Archive for August, 2015

Jay hit the pause button on the video, and Eric let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. He had to bite his tongue to keep from losing his shit on poor Jayson, asking why he’d stopped, what earthly reason did he have for keeping this from them any longer. It was there—right there—and he’d just stopped. Meryl let out a gasp. Jay had retrieved her before playing the video, declaring that she deserved to hear this too. At that point, she seemed to be of the same opinion as Eric. Why the hell did he stop?

“Donald might be—might have been an asshole, but his info’s legit. Which means what he says is the God’s honest truth,” Jay said. “Knowing this will risk your lives. I won’t force you into that. Any of you. Walk away now, and there will be no hard feelings.”

Eric held his tongue. Of course Jay stopped the video. These were a bunch of teenagers. Children. And Charity—could she even make that decision for herself right now? Instinct almost made Eric raise his gaze to this twelve-year-old inhabiting the body of the woman he loved. He jerked his head away, because he knew that looking into her eyes would be his undoing. His whole body ached being this close to her but still facing such uncertainty in their future.

“Do it.” Allen spat the words out between clenched teeth. “This ends today. No more waiting, no more wondering. We need to know. And we need to finish it. We need to fight this. Donald he—” Allen stopped and ran his hand over his face. “He saved my life. And this person—no, this monster. They killed him. No more. No one else should die for this.”

Lindsay nodded. “Agreed.”

Mitch rolled his eyes. “Well, fuck. Whoever this is had better got some superpower that makes people agree, cause I’m actually with dumbass on this one.”

Marcus put his hand on Charity’s arm. “Maybe you shouldn’t be here—”

Charity jerked her arm away. “You guys keep telling me I’m an adult, so stop treating me like a kid. Even if I am one, sort of. Look, it doesn’t matter how old I am, I can see this world’s screwed up.” Tears filled her eyes and she wiped at them angrily. Eric’s heart broke. “Everything’s so messed up. Mom and Dad are gone, and…and I’m not even supposed to be sad about that anymore cause it happened a long time ago, but it still hurts.” She took a quick breath and continued. “But that’s not even the part that matters. The important thing is that this is part of the world we can fix. If there’s something I can do to help, then I will. I must do it. Because that guy’s right.” Her jaw clenched. “This needs to stop.”

Eric’s lips parted and tears filled his eyes. This was Charity. It didn’t matter what age or where she was in her life, Charity was a hero. She always would be no matter what. Despite himself, Eric smiled. His eyes grew determined. “Let’s end this.”

Jayson nodded and pressed play.

“If I am right,” the on-screen Donald continued, “the only way the person I am meeting will know that I know that…” He paused, confused. “You know what I mean. They need the ability to read my mind. This is something we haven’t considered. It is a missing piece of the puzzle that has plagued us for months. There is a certain person far more powerful than any of us have ever imagined. In fact, we’ve been deliberately kept from ever having imagined it.

“Years ago, I left Delta because I wasn’t about to be told what to do by a bunch of portentous, self-righteous, pompous pricks. Say that ten times fast. Portentous pompous pricks. Portentous pompous pricks. Porpempus—okay, enough of that.” He waved his hand dismissively.

“Anyway, separating myself from the likes of Delta never prevented me from knowing what was going on with them. I noted with little interest a pet project of the ever-lovable Dr. Derek Danesfield. He knew the little girl was a meta, but had no idea of the extent of her capabilities. However, he was convinced that all would be revealed after his repeated administrations. With such an effort, I was more than a little surprised to find out that this protégé had such limited capabilities. After all, post-cognition is so very limited, especially if you have to actually touch your subject.

“If you haven’t figured out who I’m talking about by now, you must be under a rock. The person behind it all must be powerful enough to impress the Shadow Fae, and clever enough to organize not only them, but several other groups to do his or her bidding—including, by the way, Delta Division. Yes, Drake is all of those things. He’s a perfect candidate for the blame, especially considering his past dealings with the Fae. What he lacks, however, is the motivation. Sure, it’s the ultimate ‘Daddy, look what I can do’ bit—the boy’s got daddy issues, what can I say—but he more or less got that out of his system when he beat the shit out of me. Fair and square, kid. You earned it.

“If we can understand Samantha Clive’s true power, I believe we can understand how she pulled it off. She reads buried memories—is it not too much of a stretch to imagine her planting them? Imagine the power one has when they control the mind.

“By the way, you’re probably right. This is no more proof than the Elves’ magic mojo that buzzes out your brain waves, but consider this. If I’m wrong, then there is no reason to kill me. But if I’m right, and Sam knows that I know, I’m dead. The proof is in the pudding, is it not?

“So, there. I’ve told you all I know. There’s only one thing that remains… what are you going to do about it?”

In the silence that followed, Eric considered dropping a box of pins just to see if he could count them by sound. He didn’t know what to think. His mind’s attempts to grapple with the revelation made him feel lightheaded, and he suddenly noticed he’d stopped breathing. His deep gasp broke the spell.

“Is he—is he telling the truth?” Lindsay whimpered. Eric was right there with her. His mind could not comprehend a betrayal of this magnitude, nor the level of manipulation it would take to engineer such a terrible, unnecessary tragedy.

“Only one way to find out.” There was a darkness to Jayson’s words. Anger seethed off him. Eric was sure that if he put his hand on Jay’s shoulder he would feel a heat that rivaled anything Mitch or Liam could produce. “I’m sure the lab’s got some nullifier. I’ll grab some of that and port it into Sam. Then bring her back here. If she’s truly as powerful as Donald suggests, then Meryl should be able to get the truth out of her with Sam’s own powers.”

Meryl gave a curt nod. She was a gentle soul, and it made Eric sad to see her so broken she would willingly and enthusiastically agree to such a violent and invasive plan. What if they were wrong? What if Sam was innocent, and this was just a matter of one sociopath framing another?

“Are you—are you sure?” Eric stuttered.

“If we’re wrong, then we’re screwing with Sam on the same level as she let happen to Drake. If we’re right…” Jay trailed off and shook his head, leaving the rest unspoken.

“Be careful,” Meryl said as he kissed her on the head. He vanished before Eric could make any more protests.

* * * *

Geoff dashed around his desk without his customary grace, knocking over a stationary holder, scattering pens, pencils, and yellow and pink highlighters all over the floor. Samantha Clive turned to him with an amused smile. “Mr. Davis. Aren’t we excited today? Were you able to set up the meeting with Rio’kir?”

“Yes, yes. A delegation will receive the United Nations at noon.”

“Splendid. I—“

“I know who the mastermind is.”

Sam blinked. “Is that so?”

Geoff hesitated. “Well, I can. I could. That is to say, not entirely, but I’ve been told…”

“Mr. Davis, you’re not making any sense.”

“There’s a video. A file I received. It details who is behind the attacks.”

“I see. Did you watch this video?”

“Not the whole thing. Director, he said if I knew, the information would get me killed.”

“Who said?”

“That old man…Donald Kasuki.”

Something changed on Sam’s face. There was shock that she quickly disguised, and then aggravation. For a woman who let emotions play on her face only as a calculated move, that seemed out of character. Geoff was confused.

Geoff was perhaps not at a level of intellect that would pioneer a new future. He would never think enough outside the box to make a profound discovery, but he did process information faster than nearly anyone else alive. Instead of being happy that the biggest mystery currently plaguing Delta was solved, she was annoyed. The only reason she would feel that, and moreover feel it accidentally, was if it directly affected her. If she was the one behind it all. The poison attempt? A red herring to throw them off, never meant to work. Why? To make allies of the Elves. Geoff’s lips parted.

Sam shook her head. “Oh, Mr. Davis. It’s a pity, really. You were so useful. Utterly loyal and good.”

This wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be happening. “Why?”

“Yes, I suppose you’d be wondering that, wouldn’t you? Mr. Davis, we are at war. Japan and China have allied to force Russia to give over the child and his discoveries. It’s unlikely they’ll win, but the resulting confrontation will fragment the communications industry. Russia will expect us to intervene. We’ll win, of course, but the world will be entirely convinced that metahumans are a threat. They’ll react accordingly, and I’m sure even you could imagine the disaster that would be. This world will crumble under a war between human and metahuman.”

“So, you add another enemy?”

“A common enemy. The Fae are a threat to everyone; human, metahuman, Elf. To combat their mortal enemy, the Elves can and will equip the human race with their technology and knowledge. Magic, Mr. Davis, just think about it!”

Geoff thought about it. “But…but what about all those people…Stryker… Oh, God, you had Stryker killed.”

“I had Stryker turned into a martyr. He was the perfect scapegoat—so simple and willing to be molded. I made him into the world’s perfect hero. I made him their cause. The world will fight together against a terrifying unseen force for that cause. I saved the world, Mr. Davis.”

Geoff sat down heavily. “Do you really think it will work?”

“I know it will, so long as the truth remains hidden. I can play the villain for the sake of the world, but this world must still see me as a hero.”

“And…if anyone knows, Stryker and everyone else died for nothing.”

“Yes.”

“I see. All right.”

“All right?”

“Yes. I won’t tell anyone.”

Sam smiled. She pulled a chair up next to him and sat down, covering his hands with hers. “You’ve been a wonderful assistant, Geoffrey. I mean that. We work well together, and I’ve always appreciated your services. I felt I owed you at least an explanation.”

I’m a dead man. The thought perhaps should have shocked him into action, should have made him run away. But he couldn’t move. Pain spiked behind his eyes. Something warm and sticky ran down his lip and over his open mouth. “Before you kill me.”

“Yes. I certainly believe that you believe you won’t tell anyone. But one of the best things about you is your impressionability. Someday someone will convince you to reveal all you know. And then all will be lost.”

The world faded to eerie gray outlined in white, then to pitch black, and he thought, this is it.

He became aware of warm hands that grasped about his shoulder. His life flashed before his eyes, though it was surprisingly short for what he could pack in a day, and looked an awful lot like the training room. Then he was in some kind of living room staring at gray, flower-patterned couches, pink carpet, and an entertainment center. For a wild moment, he wondered if this was heaven. If it was, it was a strange one. He never thought the afterlife would be so…domesticated.

He came to the conclusion that he was not dead at about the same moment his stomach violently protested having suffered through two fast teleports. He heaved, and the world shifted again, this time to the bathroom of the same homey domicile. That didn’t at all help his condition, but he couldn’t actually get any more nauseated. The entirety of his stomach contents ended up in the toilet, and then some.

“Are you all right, Geoff?” Jay Allison looked him in the eye, deep concern playing on his handsome face as he handed him a box of tissues.

Geoff shook his head, which made the world spin, and his stomach along with it. He dry heaved into his new porcelain friend.

Jay put a hand on his shoulder. “Take your time.”

He left, and a few minutes later, Geoff finally managed to pull himself together long enough to walk down the hallway, through the kitchen, and into the welcoming family room where everyone had gathered. Low whispers instantly stopped as he approached.

Geoff blinked. “Mr. Allison, I ah…what happened?”

“He just saved your damn life, that’s what happened,” Mitch said in a rather snarky fashion. “Seriously? You handed the video to Samantha Clive?”

“Well, she is the Director. She…she…” It dawned on him all at once, everything his brain was trying to tell him, everything he was refusing to believe. “She tried to kill me.”

“You’re a loose end,” Jayson said. “It seems she doesn’t like those.”

“You…how did you…”

“We also got the movie,” Meryl said gently. For some reason, Geoff felt a profound relief to know that she was all right. The woman was the most understanding person he’d ever met, and certainly the kindest. She didn’t deserve what happened to her.

“I was going to port a null formula into her so we could confront her like reasonable adults, but…” Jayson shrugged. “It seemed more important to get you out of there.

Geoff nodded dumbly, then looked around to see who was ‘we’. He noted Mitch Roberts with some distaste, as well as Allen Gray, Lindsay White, and Marcus London. Charity London clung to Marcus, while Eric Herrington sulked in a corner, unsure what to do with himself. The older redheaded man was a newcomer, but Geoff had also seen his picture in Delta’s rogue files. His gaze flickered to Mitch, who sullenly refused to look anywhere in the direction of his father.

None of that was important. “It…it was her, wasn’t it.”

Jay nodded. “You didn’t watch the rest of it, did you?”

Geoff shook his head. Jayson handed him a tablet, and despite the protest of every fiber of his being, Geoff played it.

Afterward, he sat down heavily on what appeared to be a bench of some sort. “I…I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I—I should have known, but I didn’t.”

Meryl put a hand on his arm. “Geoff, we don’t blame you. Sam had us all fooled. It stands to reason that she would keep close to her someone who could never know the truth.”

“I should have seen it. And I didn’t. I’m so sorry.”

“So now what?” Eric spoke up.

Jayson took a deep breath. “Well, we’ve lost the element of surprise. So the question is, what’s Sam’s next move?”

“Well, if she kills us all, people will start noticing,” Eric said, not uncynically. “It’s more likely she’ll wipe our minds.”

“Knowledge is power,” Charity pipped up. “Can’t we just tell everyone? Make that video go viral.

Jay opened his mouth, then shut it again. “I feel like that’s a double-edge sword. Yes, they’ll know of a woman’s evil manipulations, but at the same time, all they’ll hear is that a meta screwed them over. No, I think we should sit on that until we can spin it our way.” He sighed. “Sadly, Sam’s our best spin doctor. But…you’re not wrong. Knowledge is power. And There’s one people that have been screwed over just as much as we have.” He held up the tablet. “The Elves deserve to know about this.”

Geoff stiffened. “That’s where she’ll go. I’m sure of it.”

A muscle twitched in Jayson’s jaw as it clenched. “Good.” He drew himself up to his full height. “Well, boys and girls, this is where it gets dicey. You wanted to fight your mastermind? Let’s go kick some ass.”

Advertisements

Chapter 20: Dawning (Part 2)

Posted: August 18, 2015 in Book 1
Tags: , , ,

Lindsay could feel Marcus’ eyes on her. It had been a week since she’d returned, and in that time they’d barely talked. He was busy all the time with his sister, trying to uncover ways to restore her memories, and Lindsay wasn’t going to spend her time moping awkwardly outside her hospital window. Besides, Sam had given her hours and hours of community service for running off.

And she was sure Marcus was still angry with her.

It made her want to cry every time she made the mistake of looking him in his hazel eyes, seeing all the anger and disappointment and hurt that he felt. She avoided being alone with him, and she didn’t care how stupid or childish that was. She shouldn’t have to feel so uncomfortable.

But she didn’t have much of a choice now. They were supposed to be training together, the two of them plus Allen and Mitch, just like old times; however, she and Marcus had gotten knocked out of the fight early, so only the other boys remained in the simulation duking it out. Lindsay pretended to be interested in the card game that Tracy and Charity were playing not to far away, but Go Fish could only be so entertaining. Still, anything was better than having to talk to Marcus.

“Lindsay.” Marcus put a hand on hers, and it nearly made her jump. “Listen, we don’t have to talk about it. I-in a weird way, I think…I think I understand.”

Oh, God, that’s worse. She felt the impulse to look up at him, and fought it.

“I still love you, Lindsay. To me, that’s all that matters.”

Now she did look at him. Overwhelming guilt flooded her heart as it skipped a beat. He smiled, that sweet, awkward smile that made her melt. “It doesn’t matter how far or where you go. Lindsay, I’ll aways be here for you to come home to.”

His hand never let go of hers, and his other one brushed back her short, black hair. She tipped her chin up. Their lips met. You wouldn’t love me if you knew who I really was. No one would.

He didn’t deserve someone like her. He deserved better. But at the same time, she owed him, because no one else would be waiting for her. She pushed him away, and still he held her in his warm embrace, the familiar smell of his deodorant that still clung to the sweatshirt buried in her unmade bed at home. “I love you, Marcus.” The words sounded hollow. But they made him smile.

“I love you too, Lindsay.”

The sound of a cleared throat interrupted them. Lindsay pulled away with a start to see Jay Allison standing together with Eric Herrington and an older man, carrot-colored hair fading to gray. Lindsay didn’t miss the sidelong glance Eric made toward Charity.

“Am I interrupting?” Jay teased.

Marcus blushed. “Uh…no sir.”

Jayson chuckled. “Marcus, why don’t you get Allen and Mitch out of the simulation? There’s something important we need to discuss.”

* * * *

Mitch’s raw power was proving to be a match for Allen, though he wasn’t about to give in to a tough opponent, third degree burns or no. There combat was interrupted by Marcus’ disembodied voice. “Hey, buddy, I’m brining you guys out.”

“Oh? Okay.” He felt a twinge of disappointment for having a draw on record between him and Mitch—he wanted to clean house with the fire controller—but he figured there had to be a reason.

That reason was three men who had joined their small group in the training room. Seeing Liam, he smiled. “Hey! I was hoping you’d be okay after the…ah…fight in Montreal. Never did see you after that. Actually, I’m a little surprised to see—”

He was interrupted by a blur of movement from his left where Mitch had sat in his simulation pod. “You son of a mother fucking bitch!” Mitch launched at his father, fists ignited in fury.

Allen was faster. He grabbed Mitch around the waist just before his fiery fists connected with his old man. Liam didn’t flinch.

“Let me go, Gray! This has nothing to do with you! Mind your own fucking business!”

Allen took a step backward, maintaining his vice grip. “Mitch, I get your pissed, and I get why, but just calm down and talk before you go flying off the handle. Sure, he owes you an explanation. Let him give it!”

“Actually, I’m not here for a family reunion,” Liam said a little coldly. His eyes softened. “To be honest, anything I could say, any apology I could make…well, it wouldn’t be enough. But my reason for exposing myself in a place that still gives me the heebie-jeebies is far more important anyway.” He pulled an electronic tablet from a bag at his side. “Jayson Allison, Eric Herrington, Allen Gray. This contains information on the mastermind behind the power struggle that’s been happening. The three of you are on my list of people to personally deliver this to upon the death of Donald Kasuki.”

Allen let Mitch go. He was far too busy trying to hold himself together. His heart thudded twice, then stopped, only to start again in a quickened, unnatural rhythm. We found the mastermind? The thought warred in his head with Donald’s dead? Neither made its way out of his gaping mouth.

He didn’t realize he was shaking until he felt Tracy’s hand slip into his. It took every ounce of control he had not to grip his lifeline so hard that he broke her hand.

Jayson was the one who took the tablet. “Then let’s play this and finally put this bullshit to rest.”

* * * *

Geoffrey Davis was an ordinary man. He was born to an ordinary family in Northern Alliance City, to a mother and father who weren’t rich, but they were comfortable. He had an ordinary childhood full of ordinary fears of monsters under the bed and an ordinary, amicable split of his parent’s marriage. He had ordinary teenage problems, mostly revolving around his high school boyfriend. They had an ordinarily painful breakup, but even now, Geoff wished him well.

Sure, when he developed super speed, that seemed somewhat extraordinary, but after Samantha Clive’s announcement that he was not alone, even his powers seemed quite ordinary. He joined Delta shortly after college. With an ordinary degree in business, political studies, and accounting, he applied for secretarial work, and quickly rose in his chosen, ordinary career path.

Yes, Geoffrey was an ordinary man, and he quite preferred it that way. He loved his job, and took a degree of personal satisfaction in bringing order to the potential chaos of working in a company that trained and deployed people with earth-shattering abilities. He enjoyed order and beauty. He considered himself something of an intellectual, but often felt frustration when true genius was attributed to those who ignored obvious reality in favor of what might be. His intelligence was practical.

It was entirely without irony that these thoughts crossed his mind while conversing with Rio’kir, an Elf, and for all intents and purposes, an extradimensional alien. The wonder of a new discovery was not something that occurred to him. Perhaps it was because the Elves were now an undeniable reality, not an eccentric theory. At any rate, he had no issue accepting their presence. If anything, he appreciated their stoicism, not given to unnecessary words and pleasantries. The conversation was profitable; a meeting between the Elvin delegation and Samantha Clive was easily arranged for that afternoon.

Geoff shared the Elves dislike for the Fae creatures. They were chaos incarnate, anathema to his ordered, ordinary mind. And they tried to kill Miz Clive. He found that quite unforgivable. If he were given to examining his emotions, he would find that he felt some affection toward his boss. She was kind to him. Yes, she pushed him, but that was nothing more than a welcome challenge. He appreciated it, and the class with which she conducted her business. If only others were like the woman.

An alert flashed in the corner of his holographic screen. He frowned. He sent and received thousands of messages in one day, but this one did not come to the inbox he usually used. It presented itself directly on his computer, with no record of its sender. He was ready to reach for his anti-virus software and have it expunged without looking at it, when he caught the title of the message.

The Mastermind’s Identity.

Geoff’s ordinary heart began to feel some rather extraordinary excitement and trepidation. Could it be this easy? After weeks and months of fear and horror, had someone actually figured it out? It may be a hoax, his mind told him practically, and that was true. Still, even the possibility was worth looking into—worth even having to beg the insufferable Drake Hachirobei to clean out his computer should the file contain a virus.

If he is ever acquitted. He felt a moment’s guilt at his selfish desire to see the man freed so he could hypothetically clean his computer.

He opened the file, and a video began to play.

The image of an old man appeared. Geoff recognized him instantly. He had never met Donald Kazuki, but his file was extensive. He was Drake’s father, and apparently even more of a loose cannon. He was a rogue agent, and someone Delta never could quite corral. Geoff disliked the idea of trusting anything that came from someone so chaotic, but he listened anyway.

“Greetings and felicitations, oh fellow… whatever the hell you are. I’ve been watching you all with some amusement, scurrying like little ants at the beck and call of the one who’s had you under a magnifying glass in the direct sunlight.” Well, that was flattering.

“If you’re watching this, it means I’ve gone down fighting.” Geoff sat up straight. He was dead? This was one of those “upon my death” notes. He felt his skin crawl.

“I have made a number of intriguing discoveries regarding someone we all know and love, and I’d like to share them with you, dear friends.” There was an odd blend of sarcasm and sincerity in his tone. “I have long suspected that the Shadow Fae were not the only ones with superior mental capabilities. God only knows we see all kinds walk through Delta’s foyer. In fact, I’ve made an acquaintance who’s been so kind as to wipe the memory of this video any any other related facts before I went and had a discussion with a lovely person who likely just had me killed.

“I should perhaps explain, though I warn you, to continue further, you will be putting your lives in jeopardy. Should you be willing to take that risk, I promise you knowledge of the one who sits behind the curtain, the wonderful wizard of Oz.”

When the old man on the screen stopped talking for a moment, Geoff hit pause so fast, he was momentarily afraid he’d cracked his desktop. Good God almighty, this is it. This was no hoax. This was truth.

A truth that would get him killed. I might die. Somehow, the thought hadn’t occurred to him. Despite the death of the Paragon of Alliance City, despite his boss very nearly choking to death on her own tea, despite working in a profession that killed people every day, his own very ordinary mortality had never occurred to him. A shaky hand went to his mouth and he found himself very near tears.

“No.” He made the statement out loud to the empty foyer even as he waved his hand at the screen. The image disappeared. He’d never asked himself if he would die to save someone else; that wasn’t his job. He wasn’t a field agent for the simple reason he was not cut out for it. He could not save other people, and he would not risk his life.

No, it was not his place to watch this tape. There was one person he could give this to, the one who needed to know of it the most. As if his thoughts summoned her, she teleported in. He stood, nearly knocking his thighs against the desk. “Miz Clive, I am so glad to see you.”

Samantha Clive looked up at her closed office door. The noise outside meant that Mr. Davis had just arrived to work. She glanced out the window behind her. The sun was rising. The dawn of a new day. A smile drifted across her lips. How poetic and utterly appropriate. Just last night, the Prime Minister of Montreal had signed the papers bringing her country under the banner of the Delta Division. It would take some work yet to set up a chapter in Quebec and assign someone to oversee the operations within the country in the Eastern part of America, but that was just details. The bulk of the work was finished.

Still, that was one battle. One more battle won in her war for peace.

She crossed the room to the large bay window and stood to the side that allowed her a view of the shore. The protesters were out in force today, berating her ‘hostile takeover’ of Montreal. Already social media was calling her out on the “gestapo-like force with which she strong-arms the metahuman race into submission.” But they were ignorant fools who missed the point. Metas needed to be heroes, because if the world didn’t see them as heroes, they would treat them as villains. When a race of the most powerful people on the planet become vilified, Sam knew that it was a matter of time before that fear became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The result would be a catastrophic loss of life that could potentially devastate the planet and leave their very existence teetering on the brink of destruction. This wasn’t about a hostile takeover of the planet. It was about protecting her people—those who had power and those who didn’t.

Newscasters, bloggers, and others not so embedded in the media were beginning to ask if she meant to reverse the secession of Montreal from Canada—and by extension the North American Amalgamated States. Truthfully, she had enough political power that she could make that happen, but that move would be shortsighted at best; at worst it would indulge ignorance. Her goal was unity, but it did not matter which flag brought them together unless it had triangles of different colors. Without autonomy granted by their individual countries, Delta’s influence would be nothing more than a dictatorship—and dictatorships always fell. Each country had something that made them unique, but it was their differences that made them strong. It would be unbearably myopic to take that away.

It would not be a flag that would unite Asia. Russia notoriously balked at outside political influence. Montreal, America’s redheaded stepchild, would not be coaxed into family dinners by parliamentary persuasion. But what each country across the world shared—what each person experienced—was being human.

And everyone, young and old, rich or poor, they all had one thing in common. They loved a hero. And they hated a villain.

The real challenge was the Elves. Their new neighbors to the north had so long kept themselves isolated from humanity, even in their own world, that they were inclined to remain secluded in their bottled city. Still, their knowledge and resources would be invaluable to the world peace that Samantha Clive sought. The Elves also hated a villain, but to them, the human race fell into that catagory. Betrayed by them once, the Elves were reluctant to believe that the ‘Earthborn’ were capable of anything but unmitigated ignorance. She and other world leaders had been in talks with the Elves, trying to convince them to trust them again. After all, they had a common enemy. The Shadow Fae threatened them both, and humanity was helpless against an organized onslaught of their reality-bending power. If there was a people the Elves hated more than humans it was Fae. Sam was confident that their mutual hatred would be enough.

Sam had just finished the speech she intended to present to the Elves later that afternoon. Her heart swelled as she read over it, filled with the sensation that she stood at the brink of a watershed moment. These words would win the Elves over. They would fight the threat of the Shadow Fae together, of that she was sure.

She saved the document she was working on and copied it to her personal device, then exited the room. “Good morning, Mr. Davis.”

“Good morning, Ma’am.” He didn’t ask what she’d been doing in the office so early, nor any other useless question, like if she’d slept at all. Of course she hadn’t.

Davis was at the kitchenette, not too far from his desk. Without asking, he fixed her a bag of loose-leaf Earl Grey tea, placed it in a large teacup and filled to a quarter of an inch from the top with water just below boiling, then steamed some milk and filled the rest of the cup, topping it up with just a hint of foam. Most of the time she preferred her tea black, but just on special occasions, she liked the tea latte. This was one of those, and Mr. Davis knew it. That was the way he was: he didn’t ask her needs, he anticipated them.

She savored the foam and the sweet milk. “Thank you, Mr. Davis. I don’t believe I’ve mentioned recently that I quite appreciate your excellence.”

Davis looked surprised. Sam didn’t lavish praise unnecessarily, and so the compliment was unexpected. “Thank you. I must say, I enjoy the job. Director, you seem to be quite in a good mood today.”

“Of course I am, Mr. Davis. Today, I save the world. Please contact Rio’kir of Atlantis. There is a matter of great importance we must speak of. Tell him it concerns the presence of the Shadow Fae and the threat it poses to Elf and Earthborn alike. Impress upon him the necessity that we speak today. I will meet him in Atlantis, or he is welcome to discuss things in my office, wherever he feels most comfortable.”

“As you wish, Miz Clive.”

“Now, I will be leaving for the morning. I have a short meeting with an old colleague, but it shan’t take long. Let me know when you receive word back from Rio’kir.”

“Yes, Ma’am. Will you be needing an escort?”

“That won’t be necessary.”

He nodded and returned to his desk to begin his morning work. He didn’t argue her decision to go alone, didn’t remind her that it had only been a short time ago that someone had tried to kill her under their very noses. Of course he didn’t. He knew quite well that she was too intelligent to let herself be caught in a compromising position.

Teleportation technology wasn’t widespread, but as the Director of the Delta Division, Sam allowed herself the occasional luxury, and instant transportation was one of them. Accessing the app on her personal device, she left the Delta HQ and teleported to Central Park in New York City. There sat an older gentleman of Asian descent behind a checkered stone table with a full set of chess pieces.

She gave the man an amused smile. “Playing chess in Central Park? Really, Mr. Kasuki? Isn’t that a little anachronistic?”

Donald returned the smile. “I felt it was appropriate. Through time and fantasy, past, present, and future, this location has seen the intersection of lives, stories, history.”

“So, which is this, then?”

“Why, Samantha, you are among the foremost thinkers of our generation.” He moved a pawn. “Surely you of all people can see there is no difference. I’m sure you are aware that in a few months, it will be exactly fifty years that the people of our nation sat glued to the television watching the aftershocks of a disaster that struck without warning so close to where your Delta Division headquarters are today. I wasn’t very old then but I do remember my mother telling me, ‘‘Watch, Donald. This is history in the making.’

“She was right you know. That’s when the Amalgamated States truly became one country. Oh, sure, the papers were all drawn and notarized a few years earlier, but that’s when its people stopped thinking of themselves as American or Canadian and just became people. But you already know all that, don’t you?”

“A child learns that lesson in high school, Mr. Kazuki. I hardly think we met to discuss our state public school curriculum. But I see your point. Our past influences the present which creates the future. To define these as different is to embrace the illusion of time.” She moved a knight out in front of the pawns.

“Yes. Well…we must all embrace an illusion for the sake of coexistence. Do you remember what it was like, Samantha? Living within that illusion? Oh, don’t look so surprised. I know you didn’t have your abilities when you were a young child. In fact, it wasn’t until the medical intervention of Dr. Derek Danesfield in your mid-teens that you began to exhibit them, am I correct?”

“I suppose I shouldn’t be entirely shocked to find out you have that information. After all, you are the father of the Legendary Mister X. Allow me to express my condolences on his arrest.”

He glanced up and for a brief moment anger and hatred flickered across his face before his neutral, enigmatic half-smile slid back into place. “Estranged father, but yes. The similarities to my son are not limited to our power. Though I suppose you are familiar with the concept of distant parents, as I understand.”

Sam nodded. “My parents’ marriage was that of societal convenience. They bolstered each other’s proverbial coffers and political influence. My father’s financial support won my mother the state election and so forth. Emotionally, they were strangers living in the same house. Where passion existed, it was brief. I was the only child of that union. I tell you this, of course, not to garner sympathy, because I wish for none. I find it rather nauseating, actually.”

They were several moves into the game now, no pieces lost, and no clear winner. “You needn’t worry on that account, Miz Clive. I have to say, for one who has no capabilities for empathy, you’re quite adept at mimicking it.”

Sam didn’t take offense at that. In fact, she smiled. “That trait is what makes me such a good politician. There is no room for bleeding hearts in the field; though you’ll never get votes without them. Check.”

Donald moved a piece in front of the king. “Emotional vulnerability as a practicality. I can respect that. Which reminds me, I hear congratulations are in order for winning the hearts and minds of the powers that be in Montreal.”

A smile pulled at her thin lips. “It must have been thrilling indeed to witness my moment of triumph. The preceding fight was juvenile, though, wouldn’t you say? Though you can’t have been too offended. You and your fire-breathing dragon did nothing to stop the children.”

Donald’s black eyes were like ice, though he still smiled. “One might overtake a creature’s lair, but a dragon cannot be controlled, m’lady.”

It was a bit disconcerting that, after that night, Liam Roberts had vanished off the face of the earth, no doubt due to Donald Kazuki’s resourcefulness.

He continued his questions. Sam might have found them intolerable, but his interrogation was providing more information than the older man realized. “So, tell me of this medical intervention. Why was it so necessary?”

“I was brilliant, even as a child. By the time I was six years old, my parents were taking me to social functions so I could impress their small-minded colleagues with the precocious tongue of a baby expounding on the philosophies of Plato and John Milton. I always found it a dull affair. These men and women of society’s center stage had experience without wisdom, knowledge without intelligence. It was in my eleventh year that the headaches began. They were debilitating, rendering me incapable of leaving my bed for days at a time. My parents feared for my life, though I do believe that sentiment was born of a fear of losing their trophy child. You see, they were nothing extraordinary without me, and they knew it.

“In my early teens, they were approached by Dr. Danesfield, as you alluded to. He examined me and took several tests before he told my parents he could save my life and stop the headaches. Then he took me aside and told me there was a special power inside me waiting to be let out. It didn’t take him very long to find out he needn’t talk to me like a child, so he proceeded to tell me that I was a metahuman, and that the headaches were a symptom of a limited physiology trying to use an unlimited power. Then he described in detail the procedure that would rectify that.”

“Were you disappointed, my dear, to find your ‘unlimited’ power was only to know the past?”

“On the contrary. As you pointed out, the difference between the past and future is only an illusion. A chess game, for example, has limited moves. It’s been said that there are three hundred eighteen billion, nine hundred seventy-nine million, five hundred sixty-four thousand possible way to play the first four moves of chess. That is a large number to be sure, but not unlimited. That number grows the more moves that are played, but it still remains, ultimately, finite.

“Now imagine one chess game being played by billions of people worldwide throughout history, each move a rippling effect across time. This game ebbs and flows, its complexity staggering in its scope, incomprehensible to the ordinary mind. And yet, mankind’s moves are limited.”

“Even when new players join the board, Miz Clive? Check.”

Sam smiled. “Why, Mr. Kazuki, that’s just another move. But I think you knew that already.” She stood. “I’m sure you realize that I’ll checkmate you within three moves. There is no possible move you can make that will prevent that. Thank you for the game. And the chat.” She nodded politely and teleported back to HQ.

* * * *

Donald smiled. He rubbed his thumb on his upper lip as warm blood began to run from his nose. Only knowing the past, my clever behind. He had suspected—known—she had the power to kill him with her mind when he walked into this confrontation. “You’re wrong, Samantha,” he said to the empty air. Not about the chess game. That he’d lost. He reached out and knocked his king over. His vision blurred and blood oozed from his eyes, and he knew then that he’d won the game he’d truly been playing. “Heh. Checkmate.”

His lifeless body was found a couple of hours later by park officials.

* * * *

Deep within the heart of the prisons of Atlantis, Drake thought. That wouldn’t seem like a big deal to some—after all, billions of people thought every day; though some more than others. They thought about breakfast, whether to have scrambled eggs or a bagel or both; they thought about their daily work, whether to take their usual mail delivery route, or deliver to the pretty girl first; they thought about the cute boy in math class, and whether he would break up with his tramp of a girlfriend.

Drake’s mind didn’t work like everyone else’s. Drake thought about the past. We never should have been on that mission. Jayson’s words still bothered him, though he didn’t know why. Consciously, Drake didn’t see a connection, but he trusted that if his mind wouldn’t give up the thought, there was a reason. But damn it all, he couldn’t suss out what it was.

He tried to settle his breathing, in and out, making it the only sound in his mind. Except that hum. Good gods almighty, that hum was mind numbing.

That was the point, of course. Within the walls of the prison, there were hidden Darkness and Light Magic runes, their effects combining to dull his mind and make him unable to think, as well as nullifying any effects his powers might have. Chains bolted him to the wall, but that was irrelevant.

This cell was designed to hold people with astounding mental capabilities, to reduce them to nothing. He had been here for…well, he couldn’t tell how long. Days, weeks, months, it had all lost context and meaning. He’d started counting days from the time that the Elves brought food and water, but it soon became clear that they did that at irregular intervals, so he gave that up. With no anchor to hold on to, he knew he was going to go mad.

We never should have been on that mission.

Someone had sent them there. To die? No. If the powers that be wanted the four of them dead, there were much easier ways to do it.

They are heroes.

That was Sam’s words in her address to the public as she revealed the existence of the Delta Division.

Why are we heroes? What made us heroes?

That mission made them heroes. Not to the public, of course. That would come later. Drake played it back in his head. They teleported into a busy mall. A group of kids hung out at the electronic store. A teenage girl talked her best friend into buying an overpriced tee shirt. A child ran excitedly around Drake and his friends to meet his mother. Something wasn’t right. Something about this bothered Drake. It had bothered him even then. He was surprised that they just appeared out of nowhere and no one noticed.

People are so stupid.

Well, that was true. On the edge of madness, Drake let out a laugh. Man, he’d been an angsty kid then. Bitter and angry at the world—no, that wasn’t true, he was angry at his father. The father he’d kicked the crap out of a couple of times now.

For some reason, thinking of his father gave him pause. A bad feeling twisted in his gut, but he dismissed it as irrelevant. He’d analyze it later.

They didn’t notice us appearing out of nowhere. People are so stupid.

Why was he coming back to that?

As the Legendary Mister X, he’d trained himself to see from others’ eyes. To understand and calculate their range of perception, attention span, movements, and memory capacity. People were often actually that stupid, oblivious to a crime going on right under their noses. But sometimes, they surprised you. Those who went unnoticed, the homeless man begging on the street, the children playing hopscotch, the disgruntled businessman out for a smoke between drinks, these people noticed things, often without realizing it.

In a crowded mall, bored children hanging onto their mother’s hand, a teenage boy looking to escape an awkward conversation, a shoplifter keeping an eye out for security…not one person saw them?

Man, I would kill for some strawberries right now. The thought of the cool, red juice distracted him for a moment. He could almost feel the sticky sweetness running down his tongue and out of the corners of his mouth, the tangy taste rippling over his taste buds, the scent catching in his nose and providing a pleasurable feedback between taste and smell.

Focus, dumbass. Remember their faces. Where were their eyes looking?

He brought himself back to the mall. Everyone laughing, talking all at once. He willed them to look in his direction, to see where their eyes were.

We shouldn’t have been on that mission. Jones like screwing with us, but not at the expense of protocol. Shouldn’t have been on that mission. Someone made Jones break protocol. Someone inside Delta made Jones break protocol.

Drake looked the mall walkers in the eyes again. And now, instead of countless faces, he saw one. One who manipulated them all. It was impossible. No, it was improbable. And with all possibilities eliminated, it had to be true.

Every man woman and child in that mall had been manipulated. Every man woman and child in Delta had been manipulated. For years.

Goddamn son of a bitch.

He’d figured it out.

The couch broke against Lindsay’s arms as she brought them up to cover her face. With superhuman speed, she grabbed a broken two-by-four left from the shattered pieces and flung it like a small javelin at Allen. He caught it, the friction warming his impervious skin. The force nearly pulled him back, but he steeled himself, then took off so fast it left spider cracks in the marble floor. Lindsay dashed forward in the air at speeds that produced a sonic wave that shattered the glassware at the bar. She went in for a right cross, which cracked Allen’s cheekbone and drew blood that spilled from his nose and mouth. It left her open for his attack, a powerful kick to the side. A crippling pain spread through her lower back, and she doubled over, bile rising in her mouth. Allen followed through with a swift kick to her face, but she glanced up just in time. She caught his leg in a vice grip, gathered her wits out of sheer determination, and launched a counter attack. She spun and flung him bodily at the floor.

Allen picked himself up unsteadily and glanced over his shoulder in time to see Lindsay dash in for a body slam. He jumped to the side, then twisted, taking a boxer’s stance with his hands protecting his face. As she recovered, she was met with Allen’s fist when he jabbed it at her. She dodged once, twice, three times before she blocked it and offered a counter-jab of her own. He twisted, letting her fist skid across his face without doing much damage. He missed her follow-through. Her left fist connected with the bottom of his jaw, and he rocketed into the air, smashed into the ceiling, and regained control before slamming his right food, left knee, and a single fist into the floor amid a hail of tiles and plaster. He left the debris as a trail in his wake as he darted back into close combat. His face throbbed. Lindsay was fast, but Allen was tougher. He wasn’t even close to being out of this fight.

* * * *

“Quite the entertainment you have tonight,” Tom’s guest remarked.

Tom grunted. His opportunistic streak didn’t come built with snappy comebacks. “You got the money?”

The man smirked. “Down to business, then.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. With a few taps on the screen, he set up a money transfer. His thumb hovered over the button that would complete it. “Let’s see it first, hm?”

Tom’s expression didn’t budge as he slid his fist, palm down, across the bar, leaving the small, subtle device behind. “Does it work?” The man asked, “or is that the reason for this impressive display going on here?” His head twitched in the direction of the squabbling teens. “After all, I’d imagine Solstice would like to know what they’re buying. You planning on nullifying one of those kids’ powers? Do that and the victor’s fist will go through the other’s head.” A twisted lust for violence glinted in the man’s eyes.

“Uh. Sure,” Tom grunted. “You gotta get close, though. It has a short range.”

The corner of the man’s mouth twitched. “So, who’s gonna bell that cat?” he drawled, glancing over. “I didn’t even see that flurry of punches, dunno about you.”

Tom shifted in his seat. He had no idea how to answer that.

“This weapon is all about subtlety.” Tom nearly hit the cracking roof at the sound of Lyndria’s voice. His stern face nearly cracked. She slipped delicate fingers across the man’s bony shoulder, trailed them up the turtleneck, then teased at the edge of his ear. “The right tool for the right job.” A smile crossed her full lips. “Right?”

Tom gaped at her. For the first time in years, he felt his heart race with a foreign emotion that felt a lot like fear. Not the combat adrenalin rush, but the nauseating realization that you done fucked up and you were going to die like a coward for a stupid mistake. She smiled at him over top the man’s head. Did he imagine the gears clicking into place that spelled his unceremonious end?

“Thanks for getting this meeting started,” she told him. “I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.” She turned her charm on the Solstice contact. “Let me introduce myself. I’m Lyndria Wilson. I own that device. Tom has my authority to enact this business transaction. Don’t worry your very pretty little head about that.” Her fingers danced across his blond hair beneath his fedora.

“Then let me pose this question to you,” he said, shifting away from her touch. “Does the device work?” Tom wished that distancing himself would be that easy. Should he run? Perhaps he’d underestimated Lyndria’s ability to keep her family under control. Would she kill him for his betrayal?

Fear kept him glued to his seat, though all of his fighter’s instinct told him to run and never look back. No! If you run, you will be running for the rest of your life. With any luck, you can talk your way out of this. If that doesn’t work, you can always make the choice to take off again. He swallowed.

Lyndria smiled. “You want to see a display? I can arrange that. One of those fighters is my bodyguard. I’ve grown quite fond of her, and I do believe the feeling is mutual. I could go over there and tell them to stop fighting. She will listen to me. I can walk over there and shake the hand of her opponent, and his powers will instantly vanish.”

The man smirked, raising his eyebrow. “If you claim to exercise such control over your subordinates, why are you letting them trash this establishment? I hear you’re having cash flow issues. Why risk thousands upon thousands of damage? Not even using this fight to convince me to buy the device would be worth it.”

“Because this fight is amusing. I’m quite in suspense. I want to see if my bodyguard will actually win against an opponent like this. Besides, a trashed establishment doesn’t concern me. I imagine I’m not going to be able to make a lot of money off of this place after tonight. You see, there’s going to be a murder.”

Tom’s heart leaped into his throat. Run! She is going to kill you!

The man chuckled. “I thought you said your man had your authorization.”

“Oh, his isn’t the murder I’m talking about. You see, I just said that to keep the conversation going between you and I. Subtlety really is the best weapon sometimes. I was stalling while the poison I brushed on your skin soaked into your system.”

The man’s eyes went wide. His skin paled, and he clutched at his throat, suddenly unable to breathe. Lyndria smiled. “Like I said…right tool for the right job.”

The man jerked up off his seat, then collapsed, twice gave a full-bodied twitch, then stiffened, eyes glassy with death’s onset.

Lyndria’s gaze turned to Tom. Disappointment clouded her pouty face. “Oh, honey.”

* * * *

Allen held himself in a defensive position as Lindsay sped around him. Few could keep track of her as she moved faster than the eye could see, but the ability to process such movement came hand in hand with Allen’s own super speed. She was slowing down. This fight was starting to wear on her. She was trying to use her speed to randomize the angle of attack, but that was becoming increasingly less likely. The tactic would have worked on just about anyone else, and even Allen had already taken a beating. He couldn’t see out of one eye, each breath pained him, and the match had turned into an aerial battle because he could no longer put weight on either of his legs. However, Allen may have lacked full vision, the superior speed, and the three years of training that Lindsay had, but there was something else Allen didn’t have.

He had no intention of giving up.

Allen could tell she was tiring, and patience was winning him this round. He watched closely. At the right moment, he stepped to the side, twisted, and jabbed his fist. Lindsay ran right into it. She flipped end over end, finally spilling onto a pile of broken tables. “Are you done yet?” Allen called.

She snarled at him. The dust spun into a whirling dervish as she sprung into the air after him, but the attack was lacking in conviction. Allen clamped his fists together and bashed them against her head. Lindsay hit the ground so hard it cratered. She staggered to her feet.

“Just stay down, Lindsay. Please.” Allen touched down beside her, then remembered his fractured ankle and floated just a few inches. “It’s over.”

She snarled at him, but she was too exhausted to argue. She sank to her knees.

“I don’t want to fight, Lindsay. I just want you to see what Stryker was really trying to tell us. There’s gotta be a reason to fight. You’re faster than me, you’ve been trained to fight longer, by all rights you’re the better fighter…but you’ve let go of what you’re fighting for.” He floated down and knelt gingerly. The adrenalin was wearing off, and his whole body ached. He extended his hand. “Will you let me help you find it again?”

“I believe you’ve made your point, Mr. Gray.”

Allen nearly toppled over in his haste to turn around. Samantha Clive stood at the doorway, now three times its size after a counter top had been thrown through it. She was the picture of poise, unsullied by the seedy filth of the destroyed bar. The raunchy music stopped, as if quailed by her arrival. Silence followed. Even the dust didn’t dare stir in her presence.

Allen gaped at her. Lindsay spoke first. “I thought you couldn’t be here! I-I mean, I thought Delta—”

“Until just a few minutes ago, Delta did not have jurisdiction in Quebec, it’s true. However, the authorities felt they were unequipped to deal with conflicts such as two super powered teenagers coming to blows in a downtown bar.” Her mouth tipped in a smile. “My thanks for your service, you two. You have been instrumental in bringing this country into our little family. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Something about that didn’t sit well with Allen. He glanced around for Donald and Liam; both had vanished. Donald seemed like an anarchist, and he didn’t think he’d be affected one way or another by this new development. Liam, on the other hand, had moved a full country away from his family for the sake of freedom. “The way Delta forces kids into fighting their battles makes me throw up in my mouth a little.” The fire controller’s words rang in his ears.

Allen couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d just been used.