Arc 2: Beginnings

Discoveries: 3-8

By the time Kai had driven them back to the headquarters, it was closer to one in the morning than it was to midnight. His black BMW quickly drove through, only halted by security checks and speed bumps along the way. For people being detained there was a side entrance which was more heavily guarded and better fortified, almost separate from the rest of the building. Kai parked up and got out of the car, with Shaun in tow.

“Bring in the goons, I’ll bring in Burnham.”

Shaun nodded, and they begun to retrieve their detainees. Whilst Shaun was hoisting the two men over his shoulders as he’d carried them previously, Kai was busy grabbing Michael by the scruff of his collar, and hauling him up. He was more resistant than anticipated, so Kai forced him out of the car and shoved him forward.

“Get moving.”

With Michael at the front and Kai holding him by the scruff of his collar from behind, Shaun followed as they went through even more security checks. When they finally entered the building, they walked over to the front desk, separated from the rest of the room by thick glass, with a small panel that could be slid up. The guard on desk duty, a young man with ginger hair, sat behind a computer. Behind him was the door to get inside, a pair of filing cabinets either side of that door and a wooden box hung on the wall to the side. He nodded and typed on his computer as he spoke.

“Morning. Seeing you out of armour, now that’s new.”

“Mornin’. What can I say? I like to surprise people.” Kai smiled. “I’ve got three new people to check into the NFU hotel.”

“Busy night.” He typed some more, going between watching the monitor and Kai. “So, three individual. Names?”

“Michael Burnham, no idea who the crap these two are.” Kai said, pointing a thumb towards Shaun and the two men over his shoulders.

“Any special procedures requires for their confinement? Regular cell, solitary, any emotional dampeners required?”

Kai took a look at Michael and shook his head. “None more than usual.”

“Right. Detainment period?”

“Until further notice.” Kai said, taking a glance at Michael. Whilst he was wearing a scowl as he had been since the start of his incarceration, he was busy looking around, studying the building around him.

“I can’t put that down.” The guard said, taking a look at Michael himself. “I need a figure.”

Kai took another look at Michael, more analytical. Sizing him up with his eyes. “A week, but be ready for extension on that period.”

The guard nodded, and his keyboard clattered with keystrokes. “Mmhmm. Dietary requirements?”

Attention was drawn to Michael, who was still busy looking around, as if ignoring the question. When Kai nudged him with his shoulder, he spoke almost instantly. “Nothin’.”

“Any special requirements?” The guard asked after typing a single letter.

“Nah.” Michael said, staring the guard down. His eyes were averted to his screen and paid no attention to the gaze.

“Good. And the other two? Are they unconscious?”

Shaun took a single step forward, the men hanging lifelessly over his shoulders. “Yeah. Sorry about that.”

“Don’t worry about it.” The guard responded. “We’ll ask for their details in the morning. Do they need any medical attention?”

Shaun turned to Kai, who gave him a small nod. Shaun nodded back to him, then turned to the guard. “Maybe they should be looked over. They weren’t hit too hard, but you never know.”

“We’ll get a medical team to check them in the morning. That about wraps it up. Cells two A, B, and C are available.” The guard stood up and walked over to the wooden box and pushed it open, showing rows of cell keys. He scanned along them with his finger, then took the three for the cells in question and handed them over

Kai nodded, then gave Michael a shove, to which he grunted in response. “Thanks. Back in two.”

Kai led them down the corridors, leading Shaun, Michael and his two men from the nicer front portion of the building, down to the holding cells. It looked far more plain, less decorative, as rows of steel doors with pull down hatches at eye level lined down the walls. The doors had a small metal panel near the keyhole, and underneath the hatch which you opened to talk was a second which you could push in, so food could be put inside. Each one was labelled with a number and a letter, and errant snoring was heard inside as they went past 1-J and turned a corner.

The first cells they approached were all labelled with a two, and the hatches were open to show that they were currently vacant and unlocked. He pulled the door open by the thick handle and pushed Michael inside, keeping his back faced to him. The room was basic, bare of any frills or decorations. The bed was nothing but a mattress on a block of wood on the other side of the room, with a pillow against the back wall so your feet would be facing the entrance. To the left of it was a stainless steel toilet basin at the floor, and a blocky metal sink between that and the bed.

Kai reached into his pocket with his now free hand and dug out the keys for his handcuffs.

“It’s about as luxurious as it’s gonna get for you.”

He watched Michael flex his hands as the cuffs were removed, rubbing at the thick indentations that they left. He was looking around the cell, and Kai mused for a moment.

“Didn’t think the cuffs were that tight on you.”

“I’ll live, just ’bout.” Michael said, walking over to the bed and sitting down on the edge. He sat with his hands on his knees, returning his stare to Kai.

Kai took the key to the cell and passed it between his hands, before stepping outside and locking the door. He walked to the next cell and opened the door for Shaun, who walked inside and put one of the men on the bed, sprawled over mattress in an comatose stupor. He did the same for the other, and once Kai had locked both of the doors he began to walk back to the entrance.

“That’s some good work right there.” Kai said, dusting his hands together.

“It feels like it was too easy.” Shaun said, as they got out of earshot of the cells where Michael and his men were being held. “This guy’s a big thing, right? Why’d he get caught so easily”

“Yup. He is, and it’s way too easy. He’s not an idiot, even if he wants us to think he is. If it was just him being stupid, I’ll be surprised.”

They walked past the front door, and Kai waved back to the guard, who waved as well.

“Tomorrow, we’ll start questioning him.” Kai continued. “Find out why it was too easy, what he’s doing with what was stolen, see if he’s linked to the Ten Granders and Doppler’s crew. My money’s on him being involved with all of them.”

“It’d be a bit anti-climatic if it wasn’t.” Shaun said, shrugging.

“Couldn’t care less, as long as we’ve got the right people in prison. You in tomorrow?”

Shaun shook his head, as they walked over to the security checks once again and were let through quickly. “Day off.”

“Enjoy it. I’ll let them know you need a lift back.”

Shaun nodded. “I’ll head to the staff room. See you later.”

Kai nodded, as Shaun started to walk back around to the front entrance of the headquarters, then waited until Shaun had walked around a corner before he scratched his chin.

“That kid’s going places. I’d better go and get some sleep. Good thing I’ve got a late start tomorrow.”

He took his phone out and made a quick call, letting the drivers know that Shaun required a lift back to his house, and slid the phone back into his pocket. He took his car keys out and unlocked it from a distance, and put his finger through the metal ring so he was swinging them around as he walked over.

Kai got in, sat in the driver’s seat and started the engine, then made sure his windows were fully down before turning the radio on and cranking it up, then pulled out and drove away from the headquaters.

A fully armoured Grandmaster walked through the front entrance of the NFU headquarters. The sun was starting to climb through the sky, and a clear shade of dark blue was slowly becoming visible through the smother of grey clouds. It felt like hardly any time had passed; he had more of a nap than a full sleep, running on four hours of rest two mugs of coffee and a bagel. Three mugs of coffee, if you count the third one he procured from a vending machine inside the building.

He walked into the cafeteria with the white paper cup in hand and set it down on the table. As he often was, he was meticulous and careful when it came to disarming himself of his own helmet. He let it rest on the table, with the glowing blue eyes facing him as they begun to fade and power down. He brought the cup to his lips, blew on it once and took a single sip before putting it back down with a grumble.

“One day, they’ll use some damn coffee instead of dirt in that coffee machine.”

“It’s instant coffee. You can’t expect more, Grandmaster.”

Impetus spoke softly as he walked around the table and took the seat opposite from Grandmaster. Whilst he normally wore quite casual clothes around the headquarters, he was in full body armour today. He never wore a helmet, but half of his face was normally covered by a light grey mask, from the bridge of his nose that covered his mouth and all of his face from the sockets downwards. The rest of his armour, whilst offering light protection, didn’t shield him much from physical damage. The material underneath the protective pads on his shoulders, forearms, biceps, chest and thighs were a pale grey like his mask, but the raised points of armour themselves were a pale, unusual orange.

The only visible skin on him right now was his face, and even that was bare, his mask being dumped on the table once he sat.

“Guess I can’t expect better than the crap in this cup. Impetus, it’s been a while.”

“It has, Grandmaster.” He offered him a smile. “Not my own doing, I assure you.”

“It’s just how work works, isn’t it?” Grandmaster raised his hand, resting it on his helmet. “Nice to see you in your actual uniform for a change. Must be what, the first time in half a year since you’ve worn something that ain’t gym gear.”

Impetus leaned back on his chair. “I can’t say I’ve seen you out of your armour. It must smell horribly, considering you aren’t one to take it off. A second skin to you, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, well. Some of us need it more than others.” Grandmaster shrugged. “We didn’t win the Farside lottery, us ‘normies’. Not all of us are barrier makers, or that ‘second wave’ crap you tend to spout out to make yourself feel important.”

“It’s true.” Impetus said. “You may think I’m arrogant to say it-”

“-yup.” Grandmaster interrupted. “I definitely do-”

Impetus countered his interrupt with his own. “-but I don’t think you’d sound half as bitter if it did not hold to be true-”

Grandmaster quickly sliced off the end of his sentence, to add his own. “-and whilst you may think it’s true, if the ‘first wave’ does their job, it makes you a little bit redundant, so I figure you’re trying to remind yourself as much as other people. So you feel like you’re just being held in reserves, instead of sitting on your thumbs all day-”

“-and when that time comes, you’ll be the first to thank me, and the boy.”

Their pause was uneasy. It was broken when they both formed a wide grin on their face.

“You know, we just pick off from where we left off. Glad you’ve still got some sense of humour, you arsehole.” Grandmaster chuckled lowly. “Been on patrol last night?”

“Yes. Predictable, and boring. Calm before the storm.”

“Guess you need to make an appearance once in a while. Those autographs don’t sign themselves.” Grandmaster sniffed the air, glancing down to his coffee. “The boy, you mean Verus.”

“I do.” Impetus says, nodding.

“The name’s a bit different, not sure what I think about it just yet.” Grandmaster said, strumming his fingers on his helmet. “What do you make of it?”

“Exceptional people need exceptional names. I like it.”

“Sure, you would love it, Impetus. Latin named guy loves the boy named after a Roman gladiator. For a Greek, you love a lot about Italy.”

Impetus nodded, matter of factly. “It’s a beautiful country. You should go sometime. I’m sure, in ancient times, you’d have been a master of the Colosseum.”

“No doubt. Makes me feel like my powers are a few centuries old.”

“They’re not far off your actual age, then.” Impetus raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, you’re gettin’ better. That one was almost an insult this time.” Grandmaster said. “It’s taken you all this time and you’ve worked up to that one. All that practice, for that.”

“I’d like to think, I’m more useful in other areas.”

“Mmm.” Grandmaster grumbled, taking a glance at his cup again. “Sure. My powers are telling me how to best shove this paper cup down your throat to choke you. They tend to flare up when you run your mouth like that.”

“How is that going, anyway?” Impetus asked, turning the conversation more serious.

“Not bad. I’m coping with it. Still a lot of intrusive thoughts about my powers telling me the best way to kill people with whatever I’m holding at any given time, but you tend to ignore that. It’s like background noise.”

“Have you considered therapy?”

“Not yet.” Grandmaster takes the cup and takes a small sip. “It’s not that bad. A little worse than it has been. Not as bad as when I first got Fartouched. I’ll survive. How’s the insomnia going?”

“As well as you are. There’s good money when you don’t need to sleep.”

“That’s one advantage. Count your lucky stars for that.”

“Mm.” Impetus said, leaning forward. “I heard you caught Michael Burnham last night.”

“Word gets around quickly.” Grandmaster said, nodding. “Sure did. Me and Verus took him out. But, let me just run it through you. I need an opinion on it all.”

Impetus nodded.

“So there’s Burnham. He’s been working the black market for years now. He’s smart, ruthless, he knows what he’s doing. He’s been cutting deals with low level thugs and gangs so it’s harder to trace it back to him. Takes me a week to drag the information out of one of his hired goons from the Technomads. This guy isn’t a small fry, is what I’m saying, and he’s not an idiot.”

Impetus nodded again.

“So this guy, Burnham, gets a phone call from one of his lackeys and tells him, we need to meet up at this pub in Stockport where they met before. Says he thinks he’s got some information on the stuff he’s sold to him and he thinks there’s a job opportunity, but it’d be safer to speak in person. Burnham, for whatever reason, says yes. He meets up, me and Verus are there waiting for him. And all he has to defend himself is a pair of hired thugs, and he tries to run away.”

“My question is, what do you think about that?”

Impetus considers it for a moment. “Very easy. Too easy.”

“Exactly. Why the hell did this guy get caught?”

“The answer that makes the most sense would be, that he wanted to be caught.”

“That’s what I thought.” Grandmaster points to Impetus. “But that raises another question. What’s he got to gain from getting caught like a moron?”

“I cannot say. Maybe he turned over a new leaf. He felt so guilty, he wanted to turn himself in.”

“That’s one hell of a hopeful sentiment you have. Must be nice being so optimistic.”

“That’s the best answer I can tell you, Grandmaster. I cannot answer for him. You’ll have to ask him yourself.” Impetus leaned back on his chair. “I’m to assume you’ll be interrogating him for answers.”

“Yup. It’s the only way I’m going to get answers.”

“You always seem to be putting yourself forward. Too many operations where you’re in charge that you don’t need to be.”

“I guess I like to make myself seem more important than I really am. It must be why we’re good friends.”

Impetus grinned slightly. “That must be it.”

“Could do with somebody sitting and watching if you’re up for it.”

“If I get time, I will.” Impetus nodded. “I’ll see if I can. When are you going?”

“After this coffee, I’m gonna take a slash and then drag him out of his cell, and the fun will begin then.”

“I’ll have to see.”

Impetus nodded, and stood himself up from his chair. “Not a pleasure, as always, Grandmaster. I’m going to the gym after this morning shift. Do you fancy joining me?”

“Might do, yeah. I’ll see ‘if I get the time’.” Grandmaster grinned back. “Talking to you is the worst thing that happens to me. This coffee is rated higher right now.”

Impetus just smiled and began to walk away. “We will speak soon.”

“Later.” Grandmaster said, giving him a slight wave.

He stared into the reflection he made in the coffee before he took another sip from it, and put it back down on the table as he swilled it around his mouth. Begrudgingly, he swallowed it down, and pushed himself out from the table. As he put on his helmet, his voice became distorted by it halfway through what he was saying. “Actually, I change my mind. The coffee and Impetus are about the same today.”

The coffee was abandoned on the table, to grow cold and be poured away as Grandmaster left the cafeteria.

A clanging of metal woke up Michael Burnham rudely, jolting upright on his uncomfortable bed. He raised his hand up as if to strike something, restraining himself when he realised that he was still in his cell, and the knocking had come from the door. He grumbled lowly to himself and sat upright, still in the clothes he wore yesterday. He watched the hatch open downwards, as a pair of eyes stared into his prison cell accusingly. He was met with a male voice.

“Rise and shine, Burnham. You’re going in for early questioning today.”

Michael sat upright on the bed and rubbed his eyes for a good ten minutes, until his eyes began to open more clearly. The rough sleep he had made half of his face feel numb, and he needed time to adjust.

“No breakfast?” He asked, turning to the hatch.

“Breakfast after questioning. The sooner it takes, the quicker you get something to eat.”

“I talk better when my belly’s full’a grub.”

“That’s not what’s going to happen. We’re going to come into the cell, put handcuffs on you and escort you to the questioning room. Any attempt to escape and we will be forced to incapacitate you. Is that understood?”

“Loud and fuckin’ clear.” Was his response, and he stood up off the bed, stretching his arms upwards. The guard turned and nodded to the side, to a person that Michael couldn’t see. After a few seconds, the door began to click and the internal mechanisms came to life with grinding gears and other mechanical noises. Soon after, the door opened.

A pair of guards, both male, were waiting for him. The one on the left had a pair of handcuffs at hand, whilst the other walked into the cell first. The guard with the cuffs followed afterwards.. Michael stared at the first guard for a few seconds until he spoke.

“Turn around and put your hands behind your back.”

“You’re the boss.” He said, in a mock tone. He turned, and extended his hands backwards. The guard gripped him by the upper arms and shifted to the side. The other guard secured the handcuffs around his wrists, tight enough to restrain but not tight enough to dig into the skin. The guard holding him let go, and held onto Michael’s biceps and gave him a nudge. He turned around, and he was lead out of the cell. “Not much point in tryin’ to do a runna’.”

“If everyone was as sensible as that, it’d make our lives much easier.”

Michael turned to the guard, and a grin pulled along his face. “If only.”

The trip to the questioning room wasn’t very long, as both buildings were connected by one corridor, a long windowless hallway that lead directly to the headquarters, where the first few doors were that of the questioning room and the room where observations of what occurred in the former room took place. All the while, he curiously looked about, watching people going past, studying their faces, perceiving the curves and turns of the building ahead of him.

He was put inside the room and sat on a chair, hands stuff cuffed behind his back, and the guards locked the door upon absconding. He looked around, staring at the individual table ahead of him, and the dots of black around the room. The lack of reflective glass made him more curious about how he was being observed, but for the time being he was content to stare at the door, until it opened ten minutes later with a click to the lock.

He studied the figure clad in carbon fibre body armour, eyes dancing over the mask and the glowing blue eyes that stared back at him as he took a seat opposite him, letting a file drop onto the table in front of him. He opened it up, letting the blue glints of light stare downwards onto the page, absorbing the information.

“Michael Burnham.” Grandmaster said, his voice echoing with a distortion. “Fourt five year old, Caucasian male. Normally, I go through each and every one of your offences, but quite frankly, I want to go home on time, so we’ll skip that whole bit. Let’s just summarise it as ‘a lot of bad things’. That fine with you?”

Michael tilted his head slightly. “You’re the fella that caught me, with that kid.”

Grandmaster nodded. “One and the same. Good ears you’ve got there.”

Michael nodded back. “Faces and voices, two things I’m always good at rememberin’.”

“So I’ve been lead to believe. You’re a very wanted man, Michael. A lot of good people want you behind bars. A lot of bad people want you dead.”

Michael grinned widely, pulling his lips apart so Grandmaster could see his teeth reflect the light. “Gotta reputation to keep. I get the feelin’ I’m not getting my call, or my soliciter.”

“That ain’t a good thing, and you’d be right. No call, no lawyer.” Grandmaster continued to study the file as he spoke, his mask making it hard to tell what he was focused on. “It does beg a few questions in the grand scheme of things, which is why you’re here instead of enjoying a lovely breakfast of lukewarm porridge. I’m not complimenting you, so don’t misunderstand me when I say, you’re not an idiot. You’ve been in this game for a long time. You tripped up badly, and there’s not a chance a man like you didn’t see this coming.”

Grandmaster watched, and he assumed that Michael was restraining a smile, a slight tremble on his cheeks.

“If people do good work for me, I treat ’em well. Gave him the benefit of the doubt. Didn’t think the pigs would send the freaks on me.”

“You’re at least aware that this is in the NFU’s hands now.” Grandmaster said, reaching down to close the file. His head tilted up, and his attention was brought onto Michael. “Mike, I’m having to suspend a lot of disbelief here, because ‘giving the benefit of the doubt’ to a scumbag like Macey sounds about as stupid as actually meeting him.”

“Macey did good work for me. Rewardin’ good work keeps people workin’ for you. Trustin’ ’em helps. It’s all part of the great plan to keep it all runnin’.”

“Getting caught by me and a kid was part of your ‘great plan’ as well, I take it.” Grandmaster’s helmet ran protocols through his visor and vision, locking onto Michael’s face. It began to ran scans, diagnostics, the intention tracking program starting to analyse him as he responds.

Michael paused for a second. “Na’, not so much that.”

Grandmaster’s helmet whirred into action. A few seconds passed in silence, where Grandmaster assumed that it would have responded sooner. It finally finished, and came up with text in his vision.

INTENTION SCAN INCONCLUSIVE.

Grandmaster frowned, though Michael couldn’t see it through his helmet. A small window of text appeared to the left.

DETAILS:

FACIAL SCAN INCONCLUSIVE. CAUSE: UNKNOWN.

BODY LANGUAGE AND TONE INDICATE 22% CHANCE OF DECEPTION, 78% CHANCE OF TRUTHFUL INTENT.

Grandmaster kept up the pace, applying some more pressure.

“You wouldn’t be trying to lie to me, would you Burnham? Because right now, you honestly don’t need a charge of perverting the court of justice added to your long list of how screwed you are when you go to jail.”

“I think you’re misunderstandin’ me. Look at it from where I am, sitting in this chair and starin’ at your fuckin’ masked face. At t’end of the day, I’m fucked, no two ways ’bout it. I’m off ta jail for a long time, the pigs lock me up and throw a fuckin’ party, pop open the bubbly and act like fuckin’ heroes.. I ain’t got anythin’ to gain from being here, ya daft prick. Why the fuck would I wanna be caught? Is it that hard to think that I might have trusted somebody not to fuck me over?”

Grandmaster checked his intention tracker again. The percentage of truthful intent rose to 89%.

“So you’re gonna play nice, is what you’re saying to me. Ballsy move, for a guy who’se good at saving his own skin.”

Michael grinned at that last comment. “Savin’ it again now. Now’s about the time you offer me a deal.”

“You’ve got nothing I want, except to see you behind bars for a long time.”

“You wanna know why I did it. The robberies, hirin’ Doppler’s crew. I know you can’t use what’s said here in a court’a law, but I know that’s what you want.”

Grandmaster leaned forward. It took him a second to respond. “You’re offering a confession.”

“To the recent stuff. Like fuck am I tellin’ you anythin’ about what I did before, but you wanna get down to what’s goin’ on? Cut me some years off, I’ll give you that.”

The sound of fingers strumming on the table echoed through the poor acoustics of the room. “Not convinced. Why? You get caught and you roll over. Not buying what you’re selling.”

Michael stomped onto the floor, causing an abrupt noise. His voice snarled, breaking the façade of restraint. “Because if I’m goin’ down, I want the cunt who got me into this goin’ down with me too.”

Grandmaster didn’t respond to the noise, nor the tone of aggression. The words however, made him sit upright in his chair, the intention tracker running in the background, protocols feeding him information from .

BODY LANGUAGE AND TONE INDICATE 86% CHANCE OF INTENT OF REVENGE.

“I give you a confession of him pullin’ the strings, an’ I can even get you some hard evidence that it was him. Confession, plead guilty, stitch the fucker up. If I’m goin’ down. I take him with me. You finish yer’ case, I get outta jail earlier, an’ maybe I can stab the bastard when he’s in with me. Win win for everyone.”

Grandmaster leaned forward. As much as he wasn’t being given much information from his helmet, he could feel a burning in his chest. A relentlessness being offered respite, as Michael preyed on his desire for justice and to finish what he started, the end to the chain he was pulling.

In the moment he felt tempted, he felt himself give in.

“Who’se behind all of this?” He asked. “No games. Give me his name, Burnham.”

Michael leaned back on his chair, and once again his lips parted and an uncomfortably wide grin crept over his face. The prisoner revelled in the control he had over the conversation at this moment in time.

“I’ll tell you his name, alright.” Michael said. “You might have heard of him. Goes by the name of Anthony Barnes.”

Advertisements

Interlude 2

I don’t remember when I was born. Nobody really does. They say when I was born though, that it was a miracle. They told me that I was a premature birth, the doctors told my parents that I wouldn’t make it. I was too small, too weak. When I was born and they heard me cry, they said they’d never felt so relieved. My mother, she told me she’d never forget the look on my face when I calmed down. It was auspicious, they said. Like all Farborn children, I had an event around my birth.

I’ve heard the story many times by my papa. I can recite it word for word. The room felt light, like we were full of helium, like it filled us from head to toe, in our bones and in our lungs. I saw your mother’s hair, drifting up like she was underwater, and I saw the glass of water on the table rise, the water inside rising higher, right until it was almost above my head. And just as quickly, it lowered down, gently on the invisible, untouchable breeze in the air. That was when I knew, you were a miracle, my little Erendira, my princess.

Papa always had a flare for dramatics. I’m reminded of that as I look at our house. He spared no expense to make it lavish. The tiles beneath my feet are a dusty orange, spread across a courtyard circled in by white marble walls. The kind that look like rows of little banisters, with a block on top, and every so often there’s a plant pot on top with some kind of colourful flowers. Marble, everywhere. The only colour that’s here that isn’t white is the pale orange wall around the front door. Two steps up, you go between two of the four marble pillars, like they were taken from rome, framing the three doors on the front of the house. Above them was more marble, banisters that wall away the balcony from above. The other walls were covered, in long glass windows that opened onto balconies.

I know where each and every cent that was used to make this house came from. I try not to think about it, as I glance around. The sky is clear, with no clouds as far as I can see. Too nice of a day, too beautiful. No doubt papa has already taken a swim in the pool, even if it’s only just turned twelve noon.

Taking a deep breath, I sigh and let it all out. The exhale feels cathartic but I don’t have the time to wait around and enjoying the view. I walk over, my footsteps feeling unusually light. I haven’t even used my powers yet. I guess it must be adrenaline. I feel uneasy. I want to run, but I know I have to stay. I know I have to speak to my father, and I know he won’t listen to me. It’s how it always has been. He’s stubborn, I inherited that from him. But he doesn’t understand. Today, he has to bend the knee, just this once. I’ll do everything I can to try and convince him, but the pit of my stomach says I’ll fail.

I walk over to the door, and I take a look inside. It’s quiet, unusually so. Normally, my papa has had some sort of lavish party that had carried on from the previous night. I half expected there to be a coke addled drug dealer sprawled on the porch, or at least the sound of fucking coming from the second floor, with the windows opened wide enough for anybody to crawl inside. I guess he truly didn’t care about his security, today. Not a single gun or hired thug in sight. It’s a change, refreshing to say the least, but not enough to make me think he’d lost all leave of his senses.

This will make things easier for me. I’m facing the door now, and it’s slightly ajar. I listen again, to see if I can hear what’s going on, and all that returns to me is silence.

I raise my hand and flex my fingers, feeling them brush against the leather of my gloves. The way my powers work, it doesn’t come out from me. I just feel it inside, and feel it outside as well where I will it to be. It comes so natural to me now. I focus on the area around the door, how it swings itself open, and I change which way is up, and make it so that gravity pulls it in the way it’d open for me. The door on its hinges starts to drop open, as gravity pulls it down. Before it slams against the wall, I dismiss the effect, and it gently slides to a halt.

It’s a lot of thinking, how I use my powers, to just open a door. Papa’s men think I’m telekinetic, that I can move things with my mind. They’re fools, all of them. No better than the American pigs across the border.

I take my steps inside, and I take my time. Walking carefully, listening. Just in case. I doubt there’s an ambush, but I’d rather not be caught unprepared if there was one.

I remember when they put this red carpet in, the weeks it took them to put it in all around the house. To my left and right are doors, and a large staircase wide enough for three to walk side by side is ahead of me. Once you’re at the top, you reach the back wall, and you have to go left or right to reach the other rooms on the second floor. On the wall are many paintings, with statues littered between them to give them the illusion of proper spacing. Marble busts, even more marble, that look like they were taken from Rome. My papa’s attempt to appear cultured.

I make my way over to the stairs, and I infuse the area with more of my power. I’ve known for a long time I can’t change my own gravity, to make myself light. I wanted to fly, I always thought I could, but it won’t work, not unless I push myself to the limit. I can change the gravity around me though. The entire staircase, I see the dust already beginning to trail out of the carpet, dirt and mud lifting up like it was glowing. When I step up and hop up, I don’t land on the first step, nor the second or third. I drift up like I was on the moon, and I float down until I gently land on the floor. Once I’m up, I return the stairs to normal, and begin walking away, turning to the right.

On second thoughts, I look down at the stairs from above. I raise my hand, and the dust on the stairs plummets. To cover myself in case anybody does come after me, I make sure the gravity is twice as heavy coming up the stairs. People will drop what they’re holding, I’ll hear them coming. Satisfied, I press on.

I make my way to the last door. Papa’s bedroom. Today, it doesn’t smell like stale sweat and sex. I can only assume he might be sober. I don’t think that’ll make things easier. I grab the handle and push the door open, and take a look inside.

Lavish, just like I remember it. Polished wood on the floors and on the walls, with a wooden divide around the middle of the wall with a knotted sort of pattern running along it. There’s the elaborate fireplace directly infront of me, his king sized pour post bed to the right. To the left corner furthest away from me is a flat screen television hung on the wall, and on the left wall is a large crucifix. In the middle of the room is a large, bearskin rug.

As I stpe inside, I look to the left corner and find him sitting there, in an armchair next to the glass table. Stains of white powder and spilled drinks haven’t been cleaned away for days. There he is, sleeping away. His hair looks just a little more grey than usual, he’s made no effort to lose the weight on his belly, and he’s sitting there in a white vest, white underwear and a thick fur dressing gown.

When I step in and close the door, he rouses. I didn’t make much of an attempt to be quiet about it. He grunts and rubs his face, feeling the stubble already forming. He grunts, wearily opening his eyes, then stares around the room with a groan, wincing away from the light coming in from the large window. I move to the centre of the room and face him, one hand on my hip. He looks up at me, takes a second to think about it, then a smile grows on his face.

“Ah!” He starts to sit up properly and cover himself up with his gown. The last stand to attain some dignity. “My beautiful daughter. I thought you were your mother for a second.” He tells me in Spanish. I frown and roll my eyes. He’s a charming man, I can see how he got to where he is today. “What brings you here? What time is it?”

“It is eleven minutes past twelve.” I don’t tell him why I’m here yet. I need to see if he knows, and if he’ll take it seriously. I take another look around the room. The crucifix to my right looks big enough to have been the one they hung Jesus on. It even has nails where hands should be. I’m not sure if that’s a blasphemy or not. Probably. Christ isn’t here, that’s for sure.

“So late already.” He yawns and starts stretching. I can hear joints pop and crack, and I cringe. That noise just goes right through me. He stands up, and begins to bring his robes together, tying them together with a crude double knot. “Not that I’ve missed much. It is the Lord’s day after all, and He commands us to rest.”

I roll my eyes again, and take my hand off my hip. “Papa. It’s today. He’s coming today for you, like he promised.”

“Who?” He asks. He’s still not totally awake yet, and he’s stretching again. Luckily, nothing pops out of place. He scratches his chin, hearing the fingers go through the coarse hairs. I think he’s realising he needs a shave. “Oh, yes, yes. That’s today? I didn’t realise.”

I don’t think he honestly cares. Why would he? He thinks he’s invincible, he thinks that he can take a few deadbeats with guns and shoot Malachi and his problems will be over. He’s a fool.

“Yes, today. Malachi is coming for you today. He’ll be here in an hour, and you’ve been sleeping all morning. Aren’t you afraid? You’ve heard what he’s done, what he’s going to do-”

“No.” He cuts me off. “I’m not afraid of some child. He’s an angry kid with powers who is throwing a tantrum. I’m not afraid of him.”

“You should be afraid of him.” This isn’t how it’s meant to be. Listen to sense, please, papa.”

“Listen.” He takes a step towards me. “You’re young. I’ve seen a lot of things in my life. Do you remember when you were younger when I took you out with me, to deal with those Coyotes and their gangs? They stole my shipments, they tried to sell my product. What did I do with them, Erendira?”

I pause. I know what he did, but I just don’t want to say it. As bad as it sounds to say this, I know what’ll happen today will be so much worse than what he did to those men and women. I can see him waiting, his patience growing thin.

“What did I do with them?” He asks again. His tone is growing impatient.

“You took them, you took their families, and you dragged them out to the desert, and you made them kiss the sand and beg for their lives, before you put a bullet in the back of their skulls.” I still remember it. It was the first time I heard a gunshot. My papa didn’t want me to see it, but he couldn’t leave me in the house alone. I was just fifteen when it happened. He didn’t trust me, being so young and vulnerable, near a few of his ‘lieutenants’. I still remember their cries, their screams, the sound of the children pleading and sobbing. “And you made your own daughter think it was okay to execute men, women and children in cold blood.”

“Yes.” He said, simply and bluntly. “That’s true. And you’ve become a much stronger person for it. It had to be done. Here’s the thing.” He gestures to the room around him with open arms. “If you ask anybody on the streets who not to fuck with, they say ‘Tomas Sarachaga’. They won’t fuck with me because they know better. This little boy and his pets, they don’t know better. But he will, he’ll know not to fuck with me.”

“He’s not just some kid. This is Malachi. Drug dealers killed his father. You’re just like the men who put him in this position, Papa.”

“His father was a cop that tried to beat the cartels. What did he think was going to happen? He’s doing the exact same thing as his papa, and the same thing’s going to happen to him.” Papa starts pacing back and forth. He shoots me a glare. “And I’m nothing like those men. I’m still alive.”

“You won’t be for long.” I’m trying to stay clam but I know I can’t. I step forward, opening my arms out. “He’s going to kill you! I don’t want you to die. Please, just… just surrender to him. Say you’ll join him. I don’t want to lose you like we lost mama.”

He turns to me, and I can see that look on his face. He knows when somebody is trying to pull something over him, especially when I brought her up.

“You try to use your mother’s death to convince me? I’m not sure if I should be offended that my daughter has the balls, or lacks the decency to do that.”

“She wouldn’t want you to do this. She’d say the same thing as me.”

“The woman I fell in love with would tell me to stand up against him. She wouldn’t marry a coward who backed down when things weren’t going his way.”

I stare back at him and speak before I think. “You know that’s not what she’d say. Don’t desecrate her memory trying to justify this, this… suicide.”

I didn’t realise how much I’d raised my voice until papa turned to me, looking shocked. Appalled, as if I’d just slapped him in the face. He walks a step towards me and raises his hand, finger pointing at me, accusing me of everything that’s going to happen.

“I will not have my own daughter speak to me like this.” I can feel my heart beat out of time in my chest. Something is telling me to back down but I can’t. I’m going to have to force myself to stay, and I try not to look like I’m hurt. “You will show your papa some respect.”

I hesitate. I didn’t mean to, but he’s my papa. I can’t help it. I know he can be like this and I know I need to… For a second, I think that I can do this. I felt that doubt, that reluctance, that desire to keep things as they are. But it can’t be this way.

“It’s very hard to respect you, when you- when you say what you say to me, when you think you can just walk away from this. This isn’t just another Sunday where you have to sleep until noon. Papa, please!”

“No!” He shouts, then starts walking past me. He walks over to his bed and grabs the pillow, removing a gun, a pistol, and checking the clip to see how many bullets he had. He pulls the slot back, and it clicks together. I don’t know how guns work, but I know that one’s ready to be used. He tucks it into the belt of his gown, then looks at me again. “That is the last I’ll say of this, Erendira. We Sarachaga, we don’t bend the knee, we survive and we rule. That is that. I’ll hear nothing more of this.”

It was a bad idea. I predicted it, yes. He is too proud, too stubborn. I’m exactly the same. Everybody in our family is like this, but I’m different. Everything my papa has shown me, has made me do, has made me jaded, and made me realise that you need conviction and to do what must be done in order to keep going, to survive. Papa won’t survive, not if he isn’t willing to submit, just once.

I take a deep breath.

“Then, I will have to tell Malachi on your behalf that you intend to surrender, and join if he needs us.”

Everything just stops. He doesn’t look at me, not just yet. The air grows thick, bloated with tension and suspense. His head cranes around to me slowly, and I see something new in his eyes. Paranoia, betrayal, malice. I have prayed many nights that I do not see this side of papa, and for good reason. Even I know not to piss him off.

“What did you just say to-”

Don’t think, act. I can’t let him treat me like anybody else he can just dispose of. I raise my hand, and I alter the gravity in the room. I change the gravity from down below him, to the wall behind him, and make it twice as strong. At the same time, I make my own gravity change from below me, to the wall behind me, to get distance. I float back a few feet, and dismiss the effect over me. After he hits, I return the gravity back to normal.

Papa flies backwards and slams into the wall, hard. The impact is loud, like he was just hit by a car. I hear bones crack, the wall shattering away, I hear him choke and gasp for the air that was just knocked out of him lungs, a low gurgling in the back of his throat. Does it feel this much worse knowing just who I’m doing this to?

I thought I’d knocked him unconscious but he starts to slowly raise his head up, in a jerky motion. Tenacious of him. He manages to get his eyes on me the moment I see a trickle of blood start to run from the back of his head down his temple. That look of anger and hate has gone. Nothing left there, except an acceptance. It doesn’t make this feel easier.

He knows what’s going to happen next.

I’ve done this a few times before. Draining, but the results are always the same. Increase the gravity from underneath the person, and increase the gravity beneath them, moving towards the centre. Humans can survive a gradual increase in gravity well enough. I’ve read about this. People can take twice the earth’s gravity with no ill effect. This force is sudden, coming from above and below him. I have to dismiss everything else, the hold I have over the stairs, just to push this out. A hundred times stronger, from above and below, happening in less than half a second

I bring my hands together and shut my eyes.

I can feel his body break, snap, crush and pulp. I can hear it. My powers, they give me some feedback, so I know what I’m feeling when I use my powers. Skin splitting, muscles being torn apart by pure force, bone smashed and pulverised. I can only force that much gravity together for a second, maybe even two, but that’s all it needs before it ends. When I open my eyes, it’s no less gruesome. A mass of torn skin, flesh and body mass, splattered to the floor. The blood sprayed out sideways, as the gravity stopped it from spraying up the wall. Sort of like when you squeeze a grape, it-

No. No, no no. I can’t believe I just compared him to a piece of squashed fruit. The reality is starting to hit me. That was my papa, the one man that took care of me. He fed me, he bought me clothes, he was the one that looked after me when mama passed away. He was always there for me. I remember when he took me to the park, my sixteenth birthday, he, he- oh Jesus Christ, lord please forgive me.

I look at that mass of flesh, and I can’t help it. Tears well up inside of me. Just as quick as it hit me, I feel my stomach start to make knots of itself, and I grab it as I fall to my knees.

Throwing up never felt this violent, but I’m starting to sob. Tears streak down my face as I empty the contents of my stomach out. Gross. This is bad. This is so fucked up.

I take a minute to finish up, crying loudly. I don’t care if anybody hears me. I vent it all out and wipe my mouth on one of the bedsheets.

No. No, I- He wasn’t a good man. He had Matehuala by the balls for decades. He was a drug lord, a murderer, a human trafficker. He’s done so much fucked up shit, I’ve seen so much fucked up shit that he’s done, and how much money he’s earned by doing it. He was the worst person in the world, and he was my father, and I loved him, and he loved me, right to the end, even when I crushed his body to a pulp.

I’m the heir to his estate, and I’ve never felt this fucked up before.

I have to think. Malachi would have killed him anyway. He would have fed him to one of those things or worse. If he managed to survive, it would have been a battle of attrition. I’d have to fight him, and we’d lose. But we’d have lost together, father and daughter.

No. We survive. I’m going to feel bad about this but this was the only way to make sure that I live, that I saved him from a worse fate. If I keep telling myself this, maybe I’ll be able to live with it.

I was already going to hell. This was just another tally, another mark that Lucifer himself would count. I already know what fate will await me.

I look at the body again and pretend it’s not him. It’s a mass of flesh and tissue that was a human. I don’t need to clean it up. Malachi will come and he’ll either kill me or take me away. I’ll never return here, and if he spares me, he can protect me. This was just the last straw needed to break away from this. Maybe we will move onto something far greater. Maybe he’ll do it. Malachi could purge Mexico, make our country great again.

Maybe I’m being hopeful that he won’t kill me.

I stand up now and compose myself. I take a look around, look at my situation. I’d take the gun but it’s in pieces, some flatter than others. I turn and go to the door, and take a second to look away. One last look before I close this door, and walk outside.

I go and shower. I make it quick, but I have to be careful. With hair this long and thick, I make sure to take my time. Once I’m done, I go out and go into my bedroom here and put on a fresh set of clothes.

A plain white bra with matching underwear. A white shirt with long sleeves, black pants. I put a tan skirt over that, it only covers my thighs. I put on my leather gloves and boots I was wearing before, some kind of dark colour, and I take one of my leather coats out of my wardrobe. It’s a light brown, somewhere between the colour of my skirt and my boots and gloves, it reaches just to my calves.

I take a quick look in the mirror and stare back at myself. Papa always said I had my mother’s eyes, a deep brown. I see the scar on the left side of my lips, when I got into a fight when I was younger. Some boys at school thought that picking on a girl was funny, until I punched one and broke his nose. Then, they attacked me, and cut my face before I flung them ten feet in the air. They were put into hospital. Good. They deserved it, the pigs.

The ground beneath me is trembling. I can feel it. His host, he calls it, is almost here. I breathe in, breathe out. Fate is waiting for me.

When I know something bad is going to happen, I stay really calm. It’s extremely useful. I make my way out and go downstairs, making my way out of the house. I wince a little as the sun hits me, and I stare at the sky for a second. I drag my gaze down to the horizon, and it looks like it’s raised.

No. Not raised. It’s like a tidal wave. An encroaching wall of flesh that barges through the landscape. Has he brought them all, every one under his thrall? No wonder nobody could resist him. He has this much to just brute force through every situation, whilst he comfortably sits back and lets them do his work.

But what if it wasn’t everything he had? What if this was just the tip of his spear, the vanguard? I dread to think of just how much he has at his disposal. Yet even still, it’s not the worst thing that’s happened today.

All I have to do is wait.

As they come closer, I can start to see some features of them. They’re all unique, all different. A mass, teeming, different sized and shapes. Some with tentacles pulling them across the ground, some more like large beasts with many limbs. Yet even as they were all unique in their own ways, their own structures, a wave like this looked so… indistinct. And as he came closer, I could see him.

Malachi.

His face was covered, by a mask. Something mexican, recently crafted. Extremely good quality. Possibly wood or metal, it was hard to tell. It looked lightly molded to his face, vague human features, no gap for his nose, just two slits for his eyes. It had a strap around it, and on the back of it was a halo, held up in place, hovering behind him. I expected the lips to split open at any moment, it looked so real.

He had body armour on, looks like something the police might wear for a raid. It was a sort of grey, with a hint of yellow or green. Lemon grass, I think the name is. There was cloth, like a tabard, hung from his belt that covered over his knees. He wore pauldrons that made his shoulders look square, and a cape covered from his sternum and upper arms. The cloth he wore was all the same colour, like a deep, pale purple. Salt Box, that’s what it’s called. Those art lessons my papa paid for have been useless, except for now, when I identify the colour of the armour of the man conquering Mexico.

He wasn’t a man though. He wasn’t much taller than me, he didn’t have muscle. He could be a teenager, or nearly leaving the teen years.

But right now, he was standing on top of the back of some shelled Eldritch that looked like a mixture of a crab and a bear, with tentacles writhing along its belly, arms slightly spread out.

He eventually approached, but the remainder of his forces hung back. The single creature holding him aloft was all that was brought forward, and he approached me. He was twenty feet from me, and he walked forward. As if he telepathically willed the beast, it raised its claws up, almost half as big as the creature itself and as if it didn’t even notice that weight, and he stepped down. Walking effortlessly from its back, its claws used as steps.

People say that he looks like an angel. Now I can see why. If the Lord had sent him down to cleanse the Earth, he would have sent Malachi to do it. Part of me thought he had.

Malachi walked on the ground now, his cloak gently wafting behind him. He kept his gaze on me, it was fierce. I didn’t baulk.

“I am here to pass judgement on Tomas Sarachaga.” He said in English. His voice was so young, so scarred by what happened. He sounded well beyond jaded, as if there was just fire inside keeping him going.

I responded in Spanish. “Tomas Sarachaga is dead.”

He tilted his head, and spoke in Spanish this time. He seemed to have caught on. “You killed him.”

“I did.” I said. I tried to sound remorseless, but it was so hard. I almost stuttered, but I had to look strong. “He was my father.”

“You killed your father.” He said, tilting his head back upright. He took a single step forward. “It was a great sin. You knew who he was, what he’d done. You’ve done the right thing.”

“The lord wouldn’t forgive me. I did what had to be done.”

“God?” He says. He turns around to the beast behind him, and it takes a single step back. It’s movements are so alien. It’s trying to move like a crab or a person would, but its body doesn’t seem to cooperate as much. “It’s hard to believe God is with anybody lately. Christian?”

“Yes.” I said. I wasn’t going to speak out of line. My odds weren’t great. If I had to fight him now, I could possibly kill him. Crush him like my father, but I’d be open to attack, and all the Eldritch here might run rampant if he wasn’t controlling them. It made me think; how strong was he? He had an army, numbering in thousands, tens of thousands, even more. Creatures of all size, bending to his will. Here he was, speaking to me normally. No effort expended on his half, with the finesse to control a single creature in an uncountable swarm.

I began to truly feel how little I was compared to all of this, so out of my depth. Thinking about it made it worse.

“I am too.” He said, turning around. “I read, about great wars. Wars of religion in the middle east, when I was young, at the end of the nineties. They taught me them in school. People asked, why would God allow the Farside to exist? Why would god make Farborn, Fartouched? In what vision of His do these creatures, the Eldritch, walk about freely? All faiths felt the same.”

He paused and turned around. Showing me his back, did he really feel that unthreatened by me? I wasn’t exactly being confrontational.

“They killed each other. Especially in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands slaughtered. They thought it was hell on earth. The apocalypse. Revelations, the end times. All at once. Anybody touched by the Farside, any Eldritch, were demons that needed to be sent back to hell. It all ended. We used technology, made from the Farside. They calmed everyone with new guns, they settled everyone. The world was at peace again.”

He continued, turning back to me. “What is your name?”

“Erendira. Erendira Liliana Sarachaga.”

“Erendira. Are you Farborn?”

“Yes.” I nodded.

“You are blessed, or cursed. However you want to look at it. I am too. I can touch these Eldritch, and they are under my control.” To demonstrate, the creature closest to us raised its claws in the air. “As we talk, my Eldritch are down in Chipas, Tabasco. They are liberating the people from the corruption. The drug lords, the criminals, the cartels.”

“You are doing that from here?” He really is that powerful.

He nods. “I can sense through them. In a way, there’s no strain on me. It helps that I can make as many or as little do as I wish. I pushed myself. It took a lot of time, a lot of pain, but I am master over my gifts.”

I nod again. How do you respond to this? It’s so hard to fathom. So much to think about, and he can do it so easily? I’m powerful, but this is something on another level. If I’ve won a hand of poker, he won the lottery.

“What do you think they are?” He said, arm out, sweeping behind him.

I think about it for a second, staring at the mass of bodies and aliens at his command. When I was younger, I thought they were demons. Now, I’m not so sure what they are. Angels, demons, nightmares made flesh. They are the Farside, given the forms of warped beasts.

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t think they’re angels. I don’t think they’re demons either. But God made me this way. He made me Farborn, and he gave me the ability to control them. I think if he has a plan for me, this is part of it. This may be just what he wanted for Mexico.”

I nod again. He is self assured, to say the least. Maybe just driven for revenge.

“The people who stood against me will receive His judgement. The people that stand with me will have blood on their hands, but their hands are stained the blood of sinners. Where do you stand?”

I don’t take long to answer him. “I stand with Matehuela. I stand with Mexico. You already have most of it, so I stand with you.”

He nods. “Good. You may be powerful. I need powerful Farborn, Fartouched, who believe that God is still out there, watching us. You will join me?”

He extends his hand out. I have to take a step forward to grab it. A step of faith. Symbolic, a little pretentious. I don’t think he realises it. I’m just overthinking. I’m surprised that he’s taken me on so quickly. Could he be impressed? Naïve?

I step forward and take his hand. His grip is firm, much firmer than mine.

“Yes. I will.”

“Good.” He lets go.

“Why do you call yourself Malachi?” I ask him. If we’re going to ally, I want to know a bit more about him.

“Malachi was a messenger, a prophet. He wrote the Book of Malachi. It is Jewish, but I thought the name was fitting. It means ‘messenger of God’.”

“Ah. Yes, very fitting. You and your ‘angels’.”

He looks behind him for a second. I can see in the distance, some creatures float above. Bulbous, like giant sacks of air with teeth or claws hanging from the bottom of it, drifting on the breeze.

“I guess they are.” He says. “What do you call yourself?”

“I don’t call myself anything.”

“What are your powers?”

I look to my side. I catch a glimpse of one of the plant pots, and I raise my arm, outstretched towards it. I change the gravity so it’s supposed to go up instead of down, gently. It begins to pull away, and Malachi watches intently. I lower it down just a second afterwards.

“Telekinesis?”

“Gravity.” I correct him.

“You used your powers to kill your father?” He asked. It was a piercing question, but he was only curious by the tone of his voice. I nod.

“Yes. I crushed him.”

“Crush.” He said that in English. I blink slightly at the change of language, but then he says it in Spanish. “Abrumar. So they know what to expect.”

It takes me a second but I realise what he means. I nod. Fitting, if anything, though I can’t help but feel that every time somebody will say that, it will reflect in me. What I did to earn that title.

“Abrumar, the left hand. Taypoa, the right. He is, what you call, geokinetic. He controls the Earth, the sands. He is powerful as well. It’s all fitting. You control what holds everyone together. He controls the ground beneath us. I control the Eldritch inbetween.” He nods, still staring to the wall of creatures. “You will meet soon, and then we can carry on with our work.”

“What is your plan?”

I want to change the conversation. He turns back to me, locking eyes with me once more.

“I will take Mexico. All the people that are my allies will help me rebuild our country. Then, I will demand answers.”

“From who?”

“America.” Does he hate the American pigs as much as I do? He carries on talking. “I will go to the border that they use to keep us out, and I will ask that they let me in. I will demand that their government, their President, tells us why they have allowed all this crime, this corruption, to stain Mexico, when they could have helped us.”

“Good. I will definitely stand by your side.”

He squints a little beneath his mask. “You don’t like the Americans.”

I shake my head. “No. I dislike their culture, their language. They haven’t done a thing to help us. They boarder us in like animals, like cattle, and they make a mockery of us and our culture. I will spit on their corpses. I have no remorse for them.”

He pauses. Is he judging me, or does he agree? I hope he does.

“Anger is a good motivation.”

“What happens when we arrive at the gates, and they turn us away?”

“Then their silence is the only answer I need. Their refusal is their answer. I haven’t been denied my will here. I won’t be denied it there. I will walk away.” He says. “And I will plan. One way or another, I will make them talk. I have something, something hidden well. I will show you. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but you’ll see why I’m so confident.”

I nod. He spoke as if he knew exactly what he wanted. It was all planned out to him. He wanted this peacefully, even willing to give them a chance. I wouldn’t have been so merciful.

The beast behind us starts to move over, and arranges its claws into steps again. Malachi begins to walk away from me, and steps up them. Once again, he wills the Eldritch to move as he wants it to, hoisting him up effortlessly. Once he’s on its back, he turns and waits. I take the hint and I walk over. I climb up, much less gracefully, but he holds his hand out and extends it for me to reach. With my feet firmly on his back, the Eldritch begins to turn and walks to the wall of entities behind us, who are already beginning to turn around.

As we move away, eventually moving out of sight, I take a single look back at the house. As if all the memories flood to me at once, I turn away, wreaked with sudden guilt and sadness. My life is physically moving away from me, out of my reach, out of my control, on the back of a force so powerful, I had no choice.

I turn from Malachi to avoid letting him see me cry. Something tells me, he saw, and he knew. Perhaps that’s why he took me on, knowing I did something so grave, that I had the conviction to do so.

My house eventually becomes a distant speck on the horizon, and as it fades out of view, I knew my old life had faded from me just as quickly.

Beginnings: 2-8

Shaun had, for the better part of ten minutes, been trying to fold his clothes properly and put them in his suitcase. He’d tried putting his jeans and trousers in first and putting his shirts on top, then the other way around. He had attempted to put his toiletries in and fit the clothes around them, then put the clothes in and squeeze everything else to fit their mould. Regardless of how many attempts he made, it always looked cluttered, and something wasn’t going to fit. With a dismissive wave, he left it on his bed for the time being. He’d hope that his mum would see his attempts and take pity, and do it for him instead.

He shot a glance to the other beds. He was up earlier than his mum, who was still sleeping peacefully. Craig had already gone to work today, and he was the person stuck in the middle getting up and ready. He’d showered and cleaned himself up, inspected the stubble growing on his chin with a bit of weariness. A bowl of cereal was freshly washed after he consumed nearly a quarter of the box by himself and brushed his teeth afterwards. With a fresh set of clothes, his marl blue hoodie and fleece-lined jacket ready, he was prepared as he’d ever be to go to work. If he could even call it that.

It technically counted. He was paid and he did them a service, even if the payment had yet to come. He hadn’t been there long enough and he didn’t really care enough to ask at this moment.

A quick final check on his phone and he kitted himself up, putting on his makeshift costume. With his hoodie and jacket on, he made his way out, making sure the door was locked before he absconded downstairs.

There wasn’t much haste in him. He put his hands in his hoodie pockets and casually hopped down the stairs, two at a time. They were on the second from the top floor, though Shaun always took the stairs if he had the chance. His parents normally took the lift, which meant he didn’t get much opportunity to get a bit of exercise.

Shaun finally entered the main lobby after a small trek and gave a court nod to the female receptionist at the front desk, who smiled and gave him one back in return. He had to wait a second before the rotating doors would allow him to leave, and when he did he smiled slightly at the feeling of cool morning air on his skin.

Light was starting to filter in from the heavens. The sky was a screen of soft clouds that filtered out the harshness of the sun from scolding the eyes. Shaun looked up, staring right at the sun itself without flinching or blinking, noting all the pastel colours of blues and pinks and streaks of pale gold in the sky that weaved through the clouds.

It was only a minute of waiting, where Shaun never took his eyes from the sun for lack of better things to watch at this hour. The same black car pulled in and drove up close. Shaun had seen the license plate enough times to know it was the same car, though which driver it was behind the tinted windows was yet to be seen.

He pulled the door to and hopped in, bouncing lightly on the leather seat and buckled up. He cast a glance to the driver; this one, a male in his late fourties with neatly parted black hair, barely spoke.

“Morning.” Shaun said. The driver cast him a look, with no particular emotion behind it, and nodded back. That was all he got, and the driver put the car into gear and pulled off away from the hotel without another word.

Shaun’s pocket buzzed at him. He pushed up on his phone in his pocket, through his jeans, and it ejected into plain view for him to take it out and quickly check to see what merited his attention.

Alex had texted him.

Hey Shaun. Hope you’re alright 🙂

Shaun snapped him a quick text back.

hi yeh i’m good, whats up?

He stared at the screen and waited for a reply. Alex didn’t disappoint, sending a text as quickly as Shaun sent his.

Good to hear 🙂 Visionary wants us to go on patrol half an hour earlier tonight. Thought I’d let you know man.

Shaun perked a brow. He replied back inquisitively.

not standard. know why?

Shaun waited until his phone went black to conserve power. A second after, he got another text, and tapped in the passcode to take a look.

No idea. Important? Vis + GM took out Technomads earlier this week. Might be related.

Shaun tapped a much quicker response, and they continues exchanging words.

who?

Gang who steal MAGI-Tech stuff. Most were caught in a raid. GM grilling boss man for information.

sucks to be him i guess

Big time. Don’t think we’re going after them. Few weren’t there.

sounds like jolly again. vis not telling us wats gonna happen. bet we’ll be heading somewhere specific

That’s what I think. Might not be. Who knows. 🙂

k. thanks for info. lemme know if owt changes

Will do. 😀

Shaun lifted his finger to lock his phone again, pausing before he put any pressure down against the button on the top of his phone. He took his headphones out of his pocket and slotted them into his mobile and wired them into his ears. He brought up Chrome on his phone, and began to search with a bit of purpose for a new song, contemplating a change of ringtone. He shot a quick glance to the driver, who was busy doing his job, and figured he had enough time in the journey to utilise the silence between them to listen to a bit of music, and wonder what sounded good right now.

He’d removed his earbuds the moment he stepped inside, so that he could go through the several security checks required to enter the NFU headquarters. He squinted slightly as he spied around the foyer that extended past the reception and notices how active this building was for such an early start in the morning. He had his key card lanyard issued to him as normal, just as his previous entries had been, and begun making his way to the room where they had morning handover.

Shaun glanced at a vending machine as he walked past and spied the contents. He was already digging for the coins in his pocket and paid for a bottle of water, and cracked it open to take a quick drink. He paused before leaving, then decided to grab a can of Monster as well and hauled both of them with him.

The journeys inside were more pleasant, now that he had some idea of where he was meant to go and more people had begun to know him. There was still a little unease from people, either out of not knowing who he was or even knowing who he was and what he was capable of. He recognised those that did know and were sceptical about him, from past experiences of how people treated him before. Shaun thought nothing of it, though he was observant to the reactions of others.

Pushing the door open, he saw Yuhong was sitting opposite from him and Alex was sat at the table. There was a seat next to him for Shaun to sit at, and Yuhong was looking at her laptop with a mug of coffee next to her. It was still steaming, Shaun estimated they hadn’t been waiting long. He gave a nod to Alex and Yuhong, who was armoured for everything but her face. Shaun skipped the traditional greetings and went straight for the issue at hand.

“What happened?” He asked, sitting down. He whisked out the can of energy drink and put it next to Alex, who’se face lit up. The can cracked as he opened it, taking a swig with a hum that was too enthusiastic for such a concoction of energy, sugar and miscellaneous chemicals.

Yuhong’s cheek was blue with dashes of purples, with a sickly green near the edges that was starting to form. “Just a minor injury. Nothing to worry about.”

“Battle damage.” Alex said, laying the can on the table. “See, man. This is what happens when we’re not around. The untouchable becomes touchable.”

In jest, Alex and Shaun shared a smirk. Shaun chipped in. “Never thought I’d see the day. Did you get that when you raided the Technomads?”

“Yes.” She said, finishing typing something on her laptop. Her eyes didn’t leave the screen, even as she spoke. “Word spreads fast.”

Shaun shot a glance to Alex, who seemed to have a coy expression on his face. “You could say that. I only know you did a raid. Nothing else.”

“Good.” She finally looked at the pair and smiled. “We’ll discuss it in today’s handover. I hope both of you have been well?”

Alex nodded. “Yeah. Cool on my end.”

Shaun mirrored the nod. “I’m good.”

“Good as well. We’ll cover a few areas this morning.” Yuhong turned around her laptop so everyone could see, showing a slide show presentation. On the first slide was a list, black text on a white background, and she verbally spoke through it in order. “Firstly, if there is any general information about the NFU, we’d talk about that. I can tell you there isn’t any major news in the last few days, so we can move on from that. Then, we’ll discuss the latest operations that have been undertaken. We also need to have a brief discussion regarding our squad, and something relevant to Shaun. Once that’s done, we’ll move onto what we’re planning to do today.”

Shaun and Alex both nodded. Yuhong pressed the left button on the touchpad, bringing up the next slide. She annotated it verbally once more.

“As you’re both aware, we recently performed an operation on Tuesday to apprehend several members of a small gang known as the ‘Technomads’. The operation was a success, with no casualties or heavily injured personnel. We’re currently detaining all members for the next four days before they’re transferred to the police, and will be awaiting trial for their previous convictions. We’re currently undergoing a long interview with their leader, in the hopes that he may provide some information to us.”

She pressed the button again. A slide came up, this one detailing regarding matters about the team.

“A more important matter for us to discuss in particular, is the team. Despite our last major incident, the NFU are pleased with our progress. They had some initial doubts but they’re growing to warm to us. They’re willing to take a small leap of faith, and they want our team to expend. Because of this, we’re looking at getting a new member for the squad.”

Shaun and Alex shared a glance.

“Whilst we have a good dynamic, an extra person will allow us to undertake more operations with less risk. As it stands, we’re going to be taking on a new recruit. The decision is largely out of our hands but I have been pushing for a specific individual to join our team.”

Alex spoke in the breach where Yuhong had paused. “Katrina?”

Yuhong smiled lightly. “Yes. I had mentioned to the Director’s board that I want her for this team. You seem to have gotten along with her fine when you were being lectured by Grandmaster.”

Shaun decided to speak as well, and sat up slightly. “It wasn’t a coincidence that she was there as well.”

Yuhong shook her head. “No. I knew you’d pick up on it. It wasn’t the most subtle of nudges but we had to see if you’d get along.”

Shaun and Alex both shared another glance, and Alex nodded and spoke. “She’s cool. No problems for me.”

Shaun nodded again. “Yeah. I’m not complaining. Why her, though?”

“Because.” Yuhong said. “We have a capable team. We all provide something for this team, be it strength, utility, experience. As we stand, we’re a very physical, close combat team. Katrina will add some more utility and a little more range, as well as some area control. She can use her vapour to block line of sight, to blind enemies, grant us cover. She can also heat up her vapour, which we’ve seen her do in training to make walls that people can’t cross without burning themselves. I believe she’ll be a valuable asset.”

“Makes sense. Sure.” Shaun said, with a light nod.

“Her costume is finished, and she’s been given a name. Her designate will be Spectre.”

“Spectre.” Shaun sounded incredulous, though Alex looked quite pleased.

“Yeah.” Alex said. “Like, I’ve seen her in training. She makes an area of vapour and you can’t see her through it, but she can see through it clearly. When she’s walking around, she looks like a ghost. It’s really cool, really creepy.”

Shaun shrugged nonchalantly. “Works for me. I’m not in charge of that.”

“That does bring us onto our next point.” Yuhong says. Shaun caught her gaze, and noticed it was weighing down on him. “Shaun.”

“Yeah?”

“We’ve been in touch with The Designer. She says she’s finished your name, and she’s doing the last touches to your costume design. She said she’ll be ready to present them after the next week, on Monday.”

Any enthusiasm on Shaun’s face had left him, and he stifled a grunt of displeasure.

“Joy.” He said, his tone mirroring that lack of enjoyment.

Yuhong tilted her head slightly. “You’re still concerned about it.”

“A little, yeah.”

“This is what these handovers are for, to discuss these things. If you have an issue, by all means.” She made an open handed gesture to the table.

“I don’t know. It’s like, what if she picks a name that sounds really bad? Like, it could be pretentious, it could make me sound like an idiot. I don’t mind it, really, but I’ve got to live with that. That’s the name the newspapers will call me. It’ll be the name my parents see when they look to see how I’ve done.”

“The Designer’s good, man.” Alex said. “I know you’re not big on the whole name and costume thing. I mean, I was. I didn’t have any trouble because it felt really cool to me. But she works to a high standard. I know what sorta design process she does, so don’t fret it.”

He gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. It settled Shaun down a little, and he resigned to nod back. “I hope you’re right on that.”

Yuhong waited for a moment to interject. “Just so you know, Shaun. Those that enrol and pass probation by January will be officially inducted. It’s more like a press release where we inform the general public of our new agents. There’s a small ceremony, and you’ll likely have to do an interview or two afterwards.”

Shaun raised his head up. “Interviews.”

“Yeah. That’s why it’s important for The Designer to make you look good. You’re like, part of the NFU. She’s been paid to make you and the NFU look good.”

Shaun responded with just a shrug, a non-committal gesture that he didn’t elaborate on.

“We’ll discuss your inauguration later.” Yuhong said. “It’s not going to be for a while, so we can talk about it at a later date.”

Alex took a sip of his monster. Shaun had left his bottle of water on the table, not having taken a drink from it since he sat down. Yuhong presses the left button again, and a daily planner comes on the screen.

“Today will be as normal. We’ll be doing some paperwork practice from eight until ten, focusing on doing post incident reports. We’ll break for ten minutes, then from ten past ten to eleven, you’ll be doing some criminal study. Learning about the different Fargraced criminals you’re likely to meet. Following that, we break for lunch for an hour. Twelve to half one, you’ll be doing some training. I believe today will be a focus on group training, and Katrina will be joining us for that.”

Shaun takes his bottle of water and eventually has a sip. It’s warming up, but still refreshing.

“Right at half one, us three will be going on patrol. I’ll fill you in on the details in a minute.”

Alex tilted his head slightly, picking up his can. He shot Shaun a knowing glance before he spoke. “I know you told me before about going on patrol early. Like, isn’t that a bit different? We’re supposed to have two hours of training.”

Yuhong paused for a second, and locked eyes with Alex. There was an uneasy pause before she spoke, as if she was thinking on what to say.

“Normally, yes. Today, I have a specific route I wish to patrol on. It’s all been cleared and authorised. There shouldn’t be any issues, at least not on the management side of things.”

Shaun took another swig of water before he spoke. “Seems a little odd, going half an hour early.”

Yuhong paused again, musing on something for a second. “I don’t believe it’d be right to hide the reason why from you. It was requested that we attend half an hour earlier, from Director Sage.”

Both Shaun and Alex perked up at this. Shaun was the first to respond. “Which means something is going to happen, because Sage doesn’t pull stuff like this normally.”

Alex nodded. “Thought so.”

“What happens if we don’t go?” Shaun asked. “What if we like, didn’t go where Sage said we’ll be going? What’ll happen then?”

Alex frowned a little. “Man, I don’t want to think about that. Way too early to talk about that sort of stuff. It’s not even half seven and you wanna talk about fighting some destiny you think you have. She probably knows we need to be there for a reason, so it’s probably a good thing if we go.”

Shaun holds up both his hands, defensively. “Alright, alright. Good point. We’ll talk about it later.”

Yuhong waits for them to finish. She turns her laptop around to her, and closes down her presentation as she speaks. “I believe there may be a confrontation of some kind. You should know in advance to expect that. What we’ll face, I’m not sure. She didn’t specify, possibly for a reason. Whilst we do our training, I’d like to emphasise quick analysis of a situation, and being prepared for anything.”

“It would have been nice for her to tell us what we’re up against, if she wants us to win.” Shaun commented on. He was swirling the liquid around in his bottle, half drank already, before taking a swig.

“I’m not sure of her intention, but we have to trust they’re in the right place. Director Sage wouldn’t endanger us. She did assure me that we wouldn’t come to any great harm.”

“I’m not worried about that. For me, I mean. There’s no chance of whatever happening hurting me. You guys though? I’m more worried if Sage is going to lead us into a place where you might get hurt.”

Yuhong smiled gently. “I share those concerns as well, Shaun. I’ve spoken with Director Sage on the matter. It’s why she came and told me about it.”

Shaun paused. “…really? Huh.” He brushed some hair to the side of his face. “I guess that’s not too bad, then.”

Knowingly, Yugong smiled wider as a response. She folds the laptop up and takes a sip of her coffee. Luke warm, but good enough to take a good, few mouthfuls. She puts the laptop in a black, plain messenger bag, making sure it’s securely inside.

“That concludes the morning handover. We’ll be heading up to the communal offices at eight, so have a rest until then and meet me at my office, and I’ll take you up there.”

“Paperwork, not my favourite thing in the world.” Alex says, before lifting his can skywards and starting to chug the contents. In his own way, a means to show that this meeting was over. It took him half a dozen seconds, and he covered his mouth to shield everyone politely from the incoming belch. As much as he tried to let it pass through, it was noticeably loud. “Hah, sorry.”

Yuhong was standing up, and hooked the messenger bag over her shoulder. She held the coffee cup with the palm of her hand covering the top of it, holding it in her fingers. “Nobody particularly enjoys it, but it’s a necessary part of the job.”

“Can’t you like, delegate it?” Shaun says. He stands, simply grabbing the bottle of water and depositing it into the inner pocket of his jacket.

“I would, but then the person I delegate it to might not get it right.” She offers him a broad smile. Shaun perked his brow as he heard her response, nodding once.

“Good meeting. I’ll see you at eight.”

After they left the room, they parted ways for the time being. Visionary went one way, Shaun and Alex went another.

“Hey, do you think we can get a game of pool in before we have to go?” Alex enquired. Shaun took out his phone, and gave a quick glance at the locked screen showing the time.

07:27.

“Might be able to, yeah. Still don’t feel great that Sage knows what’s gonna happen. How are we expected to like, deal with these situations when we’re thrown into them? No warning, just ‘be careful’?”

Alex shrugged. “We can’t see the future, man. Just gotta trust the boss lady.”

Shaun grumbled. “For the record, I’m starting to dislike anybody who can see the future.”

“Precogs. That’s the term you’re after”

“Precogs. I’m starting to dislike precogs. That sounds about right.”

It was five minutes to twelve, and Shaun and Tether had finally made their way to the training area that they were growing accustomed to. At this time, most people would be on their lunch, so it wasn’t as densely packed as it normally could be. Of all the people here, Shaun recognised none but Visionary, who had donned her face mask and was standing by who he could assume to be Katrina, or Spectre as she’d be known as in future.

She wore an outfit that wasn’t like anything Shaun had seen before, entirely unique to her. All agents wore the same bodysuit beneath their armour, though hers was a light grey as opposited to the dark navy and black that others had. She wore shin high boots, of the same colour as her bodysuit. The top half of it had sleeves that looked more at home on a jacket, though around the biceps and upper arm area it was properly form fitted. On her hands were gloves, matching the material and colour of her boots.

The armour was a brighter white, and there was a single curved pauldron over her shoulder that allowed room to move her arms about without being hindered. The chest armour was segmented twice, with a plate covering from the ribs to the collar bone, and another plate on top of that over from beneath where her breasts would be, to a small distance away from her sternum. There was a single section covering her torso, in a straight line. That too was segmented into six sections, a visible abdominal effect, for maximum flexibility. There was further sections of raised armour on the front and back of the thighs, on the shins and calves, as well as on the upper arms. Her forearms had no such protection.

Hoods seemed to be a common theme. Hers was light grey, with the inside being a much lighter white. She wore a helmet that covered her face in what appeared to be a ceramic, expressionless face. There was a pair of oval holes for her eyes to see, though up until they approached, they couldn’t make anything out underneath. There was a nose hole and a small gap for the mouth, looking creepily organic in nature. Beneath it, there seemed to be a filtration system of some kind, as there was no flesh visible other than her eyes.

When Shaun and Tether approached, she offered them a mock salute. The way the armour was designed, there wasn’t much sign for the curves of her body. She looked female, but it was hardly feminine, suited for its primary function.

“Glad you could join us, boys.” Despite the rather striking appearance of her costume, her accent didn’t help much with any angle of intimidation. It sounded out of place. “Keeping a girl waiting?”

Shaun shrugged lightly. “We’re early. Cut us some slack.”

Visionary smiled beneath her mask. “You’ve all met before. Katrina will be joining our team, so we’re going to do a few exercises to establish a bit about your powers, and working together. Spectre has volunteered first. Shaun, Tether, would either of you like to go first?”

To everyone’s surprise, Shaun raised his hand almost immediately.

“Shaun, excellent.”

“Sure. I’ve not seen her in action yet. It’ll be good.”

Visionary ushered them over to a clear space, where they had ample room to manoeuvre. Spectre took the lead and stood in the ring, beckoning Shaun over with a single curled finger. Shaun, with a perked brow, walked over. They were roughly ten feet apart at this point.

“This will be simple. Shaun, this will be a test for you. Spectre will douse the area in vapour. You simply need to catch her.”

“Sounds easier said than done.” He pointed loosely in her direction. “She’s not got any trouble seeing me.”

“That’s the intent. You might not be able to be hurt, and your enemies may know that. They’ll attempt to misdirect you. You need to stay focused, and overcome any setbacks.”

Shaun nods firmly. “Got it.”

“Try not to go easy on me.” Katrina said, as she raised her hand. White vapour began to smoke and drift off her fingertips, intensifying in thickness near her clothes. Even from this distance, it was easy to see that the colour of her clothes helped her to blend into the white smog she generated.

“I don’t have a choice.” He said, bluntly. It made her clench her hand in response.

“I’ll count you down. Spectre, if you would cover the area.”

She nodded, and she held both her hands out. Smoke began to seethe out from her; from inside her hood, the outline of her body from where Shaun was facing, trickling outwards through each fingertip. It seethed outwards, though as Shaun began to observe just exactly what she was going, he noticed that the entire area was quickly blanketed by the fog. It didn’t necessarily have to come with her, and was most likely done for effect. A large circle, spanning twenty feet from the point right in the middle of the pair, covered ten feet into the air.

Inside, it was oppressive. The vapour gave off excessive cover, and Shaun couldn’t see Katrina from where she stood before. He held his hand out to check, and he even noticed that his fingertips had become obscure. He pulled down his hood, in order to get a bit of an edge on his peripheral vision.

Visionary waited a second, then began to count down. “Three, two, one. Go.”

Shaun stood where he was for a moment, even though he heard the signal clearly. He inhaled the vapour to get a feel for it, and it reminded him of inhaling an electronic cigarette. He wafted his hand through the mist, watching his fingers go through the obfuscating mists.

He started to take a few steps forward, glancing around left and right. He heard somebody speak, Katrina, coming from the left, and his head darted in her direction.

“Are you even trying?”

Shaun was waiting for some signal from her, and he made a sprint in that direction. He went a second forward and stopped, having found nothing where he thought she might have been, and his head turned to his right. Thinking he saw movement, he moved the same distance in that direction, and found nothing yet again.

“Much easier said than done.” He muttered to himself.

As if to taunt him further, he felt a sudden rise in pressure near his face. As far as he was aware, she was generating more vapour around his face, though this felt much warmer. It was hot, even, and would have been uncomfortable to him if he were able to feel such a thing. It was the lessened sight that was more of an annoyance, and he swiped at the air around him to try and ward it off.

“Come on, Shaun. I’m right here.”

Directly ahead. Shaun took a step forward to get out of the smaller patch of heated vapour that she made, and took a stop. He paused, and glanced from side to side. There was a lot of ambient noise, of people working out, of weighs clanking against each other, and he tried to pinpoint her more by her footsteps. Even then, she could see which direction he intended to take, and could move quicker than he could, whilst he was effectively blind.

Shaun exhaled deeply. For a second, he watched as his breath displaced the air and pushed it to the side. It gave him an idea, crude at best, but worth a try. He took another step forward, acting as if he was going to move, and waited. He heard the footsteps, gentle taps from beneath him, veering off to the left.

Quickly, he inhaled deeply. Just as quick, he exhaled with much more force.

Shaun’s breath was a gust that blew away the vapour, dismantling the white darkness in front of him like a cleansing cone of air. It was powerful enough to cause Spectre to stagger a little, buffered by the wind. He saw her now, covering one arm to her face to defend herself, and he spared no time in trying to close the gap and tag her.

Spectre wasn’t so easy to catch, and she made a sprint for it. Between them, in the path they shared, she conjured a thick line of vapour, a foot above and below Shaun’s head. As she did so, she moved as if she were going to the right, and Shaun tried not to be fooled again so quickly. He responded by trying to weave out, sidestepping to the right to get out of the blanket of vapour.

There was a gap of air, followed by another cloud of vapour. He plunged inside and moved, up until he went through one end and out the other.

She had feinted him, goaded him into going into the other direction. He turned directly left and looked, at the barrier she’d made.

From her hands, like a spray from a hose the vapour surged out, and covered where she directed it to go. She could evoke it where she pleased however, and she gave a glance to Visionary and Tether, as if to make sure they were watching. She took a few steps to the right, then raised a hand to the slice that Shaun had carved out with his breath. The vapour reformed in that area, and she walked over quietly and sunk within its depths.

Shaun, deciding to be a bit more reckless, broke out into a sprint again, and barrelled through the diversion she made. He appeared out of the other end and regained his sight, blinking as he looked around to try and find her. He saw Visionary and Tether, who seemed to be watching with a great deal of interest.

“Oh for the love of-”

Before he finished, he turned back. The gaps that were left from before were slowly starting to contract, as more of the mists began to seep out and flood the area. Even larger than before, a daunting cover of roiling fog.

“-pain in the ass.” He finished, after a moment’s pause. Right now, he was aware she may have been watching him, and noted no footsteps from before. She was most likely in the thick of it, near where they began. He had a second to think of something, and Visionary watched as she could see him trying to think of something.

With a nod to himself, Shaun walked back into the mists.

He counted fifteen paces and looked around. He took in a deep breath, then exhaled gently. He paused, and heard a scuffle of feet as he breathed in. It sounded like she was to the left of him.

He raised both his hands above his head. A second later, he’d brought them down near his chest, and slammed them together.

The noise was deafening, a thunderclap that shook through the room and caused the floorboards to tremble. The force tore through the air, forcing air and vapour to be violently pushed aside in a great cone in front of Shaun.

Infront of him stood Spectre, who was staggering and on the verge of falling backwards from the force Shaun put out. Shaun pushed back with his foot and shunted himself forward, crossing the distance in a single leap to her, and landed with a slight stumble to the left of her. She was starting to get her balance back, but Shaun had just a second’s advantage on her. He raised his hand, and brought it down onto her pauldron with a gentle slap.

Shaun turned his head to her, with a bit of a smile. The only response he could see was a single blink beneath her mask, her expression cold and unreadable otherwise.

Visionary began to clap, and Tether joined her a moment later. She seemed impressed, at least pleased.

“That’s new.” Tether said, turning to Visionary. “Shaun’s been learning tricks.”

Shaun took his hand off her shoulder. She rolled it, just to be certain, and she started to walk back to the others.

“Not bad, not bad.” Spectre said. With a raise of her hand, the vapour began to fade into nothingness. She and Shaun had a glance around; a few stray eyes had caught them, though more seemed curious about what the noise was, before carrying on with their exercise routines.

“I just thought. I watched that Hulk film that came out a little bit ago, where he did that clap and it blew out the flames. I could blow the vapour away, but she’d still be able to run. I needed to stun her, or just keep her still.”

Tether rolled his eyes slightly. “That film kinda sucked.”

“It seemed okay to me. Lots of action, the whole Farside energy bomb thing, it wasn’t bad.”

“Better than the first one, but it used to be a gamma bomb, not a Farside energy bomb. They totally retconned him.”

“Wow, okay, captain nerd. I don’t care that much.” Shaun grinned slightly. Tether did as well.

“I’m not the one that just copied a comic book character.”

“That… is a good point. You can have that.” Shaun shrugged it off, pretending it didn’t matter. “I didn’t say it was great. Just that it was good. Gave me an idea or two.”

“It’s good that you’re learning, all of you. Shaun, excellent work. Spectre, nice use of bait and switch tactics.” Visionary nodded. “Shaun, thank you. If you’d like to take a moment to rest. We’ll try Tether next.”

Shaun nodded, then looked to Spectre. Politely, he put out his hand, so they could shake. She hesitated for a moment, then raised to meet it, giving him a firm grip.

“Guess you don’t disappoint. I’ll make it harder for you next time.” Spectre said. Shaun could see her narrow her eyes slightly, though there was a competitiveness in her tone. Her body language seemed a little confrontational.

“You do that.” That was all Shaun said, and he walked back over to Visionary. Tether walked over, and Shaun raised his hand up. Tether put his low, and Shaun effectively tagged him in, taking up a spot next to Visionary.

Tether and Spectre distanced themselves. Tether tapped the rope on the side that he had; a meteor hammer not unlike his own, though this one had rubber weights on the end. Much lighter by the looks of it, and less lethal. The rope was made out of some grey material, giving off a faint impression of carbon fibre. He ran his fingers over it, until he could reach the part where it clipped from his belt.

Spectre raised her hands, and imitating what she’d done before with Shaun, she started to flood the area with vapour, coming directly from her before dousing the entire area.

Visionary turned to Shaun and nodded, and he returned the nod. He was watching, listening to the action inside.

“Three, two, one. Go.”

“We’re here.”

Visionary started to pull the car over.

Shaun peered out of the window. They were in another industrial estate in Greater Manchester, half an hour’s drive away from the headquarters. It could easily have been fifty feet tall, an imposing square block of grey walls, with a large hanger door at the front and ‘MAGI-Tech Testing Facility’ on the front in large, white letters above it. It was a populated area, with several other equally tall buildings nearby, lorries and vans carting down the roads to their various destinations. Shaun and Tether peered out of the windows for a second, before the former took his phone out of his pocket to check.

“We’re on time. This is the place you were told to come to?”

There was a row of parked cars at the front, and unusually there was also a congregation of people standing outside. Lined in a row, with a few other people starting to walk out of a door at the side of the larger, vertically opening hangar door. One man, who seemed to be organising what was going on, counted the last few people as Visionary pulled over in the middle of the loading bay, where lorries and vans would park in first.

“This is it. Remember, we don’t know what to expect. Be on guard.”

Shaun and Tether nodded, and she cranked up the handbrake to park the car. They were hurried to get out, not too hasty as to seem in a rush. There was an serenity, a focused calm shared between the three.

They were out in the air in seconds, and Visionary was already taking out her badge with one hand, pressing a button on the car keys with the other to lock the vehicle. She was already drawing the eyes of people who had gathered outside, with a hushed murmur between them. Shaun tugged up his motorcycle mask, to give him some cover. Tether didn’t need to worry, with his hood up and goggles firmly on.

When she approached the man in charge, she saw his features. By all accounts quite nerdy, with thick brim glasses and an unkempt beard. He was wearing a white shirt, tucked into black trousers and a plain tie. More office attire than a testing engineer. When she flashed her his badge, he nodded, and a serious look drew over his face.

“I’m Agent Visionary, of the National Farside Unit. We have reason to believe there is suspicious activity in this area.”

The man coughed, clearing his throat. “Agents. I’m Grant Peterson, the current shift manager. We’ve just had a fire alarm go off, and we’re performing a fire drill. Do you think it’s a fire?”

“We’re not quite sure.” Visionary kept her eyes on him. He saw them flick from side to side as she spoke, always returning to the centre once they’d flicked out. “We’re going to have to investigate. Has everyone left the building?”

Grant nodded. “Everyone is out.” He turns on his heels to the line of people, and quickly scans them from left to right. “Looks like it.”

“Everyone needs to stay outside whilst we investigate. What’s being tested in this facility at the moment?”

Grant cleared his throat again. “Cars and motor engines that run on Eldritch power cells. Artifex has a prototype engine he wants to test, unique design.”

Tether turned to Shaun. “Think that might be it?”

“Could be.” He said, looking towards the building.

“Are there any other exits?” Visionary asked.

“Just one at the back.” Grant responded with. “The building is split into two main areas, and offices on the right hand side when you enter.”

Visionary nodded to him. “We’re going inside. Thank you for your cooperation.”

With a polite bow of his head, she turns and starts to break into a jog, heading towards the open door that everyone else had previously entered through. Taking their cue to leave, Shaun and Tether followed her, quickly catching up.

Visionary darted through the office, and neither Shaun nor Tether could take in what was going on around them. They moved through the front reception area, past a large desk which a receptionist had abandoned and through the door on the far wall. Through here, they wove through offices, past computer desks and filing cabinets, with clear glass windows observing the large, open floor of the testing facility. The ringing of the fire alarm started to grow, from a dull hum in the background to a droning buzz.

They saw onto the main court of the area; a white tiled section in the middle of the warehouse, sanctioned off with a border of white blocks, tables with a pair of draws each on them, locked in place by pegs and plates extending either side of them. There was a large gap where one had been removed on the north, south, east and west side of the square. In the middle, surrounding the shell of a car chasis, were several machines. Large arms with several heads, of screwdrivers, magnets, claws made to grip and tighten. They were in the middle of working and assembling the machine, abruptly stopped and returned back to a neutral position.

Large lights hung from above, drenching the area in artificial light. Visionary had walked over through the remaining offices and was investigating a panel on the side of the wall nearest to her. Shaun and Tether followed inside. She was accessing the panel for the fire alarm, and in a few seconds she’d suppressed it. She reached up to her ear, pressing against her comms, speaking clearly now that she didn’t have any noise to contend with.

“Control panel, this is Agent Visionary. Squad has entered the building. No signs of danger yet, but fire alarm has been set. Possible intruder. Requesting Containment Squad to attend site as precautionary measure, over and out.”

Tether took out his meteor hammer and started to swing one of the ends. A second later, all three heard the response.

Agent Visionary, roger. Dispatching Containment Squad to your location. Over and out.”

With a beckoning motion, Visionary started to advance on the door on the far side of the room.

As they approached, they began to hear the rumble of voices behind the wall. The door itself was open, and Visionary guided her team so they were behind it and out of view. From here, they could hear somebody more clearly. The accent was distinctly cockney, rich with accented and emphasised words.

“…turned that bloody alarm off? Well, no bother. We’re keepin’ her cover so she can dash off and secure the prize. Once we’ve ‘eard back, we’ll dash off. Easy dosh, fella. Easy dosh.”

Visionary’s eyes widened, though she didn’t move, and neither Shaun nor Tether had caught onto her surprise. She lifted her head, and they both looked up to her, awaiting an order. She was taking her bar maces out, one in each hand, steeling herself. She gave a nod, then began to tap her foot. As much as they’ve been trained, they were aware of what this meant, as she counted down from three, two, one.

Visionary was out first. She didn’t run inside, much like Shaun had expected her to. It was a much more controlled, calmer walk inside, as if making her presence known. Once she was inside, both the men spilled in inside of her, looking around to gauge their scenery before doing anything else, whilst they walked forward.

It was the same design as before, though this room had been split into four smaller areas where machines had been constructing stuff. Shaun noticed the car parts that were being made; the machines furthest away on the left were constructing an engine, which he’d never seen before. The closest to him on the right was working on parts for brakes, the furthest side to the right working on suspension. He’d visited factories before that made car parts, and this felt small, extremely personal, as if all parts were being delicately handled and manufactured to specific needs.

The last table on the left, closer to them, had been working on something. Whatever they were making seemed to be missing, and a pair of figures stood by them. Their attention caught by the NFU agents, and they turned to address them.

A few inches taller than Visionary, this man had a smug expression on his face. He looked suspended in time from another era, sporting a tan coloured longcoat made of faux leather. His trousers, waistcoat, longcoat that reached to his knees were all the same colour of a grainy light grey. Underneath he sported a clean white shirt and a dark grey tie. His shoes, pitch black, showed signs of being recently polished. His hair was dark, styled to be messy, and he sported dark stubble over his chin and top lip that didn’t connect. He himself was white.

Beside him was another man, above six foot tall. His skin was a dark brown and he wore the same type of suit as his colleague. He lacked the waistcoat, and the coat in general. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. His head was bald, apparently recently shaved and he had no facial hair, also recently shaved. His eyes were flicking from side to side, cautiously.

The more formally dressed man out of the two raised his hands and began to clap them together slowly, laughing underneath his breath.

“My, my! What a surprise! Truly, I’m surprised. How nice to see you once more, Agent Visionary, and her two new colleagues.”

“You know him?” Shaun asked, glancing over him carefully.

“We’ve met. Doppler, leader of Doppler’s crew. Mercenaries” She motioned to him, pointing her mace in his direction. By the look on his face, such a gesture seemed to have offended him.

“That’s what they call me, back in your little headquarters. Quite frankly, I’m not much of a fan of the name, sounds a bit poncy if you asked me. I’m a professional man, and the name’s not doing well to sell that sort of image about, now, is it?” He said, with a certain flare. “Still, can’t complain. The name comes with a reputation, and people know I’m a man of my word, to the letter and the law itself.”

Visionary turned her head to Tether. “Doppler’s Fargraced. He makes doubles of himself that last for about one to two seconds. They can act as he does, and they have all the momentum that their actions would normally have, as if they were already doing them. He can also choose which double to occupy once the other fades.”

“Oh, ruin the big surprise!” Doppler raised his hands, then dropped them. He mocked being defeated. “I didn’t even want to show you this time! I wanted to get the bloody ‘ell outta here, head off home, then have a brew and a biccy and watch the footie. Do you like making my afternoon more of a pain in the arse than it has to, Visionary?

“When you’re setting off fire alarms and stealing, yes. I’d definitely do that.”

Doppler tutted and shook his head, turning to his companion. “This is the kinda shite you’ll have to deal with, fella. Nothing to worry about. Wouldn’t have taken you on if I didn’t believe you could handle a few of the NFU’s lapdogs now, yeah?”

Doppler slapped him with a backhand on the shoulder. He frowned

“Who’se that guy?” Alex asked.

“Unknown. Must be a new recruit.” Visionary responded.

“See, you’ve got two unknowns, I’ve got one unknown.” Doppler interjected. “It’s sort of even in a way.”

“Even.” Shaun said, with dry sarcasm at the edges of what he said.

“I’m all about fairness, believe you me.” Doppler bites a bit of skin on his lip, then pulls back the sleeve on his coat to spy at his watch. “I’m afraid though, Visionary my dear, that we’re on a tight schedule. Much as I’d love to indulge in a bit of banter, I’m afraid we’ve got to make ourselves scarce. If you’ve no further objections, we’ll have to be on our way.”

Doppler went to turn. Visionary spoke the moment he was starting to spin on his heels, and be suddenly stopped.

“Doppler, you know that won’t be happening.” Visionary said, twirling her mace in her hand.

“Figured as much. Predictable little bugger you are. I’ll make it clearer for you then, love.” Doppler turned, and started to adjust his tie. Slackening it slightly, whilst staring directly to Visionary. “We’re going to be leaving, and if we have to kick the shite out of you to do so, we will. So, I reckon you’ve got two choices. You either stand down, realise that this won’t be good for either of us, and let us on our merry little way.”

Doppler takes a single step back, raising his hand to put it on the dark skinned man’s shoulder.

“Or me and my good friend here, are going to dismantle your little attempt at arresting us.” He grinned. “And having a butchers at you three, I already know the answer you want to take. So, shall we have at it then, lady and gents?”

Beginnings: 2-7

The radio of the alarm clock began to blare, signalling 5 o’clock on the dot. As loud as Radio One carried to play on, nobody was around to turn it off. He’d already left, forty five minutes prior to when he was supposed to wake up. It’d always been the case, his personal body clock was always more fine tuned than anything man-made could provide. Every time he set the clock back, he’d wake up to the alarm morning, then wake up somewhere between half an hour to an hour earlier than when it sets off. It didn’t help that he couldn’t drop back off once he woke up.

It was something he had to endure.

Whilst he was out jogging, Grandmaster didn’t look anything like his namesake. Sporting tracksuit bottoms and a white vest that was far too lacking in coverage for such a mild winter morning. It hadn’t snowed, as it never did in England, but it was certainly dark enough that meagre light that the sun was starting to provide at this time of morning wasn’t good enough. Lamp posts illuminated his way as he jogged on, ear buds connected to the MP3 player strapped to his arm.

Lamp post. Too large. Not viable.

Not a soul in sight, not a car on the road as he pushed himself forward. It was calm and serene, a perfect temperament to gather his thoughts. Right now, he was Kai Rhodes, a man jogging with too little clothes, and only about ten minutes away from doing his morning 10k. He ducked under a stray branch that was crossing his path, briefly spying a much thicker one on the ground that he strode past.

Even now, his power was working, taking in information. He saw the branch and he could see the perfect point to hold for balance and could picture how much it weighed, what would be the best method to use it to strike somebody, approximately how far he could throw it and what method he’d need to use to utilise the weight and how lacking aerodynamically it was-

They were like intrusive thoughts, ones he could dismiss quite easily by looking away. All the information came to him in the time it took for him to register what it was, as if his basic sight also tuned into the object in question. All he knew was how best to use it to bludgeon seven shades out of somebody.

Funnily enough, it helped him to focus, especially when he was pushing himself. Little distractions took the edge off more strenuous activities, and made running bearable.

He made note of the perfect way to utilise two large branches, several smaller ones, a discarded shoe, his own shoelace as a garotte when he stopped to tie them for a moment, the key he took out of his recently unzipped pocket to get into his house. It was perfect for quicker, defter jabs and cuts.

When he got inside, the first order of business was having a shower, cooling off and getting ready for work.

His home was large, spacious. He had little in the way of hobbies and enjoyed his job, pulled in regular overtime. His position at the National Farside Unit was one that gave him a good salary with great benefits but little to spend it on, or others to lavish it with.

He’d kept to himself, mostly. He thought inwardly, didn’t suffer fools well, and held himself to a high standard. If he couldn’t do what he’d ask of others, he wouldn’t ask it. Exceptions were made for more exotic cases, Fargraced with abilities he could never muster. Because of this, he had little time to date or seek out a partner. There was often complaints from their end; one woman he’d seen before, a work colleague said she felt he spent too much time trying to fit her into his lifestyle. A man he’d met once told him he didn’t talk often enough, and spoke too much about work when he did, and he’d grown bored and called it off.

All reasons sounded the same. Excuses, each and every one. Exculpations that said to him, they weren’t worth the time if they weren’t willing to accept that work was a big part of his life.

Once he’d gotten himself clean and out of the shower, he went to the bedroom to change.

Don’t leave me behind. Can you see me, I’m shining-

He tapped the top button of the alarm clock, turning it off.

Unsuitable for sustained attacking. Likely to break in a single strike.

“Tsk. The shit they play these days.”

He was meticulous when it came to putting on his armour. Having eaten breakfast just after he woke up, all he needed to do now was gear up and he’d be ready to go out. Underneath his armour, he wore form fitting under armour that looked like carbon fibre, aimed for flexibility and to absorb sweat. He made a point of taking his time to put on every segment of armour, making sure each bit was as tight as it needed to be.

His helmet was put on last, stripped from the chord that was charging it overnight by his bed stand. He put it on over his head gently, allowing it to wrap around his skull.

It didn’t make him feel any more complete than normal. As all armour did, he felt protected and assured.

He went downstairs one more time to lock the house up, and swiped his car keys off the coffee table. He brushed aside the thought on how poor it was to stab somebody with something so blunt, though he could never not hold it so the weight was distributed properly. Even something so small as a key, he always held it for maximum effect.

Today felt a little different. Other than the regular schedule of parking up, getting through all the security checks, making his morning coffee and finishing off any errant paperwork that required urgent attention, he had something to look forward to. As he sat in his office, his helmet scanned over the paper he held in his hand, selecting sections of text and transcribing them to the interface inside his visor, so he could continue reading it even after he put it down. It also uploaded the written files to his computer. It was an incredible device, all the systems and subsystems accounted for, one that he was all too consciously aware about whenever he went on a mission or operation.

A single blow to the head may destroy something valuable, no matter how well protected it was. He hoped the money he shovelled into Artifex’s hands afforded him, and it, that safety.

He spied his coffee on his desk and stripped himself of his helmet, feeling the buzzing of circuits and electronics power down. He let it rest on the table as he took a sip of his coffee, begrudgingly swallowing it down.

“God damn, this instant stuff takes like dirt.”

He stared at it for long seconds before taking another sip.

“Better than nothing.”

He took the file in his other hand and leaned back on his chair, folding one leg over the other. He studied it for moments. A case file on Ryan Macey, leader of the Technomads. They had every bit of information they could afford to get from him, a few details from police files that they’d managed to haggle for. Nothing that they didn’t know already. Lists of outstanding charges, costs done for damages incurred.

He scanned it for a second, peeling back a small sheet of paper that was held by a paper clip to the top, noted nothing of importance, then threw the file onto the desk. It landed, with its edges perfectly adjacent to the lines of his desk. He took another sip of coffee, easier to take in once he’d assimilated to the taste.

He took a second to focus on the mug, and felt how it weighed in his hands. His powers were already informing him of how he could use this mug. Mundane information, how to use it, the knowledge and the muscle memory that came with it. He also had a feel for the structural integrity that it’d need to strike somebody with. A wealth of information, all pertaining to acts of violence.

He smiled, even grinned.

“Some sorta fucked up universe that gives me a power to know how to murder somebody with a mug.”

Tiring of speaking to himself, he blew on his coffee and downed the rest of it, grunting afterwards. He wiped his mouth on his fingers and thumb, rubbed them together, then discretely wiped that on the side of his chair. He put his helmet back on, letting it take seconds to case him in.

The power was already on and he had full visibility before the rest of the systems came online.

MENU

“Call NFU front desk.”

CALLING Front Desk (Work)

The phone rang three times.

Hello?” The voice was female, young.

“Hello.” Grandmaster left the comment to linger, knowing it would add just a drop of confusion.

Uhm. Hello, this is reception.”

“Hello, reception. This is Grandmaster.” He spoke intone, smiling to himself.

Oh! Oh, sorry, hello Grandmaster. How can I help?”

“I need a favour. When Agent Visionary enters, call me and let me know. Tell her I’m waiting.”

Okay, sure. Will do.”

“Alright. Thank you kindly. Bye.”

Grandmaster hung up the line, pushing against the ear with the comms to do so. Abrupt, but he didn’t need to waste time.

He took off from his seat and stretched upwards for a second. Some joint in his body cracked lightly as he did so, and he made sure to turn the light off as he left his office.

The workshop in the NFU headquarters paled in comparison to Artifex’s workshop, though it wasn’t lacking by any means. It was smaller, a single room with diamond plated metal grill on the floor. It had mostly the same configuration, with boxes lining the walls to the left as you entered, wooden benches with fireams being dismantled and repaired, soldiering irons and wire cutters strewn to the side. There was a control panel near the ceiling, to the left of the far side wall, next to a closed window.

A single man was here, young with short brown hair parted to one side. His white lab coat hid his figure, though he was staring at a grenade launcher in his hands that he was currently tinkering with. He’d dismantled the casing that gave it the appearance of an NFU weapon and was replacing one of the pieces of the cocking lever inside the gun.

Grandmaster knocked on the open door twice, and the engineer inside turned to face him. Freckles and thin lips stood out on his face. His helmet identified him quickly, providing him with the information as the square targeting him went green.

OWEN GREY. 24 YEARS OLD. NFU ENGINEER. WEAPONS MAINTENANCE DEPARTMENT.

“Morning, Owen.”

“You must be… Grandmaster, yeah?” Owen put down what he was working on and got off his stool quickly, adjusting his coat to make himself look more presentable.

“Yup. Stand at ease.” He noticed he was awkwardly standing at attention, possibly in a means to seem more disciplined to his superior. “I’m not here to grill you. Relax.”

Saying this, Owen nodded and instantly grew more comfortable in Grandmaster’s presence. He slumped his shoulders slightly, giving him a nod.

“Sorry, it’s a habit, sir. Uhm, what do you need help with?”

Grandmaster took a quick glance around, left to right.

“Albert not in yet?” He’d ask, as much as it was obvious what the answer was.

“No, sir. He starts at nine.”

Grandmaster reached behind his head and began to take his helmet off, pulling apart by sliding the segmented plates holding it together. He took it off his head and walked over to the work bench closest to him, stepping a little to the side. He put the helmet down on the table and pushed a button. The panels went back and started to lock together. Owen stepped around to get a view of what was occuring, watching with a bit of wonder on his face.

“When he gets here, tell him I need the other settings activated on this helmet. Keep it safe. Make sure it doesn’t go missing. Especially don’t wear it.”

He looked down at him, and it was hard to tell if he was serious or not. For that reason alone, Owen looked slightly worried. Evidently, he’d probably not push his look, and he nodded quickly. “Okay, understood. Thank you, sir.”

“Thank me for what?” Grandmaster posed the question as he took a step back. His arms folded, his head tilted. He looked amused.

“I- I don’t really… know.”

Whilst he was a little confused, Grandmaster’s tone meant no harm. He raised his hand and made a mock salute to him. “I’d talk but I’ve got business to take care of. I’ll be back when my helmet’s sorted.”

Owen nodded. “Okay, see you later, sir.”

Grandmaster made a ‘tch’ noise and turned on his heel. As he walked away, he fired off that salute to indicate he was walking away.

Sir.

There was a bit of derisiveness to his tone, though he only made the comment that he was called a sir over anything else. It didn’t seem to settle well with him. He walked down the corridor for a second and turned, as something caught his eye. He approached over to a vending machine standing by the wall, next to a potted plant. He scanned the options, and stared longingly at the option for a rich cup of coffee.

He shook his head and thought against it.

“I’ll be pissing like a fountain if I keep drinking coffee.”

A few seconds longer, he kept his glance, before pulling himself away from the machine. Abandoned in the hall, Grandmaster let it be, pushing onwards to other business.

“Grandmaster speaking.”

He’d returned to his office and checked over the paperwork that he had to fill out, for the recent raid on the Technomads. As he was almost finished, it was fitting to receive a phone call just as he was on the last leg of his work. He ran a hand through his hair, part of him feeling unused to having his hair not enclosed in his helmet whilst in this building.

Grandmaster, hello.” A familiar voice, the receptionist from before.

“Good news, I hope.”

Agent Visionary is here.”

“Good news it is. Thanks for the heads up.”

This time, they put the phone down before he had the chance. It caused his brow to perk, thinking nothing of it as a gesture. They’d done their part. He had to finish this before his part could come into play. He grunted, and resolved to finish off the paperwork he started.

It wasn’t long before he intercepted her. As per her normal routine, which he had gleamed from working with her for many years, her first stop was to always gear up and head to the equipment rooms. She never took her equipment home with her. Having custom made armour was a luxury that Grandmaster had, one perk of which was that his armour was technically his and not loaned by the NFU. He could have it anywhere, at any time. Otherwise, if it was part of the standard attire that an agent wore, it had to stay at the Headquarters.

He waited outside for her to get ready. The moment she opened the door, her head turned towards him as she walked out, even before she’d seen him. He turned to face her, arms folded and leaning against the wall. She saw his eyebrows were raised, and he was looking at the mask covering her jaw.

“The good doctor was right. Can’t see a thing.”

“Grandmaster.” She bowed her head. He did the same, with much less enthusiasm. “You’re enthusiastic.”

“The sun isn’t shining, it’s a miserable grey day outside, it’s probably gonna piss down later. My coffee was awful, as per usual.”

“Again.” She said, with a hint of a smile underneath her mask. She didn’t seem to wince any more; either hiding it, or grown accustomed to the pain.

“Again. The only joy I’m gonna get from today is getting this interrogation going. Once you’ve finished your morning routine, all your paperwork and other things that aren’t interrogating some lowlife, call me. The sooner we get started, the better.”

“I feel you’re eager. Too eager.” She said, voicing a concern.

“The clock is ticking, Visionary. This guy is holding the answers that I need to move on and hunt the bigger fish in this pond. When I get them, I can go after this, and put this wild goose chase to rest.”

“It feels like you’re trying to find the justification for your hunch.” She said. “Instead of letting the evidence come naturally.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you’d probably say the same as me if it was Sage that told you to handle this investigation.”

There was a silence. Visionary looked, stared at him, as the scant seconds between words felt like a gulf in the conversation.

If he’d hit a nerve, the pause and silence were the only indications. She kept her mask up, as far as he could see, obscuring her real reaction.

“You know what you’re doing, Grandmaster. I’ll make sure you stay on the right track.”

“I appreciate it. I’ll see you when you’re all good and done.”

They exchanged court nods, and parted ways for now.

Grandmaster had to wonder if he’d offended her. There was certainly a moment where she thought about what he said, though if he’ll ever find out what she thought about it, that itself would be a strange turn of events. For now, he knew it didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

He had to wait just a little longer.

Four monitors, all facing different points in a single room. One was overhead and gave a top down view of a room, with a single table and two chairs, one already occupied by a dishevelled man. Two showed the perspective of each chair, facing the other. The final camera was in the wall, giving a horizontal view of the scene. Black dots in the room, which eschewed the standard reflective window that most interview rooms had. The cameras themselves were standard equipment. High definition, but entirely normal.

Visionary stood with her arms folded, watching the proceedings. Jason sat on a chair next to her, elbows on the table in front of him, fingers interlocked. They waited, patiently.

The door opened, and outside there was a view of two members dressed in garbs of Containment Squad armour. Grandmaster had finally gotten his helmet back, and he also had a file at hand. Nonchalantly, he flicked it out of his hand, landing right before the other man in the room, upside down to him and perfectly aligned even after it slid an inch or two.

Grandmaster took a seat slowly. Ryan watched him carefully, glowering. Glowing blue eyes, pale and light stared back into him, and he gauged every curve, how the mask concave inwards near the cheeks and around the speakers. The mask rendered him unreadable, other than body language.

On the other side, Jason glanced to Visionary. “Creepy.”

“He said it was intentional. Grandmaster requested the room to be featureless, and I know he’s not letting him see any facial expressions. It’s all for effect.” Visionary said, not taking her eyes off their colleague.

“Mmm.” Jason hummed back, looking between the pair. “I could bet money on who might swing for who first.”

Visionary gave him a glance, though didn’t reply.

Grandmaster’s voice was hollow, devoid of emotion. His helmet manipulated his voice, making it sound reverberated thrice. “Ryan Macey. Leader of the Technomads.” He flicked open his file, even though his helmet was feeding him all the information he needed. “36 years old. Brown hair, blue eyes. Noticable features, scar over left eyebrow. Blood type, B negative-”

“I want a solicitor.” Ryan barked back at him, arms folded and shoulders raised.

“-two brothers, parents deceased. Twenty nine charges of assault. Seven charges of premeditated, aggravated assault. Ten counts of major property theft, thousands of pounds worth of property damage-”

“I want a fucking solicitor.” He reiterated, as contempt grew in his voice.

Grandmaster heard him, let him talk, and merely carried on. “-several other charges present, and your stupid ass gets caught by the NFU. The only reason you ever managed to escape is because we didn’t have your case in the first place.”

“I said I want my fucking lawyer, you deaf cunt.” Ryan scowled deeply at him. Grandmaster seemed unphased, even leaning back in his chair. One arm rests on the back as he gauges. His helmet, modified for this particular encounter, was using facial recognition systems to try and discover any weaknesses or any particular reactions. Right now, it registered hostility.

“Right there.” Visionary pointed to the monitor, showing the back of Ryan and the front of Grandmaster. “He’s baring his chest. He’s showing Ryan he’s vulnerable, giving off the impression he’s not afraid.”

Jason cocked his head to Visionary. “Are you going to analyse everything they do?”

“Yes.” She said, bluntly. She turned and smiled back to him. “Yes I am.”

“Great.” She noted how dry he retorted, only making her smile wider.

“I heard you the first two times, I just elected to ignore it.” Grandmaster tilted his head casually.

“I want my lawyer, and I want my phone call. This won’t work on me.”

Grandmaster leaned forward, resting his forearm on the table. “Do you think we’re in a movie here or something? Do you honestly think it works like that? That you get dragged in here, I read your rights, you get some scumbag on thirty grand a year to tell me that ‘my client has the right to remain silent’?”

He let the comment linger in the air. Ryan scowled back to him, refusing to answer and refusing to change his body language.

“Let me make things perfectly clear.” Grandmaster pulled his arm off the table and sat up straight, appearing a little bigger. “The National Farside Unit are not the police. We don’t follow police procedure. We don’t owe shitbags like you squat. We have a period of holding before we transfer you over to the police, in such a case like this, as long as you’re currently in our custody, we’re only obliged to present the evidence of your charges and transfer you safely to their hands.” Grandmaster said, the tone of his voice only reflecting a tenth of the emotion he was putting into his words. “Up until that point arrives, you’re in our care. My care.”

“So you’d best simmer the fuck down, buttercup, and stop pretending we owe you anything.”

Jason tapped the monitor, poking the spot where Grandmaster’s head was.

“Not technically true.”

“No, not technically.” Visionary said. She tilted her head a little, observant. “In every other case, he’d be permitted a legal representative. Because of the Director’s Sanction-”

Jason finished her sentence. “-he’s got more elbow room to get answers.”

“Yes, exactly.” She nodded.

Jason slid his chair out and stood up. “I’m going to get a drink. Tea?”

“Yes, thank you.” Visionary smiled. Jason temporarily excused himself, and left the room. Visionary lowered her head, watching meticulously.

“We’ve got a few ways we can go about this. All we need is information. If you cooperate, this goes easy, all is well and we’ll see what we can do for you. I’d rather not bring up the options of what happens if you don’t. Ruins the surprise if you keep acting like a jackass.” Grandmaster made a dismissive hand gesture as he spoke.

Ryan eventually spoke back, after as long time to simmer. “Incentive, to rat out my lads? Fuck off. I’m not grassing in nobody.”

“Quite frankly, your ‘lads’ are going to jail. I don’t give a shit about them.”

“Then what you talking about?”

Your time.”

“Saying you’re gonna get me less years behind bars?”

“Oh, let’s not fool anybody here. You’re gonna be about seventy before you even see the outside world again for yourself instead of through a window.” Grandmaster said, bluntly. “We can see about shaving a few years off. This is less of a reward scheme, more of a punishment scheme.”

Ryan folded his arms tighter and leaned back in his chair.

“We have evidence to believe you’ve been dealing with somebody. You went into that warehouse with the intent on stealing specific items to give to a buyer. We want the buyer’s name.”

“Don’t know what you’re chatting about.” Ryan raised his shoulders. It wasn’t even a carefully crafted lie. Grandmaster’s helmet confirmed as such.

“Bullshit.” He replied, not shifting even a little. “We know you do. We know the items you stole for whoever this buyer is, were not found in your stash, and you shipped them off remarkably quickly.”

“Still don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I’ll lay it down again for you, seeing as you’re too stupid to see it.” Grandmaster said. “One way or another, I’ll find out who it is. With or without you. Once we do, you’ll be hit with charges for perverting the course of justice. Eighty, before you’re out, and we’re gonna make sure they know every single detail.”

“Guess you’ll find out with or without me talking.” Ryan looked unusually smug.

“I’m giving you the option for an easy way out. You tell us who, we don’t have to repeat this. I’m giving you seven days and the sooner you opt out and fess up, the better it’ll be for you.”

“Fuck you and fuck your offer.” Ryan spat at Grandmaster. The spit landed in the middle of his helmet. He didn’t seem phased.

Jason returned, holding two cups in his hands, covered by a white plastic top with a little hole to drink from. He put one into Visionary’s hand, and she didn’t even turn to look as he did so. He sat down carefully, holding his

“Did I miss anything?”

“Ryan spat on Grandmaster.”

“Ooh.” Jason pulled his chair closer to the screen, and took a sip from his cardboard cup. “Any reaction?”

“Nothing yet.” Visionary took a sip of her own drink. Jason made her coffee the way she liked it, at least.

“I’m still not sure who’ll swing first.” Jason frowned, slightly. “What do you think?”

Visionary refused to respond again, watching the monitor closely. Jason rolled his eyes.

“Spoilsport.”

“How much did he pay to keep you quiet?” Grandmaster folded one leg over the other, wagging his foot back and forth.

Ryan hadn’t responded. Grandmaster took it as a hint to keep talking.

“Couple of grand? Ten grand? Maybe you could join the Ten Granders. Heard they’re on the run lately.”

“Fuck them, and fuck you. You Farside bunch of cunts.”

Grandmaster’s helmet picked up on the extra vitriol used to spit out those words, and brought to attention a potential leverage point.

“Oh, so that’s what this is about. Somebody’s an insecure little asshole because of the Fargraced.”

“You all think you’re so great. You’re a bunch of freaks. Trying to fit into society, trying to pretend you’re not a bunch of fucked up freaks of nature. You’re taking away what makes Britain great.”

“I’m pretty sure neither you nor your buddies are gonna be in the category of what ‘makes Britain great’.” Grandmaster made a wave, as if physically throwing the comment into the room.

“We’re ordinary people. You Farfreaks are just hiding. You’re all dangerous. I don’t want my kids going to school, not knowing whether or not some kid gets bullied and starts using his superpowers. Time bombs, waiting to blow up, all of you.”

“Farfreaks.” Grandmaster sounded incredulous.

Ryan puts his hands on the table, forcefully bringing them down onto the wood. Grandmaster doesn’t flinch, or his helmet obscured that reaction.

“You on that Beasts of Britain facebook page? The one where everyone acts like a racist idiot and you all jack off to bombing the middle east?” Grandmaster’s tone is a little more mocking at this point. “Just asking.”

“How many times am I going to have to say fuck you before you get the message?”

“A few more.” Grandmaster replied with. “To be honest, I don’t want to hear your pathetic little tirade on what you think is right for England.”

Ryan shrugs. “You’re not gonna get anything else from me?”

Visionary had sat down on her chair, removing the top of her cup so she could drink more freely. Jason was leaning back in his chair, with the novelty of watching an interrogation starting to fade. He had one ankle resting on his thigh and barely suppressed a yawn, covering his mouth with a gloved hand.

“Do you think this will work?”

“I don’t know.” Visionary responded, taking another sip.

“What do you think’ll happen?”

“I think they’re both stubborn. I know Grandmaster won’t back down. He’s adamant about this, his feet are digging into the ground. He’s always pushed back when faced with adversity. Here or on the field.”

Jason nodded. “He doesn’t back down. That much I know.”

Visionary nodded. “We’ve worked together for a long time. We were on the same squad. Very pragmatic. Very stubborn.”

“You admit he’s good.” Jason raised a brow.

“I do. He is.” She turned to face him. “I just wished he would follow the rules a little more. It becomes a problem for me, especially when I have to clear up after him.”

“Is it worth the results?” Jason sips his tea.

“Sometimes. Fifty fifty.”

“I don’t get to see this side much.” Jason admits. “We only see the agents in action when we’re on the same missions. The stuff behind the scenes, the pecking order, the politics. We’re only filled in by hearsay and rumour.”

“Does it surprise you?” Visionary glances to him, waiting for an answer.

“It’s interesting. Different side of the coin.”

Visionary nodded. She took a sip from her drink, directing her attention to the monitor.

A few seconds later, her attention was at a knock on the door.

Visionary turned her head and gave a look to Jason, who offered a shrug in return. She opened the door after a pause.

Jason had never seen Director Sage in the flesh, and her clothing and general appearance was something entirely else. He sat upright, then forced himself up to stand upon realisation.

Sage walked into the room, her robe barely restricting her movements. She stood inside and left the door open, giving enough space for everyone to move around freely.

“Director Sage.” Visionary said and looked shocked, bowed her head politely.

Sage smiled politely, looking between the pair. Her gaze lingered on Jason for seconds, and he felt a weight pile on his shoulder. He didn’t baulk, standing at attention as if he was addressing any of his superiors.

“Visionary, Jason. Nice to meet you both.” She nodded her head. Her blindfold stuck to her forehead, tight enough not to budge from any movement, not tight enough to restrict or be uncomfortable. “Jason, I require a word with Visionary. If you’d excuse us?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He said with an affirmative nod.

“Visionary will meet you when we’re done. Go and get something to eat. You haven’t eaten anything since five o’clock this morning.”

Jason paused at that, recalling his morning, and slowly nodded. “Right away.” With a polite nod, he stood at ease before quickly absconding from the room. He made sure to close the door afterwards. Sage watched him leave, turning full body to do so.

When he was gone, she turned to Visionary.

“Visionary. Nice to see you. You’re healing quickly.” Sage smiled to her, folding her hands over her robes.

“Thank you, Director.” Visionary paused, reaching up to touch her cheek. It felt less sore than yesterday. The painkillers were doing their job.

“You’re wondering why I’m here.”

Visionary nodded.

“I won’t deceive you. I did say I’d be more forthcoming with you. I trust that we will keep this to ourselves?”

Visionary nodded much slower.

“Good. You’re wondering why I sanctioned this, to allow Grandmaster to interrogate this individual. He’s of little importance, this Ryan Macey, other than the information he reveals on the seventh day of his custody during the interrogation. Grandmaster will set things into motion from that point onwards. He will go to the police and be put on trial, they will find him guilty of many charges, and he’ll be incarcerated for quite some time.”

Visionary didn’t nod. She watched and listened, eyes wide.

“I see a lot of questionable things, and I know where they lead. This is quite small, quite tame in the grand scheme of things. It is however, necessary. No lasting harm will come to Ryan.”

“I… understand.” She says. Visionary didn’t quite understand, though by now she was used to anticipating that Sage would either inform her of what was to come, or leave it blank and cryptic and elaborate nothing about it. Today seemed more like the former.

“I’m here, Visionary, because of your desire for me to be honest with you. Another event will happen, something of importance. Three days from now, you will be on duty, on a late shift, and will be called out to investigate a robbery. You’re going to be dispatched to a location with Shaun and Alex.” Sage said. “I’m telling you this because you must leave before you’re dispatched to that scene. You’ll be there as it happens.”

“This sounds important.”

Sage smiles. “I can also tell you. You’re in no danger of any lasting harm, none of you. There’s no worry of your lives. That too, you asked me to tell you about.”

Visionary nodded.

“And the answer to your next question is yes.”

Visionary looked as if she was going to ask something, but relented upon hearing the answer. She just nodded instead, knowing she didn’t even have to ask at this point.

Sage nodded politely. “That’ll be all, then. When you have any spare time, do come up and see me.” She said, with a polite smile.

Visionary hid her bewilderment and nodded, before bowing her head politely. “I’ll endeavour to do so. Thank you, Director.”

Sage bowed, mimicking Visionary, before she turned to leave. She began to hum a small tune to herself, nothing that resembled any song. Notes and tones she made up as she left the room, closing the door behind her.

Visionary sat back down and turned to the monitor. She had time to reflect on what was said, what wasn’t said, and just how much Sage was hiding and letting on. The honesty was reassuring, though it was now a little more worrying to consider the future. She’d never given thought to what’d happen in three days time, now she knew something was going to occur.

The fact that Sage had to assure her that nobody would be really hurt, didn’t seem to help neither.

Grandmaster’s voice broke her out of her train of thought.

“Seven days. You have seven days. The longer this goes on, the more I drag it out. We’ll see how much you like Fargraced when we introduce you to a few.”

Ryan’s eyes narrowed for a second. Grandmaster’s helmet picked up on the reaction, keying him into it.

“Yeah, we employ a lot of talented, powerful people. See, there’s a few that we don’t get to use. Really powerful stuff. I hear one of them can rip your memories out of your head. I use the word rip because that’s what it’s the equivalent of.”

“You don’t scare me.”

“You should be.” He says. Grandmaster leaned in ominously. “Seven days. Give me the name, the honest truth, Ryan. Don’t be an idiot.”

Grandmaster started to stand up. Ryan sat down, still defensive and unyielding, hostile to a fault. Grandmaster turned and knocked twice on the door before calling out.

“All done for today. Take him back to his cell to think on it.”

The door took a few seconds to open as the guards allowed Grandmaster to leave. Visionary watched as he made his leave, and watched as the two guards came in with handcuffs and began to escort him outside. The camera even got a glimpse of Grandmaster wiping the spit off his helmet, before he turned to walk to the observation room where Visionary was sitting.

“Three days.”

She spoke and touched her jaw lightly, turning off the monitors. She stared at her reflection in the black glass, watching her own reflection.

Her daze was broken by Grandmaster once more, who opened the door abruptly. He held a tissue in one hand, and there was a trace of a smudge on his helmet.

“Visionary, you were quiet. Here I was, hoping you’d be the angel on my shoulder.”

She turned to him and smiled lightly. “You behaved yourself. I didn’t see the need to interrupt.”

“I always behave myself.” He said dryly. “Prepare the recordings and bring them up to my office. Get some food, we’ll run over these tapes and see if we missed anything.”

Visionary nodded. Grandmaster gave her a flick point before he closed the door.

It took her a minute of thinking in before she found the motivation to clear her thoughts and act, do something other than indulge in introspection. She pulled out a laptop and started to wire up the monitors to it, and began to download the interrogation.

It would give her ample time to think, at least.

Beginnings: 2-6

Jason stumbled and collided into the wall to the right of them. Visionary had turned entirely away with her hands over her ears and her eyes shut, topping over onto her knees from the concussive force of the grenade. Grandmaster had only managed to turn halfway before he stumbled, almost shunted away by the blast, and slammed his hip into the table and shoved his elbow down onto it to get his bearings. At first, it was totally dark, in the next few seconds their vision was obscured by pure white, and their hearing was a fog of feedback that overwhelmed them.

Of all three, Visionary had been hit the worst. With nothing to protect her face, nothing other than eyelids to cover her vision and only her hands on her ears, she was barely protected. Her balance suffered dramatically and all grace she had was forced out of her, and she had to put a hand on the floor to even remain upright. Grandmaster suffered less, though he still took the full brunt of it. Were his helmet fully operational, it may have provided some sort of counter measure, or offered greater protection.

Jason of all of them seemed to be taking it better, though that wasn’t saying much. He was still disorientated greatly, and the wall was the only thing keeping him upright. By virtue of having experienced this before, he had braced better than the others, and his helmet came with a physically protective element to it.

They weren’t able to gather their thoughts to realise that a greater threat was striding around the corner. The man who threw the flash bang haphazardly walked around the corridor, and seeing the devastation he’d left, he acted more seriously.

His armour wasn’t different from Jason’s own, but it looked much less refined, older and worn out from excessive use, wear and tear, and age. In his right hand he held a weapon, a gun of sorts. Uncharacteristically smooth compared to other NFU items, it looked more like a pump action shotgun rather than the rifles that they normally employed. It was connected by a thick tube from the handle to a small square device on his arm, which had a purple gem set in the middle. It glowed and hummed with an alien energy.

The helmet he wore was a hybrid; from the back to the cheeks, it resembles Jason’s own with an uncanny accuracy, though the front had a visor of sorts. His face pinned him to his thirties, and he had a large scar over his left eyebrow.

He walked forward to them and raised the gun, cocking a lever on the side. Power flushed from the gem and began to whirr to life, pumping energy down the tube until a circular panel on the top began to glow with the same royal colour. It took a few seconds to charge up, and clicked to signify that it was ready.

A few seconds was all he needed that the flash bang provided to him. He knew which targets to aim for first, and held his gun to up to Visionary, who was trying to stand up. He pulled the trigger, not even bothering to aim precisely.

It sent out a gout of superheated plasma, which looked more like a purple solar flare in a plume of force that erupted from the nozzle. The spray would have covered all of her torso, if she hadn’t somehow predicted or seen it coming.

She desperately shoved herself out of the way of fire, managed to get clear of it before it had done grievous damage. She grabbed Grandmaster and tackled him in the same stroke, throwing them both to the floor behind a desk.

The man was stunned for a second, and fury grew over his face. He didn’t care if they couldn’t hear him, and his voice lashed out to them in a Mancurian accent.

“You fuckin’ Fartouched are all a pain in my fuckin’ ass. You can’t even be shot right.”

Jason had began to regain his vision and though concussed, he took the time it took their assailant to speak to stagger and throw himself behind a set of desks further away from them. He took out his rifle and held it to his chest, getting a sense of his surroundings. He was groggy, every sense in his body telling him he needs to give up. Through conditioning and experience, he braced himself.

Visionary and Grandmaster stumbled to the floor. Grandmaster seemed to be getting his senses back a bit more now, and started to blink and look around. Spots of black began to crawl into the edges of his vision, and he saw Visionary lying on his hip, as well as the damage that their assailant had caused with that weapon to the ground.

The floor was a mess, as violet flames flicked around the blackened floor. The carpet had been stripped away, as had several lesser layers beneath it. The man advanced forward, still quite a distance away. His weapon needed time to recharge, and was drawing on energy with each passing second.

He elected to go into cover rather than be in the open and manoeuvred behind some desks. It could take up to half a minute to recharge, judging by how slow it was siphoning energy into the gun. He struck it with his fist, muttering for it to go faster, impatient as he was. He knelt down behind the desk, facing the NFU agents, lying in wait under the assumption that they had no idea where he was.

Grandmaster looked to Visionary, who was getting herself off of him and they both huddled behind the desk. Even in her weakened state, she managed to reach for a grenade on her belt and forced it loosely into Grandmaster’s hands. He looked at her, still unable to hear anything they might say, and she held up two fingers for him. Then she quickly brought her hands together, in a shielding motion.

Two. Cover.

Grandmaster knew what weapon he was against, judging by the damage it caused. It would charge itself with Eldritch energy and fire a short stream of superheated plasma, in a spread like a shotgun, and vaporise an area. It had a catastrophic effect on human flesh, and even their armour wouldn’t help them much here. He also knew that the current versions of the firearm were really illegal, and took upwards of a minute to recharge their shots.

Failing the element of surprise, he lost his biggest edge, and he was recuperating.

With a nod, he took the grenade and shoved his head out. The motion made him feel uneasy but he could see a shadow beneath the second desk furthest away from them. He took the pin out and threw it so it’d land near his feet, and as quick as he could muster he whipped out his pistol and took aim.

It bounced and rolled near the man’s feet, and he had the advantage of being able to hear it much better. It still took him largely by surprise, unaware of a retaliation so soon. He scrambled to his feet and plunged himself out of cover, a second before the grenade went off.

Grandmaster opened fire, though his accuracy wavered and he missed a fourth of every shot. The armour worn by the NFU did a lot to help shake off the effects of fatigue weaponry. Even with three shots planted into his arm, he barely wavered. The man ran behind the wall where he’d previously hidden, giving him a perfect view of the door leading to the stair care.

Here, he had an excellent vantage point that he used before. If they all went through the middle or the right door, he could hide behind the wall so they couldn’t see him, and he’d get the drop on them. He assumed they wouldn’t split up, and gambled on it to get the drop on them.

Grandmaster couldn’t hear a thing still, but he knew he’d be harder to find by voice this time, and still had cover to work with. His voice sounded slurred, not able to hear to use the right tone of voice.

“Ryan Macey, you slimy bastard. Illegal firearms are gonna get you life, you fucking tool.”

There was a chance Ryan had forgotten how long a stun grenade rendered the victim deaf, or he assumed because Grandmaster was speaking that it’d worn off. He acted more tense and serious instead of slumping against the wall. He looked down and saw it hadn’t charged yet, and muttered out a ‘fuck’ before deciding to reply.

“All you NFU cunts are the same. You think you’re so special with your special powers. This ain’t even your problem, so fuck off.”

It fell on deaf ears.

Jason carefully picked his head up and judged the situation. He saw Grandmaster was aiming to the wall, and went under the assumption the target was active and pinned. Jason knew this was chaotic and there was no lines for communication between them, so he had to act in the best interest of the team. He took his rifle up and aimed on point, trying to match near the location of where Grandmaster was. His helmet helped where the effects of the flash bang still lingered.

Visionary had managed to get her eyes open slightly now, and she blinked a few times before standing up, as if unaware of any danger or threat, or uncaring. She took out her bar mace and gripped it in two hands whilst she approached the wall, and began to follow it around. She stopped just as her shoulder was about to meet the edge of the wall and lay in wait, watching Grandmaster carefully.

He nodded back to her. Ryan stirred a little, impatiently waiting on his shotgun. He turned and eyed the door, and a thought came to him. At this point, Visionary raised her hand up and made a gesture that resembled talking to Grandmaster. He nodded in return, and began to speak. Just a second after he did, Ryan began to move for the far door.

“This is a waste of time, Ryan. The building’s surrounded, but I bet you think you’re gonna get out.”

Grandmaster’s voice was useless to Visionary, as she couldn’t hear, though he was loud enough that it masked her own movements from Ryan. She pointed to Jason, who seemed to have had his attention caught by her, and she points from him, to herself. When she begins moving, he understands and continues aiming. Grandmaster meanwhile, has an understanding of what she’s trying to do, and gets up from cover to go to the spot she was standing in, pistol down and ready.

The standoff had lasted long enough that their hearing was coming back. Jason had managed to get all of his back and was otherwise fine, other than a mild concussion. Visionary still felt the worst effects, her vision still somewhat disorientated and sound not fully returning. Grandmaster was in the middle as far as vision, disorientation and hearing went, and he could hear enough over the droning buzz in his head to hear movement far ahead.

Jason had an opportunity, and he pushed into his ear with a single finger.

“This is Squad Commander Jason, target engaged. Wait for signal. Over and out.”

Ryan had fled around and went through the far door, then crept past the stair and opened the other door. There was some wall waiting for him to take cover behind. He glanced at one of the walls opposite him and cursed the lack of a window this far back to give him a good reflection. He paused and pulled off the wall, glancing around the corner, guessing they hadn’t heard him yet and he assumed they thought he was still in the same position. He caught one of the agents, still aiming on his old position, and moved back into the wall for cover.

He looked down at his weapon, and the hum became much more audible. When it clicked, he let out a small sigh of relief. With the gun in hand and finger on the trigger, he turned and went to spring out for another surprise attack.

Visionary intercepted him. The moment she heard the click, she held her mace ready to swing the moment he acted. As he did, she stepped out and swung it straight into the plastic of his visor. It crumpled upon impact, shielding his face from the majority of the trauma, though it was heavily cracked. The recoil caused him to stagger back, straight into the door he came from, and prematurely fired. With with arm out and to the side, the blast evaporated a large chunk of the nearby wall, and everyone could hear the sound now. Impact, melting, pressurised air.

Visionary almost lost her balance and staggered to the left despite this, and he was quicker to respond than she was. She swung with a single hand on her mace now, and he darted backwards. He went to club her with the end of his currently useless gun. Though she’d managed to evade it, it lacked the usual grace. Her movements were sluggish, mentally bogged down. She didn’t give him chance to act on it, and instead stepped forward to try and swing for him again. He moved backwards once more to dodge the blow, so he was closer to the furthest door to them; the door on the left when they had initially come upstairs.

Ryan noticed this, at least, and he quickly stepped back and shoved the door open with his body. Visionary didn’t relent and begun to give him chase around the corner.

“Damnit. Jason, call them in, we can’t let him charge up.”

Jason nodded, and both of them begun to mobilise around the corner. Jason was busy sending an order through his comms.

“Containment Squad, move in. Approach through back entrance and engage. Over and out.”

His hearing had totally cleared, hearing the response with no buzzing or interference.

“Affirmative. Moving in. Over and out.”

Ryan had got enough room now that Visionary closed in, and they stood at a standstill for a few seconds. She was aware that she wasn’t in a position to bide her time, and she needed to be aggressive. She made the first move, a swing with her mace that was a feint more than a full swing, and she tried to get herself ready to avoid the counter blow. He came at her, trying to jab at her with his gun. Concerned that it could still fire, she moved to the side of it and tried to bring her mace into his open shoulder.

He was quicker than she expected, or she wasn’t in the best mental state to judge it. He brought the weapon in between him and the mace and a shattering collision of metal rang through the open room. He raked her weapon to the side and she stumbled, trying to pull away before he had the chance. Seizing the moment of her weakness and with her unable to throw herself out of the way, he slammed the butt of his gun straight into her jaw.

Visionary tumbled onto the floor, already caught off balance, the blow had caused her to reel and she rolled onto the floor. He didn’t wait for her to get up, and didn’t check to see if the weapon had reloaded. Ryan brought it up with the intent on firing, and had both hands on it before he felt something hit the square of his back, and once more as it hit his shoulder.

Grandmaster and Jason had got into position behind some desks on the far side of the room, and began to unload a salvo of fire onto him with rifle and pistol. The shots didn’t do anything to breach the armour he wore, but it began to take some effect. More importantly, he wasn’t aiming at Visionary, and he could see what unfolded next.

It started with two, then four, then six. Ten men of the containment team that entered in pairs had begun to pour into the room, rifles raised and aiming towards Ryan. The last two came in with more conventional firearms, though they all bore the same designs. They formed a ring to reinforce Grandmaster and Jason. Two of them had broken off and began to walk down to the door, aiming to make sure all ways to leave were sealed off by men and weapons.

“This is the National Farside Unit, put down your weapon, put your hands up and move away from the agent. We will use force if necessary.”

Ryan didn’t move, a deer caught in the headlights. It took him a few seconds to weigh up his options, studying the men and their guns. Their fingers were on the trigger, not resting to the side like he had hoped, and they had an air of discipline and authority. Slowly, he reached over to his left arm and found the Velcro that held the power supply to his arm and pried it off him. It hung awkwardly off the weapon, though they were both put to the floor. He raised his hands slowly, though it was clear he didn’t want to do it.

Grandmaster, Jason and the six other agents took aim and hit him with a single shot of their fatigue weaponry each. He staggered, as if hit square in the chest, and they fired once more. With the wind and consciousness knocked out of him, he toppled onto his back and landed to the floor with a thud. His armour protected him against the brunt of it, but it still had some effect. It just took a lot longer than usual, and a few more shots.

Grandmaster was the first to raise and he holstered his pistol on his side. He went straight for Visionary and offered her a hand to get her to her feet, which she eagerly took and stood up.

“I took the first shot I could. You alright?”

Visionary nodded slowly.

“Well fuck me.” He said. “You can be hit.”

Visionary looked at him and seemed to smile, though she winced slightly afterwards. She leaned on him for support.

“Looks like I can. The concussion, it-”

“Don’t make excuses.” Grandmaster interrupted her. He quickly perched his head upwards and Visionary tried to follow where he was looking to. His helmet had begun to close his visor off until it was back how it was before it was hit by the Bug, and his eyes came back to life slowly. All trace of the face beneath was hidden again, his voice augmented and more mechanical than before.

SYSTEMS ONLINE.”

“That would have been nice to see the guy through the wall before he flash banged us.” Grandmaster said, with a tone showing he took some humour in the situation.

Jason stood and pointed to Ryan on the floor with his open hand. “Containment Squad, we have four targets downstairs, five by the stairs and lift, one here. Prepare them all to be escorted to the cells. Good work, everyone.”

The men all nodded and began to divide themselves up. One began to call for more vans and reinforcements to come, in preparation to begin taking the Technomads away. The others began to mobilise and went to start to gather the bodies. Everyone was starting to make their way to the front entrance of the building, after hoisting up the bodies of the unconscious criminals in a fireman’s carry.

Jason approached Grandmaster and Visionary, who both nodded at him upon arrival.

“Grandmaster, with permission sir, I’d like to help my men with evac.”

“It’s not necessary, Jason.” Grandmaster replied. “You just took a flash bang. We need you and Visionary to get checked out. I’m not going to have you overexert.”

“You’ve already gone above and beyond duty, Jason.” Visionary was smiling, despite her eyelids flickering as if to indicate it still hurt her to do so.

“With all due respect, I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t feel I could do it. I’ll get checked out immediately afterwards.”

Grandmaster paused and studied him. His helmet gave him a trove of information, though the health of his target wasn’t one of those things. He just nodded to him.

“Permission granted, you crazy bastard.”

Jason nodded, his expression and response to that comment weren’t seen. He made his way to the other men, and begun to guide and tell them where to go with the unconscious bodies. He himself wasn’t any stranger to getting stuck in, as he was preparing somebody to be carried by himself by laying them on their back in a spot with enough room.

Visionary stood on her own weight now and rubbed her jaw. It still hurt when she moved it, a throbbing pain that amplified if she spoke or moved her mouth at all, though it was manageable.. Grandmaster was busying himself by looking to the side and verbally checking that all features of his helmet were working properly. He was making sure the targeting systems were fully functional firstly, then his thermal and regular vision. Cycling through them all took a minute, and Visionary waited for him to be finished. She leaned against the wall as she did, part of her not trusting her to stay on her feet too long.

Several more members of a second Containment Squad that were waiting near the site had begun to enter the building. They began to enter through the front door and began to make a sweep through the building with their weapons raised, though they’d been told that the threat had currently been neutralised. They still followed protocol and made sure that the site was safe and nobody was hiding, as well as trying to locate any caches of equipment or other ill gotten gains that may be hidden. They were quick, efficiently prowling through the building. Once the building was made secure, they began a more in-depth search to look for stolen goods.

Grandmaster lead Visionary downstairs, and made sure he collected the weapons he previously discarded. Jason had been cleared to stay with his men, and the two Fartouched were making their way to leave. Grandmaster kept his pace with Visionary, who was still feeling the lingering after-taste of what the stun grenade had done to her. They opened the door to go outside and the fresh air hit them, a sudden sting that made them aware of the sweat on Visionary’s head. Covered head to toe, encased in armour meant Grandmaster didn’t notice, though when he inclined his head to Visionary he seemed to notice and paused to give her a second.

With a nod, they made their way back to the van. They may have won for now, but any celebrating would have to wait for the time being.

Visionary watched as Grandmaster left the room through the door she was facing, as she sat on her chair in the hallway. They were back at the headquarters and they were in the small wing of the building where they held a small doctor’s office. Grandmaster had his helmet off and held underneath his arm, and he looked about as sour as he normally did after getting examined.

“The good doctor’ll see you now.”

He didn’t sound pleased, though he never had. For some reason, he was never a fan of getting checked up. Doctor, dentist, opticians, Visionary had never seen him respond to those visits as anything other than a grunt and a bad look on his face. Visionary had even heard him say he’d rather pull his nails out with a pair of pliers. She didn’t dare test the theory but she had nudged him previously to do so, and he never refused yet.

She stood up, already feeling better than she had done before, and entered.

The office was clinical, sterile. It didn’t differ from a general practitioners you’d see in any small town. Whites everywhere, everything clean and tidy. To the immediate left was a desk housing a computer and beyond that was a filing cabinet. To the immediate right was a coat rack, and behind that was a small table that housed some examination equipment on a metal tray. In the far left corner was an examination bed, which had a recent indent where somebody heavy had sat. On the furthest wall was a sink and all the sterilised equipment she’d need, and the doctor herself was sat on a computer chair that faced another chair, pulled away and ready for Visionary to sit down.

She’d met Dr. Owens only a few times since she’d been here, not having to really worry much about her own health. Half of the times, she was taking a recruit there, but every so often she found herself within these four walls. The doctor was as surprised as she would be, though she gestured openly to the chair in front of her. Visionary took a seat.

“Well, you’re not one I see here very often.” Her voice was high, unmistakably welsh. Visionary took a single look over her; her blonde hair was straight and in a bun atop her head, and she had a chubby face that was shaped by square glasses. The rest of her was a bit above average in weight, though she seemed to have some pride in her appearance. She wore make-up, though it seemed she’d been conservative and applied less, rather than more. “It must be the end of the world!”

“Not today, Doctor.” Visionary smiled, resisting the urge to flinch again. “Has Grandmaster told you?”

“Oh, yes. Stun grenade. Nasty, that.” She took a clipboard from her desk and began to write down a few things.

“I’ve been hit in the jaw with a gun. Nothing too serious.”

She looked at her for a moment, glasses on the bridge of the nose. “Don’t be silly, everything is serious, even that.” She pushed her glasses back up. “Tell me what happened.”

“I was caught off balance and got struck here by the butt of a weapon, as big as a shotgun.” Visionary removed the face mask that was covering the lower half of her face from view. She pointed to her jaw; it was inflamed and pink near the hinge, and the area was raised slightly compared to the other side.

Dr. Owens stood up and walked over and held her hands out, clad in latex gloves. “May I take a look?” She waited and Visionary nodded.

“Yes, please.”

She took Visionary’s chin and jaw in her hands delicately and began taking a visual inspection of the wound. She touched her finger to it lightly and Visionary inhaled a little, which caught the doctor’s attention.

“Open your jaw, please.”

She did, and the doctor nodded.

“Close, please.”

Visionary followed the orders as instructed.

“How does it feel?”

“Dull throbbing normally. It’s uncomfortable when I talk, hurts to be touched.”

“Ah.” She said, then sat back down again and started to write on her clipboard. “Just a bit’a blunt trauma. I don’t think it’s been fractured or broken. It’s probably going to go blue and purple and fade in about two, three weeks or so. Keep your mask on and nobody will know.”

Visionary nodded and smiled. As if to demonstrate, she blinked, the discomfort disrupting her breathing pattern.

“The best thing I can recommend is that you have your jaw scanned to see if there’s any lasting damage.” She took out a prescription form and began to hastily write something down. “I’ll prescribe some painkillers for your jaw. As for your concussion, I’d advise you not to do any strenuous physical activity for the next few days. See how you feel, but I’ll put in a recommendation for you to be off-shift just to be safe.”

Visionary stopped smiling. “I should be fine, I don’t feel as if I’m that affected-”

Dr. Owens cut her off, wagging a pen at her. “Doctor’s orders!” She smiled. “Even Visionary needs a day or two off. Give it a few days, okay?”

Visionary paused, but relented and nodded.

Dr. Owens reiterated. “No assignments, I mean it!” She tore off the prescription and handed it out. “Lots of rest for you, miss. And cocodamol. Probably best not to drink on the wine if you fancy a tipple.”

Visionary smiled a little wider and took the receipt. “I’ll try not to have a drink. Thank you, doctor.”

“Alright, now off with you! Go and rest. I’ll have a word with the Director about it.”

Visionary took this as her cue to leave. She stood and neatly bowed her head, and made her way out of the office.

Grandmaster was waiting outside, legs spread slightly. When she came out, it took him a second to realise. It was guessed that he had something playing in his helmet that distracted him, and it turned off once she got his attention. He stood up and took his helmet off his head, after a few seconds of it opening up to release him.

“Lemme guess. Painkillers and ‘don’t work for a few days’?” He asked.

Visionary nodded.

“Could’a guessed. She told me the same. Bollocks to it. I’ve got more important things to do than sit at home and feel bad for myself.” Grandmaster ran a hand through his hair. “Good work today, by the way.”

“It was nothing.” Visionary said, though her humbleness was grating him.

“It wasn’t nothing and you know it. But, we’ve been there, argued that a few times. I’m not gonna bother.”

She smiled to herself, that same smile. This time, it was a small victory to her that she was happy for.

“Well, I’ve got some good news on the way.”

“Oh?”

“I made a few calls. We’ve got overwhelming evidence of the Technomads and past crimes, and these crimes are the straw to break the law’s proverbial back. If we get this whole ordeal done quickly, they’re gonna be facing a decent amount of jail time for all the crap they’ve done. More importantly, we’ve got something new. We’ve got their leader in custody. We probably wouldn’t have gotten him there if we hadn’t have held back the Containment Squad until he was engaged. Probably would have bolted it if we went in there with all guns blazing.”

Visionary nodded.

“But as you know, I’m a man who has to see things through. We don’t have the Ten Granders so we can’t do diddly squat about the stolen animals, and I’m pretty sure none of the suits or higher ups care about a few cute and cuddlies being taken by a girl who, on record, loves the little bastards and can control them to a degree. We’ll have to get them later. Going on my original hunch though, whoever was contacting the Ten Granders probably got in contact with the Technomads as well. Which is why we’ve got their leader before they hit town.”

Visionary nodded again. “Judging by how bare the building was and the lack of any of their previous successes, it’s safe to assume they’ve moved everything away, and the goods they stole in question have passed hands.”

“Bingo. Whoever’s doing this is quick and good, gets some low lives to do his dirty work and then washes his hands of them. He doesn’t care if they’re caught or not. But, we want nobody tipped off, so this isn’t hitting the media.”

Visionary paused and tilted her head slightly, as she briefly thought about it. “What are you planning to do?”

“What I’m planning to do is get answers. We’ve got the leader with us right now. Tomorrow, we’re gonna eat a good, greasy breakfast, then we’re dragging his sorry ass to an interrogation room, and then we’re gonna get some answers straight from the horses mouth.”

“Interrogation.” She said, bluntly.

“Yup.”

“I’m not asking you to partake. I need you to be there and to watch it, because I know you can pick up on things. And maybe your voice in my ear will make sure I don’t knock his teeth down his throat.”

Visionary looked at him for a scant few seconds.

“You know there’s a good chance I’ll probably at least threaten to do so.”

“I know. It’s why I don’t think you interrogating anybody is a good idea.”

“Hey. I resent that remark.” He said, rolling his eyes.

“Resent as you may, I stand by it.” She folds her arms. He notices, and raises an eyebrow.

“I promise I won’t go over the top but we need answers. Now’s a better time than any, and I need you there.”

She had to contemplate this. Not one to pace around, she simply kept her eyes pinned to Grandmaster. He may have thought she was trying to intimidate him by doing so, though he didn’t seem to budge on the issue.

“I will, on one condition.”

“Name it.” He barked back.

“Get a Director’s sanction on the matter-”

Visionary’s phone had started ringing.

Grandmaster raised an eyebrow, then he furrowed his eyebrows. “You’re joking.”

He sounded legitimately surprised. Visionary took her phone out of her belt pocket and checked the number, holding it up for Grandmaster to see.

Director Sage.

She answered, wasting no time.

“Hello?”

Visionary, this is Director Sage.”

“Hello, Director.” She was giving her the benefit of the doubt. The Director could be calling for any reason.

I’m here to give you explicit, verbal permission. This is a Director’s sanction to proceed with interrogation of Ryan Macey tomorrow.”

“Understood, Director.”

Tell Grandmaster that I know he hates it, and he has to deal with it. Go and get some rest, Visionary.”

The director hung up.

Grandmaster raised an eyebrow and folded his arms. “I hate it when she does that.”

Visionary smiled wide enough to hurt, and she didn’t seem phased by it. “She knows, and she said to deal with it.”

“I’m not sure that I like that the NFU is ran by a precog of some kind. Glad she’s on our side.”

Grandmaster nonchalantly shrugged, then turned to begin walking down the hallway. He put on his helmet and paused as the plates began to run around his head, sealing him into his armour. The lights of the eyes lit up, and his voice took on that reverberating tone.

“Make sure your breakfast is a good one, Visionary. We’ve got a good old interrogation on our hands.”

Beginnings: 2-5

“Alright, listen up.”

Inside the van, Grandmaster addressed Jason and Visionary adjacent to him. He was speaking through his comm as well, to keep in touch with the occupants of another van close to them. Jason and Visionary were sitting opposite him on leather-bound chairs. Facing directly opposite him was a monitor, showing a grainy picture of a large building from a point of view in the sky that was above the level of where the van was.

“We’ve got one shot and we need to bring at least one of these bastards in for questioning. The local authorities are aware of our operation here and won’t interfere unless we request backup.”

Behind him was a rack of weaponry; rifles and pistols with a block-like design to them, a shotgun and some batons. A few had been procured already; Grandmaster sat with a pistol and a rifle and one of the batons already equipped. Visionary kept her bar maces at hand, Jason carried the same load-out as Grandmaster. Each of them carried two pairs of handcuffs each, discretely stashed away into belt compartments.

“Remember, these weapons have just been approved. Three shots downs somebody to exhaustion, four makes them unconscious. Do not, under any circumstance, hit them again if they’re down. Assume they’re out for good.”

Grandmaster glanced between the pair, who showed all signs of being ready. Visionary was calm, almost serene and watching him clearly. Jason showed the signs of a soldier, with proper posture and a body language like he was ready to burst into action. A coiled spring, being wound up gently.

“Call when you’re going to use a Fatigue Grenade, and only for a good reason. Anybody found out to directly or indirectly hit one of the NFU in the blast radius will see how pissed off I can get before you’re suspended for the rest of your career.”

He tilted his head to show he was looking between them. Visionary gave him an affirmative nod. Jason was silent, still, his finger tapping the side of the rifle in his hand just above where the trigger was. Grandmaster paused for half a minute, the radio silence created a thick blanket of tension as they waited.

A voice sliced through the wait, whispered and hushed.

All operatives, Squad is in position. All exits covered. Eyes on the roof by the far stairwell. Over.”

Everyone perked up. Grandmaster put his index finger to where his ear would be to reply.

“This is Agent Grandmaster, is the path clear? Over.”

Agent Grandmaster, the path is clear. We are mobilised and ready. Over.”

“Containment Squad, good work. Stick to the plan, don’t deviate, and keep on comms. Await my signal or the sound of conflict. Over and out.”

Affirmative. Over and out.”

The comms died a moment after.

Grandmaster cleared his throat. “Helmet, command mode.”

Only Grandmaster heard the response.

COMMAND MODE ACTIVE. RECOGNISING PROMPTS FOR COMMS.”

The light was on in the back of the vans, though it was still dim. As he activated this, his visor began to increase his visibility in the darkness, almost as bright as clear sunlight. He looked around the room, and saw the information he was being fed back. All non-combat systems had been shut off or eliminated, and his targeting system seemed to latch onto people and identify them as friendly or hostile quicker. In addition, a small square materialised in the bottom right of his view; an overhead map of the area, with several green dots on the screen surrounding the target building.

They were near a small housing estate, where a small road could be driven down to access the building in question. The lights were out, though there was a very faint glow inside if you were close enough and could study the windows. It was square in shape, with just a single entrance on the ground floor and a pair of exits at the back, one on the second floor with a metal staircase that came down to the ground like a helix.

Grandmaster also had an overlay of the interior of the building in his helmet, and it was all carefully explained to every person on this operation. Both floors had a U shape to them, with the bottom of the U near where the front entrance was. On the top floor, it kept mostly to that shape. On the ground floor, the U itself was divided; the entire bottom section was a reception area, the rest of it was divided into 6 rooms, with two either side on that U shape and the other two in the middle. Those two were connected by doors leading to other rooms.

The top floor was much more simple, and stuck to the U shape. As a derelict office building for a call centre, this is where most of the desks and computers were, the bulk of the business. There were smaller rooms up here, offices and stationary cupboards and toilets.

Grandmaster nodded to the others, then slid open the door of the van that faced away from the building. Visionary and Jason were the first to get out and armed themselves with rifles, Grandmaster doing the same and leaving just shortly after. They’d parked in the driveway of one of the houses, everything already cleared beforehand to avoid drawing any suspicion.

They circled around with Visionary taking point, sticking close to the row of houses and using cover to weave and manoeuvre themselves as they approached the building. The agents who were in position had done so much longer before, and crept through a canopy of bushes and trees that surrounded the vicinity. The easiest way to get through them would be to cut through the back garden of one of the properties. They were in luck that the local people were fully cooperative.

Visionary lead them through a wooden gate, clattering against the bricks of the side of the house. The lights were dimmed, other than the glow of the television being on in the front room. They made their way to the back gate and holstered their weapons. They approached the wooden fence on the far side and Grandmaster rushed over, squatting beside it whilst cupping his arms. Visionary jogged up, and he boosted her over. She tucked her legs in and neatly jumped over, landing and moving to the side whilst taking out her rifle. Jason soon followed, propping himself over with one leg.

Grandmaster was the last to scale the fence and he landed with his palm open to the grass below. They all knelt motionless, staring at the building ahead. Grandmaster let his helmet scan the building, vision piercing through windows until he scanned the area. With a nod, he raised his hand and flick pointed towards the building, taking his rifle out. They advanced, quick and silent, unheard over the rustle of wind blowing grass and trees under the night sky.

Visionary lead them to the side of the building, making sure they weren’t in line of sight of anybody or any cameras that may have caught them. They knelt beside a large window pane, one open and accessible, large enough for a person to slip through. Whilst they knelt beside the brickwork that gave them cover, the men turned to Visionary.

She closed her eyes. Flickers of strain and concentration trace in pulses along her eyelids and her cheeks. As she opened her eyes, she raised her head up, and she gazed through the air at nothing in particular. It only took a second and she caught a breath afterwards, before making a gesture to Grandmaster and Jason with her hands.

Two men. Entrance. At ease.

Grandmaster nodded. With a pair of fingers, he reached up and took the open window by his hand and gently began to pry it open, at first wide enough for a head to pass. He let a few seconds go past, then glanced back to Visionary. She repeated what she did before, as if the silence around her was magnified to a greater degree as she exerted some senses beyond everyone else. She turned and nodded. Grandmaster continued, and made the gap wide enough for an upper body to fit through. He checked with Visionary one more time, and she repeated the motions again. Quickly, she nodded and made another hand gesture.

Looking. No.

He lifted his head, not into the gap but to stare through the window beside him. To him, he could find his targets easily. A pair of men standing, facing away from them and towards the room where the stairs were located. They were engaged in a conversation that they could barely hear, only a few emphasised words here and there. Grandmaster picked up one making a hand gesture of sorts, something sexually implying. The other laughed loud enough for the others to pick up. Grandmaster remained quiet, then motioned for Jason.

They wore ballistic vests that looked like a much simpler, archaic version of Jason’s current armour, minus a bodysuit to go with it. Their helmets were riot visors, open, and the one on the left had a lit cigarette hanging from his lips, the cherry close to the filter. Grandmaster’s helmet picked up on the weapon holstered on their hips, identifying them to be some sort of knife. The one who wasn’t smoking was carrying an older version of the Emotional Dampening weapons.

Jason crawled over on his hands and knees, squatting and kneeling to get beside Grandmaster. He took out his pistol and checked to see if the energy core had flushed enough energy into the weapon for enough shots, and was satisfied to see it was ready. Jason took the unsaid hint and got his own pistol and checked it, making sure it was ready.

Grandmaster began to tap his foot on the edge of the bricks so they could all hear a small thud. Visionary kept on point, studying the surroundings and keeping her rifle close, to cover them. Grandmaster tapped loud enough for them to hear, a gradual beat. Once, twice, thrice…

On the fourth beat, they both quickly raised up with pistols already aiming at their respective targets. Grandmaster and Jason blasted them with a salvo of pulsing energy fire from their pistols. Three shots each, Grandmaster striking the back of the non-smoker’s thighs where no armour protected it. Jason aimed for the same area on the smoker. They groaned, energy drained from them, and succumbed to exhaustion before crumpling and falling to the floor on their sides.

Visionary kept down, though she glanced slightly to the side. Even from this crouching position, keeping them covered, she had seen what had transpired. She touched her comm in her ear and spoke so gently that it may have been confused for a noise in the wind.

Front guards down.”

Grandmaster stood up a little, then put a fourth shot in each guy. One was feebly trying to reach for his phone, wheezing and letting out a croak for breath, before the final shot rendered each of them out cold, too tired to even stay awake. Jason slunk to the side slightly, and Visionary raised to her feet, still keeping watch. Grandmaster rose up and put one foot on the window ledge, before landing down onto the carpet with a slight thud. He took his pistol and aimed it, scanning the room for any signs of activity. When his helmet picked up no signs of motion or life, and quickly flicked through to see any short range thermal signatures, it signalled the all-clear.

In turn, Grandmaster did the same, and made a single wave of his hand with a thumbs up. Visionary turned towards him, Jason was quickly scaling the wall and climbing into the room through the window, and swapped his pistol for a rifle. Grandmaster drew more energy reserves from the weapon’s core, so he had a full round of shots to work with.

Jason took a Hardware Bug from his belt and pushed in the head with a click. The feet uncoiled out from the middle and he aimed for a security camera currently pointing away from them. He hit his mark, and the legs quickly seized the camera and sent out a small pulse, a few feet in diameter. It was an unusual noise, a faint spark of electronics that sounded like a crackle of electricity, followed by something calcifying or freezing.

Grandmaster nodded, and holstered his pistol. Visionary quickly moved over to the door with the stairs and kept her back to the door, with a clear line of sight from her head through the window, at the stairs behind it. She kept her eyes on the other doors, rifle raised.

Jason stubbed out the cigarette onto the carpet beneath them with his boot. Grandmaster motioned to the other body and Jason moved over to the legs, as he grabbed the upper body underneath his arms. Grandmaster tapped his foot and on the fourth tap, they both lifted him up, and hauled him to the reception desk. They put the body where it wasn’t immediately visible, and went to move the other with just as much haste and efficiency.

Once both bodies had been moved, Grandmaster went to the window and gently eased it back to being closed, clicking the handle shut. He turned to Jason, tapping his wrist, then pointing to the bug.

Jason responded back with four finger, followed by holding his thumb, index and middle finger out. He closed all but his index finger.

Four minutes.

Grandmaster nodded, then turned around. Jason took this as a sign to sheath his pistol and take out his rifle, check the charge was correct, then moved to cover Visionary and keep the other doors in his sights.

His helmet began to shift his vision from the clear view of the walls and slipped into a thermal vision that took a few seconds to warm up. What he saw ahead was a total of four figures but couldn’t make out what exactly they were doing. A few were lower than the others, possibly seated. One more was much further away, much more faint than the others. It was difficult to see if it was just lingering head from a power generator or a person.

Grandmaster’s vision returned to normal, becoming clearer and giving him perfect visibility again. He stuck up four fingers and pointed ahead to their direction. Visionary nodded, then took herself off point and carefully crept over to the door. Grandmaster and Jason followed behind, in that order.

She opened the door as careful as she could muster, and her eyes flickered back and forth as if they were pulling on a tether in the middle of her eye. She proceeded, then turned left. Grandmaster followed after, keeping her cover. Jason covered the rear, turning to the other corridor with his gun raised, finger not quite on the trigger. When it was clear, he turned and kept his eyes in front of him, though before they all turned a corner to the right, he did one final check.

They turned around a corner into a much larger room, with one wall giving them cover. They could hear a television in the distance, and there was a chant of a crowd and the distinct noise of a commentator over it. The other guys were talking boistrously, though nobody could make out who was who or what else was going on.

“…the fuck are Man United playing, anyway?” One man had a deep, gruff voice, with a distinctly Mancurian accent.

“Eindhoven.” Another man had a much lighter accent, harder to pin.

“That german or summit?” The other asked him.

“Nah, it’s like Sweden, mate.” A third voice chimed in, a tone somewhere between the two. He also seemed to hail from Manchester.

“Better than the fuckin’ paki’s anyway, right lads?”

The others agreed quite verbally, as if to prove a point. They cheered in a machismo fashion, verbally pumping themselves up.

“At least Barnes is gonna kick those fuckin’ brown faced cunts outta England, after he kicks out those Farborn freaks.”

Grandmaster hadn’t been wasting time listening to them, and was already making plans. Visionary kept point, staring ahead into the distance and through everything else. Grandmaster made a quick series of hand gestures.

Visionary, left. Jason, middle. Me, far away, then right.

All three nodded in agreement. He tapped his foot several times, counting down for them all, and things moved quickly from this point onwards.

They all moved out with their rifles raised, ready with their fingers on the trigger. They saw all three of the men in the room, on chairs, watching a big flat screen television. On the table in front of them was a deck of cards and crumpled up notes, coins and face up cards sprawled everywhere. All three guys by the table had taken their helmets off and put them on the ground near their chairs. Football was playing on the television, the opening minutes of the game.

The one of the left was overweight, had a flat nose and a broad face, with a shaved head. The one in the middle had brown hair, shaved on the side with the top left at a medium length, and a broad scar on his cheek. The third was much thinner, with tattoos crawling up his neck and onto his face. T, wearing the same equipment as the two men outside.

Only the man on the opposite side of the room, who was walking back from the television behind a table that had been left when the office was abandoned and hadn’t been moved since, was facing the NFU agents as they moved out of cover.

“Shit-”

The three Technomads all looked up to him the moment that they were opened up on. The one at the far end of the room was lucky enough to drop on the spot and avoid the first shots that Grandmaster poured into him, a volley of three hits that would have been precise were they not obfuscated by the furniture in the way.

Visionary and Jason hit their targets, and they weren’t even aware of it. They pumped four shots into each of them, jolting for a second before the effects of the Eldritch weaponry took its toll and rendered them unconscious.

Grandmaster altered his fire and hammered the one man who hadn’t been shot at just yet, and swiftly plastered him with energy fire. He’d managed to stand up in shock and reached for the gun that was still strapped to his side, and almost reached it before three shots had fell him. A fourth was quickly put between his eyes, and his eyes rolled to the back of his skull with an awkward grunt.

“Shit, shit! Boss, we’ve got trouble downstairs-”

Visionary and Jason ran around, circling the table in a pincer formation. They had been ruthlessly quick in dispatching the others and quick on the trigger to hunt down the final one, and that was all he could say through his old comm device before they both ran around, and the pair pumped two shots each into him. He was curled underneath the table, holding his knees to his chest with his finger near his ear.

Grandmaster reloaded his weapon, then looked up. Heat signatures above him, as limited as his visibility this way would allow, had begun to rise up and stir from being inanimate. He changed himself back to normal visibility and didn’t even pause for thought.

“Stairs, now.”

Jason and Visionary nodded and checked their weapons. They ran back to the door and Grandmaster thrust it open by ramming his foot into it. He poured through, Visionary and Jason shortly afterwards.

“Put pressure on them. Stall.”

Grandmaster flung the pale wooden door open and pointed his rifle with a single hand holding it into the room where the stairs were, and scaled it up as he walked inside with haste and resolve. Visionary and Jason moved in and took aim to the stairs as well, and all three were pointing their weapons to the doors that they could see. Grandmaster began to scale up the stairs carefully, both hands now on his rifle, and he barked out something whilst being careful to not be too loud.

“Got a lock on them. They’re moving carefully. Old mark ED weapons.” Everyone present knew that previous versions of Emotional Dampening weapons were less efficient, but they would drain the target of the will to fight and render them emotionally neutral. Perfect for capture, or a coup de grâce.

There was three doors from this point onwards. One to the front, two to either side, positioned centre in the building, with a pair of toilets before the door right ahead. Visionary slunk ahead and took point again, pressing the button to the lift that was opposite them. Fortunately, it was already on this floor, and once it opened she stepped inside to give her cover, as she kept her eyes on the door to the front, and the one that was hidden from view of the stairs.

Grandmaster and Jason lowered to cover, with Jason behind and above the kneeling Grandmaster, using the opaque guard on the banister to keep themselves covered. Grandmaster put a finger to his ear.

“Containment Squad, advance on the exit but do not enter. That is an order-”

He was cut off as the Technomads had opened the doors and were staring down at them, with their visors down this time and guns and knives at hand. Two from the door directly facing the stairs, two from the centre door, and a single one where they couldn’t see.

They got about a moment to judge the situation before Visionary opened fire and hit the guy in the centre at the front, who was holding a rifle. He fell down just as he was raising it up, falling backwards and sending the guy behind him off balance. The man behind him staggered for a second, before Visionary unloaded a trio of shots into him as well, and he soon hit the floor behind him with a cumbersome thud.

Grandmaster and Jason fired onto the two in front of them, though the Technomad at the front was covering the other guy, and after they both fired a pair of shots each, they had to wait before cover was clear. The Technomad already had something in hand that nobody had seen before, and it was primed and ready to throw as his comrade fell down. Jason only managed to get a single shot before it careened through the air.

BUG DETECTED.”

“Bug!”

Grandmaster’s Visor had begun to automatically shift and change, though Grandmaster called out too late as the device collided and latched onto his arm. He threw himself into cover away from Jason and the fight as the feet wrapped over and latched onto him, and Jason sunk down to his knees and gave him cover, landing the last two shots on the Technomad who was trying to get out of sight himself. The Bug sent out a pulse that caused his weaponry’s technological aspects to cease to function for the duration, circuits paused and frozen so no current could travel through them.

Luckily, his helmet had a fail safe, and upon the detection of a bug, it began to split and pull apart at the face. He’d be denied his sensory equipment and comms for the time being, though the faceplate had parted so a single glass slit allowed him to see through normally. A fail-safe built in for just this occasion.

“Shit.” Grandmaster, grabbed the bug and threw it at the nearest wall, shattering it to spare parts in an instant.

Visionary and Jason swept up from the Technomads who were there, and everyone was a groaning lump on the floor. A pile of bodies too exhausted to fight, that they in turn ‘executed’ with a final shot to knock them out.

“I’m down my senses and comms for a few. Visionary, extra vigilance. Jason, comms.” Both nodded. Jason handed Grandmaster a spare pistol he had, and he checked to see if it had been affected. It was a relief that Jason’s equipment hadn’t suffered.

They regrouped. Visionary on point, they advanced through the door to the right, careful not to step on any bodies.

They emerged into an open space office area; the tables were still arranged in neat lines, though the computers had been removed by now. Office chairs were still present and strewn across, with some of them in a small open circle where the Technomads had previously been sitting passing time. They could see ahead to glass panes separating the far end of the room with small offices, and to their left after the stretch of wall, the room opened up into the middle chamber and the other end of the building. No doubt in the same arrangement.

Grandmaster was closest to the desks at the right side of the room, Visionary in the middle and slightly to the front, and Jason was closer to the wall.

“Flush him out. He’s still in here.”

Grandmaster held his pistol tight, and they moved on. They were a dozen or so feet away from the clearing when Visionary’s eyes went wide, and something was flung from out of view into the room. Everything ran slow as she clutched her ears and began to close her eyes desperately.

“Flashbang-”

The grenade bounced off one of the desks, into the window and bounced back just to the right of the trio. Grandmaster raised his arm to cover his face as quick as he could, without the warnings or protections that his helmet normally provided. Visionary was the most defenceless and almost dropped to the floor, with her eyes closed, mouth open, ears covered. Jason would fare the best and even he turned away from it.

Everything went quiet and their worlds turned to darkness, a white void followed by a harrowing screech of feedback that blotted out the world around them.

Beginnings: 2-4

Visionary took a sip of her coffee, and quickly put it down on the table. It was lukewarm already, neglected from the constant attention she gave to her laptop. She’d been scrying her laptop relentlessly for half an hour, studying reports and documents that she’d dredged from internal archives. Several of them were on the most recent crime that she had attended with her newly formed team. One document was the details of the collateral damage incurred from the fight, as well as a detailed analysis of the animals that had been stolen from the laboratory. No less than 5 dogs, 6 cats and 11 mice that had been Fartouched were missing.

Another report detailed about a recent raid on the Ten Grander’s base by two Containment Squads; the teams were more than well equipped with technology that Artifex had pushed past the testing phase. Fatigue Rays, which hit the target with a concussive bolt of energy, sapped the energy from the target until they were too tired to fight and collapsed from exhaustion. They wore ear buds that relayed only what the other members of the team spoke, to counter Candour’s ability to lie and stop them, and they wore special goggles that blocked out everything but the view of their cameras to minimise Flare’s chances to blind them. She had instead just blinded them through their goggles, and their crew absconded. The animals were nowhere to be sign, though there were signs that they’d been living on one of the levels with Alpha.

Jolly was back up after his defeat. Initial NFU assessments did assume him as as having a healing factor of some kind, and this seemed to verify it. Recent underground activity that has been spotted or put on social media indicate that Jolly is sending his men after Flare, or at least pushing deeply into the direction of wherever she seems to be hiding. Beside that, Visionary had another report of the kind of ‘examples’ that Jolly did to people that crossed him. Each one an incredibly brutal display of force. At a bare minimum, they were hospitalised for months.

The scent of freshly cooked breakfast snapped her out of her trance. Not that she wasn’t aware of what was going on around her; Visionary of all people could boast some degree of constant awareness to her surroundings. It was who was carrying it and put it on her table.

She folded the laptop over and saw Jason sliding a fresh mug of coffee over, beside the one she’d not managed to drink. He was armoured, though he’d elected to keep his helmet off for the time being.

“You could probably use a top up.” He said. She smiled and took a sip, nodding thoughtfully afterwards.

“Thank you.” Her eyes flicked down, almost so quick that Jason didn’t catch her spying his breakfast. He had double of everything you could get: toast, bacon, grilled tomatoes, fried eggs, mushrooms, hash browns, lots of beans. “Cheat day?”

Jason grinned, before starting to make an impressively stacked breakfast sandwich, using his toast and bacon to start with. “Cheat day. Used to be Saturday, now it’s Wednesday. As long as my macros are fine.”

“You and your macros.” She takes another sip, then slides her laptop to the side. “How did it go yesterday?”

“Fine. Really well. Artifex was still Artifex, but he seemed to like the kid.”

“And his side project?”

“Nearly complete.” He was cutting up some eggs now, making sure they fit on his sandwich. “I have my doubts he can mass produce them. He’s made miracles happen before though.”

“The status quo is fine then.” Visionary puts her hands together, interlocking her fingers.

“Looks like it. How’s the girl doing?”

“She’s doing well. She’s experienced with her powers. Another week and she’ll be ready, I imagine.”

Jason sliced up his newly made sandwich and began eating, though once it had been made he didn’t seem to make another and just started to eat whatever was on his plate. “You have skills, fire power, flexibility. She’d add some utility.”

Visionary nodded, and took this moment to take another sip of her coffee. She put her mug down and used it to nudge the other one out of the way, off to the side of the table.

“How’s everything at home?”

“Home?” Jason said. A smile crept over his face. “You don’t normally ask.”

“I thought I’d show an interest.” Visionary smiled politely.

“That’s awfully kind of you.” Jason put down his fork for the moment. “Home’s going okay. I work a lot. When I don’t, I’m in the gym or talking to my old squad. Share a few beers, watch the footie.”

“Oh.” She said. She was at least good at feigning some sort of dull surprise. “Quite ordinary, then.”

“I’m not unpredictable.” He pinched his fork between index finger and thumb and began collecting food onto it. “What about you?”

“My parents are still deciding if they want to move back to China or not. I think they’re not going back because of me.”

“What makes you think that?” Jason pointed his knife at her.

“My dad thinks I should be married by now. They’re somewhat traditional in many senses. Me moving out shocked them, but they accepted it. Deep down I know they want me to marry, have children, but they know it might not happen any time soon.”

“Why’s that?”

“I have too much work to do.” She smiled softly. “I don’t feel like I’m ready yet. I never really have done. On top of that, this work is dangerous. I wouldn’t want them to worry about me. I don’t know how much my parents have influenced this decision, truthfully.”

Jason nods slowly. “I know. I’ve always had a military background in my family. I think the proudest day of my dad’s life was when I managed to get into the SAS.”

“And after that you joined the NFU, right?”

“Mmhmm.” Jason took a big swig of tea whilst humming. “That’s pretty much it. Been a fighter my entire life. I might not get everything about Farborn, Fartouched. I know where I can make a difference though.”

Visionary’s eyes darted down for a second, still smiling and acknowledging the conversation. “We’re not that complicated, when you get down to it.”

“Maybe the powers aren’t. If you’re telling me you’re not complicated, I’d disagree with you.”

“Oh? You think I’m complicated?”

“I think I can’t tell if you are or not. Sage rubs off on you, but there’s more to you than you seem to let on.”

Her smile goes wider. She doesn’t respond initially.

“Not saying anything about it isn’t helping, either.”

She giggles slightly. Jason looks down to his pocket. “’scuse me.”

He delves down below the table and retrieves his phone, still vibrating in his palm. He glances to Visionary, whose smile decreases slightly. After seeing that Grandmaster was calling, Jason answers it.

“Commander Jason speaking.”

Hello, Commander. Glad to hear that you’re still speaking. All is well this morning?” Grandmaster answered.

“As well as it can be, sir. What can I help you with?”

Can you tell Visionary to answer her damned phone? I’ve called her twice now. I know she has the bloody thing on her at all times.”

Jason glanced to Visionary, and grinned slightly. “What makes you think she’s here?”

Well, going on a hunch. You two have breakfast together almost everyday you can. I know your schedules allow it today, and I could think of another hundred reasons. Tell her to pick up the goddamn phone. I’m calling again.”

Jason brings the phone away from his ear. “It’s Grandmaster.”

Visionary has her phone out already. It’s vibrating gently in her hand, and she answers the call.

“Grandmaster, hello.”

“If that’s everything, sir, I’ll leave you two-”

I’d like both of you to stay for this.” They shared a glance to each other. Jason sat upright a little, bringing the phone closer.

“Yes, sir. A matter of importance?”

You could say that. Visionary, you asked me to look into that case. I’ve found something interesting. Maybe you can make something out of it.”

“Go ahead, Grandmaster.” Visionary’s expression turned serious.

Alright. Took a little look into the Ten Grander’s latest activity. Nothing big. Petty thefts near their base, nothing new. Out of nowhere, they go and steal some animals. Weird thing to pull off, doesn’t match any previous crimes reported, totally different area too. What do you think of that?”

“It’s likely they may have been approached and offered a job.”

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m guessing you’re still looking into it, so you know they’ve got the hell outta dodge.”

Visionary glances to her laptop. “From what I’ve read, that seems to be the case.”

Yup. Signs of the animals living in their base. No cages, nothing set up long term. And that report you’ve checked this morning shows they’re leaving and moving somewhere else. Commander, what do you think?”

“It sounds to me like somebody asked them to get the animals for them, then they left before Jolly got to them. Maybe they tipped them off.” Jason put his knife on his plate, holding the handle of his mug instead.

Bingo. That’s what everyone else is thinking. Now here’s a bit of speculating from yours truly. Whoever it was, wasn’t some big group of animal loving assholes. None of that PETA crap. Whoever it was, hired them out so it wouldn’t get back to them. Whoever it is, wants some no-names to do it for them so they’re not caught. Tell me if you think that don’t make any sense.”

“I’d say that’s a fairly logical train of thought.” Visionary commented.

You’re damn right it’s fairly logical. So, next question. Why animals? No fucking clue. Getting Alpha made sense to get them. Experiments? I don’t know. What I do know, is that we’ve got a guy who asks a bunch of low lives to grab something from somewhere and get it to him, for a good bit of cash. Onto my next point.”

Not sure if you two are aware of the details but there was a crime last night. Normally, not our problem. The police dumped it onto us though. Some small gang who uses Eldritch tech to do hit and runs for money, rob stores, all that crap. They hit a MAGI-Tech warehouse. Normally these guys raid the place for new weapons and trophies. Not this time. They took a computer or two, filled some flash drives and stole some components. They touched nothing else. Very precise, very focused. Seem really unusual to you?”

The pair shared a glance again.

“Definitely And the police just gave it to us?” Jason queried, then took a swig of tea.

You know how the fuzz are when it comes to anything Farside related. Even Eldritch tech. They think we’ve got nothing else to do other than doing their job for them. In this case, probably a good thing.”

“You believe they’re related, with what you’re implying.” Visionary chimed in.

I do.” Grandmaster paused, possibly for effect. “I do indeed. They call themselves the Technomads. Bunch of fucking idiots. They go on about how they think that everyone has a right to all the technology, Eldritch included, but they’re a bunch of thugs with fancy looking guns. This doesn’t fit their modus operandi.”

“Big words.” Jason jested.

Well aren’t you the comedian?” Grandmaster’s tone was dry. “Bet you think you’re a funny guy. Enough about that. Both seem to be the same deal. Small gangs getting one particular thing, going and getting something out of character, taking nothing else. Either way, we’ve had this case dumped on us. I’ve requested some jurisdiction on the matter, which means I get to request who I want to assist me on this.”

Once again, Visionary and Jason shared a look. Visionary responded first. “That being us two.”

Perceptive as always. Visionary is a name given well to you. Everything’s fine as far as admin is concerned. You’re my left and right hand on this case, proverbially speakin’. First order of business is to do a quick check of the scene. The men we already have there are doing a fine enough job but I want to go and take a look myself before we do anything.”

Jason seemed to get the gist of the message, and necked the rest of what remained in his mug. Visionary did the same, finishing off her coffee quickly. Fortunately, most of Jason’s breakfast had been demolished in no short order.

I want you two to accompany me. Two pairs of eyes and Visionary do to a quick sweep, see what was stolen, then I want to go on the offence, so to speak.”

“You want to go after them?” Visionary looked concerned, holding her phone a little closer to her ear.

Yup. The case is ours and we don’t sit with our thumbs on our asses like the police. We have large amounts of evidence it was them, we know the location of their base and I have a Commander under my authority with a Containment Squad to help me deal with them. We’re going after the little bastards and finding out what’s going on. And if any trouble comes about it, all the heat’s on me.”

Neither of them responded immediately. Grandmaster decided that the wait of a few seconds of air time was too much.

If you two are done with your romantic breakfast, get your asses to my office. We leave in the hour. Grandmaster out.”

Before anybody could respond, the line was dead.

Jason raised his eyebrows slightly and put his phone away. “I can see why he never has a case for long.”

“He’s good at what he does.” Visionary did the same, then pushed her chair back and stood up. “Gear up, I’ll see you in his office when you’re ready.”

Jason nodded. Visionary normally would at least wait for him to catch up but he could see a determination in her steps as she power walked to the equipment rooms. He sighed a little, then snagged the last piece of bacon on his plate, dipped it into some brown sauce and popped it into his mouth, before clearing the table and putting everything on his tray. He made sure what remained of his breakfast was either stacked away or put in the bin before he made a move to venture out and gear himself up.

Grandmaster leaned on the back of the car that had brought the trio in, arms folded, staring at the warehouse. It was in a somewhat desolate part of Greater Manchester between Wythenshaw and Sale, and the industrial estate housing the warehouse looked neglected. The pavements were curved, shaping the pathway of cracked roads, littered with potholes and sundered earth; the road markings had all but worn away, pale whites with splattered edges that added to the derelict appeal

It was a plain, unassuming building, cuboid in shape and bland otherwise, though kept in much better condition than the surrounding buildings. The top half had the effect of corrugation, and above the doorway hung a large sign.

MAGI-Tech.

‘Make another great invention’

Grandmaster eyed the yellow tape covering the front entrance of the building for a few seconds and snorted, unfolding his arms. He patted his side where he’d normally keep some sort of armament on his person, his hand lingering for a moment. Visionary was about twenty paces away on the phone, whilst Jason was a few feet away from the car, nearer the building. The car park they loitered about on was empty, barren save for their car and a few Containment Squad vans that were already here, working on the scene.

Jason turned to Grandmaster. He studied him through his visor for a second. The gulf in technology between their sets of equipment was visibly striking.

“What do I need to address you as today?” Jason rolled one of his shoulders as he spoke. “Normally, I’m in command.”

“Today’s a day for firsts. Agent is standard protocol.” He didn’t sound too serious, though he was quieter than when he spoke over the phone to them before.

“Okay, Agent. Do you mind if I ask a question?”

Grandmaster turned his head to Jason. Through his visor, he managed to target him. Information poured just in his peripheral vision, giving him details of who he was facing. The targeting square turned green after a second.

“Nope. Fire away.”

“No disrespect meant. Your equipment is much higher quality than our Containment Squads.”

“No disrespect taken.” Grandmaster stood off from the car and turned to face Jason, as if addressing him properly. “Perfectly reasonable comment. There’s a few reasons.”

He flicked his finger up in the air. “First reason. All Fargraced Agents must wear an outfit as to properly identify themselves and to give them a unique appearance. It also helps a bit with merchandising, daft as it sounds. You know HR, you know how much revenue they make from that.”

Grandmaster sounded weary, and well versed in saying that particular point. Jason nodded. Grandmaster flicked up another finger, pointing two skywards.

“Second reason. Due to my rank I’m allowed certain freedoms. One of which being, to design my own armour. I spent a small fortune commissioning this from Artifex.”

He whipped a third finger in the air on the same hand. “Third reason. I value my safety. I’d pay any amount to make sure I’ve got even a single percent better odds against somebody. We’ve got a kid who hasn’t got a recorded upper strength limit on our side. There’s a woman in the unit who can absorb kinetic and electrical energy and can use it to get stronger, tougher, shoot lightning, heal wounds. I have to stare these bastards down knowing my armour won’t fail me when I need it.”

Jason nodded affirmatively. Compared to Grandmaster’s helmet, his only provided a basic amount of information. It had a basic facial recognition system to identify targets, but it gave nothing else beside that. No words, no designation of hostile or friendly targets, and certainly not a phone. They all were able to see in any number of ways, from infrared to night vision. What Grandmaster’s helmet could do beside that, he couldn’t even guess.

“Understood.”

“Do you think your equipment in the Containment Squads is lacking?”

“No, sir.”

“How old is it?”

“Few years. Two, maybe three.”

Grandmaster studied him for a brief second.

“Could probably do with an update. I’ll see about mentioning it to the Chief Commander.”

Jason nodded again.

Visionary joined them. Compared to their gear, she only wore a face mask and eschewed any armour on her head.

“What’s the word?” Jason asked.

Visionary stopped, so they formed a neat triangle. “They’ve given us permission to access the site.” She shot a glance to Grandmaster. “Which you know you need to acquire before we attend any crime investigation scenes.”

Grandmaster waved it off, his expression unrecognisable beneath his helmet. He started walking to the front door. “Takes up to two days to process.” The other two began to follow behind him, catching up quickly. “Excellent work, Agent Visionary. I knew I could count on you to get that paperwork crap out of the way so we can do some real work.”

“You know how important documentation is, regardless of rank.” Visionary rolled her eyes.

“Yeah, yeah. I know. Still a pain in the ass.”

“Is he always like this?” Jason asked in jest to Visionary. He wasn’t subtle either, knowing Grandmaster would hear it. She didn’t get time to answer before he did.

“Damn right I am.”

Grandmaster lead the way past a pair of men in forensics gear; standard issue white jumpsuit with hoods, face masks and a pair of mechanical goggles on their faces. He nodded as they went inside and ducked underneath the yellow tape; clearly marked with hazard stripes and writing that said “NFU INVESTIGATION SCENE” along the length in black letters, with a yellow edge around it when it went over a stripe of black.

The doors were already open. Inside, the warehouse was being thoroughly swept through. Footprints near the front entrance were marked off by circles of chalk. Several men and women, all dressed in white and part of the forensics team, were looking through some of the aisles containing large crates of wood and smaller ones of plastic. To the side, one man was using a device to scan bootprints on the floor, much more prominently visible than any others. The rest were sweeping over the floors going back and forth through the front door. Two forensic investigators were investigating a control panel, one holding a piece of Eldritch Technology that looked like a square scarab.

“Well, they’ve got this covered. This is more of a formality than anything else. Let’s do a quick check to see if what they’ve got here matches the intel on the Technomads. Visionary, check the point of entry and ask about how they got in. Jason, check the DNA to see if we get a match. I’ll look at security footage and see what was taken.”

With nod from everyone a small wave by Grandmaster, they split up. Visionary didn’t have to travel far, and neither did Jason. Grandmaster slunk his way through the towering isles of equipment, to go and check the security room for the evidence he was seeking.

The two members of the forensics team were both female, and Visionary could see the device much clearer once she got closer. It looked like it had the body of a much stockier, cuboid-like beetle. It had a single button that made it look like a head. Along each side were three robotic digits, six in total, and they were being tested by being tugged on and rolled around to test the joints.

One of the two women noticed Visionary and nudged the other, who paused what she was doing and turned. They bowed their heads and she spoke, her voice a little husky.

“Agent Visionary, an honour to meet you.”

Visionary nodded back. “The pleasure is mine as well. What have you found?”

The woman holding the beetle turned it over and held it up for Visionary to see, though she didn’t hold it close enough that Visionary would take it from her. Visionary got the idea and observed. “What we’ve found from a preliminary investigation is that they’ve used your standard Hardware Bug. They’ve disabled the guards outside, come in through the front door and used it to ‘pause’ the security interface and gain entry.”

Visionary turned to the door for a second, then turned her attention back to the Bug.

“That makes sense.”

“It seems like it’s a professional job but we’ve done some fingerprint traces. We’ve got some prints and we’ve sent them off to be scanned. They didn’t seem to take all precautions.”

Jason meanwhile, was squatting on the floor near a chalk circle next to a footprint. Another female member of the forensics team was carefully scanning over it with the device in her hand, with red lasers tracing an outline of the entire boot from just the print alone. It seemed to even add in the parts that were missing. She turned it off, withdrawing a large spray bottle from her pocket, and began to cover the area with a light layer of foam.

She spoke to Jason afterwards.

“We’ve got enough DNA. The security feeds we got before they were shut off showed they were covered up, balaclavas and gloves, but we still have hairs, skin cells and bootprints to identify them with.”

She pointed to another member of forensics who was scanning over the floor, beaming a laser grid on the ground infront of him as he walked down the aisles. Something seemed to show up blue on the grid and he stopped, keeping the device pointed at it. After a few seconds he turned to Jason and the female forensic investigator, waving the device.

“Got another hair. Same guy.”

She checked the foam. It had mostly solidified, rising up about half an inch from the ground. “I don’t think we’re going to have too much trouble finding out who did this, Commander.”

“I don’t, either.”

Grandmaster joined the pair ten minutes later, after getting some information and discussing their findings. They both turned as he arrived, nodding their heads and standing more at attention.

“Let’s recap.” He flick pointed to Visionary. “What did you find?”

“The Technomads disabled the security guards outside, forced entry through the front doors of the warehouse, then used Hardware Bugs to pause the security consoles to interrupt the alarm being set off. They used similar Bugs on the security cameras near the front entrance, but cameras at the back were unaffected. It’s assumed they were caught on tape by those, and after they left the security console ‘unpaused’ and began the alarm again. They’ve also left some fingerprints on the Bugs.”

Grandmaster nodded. Flick point to Jason. “Jason, what did you find?”

“They tracked some mud inside. Seems the majority of them wore the same type of boots. They’ve left DNA all over the place. Stray hairs, some dust and skin cells. We’re not lacking in evidence to pin it on them, if any of the initial DNA traces are any clue. They were organised but not totally professional. I’d say that fits them as far as profiles go.”

Grandmaster nodded. “Good, great work. I checked the security feeds and it confirms everything you’ve said. We’ve got some clear visuals on some of the tech they’re using, and it matches some of the descriptions of previous robberies they’ve done. They came in, cleared the way, and went straight for some very specific things.”

He takes out a small piece of paper, ripped from a notepad.

“A lot of this stuff, I don’t know what it is. They’ve taken two computer towers from the head office. Most of them contain some basic information and documents on the electronics in this here warehouse. Wires, nuts and bolts. Some things called ‘Power Coupling Coils’ and ‘Eldritch Distribution Cores’. I don’t fucking know what that crap is, but they stole it. Normally, these goons go for weapons, equipment, armour, they try to take the latest equipment that NFU Containment Squads are supposed to get, but they’re usually a few years late.”

He motioned for the pair and began to walk outside. Visionary and Jason shared a glance, then followed after him.

“Now that we’ve investigated and I believe there’s sufficient evidence and just cause, we’re going to go and hit the Technomads. We just happen to know where their base of operations is as well. Now I know it takes about two, maybe three working days to process this through. We’ve got evidence here, we’ve done profiling. I have enough reasonable suspicion to believe that the Technomads are behind this. And, we know where their base is right now. We need to hit them before they up and leave.”

Both Visionary and Jason waited to react. Visionary nodded, Jason did so too afterwards.

“Now, we’re gonna head back, gather up some resources and men and plan on how we’re gonna nail these bastards. Jason, get your Containment Squad, and some of them fancy Fatigue weapons. Grenades, rifles, pistols, the whole works. We’re gonna go and give them an extensive ‘field testing’, tomorrow night.”