yuhong

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.”

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Exposure: 4-4

Director, Agent Visionary and her team have arrived.”

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

“Send them in.”

Right away, sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Director, Agent Impetus has just arrived.”

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

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

“Send him in as well.”

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

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

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

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

Verus looked around slowly, from Visionary to Impetus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandmaster nodded to himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visionary nodded in response.

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

Impetus almost looked surprised, and everyone listened with optimism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fair. How you feeling about it all?”

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lots more where that came from.”

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

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

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

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

Permission granted. What’s up?”

“It’s been fifteen minutes, Grandmaster.”

Gotta pass the time somehow.”

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

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

Oh snap, son. You gonna take that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Quit custodiet ipsos custodes?”

Verus blinked slightly. “Is that Greek?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And now, we wait.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Freeze, NFU!”

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

“Anthony Barnes, you are under arrest.”

Exposure: 4-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He clicked, and opened the pictures.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I assume you’ve tested the device.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready?”

Anthony nodded.

The moment of truth. Go on.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ain’t that right?”

After a second, Anthony nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandmaster stops the video.

Visionary lowers her hands from her gasping mouth.

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

Visionary raises her head and meets eyes with Grandmaster.

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

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

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

“Hold up, Visionary.”

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

“Answer, loudspeaker.”

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

“Grandmaster here. You’re on loudspeaker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Schematics?” Visionary asked, leaning forward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course. Goodbye for now.”

Impetus dropped the call.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raising his head, the leader replied.

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

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

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

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

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

Please enjoy your stay.”

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

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

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

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

“Artifex. Nice seeing you again.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You were quick.”

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

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

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

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

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

“That is correct.” He reponded.

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

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

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

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

Artifex nods, then leans back further on his chair.

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

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

“And then what happened?” Grandmaster asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That is correct.”

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

Grandmaster waited.

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

“Thanks for making this quick”

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

“Understood, yes.”

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

Exposure: 4-2

“Good morning, Agent Verus.”

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

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

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

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.”

Exposure: 4-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The one and the very same-”

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

Bullshit.

“You think I’m lyin’?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandmaster paused again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This time, Michael was the one who paused.

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

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

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

“…earned his breakfast.”

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

Impetus stopped the feedback.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Answer.”

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

GREATER MANCHESTER POLICE HQ. DIRECT LINE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye, Agent Rhodes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

FARSIDE PRESENCE DETECTED.

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

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

“Messenger.”

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

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

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

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

“Gonna need so much coffee.”

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

“Director Messenger will see you now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandmaster paused for a second, then nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

Grandmaster sat there silently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandmaster nodded once. “I will.”

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

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

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

“Everything go alright?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MENU.

“Call Visionary.”

CALLING Agent Visionary (mobile).

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

Hello?”

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

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

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

Of course. Speak to you later.”

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

MENU.

“Call Impetus.”

CALLING Agent Impetus (mobile).

The phone rang for half a minute before somebody answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impetus dropped the line.

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

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

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

Discoveries: 3-6

“Sure.” Shaun said. “Sounds great.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In response, he nods. “Of course.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 new emails.

4 missed calls.

11 new messages.

Messages:

From: Anna

Today, 11:36am

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

Delete message?

Cancel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah, yes. You, the boy. Come here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know that feeling.”

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

“Files?” Shaun asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Coleslaw?” Shaun asked.

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

“Gherkins?”

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

“Chipolte.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s an oatcake?”

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

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

“Black pudding?” Shaun asked.

“What that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Looks like a camera.” Shaun added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s true. How do you know that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shaun nodded again. “Yeah, nice chat.”

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

“Well, that was something.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cracked ‘it’?” She asks questioningly.

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

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

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

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

“Michael Burnham?”

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

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

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

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

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

Grandmaster pointed to the door.

“I want Shaun to come with me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, that’s a yes to the guilt trip?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discoveries: 3-5

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

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

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

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

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

“I know. I’ll be fine.”

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

Shaun raised an eyebrow. “Kinda doubt that.”

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

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

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

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

“If it were him, he’d tell you no.”

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

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

“Night, mum.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hm. Can’t exactly try running here.”

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

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

Shaun stopped to think about it.

“Well, yeah. I should be able to.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Huh. Wow.”

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

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

“Aw, shit.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shaun stared at his tea for a second.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They just slip through, just like that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re in early, Shaun.”

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

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

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

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

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

She shrugged in response. “Sure.”

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

Both Shaun and Katrina nodded in unison.

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

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

“Sound.” Katrina contributed.

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

Katrina pushed her chair back and stood up.

“Ta-ra a bit.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verus.

The silence deafened the room.

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

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

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