Month: October 2015

Chapter 73: Bait

A loud knocking woke him up.

Apparently the drunk had found his way back to his hotel. At least he wasn’t lucid enough to realize he’d need to go to the front desk if he lost his key. It gave Unimportant some warning before he’d barge in and see the slept in bed.

The drunk had been passed out in the back of his car. Unimportant hadn’t enjoyed grabbing his hotel key, but he wasn’t going to use it and Unimportant hadn’t felt like spending another night on a bench. He’d had trouble sneaking into cabs and buses the last few days and hadn’t been able to make his way home before his mom locked up.

The pounding stopped and he rushed to the door. He heard the man stumbling down the hallway and checked the peephole to be sure.

He left the man’s key on the table and quietly ducked out of the room.

The man’s elevator was already long gone, but luckily that was the one piece of transportation he could actually handle himself.

The elevator stopped three times on the way to the lobby. Each new passenger looked oddly at the space where Unimportant was before joining the others huddled a little more closely to the far wall than they would normally be comfortable with.

The doors opened on the bottom floor and the others quickly dashed out of the elevator with confused expressions. Unimportant slowly followed them.

He followed their paths to the hotel’s buffet. If he had to steal food to eat, at least he could take it from where it wouldn’t be missed. In moments eggs and bacon were piled high onto his plate, and he chose a table hidden in a back corner to sit at.

He ate in silence. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he had bothered to talk. For the first weeks, he had spoken aloud to keep himself entertained. The novelty had worn off quickly. The noise of other people’s lives drowned out any attempts in crashing waves.

With his meal finished, he reached into his bag and pulled out a map of the city. In the time since he had decided to avenge his brother’s fate, it had transformed into a series of notes and interconnected points. The scrawl was crude and it had been erased and written over so many times that that anyone who didn’t know what it was already could never hope to read its contents.

But to him the map represented the only goal he still had in this life. Asclepios’s distribution network had taken a massive hit after the riots, but there was only so much that could be done. Asclepios had spent decades building up the underground network that made his distribution possible, even a dedicated hunt could only do so much.

But Unimportant didn’t have to justify his actions or follow the guidelines that the police did. And other heroes could only afford to focus on the drug trade so much when more visible and immediate threats were appearing in the city. He may not have been the best person to bring Asclepios to his knees, but he had been dealt a better hand than anyone willing to try.

And so, Unimportant dedicated himself to dismantling the network piece by piece.  But even with his goal in mind even as he moved forward with a singular purpose in mind; he knew he was still running away.

Every night he lay awake with that face resting beneath his eyelids. That simple, unassuming face that had managed to fill him with more fear than he had ever experienced in his life. The man had leaked so much rift radiation that for a moment he had failed to realize what it was. It was like he had stumbled across the active gates of two dozen sliders in the same place.

No slider should have been able to generate that much radiation, and he was leaking it passively. It had felt like the first time Unimportant had ever sensed the rift of a different slider; it was so similar to what he had unknowingly been producing, but at the same time it was so alien that he could barely comprehend its existence. This man encompassed every wave of radiation he had ever felt, but behind that all a singular wavelength echoed out, more powerful than all the others combined. In his heart he knew who it was, who it had to be.

Eclipse, the first slider, the immortal enemy of all mankind. No one really knew how his power let him keep coming back no matter how many times he was killed or driven away, but there was no doubt that anything he had turned his attention on was already doomed.

So Unimportant had run, and no matter how much time had passed, he still felt like he was running.

His finger lazily traced the most recent line he had drawn on the map. It led to a large chain store on the far side of town. He couldn’t confirm for sure that it was a distribution point, but the last seller he’d taken down had stopped by there much more often than he needed to pick up trash bags.

He carefully folded up the map and set it into his bag. He’d have to hurry if he wanted to find a ride.

He was just about to sneak onto the bus when it happened. A sudden weight nearly pushed him to the ground.

His eyes were immediately drawn to the south. It was rift radiation, but unlike any he had ever felt. If Eclipse’s radiation had been a sound it would have been deafening, if it was light it would have left him blind for life. This radiation wasn’t loud or bright, but it hit him with a force he couldn’t explain. It was calling to him.

The bus had already pulled away, but his destination had changed.

Unimportant stared at the rift piercing the sky.

He set his shoulders straight with all the confidence he had left and started walking.

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Chapter 72: Dreaming

The walls glowed with an eerie light. The bars too. Magic, he assumed; it kept him from breaking out. Not that breaking out would have done him any good. The world was his prison. Everyone out there knew his face; they knew that if he ever made it home they would vanish from existence like a dream.

They didn’t need to bother. He’d died the same day she did. The last thing he did before falling through the cracks was destroy their apartment and throw his cousin out a window. He didn’t have a home to return to.

He paced from one wall to the next, gently tapping his fingers along the bars of his cell. They didn’t treat him poorly, but the boredom was going to kill him. They were afraid that if they gave him too much to work with he’d break out. He got a new book every couple of days. No TV. No Radio.

Most of the time, he was alone with his thoughts. He tried to lose himself in happy memories. He remembered her smile, her voice, her lips. But it always led him to the same place. The sight of her, overwhelmed by her own power, sinking into a level of depression that took years in a matter of moments. He remembered not being able to reach her, to hold her back. He watched her pick up the shard of glass. And then he’d done the worst thing he could.

He turned away.

It had been his fault. She shouldn’t have been there at all. She definitely shouldn’t have been the one to try and take down Eclipse. It hadn’t worked any of the dozens of times they’d killed him before. They didn’t have any reason to believe that dying by his own hand would make it stick.

But it had been a chance. And Kalliope had wanted to try; she wanted to take a chance to end the monster’s life once and for all.

It was meal time. A guard was walking down the hall. As always, his other accompanied him. It was the easiest way to keep his powers in check.

Rumor watched himself through the bars. Staring into his mask in a way he had never experience until these last few months.

Neither of him said a word. The guard kept glancing between the two, as if any hint of conversation would lead to his doom.

The other Rumor scoffed. Despite the mask in the way, Rumor caught the smirk on the face that wasn’t his.

“New book.” He handed it through the bars and Rumor passed the old one back.

The guard slid the tray through the door and quickly backed away.

The other him turned to walk away and he stared at his back.

“It won’t work forever you know.”

The other him paused.

“It’s a stop-gap. Sooner or later this whole place will collapse and the only thing that will change is you’ll take me with you.”

The other him turned back slightly. “It gives us time. If you want to live, the best option is to give us as much as you can.”

Rumor looked himself in the eye. The other him couldn’t look for long. Whatever spark they’d once shared, whatever drove them to become who they were, it was gone now. He hated that look, that defeated void, coming from his own face.

Rumor couldn’t have looked for long either. This him had grown more ruthless without her. He was frozen in a moment of anger that he may never move on from. Even without the news, he heard the guards gossiping, just out of sight. He hadn’t started killing, but he was close. They’d found at least a few villains with every bone in their body shattered. They couldn’t wake up for days without fainting from the pain.

They both saw each other as the worst they could ever become. They hated each other almost as much as they hated themselves.

“You’re wrong about that,” Rumor said as he returned to his bunk. “If I wanted to live, I’d already be gone.”

The other him didn’t answer as he led the guard out of the room.

Rumor glanced down at the book. He’d read it already, but it was one he enjoyed. At least he could trust himself to pick out good books.

He ate his meal in silence and slid the tray back to the door when he was done.

Then he sat down and opened the book.

He tried to focus on the words, to string a sentence together. But before he knew it, he’d been staring blankly at the first page for minutes on end without reading a single line.

.His mind was wandering again. It led to the same place as always. Even months later, it was the only thing he could thing about.

It wasn’t her death, or her song of depression, or her lips, or her voice, or her smile. Those were all things he used to distract himself from the truth.

It was the last thing she’d said; before she started to sing. It was when she asked him to help her.

And he had

Eclipse didn’t kill Kalliope.

Rumor did.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Will’s eyes shot open, but his head remained firmly planted on the pillow.

It was the fourth time he’d had that dream in as many nights. Before that, it had been a year and a half since he’d had it.

Ever since he was in Mach’s head, ever since he’d seen himself in the state he’d been in for months after escaping that place, the cell hadn’t left his mind.

He couldn’t talk about them. Most people would have shrugged it off as a nightmare, but people like his friends tended to be a bit…paranoid about dreams. The last thing he needed right now was The Court trying to interpret it as a sign of modern events or Maestro psychoanalyzing him about how it was a reaction to similar emotions, or Lux telling his mother.

It was just a bad dream.

It didn’t have to mean anything.

A knock on the door.

His clock said half past one, but he didn’t care. Right now he needed the distraction.

When he opened it, there was a note stuck to the other side.

It was from Zero. Apparently, someone needed to talk to him, fast. She didn’t give a name. It was odd, but not uncommon.

Will looked back at his bed. He wasn’t going to get anymore sleep tonight anyway.

Will threw on a long jacket over his t-shirt and sweat pants. And walked out the door.

The meeting place was close luckily.

Will sat down on a park bench, haloed by a lamppost mostly covered by a tree.

Miss Mirror slowly floated down to him, and Red Racer was there just as she landed.

Red Racer’s explanation was long and full of segues, but the message got through.

Will grabbed his phone and started making calls.

He wasn’t going to lose another one.

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Chapter 71: Run and See

The world was a blur.

Even at his fastest, he had always felt like he was the one standing still. The wind was nothing more than a gentle breeze on his face, and streets passed by with crystal clarity in a moment.

Red Racer shouldn’t be out right now. Mitchell Chase should be just waking up, counting down the days until he has to return to school. But they could not stand the thought of staying still.

For the second time in his life, Red Racer had lost somebody to a supervillain. This time he had powers. This time he should have been able to help. But it hadn’t made a difference.

They hadn’t been particularly close, true. In fact, they’d barely talked at all. But they’d fought together. They worked to save a friend together. After that, she was his friend. And now he might never see her again.

He paused to keep an old woman from tripping. He wasn’t still long enough to hear her say thank you to an empty street.

Dropped wallets, runaway pets, and one almost car crash. Red Racer never stopped for long. Anyone he helped was lucky to catch a glimpse of the crimson wings on his chest before he was gone.

His sister wanted to talk. Their dinner last night had been a long drawn out attempt to get him to talk about his feelings.

He was 13, almost 14. What feelings he had he could barely understand. Trying to talk about them to his sister was as impossible as anything he’d ever tried.

So he didn’t talk. One word answers and half-hearted shrugs said exactly what he felt.

It would help if he could remember the fight. They told him he hit Frankenstein harder than anyone else could have. They said he sent him flying and bought them the time they needed to get Mach out of there.

All he remembered was seeing Frankenstein fire into the hole they saw Mach disappear into. And then he was flying backwards with no way of catching himself. Something had caught him and then he passed out.

Hawthorne had told him that that was wrong. She said that they’re hadn’t been anyone to catch him. She thought his power had kicked in and slowed him down so he hadn’t been hurt.

But he knew that was wrong. No matter how powerfully his power had grabbed him, he had never felt it. His power didn’t felt like anything; it was just the way he moved. That day, he’d been caught, held by something or someone. Hawthorne shrugged it off, but it never left his mind.

He needed to think, but even before he got his powers, he could never think while standing still. So now he was running. He wasn’t going anywhere, he didn’t need to run for anything. He wasn’t running with a purpose; running had become his purpose.

Someone had caught him. Someone he couldn’t see. Someone that Hawthorne couldn’t see and Allspades couldn’t see and Burnout couldn’t’ see.

A thought stirred in his mind, a memory. He hadn’t been there when they found Burnout lying in the cave. He had been waiting for them outside.

Why?

He began to slow; the memory began to fade. In a moment between recollection and oblivion, he paused. His feet kept moving, but his brain froze, trying to understand the state his mind was in.

Another blur crossed in front of him. His mind jerked free and he sped back up. He made a sharp turn and raced to catch up to the other runner.

It was Zero.

She caught sight of him out of the corner of her eye and slowed down just enough to let him catch up.

“Mirror’s brother, right?”

Red Racer nodded silently.

“Does she know you’re out here?”

He shrugged. “She’s at work.”

“Hmm.” She nodded. “You should go home. Tell Will’s group that something’s happening, your sister too. A slider’s been leaving massive trails all around the city. Anyone who knows what to look for is on alert.”

If it had been anyone else, Red would have turned away. But Zero was a runner, a runner who had helped found the second Council.

He spoke deliberately. He’d mostly lost the echo, but he didn’t want it to show up now. “What does it mean?”

“It means nothing, until it means war.”

Red Racer didn’t stumble. He was a runner and everyone knew that Runners didn’t stumble. There was obviously a rock in the road that he had to hop over to keep up with Zero.

“Go home. Warn everyone. Tell your sister the moment you see anyone who doesn’t belong.”

Red Racer nodded. He was about to turn away, but a thought struck his mind.

“Zero?”

She didn’t say anything but her head cocked to the side.

“Have you ever been able to remember something differently when you’re running?”

She paused. Like him, her legs didn’t stop. Unlike him, she brought herself out of it.

“You’re a runner. You see things faster, you see more. Your brain works differently when you move faster than you can see. If something hit your wiring when you were slow, it might not work as well when you’re fast.”

“So even if I remember, I’ll forget when I slow down.”

She shook her head. “If you pull up something strong enough and hold onto it, you won’t forget. I’ve gotten around a few mental attacks that way. Go home. But go home fast. You might remember something.”

With that she started running faster. Not faster than he could go, but faster than he could go that fast.

He sped up, but he didn’t follow her. Right now, more than anything he needed to remember.

He focused on the cave. Why had he stayed behind?

And he ran. He ran as fast as he’d ever run and then faster.

A person clicked into place and he grabbed it. He followed it to the gas bombs, he followed it to the bullet wound in the man’s arm, he followed it until he arrived at a name. A name that seemed to hard to forget.

He stopped at his house and quickly changed into his normal clothes. He ran as fast as looked natural to his sister’s work.

She met him at the door, eyes wide with worry.

“What is it? What happened?”

“I need to talk to Will. Somethings wrong.”

The look on her face didn’t ease. “What is it? Is someone hurt?”

“He’s gone. We don’t remember and he’s gone.”

“Who?”

“Unimportant.”

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Chapter 70: Looking for What Isn’t There

Will shuffled down the empty hall towards his apartment. It was damp dim and smelled like too much detergent. It was also the nicest place he’d lived since Kalliope died.

He didn’t use the apartment much; the microwave was the only part of the kitchen he used and the “bedroom” barely fit a twin bed. But it was a place to sleep; and he didn’t have many neighbors.

He reached the door and paused. Someone was inside, sitting on his couch. Only one other person had a key, but he’d hand it over to half a dozen others if they asked for it. But there was only one person he knew who would be taking a nap on his couch.

Will opened the door. “Danny.”

Daniel Licht grunted from his spot on the couch. A mirage of stars danced around him, fading slowly as he returned to consciousness.

“Morning, Will,” he said sleepily. “I was wondering when you were gonna get home.”

Will kept an eye on his cousin as he shed his long coat. Danny barely lifted his head whne Will walked by him to the closet.

“Auntie M was asking for you. This makes two weeks in a row you missed dinner.”

“I’ve been busy.”

“You haven’t been busy in three years.” Danny’s voice was flat.

“Something happened.”

“And you can’t say any more because…?”

“I have no idea what it is.”

Danny paused.

Will glanced around the room. “There’s a step missing. There’s a pair of footsteps that I’m not listening for any more. And I don’t know why.”

“You’re forgetting something. You think your old man’s spook got into your head?”

Will shook his head. “My defenses were up the whole time. Last tel who tried to get past had the headache for weeks. Plus, Warren doesn’t need to get into my head. There’s nothing I know that he couldn’t find out on his own.”

“You’ve called in two favors from him. Maybe he wants you to forget what you did for him.”

Will shook his head. “I’m not missing hours or days, just moments.”

“Then it’s a broader thing. No one attacked you, you’re just collateral damage.”

Will nodded. “That’s most likely. But who would be important enough to erase that completely? I’ve checked my notes, and I’ve looked through my old cases. Nobody’s name is popping out and none of them have been erased.”

Will caught a glimpse of a smile on his cousin’s face. “What?” he spat out.

Danny shook his head. “Just remembering old times. You always worked better with a sounding board. It’s nice to know that you can still be you.”

“Somewhere out there is a power that can get past every defense I’ve built and protection I’ve been granted.”

“And you’re smiling.”

Will froze. The powered down TV showed him with an expression he hadn’t realized he could still make.

“Don’t act so surprised, Will. Sigurd’s noticed you acting like your old self. You willingly made a deal with your father for one of your kids. And if there’s one thing you could never let go…”

“I’m not trying to solve a mystery. Anyone who can pull this off is dangerous or desperate. I can’t ask others to follow a trail that exists in my head.”

Danny snorted. “Maestro’s been back in town for two weeks. The Court needs to see you to check for broken wards. Either of them could have taken this over the moment you noticed something was wrong.”

Will shook his head. “It’s not that simple.”

“Of course it isn’t.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

He’d snuck into the cab’s front seat a few hours back. He didn’t really need the lift, but the cabbie played good music and he was heading the right way.

He probably couldn’t stay long though. The driver kept running his hand through his burnot orange hair and sniffing deeply. Unimportant didn’t know how, but he knew something was wrong with his cab, and he was starting to get nervous.

He snuck his way out of the cab the next time it was stopped. He watched the driver relac through the window. Whatever he’d done to mess with the cabbie’s day, he’d already forgotten about it.

Unimportant glanced around himself. He’d gotten a little over halfway to the next warehouse.

He walked.

Warehouse was probably a generous term. Asclepios had been hiding his wares in less obvious places lately. This next batch was supposed to be in the storage units beneath some old apartments.

He whistled happily and spun the bolt cutters around in his hand. Even when you can’t imagine your life getting any worse, you had to learn to enjoy the little things.

He turned into an empty alley; it wasn’t much of a shortcut but a few minutes makes a big difference when you can easily get locked out of your own house.

Footsteps scraped behind him and he froze.

After a moment he let himself relax. He half turned and was a woman he had never met. But he’d recognize the costume just about anywhere.

“Janus”

The woman stared straight through him, and straight at him. She didn’t react to his words.

“It’s here.” She said to herself. “But there’s no tear, no doorway. Why would there be so much leaking?”

She stared at the spot for a few more minutes.

“Whoever came through is long gone. I hope someone can track him down.”

Unimportant stared at the spot she had just left. She hadn’t seen him but…

“She was looking for a slider,” he whispered. “She can sense me.”

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Memoirs of the Second Age 2: Mach

I’d like to tell you that I eventually managed to walk again.

Technically it wouldn’t be a lie. We’ve gotten pretty far these years, and the improvements I’ve made to the leg attachments have let me walk, run, and occasionally even fight again. But no matter how close I’ve gotten in was never the same.

Those first few weeks were the hardest. Learning how to not walk was difficult, but learning how to use my power at the same time was nearly impossible.

I still made an effort to go to the meetings, but I never felt like I belonged. Red Racer couldn’t stop shooting looks at me for a while.  He didn’t’ mean any harm, but it made me feel like I wad more broken than I knew I was.

Hawthorne was the nicest about everything. She was sympathetic, but she never treated me like I couldn’t do anything. She also managed to talk to me like a normal person. I think I got closer to her in that first week than I had in the months we’d known each other beforehand.

Allspades was distant. He was going through his own problems at the time, and I think he thought a lot more of my frustration was directed at him than really was. It was years after I changed names that we had a chance to really get to know each other. But that isn’t really a story for this book.

Burnout…In a lot of ways Burnout was probably the worst. I think he blamed himself, but I have no idea what he thinks he could have done. At first he was doting on me, and then he was avoiding me. Even after we recovered, there were times that he just couldn’t talk to me like he used to.

A part of me wonders what would have happened if I’d never been hurt. Burnout and I…we’d gotten close before Frankenstein appeared. We might have actually had something if I’d managed to stay Mach. But we’d lost the biggest thing we had in common right when we were becoming real friends. It didn’t really set us back, but it kept us distant for a long time.

Unimportant? He was missing at the time. That was the deepest he’s ever slid without losing ground in our reality; we didn’t even know he ever existed back then. I kind of wish he’d been there. For as flat as his powers made him, he always had a way of letting us know exactly he felt. If he’d been putting out those waves of his then the others might have gotten a better idea of what I really needed back then.

Will, this was back when we had no idea who he used to be, he was actually more kind and helpful during those few weeks than he’d ever been when I was still mach. I guess my situation got to him a little. He never had any problem with me showing up to meetings after the incident. He was there to help us make a decision, but since mine was made for me, I guess he just wanted to do his best to make me believe it was a good way to live.

I never really believed it though. And honestly, I’m glad I didn’t. It was almost a year before I figured out how I could be a hero without my legs, but I never regretted getting back into the life. I liked being Scanner a lot more than I’d ever enjoyed being Mach. Sure I couldn’t fight anymore, except for a few tricks I built into my assister, but I never felt like I had to run out into every crisis again. I could do just as much good, save just as many lives, if not more, from the background as I could on the front lines.

I stayed in touch with the group, of course. Even after Eclipse, I made sure that everyone got together every once in a while. We were never an official team, but none of us could deny that we worked well together. Most of our members managed to float between teams seamlessly after that and I’m pretty sure that’s what got Hawthorne to where she is nowadays.

…Regrets?

I have a few. Everyone does. I regret not hanging up my cape then and there. I regret going out that day and letting Frankenstein catch me off guard. I regret not figuring out my power sooner; if I had I might have been able to be Scanner and Mach at the same time. Mostly? I suppose I regret that I wasn’t the last one.

No; I really don’t feel comfortable talking about that day. It hit all of us hard, and unless Hawthorne’s willing to talk, I can guarantee no one else is going to want to think about it.

What happened next? That isn’t really my story.  Back then the most pivotal thing happening to any of us had almost nothing to do with me. You’ll have to track him down, because you’re going to want that story. If you want to know how we came to know who Will Writer really was, who Rumor really was, then that’s the place you need to start. Good luck.

No. I haven’t talked to him for a few weeks now, so he could be literally anywhere in the solar system. I notice myself not thinking about him sometimes though. I’d probably start back in Macrocity. It’s a good place to be when you travel as much as he does.

He’ll get in touch with me next time he’s grounded. I’ll let him know you’re looking.

Of course it’s important for you to talk to him. If you really want an idea of how the world was going to end, then he’s the place to start. As little as he did, there was no one more in touch with what was going on than Unimportant.

-Scanner
Memoirs of the Second Age

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