We were standing in a circle, heavy rain beating down as we held our ground. Our feet sunk into the softening ground as lightning crashed overhead. The base note of the thunder was drowned out by the marching of feet.
A crowd of identical faces pressed closer, snarling and growling like animals. Their features weren’t human, more like what a child ask to draw a face from memory might make. Remembering why I was here, I looked around, trying to find a clue about where or when this was going to happen.
Beyond the shifting crowd, there wasn’t anything but a dark blue void. Nothing. Why couldn’t these visions ever be more helpful?
One of the claw-like hands raked past my face, they were getting too close. And then I heard it: hundreds of voices shrieked it into the night.
The savage crowed seemed to chant it, over and over, getting louder until I couldn’t hear myself think. Mercifully, the blue faded from my vision, and I was looking up at the ceiling of the gym.
“Yeah, pretty much,” I said, too tired to muster anything else. “But they were saying something this time. ‘Idyllium’ or something.”
“Nate, that’s huge!” Corey said, walking over to help me up.
“You think so?” I asked, put off by his enthusiasm.
Corey rolled his eyes. “Duh, ya big glowstick. It’s something we can go to Hollands with at least. I mean, this could put us on a new mission.”
I felt like we were chasing our tails trying to get my powers to work. Corey meant well though. We’d been working at it for hours when we weren’t in combat training or hanging out with the others. He was a nice guy, and oddly upbeat when it came to my powers. Still, a mission didn’t sound so bad, even if the fight with Judas was still fresh in my mind.
But lately, I’d been having the same vision over and over. Sometimes there was a small difference, but never anything to go on before.
“If it gets us out of more meetings with the Director, I’m game.”
Ever since he’d set his sights on me, I felt like he was making us sit in on meetings as some sort of unusual punishment. One of them was nothing but talking about hiring a new groundskeeper. You’d think that’d be simple, but Duncan managed to drag it out for three hours. Not only that, but he’d been sitting in on our training exercises and giving us ‘tips’.
“Director Duncan isn’t that bad,” Corey said as we started for the door.
“He’s an asshole.”
Corey shrugged, “Maybe, but he does run a tight ship.”
“He let Hollands and Cypher put me on your team while I was compromised.”
“Well…yeah but look how that turned out.”
I smiled, but I could see he didn’t have a real answer for that. When we got to the elevator Corey hit the button for the third floor: where Holland’s office was.
“We’re going straight to Hollands?”
“Why not?” Corey retorted with a grin.
“I mean, it’s not a lot to go on, and don’t you think we should tell Erin first?”
Corey shrugged, “It’s something, and I don’t know—this was kind of your thing, you know? Something we were working on. But you’re probably right,” He said, pressing the button for the second floor.
“Back so soon?” Whitney asked, craning her neck over the back of the couch as we walked in.
“We think we found something,” Corey replied, vaulting over the couch to flop down next to Whitney.
Whitney looked at us with a curious expression as I walked over to sit in one of the armchairs. “You ‘think’ you found something?” She asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Corey’s been helping me try to figure out my powers a bit more,” I explained.
“That’s what you guys have been sneaking off to do?”
“I wouldn’t say ‘sneaking off’, but yeah, Nate’s gotten better at having his visions,” Corey said a bit sheepishly.
Whitney’s eyes lit up, “What did you see?” She asked excitedly.
“So far it’s just been the same thing over and over,” I grumbled.
“Well,” She said after a moment of silence. “Spill the beans, Nate! Maybe it means something important if you keep seeing the same thing. Like a sign from the universe or something!”
“Okay, well, it’s not much, but it’s always storming; rain, thunder, everything. And the team is in there. We’re standing back to back, and we’re surrounded by this…crowd of people; all with the same face.”
“Like a duplicator, like Legion?” Whitney asked.
“No, I don’t think so. In the vision, I had the odd feeling they were different people, just…all with the same face but different bodies.”
“Were they wearing masks?” She suggested, shrugging her shoulders.
I shook my head. “I don’t think so; they were growling and snarling and closing in on us. And they were all saying ‘Idyllium’.”
“What do you mean? That’s huge!” Corey said, sounding offended.
“Uh, not really. It’s a random word, and there wasn’t really any details to figure out where these people are, if they’re real at all and not some sort of metaphor,” Whitney said.
“Honestly, I’m with Whitney on this one,” I said. “It’s not a lot to go on.”
Corey looked discouraged. “Let’s at least take it to Erin or Hollands and see what they have to say. It won’t hurt anything, will it?”
I looked over, and Whitney shrugged. “I guess not, but it is Nate’s vision. I think it should be up to you,” she said, looking at me.
“Yeah, why not. If it get’s us out of Switzerland for a bit it’ll be worth it.”
A look of realization dawned on Whitney’s face. “You’re right! Come on, I think Erin said she had a power eval today. She’ll be wrapping that up soon,” she said, rocketing off the couch. “I’m going to blast that smug look of Duncan’s face if I have to sit through one more of those damn meetings.”
Corey grinned and jumped up after her, leaving me having to hurry to keep up with them. “You said Erin was having a ‘power eval’?”
“It’s like those physicals you used to have before you were sanctioned, but more focused on the combat side of your powers. Argus wants to make sure they’re aware of any changes or new applications; things like that,” Corey explained.
“I always hated those.”
“Yeah, these aren’t much better,” Whitney said.
Whitney led us out of the main building and down the hill to one of smaller buildings that formed a ring around the complex.
“Have you been in here yet, Nate?” Corey asked idlily.
“No, I’ve only been in the main building and the R&D workshop.”
“We’ve got to give you a tour at some point,” Whitney called over her shoulder. “Anyways, this building is Argus’ research hospital. Most of the world’s research on metahuman physiology comes out of here. And for the unfortunate saps that are hurt by their own powers, they can get treatment here.”
The receptionist gave us a friendly smile as we walked in, apparently recognizing Corey and Whitney. Like most hospitals, the place had an almost uncomfortable sterilized smell and clinical—no pun intended—décor. We walked past the front desk and took an elevator down a few floors to a hallway lined with windows that looked into rooms similar to the gym we trained in, but smaller and with more equipment lining the walls.
“I think she’s down this way,” Whitney said. We walked past several empty rooms until we looked in one and saw Erin lifting a terrifying amount of weight over her head. Sweat was pouring down her face, but she looked completely focused. Her red aura was as bright as I’d ever seen it.
Eventually, a buzzer sounded, and two pillars emerged from the ground to support the weight and allow Erin to relax and step out from underneath. A group of doctors I didn’t see before came up and started talking to Erin while she recovered. I couldn’t see all their faces, but the ones I could seemed almost proud.
“Come on, she’s probably done by now,” Whitney said. She pushed open the door and led us inside.
“Hey guys,” Erin said, confused and breathing heavy. “What are you doing here?’
“Can’t some friends offer moral support?” Whitney replied
“Well, we have something else too,” Corey said. “Nate had a vision.”
“Did you?” Erin asked, looking at me.
I nodded, “Yeah, we were being attacked by people saying ‘Idyllium’.”
Erin’s eyes narrowed. “You heard that in a vision?”
“I heard James and Hollands talking about it. Maybe you are on to something.”
Corey beamed at me and Whitney, “I told you! Come on, lets go see if Hollands will give us a mission.”
Erin smiled. “Sounds good to me.”
“Mr. Hollands!” Erin called out as we saw the spindly Brit walking towards his office. He looked up and a look I didn’t recognize passed over his face.
“Argonauts. What can I do for you?”
He sounded tired, with the circles under his eyes to match. I knew there were some issues with Judas’ transfer to Site III, was that what was stressing him out?
While I was lost in my daydream, Corey nudged me in the shoulder. “Uh—”
Erin noticed my unpreparedness and stepped in. “Nate had a vision about Idyllium.”
Hollands’ eyebrows rose a fraction of an inch. “Perhaps you are as useful as Cypher says. What exactly do you know?”
“Not really anything except the name,” I said.
Hollands furrowed his brow for a moment in thought. “If you had a vision, it might be a sign. Come with me.”
Corey grinned and gave us all a thumbs up as we fell in step behind the AID director. He led us through the maze of halls to a section of the building I hadn’t been in before. That really wasn’t anything to be surprised about, though. Most of it was locked down beyond my clearance level and not really that interesting.
This room, though, looked straight out of a spy show. Hollands swiped a keycard and the doors slid open to reveal a hive of activity. It was something of a mix between pictures I’d seen of the stock exchange and the NASA control room from movies. Rows of computer terminals and several massive screens on the far wall.
“Jacobs, pull up the file on Idyllium,” Hollands ordered one of they guys sitting nearby. After a few keystrokes, the biggest center screen cut to a satellite image of a field filled with tents.
“I don’t think I need to tell you all this, but this information is classified and should not be disclosed without approval. Anyway, this is a field outside the small town of Monarch, Wyoming. It’s just outside Grand Teton National Park. A few months ago, the local Sheriff began reporting an influx of people. Vagrants, vagabonds, families on vacation. They weren’t booking rooms at the local hotel, which wouldn’t be that strange, until they noticed the community sprouting up in their backyard.”
“Idyllium?” Erin asked.
Hollands nodded, “Which would be an issue for the police to handle, except they quickly found out that all, or nearly all of Idyllium’s inhabitants are metas. Three local…rednecks…were hospitalized after an altercation broke out over a claim of trespassing. Since then, Idyllium has refused to leave or talk to local law enforcement or Argus. They claim to be a safe haven for metahumans that want to live without being monitored by Argus.”
“That’s not a whole lot to ask is it?” Whitney asked quietly.
“A discussion for another time,” Hollands said surprisingly gently. “The current issue, is people—humans get uncomfortable with that many metas in one place.”
“How many are we talking about,” I asked.
“By our best estimates, somewhere around three-hundred and growing by the week. I am under pressure to find a way to peacefully break up Idyllium. The issue is, I can’t send in any normal agents without them being found out as human, and I can’t send in any heroes without them being recognized. You all, however…”
“You want us to go in?” Erin asked.
“The idea hadn’t occurred to me until recently, but you may be able to get us info. Much to the chagrin of your PR team, the Argonauts haven’t been making headlines. A shortcoming that may be a temporary strength.”
“Do you want us to find out who’s behind it?” Erin asked.
“We know that.” Hollands motioned to the same guy and the image on the screen changed to a woman with long black hair. “Dana Kane, aka Savant. A sanctioned empath that mostly served the private sector, though she has consulted with Argus in the past. She’s the one organizing all of this. We think if we can extract her quietly, the rest will peacefully disperse. What I think we need you to do, is gather as much information as you can, and report back to us so we can coordinate a precision plan.”
“Didn’t you say she was an empath, though?” Whitney asked. “Wouldn’t she pick us out as spies?”
“I have an idea to solve that,” Hollands said, a sly gleam in his eyes.