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March Vignette (Hot Zone)

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Vignette, March 2012 - Hot Zone

On Wednesday, March 7th, 2012, a mutagen is released into Freedom City at large - slipped into the water supply, dispersed as nerve gas in a number of public locations, and engineered to ensure transmission via skin-to-skin contact. By the end of the day, the majority of Freedom City has developed superpowers, and only a few of them have any control over them. And heroes are not immune, as some find themselves dealing with new powers beyond their ken - or find reliable old talents have fallen out of their grasp. A powers pusher by the name of Mister Motley claims responsibility, and appears to have some powerful backers. The city is placed under quarantine by the federal government to prevent the further spread of the mutagen - and worse, it appears that the mutagen burns out the immune system of those infected, giving everyone affected two months to live unless a cure is found. The heroes of Freedom City are doing their best to ensure the city remains fully operational despite the emergency - but with everyone empowered, chaos in the streets, and Mister Motley's backers in SHADOW pulling the strings, can they keep everything together until a cure is found?



Who: Any player who is interested.

What: Write the story of your character as they deal with Freedom City falling under quarantine as its citizens gain powers far beyond their control.

Threats include:
Uncontrolled power eruptions threatening to do damage to both the infrastructure and citizenry of Freedom.
Two-bit crooks finding their powers upjumped and trying to seize power amidst the chaos.
Average citizens coming to terms with their powers in the worst ways possible - turning to violent vigilantism, or attempting to gain vengeance on those who wronged them.
Established villains attempting to take advantage of the confusion and the weak spots in the infrastructure during the emergency (e.g., the Green Man attempting to booby trap much-needed produce).
SHADOW operatives taking advantage of the madness and hauling in affected citizens for "study."

Plots include:
Helping to keep things operational during the week-long emergency.
Working to find a cure for the effects of Proteus.
Wrestling with new powers, losing your existing powers, or helping family members and loved ones with their new abilities.

Length should be at least one (1) page per character involved.

When: The week of March 7th - March 14th, 2012. Your vignette is due March 31st, 2012 at midnight EST.

Where: The greater Freedom City area - or outside, if your character was out-of-town when the quarantine came down.

Why: To help keep the peace as chaos reigns in Freedom City, to search for a way to restore order, and to save the city's people from a slow death.

How: Once your story is finished and proofed, post it in this thread. That way everyone will be able to see it, and play off it as appropriate.




Vignettes
Cannonade
Catalyst
Nick Cimitiere
Cobalt Templar
Doktor Archeville
Edge
Fleur de Joie
Fulcrum
Gaian Knight
Gabriel
Harrier
El Heraldo
Ironclad
King of Suits
Lord Steam
Medic
Midnight II (joint w/ Wander)
Myrmidon
Protectron
Rene de Saens
Silhouette
Supercape
Synth
Voltage
Wander (joint w/ Midnight II)
Weaver
Whiplash

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Archeville had been burning the midnight oil again, so when 1:30 pm had rolled around, he was just waking up from an impromptu nap in his basement workshop. Dismissing the buzzing sensation in his head as 'morning' disorientation, he teleported to his bedroom several floors up and set his systems to run a hot shower as he disrobed.

Okay, morning routine, check email while I shower, and have the kitchen whip up a good breakfast. If nothing calls me, check in with Daedalus to see where we are on the Pegasus refits.

The water sputtered a bit as he stepped in, but before the water could massage his stiff muscles awake, an alarm went off. "WARNING," the generic feminine voice he had programmed into his home’s computer systems announced, "CONTAMINANT DETECTED IN WATER. IDENTITY: UNKNOWN." The message repeated within his mind, as the nanites that patrolled his body to defend against just such an assault faced the invading substance.

"Contaminant? Wha- ahh!" Archeville gasped as he felt stabbing pains, like a million tiny shards of glass hitting each and every joint. He tore the shower curtain away and staggered out onto the bathroom floor, "Computer! Con... contact the Lea- ngh... the League..." A mad war of destruction and reconstruction raged within his cells, existing organs fusing and new ones growing, and just as quickly being broken back down.

    Warning: BodyGuard Nanites unable to counter unidentified contaminant. Containment in process.


Patches of a crystalline substance appeared on his skin, first at points of the highest contamination; his face, his hair, the pools at his feet. In his stomach, where he’d swallowed some of the water, in his lungs, where he'd breathed in the damp air. It spread over and through and out and in, joining to create a solid cocoon, then inward to cover each organ, each cell.

"AAAaa-"

    Preparing to enact emergency mental evacuation... Warning: containment crystal structures altered by unidentified mutagen, structures block radio frequencies. Unable to upload Archeville 2.0 to house mainframe.

AAAAH! Cannot move... cannot see, cannot hear... cannot even radio for help! Immobile and insensate... but my mind! It is still active, so perhaps a telepathic- Scarab! Scarab, can you hear me? Scarab! Psyche! Sage! Anyone?!

Nothing in... nothing out... no way to tell how much time is passing... seconds? Hours? Days?!

AAAAH!!!

Archeville spent almost the entire week of the 'Hot Zone' event in his crystalline shell. A week outside. But although his nanites were effectively cut off from one another due to the signal-blocking crystal, his own, natural mental processes -- including his mental quickness -- were on at a panic-driven full blast, so inside it was as if five weeks crawled by. A month of no contact with anyone or anything. A month with nothing but his own thoughts and memories and regrets.

Okay, okay, keep it together, Viktor, you have been in worse situations. Well, okay, maybe not worse, but certainly ones just as bleak. Remember all you faced on that dying world? But you got out of those.

Yes, but you could move then! This is nothing like that! Someone has attacked me, taken me out so they can pillage my home at their leisure.

And use me as some grisly trophy. Or just smash me.

No, that is not going to happen, and this is nothing like the time on that world, because here I am not alone -- I have friends out there, friends and loved ones. Surely they will notice something is wrong, and-

How can you be so sure? How many times have we spent days, weeks, even, locked away in our laboratory, barely talking with anyone? They may not even notice anything has happened to me!

Well, maybe they will, if they are keeping regular tabs on me, after everything I did.

Or if it is not a personal assault, but rather some city-wide thing!

[bg=#E5E5E5]Well, even if it is that, they may have targeted me first, since I would obviously be the best mind to work out a solution to it.[/bg]

Not that I know how to get out of this predicament... so how could I help anyone else?

Now, now, no need to go all reductio ad absurdum. There is no way you could have foreseen this, so instead of panicking and recriminating, it is better to focus on how to reverse this. Now, it had to be water-soluble, and able to bypass the house’s filters, so...

Oh, what’s the point? How can I tell what’s a dream and what’s real when I can’t even tell when I’m awake and when I’m asleep?

At this point, is there really a difference? And there is no need to speak that way, I-

Oh, shut up! You only insist on not using contractions because you think it makes you look smarter, like that android on Star Trek!

That’s- that is not true! I do so because I- wait, what did I say?

You said nothing, I did!

No... no no no...

Yes! Don't you see? Even with whatever genetic and neurological corruption that had been tainting you being purged, the stress of everything in your life, or everything you’ve done -- and all that pointless guilt you’ve been carrying, and that tedious self-recrimination -- would’ve eventually caused a mental break in you! And now that we’re trapped like this, it came all the quicker!

Nooo...

Yes!

No!

What? Who-

You are not the only one here. Archeville is not without support, outside or inside.

There is darkness and evil within him, yes, as with all men. And as with all men, there is also Compassion...

Hope...

Optimism...

Niceness...

Positivity...

Serenity...

Fools! You think you can win out against Contempt?!

Debauchery!

Rage!

Avarice!

[bg=#000000]Pride![/bg]

Submission!

... no.

What?

What?

No. I am not going through this again. There is not some malign alien intellect within me, it is only me and my "inner demons." And I am in control of you all -- you are not but impotent wraiths-

Heh heh, impotent.

… a Greek Chorus that will serve me, not puppetmasters pulling me in a dozen different directions. And it is in the best interest of all of you to get us out of here!

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A Pound of Flesh is Worth an Ounce of Cure

There are times when knowledge is not a welcome thing to have. As John looked up at the monitor displaying the news of further attacks, his familiarity with such weapons of terror was one of them. At the time he was eating in the cafeteria with one of the Irregulars, when his friend had asked him idly if he knew anything about situations like this.

“Assuming this is some sort of chemical agent and judging by the current weather patterns and wind speed you can estimate ideal deployment positions. The places to strike next to ensure near complete saturation would be Trainor Airport or maybe the campus at FCU. Ideally, any large gathering of people or place would ensure the proper vectors for maximum contamination. In order to expose those who would barricade themselves in, more indirect means such as contamination of food and water supplies would be the next logical step.â€

Watching his forecasting came true in the following hours was an uncomfortable reminder of his roots as Freedom City started to turn into a battleground with the onset of new powers but no control or responsibility. Even other heroes were not immune to this, as he watched the members of the student body at Claremont succumb to the toxin, whatever it was.

It was only after the majority of campus (barring some of the more exotic members of the students and faculty) was infected and he showed no signs of the problem that John started to wonder what exactly was going on. By all accounts he had been exposed directly to whatever caused the mutations when he had helped physically subdue a student who had manifested uncontrolled bone growth. But still nothing had changed as he sat in his dorm and watched the news feed on his computer. John was beginning to wonder if it had something to do with his recent trials and tribulations at the hands of a rogue scientist, but that would be assuming that she had a hand in this. He sincerely doubted that. It did not match up with her standard tactics and prior history, but it something about the situation still had an odd feel of familiarity to the clone hero.

The truth of the matter hit like a sledgehammer to a mirror as he watched the broadcasted tape from Mister Motley. What got his attention was not the man at center stage; rather it was the familiar faces underneath the NBC gear. So distracted by the revelation of exactly who was behind the attack, he had to replay the broadcast again. The final piece of the puzzle clicked into place as the extent of the plan and players became known. Of course he would not be affected. This way SHADOW personnel could be deployed without having to use bulky CNBC gear, not to mention being able to operate nearly unopposed due to the chaos created by the situation. He could not even attempt to assist in the city, because that would bring him potentially in direct contact with SHADOW operatives. He paced the small confines of his dorm room, impotently trying to ascertain a means to combat this situation to no avail. Sleep that night did not come easily, and the dire outlook from the Lab the next morning only served to worsen his mood.

John started searching for more information in the nearly vacant campus library until later in the day a course of action presented itself from one of the texts he was perusing. A vaccine! Mentally lambasting himself for not thinking of the idea earlier, he started to formulate a plan. Which instantly was derailed when he realized what exactly it would entail. One, there was no guarantee that it would even have an impact. Two, it had the potential to expose his identity whether via capture or the like. Three, it meant trusting the Freedom City scientific and medical community. These cons were outweighed by one overarching truth. That being if he had the capability to aid the citizens of Freedom, then it was his duty to do so. He returned to his room, slid on his costume, and scribed a note to anybody who came looking for him. It read simply: “Something I have to do.†in his tidy scrawl. He left campus minutes later after taking some supplies from the nurses’ office, purposefully avoiding security and students as he went into the city.

The results played out almost invariably the same at the places he had deemed his objectives. At 4:45 in the afternoon, Myrmidon walked through the front doors of ArcheTech and surrendered a vial of blood and a note to the surprised medical staff there. A few hours later, a battered-looking and limping Myrmidon crossed the threshold into the facility that housed the Lab. He found the closest scientist before handing her the vial and note, ignoring her pleas of resting as he left the premises.

The sun had just dipped below the horizon as the helmeted hero banged on the outer doors of the Martel Integrated Research Center at Lonely Point. After convincing the guards of his intentions, he refused to relinquish the items until he could give them directly to a doctor or scientist. The scientist who arrived found him sitting in one of the lobby chairs, the exhaustion clearly expressed in his body language. Not to mention the physical damage that could be seen from the tears and holes in the costume, and the crack crossing the faceplate. He stood shakily and handed over the vial and note, giving the scientist a nod in affirmation.

Looking back to the note, the scientist quickly read its contents. “I am immune to the Proteus mutagenic compound. I give this blood sample freely of my own volition in order to potentially render a viable vaccine. I only ask that my contribution and identity remain anonymous, and that my blood sample be destroyed once done. In addition, the information garnered from the sample may be given to third parties as necessary to obtain a vaccine.†It was signed with a simple M.

The scientist looked up from the note to ask the hero a question, only to find the automatic doors leading outside closing. Mission done, the weary Myrmidon started the slow trek back to Claremont.

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Edge (A Responsible Man)

March 8

"It's okay, Mom," said Mark Lucas, his short blonde hair still immaculate even after the early-morning emergency that had pulled him out of West Africa and dispatched him to Freedom City along with other UNISON experts. He'd hated to use his influence as one of the most powerful metahumans working for the United Nations to get a slot on the highly limited Skype lines in and out of Freedom City, but a few hours of watching powers erupt across the city, and people suffering and dying, with the savage images of his friends and family superimposed over those same pictures, was enough to break his resolve. At least about this. He sat on his folded plastic seat and peered at the laptop screen that displayed his mother's pale face. "Raising the dead as a superpower isn't that weird, really, and at least you didn't, you know, with the hedge clippers again..." He coughed. "Anyway, we're working on a cure, and so are the smartest people in Freedom City..."

March 9

Mark listened, hands white on the table along with the other UNISON agents, as a serious-faced Captain Thunder recounted Daedalus' transformation over their livefeed to the still-smoking Freedom Hall. "And we're sure it can't have been Hades? I mean, it's got to mean something he turned into a fire vampire..." From the looks everyone shot him, evidently it didn't, and Mark shut up nervously as the others went back to talking, not for the first time feeling his age among all these veteran agents. He had endless bounds of optimism, sure; Freedom City and its people would come through this crisis intact, but this wasn't like fighting the Grue. This was more like the Terminus Invasion, an insidious threat that had suddenly become murderous and terrifying all at once...

March 10

"No, Mom, I don't think Dad's coming back," said Mark, putting his hands on the picture now. "He's not even in this dimensional axis, and you probably shouldn't push those powers anymore than you already have." Indeed, it was probably for the best there were bigger crises in Freedom City than what was going on in suburban Ashton. "This is a really bad situation, but we all have to buckle down and get through. Trust me, I was right about the League not all burning up in the fire, wasn't I?" He smiled, and it was a perfect, confident smile, the sort even his mother would believe. "We're going to get through this. We're going to save the day, and we're going to save everybody."

March 11

Mark put his head down on the desk as soon as he was done with the call to Midnight Manor, having learned the fates of the others in the Liberty League as best as they could tell him. He told himself it didn't matter that they'd been changed, that they were just sick the way everyone else was, but alone in the dark he had to remind himself to keep faith. And he did have faith, damn it. They'd already come through so much in so short a time, surely some little bug released by some no-name skell wasn't going to bring them down. They were going to get through this.

March 12

"All right," said Mark, snapping off orders to the young crop of local volunteers they'd recruited: locals who'd been outside Freedom City when the big walls had gone up and who had the same interest they all did, no, more, in making sure their families on the inside stayed safe. "We'll be passing our supplies through at the weak spot in Lonely Point." He'd worked all night making the food and medicine going into the city, and his goggles hid eyes gone bloodshot from lack of sleep. "Make sure your hazmat suits stay on at all times. We will not be the vectors for this hurting more people." The disaster on the Wading River when that tour boat had rammed the quarantine wall had more than convinced him of that. At least the local heroes had stepped in to save lives, even with their own transformation.

March 13

"I can't go in, Mom," said Mark, rubbing his eyes as they shared another phone call. "You know as well as I do that I can't. Even with the fields up, if I get sick in there, sick in the head like happened to Chase Atom," he'd watched that particular battle with horror, and his mom had had a front row seat when she'd gone into town to help distribute supplies along with people from their church, "with my powers I could rip right through the nullifying walls and go anywhere I wanted. And that could kill the world. I can't...I can't do it, not even for you or my friends in there. I'm sorry, Mom..."

March 15

Mark cornered Agent Y as the UNISON office was packing to leave. The Alphabet officer wasn't in his direct chain of command, but he was the nearest superior officer still on scene. Despite going 72 hours without sleep, particularly after frantically helping produce the cure the heroes of Freedom had found, Mark Mason Lucas was neatly pressed and looked impeccable as he handed over his papers. "Agent Y, I'd like to request permanent assignment to the UNISON office in Freedom City..."

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King of Suits

Rat Sinkin'...

March 13th, 2012, 1.23 P.M.

The King of Suits pulled the other end of the line taut, sending the entangled spidery man to the ground with a vicious crack. He delivered a savage punch to the man's sternum that knocked the breath out of him, and secured him to the traffic light beside himself. He took a moment to sit down, lungs aching from the constant strain, smoke and strange gasses that so often now flooded the city. He peered around the drifting murk, checking off the members of the latest super-gang that had come prowling around the Fens looking for easy pickings. He gave a sigh of relief as all were accounted for, meaning he wouldn't need to go hunting down any stragglers, the worst part of the latest crisis to his mind.

As one of the few who patrolled the rundown district, he often felt a twinge of jealousy at those that lived and operated in wealthier parts of the city, but he didn't feel that way now. From all over reports had come about the horrors even the Riverside and Hanover districts had been suffering. He almost wished they had happened around his area, so he could have helped...he pushed that thought away, he couldn't have done anything about those.

What can I do? he thought glumly I'm not exactly keeping the streets safe around here as much as I need to, they sneak in no matter how careful I am he got back to his feet and began collecting the bizarre melange of supers who had tried to barge into a warehouse rumored to contain food. Marceau had stopped them because he knew it did, and who it was meant for. A stabbing pain on his face reminded him about the horrifyingly close shave he had evaded, and the swordbushes slowly dying around him were an eerie reminder of what had almost happened.

It took more than a couple of minutes to bind them and put the sleeping gas capsules in place, time he cursed as he took to the rooftops again to hunt for the new problems that doubtless had sprung up in the meanwhile.

He wished he had time to take a shower or drink anything other than milk, which he hated. But the water supply to Monkey Towers had been having difficulties for the last few weeks, and was unlikely to get fixed anytime soon. Then again he thought as he leaped over a chasm between two stores without missing a beat I might have just used that time to go to the park, instead of tinkering with my stuff all this month. And would it kill me to not wear gloves so much? It gets on peopl- he took the fiery purple blast right in the white diamond on his chest, and was sent hurtling into a dumpster, from which he observed his newest, flaring opponent. A well-dressed young man named Octavian Hiarrision from his neighborhood, who seemed more just the bullying type than really a threat. "Ha! You can't do anything to me, Kingy!" crowed the youth, pumping a fist in the air "Why don't you go home to your momm-"

I am really getting sick of this Marceau growled internally, sending a coil-card around the young man's face and pulling him to melee range with his grapple gun but someone... he swung back his fist as they accelerated ..has to.. he stepped forward, bringing his fist into contact with David's jaw with a retort audible throughout the street ...DO IT!

The blow proved more than the young man's field could withstand, and he collapsed into a heap on the ground. Removing the card the King of Suits 'cuffed him and set off for the police station, where he could get some power cuffs and a more solid method of containment for the would-be villain.

Aloud he pondered "Just what the Hell am I doing, anyway? Need to get with the encouraging people to try out the life of a hero thing, or this is going nowhere"

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Freedom Under Glass

Digital crackle

“My name is Fulcrum. I am keeping a record of events transpiring in Freedom City, New Jersey, using a portable recorder. According to local Army command, at 12:02 pm, March 7, 2012, a mutagenic agent named Proteus was released into the general population.

My return descent to Freedom City was intercepted by an F14. Upon landing at 4:14 pm, General Lancaster briefed me on the situation and containment measures. UNISON is on it’s way, but the bulk of the support will not arrive until early Thursday, March 8. The city is falling into chaos as civilized society breaks down. I can hear the sounds of gunfire and beams of energy arcing into the sky.

The ‘virus’ is an engineering marvel and nightmare rolled into one package. Apparently, it spontaneously activates metahuman abilities even in individuals without latent genetic traits. Even more frightening, individuals with established powers are reporting wildly altered capabilities, entirely new ones or complete power loss. The icing on the cake is the protean nature of the virus. Initial tests indicate numerous disparate vectors.â€

Unintelligible voice in the background

“The government has ordered the mass quarantine of the entire city. AEGIS is deploying a multi-layered forcefield to physically seal off the city. All traffic into and out will be ended at 5 pm. Freedom will be a sealed in a bubble to contain the epidemic. No one will allowed to leave or enter regardless of role. I am entering the city before the field activates.â€

---

Recording begins with low booming sounds in distance

“March 8th. All hell has broken loose. Water and electrical utilities are down. Police officers and firefighters have abandoned their posts, or else, fight a losing battle. Fires are burning across the city. Looting and violence are rampant. Newly empowered citizens are rampaging through the streets, either unable to control themselves or actively participating in the chaos. Can’t tell the difference. Food, water and other supplies are already becoming scarce.

Freedom League, Irregulars, Liberty League...all of the teams I know are scattered. They’re alive and trying, but the chaos has destroyed their ability to function as coherent teams. The Interceptors are well as can be expected, but they are suffering as surely as everyone else. Mom, Dad, and Fatima are okay for now and staying in Viktor’s lab. Viktor is... cocooned. His equipment tells me he is alive, but I have to leave him if anything is to be done. I’m sorry, sweetie.â€

---

“March 10th. We’re organizing. I’m broadcasting a message to meet at Freedom Park: all citizens willing to help restore the rule of law are welcome. A nucleus of volunteers, heroes, empowered citizens and civil servants, is slowly developing into a movement. Now we’re branching out and crash-training others in the use of the powers as well as self-defense techniques. ‘Teach a man to fish,’ as the saying goes.

We’ve established a base of operations. The place isn’t glamorous. Mostly tents, a large trailer, and cells made out of whatever scrap we can salvage. A medical camp, food, weapons, survival supplies: everyone is pooling together. I’m proud of the compassion and commitment being demonstrated here. Even in the city’s darkest hour, people are stepping up to the challenge and achieving the extraordinary.

Something...†Roaring sound. Recording ends

---

“March 13th. Downtown and much of western Freedom is under Sentinel control. I’m not sure when we first became ‘Sentinels’, but the title does wonders for morale. Starting at Freedom Park, concentric perimeters of security have been established. The front lines are fluid, but the major battles are now far from established safe zones and shelters. UNISON reports indicate a cure may have been found. None too soon.â€

---

“March 14th. SHADOW has tipped its hand. A cure is on the way, but their operatives are on the move. I am leading the core team of the Sentinels against them. The time is now.â€

---

“March 15th. This is my last entry. The cure is successful. SHADOW’s scheme has been laid bare and dismantled. The clean up is starting, but the psychological wounds will take longer to heal. This ordeal has revealed a great deal about our individual and collective character.

Funny. I’m more frightened about addressing the Sentinels than leading them. Or facing the threats of my own friends and neighbors. When Freedom City was a war zone, everything just felt...right. As if drawing order from the chaos...leadership in times of crisis...was my purpose.

Fulcrum signing off.â€

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Hotzone: Rene.

The Invisible Girl.

March 9th

“Bonjour? Who is it?†asked Rene, opening his front door.

The stories had been creeping in, and were now a full throttle tidal wave. It seemed the whole of Freedom City were becoming super-powered. Cause for some celebration, initially, but the cracks in the fantasy were beginning to show. Super powered crime, chaos, and health problems were becoming apparent.

Rene was the first to admit he was rather frightened.

The fact his hands kept spontaneously setting alight (without harm to himself, he was pleased to note) was only adding to his anxiety. He was taking great precautions not to set his house on fire. And besides which, his hands itched.

He had taken to having two buckets of water by his side, so he could immerse his fiery hands if they started to misbehave.

He seriously hoped that some kind of explanation could be derived from all of this. He had tried a divination, but when he had attempted the ritual, he had only succeeded in incinerating his carefully inscribed runes and melting the candles.

He just had to keep calm.

The doorbell was a minor distraction, but one he had to respond to. He did not see anybody when he opened the door, however.

“Who is it? Damn pranksters!â€

“It is me, Mr. Rene, Amy, from across the road! Mr Rene…nobody can see me! I’m invisible!...I…I’;m scared Mr. Rene!â€

Rene looked again but could see nothing.

He shook his head and concentrated for a moment. His mind’s eye kicked in, and say what was in front of him as a painting, full of mood and colour. In this mode, low and behold, there Was Amy Adams, the seven year old girl from across the street.

“Ah! Amy!†he said, trying to inspire calm. “You are invisible! What a clever little trick for a clever little girl!†he said, looking at her.

“Where is your mother? Have you told her? She must be most worried about you, not knowing where you are, eh? Haha!†he continued, trying to keep the tone jovial.

He shook one hand, snuffing out the small flame that had sprung from one finger.

“Mr. Rene, Sir! I can’t find her either! I don’t know what to do! Please can you come?â€

Rene dutifully took Amy over the road, nodding politely at Mr. Wishbone, who flew above him like a bird.

“This is great!†said the man from No 11. “Cuts down on commuting time!†he smiled, as he whizzed off to work. He had a point…the roads were getting more and more clogged up due to super-hero inspired chaos.

In the Adam’s house, all was quiet. The only sign of life Rene could see was discarded sweet wrappers. It seemed Amy had been initially quite keen on her invisibility – using it as an excuse to clean the house of candy, unspotted.

“Now then, little Amy, where did you last see your Mother?â€

“In the kitchen, Mr Rene! Where has she gone???†she replied, a little tear forming on each eye.

“In Ze Kitchen, you say? Do not worry, we shall try to find her!†he replied with a smile.

He looked around with his particular vision, but could find no trace of her. Whatever had happened to Ms. Adam’s it (presumably) was not invisibility.

“Let us look….ah one moment!†he interrupted himself, quickly turning on the kitchen taps and dousing himself with water as his hands started smoking.

“Could you get me a towel, young Amy?†he asked.

A few minutes later, both hands wrapped in damp, waterlogged towels, he resumed his search.

“Ze Kitchen, Ze Kitchen…now where could she be?†he asked himself. He scanned the room carefully. His eyes were not good, but his ability to mentally visualise the scene helped.

It more than helped. It was the key.

For amongst the discarded sweet wrappers on the kitchen table, he was a vital “speck†of colour, vibrant with life.

“What is this? What is this?†he asked himself, peering closer.

“There, right in front of his nose, was a miniature Ms. Adam’s! shrunk to the size of a grain of salt.

“I have found your mother!†he replied enthusiastically, his breath pushing the poor shrunken woman back, knocked into the air with the force of his exhalation.

“And we must be very very careful, young Amy!†he said “For she is as tiny as a button! We must take very great care indeed!â€

And so, Rene had two guests in his house that day, and the day after, and the day after that, until finally the cure arrived.

Amy made herself useful, as best she could. Rene could at least look after her, with his particular abilities. And she made sure his hands stayed damp. As for Ms. Adams senior, the best Amy and Rene could do was a little glass dish, to protect her from the wind, with tiny drops of water and crumbs for her to live on whilst she listened to the Radio or watched TV.

When the cure arrived, and the two Adam’s departed, grateful for Rene’s help, the old magician gave Amy a little present. It was a picture of the street where they lived, empty of people. Except if you looked, looked very carefully, you could just see a little girl…or could you?

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Hotzone: Supercape.

Dying for a cup of tea.

March 10th

The readings of the particle accelerator were going off the scale.

Ever since the chaos sown by the rapid empowerment of Freedom City, the Lab had been hard at work trying to determine its source. Because it would only be a matter of time before some newly super-powered civilian caused a major catastrophe, accidentally or – even worse – deliberately. What if the reactor went critical? If all the water evaporated? What if a black hole appeared in the centre of the city?

The possibilities were endless, and none of them gave any peace of mind.

And now, as Supercape plowed through the data, trying to understand if any radiation or quantum event had caused these extraordinary events, he was greeted with a spew of data.

Something critical was going on! The accelerator was powering up, faster and faster, with higher and higher energy readings that increased by the second.

He scrabbled around for the emergency override switch, killing the power immediately.

Best the town planners didn’t hear about that little near miss, he breather thankfully to himself. They were nervous about the installation of such a high energy device in the city, but had been reassured by the Lab that it was perfectly safe.

And that was no lie. It should have been safe.

So what the hell happened?

Wiping the sweat from his brow, the caped hero looked once again at the readouts. Initially, they made no sense. Something external was exciting the particles. Something very powerful.

A growing sensation of fear gnawed at him.

Not daring to use his powers, he dashed to the lift, and up to the higher levels of the Lab, a horrible sensation growing in the pit of his stomach.

Alighting at one of the laboratory levels, he rushed into the nearest suitable suite, and plugged himself into a variety of sensors and scans.

Whatever had affected the rest of Freedom City had now affected him.

He was becoming charged. Beyond charged, beyond radioactive. He was a living time bomb. Except unlike bomb’s he would continue to emit massive radiation, higher and higher.

He did a few calculations and gulped.

With a mighty effort, he reached into himself and tried to contain the power surge within him, but it was to no avail. Whatever had affected him was eating away and mutating his tiny but effective powers.

If this carried on, he would soon by a living star.

Which was not good news for Freedom City.

He rushed over to the nearest water cooler, already aware that he was becoming dangerously radioactive. As soon as he reached it, he concentrated his mind, and with an explosion of light and electromagnetic force that fried all the circuits in that level of the Lab, was gone.

He was lucky to have escaped so quickly.

Supercape landed on a distant, barren rock on another galaxy. He had found it months ago. Thoroughly unexciting. It had a breathable atmosphere but was devoid of life, just a barren, dry rock with virtually no carbon and traces of water. He had mentally noted it as a place to retreat to, a quarantine planet. And it was the first place he thought of.

At least he could do no damage here, as his streamed of powerful rays of radiation.

And so began endless days of waiting, carefully rationing the water and staring at the unforgiving, bleak rock, the beautiful night skies, and the mauve light of the twin suns. Beautiful, but endlessly boring.

He could, by means of quantum entanglement, tune in to the radio frequencies of Earth. And he rejoiced at the sound, several days later, of a cure. His face was bearded, he was thirsty and his hunger pains were almost unendurable. He looked shrunken, wasted, and badly in need of a shower. By this time, he would have been lethal to anybody within a hundred miles, so radioactive was he. Even the air around him seemed charged in some way.

The difficulty of course was getting the cure. He had to give very careful instructions about exactly how to use his ‘baby’, the particle accelerator of the Lab, and precision was of the essence. However, focussing all his effort, he managed to open up, if only for a fraction of a second, a portal between the quantum flux of the Lab, and the ground at his feet, on a distant rock on a distant star on a distant galaxy.

Faint from effort, dehydration, and hunger, Supercape injected himself, and, lying face down on the rock, half delirious, felt the radiation around him subside.

A few minutes later, the crumpled and dirty Superhero landed in the Lab.

“Any chance of a cup of tea?†he croaked, before fainting.

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Hotzone: Lord Steam

Steam by name…

March 11th

“By Vishnu, this is a spot of bother!†said Lord Steam as he floated out of his bed.

He had, of course, done his best to help. But this sort of thing was simply out of his field of experience. Deducing a crime, or designing an intricate steam engine, now that he could handle in his sleep. And he often did.

But mutagenic plagues? Now that was something different altogether.

Back on Earth Victoriana, they were not awash with the powerful mutants of Freedom City. There were rumours, of course, whispers. Mystics from the easy, mesmerists, and some unfortunate accidents with strange experiments… he had always dismissed the lot of them as hogwash, but since his time as the ambassador to Earth Prime, he was less inclined to be so dismissive.

And now, it seemed the whole of Freedom City had developed some kind of powers. And the results, were not good, quite frankly. Oh, it was true that his aged butler, and experienced man from his own dimension, had developed super speed. That was quite handy, he conceded, as the whole mansion looked cleaner than ever. But aside from the havoc of a city full of super powered inhabitants, it also seemed that the effect had a potentially lethal consequence on the immune system of the populace.

And now, worst of all, he was effected!

Steam by name, steam by nature…he reflected with a smile (if he still had lips), as his gaseous form drifted through the halls of his mansion.

“Blasted Inconvenient!†he cursed, as he floated into his workshop, full of the most wonderous steam-powered inventions. Of course, he was, at present, unable to lift even a simple spanner. His gaseous hand simply drifted through and around the instrument. Try as he might, he could not seem to get a grip on things.

Literally.

“This really is quite a nuisance, Blakely…†he said to his super-speeding Butler, who he had finally managed to track down.

“A city full of crime, and I am completely helpless!†he fumed. “Oh, of course, I can seep in to any part of the city I like, and laugh of the bullets. But what am I going to do then, hmmm? Waft around in a menacing manner? About the most I could is make them perspire slightly from my hot dampness. Hardly inspiring…â€

His steamy hands punched into themselves in anger.

“Blast!†he cursed, as they collided without impact.

After a few minutes wafting around the room in vexation, the implacable Blakely waiting for his Lordship to regain some manner of composure.

“Right!†said Lord Steam “I have an idea!â€

It would have taken weeks at best, and possibly months. But Lord Steam’s genius was not to be denied. As he was made of steam, he could at least put his gaseous form to use. And this was precisely what he was good at.

Normally, he would have been hampered by his physical state. However, Blakely was not a fool, and heralding from the same dimension (and being used to servicing the Steam Powered Machinery of the Manor) he was a perfect pair of hands for Lord Steam. Even more so, because he could perform in seconds what would normally take hours.

“Yes…No…Do it again!â€

Normally this would have frustrated the Steam-powered Sleuth. But every request to rebuild his creation was performed in moments.

It was perfect.

A steam powered suit of armour!

It was made of copper, and brass. Robust, even if a little slow. Lord Steam seeped into the contraption, and felt his essence fill the pistons and pumps of the armour. Now, with a flex there, and exerting some pressure there…

Movement!

The brass armour hissed, pistons pumped, and the new body of Lord Steam moved! With a jerk and a creak the body jolted forward, and promptly fell, like a tombstone, to the floor.

“More oil, I think Blakely…the old devil is a bit rusty…â€

With the application of some top quality oil, and a lot of practice, Lord Steam was able to co-ordinate enough to firstly pick his armoured form off the floor, and secondly, to take a few lurching steps. Some more refinement, and practice, and the brass beast was almost normal in movement.

“Excellent work, Blakely!†he conceded, giving a thumb up to his butler, with a hiss of steam coming from the tip of his outstretched thumb.

“And now, as the whole world goes mad, I think it is time to see if we can help bring a bit of order to the streets, what do you say?â€

“Very good Sir!†said Blakely with a smile. The man might have been pushing sixty, but he was a war veteran, and no coward. The chance to speed into action was not one he fancied turning down.

“The Copper Copper†answered Lord Steam, pointing his hissing thumb at his suit of powered armour “And the Bolting Butler!†he continued, pointing to Blakely.

“To Bessie!†he concluded, referring to his steam powered car. “Lets see if we can’t help bring a bit of order to the streets! There is crime to be solved!â€

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Protectron: Communications Problem

As Proteus ravaged the people of Freedom City, ArcheTech, ASTRO Labs, The Lab, and other centers of advanced science worked around the clock to find both the cause of and cure for the plague. The Lab had a slight edge, aside from the bona fide super-geniuses working there: access to two non-organic beings, Citizen and Protectron, who were wholly unaffected by the contagion. While Citizen zipped invisibly across the city’s networks delivering messages and data packets, Protectron took to the skies, like some migratory bird, ferrying samples (from patients, from the water, the air, everything) and supplies to needed locations.

The golden robot was flying back to The Lab from Liberty Park when a burst of radio static nearly blinded its radar.

Observation: Multifrequnecy electromagnetic burst in radiowave and microwave range.

Analyzing... burst is not stopping, it is a continuing phenomenon. Freedom City University’s south and east campuses are being blanketed in radio interference field, hindering all communications into or out of area.

Primary Goal: Investigate, remove source of disturbance if possible.

Secondary Goal: Calm and detain any panicking organics.

Tertiary Goal: Preserve as much organic life as possible.

As the robot flew down, the increasing ‘loudness’ of the static easily lead it to the source, and as it got closer it could make out a message in the static. Well, not so much a message, as a scream of abject terror and agony. Soon the source was evident: a young man, probably a freshman, in simple jeans, a t-shirt, and hoodie. His face could not be seen, as he was currently doubled over in the fetal position, next to a water fountain. He was screaming, both audibly and as radio waves.

“... AHHHH MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP AHHHHHH SO MUCH NOISE SO MUCH IT NEVER ENDS CAN’T HANDLE AHHHH...”

Analysis: The organic before me is tapping into the FCU campus wifi, and several hundred streams are going through his mind simultaneously. Sensory overload is distressing psychologically, and possibly physiologically.

Potential Proteus mutation, carried by water in drinking fountain. Shall collect sample after assisting organic.

The golden robot landed a few feet from the man, and walked slowly towards him. “Hello,” it said, both audibly and on one narrow radio frequency beamed directly to the man. “I am Protectron. Can you hear me? I believe I can help you.”

The man kept screaming in his whole world wide web of pain. But Protectron kept repeating his message, sure and steady as a lighthouse beacon, and approaching closer inch by inch. Slowly the man’s screams subsided, and he looked up at the golden figure, eyes watering. “H-how?” he asked through gritted teeth.

The robot knelt beside the man, and placed a firm steely hand on his shoulder. “Close your eyes, and listen. Listen through all the sounds in your head. Beyond them, there is a signal, a very faint one. You may perceive it as a low-pitched sound, or a pulsing flash of dark red light.”

“I-I see it, yes.”

“Good. Now, push all the other noises to the side, and concentrate on that red one. That is the underlying signal for the campus WiFi network. Keep that in your mind at all times. You will hang other signals off that one. Like branches off the trunk of a tree.”

“I... I’ll try.”

The young man, Dermot McCoy, a pred-med student, was normally a quick study, but this experience was unlike anything he’d ever experienced; many times he lost track of the signals and dozens streamed in at once, and his screams filled electronic inboxes across campus. Fortunately for him, he had one of the best mentors one could hope for in this situation. Protectron, with all the patience of a machine, carefully noted and recorded every signal he received or emitted, every nuanced tensing or relaxing of his muscles. The strange robot did not know exactly what every expression meant, but it recognized enough to know when the young man’s pain was decreasing, and to recognize the growing satisfaction and joy he felt as he slowly gained some measure of control over his new ability.

”Your adjustment to your new sensor abilities is going well,” the robot said, both audibly and via radio transmission beamed to McCoy’s mind, ”and your deceased pain and increased control have allowed you to stop broadcasting the broad-spectrum ‘noise’ that was scrambling communications in the area. However, since your condition seems stable, and you are in no excessive distress, I must go and resume my duties. There are many more organics who require aid, and I can-”

McCoy held up a hand and nodded, cutting the robot off. “Yes, yes, certainly. I was just on my way to one of the triage stations on campus to see if there was anything I can do. Maybe now with this ability, I can do... well, they won’t believe the things I can do now!”

”I am certain you shall do no less than your utmost to aid your fellow organics,” the robot replied flatly as it took to the air.

Observation: Interactions with organic Dermot McCoy proceeded well, and truly show both the dangers and benefits of combining organic and machinekind abilities. I look forward to interacting with him again.

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Weaver in: Smile Time?

“Yes, I had a bit of a stomachache earlier but now I’m ok – maybe I avoided it.†Saeid was flying above the city while talking to his wife on the phone “Don’t worry sweetie, the League and the Lab and pretty much everybody are working on a cure – just be happy you were out of town. Yes, Masoumeh and Jonah are fine. Masoumeh can actually talk to plants… she’s still very much worried, but she’s distracting herself like a child with a new toy. Jonah got super-strength… yes, that’s what I said! Could you be more boring? I think he’s remodeling hom… I’m hearing gunshots! Gotta go, love you too!â€

Saeid made Arug fly down on the jackals causing a ruckus. There were two of them, shooting at a third. Saeid didn’t even bother trying to yell at them. Before even landing, he had thrown a dozen scarves that thoroughly trapped and bound them on the spot, leaving the guns on the ground “You guys are murderers!†he screamed in rage “what brought you to…â€

“I don’t think so.†interrupted one of them, grinning.

The third man, the victim, was getting on his feet. “Haw… the pain… it hurts so bad…†He had multiple gunshot wounds all over his body and should have been very dead, but the bullets were popping out of his body and the wounds were healing quickly “Aaargh!†the man’s face was torn in agony.

“We’ll go to a hospital sir, I’ll take them to the authorities…†he turned back to the criminals “So you weren’t killing him, only torturing him. You’re really sick, you…â€

“Don’t you know, hero?†grinned one of the jackals “We’re all sick now.†Blades sprouted from all over his body tearing clothes and restraints to rags. Then the second one stretched and elongated into a thin figure, squeezing himself out of the bonding. His arms stretched out several feet and he grabbed both guns.

“Now let’s see how you deal with somebody on your level.†he jumped like a spring coil, landed behind Saeid and taking advantage of his surprise, unloaded both guns into his side. Weaver had just the time to think Oh no, please, not like this… then he felt the impact with the bullets.

It wasn’t painful, though.

It was as if somebody had ruffled his hair. He felt the bullets lodged inside of him – they were heavy – but there was no pain, nor great damage, judging by how smoothly he could still move.

“Oh. So maybe I didn’t avoid the Hot Zone. I wonder…†He started moving, tumbling under the blows of both criminals, throwing them off target with his cape. His movements were cleaner, easier – he felt in total control. The elastic thug was quickly engulfed in a vortex of flying fabric, twirling like crazy around him; Saeid maneuvered skillfully and the brute ended up all knotted up with himself, unconscious and exhausted on the ground. The bladed one was running away.

“It’s ok, I’ll get him†said to the regenerating victim. He turned towards him, but the man, almost completely healed, was looking in shock at his savior’s eyes “What the hell are you? Aaargh!†he ran away screaming in horror.

“What has happened to me?†Saeid looked in a store window, trying to catch his reflection Did I get some sort of invulnerability? he felt the wounds on his side, but not in pain. He pulled back his costume, exposing the wounds… and almost fainted from the shock.

In place of his skin there was now a skin-colored, smooth, almost silky fabric. The bullet wounds had torn this material, and now red filaments of wool were dropping out of it like blood. He looked back at the shop window, ripped away his mask and hood and saw his face, sewn from different fabrics, black wool for hair and beard and two creepy black and white cotton balls for eyes. “Oh no. Oh please no. What… what… AAAAHHHHH!†He let out a scream of horror.

He checked his whole body – everything was made of fabric. “I’m a… puppet! A damn ragdoll!†he checked again his wounds: the deepest one exposed a rib, who seemed made out of white fustian. The red wool kept dropping out, and he started feeling a bit weaker “If only I could put it back†as soon as he finished the thought, the red wool filament raised and got back inside the tear, the fustian rib repositioned itself, and the silky skin closed up nicely. There was no longer any wound on the side of the WeaverDoll.

Saeid was utterly astonished “This… this may come in handy… I guess, if don’t go crazy first.†He tried a couple of movements: he was more agile, faster, had a terrific balance. “I guess my powers work on me, now? Oh Merciful, how many biology laws am I violating right now? How do my eyes still see?†he pressed on his cotton corneas, and felt no pain. He shivered in abhorrence.

A series of crashes got his attention. The second thug, the bladed one, was still around. Weaver lifted himself off the ground and flew at him. “Ok, Edward Scissorhands, cut it out!†he shrugged Oh, whatever, there’s no way I can avoid every pun, I might just go for the lame ones.

“Come and get me, hero!†he put forward his arms, two nightmarish trees of twisted metal blades “I can cut anything you throw at me!â€

Weaver sprinted towards him, dodged a blow that would have torn him to pieces and landed a punch on the enemy’s chin. His soft puppet hand squeezed and twisted back, barely annoying the thug. “Wow, I felt stronger hits from a puppy!†taunted him the thug “let me show you how it’s done!†he moved forward in flash, feinted on the right and swung on the left. The main blade under his wrist sliced through Saeid’s arm, which fell down on the ground, exposing torn muscles of cotton and a yarn-worth of red wool dripping out.

Hero and thug looked in shock at the doll arm on the ground.

“What the f…?†the thug screamed and recoiled disgusted “What are you?â€

Saeid ripped away his mask, revealing his creepy doll face: he hoped that his stitched grin was even more disturbing “You know… I’m not really sure myself.†Saeid grabbed his detached arm and pushed it near the stump “But I bet I’ll get used to it†the threads of the two extremities joined, interlocked and in just a few seconds the arm was sewn back on. “What do you say you give up?â€

“Well, I can’t damage you… but you can’t hurt me either! So… see you, puppet hero!†he ran off behind a corner.

He’s right Saeid hesitated a moment before flying after him he can cut through anything I throw at him…

Oh no. he knew.

Oh that’s a terrible idea. He trembled in repulsion But it would probably work.

He rubbed his silky hands on his woolen beard .

Oh, whatever. Just do it.

He pinched the silk on his left hand and ripped it open. He grabbed a handful of rocks from the ground and stuffed them into his hand, then closed it up. His hand felt incredibly heavy, but he could still move it pretty quick. He did the same with his right hand. This is idiotic, what if this powers disappear now? He took the sky, scanning rapidly for the bladed criminal. He had just shredded a jewelry store’s shutter and was walking around with a bag full of necklaces.

“You are the worst. The city is in quarantine, and you go ahead and steal stuff like the most pathetic thug on Earth! You have no style on top of no morality!â€

The criminal turned his head “You again? Oh for God’s sake, can’t you just understand when to qu…†he hadn’t even bothered to dodge Saeid’s punch, and it hit him like a sock full of rocks – exactly like that. The thug staggered back, tried to slice Weaver’s face, but the hero bobbed under the blade and rose up with an uppercut to the exposed chin. The criminal spat a mouthful of blood.

“Not so tough now, eh?â€

The criminal jumped forward, pushing his blade into Weaver’s stomach, but the hero bounded his feet together with a scarf. His opponent fell face first into the asphalt, and Saeid knocked him out with a last blow to the back of the head. The blades slowly retracted into the thug’s body.

Saeid sat on the sidewalk and emptied his hands from the rocks. Then, trying not to think about it, he grabbed the handful of flannel entrails that were gushing out of his belly, put them back in and sewn up his wound. He felt as if he was going to throw up, but he was too scared to see what else could come out of him.

“It’s ok†he said to himself “I just need an emergency after another so that my mind doesn’t go there, until they find a cure.â€

Do not think about your biology.

Do not think about how they can inject you the cure.

Do not think on a pill resting useless on a pillow inside your belly.

He took the sky, flying above the rooftops on the quarantined city filled with clumsy superpowers “Somehow, I think I can manage to distract myself.â€

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Hot Zone -- Whiplash

The three young men were clearly amateurs. They couldn't stop grinning at each other for the whole robbery. The beefy one laughed out loud as he walked up to the shop and tore the reinforced door from its hinges with one hand, completely ignoring the floor-to-ceiling display windows on either side, and the tall, lanky one winked at him as he waltzed inside, hands growing to massive size, and simply filled them with random snack foods, adding the till almost as an afterthought.

“Come on, let's go,†the small one said, peering up and down the street for trouble. But he, too, was grinning.

They looked about sixteen years old. Amateurs, robbing an unattended convenience store. Not something that Whiplash would normally bother with. But petty theft wasn't the current problem. The small, alert one hadn't seen her crouching on the roof above them. Hardly anybody ever thought to look up. The question was, how to round the idiots up without panicking them? She wasn't sure of the exact nature or extent of their powers and neither, presumably, were they.

She ran one hand over the top of her gas mask, ensuring once again that her entire face, like the rest of her body, was completely covered. Then she leapt down, careful to make sure her hands were clearly open and empty.

“Boys, you're sick. You need to let us help you.â€

The small one visibly jumped, and all three turned to look at her. They looked her up and down, sneers playing on their faces.

“Oh,†the big one said. “A hero. Yeah, we know there's a quarantine. Of course you want to keep all the powers to yourselves, don't you? Can't have everybody running around with superpowers. Then you don't get to be tough and special. Well now we can meet you on your level.†He took a step towards her. “So. What are you gonna do about it?†The three of them moved to form a semicircle, backing her against a wall. She wasn't as cornered as she looked – she could be up the wall in seconds – but that they were aggressive at all was distressing. It was worse than if they'd fled. She couldn't afford to fight, she couldn't afford to get her outfit cut or torn. With the superpower-inducing contagion spreading, any skin contact with these three was an infection risk. The city around them, erupting in chaos and panic as people tested or fled from new superpowers, was a testament to the efficiency of the disease.

“Listen,†she said, “you're going to burn out. You need to let the doctors take care of you.†Her instincts told her to reach for her whip, but she kept her hands stubbornly open and away from her belt. “We're looking for a cure but this sort of random chaos only makes it harder! People are going to die, do you understand that? And by the way, I don't have any superpowers.â€

“Then this is gonna sting a bit, isn't it?†The big guy bunched his fist and leapt forward. Whiplash automatically lashed out, her whip snaking around the boy's feet to trip him up. The other two fled; the lanky guy dropped his loot and grew his legs to immense size, taking half-block steps to flee, while the small one was a blur for a half-second and then, suddenly, not there. Whiplash snaked her whip around her prone opponent, binding him.

“Please calm down and let me help.â€

The boy roared and strained against his bonds, and Whiplash felt a sudden, inexplicable pain shoot up her right arm. She screamed, and somehow the boy slipped from the coils of her whip while she was distracted and fled.

Well, that was a failure. Time to get above street level and finish her patrol. She was reaching for her first handhold in the wall when it occurred to her that she hadn't drawn her whip before lashing out with it.

Whiplash looked down. A long, fleshy tendril trailed from the palm of her right hand.

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Don't panic. It's fine. It'll all be fine.

Whiplash stared at the... the flesh whip dangling from her hand. She glanced at the freshly robbed convenience store, picked a crack in the window as a target, and struck out. The glass cracked further; a dead hit. She felt the impact, an odd sensation. It handled just like her normal whip. But it was going to get in her way. She'd grown it instinctively, when she needed a whip... Whiplash closed her eyes and imagined putting her whip away. There was an odd, tingling sensation, and when she opened her eyes, her palm was normal, a hole in her glove the only sign that anything unusual had happened. She had a feeling that, with practice, she could learn how to handle the flesh whip better than a real one, be even more accurate, learn how to feel properly through it. But she wouldn't get a chance to learn that. Not if the doctors were right.

Two months. Two months in which she couldn't touch her daughter, couldn't share a meal with her sister. Then she would die. How had it even breached her clothing? When?

Didn't matter. She called her sister.

The phone was picked up on the second ring.

“Hello?â€

“Jenny.â€

“Helen! Oh god, Helen, it's... look, where are you?â€

“King street. Look, I... I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to leave Anna with you. Again. I'm so sorry. Jenny, I... I've developed superpowers. I can't... I can't see you any more, it's too dangerous.â€

“You too?â€

“What do you mean, 'too'?â€

“It doesn't matter, Helen. You can't contaminate us. Any of us.â€

Whiplash knew that she should head for a hospital. She didn't. She got to the rooftops, safely away from any uncontaminated civilians crazy enough to be wandering the streets, and headed for her sister's house. She stopped briefly to stash her whip and utility belt in one of the many rooftop nooks she occasionally employed for such things before she approached the house. Not that her secret identity mattered any more, unless they could find a cure. But she would not be Whiplash inside that house. She would be Helen Crey.

Her family was sitting around the table, drinking tea, when she came in. Her sister Jennifer was transparent, like a glass sculpture carefully clothed. As she nervously tapped her fingers on the table, they gave a sharp sound much harder than human flesh, but she seemed to be able to move normally. Jennifer's son David looked much calmer than his mother, and it took Helen a moment to notice that he was actually hovering above his chair. Her daughter Annabelle looked normal.

“Anna! Are you sure...?â€

“There are seventeen mammals within 100 feet of us, not counting people in this room. Two of them are human.†She met Helen's eyes. “I'm sure, Mum.â€

“Okay. Okay.†Helen closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. “This will get better.â€

“Hel... what do we do?†Helen had never seen Jennifer at such a loss. The collected woman who'd raised her daughter while she was in prison, whose words had convinced her to reform, and who even now continually stepped in to support her and look after Anna even though she thought Helen was still stealing was biting her lip, looking to her for guidance. Helen realised that she couldn't afford to break down. Not now. Her family needed her.

The sensible thing to do was to remain isolated, to keep themselves from becoming a danger to the public. But they couldn't sit alone in a house for two months and the hospitals were overcrowded and not entirely safe. “Everybody get dressed. Cover every inch of your skin. If we're already contaminated, there's very little risk in making ourselves useful.

“We're going to go restore some order.â€

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Helen crouched on the rooftop, trying to make out the vague shapes inside the dark electronics store through her binoculars. “You're sure, sweetie?â€

Beside her, Anna nodded. “Three humans and a dog. Two inside the building, one lookout on the roof two buildings away. Behind that chimney.â€

Great, an opponent who thought in three dimensions. “Some people and a dog in a trashed shop might just be the owners, but with a lookout... David, fly by for a closer look and make sure you're not seen.â€

The boy nodded and jumped off the roof, eliciting a gasp from his mother. He started to fall, then slowed, and finally hovered a few inches above the grass for a few seconds before gaining altitude once again. When he came back, he said, “They're definitely robbing the place.â€

“Alright. David, keep an eye on the lookout. He hasn't noticed us so I don't think he's very good at his job. If he does, distract him. If he leaves, tail him. Jenny, Anna... let's do this.â€

Helen and Anna entered through the back door and carefully locked the door behind them. Anna confirmed that the thieves were both in the front room, so the two headed there.

They watched the thieves wrestle with a particularly large sound system for a few seconds before Helen said, “Okay, boys, time to give this up.â€

The two looked Helen and Anna up and down, raising their eyebrows at the head-to-toe black costumes. “What are you supposed to be, ninjas?â€

“No. Cautious. Just out of curiosity, have you two developed superpowers recently?†One of the thieves hurled a bright blue fireball at her. She ducked. “I'm going to assume that's probably a yes.†She raised her hand and flung out her flesh whip, which tied neatly around the firethrower's hands. He responded by lighting them again. Under the sudden, searing pain, she released him. Right. Not a real whip.

His friend was headed for the front door, but Jennifer blocked it, her hard, transparent body hidden by her clothing. “Nope, sorry.†The thief sneered and swung at Jennifer, who made no attempt to avoid the blow. The thief's fist landed with a sick, wet crack and she screamed. Jennifer reached up and took her gently by the forearm. “You know who's great at treating broken hands? Hospital. Come on.â€

Helen carefully tripped the firethrower. As far as she could tell, he could only light his hands, but it was almost impossible to find a way to bind him without getting near his hands. She entangled him in the whip once more and braced for pain, but as he lit his hands, Anna rushed forward with a fire extinguisher and doused them completely in foam. Helen looped more whip around his hands, feeling it move in ways a real whip couldn't. A tentacle, really. She bound his arms to his body, but left his legs free. “Alright, get up. We're going now.â€

“You're scarily self-assured about all this,†Anna said as they left.

“You're eleven,†Helen replied, “you're not supposed to use words like 'self-assured' on a regular basis. And I'm an ex cat burglar, remember? Observation and infiltration are my thing.â€

“I guess.â€

Helen didn't know whether the doctors and scientists could save them. She didn't know whether they had only two months to live. She didn't know whether fighting crime or getting carriers off the streets was making any difference at all. But it didn't matter. Whether it was their last couple of months or not, whether their actions had any impact or not, Helen Crey was exactly where she needed to be in a crisis like this; with her family, fighting for a better tomorrow.

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Hotzone: Synth

Going Underground.

Synth was out of pocket, as usual, when the crisis started to unfold in Freedom City. She had just enough money to cover her rent that week. She thought she was getting a handle on the whole money thing, but it just didn’t seem…right, somehow.

She tossed some clothes, food, and a copy of Marx (now there was a man who understood) into her backpack and headed off to work.

She had found some employment on a construction site. There had been a little bit of scepticism that a woman could do the hard labour, even a woman with her strong, athletic build. Scepticism had turned to respect as she had ploughed, tirelessly, through the first day’s work.

That respect was turning into wonder. And then, as Synth knew, came suspicion and small resentments. She had learned to leave before that set in.

Big Joe Cane was one of the largest men on the site, with arm’s like tree trunks from years with the Jackhammer. He was a friendly man, simple, honest, straightforward. Everyone liked Big Joe Cane. Including Synth. And he had taking a liking to her. She had a few admirers and suitors on the site already, but Big Joe was happily married, two kids, a third on the way, and had little or no interest in playing away.

It was about then that the “incidents†started happening. Rumours and gossip at first, but faster and faster until the truth could no longer be refuted. Everybody was developing Superpowers!

Big Joe Cane was no exception. He was pounding away on the road, doing some maintenance work, enjoying the deep vibrations of his Jackhammer, with Synth not far beside him, when the road erupted like a small miniaturised earthquake.

“Hot Thunderbolts!†he yelled, as chunks of road flew and circled around him, his dead Jackhammer falling to his side. He was vibrating with the same power and force as his tool, and the ground around him was simply cracking open and blistering.

As his body roared with power, the damage became greater, knocking over the other workers, bar Synth, who retained her balance. Slabs of road whizzed around, hitting two other workers – and a third, if Synth had not pulled him to one side. Meanwhile, Big Joe was digging himself deeper and deeper into the road, like a pit.

The situation could have got exponentially dangerous, had not Big Joe hit a power cable, sending his huge body flying with the electricity of the city. It was enough to knock him cold for a few minutes, and kill his untamed power.

And that was Big Joe’s story.

But it wasn’t Synth’s.

Just as Big Joe developed his powers, the mutagen in the water they had both been drinking hit her. She felt her cells, and body, twist. With great effort, she managed to put a lid on the chaotic division of her cells. Eyes, limbs, even organ’s formed and closed all over her body. There was enough distraction and dust to keep her from view, but it was taking all of her effort to stop literally exploding in a mess of random tissue.

She hauled herself over to Big Joe.

“Joe…it’s doing something to me…Joe…I gotta hide…going underground…sorry Joe….†She mumbled, out of one, three, and two mouth’s at different points.

With that, she dived down the hole that Big Joe had unwittingly dug, and down through the exposed maintenance tunnel.

With the chaos that followed in the coming days, until the cure was found, nobody was paying much attention to the hole in the road. The road was closed, but that was it. All the cities resources were diverted to bigger fish – the power supply, the water supply, the peppered incidents of explosions and powers going astray, and of course the rash of new super villains taking advantage of their new powers and the new situation.

And then of course, there was the issue of the toxic side effects of the mutagen, requiring even more effort to find and distribute a cure.

Amongst all that, a hole in the road was of no consequence.

So Synth Sat down there, a mess of limbs, eyes, mouths, noses, her whole body seething and reeling, barely able to function at all.

She could have moved, she could have gone for help. But it would mean exposing herself. SHADOW wanted her back, wanted to cash in on their investment. And she wasn’t quite ready for public knowledge of her existence yet. No – she needed to stay off the radar, for now.

The food in her backpack was carefully rationed. She found a water mains down there, in the hole and the tunnels, that kept her hydrated at least. But she only had morsels to eat. And her body was burning through the food it its new state. Soon, it started eating herself.

Soon, she was too weak to even move and get help if she wanted too.

“Hey, girl, are you still down there?â€

A flashlight in the dark.

Big Joe Cane.

“Yuhhh…Yuhhh..It’s me….â€

Big Joe clambered down, with some difficulty due to his frame, and shone his light on the mass of flesh that was Synth.

“Hot thunderbolts! What happened to you???†he gasped, shocked at her appearance.

“What happened to everybody else?†replied Synth “same…with me….not so…pretty uh?†she said, doing her best to try and control her body.

So weak.

“Girl, we gotta get you out of here, get you to a hospital…†said Joe “I…I think I can use these powers now, kinda like controlling the earth, you know? Moving you?â€

“Joe….I…can’t….I can’t….â€

Maybe it was the faintness, the hunger, maybe it was her desperation. Maybe it was the fact that Big Joe Cane was just such an honourable decent guy.

Maybe she just needed a friend to unburden herself on after all this time.

But it all came tumbling out. All of it. Sweden, Her identity, SHADOW, her powers, the lot.

“Well ain’t that some story!†whistled Joe. “Fancy having a real life super hero work right beside me! I had heard a few stories about you, but nobody took too much attention. Guess that explains how a girl like you can throw around a Jackhammer like me, eh?†he smiled.

“I guess if you be needing to stay underground, Big Joe can fix you up there!†he smiled.

And he did, sealing her in, and coming down regularly with food and water to tend to his ward. And eventually, when the cures were administered, giving one to Synth.

“Got you right patched up there, hell, you look almost human now!†he smiled as Synth returned to her normal form.

“That’s exactly what I am!†replied Synth, changing into a spare pair of Joes clothes, her old ones ruined by the ailment. They were men’s clothes, and far too big. But it beat being dressed in tatters that did little for her modesty.

“Joe…you saved my life…you saved my identity. You know, you are the only person to know. I don’t have the words to say how grateful I am. But I want you to know, if there is anything you ever need…anything…I will be there for you, and your family…â€

Big Joe smiled and gave Synth a slap on the back that would have knocked over many men.

“Anytime! Guess I’m just giving back a little to the heroes of the city!†he laughed “You just go do your thing, keeping the world and the street’s safe for us!â€

“But you owe me one!†he said, with a wink, as the two clambered out of the hole. There was plenty of reconstruction work to be done, and the two would no doubt be busy.

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Hot Zone: Voltage

The Morgan household was experiencing an ordinary morning. Thomas was in his room, on his computer. Sam was in the garage, tinkering with his car. It was a steal for the price Sam got it for, but it needed a lot of work. Luckily, Sam knew what he was doing, and could get it up and running himself.

Thomas peeked out of the window and watched as his brother hauled a large, heavy box into the garage. He mused on how different he and Sam were. Both were fairly bright boys, with vastly different aptitudes.

Thomas was the thoughtful one, prone to studying and intellectual pursuits. Sam was athletic, with greater insight than intellect. Thomas liked his computers, Sam liked his cars. Then, he heard the loud CRUNCH coming from the garage.

In an instant, Thomas was dashing downstairs and out the door. When he reached the garage, his eyes went wide with shock. There was Sam, laying down, staring at his hands. A short distance away lie his car, upside down.

“What the heck happened?†Thomas asked, running to his brother. He was relieved. He had been afraid that the jack had given way and dropped the car, possibly on top of Sam.

“I, uh, flipped my car over.†Sam said, seemingly not sure he was saying it himself.

“You...what?†Thomas said.

“Yeah, man, I was under it and...pushed a little bit. Flipped it over.â€

Thomas staggered back. “Unnnnnghh...†He groaned as his head seemed to split open with a sharp stab of pain. Instantaneously, his mind filled with digital noise. Something had turned his data connection power on full blast, and now he couldn't even think through it. He collapsed unconcious.

“Thomas, you alright man?†Sam said. He opened his eyes and spotted his brother, standing over him.

“Y-yeah, I am.†Thomas said. The pain had subsided as did his power. Instantly, his mind was on the internet, searching and collecting data. It was then that he became aware of the situation. People getting superpowers, everywhere and anywhere in the city.

“Oh this isn't good.†Thomas said, standing up.

“What's not good?†Sam asked.

“Okay, so...†Thomas began as he revealed everything. He explained about his powers, his hero life, and more importantly, what had happened to both of them.

“I knew it.†Sam said. “I freakin' knew it. It was so weird how that all happened, and...â€

Thomas raised his hand. “That's not important right now.†He dragged himself to his feet and changed into his costume

“Cool costume.†Sam said.

“I don't doubt that somewhere, someone is working on a cure for this.†He could feel his mind, too, processing faster and faster. If he wasn't careful, he might be driven insane by the sheer power of his own mind. Slowly, it subsided.

“And?â€

“I want to help them. There are two reasons why. The first is that it's what heroes do. The second is I want to know what's going on, and I need to be contained if my powers grow more uncontrollable.â€

“What are you afraid will happen?â€

“My electric powers seem unaffected, but my mental powers are growing increasingly out of control. I can't...concentrate very well. My own thoughts are running away with me.â€

“That's not good. I should take you to where they're making this cure.â€

“Sam, it's not safe.â€

“Thomas, I pushed over my car, I think I can handle myself. Besides, what happens if your powers give out before you can go where you want to?â€

“I was planning on teleporting.†Thomas said, closing his eyes. He flickered for a moment, but id not move. “Well, I can't teleport, takes too much concentration. I guess I'm stuck flying there.â€

“Not alone, you're not.†Sam said, walking confidently over to his brother. “Mine are stable, yours aren't.â€

Thomas nodded and conceded. “Alright, then. We can't fly, because I can't carry you.â€

“I think we can do something else.â€

Moments later, Thomas was slung over Sam's shoulder as the two young men leaped high into the air.

Several minutes later, the two of them landed in front of the Lab after several awkward and somewhat painful jumps. Thomas was grateful for the suit's protection.

“We here?†Sam asked.

“Yes, thank you.†Thomas said. “I can take it from here. I'm in costume, you're not.â€

“Yeah, good point.†Sam said, turning to jump away.

He stumbled into the building as his mind struggled to separate thought from data.

“My...my name is Voltage.†He said. “I can...control electricity, and computers with my mind.†He stumbled forward. “I can't think, my powers are out of control. I'm afraid of what I'll do, or...what'll become of me if I don't seal myself up.â€

For the first time in months, he wasn't a superhero. He was a scared kid. Terrified of his own powers, terrified of what was happening. He had hoped to help, but not in this condition. He couldn't think through the internet, and his mind was going so fast it was hard to even say what he managed to say.

A few hours later, he lay in a containment cell, leaning against the wall. The internet had shut up, and he could gather his thoughts. It was going to be a long time, but, hopefully someone would come with updates.

“Guess I got a while to wait.†He said, leaning back.

Some time later, after the cure had been discovered and delivered, after Voltage had been cured, and went home, he opened the door to discover his parents and Sam sitting there, talking.

“So they said my powers aren't going away.†Sam said, sighing. “I mean, I'm not dying, but, yeah...â€

His father nodded. “I understand. Are you going to go to that school?â€

“Yeah, dad.†He said, with a grin. “It sounds cool.â€

Thomas quietly closed the door and shook his head. Apparently, there was going to be another superhero in the Morgan family.

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Cannonade: Family Affairs

March 15th, 2012

Cannonade raced across the rooftops of Southside, happy to hear the streets below at peace for once. The past week had been pure chaos, even with other heroes working at full capacity to help the population. House fires, riots, bank robberies – and, in many cases, the power eruptions that were at the root. If that weren’t bad enough, there were matters at home to worry about. With Dad out on a job in Trenton when the quarantine went up, he’d had to look after the family. It didn’t help that Mom’s dose of the mutagen had given her the ability to walk out of her body – at the cost of making her sleep 18 hours a day. Joe had been there to look after Andy, make sure he stayed out of trouble during the quarantine. And, if you looked at it from a certain perspective, he’d failed.

He stood at the corner of Miller and Grove, waiting. He heard the rush of footsteps faintly, in the distance. It didn’t help that his target was moving faster than the speed of sound, but he had to adjust for this. Besides, he was pretty familiar with this route. It had, after all, been his patrol route for a while. He counted down from three, and when he hit zero, he hit the street below with both feet.

Cannonade’s target came to a complete halt before him – which was a good thing, because he didn’t want to think about what would happen if he’d plowed into him at full speed. It took him a while to regain his footing, though, and, in a moment lacking any form of dignity, he flailed, his hands grabbing at Cannonade’s jacket. The powerhouse didn’t even flinch as he smelled burning nylon and ozone. The electrical charge that came twinned with the speed may have packed a nasty punch for others, but to him, it was like the brief shock you get when you touch the socket after unplugging something.

“It’s time,†he said.

“Aw, c’mon!†Andy said. “You couldn’t let me get one more run in?â€

“The sooner we get you cured, the better.â€

“Define ‘cured.’â€

“Back to normal.â€

“That’s what I thought.†Andy tugged at his mask, making sure it was drawn down – probably because he didn’t want Joe to see the expression on his face. The costume, in blue and white, was something they’d managed to cobble together at the Atom store, designed to hold up under Andy’s bursts of speed while being selectively conductive enough to work with the electrical powers. “I’m pretty sure I can hold up, J – Cannonade. And the city’s gonna need all the help they can get once the quarantine comes down.â€

“And it’ll get it. From other heroes. Andy, the longer that stuff’s in you, the more it’s gonna mess you up. Look, powers aren’t just a perk. You get them, you’re gonna have to worry about them all the time. You’re going to college in fall. You really want more responsibility?â€

“You manage to handle it pretty well. And it’s freshman year, it’s not gonna be that big a push.â€

To be honest, Cannonade didn’t want to see his brother “cured.†If there was a way he could keep the powers without the side effects, he’d be happy. But if he had to go for the trump card, so be it.

“Look. You heard the reports about what that stuff does to your immune system, right?â€

“Yeah.â€

“And remember when you got cut up by that guy who could throw knives with his mind, and how quickly that healed?â€

“Yeah, because I got a speedy meta… bol… ism…â€

The other shoe dropped for Andy, faster than it had taken for Cannonade. “I know some heroes who’ve been working on the cure. I told ‘em about your powers, and they told me about the possible side effects. They said that, odds are, you’re not shaking off the stuff. It’s going faster.â€

Andy shook his head. “Damn. Seemed too good to be true.â€

He pulled the syringe out of his jacket and handed it over to Andy. “You wanna do this at home, or…?â€

“Screw it.†He rolled up the sleeve of his costume and pressed it against his flesh. It was a contact hypodermic, designed for ease of injection in the hands of untrained professionals. The counteragent was in his blood stream almost instantly; his face grew flush, and he began to stumble like he’d had one too many to drink. “So, how fast does this work?â€

“Pretty damn quick, under normal circumstances. And for you…â€

Andy raised one hand, pointing it towards a garbage can, and snapped his fingers with his free hand. Nothing. Before, he’d used it to throw a low-grade lightning bolt at bad guys. Now, it just looked funny. “Back among the mundanes.â€

“Hey, don’t talk like that. Look, sometimes it’s good to be normal.â€

“Says the guy who can take a tank shell.â€

“Do you know how much those things hurt?â€

“I know, it’s just -- â€

A scream rang out from down the street. A woman, almost catatonic, stood on the roof of a building, and was teetering over the edge. Cannonade prepared for a leap, to get to the roof and catch her, but Andy was there first.

He was there first, crossing three blocks in the time it took to blink, and caught her in mid-air by running up the side of the building.

Cannonade caught up with the two almost as an afterthought. Andy was talking to the girl, who’d just woken up. Apparently sleepwalking had been her little “blessing†from the mutagen, with her body mimicking whatever her consciousness did elsewhere. After making sure she was okay, he turned back to Cannonade.

“It didn’t work?â€

“No, I… I don’t feel the lightning…†He snapped his fingers. “Wait a minute. You got your stuff after the incident at the foundry…â€

“What, the..." He reached for the term. "'Mortal trigger'? You think this week counted?â€

“Just enough.â€

Cannonade studied his brother for a minute, trying to figure out what to say. Then he stepped forward, sweeping him up in a big bear hug.

“Ow.â€

“Sorry.†He let Andy go. “Just, well… guessing there’s a lot I’ve gotta teach you before Boston…â€

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Silhouette: No Answers

March 8th, 8:32 PM

Carrie was cursing, loudly and freely, in front of two five year olds and their parents. She didn't care terribly as she was thrown through a window of the third story appartment of the said familie's house by the metal monstronsity outside, curtiousy of a metal controller who had turned a local junkyard into his own personal mecha and had gone insane with glee crushing things on the pavement. The inside family rushed to her side (well as best as they could, the father had sprouted extra arms, the mother had melted and was currently in a bucket, and the twins were literately stuck together as one was super sticky and the other one had transformed in some human/lizard hybrid). All four of them were surprised when Carrie sprung back up, she was in pain, but not something she hadn't expected, and now she was pissed.

It had taken all of a minute for her get back outside and dodge her way through the blows of the would be magnet man with his clumsy car robot. With his concentration being spent on maintaining the movement of this rather impractical application of power she managed to avoid the blows as she ran up his arms and cold clock the SOB before yanking him out of the coach of the convertable head and jump away from it before it crashed to the ground. That part was easy, running up back to the room to confront the family after the thing was the hard part.

"Caroline, how in the world did you..."

Carrie cut him off,

"Shut up, just shut up, grab your kids, my cars not parked too far away, and we still have to find mom and dad before this gets any worse then it already is."

March 9th, 9:24 AM

It had been a long freaking night, and she couldn't even take a shower because of the bloody outbreak. Not that she could of anyway, which had saved her from the iniatal infection when her check for the water company bounced. Electric company may or may not of cut it off, not that it mattered, she had a generator in the lair under her house. Which of course got a ton of questions since none of her family actually knew where she had moved too, she dismissed it as this being a friends place. Her parents however spent more of their time asking question, her mother (who kept sneaking up on her as she was unintentionally blending in with any envirement she walked in to) had a genuine amount of concern, mostly for the fact that Carrie kept her distance from them. Her father (who'd become a human light show whom Carrie had trouble finding iniatially because he blinded her when she barged into their condo) was more curious about the fact that once they got into her car that no one seemed to bug or notice them as she drove down the streets. That she attributed to people being too consumed in the chaos to notice a mini cooper. When she didn't lie through her teeth she just avoided a lot of the questions and spent a lot of time yelling, a lot of time telling them not to go upstairs or outside. Most of them listened, her niece and nephew spent most their time just playing with their powers, her super sticky niece practiced climbing up walls, while her reptilian nephew jumped around with his new stronger legs. Her brother mostly spent the time running around making sure to catch them when he wasn't bugging her, while his wife practiced being solid. She had been able to manage the waist up so they could at least feed her.

March 10th, 3:58 PM

After a lot of work and creative searching Carrie found an open wifi line strong enough to buffer some news reports. It was a good distraction for her family who were pretty much in the dark because she had left them there. It wasn't like she was going to tell them that three days earlier around five she had still be sleeping when she got a call from Mona about what was happening in the city, about a spreading disease that gave power that was currently being quarrentined. Or that she hadn't actually been infected, that the turning flat and running around doing acrobatics to fight off whatever ahole stood between her and them wasn't a sudden granted ability but a fact of her life for the last ten years. Or that she had lied when she said Annie was fine and outside of the city because she couldn't actually contact her. This was the thing that laid heavy on her mind. She didn't know where her younger sister was, and it ate her up on the inside, but she couldn't tell the family she had that. She had to keep them calm, and keep them same while she enforced their containment in a building they didn't even know about all while lieing and not answering questions.

March 11, 4:39 AM

She had snuck out locked all the doors best she could while she savaged for food. She was surprised they had managed this long, she only really had what was in her fridge for drinks (a couple liters of soda, some juice and a half galleon of milk), and about three containers of restuarant leftovers, and enough chips and canned food to feed a single person for about a month. This hardly held over six other people even with some creativity. But now that was gone and she needed to go or suffer starvation.

Inside her lair with her family, away from the world they were isolated from most the threats, and even as cabin fever had set in when she went to savage she decided that she had gotten the best deal out of it. The city was in chaos, she drove her car out onto the streets to find that many parts of the streets were undrivable, mental and indented into the pavement, windows were broken and houses were burning. She couldn't see them, but the smoke in the distance made it obvious, and she had to stop. She stopped her car and hung her head on her steering wheel and just sat there, hearing a scream as she reached for the door handle and stopped. She couldn't go out there, she couldn't be a hero today, she couldn't go find every innocent person inflicted with some horrible power and save them from themselves. She had to get food, she had to go home, before they woke up, she had to make sure they had something to eat or they'd starve. They came first, cause they needed to be there.Turning the key again she went and started looking for the nearest grocer.

March 13th, 4:29 PM

They'd run out of gas for the generator about noonish, and food the previous night. What Carrie had savaged had lasted them through the two days, but it had been difficult. They left the lair after a lot of deliberation and agreement that the car was useless since they syphoned the gas for the generator. The twins were just happy to go outside, like they were going to play, but they weren't when they saw the outside.

They had managed to walk through the theatre district and towards downtown with little disturbance, which was strange. It wasn't until they got to down town that she saw a water controller fighting an electic controller and a guy yelling at the electric controller from the sidelines. It was a short fight and it was over before the family ran over to them. Yelling out Carrie tried to get their attention, and they, didn't do anything. She kept yelling walking forward and her family joined them. What a sight they must of been, expect no one was looking. It took her walking right over and grabbing the electric controller on the shoulder,

"What the hell? Can't you see us?"

The power user jumped back and bolted out a strike that Carrie dodge casually before saying,

"Where did you come from?"

"What?"

Looking back at her family they exchanged glances, the other guy came forward and and looked past them for a second before focusing right on them,

"Who are they, why are they fuzzy?"

"Fuzzy? What do you mean, you guys were ignoring us right?"

"No, I can see for miles cause of the virus thing, and sometimes into the future, I couldn't see anybody until you came up close."

Carrie's eyebrows rose and she looked at her hand and, concentrated. It stayed three dimensional. So she had been infected afterall?

"Umm, well, who are you?"

Marilyn piped in from behind, she was confused but still curious,

"The Sentinals mam, here to help, would you like some assistance,"

"Ye, yeah,"

Carrie said it as she continued to look at her hand. She didn't really get what was going on, but she kept pace as they were lead to a nearby safe house. Hopefully they'll have a cure soon, she'd spent years mastering one weird sneaky power, she didn't need to start mastering another one.

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March 7th, 2012

Ironclad was patrolling over Port Royale when the call came in. A group of bank robbers, fleeing the police, had suddenly manifested elemental control powers and wrecked two police cruisers – before the police had taken to wing to chase the criminals down. By the time she arrived on the scene there were reports of a woman who fell into her bathroom tap and was causing hydrants to explode over the city; a group of free-runners who were running up the sides of buildings; and even the Wolfpack showing off strange new powers. After a moment’s deliberation she shot off into the sky again, heading for Hanover and the Lab.

As she landed and barged through the doors she was enveloped in a mob of scientists, doctors, and not a few reporters; the gold and green armor made her highly visible, and as the only member of the executive staff on the ground floor, there were a lot of decisions for her to make. A coma victim on the eleventh floor was found covered in a blanket of squirrels that spoke with human voices and claimed to be her; the combat simulator had locked onto Pirates of Penzance again; and someone claimed that the fusion reactor was screaming. The heroine made a beeline for the elevators, answering what questions she could until the doors closed.

Her first stop was the thirteenth floor, were after an hour of wrangling with code and cables she pulled the plug on the mainframe there and the building went onto the backups on Fourteen. Then she visited medical and saw the coma-squirrel girl. By the time that surreal interview was over with, Motley had surfaced and made his pronouncement, so they knew it was biochemical. The young genius laid claim to a chemical lab and went to work – and never once had she opened her armor.

Seven days passed. Nearly seven straight days of work, partly in the lab and partly out in the city. Sealed in her armor, Ironclad was one of the very few individuals in the city who had been unaffected by Motley’s concoctions. The city seemed on the edge of eruption at all time, and while the other heroes were doing all they could to contain the chaos most of them were having issues with their powers themselves. Ironclad had spent a memorable few minutes helping Captain Thunder wrangle a nest of electric snakes he had unwittingly loosed onto Greenbank. By the second day she desperately wanted a cup of coffee but was unwilling to risk opening her helmet for it. By the fourth day she wanted a shower more than almost anything she had ever wanted in her short life.


March 15th, 2012

Marla Tennant, the bubbly redhead on Channel Four, was talking directly to the audience, doing an editorial addressing her own experiences as a gas cloud, and thanking the city’s heroes directly for their work the last week. Jessica Parker, the not-so-public identity of Ironclad, was only half-listening to the newscast. The rest of her was focusing on the steaming bath she had drawn, the first hot water she’d had contact with since the crises began.

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Harrier

Born In Sin

Harrier crashed to the floor hard enough to crack the paneled wood, armor erupting from his warping flesh as his body burned with unholy fire.

"Omegadrone armor is unlike the battlesuits heroes like Daedalus or Ironclad wear." His hands shaking with tension, Steve Murdock gripped the podium in front of him hard enough to make the wood creak. The audience of security experts were staring at him with suspicious eyes, as if unable to believe an Omegadrone could walk like a man. "Internal cybernetic systems replace all essential organic bodily functions..."

His armored fingers scratched the floor as Harrier pulled himself to his feet, concentrating on his armor's internal systems. He didn't have the detailed internal readouts that some cybernetic beings did; what did it matter to them if Omegadrones were sick or injured? But that his armor would not open was a bad sign, he knew, a sign of some deep infection that the armor's immunological systems were fighting. He walked to his television, feet clanking on the carpet, and gingerly flicked on the television, to news of apocalypse.

An Omegadrone watched as Physician Friendly and Shadivan Steelgrave shared an argument, and a drink, in the Physician's private study. "Look, Shadivan, think of all the resources you lose with every world you conquer. I'm not talking about _them_," he said with a wave to the Omegadrone in the corner, one of half-a-dozen who Steelgrave had brought as his personal guard. "But think of the time running doomforges takes away from your work. Suppose I could build a virus that would kill a world _for_ you, superhumans and humans alike? And then you could come in and take it for your own?" Steelgrave hmmed and stroked his mustache. Distantly someone screamed a lament without end. "Hmm, a worthy experiment, Physician." He sipped his wine and smiled. "But the manner of the killing is important too. What did you have in mind?"

"I am affected, but my armor's internal systems are battling the infection," said Harrier into Satyr's cellphone, his own having snapped between clumsy spiked fingers during his earlier conversation. "I will make myself available to you and anyone else looking for a treatment, but I doubt its effectiveness. Few will consent to be altered as I have been altered." When he hung up the phone, Harrier wondered if Gina could tell he was in his armor. It had been nearly 48 hours and his systems still hadn't finished their purge. And as he needed food, and even more importantly water, that was going to be a serious issue in the very near future. His tongue was dry, and would not be moistened.

Murdock grabbed the rat between his fingers and pulled it to his mouth, biting down hard. Things were good here; the waste dump from the Madrigal's compound was as productive as ever. Warriors from a thousand worlds being beaten into her servants discarded much, and either the waste or the things that came to feed on it were good eating. The only risk were the occasional hunters looking for live prey to tear apart in Madrigal's arena, but this day so far things were quiet. When he'd eaten and drunk his fill, he caught three more, and a four-legged beast as big as him, to take back to January: she'd been acting funny lately, perhaps a little more to eat would make her feel better.

Power flickered as Harrier slammed his fist through the wall, reaching inside the plaster to grab hold of the copper wiring the old Cline building still used. He gasped as the energy crackled through his systems, overcharging the systems that had replaced most of his digestive tract, sending nutrients and water flooding into his bloodstream. His armor would need recharging after this, not to mention the wall would need repair, but he would stay alive. He'd made the rounds in the Cline that night, checking on his neighbors, not that any of them really wanted to see him when he looked like this. Though infections had spread among the refugees, they were used to plague, and had handled it well, with little panic.

There was blood everywhere, hissing as it burned through steel and stone like the powerful acid it had become. Steve had seen plenty of blood in the Black Ghetto, but not like this, a life-giving fluid twisted into poison for anything that lived. And much that didn't, from the way the robotic probes left in the walls writhed. Covering his mouth against the fumes, he stumbled out of the hovel to embrace his father. "It was fast, Steve," Ben told him reassuringly, "Fast and done, and she hardly felt it." But Steve had seen the bleeding horror before. "We needed to move on anyway. I have a space for us with Mad-Eyes, the one Madrigal's people cast out. It's not much, but it'll be a new start." It would all prove false.

Five days in, and Harrier had come to the Lab, a vision of armored destruction that was a terror even as the city went mad all around them. He'd sat alone, aloof but cordial in his bladed shell, as heroes used a small teleporter to extract samples of his blood for further analysis. He could just see the holographic display the super-scientists were studying as the cybernetic leukocytes in his blood devoured the infectious organisms they were studying, then turned on the test sample of human tissue, and then the petri dish itself before a quick blast of hard radiation destroyed it. He winced, he couldn't help it. Well, perhaps they'd learned that the mutagen was mortal, if nothing else...

Ultralord exploded into a cloud of rapidly incinerating, somehow still howling particles as Omega strode through his remains, the other Annihilists in the room having the good sense not to interrupt their master when he spoke. "He 'tasks' me! He 'tasks' me yet!" Omega roared, shaking his fist at the image of the fallen Centurion on the Wall of Conquest before him. Not Conquest now, of course, but the Omegadrone kneeling behind Steelgrave wouldn't get that joke for years yet. "To be destroyed is one thing. To have my 'manifestation' shattered is one thing. But to be 'defeated'! To slay my ancient enemy and still be crushed at his 'hands'! This day! This 'day'!"

When it was done, and Steve was next at work, he was quick to reassure Erin White that he'd come through the infection without any serious problems. "It was difficult, but the solitude was no challenge. It gave me...time to think"

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Cry of Justice (Gabriel Viginette)

[Carson Keefe's Southside Apartment, Freedom City, NJ, USA]

[March 7, 2012]

Carson and Sonya were enjoying a quiet dinner that fateful Wednesday, his windows open to let in the fresh spring breeze. Finally, they finished their dessert (Apple Amber that Carson had managed to make taste pretty good), and Carson took the dishes to the sink to wash them. He was running the hot water when he frowned and flexed his left hand. It had gone numb. Then his arm followed.

"Sonya! A little help!"

The urgency in his voice sent her running to him.

"What's wrong?"

"My arm's gone numb. I don't know, it just-AGH!"

Carson collapsed to the floor, and Sonya felt at his brow. It was cool to the touch, but his pulse was racing. She started to try and straighten him out on the floor when suddenly her own hands went numb. Her voice was eeriely calm as she spoke.

"Carson...it's happening to me."

And then agony took hold of her, and they both writhed on the floor, barely holding in thier fresh meal, but mostly wishing the pain would stop.

[Two Hours Later]

At some point in the ordeal, they'd passed out. But Carson woke first, the pain reduced to a dull throb...that was gone in moments. Then, suddenly, he felt incredibly invigorated. As if he had all the energy in the world! He all but leapt to his feet and jogged to his open balcony. He smiled as he smelled the air-

"Sonya!"

He dashed back to her still-unconscious form. He frowned; he'd been the first with symptoms, but it hadn't taken much time at all for hers to show. Why wasn't she waking? He managed to pick her up without as much effort as he though it would take (his light workouts must be doing more than he thought!) and carried her to the couch, where he tried to make her comfortable. But as he settled here, he couldn't help but see strange lights flashing across the city, and odd sounds flowing in through the windows. It sounded like something big was going on. He walked over to the television and turned it on; it wasn't hard to find news, it was on every channel. And it was chilling news indeed.

"Uhg. My head...Carson, where are you at?"

Sonya was speaking softly, her eyes clenched shut as if she had a headache. She started to sit up as Carson got to her. Worry creased his features as she opened her eyes and looked around.

"Sonya, there's...there's some sort of disease hitting the city. And...it's in the water. The news says it's giving people powers. Now, we already have them, so we should be okay, but-"

Whatever he might have said next was drowned out as Sonya gave a surprised...well, screech was the closest word for it.

"WHAT?"

Of course, Carson couldn't answer; he was busy flying across the room and slamming into the wall with a rather painful-sounding *crack*. He groaned as Sonya gave a horrified cry that flipped a nearby chair over, scuffing up the floor and sending coushins flying.

"Sonya, don't take this the wrong way, but you need to stop talking."

For a man whose back should be at least fractured, Carson seemed in remarkably good health. Yet there was a pained grimace on his face as he stood up; it seemed he had an idea of what was going on.

"I think our powers got switched, my dear. But perhaps worse than that, they got turned topsy-turvy when they moved. I seem to be able to recover from injuries, and I feel like I could run for a week. But I'm not sure I could do much for anyone else. You seem to have my powers, but in a subtly different way. I think we'll both need a day or two to adjust before we can do much good..."

Sonya, fearing the damage she could do otherwise, just nodded.

[March 9]

Carson felt he had acclimated himself to his own powers well enough to go out as Gabriel, despite the rather radical change to things. At least he still had his heavenly gear; he may not be quite as versatile right now, but he had a solid foundation to fall back on. Now he just had to figure out how to subdue people with powers that approached what he had, while he was basically a mildly-enhanced human who healed quickly.

"Talk about the short end of the stick..."

He saw a small group of young men and women, members of a gang that kept encroaching into Southside, advancing down the street. One was juggling orbs of fire, one was teleporting randomly all over the place, and the rest were making similar blatant displays of their powers. They advanced on a terrified shopkeep who seemed to have grown two extra arms (the better to mind his store with, the man had presumed), but was otherwise powerless. The gang's intent was clear. Gabriel sighed as he clambered down the fire escape of the building he'd perched on, before running up behind the gang.

Normally he would brazenly demand the thugs surrender. But not when he was at such a disadvantage. He charged in with nary a word, and two were down before the rest knew what was happening. The two “leaders†quickly turned around, but Gabriel was like a force of nature. Until the teleporter got behind him and kicked at his right knee. He couldn't stop from falling to the ground, though he kept himself propped up on his spear as his broken knee healed. The fire-thrower grinned and raised his hand...

Only to be slammed to the ground by a barely-visible wave of sonic force. It was Sonya, in a makeshift costume that left her looking like some sort of terrible wraith. Gabriel managed not to groan as he realized she'd dressed up as, of all things, a banshee. Instead, he heaved himself upright in time to avoid a strike from the teleporter, and the next few strikes as well. Then he just had to let Sonya smack the thug aside with another sound blast. She landed and walked over to him, looking concerned. When she spoke, it was the barest whisper.

“I'm still working on control, but I'm doing better. I can help!â€

“Fine. But we're going to need more help...hang on.â€

He walked over to the shaken storekeeper, giving the man some quiet reassurance before asking something of him. The civilian seemed hesitant at first, but finally seemed to nod and give in. Gabriel walked back to the newest heroine in Southside, a smile on his face.

“What has you so happy?â€

“We're getting help.â€

[March 12]

The stress was getting to them; Gabriel and “Lady Banshee†(as she was taking to calling herself) had snapped at each other once or twice. Still, things could be worse.

“I'm just glad my idea worked.â€

“Dear, you've helped these people for a few years now. Of course they'll listen when you ask for help, especially when they've got their own powers. They just needed someone to give them the nudge they needed.â€

“I just hope this doesn't get anyone hurt.â€

“It will work out. They'd be at risk no matter what. We're all in danger because of this stupid plague. We all know that. So they've decided that working together to keep the peace is the best way to spend their time.â€

[March 14, Evening]

They sat in Sonya's apartment, both of them relieved to be back to normal (for them). They were resting on Sonya's couch, watching the news reports of the aftermath of the mutagen plague.

“You were a big help out there.â€

“Did you think I'd be useless?â€

“No, of course not. I was mostly scared you'd get hurt; you can't deny that while you've been in combat, you're a medic. You don't get up in the faces of supervillains new and old. Training's one thing, but experience is the best teacher. I was worried, but I shouldn't have been. You made me look like an amateur more than once. And you've got a good right hook.â€

“Good. I didn't need any macho Irish warrior-poet malarkey from you. Bad enough how some of these Yanks can be.â€

“Drop the macho and I rather like the idea. Irish warrior-poet; somewhere between Saint Patrick and Cuchulain, eh?â€

“Typical.â€

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Greater Love (Midnight II and Wander)

March 7th - Continued from thread...

Exchanging a silent nod with his grandfather, Midnight smoothly mounted the Night Cycle, already accelerating before his leg had come down all the way on the far side of the bike. Driving at pace with the already running Wander, they were soon exiting into open air from one of the Midnight Manor’s extensive tunnels. "I suggest starting with the highest population centers," Redbird chimed in, readouts from the same feeds her rider had been scouring earlier projecting from a holographic node between the handlebars, forming a floating rectangle of neon green.

Wander hopped onto the bike behind him as they left the garage, the wind whipping her hair as they raced through the streets, heading from North Bay into Kingston at a tremendous speed. "How do you feel?" the bike’s rider asked, turning his head only slightly away from the road in front of them to address her. Midnight didn’t wish to press the issue, but her earlier moment of unexplained pain had him understandably concerned. For the moment he felt fine himself, but as reports of transmission of the mutagen through touch and a series of gas attacks streamed across the news sites, he suspected they were going to need a cure sooner rather than later.

"Doing okay," she assured him, looping her arms around his waist to help balance the bike. "What about you?" He hadn’t been exposed to as much water as she had, but he also didn’t have her hyperactive natural defense system. "Any weird symptoms yet?"

Midnight simply shook his head in the negative, turning his full attention back to the road. Hopefully any discomfort Erin was experiencing was only indicative of her body fighting off the mutagen’s effects. Even her reduced powers put her well above his own tolerance for illness and poisons and he had not idea if his midnight mist saturated biology would be a boon or a curse against the evidently unpredictable changes sweeping over the city’s populace.

"Over there!" Wander called, extending her arm over his shoulder to point in the direction of the Hanover Zoo. "Look at all that smoke!" The noise of an explosion tore through the air, along with the distant sound of screaming people and agitated animals.

Leaning down flush with the body of the motorcycle, Midnight accelerated wordlessly in the direction Wander had indicated, the vehicle’s engine whisper quiet against the roar of the passing wind. Within moments they were roaring past the zoo’s open gates through the tide of fleeing visitors. Despite their panic, the crowd gave the heroes a wide berth as they headed toward the source of the commotion, the spots of dark red and purple against their black silhouette doing little to soften their imposing appearance.

The zoo itself was a disaster area, most of the civilians already long gone from paths and roads now occupied by confused and frightened animals. It looked as though some destructive force had torn through the area, destroying cages and walls, releasing the animals from their enclosures before moving on. Further on down the path, they could hear loud and hysterical laughter, just before another series of explosions.

"Get the human first, then deal with the animals," Wander suggested. "The walkway runs in a big circle here. You keep going, I’ll go around and pincer him." She leapt off the motorcycle, again without waiting for it to stop, and ran down the path. Her body was starting to hurt again, muscles, joints, even her bones seemed to ache, but she ignored it. Just deal with the crisis at hand, then she’d figure out what was wrong with her. She was preoccupied enough that she didn’t even notice the dark shadow looming up in front of her until it was too late, and suddenly she was mere feet away from an entire gorilla troop, females, babies, and a very large, very angry-looking silverback!

"I may be delayed a minute," she murmured into her communicator.

"Take your time," Midnight responded as he pulled to a stop in front of the source of the strained laughter, a heavyset woman in a tattered zookeeper’s uniform and glasses with one of the lenses cracked and empty. A faint pinkish aura of hazy light surrounded both her and the twisted pieces of metal bars and cage doors that floated about her, having been ripped from their places. Dismounting, the young vigilante drew forth the pair of escrima sticks strapped just above his boots and strode toward the out of control telekinetic. "Sorry," he muttered mostly to himself. "Thank me later."

"The animals deserve freedom!" the zookeeper screamed. "I try to give them a good life, but it’s not the same! And now is the dawning of the new age, where we will all ascend as gods and the animals will rule!" She threw the doors in his direction, but either her aim was poor or her heart wasn’t in it, because they didn’t even come near the dark vigilante. She threw the bars as well, which came a bit closer, but not much. The nearby wall suddenly began disassembling itself, revealing that behind it were a number of very agitated lions, just waiting for an opportunity to escape.

With a short snort, Midnight dashed forward, a burst of unexpected speed after his slow, methodical movements moments earlier. Leaping into the air, he kicked off one of the levitating stone bricks, using them like a staircase to launch himself over the telekinetic’s head to land soundlessly behind her. As part of the same graceful movement, a single escrima stick whipped out, catching the woman about the temple and knocking her to the ground. The glowing aura disappeared and the assorted floating materials crashed down, beholden to gravity once more. Binding her hands just to be thorough, it seemed that they were ready to move onto the next emergency.

Before Midnight had so much as stepped away from the zookeeper’s prone form, however, a whole new commotion was starting up nearby. He heard Wander’s wordless shout of alarm and pain, and then more sounds of crunching masonry and breaking glass. A moment later he saw her, not near him but high overhead. Wander was at least fifty feet tall, towering over the zoo like a new Centurion statue. She was barefoot and batless, but the morphic molecules of her costume at least kept her from embarrassment. In her hand, she clutched the silverback gorilla she’d been fighting a moment earlier.

For a moment, Wander was so disoriented she thought she’d somehow been tossed high in the air and was falling back to earth. It took several seconds after the pain stopped to realize that while her head was indeed high in the air, her feet were on the ground, with the rest of her body in between. The enraged gorilla roared and bit her hand, but she didn’t even notice it. "What’s going on?" she asked, her nervous voice booming out in a loudspeaker rumble.

Midnight took a half-step backward in muted surprise, looking up at his suddenly titanic girlfriend. "On my way," he called, exercising his talent for making himself heard clearly without actually raising the volume of his voice, then remounted the Night Cycle. "Redbird, tell my grandfather to hurry."

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Fire in the Bones (Cobalt Templar Viginette)

[Freedom City, NJ, USA]

[March 13, 2010]

It was strange, but he was starting to miss feeling hungry and thirsty. Oh, it was handy not having to stop for food or drink or sleep or...much of anything, really. It kept him busy, kept his mind off of the difficulties his family was facing. Of what had happened to him. But he'd always been a big eater, and suddenly not even being able to eat burnt toast made his mind's stomach growl.

“Can't think about that. Not right now.â€

Not only because it might make him give in to despair, but also because he was currently wrestling what looked like a Decepticon Transformer. He'd just been flying through the air when a strangely-painted F-22 whirled into a parody of the human form, composed of angles and gears and things in a chaotic mess that assembled into a rather terrible-looking creature that looked eager to kill.

“I will grind you to paste, meatbag! My master will be pleased!â€

“Dude! Look at me! Totally not a meatbag right now!â€

Indeed, Cobalt Templar, strangely lacking his customary helmet and mask, as well as his rather dashing cape, showed off his bizarre mutation rather easily.

He was a skeleton. Stark white bone shown through the transparent sheen of roaring blue flames, flames held in check only by the plates of his armor, conjured by his iron-shod will and channeled through his ancient ring. Finally, the rather gruesome version of the teenage hero raised a fist, a fist quickly covered in a roaring corona of raw flame, and then slammed it into the neck of the “Transformerâ€, melting through in a moment. As the wreckage fell, it crumbled to rusty flakes gathered around a broken toy. Just like the last 2 weird opponents.

“This had really better not be the Littlest Cancer Patient Gone Villain.â€

He roared through the air, trying not to think about...

About the fact that he looked like a freak. A walking, talking skeleton surrounded by roaring blue fire; fire that, without his ring, was unchecked, ever-growing. Fire that had burned Quo-Dis's hand, threatened the house his parents had bought, the house he hadn't gone near since last Wednesday.

His mother, now burdened with rather potent mental powers; the reading/hearing of minds, and the ability to speak into them. All while her body was weakened. She was his lifeline of contact, which probably was the only thing keeping him sane; he dared not risk his friends right now by trying to coordinate with them, or any other hero.

His father, whose body was a strange organic metal. He also suffered a total lack of needing food or water or air. He also did not have enough strength to easily move around; he'd taken to just sitting in his study watching the television. His hands were too big and clumsy for books or computers; Corbin's mother had to change the channel; they spent a lot of the day sitting there. But at least his father could still sleep.

And Quo-Dis...beautiful, wonderful Quo-Dis. She had been hit hard; the mutagen had, perversely, stripped her of all her powers, leaving her a decidedly normal human. At first she'd been annoyed; later, she was scared. She couldn't do so many things she was used to, and the thought of the dangers of this mutagen unsettled her more.

Frankly, they terrified Corbin. He was afraid of burning up completely, of his bones turning to ash, the fires that made up the rest of him dissipating in the wind, and only his ring left. The ring that was helping him contain these destructive energies, and at least hide away most of his shame, his “new bodyâ€. Most kids didn't run screaming from him; they just thought it was a “cool lookâ€. He was a dude walking around in glowing blue plate armor with a flaming skull for a head. He probably looked like a 90's heavy metal album cover.

“Hm. Kind of obvious...â€

It was a warehouse guarded by what looked to be a half-dozen life-size toy characters; ridiculous revisions of popular action figures with bizarre equipment. Bizarre equipment that did look rather deadly.

“This'll be fun. Totally.â€

Five minutes later and he was bending the warehouse doors apart; the ring didn't just help him control his powers, it granted him everything it had before. He strode in, seeing a couple of “stealthy†toys slink in the shadows....Before he stopped in front of a giant, ostentatious throne.

Upon that throne sat a young man with dark, unkempt hair and deep circles under his eyes. And he was surrounded by dozens and dozens of animated action figures, all “life size†now. The half-empty boxes next to his “throne†gave an idea of where he'd gotten his troops.

“I was right. Barrel of laughs, I tell you. At least you're not a 9-year-old in a wheelchair on a power trip. Well, not literally, anyways.â€

His existential angst forgotten for a moment, the teenager-turned-skeleton blazed forward, a large sword forming in his hands as his mouth opened in a blood-curdling yell, his eye sockets blazing like two small stars as his power came to the forefront.

For the moment, he had a fight, and that was enough. Just one more fight, one more villain, one more set of moments where he could think about something else...

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Medic

Medic stood almost motionless outside the burning house, sucking thoughtfully on a cotton ball. It was the first time she'd worn her hero costume in the field, and it was half-obscured under latex gloves and protective masks and frocks... should she find that funny?

She couldn't enter. She couldn't risk damaging her clothing. So she waited until she saw the fireman push his way out the front door, crying toddler in his arms, before moving her mask aside long enough to spit the cotton ball into her palm and jogging over. She pressed the cotton against the child's inner elbow.

“I'm still not sure exactly how this healing thingy of yours works,†the fireman admitted as he carried the child toward the ambulance.

“Not very well without skin-to-skin contact,†she replied. “Normally my nanites can interface with the command inside my body during diagnostics and...†… idle questions are not requests for detailed medical lectures... “... I mean, I'm just infusing my saliva with crude skin and muscle repair nanites. They're not great, but they'll get things started.â€

“Why are you out here instead of healing people in the hospital?â€

“The hospitals already have doctors, doctors with procedures and equipment that I'm not trained in. I'm a lot more useful out here. If I could touch my patients, staking out an emergency room might not be a bad idea, but in these conditions I'd just be in everybody's way.â€

“Hey, maybe you'd get infected and get even better healing powers,†the fireman joked as a paramedic pulled the toddler from his arms.â€

“Maybe.†Medic wasn't about to experiment with the idea, but she thought she was probably immune to the symptoms of the... whatever was going around. Her nanites “knew†what Chloe's body was supposed to be like; they'd probably be able to counteract changes as they happened, including developing powers. But she had no idea whether they'd be able to recognise the contagion. She could become a silent carrier, unknowingly dooming uninfected patients as she laid hands on them to heal them...

She ran a hand up her arm nervously, reassuring herself that her entire body was covered. No touching anyone, no matter how certain they were that they weren't infected. The risk was too high.

“Hey, if your nanites can diagnose stuff, maybe you'll solve this crisis for us,†the fireman said with a wink as he got into the truck.

Medic laughed. “My medical training isn't that good.â€

“You want a ride to the next one?†His partner was already starting the truck as he buckled in.

“Is it big?â€

“Pretty big.â€

“Then I'd be in your way. Good luck.â€

She stared at the truck as it drove away. She'd laughed, but he was right. What if she could cure the spreading illness?

What if she could?

She didn't know what it was. But she didn't know exactly how she repaired skin either. She didn't need conscious medical knowledge any more than an athlete needed to know the biological details of muscle contraction. Most of her nanites' work was unconscious. Would they know, if she gave them a chance to diagnose? If she laid her hands on an infected patient, would her nanites be able to heal them?

Even if they couldn't, would the experience tell her something – anything – that the scientists could use in developing a cure?

Medic started walking. She didn't know where she was going. Wherever it was, there'd be somebody who needed her help, if she walked around long enough.

It was too risky. It'd put her out of commission for good. She couldn't risk even one exposure. She couldn't risk the possibility of becoming infected and not knowing, of passing it on to future patients... even the possibility that her nanites might not recognise the contagion but might counteract the cure, if it was found. She had no idea how her body would react to drugs. The nanites might not allow any chemical interference, might not distinguish a cure from a toxin. Then she'd be a permanent carrier, never able to touch anybody again. To heal again.

“Help! Miss! Are you a doctor?!â€

Well, that is why I have a big red cross on my back. Medic turned to the woman calling out to her. She looked about thirty, and scared, loitering in a doorway.

“What's the problem?â€

“My daughter...â€

Medic rushed into the house and let the woman lead her upstairs.

“She said she felt sick a couple of days ago and I didn't think anything of it but now she has a fever and she's not responding to her name...â€

An open bedroom door. Medic darted inside. The girl lying on the bed looked about eleven, caked in sweat and shivering. Her eyes were half-open but unfocused. Medic took the thermometer from her mouth (she could choke on it in that state), glanced at the reading, and winced.

“Do you have any ice, ma'am?â€

The woman, standing in the doorway, silently shook her head.

“Has your daughter recently developed superpowers?â€

She glanced away. Not good. Medic looked back to her patient. They needed to get her temperature down immediately. No time for an ambulance. It might already be too late. They needed ice, they needed to bring down her temperature, and she probably couldn't cure the infection, she...

She didn't know if she could help with the infection. But she did know that she could bring down a fever. Medic peeled off a glove. She could cure fevers, and she could heal bones, and she could repair the skin and internal organs of those that the paramedics couldn't touch for fear of infection. Even if she couldn't touch the uninfected, she could keep infected patients in one piece until a cure was found. She could save this girl. And if she had any effect at all on the power-causing infection... well, that would be a nice little bonus.

Without giving herself time to reconsider, she pressed her hand against the girl's forehead and focused. After a few seconds, the shivering stopped.

I am a healer. A world-endangering plague can't scare me away from that.

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The Home Guard (Fleur de Joie)

March 7, 7pm, Sanctuary

"All right, you're good as new." Fleur de Joie smiled encouragingly at the little boy, giving his leg a pat. "No more break, just take it easy for a day or so while the poultice is still on. And stop climbing such tall trees!" Reaching behind his ear, she produced a mango and gave it to him as she stood up. With a few words of encouragement for his mother, she reclaimed her own child and left the little prefab home, heading into a perfect Sanctuary evening. The refugee camp had turned into a small village over the course of the past year, tiny but comfortable buildings and sod homes replacing the tents and communal bathroom. On a warm spring evening, people were still outside, working in gardens, cooking meals or socializing, with the small gaggle of children at play. It was the play that had done in her young patient, whose ill-advised acceptance of a dare had led to a bad fall and an emergency call to Fleur. With the emergency taken care of, circumstances were reasonably close to idyllic tonight on Sanctuary.

Stesha paused to speak to a few friends in the community, with Amaryllis gabbling right along, killing time before teleporting back to her plant home. It was empty there, as usual, and sometimes it was just nicer to spend a little time with people. But it was bedtime for certain babies, and eventually the green-haired pair returned to their cozy plant home. Stesha took her time putting Ammy to bed, then sat down with a cup of tea and turned on the television to chase away the silence. A neat little antenna from the Freedom League let her get Prime signals with just a little delay, so she was just in time to catch the evening news. Within moments, she'd set the tea aside, forgotten on the table as she called in to Liberty Hall.

"Yes, I know it's quarantined, but I can help!" she insisted into the phone, her voice sharp. "I have experience, I can heal injuries. I know the Auxiliary has got to be deploying for this!"

"All superheroes in the city are deploying," her teammate Freedom Angel told her, his sonorous voice grim. "Even some criminals have taken this chance to turn from sin. But those who are outside the city are required to remain outside and away from possible contagion. Especially a hero in your position, with a young child and an entire world to put at risk." The angel spoke with his usual warm assurance, but was too honest to mislead his friend and ally. "You can do more there, defending your home and family, than you could here."

Stesha hated that he was right, but she knew it was true. A simple teleport could take her into the city, but she wouldn't be able to come back here until the contagion was cured and the quarantine lifted. And what would happen to everyone here if she didn't return? Not only Amaryllis, and that didn't even bear thinking about, but the refugees? They had a good life now, but they weren't on their feet yet. Same with the bees, who were so vulnerable to disruptions in their uniquely gigantic food supply. If she didn't come back, they could all starve. "Let me know right away if there's anything I can do," she said, her voice heavy. "And good luck."

She put down the phone and went to the crystalline kitchen window, looking out into the deep greens of the quiet evening. A universe away, in this very spot, people she cared about were fighting for their lives, and once again the only thing she could do was hold down the fort and pray. "Good luck," she whispered again, this time to the faces flickering through her head. The heroes of Freedom were the best in the world. Surely they'd save the day one more time.

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Blood Work

March 8th, 2012

When Eric LaCroix woke, it was still dark out, but the city was still active. He could hear fire trucks roaring in the distance and helicopters flying overhead – and those were just the normal sounds. The city had been in utter chaos since the mutagen was released. For some reason – he thought it might have something to do with the necromancy – he hadn’t been affected by it. Which meant he was able to respond quickly, helping with the relief efforts and talking more than a few people down from going on a powers-crazed rampage. Still, there was only so long one guy could do so much, so he’d crashed into bed at the relatively early hour of 2 AM.

He slowly pulled himself up from bed. Normally, he would try to get what precious few minutes of sleep he could before heading out into the world, but the Black Petal planned to be open for business today, providing sandwiches and coffee for aid workers during the emergency. He was about to head for the shower when he saw the clock, and what he saw roused him from sleep instantly.

6:32 PM? he thought. How the hell is that even possible? Was I really that tired? Or did I get dosed with the stuff, end up going nocturnal? Wouldn’t I have started feeling it earlier? And why don’t I feel like I’ve got powers?

He pushed himself out of bed. He’d need to do some digging into this, but he had things he had to do first. Had to call work and apologize for sleeping in during a crucial time. Had to call his parents to say he was okay. But first, he needed a shower. And after that, some breakfast – well, dinner. He was really hungry, for some reason.

All he could think throughout the shower was how hungry he was. Well, it wasn’t just hunger – there was some thirst in there, too. He caught some of the water falling from the showerhead, but it didn’t seem to do much. Maybe he did get hit with the stuff, and was developing some weird sort of metabolism powers. What did those lead to, anyway? He’d read a few journals – regeneration, invulnerability, powers like that…

He tried to push the thought of new and strange abilities from his head. Instead, once the shower was done, he got out to shave.

Only to find, to his severe detriment, that he didn’t have a reflection. Suddenly, it all clicked into place.

“How the fu -- ?â€

---

He'd managed to get dressed. It helped to distract him from the fact that he'd turned into one of the walking, sanguine dead. How had this happened? How much of the last night did he really remember? Some vampires could fool the mind, rewrite memories - had he been attacked? No. As far as he knew, Faretti was in charge of the city's vampires, and odds were he wouldn't allow something like that. So how did it happen? The mutagen? No. Even if it made him into something that needed blood to survive and was clinically dead, odds were it wouldn't cover the mirror thing as well. That had to be magic. So a curse, then?

Obviously, he wasn't going to find any answers this way. He pulled his cell phone out and dialed the number of Adrian Eldrich. If anyone could figure this out, it would be the Master Mage. After four rings, the phone picked up. A long, drawn out death rattle went on for three seconds before finally forming into words. "Yes?"

"Um, Adrian? That you?"

"Nick?" Adrian always referred to Eric by his trade name - "professional courtesy," he called it. "Yes, yes, it's me. I'm just afraid I'm... not myself."

"You, too? You've got any idea what's doing this?"

"I have some suppositions. But --" A blast rang out on the other side of the phone, dulled by distance and, most likely, several wards. "I think you'll need to come over. There are some... slight problems on my end."

"What sort of problems?"

"Malador came to visit. And brought fifty of his less-than-sapient, less-than-mortal friends."

---

The Pale Horse sped - or rather, ambled - through the streets of Freedom. Even though the city was under some measure of control, there was still wreckage from the earlier riots and first eruptions, and the occasional genius who decided to make a statement with their new powers. Under other circumstances, Nick would have taken his chances and tried to jury-rig a ritual that could use one of the Underworlds as a short cut. But while most of the general principles of necromancy remained lodged in his head, for some reason, he couldn't put them together into one whole. He at least had his garb on - while he couldn't exactly get the skull pattern right (the lack of a useful mirror had something to do with that), his face was caked with enough white make-up to make picking him out in a lineup a difficult experience.

Guessing the fact that I'm a walking corpse now is screwing with my chi, he thought as he pulled up on Ditko Street. He could see what Eldrich had been talking about - dozens of the walking dead lingered in the street, waiting outside the old townhouse. The stench of burnt carrion filled the air; odds were some of the zombies had dashed themselves to bits on the wards in an attempt to bring them down. Now, however, they were just battering at the door. Malador was nowhere in sight, perhaps waiting to make his presence truly known once the way was clear.

Before, putting a mass of zombies back to sleep wouldn't have been a problem. The keyword, of course, was "before." Instead, he scanned the crowd of the lurking undead. Most of them were jerky on dry old bone, but a few at the back looked like they'd just walked off the slab. One was even dressed in a suit, a likely grab from a funeral parlor.

This is gonna suck, thought Nick, but it's better than all the other options. He snuck up behind one of the fresher zombies, wrapped his arms around its midsection in the bear hug from hell, and brought his fangs down on its neck. It tasted awful, like old cold cuts giving way to a mixture of cold coffee grounds and wood alcohol. It took all his will not to gag, but he managed to get the foul substance down. And as soon as it filled his stomach, it went out into his veins. He tossed the zombie over his shoulder -- and it landed across the street. His brethren turned, as one whole, towards the intruder in their midsts.

Nick cracked his knuckles. He wasn't one for brute force, in most occasions. But this was going to be... interesting. He got up a running start and charged into the masses. They pushed aside easily, some falling over from the assault. This must be what playing quarterback feels like, he thought. Once the initial push was over, the dead were on their guard, and swarming over him. But it was easy to fight back; a simple blow, no matter how glancing, could render an arm useless, and one kick to the legs would send a zombie to the ground. Eventually, a little worse for wear, he pushed through the mass of undead, crossed the threshold of the townhouse --

-- and hit the ground hard, as pain raced through him. Damn threshold, he thought as he passed out.

---

He came to in Eldrich's drawing room, way too suddenly. He'd woken from unconscious a few times before, but this was like going from off to on. Eldrich was standing over him, definitely looking worse for wear. His flesh was sunken and pale, and there wasn't much - or anything - to distinguish him from the zombies outside.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't know what had happened to you. The ward must have thought you were another one of those undead."

"What do you mean 'those undead'?" he cracked as he pulled himself to his feet. He gave his old mentor a firm handshake, and held back the grimace as he realized Eldrich's skin felt like wet tissue paper. "I'd hate to ask, but... what happened to you?"

"I was trying to figure out if there was some mystical component to this plague in the first few hours," Eldrich said, "before the reports came in. I stepped outside to help with the relief efforts when I felt it overtaking me. I rushed back in and threw up the wards - but not all of them responded." He held up his withered hands. "My state as a revenant has something to do with that. As I'm dead, the mantle of Master Mage has left me for now - but as my consciousness still lingers on this place, it hasn't found a new bearer yet."

"Well, what could do something like this? Last I heard, the plague's giving people telekinesis or super-strength or lighting them on fire. It's not turning them into vampires."

"That would be Malador's contribution. In 2005, I fought with him on an oil terminal in the Al-Faw Peninsula. Coalition efforts had got it up and running - but they dug deep enough to draw from the corpse of Tiamat, drawing her blood into the works. It was a powerful transformative agent, and Malador wanted it for himself - the idea of an army of scorpion-men no doubt appealed to his twisted senses. I managed to stop him and rob the blood of most of his mystical qualities, but he must have made off with some of it. There wouldn't be enough for it to work on its own, but if used in conjunction with an element strongly associated with change..."

"Like the mutagen. Great. So how do we set this right?"

"We'd need to --" The sound of stone walls shattering cut him off. "Damn. He's here. We must -- "

The far wall caved in, and Malador floated in through the timbers. Around his neck, resting over his tattered robes, lay a cord with a vial of black blood on the end. "Eldrich," said the undead mage. "I have always wanted to see your sanctum up close. To think I had to break in with a sledgehammer." He tilted his head. "I'm afraid you don't look so well. Are you --"

Nick took advantage of Malador's need to monologue and surged towards him. The mage waved one hand, and he bounced off of a wall of force, falling to the floor. "Is this what it's come to? Brute force? Such a shame. I thought you taught your students better, oh 'Master Mage.'" Another gesture, and Eldrich floated off the ground, bands of force wrapping around his body and constricting. "But I'm afraid that claim is gone. To think it would be this easy to steal your crown. I'm going to miss our time together... but perhaps your successor will give me some struggle."

Nick pulled himself up as Malador's spell worked at crushing Eldrich. He could hear dry bones creaking as the bands grew tighter. He tried to gather his strength and launch a second attack - and in addition to the blood, he felt something very different flowing through him. Could it be...? Yes. Ectoplasm. But how? Suddenly he realized. Not all of his tricks relied solely on the principles of necromancy. Some were gifts from individuals higher up the food chain. He focused on the flow of ectoplasm, tried to picture it mixing with the potent blood running through his veins... His hands began to twist and warp. Normally, the claws of Ereshkigal would manifest over his hands, like the world's cruelest boxing gloves. This time, though, they merged with the dead flesh, transforming the hands themselves into wicked talons.

"Hey. Your highness."

Malador turned, just in time to see Nick's claws raking towards his midsection. They pierced Malador's protections and found purchase in the undead warlock's bony chest - not that he regarded them as much more than an annoyance, but it was enough of an annoyance to draw his attention. He looked past to see Eldrich hit the ground as the bands fell apart. Malador locked eyes with Nick. "You insist of being a pest," he said as dark energy coalesced around his hands. "Perhaps I shall step on you like one --"

Thunder ripped through the room as something went through Malador's head. Eldrich had managed to retrieve a gun the size of a coat rack - an elephant gun, a relic from his time exploring Africa. The first blast had knocked him to the ground, but he was pulling himself up and taking aim again. Nick took the advantage and grabbed Malador by the arms, spinning him towards the gun. Eldrich took aim and fired, the round cutting through Malador - and Nick as well. It was a through-and-through, catching on the lining on Nick's jacket. But most importantly, it had caught the vial dead-on. The blood of Tiamat ran over Malador, and the mystic began to scream. Nick released him as he fell to all fours, the blood working its transformative magic on him. His robes tore and his limbs distended, his flesh grew full and his skull narrowed, until he was --

-- a unicorn. The world's most sinister unicorn, but still a unicorn.

"What."

"At this point," said Eldrich, "I'm not even going to ask." He brought the butt of the elephant gun down on the unicorn's head like a club; it fell to the ground, reeling from the blow, passing into unconsciousness. Eldrich was already starting to look healthier, and Nick could feel the familiar aura of magic returning to the townhouse. His mantle had been reclaimed. On top of that, he could feel his pulse, his heart beating - and realized that he'd been shot as red seeped out onto his white T-shirt. Oh, crap, he thought, bringing his hand to the wound and desperately trying to will ectoplasm into it. It flowed like water from a faucet, filling in for missing tissue and restraining lost blood. Never had he been so grateful for the talents of death.

"It appears the spell is over," Eldrich said. He looked to the unconscious unicorn. "For most. I'll make sure there's a heavily warded stable lined up for Malador. Do you need anything?"

"I think I've got myself patched up, so..." Nick ran his tongue over his teeth; he could still taste something like rust. "Got any coffee? I need to get the taste of blood out of my mouth."

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Freedom City University, March 7th, afternoon

“Um, Professor McLeod?â€

No, no, what are you – agh, you’re going to sink us into the bay if you do that. Very carefully Tarrant reached out through the earth, shoring up the deep fissure that threatened to send a city block toppling into the South River…or worse. I really wish you’d cut that out – I guess I can’t blame you, though if you don’t know how-

“Professor?†The voice was a little more concerned this time.

“Right! Yes, sorry, Sarah.†At least, he was pretty sure it was Sarah. She was the one who always wore those heavy boots to class, right? He could feel the impact they made when she nervously tapped her foot.

It’d be easier to tell if he could see. At all. Being able to see would be nice.

All the hero knew about the cause of their troubles was what the news had managed to provide – something about a mutagen, and that most of the city was in a suddenly-empowered panic. He’d been teaching class when he first saw it hit, one of his students sprouting wings…and then he saw nothing at all. At least he’d gotten a boost to his other senses in return; he counted no less than seven geokinetics out there who were barely in control of their newfound abilities, and at least two who seemed more than happy to deliberately cause as much trouble as possible.

“Jonathan’s not looking so good. He, uh, he has gills, I think, and he’s having trouble breathing....â€

He could feel her trying to keep it together, that thump-thump-thump of her boot toe against the ground. He could feel all of them, really – every individual movement painting a picture of the classroom in his mind. Sarah’s...what, a freshman? Good kid, keeping a level head. Right, water...hm. “I think one of the other professors is running a filtration experiment down in one of the basement labs; she has a big tank set up that I don’t think she’ll mind if we borrow. Hey, Max!â€

He felt somebody turn around, worn sneakers sliding against the classroom floor. “You and Jason go down to lab two and start filling up the big plexiglass tank. Sarah, pick somebody and go to my office – here’s the key – grab all the salt crystals you can find from there and the storage room in back here, in case he needs saltwater. I’ll be down in a bit.â€

“And the rest of you!†He turned his sightless eyes to where the rest of his class was sitting; most had gone when the changes started hitting in earnest, but the ones that were left apparently didn’t know where to go or what to do. Let’s change that. “I think we’ve been sitting around for long enough, hm?†Tarrant smiled, as warm and relaxed a smile as he could manage under the circumstances. “If you want to head home I won’t stop you – but please go in pairs, it’s going to be chaos out there – but if the rest of you want to stick around I think it’s high time we did a little good around here. Split up – teams of two or more, please! – and check the building for anyone else that might need help, alright? When we’re done here we’ll move to the other buildings, and try to meet up with anyone doing the same.â€

It was with great pride that he felt the – admittedly reluctant, but moving – footsteps of every last one of his remaining students pairing up and heading toward the door. It almost distracted him from somebody about to bring down a parking garage closer to midtown. Almost. That’s the third time today; what’s with you and parking garages? Come on, let’s put that pillar back together so that the whole thing doesn’t come down on anyone inside....

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