grandmaster

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.

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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.

Beginnings: 2-7

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

It was something he had to endure.

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

Lamp post. Too large. Not viable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tsk. The shit they play these days.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Better than nothing.”

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

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

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

He smiled, even grinned.

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

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

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

MENU

“Call NFU front desk.”

CALLING Front Desk (Work)

The phone rang three times.

Hello?” The voice was female, young.

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

Uhm. Hello, this is reception.”

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

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

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

Okay, sure. Will do.”

“Alright. Thank you kindly. Bye.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Morning, Owen.”

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

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

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

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

Grandmaster took a quick glance around, left to right.

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

“No, sir. He starts at nine.”

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

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

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

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

“I- I don’t really… know.”

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

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

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

Sir.

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

He shook his head and thought against it.

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

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

“Grandmaster speaking.”

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

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

“Good news, I hope.”

Agent Visionary is here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They exchanged court nods, and parted ways for now.

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

He had to wait just a little longer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not technically true.”

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

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

“Yes, exactly.” She nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

“Then what you talking about?”

Your time.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did I miss anything?”

“Ryan spat on Grandmaster.”

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

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

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

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

“Spoilsport.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Farfreaks.” Grandmaster sounded incredulous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you think this will work?”

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

“What do you think’ll happen?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sometimes. Fifty fifty.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When he was gone, she turned to Visionary.

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

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

“You’re wondering why I’m here.”

Visionary nodded.

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

Visionary nodded much slower.

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

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

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

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

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

“This sounds important.”

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

Visionary nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You don’t scare me.”

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

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

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

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

“Three days.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beginnings: 2-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two. Cover.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It fell on deaf ears.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Affirmative. Moving in. Over and out.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visionary nodded slowly.

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

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

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

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

SYSTEMS ONLINE.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Permission granted, you crazy bastard.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The good doctor’ll see you now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, please.”

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

“Open your jaw, please.”

She did, and the doctor nodded.

“Close, please.”

Visionary followed the orders as instructed.

“How does it feel?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visionary paused, but relented and nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visionary nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh?”

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

Visionary nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

“Interrogation.” She said, bluntly.

“Yup.”

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

Visionary looked at him for a scant few seconds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will, on one condition.”

“Name it.” He barked back.

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

Visionary’s phone had started ringing.

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

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

Director Sage.

She answered, wasting no time.

“Hello?”

Visionary, this is Director Sage.”

“Hello, Director.” She was giving her the benefit of the doubt. The Director could be calling for any reason.

I’m here to give you explicit, verbal permission. This is a Director’s sanction to proceed with interrogation of Ryan Macey tomorrow.”

“Understood, Director.”

Tell Grandmaster that I know he hates it, and he has to deal with it. Go and get some rest, Visionary.”

The director hung up.

Grandmaster raised an eyebrow and folded his arms. “I hate it when she does that.”

Visionary smiled wide enough to hurt, and she didn’t seem phased by it. “She knows, and she said to deal with it.”

“I’m not sure that I like that the NFU is ran by a precog of some kind. Glad she’s on our side.”

Grandmaster nonchalantly shrugged, then turned to begin walking down the hallway. He put on his helmet and paused as the plates began to run around his head, sealing him into his armour. The lights of the eyes lit up, and his voice took on that reverberating tone.

“Make sure your breakfast is a good one, Visionary. We’ve got a good old interrogation on our hands.”

Beginnings: 2-5

“Alright, listen up.”

Inside the van, Grandmaster addressed Jason and Visionary adjacent to him. He was speaking through his comm as well, to keep in touch with the occupants of another van close to them. Jason and Visionary were sitting opposite him on leather-bound chairs. Facing directly opposite him was a monitor, showing a grainy picture of a large building from a point of view in the sky that was above the level of where the van was.

“We’ve got one shot and we need to bring at least one of these bastards in for questioning. The local authorities are aware of our operation here and won’t interfere unless we request backup.”

Behind him was a rack of weaponry; rifles and pistols with a block-like design to them, a shotgun and some batons. A few had been procured already; Grandmaster sat with a pistol and a rifle and one of the batons already equipped. Visionary kept her bar maces at hand, Jason carried the same load-out as Grandmaster. Each of them carried two pairs of handcuffs each, discretely stashed away into belt compartments.

“Remember, these weapons have just been approved. Three shots downs somebody to exhaustion, four makes them unconscious. Do not, under any circumstance, hit them again if they’re down. Assume they’re out for good.”

Grandmaster glanced between the pair, who showed all signs of being ready. Visionary was calm, almost serene and watching him clearly. Jason showed the signs of a soldier, with proper posture and a body language like he was ready to burst into action. A coiled spring, being wound up gently.

“Call when you’re going to use a Fatigue Grenade, and only for a good reason. Anybody found out to directly or indirectly hit one of the NFU in the blast radius will see how pissed off I can get before you’re suspended for the rest of your career.”

He tilted his head to show he was looking between them. Visionary gave him an affirmative nod. Jason was silent, still, his finger tapping the side of the rifle in his hand just above where the trigger was. Grandmaster paused for half a minute, the radio silence created a thick blanket of tension as they waited.

A voice sliced through the wait, whispered and hushed.

All operatives, Squad is in position. All exits covered. Eyes on the roof by the far stairwell. Over.”

Everyone perked up. Grandmaster put his index finger to where his ear would be to reply.

“This is Agent Grandmaster, is the path clear? Over.”

Agent Grandmaster, the path is clear. We are mobilised and ready. Over.”

“Containment Squad, good work. Stick to the plan, don’t deviate, and keep on comms. Await my signal or the sound of conflict. Over and out.”

Affirmative. Over and out.”

The comms died a moment after.

Grandmaster cleared his throat. “Helmet, command mode.”

Only Grandmaster heard the response.

COMMAND MODE ACTIVE. RECOGNISING PROMPTS FOR COMMS.”

The light was on in the back of the vans, though it was still dim. As he activated this, his visor began to increase his visibility in the darkness, almost as bright as clear sunlight. He looked around the room, and saw the information he was being fed back. All non-combat systems had been shut off or eliminated, and his targeting system seemed to latch onto people and identify them as friendly or hostile quicker. In addition, a small square materialised in the bottom right of his view; an overhead map of the area, with several green dots on the screen surrounding the target building.

They were near a small housing estate, where a small road could be driven down to access the building in question. The lights were out, though there was a very faint glow inside if you were close enough and could study the windows. It was square in shape, with just a single entrance on the ground floor and a pair of exits at the back, one on the second floor with a metal staircase that came down to the ground like a helix.

Grandmaster also had an overlay of the interior of the building in his helmet, and it was all carefully explained to every person on this operation. Both floors had a U shape to them, with the bottom of the U near where the front entrance was. On the top floor, it kept mostly to that shape. On the ground floor, the U itself was divided; the entire bottom section was a reception area, the rest of it was divided into 6 rooms, with two either side on that U shape and the other two in the middle. Those two were connected by doors leading to other rooms.

The top floor was much more simple, and stuck to the U shape. As a derelict office building for a call centre, this is where most of the desks and computers were, the bulk of the business. There were smaller rooms up here, offices and stationary cupboards and toilets.

Grandmaster nodded to the others, then slid open the door of the van that faced away from the building. Visionary and Jason were the first to get out and armed themselves with rifles, Grandmaster doing the same and leaving just shortly after. They’d parked in the driveway of one of the houses, everything already cleared beforehand to avoid drawing any suspicion.

They circled around with Visionary taking point, sticking close to the row of houses and using cover to weave and manoeuvre themselves as they approached the building. The agents who were in position had done so much longer before, and crept through a canopy of bushes and trees that surrounded the vicinity. The easiest way to get through them would be to cut through the back garden of one of the properties. They were in luck that the local people were fully cooperative.

Visionary lead them through a wooden gate, clattering against the bricks of the side of the house. The lights were dimmed, other than the glow of the television being on in the front room. They made their way to the back gate and holstered their weapons. They approached the wooden fence on the far side and Grandmaster rushed over, squatting beside it whilst cupping his arms. Visionary jogged up, and he boosted her over. She tucked her legs in and neatly jumped over, landing and moving to the side whilst taking out her rifle. Jason soon followed, propping himself over with one leg.

Grandmaster was the last to scale the fence and he landed with his palm open to the grass below. They all knelt motionless, staring at the building ahead. Grandmaster let his helmet scan the building, vision piercing through windows until he scanned the area. With a nod, he raised his hand and flick pointed towards the building, taking his rifle out. They advanced, quick and silent, unheard over the rustle of wind blowing grass and trees under the night sky.

Visionary lead them to the side of the building, making sure they weren’t in line of sight of anybody or any cameras that may have caught them. They knelt beside a large window pane, one open and accessible, large enough for a person to slip through. Whilst they knelt beside the brickwork that gave them cover, the men turned to Visionary.

She closed her eyes. Flickers of strain and concentration trace in pulses along her eyelids and her cheeks. As she opened her eyes, she raised her head up, and she gazed through the air at nothing in particular. It only took a second and she caught a breath afterwards, before making a gesture to Grandmaster and Jason with her hands.

Two men. Entrance. At ease.

Grandmaster nodded. With a pair of fingers, he reached up and took the open window by his hand and gently began to pry it open, at first wide enough for a head to pass. He let a few seconds go past, then glanced back to Visionary. She repeated what she did before, as if the silence around her was magnified to a greater degree as she exerted some senses beyond everyone else. She turned and nodded. Grandmaster continued, and made the gap wide enough for an upper body to fit through. He checked with Visionary one more time, and she repeated the motions again. Quickly, she nodded and made another hand gesture.

Looking. No.

He lifted his head, not into the gap but to stare through the window beside him. To him, he could find his targets easily. A pair of men standing, facing away from them and towards the room where the stairs were located. They were engaged in a conversation that they could barely hear, only a few emphasised words here and there. Grandmaster picked up one making a hand gesture of sorts, something sexually implying. The other laughed loud enough for the others to pick up. Grandmaster remained quiet, then motioned for Jason.

They wore ballistic vests that looked like a much simpler, archaic version of Jason’s current armour, minus a bodysuit to go with it. Their helmets were riot visors, open, and the one on the left had a lit cigarette hanging from his lips, the cherry close to the filter. Grandmaster’s helmet picked up on the weapon holstered on their hips, identifying them to be some sort of knife. The one who wasn’t smoking was carrying an older version of the Emotional Dampening weapons.

Jason crawled over on his hands and knees, squatting and kneeling to get beside Grandmaster. He took out his pistol and checked to see if the energy core had flushed enough energy into the weapon for enough shots, and was satisfied to see it was ready. Jason took the unsaid hint and got his own pistol and checked it, making sure it was ready.

Grandmaster began to tap his foot on the edge of the bricks so they could all hear a small thud. Visionary kept on point, studying the surroundings and keeping her rifle close, to cover them. Grandmaster tapped loud enough for them to hear, a gradual beat. Once, twice, thrice…

On the fourth beat, they both quickly raised up with pistols already aiming at their respective targets. Grandmaster and Jason blasted them with a salvo of pulsing energy fire from their pistols. Three shots each, Grandmaster striking the back of the non-smoker’s thighs where no armour protected it. Jason aimed for the same area on the smoker. They groaned, energy drained from them, and succumbed to exhaustion before crumpling and falling to the floor on their sides.

Visionary kept down, though she glanced slightly to the side. Even from this crouching position, keeping them covered, she had seen what had transpired. She touched her comm in her ear and spoke so gently that it may have been confused for a noise in the wind.

Front guards down.”

Grandmaster stood up a little, then put a fourth shot in each guy. One was feebly trying to reach for his phone, wheezing and letting out a croak for breath, before the final shot rendered each of them out cold, too tired to even stay awake. Jason slunk to the side slightly, and Visionary raised to her feet, still keeping watch. Grandmaster rose up and put one foot on the window ledge, before landing down onto the carpet with a slight thud. He took his pistol and aimed it, scanning the room for any signs of activity. When his helmet picked up no signs of motion or life, and quickly flicked through to see any short range thermal signatures, it signalled the all-clear.

In turn, Grandmaster did the same, and made a single wave of his hand with a thumbs up. Visionary turned towards him, Jason was quickly scaling the wall and climbing into the room through the window, and swapped his pistol for a rifle. Grandmaster drew more energy reserves from the weapon’s core, so he had a full round of shots to work with.

Jason took a Hardware Bug from his belt and pushed in the head with a click. The feet uncoiled out from the middle and he aimed for a security camera currently pointing away from them. He hit his mark, and the legs quickly seized the camera and sent out a small pulse, a few feet in diameter. It was an unusual noise, a faint spark of electronics that sounded like a crackle of electricity, followed by something calcifying or freezing.

Grandmaster nodded, and holstered his pistol. Visionary quickly moved over to the door with the stairs and kept her back to the door, with a clear line of sight from her head through the window, at the stairs behind it. She kept her eyes on the other doors, rifle raised.

Jason stubbed out the cigarette onto the carpet beneath them with his boot. Grandmaster motioned to the other body and Jason moved over to the legs, as he grabbed the upper body underneath his arms. Grandmaster tapped his foot and on the fourth tap, they both lifted him up, and hauled him to the reception desk. They put the body where it wasn’t immediately visible, and went to move the other with just as much haste and efficiency.

Once both bodies had been moved, Grandmaster went to the window and gently eased it back to being closed, clicking the handle shut. He turned to Jason, tapping his wrist, then pointing to the bug.

Jason responded back with four finger, followed by holding his thumb, index and middle finger out. He closed all but his index finger.

Four minutes.

Grandmaster nodded, then turned around. Jason took this as a sign to sheath his pistol and take out his rifle, check the charge was correct, then moved to cover Visionary and keep the other doors in his sights.

His helmet began to shift his vision from the clear view of the walls and slipped into a thermal vision that took a few seconds to warm up. What he saw ahead was a total of four figures but couldn’t make out what exactly they were doing. A few were lower than the others, possibly seated. One more was much further away, much more faint than the others. It was difficult to see if it was just lingering head from a power generator or a person.

Grandmaster’s vision returned to normal, becoming clearer and giving him perfect visibility again. He stuck up four fingers and pointed ahead to their direction. Visionary nodded, then took herself off point and carefully crept over to the door. Grandmaster and Jason followed behind, in that order.

She opened the door as careful as she could muster, and her eyes flickered back and forth as if they were pulling on a tether in the middle of her eye. She proceeded, then turned left. Grandmaster followed after, keeping her cover. Jason covered the rear, turning to the other corridor with his gun raised, finger not quite on the trigger. When it was clear, he turned and kept his eyes in front of him, though before they all turned a corner to the right, he did one final check.

They turned around a corner into a much larger room, with one wall giving them cover. They could hear a television in the distance, and there was a chant of a crowd and the distinct noise of a commentator over it. The other guys were talking boistrously, though nobody could make out who was who or what else was going on.

“…the fuck are Man United playing, anyway?” One man had a deep, gruff voice, with a distinctly Mancurian accent.

“Eindhoven.” Another man had a much lighter accent, harder to pin.

“That german or summit?” The other asked him.

“Nah, it’s like Sweden, mate.” A third voice chimed in, a tone somewhere between the two. He also seemed to hail from Manchester.

“Better than the fuckin’ paki’s anyway, right lads?”

The others agreed quite verbally, as if to prove a point. They cheered in a machismo fashion, verbally pumping themselves up.

“At least Barnes is gonna kick those fuckin’ brown faced cunts outta England, after he kicks out those Farborn freaks.”

Grandmaster hadn’t been wasting time listening to them, and was already making plans. Visionary kept point, staring ahead into the distance and through everything else. Grandmaster made a quick series of hand gestures.

Visionary, left. Jason, middle. Me, far away, then right.

All three nodded in agreement. He tapped his foot several times, counting down for them all, and things moved quickly from this point onwards.

They all moved out with their rifles raised, ready with their fingers on the trigger. They saw all three of the men in the room, on chairs, watching a big flat screen television. On the table in front of them was a deck of cards and crumpled up notes, coins and face up cards sprawled everywhere. All three guys by the table had taken their helmets off and put them on the ground near their chairs. Football was playing on the television, the opening minutes of the game.

The one of the left was overweight, had a flat nose and a broad face, with a shaved head. The one in the middle had brown hair, shaved on the side with the top left at a medium length, and a broad scar on his cheek. The third was much thinner, with tattoos crawling up his neck and onto his face. T, wearing the same equipment as the two men outside.

Only the man on the opposite side of the room, who was walking back from the television behind a table that had been left when the office was abandoned and hadn’t been moved since, was facing the NFU agents as they moved out of cover.

“Shit-”

The three Technomads all looked up to him the moment that they were opened up on. The one at the far end of the room was lucky enough to drop on the spot and avoid the first shots that Grandmaster poured into him, a volley of three hits that would have been precise were they not obfuscated by the furniture in the way.

Visionary and Jason hit their targets, and they weren’t even aware of it. They pumped four shots into each of them, jolting for a second before the effects of the Eldritch weaponry took its toll and rendered them unconscious.

Grandmaster altered his fire and hammered the one man who hadn’t been shot at just yet, and swiftly plastered him with energy fire. He’d managed to stand up in shock and reached for the gun that was still strapped to his side, and almost reached it before three shots had fell him. A fourth was quickly put between his eyes, and his eyes rolled to the back of his skull with an awkward grunt.

“Shit, shit! Boss, we’ve got trouble downstairs-”

Visionary and Jason ran around, circling the table in a pincer formation. They had been ruthlessly quick in dispatching the others and quick on the trigger to hunt down the final one, and that was all he could say through his old comm device before they both ran around, and the pair pumped two shots each into him. He was curled underneath the table, holding his knees to his chest with his finger near his ear.

Grandmaster reloaded his weapon, then looked up. Heat signatures above him, as limited as his visibility this way would allow, had begun to rise up and stir from being inanimate. He changed himself back to normal visibility and didn’t even pause for thought.

“Stairs, now.”

Jason and Visionary nodded and checked their weapons. They ran back to the door and Grandmaster thrust it open by ramming his foot into it. He poured through, Visionary and Jason shortly afterwards.

“Put pressure on them. Stall.”

Grandmaster flung the pale wooden door open and pointed his rifle with a single hand holding it into the room where the stairs were, and scaled it up as he walked inside with haste and resolve. Visionary and Jason moved in and took aim to the stairs as well, and all three were pointing their weapons to the doors that they could see. Grandmaster began to scale up the stairs carefully, both hands now on his rifle, and he barked out something whilst being careful to not be too loud.

“Got a lock on them. They’re moving carefully. Old mark ED weapons.” Everyone present knew that previous versions of Emotional Dampening weapons were less efficient, but they would drain the target of the will to fight and render them emotionally neutral. Perfect for capture, or a coup de grâce.

There was three doors from this point onwards. One to the front, two to either side, positioned centre in the building, with a pair of toilets before the door right ahead. Visionary slunk ahead and took point again, pressing the button to the lift that was opposite them. Fortunately, it was already on this floor, and once it opened she stepped inside to give her cover, as she kept her eyes on the door to the front, and the one that was hidden from view of the stairs.

Grandmaster and Jason lowered to cover, with Jason behind and above the kneeling Grandmaster, using the opaque guard on the banister to keep themselves covered. Grandmaster put a finger to his ear.

“Containment Squad, advance on the exit but do not enter. That is an order-”

He was cut off as the Technomads had opened the doors and were staring down at them, with their visors down this time and guns and knives at hand. Two from the door directly facing the stairs, two from the centre door, and a single one where they couldn’t see.

They got about a moment to judge the situation before Visionary opened fire and hit the guy in the centre at the front, who was holding a rifle. He fell down just as he was raising it up, falling backwards and sending the guy behind him off balance. The man behind him staggered for a second, before Visionary unloaded a trio of shots into him as well, and he soon hit the floor behind him with a cumbersome thud.

Grandmaster and Jason fired onto the two in front of them, though the Technomad at the front was covering the other guy, and after they both fired a pair of shots each, they had to wait before cover was clear. The Technomad already had something in hand that nobody had seen before, and it was primed and ready to throw as his comrade fell down. Jason only managed to get a single shot before it careened through the air.

BUG DETECTED.”

“Bug!”

Grandmaster’s Visor had begun to automatically shift and change, though Grandmaster called out too late as the device collided and latched onto his arm. He threw himself into cover away from Jason and the fight as the feet wrapped over and latched onto him, and Jason sunk down to his knees and gave him cover, landing the last two shots on the Technomad who was trying to get out of sight himself. The Bug sent out a pulse that caused his weaponry’s technological aspects to cease to function for the duration, circuits paused and frozen so no current could travel through them.

Luckily, his helmet had a fail safe, and upon the detection of a bug, it began to split and pull apart at the face. He’d be denied his sensory equipment and comms for the time being, though the faceplate had parted so a single glass slit allowed him to see through normally. A fail-safe built in for just this occasion.

“Shit.” Grandmaster, grabbed the bug and threw it at the nearest wall, shattering it to spare parts in an instant.

Visionary and Jason swept up from the Technomads who were there, and everyone was a groaning lump on the floor. A pile of bodies too exhausted to fight, that they in turn ‘executed’ with a final shot to knock them out.

“I’m down my senses and comms for a few. Visionary, extra vigilance. Jason, comms.” Both nodded. Jason handed Grandmaster a spare pistol he had, and he checked to see if it had been affected. It was a relief that Jason’s equipment hadn’t suffered.

They regrouped. Visionary on point, they advanced through the door to the right, careful not to step on any bodies.

They emerged into an open space office area; the tables were still arranged in neat lines, though the computers had been removed by now. Office chairs were still present and strewn across, with some of them in a small open circle where the Technomads had previously been sitting passing time. They could see ahead to glass panes separating the far end of the room with small offices, and to their left after the stretch of wall, the room opened up into the middle chamber and the other end of the building. No doubt in the same arrangement.

Grandmaster was closest to the desks at the right side of the room, Visionary in the middle and slightly to the front, and Jason was closer to the wall.

“Flush him out. He’s still in here.”

Grandmaster held his pistol tight, and they moved on. They were a dozen or so feet away from the clearing when Visionary’s eyes went wide, and something was flung from out of view into the room. Everything ran slow as she clutched her ears and began to close her eyes desperately.

“Flashbang-”

The grenade bounced off one of the desks, into the window and bounced back just to the right of the trio. Grandmaster raised his arm to cover his face as quick as he could, without the warnings or protections that his helmet normally provided. Visionary was the most defenceless and almost dropped to the floor, with her eyes closed, mouth open, ears covered. Jason would fare the best and even he turned away from it.

Everything went quiet and their worlds turned to darkness, a white void followed by a harrowing screech of feedback that blotted out the world around them.

Beginnings: 2-4

Visionary took a sip of her coffee, and quickly put it down on the table. It was lukewarm already, neglected from the constant attention she gave to her laptop. She’d been scrying her laptop relentlessly for half an hour, studying reports and documents that she’d dredged from internal archives. Several of them were on the most recent crime that she had attended with her newly formed team. One document was the details of the collateral damage incurred from the fight, as well as a detailed analysis of the animals that had been stolen from the laboratory. No less than 5 dogs, 6 cats and 11 mice that had been Fartouched were missing.

Another report detailed about a recent raid on the Ten Grander’s base by two Containment Squads; the teams were more than well equipped with technology that Artifex had pushed past the testing phase. Fatigue Rays, which hit the target with a concussive bolt of energy, sapped the energy from the target until they were too tired to fight and collapsed from exhaustion. They wore ear buds that relayed only what the other members of the team spoke, to counter Candour’s ability to lie and stop them, and they wore special goggles that blocked out everything but the view of their cameras to minimise Flare’s chances to blind them. She had instead just blinded them through their goggles, and their crew absconded. The animals were nowhere to be sign, though there were signs that they’d been living on one of the levels with Alpha.

Jolly was back up after his defeat. Initial NFU assessments did assume him as as having a healing factor of some kind, and this seemed to verify it. Recent underground activity that has been spotted or put on social media indicate that Jolly is sending his men after Flare, or at least pushing deeply into the direction of wherever she seems to be hiding. Beside that, Visionary had another report of the kind of ‘examples’ that Jolly did to people that crossed him. Each one an incredibly brutal display of force. At a bare minimum, they were hospitalised for months.

The scent of freshly cooked breakfast snapped her out of her trance. Not that she wasn’t aware of what was going on around her; Visionary of all people could boast some degree of constant awareness to her surroundings. It was who was carrying it and put it on her table.

She folded the laptop over and saw Jason sliding a fresh mug of coffee over, beside the one she’d not managed to drink. He was armoured, though he’d elected to keep his helmet off for the time being.

“You could probably use a top up.” He said. She smiled and took a sip, nodding thoughtfully afterwards.

“Thank you.” Her eyes flicked down, almost so quick that Jason didn’t catch her spying his breakfast. He had double of everything you could get: toast, bacon, grilled tomatoes, fried eggs, mushrooms, hash browns, lots of beans. “Cheat day?”

Jason grinned, before starting to make an impressively stacked breakfast sandwich, using his toast and bacon to start with. “Cheat day. Used to be Saturday, now it’s Wednesday. As long as my macros are fine.”

“You and your macros.” She takes another sip, then slides her laptop to the side. “How did it go yesterday?”

“Fine. Really well. Artifex was still Artifex, but he seemed to like the kid.”

“And his side project?”

“Nearly complete.” He was cutting up some eggs now, making sure they fit on his sandwich. “I have my doubts he can mass produce them. He’s made miracles happen before though.”

“The status quo is fine then.” Visionary puts her hands together, interlocking her fingers.

“Looks like it. How’s the girl doing?”

“She’s doing well. She’s experienced with her powers. Another week and she’ll be ready, I imagine.”

Jason sliced up his newly made sandwich and began eating, though once it had been made he didn’t seem to make another and just started to eat whatever was on his plate. “You have skills, fire power, flexibility. She’d add some utility.”

Visionary nodded, and took this moment to take another sip of her coffee. She put her mug down and used it to nudge the other one out of the way, off to the side of the table.

“How’s everything at home?”

“Home?” Jason said. A smile crept over his face. “You don’t normally ask.”

“I thought I’d show an interest.” Visionary smiled politely.

“That’s awfully kind of you.” Jason put down his fork for the moment. “Home’s going okay. I work a lot. When I don’t, I’m in the gym or talking to my old squad. Share a few beers, watch the footie.”

“Oh.” She said. She was at least good at feigning some sort of dull surprise. “Quite ordinary, then.”

“I’m not unpredictable.” He pinched his fork between index finger and thumb and began collecting food onto it. “What about you?”

“My parents are still deciding if they want to move back to China or not. I think they’re not going back because of me.”

“What makes you think that?” Jason pointed his knife at her.

“My dad thinks I should be married by now. They’re somewhat traditional in many senses. Me moving out shocked them, but they accepted it. Deep down I know they want me to marry, have children, but they know it might not happen any time soon.”

“Why’s that?”

“I have too much work to do.” She smiled softly. “I don’t feel like I’m ready yet. I never really have done. On top of that, this work is dangerous. I wouldn’t want them to worry about me. I don’t know how much my parents have influenced this decision, truthfully.”

Jason nods slowly. “I know. I’ve always had a military background in my family. I think the proudest day of my dad’s life was when I managed to get into the SAS.”

“And after that you joined the NFU, right?”

“Mmhmm.” Jason took a big swig of tea whilst humming. “That’s pretty much it. Been a fighter my entire life. I might not get everything about Farborn, Fartouched. I know where I can make a difference though.”

Visionary’s eyes darted down for a second, still smiling and acknowledging the conversation. “We’re not that complicated, when you get down to it.”

“Maybe the powers aren’t. If you’re telling me you’re not complicated, I’d disagree with you.”

“Oh? You think I’m complicated?”

“I think I can’t tell if you are or not. Sage rubs off on you, but there’s more to you than you seem to let on.”

Her smile goes wider. She doesn’t respond initially.

“Not saying anything about it isn’t helping, either.”

She giggles slightly. Jason looks down to his pocket. “’scuse me.”

He delves down below the table and retrieves his phone, still vibrating in his palm. He glances to Visionary, whose smile decreases slightly. After seeing that Grandmaster was calling, Jason answers it.

“Commander Jason speaking.”

Hello, Commander. Glad to hear that you’re still speaking. All is well this morning?” Grandmaster answered.

“As well as it can be, sir. What can I help you with?”

Can you tell Visionary to answer her damned phone? I’ve called her twice now. I know she has the bloody thing on her at all times.”

Jason glanced to Visionary, and grinned slightly. “What makes you think she’s here?”

Well, going on a hunch. You two have breakfast together almost everyday you can. I know your schedules allow it today, and I could think of another hundred reasons. Tell her to pick up the goddamn phone. I’m calling again.”

Jason brings the phone away from his ear. “It’s Grandmaster.”

Visionary has her phone out already. It’s vibrating gently in her hand, and she answers the call.

“Grandmaster, hello.”

“If that’s everything, sir, I’ll leave you two-”

I’d like both of you to stay for this.” They shared a glance to each other. Jason sat upright a little, bringing the phone closer.

“Yes, sir. A matter of importance?”

You could say that. Visionary, you asked me to look into that case. I’ve found something interesting. Maybe you can make something out of it.”

“Go ahead, Grandmaster.” Visionary’s expression turned serious.

Alright. Took a little look into the Ten Grander’s latest activity. Nothing big. Petty thefts near their base, nothing new. Out of nowhere, they go and steal some animals. Weird thing to pull off, doesn’t match any previous crimes reported, totally different area too. What do you think of that?”

“It’s likely they may have been approached and offered a job.”

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m guessing you’re still looking into it, so you know they’ve got the hell outta dodge.”

Visionary glances to her laptop. “From what I’ve read, that seems to be the case.”

Yup. Signs of the animals living in their base. No cages, nothing set up long term. And that report you’ve checked this morning shows they’re leaving and moving somewhere else. Commander, what do you think?”

“It sounds to me like somebody asked them to get the animals for them, then they left before Jolly got to them. Maybe they tipped them off.” Jason put his knife on his plate, holding the handle of his mug instead.

Bingo. That’s what everyone else is thinking. Now here’s a bit of speculating from yours truly. Whoever it was, wasn’t some big group of animal loving assholes. None of that PETA crap. Whoever it was, hired them out so it wouldn’t get back to them. Whoever it is, wants some no-names to do it for them so they’re not caught. Tell me if you think that don’t make any sense.”

“I’d say that’s a fairly logical train of thought.” Visionary commented.

You’re damn right it’s fairly logical. So, next question. Why animals? No fucking clue. Getting Alpha made sense to get them. Experiments? I don’t know. What I do know, is that we’ve got a guy who asks a bunch of low lives to grab something from somewhere and get it to him, for a good bit of cash. Onto my next point.”

Not sure if you two are aware of the details but there was a crime last night. Normally, not our problem. The police dumped it onto us though. Some small gang who uses Eldritch tech to do hit and runs for money, rob stores, all that crap. They hit a MAGI-Tech warehouse. Normally these guys raid the place for new weapons and trophies. Not this time. They took a computer or two, filled some flash drives and stole some components. They touched nothing else. Very precise, very focused. Seem really unusual to you?”

The pair shared a glance again.

“Definitely And the police just gave it to us?” Jason queried, then took a swig of tea.

You know how the fuzz are when it comes to anything Farside related. Even Eldritch tech. They think we’ve got nothing else to do other than doing their job for them. In this case, probably a good thing.”

“You believe they’re related, with what you’re implying.” Visionary chimed in.

I do.” Grandmaster paused, possibly for effect. “I do indeed. They call themselves the Technomads. Bunch of fucking idiots. They go on about how they think that everyone has a right to all the technology, Eldritch included, but they’re a bunch of thugs with fancy looking guns. This doesn’t fit their modus operandi.”

“Big words.” Jason jested.

Well aren’t you the comedian?” Grandmaster’s tone was dry. “Bet you think you’re a funny guy. Enough about that. Both seem to be the same deal. Small gangs getting one particular thing, going and getting something out of character, taking nothing else. Either way, we’ve had this case dumped on us. I’ve requested some jurisdiction on the matter, which means I get to request who I want to assist me on this.”

Once again, Visionary and Jason shared a look. Visionary responded first. “That being us two.”

Perceptive as always. Visionary is a name given well to you. Everything’s fine as far as admin is concerned. You’re my left and right hand on this case, proverbially speakin’. First order of business is to do a quick check of the scene. The men we already have there are doing a fine enough job but I want to go and take a look myself before we do anything.”

Jason seemed to get the gist of the message, and necked the rest of what remained in his mug. Visionary did the same, finishing off her coffee quickly. Fortunately, most of Jason’s breakfast had been demolished in no short order.

I want you two to accompany me. Two pairs of eyes and Visionary do to a quick sweep, see what was stolen, then I want to go on the offence, so to speak.”

“You want to go after them?” Visionary looked concerned, holding her phone a little closer to her ear.

Yup. The case is ours and we don’t sit with our thumbs on our asses like the police. We have large amounts of evidence it was them, we know the location of their base and I have a Commander under my authority with a Containment Squad to help me deal with them. We’re going after the little bastards and finding out what’s going on. And if any trouble comes about it, all the heat’s on me.”

Neither of them responded immediately. Grandmaster decided that the wait of a few seconds of air time was too much.

If you two are done with your romantic breakfast, get your asses to my office. We leave in the hour. Grandmaster out.”

Before anybody could respond, the line was dead.

Jason raised his eyebrows slightly and put his phone away. “I can see why he never has a case for long.”

“He’s good at what he does.” Visionary did the same, then pushed her chair back and stood up. “Gear up, I’ll see you in his office when you’re ready.”

Jason nodded. Visionary normally would at least wait for him to catch up but he could see a determination in her steps as she power walked to the equipment rooms. He sighed a little, then snagged the last piece of bacon on his plate, dipped it into some brown sauce and popped it into his mouth, before clearing the table and putting everything on his tray. He made sure what remained of his breakfast was either stacked away or put in the bin before he made a move to venture out and gear himself up.

Grandmaster leaned on the back of the car that had brought the trio in, arms folded, staring at the warehouse. It was in a somewhat desolate part of Greater Manchester between Wythenshaw and Sale, and the industrial estate housing the warehouse looked neglected. The pavements were curved, shaping the pathway of cracked roads, littered with potholes and sundered earth; the road markings had all but worn away, pale whites with splattered edges that added to the derelict appeal

It was a plain, unassuming building, cuboid in shape and bland otherwise, though kept in much better condition than the surrounding buildings. The top half had the effect of corrugation, and above the doorway hung a large sign.

MAGI-Tech.

‘Make another great invention’

Grandmaster eyed the yellow tape covering the front entrance of the building for a few seconds and snorted, unfolding his arms. He patted his side where he’d normally keep some sort of armament on his person, his hand lingering for a moment. Visionary was about twenty paces away on the phone, whilst Jason was a few feet away from the car, nearer the building. The car park they loitered about on was empty, barren save for their car and a few Containment Squad vans that were already here, working on the scene.

Jason turned to Grandmaster. He studied him through his visor for a second. The gulf in technology between their sets of equipment was visibly striking.

“What do I need to address you as today?” Jason rolled one of his shoulders as he spoke. “Normally, I’m in command.”

“Today’s a day for firsts. Agent is standard protocol.” He didn’t sound too serious, though he was quieter than when he spoke over the phone to them before.

“Okay, Agent. Do you mind if I ask a question?”

Grandmaster turned his head to Jason. Through his visor, he managed to target him. Information poured just in his peripheral vision, giving him details of who he was facing. The targeting square turned green after a second.

“Nope. Fire away.”

“No disrespect meant. Your equipment is much higher quality than our Containment Squads.”

“No disrespect taken.” Grandmaster stood off from the car and turned to face Jason, as if addressing him properly. “Perfectly reasonable comment. There’s a few reasons.”

He flicked his finger up in the air. “First reason. All Fargraced Agents must wear an outfit as to properly identify themselves and to give them a unique appearance. It also helps a bit with merchandising, daft as it sounds. You know HR, you know how much revenue they make from that.”

Grandmaster sounded weary, and well versed in saying that particular point. Jason nodded. Grandmaster flicked up another finger, pointing two skywards.

“Second reason. Due to my rank I’m allowed certain freedoms. One of which being, to design my own armour. I spent a small fortune commissioning this from Artifex.”

He whipped a third finger in the air on the same hand. “Third reason. I value my safety. I’d pay any amount to make sure I’ve got even a single percent better odds against somebody. We’ve got a kid who hasn’t got a recorded upper strength limit on our side. There’s a woman in the unit who can absorb kinetic and electrical energy and can use it to get stronger, tougher, shoot lightning, heal wounds. I have to stare these bastards down knowing my armour won’t fail me when I need it.”

Jason nodded affirmatively. Compared to Grandmaster’s helmet, his only provided a basic amount of information. It had a basic facial recognition system to identify targets, but it gave nothing else beside that. No words, no designation of hostile or friendly targets, and certainly not a phone. They all were able to see in any number of ways, from infrared to night vision. What Grandmaster’s helmet could do beside that, he couldn’t even guess.

“Understood.”

“Do you think your equipment in the Containment Squads is lacking?”

“No, sir.”

“How old is it?”

“Few years. Two, maybe three.”

Grandmaster studied him for a brief second.

“Could probably do with an update. I’ll see about mentioning it to the Chief Commander.”

Jason nodded again.

Visionary joined them. Compared to their gear, she only wore a face mask and eschewed any armour on her head.

“What’s the word?” Jason asked.

Visionary stopped, so they formed a neat triangle. “They’ve given us permission to access the site.” She shot a glance to Grandmaster. “Which you know you need to acquire before we attend any crime investigation scenes.”

Grandmaster waved it off, his expression unrecognisable beneath his helmet. He started walking to the front door. “Takes up to two days to process.” The other two began to follow behind him, catching up quickly. “Excellent work, Agent Visionary. I knew I could count on you to get that paperwork crap out of the way so we can do some real work.”

“You know how important documentation is, regardless of rank.” Visionary rolled her eyes.

“Yeah, yeah. I know. Still a pain in the ass.”

“Is he always like this?” Jason asked in jest to Visionary. He wasn’t subtle either, knowing Grandmaster would hear it. She didn’t get time to answer before he did.

“Damn right I am.”

Grandmaster lead the way past a pair of men in forensics gear; standard issue white jumpsuit with hoods, face masks and a pair of mechanical goggles on their faces. He nodded as they went inside and ducked underneath the yellow tape; clearly marked with hazard stripes and writing that said “NFU INVESTIGATION SCENE” along the length in black letters, with a yellow edge around it when it went over a stripe of black.

The doors were already open. Inside, the warehouse was being thoroughly swept through. Footprints near the front entrance were marked off by circles of chalk. Several men and women, all dressed in white and part of the forensics team, were looking through some of the aisles containing large crates of wood and smaller ones of plastic. To the side, one man was using a device to scan bootprints on the floor, much more prominently visible than any others. The rest were sweeping over the floors going back and forth through the front door. Two forensic investigators were investigating a control panel, one holding a piece of Eldritch Technology that looked like a square scarab.

“Well, they’ve got this covered. This is more of a formality than anything else. Let’s do a quick check to see if what they’ve got here matches the intel on the Technomads. Visionary, check the point of entry and ask about how they got in. Jason, check the DNA to see if we get a match. I’ll look at security footage and see what was taken.”

With nod from everyone a small wave by Grandmaster, they split up. Visionary didn’t have to travel far, and neither did Jason. Grandmaster slunk his way through the towering isles of equipment, to go and check the security room for the evidence he was seeking.

The two members of the forensics team were both female, and Visionary could see the device much clearer once she got closer. It looked like it had the body of a much stockier, cuboid-like beetle. It had a single button that made it look like a head. Along each side were three robotic digits, six in total, and they were being tested by being tugged on and rolled around to test the joints.

One of the two women noticed Visionary and nudged the other, who paused what she was doing and turned. They bowed their heads and she spoke, her voice a little husky.

“Agent Visionary, an honour to meet you.”

Visionary nodded back. “The pleasure is mine as well. What have you found?”

The woman holding the beetle turned it over and held it up for Visionary to see, though she didn’t hold it close enough that Visionary would take it from her. Visionary got the idea and observed. “What we’ve found from a preliminary investigation is that they’ve used your standard Hardware Bug. They’ve disabled the guards outside, come in through the front door and used it to ‘pause’ the security interface and gain entry.”

Visionary turned to the door for a second, then turned her attention back to the Bug.

“That makes sense.”

“It seems like it’s a professional job but we’ve done some fingerprint traces. We’ve got some prints and we’ve sent them off to be scanned. They didn’t seem to take all precautions.”

Jason meanwhile, was squatting on the floor near a chalk circle next to a footprint. Another female member of the forensics team was carefully scanning over it with the device in her hand, with red lasers tracing an outline of the entire boot from just the print alone. It seemed to even add in the parts that were missing. She turned it off, withdrawing a large spray bottle from her pocket, and began to cover the area with a light layer of foam.

She spoke to Jason afterwards.

“We’ve got enough DNA. The security feeds we got before they were shut off showed they were covered up, balaclavas and gloves, but we still have hairs, skin cells and bootprints to identify them with.”

She pointed to another member of forensics who was scanning over the floor, beaming a laser grid on the ground infront of him as he walked down the aisles. Something seemed to show up blue on the grid and he stopped, keeping the device pointed at it. After a few seconds he turned to Jason and the female forensic investigator, waving the device.

“Got another hair. Same guy.”

She checked the foam. It had mostly solidified, rising up about half an inch from the ground. “I don’t think we’re going to have too much trouble finding out who did this, Commander.”

“I don’t, either.”

Grandmaster joined the pair ten minutes later, after getting some information and discussing their findings. They both turned as he arrived, nodding their heads and standing more at attention.

“Let’s recap.” He flick pointed to Visionary. “What did you find?”

“The Technomads disabled the security guards outside, forced entry through the front doors of the warehouse, then used Hardware Bugs to pause the security consoles to interrupt the alarm being set off. They used similar Bugs on the security cameras near the front entrance, but cameras at the back were unaffected. It’s assumed they were caught on tape by those, and after they left the security console ‘unpaused’ and began the alarm again. They’ve also left some fingerprints on the Bugs.”

Grandmaster nodded. Flick point to Jason. “Jason, what did you find?”

“They tracked some mud inside. Seems the majority of them wore the same type of boots. They’ve left DNA all over the place. Stray hairs, some dust and skin cells. We’re not lacking in evidence to pin it on them, if any of the initial DNA traces are any clue. They were organised but not totally professional. I’d say that fits them as far as profiles go.”

Grandmaster nodded. “Good, great work. I checked the security feeds and it confirms everything you’ve said. We’ve got some clear visuals on some of the tech they’re using, and it matches some of the descriptions of previous robberies they’ve done. They came in, cleared the way, and went straight for some very specific things.”

He takes out a small piece of paper, ripped from a notepad.

“A lot of this stuff, I don’t know what it is. They’ve taken two computer towers from the head office. Most of them contain some basic information and documents on the electronics in this here warehouse. Wires, nuts and bolts. Some things called ‘Power Coupling Coils’ and ‘Eldritch Distribution Cores’. I don’t fucking know what that crap is, but they stole it. Normally, these goons go for weapons, equipment, armour, they try to take the latest equipment that NFU Containment Squads are supposed to get, but they’re usually a few years late.”

He motioned for the pair and began to walk outside. Visionary and Jason shared a glance, then followed after him.

“Now that we’ve investigated and I believe there’s sufficient evidence and just cause, we’re going to go and hit the Technomads. We just happen to know where their base of operations is as well. Now I know it takes about two, maybe three working days to process this through. We’ve got evidence here, we’ve done profiling. I have enough reasonable suspicion to believe that the Technomads are behind this. And, we know where their base is right now. We need to hit them before they up and leave.”

Both Visionary and Jason waited to react. Visionary nodded, Jason did so too afterwards.

“Now, we’re gonna head back, gather up some resources and men and plan on how we’re gonna nail these bastards. Jason, get your Containment Squad, and some of them fancy Fatigue weapons. Grenades, rifles, pistols, the whole works. We’re gonna go and give them an extensive ‘field testing’, tomorrow night.”

Beginnings: 2-2

Alex went to raise his hand and got about half way through the air. In hesitation, he slowly pulled it back down. It caught the attention of Grandmaster, who smiled slightly in response to what he saw.

“Alex. What do you think it is?”

“Uh.” Alex sat up a little, adjusting his posture. “I think it’s something like… I dunno.” He seemed to trawl for an idea in his mind. “Like why I can’t tether two people together.”

Grandmaster’s voice raised a tone. This seemed to be something he knew about enough to show interest himself. “Bingo. The Farside Effect is a term for the theory of why we can’t just use abilities on each other. You’re not entirely right though, but good effort, Alex.”

Alex perked up a little. “What do you mean?”

Grandmaster nodded in his direction. “You can tether two people together. Well, sorta. The Farside Effect is a pretty complicated subject. ‘Lotta theory work, ‘lotta guessing, ‘lotta experimenting. The basic thing is, you can’t use your powers on other people. Not always. You try to use your powers on somebody directly, nothing happens.”

He claps his hands together, making a sharp noise. “But you can. The reason it doesn’t work is because, in order to use your powers on somebody else, you need to focus. You need to focus and channel all of your strength, your willpower, and push yourself to your absolute, 100% limit. And when you do, it’s only about a tenth as strong as doing it any other time, when it’s easy.”

Grandmaster scratches his chin. “Doesn’t matter how good you are with your powers or how far along you are. The only way you can use your powers directly onto somebody else, is if you’re staying still, you can focus on them for a minute or so, you do absolutely nothing else, and you push yourself so hard you’re totally exhausted afterwards, and even then it’s gonna be so weak you wondered why you bothered. When you’ve got some bastard with a knife to your throat, doing that isn’t feasible.”

Shaun looked to Alex for a moment, then spoke without raising his hand. “I can punch a person as easy as a car, what about me?”

“You-” Flick point. “-are in the group of people who don’t activate their powers. Anybody who doesn’t need to activate their powers don’t have to give a shit. Again, nobody knows why. This isn’t of course taking into account other things. People blast each other just fine. Katrina can superheat the air around you with mist and slough the skin off your face. It only works if you’re doing it directly to them or inside them. So people who make force fields can’t make one in your stomach without the Farside Effect fucking them over. But they can make one around you just fine.”

Grandmaster begins to pace to the left, and afterwards to the right as he talks.

“Which brings us neatly to our next point. The most successful Fargraced out there know about this, and they know how to get around it. And if I’m teaching you anything, it’s how to think outside the box. If you’re going to be part of the NFU, you need to know exactly how to use your powers. That’s why we train you.” He comes to a standstill, and brings his fist down into his palm. “We don’t teach you the same shit, day in and day out. We train you so much because it helps you understand your abilities, the abilities of the guy to your left and right. And when you know what you can do, and what they can do, then you can work together and do shit like combining abilities.”

“Alex.” Grandmaster walks to the side of the room he’s on, and stands at ease in front of him. “Visionary told me that when you were training, you managed to link her glove to yours, then pulled her to the floor with your powers.”

Alex widened his eyes and nodded slowly.

“Yeah?”

“That’s what I’m talking about. Creative powers mean you win fights, and can take what’s thrown at you. Always assume your enemy knows more about their powers than you do.”

Alex nodded, with a hint of pride in his smile. Grandmaster paced to the middle of the room.

“Now, before we do some practical. The NFU are going to be rolling out a new way to briefly classify Fargraced. It’s a simple two part thing.”

He raised a finger in the air. “The first part describes whether or not the abilities are something that just happens, or if they have to consciously use their abilities. Active, or Passive. Shortened to Act, or Pas.”

Grandmaster raised another finger. “The second part is whether or not the effect is affecting them, or people around them. If it’s something that’s only going to altar the Fargraced in question, we consider that Internal. If it’s anything but the Fargraced, then it’s External. These are shortened to Int, or Ex.”

“After these, briefly describe the person in question. So.” He brings his raised fingers down, to point at Alex. “Act-Ex, links objects and kinetically pulls them.”

He sweeps over to Shaun. “Pas-Int. Extreme strength and durability. Upper limits unknown.” Shaun raised an eyebrow at that and grunted.

Grandmaster pointed to the last person in the room, Katrina. “Act-Ex, Nephokinetic. Generates and controls unknown vapour.”

With his thumb, he points it to his chest.

“Pas-Int. Intuitive weapon and improvised weapon mastery.”

Grandmaster brings his hands together, the clap rings around the room.

“That’s it. We tried with a number system but it got too confusing. Things are too situational, too many variables, and what the hell are you going to measure anyway? How powerful they are compared to who or what?” He shrugs. “No fucking clue. Takes too long. Keep it simple. The extra second you’re yapping away is a second you’ve missed getting the drop on somebody.”

“Now, we’re gonna do a little thought experiment. Shaun, no offence or anything, but you don’t exactly need a whole lot of creativity with your powers.”

Shaun shrugged slightly, leaning back in his chair. “None taken.”

“I want you to contribute though. I want you to give the others ideas of what you can do, to use your powers a little differently. It doesn’t have to be something violent. The more outside the box, the better.”

They began to talk between themselves, whilst Shaun wasn’t the one to speak about his own powers, he did focus on the others in the room.

“So you can make vapour, yeah?”

“Yes.” Katrina raised her eyebrows, blowing out a ring of vapour, with a grin to follow afterwards.

“Okay, vapor evaporates, doesn’t it?” Shaun asked.

“Yeah, normally it does.” Alex contributed, raising his hand.

“Mine doesn’t. When it’s around, it keeps things wet or hot but when it goes, any moisture goes with it too.” Katrina explained roughly, and demonstrated. Thick strands of white smoke began to billow from her open palm, engulfing Shaun’s desk in a lapping motion. It spilled over the edges like a liquid, and she let it cling for a few seconds. Alex watched intently, as she dismissed it with a wave of her hand. Water droplets that clung to the surface of where her mist touched appeared for a second, before the vapour vanished and took it with it.

“That’s so cool. Where does like, the water go?”

“If you ever find out, tell me?” Katrina teased.

“I’ll let you know, totally.” Alex said, shrugging with a grin.

Grandmaster leaned back on his desk and observed, and a pleased smile spread his lips. For now, he just observed and watched as they bounced ideas off each other, discussed limits and strengths. He waited a good 15 minutes and let them carry on, content to burn off some time this way. It wasn’t until Tether was trying to test to see how strong he could launch a chair into Shaun, who willingly allowed himself to be demonstrated on, that Grandmaster clapped his hands and interrupted.

Shaun and Alex turned around. Alex has his hands in the air, about to bring a chair from one side of the room into Shaun’s shirt, who he’d tethered together just a few seconds ago.

“Okay, enough of that. I’m afraid I can’t let you damage NFU property. Even if it would be a good thing to watch.”

Shaun and Alex slumped their shoulders, and joined together to say “Aww” at the same time. Katrina was giggling, and looked as if she was eager to see the demonstration herself.

“Wrap up time. You know what you’ve learned and what you can take away from this. We’ve got fifteen minutes left, give or take. We can finish up quickly and you can head out with a bit of free time.”

Alex cleared his throat slightly. “Hey, Grandmaster. Personal questions okay?”

Grandmaster raised an eyebrow, folding his arms loosely. “Shoot.”

“Your armour. Artifex grade?”

“Good eye.” He said, slightly impressed. “Artifex grade. Custom commissioned, with NFU discounts. The man made it himself.”

“Oh, wow. That’s so cool.” Alex walked over, and began to run his eyes over the design. Shaun and Katrina shared a glance, as he fawned over the details. “Looks like he’s improved on his Carbon Shear Armour. This must have cost a lot of money.”

“I don’t know what it’s made of. All I know is, it stops me from being killed, and there’s enough gadgets to make the MAGI-Tech boys cry their asses to sleep.”

“Huh. Didn’t know you were such a nerd.” Shaun says with a grin, folding his arms.

“Nah, Artifex is just… He makes art, and I love art. I got to see him at work on a visit, when he was working in the NFU workshop. He’s got so many things he’s working on. There was so much to take in.” Alex moved over and began to look over Grandmaster’s helmet. “No expense spared. So cool.

“He’s working there for the next month or two.”

“He is?” Alex widened his eyes and stood up fully, resisting to grab the helmet. “Do they still do the site visits?”

“Yup. You should mention it to Visionary, I’m sure she’ll let you see him again.. But you know the rules. One supervisor, one visitor. He doesn’t like visits, but as long as he’s got a contract with the NFU, he’s contractually obliged to do them.”

Grandmaster looks to Shaun and Katrina. “You two fancy it?”

Shaun shrugs, nodding. “Sure, why not? Might even be interesting.”

Katrina nodded and smiled widely. “Of course.”

“I’ll get something sorted out. Alright, you three, go out early. You’ve not done bad today. Keep practising, and don’t skip training.” Grandmaster reaches behind for his helmet, and brings it into his lap.

Alex offers a hand out. Grandmaster takes it with a firm grip. “Great lesson, thanks.”

As Alex leaves, Shaun comes over and does the same, though his grip is much stronger. “Yeah, I expected it to be boring.”

He can’t help but to smile at that, and nods his head.

Katrina comes over and offers a hand too, though her shake is much less firm and done more as a courtesy. “Good lesson. The practical really worked.”

With everyone departing the room, Grandmaster waited a minute before he slotted his helmet back on and it sealed itself shut. He took a feel for the room again, and the User Interface soon lit up.

MENU.

“Call Visionary, again.”

‘VISIONARY AGAIN’ NOT RECOGNISED IN CONTACTS.

Grandmaster sighed.

“Visionary. Call Agent Visionary.”

CALLING Agent Visionary (mobile).

“Grandmaster. Your lesson ended early?”

“Hey. Yeah, I let them out early.”

“How did it go?”

“I think it went well.” Grandmaster stood up and walked over, taking the chair that was left on the side which Alex tried to fling at Shaun, and hauled it back to the correct place. “’course, I wouldn’t know. You’d best ask them.”

“I think you did just fine.” He noted the honesty in her voice.

“Gonna need a favour. Three of them.”

“Favours? That’s not normally something you ask for.”

“Yeah, well. These three got talking about Artifex, and they want to see him at work.”

“I imagine Alex was the one to bring him up.”

“Yup.” He threw the chair back in place.

“I wouldn’t call it a favour. It can be arranged. He’s due a few site visits. I’ll get it organised. I think there’s an opening tomorrow.”

“Great. Job’s a good ‘un.”

“What did you think of them?”

“The kids?” Grandmaster was walking to the door, and he paused for a moment. “They’re good. You’re being a good mentor to them.”

“Thank you.” He could almost picture her smiling as she said that, judging by her voice alone.

“When can I expect you back on my team?”

“I don’t know. Director Sage was pushing me to the Mentor program. When it comes to her, there;s always something going on.”

“Yeah, tell me about it. Pisses me right off.” Grandmaster coughed. The volume adjusted, and quietened to soften the impact over the phone. “Damn shame. I enjoy having somebody worth sparring with.”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to live with that. I’m enjoying it.”

“The girl, Katrina. Is she going on your team?”

“I hope so. Strategically speaking, she’s very useful. Her training is almost complete.”

“I can tell. She’s good with her whole, vapour powers sort of thing.”

He left the room, and began to walk down the hallway. His fingers dug into a belt pocket, fishing out a pair of coins.

“Oh! By the way. Have you heard anything?”

“Nope.” There was a vending machine close to him. He pushed in the coins and scanned the machine, spying a few of the energy drinks along the way. “Bit of a weird one. It might just be Alpha and her love of animals, but it’s still suspicious. I’ll give you a heads up if I hear anything.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

“Anything else I can do for you?” A bottle of Coke crashed down to the bottom, and he dipped his hand inside to retrieve it. He held the lid between two fingers and walked along, letting it swing freely in his grip. “Maybe you’d like me to do the rest of your job for you whilst I’m at it.”

“I’m sure you’d love to take all that credit for yourself.” Her tone was clearly teasing.

“Oh, now I take offence to that.” He was grinning, just a little. “I’d at least put in a good word for you. Maybe two words.”

“Goodbye, Grandmaster. Take care.”

“You too.”

The call cut out.

Grandmaster flicked the bottle into the air and caught it in the flat of his hand. At least now, he felt happier that he’d actually taught something. But, for now, he would have to think about it later. There were more pressing matters to look into, and he made his way to the Evidence room. He was intent on sifting through some footage, for an incident in an NFU testing facility that happened a week ago, that was now brought to his attention.

The Best Western Plus was a building that exemplified the rustic aesthetic of the potteries. Etruria Hall stood out, and the red bricks that coated the outside had only lost a bit of their dullness over time. The triangular roofs, square chimneys, even the lawns enclosed with rings of concrete and gated, spear-topped fences all seemed to be a step back in time to the 18th century. The interior was much more modernised, having being developed into a hotel in a somewhat recent span of time.

Shaun was already quite familiar with his room, having spent the last week there as their house was rebuilt. Half the walls were a Taupe colour, the other half a pale cream, with a blue-grey carpet beneath them. The room was spacious in a modest sense, with a small living room area divided away by a single wall in the middle of the room, with space either side to manoeuvre around it. It had the general assortment of hotel furnishings, from a polished wood desk with a chair and a television on top, to a small dining room table with three blue felt chairs held together by wooden frames. The sofa, at least, was a darker shade than the other. Sadly, the room wasn’t divided to the point where all the bedrooms were separate, not that it really mattered.

He took the lift up to his room and used the key card to let himself in. To his surprise, he saw his mum and dad sitting on the edge of the bed, taking off their shoes. Shaun closed the door behind him, to which his mum came over and wrapped her arms around him.

Shaun reciprocated and smiled. “Hey. Mum, dad. Mum, aren’t you working?”

Anne finally let him go, letting her hand linger on his shoulder. “Shaun! Oh, nice to see you’re okay. They gave me and your dad the week off work. Me and your dad went to do some shopping.”

“Aye. Bloody clothes, again.” Craig passed the comment as he left his shoes at the bedside.

“Oh, come on!” Anne said, walking over to Craig. He laughs and pulls his shoulder back as Anne gently slaps him there, a mocking tease to her tone. “It’s been months since I’ve had the chance to go shopping. I might as well enjoy it!”

“I know, I know.” She finds herself in his arms for a second, giving her a firm kiss on the lips. “Dunnae be daft.”

“Guys, if you’re gonna be like this, I’ll just go back out.” Shaun reached out for the door, grinning slightly. Craig rolled his eyes, whilst Anne just giggled. “Seriously. If you want the room for yourselves-”

Anne gasped dramatically. “Shaun! You dirty sod.”

Shaun just grinned, and slipped his shoes off in a swift pair of motions, before throwing them in a lose pile by his bed.

“It feels weird coming in without Button here.”

“Aye. Kennels are looking after her, for now.” Craig said, giving Anne a tight squeeze for a second.

“So what did you learn today?” Anne walked out of Craig’s arms, over to the kitchen counter and snatched the empty plastic kettle that was standing there. “I take it you’ll want a brew.”

“Yeah, that’d be lovely, ta.” Shaun made his way and slumped down on one of the sofas, taking up another cushion by sprawling a leg over it. Craig decided to join him, and swatted at his leg. After Shaun pulled it away with a grunt and a smile, Craig occupied the far end.

“Alright. Today was just a bit of a normal day so far. As normal as a week’s been. We didn’t go on patrol today, instead we did some workshops. Basic training and all that stuff.”

“What do you need training for?” Craig spoke incredulously.

“Technique?” Shaun stated, making a widening motion with his hands, that turned into a slight shrug. “They try to do it anyway. It’s a bit more about teamwork. Looking at everyone else, see how they work, get to work better with them, and know how they’re going to act. It’s fun. I mean, they know I don’t need much help but I’ve been working on throwing stuff. Getting my aim better, so I can do something at a distance.”

“Aye? You’ll have to join our darts team then, down at the pub.” Craig nudged Shaun’s shoulder with his knuckles.

“The Griffon’s a crap pub, dad.” He said, rolling his eyes. “

“That’s our local-” Craig frowned heavily, almost looking insulted. “-and it’s your nan’s favourite has been since she were your age.”

“Yeah.” Shaun said, with a bit more of a sombre tone. “Guess so.”

Anne joined them now, and drew a chair out from under the table and sat down, body facing the pair whilst the kettle boiled. “Don’t interrupt him, Craig. Go on, Shaun.”

“Anyway. We watched some of the Containment Squad training drills, and after that me and Visionary went to a design meeting. They want to give me a costume and a name.”

“Ooh!” Anne seemed excited. “Looks like they really are making you a hero.”

“Mum, I’m not- I’m not a hero, mum. Not some superhero or anything like that.”

“Shaun, you can be.” Anne raised her head up, and smiled warmly. “We’ve always told you that you’re special. You want to be a normal kid, and you are! By gosh, you are. But you’ve got a gift, a power. And if you wanted to, you can make a difference to this world. How many people can really do that?”

He contemplated her words. “Not many, I guess.”

“No, not many at all! A lot of people wish they could. But you can be a hero, Shaun, and you can still be ‘Shaun’. You can be a superhero and you’ll still be you. We know you can.”

Her words warmed him and he smiled slightly. “Yeah. You’re right. I just… don’t wanna look like an idiot. You know I want to make you proud.”

“And you do!” Craig interjected with a bit of boisterousness. “Even if you were dressed like one of them nutters.”

“Thanks dad. Reassuring.”

“Just helping how I can, son.” Craig reached over, vigorously patting Shaun on the knee a few times.

“Alright, appreciated. Anyway. We met this guy, one of the higher ups, called Grandmaster. He was wearing this suit of armour, really modern stuff. He looked kinda cool, and he ran us through some practical tips. Oh, and there was a girl with us, Katrina, she was in that lesson too.”

“A girl, eh?” Craig grinned slightly.

“Not like that, dad. We just met and we train together. Geez.”

“I know, I know.” He said in justification.

“It was actually a pretty good lesson, I got to hang out with Alex a bit more as well.”

“Good for you, Shaun.” Anne smiled. The sound of roiling water could be heard on the other side of the room, followed by a neat click. She took her leave for now, and went to pour out a few mugs of tea for everyone.

“School’s alright then? We dinnae get chance to talk about it yesterday.”

“Yeah, it’s alright. Boring though. We’ve been talking about politics. I had to talk in front of the class about politicians and the Farside. People like Anthony Barnes, who are trying to get us all locked away in the Unit because he thinks we’re all ‘dangerous time bombs, waiting to explode.’” He spoke with some passion, though there was vitriol blended into his words.

“He’s not wrong. A lotta them are Dangerous.”

“Dad.”

“I meant the other ones. Not you, Shaun, you’re alright, I meant the bad ones.”

“There’s bad people everywhere. Farborn or Fartouched or not, a person’s gonna be a dic- bad person either way.”

“We’ll go with that.” Craig said, much to Shaun’s constant frowning at him for the past half a minute.

Anne came back with mugs of tea, and handed them out to Craig and Shaun. Craig gave her a kiss on the cheek and said “Ta.”

Shaun was a little more formal with a classic “Thanks” before taking a heavy sip.

“Is Josh okay?” Anne asks, taking a sip.

“Yeah. We haven’t been talking much but he seems okay. Been a bit quiet lately the last few days.” Shaun shrugs. “Oh, yeah. Not related but i’m going out tomorrow, there’s a special thing going on at the NFU.”

“Going there again?” Anne said. “We were hoping to go for a day out, just the three of us It’s been a while since we’ve all had the chance.”

“I know. I’m sorry. Day after?” Shaun attempted a compromise. “I get to meet Artifex.”

“Who?” Craig said, furrowing his brow. He took a slight sip from his mug and sighed deeply.

“He’s the guy that makes all the Eldritch technology. He funded that MAGI-tech company. They’re the ones trying to bring Eldritch stuff into the public view.”

“Dunnae bloody trust that stuff. They’re trying to make cars like that. Cars!” He scoffed. “Engine’ll probably blow up when you start it.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re trying to avoid.” Shaun takes another large gulp. “I get to meet him and it’s apparently important, and he supplies the NFU with a lot of stuff. It’ll be interesting. Maybe.”

“As long as you’ll be okay.” Anne sipped her tea as well, never bringing it far from her mouth.

“I’m actually looking forward to it.” Shaun nodded.

“Aye. Well, you’d best get a good night’s rest then. None of this staying up late like you’ve been doing the past few days.” Craig leaned over to the side to put his mug on a small table.

“Yeah, okay. You tell me that all the time. Even on my days off.”

“A good routine is what you need.”

Shaun necked the rest of his brew, and exhaled a little steam. He stood and slid his mug on the table.

“Maybe an early night wouldn’t be bad, just tonight.”

Shaun slid his hand into his pocket and brought his phone out, bringing it up to his face for a quick look. It was still on the last message he sent, and a quick flick up the screen revealed some of the previous messages. Shaun started with a message of his own, then glanced down.

you sure your okay man? just checkin youve been quiet for days

lk im fine stop asking. fuck

okay geez fine dude sorry for giving a shit. you be an asshole if you wanna

k.

With a grunt, he turned it off and shoved it back into his pocket. He gave a quick glance to his mum and dad and smiled a little.

“Maybe not a bad idea at all.”