Jason entered his superior’s office and stood before his desk, feet spread slightly and hands clasped behind his back. Robert clearly noticed him enter, Jason had observed that the man was always aware of his surroundings, but he elected to finish the form he had been working on before he acknowledged Jason.
“You’re early, Jason. I don’t go off duty for another hour.”
“Yes sir.” Jason nodded. “There is something I need to speak with you about, if you are available.”
Robert shrugged and set his pen aside. “What’s up?”
Jason would prefer to be more direct and simply request the favor outright but he was certain that would not work. He could see the telltale beat of Robert’s heart, a slight rhythm at his throat that was noticeable only because it was so frequently absent. Discussing Jenny’s… situation was extremely difficult when the man was dead, impossible when living.
“I had wondered about the nature of Starve’s ability, sir.” The man inclined his head but did not otherwise answer. “I know that she is- was, rather, a directed Null type. The… additional effects, are they something she could withhold? And- and how long does the… nullification, I suppose, last?”
“Hm.” Robert made a small noise as his eyes drifted upward in thought. “Don’t know for sure. Hector’s pulled together as much as he could on the Four’s activities before they came here. Most of the people she’s used it on were killed immediately by one of the others. We didn’t even know about the… ‘additional effect’ as you put it.
“My inclination is to believe that no, it’s not something that can be left out. She just doesn’t feel strong enough to be that flexible.”
Jason furrowed his brow, a bit confused. “Sir? I… I’m not sure I follow.”
“Huh. Okay, Null types. They come in a few flavors, not counting all the individual little quirks. Immunity, area and directed are the big three, and degrading or absolute are the subcategories. With me so far?”
“So, the immune types are like William Power. Empowered abilities just don’t affect them the way they should but that’s the limit. So, if he were standing next to you, you could still use your ability to kill as many people as you like, just not him. For area, you’ve got the Monarch. Any Empowered in her range may as well be a baseline human and any power that tries to project into it is suppressed too, though that last bit varies with other area Nulls. Directed Nulls-”
“Such as Starve.” Jason interrupted.
“Like Starve.” Robert nodded. “Can shut down anyone they target. Usually, once the effect is in place, distance stops being a factor. We’ve never encountered someone that could permanently strip an ability like that so she’s probably not an exception.”
This all sounded familiar to him, though Jason had never heard it laid out so neatly.
“And the subcategories?”
“Degrading and absolute, pretty self explanatory. Absolutes are all or nothing, either someone’s affected by their Null or they’re not. Degrading Null types, like Power, decrease the effectiveness of an Empowerment regardless of how strong it is. Even if it still works on ’em, your laser breath or whatever won’t have the full punch it should.”
Jason considered this. “So… the Monarch, what is her subcategory?” he asked while he thought.
“Don’t know. It doesn’t really matter yet. There’s never been anyone whose power worked inside the Monarch’s field, so your guess is as good as mine.”
“Except the Knights.” Jason pointed out.
“Like I said, individual quirks. The Monarch can either grant an exception or maybe lend out some of the powers she’s suppressing.” Robert sat up a little straighter and leaned forward. “So, what’s this about? Something to do with the Hector bodies she shut down? I know you visited them in the hospital, before they… passed.”
“One thing more, sir. You mentioned that Starve did not ‘feel strong enough’ to be that flexible?”
“Oh, yeah. Any of the assets I’m animating, I get a bit of a sense for their power level. It’s kind of like some people with sensory style powers, like Anna Insight, can compare one person’s power to another. It doesn’t give a real good indication of how dangerous they are. Your power level is down at only a little above average for an operative for instance, but it’s a good indicator of how someone will interact with a Null or a power similar to their own.
More… intense powers tend to be more flexible, have a broader scope as well as a stronger effect.”
“Odd.” Jason mused. “I would have expected Hector to be extremely intense in that case.”
“I think he is but, remember, there’s no such thing as an absolute rule with Empowerment. My guess’d be that he spreads the power out amongst all his different bodies and the stuff he duplicates.”
Jason considered the different rates at which he had seen Hectors’ corpses and equipment dissipate, tried to match it with the number of Hectors he knew to be extant at the time. He was unsure, but that sounded as if it could be correct.
“So this… sense is what leads you to believe that Starve’s power does not have the necessary variety to withhold a portion of her effect while in use? You are certain?”
“Yeah. As certain as I can be without trying it out on someone. Given that a mistake could end up with someone dead, that’s not something I’ll do casually. It is something I want to know though, so I’ll give it a shot the next time I use her in a fight. Assuming I think it’s safe of course.”
“I do not suppose you could simply ask her?”
Robert shook his head. “Nope. They’re not people that I’m controlling Jason. They’re corpses. If one’s moving around, it’s because I’m making it happen. Pity too, that’d be a great source of information.”
“And…” Jason was reluctant to ask the question. If this was for anything less than Jenny, he would not. “… have you considered experimenting with Hector? I’m certain he would be willing.”
Operative Grave’s face closed down. “So am I. No. Power interactions… you don’t experiment with those, not when the test subject is someone whose health you care about. Especially not if the power being acted on is what you’re hoping will keep your friend safe.”
Jason nodded. Schooling his features into the necessary combination of apology and relief took no effort. He would have risked it, for her, but it was not something he was comfortable about.
“Anything else?” His tone was more abrupt, not quite dismissive but close.
“Do you have any other Nulls… under your influence?” Jason asked.
“No.” He shook his head. “They’re relatively common, even if most Nulls don’t know they’re even Empowered, but strong ones are damned rare. Not to mention, most of my assets are former Lords and you need something more- more impressive than a typical Null to make it to that position. Of the Four, only Taker had what he’d have needed to make it on his own. There’s a reason the four of them were minor Lords that worked as a group.”
Jason considered one last time. If Robert Grave or, most likely, the Citadel could not provide what he needed to help her, he would simply have to look elsewhere. This would take some time, regretfully, but he had no other option.
“No sir. I will return at three o clock.”
Robert nodded and returned to his paperwork, requisitions to repair the damage that Jason’s attack on the faux Monster had caused.