Sentinels of Earth Bet (Crossover fanfic)

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Sentinels of Earth Bet (Crossover fanfic)

So, first things first, this is a crossover with Worm, which is... tonally unlike Sentinels of the Multiverse, to say the least. For the most part, I'll be trying to stay away from that tone here, but you should know that there are deaths here. Also, there are Neo Nazis. Most of them are among the deaths though. Take that as you will.

Secondly: I am a fool and forgot that these forums existed, let alone that I even had an account here, until I heard them mentioned again on The Letters Page. That's why you're getting the first three chapters all at once.

Thirdly: This was primarily written for the Worm nerds over on SpaceBattles, so let me know if you've got questions about that side of things. I'd link you to the Worm wiki, but it's terrible. The SpaceBattles folks don't know how lucky they are, what with being linked to the Sentinels wiki for their questions

Fourthly: This has spoilers for both Worm and Sentinels of the Multiverse, including OblivAeon. Read with that in mind

Fifth and finally: I own nothing here but the order of the words.

 

ISSUE 1: DAWN BREAKS

“Tell me about him.”

“There's not much to tell. He walked up to the front desk and asked to speak with you by name.”

Armsmaster turned from the display showing the interview room and it's lone occupant leaning back in his chair to Miss Militia standing beside him.

“So? I imagine dozens of people ask to speak with any one of us on a given day. What makes him special?”

“Aside from the golden tinkertech arm and the fact that he’s dressed like he fell out of a Zane Grey book?” Miss Militia shook her head. “I told you he asked for you by name. He asked to speak with Colin Wallis, not Armsmaster.”

“And since I’m not on record as working here, it means we’ve got a Thinker on our hands.”

“One who's willing to risk breaking the unwritten rules, too.”

“Okay, what do we know about him then? Do we think he has anything to do with Vista’s disappearance?”

“Hard to say. He gave his name as Jim Brooks, of which there are eight in Brockton Bay, none of whom match his description. Although, Officer Watkins, who was manning the desk when Mister Brooks came in, did mention unprompted that there was a Sheriff Jim Brooks in a place called Silver Gulch, New Mexico, who our man here is apparently a dead ringer for.”

“And why does this matter?”

“Honestly, I’m not sure it does. Watkins has always had a bit of a cowboy hobby. I had him go home to get the book this historical Brooks is mentioned in.”

“Hmm. Very well. Worst case he gets a long lunch.” Armsmaster sighed. “Nothing for it then. I’m going to talk to him. Keep the confoam ready.”

Miss Militia nodded as Colin left. On the monitor, she watched him enter the interview room.

“Mr. Brooks?” he asked the man slouched in the chair, “I’m Armsmaster, I have some questions for you.”

Brooks slid his feet off the table and sat up. “I’m sure you do, Colin,” he drawled as if he had all the time in the world, “This is the first time you've met me, after all, and you're no doubt wonderin’ how I come to know certain personal details about you and yours.”

“That would be a good place to start, yes.”

“Well the easy way involves me pullin’ proof from inside my arm here, and I'd like to make sure you don't spray me down with your fancy foam when I do.”

“Go ahead,” said Armsmaster, “But know that I am watching you very closely.”

“I'm sure you are.” Brooks made a complicated gesture with the fingers of his mechanical left arm and suddenly there was something between them. A small plastic card, which he handed to Armsmaster.

“Is this what I think it is?”

“If you check the embedded security hologram, you'll see it's genuine.”

“I am well familiar with all the security protocols on Protectorate ID cards, Mr. Brooks. As well as the fact that falsifying one is a federal offense.”

“Well it's a good thing you gave me this one yourself then, inn't it? I'm enactin’ the Beckett Protocols, and that there card is my authorization.”

The systems in Armsmaster's helmet popped a message into his HUD; the security scan on the card had come back. All green, with the exception that the issue date was January 2011. Six months in the future. A further notice indicated there were two video files in the card's internal data storage. Armsmaster set the first one to play and watched.

Brooks watched Armsmaster.

The video finished. Armsmaster turned to the camera on the ceiling and spoke to Miss Militia on the other side. “Turn off the cameras and delete the recordings. For the next hour this room is dark and under Master/Stranger lockdown.” A heavy bolt slid in place in the door and the red light showing the camera was recording went dark. Armsmaster turned back to Brooks. “So you're from the future. Why are you here?”

“To put it bluntly, Colin? Something big’s comin’. I can't tell you the specifics yet, Maria'll fill you in when she gets here, but it's big. Real big. Bigger than anything your world’s ever faced before. And there's something here, in this sheaf of universes, that makes it unbeatable. I aim to help make sure that never happens.”

“So why are you here then, and not in New York, talking to Legend?”

“Short answer is that Alexandria and her group have their own role in all this mess. Explaining that to her is what that second video on the card is for. 'Sides, the part I’m here to stop? The part that makes savin’ all of reality impossible instead of merely incredibly difficult? It starts here in Brockton Bay, and it starts with Dawn.”


Kaiser called them “rallies”. It sounded better than “two minutes hate”, not that many of the people in attendance would have gotten the reference. They usually started with a visiting speaker giving a short presentation on some topic or another. Today’s had been from a California billionaire about the studies he had paid for that showed certain races, coincidentally the lighter-skinned ones, were genetically suited to leadership and wealth. Most of the jargon went over the heads of the audience, but they had gotten the general gist of what the man was saying and had loved it.

After the guest speaker there was usually a short intermission to set the stage for Kaiser’s speech. Kaiser was setting that up himself, growing blades over the stage into an impressive façade. Today was the official announcement of their new cape, and things needed to look good for the cameras. The  rally was being broadcast live to the internet, showing the world the full power of Kaiser and his Empire.

The new cape, a Blaster Hookwolf had literally found lying in an alley, hadn’t given her name, instead insisting on “Dawn”, even if Kaiser’s suggestion of Aurorae seemed to fit better. Still, if Hookwolf was right about what she could do, and the day Hookwolf spent healing suggested he was, Dawn would more than make up for the recent loss of Purity. Acquiescing on a name was a small sacrifice to make to keep someone so powerful on his side.

A buzzer sounded, indicating that the intermission was over and the main event, Kaiser’s speech, was about to begin. He took his place on the throne he had made at the center of the stage, while the various capes of the E88 arrayed themselves behind him. The lights dimmed, and the stage curtain rose. Kaiser slowly stood and faced his audience.

“This country is sick,” he began, the crowd hanging on his words, “We used to be the the shining city on a hill. The ideal that all other countries could strive to. We were a beacon of prosperity, of industry, of innovation, and of goodness.”

Kaiser waited for the cheering to die down before he started again. “This is what we were. The greatest country on Earth. But we have been brought down, and brought low. Our country has become overrun by degenerates, by criminals, by the cosmopolitan, and the politically correct. The types of people who don’t deserve the kind of prosperity the country used to give to its citizens!

“‘But how,’ I hear you asking, ‘how can we help our country regain its greatness?’ The answer is simple. You start at home. Just as America was once the awe of the world, so too was Brockton Bay one of the centers of industry for her. Before the union strike blocked Lord’s Port and created the blight we call the Boat Graveyard, we were second only to New York City in shipping and industry. Now? Now we struggle to keep our roads smooth and our buildings clear of gang signs. Only the good people at Medhall, and other companies that offer jobs to those willing to work them, have saved our city from the fate that these… these deplorable people would wish for her.”

The crowd was cheering again. Kaiser motioned for silence. “Today is the Fourth of July. A day when we remember and celebrate our country throwing off the shackles of mediocrity! The day we stopped being a group of lesser colonies and became a great nation, set to lead the world! With that in mind, I come to you today with good news for the war to regain our city’s former glory! We in the Empire 88 have a new recruit to our cause!” he gestured behind him and a spotlight clicked on, illuminating his newest cape. “This is Dawn. I’ll leave her to speak for herself, but I will say she is one of the most powerful parahumans I’ve ever met. With her on our side, this city, and this country, of ours can be made great once more!”

Dawn took her cue and stepped up next to Kaiser. He stepped to the side to allow her access to the microphone, but she didn’t take it. Instead she surveyed the crowd for a moment, looking impressive in her red tunic and pants, the clothes she had been found in. After a few moments, she broke her silence, speaking in a high, pleasant voice that Kaiser was sure filled the entire room even without the microphone. No one who was there could avoid hearing what he said next.

“I am new to this world, and your Empire offered me kindness and information, and for that, I thank you. Your philosophy and mine are not dissimilar, except in one key area.”

“And what is that?” asked Kaiser, quietly enough that the microphone almost didn’t pick it up.

“You believe that everyone here today is superior because of an accident of melanin, while I know that those on this stage are superior because of their power.”

Kaiser was about to interrupt, to regain control of the stage, when Dawn spoke again. This time to the crowd. “All of you, bowing at the false altar of ‘racial purity’ make me sick. There is no racial purity. There are the powerful, and the powerless.”

She reached out her hand. There was a bright light and the sound of screams. When Kaiser could see again, he saw not a crowd hanging on his every word, but a sea of burned corpses, the only survivors crawling at the edges of the mass of the dead.

“If they had been among the powerful,” Dawn said to the few people who remained, “they would have been able to defend themselves and they would still be here now.” She turned to the assembled capes on the stage with her, all of whom were on their guard, ready to attack or defend as needed. “I offer you all a place with me, with the powerful. Will you take it?”

For a moment, no one moved. Then Kaiser raised his arm, and the blades attached to the front of the stage stretched out toward Dawn. She turned toward them, raised her hand, and released a blinding glow.

And the cameras went dead.


PRT Conference Room B, nicknamed “The Big Room” by those who worked in the building, was almost never used at capacity. Mostly this was because its capacity was theoretically greater than the number of people in the building at any given time.

Today it was standing room only.

Armsmaster had called the meeting, and marked it mandatory for all local PRT and Protectorate personnel, and like it or not, when the head of the Protectorate ENE said jump, most people had little choice but to ask “how high”. There had been a lot of grumbling from officers recalled from vacation or staffers just getting off shift. That stopped once the video finished playing.

“This video was broadcast over the internet 14 hours ago,” began Armsmaster, “What you just saw has been substantially cleaned up and improved from the original, which had developed significant spotting and image degradation due to the intense light emitted by this new Parahuman, Dawn, damaging the light sensor in the camera, as well as the camera itself.

“As you may have guessed, Dawn is the reason for this briefing today. Analysis of this video, as well as the corpses and other remains found at the site suggest a threat rating of at least Blaster 8. Further information from a trustworthy source suggests even more. At present Dawn is considered Blaster 9, firing light-based projectiles similar to Purity. Furthermore, she has low-level Breaker and Shaker abilities, as well as situational Master powers. A more detailed breakdown of these abilities will be issued within the day, but let it be known that Dawn is extremely powerful and, clearly, willing to kill based on her deranged ideology.

“I know we're all still on a higher patrol schedule due to Vista's unplanned absence, so keep this in mind: if you encounter Dawn, or any surviving parahumans of the former Empire 88, Do. Not. Engage. Alert Console and withdraw as safely as you can. That is all for now. Dismissed.”

Better informed, but more nervous than they had been before, the assembled staff of the combined PRT/Protectorate ENE slowly filed out of the room. For his part, Armsmaster was on his way to a different, much smaller conference room, where he had a much more difficult meeting.

“Armsmaster.”

“Alexandria, ma'am. Good to see you.”

“I'll be blunt. How much of a threat is this Dawn?”

“According to my source she's as powerful as the Butcher, as charismatic as Jack Slash, and capable of gaining a following of parahumans more powerful than the Teeth. It would not be an exaggeration to say she is one of the most dangerous individuals on this planet. It wouldn't be a stretch to call her a Class A threat on her own.”

“Is gaining this following part of her proposed Master rating?”

“No ma’am. Her power is apparently based around control of any sort of energy with a visible component. Specifically absorption and emission. The Master rating comes from the fact that, when she's absorbed enough energy of a certain wavelength, she can….” Armsmaster trailed off, uncertain.

“She can what, Armsmaster?”

“According to my source, she can… reanimate the dead.”

“Reanimate the dead.”

“As I understand it, she infuses a corpse with her energy and is able to puppet the body. However, this has only happened once as far as my source knows, and further information is sketchy, at best. For all we know, it could just be a side-effect of her healing capabilities.”

"Healing capabilities?"

"According to my source, yes, ma'am."

“And is this source of yours available for an interview? I would be very interested in hearing more about Dawn from a source more immediately familiar with her.”

“Unfortunately, ma’am, that's not possible right now.”

“Armsmaster, I'm one of the most trusted people in the entire Protectorate. I think I can be trusted with a confidential source.”

“It’s not that, ma’am. I’m under orders to not let you see them.”

“Whose orders?”

“Yours, ma’am. The Beckett Protocols are in effect.”

“Do you know how many criminals have tried using the Beckett Protocols as an excuse? Claiming their crimes were necessary to ‘set right what once went wrong’, and that we were dooming the future by arresting them?”

“Approximately 600 cases a year, ma’am. The difference here is that the protocols are actually being followed. This person came to us first, they came with proof of who they were, and they came with authorization from their head of the Protectorate to follow a very specific plan.”

“Which you are not privy to, given the very specific wording you’ve used.” Alexandria sighed. “Can I at least see this proof and authorization?”

“No, ma’am, I’ve been told you can’t, and situations like this call for as much infosec as possible, given the potential ramifications of time-travelling parahumans. But I can tell you that my informant, as well as all the materiel brought with them, have passed Master/Stranger containment. The one part that hasn’t is because I’m not authorized to view it.” Armsmaster pulled a USB stick from a slot on his armor and gave it to Alexandria. “Only you are, and only in ‘the most secure location you can access’.”

“You seem pretty sure all of this is on the level, Armsmaster. Why is that?”

“Two reasons. First, the amount of effort someone would have had to go through to successfully fake everything I’ve seen so far is so much that it would be easier to do almost literally anything else than trick people into thinking time travel is real. Second, a murderous psychopath of a parahuman supremacist has shown up in my city, and this time traveller is the only one who’s been able to tell me anything about her. I don’t actually care if they are from the future, so long as they help me keep this city alive. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go do just that.”

Alexandria watched Armsmaster leave, then looked at the USB stick in her hand. She looked to the ceiling, and spoke to no one anyone could see.

“Get everyone together. We have a situation.”


Three people seated around a large wooden table, looking as if it had been carved from a single tree. Behind the table a large window looked into a swirling mass of colors. At the head of the table was a silver-haired Hispanic woman in a gold bodysuit and red overcoat. To her right, sat Alexandria with her helmet off. To her left, opposite Alexandria, was Armsmaster.

“Good evening,” said the unknown woman, a faint and unplaceable accent tinting her words, “I am Captain Maria Helena de Falcón. You already know Rebecca and Colin.

“If everything has gone well, and at this stage there is no reason to think differently, then the first time this message is played will be in a secure meeting room in Cauldron headquarters. To ease some of your more immediate concerns, I have asked Rebecca to embed the necessary security codes and protocols to show that this message is from six months from when you are watching this and that your Beckett Protocols are in effect with regards to the information in this message.”

“Which is to say,” said Alexandria from her seat next to Maria Helena, “That you are at a tipping point, and if you choose wrong, you will reach a position from which the survival of humankind, on any Earth, is impossible. In order to prevent this, it is absolutely vital that Dawn get sent to the Birdcage. I can't tell you why, just that if she doesn't go, the last, best hope to defeat Scion, and the one who comes after him, dies in fire and flame.”

“Beyond that one directive,” said Maria Helena, “You must all act naturally and react as normal, in all of your roles. This is why you are being told as little as you are; to minimize potential deviance in the timeline. The fewer variables, the easier this all is to plot. Things will get worse before they get better, but remember, Dawn must be sent to your Birdcage. Without this event, nothing will survive what comes next.”


“So what do we think?” asked Alexandria as the video finished playing. “All the necessary security protocols were in the file, all signed with my personal codes. If this is fake, then we need to worry about whoever made it, because they clearly know too much.”

“As opposed to worrying about not only Scion, but also 'the one who comes after him’?” asked Eidolon from across the table. “Because that sounds pretty worrying to me.”

“I'm not saying either option is good, but it is something to keep in mind,” said Doctor Mother. “What do we know about the person who brought the message?”

“Armsmaster is under uptime Beckett orders not to let me see him, but we've found out that his name is Jim Brooks, cape name of Chrono-Ranger. Artificial arm, but almost certainly has extensive cyberization throughout his body, given how he moves.”

“How much of a threat is he?” asked Number Man.

“Hard to say. As I said, he is essentially a tinkertech cyborg. And given that he seems to know Armsmaster in the future, there’s no telling what devices or equipment he may have.”

“So we're just accepting that time travel is real and that Brooks is from the future?”

“Grey Boy,” said Contessa from her end of the table, “Phir Sē, Clockblocker, Minute Hand. All have temporal manipulation abilities, who is to say there are not others?”

“Exactly,” said Alexandria, “that's why we wrote the Beckett Protocols in the first place, just in case this sort of thing happened. Given everything we've seen so far, I suggest we proceed under the Protocols.”

“And that brings us neatly to our second topic,” said Doctor Mother, “What do we know about Dawn?”

“Only what Brooks has told Armsmaster. There's no record of anyone matching her description or reported powerset. For all intents and purposes, she did not exist before last week.”

“Given her speech at Kaiser's rally, is it safe to say she's a dimensional transfer?”

“Probably, although that explanation raises questions of its own. Namely that she not only doesn't seem to be from Earth Bet, but also she's not from any universe Clairvoyant can access.”

“That isn't much of an issue on its own,” said Number Man. “There is no reason to assume the roughly ten to the seventieth universes accessible via the passengers are the only variants that exist. It's likely that Dawn somehow came from one of these other universes, then Brooks and Captain de Falcón followed.”

“Okay,” said Doctor Mother, “so we have a working theory as to who all these people are. What can we say about their plan? Contessa?”

“Getting Dawn into the Birdcage is simple enough,” Contessa said, “It only adds 267 steps to the plan, and most of them are minor adjustments.”

“And yet you sound apprehensive about doing it,” said Eidolon.

“If Dawn goes to the Birdcage, the timetable for Scion's turn and destruction of humanity moves to six months from now.”

“That's… unusually exact for you,” said Doctor Mother.

"I know, usually there is some variance in the possible timelines for Scion's attack. But now it seems fixed in place, as if nothing we do could affect it."

"And what happens if we ignore Captain de Falcón's message and leave Dawn be?”

Contessa didn't respond for some time. Eidolon was about to ask if she was alright when she jerked back from the table and fell to the floor, screaming.

Doctor Mother got to her first.

“Fortuna! Fortuna, what is it? What do you see?”

Eventually Contessa stopped screaming and started shaking instead. It was only because everyone else in the room was so quiet that they heard what she said next.

“It’s Coming. Darkness. Fire. The death of all that is.”

She took a deep shuddering breath and whispered one more word.

“OblivAeon.”


Picture the universe. Imagine, if you can, its breadth, its width, its height, and its duration. Hold in your mind a picture of all creation. That picture is everything that is, everything that was, and everything that will be.

It is not truly everything, though. For there is one axis along which the universe moves that you did not imagine.

Possibility.

For every left turn, there is a right. For every event, there is a different outcome. For every path taken, there is one that is not. Each of these differences on their own are small, but sometimes, and no one is quite sure how to tell when, these differences build up and something new is spawned. There is Disparation. There is another universe.

Take, then, all these possible disparate universes, all the possible worlds that never were yours, but are still just as real, and imagine them together.

This is the multiverse.

An infinite canvas of not only what was, is, and will be, but also of what wasn't, what should not be, and what may still be to come. As endless and varied gem, populated by uncountable people, each with their own lives, hopes, and dreams.

There are those who wish to play in this infinite realm. There are those who wish to preserve it. Some want to conquer it, or use it for their own glory. Still others want to improve it, to see it grow beyond itself. There is one, however, who wishes only to destroy it.

That one is OblivAeon.

OblivAeon, who cools the hearts of stars. OblivAeon, who causes realities to wind down and sputter out, devoid of energy and life. OblivAeon, who sends his agents to destroy and corrupt what they will, for no other reason than the sake of destruction itself.

OblivAeon looks into the infinite possibilities of the multiverse and sees the need to eliminate a certain potential threat in a keystone reality, and so arranges for this threat to be sent elsewhere, to another universe. A portal is opened, and this threat falls out of her own universe, and into another, setting into motion a chain of events that will cause her to be destroyed and beaten. And just to ensure this outcome, OblivAeon reaches into this second universe and seeks a being of power and destruction. One is found, and OblivAeon sets into motion a series of events to guarantee the ascension of this new agent, this Scion of himself, who will destroy all it surveys.

OblivAeon notices, but does not deem significant, that the portal he opened to dispose of the threat stays open slightly longer than it should have, and that someone from this second universe has fallen through it in the opposite direction of the threat. OblivAeon now looks across all of space, time, and possibility, and sees nothing in his way.

Picture, now, the multiverse. No longer resplendent with the infinite majesty of possibilities, but instead broken, burning, and dead.

This is now the only way things can end.

This is the future.

This is OblivAeon.


Edited by: tehwonko on Feb 4 2019 - 12:38pm
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ISSUE 2: STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND

If there was a word for falling, but sideways, Missy Biron, Vista, doesn't know it. Which is a shame, now she thinks of it, because it’s something her powers make trivial. Not that it was something she wants to to experience again, that is. She doesn't even want to be experiencing it now. One moment she was dropping into an alley behind Hookwolf, the next everything had gone… blue and she was falling sideways.

She doesn't even know how long she’s been falling; there was nothing she could use to mark the passage of time. Except... there. At the very edge of her power’s perceptions. There is something. Some sort of hole in space.

She reaches for it with her power and pulls herself toward it, feeling out the edges as she moves closer to it. Ahead of her, something comes into view. A ball with images flickering over its surface. Nothing Vista, Missy, can make out, but colorful movements and bright flashes of light, like a movie out of focus. She moves herself closer still and an image grows clearer on the sphere. A young woman with a shock of bright pink in her dark hair getting thrown into a pile of robots. She tries to stand, but collapses on a leg that won't bear her weight anymore.

At that, Vista’s, definitely Vista’s, not Missy’s, instincts kick in and she reaches for the woman. As her hand touches the sphere, suddenly Vista wasn't falling sideways anymore. Instead she falls

Out

Through

Up

Into

And then gravity took hold once more, and Vista just fell down.

As she regained consciousness, Missy looked around at the rubble surrounding her. The partially collapsed walls and sagging ceiling meant that whatever happened to this building, Missy, Vista, needed to get out before it finished collapsing.

A twist of Vista’s power widened a hole she normally couldn't have fit her finger through to five feet wide. She stepped through and saw a street in chaos. Whatever collapsed the building she was in hadn't stopped there. Most of this block was either falling down, or about to. There were fires burning, ambulance sirens wailing, and the shouts of first responders trying to keep as many people as they could alive.

Somewhere nearby someone cried for help, and Missy was Vista again. She wiped something sticky off her forehead, and began reaching into piles of what used to be buildings, bringing people out, and passing them off to firefighters and paramedics. The Wards had trained her for this sort of thing, hoping she’d never need to use it, knowing that she would.

Vista wasn't the only superhero helping here today. The girl with the pink in her hair was directing a dozen robots in various tasks, some opening buildings, others carrying wounded. An armored figure faced the flaming front of a store, held his hands up to it, and ice began to form, quelling the fire. And there, lifting a building off the street so an ambulance could get closer to the scene, was a man who Vista thought was Legend for a moment, before realizing she was mistaken. Although the feeling of calm inspiration this man exuded was just as strong as Legend’s, this man wasn't wearing a mask, and his costume was mostly white, with a symbol of a lantern displayed on its chest. Everyone seemed to be following his instructions.

Eventually, not long enough, there was no one left alive to rescue. Vista looked around and saw many of the other capes gathering around an upturned hot dog cart. She wiped another batch of sticky something off her face and joined them.

“I’ll save the speeches for later,” Not-Legend said as Vista approached, “But I’m proud of all of you right now. Dawn and her Citizens represented a threat not only to us and to our city, but to our entire way of life. Thanks to all of you, though, we’ve stopped her. Tachyon says that whatever was in that energy burst left no trace of Dawn, and when she vanished, her Citizens scattered, hoping to--”

Vista didn't hear the rest of what Not-Legend said, because it was then that the adrenaline wore off, and Vista finally realised what the sticky stuff she had been wiping from her face was.

I’m pretty sure my blood is supposed to be on the inside of my head.

And that's when she fainted.



The first thing Missy noticed when she woke up was that something was nudging her hand. When she noticed that, other things rushed to fill her mind. A steady beeping sound, something soft underneath her, a weight on her. She opened her eyes and saw a white ceiling.

Oh, a hospital. That makes sense, I guess.

She closed her eyes again and relaxed until a sudden thought struck her. Her hands flew up to her face and she breathed a sigh of relief when she felt her visor still there. Good, that meant her identity was still safe. On the other hand, that also meant she wasn’t in a Protectorate hospital; they would’ve taken the visor off, since they already knew who she was.

So good and bad then. Missy let her hands fall back to her sides and was surprised to hear one of them hit something that sounded like metal. She cracked one eye open and looked toward whatever it was.

Okay, that’s a dinosaur. A robot dinosaur. A pink robot dinosaur.

Missy stared at the chicken-sized robot through her half-open eye for a moment. For its part, the robot nudged its way under her arm and curled up there.

What the hell, I’ve probably seen weirder things.

Missy closed her eye and laid back down again. Now that she was awake there was no point in trying to go back to sleep, so instead she thought. Wherever she had landed wasn’t Brockton Bay, that much was clear. For one thing, none of the buildings she remembered had looked like any she recognised from back home, not to mention none of the capes she had seen were in any way familiar. So where was she then? Seattle had someone who made robots, but Missy was pretty sure that person was a middle-aged black man, not the early-twenties middle-eastern woman she had seen controlling the robots during the search and rescue. Besides which, Seattle didn’t have anyone with ice powers or who acted like Not-Legend.

Missy’s thoughts were interrupted when the door to her room opened with a hiss. Missy did her best sleep impression and listened carefully as the sound of footsteps came closer.

“Mister Chomps?” someone with a slight Middle-Eastern accent whispered. “Mister Chomps, are you-- Ah! There you are! What have I told you about sneaking into the medical wing? Come on, leave our visitor alone, she needs to sleep.”

Missy felt someone grab the robot under her arm and try to lift it up. The robot clawed at the bedsheets, snagging them, keeping whoever was trying to pick it up from doing so.

“Mister Chomps, let go right now or I’ll disassemble you. Don’t think I won’t.”

The robot let go of the sheets suddenly. So suddenly that whoever was trying to pick it up overbalanced and, Missy assumed, fell backward. Whatever happened, the robot ended up landing. Hard. Right on Missy’s face. Or it would have, if she hadn’t bent space just enough that it landed next to her instead.

“Oh, sparks!” the voice cried from the floor. “She’s already got a head injury, this isn’t gonna help. Dr. Stinson’s gonna be pissed.”

Enough was enough. Missy opened her eyes and sat up, picking the robot up as she did.

“It’s fine,” she said. “The robot missed me.”

“Really? That’s a relief.” A young woman jumped up from the floor. No, not just a young woman, the same one Missy had seen through the sphere before she fell into… wherever here was. The same one who had been directing robots in the rescue efforts.

“Anyway, I’m Devrah,” the woman said, “and you’ve met Mister Chomps already. He seems to like you.”

Indeed, the robot, Mister Chomps, had curled up in Missy’s arms and was making a soft purring noise.

“Oh, do you want it back?” asked Missy, holding the, admittedly cute, ball of robot dinosaur out.

“No, it’s fine. I can make another one if I have to.” Something seemed to occur to Devrah. “Wait! You’re awake! Let me go get Dr. Stinson real quick. You probably have some questions and she’s the only one in right now. Well, except for me. And Ryan, but he’s in his cryo-chamber and probably wouldn’t be able to answer any science questions you have. Wait right here. Mister Chomps, keep her company.”

Devrah ran out of the room, leaving Missy alone with the robot. Missy sat up and looked around. She was in a set of decent flannel pyjamas not a hospital gown, for which Missy was immediately grateful. As for the room itself aside from some equipment near the head of the bed that Missy assumed was Tinkertech and medical related, it was a fairly standard looking room, like one from any number of mid-range hotels. There was a small bag on a table across the room. A thought and twist of space brought it into arm's reach. Folded inside was Missy's Vista costume, cleaned and repaired of damage.

Missy was about to climb out of bed and explore the rest of the room when the door hissed open again. With a whoosh of air and a blur of motion, there was a tall, strawberry blonde woman in a lab coat standing in front of Missy's bed.

“Hello, Vista,” she said. “I'm Dr. Stinson, Tachyon of the Freedom Five, and unfortunately, I have some bad news for you.”

“Bad news?”

“I'll just be quick about it and say that you're in the wrong universe.”

“Okay, that makes sense, I guess. Is this Earth Aleph then? I didn't think there were that many capes here.”

“Oh, you’ve had contact with other universes?

“Well, not me personally, no. So I guess this isn’t Earth Aleph then?”

“No, it isn’t. We’ve never even heard of Earth Aleph here. Or any other Earths named with the Hebrew alphabet for that matter. All we know about your world is that English is a language there, and that it has an organization called the “Protectorate” that gives out ID cards.”

“It was my ID card you found this out from, wasn’t it?”

“It was, yes. You’ll find it in the bag along with your costume. That’s also how we learned your name. Well, your superhero identity, at least.”

“And luckily for you,” said Devrah as she came in through the open door, “It’s one that no one here on our Earth had taken. It’s always complicated when that happens.”

“So you’ve had this happen before?” asked Vista, sitting up, “Can you get me home?”

“Not right now,” said Dr. Stinson. “The other interactions with alternate timelines we’ve encountered have given us only the vaguest of ideas as to how we could send someone to one without extremely specific circumstances. We have some calls out, but there's not been anyone to replace F.I.L.T.E.R. since they went off on their own, so there's not much hope there. For now, I’m afraid you’re stuck with us.”

Vista slumped back into the bed.

“It’s not all bad,” said Devrah. “Like Dr. Stinson said, we’ve had things like this happen before. We’ll get you home as soon as we can. I guarantee it.”

“Right,” said Dr. Stinson, “And until then, you’re free to stay here with us at Freedom Tower. We’ll give you--” An alarm cut her off and she vanished from the room. A moment later she reappeared in a white tank top and leggings set with red circles on the sides.

“I’ve gotta go. Kraken off the coast of Maine again. Devrah, show our guest around, will you?”

And with another gust of air, Tachyon was gone again. Devrah sighed.

“Does this sort of thing happen often?” asked Missy.

“What the Kraken? No. Usually it stays around Atlantis but it’s been getting restless lately. I’m just bummed she didn’t even ask for my help.”

“You’re a superhero too?”

In answer, Devrah waved a hand at the robot still on Missy’s lap. It broke up into a cloud of parts, which floated to Devrah and reassembled into a small floating platform that zipped around her head.

“Unity, at your service,” said Devrah with a theatrical bow. “Mover of metals and maker of fine robots.”

Missy nodded appreciatively. “She probably didn’t ask you to come so you could keep an eye on me. You don’t know if I’m secretly an evil villain or something yet, after all.”

“That’s probably part of it, but we know you’re a good guy. After we knew you were from an alternate universe we called in Visionary. She did her weird psychic look into the future thing and didn’t see you turning on us, so we’re assuming the best from that. No, it’s more that Dr. Stinson has very specific view as to why I’m here and doesn't want to let me do anything more than that.”

“I know that feeling,” said Vista as she leaned back. “I’ve been on my team the longest of anyone else, and they won’t listen to anything I have to say just because I’m also the youngest. I hate it.”

“You’re not the only one who hates that feeling, trust me. Still! You need to get dressed. You can use your costume, or there are clothes in the closet. I need to give you the tour. And I think I know just where to start.”



Vista looked through the crumbling ceiling. Even though it was daytime, the moon was visible overhead. Too visible. It took up a good third of the sky at this point. Any closer and it would be too late. Already tidal waves were on their way to the city. It was taking everything Vista had to divert them away from the coast and more waves were on the way.

“Unity, don't we have anyone who can help with these waves? I'm at my limit here!”

“Ryan, sorry, Absolute Zero is on his way now!” Unity's voice crackled over the radio. “We're going to freeze the harbor!”

“What about the device? Holding back the waves won't do any good if the damn moon lands on us!”

“I'm working on it! It's not enough to just smash the thing, it has to be reprogrammed to put the moon back where it belongs. And that's hard to do with an entire Blade Battalion shooting at me!”

“What can I do to help?”

“Unless you can take out that mobile defense platform that's keeping my bots pinned down, just focus on the waves for now! Beating Blade here is no good if Megalopolis drowns!”

“I'll see what I can do.”

Vista looked around. She was on the top floor of Freedom Tower, with the ceiling falling apart above her and the wall of windows facing the ocean blown out. She could see the harbor from here, Baron Blade's flying defense platform floating above it, and she could see another wave on its way.

Vista reached out with her power to turn the wave aside when suddenly, the wave became an iceberg. Absolute Zero had reached the harbor then. The man's relationship to cold wasn't too dissimilar to Vista's relationship with space. What he wanted, cold did. Never mind that freezing that much water would normally be impossible.

The frozen wave was still moving though, and even if the concentrated impact of a solid mass of ice wouldn't be as bad as the dispersed impact of a wave, it would still do considerable damage. Vista made to turn it away, when she had an idea. With a thought, space reshaped itself and the iceberg began to move upward. Ignoring physics in favor of Vista, the iceberg fell away from the ocean, and straight into Baron Blade's defense platform. With a crack, the platform broke in two and began to fall. A gentle twist of space ensured both pieces landed on the now-frozen section of ocean, rather than any of the city.

“Defense platform is down,” said Vista into her radio. “You're clear, Unity.”

“Thanks! My bots have the battalion covered, so I just… need… to… There! The beam's reversed! The moon is on its way back to where it belongs! I think this calls for some--” The radio cut of with a burst of static. And something told Vista she had to move. Now.

With a step, Vista was on the ground outside Freedom Tower. She looked up to where she had been and saw an explosion tear the entire floor apart. From the fireball stepped a figure. It caught sight of Vista on the ground and stepped off the ruins of the tower, landing hard in front of her. As it stood, Vista realised it was a suit of power armor. Seven feet tall, with a sword attached to its right arm and a transparent red bubble in place of a head showing the man inside. Vista looked at him, scarred eye, pointed beard, and a sneer that would have done Kaiser proud.

“You must be Baron Blade,” she said as she looked for a way out of this. An angry Tinker in his power armor was not something Vista could fight on her own.

“I was hoping to find Legacy here, defending his precious city,” said Blade, an Eastern European accent tinting his words, “But if he is not here, then I am sure a hostage can guarantee his appearance. Young girl, how would you like to meet a superhero just before he dies?”

“No thanks, most of them are overrated.”

Vista ran. Each step covered a city block, but Baron Blade was right behind her, his power armor pushing him forward. Vista took a hard right that for her wasn't a turn at all just as a blast of energy took out the road behind her. Rubble pelted her and she could feel blood running down her arm where a particularly sharp piece had grazed her.

Well, two could play at that game. For just a moment behind Vista, south became down and a car fell toward Blade's head. The same trick she had used with the iceberg, but on a smaller scale. Vista didn't look back to see if it worked, the stomping footsteps behind her said it didn't, and just ran full speed ahead.

Three more turns and Vista arrived at the harbor, now an expanse of frozen water out to the horizon. Baron Blade was gaining on her and she needed backup. She spotted the armored figure of Absolute Zero standing on a dock, pulling his hands back from the frozen waves. Two steps and she was next to him.

“Blade's right behind me!” she wanted, out of breath. “And he's pissed!”

“Just what today needed,” murmured Absolute Zero to himself. “A showdown with an omnicidal maniac.”

A wall of ice intercepted another blast of energy from the power armor's hand. The ice crumbled and Baron Blade was there behind it. A blast of fire pushed Absolute Zero back and a swipe of Blade's sword sent Vista flying into a dune. Something cracked as she landed and pain shot up her leg. Probably broken. She wouldn't be leaving here any time soon. She could still help though.

Baron Blade unleashed another blast of fire at Absolute Zero, and he responded with a wave of cold. Blade dodged, but a twist of space brought the wave back on target and it hit full-force, encasing the armor's sword, and the arm it was attached to, in ice. A shout from the far side of the dock showed Unity had arrived. Metal twisted itself from around her and formed into a squadron of robot hornets, which flew straight for the mass of ice. As they impacted, they exploded, shattering the ice, and the armor with it. Another wave of ice immobilized Blade as three of Unity's dinosaurs climbed up him and started biting at the bubble that protected his face. He shouted and swiped at them, but his hand never quite went where he wanted it to. Once the robots cracked the bubble, it was all but over. Ice filled the inside of the power armor and Baron Blade slumped over, defeated. Metal pulled itself from nearby debris and formed itself into a group of stern-looking robots with heavy fists, ready to keep Blade from escaping.

A fanfare played and the landscape faded first into outlines, then into nothing. The pain vanished from Vista's leg. As she stood and made her way to Unity and Absolute Zero, the figure of Baron Blade faded away too. Once he was gone, the robots collapsed into piles of loose parts.

“You need to take a look at the speech settings, kid,” Absolute Zero, or Ryan, Missy supposed now, was saying to Unity. “Lord knows Blade likes the sound of his own voice, but that was a bit too far.”

“What do you mean?” asked Unity, Devrah. “It was perfect!”

“'Confound these wretched robots!’ isn't perfect. It's so hammy I'm surprised you're allowed to be in the same room as it.”

“Fine, you think of something better then. Hey Vista! So what'd you think of the training simulator?”

“It was great!” Missy beamed. “We don't have anything like this at home, and I'm only allowed to go out on what they call 'safe’ patrols. I never get to stretch my powers like that!”

“That was a good trick with the iceberg, kid,” said Ryan as he turned to leave. “You’re quick on your feet and a sharp thinker. You'll go far.”

“Wow,” said Devrah. “He must really like you. Ryan's never that positive about anything.”

“I didn't even know if the iceberg thing would work,” admitted Missy, “It just seemed like a good thing to try.”

“That's how a lot of good ideas get started. Still, let's head down to the cafeteria, Vista. You're probably hungry after all that.”

“Missy.”

“What?”

“If I'm gonna be here for a while, I'll need to start making friends,” said Missy as she took off her visor. “My name's Missy.”

“Well then, Missy. Let's get you some food.”

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ISSUE 3: DAY OF THE DRAGON

Lisa walked into the store. Not too fast, since that would arouse suspicion, but fast enough that the security guard she had seen heading in her direction probably would have lost her. Just in case, she looked out the store’s large front window to try and spot him in the early-morning crowd.

No one following. He must have gone past.

With a sigh of relief, Lisa turned back to the interior of the store. A middle-high-end boutique, the kind that didn’t put tags on things not because the wares were that expensive, but because they liked to pretend the wares were that expensive.

It works, more often than not.

Lisa quickly wrenched away from that thought. She didn’t want another migraine over useless information. That wouldn’t do anyone any good. She drifted her way to a wall display of leather jackets, all of them looking high-quality.

Three are counterfeit, two are stolen. The purchaser took product from the Empire Eighty-Eight before they collapsed and resells them here. Used to split the profits, now keeps it all for herself.

Another line of thought to avoid. Having powers was trickier than anyone had made it out to be, and Lisa was still getting a handle on hers. A few hours a week, max, before the headaches became too much. That was easy. The hard part was keeping her power from jumping on the first thing she saw and running with it. Most people had a train of thought. With her power, Lisa’s was supersonic.

The bell above the door rang. Lisa looked up from the jackets and saw a stocky-looking blond man and his, presumably, girlfriend walk in. She went off toward the dresses, he went to a chair by the wall. Lisa turned back to the jackets and idly picked one up. It looked nice enough, and at least this one was legally obtained.

There’s something in the pocket.

Sure enough, in the left hand pocket was a folded piece of paper. Lisa took it out, put the jacket back, and unfolded the paper.

Ms. Wilbourn,
The two people who just walked in are armed and here to force you into service under their boss. If you don’t like the sound of that, get out now. If you want to say thanks, I’ll be at the taco stand across from Fugly Bobs.
-Jim

Okay, that was spooky. Lisa looked at the man, sitting nonchalantly in his chair.

Dresses to his taste, not his girlfriend’s. Independent minded. Ex-Military probably. Special Forces. Looking casual, but is aware of the position of everyone in this room. Left handed, keeps his hand free to quickly access the gun holstered on his left hip. Paying more attention to me than a man with a girlfriend would be.

Okay, that was enough to be going on. Lisa started walking toward the door, brushing past the employee making her way to Lisa, probably to passive-aggressively get her to leave. In different circumstances Lisa would have made a little game of breaking the girl down and revealing her secrets, but things were getting unnerving. As she reached the door, she heard the man get up and start toward her.

Lisa bolted.

Three stores later, she realised that running flat out down the Boardwalk was making her look suspicious. The last thing she wanted was to draw the attention of the security guards, especially here. There was a foyer for one of the semi-public restrooms the Boardwalk management maintained for paying customers just ahead. The restroom itself was locked with a digital keypad; to get the combination you had to ask in one of the nearby stores. Or you could have the ability to instantly glean information from just a glance. Either way worked. As Lisa ducked into a stall, she noticed an envelope taped to the back of the door. Curious, she took it and opened it. Another letter.

Ms. Wilbourn,
It was a good idea to get out of direct view, but I’ll be honest here and tell you that you’re not being very subtle. Check in the tank for something a bit more inconspicuous, then wait 35 seconds after putting it on before heading out again. I’m still at the taco stand if you want to talk. Otherwise, have a nice day.
-Jim

Lisa stared at the note.

“Jim” has accurate knowledge of my actions before I take them. Precog? Would explain how he got the letters in place. If he’s a precog, would he have gone through all this trouble if he knew I wouldn’t meet him? What if I don’t meet him and just leave now? What if--

Lisa cut her power off there. Causality problems weren’t worth a headache. She carefully opened the tank of the toilet and found a sealed plastic bag with a sports bra, leggings, running shoes, and a few other things. She looked at them for a moment, the shrugged. At least they were cleaner than what she had now. Lisa put her old clothes into the bag and the bag back into the tank, counted quietly to 35, then stepped out of the bathroom.

A group of women, all wearing clothes similar to Lisa’s jogged past. Figuring there was safety in numbers, Lisa followed behind. A quick glance told her that neither Boardwalk Security nor suspicious and highly-trained agents had seen her, so she continued jogging slightly behind the group.

Two minutes later, she was bored. She knew everything about these women, and had barely needed her power to learn it. Jane was mad at Cathy for something about a book club, Cathy was sleeping with Cindy’s boyfriend. Tara was worried about her brother, recently out of the closet, and how he would be received at school. And Michelle was angry that her CS project, something about a virtual rubber duck, kept imploding. Was this how normal people lived? Lisa couldn’t stand it and ducked away the moment an opportunity presented itself, safety be damned.

“Why hello there, Miss Wilbourn.” drawled a voice from nearby. Lisa looked around, and immediately saw where she was. The taco stand across from Fugly Bobs.

Damn. Causality wins again.

“You must be Jim,” said Lisa as she turned around. The man she saw was maybe early-40s, with long, slicked-back brown hair, a long-sleeved button down shirt and… was that a bolo tie? “You dress like my grandpa.”

“I’ll assume that means your grandad was a man of exceptional taste then. Have a seat.” Jim gestured to an empty seat across the table from him with a gloved hand.

“Let’s get to the point,” said Lisa as she took the offered chair. “Why’d you help me out back there?”

“Is it too much to assume that I don’t want to see a young girl in indentured servitude to a supervillain?”

“Everyone’s got an angle. Give me time and I’ll figure yours out.”

“I’ll save you the trouble and tell you right now if you like.”

“Sure, why not?”

“Firstly, let me tell you that you’re free to go at any time. By now the snake of a man who wanted you isn't a threat anymore.”

“How do you know that?”

“Same way I'll know which jacket pocket and bathroom stall to leave my notes in.”

So he was a precog then. Except that even as she thought it, Lisa’s power started telling her that was wrong.

Dresses in old-style clothes because they’re what he’s used to. Gloves aren’t a fashion statement, they’re concealing something. Whirring and buzzing whenever his left arm moves. Left arm is artificial, gloves and sleeves conceal this. He’s relaxed, but has enough situational awareness to know where everyone around him is. Not where they will be. Not a precog, used the future tense. What then? Postcog? Closer, but still not right. Besides, the only way that works is if--

“You’re a time traveller.”

“Maria told me you were a smart one,” said Jim with a smile.

“So you’re from the future, and you want my help. Why?”

“Because, Miss Wilbourn, I can’t generally be in two places at once without arousin’ suspicion. I’d like you to lead a small group for me on somethin’ of an infiltration mission.”

“What’s the goal? Sabotage? Information gathering? Theft?”

“Not so much theft, no. You’ll know what you need to do when it comes time to do it.”

“Assuming I agree to help you, that is.”

“Assumin’ that, yes.”

Lisa thought for a moment. If Jim was telling the truth, and nothing she had suggested he wasn’t, then she had just had a very close call with an unknown supervillain. Living like she had been, pickpocketing random strangers and draining their bank accounts, was drawing the wrong sorts of attention. Clearly that couldn’t continue. Similarly, she just couldn’t see herself sitting in book club with Jane and Cathy or helping Michelle with her computers. Too boring. Lisa needed excitement.

“You know what?” Lisa grinned, fox-like. It felt good. Natural. “Fine. I’m in.”

Jim smiled too as he stood from his seat. “Good to hear. Now let’s introduce you to the Undersiders.”



Coil watched the screen that showed his men bringing in the fool who had dared interfere with his plans. Jim Brooks had caused quite a stir at the PRT of late, and his activation of the Beckett Protocols had closed a number of backdoors into their systems that Coil was sorely missing. That wasn’t the issue though. The issue was that Brooks was now directly interfering in Coil's… recruitment of the Wilbourn girl.

Or, at least, Brooks was present when fantastic coincidences caused Coil's men to be diverted away from their positions following the girl. Coil had split, and had his men remove Brooks from the Boardwalk, on that side of possibility, the coincidences stopped. Of course, Wilbourn had been lost in the confusion, but Coil was confident he would find her again. The girl was incapable of keeping her head down, after all.

A knock at Coil's office door signaled the arrival of Brooks and his escorts. Coil opened the door and watched carefully as his guards deposited Brooks in the chair in front of Coil's desk, then stepped back to a ready position near the back wall. Coil looked carefully at Brooks, and split.

 

“Glad I get to meet the local Moriarty,” said Brooks. “Of course, you're a far sight from him. For a start, he had the sense to take my arm.”

Coil was about to ask what Brooks meant, when the man's left arm bulged slightly, then narrowed, elongated, and bent at angles an arm shouldn't be able to bend at. The last thing Coil saw before he closed that side of his split was a metal hand heading straight for his face.

 

“Glad I get to meet the local--”

“Take his arm,” Coil told the guards. “The left one. It's artificial.”

“Huh,” said Brooks as the guards removed first his shirt, then his arm, which popped out of its socket easily. “Maybe there's hope for you yet. What can I do for you?”

Coil split.

 

“You can tell me why you're interfering with my plans.”

 

“You can tell me how you successfully convinced Armsmaster to activate the Beckett Protocols.”

 

“That's simple enough. I don't rightly like the idea of someone like you havin’ unfettered access to a young woman and no consequences. You can understand why, right?”

 

“T’ tell the truth, I just played messenger. I don't know what he put in that message to convince himself, 'cept that it worked.”

 

“Ah, a do-gooder. How lovely. It's been so long since Brockton Bay had an idealist. This will be refreshing.”

 

“You expect me to believe that? That you have no idea what it took?”

 

“Far from it, Calvert, just a pragmatist. 'Sides, I've got an appointment five minutes ago, so you won't have to deal with me much longer.”

 

“Tell you what, Calvert, you can ask Maria. She'll prob'ly know.”

 

A beep distracted Coil from his questions. He looked down to see Brooks’ mechanical arm flash once. Twice. Then a surge of light and Coil was somewhere else.

Coil blinked and looked around. Wherever he was was an eclectic mix of old and new. The walls, floor, and ceiling made him think of an old sailing ship, but the bars of energy across what could only be the exit reminded him of the exotic specimen containment area he had seen the one time he had visited Blasto's lab.

On the other side of the bars stood a woman. Grey hair and dark skin. She smiled.

“Welcome aboard, Thomas,” she said. “I apologise for the abruptness of your transfer, but we couldn't afford your interference.”

“Who are you?” Coil asked. “Where am I?”

“I have many names. You may call me La Comodora. As for where you are? You are in your new home for the foreseeable future. And trust me when I say that I can see a long way ahead.”



The indoor firing range in the headquarters of the Protectorate ENE was a marvel of  modern engineering. Specialised adaptive armor plates could absorb anything less than a 200 pound bomb, and what they couldn't stop, the triple-layered forcefields around the entire room would. Purpose-built spatial warpers allowed for simulated ranges of up to 12 kilometers, and a creative delivery system ensured that whatever weapon or ammo a person needed was only a push of a button away.

It was, in short, perfect for for when Hannah needed something besides paperwork to fill her sleepless nights. And there was a lot of paperwork these days. Crime of all sorts had spiked in the, now former, Empire 88’s territory in the days following Dawn’s unexpected killing of most of the leadership and capes. Even as the gang’s territory shrank with the ABB and even the Merchants taking advantage of the lack of parahuman response, non-cape members had tried desperately to hold on to what they used to have. Muggings, drug sales, even graffiti had all been up. Had been up. Then the Brockton Bay Police had found a tag of a different sort. Three blacked corpses in front of a half-finished piece of graffiti claiming the area as E88. The BBPD had ceded the crime to the PRT, once they determined the gang members had been killed the same way as the crowd at the Empire rally. They had been killed by Dawn.

Currently it was thought Dawn was hiding somewhere in the roughly ten block area still held by whatever the gang formerly known as the Empire 88 was called now, but the new patrol schedules set up to account for the suddenly open and relatively safe areas unclaimed by the other gangs (more paperwork there too) never went into that area for some reason. When Hannah had asked why, Armsmaster had just told her he had his reasons, and couldn’t say more.

As she walked through the sound-dampening field meant to keep the noise of weapon discharges out of the corridors, Hannah’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of gunfire from inside the range. Something small calibre, probably hand-held. Maybe a PRT officer with a personal weapon? It wasn't unheard of for them to use this range instead of the one in the PRT building, but it was odd.

As she rounded the corner, Hannah saw that it wasn't a PRT officer at all. Instead it was Jim Brooks, Armsmaster's mysterious visitor who had been staying on the Rig for the past week. The team had been told he was operating on Thinker-derived information to try and capture Dawn, but there was something off about that story. For one thing, Brooks hadn't done anything yet but make plans preparing the PRT and Protectorate HQs for a seige. For another,  the book Officer Watkins had brought back not only mentioned an historical Jim Brooks, but also had a picture of him. And sure enough, the two Brooks’ were identical. The whole situation was, at best, extremely strange.

Hannah took a set of ear and eye protectors from a rack on the wall, put them on, and walked into the range proper. Brooks had a revolver of a make Hannah didn't recognise and a series of moving targets at the far end of the lane. He studied their movement for a moment, then, with a blur of noise and movement, all eight targets flashed red, dead center hits on all of them. Brooks holstered his gun and turned around.

“Impressive,” said Hannah as they both removed their ear covers.

“I try to stay sharp, Ma'am. Job like mine requires it.”

“I meant how you fired eight shots from a six shot pistol without reloading. I haven’t met anyone besides me who can do that.”

“I just reload later,” smiled Brooks. “It's a perk of my situation. Things do get int'restin when it comes time to empty the brass though, so I don't usually leave it too long.”

Hannah didn't quite know what to make of that, so instead stepped up to a booth next to Brooks. She set the lane for ten targets, all moving. She put her ear covers back on, checked that Brooks had done the same, and let her power shape itself into a revolver similar to Brooks’. A moment of studying the targets, then nine shots rang out. All ten targets flashed red with hits.

“That's some fine shootin’ Ma'am. I could’ve used someone with your skills against the Hayes boys back in the day.”

“In Silver Gulch?”

“Just so. Nice enough town, 'cept when some rough types rolled in, which was more often 'n not after the mine ran dry. I feel sorry for Pratt, havin’ to take over like that after I left. Still, the past's the past, and there’s only so much a body can do to change that.” Brooks turned to his booth controls and made some adjustments. A hologram of a man appeared at the far end of the lane. He was holding another person as a shield. Words flashed above them “HOSTAGE SITUATION. NON-LETHAL MUNITIONS ONLY”. A circle of pink light appeared next to Brooks. He reached into it and pulled out a small metal hand crossbow. He aimed downrange and fired. The bolt flew true and hit the hostage-taker in the arm. The man jerked back, then fainted. Both holograms faded away.

“What was in that dart?” asked Hannah. “A Tinker poison?”

“Nothin’ Tinker about anything I use. I gave a sample to Colin and he agreed. Just needs some delta radiation to make at full strength is all, and assumin’ all goes well that'll be discovered here in another few months.”

Hannah looked at the crossbow and felt a tugging at the back of her mind. She set her booth to replicate the hostage scenario and let her power loose. It struggled for a moment, twisting and reshaping itself, never quite solidifying until, with a snap, the green and black energy in her hand became a perfect replica of Brooks’ weapon. From there, things went smoothly. Aim, fire, watch the hostage taker collapse. Brooks just smiled, reached back into the pink light, and pulled out a long silver weapon that glowed blue at the top and tip.

“This is the Masadah,” he said as he sighted down the long barrel. “A curious bit of tech, reg'lar rech mind you, still none o’ that Tinker stuff, that measures the uptime temporal momentum of a situation and adjusts its output to match. The downside is that you never quite know how much you get for any given shot. Point it at the leader of an invading nation and you might not get anything, since it turns out he's just a figurehead and the real movin’ and shakin’s coming from somewhere else. But point it at a street brawl between kids and you could level the block 'cause one o’ them would've grown up to build a perpetual motion machine. You never know how a person's actions will change things, so I usually don't use this piece unless I know what's happenin’.”

Hannah's head was spinning at the thought, and her power crackled in her hands. “May I hold it?” she asked

“I'd love to let you,” said Brooks as he looked at the clock hanging on the back wall. “But I'm afraid we're both about to have things to do.” He put his weapons back into the pink light and walked out the door. “You might want to get ready to fight some fires.”

Hannah was about to ask him what he meant when the question died in her throat. The emergency alarms sounded. All hands.



Tonight was the night. Tonight Kenta would finally take the city from the last notable threat against his unquestioned rule. Tonight Kenta would fight Dawn. Tonight he would win.

Kenta knew relatively little about the new parahuman who had come from nowhere and killed most of the E88’s leadership. Most, not all. Hookwolf, Othala, and Stormtiger had all turned traitor to their former master to join with Dawn. They now formed the core of her group, although rumors swirled constantly that unaffiliated rouges and independent villains were slowly gathering under her banner. Most of what Kenta knew was that this Dawn had proven herself against ten parahumans at once and come out on top. But ten parahumans were nothing next to an Endbringer, and Kenta had proven himself equal to that challenge.

Kenta very pointedly did not think to himself that he was only equal to an Endbringer, not greater than one.

As Kenta and the group of his subordinates he had gathered approached the area Dawn controlled he turned to Lee, his second.

“Scout ahead. Dawn is mine, but you and the others may fight who you will.”

Lee nodded, then collapsed into a pile of dust. Kenta continued forward with his men.

After a few blocks Lee appeared back in front of Kenta. A brief exchange between the two and the group changed direction. North, closer to downtown. Closer to Protectorate patrols, but if that was where Dawn was hiding, that is where Kenta would go. Already the anticipation of a fight was causing Kenta to grow taller. Scales hadn’t yet begun sprouting from his back and chest, but those would come in time.

By the time Kenta led his group to the palatial apartment block Lee had told him was the enemy’s base of operations, he was seven feet tall and hot to the touch. Two people in costume stood at the front door to the apartments. When they saw Kenta and his men approach one of them, a young man in a flowing white shirt and simple mask ran inside as the other, a taller figure in black leathers, gestured and darkness filled the street.

Kenta flew forward in a rage. He could feel himself getting stronger as he burst through the doors of the apartment building. Shards of glass, metal, and wood cut into his skin, only for the skin to heal and close behind them. There was light inside the building, but the cape who had made the darkness outside was nowhere to be seen. Instead all Kenta saw was a mass of whirling blades heading for him. Hookwolf.

Kenta braced himself and roared. Hookwolf’s charge brought both of them out into the darkened street again. With a strain and a shout of effort, Kenta threw Hookwolf off himself and into the shadows. Another roar, and a gout of flame burst from Kenta’s… no, Lung’s mouth even as that mouth began to split and elongate. The flames burned away some of the darkness around Lung. As it flowed back into his patch of light, Lung saw a glint of metal coming towards him. Most of Hookwolf’s attack glanced off Lung’s scales, but one blade slipped between them and pierced deep. Another roar, this time of pain, and more of the darkness burned away.

Hookwolf withdrew the blade and was about to stab it back in when an explosion rocked his back. Oni Lee had finally gotten out of the darkness and been able to see Hookwolf. And what Oni Lee could see, Oni Lee could reach, and plant a bomb on.

Lung took to the air as Hookwolf fell from him. The blast had stunned him and probably not caused any lasting damage, but he wasn’t the reason Lung was here. Better to leave Dawn’s flunkies to his men. From this height, he could see that most of the darkness had dissipated by now, and his men were on their feet, storming the apartment building. As they reached the opening Lung had left, five figures stepped out. From the way they stood, they were probably capes. But Lung had brought nearly a hundred men with him, a half-dozen capes would have a hard time, no matter their powers.

Lung rose higher. He saw a flash of red above him, on the roof of the building, and he rose to meet it.

Most people, when confronted by Lung in his dragon form, cowered, or ran, or lashed out. Dawn did none of that. She just watched, unblinking, as Lung rose to her level, and when he reached her, she spoke calmly

“I have an offer for you. I know that as you are now you cannot speak, so I will say my piece and let you decide.

“My old world and this one are not so different. In both those who are gifted with abilities above and beyond what many would consider ‘normal’ are forced to kowtow to those without power simply because they were afraid of us. In both children are taken from their homes by unnamed agencies to be studied and experimented on.

“On my old world I alone said no. I led the Citizens of the Sun, the greatest force on the planet! We protected those like us, those with power, from the numbers and machinations of the frail old men afraid for their positions and unable to face the truth of the world. Afraid that they were obsolete.

“Now that I am here, I wish to rebuild my Citizens, and offer protection to those who need it. To you, though, Lung, Hero of Kyushu. To you I offer a position of power at my right hand. I offer you control over an army of parahumans, to take your vengeance upon those who have wronged you. All you have to do, is accept me as your ruler.”

Lung remembered his time in the Yangban’s custody. He remembered their claims of perfect equality. He also remembered his response to their offer.

Like then, Lung set the building on fire. He would have no master but himself, as he was the only master worth serving. Dawn had not understood that, and now she was burning, lighting up the night with her final cries of anguish.

Except that those weren’t cries of anguish, they were of laughter.

The fire around Dawn faded and died as she rose into the air, face to face with Lung. She shook her head sadly.

“Very well, if you will not join me, I cannot allow you to remain.” She held out her hand, and a blast of light hit Lung full in the face. He could feel the energy trying to burn him, but he would not burn. Most of the energy continued behind Lung and hit a building, which began to crumble and fall. Lung returned fire with a blast of flame that Dawn failed to be burned by. Instead she waved her hand and the fire flowed into her, causing her to glow even brighter.

“Your fire has an interesting quality to it,” Dawn said, “As if it’s not just flames, but something more besides. Whatever it is, it certainly is… invigorating.” Another wave of Dawn’s hand and a wave of coloured energy rained down on Lung, and on the melee beneath them. This time the energy hurt. Several of Lung’s scales were knocked loose, new ones regrowing even as the old ones fell.

Lung felt himself growing larger still, approaching the size he had reached the day he had come to Brockton Bay, and the local Protectorate had tried to arrest him. He had won then, and he would win now. A swing of his tail sent Dawn crashing through three buildings, each one beginning to burn in her wake. His power surged inside him as he roared again, sending flames into the sky, the pressure from the sound shattering windows, only for another blast of multicoloured light to knock into him, this time tearing at his wings. The damage had fixed itself before he had even dropped fifty feet, and he caught himself on the thermal bloom of the fires he and Dawn had started on the street below. Lung rose higher, among the clouds, until he could see the city laid out below him, a good portion of the downtown area now burning. He laughed to himself, an inhuman sound from his inhuman mouth. He had won again. Except…

From where she had landed in the wreckage of the upper levels of a tower, Dawn rose. A single golden spark amidst the orange and red inferno around her. Lung roared again, and unleashed his hottest flame. Hotter than mere fire could be, this was more like a stream of the corona of the sun itself. The clouds around Lung burned away, and turned instantly to steam. Nothing on earth could resist this flame.

Dawn was not from this earth. The fire again flowed into her and she shone like her namesake, lighting the sky around her like a midnight sun. And then, with a simple wave of her hand, she sent Lung’s fire back at him. Lung took it, and raged. He grew even larger, laughing again as the fire failed to burn him. Except that at that moment, his rage failed him.

Instead of the well of power his rage had given him, there was nothingness. A blank void where before there had been strength. Dawn’s fire washed over him and the metal of his scales heated and seared into him.

For the first time since his trigger, Lung burned. He flapped his wings, trying to stay aloft, but his form wouldn’t fly anymore. Instead he fell, and he burned. A shooting star to light the day that Dawn had brought. He writhed, screaming as he fell, his body now unwieldy and unresponsive and burning in pain and agony.

Lung screamed, and burned, and fell until, with a sickening crunch and thud, what was left of him only burned.



You know of the multiverse. You know it is the sum total of all possibilities and probabilities of all realities. You know it should grow unto infinity. But the multiverse does not exist in a vacuum. There is a place of more dimensions than you can comprehend where it rests, ever-growing. There is Ur-Space.

All time in Ur-Space is the same time. There is no past, no future. There is only what is. Those in Ur-Space watch all of a reality simultaneously. They watch the beginnings  and ends, and observe how one flows into the other through the natural course of events.

OblivAeon is not satisfied with this being the way of things. It takes too long and new realities spawn before old ones can die. In order to achieve his goal of Absolute Nothingness, OblivAeon takes direct action. At times this means empowering individuals to cause destruction for him, at other times, the action is of a different scale entirely.

OblivAeon looks to a stretch of possible worlds that are all but identical. In the normal course of things these would have collapsed into a single timeline long ago, it is only the power of an inhabitant of this sheaf of worldlines, an entity worming its way through the dimensions, that they have not. A closer look at the worlds in question shows that the only difference between them is that one planet, a variant of a keystone of many realities, is devoid of all life but for a shard of this Dimension Worm. Each instance of the planet bears a different shard.

It is a fact in our world that two objects cannot exist in the same place at the same time. So it is too in Ur-Space, where all time is the same time and location is a measure of one's will. OblivAeon’s will is more powerful than any mere universal law. These worlds are so similar that it takes only the smallest push to cause two to overlap and destroy each other; the shards of the Dimension Worm either erased or returned whence they came. OblivAeon does not care which. There is a stretch of worlds ahead of him. OblivAeon sets himself to his purpose.

liarliar
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Wow, this is intense! We’re already seeing some huge divergences from the original timeline - I can’t wait to see where it’s going next! Looks like it will take a lot to deal with Dawn, though...

tehwonko
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liarliar wrote:

Wow, this is intense! We’re already seeing some huge divergences from the original timeline - I can’t wait to see where it’s going next! Looks like it will take a lot to deal with Dawn, though...

I mean, where it's going is OblivAeon, it'll just take some time to get there. Where it's going next? Vista needs a taste of home, but Rook City is as close to Brockton Bay as she's likely to find. 

 

As for dealing with Dawn, think back to the first time you played against her, and your team of four heroes ended up with three KOed and Haka down to single-digit HP before you end up losing anyway because Citizens Hammer, Anvil, and Spring all came out on the same turn. That's kind of the tone I'm going for with her

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ISSUE 4: BETWEEN THE HAMMER AND THE ANVIL

 
“Missy, we need to talk.”

Missy looked up from the computer built into the desk of her borrowed room in Freedom Tower to see Devrah leaning against the doorframe. “What about?”

“My lab was the size of a closet this morning.”

“Oh, sorry.” Missy grinned sheepishly and rubbed the back of her head in embarrassment. “You come in late and the tours through the tower make it hard to use my power in the more public areas. Your lab usually doesn't have any people in it, so it's easy to stretch and compress. I guess I just… left it small. It should be back to normal now.”

“Normally I'd say it's fine, but this is the third time this week. Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, it's just… I'm feeling a bit cooped up. This is a big building, but it's not really enough to stretch out in, y'know?”

"Well then, I have good news for you.”

“Please tell me it’s anything but sitting here reading archives,” Vista said as she stood from the desk and started pacing across the room. “I mean, they’re interesting, but I don’t think reading about other people being superheroes is helping me feel less bottled in.”

“It is most assuredly not reading archives. We just got a call from Harpy, she’s with Dark Watch, and she said that she and Nightmist are working on some sort of big transportation spell, and someone from an alternate reality could be just what they need to work it out!”

“Nightmist…” Missy thought back to what she had read about the major capes in this reality. “She’s the mage in Rook City? We’ve got someone back home who claims to be a wizard too. No one believes him though.”

“Wait,” said Devrah. “You don’t believe in magic either? You and Dr. Stinson would get along great.”

“Why would I believe in magic? We know where powers come from back home, and being a wizard has nothing to do with it.”

“Do you disbelieve in magic enough that you don’t want to see Nightmist?”

“If it gets me out of this building, I’ll pretend she’s from Narnia.”

“Great, pack a bag then. We’re going to meet Aslan.”
 



“You know,” said Missy, looking around, “When you said we were going to Rook City, I wasn’t really expecting it to be like this.”

“Oh?” asked Devrah. “What were you expecting?”

“I don’t know, don’t you people have a jet or something? Anything but the public monorail to the airport.”

“We do have a jet, but even if Ryan and Lieutenant Vance hadn’t taken it to check on the old Citizens of the Sun complex after their attack, I can’t fly it. So instead we’re taking the CEO of Montgomery Industries up on her very generous offer to let us join her on her private plane.”

“I don’t know, it seems suspicious,” frowned Missy. “The timing, I mean. We need to get to Rook City, and it just so happens that some rich lady is going there and offers us a ride?”

“Not everyone is secretly an evil mastermind, Missy,” said Devrah. “Ms. Montgomery has done this sort of thing for us before. I think she just likes to help.”

“If you say so. I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop, though. It's been two weeks since I landed here and nothing's happened.”

“That's a good thing. It means no one is trying to kill each other.”

“I know, but…” Missy sighed and looked around the otherwise empty car. “You remember Progeny? Big silver guy, wrecked a bunch of cities? I read about him in the Freedom Tower archives. He's one of the biggest fights the Freedom Five have had in recent memory.”

“Yeah,” said Devrah, shuddering at the thought. “I was there. So was basically everyone else, at one point or another. We almost didn't win. Dr. Stinson even broke her back when Progeny threw her into a building.”

Missy looked Devrah straight in the eye. “Where I come from, something like Progeny attacks every three months.”

Devrah didn't, couldn't, say anything.

“Or that serial killer, Spite,” said Missy. “Apparently he died a few years ago, but we've got a group of up to nine people just as bad, wandering the country killing, or worse, anyone who tries to stop them.”

“Okay,” said Devrah. “If things are really that bad, then that answers a few questions some of us had about why a 13 year old was so good at combat.”

“The bad guys are only part of it,” sighed Vista. “You have a Mars base and contact with alien civilisations, we have a monster in orbit who destroys most of what we send up. You beat back a homicidal AI, we've walled off whole towns to keep a machine army from spreading too fast. You're right, I'm not supposed to see combat, but my city has a literal dragon, superpowered druggies and actual Nazis. Combat is unavoidable.”

Devrah thought for a moment. “If things are that bad on your Earth, are you sure you want to go back?”

Missy’s response was interrupted by the entire train shaking.

“What was that?” Missy asked, looking around.

“Normally I’d say it’s nothing,” said Devrah, “Just a rough patch of track from when Baron Blade had his bombing spree a few years back.”

“Normally?” asked Missy as the train rumbled again.

“Yeah. I’m reconsidering though, based on the fact the back of the train is on fire.”

“You could’ve led with that,” grumbled Missy. “Get me a mask.”

“A mask?”

“Yeah, I don’t have a public identity here, so I need a mask.”

“Fair enough.” The frame of the seat in front of them distorted and shaped itself into a simple metal domino mask. More pieces floated out of a light fixture and assembled themselves into a pair of earpieces. “Take a radio. I’ll head to the back, try and control the fire. You head up front, make sure the track is alright. We’ll let each other know what we find.”

Vista took the mask and earpiece and fit them into place. “Any idea who it’s likely to be?”

“Too many to list,” said Unity as she ran to the door at the back of the car. “Now go make sure we’re not about to crash!”

By the time Vista reached the small compartment at the front of the train, alarms were blaring. The engineer was on the radio shouting and flipping switches, and outside the window, about half a mile away and closing fast, stood a man.

“Unity, there's a guy on the track. Tall, long hair, beard, carrying a hammer and a shield. Who is he?”

“Sparks! That's Citizen Anvil! He's one of the top enforcers of the Citizens of the Sun! Keep an eye out for a bald dude, that's his partner, Citizen Hammer. He'll the one who started the fires back here.”

“Okay, that's great. Why is Anvil waiting to get run over?”

Unity was quiet for a moment. When she spoke there was urgency in her voice.

“He's going to crash the train! He has forcefields and his shield is unbreakable, if he sets it up right it could derail the whole thing!”

Outside the window, Citizen Anvil was adjusting his stance, readying for the impact that was about to come. Vista looked to the engineer next to her.

“Can we stop before we hit him?”

“At our speed? No way! It'd take at least a mile!”

Vista looked out the window and considered her options. She couldn't make the train go around Anvil, but he wasn't ready yet. Vista turned back to the engineer.

“Speed us up.”

“What? Are you insane?”

Instead of answering, Vista grabbed the microphone used for internal announcements, toggled it on, and spoke.

“Everyone, hold on and brace for impact!”

A count of two, one more than was probably safe, to let the passengers prepare, and the distance between the train and Citizen Anvil shrank from a thousand feet to nothing in the blink of an eye. A flash of gold, the sound of breaking glass, and the train stopped. Vista flew through the remains of the windshield, and as she passed over Anvil, lying on the track with his leg at a strange angle, she had just enough time to smirk to herself before impact.
 



When she opened her eyes again, the first thing Vista noticed was that she hurt. Everywhere. Then she had a brief moment of panic until her body remembered how to breathe and she realised that hurt too. She got up and turned to the train, with a massive dent where it had impacted Citizen Anvil. Not the cleanest takedown in Vista's career, certainly, but not bad given the circumstances.

Alright, what comes next? Vista thought to herself. Probably need to check on any passengers and help Unity with the fire.

With a step Vista was on top of the train. Her power told her that, aside from one person near the front of the train, the engineer, Vista suspected, everyone else was near the back, about two cars ahead of where the fire still burned.

A bloom of heat and light reduced that distance to one car between the passengers and the fire, and Vista hurried as much as she could, wincing with each step. She dropped down to the car entrance and opened the door to find about 30 people, mostly uninjured crawling out from piles of what looked like impromptu crash pods. The hot pink streaks on the sides spoke of Unity's power at work. She had probably made these in the limited time she had between Vista's announcement and the train hitting Anvil. One of the passengers saw Vista standing at the door, or more accurately, saw Vista's mask.

“Hey!” they shouted. “Are you a superhero? What's going on?”

Vista sighed to herself and put on her best PR smile.

“Someone left something on the track. Usually not an issue, but it caused a small thermal problem this time, so we need you all to evacuate the train now. Just as a precaution, you understand.”

That seemed to mollify most of the passengers, and the ones it didn't at least had the good grace to keep quiet about it. A pair of inflatable evacuation slides were deployed from the emergency exit doors, and people began filing out fairly quickly. Vista shortened the distance for some of the more injured people, but most of the passengers were able to get to the ground with no issues.

As the last passenger dropped down the slide, Vista turned to the back of the car just as a gout of flame blasted it open and a body came flying through it. Vista realised with horror that the body was Unity. A quick check showed she was still breathing, but badly burned. She coughed and looked up at Vista.

“I called for backup,” Unity wheezed. “Wraith is closest. She'll be here in seven minutes.”

Another fireball came through the door at the back of the train, and a man in an orange visor walked through the flames. He looked around the car, and saw Vista.

“Ah, there you are!” he said with a smile that Vista didn't like the look of. “We've been looking for you, kid. You need to pay for what you did.”

“Sorry, I'm new here,” said Vista as she put herself between the man and Unity. “You must be Citizen Hammer. Hi. I'm Vista. What am I supposed to have done?”

“You took away our leader!” shouted Hammer. “You thought you could extinguish the Dawn, but now you'll feel it burn!

Citizen Hammer snapped his fingers and the seats around Vista burst into flame. The grin on Hammer's face seemed to grow in the firelight. Vista backed away, keeping the heat and flames from her and Unity by expanding the space between them and the fire.

“If it's all the same to you,” said Vista. “I'd rather not. I already took care of your partner, you can't be much harder.”

Hammer just kept smiling. “And how did you take out Citizen Anvil? Many better than you have tried and failed, little girl.”

Vista shrugged. “Training. He was asking for it, really, standing on the tracks like that. I'm not sure--” A flash of golden light lit the car, and pure instinct had Vista ducking and creating a buffer of distorted space around her just as a hammer swung through where she had just been. She looked up and saw Anvil behind her. Bruised and favoring one leg, but still very much combat-ready.

“Maybe you need to train harder then!” laughed Citizen Hammer. “Not that you'll have much chance to once we take you back to the Citizens of the Sun for your punishment!”

Vista knew when she was outclassed. If she and Unity were fresh and uninjured, they could stall Hammer and Anvil until help arrived, maybe even win. As things were now, with Unity down and Vista still feeling the results of being flung out the front of the train, Vista decided to exercise the better part of valor.

A small twist and a jump and Vista and Unity were down the inflatable evacuation slide.

“A ‘small thermal problem’?” asked one of the passengers still gathered around the bottom of the slide as Vista picked herself up. She glanced back up to the train, and to the inferno consuming the back half of it.

“So I exaggerated,” Vista said. “Would you rather still be up there?” Before they could answer Vista handed them Unity. “Keep her safe, help will be here soon.”

One step later, Vista was on top of the train again, banging on the roof.

“Come on you goons, you're here for me, come and get me!”

Another flash of gold light and Hammer and Anvil were on top of the train with Vista. Hammer snapped his fingers and a jet of fire raced toward Vista's face. She ducked just in time to miss Anvil bursting from the fire and swinging his hammer. She didn't duck in time to miss the shield though. It connected and Vista flew fifteen feet down the train.

Okay, so he teleports too. That would've been good to know.

Vista stood and winced. Something inside her that should have stayed still moved.

Probably fine. After all, it's still inside, that's where blood belongs.

Vista dodged and space twisted just as another hammer strike and burst of fire came toward her. This wasn't tenable, but Vista didn't want to know what Hammer and Anvil would do to the civilians below if she weren’t able to distract them.

“Alright, big guy,” she said through clenched teeth. “Let's see how far you can go at once.”

A twist of space and a step later, the train was a thousand feet away. A flash of gold and Hammer and Anvil were in front of her again. Another twist, another step. Two miles away now. Another flash of gold and another blast of flame. Every step took them further from the train, and the civilians and Unity. Every step took Vista further from help. Every step drained Vista just that much more

But Citizen Anvil was getting slower too. His teleports were arriving later and later. Not by too much, but but the time Vista guessed she was about 50 miles from the train, Hammer and Anvil was a full thirty seconds behind her. If she could last just a bit longer, she would have a chance to hide before her pursuers arrived. Her opportunity came even sooner than that though. A twist and step brought Vista to the edge of a swamp. There were enough living things here that Vista couldn't go as far with each step. She looked around for a moment as she took a breath and winced in pain again. If she turned around now, Vista probably couldn't get back in communicator range before she collapsed, but with only a bit of luck, Hammer and Anvil were at their limit.

Vista's thoughts were interrupted with a distant flash of gold. She saw Hammer and Anvil appear about two hundred feet away, then Anvil collapsed. Vista didn’t wait around to see what happened next. She ran into the swamp.
 


 
By the time Missy felt safe enough to stop running, night had fallen. The moon was full, which kept her from stumbling too much on protruding roots or getting caught up in hanging vines, but it was still dark enough that her run had been more of a stagger. She would have stopped entirely and waited for daybreak, but something told her that with her injuries that would be a bad idea.

So instead Missy walked. When she could she used her power to go around a particularly deep puddle, or to level some ground, but for the most part she went from one tree to another, resting against the trunks for a few moments when she got tired, which was more and more often now.

In this distance, Missy noticed a flickering orange glow in the distance. A fire. Was it Hammer and Anvil again? Maybe. But also maybe not. Even on Earth Bet there were people who lived in dumb places for dumb reasons, why shouldn't the same be true here?

Figuring it was worth this risk, Missy slowly made her way toward the firelight. She squeaked in surprise and fell over as a large raven flew squawking out of a tree and into her chest.

Great, she thought. Now I'm injured and wet.

As she pulled herself out of the puddle she had landed in, Missy caught sight of a figure in the tree above her. She made to back away slowly, one never knew how a person who chose to live in a swamp would react to strangers after all, when the figure moved, then dropped out of the tree, landing silently in front of Missy.

Missy took stock of the figure in front of her. Tall, woman, muscles where there weren't close-fitting dark clothes, and guns. Lots of guns. There were at least two pistols on her hips and a shotgun slung over her back, and she was carrying something Missy remembered Miss Militia calling a "Barrett M82 long range sniper rifle, run if you ever see one of these". Yeah, this woman was probably the crazy survivalist who lived in the swamp.

The woman looked over Missy in turn. Whatever she thought, she didn’t let it show on her face. After a long moment of the two staring at each other, the woman finally spoke.

“You’re Vista?”

“I--” Missy stammered. “How did you know?”

“Unity said you might end up in this direction. She didn’t say why, of course, but in her defense, she sounded pretty beat up.” The woman turned back to the tree she had dropped out of, and started climbing. “Come on. You’ll be safer up here once we get started.”

“Started with what?” Missy did what she could to make the climb easier for herself, but she still winced any time she had to raise her left arm above her shoulder. She thought she hid it well though.

“Harpy says the local Cult of Gloom has been gearing up for a major ritual. Probably trying to bring their god here into the real world again.”

“Again?”

The woman ignored Missy,settled into a crook in a branch, and touched her ear. “Harpy, I’ve found our visitor. Yeah, the one Unity told us about. No, she’s safe. Yes she’s here with me, and yes that means she’s safe. Or she will be if you do your job at least.”

“Wait, you’re with Dark Watch?” Missy asked.

“Kid, I lead Dark Watch,” the woman said as she sighted down the scope on her sniper rifle. Missy noticed it was in the direction of the firelight in the middle distance. She reached into a pocket strapped to her thigh and handed something to Missy. “You know how to spot?”

“You must be Expatriette then!” Missy said as she tried to remember who else was on Dark Watch.

“The one and only. Do you know how to spot?” She waggled the thing in her hand at Missy.

Missy took the thing, a pair of binoculars. “Not really, no.”

“That’s fine. Just keep an eye out for anyone heading this way then. I’ll be busy.”

Missy turned the binoculars toward the firelight too and adjusted the focus. Between twenty and thirty people in purple robes were gently swaying back and forth in a large clearing in the swamp. Missy was too far away to hear anything, but she gave even odds that they were chanting. One person facing the group, probably the leader, gesticulated wildly.

“In position,” said Expatriette from beside Missy. “Setback, Fixer, you’re on in three. Two. Go.” As she said the last word, Expatriette pulled the trigger. The sound of the gunshot was a lot quieter than Missy would have thought, given Miss Militia’s many and frequent lectures on firearm safety. Maybe Expatriette had some sort of sound suppressor. As she wondered about that, Missy watched through the binoculars as the leader dropped to the ground as electricity arced off of him into the crowd. Two men ran into the clearing for opposite sides. One of them, a black man with a bandana tied over his eyes, Missy remembered him being called Mister Fixer, started throwing cultists left and right. The other man, white and heavily muscled, Setback, if Missy was remembering right, missed a punch and overbalanced, fell to the ground and neatly ended up under the flight path of one of the cultists thrown by the other man. The cultist hit two of his fellows who were winding up to kick their downed opponent, and all three went down in a tangle of limbs and purple robes.

The fight itself lasted maybe thirty seconds from Expatriette’s opening gunshot to the last cultist going down. The two men had made quick work of the cultists, aided by support fire from Expatriette. The two of them had begun tying the cultists up when the leader shakily rose to his feet. Missy was about to say something, but Expatriette spoke first.

“Fixer! The leader’s getting up. Stop him!”

Mister Fixer jumped toward the cultist, but it was too late. From out of his robe, the man pulled a pouch, and emptied small bones into a circle around him. As Mister Fixer reached the edge of that circle, he stopped dead with a flash of blue, as if he had hit an invisible wall, and crumpled to the ground.

“Harpy,” said Expatriette as she fired at the cultist. Just like Mister Fixer, the bullet stopped in midair with a blue flash and fell to the ground. “They’ve got a magus. Send in the birds.”

Before Missy could think to ask what that mean, more birds than she could count dove into the clearing. They swarmed around the man in the circle of bones, but they couldn’t penetrate the invisible barrier any more than Mister Fixer or Expatriette.

The constant flashes of blue from birds impacting continued for just a few seconds before they were overpowered by a much brighter flash of gold. A very familiar flash of gold.

“Crap,” said Missy and Expatriette at the exact same time. “They found me.”

“What do you mean they found you?” asked Missy. “They’ve been following me all day! They think I evaporated their boss or something.”

“They’ve been after me ever since I ran away from dear old mom and her superpower cult. Wait, are you the one who got rid of Dawn? I’d buy you a drink if you weren’t twelve.”

“Thirteen,” mumbled Missy. “And I just fell through a hole in space! I don’t know what happened to this Dawn lady! These guys still want to kidnap and torture me for it, though!”

“Yeah, that fits Hammer and Anvil pretty well. Still, we know how to fight them. You’ll be fine.”

Missy looked through the binoculars again just as Citizen Hammer incinerated about three hundred birds at once. The man in the circle of bones had begun gesticulating again, but Missy had no idea why. Setback ran toward Hammer, readying a blow, but Citizen Anvil moved between them and took it instead, then twisted to the right to avoid a kick from Mister Fixer.

Behind the cultist, a green portal opened. The cultist stopped moving, and turned to face it. A shape began to form in the chaotic forms inside. An inhuman skull, all sharp teeth and horns. It began to laugh, and Missy could hear it, even at the distance she was. It was a laughter that spoke of nothing but despair for anyone who heard it. Missy hadn’t believed in magic before this, but now she had no choice. Whatever it was inside the portal, Missy knew that if it came out, everyone on this planet would die.

And that’s when Setback was thrown to the ground and slid into the circle of bones, knocking them everywhere. The circle flashed blue one last time, and in that brief moment, Mister Fixer grabbed Citizen Hammer, and threw him into the cultist, knocking them both into the portal, which began to shrink. Citizen Anvil looked from the portal to Mister Fixer, and if looks could kill, Fixer would be dead. Then Anvil ran and jumped into the portal after his partner. A moment after that, the portal winked closed and the only sound in the clearing was the sound of flying birds.

“Come on,” said Expatriette, clearly not wanting to think about what those three would face on the other side of that portal any more than Missy did, “Let’s get out of here.”