Exposure: 4-8

Sovereign remained motionless; his plate armour made him look like a monolithic, watching statue. Even his chain wasn’t swaying in the wind, totally under his command. The only thing that moved on him were the spines that formed his wing-like ornaments on his back, and they floated gently to their own tempo. The helicopters in the sky began to lower and circle around, monitoring him with a fixated curiosity. When he spoke, it was deep and commanding, bolstered by a rumbling confidence.

“I came as soon as I heard what’d happened.” His armoured head turned left and right, between the unmasked Verus and Anthony. Both their eyes were upon him. “The situation looks diffused.”

Verus looked from Anthony to Sovereign, eyes tracing over the golden bindings around his hands and neck. “It’s under control. Anthony just surrendered.”

“I briefly saw what remains of the house you fought in. After all that, he surrendered here to you?” Sovereign turned his attention to Anthony, scrutinising him. “I have a hard time believing that he went down without some sort of fight.”

“He hit me with the best that he had. After that, I convinced him to give himself in.”

The chain in Sovereign’s open hand started to pull along his arm with unseen force, and Anthony was dragged forward a foot. “I’m not as trusting as he is, and you’re not the sort of person I’d believe right now. Are you up to anything, Anthony?”

“Do I look like I’m up to anything?”

Sovereign raised up his open palm, and the hard light around Anthony’s neck raised into the air. He was brought onto the balls of his feet, neck outstretched.

“You know the answer to that.”

Anthony grunted, strained by the force against his neck. Verus raised his hand, waving it to Sovereign.

“Hey, hey. I’m giving him a chance here. What’s done is done, yeah, and I get where you’re coming from, but what can he do right now? He can’t run, he can’t beat me. What can he do? He’s not dumb either, and he knows he’s got one good choice to make.”

“Surrender. Possibly try something later. What happens when you’re not here to babysit him?”

“I’ll stay with him if I have to, until he’s put away. I don’t need to sleep or eat, and he knows he’s got one chance not to mess it up.”

Sovereign paused. His hand relaxed, and Anthony dropped onto his feet properly. He let out an annoyed grumble.

“It’s not that I don’t believe you. You’re new to me, you’re new to all of this, right?”

Verus nodded.

“Experience, and my gut, tells me that he’s smart enough to lie in wait to try and escape. It’s not smart in the long term though. From what I’ve seen, you handled the situation well enough for me to trust you a little. You pulled him out when he could have hurt others and caused more collateral, and tried to reason with him. Not many would have given him that chance.”

“You being one of them, Sovereign. The news had told us that you’re becoming rougher to those you incarcerate, as of late-”

Anthony couldn’t continue speaking, as Sovereign’s fingers clenched. Anthony raised off the ground entirely, his feel dangling in the air from the motion of him trying to move his body. A noise escaped him as he struggled, not only physically but to continue breathing.

“Hey!” Verus said, sharply raising his voice. “Put him down. If you start treating him like this, he’s not gonna have much reason to be nice. And you’re proving him right, anyway.”

Sovereign kept his eyes locked onto Verus, until a second passed where his palm opened. Anthony landed on his feet and toppled backwards, landing onto the dirt below. He rolled over, managing to push himself back to his feet.

“I’ll give you that.” Sovereign said. “When you’ve been doing this as long as I have, you see things differently. I have to be tougher on people.”

“I guess. So you do your own thing, then? No NFU at all?”

“None at all. It’s a long story, more than we have time for right now. What were you going to do next?”

Verus looked over to Anthony, who was just watching between them. “Drag him to an NFU van and bring him into a cell, then they go through the usual deal, right?”

“This entire thing was brought to my attention from the NFU itself. It’s good that I was in the area, to be honest. It also means I have some jurisdiction in the matter with this.”

Verus nodded slowly. “So what would you do?”

Sovereign turned his armoured body to Anthony, pointing in his direction. “With your permission, I’d ask you to contact the NFU and request that Anthony be transferred directly to the Unit. He’s shown that his powers mean a conventional cell won’t hold him, and the Unit is prepared to deal with him. When he’s safely incarcerated, we’d begin to go through all the proper legal proceedings.”

“How civil of you.” Anthony responded. Sovereign shot him a stare, to which Anthony seem undaunted by.

“With my permission?” Verus asked, with meagre surprise in his voice. “What do you mean?”

“As I’m considered an independent operative, how I work with the NFU is complicated. It’s why I stick to my own thing. Less red tape, less walking on egg shells. As long as you’re here, even as a new Agent, I have to respect the call you make. If I work with the NFU, I’ve agreed that their authority on the matter is greater than mine.”

Verus processed it for a moment, then turned his head to Anthony.

“That sounds like a good idea. Probably for the best. We’re out of comm range though, so I can’t call it in.”

“I’ll get you back there.” Sovereign said, turning his head to the spot between Verus and Shaun. With his outstretched hand, he began to shape and form a large platform made of hard light. Barriers began to stretch upwards; metal posts that were connected by individual panels, reaching waist height. A set of chains began to convalesce in the middle, no more than a few thick links long. The front and back panels parted like a set of swinging doors, and a small staircase appeared beneath them.

In a gesture, Sovereign motioned for Verus to get on. He gave Anthony no such pleasantries, his bindings forcefully making him walk forward until they were all stood on the level.

The doors, if they could be called that, closed. Verus put his hands on the platform, tapping with his fingers; feeling the surface of the hard light, and how it responded to his tactile enquiries. He could also feel how tough it was, and was surprised that the walls weren’t as durable as the posts. It kept him idle for the next few moment.

Sovereign brought Anthony to the chains, dragging his hands down until he was on his knees. Holding the hard light around his hands, he made the chain link and keep his hands bound to the platform. Just to be safe, he made his hands bind to his neck as well, so his movement altogether was thoroughly restricted.

“It won’t be as quick as you hulk jumping your way back here. A few minutes will help calm everything down.”

Verus glanced over his shoulder to Sovereign. The sight of a helicopter in the near distance caught his eye. “I’m fairly calm. Is that the news?”

Sovereign nodded, as the platform began to raise. Slowly it started to levitate into the sky, with little effort on Sovereign’s behalf, until it was well above the buildings and telephone lines. It curved in direction, moving forward in the same upwards lift, starting to build up speed and guiding them towards the direction in which they came.

“I have some benefits from working with the NFU. They let me listen to reports that come in through the radio, and I can tell them if I’m going to attend so they don’t have to. I’m independent, but I’m not a competitor. You know what I mean?”

Verus nodded, watching as the roads and traffic below him. His eyes were drawn to a roundabout.

“We’re in this together. We fight the same fight.”

“Why aren’t you with the NFU, then?”

Verus turned around to face Sovereign. It was difficult to gauge any expression beneath that suit of fabricated armour, but the pause between them speaking said something.

“It’s a long story.”

“How long until we make it back?”

Sovereign turned his head and looked to the path they were taking. The platform sped up, and whilst Anthony jerked from the increase in speed, neither Sovereign nor Verus flinched from the movement.

“Long enough. Good point.”

Sovereign let out a sigh, almost inaudible beneath his armour.

“Cliché as it is to say, I work better alone. The NFU is a police force and they have the same restrictions as any police force; organisation, red tape, paperwork. Everything that slows you down from actually getting out there and dragging the criminals to jail yourself. I’m not an office worker. I’m a crime fighter. Everything would hold me back, when I can be doing much more.”

“That’s all there for a reason. I didn’t think so either, but it’s to make sure we’re doing it properly.”

“I can do it properly without the red tape. I’ve proven time and time again that I can, and I know I’ll have to prove it until the day I die. I’m happy with that.”

“The public doesn’t always know that, though. Nobody knows you can trust yourself. It just takes one thing, and like, just to make my point here, who watches you?”

I watch me.”

A pause lingered in the air.

“I’ve got a lot of names over the years. Sovereign, the Golden Wonder, Britain’s First. The news calls me a Superhero, but, that’s more about image than it is what I think about myself. I’m a guy with gifts, and I found out I can use them to make a difference. I didn’t hesitate. But, here’s how I see it at the end of the day.”

“When people watch the news and they see me, I want them to think that this guy is actually larger than life. This man can save us, and put away the bad guys, and he looks out for the little man. There’s no government to get in my way, no corporation with their own motives. One man like everyone else, making a difference. And that’s how I want it. I want them to see me like that. People need a hero. They need somebody larger than life, and they want to see that hero between them and what they consider ‘evil’.”

“I don’t think there’s evil, in that whole good versus evil crap you get in comic books. There’s bad people maybe, but I don’t think the universe has like, a force of good and evil.” Verus stated.

“I don’t either. I agree.” Sovereign shook his head. “But there might be somebody who is, maybe. If there’s somebody like you or I on the side of ‘good’, somebody may use that as an excuse to be on the side of ‘evil’. And I’ll be there to knock him down and show him why that’s the wrong idea. And I’m sure you’ll be there, too.”

Verus nodded slowly.

“I feel you lack confidence in what you do.” Sovereign said. “You’ve got the ideas but something makes you unsure, Verus?”

Verus looked out to the distance again. “I’m not even twenty yet. I don’t know what I want to do with my life, let alone who I want to be. Feels like a lot to take on, y’know?”

Sovereign nodded. “It’ll come. It’ll take time, but don’t rush it.”

“You’re the first person that hasn’t told me I need to know right now. You know that?”

“I’ve been there. I know what it’s like. A lot of people just gel and find out what they want to know, and they’ll never know what it’s like to be lost with yourself. But it’s not a bad thing.”

Verus nodded. A noise came from behind them, as Anthony finally spoke.

“That’s quite touching, Sovereign. You could always moonlight as a guidance counsellor.”

Sovereign raised his hand, pointing a finger to Anthony. “I will gag you.”

“I’ll decline. It’s rude not to buy me a drink before you do th-”

The collar around Anthony’s neck tightened, constricting his neck. He grunted as he felt the force exert against him, wheezing in a strained breath. Verus tapped on Sovereign’s armour, to which he looked at him and released the tension around Anthony’s throat.


Sovereign didn’t respond. He turned back to watch the view, and after a second Verus did the same.

“I found it easier to know what I wanted after I saw what happened when I helped people. There’s kids and parents thanking you for saving them. People who remember you, and know you’re there for them. These days, I see kids with my action figures, wearing Sovereign hoodies that look like my armour. Do you think I want to lose everything like that, just so I can be bad for a few minutes? Do you think that’s worth even a second of not being Sovereign?”

“When you look into a kid’s eyes and see hope and see a spark that they could be just like you, that’s everything I need to see. And I hope one day, you see that as well. Because it’s the best damn feeling in the world, and it gives me that inner strength.”

“Why did you join the NFU, Verus?”

Verus turned to Sovereign, looking surprised. “I… to be honest? It’s a job, it pays. I can actually do something to help people.”

“You can do better than that.” Sovereign added. “I’m not trying to recruit you into anything. I’m saying, you could do a lot more if you weren’t restricted by the NFU.”

“It does sound like you’re trying to recruit me.”

It was the first time Shaun heard Sovereign laugh; short and under his breath, shaking his head as he did.

“As long as you’re doing the right thing and fighting the good fight. That’s what matters, isn’t it?”

Verus nodded, watching down below again. They travelled over sprawling country fields, of wheat and grass, those not filled with crops were sprinkled with livestock; cows, sheep, the occasional pigs.

“Yeah. I mean, I get you, and I’ve been with the NFU for a little while now, but honestly? I still don’t know if this is what I want to do with the rest of my life. What if I’m thirty and I’m still asking myself what I want to do?”

“Then perhaps, you shall have to wait longer.”

Soverein and Verus turned round, as Anthony spoke to them.

“I can’t say we have reason to see eye to eye right now, but Sovereign is correct. I wouldn’t concern yourself too much on how long it took. Let it take it’s time. Your generation has it a little more difficult than mine, that much I do know. From what little I’ve gathered, from meeting with youth groups as part of my campaigns, is that many of the youth of today aren’t quite sure where they fit, as well as the numerous other problems. The economy and all that.”

The armoured man and the hooded teenager shared a glance.

“See? He’s not all that bad.” Verus said, motioning with a flat palm to Anthony.

“People who are lost turn to people like them, or people who sound like they know what they’ve been through, for guidance. Farborn and Fartouched have asked me things like this. Maybe you should think about it. They’ll need somebody to look up to, somebody who’s still unsure, just to tell them it’s okay and they can do it.”

“I don’t know. Maybe? I don’t see what they’d find in common with me, though. There’s not much to look up to.”

“You’ve got a job that’ll be a career. A happy family?”

Verus nodded. “Yeah, I’ve got a nice life, but there’s not much hardship there, is there? It’s not like I’ve had to overcome anything in the past that makes people think ‘this guy’s been through what we’ve been through’. There’s people out there who’re much worse off than me. Much, much worse.”

Sovereign remained silent for a moment. Verus watched him and for that brief interlude, he felt that he was being looked through instead of at.

“I don’t think I’m something people could look up to. That’s all.”

“Then give them a reason. Be the person you think they’d want to look up to.”

Arms outstretched, Verus folded them and leaned on them as they flew over the countryside, the only telltale sign of Sovereign from the world below was the view of a hard light box darting through the sky.

“I didn’t realise I’d signed up to a mentoring session today.”

“Help can come from surprising places.”

Verus kept scanning the distance until the roads had a vague familiarity to them. He began to recognise the paths, the scenery and background surrounding roads that he felt like he knew from a journey, and then he started to see the roads he’d travelled down on the way to Anthony’s house. He turned around, pointing down and into the distance.

“I think we’re nearly there. Anthony, are we close?”

Raising his hands. Anthony shook them lightly. Hard light rattling together had an unusual sound, like amalgamated glass and metal, but sounding like neither once you tried to compare it.

“I would tell you, but alas. The view from being chained to the floor is not quite telling, I assure you.”

Sovereign glanced his way for a moment, before swatting some air away with his hand gently. One of the lower links to the chains that bound him in place vanished, and Sovereign’s voice lacked any amusement when he spoke.

“Nothing funny.”

Anthony raised both his hands up, showing his palms as he slowly rose up. The chains were willed closer to Sovereign, which made Anthony balk and stagger forward, much to the frustrated look on his face.

“I’m perfectly capable of walking, thank you.”

He walked over and took a second to appreciate the view, before raising both hands up, pointing with a lean to the right.

“That direction, not far from here. A minute from here, if that.”

For a split second as Anthony looked out, feeling the wind tug and fray at his hair, feeling the wind buffet his face, a solemness draped across his face. It hadn’t lasted for long, as the chains around his neck began to pull him back.

“That’s enough. Back to the middle.”

Anthony sighed, then started walking meticulous steps backwards, until the chain began to move on it’s own accord and meet in the spot it linked again, dragging him down in the process. Another link formed, without Sovereign even motioning for it to exist. He tugged upwards to see if it was binding him, and found his hands could get no further than where they were just then.

Agent Verus, this is back-up C-Team One. is that you? Do you read? Over.”

Verus raised his head up and looked around, before realising where the voice had come from. He put his finger against the comm in his hood, and heard the voice as clear as he could have done when he was on the ground.

“This is Agent Verus. Loud and clear, over. ”

After a brief pause, he got a response. “What the hell happened out there? Are you okay?”

Verus blinked. “Breaking character? I’m fine. I’ve managed to negotiate with Anthony to get him to come willingly. Listen, this might sound weird, but Sovereign is here as well.”

We’re aware of Sovereign. What does he have to say on the matter?”

“Sovereign is okay with it as long as I’m with Anthony. I said I would be, I mean, nothing else can really keep him in check. We’ve had a talk, and we think it’s best if Anthony is taken straight to the Unit. When he’s there, he’ll be safe and we can get on with him being properly arrested. I can’t stay with him in a holding cell all the time. So, can that happen?”

Sovereign began to guide the platform in the direction indicated, his speed not slowing down until Verus could see Anthony’s house from here. Large billows of smoke had plumed into the air, though all that was left from here was the aftermath; greyish clouds of ash and roasted building, with a clearer view of a house, minus a third of it that had been destroyed as collateral. A fire engine and two ambulances had arrived as well and in the distance, an odd few people had emerged to witness the calamity for themselves. More NFU vehicles had made their way to the location also; some agents on the ground trying to calm the public, whilst others are assessing the damage and the surroundings.

Bare… with me on that.” The voice on the comm didn’t speak for another half a minute before responding. “We shouldn’t have any trouble with that. We’ll try to get it sorted, if you can take him there directly.”

“Are you coming with us?” Verus said, turning to Sovereign.

Sovereign shook his head. “No, but I’ll follow behind you to make sure everything is fine. As a precaution.”

The platform landed softly, and the front panels parted open. Sovereign and Verus began to walk down the steps, whilst Sovereign extended his arm behind him. The chains that bound Anthony’s neck and wrists pulled forward, as he was dragged forward until he started to walk. Sovereign made him walk quickly, until the chain began to coil around his wrist and Anthony was by his side, between him and Verus. Verus nodded to Anthony, and he put his finger to his ear again.

“All containment squads and… everyone else, this is Agent Verus. Suspect is currently under arrest, under the condition that I accompany him. We require transportation to take us directly to the Unit, where he’ll be incarcerated there to await legal proceedings. Suspect will be unbound, but I will be present with him at all times. Sovereign will be following as a safety measure, as well. Suspect is not hostile and presently with me. Do not engage. Over.”

Fishing a pair of handcuffs out of his belt, Verus turned to Anthony and then, Sovereign. He nodded to the armoured figure, who reluctantly waved a hand. The restraints binding Anthony faded into nothingness, and he spent a moment rolling his neck and wrists about.

“I know you can get out of these, but it’s a show of faith. Okay?”

Turning to Verus, Anthony nodded with a calm expression. “Very well.”

As Verus began to fasten the handcuffs onto Anthony, a response came over the comms.

Agent Verus, this is back-up C-Team One. Our vehicle will escort you to the Unit. It should be the first van to your right.”

Verus turned his head, and saw a black van with an NFU logo on the back. The side door was slid open, and an agent was waving to him from inside. He raised a hand to acknowledge them, then pointed to the van for Anthony. He began to walk first, with Verus and Sovereign following afterwards. Verus made sure Anthony entered the van first, and Sovereign waited outside until Verus was in the vehicle himself, and watching to make sure Anthony was sat down and didn’t attempt to escape. Beside him sat the Agent that waved him over, still clad in full armour, a rifle sitting on their lap with both hands ready on the weapon. They had an uneasiness to their body language as they sat opposite Anthony, uncertain of how to respond. Anthony simply sat there and rolled his head back, staying motionless and breathing in deeply.

As Verus started to climb in, Sovereign spoke and caused him to turn, one foot on the interior of the van.

“I’ll follow you until he’s inside the Unit, then I’ll make my leave. We won’t speak unless something goes wrong, so I hope we don’t need to speak until another time.”

Extending his hand, Sovereign’s plated gauntlet loomed in front of Verus. He took hold of it, and though his face was obscured by his hood and mask, his eyes squinted in a way to show he was smiling beneath it all, and they shook firmly for a few seconds.

“Thanks for the help, Sovereign. Been a pleasure.”

“Likewise, Agent Verus. Until we meet again.”

With Verus climbing into the van, Sovereign began to lift himself up by his armour, and Verus didn’t see him as he slammed the door shut. Hunching over, he moved and sat next to the agent beside him, and pulled down his hood and mask, running a hand over his face to feel his skin against his bare fingers. He scratched down his chin and let out a deep breath, slumping slightly into the chair.

The journey itself was largely uneventful, with little conversation for the hours of driving it took to get to Rochdale, where the Unit was located. Neither Anthony nor Verus spoke, and the agent beside them gave little input into the aura of silence that donned over the van in their travels. Sovereign loomed in the sky ahead, watching them along motorways and roads with an unshakable vigilance, with only one goal in mind to stay firmly fixated to.

The only time Verus broke the silence was to ask the driver if he could get in touch over the radio to the control room . And he did, so Verus asked how the injured were. In his relief he was told that Visionary was not in a critical condition and injured, though they were still running tests on her and the others to make sure they were fine. Verus looked at Anthony afterwards, who was glancing away at the time; Verus could tell he was refusing to look at him upon hearing the news, but he hadn’t pushed the issue at all. He had hoped that it may make him aware of what he did, more than trying to make him feel guilty over the ordeal.

Once they had finally reached the Unit, Verus was the first person to leave, making sure Anthony was walking in front of him. They had parked right outside the convicted prisoner’s entrance, past a large series of metal fences and several security checks to allow them entry. From a frontal view, the Unit was an imposing building made of dark, almost black and grey bricks, with a large brick wall surrounding the front, and many layers surrounding the outside, from the in. The architecture looked more modern than other prisons Verus had seen, from studies in school to what he’d learned in the NFU, but the Unit looked more like a modern fortress than it did a conventional prison.

Verus made sure he was by Anthony’s side from the moment he stepped foot into the building, to the moment he was brought to a specifically prepared cell for his arrival. The room was barred with metal as usual but these bars were sandwiched with a clear, glass-like pair of walls, each with their own door. In the top corners of the room were an unusual device that Verus didn’t know about, as well as a security camera; he could only assume the boxes with a grill on them, and some sort of soothing light beneath them, were the Emotional Dampener Units that the Unit was famed for.

It took half an hour for the Emotional Dampener to fully work on Anthony. He was calm regardless, patient and waiting with no attempt to escape but over minutes any energy he had began to degrade away; from looking slightly more tired to eventually lacking the will to do more than to keep himself upright. There was little personality left to him staring absently through the nearby walls, only managing to drift his eyes from left to right to look between Verus and the guards nearby.

Satisfied, Verus said goodbye to both Anthony and the guards in the Unit before he made his leave. He didn’t take long to leave, content that he had done what he needed to do, to make sure everything was settled. The van was waiting for him outside, and he clambered into the passenger seat, slumping slightly into the chair as he put his seatbelt on.

“Ready to go?”

Verus nodded slowly, and as he did he glanced up into the sky. He made out a single drop of gold amongst the horizon of ashen clouds, glowing with a soft pink hue around the edges, just before it went out of sight, before he could focus to see if it really was him. With a slight smile, he ran a hand through his hair to neaten it some, and felt that it was a bit shorter than he had remembered.

The van began to pull away as Verus spoke; his voice filled with a tone of a gentle, if not slightly costly, victory.

“Yeah. I think we’re done here today.”

Verus gave one last glance to the Unit before the van turned around, and the journey home would give him the time he needed to think, and a moment’s peace at last.


Exposure: 4-6

Impetus’ shell gleamed as the colours inverted within, his facial expressions distorted and every time it changed or he spoke, it seemed far too inhuman, almost mechanical;. He had his arms raised in a fighting stance, studying the surroundings. Spectre was still frozen in the corner, and Grandmaster lay on the floor. Only the movement of his back raising up and down as he breathed signaled him being alive. From this position, it was unclear whether Visionary was breathing or even alive, entirely without motion.

Anthony looked undaunted. The only damage that was sustained was on his clothes; tears, bullet holes, creases and folds brought about by failed attempts to stop the man. He was not lacking for breath, nor had he changed in his demeanour. He held an air of grace and poise about him, a politeness that belittled downing an agent and pushing another through a wall.

Verus had his shoulders stooped, and despite stating his feelings, showed no hostility. He didn’t even show any signs of aggression; as much as he may have said he was angry, he was tranquil amidst Impetus’ combat-ready attitude, and Anthony’s relaxed passiveness.

“Now, that’s quite a hostile tone to take. I assume you two are the remaining forces? I had expected you as well. I do still intend to leave, and I’m right to assume you don’t wish that to happen. Shall we get on with it, then?”

“Let the girl and the injured go, Anthony.” Impetus said, lowering his fists just enough for it to be noticeable. “They are not part of this fight now.”

“I suppose not.” Anthony said, turning his head to the right. He looked at Spectre and Grandmaster for a second, studying them intently. “She’s no threat at any rate, and neither are they anymore. But do you trust me to stand idly as my would-be captor, to simply allow you to remove them?”

Impetus looked around once again, from Visionary to Anthony, Grandmaster to Spectre. A moment was needed for him to assess the situation, and he took no time nor hesitation to respond.


His shield began to lower, and the entire process took less than half a second. His fist hadn’t uncoated itself, and he cocked his arm back and threw a punch from one side of the room, and connected with Anthony on the other. With a thunderous boom, he launched his shield like a missile and the hit knocked Anthony off his feet, sending him flying into the far wall and shattering his window on impact.

There was no rest before the second attack, as he rushed across the room in an instant, pushing himself forward with barriers on his feet, and skidded on the wood floor until he was in front of Anthony. His right arm still across his body, the back of his arm coated in his shielding that started to grow. The backhand he hit Anthony with was being grown at the first moment he swung, as well as ejected from his body like a punch.

It sliced through the remaining window, and the metal that held the two windows in place, as well as throwing Anthony deeper into the wall than Visionary currently was.

“Spectre. Get Visionary, get out.”

Unlike before, Spectre got a sudden surge of confidence. She made a break and ran to Visionary, and started to try and pull her out of the hole in the wall. She wasn’t particularly tender, and needed to struggle to release her.

As Spectre caught Visionary in her arms, Verus was getting busy. The door next to him was the focus of his attention, and he took it by the edges and lifted it up. Unstrained, he ripped it clean off the hinges and held it in his hands to check the weight before turning to see Spectre. She was holding Visionary in both hands, a fireman’s carry. Her head was leaning back in her arms, and blood was clearly saturating her hair.

“She’s breathing, but…”

Anthony began to pull himself out of the wall, but Impetus brought his foot up and slammed it straight down into him the moment his head pulled out. The wall erupted, as Anthony was pushed through in an explosion of plaster and wood that rattled the nearby wall. Impetus urged himself forward and started to enter the hole he just made.

Spectre turned her attention away from the fight to continue talking with Verus.

“…we kept hitting him. Nothing hurts him. It’s not like you though. He still reacts to it.”

Verus took a second to understand before nodding. “Go, back door. We’ll cover you, okay?”

Spectre nodded. Verus took the door with him and used it as a shield, raising it and using it to cover Spectre. She ran through the house, away from the conflict to leave through the back. Once she was safely away, Verus turned his attention towards Impetus and Anthony.

Little had changed. Impetus struck Anthony once again, through the hallway and through the opposite wall. Each hit was titanic, causing the floor to tremble just slightly. Anthony had been knocked into the second living room in his house, and Verus couldn’t see what was going on.

Another moment later, and a large sofa was fired from where Anthony was, into Impetus. Thrown like a missile, it struck him and though he caught it with both hands he was still forced back, sliding through the hole again and halfway into the middle of the other living room.

“Some sort of telekinesis?”

As Verus mused, Impetus wanted retaliation. He condensed the barriers to his hands and fired the sofa back, shunting it back from whence it came with an escalation of force. He heard it strike Anthony, who had hit something else as a result, but he couldn’t determine anything else until he entered the fray himself. Verus walked between the holes where the action was, and instantly saw the sofa being launched from Anthony coming towards him.

Instinct took over and he raised the door to use it as a shield, but the sofa slammed through the middle. A gaping hole was left in the door that tore it into two pieces, where the sofa had penetrated it, and went straight through to hit Verus in the abdomen. It stopped on impact, unable to get him to budge for all the force behind it.

The door shielded his view from Anthony, who had moved into the hallway to join Verus. Just as the sofa began to succumb to gravity, he took it in both hands with open palms. He didn’t so much heft it up, as it was pushed into the air with unseen force, before it was brought down into his shoulder. The metal frame bent around him and wrapped to his body, and the leather ruptured to spray the front door with the fibre that was inside the cushions. Despite this, it hadn’t made Verus move, and the lack of reaction caused a response from Anthony.


“Yeah, really interesting.” Verus said back, before raising his right arm up. With one half of the door in his hand, he slapped it straight into Anthony’s face. It shattered and rained wooden splinters in every place that the fibre hadn’t managed to cover, even as he went to cover his face with his arm. Anthony let go of the sofa, violently thrust to the floor and stopping as he hit the wall next to the door.

Impetus began to rejoin and started to crawl through the hole in the wall, whilst Verus discarded the other half of the door and threw it to the ground. Anthony was scrambling to his feet when Verus took the sofa in both hands, and swung back in a mirror of how Anthony attacked him before.

Slightly more prepared, Anthony held out both arms. As the sofa came into contact with his bare skin, it was pushed upwards. The hit that Verus was about to strike slid off his open palms, and the couch was shot straight upwards. Verus registered the sound of the sofa exploding through the roof of the house before he saw it leave his hands, and was momentarily taken aback.

Undettered, Verus raised his palm and slapped downwards, not allowing Anthony to have a chance to react. Once again, Anthony was sent to the floor with the sound of a whip crack echoing through his house. Verus grabbed him by the cloth of his shirt’s shoulder and turned, hurling him from where he was lying, through the wall again. Impetus lowered his head to protect himself, but Anthony careened past him and slammed into the back wall, his body wedged in a spot furthest away from them.

Verus turned his head to Impetus, who stood upright and turned sideways to keep his eyes on both Anthony and Verus. “Brute force isn’t working. He’s tanking it.”

“We don’t know how his powers work. We understand him, we can beat him. Contain him in the building until then..”

Verus nodded, and Impetus started to walk through the hole in the wall. Anthony was already falling down, landing just in front of his fireplace. He made a slight dent in the floor beneath him, and let out a groan from the sudden changes of force; from being lodged, to a sudden stop as he fell to the floor. Beside him, the engine was still there, humming with power and previously forgotten.

Anthony turned his head to see it, and grabbed at the lose tie around his neck. He tore it in one pull, letting it hand in his hand, and Impetus was on him before he could do anything else. The barrier on his hand started to grow, the shell-like barrier expanding until his hand was larger than a riot shield, centered on his palm. Impetus curled his fingers and closed them together before he shoved it over Anthony, forcing him head first into the fireplace.

The barrier currently kept him in place, and as much as he struggled and shoved against it. Impetus dug the barrier until it crushed against the wall and the floor, and Anthony’s face was soon smothered against the roaring fire that was still lit, and though he was pushed into the flames they had yet to burn him.His hair started to singe but his flesh remained unmolested

“Give up, Anthony. We are not leaving until you surrender or are incapacitated, or worse.”

Anthony looked up at Impetus, his stare from behind the flickering embers was hard to see. After a second, of silence, the fire abruptly died. His hair no longer burned, but the smell of some of the waxed hair being melted to cinders was instantly noticeable; lingering in the air, clinging to the room.

“A pity, I’ll politely decline once more.”

With the torn tie in hand, Anthony began to weave it around one of his hands. Though in two pieces, he was able to tie enough of it to coat his knuckles. Verus walked inside just as he was finished, and approached to the side of Impetus. He watched as Anthony squeezed his knuckles around his tie, and commented.

“What’s he doing?”

His other hand touched the surface of the barrier keeping him in place, and then he pulled back his fist around the tie. He struck the barrier, the tie softening the impact on his hand but the barrier hadn’t suffered any damage. The shock wave from the blow caused the walls and floors to rattle, a shudder that made Impetus grow a sudden look of concern.

“On guard.”

Verus nodded, and moved over to the table that was in the middle of the room. Magazines and newspapers were littered along the glass surface, held aloft by metal bars and frames. With one sweep of his hand, Verus scattered the magazines away. He grabbed it in both hands and held it up, just as Anthony brought his fist back and struck again.

More than just the floors trembled this time. The entire house felt as if it rocked from the impact, a brutal blow that made Impetus almost lose his balance. As he moved and managed not to clench his hands, his barriers mimicked his every movement. It took seconds for the house to stop fully moving after the blow had been made, and there was the faint sound of tiles from the roof sliding down outside and shattering onto concrete.

The barrier holding him had fared no better. Cracks had begun to spread out and splinter from the point where his fist made contact. For once, even Impetus was surprised, but not before Anthony jabbed into the barrier once again, before the agents had chance to react.

The barrier shattered. Shards of kinetic energy erupted like a bullet hitting through a window. Impetus was flung backwards, propelled from the momentum being forced through his barrier into him, and if he hadn’t have activated his barrier around him when he went through the wall, he may not have even made a noise of discomfort when he tore through the middle of the stairs from where he was before.

Anthony raised up to his feet, but Verus was watching, and waited. He took the glass table and swung it into Anthony’s chest, pinning him against the wall. The legs of the table stuck into the walls like improvised nails, and the glass of the table shattered outwards. Verus moved a step closer and shoved his hands on the bars, warping the metal around Anthony’s body so that he was much firmly pinned in place. Anthony shoved his body against the bars in protest, as they dug and impressed into his body.

Verus turned his head to the side, then turned back to Anthony. “Look. This is going nowhere, and we’re wrecking your house. Can’t you just give up? Like, what’s it gonna take to get you to give in?”

Anthony turned to the side, watching as Impetus crawled through the hole he’d just made, bouncing onto the ground after pushing himself over a small pile of debris with his powers. “I think we’re far beyond that point.”

“Are we?” Verus responded with, eyes narrowing slightly. “I don’t think we are.”

“I admire your optimism.” Anthony said, calmly.

Anthony raised his head, hands already on the bars of the metal imprisoning him. The wall shook for an instant before the makeshift prison was shot out of the wall, with Anthony still clung to it. He sent it out in such an angle as to avoid Verus. Him and the cage collided with Impetus, knocked off his feet with Anthony careening into the wall. Impetus, sandwiched between a dented wall and a bend metal cage, couldn’t react quick enough. Verus turned around just as Athony pulled the remains of the table away a few inches, palms on the side so that when he rotated it so the table legs faced the wall, his hands weren’t going to be caught.

He launched the table into the wall, pinning Impetus and his barrier into the wall, just as he had done before to him. Anthony was quick and turned around with the wrapped fist raised, and Verus brought his hand up. Anthony struck right into Verus’ open hand, only for him to catch the punch. The house quaked again, bits of destroyed wall flaking off from the open wounds to the building. Verus stood, clenching his fist in his hand.

His grip tightened, and he retaliated with a punch of his own.

If he hadn’t have been holding onto Anthony’s hand, he wouldn’t have been standing in this room. As it was, Anthony was sent off his feet, held on by Verus as he almost defied gravity for the seconds he was struck, before landing on the floor on his knees. Previous hits from Anthony were a murmur at best compared to this; windows rattled and almost broke from the shock, and the sound of the punch echoed like a deep gunshot.

Anthony started to look up, and Verus lifted him to his feet and pulled him in by the arm. Anthony’s face came into contact with Verus as he headbutted him, sending him down again like a rag doll, steeled in place only by Verus’ grip. The windows that were weakened before had sprung, and the sound of glass exploding outwards rippled through the house amidst the thunderclap the impact made.

Verus frowned, and lifted up Anthony by his arm. In an arc, he was brought up, and brought down into the floor. The floor groaned, and the house buckled once more. Anthony was imprinted into the ground, his face obscured by the wooden flooring up to his ears. The rest of his body was similarly implanted down, and Verus watched for a moment. He checked his arm, a lifeless organ that limped as he shook it, and let it go. Anthony stopped moving.

Verus took a deep breath, and shook his head. “That was getting dangerous.”

He turned to Impetus, who was still impaled on the wall. He was at least calm and appeared uninjured by his barrier’s protection. Though he was unmoving, he was watching intently, feet dangling just off the ground by a few inches.

“You hanging fine there?” Verus said, in a mock tone. He turned his body to face Impetus, who also broke character to smirk for just an instant. It was one that Verus at least saw, and lightened his spirits.

“Very hilarious, Verus.” Impetus said. “But an excellent job-”

The floor behind them erupted, spraying Verus and Impetus in a geyser of rubble and debris.

Anthony was on his feet after shunting himself up, his hand raised. He was already touching the arch in his back, and this was when Verus noticed and began to turn around. Verus only managed to see him for just an instant; dirt, grit and wood chippings covered his face and shoulders, his shirt dirtied beyond all hope of cleaning. He only just heard what Anthony said, still as calm as before, his hand touching the armour covering Verus’ back.

“Goodbye, Verus.”

Verus was moved so fast that neither Impetus nor Anthony could see him move. All they heard and felt was the sonic boom in his wake, and the sound of the front wall of Anthony’s house exploding from the exit wound caused by Verus being launched out like a bullet. The shock wave was enough to cause feint cracks to appear in Impetus’ barrier, and as he rose his head, he witnessed the devastation that had been laid out.

Anthony lowered his hand slowly, flexing his grip. His head turned to Impetus, who was at a total loss for words.

“He’ll live. I’m sure.” Anthony said. “But he may have been able to actually stop me. You, on the other hand, are easier to deal with.”

Impetus’ mouth opened for a second, and his barrier dropped. He raised it again on his chest and only that, and began to expand it outwards. Metal creaked and strained, and lightly shook until Impetus’ efforts forced the barrier out of the wall. He launched the barrier forward, and the corner of the metal frame clipped Anthony’s shoulder. It pushed him back momentarily, Impetus landing on his feet, barrier flickering back over him once more.

Anthony rolled his shoulder, and Impetus brought his arm back. The barrier faded and covered his hand next, expanding outwards as he projected it off into Anthony’s chest. As much as it staggered him, all it did was blow off some of the dirt that had accumulated on his clothes.

“Valiant. That I’ll give you. But I’m through with this.”

Impetus charged him, and Anthony didn’t even bother trying to dodge. The punch landed firmly on his chest, the barrier being expended to throw Anthony off his feet. This blow was much more powerful, more desperate than the others. Anthony flew into the point on the opposite wall where ceiling and wall met, and took out a huge chunk in the process. He landed down moments lander, onto his knees. Impetus came walking over to continue the attack, but Anthony had his hand with the tie wrapped around it raised.

The walls began to quake, gently at first and growing in intensity. Impetus stopped to try to understand what was going on, and didn’t realise until the metal frame of the table had struck him in the back and sent him face first beside the hole that Anthony had made when Verus was beating on him.

The frame deflected into the air, but was drawn to Anthony’s bound hand, drawn by an invisible link. Anthony used the scant seconds he had and grabbed the nearly wrecked, bent frame with two hands; two of the long edges of metal had been severed already and snapped, leaving him with a right angled edge to work with. He grabbed the corner, feeling the welded edges in his bare fingers and held it up to his eyes, and the air around it began to distort and shimmer.

Impetus rose to his feet as he watched the metal underneath Anthony’s fingertips change in colour, from dull grey to orange an eventually white. The frame started to shake, and Anthony gripped the smaller end with his other hand, and tore the frame in half. Long, strings of molten, superheated steel dripped down from where it had been melted, hitting the floor with a scorching hiss and small smoke plumes wafting turbulently from Anthony’s hands.


Anthony didn’t let Impetus speak. The smaller bit of metal in his hand shot out, crunching into Impetus’ shoulder. The metal hit with such velocity that it just about managed to crack through his shield, hot end impaled and pushed into the armour of his shoulder. The searing hiss, followed by Impetus reeling in pain and staggering back almost until he was off his feet, was enough for Anthony to know he’d hit his mark.

He rushed over and grabbed the bar, still lanced through the armour, and swung Impetus around and up. The bar was still in his hand as Impetus was flung through the hole he had thrown Anthony into, and broke through onto the second floor. Only small shards of his barrier seemed to return back, though the sound of the barrier breaking was quite clear.

Anthony watched, and looked at the smaller bar in his hand. He discarded it to the floor, and instead of directly following the same route, he elected to go out through the door that he was almost next to, and at a brisk pace started to climb up the stairs. As he reached the top, he went to one of the doors on the right and put his finger on the door handle. The door itself turned open, and flung outwards hard enough to impale the door handle on the other side into the wall.

Impetus had landed into a bedroom of sorts, a more lavish room that had shades of beige and tanned brown, at least what parts weren’t covered in rubble or pieces of broken wall. Impetus had crashed through and landed onto the side of a double bed, and bounced off until he was a few feet away from the door. The room was spacious enough, almost as much as the living room that they had previously been in. Impetus had skidded far to get to the door, most of the force had been used up when he hit the bed at a diagonal angle.

Luckily for Impetus, he managed to bring his barrier before Anthony swung upwards with the broken metal pole in hand, and launched him into a chest of drawers that was on the wall next to the bed. Wood cracked and splintered, and Impetus lodged into it before he fell to the floor. Wooden shelves and clothes pour down on top of him, most of which sliding off the barrier still holding up.

“I suppose this is-”

Anthony found the end of a battering ram slamming him straight in his face, and the recoil pushed him into the wall behind him. Grandmaster, who had mustered himself awake, could barely hold onto the force that such a blow exerted back on him, and his arm swung back with just as much force. He curled around and landed on the floor, letting out a deeply pained groan whilst clutching his chest.

Impetus was managing to get to his feet, a fist pushed into the ground to force himself up to his feet. The sudden commotion caught his attention, and he managed to exclaim something as Grandmaster similarly tried to force himself up.

“Grandmaster, you need to get out of here!”

“Fight’s… not over yet.” He was faring much worse, and barely managed to get himself to one knee. He had to use the battering ram to steady himself, and couldn’t muster himself any further at this point. Anthony was already pulling himself out of the wall, rolling the metal pipe in his hand like a cane. He turned to see Grandmaster, and studied him whilst he spoke.

“Admirable. You have tenacity. But this fight is over for you.”

“Like hell it is-”

A second wind gave Grandmaster the strength to start to rise up, but Anthony moved the pole to his chest and pushed it against his sternum. With a prod, the pole shunted him backwards. All the strength he had left was knocked out of him, thrown backwards into a roll that threw him out of the room, landing on his back at the top of the stairs. Anthony watched him leave, and pulled the door out of the wall. With an open hand, the door slammed shut, and he turned to Impetus.

Impetus was on his feet, in a similar stance as before Arms raised, poised and ready to fight despite all that had occurred. He’d renewed his barrier, coating himself with an inverse gleam, but he was breathing heavier. His right arm, where the metal had struck before, was slightly lower than it was before, and his expression was one of a man who was holding in some pain and exhaustion. Whilst he was aggressive previously, he seemed extremely cautious, more-so than he had ever been before.

“You still fight.” Anthony said, equally impressed as he was irritated. It begun to show on him, from his sighs under his breath to the slight slump of his shoulders.

“Always.” Impetus replied. No hesitation, just a response.

“So be it. But now, I must escalate. I have to leave. And I’m going to make sure you’re out before I do.”

“And where will you go if you do? You’re wanted now. The world will know.”

Anthony took a second to consider this, and the pole in his hand was let go. He dropped it, and it made a loud clanging sound as it bounced on the floor several times before grinding to a stop. He walked over with a determined gait, a fast pace. Impetus took a step back, but Anthony was on him. He raised his hands to defend himself, but Impetus grabbed him by the wrist. His eyes flared wide open, freezing in place. Words failed him as they were locked in that moment, and his fist slowly began to tremble and unclench.

Impetus’ other hand began to drop down again against his will, with a growing expression of horror on his face. A look of surprise, disgust and terror washed over him, sickening him to his stomach.

“My… my barrier- You’re- I know what you are now.” Impetus stammered out his words.

“Do tell. Humour me.”

“You’re… energy. You manipulate it. You can control it.”

Anthony stopped, and a small smile crept on his face. “And what makes you believe that?”

“The metal. I knew it wasn’t- wasn’t normal.”

“Ah.” Anthony said. “Yes, I suppose that’s a good giveaway. It’s all energy, Impetus.” Anthony raised his finger and slowly flicked at Impetus’ forehead, bouncing off the barrier with a distinct clink. “All of it is energy. Your barrier. Kinetic energy, isn’t it?”

Impetus tried to move, despite his body refusing to do so. He barely jerked whilst Anthony held onto him.

“You’re linked to this barrier. You control it, but it controls you. Like a shell, like a suit of armour. You push the armour, the person inside moves with it.”

“Absorbing- kinetic… You absorb kinetic energy. Every punch, every hit-”

“-fed me. I needed enough to launch Verus away. He was the only real problem to encounter. But, this is enough exposition, and I’m done holding back. This shell protects you for only so long, doesn’t it?”

Anthony put his other hand on Impetus’ head, and once that was in place he moved the other one, still maintaining control over the kinetic energy. His fingertips strummed along the dome, Impetus looking up to watch on in horror. Anthony waited just long enough before he started to look around him. The air began to distort and wave, as heat began to suddenly grow inside the room around them. At first, only the air began to show signs, but several seconds later and the air inside the room was all warped. The heat grew stronger still, and the clothes and dried plaster littered about the room began to ignite. The carpet and walls in the room darkened slowly, turning brown and black. Fires began to materialise, consuming the bed and the carpet, the walls containing the fire before the lick of flames and extreme heat began to eat away at it like it were nothing but paper.

“If your friend is so determined to fight, if he opens the door, you can watch him incinerate.”

More closer to Impetus, was the faint sound of crackling. Cracks began to bloom from underneath Anthony’s fingers, slowly at first, but starting to streak like lightning against the surface of his barrier. He could feel it began to weaken, as Anthony was siphoning the energy into his fingertips. Applying just the slightest pressure, letting it slowly degrade. Impetus began to slowly breathe in, masked away from the noxious fumes that were consuming the room around them. Anthony began to hold his breath, barely speaking a word as the flames lashed against him, a gap around him where they seemed to fade away, protecting himself from the worst of it by absorbing the heat near him.

Amongst the roaring inferno around them, it was the lightest noise that made Impetus fear the most; the sound of his barrier slowly being broken, bit by bit, the creeping noise spreading from the top of his head down to his ears.

He took one last breath, before holding it in and closing his eyes.

Exposure: 4-5

You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention, when questioned, something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”

Anthony Barnes raised his head slightly. He didn’t turn around before he spoke, but he was able to look over his shoulder and see who was there.

I expected the police, but not-”

We are not here to discuss anything, Barnes. We’re here to arrest you.” Grandmaster responded with. “Do anything suspicious and and we’ll be forced to open fire.”

Anthony stood up from leaning on the wall, and raised both hands upwards. He glanced at Grandmaster over his shoulder. “I’m just going to turn around so I can see you.”

No funny business.”

Slowly, Anthony turned around. They caught a glimpse of him full and proper; the white shirt he wore was creased, sleeves hastily rolled up his forearm that stopped before his elbow. His top two buttons were undone, though his shirt was still tucked into his formal black trousers. Around his neck was an untightened tie. He looked like he hadn’t shaved in several days, and his expression looked tired and unsatisfied.

Visionary aimed for his chest, and walked around to the side. Spectre followed on her flank, until Grandmaster was closest to the door, Visionary to his right and Spectre to hers. All guns aimed on Anthony, as he scanned over them with a hint of curiosity.

I knew you were coming. Not this soon, though.”

I will not repeat myself.” Grandmaster responded, barking with authority in his voice. “This is not a pleasant conversation. Put your hands behind your head and get on your knees, now.”

Anthony paused. He slowly pointed to the half of a sandwich still on the plate on the table, and started to lean towards it as if to grab it. “I hope you don’t mind if I finish this before-”

Grandmaster didn’t let him finish. He nudged his rifle up, aiming from square in the chest to right between the eyes. “Do not touch anything. Hands on your head, and get on your knees. NOW.”

Anthony looked down to the side and lowered both arms. For a moment of introspection, he looked solemnly at the floor. His shoulders were slumped, his head seemingly unwilling to keep itself raised up. He looked defeated, and holding on by a straw to the last grasp of pride that his fingers could snag onto. When he raised his head and looked Grandmaster in where he thought his eyes were, behind that helmet, he spoke with almost total certainty.

I’m not going with you. You can try to put me down, but I’m not going with you.”

You made your choice. One round each.”

Grandmaster gave the order in those words. He pulled the trigger and his rifle fired a pulse of energy straight into Anthony’s chest. Visionary followed less than a split second afterwards, and Spectre fired her pistol after a moment of hesitation. All three hits landed with perfect accuracy, and Anthony either didn’t get time to react or didn’t bother. He did lean back, as if the bolts had registered and struck him. To their surprise though, he didn’t look any more fatigued than he had been before. The glass in his hand hadn’t even slipped out of his grip.

He looks at his chest and runs over it with a hand, feeling the button of his silk shirt. His attention went back to Grandmaster, who wasn’t lowering his aim.

The latter spoke first.

Resistance to ED weaponry. Open fire until he drops.”

There was no hesitation when Grandmaster pulled the trigger again, Visionary and Spectre complied and began to unload shot after shot into his chest. It wasn’t hard to hit a non moving target and each trio of bolts would have rendered a normal person into deep fatigue. Anthony took each hit and didn’t seem to muster the energy to looking phased by it. It wasn’t until Grandmaster counted a total of ten shots from him alone, and twice as much on top of that from the rest of the agents, before he issued the next command.

Cease fire.”

The room grew silent as blasts of Emotional Dampening fire began to die down. Everyone observed the outcome, as Anthony stared at his chest again. He had only moved from the hail of fire as a reaction to anything that would normally strike him, and the wine contents of his glass sloshed and shifted from his flinching. Anthony exhaled slowly, a noise of relief from him. His shoulders raised, giving him a posture of more composure.

Grandmaster lowered his rifle, taking his aim off him and holding it at his side with a single hand. For the moment, he hadn’t counteracted to the aggression he was shown just now. Once again, his body responded in time with his own thoughts, and he found his regular pistol, a Glock 17, firmly in his grip. Index finger slid from a disciplined point down the barrel of the gun to curling the trigger in his hand, barrel aimed to the left of Anthony’s chest. His visor filled in all the details that he needed; accuracy that was electronically enhancing his own lethal prowess with firearms. Even without the helmet, he could have landed a bullet between his eyes without consciously aiming the moment it was aligned with that spot.

He was issuing a warning.

Visionary didn’t need to look at Grandmaster to see what he was doing, and knowing that he was keeping aim at Anthony meant that she could holster her rifle. She held her pistol in a two handed grip, finger on the trigger and aimed to the right of Anthony’s chest. Spectre kept her pistol raised up, with only one weapon to keep her defended at this point gave her no option to escalate.

Grandmaster tightened his grip on the butt of his rifle, no longer holding it by the trigger but more like a weapon, a slab of heavy metal to bludgeon with.

Anthony watched and stared down the empty hole of each gun. He sounded calm, calculating.

The NFU. You know, don’t you?”

Grandmaster didn’t answer. It was his lack of commenting on that, that made Anthony certain that they knew about him. “Last chance to surrender. Don’t do this, Barnes.”

Anthony sighed again. Frustration, defeat or weariness, it was hard to pin down just how he felt from it. His gaze shifted to Spectre, whom he noticed had her original weapon on hand He raised his glass up to her, and mustered a polite smile.


His fingers released the glass, and as it fell it hung to the open palm of his hand like it was glued in place.

The tilted glass began to right itself up until it was perfectly straight in his hand. As he willed it, it shot out towards Spectre, far faster than he could have done if he’d thrown it.

Visionary was the only one capable of responding to it, her arm stretching out and lashing at Spectre like a whip. She brought her arm up and out and shoved at her with all the might that her body could produce, and she staggered over before slamming her hip into the nearby sofa. She was not quick enough to pull her arm back before the glass smashed into her elbow and shattered on impact, a hail of glass and a shatter cracking through the room as her arm buckled inwards.

Grandmaster fired his shot at the moment that he heard the collisions, and the room was a flurry of contacts; of glass to armour, of body to chair, of a gun’s deafening shot blaring through the room.

The room recovered from the sudden series of movements. Visionary’s armour had blunted most of the damage, as did Spectre’s armour save her from any potential damage that being thrown into a sofa may have caused. Anthony had no armour to protect his chest, other than a shirt with a bullet hole torn through it.

The skin beneath where the shot connected hadn’t broken.

He did stagger from the shot, and was almost as surprised as everyone else was in the room. Anthony reached down to where the bullet hit and wove his finger through the gape in fabric, running his fingertip against the frayed edges. Above all other expressions to show, he looked more annoyed about this than anything else.

I quite liked this shirt.”

The agents grew silent and uneasy as Anthony took a few steps over towards the table. Their guns were still aimed on him for seconds after he spoke, and his open body language was him expecting them to do something else. Now, he looked disgruntled, as he saw two agents aiming at him with their pistols. Spectre had her gun to her side, aware of how little it would do.

Anthony reached down towards the table and as much as he expected, Grandmaster and Visionary fired at him once again. Grandmaster had aimed for his skull and Visionary on his shoulder. Both shots hit and deflected off, tearing another hole in his shoulder as the remains of the squashed bullets impaled themselves in nearby walls. Barnes just about grabbed his sandwich before he reached to his forehead and rubbed where the slug had hit him.

Now that’s just rude.”

He acted as if he barely noticed it, as he grabbed the sandwich in hand and took a deep bite out of it. As he crunched through lettuce and bacon, he reached with his other hand to the plate and tapped on the underside to fling it up. It flicked up with far greater force than was exerted upon it, somersaulting through the sky towards Grandmaster.

His body reacted, acting with an instinct beyond his control. He brought the rifle in his hand upwards and slashed into the plate, slamming it with a parry that tore it to pieces. Painted ceramic exploded from the point of contact that pierced into the nearby walls, showering the nearby vicinity with meteors of broken plate.

Visionary fired another pair of shots at him, ringing through the room and the comms in everyone’s ear. Spectre refused to be idle any longer and a large sheet of mist covered around Anthony’s head and the head alone. It was already heated up and she increased the temperature, the scaling fog obscuring him from view.

The walls nearby already seemed to be affected, as paint began to flake and splinter from the heat radiating from her fog. Only Spectre could see what Barnes was doing beyond his body, which did not react to what she was doing. She watched as he continued to eat his sandwich, despite the contents of his food growing harder to chew and crunch through from the basking head.

Anthony raised his head up now, finishing his current bite, his gaze shooting to near where Spectre was. In an instant, the paint near the walls had stopped degrading and a sudden shock was sent up her spine. Spectre sounded appalled, almost disgusted when she spoke.

You can’t… How did you do that?!”

It doesn’t matter.” Anthony said, dropping his sandwich to the floor. “I’m leaving. Thank you for the visit.”

Anthony began to walk to the door. Grandmaster was already in his way, and brought his pistol up once again to aim at Anthony’s head. “You’re not going anywhere.”

Or else what?” He said, continuing his stride. “You’ll shoot me again?”

On queue, he fired again at point blank. He flinched and staggered back from the impact, but once again it bounced off his skull harmlessly. At this point, Anthony started to look less and less amused, and stared deadpan at Grandmaster through his helmet. He sighed again.

Are you done?”

Grandmaster paused after responding. His helmet made it hard to tell just exactly what he was thinking, but it soon became clear as he brought the butt of his pistol around and smacked it clean into Anthony’s face. He pistol whipped him with a surprising lash of force that made Anthony tilt his head sideways. And like all other prior attempts, it didn’t sell and only briefly made him reel.

Watching it unfold for a second, Visionary holstered her pistol and took out both bar maces in hand. She sprung towards Anthony and Grandmaster to intervene. Anthony watched her advance carefully and as an instinct he raised his arm to defend himself. Spectre watched and followed on her initiative, taking out her baton with a fumble and whipping it out to its full length. Visionary proved quicker than him, as her first strike with her right mace slammed into his temple, forcing him to take a step back.

As Anthony turned his attention to her, Grandmaster put his pistol in his holster and used the rifle in his other hand as a makeshift weapon. Feeling it balance perfectly in his hand, his powers guided him to use it like a club, bringing down the end of the rifle into the bridge of Anthony’s nose. Lurching back, Grandmaster bowed his head so Visionary could attack again and swiped with her left bar mace into Anthony’s neck. Cracks of metal against skin echoed through the room against the roar of the fire, as Spectre approached.

As she came with a wide swing, she made mist appear in front of Anthony’s eyes to block her from view, and swung her baton into the side of his skull with a sickeningly loud crunch. Anthony went to get up with his left arm reaching for her, but Grandmaster was already on top of him, with his knee pressed into shoulder to pin him to the floor.

The pair locked eyes for a moment, and above all things that Grandmaster could see, a resentment stood out in Anthony’s gaze as he was pinned to the floor. With his arm beneath Grandmaster, he gave a nod to behind him. Visionary put one of her maces back on her belt and reached for a pouch that contained some handcuffs.

Anthony struggled beneath Grandmaster for a moment, as Grandmaster took the rifle and pinned it against his throat to the floor. Spectre watched with her baton ready, holding it steadily in her hand. Anthony gurgled slightly underneath from the pressure on his neck, his arm flailing at the side to try and hold onto something, anything that may have helped him.

The flat skin of his bare palm pressed against Grandmaster’s armoured side and his eyebrows raised just slightly for a moment. He raised his voice, just as Grandmaster felt a tremble ripple through his suit.

Get OFF me!”

Anthony pushed just slightly into Grandmaster, and this was enough to launch him vertically off his neck and shoulder like a car had just hit him. His trajectory propelled him towards Spectre and the two of them clashed, as Grandmaster’s body floored Spectre and the both of them rolled into the opposite wall. Anthony began to stand himself up next to Grandmaster’s dropped rifle, but didn’t get very far before being intercepted.

Even before Grandmaster was flung off, Visionary was putting her handcuffs away and taking out her mace again to engage Anthony. She approached with a lot more caution now, but she brought the tip of her foot into his nose and kicked him brutally in the nose and teeth. Anthony was forced onto his back, pushing his palms down. He pushed himself up with vigour, just in time for Visionary’s left mace to smash into his face and tilt him downwards.

Grandmaster got to his knees and grabbed Spectre, helping her upright. They watched as Visionary held on, and Anthony reached out to touch her chest. She pulled back just enough for him to miss once, and a second time as well. She saw an opportunity to strike and took it, her right mace coming into contact with his temple.

Anthony had been watching, and the moment it touched his skull, a force overcame it. As it hit and would normally bounce off, it was pushed back with a tremendous amount of power. The mace flung out of her hand and left her no chance to hold on. She was thrown off balance, and her mace was impaled halfway into the ceiling above them, on the other side of the room.

In order to avoid him touching her, she dropped to the floor and began to scurry back on her hands and knees. Grandmaster had gotten to his feet and was already barrelling towards Anthony. He unfastened the battering ram on his hip that he’d neglected until this point and held it in hand, an improvised weapon, his other shoulder lowered as he rammed into him with a shoulder barge.

Anthony was pushed back but he kept his footing. Grandmaster shoved him with his arm and staggered him backwards, and swung the battering ram straight into his face in a wide arc.

The strike hit his skull with enough blunt force to throw him to his knees, after Grandmaster put all his weight and strength into it. Whilst Anthony was down, Grandmaster grabbed it and hastily shoved his arm into the battering ram as if he were going to open a door. The machinery began to register and came to life in his grip, and he stood up tall and walked the few steps over to Anthony.

Grandmaster leant down and grabbed him by the scruff of his collar and brought him up to his feet, and brought his fist back. His punch caused the extended battering ram to be forced inwards, and it responded by forcing it back outwards with seismic power. All of this power was brought down into a battering punch that slammed Anthony straight into the floor, denting the wooden flooring beneath them with an imprint of his body.

Anthony groaned from the impact and was already starting to scramble to his feet. Grandmaster had to duck low and swing at ground level with a second punch, almost turning it into an uppercut. The battering ram sprung once more, as Anthony was thrown from the floor into the nearest wall a dozen or so feet away from them; his back caved in the wall, almost causing him to go straight through it.

Impaled into the wall for a second, Anthony came tumbling down and landed on the floor with a thud. Visionary turned to Spectre and raised a hand, telling her to wait. She nodded and complied, keeping her baton raised. Visionary turned and started to retrieve her handcuffs from her belt as she walked over, watching Grandmaster tower over Anthony on the floor.

Before Anthony could get to his hands and knees again, Grandmaster knelt down and grabbed him by the throat, bringing him up to his feet and pinning him to the wall. Anthony was just about to bring his hand to defend his face before Grandmaster sent the back of his skull into the wall, bringing the battering ram into his face with enough force to cause the wall to shudder from the impact.

All whilst this happened, his helmet was running diagnostics and calculations for the combat. After each strike, each blow. Every punch of the battering ram, it came up with a message that constantly gave him cause for concern;


Even now, he was watching as Anthony brought his head back from being punched. The wall had suffered more damage than his face ever had; not a single bruise, blemish or broken bone to be accounted for after all that onslaught. Only a deepening scowl and a growing ire that emerged as a growl in the back of his throat.

Grandmaster raised his fist again and brought it down. Anthony caught it in his hand, the battering ram slamming down with enough force to force a steel door asunder, and all it managed to do was force his elbow into the already broken wall deeper. His fingers didn’t lose their grip despite this, and he pushes Grandmaster’s arm back until he began to strain against Anthony’s resistance.

Anthony cleared his throat amidst this. Visionary came to a stop a few feet away from them, and he sounded as if he was restraining himself.

I was going to just get you out of the way, as a polite gesture. Nothing aggressive, of course…”

Anthony gripped Grandmaster by the hand that was on his shirt collar, and stared deeply at Grandmaster. He grew tense on the spot and was visibly exerting himself, against something that was overcoming him. His grip on his shirt was trembling, and Anthony was starting to concentrate on his armour.

The trembling grip on his shirt seemed to stutter, shuddering in movement before the grip slowly released itself, and his arm was being drawn backwards. It looked mechanical, a direct movement that lacked any grace or finesse or even human movement, and it was causing Grandmaster an enormous deal of exertion.

Even as this happened, it looked like his other hand was torn on what to do. Trying to push itself forward and backwards at the same time, locked between advancing and retreating. His entire body was tense, trembling, fighting an unseen battle.

He’s… doing something to my… my suit.”

That was all that he could say, as Anthony kept his grip on his arm. Anthony pulled himself out of the hole in his wall and started to take steps forward. Grandmaster’s own legs seemed to try to mimic this, jerkily raising each leg and stepping back. He couldn’t even move his head, as much as he wanted to, and Anthony had fully stood up now.

Plaster and parts of destroyed wall began to litter the floor, some on Anthony’s shoulders and a spray of dust grew in the air from the destruction that was wrought. He let go of the battering ram, and kept holding onto him by the wrist.

…but after this, I’m going to make sure you’re hurt before I walk out of that door.”

Keeping a hold of Grandmaster’s arm, Anthony began to turn his body towards the door, and Visionary who was standing nearby. Grandmaster came with him, lifting off the floor like a rag doll. Anthony swung his entire body into the wall next to him, making sure that Visionary was in the path that he flew. She tried to move back to avoid the collision, but she was too close and his arc swept too far. She was sent tumbling, thrown into the wall by the door.

Grandmaster stuck inside the wall for a moment, and though his body lurched as gravity began to take a hold, he stayed stuck in the wall for the time. He let out a deep groan, but not before Anthony released his grip on his hand. His palm was still in contact with him, but he didn’t want his fingers wrapped around him when Grandmaster felt more force overcome his suit.

He was shunted out of the wall, and flew straight into a sofa. It knocked over, and Grandmaster dipped into the air before slamming into the floor. His arms sprawled out, landing on the floor next to Spectre. He let out a pained groan, his arm twitching and starting to try and drag himself up off the floor.

Anthony walked over to Visionary, who was trying to crawl away to avoid him. He grabbed her by the arm and she felt her suit seize up, her own body trying to move against a rebelling force that kept her pinned. He stood up fully and dragged her to her knees, before he lifted her up. She followed, launching upwards out of his grip and crashing into the ceiling. Her body left a hole when she dropped, and she landed to the floor with a nauseatingly loud thud.

Unrelenting, Anthony picked her up again, keeping his palm in contact with her body. She flipped around, until her body was almost standing up. Her eyelids flickered, and a deep groan from the bottom of her lungs managed to escape her lips.

He paid attention for a moment, before shunting her forward. Point blank against the wall, the power used was strong enough to have her lodged into the plasterwork; her body bent over and her arms dangling lifelessly either side of her legs.

Anthony let his own arm drop to the side of his body, and started to adjust his tie. Spectre stood as still as she could, the baton in her hand now beginning to tremble to the frequency of her own shaking body.

Inside the van, Verus and Impetus had their heads low as they listened intently to the comms in their ear. They studied each word spoken, tried to interpret each noise and sound of conflict, and had spend minutes discussing what they thought may have happened. Despite this, they hadn’t been given an order to enter, and neither of them were willing to arrive to the scene if it was under control.

There was a deep, unsettling silence after two large crashes in particular that caught their attention. They waited scant seconds to hear if anything else had happened, but nothing came. Impetus stood without saying a word, and the barrier of force that constituted his supernatural armour coated his body like a shell. Verus as well stood, nodding.

Too quiet.” He said, adjusting his hood. “I’m going in.”

The silence is bad. It means people are out cold or worse. We idled too long.”


Impetus reached for the side of the van and pulled the door open. Verus paused as he heard Spectre’s voice, before breaking into a slight jog into the open air.

Spectre? Are you okay?”

Guys, get in here. They’re… they’re both down. Visionary, she’s…”

We’re coming in, just hold on.”

Spectre, stay calm. What is he doing?”

Impetus was moving quicker than Verus, using the trick that Verus had seen to propel himself forward with his kinetic barriers. Verus similarly picked up the slack, and broke into a sprint that had them both at the front door in seconds.

He’s… he knows you’re coming. He’s waiting for you. He’s coming over to me. Shaun!”

Verus felt a pit in his stomach, an encroaching queasiness. They both forced their way through his house, seeing the damage caused through the walls and the dust that had been raised. Verus entered first, with Impetus not too far behind.

Anthony Barnes stood next to Grandmaster on the floor, and Spectre was in the corner with her baton raised. He was waiting and watching, and hadn’t done anything further. They also saw Visionary in the corner of the wall, unmoving and implanted. Streaks of blood came from the back of her skull, running down the groove of her ear and staining her cheek like a stroke of paint.

Verus could feel himself breathe, and the second that he looked at Visionary felt like a dozen, but he turned his head straight to Athony. Neither smug, nor arrogant, clenching his fists slightly, waiting.

Okay.” Verus said, a cold fury burning in his throat. “That’s pissed me off a bit.”

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.”

Exposure: 4-3

Visionary knocked on Grandmaster’s door twice, light raps of her knuckles that proceeded her entering before he responded. He didn’t tell her to enter though, nor did he say anything until she was inside, with the door clicking shut behind her.

His helmet was on the table, beside a pair of empty plastic cups that had housed some coffee; a third, half drunk, was within arm’s reach. An open laptop faced him, and his expression was stern and serious, his tone of voice grave and lacking character. Visionary was accustomed to this from him, and knew to hold back on anything light hearted.

“Thanks for coming back, Visionary.” He said, glancing down to the screen of his laptop. “Hope your operation went well, but this requires your attention. I mean, hell, this is gonna require Messenger’s attention, truth be told to you.”

Visionary’s eyes flickered for a brief moment. “Messenger? I’ll need you to explain what’s going on. Is this with regards to the Burnham case?”

Grandmaster nodded, then pointed to his laptop. “Come and take a look. I’ll be the narrator to this Brother’s Grimm little story I’ve uncovered.”

She nodded and walked over, standing to his left. He tapped onto Outlook and opened a recently opened email he’d received, bringing up a batch of pictures taken by phone.

“With the Burnham case, you know he confessed and gave us the location of evidence to help us convict Barnes. Turns out, he wasn’t lying about it, and it’s all really solid stuff. He gave us the location of the Fartouched animals that were kidnapped, as well as the computers that were stolen, some storage bin north of Manchester city centre that Burnham took them to. And that’s the thing. I sent Impetus out because I wanted eyes and ears from somebody I can trust and’ll keep in touch with me, and because I ain’t got time for reports. Well, he showed me what he found out.”

He clicked, and opened the pictures.

The first picture was that of a calico cat, dead. Lying on its side in a cage. It had barely entered decomposition but its skin was withered, wrapped around bone and sinew tightly. The life from its eyes was just as drained as the rest of the body.

Grandmaster began to cycle through the photographs. The next two animals, a black rat and a bulldog had suffered the same fate. The rest of the animals, over two dozen in total, had their heads turned at right angles, their necks snapped to ensure their death.

Visionary’s eyes went wider, and she looked at Grandmaster. “They killed them.”

“If that were the half of it.” Grandmaster said, turning his head to Visionary.

“Why did he put them in a storage locker though?” She asked. “That doesn’t make sense.”

“I didn’t think so either, but Burnham’s smarter than I gave him credit for. See, that’s not the biggest thing we found. The C-Team took some laptops with them to extract data from the hard drives on site.”

He navigated to a second email, sent three hours later. This one had several video attachments, five in total, and he clicked the final one. It was several hours long and he paused it immediately, going about halfway through the recording before pausing at a spot where Burnham was meeting a secondary figure. It was showing a small living room from a ceiling corner view, with the blinds closed. A table was in the centre of the room, with the engine that Doppler’s crew had stolen lying in the middle. It was modified, with wires attached to the power generator and a control panel strapped to the side, and beside the engine was a small metal case. Three animal cages were next to Burnham, with two that had already been opened, their gates slightly ajar. One was rodent size, another for cats, and a third for dogs.

“That’s Michael’s home.” Visionary said, leaning in closer. “A containment team raided it. We found nothing.”

“Yup, but this was five days before we caught Burnham. He took security footage of what he did with Barnes. I reckon, because he knew if this went south, he needed to clear his name and have evidence that he was just an accomplice, not the main conspirator. Makes a little more sense when you think about it, and it points to him keeping everything in a storage locker-”

“-for evidence.” Visionary interrupted. “That’s very pragmatic.”

“You’re telling me. He even recorded the audio. Take a gander.”

Visionary turned slightly to Grandmaster and nodded. Grandmaster hesitated a second before pressing play.

The video came to life. Anthony Barnes walks forward a few steps and points towards the engine. He sounds frustrated, and a little weary.

And this is it, with the modifications I asked for?”

Michael Burnham nodded. The footage was of a good quality but it was still grainy, and didn’t show his facial expressions clearly.

That’s it. Everything you asked, you got. You get what you paid for, don’t ya?”

Anthony rubbed his chin, holding his elbow with his other hand.

I assume you’ve tested the device.”

Michael nodded. “Made sure it worked, then killed ’em.”

Anthony walked over to the cages, and opened one of them wide. The camera could just see that the two cages that had been opened, were empty. The third he knelt beside, and put a curled finger in the gap. Afterwards, he yanked his finger back out of the cage and stood, then nodded.

I need a demonstration. I assume these-” Anthony points to the metal case on the table. “-are the sedatives I requested?”

Michael nodded again and walked over. He opened the case, and the contents were obscured by the lid shielding it from the camera. He did take out something in his hand, a syringe and a vial that he began to fill up.

Anthony went back to the cage and opened it. He reached inside, and his mumbles were barely audible above the sound of the cat struggling inside. It hissed for a few seconds and let out a growl, but grew subdued in seconds.

Shh, there there. Come on, now. No need to scratch me.”

He emerged calmly with the cat held by the scruff of it’s neck, and he curled his other arm underneath to support it. He brought it over to Michael, who carefully administered the sedative. Within a minute, the cat had fallen asleep in Anthony’s arms. He brought it over to the table, easing it down onto it’s front and stroking behind it’s ears.

Michael nodded, and took the wires attached to the engine, and begun to fasten them around the cat’s waist and head. He wasn’t particularly careful when doing so, but he made sure they were tight enough. He moved over to the control panel and adjusted something on the screen before turning to Anthony.


Anthony nodded.

The moment of truth. Go on.”

With one final tap on the display, the engine began to activate. The hum of alien energy was audible and the screen began to show flashes of static, flickering boxes of white and black that seemed to surround the engine like a halo. Moments passed, and the cat began to convulse and shudder. Anthony leaned in, his hands beginning to clench whilst Michael watched calmly. The cat began to spasm more and thrash and rolled it’s head up, eyes wide, letting out a weak and feeble meow before collapsing. The cat looked gaunt and frail, an exhumed corpse; just as in the pictures that were seen before.

Michael tapped the display once and the engine powered down. Anthony stared, and though his expression wasn’t perfectly clear, it was obvious he was shocked.

…what did you do?” He stated, staring straight through Michael.

Sucked ’em dry. What’cher think was gonna happen, Barnes?”

Anthony’s voice began to fill with a slow fury. “This isn’t what I asked for, not in the slightest.”

Pacing towards Michael, Anthony raised his finger accusatory. Michael raised his hands, a gesture that Grandmaster felt familiar with.

You asked me to get you the engine, and fer’ these modifications to it. I did exactly what’cher wanted, word by word. It ain’t my fuckin’ fault if it went tits up!”

I asked you to get me something that could cut off people’s power. Drain them of their Farside energy and they’d be powerless. That’s what I-”

-that’s what you thought would happen, ya daft cunt.” Michael interrupted, raising his voice. “That ain’t my fault, not one bit, so don’t point ya cunt finger at me, blamin’ me! I took your money, I hired Flare an’ her little twat crew to steal those animals for you. I asked Doppler’s Crew to steal the Engine. I even got some anaesthetic because you wanted these bastard animals sedated, when I would’a just plugged them in live and kickin’! I’ve done everything you asked me to do, exactly as you wanted, no questions asked, and now you’re blamin’ me because it fucked up. Ain’t that right?!”

Anthony stared quietly, then lowered his hand down. Michael stepped forward, repeating himself.

Ain’t that right?”

After a second, Anthony nodded.

Yes.” He raised his head, speaking deeply. “But I have nothing now. What am I supposed to do? I promised. I said I’d have a way to suppress their powers. I wanted to turn them off altogether, neuter them, but this is just execution. This isn’t what I wanted, Michael.”

Not my problem.” Michael said, stepping back. The shift in his tone was noticeable, aggression into calm and controlled. “If you wanna tamper with shit you don’t know, your business.”

Anthony began to run a hand through his hair and turned away, and left his palm in his grey hairline. He let out an exhale, defeated and contemplating.

I need one more thing from you. I need you to get rid of the animals, and the data we have. No evidence. Destroy it all.” He turned, letting his hand drop to his side. “Nothing remains. No links to me whatsoever.”

Michael nods. “That ain’t a problem.. What about that?” He said, pointing to the engine.

I’ll deal with that. Just… do what you need to do. How much do you need?”

This one’s on me.” Michael said, prodding his own chest with his thumb. “You’ve made me well off enough, I think a freebie’s in order.”

Anthony nodded, turning away from the engine. “Thank you. I’d best leave. Help me move the engine to my car. I’ll find a way to hide it.”

Grandmaster stops the video.

Visionary lowers her hands from her gasping mouth.

“The rest of it is just him moving the engine out of the room.”

After a second, Grandmaster shoves his laptop closed, then leans back in his chair. “Everything clicks now. Burnham knew it was gonna go tits up from the start, so he recorded everything. We have enough info here to verify every claim that Burnham made. He knew, he fucking knew, and he’s covered his back every step of the way. And the moment it went south, he was ready to take a dive to drop Barnes in it, and save his own skin. That smart son of a bitch.”

Grandmaster rubbed the bridge of his nose. To his side, Visionary nodded slowly. “You were right.”

“I don’t give a crap that I was right.” He stated, leaning backwards, a dawning realisation washing over him. “I’m astounded. Burnham was much fuckin’ smarter than I gave him credit for. That man’s smarter than any of us here.”

“What do you mean?”

“Because you didn’t notice what he did halfway through the video, and now that I’ve seen it again, I saw exactly what he did. That son of a bitch. When he was talking to Barnes, that little rant he gave him?” Grandmaster turned to Visionary. “He worded that perfectly, because he knew he was being recorded. He made sure that he said that he did everything because Barnes hired him to do it, and got Barnes to admit to that on camera. God fucking damn.”

“And that’s why he kept the evidence.”

“That’s not all.” Grandmaster rubbed his face. “We didn’t get an admission of attempted murder, ‘cos there’s no intent to kill people. But what we did hear was an admission of intent for nullification of Farside-born abilities.”

Visionary raises her head and meets eyes with Grandmaster.

“It might be just a step above GBH, but it’s enough to issue a warrant for arrest.” A smile starts to grow on his face. “We got ’em.”

Visionary nods. “I’ll go and inform the Director. This will most likely have to be brought to his attention.”

Grandmaster nods. Visionary starts to walk out and Grandmaster’s helmet begins to let out an alert. He takes his helmet and puts it over his head, and as Visionary begins to turn on the knob, he speaks.

“Hold up, Visionary.”

She turns around to the sound of his distorted voice, taking a step closer to his desk.

“Answer, loudspeaker.”

The system that changes Grandmaster’s voice in the helmet now starts to crackle with background noise, and a familiar voice pierces through.

“Grandmaster here. You’re on loudspeaker.

Hello, Grandmaster. Whom else am I talking to?” Impetus answered.

“Just Visionary. I’ve shown her the pictures and footage you sent me, so she’s up to date. What’ve you got?”

Hello, Visionary. I hope you are well today. Did your operation succeed?”

“It did, Impetus. Thank you for asking.”

Grandmaster wags his finger from left to right. “Can you two skip using my helmet to catch up for one second here? Impetus, what did you find?”

Impetus scoffed. “So impatient, but I guess this is serious, is it not? You’re aware that we found that footage on the computers. We found something else that you need to see. I’m sending a picture to your email address… now.”

Grandmaster pulled open his laptop, and Visionary walked back around to his left as the screen came to life. A new email came in, and he double clicked on it. Inside was a PDF attachment, and he opened that as well. Inside was a report, detailing instructions in small print. Further down as he scrolled, he came across blue paper and white outlines, with precise and detailed drawings, measurements and engineering information.

“Schematics?” Visionary asked, leaning forward.

Schematics of the engine that Anthony Barnes has hidden from us.”

“Okay.” Grandmaster said, leaning back on his chair. “That’s good. Should help us as evidence that he was using it for nullification purposes.”

I would not show you just a mere engine blueprint, Grandmaster. Can you see anything different about it?”

Grandmaster scrolled back up and him and Visionary studied it for seconds. Grandmaster shook his head. “I can’t see anything. Looks just like the engine in the video.”

Exactly.” Impetus said. “Like in the video, Grandmaster. Not the engine when it was stolen.”

“Yeah, makes sense. You modify something like this, it’s untested, so you’ll need notes. I’m no engineer, but I don’t see what you’re getting at.” Grandmaster scrolled back up, reading through the instructions before. His eyes wandered over a note, scanning the bottom of the page.

This is not just that. This is an official schematic. It has come straight from MAGI-Tech. These are official blueprints. The engine was modified and these notes are annotated and signed by-”

“-Artifex himself.” Grandmaster said, as he saw Artifex’s signature on the bottom of the page. “Son of a bitch.”

“He’s still in the NFU workshop. I’ll send a C-Team to bring him in for questioning.”

Grandmaster nodded. Visionary bowed her head and left the room, closing the door behind her. “Impetus, you make my job easier and harder at the same time. Goddamn.”

A pleasure as always, Grandmaster. I would help you with Artifex but I need to continue here.”

“That’s fine. Give me a bell if you hear anything else.”

Of course. Goodbye for now.”

Impetus dropped the call.

Grandmaster took his helmet off again and left it sleeping on the table. He put his hand on his head, so that the tips of his fingers brushed against his temples. With a deep sigh, he spoke aloud to himself, barely above a whisper.

“Just a little longer, Kai. Just a little longer.”

The metal door opened with an ominously loud noise, a crack of metal and machinery that signalled the entrance sliding open. Several members of an NFU containment squad stood ready, armed with Emotional Dampener Rifles. They held them losely, fingers off the trigger as they walked through the open doorway. The last man inside took the keycard that’d been acquired from the receptionist, who had shrunk behind his desk and hadn’t said a word since their arrival.

One man led the way and two men flanked him, three others behind. With their armour, they were virtually indistinguishable, and walked slowly towards the control panel that lead them to Artifex’s workshop doors. Their approach caught the attention of the security camera, as several red dots started to dart and trace on their clothes. No further than ten feet from the door, the apparent leader raised his hand and signalled for a crunch of boots on the floor, and everyone stopped in symmetry.

The lens of the camera rotated for a second, before it spoke to them.

Weaponry detected. You have not been authorised to enter the workshop. Please identify yourself or the automatic defence systems will be armed. You have ten seconds to comply.”

Raising his head, the leader replied.

“Commander Jason Cohen of the NFU.” Jason said, turning his head. The red dots began to focus on him all at once, attracting to several points on his chest; his heart, shoulders, ribs.

Voice recognised. Commander Jason Cohen, no designation. You have not been scheduled for a visit. Please remove your helmet and disarm yourself for confirmation of identity.”

Not wasting more time, Jason passed his rifle to the man next to him, who held it by the stock as he took off his helmet. The red dots began to trace around his cheeks, along his nose and forehead and even dipping into his eyes. It took seconds to process before the voice called back to them.

Identification confirmed, Commander. Artifex has been made aware of your presence. This is a reminder that Artifex has strict policies regarding visits-”

The voice stopped. A few seconds later, it spoke again. Accompanied by the door being pulled open by machinery, and the way to Artifex’s workshop being opened.

Please enjoy your stay.”

Jason slid his helmet back on and took his rifle, then lead the way for him and the other five men to enter the workshop.

It was as much of an organised chaos as Artifex had normally worked with. Artifex himself was stood next to the table closest to the entrance, and to the side of the hand that leaned on the table was a laptop and a phone-like device on top. His white shirt had the sleeves rolled up, but otherwise he wore his characteristically smart attire as normal. He didn’t look annoyed, but calm and patient.

“I want to make it clear that I haven’t turned off the defence systems just yet, and you’re armed men. Even if it’s verified you, I need to be totally fucking sure about this.” Artifex raised his head. “Commander.”

Jason stepped forward, and Artifex raised his hand. Jason didn’t move further, and he let the hand drop to his side.

“Artifex. Nice seeing you again.”

“Not nice seeing you with a fucking rifle in your hand. You know, I made those weapons for you, and you come here holding them like this. Six armed men, standing in my workshop, what’s the phrase…” He snapped his fingers quickly three times. “…armed to the teeth? Some sort of fucking irony here.”

“I don’t like being here as much as you don’t like it, either. But we are here on official work business, and it’s not the kind that you can schedule or announce.”

“Mm.” Artifex responded, quickly. He took the phone off the top of the laptops and tapped the screen, then nodded. “My workshop, very secure. Normally sets to non-lethal, unless weapons are registered. Also set up some of my Intention Detectors into the security feeds, and it’s telling me you’re being honest. Or you’re very fucking good at lying.”

“Not that good, I’m afraid.” Jason turned his head. He caught a glimpse of the man to his right, who was holding his rifle in his hand. He’d yet to put his finger near the trigger, and he assumed nobody else was doing so. “And I’m not here to talk with you, either. We’re here to bring you in for questioning, regarding the theft of your stolen engine, and your involvement with Anthony Barnes.”

Artifex nodded slowly. “You know, now is good time to make joke asking if I’m being detained or not, but we all know how well that’d end for me.”

“That’d be in bad taste right now.” Jason responded. “Would you like us to call your lawyer for you whilst you’re en-route to the NFU headquarters?”

“No. “Don’t think is necessary. I figured you’d be here to talk about this with me, so I did you a favour.” Artifex raised his hand and put the device on top of the laptop, then patted it a few times. “With regards to stolen prototype and dealings with this specific client, all information recorded is on this. Will save you time, though I’m aware you’ll be looking through my workshop. Evidence gathering and all that.”

“Glad this could be done peacefully. If you’d like to make your way with us, we’ll make sure this goes as quickly as possible.”

“Room will need to be secured. Give me five minutes.”

The containment team waited and watched as Artifex began to secure the room for his absence, and he took the laptop with him after he was certain all defence protocols were up and running. He turned the lights off and locked the workshop door, before leaving through the relative darkness of the corridor. Two men behind, two either side, and Jason and the final officer leading the way, with Artifex in the middle.

With his arm on the back of his chair, Artifex casually glanced around the interview room. He hadn’t been there for long, a few minutes at most, so he was a little surprised as a familiar set of armour entered the room and sat across from him. Grandmaster had a file in hand, brown paper with sheets inside of it. He threw it on the table so it landed in front of his chair and pulled the seat back, resting down. Artifex watched him carefully, studying his moves.

“You were quick.”

“Things feel like they’re going really quick. For the purpose of this interview, I’m going to call you Janos. You okay with that?”

Artifex nodded. “Before we start, good to see you’re taking care of the suit. We can talk about it later though. I mean, I want to hear how it’s been doing.”

Grandmaster nodded. “For the record, I’m starting this interview at 13:06pm on December 3rd, 2015. My name is Kai Rhodes, also known as Agent Grandmaster of the National Farside Unit. With me is the person being questioned, Janos Briggs, also known as Artifex. Janos has declined a lawyer’s presence here today. This will be a quick interview, as Janos has come willingly here today.”

Artifex watched as Grandmaster opened the file and took out several photographs. The first sheets were print-outs of the PDF that was on the file of the computers that were previously seized.

“For the purpose of this interview, I refer to the event in which Janos was brought into NFU custody for questioning. Janos, when you were brought in, I was made aware that you already had a laptop that you said has, and I quote, ‘all the information on this’, with regards to the questions you’d be asked today. This leads me to believe you’re aware of why you’re brought in today. Is that correct?”

“That is correct.” He reponded.

“You’ve been brought in today with regards to information about the prototype engine that was stolen by Oliver Sullivan, also known as Doppler, as well as information that has recently been discovered about dealings that you’ve made with an Anthony Barnes. These dealings involve the prototype engine in question and modifications that, in documents seized today, indicate that you yourself have made to the stolen prototype engine.”

Grandmaster slides the sheets of paper towards Artifex. “I am showing Janos evidence A.1, the PDF document that shows proof that he has made modifications to the stolen prototype engine.”

“Would you like me to explain from the start, what is going on?”

“Yes please, though I’d like to make you aware that in doing so, anything you do say may be given in evidence. We would like to know primarily why you hadn’t reported to us that you knew where your stolen prototype engine was and that you’d modified it without the NFU being aware, despite knowing that it is part of an on-going case that we have.”

Artifex nods, then leans back further on his chair.

“Okay. So, the situation is like this. Anthony Barnes approaches me, tells me that he would like to privately hire my services, and even offers a sum of money up-front to keep things confidential. What is important here is that such contracts are made with my safety in mind. Is a promise of safety to me that such work can’t be sold or used publicly, nor used against me or MAGI-Tech. Said contract is on the laptop, so you can verify that as part of procedures. As part of contract, totally legally binding with regards to client confidentiality.”

“Anthony Barnes and I signed contract that stated total confidentiality, in return for previously agreed work that he reveals once it’s all done. We sign contract, he pays up-front, then decided to show me my prototype engine. At this point, contract has bound me. If I mention to NFU, contract is broken and I have a very huge lawsuit on my hands. That is why I did not inform NFU that he has my stolen engine.”

“And then what happened?” Grandmaster asked.

“He tells me what he wants. He wants engine to drain energy instead of produce it. I ask him why he wants to do that, and why he didn’t just ask for me to make him an engine to start with. Idiot idea if you ask me. Tells me, there’s not enough time, apologises and all that. He tells me what he wants, doesn’t say what it’s for, but knows I’m stuck and have to do it, because I want that engine back eventually. So I got to work, I made the modifications and left the engine functioning so it can be used normally, or as wanted.”

“What modifications did he ask you to make on the prototype?”

Artifex takes the sheets of paper and begins to neatly arrange then, putting them on the table just after he speaks. “Said he wanted me to make the engine suck in energy, instead of producing it. Not out of the realms of possibility, but I questioned many times. Why? He didn’t tell me. Told me I wasn’t hired to know that. Told him it was a dumb-shit idea, really dangerous, he had no idea what he was working with, but he was stubborn. I knew look in his eyes. It’s the look in mine. Arguing isn’t going to work.”

“After you modified the prototype engine, what happened then?”

“He took it and left. Not spoken with him since then.”

“And that was your entire involvement with Anthony Barnes?”

“That is correct.”

“For the purpose of the interview, I’m communicating through my helmet to the observation room currently watching the interview in progress. Are there any further questions you’d like to ask?”

Grandmaster waited.

“No further questions. Janos, thank you for your time.”

“Thanks for making this quick”

“We’ll be searching through your workshop for any additional evidence that may help with our enquiry. You’re not permitted to enter or be near that building until further notice. We require you to stay in the Headquarters until such further notice is given. Is that understood?”

“Understood, yes.”

“We’ll do our best to accommodate your needs for the duration of the stay. I’m concluding this interview. The time according to my helmet is 13:16pm on December 3rd, 2015.”

Exposure: 4-2

“Good morning, Agent Verus.”

Shaun looked at the young man on the security desk, with neatly parted brown hair and a scar over his left eyebrow. His badge said his name was Adam, and a second passed before it processed in Shaun’s mind what was just said. He glanced off to the side, chuckling under his breath subtly.

“Took me a second. Morning.” Shaun said, nodding his head.

“It takes time to get used to it.” Adam smiled, running a keycard through a scanner before hooking it into a lanyard and handing it to Shaun. Shaun held it in his hands and studied it for a second, glancing over the small purple gem in the corner above his portrait and reading the text.



ID: 19628 / VERUS


Shaun looked up to Adam and returned the smile. “I can imagine. It’s growing on me. The more I hear it, the more I like it.”

He slide the lanyard’s chord over his neck and nodded again, giving Adam a wave as he walked off. Two other men who were next in line walked to the desk, and Adam repeated the process to verify and allow them secure access.

Shaun didn’t waste any time. His first visit was to a vending machine to grab a bottle of cold water. Once he had something to drink, he begun his journey for morning handover.

As Shaun turned the corner to go to the final corridor, he found Visionary already waiting for him in the middle of the walkway. Her hands held behind her back and her mask over her face, Shaun could still tell she was smiling through it.

“Oh. Hey Visionary.” Shaun stopped walking, raising his eyebrows.

“Good morning, Verus.” Visionary said, bowing her head politely.

Shaun smiled, putting a hand on his hip. “Did you come out here just to call me Verus? Because the guy at the desk, what’s his name, beat you to it.”

“Not entirely. There’s another reason.” Visionary said. “Morning handover will be delayed for a few minutes. There’s something you’ll need to do first.”

“Oh, right. What’s that?”

Visionary’s smile widened. “Suit up.”

Shaun frowned for a second before his eyes widened. “It’s here?”

She nodded. “It’s in the equipment room, ready for you to wear.”

“That came quickly. I thought it was gonna be another day at least.”

“Sooner than we all thought. Go and get changed and we can have morning handover. See you there, Verus.”

Visionary didn’t lose that smile, even as she turned away and walked down the corridor. Shaun waited until she opened the door and went inside before he let out a sigh, brushing some hair out of his face.

“Let’s go face the music, then.” He spoke out loud, before going back from whence he came. Down the corridor, taking himself to the equipment room.

Shaun stared at the door, wondering how he felt about this. It definitely wasn’t trepidation or fear he felt. He wasn’t even worried if it didn’t fit properly or made him look ridiculous, as he’d come to peace with the decisions being made about that. The closest thing that he could call it was a change he was uncertain about, or a change that he found tough to accept. Not for any particular reason, other than change was just not in his nature. It could be the feelings of dislike and animosity for being considered a ‘superhero’ of all things, having attained his new armour. As far as he felt though, he was able to push those thoughts aside like any other nagging voice in his head.

He disregarded those feelings and pushed open the door, stepping inside.

The costume was hanging directly in front of him, hung up in several sections on steel coat hangers, with his boots on the bench beneath the legs, beside some black clothes that’d already been folded. A paper note was left on top of them, and he stepped forward to pluck it up and read the contents.

To Verus:

I knew I’d win you over in the end! This suit is absolutely darling and I’m sure you’ll love it. No need to thank me though. Just have a few selfies with me in your inauguration ceremony and we’ll call it even.

It shouldn’t ride up too much, but wear some clothes underneath just in case. I ‘d recommend some black silk; a shirt and some trousers. Coincidentally, I’ve left some here for you. Hope the measurements are right! Now go and show it off to the rest of the world.


The Designer.

P.S. Instructions on the back.

The note left a smile on his face and turned it over, briefly spying the instructions that detailed what to put on in what order. He looked at the outfit and let out a sharp whistle, surprised at how impressed he was with it, leaving the paper on top of the black clothes. He took one of the boots in his hand and lifted it up without issue, thought looked at it curiously.

“They weren’t kidding when they said this’d be heavy.”

To prove his point to himself, he released it. It hit the ground with a lifeless thud, barely even moving once the sole had hit the floor. The changing room sounded like somebody had dropped a car tire instead of a boot, and Shaun picked it up again.

He stripped down his normal clothes first and moved the note, and put on the black clothes that had been left for him. They were snug, form fitting without being too tight nor too lose, and he was curious how the Designer was this accurate with the fitting process. Donning the rest of the armour took time, not only because it was more intricate than putting on a shirt and some jeans, but because Shaun wanted to make sure it was done absolutely right, and to memorise the order without having to keep the instructions with him every morning.

Once he was fully garbed, he tested the flexibility. He hadn’t much appreciation for the art of armour making or even clothes, but he could notice all the work that’d gone into his suit. Stretching his legs and bending his knees made him aware of how his knee-length boots cut off just before the knees, so they didn’t dig into the tendons on the back of his thigh. Bracers on his arm didn’t interfere with his wrists rolling, and the design was confined to the forearms, so they wouldn’t get in the way of his hands or elbows. Even the triangular design that peaked near the back of his hand bent with his wrist, like segments of dragon scales adapted to his movement. The under-armour of his chest and the jacket felt like any other, but was made with mobility in mind. Despite the material, Shaun hadn’t noticed any deficit with the range his arms could move as he rolled shoulders about and stretched them.

He pulled up the covering and tugged up the hood, and saw the rim in his peripheral vision, but otherwise didn’t notice it beyond a slight dampening of the noise around him that covering his ears would naturally do. He even stretched his jaw to be thorough, and could honestly not fault anything he felt so far.

Shaun walked over to the full body mirror near some of the lockers and studied his form, the aesthetics of the design. His eyes traced the lapels of his jacket that slid behind his neck. The raised triangle of fabric that almost looked like a cloak on his chest and the shield placed over where it met. The brick-like pattern in a single section down the middle of his abdomen. All these little features that he remembered in detail, noticing them in the order that the Designer had presented to him and others before.

He never thought he’d feel a little excited, almost proud when he saw himself. He even stood more upright, as if to emphasise his form, nodding at himself as he turned around. The one thing he noticed that he didn’t see before was a belt, with several secure pouches for essential components of his job. He could assume what went where, like handcuffs and even rifles, but the space was minimal; designed knowing that he didn’t need weapons, only the pure essentials.

Shaun made sure to put his clothes away in his locker, and folded the note to tuck it in his jean pocket, before he departed.

He left the changing room, expecting Visionary. Spectre stood there as well, helmet underneath her arm and her hip cocked out to the side. She let out a sharp wolf whistle between grins, and Shaun’s features were all but covered, except for the slight frown now on his face.

“When did you get here?” He asked, folding his arms.

“’bout five minutes ago. What were you doing in there, making your suit?”

Cocking an eyebrow, Verus put a hand on his hip, pointing at her. “That’s hilarious. They should call you the Comedian instead of Spectre.”

“Maybe they should.” She said, blurring the line between mock jest and serious. “I’m pretty goddamn funny.”

“A riot.” Shaun replied with. “What do you think?”

He spread his arms out and turned slightly on the spot, and allowed himself to be studied by the pair for seconds.

“You look great.” Visionary smiled through her mask.

Spectre nodded as well. “Lookin’ good.” She glanced down to her own suit. “Feels weird being the whiter one for a change.”

Verus took a second to register what she said and looked at his suit, then to Spectre’s unmasked face.

“Don’t think too hard on it, shield boy.” She began to walk past him and patted him on the shoulder with her free hand. “Now you’re dolled up, we’ve got handover to get to.”

Visionary stepped to be beside Verus as they watched Spectre walk ahead of them leading them to the room where they had handover. They both began to walk, only a dozen or so feet from her. Verus leaned in towards Visionary, his voice already hushed by his mask and further hushed by his tone.

“Who made her the leader?”

Visionary didn’t look at him, but Verus knew he had her attention.

“I think she did.” She turned to him after she spoke, with a quaint smile behind her mask. Verus shrugged, tugging down his own mask and hood to reveal his face.

“It would have been nice if Tether was here to see me. I’m sure he’d love it.”

“We’ll send him a picture later.”

“Yeah, sure.” Verus said, trailing off into his own thoughts for a moment.

They had all assembled in the handover room, and Visionary took out two sheets of paper. She glanced at Verus, who elected not to say anything this time; he knew if she looked at him, she was making him know that she was looking at him. She spoke though as if that small mental exchange never happened.

“Let’s commence the handover.” Visionary said, with a curt nod, as she read off the first piece of paper. “Today’s planner is a little different. I’ve been preparing you for today, and we’ll be getting ready to go on patrol as soon as we’re done here. We’re going to be the Recon team for an operation to remove an Eldritch that’s currently on the border of Cheshire and Greater Manchester.”

Visionary puts the second piece of paper on the table. They were greeted with a picture, a high definition picture of the Eldritch in question.

It appeared quadrupedal, long enough to just about dwarf a sperm whale. Its skin, a pale brown with hues of blue, appeared to ooze down its body and limbs and gave it an impression that its flesh was closer to water than a solid consistency. A flat head-like appendage was surrounded by a flap of thick skin, a mane that formed behind to make a crest of spines extending out as long as one of its limbs. It had no hands nor feet on the end of its appendages, just fleshy stumps that moulded around the floor. Spikes covered along the body, numerous enough to add some texture, and enough of these clustered around the beast’s mouth that if you were far away enough, it could be mistaken for having a mouth.

Verus and Spectre looked over it, and the latter pointed at the picture as she spoke.

“It doesn’t have eyes. That’s fucked.”

“Yeah, little bit weird, but that’s Eldritch for you.” Verus said, with a nod.

“It’s trending over social media right now. The Eldritch doesn’t appear hostile, so people have taken a lot of pictures of themselves with it. We’ve given it a codename.” Visionary paused for a second. “Pudding.”

“Pudding.” Verus reiterated, deadpan.

“Pudding.” Visionary said with a nod. It was easier for her mask to cover up her smile.

Spectre and Verus were both amused, but Spectre was more open about showing it with a giggle under her breath. “Who gets to name these things? Like, pudding, for real?”

“It came up in a meeting that I was a part of, that we need to call it a name. We wanted something that wasn’t threatening, so people wouldn’t consider it dangerous.”

“So you were one of the people that named this thing ‘pudding’?” Verus asked.

Visionary glanced to the side, smile growing wider still. “I may have suggested the name.”

You named it pudding.” Verus stated this time, pointing to her.

“It was an official decision, but I may have been the one to suggest it.” She nodded, and carried on before the other two could continue. “Regardless of the name, I’m going to briefly discuss the operation we’re going to undertake to remove the Eldritch and escort it to a more secure facility. The area has been sealed off from the public, so we’re going to be leading the Reconnaissance Team that will go in first to determine if the Eldritch is hostile. Once we’ve ascertained if it’s safe to approach or not, we’ll call in the Containment Team. If it’s safe, we’ll use our Containment Team to move the Eldritch into a transportation lorry and take it to a secure facility.”

“And if it’s not?” Spectre spoke up.

“We hope we can contain it before it causes any damage. We’re in luck that it’s hasn’t moved from the location where we found it. It’s in a field in Wilmslow, called Bruntwood Park. This may require us to fight the Eldritch, in which case we have Verus and several other agents on standby, near the location. It shouldn’t come to that, but we’re prepared in case it does. This is why we’re doing whatever we can to keep it calm and not do anything that may agitate it from its docile state.”

There was nods all around.

“I’d also like to make a small point that this will be the first public appearance that the both of you make. I don’t need to tell you this, because I know you two will do fine, but remember that you represent the NFU.” She nods. “If any journalists or reporters ask you about this, just inform them that we’ll be discussing this operation in an official press conference and that they may ask their questions there, but until then we won’t be making any comments.”

“What about people?” Spectre asked. “You know this is going on Youtube and Facebook. Do we tell them ‘no comment’ too?”

Visionary thought for a second. “If they ask about you, try to be discreet but friendly. You can talk about yourselves, but not the operation.”

With a shrug, Spectre nodded and agreed.

“All other details will be discussed in transit and when we equip ourselves. We don’t know how long this operation will take, so we’ll discuss what we do with the rest of the day once we reconvene. We’ll have lunch before then, so there’s no rush. This is your first operation after all, and there’s a potentially greater risk involved. I want you two to relax once this is done.”

Verus glanced at Spectre and they shared a look before they both nodded.

“If there’s no further questions regarding the operation?” Visionary posed, but neither Verus nor Spectre had anything further to add, so shook their heads. “In that case, best of luck today, agents.”

With a smile, Visionary took the picture of the Eldritch with her and folded the paper into her pocket. One by one they left the handover room, and made their way to the equipment room to begin equipping themselves.

Whether they were truly ready, Visionary wasn’t sure but she hadn’t let either of them become aware of any doubts. Instead, she put her faith in their hands unwittingly, knowing what sort of task she has entrusted with them. To her, it felt more like she’s thrust it upon them, and she silently prayed that they could handle the undertaking.

“We’re here.”

The black BMW pulled down a road in the middle of Bruntwood part and came to a stop, just where a pathway on their left began to open into the main body of the field. To their right, a lake was obscured by a barrier of dense trees and a stone fence, and before them on their left was an old lamp-post of rusted copper and several wood blocks that reached just to the top of the car’s tires. The midday sun was in the pale, bright sky, and offered little warmth for the cold winter weather that the sun was betraying.

Verus had his mask and hood down, as well as his window on the back left seat of the vehicle, arm resting in the open gap to relax. Spectre’s helmet was on her lap, and Visionary never removed her mask. The driver, a middle aged gentleman with blonde, parted hair, nodded to the agents before stopping just before where the field is blocked by a tunnel of trees. Behind them, a single NFU van followed them. Beyond that, several men of a Containment team were helping to guide a lorry reverse down this road, as this only came from an arterial road; it lead to a skate park further inside, and had one road to get in and out of.

As the driver pulled up on the handbreak, Verus raised his head.

“We’ve got pudding.”

Visionary was already looking, but Spectre wasn’t. She turned and looked out the window, staring at the grotesque monument of the Eldritch lazing in the park. Even from here, they could make out the details from where they sat, as well as several men and women of a Containment Team trying to escort members of the general public away, as safely as possible.

“I thought they yellow taped this area off.” Verus asked, pulling up his mask and adjusting his hood to be comfortable.

“It is.” Spectre said, putting on her helmet. “You think some people are gonna let that stop them getting their next profile picture with an Eldritch behind them?”

“Anything for a good selfie, I guess.” Verus said, turning to Visionary once he spoke. “We good to go?”

Visionary nodded, turning on her comms for a moment. “C-Teams, this is R-Team One, Agent Visionary here. Radio Check, over.”

After a few seconds, the members of the Recon Team heard the returned broadcasts.

R-Team One, this is C-Team One. I read you five by five. Over.”

R-Team One, this is C-Team Two. Roger, Agent Visionary. Over.”

R-Team One, C-Team Three. Loud and Clear. Over.”

Once confirmed, Visionary nodded. Verus and Spectre nodded back, and left the vehicle. It drove further up the road, and once they all stood on the grass, the NFU van came beside them. The side door was pushed open and several NFU agents carrying rifles started to clamber out of the vehicle. There was little haste in their decision to leave and once outside, they began to talk amongst themselves.

The man, whose voice was familiar from the broadcast he just said, spoke to Visionary.

“The other teams will wait for our signal if things turn south. We’ll wait here meanwhile.”

With one final nod, Visionary turned and walked in the direction of the Eldritch. Verus and Spectre followed. The NFU agents that were escorting the public away were clearer now, and they were no older than Verus was. They weren’t behind held, nor bound in handcuffs or any other ill treatment. They eventually crossed paths and they stopped, with the Fargraced agents to their side and the Containment Team blocking their way back to the Eldritch.

“Are you guys Agents?” One girl asked, with shoulder length ginger hair and a red plaid shirt on.

Verus turned to Visionary for confirmation, and she nodded. She continued walking and Spectre followed, leaving Verus to talk. He squinted slightly as he watched her walk away but turned to them, and looked to each of them in turn.

The one with ginger hair to her shoulder was in between a boy in a t-shirt with a city skyline on it, and grey skinny jeans, and his hair was short on the sides and long on top. The other was a girl with dyed black hair, box frame glasses, a nose ring and a black band shirt with “Glass Movie Show” written on the front, and denim shorts with leggings underneath.

Verus was certain that he’d never heard of this band before.

“Yeah. I’m Verus. That was Visionary and Spectre.” Verus turned to the people in question, who were approaching the Eldritch and talking amongst themselves. “You should go. We’re about to move this thing.”

“Can we have a picture with you?” The girl in the band shirt asked. Verus turned his head as if to look at Visionary but she wasn’t at his side, so he thought about it for a second.

“Maybe. If you’re still around when we’re done.”

“Awesome.” She replied. “That’d be cool.”

Verus watched the way she looked at him, and he could recognise how she saw him despite not willing to admit it; she looked at him with some admiration. It made him think about what he was going to say, amongst other things.

“For now, you should get out of here. Just to be safe. Like, it’s probably not gonna do anything, but just in case, y’know?”

The three looked at Verus and nodded slowly, though as scant seconds passed he realised they weren’t moving, and just looking at him. He shot a glance to the side and awkwardly waved in the direction of the footpath.

“C’mon, go.”

After reiterating, the three nodded hastily, and the NFU containment team continued to escort them away. Verus turned his attention back to the Eldritch and broke into a jog, hustling over to reconvene.

Verus stood beside Visionary, with Spectre on the other side. They stared at the Eldritch, which was certainly moving; the flesh and skin seemed to hold a shape, but was malleable and sinking with the force of gravity. What could be said was its head was turning around, bristling the spines that made its mouth. For moments, they studied the beast, dwarfed by its size and growing less threatened with each second.

“…so what’s it actually doing?” Verus asked, turning to Visionary. “Is the pudding doing anything?”

“Nothing, by the looks of it. It’s just lying here.” Visionary squinted, eyes darting back and forth with unnaturally quick tugs that always returned to the centre of her vision.

They were a foot away from the Eldritch, and Spectre with her folded arms raised her head slightly. “Not even gonna put up a fight. Am I the only one a bit disappointed by that?”

Verus took a step forward. “Probably a good thing if it isn’t.”

Visionary turned her head as Verus reached his hand out, and she managed to make him pause before his fingers and the Eldritch connected. “Verus, be careful. You may agitate-”

As she spoke, Verus pushed his hand to the surface of its skin. There was a brief moment of pause from everyone, until nobody responded. Not even the Eldritch responded, and merely carried on with idle movements.

The flesh beneath his palm felt just organic enough to be considered real. Like a thick, leathery balloon full of custard or ooze, his hand sunk an inch at least into its flesh before he pulled it out, like a child retreats their hand from an open flame.

“That’s so gross. Holy crap, that feels so weird.”

“Well, it ain’t doing much.” Spectre said, bringing her arms down to her side. “Total let down. What now?”

Visionary raised her finger to her ear. “C-Teams one, two and three. This is R-Team. Eldritch is very docile, unresponsive to any external stimuli. Begin removal procedure. Over.”

The three teams confirmed and after a minute, men and women of the containment teams began to approach. Each team had eight members total that had their weapons holstered. One of the teams carried a large, dark grey tarp that required four of them to carry the rolled up mass of material. The other teams began to haul some large steel cables with them, though none of them seemed long enough to reach the lorry that the third team was preparing; lowering down a ramp and setting up cables to secure the Eldritch once it had been relocated.

One of the members of the containment squad, nodded once preparations were made. The roll of tarp was beside the Eldritch, with cables hooked securely into the sides. She was female, judging by her voice as she spoke.

“Team one, lift the Eldritch. Team two will begin to roll the tarp underneath.”

Containment Team one nodded compliantly and began to make their way into position, and went to reach for the Eldritch. As their hands went to grasp into the flesh, they found themselves engulfed up to the wrists before many of them forcefully yanked themselves out. The remaining two that were brave enough to hold steady concentrated for a second, before removing their own hands.

“We’re unable to… grab the Eldritch, ma’am.” He turned to her, then back to the Eldritch. “We just sink into it.”

One of the men nearby was trying once more, and failed to hold the Eldritch without his hands sinking into it. The Eldritch’s flesh made a low rumbling noise from whenever something was pressed against it; a slow, deep sloshing noise as it undulated after they applied force to it.

Verus, Visionary and Spectre were watching and Verus began to rub the side of his eye with his finger. “This isn’t going good. It’s not even fighting us and we’re losing to it.”

After several attempts, the female Containment team leader started to clap her hands loudly, in order to get everyone’s attention. Everyone stopped, and turned to face her.

“This isn’t going to work. Moving onto the second plan. Prepare to slide the tarp underneath the Eldritch by force.”

The containment teams began to remobilise and approached the Eldritch differently. Whilst two people began to roll the tarp out flat so it would lie beside the Eldritch, it became clear that the tarp had several holes with metal hoops put inside them, for the others to snap the hooks on the end of the metal cables with. One hole in each corner, two holes on each side. They only hooked the holes closest to it, and the ones on the two inner cables hooked the other end into the same hole.

They unfolded these loops of cables and began to move to the front and back of the Eldritch, and began to feed the circle of cable underneath, tugging and pulling so that it eventually encircled it. As they tugged and pushed, the flexible nature of the Eldritch allowed them to sink it underneath, and once it was in position, they called over. Two other members of the containment team unhooked it, then took the hook and lobbed it over, landing on the field in a straight line underneath the Eldritch. As the corner cables were hooked and more simply ran underneath with less resistance, everyone reconvened.

“You can’t just call it the ‘Eldritch’ any more.” Verus said, putting a hand on his hip. “It’s called Pudding. You need to be respectful that it has a name.”

Spectre let out a snerk under her breath and even Visionary was smiling, though she nudged Verus in the side and said his name, and he shook his head.

“Okay, okay. Just saying, y’know.”

It was hard to tell if the containment team leader found it amusing, with her helmet obscuring her face from view, but the tone of her voice sounded slightly more animate when she spoke.

“Everyone, around. Six on each cable.”

The leader joined the other members of the containment teams as they moved around and begun to take a cable each, divided with six people on three cables and five on another, until she joined with them. The agents walked around as well, watching with curious intent, staying out of their way for the time being. She made certain that everyone had a firm grip before counting down to three, and on three they all began to heave.

As their combined strength pulled on the cables, it immediately looked as if they weren’t achieving anything. A few seconds passed and the cable began to pull from underneath the Eldritch; a gruellingly slow struggle that tensed and trembled the cable under their struggle. A total of five seconds of this passed before Verus spoke, cutting through the tension in the air.

“Do you guys just want me to do this?” They turned their attention to him, and slackened on their pulling for the time being. “I’m just standing here anyway. Might as well be useful.”

The leader looked to Visionary, then gave a sharp nod. The rest of the containment squad understood and released the cables to the ground, stepping back. Verus rolled his shoulders as he walked from the first cable, picking it up and holding it underneath his arm, to the second, where he held it with the first. He put the other two cables underneath his other arm and walked backwards until they were fully tensed, and continued to walk. What was a struggle for them to cope with the weight of the Eldritch didn’t seem to phase Verus, who simply walked without resistance nor struggle, until the tarp was fully underneath the Eldritch.

Verus let go of the cables and turned to the containment squads, giving them a sharp nod. “I’ll pull it over to the truck as well. Can you hook it up for me?”

The leader nodded. “Containment Teams, prepare the Eldritch for Verus to move it.”

Visionary watched with a smile on her face, with Spectre standing next to her. By now, the younger agent was busying herself by looking elsewhere, enjoying the sights of the park on a sunny, yet cold morning. Whatever Visionary was thinking was interrupted by a rumble coming from Visionary’s belt. A second to register what it was, and she took her phone off her belt to spy the name or number of the individual calling her.

A call from Grandmaster made her raise an eyebrow and she took a step away from the Eldritch, as the containment teams finished hooking the cables for Verus to begin dragging it back, and turned her back. A low shudder became the background noise for the phone call, as Verus began to escort the Eldritch to the lorry.


Visionary, Grandmaster here. I’d normally have a chit-chat, but I need you back in HQ once you’re done with the Pudding, ASAP.”

Visionary’s face contorted with concern, taking another step away and lowering her voice. “Is it urgent?”

Urgent in a sense that once you get back, you need to see this. How soon can you head off?”

She glanced over her shoulder. Verus has manoeuvred the Eldritch around, and was beginning to slide it up the ramp of the van.

“A few minutes. Pudding is secure. I’ll meet you in your office?”

Yeah. My office, right.”

The phone died with a click, an uncharacteristic cut-off from grandmaster that had her concerned.

She turned her attention to Spectre, who was at a side angle. Once Visionary made it clear she was paying attention to her, she turned to face her properly.

“We’re needed back at headquarters. Our work here is done.”

Spectre nodded. “I’ll grab Superboy.”

Visionary began to walk back to the black BMW as Spectre went over to the truck, and Visionary glanced once at her phone before clipping it back to her belt. One set of worries faded, another had arisen, and all of it was still hidden behind her mask. She could only begin to imagine as Verus and Spectre finally joined her in the vehicle, occupying the back seats. She turned to the driver with a curt nod.

“To Headquarters, please.”

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.


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?


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.”


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


“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.