With a final clicking sound, Brennus opened his armour up into standby-mode – open along the back, but not fully disconnected into the individual pieces. That way, he could get out with a step backwards, and just as easily step back in. The downside was that this armour was not quite as durable as the original version.
Finally, he put his cloak back on over his black bodysuit – it was a bit oversized, as he had tailored it for his armoured form – and stretched his neck to get a few kinks out.
Power armour was not really all that comfortable, no matter what you did to make it so.
With a flick of his fingers, he activated the secondary voice distortion device he had built into his face mask, then he turned around to face the girls.
Polymnia was not even looking at him, her eyes glued to his discarded armour, leaning to the side to look around him.
Gloom Glimmer had taken her cloak off and thrown it over a chair, and she was definitely paying attention to him… very closely.
“Stop that, please,” he said while adjusting his coat.
“You are analyzing me. Considering what I know about your power, that means you are most probably using some manner of clairvoyance or telepathy. Maybe both,” he replied, carefully picking his words. “Please stop it. I came here to help in good faith, not to have my secrets laid bare.”
She flinched and pulled a small canister out of… somewhere, swallowing four pills she took out of it.
Where does she put that?
“Sorry. Force of habit,” she almost-whispered, apparently ashamed.
“Do not mention it. Now, Pol-“
“What I am not sorry about is pointing out that you’re supposed to drop all of your equipment. But I count a computer, a hard drive, four knives and twelve explosive charges on your body.”
“Uh… this is awkward,” he grumbled, scratching the back of his head. “But I would kind of need to strip naked to get rid of all of those. Besides, I doubt I could harm you even if I had all of my equipment. And you are more than capable of protecting Polymnia, even if I blow myself up. Which I do not want to do. Ever. At all. Under any circumstances.”
She sighed, swallowing three more pills. “Alright. Keep the rest. But I won’t be responsible for what Tartsche does to you if he finds out. He takes stuff like this very seriously.” She took another pill.
She has got to have more canisters, if she goes through them this quickly.
“Thank you. Now, Po- Where?”
She had vanished from his sight while he had been focused on Gloom Glimmer. Turning around, he found her inspecting his armour, having bent over to examine it.
<So you have redundant controls for fingers, toes and your mouth? Talk about prepared,> she commented, the fingers of one hand flying over a small vocoder that produced a surprisingly human voice, as opposed to the usual monotone.
“Never know when I might be mostly paralyzed, or restrained in some other way, and thus unable to control the suit and its systems normally. I also use voice commands as another redundancy,” he replied while walking around the workshop.
He stopped in front of a larger table covered in what looked like gutted speakers and robotic limbs.
“You have… been trying to upgrade your limb system? With what goal in mind?”
She turned away from his armour and pretty much skipped over to stand next to him. <I thought about making the armour more mobile, since no matter how much I reinforce it, there’s no way I’ll be able to take more than a few hits from the kind of villain I’ll be running into, so I’m better off evading,> she explained in what would have been a single breath for someone talking with their own mouth.
Ohh, how I can relate to that problem. “That vocalizer of yours sounds great – it even gets the contractions right and all the inflections – I can barely tell it apart from a real voice.”
She smiled and pulled a second vocalizer out of a drawer, handing the small device to him. It was barely as big as a tablet, and had more keys than any piano he had seen.
He turned it over and opened the casing, his power immediately pointing out the screws he needed to remove (there were more than enough tools lying around). Once he got a look at the insides, his power immediately went from its normal low-level activity to near-full idea-making.
<This is the most recent version of my second invention. Both my sonic cage and sonic blast technology is derived from the work I put into the wave modulation of this little baby. I wanted to make sure that I could still sound mostly like a normal human, and now it’s become the basis for most of my work. The other was my first own violin, I’m sure I have an upgraded version lying around somewhere…>
“Sonics, wave modulation, harmonics… Ah, I see. You are using the principles of heterodyning to… can I see your sonic cage projector?” He put the vocalizer down.
She nodded and walked over to another workstation where said gadget – by far her largest work, and the main reason why she needed those extra limbs (apart from the keyboards).
While she explained it to Brennus, he looked into the gutted system – she had been trying to upgrade this one, as well – to work it out. He could not study her blueprints, and her verbal explanations were very basic, incomplete, as she could not put her symphonies into words, but put her words and what he saw together, and…
“Do you think we can apply this concept to light waves?” he asked suddenly.
<Probably. Light and sound are rather similar, in many ways. I think. My power is telling me so, at least. What did you have in mind?>
This time, she made that strange squeeing sound he had heard from Hecate a while ago.
* * *
Fifteen minutes later…
Irene leaned back against the wall while watching the other two teenagers going at it.
She’d spent quite a lot of time looking in on other people – in fact, she was still doing it now and then – during precarious situations. In other words, she was used to being a voyeur. There was really no shame left in it for her.
Yet she felt inexplicably dirty watching those two go at it. They were geeking out like two kids who’d, for the first time, found a playmate in their chosen hobby.
It was cute, it was dirty (for her, because her power was giving her ideas, and it was as usual very single-minded), it was frightening what they were discussing…
She needed some soda. And popcorn. Lots of popcorn.
* * *
At the same time…
“Should I feel concerned that Gloom Glimmer just got herself a bucket of popcorn almost as tall as she is?” asked Tyche, who was splayed over a couch in what was the Junior Heroes’ common room. And a way nicer one than ours. They even got a pool table.
“I am… growing concerned,” Tartsche admitted. He was the only one in the room who was still tense after the last fifteen minutes. “She was supposed to stand watch all the time. How come no one in this group listens to my orders?”
“Maybe because everyone knows you’re way too nice to actually, you know, punish insubordination?” Spellgun replied with a grin as he leaned against his boyfriend.
Who just groaned.
“Relax, Gloom Glimmer’s back inside, and Brennus wouldn’t hurt Polymnia anyway… if he knows what’s good for him,” Hecate whispered, glaring jealously in the direction of the workshop.
“And if he tried, our lil’ two-point-oh would squash him like a bug,” came a comment from Outstep, who’d sidled up to Tyche on the couch and was assuming a pointedly relaxed position on it. Not that he had much success in disguising the fact that he was checking out her body, which would have been barely covered by the armour even if it wasn’t mostly transparent (and she hadn’t taken her leather jacket off). Brennus had really done an outstanding job of making it skintight despite the scales.
“Two-point-oh?” the readhead asked with a very satisfied smile at finally having someone actually look. She was tired of having to hide at school and only have Brennus around when she could show off. That boy had a lot of appreciation for forms, but only in technical terms.
“You know, she’s… the white-haired freak’s sister, and they got basically the same power, so…” Outstep explained slowly, hoping that she wasn’t overly sensitive to this stuff.
“Oh. Oh.” She giggled into her hand, trying to stiffle it.
The others simultaneously slapped their foreheads.
Oh ye Gods and little fishes, don’t let her join us. I can’t take two of the sort, was the only thing Tartsche could think.
* * *
Forty-five minutes later still…
Reassign patrol routes, recall any adult heroes we can spare on the Iron Wall, somehow convince those three to join us… the list keeps going, and that doesn’t even include all the administration issues that I still haven’t been able to work through.
Jason walked through the hallways of the headquarters, flanked by no less than five secretaries – actually just one woman who could split into seven clones of herself – who were working through data on their pads with him. He always liked to walk around while doing his work, it helped him stay fit and avoid back problems.
And I should look in on the kids… who knows what they’re up to this time. It wouldn’t be the first time that a junior team acted against orders to help with an S-Class situation… or any situation that was way out of their league. And he was quite sick of losing his kids to that kind of stupidity.
He entered the juniors’ common room, and found them immersed in a discussion they cut off the moment they heard the door slide open.
Jason looked around the room with a raised eyebrow. Tartsche and Spellgun were sitting next to each other, as usual. The witch-girl, Hecate, was sitting at the very edge of the same couch, as far away from anyone else as she could without being obvious about it, though she appeared to have been taking part in the discussion. Bakeneko had sat down in a much too provocative form, probably trying to measure up to the two vigilante girls, but no one was paying the shy girl much attention it seemed. Osore had fallen asleep on a stool. That boy can sleep anywhere.
Outstep and the redhead, Tyche, were sitting way too close to each other for his sensibilities, especially considering how Outstep was pretty much openly undressing her with his eyes – and she didn’t seem to mind.
Ye Gods and little fishes, not this again, he thought.
As for Brennus, Polymnia and Gloom Glimmer…
“Where. Are. The. Others?!” he asked while running his fingers through his hair. He could already see the catastrophe looming.
Tartsche jumped up, which all but threw a yelping Spellgun off the couch. “Here! I mean, in the building! They’re still here, Sir, don’t worry!” He was making placating gestures, and it was actually working.
Tartsche has never lied before, he wouldn’t, not to cover them breaking the rules. He repeated that sentence a few hundred times in her head, until he was calm again.
I need to stop getting excited so easily. Not good for the heart.
“Alright. Alright. Where are they and what are they doing?”
The children relaxed, and Hecate spoke up, despite sounding a bit intimidated. “Uh, they’re in Polymnia’s workshop, Sir. Brennus wanted to work a bit wit-” She stopped when she saw the vein start pulsing on his forehead, right over the left eye.
This is murder for my heart.
* * *
Four almost-strokes later…
“Tartsche, you put two teenage Gadgeeters, one of whom is yet unrated into one workshop!? Are you out of your mind!?“
Tartsche was looking ashamed, even though his helmet was covering his entire face. The others were following a few steps back as Jason ran towards the workshop.
“Sir, calm down, Gloom Glimmer is there to stand watch, so she should be safe!” Spellgun threw in while easily keeping up with the steps of the only two people in the group without physical enhancements.
“It’s not them I’m afraid of, it’s US I’m scared FOR because they might actually HETERODYNE THEIR POWERS!” he shouted over his shoulder.
“Heterodyning? What’s that!?” asked Bakeneko, probably speaking up for the first time today.
Spellgun explained to her as they approached the entrance to the workshop. “It’s the process of aligning two or more powers of a similar type to enhance them beyond their normal bounds,” he explained. “Like when two laser-projectors line their powers up to produce a laser far more powerful than their individual lasers combined.”
“And Gadgeteers are NATURALS at doing that among each other, EVEN ACROSS TIERS!” shouted Jason. He reached the door. “Teenage gadgeteers are even worse and the last time we let two of them work together unsupervised – no, Gloom Glimmer doesn’t count, you need someone trained for that – they almost blew up the entire city block!”
He opened the door and they all stormed in.
* * *
Irene’s power had provided her with short-term precognition, so she’d be able to react in time if (or maybe, when) something blew up, so she saw the others coming before they even reached the door, much less opened it.
Popping five pills to fight the precognition down so she’d be able to focus on the present, she took another handful of popcorn out of the almost empty bucket and gulped them down. Next time, more butter.
This was way better than TV. She’d always thought the whole ‘staring at stuff open-mouthed’ thing was just hogwash, but they all looked like that now. And it was hilarious.
Jason was the first to regain his composure and speak: “Gloom Glimmer, what in God’s name are they doing?”
She almost broke out into giggles, but stiffled it quickly. “They started talking about harmonics and wavelength modulation, then about lasers, and then thought about working on some improvements on her spider-limbs,” she began explaining.
“And how did they end up building a giant gun?!” Hecate almost screamed.
Irene giggled again. “They got carried away when they came up with a ‘sonic detonator’.”
No one spoke as they watched the two gadgeteers – one of whom was giggling the whole time, and the other one looked like she would be giggling if she still could – climb all over a twenty-foot long gun as thick as either of their bodies.
“I’m getting a bad feeling from this,” whispered Outstep.
* * *
Five minutes later
“Why do I feel like I’m watching techno-geek-porn?” asked Outstep, which immediately set Irene off again.
She had to fight to get the giggles to vanish.
When she got herself back under control, everyone else had taken a few steps back from her, save for Jason.
Did I do something freaky again? she asked herself, but shook her head when her power tried to give her postcognition. Six pills took care of that. Not now, I need to keep up the precognition.
Brennus and Polymnia had not reacted at all to their audience, and the gun they were working on now looked like a cross between a spear and a gun-barrel, without a trigger and twenty-five feet long.
I wish I could concentrate on something for that long.
They kept watching in silence, until her power reacted and then the door slid open.
Jason turned around to the new arrival – and froze, even as the others all retreated from the door.
“Hello father,” she said, a bit restrained, as she turned to look at him. He was in his usual tall form, his six eyes glowing in the darkness of his wraith’s ‘flesh’.
Their argument still rang loudly in her ears.
“Greetings, everyone. I have bad news,” he said, rather matter-of-factly despite his claims.
Everyone tensed up and even Brennus and Polymnia stopped their work for a moment.
“What is it?” Jason asked, having regained his bearing.
“Desolation-in-Light was just sighted over Kansas City. We will deploy within minutes,” he explained.
She didn’t need telepathy or anything to feel everyone’s bottom drop off their stomachs.
Not now, oh stars above no.
“Sir, what will happen with Hastur?” asked Jason. “The situation is far from resolved!”
“Hastur will have to wait. Amazon will participate in the defence of Kansas City – we cannot afford the risk of Desolation-in-Light somehow compromising our country’s breadbasket. You are all to stand by and wait for us to resolve that situation before tackling the Hastur issue. That, by the way, is an order from Amazon,” he continued, looking directly at the teenagers in the room, one after the other, making them cower before him (except for Irene, who was his daughter after all, and the two Gadgeteers who were still riding the high of their powers’ going into overdrive).
“Understood, Sir,” replied Tartsche in a subdued voice.
The supervillain nodded, then stepped closer to Irene and enveloped them in a dome of darkness.
She slid up to him and hugged him, her body slipping easily past his darkwraith to hug the man underneath.
“Are you sure I shouldn’t come along? With my power, I-“
“We’ve had this talk before, baby girl. The risks are too great. All of them.”
She nodded. She didn’t like it, but she knew that she wouldn’t win this argument. Her mother would be backing him up, for one.
“You be safe, you hear me? And make sure mama’s safe, too,” she whispered.
“Of course, baby girl. You know us, we’re invincible.”
“Pride goes before the fall, papa,” she half-sobbed. She hated it that people were so… fragile. Even her parents. Especially her parents.
“I have yet to see that proverb be proven. Arrogance goes before the fall, my dear, not pride. There is a difference. Ask Brennus about it, I suspect the boy knows,” he replied and squeezed her, hard.
She squeezed right back, and then she let go, watching him sink into his own shadow, leaving her standing in a rapidly dissolving dome of darkness.
Drying her tears, she stepped out of it, dispersing it. The others were staring, except for Brennus and Polymnia, who were back at work.
I’ve got a bad feeling about this. The timing is just too bad.
Minutes later, Jason got a call. He listened, his face turning white.
She didn’t listen to him when he explained to the others. Her precognition had already told her the moment the cellphone rang.
Hastur has been set loose. And the hunt begins… but who’ll be the hunter and who the game?