402 - Every Star a Battlefield

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.

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When Adam regains consciousness, it’s almost night. He’s not at his house, but he’s in the neighborhood.

He remembers William Eddison, and his friend and trainer Jaycee, arriving on the scene. Somber isn’t around, so Armiger must have taken care of the situation. He’ll have to say thank you later.

He walks home. He opens the front door.

Mom and Dad are in the kitchen. They’re talking to Jordan, who’s holding her phone.

“I just want to go out and have some fun,” Jordan is arguing.

“Jordan, you’re fifteen now,” Mom says. And Jordan is, just as she ought to be. “You’re in high school. How you do here will affect your chances as an adult. That means studying. It means homework. And yes, sometimes, it means not getting to do something you want.”

“Your mother is right,” Dad adds. “and Jordan, you’re so, so bright. You’re gifted. It’s going to take work to realize your full potential. Now is the time to start that work.”

Mom takes up the baton. “Honey, you have such a promising future ahead of you. It’s fine to spend time with your friends, and have fun, but right now? Maybe right now isn’t the time for that. You had summer break. Now, maybe it’s time to refocus yourself, get into that spirit–”

“Mooooom,” wails Jordan. “I just wanna go out for one night. And why do you come down on me like this? You let Adam do whatever he wants.”

Dad inhales patience and sighs out his frustration. “Jordan, Adam is seven years old. It’s not the same.”

Adam is indeed seven, just as he ought to be. He’s doing what he always does when the older people talk like this. He hangs back, hides, and pretends he didn’t hear anything, while trying hard to hear everything.

Dad has more to say, though, and Adam listens in with curiosity.

“Jordan, you’re trying to balance three lives. You’re in high school now. You’re a teenage girl, with friends and interests and hobbies. But you’re also the superhero Peri. At first, we weren’t sure about it, but you’ve been very responsible. It’s dangerous, and stressful. As a police officer, I put my life on the line. You’re doing the same thing. I understand needing an outlet. Your mother and I just think that, well, school can be as much of an outlet as this other thing. Having some structure is helpful.”

Jordan has been rolling her eyes and looking at everything except her parents during the lecture. Adam can see the defiance burn in her eyes. But she is also trapped, and resorts to bargaining. “Okay. I promise I will study and do homework and focus on school, if you let me go tonight. Okay? Mom? Dad? Can you just give me this one thing?”

The parents look at each other, and nod to each other, and nod back at Jordan.

Immediately Adam’s older sister texts out something on her phone - the much-delayed acknowledgement confirming her presence in the evening’s plans, no doubt - and almost skips to the front door. “Thanks, love you, bye!”

As soon as she’s out of the kitchen, Jordan mumbles “god” in low, disgusted tones. She catches sight of Adam and shakes her head at him, scowling. “You lucky little brat,” she mutters. Then she’s out the door.

William Eddison really, really doesn’t want to tell Adam’s parents that he lost their precious little boy.

Fortunately, he’s on the group chat for not one, but two, teenage superhero teams. Teams full of people who totally get where he’s coming from here. Teams with people who like Adam.

One of them really likes Adam, in perhaps weird ways. But she’s also been pretty weird generally since she got back from space.

Armiger doesn’t care. If anyone can get him back, she can.

Keri Maldonado sees the message on her phone. “Some space jerk took Adam. Not one of the Trio.” It comes with an attached location.

Since her return from traveling with the HHL, she’s put off talking to Adam over and over. She’s the worst, she’s been an embarrassment, she’s been a total jerk to absolutely everyone, and he’s gonna hate her.

But right now, Adam needs her.

She throws open her bedroom window and hurls herself out of it, rocketing toward Armiger’s last location.

Supersonic flight is strictly regulated in the city. There are superheroes who can fly that fast, and do so close to the ground, but doing so causes considerable property damage and disruption in the form of broken windows, blaring car alarms, and the like.

Keri does not, quite, break the speed of sound getting to Armiger’s location, in the abandoned part of the industrial sector.

“Where?” she asks, hovering over where the swordsman and his trainer are standing.

They point upward, along the path taken by Somber.

She follows their fingers skyward, pushing herself right to the limit.

Above the cloud layer, she can make out the distant flash of purple light, and burns toward it.

She sees a hovering figure, probably the “space jerk” Armiger mentioned, and floats toward him. She can see purple cubes arrayed about him. She doesn’t see Adam, but knows how his bubbles work. Are these cubes the same kind of thing? Time to find out.

“Give Adam back,” she orders.

“He’s not ready yet,” the stranger responds calmly.

She decides to lay it down. Being the Lamb is still new, and unfamiliar. “Give him back or I’ll hurt you.”

Somber raises their eyes and looks at her. “If you hurt me, I’ll do what you want, because I don’t want to be hurt any more?” they ask curiously.

The question takes her aback. Well yeah, of course… Who wants to hurt? “Yeah,” she says, uncertainly. The anger returns after a moment. “Last chance.”

“Then. Please, go ahead. Hurt me,” Somber says, with an inviting hand gesture.

She’s now even more confused. How do you react to something like that?

“I mean it!” she shouts.

“I believe you. You have caused much suffering and great destruction, Keri Maldonado. And you will cause more.”

Keri shakes her head violently, obeying some animal instinct to free herself from entanglement. “You’ve got Adam!” she shouts, re-centering herself on what’s important, and lunges forward.

Keri’s technique was never sophisticated. Overpower the enemy, often by charging through them. She refined that technique during her months in space, fighting Blot spaceships and bases. She uses it now.

The space jerk surrounds themselves with a purple aura, and she smashes into it. She feels the full force come back at her, and tumbles away in the air.

She tries again, putting more force into it, and this time the barrier is stronger than before.

“It is your own fury that resists you,” the space jerk says.

Keri is really irritated now. She hates it when smart people are smug, and try to teach her something. She’s trying to do better, she knows she has flaws, but why does this weirdo have to rub it in her face?

But they aren’t done talking. “Balance your fury with your love for Adam.”

In space, she was taking out her aggression on any alien that crossed her path. All the members of the HHL were, really.

She’s going to take Adam back from this space jerk. She’s going to be better.

She charges again. This time, the barrier shatters, and Somber is knocked halfway across the sky.

There’s one big floating purple cube left. She draws back to punch it apart, only to hear Somber’s voice in her mind.

“If you break the Enigma as you are now, he will know.”

That word, “know”, tells her everything. Adam will really see what an awful human being she’s been. He’ll realize how bad she is. He’ll judge her for her sins.

But there’s someone else who has been able to break Concordance bubbles.

Armiger and Jaycee see Keri descend, gingerly holding onto a purple cube.

“Your sword can break these, right?” she asks.

Armiger glances at Jaycee and back to Keri. “Yeah…?”

Her face is set, and her tone is firm. “Do it.”

Adam has been spending the last few days doing what he always does.

He’s seven years old, so he’s in 2nd grade. He’s learning numbers and words. Reading is a big thing. School is fine, but really, it’s all kind of a blur. The one thing he remembers is his teacher, Mx. Somber, who always seems to have something they want to say to him. But the time never seems to be right.

Mostly he likes coming home and playing. His parents always have time for him, even with their busy schedules. His older sister will make time for him too, but she’s busy being a superhero and a high schooler and all kinds of things. Everyone wants her to do stuff, like study, or save the world. Adam sorta gets that she’s busy, but honestly, isn’t she grown up? Can’t grown-ups handle everything?

One day, Adam comes running through the living room, holding onto a paper-crafted spaceship and making sputtering rocket noises. Jordan is on the couch, surrounded by books, working on homework on her tablet. The television is on, but she doesn’t seem to be paying attention to it.

Adam rockets his way around the couch a couple times, only for Jordan to throw the tablet down on the couch cushion and stand up angrily.

“Can you please stop interrupting me?” she yells.

This came out of nowhere. Adam shrinks back, hurt and afraid.

She sees it, and isn’t sure how to react at first, so defensively doubles down. “Can’t you see I’m studying here? Please.”

It doesn’t help. Adam was just playing. He wasn’t trying to do anything bad.

Jordan can clearly see that. She kneels down in front of him and looks him in the eye. “I’m sorry, Adam. I don’t mean that. I’m just at the end of my rope right now.”

Adam thinks hard. What would help? “I don’t have any more rope to give you,” he says apologetically. “I got a rubber band though?”

His big sister laughs at that, and tousles his hair. “Thanks, kiddo. No, I mean, people are always telling me what to do, how to do it, go here, do this. I never get any time for myself.”

“You could hop on the Solaris Gamma Two,” Adam says, holding up his paper spaceship. “It can teleport through time and stuff. Then you’d have time.”

Jordan pulls him into a quick appreciative hug. “I’d like that. Then maybe we could travel to the Cretaceous, and I could really see… but things would still be busy when I got back.”

Adam, being seven, has little comprehension of how adult life works. To him, everyone does what he does: learn about stuff during the day, then do whatever they want the rest of the time, at least until someone in authority tells them not to. Why would anyone do something they didn’t want to do?

He carefully assembles a thought from this understanding. “If you don’t like doin’ the stuff that keeps you busy, why not just quit? Mom and Dad said nobody asked you to be Peri, right? If you don’t like it, can you uhhh, give it back or something?”

Jordan looks startled by the question. But before she can answer, the entire house, and the rest of the world with it, are sliced in two by a humongous sword.

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When Adam comes to, he’s staring at a glowing orb hovering in front of him.

“You okay, Adam?” Keri asks worriedly.

Adam shakes his head to clear the lingering dizziness. “I think so. I was having a dream…”

He spots Jaycee, and William, still with sword out.

“What happened?”

“That space jerk put you in a purple box,” William explains.

“Did he get away?” Adam asks, looking from face to face.

Keri looks embarrassed for a moment. “Yeah. Well, I thought rescuing you was more important.”

Adam smiles in genuine gratitude. “Thank you.”

“Yeah, well…” Keri can’t meet his eyes. “Someone has to look after you.”

Adam returns his attention to the orb. “Tau, what is this?” he asks.

A Concordance-type Shard. It is not bound to anyone. It was contained inside the Epiphanic Enigma's structure, and freed upon that structure's destruction.

“Can you talk to it? Ask it what it’s doing here?”

I have. It says it is a gift for you, Adam Amari.

The quartet regroup at a food truck on the outskirts of the industrial district. With a basket of samosas in everyone’s hand, they trade information about what happened.

“I don’t think Somber is a villain, exactly, but they are messing with some very dangerous stuff,” Adam explains. “And they said some pretty strange things.”

“They… told me how to beat them,” Keri adds, still confused.

“They said you were a prisoner of yourself, Adam,” Jaycee says, voice low. “At first it sounded like just a self-serving excuse. But the more I think about it, the more I remember older Grail Knights talking like this. Dad would do the same thing, be all mysterious, like he was–”

“–trying to teach you something,” Adam concludes.


“Things are pretty bad out there,” Keri admits. “When I was traveling with the HHL, well, we didn’t see a huge number of planets, but there was so much wrong…”

William asks the tactician’s question. “So it’s possible this Somber person is arming themselves for fighting back against that? Fight fire with fire? Negative emotion to counteract negative emotion?”

Adam thinks back to his dream, courtesy of the Epiphanic Enigma. “I think what they wanted to teach me was, responsibilities don’t come from nowhere. It was like I was being offered a way out. Like I could … give up being a Concordance agent, give up the Shard, go back to just being Adam.”

“Would that be so bad?” Keri asks softly.

Adam doesn’t know how to answer that question. He turns his attention to the spare Shard.

He knows from past experience that Solaris-Gamma-2 was able to override his speech and actions. He’s not about to just plug into a Shard from someone like Somber.

He puts the question to Tau.

“If I disconnected you to plug in this new Shard, would you have a way of getting back in if it tried to, y’know, take over?”

Why would you disconnect me? Tau asks.

“Because… I have to, to connect to another Shard,” Adam says, suddenly uncertain. “Don’t I?”

You do not.

This is unexplored territory.

“If I connect to this one, can you, maybe, umm, keep control of it? Keep it from doing bad things to me?”

I can block it from overriding your behavior, Tau says matter-of-factly. I cannot stop certain kinds of harm, such as the acquisition of emotionally harmful information.

“Why couldn’t Somber just come out and say whatever they wanted to say to you?” Keri demands.

“I think…” Adam is thinking, and he realizes that was the goal all along. “I think it was important to them that I realize what they were trying to say on my own. I think they knew I wouldn’t trust them.”

He looks around, seeing the faces of his friends, and learns a little about himself as he speaks. “Because it doesn’t matter whether they asked me to carry a Concordance Shard. Once I have it, I’ll use it.”

William nods in recognition. “Excalibur’s the same way. The sword chooses you, but it’s never chosen someone who won’t wield it.”

Adam smiles, and indicates for Tau to make the connection.

Immediately, a vision of Somber springs to life. Adam can see his friends’ reactions, and knows they can see it too.

“Adam Amari,” the projection says. “This is a prerecorded memory package. You have taken a step of trust. Now that trust will be rewarded with honesty. You may ask questions, some of which I’m able to answer for you.”

“Why are you siphoning negative energy from Earth?” Adam asks.

“For use in the ongoing cosmic war.”

“What war?” Adam asks.

“Every star is a battlefield,” the shade of Somber replies. “Your Earth has been visited many times by alien invaders, alien visitors, refugees, opportunists, and more. Perhaps you think this is because the planet occupies some special place in the cosmos. That is not the case. Galactic civilizations are expanding. With expansion comes conflict. The Universal Concordance maintains their own idea of peace, but is unable to truly enforce it as a policy.”

“That sounds pretty bad,” Adam frowns. “But won’t using negative energy just make it worse?”

“‘Worse’ is a subjective statement. Sentient beings exist in a state of constant tension. The tension between visualization and action. The tension between one’s perception of the world and the actuality of it. The tension between need, ambition, and ability. The tension of self against one’s peers or society. These tensions generate emotional energy, as the branes of sub-multiversal layers interact, the way rubbing two materials together generates friction. Like using two sticks to light a fire, this energy can then be applied productively, regardless of its origin. Consider the interaction of two people. One is angry at a particular ethnic group for perceived injuries. The other is angry at the bigotry of the first. Both individuals experience anger. Does your moral judgement tell you both are equally bad?”

“No, I guess not,” shrugs Adam. “So if energy is energy and it’s how it’s used that’s important, what about the Virtues of the Concordance? Aren’t they special?”

Somber’s shade acknowledges the question with a nod. “Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Justice, Sacrifice, Honor, and Humility. Attend how each virtue fetters the individual and their wishes in service of some larger social goal. Every Virtue compromises one of your needs, wants, or survival goals. Each one resolves a kind of tension in favor of social order. In terms of potential, the Virtues are attractors where energy levels have been found to peak.”

“This is a lot,” Adam admits. He’s not following all of it, and it all sounds pretty theoretical too. “What do you want me to do with all this? Why go to all this effort?”

“What do you want to do about it?” Somber’s echo asks.

This demands thought, and Adam takes the time to think. The others munch thoughtfully on their samosas meanwhile.

“I guess, the same thing I did before,” he admits at last. “I have to find two missing Concordance Shards that never made it to Earth. And I want some answers about what the Concordance is really about, and what the Collective is, and why they’re fighting. It feels like the answers to all of that can be found in space. So I guess, uh, I want to go back into space and find out the truth.”

Keri jumps on this immediately. “If you’re going, you need me along. I’ve been out there.”

Adam has too, but he’s not going to bring that up right now. He smiles instead at William and Jaycee.

“I guess I should say goodbye again. And thank you–”

He’s very surprised when Jaycee cuts in. “We should go to space with you.”

William looks at her, surprised. “Don’t you need to take care of your dad?” he asks.

“He’s going home to the family. He’ll be surrounded by people,” she says confidently. “See, this helps me a lot. Because, uh, well…” She trails off, uncertain how to say I didn’t want to leave.

William thinks about that. “Well, I did go with Adam once before. And there was some stuff about Excalibur they seemed to know about, up there. Couldn’t hurt to learn more.” He glances back at Jaycee intently. “You sure about this?”

“I’m sure,” she says. Only then does she flick a glance at Adam. “If it’s okay.”

Adam grins. “It’s okay by me. But I’m used to just teleporting around. Last time, when Harry Gale came along, we had a ship. But that got blown up. I don’t think they want me to take another one, even if they built one…”

He suddenly gets a sinking feeling. “Oh god. I might know where to get a spare ship. But it’s not going to be good.”

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Jordan had a really weird dream. And so like so much else, she tells Anty about it.

“I dreamed I was older and Adam was my age, and I was goin’ to high school and bein’ a superhero, and Adam was in second grade and wasn’t, and I gave him some really good advice. I’m glad he listened to me in the dream. I just wish he listened to me when he’s awake.”

It’s after school, and she’s at home, lounging around. She’s supposed to be chopping vegetables, but she wanted to tell Anty about the dream first, and that meant being in her room, to remember it.

She hears the front door open and close. Oh shoot, Mom’s home early - time to do the veggies after all.

She rushes out, but finds Adam and the Rainbow Warriors instead.

“You gave the space bug’s bubble to Jordan?” Adam demands incredulously.

“Yeah, well. It was safe enough.” Kirk shrugs. “Jordan, we need the thing back.”

Jordan knows what the thing is! It’s the thing that holds the guy with lots of arms, that she sometimes talks to, and makes play tea time with her. “I’ll get it!”

She rushes back into her room, plucks the jewel-like object from her dresser, and hurries back. She holds it out to Kirk, but Adam takes it instead.

The bubble pops, and Ik’stik Klik is free!

“Finally! No Earth jail could hold me!” they exclaim, stretching their arms. “No Concordance prison could confine me! At last, I am…”

They stop and turn, seeing four Concordance agents staring at them.

“… I am confused.” It looks around with big unblinking eyes. “I am in Jordan’s home.”

Adam glances sharply at Kirk. “How do they know that?”

Kirk just shrugs.

Adam focuses on what he’s here for. “Ik’stik Klik, you have… a knack for finding working spaceships, I guess. And other things. Well, I need a ship. So please help me.”

“It is not Ik’stik Klik. I am Earth-style supervillain now,” the bug boasts. “I have a new name. A code name! A callsign! A moniker!”


The creature pauses, while everyone watches expectantly.

“Space Bug.”

“Were you thinking that up just now?” Adam asks curiously.

“No! I paused for dramatic effect!”

“Space Bug isn’t a very dramatic name, though.”

“I like it!” Jordan announces.

Space Bug turns and clacks its claws together in appreciation. “Jordan! I am now springing this new appellation upon you as well. You were very receptive.”

Kirk begins warming up his powers. “The ship, bug. Or back in the bubble you go.”

“Yes. I have just the thing for discerning customers such as yourselves,” Space Bug declares.

Adam turns to Jordan. “I’m going into space again. I left a note for Mom & Dad. I’ll check back in every so often. Okay?”

The siblings share a quick but affectionate hug, and Adam waves goodbye.

The Concordance agents hover with Space Bug on the far side of the Moon.

The wreckage of Blot vessels have been brought here to rot. But things have been found inside of them. Space Bug, kept safe in one of Adam’s force fields, points the way to one such hulk.

Inside, Adam sees what the creature had in mind, and catches his breath.

He hasn’t seen this kind of ship since his first time as Concord. When he first got Sol, aliens had tried to nab him. He was pretty sure they had damaged Sol in the process. But he’d never seen them again.

“Oh, it’s these guys,” Erin observes.

Adam turns sharply. “You recognize this ship?”

The Rainbow Warriors all nod. “We ran into them briefly, when Solaris-Gamma-4 came. Had a bit of a fight, but we won,” Kirk says.

At the Park Tech complex, technicians are looking over the alien vessel. Lisa Park is talking to Adam.

“No, we have no record of this species. If they’ve encountered humans before, nobody took good enough notes for us to hear about it.”

Adam looks at the others. “That means the two times we know they’ve shown up… is when a new Concordance Shard came to Earth…”

By sheerest coincidence, he may have found a lead on his investigation. But he’s starting to wonder whether it’s coincidence or not.

The Rainbow Warriors’ description of the aliens agrees with Adam’s recollection. Kirk dubs them the “Blockheads” for the distinctive shape of their heads - floating cubes seemingly detached from their automaton bodies. But Adam remembers other shapes, like the pyramid-headed leader he briefly saw aboard the ship that attacked him.

Their technology is quite alien, but Tau assures Adam he can operate it. With that assurance, Adam and Keri pile aboard. William and Jaycee, having said their own goodbyes, have arrived and come aboard as well. Adam, concerned that Jordan and Space Bug seem to know each other despite the latter being bubbled, has insisted on bringing the wily creature along rather than letting the bubble stay at his house - especially when he’s off planet.

The ship launches.

Once in space, the echo of Somber appears before Adam.

“Have you decided where you’re going?” they ask.

“I’m following the trail this ship took,” Adam explains. “I want to know if they’re connected to the Concordance Shards going missing. I want to know who’d want to interfere with that. Maybe it’s the Collective? But that doesn’t seem right either.”

The Shard projection nods. “And is that your only goal for now?”

Adam gets a strange, worried look on his face. “I guess I’m also trying to figure out if you’re my teacher, or my enemy.”

For the first time, Adam sees Somber actually smile. “Well done, Adam Amari. That is a good question.”

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Further stellar adventures await. Adam now has a ship, a crew, and - potentially - a new mentor. What do we think?


I liked it, but I might be a little biased. :slight_smile:

I must admit, I was scratching my head trying to figure out what Somber’s deal was for the first half of the story, but once I got to part 4 everything started to click. Still don’t trust their intentions, but that’s half the fun of a character like this. Also…


Love how Will and Jaycee are being pulled into things. Love how Space Bug was incorporated. Love to see that following their many conflicts, Adam and the Trio have fallen into that “neither of us have changed and we’re probably never going to be friends but we have bigger things to deal with so we can at least be peers” relationship.

The only disappointing thing is that it doesn’t look like I’m going to see a follow up until at least April based on the pull list, but as least I’ll have other fun stories to read in the meantime. :+1:

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So Bill asked this on the Discord and I figured I’d answer it here:

oh, forgot to ask. How did Somber’s metaphysics lecture land with you?

While I’m not going to pretend to understand it all, it at least makes sense and shows how “the negative emotions” aren’t really negative, it’s all about perspective and what you do with them. It’s a lot more nuanced than my own “Saturday Morning Cartoon” level exploration of the ideas behind Concord’s powers, but you’re also a much more introspective writer than me so it’s not surprising.

I’m sure we’re going to see more of this (given the push of the series, I cannot imagine that the Concordance and the Collective won’t get involved in the kids’ quest), so we’ll see how it plays out in those interactions.