She was awoken by blinding light. Everything was warm and thick and hazy. Something hard covered her mouth and gripped her tight around her neck. It pumped air into her, forcing her to breathe. Indistinct clusters of light and shadow moved in front of her. Vibrations tickled her skin. She was curious, but so tired. Gradually the distractions went away and she fell asleep again.
The next time she awoke was in darkness. Everything was cold and still. She did not know what had awoken her, there were no lights, no movement, no vibration. Even the thing on her face had stopped pumping air. Yes, that was it. There was no more air. With growing alarm she struggled her way to awareness, trying to breathe but the dead mask clung tight to her face. Everything was thick, movement was slow, was she underwater? Something pulled at her back, keeping her floating. Her fingertips brushed something hard and unyielding in front of her, glass?
Desperate, she clawed at her restraints, unable to see her own hands. Cylindrical, smooth, tubes? They were stuck, resisted being pulled out until they were twisted. One by one she pulled out the six tubes connected to her back. As she did, light blossomed around her. It blinded her, but showed that the liquid around her was draining. Quickly she pulled the mask off and gulped the air. The air was disgusting, thick with an indescribably foul stench.
She retched a single time before the glass in front of her slid open and she fell forwards. A hard metal grate caught her, and she watched the last of the liquid drip through it. The air down here was better, only a faint trace of whatever that stench had been.
She lay there for a long while, slowly becoming more alert. How had she gotten here? Where was here? Who was she?
As her awareness grew, she became more alarmed. She knew nothing about herself, but had fragments of knowledge about the world around her. She knew that she was lying on a metal grate. She knew that she had been in a tank of liquid. She knew that she was cold. She knew that shivering like this was bad. She knew she needed to move and stay warm, but how?
Eventually the cold became too much to bear and she struggled to stand. Weakness prevented her from standing by herself so she used the tank for support. The room was small, crowded with machines. Some clothing hung from a peg on the wall near the door. Duplicates of what she wore. It was a dark grey one-piece bodysuit with a zipper up the front, covering everything except her head, hands, and feet. Despite being thin it was tough.
When the novelty of being upright faded she began to explore. Her room connected to a hallway. The hallway connected to other rooms. They were dark, and cold, and still. Some faint sound drew her down the hallway. She came to the end of the hall, arriving at a door. It swung open when she pushed it. There were some more lights out here, the sound was louder too. Behind her the door swung shut with a click.
The sound led her through some hallways to a large room with a crowd. So much sound and light and motion, dazzling her. It was too much, she bumped into people and stumbled into walls.
Some people made noises at her, but she didn’t have time to listen. She had to get out, but the way back had been lost in the crowd. Someone yelling drew her attention to a doorway, and she ran for it.
She reached the blessed dark and relative quiet, falling against the wall. Someone approached her, making noises. Gradually they started making sense. He helped her sit up.
“Hey, Space Cadet? You okay?”
“Fishbowl.” It was the first word that came to mind.
“You is just all fucked up, aren’t you? Did you take some bad acid or something?
“I am a fish.”
“Yes you are. Shit I don’t need this right now. Do you need a ride, do you want me to call you a cab?”
“I’m not a cab. I’m tired.”
“Right. Is there someone I can call for you? Do you have any friends here?”
“Well at least you’re not an angry drunk.” From outside the crowd roared deafeningly loud. She tried to pull him closer to block out the sound. “Okay, that’s my cue. You are nice and all, but you are way too far gone.” He tried to move away but she held on. “Come on, let go, and you can have a nice sleep all by yourself.”
The crowd roared again, and he sighed, “Hell, I can’t leave you here with these animals. Let’s get you outside. Upsy daisy.” He helped her to her feet and she leaned heavily on him. Staying awake was too much effort.
He picked her head up from where it was lolling against his shoulder. All of a sudden his hand froze on the back of her head.
“What exactly is attached to the back of your head?”
“Amoeba.” It made sense when she decided to say it.
He put one of her arms over his shoulder, “Yup. Now I’m curious. And we’re walking. That’s right.”
Gradually they made their way outside, making it all the way to the car before she fell asleep. He unlocked the door and got her more or less situated onto the back seat. A long moment passed while he stared at her, then he shut the door and stepped away from the car. He got out his phone and tapped through a few menus.
“Hey, it’s Steve. You ever hear of people with metal ports on the back of their heads? Yeah, like that. On a girl, maybe still in her teens, wearing some kind of bodysuit. Kinda looks like a wetsuit. Didn’t say. Trust me, there are no pockets on it, and she’s far too young and drunk for me to be looking at anywhere else she might be hiding some ID. She’s passed out on the backseat of Kat’s car. I’ll bring her in. Gotta go, fight’s almost over.”
Steve hung up. He looked at the girl sprawled in the car, brown hair still wet and clinging to the upholstery, mouth open and drool dripping down her cheek.
“What a night.” He went inside, with no idea at all how he’d explain this.
He found Kat on the floor of the storage room, whimpering and twitching. Her power may have healed the injuries, but the pain lingered even after the flesh was whole again. Steve hated to see her hurt, the same as she felt about him. He knelt down and grabbed her hands.
“Give it to me.”
“I…need it.” She moaned and writhed.
“Don’t do this to yourself. Give it to me.”
“Just shut up and do it!”
Agony raced up his hands where he touched her, the pain smashing into him like a full-body explosion. He felt every punch, every kick, the distinct feeling of his ribs breaking and the wet sucking of a punctured lung. Kat shuddered in the sudden absence of the pain.
He grunted and bore it down, crushing it with force of will and long practice. After a moment they were both breathing easier. He patted himself down, verifying that he wasn’t actually hurt even though his brain was screaming that he was. Already the sensation was fading, it was as brief as it was intense.
“I want a smoke.” Kat said after a long while.
“That stuff’s bad for you.”
She snorted, “Didn’t say I was going to have one. We don’t always get what we want, do we?”
They stood up, and she grabbed her bag.
“Listen, I should tell you…uh, well. There’s a girl in your car. I kind of need you to give us a ride to the office.”
“What? You show up like this…and we…and you want me to give your girlfriend a ride?”
“She’s not my girlfriend.”
“Who is she?”
“I don’t know her name.”
“You didn’t ask her?”
“She’s unconscious. Drugged.”
“You drugged a girl and you want me to help you kidnap her?”
“No! Well yes. But someone else drugged her, or maybe she drugged herself, but I do want you to drive us. Just come out to the car and I’ll show you.”
They went out to the car, and Steve showed Kat the equipment attached to the back of the girl’s head.
“How did you even get her in there?”
“I still have the key. I never really thought of a good way to give it back.”
“Just take the car. I need time to think right now. I’ll call you tomorrow.” She turned and started walking away. Steve started after her, then glanced back at the sleeping girl. He couldn’t leave her defenceless in this neighbourhood, within an hour someone would likely smash the window to get at her. Kat could take care of herself, when she had a mind to.
He looked at the sleeping girl, “Better get you tucked away before you wake up. That would just be awkward.”
Back at the office, they were met by Blaithe in the garage.
“Back of her head, take a look at it.” Steve turned on the overhead light for better illumination.
Blaithe swept the girl’s hair to the side, peering at the hardware on her skull. He frowned thoughtfully.
“The surrounding skin does not show any signs of damage or inflammation. No scars. If I had to guess I would say it’s been in there a long time, or it has been healed by some advanced method. Certainly does look like something plugs into here, I think you were right about that.” He tilted her head one way, and then the other, tracing a fingertip over her skin before examining the collar of her bodysuit. “Markings on her neck and behind her ear. Maybe from a strap of some kind? A mask? That would seem to match this suit. I’m not familiar with it, but it does have the general styling of a dive suit. Curious. Let’s take her upstairs, see if a few hours on a bed will wake her up.”
They carried the unconscious girl up to the third floor and put her in the room beside Steve’s.
“Almost makes me feel young again. I haven’t done that since college.” Blaithe chuckled. “I’m going to go knock on some doors, see if anyone has some information about this young lady. Give me a call when she wakes up.” He left, dialling a number on his phone.
Steve shut the door and went to find Lucky, best to let the kid know what was going on. He found the boy on the second floor, lounging on the couch and playing a videogame.
“Hey, we’ve got an unexpected visitor upstairs. She’s sleeping in the room next to mine for now. Pretty significant chance that she’s going to freak out when she wakes up so I wanted to let you know.”
“It’s not the girl you went looking for? Who is she?”
“No idea. I found her tripping out on something at the pits and brought her back here. Yeah, that sentence sounds perfectly normal.”
“Does she know you brought her here?”
“Probably not. It was a bit rushed, wasn’t expecting on picking up any strays.”
“So, you kidnapped her?”
“Okay. Wanna do some co-op?” He gestured towards the tv, where the game was paused in the middle of massacring a mob of sword-wielding enemies.
Several hours later, Steve checked on the girl. She was still sleeping. He left a glass of water and an energy bar on the desk, and that more or less exhausted his bedside manner. On second thought he grabbed a bucket and a pack of tissues and left it by the bed.
Back in his room he examined the drywall he had put up earlier, the paint was dried. A professional looking job, if he had any say in it. For a few minutes he toyed with his phone, debating calling Kat. Part of him was disappointed she hadn’t called him yet, another part hoped she never did.
He hated this feeling, knowing that any choice he made would be the wrong one. The ceiling didn’t offer any wisdom, but he stared at it anyways. Underneath the bandaid his nose throbbed in time with his pulse.
After some time he admitted that he wasn’t going to fall asleep yet. Heaving a sigh he grabbed the stack of personnel files and picked one he hadn’t read yet.
Gunn Mawai was born in 2001 in Vancouver, but left home at a young age. Exactly when this happened is unclear because his parents took several years before filing a missing person’s report, and they only did that after being questioned by police in connection to a drug bust. Neither of them was entirely sure when they had last seen their son.
In 2018 Gunn was arrested in connection with a series of robberies near Banff. At first it was typical snatch and grab robberies, but he escalated to a bank robbery and got trapped inside the bank when the doors locked and he was caught inside the vestibule. Police arrived and arrested him, but he escaped once they brought him outside the building. Officers on the scene reported that the kid somehow got out of his handcuffs in the back of a locked patrol car and escaped on foot.
Six months later Gunn struck it big when he successfully robs a different bank, in Canmore. Camera footage shows him apparently turning invisible and entering the vault during business hours. Only on later investigation was he even spotted, as he was still casting a shadow on his way into and out of the vault. In an amateur mistake he was also caught on camera as he reappeared outside the bank and removed his mask.
In the five years since then Gunn has been spotted often and caught seldom, gradually accumulating the experience and tricks to smoothen his life of crime. Because no one has managed to pin him down for long enough to get a good look at how his power works it’s unsure how it works. No one can confirm if it is unreliable invisibility, or infrequent short range teleportation. Or both, or neither, or some other strange power.
Steve lay back and pondered that one. Unusual powers were hard to quantify, they could have ultimate utility or futility, all depending on a few minor details. If Gunn could become invisible but still have a shadow some of the time that was quite a bit less useful than if he could partially shift into other dimensions or something along those lines.
It was an interesting possibility, but it was just one of several things to consider. He closed the file and tossed it back on the pile.
Deciding to make it somewhat more organized, he moved the ones he had already read into a separate pile. That left him with four files. Skimming through them he saw a soldier, a veteran of the Red War who had been discharged last year on disability because of an amputated leg. Second was a convict, currently in jail for drug possession and due for release next week, who was skilled with computer systems. Third was supposed to be a magician of some kind, he apparently knew some spells for information gathering and protection. Fourth was another pit fighter, with physical enhancement powers. Fifth was a former college athlete who’d switched careers to bodyguarding.
Steve leaned back and tapped his chin. The first guy, the ex-soldier would be an asset in training the others, even he didn’t have both feet on the ground. The third, the magician, could potentially be a vital trump card, if his powers were actually worthwhile. Beyond that, only the second guy would really be bringing any new capability to the table, the others were just more muscles.
Tonight was feeling like a night for the weird so he took the file for the magician.
Tristram, real name unknown, has gotten a reputation as an eccentric information broker and freelance contractor specializing in subterfuge and stealth. His first appearance was during the spring of 2020, when he approached the families of some missing persons and used his powers to uncover their whereabouts.
From there he went on a nation wide hunt to track and destroy a cult seeking to start their own outbreak. That got him quite a bit of positive reputation, and he was able to secure himself a position as a freelance contractor.
His exact power is unknown, though evidence indicates that he can effect various beneficial traits at one time or another. Regularly he has had access to information that should not have been available to him, such as the contents of documents encrypted on a server, and he has a knack for knowing names of people he has never met. On several occasions he has exhibited a superhuman sense of smell, sufficient to track and identify a specific person. On at least one other case he has used some type of sorcery to locate a missing person via their personal possessions. On one notable occasion he created a magical barrier to contain an infectious outbreak.
When questioned about the nature of his power, he has claimed to have been granted many boons by the queen of the Fey. The exact nature of this queen is not known, nor is her identity.
Steve put the file aside and pondered. Information could be a powerful tool, if used correctly. He hadn’t met many magicians, they tended to either be rare or secretive. Often their versatile powers came at the cost of some special vulnerability. It was something to consider, whether or not it would be worth bringing him in. Some times what a magician could do for you was less important than what you could prevent him from doing against you. Controlling information could be a decisive strategy.