A nameless island near New Zealand – Saturday, the 23rd of June 2012. 08:42 AM.
As he considered the young man who stood beneath the tree, Andrey wondered if Jasper was aware of how much depended on him. He not only had a rare and remarkable powerset, but he was also the person closest to Sarina apart from her brother. If anyone could help her heal the world, then it would be him.
Andrey filled Jasper in on what had transpired since the Brit became the Conglomerate’s captive. He confined himself to the most important facts: Christina’s escape and delivery to a New York hospital, the Sleepwalker’s confinement within an opaque black sphere, Samael’s death and Gentleman’s legacy—the big reveal and how it unraveled the world within a few chaotic, violent hours. The concern about Sarina’s unscrupulous problem solving was the hardest to address.
Jasper listened with a calm patience, only interrupting to ask one follow-up question. “Is the Sleepwalker still contained now?”
When Andrey confirmed that yes, he was, Jasper gave the first smile Andrey had seen from him. It slipped once he heard about the circumstances of Samael’s death, but he kept listening intently. If he was afraid for his girlfriend, he wasn’t showing it.
“What are you going to do now?” he asked when Andrey concluded his summary of the past days.
Having expected the question, Andrey found it easy to answer. “I want to include Sarina in what comes next. Show her what it means to be a hero, help her remember why she wanted to be one after she got her powers. I believe that all transitions happen for a reason. She’s meant to be the Healer, she only needs to learn how.”
“That’s what I think, too. The Pulse is the answer to everything. The transitions and Sarina’s powerset. We just don’t know the answers because we don’t remember that one lost minute.” Shaken by a bout of weakness, Jasper leaned back against the evergreen kauri tree and sank into the green grass.
It pained Andrey to see him like this. As important as their conversation was, the young man clearly needed to rest. “Are you feeling all right? If you’d like to leave this for another day, I’ll tell Checkmate–”
“It’s fine,” Jasper cut in, his voice barely above a whisper. He rested for several seconds before speaking again. “I wish you could hear her the way I do. She’s linked to the life around her, somehow. Her presence reinforces the laughter of children and the warble of birds.” A frown passed over his face. “I wonder if something went wrong the day the Pulse happened. She bunked school to smoke weed. Maybe being high affected her somehow, changed her powers.”
You don’t think Shanti’s death had anything to do with it? Part of Andrey preferred Jasper’s theory to his own, so he pushed the thought away.
“I asked Morpheus for some data regarding Evolved deaths and new transitions,” he said instead. “Data mining was Data’s specialty, so I expect to see some results soon. Morpheus is also chasing leads regarding Legion.”
Jasper let his eyes drift shut for a moment. “He still hasn’t shown himself? That can’t be a good sign. We don’t know where he is or what he’s planning.”
“No, we don’t. I’d like to go check on some things right now, but Checkmate needs rest, as do the others. Tomorrow we’ll assemble a disaster relief team and see what we can do for Rome.”
Pushing up from the ground to stand, looking steadier than he had a moment before, Jasper nodded. “I’ll help in any way I can. If I have access to the necessary equipment, I’ll make a track for you or one of the other heroes. Whoever needs it the most.”
“Thank you. Aura might need it, if you have the time. Her predictions have pointed us in the right direction more than once. But as for right now, I’d like to ask you not to tell Sarina about the music track. None of us are sure she’s ready for it. Rune is convinced that she’s not.”
“I remember Rune.” Jasper’s lips twitched. “He’s a big man with a big axe.”
Despite himself, Andrey was amused. “That’s one way to describe him. What are your thoughts, then? Do you understand why some of us are concerned?”
“I do, but I can’t say anything else on the matter until I’ve spoken to her.” The humor was gone from Jasper’s eyes. “Can I see her now?”
Andrey touched his armband to signal Checkmate. “Yes, of course. She’s with her brother, I’m sure he’s looking forward to meeting you.”
Jasper gazed across the sea in the direction of Motuora, which was a speck on the western horizon. “Hopefully.”
“I’m going to contact you in about eight hours. I’d give you more time, but as long as we don’t know where Legion is, it would be best for Sarina to keep moving.”
“Thank you,” Jasper said.
The words were unexpected, throwing Andrey off balance. “What for?”
The young Brit took Andrey’s hand and squeezed it for emphasis. “For everything. Finding her, most of all. And watching out for her.”
“She needs you to watch out for her,” Andrey replied. “Everything may depend on it.”
A weary looking Checkmate appeared beside Andrey and stepped forward to touch Jasper without a word. Andrey barely had the time to say “good luck” before the two of them vanished.
Unable to restrain his curiosity – and his desire to witness the happy reunion before he delved back into darker matters – he beamed himself to an altitude of a hundred feet above Motuora. From there, he saw that the Baumann siblings had already set up their two person tent on a hill overlooking the beach and sat side by side, watching the waves.
When Sarina spotted Jasper, she jumped to her feet, and her hands flew to her mouth. Seconds later the two of them were wrapped up in a tight embrace. Sarina hugged Jasper so hard that the two of them tumbled into the grass together. David remained near the top of the hill, but smiled at the sight of them. It was exactly what Andrey had hoped for: a moment of happiness. Something to remind them what – and who – they were fighting for.
He let the young people have their privacy and beamed himself back to the small cabin that Calavera and Rune had erected for him on Mayella island. The night was silent except for the crashing of the waves and the distinctive calls of Cory’s Shearwater birds; it looked as though the other heroes had taken his advice and got some sleep while they could.
Andrey intended to do nothing of the sort.
Recognizing his need to believe in something greater than friendship, he entered the cabin to retrieve the silver chain with the small attached cross that had been a gift from his mother. As he held it in his hand, he wasn’t sure he was ready to return to the faith. Try as he might, he still failed to see a greater plan behind the disaster and tragedy that shook the world. Did such a plan exist, or were humans left to fend for themselves? He hoped not. He wanted to believe in a plan so much that his doubts painted him.
“We’re not giving up,” he whispered, closing his fingers around the cross. “We’ll fight for our world whether you care or not.”
From what he remembered of Preacher’s teachings, the man stubbornly believed that God was gone, but that each Evolved carried a spark of His divinity. Andrey couldn’t deny the possibility that Preacher understood or remembered something that everyone else had forgotten, but he refused to accept that one man alone had answers to everything. Or that the divine connection he used to feel had never existed. Without a God and an afterlife, Natalya would be gone forever. Not even death would reunite him with his wife.
Besides, Jasper believed there was a reason for each transition and the distribution of powers, and some of that belief had rubbed off on Andrey.
The answers are out there. I only need to figure out how to see them.
As he fastened the chain about his neck, he thought of Rome and the Vatican, of the countless lives and the historical wonders that were forever lost. Bitterness settled inside him, and he nearly tore the chain from his neck, but a deep, heartfelt defiance stayed his hand. The cross was a symbol for what had been lost. If nothing else, he would wear it as an evident promise to himself and to everyone out there.
We’re going to heal the world, and we’re starting with Rome.
He activated the armband and chose Kathy as a contact, knowing that Morpheus would be listening in even if she had retired to her cabin – which he hoped she had. “Radiant here. Please give me a live feed of everything that’s happening out there. Don’t hold back. I’m not going to sleep tonight.”
Several hours into the new day, the world was still spinning, but everything on it had turned on its head. Even though there were no more nuclear incidents, news of Rome spread like wildfire and triggered a new wave of mass panic. The exodus from the cities was so sudden and complete that public transit broke down in every Italian metropolis and in some other areas throughout Europe.
There were no more nuclear incidents. Andrey assumed that most people would never know how many lives were saved by Athena and Data, who had spent the better part of a year preparing for the state of emergency they expected to come. Morpheus dispatched hundreds of his child mirrors to intercept the Conglomerate’s messages to sleeper agents. Since he had Data’s knowledge of the villain group’s communication network, he stopped countless disasters from happening while Athena’s cyborg army tracked the remaining Conglomerate loyalists.
Andrey wasn’t sure how he felt about such a powerful AI dispersing itself across the globe. If Morpheus wanted, he could bring every urban location reliant on information technology to an abrupt standstill and cause more damage than Gentleman’s dead man switch would have. He could only hope that the AI was actually loyal to humanity.
International news stations were reluctant to broadcast some of the more shocking reports that had been included in the Gentleman reveal, which Andrey appreciated. But they still leaked if one knew where to look, and a few resourceful individuals were hell-bent on revealing the ‘truth’, which included the bogus Oracle footage.
Unsurprisingly, the video showed an end of the world prophecy that was somewhat less cryptic than most of the Oracle’s statements had been. It not only announced the destruction of Rome as the event that would trigger Armageddon, but also ‘exposed’ Radiant and a few others as agents of the Antithesis.
Shortly before the Conglomerate-triggered revelation of China’s invasion plans, the Chinese government preempted the headlines by moving in to occupy Myanmar. Officially, China declared its intent to remove the threat of a warmongering, power surged Wildcard who had transitioned with Buddy’s powers. But Andrey had little doubt it wasn’t going to stop there.
China had a well-trained army of three dozen Evolved – who, as footage from Athena’s observer drones suggested, worked in highly mobile squads of three Evolved each – which gave them the power to declare themselves the world police. Now that everything was falling apart, the communist government moved in to pick up the pieces. And remake them, most likely. There was no shortage of dangerous troublemakers to be subdued elsewhere in the world.
In the light of these developments everyone looked to India, the only other nation capable of matching China’s Evolved numbers. But India’s powered lacked the Chinese soldier’s loyalty and discipline and showed little interest in banding together.
Over in the United States, hundreds of thousands of followers of Preacher’s Guardian of Destiny movement – including a few powered Godkin – armed themselves and declared Salt Lake City to be a sanctuary and a holy city of God, ruled and protected by the Godkin. Due to their strong belief in prophecy, visions and tongues, the majority of the Mormon Church merged with the Guardians of Destiny sect. Preacher, who vanished several days before, had been replaced by a Mormon Visionary.
The announcement of Samael’s death played out as expected. The shaky cell phone video footage that was released showed that Radiant was on the scene at the time of the killing, and in tandem with the bogus Oracle statement it once again made him one of the world’s most hated individuals. Most people hadn’t known Samael as well as he did, of course. They only knew what the UN’s propaganda machine asserted on television and the World Wide Web.
Kathy, still awake and fretting at every new headline, was more bothered by this development than he was. “You need to ditch the costume and wear a bulletproof vest,” she told him. “Some ignorant shit is going to shoot you while you’re trying to save the world.”
She was most likely right. He’d put on the vest, but he wasn’t going to ditch the costume. It was as much a part of him as his name, and there was enough panic in the world without the heroes broadcasting their own fear. They were beacons, meant to inspire hope in others. And that was exactly what he hoped to accomplish.
Starting with Rome.
In the early morning hours of the 23rd of June, Radiant hung in the air five miles from the center of Rome, where the nuclear bomb had detonated. He would have liked to move closer, but the radiation levels were too high, and he had promised Kathy not to actively jeopardize his health.
His helmet’s zooming feature showed him a heart-wrenching ruin that took his breath away. The initial fireball blast had only reached the eastern fringes of Vatican City, but the high-pressurized air blast demolished buildings far beyond the fire’s range. All of the beautiful, millennia old architecture was gone, erased from the face of Earth in moments. What remained now were charred and crumbling ruins, devoid of life except for some scattered survivors who staggered through the blackened streets. Emergency teams in radiation suits did their best to help, but were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of injury and destruction.
If you’re ever going to learn how to heal, now would be a good time.
Sarina floated far ahead of him, right above the crater of the destroyed city, flanked by two of Athena’s drones whose built-in Geiger counters measured the amount of radioactivity she was exposed to. As of right now, radiation levels at her locations were zero. The girl had proven herself capable of permanently removing it, and it didn’t give her any more trouble than the heavy rainfall had.
Rune and Checkmate waited almost directly below him. They used the roof of a mostly intact building as a vantage point, observing Sarina through a pair of military grade binoculars. They were not the only observers, however. An Italian news station’s chopper moved about in the sky, keeping its distance from the heroes and the radiation.
Radiant silently commanded them to focus their attention on Sarina. If this worked out, it was going to be the most significant event in post-Pulse history. It would change everything. Hopefully for the better.
Give people hope.
“I’m ready,” Sarina informed through Radiant’s armband. Now that she’d had the opportunity to spend some alone time with her boyfriend and brother, she sounded excited and eager.
Athena responded in the same fashion, allowing everyone equipped with an armband to overhear her. “My drones are in position at various critical locations. Go.”
Nothing seemed to happen at first. The city was still in ruins, with no noticeable shift. Andrey was about to ask what Sarina was doing when Athena chimed in, voice brimming with excitement as much as Sarina’s had. “Radiation levels dropped to zero. No gradual decrease, the change was absolute and immediate. Do you know what this means? This is…. ”
She trailed off there. The city ruins beneath Sarina transformed in one mind-boggling instant, as sudden as the blink of an eye. The nuclear crater vanished, replaced by flat, undisturbed ground and what appeared to be the famous colosseum or a fairly accurate replica of it. The destroyed, formerly paved roads were recreated as cobblestone streets that had a medieval look to them, and new ancient stone buildings rose from the ashes of the devastated city. Fountain-adorned plazas and statue gardens appeared among them.
It was a breathtaking, completely overwhelming sight. It happened so suddenly and on such a large scale – a mile radius from the center – that Radiant felt as if he was witnessing creation itself, only in extreme fast motion and without God’s involvement. The reinvented architecture consisted of rough, windowless shapes at first, but as he watched, more and more details appeared. Doors and windows. Shingle roofs of varying colors ranging from dark brown to green. Sculptures and adornments. Radiant’s architectural education told him that the new Rome didn’t exactly look Roman, but French, with some generic Italian elements added in.
Sarina had never spent time in Rome, he remembered. She knew – and had memorized – French architecture; the Italian elements she’d added were some the city’s more famous landmarks including but not limited to the colosseum.
Through his helmet’s zooming feature he saw her floating above her creation. A strawberry blonde teenage girl in jeans shorts and a shirt that was too large for her and flapped about her slender body, ruffled by the wind.
Looking further, still overwhelmed and speechless, he recognized himself in the larger than life-sized statue that had replaced the fountain at the bottom of the recast Spanish steps. The marble Radiant spread his massive wings across half of the new piazza, overshadowing it. He appeared to be wearing his skintight costume without the helmet, the stoic face exposed for the world to see.
Checkmate found his voice first. “Holy shit. Tell me I’m not hallucinating.”