231 - Time and Tide

Every time Fuko reported in, Leo and Trace would look at each other and sigh. None of it was good news. The Atlantean intelligence services had penetrated the governments of several coastal or island nations, as well as wormed their way into the manufacturing industry of several more.

They’d reached out to everyone they knew, from AEGIS to individual superheroes, to get the word out about Atlantis. Some people listened. But many didn’t want to have anything to do with the HHL after their disgrace. Nautilus was the biggest and most vocal proponent of war with Atlantis, but nobody had been listening to him personally for twenty years. AEGIS took the warning seriously, but didn’t have much power to forge an international coalition, which is what was needed the most right now.

Finally - finally! - Jason Quill returns Leo’s call.

“Where the fuck have you been, dude?” Leo demands.

“Fighting a nanotech amalgam of the Quills and Chins in Antarctica,” Jason replies, like it’s nothing.

“The fuck? Well, whatever. Listen. There’s fucking underwater ninja after me. The entire empire of Atlantis is gonna invade the surface - soon. We need to build a lot of shit, fast.”

“Fascinating! Just let me–”

Leo stops himself from throwing his phone through force of will. “Whatever else is going on, it can wait!”

“Not really. I need to get my access codes to the Quill network back. Can’t do much for you until then.”

“Fine. Stay in touch.”

The next announcement continues the general downward trend for Leo’s hopes. An AEGIS middle manager gives him a call with some questions. Of the two Rossums they had in custody, one got kidnapped by Doctor Infinity recently. He hasn’t reappeared. Does Leo know anything? Thankfully, Summer took the trouble to narrate her own time-traveling adventures after her very recent return, and he relays what he heard.

The manager goes on. “The other one got taken too. Some kind of strike team coming out of the ocean around the prison complex. They match your description of the Atlanteans. Know anything about that?”

Leo does not. But he knows what must have happened. Saito knows his connection to Ji-a Lee, and to Rossum. Atlantis put two and two together, and now they have a hypergenius inventor who’ll do anything they ask, because they have the woman he loves in their custody.

The extended Menagerie assembles at the Quill Compound. Leo and his robots; Jason, Alycia, and what’s left of her new team; Charlotte; and Harry. Trace and Nautilus are present. Leo called AEGIS, and they’ve sent Agent Parker. Adam is in space, as Summer relays from Jordan.

Together, Leo and Trace outline the problem. There’s an underwater empire. They’re invading the surface, soon. They have a pretty good set of reasons - the HHL’s memory shenanigans affected them too, for example. And they have a million human hostages.

“I’ve got Leviathan designed, and Jason’s got enough influence and money to build them in quantity, which’ll get the hostages out. But that’s not enough to fight a war,” Leo confesses.

“If it’s weapons or a rescue, I reckon we go with rescue,” concedes Nautilus. “Still, once that’s done, I got plenty of ways to fry them fish.”

“The weapons might be necessary,” Parker announces. She snaps a finger and Alex Shelby holds up an open laptop, with a map of recent robberies on the screen. “Rook Industries has reported numerous thefts from their warehouses. And we have intelligence indicating that they’re losing equipment from their off-the-books black sites too, the ones they won’t acknowledge.”

“So Rossum led the Atlanteans to places they could get surface equipment?” Jason asks.

“Or Rook is working with them,” Leo mutters. “Just the way Rossum is.”

“They want to invade the surface,” Harry says. “How would Rook profit from that?”

Trace explains. “They don’t want to capture and hold. They have a behavioral response, a sort of pre-emptive strike, like a cat with its fur standing on end. They’re going to attack us so hard that we never think about attacking them in return, and then they’ll go live underwater in peace. Rook will definitely survive that.”

“And what would Rook get out of this kind of deal?” Parker inquires.

Leo has the answer to that. “Exclusive access to Atlantean biotech, centuries ahead of our own. Medicine that can put surgical patients on their feet in hours, not weeks. Bio-engineered living devices. All kinds of things.”

“There’s precedent,” Alex says. “The Atlanteans were doing a deal with the guy we were chasing.”

“Wouldn’t that make it obvious that they cooperated?” asks Nono.

Alycia shakes her head. “They would ensure the technology was laundered, the way the United States and the USSR brain drained Nazi Germany for its rocket scientists and super-geneticists after World War 2. Several people would get the basics. Rook would get the best of it, seemingly by having the best and the brightest working for them.”

“Go back a second,” prompts Emma. “What does ‘hit them so hard they never counterattack’ mean? This is America. We don’t back down for nobody.”

Summer speaks up. “In my travels, we saw another world where they’d invaded already. They raised the sea level dramatically. The coastlines were flooded.”

“And coastlines are where most of the cities are. Command and control for government. Industry. The stuff we’d need to fight back,” says Jason.

“Well we gotta stop that shit,” Leo declares.

“How?” Alycia asks.

“I… I don’t know yet,” he admits.

Harry looks from face to face. “It doesn’t matter, not right now.” He turns to Leo and Jason. “You two have a tool to rescue people that need rescuing. We can start on that right now. Even if we fail everything else, that’s worth doing. So let’s get on it.”

Smiles creep onto peoples’ faces, and one by one they nod in solidarity.

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Project Seal,” Alycia announces, walking into Jason’s lab.

Jason and Leo are busy overseeing the setup for Leviathan mass production. Both boys turn and blink.

“Goes like this. Set up a series of bombs under the ocean, 2 kilotons at 8 kilometers from the coast, and you create a tsunami. One won’t do anything significant, but a series of them builds up in power. Researched in 1944 by the Americans, of course.”

“Yeah, so?” Leo asks.

Alycia goes into her teach-basic-concepts-to-kids pose. “If the Atlanteans are so plugged into these island nations, they won’t endanger their allies by just melting ice caps. They’ll perform surgical strikes against their enemies.”

Jason nods. “I see. Create local tsunamis to flood specific troublesome cities - like Halcyon. And you can calculate where to plant the bombs, I suppose.”

Alycia grins wickedly. “Of course. But I can do better. What Rook facilities around the world are being evacuated of personnel and equipment, in anticipation of being hit?”

Jason and Leo look at each other, then back at Alycia. “You’re going to infiltrate Rook Industries to find out,” Jason concludes.

“You got it.” She turns to Leo. “This is where I need you. Not your help, just your umm, permission. Listen. You’ve built hard-shell armor out of your carbon tech. But you’ve made it flexible, too, like Summer’s oh-so-soft skin.”

Jason turns the slightest shade of red, and Alycia pretends not to notice. “It follows you can make armored clothing - something that’ll blend in, but let us take a hit if we have to. I want to fabricate something like that for my team.”

Leo shrugs. “Just don’t misuse it,” he says.

The Agents assemble, ready to show off their new duds. Everything checks out as bulletproof when worn - Alycia volunteered as test subject to be sure, much to Emma’s glee.

Alycia is in a biker jacket and faux-leather chaps, with sunglasses and heavy boots. Underneath these is a shirt, tie, and slacks, letting her pass as an office drone if necessary.

Alex is dressed in a long duster, with numerous internal pockets crammed full of electronics kit. They’ve got their usual sunglasses on, along with a good imitation of GORE-TEX pants and a t-shirt from an 80’s TV series so obscure, nobody can place it.

Nono chose a nice-looking dress with poofy sleeves and high stockings. A minute of adjustment can turn the ensemble into a track suit.

Emma opted for a crop-top, jeans with a studded belt, fingerless gloves, and shitkicker boots. She doesn’t plan on blending in as an employee of anything, except perhaps a crustpunk bar down near the docks.

Alex wheels out the team’s new weapons on a cart, fabricated in cooperation between Alycia and Nono. Everyone’s got a pair of pistols - but they don’t fire regular bullets.

Alycia explains the idea. “These are modified AEG hybrid Airsoft guns. The ammo is manufactured on a Newman-type chromodynamic molecular lathe. Basically they’re chemical weapons that look and work like firearms. We’ve got some standard loadouts, including knockout drugs, micro-explosives, and some other formulations. Nono programs in a chemical, the lathe turns it into a bullet, we fill a magazine with them, and shoot at the opposing force, doors, drones, whatever. Nobody gets killed, but we still achieve our objectives.”

Alycia and Alex stock up on an assortment of pre-filled magazines. Emma is delighted that Nono has given her a set of rounds that coat a target in flammable liquid. Nono herself seems more interested in coming up with new formulations on the fly, and is still visibly uncertain even holding weapons like these.

“See you boys later,” Alycia calls to Jason and Leo, once her team is ready to head out. “Don’t wait up for us.”

An unmarked black Escalade pulls up a few blocks from the Rook tower, and drops the four off. Everyone’s weapons are concealed. They drift individually to the bus stop nearest the tower, used by regular employees coming and going for their shifts. They loiter around, until Alex carefully glitches out the security cameras, just long enough for one of them to walk into the parking garage. Too long an outage, and someone will get suspicious.

Once inside, they work their way through rows and rows of cars to a service elevator.

Alex doesn’t need to be told what to do. They’ve got a cheap complex device ready to go. The badge scanner pings, the elevator doors open, Alex makes an elaborately flowery gesture inviting folks to board, and Alycia rolls her eyes.

The ride up is almost relaxing. Sure, they’re in enemy territory. But they survived Antarctica. Even Nono is casual about checking out her equipment, making sure everything is ready.

“Whoop there it is,” Alex announces. “The Faraday Cage.” The others can feel a slight tingle.

“They’ve electromagnetically isolated this part of the building. That’s why you can’t hack in from outside?” Alycia guesses.

“Yepperoonies.” Alex points to their teammates. “Agent M, gonna need you to set off the halon system in the server rooms on our floor. With fire, natch. Agent R, we’re gonna need some kind of corrosive on the outer wall of the server room, something to break the Cage’s isolation. Has to be acid, if you heat it they’ll know we broke through it. Charade, run interference with anyone who tries to get into the server room.”

Alycia nods. “Wilco.”

“How do you know about all this stuff?” Nono asks.

Alex’s face grows sad. “SNOWMAN - John - we were doing something like this before. For AEGIS. He infiltrated the tower as an employee, I operated from outside.”

Everyone falls quiet for a moment. Their teammate is in Antarctica, buried under a mountain of frozen rock, his fate uncertain.

“And he was able to get into the server room in spite of the halon,” Alycia says at last.

“Yeah. He doesn’t breathe, so go him,” grins Alex.

“Well we do breathe,” Alycia points out. “How are we going to function in there?”

Alex pales. “Shit.”

They reach their floor and pile out. Emma is popping bubblegum, silently defying anyone to get in her way. Alycia is walking with a professional, purposeful gait. Nono is trailing behind her, doing her best to appear to be a luckless toady in the retinue of a more successful corporate go-getter, and succeeding spectacularly. Alex, dressed and behaving like they heed the law of neither god nor man, is clearly from IT.

“Badges, badges, badges, badges, mushroom, mushroom,” chants Alex, handing out forged security badges.

They’re accosted twice on their way through the floor, once by a roving security robot, and once by a hostile man in a suit. The robot accepts the badges without question. The man insists on escorting them back to a secure door and watching them badge through. Both times, Alex’s handiwork holds up, but the suit still squints at them suspiciously as they move along.

They arrive at a high-security door leading to a windowless, walled-off area of the floor. “This is it,” Alex announces. “Alright, so uh…”

Emma holds up a hand. “I got this,” she says.

She starts concentrating, while the others mill about, talking in low tones with each other about nonsense and nothing. They’ve had it drilled into them by Alycia that people who look like they belong will be questioned less.

One by one, people start leaving the server room through the door. Each time, Alex subtly peeks through the door.

“I think it’s empty,” they say at last. “What’d you do?”

Emma shrugs. “Just started raising the temperature bit by bit. They got uncomfortable and bailed.”

“Huh. Subtle.”

Emma scowls. “I can be subtle when I need to be.”

The quartet file into the server room. It’s still hot, but Emma is already at work lowering the temperature. While she does that, Alycia starts levering a heavy cabinet out of the way, and gestures to Nono. She in turn draws one of the new guns, fumblingly loads a magazine into it, aims at the wall, and fires repeatedly. The bullets hit, and their corrosive payload immediately starts eating through the exterior.

“That’s good enough,” Alex announces. They pull out one of their numerous devices and start wedging it into the hole that’s been created.

The cabinet is back in place and the team is on their way out when the officious man in the suit comes through the door.

“What are you four doing in here?” he demands. “Show me your badges, immediately. I’m running a full trace.”

Alycia quick-draws and fires before the man can make a move. The bullets explode on impact into a short-ranged, short-lived mist of a soporific drug, and he collapses on the ground.

“We’re blown. Out,” she commands.

Back on the main floor, they find a woman in a similar suit, standing well away from the server room’s door. She’s barking orders into a throat mic. Alycia, concluding she’s backing up the first guy, shoots her too. But the warning is out.

An alarm begins to sound. The ordinary rank-and-file employees duck under their desks in response, and three security robots emerge from hidden closets and converge on the team.

“Shock shot,” Alycia barks. As one, the team eject their current magazines, grab a new one, slot it in, and begin firing. As each bullet strikes the robots, it releases an energetic ionized gas. The bots shudder, and Alycia points down. “Clean up!” she directs, and people grab hold of the ejected mags now laying on the ground. No evidence gets left behind.

The service elevator doors open. The elevator descends about halfway to the parking garage before it’s overridden by the building’s security team.

“Out,” Alycia says, pointing at the emergency hatch in the ceiling. One by one she boosts a teammate up and out through the hatch, then leaps up and pulls herself out, landing with catlike grace.

The elevator shaft has emergency ladders, and the team start working their way down those.

At the bottom, Alycia motions for a halt, and nods at Alex. The hacker, in turn, checks on a pirated security feed of the parking garage’s cameras, the same ones they’d hacked to get the team safely inside. Sure enough, numerous robots and security personnel are waiting.

“Options?” Alycia asks. “Our odds are poor against those numbers.”

“A fire shield should take care of most of the bullets,” Emma says. “But I’ll have to focus entirely on it.”

“Fine. 37, R, carry Agent M. I’ll handle the rest.”

Nobody has any better ideas.

The elevator door opens, and bullets rain in. They’re caught and incinerated in flight by Emma’s powerful pyrokinetic aura - so finely controlled that the team stays safe from flying rounds, but isn’t roasted by heat transfer in turn. Some do get through, only to bounce harmlessly off the team’s armored clothing.

Alycia has guns in each hand. She uses shock shots for the robots, knockout shots for the security personnel, and ducks and moves like a predatory panther through the rows of cars when not shooting at either. Between her distraction and the fire shield, the team has enough coverage to take shelter behind a car. They can see the exit. But how to get there?

Alex glances at the car, and actually laughs. “Oh this guy bought a Tesla. You fucking idiot!”

Their computing gear comes out, the car roars to life via remote activation, and Alex directs it forward toward the exit. The team stay sheltered behind it, safe from the withering barrage of gunfire. Some enemy units do come round the car from front and back, only to be viciously put down by Alycia’s expert marksmanship.

The borrowed Tesla is a bullet-ridden wreck by the time they reach the street, but it served its purpose. Alycia directs the team into a nearby alley where she’s prepped an exit via manhole.

“The remote access link is working great,” Alex reports back at the Quill compound, gesturing at their laptop. “I also left a thumb drive in a couple of the important-looking computers to make them think we were there to inject a virus.”

“Um, did you?” Nono asks curiously.

Alex blinks. “What, inject a virus? Oh yeah, definitely, that was real.”

Alycia nods, and addresses the team. “Nono, your new weapons performed perfectly. Emma, Alex, you both did excellent work. Alex and I can start on the data analysis. Emma, Nono, you’ve both earned a break.”

The two girls smile at each other, and head out.

Hours later, Alycia has something to report to Jason and Leo. “Sure enough. We found plans to close down select Rook facilities and relocate personnel. Here’s your tsunami timetable.”

Both boys look at the figures. “This doesn’t give us much time,” Leo says worriedly.

“Enough to warn the authorities, and try to avert this thing,” Jason replies. “Alright, phase one of the Atlantis counter-attack is officially a go.”

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Adam Amari hovers at the center of a sphere. Facing him are four Concordance Coordinators. Behind him are the Rainbow Warriors.

What transpires inside the sphere will be broadcast to other Concordance Schema. Nobody here is happy about being here, but for vastly different reasons.

“You guys have been dumping negative emotions on Earth for like thousands of years,” he announces, boldly.

None of the Coordinators speak. Uncertain of whether they’re even going to acknowledge his words, he commands Tau to relay the evidence from LASI-9292.

The conversation replays itself. And still they say nothing.

“Are you all okay with this?” Adam demands finally.

“It is our policy,” says one Coordinator, as though this pronouncement settled the matter.

“Well it’s a terrible policy!” Adam shouts. “You’re hurting people by dumping this stuff on our planet!”

“The alternative is to allow it to pollute the universe,” another Coordinator says. “The GS-343 policy effectively contains this emotional energy.”

“Well it’s not contained on Earth,” Adam retorts. “It’s full, and it’s been leaking, for who knows how long.”

A third Coordinator now speaks. “Then, Agent Amari, is it not your duty as a Concordance Agent to neutralize the leak?”

“How would I do that?”

“Requisition a receptacle. Arrange transport to another storage facility. Contact–”

Adam cuts in. “Move the problem to someone else’s planet, in other words.”

The Coordinators resume their silence.

“Why is that the only alternative? Haven’t you ever found a better way to deal with this stuff?”

The fourth and final Coordinator now speaks. “This solution was deemed best.”

Adam scowls. “And you guys always know what’s best.”

The Coordinator nods, without any hint of irony. “That is correct, Agent Amari. That is why we are the Coordinators of the Concordance.”

“And you’ve been keeping an eye on Earth, and you know that everything is fine there? No problems?”

“If there were problems, we would direct our agents to action,” the Coordinator says calmly.

Adam nods. “Great. What happened to Solaris-Gamma-1 and Solaris-Gamma-3?”

The Coordinators look at each other. Finally the first one speaks. “Explain the relevance of this matter to your inquiry about GS-343.”

“Two Concordance shards went to Earth. They’re unaccounted for, as far as I’ve been able to determine,” Adam says. “If everything is fine with a huge deal like this emotion dumping, everything is fine with a couple missing Concordance shards. Because you’re on top of all this. Right?”

The Coordinators confer silently. The second one now speaks. “Agent Amari, do you wish to act as our agent of enquiry on Earth, to verify conditions to your own satisfaction, and to correct any problems you detect?”

Adam knows what this is about. They want to make him personally responsible for the two missing shards. But maybe that’s a fair trade for him getting his message out. And there’s something else he can do with this turn of events.

“Yeah. But there’s just one thing I need.”

“What is that?”

He tells them.

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Fuko, stationed inside Atlantis itself, still can’t get insight into the military’s inner plans. Her Reformist connections are being slowly eliminated, usually politically, occasionally legally or even physically. Alycia’s calculations for bomb placements aren’t solid evidence, nor is the timetable from Rook’s computers, but they lend urgency to the proceedings. It’s time to act.

It’s time for a shakedown cruise of Leo’s Leviathan. Two units are already off the assembly line and ready to go. Together with Nautilus and Stingray in their submarines, the Leviathans dive into the waters of the Atlantic. Leo and Alex are aboard one, Jason and Alycia aboard the other.

If the Phoenix is a sleek two-man fighter, the Leviathan is a sturdy transport. Passengers sit in chairs built into the walls of the inner habitat unit, which rotates in a frictionless socket. The outer shell of the Leviathan is really four parts, linked together by magnetic bonds. If part of the unit becomes stuck, it can be detached. If the whole system loses power, the outer shell will fall away and the habitat, naturally buoyant by design, will float to the surface to await rescue.

Like the Phoenix, the Leviathan has an animal’s intelligence, and can operate itself. The first test is to designate the nearest likely bomb location as a goal. As hoped, both units begin swimming at top speed, and the submarines fall in behind as escort.

Stopping halfway to the destination, they begin the second test. Stingray leaves his submarine, suited up, and flails as though in distress. Leviathan immediately locks onto him, approaching, and extends a tentacle. Stingray is pulled into the hollow interior, then carefully transferred through the airlock and into the central habitat.

The Leviathan projects its senses into a holographic representation inside the habitat, allowing everyone seated there to see what it sees. They’ve been able to see the rescue operation from start to finish. “What do you all think?” Leo asks at last.

“It’ll do,” is the closest thing Nautilus can come to praise, but Stingray gives Leo a fierce grin and a thumbs-up. “They won’t win a war, but they’re ready for their real mission.”

The Leviathans can also assist in the next phase of operations: disrupting the tsunami bombs.

“There’s sixteen sites,” Alycia explains. “We have to hit them simultaneously, or people at the other sites will set their bombs off before we can get there.”

“AEGIS has detailed several agents to help us out,” Alex adds. “We’ve also got some SEALS, courtesy of Uncle Sam.”

“We’re able to produce suits for all of them,” Trace says. Everyone present, including Leo, agrees that Stingray’s underwater suit design is the best kit for ocean work, and Nautilus hasn’t raised a complaint about their use yet.

Alycia nods. “So we’re going to detail sixteen Leviathans to the bomb sites. Eight operators per unit, plus us in the submarines, should be enough to get in there and disarm or disrupt the devices. Nautilus has been good enough to supply underwater weapons.”

She glances at Leo. “And if we fail, at least you’ll know how your creations fare against nuclear explosions.”

Underwater communication and hence coordination will be impossible over long distances. Nautilus has a blue-green laser signaling system that can work underwater, but nobody’s ever made the effort to connect it to anybody else’s communications network, and there’s no time to do so now.

Everyone on the surface who’s willing to listen has been warned. Evacuations are already underway - but not everywhere. Hero groups are organized and ready - to the extent they can be. So the strike teams synchronize clocks, review the plan, and hope for the best.

Alycia, Leo, and Jason each ride in a Leviathan along with one strike team. Trace has in his submarine. Nautilus, true to form, lets nobody on board his own craft. Alex stays behind, to facilitate communication should the Leviathans surface, and to monitor seismic activity in case things go wrong.

Clocks tip over to 5pm GMT. Every Leviathan should now be in position. They’re big enough to register on sonar, so one by one the passengers disembark and begin swimming. Nautilus’ tech allows the suits to mimic the sonar profile of natural marine life - and so far, that’s been enough to defeat Atlantean security.

In his Leviathan, Leo has to imagine what’s going on elsewhere. Alycia will probably want to go out, but grudgingly stay put to avoid messing up a team that’s already got considerable esprit de corps and has no room for outsiders. Jason may go out for the fun of it, or may stay behind to play coordinator and cavalry. He has no idea what Nautilus or Stingray will do. And there’s eleven more Leviathans manned only by people unfamiliar with his tech. Will they be okay?

He watches the fading forms of the strike team as they swim toward their destination. He picks up the prearranged acoustic signal - “target sighted”. And after a few minutes of uncertainty, he sees the signal he dreaded - “enemy contact”.

The hydrophones on the Leviathan pick up the sound of distant weapons discharges. Leo resists the urge to get out there. He’s already suited up - it would be easy. No. He’s needed here.

Leviathan starts asking him questions, via the HUD tagging system. He answers, designating the hydrophone contacts as enemy action.

He feels the whole Leviathan shudder, as it launches itself at the source of the sound. Sure enough, a handful of swimming figures are approaching - the strike team. In the far distance, Leo can make out Atlantean Blood, armed with tridents and underwater propulsion packs.

The strike team’s members enter through the tentacle airlocks, and re-enter the habitat two at a time. “Ambush,” gasps one. “It was an ambush. There were hundreds of them.”

Leviathan asks, urgently, about what’s going on. Uncertain what it wants to know, Leo punches in the bombs’ projected location, along with a maximum-danger rating.

Leviathan shudders again, and Leo can feel the seals popping. It’s detaching the internal habitat. But that shouldn’t happen unless the whole system is damaged. Did the Atlanteans hit it with some new weapon?

No - the tentacle mounts have re-formed themselves, and are speeding away toward the bomb site, under their own power. As they reach a temperature boundary in the water, he can feel, rather than hear, a loud cry emanate from the construct.

“The hell was that?” he asks, of nobody in particular.

One of the diving experts actually has an answer. “We’re in the SOFAR channel. You sing whalesong from here, you can hear it thousands of miles away.”

Leo gawks at the diver, then up and around at his creation. Leviathan… what did you just say…?

The habitat rises and rises, and finally breaks the surface. It begins transmitting a homing signal.

A rescue craft will be minutes or hours away, but in the meantime Alex lets Leo know what’s going on via radio. “Hydrophones everywhere picked up this massive burst of data. Strike teams are reporting their Leviathans ejected them and went for the bomb sites after hearing it.”

“Huh. Well, go Leviathan I guess,” Leo says in a deeply uncertain tone. “Any idea what they were trying to do?”

“Good news is, they went after the bombs themselves,” Alex reports. “Ditched their vulnerable human crews and made the sacrifice play. Good design, man.”

Leo finds that difficult to process. “Bad news?”

Alex’s voice is being held level by sheer self-control. “Bad news is, not all of them succeeded. We got tsunami incoming on seven cities.”

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The team had identified sixteen targets. San Francisco, Halcyon City, and New York City in North America. Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, and Panama City in Central and South America. Lisbon and Saint-Nazaire in Europe. In Asia, Mumbai and Shanghai. In Australia, Perth on the west coast and Sydney on the east. And in Africa, Lagos, Cape Town, Mogadishu, and Djibouti. All have some important part to play in the surface world’s economy and military.

The surface world’s first line of defense has been breached. It’s time for the second to step up. All that Leo can do, stuck in a bobbing bubble in the Atlantic Ocean, is listen to the radio to learn how they fare.

Quill Foundation science teams are broadcasting recommendations on how to neutralize a tsunami to anyone who’s got the powers and the brains to use them. ASIST translators are online and ready to facilitate communication with anyone who needs it.

The most basic tactic the Quill Foundation presents is to create an area of low pressure behind the wave. The idea is that atmospheric pressure in front of it will neutralize the kinetic energy of the wave. More advanced methods, like generating acoustic gravity waves, collapsing air bubbles inside the wave, or inducing destructive transverse waves, all exist and have been used in the past.

It’s time to use them. The waves are coming in.

Saint-Nazaire, France. A young woman named Isabelle excuses herself from dinner and gets on a bicycle outside. She rides to the coast, parks the bike against a nearby tree, and conjures an ornate sword into her hand from out of nowhere. She knows only what she saw the dream - that she must stand here and be the sword against evil. And so she stands, uncertain of what is to come but full of conviction that she must play her part in it.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Three brothers named Los Impulsores have volunteered for coastal defense. They are joined by other South American heroes, and even a few of the more dashing and chivalrous villains. The brothers, whose specialty is complex feats of telekinesis and TK-assisted team acrobatics, have become the de facto leaders of the defense team. They crack jokes, show smiles, and generally keep spirits light in the mid-afternoon weather. But in their hearts, none of them are sure what can be done. Still, when people are in need, you don’t just run away.

Halcyon City, USA. Superchica, A10, TK, Ghost Girl, and other local heroes are ready. The heavy hitters will do their best against the tidal wave. Everyone else is making sure that people are evacuated, or evacuating those who have difficulty doing so. Confidence is high, but Charlotte can feel an undercurrent of uncertainty. This is the biggest thing in Halcyon since the HHL broke up. It’s finally time for the kids to graduate.

Djibouti, Djibouti. Oya revels in the evening air, enjoying the feeling of the sea breeze blowing through her hair and over her skin. Being away from the HHL has been freeing, in many ways. There’s no more façade to uphold. No more lies to stain her soul. No more false American politeness. She assembled an international contingent of African and Middle Eastern heroes for the task at hand, but doesn’t lead them nor is led by any of them. It is just her, and her power, against a force of nature. If only it could always be like this.

Sydney, Australia. The Beauty Boyz have fully mobilized. Mob Justice, Young Ned, Billy T, Slaughter Dixon, Godzone, and Knockabout lead an alliance of Australian heroes, inventors, and philanthropists in evacuating the city and its environs, and preparing a response for the tsunami. It’s 3am local time, and the heroes are passing the time and shoring up morale by blasting rock music across the deserted city.

Mumbai, India. Summer, Aria, and Otto are flying above the city. Summer is equipped with the advanced ARCANE shell, Otto is fully charged up on both fuel and electricity, and Aria came equipped with a special toy: an implosion bomb, out of Byron Quill’s secret stash. A pair of Phoenixes, Slim-fast and Reggie, are orbiting the site in tense anticipation of action.

Shanghai, China. The country’s state-sponsored heroes appear to be in place. Nobody knows much about them or their abilities, so Alex is keeping an eye on things via satellite. One thing that’s known is that they’ve erected a massive series of pylons around Shanghai, and those are being charged up with some kind of energy.

Harry Gale and his family are waiting in Greenland. Their job is to shore up other efforts, act as roving troubleshooters, or come in as a third line of defense in a pinch. They can respond faster than anyone else, and while hopefully they’ll have nothing to do, nobody really believes that.

Aria rockets forward, carrying her implosion bomb above the crest of the wave. The bomb drops. Alex, tracking its descent, is ready to manually activate it should the timer have been set incorrectly. Summer’s butterflies fan out, their barriers set for maximum dispersion.

The implosion effect goes off. The team can see the power of the wave diminish, but not dissipate completely. “I’m up,” Otto crows, and jets toward the wall of water. En route, his panels eject, and his fuel ignites. As he slams into the water, his hydrogen supply explodes outward, creating a shockwave that resonates throughout the tsunami.

Summer is ready. Her butterflies are as close to the blast point as possible, containing and reflecting the water pressure. Her beam emitters fire again and again, vaporizing holes in the wave.

Together, they’re able to channel the remaining water into Mahim Bay. The Bandra Worli Sea Link road that crosses the bay takes serious damage, but that’s okay. More importantly to Aria, the numerous churches, temples, and hospitals on the west side of Mumbai experience nothing worse than a heavy sea breeze.

“Mumbai is okay,” reports Aria. Together, she and Summer head downward, to fish Otto out of the water.

A new voice comes on the network. “Hello? This is Concord. For any telekinetics out there, I brought something that’ll help out.”

A translator’s voice comes over the line. “From Los Impulsores: what did you bring?”

Orion Schema.”

The remnants of the Concordance base are now hanging in low Earth orbit, escorted here by members of the Universal Concordance at Adam’s request. As a base, the Schema is useless - only so much raw energy, still loosely bound together. But that’s exactly what Earth’s defenders need right now.

In France, the region’s heroes have been ineffective. The tsunami here is far more intense than the others. But Isabelle hasn’t moved. She is to stand sentinel, whatever happens. Her courage must not falter. She crosses herself, but does not close her eyes against the wall of water that now fills her field of vision.

She will not retreat. She will not waver.

She feels Excalibur pulse with a sudden energy from the heavens, and clutches the sword fiercely.

The tsunami - all of it - strikes an invisible barrier. The rushing water simply collapses back into the sea. The wave was close enough that a salty spray washes over her and her bicycle.

Isabelle lets out a long sigh, and slumps to the ground, cradling the sword against herself in relief.

Translator come back on the line. “Something happened in France, nobody’s sure what, but Saint-Nazaire is okay.”

Another speaks up. “Los Impulsores report Rio is okay. They say they have never felt so powerful.”

Leo comes on the line. “Concord. How did you know?”

The others can hear Adam’s smile through his voice. “You’ve all shared your feelings with me. We didn’t talk about it, but I’ll always know what worries you.”

Another voice breaks in. “Big problem in Djibouti.”

Alex fills in details. “Some kinda kill sat is firing energy beams into the Gulf of Aden, targeting the heroes there.”

“Reggie and I are on it!” announces Summer. “Just tell us where to go.”

The Phoenix streaks skyward. In the meantime, more bad news comes in. “Shanghai is compromised. The Chinese team was building some kind of deflection grid, but saboteurs are blowing up transmission lines and knocking out power plants.”

“Tempest and I will take care of Shanghai,” announces Silver Streak. With a jaunty salute to their son, he and Tempest streak away from Greenland and across the Arctic circle.

“Rossum-type robots emerging from the waters around Halcyon,” comes the next news break. “They’re engaging with the coast defense team.”

“Otto, get every free Phoenix over there, now,” yells Leo into his headset.

“Roger, boss,” Otto replies weakly.

The Phoenixes, unencumbered by human passengers, scream across the sky at Mach 10. But even so, speeds of nearly 8,000 miles an hour do no good when some of them are over 10,000 miles away.

“I’ve fought robots like that before, I’ll help,” Adam announces.

Jason, from his Leviathan habitat, reports in. “The Beauty Boyz are under attack by Rossum-type robots as well. They’ve already set up something they called a ‘buzzkill’ for the tsunami, and the robots are targeting that.”

“What about follow-up attacks?” Leo asks. “How many tsunamis do we have to hold off.”

Alycia answers that question. “Detonation at the sites deforms the local terrain. Once that’s done, you can’t do it a second time. I’ve analyzed the Leviathans’ telemetry, plus seismic data. Your machines caused small local explosions. The explosives themselves are human-made, and Atlantis can’t quickly replace those without surface assets. If we hold off this attack, there won’t be a second wave for a long time.”

“That’s why Rossum is interfering with us now,” concludes Leo. “He’s shooting his shot.”

“Oya is down,” comes a report from Djibouti. “We were counting on her to handle the wave.”

“I’m on it!” calls Harry.

He starts to run, across Greenland and the cold Atlantic ocean, buoyed up by the surface tension of water in the milliseconds before gravity would break it. East, to Sweden. Through Finland, across the Russian border, past Moscow and through Georgia and Armenia. He hangs a right at the Caspian Sea. Across Syria, through the green ribbon of life surrounding the Euphrates River. He reaches Jordan, sees the Red Sea, and veers left. The sun leaps and jumps in the sky, moving erratically as his unbelievable speed takes him across 5,500 miles of planet.

And they said nobody would ever need to pay attention in Geography class.

He sees the tidal wave sweeping through the gulf of Aden, sees cargo ships lifted by the mass of water. Most of all he sees the pinpoint flashes of light that pierce the sky, like Zeus’ javelins.

He runs in a circle, round and round and round, forcing himself to draw out more and more speed. At the center of his circle, a vortex forms. Local air pressure drops. This close to the equator, there’s no Coriolis force to contend with. He just has to use the world’s atmosphere against its waves.

He leaves the circle at impossible velocity, makes a deceleration pass through the country of Yemen, and races back to the coast to see what happened.

To his great relief, the wave has been seriously diminished. Some of the ships will run aground, and Djibouti will experience some mild flooding. But it could have been worse.

“Switching to rescue operations,” he announces.

Summer and Reggie find the satellite in the orbital position provided by Alex. Out of the cockpit window, she can see the Earth’s gentle arc, but catches no glimpse of the conflict the weapon is helping escalate.

The Phoenix has no weapons, but it can wield plenty of physical force, and it takes very little to destroy a fragile satellite. What is required is precision, because its debris are going to land somewhere. Summer has a private channel open with Alex to coordinate this operation.

“This thing doesn’t look new,” Summer says, as the remains of the satellite begin burning up in the atmosphere, on a trajectory to a very empty part of the Indian Ocean.

“Yeah. It’s uh, it’s an AEGIS bird,” Alex responds.

“What does AEGIS need with a kill sat?”

“To stop folks like you,” Alex mumbles. “Heroes going out of control. Villains too powerful to restrain. Situations where collateral damage is deemed acceptable.”

“Who fired it?” Summer demands.

“I’m still tracing that. But it looks like a legit fire code, signed by an internal private key.”

“Which means?”

Alex’s voice is tense. “Which means someone in AEGIS either gave the order - or gave codes away to someone like Rossum.”

Summer shakes her head in disbelief. “Well at least that’s dealt with.”

“Yeah, no, there’s four more.”

“Beauty Boyz report their ‘buzzkill’ countermeasure was taken out by an orbital strike.”

“More beams landing in Sydney.”

Tempest comes on the call. “We’re done in Shanghai, heading to Sydney–”

“Don’t bother, mate,” comes a voice, with a clear Australian accent. “Sydney’s gonna be underwater in one minute.”

“A minute’s all we need,” Silver Streak says with conviction.

At unimaginable speeds, the two heroes gesture to each other - talking will take far too long, and demands air in their lungs that’s needed to get them to where they’re going. The exchanged signs outline a plan. And as Sydney flashes into view, they execute on it.

Tempest takes the north side. Silver Streak takes the south. Together, with a precision only life partners could achieve, they harmonize their motions, creating vibrations in the water. The transverse waves meet and clash, one after another.

The collapse of the wave is immediate, and explosive. Already exhausted from two rescue efforts, both Tempest and Silver Streak are caught up in the collapse of the tsunami, and disappear into the sea.

“This is Young Ned. Sydney got a sprinklin’ but she’s alright. Billy T and Godzone are searching for the Gales.”

Adam reports in as well. He doesn’t sound at all happy. “The Rossum bots are under control. Superchica took a hit from one of the satellites. Halcyon is okay though.”

Minute after minute drags by. Summer is reporting on the gradual destruction of the orbital weapons. At last, she and her Phoenix descend into Earth’s atmosphere.

Secondary rescue operations commence. Many ships were run aground, capsized, or knocked about. Their crews will need medical care. The Leviathan habitats are retrieved, one by one, and towed back to nearby ports.

It takes a day for the Menagerie to re-form and review the battle.

“We stopped nine bomb sites, five of seven tidal waves, and mitigated two more,” Alycia says. She points out spots on the holographic globe hovering in the Conversation Pit at the Quill compound. “Some casualties were reported. Oya, Superchica, some members of the Beauty Boyz, and some of the Rio team took damage from the kill sats by proximity. They’re expected to make a recovery, but it’s going to take time. The Gales were retrieved and are in intensive care. The prognosis is good.”

Harry lets out a pent-up sigh of relief at the news.

“Now the other bad news. The populations of sixteen major cities were evacuated, and getting things back to normal is going to take time. Shipping through the Suez Canal has been disrupted, but not halted. Telekinetics, fueled by what’s left of Orion Schema, are moving the grounded or wrecked ships out of the channel, but it’s slow going. All of this is going to impact international commerce and military legistics, which was undoubtedly the point. That in turn will hamper our reaction to the Atlanteans’ future moves. They’ve still got the initiative.”

“What’s their next move, then?” Adam asks.

Alycia nods to Leo and Jason. “The three of us actually have some training in military strategy, with a focus on supervillains. We fed our insights to AEGIS planners, international military leadership, and so on.”

She points at the bomb sites. “The dive teams found concentrations of Atlantean Blood soldiers when they went to disarm the bombs. Those people would certainly not have made it out of a successful detonation - they were there to stop us from interfering.”

“Based on this, the planners think that the Atlantean combat doctrine is similar to that of Russia. Big infantry pushes against strategic targets. When in doubt, throw a huge expendable population at the problem.” She ends the explanation with a sardonic grimace.

Our next move is the Leviathans,” says Leo, taking over. “Rossum may have worked out some kind of countermeasure for them, but we don’t think he’s had time to implement it very widely if at all. So we’re still planning to mass evacuate as many people from their cities as we can.”

“If the Atlanteans do invade the surface, that’s our signal that the cities will be as unguarded as we can hope for them to be. If that doesn’t happen, say within a week, we’ll just have to go in anyway.”

“So we’ve got a week - or less - for final preparations,” Harry says.

Jason grins. “Yeah. If anyone’s been holding out on a superweapon or secret power until now, let us know. Until then, good luck everyone.”

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And here I figured all the big team-ups of Phase 2 had already occurred. Instead I wake up to see the biggest of big team-ups happening. And it’s everyone from everywhere involved all of the place. Awesome. :heart:


I was going to ask what people thought so far but you beat me to it :smiley:
The next story will be the attempted rescue of civilians from Atlantis. But will it go as smoothly as people hope? For example… will everyone want to go?

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Trivia for this section:

  • It’s endgame! This does indeed mean all hands on deck
  • I think I’ve foreshadowed everyone except Isabelle, the young Grail Knight in France
  • Jason coming back means a lot more people will listen to Leo & Trace, which is why we see more support pouring in now
  • Project Seal is real, anti-tsunami tactics are real, SOFAR, it’s all real. Floods are super serious business, as we can see in the real world.
  • In real life, the Suez Canal is a major shipping line and we saw what happened when it does get jammed up
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I think when you have one of these world crisis montages, you get one freebie (as in a character not
previously established) and I think this (new?) Grail Knight works perfectly here.

Looks like I’ve got some new science stuff to go research.


SOFAR, so good!

It’s a good thing that the orbital death satellites were AEGIS property; Alycia would have had serious heartburn if an old weapon of Dad’s was involved.

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