2-8

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?”

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