shaun

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.

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.

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Exposure: 4-7

The sky above was a blur of blue and ashen grey, with the occasional dab of white to break up the monotony, the blend of colours little more than a sweep of a brush against a canvas. No individual shapes could be pulled out of that ether, nor could any smells register to the senses. Even sounds, like one’s own voice, could only be heard in the throat, and the reflection of what was said in the mind. The sound of the air ripping around your ears was enough to drown out what was loud enough to get through, and that was brushed aside from how the sound was so far behind them that your ears couldn’t pick it up before you’d already left that space.

Verus has been soaring through the air for half a minute now, and after the initial surprise of what occurred to him had washed over him, he started to grow a little more bored with how events had transpired. At first he tumbled backwards, but having outstretched his arms for moments, he was able to stabilise whilst flying backwards in the air. Once he had thought over it, he was just waiting to see how far he was going, and kept himself busy with the sights from below; landscapes of roads and houses, high streets that seemed devoid of people from being unable to pick out any details from this height, swathes of countryside bordered by fences and trees.

He at least enjoyed the sights, something that he’d never previously seen before, but it moved too fast for him to keep his eyes on anything specific. He was not so high in the air as to collide with any planes, but far above the ground so that telephone posts and pylons were no real hazard to him, if they even capable of hurting him if he struck one along the way.

Pulling his hood down caused it to flap back up behind him from the wind cascading into his back, and with a slightly grumpy frown, he elected to keep his hood up and tidied it before looking behind him. The ground was starting to approach him, and he could only assume that his flight was finally coming to an end.

He hit the ground in the middle of a field, the force of the impact had mostly drained from this landing; the ground split like a meteor had collided, an eruption of dirt and grass bloomed up from his impact like a landmine had detonated. Even then, he continued to careen onwards, not going as high into the sky as he had done before, but still unable to stop his own path from being deterred.

Verus was tumbling backwards now, and the first thing he noticed after seeing the mushroom cloud of dirt coming into the top half of his peripheral vision, was that the back of his suit and his arms were covered in the remains of that part of the field. As he continued to backflip through the air, he started to pat and slap the dust off the back of each arm in turn, and now could actually hear his voice when he spoke to himself.

“I hope this washes out.”

Going much slower than before, he could now see his destination coming towards him; he was either going to go straight through the wall of an old, almost derelict brick barn, or into the car that was just ahead of it.

The barn was spared.

Verus’ back took the brunt of the impact as he lodged into the space between the front and rear doors of a Landrover on it’s side. The crack of glass was followed by its eruption and the crunch of metal could be felt as a tremor through the ground itself. The Land Rover had Verus, stuck with just his calves and legs sticking out, knocked up so it was balancing just on it’s opposite wheels.

Hanging in the air at this balance for just a second, the partially destroyed vehicle finally gave way, and practically suplexed Verus as it finally completed it’s turn, and landed on the passenger’s side. Verus was lying down now, feet stuck in the air as he felt the mangled interior around him; seats had been violently thrown about, and the only thing holding him in place was the twisted exterior coating his impact like a cocoon.

Verus glanced from side to side with wide eyebrows. “I… think this is gonna be written off.”

He reached upwards and grabbed a hold of the sides of the entry wound and clenched until the metal began to deform in his grasp and pulled himself up. He flung up, almost going fully upright in an instant, standing on the wreckage of the car. He was on the ledge of the body of the vehicle between the two wheels, and all that remained was something less than two inches in width. He had a moment where he was starting to lose his balance, and regained it quietly. Hopping off the wreck, he turned to take a look with his fists against his waist.

“Definitely written off. Shit.”

With a sigh, Verus walked around to the bonnet and put one hand on the highest point he could. With a simple shove, the Vehicle turned over until it landed on all wheels. Even though it was large enough to make a considerable noise, the sound of tearing metal and debris falling out and splattering to the ground was enough to cause Verus to wince. It sounded maimed, torn apart and barely functioning.

Verus shook his head, and noticed somebody in his peripheral vision. A bald, bulky man in a grey t-shirt and blue jeans was standing there, mouth open wide and looking shocked to the core. Verus met his gaze for a moment, then mumbled to himself.

Bollocks.” Words failed him for a second more, before an apology forced it’s way out in a jumble of words. “Look, I’m so, so sorry about your Rover, I’m- It was just-” He started to make motions of him coming through the air with one hand. “I was just- and then it-”

In frustration, Verus stopped and grabbed the back of his head with both hands.

“You just hit that Rover-” The man said; an accent that seemed to be from Cheshire, but it was thick, and just like many farmers he’d heard before. “-and you just popped out like it were nothin’.”

The reason for his shock was clearer now, and Verus straightened up. He even patted down his armour a little more, and pulled down his hood and his mask to make his face visible.

“Right, okay, I can explain that. A bit better than, well, okay.” He took a solid, deep breath. “I’m… Verus. I’m from the NFU. I’m… really, really tough.”

“Yeah. I can feckin’ see that, lad.” He said. Verus had hoped that his awkwardness was lightening him up to how grave the situation was, but it was hard to tell at this point. “Where’d you come from?”

“Me?” Verus said, looking over his shoulder. “You mean when I was flying?”

“Yeah. How far’ve you come?”

“Wilmslow. Like… that way.” He gestured behind him with an index finger.

The farmer raised his eyebrows and let out a deep chuckle, grabbing his round middle. “Bit far out now, aren’t you lad?

“Uh. I don’t really know? Where am I?” Verus asked, turning to the farmer with a puzzled look.

“Yer’ in Brookhouse Green, near Congleton. Yer’ in t’other end of Cheshire. It’s a good fifteen miles away, that is.”

“F-” Verus widened his eyes. “Fifteen miles? Are you kidding me? I didn’t even take a minute in the air!”

The farmer leaned his head to the side, folding his arms. “Sounds like you had a bit of a trip there, lad.”

“No kidding.” Verus said, turning around. He could just make out from here where he hit into the field before, a raised piece of land that curved up a hill. The dirt was beginning to settle, and it looked like a bullet wound in the landscape. Having seen what happened, he turned around and carried on ignoring it.

“What happened to yer, anyway?”

“I was… we were, me and my team, we were arresting somebody. I got distracted and he threw me out of here. I dunno how he did that.”

“Sounds dangerous, and you didn’t feel none of that?”

“No.” Verus said, shaking his head. “Look, sir. I’m really, really sorry about what happened to your Rover.”

They both took a look at the vehicle. The farmer shook his head. “S’alright. It were old anyway, got ‘nother one ’round the back to last me fer a bit.”

“The NFU will get you a new one. We’ll compensate you for this, and, yeah. Once again.” Verus gestured to the vehicle with a hand, then shook it slightly. “Really sorry about this. But I need to go back and stop this guy. We’ll get everything sorted afterwards, okay?”

“Aye. Alright.” He said, nodding calmly. “How you gonna get back though?”

Verus looked over his shoulder, thinking for a second. “…the way I came in, I reckon. I know which way I came and how hard he threw me.”

Verus turned on the spot, running through something in his head. “Yeah. I know just how hard he threw me. Huh. Should be able to get back there just as quickly if I don’t jump as hard as that.”

The farmer wasn’t sure what was going on, but he accepted it and nodded. “Be seein’ you in a bit then, lad, when yer’ come to get me a new Rover.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I will.” He continued to look ahead. “What’s your name?”

“Danny.” He asked, unfolding his arms. “Nice meetin’ you.”

“Same to you too.”

Verus nodded, and Danny nodded back to him. Without another word said, Verus broke out into a sprint down his driveway, across the road that was between it and the field where he landed just before. He began to move faster than he’d felt himself run before, right up until he trod the dirt over where he landed first, and pushed the strength into his legs. A moment later, the ground shook as he launched himself upwards, following the straight line that he travelled before, leaping in a tremendous bound that made a shockwave in his wake; the grass ripped up near where he pushed up, and the air blew asunder.

Danny stood and watched as Verus turned to a speck in the sky, before vanishing entirely from view a blink later. He took a second or two to process it before letting out another deep chuckle, shaking his head.

“Nice lad, he was. Best get on the phone to that NFU place, then.”

He took another look at his Rover, and began to walk back inside his house. The door clicked behind him, as another deep chuckle could be heard from inside.

Soaring through the sky of his own volition gave Verus a new appreciation for travelling through the air like this, on the journey back to Wilsmow. He watched as the lands below him sped past, details flickering out of his view faster than he could process. He made sure he leapt higher than when he was thrown before, and had a gut feeling for just how much force he needed to make the journey in a single bound. As he came down from the heavens, he felt the crunch of concrete as his landing cracked the road nearly in half, sending him bouncing forward afterwards.

He had much more control though, and managed to not only stabilise himself when he next hit the ground but ceased moving altogether, despite him being quite a distance from where he first landed. He looked over his shoulder, watching as flakes and fragments of the road behind him were still showering around him. The destruction to the surroundings of just making these leaps and landings weren’t lost on him.

Verus looked around, raising his eyebrows. He felt his face particularly bare, having worn his mask and hood for a long enough period of time that he marked their absence over their presence, and tugged them both in place so he was formally covered again. His voice now muffled, speaking out as he turned to watch the empty road ahead.

“This is it. It’s the road where Barnes’s house is. I made it. I made it! One leap!”

With a soft chuckle of pride, Verus carried on, and bounded himself further down the road, pushed up in a very high curve with this leap. He was able to spot the house from just here and he was going in the right direction, but there was much further to go. With an estimation of just how far he had to go, when he hit the ground with a much less explosive power, he used that to push up even further to close the gap.

As Verus watched from the sky above, he glanced and blinked his eyes to clear them. A hazy distortion began to consume the upper half of the building, just before smoke and fire began to rage inside, quickly consuming the furthest back room on the highest floor. Flickers of embers and flame began to creep up through and around the sides, as windows that hadn’t already shattered were just melting into superheated ooze.

“Holy shit.”

When Verus landed again, he was in the front garden, sprayed with the gravel that had been laid out on the driveway. He didn’t pause for thought as he ran over, letting his strength push himself into a small stride quicker than any trained athlete could manage. He approached the gaping hole that he was pushed through by Anthony, leaping over the broken wall and into the living room.

The tunnel in the wall he was looking at was new to him, and even from here he could feel the heat churning around from inside and above; the air was shimmering, and crimson flames licked the rim of the wound, charring it brown and black in an instant. Even from here beyond this, the sound of a voice was speaking in there to somebody or something.

Verus leapt into the hole and witnessed the devastation that had been wrought. To his right, Anthony had his hands on the skull of the barrier protecting Impetus from his surroundings, and Impetus had just begin to close his eyes as it began to splinter and shatter. Neither of them had seen him; the torrent of flames around them masked his arrival, and the smoke made it hard for anything to be caught in peripheral vision.

Between breaths, Verus turned and took one step to Anthony from behind. He grabbed him by the upper arm, and Anthony had a moment to turn and just catch a glimpse of Verus’ masked face. In his surprise, his grip slackened on Impetus enough that his control over him was lost, and the barrier-covered man slumped to the ground out of his reach.

With a flick of his wrist, Verus threw Anthony through the nearby wall, making a second hole next to the first.

Impetus opened his eyes with shock and in the darkness, managed to see Verus standing above him, holding out a single hand. He took it, and Verus pulled him to his feet. He was able to stand, just barely, as Verus raised his voice above the inferno around them.

“Get everyone out. I’m dealing with him alone, away from here. Go!”

Impetus didn’t question; he only nodded, and clutched at his ribs as he made his way to the door. His barrier was just stable, as Verus could see the glint of the fire around them dancing off the perforations in his Farside armour.

As he was leaving, Verus leapt again, following the hole he had made by removing Anthony.

Anthony had gone through every wall and physical object in his path, and Verus came outside next to Anthony who was scrambling to his feet in the driveway. His body had skidded, and the gravel around him attested to the journey he had gone.

Verus didn’t wait, as he slammed down on both feet within a few meters of him. His stride didn’t break, and he knew that he was going to attempt some form of retaliation or means to defend himself.

“No.” Verus castigated Anthony, for perhaps even thinking of such.

The next sound anybody heard was Verus’ open palm connecting with Anthony’s face.

Anthony was mere dot in the skyline when Verus looked up to see where he was. He knew exactly how hard he hit him and how far he needed to go, like a gut feeling he knew he could entirely trust. Nearby trees had only begun to rock back from the force of the blow, and the gravel beneath him just formed a perfect circle from his strike before he plunged himself into the sky after Anthony, going just a bit harder to ensure he would land at the same time as him without fault.

Anthony couldn’t be sure where he landed, only that he knew when it happened. A minute of flight came to a crashing halt as his body slammed into the ground beneath him and launched up again, bouncing from the landing and his time in the sky coming to an abrupt halt. After he landed a second time, he could feel the ground beneath him was softer than concrete. As he looked up, he was accosted by the sight of the cloud of dirt and grass that plumed up, not only once but twice; a second one further back had just exploded upwards, destroying the field that he was in even more.

Out of the second cloud came Verus, who bounded over until he landed apart from Anthony. His shirt had been ripped at the back, leaving it sagging and hanging at the front. His face was covered in soot and dirt, torn grass acting as the mantle over his shoulders. The tie in his hand was barely recognisable, chewed away by heat, wear and tear. They stood apart, as he studied Verus for the scant few seconds of them watching each other. Where he had his shoulders slumped and a much less restrained posture, Verus was holding his head high and calm, and spoke with restraint.

“You’re not gonna hurt anybody else out here. So we’re going to deal with this here, away from everything.”

“There’s nothing to deal with. Let me walk from this, and never be seen again.” Anthony responded.

Verus took a step forward, raising his hands. “And go where? Where the hell would you go after that? Everyone’s going to know about this. You’re already a wanted man. Seriously. What was the big plan here? Beat up a few agents, run away, piss off to some island in the middle of nowhere or something?”

“Very unprofessional language from an NFU agent.”

Verus narrowed his eyes. “Do you wanna talk about unprofessional?” He spoke with more passion, and flecks of irritation crept into his words. “What about the politician who lied to the public, who sent criminals to steal and kidnap animals and magitech for him? ‘cos last time I remember, that guy did a lot of stupid shit because he made a promise he couldn’t keep, and when the NFU came knocking on his door, he decided to act like a twat and fight them instead of coming quietly. So now, on top of all that shit he’s been charged with, he’s got resisting arrest and assault charges, and maybe even murder on his head now. If you wanna talk about how professional people here are being and all.”

Anthony paused, either unwilling or unable to answer. Verus took another step forward.

“What has this whole thing been about, Barnes? Being Fartouched, power going to your head, what the hell is going on with you?”

“I’m not going to give you a sob story or a monologue, if that’s what you’re thinking. But don’t come closer.”

Anthony raised his hands up, palms open and pointing to Verus as a warning.

“Or what? You can’t hurt me. That’s why you tried to get rid of me, isn’t it? You knew I could actually stop you.”

“As that may be the case, I’m willing to see if your claims of invulnerability are as true as I’m lead to believe.”

Verus laughed in his breath. “Yeah, alright.”

He took another step.

The hairs on the back of Anthony’s hands and fingers began to crackle, as sparks and crackles of lightning danced on the surface of his skin. In a blinding flash, he directed the lightning from him to Verus and blasted him with potent energy. The boom of a hunderbolt rippled through the air, a deafening peel that could be heard for miles around. In an instant, the world went white and died just as quickly, returning to colour in a single flash. The bright outline of lightning was only visible for an instant, and it’s all that was needed.

The ground was scorched black, and the grass around Verus had begun to sear and burn. The smell and sight of charred carbon, grass and dirt began to flicker in the air. Thunder rumbled into the distance over the countryside, roiling through the air and rolling along the hills and fields. Anthony lowered his hands and lifted his head, slumping his shoulders slightly, no words escaping his lips.

Verus stood still, letting out a small breath. His armour bared scorch marks, lightning dancing in black etchings over his armour from the right side of his chest down to his right boot, crackling and splitting into many ends down a singular path. He reached up and patted down the point where it first hit him and patted at the mark, wafting the smoke away. He raised his head up, staring at barns through his hood and mask.

“You done?”

Anthony stood upright, retaining his dignity. He spoke with a sombre voice, almost regretful. “Almost.”

“So this is what you do, you use energy?”

“That is the long and short of it.”

“Was that your best shot?”

“Not nearly, no. This is simple energy manipulation, up until this point at least.”

“Then get on with it.” Verus said. “Hit me with something hard enough. ‘cos this thing, this fight we’re doing, there’s no point to it. It’s gonna hurt everyone but us, that’s why I brought you here. There’s nobody else you can hurt here, no collateral, so just hit me and maybe we can get on with it.

With a nod, Anthony flicked his hand up.

Just halfway between both of them, a spot of light began to appear, like a needle prick upon reality. The air around them grew intensely hot, much greater than even before. The ground had begun to blacken and char in the second the ball of light began to grow. Dirt and grass became ash that was being swept upwards, drawn into the glowing, growing orb of radiance. Swiftly, it consumed the space around it until it was the size of a tennis ball. Lashes of energy and plasma began to ripple off, lashing out to strike at Verus. The stream struck from shoulder to hip, and left a black streak along his armour. The ground beside where the flare had also struck was annihilated, little more than a charred slice of ground dug out.

The ball churned and grew slower now, as Verus approached it. His armour was growing lighter in colour, and the heat was making the stray curve of hair underneath his hood start to singe and burn off. As Verus stood a foot away, staring into the orb, his hand reached out and snatched it in his fingertips.

Verus held it in his hand and lifted it to the side, raising it up to his eye level. Anthony could see the black outline of his fingers as streams of light reached out from the inside of his palm. He couldn’t see where Verus was looking besides his general outline but he felt the weight of his faze firmly upon him.

Anthony curled his hand as he lowered it. The ball of light faded into nothing, leaving only steam and superheated air in Verus’s grasp.

Verus shook his hand, wafting away the smoke. He diverted his eyes to his hand, unblemished as it always was, then back to Anthony.

“Now I’m done.”

The scorched ground crunched beneath Verus’ boot as he walked over to Anthony, no further than two foot, face to face. Verus reached into his hood and pulled it back, and his mask down so he stood with a clean expression. His hair had been burned, in some parts it was shorter than others. Anthony looked away from Verus, from the sight of black earth and the impacts of their landings.

“We’re done, Barnes. This is over.”

“I never wanted any of this, Verus.”

“Well, this is what you ended up with. Everything you did had consequences.”

“I never asked to be this, to be one of you.”

“One of what? One of the Fartouched?” Verus spread his arms out. “Nobody asks for this. You think they want to go through the Farside and come back changed?”

“Twice.” Anthony said. He was retaining his composure well, though Verus could see that he was trying to keep a level head.

Verus thought of what to say next. “That’s rough, I’ve heard of what the experience is like, but it’s no excuse. Not for any of this. Not for trying to… cut off their abilities or whatever.”

“I would have been the first to sign up.” Anthony spoke without hesitation. “Absolutely the first. Now, I have no opportunity to do many of the things I promised. That weight, the weight of what I’ve asked others to do, what I was going to do, what I have done. That is on my shoulders alone.”

Verus glanced to the side for a moment. “Gonna be honest. I don’t feel any sympathy for you right now.”

A sullen silence descended over them, as neither of them could raise their gaze.

“Do it, then.”

“Do what?” Verus asked.

Anthony raised his head. The calm demeanour gave way for Anthony, suddenly exclaiming. “End this!”

“End… I’m not going to do that. What the hell?”

“There is no other way out of this. I don’t want this any longer.”

Verus began to similarly raise his voice. “I’m not going to fucking kill you. You’re going to the Unit to serve your time.”

“I don’t want that! I don’t want this any more! My life is-”

“-what?” Verus interrupted. “Your life is ruined? Have you thought about the many other lives you’d have ruined? Nobody gives a shit about what you want any more, man. You lost that right the moment you decided to start off this entire chain of events, or some crap like that.”

“I don’t deserve imprisonment.”

“The people you’ve hurt or done wrong, they deserve justice.”

Anthony spread his arms out, as he snapped at Verus above his already passionate tone. “They would see me dead for what I’ve done, to which I agree entirely with them.”

Verus responded physically, lashing up and grabbing Anthony by the throat. Anthony grabbed at his wrist; Verus didn’t feel Anthony use any of his powers against him, only a grip to brace himself. Letting out a wheeze for air, Verus lessened his grip so Anthony had no trouble breathing, nor speaking.

“That isn’t your decision any more, Anthony! I’m not gonna kill you just because you think all the bad shit means you deserve to die. Nobody deserves to die, not even you! But what you do deserve is going to prison. ‘cos let’s face it, after all the shit things you’ve done, all that shit that’s happened because of you, dying would be the easy way out of it, and you wouldn’t get the punishment you need. After all the shit man, now’s the moment you need to make a decent choice for once. Just this once, just like I’m making the right choice, ‘cos I know if I tighten this grip any more, the world’s gonna know that you still need to breathe despite your powers, right?”

With a hoarse voice, Anthony said “Yes”.

“I’m putting some faith in you that despite all the crap you’ve done, you’re still a decent person inside, and you know the right choice is the hardest one to make, and the one you’re going to choose. You didn’t do this because you wanted power or because you’re some sorta comic book villain, you’re a decent guy in a bad spot and you did bad things. And I’m still gonna give you that choice, even though I know I shouldn’t and nobody else would.”

Verus let go of his grip. Anthony gasped for breath, reaching and stroking at his neck.

“Do this willingly, Anthony. Surrender and let yourself be arrested. I’ll walk you to the damn cell in the Unit if I have to.”

Anthony hung his head, letting out a deep breath; like catharsis, purging his system through the exhale.

“Very well. I surrender.”

Verus smiled slightly. “Thank you.”

As Anthony raised his head, his eyes continued to raise upwards. Around his neck and hands, golden light began to materialise and coalesce, until it defined itself into more determined shapes. It expanding outwards like each surface soothed itself with smaller panes, bloating outwards at a rapid pace that ate through the air. Around his neck was a golden, yellowish construct of hardened light that appeared like matte, frosted glass. Around the edges, a pink light began to glow softly around the collar, strong enough to be noticed without detracting from the focus of the collar itself. Two similar constructs materialised over Anthony’s hands, chaining them together in a series of intricate chains that bound him in place.

Verus turned and looked skywards; above them were helicopters; both had ‘BBC News’ written in white to contrast from the navy hull, and a golden figure was floating in the sky above them much lower. It descended hastily before it was twenty feet from where they were standing, hovering above the ground. The figure was at least seven foot tall, clad in the same material as the handcuffs and collar had been made from. He was armoured in the stuff from head to toe, giving him the appearance of a baroque knight of old.

The armour looked as modern as full plate could be, with no parts exposed; even the helmet was sealed in tight by layers of hard light. Three overlapping plates hung on his hip down his outer thighs, and three individual spikes held behind him to give him the appearance of wings that ponderously dangled in the air like a halo behind his body. His helmet was split three ways, from the chin to the ridge of where his nose should be, which forked out either side of this to above his ears; his eyes was obscured by the pink light that seemed to fill the entire three way slit. Atop that appeared to be another plate that pointed upwards with three individual spikes, giving it the appearance of a crown. He was as thick as he was tall, clad in immensely thick layers that were as much designed to intimidate and awe as they were to protect himself.

He never stopped moving entirely, just only slowing down once he reached the ground. As he moved towards them, he began to walk on the floor as he finally reached him, the entire motion fluid and practised. He raised his hand up, flexing his fingers. Anthony’s hands raised up, and his collar tugged him forward, almost off balance.

Verus straightened himself up, and Anthony stared at him. A chain materialised, connected to the collar, the speed of which it appeared could have been missed between blinks. The other end was in his armoured hand, and the rest of it moved up and coiled around his plated arm. Verus looked between the two, before Anthony spoke to break the silence.

“Sovereign has finally arrived.”

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.

“No.”

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.

“Interesting.”

“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.

“You-”

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.

Cheers.”

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;

NO DAMAGE DETECTED.

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.”

Guys?”

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: 4-2

“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.

NATIONAL FARSIDE UNIT

AGENT

ID: 19628 / VERUS

SHAUN LARSON

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.

Kisses,

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.

“Hello?”

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: 3-8

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

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

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

“Get moving.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Right. Detainment period?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I do.” Impetus says, nodding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you considered therapy?”

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

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

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

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

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

Impetus nodded.

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

Impetus nodded again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impetus grinned slightly. “That must be it.”

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

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

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

“I’ll have to see.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTENTION SCAN INCONCLUSIVE.

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

DETAILS:

FACIAL SCAN INCONCLUSIVE. CAUSE: UNKNOWN.

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

Grandmaster kept up the pace, applying some more pressure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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