4th November, 22:10
The elevator hummed as it descended from the faux-hideout.
Dalia and Vasiliki were leaning against the console, looking straight at it with matching frowns (Dalia more than Vasiliki), while Prisca was sitting on the couch and looking contrite. There was a screen open on the console’s monitors, showing Eudocia’s emblem – the lips with a red jewel inbetween, forming an eye on black ground.
They were obviously waiting for Basil, and at least two of them were none too pleased, but everyone stopped in their tracks when they saw Basil.
He looked… not like himself. His hair was messy, but that was normal. What wasn’t normal were his old grey sweatpants, or his frayed black shirt. Basil was a very scatterbrained person, but he usually dressed very carefully – not stylishly, but carefully, and appropriate for the occasion. He did not do sweatpants outside the house. Not to mention that he looked kind of… pale.
“Basil, are you alright?” Prisca asked, flying over to him, putting her hands onto his shoulders. She looked into his tired eyes, worried.
“More or less,” he said, brushing her off without even a kiss.
He’d never done that before.
The girls watched as he walked towards his laboratory entrance, until Dalia got her indignation back and hollered, “Hey, mister! We’ve got somethign to talk about!”
He ignored her.
“We just learned about your AI – why did you keep something that awesome secret from us!?” she continued, stomping after him. “Didn’t you trust us? Or what? Why did your girlfriend know, but we di-“
Basil whirled around, his eyes cold. “I don’t fucking care right now! Leave me alone!” He walked into his workshop and shut the door behind him, leaving the girls stunned.
<I don’t think I’ve ever heard father swear at someone,> Eudocia commented, her voice meek.
“No shit,” Vasiliki breathed.
* * *
Basil felt ashamed almost before he’d finished speaking, but he left the room nonetheless and closed his workshop’s door and sat down in his favourite chair.
My head hurts.
It really did. His power had been running non-stop, at its maximal intensity, for weeks now. It had only gotten worse since he’d… since he had almost died fighting Hastur. More intense, almost an order of magnitude more so, in fact. Almost.
And now this. As if he’d suddenly had his blinkers… blinders ripped off, now he couldn’t stop thinking about all the things he knew Amy had done… he hadn’t been able to face her, he’d just left, practically ran over to his lair.
Prisca told them about Eudocia, came an unbidden thought. She probably slipped up and didn’t regain her composure quickly enough to divert their suspicion. It was very obvious. Right?
Right you are, mate.
He pinched his nose’s bridge, closing his eyes. Blazing Sun. Can you hear me?
Can you… tone it down? My head hurts.
I have only little influence on that, but I shall do whatever I can.
You are my power. How can you not have influence over yourself? he asked, irritated.
I cannot say.
So we’re back to that, eh mate?
Neither of you seems to be of any fucking use beyond making me feel miserable.
Ouch. You break my widdle heart.
Basil shut them both out and stood up, swaying on his feet. He looked around… he still had to rework his armor into something more resource-efficient, he needed to work on a better protable energy source, a functional flight system, an upgrade for the three-dimensional maneuvering gear, the new explosive compound, the enhanced stun gun, his anti-brick rifle, the stealth suit…
He shook his head, trying to refocus his attention. He couldn’t block out the ideas, the inventing, but he could focus on something else.
Not in here, though. Why did I come?
He had been hoping to see Prisca. At least that had been his initial intention. He had thought maybe she could help calm him. Then he had just started getting more and more irrate as he had gotten closer to the base, to his work and then he had blown up like that. He did not even really care about Eudocia being revealed to the others, he probably would have done it soon, anyway, but it had been just another thing to think about and he really did not need that right now.
I need to get out, go somewhere quiet and away.
He always kept a change of clothes in his workshop, and he switched into winter pants and a pullover (it was getting rather chilly outside, and there were signs of a massive snowstorm coming) and a pair of winter boots, pulled his jacket over it, stashed some self-defense equipment and went back into the common room.
Prisca was gone, but Vasiliki and Dalia were still there, apparently chatting with Eudocia, but all three fell silent when he came in.
The girls were both dressed in bathrobes, their hair in towels. When had they found the time to shower? They certainly had not showered together and even if they did that, he could not have spent more than five minutes in the workshop…
Basil tried to remember how long he had been in his workshop, at which point he might have nodded off without noticing it… perhaps when he had pinched his nose and closed his eyes? He could not really say.
They looked at him, apparently as unsure about how to react as he was. Though most definitely for different reasons. Vasiliki looked ready to start into a lecture.
<Father? I’m sorry I-> Eudocia started up, but Basil cut her off with a wave of his hand.
“I’m not angry. It was going to happen soon, anyway.” He looked at the girls, and they seemed to deflate a little under his gaze, for whatever reason. “And I’m sorry I blew up like that. I have some… issues to deal with, and I need to do it alone, I think. Please excuse me.”
And without another word, he left to go for a walk.
* * *
“Did he… doesn’t he kind of look like he’s in pain?” Dalia asked, now concerned instead of outraged.
<He’s complained about his power never turning off,> Eudocia confided in them. They were his teammates, so it wasn’t wrong to share this information with them, right?
“He never told us that,” Vasiliki whispered.
“I don’t think he tells anyone much of anything,” Dalia supplied, frowning.
“Well, if he wanted our help, he’d tell us,” Vasiliki continued. “Let’s give him some space, unless it really gets worse,” she finished in an authoritive tone.
* * *
Earlier the same day, in Rome
‘I have never, ever eaten so much ice cream at once – and still wanted more,’ Melody thought as she ate another spoon of this delicious, delicious chocolate ice cream.
It actually tasted like chocolate, not weird synthetic stuff mixed with frozen pseudo-milk. And it didn’t come in balls here. No, they just used a honest-to-god palette knife to scoop out the ice cream. Each serving was about the size of a double hamburger and it cost less than a normal ball of ice cream back home.
Quite simply, Melody was in heaven. It was almost good enough to make her forget the mortifying turn lunch with her family had taken. She hadn’t expected her mother or her brothers to behave, but she’d hoped her grandmother and her dad would reign them in.
“I’ve been coming to this place since I was two,” Irene said, pulling her out of her contemplation of family drama and delicious ice cream and back to the small, backstreet ice cream parlor in Rome they were at, sitting outside with a table between them to enjoy the afternoon sun. “I remember, the first time we came here, I accidentally knocked out mom’s glamour. Suddenly, me, my mom and my dad – all out of costume – where sitting in the middle of the place in the late afternoon. Which is kind of the prime time of places like these, during summer at least.”
‘That ought to have been fun,’ Melody commented, for once thankful for losing her voice. It meant she could talk to Irene telepathically and so keep eating delicious ice cream.
“Eh, it was kind of underwhelming, after the initial shock. Mom ported me away, Dad knocked out the short term memory of everyone and came after us. No one was harmed, except Dad,” Irene continued with a soft smile, her eyes sparkling as she reminisced.
Even Melody couldn’t help but notice how incredibly cute she looked when she was deep in thought like that. It made her want to snap a photograph, but she didn’t want to ruin the moment.
‘How come your Dad was hurt?’ she asked, curiously.
Irene shrugged, looking up. “Mom didn’t like him using his powers like that on innocent bystanders. She blasted him through three walls for that.”
‘I wouldn’t have thought that Lady Light gets violent like that. I mean, domestically,’ Melody said as she finished the chocolate ice cream and turned to the equally gorgeous Straciatella scoop. With extra chunky chocolate bits inside. She was going to weigh a ton by evening.
“Believe me, any woman would get physical with Dad as her significant other. He is… aggravating,” Irene said, taking a deep, calming breath. “I can’t count how many times… oh, seven-hundred and eighty-three times… he’s made me lose control and lash out at him. He loves to tweak peoples’ noses until they snap.”
‘I’ve heard about that. He always plays with his enemies, before he gets serious. If he gets serious in the first place.’
“Kind of the opposite of mom, really. They are like that, in many things,” Irene supplied, tasting a spoonful of her lemon ice cream (it looked delicious).
‘To be honest, I know very little about your mother, especially about her battles. There’s so few records of them, and most of them are really short,’ she replied as she assaulted her own ice cream. It was, as predicted, delicious. Almost made her forget the look on her mother’s face when she’d come in the door.
“That’s the point, really. One of mom’s lesser known nicknames is the ‘Fist of God’. Because you’ll feel like the lord almighty reached down and smacked you a good one, once she’s through with you,” Irene said with some obvious pride in her voice. “Mom hates fighting. She never toys with enemies. And she doesn’t believe in drawing negotiations out, either. Unless she’s sure she can do something with words, she only gives the bad guys one chance to surrender – and then she simply smacks them down by the principle of ‘in combat, overkill is the only appropriate amount of force’.”
Melody shuddered. She hadn’t seen much of Lady Light, but she knew how strong she was. And how, obviously, experienced she was, too. The thought of her just cutting lose as her modus operandi…
“There’s a reason most people she fights never fight her a second time. Dad, on the other hand, enjoys fighting so much, he usually gets angry if people refuse to fight him… unless he’s actually serious about what he’s doing, then he can be just as ruthless as mom,” Irene added.
For a moment, Melody wondered whether Irene knew how she really felt, and was just doing her best to distract her, but… Scratch that, she definitely knows.
Maybe she’d even tell me… Should she risk it? Irene had almost lashed out at her family for asking, but…
“What is it, Melody? You stopped eating ice cream,” Irene asked.
Melody gave a start, and looked down at the delicious treat. She took another spoonful, almost moaning in pleasure. ‘It’s nothing really. Just a little scatterbrained.’
Irene’s face became a little contrite. “I’m sorry about that. I didn’t expect them to… to act like that. I wasn’t really prepared.” As if to underline that statement, she swallowed one of her pills.
Shaking her head, Melody ate some more ice cream. ‘It wasn’t your fault. And… it’s really, really sweet, how you stood up for me. So… Thank you. And don’t feel bad for it,’ she thought as gently as she could. Communicating directly with her thoughts had been tricky, at first, but once she figured it out, it turned out to be really handy. So easy to express how she felt.
“I just… Mom and Dad have their flaws but they’d never treat me like that. Even at his worst, Dad was always… you know, acting like a father. And Mom… I don’t want to brag, but she’s always been… she always says the right thing, she always knows what I need, what to do to make me feel good, no matter what…” She looked wistfully at a passing family of locals. “I just wish we had more time, but Mom is always working, except on Sundays. And Dad has nothing like regular work hours.”
‘I know how that goes… Mom and Dad were always travelling around for concerts and stuff, and they took my brothers along once they learned to properly make music. Never me, though, except for one or two times.’ She didn’t really want to focus too much on her family right now. ‘Who raised you, if your parents weren’t always around?’
“Well, Mom did take off for a while when I was on the way, and to raise me. And Dad cut down on his work, too. Otherwise, it was people who could survive me lashing out. Kraquok, Severance, Quetzalcoatl (scarier than I can put into words), Journeyman,” Irene replied, now wistful again.
‘Journeyman?’ She’d never heard that name before.
Irene nodded. “An old friend of my parents. He’s rather private, doesn’t like being in the spotlight. Don’t spread his name around.”
‘He must be very powerful, and a real good friend to be trusted with you.’
“I’m not sure I could harm him, even if I wanted to. I’m not even sure my sister could, to be honest. It’s a shame, really, that his powers are so…” She obviously fought for words, while Melody just listened in fascination. “Limited! Limited is the right word. Let’s not talk about him anymore. And please keep it to yourself.”
‘He’s a secret, alright. But I’d really like to know what his power is, if he’s so invincible.’
“It’s… complicated. He’s the Mover,” Irene answered. Either she still felt guilty for the scene earlier or she just trusted Melody enough to keep her mouth shut. “I mean, he can go anywhere, any time, no matter what anyone tries to keep him out. He even visits parallel and alternate dimensions.”
‘Wow. Does he offer trips?’ It sounded like an awesome power. And she could see how it might only be useful for evading enemies instead of fighting them directly.
“Very rarely, and only to parallel Earths where there is no human life. He’s never told me why. Something about his power backlashing if he breaks certain rules,” came the answer. “And I can’t analyze them with my own power, at all. I think he always keeps most of himself in some other place, really, so we only see a part of himself in here. Subject change, please, I already said too much.”
‘We really need to talk some more about all the interesting people you know. Like this Wyrm…’ Melody leaned in closer, eyes sparkling.
Irene looked at her eyes, not breaking eye contact. “Wyrm is out of your league, Melody. Please, don’t dig deeper.”
‘Awwww, pleeeeeease?” She gave her her best puppy dog eyes, supporting her chin on her hands as she leaned over half the table.
Her friend kept up the eye-lock, and Melody noticed for the first time how strange her eyes were even when they were ‘normal’. Such a brilliant dark blue…
“No. And you’re definitely being too flirty for a straight gal, Melody.” She was smiling, though, her eyes growing somehow even darker. Flecks of red appeared in the dark blue.
Melody giggled, never breaking eye contact. Irene’s eyes were growing more interesting with every heartbeat, thin, fine black veins running through the white, the eyes turning darker, the red spreading. ‘As if you’re any better…’ What had they been talking about again?
Irene smiled, which made her eyes squint a little bit, somehow making them look darker and redder. “Yes, but you’re supposed to be the responsible one,” she said. “Besides, I just wanted to distract you from… you know, your family.”
Something stirred in the back of Melody’s head. Something was wrong. But Irene’s eyes were so beautiful, black orbs with a red-and-blue ring each, somehow drawing her in, drawing her closer…
“You know, I could just kiss you silly right now,” whispered Irene, and the spell broke. Irene wasn’t supposed to speak like that to her!
Irene gasped, her eyes going white as she surged back – literally, space twisted, putting more distance between them. Melody gasped as she realized how much – and how subtly – Irene’s power had been pushing her. Blushing furiously, she looked down at her ice cream. That was close, she thought to herself.
“Oh God, oh God, oh God, I’m so sorry!” whimpered Irene as space contracted again, returning the table to its normal dimensions. No one around them seemed to notice anything. “Melody, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to… I swear, I didn’t even notice…” She broke out into tears as she shoved pill after pill into her mouth.
Taking slow, deep breaths, Melody calmed her hormones again. She couldn’t feel their mental link anymore, so she took out her vocalizer.
<Don’t… relax. It pushed you… as much as it pushed me. You wouldn’t have resisted so long, otherwise, and you said something that helped me wake up.>
Irene nodded, as if trying to convince herself.
It took them a while, but they regained their composure and finished their ice cream in silence.
At the very least, Irene had managed to distract Melody.