14.1 Endgame

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Gita, Israel – Wednesday, the 27th of June 2012. 07:11 AM.
Only three days had passed since Emily Bell’s escape from the NATO offices in Brussels, but to her it seemed like it had already been weeks. The need to practice the various powersets she’d borrowed from her friends filled her days, leaving her with barely any time to sleep or stay in touch with Kasparov. And even though it was important for her to keep up with international newscasts, she couldn’t bring herself to follow the news. They painted such a gloomy picture of the state the world that she found it hard to stay optimistic and motivated.

“You don’t have to watch the news,” Kasparov told her during their last phone chat. “I’ll fill you in on everything you need to know. Just trust me, all right?”

She wanted to trust him, but whenever she became too exhausted to keep up her training schedule, the fear of failure crept back into her mind. She wasn’t stupid. The Visionary had left little doubt about how much responsibility rested on her scrawny shoulders. “I have all those awesome powers, but I’m still a nine year old kid,” she’d told him not that long ago. “I’m not strong. I’m never going to punch a hole into Legion like Chris did.”

Kasparov never failed to set her mind back on track. “Remember what I told you, Emily. I’m not sending you off to a battlefield. We’re going to play a game with the bad guys, and you and I are the only ones who know the rules.”

He was right, of course; besides, he didn’t give her enough to wallow in despair anyway. She’d take a deep breath, think about what he said and get back to training. Playing all those borrowed powersets like strings on a harp scattered her gloomy thoughts. When she played them just right and pulled off a particularly difficult stunt, she felt like the most powerful Evolved all over again.

And boy, did it feel awesome at times. Dancer’s unique ability was the most exhilarating of all. Emily experienced it as a touch of divinity, a rush of incredible power with the potential to change the very fabric of reality. It was intoxicating. It was a little dangerous, too, because when Emily became aware of every living being in a mile radius and the world itself quivered in anticipation of her wishes, it was kind of hard to stop. Holding on to that incredible power made her feel as if she could close her eyes and dream up a new world. But since Sarina herself hadn’t succeeded in that regard, Emily hoped with all her heart that she wasn’t going to be met with all of the hostility that her friend had to deal with.

On the morning of the 27th of June, after using Radiant’s speed of light travel to meet Prophet and, with his permission, imprint his incredible gift for languages, Emily made a stop in a small Israeli village whose inhabitants belonged to Prophet’s circle of followers. Kasparov had told her that it was safe to train there. She would have preferred to stick to remote, unpopulated areas where no one could see her, but Kasparov insisted that she had to learn how to operate in urban areas.

Knowing how to use her full potential in sticky situations wasn’t the only reason for the urban field training. At this point in time, she was a wildcard that not even Legion was aware of, and Kasparov kept stressing how important it was for her to remain inconspicuous for as long as possible. Her mission would become much more difficult if the bad guys started actively hunting her. Naturally, keeping a low profile was more difficult in more densely populated areas. Kasparov had talked to her about the theory of not drawing attention as a child without adult supervision, but the practical part of the training was up to her. For now it was her mentor and the locals who would be potential witnesses.

“So I can use any power I want without any villagers pooping their pants?” Emily asked Kasparov through the headset microphone Prophet gave to her before they parted ways.

“Yes. Most of the locals don’t live here anymore. Those who stayed behind are former military, using the village as an outpost to help protect the underground refugee camps.”

Emily nodded, already tapping her fingers against her thigh in a steady rhythm. It was still early in the morning, so the air was pleasantly cool and fresh, and the scattering of sand-colored, stone and clay buildings which appeared ahead of her didn’t look nearly as daunting as a real city would have. Still, the prospect of juggling multiple powersets near other people gave her the collywobbles. She wasn’t sure she was ready for this.

But she didn’t have the time to spend getting ready. Every minute she invested in her training instead of her mission, Legion’s influence grew, and more lives were lost.

Drawing on Chris’s personality gave her the boost of confidence she needed to launch herself forward. As she broke into a run, she tapped into her borrowed power potential to speed up beyond her limits, forcing her environment to slow down around her. Her doubts fell away from her and were left behind. Chris wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone anymore, so Emily’s mind calmed as well, allowing her to analyze her surroundings as she ran.

Three one-story buildings lined the path to the left, huddling together in close proximity to each other. Emily estimated that there was a space of maybe ten feet between them. Chris had the experience and the body control to jump farther than that, but Emily wasn’t athletic enough to make huge jumps or scale ten story buildings.

Knowing this, she ran up the side of the first house and maintained her momentum until she was at the edge of the roof. There she jumped, relishing the momentary feeling of weightlessness with childish glee, and made a safe landing on the next roof over. Then, she glanced back to confirm that she had made a jump of about twelve feet. Without more speed and a longer run-up, this was apparently her limit.

After the second leap, Emily slowed down abruptly, going into a foot-first slide to break her momentum before she reached the edge of the third house’s roof. There she dropped into a low crouch. People who went about their business in cities didn’t usually look up, but Emily’s hyperspeed tended to make a lot of noise depending on the type of surface she was running on. She had to be mindful of the city layout and take cover before stopping. Since she was both smaller and lighter than Chris, it would be easier for her to stay undetected.

Thinking about how Chris would react if she saw her in action put a big grin on Emily’s face. Right at that moment she wanted nothing than to tackle the bad guys alongside her friend. But for the time being she had to hide her power surge from her former teammates, which put a damper on her hopes.

Kasparov’s voice from the headset pulled her out of her thoughts. “Keep going.” There had to be a camera somewhere.

Emily’s gaze snapped back into focus on her surroundings. Her crouching position didn’t allow her to check for threats or onlookers, so she pressed her fingers to her temple and pushed Christina’s personality from her mind. Once she felt like herself again, Emily immediately grasped another friend’s presence and powerset.

She became Patrick – the lonely, insecure Irish boy who was now roaming the French countryside, too afraid of villains and authorities to try and contact any of his former friends. Cloaking herself in his power, she straightened up so that she could see most of the village from her vantage point.

Two men in military vests and camo pants were looking in her direction but not directly at her. It was easy to assume that they had heard the sound of her running footsteps. If those were actual bad guys looking for her, it would be important to relocate quickly without tipping them off. There was no easy way down from the roof. If she wanted to escape, she had to change powersets yet again. No big deal. However… depending on how familiar she was with the personality in question, the switch took three to ten seconds, which would be outright impossible in close combat or while running from danger.

Fortunately, she was so well accustomed to Sarina’s personality that she could slip into the Dancer mindset almost immediately after Patrick’s camouflage faded away. The hard part was to avoid being dazed by the Healer’s mesmerizing power potential. As she mustered all of her willpower, Emily selected a lone tree at the other end of the village and stared at it, commanding herself to exist over there.

The leap through reality was smooth and felt different from Drifter’s swap teleportation. There was no visual distortion and no weird side effects; it was as if someone changed the world around Emily while she was blinking. The most dangerous part was the landing. If she didn’t concentrate hard enough, she sometimes ended up in mid-air or bumped into something, as evidenced by the bruises she accumulated through her training so far.

“Good job,” Kasparov told her. “I only saw you for a split second before you left the rooftop. Didn’t you forget something, though?”

Emily bit her lip in consideration. Did I forget something? As she retraced her steps, the realization hit her like a slap to the face. Yes, she totally had forgotten something important. Duh.

“Sorry,” she mumbled into the headset microphone before assuming Chris’s powerset again. This time, a forcefield flared into existence around her. It would protect her for as long as she needed it, even after switching to another person.

“You don’t need to apologize to me. This is why you’re practicing, so you won’t forget when it matters.”

Instead of giving a response, she hung her head. A heavy wave of exhaustion washed over her. “So when do I start playing this game?” She almost added ‘can I sleep a little while?’, but bit her lip before the words tumbled out.

“Soon. First, let’s assume it’s nighttime and Legion is right behind you. What do you do?”

The challenge in his words spurred Emily on. This time, she was going to show him what she was capable of and not forget anything important. Taking advantage of the forcefield’s protection while she imagined Legion’s attack, she tapped her fingers against her thigh and immersed herself in Nora’s world of thought, absorbing the Darkshaper’s ever-raging storm of emotions – and her powers.

Noire had surged recently. She was a one girl army now, capable of protecting the city of New Orleans single-handedly. It didn’t matter at what point of time Emily had imprinted someone. If they surged, their full potential was available to her.

As she felt the power of darkness raging inside her, Emily whirled around to face her imaginary foe and put the village at her back so she couldn’t accidentally hurt anyone. She fixed her attention on a lone Eucalyptus tree on the outskirts of Gita.

Now. The mental command was infused with a portion of the anger Noire felt whenever some bad guy was causing trouble in her city. It released the raging shadow power, allowing it to leak from Emily’s small body and manifest as a current of murky humanoid silhouettes in the air in front of her. There were at least a couple dozen of them, and they all looked equally scary. Shoo, Emily commanded in order to send them on their way, toward the poor defenseless tree and away from herself. She wouldn’t even want to keep them around if there was no imaginary Legion to threaten her. Those things were scary.

The shadows obediently shot through the air, moving so fast that their humanoid shapes dissolved into trails of liquefied darkness. Emily already knew that their abilities were similar to Mr. Black’s. Like Noire’s primary shadow, these smaller entities sliced through any material with lightning speed, and they were smart enough to follow simple instructions. They could latch on to a specific person and follow them indefinitely. Or kill everyone inside a particular building.

“Legion is dead,” Emily reported dully as she watched the humanoid shadows rush around the mighty Eucalyptus tree. They dissected it in an instant. By the time she commanded them to stop and dissolve into nothingness, the tall, thick trunk and most of the branches had been reduced to a fine dust that was carried away by the breeze. Of course the real Legion wouldn’t die so easily. But if Emily conjured up enough shadows, he’d be too hurt to keep pursuing her.

“Good riddance,” Kasparov replied through the headset. “You’re ready for your first mission. Head back to Prophet’s base and try to get some sleep, I’ll call you again in a few hours.”

Emily’s shoulders slumped at the announcement. Sleep would be nice, but what she wanted the most was to see or at least talk to her friends. Touching their minds with her Empath powers had reminded her of how much she missed them.

Chris most of all.

As if he peeked into her heart, Kasparov’s voice softened. “I know it will be hard to sleep, but give it a try. You’re going to need a clear head. This is our opening move; it will determine the course of the game.”

Emily wasn’t sure if she should ask the question, but part of her really wanted to know. “Can you tell me what the mission is?”

The answer came without hesitation. “There is someone you need to find before Legion’s minions do. Someone with the power to tip the scales in our favor. I know that person’s location, but time is of the essence, which is why I can’t simply forward the information to the heroes. They’re busy doing something that’s just as important.”

Lacking the energy to pry for more details, Emily simply nodded. Suddenly, she felt tired again. Her body was full of lead.

“Good luck. I know you’ll do great, so don’t worry too much.” The call ended on that note.

You’d probably tell me the same thing even if I was going to die.

Kasparov hadn’t explained the extent of his predictive powers to Emily. She understood that he focused on a goal and saw the most likely ways to achieve it, and that he experienced visions about future events and people who had great impact on the state of the world. He couldn’t guarantee that she wasn’t going to fail, though, and people who weren’t truly ‘alive’ – like Morpheus and Radiant – worked beyond his powers as a Visionary. Kasparov didn’t know how they would influence the big picture.

I’m not going to die, she decided as she walked away from the village, the sun shining on her back. Its warmth seeped through the fabric of her tank top and ignited a fire in her soul. My friends need me to work with Kasparov so nothing bad happens to them.

Even though she didn’t believe in angels the way her devout mother did, Emily wondered if the friends she lost along the way would be watching her. Snow most likely would. Ace, on the other hand… Ace had a young son who would most likely need a guardian angel now that chaos was breaking out everywhere. And Tess would be watching over her nephew Patrick. The two of them had been almost as close as a mother and her son.

Before she cleared her mind to switch powers yet again, Emily recited the names of every other Evolved she had imprinted over the course of her short hero career. With the exception of Radiant, she couldn’t assume the powers of those who had died, but she still felt as if they were somehow part of her, tagging along to lend their support. Was this how Legion felt?

The thought gave her pause. The similarities couldn’t be denied. Like Legion, Emily was borrowing other people’s powers, and their memories and personalities joined hers in some fashion. The more she thought about it, the more parallels surfaced. They made her increasingly uncomfortable. Unable to move another step, the little Empath stared at the sad remains of the mighty Eucalyptus tree, clenching her fists so hard that her nails dug into her skin.

Legion is a bad guy, she told herself. I don’t imprint people for evil reasons. And they don’t suffer from being in my head. They probably don’t even notice I’m borrowing their powers.

So she went over the list of names again, considering each one with heartfelt respect and silently thanking them. Peter. Nora. Chris. Andrey. Patrick. Sarina. Her friends. Her unwitting backup and support team, now with the addition of Berat – Prophet. If Emily’s mission was a success, it would be a team effort even if her friends never found out what she did for them behind the scenes.

When she went to sleep in a tent near Prophet’s camp a short while later, Emily didn’t feel lonely anymore.

Her target destination was Singapore.

Emily timed her arrival with the approaching sunset, taking advantage of the dazzling late afternoon sky and the ocean’s reflected glow to counteract the flashy side effects of Radiant’s Lightshaper powers. Instead of sending her right to the city, Kasparov directed her to a densely wooded forest on Sentosa Island, assuring her that she wouldn’t be spotted by any curious locals or tourists. It was going to take hours before she came anywhere near the guy she was supposed to find. However, Kasparov had convinced her that the roundabout approach was necessary to avoid drawing attention.

She called him on the burner phone right after her arrival in the forest. He had been stingy with details before, but now that she was on site, it was time for him to spill the beans about the mission. “I’m there. I have to find this guy before Legion’s goons do, right?”

“Correct. He’s been hiding since the minute of his transition, but eventually, he ran out of food and had to go on errands. That’s when I became aware of him. Unfortunately, so did Legion.”

“Wow. He was hiding from you? How?”

“His transition happened before mine, and he spent the first few hours building technology to turn his basement into a power negating zone. I only became aware of him when he left his home to stock up on supplies.”

Emily blinked in surprise. “He’s a Technician?”

“Not just any Technician. Our target has Data’s powers. I’m sure you understand what this means.”

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