Agnes woke in the night. At her age, that was hardly unusual. What was strange was the orange blur that seemed to obscure her room and the too warm sensation that went with it. She scrabbled for her glasses, oddly dizzy, but couldn’t seem to find them. It only took her a moment to roll out of bed, a nice change. Before her Empowerment, that had been taking longer and longer.
She staggered towards her bathroom, trying not to stumble into any of her furniture or the walls. She’d had to replace her dresser and two doors in the first week after she got her new strength. Still, it was better than the constant fear of falling- she was so dizzy- and the stubbed toes she’d had to suffer before. What was wrong? She…
Agnes fell to her knees and barely got an arm out in time keep herself from landing prone on the ground. Her clothes, there was something wrong with her clothes. She tried to take a deep breath, to steady herself, but she couldn’t seem to fill her lungs.
“What’s- what’s happening?” she asked, unable to keep the fearful tremble from her voice.
Fire! The room was on fire! That’s why she couldn’t- She let herself fall the rest of the way to the ground and started taking deep, gasping breaths. She knew the flames couldn’t hurt her but she had to get more air. After a moment, she decided that she was as collected as she’d get and started crawling. She’d lost her bearings by that point, didn’t know if she was heading for the door or the wall or what, but it didn’t matter.
If she just kept going, even if she had to go right through the side of her house, she’d get out eventually. There was a dim shape in front of her, something solid and black behind the orange blur that she now realized was a mass of flames covering her body. She kept going, or tried to, but something was stopping her. That shouldn’t be possible.
“I’m sorry, Agnes, but I can’t let you go.”
She didn’t recognize the voice, or the hands on her shoulders. They were a man’s hands, large and hairy, covered with small, shiny scars. Agnes pushed against them, determined to get loose, and- and nothing happened.
It shouldn’t have been- He was picking her up, struggling a bit as she fought back but not much, and he was- was carrying her back to her bed? She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t get enough air. All she felt was warmth, all around her but especially in her throat, and the emptiness in her lungs. She… something was wrong.
The man, whoever it was, leaned over her. He’d got her back into her bed. She could tell. Agnes kept moving, kept trying to get away, but it didn’t work. She was getting weaker, harder to think, to keep trying. The man was almost gentle as he held her down, as he killed her. There was something wrong with his face. She could see it, sometimes, while he leaned in to make sure she didn’t get back up.
It kept changing, one moment a stranger’s, the next so familiar.
Her face. He had her…
It should have been raining.
This was the first funeral Jason had ever attended, at least so far as he could remember, but he found that he had an idea of what they should be like anyway. Most likely it was the effect of movies and television, the programing of his expectations. Someone he had cared about, not on the same level as Hector or Jenny but still, someone who had mattered to him was dead. It should have been raining.
Jason looked down, into the open casket, unsure what to say. There were few others present. Agnes’s family had long since passed on or moved away, for the most part, and the same could be said of her friends. Hector had come, for Jason’s sake, as had Dr. Lizborne and a few others he recognized from the clinic, but it seemed too few.
He should say something, do something, but he didn’t know what.
It should have been raining.
At least it had probably not hurt. That was what Hana had told him. The elderly… the elderly died. That was simply how it went. That she was one of the most powerful Strong types in the country did not matter. Hana had said that it was not smoke inhalation, not exactly, but oxygen deprivation. The fire burned hot enough to consume the air and Agnes- Agnes had been too tough to feel pain. She likely had not woken, simply drifted from sleep into… something else.
Jason reached out, laid a hand on her shoulder, then stepped back.
Eventually, they closed the lid and lowered her casket into the ground.
Hector took his hand, squeezed it once, then let it go. Jason found it to be oddly reassuring. He would call Jenny later today. He wouldn’t- wouldn’t actually be able to speak to her, but it might help. He could speak to the thing that moved her and… maybe… she would hear him.
Hana touched him, just lightly laid her hand on his shoulder, then removed it. He noticed the similarity to the gesture he had made with Agnes but… He turned and nodded at her, grateful.
It should have been raining.
“What’s next?” Liz asked.
Hector took an index card off a small stack that rested on the table and held it up so she could see it.
“Jones type.” he said.
Without a noticeable pause for consideration she began reciting. “Mind control, typically expressed as either mental- sometimes verbal- commands or as a possession like effect. Common limitations include line of sight and relative strength of will, though the latter is rarer than most people like to think.
“Most common associated powers are telepathy, with a low incidence of telekinesis, and clairvoyance. The latter is often experienced as an ‘out of body’ sensation.”
“Suggested combat strategy?”
“Assuming no assets with high resistance or immunity are available…” she trailed off as she gave her boyfriend a questioning look. He nodded and she continued, “… engage from a distance, especially if indirect attack abilities can be used. Failing that, larger numbers or a Jones type of your own. Most of them can only control one or two other people and a lot of them can’t touch someone whose already under another Jones type’s control.”
“That’ll work for a low or mid tier, but what about a high end Jones type?” Hector asked.
Liz grimaced at the thought. Jim Jones, the man the type was named for, had been exactly that. He’d basically owned anyone in his line of sight and, worse, the effect had lingered even after victims left his presence. He’d used that power to build up a group of almost a thousand people who worshipped him like a god.
That had been in the early days of the Citadel and it had taken much too long for them to realize what he was doing in his remote ‘commune.’ When they’d finally come for him… well, it hadn’t been pretty. The majority of what happened was still classified, like most of the stuff Prime got called in for, but some of it had gotten out.
The pictures… well, there was a reason that Jones types had that name and there was a damn good reason they were feared.
“Bring in someone with sensory abilities to verify the Jones type is on site and then use a widespread area attack. Destroy the region and, hopefully, kill any sleepers he may have set up along with the Jones type.”
Hector nodded and picked up the next card.
Even as she described the most common ways for forcefield manipulation to express itself, and its accompanying strengths and weaknesses, Liz compared the study session with the last time a boyfriend had quizzed her. He’d been a lot less… dedicated than Hector, less thorough too. Still, tedious as the Periodic Table of Elements had been, she’d almost prefer that to this.
As much as she wanted in to Analysis, Liz didn’t like the idea of killing. She knew it was necessary, knew if she’d had the chance she’d have killed Viral herself, but she didn’t like it. At least she wouldn’t have to do it herself. If she got in, she’d just be advising other people on when and how to do it, not pulling the trigger herself.
That thought didn’t help as much as she’d have liked it too.
Liz went on, describing the varying effectiveness of sonic, light and gas based attacks even as she tried to decide whether she really wanted this.
“How did it feel?” Jessica Healer asked.
“I did not like it.” the boy said, his tone utterly lacking in emotion.
She wasn’t fooled. The sight of purple tinged grey was too clear, resentment and grief. Pale as it was, it was also one of the most complex combinations she’d seen from Jason yet. And this was entirely the product of his own experience, not something she’d had to put in place for him. If she’d been capable of feeling satisfaction at the moment, she’d have smiled.
Instead, she simply asked, “Can you be more specific? You didn’t know her long, so why did her death matter to you?”
He was silent for a moment, covered with the yellow of concentration. That was one thing she definitely appreciated. Strange as he was, potentially dangerous or no, Jason took the time and effort to genuinely consider her questions before he answered.
“She was… familiar. She was the first person to speak to me, on a personal basis, when I decided to start visiting the Empowered clinic. Agnes did not deserve to die. I didn’t like the reminder that people who matter to me can be killed. It made me think of Hector and Viral. It reminded me of Monster and…”
The conflicting colors resolved themselves into a solid aura of black. He still seemed to be having trouble discussing Jenny when he was emotional but Jessica was relatively sure that it was genuine, no outside manipulation. This time.
She was cut off by ping from her phone. Odd, it should’ve been off. Jessica was always careful about that, only checking her texts and voicemail between sessions and never during- Her train of thought derailed abruptly as she caught sight of the screen. It was from her brother.
WERE HAVING A BABY!!!! NAMING IT AFTER YOU IF GIRL, DAD IF BOY!!!
“Sorry Jason, I have to take this. I’ll contact you to reschedule, okay?”
Jessica couldn’t stop grinning, she was so excited for her brother Pat. He and Abby had been trying for so long and now she was going to be an aunty!
The door shut and Jason left but Jessica Healer didn’t notice, too busy trying to guess what her niece or nephew would look like. Worse, she also failed to notice that she had not made a note in her planner about rescheduling that appointment. It would be weeks before she realized that one had never been made, though by then it wouldn’t seem so important.
Robert had some choices to make. He’d gotten used to just keeping all the assets he could get his hands on, a necessity if he was going to be able to react to an emergency that he couldn’t predict and that could pop up anywhere in his city. The only way he’d been able to cope was by stashing groups or individual assets at all the high risk areas and some of the heavier population centers.
He couldn’t control them all at once, not with anything like efficiency, but that had been okay. It had been enough that he could be sure of having one or more near any trouble that might erupt. Of course, half of them had been at the Circle but that just made since. It was where most of his fights took place. Now, he had to evaluate them from a different perspective.
Numbers would still be important. Wherever he wound up would probably still be a decent sized city, one of the relatively recently lost ones. Combat power would have a different meaning though. He’d need to be able to react to internal threats at least as often and the… the ‘quality’ of the external ones would probably be higher. Maybe worse, he had to expect that the new challengers would be more familiar with what he could do and at least some of whatever new assets he acquired.
Transport could be an issue as well. It’s not like he could just pack them all into a cargo truck and take off. However he was going to end up moving, he couldn’t count on something easy like a teleporter. If that was spotted, it’d give the whole thing away. Also, a lot of the long-range ones needed either physical contact or close proximity, not safe with him or his assets.
Combinations would be the key, he decided. He’d have to divide his current mass into a few groups, carefully chosen to work with each other. The family of minor Lords that had attacked him last month were a good example. They’d been a Strong type, a pyrokinetic and a weird Jordan type. That’d give him a lot of flexibility- oh yeah, there’d been the stretchy one too, the leader.
Rob gave a mental shrug and wrote that one off as not worth the trouble to move from one city to another. The… stretchy one- and wasn’t that a silly power- had been the group’s leader but that had been because of his intelligence and personality, not the level of his power. It had come in handy against Taker, but that was about the only fight where a power like that had ever been useful to Rob. He couldn’t even remember the asset’s original name, so ‘Mr. Useless’ was going on the metaphorical trash heap. That was one battle group planned, just a few dozen more to sort through.
Rob wasn’t worried. He had time, time enough to get it right and make sure that he covered all the angles. He knew that sort of preparation was what could make someone genuinely dangerous.