Conduit maintenance intelligence LASI-9292 has counted the eons of its existence on Earth. Eighteen millennia, give or take.
When its makers established the containment vessel it would be guarding, primitive hominids were carving images of herd animals on the walls of their cave dwellings. Some were establishing short-lived religions based on the dreams caused by the stardust wake of the Aeon Watchers, drifting through the solar system. Others were interacting with the enigmatic Nebulars. A few marveled at the surviving works of the long-gone Stone Builders.
LASI-9292 was by no means the oldest entity on the planet, then or now. It was not given to introspection. It didn’t experience boredom. And so when it was contacted twice within the same decade, it didn’t find that any more remarkable than the centuries of silence before.
The first request had been from Concordance agent Adam Amari, to be notified if anyone tried to access it.
The second request had been from another individual, requesting access.
LASI-9292 calmly complied with both orders. Notify the agent, then grant access.
Adam Amari jolts awake.
It takes him a moment to focus. He was dreaming…? No, that’s definitely Tau, trying to get his attention.
Per your request, LASI-9292 has notified me of an access attempt.
Adam recognizes the significance of this message immediately. The Concordance has been stockpiling negative emotional energy on Earth, as a sort of psychic landfill. This act has caused serious damage to the planet and its inhabitants, but the Concordance refuses to acknowledge that it was wrong to do so.
It’s 5 a.m. Nobody else in the house is awake yet.
Adam throws on some clothes. He rushes to the kitchen, grabs a meal replacement shake from the fridge, hurriedly scribbles out a note indicating he’s on Concordance business, and - quietly and carefully - opens and closes the door. Only once he’s outside does he use his powers, to fly to the facility.
Jaycee is no longer working as a barista at Has Beans. Lucius, sensing the way things are changing in the city, has decided to close up shop and finally retire. Privately, she’s grateful - maybe it means he won’t keep being dragged into more danger by his old Grail Knight cronies. But it does leave her out of a job.
It does leave her more time with William Eddison, the superhero Armiger. She has very complicated feelings about this outcome.
Take today, for example. She’s on her bicycle, riding alongside as he jogs for exercise. She’s timing him, keeping track of his performance, watching his pace, gauging his stamina. But she also can’t help but see how the sweat lingers on his dark skin, watch his cheeks puff with the exertion of breathing, notice his eyes staring with determination into the distance–
“What are you gonna do for work?” he asks suddenly, and she’s startled out of her trance.
“Work? Oh…” It takes her a moment to reorient. “Uhh, there’s always gonna be coffee shops in town. Maybe get another job there? Um, you can’t really pay me to be a trainer, sooo…”
She’s not sure where she wanted to go with this. But William shrugs it off with a grin. “Sorry for being so destitute. But you really are a pro, and I wish I could compensate you properly!”
She glances around, suddenly mindful of her surroundings. “Hey, this is the industrial area. Why are we here?”
William, still jogging, explains. “I thought I’d take a different route than usual. See the sights, you know?”
In a lower voice, he adds, “Plus there’s fewer security cameras and Tyran robots out this way. Just feels safer somehow.”
Jaycee glances nervously at the decaying corpses of factories and high-tech complexes around her. Maybe to you it does. But she dare not show a hint of weakness or frailty in front of William Eddison. If she does, his knightly instincts will kick in, and he’ll try to protect her.
She has very complicated feelings about that too.
The pair glance up and see the hero Concord, speeding through the sky. But not in passing. He’s coming down. He’s landing somewhere nearby here.
The two look at each other and exchange an unspoken agreement. This is worth investigating.
Adam lands to find a mysterious figure overseeing an equally mysterious process. A beam, invisible to anyone but someone with Adam’s enhanced perception, is siphoning energy from the containment vessel. They wear the same starry garb as the Concordance, but something is different about them.
They seem unaware of Adam at first, but as he approaches, they speak telepathically.
“Honesty opposes Discretion. Compassion opposes Determination. Valor opposes Caution. Honor opposes Flexibility. Justice opposes Mercy. Sacrifice opposes Survival. Humility opposes Assertion. Greetings, Agent.”
“Who are you?” Adam says aloud.
There’s a moment, and the other figure speaks aloud as well. “You may call me Somber.”
“What are you doing with that?” Adam points at the energy beam.
“Recharging my reserves.”
Adam isn’t sure he likes the sound of this. “Tampering with that stuff is dangerous.”
Somber nods. “Correct. Nevertheless, I must spread this energy throughout the universe.”
This definitely doesn’t sound like the Concordance. Adam frowns. “Are you a member of the Universal Concordance?”
“When it suits me.”
Adam isn’t sure what to make of this, but does know one thing.
“When a mysterious person messes with a dangerous energy source, a hero’s usually gotta stop 'em,” he says aloud. “So Somber, I have to ask you to either explain yourself more clearly, or stop doing what you’re doing.”
The figure turns for the first time to look curiously at Adam. “Stop me? How would you do that?” he asks.
Adam powers up a blast, intended as a warning, and fires. Somber makes the slightest gesture of dismissal with one hand. From the transfer beam, negative energy lances out, precisely gauged to counter and negate the blast.
Adam tries again, and again Somber metes out a countermeasure.
“Now what?” the interloper asks.
A thought occurs to Adam. “Tau, tell LASI-9292 to stop transferring energy,” he orders.
The reply comes back almost immediately.
Unable to comply. Interrupting the transfer will cause an outpouring of excess energy into the environment, which violates safety protocol.
Somber, seemingly satisfied, goes back to their work.
Adam powers himself up, and streaks through the air at Somber. The other meets his charge with a powerful force field, bolstered by the transfer beam.
“Persistent and prideful. Good.” Somber doesn’t quite smile. “Very well.”
They charge up their own power. Purple cubes of all sizes materialize in the air around them, semi-transparent, and become infused with more of the negative energy spilling out of the Earth.
“Epiphanic Enigma!” shouts Somber, and for Adam, the world disappears.
Jaycee and William come to where they thought Adam Amari was headed. They find a floating figure, garbed like a Concordance agent, looking at a purple cube in which Adam is clearly confined.
“What have you done with him?” demands William. In readiness, Excalibur flashes into his hand, and he raises the sword.
“He is a prisoner,” the stranger announces.
“Why are you keeping him prisoner?” Jaycee calls out.
“He is a prisoner of himself,” says the mysterious figure.
“Not good enough!” shouts William. He launches himself at Somber, sword at the ready.
Somber directs an energy beam at him, but the sword comes up to parry. The intruder raises a curious eyebrow, then floats higher, out of reach of the ground-bound William. The purple cube holding Concord floats with him.
“I cannot allow you to interfere,” Somber announces as he recedes.
William glowers, but for the moment, he’s out of options. Jaycee rushes to his side. Holding his forearm in her hands, she watches, equally helpless, as an enemy retreats with a captured friend.