messenger

Exposure: 4-4

Director, Agent Visionary and her team have arrived.”

Messenger’s secretary called through the intercom for a moment. Messenger pushed the button on his receiver on the table to talk and responded, speaking lowly.

“Send them in.”

Right away, sir.”

The board room had thirteen seats, and Messenger sat on the one on the far end, his suit crisp and clean. To his right sat Grandmaster, who had his helmet removed and placed in front of him on the desk. His armour was a stark contrast, an element of field work compared to the business-like attire and demeanour of the Head Director. Messenger’s laptop, a trove of information of the NFU’s inner workings and an item of power itself, was open as he scanned over some notes that were illuminated by the back light. He raised his eyes to look at Grandmaster, who shot him a glance back; neither of them wished to speak, as awkward as the silence was in the absence of words.

The doors opened, and Visionary walked inside first. Her own mask had been pulled down, and either side of her was Verus and Spectre; the former had his hood and mask down, and the latter held her helmet underneath her arm. Visionary bowed politely, and Verus nodded his head to Grandmaster. He returned the nod, and Messenger cleared his throat gently.

“Agent Visionary, Verus, Spectre. Thank you for joining us. Take a seat.”

“Director Messenger, thank you for having us. The pleasure’s ours.”

Visionary walked over and sat opposite Grandmaster. Verus took a seat next to him, and Spectre sat next to Visionary, dividing the genders equally.

“How was morning handover?” Grandmaster asked, rubbing his hair. He felt unusual without his helmet on, stripped bare in a way.

“Just fine, thank you. How many more are we expecting?”

“We’re expecting one more agent.” Grandmaster said, shooting a glance to Verus. Verus looked sideways, but didn’t say anything. “Knowing him, he’ll probably be late.”

Director, Agent Impetus has just arrived.”

“That’s a first.” Grandmaster said. “On time for once. Must have had a good night’s sleep.”

Messenger gazed at Grandmaster for a second, before replying back to his secretary.

“Send him in as well.”

A few seconds later, Impetus walked inside. He bowed formally, almost ostentatiously so. Messenger bowed his head politely.

“Agent Impetus, have a seat. We’ll begin this meeting immediately.”

Impetus took a seat beside Spectre and leaned back, taking stock of the room. His eyes wandered from Verus to Grandmaster, and he nodded in such a way that it addressed both of them. They returned the gesture.

“This meeting is brought to session at 08:52am, December 4th of 2015. The meeting is being recorded over the laptop, and notes will be taken once all proceedings are accounted for. Everyone has been gathered here today regarding the on-going investigation of Anthony Barnes and the crimes brought against his name. We’ll be discussing the nature of his crimes and making a decision on what to do next, based on a group verdict of some of the highest Agents in the National Farside Unit, who are currently sat in this room.”

Verus looked around slowly, from Visionary to Impetus.

“For the purpose of the record, I’ll state the names of all individuals currently present and their rank. Head Director Messenger, myself. Agent Grandmaster, Kai Rhodes. Agent Visionary, Yuhong Yui. Agent Impetus, Giles Mavros. Agent Verus, Shaun Larson. Agent Spectre, Katrina Dobson. As a precursor, I’d like to apologise on Director Sage’s behalf for not attending, despite her wishes to do so. She has spoken to me about this meeting, and advised me on the matter accordingly.

“Grandmaster, would you please state the current evidence you have and the criminal offences that you believe Mr. Barnes has involvement with?”

Grandmaster nodded. “Yes. Anthony Barnes has strong evidence that point to the following criminal offences; Conspiracy and theft of prototype MAGI-Tech. Conspiracy and theft of Fartouched animals belonging to the National Farside Unit,. Intent of nullification of Farside-Born abilities. All such crimes accused have sufficient evidence that can warrant an arrest, in the form of an audible confession by Anthony Barnes to Michael Burnham, who has provided a confession, along with video and audio recordings of his dealings with Anthony Barnes.”

“In addition, Anthony Barnes had legally binding dealings with Artifex to modify the prototype engine for the purpose of nullification of Farside-Born abilities. Artifex has provided the legal documents that prove that Anthony Barnes requested and paid for these modifications, and we have video evidence that these modifications were made with the intent of said nullification. The evidence overwhelmingly points to a single chain of events.”

“Anthony Barnes hired Michael Burnham to steal Fartouched animals with the intent on testing nullification of Farside-Born abilities on them. He also hired Michael Burnham to steal a prototype engine, then made a deal with Artifex to modify the engine towards the purpose of nullification. It didn’t work as he’d anticipated and told Michael to destroy the evidence. Michael held onto the evidence so he could use it as a means to lighten his own prison sentence for his involvement. At this present time, we are lead to believe that Anthony has the engine in question. Its whereabouts is currently unknown.”

“Thank you, Grandmaster.” Messenger said. “Whilst the visions of any precognitive Fargraced aren’t admissible in a court of law, so to speak, Director Sage told me that this evidence is largely correct. As far as I can see, the evidence points clearly to Anthony Barnes committing these offences.

Messenger looked across the room broadly. “Amongst the people in this room, does anybody disagree with this assessment?”

Visionary was the first to say no, followed by Impetus and Grandmaster. Verus waited a few moments after to say the same, followed by Spectre.

“It’s agreed as a general consensus that Anthony Barnes has sufficient evidence against him to issue a warrant for his arrest for these criminal offences. With the nature of such an offence as nullification of Farside-Born abilities, it was a wise idea to bring it directly to my attention. I’m willing to issue a warrant for his arrest.”

Grandmaster nodded to himself.

“With this agreed upon, we can move onwards. A warrant for his arrest will come by tomorrow. Director Sage advised me that haste is important regarding this arrest, so we’ll formulate a general plan on the arrest here today, and go into specific details tomorrow. The arrest will take place on the 7th December, 2015.”

Grandmaster takes over. “Director Sage has told us that Anthony Barnes will be in his home in Wilmslow, Cheshire, for the entire day. The general plan will be to manoeuvre slowly and convene on his location, then send in a team to arrest him and bring him in.”

“Upon advise from Director Sage, we’re going to forgo the use of officers as the initial force of the Containment Team. We will have all Agents assembled here today to form the initial Containment Team instead, and have three other teams as back-up. In addition, you’ll be separated into two teams. Agents Grandmaster, Visionary and Spectre will be the first team to engage. Should they require additional assistance, Verus and Impetus will be nearby to lend assistance.”

Impetus glanced around the room and spoke up in the pause between sentences. “If you’ve no objection to me asking, Director Messenger. That seems quite excessive for one man, does it not?”

Messenger nodded. “Whilst I agree, this is under Director Sage’s advice. In this matter I’d rather be entirely certain that we’re over prepared instead of under prepared.”

An uneasy air settled into the room. Looks were exchanged to one another, but no words were truly spoken between them. Everyone seemed to settle after a moment of uncomfortable silence.

“I’m with Impetus on this one.” Verus said, bringing the room’s attention to him in the process. “He’s just a politician, right? What are we supposed to expect by sending over a full team of Fargraced and three backup teams?”

“Director Sage didn’t disclose the reason why. He may have bodyguards or hirelings, or even potentially turned the prototype engine that he’s stolen into a weapon. All that I was told was that she thinks I should be, and I quote, ‘totally one hundred percent sure that the arrest will happen’. The Director’s aware that I over-plan things, so I’m certain she said that with the knowledge that I’d act accordingly.”

Verus nodded. “All I’m saying is, if she told us what we’re gonna go up against, we’d definitely get the job done. It’s weird that she tells us to be prepared, but not what for.”

“As much as I’m inclined to agree, Agent Verus, we currently don’t have that information, and we have to trust that Director Sage has told us only what we need to know. Be that as it may, we can’t always depend on her abilities to predict every situation. We’ll make sure to properly assess the situation to see if and what dangers may be awaiting us, and plan and act accordingly.”

People in the room nodded slowly, some more hesitant whilst others remained thoughtful. Messenger continued.“As a final precautionary act, for this arrest I’ll be personally giving you authority to arm, before we undertake the arrest.”

“I would like to pose my concerns as well.” Visionary said, after a moment of pause. She puts her hands on the table gently. “If Director Sage was aware of how you’d act, and knew that you’d give us such authority, then she would be aware that Anthony Barnes poses a serious threat. If we’re authorised to use firearms for this arrest, it implies the potential to use them, almost a necessity to resolve any conflict. I don’t like what this implies, is what I’m trying to say.”

Messenger nodded slowly. “I’m aware that you’re concerned, and you have every right to be. This is a matter that you’ll have to trust Director Sage and myself about. I have an understanding with the Director that should something like this arise, she’d immediately inform me of any casualties or costs. She hasn’t done so, so I take it in good grace that nobody should come to any grievous harm. I know that Director Sage also agreed to say something similar to you as well, Agent Visionary.”

Visionary nodded in response.

“Can I just add-” Verus waited for a second, finger raised upwards, to see if he’d get a moment to talk. After a pause and Messenger nodding, he continued. “-that I’m normally really sceptical about Sage and people who can see the future that don’t tell you everything, but I’m kinda… with Messenger. The Head Director Messenger, on this one.”

Impetus almost looked surprised, and everyone listened with optimism.

“Think about it like this, yeah? Sage said what she did, knowing we’ll go in with guns and whatever, and knowing that we know about what it’s implying or whatever. If this guy needs us to go in with guns, he’s probably dangerous enough to need them.” Verus looked around the room for a moment, then brought his hands together. “Look, I’m probably not gonna care how powerful or strong this guy is, and I’m definitely not taking no gun, but if a person who can see the future or whatever she does says something, knowing the man in charge is gonna give us guns because of it, then I’d rather make sure everyone else is equipped. If he’s nothing to worry about, no harm. But if he needs guns to take him in, well.”

Verus tried to find the words, and everyone continued watching before a few seconds passed.

“…well, I’d rather you guys have them, just in case. I can’t be everywhere at once. And who knows what he’ll do?”

“Better to have it and not need it.” Spectre said with a nod.

The room began to nod in agreement, and Verus leaned back in his chair. He averted his gaze from anybody else’s own, meeting Visionary’s own after a few seconds. He noticed she was smiling, and turned away to look at Messenger as he started to speak.

“Does anybody else have any concerns or questions to raise regarding this operation?”

Verus, Spectre and Visionary shook their heads. Impetus leaned back, and Grandmaster was the first to speak. “I think we’ve got everything covered.”

Messenger pulled back the sleeve on his suit jacket and glanced at a gold-coated watch on his wrist. “I conclude this brief meeting over, at 09:08, on December 4th of 2016. Agents Visionary, Grandmaster, and Impetus. Your duties today will be planning and training with Agent Verus and Agent Spectre on tomorrow’s arrest. I trust in your ability to prepare and execute this operation. Whilst I won’t personally be a part of it, contact me should you have any problems.”

Messenger pressed a button on his laptop. “Meeting adjourned.” He tapped the key again, and the older agents raised out of their chairs. Taking the signal to leave, Verus and Spectre did the same. Belongings were gathered and they went out of the room. Impetus first, Grandmaster second, followed by Visionary with Verus and Spectre in tow.

As they closed the door behind them, Messenger typed on his keyboard and began to wait after hitting enter. What he did afterwards was unknown to the agents, who had begun to walk away and lost sight of him. The adults began to talk amongst themselves, discussing basic and vague plan ideas for tomorrow.

As the group walked past Messenger’s secretary, Verus gave her a nod before he turned his head slightly to Spectre.

“Normally you’re the first one to talk. Bit quiet in there, anything up?”

Spectre glanced back. “I learned that when the boss of your boss of your boss is in the same room as you, you keep your mouth shut unless you need to. Besides, it was way too serious. Let serious people talk about serious shit.”

“Fair. How you feeling about it all?”

“Good. Getting thrown into the deep end helps me show I can swim. Don’t wanna use a gun though.” She turned her head to Verus. “But it’s gotta be done, so I ain’t slacking now. What about you though?”

“What do you mean?”

“Big man on team two here.” Spectre nudged his arm with her elbow, and he rubbed it slightly. She smirked. “If the damsels in distress start calling, our white knight gets to ride in and save the day.”

Verus glanced sideways. “Emphasis on white, huh.”

Spectre smirked again, looking ahead. “Now you’re getting it.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to it. What do you think he can do?”

“Ain’t got a clue. But I ain’t gonna underestimate him. Might seem like I am, but I ain’t. You don’t have meetings and get told by people who can see the future to hold onto your ass, and not grab as tight as you can.”

The collective group stopped before an elevator, and the door opened instantly. They all poured inside, brushing shoulder to shoulder as Grandmaster leaned over Verus to push the button on the panel.

“You’re good at making colourful images, y’know that?” Verus said, cocking his head to the side.

“Lots more where that came from.”

As Spectre responded, they both shared a smile. The doors began to close, and they were instantly drawn into the other conversation going on. The feeling of light-hearted banter was fickle, and fled from them as they began to prepare, to plan for the next coming day.

C-Team Two, this is C-Team One. Agent Grandmaster here. Status update, over.”

Verus turned to Impetus, who was opposite him. He hadn’t got his barrier up yet, his head resting against the back of the black leather seat. Verus couldn’t tell if his eyes were open, but the sound of Grandmaster’s voice brought him to life. The van besides them were empty, including the driver, who had left to join up with the other men and women who would back up the agents. Verus tugged on his hood and mask again, trying to adjust them to be more comfortable.

After dragging himself forward, Impetus put his finger to his ear. “C-Team One, Agent Impetus here. Permission to speak less formally.”

Permission granted. What’s up?”

“It’s been fifteen minutes, Grandmaster.”

Gotta pass the time somehow.”

“I thought your memory was starting to go in your old age. Do your powers work on a zimmer frame, Grandmaster?”

Another voice came through the comms, one more distinctly female belonging to Spectre.

Oh snap, son. You gonna take that?”

I’d probably be just as frustrated as him if I knew the country of my birth was in that much debt, too.”

G-Master’s bringing the heat tonight. Impetus, what’ve you got to say to that?”

“I think Grandmaster’s using the comms channel immaturely, Agent Spectre. Let us focus, shall we?”

Verus sat forward and reached under his hood, pushing into his comm. “Grandmaster, what’s Anthony- the target doing?”

Target has been in the kitchen for the past ten minutes. I assume he’s making a sandwich or something.

Knowing these rich white guy types,” Spectre added, starting to mock a posh accent near the end “He’s probably having a caviar sandwich, with a side of oysters.”

“Isn’t caviar fish eggs? Who’d even eat that? Sounds gross as hell.” Verus asks. Impetus smiled in response. “What are we waiting for, anyway?”

Visionary responded. “Our agents are currently making sure all ways that the suspect can leave are blocked off and covered. The roads leading to his house have been diverted away as to not interfere with the arrest. We’ve pre-emptively evacuated the nursery next door as well, to be absolutely safe.”

Verus took a look at the monitor to take a look at his surroundings more clearly. He knew the road he was on was called Dean Row Road, but he wasn’t aware of a nursery. The van he was in was parked between that nursery and the building where Anthony Barnes was currently staying, next to a lamppost with a 40 mile per hour sign on the side. Both sides of the road after the pavement were fenced off my wood fences and hedges, green trees recovering from the worst of the English winter weather. The front of the building was guarded by a brick wall, with an electronic wooden gate blocking the path. The building behind it was large, layered with orange bricks and a light grey roof.

“Wonder how much a house like this is worth.”

“More than we would make in a lifetime, a sad thing is it not?” Impetus leaned back on his chair, putting his hands behind his head. He let out a deep sigh, almost weary in nature.

“Can’t believe we’re gonna storm some guy’s house who makes more money in a month than my family make in a year..”

“As much as everyone thinks money makes you above the law, it is not important if you make ten thousand or ten million a year. This is why men and women become police officers, or agents of the NFU, if they have the gifts for it. Some people do believe that men like him are not above the law.”

“And what’s stopping men like us being men like him? Who makes sure we’re not above the law?”

“Quit custodiet ipsos custodes?”

Verus blinked slightly. “Is that Greek?”

“Latin. Do they not teach you that in school?”

“No. There’s not much point, latin’s a dead language and all.”

Impetus smiled, and leaned his head back again. “Who guards the guardians? Who watches the watchmen, Verus? It is that very question that many have asked.”

He leaned forward, bringing both his arms on his knees and interlocking his fingers. “Both the police and the NFU are monitored, by outside forces. It makes it so that this does not happen to us, Verus. We are accountable, and organised. There are things in place to help us, and to prevent these things. If we did not have them, we would look like America.”

“Yeah. It’s like a comic book over there.” Verus added.

Impetus nodded. “Their Fargrace, they are not organised. They all act as groups, or just by themselves. Though some work for their government, the majority do not. They answer only to themselves. They market themselves, whether they consider themselves ‘hero’ or ‘villain’. Just like Sovereign.”

Verus nodded slowly. “What’s the deal with Sovereign, anyway? Why isn’t he part of the NFU? He’s like, just like you said and all.”

Impetus smiled slightly, but shook his head afterwards. “When the NFU was founded, Sovereign was just starting out as a ‘hero’. The NFU offered him a position. It was ideal and would work for everyone, but he turned them down. We have asked him many times, Verus. Many times, and he has said no each time. He says he works better alone, and he would be restricted to fighting crime just for Farside things. Not crime as a whole. It doesn’t matter, really. He still works alongside us at times, and if he is fighting crime instead of causing it, then we do not care.”

“He is the first Farborn of England, and the first Farborn superhero.” Impetus continues. “And he walks a very thin line. We are grateful that he is a force of good, because there is nothing that can control what he does. People with powers, these heroes, must be held responsible for how they use them.”

Silence filled the van. Impetus stares at the ceiling. “I don’t think Sovereign is a hero for that reason. There are no heroes, Verus. Just men who break the law, men who bring them justice, and men who watch.”

“That’s pretty pessimistic of you.” Verus leaned back, resting one arm on the back of the chair. Grandmaster’s voice suddenly became clear through their comms.

As much as I hate to interrupt Impetus detailing out his depressive views on the world, I need to announce something. I’m picking up a Farside energy signature from his house. I thought it was the engine that he stole at first, but it’s coming straight from him.”

Impetus brought his head from rest and turned over his shoulder, as Verus and himself looked up to where the house was relative to them. “He’s Fartouched?”

I’ve got every reason to think so. But this ain’t right, it’s different. Saw him at his window and the signature I was getting from him was… strong. Stronger than anything else I’ve seen. It’s like the Farside energy in him is twice as strong as anybody else.”

Verus and Impetus shot each other a look. “Doesn’t this guy want to remove Farside powers? What the hell?”

“Guilt?” Impetus responded with. “Only he can say. It would explain why the Director wanted us to be overly careful, would it not?”

“That’s so messed up. This guy’s a Fartouched and he wants to… what the hell’s going on?” Verus leaned back on his chair again.

All C-Teams, this is C-Team One. Fargraced protocols are now in effect. Subject is assumed to have Farside-Born powers of unknown ability. No classification to be given at this time. Keep comm channels open at all times. Over.”

Verus reached to the comm device in his ear and pushed into it for five seconds, and heard it make a beep. The channel was open to him, and Impetus had done the same.

A female voice came through the comms.“C-Teams, this is C-Team Three. Perimeter secure. Out.”

C-Team Three, roger. Arrest in progress. Stand by for further instructions. Out.”

“And now, we wait.”

Impetus leaned back in his chair and rolled his head back. Looking to the screen opposite from him, Verus just nodded slowly, watching the screen and the flickering image of the house and gate, as three figures began to approach.

Grandmaster lead at the front, and on his hip was a rifle, two pistol holsters and a Hardware Bug. Visionary carried the same, and Spectre was only given a single pistol. Whilst the collective rifles were the standard that the NFU normally used, the Emotional Dampening Rifles and Pistol, Grandmaster and Visionary bore a regular pistol on their opposite hip. On top of that, Visionary had her normal bar maces, and even Spectre had an extendable baton within arm’s reach.

Over his right arm was a third weapon, if it could be called that. It looked like a conventional battering ram, but it had two large metal straps that could be fixed to the arm, as well as held in the hands. It was thicker and built sturdier, and had some type of machinery fixed inside of it. In his spare hand, he held a Hardware Bug, thumb over the head of the device.

Visionary and Spectre took to covering him and began to unsheathe weapons; rifle and pistol, standing guard as Grandmaster approached the electronic keypad that barred them from entry through the front gate. He pushed the head of the Hardware bug in and slapped it to the keypad, and after a few seconds of it working, the gate itself unlocked.

With a nod, he led on and took out his pistol, leading them down the drive. As subtle as they wanted to be, the drive was a long path of gravel that split to the right to the garages, and to the left to the swimming pool and tennis court that were part of the building. Cover was scarce, other than a single sculpted shrub halfway between the gate and the front door. As they made their way to the door, they constantly checked to see if they were being observed through the windows of the house, until they all repeated the same position as before at the front door.

Grandmaster took his rifle and checked the charge was full before slinging it over his shoulder, and nodded to Visionary and Spectre. They held their weapons ready, and before Grandmaster brought his battering ram to the door, he pre-emptively touched the door handle and pushed it down. It gave way, much to their surprise. The door wasn’t locked. He removed the battering ram from his arm and fastened both parts to his belt and leg armour, to avoid it from moving about, before he slid the handle down and pushed the door open.

He took his rifle to hand and pushed open the door without so much as a sound, and made a single gesture for Visionary and Spectre to follow. Spectre covered the back whilst Grandmaster forced his way into Anthony Barnes’ home, and whilst he swept around one way, Visionary swept around to cover him. The interior was various shades of beige and cream, with dark wood lining the staircase ahead of them and three doors ahead; two closed directly in front and one open to the right, and between that door and the wall was a large polished mirror. The shelf beneath it was lined in vases and a large, brass statue of a horse.

Grandmaster moved over to the open door whilst Visionary and Spectre covered his back, and after a moment of waiting he moved into the next room. The room turned right, a wall closing off any way to the left. As they walked inside, they were in one of the living rooms. White walls contrasted with wood panelling on the floor, and the room was neatly separated by a ring of three dark leather couches. In the middle was a table with magazines littered in an unorganised pile next to a plate with a half eaten sandwich on top, and above them was a projector. The screen that would roll down was above a gold-lined fireplace on the opposite wall, that was currently roaring. Spitting out ash and sparks of fire, the only noise in the still air being the crackle and crunch of burning wood. Anthony Barnes stood, with his back facing to the door. Beside him was the stolen engine, currently turned on.

In his right hand, he was holding a wine glass that had but a single sip of red wine left inside of it. The other was helping him lean over the fireplace. His hair was grey, neatly groomed and long; slicked back with dry wax. He was propping himself up, as if he was going to fall over into the fire if his concentration fell.

All three agents levelled their weapons to him and Grandmaster’s entry allowed the other two to get behind him, forming a neat triangle. Grandmaster didn’t give him chance to respond before he spoke, and his helmet distorted his voice until it boomed out, sounding more machine than human.

“Freeze, NFU!”

Anthony didn’t respond in the seconds pause that he was given.

“Anthony Barnes, you are under arrest.”

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Exposure: 4-1

The sound of taps clacked from the room as Impetus strummed his fingers on the table, hand coated in the kinetic barrier he could conjure. The noise sounded akin to glass against glass, four strikes that blended seamlessly into the next four as his fingers rolled. As he scanned the television in front of him, he watched curiously as Grandmaster and Michael Burnham exchanged words and gestures.

He stopped with his index finger to the glass and dismissed the barrier, and his raw finger covered the distance of the gap and touched against the glass. His head tilted as he watched Grandmaster lean forward, and Burnham grinning widely as he leaned backwards.

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

Grandmaster paused. Was Impetus seeing hesitation, disbelief, or something else? The mask obfuscated his face, and with it, any trace of trying to gauge his colleague faded away. Impetus knew exactly why he did so; to take away that advantage from his enemies, or people he interviewed or interrogated. To remove the human aspect was a great advantage in itself, as it masked away any emotions or expressions that may give away any information.

So Grandmaster has told him once or twice. Impetus watched as that pause in the conversation spoke more about what was going on with him, than any contorted expression could convey.

“Anthony Barnes.” He repeated, with no part of his body moving. Not even a flex of a finger or a tilt of the head.

“What, did I fuckin’ stutter or somethin’?”

“The politician Anthony Barnes. Leader of the Union of Britain party.”

“The one and the very same-”

Grandmaster snipped off the last bit of his sentence by slamming his fist down into the table abruptly. Such a reaction wasn’t what Impetus had known of Grandmaster.

Bullshit.

“You think I’m lyin’?”

“I think you’re full of shit.” Grandmaster said, now raising his hand and pointing a finger right at Michael’s face. “Anthony fuckin’ Barnes, Burnham? Really?”

Michael lowered his shoulders, as if to show he was defenceless. With his hands already behind his back, he showed how incapable he was to physically react. That grin somehow managed to pull itself wider. “Not very professional of yer’. But I’m not lying.”

The grin dropped from his face abruptly. “I’ve got no fuckin’ reason to lie to you. It might be out there, ain’t easy to believe, but I’ve got evidence.”

“Evidence.” Grandmaster said, slowly curling his finger back into his fist.

“Evidence, is there a fuckin’ parrot in this room? Evidence, you daft cunt!” Michael struggled lightly against his handcuffs. “Weeks of recorded phone calls, back an’ forth emails, names of places where all the stuff he’s asked me to do for him.”

Michael stood up as he spoke, raising his voice to a pitch that made Impetus flinch. Once calm, now his voice echoed with a conceited fury behind it.

“What fuckin’ more do you want from me, you fuckin’ idiot cunt?! You’re getting’ everything you want and all I’m askin’ for is less years for all I’ve done. Is that so hard for your piece of shit brain to handle?”

Grandmaster paused again.

“And you’d be willing to testify this evidence in an official interview as well as pleading guilty in the subsequent trial.”

Michael lowered himself down to his chair and sat down. As if the emotion had never washed over him, he goes back to his unusually calm demeanour. “That’s right.”

“Got a bit of a temper there, Burnham. Might wanna watch yourself with that.”

“I find it hard to keep me hat on when yer’ not cooperating, when I’m tryin’ to do you a solid. It’s fuckin’ ungrateful, that’s what it is.”

Impetus leaned back in his chair with a curious expression on his face. He watched as Grandmaster took the file he had on the table back into his hands, a sign that he was due to leave shortly. Grandmaster sat up, with his posture improved.

“You throw out the name for one of the guys gunning for Prime Minister and you expect me to believe you right away. I’ve got every reason to be suspicious of you and whatever you say.”

This time, Michael was the one who paused.

“I dunno what else you want me to say. You’ve got the name, I’ll give you the evidence.” Michael stoppe, then tapped his finger on the table three times, each harder than the last. “We done here then?”

Grandmaster stood up, taking the file with him. He pointed it to Michael as he spoke. “We’ll be conducting an official interview in an hour where you can testify all this information. Once you’ve done that, we’ll process you as normal.” He lowered the file down. “Thank you for your cooperation.”

Grandmaster turned and walked out of the room, turning a head to the guards outside. Giles could barely make out what he relayed to him before the door closed.

“…earned his breakfast.”

The guards came in afterwards. They stood up Michael and held him by the shoulders from behind and escorted him out of the room. He took one last look around before he was out of sight, the doors locked and the room returning to inactivity.

Impetus stopped the feedback.

He didn’t have to wait long before Grandmaster walked into the room and took a seat beside him, turning it around to face him. He brought one leg up and rested it on the other.

“Anthony Barnes.” Impetus said, with a slight tinge of whimsy to his voice.

“Anthony fucking Barnes.” Grandmaster repeated with more vulgarity. “Anthony Barnes is apparently the great mastermind behind all of this. The robberies, the kidnapping of animals. A politician who’se doing bad shit behind the scenes.”

“We are in one of those cartoons, the Saturday ones.” Impetus repeated. “If this is a joke, we are the fools here. If this isn’t, there are more implications. Bad ones.”

“Mmm.” Grandmaster said, rolling his head back. “Came outta left field. What the hell do we even do now?”

“I thought you knew how to do your job. Now you need me to tell you what you have to do?” Impetus said, showing a slight smile.

“My mood for wise cracks has gone, give it a few hours.”

A few moments passed before Impetus spoke. “You’re taking this quite seriously.”

Grandmaster looked off to the side. “Too many things here that don’t add up. How would we have known that Anthony fucking Barnes had anything to do with this, if it wasn’t for Burnham squealing? Is somebody behind Barned as well? What the hell is even going on that we don’t know about?”

Impetus nodded. “You’re over thinking. Calm yourself a little.”

Grandmaster turned to Impetus, bringing his leg down to the floor. “It’s my job to over think. That’s how I operate, and I work best when I’m under duress. Let me have some stress for once.”

Impetus grinned slightly. “You’ll burn yourself out like that.”

“Doubt it.” Grandmaster leaned back a little. “I ain’t dead yet, and I doubt this’ll be the end of me.”

“I think what you want to be asked is, where do you go from here, Grandmaster?”

Grandmaster leaned forward, holding his hands together, forearms on his knees.

“We take the interview with Burnham, he tells us where to find what we need, we gather the evidence. The phone calls, emails, anything else, enough that we have irrefutable evidence. Then-” Grandmaster sits upright, putting his hands on the arm of his chair. “-we kick down Barnes’ door and arrest him, and this whole thing is finally over.”

Impetus smiled again and stood up this time, stretching his hands upwards. The prolonged stretch made him groan slightly, and as he walked past Grandmaster he put a hand on his shoulder.

“It is going to be a big day for you, Grandmaster. You’d best get some coffee.”

Impetus walked out of the room, and Grandmaster waited until he was just closing the door before he spoke.

“Yeah, I’m gonna need a shit-ton of coffee for this.”

Grandmaster glances at the screen for a second, watching the blank room for a few seconds before he hauls himself out of the chair. He shakes his head before he turns off the monitor, and finally leaves the stillness of the observation room, mirroring how lifeless the interview room had started to become.

…final time of interview, concluded at 11:34am.”

Taking another long sip, Grandmaster swirled the contents of the empty paper cup in his hand before throwing it into the stack forming on his table. Now two cups high, he contemplated asking somebody to get him a third.

He had returned to his office after talking with Michael, leaving the interview process to the other Grandmaster requested a live feed to watch it in its entirety and it was obliged, and he was watching it all unfold on his laptop whilst taking notes. To the right of him sat his helmet on the table, which he gave a single glance to every so often whilst scrawling down notes. A full sheet of A4 paper later, he let the pen finally come to rest on top of the paper, flexing the fingers in his hand to relieve him of the strain they’d been under.

His helmet was on a type of sleep mode where though it was still active, all but a few processes were shut down, and were easier to start up at the cost of some power draining away. This would mean that if the helmet’s internal phone went off, he’d be able to know. Whilst it was shut around his head, it made a more discrete noise into his ear that only he could hear, but the volume was amplified through the speakers of the helmet to alert him if somebody was calling him.

In this such instance, his helmet’s phone was ringing like this.

With a bit of an inquisitive look, he grabbed his helmet and slid it over his head, speaking a vocal command before it had even shut tight around him.

“Answer.”

The comm on the phone became active, as he noticed by the slight difference in noise. The display came alive as well, showing details of where the call was coming from.

GREATER MANCHESTER POLICE HQ. DIRECT LINE.

“Hello, you’re speaking to Grandmaster, AKA Agent Kai Rhodes of the National Farside Unit.”

Good morning, Agent Rhodes. This is Sergeant Paul Anderson of the Greater Manchester Police. I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

Grandmaster leaned back on his chair, watching as the interviewers began to leave the room. Two other people came inside the room to escort Michael Burnham out, who was starting to grow irritated by being handcuffed so much and pulling on the bindings with clenched fists.

“Morning, Sergeant Anderson. We don’t normally get a lot of phone calls from the boys in blue. You’re not interrupting anything. How’s your day been?”

A bit up, a bit down, otherwise fine. I was directed to yourself after enquiring about the case with Michael Burnham.”

“Oh?” Grandmaster replied, sitting back upright in his chair. “Word travels fast. I’m currently leading the on-going investigation, so I’m the right man to talk to. What can I help you with?”

“I’d like to know the current status of Mr. Burnham himself.”

Grandmaster paused for a moment before responding, pondering. “The official report will be done within the next few days if you fancy a read yourself, but I can tell you that he’s been interviewed. He’s going to be processed and sent over to prison in a very short time, once we’ve confirmed what he’s told us on the interview.”

I see. That’s good news then. I do have a question though, if you don’t mind me asking. Michael Burnham is a rather ‘mundane’ criminal, as far as we’re aware. The NFU are normally on cases involving more ‘alien’ things, so why is the NFU interviewing him?”

“He’s directly involved in a case regarding the theft of MAGI-Tech and Fartouched animals. The case itself was sent over to us from the Police.”

But he himself isn’t Fargraced or directly responsible for these allegations of theft or kidnapping of Fartouched animals?”

Grandmaster paused again, to contemplate. He leaned forward, resting from hand to elbow on the table.

“Sergeant, I’m not a fan of doing this dance all day, so if you wouldn’t mind getting to the point of this all, I’d appreciate that.”

“What I’m trying to say, is that this man isn’t under the jurisdiction of the NFU.”

“He kinda is. He’s directly involved in our investigation-”

-and I’m aware of that, Agent Rhodes.” Paul interrupted, just at the end of the word. “But let me explain the situation. We’ve been hunting for Michael Burnham for a long time, and weren’t aware at the time that he was involved in this case. Michael Burnham needs to stand trial for the many ‘normal’ crimes he’s committed, not just the alleged cases you’re trying to find evidence for.”

“Just speaking between you and me, off the record. One could assume that there might be some resentment in this matter because we managed to bring him into custody first.”

Speaking between yourself and I, that’s not only incorrect, but quite a childish and unprofessional accusation to make.”

Grandmaster paused again. “I apologise if it could have been seen that way, sergeant.”

This is about correct protocol, ‘Grandmaster’. Regardless of whether the agents of the NFU used their Farside powers to capture a wanted black market dealer or not before we could, all cases that don’t have a direct link to the Farside, Eldritch or Fargraced individuals need to be handled by the Police force.”

“I can appreciate that, but I’m not quite sure where you want to go with this. To be perfectly honest, I can’t just un-arrest him.”

Burnham needs to be taken into proper police custody and dealt with in a proper manner.”

“That can be arranged. Once we’ve clarified the evidence that he’s testified in this case, we’ll be happy to give him over to you.”

Sooner than that. He’s going into police custody today.”

“Today?” Grandmaster said, in a perplexed tone. “We’ve got some interesting Fargraced here but we’re not miracle workers . How quick do you expect us to check what he’s told us in that time frame?”

We don’t.” He replied. “You can carry on your investigation without him. We’re going to send some of our boys down to your headquarters to retrieve him.”

“You’re going to-” Before he could respond by repeating what Paul had just said, Grandmaster stopped himself. “He’s part of an on-going investigation. How do you expect us to deal with that when he’s in a police cell somewhere?”

You can come to our headquarters and arrange an interview with him. I’m sure you and your Fargraced agents can figure something out.”

“With all due respect, you know damn well that’s going to be a problem for us. Who on the Police force has the authority to do this, exactly?”

“I do. You don’t have the power over non-Farside matters, Michael Burnham included.”

“We have as much power as the police do with regards to any individuals in a case that link them directly to the-”

-this isn’t a debate Agent Rhodes, and I don’t intend it to be. We’re going to be retrieving Michael Burnham and putting him on trial for the many crimes that don’t involve the Farside, within the next few hours Is that understood?”

Grandmaster refused to answer initially, restraining himself and his tone of voice. “Loud and clear, Sergeant.

Good. I’m glad we’ve come to a resolution. That’s all I needed to speak to you to.”

“I think we’ve discussed all we can on the subject. Have a good day, Sergeant.”

Goodbye, Agent Rhodes.”

As tempted as he was to cut him off before he could say goodbye, Grandmaster put the phone down the moment he heard the final syllable escape from the other end of the line.

The first thing he did was remove his helmet. The second thing he did was stand up and take in a deep breath, exhaling it out slowly. In moments where he felt tense, angry or about to head into conflict, he could feel his powers trickle more into his senses than normal, spiking with fight or flight or his survival instincts. The room slowly became an arrangement of objects ready to arm himself with, a maze of implements that made him aware of every possible avenue.

He put his hands behind his head and tried to relax himself, pacing from left to right. They were like lights or illuminated notes that drew his attention to them, and though he never felt an urge to use them or act out in violence based on this, he was startlingly aware of how many things he could do with what he had on hand, and how distracting it was to a regular train of thought.

A few seconds later and he could feel himself focusing clearer. He turned to the table and took the pen he was writing with into his hand, and could only feel the regular prompts his powers gave him for using it as a weapon, as opposed to his normal thoughts being over saturated in violent images.

He balanced the pen perfectly on the tip of his finger, watching it sway slightly as it balanced itself. Satisfied, he lowered his hand down and let it roll onto his desk. He smiled, though he wasn’t entirely sure why. The closest he could guess would be that he was relieved that he could control his powers, or that they hadn’t consumed him yet.

He was drawn into looking up by his helmet alerting him to the presence of something. Letters came onto his visor.

FARSIDE PRESENCE DETECTED.

The image he saw showed only the presence of Farside energy, a halo of static around an orb shifting with purple and navy blue wisps of energy within.

Grandmaster sighed deeply and removed his helmet, putting in on the desk.

“Messenger.”

Without his visor, he could see it for what it really was; an mote of glowing light hovering in the air within arms reach, sometimes looking glassy with how the way the room’s light reflected off it. Regardless of what angle he looked at it, it would always be visible to him.

He reached up and took the orb in his hands, and a voice called out to him, all around with no specific point of origin. The voice of Messenger.

Grandmaster, if you would please see me in my office, immediately.

He felt the mote slip through his fingertips as it vanished into nothing, left with his fist gently closed together. With a slight grunt, he rubbed up the side of his face.

“Gonna need so much coffee.”

He made sure his helmet was fully closed around his head before he took in a deep breath, then made his way to the Head Director’s office post-haste.

“Director Messenger will see you now.”

Victoria called out as Grandmaster sat on his chair, one leg folded over the other and his arm along the back of the chairs to his side. He stood up and nods, giving Victoria a finger point before walking over to the opening door. It was reminiscent of the door leading to Sage’s office, a vault of a room that seemed impenetrable from the outside.

As he walked inside the room, he noticed a certain modesty to it. There was no carpet or fancy colours, staying the same aesthetic as the rest of the building. Messenger’s black wooden desk was in the centre of the room, so he could face the door. A pair of chairs sat opposite him, with his computer to the side so it wouldn’t obscure his view of them. Behind him were drawers and a filing cabinet in the far corner. On the wall opposite to him was a single painting; his own, a memorial to all the Head Directors of the National Farside unit. Beyond that, the room was pleasantly spacious, not wonting for much else.

Messenger nodded as he entered, and Grandmaster closed the door behind him. Messenger gestured with an open hand to the chair in front of him. “Grandmaster. Have a seat. Please remove your helmet.”

Obliging, Grandmaster made sure to remove his helmet first and took a seat on the chair. He conservatively put his helmet on his lap, allowing them to speak face to face.

“Good afternoon, Messenger. Doesn’t Director Sage normally cover the personal side of things, as far as the higher-ups are concerned?”

“Normally she does, yes. Director Sage is on holiday for a fortnight, which has left me to pick up the responsibility. Nothing I mind, I assure you.” Messenger said, watching Grandmaster sternly.

“Makes sense. It’s not normally an everyday thing for me to be summoned by a Director, either.”

Messenger nodded in response. “Circumstances permit it, occasionally. I don’t like to waste time though. I’ve asked you to come here regarding the current investigation you’re in charge of.”

Grandmaster paused for a second, then nodded.

“It’s been brought to light that recently, some of your actions regarding this investigation have been somewhat brash and overzealous, to use the term.” Messenger continued. “You’ve been rushing the standard procedures, as far as I’m aware. You of all people are more than aware of the necessary steps to take when it comes to being the head of an operation like this.”

“I understand, sir.” Grandmaster said. Though he was going to continue, he saw Messenger was going to speak and held his tongue.

“I know you do, Grandmaster. This is why it looks like you’ve been acting on impulse over acting rationally. I’m well aware that you have a habit to bend certain rules or procedures to complete your work, but this is almost going too far.”

“With all due respect, sir. Everything I’ve done has been with the best interests of the NFU in mind. I’ve never once done what I’ve done with any bad intentions in mind.”

“And I appreciate that. Before Sage went on holiday, she made me quite aware of that.” Messenger said. “I’m aware that you’ve not done anything that would constitute an abuse of power. What I’m trying to say is, you’re coming close. It could be perceived as such. As one of the higher ranking agents we have, we need you to set a good impression. Which means less bending the rules because you know you can, and working within them to show that you don’t need to do that.”

Grandmaster sat there silently.

“Is anything troubling you that would drive you to be a little more impulsive like this? Do you feel a need to prove something? You don’t need to prove anything, Grandmaster. Everyone at the NFU already knows of your devotion to your work.”

Grandmaster shook his head slowly, taking in the words. “If there was a problem, I’m sure Sage would have already let you know.”

“If she knew of the reason, she neglected to tell me. And if that was the case, she hasn’t told me for a good reason.” Messenger brought his hands onto the table, steepling his fingers. “That’s irrelevant though. Here’s what I propose happens next.”

Messenger brought his fingers down, interlocking them gently. “After the current investigation is done, we’ll arrange for you to have a review of your current job. A one to one to see how you’re coping and if there’s room for improvement. Director Sage informed me that whatever you’re doing is important and that I shouldn’t burden you with this until you’re done. Once the investigation is done and you’ve finished your work, we’ll conduct the review when the time is right.”

“A review.” Grandmaster said, both worried and relieved.

“Your position is in no danger, Grandmaster. I’ve no reason to fire you, no gross misconducts of note, and you continue to perform to your job role with dedication and skill. We will, however, have to look into how you’ve been acting regarding this latest investigation and see if there’s any external factors at play. Perhaps stress, or some desire to push yourself harder, or even if it’s how you feel you should act.”

“Up until that time, Director Sage informed me that you’re to continue with your investigation. I’ll keep an eye out for the reports that are going to follow, and I hope that there’s no issues in future. If there are any issues or any problems you’re facing, the NFU has the support you need. Don’t be afraid to ask.”

Grandmaster nodded once. “I will.”

“If you have nothing further to ask, this meeting is adjourned.”

Grandmaster stood up and nodded, taking his helmet off his lap and putting it on his head. He bowed his head politely and walked out, whilst Messenger kept an eye on him until the door closed behind him.

When he was outside, he began to roll his shoulders. To the side of him, the female voice of Victoria called out to him.

“Everything go alright?”

“As well as it could be.” Grandmaster said. “Can’t talk to my boss that well. I always lock up a little. Must be something about higher authority.”

Victoria smirked slightly. “It’s not like you to be quiet.”

“I have my moments.” Grandmaster said, turning to her. The gleam of his helmet’s lights stared back at her, the lack of an expression on that helmet made it hard to judge his intent. “Not all the time, but sometimes. Y’know, I kinda liked today when it started. Now it’s starting to peck at my head.”

“One of those days?” Victoria said, turning on her chair to face Grandmaster.

He nodded to her. “Let’s hope it stays today.”

Grandmaster looked up to the lift doors, then turned back to Victoria. “Good chat.” That’s all he said as he walked away and pressed the button, and the doors opened nearly instantly. He walked inside and turned on his heels, and as the lift doors began to close, he gave Victoria one last flick point before he was sealed inside, and being hurried down below. Victoria giggled slightly, rolling her eyes before she took her phone from her lap and put it back on her desk, checking Facebook once again for new status updates.

Once out of view, Grandmaster sighed and leaned against the back wall of the lift, tapping into the side of his helmet.

MENU.

“Call Visionary.”

CALLING Agent Visionary (mobile).

A few rings later, Grandmaster was accosted by the sound of Visionary’s voice. He walked out of the elevator, making his way back to his office.

Hello?”

“Hey. Just me. Just a quick one. What are you and your team doing today?”

Hello, Grandmaster. We’re going to be the recon squad for the Eldritch capture today. Why do you ask?”

“Damnit. I needed a free pair of hands. Nothing to worry about, on a tight schedule. Take care out there.”

Of course. Speak to you later.”

Despite the abruptness of his call, Visionary spoke with a pleasant and polite tone. The phone call ended as Grandmaster walked past a hot drinks machine in the corridor.

MENU.

“Call Impetus.”

CALLING Agent Impetus (mobile).

The phone rang for half a minute before somebody answered.

My office is a short walk from yours, you know. There is no need for a phone call, Grandmaster”

“I’m not at my office, that’s why I’m calling you. Common sense, Impetus.”

That’s fair. You sound in a rush. Things have gotten busier for you?”

“I’m always in a rush. Listen, as much as I’d like to do this whole chit-chat and back and forth we normally have going on, I need less banter and more professionalism right now. What are you doing today?”

“Paperwork now and training later. You are about to ask me to do something for you, aren’t you?”

“I am, and i’ll owe you if you do.” Grandmaster stated.

Impetus considered. “You are a man of your word. What do you need?”

“Here’s the scoop. In the Burnham case, he mentioned the location of where the Fartouched animals were being held, as well as the computers that were stolen. Burnham said they were being tested on but he didn’t know why. Poor little bastards, can’t stand to think that animals have been hurt. I need you to get a Containment Squad and get out there today, in the next few hours. I want some eyes on the scene, and once you’ve found something, I need you to tell me what’s going on. I’d just rather have a voice I know at the scene, and I don’t have time to wait for reports.”

Impetus listened carefully. “I can do that. I’ll be honest with you, I could do with a change of pace. I feel restless.”

“That’s what we call a win-win. I can trust you to take care of this, so keep me updated.”

“I shall. You make it almost sound exciting. I’ll be in touch.”

Impetus dropped the line.

“We’re getting there. Getting closer now, I can feel it.”

Grandmaster finally made his way to his office and closed the door behind him. He removed his helmet again and left it sleeping on his desk as he sat in his chair. He ran his hands over his face, feeling the material of his armour against his skin.

“Let’s see if he was bluffing.” Grandmaster said, leaning back in his chair. “Your move, Burnham. Ball’s in your court.”

Discoveries: 3-6

“Sure.” Shaun said. “Sounds great.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In response, he nods. “Of course.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 new emails.

4 missed calls.

11 new messages.

Messages:

From: Anna

Today, 11:36am

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

Delete message?

Cancel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah, yes. You, the boy. Come here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know that feeling.”

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

“Files?” Shaun asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Coleslaw?” Shaun asked.

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

“Gherkins?”

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

“Chipolte.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s an oatcake?”

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

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

“Black pudding?” Shaun asked.

“What that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Looks like a camera.” Shaun added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s true. How do you know that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shaun nodded again. “Yeah, nice chat.”

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

“Well, that was something.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cracked ‘it’?” She asks questioningly.

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

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

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

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

“Michael Burnham?”

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

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

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

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

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

Grandmaster pointed to the door.

“I want Shaun to come with me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, that’s a yes to the guilt trip?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discoveries: 3-5

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

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

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

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

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

“I know. I’ll be fine.”

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

Shaun raised an eyebrow. “Kinda doubt that.”

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

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

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

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

“If it were him, he’d tell you no.”

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

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

“Night, mum.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hm. Can’t exactly try running here.”

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

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

Shaun stopped to think about it.

“Well, yeah. I should be able to.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Huh. Wow.”

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

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

“Aw, shit.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shaun stared at his tea for a second.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They just slip through, just like that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re in early, Shaun.”

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

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

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

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

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

She shrugged in response. “Sure.”

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

Both Shaun and Katrina nodded in unison.

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

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

“Sound.” Katrina contributed.

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

Katrina pushed her chair back and stood up.

“Ta-ra a bit.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verus.

The silence deafened the room.

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

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

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

Interlude 1

Director Sage, this is the Control Centre. We have a request from Agent Visionary to speak to you. Has this been authorised?”

I look down at the speaker on my desk and push the button to speak.

“It has been authorised.”

Okay, Director. I’ll patch you through now.”

It was unusual. Despite the specific order to allow them to connect me to Visionary, they still had to ask. It doesn’t hurt to double check, I assume.

For the time being, I try not to allow my senses to be overwhelmed. I remove the blindfold from my eyes and blink, and look at the world around me. I see the present, earthly and solid, surrounding me. I feel the wood of my desk against my fingertips, the warmth of the air on my skin. I feel attuned, anchored for the time being.

I still feel it around me, clinging and chewing at my thoughts. It’s horribly pervasive.

Director Sage, this is Agent Visionary. Can you read me?”

“I can.” Her voice is refreshing. Of all my agents, I know she remains the most composed, even in times of stress. “Tell me what you’ve found.”

I ask her out of curiosity, and allow my senses to be dulled slightly. It’s not so much as a sight, though. To explain it like that would be squandering the experience. I always explain it like I have an extra set of eyes in the back of my head, and I can see through them. To others, they simply have no reference of understanding. When I say I see these things, I only say it because otherwise, explaining is tiring and time consuming.

And I’ve foreseen it as a better way to just reference it as a sight.

I don’t need her to explain. I already know. She’s in Aven Court and she has met Shaun Larson. We’ve known about Shaun for a very long time. All Farborn are registered onto a database. A Farborn such as Shaun requires extensive monitoring, for very obvious reasons. Were he to fall in with the wrong crowd, were his parents raised in squander, so many factors that are a necessity in sculpting a life to adjust a human being.

It’s a wonder we all function as a race, if you were to see it as I do.

I was aware these paths would converge to this point long before the presence of the Eldritch was brought to the NFU. Gentle nudges, like steering a car to keep it in the lane. Making certain that the edges don’t fray and unforeseen effects.

We’ve encountered a young man, about 18 to 20 years old. I have legitimate reason to believe he is Farborn.”

“You know this for a fact.” I let something in. It slips in between flickers of attention. I see what caused such a realisation. She’s too far away for a perfect glimpse.

I see violence and destruction. I grow slightly concerned.

I remember seeing this particular chain of events. Not the worst, not the best. I shall have to sculpt more accurately in future.

Yes. He managed to kick a Girallon-class Eldritch through a lamp post. The lamp post snapped in half, then he jumped from a first floor window to the pavement.”

I slip my blindfold down over my eyes. I keep my eyes closed because what I see blends in with my actions in the present. I have to focus. When I see around me, I see the actions specifically around me, and finding individual strands so far away from me is taxing.

I see it all around me; individual actions that cause such massive changes. The irrational, the unlikely, the improbable, the impossible. I prune them, shift through the chaff. I study the aftermath, the cause itself. I see it; the Eldritch smashed through the wall, and I see Shaun himself, ejecting it through the gaping wound where his house was.

I move forward through these and foresee the different effects that may follow from Shaun’s actions. I see the time where Visionary attacks Shaun over a perceived sleight. I see the time where they attempt to restrain Shaun’s father, and are met with Shaun venting his fury onto them. I see Jason’s head removed in a single blow. Anger, violence, blood.

The strongest of these I see is a minor verbal dispute. Alex calms Shaun down, and they speak on level terms. I see flickering wisps of time fluttering around them; Shaun reacts this way because Alex doesn’t treat him any different for his abilities. I see these weaving backwards down time, through all the prior events leading to such a single moment of relief.

Upon doing which, he then stomped it so hard his foot physically went through it, and managed to cracked the pavement beneath it.”

I stay focused and discard them. It’s so easy to get distracted. Each action has an impossibly large number of actions that fracture from it, and looking at it from the other perspective sends my senses through years of causes. It overwhelms me at times, just how many minute and individual changes contribute to everything. From breathing a second out of time, to the slightest decibel of how loud your voice is.

I’m distracted even now.

I wait until she’s finished and put her on mute. Just for a small while, whilst I organise what I’m experiencing.

These come to me so quickly. I have viewed years in minutes, and it still doesn’t phase me. After all these years, it is a magnificent transition, a beauty in itself. And I always marvel at it, every single time.

I start again, and refocus on the events. I see that the least violent of options have come to pass. It’s a great relief. He shows an impressive talent to calm himself. He speaks with Alex and they discuss his powers. Along these strands, I see Shaun’s father again. Angry, clearly.

Visionary has been waiting for me. I unmute the comm. I don’t want her to think I’m ignoring her.

“Are you in Aven’s Close?” It doesn’t take any special senses to assume that such a pause makes it seem like I’m using my powers.

She pauses. I smile.

Yes. Did you see that?”

I quickly peer into probable events. Things yet to happen, things that can be altered and changed. I glance through threads, counting them along my way. I seek to know, and visualise the path where Shaun is on our side. I do this as I reply to her. I see the necessity of less savoury tactics to guarantee his complicity. I see echoes of what may happen afterwards, trim down these events and answers. I look at the single strand left at what must be done. I see along the way what I must say, what words to craft at this point in time.

Even then, there’s no certainty. A single action can come along and throw these cause and effects into discourse.

“We are aware of him. Visionary, this Farborn is of importance to us. Bring him back to NFU headquarters. Use whatever means at your disposal to achieve this. Lie if necessary. Urgent priority.”

She waits again. I see it before me; it solidifies. I briefly glimpse her reaction, and mouth it in time with her words.

Affirmative.”

A brief mote emerges. Visionary paused, because she is uncertain on how to progress. The web becomes clearer now, yet branches form from this point. Other points where she can follow down. I see only one thing in common, regardless of what she offers him; Shaun must be the one to suggest it. I move these out of the way and apply them to the other visions, and see it all aligns, and all is correct.

It fills me with the greatest relief imaginable. And I don’t mean that lightly.

“He will follow if he believes it’s his own idea.”

Willco. Thank you, Sage. Agent Visionary, out.”

I turn the comms off. There are a few disastrous results in the future should I offer her even a goodbye. It’s easier to trim these down by merely avoiding the circumstances to begin with.

I glance again into the cause and see the offshoots. Whatever happens is entirely out of my hands. It’s a weird sense of powerlessness but it’s understandable where it comes from. Most of them end up with Shaun in my office. So many different ways it can happen; anger, threats. I even see my death in a very few, extremely obscure lines. They are like the weakest root of a tree, easy to wither away, yet as there is a distinct, even infinitesimally small chance of it happening, I will always see them.

I’ve seen my death many times over the years. Many more times than I care to recall.

I pull the blindfold off and look again at my surroundings. Using my sight wards off a lot of what I’ve seen. As I’ve mentioned previously, it anchors me to the reality around me instead of the hypothetical actions and reactions, the delves into the past and the dredges of where events have come from. It gives me something concrete to focus on.

To say it’s entirely ignored is a lie. It just helps me to keep my focus, and filters out a lot of noise.

I pull out a laptop and turn the power on. Even now, I see minor refractions, skirting the edges. Utterly trivial changes, like the direction of where my finger is as I push this button, what changes in the seconds it takes for me to open up and send an email.

I begin to tap my foot. The sound sends these distractions skittering away.

I send an email to the Head Director of the NFU. Head Director Messenger, as he’s called. It wasn’t my idea to give every Fargraced in the organisation a name, though it does have interesting results down the line. I tell him that Shaun has been found by our agents, as predicted, and that there is a high probability of him meeting with me. I ask if this is permitted to do so.

Whilst I can have events fall into such ways with careful guidance that this is guaranteed to happen, asking is polite. Not everyone has my awareness. I see many more times where he agrees, rather than disagrees. They overwhelm such a refusal from him.

I receive a reply within the minute. He agrees, and congratulates me. We have a good relationship. He appreciates what I’ve done and all I’ve sacrificed. He’s still wary of me. I know how to earn his trust entirely. I saw it, a single strong thread down the line, where everything is starting to converge together.

I muse on the Head Director’s name. Messenger is fitting for what he does.

If Shaun does join the NFU, what would his name be?

I open up an online dictionary and begin to look through names related to his powers. Tank. Force. Unstoppable. Unmovable. I close my eyes and strum down the threads, seeing which if any of the dozens that I eventually pick out, would he like the most.

There is not a single one he likes.

When I see a definite answer such as this, it begets a curiosity in me. I feel the events filter through, and glance down the lines of the past. It seems Shaun is not fond of superheroes.

I’ll adjust a few plans accordingly.

It’ll be nice to finally meet him, face to face. I’m sure it’ll be a pleasure above all things, but with somebody in my presence, I can scan them far more intimately than from miles away.

And I have foreseen it to happen.

Director, Visionary and Shaun have arrived.”

“Very well.”

I really do like my receptionist. Victoria, Torie as she prefers, hasn’t had much of a noteworthy life. You can’t expect everyone to have great achievements and for all intents and purposes, she’s an average person who is above average at her job. It does help that I can see the skeins that led her to this moment, all the decisions and choices and results of her labour. Extremely useful as far as figuring out who is trustworthy based on their past. It takes some judgement of character, and a little peer into the effects of what they do in the future, to truly figure out if they can be trusted.

I’m not omniscient, by all means. Some guess work is required, but not enough to pose any risks.

The door begins to open, and I sit with myself ready. The door itself is a wonder. Artifex designed it himself, after a little coercion and reminding him of our contract with him. It could withstand attacks from a Girallon-Class or even a Hecatonchire-Class Eldritch and survive in-tact. It has also been designed to resist all but the most proficient of individuals to gain entry. It’s mechanically activated by certain individuals with biometrical access. The walls are similarly reinforced, with the added benefit of being sound proof, as to not distract me more than needed.

For all intents and purposes, I sit in a bank vault.

I took my blindfold off a few minutes ago to adjust my senses. There’s still the trickle of visions, and I tap my foot lightly to remain here and now, though even then I can feel myself aligning several seconds before events that are starting to exist. I can see them entering the room after the doors ponderously open. I see them enter the room and sit down, and also I see backwards from that point. I can sense it as an effect, and can trace it back to the cause. The further we move from the point of origin, the more I perceive. Each action has several hundred reasons that merge together into one point, one second of time, and each of these a hundred more beyond. It is perhaps a blessing of my abilities to manage this many different things at once without my brain overloading and burning out.

Shaun doesn’t trust me because Visionary doesn’t know my name. He’s a fairly perceptive young man.

I made sure there was a pair of chairs specifically suited for them today. Comfortable and relaxing to sit in, without being too comfortable to forget that this is a meeting. Shaun walks first; his curiosity gives him resolve, he wishes to see what I want from him. He is suspicious of me, and I can find that perfectly reasonable. Visionary follows with him as well. Where he is more bold, less restrained by the organisation and seeing me as his superior, she is respectful of the hierarchy and mindful that I may have further plans for him and herself.

He studies me, sees my clothes, scans them for faults with scrutiny. I can perceive that he knows I’m called Sage for a reason. Truthfully, the attire is a little bit extravagant but it sets the right impression. It makes people have an air of doubt around me. The image is important. It conveys knowledge, wisdom, gives off an air of uncertainty and mysticism. From everything I’ve seen, it largely remains true.

I couldn’t help but to smile. He’s a refreshing change from the suits and ties and corporate faces of the NFU.

“You came. I’m glad.”

Shaun physically seats himself now and the image I saw of them in the future skitters out of my faculties. I have to raise my hand and motion for Visionary to do so as well, and she complies in a professional manner.

“When they said Sage, they weren’t kidding.”

Shaun speaks with a slightly dry tone, hints of sarcasm. His image of himself is quite incredible. There has been no physical challenge for him, so he has had no worries of his own abilities. Something crawls into view; a perilous situation, where others are frozen by fear. Shaun stands ready, to act where others wouldn’t. Even against odds that appear unbeatable. There is triumph awaiting him.

I think it was his attitude and the vision of what may be that made me smile a little more. I look to Visionary to avoid staring at him for too long. One of the downsides of what my perceptions are is that I sometimes stare ahead blankly, as my senses are drawn elsewhere.

“It’s important to look the part.” I tell them quite openly. Shaun and I share some eye contact, and he notices that they’re green. He likes them. I’m drawn back to his victory waiting for him now. The amalgamation of actions is becoming more concrete and solid, and I see flickers of colour. Burning whites, greens, flashing sirens of blue and red.

“Did you wear these clothes before or after they called you Sage?”

An inquisitive nature, just like I’ve seen in hindsight. With no restrains and no fear of physically being hurt, Shaun can ask the probing questions that others don’t, out of fear of what it may do for them socially. I don’t even need to concentrate on my powers as they coalesce into important points waiting for us all. Strands raise to the future again. Amidst the struggle that others face, Shaun tries to speak and settle the conflict diplomatically.

I laugh. I try to make it sound genuine but I know a lot of people may find it aloof. “I like your sense of humour.”

The room goes quiet for a little while. I let my guard down, and slowly the effects of this meeting come into view. I see what I have to do to ensure these actions fall into place, and every detail of which flood into my mind. I trace up and down like a musician strums a harp. Much like a harp, each time the string is plucked, it sends shimmers and waves. Everything is so interlocking and even the smallest action can cause a proverbial hurricane across the world.

I shimmer through, going backwards one last time, and dredge from the point I saw to where we are now, and I see that Visionary is watching Shaun, to study how he reacts to myself. It appears that I lost my senses for the moment. But I see what occurs, that I’ve been staring through Shaun whilst smiling at him. It’s a very honest, disarming comment to follow. Time catches up with me and I realise what point we’re at when he speaks, and drags me to the present.

“Sooooooo. Did I actually need to be here for anything? Like, did you want me for anything important or to like, have two older women stare at me creepily for half a minute?”

I laugh again. Visionary doesn’t know how to respond. She’s worried and afraid. Would such a comment react badly upon herself, that she couldn’t keep her guest under some sort of control? Perhaps a realisation that it’s true, or that neither of them are aware of what I am. Even her, for all she does to keep an air of secrecy over the true nature of her ability, feels underwhelmed by what I may potentially be witnessing. Something she deeply respects about me. Respects and fears.

“Very funny. Sorry, I’m sorry, Shaun. I have a lot to keep track of.”

I look at Visionary after dropping such a comment. Shaun doesn’t look at her, but she notices what I’ve said and freezes in place. I’ll be honest, sometimes I just do it so see her react to it. As long as what I say doesn’t have a negative effect on our further relations. Gladly, I do a quick check over the surface, and all seems well. There is a strong bond of trust still present.

“Thank you, Visionary. Shaun.”

Nodding, I put my hands down onto the table. The feel of wood livens my dulled sense of touch, covered up by visions of before and after.

“Visionary, if you would wait a moment. Shaun, if you would step outside until Visionary is done speaking with me? I will have to say goodbye for the moment.”

I nod to Shaun. I nod a lot. It’s a habit. I briefly see a flicker of who else will be with him, and remind myself to mention him. The link between now and the effect of this strengthens slightly.

“Disrespect not meant. Yuhong will give you a full tour of the building afterwards. Tether is in today. You are acquainted.”

He’s slightly concerned about the silence. Not much was said and he rightfully suspects that something is going on that he isn’t aware of. It’s a reminder of perspective. He gets up slowly and shows Visionary and myself that though he isn’t aware of precisely what’s occurring, he’s aware that it is. He doesn’t wish to be taken for a fool, and wants us to know he still remains cautious about the NFU.

“…okay then. I’m not even going to try to understand what this was about. If one of you could tell me sometime what just happened. Yeah.”

I watch him as he leaves and walks away. One day, I will tell him. I’ll bide my time. Whilst he leaves, I check something quickly as I watch him intently. One other use of my abilities is hypothetical situations. I can study a desired outcome in my mind and discover the steps that could be taken to achieve such a result. The information is fractured and splinters from that point. It takes concentration to see the extreme circumstances and remove them out of the equation, looking for the most likely of probabilities. Even then, every time I ask, there are some eventualities that can come to be, no matter how far away they are.

In this case, I’ve long studied Shaun and his powers. I’ve been designing contingencies in mind, in such the case that Shaun either goes rogue or turns against the NFU, and pitted our best agents in our mind to deal with him. Whilst such an event is extremely unlikely, it’s a constant worry in my mind. It’s much easier to scan these ‘what if’ scenarios with the person present, and see which answers provide fruit and which ones are dead ends.

All that I question are dead ends.

Not a single contingency that I would have had in place would be sufficient to even cause a stalemate. I’m deeply concerned by this, but I don’t show it to Visionary. I told her that this was the nature of the visit, and it appears she hasn’t informed Shaun of it, like I asked her to.

The only contingency that still remains uncertain, with no answer of whether it’d succeed or not, is the Null contingency. That she makes such things totally void from my powers is a source of frustration when it comes to making contingencies.

Visionary finally speaks, and I’m drawn back to my office. “What did you see?”

“A great many of things. Many useless contingencies we have in place.”

I see uncertainty in her face.

“Useless?” She leans forward in her chair. Curiosity, worry, scepticism. “Why would they be useless?”

I can’t be entirely honest with her. Not entirely. If I told her that we had little in place to handle Shaun in such a dire set of circumstance, other than a total gamble, it would cause us to stray down an entirely different path. One which I cannot allow or afford to happen. I phrase my words carefully.

“The majority would not work. Many are simply not needed. The further away we are from now, the more convoluted it becomes. They are entwined, tangled. They tug at each other, snag at the seams.”

That’s not entirely true. It is true in the way I described but not to the scenarios I sensed panning out for myself only. These ends weren’t tangled, they were cut away. The question that I posed had no possible answer. The situation of Grandmaster beating or stalemating Shaun in a fight, for instance. Nothing. The answer didn’t exist, because such an answer couldn’t possibly exist. There are rarely such certainties. To see one, humbles me.

“I see.” She doesn’t. She isn’t sure where to go from this point. It’s clear to me, she desires to know what Shaun would require to join the NFU. That is the cause of her next question. “And what will he need for now?”

I was already aware of what was required but I quickly took a gander to confirm. There have been snags, abrupt changes in how events proceed. I need to be diligent and take nothing for granted. As foreseen before, the answer is simple. Even common sense would point it out to you, but Visionary is allowing me to confirm her own thoughts.

“The path can be started easily. Offer him again.”

“You’re certain?”

“Certain. He is a normal, teenage boy. Security is all he wants.”

She nods and bows her head. Culturally polite way of saying goodbye. She means to leave. I wouldn’t stop her but the formality of being the director means she’ll leave once given the order to. “I would like to request to leave, and begin the tour.”

I nod, smile and wave my hand to give the correct impression. I do enjoy her company; she’s a very business minded lady and has the conviction to do what is needed. There is a truth behind her desire to aid the NFU. Even though she’s aware that she can’t lie to me, in such terms, she’s never tried to. I have a respect for her for that.

“Dismissed. It’s been nice meeting you again, Visionary. We should do this again.”

I chuckle a little to myself as she leaves. It’s like an inside joke to myself. She wasn’t aware that I knew we’d meet again soon and what steps would be taken to get to it. I see anger, concern and worry in the future for her. Righteousness boils her blood, and even her demeanour is cast aside for the moment to make sense of what I allowed to happen.

It isn’t my brightest moment. It had to be done.

I take out my laptop from my desk and lay it on my desk, and strum my fingertips on my desk as it exits from sleep mode. I note the strange curiosity that after speaking with Visionary, I’m yet again sending out another email to the Head Director. I already know the answer but he has yet to give it.

I send him a quick email. I inform him that Shaun has agreed to a proposal in the future from Visionary that he wants to go on a shift. I check quickly and probe down the lines for when he’ll attend, and it becomes clear that it’ll be tomorrow. I note it down for him as precisely as possible.

Messenger has always trusted my judgement and if I tell him with certainty that something will transpire, he shows no doubt in me at all and allows it to go ahead. I’ve managed to scan for why this is, and all that I can see is a pure, unfettered trust in me.

He’s an excellent judge of character and he knows I have every desire to aid the NFU.

I tell him that I’ll require a special authorisation and that whilst it’s in my power to allow, I wanted him to know prior to it happening. Visionary’s team will be the only team to answer that call. They need to be able to handle a major incident. I cast my senses to that pivotal moment and see with Shaun’s assistance, they can overcome what befalls them. No casualties, no injuries, and further events set in motion.

I send it, worded as concisely as possible.

Head Director Messenger normally trusts me without doubt, without question. I know that today, that will change for once.

He responds back within the minute.

Director Sage.

I require you to confirm that if such events take place, I have guaranteed safety of my operatives.

Kind regards.

I wait. I’ve previously sensed how it plays out but I won’t let it be taken for granted. I briefly check once again, and see nothing has changed. I write back to him after a delay, to give him the impression that I’ve taken more time to investigate than I actually had done.

Head Director Messenger.

I can confirm that none of our agents shall be injured or hurt due to my actions and that it is for the greater benefit of the NFU.

Many thanks.

I send it to him. He sends me a reply. He’s always a prompt individual.

Director Sage.

You have my authorisation. I have trusted and always will trust that you have the best intentions in mind.

Don’t let the NFU down.

Kind regards.

I smile again, satisfied. I open up the control program for the Control Centre that all Directors have access to. Though I don’t know the precise controls required, my abilities allow me to see what’s required of me to do what I wish to do. I edit the settings that have already been put in place, and alter the requirements for Visionary’s Team. I set them from regular incidents to major incidents, save, and close everything down.

I briefly extend my reach from the present and see if everything that is needed, is in place. I find safety in knowing that I’ve done all I need to do and everything is in order. I press the button on my intercom to speak to my receptionist.

“Victoria, would you bring me a cup of tea, please?”

Of course, Director. Right away.”

She normally makes it just a little bit too sweet for my tastes. Today won’t be an exception either.

“Thank you for the tea.” I smile to Victoria as she brings me another mug full of tea, putting it down on my desk. If there’s one downside to my powers, it’s knowing how things taste before I get to try them. The satisfaction of a fresh hot cup of tea is a little dulled.

Such is life.

“You’re welcome, Director. How long are you planning on staying? It’s already past midnight”

I see a drip fading into my periphery. Visionary will be here in 2 minutes after her shift. She sends the young men to play pool and bond together, and alleviate the guilt on Tether’s mind. The girl will be fine though but he doesn’t need to know that just now. Guilt is an important part of any process. Because he feels guilt, he’s aware that hurting people and violence is bad. At the end of the day, that’s a very right thing to feel. Negative emotions have to be experienced as much as positive ones.

I look up at her from my mug and smile a little wider. “Thirty minutes. I’m expecting Visionary to arrive within the next two minutes. When she does, just allow her to come inside. Authorisation isn’t necessary.”

“Oh… yes, of course, Director.” She has a lot of confusion in her voice, and she seems to accept it. She’s gotten used to it by now. She bows her head politely, and I wave to her as she walks away to go back to her desk. She’s checking Facebook on her phone though. The downside of being in my position is that I require her at all times if I’m ever in my office for security reasons, and for the obvious reason of letting people inside. Offering her double overtime for a few hours was enough incentive. And because she’s so helpful, I don’t mind her checking Facebook and turning a blind eye.

I take the mug and hold it in my hands. The warmth is comforting, and I take a small sip. It’s still very refreshing. Still a little bit too sweet. I’ll miss that part.

And so, I wait.

The doors wind open, and Visionary comes inside. I can see something strong in her eyes, even from over here. A determination, both in her stare and how quick she walks over. Her hair is slightly messy and she hasn’t gotten any of the dust out of it right now, but she stops at my desk. I raise my head and smile to her. She’ll speak first and secretly I’m not looking forward to this.

“Director, permission to speak informally and speak my mind.”

I nod once, softly. The doors behind us close and grind, cogs and machinery clicking and locking into place.

“Go on.”

Fire crackles in her voice. “Sage, I mean no disrespect by any of this, and I wish this to be totally off the record. But, you know I wanted it to be just between us. You let me in, knowing I would come to talk to you, and what I wanted to talk to you about. So, I’m safe to assume that you knew exactly what was going to happen today, before any of us were even aware of what was going on.”

I keep smiling, softly. I just allow her to speak. Saying anything wouldn’t be wise.

“With all that said, what were you thinking?!” She says, slamming her hands down. I blink, it’s as much as I can flinch, and I see her eyes drawn to me to see my reaction. “We didn’t know what was going to happen. We were the ones fighting tooth and nail in a situation out of our control. And I don’t care if you knew Shaun could handle it, and if this was premeditated, and it fits some sort of scheme you’ve been helping to unfold. Don’t you ever, ever, put me in a position where I have to have two untrained, sceptical young men in a life or death situation.”

She brings her hands up. My smile’s gone from my face, and I watch her closely.

“Because I know, they would have been safe, because seeing your authorisation to put them in a major incident made me consider the possibility that you knew, that we’d be safe at the end of it, but we don’t have your certainty or your powers. This is not how I want the NFU to be. I don’t want this moment to be the thing that I remember the NFU for. And I certainly don’t want to be the one to tell them why you thought it was acceptable to put them in that situation.”

I’m still quiet. She catches her breath for a second, and looks at me with her eyes narrowing.

“You haven’t said anything, and you know why.”

Now is the time I need to speak. I hold the mug of tea with my fingertips meanwhile.

“If I said anything before now, you’d be much angrier.”

“This is a lesson you needed to teach them, or something like another… pawn to be moved across the board.”

She chose her words carefully, especially the reference to chess.

“The truth?”

I see her eyes open a little more. Normally I don’t allow her to be privy to such things. This is off the records though.

“The truth is, yes. It was a lesson. It was a situation that you had no control over, with unexpected circumstances. I needed to show all three of you, that you can’t ever be in control. Things won’t be easy, and you have to change to meet circumstances. That’s a very important lesson. Shaun learned that it’s acceptable to hurt somebody if it means they don’t hurt somebody else. Alex learned the grim truth of somebody being hurt by him, on purpose. And even you, learned that sometimes it’s okay to speak against those in authority when you believe what they’ve done is wrong. Something you’ve never done before.”

She stands there, not so much realising what I’m saying but accepting how everything fits.

“The other truth is more plain and obvious. You were the only team able to take that call. You, out of all the teams, even Grandmaster’s team, were the only ones who would have entered that situation and done that well. With minimal loss or injury or death, to yourselves or anybody else. It happened because you were the best team, the only available team there. It just so happens, that it also taught you something as well.”

I let go of my mug of tea and spread my arms a little to the sides.

“A very useful coincidence, but a coincidence all the same.”

“There aren’t any coincidences with you, though.”

Her words have some bite to them and she’s right, in a way. I can’t disagree with her.

“Knowing the script doesn’t make a play less of a work of art. Seeing it performed twice doesn’t ruin the first time. It’s just a different appreciation.”

She stares at me. I see her lips frown beneath her mask.

“You of all people should know that. When Aberrant swung his swords at you and you used your powers to see it, did you dodge them any less quicker because you knew it wouldn’t hit you?”

“That’s not the same.” She says. I briefly let some insight flicker into my perceptions. She disagrees because she wants me to explain why I allowed this to happen. I’ll indulge her with my justification.

“No, perhaps not. I knew what would happen if I told you the outcome or even hinted that I was aware of what may come to be. A measure of safety in yourself and Shaun and Tether, and events happening very differently. Dominoes falling down that need to stay up. Future events, which are more pivotal than you realise, that need to be. Even this event. I don’t want you to be mad with me, Visionary. I understand why you are, and I believe you’re right to be.”

She seems surprised by this. Her surprise comes from me admitting that she’s right instead of denying it. Such surprise stems from the past, where she never heard anybody who she considered an authority figure to admit their mistakes, and…

I got myself distracted. The conversation pauses awkwardly for a second. I carry on.

“I knew you’d come in here and be rightfully angry. I’m aware of how everything has, and will, happen in this room. I didn’t want it to pass but for me, it was an inevitable moment that I can’t avoid. There will be many others that you’ll never know about as well, and be glad that you don’t have to know.”

I can see the relief in her, so I decide to wrap up the conversation quickly. She herself wants to leave too, concerned for Shaun and Tether.

“You have my word that if such a situation occurs again, I’ll consult you first on the matter. It was wrong for me to keep you in the dark, even if I tell you it’s justified, and for that, I’m sorry, Yuhong.”

Surprise, shock. I used her first name. It feels personal to her this way. I really do hate to use people’s own personalities against them but in this case, it’s another necessity. I’m aware of her desire to appeal to her authority figures. She has a suspicion that I may know, waiting in her future, but can never confirm it. She never does forget it though.

She smiles under her mask and that makes me smile.

“I understand, Director.”

“I appreciate that you do.”

“I’ll have to go and make sure my team is well.”

“Visionary, as a word of advise. I’d like to suggest that the paperwork required for today’s incident be moved to a week’s time. Don’t burden Shaun or Tether, or yourself, with it. Just make sure they go home. They’ve had enough for today.”

Visionary bows her head. “Thank you, Director. See you tomorrow.”

“Wednesday. I have tomorrow off.”

“Of course.” She leaves, and I briefly delve backwards. I see the anger and righteousness in her as she entered and contrast it with the satisfied, calmer Visionary that’s now leaving my room, with the door sealing behind her.

I reach for my tea again and take a longer sip. The conversation was just long enough that my tea cooled for exactly the right amount of time. It’s the perfect warmth, and I give the brew no mercy as I drink it down quickly. I get out of my chair, adjusting my robes with one hand and press the door release on my desk, and walk out of the room.

Victoria notices me as I come out, and I put the mug on her glass desk with a clink.

“Thank you for staying behind, Victoria. I’ll make sure you get paid for tonight. I appreciate what you do for me.”

She smiles back at the compliment and discretely puts her phone into the handbag underneath her desk, assuming I hadn’t seen or known about it. She gets up and follows me as we both get into the elevator, and she presses the button for us to go to the ground floor.

Part of me is happy. The meeting with Visionary signifies the end of something and the beginnings of many more. I let my senses be swarmed for the moment, and Victoria abides my silence next to her comfortably. The path has become stronger, even now. Lies and Triumph. Slaughter and deception. The justified, the vengeful, the destitute and the one with the strength to hold it all together. I see annihilation, the fallen and the risen.

And the tragedy, is that this is the only path of causality that will save us all.

Ground floor.”

Victoria steps out first. I follow after her, and here is where we part ways. She turns to me and smiles, and waves.

“Goodbye, see you on wednesday, Director.”

“Goodbye, Tori. Have a good evening.”

I turn and walk down the corridor, to get to my car. The driver is waiting for me, and has been doing so for the last 17 minutes.

It’s been a funny sort of day today.