Alex went to raise his hand and got about half way through the air. In hesitation, he slowly pulled it back down. It caught the attention of Grandmaster, who smiled slightly in response to what he saw.
“Alex. What do you think it is?”
“Uh.” Alex sat up a little, adjusting his posture. “I think it’s something like… I dunno.” He seemed to trawl for an idea in his mind. “Like why I can’t tether two people together.”
Grandmaster’s voice raised a tone. This seemed to be something he knew about enough to show interest himself. “Bingo. The Farside Effect is a term for the theory of why we can’t just use abilities on each other. You’re not entirely right though, but good effort, Alex.”
Alex perked up a little. “What do you mean?”
Grandmaster nodded in his direction. “You can tether two people together. Well, sorta. The Farside Effect is a pretty complicated subject. ‘Lotta theory work, ‘lotta guessing, ‘lotta experimenting. The basic thing is, you can’t use your powers on other people. Not always. You try to use your powers on somebody directly, nothing happens.”
He claps his hands together, making a sharp noise. “But you can. The reason it doesn’t work is because, in order to use your powers on somebody else, you need to focus. You need to focus and channel all of your strength, your willpower, and push yourself to your absolute, 100% limit. And when you do, it’s only about a tenth as strong as doing it any other time, when it’s easy.”
Grandmaster scratches his chin. “Doesn’t matter how good you are with your powers or how far along you are. The only way you can use your powers directly onto somebody else, is if you’re staying still, you can focus on them for a minute or so, you do absolutely nothing else, and you push yourself so hard you’re totally exhausted afterwards, and even then it’s gonna be so weak you wondered why you bothered. When you’ve got some bastard with a knife to your throat, doing that isn’t feasible.”
Shaun looked to Alex for a moment, then spoke without raising his hand. “I can punch a person as easy as a car, what about me?”
“You-” Flick point. “-are in the group of people who don’t activate their powers. Anybody who doesn’t need to activate their powers don’t have to give a shit. Again, nobody knows why. This isn’t of course taking into account other things. People blast each other just fine. Katrina can superheat the air around you with mist and slough the skin off your face. It only works if you’re doing it directly to them or inside them. So people who make force fields can’t make one in your stomach without the Farside Effect fucking them over. But they can make one around you just fine.”
Grandmaster begins to pace to the left, and afterwards to the right as he talks.
“Which brings us neatly to our next point. The most successful Fargraced out there know about this, and they know how to get around it. And if I’m teaching you anything, it’s how to think outside the box. If you’re going to be part of the NFU, you need to know exactly how to use your powers. That’s why we train you.” He comes to a standstill, and brings his fist down into his palm. “We don’t teach you the same shit, day in and day out. We train you so much because it helps you understand your abilities, the abilities of the guy to your left and right. And when you know what you can do, and what they can do, then you can work together and do shit like combining abilities.”
“Alex.” Grandmaster walks to the side of the room he’s on, and stands at ease in front of him. “Visionary told me that when you were training, you managed to link her glove to yours, then pulled her to the floor with your powers.”
Alex widened his eyes and nodded slowly.
“That’s what I’m talking about. Creative powers mean you win fights, and can take what’s thrown at you. Always assume your enemy knows more about their powers than you do.”
Alex nodded, with a hint of pride in his smile. Grandmaster paced to the middle of the room.
“Now, before we do some practical. The NFU are going to be rolling out a new way to briefly classify Fargraced. It’s a simple two part thing.”
He raised a finger in the air. “The first part describes whether or not the abilities are something that just happens, or if they have to consciously use their abilities. Active, or Passive. Shortened to Act, or Pas.”
Grandmaster raised another finger. “The second part is whether or not the effect is affecting them, or people around them. If it’s something that’s only going to altar the Fargraced in question, we consider that Internal. If it’s anything but the Fargraced, then it’s External. These are shortened to Int, or Ex.”
“After these, briefly describe the person in question. So.” He brings his raised fingers down, to point at Alex. “Act-Ex, links objects and kinetically pulls them.”
He sweeps over to Shaun. “Pas-Int. Extreme strength and durability. Upper limits unknown.” Shaun raised an eyebrow at that and grunted.
Grandmaster pointed to the last person in the room, Katrina. “Act-Ex, Nephokinetic. Generates and controls unknown vapour.”
With his thumb, he points it to his chest.
“Pas-Int. Intuitive weapon and improvised weapon mastery.”
Grandmaster brings his hands together, the clap rings around the room.
“That’s it. We tried with a number system but it got too confusing. Things are too situational, too many variables, and what the hell are you going to measure anyway? How powerful they are compared to who or what?” He shrugs. “No fucking clue. Takes too long. Keep it simple. The extra second you’re yapping away is a second you’ve missed getting the drop on somebody.”
“Now, we’re gonna do a little thought experiment. Shaun, no offence or anything, but you don’t exactly need a whole lot of creativity with your powers.”
Shaun shrugged slightly, leaning back in his chair. “None taken.”
“I want you to contribute though. I want you to give the others ideas of what you can do, to use your powers a little differently. It doesn’t have to be something violent. The more outside the box, the better.”
They began to talk between themselves, whilst Shaun wasn’t the one to speak about his own powers, he did focus on the others in the room.
“So you can make vapour, yeah?”
“Yes.” Katrina raised her eyebrows, blowing out a ring of vapour, with a grin to follow afterwards.
“Okay, vapor evaporates, doesn’t it?” Shaun asked.
“Yeah, normally it does.” Alex contributed, raising his hand.
“Mine doesn’t. When it’s around, it keeps things wet or hot but when it goes, any moisture goes with it too.” Katrina explained roughly, and demonstrated. Thick strands of white smoke began to billow from her open palm, engulfing Shaun’s desk in a lapping motion. It spilled over the edges like a liquid, and she let it cling for a few seconds. Alex watched intently, as she dismissed it with a wave of her hand. Water droplets that clung to the surface of where her mist touched appeared for a second, before the vapour vanished and took it with it.
“That’s so cool. Where does like, the water go?”
“If you ever find out, tell me?” Katrina teased.
“I’ll let you know, totally.” Alex said, shrugging with a grin.
Grandmaster leaned back on his desk and observed, and a pleased smile spread his lips. For now, he just observed and watched as they bounced ideas off each other, discussed limits and strengths. He waited a good 15 minutes and let them carry on, content to burn off some time this way. It wasn’t until Tether was trying to test to see how strong he could launch a chair into Shaun, who willingly allowed himself to be demonstrated on, that Grandmaster clapped his hands and interrupted.
Shaun and Alex turned around. Alex has his hands in the air, about to bring a chair from one side of the room into Shaun’s shirt, who he’d tethered together just a few seconds ago.
“Okay, enough of that. I’m afraid I can’t let you damage NFU property. Even if it would be a good thing to watch.”
Shaun and Alex slumped their shoulders, and joined together to say “Aww” at the same time. Katrina was giggling, and looked as if she was eager to see the demonstration herself.
“Wrap up time. You know what you’ve learned and what you can take away from this. We’ve got fifteen minutes left, give or take. We can finish up quickly and you can head out with a bit of free time.”
Alex cleared his throat slightly. “Hey, Grandmaster. Personal questions okay?”
Grandmaster raised an eyebrow, folding his arms loosely. “Shoot.”
“Your armour. Artifex grade?”
“Good eye.” He said, slightly impressed. “Artifex grade. Custom commissioned, with NFU discounts. The man made it himself.”
“Oh, wow. That’s so cool.” Alex walked over, and began to run his eyes over the design. Shaun and Katrina shared a glance, as he fawned over the details. “Looks like he’s improved on his Carbon Shear Armour. This must have cost a lot of money.”
“I don’t know what it’s made of. All I know is, it stops me from being killed, and there’s enough gadgets to make the MAGI-Tech boys cry their asses to sleep.”
“Huh. Didn’t know you were such a nerd.” Shaun says with a grin, folding his arms.
“Nah, Artifex is just… He makes art, and I love art. I got to see him at work on a visit, when he was working in the NFU workshop. He’s got so many things he’s working on. There was so much to take in.” Alex moved over and began to look over Grandmaster’s helmet. “No expense spared. So cool.”
“He’s working there for the next month or two.”
“He is?” Alex widened his eyes and stood up fully, resisting to grab the helmet. “Do they still do the site visits?”
“Yup. You should mention it to Visionary, I’m sure she’ll let you see him again.. But you know the rules. One supervisor, one visitor. He doesn’t like visits, but as long as he’s got a contract with the NFU, he’s contractually obliged to do them.”
Grandmaster looks to Shaun and Katrina. “You two fancy it?”
Shaun shrugs, nodding. “Sure, why not? Might even be interesting.”
Katrina nodded and smiled widely. “Of course.”
“I’ll get something sorted out. Alright, you three, go out early. You’ve not done bad today. Keep practising, and don’t skip training.” Grandmaster reaches behind for his helmet, and brings it into his lap.
Alex offers a hand out. Grandmaster takes it with a firm grip. “Great lesson, thanks.”
As Alex leaves, Shaun comes over and does the same, though his grip is much stronger. “Yeah, I expected it to be boring.”
He can’t help but to smile at that, and nods his head.
Katrina comes over and offers a hand too, though her shake is much less firm and done more as a courtesy. “Good lesson. The practical really worked.”
With everyone departing the room, Grandmaster waited a minute before he slotted his helmet back on and it sealed itself shut. He took a feel for the room again, and the User Interface soon lit up.
“Call Visionary, again.”
‘VISIONARY AGAIN’ NOT RECOGNISED IN CONTACTS.
“Visionary. Call Agent Visionary.”
CALLING Agent Visionary (mobile).
“Grandmaster. Your lesson ended early?”
“Hey. Yeah, I let them out early.”
“How did it go?”
“I think it went well.” Grandmaster stood up and walked over, taking the chair that was left on the side which Alex tried to fling at Shaun, and hauled it back to the correct place. “’course, I wouldn’t know. You’d best ask them.”
“I think you did just fine.” He noted the honesty in her voice.
“Gonna need a favour. Three of them.”
“Favours? That’s not normally something you ask for.”
“Yeah, well. These three got talking about Artifex, and they want to see him at work.”
“I imagine Alex was the one to bring him up.”
“Yup.” He threw the chair back in place.
“I wouldn’t call it a favour. It can be arranged. He’s due a few site visits. I’ll get it organised. I think there’s an opening tomorrow.”
“Great. Job’s a good ‘un.”
“What did you think of them?”
“The kids?” Grandmaster was walking to the door, and he paused for a moment. “They’re good. You’re being a good mentor to them.”
“Thank you.” He could almost picture her smiling as she said that, judging by her voice alone.
“When can I expect you back on my team?”
“I don’t know. Director Sage was pushing me to the Mentor program. When it comes to her, there;s always something going on.”
“Yeah, tell me about it. Pisses me right off.” Grandmaster coughed. The volume adjusted, and quietened to soften the impact over the phone. “Damn shame. I enjoy having somebody worth sparring with.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to live with that. I’m enjoying it.”
“The girl, Katrina. Is she going on your team?”
“I hope so. Strategically speaking, she’s very useful. Her training is almost complete.”
“I can tell. She’s good with her whole, vapour powers sort of thing.”
He left the room, and began to walk down the hallway. His fingers dug into a belt pocket, fishing out a pair of coins.
“Oh! By the way. Have you heard anything?”
“Nope.” There was a vending machine close to him. He pushed in the coins and scanned the machine, spying a few of the energy drinks along the way. “Bit of a weird one. It might just be Alpha and her love of animals, but it’s still suspicious. I’ll give you a heads up if I hear anything.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
“Anything else I can do for you?” A bottle of Coke crashed down to the bottom, and he dipped his hand inside to retrieve it. He held the lid between two fingers and walked along, letting it swing freely in his grip. “Maybe you’d like me to do the rest of your job for you whilst I’m at it.”
“I’m sure you’d love to take all that credit for yourself.” Her tone was clearly teasing.
“Oh, now I take offence to that.” He was grinning, just a little. “I’d at least put in a good word for you. Maybe two words.”
“Goodbye, Grandmaster. Take care.”
The call cut out.
Grandmaster flicked the bottle into the air and caught it in the flat of his hand. At least now, he felt happier that he’d actually taught something. But, for now, he would have to think about it later. There were more pressing matters to look into, and he made his way to the Evidence room. He was intent on sifting through some footage, for an incident in an NFU testing facility that happened a week ago, that was now brought to his attention.
The Best Western Plus was a building that exemplified the rustic aesthetic of the potteries. Etruria Hall stood out, and the red bricks that coated the outside had only lost a bit of their dullness over time. The triangular roofs, square chimneys, even the lawns enclosed with rings of concrete and gated, spear-topped fences all seemed to be a step back in time to the 18th century. The interior was much more modernised, having being developed into a hotel in a somewhat recent span of time.
Shaun was already quite familiar with his room, having spent the last week there as their house was rebuilt. Half the walls were a Taupe colour, the other half a pale cream, with a blue-grey carpet beneath them. The room was spacious in a modest sense, with a small living room area divided away by a single wall in the middle of the room, with space either side to manoeuvre around it. It had the general assortment of hotel furnishings, from a polished wood desk with a chair and a television on top, to a small dining room table with three blue felt chairs held together by wooden frames. The sofa, at least, was a darker shade than the other. Sadly, the room wasn’t divided to the point where all the bedrooms were separate, not that it really mattered.
He took the lift up to his room and used the key card to let himself in. To his surprise, he saw his mum and dad sitting on the edge of the bed, taking off their shoes. Shaun closed the door behind him, to which his mum came over and wrapped her arms around him.
Shaun reciprocated and smiled. “Hey. Mum, dad. Mum, aren’t you working?”
Anne finally let him go, letting her hand linger on his shoulder. “Shaun! Oh, nice to see you’re okay. They gave me and your dad the week off work. Me and your dad went to do some shopping.”
“Aye. Bloody clothes, again.” Craig passed the comment as he left his shoes at the bedside.
“Oh, come on!” Anne said, walking over to Craig. He laughs and pulls his shoulder back as Anne gently slaps him there, a mocking tease to her tone. “It’s been months since I’ve had the chance to go shopping. I might as well enjoy it!”
“I know, I know.” She finds herself in his arms for a second, giving her a firm kiss on the lips. “Dunnae be daft.”
“Guys, if you’re gonna be like this, I’ll just go back out.” Shaun reached out for the door, grinning slightly. Craig rolled his eyes, whilst Anne just giggled. “Seriously. If you want the room for yourselves-”
Anne gasped dramatically. “Shaun! You dirty sod.”
Shaun just grinned, and slipped his shoes off in a swift pair of motions, before throwing them in a lose pile by his bed.
“It feels weird coming in without Button here.”
“Aye. Kennels are looking after her, for now.” Craig said, giving Anne a tight squeeze for a second.
“So what did you learn today?” Anne walked out of Craig’s arms, over to the kitchen counter and snatched the empty plastic kettle that was standing there. “I take it you’ll want a brew.”
“Yeah, that’d be lovely, ta.” Shaun made his way and slumped down on one of the sofas, taking up another cushion by sprawling a leg over it. Craig decided to join him, and swatted at his leg. After Shaun pulled it away with a grunt and a smile, Craig occupied the far end.
“Alright. Today was just a bit of a normal day so far. As normal as a week’s been. We didn’t go on patrol today, instead we did some workshops. Basic training and all that stuff.”
“What do you need training for?” Craig spoke incredulously.
“Technique?” Shaun stated, making a widening motion with his hands, that turned into a slight shrug. “They try to do it anyway. It’s a bit more about teamwork. Looking at everyone else, see how they work, get to work better with them, and know how they’re going to act. It’s fun. I mean, they know I don’t need much help but I’ve been working on throwing stuff. Getting my aim better, so I can do something at a distance.”
“Aye? You’ll have to join our darts team then, down at the pub.” Craig nudged Shaun’s shoulder with his knuckles.
“The Griffon’s a crap pub, dad.” He said, rolling his eyes. “
“That’s our local-” Craig frowned heavily, almost looking insulted. “-and it’s your nan’s favourite has been since she were your age.”
“Yeah.” Shaun said, with a bit more of a sombre tone. “Guess so.”
Anne joined them now, and drew a chair out from under the table and sat down, body facing the pair whilst the kettle boiled. “Don’t interrupt him, Craig. Go on, Shaun.”
“Anyway. We watched some of the Containment Squad training drills, and after that me and Visionary went to a design meeting. They want to give me a costume and a name.”
“Ooh!” Anne seemed excited. “Looks like they really are making you a hero.”
“Mum, I’m not- I’m not a hero, mum. Not some superhero or anything like that.”
“Shaun, you can be.” Anne raised her head up, and smiled warmly. “We’ve always told you that you’re special. You want to be a normal kid, and you are! By gosh, you are. But you’ve got a gift, a power. And if you wanted to, you can make a difference to this world. How many people can really do that?”
He contemplated her words. “Not many, I guess.”
“No, not many at all! A lot of people wish they could. But you can be a hero, Shaun, and you can still be ‘Shaun’. You can be a superhero and you’ll still be you. We know you can.”
Her words warmed him and he smiled slightly. “Yeah. You’re right. I just… don’t wanna look like an idiot. You know I want to make you proud.”
“And you do!” Craig interjected with a bit of boisterousness. “Even if you were dressed like one of them nutters.”
“Thanks dad. Reassuring.”
“Just helping how I can, son.” Craig reached over, vigorously patting Shaun on the knee a few times.
“Alright, appreciated. Anyway. We met this guy, one of the higher ups, called Grandmaster. He was wearing this suit of armour, really modern stuff. He looked kinda cool, and he ran us through some practical tips. Oh, and there was a girl with us, Katrina, she was in that lesson too.”
“A girl, eh?” Craig grinned slightly.
“Not like that, dad. We just met and we train together. Geez.”
“I know, I know.” He said in justification.
“It was actually a pretty good lesson, I got to hang out with Alex a bit more as well.”
“Good for you, Shaun.” Anne smiled. The sound of roiling water could be heard on the other side of the room, followed by a neat click. She took her leave for now, and went to pour out a few mugs of tea for everyone.
“School’s alright then? We dinnae get chance to talk about it yesterday.”
“Yeah, it’s alright. Boring though. We’ve been talking about politics. I had to talk in front of the class about politicians and the Farside. People like Anthony Barnes, who are trying to get us all locked away in the Unit because he thinks we’re all ‘dangerous time bombs, waiting to explode.’” He spoke with some passion, though there was vitriol blended into his words.
“He’s not wrong. A lotta them are Dangerous.”
“I meant the other ones. Not you, Shaun, you’re alright, I meant the bad ones.”
“There’s bad people everywhere. Farborn or Fartouched or not, a person’s gonna be a dic- bad person either way.”
“We’ll go with that.” Craig said, much to Shaun’s constant frowning at him for the past half a minute.
Anne came back with mugs of tea, and handed them out to Craig and Shaun. Craig gave her a kiss on the cheek and said “Ta.”
Shaun was a little more formal with a classic “Thanks” before taking a heavy sip.
“Is Josh okay?” Anne asks, taking a sip.
“Yeah. We haven’t been talking much but he seems okay. Been a bit quiet lately the last few days.” Shaun shrugs. “Oh, yeah. Not related but i’m going out tomorrow, there’s a special thing going on at the NFU.”
“Going there again?” Anne said. “We were hoping to go for a day out, just the three of us It’s been a while since we’ve all had the chance.”
“I know. I’m sorry. Day after?” Shaun attempted a compromise. “I get to meet Artifex.”
“Who?” Craig said, furrowing his brow. He took a slight sip from his mug and sighed deeply.
“He’s the guy that makes all the Eldritch technology. He funded that MAGI-tech company. They’re the ones trying to bring Eldritch stuff into the public view.”
“Dunnae bloody trust that stuff. They’re trying to make cars like that. Cars!” He scoffed. “Engine’ll probably blow up when you start it.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re trying to avoid.” Shaun takes another large gulp. “I get to meet him and it’s apparently important, and he supplies the NFU with a lot of stuff. It’ll be interesting. Maybe.”
“As long as you’ll be okay.” Anne sipped her tea as well, never bringing it far from her mouth.
“I’m actually looking forward to it.” Shaun nodded.
“Aye. Well, you’d best get a good night’s rest then. None of this staying up late like you’ve been doing the past few days.” Craig leaned over to the side to put his mug on a small table.
“Yeah, okay. You tell me that all the time. Even on my days off.”
“A good routine is what you need.”
Shaun necked the rest of his brew, and exhaled a little steam. He stood and slid his mug on the table.
“Maybe an early night wouldn’t be bad, just tonight.”
Shaun slid his hand into his pocket and brought his phone out, bringing it up to his face for a quick look. It was still on the last message he sent, and a quick flick up the screen revealed some of the previous messages. Shaun started with a message of his own, then glanced down.
you sure your okay man? just checkin youve been quiet for days
lk im fine stop asking. fuck
okay geez fine dude sorry for giving a shit. you be an asshole if you wanna
With a grunt, he turned it off and shoved it back into his pocket. He gave a quick glance to his mum and dad and smiled a little.
“Maybe not a bad idea at all.”