is one of her few weaknesses. If she’s separated from herself they have no connection to each other.” He looked back to Kaufman, completely serious. “You need to go.”

“What? No! I can help!” they protested.

He shook his head. “You’re still untrained and you haven’t joined yet. And yes,” he raised a hand, “I know I took you against gangsters under vigilante laws. This is a different situation – Legion is one of the most dangerous women in the world.”

“Legion is who-knows-how-many of the most dangerous women in the world,” Kaufman corrected. “You’ll probably be outnumbered! You need all the help you can get! Besides,” they added slyly, “would it be safer for me to be out there alone, where she is, or with you guys?”

“Legion is dangerous, but she’s not mindless,” said Alvarez. “She usually sticks to stealth and doesn’t engage unless she has to, and she always has some target in mind wherever she goes. She’s not going to attack someone who seems like a random civilian. But regulations say that you can’t remain when we’re about to go into lockdown.”

Kaufman sighed, defeated. “Alright, alright. I’ll go.” They raised a hand and gave a dejected wave. “It was nice to meet all of you.”

 

Scene 5 – October 20th
MLED Compound, Continuous
Holly Koval

 

After they left, Canaveral pushed a button on the wall, activating a microphone to the console room. “Vulcan, call Anima and Sequoia in from patrol, if you haven’t already.”

“They’re on their way,” came the quiet voice of the metal man. “Do we have a plan, sir?”

He rubbed his temples. “I’m working on one, Adam. Give me some time.”

“You’ll need our help,” Simone said. “New Venice isn’t exactly a one-horse town – you need us to help you cover it.”

“I hate to admit it, but you’re right,” Alvarez agreed.

“Hey!”

“It’s dangerous,” Canaveral protested.

The shapeshifter shook her head. “Nic works at a distance, and Legion doesn’t have anything that will hurt him when he’s projecting – we need him to help scout the city. Simone can be transport only, that won’t be too dangerous either.”

“I can work from a distance too,” I offered. “I know my hand-to-hand skills aren’t going to be worth much against Legion, but I bet I can use lasers to cut off parts of her body mass.”

He sighed. “Fine. But only from a distance. And only because you’re all over 18 – Sequoia will have to go home too, once he and Miriam get back.”

“Jack can help too!” said Hypnos. “He turns 18 in only a few weeks!”

“He’s still under 18 until then,” Canaveral shot back. “You’re just going to have to live with your boyfriend staying a safe distance from the dangerous supervilain.”

“Well, when you put it that way…”

With my involvement approved, I took a moment to shift into Loki. It was an adjustment I had made a probably a thousand times in the years since I joined the Journeymen – I had been a member since I was 15, and at this point I have more experience than many full-fledged heroes. With all that practice, the change is quick, and a moment later the appearance of loose, flowing clothes that I had worn over the kevlar body suit I actually wore whenever I went to the Compound was gone, and replaced by Loki’s costume. My long blonde hair was gone too, covered by stylishly-unkempt black hair – a style that PR spent hours designing, since I never need to let it actually get ruined. Of course, my hair wasn’t actually that short, but no one would notice me pinning it up when the actual movement of my body wasn’t what my illusory self is doing. I’ve always thought that it was an excellent disguise – as Loki I’m six inches taller than I am as Holly, with short black hair rather than long blonde curls and dark eyes rather than baby blues, plus a more muscular (and more masculine) build. Not to mention that I used different pronouns – I don’t think that anyone could guess my secret identity.

“Alright, I think I have the beginnings of a plan,” Canaveral said, and I refocused myself yet again.

 

Scene 6 – October 20th
Exterior City, Early Evening
Quinn Kaufman

 

It took me a few minutes to make my way out of the MLED building, but it wasn’t long before I was on my way back home. It was probably for the best, I told myself – after all, I had class tomorrow, and it wouldn’t hurt to spend the evening reviewing notes instead of socializing. I certainly wasn’t going to be stewing over not being able to hang out with superheroes, or drowning my sorrows that I didn’t have any close friends at school to hang out with. No, not me.

…Did we even have any beer left at the house? Maybe I should swing by the store on the way back.

I found my bus station and began a new sketch of the three members of the Journeymen I had just met. The dark-skinned Amazon, Simone – the slim Nordic woman, Holly – and the young man hiding in his hoodie, Hypnos. They would be my teammates, if I decided to join. There were two others, if I remembered right – Sequoia, who had been on patrol along with Anima, and Referee, who had been out of town.

They had seemed nice enough. Simone struck me as rather bubbly and cheerful, taking the good-natured ribbing that the others gave her with good grace. Hypnos didn’t seem to be too enthused about being a hero in general, but he hadn’t seemed like a bad person. And Holly had seemed cool – sure, she had pulled a prank on me, but it hadn’t been a particularly mean one. And after all, her heroic identity was named after the god of mischief. Honestly, I was surprised that she didn’t screw around even more.

I felt like I could probably getting along with them fine. The question was really if I could actually be a hero at all. Regardless of what my dad said, I knew that I was never going to change the world. I was just one kid, not particularly bright, barely funny, and definitely more out of shape than I should be if I was going heroing. Could I really be a superhero?

Hm, the bus was pretty late. And, I remembered, I still had my costume on under my clothes…

Why not?

 

Scene 7 – October 20th
Exterior City, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

 

Traveling over the rooftops was way better than taking the bus. After finding a convenient alleyway where I could strip down to my costume, stuffing the light clothing I had worn over it into my bag and using TK to make sure I wouldn’t drop it, I simply walked up the side of the wall and began moving.

It was much faster, too – New Venice had notoriously winding roads that made driving much slower than it was in cities that had actually been planned, rather than designed by horse tracks. On the rooftops, however, I could travel in something approaching a straight line, and despite my top speed probably being only 30 or 40 mph, I was on track to arrive home before the bus would have gotten me there.

And, of course, it was more fun.

It was as I was leaping over Shiketsu Street that I noticed something strange – as I had crossed the street my ESP had felt one person standing in the mouth on an alley, but when I landed there were two people.

I leaned over the edge curiously and saw a pair of muscular woman, both with long blue hair. They could have been twins for all the difference they had – but even as I watched, one of them began to change. The hair shortened and turned purple, and the clothes changed into a different outfit entirely. Even her facial features – those that my ESP was picking up – were subtly changing.

The blue-haired one glanced up, and I ducked back, hoping she hadn’t noticed me. This had to be Legion! What kind of terrible luck do I have, that I just stumbled onto her?

Well, I supposed it technically didn’t have to be Legion – as Canaveral had pointed out to me the night that we had encountered Maxwell, there were enough shapeshifters of various kinds out there to make anyone’s identity questionable. But it seemed like too much of a coincidence for me to stumble on a possibly-multiplying shapeshifter the same night that one arrived in New Venice. I had to follow her, and to let the New Champions know where she was.

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1.2. Scene 3

Scene 3 – October 20th
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

Suddenly, the world changed. No longer were we slowly walking down a hallway towards a surprisingly distant light – instead, we were walking on a treadmill that stood in the middle of a comfortable looking lounge area, while a small group of teenagers and adults watched. One of them, a muscular young woman with dark skin and an impressively-poofy afro, was chuckling. “We were wondering how long it would take you to notice,” she teased. “And you just won me my bet by noticing first, new guy! Thanks! And pay up, sucker!” She jabbed the woman standing next to her in the ribs, shorter and thinner with pale skin and long blonde hair. Both were wearing the same white masks as me and Canaveral.

“Introductions first, I think,” Canaveral said, chuckling as the blonde girl, grumbling, passed a bill to the other. “Superhero name, civilian if you’re willing to give it, and one interesting thing about you. Oh, and pronouns,” he added. “I’ll start.”

He turned back to me and took off his mask what was happening. “Abraham Armstrong, aka Canaveral,” he told me, seeming quite amused at the flabberghasted look that was surely plastered on my face despite the mask I was wearing. “Hey, don’t look like that! I don’t actually have a secret identity, you know, I just don’t really spread it around like some people do,” he said with a mocking glance at an attractive hispanic woman who was taking up an entire couch

“Love you too, babe,” she shot back, unbothered.

“Anyway, I’m he/him, and I used to date a supervillain.”

“Was it Maxwell?” He nodded. “I thought so.”

“I’ll go next. I’m Holly Koval, aka Loki.” said the handsome blonde girl who had lost money, and her mask simply faded from existence. “Sorry about the prank, by the way – it was all in good fun – and it was Journey here’s idea anyway.” She jerked a finger at the black girl.

“It’s all right,” I assured her.

“I use she/her as a civilian, but he/him in costume. My interesting fact is that I’m the only one on this team who actually learned magic, instead of just relying on an innate knack.”

“I’m Simone Destrey,” said her amazonian neighbor, “aka Journey. She/her, and Holly is lying.”

“That’s neither interesting nor a fact!” Holly protested.

Simone crossed her arms. “Fine. My interesting fact is that the Journeymen are named after me.”

“No we’re not,” said a young man in a hoodie who was leaning against one wall. “You’ve only been part of the group for two years. It’s been the Journeymen for what, six?”

“Yeah, it was shortly after I joined,” Holly agreed. “Before that it was the Young Champions. Try another fact, Simone.”

“I’m relentlessly bullied,” she complained with a sigh, but she smiled as she said it. “Is that good enough?”

“Yeah, that works,” said the hoodied kid. “And I’ll break the trend by not revealing my identity, I mean come on. I’m Hypnos.” He didn’t seem to be wearing a costume, really, just the comfy-looking hoodie and a pair of sweatpants, with a domino mask under the raised hood. “He/him, and my fact is that I don’t want to be here. Also, I’m deaf. I wear hearing aids, but I might not be able to understand you if you don’t speak clearly. Don’t make a big deal of it.”

“And I’m Emilia Alvarez,” said the hispanic woman, sitting up from where she had been lying on the couch. “Better known as Zookeeper – she/her. My fact is that I have an eidetic memory. That’s everyone who could be here today – Anima is on patrol with Sequoia, Vulcan is on console duty, and Referee is out of town this weekend.”

“What about Ben?” Canaveral asked.

She shrugged. “Starling just said no. You know he’s not exactly social.”

There was a moment of silence before I realized that everyone else had introduced themselves and was now watching me expectantly. I nervously ran a hand through my hair, then decided to pull off my mask. They had trusted me, after all, and if I didn’t become a hero I wouldn’t have a secret identity anyway. “I’m Quinn Kaufman – they/them,” I introduced myself. “My fact is that I got my powers less than a week ago.”

“And Abe is already trying to recruit you? They must be pretty strong,” Emilia commented. “What can you do?”

“Well, I can open pickle jars, and I can draw pretty well,” I began.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

“I’m not much of a singer, but I can whistle.”

“Quinn-”

“My classmates tell me that I’m a good tutor, and with all humility I can say that I’m a beast at air hockey.”

“Can you play the piano?” Holly asked.

“How about parkour?” said Simone.

“Poetry,” was Hypnos’s contribution.

“Yes but not for years, yes, and no but my dad is a professor of poetry.”

“How are you at cooking?” asked Canaveral – Abraham, I supposed.

“Frisbee?”

“Dungeons and Dragons?”

“Fishing?”

“Speaking other languages?” Emilia asked, apparently having decided to go with the flow.

“Pretty decent, not great, not since highschool, no, and a little Spanish.”

“Ever wrestled an eel?” asked Simone.

“Or gone white-water rafting?”

“Acted in a play?”

“Kissed a boy?”

“Kissed a girl?”

“No, no, I’m better at impressions, and gentlemen don’t kiss and tell and neither do I.” I said with a grin.

The impromptu quiz continued for a few minutes more before the group seemed to get bored with coming up with increasingly ridiculous questions, and the topic turned back to my powers. “Seriously though, what can you do?” Emilia asked again.

“I have a sort of omnidirectional sense paired with a kind of telekinesis that includes a backlash. Think of it like…” I paused for a moment, trying to decide how to describe it. “I have telekinetic arms that extend like an aura around my body. Anything within line of sight of me, I can feel and move as though I held it – which means, when I try to move massive things, that I’m moved instead.”

“Self Buff (Sensory) and Area Control (Kinetic),” Emilia guessed. “Am I right, babe?”

“You’ve got it,” Abraham agreed.

“What is that? Some kind of power rating?” I asked.

“Pretty much,” the heroine confirmed. “The MLED rates powers in four ways, each with one of four ratings.”

“You weren’t kidding about them liking fours,” I said to Abraham, who nodded sadly.

“Each power is labeled by area of effect, type of effect, power level, and general effect,” she continued. “The idea is that it’s the order of information you need to know in the field – area of affect tells you if you need to stay out of their touch range, sight range, or just away, with self range powers not being dodgable for obvious reasons.”

“Meanwhile, type of effect tells you what it’ll do to you if you don’t steer clear,” Canaveral said, taking up the thread. “Buffs make the target better at something, debuffs make you worse, damage will just hurt you, and control is kind of a catch-all but is theoretically about things that’ll control the target. Everything from mind control to telekinesis.” He glanced at the three younger heroes. “Which of you wants to take the next one?”

“Oh shit, is this a quiz?” asked Simone.

“Well, it is now,” Emilia agreed. “And I think you just volunteered.”

Holly laughed. “Sorry, Simone!”

“It’s fine, I know it anyway. Third is a numerical danger rating, 0-3. 0 is for stuff that’s barely or not at all dangerous, like this kid at my martial arts dojo who can walk on water but nothing else. 1 is stuff that’s dangerous but can be dealt with by a normal human. 2 is stuff that you can’t deal with without powers, but which is limited in scope, and 3 is powers that can do almost anything.”

“As you can imagine,” Emilia commented, “ratings of 3 are very rare. Most metahumans have ratings of 0 or 1, with even most superheroes and villains only having ratings of 1 or 2.”

“So like… Graviton, or Cobalt Red?”

Abraham nodded. “They’re two who have 3 ratings, yes,” he said. “Legion is another, as was the Mountain King back in the day. The only ones in New Venice right now are Rube and La Borda.”

I thought about this for a moment. “How is this different from the threat level rankings you told me about?”

“Threat level covers people as a whole, which means it takes their personality and goals into account,” he said. “Power rankings are strictly for powers. So Max, for example, has a low threat rating, but his hammerspace power is ranked at 2.”

“That makes sense.”

“Don’t think I’ve forgotten about you two!” Abraham suddenly cried, pointing at Holly and Hypnos, one with each arm. “There’s still one category left in the power rankings!”

“Sure, but it’s the silliest one,” Holly said. “It’s just a brief descriptor of the power. I don’t see why they can’t condense it all a bit. Like, why not just give you ‘touch kinesis 2” instead of ‘touch control 2 (kinetic)’? Seems like an over complication.”

“I dunno, I can see the rational for both,” I put in. “But then, I’m coming from the outside. Maybe it makes less sense in practice.”

“Honestly, it works pretty well in practice,” said Emilia. “These two just like complaining.”

“You say I like complaining, but I have actual issues with the system,” Abraham insisted, and Holly nodded. “I mean, just think of how many different kinds of powers are all grouped together in Self Buff!”

“So…” I said, trying to move on from the argument, “if I’m Self Buff and Area Control…”

“At ranks 1 and 2 respectively,” Abraham added, “although those ratings are provisional depending on what power testing shows when you register and go through it.”

“What are the rest of you guys?”

“I’m Touch Control 2 (Kinetic),” the hero said. “Powerful and versatile, but I can’t do everything.

“I’m Self Control 2 (Animal Shifting),” Emilia told me. “Any animal I know the form of, I can transform into. I have to put in the work to learn their form, but thanks to my eidetic memory, my roster only ever expands.”

“The magic I’ve learned lets me control light and sound,” said Holly. “The MLED gives me an Area Control 2 (Illusion) rating, but that misses so much. I mean, I’m not making magical illusions – those are mental constructs placed into the psychic landscape. I’m actually controlling photons and sonic energy. I can make lasers and concussive blasts when I need to. See, this is why the current rating system is -”

“I have Self Control 1 (Teleportation),” Simone interrupted. “Myself and anything I can lift. I have a distance limit that rises as I move physically, and falls whenever I teleport. That’s why I have to work out so much, and that’s why I’m called Journey.”

“I thought you were just a fan of the band,” I joked.

“Well obviously I love their stuff, but I’m not gonna name myself after some middle-aged white dudes,” she retorted.

“Fair point.”

We glanced at Hypnos. “Self Buff 0 (Sensory Projection),” he reluctantly said. “My senses can fly around disconnected from my body.” I winced, and he shrugged. “Sure, the MLED thinks it’s useless, but I don’t want to be a hero anyway. I’m just here for training, because I can’t always control it – I often end up projecting randomly as I sleep.”

“Well, I’m sorry that your powers aren’t always under your control,” I told him. “But they do sound really useful, for recon work and the like. I assume that you can’t be hurt when you’re projecting them?”

He waggled a hand. “Sort of. Things like flashbangs that target the senses will fuck me up something fierce – no actual damage, but I get a terrible migraine and can’t keep projecting until it goes away. But stuff like fire or electricity are dulled enough that I feel it without feeling pain.”

“So are you thinking about joining the Journeymen?” Holly asked. “We’d be glad to have you, and I’m sure Sequoia and Referee would agree. I know she’d love to have another trans person on the team, and so would I.”

“Between the three of you, we poor cis kids would be almost outnumbered,” Simone commented with a chuckle.

“At least we’d keep up our all-queer streak.”

“I’m… considering it. I admit, I’m leaning towards ‘no’ right now, but it’s got nothing to do with you guys, you all seem lovely.”

“Well, do you have any questions?” Holly asked. “Anything we can do to try and convince you?”

Anything?” said Simone, leaning forward, clasping her hands behind her back, and waggling her eyebrows suggestively.

Holly sprayed her in the face with a bottle of water that materialized from thin air. I assumed it was an illusion, but it seemed to be real enough to make Simone splutter. “There’s a time and a place, Simone, and this isn’t it,” she scolded, surprisingly sternly given her earlier prank. “Leave the flirting for another time.”

“Or at least be a little more subtle about it,” Emilia advised.

“Well, one question I have is -” I began, but was interrupted by a blaring alarm and a red light that began sweeping the room.

“Console to stand-by,” came a quiet voice through speakers in the ceiling. “We have reports that Legion is in the city. Repeat, we have reliable information suggesting that Legion is in New Venice.”

Previous Chapter | Next Chapter

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1.2. Scenes 1-2

Scene 1 – October 18th
Interior Townhouse, Early Evening
Quinn Kaufman

I didn’t get a chance to visit Dad for a day or two, too busy with schoolwork – my night out as a hero had left me exhausted, and my tiredness had made me slower than usual as I plodded through schoolwork – but before long he had recovered from his most recent relapse and was on the way home. I was making him a nice dinner to welcome him home, but hadn’t had time to shop for anything special. That meant it was Italian food – New Venice was heavily populated by Italian immigrants, and ingredients for their favorite dishes were always in ready supply.

I had timed it well – he stepped in through the door just as I was straining the spaghetti. “’Home agin, an’ home to stay— / Yes, it’s nice to be away. / Plenty things to do an’ see, / But the old place seems to me / Jest about the proper thing,’” he declared. “Are those meatballs I smell, Quinn?”

“They sure are!” I called back. “Come get something to drink, dinner’s just about ready!”

“Excellent!” My father stepped into the room, beaming at me, and took a glass from the cupboard. “Just water tonight, I think.” As I filled his glass, he said, “Paul Lawrence Dunbar, by the way. One of the first influential black poets in America.”

I went to hug him. “Welcome home, dad.”

He hugged me back, then released me and took a plate. “So how did the power testing go? Defeat any supervillains?”

“Ran into a one and was rescued by Aegis, who offered to give me his power,” I joked.

“Now that doesn’t seem very likely. Are you sure you’re not just offering him the credit for what you did, to stay out of the gang’s eyes?”

“You caught me – it was a giant dragon that I defeated by throwing a spider into his mouth.”

“Not surprised. Dragons notoriously hate spiders. Ancient enemies.”

“I thought spiders hated octopi? 8-legged rivals, you know.”

“Well, sort of. Really the octopusses just wish they were spiders.”

“Well, who wouldn’t want to be a spider?”

We laughed as we served each other – I spooned spaghetti onto two plates while Dad scooped out the meatballs. “But seriously, kiddo, what happened?”

“Well,” I said, taking a bite, “it did actually go pretty well. I went to a junkyard about ten minutes away and played around with my powers – pretty much what we thought they were, ESP and telekinesis. The telekinesis has a weird backlash effect where the same force gets applied to me, but that actually turned out to be pretty useful for moving around. I can walk on walls if I do it right, and jump pretty crazy distances by pushing against the ground.”

“How much force can you exert?” Dad asked. “Is it possible for you to hurt yourself with the backlash? You should be careful.”

“It is,” I said, wincing. “I’ve been super sore for the last two days. It wasn’t as bad the first day, but I tried a moon hop out of costume yesterday and, well, turns out that the PA4 reduces the backlash some. Or maybe makes me physically tougher, I’m not sure. Either way, it’s not something that applies when I’m not wearing it.” I poked at my food for a moment. “Similar thing with the ESP, actually, just a little more low-key. When I can feel too much with it – while I’m outside, really – it starts to build up a headache over time. Again, the suit seems to help reduce that.”

“Maybe you’ll get better at that over time,” Dad offered. “The TK backlash sounds like it’s inherent to the force, but the headache might just be your brain having trouble dealing with so much extra information.”

“I hope so.” I took another bite, then continued. “And then on the way home…” I told Dad about how the night had become the best of my life – how I had met my personal hero, Canaveral, and he had taken me under his wing!

“…and you know, he seemed pretty exasperated with Maxwell, but they also seemed to be pretty… I dunno, intimate with each other? I was getting some kind of relationship vibe there. If they were exes they seemed pretty friendly. Oh, and then we worked out that I can visit the MLED Compound on Sunday, and he’ll introduce me to the other heroes!” I finished, excitedly.

Dad was silent for a moment. “Can we go back to the part where you had a gun pointed at your head, and you completely glossed over it?”

“Oh yeah. That.”

“Yes, that, Quinn!” he snapped. “I told you to be careful, didn’t I? I told you to steer clear of the gangs! And you ran right into danger!”

“I was with Canaveral!” I defended myself. “He wouldn’t let me get hurt! And I have superpowers now, anyway!”

“Oy gavalt, You didn’t have superpowers when that woman was threatening you!” Dad ran his fingers through his hair, a habit we shared when we were angry or stressed. “Why isn’t this phasing you, kid?”

“Because…” I thought back, trying to decipher my feelings. “Well,” I began, “it certainly frightened me at the time. It was only aimed at me for probably 30 seconds at most, but it felt like weeks. But afterward, it seems… I dunno, less important?

“I guess I knew that Canaveral wouldn’t let me be hurt,” I continued. “I mean, he mentioned afterward that if Maxwell hadn’t stepped in he would have let them go, and the police would have grabbed them since the area was surrounded. But even in the moment, his first instinct when I was seriously threatened was to step towards me. I think he probably would have even if the equality had taken away his powers too. He’s a real hero, you know?” I smiled to myself a little. “If I can be half the man he is, I’ll have reason to be proud.”

Dad spent a few minutes digesting this, and I took our finished plates into the kitchen. When I came back, he finally responded. “What would you have done if Canaveral wasn’t there? You won’t always have a partner as a superhero.”

“For one thing, I wouldn’t have gone into that situation without training, if he wasn’t there,” I said. “And anyway, I don’t even know if I want to be a hero yet. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to decide on Sunday.”

He sighed. “I know you’ve always wanted to change the world, Quinn, to make a positive difference. You’re really telling me that you don’t want to be a hero?”

“…yeah, well… childhood dreams aren’t always realistic,” I said, quietly. “I’m just one person, and I know how rare it is for individual people to affect much. If I can contribute a little… that’s why I want to be a metahuman doctor, you know? If I can save the real heroes, the ones who actually can change things…”

“You can change things too, Quinn,” Dad insisted.

“Sure,” I said, not really believing him. “Seems fake, but okay.”

Dad shook his head, seeming a little sad. “I can’t believe that thing holding you back isn’t the gun, it’s that you don’t think you can be a hero.” He looked at me again. “You should take Canaveral up on his invitation,” he said. “Just be careful. And please, whatever they may say, don’t go on patrol or anything without getting training.”

“I won’t, I promise,” I assured him. “And again, I really don’t think I’m going to register as a hero anyway. Being a doctor is already aiming high enough.”

Scene 2 – October 20th
Interior MLED Compound, Late Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

The MLED Compound was a huge building, stretching out over a full block. Rumors said that it held everything from teleporters to other compounds in other cities, to underground shooting ranges, to a full-sized baseball diamond.

I didn’t really believe those rumors – the size of the building was, in my opinion, simply necessitated by the fact that it served such a vast organization. After all, it was not only the headquarters of the New Champions and their Journeymen, it was the only building used by the MLED in New Venice. And with the MLED being nearly the size of the police force, that meant almost 400 agents operating out of it, not to mention secretaries, janitors, management, and so on… and, of course, it almost certainly held things like cafeterias, medical wings, and more. But a baseball diamond?

All that was to say that while it was an impressively sprawling building, I didn’t really pause to marvel at its size.

I entered and met the receptionist, giving him a codeword that Canaveral had given me, and he nodded and directed me to where I would be meeting superheroes! I had entered in the wrong wing of the building, as it turned out, so I spent a few minutes walking, following an orange line that eventually led me to an elevator. I stepped inside it and gave my passphrase again to a microphone in the wall, and it began moving.

A moment after it started up, a panel on the side of the wall popped open, revealing a tray of masks. They were in a few different styles, but all in plain white, as well as a nametag that said ‘VISITOR: NEWTON’. Clever – allowing people to maintain a secret identity, or at least the pretense of one, even without a costume. I selected a domino mask, which self-adhered easily after I pressed a tiny button on its edge, and I found that it came off just as easily when I pressed the button again. I stuck the nametag to my shirt just in time, as the doors slid open just afterwards.

“Welcome!” said a tall, muscular black man wearing a mask that was the same blank white as the one I had taken from the elevator. “It’s good to see you again, Newton.”

After a moment, I recognized his voice as that of Canaveral. “It’s good to see you too,” I said, shaking his hand. “I guess we’re not meeting up in costume? I did wear mine underneath these clothes, but there were masks in the elevator, so…”

“Everyone’s suited up as much as they care to be already,” he told me. “We can take a moment for you to change if you’d like?” I shrugged. “Follow me, then – we’re all in the main common room.”

He pointed me down a short hallway, and briefly explained how their wing of the compound was laid out. One hallway was where the New Champions were located – a common area with couches, a tv, a small kitchen, and so on, with rooms branching out from it. This was mirrored on the other side of the elevator, with a similar setup for the Journeymen – he noted that their side of the wing had been set up for minors and so lacked adult entertainments – like alcohol, he quickly clarified when I began to blush. Adults weren’t allowed in the Journeymen’s area, while the reverse was true of the Champions’ – technically, he noted, they were divided by age rather than team, but they didn’t currently have any adults on the Journeymen so it was a moot point.

“Although that might be changing soon?” he asked me hopefully, and I shrugged, still undecided.

Meanwhile, the central hallway that we were currently meandering down led to shared spaces. A larger common room for the teams to use together, training areas like the gym and the pool, the console room, and the exit that they left through for patrols.

“Are you over or under 21?” he asked me.

“Over,” I answered. “I turned 21 about three months ago.”

“You’d graduate from the Journeymen pretty quickly, then. People think the team is just for minors, but it’s actually more of a training thing – six months minimum on the junior team for anyone registering as a hero,” he explained, “then they’re moved to a main team somewhere in the country. Or not, if they’re still under 21.”

“Makes sense,” I agreed, “but how long is this corridor, anyway?”

“That’s a good question,” he said. “Not this long, typically. Holly, is this your doing?”

Intermission | Act 2 | Next Chapter

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1. Act 2: In Circling Flight

Quiet birds in circling flight,

-Mary Elizabeth Frye, 1932

Scenes 1-2, Scene 3, Scenes 4-7, Scenes 8-10

Scenes 11-12, Scenes 13-14, Scenes 15-16, Scene 17, Scenes 18-20, Scenes 21-22, Scenes 23-24, Scenes 25-27

Scenes 28-29, Scenes 30-31, Scenes 32-35, Scene 36-37

Intermission (Scenes 1-5)

Dramatis Personae

Principal Cast

Abraham Armstrong, the superhero Canaveral and leader of the New Champions, who commands kinetic energy. (he/him)
Penelope Page(s), the supervillain(s) Legion, who can change her shape and duplicate herself. (she/her)

  • Blue, a 2nd generation incarnation of Legion who enjoys being challenged. (she/her)
  • Student, a 3rd generation incarnation of Legion who seeks to repay a debt. (she/her)
  • Butch, a 3rd generation incarnation of Legion who desires revenge on another’s behalf. (she/her)

Quinn Kaufman, a recently-empowered metahuman unsure about their future. (they/them)

A Society of Heroes

Adam Abelard, the superhero Vulcan, who can transform into metal to create both ice and fire. (he/him)
Benjamin Brant, the superhero Starling, who can fly for brief moments and creates incredible technology. (he/him)
Emilia Alvarez, the superheroine Zookeeper and Abraham’s girlfriend, who can transform into animals. (she/her)
Holly Koval, the young superhero Loki, who can magically shape light and sound into illusions. (she/her and he/him)
Jack Forester, the young superhero Sequoia and Niccolo’s boyfriend, who can transform into wood. (he/him)
Miriam Wright, the superheroine Anima, who can command the zoetic energy of life. (she/her)
Molly Madigan, the young superheroine Referee, who imposes fairness in an aura around her. (she/her)
Niccolo Mellas, the young superhero Hypnos, who can project his senses at a distance. (he/him)
Simone Destrey, the young superheroine Journey and a friend of Holly, who can teleport. (she/her)
William Wordsworth, the superhero Ventus and an ex-boyfriend of Abraham, who can control the wind. (he/him)

An Arrangement of Others

David Kaufman, a chronically ill poetry professor and Quinn’s father. (he/him)
Henry Blackmire, the former local director and now local deputy director of the Metahuman Law Enforcement Division, or MLED. (he/him)
Laura Kaufman, a scientist in the employ of the Ambrosia Company. (she/her)
Maxwell Copperfield, the supervillain The Magnificent Maxwell and the ex-boyfriend of Emilia and Abraham, who can magically store objects in a pocket dimension. (he/him)
Susan Shepard, the local director of the MLED. (she/her)

Intermission | Next Chapter

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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, sleight 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.

Previous Chapter | Act 2 | Next Chapter

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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…”

Previous Chapter | Intermission

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