Doppler puts his hands into the pockets of his coat, and a grin creeps over his lips. He studies everyone in turn, starting with Visionary, then Tether and finally Shaun. Once he’s done roaming his eyes over them, he turns slightly so he can see his companion. The larger, dark skinned man has remained quiet for the time being. He didn’t seem hesitant; he exuded an aura of calculation and patience, studying everyone with meticulous care. The air grew thick with tension and unease, until Doppler finally spoke again.
“I see you’ve got new recruits, Visionary my dear. I’m to assume you’re filling in the gaps that have been left. ‘course, I didn’t take you much for a babysitter.” Doppler spoke with a little mock in his voice. Visionary didn’t respond, unphased by his comments.
Shaun glanced between them, studying their body language to each other. Visionary didn’t seem hostile, though Shaun hadn’t seen her look this intense before. She was waiting, a coiled spring being drawn ever tighter. If there was any resentment, it would be a fury more cold than hot.
“Do you two know each other?” He asked, turning his head to Doppler. “Who is this shitlord?”
Doppler snerked, almost unable to restrain a laugh. Visionary gave Shaun a telling glance, perhaps giving him a stare to scold him for his language, though it was hard to say if it was any residual hostility reflected back to him for his remark.
“Colourful mouth on you, ain’t’cha?” Doppler pulls his hands out of his pockets, holding them out to his sides. It looked like he started shrugging, then paused mid-gesture. “We go a bit back, herself and I. My line of work as a mercantile individual has me come across, shall we say, less than legal opportunities of work. Lucrative opportunities, I might add. Because of this simple fact, and because I myself am Fartouched, the National Farside Unit is in charge of any attempts to arrest me. Thus, we’ve met, and we’ve clashed on several occasions.” He shoots Visionary a quick glance. “I’m the proverbial ‘one that got away’. I don’t think Visionary minds that oh so much, rather than the other part that may be miffing her off.”
Visionary watched, and a second passed. She took it as a cue to speak. “We had an agent in the NFU who had attended an incident caused by Doppler. Shortly after, he left us. Following his departure, he’d joined up with Doppler and his crew. Doppler thinks I’m resentful to him because he, quote unquote, ‘poached one of our agents’.”
“And here we are.” Doppler spreads his arms out, gesturing to everyone. “You learn something new everyday. Used to be called Factotum when he was part of the NFU, now they call him Jack. Jack of all Trades Clever little bugger, he is. ‘course, once he realised how much money we were making compared to him, and knowing we’re not all about the illegal side of mercenary work, he gladly signed himself up for a change of pace.”
Doppler turned to his companion, and the smile on his face slowly slid off. This caught his attention, and they both shared eye contact.
“Y’know, you could at least say somethin’.” Doppler, defeated, rolled his eyes. “I know I didn’t hire you for your extroverted, charmin’ personality, but you’re standin’ there like a soddin’ statue. Where’s your personality?”
The man did eventually speak because of this. His voice was deep, rich hints of a Jamaican accent. “I was studying them. Sorry.”
“See? He’s got a voice.” Doppler nodded, then took a few paces to the side. “Well, seeing as we’re all quite civil before the fireworks start, I’m sure you’re dying to introduce yourself. Come on, what names did they conjure for you?”
Tether didn’t hesitate. He reached into his pocket, taking something into his hand He hopes neither of them saw the marble he’d palmed away. “Tether.”
“Ah. And you, young man?”
Shaun looked at Doppler, and shook his head. “I’m new. No name yet.”
“That’d explain your paltry attempt at a costume, my lad. Let’s call you Mug, because frankly, you look like the kind that’d try to take my wallet off me in an alley.”
“Why’s everyone think that?” Shaun said, somewhat uncharacteristically in the stand-off. “Seriously. You’ve put some thought into your outfit. What makes you think I look like a mugger?”
Doppler raised an eyebrow, then folded his arms, holding them low. “The whole collar pulled up, jacket and hoodie, you don’t look like an agent, lad. You look like a scoundrel dragged in from the streets. It’s not what I’d call a ‘professional look’.”
“It’s not that bad.” Shaun said.
“I’m sure if you’re still in after our little skirmish, they’ll have a costume ready for you. This here-” He walked over, putting a hand on his companion’s shoulder. “-is my good friend and newest member of the team. Sort of trying out for the position. Call him… spot. No, wait. Discern? Do you think that’s- no, wait, we’d both have a name starting with the same letter.” Doppler rubs his chin. His attitude is extremely laid back, though Visionary has yet to make a move. She’s still waiting, so Shaun and Tether aren’t willing to advance. “Any ideas?”
He spoke again, looking at Doppler. “Secern.”
“Ooh.” Doppler sounded, nodding. “That’s a fancy word, that is. It’d suit you and suit us well. Lady, and gentlemen, this is Secern.” He patted him on the shoulder. “Before we get underway, I’m sure you’re curious what this fine gentleman is all about. Much to your dismay, I’m not telling you shite. He will however, tell me a little about you though.”
Eyebrows were raised all around, as the agents shared glances. Secern turned his head and looked over everyone in turn. He spoke slow, methodically. His attention went from his left to his right; Tether, Visionary, Shaun.
“That boy. Powers do not work at range. Needs to touch both things. The woman. Blocked by walls, limited range. The other boy-”
Secern stopped, and studied Shaun. His expression changed from confusion, then disbelief. Eventually, he looked slightly shocked.
“The… other boy.” Doppler prompted him.
“Nothing.” He said, turning his head to Doppler.
“What do you mean, nothing?” He replied with, in disbelief. “Everyone’s got a soddin’ weakness. Look again.”
“I have.” He reiterated. “I see nothing. The boy is blank.”
Doppler looked as if he wished to drag the argument out of him, but stopped. He took a glance to Shaun, who gave him a look back with raised eyebrows. Doppler contemplated on the seconds of pause he had between words, and smiled gently. “I will defer to your wisdom on this, Secend. If you’re telling me there’s nothin’ to read, I’ll take your word for it. Which means, be careful, if you’re not sure what tricks he might pull.”
Secern nodded. “Yes, boss.”
“Not much of a talker, but he does what he does, and he does it well.”
“You talk enough for the both of you.” Shaun said. He’d dropped all pretence of being in a ready, balanced stance, and took a step forward. Tether looked to Visionary, to see if she reacted to this. She hadn’t, and Shaun was taking another few steps towards Doppler. “I’m not sure if this is just a way to stall us, or something like that, so let’s just cut all this crap down. You two are coming with us, so let’s just drop this whole thing, and let’s make this easy.”
Doppler eyed up Shaun, and held his hands out to the side, exposing his abdomen. “Bit big for your boots, aren’t you? I already told you, we’re not gonna play like that. ‘course, I am a good sport.” He let his hands lay to his side. “I’ll let you make the first grab. Free of charge, I won’t even resist. One fair chance. Once you take that chance, we’ll start right and proper.”
“Just like that?” Shaun was now standing opposite Doppler, within arm’s reach. Visionary turned to Tether and nodded, and he tightened up his posture in preparation. Secern took a step back, and adopted more of a brawling stance at Shaun, though he didn’t show any eagerness to engage him.
“Just like that. Just don’t scuff my tie, alright? It wasn’t cheap. Ain’t cheap to look this good.”
Shaun turned behind him and looked at Visionary, and picked up on their readiness. He was aware of the situation, nodding firmly to them to bolster their confidence. When he turned around, Doppler was still there and hadn’t moved. He raised his hand up, and Doppler watched it carefully. Shaun moved in, without haste nor slacking his speed, and gripped tightly Doppler’s waistcoat firmly in the ball of his hand.
Shaun raised his eyebrows. “That wasn’t so bad.”
When Shaun looked up at Doppler, he heard a sound best described as a thick chunk of air being sucked inwards, a chunk of noise that only lasted half a second. Doppler himself had changed, and looked as if he was drenched in shadows. He had the appearance that was better suited to a midnight hour without lightning, with his features just about discernible through the navy darkness that covered every inch of his skin, his clothes. Shaun still felt him in his fingertips, as if nothing physically had changed.
It only lasted two seconds, enough time for Doppler to say “Not so much” before Shaun’s gripped nothing. Just like he heard air drawn inwards, it sounded like the compacted air was released again, like a small gout of pressure.
Behind him, Shaun didn’t realise that a second version of Doppler had appeared further away, behind Visionary. His arm already swinging forward as if he’d cocked his fist back before he even appeared, and this duplicate appeared the instant that Doppler had changed colours.
The fist came swinging and Visionary, with wide eyes, managed to bring her head down to avoid being cracked in the temple. Tether only realised what was happening when Visionary avoided the blow. As he turned to face them to try and understand what was going on, Visionary snapped her body round and swept her leg around, to intersect with Doppler’s shins. Just before she’d managed to make contact with him, his skin flashed with colour once again, just as the copy that Shaun held vanished, and his skin shifted colour again.
This version of Doppler had just managed to leap over the foot, but he didn’t have any greater reactions than normal. Visionary was already bringing a bar mace into his shadowy ribs, and the impact sounded brutal. Bones cracked from the bludgeoning strike, and this Doppler heaved out a groan of pain. Just like before, in the span of about two seconds, that version had vanished.
Doppler’s other version of himself was standing ten feet away from Tether. A straight line could be drawn between him and Visionary, with Tether directly in the middle. He had his hands in his pockets, smirking slightly.
Shaun turned around, and didn’t catch what had just happened. He saw Visionary, getting up from recently swinging, readjusting herself. Tether took his meteor hammer out fully now, starting to swing one end around like a lasso.
“That would have hurt me, you know. Not very nice of you, love. Not nice at all.” Doppler shrugs, raising an eyebrow. “You had your chance-”
Doppler’s colours shifted to shadows. Shaun heard the voice from behind him, finishing off the sentence.
“-and you missed it, Mug.”
Shaun reacted, and turned to swing his right elbow into where he thought Doppler was. It connected with his arm and Shaun felt the impact, but the duplicate didn’t last long. It vanished into nothingness, and Shaun staggered slightly from the displacement effect. Doppler was still standing where he was before, looking over to Shaun with a grin.
“That felt like it might have broken something. Good thing I’m way over here.”
With Shaun’s back turned, he didn’t notice that Secern had made a break for it. He bolted, running over to Visionary and Tether. Their attention suddenly split, between Secern running straight for Visionary and Tether, and what Doppler was planning.
Shaun started to run after Secern, and got a few steps away before Doppler appeared between their paths, a little to the left. Shaun hesitated for a second, and decided to try and take the newer target, and charged towards him. Just before he could tackle him, Doppler vanished, and Shaun staggered forward. Doppler was where he stood before, and cracked another grin. He turned his attention to Visionary and Tether. Visionary looked ready to intercept Secern, who was aggressively running over. Tether started to wind up his meteor hammer ready, with one hand still palming a marble he had from before.
“Surprise!” Doppler shouted out, as he swung for Visionary again. He made another duplicate behind Visionary and aimed to strike her as he did before. She managed to evade the blow, buckling over forward to do so, and abandoned another kick. Instead, she swung out widely with one of her maces, wheeling herself around in the process. His duplicate had already vanished before the mace could connect. A second later, Doppler appeared again, half a dozen feet from where his duplicate was last and closer to Tether and Visionary. He was mid-gesture, cracking his knuckles as his colours faded back into life.
Visionary turned to Doppler, though she held out her maces to show she also had the approaching Secern in mind. His charge had slowed down as he lurked and circled around, prowling away from Visionary to move closer to Tether. Tether drew one of the ends of his meteor hammer into his hand, linking it to his glove with a click. He watched carefully, letting the marble out of his hand drop to the floor. Discarded, it bounced and rolled away from the group.
Shaun wasn’t just standing around, and he started to advance on the group. He made his way over to Secern and Tether, noticing they had started to part and divide, taking a person each. Visionary was waiting, as was Doppler, and they were exchanging glances. Looking for openings to present themselves, or both being reactive to each other. They looked well versed in this exchange. Tether and Secern on the other hand, were stepping back and forth. Tether swung the hammer to keep him back but Secern was trying to close the gap. Everyone was waiting for an opportunity, not willing to take the risk of diving in first.
Doppler acted first.
Shadows drenched him, and Shaun saw Doppler a few feet from him. His fist already cocked back mid-motion, inches from his face.
His punch connected, and Doppler didn’t hold back. Shaun was still walking, and his fist struck his nose with no adverse effects. Shaun’s movement carried Doppler’s arm with him, and shoved the duplicate off balance. Doppler yanked his arm back and made a movement to grab his fist in pain, but he didn’t have time to finish. His clone had already vanished from view into nothingness
The real Doppler stood there, half amused, half shocked. “Fackin’ hell, it’s like punchin’ a brick wall!”
Visionary moved into action, and took a few steps closer to Doppler. Doppler’s colours shifted again, the original moving backwards to keep the gap closed. His duplicate was behind Visionary, foot swinging for her midsection. She had either anticipated his move or had reactions quick enough to counter his sudden teleportation, as she stopped her stride to counter him. She swung her mace, striking straight into his knee. The crack was sickening, and she was shoved back from the combined force of her own attack and the momentum he had whilst kicking, but she had pre-emptively struck Doppler and saved herself from a dangerous attack.
The duplicate vanished, but the real Doppler has closed the gap, full of colour once more. Hands up like a bare knuckle fighter, lunging out with a straight right jab. She retaliated, bringing the mace furthest away from him to try and catch him in the ribs whilst keeping the closer mace for defence. He used his powers again, and shadows engorged him. The blow struck into his side, smashing flesh and cracking bones.
A second Doppler was behind her, fist brought into an uppercut, aimed towards the arch in her back. Sandwiched between the two Dopplers, she wove past the side of the Doppler she struck with her mace, just at the moment it had hit him, and he was too stunned to react to sieze her. The blow from the newly made Doppler just skimmed past her, and she wheeled about on her feet after clearing the way to see the one that she had hit vanish from view, and the other Doppler changing his stance. Fists up, a coy smile obscured by his hands.
As this was going on, Tether and Secern had begun. Tether swung out of the end of the meteor hammer, swinging slightly wide. Secern took this opportunity to evade the blow and stepped in, arms starting to outstretch. Tether raised his hand up to the opposite shoulder and clicked, and the end of the meteor hammer was brought back over to him. He was stepping back to keep the distance, with the hammer being brought directly to his hand. He threw it behind him, drawing out a length of rope before swinging it in a wide arc. Secern stopped for a second, resisting the impulse to jump as he felt part of the rope curve against his calf.
Tether clicked, and drew the meteor hammer back towards his hand. It was already far to the left of either of them, and it flung from the side of Secern to his hand. The rope was pulled as well, and it pulled the rug from underneath his feet. He fell backwards as the rope snatched his feet away. Tether ducked, and brought his hand down, so that the end of the hammer flew over his head. It swung around his head in an arc, and he directed its momentum overhead, bringing it down into Secern.
Secern had been watching, although what occurred lasted for a scant few seconds, and he rolled over to the right to avoid being struck in the middle of his ribcage. Tether heaved and pulled the hammer back around,. So it swung over his head in a counter clockwise motion. He swung it once to gain the momentum needed, then swept it around in a curve, to sweep against the floor. He’d eschewed slamming downwards, aiming to get a guaranteed hit.
Secern rolled onto his side. Although it would have been safer to turn away, he turned towards the impact. It came in, slamming into his stomach, and he clutched against the point of impact. Tether realised that he wasn’t so much holding his stomach, as holding the part of the hammer that hit into him, and had possibly taken the hit on purpose. He rolled onto his back, and Tether found him sharply pulling on the rope with brawn. Tether stumbled forward, and reached for the other end of his meteor hammer to try and use it against Secern.
He didn’t relent, and pulled again on the rope. Tether almost lurched over but just about kept his footing. In a moment of hesitation, between letting go of the rope and giving his enemy his weapon, and drawing it back to him, he raised his hand up and clicked, bringing the held piece upwards. Secern held onto it tightly, and he was flung to his feet as the meteor hammer was drawn back to Tether’s gloves. He landed a few feet away from him and caught his balance, then charged straight at Tether.
Shaun was hesitant. He watched the next few seconds unfold before him, and he wasn’t quite sure which way he should go. If he helped Visionary, Tether would be at Secern’s mercy. Visionary needed help with Doppler, and he wasn’t sure if she could handle him without help.
Ultimately, Shaun decided to go to Visionary.
Doppler had noticed, and was busy keeping his distance from Visionary whilst sending in duplicated to accost her. When she got too close, he teleported further away before carrying on the same routine, trying to find a moment where he could strike at her. As he saw Shaun approaching, he raised his eyebrows. Visionary had come close again, and Doppler didn’t even dodge when she brought her bar mace straight into his skull. She even noticed this, and her eyes darted around, shifting with unnatural speeds, until she turned her head towards Tether. The Doppler duplicate next to Shaun and Visionary had vanished.
Shaun turned just in time to see Doppler hook his arms beneath Tether’s own without him noticing, and held him in a tight full nelson hold. Tether couldn’t react quick enough as Secern stepped in from being pulled in before, and uppercut straight into Tether’s defenceless torso, with Doppler holding him still. He coughed, as the air was forcefully evacuated from his lungs by the blow.
“Tether!” Shaun called out, as soon as what happened hit him.
Visionary started to rush over, with Shaun soon to follow. Visionary stopped just in time for a duplicate of Doppler to appear, throwing a familiar uppercut in her direction. She almost didn’t stop, and reacted the instant that Doppler teleported a duplicate over, and threw herself backwards. She barely avoiding her nose being clipped, and the Doppler clone vanished just a moment afterwards. He sent another behind her, trying to tear through her knee with a low kick, and she staggered backwards.
She had an opportunity to strike back at that point but she restrained herself, neglecting to take the opportunity. She called out instead, making her words brief.
“Shaun, go to Tether.”
Doppler’s double vanished from view. The real Doppler was holding Tether as Secern was pounding away, at ribs and his stomach. Shaun nodded to her, and he put his foot down and launched himself over, crossing the distance in a single bounding leap.
Doppler was watching, and his colours shifted again. The duplicate didn’t appear near Visionary this time, but as two seconds passed, he had teleported himself away and let the version of himself holding Tether vanish into nothing. Doppler was the only thing holding Tether up, and he baulked over without his support, coughing violently and gripping his ribs.
Secern brought his leg back, intent on shoving his knee through Tether’s face. Shaun was next to him before he could do so, and he paused when Shaun grabbed him by the arm. Shaun almost made it look effortless when a simple shove from his hand looked like he’d been blown off his feet. Secern fell backward and tumbled, rolling over once. Shaun didn’t stop and hopped over, crossing the distance to where he landed. He knelt over and grabbed him by the bicep, as much as Secern silently protested and thrashed, Shaun’s grip was too complete for him to resist him. He almost looked desperate, fearful at his captor, before Shaun moved up and hurled him from the floor.
In one smooth motion, Shaun had grabbed him and flung him off his feet, launching him across the room. His aim was careful, with only one of the white boxes in his path. Secern hit the floor before it, rolled over, then slammed into the box with enough force to cause the whole fixture to rattle. Wrenches and screwdrivers flew off the top, rolling onto the floor. Secern hadn’t been rendered unconscious, but the hit was strong enough to stun him for the time being. A screwdriver handed on his head, and he flinched from the impact.
Doppler watched from afar, having distanced himself to avoid being taken out. He had found a muffler from a car, attached to the exhaust, weighing it up in his hand. Shaun was kneeling, helping Tether to his feet. He saw Secern was catching his breath, grabbing the screwdriver that was in his hand. Visionary was power walking over as well, to check on their comrade in arms.
“He’s a tough’un. Let’s see if this rattles his bucket.”
Doppler felt his power shift at his command, and watched as his duplicate appeared besides Shaun. He’d willed it to be mid-swing with the exhaust in hand, using it like an improvised club or bludgeon. He brought the weapon in an upwards arc, slamming it clearly into Shaun’s face, enough that the force of the blow reverberated around the room, the clang of denting metal. Shaun hadn’t braced so much for it, so his head shifted slightly. The most damage was done to Doppler’s clone’s exhaust, which was crumpled and bent. Doppler also could manage the senses of his duplicates as long as they were active, and saw that no damage had been done to Shaun at all. Other than a slight frown on his face. The duplicate vanished as Shaun swung his arm out, and though Doppler couldn’t tell just how hard he was about to be hit, he could wager that he wasn’t going to pull that particular punch.
The exhaust in his hand was no worse for wear, as much as he could tell. As long as he didn’t jump into the clone’s body when he was active, his actual weapon would remain as pristine as when he grabbed it. He conjured another duplicate to do the same as he did just before, to harry and test how tough he was. Shaun was standing now, and the duplicate’s weapon slammed into the side of his skull. The weapon bounced off with no ill effect, though this time Shaun was aware enough to react, and threw a backhand into Doppler’s arm. Just a second before the duplicate vanished, Doppler felt every bone snap on contact and the odd sensation of having his arm torn in half, clean off from a single punch.
He elected not to inhabit that clone’s body.
“Are you done?” Shaun called out, staring in Doppler’s direction.
He called out afterwards, responding. “Won’t be doing that again, I can assure you. You’ve got one hell of a thick skull, Mug.”
Visionary put away one of her maces, and helped Tether to stand up, letting him rest on her right shoulder. She still held her mace tightly, but Tether tried to pull away from her. She turned to him, giving him a questioning look.
“I’m fine.” He said. “Just took a few hits.”
Visionary shook her head to disagree with him, and he lost the will to resist her afterwards. He nodded to her, and let her help him to stay stood.
Doppler shifted colours again, with darkness colouring his body. “Won’t be hitting you, anyway.”
Tether turned and raised his arm just in time for Doppler’s duplicate to bring the exhaust swinging into it, using it like a baseball bat. It smashed against his arm, and Tether was flung out of Visionary’s grasp and sent sprawling to the floor. He let out a pained howl, gripping his arm and rolling on the floor. His face was clutched in agony.
The duplicate vanished. Shaun went wide eyed, and turned to Doppler.
“You fucking bastard-”
“Shaun, don’t!” Visionary called out. It was too late, and Shaun had already leapt over, throwing himself across the room to get to Doppler.
Doppler saw it all unfold. Shaun practically threw himself over to try and get revenge, and Shaun was already mid-flight when Doppler used his powers again and made another clone, away from him. Shaun slammed down into the Doppler he saw, one foot raised. The drop kick wasn’t perfect by any means, ill practised and poorly formed but it didn’t need to be when it hit with enough force to make a car roll over. Doppler went flying, and that version of him had vanished from view a split second later.
Shaun turned around and saw that Doppler had teleported, his clone with a foot raised and shoving straight into Visionary’s side. Even with her reactions and almost evading the blow, this time he had landed a glancing blow on her. His foot stretched out as he kicked her hips, punting her a few feet forward. Visionary reeled, but regained her footing a second before Doppler conjured another clone, behind her. He had the exhaust in hand, swinging it for her midsection. She dropped to the floor, to avoid being struck, and swept at his feet with her legs. The duplicate took the hit and scattered, dispersing before he made contact with the floor.
Shaun realised what had just happened. Doppler had baited him, to make him leave Visionary’s side so he had a window of a few seconds to continue attacking her. A few seconds was all he needed, and the full weight of why Visionary had attempted to tell him to stop left him motionless in his tracks.