Arc 3: Discovery

Interlude 3

“Where to, sir?”

My taxi driver today is unusually polite. I assume if one sees a man in a suit in London, he’s important enough to be called a ‘sir’. I suppose it beats being called a mate, by all means. I fasten my seat belt on and glance upwards at him, through the glass separating the front and the back of the vehicle. Stocky, a little overweight, badly cut black hair. I think he’s wearing a blue shirt, though I can’t be certain what else he’s wearing. Nor do I particularly feel like enquiring further into the matter.

“The Corinthia, please.” I say, leaning back and getting comfortable. I unfasten one button on my jacket, it’s starting to feel a little tight. Have I been putting on weight?

I hope not.

“Right away.”

He says, and he’s already in first gear and driving away. Rather quickly I might add, but he wouldn’t be driving if he didn’t know the roads well enough. One can assume as much, anyway. I can’t say I’ve been to America but I’d wager that London has the finest taxi drivers on the planet. That’s not much of a hasty assumption either. If you tell the driver you need to be on the other side of the city in twenty minutes, you can be certain that they’ll take you there in nineteen, and give you a view of the quickest route and back alleys in the process.

London in the evening is beautiful, and a taxi ride gives you the best view through the window. Breathtaking, lofty heights of buildings, the bustle of people who’re winding down from shopping or visiting. Most people here are either staying the night, or on business. I’m no exception. I’ve been scheduled in for an interview on Good Morning. I can’t say it’d good television viewing as far as I’m concerned, but my popularity in the polls needs a spike as of late. Any publicity is good publicity, but I’d rather it be better than worse.

I have to be up at an absurd time in the morning, hence the early trip to the hotel I’m staying at. It’s a fifteen minute walk from where I’m staying to the London Studios, and god forbid you take a taxi that early in the morning, in that area. Better than the tube at any rate, and I’d rather not smell like someone else’ss body odour by the end of my journey.

The driver takes a look at me through the mirror, squinting his eyes.

“Ain’t you that politician fellow, Anthony Barnes?” He asks. Just fantastic, this driver is the type who wants to be chatty. So goes my quiet evening drive into the rubbish bin.

“Yes, I am.” I say, with a polite smile. “Even us politicians have to take a taxi now and again.”

He laughs, I’m glad. A bit of self deprecation helps, it shows you’re willing to laugh at yourself. Too many people see politicians as above everyone else. It’s not a good image to have.

“You here on business or pleasure?”

“Business. I’m going to be on Good Morning tomorrow for an interview.”

“The misses always watches that. Ain’t my cup of tea, tell you the truth.”

“Nor mine, but what can you do?” I smile again, and he nods back to me.

“Fair play, fair play Two things I don’t tend to discuss, religion and politics. Always causes trouble.”

“I can appreciate that.” I say, in hopes he won’t delve further into the subect.

“You Union of Britain guys though, you talk a lot of sense.” He’s delving further into the subject. Wonderful. Exactly what I didn’t need. “Cut out the crap, y’know? None of that false promises nonsense. I mean, you can’t trust any of the others, right?”

“By all means.” I say. “Don’t feel obliged to pretend to like me if you’re not a supporter. It’s frankly not my position to try to get voters all of the time, and your political views are your own.”

“Yeah mate, fair play.” ‘Fair play’. He does say that a lot. “That’s what I mean. You’re not gonna tell every Tom, Dick and Harry that you’re gonna do one thing and never hear about it again.”

“I’d like to think I have integrity, and my party does as well. We’ve never made a promise we don’t intend to keep.”

People like it when you can hold onto their word. I don’t personally blame him for his views. A good majority of politicians just can’t be trusted in the general public’s eye. Broken promises, unrealistic expectations, bending over backwards for other countries and ignoring our own. Not to mention, the expenses scandal in previous years did everything to hurt our image. Can the same thing be said of other parties? Conservatives, who are constantly treading down on the working class to line their pockets? Labour are hardly any better. The other parties have no weight. At least mine will have the people fed up of all these things.

You can’t always pick who votes for you, but that comes with the territory.

I’ve always believed if you make a promise, you deliver it. Being the leader of a political party shouldn’t change that.

“Fair play. That’s what you wanna hear. I’ll tape it. I’ve got that Sky Plus, so I can watch it when I’m up tomorrow.”

“Every viewer helps.” I say with another smile. “It’s appreciated. Thank you.”

“No problem.”

The rest of the journey is, thankfully, much less full of conversation. He tries to talk about politics a few more times and I quickly try to dismiss it, steering the conversation to him and his job, and he sticks with it to talk about himself some more. The lesser of two evils, I guess.

In all honesty, it’s my job and career. Everyday is saturated with it, from when my next public appearance will be, to when I need to look into new policies and the strategies of other candidates. The elections have come and gone three years ago and sadly, we didn’t have much of a chance compared to the Conservatives this year. Too much of an outlier compared to the others, but that was 2010. The 2015 elections will be different, I can feel it.

The other thing I can feel is I could certainly go without hearing about a person’s views on how to run the country. I’m already concerned if I can win or not and we’re coming up to an important season. Still, you have to at least show you’re listening. It gets votes, and that’s important. When you have that power, things can actually change for the better. I suppose I could be considered a little anti-EU, and the voters you get for such a thing tend to want England to be ‘Britain again’.

But as I’ve said, you can’t pick who votes for you. I’ll take what I can get.

We come up to the hotel. I’m thankful I’ve already had my clothes and belongings for the night sent over yesterday, so it means I don’t need to go through the hassle of dragging a suitcase around. The driver stops and I jolt forward a little, and I’m sure he doesn’t notice the grunt that slipped out when my seatbelt kept me in place.

“That’ll be eleven fifty, sir.”

After I unbuckle myself, I reach into my pocket and take out my wallet. I take out a fresh twenty pound note and slip it through the gap in the window for money and leave it there for him.

“Thank you, and keep the change.”

I leave the taxi before I can hear a response. It’s not that I’d rather not, but it’s all about impression. Being the politician that listens, the one the every-man can vote for in safety, the one who values his word. A spare tenner is nothing to be concerned about. I’m frugal everywhere else. My accountant won’t kill me, I’m certain. As much as sometimes I think that she wants to.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to present yourself lately and how important it is in your career. My wife does think I’m a little obsessed with it from time to time, but it permeates everything that you do. Even a taxi ride should show your character to people, and one vote may not change much, but that one vote still matters.

I walk through the front foyer and book myself in. The receptionist is polite, a young girl with parted blonde hair and a posh accent. Noticeably thick glasses, but it works with her outfit. Her name badge tells me she’s called Stephanie., and she’s quick at what she does. A natural typist. Most likely spends a lot of time texting friends, or on facebook. She tells me I’m in room three hundred and nine and tells me to have a pleasant stay.

I nod and thank her, and I decide to take the lift instead of the stairs. I hardly pride myself on a healthy lifestyle but I’m glad to just have a bit of space to think.

I’m the only person in the lift tonight, and it’s woefully slow. I enjoy time to think, and there’s a lot to think about. I have to admit, I miss my wife. Janet always worries, and I’m always certain to call her in the morning to let her know how I’m doing. She was beautiful when I met her and she’s still beautiful now, and she has such a depth to her soul. I remember the first time we went on a date. Very old fashioned, a trip to the cinema for a picture show and a walk around the block afterwards. We watched a License to Kill, and I knew she wasn’t a fan of James Bond. Far too much of a male thing, too ‘power fantasy’ for her tastes. I also remember it costs much more these days to see a film than it did back then.

It says a lot about somebody when they’re willing to sit for an hour or two, watching something they don’t enjoy just to spend time with you.

License to Kill is my favourite bond film, by far. I think it’s because of that first date. I remember each line of dialogue, each time my would-be wife looked bored through the film and each time I had to keep her entertained. The perks of having a photographic memory, to be certain. Each memory as vivid as the last.

I was worried she’d just walk out at one point, truth be told.

The lift opens, and I walk down to my room. I push in the card to open the door, and I wonder when people stopped using keys for such a thing. I walk into my room and the door closes behind me. It’s very dark. Are the lights not working?

I thought they normally came on by themselves, so I turn and feel against the wall to find the light switch. The wallpaper feels unusual, but I find the light switch. I hesitate to push the switch down though.

It feels like it’s soft.

The light switch is pliant to the touch. It’s not like flesh. It feels like I imagine pushing your finger into hot glass without it scalding or burning you. Something washes over me. Apprehension, uncertainty, like something is fundamentally incorrect. Part of me doesn’t want to push this switch, like a primal fear of the unknown has just awoken in me. I can’t explain it, it feels like I’ve been walking for hours and realised I’ve become lost.

No, this is absurd. I have no idea why I’m feeling like this. It’s been a long day for sure, but there’s no need to feel these things. I’ve never been afraid of the dark. What is going on with me?

I push the light switch and look at it, and then it dawns on me.

The reason I feel lost is because I am lost.

I can only register the first thing that comes to mind, because nothing else seems to focus in my mind, and that’s the switch itself. It’s like my finger is pushing the entire thing inwards, like it’s stretching the wall like rubber, but it feels wrong. Then the wall trembles lowly, and begins to crack away, peeling and shuddering like a live organism being awoken from slumber. The colours begin to bleed and flay away, forming into a churning mist in the air. There’s a noise in the air that I can’t describe, like music in reverse. No, it sounds like my breathing in reverse, mixed with… the only thing that can describe it is like meat. Liquid meat, crackling and boiling. It doesn’t make any sense.

The wall heaves, and I step back out of fear. The dent in the wall continues to grow and begins to fester, pulling itself back without applying any force behind it, like something is pulling it back. Colour drains from the wall, leaking like fluid, before it flushes back inside the wall, crawling and latching on like it were alive, burrowing into the wall itself. I don’t even know how to describe this. Words are beginning to fail to account for what’s occurring, for what I see.

I can see something beyond, through the cracks that are forming, as they erode away like an acid eats away at the very heart of what I knew. I turn around and realise, there’s only one wall left. The wall I was facing is all that’s here. The ceiling, the floor, the room I was in. Gone.

I turn around and lift my head up, and I stare into that… that seething mass that defies all reason. A landscape that my brain can’t even begin to describe or comprehend. I stare right into the heart of the Farside itself.

I want to cry, I want to and weep, but I can’t. I can’t even scream.

All I can do is experience it.

Where am I?

What’s going on?

I’m awake. I’m… alive. I’ve opened my eyes but the room is blurry. I’m feeling so many things, so many fears. My head’s… I’m in the hotel. I think. I’m on the floor, my face is down. Something near me smells. I can’t…

I need a second. Calm, stay calm.

I put my hands to the floor and push myself up. I feel a little weaker, I think. Is this fatigue, a lack of energy, or something else? I can’t entirely tell. I look around, flicking from point to point, to another point of the room again. I grab my chest, I feel the silken threads of my shirts as fingers strum down the buttons. I feel the caress of my tie against the back of my hand as I do so. I put my hands near my face and feel my skin, and feel my fingertips on my-

Wet? They’re… I take a look. Not bleeding. They’re discoloured, I-

I look at the floor. Vomit, in a spray.

I’m going to safely assume it’s mine.

I can taste it in my mouth now. My senses are starting to come back, other than my sight and my taste. I smell something ungodly foul. I take a step forward, and I realise where it’s coming from.

I’ve soiled myself.

I know I’m old, but double incontinence is new. How did I-

The Farside.

Oh, god. Oh god above. It’s coming back to me now.

I need to clean myself. I can’t be seen like this.

I grab my jacket and fling it off and hobble over to the bathroom. I start to take off my clothings, tearing at them like some frenzied animal. I yank my tie off, and throw my shoes out of the room, and I think I even ripped a button off my shirt until I’m naked, my clothes in a pile on the floor outside of the bathroom.

I turn the shower on, and I don’t care if it’s hot or cold. I need to be clean.

I start to clean myself, and the less I feel like I’m due to go into a nursing home, the better I can feel about myself. I need to stay focused. I’m not panicking, but I’m…

I’m panicking a little.

I grab the shower head and I clean where I need to be cleaned. Prudish of me to not even say so in my own thoughts, but I’m woefully English like that. It’s whilst I’m doing this that I realise that I’ve not been in here for long and yet, there’s a fine mist already in the air.

I turn towards the mirror, past the open shower curtain. It’s already clamoured in condensation. I’ve been in here for a minute. Am I hallucinating? What’s going on?

When I look down at the temperature, I realise why. It’s on full. It should be scalding hot, if we’re going to be logical, and I can’t feel a thing on my skin. I can feel the water against my skin, and I raise up the shower head and run it along the length of my arm. I can definitely feel it, but the heat is another thing.

As I hook up the shower head so it’s stationary on the wall once more, there are more questions being raised right now. I’m in no mind to think about it. As much as I’ve been putting it off, I need to address what just happened.

I went through the Farside.

Everyone normally talks about how the experience is so harrowing and ultimately, the human mind can’t comprehend what it sees. Too alien, too out there, too illogical and non-Euclidean. Yet here I am, thinking back to how I got into this mess. I walked into my hotel room, my lights were off and when I turned them on, I was already there.

And the memories of that place, those memories. So deep and all consuming. They swarm around my mind, they obfuscate all rational thought. I think them, I can feel them crawling in my head.

I have to distract myself. I start cleaning again. I make sure I’m cleaned at least twice over before I’m done. I turn off the shower, and I take a step outside of the bathroom. I can feel the floor beneath me, cold to the touch. It doesn’t feel so much as cold to me right now. It’s like… it feels like it just lacks heat. My foot itself doesn’t seem to be cold, but I know this is.

Those thoughts. They’re overwhelming. I can feel them tremble over my mind, down the nerves in the back of my neck.

I turn around and up, and I squint at the light above me. Damned it, I feel like I’m more sensitive to the light than I used to be. All the worst parts of a hangover from the Farside. What happened to me?

The light flickers, and I flinch. I couldn’t help it. I raise my hand to shield my eye, and the light flickers again. Don’t happen again, please, god-

The skin on my hand is different. It’s… darker. Black.

The light flickers again. The skin on my hand flickers with it. It’s not going more dark, more brown. It’s actually getting blacker.

My hand swipes along the condensation of the mirror before I realise that’s what I intended to do, and I stare at my reflection in the mirror in the hand print. What’s left of my reflection, at least. Where I can see the vague outline of my face, my greying hair, my skin is flickering black All the colour on my body is flickering and slowly turning into a void. The light in the room starts to fade, as does my own colour. I walk backwards, and I forget just how wet it is.

It seems my balance isn’t what it used to be, and I land on the floor. My head cracks into the plaster of the wall, and I slump on the floor, bent over myself.

I’m acting a little too casual about something that could have killed me. I’m more concerned that I didn’t feel a thing.

I stand up. I feel more… energetic? I don’t know why, but I haven’t felt this lively in years. The back of my head feels fine, according to a quick feel with one of my hands. No blood, no marks, not even the wall was badly dented. I look at my hand, and the skin starts to get colour once more. I feel like something is settling, which is odd. I don’t feel the pain I should be feeling.

I grab one of the towels on the rack in the bathroom and begin to dry myself off whilst I think about what’s just happened. I’m trying to comprehend what’s occurring, and I’m really not doing very well. I’m drying myself off and I know I’m thinking about it again, the Farside. Utterly pervasive. I can’t shove it to the back of my mind.

I’ve heard reports of people who’ve been there. They went to the Farside and they came back, and they weren’t who they were before. Something changed within them, something deep. And I can feel something inside of me, something so deep within my core. Is that what’s tainted within me? Did the Farside impregnate me in some way with a corruption?. I don’t know if I should be feeling this way. It doesn’t feel hostile, but it feels wrong, alien and different. Flickering and sparking inside of me, in a place I can’t pinpoint physically.

I look at the bundle of clothes on the floor, next to the stain of vomit. I can’t wear these again. I’ll have to have them disposed. I’m grateful that I packed a spare suit, but I just realised the time. It’s late, I was going to settle down and go to sleep.

I wrap my towel around my waist and I go over to the phone by my bedside, the one that the hotel has. I ring up customer service and let them know about what just happened. I don’t tell them about the Farside, but I do inform them that I’ve had an accident and will require my clothes disposed of, and my carpet cleaned.

I tell them as well I’ll pay for it, and they have my sincerest apologies.

I make it brief, courteous and put the phone down when I’m done, and sit down on the bed. I run my hands through my hair and close my eyes. I feel so awake, like I’ve just slept for twelve hours straight. I walk over to my cupboard and take out my night clothes and stare at them for a second. I don’t feel like I can get off to sleep tonight, even after that.

I don’t think I’d want to sleep. Do I really want to potentially expose myself to such bad memories in my dreams?

I put on my night clothes so I’m in something more comfortable and I sit on my bed. I run my hands through my hair again and slick it back. It feels a little more normal, how I normally style it, but it just tried to slink forward every time I push it back.

I don’t know what to think right now. I don’t know what to do right now.

I’m trying not to admit but, but I have to be pragmatic. I went to the Farside and came back. By all definitions, I’m Fartouched. To what the extent of me being Fartouched is, I can’t say. There is the social stigma for such a thing, the complications.

Fartouched can’t work in politics. That’s why the Head Director of the NFU stood down. Is that my fate as well? To abandon all my work thus far?

No.

Nobody can know.

Nobody will ever know about this. Lying about it won’t be difficult, but…

I shouldn’t have to lie. But if I told anybody about this, the backlash…

I’m going to have to lie. Even to her, I’m going to have to deceive everyone I know, everyone I ever will know. They’ll never know I was Fartouched.

There’s a knock at the door.

“Come in.” I say. I sit on the bed, leaning back slightly. Relaxed, calm, no concerns. I’m in control.

A lady comes inside. Old, nearly as old as I am, with tied back hair and a lot of wrinkles on her forehead. The badge says Carole. She takes a look inside, wheeling in a trolley with a red cloth bag fastened to it, and shakes her head slightly. Hung onto the metal frame is a small box with some cleaning supplies. A spray bottle, a hand held brush, other cleaning agents.

“I do apologise, deeply. I’m not sure what exactly happened to me. I came into my room and the next minute, I was on the floor, and…” I look between the vomit on the floor and my soiled clothes. “…and I woke up to this.” Half truths are much easier to believe. Not a technical lie, in a sense.

“Are you okay?” She asks, looking concerned. She’s wearing gloves, and she begins to grab my clothes and puts them into her basket. “You should probably go to the hospital.”

“No, no. I’m fine. I feel quite good, despite this. The concern is appreciated though” I nod, looking off to the side. “I assume that this hotel has some discretion with regards to… ‘accidents’.”

“Oh, nobody will know. There’s no need to worry. This’ll be entirely confidential.”

I smile, a little weakly. It wasn’t an act. If only she knew what I was truly hiding. “Thank you. It’s appreciated. Please just dispose of my clothes.”

She nods, and after she’s done putting my clothes away to never be seen again, she starts to work on the carpet. I offer to help her and she refuses. I wasn’t particularly going to if she said yes, but the offer was made at least. She’s a hard worker, really putting in the effort to scrubbing it clean. She tells me that if it’s recent, it’s better to hand clean it than to use anything else. I defer to her wisdom and agree on it.

She gets her stuff together and wishes me a good nights sleep. I nod and smile and wish her a good night as well.

I stand up from the bed and go over, turning my light off and getting onto my bed. As I stare at the ceiling, I can picture it again. The wall eroding, ripping away from this world and thrusting me into the next. I can feel myself, so full of vigour. Even if I wanted to sleep, I was too awake and full of energy to do so.

As much as she’s wished me a good night before she left, I don’t think it’s going to come to me tonight.

I stare at the ceiling, knowing that sleep won’t claim me. I sigh deeply and blink slowly.

Not tonight.

I’ve been staring at static for the past five minutes.

I can’t say today has gone particularly well. It’s about one in the morning and I’m sat in my arm chair, staring at my television. The channel went off before and now, all I’m seeing is grainy static. There’s a glass of whiskey in one hand and the remote in the other, and I haven’t even focused on anything other than the feel of the glass against my fingertips.

I get myself upright. I almost slid off my chair, and I glance down. My white shirt, with the top three buttons undone, has a stain of alcohol on it from when I took a drink before. I know I’m not getting to sleep tonight. I know exactly when I stopped sleeping. About one year ago, when it happened.

It’d be awfully melodramatic of me to suggest that the event has made me so afraid of what I may dream that I forced insomnia on myself but the truth is far more simple. I just can’t sleep. I’ve got too much energy, too awake. Too much time to recall thoughts, have intrusions of those memories flooding my brain. I feel changed, different. I don’t sleep, I’m haunted by what happened, and having to lie to everyone I’ve ever known has taken a toll on me.

I put the whiskey on the table beside me, hearing and feeling the sound, the clink it makes. I don’t particularly care what’s left inside it. I sit upright and do a few buttons up on my shirt, but it hardly does much to alter the perception of how messy I look. I haven’t shaved in a few days, and I can feel the grey stubble as I brush my hand on my chin. By the good graces of the Farside, I can at least trim my hair. It disallows much else when it comes to my body, but a good haircut and a shave is permitted.

I lean forward and put my head in my hands. I can hear the click of the door from the other side of the room, though I’m not sure any more if I feel or hear these things. Janet. She stops for a second before she walks over to me, nearly silently, and stops behind my chair. I can feel her put a hand on the backrest of my leather armchair, so I lift my head up and turn a little behind her.

That face always warms my heart, and I smile. She was as beautiful then as she is now, as much as she may never believe me, no matter how many times I’d tell her. That blonde hair, those bright blue eyes, and her smile. Enough to bring the greatest man to his knees.

I haven’t seen her smile in a long time.

She shakes her head and sighs, looking at the whiskey, then the television.

“Janet.” I say, though I don’t have much intention to speak afterwards. What do you say?

“Anthony.” She said, defeated. “I thought you might be here again.”

“Again.” I look to the side. There’s about a sip left of whiskey. Tempting.

“I’ve stood here enough times. We’ve had this conversation, and I don’t know what to say anymore.”

“I don’t either. I gave up a long time ago, trying to figure out the words.”

“You’ve given up more than just that.” She walks in front of me. Bright blue cardigan, white shirt underneath, beige trousers. Normally I can recall when I bought her clothes, but these seem new.

“I can’t disagree.” I look up to her. She lowers down slowly, onto her knees. I lean forward to her with my head low.

“You still won’t tell me what happened to you.”

I look at her in silence. I won’t even admit the possibility that there’s anything wrong.

She exhales deeply and reaches forward. She cups my face with her hands and raises my head, bringing me so I’m forced into eye contact. Her touch is gentle, almost reassuring.

“I’ve always loved you and I always will, Anthony. Any problem you have, is a problem of mine as well. But if you block me out from your problems, then you’re choosing to make that problem your own. This isn’t what we married for, is it?”

I shake my head slowly.

“If you can’t or won’t tell me, you know what I’m going to have to do. I’ll have to go through with it.”

I nod slowly. Acceptance? Defeat? What am I feeling here?

It doesn’t matter. What can I say to her? Your husband is a Fartouched, and once the world finds out, he’s going to lose his job. He couldn’t provide for you and give you everything you deserve. He’ll be just another lying politician for the media to slander, and by extension she’ll never have a good reputation. His life, and hers, are ruined.

Either way, I lose her. I’d rather lose her with a divorce that can give her money to stay on her own feet. Give her something she can live on, and let me deal with the press.

I hate that I feel I need to delude myself into believing this is noble of me. I know I’m doing this for myself. I’m trying to keep my job, my life, my reputation and my current running for Prime Minister. I know my marriage is crumbling, and I’m willing to sacrifice that to…

…I’m willing to give her up to cover up my lies.

“More than anything, I love you.” I finally say. “And for all the right reasons, I can’t blame you if you went through with it.”

She pauses and looks at me. Gauging me, trying to assert what she can. Her touch leaves me and she stands, and I can tell that she’s accepted it. I look up at her and sit more upright.

“I’m sorry, Anthony.”

“I’m more.”

“If you were sorry, then why can’t you just… tell me? Just say what’s going on with you and I’ll pretend we’ve never even spoken about it. Just open up to me, and we’ll forget the divorce.”

I take a second and as I open my mouth, she speaks.

“Please.”

It makes me hesitate.

“…I’ll try to make it as painless as possible.”

I hate that look in her eyes. Heartbreak. The silence that follows is deeply uncomfortable.

“I’ll be staying at my sisters until I can find lodgings elsewhere. I’ll be in touch after I’ve spoken with my solicitor.”

She takes one last look at me, taking it all in before she inhales, exhales.

“Goodbye, Anthony.”

“…goodbye, Janet.”

She waits a second before she walks out of my view. She doesn’t close the first door, but I hear her close the front door gently on her way out. I have to admire how she’s never been angry, not once.

I don’t deserve her. And by how things have played out, I don’t get the chance to deserve her again.

I reach over and take that one last sip of whiskey, feeling it burn on my lips before the warmth gently slides down my throat. I leave the glass on the table and head for the bathroom. I think that whiskey went right through me, as little as I drank. I only had two glasses tonight.

Once I’m done relieving myself, I wash my hands and dry them on a towel. I look at my reflection in the mirror. I just stare at myself, trying to point out all of my flaws. My hair is too long, too grey, too prominent of a widow’s peak. Those bags under my eyes have been there far too long. My lips are thinner than they should be. Despite all the physical flaws I can point out, I’ve never been one to hate how I look. I’ve always accepted it, despite my younger teenage years where some insecurities may have formed.

As I stare deeper into my own reflection, I can’t help but to feel something is off.

It’s nothing that I can put my finger on. It’s like a feeling in my stomach, a gut reaction. Not like the feeling I’m being watched, but something all together unusual. Familiar and uncertain.

I’ll put it down to the alcohol. I’ve been drinking more and more lately. It may be my body recognising the immanent liver failure that’s going to happen to me. Still, I can’t help but to wonder.

I turn and grab the handle on the bathroom door and I stop again.

Something definitely isn’t right.

That part of me deep inside when I went into the Farside, I can feel it again. A roiling energy that seems to feel… similar.

It feels at home right now.

My grip on the door handle trembles. The rest of the door does as well, as if the only thing holding this door’s entire weight in place is my grip on it. I dare not let go.

I don’t want to open this door. Please, god, no.

I pull my hand off the handle and stagger back, and my grip has left an imprint where my fingers were locked around it. The brass looks more like clay, and the grip begins to twist and shape, twisting further until it resembles a spiral. I can see through the cracks in the doors, the gaps between it and the frame. The surreal memories begin flooding back. I feel the sweat already forming on my brow, my body still trembling.

I can see the hinges of the door beginning to slip away, leaking off the wall as if they were molten metal They hit the floor and spread out, latching onto the floor like fingers spreading over the ground. They scrape and dig, floor bulging around their grip

This time, I can scream. I scream and cry, and I beg the world as loud as my lungs can muster

Not again, not again. Please make it stop, for the love of god.

With no hinged to support the door, it drifts backwards.

My screaming stops as I stare into the void again. I drop to my knees as tears stream down my face, as the room shudders and begins to fade away.

All I can do is pray for it to stop, and hope that my heart stops quickly so this madness will finally end.

Only having Farborn children registered doesn’t do justice to the fact that many Fartouched walk around with the general public unaware of who they are or what they can do. The United States of America has already made it mandatory. It is the biggest concern to the safety of the general public. Quite frankly, I’m surprised that no other parties would dare to bring up such a subject, yet we’re all too aware on a daily basis that the Farside exists, the Farside has affected our lives, or family, and will continue to do so. The best thing we can do is to try to minimise the damage is causes, whilst we look into what we can do to control the Farborn or Fartouched that may endanger us all.”

So what you’re saying is, we don’t have good preventative measures in place at the moment.”

I think we could be doing much more than we are at the moment. We could be putting money into proper research into Fargraced individuals and the Farside. Proper, preventative measures.”

Do you believe the Unit doesn’t qualify as such a ‘measure’?”

The Unit has and will work, but we can’t be sure. As I’ve said, there’s much more that we can do.”

In a previous press statement, you mentioned that you were going to look into a method that would suppress or even ‘turn off’ a Fargraced’s power, if that was even possible. Are these the sorts of measures that you and your party endorse, and what do you say to the accusations that this could be considered a ‘Farside lobotomy’?”

To that, I have to say that such an accusation is pointless and doesn’t get to the real heart of the problem. As for the subject of Fargraced powers, I can confirm that we’ve been looking into various methods that may be used with regards to the control of Fargraced powers. All I can say is that by early 2016, we’ll have something physical and concrete that we can show, to prove that we’re upholding our promises. I take what I’ve said very seriously. Now, are there any further questions?”

I lied.

It’s approaching 2016 and I have absolutely nothing.

I’ve studied the Farside for months on end and the recorded effects it has on people. I’ve watched lectures on the subject, taken advanced online courses on the subject. I’ve investigated the controversial papers and theories by Maxton Greer on the nature of Fargraced. I’ve even looked into the advancements of modern technology based on energies from the Farside and I have absolutely nothing.

I cannot, at all, see a single way for us to turn off an ability from the Farside.

I’ve tried to see if I can experiment on myself, to no success. I’m not sure what that second trip to the Farside did to me a year ago but I can be certain, it changed me once more.

It feels like it’s been a long time since then. The divorce was as clean as it could be, and I haven’t spoken to Janet since it’s all been done. She told me that she’d be happy to talk once I’m ready to reveal what has been problematic with me, and I’ve kept quiet about it. I’ve not revealed to her, nor anybody, about what I am or what happened to me twice.

What happened to me is strange. As far as I can tell, there’s been no recorded cases of anybody being Fartouched twice. I may very well be the first in the world, and the world will never know. I’m uncertain how it changed me, if it altered what was already there or if it warped in something new altogether, but I can feel it now. Crackling through my fingertips, swollen with an alien power.

The less I think of it, the less it disgusts me.

That second time changed another part of me. I realised that the Farside is much greater of a threat than anybody has consciously realised. I’ve experienced that hellish, alien landscape twice now. How many mothers, fathers, sons and daughters have seen their family torn apart by one of their relatives being dragged to that place? Ostracised for being different, changed by the Farside permanently. The appearance of Eldritch, spontaneously and without any warning, that could level a city or kill innocent lives?

No more. If the Union of Britain party will stand for something, it has to stand against the Farside. We have to contain it. We have to do something.

I have to focus on the problem;, the more obvious problem that I’m facing right now; I don’t have a prototype. I haven’t got anything to show people. I can’t turn back on my promises and the people that I’ve promised. I need something, and it’s getting too late now to back out. I can’t live the shame down. We’ll lose whatever standing we have if I can’t give something to the public.

I’m a desperate man, and I’ve been put in a desperate situation. There’s only one thing I can possibly do.

Illegal channels.

I’m already damned by being Fartouched, when being such denies me any position in politics. I refuse to fail this time.

It’s not a well hidden thing that confiscated Farside technology floats around the black market. The NFU and the Police try to hide it up, but being in politics makes you privy to such hidden information, and knowledge of individuals that may be able to supply you with such things. To say this would be to imply that what I’m after exists anywhere, which it doesn’t. It requires a certain improvisation.

I’ve done some inquiring. It took me a while but I’ve managed to get in touch with a rather notorious individual, one Michael Burnham. Ill-regarded as a man who can get you what you want, if the money is good. I’ve managed to maintain phone and email correspondences with him. I’ve been extremely careful, if not overtly careful that this can’t be traced back to me. I’m being paranoid, but I’m not stupid. Any and all traces to me can be removed at a moment’s notice. Nothing short of a confession on either of our behalves will even notify anybody to what’s going on, and neither of us are going to confess to this, I’m sure.

We’ve worked out something. We’ve looked into MAGI-Tech. Artifex has been working on a new prototype engine for motor vehicles, something that can be mass produced. From what I can gather, it can reabsorb the excess energy it produces. When an engine produces heat or other types of energy, it’s lost to the environment. These engines can take back that heat and convert it into energy, making it extremely efficient.

The idea that’s been discussed is that if we acquire such a device, we may be able to use it to draw out the energy that the Farside leaves in you when you’re Fartouched or Farborn. In theory, this could also draw out their powers. It’s impossible to tell, so Michael has suggested that we need something to test it on.

Testing on people would be too risky. He’s said that there are Fartouched animals that he could look into getting, for the purpose of testing. Once we’ve tested it, we may have something that works.

It’s not coming cheaply, but nothing worth fighting for ever is.

A prototype engine, specific machine parts, Fartouched animals. Quite the shopping list.

I can’t say whether this will work, or if this be my salvation or damnation. Every day I go without communication with Michael is another day that I worry that the other shoe will drop. Careless paranoia, I know. I can’t be too careful when dealing with a wanted criminal, but this is proverbial last stand. All I can really do is wait and hope that Burnham provides what I need and that everything all falls into place.

I’m usually quite good when it comes to having a feel for the future, and I can honestly say this.

I get the feeling that the other shoe is going to drop. I just don’t know when.

When it does though, I’ll be ready. That much, I’m certain about.

Discoveries: 3-8

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

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

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

“Get moving.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Right. Detainment period?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I do.” Impetus says, nodding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you considered therapy?”

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

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

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

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

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

Impetus nodded.

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

Impetus nodded again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impetus grinned slightly. “That must be it.”

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

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

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

“I’ll have to see.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTENTION SCAN INCONCLUSIVE.

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

DETAILS:

FACIAL SCAN INCONCLUSIVE. CAUSE: UNKNOWN.

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

Grandmaster kept up the pace, applying some more pressure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discoveries: 3-7

“I’m still not sure why you need me around here.”

Shaun glanced up from his phone when he spoke, taking a short look through the windscreen before turning to Grandmaster in the driver’s seat. He was staring at the front yellow door of the Red Bull, illuminated by four lights designed to look like lanterns in a horizontal row on the front wall of the building. The front entrance has two stairs either side, covered by a grey wall in front and with an old fashioned lattice fence in front of the edge.

He put his feet up on the dashboard of the car after a little fidget. This of all things caught Grandmaster’s attention, giving a glance to the left.

“I mean.” Shaun carried on. “We were here half an hour early and it’s quarter to twelve now, I’ve not seen this guy show up yet, and I’m not sure why you even need me here. You can take care of some goons by yourself, can’t you? You’re Grandmaster after all.”

He asked it as a legitimate question. To offer Shaun a rebuttal, he raised his hand and slapped his backhand onto Shaun’s shins. This caused him to flinch slightly.

“First of, feet off the dash. Show a little more respect for the man’s motor.”

Shaun complied with a grunt, lowering his feet.

“Second of, we need to be early in case he pulls something funny. Always gotta be prepared.”

He leaned back a little, one arm resting on the car door where the window was rolled down. A cool breeze flickered into the car, sending a lick of air across the back of their necks.

“Third, to be totally honest, we’ve got no idea what this dickbag’s capable of. Could be Fargraced, could be packing heat. You’re tough, and your powers aren’t flash or obvious. You’re a relative unknown, none of the criminals know what I look like, none of them give a rat’s ass about you. It’s a relatively safe bet we’ve got.”

“I figured you didn’t want me here for my charming personality.” Shaun cracked a smile, and locked his phone. He shoved it into his jeans pockets, looking out of the front window again.

“I’m not much for small talk. And fourth of all, don’t call me Grandmaster.”

“You have a name?” Shaun said.

“Being smarmy, huh Verus?” Grandmaster shot him a glance. He wasn’t in his armour today, taking a more casual approach to his attire. It was incredibly simple but it worked with his figure; white shirt, blue jeans, a black suit jacket and polished black shoes, which contrasted much with Shaun’s constant use of plaid shirts and Sketcher trainers. “Kai. Kai Rhodes.”

“I didn’t pick the name.” Shaun said in defence.

“Neither did I, but here we are.”

“Let me just run this through you again.”

“Uh-huh.”

“We’re going into that pub to wait for this really well known guy, real piece of shit, does all sorts of stuff on the black market, because he thinks he’s gonna meet the guy he made a deal with.”

“Ryan Macey of the Technomads.”

“Him, he’s gonna meet him again for whatever reason, in a very local pub in the middle of Stockport city central, and he doesn’t find it suspicious? He’s just fine with it?”

“Yup.” Kai responded.

“And we’re going to go inside and make an arrest on him, and he’s probably gonna resist and you want me here to back you up, and we’re gonna cuff him and drag him back to HQ for questioning?”

“That sounds about right.”

“Doesn’t that seem really suspicious?” Shaun asked, turning to Kai.

Kai nodded. “Oh yeah. Real suspicious. Let’s be honest here, this guy knows what he’s doing. He’s probably just gonna send us into a trap, or not even show up. But, this is the best lead we had, and I’ve every reason to believe he’s suspicious of us, but seeing as he hasn’t shown any paranoia, we have to go along with it.”

“You think we’re going into a trap?”

“Damn right I do. That’s why I want you here. You’re the anti-trap. What are they gonna do, stab you?”

“They might stab you.”

“That ain’t gonna happen.” Kai leaned back, starting to turn his neck left and right. One of the joints cracked.

“You’re confident.” Shaun turned to look out of his door side window. They were parked curb side on a T-junction in the road, facing a terrace of different sized buildings and in a line where the pub in question was. The Red Bull was the shortest building on that particular row, in the centre between two different road junctions that split off from the main street.

“I am. Aren’t you?”

“I’m feeling kinda neutral on the whole thing.” Shaun said. “Hey, we’re on double yellows, you know.”

“We’re part of the police force of England.” Kai said, as if to make his point clear.

“We should be setting a better example.” Shaun said in a mock tone, joking. “What would people think if the NFU were breaking all the laws?”

Kai cracked a smile, laughing under his breath. “You show me a single person who gives a shit about parking on double yellows. Everyone does it. We’re just here for a short while.”

“How can we explain this to the NFU though?” Shaun sat up, making elaborate hand gestures. “They’ll take my badge away from me.”

“Let’s use the excuse of ‘we were working with the public’s best interest in mind’. That’s a good one. I should ask the lab to add in some excuse generator software for times like these.”

“You can get that?” Shaun asked, sitting upright and looking to his right. “Really?”

“Hell if I know. Maybe. I’m gonna have to ask when we get back.”

Kai took a glance at the time on the dashboard behind his wheel.

“Eleven, fifty two. We need to get in early, so show time.” Kai took the keys out and unlocked the doors. “Remember. We’re doing the dad slash son gimmick. We’ve heard good things about this place and we decided to stop in for a quick pint before going down south. Fishing trip or some crap.”

“So I just need to pretend to be your kid and act like I don’t like you? Should be easy.”

“See. You’re a natural.” Kai gave him a pat on the shoulder. “We wait to see what happens. If for some reason he does show up, we arrest him and chuck him in the back.”

Kai knocked on the panel separating the front seats of the car and the back. The glass had a few scratches and it sounded dense.

“Bullet proof, and the doors are locked on the inside. Just like a squad car. We bring him in, I grill him for what’s going on or who he’s working with, and we get one closer to sorting this mess out.”

“This is a weird question to ask, but what if he does show up and he get him?” Shaun asked curiously.

“Then I wanna know what the hell is going on, because nothing is that easy.”

Kai stood out of the car first, and Shaun followed afterwards. Once they were outside, he locked it twice to be sure, then looked over and gave Shaun a nod. They walked to the end of the street, made sure no traffic was coming either way, then walked across. They took opposite sets of steps to head up inside, and Kai was the first one to push open the double doors and make his way inside the Red Bull.

The interior was as most pubs were in Manchester; working off the rustic aesthetic that the English pub was well known for. The pathway forward was blocked, and lead off into the left side, where a dark wooden arch lead them into the main area of the pub. To the right was the bar, where a single patron was sitting down in a dust brown overcoat, a flat brim hat on his head, a nursed pint of Guinness in his hands. Wooden tables littered the area neatly, with our chairs each, and at the far left of the room were leather booths with tables in the center against the creme walls.

If one went around to the other side, they’d enter the function room. The floor looked more like old, grey scale prints with a spotty design and the chairs had more fabric woven into them than anywhere else. The bar could serve either side this way, though it seemed that Kai had predicted incorrectly. Only the barman and the lone patron were here at the moment, and both of them looked about as bored as each other.

Between both rooms, the room extended a small corridor outwards. Gents to the left, ladies to the right, smoking area out at the back.

“Thought you said it’d be busy.” Shaun said, as he walked inside and took a look around with a sceptically raised brow.

“Thought it would be.” Kai said, as he walked inside further. They caught the attention of the bartender, who stood up a bit more upright and flashed a warm grin. He looked in his fifties, with his hair starting to go grey at the roots. He had a worn face, and hands that suggested a long history of manual labor. His navy polo neck shirt was tucked into his trousers, straining to hold in a large beer belly.

“Afraid we’re comin’ up to pay day. Footies not on either. It’s a slow ‘un.” His accent was definitely Mancunian.

Kai and Shaun walked over to the bar, and Shaun took one of the stools and had a seat. Kai leaned on the bar, and engaged the bartender. “You’re not wrong. Hell, I thought a well known place like this would be packed tonight.”

“Aye, not tonight. It just happens, ain’t the end of the world. What can I get you two?”

“I’ll get-” Kai took a moment to look through the small fridges underneath the bar, at the far end. He briefly scanned up above, eyeing up a half full bottle of vodka that was hanging with the rest of the spirits behind the bartender. “-you got any good local beers or ales on tap?”

“None on tap.” He said, giving Shaun a quick look.

“Can I get a bottle of Doom Bar?” Kai leaned on the bar with an elbow. He started to reach for his wallet as the bartender nodded, and turned to Shaun.

“Can I get a bottle of Stella?”

The bartender looked over Shaun for a second, then back to Kai. He gave a nonchalant shrug, then turned around and fetched the beers out of the fridges. He used the bottle opener underneath the bar and popped them both open, then handed them out. “Glasses?”

“Nah, I’m good.” Kai said, turning to Shaun.

“I’m good.”

The bartender nodded. “That’ll be six twenty.”

Kai handed him a ten pound note. A second later, his hand was filled with change and he nodded, obliging him with a smile. “Appreciated.”

Kai and Shaun took their bottles and walked over until they were at a booth. Kai sat facing away from the door, and sat close to the wall. Shaun sat facing the door, and Kai gave him a nod.

“Just keep an eye on the door.” He said, in a hushed tone. The television near the bar was on, showing Sky Sports, so Kai wouldn’t have been heard by the bar. A man in a black suit and a blue tie was reviewing the previous games done yesterday, with a woman in a blue jacket and black top moving onto sporting news afterwards.

“Right. Did you pick up on anything?” Shaun asked, whilst taking a sip of his beer.

Kai took a sip of his own drink, and nodded. “Yeah. That bottle of vodka they have behind the bar is the best thing to use to crack somebodies skull open. Other than that, nothing. They might be in on it, not sure yet.”

Shaun nodded and put his beer down. “Helpful. So we just wait now.”

“Yup.” Kai said, leaning back and sipping on his ale. “Try to not talk too much about work stuff.”

“That doesn’t leave me with much to talk about. It’s the only thing we’ve got in common.” Shaun said, taking out his phone. He holds it up, so the back of it faces the door. “What do you do when you’re not at work?”

“Not a whole lot, tell you the truth. I’ve been watching a lot of series. Got that Netflix, so I’ve been catching up on everything that everyone’s talking about.”

“I didn’t take you for a binge watcher. What have you been watching?”

“Started with The Wire and Breaking Bad, because people won’t shut the hell up about how good they are.” Kai holds his ale up. “I’ve looked into a few other things. Parks and Rec is funny, but I don’t have much faith in comedy from the yanks.”

“It’s pretty good.” Shaun said. “Have you seen any of the animated shows? Bojack Horseman, or Rick and Morty?”

“Can’t say I’m into the cartoon side of it all.”

“They’re pretty adult cartoons.” Shaun said, pausing. Kai gave him a funny look, smirking slightly. “Not like that sort of adult cartoons.”

Kai holds his hands up. “Hey, whatever floats your boat, not gonna judge.”

Shaun rolled his eyes. “They’re really funny. Give them a go.”

“Recommendations noted.” Kai said, finally taking another sip of his beer. “Football team?”

“Stoke City, ‘course.” Shaun said, confidently.

“West Brom here. Could be doing better this season, but Stoke ain’t doing too bad lately.”

“Huh.” Shaun said, though his attention drifted elsewhere for a second. Still holding his phone up, he loaded up the camera and muted the volume, making sure the flash was turned off before he took a picture. He lowered his phone down and put it face down, sliding it over to the table to Kai.

Kai couldn’t see what was going on behind him, but as he lifted up the camera and looked at the latest picture, he was filled in. A man wearing a dark green t-shirt, an opened waterproof jacket and black tracksuit bottoms, with white trainers underneath. Kai put the phone down without changing his expression and slid it back, his tone going even quieter.

Fuck me. He actually showed up.

Michael Burnham had taken a look inside for a second, then walked over to the bar. He gave a nod to the bartender, who nodded back to him in response. His voice was deep rough around the edges, and his accent sounded more like it was practised than natural.

“Pint of bitter, ta.”

Their transaction was mostly wordless afterwards. The bartender poured him out a fresh pint, and he handed him a crumpled fiver in return. Coins were given back, and he took a sip and sighed afterwards. They nodded to each other again, and he walked over to a table near the middle of the room with his front facing the door.

Shaun took a glance out, then began talking again to clear the silence. “Hey, I just saw something on facebook you might like.”

Go on.” Kai said. Shaun began to type into his phone on the touch screen, then passed the phone over. It was an unsent text message, with the words freshly typed in.

What now?

Kai laughed to himself. “Send me that link later. That reminds me of something. Let me just take a look.”

“Yeah, sure.”

He typed a munch longer string and passed the phone back. Shaun took a look.

Finish your drink. He’ll know what we’re up to. Follow my lead.

Shaun took another swig of his beer. He considered it lucky that he was almost finished anyway, and Kai just left the remaining third of his ale in the bottle. Shaun tilted the bottle up and necked it, putting the phone in his pocket.

“Well.” Kai said, starting to stand up. “That’s one. No more for me. You want another?”

Shaun took a second to look at Kai and shook his head. “Nah, I’m good.” He took a stand shortly afterwards, leaving his bottle behind.

Kai turned around and caught a glimpse of Michael, who had his pint in one hand and his phone in the other, hidden underneath the table. On second thought, he reached behind him and took his bottle with him, and he walked over to Michael’s table and sat right down next to him. Shaun followed, and sat opposite him.

Michael turned his head slowly at Kai, who showed a much more cheerful disposition. “Hope you don’t mind if me and my lad take a seat here. The place is kinda dead, y’know?”

“I kinda do mind.” He said, squinting. “M’waitin’ for someone.”

“That so?” He said, turning his head to Shaun. “Well, if that’s the case, I do apologise. We were just stopping by, seeing the locals. We heard nice things about this place, but we thought it’d be a lot busier.”

Michael’s squinting turned into a deathly stare. He put down his pint and shifted his phone back into his pocket.

“I don’t know who you are, but I’m gonna give you some advice. You, and your ‘lad’, need to piss off and leave me alone. Yeah?”

Shaun and Kai exchanged a glance. Kai held his hands up and stood up from his chair, and Shaun did the same as he made a remark. “Wow, that’s rude.”

“Yeah, tell me about it. Just here, trying to be friendly. Did you hear that?” Kai turned to the bartender, who shrugged.

“Didn’t hear nothing.” He said, in denial.

“Guess we’ll just be going then. Don’t wanna cause a scene or anything. Have a good day.” Kai said with a pleasant smile, and turned to walk away. He took a single step before he stopped, and Shaun walked around until he was just out of Michael’s line of site. “Oh, yeah. I shoulda said something.”

Kai walked back, and put his bottle on the table on the corner, standing above Michael, who wasn’t giving him the time of day enough to even look at him.

“I have a message for you. From some guy called Ryan Macey. Says he’d love to come down for a quick pint and to catch up on business but he’s too busy rotting away in custody whilst he waits to be sent to prison, so he can rot in a cell there.” Kai grew a smile, and withdrew his NFU badge from his pocket, letting it fall open to show Michael. “But I reckon, you won’t need to worry too much. I’m going to make sure you’re going to jail along side him. Michael Burnham, you’re under arrest. You know your rights. Let’s just stand up slowly, and make this easy for everyone involved.”

Kai reached for the handcuffs inside his jacket pocket. Michael pushed his chair back slowly and raised up to his feet, and as he did so, the door to the pub opened again. Shaun turned his head as a pair of individuals came through the threshold, the first of which was a tall, well build man with a shaved head, wearing a light grey, button up shirt with short sleeves, dark grey trousers and black trainers with green laces. The other had dark, black skin and wore a white shirt, black tracksuit bottoms and a zipped up tracksuit jacket that covered his neck. He too wore a shaved head, and both looked as if they spent more time in the gym than they did at home.

“He brought some mates.” Shaun said, turning his head to Kai. Kai gave him a nod, and Michael began to grow a smug smirk along his face.

“Looks like you two are a bit fucked, aren’t ya?” He said, as he turned around. He and Kai stared at each other, locking eyes for a moment. Kai’s expression changed from one of confidence, to scanning Michael’s expression as if to determine something about him. Michael began to sidestep, but not before Kai reached up and placed a hand on his shoulder, much to Michael’s distaste.

“Not as fucked as you’re gonna be. Shaun.”

Shaun took the subtle hint and turned, walking to the two men who were now feet from the confrontation, and stood in the way to bar them. They both turned to each other, shared a glance and cracked a smile each.

The man in the tracksuit had a deep, rumbling voice. “I don’t feel good about beating up a kid

Shaun held out his arms slightly, a calmness in his voice.

“Let’s be reasonable, yeah? No need for this to turn south. Let’s just stop and-”

Shaun felt a fist plunge into his stomach, catching him off guard and causing him to lean forward.

Kai turned around to see what was going on. Michael broke from his grip and bolted for the door. Kai grabbed the bottle off the table and swung around, aiming to strafe around the hired muscle, who was reaching out to grab him and thwart that attempt. Shaun didn’t wait for him to try, and grabbed the arm that was pulling away from his torso. Once he had a grip, he threw the arm to the side, causing one of the men to stumble and knock into the other. Both of them were caught off balance as the one who was shoved caused the other to strike into the wall.

Kai made a break through the door, bottle in hand. The two thugs both swore between them. The dark skinned one kept his eyes on Shaun, whilst the other was turning to leave.

Shaun grabbed him by the shirt so that when he went forward, he lurched and strained the fabric, and Shaun pulled him back to get his attention. Both of them stepped forward, bolstered by outnumbering and out-sizing Shaun at every step. They had nearly a foot of height over him at least, towering down on him. This didn’t stop Shaun from walking forward, meeting them in their personal space.

“I was gonna be nice, but I’ve changed my mind. You’re both under arrest.”

They both shared a low chuckle, and the one in the tracksuit let out a louder laugh.

“Yeah, boy, what’chu gonna do to-”

Shaun raised his hand and struck him across the face with his backhand. He didn’t stop rolling on the floor until he slammed into the opposing wall, causing one of the paintings that was hung up to rattle and come lose, striking him on his shoulder.

The other guy’s face dropped, turning an even paler shade of white. Shaun didn’t give him the pleasure of chatting and raised his other hand, striking across his face with an open palmed slap. His body tumbled, colliding with his colleague into the wall, both out with a single show of force.

Michael bolted past a silver car that was parked just outside the Red Bull, almost stumbling into it as he made a break across the road. As he scrambled to get clear and gather some distance, Kai leapt down the three steps that were separating the pub from the pavement below and weighed the bottle in his hand for a moment. He already knew how to use it from the moment he saw it. Instinctive tugs from his powers already gave him insight into how best to use it as a bludgeon, but now as he thought about throwing it, his muscles had already learned how to turn it into a projectile.

Kai took a step to run forward, then pelted the bottle. It spun through the air until it came into contact with the nape of his neck. He didn’t want to aim for the head, as it may have caused more damage than allowed, but the nape would have stunned him regardless.

Michael felt the glass bottle strike him, and he took one step before he fell over onto his face. The bottle deflected off him, launching a little into the air before dropping down and shattering on the floor in the middle of the road. He lay there as Kai ran over, handcuffs in hand.

He kept him on his back and kelt down, pushing his knee into his spine. There was a little struggle between them as Michael tried to stop his arms from being grabbed, and tried to keep his arms apart when Kai shoved the handcuffs over them.

“You’re nicked. Up and at ’em.”

Kai stood up once he was physically detained by the cuffs and grabbed him by the clothes, hauling him to his feet. He made sure Michael was in front of him at all times and kept pushing him forward, making him walk quicker than his staggered state would allow. When they got to the car, Kai fished out the keys from his pocket, and unlocked the rear doors before unceremoniously shoving Michael into the back seat, slamming the door afterwards.

Michael sat up, but didn’t seem to want to cause any further fuss and simply glowered in the back seat.

Kai shoved the keys back in his pocket and dusted his hands. “Alright. One down, two to go.”

Just as Kai had started to walk over and reached the steps of the Red Bull, Shaun had made his way outside. Over his left and right shoulder with an arm over each to keep them in place, he carried both of the thugs and hopped down the steps. He nudged his left shoulder up, where the black skinned man had a pair of handcuffs on. The other man was lacking, his hands dangling free below him.

“I’m a bit disappointed. Only took me one punch to beat them.”

Kai just shrugged, smiling slightly, a dry sarcasm in his voice. “Damn. What a pity.”

“I only had one set of cuffs.” Shaun said, shrugging. Both men bobbed up and down in the air. “What are we going to do with the other goon?”

“Spare set in the glove compartment.” Kai nodded, then turned and walked back to the car. Shaun followed with him, and when Kai opened the back door, Shaun dumped the unconscious body into the back seat, and he landed with his head on Michael’s lap. Michael had shuffled over to the far side, but even then he wasn’t far enough to avoid any contact with the body. Kai meanwhile opened the passenger seat and flicked open the glove compartment, grabbing a spare set of handcuffs that lay on top of an extendible police baton and a taser. The second thug couldn’t resist as he slapped the cuffs on him, and Shaun hoisted him up and dumped him on the back seat.

“Make sure they’re sat up. Needs to look professional.” Kai said, giving Shaun a flick-point. Shaun nodded and obliged, leaning over the pair of bodies and began to rearrange them. Michael stared at Shaun as he did so, and it wasn’t until a second passed that Shaun noticed and returned the look. They looked at each other for seconds, and Shaun felt a mild discontent in keeping him in his sights for too long. He frowned, and returned to adjusting the men in their seats.

“Just remembering your face.” Michael said.

Shaun stopped for a second, then turned to him. “Yeah, that’s a really creepy thing to say. Prison’s gonna love you.”

Michael grinned widely, stretching his lips across his face. Shaun frowned even harder at him, and finished sitting up his hired muscle properly. He stood upright before closing the door with a flick of his wrists.

Shaun opened the passenger seat door and sat down, interlocking his fingers and cracking his joints. Kai was already sat in the driver’s seat and revved up the engine, turning his head to Shaun.

“Good work. Knew it would be easy.”

“I expected a bomb or something.” Shaun said. “Big explosion, death trap sort of thing. Maybe work’s just getting my expectations up.”

“You never know. Buckle up.”

Shaun nodded, and locked his seat belt in place. “So, next step?”

“We drag them back to HQ, put them into custody, and get them ready. I’m gonna be interrogating our new acquaintance Burnham to find out what’s going on. Then, we see how many years and convictions we have evidence for, and make sure he spends as much time in jail as we can physically get for him.”

“Sorted.” Shaun said, putting his hands behind his head.

Michael remained silent as Kai slipped the car into first gear, and began to pull away from the Red Bull pub. He only began to smile and feel a moment of satisfaction when he saw it finally fade out of view in his side mirror. He wound down the window with a push of a button and let the cold night air brush against the back of his neck again, shifting up gears and heading back to headquarters with due haste.

Discoveries: 3-6

“Sure.” Shaun said. “Sounds great.”

Artifex nodded to himself. Visionary was smiling, as was Sage. Messenger hadn’t responded, but The Designer’s face lit up. She clapped her hands together, very rapidly without much force behind any of them.

“I knew it!” Her grin widens. “I thought these designs would catch your attention. Truly, my greatest work yet. Shaun, why don’t you elaborate on what you like about them for the rest of the meeting?”

Shaun glanced around the room. “Okay, put me on the spotlight, why don’t you. The name’s good. Just like you said, it’s not too out there, but it sounds cool. The costume doesn’t make me look stupid either. You said it better than I did.”

Sated with that answer, The Designer nodded. “Great! Just fab. I knew it would be a winning combination. Artifex, would you go over the final bits? The more nitty gritty details.”

Artifex nodded, then cleared his throat. “Right. Just final details needed. The suit, it’s unique. I was told to design a material that was tougher than anything else. You see, when I design armour, I think about three big things. Flexibility, durability, weight.” Artifex raised a finger for each word he said in that small list. “If you improve one, the other two are sacrificed. You make it more flexible, you have to lower the weight and make it weaker. That’s not problem, you design armour to individual. With this boy, I can make really heavy, moderately flexible armour. It’ll just be really heavy, but for him, not much of problem. Needs to be tough enough to take what he gets hit with. That I don’t know, so I made it as tough as I could.”

“I was working with an experimental material. Much like others, but was too heavy for conventional modern body armour. It showed amazing properties, normally very tough and still has the non-newtonian properties of other armours, but it wouldn’t work. Not for anybody else. All it took was the basic design, which The Designer gave me, few days ago. Should have it all ready in a day or two.”

Sage turned to Artifex, the first time she’d spoke in the meeting. “That’s very quick of you, Artifex. You do work fast.”

“Like I said, was already working on it. Had the material, computer scans of boy when he visited my lab provided basic measurements. The Designer confirmed them, gave the initial prints for work. My 3D Printers have been working on it for the past three days, non-stop. One, maybe two more and it’ll be ready.”

“Excellent.” Sage responded. “We’re happy to have such excellent service contracted to our organisation.”

“Eh, you pay well and on-time, have had much worse partners.” Artifex shrugged, leaning back in his chair “More than happy to for the NFU. This one, it was interesting at least. Something different than normal. Usually it’s just a different type of weapon, different gun modifications. This one was much bigger, it kept my attention more.”

“I believe we’re concluded then.” Messenger spoke, bringing his hands together. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. The Designer, Artifex. You’re free to go.”

The Designer nodded, then clapped her hands together. “Artifex, darling. Would you help me move these easels for me?”

Artifex grunts slightly, and stands up. He grabs his jacket off the back of his chair and puts it on hastily. “It’s not like you can’t do it yourself.” Despite this, he goes over and lifts one of the easels up, taking one in each hand. Sage watches him with a curiosity, though she looks more through him than at him. The Designer takes the last one in her hands, and bows her head to the Directors as she starts to shuffle out of the room.

“Always a pleasure. Do let me know if you’ve got more work for me, new agents who need names and outfits.”

Sage nods and smiles. “We shall. Your work for the NFU is greatly appreciated.”

With a grin, The Designer and Artifex make their leave out of the room, heading for the elevator.

Messenger stands up and tugs on the lapels of his suit jacket. “It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Shaun.”

Sage turns to Messenger and stands up as well, nodding her head. “Before we’re concluded, Messenger. Might I have a word? It doesn’t need to be private. I figured as we’re here, face to face, I might as well enquire.”

In response, he nods. “Of course.”

“I requested a week off on holiday after the next week. Would you authorise that for me?”

Messenger studies her face for a second. “I see no issues with this. I’ll make sure you’re entirely off-call for that week. Nobody should contact you. Continue investigating in peace”

Sage nods slowly. “That’s all I wanted to know. Thank you. I’ll report what I find back to you on the following morning.”

Messenger nodded, and they both walked out of the door. Sage stopped just before Shaun and looked at him for a moment, before widening her smile and walking outside.

Shaun turned his gaze from her to Visionary, and leaned back on his chair. “What do you think they were talking about?”

“I wish I knew.” Visionary responded, starting to stand up. “I feel when we’re meant to know, we’ll be informed. Until then, all we can do is speculate.”

“Did you get the feeling she said it then and there so we knew?”

“Possibly. I try to question it less and assume they know what they’re doing.”

Shaun puts his hands on the table and pushes himself up. “You put a lot of trust into her.”

Visionary nods. “Her powers give me a lot of reason to have some blind faith.”

Shaun nods slowly. “I don’t think I could have that much trust in her.”

“You’ll get used to it. It takes time.”

Visionary stood up herself, and she and Shaun walked out of the room with her in the lead.

“I guess we’ll be calling you Verus from now on.”

“Looks like it.” Shaun turned his head to her. “What do you think of it?”

“I like it, personally.” Visionary smiled. “I think it’s fairly unique. It’ll catch attention.”

“Yeah, maybe. Hey, we’re doing training afterwards, right?”

Visionary nods, whilst pushing the button to operate the lift.

“I left my bottle of water in the handover room. Is it okay if I grab it and meet you there?”

“Sure. I’ll meet you in the training room shortly.”

Shaun nodded. When the lift doors parted, they walked down a corridor briefly. They parted ways for the time being with Shaun picking up the pace and almost jogging to make his way back to the room where they had handover. After making his way back, he swiped the bottle and walked outside, screwing open the cap. He lifted it up and drank, swallowing it down until the plastic was empty, and wiped his chin from the stray streak of water that escaped his lips.

He discarded it into the next bin he found, before doubling his pace and making his way over for training.

23 new emails.

4 missed calls.

11 new messages.

Messages:

From: Anna

Today, 11:36am

Steady trending increase of ‘eldritch powered cars’ on social media. 28.1K tweets on Twitter. Stocks up by 1.83% in MAGI-Tech. – Anna

Delete message?

Cancel.

Artifex lay his phone down on the table. He looked upwards and around the cafeteria of the NFU, glancing at the bustling activity around him. Despite how busy it was, he was sitting on a table by himself. Laptop to the left, phone to the right, and a ciabatta sandwich on the middle of his plate, dead centre next to his can of Coke. He was used to noise above all things, and constantly needed it around him as it gave him a strange sort of focus, but it was the kind of noise where it was more quiet than anything he really knew.

People moved around him, socialised and walked past his table, but nobody was doing so with him. It was a unique kind of busy silence, where he could enjoy a few moments to himself and actually think about what he wanted to do, without the constant stream of questions of interns, probing his latest ideas or being unable to take initiative and requiring him to point everything out to everyone, one at a time.

On the laptop screen was a PDF file, a blueprint design. It appeared square in nature with a large purple gem embedded in the centre, and several wires leading out of the device with no specific end to where they lead to. Along side it were a list of calculations of performance, power generation and longevity. He glanced over them for another moment, before he closed the file on his laptop and tilted the screen down until it fully closed.

He dug up his ciabatta and took a single bite, and the enthusiasm he had for chewing on it slowly died down. He stared at the middle of the bread, a tangled mass of pulled pork and coleslaw, and put down the sandwich whilst swallowing. If one could swallow in an annoyed fashion, Artifex had somehow managed to do so effortlessly.

“To angielskie żarcie jest do dupy. Wolałbym schabowego niż to gówno.”

He dropped the sandwich onto the plate, and it fell lifelessly onto the ceramic. He washed it down with a drink of coke, and gently let the can clank down onto the table. He spied somebody familiar walking past, and lifted his head up. When he caught their attention, he beckoned them over.

“Ah, yes. You, the boy. Come here.”

Shaun walked over with a full bottle of water, his marl blue hoodie unzipped and one hand in the pocket of said hoodie. He looked surprised more than anything, and Artifex snapped his fingers before hastily pointing at them to the chair opposite him.

“Come, sit. Don’t stand about gawking.”

“Okay?” Shaun said, complying and taking a seat. “Why?”

“We didn’t get much chance to speak before. Both times, when you came to the lab, and when we were upstairs. That is business though. No business here, just talking, chit and chat.”

“Why though?” Shaun reiterated. “Did you want to talk about something specifically, or what?”

“Nothing. In particular, anyway.” Artifex leaned back on his chair. “The way it is seen to me, you. You don’t care.”

Shaun blinked. “I care about a whole lot of things.”

“No, no. Not in general sense. You don’t care. Not for impressing others, not for kissing ass to get on better terms with boss or whatever the fuck people do to step on others to climb up business. None of that. You give proper opinion on things, honest answers. None of the normal bullshit you get.”

Shaun stopped, a pause lingered for a second. “Thanks, I guess?”

“Not problem. It’s nice when you get to speak to somebody that will tell you how it is. You ever get that feeling? Everyone trying to have own agendas, do their own thing and try to hide it. Full of shit, that’s what I think.”

“I know that feeling.”

Artifex nodded. “Good. We’ll get along fine. I’ll be honest with you then. I know a bit about you. Enough of what the files tell me.”

“Files?” Shaun asked.

“Yes. NFU, they gave me some files. They always do it when designing unique things, give me as much information as possible. Pretty sure you didn’t know that they have extensive files on you, your life, all that sort of background stuff you take for granted.”

“Not telling me everything is sort of the norm when it comes to this place.”

“Exactly. Can’t stand it.” Artifex grabbed his can of coke and took a sip. “I’m very… honest, is the best word in English. Many times I’ve had to ask one of my assistants what they think about something, and they just nod and say it’s great. So I have to ask somebody to tell me the fuckin’ truth and they tell me it’s shit, so I have to ask the first assistant ‘Why the fuck did you tell me it was great when it’s shit?’.”

“We both know they’re trying to save face, stay on good side of the big boss man. That’s bad for business. Sometimes, you need to call people out on their shit. If everyone’s too busy kissing your ass, you’ll never improve or get better.”

“I know exactly what you mean.” Shaun said, nodding. “I’m not even the boss of anybody and I feel like everyone’s trying their hardest to get me to stay, or not say something to offend me. Treading on egg shells.”

“Exactly the point.” Artifex agreed. “That’s why I think, you and I will get along. Maybe.”

Artifex’s phone vibrated again, sending out a beep. He promptly ignored it, as Shaun gave it a quick look.

“Like, this sandwich-” He grabs the ciabatta and holds it up in the air, giving it a shake before dropping it back onto the plate.. “-this sandwich is shit. You tell me this is the great British food that everyone speaks about? It’s crap. Who the fuck puts this white stuff with pork?”

“Coleslaw?” Shaun asked.

“That shit, Coleslaw. Disgusting. I mean, it would have been a perfectly good sandwich, but they add things onto it. Unnecessary ingredients, like, a normal chicken sandwich, but you put tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, those green things you get on burgers.”

“Gherkins?”

Artifex snaps his fingers. “Yes, those. Put on some spicy sauce, what’s it called…”

“Chipolte.”

“Yes, that’s the one. You pile them on, then how do you taste the chicken? It’s just a mass of fucking vegetables. You might as well go outside and eat some fucking grass. Way too complicated. Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s my powers, but everyone tries to make things too detailed, too overblown. What’s wrong with just, make it easier? Make it chicken and a bit of sauce. Or in this case, don’t put this coleslaw dogshit on my sandwich.”

“That’s a very nice rant about two pieces of bread and some cafeteria filler in the middle, Artifex.” Shaun said, leaning back. “But you’re getting really passionate about a sandwich.

Artifex snorted a little. Shaun hadn’t seem him smile up until this point. “Maybe you’re right. I have to enjoy something, even if it’s… ranting about a piece of shit sandwich.”

“It’s cafeteria food, you can’t expect it to be the best English food you’ll ever get. Kinda like buying a phone charger off ebay for a few quid and wondering why it blows up in the middle of the night.” Shaun added. He unscrews the cap of his bottle and takes a drink.

“Oh, yeah, then what do you think is good British food then?” Artifex added, reaching for his can of coke.

“You ever tried an oatcake?” Shaun asked, leaning forward.

“What’s an oatcake?”

“It’s like a pancake made out of oatmeal. You make them hot and you put cheese, bacon sausage, even stuff like eggs in them. Some people put jam or bananas in them, but those people are wrong and need to stop making oatcakes.”

“Hm.” Artifex’s phone went off again, and he ignored it again. “Doesn’t sound bad. What else?”

“Black pudding?” Shaun asked.

“What that?”

“It’s blood sausage. Made with pork and offal, I think it’s got oats in it as well.”

“Well that sounds fucking disgusting.” Artifex snorts. “That’s the worst pudding I’ve ever heard of. What’s the deal with people in Manchester and oats? Everything had oats in it.”

“Oats are delicious, that’s why.” Shaun shrugged. “You’re the genius here, you should know that. How long have you been in England, anyway? Shouldn’t you know what food we do?”

“A long enough time. Yes, and no. I’ve tried the fish and chips, the Full Monty English breakfast. I mostly go shopping in Polish shops. The food, it reminds me a little more of home that way.”

“You ever going to go back? Home, I mean.”

“Soon, yes.” Artifex glanced up and down Shaun. “I don’t get many holidays. When I do, I’ll go back. Visit the family, relax for a week or two. I’d like to think I’d do nothing but I’d probably have to keep myself busy. Hard to stop when you start.”

Shaun nods. “I’ve got a question. If you came here to do that presentation and you think the food sucks, why are you still here?”

Artifex raised his head up slightly. “Other reasons as well. I came to do a small demonstration on some upgraded items I’ve made.”

Artifex had a briefcase beside his feet and reaches down, taking it from beneath him and putting it on top of the closed laptop. He wheels the combination into place and opens it with a click, then takes out something and puts it on the table. Shaun takes a look at it for a moment; it’s about the siz and thickness of a smart phone, with a switch on the side. The front appears to be glass, and Artifex lifts it up. It has a large camera on the front, and Artifex turns it a few times in his hand to show it off.

He turns the switch on, and the camera lens opens. A high definition picture flushes onto the screen, showing them the wall to the right of them, as well as a bin where somebody was scraping off food into.

“Looks like a camera.” Shaun added.

“It is.” Artifex added, then held it out in his palm for Shaun. “Point it at me.”

Shaun did with a nod, and held it up to point at Artifex. The image of him wasn’t entirely clear. Inside of him, as if he were a silhouette was a shift of movement. Something permeated with him, that crackled and flecked off in shades of mixed reds and purples. Around him looked like static, as if he had an inch-long outline of shifting pixels.

He raised his eyebrows, looking surprised. Artifex seemed to smile again. “What you’re using is a device that lets people see if you’re Farborn or Fartouched.”

Shaun lowered it down, and offered to hand it back. Artifex took it and turned it off, slipping it into his pocket.

“Lots we don’t know about the Farside, but we know a good few things. We know that Farborn, Fartouched have some energy inside of them. Farside Energy, it is called. Not something to easily recognise, but it gives off certain signals. Sort of like a type of radiation. This device picks up on it, turns it into a visual display on the screen. You can use this to see who has been touched by the Farside. It also can scan Eldritch as well, but not the main point of it.”

“That’s really cool. What do you need it for?” Shaun asked curiously.

“Few things. Hospitals use it, to see if children are Farborn or for health checks. Sometimes, police scans need them. That sort of stuff.”

“Oh, yeah.” Shaun nodded. “I think if you wanna become an MP, you need to be checked to see if you’re Fargraced. People were worried they’d use some mind control to take over people and get voters, give them too much of a position of power.”

“That’s true. How do you know that?”

“My sixth form media class. I’m doing about the effects of the Farside on modern life. One of the things I had to check was the effect on politics, and I found out that they don’t allow Fargraced to be politicians.”

“Hm. Smart little man. Good thing you value your studies. That’s important.” Artifex added.

“Working here cuts into my school time, a lot.” Shaun said.

“Mmm.” Artifex added. He took another sip of coke. “The device. This is an upgraded model. Turns out that the old model had an issue detecting small amounts of Farside energy in people or things. Lots of things saturated with the Farside, could be an Eldritch stayed in one spot for a while, who fucking knows. The newer version will be rolled out soon, one that gives off more accurate readings, doesn’t overload, better picture feedback. Might even add a camera feature if I get time. I’ve come to give the NFU a product demonstration, and to sell it to them. I mean, I already have the first shipment ready. This is more of a stress test more than anything.”

“Makes sense. The NFU are pretty relaxed with using MAGI-Tech stuff. They seem to be the only people who use it a lot.”

“People don’t trust it.” Artifex said, waving the device around like a phone in his hand. “They don’t know how it works or what it really does, so they don’t trust it. I mean fuck, we could have cars powered by Farside energy. Reliable, renewable, efficient. With my designs, it would be safer than anything on the road. People can’t even trust electric cars, let alone anything else. I mean, the only reason I’m even making one is to prove them all wrong and because I’m personally funding it.”

“I could make a phone with a battery life of weeks. These phones-” He puts down the device and holds up his mobile. “-they work for one, two days, then they run out of power. Phone companies think this is acceptable product. That’s why they don’t want to work with me, because they know I’d run them out of business in a year.”

Shaun nodded again. He hadn’t responded much, though Artifex seemed more happy to be able to speak with somebody listening more than anything else.

Artifex took his phone and unlocked it, looking at the time. He nodded to himself and shoved the phone in the opposite pocket that held the device he brought with him, then took a stand. He begun to pack his effects away into his briefcase.

“Another meeting at twelve. Good chat. Look forward to seeing you around.”

Shaun nodded again. “Yeah, nice chat.”

Artifex grabbed his loaded briefcase off the table and turned, walking out of the dining hall. Shaun was left with the remains of his leftover ciabatta and an empty can of coke, and he stared at the space in front of him for a good few seconds.

“Well, that was something.”

Shaun scrunched up his nose with a sniff, then took another swig of water. He stood up from his chair and looked around, then scratched the back of his head. “I should probably head up, we’ve got to look at previous cases of Eldritch or whatever.”

He flipped the bottle in his hand, catching it as the remaining liquid sloshed about in the container. Shaun glanced at the sandwich on the table and shrugged before making his leave, heading upstairs to the lecture room.

Shaun and Katrina sat next to each other, staring ahead at the vacant table. They were the early ones for once, both being ten minutes early and managing to settle down fairly quickly. Katrina’s helmet was on the table, whilst Shaun didn’t have much in the way of any protective armour just yet. That he’d have to wait for, though he was already aware that he’d have to wear it a good majority of the time, as long as he worked here.

As the idea struck him, he decided to turn to Katrina and ask her. “Hey. Do you always have to wear your armour?”

She inclined her head to him, and shook it briefly. “Nah. Most people do. Might get called out and they don’t wanna have to gear up and waste time.”

“Makes sense. Just thought it was a bit weird that everyone always wore it.”

“We’re always on duty. We’re not called out a lot ‘cos we’re still all training, fresh blood, y’know?”

“I hear you.” Shaun said, nodding firmly.

Visionary opened up the door and bowed her head as she saw Shaun and Katrina. Shaun offered her a nod in return, Katrina waved. She was wearing her armour as well, and Shaun knew that soon, he wouldn’t be the odd one out in normal clothes. Of all things, he wasn’t sure if he felt relieved by the thought of that. She had a laptop bag with her, and she put it on the table to unzip it, and retrieve it to set it up.

“I’m glad we’re all here early. I hope you’ve all had a good lunch and eaten well.” Visionary said, her smile obvious behind her mask. “This won’t be too difficult. We’ll go over the basics of previous encounters we’ve had with similar Eldritch. All Eldritch are unique in their own way, so it’s guidelines and principles that you need to take in from this.”

They both nodded. Shaun sat upright, looking a little more focused than before.

A knock came through the door. The masked face stared inside with glowing, pale blue eyes.

Before even being given permission to enter, Grandmaster already pushed the door aside, the distorted echo in his voice sounding clearly through the room. Under his arm, a file was tucked away in his grasp.

“Afternoon. Hope I’m not disturbing anything.”

“We hadn’t even started yet.” Katrina said, rolling her eyes with a bit of a smirk.

“That’s swell. Visionary, I need to borrow you. Two minutes, tops.”

Visionary paused for a second. Her eyes flicked twice in opposite directions, darting out before being pulled back to her gaze on Grandmaster. “Of course.” She turns to Shaun and Katrina, taking a stand and bowing her head again. “I’ll be a few moments.”

Grandmaster lead Visionary outside, out of the line of sight of Shaun and Katrina, who were both equally confused. Visionary looked over him with concern. “What is it?”

“Nothing too pressing. Well, it kinda is. I’ve cracked it.”

“Cracked ‘it’?” She asks questioningly.

“I got that Technomad piece of garbage to tell me who got him. Ryan Macey coughed up who he was working for.”

Visionary nodded. “How did you manage to get him to talk? He’s very stubborn.”

“I’m persuasive. Nothing I’d like to go into detail here and now, mind you. But I’ve got a good lead, and my helmet told me he wasn’t lying or coercing me.” He tapped his visor.

Grandmaster showed Visionary the file and handed it to her. On the front, it was labelled with a name. Michael Burnham. She flicked open the file, her eyes darting downwards before pulling back up to Grandmaster. His picture was a man in his fourties, unassuming and very plain, other than a receding hairline and a thick nose.

“Michael Burnham?”

“Yup.” Grandmaster said with a nod. “The very one. The black market guy. Police normally deal with the scum bag but if he’s involved in this, he’s become our jurisdiction. I did a bit of research as well. He’s normally big on arms deals, even prostitution. Apparently, word gets out that he’s starting to focus a little bit more on MAGI-Tech a few months ago. He dropped everything to focus on it, broke off contacts and fobbed off a lot of big players. Really big change of plans if you ask me.”

Visionary nodded. “That’s great news then. What’s your next step?”

“I’m going to find him tomorrow and drag him in for questioning.”

Visionary paused, so that the silence was audible. “You’re going to find a well known black arms dealer and detain him by yourself, tomorrow. Forgive me for sounding like I’m having trouble believing you. I know you like to work quickly, but this is quite something else.”

“Okay, okay. Let me just explain.” He holds his hands up. “I managed to get the information out of Macey. I coerced Macey and got him to call up Burnham and told him that he wanted to meet up with him at the last spot they met. Some pub in Stockport, the Red Bull pub. Midnight, tomorrow. He agreed to it, for whatever reason. And, I’m not going by myself.”

Grandmaster pointed to the door.

“I want Shaun to come with me.”

“You want-” She turned her head, looking at the door. “-Shaun, why? He’s new, he hasn’t gone through any Out of Uniform training.”

Grandmaster nodded. “That’s exactly why I want him. He’s an unknown. Nobody knows who he is, and I can’t have somebody with noticeable powers. It’ll look too much like a sting if we have anybody with external powers with me. He’ll definitely be able to take care of himself. Perfect fit. But as his team leader, I need your permission to bring him with me.”

“This is a bad idea.” She says, handing the file back. “I don’t endorse this. This is almost reckless. Grandmaster, I’m aware that you’re driven but this feels like you’re acting instead of thinking it through.”

“This isn’t something I need to think about. Burnham doesn’t know we have Macey in for questioning. If he finds out, he’ll get the hell outta dodge and we might have a bigger problem on our hands.”

“Over a few specific thefts in a few warehouses in Manchester? It’s far-fetched.” Visionary folded her arms. “And you’re chasing at best, a gut feeling on the matter.”

“Nobody steals MAGI-Tech like that, prototype stuff and specific things if there wasn’t something going on. Nobody hires Doppler to do it if they weren’t planning something and needed a guaranteed hit. Something just doesn’t add up here, and you know it. Especially if we’re talking about this jackass putting his irons in this fire.”

Visionary paused, then shook her head. “Even so, we need to approach this carefully. This is a potentially dangerous situation.”

“You’re right. Which is why I wanna be standing next to the toughest guy in the room.”

They both shared a stare at each other, locking eye contact. Grandmaster spoke again.

“Either he comes with me, or I go alone. Either way, I’m seeing Burnham tomorrow at midnight, with or without. If Shaun’s not there to help me if shit hits the fan, can you honestly say that you want that on your conscious?”

Visionary frowned a little. “That’s a little dirty, even for you.”

“So, that’s a yes to the guilt trip?”

Visionary shook her head again, her poise covering up the defeat in her voice. “I’ll have to make sure he’s unassigned from patrol and training tomorrow to do so.”

Grandmaster leaned in and patted her vigorously on the shoulder. “Visionary, you’re a star. I owe you one, big time.”

“If this ever comes back to you in a negative way, I expect you to say I’ve had no involvement with this whatsoever.”

“You know I’ve got your back. Go break the news to him, I’ll see about arranging transport.”

Grandmaster reached over, and Visionary handed the file back to him. He gave her a flick-point with his free hand and turned on his heels, walking away with a spring in his step. He whistled down the corridor, oddly distorted by his helmet.

Visionary took a calming breath and turned around, re-entering the classroom.

Shaun and Katrina hailed her as she came in, and she took a seat.

“My apologies about that. Before we begin. Shaun.”

She turned her head to him, and he nodded. “Yo.”

“It’s come to my attention that there’s been a change of plans for tomorrow. We’re going to be scheduling you in for tomorrow evening, a very late shift. You’ll be working with Grandmaster. Is that okay with you?”

Shaun shrugged, then nodded. “Yeah, sure. My armour won’t be here yet, right?”

“I’m sure that won’t be a problem.” She said, with a nod. “I’ll make sure he debriefs you by the end of today on what you’ll be doing tomorrow.”

Visionary propped open the laptop and turned it on, eventually connecting it to the wireless projector overhead. She stood up and dimmed down the lights, taking a seat once the room was darker and the images on the board behind her were much clearer. She made sure she was sat in a way that her head wasn’t blocking any of the view before she opened up a slide show, and finally begun the presentation without interruption.

Discoveries: 3-5

“It’s time you should go to bed, Shaun.”

Shaun turned his head from the television, looking at his mum. Anne was standing in the doorway, still wearing the tabard she wore when she was looking after his grandmother. Shaun had been watching movies since he sat down this morning, only taking breaks to walk Button. The dog herself had retired to bed long before, a few hours ago when Shaun had temporarily changed to music channels to flick through. It passed an hour or two of time. Shaun had intended to do nothing this day, and he certainly managed to keep that mental promise to himself.

He looked to the television again and pressed the button to bring up information on the show he was watching. The credits for Antman were beginning to roll up the screen, showing the time to be 11:23pm. Shaun turned back to Anne and shrugged slightly, bringing one of his legs up and tucking his foot beneath the other leg’s knee.

“I was gonna stay up tonight. That okay?”

Anne frowned at Shaun, a facial expression he’d picked up from her over time from questions like these. “You didn’t get any sleep last night.”

“I know. I’ll be fine.”

“You’re going to end up hurting yourself.”

Shaun raised an eyebrow. “Kinda doubt that.”

Anne gave up on her current train of thought and tilted her head, folding her arms. Her tone sounded defeated. “If there’s one person in God’s green earth that can hurt you, it’ll be yourself.”

“I guess I’m my own worst enemy.” Shaun cracked a smile.

“You’re a bloody cheeky sod, that’s what! Alright, fine. Just don’t make too noise. Craig has work in the morning.”

“I’ll keep the noise down. Thanks, mum.”

“If it were him, he’d tell you no.”

“That’s why I asked you.” Shaun said in admittance.

Anne walked over and gave Shaun a kiss on the forehead, and he made a demonstration of wiping it off with a bit of a groan. “Night, love.”

“Night, mum.”

Anne retreated away with a weary sigh, taking flight up the stairs.

Shaun changed the channel again, and began to flick up to see what other films were on to pass the time. After flicking through a few channels, He settled on watching Kingsmen: The Secret Service, and shuffled back on the couch to get comfortable.

Once the film had ran through and those credits were rolling, Shaun eventually removed himself from the sofa. He stood and stretched upwards, then shook each leg out to the side. He glanced at his phone, having a quick look at the time. It read 01:34am, and the battery was approaching its final lifelines. He took a small stroll to the opposite end of the room, by a small table near a power socket where a spare phone charger was left. He plugged it into his phone and left it on the table, then did another small stretch with his arms outwards.

“I should practice. I actually kinda feel like I want to.” He whispered to himself. “Giles did have a point. I need to make up for lost time.”

With this in mind, Shaun put on some trainers and walked to the kitchen, swiping the keys off the side near the back door to let himself out. He stood and took a look outside as the night air lapped against his face, brushing through the trees and plants with gentle rustles of movement. The light on the back of his house flickered on, illuminating the area and the sandstone tiles he took a step onto. The grass beyond that reached out a good twenty to thirty feet in length, until it reached a wooden fence that separated it from the gardens of houses around it. An old garden shed lingered in the far right corner, from where Shaun was standing. The windows showed signs of mould and cobwebs, and the bark was beginning to peel away.

Shaun stepped onto the edge of the grass and looked around. He observed the space he had to work with, then reached up to scratch at his chin. The small amount of facial hair he had made the noise sound much more coarse than on bare skin.

“Hm. Can’t exactly try running here.”

He looked upwards, then stepped onto the grass. He turned to the left, then to the right. Eventually, he turned to his house, and sized it up slowly. An idea sprung to mind, as he spied the edge of the guttering around the roof.

“Could practice my jumping. What about… the house? Can I?”

Shaun stopped to think about it.

“Well, yeah. I should be able to.”

Shaun stood back on the harder sandstone floor for better support, and kept his eyes on the upper reaches of the roof. He pointed up, still talking to himself.

“I just… jump. That’s all I need to do. Let’s try a smaller jump first.”

He rolled his shoulders, and stretched out his legs again to make sure everything was working properly. He started with a smaller vertical jump, bouncing on the spot at a regular height. He landed, and the next jump he performed had him reaching twice as high as before. He landed with his knees bent, staying crouched for a second before standing up. He mused, considering the difference in force needed to push him into the air, and looked at the house to estimate the distance.

Taking another step back, he aimed for the roof and shunted himself up in the air. Shaun launched himself up and towards the roof but only got so far as a foot below the guttering. He hung in the air for a second, letting his foot push into the wall and staying still, before gravity claimed him again. Pushing himself away made sure he curved away from the wall, and he landed onto the paving with a dull thud.

He was staggered, but his balance was okay. He looked at the ground; to his luck, the ground didn’t seem cracked in the slightest, undamaged by his landing. With a sigh of relief, he set his sights up again, and now had a good idea how much force he needed to apply.

With this in mind, he bent his knees, and jumped over the roof of his house.

It wasn’t a feeling he could have described before. An unusual mix of freedom in those seconds he was in the air, and a total lack of control as he felt himself being pulled by the trajectory he made. He arced over the house and landed at the front, slamming into the concrete a few feet away from the family car. He didn’t hold his balance well, so he force himself to tumble forward on the ground. After his roll, he got himself to his feet and tugged on his shirt, letting a few small stones cascade from his shoulders, and some dirt to clog the air around him.

He would have turned around sooner, but his gaze was locked on the torn remains of a stump where the lamp post used to stand near his house. Once he registered what he was seeing, he turned around and stared at the house, face full of surprise and mild wonder.

“Huh. Wow.”

A smile grew on his face, and he eyed up the house again. With less time to work himself up, he sprung himself over the house once more, travelling back the way he came in a single leap. The second landing had a little more grace to it, but he landed onto the grass part of the garden and left two large footprints embedded into the soil.

He yanked his feet out of the ground, almost losing his shoes in the process, and walked onto the sandstone. Shaun was kicking the ground beneath him to dislodge any soil on his trainers, and winced as he saw the holes in the ground.

“Aw, shit.”

He thought about what he was doing for a second, then turned back to the house.

“It’s not gonna be easy to jump over here, and jumping over to come through the front door is kinda awkward.”

Shaun looked down at his shoes. Even in this light, he could see the dark tinge of dirt still coating them.

“Should be fine for now. I did something new, anyway.”

Shaun laughed under his breath. He made his way to the door and went inside, and made sure the door was locked. He made sure everything was turned off, his shoes were taken off downstairs and his phone off the table off the table, before he finally decided to give in and get himself some sleep. The last light to go was his bedroom light, and with that gone, the Lawson household went still once more.

As normal, Shaun’s mother had already gone to work by the time Shaun was up. During these dark winter mornings, the sun wouldn’t be in the sky until Shaun was at work and beginning to settle. His morning shower felt just as refreshing as the one he took yesterday, though he had much less time to indulge himself and enjoy it. He even had enough time to warm up some Pop-Tarts in the toaster and make a brew before sitting down, and having a quick check of what’s on T.V.

Shaun sat down, slipping the remaining half of a frosted strawberry pastry between his teeth. One hand held his mug of tea, the other the remote. He changed it from the movie channel he was just on prior to last night to the morning news, and put the remote on the arm of the couch.

Shaun took a bite out of his Pop-Tart and hummed to himself as he munched it down, speaking after swallowing.

“When did I start watching the news so much?”

Shaun stared at his tea for a second.

“When did I start talking to myself so much?”

With a shrug, he crammed more pastry into his mouth, and watched the news. Broadcasting on BBC1 was a gentleman in a suit, with neatly parted black hair and a London accent. He was in the main room, sitting at a desk by himself.”

The APBIF, the American Paranormal Bureau for the Investigation of the Farside, are continuing to engage in an investigation into the nature of disappearing Eldritch from all over the south of the United States of America. Nobody is quite sure why they’re vanishing all of a sudden or what the cause is, but it’s enough that people are beginning to notice the absence. There isn’t a state of emergency at the present time, and the Bureau has yet to issue a statement regarding their findings or their position on the matter.”

From what we can gather, spots where many Eldritch are held, such as the New York Eldritch Zoo remain unaffected. No Eldritch have gone missing yet, but some of the larger ranches in Texas have been cleared out, with not even the smaller Eldritch spared. Who or what is taking them is currently a mystery, but what we do know is that it’s only affecting the southern states. No animals or people have been reported missing en masse. There is however, nothing concrete just yet.”

This has been Scott Young, reporting on foreign affairs-”

After consuming his remaining Pop-Tart and drinking his tea, Shaun turned off the television. His curiosity had been piqued for the moment but he felt the pull of interest beginning to wane.

His phone began to vibrate, and he tugged it out of his pocket to check. He’d received a text, from Visionary.

Shaun, change of plans today. Handover w/Spectre in morning, then big meeting with The Designer after. Very important, Directors will be present. No patrols today. – V

“Huh.” Shaun had a tone of curiosity. He slid his phone back into his pocket, then took a stand “Great, I bet my costume’s gonna look terrible, and my name’ll be even worse.”

He went to the kitchen and ran his mug under some water to give it a rinse, and put it on the side to drain away. On days like these when nobody was going to be in the house for most of the day, their elderly neighbours, the Colemans, would make sure she was looked after. As Shaun’s grandmother required more care over time, they found they were in need of their services more often, steadily growing until they were sure Button recognised it as a second home. Both retired, Marc and Cath enjoyed the extra company, and the walk helped them to keep active and fit. It worked for everyone involved, even if Craig and Anne felt it was a burden for them.

When Shaun looked down and saw Button was sleeping, he assumed that she would have to go next door when Craig got ready for work, and didn’t worry more about it from that point onwards.

Shaun wandered to the living room and took a peek out of the front window. The sun had started to climb the sky, and he saw the headlights of a black car waiting outside, parked up and ready. He grabbed his hoodie and jacket and donned them, making sure the hoodie was zipped, and tapped the front pockets. From the feel of things, his earbuds were still there, and with all criteria satisfied he dredged his key from his wallet and took it to the front door.

Unlock, step outside, lock up. Shaun put his key away, and quickly shuffled over to the car. He took one last look at home before he opened the door and slid inside, and buckled up for the journey.

“They just slip through, just like that?”

Katrina walked side by side, looking at Visionary. Both were wearing their respective suits of armour, though Katrina held her helmet underneath her arm as they walked down the corridor. Visionary’s face was covered with her mask, and she turned her head as she spoke to maintain eye contact.

“As far as we know. Eldritch just appear. All evidence points that they come from the Farside and emerge into our world, or universe, or whatever the distinction might be. Nobody has known an Eldritch to return back, but with what’s happening in America, it might even be the case.”

“Scary thought.” Katrina replied. “Less work for us to do. I’m not complaining if it lets us focus on the real scumbags.”

“It’s something to take note of. Until we hear news from overseas, we’ll have to remain focused on the Eldritch we have here. We’ve got initial reports that a large, docile Eldritch has been seen on the border of Cheshire, Bayard or Hecatonchire-class. We’re organising an effort to contain it and bring it in safely in the coming week. If it’s docile, I’ve asked that my team be the Recon Squad in lead of the operation.”

“I’m all over trial by fire. Throw me into the deep end, see how well I swim.”

“Try to walk before you run, we have ample time to train you. We’ll also need to go over the proper radio terminology for you.”

They approached the door for the small room where they had morning handover, and Visionary pushed the door open. Already present, Shaun sat there with steepled fingers, watching them as they arrived.

“Visionary, Spectre. Glad you could make it. I bet you’re wondering why I’ve gathered you here today for this meeting.”

They were both surprised, and Katrina smirked at Shaun’s attempt to sound authoritative. He took the half full bottle of water that was next to him and screwed off the lid, taking a swig.

“You’re in early, Shaun.”

“You made it sound like it was a big day today. I thought I’d get in early and be ready.”

Visionary nodded and moved into the room, unblocking the doorway for Katrina to come in as well. They both took a seat, and Katrina rested her elbow on the back of her chair, bringing her foot underneath the opposite thigh.

“Very well. I’ll get started with the handover then.”

“No laptop today?” Shaun asked, glancing over Visionary’s personal effects effects. She lifted up a folded piece of paper she withdrew from her belt and began to unfold it.

“As much as they encourage us to make a paperless office, one sheet isn’t going to cause any harm.” She said with a smile. “As per standard handover, we’ll go over any events of importance. Katrina, Shaun and I will be attending a meeting today with The Designer. It was due to be on Monday but she had an apparent ‘breakthrough’ and urgently called it in, so we acquiesced, and the Directors agreed to it. We’re not sure how long it’ll take, so I’ve asked Grandmaster to give you some basic training on radio signals and code words, as well as basic comms operations. If that’s not any trouble for you.”

She shrugged in response. “Sure.”

“Great.” Visionary nodded. “We’ll be going as soon as handover is complete. I had other plans for us today for some initial preparation but we’ll have to postpone them for later. Other points of note, we’ve heard over social media this morning that there’s a large Eldritch on the border of Cheshire and Greater Manchester. We’ve had no reports that it’s hostile and size reports are inaccurate at best without pictures. We believe it to be docile, so Bayard-Class to Hecatonchire-Class in size. Oncw we’ve gathered some more information, we’ll fill you in.”

Both Shaun and Katrina nodded in unison.

“Today’s planner will be as follows. After handover, Shaun and myself will meet with The Designer and the Directors to discuss his identity and aesthetic as an agent of the NFU. Katrina will learn about comms with Grandmaster meanwhile. We’ll see how long this meeting takes and break afterwards, then do some physical training up until eleven. An hour’s lunch, then we’ll go over previous reports and recordings of Eldritch containments from twelve until one, as well as learn the basics of Eldritch protocol for another hour, until two.”

“As we’ve had to be taken off patrol for various reasons, we’ll consider it an early finish today.”

“Sound.” Katrina contributed.

“That concludes the handover. Katrina, if you’d go up to Grandmaster’s office, Shaun and myself will attend this meeting now.”

Katrina pushed her chair back and stood up.

“Ta-ra a bit.”

She grabbed her helmet and gave Visionary and Shaun a mock salute, before turning on her heels and escorting herself out.

Visionary nodded, then folded up the paper and put it back from whence it came. Shaun stood as well and stretched his arms out a little, whilst Visionary took point and they back to walk out of the room.

Shaun had a vague sense of direction, of where they were heading to. They went down corridors, passing people with generic and brief greetings, nodding heads and smiling several times along the way. As they entered the lift, Visionary pushed the button for the topmost floor, and after the doors closed they began ascended up the building.

Shaun had seen the top floor of the NFU headquarters only a few times, and today they weren’t going to the same room he knew from before. They took a right before they got there though, and they walked into a much larger conference room.

Instantly, Shaun recognised The Designer, who was standing next to two large easels. Each one of them had a sheet of paper, A2 in size. She wore a grey sweater and a long black skirt down to her knees, and over that she wore an oversized pearl necklace. Her hands were behind her front, and a grin was on her face.

Shaun recognised the two others, but the one he hadn’t seen before caught his attention. He looked in his early fourties. His hair was trim, neat, waxed and parted to one side, and he looked freshly shaved despite showing the signs of stubble already. The suit he wore looked expensive, and he had noticeably high cheek bones and a stern gaze. Beside him was Sage, who turned her head and smiled at their entry. She wore the same robes as usual, the same kind smile.

Opposite them sat Artifex. He wore a suit as well, with the jacket on the back of his chair and his sleeves rolled up just before his elbows. He looked at Shaun and Visionary for a second, and seemed to not really care either way before turning to The Designer again.

“Shaun, this is Head Director Messenger.” Visionary said, making room. Messenger stood up, and Shaun took a step forward and bowed his head. They both extended hands and shook them, and Messenger had quite a firm grip and shook twice, nodding his head as well.

“Shaun, a pleasure to finally meet you.” His accent was hard to pin down, though he was well spoken and articulate. He broke his hand away and resumed seating. Besides Sage and Artifex were a spare chair each, and Visionary was the first to sit next to Sage. Shaun took his seat next to Artifex, and The Designer brought her hands together to clap them together once everyone was present.

“Fantastic! Everyone’s here, we can begin. Thank you all for joining me today. Now I know what you’re thinking.” She folds her arms. ‘The Designer, you said you’d be ready on Monday!’ The truth is, you can’t predict things like this. Inspiration just hits you out of the blue, and suddenly everything’s already laid out in front of you. I was as surprised as any of you were. Needless to say, I fast tracked the process to get it all done. The sooner everyone sees what I’ve created, the sooner we can get Shaun’s new identity out in the open.”

“It was a tough process. I had to take everything that Shaun gave as feedback, as well as keeping my own signature flare and the ever-growing aesthetic of the National Farside Unit’s agents. Firstly, I’d like to personally thank Artifex, for lending his resources and helping to make the body armour that your agents wear. With my designs, of course.”

“Yes yes, of course. Let’s get to the point where you reveal it. I’ve been sitting here for half an hour already.” Artifex rubbed his upper lip. “I’m only here for a single announcement and because I was asked to come.”

The Designer frowns, and holds her hands together. “Oh, Artifex. Can’t you just turn the grumpiness down for two minutes?”

“We could be done in two minutes, just show the suit already.”

The Designer shoots Artifex a death glare, before she clears her throat and turns sideways. She touches her finger to the pad of paper in the middle, and colour begins to seep into the image. At first, they begin to form into the shape of the NFU logo, with shadows and shading to give off the illusion that it was floating off the page. The logo then began to move and shrink, moving away into the upper left corner.

The Designer smiles and speaks. “The National Farside Unit is an organisation founded on integrity and a simple mission, to protect the common person from any threat of the Farside that would endanger them. To this end, the agents of the NFU have to look the part. They not only have to look strong and tough enough to take on whatever the Farside can throw at us, but also to protect them. Most importantly, they need to look trustworthy. The normal man needs to look upon the agents of the NFU and say ‘Wow, this person has my back. With Shaun, we’re going to make sure that’s more clear now than ever.”

The scene on the paper changes. The area begins to darken, but a figure begins to glow out of the pitch black depths starting to permeate the page. Features become clearer, a monochrome figure that begins to seep with skin tones, a hairstyle matching Shaun’s own. Midnight blue clothes begin to form over him, starting with a defined set of boots that cut off just before the knee, and bracers that travelled halfway up his forearm. These bracers split into three segments each, and then began to form downwards like triangles, with the lowest one forming the tip near shaun’s wrist, and the topmost one became a scale on the outside of the arm that pointed in the opposite direction. These arm-guards and boots started to change colours, growing lighter until they reaches a Glaucous blue.

The figure’s upper half soon became wreathed in a jacket, with the fastenings on the right side, much the same design as Tether’s own. The fastenings on the side slid up and to the left, just at the sternum level, where they formed into prominent lapels that curved around the neck into a collar. From the top of the shoulders, down to the point where the ribs and the stomach met, formed a triangular shape of raised fabric. Forming over that tip in the centre of his chest, a three pronged shield formed over it that matched the same colour as the arm-guards and the boots. The way the upper layer formed gave off the illusion that it formed into a cape, though nothing of the sort existed on this design.

Two stripes formed down the side, separating where abdominals would be from the rest of the torso. That section remained the same, but around on the lower level became embossed with a brick-like pattern. The armour underneath the jacket started to travel upwards from behind the head, until it formed a hood. Likewise, along the front it travelled up until it covered the lower part of the face. All that was visible were eyebrows and eyes.

The image became a little clearer, until it almost looked as if it was pulled from life itself.

“Artifex and I have had to go through a very different process with this suit. Artifex, now’s the time you’ve been waiting impatiently for.”

Artifex dismissed the comment and spoke as he intended to. “Yes, you see. With most people, you think about things like… what sort of things they’re weak against. We made Tether’s armour to resist punches, kicks, knives, that sort of stuff. He has to get close, so we make him good at being close. This one, the boy’s armour, is different. We don’t have to worry about that. I made a suit of armour that could withstand him.”

Artifex points to Shaun, who looks surprised at suddenly being called out.

The Designer took over. “We made the armour much heavier, and just as flexible, so it’s a lot more durable. Shaun doesn’t care about weight, so it works in our favour. And now, for the important part! The name.”

The design shrunk again, and moved lower down. Five blocks appeared in white, slowly starting to form into the shapes of letters, and rapidly sped up until they formed a glowing, single word.

Verus.

The silence deafened the room.

“Verus. Latin for truth, what is right and just. Verus was also a gladiator, but we’re looking at the more literal version of the word than the person behind it. It’s not too formal, not too casual. It’s easy to say, and it stands out. It’s not flamboyant and it’s not a word that people will instantly know. It even rolls of the tongue, and sounds gentle enough to people. It fits all the criteria I was given. The design of the armour is everything you wanted. No capes, a jacket, and something that says you’re strong, you’re tough, but you’re here to protect the common person. This is the image the NFU wants, a young man with the public in mind, who’ll stand up to any challenge and who’ll never back down.”

The Designer took her hand off the paper, and the images became still. All people of the room began to nod amongst themselves. Almost all at once, their heads turned to Shaun, who found it dawning on him that they were suddenly waiting for an answer. He sat a little more upright in his chair, and studied the designs for a second.

The Designer smiled widely, and waited in awkward silence. “Well Shaun, what do you think?”

Discoveries: 3-4

“I’ve never been so happy to see a wall without a hole in it.”

Shaun glanced behind him as the car began to pull away, driving off out of the cul-de-sac slowly. His attention turned back to his house, scanning upwards. Where his bathroom had been caved in originally, it had been totally repaired. A pristine colour of red bricks stood out as an odd patch where the Eldritch had been thrown through the wall before, and Shaun gazed upon it and smiled.

“Except for this morning. That… wasn’t a wall though, technically.”

Shaun scratched his chin.

“Kinda not a wall. Doesn’t count.”

Shaun shrugged, and made his way to the door. He tapped down on the handle once and felt it was locked, and took out a key from his wallet to make his way inside. He was soon accosted by familiar barks as Button rushed over to his side and began to scale up his legs, resting her paws on his shoulder and assaulting his face with licks and nose rubs. All Shaun could do was laugh and ruffle up the fur on the sides of her body, trying to coax her down.

“Woah, hey, missed you too, Button.”

The dog settled down and clambered off Shaun, and he ruffled the top of her head. Moving to scratching behind her ear, her tail wagged furiously behind her, and he chuckled softly.

“Missed you. You know that though. Mum and dad must be at work today.”

Shaun kneels and pats her on the side a few times, before standing up and moving into the kitchen. It was wide, spacious with black floor tiles and tanned brown wood for all the fixtures, and a black marble top for the surfaces. He grabbed a mug from a slim cabinet to the left, as well as fishing out a teabag and a small pot where they held the sugar. He put them next to the kettle, with enough water left inside for a few cups, and pushed it on to let it boil. The teabag was thrown haphazardly into the mug, and he pulled open a draw so he could spoon a cup of sugar inside.

The kettle boiled by the time he took some milk out of the fridge, and he constructed his mug of tea with some haste. Still steaming and freshly boiling hot, Shaun brought the mug to his lips and tipped back, not finishing until the contents had been necked down in a single stroke.

Sighing with relief, he shoved the mug into the sink and gave Button another ruffle over her head, then pointed to her basket. She complied and sat down, tail still wagging happily.

“Going for a shower. Stay put for a bit.”

A quick dash upstairs, and Shaun stood in the door of his freshly built bathroom. The layout was the same; a mirror to the right, the bath and shower combo to the right. The floor had changed to grey tiles, with hints of brown in patches against the light. The walls were tiled in a sandy brown, and where the cabinet was old and worn before, this one was new and fresh with a large mirror on the front. The bath itself had stayed the same, but the shower was not only a shower head that could be removed, but one installed into the ceiling, twice as large.

“Damn.

Half an hour later, Shaun emerged from the shower, wrapped in a towel covering him from the chest downwards. Steam poured out from the open doorway, so much so that it looked like the work of a Farborn. His hair was damp, and some attempt had been made to dry it, though it was sticking out in awkward placed.

“That was the best shower I’ve ever had.

After drying himself off properly and tending to his hair. He brushed his hair to the side with a hand, still the same dark blonde he was accustomed to, and dug through his wardrobe for some fresh clothes. His jacket lay on the bed, as well as the rest of his normal clothes that he wore when he was on duty. He pulled out a long sleeve plaid shirt and a white shirt, as well as a pair of black jeans. Donning them, he went downstairs whilst rolling up the sleeves up his arm, so that they were just above his elbow. He walked into the kitchen and whistled sharply, and Button eagerly rushed to his side. He fetched an extendible leash up to her collar and ruffled her hair again, making sure he had some plastic bags with him before he began to lead her out of the house.

“Let’s go for a walk. We’ll go see what’s up with Josh afterwards.”

Once they left the house, he locked the door and gave the lead a quick shake. Button tugged against Shaun, and with a hop he turned to join her, briskly walking down the pavement with a vigour infused speed in the pair of them.

The path he took here was familiar for several reasons. As he walked down the beaten dirt track, he was reminded of every previous time he’d been down here with her, as well as the time Josh and himself had been to see the Eldritch that Shaun was briefly acquainted with. In a way, that alien beast was a catalyst for several changes, of which some Shaun wasn’t entirely confident about. It wasn’t just the change of schedule and new places, new people and even a job that was new. He felt less bound by his own powers, more comfortable in his own skin when he felt what his body might actually be capable of. Even then, he wasn’t certain about anything.

There was still a taste lingering, a distrust for the NFU from what he’d been told and how he’d seen a few of their behind the scenes operations skim to the surface on occasion.

There was a lot to think about as he waited, glancing down to Button. Squatting on a patch of grass, relieving herself. Shaun had a bag wrapped in his hand ready. When she stood up fully on all fours, Shaun made sure she stepped aside before he bagged it up.

On their way to Josh’s house, he made sure it went into the red dog waste bin that was nailed to a wooden post on the pathway. Shaun took a second glance at it, and nudged it with his foot. It nudged slightly, and he could see that the hole it was stuck into had looked recently unearthed. He glanced down to Button questioningly.

“You think somebody knocked this over or something?”

Button panted and wagged her tail. Shaun shrugged, and lead her down the path, and they stopped further down the way as they came upon the construction site.

“You’d think this would be done by now.”

The construction site was still gated away, though that was all that seemed to be left. Either they were in no rush to finish off the work they had started, or they had abandoned it all together for the time being. There wasn’t a shred of construction tools, no sand bags or markings that any work had been done in the last week or two. As far as it stood, it looked freshly abandoned, left to become an unfinished part of the background.

Shaun paid mind to it, considering what the implications were, then tugged on Button’s lead gently to get her to follow him. They were only a few minutes away now, and Shaun had taken Button on a long enough walk that he could find out what was going on without being concerned with her.

Josh’s house was almost identical to the others on this row, when Shaun took a second to look at it. It was spacious for two people to live in, and the orange brickwork contrasted with the black tiles above and white trim elsewhere on the building. This house in particular had a large enough garden to sport a small pond for a few Koi and Goldfish. In the summer, there would be a large quantity of frogs as well. Sadly, in such seasons of winter, it was all but bare except for the fish and the neighbourhood cat who wandered through.

Shaun always knocked four times, and he waited until Mary opened up. She brought the door open, and greeted Shaun with a warm smile. She had little resemblance to Josh. Where his hair was curly and dark, hers was straight and light brown, parted neatly in the middle. He was shorter than average, and she was taller, and she carried more weight than he did. She was wearing a sky blue blouse and dark jeans, and she stood aside to let Shaun in when she saw him.

“Hey, Mrs Watkins. Is Button allowed in?”

“Hey, Shaun. As long as she doesn’t sit on the sofa.”

“Ace.”

“I’ll put the kettle on.”

She lead Shaun in. She went to the kitchen to fix up some tea, whilst Shaun got himself comfortable on the couch. Button was eyeing the spot next to him, and Shaun shook his finger at her, then pointed to his side. Almost in defeat, she sat next to him and wagged her tail, and he gave her some attention to the ears in the form of scratching them.

The rest of the living room was another black leather sofa, and both joined together into the right hand corner with a small table between them. In the opposite corner was a flat screen television on a glass stand, with a fireplace to the right of that. Above the fireplace was a family picture; a much younger Josh and Mary posing for a family picture together. On the mantle piece below were various ornaments, including a vase full of hyacinths. The floor was some kind of wood, and the walls were a neutral white. On the TV was a weather forecast.

Mary returned with two mugs of tea and gave Shaun his, and he politely accepted it with a smile and a ‘thanks’. She puts hers down on the table and sat on the opposite sofa to Shaun, and he shuffled closer to her so they could talk properly.

“So, how’s things with you, love?” She asked, inquisitively.

Shaun took a healthy gulp of his tea, then put his on a coaster next to her mug. “Things aren’t going too bad. How about you? You managing okay?”

“I’m making do.” She said, her smile flickering. “Working at the café is giving me hours, but things are tight. Having to cut a lot of corners to make do. It ain’t easy, but the alternative ain’t better for neither of us.”

Shaun shook his head. “No, yeah, I agree. You’re doing good. Wish I could help you.”

“Aye, I appreciate it love, but don’t worry. We’ll get by.” She said, putting on a braver smile.

“If there’s anything I can do to help-” Shaun says, leaning towards her. “-you just have to ask. You know that.”

“I know, Shaun.” She reached over and patted him on the hand. “Your dad said the same, but there’s nowt I can ask for that’s too much to ask of anybody.”

“Sounds like dad alright.” Shaun grabbed his tea, and took another swig.

“How’s that work you’re doing?” She asks, taking her tea and blowing on it before having a small sip.

“Work’s alright. Getting to know how things work, going out and doing a bit of the stuff on the streets. Did mum tell you about that?” He put the mug down on the coaster.

“She did, aye. Josh said something about it as well, though it weren’t polite. Something like ‘he’s at that effing police place again’.”

Shaun stared for a second and nodded.

“When did that start happening?”

“Reckon it was about a few weeks ago. Probably about the same time that you started working.”

Shaun nods again. “Sounds like he’s been acting a bit crappy since I’ve been working. Anything else off about him?”

She glances upwards to the ceiling, then turns her attention back to Shaun. “He’s just been acting funny. Normally he comes in, says hi, tells me school is fine and goes upstairs. Playing on hix x-box or looking at… well, whatever teenagers look at on t’internet. He’s not even talking to me now when he comes in, and if I do he’s got a right mood on him. Half the time he’s got a face like a smacked arse, the other time he looks like a bulldog licking piss off a nettle. I didn’t raise him like this, the ungrateful sod.”

Shaun ruffles Button’s fur on her head, and she began wagging her tail again. “Yeah, normally he’s a bit of a bell end, but not this much.”

“If you could just talk to him and see what’s up with him, that’d just be something. I have the feeling it might be because you’re not spending as much time together.”

Shaun raised an eyebrow. “You think he’s being this way because of me?”

“Mother’s intuition.” She said with a smirk. “But it’s the only thing that I can think of. Well, there’s the other thing.”

“The other thing?” Shaun asked, grabbing his mug and taking another sip.

“Shaun, I need you to promise me something. I know you work for the police and all now but you have to promise you won’t say a thing.”

Concern flushed over Mary’s face, as she leaned forward. Shaun tried to sound as professional as possible, though even he felt like it was a bit more of an act than he could manage.

“The NFU only deal with matters regarding the Farside. Eldritch and Fargraced and all… those sorts of things.” He couldn’t hold up the tone much longer. “So unless he’s messing about with anything like that, it’s not my place anyway.” Shaun brought the mug to his mouth.

“Oh, well that’s reet then.” She says, sighing in relief. “Shaun, I think Josh has been doing weed.”

Shaun kept the mug at his mouth for a second, as he began to remember. “What makes you think that?”

“’cos he stinks of weed. He thinks a can of Lynx is gonna cover it up, and I know that smell anywhere.”

Shaun paused for a second, opening his eyes a little. “Oh. His dad.”

Mary nodded. “Aye.”

Shaun looked at his mug for a second, then lowered it for a second. “Alright, tell you what. I’ll go up and have a chat with him and see if I can talk some sense into him, find out what’s the matter with him. Dunno if it’ll work but it’s worth a shot.”

“If you could Shaun, I’d appreciate it.” Mary smiled.

Shaun brought the mug back up and necked the last of his tea, putting it on the table. Fresh steam wafted away from the hollow contents, and Shaun wiped his mouth whilst standing. “Sure.”

He patted Button on the head, and pointed to the floor. “Stay.” He told her, and turned to walk up the stairs. Mary looked at his mug for a second, then shook her head slightly.

“I dunno how that boy can drink it that quickly. Mine’s still too hot.”

Shaun hopped up each step and stood on the first floor landing. The corridor was straight, with three doors. Two on the left, one on the right. The first door was the bathroom, and the one behind that was Mary’s bedroom. The last one belonged to Josh, quite clearly marked by the A4 poster on his door.

PARENTAL

ADVISORY

THIS ROOM IS OFF LIMITS

He walked over and put his ear close to the door, hearing the sound of gunfire and the muffled speaking of a high pitched voice in an American accent. He waited for a few more seconds before standing up and knocking on the door, four times as he normally would.

There wasn’t an answer, but it sounded like the action had paused for a moment. It resumed a moment later.

Shaun knocked again and waited. Again, he was met with no answer.

“Josh, it’s Shaun.”

“Go away.”

Shaun finally got a response, one that just made him frown a bit. “Josh, I’m here to talk to you.”

“Fuck off, Shaun.”

“Yeah, your mum’s told me you’ve been acting like a dickbag, that’s why I’m here.”

“I told you to fuck off already.”

Shaun grunted, then turned his attention to the door. He grabbed the round handle and turned it, and tried to push it in. From the looks of things, it appeared to be locked.

“Hey, leave my fucking door alone, dickhead.”

“Josh, open the door so I can come in and talk to you.”

“I said fuck off already! Fuckin’ deaf prick.”

Shaun frowned, then rubbed the bridge of his nose for a second.

“Alright, Josh. Normally you act like a bit of a twat, and that’s why I like you, but you’re just acting like a total twat right now. I’ve had no sleep last night, so can we skip this whole bit of bullshit and you let me in so we can talk about it?”

“You don’t even need sleep, you bell end.”

“That’s not the point, you smarmy ass little shit.” Shaun said, rubbing down the side of his face. “Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to unlock this door and you’re going to let me in and we’re going to talk about whatever problems turned you into a fucking arsehole all of a sudden.”

“Fuck off!”

“Right. Counting down from three, then I’m coming in.”

“Don’t you fucking dare, I’ll call the police.”

Shaun raised his voice “Josh, for the love of christ, you really wanna call the police when you’ve been smoking weed? You dense fuckin’ idiot? I can lift this door off it’s hinges, and if you keep acting like a prick to me I’ll walk through the fucking wall into your room, and you know you can’t stop me if I wanted to, if you’re gonna push me like that. So you’ve got ten seconds to get this lock off the door and let me in or I’ll make a hole and make my way in.”

The house dropped silent for the next few seconds. Shortly after, Shaun heard the lock on the door click, and he sighed quietly to himself. He gave Josh a second to move away from the door before he opened the door without any resistance.

Josh was in a black hoodie and jeans, sitting in front of his television. The main menu from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was on the screen, and Josh hadn’t even made eye contract with Shaun as he walked in, and sat on his normal chair. He looked at Josh, then the screen. Josh had his arms folded, and was looking away from Shaun. His posture rigid, eyes slowly blinking.

“Look, man.” Shaun started. “Being shitty with me is fine. If there’s some beef between us, I’m cool with duking that out, but don’t be a dick to your mum about it, okay? She’s not done anything, and she’s trying her best to keep things going.”

Josh didn’t answer.

“So what’s up?”

“Nothing.” He spoke out, quickly but quietly.

“Bullshit.” Shaun said, turning towards him. “You’ve been giving me ratty text messages since I’ve started working for the NFU, and your mum had to call me to ask me to talk to you.”

Josh didn’t immediately react, but the mention of a phone call made him glance slightly in Shaun’s direction. Shaun took it as a sign that what he said had made a little mark, if anything.

“Look, is this just about us two not hanging out much anymore?”

Josh elected to remain quiet.

“It is, isn’t it?”

“You don’t know what it’s like.” Josh said, as quietly as before.

“Well, it’s kinda hard for me to be sympathetic if you’re throwing this bitch fit, just because we don’t hang out as much. Seriously?” Shaun said, incredulously. “Is that it? Just that?”

Josh burst out from his chair, and his tone raised until the bottled up emotions made his voice crack.“You don’t know what it’s like! You’re my only friend at school and you’re the only person I hang out with outside of school. People are starting to give me shit because you’re not around, saying your fuckin’… boyfriend’s not around to talk to you and back you up, and I really can’t be fucked with taking it.”

“Are people really saying that?” Shaun asked.

Josh glowered. “They’re saying all sorts of things. Fucking cunts.”

“Look, I’ll talk to them-”

“No, you don’t get it, do you?” Josh interrupted. “It’d be proving them right. You always do stand up for me.”

“Well you don’t exactly stand up for yourself.” Shaun raised an eyebrow. “Just trying to be a decent fucking friend, you know?”

Josh stood for a second, without speech. He slumped into his chair, his expression of anger turning more sorrowful. “And you’re not around and they give me shit for it. Nothing big, just little comments here and there, taking the piss out of me. Snide little things that can’t be proven, so I can’t do shit about it, and there’s more of them so nobody would believe them. And if I go for them, they can just put it down on me. And if I ask you or you do something about it, they’re right. And i’m just a coward who hides behind you.”

“Nobody should be going for anybody. You’d better not be planning anything.”

“No, man, no, fuck that noise. I’m not some high school American shooting waiting to happen. It’s just… it fucking pisses me off.”

“Gathered. But, look dude. I’ve got important things to do. I know we’ve not been hanging out much lately but I’ve been doing work. I’m doing a lot of important shit. I didn’t mean to be neglecting our bro time but I can’t just hang out with you as much as we did. Sort of the shit point of growing up, I guess.”

“I know, man. Fuck. I just… don’t talk to anybody else. I’ve got my gamer clan, but that’s here.”

“Try talking to other people then.” Shaun suggested, leaning back in his chair. “I don’t know. Find a new hobby? Talk to other people?”

“Everyone just thinks I’m turning into a stoner. There’s Greg, but he just wants me to buy more weed. He doesn’t give a fuck about anything else. I get to smoke with him outside of school, sometimes go to his when I buy some stuff, but he’s not my mate, you know?”

“That’s stoners for you.” Shaun shrugged.

“Dude, I don’t wanna turn into that.” Josh leaned forward, pushing his glasses up his nose. “I don’t wanna be some scummy stoner fuckbag who just smokes weed and doesn’t shut the fuck up about smoking weed, but if you’re not around dude, I don’t have other choices.”

“Fuck, I don’t know, man. Don’t make me feel guilty about it. I just met people at work, that’s all. I don’t know what to do.”

Josh and Shaun sat in silence for a moment. Shaun broke it.

“Your mum knows about the weed by the way.”

Josh turned his head slowly. “Shit.

“She doesn’t seem to be angry about it.” Shaun added. “She’s worried. You can understand why.”

“Fuck.” He leaned back into his chair, holding his hands to his face. “Shit, fuck, shitfuck.”

“Man, I’m cool with it. I don’t care, I told you about this, but, you need to talk to your mum about it.”

“She thinks I’m gonna turn out to be like him.” Josh said, throwing his hands onto his knees. “That’s the last thing I want.”

“Dude, no.” Shaun said, sitting upright and turning directly to Josh. “I never met the guy, but he sounds like a total arsehole. You’re like, only half an arsehole at the best of times. You’re not like him.”

“Thanks, fuckwit.” Josh said, deadpan. “I haven’t given her much reason to think otherwise. Smoking weed, being pissy with her.”

“Don’t let it go any further, then. I’m not telling you to stop, I’m telling you to talk to her. She’s worried, and you’re her son, dude. Fuck, I know I fall out with my dad once in a while, but that’s just families when you live with people who have different opinions.”

Josh nodded slowly, staring at the screen.

“If people give you shit, let me know. Even if they give you shit, I’ll put them in a dumpster. That’s where trash normally goes.”

“Jesus.” Josh turned to Shaun. “That was bad.”

“Fuck off.” Shaun said in jest. “I’ll still throw them in a dumpster. I don’t give a fuck. You’re my best mate, they can all fuck off if they’re gonna be bell ends like this. They give you shit, they give me shit, and people don’t give me that shit without thinking twice.”

“I dunno if that’ll help.”

“It’ll make you feel better.”

“I dunno about that either.”

Shaun shrugged.

“So we cool?”

“I guess.” Josh said, though his tone made it hard to tell if he was serious or joking.

“No more hissy fits, you fucking drama queen. Next time, I’m ripping the door off.” Shaun pointed to him. Josh raised his hands up in defence.

“Okay, okay! Fine, fuckin’ hell.”

“Tell you what. Sometime, we’ll go to the pub together, and we’ll see about making new friends, and then maybe you’ll have more people to chat to. Or look into getting a hobby. I just can’t be around as much as before, dude, and it fucking sucks, but I’ve got shit to do. Important NFU shit.”

“Yeah.” Josh says. “That might work. I dunno. You’d better promise.”

“Promise.”

“Right.” Shaun said, standing. “As much as I’d like to kick back and play Cod with you, I wanna go home and do jack shit for a good few hours on my day off.”

Josh shrugged. “A’ight. Thanks for coming over, dickhead.”

“Anytime, fuckface. Just do one last thing for me before I go.”

“What’s that?”

“Come down and talk to your mum.”

Josh sat in silence for a second, then nodded to himself. “Probably a good idea.”

Shaun nodded, and Josh got up out of his chair. He tugged down on his hood, revealing his mane of curly hair. They both descended down the stairs, and Josh trudged his way into the living room. Mary’s face lit up for a second as Josh took a seat opposite her, and squeaked out a “Hey, mum.” She reached over and pulled him into a quick, tight embrace. Shaun stood and watched, smiling.

“I’m gonna head off. You two take care. Thanks for the tea, Mrs Watkins.”

“Anytime, Shaun. Good luck.”

“See you later.” Josh said as well, giving him a nod.

Shaun mocked a salute to Josh, and grabbed Button’s lead. He made sure it was fastened on to her collar before giving it a tug, and she obediently moved to Shaun’s side. He made sure that Josh and Mary were okay, and they’d started to talk before Shaun gave them a slight wave, pulled the door open, and absconded.

On the way home, Shaun mused about a few things. The journey was quick, as he took the direct route back to his house. He thought on what had happened, and the previous patrols he’d had to do with the NFU. Most of all, he was looking to the future, wondering what the next few days would have in stall for him. Even as he opened his front door and let Button in, something nagged at him in the back of his head. For now, he’d just dismiss it, and went upstairs whilst taking off his hoodie. Button went to her basket to lay down for the time being, and Shaun went upstairs to sort out the clothes he’d strewn on the bed previously.

He grabbed his jacket in his hands and looked at it for a second before shaking his head, then finding a coat hanger to hook it up on. Once he hung it on the handle to his wardrobe, he brushed his hair out of his face and went back downstairs. Button followed him to the living room, and lied down on the sofa next to him as he turned on the television. The news came on, and though he normally would turn it off, he decided to give it a quick watch, whilst stroking down the fur on Button’s back.

“Things are starting to feel a little more normal again.” Shaun said to Button, who just raised her head and put it on his lap whilst looking up at him. He scratched behind her ears when she didn’t respond, then changed the channels to see what films were on.

Discoveries: 3-3

18:03pm.

The more times Shaun checked his phone for the time, the longer the car journey seemed to take.

Two more minutes passed before they arrived back at headquarters. Tether and Visionary had been speaking to each other, talking about how much time off he’d be getting in order to heal up and what he could do in the meanwhile. Shaun relegated himself to listening to music for the entire journey, staring out of the tinted window until they arrived at headquarters. They poured out of the car and made their way through security and to the equipment room. Before they went inside, Visionary was in the lead and turned on her heels, causing Shaun and Tether to stop mid-stride.

She smiled beneath her mask, that much was clear. “When you’re done returning your equipment, you two just return home when you’re ready.”

“What, really?” Shaun said, his voice surprising to hear from the perpetual silence before.

“Yes. Consider your duties done today and yourselves dismissed.”

Tether. tilted his head up slightly. “What about the rest of today, like the schedule or-”

“Don’t worry about it.” Visionary cut him off. “I’ll handle all of that. Tether, you need to go home to begin healing. You’ve both done extremely well today and it’s getting late.”

Shaun raised an eyebrow, asking curiously. “Are we in trouble? It seems like just when we got back, you wanna send us home quickly.”

Visionary shook her head courtly. “No, of course not. Neither of you have done anything wrong and this went a lot better than previous encounters with Doppler. Doppler normally disables several agents before leaving. It’s extremely rare to actually be in a position where he retreated.”

Tether nodded. “Yeah, dude’s got a proven track record of wrecking face.”

Shaun took a moment to consider. “Yeah, I can see it. So we’re just good to go?”

Visionary nods again. “No tricks. You’re free to go home.”

Shaun waited a second, then shrugged. “I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

Tether nodded. “Yeah, thanks.”

Visionary nodded, and turned to enter the women’s equipment room.

Tether turned to the door as well. When Shaun didn’t immediately come inside, he propped the door open with his uncasted arm, turning to him. “I’ve only got one arm, man, I’m not using it to hold this door open forever.”

Shaun waited a moment, then reached for his belt. After he unclasped it, he walked over to Tether and held it out. Tether glanced down at it, then brought his foot to block the door whilst he grabbed the belt with his now free hand.

“Can you put this away for me? I’ve just gotta go do something.”

“Yeah, sure man. Something up?” Tether asked, glancing over Shaun through his goggles.

“Nah, I just forgot something in the training room. I’ll catch you tomorrow, alright?”

Tether nodded. “Yeah, sure man. Take care.”

Shaun nodded, and turned to leave. Tether went into the equipment room, pushing it open with his shoulder. He dropped the belt down on the first bench he walked past, shooting a quick glance behind him.

“Guess if he doesn’t wanna tell me what’s up, he doesn’t have to. Could lie a little better though.”

Tether shrugged, figuring that there was little else he could do, and began to work on getting his armour off from around his cast.

Shaun walked down the corridors. People had begun to grow thinner in numbers at this time, sparsely meeting anybody along the way. A few nods were given to the people that walked past, though he hadn’t said hello or dispensed any other pleasantries. He was making his way, at a ponderous pace, to the training room as he said he would. He hadn’t left anything there, but it was the least filled room in the evening in his experience. Along the way, he grabbed a bottle of water from a vending machine and cracked it open, taking a single swig from between when he got it, and when he shoved open the training room doors.

The room was empty, barren of life or movements. A brief memory came across his mind, of when he was trying to catch Spectre before as his eyes glanced over that particular spot in the room. He stepped inside, pausing as he heard a large creak in the floorboard, then walked to the far end of the room. Fingers fished into his leather jacket’s pocket, retrieving some ear buds, and hooking them into the slot on his phone. He swapped the phone from hand to hand as he shifted his way around his coat, stripping himself off it before discarding it against the wall that was facing him now.

He turned, pushed his back to it and hooked up the buds to his ears, before sliding down until he sat on the hard floor. After browsing through his phone for a moment, he made sure he was hooked up to the NFU’s wifi and then started to look through movie streaming websites. After finding a link for Legend, he shuffled enough to get himself a little more comfortable before pressing play, and watching the opening sequence.

“It’s been what, a few weeks now and I’m still not sure. I said I’d give this whole thing a try and it’s been kinda cool but… It’s just not what I thought it might be. I don’t know what I even expected doing this. I didn’t think this through and I think I kinda played into somebodies hands doing this. Like Sage or whoever the hell this Head Director is. Messenger? I don’t know. All I know is, I probably should have thought it through.”

“Not to mention, it’s not like we actually win. Sure, we go out and grab a few Eldritch and haul them into a van to take them god knows where, but we faced Jolly and Visionary told me he had to get away, more or less. Then Doppler, and he got away as well. I mean, I can’t feel bad about it. I shouldn’t feel bad, but I still feel responsible for letting it happen to Alex. Maybe if I wasn’t there, Doppler would have gone easier on him. Then again, maybe I sorta helped out more than I think I did. I don’t know. It’s not like I can see into the future or anything.”

Shaun rubs the back of his head, turning his head to the side. He doesn’t look as he continues speaking.

“It’s just so fucking weird. Everyone thinks I’m supposed to be this big… thing. Yeah, okay. I don’t want to admit that I’m probably stronger than everyone, and I can’t be hurt. They can guess, but they don’t know it, but I know it. And even then, that’s all I’ve got. I’m like… the hammer that’s looking for nails. People think you can just punch all your problems away. How’s all this strength gonna help me talk to somebody, or pick a career, or know what I’m gonna do in five years time?”

He hung his head slightly.

“Y’know, I feel powerless. People expect a lot from me, but what can I do? I can’t protect people when they need it. I can’t just hit people, I’d end up killing them or breaking a lot of stuff. I don’t even want to fight. Somebody gets hurt, and I just don’t wanna hurt people. Nobody seems to realise that I might be able to throw a house into space if it all stayed together, it doesn’t mean I want to.”

Shaun picked his head up.

“But nobody I know really gets it, they don’t get it. They’ll think I’m whining or just being miserable, that I don’t appreciate it. Yeah, I do, I just don’t really have the desire to use it like other people. Up until I started here at the NFU, I’ve never really thrown a punch before. I’ve never used my powers, if you can call them that. Not on purpose. I’ve never lacked control, and I’ve never not been able to control them. So what am I worried about?”

The training dummy Shaun had been talking to for the past ten minutes still hadn’t responded.

“Hey, don’t look at me like that.” Shaun frowned, speaking in a mock tone. He reached over and lightly slapped the dummy on the head, barely causing it to move. “I spill my soul out to you and you look at me with that wooden face like that. Grow up.”

A feint snicker echoed from the other end of the room.

Shaun turned to face whoever it was, with a look of concern. On the other end was a fairly tall man, who was fairly tall and thin in the same way Alex was. He looked in his thirties, with long black hair slicked back and some neatly arranged, recently shaved facial hair. His skin was olive, and he wore a baggy grey shirt and black tracksuit bottoms. He took a few steps forward in his white trainers, which looked as if they’d been recently bought.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt you.” His accent had slight hints of a Greek accent, and he was very soft spoken. “Do carry on.”

“How long have you been standing there?”

“The last minute.” He said. He walked quite quickly, for somebody who was walking casually. “I believe we’ve yet to meet. Introductions are in order”

He extended his hand out. “Giles Mavros. Here, they call me Impetus, when I’m on duty.”

Shaun shook his hand. “Shaun Larson.”

“A pleasure.” Giles said, smiling. “It’s quite late. Do you know what time it is?”

Shaun reached for his pocket, but his phone was resting on his coat. “Not off the top of my head.”

“About quarter past one in the morning.” Giles said, finally breaking off the handshake with a single firm motion. “I can see you have things on your mind. That would explain it. You are restless?”

“Kinda.” Shaun said, rolling one of his shoulders. “A few things on my mind, I guess. Nothing really important. I thought I’d take my mind off it, watch a film or two, stream some Netflix on my phone to pass the time.”

“Uh-huh. You are like my father then. Hard to talk about feelings, dismisses them, then they become a problem. You’re a proud young man, I imagine.”

“I wouldn’t say that.” Shaun glanced over Giles for a moment. “Why are you here, anyway? You on a night shift?”

Giles nodded, looking around as he spoke. “A lot of the time. I suffer from insomnia. Maybe, it happens after I was Fartouched, a side effect of my powers. Too much energy inside of me to get to sleep. Maybe the thought of the Farside made it so it’s hard for me to sleep. I don’t really know, so I do double shifts and night shifts when I’m not on duty in the day.”

“Yeah. Not a lot of people know this, but I don’t actually need to sleep. I can go without it without any problems. Same with eating. My body kinda tells me I need to do both, but if I don’t there’s no problems.” He explains. Giles nods. “I should have seen you around by now, though?” Shaun asked, walking over to his coat. He knelt down, grabbing his phone and tucking it into his pocket. “I mean, it’s kinda strange for you to just appear here.”

“Mmm. True.” Giles took a step back, and turned to the side. “Not many people want to admit how things work here, but everyone knows how it works. You see, not all agents are equal. Not all of us are equal, us with powers.”

“Uh-huh.” Shaun nodded, tucking his headphones into his pocket.

“Some are stronger, some weaker. Some are just not useful when it comes to a fight. People like Visionary, Grandmaster even. They’re what you call the ‘first response’. They go out and deal with the problems. Now, if what I’ve heard of you is right, Shaun, you’re not going to be first response.”

“So what will I be?” He replied.

“You’ll be what I am. We’re the ‘second response’. If the first response can’t handle the situation and they need some real firepower, they call me in to sort out the problem. We do our normal patrols, sure. But if something big happens, somebody really powerful, you and I’ll be sent in. Because we can deal with them whilst others can’t.”

“That’s a bit arrogant, don’t you think? You’re kinda making it out that we’re both just above everyone else.”

“Do you honestly believe you’re like everyone else?” Giles shifted his footing.

“My powers don’t change that I’m like everyone else.”

“In this case, in this place your powers change everything. You’re not an agent because you’re a nice guy.”

Shaun paused. “You know what I meant.”

“I did.” Giles said. “I’m sorry if I seem a bit brash. You have to be realistic though. If they had to send you between apprehending a small time crook or fighting a Hecatonchire Eldritch, they’d send you to fight the Eldritch.”

Shaun didn’t respond.

“But you don’t want to admit that. You’re proud, you sell yourself short or don’t want to admit it. That’s really interesting.”

“We’ve just met and all, so this whole psychoanalysing thing isn’t the best first impression to give.” Shaun said, deadpan.

“Maybe not. I just like to get an idea about people.” Giles takes a quick glance to Shaun’s jacket. “Shaun, I’m going to get some fresh air. Would you join me?”

Shaun blinks for a second. “Yeah, okay.” He said with a shrug.

“Do you need your jacket?” Giles said, already turning to leave.

Shaun just started to walk beside him, and Giles didn’t wait for him to decide before they started walking together. “I’m good.”

“Good.” Giles said, with another smile.

They meandered through the barren corridors, devoid of all but the people on the night shift. When Giles opened the doors to the back entrance. The midnight air was cold and crisp, hitting them quickly with a soon permeating coldness. Shaun glances to the night sky, and for once it was totally clear. He could see the glisten of stars in the sky, a swathing scape of the void above.

Before them, Giles was leading them to a small area beyond the tarmac smoking area, past some cars that were parked, and onto a small astroturf pitch enclosed in a wire mesh cage.

“I come out here to train, but the cold air makes me think a bit better.” Giles said, stretching his arms out.

“It’s pretty nippy tonight.” Shaun said, glancing around. A spotlight hung above on the far corner, illuminating the area with fake light.

“Keeps the blood flowing.” Giles turned to Shaun, twenty paces from where he stood. “Well, Shaun. I want to try something, if you don’t mind.”

“Okay.” He responded, nonchalantly.

“Tell me about yourself. What can you do?”

Shaun paused for a second. “I’m really strong, and I’m really tough.”

“You are, but you’re also wrong. What can you really do?” Giles asked. “You’re more than just really strong and really tough. Do you think anybody would be as strong as they are if they were just good at one thing? Do you think Sovereign started out as powerful as he was, or do you think he looked at what he could do and thought he could do more?”

“Well, being strong and tough is all I can do.” Shaun states, frowning slightly. “There’s not much else. I hit as hard as I need to, and I’m never not strong enough, and nothing can hurt me.”

“Let’s use that hammer and nail metaphor you used before.” Giles pointed to Shaun. “You’re looking at the end which whacks in the nail. What about the end that pulls a nail out? What about throwing the hammer, or using it to weigh something down? Shaun, you are powerful, but you’re not creative.”

“Everyone keeps telling me that.” He says, shaking his head.

“I overheard that you’ve never really used your powers. I doubt you’ve even tried to be as strong as you really are, hoping that you’ll be able to do it at a push, when the time is right. And if that never comes?”

Shaun didn’t respond.

“You don’t admit how powerful you are because you have no idea. You’ve never pushed yourself. Have you ever once exerted yourself?”

“It’s impossible to exert myself. I never tire-”

Giles cut him off abruptly, a passion flaring in his voice. “No, Shaun! Mentally exert yourself. Find a limit in yourself and push. Do something else with your powers. You’ve never used them, how do you even know what you can and can’t do?” Giles raised both his hands, almost shrugging. “People aren’t afraid of what you are now, but what you can become. Everyone, everyone has a limit. Yours isn’t physical, and it isn’t throwing a punch. Or maybe it is? How do I know? How do you know?”

Again, Shaun didn’t respond.

“Is that why you don’t use your gifts? Are you afraid that you don’t have those limits?”

Shaun narrowed his eyes. “No. I’m not afraid. I just don’t think I need to go any further. I’m the fuckin’ Farside Juggernaut and everyone wants me to go above that? Is nobody satisfied with just what I am right now?”

“You know, as strange as it is to say, I think that’s why you’re the perfect person for your powers. The best person to give power to, is the person who doesn’t want to use it. A lot of people could learn from you. But, you need to learn that it’s okay to use what you have. Shaun, there’s nothing wrong with fighting, or even hurting somebody, if you’re doing it for the benefit of everyone else. Sometimes, there’ll be somebody who you can’t talk to, or an Eldritch destroying everything. Are you going to worry you might hurt somebody when somebody is killing everyone around you?”

“No, I- It’s not like that.” Shaun says, hesitantly. “I didn’t ask for this. Everyone expects too much of me. They think I’m ready to hurt, to kill, because I have the strength to do it.”

“For a boy who’se so strong, you complain about the world on your shoulders too much.”

Shaun had nothing to say back to that.

“You’re meant to be strong enough. Start being strong about who you are.”

Giles raises one of his hands.

“My powers were simple. I can create a barrier of solid kinetic energy around my body. Don’t ask me how you can make kinetic energy solid. If I knew, I’d be a rich man.”

To demonstrate, a glassy shell began to encase around his entire body. It coated him like a second skin, and all colours inside of it began to distort and change, the colours entirely inverse within the force field in the second it took to manifest. His face looked more like a mask than anything, and his mouth moved when he spoke, a little too mechanically.

“Shields me from attacks, even dampens the inertia on my side of things. It can be broken, but I can be hit by a car just before it gives way.”

The barrier begins to fade away, much quicker than it appeared.

“If it was just a suit of armour, I wouldn’t be the second response.”

He extends his arm out to the side. The barrier appears again, but this time only on the palm of his hand. His barrier’s palm begins to expand outwards, manifesting as a large hand about half as big as he was tall, taking about a second again.

“It has to be around my body, but this way, I have a shield. And I can protect others, make cover to protect them from gunfire.”

Shaun nodded, watching curiously as the field vanished again. Giles clenched his fist now, and pointed it to Shaun’s direction. A field began to cover over his hand and fully manifested. Giles waited a second to properly show Shaun, before the shell coating just his fist launched from his arm like a projectile. It struck Shaun in the chest, but it wasn’t strong enough to knock him off his feet. Once it left its mark, it vanished upon impact. It did make Shaun frown, lowering the tone of his voice.

Hey.”

“It was a demonstration. It wouldn’t hurt you. But I can launch off my barriers and hit people from a distance. It gives me something to do when I’m not close to my enemy. It’s not as strong as it could be. A lot of the kinetic energy is used to launch it, and it loses some before it gets to you.” Giles begins walking forward. “But knowing I could discharge it, let me discover another application.”

Shaun folded his arms. “Alright.”

“When I’m punching somebody, I can launch the barrier when my fist hits them. Not only do they get hit with my fist, but I also transfer the kinetic energy of the barrier into them. Shaun, do you mind if I show you?”

“You’re gonna hit me again.” Shaun said, unfolding his arms.

“I’d like to. It’d be interesting to see how tough you are.”

Shaun shrugged. “Fine, do you want me to resist it?”

“Please don’t.” Giles said.

Shaun nodded. Giles waited a second before he brought his fist back. Unlike before, Giles made his fist coat up to the elbow in that inversely coloured shell, just in time for him to land a swing properly.

The fist slammed into Shaun’s chest. At that moment, Giles shunted it forward like it was a projectile, and all the kinetic energy stored into it amplified the punch into something that launched Shaun off his feet in a peeling blow. Shaun flew through the air from one side of the football length pitch to the other, hitting the ground and tumbling just before he came into contact with the mesh fence. It bulged out to absorb the last bit of the impact, where Shaun sat on the floor with his arms spread out.

Shaun sat for a second, before he muttered to himself. “Fuck me.” He stood up and checked his clothes, no worse form wear from the impact, and patted his chest.

Giles observed him, a surprise curiosity on his face. “Not a scratch by the looks of it.” He started to walk over to where Shaun was now, and as his feet came down he coated them in a barrier. When he pushed his foot down after that, he uses the shunt of kinetic energy to push him forward, turning steps into strides and moving over to Shaun faster than even most athletes could manage. Shaun was watching him at this point, and mentally taking note.

They shared a glance, and Giles began to laugh under his breath. “Damn. No sell.”

“Nothing ever sells on me.” Shaun said, shrugging. “How strong was that?”

“One of my strongest. It can send somebody through a wall. But this is my point. You saw me move just now, another use of my powers. Do you get what I’m trying to tell you?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Shaun said, slightly worn down by the constant message. “Find other ways to use my strength.”

“Yes. Exactly that. I think, everyone says the same, but they expect you to come up with all the ideas.”

Shaun nods. “Pretty much. It doesn’t help, at all.”

“Right. Let me help you.” Giles said. He starts to pace from side to side as he explains, making hand gestures to emphasise his points. “Because nobody helped me when I was learning this. I learned it all the hard way, and you need to save some time. What exactly are your powers? Are you just strong to hit things, to lift things?”

Shaun thought about it, folding his arms. “I don’t know. I’m just as strong as I need to be. I’ve done some leaping before to move from one spot to another. I did this big clap thing to clear away from fog, misty stuff before.”

Giles nods, flecks of intensity in his voice. “Good! A good start, Shaun. Let’s start with that first thing, the leaping. Would you show me?”

Shaun nodded, and stepped a few times to the side. He pushed his foot down, and vaulted himself a quarter of the length of the football pitch ahead. When he landed, he staggered a little on his feet, not used to the balance needed, and got his bearings quickly. He turns, and repeats it again, landing next to Giles with a slight wobble. Giles has a flash of inspiration on his face, picking at one of the hairs on his growing beard.

“So you can put strength into your legs. Shaun, by the looks of it, you can put as much strength to any part of your body as you want. Everything you do with your body to move uses muscles. Your punches, your kicks, your running. Even your breathing. I’m assuming that you never thought of it like that.”

Shaun shook his head. “Well, no. Not really. Yeah, I guess we learned about it in science but it wasn’t… So, what, you’re saying I can do anything quicker, stronger?”

“Most things. Have you never done any physical exercise classes?”

Shaun shook his head again. “No. They didn’t think it’d be fair on the other students. My parents sorta agreed to it.”

“Hm.” Giles rubbed at his chin some more. “That does make sense. Running is just moving muscles in your legs. You’ve had no practice though. Shaun, I want you to run from this end to that end.” Giles pointed, showing Shaun the smaller length of the pitch. “Do a length for me, at normal speed.. Jogging.”

Shaun looked to the end and seemingly complied, giving a nod and submitting to the instruction. He rolled his shoulder and jogged from one side of the pitch to the other. He stood in front of Giles, who nodded at his return.

“Good. Do it again, but sprint this time. Just a normal sprint.”

Again, Shaun turned and set off. He ran at a heightened pace, what seemed to be a sprint. He was careful not to throw himself into the wire on the other end and slowed down just before reaching the side, then bolted back to Giles’ side.

Giles was watching carefully and smiled as he watched him. “Now, I want you to go faster. You felt how fast you were going before, the difference in speed between a sprint and jog. This time, go that same difference in speed, except to your sprint.”

“Faster?” Shaun said, incredulously.

“It’s all muscles, Shaun! All muscles.” Giles grabbed him by the shoulder, giving him a shake. “Push more strength into your running. Make yourself go faster. It’s nothing you’ve felt before, so I can’t tell you how to do it. But, just do it. Long length, this time.”

With a hesitant nod, Shaun broke off from Giles’ grasp and turned lengthways. He rolled his neck from side to side, without any of the joints popping and hopped on his feet, to loosen himself up. He took a second, mentally trying to grasp what was being asked of him, and broke out into a sprint.

He went no quicker than before for the first second. He had to will himself to go a bit faster, and he felt his legs start to move quicker. His strides were longer, and each bound felt like it had more force, beyond the natural movement. In all his life to this point, he’d never even bothered to try, so he had no idea it would work. What he thought was his running limit, he surpassed twofold by the time he hit the other end of the pitch.

Shaun stopped at the end and glanced down at his feet. A mental second wind struck him, as if he’d always felt this tired and inhibited, a veil draped away from his senses. He had never known anything different, even if it was merely how to run quicker.

“Woah. I didn’t know I could do that.”

An idea reeled in his mind, and he turned on his heel. He could feel the movements needed to go faster, a new familiarity that was starting to settle in his mind. He looked up to Giles, and with a slight smile he pelted himself down the length of the field.

He was next to Giles in a second flat. He carried on beyond Giles for another second.

Giles brought up his barriers as an instinct, flash coating his body in inverted colours as he guarded his face and torso with his arms. Shaun had left a hole in the wire mesh as he tore through it, intending to stop next to Giles but unable to think quickly enough to alter his momentum and force himself still. Shaun kept going until the upper half of his body carried on when the lower half attempted to stop him, and he rolled over several times before stopping on the floor next to a car.

Using his barriers, Giles made his way over to Shaun at a much quicker rate, his movements fluid and controlled. He offered a hand to Shaun who grabbed it and helped himself up.

“Shaun, are you- that’s a silly question. Of course you are.”

“I’m good, I’m good. Aw, shit.” He said, looking at the hole he made. His face dropped, going slightly white. “Fucks sake.”

“Wires can be fixed and broken. Ignore them. That, was impressive. You’re starting to realise now, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. Shit, yeah! That was me.” Shaun said, pointing to the hole. “I did that. I ran that fast. Wow.”

“That was a good sixty yards. You crossed it in a second.”

“That’s-” Shaun had to think for a second. “-how fast is that?”

“About a hundred and twenty miles an hour.”

“Fuck off.” Shaun said in disbelief. “A hundred and twenty miles an hour?

“You seem surprised. Let me tell you what I think, Shaun.” Giles reached over, and dusted a bit of dirt off Shaun’s shoulders. “Even if you’re that quick, your mind isn’t that quick. You could probably go much faster, but you can’t react quickly enough. At some point, your brain might not be able to even comprehend how quick your legs will be moving. Not to mention, stopping is a problem, isn’t it?”

“I guess so.” Shaun glances to the hole. “Turning corners won’t be easy, either.”

“No. It might help to study some physics, to understand what your body is doing. But this is what I meant before! People have been so afraid of what you can be, that they didn’t let you explore what you could be. You’ve never ran before. You’ve never hit anybody, you’ve never lifted weights or thrown anything, you’ve never had that opportunity. People are so stupid sometimes, you know?” Giles spreads his arms out. “They told me the same thing, to push yourself and learn techniques, but they never tell you what exactly you need to do. I guess everyone is different, but if nobody will let you run or use your body, then what’s the point? What are you going to learn if they tell you the same thing over and over.”

Shaun nodded. He wasn’t sure if he felt adrenaline, or something else right now, but it felt good.

“Let’s stay for a bit out here. The running thing, is very good. But you’ve never ran, you don’t know how to control your movements. You need to practice, get up to speed. Everyone else has had years for this. This’ll be a good start. We’ll spend tonight doing a few things. First, a bit of running. Then we can look at jumping if we have the time.”

“Why do you want to help me?” Shaun asked, folding his arms. “What’s your motives?”

“You’re a colleague.” He said, giving Shaun a nod. “And let’s be honest. There’s a good chance we’re going to be second response sometime. If we ever have to fight together, I want to know that you have an idea of what you’re doing. At that point, your fucks up reflect on me as well.”

Shaun blinked, then nodded. “Wow, okay. Well, sure. Whatever. Good enough of a reason for me.”

Giles nodded. “And let’s try not to make any more holes. The first one’s okay though. It happens.”

Shaun shrugged. “I’ll try not to.”

“Good.” Giles said, starting to walk back. “We’ve got about six hours, roughly. Let’s not waste a moment.”

07:23am.

Shaun checked the time on his phone, tucking his hand into his pocket as he waited for his ride home. The morning air was dull, and the skies had suddenly swept to a grey mass of clouds overnight, a nondescript screen covering the heavens. He watched the various people make their way inside the building, though there was only a few to leave from the night shifts previously. Giles was working through the day, so they’d already said their goodbyes for the time being.

It was unusual, but Shaun hadn’t felt so good in a long time. He felt as if he actually did something today, that he hadn’t been dormant of all things. It dawned on him how different he felt, like his body had actually worked for the first time. His movements felt a little sharper, clearer, and there was no doubt he felt a little bit more confident in himself. Today felt good.

He saw Yuhong approaching with a slight look of confusion, and Shaun waved her over with a smile. Today, she wore a striped black and white top, black jeans, and black high heels, and she approached with a smile and a bow of her head.

“Shaun, you’re here early today. Isn’t it your day off”

“Kinda. Yeah, day off” He raised an eyebrow and shrugged slightly. “Stayed overnight. Going home now.”

“Overnight?” She asked curiously. “Did you get any sleep?”

“No. I’m fine, don’t worry about it. But thanks.”

Yuhong waited, then nodded confidently. “Very well. See you tomorrow, Shaun. Have a good day.”

They smiled to each other, and Yuhong disappeared into the building.

“Shaun?”

A voice called from ahead, in the car park. Shaun saw his driver signalling him over, and he walked forward. He took a step before he felt a vibration in his pocket, and familiar words gracing his ears. He fished his phone out of his pocket and checked the screen.

I want you to breathe me. Let me be your air.

Let me roam your body freely. No inhibition, no fear.

How deep is your-

Josh Home. He answered and brought it to his ear.

“Hello?”

Oh, hello Shaun.” Josh’s mother, Mary. “How are you today, dear?”

“Oh, hey Mrs. Watkins. I’m pretty good, you alright?” Shaun asked with a tone of concern, still walking to the car.

I’m not bad Shaun, thank you.”

“Is… everything okay?”

It’s fine, it’s just, well. Josh has been acting a bit strange lately.”

“Uh-huh. Strange how?”

When he’s come home from school, he just goes straight up to his room. Doesn’t even say a word to me, he don’t. ”

“Sounds like normal Josh to me.”

Aye, but. He’s been refusing to eat his food, and he’s been in a foul mood when I’ve actually had chance to speak to him. School have called, sayin’ he’s been missing lessons as well.”

“That’s a little bit out there for him.”

If you’re not busy today, can you come over and talk to him? You’re his best friend, Shaun, you might be able to talk some sense into him.”

Shaun paused for a second. “Yeah. Tell you what, I’m on my way home. I’m gonna have a shower, get something to eat, then I’ll come over. Okay?”

That’ll be fab, Shaun. I’ll make sure kettle’s boiled when you get round.”

“Ace. Gotta go. See you in a few, Mrs Watkins.”

See you in a bit, love.”

Shaun hung up.

He put the phone in his pocket and grunted, giving a nod to the driver and patting him on the shoulder. They both got into the car, and Shaun got himself comfortable. He pulled out his ear buds and jacked them into his phone and just one in his left ear, and turned down the volume.

“Home, please.”

He rolled down the window a bit, and the driver gave him a nod. The car rolled into motion, and Shaun began to wonder what was going on at home. He’d bee so caught up in work that he’d been going less and less to sixth form with each weekly rota he’d been put on at the NFU.. It’d been long enough since he had to deal with something outside of work, though something unexpected didn’t seem to bother him as much as what could potentially be the problem.

Shaun watched outside the window and began to count the scenery, recalling the route that was becoming more and more common as time went on.