“You allowed Dr. Thatcher to be captured?”
I felt like I was a trouble student sent the principal’s office. Hollands carried himself like a high school principal, or maybe a college dean. He sat so rigidly in his chair I was afraid his spine might snap at any second.
“Yes, Sir. Unfortunately,” Erin said quietly.
Hollands sighed, not relaxing his posture in the slightest. “I’m giving the case to A.S.E.T.”
Erin tensed and was about to protest, but Hollands raised his hand. “Corey is still recovering, Ian and Nathaniel have near-major injuries, and the press has caught wind of your…draw with Shard in Chicago. Do you think I should allow you to continue down this path when you’ve only been met with failure?”
“Sir, with all due respect, I think benching us would be a mistake. As much as I don’t like it, Argus wanted the Argonauts to be press favorites. If they see you treat us like children that get a band-aid and juice box when they scrape their knee, they won’t take us seriously.”
“Is that your only argument?” Hollands asked, arching a single eyebrow.
“And Ian has a lead. He thinks he can track the warping tech.”
Hollands thought for a moment. “Fine, you can keep the case, but before you go anywhere, you reach out to the nearest regional team in that area and request backup. Understood?”
Erin nodded, “Yes, sir.”
“Good. You’re dismissed,” Hollands said. Erin motioned for us to move and we all got up and started to file out of the room.
“And Ms. Vuorela…” Hollands called out.
Erin turned around, her face set, expecting to be reprimanded.
“Lead with the second part next time.”
Erin let off a short laugh, relaxing. “Yes, Sir.”
The rest of us were waiting for her out in the hallway. Corey had his arm in a sling to keep him from accidentally moving his chest, but it was a good reminder of his brush with death.
Erin pulled the door shut behind her and looked around at us before settling on Ian. “Are you sure you can track this thing?”
“I think so, but I’m going to have to visit the workshop. Dr. Thatcher is the one who gave me the idea. Once you broke the dampener that thing was carrying and I got my powers back, I noticed a strange signal I hadn’t seen before. It stands to reason that it was coming from the goo.”
“Workshop?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s an area of Argus’s Research & Design building that heroes can dabble around in. Wanna come with?” Ian asked.
“Sure, might as well check it out.”
“I’m going back to my room,” Corey said, turning to walk off.
“Not a bad idea, we could use some decent R&R,” Erin said. “Ian, when you’re done come let us know.”
“Aye aye, boss,” Ian said, motioning for me to follow.
Ian opted to skip the elevator and briskly walk down the set of stairs that separated the main level from the floor with Mr. Hollands’ office. We had to move to the side of the hallway to let a squad of soldiers by. There always seemed to be something going on here, always a rush. It was like a hive of black and gray bees.
We left the central administration building and started down the slight slope towards one of the buildings around the perimeter of the complex.
“So, you said this place is for the techies to come and have a place to work?” I asked, looking up to see a trio of drop ships landing nearby.
“Exactly. Most of the more established ones have their own state-of-the-art workshops, but those take lots of funding. For upstarts, this place is like a heavenly playground. And something else that makes it cool is the chance to network with some of the pros who visit to share ideas and come together to work on projects together.”
Part of me wished I was one of the tech types, but then again, that would require Math.
A set of automatic doors parted to reveal what looked like an aircraft hangar with projects scattered around as far as the eye could see. The floor was broken up into several rectangular areas that the heroes seemed to be allowed to work in with large alleys between them to move things around. There were mech suits, drones, cannons the size of semi-trucks, and more than a dozen other things I couldn’t even recognize.
“Woah,” I gawked, looking around.
“Yeah,” Ian said, “I had the same reaction the first time I saw it too. Come on, I’ll show you my area.”
I managed to tear my gaze away and follow Ian past the projects in various stages of completion to an industrial-sized elevator that took us down past another floor nearly identical to the one above. This one had several open areas that were free of clutter and waiting to be used. The biggest difference between this floor and the one above was an extra area at the far end of the room. It looked like a missile silo, but what was eye-catching was the massive mech standing in the pit.
“No way!” Ian said, lighting up like a child on Christmas.
He took off, practically sprinting across the room. I don’t think he even moved this fast when he was trying to get Thatcher to safety. Summoning a bit of energy around me feet, I gave myself a boost to catch up to Ian.
There were two people standing at the edge of the pit, one of them was the robot man I saw when I first met the Argonauts (I later learned he went by Shinobi), and the other one I recognized immediately: Colossus.
He was a solo hero who didn’t have any powers, but that didn’t stop him from being one of the most famous and well-liked heroes on the planet. He wasn’t so much the villain-fighting type, though he did do that on occasion. He usually only responded to natural disasters and Class 1 threats; monsters and the like.
Most tech heroes had flashy weapons or useful tech, but they all paled compared to the 100+ foot tall mechs Colossus wielded. I didn’t recognize the one he and Shinobi were standing in front of, though. Was it a new one? The Rhodes, his default suit, was mostly red and a good bit larger than this one which sported a sleek black and gold color scheme.
Ian almost skidded to a stop way too close to the hero. Shinobi’s mask? Faceplate? Whatever it was, it kept me from seeing his expression, but Colossus’s uneasy glare turned into a broad smile when he realized Ian wasn’t trying to attack him.
“I’m very sorry to interrupt, but I just have to say I’m a huge fan.”
The man’s smile widened. I could see why people like him; he was tall, handsome, and had a winning smile. “You’re one of the new Argonauts, right? Pleasure to meet you.”
Miraculously, Ian didn’t melt.
“Yes, Sir, I’m Ian Moore, aka Clyffe. If you don’t mind me asking, what are you doing here? I thought you were based out of Kansas.”
“Ah, I was consulting with Mr. Akira about improving the neural link with my suits, specifically with my newest one: Nero,” Colossus said, motioning to the behemoth behind him.
“Very impressive,” Ian said, studying the mech.
“I’ve had an issue with combating smaller targets in the past, this should hopefully serve as an effective means of crowd control and target suppression. A walking power dampener.”
“Awesome,” Ian said.
“What are you here for?” Colossus asked, raising an eyebrow.
“We’re working on a way to track down a potential means of technological teleportation.”
“Really? Now that is something new. How do you suppose your target achieved It?”
“Spacial folding based on research done by Dr. Kurtis Thatcher during the reign of CADMUS. I think someone has created an artificial pocket dimension and has several mobile entrances and exits that can span a nearly infinite distance while maintaining a the spacial fold. According to a brief conversation we had with Dr. Thatcher, the technology to create the spacial fold would generate a trackable magnetic signature.”
Both of Colossus’ eyebrows rose in surprise. He stroked his bearded chin as he pondered what Ian said.
“Now if you were trying to build a device here, you would have to get it within range of one of the entrances in order to map out the rest, correct?”
Ian nodded, “I believe so.”
“That would still leave you in the dark until you managed to track down one of said entrances.”
“Well, yes. It isn’t a flawless plan, but it’s the best I think we can do.”
“Not so fast, I think I might be able to help. It just so happens that I own quite a few satellites currently in orbit. Several of those are used to monitor the Earth’s magnetic field to watch for abnormalities. If you could help me write the search parameters, I might be able to help you find any entrances that happen to be out there.”
Ian lit up, “Seriously? That would be…fantastic!”
“Mr. Akira, would you like to join us?”
The mechanical man shook his head, “Thank you for the offer, but I’m afraid A.S.E.T. requires my attention. I will send you the files we spoke of; I believe it will make integration easier.”
“Thank you very much,” Colossus said with a handshake.
And then he noticed me.
“Oh, I don’t believe I caught your name.”
“Uh, Nate Peterson,” I said, accepting his handshake.
“Are you working on this project too?”
“Oh, no Sir. I was just tagging along. I think I’ll leave you two to it and check in with the rest of the team.”
Ian seemed torn, but when he caught me eyeing him, he put on a blank expression.
“Well then, nice meeting you, Nate,” Colossus said as he steered Ian towards his work area.
Seeing everything in the workshop area was neat, but I wasn’t the kind of guy you wanted to give you a hand around expensive electronics. I made my way back up the hill to the central building before walking to the team’s dorms. The common room was empty which probably meant everyone was either in their rooms or in the cafeteria getting food.
Come to think of it, lunch sounded pretty good. While I was debating on trying the food, Erin came out of her room in workout gear.
“Hey, Nate. I was just about to hit the gym, wanna join me? Maybe we can finally give your powers a proper test.”
“Only if you promise we can eat afterward,” I said with a grin.
Erin chuckled, “Sure. Get changed and I’ll meet you down there. You remember how to get to the room we were training in when Hollands first introduced you?”
“Yeah, I’ll meet you down there,” I said, ducking into my room. I grabbed a pair of gym shorts and headed down to meet Erin. When I walked through the door, she was already warming up with a few kicks and punches. A faint red glow surrounded her, apparently a sign she was using her powers. I’d also seen her blue and green. Maybe I’d get the chance to ask her about it.
“Ready to go?” She asked, walking over. I suddenly remembered how much bigger she was than me.
“Ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Good. Now come on and get your power going,” she said, her glow increasing in intensity.
I took a deep breath and summoned my own glow. Something that had once been so alien to me now felt oddly like a comfort. Wasn’t sure how I felt about that.
“Have you ever done martial arts?” Erin asked, getting into a fighting stance.
“No, just a few boxing classes,” I replied, putting up my arms.
“Boxing? Alright, it’s a pretty good start. Come on, throw a punch.”
“You sure?” I asked.
Erin just laughed, “Scared to hit a girl?”
I didn’t get a chance to finish what I was saying. Erin caught me with a sucker punch propelled by superhuman strength. I’d say it was at least as hard as when Vindicator hit me. I ended up sprawled out on my back, defiantly with a new bruise to add to my growing collection.
Erin walked over and offered me a hand up. “Don’t let your guard down.” I sighed “Okay”, but when Erin grabbed my forearm, she didn’t just help me up, she flung me like a sack of flour. Up was the same thing as down until I hit the ground again with a thud.
This time I got the message. Fool me once and all that. Erin was coming closer again, but this time I managed to scramble to my feet first. “Come on, Nate, think fast.” She said throwing another punch. Despite my best efforts to dodge, she caught me with a glancing blow. It didn’t throw me back, but I staggered hard. Erin pressed the attack, throwing another punch.
Once again, the floor rapidly made my acquaintance. Erin was right next to me and I could tell she was moving for another attack. Luckily, my power decided to make itself useful. My vision flashed blue, and when it cleared, I was a few feet away.
“Nice hustle, but that wasn’t you, was it?” Erin asked.
“Not exactly,” I admitted.
“What is it then, a vision?”
“I think it’s similar, but my power kind of…takes over, I guess.”
“Fucking lucky,” Erin said with a grin before her glow suddenly turned blue. She crossed the ten or so feet between us in a split second before switching back to red and punching me in my midsection. Even with my energy protecting me from the worst of it, the punch still knocked the breath out me.
“Oh God,” I wheezed. “Give me a second.”
“Hm, maybe not so lucky. You’re going to get yourself or someone else killed if you rely on your autopilot to kick in. You have to use your powers proactively. We both know you can move fast and hit hard so do it!”
She was right. I did somehow manage to throw a car; I could throw her, right?
Come on, focus, I thought to myself as I started to feel I could breathe again. Wait, that was it! A plan was quickly coming together. Erin had done what she had just chided me for: she dropped her guard.
Still acting like I was winded, I psyched myself up to use my energy to move. I gave a mental wiggle and the energy flowed back and forth around me in response. Throwing myself forward, I rushed to Erin, throwing a punch just like she’d done to me.
Of course, it didn’t work. The light around her turned green and it felt like I hit solid steel. I have to move, I suddenly thought. Sticking to my new strategy, I jerked me and my energy back just as Erin threw another punch. This time, I was fast enough, and she only hit air.
I grinned to myself, but I really shouldn’t have celebrated prematurely. Erin cycled through blue and red in quick succession, closing the gap and hitting me with another painful punch.
“Shit,” I hissed, trying to not get frustrated.
“Nate, you have to pay attention to your opponent. Most of them will probably have powers that make every fight different.”
“Might help if I knew exactly what your powers were.”
Erin shook her head and grinned. “Not going to be that easy. Villains don’t go around handing out itemized lists of what they can do. I know you’ve seen me use my powers, put it all together.”
Fine. Red was strength, that was fairly obvious according to my bruises. Blue was what? Speed? It seemed to fit the pattern, but she was really fast. At least as fast as me. That left green. I didn’t remember her using that one as often, then I thought back to our fight with the goo. She tanked a laser beam to the face that blasted a crater into a cinderblock wall. So, it made her tough? Whether it was right or not, I didn’t have any other guesses.
She seemed to stay red most of the time, so that meant I could probably move faster than she could, and while I couldn’t hit harder, I could hit her hard enough.
Erin was still coming at me, so I decided to go on the offensive. I rushed forward like I did before, but I didn’t attack. Erin threw another punch, but I managed to move out of the way. Now it was my turn. Erin turned green again, but I wasn’t surprised. My punch did nothing, but then Erin turned red to let loose another punch.
Using my speed advantage, I managed to land a right hook before she could. Erin looked surprised, but she quickly broke into a smile. “Now you’re getting it!”
The more I used my powers, the more they felt like they were a part of me, like they had always been a part of me just like my arm or my leg. But something felt like it was…missing. Oddly enough, I remember exactly when it didn’t feel this way. When I first used my energy…beam…thing I was running on emotion, but when I felt the energy coursing through me…
Erin threw several more punches and I managed to evade a most of them, even got in one or two more past her green state, but it was clear she was the better fighter. She was more in tune with her powers than I was with mine. I needed that connection if I was ever going become any kind of hero.
I pressed against the presence at the back of my mind, trying to reach into it. Nothing. I tried again, redoubling my efforts. Something happened this time: Erin clocked me in the jaw. I sprawled out on my back, but the impact was the mental edge I needed. I clawed at the thing in my head, and I finally broke through.
I could feel the energy pulse through me, ready to obey. “Go green!” I yelled, aiming my hand at Erin. She listened and once I saw she had changed, I let the energy loose. It wasn’t as strong as the one I fired at Shard, but it was still impressive. I tried to aim for her shoulder or arm, but it didn’t matter. She was completely unscathed and smiling like an idiot.
“Nice job,” She said, letting her glow fade and offering me a hand up.
“No tricks?” I asked.
Erin laughed. “Nah, training over.”
I accepted her hand and true her word, she helped me to my feet. “You managed to control your powers, well done.”
“You still kicked my ass,” I laughed as we headed back for the elevator.
Erin shrugged, “You still have a lot of work to do. I’ve had a few years to get used to my powers, and you’ve had what? A few days?”
“Yeah, I think You’re right. I still don’t know if I know everything I can do,” I said. That reminded that I meant to aske Erin about her powers. “But what about you? What exactly can you do?”
“Didn’t you figure it out during the fight?”
“I think so, but I don’t know how they work. So red makes you stronger, blue makes you faster, and green makes you tougher?”
“When I’m green, I’m practically invincible. I call myself Norn after the three Nornir of Norse Mythology. They represented fate, and loosely the past, present and future. I thought they lined up with my powers reasonably well. When I glow blue, I can see the recent paths that moving things have taken. I can use that kinetic energy to make myself move faster. So, when you jumped back, I could move just as fast as you could with the addition of my natural speed. When I’m green, I lock myself into my current physical state. I can’t get physically hurt.”
“Like with the laser from the goo.”
“Exactly. And when I’m red, I can access strength I’ve built up while using it. As far as I, and Argus, can tell, I’m not bound by human strength in my red state. I keep getting stronger and stronger. Might be as strong as Vindicator or the Eagle one day. Who knows?”
I smiled at the thought as we walked out of the elevator. “Did you ever think of joining another team?”
“I did after I was sanctioned. The Union was an option. They had an opening on their northern European team. It would let me be close some of my family back in Finland, but I would be a relative nobody on their roster. There were other small teams that reached out, but I wanted to make a difference, you know? Argus seemed to give me that chance. What about you? James told me the Regents offered you a spot on their team. Why didn’t you join?”
Of course, she’d ask a question that would force me to lie. “I don’t know, I-”
“-Erin, we found it!”
Both of us looked in surprise at Ian sprinting down the hall. He stopped and took a second to catch his breath, “We found it.”
“The goo?” Erin asked.
“Yes,” Ian said with a smug grin.