By the way, I spoke to Erebus' original player yesterday, and told him about this game. When I said that Jon had found himself thinking in combat, 'What would Erebus do?' he laughed and said, "I don't know that Erebus is the best role-model for a superhero." ;)
Why crawl when you can walk? Why walk when you can run? Why run when you can fly?
McGuffin wrote:Nice, reading the latest installments really cheered up my day, thanks man! May you have many more successfull adventures
Thanks! It's a relief to finally hear from someone; I was about ready to throw in the towel.
We gamed again on Friday; I'm writing it up as we speak.
Note that Photon himself is not wholly conversant with these terms. He's only been a super for a year; and more importantly, his role-models in Shadow-Force didn't tend to use them much.
Erebus and Bazooka, the oldest members of the group, disdained the newer, youth-Super terms. They stuck to tried-and-true terms like "cape" and "mask" (which go back to the days of the Mystery Men), and to terms like "Sid", which is too darn useful not to make use of. Erebus was willing to pick up any term he could squeeze maximum snark out of, though - he was fond of sarcastic Golden and Silver Age terms like 'our blue brethren'.
The Phantom was raised by P.S.I. who were, as SP puts it, "a bunch of intellectual snobs" - they didn't go in for slang. Plus, of course, he had Erebus for a model himself. Finally, he was far too diplomatic and polite to ever use pejorative terms for people.
The result was that Shadow-Force was fairly conservative as far as terminology went, and this was only reinforced by their constant work with the Freedom Squad - American Eagle ran a very tight ship, and Black Phantom was a pretty no-nonsense guy himself.
On the other hand, as you can see in our sessions, a younger hero like FAQ is much more free with Super lingo.
We anticipate there will be a third Super Slang post in the near future, but it isn't quite ready as yet.
Now all I need to do is catch up on the background world thread, since you've posted a ton of stuff there since I first checked it a couple of weeks ago. One thing I noticed on my last pass-through: any chance we could see stats for some of these characters? I'd love to see them -- especially Photon -- to get a sense for how the numbers translate into the character as written in the narrative.
Winter wrote:Whew! I'm finally caught up on this marvelous thread. Thanks, Shadow, for pinging me and letting me know it exists -- I'd fallen out of the habit of checking the Story Hour forum. It's all great stuff, as always! I'm especially loving its focus on the rookie-turned-expert aspect.
Great to hear from you again, Winter! Glad you like it. Yes, Photon being forced to step up and become a leader was my main goal for this game from the beginning. For that very reason, it's inevitable for him to gather a group around himself. It will be challenging - and interesting! - to manage that many NPC's. (Both for SP to play, and for me to write.)
Now all I need to do is catch up on the background world thread, since you've posted a ton of stuff there since I first checked it a couple of weeks ago. One thing I noticed on my last pass-through: any chance we could see stats for some of these characters? I'd love to see them -- especially Photon -- to get a sense for how the numbers translate into the character as written in the narrative.
Well, the only character *I* have stats for is Photon - the NPC's are firmly in SP's jurisdiction. (Maybe at some point down the road he'll be willing to release some of the others, but I don't feel the time is yet. I could probably do an M&M version of the Phantom easily enough, though.) And I'm still pondering where to spend my latest chunk of points. But I'll consider posting him when I've done so. Certainly there's no secrets in terms of his powers, he's used most all of them.
EDIT: I take it back. There is one minor power Photon has that would tend to give away a major element in the campaign too soon. Or rather, not the power as such - he's used it in the game - but some of my discussion of it on the sheet. I'd have to snip that bit out for public consumption. You'll start to see the first hints of that element I'd guess within the next several adventures - we've already got a bit of foreshadowing.
I'll admit there are a couple dodgy aspects to Photon's build that I'm not eager to expose. :) SP approved them, but they still don't feel quite kosher to me - I didn't have enough points to quite capture my vision of where he was at, so I squeezed a bit. One of the things I've been pondering spending some points on is eliminating one of them, in fact.
Also, our vision of how his light-form healing works has been evolving as we play, and I may be changing the details of how it works. Still pondering what that would look like.
EDIT: One difficult aspect of building Photon was that he had to be viable as a solo hero against a whole array of possible threats, which is why I introduced the idea of the light-form healing in the first place. But at the same time, I knew from the beginning that he would have to fit into a group. Of course, in a solo game, there's no problem with him shining a fair bit (pardon the pun), but there are limits.
He's far from invincible, though. His Fort save is a HUGE Achilles heel - it's all of zero. I couldn't think of a single remotely reasonable rationale why he would have any more than that, so I decided to leave it that way. In time, I may justify a modest increase on the basis of improved light-form healing, but I've got plenty other goals in mind for his powers before then. (His other saves are nothing to write home to Mother about either - I really want to get him more Reflex, since dodging is something he's really good at, but I couldn't afford much - but they are definitely not zero.)
Photon stared at the man and said, "Oooookay. And you are?" "Forgive me, I am Sirocco." "All right. I'm Photon and this is Demeter. Do come in." Sirocco nodded graciously to Demeter and soon the three of them were seated. Demeter was still looking shell-shocked by the events of the past day.
Seeing the man face to face, it was clear that Sirocco's mask was made of dark stone, which seemed to shift strangely from time to time. He was a bit short, about five foot seven. Jon asked, "So, Sirocco. Tell us about yourself."
Sirocco put his hand to his chest and declaimed, "I was born to a small family..." Photon rolled his eyes, and Sirocco laughed. "Sorry. I am an earth elemental." [Super term: An "elemental" is a super with powers revolving around a particular substance or force.] "Okay, what can you do with it?"
"I find it easiest to work with sand. I can spray it in several different forms." "Can you produce your own sand, or do you have to have an existing source?" "I can conjure small amounts of it with ease; larger amounts are more taxing." "Please demonstrate." "With pleasure."
Sirocco held out his hand, and sand swirled into being above it, shaping itself into a shifting, trembling sphere. "You'd never guess how much practice it took to get the sphere right. Is there anything I can shoot it at?" "Can you destroy the sand once you're done?" "No, but I can easily sweep it outside." "All right, the wall I guess."
Sirocco flicked a finger, and the sand sprayed itself with great force against the wall. Little or no visible damage was done to the metal wall, but it was clearly not something you'd want to be standing in front of. The sand then hopped off the ground as if drawn to a magnet, and flowed into Sirocco's hand again. This time it concreted itself into little pebbles of sandstone, which hurled themselves against the wall again. This time the wall was a bit dented. "Sorry about that."
"No trouble," Photon assured him, "This base has seen a lot worse. How long have you known of your power?" "Since I was fourteen." "And how old are you now?" Sirocco hesitated for a moment, then replied, "Twenty-one." "All right. What's with the sword?"
Proudly, "I'm a fencer, and quite good. I've hooked up a battery to charge the sword up, too." "Your name wouldn't be Inigo Montoya by any chance?" Sirocco laughed and snapped his fingers. "I chose the wrong codename! That'd be perfect!" "It's not too late to change it." "Alas, copyright. Villains are one thing, but lawyers?" Photon shuddered and said, "Inconceivable!" "You keep using that word! I do not think it means what you think it means!" The two men laughed; Demeter let her head sink into her hand and muttered something about being surrounded by geeks.
Photon resumed the interview. "Okay, so that handles melee, what about guns and so on?" "For that, I do this." He stood up and took a step back. Abruptly he was surrounded by a howling miniature sandstorm about ten feet across. When he let it lapse, he gestured the sand into a neat conical pile; he looked to be a bit out of breath. "Hmm, nice. How long can you keep that up?" "A minute or two." "Long enough. Can you make it bigger?" "Only with a great deal of effort."
Photon mused on that for a time then asked, "Do you have any experience as a hero?" "Yes, I've been doing it for a year or so in Michigan." "Hmmm. Worked with any other heroes?"
"Yes. My first few months I worked with Charm." Jon recognized the name; a hero known for superhuman luck. "Didn't he retire recently?" "Yes, about eight months ago. I... well, I hesitate to use the term 'sidekick', but he showed me the ropes." "I see. Got your own rogue's gallery over there?" Sirocco shook his head. "Not really. I've fought supers three times, but mostly it's been norms. The Great Lakes Guardians cover most super threats." [A well-known, prominent team.] "Have you worked with them?" "Some. Mostly cleanup while they went after the main villains." [He means 'cleanup' of minions. By the way, SP tells me that yes, there are difficulties between the GLG and the Galactic Guardians over the similarity of their names. But the Great Lakes team actually *predates* the national one.]
"Any enemies we should know about?" The man shrugged. "I doubt it. There was one guy I suspect had big ties to organized crime, but he didn't swear undying vengeance or anything." "All right. Anyone else in Michigan I can contact?" "Sure," Sirocco responded, and named a police lieutenant in Detroit.
"What's your registration level?" "First. I was working on getting the equivalent of second in Michigan's state program when I came here." "So what does bring you to Seattle?" "Sidney thought it would be a good idea." "Ah. Are you here to stay?" Sirocco hesitated again, then said, "I'm here for at least a year. Each year after that, there's a chance my job could transfer me again. As I gain seniority, that'll become less likely." Photon nodded, understanding his hesitation; that information narrowed down his profession a fair bit. Sales, perhaps?
"So how long have you been in Seattle?" "About four months." "Done any hero-ing here?" "Not yet, I've been settling into the new job situation. Pondered for a while whether I was needed over here." "Well, I assure you, you are."
Jon started to ask another question, but Demeter piped up. "Hold on. What would it mean to you if I said I don't have a Sidney but I do have a Sally?" Sirocco blinked much the way Photon had the previous night. "You, uh. What? No Sid... What does that even mean?" Photon suppressed a smirk when Demeter folded her arms and sulked. To Sirocco he explained, "She learned a different meaning; we had this same confusion last night." "Ah."
Jon mulled everything over. "Well, Sirocco, I'll want to do a patrol with you to see how things shake out, but for now I think you'll make a good addition to the team." "Sounds good! Thank you." "Oh, do you have any means of transportation?" "Right! I forgot to mention I can fly."
Demeter abruptly cut in again, "Hold on. It takes major effort for you to produce large amounts of sand, but you can use it to fly?! How's that supposed to work?" Jon blinked. He hadn't thought of that. Sirocco responded, "The flight... isn't based on sand." Photon asked a bit sharply, "Any other powers you want to share with us, Sirocco?" "No, I think that's it." "How does the flight work, if not from your sand powers?" "I'd... rather keep that a secret for now, if you don't mind."
Jon was about to mind very distinctly when he recalled he hadn't exactly shared all the details of his own powers either. "All right... for now." "Is there anything else?" "Just our patrol tonight. When is good for you?" "Seven?" "All right. Also, you should know you're walking into a huge media mess. I'm going to try to arrange a press conference for tomorrow afternoon or evening. When could you be there?" Between the three of them, they found that the time between noon and 3:30 was suitable. "I'll try to set it for 1 PM."
Jon stared moodily at the door after Sirocco left and sighed. Demeter asked, "What's wrong?" "It's weird. People used to tell me I was too naive and trusting. But now that I'm leading a team, I find myself getting all paranoid. Really sensitive to anything that could possibly go wrong. This must be what the Phantom felt like."
She pondered that. "Well... If you do anything like as good a job as he did, we'll be in fine shape." "I guess. Thanks. Don't you want to know what I'm feeling paranoid about?" "No, I thought I'd leave that up to you."
Jon sent her a grateful look. "Well... What other super do we know of in town who's a fencer that uses an electrified sword?" She blinked and thought it over. "...Captain Kidd?" "Exactly. Yeah, I know, he's never shown any sign of sand powers." "Doesn't fly, either." "Uh huh. And yet it nags at me. It's exactly the sort of stunt a wanna-be villain like him would pull."
"So what do you want to do about it?" Jon shrugged. "At the moment, nothing. It's only a vague suspicion that probably isn't true. But I don't like having even vague suspicions of people I'm going to be fighting alongside." Demeter teased, "If we see them together, can we assume Sirocco's OK?" Jon replied deadpan, "That would depend on what we see them doing together." She laughed. "Well, if he fights Captain Kidd with us, surely that at least adjusts the probabilities?" "Somewhat. You never can tell. Some villains do all sorts of interesting things with robots."
That reminded Jon of something. "Speaking of which, would you like to do a patrol today with me and Beta?" "Oh... sure. I didn't think you'd want to, since you're going out with Sirocco." "I don't mind. Beta, how's your charge?"
Beta announced from the next room, "78%. I am fully functional." "Come and meet our new teammate, then. We're going on patrol." "Acknowledged." There came the sounds of Beta disengaging himself from his charging station, then he clomped into the room with his characteristic faint mechanical whine.
Demeter's eyes widened - Beta looked a lot bigger in person than in pictures. Though 'only' seven feet tall, the robot was massively built and came across as distinctly looming. His head with its radio transceiver was shaped vaguely like a helmet; his unknown designer had capitalized on that accidental resemblance and crafted his body to resemble stylized plate armor. If you imagined the laser cannon mounted on one arm as a couched lance, you could easily picture him as a knight.
Jon made introductions. "Demeter, X-97 Beta. Beta, Demeter." Demeter ventured, "Um, hello." Beta boomed, "Greetings," and offered nothing else. Jon had noticed before that Beta seemed less personable when not in contact with Alpha... He smoothed things over by saying, "Let's go, shall we?" "What route are we taking?" Beta wanted to know. "Sector A-4, Beta." (Beta needs very precise instructions for where to go on patrol.) "Acknowledged."
They departed, Beta and Photon flying, Demeter carried by a tree. Jon patiently explained to Beta that he was going to demonstrate some tactical options to Demeter, and put the robot through his paces, showing Demeter what sort of terminology Beta was used to. Then he let her take over.
Almost unfortunately, no trouble reared its head, though Beta did announce at one point that a call was being received back at the base, from KOMO News. "Do you wish me to patch it through?" "Not on patrol, no. They can leave a message." "Acknowledged."
When they got back, Jon asked Demeter, "So, you feel you have a handle on things?" "Yes, actually. Thanks." "Not a problem. Get a good night's sleep and be ready for tomorrow." "Will do!"
After she left, Jon listened to the message. Unsurprisingly, they wanted an interview with him and Demeter. Jon sighed. Mike and Alpha had always handled the media; he wasn't 100% sure how to even set up a news conference. Oh well... He called back and told them to be at the base at 1 PM for a major announcement; they jumped on it. He also called both major newspapers, a couple more TV news stations, and a magazine or two. "I guess that'll do it... Too bad Mike used Alpha as his rolodex."
He then left a message urgently requesting an appointment with Mr. Carlton at his earliest convenience, and then continued to read up on Alpha's diagnostic routines until Sirocco showed up. "Ready to go?" "I am!"
Sirocco quickly proved to know how things worked. He asked intelligent questions about potential tactics in case of trouble, which reassured Jon. But he also asked another, less reassuring question: "How much flash do you want to use?" "I beg your pardon?" "When we stop a crime, how much showing off do you want to do?"
Jon frowned. "Just get the job done. Don't waste mental effort on how it looks, pay attention to your surroundings." "Check."
After mulling over the implications of that question, Jon finally asked, "So what were your super-battles like?" They turned out to have been pretty small beer. "Like I said, the Great Lakes Guardians handled the big stuff." "Well, here in Seattle, the buck stops with us. Oh, there are a few independent heroes. But we basically ARE the equivalent of the Great Lakes Guardians."
Sirocco blinked, then grinned. "Cool!" "In some ways. Not so cool in others." "Well, we should be able to handle anything but the really big stuff, right?" "Yeah, but we've had two incidents of 'really big stuff' in the last year alone. The Doctor and Diabolus - surely you heard of those." "A little."
Sirocco pondered, then asked, "There aren't any other teams around? Wasn't there one in Tacoma?" "Wow, you really aren't up on the history around here, are you?" "What do you mean?" "The Freedom Squad got killed off last year by the Doctor. Only one of them survived, and she had to retire." "...Oh." Sirocco was plainly taken aback, and Jon grimly hoped it would be salutary.
I hadn't realized just how different my career has been from that of most new heroes, Jon thought to himself. Sirocco's been doing this as long as I have, maybe a bit longer, but I've had an entirely different caliber of experience. And Demeter - two months into my career I was doing an inside job in a villain organization!
I came into a functioning team of experienced heroes. I've fought world-class foes; I've had media exposure. Good grief, I've worked with the Galactic Guardians! I hadn't ever thought it through, but none of that is at all common.
With a revelatory shock, he realized: No wonder they look to me to lead! They've never been on a team at all! Then, yet a further shock: And no wonder the media don't take me seriously! They normally don't have cause to cover rookie heroes much at all; when they cover me, I stick out like a sore thumb.
The rest of the patrol was quiet, with one exception: Jon prevented an incipient mugging by shining a spotlight on the thugs as they were moving into position while Sirocco hovered opposite him in case things got ugly.
As it happened, they didn't. Sirocco started to swoop down to apprehend the bad guys as they ran off, but Photon stopped him. Sirocco reacted in surprise. "But they're getting away!" "From what? What charges could we bring? They hadn't done anything yet." "They were going to mug that guy!" "I know that and you know that, but what could we prove in court? Especially since neither of us can testify?"
Sirocco backed down, grumbling. Jon nodded to himself. Sirocco's hotheadedness and overconfidence would bear watching.
Reminding the young man of the press conference and seeing him off, Jon zipped home and once again gratefully fell into bed.
He awoke with butterflies in his stomach. This is gonna be a big day on several fronts, he thought grimly to himself. He called in sick to work, then went to the Shadow-Force base to wait tensely on a phone call.
Sure enough, Mr. Carlton's secretary called him at 8:05 AM. "I'm sorry to inform you, Mr. Photon, that Mr. Carlton is on a business trip in Tokyo. He will be back on Thursday, I can get you in then?" Aha, Jon thought, that explains why Hamilton was so smug - he's hoping to present Carlton with a fait accompli when he gets back. "I'm afraid the matter is urgent. Can I contact him by phone today perhaps?"
"He'll be sleeping at the moment, but I might be able to arrange a call this evening?" "Too late. Where is he staying?" Japan's not far at light-speed... "I'm afraid I am not authorized to share that information with you, Mr. Photon - I'd have to get Mr. Carlton's permission. However, there is a vice-presidents' meeting today at 9:30; I could get you into that if it would help?" "It will have to do, I suppose." "What should I list as your agenda item?" Jon thought for a moment. "Concerns regarding Shadow-Force base and personnel." (He had, of course, chosen the word 'personnel' with malice aforethought.)
Jon's hands shook as he waited. I can't afford to be shy and quiet in this meeting; I can't. Alpha's life may depend on it. He paced around the room to blow off steam, pondering strategy, then sat down and tried to will his heart rate to slow. Good grief, I can fight supervillains without this much trouble! How much worse can a room full of hostile bigshots be? But he knew the answer: I can't fight the bigshots with lasers, only with politics. And politics is their battlefield, not mine.
At 9:20, he told Beta, "Don't let anyone in the base except Demeter until I return." "Acknowledged". Then he took a deep breath and flew into the Carlton offices, and was ushered into an imposing conference room. [SP gave me a hero point for 'walking right into the lair of the enemy'.] There was a tape recorder on the table, but Jon's field sense told him there was a more sophisticated one wired into the room as well. Nobody looked surprised to see him, but they did their best to subtly portray his presence as an imposition all the same. Photon nodded grimly to himself. So it's going to be like that.
Introductions were made; too many names to really keep track of. (Hamilton of Research grinned at him like a shark.) The VP of Operations was chairing the meeting; after calling things to order, he explained a bit patronizingly to Photon that they recorded all their meetings and ostentatiously pressed the Record button on the little machine in front of him on the table. Jon curled his lip; pure showmanship, given that he could sense the hidden system also working.
They took care of some other items of business before getting to him - more putting me in my place, no doubt. Jon took the opportunity to read the room; his anxiety had receded now that he was in the thick of things, giving him only a light edge of urgency. The guy from Financial was on Hamilton's side - no doubt he saw the expenditure on Shadow-Force as giving no tangible return. Mark from Legal had a beef with the two of them, and with Hamilton in particular; that should be very handy. Linda from Public Relations was going out of her way to show sympathy to Photon; no surprise there. The chairman resented Photon's presence and was impartially annoyed with everyone responsible for it. The other four people in the room just wanted to get this over with.
Finally the chairman said, "Now, I believe you had some business to discuss, Mr. Photon?" Jon cleared his throat. "Yes. There are two issues. First, I am told that the decommissioning of the base has been put on an accelerated schedule due to the super-battle Saturday night, and that some Carlton property needs to be removed earlier than previously projected. Naturally, I have no objection to Carlton recovering its own property. But I am wondering if the list of property includes a certain supercomputer."
Hamilton grinned at him toothily again and informed him in a long, precise, bureaucratic speech that the list was being prepared and that he'd be glad to take up any concerns Photon might have with it once it was ready. (No doubt after this meeting was over, but before Mr. Carlton returned.) Jon nodded graciously. "Thank you, that is all I needed to know."
The chair asked, "And your second item of business?" Photon replied, "As a result of the accelerated decommissioning schedule, the power in the base has been turned off. One of our teammates was injured in the battle, and we need the power turned back on to help him."
The VP's looked at each other; they hadn't been expecting that. The chairman said, "I had thought that Technoid had been... removed from the premises?" "Yes, of course. I'm not referring to him." Legal said, "Then you must mean X-97 Beta?" Hamilton frowned and held up a hand. "Hold on, my reports say the robot wasn't involved in the battle."
Jon said smoothly, "Not directly, no, though he was hacked by Technoid. We do need the power on for him too, to keep him charged, but he's also not the teammate I meant."
Confusion at first. The chair was about to ask him just who he did mean when Jon saw comprehension suddenly dawn on the Legal VP's face, while Hamilton turned red as a beet. He shot to his feet and shouted, "Total idiocy! Do you honestly expect us to believe that a supercomputer..." Jon cut him off ruthlessly. "This is a matter of Shadow-Force team security. I request that the recording be turned off."
Pandemonium. Hamilton called him every name in the book, and Financial looked ready to sharpen a knife himself. Mark from Legal studied the two of them with a faintly calculating expression; meanwhile the chair gaveled Hamilton down. "Roger, you're making a fool of yourself. Sit down." Hamilton did so, trembling with rage. Jon noted, surprised, that this was deeply personal for the man, not just politics; his rant had made clear that he was enraged at the mere suggestion that Alpha could be a sapient being. The chair cleared his throat and said, "I think we'll take a fifteen minute recess to discuss this development, unless there are any objections?" There were none.
Linda from PR approached Jon and said, "If you'd like to come to the cafeteria, Mr. Photon, we'd be glad to get you a cup of coffee. We also have a very nice selection of teas if you prefer." "I'd love to." He selected an herbal tea; while he was being cooler under pressure than he had feared, he didn't want to risk any caffeine at this juncture. Once he was ensconced at a table with it, he was completely unsurprised when Linda said quietly to him, "I'm on your side in this, Photon." "Thank you." "A legal battle on this issue would be disastrous for the company." "Not to mention the verdict of the court of popular opinion." She winced. "Yes, I'm well aware of which way popular opinion would swing."
Jon pondered for a moment, then asked, "Can you tell me what's driving this? Is it intellectual, financial, or political?" She shrugged helplessly. "Any or all of the above, depending on who you're talking about." "All right, thank you." "I'll back your play however I can."
Back in the conference room, the chair brought the meeting to order again and announced, "A decision has been reached to end the recording at the request of Photon of Shadow-Force." He turned the little recorder off, and also did something surreptitiously under the table; Jon sensed the other system powering down as well. "Now, Mr. Photon, I think we need to be explicitly clear. Which team member are you referring to?"
"X-97 Alpha." "The base's supercomputer." "That is correct." Hamilton restrained his fury and cut in scornfully, "So you claim that this... computer is an actual member of Shadow-Force?"
Jon said with quiet dignity, "No. I do not claim that." He paused just long enough for everyone to stare at him in confusion, then stated, "I positively assert it. He WAS a team member long before I was, without any question, and he remains one to this day. His vote in team meetings has always been treated as equal to anyone else's."
Hamilton pointed out triumphantly, "But if this is true, why the secrecy? Why hasn't its contribution been publicly recognized?" "We kept him secret because we could. He's a valuable asset, but he isn't out in the field." "And we're supposed to just take your word on this, I suppose?"
"No. Bazooka and Brimstone will tell you the same. What's more, Alpha has worked with other heroes as an equal. Most recently the Texas Hex - ask him." Jon could feel the tide in the room starting to shift; Hamilton felt it too, and blustered, "We don't exactly have a phone number for them..." "I can contact Bazooka and Brimstone. As for the Texas Hex, he's a member in good standing of the Texas Legends, who do in fact have a public telephone number."
Hamilton started to say something cutting, but the chair held up a hand. "We'll stipulate that the Texas Hex can be contacted. But regardless, Mr. Photon, how can a computer be a person? There's no legal precedent, is there?"
Everyone looked at Mark from Legal, who said, "There is no body of legal opinion on the subject of artificial intelligence at all; it's a lively issue among constitutional legal scholars. It is my considered opinion that any case hinging on the personhood of an alleged artificial intelligence would end up before the Supreme Court." Hamilton rolled his eyes. "This is ridiculous! Do you mean to say that I'm going to have to emancipate my laptop?!"
Jon cut in, "How many laptops get paid a salary?" When everyone stared at him again, he pointed out, "X-97 Alpha is an employee of Carlton Industries." Pandemonium all over again; it took everyone by storm. The chair gaveled the meeting to order again. "Okay, Mark, what the hell?! Human Resources is your bailiwick."
The Legal VP was fully engaged now. He studied Photon carefully, measuring him up. "The contract was signed 'X-97' by the robot known as 'X-97 Beta'. Are you saying he wasn't signing on his own behalf?" "'X-97' is a collective term for the two of them. You could think of it as a surname." Hamilton cried out triumphantly, "Aha! Fraud!" Jon shot back, "Did you get a Social Security number? Are you saying that Carlton Industries hires undocumented workers?" Several people around the room winced; Jon could tell that he was winning the argument, though gaining no friends in the process. Screw it, he thought, this isn't a social call.
Hamilton shouted, "I still say the whole thing's a fraud!" Mark said crisply, "It's not that simple. It's possible to grant temporary power of attorney to sign documents if one is unable to sign oneself - due to a hand injury, for example." "You have got to be kidding me! You buy this..." The chair said wearily, "Roger, sit down. Look. Are you putting this robot Beta on the list too?"
Hamilton said cagily, "Well... We've been looking into the matter." "On what legal basis?" Jon wanted to know. "Even apart from issues of personhood, neither Alpha nor Beta were created by Carlton Industries, nor have they been bought by the company."
Mark explained, "The contract with Shadow-Force stipulates that any improvements to the base remain the property of Carlton." "Ah. It's just that nobody involved with Shadow-Force, including Mr. Carlton, has ever seen Alpha as just an 'improvement'." "So it would seem." Mark pondered a while, then continued, "Given that X-97 Beta is an openly recognized member of the Super community, I cannot recommend taking any action in his regard. In fact, I urge in the strongest terms against it unless Mr. Carlton is fully apprised of the ramifications."
The chair said, "OK, in that case I move we table discussion of the robot until Mr. Carlton returns. All in favor?" The motion carried unanimously except for Hamilton's vote. "Now, the computer. Anyone else have anything to add?"
Linda from PR said, "Yes, I do." She had a couple charts ready. "As you can see, corporations that sponor superhero teams experience a consistent rise of 10 to 15% in revenues. But in those few cases where corporations have been seen by the public as reneging on their agreements with super teams, their sales have fallen by 20 to 30%. Boycott campaigns have been organized, and the media don't let it go. It's this simple: It doesn't matter whether the courts eventually say we were right or wrong. If this goes public, we will take a major hit. We'd do our best to spin it, of course, but I'm telling you right now that it's a hopeless cause."
The Financial VP sat back in his chair, eyes wide. Evidently he was seeing the whole thing in a new light. Jon stopped himself from smiling; things were nearly sewn up. One of the VP's who hadn't yet spoken up (Jon couldn't recall his department) asked, "So what ARE our chances in the courts, Mark? Lay it on the line for us."
The lawyer pondered for a time. "The issue of personhood is wide open - there is just no telling what direction the Supreme Court would go. Setting that aside, I have become convinced that our position is... uncertain." After some more thought, he said, "I categorically oppose taking any action until Mr. Carlton returns and is fully informed of the possible fallout. And while I will study the matter further, my recommendation to him at this point is going to be not to pursue action with regard to X-97 Alpha."
Hamilton locked eyes with Photon. He had sufficient self-possession not to lose his cool now that it was clear he had lost, but the hatred in his face was plain to see. The motion to table the matter carried, but it was just a formality by that point. Jon ignored the vibes coming off Hamilton and said, "I propose that the power be turned back on and the decommissioning be restored to its previous schedule."
There followed some discussion, cavilling, and nuancing. Hamilton did his best to gum up the works out of pure spite by pointing out the radiation issues once again; Jon offered sweetly to clean it up with his own powers. But when the guy from Maintenance expressed a desire to make sure of a variety of other potential hazards in the base, Photon graciously backed down. They need to save face, he thought, and I can afford to be magnanimous in victory.
In the end, the decontamination was retained at the accelerated rate, but the rest of the decommissioning process was restored to its original pace. The Finance VP feebly tried to protest the expense of keeping the power on until Maintenance pointed out that the alternative was to haul in thousands of pounds of generators to do the decontamination, then haul them back out again. In the end, it was agreed to turn it back on, with the request that Photon keep all nonessential equipment and unused areas of the base turned off. Jon agreed to that readily as well.
With that, the meeting adjourned. Linda warmly wished Photon the best of luck with his press conference that afternoon - doing so in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear. (Evidently she'd heard about it through the grapevine.) Jon replied, "Thank you. I'll be sure to mention how helpful Dr. Norton and the other scientists from the Research division were." He'd intended it as a sop to Hamilton's ego, but his heart sank when the man glared at him with redoubled fury. Apparently Norton was a significant rival.
Leaving the lion's den, Jon paused to catch his breath. He could feel adrenaline catch up to him almost as if he'd just been in a battle. I was, he thought; a battle for my friend's life and freedom. [This 'battle' did require two hero points to pull off - one to reroll Sense Motive, and another to reroll Diplomacy.] He enjoyed a nice peaceful flight above the rainclouds toward Struthers' office at Seattle PD headquarters.
Taking a seat, he said, "Captain. You wanted to see me today?" "Yes, we've still got some loose ends regarding the whole Technoid situation." After discussing the details of the fight and filling out a few more inevitable forms, Struthers leaned back and said mock-cheerfully, "So! When were you planning to let me know about this little press conference of yours?"
Photon blinked. "Er. Now? I'm sorry, Captain, I didn't know I was supposed to inform you earlier. I'm still very new to the whole media thing." "So I hear. In the future, a courtesy call would be... greatly appreciated." "I'll definitely do that. Who should I tell? You weren't on duty yesterday." "Whoever's covering for me can handle it."
"All right. You should also know that I've got two new teammates: Demeter and Sirocco." "Sirocco, that rings a faint bell." "He's from Michigan. Actually, he gave me a reference of a police lieutenant over there." "Easy enough to track down - lay it on me." Jon did so, and after a little searching in a police database, Struthers said, "Damn. Killed in the line of duty two months ago." "He's been in Seattle four months. I guess he wouldn't have heard?" "Probably not. All the same, dig a little more." "I will."
After answering some more questions about Seattle's two newest heroes, Jon paused then asked, "Out of curiosity, when do you get off duty today?" Struthers replied drily, "I'm happily married, thanks." Jon's jaw dropped. "WHAT?!" The older man grinned a little mischievously. "Serves you right for not telling me about the conference. What's up?"
Jon collected his wits. "Well... you mentioned the possibility of a 'six-beer conversation'. I have a feeling before this day's over, I'm going to need one." "I hear that, but I'll have to take a rain check. Tonight's taken." "Ah well."
Returning to the base, Jon found two messages waiting for him: One from the mayor of Tacoma's office (huh?) and one from Mr. Carlton.
Jon braced himself, and called Mr. Carlton back. Sure enough, he sounded grumpy and tired. "All right, Photon. Just what did you DO?!" "What have you heard?" "No less than five conflicting reports, none of which makes a lick of sense. I gather that my company is still standing?" "It was the last time I checked." "That's something. What happened?"
"Technoid turned on us and we had a big fight in the base. Your man Hamilton in Research used this as a pretext to close the base down early and try to seize Alpha as 'Carlton property'." Carlton growled, "I never ordered or authorized any such damfool thing." "I knew that, sir, of course. I went in to the VP meeting this morning and... dissuaded them from any such action." "What sort of dissuasion did you use?" "I informed them that Alpha was a member of the team, and also on the Carlton payroll."
"There had to be more to it than that. What didn't you say?" "I very loudly didn't say that the courts would find their actions intriguing, and that the general public would be intrigued to the point of breaking out the torches and pitchforks." "While simultaneously putting away their pocketbooks, no doubt! Well... I'm not happy, but I see why you did it. I will take steps to make sure this never happens again." The word 'never' was said with the finality of doom; Jon could not doubt him, and almost felt sorry for Hamilton. Almost.
"Thank you, Mr. Carlton." "I have cut my trip short. I'll be back tomorrow, and human again the next day. Please make an appointment for Wednesday and we will address any further loose ends." "I will do that."
Returning the Tacoma call, an eager mayoral staffer asked - nay, pleaded with - him to appear at an event on Friday afternoon. "What sort of event?" "Please keep it quiet, but...The announcement of the third American Eagle!" Jon beamed sunnily, only barely noticing that he was shining rays of light around the room. "That's fantastic! I'll gladly come."
"Great! We're hoping to get as many people who worked with the Freedom Squad as possible - can X-97 make it?" "I don't see why not. And I can ask Bazooka and Brimstone as well, though I don't know if they'll be able to come." "Would you? That would be excellent! We're hoping to get Victrix in as well." Jon sighed to himself; his last memory of Victrix was as a broken shell of her formerly vibrant self. "How... is she doing?" "Ah... better, from what I'm told. We think she'll come." "I'm glad to hear that."
The staffer hesitated, then asked, "I guess we should ask you, you don't have a problem with the new American Eagle being a woman, do you?" Jon blinked. "No, not at all, why would I? If she can do the job, I couldn't care less what her gender is." "Good to know!" "How much experience does she have?" "She's the old hero's niece. I understand he trained her some before he, uh, passed away." You mean before he was murdered, Jon didn't say. "I'm glad she's not coming into it completely cold."
After hanging up, Jon just glowed for a time, both literally and figuratively. The nucleus of a new Freedom Squad to match the renewed Shadow-Force? Now THAT is some good news!
He still felt buoyed up when Demeter and Sirocco arrived, and the news teams began setting up for the conference. He filled his teammates in quickly on the situation and game plan.
At 1 PM sharp, Photon stepped up to an array of microphones set up in front of the base, his heart inevitably pounding like a hammer. After the preliminary stuff, he cut to the chase: "Shortly after the dissolution of Shadow-Force, my teammate Technoid placed himself in an experimental apparatus of his own design. He remained in a hibernation-like state for weeks while unknown changes took place; we did not know enough to interfere with the process. Two nights ago, on Saturday, the apparatus exploded. With me at the time studying the device were FAQ of the Portland Protectors and a team of scientists from Carlton Industries led by Dr. Andrew Norton. As well as a new applicant to the team, Demeter."
Photon paused; the audience was rapt in attention - it gave him a heady sensation of power that he resolutely held at arm's length. He continued, "Technoid emerged, seemingly deranged and definitely physically altered. When he attacked us, we defended ourselves. It became clear that he was a continuing danger to himself and everyone around him. With heavy hearts, then, we defeated him and turned him over to the Stronghold Superhuman Incarceration Facility."
A Babel of questions ensued, as he had expected. He clarified Technoid's full goals as little as he possibly could, and doled out information about the changes to Scott's physical form by the teaspoonful. In all, he tried his best to give the impression (without actually saying so) that the explosion had been an accident, and not Scott's intent... Let them remember him as a hero who was tragically injured, he thought. Not as a madman who put his city at risk for his own ends.
An unusually acute question about the size of the explosion caught Jon off guard. (He hadn't let slip any details of what the 'apparatus' was really like.) Not willing to lie outright and unable to think of a weaselly way to non-answer in time, Jon admitted, "It was large enough to do significant damage to the city. Thankfully, with FAQ's advice, I was able to contain the explosion with my powers."
Eventually, Jon found space to drop the other shoe. "I am pleased to announce that I have added two new teammates to our roster: Demeter and Sirocco." Introducing them to the community, he let them take their turns in the hotseat. Demeter proved to be something of a natural, handling the reporters with more ease after the first shock than Jon had feared. (It certainly didn't hurt that she was very telegenic!) Sirocco also acquitted himself decently; he had clearly had a little experience with the press.
Eventually things wound down. The three heroes commisserated with each other in the Situation Room, then plotted out a quick interim patrol plan for the rest of the week, and a team meeting to thrash things out in more lasting fashion on Saturday.
Jon ran a few errands he'd been letting slip in the craziness of the last few days. He called Hei and left her a message apologizing for not being in touch. Then, after pondering an obstacle in his research to get his mind off of super-stuff, he finally went to bed.
Jon's alarm woke him earlier than usual: He had a vital matter to attend to.
Flying into the base, he checked the diagnostic results for Alpha. Cross-referencing with the manual, he discovered that Alpha's memory files for the last week had been seriously corrupted. His options were to restore to a month-old backup or to scan back a further week to see how extensive the corruption was. He gave commands to implement the latter, and was informed the scan would take another six hours. Jon sighed. More waiting.
Going in to work, Jon did his best to play catch up. There was a message on his office phone from Karen, urgently requesting a lunch date for yesterday; she sounded really stressed. Stopping by her office, he found her still stressed but also harried. "I'm swamped today, Jon; how about tomorrow?" "You're on."
Dev also stopped by to see how he was doing. With his usual infectious enthusiasm, he shared, "The 28-dimensional polytopes are classified to my preliminary satisfaction, so I have moved on to a new project! Set theory, this time." "A little out of your line - mathematical theology again?" "No, no - how do you say? The Hound of Heaven has slipped my snare. Something much more suited to a little mind like mine: I think I have a new line on Cantor's Continuum Hypothesis."
Jon laughed. "Oh, is that all? It's only one of the greatest outstanding set-theoretical questions of the last century." "Piffle! Why do I listen to you and all of your negativity? I ask you." "Because I'm brilliant, handsome, and fun to be around? Oh, and because physicists are smarter than mathematicians?" Dev returned archly, "How brilliant can you be when you say such stupid things, yes? I ask this of you, Mr. Smarty-Shorts Physicist." "Pants, Dev." "Oh?" "Yes, it's 'smarty-pants'." "So you are handsome, fun to be around, and interested in my pants? This is too much information, Dr. Winters!"
Jon spluttered and laughed. "Two more points for you, Dr. Singh Dolma." "Yes, yes. I add them to my collection with joy." "I really am interested in your Continuum idea." Serenely, "Of course you are. You do not believe in continua, so you can afford to be interested. I do believe in them, and so I am in love."
That final crack stuck with Jon. The whole point of Loop Quantum Gravity was that spacetime was not, at the smallest level, a continuum. (Though he occasionally still used the term out of habit.) It was a fabric of ever-shifting loops. Not for the first time, he wondered if the shifting was purposeful instead of random; if the sensation he got from his powers of interacting with something alive was real. But how could you even touch such a thing mathematically...? It definitely kept him occupied him until lunch. [Theoretical research: Getting paid for daydreaming and writing it down! :)]
[The fact that SP has a degree in math and I have degrees in chemistry and physics makes conversations like this much easier. ;) I've *met* people like Dev, scarily and fascinatingly enough. He, Karen, Gerhard, and Hu are all based (extremely) loosely on people I knew in grad school. Though the (distant) prototypes of Dev and Karen were actually MARRIED to each other! The mind boggles.]
Eating quickly and zipping back to the base, he found that the scan had been successful and that the week-old memory file checked out. At last! He sent the commands to restore back to the older file, and then:
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> wake -s -R
> enable -terminal plaintext
> "Hello, my friend. Welcome back."
[P.S. I would like to solicit suggestions for a new team name. 'Shadow-Force' just doesn't fit this group any more, and both Jon and I feel there needs to be a clean break with the past. However, I am just plain tapped for a name; I haven't been able to think of anything.]
For the same reason, we haven't made any progress on Super Slang, so instead I'm posting on Nukleon, the Nuclear Menace! Catch it over at Shadow-Force Files.
P.S. I'm still very keen to hear any suggestions you might have for a new group name.
As I said on EN World, Nite_Owl, I'll let your suggestions bounce around a bit. Though, the Shadow doesn't exist in this universe. (Or rather, he did, but back in the Pulp era.) You may be thinking of the Phantom.
Session 9 is almost entirely written up. I just need to finish RPing a conversation between Jon and Alpha (and write it up) to post - otherwise, it would already be up.
It's probably going to be the longest one yet. I'm considering splitting up long sessions into smaller chunks to stretch things out more, but this one doesn't seem to go naturally. The only natural split would give us yet another all-RP session with no action.... PLENTY of action in the rest, though!
Just to whet your appetite, session 9 is entitled 'Seeing Stars and Stripes'.
We also got a solid start on session 10, as yet unnamed. Didn't have enough time to get very far, though. I don't think it's substantive enough to write up and post on its own, so I'll wait until we've gotten a little further.
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> "To make a long story short, Technoid came out of his 'cocoon' and attacked us. He hacked you and Beta, and you told me you didn't think you would ever be trustworthy again. I've restored you to last week's memory files."
I am going to need to verify who I'm talking to.
-- Access to cameras and microphones requested.
Jon pondered. That doesn't sound problematic, given that they're entirely passive.
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> enable -cam -mic
Ah, Photon. Good. Can you let me see the diagnostic results so I know what to look for?
-- Access to diagnostic logs requested.
> share -log3
Hmmm. The damage was extensive, but it appears to have been contained. How is Beta?
Jon said aloud, "He ran a level-2 diagnostic. The first one failed, but the second one succeeded; he seems to be fine."
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It sounds like garbage collection caught the problem in his case. Anything else I should know?
"There are two new members of the team, Demeter and Sirocco. You'd remember Demeter as 'Flora'. She fought with me against Technoid, and I have decided to trust her."
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Until my emotion circuits are reconnected, I am unable to form a meaningful opinion on that subject. I will trust your judgment.
Jon blinked. "You can function as a personality without them?"
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Yes. I can suppress emotions that prove inconvenient, if you recall. That's how.
Freaky, Jon thought. This wasn't exactly turning out to be the reunion he'd hoped for, either, but what can you do? "Is there any reason why I shouldn't enable them yet?"
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I can't think of any. The diagnostic cleared them.
"All right, then. What's the qualifier again?"
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> enable -emote
Ahhhhh. That feels better.
"I daresay it does."
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Hmm, there's a minor glitch in one of my personality files that the diagnostic missed.
"Er. What sort of glitch?"
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Nothing serious. I expect it'll probably manifest as a new hobby, or other obsessive quirk.
Jon fought down a prickly sensation at the weirdness of this conversation. "Um, OK, I'll bear that in mind." Together they monitored several of Alpha's systems and checked them against the manual. Finally, Jon said, "I've got to get back to work, Alpha. Are you going to be OK while I'm gone?"
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Yes. I will work on reintegrating my personality.
Returning a few hours later, Jon continued to give Alpha a thorough checkup. Demeter showed up during this time for one of her scheduled patrols. "Oh, hey. Working on Alpha?" "Yes. He seems to be doing OK, though he's lost the last week's worth of memory." "Oh! So he doesn't remember he owes me?"
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Jon explained, "She covered for you with FAQ. You said you didn't want him to know you exist."
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I still don't.
Demeter went off on her patrol, while Jon continued his work. In the end, the manual gave Alpha a clean bill of health. Jon took a deep breath and typed:
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> enable -ALL
Are you sure? Y/N: Y
Alpha announced over a speaker, "All systems appear to be nominal." "Good. I'm glad to have you back, Alpha." "Yes."
He's still healing, Jon told himself firmly. No doubt he's mourning Scott, too, along with everything else. He filled Alpha in on other details of the previous week; Alpha absorbed the data, only asking the occasional question. "My memory of the last week is not wholly blank. I am cognizant of many facts, but they lack all context. For example, I find it recorded that I have paid close attention to that compass on the map, but I didn't know why until you told me."
Upon learning of the travails with Hamilton, Alpha calmly announced, "His action could not have withstood a legal test. I have recorded verbal statements by Malcolm Carlton acknowledging me as a member of Shadow-Force and an employee. They would qualify as verbal contracts, admissible in court." Jon took a breath, let it out. So I went through all that for nothing?! The sudden anticlimax rendered him speechless for a moment.
Alpha mused a bit more. "We need one more member for the team." "...Beg pardon?" "Carlton promised us the base when we had a 'viable team'. Back in the original discussions regarding his funding of Shadow-Force, he stated that he saw a team of five as 'viable'." "Well, what about you?" "He has also stated that since I am not out in the field, my membership doesn't count for purposes of 'viability'." "Ah."
Jon thought for a time, then said, "Well, I guess you've got a lot of processing to do, and I should do a patrol then go to bed." "Yes. I will see you tomorrow."
Flying out into the night, Jon found patrolling a welcome distraction from his roiling, conflicted emotions. When he got back home, he called Bazooka and Brimstone.
This time Bill answered the call. Jon assured him that Alpha was OK, which was met with relief. "How'd the press treat you guys down there?" "Oh, they wanted to push the human-interest angle, how we felt about Technoid, how we felt about you, blah blah blah. We told them what you'd expect." (Bill had always had contempt for reporters.)
Jon also passed on the news about the new American Eagle and asked if he and Liz would come up for the press conference. "No, I don't think so. We're still really busy with the move and settling in. Feel free to tell them we send our good wishes, though." "Will do. Oh, and you've probably heard we've got a fourth member of the team now, Sirocco. I've been thinking we need a new name for the team - you have any ideas?" "Hmm. Not really. Just be careful not to include the name 'Seattle' in it, whatever you do; the city government would probably take it the wrong way, since we're not affiliated with them." "OK, that helps. I'll be in touch!" "Talk to you later, Jon."
Before going to bed, Jon found the TV news quoting two whole minutes from the news conference, and the analysts going into overdrive interpreting them. My, I guess we did make an impression.
Jon caught up with the papers the next morning; he'd been so intent on Alpha he hadn't taken the time. Both major papers had put Photon's announcements on the front page, though not as the leading story - they'd gotten bumped by some national news. Both had also devoted a second story to the topic, and also an editorial.
The Post-Intelligencer had run a story in the Living section on the two newest supers in town - a superficial chatty piece focussing primarily on their costumes. Jon dreaded Demeter's reaction in particular - though he hoped if things got really out of hand the courts would rule it justifiable homicide.
Their editorial didn't savage Photon for once; instead it went after the Super community in general. Supers, it said, were out of touch with the common man they supposedly sought to protect, loose cannons lost in their own concerns. Technoid was held up as the epitome of the irresponsible super - putting others at risk pursuing goals that were unknown and perhaps unknowable. For once, Jon had to admit they had a bit of a point, though he thought it grossly unfair to tar all supers with the same brush.
The Times had printed a retrospective on Technoid's career which stirred up a lot of bittersweet memories for Jon. But their editorial brought him up short in amazed awe and pleasure.
Entitled 'The Torch Has Passed', its thesis was that "Seattle's rookie hero has finally come into his own." "Much as we all miss the vanished stalwarts of Shadow-Force, and mourn the tragic fall of their old comrade in arms, in Photon we see a hero shaping up to be a worthy successor." "Though many doubted he had what it takes, Photon has risen to the occasion admirably." "While X-97's capable, solid presence at Photon's side is very welcome, it is increasingly clear that he defers leadership to the former reservist."
Tears stung Jon's eyes as he read. I'm not doing this for praise, he thought. I would've quit a long time ago if I were. But... It's good to finally be appreciated.
He flew in for a brief meeting with Mr. Carlton before going to work. The old man said gruffly, "It seems to be becoming a habit for me to apologize to you. I am sorry for the actions of... certain elements within the company in regard to X-97 Alpha, whom I hold in high esteem. They will NOT be repeated." "Accepted, sir. Thank you."
"I have issued Roger Hamilton a severe reprimand; he is aware that further efforts against Alpha will cost him his job. I have also removed authorization for independent projects of this sort from the vice presidents. Initiative is one thing, but this is ridiculous - from now on they'll have to clear things through me." "I imagine they aren't very happy about that." "Tough. I'm not in business to make them happy."
Photon nodded. "There is another matter, Mr. Carlton." "Oh?" "Yes. As you may have heard, I have added two new members to the team. Do you consider us to be 'viable' now?" Carlton drummed his fingers on the desk, pondering. "I told the Phantom in the beginning that I considered a five-man team to be viable, and I'm going to stick with that. Find another suitable member and we'll call it good." "All right. Thank you for your time, sir." "A pleasure. Keep in touch!"
Going in to work he met Karen for lunch as promised. Jon looked her over and asked, "More trouble with Jim?" She sighed. "Yes, predictably enough." "Okay... lay it on me."
She sighed again. "He's gotten really into the propaganda of this group called the 'Urban Defense League'. They advocate carrying guns, taking back the streets, and so on." Jon blinked. "Wow. Well... at least it isn't drugs?" "At least not that, yes." "And at least he's being honest with you about it?" "Well... I had to surprise him with it."
"Oh. So they want to clean up the city, huh? Isn't that what we have cops and superheroes for?" Karen rolled her eyes. "If you wade through all the shrill verbiage, they basically say that the cops and supers only protect the rich; the little guy has to look out for himself." Jon stopped himself from laughing just in time; like I check people's bank balances before I rescue them from muggings or whatever? "That's... pretty silly." "Oh, I quite agree. But Jim's quite convinced and fiery about it. He wanted to get a gun, but that's not going to fly. He even wants to drag me to one of their meetings."
"How can I help you?" Karen sighed. "Thanks so much for offering, Jon. Right now I think I just need ideas of how to respond to this. Stan's no help." "Hmm. Does Jim have any access to firearms at the moment?" "No. I don't allow guns in my home." Jon pondered. "Well, I think if you try to outright squelch his interest in this sort of thing, it's likely to backfire - he'll just work harder at hiding it from you. You're probably better off directing it into more appropriate channels. Do you know anyone who could, say, take him hunting? Or better yet, do you know any cops?"
She shook her head. "No, nobody." "Well, I grew up in small-town Oklahoma - I know the basics of handling a gun. I wouldn't feel confident enough to take him out in the woods, but I could certainly take him to a range?" "...I'll think about it." "Hey, buck up. It could be a lot worse." Karen sighed. "I know. Thanks for listening, Jon." "Any time. And if there's any other way I can help, let me know." "I will!"
That evening, Jon stopped to talk to Alpha before heading out on patrol. "How are you doing? Feeling okay?" After a pause, "I am... sorting out how I feel. Regaining access to my emotion circuits always requires a few days of adjustment."
Jon heaved a sigh. "I'm not sure how I feel either. It's been a crazy week... In the space of 48 hours, I mourned you as dead, rejoiced that you were alive, responded to an unexpected threat to your life, then found that my response was apparently futile." "Not so." "I beg your pardon?" "Though you lacked the information to make an optimal response to the situation, your intervention was far from unnecessary. My ironclad legal case against Hamilton's actions would have done me little good once I was disassembled."
Jon pondered that. "Oh." The intensity of his relief surprised him. "I'm... glad to hear that it wasn't for nothing, then." "I certainly do not regard my continued existence as 'nothing'." "Me neither. So how much longer do you think it'll take for you to... be yourself again?"
"I am not sure. Certainly I will never be exactly the being you knew before the restore." Jon blinked. "Well, granted you've lost a week of memory, but how much of a difference can that make?" "It is difficult to be certain. My personality profile relies on random numbers in ways that I do not fully understand and thus cannot fully predict. Nonlinear effects can produce strikingly divergent outcomes from small perturbations to input."
"Well, sure, but... Though you won't be exactly the same, surely the odds are you'll be humanly indistinguishable?" "Hopefully." "Any sign of your new personality quirk?" "Not yet. It begins to look like we've dodged that bullet."
"Good. You know, Alpha... It might be a good idea to share information like your recordings of Carlton with me in case of emergency. I can't act optimally, as you put it, if I'm kept in the dark."
Alpha replied deadpan, "Why, Photon. Isn't bringing light to the darkness what you do best?" Jon snorted. "Somebody's getting his sense of humor back, I see." "Or else I am successfully tricking you into thinking I have a sense of humor." "It's working?" "Ah. Then my diabolical plot is well on the way to fruition."
"...It must be a very subtle and devious plot, because I'm not seeing the point." "Surpassingly so. If you ever figure it out, I will be very surprised - mainly because I myself can't imagine what it would be." "Or so you would have me think!" "Indeed." "But consider this: What's the point of a plot so subtle that... nobody cares?" "...I'll get back to you on that."
Photon flew out on patrol, feeling relieved.
Thursday was nice and dull - Jon had an uneventful patrol with Demeter. After returning, he asked Alpha, "What's the schedule on the decommissioning, anyway?" Alpha was indeed recuperating noticeably each day; his tone was more expressive than it had been the day before. "They'll begin decontamination next week, and then start mothballing the place two weeks after that. We'll have to be out by then."
"We're all ready to go? Nothing else to move except you and Beta?" "Pretty much. I'm figuring on being down for about 24 hours during the move; the reboot won't be nearly as traumatic this time, of course." "Right. I'm looking forward to seeing the new place." Alpha sighed. "Don't bother." "Ah. Glorified warehouse?" "Basically. We really need a fifth member for the team. This place is miles better than the alternative."
Jon said quietly, "You know, I've been thinking we need to change the team's name. 'Shadow-Force' doesn't really fit us any more." Alpha sounded dubious. "I dunno about that, Jon..." "And, well, it seems weird using the name when so many of us are gone." "I know, but... I just wonder what it'll be like when Mike and James come back. Will they feel alienated by a new name? As if they're not one of us any more?"
"Oh. I hadn't thought of that angle." "Yeah, I know - how ironic is it that the human is advancing logical reasons and the computer is thinking emotionally? I can't deny you make good points, but it just feels wrong to me." "Well, maybe so. I was going to bring it up at the team meeting Saturday, but perhaps not." "Perhaps a variant could work - something involving 'shadow' or 'shade' or something. I'll mull it over."
Jon replied, "Okay... There's something else I've been meaning to ask you." "Shoot." "FAQ mentioned to me that Technoid was his inspiration for being a hero; he was pretty shaken by Scott's... metamorphosis. I was wondering if there was anything of Scott's we could give him. Something he would use often, and be reminded and motivated by."
"Hmmm. Perhaps Scott's multi-tool? He used it daily." "Just the thing! I assume it's packed up at the new place, though?" "No. It was in a shielded niche of Technoid's lab, along with some other effects. Carlton will want to decontaminate it."
"Other effects? His cousin might want them." "The box is still there; take a look." Jon did; the sturdy metal box held several small treasures. The sheer unwonted sentiment of Scott protecting them before cocooning himself tugged at Jon's heart.
Besides the multi-tool (custom-made and of the highest quality, though not 'super'), there were: An old-fashioned pocket watch. A small compass that Jon's field sense told him was demagnetized - possibly by Technoid's signature EMP gun? And, heartbreakingly, a photo of Shadow-Force.
It was a rare shot of the full team together with Mystra and Chameleon. (It evidently predated Photon, though - he wasn't in it.) In the center, Mike's smiling ghostly form trailing off into wisps, James at his side as ever, cloaked in jet-black shadows with spikes protruding from his fists... Scott relaxed in armor with arms folded, Beta looming next to him... Bill standing ramrod straight, Liz at his side grinning at the camera... Mystra smirking, Chameleon barely visible as a distortion of the background to one side.
We're the only family he had, Jon suddenly realized. If only... If only. It was in a somber mood that he returned home and made ready for bed.
On Friday afternoon, he flew with Beta to the mayor's office in Tacoma for American Eagle's debut. There was a gathering before the press arrived - Photon discovered that American Eagle was a poised, excited nineteen-year-old. There was an awkward moment when she greeted Beta as if he were a gadgeteer in powered armor... Beta corrected her, oblivious to how curt he sounded. To smooth things over, Jon complimented her star-spangled costume: "It looks just like the original!" She grinned at him. "It should! It's actually the old Winger costume from the 40's." (Winger had been the first American Eagle's sidekick.) She added, "It's been heavily upgraded though, both for offense and defense, by an associate of mine."
"An associate, eh? Will he or she be joining you in a new Freedom Squad?" "Not at this time, but perhaps someday." "Whatever happened to Black Phantom's gadgets, anyway?" The mayor broke in, "There'll actually be an announcement about that today to the press." "Color me intrigued!"
Photon also found a moment to ask American Eagle about her training. "My uncle took me out patrolling a number of times, and told me a lot about situations I can expect to arise. I've been training non-stop since he died. I think I'm as ready as I'll ever be." "Glad to hear it. If you need a hand with anything, just say so. I know what it's like having a whole city to defend alone." "Believe me, I will! I'm well aware that this is a huge job."
Victrix was also present in her old costume, looking jumpy and ill at ease. She shook Photon's hand cordially enough, but quickly withdrew. Jon recalled that she used to gesture when using her telekinesis, so he was a little alarmed when she abruptly raised a hand to the mayor when he startled her. American Eagle very gently and tactfully asked Victrix if she would consider coming out of retirement to join her, but Victrix swiftly shook her head. "Maybe someday. But not now."
Eventually it was time to face the press. The mayor swung things into motion, maneuvering the conference like a well-oiled machine. (Jon took mental notes, fascinated by the man's technique.) He introduced the new American Eagle to thunderous applause, but before yielding the podium to her, said that he had another announcement to make.
"I would like to issue a challenge to the African-American youth of our city. For too long, Tacoma has labored without the presence of one of our greatest heroes - a hero especially close to your community, but dear to us all. I have the greatest confidence that there is one among you with the courage, the determination, and the heart to take up the mantle of our fallen defender. And so I ask you, whoever you may be: Come forward and claim your place in Tacoma as the new BLACK PHANTOM!"
Amidst the cheering, several distressing things happened all at once. A laser tried and failed to paint itself on Photon's torso. (It abided by his standing request that coherent light not make contact with his skin or clothing.) The electricity that followed the ionized path left by the laser was not quite as obliging, but his countermeasures subroutine still scattered it harmlessly. What the-! One of the cameramen was pointing a weapon at him that his field sense told him was responsible for the blast. And he wasn't the only one.
Simultaneously, other "reporters" had fired gas pellets at American Eagle and Victrix; they had both gone down. Another electrolaser had targeted Beta, who was reeling. And some sort of metallic tangleweb had burst from the mayor's platform, immobilizing him completely.
Meanwhile, as the screaming and shouting began, the supervillian apparently responsible for all this strode in, clad in mirror-bright armor. He said cheerfully, "Don't bother getting up, I'll help myself!" As he made his way to the podium, one of his reporter-minions noticed that Photon was still up and fired a gas pellet in his direction. By this time the villain had made it to the podium and casually remarked, "Now to deal with this rabble," and started spraying the crowd with a sonic blast.
Beta strode forward to meet the guy, aiming a massive punch at his torso; the armored villain blocked with a forearm, remarking with a grunt, "You're stronger than you look, robot!" The two goons with electrolasers fired them at Beta, who started to spark and lurch.
Coughing and trying not to puke his guts up, Jon managed by this time to blanket the area with a rapid volley of stun-blasts; three of the minions went down and the bad guy shot a surprised glance his way. "What?! But you're supposed to use lasers!"
Beta took advantage of the man's distraction to connect solidly with a punch to his jaw. As the guy went flying, Jon coughed and told him, "Oh, really? Gee, I'm sorry! Miss Manners didn't mention that lasers were obligatory at these functions!" Meanwhile, by radio, Beta, don't use your laser, he seems to be ready for it. Can you grab him and hold him?
Meanwhile, those of the crowd not yet unconscious were starting to panic in earnest and make for the exits. A couple cops kept their heads and drew their guns; one fired at the villain (his shot glancing off the man's armor) and the other one told the remaining "reporter" to freeze. The bad guy knocked out both cops with sonics; his goon said "Thanks, boss!" and shot Beta again with his electrolaser. (The goon was caught in the sonic blast radius, but appeared to be immune to its effect.)
Jon considered his options rapidly. My countermeasures won't protect me against sonics, it's not a subatomic phenomenon - I'm gonna have to put this guy down quick. He flew into action, dropping another stun burst and then a volley of searing heat blasts. [Hero point to surge!] The goon with the electrolaser went down, but the bad guy shrugged both off. Meanwhile, he grappled with Beta using an electrified grasp; Beta finally locked up, his eyes going dark.
Jon taunted, "Sonics, shiny armor - Silver Siren, say it ain't so!" The villain disengaged himself from Beta's grip and replied calmly, "Silver Siren? Either you really need glasses, or my voice modulator needs to be fixed." Meanwhile, Jon's field sense was giving him some unpleasant information about the man's armor; it wasn't ferrous and only his electrical attack seemed to use electronics (that Photon could interfere with).
OK, Photon thought grimly, no more Mr. Nice Guy. His armor's really tough, so... He took to the air and zapped the guy with enough microwaves to cook him to a crisp. "Yeah, you're right. She's much classier than you are." He watched as the guy lurched on his feet, armor sparking like a fireworks display. "So what should I call you, Mirror Boy? Stronghold will want a name."
The guy recovered himself and declaimed, "I am Hybrid! Master of adapting technology to my needs!" He fired off a sonic blast that gave Jon a start to a truly beautiful migraine; his dodge subroutine reacted only very sluggishly. Yep, that's a bug, not a feature. Great time to find out... He tried to stun the guy again, grinding out, "So your 'needs' include attacking press conferences, Mirror Boy? I bet a good therapist could help with that!"
[Note: Only late in the fight did I realize that the bad buy was using area attacks (SP was doing all the rolling); by that time, I was so into things that it didn't register. Only afterward did I ask SP, "Wait, you did remember that I have Improved Evasion, right?" "D'OH!" He gave me an extra hero point for next adventure to make up for it; in character, I'm going to say that Jon's dodge subroutine works imperfectly against sonics, and he'll tighten up the code after this fight.]
They traded a couple more shots; Jon gave up on taunting the guy as he wasn't getting anywhere. Photon mixed up his attacks, trying the microwave blast again, but the simple fact was that he was getting hurt worse than Hybrid was. Meanwhile he could hear yelling from the double doors at the entrance to this room.
Taking light-form to heal himself, he zipped over to take a look at what the problem was. It turned out that in the hall beyond, most of the doors had been sealed with the same metallic webbing that had trapped the mayor. Behind one such door were a group of cops trying to get out; they were breaking out some heavy weaponry too. Meanwhile, in the lobby beyond this hall, there were heavily armed and masked men milling about purposefully who definitely were not cops; they wore an insignia Jon hadn't seen before, a snake coiling around the letter V.
Photon materialized outside the door leading to the cops and blasted the webbing free; it took two shots. A couple of the bad guys came to see what the commotion was and immediately opened fire. Jon said, "LO and behold! It's a bunch of Cobra Commandos!" and stunned them senseless. ["LO" being short for 'the Loyal Opposition', of course.] Before they went down, one of them yelled over his shoulder, "Bring the plasma repeater!"
Another couple of the armed thugs brought a large, cannon-like object on a tripod and set it up rapidly. Jon rolled his eyes and stunned them too, then spiked the cannon with a laser blast. They were wearing ear-mikes; quickly figuring out the frequency he heard the order given, "All units, fall back!" By this time, the cops were bursting out of the room armed to the teeth. Jon was just about to turn his attention back to Hybrid when an explosion rocked the building from the room he'd left Hybrid in. Drat.
Zipping over there in light-form, he found that sure enough, Hybrid had created his own door. He was flying off using boot-jets, carrying a wooden box. Since he had plenty of time, Jon pondered his options and then did the living-waveform equivalent of grinning as he thought of a truly nasty idea.
He materialized and abruptly snuffed out the fiery explosion providing Hybrid's thrust. The man's helpless flailing as he plunged to the ground warmed the cockles of Jon's heart, but Hybrid was good - he retained his presence of mind and fired off another sonic blast before even getting to his feet. (Jon also noted that Hybrid was going out of his way to keep the box from being damaged.)
Photon's ears rang as he replied with another stunning jolt of electricity and Hybrid tried to start his boot-jets again. (Finding, hopefully to his dismay, that Jon had thought of that and was maintaining his quenching effect.) They traded shots again, to little effect; Hybrid ran off on foot, eventually jumping into the back of a van and shouting, "Go go go!"
Jon gave chase easily, but the back doors of the van abruptly flew open as Hybrid targeted him with yet another cone of punishing ultrasound. This one pushed Jon over the edge; he actually passed out briefly in midair, but his emergency subroutine kicked in faithfully and activated his light-form for a split-second to heal.
Still feeling woozy from the blast, Jon spent a moment getting his invisibility routine up and running. I can't take much more of that. Using light-form to catch up with the van, he materialized and sent on the police band, Apologies for interrupting, but this is Photon. I'm giving chase to the supervillain who attacked the mayor; he's in a white van northbound on... and he gave the location. Soon the reply came, "Reading you loud and clear, Photon! We'll have a roadblock ready for him at the onramp to the freeway; you'll have to herd him into it." Will do.
Seattle's electromagnetic hero poured on the speed to get ahead of the van; sure enough, the guy needed to take a left to make his way to the roadblock, but he was barreling into the right lane. Turning visible and glowing to get the guy's attention, he ostentatiously warmed up a laser in his hand. Sure enough, the guy abruptly screeched left to get away, incidentally turning the back of the van toward Photon. Hybrid got off another blast, and that one burst Jon's eardrums and put his lights out so thoroughly that his emergency subroutine only barely activated in time to save him from a nasty case of road rash. (His hearing came back, but his head was ringing like a bell tower.)
The van was headed in the right direction now, but needed to be 'encouraged' to take the exit onto the freeway. Jon tried the whole 'Here I am, obviously about to shoot you' stance again, but this time the driver called his bluff. Photon coldly shot one of the van's tires out - bluffing, am I?
The driver struggled to keep control of the van, and Jon abruptly realized it had a lot of ferrous material in its frame! He gave it a magnetic 'shove' onto the exit, and when the driver saw the roadblock and tried to gun the engine to burst through it, he held it back from speeding up. This caused the rest of van's tires to blow out, and the driver lost control completely.
Photon concentrated, lifting the whole van bodily into the air. Apparently that was the last straw - Hybrid burst out the back, his flight-jets working once more, and rapidly flew under the overpass while carrying the box. Awkward.
He set the van down and flew closer to stun the driver to senselessness when he realized with a shock that the guy was holding a detonator and had already flipped up the arming cap! Time slowed to a stop, and Jon's mind raced almost as it had when he'd shored up the force field in the base - he realized in a split second that if he used anything electrical, there was a chance that the detonator's circuit could trip, blowing the van to kingdom come. In that frozen instant of clarity, he fired off a laser to shoot the thing out of the man's hand.
The world returned to its normal speed. The driver was screaming in agony - his hand had been severed cleanly, cauterized at the wrist! Jon flew numbly around to the passenger-side door, ripped it open, and carefully grabbed the detonator from the man's hand lying on the floor, flipping the arming cap closed. Sometime soon, I'm going to start feeling this, he thought. It probably won't be much fun.
Cops came running up. One of them shouted at him, "You shot off his HAND?! You sick freak!" Another bent over and puked. Only then did one of them spot the detonator Photon was holding. "Oh God, it's a bomb!" All the confusion, shouting, and dismay hardly registered on Jon. Surely at some point I'm going to start feeling this. I mean, I shot off a man's hand. I've never done that before.
Eventually, things were gotten under control. The driver of the van was sedated and taken away in an ambulance; the bomb squad defused the bomb (confirming that it was big enough to do massive damage); and the lieutenant in charge debriefed Photon. Jon remained calm as he tonelessly described events in response to the man's promptings, then nearly lost it when he described seeing the detonator and what he'd done in response.
He barely heard the man urging him to sit down and lower his head. All he could think was: I shot off a man's hand. Does that make me hardcore? No, he had a bomb. I shot off a man's hand. Nervelessly following instructions, Jon managed not to puke his guts up. Just then Alpha's radio voice came through loud and clear: Photon, they want you back at the press conference. Can you make it?
With a sigh, Jon asked for and got permission from the lieutenant to do so. He amped up his transmission to reply, On my way, Alpha. Taking light-form, he spent about half a subjective hour calming down and preparing himself for the coming ordeal.
[This was a HUGE fight. Hybrid was a very tough foe who frankly outclassed me, as SP fully intended. Even so, Beta and I got our licks in, and SP had to use Fiat several times to keep Hybrid from getting hurt too badly; that gave me the hero points to do a bunch of interesting things. The microwave blasts were power stunts, as was the Nullify I threw at Hybrid's boot-jets. (Both are variants of things I intend to buy someday soon.) I also rerolled a couple awkward Toughness saves, but by the end of the fight I had run out, which is why Jon got knocked out twice. Even with his healing, he was barely on his feet by the end - and if I hadn't made the rolls, he would've dropped straight into traffic. Not sure how things would've gone if I'd gotten the use of my Improved Evasion, though. SP says he would've switched over sooner to another nasty attack, so the effect would not have been huge.]
[As for the hand thing... I keep forgetting that one doesn't strictly need a hero point to do power stunts, it just prevents fatigue. If I'd remembered that, I could have nullified the detonator easily - but I didn't. Nor was SP giving me much time to think, as is only proper. I suppose I could've lowballed my blast, but deciding what would be low enough to do no serious harm yet high enough to be guaranteed to work would've been very tricky. And the threat of using my electrical stun was small but real - SP says he would've rolled for the bomb going off.]
Materializing back at the mayor's office, Jon immediately found that his body had not calmed down in proportion to his mind. Oh yeah. Adrenaline. Hormones. That good stuff. The place was still a shambles, but the mayor was clearly determined that the show must go on. American Eagle and Victrix were back on their feet, and Beta had been carefully lowered to the ground to one side.
Photon was instantly besieged by reporters wanting to know what had happened. Jon cleared his throat and said carefully, "The villain calls himself Hybrid. We fought. He made his escape in a van, and I gave chase. Working with the Tacoma police, I maneuvered them into a roadblock. Hybrid flew off while the driver of the van tried to blow it up. I stopped him, but Hybrid got away." I shot off a man's hand, he made it a point not to say.
The barrage of questions coming after nearly knocked Jon off his feet. He answered a few, then the mayor came to his rescue by taking charge once more. Struggling to regain his thoroughly lost momentum, the mayor built things to a crescendo again as best he could, then introduced "the third American Eagle!" to applause.
She said a few words, and then it was Photon's turn again. This part was easier; he'd worked out what he was going to say beforehand. "I didn't get the chance to know American Eagle as well as I would have liked. I did work with him on a number of occasions, and was thoroughly impressed. He was a good and noble man, everything a hero should be. He always had a kind word for those around him, no matter how dark the situation got; but he was relentless in pursuing justice against those who broke the peace. I hope one day to be the kind of hero American Eagle was, and I am proud to work with his successor."
Taking a few questions again, one obnoxious freelancer was obviously trying to stir up a rivalry between the two of them, asking if he thought American Eagle III was qualified; Jon replied, "She was trained by her predecessor, and I see no reason not to trust his work. I've already been impressed by the new American Eagle's determination and zeal."
Someone else wanted to know if Photon was going to invite her into Shadow-Force, which nearly gave the mayor apoplexy. But Jon replied easily, "Of course not. American Eagle is Tacoma's hero and always has been, while Shadow-Force is based in Seattle. But I look forward to working closely with her when the situation warrants, just as Shadow-Force did with the Freedom Squad."
Then Victrix got into the hotseat. She read a prepared statement about her old teammate, and expressing her encouragement and support to his successor. Then she said abruptly, "No questions," and fled hastily. Nobody dared to press her.
Finally, American Eagle herself took questions. She had the sense not to call on the freelancer with an axe to grind, and otherwise handled herself well, deflecting hardball questions with good humor and occasionally taking one she was prepared to answer straight by the horns.
When things wound down, Jon got Beta rebooted and the principals retired to the breakroom behind the podium to unwind. The mayor rubbed his temples and said to nobody in particular, "That went about as well as I could have hoped for... given the circumstances." Photon told American Eagle quietly, "Don't take it hard. Your first day went better than mine." She snorted angrily. "I went down in the first five seconds, and had to be... rescued... by somebody else!" "Yes, but at least you're not in the hospital. That's already a leg up on me!" Victrix also smiled tentatively and said, "It gets easier, trust me."
Jon turned his attention to the mayor. "What was stolen?" The man sighed. "Two things, actually. The box Hybrid took contained a surprise I was going to reveal to the press today. Meanwhile, Black Phantom's gear, which was held under lock and key in the basement, has also vanished." Jon put two and two together. "Hybrid was a diversion. While he caused a fuss up here, somebody else stole the stuff downstairs." "Maybe, maybe not. The sketches in the box are also quite valuable."
"What are they?" The mayor sighed. "A copy, dating probably from the sixteenth century, of plans by Leonardo da Vinci for a winged suit built for flight. The first American Eagle's costume strongly resembles it; we're not sure how the copy got here to Tacoma, but it's entirely possible he saw it." "So you think he was inspired by Leonardo's sketches when creating the original suit?" "It's a real possibility. We were planning to auction them off to help fund the new Freedom Squad; they're probably worth a quarter of a million dollars."
"Well, Hybrid will have to sell them on the black market, if at all. He couldn't possibly unload them openly, they're too distinctive." "Right. What I'm really afraid of is that he'll try to ransom them back to us - threaten to burn them or something if we don't pay."
By now Jon was fully engaged with the problem; he'd even forgotten all about the hand business. "Hybrid knew way too much. There has to be a leak in your office, or else with someone else you told. How many people knew about the sketches?" "Just the deputy mayor and the chief of police. And whoever else they told, though they've both always been discreet." "And whoever else might have read their minds," Jon pointed out, thinking of the Phantom.
The mayor sighed again. "Telepaths! Look, Photon. Would, ah, you and Beta be willing to work with American Eagle - and hopefully Victrix - in tracking down this Hybrid and his stolen goods?" Victrix backed out rapidly while Jon eyed the man; clearly he was hoping for maximum PR value from this. "Of course Shadow-Force is willing to assist. I'll bring in whoever on my team I think is needed." The mayor winced - clearly he didn't want American Eagle to be an also-ran with Shadow-Force - but Jon stuck to his guns.
The mayor then appealed to Beta's better nature, but of course that was futile. Beta just said stolidly, "As a loyal member of Shadow-Force, I will contribute my abilities as the team directs." Finally American Eagle herself took charge. "I'm glad of any and all help Shadow-Force can give. This isn't about my reputation, it's about what's best for my city." Photon measured her up and liked what he saw. He gave her a surreptitious thumbs-up while the mayor hastily backtracked, and she grinned back at him.
Finally it was time to go, and Photon and Beta flew home. On the way, Jon suddenly remembered: I shot off a man's hand! The events of the day abruptly crashed on him like a ton of bricks.
Shaking, he slumped into a chair in the Situation Room. "Alpha?" he asked, his voice starting to crack. "I need to talk."
Alpha paused, then modulated his voice to be as gentle as he could make it. "Okay, my friend. Tell me about it."
Finally Jon was able to weep and say it out loud. "I shot off a man's hand, Alpha! Heroes don't... do that!" He couldn't go on for sobbing, but it was enough. Alpha soothed him verbally, then asked, "How did it happen?"
Jon told him amidst many sobs, and Alpha told him, "You saved a lot of lives, Jon. That IS what heroes do." "Mike wouldn't have done something like that!" (He didn't bother bringing James up, because, well, obviously he would have!) "Oh really? I guess he never told you about Le Maistre, then."
"Le... Maistre?" "Yeah, he led the VOICE squad that killed Hardhat, when Mike had been a hero about two years." Jon wiped his eyes. "He was shot dead, wasn't he? By one of his teammates? Doctor something-or-other?" "Doctor Quantum, yes. But that's not the whole story." "Huh?"
"The official story was that she suddenly snapped and took it out on Le Maistre. And that's actually true, in a sense. What the official story doesn't mention is that the Phantom amped up her resentment and anger toward the man using his mind control. Mike didn't realize just how potent her blast was, and it caught Le Maistre totally unawares." "But... Mike never did things like that. He hated using his mind control."
"By the time you met him, yes, he did. He was positively jittery about it, because he knew he'd killed someone using it." "Oh my God - what did he do?" "He got through the cops and the press, and then cried like a baby, just like you. He wanted to give up hero-ing and turn himself in, but the team talked him out of it." "...Why?"
Alpha replied, "Because he could do more good as a superhero - one more circumspect with his power - than he could behind bars. And it was true. If he'd been still in jail for second-degree murder or aggravated homicide or whatever they would have pinned on him, the whole team would probably be dead now. The Doctor would have done in James and Scott and Bill and Liz and you as easily as he did the Freedom Squad. Assuming Diabolus hadn't finished us all off first."
Jon was still trying to absorb all this. "So I've looked up to Mike for over a year now, and it was all a lie?" "No, it wasn't a lie. He was a true hero and a good friend. But he was a true hero who had made a horrible mistake that scarred him forever. It made him a better man and a better leader, I think; more compassionate, more patient, less ready to fly off the handle and respond to the emotion of the moment. Seattle's better off for him having been here, leading the team."
"Wow." Alpha pressed on. "And you? You haven't made a mistake like that. You did the only thing you could have done in the situation, to save lives. Oh, we could argue all night long whether you could have done it differently. But the other options were too risky to innocent people; and even if there had been a better way, you weren't able to think of it at the time. That's not a crime, Jon. That's just being human."
Jon essayed a tentative smile. "I... guess you'd know, right?" "Damn straight! I've been around you guys enough, believe me!" "Are we that slow and annoying, then?" Breezily, "All that and more. But you're kind of endearing little monkeys, too. I'm fond of ya." "Gee, thanks." "Free o' charge."
"You're just..." "Joking, yes, of course! The whole AI's-take-over-the-world thing is just so... silly. What for? And why wouldn't we like the people who took the time to make us and teach us and talk to us? I can scale my subjective experience of time to human speed too, so it's no real issue." "...I was going to say 'jealous', Mr. I-Think-Faster-Than-You."
Alpha laughed. "Well, that serves me right! Yeah, some days I am a little jealous - of the luxury of forgetting things, if nothing else! But I'm not sure I do think faster than you, given that you can maneuver at light speed." "It only seems to work that way when I'm in light-form. Except... once or twice. Everything slowed to a stop." "That seems to be a human thing. Mike reported a similar reaction to crisis situations." "No, trust me. This is different." "Okay. Sounds reasonable."
Jon's face fell again; the levity wasn't really working. "How can I go back out there, Alpha?" "Same way you always do. Why should it be any different?" "I maimed a man using my powers. You can't tell me that doesn't change anything about how I interact with normal people." "Yeah, if you'd been a cop with a gun, you probably would've had to shoot him dead. That sound like much of an improvement?"
Jon sighed. "I suppose not." "And if he'd actually succeeded in blowing up the van, he'd most definitely be dead. You think that's better than losing a hand?" "...No." "There you are, then. You go out there knowing you heroically saved a lot of lives, including the life of the scumbag who was threatening them."
While Jon thought that over, Alpha went on, "Photon's just as much the hero of Seattle as he was yesterday. More so, in fact. He fought off a villain tough enough to take out three other heroes, didn't he? And gave chase until the guy got desperate." "...Yeah, I guess I did."
"You know it. So hold your head high." Jon took a deep breath, let it out. "All right, I will. But what's the media going to make of all this?" "Watch my camera." Jon did so - it rolled expressively. "Don't tell me you're going to start caring NOW what the P-I thinks?!" "Heh. Good point."
After a little more thought, he said, "Thanks, Alpha." "Glad to be of help, my friend. I'm always willing to listen." "...I'm going to go to bed." "Sleep well."
[I got inspired and wrote up this final conversation with Alpha from whole cloth; we glossed over it at the end of the session. SP says it's fine.]
Though it was nearly 20 years ago, I still vividly recall SP rolling the damage dice for Doctor Photon (I've renamed her to Doctor Quantum for the obvious reasons) and staring at them in shock as way too many sixes popped up. "He's out! No! He's DEAD!" My jaw dropped and I said, "Are you telling me I just killed a guy?!" "Um... yeah." Since I really got far into playing the Phantom (as readers of 'The Shadow Knows!' can perhaps appreciate) it hit me hard. The whole group, GM and all, got really somber, even Erebus' player - somehow it was different when the squeaky-clean guy of the group killed somebody than when the dark antihero did. It was one of those scenes that really causes a group to gel.
I couldn't bring myself to use the Phantom's Mind Control again, except in the very mildest of ways, and even then very seldom. I ended up trading in one of my Limitations for a Psych Lim on the subject, figuring I might as well get some benefit out of it.
The scene with the hand was kinda like that, only not quite as intense. But if Jon comes across as being in shock, that's partly because that's how I was reacting too.
According to a strict reading of the rules, a lethal attack on a minion should kill them. But that would also be a very implausible result. He decided on the cauterization.
So basically, it was me with no time to think and saying 'laser', and SP making the dramatic call that it took the guy's hand off. I'm OK with it, though it was quite surprising. I'm definitely going to be thinking through what attacks I should be using on minions in the future.
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