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It had been a couple weeks following the triumph over the Titans, and Things had kept Abel far busier than he wished. Finally, the opportunity to do something he'd wanted to do had come, and he found himself smiling. He'd finished his new sword to replace the one he used on Pandora.  Shortly after they returned, Jeane asked for one for herself, so she didn't have to always rely on her own ability, and he'd asked for time to craft something special.

He waited patiently in his office for her to show up, the Sword and scabbard were on the stand on his remarkably clear desk, and he was wearing his PAM suit, and carrying his own weapons.   The plan for the day was to return to the Underverse, and he was looking forward to it, because it meant exploring a new dimension.

Abel sighed, the world was the same, but there had been some fundamental changes in how they used their abilities. His own powers had grown greatly, and he knew that meant it had for the others. He only hoped this particular change wouldn't force things to escalate out of hand.There were still other dangers out there, that much he was certain of.

"On my way up, Abel," came Jeane's psychic voice over the link.

There was a burst of lightning in Abel's office, and the most junior Irregular appeared in his office, reassembling herself out of thin air. She loomed in the best of times, but today, the blonde almost menaced, draped in a camo-patterned cloak over a bodyglove darkened to muted greys and blacks, the hilt of a shortsword sticking slightly out of the shadows of her mantle. There was the hint of a bulge on her back to betray a courier's bag packed with potential goodies.

Running one hand through her hair to check that it stayed within the confines of her ponytail, the towering blonde smiled down at Abel, chuckling abashedly as her hand came back down and brushed the hilt of the weapon she had brought with her, "A navy brat friend of mine used to say that 'two is one, and one is none.' Thought it might fit when hopping into a world home to critters that can and did bite my arm off."

She smiled, a natural grin unlike the one she sometimes strained to maintain in the outside world as one of the team's more visible members, "How are your doing?"  

Abel smiled  "I'm managing.   For every project I finish, there are a dozen more for me to tend to.   I've got alot going, but nothing that immediately needs my attention."

He gestured to the sword.   "I have made you what you asked me for, though having a backup isn't bad."  he smiled "I see you came prepared."


"Uh, Yeah. Bit My Arm Off. If our nodes worked then, how they work now... Well... It could have been bad," she answered with a glimmer of seriousness before letting the excitement burble up onto her expression again, "Show me, show me. If it's taken you this long to make..? This ought to be good."

The towering blonde laughed and rubbed her hands together, stepping forward to get a better look at her 'present', "How much damage does it do? I know it hits harder than any quantum weapon of mine from our sparring before Pandora's Box happened... Oh, and my Dad says hi. Says a lot how much he trusts you to let me out past curfew since quantum puberty 2 hit me." 

That made Abel smile.  "I'll have to speak to your father again soon.  I may have some good news for friends of his."  He got up from his desk, and moved around it, taking up the sword and moving to the unoccupied section of his office.  "Connected together as they are, they're essentially a Titanium alloy bat.  It can block bullets without deforming, and is nearly indestructible by normal means.  Once you attune it, you can unsheathe the blades."   He quickly attuned it to himself, and pulled the pommel from the scabbard, a bright yellow blade springing to life from it as he did so.  To her surprise a second shorter yellow energy blade extended from the scabbard.  "I thought you might start working towards dual-wielding as I do, so I prepared for that, making sure the scabbard could be a weapon too.  The blade can modulate and extend to the same as the normal one, but the default is eight inches."

He moved through a quick series of attacks, showing the versatility of this setup, whereas the sword was the offense, the scabbard excelled at defense.   "I practiced with the prototype a good bit before making this one."


"Cool. Rapier and arming sword. That attunement thing means my Dad might even let me keep it in the house. He barely wants me to keep the blunt, wooden replica of this this I train with there," she replied, gaze rapt as she watched his blade kata, tapping the hilt of her shortsword, "Paul keeps trying to play with it, and I've had to hide it on the back shelf of my closet. Can I?"

She reached for the two-part weapon as Abel resheathed it, taking in both hands.

The towering blonde gave it one, two, three, swings, air whistling around strikes at an invisible foe. She reached out with her node and encompassed the Keytech item, eyeing it and toggling a small black switch on the sheath.

"So we can enter the Underverse from anywhere you want, Abel. If I haven't planted a keyhole there yet, I'm sure James would be up to dropping us off before I do my thing. Say the word and..," she paused, not quite gaping as she gave an experimental tug on the sunblade's hilt and the weapon ignited, bathing the interior of her cloak in dancing light, "...That is so cool... Anyway. Yeah. Say the word, fearless leader."

He smiled watching her play with the weapon, happy she liked it.  "Yes it can only be used by a Key, a safety feature I've made for all of this type of weapons.  We don't need people accidentally cutting off their own limbs with their weapons.That's actually another advantage over standard weapons, you literally cannot harm yourself with a weapon that's attuned to you."

"We should head downstairs first." He knew it wasn't like simply sidestepping dimensions, but there was no need to tempt fate by them teleporting in above ground and falling.

He secured his office and she noted he hefted a worn black backpack, which seemed to have a veritable tire on the bottom of it.  He smiled.  "This backpack has been with me for years, and  has eventually gone with me everywhere I've gone.  I thought it would be nice to continue that tradition."  It was probably among the most human things she'd heard him say, not spouting technobabble, or some logical proof, but rather illogical desire born from familiarity and comfort.  

"Nice. Let's continue the tradition," she replied flipping the sunblade off with a matching black toggle on it's hilt and clicking it home in it's sheath. Jeane concentrated for a moment, squinting at the sheath and molded an additional loop of material out of her PAM suit right above the one supporting her mundane blade.

When gravity took it's hold to let the wonder weapon hang from it's new support, the towering blonde swept her cloak to one side and struck a little pose with one hand resting on the topmost hilt, looking like the female lead from a samurai flick. The serious expression held for only heartbeat before she cracked up, extending one hand to the master telepath, "Let me. I got a few keyholes just outside the fence. Don't want to spook the new kids, however many said 'yes' to your letters. Don't think you've seen the inside of one my jumps yet, either... Not properly." 

"Just that first time, and then into and out of the Quantum world."  he smiled.  "We may need to go back there, one day.  I have some questions, but at the same time, I have theories about why we all changed after returning from it."

He followed behind her until they were safely away.  "Some of the new students have promise for the field, and others for the labs,  I'm going to let them all choose of course.  James and Mariah are also taking on some mentoring roles themselves.   It brings to mind something else that should be considered, The Irregulars.   That was the collective name for all of us at the beginning, but things have changed, what would you think about a new name for a "new generation" of Keys?"


Jeane was glad for her new ability to split her thoughts, shunting off a reflexive barb to stream in the background of her mind while keeping a smile on her face.

"Sorry to burst your bubble... Not sure exactly where Pandora's Box *was*, but I couldn't have accessed the quantum realm from anywhere stable. Only the fact my teleports plant me halfway between here and there in transition lets me punch into the Underverse and back again. And even then it's... rough," she cautioned, letting the angry stream of thought bleed into her expression in a mild frown, "As for that last... thing... Wouldn't that imply that there was something to Sara's... I mean, Pandora's bullshit that the seven of you were special and the rest of us were accidents? They're on the team. Let them be Irregulars, benefit from the reputation if they're willing to take the heat. God knows I'm closer to them then you in strength, but I'm proud to be part of this crew, canary in a coalmine though my new role is, bouncing around like a shiny maniac every minute of the day I'm not on curfew."

She smiled and punched him playfully in one shoulder, using the contact to attune him and drag him into the fog-shrouded halfway world that housed her keyholes, the world around them greying out mere meters from 'them'. Not that Abel could see himself or Jeane see herself, 360 degree, immobile POVs spinning in a numb, silent world. He could see a crackling outline of her form, one arm extended, and she his, but aside from swirling mist on the trail, nothing else moved, his legendary senses as nothing in this state.

'This is what my jumps are normally like. I can reach anywhere from here, but unless It's line of sight or I've made a, well, quantum keyhole, it gets really tricky to get back in. London's about as far as I've jumped, too. Bit of a stretch,'   came her mental voice in his ear, 'From here, I just have to crawl inside my own bellybutton to get through to the Underverse.'

"Who says All the Irregulars will be around forever?  at least Two of us are gone now, and well, others may wish to follow their own paths." he answered quietly.

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He smiled as they shifted over, and nodded.  "Even so, I think we'll keep the name for now, unless some issue really arises with it."

He hated the cut off from most sensory input that this part of the trip meant, but at least his mental senses could traverse the dimensions, though it was still unclear how that had happened.  

"London's a good jump, literally across the planet, it's nothing to not be proud of."   He waited for her to finish their transit, and prepared himself for this other universe.


'Never said I wasn't proud. Just quashing hopes of moon landings in the near future,' laughed Jeane's mental voice, the link conveying the emotional squaring of shoulders and indraw of breath, "Okay. This is where it gets complicated."

Reality stuttered. Up became down. Left became right. A howling vortex of silent nothing screamed in Abel's vision, a split-second snap shot everything becoming nothing and then becoming everything again.

The insanity ended with a splash in knee deep swamp water, Abel's super senses kicking back into existence as nerves reformed to respond to his brain's instructions, the very tips of his fingers recoalescing from cooling red motes of quantum. Jeane stood hunched not three feet away facing away, hands on both knees and heaving up her breakfast into the fetid water, eyes nailed shut.

Clouds hung heavy in the sky above. Dead evergreens stood in a swamp that rose up over their roots. Fungus sprouted everywhere. And a few hundred feet to the left, the tattered remains of the core complex that Abel built IS, inc HQ around stood abandoned sentinel.  

Once back on the ground, his suit was already sealed.   He managed to avoid throwing up, despite the discomfort.  He turned his superior senses to their surroundings, and smiled.  "It amazes me that the structures continue to evolve, even as we build them.    How do you think it looks to the natives, they certainly aren't making them."   He asked as he prepared himself for anything.


"Actually... I think that the natives *did* build it, and could have been pretty human," Jeane countered, making her way to a mudbank, wiping the last of the vomit from her chin, "Showed up the first time inside that building, if you ignore the molds and the monsters and the battle damage... Pretty standard for an abandoned building. It was weird though. Chunks of the building were way older-looking than the other, all rust and crumbling concrete vs just broken windows and collected grime."

She shrugged, "That horrible feeling when our nodes want to turn off after taking a hit now? Had that coming through. Guess I'm not soloing this place anymore, huh?"

His companion's words were just a small fraction of the world Abel was taking in though. There were differences, many differences between the Shelly he knew and this bog. but fundamentally, the ground was the same, pine forests drowned in faintly acidic water that was carving new waterways among the mud. Mountains the same save where they'd been obliterated by explosions that removed hundreds of feet of rock. The skeleton of his hometown to the south, buried in a fungal forest.

And movement? Oh there was movement and life, ripples in the water hiding the twisted merfolk creatures that went abjectly still at the merest brush of his mind, scuttling packs of the hand-shaped creatures stalking armored slugs that fought back with whipping tongues, but it was the military base that housed a surprise, a mind that thought in orderly if alien patterns.

"We're not alone."  When she looked at him, he shook his head.  "Not the Mer.  they're beastly predators, or armored slugs.  They're predators, but nothing we cannot handle.  I'm sensing an ordered mind."

He looked towards the base, and then back to her.  "It's coming from the base grounds.   Do you want to check it out?"   There was a flash in his hand, and a small earpeice came into being.  "this will last awhile, and keep your mind safe. put it in."

Clearly he wasn't taking any chances, and was on guard, as his energy shield flared to life.


"We're here to explore. Lead the way, Sage. I'll jump us over any deep water in our path," 'Tracuese' volunteered, tucking the earpiece into place and raising her hood. She drew her short sword, wanting a weapon in hand without the telltale glow of either her quantum weapons or the sunblade. Despite this seriousness, the happiness bled through the mental link they shared, a warm companionship on a task that they had chosen, not one they had forced upon them.   


Abel for his part, put his hands together, and drew them apart, creating a metallic staff, smiling, eschewing the swords for now, and took the lead.  The Mer and everything else gave them a wide berth, clearly what was there was intrigued by them, giving them safe passage it seemed.

"This is going to be a real dungeon crawl, and I gotta say, I'm excited. This was something I've always loved doing. My powers were annoying at first, It ruined every surprise Sean made. I still always acted like I was, even though I knew everything he'd set up for us. Even with my powers, though, I don't know what's going to happen here. I've honestly missed that."

Undisturbed by the various denizens of the swamp, their journey shifted from dying forest to a flat expanse of ground leading up to one of the shattered mountains, acting as a shallow headwater for the swamp they had just trekked over and through.

Jeane was still on her guard, blade hanging loosely from one hand, looking very much at home in her muck-stained cloak and leggings. She kept her focus narrow, eyes running over military hardware smashed as by a giant fist from above. At 3-D shadows of armed men caught in the air and then flash frozen there mid death throes. Purple-veined bushes sprouted from the water in colorful flora, a network of  glowing roots feeding to the tunnel entrance that led down into the facility below.

"Something didn't like this place," she commented to break the silence, very glad for her new calm as she matched gazes with one of the frozen shadows, "Could you do something that if you put your mind to it?"


"Could I Kill people and leave a piece of their psyche as an after image to warn off intruders? If I tried, that sort of thing could be something I'm capable of doing, but not something I would ever do..." She could almost hear the breath to form the word "Again" He answered almost mechanically. "Jeane, Understand something about me, something the others were there for, and know. We carry the weight of the crime of Xenocide. You've seen flashes of memory of the Asheen, the first aliens to attack us, before we had all the power we do now. They were a servant race. We killed all of them, because we witnessed what they'd have done to Earth if we hadn't. Our actions caused the complete annihilation of everything they were, everywhere. "

His voice was frigid, something totally devoid of Logic as he spoke of something so terrible. "I don't just have the memories of other lifetimes I lived.  I have the memories, the collected knowledge of the Asheen as well. That's why I was nearly going insane, having lost my ability to contain such a vast amount of information. I know their own countless sins of genocide, because my part of the battle was to provide a window to achieve success, and I did that by taking control of the Asheen Fleet Commander.   I tore his mind apart, and made him the same sort of puppet as the ones we'd fought. "

"I crossed that line for my friends and for my home, because it was the only way we'd win, and survive."  And there it was, the darkness within Abel. He had some of the most terrifying abilities, no normal person could resist him, most keys would fall before his powers.

"I don't ever want to do something like that again."There was a tone of earnest resolve and desire in his voice, but not regret.  It had been "Us or Them" and he made his own choice. At least through him, the Asheen history had been preserved, such as it was.

The cloaked teen went still listening to the story, blue eyes giving away almost nothing, looking away over the drowned battlefield, no, massacre. She sheathed the short sword and rubbed one palm with the other thumb, as if scrubbing away an invisible stain.

"...I'm not innocent anymore, Abel, not the way I was before. Sure I'd fought bullies, people, before, sent them home bruised, bleeding, and limping for fucking with me and my friends, hit one guy a few times with *this* when he cornered my crew and pulled a knife on us," confessed Jeane, lightning sculpting itself into the slightly bent lead pipe Abel would have seen so many times in training, the towering blonde shuddering once and letting the construct fall apart just as quickly, "...But the Titans... I don't remember most of that fight, but the flashes I'm getting of the ones after Pandora... I think some of them tried to bargain, beg, for their lives. One, the last, maybe the second to last..? I don't remember it even swinging at us. Maybe I'm crazy, imagining how it went down, but, yeah, Pandora was a bitch who picked a fight... The other six we jumped out at and swarmed to death, made a race as old as the universe just... go away. Forever. Not that they weren't bad people from everything our allies told us, but... Death is forever. And I'm how all of us were able to slip in and shank them. When I'm not running, part of me is almost always thinking about it."

Her gaze shifted back to the nearest frozen shadow, biting her lip, "...Can I have a few minutes before we go down? To make a keyhole just in case we need to fall back in a hurry?"

Abel nodded.   "We've done terrible things, things we'll all carry as long as we live.   Still, They had to be done to protect everyone and everything we care for.   We were strong enough to make those choices, and follow through."

He moved up and laid a hand on her shoulder, and nodded.  "I'm glad you were with us.  Because of your strength, We won, and saved everything.  Take the time you need."  He released her shoulder, and moved a little ways off, his gaze shifting to the entrance, and he frowned.  "It knows someone is here, whatever is within."



The towering blonde knelt and took one handful of the mud in hand, squeezing it through her fingers, focusing on the grittiness of the stuff, it's coolness through the fabric of her PAM suit, it's faintly acidic scent. Her mind half-slipped out of reality, the world going gray as she reached out with her node to imprint on here and now, on the invisible fractals of quantum behind what was and what could be.

There was a difference she really couldn't describe between creating a keyhole here as opposed to back home, something without words, but she'd never forget the difference. But it was very important to... focus, and that helped sooth over the flaring of her lingering guilt for her role in the fight vs the Titans.

Two minutes and 45 seconds later, Jeane was ready, and she abruptly punched her left pointer finger forward, the merest tip of it unraveling into red sparks and tracing the tiniest scar in the quantum fractals. It would be enough.

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"...Thanks for keeping watch, Abel. I... hadn't talked to anyone about that yet, and I need to focus for the thing that left these... trophies floating here."

Even as he watched their surroundings, mindful of anything and everything near them, he also watched the process of her creating one of her keyholes.  It was unique, like creating a dimensional waypoint, and something he'd thought about already as an emergency extraction option for when needs might arise.  

"What's here may not even be what caused it, that's the disturbing aspect of this.   We'll know soon enough though."   He once again began to head for the entrance, a second barrier forming before him, the projection shield he used for others.  It would be difficult to fight with anyone else, but Jean could teleport back and forth, and Abel could always relocate it as needed.


Jeane hoped to heck that whatever dwelled below wasn't the same thing that had killed these men. If killed was the word for what happened to them. She'd spent enough time thinking between entering and exiting her jumps to imagine what it might be like to not be able to move.

"Well, since we're expected..," Jeane drawled, unsheathing her sunblade, carefully killing the hilt in the 'off' position, yellow light blooming from her new tool, "I've got your back, since you know this place best. Or at least our version of it."

Igniting a single sword, Abel moved forward, the blue light revealing more psychic shadows as they moved further into the complex.  The primary armory was destroyed completely, and as they descended, he knew instead of warmth, it was getting colder.    "There were four portal bases at one point, when the tech was still classified.  One here, one in China, and one in Germany.   I imagine the last was somewhere in Siberia, knowing the Russians."   Though they witnessed the shadows die, they never saw what slew them, and he could feel a light vibration in the walls of the building.


"I'd blow the opposing portals if I had the chance if I was an invading army, so I guess that means they were somewhat... Rational..," Jeane answered, trying to keep her tone even despite the fact that the vibration running from the walls turned out to be caused, in part, by organic growths on the walls pumping the glowing sap from above through magnified and enlarged hearts clinging to the walls surrounded by plate fungi.

The trailing off was caused by her brain making the connection between the hearts and the hand-shaped predators she'd fought before. Oh God.

"Something thought we were good enough to copy parts off of. Those look like human hearts from my biology homework. Let's pick up the pace, okay?"

"For whatever they are, yes.  They're still interdimensional beings of great power."    Abel continued on at a brisk pace, not really disturbed by their surroundings.  "So how are your friends taking the new you?"  Do you still go running with them?"

He chuckled. "Just because I can keep tabs on you all, and read your thoughts doesn't mean I do.   We all want our own privacy, to do our own thing, so I do my best to respect that."

He Felt the presence first, a Humanoid shape moving in the dark, and then grunted, as half a dozen tendrils impacted against the directional shield.   "Well then, it seems we're either being tested, or there will be no diplomacy."  He raised his free hand, and from behind two doglike creatures attacked, leaving Jeane to respond.


"I don't suppose that you'd be willing to call it no harm, no foul and talk about this Key to whatever you are?" The cloaked blonde offered to the big guy with a laugh and a burst of lightning, red lightning announcing her displacement behind the pair of beasties.

Downward flashed the sunblade into the closest horror, bringing a wet yelp of pain as the tool carved through scale and flesh and scale again, a second burst of lightning bringing Jeane back to Abel's side.

'Yeah... Not really. It's.. awkward now. I run with a lot of crews all over the place, but my old friends know the old me enough to know I'm holding back hard whenever we go out if I stick to their pace. And that defeats the point of the style of Parkour I was taught," she explained over the link, feet shifting ready to dodge any revenge, 'So what's the plan if our friend is as bad as he looks?'

Abel frowned, and simply blasted the enemy before them, obliterating the creature that had looked vaguely human.  It wasn't his strongest attack, but it was fairly reflexive. 

We leave if it's beyond us, and find somewhere else to explore.  Interesting as this world is, I'm really not out to kill things in a world unless attacked first.  I will defend myself, but not anything more.  There are too many possibilities, but we can explore other worlds.  Besides, I'd rather not face threats with just us, if they prove to be on our level.

He was all too familiar with holding back. So dorm down to run with them. You'll be better than before, but honestly, nowhere close to where you are as a key.

'So that wasn't the mind you mentioned.'

Jeane fired off the assumption through the link, even as she counter-charged the uninjured creature's lunge, teleporting out from under the horror. This infinite quantum thing was fun, allowing her to exploit the time for thought afforded her by the slow motion demi-dimension she shifted through. Another bolt and she was back, lopping off the head of the injured hound in an upward swing of her blade, shifting from a crouch to a spinning slash, conjuring her quantum blade in a lethal, dual-bladed pirouette that bisected the last monster in a shower of not-quite blood.

She stood there, back to Abel, red blade in her left hand, yellow blade in her right.

"It's not safe, Abel. I'm less than five seconds from a lot of places, ten seconds from delivering one of you with me if we organize it, and James is helping me add more every day. When it comes to a crisis, I'll be ready and there. But if a sniper or another Key gets me if I let my guard down... Then either I'm a hostage or we're that much weaker with me dead. It's just not safe. Aren't a lot of 7 foot tall blonde teens parkouring the Norfolk city limits for me to hide behind, ya know?"

"Do you always have to be seven feet tall?"  he answered back as they finished off the threats.   "You do realize We make defensive systems in addition to weaponry and other more close to mundane technologies too right?"

he chuckled  "Yeah we nerded out and made some things straight from comics and movies, but they're all tools to protect us, or help us protect others.   There was a time where I knew nearly every Key alive."

He added softly after that.  "There was a time where I thought I was the only one."

He moved on, heading deeper into the base, coming to a stairwell downward.  "We go down, now.  It's liable to get even weirder from here."

"Bring it, universe," Jeane offered with a chuckle, ducking by one of the hounds before flickering back to Abel's side, wave a small plastic case containing a newly snapped off alien digit, "Sample. Got a dozen empty ones in my bag along with a nice big sealable bag if you want a head or something to study later."

She tucked away the case, tone both amused and ever so slightly melancholy, "Didn't even think of that. The tech I mean. I tried dorming down, but it seems the height sticks even if I turn the quantum off. I'm cool with it though. Top shelf privileges for life."

She flicked one of the veins of glowing sap that converged on the wall next to and down the stairs, "Bet you a dollar something down here is feeding on this. Haven't found a living plant on any of my previous two trips, and here we have all this."

Abel frowned as a torrent of energy impacted the forward shield, and three more creatures were before them.  Working in tandem they killed them, and the three that came from the walls as if created from them, and he scowled.  "Something's doing a lot to test us.  And this isn't plantlife.  It's a fusion of plant, animal, and fungi, near as I can tell.   We're going right into the decontamination room when we go home, We have to."

He had used his energy blast again, not willing to tip too much more of his hand.  As they head down the stairs, they finally came to the level he knew would house the portal room.  "This is our floor, be ready."


Looking thoughtful, Jeane summoned a crackling lightning axe to keep her sunblade company, alien ichor having splashed her cloak in the last skirmish.

'Let me go first when we're a room or two out from the mind at the center of this. I'm pretty obvious. Dash. Stab. Crackle. Repeat. But you have tricks and tricks that don't need line of sight. Or at least your line of sight,' she offered over the link, a grim giggle flavoring her words, 'Mix it up a little. You can always run in if I go silent faster than even I can and I can keep fighting longer if my juice gets cut off.'

The towering blonde smiled, gesturing with her sunblade to show exactly whose gift had given her a major boost in that area.

"Or we can fight behind my shield, which gives at least some protection from one angle, like we have been doing. I think whatever is here, is simply intrigued Jeane, sending minions to test us, to feel us out. It isn't shielding its presence at all, but I'm not that eager to get into the head of another alien."

He had ignited one of his own energy swords, and they continued on. The area was showing more signs of damage now. "I think, whatever it was, came in here, actually. All the blasts were going out, not in."

For a heartbeat, there was a clear 'you're no fun sometimes' look of silent mutiny on Jeane's face before she fell back into step alongside the telepath. Someone had fought hard here. Either the defenders or the things coming after them had stopped caring about collateral damage. The fact there were no bodies, not even the shadows, made her on edge, so she spun that off into it's own stream of thought.

"So... She's being really good about hiding from our parents, but she's getting really jealous about me being back, well, like I am, and being on good terms with my Mom again. Good as a Key you are, you're much better at being a big brother than I am a big sister. How do I keep her from blowing up and pulling a... Me basically."

"You let her be her." Abel replied softly. "You've seen how I spoil my own siblings. I did that before I unlocked, and haven't stopped even now. They're both the next step, and I'm still helping them learn about their powers."

He sighed, "I try to set a good example for them to learn from, whether good or bad, in hopes that they'll be happy when they grow up. That's all I'm willing to do." With his powers, it was certainly true he could ensure they did what he wished, but that wasn't a path he'd choose.

"Talk with her, let her know you're still you, just abit bigger than life. You need to maintain that bond and connection. Take care of those who truly matter to you."

Abel scowled as they came to a huge door.  It was a bulkhead, closed automatically, though he could see the initial doors were in heaps against the walls of the large chamber. "Whatever's here, is behind that.  Are you ready?"

"Ready as I'll ever be," the towering blonde volunteered, shunting Abel's advise to yet another stream of thought.

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When his TK cracked the doors open, it was with the wet squelch you'd expect from shelling an oyster, an organic layer stretching and snapping as the gap extended large enough for a human being to enter. As to what was inside... the gate chamber was scattered with pulsing nodules fed by the glowing vein-roots from above. A layer of glittering diamond dust covered everything else. On one wall hung the shattered remnants of the portal itself, braced with organic struts to hold it's bits in the places they would have occupied if it were intact, the remainder occupied by an organic mockery of the rest of the device. An organic turbine hissed and swelled, gathering energy for something, a tangle of veins feeding from it to the portal's form.

And against the opposite wall? The mind that had drawn them in here sat in lotus position, eyeless, mouthless face swiveling to face them. It's thoughts sang out loud enough to register as a brush against Abel's shield, the thwarted message making the device in Jeane's ear grow warm. The verbal other half to this message spanned the entire audible spectrum and beyond, a six-part chorus echoing from the mouths hidden on it's body. Greeting. Threat. Maybe both together.

Abel frowned but still answered.  "No Threat, simple travelers."  He knew he wasn't that convincing even as he placed the shield between them.  He didn't care, as he couldn't let it get to jeane, since she was the only way home.


The monstrous giant's exposed entrails squirmed in their pelvic framework, one biforicated forearm pointing first at Abel and then at Jeane, it's mental roar of a voice ringing through the aether again. The blonde shifted her footing cautiously, frowning as the trinket stayed warm in her ear, verging on hot.

"Prey WordsLiesSpeak RestrictedAcceptableSafe. SpawnOfMind. DroneOfVoid. Prey PortalDoorGate BrokenGoneImportant. RepairRestoreHeal NeededUrgentHoly. HelpAidTolerate ProcessorOfFlesh. OldRightWrong PackGroupTeam HuntKillConsume Prey. SeekFindEnter ParentLordHomes," came the disjointed reply, it's chorus of borrowed voices weaving in and out of one another in a distrust born of assumed familiarity rather than a first contact scenario.

Abel frowned, and quickly parsed out what it meant.  "No, we're not with your brethren, and we cannot help you reconstruct the portal, we won't."

He was not going to give this thing a functional portal.

Be ready to fight Jeane, if it understands, it will either attack, or let us go.


The creature's mental outburst was even louder this time, overtones of surprise and dismay in equal measure hammering at Abel's shields and pushing Jeane's ear implant to it's red hot operating limits. The diamond dust danced like crazy in the grip of a storm, abrading the organic growths about the room and spurting various colored ichors from new cuts.

Then it all stopped, the 'ProcessorOfFlesh' going still as a statue once more.

"FoolishBlindIgnorant. NotBrood. NotPrey. NewUnknownAlien NoThreatSimpleTravelers," answered the creature, the last 'word' said in Abel's own voice alone over instead of a disjointed acapella, "MustShallTake ProcessorOfFlesh GiftSeedSpawn. AloneLostTrapped ParentLordHome GoneDespairBroken."

The dust between them boiled once more, drawing together and rising into a transparent egg-like structure about the size of a large dog, a miniature version of the creature curled within.

"EnvoyFoodYours, NoThreatSimpleTravelers. ProcessorOfFlesh LeaveSeekShare NewsInformationHope."

Not injured by the burning heat of the implant, not yet, Jeane spared Abel a sidelong look, curious how he wanted to play it. At least it hadn't quoted her yet.

Abel scowled.  "We're leaving Jeane, back away slowly."

He kept the shield between them even as the spawn advanced, commanded in his own voice.

Raising his right hand, he blasted the first spawn, destroying it with unbridled force.   "The time for Talk is done."

It couldn't follow them, likely it wouldn't try, but that didn't mean it would let them leave the room.

Three things happened very rapidly.

One, the fleshy tendons hanging from the walls tensed and slammed the vault doors shut with a scream of protesting metal.

Two, Jeane moved forward, already glowing from the inside as red sparks began their swift work of dismantling her flesh.

Three, an array of spines erupted from the Processor's body, causing the quantum charge in the towering blonde's node to misfire and root itself in the diamond dust, throwing her upwards and away from her teammate.

A psychic laugh bounced off of Abel's mental shields, the mentalist's senses picking up the burbling and popping of many more spawn on the other side of the door, even as the heavy framework of the mock-portal began to coalesce slowly into a much larger egg shape.

"You should have let us go, and you really shouldn't have hurt my friend."   Two of the chintinous spawn within the room were lifted into the air, and compressed into the size of a golf ball by the unyielding telekinetic might of Abel's mind.

Jeane hadn't seen this particular version before,  but she knew what was coming as the two balls of mass accelerated at insane speeds, the first impacting and shattering the central creature's defensive shield, and the second hitting the same point right behind it, blowing a massive hole in the creature's torso.

"Jeane can you get us out of here?"


Rudely planted on her ass by the misfire of quantum, Jeane regained her feet in a vertical flip that had her cloak fluttering. She hit the ground again, ponytail thumping against her back, sunblade gleaming in her right hand.

"No. Just keep hitting that dude with other dudes until I can," she replied, looking disgruntled as she swung at the mob of spawn popping out of the walls like an ever-ever expanding ache outbreak.

Leaning it's weight on it's left hands, the processor just stared eyelessly at Abel, it's gargantuan spawn ripening behind it, writhing organs attempting to close the hole in it's chest. The rest of the burgeoning hoard clamored forward, engaged by Jeane. Well, most of them anyway, one in six were promptly dropping through holes in the floor and attempting to flee the scene.

Abel seemed to blur, and the processor was unprepared for the veteran Key's assault, as he made no less than a dozen attacks inside what seemed like a single moment, his brilliant energy blades cleaving flesh and leaving the scent of ozone and seared meat in the air, as he hacked the creature apart completely.   "Heal from that."

Once again he put the shield up to protect them from at least one direction, and prepared to turn his might on the door to get them out.


Infinite quantum. Until you stubbed your toe.

Oh, she was still faster, tougher, just plain better, by far than any of the spawn, but there were quite a few of them and only one of her and unlike every action movie ever, they were not taking turns. The blonde amazon danced and spun among the pack of eerily silent monsters, sunblade searing through flesh as she chopped and stabbed. She was poetic slaughter in motion, cloak and ponytail flowing behind her. Tendrils soaked in digestive acid reached for her legs, clinging claws ripped at her pam suit.

Most missed, most failed to break her skin, but each and every cut and burn that did prompted a moment of ache and after the second drain of focus, she just let it go, the misfire of quantum in the back of her thoughts dropping off entirely.

She stomped down hard on the latest clinging spawn and hacked it in twain with a downward swing.

Jeane turned on one heel to put down another attacker, only to catch it writhing it's last on the end of Abel's blade. She met his eyes and nodded. The dance became a blazing duet, pack of beasts caught between the two of them, Jeane the anvil to Abel's flickering hammer, and denied the advantage of flanking they had enjoyed before, the flow of reinforcements cut off with the Processor's death. The behemoth on the wall slowed it's rapid growth, transmitting slow dreams of the hunt.

Abel scowled as he could feel others trying to escape.  No, that wasn't going to happen.  he reached out their central brains exploding under his psychic assault, an utterly merciless act.  He didn't want any survivors to tell the tale of them coming here.   

Looking to the behemoth on the wall, he reached out with his mind, Telekinetic hand grasping it firmly, and then beginning to squeeze and compress.  There was actual resistance, but it was nothing that would stop him, as he made it smaller and smaller, until it was the size of a basketball, then in a dozen strikes with his energy saber, cut it apart.

"That should be the last of them Jeane, are you alright?"

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"Yeah. Nothing a few minutes of rest won't let me make all better," she answered easily, covered in blood that was both hers and the creatures. The former was clumping up and flowing back towards the dozen small wounds it had poured from, as stubborn as it's source, forming liquid band aids over the gashes.

"Huh. When did my blood start doing that? Can't so much as fix my suit right now," she volunteered, lifting up the edge of her ragged-looking cloak, and dropping it again, sheathing her deactivated sunblade with a sigh, "Want samples from this mess..? Got four containers left."

The towering blonde shifted her gaze to the remains of the portal, "Think any people made it off planet to escape all this? Enough of them to give it a go somewhere else?"

Abel moved to take the sample cases and collect tissue samples, but all the same he was just ready to leave.  Her blood's new ability was different, not something he'd seen before.  "Might need to get a blood sample from you, and run some tests when we get home, if you want to know exactly what's happening when it does that."

He sighed, and Did a mental scan of the area.  "Without more data, I can't say they had the tech level to colonize space.   Given what I have seen, I think that the answer is no, there was no escape.   There are things out there that make what we fought look like minnows.  I really don't care to face any of that."


Well, that was cheerful. Just what she needed to add to all the other stuff Abel had given her to think about. Still. They'd won.

"Fine with me. Be nice to know a little bit more about what my node is up to. Just give me a few to get my juice back, and I'll bring us back," she answered, plopping down in a clean-ish patch of diamond dust, "Thanks for keeping me company. Jackie Chan movie marathon when we get back? I don't have a curfew tonight, and the man is still one of the best there ever was."

She grinned up at him from the ground, showing her relative youth and innocence.

Abel nodded.  "You're welcome. Thanks for putting up with me."    Abel smiled back at her.  "We can go with Jackie Chan this time, then maybe Jet Li."  Abel loved that kind of movie, and you could see it in his hand to hand fighting.  It was nice to get to share something normal with someone else.


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