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[Fiction] Trust In Me


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The nova named Teknokat knew she was close. The node knows.

The sewers underneath Moscow were rather chilly this time of year. It seemed odd that her target had chosen this place to hide himself. He's learning, thought Teknokat, he's realised that we know he loves the warmth. But he's not learning fast enough. Kat had been paying extremely close attention to the missing persons profiles in as many cities as she could. Computer analyses had allowed her to determine where the nova was hunting now. It was lucky for 'Kat that the nova had to feed every 6 hours. He went through a lot of baselines at that rate.

She heard an English-accented voice in her headset. "Sorry 'Kat, we've managed to isolate his signal to within a 500 metres of your location. We can't be more specific than that."

Kat spoke back. "Don't worry Ziggy, I've got the scanner with me. Wherever he's hiding, it won't be there for long. Oh, and Ziggy?"

"Yes, 'Kat?"

"You get another pay rise from this."

"I expected nothing less. Let's get him."

"Right. See you on the other side. Commlink off." With that, the headset went silent. She was already dorm'ed down, so that wasn't a concern for her. She grabbed the ZWIR off her belt.

Once again, she made a mental note to send her thanks to Tuesday for telling her how to use the damn thing. She went through the motions of focusing the device, swearing that this time, he wasn't getting away. The ZWIR picked up a massive (to it, anyway), Telluric flux not 20 meters from her location. I'm lucky he either can't dorm down - or won't, 'Kat decided. She started looking around her location. She placed her Visual Enhancer Goggles on. Plenty of minor cracks in the wall, but no entrance, not even a makeshift one. He'd chosen his hideout well this time. No way in, no way out, unless you could teleport. That option, unfortunately, wasn't within her power. Fortunately, she knew there was always more than one way of getting through a wall.

She pulled her Quantum Boomstick off her back, aimed it at a random piece of wall, and fired. The random piece of wall didn't stand a chance. The dust hadn't even finished expanding before she had raced into the hideout, ready to kill the nova that had, 4 months ago, kidnapped Alex, and tortured him almost beyond recovery.

She couldn't let this one go to chance. She powered up, and let her superior mind and quantum-enhanced reflexes go to work. In less than a second, her hyperintelligent mind had mated her Node Sense with her normal eyesight, and she had identified which one of the people on the floor was the nova she was after. Playing dead, I see, 'Kat thought. That's a new one. Pointless, but new. She aimed her Boomstick at the nova and fired. At that precise instant, the nova teleported to another section of the room.

Taking only half a second to process this, 'Kat spun around to the nova's new location, and fired again. Again, the nova teleported to safety. Her node registered that the nova had teleported outside the chamber, and she rushed to catch him.

She saw the nova attempting to concentrate enough to perform a long-range teleport. She fired quickly at the roof above him, attempting to put him off guard. The nova jumped out of the way, unable to teleport in the confusion. She fired in the direction of his jump, but by this time the nova had regained his senses and teleported out of the way.

Again she found his signal and turned around. He finally spoke. "Just give up. You can't catch me."

Kat aimed the Boomstick at him again, pausing briefly to retort "You said I wouldn't find you a second time, Emoté, and this is attempt #5." She fired. Again, he teleported, this time a good 100 meters away. Kat raced towards the spot, reaching it just in time to see him perform a long-range teleport out of the area. She dorm'ed down as quickly as she could, and activated the ZWIR. She activated the headset.

"Ziggy here," came the reply from the headset.

"I need you to give me a satellite check," 'Kat responded

"Which coordinates?"

The ZWIR finally finished computing the teleport's trajectory. "Telluric coordinates 23453 mark 59123 point 43245."

"Computing and activating," came the reply. A few moments passed "Sorry 'Kat, He teleported to Maui Beach, but he's teleported out again. We've lost him."

'Kat sighed. "I thought we'd get lucky on this one, Ziggy, I really did. Call Moscow Airport and get the jet ready. We've got another three days before we can try again, I intend to use it. We need a new strategy to catch this guy. This is the fifth time he's gotten away from us!"

Ziggy's voice came through the speaker. "Don't I know it. He's not a hyperint, but he's still smart. He's adapting fast to our strategies. Our pilots at Moscow Airport say they'll be ready to fly in about an hour. That should just cover the time it'll take for a taxi to get there. I've already locked onto your location and notified Moscow Authorities. They'll be there in 10 minutes to pick up the survivors."

"Thanks." Said 'Kat. "I'll meet you at LA International. 'Kat out."

[ 03-28-2002: Message edited by: Teknokat ]

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Sydney was in his hotel, continuing to work on his teaching plans for the next semester. It wasn't particularly stimulating work, seeing how the majority of his work was simply tweaking and readjusting sections of the course that hadn't worked last year. He wasn't the kind of teacher to teach the same lessons every year. Changes were vital if the lessons were to be relevant.

It was at that point that the words "INCOMING CALL" superimposed themselves on his screen. He tapped the "RECEIVE" button on his lightpad. Teknokat's face appeared on the screen. It didn't look happy.

"Emoté got away again." She didn't need to say anymore. Despite his not breathing, Syd sighed.

He had to ask the question. It was useless, but he had to. "Any leads this time?"

"No. He double-ported, like he always does."

They both looked at each other in silence. The next question hung in the air, refusing to be verbalised. The conversation had been played out many times before. Finally, 'Kat asked the question. "Have you told Alex yet?"

"No, not yet."

"Sydney, he leaves ALNPI in a week, if you don't tell him now, he'll find out himself, and it'll shatter the trust between you."

"Katherine," Syd began, but 'Kat interrupted.

"Sydney, you may have the right to call me Katherine, but I'm not going to let this slide. You have to tell him before he finds out himself! And he will find out. You know it, I know it."

"There's still time for another try-"

"No, Sydney. This hide and seek game may go on for months, maybe years. He has a right to know that."

"It could undo all these months of progress!"

"It'll undo it worse if he finds out himself!"

Silence again. They both looked at each other.

Kat broke the silence again. "Look Sydney, I personally believe that it's by far better if you tell him, but I'm not going to let you stay silent. I'll be coming to visit on Saturday. If you haven't told him by then, then I'm telling him myself, and don't think I won't."

Defeated, Syd spoke up. "Fine, I'll tell him."

'Kat's image smiled. "Excellent. Now, let's forget about that for a bit. How was the visit by Alex's parents?" Again, Syd pseudo-sighed. 'Kat picked up the body language. "That bad?"

"Intellectually, I think they know that I wasn't responsible for Alex's condition, and I couldn't have prevented it even if I wanted to. Emotionally..." Syd left the thought trailing. "On the bright side," he said, "Alex's dad, you know, the MP? He's managed to get time off parliament next week to accompany Alex home."

"What about his mom?" 'Kat asked.

"She's still around, actually. She managed to get a full week and a half off work, since they brought in a couple of new surgeons, and wanted to give them some extra experience."

"That's good. Listen, I'm almost at LA International, I'm going to have to cut the conversation short. Tell him, OK? He needs to know this."

"I will, Kat. You can depend on that."

Sydney hit the "TERMINATE" button on the lightpad, and tried to get on with his work. For some reason though, it didn't seem all that important anymore.

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Teknokat looked around the conference room. All around, there was nothing but silence.

"Come on people! Don't tell me that you're out of ideas!" she cried, "There must be something that we haven't tried, that stands a chance of beating this guy!" She eyed the people at the table. Everyone at that table had been picked for their ability, imagination and intellect.

Ziggy, a highly competent computer technician from London. Janice, one of the brightest marketing managers not working for Utopia. Damian, an up-and-coming accountant from France. Kacy, an administrative genius from Malaysia. And finally, Angela, the young new intern that had arrived not one week ago. All incredibly smart, fantastically talented, and with imaginations non-pareil. And all completely stumped as to how to bring Emoté down.

Except, 'Kat noted, for Angela. Despite her talents, Angela was a very shy woman, an unfortunate affliction that meant that a lot of good ideas that she might've had never saw the light of day. 'Kat had taken her on because despite the stammering at the interview (which had worsened when she realised that she was talking to a real life nova), there was a definite spark of genius in that noggin of hers. She just had to stop bowing to everyone else and speak up. Ah well, Teknokat thought, I guess I'm going to have to push her this time. "Angela, it looks like you have some ideas. Do you mind sharing them with the rest of us?" Angela face looked for all the world like a deer's caught in a car's headlights. Yep, 'Kat thought, That girl is going to need a lot of work.

"W-w-w-w-well, It's just that it's so obvious, you people must have already thought about it!" the poor girl stammered out.

Ziggy, god bless his soul, chose that moment to realise what his employer was trying to do. "Angela, sometimes what's obvious to one person is missed by a thousand others. If you have an idea, by all means tell us."

Damian piped up, "Angela, we're all drawing blanks right now. Your idea could not possibly hurt."

"Okay, okay," said Angela, boosted by the encouragement. "It seems to me that the big problem is his teleporting abilities. If you could stop him from teleporting, then you wouldn't have a problem catching him"

'Kat smiled. "Good idea, Angela, and you're right, we did think of it already. The second attempt, we tried using moxinoquantamine darts. Unfortunately, the darts encountered the same problem as whacking him. We just can’t hit him."

Angela looked crestfallen. Then, inspiration visibly struck her. "Then, don't hit him!"

Five blank stares looked back at the young intern. "If you can't hit him, don't bother. Like an area effect or something!"

Teknokat was visibly impressed. "Angela, that's brilliant. Why the hell didn’t we think of that?" With that she sent frowns to the rest of the table.

Ziggy spoke up. "We did, when we talked about the mox solution. It ran into the teleport problem, and we agreed that there wasn't a way to make mox inhalable. Of course, we didn't think about trying some other suppression agent."

'Kat powered up. Despite the intelligence that her normal faculties allowed her, creation was always easier when she had her hyperintelligence working. As the rest of the table started discussing among themselves, 'Kat began doing some calculations. Yes, 'Kat thought, There is definite potential in this idea. The problem, really, is time. I can design something like that, no problem, but in three days?

"It's not really a three day solution though, is it?" Ziggy thought out loud.

"I was just thinking the same thing." Said 'Kat.

"Well then," said Kacy, "We'll have to go to someone else. I have a few ideas."

"What, Prodigy Meehan?" said Janice, "Meehan hates us, he made that clear a while back. He still hasn't forgiven 'Kat for stealing the prototype of that power cell."

"I gave it back!" 'Kat protested.

"Not until after you copied the design. What's that nickname he keeps calling you? Kopykat?" Damian chuckled.

"Anyway," Ziggy interjected, "That being the case, I can only see one other person who might help us in this sort of time frame, who doesn’t yet have personal issues with our beloved employer..."

'Kat got it right away. "Atwight. I'll try and contact him, see if he has one ready-made. This seems the kind of thing that he'd have already thought of. If he has made one, this solution might be easier than I first thought!"

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"OK Sydney, let's go through the paces on your laser capabilities." Jason requested. Sydney knew that this was old hat, but the instructor in him knew why he kept insisting on it. An ability half learned was not learned enough. Repetition allowed a person to exercise a capability until he knew it was perfect. And when you're talking about lasers powerful enough to cut through steel, you want to know that you have adequate control over your ability. Hell, that's why he was at the Rashoud Facility in the first place.

He concentrated, and focused on the tip of his finger. A tiny orb of light coalesced into existence as he called for the light to gather. He aimed his finger on the target, and filtered all the unwanted light from the orb, turning it a bright red. Finally, he began organising the light waves, turning the ball into a beam. Finally, he fired at the target, yet again hitting a perfect bullseye.

All this in about two seconds.

Sydney turned around, and spotted another target, this time with a bullseye the size of a pinhead. While baseline visual inspection wouldn't see the bullseye being hit, the computer would. Sydney repeated the firing procedure, this time remembering to focus it even more. He aimed in the general direction (it was always more a concentration aid than anything) and fired. This time, unfortunately, he was a few microns off, and he missed the bullseye.

"Ah well. Can't get them all I s'pose. It's not like I'm training to be an elite," Sydney remarked

"I wouldn't feel too bad, that's still pretty impressive aiming," Jason replied. "Give it a couple more months and you'll be able to fire at individual molecules!"

"Still, I've made that before. I've made smaller, too," Sydney pseudo-sighed. "And frankly, I know why I'm missing."

Jason put on his serious face again "Still haven't told Alex yet, huh?"

"How the hell did you know about that?" Sydney asked, amazed.

"Don't you know Utopia knows everything?" He smiled at the remark, knowing full well he was joking. That joke was yet to get old between the two of them. "No, Teknokat called me this morning, she wanted me to remind you about it. She's not letting this go, Syd."

"Of course she's not, and I know she has a point."

"Then why have you dragged it this far along? Why haven't you told him?"

Sydney thought about this. It was a perfectly valid point. Katherine could see through his rationalisations, obviously so could Jason, why couldn't he? Maybe I should have taken that semester of Psych in first year, Sydney lamented. "I guess, perhaps, I'm afraid of his reaction. I'm afraid that if I tell him, I'll see him unravel."

Jason subtly changed mood, so subtly in fact that Sydney almost didn't notice it. He had, however, definitely changed from trainer to counsellor. Sydney had surmised long ago that he had training in both professions. "I'm not sure I accept that. Has the subject come up at all between the two of you? Or anyone, in fact?" Jason asked.

"No, not as far as I know." Sydney replied.

"So, there's nothing about his therapy that has placed the destruction of his tormentor as one of the keystones of his recovery?"

"No, I guess not."

"Then, you could reasonably assume that all you'll do is perhaps delay him leaving by a day or so. Which is no real problem, considering you're not due back at the university until next semester, and Alex isn't due back at university until next year, am I right?"

"Yes, definitely."

Jason prepared to play the final hand. "So, why have you dragged it this far along? Why haven't you told him yet?"

Sydney paused before giving his answer. "I have no idea, but there's certainly no reason to drag it any further.

Jason had the smile of a victor. "Come on, Sydney. There's still a couple of hours left before visiting hours are over. I say you go over there right now and tell Alex."

"Not today-"

"Don't delay it Sydney. Right now you have the courage of your convictions riding with you. You may not have that tomorrow."

"Fine. Today it will be. Thankyou Jason."

"My pleasure, Sydney. My Pleasure."

[ 03-28-2002: Message edited by: Prof. Sydney 'Photon' Holland ]

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Teknokat walked into her office, with it's enviable view of LA below. She powered up, feeling the quantum forces flowing through her once more. She went to her desk, and pressed the intercom.

"Ziggy?" she called out.

"Yes 'Kat?" came the reply.

"Block all incoming calls, and make sure I'm not disturbed. I'm ready to do this."

"Righto. No interruptions until your say-so. Ziggy out." The intercom went dead.

Teknokat opened up the draw that contained her specialised Opnet interface. All it was was two contact lenses, connected via microtranceivers to the computer at her desk. She placed them in her eye, and used her cyberkinetic powers to activate them. At once the computer started up the 30 specialised hacking programs she had at her disposal, the majority programmed by her, and a stylised image of her Opnet node replaced her normal vision. It looked like a small tunnel, like the images of fibre-optic cables that all the telecommunication companies had showed to the world in the early 90s. She checked to ensure all the programs were on standby, then "dove" into the Opnet.

The lenses made it an almost exhilarating experience. With the unmistakable finesse of a practiced master, she flowed through the graphics playing in front of her eyes. She wasn't entirely sure where Atwight's node was. Or, for that matter, how she was going to get into it once she got there. But she would cross that bridge when she got to it.

For almost an hour, she flowed through the wires of the Opnet, seeking small clues and suggestions, until finally, she stumbled across Atwight's node. In her vision, it looked... forgettable. Gently, she probed the entrance, attempting to get a feel for the level of security. She knew she could just try knocking on the port, but why spoil the challenge?

She was still at it 20 minuted later when the port unexpectedly opened up. Damn, 'Kat thought, He spotted me. Oh well. At least he's not sending anything after me. Carefully, she went inside the port. What she saw when she got in there was... indescribable.

It was unlike any intranet Teknokat had ever seen. Whoever had designed it (and she had a pretty good idea of the culprit) had made the system a shining example of beauty. Shimmering lights and data constructs floated in and around the place. Vessels filled with light filled the area, like a giant web of ephemera. But most of all, it was the... order of it all that truly amazed 'Kat. Anyone without hyperintelligence would not be able to appreciate the beauty of what she was seeing, and even at her level, she was certain she was missing more than she was seeing. The sight threatened to mesmerise her, until she remembered why she came here. Reluctantly, she began the task of determining where she needed to go. In almost no time, she saw a link into the system's comm system. She dove into it, tapping it out, silently looking for the terminal she was looking for. It took only a few seconds to determine the course she'd be charting. She dove through and-

-Found herself in realspace again. She knew at once that she hadn't been kicked off. A quick inspection indicated that she was in fact in another office. And she had a pretty good idea who's it was.

"Atwight, are you there?" 'Kat called out.

A voice emanated from the other side of the room. "I am here, Katherine Greyfolk. I will tell you know that I do not appreciate people attempting to break into my computer systems."

"Then why did you let me in?" 'Kat answered to the air, still trying to see where the voice was coming from."

A small laugh came from the air. "I would not bother attempting to find me, Ms Greyfolk. I have filtered the program so that my guise is not visible to your teleprescence. I do feel that your attempt should be penalised somehow."

"Atwight, you still have not answered the question. Why did you let me in?"

"Because, Ms Greyfolk, I am aware that you would not have spent all this time searching for me if you did not want to find me. I was curious as to the reason why." Curiosity, 'Kat thought, Even when you're the smartest person in the cosmos, you still want to learn more.

"Well then, guess I'd better not keep you waiting. Basically, I need a teleport inhibitor. Something that will prevent a person from teleporting, as well as doing so in a wide range."

"I do not understand why you had to come to me with this, Ms Greyfolk."

'Kat sighed. "You're right, I can make such a device, but I want to catch Emoté as quickly as possible, and that is in 2 days time. I can't design and create that kind of device in 2 days."

"So you thought you would come to me and ask if I had one 'lying around'?"

"Well, yeah. It seemed the kind of thing you'd have already considered."

"You are correct, I have designed such a device already. I even have a portable device that would allow teleport inhibition over a 500-meter radius. The question is, however, why I should give this device to you."

Teknokat thought for a second. She knew Atwight would see through any argument she made, but she at least wanted to make a go of it. "There isn't any reason. But I know that without this device, I will almost certainly have no chance of bringing Emoté to justice. You may not care about this, but I most certainly do. Alex was my friend, and I will not allow the person who almost destroyed his life to walk away without facing the consequences. Not to mention, of course, the other people he's abused in this way. I'm no Avenger, but I want to see this through. This device will allow me to do so."

The voice was silent. 'Kat began to wonder if she had said the right thing. Then, Atwight spoke again. "I will allow you to use the device for exactly 3 days. I am not confident that this is the key to your quest, however. I should allow you to determine your folly on your own, but your passion has blinded you to something important."

"And that would be?"

"It is simple - you need not go through your quest alone. I will say no more, as I think you know what I am referring to, even if you cannot immediately see it."

'Kat was silent for a moment. "Well then, I guess I'd better thankyou thrice."

The voice was stumped "For what?"

"For the device, your advice, and for allowing me to look into the beauty of your system."

"For that, Ms Greyfolk, I will accept your thanks. It has been a long time since anyone has complimented me on that."

"Then you should probably invite more people in. I owe you an enormous debt, Atwight. Feel free to claim it whenever you want."

"I will certainly do that, Ms. Greyfolk. Goodbye, until next time."

And with that, the office faded back into the ephemera from which it had sprung, and Teknokat found herself back in her own office. Atwight had his finger on the kill switch the whole time, Kat thought. Another thing to thank him for. She suddenly realised she'd made no arrangements to pick up the device. She fretted for a moment, until a shimmer on her desk told her she needn't worry. Atwight had arranged delivery for her. Well then, she thought. Exactly three days it is.

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Sydney stepped inside the mental institute. You can tell when Utopia’s funded something, Sydney mused, by the fact that you can’t feel uncomfortable there. While Sydney had always expected the Annabelle Lea Newfield Parapsychiatric Institute to seem somewhat foreboding, the entire facility seemed almost calming in a way. The architecture just so, the lighting soft, but not dim, the colours soft, but not washed out, almost like the building itself had been designed to aid a person’s mental recovery. It had, actually, but Sydney didn’t actually know that.

The lobby itself wasn’t particularly large, mainly due to the fact that there tended to be very few patients here at any given time. That in turn meant that visitors were rare. Also, a large lobby invited opportunistic people. Like Utopian recruiters, for example. ALNPI was a place of healing, not a place of opportunity.

Sydney walked to the front desk. He was about to begin when the receptionist interrupted. “Don’t tell me, you’re here to see Alex?”

“That would be correct,” Sydney said.

“Then you’ll have to wait, he’s with his mother right now, and she specifically requested not to be interrupted. Probably just wants to spend some quality time rebonding with her son. I can understand that, actually.”

“So can I. Alex has changed a lot. It must be difficult for her.” At least as difficult as it’s been for me, I s’pose. Thought Sydney. No, scratch that, definitely more so.

“Speaking of which...” the receptionist trailed off.

Andrea McKenzie walked out into the lobby, and noticed Sydney and the receptionist watching her. While the secretary noticed only a woman with a somewhat terse expression on her face, Syd’s vision showed him so much more. The minute traces of tears that the tissue had failed to pick up, the heat emanating from her face (indicating that she had been either angry or embarrassed recently), the large amount of muscle movement occurring through her body (which indicated considerable tenseness). All of which points out to the observer that this session of bonding did not quite go to her expectations, Sydney concluded. Poor woman.

Sydney walked over to the mother, but Andrea started walking faster. Sydney did not press her. He continued watching her as she walked out of the institute. Poor woman. She’s still clinging to the Alex she knows. This is not going to end well for her. And she’s going to project all that rage onto me. Damn.

Choosing to discontinue that line of thinking, Syd walked back to the desk, and touched the lightpad that had to serve as a signing in system for him, Sydney not being able to pick up a pen. He gave a quick thanks to the secretary, and walked up to the meeting room. There, in an otherwise empty room, in the furthermost corner, was Alex.

The “new” Alex still bore quite a resemblance to the old, if you only took in the physical appearance. Sure, there were new lines in the face, the rings under the eyes more defined, the posture slightly different. If you had only met him once, you could be forgiven for thinking that he was still the Alex he once was. But anyone who had had more than a passing acquaintance with him could see the differences. During the first few weeks of his admission, even when he was awake, Alex had the impression of a man overwhelmed, like he felt the entire world crushing in on him. It had taken Sydney the better part of a month to coax from the doctors the true reason why. Nowadays though, it seemed like Alex had a somewhat surreal air around him. Sydney was yet to identify exactly what that was. Almost like he’s in tune with the world around him, Syd thought. Good for him.

“Alex?” Sydney called out. Slowly, Alex turned around and saw him. Sydney took a deep breath, and strode towards him, with each step losing a little of the confidence that Jason had instilled in him. Oh god, I’m not sure I can do this!

The surreal air around Alex slowly dissipated as Sydney got nearer, like Alex was aware he was being watched, and didn’t want to embarrass him. Alex, as usual, started the conversation.

“Hello Sydney. I didn’t expect you in here until at least tomorrow.”

“Jason said I should come. I’ve been a little edgy of late.”

Alex cocked his head at Sydney. “Sydney, you’re almost never edgy. Why are you edgy?”

Odd, Alex was never that blunt. Another one for the list of Things to Get Used To. “To be honest Alex, I’ve had something to tell you for a while, but I haven’t had the courage to tell you until now. Actually, it’s getting a little difficult to get the courage to tell you now.”

Alex looked at Sydney for a few seconds, looking at his friend. “You’re afraid I won’t like what you tell me, and that I’ll not like you for not telling me.”

That was a little close to the bone. “That’s exactly right. How did you know that?”

Alex smiled. “I can read your face like an open book, Syd. That hasn’t changed a bit. Really, it’s almost easier now.”

Oh good. He hasn’t gotten mind-reading powers since I last talked to him. “Hmm. Anyway, I might as well tell you what I have to tell you.”

Alex gave him a thoughtful nod, as if that was the most important thing he could have said. Sydney bit the bullet. “Emoté is still at large. He vanished that day before we could apprehend him.”

Then, Alex did something completely unexpected to Sydney. He looked Sydney in the eye, and said “It took you four months to tell me that?”

“Well, yeah. I had this feeling that telling you might make you break down again.”

Alex eyed him thoughtfully. “Sydney, I’m glad you told me this. But you really thought I’d break down because of this? I’m not a scarred, timid child anymore Syd.”

Damn, I was prepared for anything but this! I almost wish he had broken down. I could have handled that. “Yeah, I guess. But what he did to you–"

“Won’t heal totally for a very long time. But the mere fact that he’s out there still? That doesn’t worry me any more than the thought of him locked up in a nova prison somewhere. Either way, I don’t think he’d come here. If I saw him again, I’m fairly certain that I’d be able to defend myself against him. Assuming, of course, that he’s not as terrified of me than I am of him.”

Now that’s an interesting thought. “What makes you think that?”

"Well, think about it. If you were eating your vegetables, and your vegetables suddenly laid the smackdown on you, don’t you think you’d be a little apprehensive about coming near those vegetables again?”

Good point. Very good point indeed. “There’s a point. Well, I’m glad you took all this so well.” Sydney looked at the clock on the wall. “My god! Is that really the time? Visiting hours are almost over. I’d better be off Alex. I’ll visit you again before you get out.”

“I’d like that. Goodbye Sydney. See you later”

And with that, Syd walked out of ALNPI. He couldn’t be certain, not anymore, but he thought he felt far lighter than he did before he came.

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All eyes in the conference room were staring at the round teleport inhibitor in the middle of the table.

Ziggy spoke first. "So, do you have any idea how the damn thing works?"

Teknokat continued staring at the device. "Are you kidding? I still don't know for certain how to turn the damn thing on. The thing looks like a jumbo-sized Chinese worry ball."

She had a point. The device basically looked like a little round ball, with a slightly polished exterior. There were no buttons or readouts, and even the ZWIR hadn't picked up any real readings. She had spent the past hour doing everything she could to get the damn thing to show some sign of life. 'Kat would have tried contacting Atwight again, but her pride was at stake here!

Damian piped up. "Have you tried twisting it?"

"I tried twisting it" 'Kat replied

Kacy spoke up. "What about just holding it?"

"I tried that too."

Janice decided to join in the fun. "Tapping it three times?"

"Nope. That too."

"How about wishing really, really hard?" Ziggy asked.

'Kat looked down, almost in embarrassment. "Tried that as well."

As the rest of the room continued to provide slightly used help, Angela got out of her seat and picked up the metallic sphere. She looked at it, and seemed to get a bright idea. She walked away from the table, and sat down on the floor, legs in the lotus position.

At that point, the rest of the room began noticing what she was doing, and began quieting down. Angela closed her eyes, and began taking slow, deep breaths. In the span of a few seconds, Angela began smiling, and 'Kat's ZWIR began beeping. 'Kat got the ZWIR off her belt and started checking the readings.

Now, 'Kat wasn't sure what the thing was picking up, but it was definitely emanating from the teleport inhibitor. Then, just as quickly as it appeared, the signal vanished. At that point, Angela opened her eyes and got back onto her feet. The smile, however, had gotten much larger. By god, she did it.

Ziggy asked the question before 'Kat could. "OK, how the hell did you do that, and how the hell did you figure it out?"

Angela smiled. "Well, it occurred to me that the most efficient way to use anything would be to forget about buttons and stuff and have it respond to your mental commands. And someone as smart as Atwight certainly wouldn't bother with something as clunky as a physical interface. He's supposed to be the smartest nova on earth. He'd be able to clear his thoughts enough to make mental commands a cinch."

"But I tried thinking it to work!" 'Kat protested.

"I'm sure you did, ma'am. But I'll bet when you did it, you were doing in frustration, right?"

"Well, yeah, I guess"

"Well, Atwight wouldn't be the kind of person to get all emotional. As I said, he'd be able to clear his thoughts enough to focus on making mental commands."

"So what you were doing-"

"Was meditating and clearing my thoughts. It's quite simple when you figure out how. Here, you try."

'Kat took the inhibitor from Angela, and powered up, mainly so she could take advantage of mental discipline it gave her. She quickly cleared her thoughts, and lo and behold, she swore that she saw a menu in her mind, listing all the parameters for the inhibition field. Square or round field? Full Power or less? 'Kat selected round field for half full radius, full strength. The device fed into her vision a representation of the field around her. Now that is impressive, 'Kat thought. And the device is pretty spectacular as well. She ceased her concentration, and the device stopped in an instant.

Teknokat looked at the young intern with new eyes yet again. Then, Atwight's advice came back to her. You need not go through your quest alone. I will say no more, as I think you know what I am referring to, even if you cannot immediately see it. She had known, in that rational part of her mind that noone ever really listens to, that he was right. She was letting her own pride get in the way of success. She was trying to do everything when she didn't have to. She had an entire table full of intelligent people, who were just as dedicated to the cause as she. And what had she done?

She'd refused to allow them to help. The rationalisation at first was that hunting a nova was dangerous. As she searched inside herself, she realised how transparent that rationale was. She had no particular protective powers, it was only slightly less dangerous for herself. She had always prided herself on her lack of what she thought of as baseline prejudice, she knew novas weren't the only ones who could excel at any given task. The man who had invented the ZWIR all the way back in the 1920s had proved that. There were no novas then!

But it was not prejudice, at least not of that sort. Really, it was prejudice of anyone outside herself. Now that she had begun to realise that, she saw exactly what was wrong with practically every plan she'd laid. There was just too much to do, with not enough people to do it. Well, she'd fix that!

Her mind started wondering through the new possibilities that her misplaced pride had previously ignored. All the ideas discarded out of hand because she needed to be in more than one place at once, once again being considered. Maybe? Yes, definitely. This will definitely work.

She knew what to do. "People, I've just thought of the perfect plan. Now, it's going to take a little more from a few of you than the other attempts, but I get a feeling that this time I'm on to a winner..."

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3 months previously

“So,” Sydney asked, “Tell me why he’s really like this.”

Dr Leo Kopulski had the face of a torn man. Like a man who knew that a lie had served it’s purpose, but not quite capable of letting it go. Sydney had seen it in many a student, and even many an administrator who had tried to justify yet another fee to the student union. Sydney knew that if he was going to find out the real reason behind Alex’s problems, it would have to be now. This required finesse.

“The thing is, I’ve been noting some odd patterns in his behaviour. The connection between my distance and his catatonia we already know, but there’s the other thing that he can’t manifest his telekinetic powers around me, not without massive concentration, at any rate.” Kopulski’s face was showing signs of considerable strain. He pressed on.

“Also, if he really was a nova, I’d be able to sense it. I mean, far be it for me to say that his telekinetic abilities aren’t real, they obviously are, but I’m not detecting any sort of quantum signature from him at all.” The doctor remained immobile. He’s about to crack, Sydney thought. One more should do it.

“And of course, there’s the weirder bit. My... condition means that I emit quite a large amount of quantum energy around me. Now, this is harmless, most of the time, since it mostly manifests as light, and other harmless phenomena. But, the interesting thing is that it tends to, well, ‘stick’ to most things. Like soot covering a building. Before Emoté broke him, he had a lot of this quantum soot on him. Now, it’s like something inside of him counteracts the soot. It just doesn’t stick to him at all. And, strangely enough, you have the precise same ability. Now, why is this?”

Finally, Dr Kopulski broke. “Fine. I’ll tell you, but you have to promise to me that this doesn’t get out. Got it?”

“Deal. Now spill.”

“Come into my office.”

Kopulski and Sydney walked into his office. It was a Spartan office, with only a few personal effects. But, it seemed to calm the good doctor down. He began to speak.

“You’re right, he’s no nova. He’s what my organization, Project Pandora, call a Psiad.”

“Keep talking.”

“We don’t really know a lot about them, truth be told. We’ve only documented around 100 in the 75 years Pandora’s been active, although we know we’ve probably missed quite a few. We’re a rather difficult people to find.”

“So we’re more numerous.”

“Now you are. From what the records show, we were just slightly more numerous than you were before N-Day, statistically speaking. But yeah, we know of just shy on 30 Psiads currently in existence, me and Alex included.”

“So you are like Alex?”

Kopulski flashed a less-than-practiced smile. “I wouldn’t be Director of Pandorra if I couldn’t relate to my charges, would I?”

“You’re Director? As in equivalent to Justin Laragione Director?”

“That would be correct, although Pandorra being much smaller, I have far less responsibility than he does. I prefer that, actually, allows me to tend to my patients here.”

“So, if you’re a psiad, what’s your shtick? What can you do?”

“I’m a healer. In particular, I have an astounding talent for healing minds. Hence the incredible recovery times of the patients around here.”

Sydney nodded. Now that made sense. “So, who here knows about this?”

“Maybe two or three others, apart from you and Alex. You have to understand, this isn’t really a “cover” for my activities. For the most part, this is my activities. Most of the work is done in other facilities around the world. Most of the major Rashoud facilities have a baseline Pandorra representative in the woodwork somewhere, all with their own responsibilities and titles. As a result, everyone here bar me and a few others believe that this facility is exactly what it seems, because it is exactly what it seems. I just happen to have other responsibilities outside of ALNPI.”

“Hang on, you say there’s one of you guys in most of the Rashoud Facilities? Why? I thought you guys were rarer than hen’s teeth!”

“We are. That’s why we have people there, to catch the ones that come through. But the other thing is that the amount of Psiads manifesting is increasing along with the novas. The theory around the Pandora network is that novas tend to create more situations that would lead to the amount of stress needed for a Psiad to manifest.”

Smart people, Sydney thought. That makes a scary amount of sense. “So, how do you do what you do?”

“We’d like to know that ourselves. Whatever we’re using, it’s beyond the scope of any modern scientific device. Although, some old devices from the early years of the Aeon Society seem to be able to detect when we’re using our powers. It’s a pity so many of them have failed already. It’s quite a rarity to find a working one these days. We know that it tends to counteract quantum energies, and vice versa, but that’s about it, really.”

Sydney thought about all the information. Damn Rare, No idea what their using, counters quantum. Very, very strange.

“Are you affected by Taint Syndrome?”

“Not as far as we’re aware of. We don’t get as much power, but then it doesn’t affect us physically or mentally. To anyone, we’re just normal humans, period.”

Sydney considered the new information, and decided that the doctor was obviously at his knowledge’s end. “Well, doctor, thanks for telling me. Of course, you know that Alex would have told me eventually.”

Kopulski looked confused. “So why the hell did you put me on the spot?”

“That’s easy. Even if Alex told me what he was now, I doubted he’d be able to give me much information. You didn’t give me much information either, admittedly, but you were more likely to know more than him.”

Kopulski stared at Sydney. “Professor Holland, I was serious about what I said at the start. You don’t tell anyone about this, about Pandorra, or about me, bar my known duties. The world already has enough on it’s plate worrying about novas. There’s just not enough of us to warrant people knowing about us yet. Maybe someday we’ll tip our hand, but at the moment, you mustn’t let others know.”

Sydney stood up and prepared to leave the office. “Doctor, I promise I’ll keep my word for as long as I live. Which is bound to be a long time. If this gets out, I swear it won’t be from me.” And with that, Sydney walked through the wall, out of the office. He walked to Alex’s room, and took a few moment to stare at him through the window in the door. So that’s what you are, thought Sydney. Talk about lucky. Most of the power, none of the side-effects. It was at that point when Alex looked up and saw Sydney. Sydney walked through the door, seeing his old friend with brand new eyes.

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It wasn’t that Teknokat hated New York. It was just that, well, she never felt truly comfortable in the city like she did in LA. It was too cold, too smoggy, too far away from the tropics. On the rare occasions that she had to travel to New York, she always stayed for the least amount of time possible. The character of the city just weighed on her too much. Which is why she had to restrain herself from taking Emoté’s choice of cities personally. He can’t possibly know my preferences. He just picked the place I’d least prefer to go, that’s all. The thought did nothing to reassure her.

She had spent the better part of an hour properly pinpointing her quarry’s location. It had turned out to be an abandoned subway station, far out in the city’s east. And now, as she walked through the subway tunnels to her destination, she got ready for what she knew would be the final fight. She heard Ziggy in her headset.

“He had to pick bloody New York, didn’t he?”

Kat spoke up “You don’t like the place either?”

“Oh no, I love New York. But sucking up to the boss never hurts, you know.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere Ziggy. You and Kacy in position yet?”

Kacy’s voice came through the headset. “We’re about a block away now. We’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“Fantastic!” ‘Kat replied. “Angela, you ready with the inhibitor?”

Angela’s voice came in loud and clear. “According to the ZWIR, I’m in the right position. I’m ready when you are.”

“Check that. Damian, Janice, you ready on the console?”

“Have been for 15 minutes. We’re starting to get bored here, is the show going to start or what?” replied Damian.

“Right then. I say we’re about ready to begin. I’m nearly at the station, everyone, stay on your toes, I gotta good feeling about this one...”

Teknokat missed not having the ZWIR, but even she had to admit that Angela was going to need it more than her. She powered up, and started using her node to sniff out where Emoté was. Good, he’s here, not out hunting. Time to catch this guy once and for all! She spoke into her headset “Angela, start the inhibitor, everyone else, it’s showtime!”

‘Kat grabbed out her Quantum Boomstick, and started speeding up her approach. She covered the final 500 yards in half a minute. As usual, she began mating her eyesight to her node sense. This time, Emoté hadn’t bothered playing dead. He was just sitting in a high-backed chair that had obviously seen better days.

“Why hello madam. What a pleasure to see you.” Said Emoté, sarcasm dripping from his voice.

“Good to see you too, Emoté,” ‘Kat replied, “But if I were you, I’d be running about now.” She aimed her Boomstick at the nova.

“What a good point. Bye then!” Emoté said. He closed his eyes, ready to teleport out of there.

‘Kat almost felt sorry for wasting all this time, but it was worth it to see that smug smile wipe from his face. “As I said, you’d better start running, boy.”

And run he did. ‘Kat had never actually been in a position to see how fast the nova could run, although the nova’s quantum profile had indicated fast reflexes. Fortunately, ‘Kat had the advantage of an innate running talent. She cut him off at the tunnel. “I don’t think so.” As she fired, Emoté dodged just enough to avoid being hit. “Not so fun being the victim of fear, is it?” ‘Kat asked, as she moved into a better position and fired. Again, Emoté barely avoided being roast nova.

Now, at this point, it seemed that ‘Kat had made a rather bad blunder. In firing at the nova, she had inadvertently fired a hole in the roof above. Emoté saw the opportunity and jumped. ‘Kat sighed and followed him through.

Fortunately, ‘Kat was not that stupid. In the room above stood Ziggy and Kacy, armed with nozzles. The instant they saw the nova come through the hole, they fired. The two shots connected with the nova, and started forming a thick, grey gel. Ziggy and Kacy continued to fire at the nova, just as ‘Kat came through the hole.

‘Kat almost wished she had brought a camera so she could record the look on Emoté’s face for future posterity. She grabbed a large hypodermic needle of moxinoquantamine from her belt, and stuck it into the nova’s neck, seeing how the nova was now covered in the gel from the neck down.

Finally, the nova spoke. “What the hell?”

Now ‘Kat was the one with the mile-long smile. “Gotta love the power of Klot. Probably a little overkill, but at least you’re not getting out of there!”

Ziggy’s smile matched Teknokat’s. “Oh, and the new teamwork strategy probably helped a little as well...”

“Well, I s’pose it could have helped a little...” Kat replied, in the same tone as Ziggy. She spoke into the headset. “Damian, Janice, you can notify Utopia now. He is well and truly caught. Angela, you can stop with the inhibitor. He’s got enough mox in his system to knock out Pax's powers!”

‘Kat heard a sigh in her ear. “Thank’s ma’am. I’m heading to your location now.”

“OK everyone, mission accomplished. How about we just leave a note and let Utopia deal with this creep.”

That’s when Ziggy spoke up. “Hey! I dunno about you, but I’d like to see the look on the Utopian’s face when they see this.”

The murmurs of agreement through the headset somehow instilled Teknokat with a great sense of pride.

[ 04-05-2002: Message edited by: Teknokat ]

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  • 2 weeks later...

Three Days Later

The door to Sydney's apartment opened for the first time in months. Alex, Alex's Parents and Teknokat walked through the door. Sydney, of course, had just walked through the door.

"Ah, the smell of a undisturbed apartment," 'Kat mused, "The only smell that truly welcomes."

"What I'm surprised at," said Alex's father, Robert, "Is the fact you still have an apartment after four months!"

"Oh, that's no surprise," replied Sydney, "I own the building. Didn't you wonder why the whole building is completely deserted?"

"How did that happen?"

"Well, we moved in here a few weeks after I erupted. I didn't have such a good control of my capabilities, and as a result, I kept shorting out every electrical appliance in the building. They wanted me out, but I liked the view by then, so I bought out the landlady. The tenants eventually left out of desperation, and now I have a massive amount of storage space..."

Alex, meanwhile, was sorting through the pile of letters that had accumulated over the past four months. Alex's parents dropped their luggage, and came towards their son.

"Looking for anything in particular Alexander?" Robert asked.

"I dunno," replied Alex, "Just something's telling me that something import... Ah! Here it is."

Alex took the letter. It was from the Æon Society's Archives department:

Alex McKenzie,

We understand that you have erupted recently. Apparently, when your name went through our database, it indicated instructions from an old member that had passed away many years ago. Those instructions asked us to send the letter

we've attached to "The next of my Inspired kin". We're fairly certain he meant you. The letter is attached.

Genevieve Ito

Æon Society, Archives Department

<font face="Courier New, Courier, mono">Hello there,</font>

<font face="Courier New, Courier, mono">My name is Lachlan McKenzie. If this message has come to you, I congratulate you. You've inherited something that few other people will ever get. I am, of course, referring to the powers now in your possession.</font>

<font face="Courier New, Courier, mono">I know these powers probably came as a shock to you, I know they did to me. You may even doubt your sanity right now. But you must know, your new powers are a blessing, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.</font>

<font face="Courier New, Courier, mono">You see, my descendant, I have abilities like yourself. My capabilities included the ability to escape from pretty much anywhere, as well as the ability to move objects with my mind. Some of the boffins in Æon Society think that my abilities might be inheritable, hence this letter.</font>

<font face="Courier New, Courier, mono">I am a life Member of Æon, and I know for a fact that my sons are also members. The McKenzie line is closely intertwined with this Society, and if you ever need help, or feel the need to help others, The Æon Society is the best option available to you. The fact that you'll have relatives there is just another benefit.</font>

<font face="Courier New, Courier, mono">I'll end this letter now. I'm sure that, if you have this letter, you've been contacted by the society (they had better have...). If you wish to talk to someone outside your own family about

this, I am certain that any one of us in the society will be glad to talk to you.</font>

<font face="Courier New, Courier, mono">Take care,</font>

<font face="Courier New, Courier, mono">Lachlan McKenzie

Æon Society, Life Member</font>

Alex looked up from reading the letter, then turned to his parents. "Mum, Dad, why did you never tell me we had relatives in the Æon Society?"

Andrea and Robert looked at one another. Andrea spoke. "To be honest, your grandfather asked us to. He left the Society before I was born, for what reason he never spoke of. For whatever reason, the Society has never contacted him or us until now. He just never wanted anything to do with the Society after he left. And he didn't want any of his family involved either. So, we decided the best thing would just be not to tell you about our family connections. Now it's a bit too late to honour his promise, of course, but I loved my father. I promised him." It seemed all the explanation she needed.

Alex wasn't so easily dismissed, but chose to drop it. He quickly changed the topic. "Come on people! This is suppose to be a Homecoming party! Let's go!"

And so, Alex had returned home. Changed, and with knowledge that he intended to follow up, but still home. And it felt good.

* * * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, in PU Bahrain Facility

Emoté continued huddling in the corner of his cell. He was going to die, he knew it. Without the emotional sustenance he craved, he would slowly lose strength.

Damn that woman. DAMN HER!!!

It was then when he heard footsteps. An Asiatic man walked to his cell, accompanied by several very large bodyguards, armed with very dangerous looking weapons. Weapons aimed directly at him. Who could this be? Emoté wondered.

"Are you finally going to kill me?" Emoté asked.

"No, not yet," said the Asiatic man, "We have other plans for you."

"Obviously, those plans don't include putting me out of my misery then..."

The Asiatic man smiled at the remark. "Actually, quite the contrary, in a manner of speaking. Assuming, of course, you're willing to help us."

Emoté stared at the man. "Why should I help Utopia?" Emoté demanded."

At that, the man laughed. Not a big laugh, just one that showed that he appreciated the irony of the situation. "In a way, you won't. Although, I'd have thought the chance to do some feeding would be reason enough..."

That made Emoté listen. He was not, however, completely sold yet. He softened his stare. "What's the catch?"

"Well for one, you'll have to cut down on the eating. We can give you prey, but you won't be able to go through them too fast. You'll also be expected to obey our orders. Oh, and if you don't..." He left the thought unsaid.

Emoté looked at the man. What choice did he have? It was either this, or die a slow death by starvation. And Emoté was nothing if not a survivor. "So, when do I start?"

The man smiled. "If that's the case, Mr Emoté, may I be the first to say to you, Welcome to Project Proteus..."

The End...

[ 04-15-2002: Message edited by: Alex McKenzie ]

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