1.2. Scenes 23-24

Scene 23 – October 22nd
Interior MLED Compound, Late Evening
Abraham Armstrong

I tried my best to stifle a yawn as I leaned back in my chair in the common room. “Any news yet?”
There was a sigh from the console room. “No, Abe, we still haven’t heard or seen anything from Legion,” Ben said through the speaker.

“Maybe she’s left town,” Vulcan suggested, sounding almost as tired as me. The two of us had been on call for the last two days – me as the most experienced at fighting Legion, him as the only one immune to her absorption. After three and seven years as heroes, respectively, neither of us were strangers to long nights, but it was still tiring. Simone, being a Journeymen, wasn’t permitted to be on call for this long and was at home sleeping – lucky kid.

“We have no reason to think that, unfortunately,” I said before taking a sip of coffee. “We know of one thing that she was after, but we’ve sighted at least three bodies. That means, minimum, three objectives.” Vulcan let out a heavy sigh, and I reached up to pat him on the shoulder. “Chin up, kid – Aegis is still on track to be available tomorrow, so it’s only one more night no matter what happens.”

He nodded at that. “You’re right, sir. Just one more night.” The young man offered a tentative smile. “Could be worse, I suppose.”

“Goddamn it-” I began, but was interrupted by Starling’s voice from the console room.

“We’ve got a firefight on the north edge of town,” he informed us. “Buff Boy territory – looks like Legion decided to exit that way and they took exception without realizing just who they were pissing off.”

Vulcan began shrugging his shirt off as I pulled my cowl over my head. “How many of her are there?”

“Unclear. However many there are, she’s in full monster mode – much farther than she went when you ran into her, Abe.”

“Fuck.” I glanced at Vulcan. He moved surprisingly fast considering his size, but his weight kept him from being able to travel rooftops, which was a necessity for quick travel in New Venice. It would take him a while to get to the north edge. Simone was recharging her teleportation distance today and would be somewhere in Oregon right now – while she could be back in a moment’s notice, it would use up all of that distance, which was rather pointless.

“You go ahead,” Vulcan suggested. “I’ll catch up.”

“I can’t do much against her on my own, unfortunately – Sunday proved that. I can hold my own, but I can’t stop her from leaving whenever she wants.”

“Zookeeper has suggested that she can come and assist you, Canaveral,” said Starling. Emilia was on patrol right now, and her falcon form was fast enough to be anywhere in the city in a matter of minutes. “She believes that her control over her own shape might trump Legion’s ability to absorb her.”

This was my least favorite part of being a leader. I was constantly making calls that sent my best friends, and in this case my girlfriend, into danger. If I had the choice, I would wrap her in cotton and protect her from the world, shield her from everything I could – but I couldn’t make that choice, not when she was right. Not to mention that she wouldn’t want me to even if I expressed it. “Send her ahead,” I told Starling. “I’ll be with her in a matter of minutes.”

Scene 24 – October 22nd
Exterior City, Late Evening
Abraham Armstrong

I got to the site of the battle only a few minutes later, as promised, after having moved as fast or faster than I ever had. I barely paused to take in the scene as I arrived – Legion was, as Ben had said, in full monster mode, while Emilia was presently in the shape of a panther, landing on Legion’s face after a leap, then bounding off again along with a few scraps of flesh. The panther shrank into a falcon just in time to make a tight turn and avoid a large tentacle that had struck out at her.

Legion’s combat form was always a little different, but there were some commonalities whenever she decided to take a battle seriously, as she hadn’t done with me on my own. She always looked something like a mixture between an bear and an octopus – thick fur covered her as a kind of armor and every limb was tipped with razor-sharp claws, and there were far too many of those limbs, moving in ways that were unnatural for anything with bones. She usually had multiple heads, but today it seemed that she had decided to use extra eyes without growing additional heads – her head had a ring of bulbous eyes at the level of her brow almost like a crown, and a set of massive jaws occupied the entire region that should have been a face.

It was disconcerting, to say the least.

Emilia landed on my shoulder and briefly took the shape of a parrot to speak to me, saying, “I can keep distracting her for a little longer – get these gangsters out of the way before she eats them!” Then she was off again, shifting back into the falcon to approach at high speed, dodging and weaving around Legion’s limbs to keep herself from being struck.

As usual, she was right. There were around two dozen thugs lying around in various conditions – most unconscious, some just lying there and moaning. There were even a few that seemed to have had a chance to take brawn, as they were unhurt and their gold-tinged skin was still faintly steaming. Even they were holding back, though, showing a surprising amount of sense for members of the Buff Boys.

I sauntered up to a pair of the juiced-up thugs – a muscular Asian man of about my height, and a similarly well-built white woman a few inches shorter – trying to maintain as casual an air as I could while still watching the battle out of the corner of my eye. “Steering clear of the battle?” I asked.

The man glanced at me. “We’re no fools,” he said in a deep voice with a faint accent – Chinese, I thought. “We would have no chance against a monster like that.”

The woman nodded. “We’re just watching until Rube shows up,” she said.

“It certainly is a spectacle,” I agreed. “I can’t just stand around and watch, though – I have to get all of your friends here clear as well.” I gestured to the groaning and unconscious bodies that littered the street – hopefully no one was dead, but it remained to be seen. “Maybe you could lend a hand?”

They gave each other a look, then shrugged simultaneously. “I suppose the boss might be annoyed if we didn’t,” the woman admitted. “Alright.”

“Speaking of your boss,” I asked before they walked away, “you wouldn’t happen to know why there was no one fun at last week’s engagement, would you?”

“…fun?” the man said.

“Metas,” the woman guessed. “It was on Brewer’s word – she said nothing would go wrong with those buyers. Shows what she knows. Ridealong’s kind of pissed at himself right now for listening to a newbie.”

“More pissed at her,” the other thug commented.

“The MLED thanks you for your information,” I said with a grin, splitting off to start pulling bodies away from Legion.

A few minutes later, I and the BB thugs that had stayed away from Legion had gotten all of their fallen comrades out of danger. The shapeshifting villain, meanwhile, had abandoned much of the mass she’d brought with her, leaving it as a tree rooted into the ground, in favor of taking to the air after Zookeeper. My girlfriend was, thankfully, managing to stay ahead of her – while Legion was a far larger bird at the moment and would deal massive damage if she caught Emilia, Emilia was taking more maneuverable shapes.

It was one of the things that my girlfriend had over the other shapeshifter, in my completely unbiased opinion. Zookeeper’s power was limited to actual animals, while Legion could take on any form that she could imagine – but Emilia wasn’t limited by mass. No matter what form Legion took, in order to remain herself – whatever that meant for a woman who could duplicate herself as much as she wanted – she had to retain her human brain. That meant a pretty sizable bird, one which couldn’t make sharp turns all too easily. Emilia’s power, on the other hand, didn’t care one wit about mass – she could become an elephant as easily as an ant.

Speaking of brains… last time I had run into her I hadn’t been able to figure out where Legion was keeping her brain. The head was the first guess, but I hadn’t struck it in my attempts to attack her body, either. With the bird shape she currently wore, however, I could clearly see where the brain had to be. If I could strike her there…

It would definitely draw her attention, though. “Hey guys,” I said to the two thugs that had helped me clear the field, “I’m gonna do something stupid and draw Legion’s attention.”

“Who the hell is Legion?” the woman asked.

I pointed.

“Oh.”

“Anyway, you two had better get off the field too. You don’t want to be anywhere near whoever she’s mad at.”

“That’s a she?” said the guy, staring.

“…yes.” I gave them a gentle shove. “Now get going.”

They backed off, but not very far.

…eh, close enough. I took half a second to look for a convenient weapon – a manhole cover or piece of rubble of around the right size would be ideal – but didn’t see any. Instead, I stomped, twisting energies as I did, and with a loud crack, a chunk of the pavement came loose – another momentary exertion sent it to my hand. The piece of pavement, I noted with pleasure, had come loose perfectly shaped for my purposes. I reeled back and hurled it at Legion’s head, twisting with my power to give it a force more appropriate to an oncoming train.

Despite its speed, Legion’s unnatural-looking bird form twisted in midair and avoided it. That goddamn…

I winced as my projectile struck the building that had been behind her – that was poorly thought out. I was usually better about compensating for whatever was behind my target.

The building shuddered for a moment, one of the windows cracked, then a large portion of its roof began breaking off with a loud rumble. It came down in pieces right on both Legion and Emilia.

My heart stopped as dust rose – the fall had been too unexpected and too fast for me to react to – Emilia, having been engaged in life-or-death combat with a supervillain, had surely been caught in it. This was all my fault, I had hurt or killed the woman I-

I blinked in surprise as the dust began to settle. A falcon was lying on its back on a pile of rubble, seeming somewhat stunned but unharmed. A moment later a familiar-looking trenchcoat, launched into the air by the impact of the collapse, drifted down over it. She was okay!

The cloth shifted, and a moment later Emilia stood in human form once more, tying her coat closed to cover herself. She reached into a pocket and produced a domino mask which she slipped on. “That was lucky,” she noted as she began to make her way down the pile. “I think that Legion is somewhere underneath… all of that.” She gestured vaguely at the pile.

Zookeeper

“I’m so glad you’re alright!” I cried, rushing to meet her and pulling her close. I remembered just in time that we had agreed not to make our relationship public until we had been together for at least a year, and restrained myself to only a hug – even so, she pressed a brief kiss to my neck as she sank into my arms. “You’re not hurt, are you?”

“No, I’m okay,” she assured me. “Like I said, I was lucky.”

“You’re welcome!” came a cheerful voice from behind us. I released Emilia and turned to see the smiling face of Rube, the Buff Boy’s enforcer, considered by the MLED to be the second most dangerous villain in New Venice.

1.2. Scenes 21-22

Scene 21 – October 22nd
Interior Warehouse, Evening
“Penelope Page” (Blue)

I met with my other selves in the backup rendezvous. While my mission had gone off without a hitch, the periodic updates we had passed on by bird mail told me that both of them had run into superheroes. Patron of Ambrosia Co. or not, Canaveral was altogether too good of a person to trust, and too good of a tracker to use the primary safehouse that the company kept in New Venice.

As a result, instead of a nice office space we had to meet in a warehouse. It wasn’t that much of a hardship, I supposed, but still. I – or at least, this iteration of me, one step away from the original Penelope Page, – preferred a little more comfort, if I was given the choice. Ah well.

The third gen iterations arrived shortly after me – one of them slipping in wearing the face of a dockworker, then shrinking down into a butch-looking woman in a waistcoat and a purple undercut. The other came in through the roof after landing there as a flock of birds, showing herself in a green-colored women’s school uniform of some sort. Very few iterations of me had any strong preferences towards any particular look, but we tended to settle on a single aesthetic simply to help distinguish ourselves from each other.

I nodded to them as they arrived. “Student. Butch.” Names, on the other hand, had been trickier, at least for the first year. After that, we all agreed that we simply had to go by whatever name was suggested by our chosen aesthetic, or things got confusing.

They both nodded to me. “How did things go for you, Blue?” asked Butch.

I shrugged. “No trouble on my end – none of the guards had any suspicions, and our imprisoned friend had been rescued by us before. I chose an IT girl for the infiltration and ensured that the cell’s cameras suffered a malfunction when I slipped down there. Thornhill’s best purchaser is free once more, albeit in the IT girl’s body, and a body with signs of a heart attack has been left behind. I thought it would be a fun challenge, after I let them spot me, but the fools apparently didn’t expect me to be sneaking into their base – I can’t imagine why not.”

It was a simple trick, and one that I had done several times before – I could perfectly replicate anyone if I absorbed them, but I didn’t have to limit myself to pure recreation. I was fully capable of mixing and matching as I chose. By leaving behind a copy of the IT girl’s body with Thornhill’s agent’s brain, the agent would be able to cover for the unfortunate that I had used to slip through the MLED’s security. In a week or two she would submit a letter of resignation, and no one would connect it to the sudden death of who they thought the agent had been – the body that had been left behind, of course, was another copy of me, one who sometime today would have arranged herself to appear as though she was having massive cardiac arrest, then replace her own brain with that of the IT girl, who would die before even really waking.

Student rolled her eyes. “Yes, we’ve all done the trick before. We know how it works.”

I glared at her. “You’re one to talk, Student, when you messed up a mission as simple as ‘pass on Laura’s last messages to her family.’”

“It’s not my fault that there were superheroes knocking at the family door! I decided not to potentially screw things up, and took on a different mission!” she defended herself.

I turned to Butch. “And did you finish the mission, after you two decided to swap?”

She fidgeted a little. “Well… after getting the message I had a hunch that the younger of the two heroes, the one who was wearing Laura’s invention, might be her child. I was going to deliver her message to them, but… I decided that it was better to be safe, since I didn’t actually know their identity.”

I frowned at her. “Come on, Butch. Who else was it going to be? They had a key to the house for gods’ sake!”

“Boyfriend? Girlfriend? I don’t know! I realize that it was probably the kid, yes, but you know we’re supposed to respect identity stuff! The heroic patrons get pissy if Ambrosia is sketchy where anyone can see!”

I rolled my eyes. “That’s more of a guideline. Besides, no one knows that Legion is associated with Ambrosia.”

“Um…” Student scratched at the back of her head. “I kind of spent Canaveral’s second favor.”

“…on what.” I growled. “Please, enlighten me what was so important that you had to spend one of the very valuable favors that Ambrosia Co. is owed by such a respected figure.”

“Look, he brought Laura back when she was kidnapped!” she cried. “And Laura saved us, remember? We owe him!”

“He didn’t do it for us, Student,” Butch snarled. “He’s a hero, it’s just what he does. And besides, that was his first favor. We don’t owe him anything – we owe Laura.”

“Don’t think I’ve forgotten about your fuckup,” I snapped at Butch, then turned back to Student. “She is right, though. That’s not a good enough reason.”

Student crossed her arms defiantly. “I think we owe him.”

I rubbed my temples – I shouldn’t be able to get headaches, and yet I could feel one coming on. “Fine, I guess. it’s too late to do anything about now. You spent it on?”

“Maxwell Copperfield’s location. We’re on a time limit, I didn’t have time to look,” she said, glancing away from me.

“Fine. And did that mission go alright, at least?”

She nodded, looking back at me. “I just came from it. He’s amenable to lending Miles the book, once he has it – he said that he expects to be able to lay his hands on it in the next month or two.”

“Good.” I returned my attention to Butch. “Now then. We have to be out of the city by tonight, or else Aegis will be on our tail, and you remember how that went for us last time, right?” All three of us shuddered in unison. “How do you expect to fix this?”

“I’ll do the usual resurrection trick,” Butch suggested. “I can even use it to cover for the two of you leaving New Venice.”

“Who are you resurrecting, exactly?” Student asked. A lesser known aspect of our powers was that when we used a template to recreate something, we lost the template, or at least the part of it that had been used. Newly created iterations of us didn’t start with any templates at all, requiring a quick infusion of basic forms like birds that we used for communication. And while bird forms could be done with the imprecise copying that we used to create additional Legions, which didn’t lose the form, resurrecting a person required a perfect recreation of the brain at a minimum. As the oldest Legion here, I was the only one of the three of us to have any people in my memory – or I should be, at least. “You didn’t forget to mention eating one of the New Champions, did you?”

“I was thinking Ventus?” she said, and I thought I heard a sly undertone to her question. “If you just pass him to me…”

I thought for a moment, trying to remember if he was one of the people that Madam Thornhill or one of her vice presidents had noted not to be resurrected. He had been a friend of Canaveral’s early on, as I recalled, and the two of them had fought me together early on, before Canaveral had become the New Champions’ team leader. He had survived then, hadn’t he? So when did I… “Don’t you remember why we took him in the first place?” I asked Butch after a moment.

She nodded. “But it’s been years since then, and no one would believe him if he tried to reveal it at this point. And I bet that Canaveral can convince him to keep quiet. I know it’s always a pain,” she added, “but…”

“And if he can’t, then Ventus will be out of the request list for resurrection.” I considered her request. Ventus wouldn’t have been my first choice to resurrect – he had been taken for a reason, and on the occasions I remembered bringing his brain out to speak to him he had given no sign that he had changed. I found it hard to believe that Butch actually thought he was a good prospect. How had she drifted, to come up with the idea?

Perhaps it had little to do with Ventus. Thinking back a minute to when Student had confessed to wasting one of Canaveral’s favors, Butch had seemed even more angry than me – I was mad about the waste, but she seemed personally offended. Did she expect that dangling Ventus’s resurrection in front of his best friend would be some kind of punishment?

I couldn’t help but to be curious about how she expected it to work, so I responded simply by offering my hand. She took it, and we merged briefly, our nervous systems combining. There was a moment of disorientation as I felt through two bodies and saw through four eyes and heard through four ears, then we separated once more with a shudder. The animal messengers that we used had simple brains, only enough to hold the instructions and message we programmed them with. A direct exchange with another human brain, however, was a hell of a lot to handle – worse than recombining from a group of small animals. We had never even tried recombining full human bodies, suspecting that it would be essentially impossible.

Butch and I took a moment to recollect ourselves, then nodded to each other and to Student. “Alright, Student and I will slip out to the south,” I told her. “You make your distraction to the north. And be sure to do it tonight – I like having a whole continent between me and Aegis.”

Scene 22 – October 22nd
Exterior City, Late Evening
“Penelope Page” (Butch)

I had made my way across the city with little difficulty, choosing to travel in the form of a flock of seagulls. I could, of course, leave the city without anyone noticing, and the thought crossed my mind after they recombined into me a little ways south of the Buff Boys’ territory on the edge of New Venice. After all, the resurrection trick that I was going to pull would mean the end of my brief existence as an individual.

While I had 25 years of Penelope Page’s memories to draw on, I hadn’t been the one to make those memories – with a different brain, I diverged farther from the original Penny every moment I was alive, every breath I took. Blue was one of the longest surviving splits even at only two years old, and at this point no one would mistake her for being the same person as Penny if they spoke to both, although they would probably still guess some relation. How far might I diverge, as a third-generation incarnation of Legion, if I had the time?

But, like spawning fourth-generations, it had long ago been decided that third-generations risked drifting too far from the original if they lived too long. I wouldn’t have been allowed to live longer than three months anyway. I completely understood why, too – the first third-generation to live past four months had gone off the reservation and left, after all, and I had Blue’s memory of voting in favor of a time limit of third-generations like me. How could I blame the other mes when I knew exactly why they had voted that way, and would have made the same choice myself?

So it was without much bitterness that I took the form of an overweight man wearing an expensive-looking suit and some flashy jewelry. There was no way the BB wouldn’t notice me and demand some kind of toll for passing through their territory. I would choose to take offense and reveal myself as Legion. A brawl would break out, and if I held back enough, a hero or three was bound to show up to take me on. Then it was a simply matter of allowing myself to be captured without making it look like I was faking the battle, and I would be exactly where I wanted to be.

“Hey, tubby!” called a voice from behind me, and I couldn’t help a grin. “You’re in Buff Boy territory! Either pay up or go to the gym!” I heard some snickering at what the gang members who had surrounded me no doubt thought was a hilarious gag.

Right on time.

1.2. Scenes 18-20

Scene 18 – October 21st
Interior Hideout, Morning
Maxwell Copperfield

I yawned as I stepped out of the shower, already clad in the illusion of my true appearance, but not bothering to wear my suit. After all, I wasn’t planning on going anywhere as the Magnificent Maxwell, today. Well, I’m always magnificent, but I wasn’t going to be Magnificent. It was just another day of internet research, along with the usual daily routine.

After my successful theft of Dallas’s thesis, I had read through it to learn where Merlin’s introductory guide had been when the thesis was written in 1964. I had hoped that I would be able to take a brief jaunt to wherever it was and steal it immediately, but had run into a problem.

The book had been in storage in a London museum – the fools had no idea what they had had – but when I took a moment to check that museum’s files, I discovered that it had been transferred to a different branch of the museum for display in 1971. Then in 1976 it was put back into storage, until 1984 when it was gifted to a different museum…

It was tricky enough to track it, given how few of the museums kept their records online, that I completely understood why it had gotten Dallas his thesis. I had spent the last two months tracking the damn thing, and was still only up to 2009!

The latest problem that had risen in my tracking was that the book, along with a number of other artifacts, had wound up back in London in what was apparently the site of the original Camelot, for a cultural heritage festival or some such thing. The festival had been attacked by a magical supervillain and defended by a magical superhero and, with all the magic flying about, most of the relics had somehow managed to fall into the foundation stones of Camelot!

The hero had been very apologetic, of course, but it had been a huge blunder – particularly since she had been unable to recover the items from the stones. Apparently there had been a preexisting enchantment which had probably been laid by Merlin to use the stones as storage, and it was that enchantment which had malfunctioned from the various energies being thrown around. She said that the extradimensional space had been thoroughly locked to her, and there was no way to bring them out.

Well, maybe Murphy Fox was so easily stymied, but extra-dimensional pockets were exactly my area of expertise. I was confident that I would have no trouble extracting the book when I got my hands on the right stone.

The trouble was, no one had made note of which relic had fallen into which stone. From one book, I suddenly had to track 14 large stones, each of which was displayed in different museums across the globe. And when I figured out where they were, I would have to check each one for its contents!
Supervillainy didn’t pay enough for this, I mused as I picked up a phone to dial today’s museum, and put on a British accent. “Hello, Carnegie History Museum? This is Wynne Jones, from the British Museum. No, the one in Denver. I’m calling about an item that our museum donated to yours in 2009, a stone from the foundations of Camelot…”

Scene 19 – October 21st
Exterior Restaurant, Noon
Maxwell Copperfield

I took a break from calling museums and occasionally hacking databases around lunchtime to, well, get lunch. I had forgotten to go grocery shopping last week and a man cannot live on cereal alone, so I had to venture into the world and acquire food.

I picked a rather nice place downtown that Emilia had introduced me to last year – some truly excellent steak, although the potatoes I had ordered with it today weren’t the best. I spent a pleasant lunch flirting with the corporate-looking woman eating a solitary lunch of her own at the table next to me, and had just asked for the check and a doggie bag when an acquaintance showed up.

“Maxwell Copperfield,” said the hero Starling, as he stared down at me with disdain. “What are you doing here?”

Starling

I raised an eyebrow at the man. “Lunch,” I told him.

He rolled his eyes. “I can see that. Why?”

“…I need to eat, Brant,” I reminded him. “Magic can do a lot of things, but I still need food.”

He glared, leaning over the table at me. I refused to give him the satisfaction of leaning back. “I’m watching you, Copperfield. Keep your nose out of trouble. Don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

I opened my mouth to respond, but he was already walking away, swirling his green cape around him as though he looked cool doing it. The man absolutely had to have the last word. “Asshole,” I muttered to myself.

“Sorry about him,” apologized his partner for the day, Referee. She was the youngest of the Journeymen, and in my opinion the most powerful. She emitted an magical aura around her that averaged out people’s abilities, putting everyone on an fair footing. The weak became stronger, the fast became slower… even the effects of chance were neutralized, supposedly. Everyone was equal in whatever contest took place in her aura, whether it be a fight or a game of football. All that remained was skill. “He’s in a bad mood because Legion isn’t in custody yet.”

I blinked in surprise. “Legion is in town?” She nodded. “How many?”

“Three,” she told me. “Apparently she arrived last night, a few hours before my flight touched down. Canaveral had a run-in with her so we know that she’s only here to talk to people, but…” she sighed. “I’m worried that he’ll want me along next time she shows up. He didn’t have much success against her, so…”

Referee was in high demand for the effects of her aura, I knew – along with civilians who wanted her overseeing tournaments and the like, every MLED director in the country wanted her to help with whatever overpowered menace was threatening their city that day. With her along, anyone was able to take on threats like Legion or Graviton, while without her there were only a few who could do so and have any hope of succeeding.

“How can they justify having you on patrol with her out there?” I asked.

The kid shrugged. “Danger ratings don’t really apply to me,” she pointed out. “Legion isn’t any more or less dangerous to me than anyone else, so…”

“Point.” I glanced at where Starling was sulking a little ways down the street, signing an autograph for someone. “Do you know why he confronted me? Usually he just pretends I don’t exist. Even when we’re out with friends, actually. Very rude.” I idly opened up a pocket and snatched the ink out from the pen he was using for the autograph, and the hero muttered as it stopped writing in the middle of his signature.

“We’re supposed to give you a message,” Referee told me. “Apparently one of the things that Legion is in town for is to talk to you, specifically.”

I turned my attention away from Starling. “What? Why would she want to talk to me?”

The junior heroine shrugged. “I wasn’t told the reason – all I know is that she’s looking for you.”

“Hmm.” No one really understood what Legion was up to or what her motives were – she had been a mystery since she appeared. “Well, I’ll keep an eye out. Thanks for the warning, Molly.”

“Hey!” She jabbed me in the shoulder. “It’s Referee when I’m in costume, Max.”

I smirked at her. “Well then, it’s Magnificent to you.”

“You’re not in costume-” she began, but stopped when I snapped my fingers and instantly donned my suit. “Touche.”

Scene 20 – October 21st
Interior Hideout, Early Evening
Maxwell Copperfield

I was grateful for Referee’s warning, but to be honest, I didn’t change my plans at all. It wasn’t as though Legion could do any harm to me, after all – few could, when I could dump anyone without magical resistance into a pocket dimension and dispose of them however I chose. Legion, to the best of my knowledge, had nothing to do with magic whatsoever, so there was no reason she would have any magical resilience.

I saw no reason to fear the woman – however many of her there were, I could dump up to three tons into my pocket dimensions. And yes, the various tools and tricks I currently kept in them took up probably half a ton – I kept a lot on hand, just in case – but that was still two and a half tons of space if I needed it. If she showed up, I’d simply drop her into a pocket dimension and deal with her later.

So after lunch, I returned to my hideout and continued my work. Not the drudgery of tracking stones through museums – that I left relegated to the morning. No, the afternoons were reserved for my real work, my passion, my one true love – magic.

It was a constant struggle to advance my magical knowledge and skill. Oh, it was a struggle I was up to, yes, but magic was so esoteric and complex that it was extraordinarily difficult and time-consuming to expand your knowledge at all. Every type of magic seemed to differ from every other kind – the one illusion spell I had managed to learn required a completely different mindset than my dimensional pockets did. Everyone who used magic, whether magician, wizard, or conjurer, had a particular type of magic that they excelled at, something which came naturally to them. When they sought to learn something new, it was far more difficult. But the closer it was to something they had already mastered – or better yet, to their particular specialty – the easier it was. That was why, as I sought to expand my magical repertoire, I was beginning with a modification of the dimensional pockets I had, at this point, mastered.

Typically, when I opened a pocket and dumped something in, it lost all kinetic energy – no matter how fast it had been going, the energy was lost when I reopened its pocket and deposited it back into the world. I had high hopes that I could do the opposite as well – release things from their extra-dimensional storage with more speed. That alone would vastly increase my prowess, but even more than that, it could be my gateway from dimensional manipulation into kinetic manipulation, and from kinetic energy it should be a short step into thermal energy, sound energy, and more…

But first, I had to crack the secret of adding kinetic energy back.

I had tried a number of modifications to my mental state as I cast, most of them simply causing the spell to fail. One, that I had filed under ‘never try this again,’ had apparently released the matter that I had dumped from its pocket as energy instead – a complete matter-to-energy conversion. It had been an enormous explosion, which I only barely managed to contain by pocketing all the air in my test chamber – the shockwave had been unable to travel, and while the incredible heat had scorched the walls, they were made from sturdy enough stuff that it had survived. It was a good thing that I was doing my experimentation on such small objects, too – individual granules of flour, typically.

My current line of experimentation was based on that failure, though – if I could release the things I pocketed as energy instead of matter, perhaps I could release only some of it. Certainly, I could release only a part of an object – that had been easy. But releasing most of it normally while selecting only a few atoms to convert to energy, and attempting to limit it to kinetic energy? That was more of a mental balancing act.

Part of the reason that magical experimentation is so slow is that when you’re creating a new spell, it takes a long time to fix it in your mind. The ways you have to bend your thinking to cast magic at all are as twisted as a hose after a winter in the garage, but it becomes easy with practice. Trying to tie your mind in an entirely new knot? You’re lucky if you can make more than one attempt an hour, between the lengthy meditation and the struggle to figure out what went wrong in the previous experiment.

All of that to say that I made only a few attempts that afternoon. My latest failure had nearly worked, but the energy had come out as thermal rather than kinetic, causing a brief spark as the single grain of flour burst into flame and then burned out. As it was nearly dinnertime, I was about ready to call it a day, when a voice came from behind me.

“Ah, Max,” it said, in a pleasant soprano. “So good to see you.”

I whirled on the intruder who had dared to enter into my hideout. “Who the hell are you?” I demanded, producing one of the guns that the woman from Ambrosia had lost to me last week. I usually didn’t keep guns, returning them to the NVPD for the bounty on criminals’ guns that they paid, but I hadn’t had a chance to bring the latest batch over yet.

The intruder, a woman in green who was built like an amazon, ignored my question. “Silly of you not to move after last week, but I suppose you never were a smart one.” She smiled at me. “And don’t bother trying to drop me into your hammerspace,” she warned me as I tried to do just that without success. “I ate a tree or two before I came in – I’m a little beyond your weight limit right now.”

I blanched. “Legion.”

“The one and only,” she said with a smirk, giving a brief bow. “…well, I suppose that’s not quite accurate.” The villain laughed. “But you have no need to worry, Max. I’m not here to fight – in fact…” She grinned fiendishly at me again. “I’m here to help.”

1.2. Scene 17

Scene 17 – October 22nd
Interior Restaurant, Early Evening
Holly Koval

I ended up continuing to shop with Kaufman – they had a decent chunk of budget left, and I took it upon myself to help them get the best deals. Plus, they had terrible taste in plaid patterns, and someone had to save them from their own fashion sense. It’s my duty as a hero, I joked when they tried to decline the offer.

After finishing a round of the thrift shops in the waterfront district, we decided to get dinner together at the Shrieking Eel, a cheap seafood place that was a lot better than its name suggested. Somehow, the topic of conversation – which had gone surprisingly smoothly after its initial awkward start – had returned to magic.

“Say, since you’re probably the best magician I actually know,” Kaufman asked as the plate of salmon we were going to share arrived, “do you mind explaining some things? I don’t know much about magic myself, so I’m a little confused about… most of it.”

“Of course!” I said happily. I loved talking about magic – it was my chief passion in life. Sure, heroism was important too, and art was great, but if I was honest with yourself, magic was what I really got up in the morning for. “Just tell me if I start to get too long-winded – I know most people aren’t as into it as I am.”

“I’ll stop you if you forget to breath,” they assured me, and I chuckled. “I guess my first question is… how exactly does it work?”

“Quite well, thank you.”

“No no, I mean how does it actually work? Like, even on a basic level, are you manipulating gravitons or plucking on fundamental strings or what?”

I nodded understandingly. “I know what you mean, Quinn, and I’m sorry to tell you that no one really knows. Magic is a mystery – if it wasn’t, we probably wouldn’t call it magic anymore. We’d call it… I don’t know… thaumaturgy, probably. Finding the thaum, a fundamental particle of magic, is the life’s work of a hell of a lot of magicians, including Arthur Peregrine himself, but no one has ever been able to.

“The most commonly accepted theory is that… well, have you heard about string theory? Lots of tiny dimensions beyond the three spacial dimensions and one for time?”

“Yeah,” they confirmed.

“Well, the theory is that magic somehow taps into those dimensions. Whether they’re so small that they’re impossible to notice or they’re so large that they’re impossible to notice, it’s possible, by arranging your mind right, to pull energy from them. Or use them to manipulate your surroundings. Like a two-dimensional creature picking up a pair of scissors and rearranging their paper however they want.”

Kaufman seems to consider this for a moment. “I may not be a physicist,” they admitted, “but I don’t think that actually makes much sense.”

“Agreed,” I said with a nod. “But that’s the most common theory.”

“What’s yours?”

“I think it’s a bit more fundamental than that.”

“More fundamental that string theory? Don’t tell the string theorists that,” they joked.

I gave them a playful shove, and stole the piece of salmon that they had been going for. “Har har. No, really. I think there’s some kind of fundamental law of the universe that makes it respond to thoughts, as long as they’re the right ones.”

“Why would that be?”

“Well, you’ve heard about Arthur Peregrine’s proof of the existence of the soul, right?” I asked.

“I don’t think I’m subscribed to that periodical. Tell me?”

“This was 1962. He was able to prove that soul energy existed, on a third level of reality. It’s like…” I paused to gesture, arranging my mind to create an image hovering in midair. “Imagine that this sheet is the universe.”

Kaufman nodded. “Okay. Is this like the sheet that gravity distorts?”

“Sort of. This sheet is an empty universe,” I clarified. “No particles, no energy. Now…” With a thought, a few places on the sheet were pulled downward and twisted a little. “These are particles – they distort the universe around them, which affects nearby particles.”

“I’m with you so far.”

“Imagine an arrangement of these particles which warped space in a way that created a similar, self-sustaining warp – a new particle, where one hadn’t been before.”

“Don’t the laws of thermodynamics object to that?” they asked.

I shrugged. “It’s not actually new matter or energy – it just looks like it. Let me show you.” I set my illusory teaching aid so that the original particles were in a circle, all pulling the sheet down – in the middle, it rose up above the normal level of the sheet. “You see, particles are on a level below spacetime, in this metaphor. But the energy that makes up the soul lies above.

Kaufman hummed to themself as they digested the idea. “So certain arrangements of particles – which, I assume, include brains?” I nodded in confirmation, and they continued, “will create soul energy. And I’m guessing that soul energy can similarly interact to affect real particles?”

“Essentially,” I agreed. “It’s a lot more complicated than that, really, but you’ve basically got it. Everyone has soul energy naturally, but magical training involves training your brain to generate more or it, as well as to get more control over it. It’s been accepted magical theory for centuries that souls were real, but because they’re on a different level of reality, it was difficult to prove.”

“How did he do it?”

“I’d need a lot more than one dinner to get you to the level you’d need to be to understand that,” I said apologetically.

“Is that an invitation?” they asked, and I found yourself blushing, especially as they continued, “because you’re a great teacher, and I’d love to keep learning about this stuff.”

“Um,” I stammered, having never been as thankful for the illusions that constantly replaced my actual appearance as I was then – it made hiding my red cheeks easy. “Maybe? Like I said, I’m very busy.”

“Of course,” they said, accepting my non-answer easily. “That all makes sense to me, I have to say. Although of course I don’t really know anything about magic.” Kaufman – no, Quinn, I decided – was a lifesaver, having effortlessly steered the conversation back to magic. “I do have another question, though.”

“Shoot,” I said, still trying to get my heartrate back under control.

“Canaveral and I met the Magnificent Maxwell last week.”

“He mentioned something of the sort.”

“Well,” Quinn continued, “when he did magic, he did it by snapping his fingers, or waving his arm. But when I’ve seen you do it, you kind of…” they tried to brush their fingers together, presumably trying to replicate one of the gestures I used for my own magic and failing. “…it’s different, is the point,” they said, giving up trying to copy me.

“Well, we’re different people,” I agreed.

They groaned and leaned forward, resting their forehead on the table. I resisted the urge to run my fingers through through their hair as they complained, “Holly, come on!”

“It’s the real answer though!” I protested. “Look, souls are created by brains, which are unique, or the next best thing to it – only a few people can duplicate them flawlessly. That means that souls are unique too. So the methods of manipulating yourself to cause your soul to manipulate the world to do magic will vary from person to person!”

“Is that how Canaveral does it without even a gesture?”

“What do you mean?”

“Ah, never mind.” Quinn sat back up. “So wait, how much do souls have to do with consciousness?”

“Oh, you want consciousness,” I said dismissively. “That’s psionic territory, that’s completely different. Well, mostly,” I admitted after a moment,

They rubbed their forehead. “I feel like I’ve stumbled into a vast new world that makes absolutely no sense, even though I know all the words. Is this how people feel when I talk about biology?”

“Probably.” We shared a laugh. “Any other questions?”

“Well…” They took a moment to pay for their half of the meal, and I do the same. “You mentioned that you’re not making magical illusions, right? What are you doing, if it’s not an illusion?”

I dismissed my teaching aide as we rose and begin meandering. “This is the bit where magic and psionics overlap,” I told them. “Imagine a dog.”

“Okay.”

“What kind is it?”

“Golden retriever.”

I nodded. “I was thinking of a beagle, myself.”

“Good choice, but what does that have to do with…?”

“The point is, that we both had the same prompt – a dog,” I said, “but we were thinking of different kinds of dog. Which is the weakness of an illusion.”

“I think I’m missing something here.”

“See, an illusion isn’t real,” I explained.

“Well I get that, but…”

“It’s not even interacting with particles. Light and sound? They go right through.”

“Hold on,” Quinn protested, “how do you see it? Does it make its own photons?”

I shook my head. “Remember how I said this was the overlap with psionics? Illusions are just slapped down on the psychic landscape.”

“…I’m missing something again.”

“Alright, imagine that we both look at that telephone pole there,” I said.

“Why do I have to imagine that instead of actually looking?” they asked.

I ignored their meaningless interjection. “We both look at it and think telephone pole. Our thoughts leave pressure on the psychic landscape – which is basically just the residue of everything everyone has ever thought about something – so now that telephone pole has a slightly stronger impression.”

“I think I’m with you,” Quinn said with a smirk.

“Most thoughts just blur out, but the ones that people keep having merge and become stronger,” I said. “That’s how things like tulpas and religions get started – lots of people all thinking the same thing. That’s how even blind psychics can get around – they can sense that something is thought of as a telephone pole, even without seeing it. Hell, it’s how a person can just seem like a Michael or a John or whatever. Even without being probably sensitive, most people can pick up on a strong enough psychic impression.”

“So an illusion…”

“There’s no shortcuts, with psionics,” I told them. “If you want to make lasting a psychic impression, it takes a lot of thought, a lot of people, or both. But magic can give you that shortcut. Just punch a strong enough impression of a dog somewhere, and people will actually see that dog – their brain picks up on the dog in the psychic landscape and will add one into your vision even though your eyes don’t see anything.”

“Ah!” they said in realization. “But I see a golden retriever, and you see a beagle!”

“Exactly!” I said approvingly, clapping them on the shoulder. “A real dog would have some golden retriever in its impression too, or whatever its breed is. And its behavior, and so on. Your brain will fill in anything that’s not there, yes, but each brain is different, so everyone will see those parts of an illusion differently. Remember Max? What did he look like?”

“Handsome. Short brown hair, sharp cheekbones. Strong jawline.”

I nodded. “Probably not.”

“No?”

“No,” I said again. “Because I see him with curly black hair down to his shoulders and bright green eyes.”

“He wears an illusion?” they asked.

“Yeah, it’s just an impression of a handsome man,” I explained. “Whatever you think of as handsome is what you’ll see.”

Quinn thought about this for a while as we continued walking together. “Illusions sound pretty easy to see through, if you just have a partner,” they said after a while.

“Harder than you think,” I told them. “After all, how often do you compare what you think you see with other people?”

“Fair point.”

“But yeah, that’s a definite weakness. You can put more into your impression if you want to make them more consistent – say, specify the dog as being a golden retriever, and then I wouldn’t see a beagle. But the more details you give to the mental construct yourself, the more likely it will be inconsistent with what the viewers think, and then it’ll act in obviously fake ways. Plus, the more detail you use the more difficult it is.”

“I understand, mostly,” Quinn decided. “And what do you do, instead?”

“One of two methods, both of which are the hard way,” I complained. “One is that I make a mental construct and place it into the actual world as soul energy, not into the psychic landscape. It actually does affect reality as it’s supposed to – at least, for the interactions that I’ve managed to model properly, which is just photons and sound waves for now – but people’s brains don’t cover for imperfections like with illusions, so I need to really really understand how everything works in order to make it realistic. That’s what I have to do for anything that’s going to last when I’m not paying attention to it.”

“And the other?”

“I manually control whatever photons or sound waves I’m working with,” I said. “Also immensely complicated – even more so, if I’m doing anything that needs to be realistic. On the other hand, without the start-up time of creating the mental construct, it’s way faster. That way is good for lasers and shock waves and other offensive uses.”

“I can’t even imagine how much concentration and effort it must take to control individual photons like that,” Quinn said, awed. “How on earth do you do it?”

I gave them a proud smile. “I’m very good.”

1.2. Scenes 15-16

Scene 15 – October 21st
Interior Townhouse, Early Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

“…and after I was done crying, I walked back home and went to bed,” I said, wrapping up the tale of what had happened while my dad was out last night. “You weren’t home just yet, I don’t think, but both Legion and Canaveral were gone when I got back here.”

Dad was silent for a bit as he digested this. “I’m not exactly happy that such a dangerous villain was right outside our house,” he said eventually. “It doesn’t seem like there was anything you could do about that, though, and you did everything you could – more than you should have maybe, but you did great.”

I stared in surprise.

“What?” he asked. “Did you think I was going to be mad at you?”

“Well… you seemed upset about the gun thing,” I ventured.

He shook his head. “I wasn’t angry that you were in danger. Worried, sure, but if you’re considering being a hero, then you’re going to be in danger a lot, and that’s just something I need to get used to. I was upset because it seemed like you hadn’t noticed the danger, which is another thing entirely.”

Dad tapped his fingers impatiently for a moment. “I’m certain there’s a quote that’s applicable here, but for the life of me I can’t think of it,” he complained. “The point I’m trying to make, though, is that I don’t want you to rush into danger without being aware of it. That’s how you get hurt. And I don’t want you to forget when you are in danger. But what you did last night?” He took my hand and squeezed it encouragingly. “You knew that you were in danger, but you didn’t fall apart until afterwards. And then, when the danger wasn’t actually over, you held together until it was.

“I admit that I probably don’t know much about what it takes to be a hero, but I would think that being able to put things aside when you have to is important.”

I blinked at him. “Why I did think you didn’t want me to be a hero?”

“I have no idea, kid,” he said with a chuckle. “I would love for you to be a hero. I think you would do amazing. And I don’t want you to give up on that just because you don’t think you can – if you really don’t want to, that’s one thing, but…”

I sighed. “I honestly don’t know at this point, Dad. That fight was…” I drummed my fingers on the table beneath his hand, and he released me. “Exhilarating,” I finally said. “I know that probably sounds weird, but…”

“Not at all, a lot of people think adrenaline feels great.”

I ignored him. “I enjoyed it as I was doing it. But I was so useless. All I did was get in the way.”

“You’ll be trained,” Dad said, trying to comfort me.

“Training? What good will that do when my powers couldn’t do anything? I couldn’t protect myself, I couldn’t help Canaveral, all I could do was…” I sighed, looking away. “All I could do was run away.”

“Quinn. Kiddo.” Dad gently took my chin and turned my head so he could look into my eyes. “You’re letting your anxieties get the better of you,” he told me, seriously. “You’re a beginner at the hero thing – less than that, you haven’t even really started. You can’t compare yourself to people who’ve been doing this five, ten years, and expect to match up perfectly.”

“But I’ll have to, no one is going to slow down to match me -”

“How long have you been training to be a doctor?”

I blinked. “A little over three years, I guess?”

“Does that match up to actual doctors?”

“Of course not, they have another five years of schooling over me, not to mention years of residency before they’re proper doctors on their own-”

“Would you expect yourself to match up to a doctor, then?”

“Well, no, not until I’m through with school-”

“So why are you comparing yourself to heroes when you haven’t even had six months of training?”

I closed my eyes and leaned forward, resting my head on the table. “I guess you’re right.”

“I usually am, kiddo,” Dad said, and even though I wasn’t looking at him I could hear the smile in his voice. “And here’s another secret for you – if someone was injured, and the only other person to help them was some random guy without even your three years of premed, which do you think they would want to help them?”

“…me.”

“There you are then.”

I raised my head. “Maybe it’s just… I feel like I’d be throwing my medical career away, if I went into hero work. It’s not exactly a part-time job, once you’re through the Journeymen. It feels like I’d be losing the progress I’ve made towards one long and difficult career just to start all over in another.”

Dad patted me on the shoulder. “You’d be helping people either way, and either way I’ll be proud of you. And Quinn…” he paused, as though unsure he should say what came next. “Your mother would be too.”

Scene 16 – October 22nd
Interior Thrift Shop, Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

Instead of going home with Dad after school the next day, I decided to head over to the Waterfront district – I had some shopping that I wanted to do. While I still hadn’t made a decision about being a hero, I definitely didn’t want to stop going out and about as Newton – if nothing else, it made commutes much easier. And if I was going to go out in costume and plaid and get it destroyed as I had last night, I was going to need more shirts.

I mean, I wasn’t exactly planning on getting into more fights, but apparently wearing a costume made them inevitable – I was two for two so far. As such, I was out to find all the cheap flannel I could get in the thrift stores that filled the area.

It was going pretty well when I spotted a familiar-looking face – the blonde girl from the Compound, the one who had introduced herself as Loki’s secret identity. She was browsing a little farther down the aisle, with some finds of her own in a bag. What had her name been? Hollis? Sally? No, Holly!

“Hey, Holly!” I called, walking toward her.

She turned to face me, blinking in surprise. “Quinn?”

“It’s nice to see you again,” I said with a smile. “I didn’t expect to run into you!”

Holly smiled back, “It’s good to see you too,” she said, and glanced down at the bag I was holding. “Wow, that’s a lot of flannel.”

I shrugged. “One of mine got kind of destroyed by, well,” I took a moment to peer around with ESP to make sure no one was paying us any attention – it didn’t seem like it. “By Legion – the bossman probably mentioned what happened.”

“Only briefly. Are you alright?”

“Fine,” I assured her. “Tore through the shirt, but I think my suit must be tougher than it looks. I’ve got nothing worse than bruises.”

“That’s a relief.” Her eyes flickered up and down me for a moment. “Heh. I like your shirt.”

I glanced down to see what I had pulled out of my dresser today – it was the shirt I had found the same night as the PA4, the Mr. Mrs. Dr. shirt that had belonged to my mother. “Thanks! Seems fitting, you know? Anyway, I figure if I’m going to be wearing plaid shirts over my costume, I should probably have some extras. What are you looking for?”

She shrugged. “Nothing in particular, really, I just enjoy looking for deals, you know? I like browsing for stuff and then finding the same stuff, or similar, for less in other places.”

“I see.” I paused, then asked, “do you know if Legion’s been caught yet?”

She shook her head. “Not yet. She hasn’t been seen since that night, actually – the conversation you had with her after retreated from the battle was the last reported sighting.”

We stood there awkwardly for a moment, neither of us seeming to be quite sure where to take the conversation, before she shifted a little and spoke again. “You said the shirt was fitting – do you want to be a doctor, then?” I nodded. “What kind? Medical, scientific, magical?”

“Medical. I’m planning on specializing in metahuman medicine – right now it’s just bio, of course. What about you, are you in college?”

“Yeah, I’m a senior at UNV.”

“Oh hey, me too!” I offered a high five, which she returned.

“Nice! I’d say it’s weird we’ve never run into each other, but it’s a big campus and we’re not exactly in the same department.”

“I think we might have been in the same art history course sophomore year, actually,” I said, trying to think. “Big circular hall with a giant holoprojector in the middle?”

“Maybe,” she said thoughtfully. “I definitely took an art history course in that room – Pardee Hall, right? But it had so many people that I really have no clue.”

“Hm. Anyway, I think I interrupted you – what were you saying?”

“You’re good,” Holly assured me. “I was just saying that we’re in completely different departments – you’re bio, I’m magical studies and art.”

“Oh, you’re an artist too?” I asked. “What kind? I do a lot of sketching, myself.”

“Sculpture, mostly, although I dabble in all sorts. It helps with the…” she made a gesture which my eyes and ESP both insisted wasn’t possible – her fingers seemed to pass through each other, and she suddenly had too many of them, and also too few, and even though it took less than a second my head was starting to ache. When she was done blatantly breaking the laws of physics with one hand, she was holding a rose.

I tried to ignore the headache, and reached out. “May I?” She nodded, so I took the rose. I felt nothing, but it moved as though I was actually holding it. When I pressed my fingers together, it actually seemed to be depressing my flesh as though there was actually a stem in the way, even though I could feel that there wasn’t.

It was very, very cool, even if it wasn’t helping my headache to have my senses arguing about the truth.

“I don’t actually use illusions, I manually control photons and sound waves,” she told me, “so I need to understand what makes art realistic. All my work is in hyper-realistic styles to help me get that understanding, even though I’d prefer to work in a more cartoony style.” She sighed. “It would nice to be able to make a portrait in less than 20 hours, you know?”

I nodded. “I kind of get what you mean. I’d like to draw more realistically, myself, but I rarely have time for more than cartoony sketches between all my classes. Hell, I have to do most of that in class.”

“I’d love to take a look sometime, if you don’t mind,” Holly offered. “I can probably give you advice on making your drawings a little more realistic.”

“Would you? That would be great. Art classes just don’t fit into my schedule anymore.”

“Ugh, scheduling is the worst,” she complained. “Magical studies is easy, but like I said, hyper-realism is so time-consuming. Not to mention my, ah, part-time job, and my independent magical research. And just imagine trying to schedule dungeons and dragons around all of that!”

“How do you find time to sleep?” I asked. “Really, I’m genuinely curious.”

“I don’t,” she deadpanned, “I just cover my eye-bags with magic. Who needs makeup?”

We laughed. After a moment, though, I mentally backtracked. “Hold on, did you say that magical studies is easy? I heard that was one of the hardest majors?”

She shrugged. “Eh. It’s more frustrating than hard. So many mages hoarded – and still hoard – magical lore that there’s just not enough information out there. And there’s no practical magic at all, which is part of my frustration. I mean, how can you call yourself a magician without actually being able to use magic?”

“Or at least wearing a top hat.”

1.2. Scenes 13-14

Scene 13 – October 20th
Exterior Vivaldi Park, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

“I’ve got to tell you, Legion, I’m a little fed up with this right now,” I said without turning around, instead tracking her with ESP as she approached. “I mean, I literally just ran into you a second ago, and here you are again!”

“Yes, I know,” she said. This Legion’s voice was a little deeper than the one Canaveral and I had just been fighting. She was taller and more broadly built, too – I supposed that there was a limit to how far she could compress the mass of the tree she had just been pretending to be. “She was meant to be speaking to – well, the important thing is that the two of us have swapped roles in this visit to your lovely city.”

“How did you do that?” I asked, trying to keep her talking and not attacking. “I thought you didn’t have a hivemind. Did she take a moment to give you a ring?”

“We don’t, and no – phones are too easy to trace. But we can communicate information by merging our nervous systems, so…” A bird sprouted from her finger and flew around me, then returned to her hand and was reabsorbed. “A little bird told me.”

“…and the other one went to your third incarnation.”

She was close enough now that even with my ESP not being incredibly precise I was able to feel her tilt her head a little in acknowledgment. “Exactly – although I don’t know what she was told.”

I turned to look at her. “You seem chattier than the green one. A little less murdery.” Her face was a little different too, I though – or maybe it was just that her hair was a little shorter, it was hard to tell.

Legion shrugged. “We’re all a little different,” she said. “Our powers let us perfectly replicate any biological structure that we’ve absorbed, yes, but they’re a little less precise when we’re following a template that we haven’t absorbed – although at least we can do it more than once.”

“Your brain,” I realized.

The shapeshifter nodded. “Each time we create a duplicate, the brain is a little different. Not much, but enough – particularly as we immediately begin having different experiences. We call it drift, and we try to keep the number of duplications since the original down – for example, I’m a third generation, so I won’t be duplicating myself at all unless absolutely necessary. I suppose the me you met may have drifted a little more aggressive, and perhaps I drifted a little less so.”

“Since you’re feeling so talkative, why are you here?”

“I drifted less aggressive, not more naive,” she said with a chuckle. “I’m hear to talk to someone – so is she, actually – but I’m not about to tell you who, or about what.” The woman eyed me. “Unless… no, best to be sure. I’ll do it another way.”

“…sure about what?”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll just say this. That suit you’re wearing? It granted you your powers, didn’t it?”
“How did you-”

“Not important. What is important is that my boss would be very interested in getting their hands on it. They never thought that it worked at all. I would consider very carefully who you tell about it, and try to stay out of the public eye.”

She gave me a surprisingly gentle smile. “And the best way to keep away from publicity is to not become a hero. Do something else with your life. Something safer.” The shapeshifter patted me on the shoulder, and I tried not to tense up to much. “Good luck, Newton. I truly wish you well.”

She walked back to where she had been hiding as a tree and extended a hand. Her arm stretched and bent and warped until the tree stood there once more and she separated from it, a good foot shorter and considerably slimmer as well. She then spread both arms and they extended into wings, and with one giant flap she was in the air and gone.

“We now return you to your regularly scheduled nervous breakdown,” I muttered, pulling off my mask and staring it. “…what the hell was that all about?”

Scene 14 – October 20th
Exterior Townhouse, Evening
Abraham Armstrong

“Alright, say your piece,” I spat at the shapeshifter. “What is it?”

“Ah ah ah,” Legion said, waggling a finger at me. “Not until we’re in a more secure location than, well…” she gestured to the townhouses around her. “And besides, I’m sure you have an earpiece, don’t you?”

I gestured to my uncostumed state. “Sure don’t. I was kind of in the middle of something when you showed up.”

Legion smiled – at least, she showed teeth. “Oh I see! You’re all alone then, aren’t you? You just sent away your only help. No back-up, no costume… poor little lost hero…”

“If you have something to say, then say it, before I go back to ripping you to shreds,” I growled. “I’m not in the mood for banter right now. You’ve kind of ruined what was supposed to be a nice night.”

“Oh? I didn’t interrupt anything private, did I?”

“I’m going to to give you until a count of ten. One…”

She rolled her eyes. “Just give me your assurance that you won’t put this little chat in your report, and I’ll say what I have to say.”

“Then give me a reason not to. Five…”

Legion produced a badge that read Ambrosia Co. “Is this good enough?”

“…talk.” I had had no idea she was part of Ambrosia. This… could explain a lot about her unpredictable activities.

She reabsorbed the badge and began examining her nails, as though they could be anything less than perfect given her shapeshifting abilities. “Madam Thornhill is a trifle annoyed with your recent drug bust,” she informed me. “She had plans for that brawn.”

I crossed my arms. “And? It’s my job. A job your company is responsible for me having, by the way.”

“Oh, she’s not annoyed at you,” Legion assured me. “As you say, it’s your job. No, her ire is directed at a friend of yours. One Maxwell Copperfield.”

My blood froze. “You’re here for Max,” I heard myself say, my voice thick with sudden worry.

“Oh yes. He’s had dealings with our company in the past, you see, and Thornhill isn’t happy that he decided to go against us.”

“What are you going to do to him.”

“Me? Nothing,” Legion chuckled. “And no, I don’t mean that a different me is going to kill him. I just want to talk to the man. He’s being given a second chance, you see.” She paused for a moment, but I said nothing. “It won’t even be a hardship for him – I understand that he’s already chosen his next target, and it’s exactly what we would have had him steal. All we want is to borrow it, a little.”

“So what are you doing here,” I stressed.

“Here? Nothing, anymore – I’ve passed that task on to a different me. I just need to know Max’s location,” Legion said. “After all, he gave away his hideout’s rough location to you a few days ago – he’s bound to have moved by now.”

“…I…” I rubbed my temples. Really. “What makes you think I’ll tell you?” I finally asked.

She shifted her hand into the badge again. “You still have two favors left, Abraham Armstrong,” she said. “…come now, surely you knew this was coming eventually?”

“So what, just tell you where you can find him, and, I assume, don’t stop you from doing so?”

“Precisely.”

I thought about it. It was certainly simpler than the last favor I had done for the Ambrosia Company. Less dangerous, too. And, I hoped, maybe less evil? …on the other hand, I had thought that I was rescuing someone, back then. Ambrosia had a way of making things more complicated – they told you only what you needed to know, and more than that, only what would be palatable to you. But, as I had learned from that favor, there was always more beneath the surface. What was Max planning on going after, and what would be the result of Ambrosia borrowing it?

“Fine, I’ll tell you,” I said after a few minutes as she patiently waited. “But you have to tell me what you intend on borrowing from Max.”

She shrugged. “There’s no harm in it, I suppose. He’s after an instructional book written by Merlin. Mr. Mercer would also very much like to see that book, which I don’t think will come as a surprise to you. So…”

“…fine. He’ll still be in his building on the docks,” I told her. “The man’s too lazy to move.”

“…he has magical powers that can literally pack up everything he owns in the snap.”

“And he won’t have used them,” I assured her. “He gets hyperfocused on things and forgets about everything else, unless something drags him out of his tunnel vision – and he doesn’t have anyone to do that for him right now.”

Legion facepalmed. “That’s what I get for assuming the best of people.” She turned to go.

“Wait,” I called before I could stop myself. “Why did you waste one of my favors on something so simple?”

She gave me a smile over her shoulder. “One good turn deserves another. You helped save my life, Canaveral – the least I can do is help you get out from under Ambrosia’s thumb.” Then she was gone in a flurry of black wings, rising up and away as a flock of crows.

I stared. When – how – what?

1.2. Scenes 11-12

Scene 11 – October 20th
Exterior Townhouse, Evening
Quinn Kaufman

“Well, this is my stop,” I told Canaveral. “Thanks for escorting me home.”

“Don’t mention it,” he told me. “Seriously – don’t. Director Shepard would have preferred me to stay hot on Legion’s heels.” He shrugged. “She was gone anyway, and with the kind of luck you apparently have…”

I chuckled. “Yeah, I’m half surprised she isn’t waiting for us here.”

“Hey – don’t jinx it!” We share a laugh. “Did tonight help you come to a decision, at least?”

“It…” I sighed. “Not really. This crisis kind of interrupted my thinking, if you know what I mean.”

“I think I do. Don’t feel bad about it.”

“Why would I feel bad about it?”

“Well, I feel kind of bad about it, so…” We laugh again. “If you’d like to come hang out on a night that we’re not trying to track down an unpredictable shapeshifter, give me another call. I’ll let you know if we’re available.”

“I will.” I turned to enter the townhouse my father and I shared and started digging in my bag for my keys – I had foolishly left them in my pocket when I had changed into my costume, and as dad was visiting a friend tonight the door was locked – but was interrupted by a strange noise behind me. When I glanced back, I saw Canaveral’s face covered by a long, grotesque hand that lifted him off the ground, claws digging into the white fabric of his temporary cowl as he struggled. A moment later it tossed him aside and its far-too-long arm retracted, revealing his attacker.

She was a little shorter than the previous versions I saw, but more heavily built. This one seemed to have settled on green as a color scheme – a green skirt so dark it was nearly black, a pale green sleeveless shirt, and green hair that obscured her face. And she was staring right at me.

“Who are you, child?” Legion asked. “What are you doing here?”

Legion

“What am I doing here?” I couldn’t prevent myself from shooting back. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that question? I mean, I’m the one who lives in this city!” I felt something moving from the direction Canaveral had been thrown, and hoped I wouldn’t give away what he was doing.

She sighed. “Of course you do. Well then, young -” Her head suddenly exploded as a manhole cover traveling at the speed of a freight train flew through it like a frisbee.

“Run, Newton!” Canaveral called, landing from a flying leap in between me and the supervillain, who had crossed her arms as though annoyed.

“I can’t just leave you!” I protested as Legion’s head grew back. Tendrils crawled out of her back towards various bits of gore, which melted and reformed into her body. “…besides, I think I’d vomit if I tried to move too fast right now,” I joked. “I mean, ew.

“Newton,” he growled. “Go.”

Instead, I dodged – I felt the ground cracking beneath our feet, and an explosion of spines and bones erupted under Canaveral. I pushed him, flinging him to the side and away from it and simultaneously sending me to the other side. Before I could touch the ground, I pushed against the earth, sending myself higher into the air.

It took me a moment to reorient myself – I closed my eyes for a moment to track the world with ESP, which didn’t seem to care what my inner ear was screaming about – then I pulled at the supervillain, launching myself towards her. Legion was rooted into the ground, having shifted herself through the asphalt to create that burst of spines. I came at her fist-first, not sure what I could do against her but knowing that I couldn’t do anything else.

She caught my fist in one hand, which extended to hold me above her head as I tried to grab at her. “Give me a moment, child,” she chided. “Let me just deal with this pest, and then we can talk.”

“Leave the kid alone!” Canaveral barked as he rushed in. He stopped on a dime as she swiped at him, staying just out of her reach – her reach at that moment, anyway – then bounced into the air to dodge her second swipe. His chain drove itself into one of her eyes and out the other – this was pretty gruesome, and I found myself thankful that I had never been squeamish.

“I just regrew my head, do you really think I put my brain back in it?” Legion asked. “Come now, Mr. Armstrong.”

She was clearly storing more mass than she ought to be able to in a body that size – I could tell from my ESP that she weighed far more than she should, not to mention how dense her fingers around my fist were – like rocks. And there was little reason for her to bother with fat when she had such complete control over herself – she was probably nothing but muscle and bone, given her incredible strength. If she even had to bother with such things when she could just shapeshift bones into whatever shape she wanted – on the other hand, she certainly moved like she had joints.

If she had joints, then she had weak spots, too.

I had never tried grabbing a specific location on an object before, but… I took hold of her forearm and bicep on the arm that held me with my TK, and pulled and pushed and twisted in opposite directions, as hard as I thought I could handle.

…ow. That was gonna bruise.

It had worked, though – with a stomach-churning squelch and pop, I had dislocated her elbow, and her hand and arm dropped, instinctively releasing me as muscles reflexively failed.

Again, I pushed at the ground before I could strike it, and found myself high in the air.

She glanced up at me, apparently unconcerned with Canaveral’s attempts to find her brain. “You’re not going to stop, are you?” she asked.

“Nope!” I said as cheerfully as I could manage, beginning to fall back to earth. “Not until I’ve put at least one of you behind bars, and preferably all three!” I was doing my best to channel the nonchalance and irreverence that Canaveral had had against the drug dealers, although with only limited success.

“At least one of three, hm? Well, I’m a little busy tonight. Places to be, people to see…”

“People to see or people to be? I quipped, and Canaveral snorted from where he struggled in her grip.

Legion laughed – the bright, tinkling laugh of someone enjoying themselves – and her hair parted itself to expose a pleased smile, curling up and tucking behind her ears. Was Canaveral really that low of a threat to her, that she had the mental capacity to not only banter with me but also mess with her own appearance, while still holding him off? “Just to see, tonight. No impersonations on the menu this time.”

I landed lightly on the roof of my house. I had to keep her talking as long as I could – not only would it give other heroes a chance to get here and help me and Canaveral, but any information on what she was doing was bound to be helpful. “Are you sure? Because you’re doing a great impression of someone’s older sister right now.”

She glanced down a Canaveral, who had mostly escaped her grasp but was now attempting to force his way closer to her despite one hand being firmly planted on the top of his head. “You know, you’re not wrong.”

“Newton!” Canaveral yelled. “Get the hell out of here!”

“Is that what you’re going by?” Legion asked. “Newton?”

“Dunno if I’ll keep it, but yeah,” I confirmed. I flipped off the roof and aimed for her elbow again. I didn’t really expect to hit, especially given how telegraphed this would be, so I prepared to alter my trajectory and strike her in the chest instead.

…well, I didn’t hit her elbow. I also didn’t hit her torso, as she expanded into a wide ring and allowed me to pass directly through her. I rolled and bounced off my feet, barely avoiding the tentacle that her unoccupied arm had turned into by dodging back around her – it came close enough that it tore my flannel, but it didn’t cut through the suit. “Speaking of people who don’t stop…”

Legion sighed. “This is getting very irritating. I hoped it would be the simplest stop, but no,” she complained. “You just have to make this difficult, don’t you?” Suddenly, the asphalt below me wrapped around my feet. I struggled, but it bound me too tightly to allow me to move, and it was creeping up my legs.

“How the hell?”

“Asphalt is made up organic compounds,” she told me, then turned to face Canaveral, who had backed away from her and was staring at me in horror. “Why don’t you settle down some, Canaveral?”

He balled up his fists. “Leave the kid out of this, Legion,” he ordered. “They’ve got nothing to do with whatever brought you here!”

She chuckled. “You think so, hmm? Well, I suppose so… but…” She gave him a sly grin. “You’ll have to give me a chance to speak, instead of launching things through my appendages. Deal?”

He gritted his teeth, but nodded. “Deal. Newton…” He glared at me. “Go.” The asphalt, which had by that point reached my waist, peeled away, splitting into a pair of large, dark birds, both of which flew off.

I glanced helplessly between the two of them, but after a moment I finally went.

Scene 12 – October 20th
Exterior City, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

It was painful, leaving Canaveral alone. On one level, obviously I knew that he was an experienced hero and had fought Legion before. But… he had clearly been struggling, and he had little backup. Her ability to consume organic matter was clearly far more dangerous than I had initially thought, with her having absorbed and controlled asphalt of all things, and that meant that the mass of the entire street was at her command (in retrospect, no wonder she hadn’t shifted even a little when I used her as an anchor for my TK).

As I moved, I couldn’t help but think… what had I just done? I had leapt into a super-powered battle without even thinking. Was I meant to be a hero after all?

…no, I had been useless, I realized. Worse than useless, in fact – I had probably been distracting Canaveral, and that was why he was having difficulty. He had been trying to get me to run the entire time, and what did I do? I stuck around and made things harder for him. What kind of shitty hero would I be?

Hell, Legion had clearly not been taking the fight seriously. She had barely paid attention to Canaveral and seemed to be trying to stay deliberately nonlethal with me. She had caught me twice, both without apparent effort, and could have almost definitely absorbed me then and there if she wanted to.

Unless the PA4 that I was wearing wasn’t organic? I had no idea what it was actually made of.

Still, I doubted it would have actually stopped Legion if she had been really trying. It was just a costume, psychic awakening or not, and it wasn’t even armored except from the knees and elbows onward (which, I had to say, is a weird place for it to be armored). If she could mimic asphalt, I was sure that she could mimic some kind of carbon-fiber blade and cut ribbons through me.

I had to pause on a rooftop as it suddenly hit me – I really had been close to death! The gun hadn’t seemed real and still didn’t, somehow – maybe it was because, like I had told my dad, I had never felt in danger with Canaveral there – he hadn’t been challenged at all by the gangsters. But Legion… she had been holding him off all on her own, with no difficulty at all. And she didn’t have to be on her own. Any time she wanted…

I suddenly felt the need to be closer to the ground. I needed a few moments to just… not be in this context. Not be in this costume, not be in this rooftop world, to not be Newton and to be Quinn instead.

I took a moment to leap off the roof, landing in Vivaldi Park, and sat down on a bench. I glanced around briefly with my eyes and ESP and, seeing no-one around, reached for the tiny button on the clasp of my belt that would loosen the PA4 and allow me to pull the mask off.

Before I could, however, a tree behind me warped and shifted and, bird in its branches and all, became a woman. I sighed, and put my nervous breakdown on hold for a moment.

1.2. Scenes 8-10

Scene 8 – October 20th
Interior MLED Compound, Early Evening
Abraham Armstrong

“So,” I began, “the normal procedure when Legion is in town is to call in Aegis. He’s immune to everything she does – obviously,” I added, trying to bring a bit of levity into the situation. “Problem is that absolute invulnerability is in high demand, and he’s a very busy man. As of this morning’s commander briefing, he was dealing with an incursion from a parallel universe in California, and not expected to be available for another three days.”

“A parallel universe?” Simone asked. “Are those a thing?”

“Apparently,” I said with a shrug. “I’ll put in a request, but don’t expect him until then. Fortunately,” I said to the microphone in the wall, “we have an invulnerable man of our own. Isn’t that right, Vulcan?”

“Sir,” Adam protested, sounding embarrassed. “I’m nothing like tough as Aegis.”

“You’re probably tougher than any organic constructs she can put together, though,” Emilia pointed out. “And since you’re not organic yourself, in metal form, she won’t be able to absorb you.”

“Exactly,” I said, walking past her to the center of the room. I briefly touched her side as I passed, and she put a hand over mine – we exchanged a smile, then I continued. “So Zookeeper, I want you to relieve Vulcan of console duty. He’s going to be on stand-by to go up against any instances of Legion that we have a location on. You, Journey,” I said, turning to the young teleporter, “will be his transport.” Emilia nodded and began jogging to the console.

“I’m mostly out of distance,” Journey warned. “Depending on where in the city she’s found, I’ve probably only got one there-and-back trip left in me. I’ve been meaning to mention it, but…”

“Then that will have to do,” I said. “If necessary, I’ll head out as well, since I’m the fastest person here beside you.” I sighed. “We need to get you another cross country trip soon,” I noted, and the young heroine nodded.

At that moment, Vulcan stepped in from the console room. Adam Abelard didn’t have much a distinction between his civilian and superhero identities – the main difference was how formal his clothes were. The young man tended to wear button-downs and sweaters when he could, trying to reduce the intimidating effect of being a six-foot-four black man built like a truck by putting on a nerdy exterior, or so I had always assumed. Of course, my own goofy persona was at least partially for the same reason, so who was I to judge? The young hero entered the room halfway through pulling off today’s sweatervest, leaving him in khaki pants and a white button down. “Do we have any idea where she is?” he asked.

“Not yet,” I said. “But hopefully we will soon. Nic? She was reported about ten minutes south of the Compound.”

“Give me a moment,” the young man said, leaning against the wall. “I’m going to try to only send my vision so that I can still talk with you guys…” He closed his eyes and slumped a moment later. “… no, sorry, I can’t hear you,” he murmured. “But I’ll give you updates as I go. Right now I’m at the corner of Lander and Evans and continuing south. No sign of her yet.”

Adam walked over to Simone, giving her a shy smile. “How’s Megan?” he asked.

She sighed. “We’re on a break right now, unfortunately. How’s Tyrone?”

“Us to,” he said, gloomily. “At least the boss’s love-life is doing fine.”

Loki glanced at them. “Didn’t you hear? He and Emilia broke up with Max last month,” he said.

“Enough chatter,” I said, shooting the cluster of young heroes a glare, then winked to show that I wasn’t actually mad. “I don’t mind you gossiping about me, but seriously, eyes on the prize. Pay attention to Nic and keep an ear out for anything Zookeeper calls in with. Simone, Adam, you two in particular need to be ready to move at a moment’s notice.”

Nic continued feeding reports over the next few minutes, but Legion hadn’t made another appearance yet and without actually spotting her transforming, it was impossible to actually know who she was. It was shaping up to be a long night already.

I had to wonder what had brought Legion to New Venice. Her motivations tended to be a mystery – she sometimes mentioned having a boss, but other times insisted that she worked alone. And her actual actions held little pattern as well – in one city she would target one specific person and devour them, while in another she would steal an item from a museum. Here she would appear in public and fend off all attackers before leaving empty-handed, there she would quietly surrender to the MLED. It could be anything.

Anima and Sequoia had just returned to the Compound when I got a call on my cell phone. A quick glance at the screen said that it was Newton – I made a mental note to change their contact info now that I knew the kid’s name as I answered. “What is it? Don’t tell me that you’ve stumbled right into Legion,” I joked.

There was silence. “Kid?” I asked, starting to get worried. Had something happened? Was it just an accidental call? “Come on, talk to me.”

“You said not to tell you,” came the whispered reply.

“What!” I face-palmed, and put them on speakerphone. “You have the worst luck, kid.”

“Tell me about it. I’m on Shiketsu Street, between Hebert Avenue and Elm Street. There are two of her here right now – one with blue hair, one with purple.”

“Alright, someone will be there in a minute.” I glanced at Simone. “Journey, how many round trips could you make to Shiketsu Street?”

“Hm… only one, I think,” she said apologetically. “I could get there, back, and halfway there again, but then I’d be out.”
I glanced at Vulcan contemplatively. I could send the metal man in first and have Simone bring Quinn back to safety, and take the halfway trip himself. That was probably the best –

“Wait, shit, they’re both gone!” Quinn swore. “I don’t know where they went, I’m sorry!”

…or maybe I should go himself to check in on the kid. Plus I was better at pursuit and tracking than Vulcan – I had nothing against Adam, the man was a fast learner, but I had been doing this for seven years to Vulcan’s three. “One moment, Quinn,” I said, and hung up. “Journey, take me there. Then come back and bring Vulcan as close as you can. I’ll track down at least one of the Legions – once we capture her, hopefully she can tell us what the other one is up to.”

Scene 9 – October 20th
Exterior City, Continuous
Abraham Armstrong

A few seconds after I had pulled my cowl back on – there wasn’t time to done the rest of the Canaveral suit, but I’d manage – I was standing next to Newton, who had apparently changed into their costume at some point in the last half hour. Simone dropped his hand, gave Newton an encouraging smile, then vanished in a swirl of spacetime.

“…wait, why didn’t she take me back with her?” Quinn asked. “I figured you wouldn’t want me in Legion’s vicinity.”

I sighed. “Because I didn’t actually say for her to, and she apparently didn’t think of it herself. And it’s too late now – she’s used up too much of her built-up distance and can’t get all the way back here, let alone teleport anywhere once she arrived. I’m going to have to escort you to safety myself.”

Quinn nodded. “Still being trained?” they said sympathetically.

“She’s through the six-month training period, this is just an experience thing. But anyway, you said that you saw Legion?”

“Pretty sure,” they said with a firm nod. “My ESP picked up one person here, then two people a moment later, who might as well have been twins. Then one of them changed shape.”

“That seems pretty definitive,” I agreed. “Any other details?”

They shook their head. “Sorry. I tried to stay quiet and back from the edge, so I wouldn’t be noticed, and just called immediately. I peeked over again with my ESP – just stuck a finger over – and they were gone. Sorry for losing them.”

“No, you did the right thing. Legion is dangerous as hell.” I took a minute to poke around, but didn’t find much. Not that I particularly expected to, if I was being honest with myself. “Alright, let’s start moving. Where were you off to?”

“Just home – in Keystone Heights.”

“That’s closer than the Compound at this point, so lead the way.”

Scene 10 – October 20th
Exterior City, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

“Can you tell me a little about Legion?” I asked as we began moving. “I find myself kind of curious about the villain I nearly ran into.”

“Sure, what do you want to know?”

“She’s high threat level, I’m guessing?” Canaveral nods. “What’s the usual response to people like that?”

“At high threat level, we stop ignoring identities, for one thing,” he said. “Unfortunately it doesn’t much matter, in this case – Legion’s real name is Penelope Page, but we can’t exactly track her out of costume when she’s such a powerful shapeshifter.”

“I see the problem.”

“We try to only send in people that are immune to their most dangerous abilities,” he continued. “Aegis is the ideal, of course, but he’s not available right now – in New Venice, the closest we get is Vulcan.”

“She absorbs organic matter, right?” I ask. “He turns into metal, she can’t do anything to him.”

“She can’t devour him, no. Although to be honest…” he sighed. “Alright, this is a complicated thing and I have to back up a moment. Remember how she can recreate biological structures?”

“Yeah?”

“There are a lot of really scary possibilities with that. See, brains are also biological structures…”

I went pale. “Are you saying that she can read people’s minds after eating them?”

“No, reading information out of a brain isn’t so simple. But she can recreate a person’s head later, and interrogate them as much as she likes.”

“That’s somehow even worse,” I decided. “Being devoured and just dying forever is one thing, even if she knows everything you did. But if she can bring you back only to torture you?”

“Yeah, it’s not pretty to think about,” he agreed with a wince. “On the other hand, it also means that the people she eats aren’t necessarily gone forever. After one of Legion’s bodies is captured, she’s usually willing to bring back one or more of her victims in exchange for something.”

I considered this. “What kinds of things?”

“It varies a lot,” the hero told me. “Sometimes she wants to talk to someone in particular and deliver a message, other times she wants to have another prisoner released. It’s hard to predict. But that’s what we’re hoping for every time she shows up.” He sighed. “There are always more victims, unfortunately.”

“How can you know that it’s the person she brought back, and not just a sleeper agent?”

“Brain scans, like I said, and power testing. If it’s Legion’s brain – and we do have scans of her – then it’s her, and will have her shapeshifting power. If it’s not, then it’s the actual person, and they’ll be able to use their own power.”

“Is there a procedure for that?” I couldn’t help but ask. “People coming back from the dead?”

“For Legion in particular, you’re listed as missing-in-action rather than deceased, so you get back pay for the time you were taken,” he said. “If you’re a hero, at least – civilians have to make their own arrangements. People have come back from other things on occasion, but as far as I know she’s the only one that’s regular enough for a specific rule to have been made.”

“So she’s beatable then,” I optimistically said. “If people capture her and bring back her victims so regularly.”

“I wonder, sometimes,” Canaveral mused. “Her patterns since she first appeared around five years ago have been so irregular, no one really knows what she’s after. It feels like she’s playing a different game than the rest of us are. I’ve fought her three times – not here, this was before I was transferred to New Venice – and I can’t help but think that she let us win the one time we captured her.”

We fell silent until we reached my home.

1.2. Scenes 4-7

Scene 4 – October 20th
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
Holly Koval

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
Holly Koval

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.

“Hey!”

“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
Quinn Kaufman

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…

Why not?

Scene 7 – October 20th
Exterior City, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

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.

1.2. Scene 3

Scene 3 – October 20th
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

Suddenly, the world changed. No longer were we slowly walking down a hallway towards a surprisingly distant light – instead, we were walking on a treadmill that stood in the middle of a comfortable looking lounge area, while a small group of teenagers and adults watched. One of them, a muscular young woman with dark skin and an impressively-poofy afro, was chuckling. “We were wondering how long it would take you to notice,” she teased. “And you just won me my bet by noticing first, new guy! Thanks! And pay up, sucker!” She jabbed the woman standing next to her in the ribs, shorter and thinner with pale skin and long blonde hair. Both were wearing the same white masks as me and Canaveral.

“Introductions first, I think,” Canaveral said, chuckling as the blonde girl, grumbling, passed a bill to the other. “Superhero name, civilian if you’re willing to give it, and one interesting thing about you. Oh, and pronouns,” he added. “I’ll start.”

He turned back to me and took off his mask what was happening. “Abraham Armstrong, aka Canaveral,” he told me, seeming quite amused at the flabberghasted look that was surely plastered on my face despite the mask I was wearing. “Hey, don’t look like that! I don’t actually have a secret identity, you know, I just don’t really spread it around like some people do,” he said with a mocking glance at an attractive hispanic woman who was taking up an entire couch

“Love you too, babe,” she shot back, unbothered.

“Anyway, I’m he/him, and I used to date a supervillain.”

“Was it Maxwell?” He nodded. “I thought so.”

“I’ll go next. I’m Holly Koval, aka Loki.” said the handsome blonde girl who had lost money, and her mask simply faded from existence. “Sorry about the prank, by the way – it was all in good fun – and it was Journey here’s idea anyway.” She jerked a finger at the black girl.

“It’s all right,” I assured her.

“I use she/her as a civilian, but he/him in costume. My interesting fact is that I’m the only one on this team who actually learned magic, instead of just relying on an innate knack.”

“I’m Simone Destrey,” said her amazonian neighbor, “aka Journey. She/her, and Holly is lying.”

“That’s neither interesting nor a fact!” Holly protested.

Simone crossed her arms. “Fine. My interesting fact is that the Journeymen are named after me.”

“No we’re not,” said a young man in a hoodie who was leaning against one wall. “You’ve only been part of the group for two years. It’s been the Journeymen for what, six?”

“Yeah, it was shortly after I joined,” Holly agreed. “Try another fact, Simone.”

“I’m relentlessly bullied,” she complained with a sigh, but she smiled as she said it. “Is that good enough?”

“Yeah, that works,” said the hoodied kid. “And I’ll break the trend by not revealing my identity, I mean come on. I’m Hypnos.” He didn’t seem to be wearing a costume, really, just the comfy-looking hoodie and a pair of sweatpants, with a domino mask under the raised hood. “He/him, and my fact is that I don’t want to be here. Also, I’m deaf. I wear hearing aids, but I might not be able to understand you if you don’t speak clearly. Don’t make a big deal of it.”

“And I’m Emilia Alvarez,” said the hispanic woman, sitting up from where she had been lying on the couch. “Better known as Zookeeper – she/her. My fact is that I have an eidetic memory. That’s everyone who could be here today – Anima is on patrol with Sequoia, Vulcan is on console duty, and Referee is out of town this weekend.”

“What about Ben?” Canaveral asked.

She shrugged. “Starling just said no. You know he’s not exactly social.”

There was a moment of silence before I realized that everyone else had introduced themselves and was now watching me expectantly. I nervously ran a hand through my hair, then decided to pull off my mask. They had trusted me, after all, and if I didn’t become a hero I wouldn’t have a secret identity anyway. “I’m Quinn Kaufman – they/them,” I introduced myself. “My fact is that I got my powers less than a week ago.”

“And Abe is already trying to recruit you? They must be pretty strong,” Emilia commented. “What can you do?”

“Well, I can open pickle jars, and I can draw pretty well,” I began.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

“I’m not much of a singer, but I can whistle.”

“Quinn-”

“My classmates tell me that I’m a good tutor, and with all humility I can say that I’m a beast at air hockey.”

“Can you play the piano?” Holly asked.

“How about parkour?” said Simone.

“Poetry,” was Hypnos’s contribution.

“Yes but not for years, yes, and no but my dad is a professor of poetry.”

“How are you at cooking?” asked Canaveral – Abraham, I supposed.

“Frisbee?”

“Dungeons and Dragons?”

“Fishing?”

“Speaking other languages?” Emilia asked, apparently having decided to go with the flow.

“Pretty decent, not great, not since highschool, no, and a little Spanish.”

“Ever wrestled an eel?” asked Simone.

“Or gone white-water rafting?”

“Acted in a play?”

“Kissed a boy?”

“Kissed a girl?”

“No, no, yes, and gentlemen don’t kiss and tell and neither do I.” I said with a grin.

The impromptu quiz continued for a few minutes more before the group seemed to get bored with coming up with increasingly ridiculous questions, and the topic turned back to my powers. “Seriously though, what can you do?” Emilia asked again.

“I have a sort of omnidirectional sense paired with a kind of telekinesis that includes a backlash. Think of it like…” I paused for a moment, trying to decide how to describe it. “I have telekinetic arms that extend like an aura around my body. Anything within line of sight of me, I can feel and move as though I held it – which means, when I try to move massive things, that I’m moved instead.”

“Self Buff (Sensory) and Area Control (Kinetic),” Emilia guessed. “Am I right, babe?”

“You’ve got it,” Abraham agreed.

“What is that? Some kind of power rating?” I asked.

“Pretty much,” the heroine confirmed. “The MLED rates powers in four ways, each with one of four ratings.”

“You weren’t kidding about them liking fours,” I said to Abraham, who nodded sadly.

“Each power is labeled by area of effect, type of effect, power level, and general effect,” she continued. “The idea is that it’s the order of information you need to know in the field – area of affect tells you if you need to stay out of their touch range, sight range, or just away, with self range powers not being dodgable for obvious reasons.”

“Meanwhile, type of effect tells you what it’ll do to you if you don’t steer clear,” Canaveral said, taking up the thread. “Buffs make the target better at something, debuffs make you worse, damage will just hurt you, and control is kind of a catch-all but is theoretically about things that’ll control the target. Everything from mind control to telekinesis.” He glanced at the three younger heroes. “Which of you wants to take the next one?”

“Oh shit, is this a quiz?” asked Simone.

“Well, it is now,” Emilia agreed. “And I think you just volunteered.”

Holly laughed. “Sorry, Simone!”

“It’s fine, I know it anyway. Third is a numerical danger rating, 0-3. 0 is for stuff that’s barely or not at all dangerous, like this kid at my martial arts dojo who can walk on water but nothing else. 1 is stuff that’s dangerous but can be dealt with by a normal human. 2 is stuff that you can’t deal with without powers, but which is limited in scope, and 3 is powers that can do almost anything.”

“As you can imagine,” Emilia commented, “ratings of 3 are very rare. Most metahumans have ratings of 0 or 1, with even most superheroes and villains only having ratings of 1 or 2.”

“So like… Graviton, or Cobalt Red?”

Abraham nodded. “They’re two who have 3 ratings, yes,” he said. “Legion is another, as was the Mountain King back in the day. The only ones in New Venice right now are Rube and La Borda.”

I thought about this for a moment. “How is this different from the threat level rankings you told me about?”

“Threat level covers people as a whole, which means it takes their personality and goals into account,” he said. “Power rankings are strictly for powers. So Max, for example, has a low threat rating, but his hammerspace power is ranked at 2.”

“That makes sense.”

“Don’t think I’ve forgotten about you two!” Abraham suddenly cried, pointing at Holly and Hypnos, one with each arm. “There’s still one category left in the power rankings!”

“Sure, but it’s the silliest one,” Holly said. “It’s just a brief descriptor of the power. I don’t see why they can’t condense it all a bit. Like, why not just give you ‘touch kinesis 2” instead of ‘touch control 2 (kinetic)’? Seems like an over complication.”

“I dunno, I can see the rational for both,” I put in. “But then, I’m coming from the outside. Maybe it makes less sense in practice.”

“Honestly, it works pretty well in practice,” said Emilia. “These two just like complaining.”

“You say I like complaining, but I have actual issues with the system,” Abraham insisted, and Holly nodded. “I mean, just think of how many different kinds of powers are all grouped together in Self Buff!”

“So…” I said, trying to move on from the argument, “if I’m Self Buff and Area Control…”

“At ranks 1 and 2 respectively,” Abraham added, “although those ratings are provisional depending on what power testing shows when you register and go through it.”

“What are the rest of you guys?”

“I’m Touch Control 2 (Kinetic),” the hero said. “Powerful and versatile, but I can’t do everything.

“I’m Self Control 2 (Animal Shifting),” Emilia told me. “Any animal I know the form of, I can transform into. I have to put in the work to learn their form, but thanks to my eidetic memory, my roster only ever expands.”

“The magic I’ve learned lets me control light and sound,” said Holly. “The MLED gives me an Area Control 2 (Illusion) rating, but that misses so much. I mean, I’m not making magical illusions – those are mental constructs placed into the psychic landscape. I’m actually controlling photons and sonic energy. I can make lasers and concussive blasts when I need to. See, this is why the current rating system is -”

“I have Self Control 1 (Teleportation),” Simone interrupted. “Myself and anything I can lift. I have a distance limit that rises as I move physically, and falls whenever I teleport. That’s why I have to work out so much, and that’s why I’m called Journey.”

“I thought you were just a fan of the band,” I joked.

“Well obviously I love their stuff, but I’m not gonna name myself after some middle-aged white dudes,” she retorted.

“Fair point.”

We glanced at Hypnos. “Self Buff 0 (Sensory Projection),” he reluctantly said. “My senses can fly around disconnected from my body.” I winced, and he shrugged. “Sure, the MLED thinks it’s useless, but I don’t want to be a hero anyway. I’m just here for training, because I can’t always control it – I often end up projecting randomly as I sleep.”

“Well, I’m sorry that your powers aren’t always under your control,” I told him. “But they do sound really useful, for recon work and the like. I assume that you can’t be hurt when you’re projecting them?”

He waggled a hand. “Sort of. Things like flashbangs that target the senses will fuck me up something fierce – no actual damage, but I get a terrible migraine and can’t keep projecting until it goes away. But stuff like fire or electricity are dulled enough that I feel it without feeling pain.”

“So are you thinking about joining the Journeymen?” Holly asked. “We’d be glad to have you, and I’m sure Sequoia and Referee would agree. I know she’d love to have another trans person on the team, and so would I.”

“Between the three of you, we poor cis kids would be almost outnumbered,” Simone commented with a chuckle.

“At least we’d keep up our all-queer streak.”

“I’m… considering it. I admit, I’m leaning towards ‘no’ right now, but it’s got nothing to do with you guys, you all seem lovely.”

“Well, do you have any questions?” Holly asked. “Anything we can do to try and convince you?”

Anything?” said Simone, leaning forward, clasping her hands behind her back, and waggling her eyebrows suggestively.

Holly sprayed her in the face with a bottle of water that materialized from thin air. I assumed it was an illusion, but it seemed to be real enough to make Simone splutter. “There’s a time and a place, Simone, and this isn’t it,” she scolded, surprisingly sternly given her earlier prank. “Leave the flirting for another time.”

“Or at least be a little more subtle about it,” Emilia advised.

“Well, one question I have is -” I began, but was interrupted by a blaring alarm and a red light that began sweeping the room.

“Console to stand-by,” came a quiet voice through speakers in the ceiling. “We have reports that Legion is in the city. Repeat, we have reliable information suggesting that Legion is in New Venice.”