21.0 Challenges

Robert Grave had spent the better part of an hour reading  pair of personnel files.  Normally, he could skim one in five or ten minutes and come away with a decent grasp of operative’s personality, skills, empowerment and experience.

The first file wasn’t thick, abut a quarter of an inch.  That was a bit more than the usual for a recent graduate, but not by a lot.  Most of that extra seemed to be in the psych eval.  Too technical, Rob would have to speak with Analysis about it later, get a useful summary.  The other file… that one was almost five times the size, thick even for a veteran operative.

“Sir, did you realize you have not taken a breath in the last two minutes?” one of his new subordinates asked, the blond one.

“No.  Did you realize you’re wearing sunglasses indoors?” he replied, not truly irritated but closer than he’d prefer.

He finally got the extra personnel he’d been begging for and not only were they boots, fresh out of basic training, but one of them was a borderline psych case and the other… the other was just weird.

“Yes sir.  I wear them for the comfort of others, not my own.  I noticed the lack of breathing and thought you should be made aware, in case you wished to correct it.”

Getting a little closer to genuine irritation now, he was about to snap out a response when the other kid spoke up.

“Sir?  Can I…” he trailed off, waiting for permission.  Rob gave it with a nod.  “Jason is very literal, a side effect of his empowerment.”  He turned to face Jason instead of Rob.  “Jason, Operative Grave’s own empowerment means that he doesn’t need to breathe.  It’s only necessary when he wants to speak.”

Rob nodded in acknowledgement, a little fascinated by the byplay.

“I apologize, Operative Grave.  I realized that breathing must be optional for you but I thought you might want to be reminded.  Such aberrations in behavior can set one apart and even lead to hostility in others.” Jason explained, his tone polite, courteous.

In fact, it was the exact same vaguely polite and mildly distant tone of voice he’d had during both of his previous statements, no variance at all.  The glasses made it a little hard to be certain, but Rob didn’t think Jason had been showing much in the way of facial expressions either.

“It’s not just being very literal is it?” he asked, thinking it through.

“No sir.” Jason answered.  “I do not experience strong emotion of any kind.  Additionally, I was homeschooled from a very early age and generally isolated from others until my mother believed I had reached sufficient maturity to control myself, and my power, in the presence of others.  This has resulted in a functional lack of empathy as well as generally impaired social skills.”

Rob blinked.  “That’s…”  Wow.  “Thank you.  That was both helpful and astonishingly frank.  I’ll try to keep it in mind from now on.  Before I say anything else, Hector, why is it you seem so familiar with Jason’s… quirks?”  Something else occurred to him.  “For that matter, why did you seem so familiar with my own empowerment?”

Hector gave a sheepish grin.  “Well, Jason and I were roommates during training, so we got to know each other fairly well.  I”d like to think we’re friends.  As for you… well, operatives don’t get assigned to Border posts unless they’re scary powerful or just plain scary.

“I’ve got access to most personnel files through my position in Analysis.  When I found out me and Jason were assigned to Phoenix, it just made sense to read up on the local Citadel staff.”

“I suspect that didn’t take long.” Rob’s answering grin was wry, the polite term for bitter.

“No sir.”

“Strong or scary, huh?  Which category did you decide I fit in?”

“Both, sir.”

“What about Jason?” Rob asked.

“The same.” Hector replied.

“And yourself?”

Hector chuckled before answering.  “The third category: expendable.”

Rob’s eyebrows rose and he prepared to correct the young man.  The Citadel could be… overly pragmatic, at times, but its operatives were not expendable.

“Just kidding sir.” Hector said, obviously aware of the agitation his comment had caused.  If Jason had picked up on it, he gave no indication.  “I just meant, well, the way my power works…”  He gave a sigh before starting over.

“Being on the border with the Battlegrounds is dangerous, even by the Citadel’s standards.  People like you and Jason, well, you’re tough enough to take on all comers and scary enough that most wouldn’t even want to mess with you.”  Hector gave a self deprecating shrug.

“That’s not me.  But I’ve read the reports, your biggest problem is the day to day stuff.  You don’t have enough people to keep up with it.”  He gestured towards himself.

“I’m an off the charts duplicator.  I’m practically the definition of ‘enough people.’  And, as long as there’s one of me somewhere else, I can survive pretty much anything.  So, expendable, but not really.”

Rob took a moment to flip through their files again, confirming a few things.  “So, you finished second in your class’s combat rankings.  Further, you reached that position by challenging, in order and on the same day, literally every other member of your class and beat all but one of them without even using your primary power.”

“Actually, I did use it against Kelly Protean.  His ability allows him to survive the death of his body with little long term consequence.” Jason corrected.

“All but two then.” Rob acknowledged.  “And you,” he turned his focus on Hector, “you were the one who devised the tactics he needed to accomplish that feat.  Additionally, you fought Achalla Juggernaut to a stand still in a one-on-one confrontation.”

“More or less.” Hector grinned.

“In a, more or less, one-on-one confrontation.” Rob went on.  “You were also instrumental in resolving an extinction level situation before you’d finished basic training.”

Hector just shrugged in vague agreement.

Robert Grave, who had spent the last six years stationed on the Border, who had killed more Lords than he could conveniently count and was called the Grave Lord throughout the adjacent regions of the Battlegrounds, smiled at them.
“Welcome to Phoenix boys.  I think you’ll do just fine.”

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9 comments on “21.0 Challenges

  1. There is no mentions of it but I don’t think Hector is only assigned to this post of the Border. Pretty sure it went something like this:

    “What’s your assignment Hector?”



    • I have to strongly agree. His abilty proved its usefulness during the during A.Turings disaster. There are probably duplicates of him posted almost everywhere. Up to and including janitorial duty somewhere.


      • At the same time if he is everywhere that makes him one big security risk, what if someone kidnaps his mom? Will he be able to deny them? Or someones power is to access memories? Gain access to one hector you can read all of hectors information.
        I just wonder what happens when/if hector gets a love life, 1000 of hectors monogame to one girl/woman or multiple relationships? Is there even a chance he would get a civilian relationship considering the risk for that person? Also imagine all the souvenirs he could send to himself and use as gifts.
        Most important I do not want his power potential to go to waste so I am rooting for some kids to inherit his mojo, otherwise some self experimentation with rejuvenation methods or cyrogenic sleep chambers might work out, he has enough test subjects after all.


        • I was thinking about this myself. I don’t think you could overstate what a big help he could be, if used to his full potential. But that requires a lot of trust in him. If he were ever to go rogue for any reason (coercion, mind control, mental illness, greed, disillusionment with the Citadel, etc.), Hector would be in a position to bring it down “single” handedly. They don’t trust William Power enough to make an army of him, even though its possible and he’s proved himself for some ridiculous number of decades. No instance of Hector can compete with William Power, but I’d argue that he’s more dangerous, and harder to kill.


  2. Now that I’ve caught up I’m going to start to randomly speculate!

    Now, if our beloved murderhobo has a similar powerset to Jenny then what do we know for (almost) certain:

    Jennys power makes her “awesome” to the audience
    The power uses the actual feeling of awe and awesomeness in the audience.
    The power works strongly on Jenny herself and a weaker “pressure” (for lack of a better word) on everyone else.
    Jenny cannot seem to control her power, instead her power controls her.
    Examples of her poweron herself: her personality, her acrobatic abilities, saying exactly the right thing at the right time.
    Examples of her power externally: people hesitating for no reason against her in a fight, random coincidences, somehow her words having a strong impact on those hearing even when they arent that inspiring or awesome when heard by those resistant to her.

    Murderhobo, here begins speculation. The feeling of awe is not always a good feeling, if Zeus was about to fry tour face off with a thunderbolt you’d have awe, the bad kind. Not saying murderhobo also invokes awe but putting that out there. What he does invoke is a primal fear of THE MONSTER, like monster under the bed or out of the corner of your eye. He heals too fast, he moves too fast, he’s faceless. Doors shut and lock, blood is everywhere and the strongest and bravest (the ones you think will save you, the ones whos self images are built on protecting others) are cut down first, unable to even slow him down. The only way to have a chance at living is to close your eyes and pretend he’s not there.

    Ok so maybe the difference between Monster and Jenny is that Monster can direct more of his power outward. Jenny (for now anyways) cant control her power at all.

    I love speculating!


    • One common thought is that, much like how Jenny can’t control her power (and even hates how it makes her act, sometimes) Monster might be the same. Forced to murder people and inspire fear, despite being just a regular guy, inside his own head….


      • I agree with that being a possibility, i just think it would be more fun if he could influence his power a little. If he can do that then maybe Jenny can learn to point hers also. Again just fun and guesswork on my part.

        Liked by 1 person

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