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1. Where is your hero from?

My adoption records state that I was born in Washington, D.C.  I spent my youth moving between Army bases all around the country, so in terms of homes, I don’t have one.

2. How would your hero physically describe himself?  Is this different from how others would?

I am one inch under six feet.  One-eighty-five, one-ninety pounds, thereabout.  Black hair, turning grey.  Little or no facial hair; I shave when time and memory permit.  Other people comment on less technical details.  They say I scowl often and smell like smoke.

3. Does your hero have distinguishing speech characteristics or recurring mannerisms?

My voice has a growl to it.  I sometimes play with my Zippo.  My…ahh, it was a gift, years ago.

4. What is your hero’s motivation?

I detest chaos, corruption, and crime, and it is my duty as a law enforcement officer to bring them to an end wherever they may be found. 

5. What are your hero’s greatest strengths and weaknesses?

I am both psychic and a highly-trained detective.  Unfortunately, I could be better with people.  Unless intimidation is on the table.  I am quite good at that. 

6. What does your hero love?  What does your hero hate?

I appreciate the safe stability that we can enjoy in a peaceful, law-abiding society.  I hate criminals who want to destroy that for the sake of their own power and profit. 

7. How would you describe your character’s mental and emotional state?

Grumpy.  So very grumpy.  Nonetheless, disciplined and professional, as the situation demands; a military childhood will do that to a person.

8. What does your hero fear the most?

I…sometimes want to go further than I should, when I bring the bad guys down.  Other agents tell me this isn’t unusual, but I feel, somehow, that it’s different.  Even when I don’t take a mission personally—and I almost never do—I still have the same dark satisfaction.  I wonder if there’s some part of me that lives this violent life not because it’s lawful and necessary, but because it feels good.  And I’m afraid of letting that part see the light of day.

9. What is your character’s greatest ambition?

Honestly?  I’m an oddly unambitious man.  I enjoy promotions, I suppose, but in a casual way.  I know I don’t want to rise so high in the ranks of AEGIS, or any other agency, that I find myself behind a desk all day with no time for the field.  I don’t think ambition factors into my individual missions, either; any criminal I catch is just a temporary patch, even though that does provide relief.  Someone new always steps in eventually to fill the void and cause more trouble.  Some might call this aimless floundering, but I’m already doing what I was raised and trained to do.  Maybe the only thing I’m any good at.  I can’t think of any other career I’d enjoy or excel in, and when I consider retirement, I assume I’ll fall to some kingpin or another before it happens.  And I’m almost relieved by the idea. 

At the end of the day, I suppose I’m a well-crafted tool at peace with its function.  What use does a hammer have for ambition, other than to be a better hammer?

10. How does your hero feel about the state of the world and his place in it?

I’ve seen enough of the world to know that it’s just a few bad days away from mass anarchy, and I’m one of the people working to prevent that.  I’m a sailor with a bucket, bailing out the water.  The job never ends, but somebody has to do it, or we all sink.  The state of the world is far more fragile than most people think, and my place is to keep it running without making the average citizen panic from the truth.  I’m not precisely happy about this, but I do accept it.

11. Does your hero have any prejudices?  How does he get along with others?

I think that just about everyone else, human or alien, is either dangerous, idiotic, or both.  Social interaction is a matter of finding out how right I am, for a given individual.  As a result, I wouldn’t say that I get along with others, so much as I tolerate and keep them in line.

12. Where do your hero’s loyalties lie?  In what order?

I am loyal to the codes and laws of my agency and nation, then to AEGIS itself, then to my superior officers, and finally to the general public.  On reflection, I suppose that my relationship with old partners, mentors, and commanders would be more like loyalty than friendship, but I wouldn’t betray any of the above for them.  Primarily, because if they ever asked for such a favor, they would automatically be betraying me and all I hold sacred. 

13. Does your hero have a lover or partner?  How do they feel about the hero now?

I don’t date.  It gets in the way of the job and requires more trust than I’m capable of giving.

14. Does your hero have a family?  What is the relationship there like?

All I have of my birth mother is a name; I have even less of my father.  In the past near-two-decades, since I turned eighteen and officially enlisted, I’ve seen my adopted parents maybe seven or eight times, briefly.  They’re decent people, and good soldiers, but we’ve never had real affection between us.  I felt the wall separating us at a young age; my psychic talent makes them nervous, and I understand, without resentment.  Better to call them my first superior officers than parents.

15. How would the people closest to your hero describe him?

Standoffish to the point of unpleasant.  Devoted to the job.  Not one for networking or climbing the promotion ladder, but focused on carrying out the duties of a special agent.  Even the people who know me best—and that’s a very relative category—won’t see much joy from a job well done, but there is a sense of satisfaction.  Maybe that’s enough.  Most people say it isn’t, that there’s more to life, but so far, such advice has made no difference.

16. Is your hero a role model?


17. How spiritual is your hero?  Does your hero follow a religious tradition?

I was technically raised Protestant, but it didn’t come up much.  I never had time for church.  I’ve seen a lot of strange, strange things in this world, though.  I know full well that there are forces beyond our understanding.  What I’m not sure of is whether or not any of them are nice.  I hope there’s a God, or even just a force, out there with a plan that’ll make all the bad parts of life worth it, in the end.  But I don’t know, feel, or have the time to figure out the details.  You want spiritual advice, go find a preacher.  You want some cackling supervillain knocked in the dirt, then that, I can do.

18. Is your hero part of a team?  Why?

I’ve always had some form of support, even when I work alone.  Currently, it’s AEGIS, and I’m happy with the arrangement (happy as I am with anything; they still have too much red tape, but there’s just no helping it).  Being part of a team is the only way to really get things done on a large-scale, long-term basis.  If we think it sometimes feels hopeless to bring down one kingpin and have another step in a few weeks later, then that’s nothing compared to life as a lone vigilante.  They’re just solitary candles in the dark, and once they burn out, it’s as if they were never here at all.  At least I’ve got backup batteries for when I start going dim.

19. How does your hero feel about the place of metahumans and aliens on Earth?

I look at it just like immigration from another country.  Local traditions and rules might be different, so it’s best to clear up any misunderstandings quickly, but so long as they’re law-abiding in the end, I don’t care.  If someone makes trouble, then they’re making trouble.  If they aren’t, then they aren’t.  It doesn’t matter to me how many legs you’ve got, or if you’re some flying jellyfish thing that eats light and breathes sound; I just bring in the bad guys. 

20. If you could give one piece of advice to your hero, what would it be?

Other people make life worth living.  If you don’t eventually realize this, then you’ll wind up an old man sitting alone someday, suddenly wishing you had. 

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  • 2 months later...



The storage facility looked deserted at first glance, lit only by the occasional floodlight and the half-moon that peaked through the clouds above.  When movement did become apparent, it might’ve only been a few late workers clustering around the last shipping container, just recently brought up from the nearby shipyard.  The handful of dark shapes stood in a loose circle, their voices muffled by distance even as they echoed, incomprehensible, between the rows of metal roll-up doors.  One of the shapes passed another a cigarette.  Someone laughed.  Soon, they split apart, some moving for the tall fence surrounding the property while others headed deeper into the maze.  Only when the light caught just right could an onlooker properly see the short-barreled rifle tucked under each guard’s arm.  Even less clear were their watchful eyes, their wary movements. 


But someone saw.  And when one of the guards let their patrol route carry them out of sight from the others, the man suddenly went flying up and over the fence, unable to even scream, for his jaw had mysteriously glued itself shut.





Cadet James Warne waited as patiently as he could, but his eagerness couldn’t help but slip through.  He fidgeted, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, and tried to focus his attention out the window on the Calico Mountains.  Having lived in Fort Irwin for the past year and a half, the sight was hardly interesting, especially today.  Looking down on the training center wasn’t much better.  Two rows of soldiers jogged quickly in formation; over there, a cluster of privates snapped to attention and saluted a passing officer.  Somewhere, Warne heard a Jeep engine sputter to life. 


He started pacing to pass the time.  With one hand he lightly slapped his camouflaged hat against his pants of the same design.  He looked at the clock, then looked again, disappointed and feeling that more than just a few seconds should have passed. 


The unannounced voice behind him made him jump.  When he turned around, his posture straightened, and he whipped one hand up to his brow even before his brain registered who he was actually looking at. 


“Major!” came automatically, followed a more sincere “Major Reyes, sir!” 


The older man before him smiled beneath his neatly groomed mustache and brushed back his thick hair with one hand.  He was only in his thirties, but white strands were already creeping in from the stress of his job—a phenomenon Warne would come to know himself. 


“At ease, cadet.  And happy eighteenth birthday.”





It seemed as though the facility was being infiltrated by a ghost, for the key taken from the now-handcuffed guard’s pocket floated through the fence, fitted into the padlock, opened it, and swung the gate aside with a soft squeak.  But the clicking of black dress shoes sounded human enough.  They walked purposefully down the first row, then darted for cover and fell silent as two more guards appeared from around the far corner. 


The first bumped into her partner when he stopped abruptly, his face frozen in its last expression.  For no apparent reason, he swung his rifle into her teeth, followed by slamming his entire body against hers, lifted right off his feet.  Together they slid across the asphalt, a tangle of limbs and confusion.  The pair didn’t stop until they went right out the front gate and into the night, where new friends were waiting eagerly to meet them.





Major Carroll Reyes, originally from Texas, looked up and down at the boy in front of him.  Young man, he corrected himself, especially as of today.  Their last meeting was a few years ago on the east coast.  Although their encounters probably numbered under a dozen, a simple bond had nonetheless taken hold, for reasons that no one else fully understood.  Their superiors were willing to capitalize on that connection, of course, given the value of this asset.  Which was the root of their relationship: Reyes held no illusions about Warne being anything but a future soldier who could quite possibly die in the service of the United States, but at least he saw the cadet as a cadet instead of a vessel for his psychic abilities.  They had never spoken about it, but something came through with his demeanor, and Warne sensed it, responding accordingly to this rare treatment as an actual human being. 


“You got taller,” Reyes pointed out.  “Broader, too.  Training’s going good for you, I can tell.” 


Warne rubbed his shaved head with mild embarrassment.  “You think so?”


“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be taking you in my regiment.  …Well, I would, since orders are orders.  But I wouldn’t like it much.”  He chuckled deeply; his voice, though smooth, had a smoker’s rumble to it. 


What?” Warne asked excitedly.  He coughed, steadied himself, tempered his smile—how rare those were for him, even now—and said more calmly, “That’s…I’m glad.  I won’t let you down, sir.” 


“We’ll see,” Reyes replied, blunt but not cruel.  He reached into his jacket and brought out a vanilla folder.  “Your enlistment papers, by the way, signed and approved.  I’ll need those back, but you can look them over.  Page two in particular.  Which goes along with this…”  His other hand went to his pocket, returning with a small box. 





Another guard found himself slamming repeatedly against the wall of a storage unit until his eyes crossed, then flew over the fence just like his friends.  Two more managed to spot his strange movement through the sky, came to investigate, and discovered that their rifle barrels folded back like something out of a cartoon.  Even more alarming was when an empty freight container swung around, slid forward, and ate them, its open front collapsing and trapping them inside. 


This made enough noise to finally attract the attention of Christian Mannis, illegal arms dealer and all-around nasty person.  He hopped off the wooden crate where he’d been waiting with decreasing patience; his client was supposed to be here twenty minutes ago and wouldn’t answer his phone.  Mannis hadn’t stayed free (or alive) for this long by having poor instincts.  They were sounding off loudly now, and when he radioed his perimeter guards without any response, that was that. 


“We’re out of here!” he snapped to the pair of mercenaries standing by the door.  “Leave the cargo and let’s go.”  It was a shame to lose so much merchandise, but this wouldn’t be the first time.  So long as it wasn’t his last either, he could tolerate the missing revenue. 


His guards went out first.  Then came back in again, glided all the way across the room, and right through the far wall, screaming the whole way. 





“A Zippo, sir?” Warne asked, or rather stated his puzzlement.  The lighter was certainly a nice one, engraved with a stylish golden A.


“Mm.  I hear you’ve been breaking the law a bit with the other cadets.  Cigarettes are illegal until you’re eighteen, in case you haven’t heard.”  He lifted his bushy eyebrows.  “Not that I can say much.  I was no better at your age.  Guess there’s a reason no one’s made a big deal out of it yet.  Doesn’t matter as of today, anyway.  Consider it your birthday present.” 


Flustered but relieved, Warne nodded and turned his eyes back to the Zippo to cover his mild shame.  “…Uhh, so, A for Army?”


“Not quite.  Check those papers.”





Come and get me, you piece of—


Mannis’ insult got cut short by the door that broke free of its hinges and nearly slapped him to the floor.  He was a nimble man, and fierce too.  If he had to go down, then he’d damn well go fighting.  Pivoting his weight, he led his charge with the impressive weapon clamped around his right hand and forearm: a wicked mechanical scythe-claw that could swing back or forward at a squeeze of his fingers.  The odd range of motions caught most opponents off guard; he could bring his arm one way but have the weapon come from the other, or slice with no forewarning from his body language.  He’d performed more than a few decapitations with no more than a flick of his wrist. 


Some of his employees used this to make a joke about his last name, calling him Mister Mantis instead.  Mannis rather liked the sound of it; something like that could really help you build a brand.


Which was why he was so alarmed when his own device betrayed him, crushing under invisible force, the blade snapping off and its components buckling inward.  He howled as his thumb broke.  Mannis pulled ineffectively at the ruined metal, but his mere human strength couldn’t free his trapped hand, not even with the rush of adrenaline and rage. 


Only when he looked up, eyes blurred with tears of pain, did he at last see the man who had come for him.





“Adept?” Warne read the word on the sheet.  “I get a code name?”


“Might as well.  Some people think you’re special for some reason.”  Reyes’ blue eyes sparkled. 


Warne plainly didn’t see the significance, but he could appreciate the thought.  “Well thank you, sir.  For this and the lighter.” 


Reyes held up one hand.  “Don’t rush past this.  I want you to understand.  Do you know what the word means?  A proficient person.  An expert.  Someone with skills.” 


“Like my…well, you know.”  Warne dropped his palm an inch, but the Zippo hung in the air for just a second before falling.  His talents were supposed to stay somewhat confidential on the military base.  The room may have been otherwise empty, but his predisposition for secrecy was deeply ingrained. 


“No, that’s not what I mean.  It’s what everyone else means.  It’s what everyone else cares about.  But not me.”





Mannis snatched his sidearm from its holster and aimed with his left hand at the man in the black suit and tie.  A Fed, he knew at first glance.  This stiff, grim figure had the signs written all over him.  Of course, federal agents didn’t usually use freakin’ magic or whatever this was, but Mannis decided he could worry about that after he scraped this guy’s brains off his shoes. 


He lined his sights down the agent’s nose in a quick, reflexive second…but his finger wouldn’t pull the trigger.  Suddenly, his whole body wouldn’t do anything.  He was stuck in a half-crouched position, his right arm flung out to the side, held still as a statue. 


The agent stood in the open doorway for a long moment.  He took a pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket, lit one with a Zippo, inhaled deeply, and then at last stepped through.  He walked around Mannis’ side and pointedly pressed the safety on his pistol with one finger.  The arms dealer felt his hand spread against his will until he no longer maintained his grip on the gun, which dropped…but halted just inches from the floor.  It floated to its former height, the agent took a plastic evidence bag from another pocket, and the gun tipped gently into it. 


“Evening, Mannis,” the man growled softly in his ear. 


He walked past the frozen criminal to the crates across the room.  Mannis could hear him tap his knuckles lightly against a wooden lid.  Although he couldn’t move his facial muscles, he nonetheless smiled inwardly.  Perhaps he wasn’t finished after all…


“Pearson, your client, won’t be joining us tonight,” the agent told him casually.  “Perhaps the two of you can share a cell someday.  But for now, I’m afraid it’s just you and me.  …Now, what do we have in here…”


Mannis heard the telltale sound of a prying crate lid, the nails groaning as they pulled away.  He wasn’t as unprepared as this smug magician might think: one of the containers was trapped with a grenade on a wire.  Whether he opened it with a crowbar or his dirty wizard tricks, the result would still be just as messy. 





“I told you already that training’s been good for you,” Reyes explained.  “You’ve had plenty of it.  Not just for that one little talent.  The best soldier isn’t the best because of gear, or muscles, or numbers at your back.  It’s the skills.  Your brain does more than just move things around.”  He reached out and lightly tapped Warne’s forehead with one finger. 


“Some people wanted you to skip the usual cadet courses.  Focus on that flashy thing.  Not me.  Not the experienced officers I helped rally against the idea.  We’ve had our boots on the ground and we know what it takes.  That one trick might’ve gotten you noticed, but it isn’t what’ll keep you alive or get the job done time after time.  You’re smart, Warne.  You can learn.  Under my command, I’ll see to it that you keep learning. 


“That’s what the name means.  You’re not…Brain-Boy, or Captain Move-Stuff, or any of that show-off nonsense the Capes do on TV.  You’re Adept now, and that means you’ve got skills.”





The deafening explosion never came.  Instead, Mannis listened as his captor hummed vaguely, fiddled with the crates, and eventually made a series of subtle clicks and snips.  He returned with a grenade hovering just above his palm. 


“That was a nasty thing to try,” he chastised smugly.  “I could’ve left it for the bomb squad to find, but since your old partner Cooper mentioned a few of your habits during our last…chat, I thought I might as well tidy up before we conclude our business.”


Mannis felt his body straighten out, even as his spirits withered.  His arms bent behind his back.  His mechanical arm-blade was too bulky to cuff, but it didn’t matter; he rotated so that he rested on an invisible gurney, held more securely than any restraints he’d ever experienced.  In this position, he went through the door with the strange man walking a few steps behind his outstretched feet.


The facility was swarming with agents by the time they emerged.  Several converged on Mannis, hauled him upright, and pulled him away.  He looked over his shoulder with snarl and watched as a small group approached that awful bastard who caused him so much trouble.


“Well done, Warne,” one said with a handshake.  “And not a single shot fired, from either side.”


“I like to keep things clean, sir.”


“I’m glad, I’m glad.”  He turned and extended his arm toward his companions.  “Now, some people here want to meet you.  These are Agents Morgan and Brooks.  Of AEGIS,” he added with an upturn to his tone.


“Ah.  Ah. 


“We’ve been monitoring your progress for some time now,” the lead agent said.  “I assume you’ll want to get some rest, but tomorrow, after you write your report, we would like to speak with you about an opportunity.”


“…Yes ma’am.  I can do that.” 


Enraged, Mannis turned around, pulling the agent at his right arm with him.  “You think you won?!” he roared.  I won’t forget this!


More Feds hurried to restrain him.  “Face it, buddy—you lost.”


“That’s what you think?  That’s what you think?!


He lashed out with his feet, bit someone, and managed to bring his left hand to the mechanisms on his right.  Maybe Mannis wasn’t a genius, but he knew his business.  He knew the risks.  He knew the value of a contingency plan, and he pressed a subtle switch amidst the broken gears.


Better Hell than prison, he thought, as fire and shrapnel tore off his right arm and threw him down into the darkness.  And better still to take some of them with me.


He did, too, though neither he nor Adept was fated to die that night.  But at least Mannis was right about one thing.


He would not forget. 

Edited by Blarghy
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