Shaun watched as Visionary was stuck on the floor. She started to lean forward, lifting up slightly off the ground by her hands. Before she could get any further, Doppler sent another clone out with the exhaust being swung overhead, already halfway through the swing. She was nimbler than he was, and managed to throw herself forward into a roll before successfully standing up and turned on her heels. The exhaust smashed into the floor with a resounding clang, echoing through the halls. The original Doppler vanished, as he took the place of the new one he just made, retaining his colour in seconds. Visionary took out her second mace, which she holstered to help Tether, getting her poise back and standing ready.
That noise was what snapped Shaun to his senses, to break his temporary trance of helplessness. Doppler had the upper hand and as long as he had it, he could dictate his engagements. There was a chance he could assault Tether again, to cause even more damage to him that was previously done. He had to trust in what Sage had said about this incident, and needed to change gears.
With that in mind, he lowered his upper body before springing himself forward, vaulting in a powerful leap to cross over from one side of the building to the other. The room flashed past him when he leapt, and though he easily had the strength to do this, his awareness wasn’t at any superhuman level to keep track of his surroundings faster than normal. He certainly couldn’t see Secern, who had vanished from view altogether.
Shaun landed just as Doppler made another clone of himself, aiming to swing the exhaust against Visionary’s skull like a baseball bat. She ducked underneath the blow with her maces raised, to ward off the attack just in case. The Doppler that Shaun had landed next to went wide eyed as he realised how quickly the space was breached. With the momentum of that leap carrying him over, Shaun hopped forward and brought his open palm forward, slamming it straight into Doppler’s chest. The impact launched him off his feet, a cacophonous rupture of force sounded like a thunderclap.
“Christ almighty” Doppler remarked, raising up the exhaust to defend himself as Visionary swung a mace for his skull. Almost mid-swing, she brought her mace in a downwards arc, striking at the piece of exhaust that was sticking out, nearly crushing Doppler’s hand that held the makeshift weapon in place. Metal clashed to metal, and the bar mace caused a large dent in the side of the pipe. Doppler’s arm was thrown off balance, and Visionary’s mace bounced off in place. As if using that, she brought the same mace back down in a lower swing, aiming unerringly for his hand.
Doppler shifted colours again, getting some distance from him and Visionary, but Shaun watching and waiting for him, aware that he’d try to get some distance instead of pressing the assault, as he’d done before. He launched himself the moment he saw Doppler’s clone appear, throwing his body over with a powerful downward thrust of his foot, crossing over to a point where he was a few steps away. He brought his left arm to cover his upper body, and when he landed, he smoothly brought himself a long stride forward, and swiped at Doppler with a crunching backhand.
The only way to protect himself was to raise up his exhaust, to parry Shaun’s blow. He didn’t have the strength, nor did the exhaust have the integrity to resist Shaun’s attack. Shaun’s backhand caused Doppler’s weapon to stream out of his hand, all the way to the other side of the room, and smash into the wall with enough force behind it that it lodged at least a foot into the concrete.
Visionary had taken notice of this, even as Shaun was performing his manoeuvre, and she timed her own attacks with Shaun in a surprising spur of teamwork. Doppler had made his duplicate and shifted colours just before Visionary’s mace slammed into his hand, crunching bone and flesh and causing him to drop his weapon and scream out in pain. Before the weapon even left his hand, her second mace swinging upwards into Doppler’s unprotected skull. The sound of her mace slamming into his temple came before the sound of the exhaust dropping to the floor. She may have been too focused to notice Secern, who had crawled behind the white boxes around the room, approaching swiftly on the floored Tether.
Doppler had a split instant to choose which body to take. In that instant, he made his choice and stayed with Shaun, the duplicate which had sustained damage vanishing into the air. The shadowy exhaust he carried vanished as well, and Doppler stood with his hands raised into the air. A smile crossed his face, of all things.
“Clever, the both of you!” He remarked, eyeing Shaun. “Somebody’s not just a dumb bruiser then.” Doppler caused another clone to appear behind Visionary. Shaun reacted, almost instantly, as if he had come to expect this. Doppler felt Shaun’s right fist square in his chest, striking him upwards. Doppler had never felt such force hit him, and he’d never experienced being punched so hard he was thrown off his feet. If his duplicate had lasted any longer, he would have been nothing more than a stain on the wall.
The Doppler clone he made appeared to the side of Visionary was with his foot raised, intending to kick her square in the side. She turned herself around and in a surprising twist, moved into him to minimise the blow. He slammed into her with his thigh, lacking the power than the end of his foot would bring him, and found Visionary had acted much quicker than he’d thought of her. Even though she was hit, she managed to loop her arm around his leg at the moment of impact. She didn’t desire to keep him there for long, but turning and grabbing his leg in such a way meant that she spun as she moved, and she brought her mace into the top of his biceps, near the shoulder. Secern had his hand around Tether’s neck firmly now, able to choke him with one palm whilst the other pressed a screwdriver into the other side of his throat.
Doppler yelled out in pain, and regained his colour a second afterwards. He instinctively used his powers again to avoid a second attack, as Visionary brought the mace down again with a more vicious strike, cracking bones in his shoulder and arm. That duplicate lasted about a second, not even having a chance to squeal before Doppler dismissed him. The real Doppler was standing ten feet from Visionary, grabbing his upper arm with his hand and rubbing at the wound she caused.
Shaun leapt over to Visionary’s side, apparently growing more proficient with these ‘strides’ the more he did them. Doppler looked as if he was going to speak and stopped before he did so, raising his head to look past Visionary. For the first time today, she saw genuine anger flash across his face, well hidden but noticeable for a flash second. Even his voice sounded restrained, held back.
Doppler’s colours shifted, and Shaun went to move in. Visionary raised her mace, and it tapped against his chest when he moved into it and he stopped, looking towards her. Just at that point, they both heard a loud impact, of physical violence followed by somebody hitting the floor, and an object clattering away. They turned and stopped to see Doppler, standing over Secern’s body on the floor after slugging him in the face. Hard enough that Doppler was shaking his hand as he returned back to full colour. Tether was gasping for air, grabbing his chest with one hand.
Doppler spoke with a righteous fury in his chest. “I thought I made it explicitly clear, explicitly clear that it was agreed that we wouldn’t kill anybody.” Doppler’s fist clenched, covered in a light smear of blood. Secern’s nose was leaking the fluid profusely. “We undertook this contract under strict rules, which you were there for, which you were briefed upon before we undertook this whole option. Outlined in said contract, it specifically states no killing. And what do I fackin’ see when my back is turned, fighting off these NFU agents?”
Secern stared at him, unanswering and unmoving.
“I see you with your hand around the boy’s throat, screwdriver against his fackin’ Carotid Artery, thumb pressed into the specific weak spots that I know you can read, to choke him with one hand, with a look in your eye that says you were ready to stab him if he or anybody else tried anything. Am I right?”
The entire room was silent for several seconds, until Doppler raised his voice.
“I said AM I RIGHT?!”
“Yes-” Secern said, as if trying to quell Doppler. “-I thought-”
“You thought nothing-” Doppler said, raising his bloody hand to point at him. “-that I give two flying shites about now. We have integrity. Doppler’s Crew have integrity. If you work for me, what you do is in my name, and if we undertake a contract that says no killing, you don’t fackin’ kill nobody. When you work for me, my word’s your fackin’ law, and if I tell you to jump, you’d better ask how fackin’ high, you fackin’ imbecilic cretin.”
Secern nodded. Blood was slowly dripping onto the collar of his shirt, staining the pristine white with smears of deep, splattered scarlet. Shaun, Visionary and Tether all watched without saying a word.
Doppler cleared his throat, and exhaled deeply. He turned around, having seemingly regained his composure, and addressed them with his arms open.
“Deeply sorry. I’ll be sure that this doesn’t happen again. And as much as I’d like to carry on this little confrontation, I have matters of subordination to attend to. Me and my underling here are going to be leaving post-haste, right now. No more fighting, no more bloodshed. I’d like to suggest that this should mean you let us leave, without giving us chase. I will however say, that should you follow us or attempt to hinder us-” He pointed to Tether. “-I’ll make sure his other arm is broken before leaving.”
The words hung on the air. Shaun stared down Doppler, the air of silence from the agents hanging strongly in the air.
“We’ll leave in a civil manner, that I can assure you.”
Doppler turned to Secern, his face frowning ever so gently as he spat his words out. “Get moving.”
Nodding, Secern scrambled to his feet, and flat out began to sprint out, heading towards the offices that would lead them to the back door. Doppler stayed in place and made sure he watched as he left, before he turned to the others, bowing his head in a polite manner.
“Pleasure meeting you three. Visionary, always a pleasure. Shaun, I look forward to seeing what they call you and colour you with. Tether, my deepest apologies. Do get well soon, fella.”
Doppler shifted colours. Visionary and Shaun still watches silently, as if reluctant to stop him from leaving. Doppler’s duplicate appeared at the far side of the room, walking to the same doors that Secern had fled through just before, and once the Doppler closer to them had vanished, he activated his ability again a second time whilst walking calmly away. When that Doppler’s shadows faded from him, he faded away too.
As soon as Doppler was gone, Visionary hastily put her maces away and rushed over to Tether’s side. Shaun ran along side her and they both knelt down to him, with Shaun leaning over to support Tether onto his back.
“Tether, are you okay?” Visionary looked down, checking his arm. She held it for a second and lifted it, and Tether winced deeply. She let go the second he began, and the pain lessened.
“Think it’s fractured, maybe broken. Felt something go there. Good otherwise.” He said, smiling. His eyes squinted, as hard as it was to see them beneath his goggles.
Shaun moved to the other side and looped Tether’s arms around his own. He counted down from three, and he and Shaun both stood up with Shaun taking the bulk of the strain with no problem. Visionary nodded, then turned away and tapped the button on her comm.
“Control Panel, this is Agent Visionary. Discovered theft in progress. Items taken unknown. Identities are Doppler and another man; six foot tall, black skin, bald, similar suit with rolled up sleeves with possible broken nose. Potential other identities in area: Magnet, and Factotum. Redirect Containment Squad to search the area instead. Over.”
The Control Room responded back quickly, a young female this time..
“Agent Visionary, roger. Notifying Containment Squad now. They are closing in on your location. Over.”
“Control Room, requesting medical assistance as well. Agent Tether suffered impact to left forearm with a car exhaust. Potential fracture or broken bone. Over.”
“Understood. Will relay information to Ambulance Services under emergency priority. Over.”
“Thank you, Control Room. Over and out.”
Visionary turned around. Shaun was still standing, supporting Tether. She motioned over to one of the white boxes.
“Shaun, Tether needs to sit and rest. An ambulance is on the way.”
Shaun nodded, and he and Tether started to move until they got to a white table that was nearest to them. Shaun let go of Tether, making sure he was steady first, before he put his hand on the cuboid itself, and started to kneel in time with Tether, until he reached the floor. Tether winced just a little bit as he had to move his arm to get down. Shaun nodded. Tether made a click, and a marble from the other side of the room started rolling back over at a gentle pace to his good arm, and he cupped it in his palm before pushing it into a pocket. Tether fumbled with the fasten for a second before Shaun knelt down, and closed the pouch for him.
“I wanted to like, wait until he got me, and then bring the marble over like a bullet. Didn’t get the chance.” He said, grinning slightly. “Would have been so cool.”
“Yeah.” Shaun said, nodding. His tone was a lot more solemn. “That would’ve been pretty damn cool.”
“He got my throat, like he knew just where to squeeze it, and I couldn’t concentrate. I’m pretty sure he knew where to stick that screwdriver as well. I think he knows weaknesses. He can see them.”
“Yeah.” Shaun said, almost repeating himself. “Sounds about right. Just, we can talk about it in a bit. Let’s just wait.”
“I talk to take my mind off things.” Tether said, glancing around. “Man, this is gonna suck. How am I gonna paint with a broken arm?”
Shaun muses on what he said, and nods, indulging him. “Put it in your teeth. Or your toes. I saw that on youtube. This guy had no arms, so he painted pictures with his feet.”
“I’d better get learning!” He said, with an enthusiasm in his voice that made him smile.
“I’m sorry, dude.” Shaun said, glancing off.
“Hey hey, hey.” Tether said. “Nah, man. You’re not gonna feel guilty about this. This ain’t your shit to take like the world on your shoulders, Atlas.” Tether raises an eyebrow. “Hey, Atlas. That might be a good name for you.”
Shaun nodded, then walked a few steps over. He patted Alex on the side of his body that didn’t have the damaged arm before he lowered himself to the floor, taking a seat beside him. Visionary watched them with a curiosity until Shaun sat himself down, before she nodded to herself. “This could have gone much worse. You two did well. I think it’s best if we talk about it later though. Now wouldn’t be the best time to discuss work.”
The pair nodded, and Visionary kept herself busy as they waited for the ambulance to arrive. She studied the table where something was taken, in an attempt to divinate what exactly was stolen, and what the true purpose of all of this was. This was her own distraction, as she focused on the job, what had happened, and what must be done next. She glanced around the room once more. Nothing came to her just yet, nothing immediate.
The waiting room had a sterile silence to it. Shaun and Visionary sat opposite to each other, on two rows of chairs that had another row behind them, facing the opposite way. Each row was split with two chairs either side of a table, where an assortment of magazines were scattered about in a pile next to a pen. The remaining room was empty, though a nurse or doctor would walk past sporadically. Shaun perked his head up, watching them for a few moments before realising they weren’t coming to give them any news, then lowered his head again. He held his hands together, with his arms between his legs. Visionary was glancing through a newspaper she had in her hands, skimming over the words instead of ingesting them.
Shaun exhaled, a breath deep from within. He sat upright and ran a hand through his hair, brushing it out of his view. His hood was down, and he’d pulled down the cover over his mask before he stepped inside.
“You know what I’m going to ask, so can we just talk about it?” Shaun studied Visionary as he questioned her.
Visionary didn’t glance up as she spoke. “When we were fighting and you leapt over to Doppler, and Tether got injured. You want to know if that’s your fault and if you could have prevented it.”
Shaun nodded slowly.
“There are two ways to look at it.” She said, raising her eyes. Her lack of eye contact wasn’t for a lack of patience, as it seemed she was used to it. Her tone indicated she was fully involved in the conversation. “He baited you and you took the bait. Tether did get injured, and you did rush over to him when I told you not to. One thing I would like to stress is that you can’t get angry and go after somebody. Not when they know what you might do, and how to abuse it.”
He could only really nod.
“The other way to see this-” Visionary said. “-is how I look at things. Problem, cause, solution. Tether may need medical care because you think you couldn’t have defended him, or were lead into a trap. The cause was Doppler, a known mercenary with a solid grasp of his powers and how to utilise them. He took advantage of a gap in our defence and preyed on our weakest member, defensively speaking. If you could go back and enter that scenario again, Shaun. What would you have done differently?”
Shaun considers it for a second, looking to the side. “I would have stayed by his side.”
“Doppler would have hit the other side. I’ve had many engagements with Doppler, I have experience in how he thinks and how he acts. He uses his powers to make gaps, to pry open weaknesses, and with his powers he can do so safely. That’s how he works. I knew. I couldn’t have expected you to know.” She folded up the newspaper carefully, setting it aside on the table. “At least you figured out how to engage him, to strike both duplicates at once. But, the point I want to make sure you understand. He hit you several times with that car part-”
“Muffler.” Shaun said, to correct her. “It’s an exhaust muffler.”
“-exhaust muffler and it didn’t even leave a mark on you. He knew from experience that I would dodge him. Tether was occupied and didn’t expect being blind sided.”
“You know, I took this on because I thought I could protect people and take the hits that they shouldn’t. That was the point.” Shaun said, leaning back in his chair. He rested his head on the back of the chair, neck exposed, twiddling fingers between his thighs.
Visionary sat a little more upright, and waited a second before speaking. “You did, Shaun. When he realised he couldn’t hurt you, he tried to hurt somebody he could, because he knew it’d provoke you. People aren’t stupid. Did you expect him to keep trying?”
“No.” Shaun brings his head back upright. “Well, I don’t know.”
“People will fight you in a way that gives them the advantage. If they fight you physically, you’ll win. They know this, so they’ll try to use what isn’t invulnerable. They’ll attempt to remove you, to subvert you and keep your attention, because there’s no other realistic way to handle you. You can only be in one place at one time.”
“What’s the point then?” Shaun said, bluntly. “Why even bother going out if all they’re going to do is hit everyone else but me?”
Visionary replied back, just as frank. “What do you propose as an alternative, Shaun? Would you rather everyone be in a bubble for you to protect?”
Shaun stopped before he even had a chance to reply, stunned for seconds.
“…wow.” Is all he said, hanging his head down low. An amalgamation of being defensive, angry, defeated. “Just wow.”
“I’m sorry, Shaun.” Visionary said, shaking her head softly. “That wasn’t meant to come out like that. I’m still annoyed with Doppler. He knows how to get under my skin, and that’s no excuse for me to say that to you.”
“No, I get it.” He said, raising his head again. “I just felt like I could have done more, even if I know I couldn’t. Like I expect myself to do more because I’m strong and tough.”
Visionary nodded, letting a pause fill in the conversation.
“When you hit Doppler, you hit him with a lot of strength. The most I’ve seen so far.”
“Yeah. I knew how hard I was going. I always do.” He said, reassuringly. “He had to pick a body, right? I knew he wouldn’t have stayed in that one. I thought it might work.”
“You weren’t certain.” She said, studying his reaction.
“Not one hundred percent. Seventy five. It was a gut feeling.”
Visionary lowered her head slightly. “You swore and went after him quite hard. It could easily been viewed as you lashing out in anger.”
Shaun stopped, then studied her back. “You think I did it out of anger?”
“I’m saying I don’t know, and bystanders may have thought differently.”
Shaun shook his head. “No. I’m always in control. Even if I’m angry, I know exactly how much I’m going to use.”
“You may know this, but that fight brought it up as a concern to me. It’s my job to assess you, especially with regards to control. Your mental state, and if it’s tied to your powers.”
“Makes sense.” Shaun says, sitting back in his chair.
“We’ve yet to see how you handle yourself in high stress situations. It reflects better on you if you look calm and in control of the situation, instead of doing as you did before.”
“It reflects better on the NFU as well, if their agents look like they’ve got everything safe.”
“Correct. When people hear about you, and see what you can do. It would make them feel safer if you had a level head. We are there to protect and serve.”
“And having me look like I’m pis-annoyed all the time will make people afraid. I know.”
Visionary nods once more.
“It’s just a thought, Shaun.” Visionary offers a comforting smile. Shaun nods back to her.
They waited a further ten minutes before a doctor approached them. He was tall, with broad shoulders, and neatly parted black hair and a prominent chin. His badge named him as Doctor Houghton, and he didn’t even have to grab their attention. The moment he walked over, both Shaun and Visionary stood up to address him.
“I’m really sorry about the wait. I’m Doctor Houghton.” Hands were shaken, between him and the agents. “You’re with Alex, correct?”
“That’s right.” Visionary said.
“Excellent. I do have some bad news, some good news. I’m sure you know the bad already.” He said, trying to soften the blow. “Alex had suffered a fractured ulna.”
Shaun nodded slowly, though he was far from comforted.
“There is some good news. As good as news can be with this.” The doctor smiled. “The fracture is closed, and it’s aligned in place. It’s not shattered either. No surgery will be required.”
“That’s a relief.” Visionary said, smiling.
“Before we carry on. I assume the Farside Unit will be paying for this?” The Doctor asked.
“Yes.” Visionary nodded. “It was caused in the line of duty. We’ll make sure it’s all paid for.”
“Excellent.” The Doctor said, clearing his throat afterwards. “We’ll have no trouble proceeding then. We’ll be running a few more tests and scans to make sure everything is properly ready. If all goes well, Alex will have to wear a cast for the duration. We’ll be using a 3D scanner and printer to make him one to allow for better healing. We’ve also spoken to his parents and gotten his consent on the matter, that we proposed some more advanced forms of healing.”
“Right.” Visionary said. “What has been proposed?”
“It’s a proven, safe method of helping to promote natural healing. It’s MAGI-Tech, helps to speed up the natural healing process gently. Alex will have to come three times a week, an hour each time. It’s not going to make miracles happen, but he should be fully healed and ready within four to five weeks. Regular methods normally can take up to six to eight weeks.”
Visionary nodded. “It’s his decision. Thank you for letting us know. I’ll make sure to have arrangements for payment and transport made.”
Doctor Houghton nodded, then fished out a piece of paper from his pocket. “He’ll be prescribed some Cocodamol for the pain. If it gets worse, we’ll see about getting him some Tramadol. I don’t think it should be that bad. His cast should take a few days to make, so until then we’re going to use a standard plaster cast until it’s been printed out. I’ll also provide a doctor’s note. Common sense should tell you what he can and can’t do, but I’ll be honest. He shouldn’t be in work for at least a month. We’ll see how it goes.”
The doctor handed Visionary the slip and she took it, folding it neatly into a square and putting it into her belt pocket. The doctor nodded and smiled.
“He’ll be ready in a few hours. Just a little wait longer. Can I get either of you a drink?”
Visionary shook her head.
“Some water, please.”
The doctor left. Shaun and Visionary walked back to their chairs. Visionary sat quietly, one leg folded over the other. Shaun slumped down, rubbing the fingertip of his ring finger into the corner of his eye. Even after all of this, Visionary could still feel some guilt in Shaun, see it in how he looked around and his body language. A conversation that was waiting to happen, but one she’d delay for another time. When it felt more appropriate to discuss, when the dust had cleared and Shaun was over the bubbling cauldron of feelings he was probably feeling right now.