“YOU DARE RETURN TO MY CITY? YOU RISK THE DISPLEASURE OF NADJA, EMPRESS OF AETHER!”
Some villains have gotta be extra.
I’ve heard a few stories about Nadja. I didn’t really pay attention, though. Why bother? I’d never see her, right? So now I’m getting the full experience, and I’m paying attention, because I have really moved up in the world apparently.
There’s these floating drone things, six of them, floating around us on all corners. They’re doing a laser show kind of thing, and this holographic projection of a woman is at the center of it all. She’s like twelve feet tall and staring down at us, through this mask. Only it’s not like a domino mask or anything conventional. It’s more like one of those fancy theatrical masks, the ones they carve out of wood or something. She’s wearing a hooded cloak, like she’s a druid. She’s got long black hair with a plaited braid coming out of the hood.
“We don’t oppose you!” This is from Guardian Ghost. He’s ready, he was itching to say it, like he’s prepared for this, like he knew the phrase to use. Jesus. I feel inadequate.
“WE SHALL SEE. I GRANT YOU AUDIENCE.” The projection vanishes. Well, everything vanishes. And we start floating. I’m disoriented, because something happened that’s not supposed to happen. We’re in a big kind of spherical room, and there’s either windows or force fields or something, through which I can see Earth. Like, the planet. We’re in space.
Why aren’t we weightless or something? I feel some gravity, but… not as much. Huh. So that’s a thing she can do too.
I am in over my head.
Surely the others are just as messed up, right? I look at my team. Sabine’s glancing around, looking confused. Sprout looks gleefully excited - of course. Only Astralis looks tense. Huh.
The woman is here. Still a projection, I think. Only now she’s not booming like before. “You are not welcome in my city. I have spoken.” She glances from face to face. Is she talking to all of us? What the hell did I do?
“Uh. 'Scuse me. Uh. Empress. Your empress-ship. What… what did I do to you?” I hear myself ask. Well shit.
“You don’t know who I am.” It’s sort of a question, sort of a conclusion, but she sounds royally pissed off.
Ghost kicks in, probably another training thing. That or he’s terminally embarrassed that I’m such a loser. “This is Nadja von Hildebrand, Baroness of Vacarna. She’s the one who defeated the Zeta invasion. She’s the reason Silverline City exists. She brought down the alien mothership it was made out of. She-- claims rulership over Silverline for that reason.”
I find myself unable to believe that. My mouth is still steps ahead of my brain, because I blurt out, “how did one woman do all that?”
This time it’s Astralis who speaks. “Because she realized the nature of the invaders.”
I don’t know why I’m talking about this. Maybe so they’ll understand the danger they face here. An Earthling who understands our technology is dangerous indeed. The Empire was warlike under my father’s reign, but not genocidal. Honor and tradition are everything.
“The invasion wasn’t a war, the way you understand it.” I don’t say you humans but I realize that I’m thinking of it. “She realized it was to be a duel, warrior to warrior. She, alone, faced the warships, and won. She was augmented with everything Earth had to offer.”
The heroes and villains of Earth are a mystery to me, with one exception: Nadja the destroyer, and her AETHER satellites. All the Empire knows her name. And now, I have to know her intentions.
Astralis is paying attention. She wants to Pierce the Mask, and gets an 8. Her question is: “What are you really planning?” The GM reveals that Nadja knows Astralis’ secret identity, and thinks she’s addressing the Princess of the Zeta as an official emissary and challenger. Nadja sees her as a threat to her rule on Earth.
A duel, warrior to warrior…. But I’m not here as a warrior, am I. I’m here to avert a war. But I can’t tell anyone that. If I reveal myself, the Chancellor will take me home. If this situation becomes dangerous, I’ll find a way to defuse it.
Sabine wants to Assess the Situation - she can’t see the holograms, she only hears a voice, so she actively pings the chamber with sound-waves. She rolls a 6 - since she didn’t announce her intent, nobody else is in a position to spend team to help. The GM makes a Delinquent move: “put them in chains”.
A shimmering force field - type TX2517, very impressive - snaps into existence around Sabine. “I’ve detected your sonic sensors,” Nadja’s voice comes again, harshly. “You will be respectful in my presence.”
The others - Sprout, Pelagos - look uncertain. I see a confusing expression on Sabine’s face. I dare not consult the ship’s supercomputer for details. Not here. But Ghost is speaking. I wonder who prepared him to face such a formidable foe?
“We’re not your enemy. We’re fighting back against people who use Zeta tech to hurt the citizens of Silverline. Please let Sabine go, in the name of the good she does.”
Ghost wants to Provoke Nadja into releasing her captive. But he rolls a 4! The GM makes a Legacy move: “tell them who they are”
The mask hides any expression of mercy or cruelty this woman’s face might reveal. “I honor the Guardian Ghosts for their accomplishments. You are merely the son of one of them. Do not presume to stand with me, or name yourself among the heroes of my city. You are a child, Miguel Murphy. This weight is not yet for your shoulders.”
Nadja wants to shift Ghost’s labels: Mundane up, Superior down. She wants him to stay normal. Ghost wants to reject this influence, however, and rolls an 8.
His voice is less confident, but he is still speaking. “Even a child knows when a friend is hurting. Please. Let her go.” If that change in tone means what I think it does, he is frightened.
Ghost chooses to shift his Savior up and Freak down, as he is acting protective toward his teammate.
“If your friend is as respectful as you, I will release her.” With a wave of a gloved hand, Nadja dispels the force field. We all look over at Sabine, and I see fear for the first time.
Should I have said something?
Holy shit holy shit holy shit.
One of the things I don’t talk about with people is that basically I’m blind. I can rez stuff around me, I can navigate, I can function, and I’m proud of all that, go powers. But I can’t read a book, or a road sign. If it says “bridge out”, it better say it in Braille. And I definitely cannot rez my teammates when a force field that blocks sound pops up all around me.
The experience is like the whole world going dark. All I can hear is my heartbeat, which suddenly speeds up, and my breathing, which does the same. And all of that gets louder and louder and oh god I’m gonna panic. And those fuckers are probably watching me, because this force field is probably transparent or some bullshit, because this woman wants to humiliate me. She just teleports us to the Moon or wherever and talks at us without the courage to show up personally.
This anger I have is all that’s keeping me from breaking down.
Everyone and everything snaps back into resolution. I rez the kid - Sprout - running over to me. “Are you okay? Sabine, what’s wrong?” God dammit, they can tell. They can probably all tell.
I mean it’s great that someone cares, right? No. No, it’s not great, because then they’re gonna stop seeing me as a hero and start seeing me as the helpless blind girl, and I don’t even have enough anger inside me for that. And this stranger is wrapping arms around me and nope.
Sprout wants to Comfort & Support Sabine, and rolls an 11! However, Sabine makes the move “Mary Contrary” to interfere. Unfortunately for her, she rolls a 4.
I move to brush their hands away, trying to play it cool. Good job, me, because their hands hit my goggles on the way out. The goggles hit the floor. Now everyone can see my eyes.
In case you are wondering why blind people wear sunglasses, there’s a lot of reasons. Not everyone is completely blind, and even if we can’t see the sun, staring at it (or whatever) will still harm us, for example. But it’s also so that you don’t think we’re weirdos for not making eye contact when you look at us. Right now, I’m not making eye contact with anyone. Right now, I’m showing the ultimate submissive posture.
“Everything’s fine,” I lie, voice taut. “Never been to space before. Feel like I’m gonna throw up or something.”
Sprout stands up, and speaks up at the voice. Good, that gives me time to retrieve my goggles without looking too stupid. There they are…
“We didn’t do anything to you. Why are you bein’ like this to my friends? We were just minding our own business!”
Sprout doesn’t realize who this person is, even after these demonstrations of power. That, or they don’t care. Interesting. I keep meaning to ask where they’re from, and keep suspecting they won’t tell. That it’s a secret tells me something in itself, at least.
Has Nadja been spoken to this way by anyone in the twenty years since she saved the Earth, and asserted her rule over Silverline? She seems surprised, even behind the mask. But she doesn’t look at the rest of us. She looks right at Astralis. I don’t have much to go on - body language isn’t great right now, and that mask isn’t helping me. But Astralis…
Ghost wants to Pierce the Mask to find out why Nadja’s so interested in Astralis. He rolls a 10, and gets to ask three questions.
“What are you really planning?” Astralis and Nadja are confronting each other like rivals, but Astralis isn’t the aggressive one. Nadja’s clearly focused on Astralis for some reason.
“What do you intend to do?” Astralis feels like she got called out by a teacher and wants to get back to her lessons. She’s got important business, possibly connected with Nadja, but she’s not here to start a fight.
“What can I do to make you… reveal your connection with Nadja?” A sincere offer to help might do the trick.
Okay. “Nadja, none of us are a threat to you, or your power. Are we?” I glance as meaningfully as I can at Astralis, realizing that my own mask might complicate her getting the hint. She looks confused for a moment, then nods back at me. Good.
“Nobody is.” The Empress of the Aether sounds regal again. Hopefully that means she’s not mad at us any more? Hopefully?
After a pause, where none of us want to say anything to screw this up, she goes on. “I may have acted with undue haste.” Now she’s just obviously looking at Astralis. “My dear, I feel that I know something of your father. We will speak later.”
The GM makes a move: “offer a chance to further their cause”, but also marks a point of Doom - Astralis’ secret is out to at least one NPC.
Before Astralis can react, the teleportation effect happens again. We’re back in Silverline.
Thank God. I can go somewhere and wipe the sweat off my face now.
Where are we…? Back where we started from. That’s something.
Sabine seems to be recovering. She’s grabbed hold of Pelagos and Sprout, like a big sister with arms around shoulders. “If you two are going to be real heroes, you need real inspiration! Come on!” She either snaps back fast, or has something she wants to bury by acting cheerful. Either way, it helps me out. As the three of them depart, I face Astralis.
“You seem to know more than you’re letting on.” Cards on the table, as they say.
Astralis pauses, the way she does. I don’t think she’s shy any more. I think she’s wary - guarded - and if what happened up there is any indication, she has every reason to be. But finally she opens up.
“That woman… was an enemy of my father. But she isn’t the one who killed him. I need to find his killer. It’s somebody in this city.”
Her dad was clearly an inventor of some kind. How did he get on the bad side of someone like the Empress of the Aether? Still… “Investigation and avenging is what the Guardian Ghost is all about. I can help you. But I need some details.”
What she says next derails me completely. “My father was killed by a superhero.”
Is she kidding? I don’t detect any trace of deception, but maybe she’s good at guarding her expressions. “Do you know who?”
“They have… something that belonged to my father. Something I’d recognize immediately. I have to learn more about the heroes here to know any more. But I can’t trust them, any of them, until I know the truth.”
This is way, way above me right now. This is the stuff I should take to my dad. “Hey, dad, one of my teammates apparently knows the most powerful supervillain in Silverline, and says her dad was murdered by a superhero, I’m gonna look into it, back by dinner!” And that’s assuming any of this is even true, and I’m not just being taken for a ride. Shit, how would I tell the difference? And if she is lying…
I need more information. God dammit, I need so much more.
She looks like she wants to say more, and I lean in. At first, it’s disappointingly mundane. “I finished decrypting the USB storage device you asked about.”
Well, that’s good at least. “Let’s see it.”
And when she shows me the contents, my eyes widen again.
Sabine is taking us to the embassy place!
Ricky doesn’t seem very confident. I wish I could say something that would help him. But I don’t know what to say. I think Sabine does, though.
There’s a long road, with a lot of statues of people on both sides. And they all look strong and brave and stuff. These are the giants’ heroes. I look at them carefully. And Sabine starts talking.
“Listen. As heroes, we stand apart. We stand out. We aren’t like them - the people we protect, the people that matter to us. We’ll always be a little different. We use symbols and costumes to draw attention to ourselves, for a bunch of reasons. So people will look to us and hope. So bad guys will aim at us instead of hostages. So we need to get you two dressed up.”
Sabine has influence, and wants to tell Pelagos and Sprout how the world works. She wants to shift Freak up and Mundane down. Both heroes accept this shift.
This makes sense. I can see Ricky nodding too. He looks more excited now. “That means costumes! The Nightsmiths of the Science Sector work with Zeta tech. They can make costumes that will work with our powers, provide armor, have tracking devices, built-in comms, all kinds of neat stuff! We should contact one of the armorers.”
I mean, all that sounds nifty, but I don’t have a clue. But the group has been good about helping me as a new hero, so I ask. “What is all this Zeta stuff anyway?”
Sabine looks surprised. “Are you joking?” Ricky looks the same way. Huh. Maybe I said something wrong?
Sabine takes over, and I listen in. “Right. ‘Zeta’ is just a name that CiCon - you know, the guys who interviewed us at the tower over there? - and the Army gave to these alien invaders, about twenty years ago. But we also use the term to classify their technology. It comes in stages. Down at the bottom, you have Zeta-0, which is like a really basic understanding of the stuff. Most of the stuff in your house would be Zeta-0.”
I think back to Home, and remember the sewing bobbins we use for furniture, the thimbles which we use to cook our food, and other artifacts of the giants’ world. “Okay…”
“So Zeta-2 is the highest rating that non-military people are allowed to mess with. The Science Pirates we busted up earlier? Those guys steal Zeta-3 or sometimes Zeta-4 level stuff from inside Sector Zero, and sell it as weapons.” I see her face twist in an unhappy way.
Ricky jumps in. “And Zeta-5 is the highest level! The aliens could use their own stuff at that level.”
Sabine nods. “And Nadja apparently can as well.”
I try to understand this. “Alright, so it’s…. Like the difference between damp moss and a fresh acorn for dinner!”
Both of them look at me like I’m weird. I squirm a little bit. Who doesn’t understand this? Must be weird giant stuff. “You know, 'cause… one is icky and not great, but easy to find, right? And acorns are rare, but they’re delicious, and you can roast them with brown sugar or honey, and it’s the best dinner ever, and it’s hard to get right 'cause of the glazing?”
I look from face to face. Finally, Sabine shrugs. “Yeah. It’s exactly like that.”
Ricky jumps in again! He seems pretty excited. “So how about it, Midge? Want the Nightsmiths to make costumes for us?”
Sabine holds up hands. “Wait a minute. Those guys only work for heroes registered with CiCon. That means giving up your name, identity, everything. I don’t recommend it.”
I don’t want to lose my name. “Sprout” sounds really neat.
Ricky shrugs. “You just have to tell them some stuff about yourself, so you can be accountable for the high-tech you’ll be wearing. I’m gonna get one made.”
A horrible thought comes to me. “I’d have to tell them about Home, wouldn’t I?”
“Yeah?” I wish Ricky knew why this bothered me so much, but I can’t tell him. He just sounds so unconcerned.
“I can’t do that.” I probably look disappointed, because now he looks concerned.
Sabine sees wisdom, though. “You’re doing the right thing, Midge. CiCon can’t be trusted with your secrets.”
I kick at the ground with one foot. Ricky seems excited and that’s cool, but Sabine doesn’t seem happy with this and it sounds scary. I don’t want Ricky to be the only one to go get stuff, because he’d feel alone. What should I do?
Sabine smiles. “Let’s forget it for right now. We’ll talk about it later. That’ll give you two time to think about what a cool costume should look like for you. Check out the statues here, see what other people have come up with.”
Instead of the statues, I look at Sabine. She has this sleek bodysuit kind of thing, and goggles (which I knocked off earlier, and I’m still thinking about), and it justs looks so nice. But she didn’t want to go to the Nightsmiths, soooo–
“Sabine, where did you get your costume?”
She sounds a little surprised. “Oh. Uh, a couple friends of mine made it for me. It doesn’t have that fancy stuff, but it does the trick.”
“Could I get something made like that too?”
Sabine brightens up, and turns. “Hey Ricky, that’s not a bad idea. You’re rich, right? You got a yacht! You could be pretty useful here.”
I frown, because Ricky looks like he got punched in the gut. “Uh, I dunno…”
Sabine leans in, smiling weirdly, and Ricky turns red! She’s doing something to him, I think. “You would look so good in something custom, and Midge here would be grateful too, if you helped out.”
Sabine wants to Provoke Pelagos into using his money to acquire costumes. He doesn’t want to - his reaction is “I’m not useful as a hero after all”. Sabine rolls a 10. Pelagos can give into it (and add team to the pool) or resist (and mark a condition).
“I guess… if that’s what I can do for the team… then okay…” Ricky smiles, but it’s hollow and empty, and I feel bad. But then he smiles over at me, and it’s a little more sincere.
I look back at Sabine, and she looks hurt too. Did something bad happen to her? Or, did she feel bad because she did something wrong? Ricky doesn’t look happy. Maybe she made him unhappy by asking him to do something for me. I don’t want Sabine to feel bad either.
It’s all up to me!
“You are both these great heroes and amazing people. Whatever you two think is a good idea, I’ll go along with, okay?” I smile, as bright as I can, and look back at Ricky. “You’re gonna look so fantastic in a new costume!”
Sprout wants to Comfort & Support Pelagos, and rolls an 8. He clears Insecure.
He brightens up. “Hey, I had an idea. Midge, there’s something I can buy for you after all, that’ll let you go to the Nightsmiths with me. We can get some bogus identity records. I know some people who might be able to help. My parents helped repatriate… Anyway, it’s not important. Just let me make a phone call, okay? But this way, your identity will be safe.”
I bounce up and down. This is the best possible outcome!
Sabine likes it too. “That’s my man! Good thinking.” She high-fives Ricky, and he turns red again. He seems very eager to talk to his glowing box.
Pelagos wants to use his move “money is my superpower” to get a fake ID for Sprout. Unfortunately he rolls a 4. The GM makes a move: “make them pay for their audacity.”
Ricky looks very unhappy after a minute talking to his thing. “I uh, might have made a mistake there. I think I told the wrong people a little too much information.”
Sabine just hangs her head.
This was probably all my fault.
My millipede whispers at me from Ghost, and I see the other two tilt their heads too. Everyone must be hearing this.
“Rendezvous at the new ARES tower downtown, the one under construction.”
This could be it. This could really big.
The ARES Consortium is one of the biggest outfits in Silverline City. Their money helped build this place up, but they’ve long been suspected of selling weapons and smuggling illegal Zeta tech outside the city. One of the reasons CiCon tolerates vigilantes in town is because we help deal with it. But we can’t shut ARES down until we get proof that they’re involved.
The thumb drive might do it. ARES is building a new skyscraper. The contractors they hired to do the work own their own trucks. The thumb drive is a set of instructions for the Science Pirates: go to a rendezvous location, load the stolen tech into the trucks waiting there, drive them to the skyscraper, then leave them and disperse. Obviously this is how ARES is going to launder the tech - they’ll bring in other trucks, load them up, then haul them outside the city somehow. But if we can catch the trucks on the scene, we have them.
Everyone’s shaken up about Nadja. But this is too important to let sit. We have to act on it now. I put out the call.
“Meet on the top of the building and sneak down,” Sabine advises over comms, and I concur. We can get down through the infrastructure easily enough, and avoid being seen by any regular security officers they have posted there. Astralis and I nod at each other, and start moving.
My shadows, and Astralis’ technology, get the both of us there. Sabine is there only seconds later, the song of her powers making more noise than I’d prefer. She’s carrying Pelagos and Sprout, who look terrified and excited in equal measure. Well, good. Alright, now as long as nothing goes wrong–
Humans and their obsession with height. They build their towers upward. Their religious “heaven” is in the clouds, or perhaps in space. According to the computer, a tall male is more sexually appealing. Everything must reach for the sky.
Still, there is a certain beauty here. We stand in the skeleton of a building under construction. All around us, robots - primitive, to be sure, but functional - are slowly moving girders into their proper place, then welding them. The building builds itself, in a way. At this altitude, the wind is strong and volatile, and it blows my hair in unexpected directions. Below us, on every side, is the panoply of human architecture. Back home, only three cultural styles prevailed the Long Revolution. Here, there are dozens. I see pools, gardens, shopping centers, places of business and commerce, things I can only guess at.
I can see why they wish to protect this place. Even the five individuals who have landed in a rocket-assisted drop from a nearby floating platform. My supercomputer overlays their identities and public biographies over my vision as I look at them.
The one who is speaking is identified as “Hyperskin”. He wears a golden suit of articulated armor, clearly sculpted to resemble a muscular human being. I note the species taboo that did not include overt genitalia, and the technical limitations that do not reflect his real face onto the golden mask. A quick cross-reference brings up an interesting data point: the building we are on is owned by a group called “ARES”. Their corporate rival is called “Gladwell”. This individual is the son of Gladwell’s commander - or “CEO”. I suspect he is here for his own reasons.
“You five were observed consorting with Nadja, a known rogue and fugitive! Earlier, you caused chaos inside Sector Zero! I’m going to have to ask you all to come quietly.”
Ah, sanctimony. This is a motivation I recognize.
Deus Volt I encountered earlier. He wears armor as well, but not made by my people’s technology. It is white and yellow with blue accents. He too wears a helmet. Biographical details on him are slim, but it is suggested that he acts on a religious motive.
Next to him is a smirking individual whose mouth is their only visible feature. The rest of their body is covered by an obnoxiously bright, attention-getting red and yellow costume. It is striped, but not consistently - the lines draw the eye in numerous directions. The costume has webbing on the arms and legs. The computer suggests this is to allow for gliding. The database identifies them as “Tangent”, a known heroic vigilante in the city. The social media sentiment analysis engine does not paint a positive picture.
“You naughty children are going down,” they add.
On the other side of Hyperskin are two more people. The next to speak appears to have a feminine outline, though their body is partially made of a crystalline substance the computer has a hard time identifying. Curious. She also wears a mask, and her costume is a basic white with cutouts to expose the crystalline portions. Her outfit is covered in pockets, pouches, and other containers. A quick scan reveals basic elements such as sodium contained inside. Her name is given as “Facet”, and a run-down of her power is “crystal generation and manipulation”.
“Just come quietly,” she suggests.
The final member of the group is wearing body-paint made of a sophisticated (for this planet) electronic ink, over a skintight costume. The nature of it becomes apparent immediately, as a color scheme projected by the paint toggles between a grayscale and full-color pattern. The uses of it suggest camouflage and deception. The computer identifies them tentatively as “Veneer”, a suspected research chemist turned vigilante superhero.
Veneer has nothing to add, but shrugs slightly. I think I understand the sentiment.
Ghost speaks for us. I’m grateful - he’s probably more diplomatic than I would be right now, or Sabine for that matter. “We’re here chasing Science Pirates! We’re not the bad guys here!”
Ghost wants to Provoke the other team into helping, or at least moving. They aren’t susceptible to his words (yet), so the trigger can’t happen, but Ghost can Pierce the Mask to observe their reactions. He rolls a 7, and asks “What do you want me to do?”
Deus Volt points at us as a group. “You endangered lives! You caused chaos!” Hyperskin nods, and gestures first at me, then Sabine. “And you’ve got someone here with unregistered and unauthorized Zeta tech, and a known troublemaker who’s interfered with real heroes in the past. You expect us to believe that?”
The other team wants Ghost to denounce Sabine and Astralis. Ghost isn’t inclined to do that.
I watch the Guardian Ghost crack his gloved knuckles. “Nobody looks down on my friends like that.”
Right. It looks like we’re fighting.
Since nobody on the PCs’ side seems willing to surrender, we’re entering battle as a team. Ghost is the leader, but does not have influence over everyone. The team’s goals are split - “take down ARES” (Ghost, Astralis, and Sabine) and “beat these assholes up” (Pelagos, Sprout). The team isn’t ill-prepared or off-balance. They gain 2 team in the pool.
These big-headed jerks are the sort of people who give Silverline heroes a bad name. They aren’t here to do good, they’re here to make themselves look good. This is just an extended audition for Silver Seven membership. As if any of them could cut it.
Not like I could either, but at least I know that.
But the worst part is, they’re literally endangering lives with this prancing around! Weapons that might be downstairs, right now, are going to be sent all over the world. Families, kids, the innocent - real people are going to be hurt. You want a righteous cause? This is it.
“Get outta my way, or I’ll make you regret it!” I shout, and launch at Hyperskin. My speed song fills the air around me like a swarm of angry bees. Let’s see if I sting as well.
Sabine wants to Directly Engage Hyperskin, and rolls an 11. She chooses two: create an opportunity, and impress, surprise, or frighten the opposition. Sabine marks Angry, and Hyperskin marks Afraid.
The impact creates a sonic boom and shakes this peon in his own armor. It’s immediately gratifying to hear “holy shit!” come from inside his helmet. I rez the other members of his team flinch at the impact. Good.
Hyperskin makes a Condition move: “Lash out without thought at a threat”.
I rez him spiral through the air, his own flight system struggling to keep him balanced. I hear the discharge, feel the air heat up and expand around him, rez the noise of a weapon, and dart out of the way as he fires.
He couldn’t have hit me if he’d tried - he’s flailing too hard - but that doesn’t mean it won’t hit something. Sure enough, my sonar picks up a chaotic collapse all through the top of the building. Shit, my team’s down there. His is too, though.
Astralis and Sabine can fly, so can escape the collapse. Sprout can shrink out of the way, and Ghost can teleport. The GM checks: “how is Pelagos getting out?” Astralis will go to his aid, rolling Defend at 11. She protects Pelagos from harm, and takes Influence over him.
I rez Astralis warming up her gear and taking off immediately. Good reflexes. She makes a dive for Ricky, who, bless his heart, is up here despite being unable to fly. I don’t know if there’s any sources of water around here either. Sorry, buddy, but I trust you. And her. Hmm, nothing like a little dramatic rescue to get the kid feeling more assertive…?
“Throw me at her!” Jesus, Ricky, did I hear you correctly? But Astralis is doing just that, aiming at the striped zebra, Tangent, who’s bouncing handily away from the concussive chaos Hyperskin’s blast just caused. She lets Pelagos go like a dive-bomb and he tucks in tight. Huh, this could be amazing–
Pelagos wants to Directly Engage Tangent, but rolls a 4! The GM rules that they reflect his kinetic energy, sending him over the side of the building.
–nope, shit. There he goes, over the edge.
The GM has Pelagos Take a Powerful Blow, but he rolls a 12. He chooses two options: provoke a teammate to foolhardy action, and give ground, letting the opposition have an opportunity.
“Heeeellp!” Ricky sounds like a mewing kitten, I feel bad. And Astralis is already flying in the other direction. I’m here, though. May as well go get him.
That’s what I think I’m doing anyway, only that juiced-up dickbag Deus Volt comes flying at me, trying to do some kind of football tackle. “Misfit!” he shouts at me.
The GM says that Deus Volt is going to try and interfere with the rescue, so Sabine should roll Defend. She rolls a 10, and adds Team to the pool.
So, naturally, I kick him in the face on my way.
Ricky’s safe, I’ve got ahold of him. He seems super awkward again. Just rescued by two ladies in succession, it’s really his day. Wish it was his day to beat supervillains, though.
The striped maniac, Tangent, is adding to the riot already going on, by riding the construction robots up the girders, then redirecting kinetic energy to send beams, rivets, and other stuff our way. Meanwhile, the other unknown - I think she went by “Veneer” - has disappeared entirely. The crystal girl, Facet, is waiting for an opportunity, but nobody’s giving her one. It’s just a matter of time.
This is going to get messy really fast.
Ghost wants to Assess the Situation. He rolls a 7, and asks: “What’s the best way to end this quickly?” The answer is that Deus Volt and Hyperskin are the ones driving their team, so taking them out or separating them will weaken their cohesion.
Meanwhile, the GM makes a GM move: “Tell them the possible consequences and ask”. “You all need to get to cover individually to avoid the chaos on the roof, or you’ll need to weather the blow”. Nobody wants to eat damage at this time, so they split up.
I put a call out over comms. “Split up! Lead them inside the building! Astralis, can you find out if they’ve got comms of their own?”
“I detected no communication activity so far,” she replies immediately. Good. If we’re more organized, we can make this happen. Sabine drops Pelagos off near one of the construction elevators, then shouts at Astralis. Good - they noticed something else about the other team. Most of them can’t fly. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
God, I’m turning into my dad.
Sprout is nowhere to be seen. I get a little concerned. Well, they know how to check in if they’re in trouble. Right?
I disappear into the shadows as Sabine and Astralis team up to cover our escape, with photon blasts and sound pulses.
Astralis wants to cover the team’s escape. She rolls a 6, and Sabine spends 1 Team to make it a 7. Even so, the effect will be temporary or unstable unless she marks a condition. She does so, marking Angry: stupid human heroes!
So here I am, doing my hero thing!
Why am I hiding? Because I feel stupid. The rest of the team is out there doing their hero things. I don’t really understand what’s going on, though. There’s weapons, I get that. They’re going to use the weapons to do bad things somewhere else, I get that. So, why aren’t we just going down there and smashing the weapons? Why does the thumb thingie matter so much?
And those guys, they said they are heroes too, and that we’re bad guys. How can we be bad guys? We’re trying to stop bad stuff from happening. That’s what good guys do.
“Lead them inside the building” comes the call. Okay! Miguel knows what heroes are supposed to do. I’ll listen to him.
I was crouching underneath a fallen slab of something metal. I hop, skip, jump into an open space and grow big. “Hey! Bad guys! This way!”
“I got that one!” calls the shiny sparkly one. Not the gold one. The one… I should find out what their names are. The one with purple crystal stuff! The other one, the really angry guy, Deus Volt, also comes after me! Good!
I shrink down to normal size and take a leap into the abyss below me.
The golden man, Hyperskin, is after us - as the only apparent flyer, of course it falls to him. Good.
There are vertical tunnels leading up and down the height of the tower. I signal to Sabine and she understands immediately. Also good. We power-dive into the tunnels, myself first, her behind me, evading the construction robots for whom the tunnels were built. Hyperskin follows, and I hear Sabine’s sonic discharge. She wants to collapse the tunnel behind us.
Sabine rolls to Unleash, and gets an 8. She lets the effect be unstable or temporary.
It won’t hold long, but Hyperskin can’t target us for the moment.
I realize that here and now, doing this, my dream is being realized. My father’s vision of conquest might have been mad - that is still hotly debated. Certainly I am working to undo the damage his invasion of this planet caused. But what then? Peaceful cooperation between our two species? A cultural exchange? Perhaps even a science exchange - these humans are doing things with our equipment we never anticipated, even if it’s primitive and dangerous. Maybe…?
Is this what I really want? To work with these humans, doing good? Yes!
And Sabine wants it too. She’s here with me, working in tandem, understanding my intent and silently indicating her own, moment by moment, the dance of two warriors. Yes. My cause is not only for justice - it’s a moral imperative! I have to stop this war!
I briefly think about taking her back to the Empire with me. How would she react?
Geez, I’m the world’s biggest loser today. What am I doing here?
Well let’s see. I’m being chased by some kind of weird crystal cyborg. Glancing through the open infrastructure, I see a blur, as Ghost and somebody else are fighting. They’re both invisible, but she’s throwing paint around in the air and it’s sticking to both of them. There’s some kind of explosion–
Veneer launches a surprise attack against Guardian Ghost, and he must protect himself. He teleports away, Unleashing his powers and rolling a 10 to do so.
“Check-in.” That’s Ghost’s terse voice. Thank god he’s okay.
“Uhh crystal chick is on me,” I report, as she throws a few darts of blue crystal at my head. I duck and roll, using my powers to control my own body.
“Her callsign’s Facet,” comes the Ghost’s voice. Well excuse me for not knowing everything, geez.
“Well I’m gonna kick her ass-et,” I declare, and turn. My luck has got to change at some point, right?
Pelagos will Directly Engage Facet, but rolls a 3.
Well, I learn one thing. She’s pretty good. Like, really good. She’s turned her crystal into some kind of all-coverage body armor, and she can move it like it’s skin. She’s got crystal knives, crystal swords, crystal everything, holy fuck. And she has been going to the dojo, if her movement is anything to go by. See, this is the kind of hero I wish I could be. Yeah, my powers have some drawbacks. Like if I were her, I wouldn’t want to be made out of crystal. But she went all in, trained, committed, practiced. It shows. She’s earning this.
Pelagos Takes a Powerful Blow, but rolls a 5. How does he weather the blow?
I feel bad for cheating, but I do. I can’t get through her armor, but I can wear her out. And that’s what I do. I get on the defensive. My powers move the water in my body and my limbs move with it. I duck and weave and twist out of the way, doing shit she can’t even hope to do. So that’s one thing I got up on her. Good.
I got something else. She doesn’t seem to be into this very much. She’s not angry, she’s not shouting. You know what I get from her? The same vibe I have going on. “Why am I here?”
She lacks conviction.
This Veneer person is pretty good. She’s got an arsenal of chemical weapons - gas grenades, adhesive paint, fast-expanding foam, the works. Her suit is covered with e-ink, like they use in Silverline for decoration in place of neon, but she’s got it to act as camouflage or distraction. When I turn invisible, she fills the room with some kind of aerosol that lights up when it’s disrupted. I’ll bet anything she’s some kind of researcher in the Science Sector that didn’t get enough funding, and is doing this as a side gig for recognition.
That last teleport bought me some time to breathe. I realize I’m worrying about Sprout again. “Sprout, status.”
There’s a pause. They aren’t used to the comms yet. “Umm, hi Miguel!–”
“Ghost. We’re on a mission.”
“Soorrry! Ghost! Anyway–” There’s another voice I can hear in the background. It’s Deus Volt. “I’m putting you miscreants behind bars!”
Sprout is back on the line. “Anyway, Mr. Volt is after me but I found some um, nails, and rubber bands, and ooo whoops 'scuse me! Gotta shrink okay there we go! Haha, anyway, I found some stuff! There’s so much good stuff here! Just a moment, I have to do something really fancy.”
Sprout wants to use Alien Tech to create a trap out of construction equipment, and rolls a 7. This is enough for it to work once, but once is all they need.
I follow the comm unit’s pings toward Sprout’s last position, and find - Deus Volt, pinned against a wooden partition with some very big nails. None of them went through his body, thank god, but he’s pinned good and solid. I see why after just a moment. There’s a rubber band, a huge one, bound between a few of the nails. What the hell did Sprout do?
I look up at Deus Volt. He’s snarling at me, but doesn’t seem likely to resist, so I punch him in the face, really hard. He wobbles. Good.
I look down at his costume. That coloring doesn’t look right. That looks like paint–
The GM makes a villain move for Veneer: “make any surface deceptive or dangerous”. Ghost Takes a Powerful Blow, and rolls a 7. He marks Insecure & Hopeless.
I go flying across the room. When I come to, Deus Volt is definitely unconscious. It’s only been a few seconds. I stumble to my feet, realize I’m vulnerable, and shift into the shadows again.
Mental note: Veneer will literally paint her teammates’ costumes with explosive paint. She’s ruthless, she’s vicious, and she never gives up. And this is what Dad wants me to be? Holy geez.
Still. One jerk down, one to go.
“Team! Rally up!”
Sabine calls out over the communication network. “There’s a large level area a few floors down.” Her sonar senses are indeed sophisticated - I was only now pulling that information in on my heads-up display.
She and I fly out of the robot access conduits, arriving first. Guardian Ghost appears from thin air next - a useful trick I remind myself I must study more closely sometime. Pelagos comes sprawling out of an air-conditioning duct overhead, wounded but alive and functioning. Sprout joins us as well, courtesy of a flying creature - a “pigeon” according to my computer - that swoops through with them on its back.
Ghost gives a crisp status update. “DV’s out. Veneer’s after me.” Pelagos chimes in. “Facet’s on my tail too.” As if in answer, we hear a clang from the vents above. “The bouncy person was after me!” Sprout reports. Ghost glances around, at Sabine and myself. “Hyperskin?”
The answer is given for us. The golden armor and its occupant smash through an adjacent wall. The would-be hero stands in a provocative pose, one hand on a hip, the other pointing a finger at us. “I think you’ve had enough!”
Pelagos is visibly hurting. But something about him changes. He draws himself up. He is not now the boy I was forced to rescue on the rooftop.
“You’re Malcolm Gladwell’s middle son,” he says. “You’re rolling in dough. Enough to buy a really nice suit, lots of tech, some powerful friends, but… Dude… Come on. You’re harassing people who are trying to do the right thing here.”
Hyperskin seems unsure of what to do with his body language. “Nonsense! I am doing the right thing–”
“You’re not!” Ricky isn’t shouting, he’s just that confident. “Deus Volt came to you and said, hey, there’s these bad people doing bad things, and you bought it, didn’t you. He’s just pissed at us because we didn’t do things his way, man! That’s all this is about! You got played.”
“I am a hero! I am the hero here!” Hyperskin doesn’t sound convincing in the slightest. “I AM!”
Pelagos doesn’t flinch a bit. I notice he’s still bleeding. Does he notice?
“My dude. My guy. You’re not a hero just because you say you are. You’re a hero because you do heroic shit. And you have to know what that is. You have to know, man. Do you know what we’re doing, or did you just fall for someone’s bullshit?”
Pelagos wants to Provoke Hyperskin into backing down and thinking about who’s right here. He rolls a 10.
“I–” Hyperskin wants to say more, but it’s obvious to everyone that he’s lost.
Unfortunately, there are some sore losers among the opposition. Above us, there’s a “whee!” And Tangent comes falling through the gap, having grabbed Facet. The kinetic manipulator is using their crystalline companion as some kind of battering ram to break through the walls and floors here. From the look of it, Facet’s powers are also going out of control - crystal chunks are growing everywhere around her. This room is going to collapse in seconds.
The GM makes a villain move for Tangent: “Cause chaos with a grin”.
Ghost teleports away again. Sabine and I take to the air, and I throw up hard-light barriers to shield us from the crystal barrage. Pelagos and Sprout –
Sprout is falling. Their bird isn’t anywhere near, and probably wouldn’t survive the crystal assault anyway. But Pelagos dives after them without a second thought. “Shrink!” he calls, and Sprout does.
Pelagos is going to Defend Sprout, and rolls an 11! He clears Afraid.
Sabine and I dive toward them. But Pelagos found his own way out this time. Like Sprout, he found something lying around the construction site: bottled water. As the water spills out of the bottle, Sprout grows again - and so does the water. Now effectively surrounded by his element, Pelagos levitates himself and Sprout downward.
I must commend him for that later. And perhaps apologize.
We land at ground level. Hyperskin flies down. Facet splats on the ground, but she’s okay thanks to her powers. Veneer is here, apparently willing to follow Hyperskin’s lead. My sonar can rez her position, for now. It sounded like she was able to turn invisible. I’m making sure to keep an ear out for her, just in case.
Where’d Tangent go? Who knows. Who cares. I’m staying wary, though.
Oh look, a bunch of identical trucks, just like we told these assholes. And oh look, when Ghost opens the back of one, there’s boxes and boxes of stolen Zeta tech, just like we said. What a shocking swerve. What an unexpected development. What–
Yeah, I’m bitter. Sue me.
I almost laugh when Hyperskin just says “…oh”.
Sprout helped Facet to her feet. Now she approaches, head hung in shame. “I used to … be one of the Science Pirates,” she confesses. “If you’re trying to bring them down, you’re not the enemy.”
Veneer’s peeking into the back as well, but making no move to grab any of it. “Interesting,” is all she says. Ghost glances at her warily, and she gives him a thumbs-up. Huh.
Why do the sirens in the distance always happen only after we beat the bad guys? Why don’t the police and CiCon get here faster?
Pelagos speaks up. “We’re gonna tell the cops what happened here. If all of you leave now, you’ll be off the hook, and we’ll be stuck.” He looks directly at Hyperskin. “What’s a hero gonna do at a time like this, man?”
Pelagos wants to Provoke him further, into staying here and sharing the blame in the fight. He rolls a 6, but Sabine spends Team to contribute.
This is my moment. I remember talking to those CiCon jerks about this, and it bubbles up out of me now. “These are going to become weapons. People are going to lose their lives, all around the world, to the greed of the wicked who will buy this stuff. If that fancy golden suit isn’t meant to save lives, then take it off and give it to someone who deserves it.”
The GM rules that Hyperskin errs, and the team gets a critical opportunity.
Hyperskin finally speaks up. “You can’t… you can’t prove ARES was involved.”
Pelagos holds out his hand to the Guardian Ghost. Ghost, understanding, puts the USB stick in his hand. And Pelagos in turn presents it to Hyperskin.
“You can. You haven’t been accused of nefarious shenanigans like us. They’ll believe you. You got all the evidence you need here. Time to be a hero, man.”
The golden armor doesn’t betray his emotions, but I feel what he feels anyway.
“Get outta here, you guys. I’ll talk to CiCon. I’ll make them understand.”
I snort. “And you’ll get all the credit, too.”
He actually turns, and I can sort of read a smile off his body language. “Yeah. But they won’t blame you for the destruction we caused here this way.”
That’s…. Actually pretty nice of him. God dammit.
Ghost nods. “Alright. No reason for us to stay.” He glances at Veneer and Facet, who give their answer by silently stepping in behind Hyperskin. They’re going to take the rap too. Well. Shit.
The rest of us take off, leaving three heroes to wait for the authorities to show up.
End of session!
Astralis grows closer to Sabine, who shifts Freak up and Savior down.
Guardian Ghost grows closer to Astralis, who shifts Superior up and Freak down.
Pelagos grows closer to Sprout, who shifts Superior up and Danger down.
Sabine grows closer to Sprout, who shifts Savior up and Danger down.
Sprout grows closer to Pelagos, who shifts Mundane up and Freak down.