2-1

Beginnings: 2-1

Bodysuit. Midnight blue. A belt with a single, square buckle across the waist with several pouches. Plates of armour designed like a brick wall across the chest, thighs and biceps. The suit stretches up to the neck and covers comfortably over the nose. The back goes into a hood, covering the top half of the face and the hair.

“No.”

Legs of black leather with black boots that run halfway up the shin. A very similar belt as before, with the buckle replaced by a small shield icon. The upper half is a form fitting body suit with carbon fiber-esque scales running all the way down to his wrists, with gloves having the same material as the boots. Lightning blue lines go over the shoulders and curve down, making the icon of a shield on his chest. A mask with goggles, tinted in a dark yellow.

“Better, but still no.”

A very revealing form fitting, spandex suit. Fibres are made to mimic muscles, with the background colour black and the fibres looking like a glowing orange. The cape is-

“Christ, no.”

Shaun flipped over the last sheet of concept art and turned it around, sliding it back over the glass table. Yuhong was sitting next to him, in her formal business attire, and tapped his shoulder gently.

“Shaun, try not to dismiss anything outright. This is an important process.”

Frustration grew in the meeting room. There was only three people in the room for the time being; Shaun, Yuhong and an individual that Shaun had met today. She wore extravagant clothes, today was no exception. She wore a pale green suit, opened out, with the jacket long enough to reach her knees. Underneath was a pale brown waistcoat with fewer buttons and beneath that still was a frilly white blouse.

She went to brush her hair from her face, drawing a finger along the straight fringe as she did so. Shaun caught the glimmer of several rings on her fingers; some thin, some fat.

“You’re not the worst I’ve had to deal with.” She says, with a teasing smile. “But certainly not the best. Tell me, what’s wrong with each of these?”

With her fingertips on the book, she slid it back and turned it to face Shaun. In turn, he pointed to each as he spoke about it.

“They’d be alright, if this was a comic book. I’m not in a comic book. The first makes me look like I’m… some kinda edgy anti-hero. This one’s okay but way too over the top on the shield thing. Spandex and a cape? The last one’s just no.”

The lady frowned a little, then touched the paper with the first design. The colours shifted about, bleeding into another. She changed the midnight blue to a dark purple.

“And the colour, does that change anything?”

“Not really, it’s just-”

Yuhong cleared her throat, precisely interrupting where she needed to. Shaun rephrased what he was going to say.

“Okay, let me put it this way. These, look like super heroes. I’m not a super hero. I’m just a regular kid. Why can’t I be a bit more…” He thinks of a word, snapping his fingers twice as if to help him think. “…humble, that’s it. Down to earth?”

“Shaaauuun.” She let the words drawl out. Her accent was hard to pin, though she sounded from the south. “Work with me! You’re not a normal boy, or man, whatever suits you.” She smiled; it looked very practised. “Image is so important. You represent the NFU. You need to give off the right idea, and look ready to kick arse, quite frankly.”

“I don’t want to look like that-” He tapped the third costume, which he’d barely given any notice. “-I mean, let’s just… okay.”

He pushes it back. She still had her finger on the first sheet and she changes it back to a midnight blue, before letting go.

“Okay, let’s say you’ve got this really powerful guy. Best of the best. Everyone thinks he’s some god or some shi-stuff like that. But he wears a normal outfit. Nothing too out there, nothing fruity.” She furrowed her brow in response to ‘fruity’. “He wants people to see him as the Everyman. The normal guy who can do not normal things.”

She hums whilst frowning, then nods. A swirl of ideas seemed to flush through her head.

“Ah! Yes. I can see it.” She draws a curve in the air with both hands, spreading them out. “Yes, you’d be super and amazing, but you’d look like this was your, your… human side! It’s such a creative idea.”

“I’m glad you get me, Designer.”

The Designer.” She corrects.

Shaun looked to Yuhong, who was already looking at him and the moment he saw her, he nodded softly and quickly. He didn’t leave an awkward pause. “The… Designer. Yeah.”

She takes the sheets back and starts to put them back into a briefcase she had open on the desk.

“Maybe just work with my current outfit. Jackets are good. They’re cool.” He looked to Yuhong, then to The Designer. “…right?”

“Maybe you’ll make them come back into fashion.” The Designer quipped and locked up her briefcase. Shaun frowned, went to say something and resisted. Yuhong looked happy that he didn’t have to look her way first.

“We can take from this that Shaun doesn’t like spandex nor capes. You do say restrictions make your work more interesting.”

“They do!” She says, now beaming a smile. “I’ll have some fun with this. Let’s move on.”

She walked over to an easel pad that was standing in the corner of the room and drags it over, so it’s clearly in view. She touches the pad and a big circle of black appears in the middle, with “NAME” written in big letters inside.

The Designer takes a notepad out from the briefcase, then touches the paper again. You could see her read the words and have it translated to the page. Three main words stood out, one in each corner.

Strong.

Tough.

Fearless.

Shaun raised an eyebrow and leaned back. Yuhong looked a lot more interested.

“Image is very important, Shaun.” She puts down the pad now, and puts her arms behind her back. “So very important! On a personal level, it’s what you want to convey to people. It’s what you want yourself to look like on the news, in the papers and the impression you give to people. It also helps that you’ve got a fairly simple set of abilities.” The Designer nods. “You’re strong, you’re tough, and you don’t seem to be afraid of anything. From what I’ve told.”

She taps the page again. The circle with Name vanishes, and the three words go to the top to make their own columns, floating to the top as if buoyant.

“Forget the NFU for now. We’re talking about you. You either give people a name for them to remember you, or they give you one. It’s not something I can see that you want to admit but, really! It’s going to happen. At least make it on your own terms.”

Shaun leaned back and folded his arms, looking away for a moment.

The Designer waits for a reply, then scrunches up her nose. She taps the pad with her finger, and mumbles ‘stubborn’ under her breath. This causes Shaun to perk up. Yuhong smiles, just a little.

“Okay.” He says, unfolding his arms. “Fine. You’re the one they hire to do this stuff. Let’s hear what you thought.”

Yuhong nods, satisfied. The Designer looks absolutely thrilled, and taps the page. The word STRONG seems to brow darker whilst the other words fade away, about half as clear as before.

“Okay! So, I’ve had a lot of ideas. Let’s start with your strength.”

Words began to form, from the bottom and rising up until they formed a list.

Force. Might. Brute. Titan. Prime. Stalwart.

“I like Titan, myself.” The word seems to almost glow as she speaks.

Shaun tilts his head slightly.

“Aren’t titans meant to be really tall?”

The Designer frowns a little. Yuhong leans forward a little and catches her attention.

“There’s some really great considerations, really.” She smiles, which softens up The Designer. “Having seen Shaun in a fight, I know he doesn’t fight to show off how strong he is. He protects.”

“Ah!” She said, raising her other hand. The column for STRONG fades, and in its stead the word TOUGH became emboldened. Several words flittered up the page, with the list growing much longer than the other.

“Yes, yes, this seems good. You want to protect. I can see it! Yes I can.” She seems pleased with herself. Shaun makes note of all the words scrolling up. “I’ve added a few more suggestions, in that case. We have some simple choices here and more elaborate. I’ve gone for a mixture of things.”

Brick. Tank. Meatshield. Bulwark. Castle. Fortress. Ironheart. Guardian. Warden. Ultraclad.

“Any that take your fancy?”

It looked like Shaun considered them this time, and pointed loosely to the words.

“I… don’t know. Warden, maybe? The rest seem a bit… Guardian sounds like some guy who could shield somebody else. I’m not feeling anything.”

The Designer folded her arms and nodded slightly.

“I see, I see. Okay, finally.”

Without much fanfare, the TOUGH column faded away and the FEARLESS one came more visible. More words began to slink up the page, forming the last line.

“These may suit you more. There’s not many.”

Centurion. Paragon. Dauntless. Valour. Resolute. Tenacious. Grit.

Shaun gave them more consideration.

“I’m pretty sure Centurion is a Roman thing. These look… better. Like.” He glanced to Yuhong. She tried to show him a bit of encouragement. “If I heard that this guy called Dauntless was coming to me, I know he wouldn’t back down, and he had my back. I don’t like the idea of superheroes, capes, whatever. But I’d like people to think that I’m… the guy they know they can stand behind, and I won’t let them get hurt. Being the guy that can take the hits others can’t, make sure everyone else is safe. Just a guy doing… the right thing. I guess.”

Yuhong smiled warmly. The Designer smiled as well, and more ideas began to grow in her head. “Yes! Perfect. That’s exactly what we need to show people. Your name needs to be… honest. Not aggressive. Something… Let’s get rid of a few choices.”

Strikes cross through several words, then they fade to nothing. The remaining words begin to move to the centre, whilst the three big words at the top simply wink into nothingness.

Titan. Stalwart. Warden. Dauntless.

“I do quite like Titan though.” A devious smile crosses her face as she glances at the page, then to Shaun. “Am I right, thinking these are sort of the names you’d like?”

With a few seconds to consider, he nodded back to her. “Yeah. They don’t make me sound like a colossal di-” A glance to Yuhong, who stares back. “-really arrogant sort of guy.”

“Knew it! Yes I did. And costume. Nothing extravagant, no spandex, no capes. No offence but I’m not sure if you could pull one off.”

“I’m perfectly fine with that.” Shaun waves off the comment.

The Designer sounds like she’s working herself into a verbal flurry.

“I can use my old designs. Maybe add on extra layers, or maybe… I can even make a jacket work. Right! Meeting concluded. I’m happy with this.”

“Thank you, we appreciate your work and effort, The Designer.”

Yuhong rises to her feet, and quickly walks over. She shakes The Designer’s hand and kisses her on the cheeks. Shaun takes that as a prompt to stand up as well and extends his hand. He abruptly finds The Designer moving in, and kisses him on the cheeks, before letting him go. Shaun looks a little more perturbed than anything, and he and Yuhong walk out of the meeting room. Behind them, they hear The Designer starting to churn out ideas rapidly, whilst packing her things away.

They begin to walk away, down the corridor. Yuhong makes sure they walk slowly, so they can talk. Several people in formal business attire walk past them and greet them politely, with curt nods or waves. Shaun stands out, wearing plaid and jeans.

“I’m glad you decided to give this a go, Shaun. I know you don’t particularly enjoy this bit, but we’ll make sure the right choices are made.”

“I get the final say on the costume and the name. I don’t want to look or sound like an idiot.” He says, bluntly.

“You won’t. You have the NFU’s reputation to uphold as well. Your actions will reflect that. Sadly, your image is too important not to put effort into.”

Shaun briefly looks over his shoulder, then brushes his hair to the side with his thumb as he brings his head back around. “Does she always design all the heroes outfits?”

“Yes. Even the villains.”

Shaun raises an eyebrow. “Isn’t that a big liability? Knowing who everyone is?”

“She’s very professional, despite her appearance. She doesn’t divulge information and doesn’t ask for identities. Her clients will sign contracts before she does any work. She also knows quite a few big names.”

“Like Sovereign?” Shaun questions.

“Yes. She helped with his name, but it’s not like he exactly needed a costume when he makes one for himself. Between you and I, Sovereign’s outfit changed after she met with him. I think he took design tips from her.”

“Huh. Cool.” Shaun said, neutrally.

“Let’s focus. We’ve arranged with your school. You only need to work one half of the week in sixth form. The other half will be here, with us. We don’t need to run you through combat drills and training so much, so we only need to train you roughly half as much as others.”

“That works out nicely.” They make their way to a lift. Yuhong presses the door button, and they wait.

“It does, doesn’t it? Today, we’ll be going over the basics of Eldritch. It’s a crash course, everything you can learn from a book on classifications. Shouldn’t take longer than an hour.”

The doors opened. Several men in pin striped suits walk out, clutching briefcases. They barely pay Shaun any heed. Yuhong leads inside, and Shaun follows shortly afterwards. She pushes the button for the ground floor, and the doors begin to close again.

“So I’m in two schools now, except one school is making me wear a costume and tells me to punch Eldritch in the face.”

Yuhong smiles. “I’d say that’s accurate.”

Shaun looked inside a room through the window on the door, covering his brow with his hand to get a better view inside. It was compact, with only six seats and ample space between them and the desk. He glanced to the left, and saw Alex was already sat inside, hammering away on his phone. The instructor was sat on a chair, sporting elaborate body armour. He looked ripped from science fiction, assuming it was a ‘he’ underneath the segmented, sleek carbon fibre body armour that coated him from head to toe. Even his helmet blended into his suit, with strips of metal filigree detailing on the edge of the planes, and running in five lines to each knuckle. What was present of the face was a mask with speakers where the cheeks would be and a pair of light, glowing blue eyes. He seemed to notice Shaun peering through the window, and inclined his head towards them.

“Lectures are kinda boring.” Shaun squinted, peering over the man’s armour.

“This one should be interesting. Grandmaster is a good teacher. I get the feeling you won’t learn much about Eldritch.” She smiled, watching the armoured man with interest. “He’s pragmatic. You’ll see why.”

“Is it just me and Alex?”

“There’ll be one more joining you soon. Her name is Katrina Dobson. She doesn’t have an official name yet and they’re still working on her costume.”

“Huh.” Shaun leans back. “Where is she?”

“Running late. She’ll be here soon. I have some more training to attend to, with Jason.” She smiled, and bowed her head. “Good luck, Shaun.”

With a nod, he turned to the door again and opened it. Alex caught the sound and smiled, hailing Shaun over. He was in the furthest back seat, so Shaun went over and took the one to the right in the middle. Grandmaster raised his head and nodded to himself. His voice sounded distorted, with an electronic echo behind his real voice, which was deep. It was disconcerting to say the least.

“One more, then we’ll begin.”

Shaun raised his hand. Grandmaster raised his finger and pointed it up, then flicked it down to point at Shaun.

“Shaun.”

“Grandmaster. Why are you wearing your armour in class?”

Alex snickered a little. Grandmaster’s expression remained unseen.

“Firstly, not a class. Secondly, I’ll be going out on patrol after this. Thirdly, you can wear whatever the hell you want.”

“Ooookay.” Shaun said, raising his eyebrows and his hands up.

The door opened, and the woman that entered drew everyone’s attention. She was young, just a little bit older than Shaun. She had a colour of skin that was just a shade darker than ambiguously tan, giving off clearly that she was half black. Underneath a black beanie, her hair was long, dark and very curly, and reached to her shoulders. She wore a white crop top, plain, showing off a toned midsection. Her jeans were torn, with holes at the knees and cuts along the thighs, and she wore white heels. She looked at everyone and smiled widely.

“Sorry! Just got caught up.” She glances to Shaun, who was leaning back casually in his chair, and Alex, who was slouching forward, and elected to be the third person to sit on the back row.

“Let’s do some introductions. Shaun, Alex, this is Katrina, unnamed. Katrina, this is Alex, AKA Tether, and Shaun is unnamed.” Grandmaster pointed to everyone in turn as he had been doing before.

Shaun and Alex waved and said ‘hi’ and ‘hello’ and she did the same, out of courtesy.

“I’m going to be honest with you all.” Grandmaster stood up, and reached behind the back of his helmet. There was a click and the helmet began to slide plates away and to the side of his face almost silently. He peeled it off his head and put the helmet down on the table, as its eyes began to dim. He had strong features; a thick jawline, and several scars along his face. His hair was short, almost military cut, brown, and his eyes were green. He looked like he grew a beard fast, and he’d probably only shaved it this morning.

“Eldritch teaching is simple.” He rests a hand on his helmet and presses something on the top. The plates begin to slide back around, forming a full helmet again. “Everything you need to know about them is in a pamphlet, on your desk.

Everyone took their individual one and glanced it over. It showed the basics of classifications of Eldritch; specifically, it only measured size.

“It’s all about how big they are, and how hostile they’re likely to be.” He held his hands apart, roughly about a foot and a half apart. “Pixie-class and Gremlin-class. Air, land, sea. Pixies are nice, gremlins aren’t.” He lowered his hands and continues, with everyone’s attention on him. “Bayard and Girallon. They’re on the land, bigger than the Pixie or Gremlin, up to the size of a horse. Bayards nice, Girallon not nice. Hsigo, Stymph. They’re the airborne ones. Hsigo, nice. Stymph, not nice. Abaia are the nice, sea dwelling ones of that size. Lusca are the nasty bastards.”

He made a motion, stretching up and waving his hand as far as it could reach above his head, which brought to attention how naturally he was anyway. “The docile ones I’ll name first. The hostile ones I’ll name second. Anything bigger than that up to a sperm whale in size. Hecantonchire, Typhus, these are the ones on land. Garuda, Roc. Air buggers. Hafgufa, Ikotursa. Sea.”

Grandmaster studies the room for a moment. “All it is, is guess work. They’re all different, and the best thing anybody could do to organise them is to say if they’re going to try to kill you or not, and how big they are. They don’t give a shit what you call them. They’re just alien creatures shat out by the Farside. Some wreck a city, some just wander about. It’s up to you to see if they’re going to attack or not, and act appropriately.”

The class of three nodded, and Grandmaster had a satisfied look on his face.

“That’s an hour done. Five minutes.”

Alex raised his hand. Grandmaster did his normal method of pointing.

“What about bigger than the last ones you said?”

“If they’re bigger than that, you’re fucked. Plain and simple.” He said, dryly, no joke in his voice. It set the tone a notch in a sour direction. “Something that big is an act of god or a force of nature. Hostile or not, it’s a big problem, pun intended. They named them after the old Norse mythology. Nidhogg-class in the air, Fenrir-class for the ground and Jormungand-class for the sea. Not really mentioned. When it’s that big, you worry more about what to do than what to name it.”

Alex nodded slowly.

“The point is, Eldritch are easy to understand. How big, how angry. I’m going to use this time to teach you a little bit more about more vital stuff. I also want to run something through you new recruits to see what you think. Let’s start with a better introduction.”

Grandmaster leans back on his desk, resting both arms.

“Alex, Shaun, Katrina, that order. Brief introduction, and state your abilities, and I’ll do the same. Honest abilities, don’t undersell yourself.”

Shaun frowned slightly, though everyone looked to Alex. With the spotlight on him, he looked a bit blank and tried to capture the situation.

“Uh. I’m Alex. They call me Tether, because I can take two objects and… tether them together. Like-” He whips a pen and a sheet of paper in the air and stops, as a click is clearly heard, then draws them together with his powers. The pen flings to the paper and sticks to it, even as it droops down from the weight. Katrina seems to be the only surprised person. Shaun and Grandmaster seem to be well aware and nod just the once. “-this.”

Grandmaster flick-pointed. “Shaun.”

Shaun took a second to consider what Grandmaster had said about being honest with the others. “I’m Shaun. I’ve not got a name yet, they’re working on it. I’m-” He quickly glanced to his ‘teacher’. -”extremely strong and hard to hurt. There’s nothing that’s been able to hurt me yet, and nothing I can’t lift or break.”

Grandmaster nodded his head thoughtfully. Katrina raised her eyebrows, and Alex nodded much in the same way that Shaun had done before.

“I’m not demonstrating.”

“Fair.” Grandmaster said, now pointing to Katrina.

“Hey. I’m Katrina. I’m not named either, but they’re thinking of calling me Mist, Vapour, or Scald.” A white, seething smoke seemed to waft and leak from her mouth as she spoke, as if she was smoking or vaping. To further demonstrate, she raised her hand in the air and wafted it aside, causing a large blob of white mist to appear in the air in a ball, in the centre of the room.

“You can call it mist, vapor, fog. I can make it come from me, or in the air, and I see through it. I can even make it boiling hot.” With a clench of her fist, the ball of fog began to warp the air around it with heat. When she released, the vapour evaporated into the air.

Shaun and Alex nodded, showing that they were impressed. Shaun even offered a comment. “That’s pretty cool.”

“Pun intended?” She’d say, smiling. Her teeth were noticeably white, and the words highlighted a Birmingham accent.

“Wha-” Shaun said, whilst thinking. Realising it was the mention of the word ‘cool’ when it came to vapour, he paused. “Oh. Uh. No.”

“…oh.” Katrina visibly seemed to deflate a little. Shaun looked back to Alex, who shrugged his shoulders up and put out his hands. The universal gesture of ‘what the fuck, dude’.

Shaun frowned and shook his head in response. Alex, clearly giving up, shook his head too and just looked away.

“Good, great demonstration.” His words made Katrina brighten up a bit. “I’m Grandmaster, one of the senior agents of the NFU. My ability is, everything to me is a weapon.” He strummed the fingers on his left hand on the table. “I can pick up an object and I instantly have the knowledge of how to best use it as a weapon. How it balances, how strong and durable it is, and how to best apply it to something to cause the most damage. As a secondary effect, I also have instant muscle memory to use them. Give me a sword, a chair, a shoe. I can beat somebody to death with it, and look like it took me a lifetime of practice.”

It was not a visible display of power or might, but the room was suitably impressed, even interested.

“Now that we’re all a little more aware of each other, I’m gonna run through some basics. Farside 101. I need to know how well you guys are doing. Raise your hand to answer.”

Everyone nodded.

“First question. Difference between Farborn, Fartouched and Fargraced?”

Everyone raised their hands. He flick pointed to Shaun.

Shaun lowered his hand and answered. “Well, Farborn are people born, and people say it’s because the Farside touched them, but nobody knows why. Fartouched actually go through the Farside though and come back out changed. Fargraced is just a term people use to describe anybody who’se either of those.”

“Yup.” Grandmaster replied. “Second question. What’s it like going through the Farside?” This question seemed to have him scan the room more intently. Nobody raised their hand initially, except for Alex who reluctantly brought it into the air.

He got flick pointed for the convenience. “Alex.”

“Nobody… knows. You can’t remember it. It’s like… it’s so weird and not right that people just can’t actually remember it. Like, the human brain’s not capable of coping with it.”

Grandmaster nodded, speaking with a little more emotion. “You got it in one.”

“Were you?” Alex asked. Katrina looked at him like he asked him if his family was just killed.

“Yup. Don’t remember a fucking thing. But I know it wasn’t right. Still get nightmares sometimes, the kind you don’t remember.” Grandmaster looked grim, even stoic. It made the room grow awkwardly quiet for a second. Shaun glanced away.

“What’s an Eldritch?”

The three raised their hands again. Katrina got the finger flick this time.

“Any creature from the Farside.”

“And how did they get here?”

“We… don’t know yet. Not entirely. We think it had something to do when the scientists tried to experiment with pocket dimensions back in 1989.”

“1986, actually. Alright.” He stopped leaning on the table and stood fully. “You kids know your basics. Why do they even make you take these lessons? They teach you this crap at school. Waste of my time, waste of yours. You know that they make those gems outta Eldritch juice, you know they pierced the veil and all that shit.”

Katrina frowned. “Not everyone was lucky enough to go to school.”

Shaun glanced at her. Grandmaster responded by scrunching his nose and grunting.

“You’re gonna need a pair, better to start here and now.”

Awkward silence permeated the room. It was broken when Shaun raised his hand. Grandmaster gave him the flick point.

“Shaun.”

“I’ve got a question. People like… Sovereign, that guy. He’s not part of the NFU, is he?”

Grandmaster seemed to show a little more interest. “Sovereign’s what you call an ‘independent operative’. They’re not a criminal but they don’t work for the government and he’s been sanctioned to act on his own authority. Luckily, he’s damn good at his job and a decent bloke. Bit over the top. Makes a shit-ton of money doing his job, selling merchandise, doing interviews. All that garbage.”

“You don’t sound happy. I’m not disagreeing, just sayin’.” Shaun said, with an eyebrow raised.

“It’s why America’s going to shit lately. Sovereign’s not bad because he’s the only one. The yanks turn it into some… Kardashian shit. Even their villains and criminals are like miniature celebrities.” His words drip with bile and vitriol. “A country shouldn’t glorify criminals.”

Shaun nodded positively. Alex nodded softly to himself, though he was taking a passive role in the conversation. Katrina glanced to everyone else in the room, and it was hard to gauge her thoughts on the matter from just expression alone.

Grandmaster looks back over his shoulder and spies his helmet. He takes in a deep breath and reaches for it, exhaling once it’s in his hands. He looks over the three in the room, who are currently waiting for him to say something next. His thumbs press into a pair of discrete switches on the back of the helmet and the plates pluck themselves away and slide back. He puts the helmet on and presses the same switches, so the helmet seals around his head. The eyes slowly glow brighter until they’re fully animate, and his voice takes on a robotic, metal tone like before.

“Let’s break from here. Go and get something to eat, drink, do whatever you want. Be back here in thirty minutes.”

Nobody was quite sure how to react. Shaun checked his phone to see the time; the hour long lesson still had forty five minutes left before it was over, and he checked Grandmaster to see his reaction.

“Go on.”

There was slight hesitation at first but Shaun, Alex and Katrina eventually got out of their chairs and left the room. Shaun began to make some conversation with Katrina, and all that Grandmaster heard as they left the room was “So hey, you’re new as well?”

Grandmaster walked around his desk and sat down. He tapped a bit on his helmet where his ear was and pushed up gently. In his view, the helmet brought up an interface with text in his line of view. White letters with a black outline that shifted to contrast with the background if necessary, making them perfectly readable under any circumstances.

MENU.

“Call Visionary.”

CALLING Agent Visionary (mobile).

The phone in his visor began to ring; even if others were there, they couldn’t hear anything that came through to him. A voice answered the phone, and several bars raised up and down to indicate that the sound was being made clear to match the surroundings.

“Hello?”

“Hey. Just me, checking in.”

“Grandmaster, how is it going?”

“Not great.” He shifts on his chair a bit, folding one leg over the other. “I’m boring them. They’re only here because they need to be.”

“We’re all here because we need to be.” She said, though paused afterwards. “But I know what you mean.”

“It took me five minutes to talk about Eldritch. I’m not cut out to teach, I’m a field agent. Always have been, always will be. I know you said it’d look good in the eyes of the NFU but I don’t know what to tell them.”

“I know. I know you wouldn’t want to talk about Eldritch for an hour. And I know you wouldn’t teach them that, anyway.”

“Visionary, I’ve got a suggestion to make.”

“Oh?”

“I suggest you just tell me this stuff instead of saying you knew I was going to do it all along. Tell me straight. Nobody likes to be left out of a plan.”

A beat passed.

“I’ll speak to you afterwards.” Visionary sounded cheerful. “Good luck.”

“Yep. Bye to you too, Visionary.”

The call cut out afterwards.

Grandmaster took his helmet off again and placed it on his table, and passed the minute it’d take to go back. He went to the front of the desk and sat back down, resting with his arms out to either side.

Everyone came back in and were chatting, with Alex and Katrina talking about what they thought about the training programs. When they got into the room again, they all went a bit quiet on the subject. Shaun sat down and put a bottle of water on his desk, barely drank. Alex had a can of Monster, and Katrina was halfway through her diet coke.

“Alright, everyone’s back. You all good?”

Everyone nodded. It felt like a lecture, and everyone but Grandmaster seemed to want to minimise their own input into the lesson.

Grandmaster stood up with a bit of a leap from the table and clapped his hands together, scanning over the room.

“Okay, let’s do something new. Bit of theory, bit of practical. First thing’s first, we need to go over something extremely important. If you want to succeed in the NFU and do your damn job.”

This seemed to hook everyone’s interest. He grinned slightly, the first time he’d made a positive facial expression today.

“Which one of you three knows what the ‘Farside Effect’ is?”