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Aberrant: Nova Reality - Many Happy Returns?


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DigiGeist wearily walks up to WCK headquarters. He starts to look around at the front of the building. Looks like no one has cleaned in a little while. As he walks in, it's quiet. Only a receptionist, and a couple tourists.

He doesn't give them any mind as he walks back into his room.

When he closes the door, he turns on some lights, highliting past accomplishments in Minneapolis as a PI, and a couple news reports from around the world when he was with "Archangel" in Interpol. Those were better days now to him. Now a days things are... not so good.

He had spent weeks fixing the OpNet infrastructure in Ibiza, and talked with several different communications experts.

He feels like he's been in a war.

He falls down into a large seat, one he made, the only technological thing he has ever built. It's his throne. Where he watches the OpNet like a silent sentinel.

"Raphael... Report..."

"You have 2300 messages. 42 Deleted as spam. You have 30 video files, 126 audio files. All bills have been accounted for." The computer speaks out, in a female, british tone.

"Any reports from the Gabriel search bug?"

"Negative, there has been no activity from the CZ, Triads, or Yakusa in current search patterns."

"Log me in."




"Feign weakness, then crush your enemy."

"Verifier Filter?"


"Logging in.... User accepted."

He lays back, and opens his mind. "Now someone here should know I'm logged in... Not looking foreward to returning to business as usual..."

He thanks those with intelligence that they made his room have nothing for the public to look into his work...

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April is blocks away, resting atop the Board of Trade building just below the grand, upswept statue of Ceres that caps the building's peak. She stands on the catwalk wrapping the statue's base, leaning against the warm aluminum of its pedestal as she watches the street below.

After a while, her head comes up and she looks around, seeing skyscrapers on every side towering above her and the building beneath her. A sudden grin crosses her face as she watches the city - her city.

It's a weird idea, but she's getting used to it. Just a little more than a year ago, she was one of a couple million ... just another Chicago area resident, living in the 'burbs and riding into the city. Now it's all different - now, she actually has a responsibility to the city.

There are more people in this city than she's met in her entire life, and now she's watching out for all of them. All of them and more, out through the Region and the Midwest. It's so much bigger than anything she'd envisioned doing, before or after her eruption.

She figures it's about time to head back to HQ, so she turns and jumps up to the top of the catwalk railing, stepping out into thin air (a scene from a Wile E. Coyote cartoon running through her head). She glances around, hovering for a moment, then shoots off and up - buzzing the face of a neighboring office building for the sheer fun of it.

April's flight describes a fast, high arc as she rises up out of the city, then plunges back downward toward her destination. Headquarters emerges from the grid of the city, swelling rapidly as she stoops - stopping in a rush of air just above the building's helipad. Her force bubble disintegrates quietly as she touches down and wanders into the building.

The place is close to empty these days. Bandwidth and Alchemist are always in their labs, doing whatever it is that they do in their downtime. Jager's away, and has been for a long time. Damanor ... well, he has his own problems right now.

Of course, the cameramen and production people are always around, but the field team is pretty much just April and Digi, and even Digi's been gone ever since ... hey. Wait a second.

* * *

Moments later, DigiGeist's door chirps quietly at him, notifying him of a visitor. The computer elaborates: April Rice is waiting at the door. Telling it to let her in, DigiGeist stands and turns to the door ... and is promptly tackled at what seems like only barely subsonic speeds.

April is ecstatic, staggering the totally unprepared (and now somewhat breathless) DigiGeist with her sudden, lightning-fast tackle. She releases her bear hug after a moment, grinning broadly as she bursts into a rapid-fire string of comments and questions:

"Hey! You're back! You've been gone for, like, weeks! More than a month! And you didn't call or anything! So, you are back, right? And staying? It's been crazy here. I'm, like, the only person in the field. There was a riot in Gary, and Alchemist got kidnapped. Not in the riot. In Connecticut. I mean, he got away and all, but ... still."

"How'd you get here? Did you fly, or get a warp, or what? If you flew, you should of told us what flight, so we could meet you. At the airport. Mi mamá always said it's important to come home to people. Have you eaten? I just got back from the city. Want to go get something?"

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Alchemist sits in his lab, quietly studying half a brick. As he studies it, the brick continues to elongate, as streamers of material flow from test tubes, hunks of ore, spindles, and various other nearby sources also sitting on the table. After a few moments, the brick is fininshed, becoming a single, rectangular shape. Pleased with his work, he nods, and checks the OpNet for updates from his friends.

A box in the corner of his screen points out that DigiGeist has logged into his system. Locally.

A moment's thought, and Alchemist shrugs and heads upstairs. It's been a month. Might as well welcome him home at least.

As he reaches the top of the stairs, he feels the telltale breeze of April moving through the base at unreasonable speed. Smiling slightly, he gets to DigiGeist's room just as she finishes the hyperspeed monologue. Poking his head in, he adds, "I'm game if you two are."

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DigiGeist tries with all effort to poke his head out from April's grasp.

"Heh... Same as always, April. Feels good to be back. Interesting... report? I'll have to talk to Alchemist regarding his situation."

He slips out of April's grasp, showing his skill with escape artistry. Slipping out of his chair as if he were like water.

"But you know, I am getting a case of the grumblys... And the opnet can't feed the meadbod."

He turns towards Alchemist. "So, what's your poison? Er... What would you like to grab? Hope it's fast food. It's cheap, filling, and completely not healthy. At least for Non-Novas."

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Turning to see Alchemist, April notes:

"Alchemist! I wasn't sure you were here ... you and Bandwidth both. I can't ever tell if you guys are in your labs, with all that shielding you've got in there. But yeah. Where to, then? I don't really care."

"Is Bandwidth here?"

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"Well, I know a diner about two miles from here that serves a good burger. I've never been much of a fan of actual fast food joints. I like my meal to have both flavor and texture, not one or the other."

Alchemist sighs, "As for Bandwidth, I have no idea. He's got a Turing-bot answering his intercoms with his own voice now, so I could be talking to that or him for hours and not be able to tell the difference. I haven't physically seen bandwidth in ages. Add to that my suspicion that he's been spending more and more time on the OpNet, and I mean browsing it from a computer terminal, I mean actually inside of it, and I can never tell if he's really there."

Shrugging, he refocuses on his other teammates and says, "So, who's up for that diner?"

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DigiGeist pauses for a moment...

"Hmm... odd stuff, but I'm sure we can talk over dinner. I'm up for that diner. I'll foot the bill."

He walk over to the door. "Say, now that I'm back to stay, barring any new international incidents, perhaps after dinner we could look over some new ideas you got, Al."

He smirks a bit, showing off a pronounced canine.

"That, and the connection efficency of my terminal is off by one eigth. Might be some old temp files. Bloated Viasoft OpOSes."

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A look of mild shock flickers across April's face as she hears that the Bandwidth she's been talking to might not always have been the real deal. She gets over it pretty quickly, though (or maybe she just has more relative time to think it over), and she approves the food selection, replying:

"Yes! I know the place. Good food. [glances down at her uniform] But I need to change first. No offense, Alchemist, but these aren't really street clothes. I'll be back in, like, five seconds."

And she is ... gone and back before the breeze of her departure has really fully settled. Hovering about a foot off the ground, she's changed out of her charcoal jumpsuit and into a pair of jeans and a WCK t-shirt of the sort sold in the lobby gift shop - this one prominently featuring DigiGeist.

"Done. So ... it's nice out. We're walking? Or what?"

* * *

When she said 'walking,' April apparently meant it fairly loosely. While Alchemist and DigiGeist take a fairly leisurely walk through downtown Chicago, she more flits around their general vicinity - talking with them white occasionally breaking off to chat with a fan or to investigate something that otherwise happened to catch her attention.

The fact that she stays in the air almost the entire time does little to mitigate the numbers of passers-by who, recognizing the Knights, fall into something approaching celebrity worship. Their arrival at the diner is delayed by autographing, picture-taking, and similar, but they do find a measure of peace once inside the diner and out of the public eye (relatively speaking).

April orders a massive amount of food (largely focused on industrial-sized quantities of club sandwiches, french fries, coleslaw, and the diner's 'world-famous milk shakes') and sets to working her way through it - eating in quick bursts around her conversation.

"Anyways. What's up with you guys? I'm moving out of headquarters. I got this apartment all picked out, and I'm signing the lease in, I don't know, a few days. I mean, I'll still be around and everything ... it's just I want a place where I can be pretty sure there aren't any cameras, y'know?"

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DigiGeist is very amused by April. Reminds him of his sister when he was little. Sure grew up to be... normal as an adult. "Heh, congratulations, April. I've been working some side jobs in Chi-town. With the CPD. Helping in a couple investigations, earning some pay... Well, that was untill Ibiza. I was doing that pretty much untill my return."

He stretches out as he dorms down. His long silvery hair turns black, and his face and demeanor take a more human look. "I've had my node on for a freaking long time. Longer than I'd like. Helps to take a break. I'm going to see if the CPD needs my help again on some case. Probably another missing kid... I like cases like that. Especially when I find them a-ok. Then again, I'm a sucker for clean and tidy happy endings."

He leans over his plate of 3 times the normal Spaghetti, with quite a number of meatballs. He rolls up a bite with his fork and slurps it down. "It's been a while where I could actually sit and enjoy a meal... with friends even." He says, leisurely, adjusting the business like shirt and tie he wears, and loosening the black vest over it. A tell-tale turtleneck under the shirt reveals the EuFiber he has underneath. "Heh... you know, when working with you guys, I've yet to actually wear the uniform... Been looking foreward to it actually."

He turns to Alchemist. "So... What's been going on? At least what you can tell? I heard... some."

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Alchemist looks between April and DigiGeist, both looking at him expectantly. He's unsure of exactly what to tell them, and this carries across pretty clearly.

To stall, he finishes off one of the burgers he ordered. Finishing that, he starts speaking, quietly, "Well, I won't go into detail in public. But I'll tell you as much as I've figured out myself. (Sigh) I guess the most shocking thing is that it was definitely a Utopian backed operation. I mean, there's no way there was a secret installation under a Rashoud clinic they didn't know about. But I'm kind of getting ahead of myself."

Alchemist pauses to have some french fries before he continues. "The gist of it was this. A teep, I never got his name, contacts me and starts doing overwatch on my brain. Tells me he's got my kids, where to meet, and not even THINK about contacting you. This happens at pretty much the same time as the Ibiza conflict breaks out, which is another clue pointing at Utopia. So, anyway, I get to the meeting point at top speed, but I manage to pull a fast one. You guy's know I've never been able to create living matter with my powers before? Well, I pushed myself - I'm pretty sure that's when I got my new goldeneye look - and I managed to clone myself. Same time as I set off what amounts to a psychic grenade next to my own head. Do either of you remember my experiments with high-complexity pure-isotope compounds? Doesn't matter, that was the most useful stuff I got out of that research. Anyway, my clone's unconscious from the explosion, I'm nearly so, I somehow manage to hide, and the kidnappers grab my duplicate."

Alchemist sighs. "I wish I knew what went on after that, but I was more interested in getting my kids back safely and taking care of a threat than in reconniassance. I tracked my clone to their base, rescued my children, did my best to confuse the situation behind me, and escaped. That's the short version. Oh, and now I've got my children and my ex-wife in hiding, and I owe some people some favors. But at the very least I'm sure they're safe and well guarded from Utopia. Now, though, I've got only a single lead on why all this is happenning, and it's not something the Knights can help me with."

Alchemist takes one of the diner spoons and melts it into a puddle, then plays at turning it into various shapes, almost like a nervous habit as he waits for a reaction.

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..."Dude, you've gotten yourself in a big ol pile of sludge. Most likely, that was a black op. Probably by someone who didn't want anyone knowing what was going on. With the chaos in Ibiza... No one would notice. Something tells me though that these... threads aren't as well linked as you think." He slurps down another fork of spaghetti. "You see, some things are related, yes, but the true thread that connects them all might run past those threads. After all, there's always some black ops group within an organization. Interpol had one. Archangel. I was in it. When the lid got blown off after it's disbandment... some of us have been dissapearing or meeting accidents. Now it seems Utopia has a black ops group within it..."

He stares for a moment at his spaghetti. "Who knows what they wanted, or why. Doesn't sound Directive. Definately doesn't sound like the overt Utopia or Aeon protocols either... They suspect something, or someone, enough to do this..."

He takes his fork, and slowly stabs it into a Meatball. "Something tells me though that for now, you're not a target. Not for the time being. If your family is being hid, and they think you're dead, we're good. The minute they see you with us, or on camera, or anything for that matter... Well... Then they may go after you. Then again, they may just be sending a message, and they sent it."

"Not my usual black op... I just eliminated the target, and that was that. I made the world safer. I don't think that is what these rogue ops are doing."

He turns away from the fork, not wanting to have remembered that last memory...

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April is already familiar with the basics of Alchemist's troubles, but she listens to the details with a minimum of distractibility. Absently watching Alchemist's spoon pool and dance, she follows DigiGeist's remarks, and adds, simply:

"As long as you're with us, Alchemist, whoever it is won't do anything. We'll watch out for you, you'll see."

She says it with a somewhat unusual degree of self-assurance - seeming to have really thought over the ramifications of this development - but then glances over at DigiGeist confusedly.

"Why wouldn't they know where he is, Digi? I mean, he's been at headquarters, which is filled with cameras. He has to've been on the net sometime. And then we just walked here with, like, half the city out. I mean, he gave his signature to that one guy."

"And he's been out in public before now, too ... that publicity thing two week ago ... the press conference after the riot ... um. I think there's probably more, but you know what I mean. There's no way he could stay hidden in this group."

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Alchemist gives Digi a rueful look. "Of course it's Utopia's black ops. I've known they had black projects since before I was a nova. They'd have to, to have and keep as much influence as they've got. The organization of such a black group doesn't matter. Sure, they'd keep it seperate from Utopia for deniability's sake, but I'm sure it would still be subject to the chain of command, even in a civilian organization. No, this was Utopia, from the top down."

Alchemist listens to April as well and says, "Yeah, I haven't exactly been keeping a low profile. I just wanted to get my family safe, and then back in the spotlight. I'm pretty sure it's the publicity and public attention that's been keeping me safe thus far. A while back when I was on the run and laying low, another really nasty character came after me. No, keeping in the public eye is probably my best defence right now."

Alchemist straightens up and speaks a bit louder, not bothering to whisper anymore. "And thanks for your support, April. It means a lot to me. Now, enough about my problems, what have you guys been doing?"

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"Heh.... Sometimes the spotlight is the best place to hide... But anyways, other than Ibiza I've been checking on a few old Interpol friends... At elast the ones still alive.

Nancy in the UK is doing wonderfully. She's a schoolteacher now with the money she saved up for the licencing and schooling.

Ran into another friend, Jim, over in Ibiza itself. He decided to join the Red Cross. He was the team medic on many missions I was on, so it was a natural fit.

But me... after Ibiza, I went straight home. I knew the WCK or Chicago couldn't do without it's charismatic field agent for long." He says that last sentence with a smile, letting his ego out a bit.

"Otherwise, I'm just being a little more open than I used to. When you're used to a covert environment, being a quiet spook becomes... second nature.

I sure as damn hope I'm not making people think I have a Batman complex..."

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"Oh, well, you know. Right up until now, I was the only one of us in the field, which is, like, an endless stream of random PR stuff and actual work. Maybe I can get a break now that Digi's back? I guess we'll see."

"There's the apartment, too. I've been checking up on places in my free time, and you would not believe how expensive places can get in this city. I mean, if I wasn't getting as much salary from the WCK as I am, there's no way I'd actually be living in town."

"My family's been ... kind of weird. I don't think they're getting used to me being a nova. It's like, they're proud of me for the WCK and everything, but it's best if I stay away from home most of the time, if you know what I mean? They just aren't really comfortable with it when I'm actually there."

She pauses, thinks, than adds, "Wow. I didn't really think about it, but I really haven't been doing much lately. Between the WCK and apartment hunting, I've been totally busy."

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DigiGeist slurps up another bit of his Spaghetti, while looking over at April. "You know... *slurp* I wouldn't mind actually getting my face out there. I was sort of on the down low at the Mall, didn't want anyone to really *slurp* notice I was watching over the crowd, security and all that. I'd be delighted to help with some PR."

He takes a drink, then continues. "As for the... Optimal... Situation... Meh... We should talk about that in private. Dunno if there's other ears or eyes interested." He places his fork carefully next to his cleaned off plate. What's even stranger, is even with his sloppy Spachetti technique, not a drop of sauce was let fly.

"I actually can't wait to get back to work. I need some... normalcy."

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