I nodded and adjusted my grip on the silver brick in my hand.
“Okay, remember to wait for the timer to count down and all the tests to finish before you come back.”
“I got it,” I said, taking a breath and summoning my energy. Now came the part I was still getting used to. Mentally, it felt like prying open a sliding door; physically, it was like a subtle change in the air as goosebumps spread across my skin.
Cracks seemed to form in reality as the portal swirled into existence around me. I had gone to the Forest…five, maybe six times willingly, but I still almost missed the slight change that signaled I was there.
The portal faded away and left me standing in the endless grove of trees. “Time to work your magic little buddy,” I said to the brick. LEDs started blinking as the device started taking measurements. The technician told me it was invented to test Warper class metahumans. It ‘assessed’—as the technician put it—atmospheric conditions, radiation levels, gravity, and several other terms I didn’t recognize or understand.
A small screen read out each of the test as they ran. “Nitrogen levels: 80%, Oxygen levels: 2%…”
What? That couldn’t be right, I thought to myself. I wasn’t sure what they were on Earth, but I knew 2% was low. And then it read out something very strange. “Temperature: -273.”
“No way!” I said out loud. That was ridiculous. I mean, it felt cold there, but nowhere near that. Several more items of interest flashed across the screen, but they weren’t things I recognized.
It seemed to take forever for the timer to count down to zero and the indicator next to “Tests Complete” to turn green. “Finally,” I said, willing another portal to open around me. The Forest was an eerie place, and I couldn’t say I wanted to spend more time there than I needed to.
With another vortex of blue, I stepped back into the white-tile lined testing facility and looked through the observation window to the technicians inside. They seemed surprised I was back. “Tests are done,” I said, holding up the brick.
“Really?” One of them asked, activating the intercom.
“Yeah…” I said, not sure what the problem was. “The light turned green and the timer ran out.”
“You’ve only been gone for two minutes,” The technician said, sounding intrigued.
This day kept getting weirder. I thought back to when Cypher did his power testing crash-course and what Cypher said about my powers. “So, I’m a time warper, then?”
“Probably not,” The lady replied. Controlling time sounded like it would be pretty cool and I was a little bummed. “It’s more likely that your dimension has a different flow of time than our own. It looks like it flows faster there based on our readings…Aren’t you a precog?”
“Uh, yeah. I can see the future sometimes.”
The woman nodded, “That could be tied to it then. Time runs faster there, and some of it spills over into your brain. Anyways, the bio-scan is complete, and you aren’t carrying any detectable pathogens. We’re lifting the quarantine and once you put the testing device in the receptacle, you are free to exit the testing chamber Mr. Peterson.”
The more I learned about my powers, the stranger they seemed. Compared to other metahuman powers I knew of—which wasn’t many thanks to people being paranoid—mine seemed to come from left field.
My train of thought was sudden derailed when I stepped out into the hallway.
Instantly, I was enveloped in my shell of energy. I nearly jumped out of my skin before I realized it my team that had ambushed me with…balloons?
“What’s…?” I started to ask as I let the energy evaporate away. James and the rest of the team—with the notable exception of Ian—were standing in the middle of the hallway. Adam looked indifferent as he held a handful of balloons, but the others looked excited.
“Hey, Nate, precog this!” Whitney said, throwing a plastic case at my head. In my dazed and confused state, I somehow managed to catch it.
“What’s this?” I asked, inspecting the thin plastic box. It was the size and shape of a briefcase with the Argus logo embossed on the side.
“Your uniform,” Erin said. She was smiling, but it was clear she still had some guilt about the whole ordeal with my parents. “Now that you’re part of the team for real, you need to look the part.”
“Seriously?” I asked, excitedly trying to find out how to open the case. With all the training, testing, and combat practice, I hadn’t even thought about a uniform. I pressed a button built into the thin side of the case and it popped open to reveal a red and black outfit made of the same material as the others’.
Thank God it’s not blue, I thought to myself.
“Take it out and let us see,” James encouraged. We hadn’t really spoken much since I got back from Chicago. I wondered if he was in on Cypher’s plan to use me as a double—triple—agent.
“Let’s head back to our rooms; the labs aren’t exactly a great place to hang out,” Whitney said.
“Yeah, it’ll give you a chance to try it on,” Erin said as we all started migrating back upstairs.
Part of me still found it hard to believe that they let me back in. Something just felt…wrong, like I was still pretending. That feeling grew stronger when we stepped back into the dorm common room. Ian glanced at us for a second before sticking his nose back into his book. I noticed he’d taken the plastic cover off; Probably so he’d look smarter, I thought to myself.
Hard for me to forget he was the one who ratted me out—even though I guess he was just playing his predestined role in Cypher’s god complex of a plan. Still, the vote to let me join the team for real wasn’t unanimous. Only three out of five in favor.
Ian had obviously voted “no”, but Corey told me later that Adam was the other one. That didn’t upset me as much; we weren’t exactly friends or anything, but Adam wasn’t an asshole about it. For over a week I had been going through the joining process in earnest and Ian hadn’t said a single word to me.
Well fuck him. If he wasn’t going to let it go, that was his problem.
“Come on, let’s make sure it fits!” Whitney said, giving me a push towards my room.
“Alright, alight, I’m going!” I said, flashing them a smile.
I shed the baggy jumpsuit they’d given me for testing in and pulled the uniform out of the case. There was more there than I though. There were a pair of black combat pants like the kind the others wore, an undershirt made out of the same kind of heavy material, and then the actual red and black armor that went over my head like a bullet proof vest with smaller armored pieces that seem to slot into special places sewn into the undershirt. It was a neat system; even I could figure out how to put it on and take it off.
To finish it off, there were a pair of gloves and boots at the bottom of the case. I’d never really considered myself the kind of guy to wear boots, but I could see where they might come in handy. Most of the boots had armor plating except for small gaps that let the foot go through it’s usual ranges of motion.
Last but not least were the gloves. They were honestly a bit too snug for my liking, but they didn’t hamper my dexterity too much. That was it. That was everything from the case. Everything felt slightly small, though not uncomfortable. I guess that was because it was tailor made for me. That was kind of odd to think about; I’d never had anything like this custom-fitted before.
I walked into the bathroom to get a look at myself in the mirror. The way the uniform fit made it obvious I wasn’t very physically intimidating, but damn if I didn’t look just a little badass. Like a real hero, I thought to myself.
“Nate, what’s taking so long?” Whitney called, sounding bored.
Well, guess it was time to show them. I was about to open the door, but then I decided to opt for something flashier…
Training was paying off; opening my portals was slowly getting easier. I came out into the ethereal forest and took a step forward before tearing open another portal. Everyone turned in surprise as I appeared in a massive swirling vortex of neon blue.
“Sorry, had to take it for a spin,” I said with a grin.
Corey laughed, “Looks good on you.”
“It sure took you long enough,” Whitney said through a smile.
“Can’t rush perfection.”
“Suuure,” Whitney said sarcastically, her smile growing.
“Everything fit alright?” Erin asked.
“Uh, yeah. More or less,” I said.
“A bit snug?” Adam asked.
“A bit, yeah.”
Adam nodded, “Once you train in it for a while it’ll stretch and fit perfect.”
“Okay, I gotcha. Does anyone want to train, then?”
“You’re asking us?” Erin asked, trying to suppress a laugh and act serious. “You were the one we were waiting for to get out of bed this morning.”
“Hey, maybe I’m just not a morning person.”
“Great, then as long as villains only attack in the afternoon we’ll be golden,” Corey said.
We all cracked up a little at that. It was nice being with people who didn’t think what I could do was weird. Normal people were always a little uneasy when they met a new meta. I couldn’t really blame them, though. I set those thoughts aside and focused on being part of the conversation.
“Oh! Nate,” Corey perked up during a lull in the talking, “Have you named your dimension yet?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“The…forest-place you told us about. Metas get to name dimensions they draw powers from, right?” He asked James.
“Uh…yeah, it’s common practice to let a meta name their dimension. So, have anything in mind, Nate?”
“Not really; guess I never thought about it”
“And it looks like you won’t have to.”
“Mr. Hollands, we didn’t hear you come in,” James said as we turned to the AID director walking through the door.
“Hope I’m not interrupting the festivities, but I thought you all might find this interesting,” he said, flipping through a rather large file in his hands. “The results are back from the probe, and this is not the first time Argus has seen this dimension.”
“What? Did Genesis show it to you or something?” Whitney asked.
“No, a member of the Union of Russian Heroes—Auralux—emits energy very similar to Nate’s.”
I wasn’t very knowledgeable on the Union, and I hadn’t ever heard of a hero called Auralux. Were they new?
“You mean they have powers like mine?” I asked. “That’s kind of rare isn’t it?”
“Somewhat rare, yes. Especially when you consider that we’ve never had two metas confirmed to pull energy from the same dimension.”
“What about magic? Don’t gifteds all pull from ‘The Primal Plane’ or whatever?” Whitney asked.
“I don’t,” Erin said. “I’m technically a gifted, but I’m not the kind that ‘cast spells’ and all that.”
“Gifteds—specifically ‘magic users’—don’t pull from alternate dimensions in the same way mutants or enhanced metas do. The mechanism is beyond what we can decipher, but there are some who theorize they use exploitations of physics to access the Primal Plane specifically. Nate and Auralux are the first case of two enhanced metas sharing a connection to the same extra dimensional space.”
“They’re enhanced too?”
“She is, and just like you, she was born without powers but quickly developed them by age four.”
So, it was a she.
“How similar are her power’s to Nate’s,” Erin asked.
“I don’t know yet, but I’ve contacted the Union’s primary Liaison and requested she visit so we can compare the two of you.”
“She’s coming here?” I asked.
“Yes. She should be here sometime tomorrow.”
Tomorrow? I wasn’t sure what to think. Knowing there was someone with the same powers as me, coming here…it was a bit daunting, but at the same time kind of exciting.
“Maybe you have a long-lost sister,” Corey said.
“Maybe…” Could we be related? I didn’t have any living relatives as far as I knew. Neither of my birth parents had siblings, and only one Grandmother was still alive when the accident happened. She was too old to take me in, and she passed away a year or two after that from what I was told.
“No. The two of them aren’t related as far as we can tell. Her family has lived in Russia as far back as records go.”
“I guess not, then,” I said.
“Hopefully we can discover something informative tomorrow. In the meantime, I have some special training for you today. Finish up here and meet me in the gym. We can put your new uniform to the test,” Hollands said with the closest thing to a smile I’d ever seen his face attempt as he walked out.
The team let out a collective sigh. “Guess we better get suited up,” Erin said.
For once, I was ecstatic about training. Maybe it was the suit—it was probably the suit, but I was in a good mood for the first time I could really remember in a while. Things seemed to be falling into place.
When we made it down to the gym, we found Hollands talking to a dark-haired man who looked to maybe be in his early thirties. He was wearing tan shorts and a vibrant orange Hawaiian shirt.
“I didn’t know it was casual Friday,” Whitney whispered as we walked towards them.
“Argonauts, I would like for you to meet The Eternal, aka John Smith.”
Something seemed strangely familiar to me about the guy, but when I heard his name, it was like a switch flipped in my head. A wave of blue drowned out the gym as my consciousness was plunged into a vision.
Slowly, the azure fog receded, leaving me sitting on the curb of a street. There were lots of people around, but they were like face-less shadows, drifting through the scene in slow motion. Emergency vehicles almost seemed to form a wall around me, trying to shield my eyes from what I knew was there. I could still see sapphire flames flickering over the tops of the firetrucks.
Through the crowd of shadows, a figure with a friendly face walked towards me. I remembered being confused, and afraid, but he was smiling. He bent he knees and leveled his face with mine, extending a hand. “Hey, there Nate. My name’s John.”
“-Is it normal for blue flames to come out of his eyes?”
I blinked rapidly, trying to get my eyes to stop trying to focus on the faces standing over me and the ceiling at the same time.
“It happens when he has a vision-”
“-Hey, I think he’s back,” Corey said, offering me a hand.
“Thanks,” I said, accepting help. He helped pull me back to my feet and I fortunately didn’t feel like I was going to fall over.
“What did you see?” Erin asked, looking at me intently.
“N-nothing…I’m not sure,” said, still trying to process everything.
“Wow, that was a bit of a lightshow. I heard you were an Oracle Class, but I didn’t expect it to be so violent,” John said, giving me the same smile I saw eighteen years ago. He hadn’t aged a day, if what the vision showed me really was a memory.
“I’ve met you before…”
John furrowed his brow, “Hmm, I don’t think so.”
“August 7th, 2001—you were in Chicago, you said your name was John.”
“Oddly specific, but John is a very common name; it doesn’t mean we’ve met before. Sorry—Nate, was it? I think you’re confusing me for someone else.”
I was about argue the point further, but I happened to see the concerned looks my team was giving me.
“Yeah…my bad. I guess it was someone else,” I said.
“Great. Now that we’ve gotten that cleared up, we can get on with the training,” John said.
“What did you really see?” Corey asked me quietly as Hollands and John explained what we’d be doing.
“He was there the night my parents…” I couldn’t finish the sentence, but Corey seemed to tell what I was getting at.
“Oh. Was he…involved?”
“I don’t know—we can talk about it later,” I said, trying to focus on what John was saying.
“—so, Hollands wanted to give you a chance to test out your powers in a situation that you couldn’t accidentally hurt someone.”
“Wait, you want us to attack you?” Erin asked.
“Well, to put it simply, yes. But there’s more to it than that. This will give you the chance to coordinate your attacks as a team against a more powerful opponent without tripping over yourselves.”
“What’s your power classification? Won’t we hurt you?”
John grinned like he was part of a big inside joke. “I’m afraid that’s classified, but you won’t hurt me. Care to show them, Grey?”
Mr. Hollands rolled his eyes as he pulled his gun from his holster. “Try not to freak out,” Hollands said as he leveled the barrel at John’s head.
“Mr. Hollands!” Erin shouted in alarm as Hollands pulled the trigger.
John’s head snapped back, but there wasn’t any blood, or even an entry wound.
“What the fuck!” Whitney yelled in shock.
“Don’t worry, I’m fine,” John said, holding two thumbs up.
“There is nothing you are capable of that can injure Mr. Smith. Any of you. We’ve tested him against the likes of Wrath and not a lasting scratch.”
What was this guy? A regenerator? I’d heard of some metas like the Butcher being able to get back up after almost anything, but even she took a little while to get back up.
“So, who’s ready to get started?” John asked spreading his arms in invitation.