Scene 4 – October 20th
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
I had been having such a nice night, up until that moment. Sure, I would have had a good time at home, practicing my magical abilities and trying to get my parents to tear themselves away from their own magical research to help me – well, I would have had a good time with my research, trying to get my parents to pay attention to mine instead of theirs was like pulling teeth – but I tried not to get so wrapped up in research that I forgot about my friends. Coming in and spending some time with Simone was no hardship.
And the new kid that Armstrong was trying to recruit seemed like a good guy – not to mention that they were nonbinary too, even if they probably weren’t genderfluid as they only had one set of pronouns. Plus they were pretty cute – their eyes were a pleasant blue that stood out marvelously against the darkness of their hair, which was a curly mess of a jewfro that I wished I could just sink my fingers into. But, alas, I had just met them, and such things weren’t socially acceptable. Maybe if they joined the Journeymen.
…an amusing thought struck me: since my 21st birthday was in just six months, Kaufman’s graduation to the ranks of the New Champions – or whichever MLED team somewhere in America needed them most – would occur at the same time as mine, if they joined within the next month.
“Who’s Legion?” they asked, raising their voice to be heard over the alarm, and I refocused. “You mentioned them earlier, right Abe? But I don’t think I’ve heard of whoever they are. A supervillain, I assume?” I absently raised a hand, thinking a mind-bending thought and making an impossible gesture with the ease of long practice, and reduced the volume of the alarm to something less headache-inducing.
Armstrong nodded seriously, his demeanor visibly shifting. He was pretty light-hearted out of costume, not taking anything too seriously despite his status as the leader of the Champions. But when he donned the mantle of Canaveral, he took things far more seriously, became more intense. He was undergoing that shift now, a rare sight out of costume. “Legion is a extremely powerful shapeshifter, with no real limits aside from the amount of mass she has to work with. And she can consume organic matter to increase her mass.”
“That’s pretty scary to start with,” Kaufman noted, “but I somehow feel like there’s more.”
“There is,” Alvarez said, rising from her couch. “When she consumes something, she stores its pattern down to the atomic level, and can recreate it. Or mix and match as she desires. She can eat people and take their forms, and it’s impossible to detect without a brain scan.” Kaufman was going pale now, clearly imagining all sorts of horrible things.
“Even that’s not the worst part,” I couldn’t help but add. “She can duplicate herself, too. Spawn an extra body patterned after her own, and then there are two of her – both with the same shapeshifting abilities.”
“I don’t know much about her, to be honest,” Simone admitted. “When she splits like that, is it a hivemind?”
Canaveral – because he was Canaveral now, to such a degree that I could easily imagine his costume in place of the loose button-down and jeans that he was actually wearing – shook his head. “No, which is one of her few weaknesses. If she’s separated from herself they have no connection to each other.” He looked back to Kaufman, completely serious. “You need to go.”
“What? No! I can help!” they protested.
He shook his head. “You’re still untrained and you haven’t joined yet. And yes,” he raised a hand, “I know I took you against gangsters under vigilante laws. This is a different situation – Legion is one of the most dangerous women in the world.”
“Legion is who-knows-how-many of the most dangerous women in the world,” Kaufman corrected. “You’ll probably be outnumbered! You need all the help you can get! Besides,” they added slyly, “would it be safer for me to be out there alone, where she is, or with you guys?”
“Legion is dangerous, but she’s not mindless,” said Alvarez. “She usually sticks to stealth and doesn’t engage unless she has to, and she always has some target in mind wherever she goes. She’s not going to attack someone who seems like a random civilian. But regulations say that you can’t remain when we’re about to go into lockdown.”
Kaufman sighed, defeated. “Alright, alright. I’ll go.” They raised a hand and gave a dejected wave. “It was nice to meet all of you.”
Scene 5 – October 20th
MLED Compound, Continuous
After they left, Canaveral pushed a button on the wall, activating a microphone to the console room. “Vulcan, call Anima and Sequoia in from patrol, if you haven’t already.”
“They’re on their way,” came the quiet voice of the metal man.
“Do we have a plan, sir?”
He rubbed his temples. “I’m working on one, Adam. Give me some time.”
“You’ll need our help,” Simone said. “New Venice isn’t exactly a one-horse town – you need us to help you cover it.”
“I hate to admit it, but you’re right,” Alvarez agreed.
“It’s dangerous,” Canaveral protested.
The shapeshifter shook her head. “Nic works at a distance, and Legion doesn’t have anything that will hurt him when he’s projecting – we need him to help scout the city. Simone can be transport only, that won’t be too dangerous either.”
“I can work from a distance too,” I offered. “I know my hand-to-hand skills aren’t going to be worth much against Legion, but I bet I can use lasers to cut off parts of her body mass.”
He sighed. “Fine. But only from a distance. And only because you’re all over 18 – Sequoia will have to go home too, once he and Miriam get back.”
“Jack can help too!” said Hypnos. “He turns 18 in only a few weeks!”
“He’s still under 18 until then,” Canaveral shot back. “You’re just going to have to live with your boyfriend staying a safe distance from the dangerous supervilain.”
“Well, when you put it that way…”
With my involvement approved, I took a moment to shift into Loki. It was an adjustment I had made a probably a thousand times in the years since I joined the Journeymen – I had been a member since I was 15, and at this point I have more experience than many full-fledged heroes. With all that practice, the change is quick, and a moment later the appearance of loose, flowing clothes that I had worn over the kevlar body suit I actually wore whenever I went to the Compound was gone, and replaced by Loki’s costume. My long blonde hair is gone too, covered by stylishly-unkempt black hair – a style that PR spent hours perfecting, since I never need to let it actually get ruined. Of course, my hair isn’t actually that short, but no one would notice me pinning it up when the actual movement of my body wasn’t what my illusory self is doing. I’ve always thought that it was an excellent disguise – as Loki I’m six inches taller than I am as Holly, with short black hair rather than long blonde curls and dark eyes rather than baby blues, plus a more muscular (and more masculine) build. Not to mention that I used different pronouns – I don’t think that anyone could guess my secret identity.
Of course, the fluidity of my gender isn’t actually as simple as ‘put on a costume, now I’m a guy.’ Yes, I tended to feel more masculine when I was Loki and more feminine when I wasn’t, but it took time for the shift to happen, and it didn’t happen every time I suited up or down. It really had more to do with the context I found yourself in, but… it’s just simpler, most of the time, to tell people ‘male as hero, female as civilian.’ Molly, the other trans member of the Journeymen, was the only one who really understood – I wondered if Kaufman would get it too?
“Alright, I think I have the beginnings of a plan,” Canaveral said, and I refocused myself yet again.
Scene 6 – October 20th
Exterior City, Early Evening
It took me a few minutes to make my way out of the MLED building, but it wasn’t long before I was on my way back home. It was probably for the best, I told myself – after all, I had class tomorrow, and it wouldn’t hurt to spend the evening reviewing notes instead of socializing. I certainly wasn’t going to be stewing over not being able to hang out with superheroes, or drowning my sorrows that I didn’t have any close friends at school to hang out with. No, not me.
…Did we even have any beer left at the house? Maybe I should swing by the store on the way back.
I found my bus station and began a new sketch of the three members of the Journeymen I had just met. The dark-skinned amazon, Simone – the slim nordic woman, Holly – and the young man hiding in his hoodie, Hypnos. They would be my teammates, if I decided to join. There were two others, if I remembered right – Sequoia, who had been on patrol along with Anima, and Referee, who had been out of town.
They had seemed nice enough. Simone struck me as rather bubbly and cheerful, taking the good-natured ribbing that the others gave her with good grace. Hypnos didn’t seem to be too enthused about being a hero in general, but he hadn’t seemed like a bad person. And Holly had seemed cool – sure, she had pulled a prank on me, but it hadn’t been a particularly mean one. And after all, her heroic identity was named after the god of mischief. Honestly, I was surprised that she didn’t screw around even more.
I felt like I could probably getting along with them fine. The question was really if I could actually be a hero at all. Regardless of what my dad said, I knew that I was never boing to change the world. I was just one kid, not particularly bright, barely funny, and definitely more out of shape than I should be if I was going heroing. Could I really be a superhero?
Hm, the bus was pretty late. And, I remembered, I still had my costume on under my clothes…
Scene 7 – October 20th
Exterior City, Continuous
Traveling over the rooftops was way better than taking the bus. After finding a convenient alleyway where I could strip down to my costume, stuffing the light clothing I had worn over it into my bag and using TK to make sure I wouldn’t drop it, I simply walked up the side of the wall and began moving.
It was much faster, too – New Venice had notoriously winding roads that made driving much slower than it was in cities that had actually been planned, rather than designed by horse tracks. On the rooftops, however, I could travel in something approaching a straight line, and despite my top speed probably being only 30 or 40 mph, I was on track to arrive home before the bus would have gotten me there.
And, of course, it was more fun.
It was as I was leaping over Shiketsu Street that I noticed something strange – as I had crossed the street my ESP had felt one person standing in the mouth on an alley, but when I landed there were two people.
I leaned over the edge curiously and saw a pair of muscular woman, both with long blue hair. They could have been twins for all the difference they had – but even as I watched, one of them began to change. The hair shortened and turned purple, and the clothes changed into a different outfit entirely. Even her facial features – those that my ESP was picking up – were subtly changing.
The blue-haired one glanced up, and I ducked back, hoping she hadn’t noticed me. This had to be Legion! What kind of terrible luck do I have, that I just stumbled onto her?
Well, I supposed it technically didn’t have to be Legion – as Canaveral had pointed out to me the night that we had encountered Maxwell, there were enough shapeshifters of various kinds out there to make anyone’s identity questionable. But it seemed like too much of a coincidence for me to stumble on a possibly-multiplying shapeshifter the same night that one arrived in New Venice. I had to follow her, and to let the New Champions know where she was.