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Telluris

Aberrant: Infinite Earth - Cosmos Nova - [CN Prelude] Telluris: Year One

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[Four years ago]

"How old did you say this kid was?" Joe Horst flipped through the file the colonel had handed him as they waited. In the bunker, the only natural light came from the heavily-screened viewing slits the two men were standing before. Several sets of high-powered binoculars were on the ledge ready for use, and dim red light permeated the rest of the bunker as aides and technical personnel quietly intoned into various microphones. Kinda like a church, Horst mused as he turned back to the summary page and looked at the picture of the youth there. But for what religion?

"Sixteen now. He was fifteen when we picked him up. Seems he popped when the Refugees first came through." The colonel tapped one of the technicians monitoring the range's sensors on the shoulder. "How long?"

"Ten minutes, sir."

"Let me know when it's one minute till."

"Yessir." The colonel looked back at the man who, if rumor was right, was going to be the newly-appointed head of the newly-formed Department of Superhuman Affairs. Horst looked up from his reading.

"Says here he killed his stepfather." the bureaucrat said levelly.

"Accident." The colonel tapped an attached psych report. "The kid's really cut up about it still. It took nearly six months just to try and get him to practice his powers. And he's a long way from comfortable with it."

"Hmm." was all Horst said as he looked back down at the page. Then he looked back up again. "So... magnetism?" The one-word question was loaded with all sorts of meaning.

"I know, sir. But comic books aside, he's no supervillain."

"It's more than magnetism!" The excitable tones of the white-coated woman nearby intruded on the calm discussion. "Our Mr Mitchell can tap into the very currents of the Earth itself." The dirty-blonde hair was piled up in loose disarray, a pencil stuck in it over the ear as she focused on the readout of one of the monitors.

"Explain that to me, Doctor...?"

"Yurgen. Anna Yurgen." she turned towards Horst long enough to shake his hand. "I'm the project lead on the Mitchell boy. He's quite extraordinary, which is why we've had to work to make his environment as ordinary as possible."

"His environment?"

"Home, school, friends. It's manipulative to a degree, but we need to keep his feelings of alienation down. Because otherwise, Mister Horst, we are looking at a supervillain."

"Oh come on, Doc." the colonel started in a tone that told Horst that this discussion was an old one. "The kid's a nice guy."

"Of course he is!" Dr Yurgen said defensively. "But if you try to use him for military purposes, a supersoldier, you'll take that away from him."

"He'd be trained to follow orders-"

"Until he decides he doesn't have to!" the doctor argued vociferously. "His mind is already faster and more powerful than a Cray supercomputer, colonel. You'll be left with a super-smart young man with the power to cause earthquakes and rip cities apart, and with military conditioning to respond to threats. Maybe you should read more comic books. That scenario never ends well."

"The Department of Superhuman Affairs is not, and never will be, a military organisation." Horst said firmly. "It is the considered opinion of the White House that, as Doctor Yurgen says, novas are not suited to being soldiers. We may aid peacekeeping actions - though that's not certain yet - but we aren't in the business of fighting wars." That seemed to satisfy the doctor, and the colonel merely nodded aquiescence. "Now explain to me about the earthquakes thing, Doctor."

"Mr Mitchell can manipulate gravity, electromagnetism, rock and minerals. He's not so much Magneto as the mythical figure Antaeus, who drew his strength from the Earth. Though we've been told by the Refugees that there was an Antaeus on their home world, so we're not using that codename. The best analogy we can give you is that Rob taps into the telluric currents that run through this planet - and the universe generally."

"So do all novas." said the colonel curtly. "The quantum forces: they all tap into those."

"In Rob's case, it's simply more direct." Dr Yurgen explained. "He can make himself stronger and more dense, or reshape metal, or raise huge walls of earth and rock. We think his mental and hand-eye acuity is due to electromagnetic enhancement of his brain and neural system. And yes, he can cause earthquakes. Or, theoretically, stop them."

"And the gravity?"

"He uses it to fly, and can affect the gravity of an area by either increasing or decreasing it. He's also capable of a form of telekinesis with it, altering the microgravities around an object to lift and move it. Oh, and he can shield himself with it."

"Shield himself?"

"Oh yes. An intensely strong gravitic forcefield. We've scanned him when he's shielding at full strength, and it even distorts our sensors. EM energy, gravitic anomalies... it's fascinating."

"You'll get to see that in action, sir." the colonel supplied.

"Wait. Are we going to be shooting at a sixteen year old boy?" Horst demanded, looking from doctor to soldier incredulously.

"Oh, don't fret Mr Horst." Dr Yurgen said with a laugh. "He enjoys it."

* * * * *

[A little over one year ago]

"This sucks." The young man in the chair with his sandaled feet up on the table said with brutal honesty, as he levitated the last doughnut over to his hand. The Director scowled at him, and the various technicians, doctors and other officials wore expressions varying between annoyance and sympathy as they glanced down to the end of the table where Telluris sat.

"I mean, seriously guys. Novas aren't a big damn secret. But you've got me running around doing sneaky disaster relief, for crying out loud. C'mon, Director! When are we gonna unleash Telluris on the world stage?"

"You've been 'unleashed' enough." Horst growled at him, waving a large photograph of the naked rear-end of Rob as he flew off into the sky. "We told you to keep the speeds down below two hundred, but you had to go faster, didn't you?"

"So get me a new supersuit." Rob shrugged and bit into the doughnut, wolfing it down in three bites. "What about that new inventor-brain you guys are bringing in? Karrie Diner."

"Dineh. And yes, one of the first things we will be getting Ms Dineh to design is something that allows public decency laws to be observed by supersonic idiots." Horst said acidly.

"'Gee, thanks for saving that Airbus, Telluris.' 'I don't know what we'd have done if the plane had crashed, Telluris'." Rob said in an affected growl, then smiled at Horst. "See, that's what it sounds like when people appreciate me speeding to the rescue. Those folks on the plane didn't care that my ass was bare."

"Oh, judging by the number of snaps on the Internet, they did." said an official, trying not to smile. Rob grinned.

"Okay, so there's some publicity. So let's counter it with awesome publicity. Take me off the bench, coach." he told Horst.

"You are staying benched until your clothes stay on, and that's final." Horst scowled. "Now lets move on to the training review."

"Boring..." Rob sighed, slumping down more in the chair.

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[A little less than a little over one year ago]

"So, you're the half-naked flying guy."

The female voice broke into Rob's conscious thought processes as he made small adjustments to the calibration of a satellite sensor array with a pair of floating tools. Rob himself was seated on a workbench and frowning in faint concentration as he tapped away with admirable speed on a laptop. Without ceasing typing or the microadjustments, he glanced over at the doorway to the lab, which currently framed a cute girl.

Cute was perhaps unfair, but the brown-skinned girl (looks Native American Rob thought) was not conventionally beautiful. Her jaw was a little too big, her nose a little too prominent. Pretty was probably preferable to her, Rob mused, but there was something about the way she wore engineering coveralls, a tool belt and her black hair in pigtails that stamped CUTE in big red letters all over her. She was currently scrutinising Rob as though sizing him up, the scrutiny continuing for about three more seconds before she nodded.

"Yup, I can do that." she said to no-one in particular, then smiled at him as she came over, offering him a brown hand. "I'm Karrie Dineh."

"Rob Lehnsherr." he replied, taking her hand. Karrie blinked, then smiled slightly.

"Lehnsherr? Really? I thought that was a joke."

"Yep."

"Your name's Lehnsherr and you control magnetic fields..." she went on levelly.

"Yep." Rob was grinning now.

"What's your real name?" Karrie narrowed her eyes.

"Robert..." he paused, seeing her look expectant. "Lehnsherr." The girl made a faint explosive sound of female frustration.

"Fine. So what're you working on?"

"A Q-detector for the DSA's first satellite." Rob said without further explanation, his eyes on Karrie's face as she leaned over his shoulder to peer at his laptop.

"To pick up quantum traces?" she said as soon as she saw the plans on the screen and the calculations alongside them. "Hmm, not very sensitive. You could get much better sensitivity by-" Karrie stopped as Rob gently held up a finger.

"I'm not looking for sensitive." he explained in a low voice. "I'm looking for something that'll pick up large flares of quantum, as occurs with eruptions, or maybe some powerful nova doing something big. I'm not making Cerebro here." he added with a grin.

"Makes sense." Karrie nodded with a frown. Then she glanced at him. "Well, we'd better get down to it."

"Down to it?" Rob looked puzzled as she nodded affirmatively.

"Yeah. One of the reasons I came down here alone is because I thought you'd appreciate not having a crowd... what with what we're going to be doing and all."

"What are we going to be doing?"

"You'll see." Karrie grinned at him. "As soon as you strip."

"What?!"

"Strip. Drop trou. Remove your clothes." Karrie grabbed the laptop away and set in on the workbench. "Hot diggity! My first naked superhero!"

"Listen, that's flattering but we only just met." Rob slipped off the bench and skittered away as Karrie, grinning like a shark, made a grab for him.

"C'mere."

"Nuh-UH, crazy lady."

Three minutes of fruitless chasing around the lab had Karrie floating in a zero-gravity zone roughly ten feet over Rob's head, making frantic swimming motions to try and get at him. This, then, was the scene that greeted Director Horst when he came to check on how the two young novas were getting along. To his credit, Horst didn't goggle or shout: he simply looked up at the floating mega-genius, then fixed the mega-genius responsible for that floating with a narrow stare.

"Explain."

"Well, she came in and tried to tear my clothes off, Director."

"Snitch!"

"Pervert!"

"Crybaby!"

"Am not!"

"Are too!"

"Enough!" Horst growled as the two so-called geniuses stuck their tongues out at each other like children in a playground. "Telluris, Coyote here is supposed to be measuring you for a suit appropriate for high-speed flight. Coyote, please tell me you actually told him that."

"It seemed more fun the other way." Karrie admitted with a sly smile as she caught Rob's eye. Rob grinned and nodded.

"It was. A definite ice-breaker." he agreed, looking over at Horst. "I like this one, chief. Can we keep her?"

"It's Director, not 'chief'." Karrie said. "I can't call him chief - the word means other things to the Navajo."

"Great White Chief, perhaps?" Rob suggested as he gently lowered her down.

"He might be sensitive about his weight."

"He is."

"If you two comedians are done..." Horst scowled at the comedy double-act. "Rob, you let Karrie work. Karrie, make me something that'll stay on this boy when he goes supersonic."

"Yes chief." Karrie gave Horst a Hollywood Native American-style salute, raising a palm towards him and bowing her head. Rob mimicked her without missing a beat. As Horst growled under his breath and left, the two novas exchanged a glance and started laughing quietly.

"Okay, you ready to do this?" Rob asked.

"If you are." Karrie grinned. "I'm not the one going to be naked."

"Hardly seems fair." he grumbled.

"It's good to be me, at times like this." Karrie nodded, grinning again as he blushed.

"Hey... um, you don't mean all the way naked, do you? I can keep my shorts on, is what I'm asking."

"Oh, don't be such a boy. It's not like I'm going to giggle." Karrie sighed, rolling her eyes. "I need to make something that's going to be formfitting, otherwise you'll be naked as soon as you break the sound barrier. I've done some math, and I should be able to keep you covered up to Mach 3."

"I go to 4.5" Rob said as he removed his t-shirt. Karrie 'hmmmed' as she tried not to ogle nova-flesh. He wasn't as hot as Mech, but still...

"Don't worry. I can compensate for that." she told him after a moment. "Should be able to make it fire-proof and cold-proof, too. You don't really need bulletproof from what the files say, but the weave I'm considering is- Oh!"

The "Oh!" was as a result of Rob dropping his jeans and, very reluctantly, letting his shorts follow suit. Karrie stared for a moment before Rob, somewhat diffidently, covered himself. Karrie tried to find somewhere to rest her eyes as her mind raced.

"Well." she said after a pause that was full of pink clouds of awkward. "That'll be a factor."

"Yep."

"Is it a nova thing?" Karrie had to ask, then wished she hadn't. "I mean, is that a result of you being-"

"No." Rob said again, his face and neck crimson. "It's, uh, always been like that."

"Oh." was all she could say for a moment. "Well." she added. "The good news is, I think I can work with that. I mean work around- I mean... Oh, you know." she finished lamely, her own face feeling hot. Finally, she managed to meet his eyes, and saw that he was mortified, but bearing up well. He gave her an embarrassed smile.

"It's cool." he said quietly. "Let's just get the measuring done. Uh, quickly."

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[A little less than a little less than a little over one year ago...]

"We've got a situation."

Being a watch officer in NORAD was usually an easy job, Lt. Commander Sue Michelard reflected as she looked up from her desk at the Air Force sergeant manning the consoles in front of her. Today, however, the tense tone in the noncom's voice was an indicator that this was about to change.

"What is it, sergeant?"

"Flash report from the Atlantic desk: 341-A just deviated." The Lt. commander sat bolt upright. Farmville could wait - 341-A was a satellite. Specifically, it was a U.S. KDR radar satellite, designed to penetrate the ground. Built during the Cold War with the express intention of finding hidden missile silos, they frequently pulled double-duty performing geological survey and oceanographic imaging jobs. The KDR's were huge, and valuable, each one costing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars - and that was without factoring in the hideous cost of the shuttle launches to get the damn things up in the sky.

"What are NASA saying?"

"The deviation is unplanned. Something just knocked 341-A off course - best guess is that it was a micrometeor or some other orbiting junk." the sergeant reported, eyes flickering as he skimmed the screen in front of him. "They're plotting a trajectory now."

The commander settled back in her chair for a tense wait. Hopefully, $500+ million dollars of hardware would either go spinning off into space or else splash down harmlessly in the ocean. It was a shame, but these things happened. It could always be worse...

* * * * *

"...so I'm guessing it's worse than they thought, if they're calling us." Robert 'Telluris' Lehnsherr finished for his boss as he adjusted the fastenings on his suit. Director Horst scowled, but without much force to it, which told Rob exactly how bad things were.

"Smack dab in the middle of Detroit." Karrie 'Coyote' Dineh confirmed as she double-checked NASA's data on her laptop.

"Police and the National Guard are already moving to evacuate people from the projected impact zone, but that takes time Detroit doesn't have a lot of. The state governor bumped an emergency request up to the White House, and through them to us. DSA is about to go public."

"Yay." Rob said absently, leaning over Karrie's shoulder and examining the data scrolling past. He nodded to himself, then straightened up. "I can do this, chief."

Horst just nodded, keeping his doubts to himself as Rob left the room at a jog. The crashing orbital debris would be coming down at roughly Mach 10, all 30 tons of it. It would impact downtown Detroit with enough force to leave a crater ten blocks wide at least... unless Telluris could stop it. It was a tall order for a young man barely out of his teens, but that wouldn't stop Rob from trying with all the immortal certainty of youth. Horst just hoped that the kid wouldn't get himself killed. He shook away his fears and looked at Coyote.

"Let's keep an eye on that thing so Telluris isn't waiting in the wrong place for it."

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The wind howled in his ears almost as though protesting the speed at which Rob was cutting through the air. Despite his eagerness for action the young nova wasn't stupid - lives were hanging on what he did over the next 30 minutes or so. If he screwed this up, hundreds of people might die and the the DSA would be finished before it even got started.

"No pressure" he muttered to himself under the roar of the wind. A glance down at his wrist display showed the updated trajectory of the satellite and his quantum-enhanced brain did a few calculations. Rob frowned and keyed his earpiece.

"Telluris to base. Doesn't that thing seem to be coming down a bit too fast?" There was a pause, and then the controller's voice came on.

"Coyote confirms it. You're right, Telluris." The watch officer's voice sounded confused. "She's saying some external force propelled that satellite. NASA is claiming that it was a micrometeorite."

"Must have been a hell of a collision, is all I'm saying. I'm angling up to intercept now." Rob squinted ahead. "Detroit's in sight." he reported as the smudge on the horizon resolved into the glint of glass and concrete, drawing nearer with frightening speed. He started to climb in altitude, eyes sweeping the sky above. Shouldn't be able to miss it. Big fiery ball of metal heading for the home of Motown.

"Tracking says you should be in visual in-"

"Got it." Rob said tersely. The speck of light grew slowly but surely as it fell to earth. Telluris narrowed his eyes and shot towards it.

"Telluris, don't hit that damn thing too hard!" Horst barked over the comm. "It'll break up and scatter. Keep it in one piece."

"Relax, boss." Rob said tautly. "I've got this." He watched the falling satellite approach and took a deep breath. "You've got this." he muttered to himself, clenching that part of him that let him control metal and reaching out for the satellite. The power wrapped around the satellite, gripped...

"I've got it." Rob announced with a large grin

...and then stopped grinning as the plummeting satellite ripped through the cradle of his magnetokinesis and continued towards downtown Detroit.

"I don't got it." Rob swore over the mic and reached out again, this time gritting his teeth with the effort of slowing the damn thing. The shapeless lump of superheated metal and electronics wavered in its course and slowed a little, but didn't stop. It was now at his altitude and still falling.

"Well, shit."

"Telluris, report!"

"Busy right now." Rob upended and dove, trying to match speeds with the satellite as he glanced at his map display. The changes to it's angle and velocity meant that the satellite would be coming down in the suburbs rather than downtown. Not good. NOT good. He kept reaching out and trying to slow the beast further, with some success. Every entanglement with his power bled off some of it's terrible speed, but it was still going at least Mach 3.

"Impact in thirty seconds, Telluris!" The watch-officer's voice sounded tense. Rob could see homes, parks, schools below him. He clenched his jaw and sped up, streaking for the ground at the spot he predicted the satellite would impact. He got there in five seconds, hovering over a back yard containing a swimming pool, three teenage girls in bathing suits, and a boy in the pool, all of whom looked up at him with a mixture of fascination and surprise. Rob looked up and saw the satellite heading right for them.

"Out of the pool." he yelled, drawing on the currents of the Earth around them and feeling his density increase many times over, even as he layered himself in gravitic shields.

"Twenty seconds, Telluris."

"I know!" he snapped into his mic, then shot up to meet the oncoming satellite, arms outstretched to catch it.

"Rob, it's 30 tons of white hot metal, not a softball!" Horst yelled at him.

"So sue me." Rob shot back, right before he caught the satellite...

... or rather, right before the satellite caught him, plastering the DSA nova to it's front like a bug on a windshield. Only with less splatter, Rob quipped to himself as he struggled to regain control. He was uninjured, though he could feel the awful heat of the thing starting to work through his shields.

"Ten seconds to impact."

"Does. Not. Happen." Rob growled through clenched teeth. He could smell burning, and thought it was him as he pushed back against the weight and speed of the falling satellite. It was slowing, it had to be slowing. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the blue pool underneath him, the boy scrambling out of it. Like a snapshot, he saw upturned faces: the three girls, the boy, their mother at the back porch, their neighbours. None of them were running. One of them looking like they were praying. He turned back to face his glowing metal nemesis, closed his eyes, and PUSHED. He wasn't going to make it, he wasn't going to make it...

"Two seconds to impact."

Rob heard people yelling, but it didn't sound like panic or pain. He opened his eyes and looked around.

He was floating roughly ten feet above the surface of the pool, holding the satellite over his head. He could feel the heat of the thing singing his hands, but that didn't matter. What mattered was that everyone was safe. He looked down at them and smiled, noting that they were whooping, applauding, and cheering.

"Uh, hi!" he said brightly. His suit was scorched, but whole. Rob made a note to thank Karrie. He waved at them with one hand, the other supporting the satellite, then looked at the woman. "Excuse me, ma'am, but would you mind if I, uh, doused this thing in your pool? It's a bit hot. The DSA will compensate you for any cleaning or repair needed."

The woman looked askance. "DSA?"

"Department of Superhuman Affairs, ma'am. Did I mention that this satellite is really, really hot?"

"Of course you can dunk it." said the oldest-looking of the teenage girls. "Mom, c'mon! He's a nova!"

"Do you work for the government?" the woman asked suspiciously.

"Yes I do, ma'am." Rob said gravely. "I'd show you some I.D, but right now my hands are occupied. With a hot satellite."

"Oh!" The woman blinked and waved at the pool. "Go ahead."

"Much obliged." Rob dropped the satellite into the pool, raising a huge cloud of steam as he floated to land in the yard, shaking his hands.

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