It occurs to me that I haven’t thought about getting Home. If I am supposed to be a superhero, am I supposed to go Home when I’m sleepy? A bad guy attacked Ricky’s house. I don’t want that to happen to them!
“Um, Mr. Guardian Ghost, where are we going now?”
I can’t see Miguel’s face behind his mask but I know he’s smiling at me! “We’re going to Cape Town,” he explains.
“Whaaat is Cape Town?” Now I’m curious.
Astralis cocks her head. “South Africa?”
Sabine shakes her head. “Embassy Sector. It’s not widely advertised. Come on, this’ll be fun.”
Ghost: “They’ll ask you a question at the door. This is really important. Answer it as honestly as you can. This is a hangout for superheroes only, and you’re all invited.”
It’s funny how many different ways heroes have to get around. Astralis and Sabine can fly. I can fly on a bird. Ricky can’t fly, but he can ride along with Miguel, who teleports. So we split up, and I follow Astralis and Sabine.
We land in the middle of a bunch of tall buildings. There’s a little pathway between the buildings that you could use to get in here. It feels like a hiding place, like how many of my people build Home out of sight. I suddenly get fearful that there are giant giants, and we have to be sneaky. The others are heading down some stairs, and I follow.
There’s a lot of stairs. Wow. We must be pretty deep.
There’s a big set of doors here, and there’s a big metal guy here. There’s no markings or signs or anything. But the big metal guy is pretty distinctive.
“Ganbaatar,” says the Ghost. Is that a word or a name or what? “Hey there, Ganbaatar,” says Sabine. Oh. I guess it’s a name.
The metal guy looks at us. “Approach me individually,” he says. He’s got a really deep awesome voice, it sounds like an uncle or something. “Whisper to me the answer to this question: Why do you do it?”
Huh. Miguel and Sabine go first. I guess they know their answers. Ricky goes next. Astralis hesitates, then approaches. That leaves me time to think about what he’s asking. Why did you do it? No. That’s not what he said. Why do you do it. What’s “it”? Superheroing? Oh, that’s easy then.
I approach, and lean close to where his ear would be, but he doesn’t have one. I hope he can hear me! “For my family, my friends, and Home.”
He looks at me, once, then nods and steps aside.
And we all walk in.
“Because I lucked out, and I want everyone to benefit from it.”
That was the answer that got me in the door. And oh man, I never thought I’d make it, but here I am! I’d read stuff about Cape Town online, how it was supposed to move around from place to place, stories about how they don’t let too many superheroes in here, in case a villain attacks and wipes all the heroes out, stories about a secret hero conspiracy that runs Silverline from down here - all kinds of stories.
The truth isn’t boring, but it’s a lot more mundane than I thought. I just see a lot of people sitting around at the tables, or talking to each other in booths. It’s super quiet. They have some kind of sound-canceling system here, which makes sense. Privacy matters, right? And I guess that’s what these people all want. They want to go somewhere that understands what their life is like, and do familiar, comfortable things together. Most of them have masks still on. The booths all have screens that can be drawn across them, and I guess that’s if someone needs to unmask and eat or drink.
It’s not a restaurant, not a bar, but it has elements of those things. I guess it’s like a social club - something my parents talk about. I guess I’ve just joined one.
The decor is low-tech. Wood paneling, electric lights along the walls and on the ceiling, a bunch of photos and newspaper clippings on the walls. My phone doesn’t get reception down here. I guess that makes sense. The police put up a barrier to radio around my house when NKIDU attacked. You wouldn’t want people tracking you down here on your phone or something.
Astralis glances at the rest of us. “Preliminary scans indicate the environment is secure against monitoring,” she announces. Uh, good? I guess she takes this stuff seriously too.
Ghost is negotiating something with a guy in uniform. I guess we’re going to get a couple of booths in the back.
“Because I want to make others proud”
That’s always the answer I give. That’s the Guardian Ghost’s deal: maintain the public’s confidence, safeguard their lives and liberties, strike from the shadows against the evil that lurks in the darkness. The answer is more personal for me, of course.
One of the service people looks my way expectantly. I’ve only been here a couple of times, with my dad, but the costume is familiar to them. I flash the same hand sign they use amongst themselves - two isolation booths, standing space, drinks in pitchers - and he nods immediately.
I gesture to my team and point, and we start walking. “My team” is weird. We all just sort of glommed together that day, when the Science Pirates attacked. I think being nearly buried, being interrogated, all sort of realizing we all had secrets and problems, glued us together before we really knew what was going on, or had time to talk about it.
It’s definitely time for us all to talk. And when Sabine shoos the other three into their own booth, then sidles up to me in mine, I realize she thinks the same thing. But even in the dim light, she doesn’t take off her goggles.
“Good job, Dad,” she smirks. But I can tell immediately she’s not trying to pick a fight. She’s paying a compliment the best way she knows how.
Fine, I’ll play along. “Team dad, huh? I guess that makes you Team Mom.”
She looks surprised for a moment, then laughs. “Are you saying we’re corralling the kids?”
“I guess I am.”
She tilts her head, not quite looking at me. “How did I get to be Team Mom?”
I think for a moment. I don’t want to piss her off, but it’s sort of ridiculous in its way. “Well… Pelagos and Sprout seem to be hitting it off as friends, but I feel like they both look up to you. And I was honestly expecting more static from Astralis, but she’s gone along pretty well with things. And the person I see up front, doing the work to hold them together, is you.”
“I’m a troublemaker and a no-good problem child.” Sabine snorts, but I know that behind the joke, she isn’t happy about this. “Haven’t you read CiCon’s assessment of me?”
“I don’t care. We’ve been through some rough patches since we got together, and from everything I’ve seen, you’re as much a hero as me.” I pause. “Maybe more.”
Guardian Ghost shares a triumphant victory with Sabine, and calls her an equal. She already has Influence, so shifts Ghost’s Superior up and Mundane down.
“Don’t sell yourself short,” she chides. “That hat and cloak mean a lot to a lot of people in this city, and you’ve hmm, filled into it nicely.” She sounds about as flirtatious as she usually does, and I let that go. I think I get what she’s really saying, and I smile back. But even so, I hope she doesn’t blow off what I said. I meant it.
“Because people need someone like me.” That’s the answer I gave at the door. And now, the Guardian Ghost is saying I’m right.
Did he mean that? That’s pretty sweet if so. You know, sweet like “dude, sweet!” but also like “aww, sweet”. It’s a versatile word, I love it.
I think of myself as the “bodega superhero”: someone you can hang out with, someone local, who’s going to give a shit about how your life is going. A landmark. Someone you can rely on. Not a big soulless chain outfit or identikit franchise, not the so-exclusive Silver Seven. Just… y’know, Sabine. Unfortunately the powers that be don’t like that kind of attitude, because it means I don’t go along with their program unless it makes sense to me. And I don’t like anyone telling me where to go, or what to do. So to hear this freakin’ icon of American superheroism say that? Feels pretty good.
“So. Team Dad. Any tips on babysitting the kids you want to give me? I’m not always the best example to follow…” I try to play it cool, but I think I put a little too much feeling into it. Dammit.
“Be someone they can look up to.” Ghost is ready. Dammit. He was ready for this. Double dammit. “You don’t have to be the responsible type. I know that’s not your style. Just be, y’know, the cool you, the hero they’ll naturally admire.”
Sabine shares a vulnerability or weakness with Ghost, and marks potential.
Am I… blushing? Shit. I need to change booths.
“Let me go try that out right now,” I suggest, and head to booth 2. On the way, I pass Astralis. Huh.
“To stop a great catastrophe”. That is what I whispered. I am not a hero of Earth, not a selfless defender of these human beings, not anything they expect. By all rights, I am their enemy.
And yet, they keep letting me into their lives.
There’s not enough time.
Right. It’s time I revealed more, to the people who can help me on my real mission. As I enter the first booth, I pass Sabine. I still cannot understand the looks on her face without assistance, and for now my computer is as puzzled as I am. Hopefully the Guardian Ghost will be more comprehensible.
He waves as I enter. I decide to get right to the point.
“My father was… Well. People said he was… Mad. He was not well liked.”
My cover story is still on the heads-up display. I must be careful to avoid giving anything away, but I feel that I owe some measure of truth to my erstwhile enemies turned would-be companions.
Ghost nods. “A lot of inventors have that rep.” Good. He is accepting the cover story. “My own grandfather - on my mother’s side - was someone like that, someone too smart for people to be comfortable with.”
This is an unexpected admission. I’m not sure what else I can safely say. “He - he did something he ought not have. It is - connected to Nadja. And the… And the Zeta.” I use the human word for our people, and wonder what it means to them.
Ghost looks at me patiently. I understand. He thinks - or needs - more information.
“Heroes… Went into space. My father…” This will take some delicacy. Crafting a lie that my conscience can absolve me of is not yet second nature to me. I will need this skill when I ascend the throne. “My father was responsible for the technology which permitted it.”
This is technically true. When the avenging heroes came, it is said, they came aboard one of our own spacecraft, slipping through our defenses with stolen passcodes.
“You’re talking about the cosmic counterattack,” the Ghost says.
So this event has a name. I take the gamble. “Yes.”
“Alright. I’ll brief the group.” Ghost gesture at the room beyond our booth. “I came here because I thought we could learn more about the hero who killed your dad. You’ve given me enough to start asking intelligent questions.”
I mentally splice out a recording of our conversation, and relay it to my ship’s computer. I must show evidence of progression my mission, to retain the chancellor’s support.
Astralis shares a triumphant victory with Ghost, reducing her doom track by 1 for keeping her dark destiny at bay.
Astralis leaves our booth as Sabine arrives. She waves at Sprout and myself, but it’s me she’s looking at. I always get nervous when that happens.
She grabs a glass and pours herself a drink from the soda pitcher on the booth’s table. Only then does she speak. “Hey. Ricky. Do you think I’m some kinda cool hero or something?”
What? I look helplessly at Sprout, but they’re just smiling and staring at the soda in their own glass. Well that’s no help.
“Uh. Uh. I mean, yeah?” Where did this question come from? Jesus. “I mean, you fight pretty, I mean, uh, pretty good, and you’re, uh, I dunno, yeah, cool. I mean…”
For once I wish I could legally drink, just so I’d have some kind of excuse for sounding like an idiot. But she just smiles, and tips the glass back to finish off her soda. “I’ll do my best to justify your confidence. And for what it’s worth, you’re pretty cool too.”
I glance over at Sprout, who hasn’t noticed anything. What’s so interesting about soda anyway? When I look back, Sabine is walking out of the booth, heading off into the depths of Cape Town.
Sabine shares a triumphant victory with Pelagos, who agrees she’s cool.
I see Ghost wander out of the booth he was in. Is he going to find Sabine? Why do I feel jealous?
No, don’t be stupid. The two of them are the most experienced heroes we have. They’re probably going to talk to people they know here in Cape Town.
I glance over at Sprout again. They are blowing bubbles through a straw into their soda. Suddenly I feel weird, like I need to talk to someone. But … seriously. Astralis is in the next booth over.
“Pelagos,” she says, by way of greeting. Okay. Maybe she’s too serious for this.
"Uh. Hey. So… " Boy, where to begin. Maybe with the question that I’m confused about, and just haven’t had time to come back to. “Hey, like, are you an experienced hero? Like Sabine? You sure come off like this isn’t your first rodeo.”
She pauses, looking baffled. “Ah. I have been training for this rodeo for quite some time. I am not experienced in the mode of superheroics such as the people here embody, no.”
I parse that one for a second. “Well it’s just… You and Sabine are both tough cookies, strong heroes, good people. And you both had to keep rescuing me back there. Sorry. Guess I’m more of a stupid civilian than I thought.”
You’re pretty cool too. No way. I feel totally uncool.
Astralis blinks. “A civilian? No. I would ask a civilian to stay out of the way, were we going into battle. I believe supporting each other is what teammates ought to do, correct?”
That’s kind of nice to hear. Stilted, like she is, but… She means it, I think. I smile. “You’re pretty awesome as a teammate. You’re mysterious and cool and kinda distant, but you aren’t mean or anything. I wish we could be better friends.”
She looks confused again. It’s not Sprout confused, it’s different. Like she doesn’t understand basic shit like friendship. But she finally nods. “You are… also… awesome. And I would like to be your friend as well.”
Pelagos shares both a triumphant moment and vulnerability with Astralis. He adds 2 team to the pool, gives Influence, and marks potential.
I’d say more, but Sprout has come into booth 1 the hard way, by doing this weird jumping tackle-hug onto Astralis. “Friends! We’re friends too!” This definitely was not something Astralis was expecting, and she looks at me in what I think must be panic.
I sort of gesture at her - you know, hug back - but she doesn’t get it. Well, not at first. “What is the meaning of this?” she asks of Sprout.
“It’s a hug, silly!”
Astralis blinks again. “I am… unused to this.” But, when she hugs Sprout back, I see her smile in spite of herself.
Sprout shares a triumphant celebration with Astralis.
Astralis doesn’t know hugs, so I think I have to teach her something! Maybe she knows she has something to learn, because she turns to Ricky. “Pelagos, may we have a moment alone?”
He looks a little surprised, but smiles, and heads out of this little booth area.
She turns back to me. “I think we are friends. But If I am to protect my home, I must find someone here. And sometimes it feels hopeless. I don’t know your mission, but you seem boundlessly confident. Please… Will you tell me how you do it?”
Oh, an easy question! “Well, I’m fighting for Home against the giants and bad people! That’s the most important thing in the world. And when we fight as a team, nothing can stop us! That’s why heroes always win!”
I’m not sure she believes me.
Astralis shares a vulnerability with Sprout.
She glances up, suddenly, like she hurt herself. “I must - I must go do something. Perhaps you should talk with Pelagos.”
I head back to my own booth to find Ricky drinking heavily from the fizzy water stuff. It bubbles when you blow in it! But he doesn’t seem to find anything funny right now.
“Huh? Oh I’m doing okay. Hey, how are you doing?”
I scratch my head. That’s actually a good question. “Well… I dunno if I can go Home right now, and I can’t get the costume and can’t get the identi-stuff and I can’t get anything.” I hold up the glass. “And I don’t even know the name of this stuff, and you know, you’re all really nice to me but I kind of feel lost. I’m in this place full of superheroes like I’m supposed to be, and I really feel kind of all alone…”
Ricky’s drink is on the table, and he’s close. It’d be okay to hug me, but he isn’t doing it. Maybe he doesn’t know. So I hug him anyway.
“I’ll find a way for you to feel more comfortable,” he promises. “We’ll always hang out. We’re friends, like we’re doing now. People want us to do some pretty stupid things to fit in, like ID cards, but what really matters is that we’re on a team together, all of us. Okay?”
I don’t think I want to cry, but I sort of feel like I might. A lot of stuff happened that I wasn’t ready for, and it’s been so much fun, but when it’s not fun, it’s terrifying. But I smile, and he smiles, and I think it’s going to be okay.
Sprout shares a vulnerability with Pelagos.
I hear a voice behind us. It’s Miguel! “Not everyone talks about their home in this group. If we knew more, maybe we could help more. But… I’m not that different from you. I don’t fit in sometimes. Except it’s in my home - where I come from. I’m supposed to be part of that, and I don’t know how sometimes. I’m glad you have a home that accepts you.”
“That’s awful!” I’m trying to understand what he’s saying. How could Home not value someone like Miguel?
“I don’t know if this is for me. But we’re all working with what we have.” He shrugs. Still…!
Ghost shares a vulnerability with Sprout.
Sabine and Astralis appear next to him, and he glances over. “Good. Team’s all here. Alright, pile in. We’re here for a reason…”
There’s a story that after Nadja crippled the Zeta war fleet in orbit around the Earth, and peace was achieved, a team of heroes somehow launched into space, going after the leader of the Zeta aliens. The story wasn’t widespread because it doesn’t fit the narrative. “Bad guys invaded, we kicked their ass, they ran home and never ever bothered us again”.
The story has a few different names. “Cosmic counterattack” is the nicest one. “Revanche” - retaliation - is probably closer to the truth - if it’s true. But at this point, I’m prepared to believe it. And even if it’s not, I’m willing to go along with this for a few reasons.
The first is for my own development as a hero. Dad, grand-dad, Sam, they all need to see that I can do this. And I can do it without the Voice. Those guys all had a mysterious guiding force leading them to crime. I’m the first Ghost in the family without it. That means I have to do my own detective work, get my own answers, figure out my own game plan.
The second is that I feel like I need to learn about my team better. If one of the Revanchist team really killed Astralis’ father, that tells me more about her, once I learn who it was. And maybe I learn something more about the adult heroes in this city, the ones we’ve entrusted our lives and safety to. Is there something we need to know about them? We’ll find out.
The third is a little more personal. I’m pretty sure my dad wouldn’t have been one of these guys. How about Jesse, my grand-dad? I don’t know. I mean, they’d probably say no, but they’d say that no matter what. I need to know what they’ll trust me with. Dad says that lawyers have a saying: “don’t ask any witness a question whose answer you don’t already know”. I feel like if I’m going to ask the previous Ghosts a question like this, I need the answer first.
The GM isn’t going to make anyone roll for this - there’s no interesting option for failure at this point.
I direct the others to a few key people I know, mostly to introduce them to the city’s superhero population. They’re not going to ask any really damning questions - I’ve made sure of that. Instead, I make a beeline for a table, where the Wild Warrior is sitting.
The Warrior has a grizzled salt-and-pepper beard under his mask. He looks like he stepped out of a 1940’s-era pirate movie. He dressed like a swashbuckler in the old days. Now, the fancy cloak and tunic hide modern body armor. He’s pushing 70 and he hasn’t slowed down one bit. And he likes telling the young’ins how life was, before an alien UFO fell to Earth and became the new hub of superhero activity.
I give it a few minutes, nod politely as he tells me a couple brief stories about my grandfather, and even about meeting Sam Murphy when he was alive. And when he stops to take a drink, I say the word “Revanche”. He looks me up and down, eyes narrow behind the mask.
“Whatcha gettin’ yourself into, young man?”
“Something for a friend,” I say.
“S’not a tale for the faint of heart. But if you want to hear the truth, y’go to Wood End, up the coast. Clarence Weston. He was apprentice to one 'o them that went. Works as a lighthouse keeper now, keeps an eye out for attacks from Sea-czar and the Deep One, y’know?”
“Thank you, sir.” I want to be as polite as possible. People like this, the ones who know the history of Silverline and will talk about it, are all the Voice I have, sometimes.
Pelagos - Ricky, I suppose - has offered us the use of his yacht again. We sail from the harbor, across the water called the “Cape Cod Bay”. None of us group up. I don’t know just how the others feel right now. I feel anticipation, and dread. Up until now, I thought only of finding my father’s scepter, identifying the person who took it, somehow finding the trail to it. It now occurs to me that I’m proposing to take it back from people who defeated the most powerful man in space.
I am not certain I have a plan to diplomatically resolve this situation.
The lighthouse comes into view. Ricky anchors the yacht well off the shore, and we variously fly and teleport to the beach. Ghost knocks on the door. It takes a few minutes, but a man answers. His face is like many human faces I have seen - wrinkled with age and worry. Do they not have anagathic drugs on this planet yet? He takes us in with a glance and scowls.
“It’s not trick or treat, kids. Go home.”
“I’m the Guardian Ghost. These are my teammates. We are heroes.”
The man snorts. “I know. That’s why you ought to go home.”
Perhaps it is past time for diplomacy. I brush Ghost aside. “Something very bad will happen to–” your “–this planet, if we don’t find out what you know. You are - were? - a hero yourself. Surely this matters to you.”
Astralis wants to Provoke Clarence into talking. She rolls a 4! The GM makes a move: “remind them of what they could lose”
The timing couldn’t be worse. A priority communication comes in from my ship, distracting me, costing me valuable attention. Werulf, my bodyguard. For a genetically engineered hybrid soldier, he sounds worried. “The Chancellor is calling urgently for a status report. I’ve also detected probes in this area of space, using our own technology. That woman Nadja must be scanning for the ship. I’ve taken steps to mask our signals. I haven’t been able to relay your earlier data to the Chancellor in response. Please advise.”
The call costs me the poise I need, and I realize I’m showing impatience. The lighthouse keeper shrugs, returning his attention to Ghost. “If this is so important, go to Silver Seven and CiCon. I’m sure you know someone there.”
Sprout glances at the rest of us, also worried. “I don’t think they like us very much,” they whisper.
Ricky steps forward. He has not demonstrated combat efficiency in the past. But there is something about Ricky and his conviction that makes people listen when he speaks. I’m now curious what he will say.
“Why do you do it?” he asks, in that gruff monotone of the robot, Ganbaatar, at Cape Town.
The lighthouse keeper peers back at him. “I’m not that guy anymore. I’m no hero. I keep the light house, I monitor the early-warning systems–”
“–For Sea-czar, the Deep One, but also for others.” Ricky nods. “I haven’t tangled with those guys, but I read the SOSUS briefings. You already know what it means if a bad guy attacks a vulnerable ship heading into Silverline.”
“I’m just doing a job here!” The man scowls, clearly unhappy to be spoken to thus by a child.
“Fine.” Pelagos reaches into his pocket, and withdraws a… wallet? There’s a plastic card with a magnetic strip and a microchip. Ah. A credit card. Currency transaction.
“Borden Flats cost $350,000 to buy and renovate. I’ve got a platinum card here. How much is this place worth? How much is your job worth? If that’s all this is to you, shit, man, I’ll make this so easy for you.”
Ricky and the lighthouse keeper stare at each other. As a princess, I don’t need to read the semantic translation or idiomatic analysis. These men are engaged in a dominance struggle. Ricky wishes to shame his opponent into surrender.
Pelagos rolls a Provoke against Clarence, getting a 10! Rather than appealing to his heroic nature, he tries the opposite approach.
He isn’t done talking, although he can see as soon as I do that he’s won. “Man, sometimes money’s all I got, or all other people care about. I got powers too, but most people don’t care. I’m gonna be a hero, and keep people safe. You just wanna get paid, fine, I’m offering. Now you gonna step up, or step off?”
The lighthouse keeper is clearly unhappy with this turn of events, but I sense a grudging admiration in him. “You’re a young bastard already, aren’t you. Fine–”
Fight at the Lighthouse
We’re on the ground floor. Clarence is telling Ricky he’s a young bastard. I mean, fair enough. What the heck was up with that?
When dozens of robot hands pry the front door off its hinges, I realize I was praying for a good villain attack or something to get me out of this situation, and I immediately regret it.
Astralis realizes what’s going on too. “No! We won’t be stopped now!” She’s already on her feet, ready to go. Someone trained this girl but good, I think. The rest of us are maybe not sure what we’re doing here, but we know when a civilian is in trouble.
The hands rez as familiar. It’s that villain from earlier, the one who stole my cake. “God dammit,” is all I got.
The PCs enter battle as a team. Astralis is the leader. She has influence over everyone on the team. The team’s common goal is to save Clarence, but they are off-balance. Astralias marks Guilty to avoid losing a point of team. The net result is +3 team.
I get the gist of what happened earlier. Nadja talked to Astralis in a lot more familiar fashion than I’d have imagined. Her “bad things will happen stuff” kind of came out of nowhere. Something’s going on with this girl. She rezzes as worried. Whatever it is, whatever’s eating at her, at least she’s stepping up to deal with it.
I get sonic echoes off the world outside, now that the door is open. It’s faint and fuzzy, but it’s there. A few people, or echoes of a couple people, maybe? Whoever handy-girl is, she brought backup. She’s gotta be controlling them somehow…
Sabine wants to Assess the Situation, and rolls an 11. Last time, Handmaid was harmless enough, but that may have changed. She asks three questions: “What here is in the greatest danger?” (Clarence, the most likely target), “What here can I use to deal with these hands?” (Water, as it conducts sound much better than radio), and “how can I best end this quickly?” (lure some enemies into the glare of the lighthouse to blind them).
Right. These guys must be here for Clarence. They attacked this team in the worst possible place for our powers - unless they have some kind of ocean controller of their own.
“Elevator goin’ up!” I shout, and grab Clarence. To his credit, even as a grumpy old guy he knows what’s up, and he goes slack in my grip. There’s a burst of song and I fly upwards, toward the top of the lighthouse.
I will myself to be invisible, drawing shadow around me. Around, and through. I’m outside, staring unseen at three people I don’t know. One is a girl in a dress, with some kind of complicated remote-control apparatus on her hands and forearms. This must be the operator of the robots Sabine dealt with before. Next to her is a man wearing what looks like gym clothes - elastic shorts and a top. He’s got a pouch strapped to one leg, some kind of easy-access mechanism for drawing out weapons or other items. The third is NKIDU, the bull-like robot-man that attacked Ricky’s home earlier.
Immediately I know something’s off. Two of these people have prior - recent - history with our team. They’re here, a place nobody else outside Cape Town knew we’d be going. Unless someone else informed on us, or has a way to track us. Did someone on this team secretly communicate our intentions to another party? Shit.
I can go after one of them solo - any one - but I want to see what the guy wearing gym clothes can do, and more importantly, I want to know if we have a traitor.
Finally some action! I run for the door, ready to do this. Not sure what I’ll be doing, but I gotta be doing something here!
Sprout leaps at me, and shrinks, and alights on my shoulder as an inches-tall hero. Alright then. We’ll go together.
I think Astralis is still figuring out what’s important - I saw her glance up at Sabine and Clarence - but she’s on it here too. Some kind of light walls jump out of the tech she wears, creating a tunnel of safety between me and the handbots.
Astralis wants to Defend Pelagos from attacks by Handmaid’s bots, and rolls a 7. She adds team to the pool, but exposes herself to danger.
The hands can’t reach me, or Sprout. Good deal. Unfortunately two other things happen. First, the lights suddenly go out in the lighthouse. Second, there’s a sudden jolt through the lighthouse as something really, really big hits it. I run out. Too late, I realize that Astralis is still in there. I wonder if she’s okay. I have to find out what’s here though.
The GM makes a villain move for Handmaid: “Reveal a handbot anywhere the heroes don’t want one”.
The breaker box. It’s on the outside. One of the handbots is on it. Shit. There’s no getting the interior lights on any time soon. But you know what else is on the outside? NKIDU. That big bull dude. Oh shit oh shit oh shit. This is not good.
He’s climbing the outside of the lighthouse. Like sticking his hands into the stone to make grips and hauling himself up climbing. Not good. He’s going after Clarence. And Sabine.
Alright, what else we got out here? Well, there’s some girl chillin’ on the beach. But next to her is a dude, pulling what look like nicotine patches out of a pouch. He’s slapping them onto his arms and legs like a pro and-- oh shit. He’s transforming. Yep. Arms growing, legs growing and twisting, torso getting bigger, he’s breaking out of that wife-beater he’s got on, yep, this is not going to go well for us at all.
Alright, what have I got to work with? Oh yeah, the ocean. And a seagull. What the fuck - it divebombs me, but Sprout leaps off onto its back. Oh yeah. They can control birds. Jesus, warn a dude first. But they take off toward the girl, and I head to the water to get strapped.
The top of the lighthouse feels a little cooler. I hear the hum of machinery dying down. “They cut the lights!” Clarence announces, mostly to himself - I don’t think he knows I can’t see that, but I’m glad he said something. Despite being hero material at one time, I can tell he’s shaky. And even if not, whoever’s beating on this building isn’t helping matters. I could just take him into the air, but not if he’s going to struggle his way out of my grip.
“We’re not going to let anything happen to you,” I tell him, as kindly as I can manage right now. “That’s why I’m here. Because people need someone like me.” I think back to entering Cape Town. In spite of everything, I think that’s the truth.
Sabine wants to Comfort & Support Clarence to keep him from hurting himself or running off during this. She rolls a 9, calming him down.
“Yeah… I guess we do.” He doesn’t sound scared, or worried. He does know the score. This will be easier. Alright, if we fly him up out of the way, he’s safe, but these freakshows will just go pound on the rest of my team. I was going to use the light, but that’s out of commission. What’s my play here?
I guess I just gotta kick this guy’s ass.
He comes over the railing - I rez a minotaur kind of outline from him, big and burly and probably ridiculously strong. The open air and the ocean give me a solid rez, so I think I’m going to be okay in a standup fight. I mean, he’s just going through the steel supports of the lighthouse, walking through glass like it’s not there, batting away a pretty heavy air conditioner that I rez flying off toward the beach and landing pretty hard. Things are going to work out, right?
“Hey!” “Over here!” “Look this way!” I take to the air, darting every which way, filling the air with noise and afterimages of myself. I’ve got super-speed, and this guy’s super-strong. Let’s hope he’s super-stupid.
Sabine wants to trick NKIDU into committing himself, such as lunging at her, and makes the move “are you watching closely”. She rolls an 11. She chooses to expose a weakness or fatal flaw (he’s slow and ungainly), gets an opportunity, and confuses them for some time.
While the big bull is on me - if only I had a red cape to wave at him right now - Clarence is ducking out of sight. I mean, I can rez him, but maybe this dude can’t? I hope. Because he’s tinkering with something. “Emergency power!” Clarence shouts, and I hear the roar of equipment starting to life, and smell the gasoline of a generator, and hear a bellowed rage as a robotic bull gets a face full of light from the primary emitter.
Guess who’s used to being blind, asshole?
I slam bodily into him, and without bracing or resistance, he falls and falls and falls aaaaand - there it is, the satisfying sound of metal slamming into sand a few stories below.
Ricky’s wading into the water! That’s normally pretty scary, and I know he can control water, but I still worry. Like there was this one time where we got invited to visit a family who lived under a restaurant, and they took us upstairs and filled the sink and we all went swimming, but there was still a lifeguard on duty, and even then he had to throw a rescue sponge into the water for one of the younger kids. I know if I was drowning, I could grow big, but not everyone can!
Well, Ricky’s growing big now. He’s wrapping water around himself like it’s clothing he’s putting on, and he comes striding up the beach, leaving soggy footprints behind, and yells at the strange animal-man dude person. “Come on, ugly! Man to monster!” And he puts up his dukes.
Is that right? I heard it on TV once.
Pelagos wants to Directly Engage Patchwork, but rolls a 6! Ghost, who is nearby, contributes team by using his mind-clouding to stoke Patchwork’s anger. Pelagos will resist or avoid their blows, and Patchwork marks Angry.
There’s that humming voice in the back of my head, the same one I use to talk to animals and ask them to help me out. But it’s not coming from me, it’s coming from down there somewhere - oh! It sounds like Miguel. He’s telling the big animal person to be angry. And I’m hearing it, 'cause I can hear animals too! So animal person runs straight at Ricky, which really isn’t going to end well for him, because Ricky is awesome. And they start punching and scrapping and stuff!
I mean I think it’s not going to end well for him, but then the girl with the robot hands starts talking. I think maybe I’m supposed to attack her? But I listen first. “Patchwork won’t go down that easily. He doesn’t just have animal DNA, you know. He’s been collecting from superheroes too.”
I’m not sure what “DNA” is but she said “animal” so I guess it means the stuff he’s using to transform himself? And I don’t think she noticed me yet, ‘cause I’m riding on a seagull. She’s talking to Ricky. So I drop out of the sky and grow to giant size. "What about you an’ me?" And I put up my dukes too.
“Call me Handmaid, sweetie. I’m just here to… give my teammates a hand.” She winks at me, which is strange, because I’m supposed to go punch her or something. Well, okay…
Except the big animal person - Patchwork? He pulls out another of those things he carries, and all of a sudden he’s on fire, but it’s not hurting him, and suddenly all the water Ricky’s got surrounding him is turning into really hot steam, and all of a sudden I’m really worried about Ricky.
The GM makes a condition move for Patchwork: “Escalate the situation dangerously”. He uses a copied superhero power to give himself a fiery aura that will scald Pelagos.
I can do this! I’m gonna go punch Handmaid now.
Sprout wants to Directly Engage Handmaid, but rolls a 5. Team is available but they choose to take the hit.
I admit some concern for these people. Yes, I’m working on behalf of humanity at large, as well as my own species. But it’s more personal when I’m around this group of humans. I recognize that I have an emotional stake in their well-being.
For example, “Handmaid” came well prepared. As Sprout moves into close-quarters combat with them, dozens of the primitive but effective handbots leap out of the sand nearby. They descend on my teammate, guarding their mistress with mechanical ferocity.
The GM asks Sprout to Take a Powerful Blow, and they roll a 10! Sprout chooses “give ground” and “mark two conditions”.
I recognize a sigh of relief from my own mouth as Sprout sees the attack coming, shrinks to tiny size, and leaps back upon a seagull they psychically commandeered. The Guardian Ghost is still on the field. I don’t see him, despite having a full suite of imaging sensors. I realize that I am being commanded not to see him, by his own psychic power. I shall need to look into that.
Handmaid is now thoroughly protected on all sides. The hands have built a cocoon for her, from which she can direct other robotic minions in sabotage or support efforts. Let the Ghost handle Handmaid. I’ll attend to Patchwork.
I sprint out of the lighthouse door and extend my light-wings. Staying low, I extend more panels of solid light. The electro-gravitic emitters respond to my mental command. It’s a low-tech solution created by high-tech tools: sand smothers fire.
Astralis wants to extinguish his fiery aura with sand from the beach, and rolls Unleash Your Powers, getting a 12.
The wave of sand washes over Patchwork, and the fire duly snuffs out. “Now!” I shout, and Pelagos is ready. He strikes, letting the water wash over his target.
Pelagos Directly Engages again, rolling a 10. He will resist or avoid their blows, and take something from them (the slap patches). Patchwork marks Afraid.
Without being prompted - I heard nothing over comms - I see Sprout descend on the seagull. Good - they had the wisdom to change targets, to stay engaged. The pouch of slap-patches is loose enough for them to seize. As Pelagos pins Patchwork down, Sprout escapes with their best weapon.
Patchwork makes a condition move: “Lash out without thought at a threat”. Astralis must Take a Powerful Blow, and rolls a 9. She chooses to give ground.
I may have spoken too soon. He is still empowered with his current patches, as I learn when he breathes a gout of flame at Pelagos and myself. My light-shields protect us, but in the resulting cloud of steam as fire and water meet again, the villain escapes, and starts running for the lighthouse.
I’m pretty proud of myself, taking that guy down in two moves, until I realize I fucked up. How do I know that? Because my charge - Clarence - starts shouting. I turn, and rez a bunch of robot hands that have grabbed hold of him. Oh yeah, they were still in the lighthouse. They must have spent all this time hopping up those stairs.
Before I can act, the lighthouse takes another bad lurch, and I grab hold of the railing. Oh yeah, NKIDU. I hear the mechanical roar and realize he’s not out, just down. And I see Patchwork coming up over the railing. Oh yeah, he’s still a thing too.
The GM makes a move: “Tell them the possible consequences and ask”: rescue Clarence (and the lighthouse falls), or stop NKIDU (and Clarence is hurt)? The team divides their efforts up between Handmaid and NKIDU.
“I’ll stop Handmaid,” comes Ghost’s voice over comms. From the sound of the struggle that comes next, I don’t think it went as well as he hoped.
Ghost will try to teleport through the barrier of hands to knock out Handmaid. He Directly Engages, but rolls a 5. He chooses to take it. The GM tells him to Take a Powerful Blow, and he rolls a 9. He chooses for the opposition to get an opportunity.
I admit, I’m indecisive right now. Fate makes the choice for me. I watch as Clarence starts getting tugged down the stairs by the robot hands. All I can do is blast at Patchwork with sonics, but he ducks under the railing to cover.
Then, I see something surprising. Clarence just… Disappears. There’s a brief beam of light where he was, and then… nothing. Did he teleport? Turn into energy? What were his powers, anyway?
Astralis uses her Sanctuary’s teleportal feature to solve a problem: saving Clarence. The GM requires two conditions: mark Doom, and Astralis and the team will risk danger from Nadja (who is still scanning the area for her).
“Clarence vanished,” I report, tensely, over comms. And I hear Astralis before I see her, flying over the lighthouse and descending to the deck. “I took care of it. I can’t let anything happen to him, not now.”
I nod. “Right. Focus these guys down. Hey, Ghost, leave the handsy girl to me this time. Split up, take down those big guys.” With Clarence out of the way, there’s no need to play gentle any longer.
I thought I had her. I was invisible, I teleported into her blind spot, behind the wall of robot hands around her. She was ready. She knew we had five people, she counted four, and she knew I was being sneaky. The robots must have been primed to respond to the movement of air currents, or something else I can’t hide. My powers only work on living minds and cameras. I’m still physically here.
I teleported out before the hands really got a hold of me, but now I’m on my ass in the sand. Sabine wants to play with her? Fine with me. “Sprout, with me. Pelagos, Astralis, on NKIDU,” I call over comms.
“What should I do?” Sprout asks in my ear.
“The slap patches. Those things on his limbs? I think if we take those off, he reverts to human form. I’ll distract him. You grab 'em. Can do?”
I like that kind of attitude. Sabine has taken off from the top of the lighthouse, so I teleport into her place, just in time to confront Patchwork. Although he doesn’t say it, I know he’s looking for Clarence. So I smile. “Lose something?”
“You’re gonna lose your head,” the beast-man growls.
I vanish, and as Sprout dive-bombs in on their seagull, I extend the power of the shadow to his mind. You’re beaten. You’ve lost. Look for Clarence - don’t look anywhere else - look for Clarence! He’s not here - look! Look! This is my fighting style - supporting my friends, keeping them safe, messing with the powerful. This is where I belong.
Ghost is distracting Patchwork to create an opportunity for Sprout, but could also be hurt if he loses control. The GM asks for a Defend roll, and he rolls a 7. This triggers Ghost’s “I know what I am” move, letting him shift labels and add team to the pool. He also clears Insecure.
Is Sprout strong enough to peel the slap patches off of skin at such a tiny size? Probably not. But I didn’t expect them to be versatile enough to land, grab hold and yank, then shrink before a counter-attack can be launched. It happens so fast that I wonder if my distraction was even necessary - but then I see a punch flying that Sprout might not.
Sprout Unleashes their Powers, and rolls a 6. Ghost contributes team. Sprout marks Angry to make the effect stable.
This time I don’t bother with my power. I step in, grabbing hold of the arm, turning it into an arm lock. And Sprout is human-sized again. “You hurt my friend Pelagos!” they shout, and throw a tiny ineffectual little punch at Patchwork’s jaw. It does nothing to the guy, but god damn, points for trying. I settle for a Judo throw that lands a now-human Patchwork at the top of the stairs.
I got one asshole on the run. Who else is going to catch hands today?
Oh yeah, my old buddy NKIDU. Break into my house, huh?
Actually, y’know, he’s about to topple the lighthouse. I’d feel pretty shitty if I let Clarence down, after what he did for us. Dammit dammit dammit!
Pelagos grabs ocean water and uses it to hold up the lighthouse and protect it from collapse. He Unleashes His Powers and rolls a 7, letting the effect be unstable or temporary.
Astralis meanwhile takes up the slack, and flies straight into the big bull-y. You go girl!
Astralis Directly Engages NKIDU and rolls an 8. She chooses “create an opportunity for allies”, and marks Insecure. NKIDU marks Angry and makes a condition move: “Break the environment”.
Ahh shit, the water’s not enough. It’s spread too thin. Or he’s just too strong. Or NKIDU grabbed hold of Astralis and swung her into the lighthouse, and I let go of it so I could cushion her with it. One of those is true. Yeah. Shit. Shit shit shit.
Pelagos declares that he can’t hold up the lighthouse so he’ll bring it down on NKIDU instead. He Directly Engages, but rolls a 5! Astralis and Ghost both spend team to help.
The whole thing is gonna come down on them both! Ghost sees it too, though, and he teleports in and grabs her and is gone before I know it. And Astralis is prepared too - she tosses a little device at the robot bull just before vanishing. It goes off in a shower of sparks. Some kind of electro-magnetic grenade thing? Whatever it is, NKIDU is frozen in place for just a moment. That’s all I need.
Pelagos chooses to impress, surprise, or frighten the opposition, and marks Guilty (for letting the building collapse). NKIDU marks Insecure, and makes a condition move: “Recede into the background”.
I mean, that had to have done it, right?
Hey, was there someone in there?
I land on a seagull again as the whole lighthouse collapses! That was scary. Ghost got off, and I saw the metal hands grab hold of Patchwork and haul him down the side of the thing. It’s very sad Clarence lost his Home, but it sounded like Ricky could help him rebuild it with his card thingie. I hope he does.
Who’s left? The big bull person is under the rubble. I guess that just leaves Handmaid. Sabine said she’d take care of it, so I want to go watch what she does!
Handmaid doesn’t look too happy. Most of her metal hand guys are positioned around her, and Sabine’s hovering in the air a ways off. The two girls are staring at each other, I guess kind of waiting to see who’ll make the first move.
“Your buddies are out,” Sabine is saying. “Think you’re ready for five on one?”
“Think you’re ready to be the next to go down?” Handmaid says back. She’s smiling, and Sabine is smiling too. I’m glad they are being nice and talking this over!
“I don’t mind going down,” says Sabine, “depending on what that means. Think you’re enough for me?” She has a funny smile on her face now. I think she said something clever!
Handmaid beckons with a hand - one of her own, I feel like it’s important to make the distinction. But some of the metal hands do it too, which is cute! “Don’t be all talk, sweetie.”
“Get off the beach,” says Sabine, over our millipedes. And I scamper back to the ruined lighthouse, like ordered.
Sabine wants to knock away the guardian hands surrounding Handmaid by creating a wall of water with a sonic boom, to drench them and wash them away! She Unleashes Her Powers, rolling a 7 (thanks to the +1 ongoing from assessing the situation). She marks a condition.
There’s a huuuuuuge noise in the air! And it hurts my ears, and glass cracks, and there’s a big wind! I grab hold of Pelagos, and he grabs hold of the lighthouse railing, and we ooh and ahh as a wall of water comes out from the ocean! Sabine did something with her powers that made a big wave! And it washes all over Handmaid, all over the metal hands, and it washes them all out to sea! Well, not Handmaid. She grabbed hold of something.
The GM makes a villain move: “Escape the scene with the aid of her handbots”.
When Handmaid recovers, Sabine is still hovering over her.
“A girl shouldn’t let her hair stay wet too long, sweetie. Want to ask the cops if they have a hair dryer?”
A few of the metal hands are still around, and they grab hold of Handmaid, and start um, not running, but… well I don’t know what to call it, but they were doing it awful fast. Sabine lets her go though. That was sweet of her.
“So where’s Clarence?”
This is the question I knew the Guardian Ghost would ask, and so he did. Right to business.
We’ve assembled near the ruins of the tower. The handbots evacuated Patchwork and NKIDU while we were hiding from Sabine’s sonic boom. A pity. Captives could have been interrogated. Perhaps we could track them down, but it seems I must address this question before we can proceed.
“I… teleported him. To a facility constructed with my father’s technology.” This is both technically true and evasive. “He’s safe, I promise.” Perhaps this is what they are really asking.
“That kind of teleport is restricted tech. Zeta-3 or 4,” adds Sabine, who’s returning from her assault on Handmaid. “How are you able to use it, if you aren’t registered?”
“My father did not salvage any such technology from Silverline or the craft wreckage,” I say, again speaking truthfully only on a technicality.
“I don’t think CiCon will care.” Sabine shrugs at me.
Ghost nods in support. “If they find out about this, you’ll probably be questioned closely. We might all be in trouble. If what you told me earlier is true - about certain superheroes - that isn’t going to make anything better for anyone.”
I nod. I understand this. But: “It’s for the greater good.” Surely heroes understand this?
Ghost shakes his head. “The Guardian Ghosts have spent their lives stopping people who went too far and defended themselves with words like that. I’m not saying you’re doing it now. I’m just saying, be careful.”
I let out a sigh. Why wasn’t this easier? We achieved a mission objective. We’re accomplishing the work of heroes. This planet is unnecessarily complicated. “I’ll speak to Clarence, find out what we need to know, then return him to a place of safety. You have my word.”
Whatever tension was going on between those three seems to be settled. That’s a relief.
Clarence lost his home. That’s rough - but I can make it right for him, if he wants me to. If just buying a new place will make it right, anyway. Maybe he lost something nostalgic in there, who knows?
Home - fitting in. Oh yeah. I had an idea.
“Hey Midge. I promised to find a way to get you hooked up right? Well I’m not going to just get you a fake identity.”
Midge looks unhappy. “Oh.”
Shit! Hey! No, you gotta say something like “well what did you have in mind?” Jesus, I messed up. I follow up, a little too quickly. “Hey no, no, it’s cool. My family’s mansion got wrecked. We gotta rebuild anyway. I was thinking, how about we set you up a room in there, and you and me can be roommates? You can use our address for your identification.”
Sprout blinks, then smiles big, then hugs me! That was a reverse, wow. “You would share your Home with me! That is a great honor! I will be worthy of it, I promise.”
Ghost pulls me out of smiling back at them, as he asks something to the team as a whole. “Hey, you guys. Who was leading that team that attacked us, in your estimation?”
I look at the others. They look at me. We all kind of shrug, like, who knows?
Sabine speaks first. “… Nobody. They weren’t giving each other orders that I could hear.”
Astralis nods. “My equipment detected no hostile communication network. I cannot rule out a psychic network, but no conventional technological or verbal chain of command was in evidence.”
Ghost sighs again. He sighs like my dad when I get a bad grade on my report card, like I knew this was coming but dammit I didn’t want it to go down like this. “And they tracked us here. Someone else is directing them, calling the shots, aiming them at us.”
The team looks back at the distant walls surrounding Silverline City. I think at that moment, we’re all wondering the same thing. Who’s gunning for us now?
End of session!
Astralis grows closer to Pelagos (“you did alright, kid”)
Guardian Ghost grows closer to Sabine (“team mom/team dad”)
Pelagos grows closer to Sprout (“roommates!”)
Sabine grows closer to Ghost (“team mom/team dad”)
Sprout grows closer to Pelagos (“roommates!”)
Pelagos marks a Drive: “help a teammate when they most need you”