DAYS OF RESONANCE EPISODE ONE
Brett P. S.
Copyright © 2016 Brett P. S.
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
“The Old Era of Resonance ended on the death bed of Magnanimous. Metallomancers no longer dominate the world, save for Magnum and the cryptic manufacture of Resotek. Those with powers may be few in number, but heroes emerge from the most unlikely places.” – Old UN.C. Order Knowledge Division
June 2075, twenty-three years after the death of Magnanimous, the greatest fundraising campaign hosted by Fortune Strongholds to date ends with a benefit concert beneath the lights of Paris and the stars above …
Caleb Johnson, age 29, unofficial employee of Fortune Strongholds and code-named Stone Keep. He walked like an ordinary human tonight. Caleb prowled Champ de Mars, the massive park district that stretched southeast from the base of Paris’ Eiffel Tower, beneath the waning light of a setting sun. Fields of green faded into the ambient glow of lanterns that lit up the park in colors of red, blue and gold, but he hardly saw much of the fresh foliage. What little he could had been trampled into the mud by 4Love’s rampant fans.
They migrated from across Europe and still some from the Americas for a concert hosted by the prodigal child the woman Fortune had tasked him to protect, and he was beginning to think he’d jumped into more than he could handle. One man with a keen eye for observation might foil a plot in a small park district, but the concert spanned two-thirds of Paris, with cars and buses parked near the outskirts and traffic drawn to a near halt. His job was a fresh stain in a messy situation.
Caleb shook his head and pushed his way through crying fans eager to see the concert start. If Pinnacle would try something, they’d do it early on and they’d hit exactly where it hurt the most, an assassination attempt on 4Love and her bodyguards. Caleb nodded towards a pair of joint forces patrol officers in black suits strikingly similar to his own uniform. He wore slim sunglasses and a functional earpiece to listen in on some chatter, but Fortune specifically forbid him from directly interacting with the joint forces. For now, he’d make use of their intel and intervene if a situation came to light.
Waiting made him squirm. He pushed past a handful of bodies until he bunkered down in an advantageous position. A handful of meters apart from the stage and a decent gap from the line the joint forces held. Hopefully she wouldn’t drive them too wild. How good could pop music sound?
Caleb carefully examined the men on point to his left and right. They stood up high on guard towers, surveying the fields with Resotek binoculars, model 16s, capable of distinguishing intent to kill with a concealed weaponized item. He recognized the curvature as one of Fortune Stronghold’s licensed properties. If memory served, the frequency for model 16s came from the resonance user, Guilt Trip, a resonance user with a danger sense for tools.
Good choice. Much less toxic than X-ray specs and it got the job done, but the Resotek cores could only discern from a limited list of items and only under certain circumstances. For instance, the weapon had to be on the person and visibly concealed. It didn’t detect most manipulators or those who intended hand-to-hand violence, very different from Guilt Trip’s original prowess. However, those guards could spot a pocketknife from half a mile away … if they were proficient with the devices. Caleb had some practice with a handful of Resotek devices, model 16s included, though he preferred to go without.
Flaring pyrotechnics broke Caleb’s concentration, throwing fiery particles into the air, an erupting spew of fireworks. Sparkling colors danced around him and a bit of glowing dust settled into his hand as he caught some fibers. Caleb clenched his fist, suffocating whatever was left and directed his focus toward the stage. 4Love strode onto the center, a young woman with strong, confident stride and a wide gait. He took in the sights. The colors and fireworks set off around the park swirled into circles and dots that faded as quickly as they had appeared. Night had fallen. He squinted in the faded glow of lantern light. If it was going to happen, he told himself, it would happen now.
Caleb’s attention darted to the four corners of Champ de Mars, frantically racing against time. He huddled closer to the stage to grant himself a clearer, less obstructed view, but it did little to aid his thumping heart or slow the beads of sweat trickling down his neck. Higher. He needed some altitude and at that moment, it hit him. He’d been so busy glaring at the stage, fixated on the park that he hadn’t thought to glance up during the full course of the afternoon. Caleb tilted his head and stared at a swirling mass at the peak of the Eiffel Tower, an ebony wrapping of mist, almost like a cloak.
On instinct, Caleb moved toward the stage, but before he took more than a step, a bolt of lightning singed past him with a level of speed that rivaled his own. With a boom and a minor explosion that rocked the platform and drove the young woman back on her heels, a green, glowing, fiery empress materialized. The woman, clad in searing green flames, grabbed 4Love by the throat and hoisted her up.
“How droll,” she said, choking the life from the woman. The Joint forces gathered in place, weapons primed to fire at a clear shot. She wasn’t about to give them one, though, instead turning to face the crowd of onlookers suddenly grown still and silent. “Repulsa won’t savor the privilege of bringing this little one in,” she said and turned to look the girl in the eyes. “Pinnacle has a far better use of your talents …”
A black cloaked figure flew down from above and kicked the woman square in the jaw.
“Resonance users manipulate resonance, a vibratory attunement that connects them with an aspect of their environment. The A.R.T. Factor scale introduced by Artifice Industries describes levels one through five. By the year 2070, there are approximately ten billion people living in the world, fifty-six thousand of which are documented resonance users and numbers indicate few remain uncounted if any. Statistically, across populations, the following approximations are observed. 50,000 factor ones. 5,000 factor twos. 500 factor threes. 50 factor fours. Currently, the Old UN.C. Order documents only one factor five resonance user.” – Old UN.C. Order Knowledge Division
Montgomery Knight, A.K.A. Monty Knight, A.K.A. the Ebony Knight. He had a number of aliases across social media and his blog, but in the cloak of his resonance, his foes knew him as disaster incarnate. Knight plummeted from his perch atop the Eiffel Tower at the opportune moment when the young starlet’s life hung in the balance. He needed to drop in with a smashing entrance after all.
With a swift kick enhanced by his shadow cloak, he smacked the jolly green giant of a woman in the jaw, knocking her ten meters across the stage. He snatched up Fortune’s child by the arm in the process, cleanly removing her from her former restraints before he set the child down. Knight nodded toward her and flared his cloak into expanding shadow that crept from him in loose flames.
“Don’t worry, fair mistress,” he said. “I intend to foil Pinnacle’s plot against you.”
“That’s my job!” shouted someone unimportant.
Knight twitched as a young man leapt onto the stage behind them and cradled the startled woman in his arms. He must have moved very quickly, too fast for an ordinary person and with a vertical leap to warrant some attention, but he found himself focused on the woman overhead. Knight noted the agile gentleman’s suit and his similarity to the joint forces. Fair enough, but he’d tail them afterwards. This battle shouldn’t take long and with his dark speed, he’d catch up in moments.
“Good show,” Knight said. “Take her to safety, and I’ll follow shortly.”
“That’s my intention,” he replied.
Knight grunted and focused his attention on the woman, who’d dug herself out of a pile of torn cloth and broken boards from the force of her impact. She shrugged it off, and he noted a thin green aura around her. He glanced back to find that Star and her guardian had vanished. Maybe it wasn’t going to be so easy after all.
“I must admit, you have some resilience,” Knight said with a chuckle. He readied his cloak and a combat stance. “But you haven’t begun to taste my wrath.”
“You’re quite talkative,” the woman said. “Live Wire’s the name. I don’t expect you to remember it, though.”
“Then allow me to introduce myself,” he replied, taking a brief bow. “You may call me Sir Baron Lord Knight.”
Live Wire crossed her arms and scoffed. “That makes no sense.”
“You’re quite right,” he said with a grin. “Fortunately, I’m quite mad.”
“Resotek refers to a number of enhancements that duplicate the powers of resonance users to a lesser degree. Not all powers can be duplicated and several factors go into creating a functional Resotek core. However, the technology requires the human element to operate, even with the proper trigger satisfied. Artifice Industries first discovered a means to copy strict aspects of resonance, quickly dominating the arms market. Fortune Strongholds caught on shortly afterwards and now develops observational technologies, self-defense weaponry and equipment for the entertainment industry.” – Old UN.C. Order Knowledge Division
“Close your eyes,” Caleb whispered.
The woman in his arms latched onto his shoulders with a vice grip and the shutters closed. Caleb exhaled and shifted the carbon inside his body, propelling himself at trans-human speed until the park was a glimmering afterthought behind rows of trees and the echo of fireworks. His graphite rush carried the two of them through mostly empty Paris streets and down alleyways. He stopped occasionally, examining his surroundings for the next burst.
He could move more quickly than most resonance users, but he couldn’t process information on par with it, which left him nearly blind between stops. The troublesome quality of his powers did not sit well with him, but he compensated in his own ways. On the bright side, his passive defense rendered him invulnerable against a number of attacks … save for one in particular.
He leapt atop the roof of a short building to secure a good vantage point. Caleb crouched on the sediment that lined the rooftop and released his grip on the woman. She seemed more human than he’d first guessed, but that was the thing about celebrities. They’re usually less impressive in person.
“You can let go now,” Caleb said. “We should be at a safe distance.”
4Love, the sixteen-year-old woman his dossier labeled as Star, gradually opened her eyes and hopped off. She hobbled back and proceeded to dust off her purple dyed hair and the ribbons around her dress. The pop idol squinted as she observed the light show near the Eiffel Tower. She frowned and turned to face him directly.
“You’re not one of them,” she said. “I don’t recognize you from the list of joint forces.”
Caleb chuckled. “There were a lot of us.”
“You can’t fool me,” she replied. “I remember every single detail and you were not on the guest list.”
Ouch. Hesitantly, he tried to sidestep the conversation. “Listen, it’s not safe here. Do you have a safe house?”
“I’m not running away,” she said. “You’re going to take me back.”
Caleb shrugged. “Out of the question, ma’am.”
Star sighed and strode up to meet his eyes, staring at him for a moment before she turned and scoffed. He could almost imagine how wildly she rolled her eyes.
“Let me explain this differently,” she said. “If I fail to deliver, it will cost France more than you can earn in ten lifetimes.”
“You’re very persuasive,” Caleb spoke with a pause. “But I can’t. Fortune gave me no orders to continue your concert in the case of a Pinnacle attack. In fact, she very clearly stressed the opposite.” Star retained her posture and orientation, staring out into the starry blanket that cloaked Paris in its own lantern light. “I believe her exact words were: there are more important things than money.”
Star, adopted daughter to the richest woman on earth. Would that make her Star Adamson? It sounded as if Star was a code name to protect her identity. In fairness, the dossier granted little in terms of background information and most of what he knew about Rebecca Adamson varied only slightly from public hearsay. For now, he kept his suspicions. The young woman standing in front of him was no ordinary person. Of that much, he could be certain.
Star sighed and drooped her shoulders, turning around with an open hand outstretched. “You win,” she said. “You can take me to Fortune Tower. You could say my safe house is a pent house.”
“That’ll be more than just a hop, ma’am.”
“I know,” she said. “Think of it as a test of your skills.” She paused and smiled. “Or a job interview. You know, whatever floats your boat.”
Knight released the restraints on his shadow tendrils as they consolidated around him and whipped about in the chilled night air. He smiled and tipped his hat to the woman, though she didn’t appear impressed or happy for that matter. He imagined Pinnacle rarely experienced the joy of victory. Inner monologue is quite a good trick, but the outer remains his forte.
“Shall we dance, Miss Live Wire?”
She smirked. “What a gentleman. I thought you’d never ask.”
Her hollow tone implied sarcasm. How droll. Knight leaped upward, hoisted into the air by the collar of his cloak as the woman darted at the speed of electricity. He barely had time to blink before a shocking burst of lightning plummeted through his gut and forced its way through the other end. He felt the echo of the burst as if a solid mass had pierced his sternum. He cocked his head through the wrenching strain in time to see the woman materialize behind him. So that’s her game, eh? He’d heard of transmuters before but never one so skilled. Pinnacle spared no expense when it came to hiring the very vermin they intended to squash.
Knight whipped around and attempted to ensnare the woman in his cloak. She flew from his grasp, however, her essence bolting up the Eiffel Tower. He gave chase with his newest talent, the Shadow Step. It wasn’t so much walking or running as it was stepping into one patch of dark and out another. Instantaneous teleportation and without the ridiculous drawbacks that accompanied some other resonance users. He phased into the dark beneath him and popped out at the peak of the structure. Knight stood perched and in waiting.
He studied the bolt of electricity rushing randomly about his perch and smiled. Her movements confirmed his suspicions. Whenever she maintained her elemental form, she lacked all sense of sight. Perhaps she could feel out the metal bars via their conductivity, but she couldn’t see him at all, otherwise she’d have changed course. Excellent.
Knight wore a wide-brimmed smile as he threw off his top hat and concentrated his shadow cloak around his right arm. The waves of dark energy pulsed with power until they formed a lethal blade of raw darkness. Knight hid himself in plain sight as Live Wire ramped up beyond the peak of the Eiffel Tower and materialized without a conductive surface on which to apply her trickery a second time around. He swung high and cleaved her in two.
Two days following the incident in Central Paris …
Caleb stepped up to the front doors of Star’s favorite establishment, a little slice of Paris that makes the most delightfully robust Frappuccinos, or so he’d been told. He preferred a coffee now and then but generally stayed clear of caffeinated beverages. The nature of his resonance omitted certain effects on his nervous system, and he usually kept his body around a twenty percent increase in carbon density. A little went a long way, but the advantage was that some thug could sock him in his jaw and the jerk’s tiny finger bones would crack as if they’d smacked a rock full swing. He did have to worry about a few nuanced alternate effects, however. Keeping his body as dense as he did made him heavier, about time and a half, which led him to steer clear of crowded elevators and shoddy architecture.
He’d known for a few years now that his resonance was tied to Carbon. He never had his tissues tested or anything like that. He just knew instinctively. Strangely enough, resonance worked that way for most users. With a scant few exceptions, resonance users held intimate knowledge of the nature of their powers, not by observation but because they felt some special bond towards their abilities.
The Old UN.C. Order and Caliber held different explanations for the principle. The former established resonance in the mind, meaning it was like an extension of one’s imagination. Caliber believed resonance was force of nature guided by an individual’s consciousness. Caleb thought they were both full of themselves. His resonance was something inside of him. It was real and he owned it. He shouldered the burden of his powers and nobody could relieve him of his duty or tell him he was only along for the ride.
Caleb stepped aside, held the door open for Star, and bowed his head gentlemanlike. Star rolled her eyes and stepped inside. She’d dyed her hair a flat blonde and wore unassuming set of overalls with a set of the nerdiest specs she could gather from a thrift shop down the street a few days back. Admittedly, he didn’t think the biggest pop idol in Europe could hide in plain sight, but she dressed the part surprisingly well. Besides, most of the concert traffic had left the city.
House Records, the Fortune Strongholds subsidiary that organized her concerts and events, was working on a reschedule, but that was another thing entirely. Star wanted to lay low for a while and Caleb agreed with her. Those Pinnacle scum attacked her practically in broad daylight and with a resonance user no less. He was lucky that shadow fellow arrived when he did. The woman who attacked, aptly named Live Wire, was an electrical themed Elementalist and electricity did not sit well with him. Caleb could shoulder a number of offensive techniques, but increasing the carbon density of his body, even just the skin, amplified the conductivity of any tissues affected. He gulped at the thought as Star strolled past and into the coffee shop. Anything electrical affected him tenfold, though he wasn’t about to spill those beans to Star or the lady Adamson.
“You’re such a gentleman,” Star said with a tone of sarcasm. “Go ahead and grab a seat. I’ll place my order and be with you in a minute. You want a black coffee, right?”
“No, ma’am,” Caleb replied. “I don’t need any handouts. I’ll be fine.”
Star crossed her arms. “Nonsense. We’ll be here for a while, so I’m going to buy you something.”
“There’s no arguing with you, is there?”
Star smiled. “Most people roll over, so you’re doing pretty well.”
“Pardon me, ma’am,” Caleb said. “But it sounds like you’re applauding me for refusing to follow your orders.”
“I’m applauding you for being an individual and thinking for yourself. That’s more than I can say about most of the people who work for me. It’s all about the paycheck for them, but you aren’t like that. I can tell.”
Star smiled and continued through the entrance to the café. Caleb followed suit, and once Star found her way into the line, which had backed up a bit, he located a booth with a window seat like the one she requested. Caleb sat down and heaved a deep sigh. He wasn’t used to that sort of praise, especially not for the particular behaviors she mentioned. Acting on instinct, doing good when his superiors forbade it; that kind of gumption usually landed him out the door. Maybe Fortune Strongholds was different though. He had a good thing going for him. He just needed to keep his head low long enough to earn some respect from the heads of this establishment. He was in. Now, he needed to keep it that way.
Star placed a cup of black coffee down beside him, breaking his concentration.
“You’re thinking about something, aren’t you?” she said.
“Nothing important,” Caleb muttered, grabbing his cup.
“Now you’re lying to me,” she said, sitting down. “You’re probably lying to yourself too.”
“I apologize,” Caleb said. “I just have a lot of concerns recently that I don’t want to bring up with you or the people who sign my checks.”
“I get it, Caleb,” she said. “Three days ago, you were temping for our business under the table. Now you’re full timing in a position most would kill to dream about. It doesn’t take much observation to see that you’re worried about screwing it up.”
Caleb’s eyes grew wide, and he did his best to stare down at his coffee mug.
“I get that you have a history of disappointment,” Star said. “It must feel awkward to hear praise from someone like me, but I don’t give it without good reason. You did well during the concert. You saved the day, and you stood up to me, and the latter more than anything else, not your skills or abilities, was the reason I hired you.”
Caleb sipped his coffee and set the mug down. “I’ll try not to disappoint.”
Six days after the incident, House Records schedules a new benefit concert in lieu of refunds while 4Love recovers from her injuries …
An evening sun beat down on Caleb’s shoulders through the sunroof as his limo crawled through barren streets. Traffic had dropped to a minimum, but he liked to take it slow. Moving quickly held its advantages, but sometimes it paid to take in the sights. He’d driven past the slums, now entering ritzier regions. He rolled down his window and peeked out as the car parked, eyeing a cathedral across a relatively empty parking lot.
Caleb shrugged and pushed the door open, stepping away from the vehicle as it drove off into the ember depths of a setting sun. He glanced back to the castle, averting his gaze from the orange giant sinking from the skies. Caleb strode toward the steps when his earpiece beeped from an incoming transmission. He tapped the communicator pad on his belt.
“Yeah?” he said.
“That’s Gregory’s Place,” she said.
Caleb crossed his arms and grimaced. “Looks like a cathedral to me what with all the flying buttresses.”
The building stood seven stories tall with an old standard of architecture reinforced with some modern additions. The cathedral’s windows, formerly stained glass, had been replaced and refitted with tinted windows, giving off a somewhat darker vibe than he felt comfortable observing. It looked as if he’d be walking into a shady dealer’s lounge, but he trusted the information.
“The catholic church donated the monastery to him,” Star replied.
“I’ve never heard of a church selling out,” Caleb said.
“You’ve never heard of Gregory. He paid good money, several times what the real estate was worth just for the location.”
“Fair enough,” Caleb said. “So what’s after my suit fitting? Any details on the new job title?”
“Actually, on that note, I wanted to surprise you,” Star said. “I’m heading to do a movie shoot, and I won’t need your protection. I’ll have Fortune’s finest watching me, so you can take a half day.”
“This is a bit strange,” Caleb said, sighing. “Am I still working for Fortune or am I working for you?”
“As long as you aren’t a resonance user, you’re my personal bodyguard,” Star said. “Let’s keep it that way, kay?”
“Easier said than done,” Caleb said. “I can’t hide my resonance smack in the middle of your lime light for very long. It’s a matter of time before someone plasters my face on Spotlight or some other website.”
Star paused, and he could sense a smile coming on. “Don’t worry about an occasional slip up. Bandwidth will clean up most messes. He’s been doing it for years.”
“Yeah, about that,” he added. “For a company whose slogan is we don’t hire resonance users, you people sure are lax on the upkeep of your own standards.”
“You could say the same about Pinnacle,” she replied. “Artifice Industries probably does the same thing. If you want to play the big game, the rules change from time to time.”
Caleb shrugged. “Said so casually. I guess I have a lot to learn.”
“You’ll get there,” Star said. “Now, go get your suit. I have an incoming call with my mother.”
“The UN.C. Joint Forces Manual classifies three primary types of resonance users by nature of their resonance. Manipulators have power over a physical object or material, sometimes both. Abstractors have power over an abstract concept or phrase. Finally, Elementalists have power over a force or form of energy.” – Old UN.C. Order Knowledge Division
Star Adamson, adopted daughter of Rebecca Adamson, resident queen of Fortune Stronghold’s ever expanding empire. By all accounts, she was Fortune’s flesh and blood, however. Bandwidth saw to that with his digital manipulation of public records, a somewhat underhanded tactic just to conceal a point. Mother refused to go public with her hard light body, but she’d need to eventually. The world was getting older and soon, she’d cease to be a well aging queen and turn into a freak of nature. Star herself had actually been sixteen for three years, though her condition depended on a different kind of magic.
Star sighed and laid back in her soft cushioned chair. The fitting room in the backlit heart of Magma Studios glowed with a subtle radiance. Reddish lamp light hung in the highest corners of the room while four makeup artists worked tirelessly to plaster the perfect mix of colors on her face. Star hated wearing makeup. She hated the fact that people looked at her differently, but she dealt with her vice with a heavy smile. The movie was for Magnanimous, and the people who loved him. Letting some cronies smother her with two metric tons of foundation was the least she could do. Star frowned, causing one worker to avert his subtle gestures and wipe off a smear beneath her bottom lip. She kept doing this, pleasing people.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Would it be too difficult for me to call my mother while you work?”
“Not at all,” the worker said.
Star pressed down on her communicator pad and hit the speed dial for Fortune. She waded through the dulcet tones as music from her newest hit single played through her ears. She caught herself humming the tune and stopped. The phone clicked with a bit of static as Rebecca popped on from the other end.
“Good afternoon, Star,” Rebecca said. “How’s the movie shoot?”
“We haven’t even begun,” Star answered. “By the look of it, we’ll be ready for some indoor scenes in a few, but it took two hours just to get the ball rolling.”
“I’ll have a talk with the producer,” Rebecca replied. “Maybe we can schedule the prep time in the morning.”
“There’s no need,” Star said. “I’m fine, if a little bored.”
“Are you sure,” Rebecca asked, a hint of concern in her tone. Star decided to drive the conversation in a different direction.
“Yes. Now, I need to discuss my bodyguard’s payment.”
“That’s probably not a good idea on an unsecure line,” Rebecca said. “We can talk about it when you get back to Fortune Tower.”
“Can’t Bandwidth secure it?”
“Bandwidth has his hands full at the moment,” Rebecca admitted. Star sensed a heavy sigh, though her mother hid it well. “Besides, I prefer to talk money matters in person. This is your employee, and I’ll need to transfer some rights, which means conveying some more than privy information.”
Star paused. “So, you’re fine with this?”
This time, Rebecca paused. “I’m fine with it as long as you understand the consequences. You know what I’m talking about, right?”
“I’m aware of our company’s stance on the matter. I’ll take care of anything that crops up.”
“Good,” Rebecca said. “Managing someone like him will be a good exercise for you.”
Star said her goodbyes and ended the phone call just as the last brush stroke hit her face. What did she mean by that? Star shrugged and stood up from her chair, stretching her arms and trying not to mess up what took hours to prepare. She waltzed over to the door, ready for some movie magic.
Caleb stretched his arm into a slim burgundy sleeve and slipped out the jacket to a special suit tailored to his exact measurements, a parting gift from the lady Fortune herself. The material glided on more smoothly than silk, though the material retained its shape while he wound his arm around to test the fabric.
He buttoned up the rest and barged out of the fitting room to come face to face with Gregory himself. This was a back room, specially reserved for private fittings and special orders, so the lighting was dimmer than in the foyer of the palace. Gregory clasped his hands together, sliding them together with a mischievous grin. Gregory was a short man with a number of wrinkles covering his face. He looked around fifty with thinning black hair and lush sideburns.
“You like?” Gregory asked. “Gregory made suit special for you. Head mistress personal orders.”
“It, uh,” Caleb started before he trailed off. “It fits well … better than anything I’ve ever worn, actually.”
Gregory placed a hand on his shoulder and walked with him out of the back room and down the oak fashioned halls in the depths of his palace. Gregory seemed to always smile, no matter his internal disposition. Caleb preferred to know what people were thinking, but his third person act made reading him difficult.
“Gregory’s suits are best, like angels bosom. You will wear clothes to bed; never take them off. You can shower in them too.”
“Won’t that ruin them?” Caleb asked.
Gregory patted him across the back. “Gregory’s suits are too good for water. Comes right off. Special material. Gregory’s specialty.”
“I don’t understand,” Caleb said. “Forgive me, sir, but that seems a little outlandish. I’ve worn some cloth in my day, but I don’t think …”
Gregory jutted in and cut him off. “Hold your tongue in front of Gregory. This is gift.”
Caleb bowed to the Greek man. “I apologize. I never meant to doubt your skills.”
The man stopped next to an old oak door, and his face twisted as he peered back down the hall and ahead into the depths. If Caleb recalled, a few more meters ahead would lead them to the foyer, but Gregory released his grip on Caleb’s shoulder, an act that must have been at least a little uncomfortable for the 5’5” man in dress shoes. Gregory grabbed the handle on the door beside them and twisted it.
“Let me show you something,” he said. Did he break character?
Gregory gently pushed the door open and led Caleb through the entrance. What he laid eyes on stunned him, a rich tapestry of fabrics interwoven from strands of fiber that faded into beads of light. It was difficult to describe. From the look of it, beams of light had crept in through the dim light of the foyer and slowly solidified into strands that coalesced into fibers, all within a quaint loom in a dark room. A prism broke the colors apart into a full spectrum.
“Gregory has many looms like this,” he said.
“It’s fascinating,” Caleb said. “You mean you make all the suits in your line by hand with resonance?”
“Light weaves into fabric,” Gregory said. “Suit is bullet proof and more. Not all might draws blood, but Gregory would not expect you to understand.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Manipulators,” Gregory replied. “You are one, no? What is it you move? Or perhaps transmute?”
Caleb crossed his arms. “There’s only one resonance user in this room, sir.”
“Star is right. You are terrible liar,” Gregory said with a chuckle. “Gregory does not care. Star is good girl. If she believes in you, then Gregory does too.”
“Thank you?” Caleb said with a grimace and a raised eyebrow. He didn’t know what to think.
The tiny man strode out of the room and gestured for Caleb to follow. Caleb exited the creation chamber with a hurried step and an uneasy demeanor. Playing the normal human wasn’t going to be easy if little Italy managed to peg him within minutes. He sighed, but stopped in the middle of the hall as his receiver beeped. The number was from Star, so Caleb tapped his communicator and listened in. He was about to say hello, but something seemed odd about the sound of lumbering and shaking through static. Had she butt dialed him? No, hold on a second. He heard voices in the background, but she wouldn’t have …
“Hey, Gregory, thanks for the suit, but I have to go.”
Minutes earlier …
Star checked out for the day, her mind drifting elsewhere with thoughts of a soft bed back at Fortune Tower. It would have been quite a walk if she had scheduled a stroll, but being as late as it was and the fact that Pinnacle might still have their eyes on her, Rebecca decided to send her a ride. Star rested her aching feet at the street corner outside the two-story complex that was Magma Studios.
The organization practically ripped its title from Magnanimous, but that was okay. At least they intended to make good on their petty thievery and deliver a full on documentary of the man himself. Star had spoken with her mother on the life of Miles Emmerson on a number of occasions prior to her part in the film. He seemed ordinary, not special, but it was as if Rebecca hoisted him on a higher pedestal than herself. Star shook her head and stared at the concrete, a mess of grungy textures bathed in starlight.
She would never understand the man unless she met him herself. She thought about it, from time to time; what would it be like to resurrect a person from another generation? She’d brought back friends and subordinates on certain occasions, but only because she remembered who they were. Without a sufficient mental recollection, her ability to reinstate a life was useless. She had to remember them, who they were, more or less.
Star sighed as the limo pulled up beside her, but she squinted and saw that the vehicle was missing its Fortune Strongholds insignia. She stood up and glanced back toward the detail of RTF operatives stationed at the rooftops of the building. She caught them just in time to witness one man dissolving into a murky mist before his body dispersed into open air.
Star tightened her fists and bolted back toward the door, but her movement grew sluggish. She could no longer lift her legs beneath the binding pressure of some resonance user she couldn’t spot. She turned with little other options, facing the limo as the door opened and a dark cloaked man in a wide brimmed hat stepped out. He hobbled as he walked, propping himself up on a cane. She took in as much as she could, however little it might have been, informing herself of the man’s gait and his chosen clothing. He covered his face in wrappings, but his voice rang clear in the night air.
“Good job, Locke,” he said in a gruff tone. “I never should have trusted a grunt with my prize. It’s better to do it myself.” He strode over with some difficulty, landing the butt of his cane on the concrete pavement by Star’s feet and wrapped his fingers around her face. “I have plans for this one,” he said. “I refuse to erase something so valuable, though I can’t say the same for her protection. May their spirits rest in peace.”
Star shut her eyes and felt her consciousness going under.
“The secret of the formation of Resotek cores lies in a specific subset of Manipulators known as a Transmuter. While Elementalist transmuters exist, Manipulator Transmuters can change the properties of most ordinary matter to the material over which they hold power. While the atomic structure of said matter bears no distinction from its naturally occurring or manufactured equivalent, it can sometimes be receptive to resonance. Pair a Transmuter with a Manipulator of the same or similar type and the end result is stored resonance potential for the end user.” – Old UN.C. Order Knowledge Division
Caleb bolted through city streets and across rooftops on veritable wings with his graphite rush. Thick clouds blanketed a starlit sky, obscuring a portion of moonlight, which made it even more difficult to pick out Star between his movements. He was looking for a single filament inside a metaphorical heap, but that wouldn’t stop him quite yet. He stopped from one dash and stood atop an apartment flat.
Most of the buildings in Paris weren’t so high, save for Fortune Tower. Money apparently could buy one’s way past safety regulations. Because of the way Paris was constructed, new buildings weren’t allowed to rise more than a handful of stories. He’d think less of the lady herself, but Fortune Tower was just a rebranded monolith from the old days of Savage Steel. Mrs. Adamson repurposed a number of licenses but hardly changed the tower itself.
Caleb preferred old style technology, none of the garbled mess of data pads and high security risk devices. He whipped out his smart phone and checked the location tag from her last known communication. He thumbed through a series of posts until he found her. He read the location and recognized the street name, right outside Magma Studios toward the south side of Paris. He readied himself for a burst of speed, about to leap across rooftops, when he paused and eased up a little. This was time to play it by the books. Caleb thumbed through his contacts and called Bandwidth, the man Star said to phone in case of a technical emergency.
“Caleb,” a young man’s voice rang through his phone. “It’s about time you called.”
“Excuse me?” Caleb asked.
The voice resonated with a mix of static, but he sounded twenty something and a bit dorky. “Don’t worry, sir. I have your bases covered. I already informed Mrs. Adamson of the situation, but I’m going to need you out in the field.”
“You mind explaining what the hell’s going on?”
Caleb huffed through his nose, attempting to keep his frustration down as static buzzed through the other end of his smart phone. Bandwidth paused in awkward silence before he resumed.
“Star’s been abducted. It … happens from time to time, despite our best efforts.”
“Apparently,” Caleb said. He shrugged. “What do you need me to do?”
“I can’t track Star from my location,” Bandwidth replied. “Someone or something is interfering with her broadcast signal. It could be mechanical or a resonance user, and the latter is what I’m afraid of. However, I can assist you in the search.”
“What makes you think it’s a resonance user?” Caleb said. “Seems like an awfully big leap.”
Caleb replied again with a somber tone. “Fortune Strongholds assigned our best unit of RTF operatives decked out in some choice Resotek. Only a powerful resonance user could take them down, at least a factor four.”
“A factor four?” Caleb shouted. “You want me to take down someone like that?”
“He might not be the only one, Caleb,” Bandwidth said. “Listen, you don’t need to beat any of them. You’re main objective is extraction of 4Love. Can you accomplish that, or do I need to find someone better?”
Caleb sighed, hunched over. “I’ll do it. Just point me in the right direction.”
“Manipulators hold power over a specific form of object or certain type of material. From chemical elements to compounds to fine china, manipulators ordinarily excel at physical combat. Unlike their counterparts, Abstractors and Elementalists, Manipulators hold the least varied power sets and are least useful in increasingly complex situations.” – Old UN.C. Order Knowledge Division
Rushing winds blew through an empty Paris street in the aftermath of Star’s abduction. Caleb knelt down and ran his fingers across the pavement, black tar with a rough grit. Lanterns hung overhead, a quiet memory of the concert a few days back. The city hadn’t taken them all down. How could they? A stray wrapper fluttered by him and Caleb snatched it up to examine the piece. He squinted, holding up to the scant moonlight. Just a candy bar. Nothing special.
“I’m here,” Caleb said.
Bandwidth chimed in through his earpiece. “Good hustle. Camera feeds blanked out moments before the abduction, but with a good visual, I can probably get more data. Can you send me some close up shots of the road? I’d like to see if the vehicle left tire tracks.”
“Do they even need a car?” Caleb asked. “I mean, I can move pretty quickly, so it stands to reason others might as well.”
“It’s possible,” Bandwidth said. “However, speed is a rare commodity for resonance users and most of the time, a speedster’s powers won’t allow for extra baggage. The possibility of a ride is strong enough to warrant a closer look.”
Caleb shrugged and pulled out his phone, pointing it at the road for some close up pictures. He snapped a few and sent them to Bandwidth before shoving the phone back into his pocket. Caleb crossed his arms and tapped his feet as he waited for a reply, groaning through a short period of awkward silence.
“I received them,” Bandwidth said. “Thanks, Caleb. I should have a lead within the next few minutes.”
“What should I do until then?” Caleb asked.
“Stay put for now,” Bandwidth replied. “There’s no telling …” his words trailed off. “Oh?”
Bandwidth paused. “City feeds are showing some peculiar activity. I’ll leave you to deal with that.”
“Hang on!” Caleb stammered. “Deal with what? You can’t just leave me …”
He would have finished his sentence, but he tripped over his words when a fist socked him clean in the jaw. Caleb spun around, dazed by the blow, but caught only a brief glimpse of a light flash before another fist slammed into the back of his skull. Caleb lurched over and engaged his Graphite Rush, speeding down the street until such a distance that he determined safe. He broke out of it and paused, whirling around. Empty Paris. He blinked and something like a strobe light flashed a few feet in front of him, fading out to reveal a young man, maybe in his late teens with short black hair and a poor man’s checkered suit.
“You’re pretty quick for an old goat,” the boy said. He smiled. “This’ll be interesting.”
Caleb acted on instinct and rushed forward to deck the kid in the face, nothing lethal, but enough to send him running home. However, following his initial intent, he found his legs lacking in motivation. Caleb pushed with every ounce of his physical strength, but his limbs refused to move, bound to their current orientations. He gritted his teeth, and the boy laughed.
“And Pop and Locke steal the show.”
“Artifice Industries and Fortune Strongholds stand tall as the leading providers of Resotek in the New Age of Resonance. Either industry fashions their Resotek cores from a variety of materials. Artifice Industries retains the model designation while Fortune Strongholds retains the series designation, each a line in numerical order of their creation. A Series 5 compact communicator explicitly means that it was the fifth Resotek core type Fortune Strongholds patented.” – Old UN.C. Order Knowledge Division
“Damn,” Caleb said with a forced smile. “You got me, kid.”
“Right you are!” he replied eagerly. “Listen, we got a lot of business with the lady, so why don’t I wrap things up? I got a special present, made just for you.”
The young man grinned and fanned out his fingers to reveal what looked like a micro bomb. The kid was probably more practiced with blowing up flesh and blood, but he’d be in for a real surprise when … Caleb grunted as the boy shoved the explosive into his gut, passing through flesh as if it hadn’t been there in the first place. Without a moment to spare, he popped back a few dozen paces and waved gently at Caleb.
“You got a rumbly in your tummy now,” he said. “Couple more seconds.”
Dammit. The kid must have some kind of dimensional resonance. If Caleb had to guess, that one was Pop, which left Locke somewhere else entirely. A somewhat bigger focus, however, was the timed explosive lodged inside his stomach through some mad physics he barely understood. Caleb concentrated and forced his resonance into full swing, elevating the carbon levels of his internal organs to a state harder than diamond. He packed the atoms together so closely that his body froze altogether, leaving only a slight brain function, barely enough to kick him out of it in the aftermath. Fire bellowed in his gut with a resounding boom as smoke flew from his mouth. He’d feel that tomorrow. He coughed as he gradually reduced the carbon levels to something normal.
“Funny,” Pop said. “That usually works the first time.”
Caleb cleared his scorched throat. “You’re a little sociopath, you know that!”
“Aw, don’t be a poor sport. I hear three’s your lucky number.”
Pop casually strode over to Caleb, ready to insert a triple threat of explosives. Caleb winced from the pain and struggled to break free, but his limbs failed him. What good was his strength if he couldn’t throw a punch? Pop had nearly reached him when a thick darkness enveloped the both of them. This wasn’t the kid’s doing, but he didn’t much appreciate the total lack of vision. Caleb, however, found that inside the pitch-black cloud, he could now move his limbs. Interesting. Whatever hold had been placed on him had broken. He swiped forward where the boy had been, but he struck a hot flash as his target popped out of reach.
“Someone’s up to no good,” Caleb said, shrugging off the discomfort.
“Darkness creeps over the land,” sounded a loud, booming voice. “The midnight prowler with dark cape stands.”
Caleb pushed through the smoke or whatever it was that kept his eyes from seeing anything except utter black surroundings. He couldn’t risk using his Graphite Rush, else he might collide with a building and wreck his body further. It was so damned inconvenient, but he dashed at peak human speeds through a near endless fog.
“Villains cringe at my sight,” the voice shouted. “Fear my name, Sir Baron Lord Knight!”
Figures it’d be him again. Slashes and bloodied screams echoed in the dim blackness as the young man cried out. A powerful flash pierced the thick fog from twenty meters away with a resounding crackle. Afterward, Caleb heard nothing. The dark faded to reveal a tall man with a black cape and a worn top hat standing in the middle of the street. A bit of blood stained his right hand and the pavement by his feet. The man turned to him with a frustrated expression while he rubbed his clean hand across his beard.
“He was a wiry thing,” Knight said. “He got away. Care to join in the hunt?”
“Abstractors hold power over an abstract concept or phrase, such as good fortune, paths or right hand turns. The nature of their resonance allows them to utilize their powers in a variety of situations and in multiple methods. Abstractors tend to least excel at combat, but they are problem solvers, trackers and typical support specialists.” – Old UN.C. Order Knowledge Division
Star rested her cheek against a cold cobblestone wall while she sat plainly across a positively barren bedspread smack in the middle of a dank dungeon. Pinnacle spared no expense when it came to Resotek and hired guns, but they phoned it in for the infrastructure. She sighed and stared out past her cell door where two sentries stood, both given strict orders not to communicate with her for any reason. It had been about an hour since her ‘conversation’ with Madame Repulsa.
The wicked woman had prodded around for the better part of twenty minutes before she found herself satisfied. She never mentioned whom she was working for, but the MO screamed Pinnacle. This was getting old, and resonance wasn’t going anywhere. Pinnacle might as well pack up and leave for another world for what good it would do.
“Excuse me?” Star said, her attention focused on the men at her cell’s entrance. “Might I have some refreshments?”
The sentries didn’t exhibit a response, so Star began humming a tune from her music. She figured there was little chance both hadn’t heard of her lyrics to some degree. She whistled the melodies for a minute before she realized the guards had been outfitted with auditory dampeners, which was a fancy name for discreet earmuffs. Okay, then. She could play hardball. Pinnacle’s top brass might know about her way with words, but she doubted most realized her much deeper secret.
Star stood up and strode toward the doorway, but before she dug back into her memories, she spotted a camera facing her cell from the outside. Darn it. She bit her lip and scanned her surroundings. That camera would capture a perfect view if she let loose, and she’d never hear the end of it from her mother. However, she could try something slightly dangerous. Star hardly knew if it would work, but …
“Do you remember what you saw before I arrived?” she whispered through the barred cell door. “Can you recall, just for a second or two?”
Star listened quietly and heard a slight crackle as the camera blinked.
“Good boy,” she said.
Star focused her resonance to a point outside her cell door and down the hall around a corner from her mind’s eye and shut her real ones. She’d been there not too long ago, despite her short walk through the base, so it shouldn’t be difficult to manifest herself into the person she was. It was all about remembering, or that at least was what Rebecca had told her.
Star’s resonance was special. She’d barely tapped into the full potential of her powers, partly because she’d never arrived at a proper opportunity to use them. More so, she felt stuck, as if she’d stayed the same person she was when she came into her powers. Star hadn’t aged visibly in the last few years, a condition Rebecca appreciated much more than she did.
Star opened her eyes to find herself standing around the corner of the hall that led to her cage. Carefully, she crept over and peeked around the bend. Two sentries stared blankly against a tacky wall with Resotek rifles in hand and form fitted body armor. Star sunk back, deciding that discretion was the better choice in her given situation but perhaps one day, if she’d even grown strong enough to figure out the combat application of her powers. She turned to face the dim, barren hall behind her and sped off into shadow.
“Resotek cores require a Trigger, a specific action, force or physical material that must interact with the core in certain way. Resotek researchers can spend months or years discovering the proper trigger following the initial manufacture of said cores. Fortunately, the Triggers tend to align with the powers themselves in terms of materials, though the method of application usually turns out oddly specific.” – Old UN.C. Order Knowledge Division
Star dashed through the halls of Pinnacle’s underground base of operations. She hugged tightly to the walls and treaded cautiously between patrols of wary guards. Rebecca taught her some self-defense over the years, but she hardly practiced and she definitely never applied her training against an actual human opponent. She needed to stray away from combat and locate an exit of some kind. Star ducked behind a corner after witnessing a patrolman walking past a three-way intersection.
She peered around again. The man had passed her by, luckily. Pinnacle’s base seemed simple enough by the floor plan. Perfect memory held its advantages, and she was beginning to generate a picture in her mind as she continued searching. Star hadn’t spotted a route above ground yet, but she’d gathered enough intel to know the base was minimally staffed and constructed within a matter of weeks. Whatever this was, it happened to be a temporary operation, a pseudo-military facility housed in the Paris Underground.
How they managed to build such a structure unbeknownst to her mother was beyond her, but usually these occurrences point to a resonance user. To block out Bandwidth’s eyes on incoming traffic and trade for a day, let alone weeks, would be quite an achievement in itself. Star held her breath and flattened herself against a cold steel wall as footsteps paced quietly toward her. She glanced back to her left, unwilling to peek around. The hall she’d bolted down from had no intersections near her and dashing away would only alert her visitor. She’d risk it.
Star pressed her body as close up against the wall as she could and slid inches down with soft footsteps. The patrolman’s footsteps increased in volume and she recognized a crisp pattern of heels. She gulped as the woman strode past, a factor four resonance user who went by the name Repulsa. A tall, slim woman in her late fifties stepped into her field of view, wearing a scarlet dress and short black heels. The woman’s hair hung low, curled and burgundy in color. Her aging figure distracted foes from her awesome power and for Pinnacle to retain her services for as long as it had astounded Star.
Repulsa stopped in the middle of the intersection, soft incandescent light barreling over her to paint a murky shadow by Star’s feet. Inches away from the woman who would kill her without contemplation. Star sunk back even further, her body practically melting into the wall. Repulsa stretched her fingers but didn’t turn around. Could be coincidence, maybe. Come on, move it!
Madame Repulsa cocked her head as if she’d heard Star’s thoughts. Like searing fire, she drove a menacing glare into Star’s heart as a force gushed from the woman’s fingertips and pressed Star against the wall. Repulsa turned and strode forward, lifting up Star with mental pressure until her head scratched against the damp ceiling.
“Don’t speak another word, girl,” Repulsa said. “I don’t give a damn about his orders. I’ll make this quick.”
Star choked from the pressure. “Why are you doing this?”
Repulsa smiled. “Resonance is a cancer upon this earth. It reaps lives, the same as it did for …” she trailed off, glancing behind her. “Strange,” she said with a pause. “Do you hear that?”
“I don’t hear anything,” Star said.
Repulsa nodded. “Precisely.”
Star noticed it as well after a moment. Repulsa had eased up on the pressure, but it remained unbearable nonetheless. However, with squinted eyes, she examined the halls ahead, how they dimmed much more than the intersection the two of them stood inside. Screams echoed moments after, the sounds of reaping lives chiming in a chorus of bloodshed. Star felt Repulsa’s grip wane just before a bolt of shadow leapt across a distance and a caped man thrust his blade against her chest.
Sir Baron Lord Knight thrust his shadow blade deep into the woman’s breast, or he would have if something hadn’t gone terribly wrong. At the moment of impact, some force erupted from the aging woman that pushed him deeper into the halls from where he came. Knight caught himself by jamming his sword into the concrete floor or else he would have flown farther back than he’d care to.
He knelt to the ground, slowly standing and dusting off his coat and cape. The girl would not have been so lucky, but he’d worry about her later. More pressing concerns loomed overhead, for an operation such as this to occur beneath the watchful eyes of the British government was unforgivable.
“Witch!” Knight shouted. “I will not allow you to leave this place alive!”
The woman took a step forward and then another. Knight watched as the dust and rubble from the blast stuck against the wall as if pushed away from her person while she walked. He took in each detail in hopes of fashioning a plan, but for now, his method would be to hit harder.
The woman spoke as she lifted her hand. “Little boy, you shall regret the day you struck Repulsa.”
A gush of force echoed through the halls, rolling off Repulsa’s hands. Knight gripped his blade and stuck it deep into the concrete, latching on with both hands. He took a knee and braced himself as bits of dust and debris struck him in the face and tore against his coat. The winds lashed and booming echoes howled in his mind until he could no longer maintain his position.
His shadow blade popped out of the crack he’d forged in the floor, and Knight flew back once more. The energies pushed him up against a wall at the end of the corridor, flattening him thinner than a slice of toast, warm buttery toast. Repulsa strode toward him until his breathing labored under the pressure, and his head was force to lie on its side, a downright unsuitable pose.
“You made the mistake of underestimating an old woman,” Repulsa said. “You are no different than the rest, and you will die just the same.”
“Excuse me, Madame,” Knight said, practically gargling the words out.
Repulsa pursed her lips. “What’s this now?”
“You … don’t believe I would come alone, do you?”
The old bat stared at him with a confused look. Was it a plea or was he actually as masterfully intelligent as she’d have suspected? He only needed to draw her attention for a while, long enough for the surprise from behind. Oh, how the mighty reap what they sow. Repulsa cocked her head and a moment later, whirled around with a hand raised full of her power.
She caught his cohort pressed inches from her hand with a fist harder than stone. It looked different, as if it were fashioned of crystal or diamond. His speed was incredible, quicker to appear than the blink of an eye and with one push, he barreled down the corridor, and Repulsa called out for her own minions.
“Pop! Locke!” she shouted. “Take care of this one. I’ll deal with the stone fist myself.”
“Elementalists hold power over a force of nature or a form of energy. From condensation to concentration, manipulators are the most rounded of the three primary classifications, with modestly diverse power sets and ample abilities. However, at their fault, Elementalists excel at nothing in particular, leaving them at short footing against a truly skilled adversary.” – Old UN.C. Order Knowledge Division
Caleb steadied himself, increasing the carbon density of his flesh and muscles until he could barely move his limbs. The extra weight helped him gain a foothold while the woman pushed him back. Some kind of force was coming from the palms of her hands, but it didn’t stop there. Caleb made a mental note that the ground rubble and everything she’d knocked down in the process had slid away from her following the blast.
She drove things away? What kind of resonance was that? Caleb claimed his footing and stomped his feet down some meters apart from her down a dim hall with mostly shattered lights, but he could spot her figure, a subtle silhouette in the middle of the night within Pinnacle’s underground fortress.
“You’re just like him,” the woman said.
Caleb calmly cooled down the carbon density of his body, allowing his muscles to flex and his lungs to breathe. Two figures popped into the hall between her and Knight, following a bright flash that faded, leaving only him and the hag herself. Caleb cracked his neck and walked forward.
The woman continued. “You think you can control it, bottle it up, but you can’t. We are beings of destruction and disaster, and tonight, I will prove you wrong, boy.”
Caleb maintained a modest density, rendering most of his outer body as hard as diamond, leaving the joints and motor functions intact. He did, however, clench his fists tightly before resolving them completely to the realm of Stone Keep. He wouldn’t risk underestimating a resonance user with her kind of power, especially if what he’d experienced up to now was just a taste. Caleb readied a combat stance and primed himself for a Graphite Rush, but he kept his mouth closed. The less he said, the better.
“What?” the woman said. “No witty retort? You young ones always seem to have something to say.” She stepped forward. “It should go without saying you can’t beat me, child. I am fiercer than the howling wind. My words whittle away the weak and weed out the riffraff. I am Repulsa, and I am an unstoppable force of nature.”
“You seem to be the one talking, ma’am,” Caleb said. “Let’s get this over with so I can call it a day.”
Repulsa folded her arms and shot him a glare that forced him back a step. Resonance poured from a look that could kill. She’d likely done it before to others, a subtle beam that could silently snap a man’s neck. It landed him in the chin, but he shrugged it off, hiding how much it actually hurt.
“Sorry, ma’am,” Caleb said. “You’re going to have to end this the hard way.”
Repulsa scowled and lashed out with both hands worth of force at Caleb, pushing him back with the strength of a typhoon. Waves of power lashed out against the walls and scratched grooves into the metal panels. Currents by his feet drove scars into the concrete floors. The structures around him were crumbling apart, and he hardly trusted his safety in this sinking ship of a base.
Cursing to himself, he pushed his body forward with the aid of his Graphite Rush, stepping forward meter by meter as howling arcs of power chipped away at his flesh in tiny scratches. She’d concentrated her pulses into spiraling whips, brandishing Caleb’s shoulders as he forced himself forward. He drove his arms across his face to block some of the currents, keeping them crossed to disperse it somewhat. He didn’t need to see her. The woman wasn’t moving and a part of him wondered if she couldn’t while she levied her powers in full swing.
At some point, the laws of physics should come into play. Caleb groaned as he approached arm’s length. Of course, they wouldn’t. She wasn’t a normal person. Resonance users weren’t normal. Caleb reached out with his fist toward her neck. He wasn’t normal either. He toned down the carbon density in his digits just enough to move them and wrapped his fingers around her neck. Repulsa cut off her torrent. The pressure ceased and rubble dropped to the floor as the dust settled. This unstoppable force just met an immovable object.
“You call yourself Repulsa,” Caleb said. “I’m sorry it has to end this way, but rest well knowing the name of your killer. Stone Keep.”
“That’s,” she said, struggling against his grip. “That’s no name, just a damn super …”
Caleb cut her off. “It’s all I am. It’s what I run from every day, but people like you keep drawing me out. You wanted my best. You get it on a silver platter.” Caleb hardened his fingers and pressed down. “Choke on it.”
Caleb tightened his hand and waited for the neck snap, but instead, he felt a surge between Repulsa and himself, like a welling bubble pressing against him. It forced its way through his fingertips and removed his vice grip against her throat. Caleb reached forward again, but to him it was like driving his hand through steel to get to her.
Repulsa sneered at him, clutching the bruises on her neck as the force field expanded rapidly in all directions, above and below. The shockwave drove him back and not even his Graphite speed could save him from crashing into rubble as the Pinnacle base went down in smoke and ruin beneath the streets of Paris.
“There exists a stigma amongst resonance users based on the nature by which they acquired their powers. Primary resonance users, still by far the most common, gain their powers through a point of conflict or struggle. Secondary resonance users, on the rise in number, gain their powers gradually over time by good virtue of existing near another resonance user. Those in the primary circle see secondary resonance users as less powerful. In actuality, Secondary resonance users tend to have more focused powers. They do one thing very well.” – Old UN.C. Order Knowledge Division
Star coughed as she crawled through the rubble left in the wake of Caleb’s squabble. She pushed aside a thick piece of metal laid on a stone slab and squinted from the starlight that seeped in across her face. Midnight had ended, though it would be a few hours before she’d lay eyes on a sunrise. Ordinarily, she’d be asleep by now, but Repulsa and her thugs kept her from a restful night. Star crawled out, tearing a piece of her new blouse in the process. Darn. She liked that one.
She’d make certain Pinnacle footed the bill for that and … this ever-loving mess. Star came to her feet and tapped her loafers on the granite rubble, awestruck at her surroundings. It was as if she’d crawled out into the aftermath of a megaton bomb. A veritable crater the size of a city block dipped into the earth, revealing the inner pathways of Pinnacle’s base on the southern limits of Paris. Star had crawled out through the east edge of said crater, and she wasn’t nearly tall enough to see beyond the rim. What sort of resonance did this? Even Repulsa couldn’t have on her own, could she have?
Star scanned her surroundings. Caleb would be somewhere. She spotted Fortune Tower looming against a starry blanket in the distance. Pinnacle wouldn’t be foolish enough to plot their base construction right beneath her mother’s heel, but it would have been an impressive show nonetheless. Caleb was not present, apparently, though Star’s eyes focused on a more pressing concern. At the base of the crater, amidst the rubble and wrecked corridors, Repulsa stood no worse off than when Star had last seen her. Somehow, Repulsa possessed a passive defense capable of fending off a metric ton of concrete landing on her head. Star took a step back against the rubble, but she was too late. Repulsa had cocked her head, and the two of them locked stares.
“You didn’t,” Star said. “You couldn’t have done this on your own.”
Repulsa shot her an icy look and something behind the woman pushed, causing her to fly toward Star. Repulsa pushed off the ground and into the sky before her image became an afterthought. Star’s eyes raced to find a black bead in the middle of a starlit sky covered by thick clouds, but her efforts proved futile. She bolted in time to catch the clouds above her part, and a shockwave blitzed towards her.
The impact veered off to the side, however, landing about twenty meters from her, but the shockwaves of force were enough to sweep her off her feet. Star flailed as she flew aside and into a patch of iron pylons, snapping her left arm in the process and piercing her body. Repulsa could have killed her easily. Why veer off? Star glanced up to spot the reason for Repulsa’s error. The mad man who had intervened six days ago, a tall figure in cape and top hat drew in his shadow, the blanket he’d used to shift Repulsa’s course, if only slightly.
“Come now, Madame,” he said. “There’s no sport in hunting young ones. Allow me to sate your blood lust.”
Repulsa glared at him, and Star thought she saw hesitation in the woman’s eyes.
“No,” came a voice from behind the woman. “I’ll be your opponent.”
Star’s vision grew fuzzy, but she recognized the muscular figure and the voice enough to pin the man down as Caleb. He pushed off a boulder the size of a door and climbed to his feet. Caleb readied a fighting stance, and it seemed as if Repulsa was weighing her options. She paused in a moment of reflection before a shockwave pushed out from beneath her, and the woman took off into the night. Very few resonance users were capable of flight and being a factor four made her all the more dangerous.
The man in the top hat patted Caleb on the back. “That woman could have easily killed me,” he said with a grin.
“Same here,” Caleb said. “Nice bluff.”
“It helps to be willfully ignorant,” the man said, smiling with a bow of courtesy.
Star dozed off as her eyes drifted in starlight and she recalled better days.
Caleb wiped the dripping sweat from his brow as he stepped into an upbound elevator in Fortune Tower after a heated day of reconstruction. He pressed a sequence of coded buttons that would access the penthouse suite. The city glowed soft tones in the mid-day sun, cleared of traffic in the aftermath of a disaster for which he could never atone. The least he could do was lift some debris. He worked and toiled until his back ached and his hands blistered. He refused to do his part as any percentage of Stone Keep, rendering his body as flesh and blood as each other human.
He shoved the images in the back of his mind the best he could, but the thought of those who died in the blast, some fifty-four, let alone those injured, left him with a sagging disposition and a heavy heart. Caleb did whatever he used to in situations such as this, however. He shouldered the burden. One more to add to the pile. One thought in particular kept prodding its way back into his mind. She was right.
The elevator doors slid apart, and Caleb strode into the penthouse suite. Golden rays of sunlight beamed in through the windows on the far side, a bird’s eye view of Paris during its reconstruction. The suite was complete with a mini-bar, fridge, luxurious furniture and a healthy dose of ambient lighting, not that it needed the extra glow. He guessed the Adamsons preferred sunbathing or something less ridiculous.
Fortune, the woman Star introduced to him as Rebecca Adamson, stood beside a couch where a young girl sat. She had bubblegum hair with thin strokes of hot pink slid into the locks. That’s not possible. She couldn’t have recovered from her injuries at all, let alone in less than a week. Caleb’s attention darted to the young girl for a brief moment before Fortune pulled his eyes back with a quick gesture.
“I want you to know something, Caleb,” Fortune said. “By some fluke, you saved my daughter’s life, and that is the only reason you are still here. The damage you caused is irrelevant. I can rebuild Paris. It will just take time.”
Star spun her head around and waved at Caleb with the same energy and enthusiasm he’d known her for in good health. It made no sense. A lone black cat with white spots lounged on the armrest, and she stroked the feline’s back before she became distracted again.
Fortune sent him a scowl. “Actually, I’d still have you fired if it was up to me, but Star believes in second chances and can be very persuasive when she wants to be. Know this, Caleb. You disregarded Star’s life and almost killed her in the process of your little hero stunt. I don’t pay heroes, so let’s keep that in mind. If this happens again, I’ll see to it that you’ll never outlive the debt you’ll owe.”
Fortune eyed him. “I know what you’re thinking, Caleb. Star is a very special young woman. Let’s leave it at that, shall we?”
“A resonance user?”
Fortune crossed her arms and shot him a stone cold stare. “Let’s leave it.”
Fair enough. She left more questions unanswered than he’d like, but it made sense that Fortune Strongholds wouldn’t want this to go public, not with their image and especially now with the political climate. He watched the news earlier today. Representatives were actually pushing for control of Resotek. Crazy.
“What am I here for, ma’am?” Caleb asked.
Fortune placed her hand on the couch and bit her lip. “You’re a valuable asset, Caleb. My good sense won’t let me get rid of you, but we need to keep your activities on the low for a while. Wait for this to blow over. You understand?”
“One more thing,” she said. “That man. Knight was the name? I just received intel that he’s working for the British government.”
Caleb crossed his arms. “That could have been helpful. Why didn’t they tell us before?”
“Caleb,” Fortune stammered. “They didn’t tell us now. I had to take the information myself. This relationship I have with the world is predicated on the trust that I don’t interfere in worldly matters. Apparently that trust is dwindling to a point at which the UK doesn’t expect my open cooperation.”
“You just said a lot of words I don’t understand, ma’am.”
Fortune sighed. “The world is losing faith in Fortune Strongholds as a neutral entity.” She walked past him and over to the elevator. Caleb turned to find her thumbing the down arrow. “I’ll keep in touch, but you’re going to have to find a day job for a few months.”
Twenty-three years after the death of the greatest metallomancer the world had ever known, a new era of resonance had since seen its dawn at the end of Miles Emmerson's life. The new threat to posterity lies in the hands of villains with a vision, a world without resonance. Pinnacle, the criminal organization hell-bent toward this end, will stop at nothing to see that future realized. Enter Caleb Jonhson, A.K.A. Stone Keep.