404 - The Seven Wonders

Rex Tyran defeated the Halcyon Heroes League more thoroughly than any of their prior opponents. And he did so by ignoring them.

Today, his hand-picked replacement team, the Stellar Six, are being recognized for yet another triumph. This time, it’s for defeating members of the Gray Knights - pro-Confederacy holdouts seeking to forcibly secede Southern states from America.

Other recognition ceremonies are being held at the same place and time. Mercury, for example, got his invitation for defeating third-tier villains like Frankenstein Jones, Ultra-Tardigrade, and the Crypto Crusader. He knows what this is - an attempt to have some of his cachet rub off on the Stellar Six, rather than fete him for any meaningful accomplishment. But he goes along anyway, because it’ll be worse for the city not to.

The HHL is nowhere to be seen, despite their ongoing efforts against supervillains and in rescue efforts. They simply weren’t invited.

The omnipresent security cameras watch the proceedings. The ever-vigilant security robots roam the streets and drift across the skies. Rex Tyran isn’t here in person, but his faithful spokesperson recites all of his favorite talking points and catchphrases. “Getting the job done.” “The heroes America needs.” And of course, “New Tomorrow.”

To Mercury, the surprising part is when the presentation announces that the Stellar Six are keeping an eye out for villains once held onto by AEGIS. But Tyran’s people only ever name-drop Craig Costigan, its former director, personally.

“We salute Costigan’s service to our country as Sergeant Stronghold,” the spokesperson explains delicately. “But the old fashioned ways of holding onto dangerous super-terrorists don’t work any longer. During the Atlantean invasion, we know that many villains escaped the official holding systems. That won’t be the case once they’re apprehended by the New Tomorrow’s champions, the Stellar Six. A new generation of confinement technology, and new ideas in power management, will keep these miscreants away from you and yours - for good.”

Andi is watching from the crowd. She’s near the front of the stage, rolling her eyes enough for both of them. Privately, Harry is grateful. He’s just as put off by the whole Tyran Enterprises presentation as she is, but he has to keep smiling and waving. And to be fair, they did talk about his charity, Chip In. It’s only moderately sized - he just doesn’t have the time to commit to it 100% - but it’s thriving. And if the cost of doing some real good is to stand here and look heroic for the regular citizens, he can do that much.

The ceremony finally ends, and with much relief, Harry signals to Andi to come hang out at a familiar spot. She flies, and he runs.

The cafe is full of people getting a late lunch. Some attended the ceremony, others work in the area. They’re all respectful enough of the city’s heroes not to bother two of them at their own table.

Andi is toying with her drink, pushing the mug back and forth across the table in directionless agitation. “How long are you gonna let Tyran run this city?” she asks at last.

“What can I get him on?” Harry asks, wearily.

“He’s up to something!”

“Obviously. We know where he came from and who he reports to.” Harry shrugs helplessly. “But I can’t just bust a guy for being slimy. Otherwise they would have gotten her too.”

“Well it pisses me off,” growls Andi.

“I know,” Harry says.

He catches a glimpse of a familiar face, and waves him over. It’s Trace, aka Stingray.

“Hey, uh…” Trace glances at Andi, but Harry’s reassuring nod answers his unspoken question - is it okay if I interrupt you two?

“Listen, I know you’re probably not going to like this…”

Harry laughs. “After Tyran’s show today, you gotta work hard for something I’ll dislike more.”

Trace slides into the booth, across from Harry and next to Andi, and looks at the speedster, fingers folded together.

“It’s like this. Ever since the invasion, Fuko - Ninjess - well, she’s been having… problems.”

“What kind of problems?” Harry asks curiously.

Trace lowers his voice. “People don’t wanna work for her. She’s one of ‘them’. Even if she’s on our side, even if she proved that. Keri left with the HHL, and that whole thing kinda stank, and even though she’s back she’s kinda weird now, and the Chosen who are left are getting a little pickier with who they want to be seen with.”

Harry narrows his eyes slightly. “Do you like, want me to talk to them, or something?”

“I dunno, man, it’s like, it’s just too late,” admits Trace. “I was kinda hoping…”

He glances warily from Andi to Harry. “People like you, man. Would you maybe work with her on some stuff? Let people see her in the best light?”

“We don’t really have anything going on, though–” protests Harry.

Andi kicks him under the table and turns to Trace. “Dude. She’s a ninja, right? Good at sneaking? Spying? That kinda thing? That’s all legit, right? It’s not just a name?”

Trace looks confused. “Yeah. She’s fucking amazing, if she wants to disappear, I can’t even–”

Andi cuts him off with a pointed finger, and turns back to Harry. “A ninja would be great at getting dirt on Rex Tyran, wouldn’t she.”

Harry sees now where Andi’s going with this, and smiles broadly. “Hey, yeah. Oh, and there’s someone else who could help with that.”

He looks at Trace. “You’re in this too, right?”

Trace blinks. “I guess? But why would you wanna work with someone like me?”

“Because you, Stingray, are a hero,” Harry grins, and he can see Trace’s uncertainty melt away. “Now come on. Let’s go to the Quill Compound. Call Fuko and let her know to meet us there.”

The ASIST program is still up and running, and Jason is still in charge of it. But something new has been added.

The “Mirror” Alycia created by the nanotech master villain Pyrrhus is still alive - in a sense - and is running as a holographic entity out of Jason’s main computer. She’s adopted the code name Mirage, alias Alycia Cheka, and has dedicated herself to keeping ASIST running in the face of Rex Tyran’s formidable corporate sponsorship of city heroes.

Harry has only interacted with her a few times, through ASIST. She’s almost totally like Alycia, but in other ways she’s… not? He’s not sure how, or why, only that she’s more like a sister or cousin to Alycia Chin than a real clone.

But Jason trusts her - to an extent - and she’s been professional, reliable, and scarily competent in Harry’s interactions.

At the compound, with Jason watching with arms folded, Andi lays out the case. “So we know Tyran is dirty. I mean, come on. We don’t know how. But it stands to reason we’ll get the dirt if we watch his Stellar Six up close, get in their business - accidentally, of course - and while that’s going on, get all the cool ninja spy people we got on the case.”

She points at the hologram of Mirage, standing in her own arms-folded pose. “No more of this ASIST business, is what I’m saying. We want you to coordinate stuff for us - for Ninjess to get some positive rep in town, for Trace here to get some self-confidence, and for Harry and me to take care of Tyran.”

“I’m quite capable of conducting ASIST operations while still assisting you,” Mirage replies, rather severely. “But I understand your concerns, and I agree with your assessment. As a corporate dictator wielding considerable power, official and unofficial, someone like Rex Tyran ought to be taken down. I assume you wish me to create a plan of action?”

Andi glances at the others, and Harry nods. “Yeah, uh, that’d be great.”

Jason smiles. “Feel free to keep using the ASIST app to coordinate. We can set you up on a dedicated instance, just you folks.”

Trace turns to Fuko, who up until now has been quiet. “What do you think?” he asks gently.

The girl smiles shyly, clearly uncertain but pleased at the help the others are trying to offer her. “I would like to assist you very much, in whatever way I can.”

“Then it’s decided,” Harry announces. “We’ll update our monitoring to pick up incidents the Stellar Six might be drawn to, and we’ll be proactive about information gathering.”

With that settled, there’s only one thing left for the group to do - polish off a basket of home-made nachos, prepared by none other than master chef Harry Gale himself.

1 Like

It takes Mirage less than a day to formulate a plan of action. Now, She paces in front of the assembled team of heroes, explaining it in person.

“As part of its villain incarceration program, AEGIS naturally confiscated equipment and effects from captured villains, and their lairs. The locations of these ‘black warehouses’ were and are closely guarded secrets. However, thanks to Byron Quill’s past involvement in such matters, we do know where a few can be found.”

“We will release the location of one such facility, into information channels known to be frequented by mid-tier or better villains. Rumors, online posts on villain fora such as Port Royal, and so on. We will closely monitor the site for a break-in attempt, then thwart the attempt itself.”

She looks from face to face. “This plan has three objectives. First, lure likely supervillains out of hiding with the promise of a unique payout. Second, identify whether or not Tyran’s Stellar Six have better intelligence on villain movements than we do - based on the response time of the Six to such a break-in, we should be able to estimate how much advance notice they may or may not have had. Third, in the event that a break-in is thwarted and the black warehouse itself is compromised, obtain the items it contains for ourselves.”

“Why would we do that?” Harry asks.

Mirage clears her throat subtly, the way a teacher would before lecturing a student. “As part of Tyran Enterprises’ attempt to suborn law enforcement to its own ends, it has discredited AEGIS and its personnel in the eyes of the government and the public. It follows that they’ll be granted control of the black warehouses sooner or later. Thus, we would like to deprive them of the material benefits contained therein.”

“Stealing villain equipment ourselves feels morally questionable,” says Fuko in a soft voice.

“I will be handling the logistics of extraction,” Mirage says coolly. “You need not involve yourselves in that aspect of the plan.”

Harry and Andi look to each other and nod. Stingray shrugs. Fuko frowns. But nobody objects.

“Do it,” directs Harry.

The team is carefully monitoring action around the first black warehouse. Located in the Skycastle neighborhood, it’s a decommissioned outdoor park area that was once used by carnivals and music shows. A handful of broken-down amusement park rides are parked here. There’s an adjacent parking lot, surfaced by what is now chunky asphalt, with tufts of grass and dandelions growing through the cracks. There’s a freeway interchange nearby, and the regular roar of passing cars provides the only real noise.

Surveillance drones, equipped with telescopic optics, serve as Mirage’s eyes and ears in the field. Andi is high up in the air. The rest of the team is scattered around the area, staying out of sight.

What Mirage failed to explain was how boring this would be. Harry, who has done stakeouts before, is rolling with it - but he could as easily be elsewhere, and indeed he does race off a few times to deal with something, only to return seconds later. Fuko, due to her ninja training in endurance and subterfuge, seems to be handling it just as well. Andi and Trace, on the other hand, voice their displeasure over the comms every few minutes.

Aside from the griping, they have to call in anyone who seems to be poking around the site. The latest arrival is someone dressed like a bike messenger, with a white hoodie, satchel bag slung over a shoulder, and practical all-weather boots. She wandered onto the property from one of the side streets and is now nosing around.

Harry has just finished giving this report over comms when Andi checks in. “Hey, rapidly changing weather patterns up here…”

Harry and the others look up at the sky. Sure enough, clouds are forming. The temperature drops rapidly.

“Holy shit–” Andi shouts over comms.

A lightning bolt lances from the gathered clouds and strikes the ground at the center of the park. In its place is a figure, perhaps ten feet tall. They wear an enormous animal’s skull as a helmet, complete with branching horns, and are garbed in wild matted furs styled like some kind of primitive cape. Slung on their back is a massive sword seemingly made of ice, with a wickedly serrated blade.

Of everyone present, only the bike messenger doesn’t seem fazed in the slightest. Indeed, she offers the newcomer a jaunty wave.

“I am searching the database for villains matching their description,” Mirage announces.

“Do we move on them?” Trace asks tensely.

“Not yet,” Harry says firmly. “I want to see if it’s just them, or if someone else is gonna show up.”

By the time Harry is satisfied nobody else is coming, Mirage has come back with a report. “The tall individual is thought to be named Khyrrsz. Very little is known about them, other than they seem to exhibit control over storm and cold, and are a very capable fighter. They are a member of a villain team called the ‘Seven Wonders’, which was active fifteen to twenty years ago.”

“How about the other one?” Harry asks.

“The known Seven Wonders are Khyrrsz, D-SOL-8, Veneer, Motormouth, the Hand, and Glom. Based on their chosen moniker, a seventh member was hypothesized but never identified.”

“How about their powers?” Stingray asks next.

“D-SOL-8 is a cyborg. Motormouth is apparently a human being currently trapped in a machine body. Veneer can become two-dimensional. Glom can attract or repel people and objects by generating an ectoplasmic-like substance. It is not known what the Hand’s powers are, although she presents as a stage magician.”

“The Hand?” Fuko asks curiously.

“…is quicker than the eye. An idiom used in stage magic,” Mirage explains.


“Just tell us how to beat them,” Andi says firmly.

“I do not have access to those records.”

“Why not?”

The team can hear Mirage’s very audible sigh over the link. “Because I am, as they say, ‘compromised’ and ‘dangerous’ and ‘not really Alycia’, so Jason has put me in a confining digital prison. I can only access public records and certain Quill assets. I cannot just pull data from private law enforcement databases.”

“Right. I guess we gotta figure it out ourselves.” Harry zips out from his hiding place, and races into the amusement park.

The bike messenger and the weather giant see him coming. The latter unslings their sword, but the bike messenger holds up a hand for patience.

“Silver Streak?” she asks, then peers at him. “No! You must be Harry, Streak’s boy! Wow, you’ve grown up.”

She turns to her companion and points. “The fast guy? Remember him? He got married? It’s their son!”

The giant grunts, and says something unintelligible.

The woman turns back to Harry and grins. “This is great! So now you’re a superhero too, huh? Setting out a sting for villains like us? I’m Glom, by the way. What’s your code name?”

“Mercury,” says Harry, deeply uncertain of how this conversation ended up here. He remembers the mission, and adds, “We’re here to apprehend you.”

“We?” Glom looks around curiously. “Oh! You have a team! That’s wonderful. Well listen, we haven’t actually done anything yet. Do you just wanna bust us for being, y’know, escaped villains, or do you want to wait until we dig this place up to pin something on us?”

“I think we’re gonna have to take you in as is,” Harry decides.

“Huh.” Glom seems almost disappointed, and elbows her companion Khyrrsz. Their respective heights means her elbow lands on the giant’s thigh. “Used to be you had to do something to be arrested.”

The rest of the team is arriving on the field as they speak.

“Hey, how about some introductions?” Glom prompts enthusiastically. “I love meeting new people!”

“Stingray, Ninjess, and A10,” Harry says.

His dad’s stories are coming back. The Seven Wonders were the premiere supervillain team of his era, including “the talky one who’s like rubber and glue.”

“A10? Ohhh, you’re - hey, you’re another legacy hero!” Glom exclaims. “That’s great! And you two teamed up?” She points rapidly between A10 and Mercury.

“Can I just punch them already?” Andi asks, in exasperation.

Harry is used to threats or shows of defiance from villains. This is all new. He shrugs. “If they don’t come quietly, sure,” he says.

“Gonna come quietly?” Andi directs the question to Glom.

“Nope, I’m very loud when I c–” Glom starts to say.

Andi decks her, full force, but it doesn’t knock her down. It knocks her away, and she goes bouncing wildly off the amusement park rides, then up into the air.


The giant with the horned helmet looks up, sighs, shakes their head in familiar exasperation, and finally unslings their sword.

“You uh, you wanna come quietly?” Harry asks doubtfully.

Khyrrsz seems to get the sense of the question. They point at the sword, then at Harry, and grin toothily.

“Please stop wasting time in banter with villains,” advises Mirage over comms.

Stingray’s suit is in “frog” configuration. Behind Khyrrsz, he makes a mightly leap, trident out and poised to strike. The giant swings their sword in a wide arc, striking him with the flat of the blade, and he goes spiraling away.

Harry rushes across the park, intent on catching his teammate. But Khyrrsz abruptly kneels down, and with a weathered hand strikes the ground. Frost and ice emanate from the strike point, quickly outpacing even Harry’s speed. Harry finds his feet abruptly go out from under him, and he slides on his butt across the sudden ice slick.

Stingray rights himself in mid-air, but as he comes down on the ice, he fares no better.

Glom, meanwhile, bounces back from across the park where she took a tumble. She seems totally unharmed by the journey. “Encore! Encore!” she shouts.

Andi, looking at her two options for opponent, decides on Khyrrsz and flies toward the giant at top speed. Sure enough, this punch sends them sprawled onto their own ice and sliding as well, but quickly they stick their sword in the ground to stop their movement.

Glom, meanwhile, is bouncing across the ice toward Harry and Stingray, who are trying to regain their feet. At this moment, a few of Fuko’s quill-darts fly out of her concealed position, but they simply bounce off Glom’s body.

“This is getting annoying,” Stingray mutters.

Andi isn’t deterred, and isn’t above hitting an enemy when they’re down - if they’re tough enough. As Khyrrsz rises from the ice, she plows into them again. This time, the giant has anticipated her move, and extended their ice around their feet and ankles. The additional anchorage sends Andi spiraling backward through the air this time.

“I’m gonna thaw this ice,” declares Harry. He begins vibrating in place, to build up an aura of heat around himself. The ice beneath him melts away immediately, and he begins running in a spiraling pattern to melt more.

Stingray also tries another tactic. He leaps frog-like into the air, hoping to intercept Glom in her own bounce. He does - and then bounces off her body, reflected by whatever rubber-like effect she can create.

Fuko tries another thrown attack. This time, it’s smoke bombs. As Glom lands, the bombs go off around her, and she’s reduced to coughing fits for a moment.

Fuko throws more darts into the smoke. They don’t seem to have much effect, and after a moment the smoke itself billows outward, repelled by Glom’s power.

“Mercury, support A10 in tackling Khyrrsz,” advises Mirage. “Stingray, Ninjess, ignore Glom unless she attacks. She’s trying to distract you from Khyrrsz.”

“Got it!” Harry calls back. He snaps a thumbs-up to Andi, who nods fiercely. The two rush Khyrrsz.

Stingray leaps across the newly cleared field. Fuko follows on foot, but as she does, Glom launches handfuls of an ectoplasm-like substance at the ground. The stuff is as effective as glue, rooting her in place. Undeterred, she slips out of her shoes and somersaults across the field, avoiding gaps in the substance until she can get clear of the effect.

“That’s the spirit!” shouts Glom encouragingly. “Hey, do you want to know how my powers work?”

A very surprised Fuko blinks. “… Yes?” she says in confusion.

“So would I!” With that, Glom scoops up a pair of asphalt chunks from the field. She holds them out, and with an application of her power to repel things, sends them flying bullet-like at Fuko.

The ninja girl, despite having little to no warning, lithely evades the missiles. “You speak to distract.”

“I just like to talk,” Glom says with a grin.

Meanwhile, the three-way attack on Khyrrsz has begun. Stingray is ready with his trident, trying to use the tines to catch their sword when it swings. Harry is rushing in circles around the giant, counteracting the ice and cold they radiate. Andi darts in and out, throwing punches. If she can bait Khyrrsz into taking a swing, and Stingray can catch it, she’ll go all-out.

The moment comes. Stingray’s trident catches and clamps onto the blade, and his frog’s-tongue grapple and frog-foot adhesives lash him to the ground.

“Now!” Harry shouts. Andi charges up, bouncing off the ground for extra oomph, and drives a haymaker right into the giant’s chin. They go flying into the air, losing their grip on their sword in the process.

Andi lands and fist-pumps. “Yeah! And there’s more where that came from!” she shouts.

That’s when a grand piano comes from absolutely out of nowhere and lands directly on her.

“Andi!” shouts Harry in worry.

“Codenames,” hisses Mirage in his earpiece.

“What the fuck was that,” says Andi weakly, from under the ruined musical instrument.

“Ooh! Ooh! The Hand is ready!” shouts Glom excitedly, and claps in wild abandon.

The team can see a feminine figure, wearing a top hat and tuxedo, standing atop a carousel.

“And now, for my first trick in a very long time!” the Hand exclaims. “The disappearing black warehouse!”

She makes an elaborate series of gestures with her hands, then slides them apart in a rapid motion, seemingly completing a trick.

“Time to go, my friends!” The Hand gestures at Khyrrsz, who rises and starts loping across the field, and to Glom, who bounces toward her as well.

“Not so fast!” Harry growls, and races toward them. As he crosses a section of the park, though, it gives way and he falls in.

“That’s where the black warehouse was located, underground,” Mirage comments.

The others run or leap, giving the sinkhole a wide berth. Andi takes time untangling herself from the wreckage of the piano, but is in the air soon enough.

Before they can arrive, the Hand’s associates disappear behind the carousel, and she herself leaps off the top of it with a jaunty wave.

When they inspect the carousel, there’s nothing and nobody. The villains have escaped without a trace.

The only sign of them is the sword Khyrrsz wielded, which even now is melting away into a puddle of water and an enormous carved bone.

“Bring back samples of that substance that trapped you, Ninjess. And the bone.” Mirage is all business, even now. “It’s time to perform some research.”

“Teleporter. Gotta be.”

“Portals? Or some kind of psychic thing?”

“Probably portals.”

The team is discussing how the Hand managed to get away with not only the black warehouse’s contents, but evacuate her comrades as well.

Mirage, meanwhile, is arguing with Jason.

“I need access to the laboratory computer and facilities to analyze these materials,” she repeats. “If I’m to help this team, I must have the tools to help them.”

“I understand that, but why can’t you just ask for what you need?” Jason asks.

“It is not an efficient use of my time to constantly direct the actions of others, and it is not an efficient use of yours to continually grant me permissions at the smallest possible scope.” Mirage scowls. “I understand your security concerns. I am well aware of my prior, shall we say, mental lapses. But I am confident that your electronic defenses will alert you if I overstep my boundaries in this matter.”

“What if I’m interested in the investigation too?” Jason asks.

Mirage huffs. “Perhaps I’d also prefer to work knowing I’d earned some measure of trust. Or are we not there yet?”

Jason holds up hands in conciliation. “How about we compromise on that? I’ll give you the trust, you give me the information. I’ll unlock access, and you brief me on what you find, later on?”

“Very well,” Mirage says, looking away with arms crossed.

The analysis doesn’t begin until Jason is well on his way to Guatemala.

Mirage projects holograms to aid in her presentation. The first is a slowly rotating image of the hilt of the giant’s weapon.

“It’s a bone, taken from a mammoth. Genus mammuthus. Related to modern elephants. Despite the genus being extinct for millennia, the bone does not show signs of aging. Bones like this would not be sturdy enough to support the weight of ice needed to make the sword we observed, but the bone itself shows no signs of reinforcement. We can regard its sturdiness as a side effect of Khyrrsz’s powers.”

“The substance produced by Glom decayed naturally, but not uniformly. Based on experiments, I would speculate that it’s some kind of solidified or materialized kinetic force, and dissipates to the extent that opposing forces are applied to it.”

Fuko hums. “So do not allow ourselves to be struck by the substance.”

She turns to Harry. “They seemed to recognize you, or your family. Have you asked about this?”

“I texted my dad,” Harry says. “He just said we’d talk soon.”

“They didn’t seem all that old,” Trace comments. “How could they know your parents?”

“AEGIS used methods like cryogenic suspension, or in some cases actual time displacement, to store its most dangerous prisoners,” Mirage explains. “Either solution, or something like them, would have halted the aging process. It is likely that they’re ignorant of events during the last several years.”

The explanation is cut short by the sound of security klaxons.

“What’s going on?” Harry demands.

“The Quill compound’s computers are under electronic assault,” Mirage reports. She tilts her head, as though listening to something nobody else could hear. “The attacks are targeting the laboratory and warehouse systems.”

“Would the attackers be near?” Fuko asks.

Mirage thinks a moment. “It’s likely. A hack sophisticated enough to threaten the Quill systems would require as much bandwidth and as little latency as possible.” She gleans the ninja girl’s intent. “Scout the perimeter.”

“Roger.” With that, Fuko is gone.

“I’ll scout from the air,” volunteers Andi, and runs after her.

Harry shrugs. “I’ll check around as well, I guess.”

“What about me?” Trace asks Mirage, as his teammates bail on him.

“You can–”

Mirage is interrupted by a video call from Jason Quill. He rezzes into holographic life, standing next to his house-guests. “Mirage. Report.”

She takes this immediately. “Electronic intrusion detected. The labs and warehouse are being attacked. A10, Ninjess, and Mercury are scouting the compound and vicinity for signs of the attacker.”

Jason narrows his eyes. Mirage somehow reads intent from that. “I didn’t do this, Jason. This came out of nowhere.”

“Even so, we should probably lock down access,” he says, after what might be a moment of guilty silence. “Is your analysis finished?”


Jason checks something on his end. “It’s after working hours. A lockdown shouldn’t interrupt any regular tasks.”

A holographic map of the compound comes up next to him. “Trace, see this spot pulsing in red?”

Trace glances at the map and nods.

“Good. If the lockdown doesn’t work, there’s a cable bundle here, and a fire ax. Take the ax to the cables if necessary.”

“Will do.”

Time passes. Stingray waits tensely at the spot, fire ax held in sweaty hands.

Eventually, the other three return empty-handed. Only Fuko has anything to report, and that is tenuous enough. “I saw what might have been two figures, but before I could get close, they disappeared.”

“Disappeared as in teleported, ran away, flew?” Mirage asks sharply.

“I lost sight of them while repositioning,” Fuko says. “To avoid breaking stealth, I must also break my own line of sight to the quarry from time to time.”

Mirage takes this in before finally speaking. “I see. Commendable from a security standpoint, but in this case regrettable.”

She slumps down into a crouch. “I could have handled it with more access. Jason doesn’t trust me yet.”

She looks up at the team she’s supporting, perhaps trying to read their faces. “Maybe you all don’t either.”

Harry shrugs and smiles. “Hey, you’re Alycia, right? The other one has definitely proved herself. And you’ve been helpful to us. Like, really helpful. We can’t get these guys without you.”

A flicker of a smile crosses Mirage’s lips. “Well, that’s something. Perhaps you should go see your father, Mr. Gale. Hopefully he has more to say than my current limited resources do.”

Harry finds his dad at home, watching television. Mom is on a call, coordinating some kind of charity event planning.

“Did you eat?” the senior Gale asks, reclining in the comfort of an armchair.

“Yeah, I got something on the way over,” Harry says. He reclines onto the couch.


Harry isn’t sure how or when to broach the subject, but the former Silver Streak speaks first. “I don’t want you to go after the Seven Wonders, son.”

“Why not? They weren’t pushovers, but the ones we fought weren’t too bad.”

“What happened?” his dad asks.

Harry relates the circumstances of the fight. James just laughs. “A piano? Really?”

“Yeah. It was weird.”

Dad nods, then grows sober. “Listen, son. That means they were just playing with you. If they’d been serious, you’d have known it.”

“But they were captured,” Harry protests. “That means they’re beatable.”

“It took damn near the whole team at the time to do it,” his father counters, sitting up and looking directly at him. “If they actually cause trouble, let the HHL or the Stellar Six or whoever handle it.”

Harry stirs uncomfortably. “How could they know of me by name?”

James Gale shakes his head and leans back. “They had ways of knowing things. Things you’d never think they could learn.”

Harry sits up and leans forward. “Well, okay, how? Tell me about them.”

His dad impatiently slams his hands on the armrests of the recliner. “No! Now, just… Just let…”

“Let the adults handle it?” Harry mutters.

“Something like that,” his dad mumbles, and reclines back into the chair. “Ask your mother if you like. She’ll tell you the same thing.”

Harry stands up and walks off.

Behind him, his father lets out a sigh, and shakes his head wearily.

The next few days are uneventful, as the superhero lifestyle goes.

Mirage has figured out Fuko’s ecological niche in the crime-fighting world. Unfortunately, it does nobody any good.

“In previous times, criminals relied on speed. If they could outrun the alarm, they could often get away with the crime,” she explains. “Alarms would notify the police, or to private security firms. One of the HHL’s smart moves, and one they passed to the JHHL, was to organize a security subsidiary that would let them respond with the same alacrity. Otherwise, superheroes as vigilantes would mobilize based on citizen reports. Good from a legal perspective, as if you officially called a superhero to respond to an incident and they broke your building in the process of doing so, the insurance company would often refuse to pay out. Bad from a property retention perspective, as the losses could easily outweigh the damage.”

“Tyran’s corporatist, or shall we say traditionally fascist, approach has unified most of these elements under a single banner. He owns the warehouses and factories. He owns the security companies. He owns private security responders - the Stellar Six and his robots. He doesn’t - quite - own the police, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. The result is a radically shortened response cycle.”

The hologram stares at the team. “As a result, criminals are changing their approach from speed to stealth. Fewer stolen trucks at the warehouse, more payments to drivers to look the other way - or replacements of drivers. Tyran is responding with calls for more Tyran Enterprises robot trucks, of course, and the unions are opposing him. Tunnels drilled into bank vaults rather than lightning-fast robberies. You get the idea, I assume?”

The team does.

“But we can’t anticipate where they’ll strike now,” protests Stingray. “How are you gonna tell where they go if they’re being even more subtle?”

“I’m capable of processing data at a prodigious rate,” smirks Mirage.

“Because you’re a computer?” A10 asks sarcastically.

“Because I’m me,” Mirage emphasizes. “And we can use the techniques you’ve used before, with your teammate Radiance, and during the search for this…”

The name seems to provoke a bit of confused distaste. “‘Princess Peri’…?”

“Wide-area sensor-assisted searching. I’ve devised a design for a web of sensors. Stingray, as a technologist, you will create the sensors and review my design. Mercury, you will place them around the city at speed. A10, you will place sensors in difficult to reach places. Ninjess, you will analyze the sensor data with me.”

Two days later, the team provides its verdict.

“This system sucks,” A10 announces.

“You’ve stopped two industrial thefts,” Mirage protests. “That surely indicates the system is a success!”

“It’s boring,” A10 growls. “We sit around until we get a ping, then we go stop a truck, apprehend the driver, and pray we don’t get sued by arresting the wrong guy.”

Mirage looks baffled. “That is… crime-fighting, is it not?”

Stingray takes the more moderate position. “Sure, I’m glad that we’re stopping people from stealing stuff, but it doesn’t really help Ninjess’s public profile. Aren’t we still looking for ways to do that?”

Mirage looks at the ground. “That is… the reason I got involved, yes… and I have been considering other options.”

She rallies, and looks back at the unhappy heroes. “But isn’t it enough to enact social good? Isn’t that what you are heroes for? Or have I misunderstood your motives?”

“Guess you’d have to be a hero to understand,” A10 mutters darkly.

Mirage looks hurt, just for a moment, then sneers in defiance. “When I was my old self, the world knew my name.”

Harry holds up hands in a plea for peace. “Ladies. Please.”

He looks to Mirage. “I think what A10 is kind of getting at is, well, sure, we want to do good, that’s what we’re here for. But it’s sometimes an uphill battle, because, y’know, nobody really pays us, people don’t always appreciate us, and if we make a mistake, it’s on our heads. It’s nice to feel like you’re doing a good job. Good feelings make for good motivation, right?”

“I see your point,” Mirage concedes. “There is another–”

She pauses, and looks up sharply. “Alert. High priority supervillain activity in the Longstoke District. All available heroes are requested to respond.”

“We’re on our way,” Harry declares. And off they go.

Stingray and Ninjess are getting around on one of Trace’s newer inventions, called the Flying Fish. It’s an open-design two-seater with wings, capable of operating above or below the water with equal ease. A10 can fly, and Harry can run. As a team, it takes them very little time to arrive.

The Longstoke District is a series of towers, cross-connected by walkways at different levels. Several of the towers have unfoldable shelters to block the sun, harness radiated heat from the street level, and collect rain water. There’s even airship docks and helicopters on the roofs. It’s a bit of experimental urbanism, a place that asks all the ways in which a city can evolve.

Right now, much of the District is blanketed in a thick mist.

“Where to?” Stingray asks.

The team can hear the distant sounds of explosions, gunfire, and crunching metal. “That way,” says Harry over comms, and heads into the mist.

“I’m tracking your movements,” announces Mirage. “There is a disturbance 6 blocks north from Mercury’s current position. Visibility is poor. I will be deploying radar-equipped drones, but there will be a delay before they come online.”

A10, flying ahead of Stingray, darts into the mist. “It’s cold,” she reports.

There’s an ear-splitting cracking noise, something that shakes the world around them.

“What the hell was that?” yells Stingray nervously.

“A building is collapsing,” Andi reports tersely. “People are on the street.”

“Get them to safety!” shouts Harry, and puts on a burst of speed. “Move!”

The Flying Fish dives into the mist. Stingray and Ninjess can glimpse A10 swooping down, and can see the intricate swirls of mist created by Mercury running at super-speed. His constant criss-crossing of the ground forms eddies in the air, and these intersect with each other.

They can hear Mercury’s PA system, built into his suit, making an announcement through the concealing fog. “Attention Citizens - the Hero Mercury is active - I am evacuating as many of you as possible - please remain calm…”

Stingray knows he can’t match Harry’s speed. But how can he help?

He presses a button on the Flying Fish’s front panel. Several flares shoot out of the craft, creating incandescent islands in the mist.

“Follow the flares!” he shouts. “I’ll light a path to safety!”

“I need to know who’s doing this,” Ninjess says from behind him. Before he can respond, she hops off the bike and falls into the mist below.

Stingray watches A10 streak by, carrying two or three people at a time. Quick as lightning, she’s out, then back.

The collapse is over in seconds. The mist is swept away by an enormous wave of dust, as the building finishes its descent to the street, and Stingray is showered by bits of rubble that bounce harmlessly off his armor. It was hypnotic, somehow, watching things fall, realizing they weren’t in slow motion, they were just that big.

Trace is jolted out of his reverie as a car goes flying past him, out of the cloud. Without even turning to check, his instincts tell him there’s probably people at the other end of its arc, and he wheels the Flying Fish around to intercept it.

The little craft’s engines don’t have the oomph needed to catch the car, but he’s able to bump it just enough to collide with a semi trailer, rather than land on anyone. He breathes a sigh of relief, but it’s short-lived.

“Combatants identified,” Mirage reports. “The Stellar Six are engaging with elements of the Seven Wonders.”

“What do we do?” Stingray asks, half to himself.

“Just save as many people as possible,” Harry announces. “My dad said when we fought them, they were playing around with us. Nobody’s playing now.”

The team falls into a regular rhythm for the next two minutes and thirty eight seconds, though it feels like an eternity. Harry grabs people off the street and moves them to safety - defined as the edge of the mist. A10 grabs people off the skyways, out of buildings, or other places her partner can’t reach. Stingray on his Flying Fish tackles odd jobs and makes sure that an evacuation route is clear. And Mirage directs traffic, crisply announcing where to go and what to expect there.

“I have eyes on two individuals,” Fuko announces at last. “I believe I’m unobserved.”

Trace breathes a long sigh of relief. “What are you doing?” he demands. “Get outta there.”

“Negative,” the Atlantean girl whispers via comms. “Mirage, do you need specific intelligence?”

“Who are they and what are they doing?” the hologram asks.

“One individual is probably ‘Motormouth’. They are an amalgam of animated technology. The other is probably ‘D-SOL-8’. He is visibly a cyborg. Ground level. They are accessing a terminal of some kind.”

“I have your location,” Mirage reports. “Right. This is a Park Tech building. They’re probably trying to access data about their space program. Beginning counter-intrusion…”

“I have an EMP device,” Fuko says after a moment. “Should I deploy it to disrupt them?”

There’s a hesitation on the line. “Can you get out safely?” Mirage asks at last.

“It is possible.”

Stingray cuts in. “Wait a minute! Just get outta there, Fuko. Serious shit is happening here.”

Mirage explains for his benefit. “A major villain team is engaging a credible hero team at full force. Their objective appears to be cover for this hack. Ergo it is probably of intense significance. Ergo it’s worth disrupting, at the cost of us learning their specific goal. Ninjess is asking a valuable question.”

There’s a crackle, and the team hears a new voice on their secure line.

“Hey, gang, Motormouth here. I don’t recommend you bombin’ us right now, we’re kinda sensitive about that sorta thing. Take it real personally, especially if it’s that eee emm pee stuff. Boy does that sting, yannow? Nice ta meetcha by the way, I heard you had some fun with our buds the cave god and the stick-up artist. Well, make up your minds soon, 'cause I need to concentrate on this thing.”

“Is everyone clear?” Harry asks.

“Looks like it,” A10 reports.

“Okay. Team, retreat. Radio silence,” Mirage instructs.

The team watches news coverage of the incident in the Conversation Pit. Of everyone, only Mercury and A10 were recognized for their life-saving efforts.

“My dad was right,” Harry admits. “They were playing with us back then. That was serious business.”

“What can we do against that kind of power?” Trace asks helplessly.

“That’s quitter talk,” Andi growls. But she doesn’t have an answer for his question.

Fuko is still quiet, but in the silence of the room her voice carries. “We will find a way to defeat the Seven Wonders.”

Harry knows he can’t just ask “how”, but privately he remembers his father’s words and has to agree with Trace. There’s a power gap, and he’s not sure how to close it right now. Instead, he tries another question. “You think we should tackle them, instead of trying something else?”

Fuko nods. She smiles at her friends and teammates. “I am shinobi. It means ‘to endure’. The ninja are not simply black-clad stalkers with swords. They are invisible by being lowly. They endure contempt and hardship to, as that Mr. Tyran likes to say, ‘get the job done’. If we are to beat the Seven Wonders of the villain world, it will not be through power. We will defeat them by enduring.”

The others look at each other with shrugs and smiles. Nobody has an actual plan, not yet. But as they say, good feelings make good motivation.

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Hopefully some interesting action, and we’ve met some of the Seven Wonders! What will these villains get up to next time, and how will our heroes handle it?


So … Alycia!

And that sounds like Alycia, too.

And so does that. :slight_smile:

Ah. But that doesn’t. Alycia wouldn’t say please, esp. in a combat situation. :crazy_face:

Aaand … I guess the intrusion attack stopped about that time?

Glad to see the grups haven’t learned anything. :roll_eyes:

So, on the one hand, M is incorporating all the others into her plans, even the parts where she could be tackling things alone. It builds cooperation, and lays a groundwork of trust between her and the others.

On the other hand, I just got a twinge of mistrust from myself, the reader, as Mirage starts setting up an information network to bypass some of the restrictions Quill’s put on her – with the complicity of her comrades here. I’m not saying she’s up to something, but if she were up to something, she would also be doing this …

First time she’s sounded like an AI.

I like this. They are distinctly the weaker force. So turn that to an advantage, or at least change the playing field so that it’s not a disadvantage. Classic ninja thing, and also good for the group.

Good stuff. Read to read more!

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