Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Aberrant - in Vienna

The Nova Initiative team has returned to the Hub and been debriefed. Benedict had a quick chat with Adam and Chrissie about his new baby boy, Alistair. Jen (his wife, who has so far gone undermentioned but is a lovely NPC who does most of the actually running of Benedict’s international company, St John Enterprises) was recovering well, and their kitten (Mittens) seem to be happy with the new arrival. He had some concerns with the child’s relationship with quantum – like nothing seen before.

He had a new task for Adam and Chrissie, to investigate Project Utopia’s branch in Vienna. They would be supported by Stef and Mark in this, whilst Robert and Jean had another task and Rachel was put on standby to assist either team. Benedict was a little vague about what was being sought, except that there was another facility elsewhere that he had concerns over, where they seemed to be keeping ‘dangerous’ novae.

The Hub – the Nova Initiative’s secret base under London – has expanded into other cities. These smaller mini-hubs have become known as Spokes.

Adam has flown out to LA with Sam to start filming on the comics he’s been writing; Chrissie (sorry, Dr Christina Walker, PhD), meanwhile, has been invited to give a key note speech at a conference in Vienna (under her nova name of Lisa Moore), discussing the role of baselines and novae in a quantum world. We’ll rejoin the action as Chrissie arrives above the swimming pool by which Adam and Sam are lounging in the garden of their LA property.

Spotting Adam, I carefully tucked my body and dropped into the pool to drench the patio – Adam (speed freak!) managed to catch most of the drips as they flew through the air so Sam stayed dry. Working on my control of fire, I heated myself to dry off. It was effective, although I think I may have freaked Sam out a little – I don’t think she knew I could do that. It’s not entirely common knowledge yet.

Anyway, I was excited to invite them to my speech in Vienna – Sam declined very politely, wanting to stay here and build her acting career. Adam was keen to attend, seeing it as a good opportunity to start our next mission. He also very kindly went through the speech with me a few times to make sure it would make sense to the non-novas in the audience. And also to make sure I didn’t get side-tracked in irrelevant details. And for the moral support.

We raced to Vienna (of course!) – I flew and arrived just before he did on foot. He’s getting really good at jumping. We were both struck by the beauty of the city.

It was thrilling, to give the speech. Benedict came up after – as Sir Benedict St John, CEO of St John Enterprises, rather than as my boss – to congratulate me. Our friendship is not widely known, in part to protect him from being outed as a nova. There were many other interesting people and I soon got distracted whilst Adam, Benedict, Stef and Mark went off to the Vienna Spoke of the Hub.

They discussed the best way to sneak into Project Utopia, whose ostentatious building was more or less opposite the far subtler entrance to the Spoke, and decided the best plan would be to sneak through via the caterers or similar staff. Adam also decided to see if he could find anything out from one of the taxi drivers from Utopia’s preferred company.

Meanwhile, I got chatting with Antaeus, the biologist Steven Bulmer who’d opened up to being a nova the ngiht we met him all that time ago in America – the night we saved the life of Chelsea Clinton. I knew he’d started working with Utopia – kind of hard not to know, with the exploits of Team Tomorrow plastered all over the news – so asked him about their facilities, as if I were interested in joining. The Nova Initiative is known and recognised, but we’re a lot quieter so I wasn’t particularly surprised he didn’t seem to know I had an affiliation. When he asked, I muttered about the fellowship Cambridge had recently offered me. After some discussion, he offered me a tour of his lab after his speech the next day. This seemed a really good opportunity, so I accepted.

Adam had managed to book a cab using the same company as Project Utopia and turned his impressive charisma onto the driver, who opened up with as much juicy gossip as he could provide. One bit stuck out to Adam: that Antaeus was often driven to what was assumed to be a lab in a warehouse that looked almost abandoned. Adam got the address and decided to check it out whilst I kept Antaeus occupied. We decided to keep ‘radio silence’ in case anyone was eavesdropping on our psychic link.

If I didn’t have access to the Hub, Project Utopia’s facilities would be spectacular. Antaeus couldn’t show me much beyond his own lab space but was pleased that they left him alone to get on with his studies into terraforming. He had plans to renew the Sahara and I had to keep reminding myself I was there with purpose because it was so fascinating. We went for lunch (so much food available!) and were joined by Cesta Pax. No blink of recognition from him over the incident in Tbilisi, although he did remember me from that evening in America when I met him and Anatayas. I’m getting used to being recognised as Lisa rather than Chrissie, but don’t know if it will ever feel natural.

Whilst we ate, Pax received a message that something was going down. In a blink of inspiration I offered assistance, thinking it would give the rest of the team more time. A quick message to Adam – “Sorry, not going to be able to meet you for lunch, heading out to Kiev with Team Tomorrow” (nice and subtle in case it was intercepted. Not sure when I became this paranoid) – and I flew out, still in my suit whilst the others sported Team Tomorrow colours.

It is weird not to have constant chatter with Adam. I am fairly used to it when dormed down, now, but in full-superhero mode it is weird to stay quiet.

We flew to Kiev. I kept pace with Team Tomorrow but was careful not to show how easy it was to do so. The full extent of my abilities aren’t widely known; it’s known I can fly, that I’m very strong and tough, and since releasing that paper that got me invited to Vienna my intelligence is recognised, but so far that’s it.

As we drew nearer Kiev, I spotted a glowing blast that took out a building – I didn’t see where it came from, but it felt clear there was already at least one nova in the area. We sped in, Antaeus splitting off with part of Team Tomorrow, another group heading another direction whilst Pax and I took a third route. 5 tanks and several foot soldiers were terrorising some locals. As we landed, the tank barrels twisted to point at us. The largest tank fired first, a large shell that exploded in my shoulder and seriously hurt. Another smaller tank fired towards me; nearly as painful but my body began knitting the damage immediately. The other three fired at Pax: he took two shells but caught the third with telekinesis and threw it back down the barrel from whence it had come. The tank ballooned slightly as it exploded inside (and part of me remembered the way Pax had looked at us in Tbilisi as he took Mina Trang and told us at least he hadn’t killed anyone). I ran forward to lift the largest tank onto its side, where it couldn’t do any more damage. Two of the remaining small tanks fired at me, but again it was nothing the quantum flowing through my body couldn’t handle and I grabbed the barrel of one and swung it, baseball-style, into the side of the other. This was not something I’d done before and again my strength surprised me: both tanks were more or less vaporised.

At this point, I got a small mental nudge from Benedict, asking where I was and what I was doing. I explained – keeping an eye on Team Tomorrow and smashing tanks. Within seconds, Adam wanted more information on the tanks so I flashed him the image. He seemed impressed.

Pax, meanwhile, took out the final tank and turned his attention to the first group of foot soldiers. I didn’t see exactly what he did, but the wall of energy would have knocked me off my feet if I weren’t already flying. I turned to the remaining soldiers and summoned tiny balls of fire to fly at each gun. As the guns contorted in the heat, the ammunition therein expanded and fired off, unfortunately killing all the soldiers but fortunately no civilians.

We made sure the locals were ok, guiding them towards safety, before we turned to where the team without Antaeus were in difficulty, facing down a nova. By this point, my smart suit had been fairly well trashed by the shells but there wasn’t much I could do about it here.

We found the team dancing around a nova I barely had a chance to look at before he lashed out. I threw a fire cage around him, thinking to keep him in place so we could talk him down, but like the Fireman (supposedly the first to erupt, although Adam, Benedict and I know better) he could absorb the flames and drew strength from them. Whilst the others flew around him, trying to do some damage, I body slammed him at full speed and he was thrown against a building – he looked badly hurt but immediately I could see him starting to recover so raced in again to punch him, and again. He threw a bolt of energy at me that didn’t seem to do much, but I must have been lucky because he threw the same at a member of Team Tomorrow who more or less disintegrated.

A crater had formed and was developing craters of its own as we group of novas fought.

Eventually, the mystery nova fired off that blast once more but throwing as much into it as he had. I could feel my body starting to melt as the power thrashed through me and unthinking I screamed for Adam. Pax alone of the Team Tomorrow representatives survived: around 1.5% of the entire known nova population on the planet wiped out in a second. Smashed into a new crevice in our crater, it was with scorched eyes I saw Pax, looking seriously hurt himself, through a powerful beam into the other nova, ripping his flesh away until only clean bones survived.

I tried to stand. The pain was so great I couldn’t even concentrate enough to let Adam know what was happening – could barely hear anything over the roar of agony. Pax grabbed me and flew me back to his base in Vienna. I was pretty delirious, so when en route I spotted a powerful collecting of quantum within the city that he couldn’t see, I assumed it was part of the pain. I couldn’t even explain to him I wanted to go to the Spoke, to have my doctors work on me. By the time we reached the medibay, I was delirious enough I started screaming for Jean, and no one knew who he was or could help me.

I came to in a forest several hours later, and Adam filled me in on what I’d missed.

When Adam and Mark first went to the warehouse, they found it filled with verdant grass that sounded a lot like what I’d seen in Antaeus’s lab. Moving further in, they’d found a strange tube filled with liquid and possibly some form of life. Adam had attempted to use his ‘sight-beyond-sight’ ESP stuff to throw his senses within to taste the liquid: he was thrown out by a fierce personality so they decided the best plan was to fetch Benedict (this was when he buzzed me to see what I was up to).

The three of them returned to the warehouse, where Benedict was very interested in the tube: he went silent, staring at it with arms folded across his chest. After a while, Adam noticed a crack in the glass, which he tried pointing out to Benedict, but Benedict didn’t respond. Something powerful was going on that neither Mark nor Adam understood.

It was at this point I screamed. Adam, apparently, tried speaking to me but I didn’t respond: I think the pain must have utterly severed our link for the time being. Adam attempted to speak to Benedict telepathically, and was thrown across the room.

He ran to Kiev to find me. It wasn’t hard to track down our progress within the city and he quickly found the crater with the many scorch marks that were all that remained of much of Team Tomorrow, and the neatly cleaned pile of bones at the centre. He checked them carefully and with relief soon realised they were the wrong size to be mine, and probably male anyway. No other clues revealed themselves to him, so he ran back to report to Mark. This time, attempts to speak to Benedict were met with white noise rather than punishment.

Mark followed Adam as he stormed towards Project Utopia; his only hope being that they would know what had happened. The receptionist was less than helpful, advising he needed an appointment. He was fuming and smashed the desk, so Mark very calmly gave the lady a card to send the bill for the desk to and led Adam outside. “Trust me” he said, and led Adam back in… where no one seemed to notice them. By following other people as they opened doors, they made their way up to the floors used by Team Tomorrow and, eventually, into a common room of sorts – furnished with comfy sofas and chairs and filled with all the food you could eat.

A nova sat in one seat, staring into space. After a moment or two, she readjusted as though drawing her attention back to her surroundings and spoke to Adam. She quickly revealed herself as psychic, introducing herself as Pratima and asking Adam’s name, only to call him Adam as soon as she’d asked and his name floated to the surface of his mind. She knew what had happened to me and that I was now in surgery and suggested he wait there. She didn’t seem to notice Mark and Adam realised he couldn’t see our teammate either – but when he sat down he felt Mark’s weight on the sofa beside him.

It didn’t take long for them to feel bored and that frustration born of being unable to help a friend. Adam then spotted a crack appearing in the window, much like the crack he’d seen in the tube. With Mark’s invisible help, he moved the sofa they’d been sat on to protect them if the window shattered, and they went back to waiting.

The room seemed to be getting hotter: Adam couldn’t feel it because of the way the quantum energies protect us from things like that, but the water in the water cooler was bubbling. He went to have a drink and found it to be cool to the touch – then spotted some cans and remembered what Benedict had said about Project Utopia apparently putting something in the water that made novas infertile so put the water down and picked up a lemonade. He could hear it fizzing as though it had been shaken vigorously, but he opened it anyway, relying on his speed and dexterity to catch the spray. Mark was impressed.

He rang a bell and a butler, Bertrand, appeared. Adam asked him about the water cooler – he tried turning it off but it still bubbled. The TV was also not working: this scared Adam, because he was worried the sensitive equipment being used to operate on me was also being affected. Overhearing Bertrand on the phone, he learnt that glass throughout the building was cracking, that none of the TVs were working and that water everywhere was bubbling. The medical equipment seemed to be ok for now.

Mark and Adam headed for the training room. Here, the swimming pool also seemed to be at a steady boil. Their equipment wasn’t quite up to the standard of our own, but was impressive enough. Needing a distraction and feeling a little petulant (this is Team Tomorrow’s base, after all), Adam took out his pens and quickly sketched across the wall the scene of me smashing one tank with another I'd sent to him earlier. It was at this point Pax entered – he was impressed with the drawing and commented it had been cool, before reassuring Adam as best he could that I would be ok.

They chatted a bit about the way the water and glass was behaving – Adam wanted to know how far this spread, but Pax stated that they were unable to communicate with any other base at the moment, so Adam offered to act as messenger and run. Pax gratefully took him up on the offer, giving him a note to take to their centre in Paris and a card to flash at the receptionist downstairs when he returned. The Paris office didn’t offer any response, but as an afterthought Adam bought a bottle of water to see if he could gauge how widespread the problem was. About 10 miles from the Vienna base, the water began to bubble violently.

My operation was just finishing when Benedict appeared in Adam’s head with three orders: one, that he would now have to look after the Nova Initiative; two, that Benedict had forgotten to give to Jenny something in his desk and Adam was to ensure Jenny got it; and three, he was to get as many people as far out of Vienna as possible NOW. Stef, he was told, was already safe.

Adam relayed this to Mark and, with Pax’s help, they set about evacuating the local area. Mark summoned a portal to a nearby forest and they led through as many people as the portal would take – including wheeling me through with the doctors and equipment. The portal closed behind them and in the distance they watched Vienna explode in quantum energy; right down to the mantle, as lava spewed forth.

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