The city-state of Singapore – Wednesday, the 27th of June 2012. 07:42 PM.
The first thing Emily saw after she teleported into the Technician’s living room was a wind-up toy crocodile. It crawled toward her across the parquet floor, snapping its tiny jaw. The deadly silence that filled the house made the animated toy seem all the more terrifying b
ecause there were no kids living in the house, and this wasn’t an average person’s home. The whitewashed, sparsely decorated living room with its elegant art nouveau furniture belonged to a Technician so powerful that news of his transition would send a shockwave throughout the world. The toy crocodile must have come to life for a reason, most likely as part of the anti-intruder defense system that permeated every inch of the house.
Emily froze, staring down at the toy crocodile until she remembered she had Dancer’s powers. Something told her that destroying the thing wasn’t a good idea. So, she grasped it with her reality-shaping potential, opened her mind’s eye to take in the layout of the adjoining kitchen, and placed the toy crocodile on the kitchen floor. Since there was now a closed door between them, the toy stopped moving.
There had to be other active defenses, though. The guy she was after was paranoid enough to turn a toaster into a self-regulating laser battery. And since he had locked himself up in his basement, the traps he set were about to become much more elaborate the further down she went. At least there were no surveillance cameras on the first floor. Plenty of other alarm systems, though.
Teleporting straight into the basement wasn’t an option. Dancer’s supersense confirmed the existence of a power-negating zone – about twenty-five feet in diameter and eight feet in height – on the second basement level fifteen feet beneath her current position. According to Kasparov, the Technician designed the power suppressing technology down in that room shortly after his transition.
One floor up from there was what appeared to be a large storage room. The heaps upon heaps of items Emily gleaned through her mind’s eye discouraged her from any more attempts at teleportation. The storage area was so chock full of strange and dangerous items that it would be hard to pass through on foot, let alone teleport without accidentally impaling herself or tumbling into a forcefield-negating trap. The blood-soaked shawl around her arm was a constant reminder of her inexperience, and even though she was able to suppress the pain, droplets of her blood now stained the floor, coalescing with the water that dripped from her soaked clothes.
Fortunately, Kasparov had come up with a plan for getting into the basement. The plan involved Overdrive, her soon-to-be unwitting partner in crime. The guy had never realized the full potential of his powers. But that was okay, because Emily was going to realize it for him. She was looking forward to the day when she could stop hiding from her friends, lower her hood, and proudly tell them everything she had done.
I’ll tell you how I saved the world when you weren’t looking. You didn’t think I could do it, did you, Peter? You thought I was just a little girl.
Not moving from her spot, she immersed herself in Peter’s personality and claimed his powers for herself. She had been exposed to Dancer’s arrogant confidence for so long that his timidity hit her like a shock. The guy was borderline depressed. But he liked a certain someone and believed in her, and that belief inspired him to fight on.
Emily tuned his personality down to the bare usable minimum. His energy sense flared in her mind’s eye and opened up a whole new world to her. Now that every source of heat and electricity radiated visible cues, she could finally see the extent of new Data’s home improvements. Somewhere between fifteen and twenty light barriers crisscrossed the living room. The majority of them originated from innocent looking devices such as loudspeakers or the television screen, but a few came seemingly out of nowhere, connecting one unadorned section of wall to another. An intruder without energy sense would have broken at least one of them by taking a step in any direction.
Fortunately for Emily, she was small. She crouched sown, clenched her teeth against the painful pulse in her arm, and edged forward on her stomach, keeping her head so low that her chin rubbed the parquet floor. The first light barrier she had to pass cut across the room at knee height. The security system included motion detectors, forcing her to move at a sluggish pace. Sudden movements resulted in an energy surge that made her skin tingle and filled her head with a droning hum. Thanks to her borrowed senses, she was able to lay still and count cats in her head until the static energy levels returned to normal.
Knowing that she had a time limit made it hard to control herself and advance at this excruciating pace. Kasparov had given her a window of ninety minutes for the mission. While he didn’t share all of the details, he told her that the majority of the future scenarios he saw included some kind of catastrophic event after 8 p.m. local time. If the Wild Hunt failed to locate Data’s successor by then, Legion himself was going to get involved and her mission would take one of three different endings, all of them bad.
Athena would lose all her robots, Emily recalled. Morpheus would be corrupted by Legion, betray or kill her, and become the scariest villain of all. And Radiant… he would be so sad, he’d lose his will to fight.
Which was why she had to go down there and put a forcefield on the guy in the basement. He needed a Guardian to survive until the heroes showed up. Which they most likely would, according to Kasparov. But Chris was too hurt to ensure anyone’s safety, and if Emily screwed up in playing the part of the Guardian, there was a high chance Chris was going to die. That prediction was too sad to think about, so Emily immediately shooed it from her mind.
Determined to fight for a good ending, the Empath edged past each of the light barriers, pushing the limits of her bruised, exhausted body and leaving a trail of blood in her wake. She twisted and wriggled her way through the living room, inched sideways with her back to the wall, and displaced a chair to use it as a ladder across the final set of light barriers. So far, so good. She hadn’t yet triggered an alarm. And the Wild Hunt hadn’t shown up either, which meant she had successfully escaped the heat she generated with her diversion.
Kasparov contacted her through the headset microphone when she stood in front of the short flight of stairs leading down to the basement door. “Your distraction changed all possible outcomes,” he announced in a grave voice. “The Wild Hunt has already called for backup from Legion. However, they are not aware of you. They seem to believe your hero friends set a trap for them, and are scouring the city for any sign of opposition. You have five to eight minutes before Legion triggers his psychic aura.”
Emily bit her lip, her carefully assembled confidence eroding away. Five minutes were not nearly enough to slowly sneak and manipulate her way past the Technician’s defenses. Her diversion had stopped the Wild Hunt from murdering random people, but her interference had also irrevocably altered all other pre-planned outcomes as well. She couldn’t be sure that the heroes were going to show up in time to take Data’s successor to safety, and Kasparov could most likely no longer make accurate predictions.
five to eight minutes didn’t leave any leeway for discussions. Kasparov gave her a parting message before ending the call. “If I give the signal to evacuate, you must leave. Good luck.”
All that was left to do was to finish this, one way or another.
Five to eight minutes.
Ignoring the basement door ahead of her, Emily invested a few seconds to immerse herself in Dancer’s imprinted personality and paint a map of the first basement floor in her mind. She concentrated on the blurry, piled up mess of items in the basement, identified the objects that were less likely to be dangerous, and chose an entry point for her teleport before wishing herself to that location. The living room vanished and she experienced a brief sensation of falling through the cracks in the world before her feet hit… something.
Then, the ground beneath her came apart in a rattling, slithering avalanche, and she fell again. A torrent of impacts sent a shockwave of pain through her body. Her eyes misted over. The forcefield surrounding her body emitted an angry hum and a series of bright flashes, momentarily lighting up the darkness around Emily. In that moment of illumination, she saw the storage room as a large, chaotic amalgamation of piles, chests, and shelves. The pile she landed on had come apart, scattering electronics of varying size and shape across the room. Her tear-stained vision made it difficult to take in the details. She blinked hard.
Not that she had the time to look around. Breaking through the master Technician’s defenses with force must have made him acutely aware of her. The fight was on.
She rolled sideways on instinct, off the scattered electronics and into a bunch of stacked crates. At the same time, a pair of eye-like red lights flared on the other side of the room, accompanied by a multitude of rattling clangs like chains being dragged across a metal shelf. There was shifting and movement. And not only in that direction; the metallic clamor seemed to be coming from everywhere in the room.
The noise startled Emily and forced her to think. Guard robots. Considering Data’s passion for intelligent machines, the implication was obvious and not particularly scary. Robots were predictable. She knew how to deal with them.
Remembering the lessons she learned about Dancer’s powers during her training, Emily formulated the simplest command to remove the problem: robots be gone. Reality warping was tricky and could have unpredictable side effects, so Emily limited her command to this room and defined the first floor of the same house as the dumping area for the undesirable objects. She had just been there, after all. She knew exactly what the living room looked like and where it was located in relation to herself.
Dancer’s power responded in an instant, reshaping the reality of the room. A half ton of metal, plastic and electronics changed location. Most of the noise died down.
But something resisted. The biggest hulk of animated material remained in the room and came straight at her, hurling obstacles aside, fist sized eyes glowing a nightmarish red. Seen through the grainy, black and gray reality of Dancer’s senses, its body was a bulky, asymmetrical hunk of welded objects. It was about seven feet tall and four wide, its chunky limbs rutted with wires and surprisingly flexible. The numerous obstacles filling the basement room slowed it down. But it kept coming.
The thing was a stupid robot. It wasn’t supposed to resist something as powerful as Dancer’s reality warp. Kasparov hadn’t predicted this, but then again, Kasparov hadn’t planned for her to jump into the basement guns ablazing. She was supposed to take it slow.
So, Emily heaved herself to her feet, groaning with pain, and did her best to find her bearings in the nearly pitch black room. She didn’t think she could hide from that thing. But she needed at least ten seconds to switch powers and come up with a strategy, not to mention some illumination. Unlike her, the rampaging hunk of metal could see just fine in the darkness. It proved the fact by hurling something in her direction.
Even though Emily’s eyes were useless without light, Dancer’s senses – which were still tuned to the physical reality of the storage room – registered the flying object as a large, box-shaped mass of dark gray matter. She wasn’t afraid of it. Dancer’s overpowering personality didn’t allow her to be afraid, so she was able to formulate a clear thought and enforce it on the reality around her.
Fractions of a second before the projectile would have collided with her forcefield, she blinked five inches to the left. A loud clang of metal on metal filled her ears, and a staccato of objects which had spilled from somewhere rained down on her forcefield. The combined force of their impacts wasn’t enough to make her energy shield flicker; it still held strong. However, the robot itself was now a mere ten feet away from her and lurched forward to grab her.
There was no time to plan the next step, so she blinked to the other end of the room, into the open wall cabinet the robot had occupied before its activation. The trapdoor leading down into the second basement floor was now right in front of her. She formulated her next wish while her attacker crashed into the stacked crates where she’d just been, the contents scattering and breaking noisily.
It was a vague wish, so Dancer’s power took the path of least resistance. A series of ceiling lamps flickered on and flooded the room with a cold white light. The sudden brightness stung Emily’s eyes. Not trusting the robot to leave her alone, she didn’t invest the time to check out the now illuminated basement. Her goal was the trapdoor.
She didn’t need to pull on the handle to know it was sealed by a complex high security mechanism. The trapdoor consisted of a sheer metal plate set within a sturdy frame, barely large enough for an adult person to climb through. There was no lock, not even one of those access code keypads she’d seen in the NATO building she escaped from. Nothing to offer a clue as to how the trapdoor was opened.
Doing her best to shut out the noise from the other end of the room, she focused her senses on the metal plate and ordered it to vanish. Nothing happened. The trapdoor – and the rough stone floor around it – negated her power the same way the robot had. She was able to extend her will, but she couldn’t enforce it on anything below her feet. In fact, she couldn’t even reach her own shoes with her power. The power negation field from below radiated up through the floor. It quickly dawned on Emily that the guardian robot must have been equipped with a mobile version of the same–
As she processed the information, something crashed into her forcefield and erased the thought from her mind. The impact wasn’t very powerful, but it caught her off guard and she lost her balance, falling on her butt. A fiery pulse shot through her bleeding arm, and she cried out in pain. The forcefield crackled and flickered, disturbed by a different kind of energy which had been released on impact.
The thing which had crashed into her dropped on the floor, and she had a second to note that it was round, avocado green, and still emitting crackling bolts of blue lightning. A loud shattering noise from somewhere nearby told her the guardian robot was about to launch its next attack.
Energy. An idea gripped her, inspired by the bits and pieces of knowledge she had acquired from the memories of others. Radiant’s, mostly. The guy knew a lot of stuff that never came up in Emily’s elementary school classes.
Even power suppressing machines have to be powered by something.
Not bothering to get up, she called on her current powerset and commanded the reality of the basement to shield her from incoming attacks. A metal shelf and ceiling-high stack of construction materials vanished before her eyes, blinking back into reality as a haphazardly constructed and barely cohesive wall. It was only about twelve feet wide and didn’t reach all the way down to the floor, but it did a good job at blocking the robot’s vision of her. Something crashed into the other side of the newly erected wall. It creaked and groaned, but it held.
Taking advantage of the temporary cover, Emily did her best to collect her frenzied thoughts and called up Overdrive’s somewhat unhinged personality. What she needed to do was too difficult to figure out with Dancer’s powers. But O was the energy master; definitely the right person for the job.
It took her seven seconds to immerse herself in Overdrive’s inner world and claim the amount of power required for what she was planning to do. By the time she was done, the wall in front of her was breaking apart, and she felt worried and mildly depressed. But she had her friend’s energy sense. It was what she needed the most right now.
Upon activation, the borrowed ability made her aware of every electric current in the basement. Her weakened forcefield, consisting of a different type of energy, appeared as a vibrant bluish aura which tingled across her skin. Thick bundles of wires and conductors ran across the walls and through the floor and ceiling, transmitting massive amounts of energy to the basement floor below. The guardian robot emitted such a strong electric field that Emily sensed it through her perforated wall. As far as she could tell, it ran on its own integrated energy source, however. And it wasn’t even close to powering down.
Its upper body broke through the wall she had made, sending bits and pieces of metal and concrete flying. Emily jumped out of the cabinet she was in, took two steps to the right and turned around, forcing herself to face her attacker despite a near overwhelming urge to keep running. The robot was still struggling against the obstacle. Its red eyes glowed furiously, and its bladed fist punched the air, one inch short of connecting with her body.
In reflex, she drew on Overdrive’s powers to overcharge the machine with more energy than its circuits could handle. But like before when she had used Dancer’s power, it didn’t connect. The thin bolts of energy extending from her own body fizzled before they made contact with the robot.
So, this was it. All there was left to try was one risky gamble she had avoided so far because there was a chance it would go all kinds of wrong. But since she knew what would most likely happen if she gave up on the guy down below, and how her failure was going to affect people she liked and cared about, giving up seemed worse than screwing up.
There was no time to think. The robot’s massive legs were now kicking the crumbling remains of her wall at her, causing her forcefield to emit an angry buzz. Emily could tell the forcefield wasn’t going to hold much longer; she wasn’t as good at maintaining a forcefield as Chris was. She reached out with Overdrive’s powers, tapped into the network of electrical currents that was all around her, and discharged all of the energy she could muster into the system. It wasn’t enough, so Emily dissolved the forcefield and added its remaining power to the massive power spike she created.
The conduits couldn’t handle it. The ceiling lights exploded in a shower of sparks and glass particles, shrouding the basement in darkness. The power cords that stretched across the walls overheated or melted. A series of crackling, popping sounds resonated through the darkness. While the guardian robot didn’t appear to be directly affected by the system meltdown, it froze in mid movement, its bucket shaped head turning in a 360 degree circle.
Emily took the opportunity to escape the dead end she had boxed herself into. She barely felt that she was in pain; the adrenaline coursing through her suppressed the warning signals from her body. She squeezed through the narrow space between two shelves, pushed a pair of cardboard boxes out of the way, and crouched low behind a heap of disassembled vehicle parts. There was nothing left for her to do with Overdrive’s powers. Dancer was the only one who could help her finish this mission.
Barely registering the robot’s movements, Emily expelled Peter from her mind and invited Sarina back inside, investing five seconds to shift between their personalities. Heavy footsteps stomped toward her, but she was faster.
Without the power required to keep it running, the artificial Revoker zone was gone. Emily fell through the world again. She popped back into existence on another hard floor in another dark room. There was something different about this one, however. Her life sense picked up another Evolved presence an arm’s length ahead of her. When she focused her attention on him, his aura dazzled her, emanating such a bright, intense life light that she reflexively averted her eyes.
Yes. He was that powerful. The guy’s mere existence seemed to have worldwide ramifications.
As if unaware of his power, he spoke in a soft, anxious voice. “Who are you?”
Emily opened her mouth to speak, but remembered Kasparov’s warning before any words tumbled out. If she talked to him, a connection would be formed between them, potentially making Legion aware of her involvement. That connection led to all kinds of bad endings her Visionary mentor had not elaborated on. Since she had disabled the Technician’s defenses, putting a forcefield on him was more important than anything else.
Just in case he planned an attack, she took a step back before switching back to her borrowed Guardian powers. With that done, she renewed the forcefield on herself and projected one onto the guy.
He didn’t attack. But he did pull a small flashlight from somewhere and tried to point it at her. She barely avoided him, pulling the hood of her jacket down over her face, so he wouldn’t be able to identify her. His face and figure were shrouded in darkness. All she saw was a heavyset masculine silhouette.
“A child?” Now he sounded more confused than anxious.
Kasparov’s voice barked through the headset, demanding her attention. “You need to get out. Now.”
She sensed the danger, too. This time, the threat feedback she received through her danger sense was so overpowering and so immediate that not even Chris’s personality dulled the effect. Cold sweat burst from her pores. Her legs shook, and her teeth began to clatter.
Since she had switched a short moment before, remnants of Dancer’s personality still clung to her consciousness, easing the transition and allowing her to make the shift in record time. Claiming a bare minimum of Dancer’s powers in her rush, she enveloped the Technician in the force of her will, dragging him along as she leapt through reality.