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Aberrant: Quantum Zero - Quantum Zero: Down Time

Alex Green

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Alex's To Do List.

1) Rebuild Wallet (and figure out a better way to deal with this the next time I'm attacked by a goddess).

2) Replace Keys (can I use darkness to replace keys in the future and just do without)?

3) Determine Academic status (did NYU kick me out)?

3a) What should it take to finish my degree? I'm a better Engineer after eruption.

3b) Inquire at both NYU & PU if there are special degree programs for novas.

3c) I've both soaked up more knowledge and missed a lot of classes.

4) Determine legal status (will NYU try to make him pay for the Eng. building I damaged during eruption)?

5) Did anyone die/get hurt and am I liable? Can I visit them in the hospital?

6) Determine legal status (fallout from Masters Party)?

6a) Cover-up of Miss Egypt?

6b) Nerve gas injuries; am I liable? Hospital Visit.

6c) Terrorist injuries; am I liable?

6d) Nova battle afterwards, including trashing the car/street/misc; am I liable? Visit any civilian victums.

7) Money/Job

7a) Interview with Masters.

7b) Make inquires about what exactly DVNTS does and maybe interview with them too.

7c) Are they different from DeVries? How?

7d) XWF? City Defender?

8) At my current rate of expenditures; I will be bankrupt soon.

8a) That isn't a problem if I finish my degree and/or get a nova type job, but it is a concern.

9) Susanna

9a) If I care enough to be annoyed, maybe I should ask her out for a second date?

9b) Was her going to Terry just a nova ability?

10) Stage Name (Do I need one?) Combo names. Pick one from a & 1 from b.

a) Dark

a) Darkness

a) Shade

a) Night

a) Black

a) Shadow

B) Man

B) Monster

B) Thing

B) Giant

B) Entity

B) Ogre

B) Matter

B) Colossus

B) Mammoth

B) Fall

Results: DarkMatter; Nightfall; DarkColossus; DarkMan; Shadow Monster; Night Ogre; Shadow Giant;

Best of the Batch: DarkMatter (is this copy righted?) Should I wear a mask?


*It's just amazing how paper work can build up after spending a few months in the "clinic"* Alex reflected while cutting open his mail with a black letter opener. At 4am, most of the rest of the world was sleeping, but Alex was still hard at work. *Most of these offers are complicated, I wonder how normal novas analyze these things? Well, the ones without enhanced intelligence?* Alex wondered.

*Money is becoming a problem. NYU has "generously" offered to refund my tuition if I work for them, but I wasn't that dumb even before my eruption.*

Once again, Alex reviewed NYU's "best" offer with irritation, *Ha! The study of dark matter, if that is in fact what I'm made up of and not some goofy "solid darkness", could start new technologies that would be worth billions. It could result in a star drive, etc. But after "Hot Head" burned the University in his contract, the NYU made sure they would get the profits from analyzing someone like me. If it is my blood, then I get a piece of the action.*

For several years, Alex had been quite annoyed with the University refusing to grant him "in state" tuition status. Other students with similar backgrounds had easily been given that status and had their tuition reduced. But Alex was self funded (i.e. not getting money from the University), meaning that since it wasn't in the Universities best interests to consider him a "local" student, they weren't going to. His calculation had always been that if he made a public stink, the University would find a way to delay him from graduating. Although he had kept quiet the situation had made for some hard feelings. Alex glanced around his fairly low class apartment, and once again decided the University wasn't getting any charity from him. It was still unclear as to whether he would qualify for a quick degree. But even if he did, they weren't getting a piece of him, figuratively or literally.

*Ash was right about DeVries. Well, about DVNTS. Dangerous work, big money, big risks, and you get more money with less morals. I'm up to it. Probably. Maybe. Or maybe not. I can't quite decide whether to rank their offer above or below the XWF. I felt guilty visiting those people who got hurt during our fight with the Goddess, and even more so with the people I hurt during my eruption. How would I feel about being the aggressor in a war? But the XWF is so... strange. Utopia was more than a bit intense. Ah well. Interview with Masters is tomorrow. The one real problem I see with Masters is training. I don't know that they have the kind of resources for someone like me.*

*Now there is an idea. I could join the XWF as "Shadow Monster" AND join Masters as "Dark Matter."*

*I think I'll try asking Susanne out again to somewhere less of a public relations gambit. Hopefully less of a disaster as well. Hmm. Last year I wouldn't have had the strength of character, i.e. the guts, to ask her out again after our first date. I wonder if courage was something else the quantum genie gave me? It was impossible to tell if she was really interested in Terry, or was it just enhanced nova social skills at work? Anyway, if she says "No" then its time to move on.*

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Alex is surprised to find that the XWF aren't all that interested in him. Sure he's strong & tough, but he's got no talent for 'showmanship', which is what they're all about. Also, they point out that they've had problems with 'bodymorphers' in the past - they can rarely hack the pace for a long match or a series of matches in quick succession, so try to finish their bouts quickly, which isn't what the audience pays for...

Susanne also seems uninterested in the Dark Matter Nova - true she's still interested in Terry (& what woman in her right mind wouldn't be...), but she also points out that Alex's manners at the party (before it all 'went to hell') weren't up to much - sticking a big black disc between her & Terry whilst they were trying to have a polite converstaion, then sulking & drinking heavily at the bar ::chillbeer ... It's not what a young lady likes to see!...

As for money, tuition fees & graduating: either DeVries or MI would be perfectly happy to help out with all those (as well as making sure the potential legal problems Alex is facing go away). DeVries is famed for it's Nova combat-training, but MI says that it also has the means for further training - although not so combat-orientated, &, in fact, would prefer to employ Alex for his mind than for his combat ability. DeVries offers more money, but MI seems safer...

Alex also notices that he's been portrayed in a somewhat negative light in the media - with pictures of the battle in the street used as evidence of a 'Nova rampage', & the newspapers in particular suggesting he's a dangerous sort of fellow to have around (just ask the University)!

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John's going to spend the downtime working with the Rashoud Facility's staff to learn more about his powers, and with Masters Inc.'s lawyers to get as many of the charges against him dropped as possible. He's sticking with his decision to go with Masters Inc., partly because he trusts Masters and partly because he has no acceptable alternatives.

John spends his time in nova form, though he dorm's down out of courtesy when he's visited by a baseline or nova who doesn't look like he can take the cold. Truth be told, he's a bit fed up with all these people, with the exception of those who are working with him to improve his powers and a T2M member named Tomahawk who visited him to welcome him to novahood.

Basically, his goals are get himself out of trouble with the law, see what Masters has in mind for him, and learn to use and control his nova powers.

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Any chance any of our characters get to know each other a bit more during this time?

Nathan is going to work for Masters, mainly 'babysitting' Emma, but will most likely also spend his time training in case something like this ever happens again. Which we all know it will...

Anyone moving in the same circles? Alex? Terry?


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RE: XWF: ::Grumble::

RE: Susanne: During their conversation Alex considers telling her... various things, but decides there isn't much point.

RE: Press: ::Grumble::

After reviewing recent events, Alex thinks, *It seems I'm being type cast.* ::Sigh:: *I thought becoming a nova was supposed to solve all your problems. I'd better also look up the others. The only way I can think of to keep Emma under control is to have Nullifier drain her quantum. No quantum => No goddess. If they have other ideas on how to suppress a god like nova I'd really like to know about them.*

(OOC: It is looking more and more likely that Alex will be signing on with DV).

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OpNet: N! the news

The screen image displays the outside steps of the NYC Rashoud facility - the first such facility ever opened, & a well know sight to regular N! viewers. A huddle of press surround the small podium erected on the steps as an impressive figure steps up to the microphones. The man is of Native American birth, & is tall & well-built, his blue-white-gold T2M-Am eufiber uniform showing off his perfect Nova physique to best effect - only the addition of a pair of Amer-Indian-style 'fringed' leather boots makes this uniform stand out from that worn by the famous Caestus Pax. His long black hair is tied back in a ponytail. Those who keep up to date with such things recognise this man as 'Tomahawk', the latest addition to the T2M-Am line-up, who has recently completed his year-long probation to become a fully-fledged member. He voice is deep & barely needs the microphones as he addresses the crowd - & the many more who view from their own homes around the world,

"As you are all well aware there was recently a Nova-related incident that threatened this great metropolis. First of all I'd like to apologise on behalf of Team Tomorrow for not being here to help out - as you know the recent, & tragic, loss of Slider has reduced our fast-response capability, although I can assure you that other Novas are being groomed to fill the hole her passing left in our ranks. Luckily, when we managed to arrive on the scene, the threat had already been stopped by a group of local amateurs - our thanks to them for their timely assistance.

T2M, & the local police, are continuing to investigate the incident. We are confidant that the so-called 'Golden Nova' will soon be in custody."

Tomahawk pauses, & there are several questions called from the crowd. He chooses to answer one in particular,

"You ask about the other Nova-related incident of that night - the one involving 'Glacier' & the police? Well, I've spoken to the young man known as Glacier, as well as to the various doctors & specialists we have at the facility. Glacier was recently erupted & not in complete control of his own powers. Furthermore, he'd already sustained many injuries earlier in the night & believed that 'dorming' would have weakened him enough to be fatal. The incident with the police was therefore a terrible misunderstanding, although I salute the police themselves for their attempts at protecting the public, & their quick-thinking in bringing the injured Glacier here for treatment. I think we can all see how this encounter highlights the need for newly erupted Novas to seek help at their nearest Rashoud facility at the earliest possible moment - let's not let this sort of near-disaster happen again."

In response to another question,

"I don't have all the details on the 'Dark Matter Destroyer'. He is known to Project: Utopia, naturally, & was brought in buy T2M shortly after his own eruption resulted in large-scale detruction at the local university. However, he responded well to Rashoud treatments & training, much as Glacier now does, & wasn't considered a threat to society. Having reviewed the OpNet footage & case-notes on the 'New York Nova Rampage' it appears to me that 'DarkMatter' was actually defending the city from the Golden Nova - although the endangerment of innocent lives shows us all why T2M are intensively trained before being placed into such a situation. His involvment is still under investigation, but I feel confident that he was trying to do the right thing."

Further questions are called, but Tomahawk holds up his hands for silence,

"Gentlemen, ladies, please... As you are aware T2M is currently involved in rebuilding those parts of the city damaged by the 'Rampage' & devestated by the fires from the 'flaming dome' that was briefly in existance during that incident. So, no more questions right now, please - I have homes to rebuild!"

With that the T2Mer rises slowly into the air until he's clear of the crowd, then shoots off across the city like a bullet. The image on the screen switches back to the studio...

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*cutting back to the studio* "And in a related story, there appears to be an unknown and masked Nova assisting with the rebuilding process. Referred to as The Stranger by neighborhood citizens, the individual is said to only show up at night. The next morning, construction crews will notice more work has been done, and suprisingly, a fresh urn of coffee will have been prepared. Authorities, concerned about The Stranger, have investigated to verify whether the nova's efforts pose any danger to the rebuild. So far, neither T2M nor the local police have gained any clues to The Stranger's identity. According to the crew foreman, all inspections of the extra work have determined that the work is of professional quality, and no equipment or tools have gone missing."

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  • 2 years later...

The pop of the crime-scene photographer's flash briefly illuminated the darkness of the riverside at night. James Brightstar used the flash as an excuse to turn away... He'd seen enough. The broken body of the young woman lying in the slick, stinking, mud - dumped like refuse into the river. The usually remote area now bustled with professional activity as the various law-enforcement officials went about their duties, the red & blue strobe of light-bars flashing across their faces as they worked in the chill night air. The Native American walked back to one of the cars, resting his hands on the hood as he hung his head - mind racing with the horror he'd witnessed, the horror he'd failed to prevent...

... It was a while later when the distinct scent of strong black coffee wafted past his nostrels - the scent he'd tagged in his mind as 'cop coffee'. The T2Mer glanced up at the female detective who stood holding two 'styrene cups of the black stuff, thick woolen overcoat protecting her from the evening's chill.

'Tomahawk, right?' she enquired as he took the profered cup & sipped its contents, 'That's your "super-hero" name?'

James nodded, then sighed,

'Just call me Jim, okay? I don't feel much like a super-hero right now.'

The detective glanced back towards the crime-scene then nodded,

'Okay Jim, it's a deal. I'm detective Rosewood - Ellen if you like.'

James gave the detective a closer look - he estimated her as mid-thirties, good looking enough, but too long on the job to be 'pretty' - more a 'handsome' woman. Her hair was cut to a sensible bob & a neutral brown colour - although the setting probably did her few favours in that department. Her dark eyes looked kind, but tired... Or maybe he was reading too much into it - he guessed that she too had been called from her bed to attend the scene.

For a few moments the super-hero & the cop just sipped their coffee in silence. Finally James asked,

'So, detective, what is it you want from me?'

Rosewood raised an eyebrow,

'Sorry - thought that was obvious. By the... er... state the victim was found in the forensics boys thought there could be a Nova involved. Standard procedure to call you guys. Anyway...' she fixed Tomahawk with a penetrating look, '... I've seen that sort of reaction before - in cops. You know who did this, right?'

James felt a sickness rising in his stomach,

'Yes... no... I can't be...'

'You know... Or, at least, you think you know. So tell me, where have you seen this before?'

Tomahawk took a deep breath,

'I think it's a guy called Grimskull - a Nova, like you said. He kidnapped a singer he'd been stalking since his pre-eruption days, a girl called "Shadowvayne"...'


James shook his head,

'No - just a singer. We don't have a monopoly on stupid names you know... Anyway, he'd blinded her in the incident which led to his eruption - they'd been in some Black-Metal band together, "TripleSyxxx" I think it was called - more stupid names. After that she'd turned her act around - got into some folk-music stuff, that sort of thing. This Grimskull guy tracks her down & kidnaps her from a festival. He beat the crap out of some Elite who happened to be there - guy called Lodestone...'

'Yeah,' Rosewood nodded, 'I think my kid pointed him out on the OpNet the other night - he was in Chad wasn't he?'

James nodded,

'Yeah, that's the guy. Anyway - I was put on the case. We eventually found Shadowvayne's remains... She'd been ripped up, tortured & abused before being killed in some sort of sick ritual...'

The detective once again glanced back at the crime scene,

'Like our Jane Doe here?'

Tomahawk nodded,

'Pretty much an exact match.'

Rosewood let out a low whistle between her teeth,

'Just the two?'

James again nodded,

'That we've found anyway. Grimskull's one of those "ReignofEvil dot com" guys - the "Church of Astaroth" - they have a worldwide following...'


James sipped his coffee,


Nothing more was said for a minute, as the two law-enforcers contemplated the dark realities of the situation. Then detective Rosewood asked,

'So - this "Grimskull" character?..'

'Michael Brandschmidt is his real name - Nova-level strength with control over electro-magnetism, pretty powerful. Our tech guys have estimated he's a 5th instar.'

Rosewood blinked,

'A what?'

'His node - it's pretty developed. He's powerful, even for a Nova. You saw the footage of Lodestone in Chad - the thing with all the bullets?'

Rosewood nodded, a slight smile touching her lips,

'Yeah - my kid thought that was so cool.'

'Right. Anyway - that's the guy Grimskull put the smackdown on when he kidnapped Shadowvayne - another magnetic controller.'

'Ah... I see your point.' Rosewood touched the small automatic pistol holstered at her waistband, 'Not much chance in us stopping him then?'

Tomahawk shook his head,

'That's why there's guys like me...'

Rosewood stared at her feet,

'You going to get that bastard?'

James sighed,

'I'm going to try.'

Neither the detective nor the Nova noticed a patch of shadow further up the riverbank shift & move...

... Out of sight of police activity the shadows fell away like mist to reveal a young girl, maybe all of twelve years old, dressed in the skirt & blazer uniform of a Catholic girl's school. Her short red hair & bone-thin figure lent her a pixie-like appearance as she skipped away alongside the river, seemingly unconcerned by how cold the night was. Flipping open the small pink cell-phone she pulled from her pocket the girl hit speed-dial,

'Grimskull? Yeah - I think I've found your next offering... Oh, you'll like her... Trust me...'

Flipping the phone shut again Beltaine grinned - it felt so good to be bad!

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Maria tried her best to stiffle a yawn as she brought the coffee & donuts back to the squad car - the late nights were really begining to take their toll. Slipping into the passenger seat she placed the box of sprinkled treats on the dash & offered one of the coffees to her partner. Much to the rookie's surprise the older woman refused ::blink .

'I've never met a cop who didn't drink coffee, mam.' The young Hispanic officer tried to keep her tone polite, after all she'd only been assigned to a new partner that morning; but all the extra work she'd been doing had started to wear her down. Officer McClain, her new partner, grimaced. When she spoke Maria couldn't help but find the slight Irish lilt to her accent enchanting,

'It's not that... Doctor's orders. I'd kill for a taste if 'twas up to me...'

Rori McClain had only been on the streets for four years herself, but that was a lifetime compared to Maria. Maria Rodriguez's original partner had been a grizzled old sergeant, murdered by Mite-abusing gang-bangers when they'd answered a routine call a couple of weeks after she'd been assigned. It had hit Maria harder than she'd allowed herself to admit, & she was torn between wanting to befriend the friendly Irish woman she'd been assigned to ride with, & a lasting fear of a repeat of the loss she'd already faced. Thoughts wondering, she failed to conceal the next yawn. The stunning redhead who was her senior officer narrowed dazling green eyes as she confronted the rookie,

'Out partying all night were we? Not recommended for a first-year cop.'

Maria winced,

'Er... no mam... sorry mam...'

Officer McClain let out a heartfelt sigh,

'And you can stop that "mam" stuff right now! Jesus, Mary & Joseph - I'm not even thirty yet, & you're "mam"ing me! Just 'cos I'm out of my training bra, doesn't make me a pensioner, girl!'

Maria smiled - it was true, Officer McClain wasn't actually that much older than she was in the big scheme of things - it was just that she seemed so much more experienced.

As Maria sipped her coffee her new partner shook her head & flicked on the OpNet screen built into the patrol car's dash. Footage from the Chadian conflict was on again - shots of the female Nova with the eye-beam thingies fighting a bunch of other Novas. Maria let slip a slight groan, already sick of seeing the same thing over & over. McClain glanced at the rookie in surprise,

'Not a fan of the Novas girl?'

Maria shrugged,

'It's not that ma'... um... Officer McClain,' the Irish woman smiled at the near-slip,

'Just "Rori" will do girl, 'tis my name after all.'

Maria nodded,

'Thanks... Rori. No, Novas are fine... I guess... it's just that... well my last partner, he was killed by a Mitoid, & since then I've been looking into the whole Nova-based drugs issue. I mean, there's a lecture on it at the academy, but I never knew the problem was so big. It's like a whole new level of drug-crime which we have to cope with.'

Rori gave Maria a slight, almost sad, smile,

'Sure, there's some new problems - I've seen my fair share - but we can't blame the Novas for the drugs people squeeze out of them. I mean, dope dealers will try anything to make a buck. I heard of this guy selling extracts from monkey glands a few years back - sold it to old guys who thought it'd keep 'em young. People will do the weirdest things, always have done - that's not something which arrived with Novas.'

'Yeah, I guess...' Maria wasn't sure if she was convinced - some old fart injecting himself with monkey juice didn't seem to compare to the vivid memory she had of an enraged Mitoid about to squash her like a bug under her own squad car... or the image of her old partner's skull smashed like an over-ripe mellon...

Rori was still watching the rookie closely. After a moment she asked,

'Say - this research of yours isn't what's keeping you up a night is it?'

That was a little close to the mark, Maria had to deflect attention from her nocturnal activities considering the... limited... legality they probably had...

'So - no coffee on doctor's orders? And you seemed to take an awful long time in the bathroom before we started patrols this morning... Is there cause for congratulations Rori?' Maria cracked her sweetest, most innocent, smile. Growing up in a family as large as hers she could recognise the older woman's symptoms a mile away.

Shaking her head Rori flicked off the OpNet & started the car. Pulling into the New York traffic she closed the conversation with the simple statement,

'Let's roll.'

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N! the News

Late last night Project Utopia confirmed rumours that Team Tomorrow's Nova diplomat Geisha will be leading their efforts to open a constructive dialogue with the leaders of the Fulani Sovereign State. This latest development in the aftermath of the Chadian War comes on the heels of Caestus Pax's more forceful promises not to let Hannibal's own weather manipulations effect the progress of Utopia's terraforming projects in the region.

Many international commentators believe that it is the powerful Nova Hannibal who Geisha will have to negotiate with, rather than the baseline ministers & generals who are ostensibly in control of the recently expanded country. A Project Utopia spokesperson denyed that Hannibal's rumoured weakness for beautiful women had anything to do with the descision to send in Geisha.

In related news: negotiations between the North & South Korean governments, until a few days ago being mediated by Geisha, broke down today when the United States ambassador George Hedges reportedly accused the North Korean government of being, 'A terrorist sponsoring Empire of evil', who, in his words, 'Should be damned & blasted by any & all God-fearing nations & people.'

Relations between the two Koreas became strained earlier this year over several Nova-related incidents - involving Elites from the DeVries agency amongst others. The North Korean government still maintains that the Elite known as the Dark Matter Destroyer, recently involved in the Chadian conflict, should be turned over to them to answer for terrorist crimes he commited in their country. A spokesperson for DeVries National Tactical Solutions once again denied that any such claim on the part of the North Koreans was justified.

Tensions rose again when South Korea moved several British-manufactured Remote Operator Armoured Vehicles into the Demilitarized Zone between the neighboring countrys in response to the North Korean delegation leaving the negotiating table. The North Korean government immediately filed a complaint with the United Nations, but their Southern counterparts protested that the vehicles, as unmanned units, were no more a violation of the Zone than the many landmines already covering the area. A spokesperson for the North Korean government suggested that if the United Nations refused to act on their behalf then they'd be forced to field, 'Extensive military technologies' of their own.

When asked about the Korean situation Team Tomorrow's Caestus Pax had this to say...

'If North Korea is found to have violated Project Utopia's Science & Technology restrictions then Team Tomorrow will have a United Nations sanctioned legal mandate to deal with the situation in whatever way is warranted.'

In response General Chang, leader of the Exploding Heavenly Mandate - the Nova arm of China's People's Liberation Army - said...

'If our Korean friends ask for aid in repelling foriegn Nova agression against their nation then the Exploding Heavenly Mandate stands ready to assist them. Caestus Pax would be wise to remember that we voluntarily removed ourselves from the Kashmir situation, & wiser still to not count on the same result in every circumstance.'

Viewers will recall that in 2002 a plea from Caestus Pax, along with a guarantee that Project Utopia would prevent further bloodshed in the area, led to the Exploding Heavenly Mandate's withdrawal from the Kashmir conflict.

The exact membership of the Exploding Heavenly Mandate is unknown, & experts vary widely both in their estimates of the number of Novas resident in China, & their estimates on how many of those Novas are attached to the Chinese military.

Caestus Pax was unavailable for further comment, but a Project Utopia spokesperson explained that the Team Tomorrow leader's comments on the Korean situation were in no way meant as a threat, & that the Project was still confident a diplomatic solution to the situation would be reached.

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N! the News

There was blood on the streets in Norway today when riot police had to be called in to break up fighting between followers of the Elite known as Thor - last seen in the Chadian conflict - & members of the Church of Astaroth.

Police inquiries suggest that the violence erupted when a large number of Church of Astaroth followers spilled out of a Black-Metal concert in the area & decided to confront a group of Thor worshippers who were holding a vigil for their fallen hero nearby.

Large amounts of illegal drugs were confiscated by the police & more than fifty youths were taken into custody. Several members of the public were injured in the violence, with one pregnant woman being rushed to hospital where her condition is described as 'stable'. Property damage is estimated to be close to the million dollar mark.

Thor hasn't been seen since his defeat at the hands of the FSS Nova Hannibal, although all accounts indicate he survived the encounter. FSS authorities claim no knowledge of the Elite's whereabouts, & presume that he has left the country.

Our reporter Karen Thomas caught up with the Church of Astaroth's Nova spokesman, Belial...

'It is not our place at the Church of Astaroth to either confirm or deny Thor's supposed divinity. His beliefs, & those of his followers, are their own concern. Our Church teaches that real divinity, real power, comes from the human spirit within - to know true freedom & true power one must reject weak gods... & from what we've all seen on the OpNet in the last few days, if Thor is a god, he's a weak one...'

'But what about the violence your Church's supporters supposedly initiated in Norway last night?'

'If we preach a doctrine of freedom & strength, Karen, we must be willing to allow those who listen to practice it. The Church of Astaroth, naturally, for legal reasons cannot condone those violent events - but the powerful have always & will always prey on the weak - those are the terms dictated by the cosmos - we can't change that, of remove the enlightenment our followers have found in walking trail we blaze...

... Perhaps you would like to discuss our beliefs further in private?'


N! the News

The entertainment industry was shocked today by the sudden announcement of popular N! reporter Karen Thomas' descision to leave the network. In a statement to the press Miss Thomas proclaimed a newfound faith in the Church of Astaroth's teachings & declared that she intended to spend the rest of her life in devoted service to the Domitori - the Nova leaders of the Church who claim to be Avatars of the dark god Astaroth.

Guy Jenkins, Miss Thomas' fiancé of two years, told the network that he couldn't understand why she was making such a dramatic change in her life, & that he'd only communicated with her in a single brief telephone conversation - in which she called off their engagement - since the sudden news was announced.

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Nova fashion guru & Buendia protégé Yamaguchi today revealed his latest revolution in designer clothing - the 'spray-on'.

Based on concepts pioneered by baseline Spanish designer Manel Torres, Yamaguchi's new product is a synthetic eufiber-based fabric which is kept as a pressurised liquid until sprayed over the wearer. It can be applied lightly as a second skin, or in thicker layers to hang loose. The fabric peels away easily when the wearer wishes to remove their outfit - although it is, by its nature, a disposable product: once peeled off, it cannot be worn again. In any case, the fabric breaks down after, on average, eight hours, disolving into a harmless non-toxic mist.

The basic fabric is a standard white, but a programmable chip - worn in a discrete wristband or concealed in more expensive accessories such as Yamaguchi's own range of jewellery - causes the fabric to display an almost limitless variety of colours, lights & patterns. A range of software is already under production to support programming for the chips - from the simplest home design tools, to complex programming engines created with the professional artist & designer in mind. The minimal power required to illuminate the sprayed fabric is provided by the wearer's own body heat, while electric conduction across the wearer's skin facilitates communication between the chip & the fabric.

While the spray-on is currently available exclusively by special order from Yamaguchi's own company, mass-marketing for the product is already in the works. N! was treated to a sneak-preview of the first home spray-on kit, set to hit the stores next spring. The kit contains the programmable control chip & wristband, a basic software package (compatable with any ViaSoft system), two cans of spray-on itself (each enough to coat a single adult of average build in a thin skin of the fabric), & several stencils to aid with neat application of the material. ViaSoft have promised a wide range of downloadable designs will be available from the spray-on OpNet site (SprayOn.Op) by the time the product hits the shelves. This 'starter kit' is set to be priced around the two-hundred dollar mark, with additional cans of spray-on fabric ranging in price from 'samplers' or 'patch kits' costing five dollars (with enough fabric to cover only a small area of skin), to full-body cans (like those which come with the kit) priced around fifty dollars each.

Further develoments in the works may include drop-in 'boothes' where a customer can choose from a variety of pre-programmed spray-on designs which are then automatically applied by computer-controlled dispensors - although a control chip would still have to be purchased seperately. A spokesperson for Yamaguchi's development team said,

'We are very excited by the booth idea - clubbers will be able to patch-up, or even completely change, their spray-on outfits quickly & easily in less than a minute. No one will ever have to worry about having the right outfit to attend a club again - as long as you have your control chip & a valid credit account you can just pop into a booth when you get there!'

The fashion industry has universally praised Yamaguchi's latest innovation - it remains to be seen whether the general public will take so readily to such a revolutionary concept.

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Shun shuffled impatiently as his mother offered the two business-suited visitors more tea. It was bad enough having to sit there while the adults talked about which high school he should go to, but he was missing the live OpNet broadcast of the all night vigil for the missing Elite, The Samurai, taking place at the Tokyo Kamisama Buddhist shrine. A friend at the cosplay store last night had told him that Nezumi would be there - her first public appearance since she quit singing - & he didn't want to miss a thing.

'But', Shun's father was saying, trying to be diplomatic, 'I... uh... I understand that the extrance exams for the Osaka schools are... well... of a higher standard than most.'

One of the men in suits nodded vigourously,

'Quite so, sir - the Osaka Academy only takes the best & brightest of pupils.'

Shun heard his father sigh,

'It's just that...' he glanced sideways at his boy, '... Shun's schoolwork hasn't exactly been... um... perfect...'

The two visitors glanced at each other, then the one who was doing all the talking smiled,

'Our tests show that your son has great potential, sir. We're sure that a more stimulating academic environment is all that he needs. There are several juku which...'

Shun's father winced,

'Ah... we... that is to say, I'm awaiting promotion at work, but...'

Again the two visitors exchanged a glance, before the one replied,

'For pupils who have scored so highly on our tests - like your son, sir - the government provides specially funded juku. After all, these children are our nation's future.'

'Quite so, quite so!' Shun's father was rubbing his chin, trying to hide a smile. Shun knew what the old man was thinking - free cram school, send him off to Osaka on the cheap. All he ever thought about was money, Shun was sure of that...

His mother was beaming for another reason - she'd always said Shun was gifted, now she felt she'd been prove right.

Shun himself just didn't understand it. He knew he wasn't an idiot, but he was just as sure he hadn't aced any academic tests at school. He was no 'gifted' pupil. And... he was missing the vigil...

The man in the suit was looking at him now,

'So, how'd you like to go to our school young man?'

Shun shrugged - school was school as far as he was concerned,

'I guess,' was the half-hearted best he could muster. The two men exchanged another of those knowing glances,

'Don't you like Novas Shun-chan?'

Novas? It caught Shun off-guard... what was this guy talking about? Then it hit him... they'd said the school was in Osaka...

'Nippontai High?' Shun's voice cracked with excitement. The two men smiled,

'We don't refer to it as that, but yes, the school is under the direction of the government's Nippontai program.'

'Yes!' Shun punched his hand into the air, only to be clipped round the ear by his embarassed mother. But he didn't care - Nippontai High, Novas &... if the rumours were correct, Nezumi herself! Life had just gotten a whole lot better.

An hour later, after details had been discussed, the two men in suits left the apartment & walked back to their car.

'You know, the father was right - that kid isn't exactly the brightest candidate we've had...'

The other man, who'd not talked during the whole meeting, nodded,

'Don't worry about it. You Ministry of Education people have your tests, we have ours.'

Once they got into the car the second man opened Shun's file to add some notes, glancing at the test results his department had gotten from the boy. They weren't off the chart, but they were there - excellent potential for eruption. Placed at 'Nippontai High' he'd have the best chance of proximity to Quantum powers sparking off his own potential abilities. His colleague had been correct when he'd said these children were Japan's future...

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Alex stepped through the warp gate and sighed.

Physically he was, now, uninjured. When he’d woken up he’d transformed and then watched his wounds heal while waiting out the storm. That was a little trick the DVNTS Doctors had taught him, transformed his wounds just faded away, the trick was to heal while they were gone or they’d come back.

Emotionally he was still having problems. They’d lost. His friend and trainer The Major had died. Samurai probably wasn’t coming back, at least not this century and in one piece. Mojo was more colleague than friend, but his loss still stung and now he’d never be able to ask him about what was going on in that cave. The others he didn’t know too well. Jolt hadn’t impressed him but Shockwave and Thunderbolt seemed to think a lot of her. That was beside the point, it was just wrong to leave her there. Evil Twin he’d never even talked to, and now he never would.

Going back to his bungalow, he fed his rodents and cleaned up their cages. It needed doing and was a way to take his mind off his thoughts. Specimen numbers one, two, and three were as well as could be expected and continued to dislike him. Alex reflected that he didn’t really deserve this from number one, that was his control mouse.

Time to read the email. One from his parents saying they were glad he was alive. This meant of course that pictures of his but getting kicked were all over the op-net. His brothers even sent him a listing of them. Another email from The Study, it had a number but Alex didn’t bother to remember it. While he was in Chad, her tests had come back positive. The specified bonus was deposited into his account. There was another email from her saying thank you and she’d gone back to the States.

Alex was frozen for a long moment, then a silly grin broke out over his face. He wished he’d been able to say goodbye, but this was still good news. No, make that great news. If she got real lucky then the new one would match her “Toni” and the small one, of which ever gender, would start life out as a hero. In about a year he’d take his “bonus” and put it in a trust for the kid. There were some things you just shouldn’t get paid for. Alex briefly considered going over to Masks to celebrate, but reconsidered after thinking about how a group of sterile novas might react to him bragging about how he wasn’t… and the study was fairly confidential in any case.

Alex also realized he’d miss her. He’d liked the red head and had thought it might be mutual. Some of that might be due to the unnatural state of their relationship, i.e. she might have been on her best behavior to avoid being kicked out, but he didn’t think so. She was a strong, opinionated woman and hadn’t seemed to be trying to hide that. This whole thing was dangerous and was setting him up for some serious heart ache. There was a saying in some culture to the extent that sharing sex meant sharing souls. Or maybe he just wasn’t a love-them-and-leave-them kind of guy.

In any case, life goes on. His depression broken, Alex decided to experiment with his blocks and rodents.

The blocks were a group of simple children’s blocks with letters carved on one face, numbers on another, and animals on a third, etc (see pictures showing orientation and color). The rodents were generic white (see also pictures). These tools were simple, but a surprising amount of good science can come from simple tools and an organized approach. A digital camera had recorded the appearance of all of his “tools”, and his log book was on a simple computer not hooked up to the op-net. Back ups were on DVD media incase Loadstone ever got sloppy with an EMP.

Attuned, the blocks turn complete into dark matter. Put one on top of another and the blocks merged totally like two pieces of silly putty. The blocks could be attuned, manipulated so their faces changed, cut in half, and when they were unattuned they reverted back to their original form. Note to self, buy some silly putty.

Implication: Their Pattern was being stored somewhere; and not in a one to one relationship with the dark matter. I.e. if a block can cut in two, then its pattern isn’t being stored on that piece of dark matter. Sub Implication: Either its pattern was totally stored on one point of dark matter, or it was independent.

Alex got out specimen number three and attuned it; as normal, it didn’t like being held by its tail and really didn’t like being turned into dark matter. Specimen number three ran around the floor with it’s tail firmly attached to a string of dark matter. Alex tried to manipulated it as he had the blocks. Unlike the block, the mouse was less subject to being merged with dark matter. It tried to keep it’s mouse form and mouse function. Although it was subject to manipulation, it wasn’t subject to the degree of manipulation the block was. It couldn’t be split in two without the kind of effort that Alex would use to split it in two normally. Alex felt a brief pain of remorse for specimen number four.

Conclusion: Dark Matter attunement, pattern storage, and manipulation works differently for living creatures. It appeared there was an interaction between them and their status.

Implication: Non-living objects don’t change while they are dark matter, they might not even age. Damage done to their appearance isn’t stored on their pattern. Living creatures however remain functional, which implied they were updating their pattern. Although not conclusive because of nova personal immunity, Alex can remember training and fights undergone while converted into dark matter.

Follow up test: Use the mice to run time trials in a maze while converted and see if they can store memories.

Required Tools: Cardboard for the maze, smelly cheese for the bait, stop watch.

Alex dropped the mouse back in it’s cage and sat down and spent half an hour writing up his results, then he spent another two hours writing up his conclusions from his Grad school days. He’d been almost done with his research, another 40 or 80 hours of writing and he’d have a thesis to defend. Assuming the University and his Professor didn’t hold his leveling of the physics building against him (a big if), he might be able to call himself “Dr. Dark Matter”. Alex sent an email to his DeVries lawyer asking for an appointment, both the trust fund and his ongoing business with the NYU would probably require it.

Glancing at the clock, Alex noticed he’d worked through two meals. It was late. He got up went to the cafeteria and ate. A few weeks ago it had been impossible for him to go to sleep more than once a week or so. Meditation had helped a lot, but Alex had found a short cut. Zip was an energy lecher and had been brought in by Loadstone with most of his body gone. When Alex wanted to sleep, he’d go have a one sided conversation with Zip. The conversation was one sided because Zip didn’t have a tongue. Hopefully Zip could use his stolen juice to fuel his regeneration, but even if he couldn’t he hopefully enjoyed the company (Alex was thought he didn’t get a lot), and in any case with his pool totally drained Alex could then sleep without a problem.

When he got back to his bungalow, Alex noticed that #3’s tail was still black. Going to sleep was a problem after all.

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John's eyes slowly opened, and he looked at the clock. Later than he'd expected. But then again, he hadn't had a real nights sleep in what seemed like forever.

Yawning, he slipped his feet out of bed and onto the plush carpeted floor. Padding quietly out to the kitchen, he saw coffee was already made, with a note from Jan sitting in front of the coffeepot.

"Had some meetings to make and errands to run. See you tonight!"

Smiling, he poured himself a cup and walked out to the terrace. The sun had risen hours ago, and the quiet roar of the bustling city below reminded him of his own work that needed tending to.

Still, he stayed outside for a few minutes, letting himself relax for at least a little while, soaking up the feel of the sun on his skin, and savoring the coffee.

Guatemalan blend...a nice earthy flavor to it. He could taste specifics as well, now. The beans had been hand-picked, and then dried in the sun on a massive concrete slab. They were slightly immature when picked; maybe the farmers had been behind schedule. They'd been roasted on site, right next to the farm...he'd learned to pick out the differences in taste between beans roasted in the U.S. and beans roasted elsewhere.

Finally, with a stifled groan, he made himself get up and head inside. Sparing an hour for a quick workout, he slid into the massive four-nozzle shower in the master bathroom. Luxuriating under the powerful spray hitting him from every direction, he mentally timed himself, making sure not to take too long. More than enough to do today, and as usual, not enough time. Hopefully that would change soon.

Finished with his shower and dressed shortly after, the actor settled down to work.

Activating the loft's perimeter security first, he punched in today's code for The Stranger's secret lair, and waiting for the hidden door to open, stepped inside.

By habit he scanned the monitors...no activity directly outside the apartment, and the hallways and elevators were clear. His home in California was clear of activity as well, as it should be. The place was still under repair from the Teragen attacks.

Sitting down at the workstation, his fingers danced across the keyboard and sent a message to Sid. He had a response in seconds. She was at her computer, as usual. He grinned.

Typing faster than most would expect, John chatted with his old college friend for a bit, then told her about the favor he needed.

Why an engineer?

For a project I'm working on. You remember Kenny? He's been helping out, but he's hit a wall on some of the specs. I need someone reliable and discreet. Some of this stuff might be end up being used by law enforcment, so a clean record would be good too.

Gotcha. You want fries with that?

Ha ha. You know you're the only one that can handle this stuff for me. I'll owe you a dinner, wherever you want, next time I'm down there.Deal?

Deal. You better get back here soon, prettyboy, I'm gettin' hungry.

LOL. I'll be back soon as I can. Got some business to finish here, hopefully won't take me much longer. Alright Sid, I gotta go. Let me know when you find someone.

Signing off and saying goodbye to Sidney, John moves on to updating Kenny, calling him on the scrambled private line.

"Hey buddy. Should have some help headed your way soon for the car. Yeah. Sidney's working on it. Don't worry, I made sure she'll get someone trustworthy. Good news, Ken. I got a hot lead, I'll be working it tonight. Just some surveillance, shouldn't be anything too bad. I forwarded the info I've already got, should be in the system for you to look over. Yes, I'll make sure to keep a running feed tonight." John rolls his eyes at Kenny's mothering, but doesn't say anything. He knows Kenny's got good reason to worry.

"When will I be back? As soon as possible. But I've got to follow these leads over here while they're fresh, you know that. Yeah, I'll call you as soon as Sid lets me know she's got someone. Can you handle the interview for me? Make sure whoever she gets checks out. Alright, thanks pal. Okay, need to call Mom and Dad now. Alright. Talk to you later."

Pulling off the headset, John closes down the miniature Strangercave and exits, re-enabling the locks on the hidden room and door. That done, he changes the apartment's perimeter and interior security to notify him via his PDA of any suspicious activity beyond his own movements.

Grabbing the cordless phone off its charger, John hits the speed dial for his parent's home. His father picks up while John's cracking eggs into a frying pan for breakfast. "Hi Dad! Doing fine, how are you and Mom doing? Uh-huh. I'll believe that about your new golf handicap when I see it. Hey Dad, I wondered if you still had all that information about setting up a charitable organization? You do? That's great, would you mind faxing it over to me today? Thanks Dad. Yeah, well, I've been thinking about it for awhile. The restaurant's starting to come together, and I want to use the opening in conjunction to help raise money for the charity."

Adding some chopped green peppers and seasoning, he nods in response. "Yeah, a celebrity dinner. Well, thanks Dad, I'm glad you think it's a good idea. You and Mom will come down for the opening, right? Of course I want you to be there."

Flipping one side of the budding omelette, he hears a click on the line. "Hey Dad, I need to let you go. Got a call coming in. Okay, talk to you later."

Pausing to switch lines on the phone, he starts cooking a second omelette as he answers. "Hello? Oh, hi there! Yeah, we're still on for today. How about we meet at the Novabux in Central Park in about an hour. Sounds good. See you then."

Hanging up, John smiles before digging into breakfast. This interview would be the most promising so far; the chef really seemed to know his stuff, and had a real passion for the culinary arts. As long as the guy wasn't a total jackass, he might end up being Head Chef. Today was shaping up to be a good day.

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N! the News

In a move which surprised many Novaphiles today popular Team Tomorrow - Americas leader Ricardo Montoya-Bernal announced that he would be cutting back his frontline duties with T2M in order to concentrate on behind the scenes supervision, training new team members, & various Project Utopia sponsored charity works.

Once a competitor in the XWF, Montoya-Bernal has always appeared to enjoy the spotlight leading T2M - Am gave him, & is considered one of the more flamboyant members of the world's premier Nova group. This unexpected announcement comes after several weeks without the green-skinned Nova being in his accustomed place in the public eye.

Rumours already abound on various OpNet fan sites as to the reasons behind the change of pace for Montoya-Bernal, ranging from a 'mid-life crisis', to a secret marriage to Firefly (a Team Tomorrow auxiliary member who also hasn't been in the public eye for quite some time), to an argument with Caestus Pax, to being killed & replaced by a shapeshifting double. A Project Utopia spokesperson would only comment that the move was a mutual agreement between Ricardo & the Project's leaders.

The identity of Team Tomorrow - Americas' next field leader has yet to be announced, & speculation as to likely candidates runs wild. Las Vegas odds place Skew as the favourite to succeed Ricardo, but in truth the announcement has been so unexpected that the field is wide open.

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N! asked the candidates for the upcoming United States Presidential Election what their reactions to the stunning events of the Chadian war were:

President Lauren Pendleton - Libertarian Party:

'The events in Chad are a matter outside the government's jurisdiction. The United Nations, as represented by Project Utopia, seem to be handling the incident as well as can be expected. Right now it's more important for this government to concentrate on American interests than it is for us to interfere in the affairs of other nations.'

Randel 'The Fireman' Portman - Democratic Party:

'While some Novas may abuse their abilities to gain political power, others of us just try to be simple honest men. If anything the recent events in Africa highlight the differences between politics over there & politics here at home. I don't believe that the American people would elect anyone - Nova or baseline - on the sole basis of that individual's personal power - & I wouldn't have it any other way. I stand in this election not as a Nova, but as an American.'

Senator Bernard Morrison - Republican Party:

'Naturally the events in Chad demonstrate how dangerous it can be for Novas to enter the political arena. More than that, however, those events again demonstrate the failings of Project Utopia who are now left to pick up the pieces after the damage has been done. Utopia doesn't trust us to run our own lives, yet has it proved any more successful in running them for us?'

Senator Mark Anthony Green - American Eagle Party:

'Baseline human lives were destroyed by the acts of a single Nova with delusions of godhood. The Novas don't care about real people, & Utopia cares even less. I hope with all my heart that the United States won't follow the example of Chad & end up with a power-crazed Nova in the Whitehouse. We have been warned, all we have to do is take note.'

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  • 2 weeks later...

(The Next Day)

Alex sat with his hands motionless over his computer. He’d been trying to write a letter in response to her letter and it’d been frustrating so far. Somehow his knowledge of etiquette didn’t quite cover what to say to a pregnant lover to whom he wanted to stay in contact and maintain a relationship. He continued to muddle through the letter of thanks/congratulations/well-wishes/keep in touch/how-are-you/how-is-Toni until he was less unhappy and then he saved it.

He got the juggling balls out and let his muscles work by themselves for a bit while he thought. He started with three, doubled that, and then doubled it twice more. After maintaining it for several minutes, he stopped, read the letter again, and hit “send”.

For a moment Alex stared at a “juggling” ball, supposedly it was “unbreakable”. Made of some polymer, it wasn’t really a solid and it could squish then reform. He had a larger jet black set for the DMD, not only did they teach manual dexterity, but they were also useful in teaching the hyper strong how to pick up things without crushing them. Utopia had taught him that, funny that Utopia and DVNTS would have some of the same teaching techniques. Alex extended a tentacle of dark matter and gathered up four of the larger balls. They looked like utility pouches on his costume belt. Even unattuned, they shouldn’t break if he transformed. They would be good for amusement, or gifts, or throwing at people.

It still felt like he was forgetting something. Ah. Duh. Flowers. Alex got out his wallet. Then he remembered how good N! was at following novas and decided she might not appreciate making the news. He picked up the phone and made a call.

“Hello, this is Alex Green. Yes, that’s me. Hey, listen, I want to send some flowers to someone in New York, but I don’t want the shop to be able to trace it back to me. That’s right. A dozen long stem red roses, and three other assortments. The card should say ‘Congratulations’ and be signed ‘Alex’.”

Feeling much better, Alex put another two hours into his PhD paper, ate, then started cutting up “walls” for his maze. He glanced over at number 3 and noted his tail was still black. He debated with himself, again, over whether he should just cut the tail off so he could examine it better. Or maybe just half the tail. From the way the rodent moved he was pretty sure it was just a black tail and not a piece of dark matter. Alex got out the ruler and specimen number three and the spot's length hadn’t changed. Neither had the animal’s weight, and it still didn’t like him. Very strange.

Alex ate again, went to visit Zip, and then went back ‘home’ and got some sleep.

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(A little bit latter, in a second letter)

Hey there Rori:

Congratulations again, and I hope you enjoyed the flowers.

You may remember when you told me about Toni’s condition I got a thoughtful look. At the time I had what I thought was a great idea, a little bit latter I was glad I kept my mouth shut. A bit of research showed that as a Doctor, I’m a good Engineer. It’s not well known, but there are a lot of Elites who are also healers. I don’t understand why, if I had the power to Heal I’d probably get a real job. Anyway, I’m on good terms with one or two and I figured it wouldn’t be a problem to trade favors and get Toni Healed. It’d steal the little one’s heroic coming into the world, but life isn’t fair.

At a guess, you’d had this conversation with a real doctor and already knew what I found out. It doesn’t work that way. Standard Healers can work miracles repairing damage, the very good ones can cure disease, but even that wouldn’t help her. What Toni has is a disorder, not a disease or injury. Like those drugs she’s on, Healing might be able to address some of the symptoms, but not the underlying problem. What she needs is an after the fact genetic engineer, and/or someone who can restructure biological systems, and that’s really rare. Thus are beautiful theories put down by brutal facts.

Looking over DeVries records, I’ve found only one nova with powers like that, and he’s either missing or dead. His name is, or perhaps was, Gabriel Melchior, a.k.a. “The Miracle”. Although he’s an American, like Thor Melchior appears to have a big time case of India syndrome. As near as I can tell The Miracle thinks he’s Jesus or Moses or something. His “sect”, the Church of the Immanent Escheation, is nominally fundamentalist Christen, but it seems to have made a major turn to the Right after he erupted and assumed control. Maybe the word “cult” would be better than “sect”. On a side note, I’m not working off of direct, first hand information, so I could be misjudging him. It’s possible he is just a scam artist.

Back in March, ironically a couple of days before I erupted, The Miracle up and disappeared in a big flash of light on stage during his Easter service/show. Supposedly he either ascended bodily into Heaven or lost control and self destructed. Maybe I’m being overly cynical, but I think another possibility is he’s laying low and will come back claiming to have returned from his 40 days in the wilderness and/or that he’s risen from the grave. Maybe he is out hiding with some of his followers preparing for his return, or maybe he decided he had enough money and is off spending it in Vegas or somewhere. Or maybe he is dead.

In any case, if he’s still alive and turns up, I’ll try to set something up. The first problem is just finding him, so I made the obvious move and have joined the Church of the Immanent Escheation. I think they are a bit out of sorts since their leader left, a small donation and I’m on their email list. I’m still wading through their propaganda (“Quantum Consciousness” indeed), but some of it suggests they expect him back. “Green” is a common name so I doubt they’ll connect “A.L. Green” to Dark Matter, but even if they do it’s probably not a big deal. To be totally clear, this is a long shot and I don’t expect anything to come of this before our small one saves Toni, but I’ll keep you informed.

Love Alex.

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  • 1 year later...

No, please, Mistress – I beg you, don’t…’

Beltaine smiled at the feeble protests of the middle-aged Japanese businessman. He’d begged well enough whilst they’d been ‘playing’ for the last couple of hours - but now he was bound, spread-eagle, to the hotel bed & her thumb was hovering over the ‘send’ key on his mobile phone... Now his pleas had that ring of genuine anguish which she so loved to savor. The young Domitor was impressed by the crystal clear quality of the images the small electronic device had recorded of their ‘session’, even the sound quality was pretty good - & the memory capacity had been enough to record everything. Another smile briefly touched her lips as the playback got to an especially good part – she had to admit she looked really good in the school uniform, no more than twelve or so years old, and with the straight black wig & her face turned from the camera she could easily pass for a young Japanese girl: the fact that the recorded voice of the business man was grunting out his own daughter’s name as he slammed into her from behind made for a wonderful scene. She glanced up to note her ‘co-star’ turning his head away, tears of shame in his eyes, as his own recorded words came back to haunt him,

‘… please,’ the man managed to choke out another plea, his voice barely a whisper, ‘… my co-workers, my friends, my family – my wife & children: all their numbers are on the address book… If you send that to them… my life… my life will be over…’

Beltaine smirked,

Who’s life? I recall you signing your soul over to me, worm…’ she glanced down at the small screen on the mobile phone once more, ‘… I’m sure we captured that bit too. It was after you reamed me from behind as a proxy for your little girl, but before you got off with my whipping you on your…’ she trailed off as she found the appropriate video clip, ‘… ah… here we are.’

The businessman started to sob quietly as Beltaine held up the evidence of his dark perversions to his face. Running her bone-thin fingers gently through his balding hair the pixie-featured girl with a shock of red hair leant in close, sensuously brushed her lips against his ear, & whispered,

‘… So tell me again who your life belongs to…’

Trying to blink tears from his eyes the middle-aged Japanese man seemed unable to meet the young Nova’s gaze as he mumbled,

‘… You, mistress… my… my life belongs to you…’

Good!’ Beltaine exclaimed, suddenly standing &, without further ceremony, pressing the ‘send’ button. The ‘phone let slip an obliging ‘bleep’ to confirm that the video clip, & the accompanying text Beltaine had written detailing the hotel’s address & the room number, had been sent to everyone on the address book.

NO!’ the businessman yelled, straining without success at the bonds which held him, naked, to the bed. Beltaine laughed – a disturbingly light & innocent noise – as she dropped the ‘phone to the carpet & headed towards the door. Pausing for a moment she glanced back at the broken shell of the businessman, his life ruined with the touch of a single button, sobbing uncontrollably. A sudden wicked thought popping into her head the young Domitor reached into the pink Japanese schoolgirl-style backpack she carried & pulled out a large, sharp, carving knife. Placing it carefully on the side table by the bed she smiled down at her victim,

Just a little something in case your wife is the first one to find you,’ she gleefully explained, before skipping from the room & closing the door on the pathetic wreck of a man within.

Stepping from the elevator into the lobby of the Tokyo hotel Beltaine smoothed down the short plaid skirt of the school uniform she was wearing, slung the pink backpack across her blazer shoulder, & strode over the where Belial was waiting.

The pale-skinned Byronic figure was surrounded by the gaggle of ‘goth-loli’ girls he’d managed to pick up almost the moment the two Domitori had arrived in Japan. The girls’ dress sense was a weird combination of gothic blacks & Victorian doll lace which seemed, to Beltaine, to perfectly compliment the tall & slender Belial’s own Victorian influenced ‘gentleman’s’ style – complete as it was with tail coat & elegant sword-cane. Belial’s white-blond hair streamed straight past his shoulders & Beltaine had heard his latest squad of groupies using the term ‘bishonen' to refer to him more than once. Right now Belial was seated in one of the large leather armchairs located in the luxury hotel’s lobby, a goth-loli girl perched on either arm of the chair, two more seated at his feet, & a fifth standing behind him administering a shoulder-rub. As Beltaine flounced over Belial’s piercing blue eyes looked up at her & a charming smile touched his lips,

Finished playing, my dear?’ he asked, mock-innocence in his voice. Beltaine returned the smile with a mischievous grin of her own,

For now,’ she confirmed, ‘I sent Grimskull a copy of the video – I’ll make sure he posts it on the site so you can take a look.’

Belial nodded his appreciation, then let his brow furrow slightly as he took on a more serious tone,

Now,’ he began, ‘what about or main reason for being here – what about the Sixth?’

Beltaine shrugged, slumping down into the armchair opposite her fellow Domitor,

What can I say,’ she replied, a touch of exasperation in her voice, ‘I had a vision – he… or she… will be found here, in Japan – but I don’t think they’ve even manifested yet. I’m sure I’ll be able to narrow it down more soon, but for now…’

Belial caught the twinkle in Beltaine’s eye & rolled his eyes,

‘… yes – for now you want to play… & Grimskull wanted us to see about filling those requests for more Asian girls on the site… I know, I know…’ glancing to the goth-loli girl to his right Belial placed his hand on her bare knee then grinned back at Beltaine, ‘… It’s a tough job, but…’

Beltaine laughed,

Yeah,’ she agreed to his implication, ‘let’s see what Japan has to offer us…’

IPB Image

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Maggie smiled at herself in the mirror as she ran her hand over the intricate tribal tattoo designs freshly etched on her shaven scalp – that old man had done a great job: no one else was going to have anything like it. The new tattoos added to the ones she already sported on her shoulders & upper arms, & the Celtic band around her left thigh – with numerous earrings in each ear she knew she’d really found an image she liked. Posing a little in the full-length mirror her smile grew to a grin: she noted that it helped that her body was firm & athletic – along with her above-average height she knew she struck a dramatic figure. She couldn’t wait to show Shockwave when she got back…

… The stray thought of her Elite lover caused Maggie to let slip a lonely sigh. Living at the base was great & everything – after all, if Andy had never invited them to stay she’d never have met Shockwave – but she found herself craving excitement, action… anything to break up the long waits while the Elites were off saving the world (or whatever it was they were getting paid for this week…). Shrugging at her own mirror image she resolved not to mope any more – slipping on a pair of bikini briefs & a T-shirt (one with a picture of Alyson Hannigan in black lingerie emblazoned on the front) she marched into the bungalow’s living room…

… Only to come face to face with the fluffy, primary-coloured, squeaky-voiced madness of a Care Bears marathon! For a moment the self-proclaimed witch was rather stunned as she stared down at her housemate Tony sitting cross-legged on the floor, about a foot from the OpNet screen, shoveling skittles into his mouth as he watched the sugary animated antics which danced before his eyes. Shaking her head at the surreal scene Maggie booted Tony’s shoulder,

Hey!’ the skinny, unkempt, guy looked up at her, bags under his red-rimmed eyes indicating a prolonged lack of sleep, ‘What did you do that for?’

What in the goddess’s name are you doing?’ demanded Maggie. Tony blinked, rubbed his eyes, blinked again, then yawned before finally answering,

Balance… I’m trying to get some spiritual balance…’

Unconvinced, Maggie frowned, then booted her friend again,

Hey!’ Tony yelped, rubbing his shoulder & scurrying back from his violent friend. Maggie placed her fists firmly on her hips,

What do you mean “spiritual balance” – you do know what you’re watching, right? Are you high on something, Tony?’

What? No!’ Tony sounded genuinely hurt by the remark, but then seemed to slump slightly. Gesturing towards the pile of computer & VR gear heaped in the corner of the room he tried to explain, ‘I’ve been doing research. The Templar stuff was bad enough, but this ReignofEvil-dot-com crap is just so… it’s…’ Tony’s voice trailed off, & a far-away gaze settled into his eyes. Suddenly concerned for her friend Maggie crouched down next to him & put an arm around his shoulders,

Hey – it’s okay, Tony, you don’t have to…’

The haunted look Tony shot her stopped Maggie mid-sentence. Shaking his head he mouthed a few words, then blinked again. Focusing on Maggie he licked his lips & tried to continue,

‘… That’s just it, Maggie – it’s not okay. It’s dark… no: it’s evilreal evil… human evil… it’s all so depraved… You just keep getting deeper & deeper… there’s nothing those people won’t do, to themselves, to others… The things I’ve seen… I don’t think I can…’ He trailed off, then shook his head & forced a weak smile, ‘… so hence the fluffy-wuffy,’ he gestured towards the animation on the screen, ‘as an attempt to balance it all out.’

Maggie found herself frowning,

So…’ she asked carefully, ‘… is it working?’

Tony let out a ragged laugh, then clicked the remote & shut off the picture,

No,’ he shook his head, ‘not really – Lady Beltaine has a collection of mutilated teddy bears – that show was dredging up some pretty weird crap in my brain. I guess nothing will ever seem the same again…’

Maggie held her friend by the shoulders, forcing him to look at her,

So stop then,’ she said, ‘don’t do it anymore.’

Tony gritted his teeth,

But I have to, Mags – Andy wants to nail these guys &… after what I’ve seen… so do I. I have to keep investigating.’

Maggie’s frown deepened,

But why, Tony? What have you found so far? Anything? Let it go – it’s not worth destroying your soul over…’

But that’s just it!’ Tony’s sudden exclamation caught Maggie by surprise, ‘I have found something! Deep in the lower levels of the site – the really private stuff, all members only – Mammon let slip that Belial & Beltaine were in Japan. Something important is going down, I know it Mags, something pivotal… It’s just… without Andy here who can..?’

Maggie stood up, dragging Tony with her. Fixing him with a firm stare she took a deep breath,

Us Tony – us. We’ll go to Japan, follow up on this. By the time we’ve found out what’s going on Andy will be back & he can round up some Elites to do the heavy lifting. You don’t need powers to do the right thing, man – you just need to act.’

The colour drained from Tony’s face, but he slowly nodded,

Yes… you’re right… this… this can’t wait, can it? But how..?’ he frowned then shot Maggie a quizzical look, ‘… how are we going to get to Japan?’

Maggie grinned back at her friend,

‘That’s easy – Serina’s still got Andy’s credit card, right?’ Punching her fist in the air the tattooed witch added, with glee, ‘First class – here we come!’

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  • 4 weeks later...

Rori pushed open the door to the late night café and stepped inside, still trying to blink the sleep from her eyes as she did so. A quick glance around the place confirmed that it was near-empty: a couple of trucker types were at the counter eating pie & quietly watching the latest baseball from Tokyo on the café’s wall-mounted OpNet screen, the lone waitress was wiping down the coffee machine, and sitting alone by the window was Rori’s rookie partner, Maria Rodriguez.

Moving towards her partner Rori began to ask the waitress for coffee, then chided herself and switched the order to a glass of water – it was a stupid mistake, but she told herself that she was tired – those high-paid DeVries doctors would have had kittens if she started on the coffee again in her condition!

Reaching Maria’s table the Irish-American cop found herself blinking again – Maria was a good-looking Hispanic girl, athletic with those shapely hips guys seemed to like so much, but Rori had never imagined that she dressed in such a… provocative… manner when off-duty: low-slung tight-fitting leather trousers, calf-high stiletto-heeled leather boots, and a leather bikini top to complete the look. With her long sable hair and just a little too much make-up round her dark eyes Maria looked gorgeous… sluttish, but gorgeous none-the-less. Feeling self-conscious Rori pulled her battered old overcoat tighter round her own pajama-clad form and brushed her fingers through her own tangled mess of flame-red hair – instantly feeling stupid for having such a shallow reaction to the younger woman’s appearance. Sitting herself heavily across the table from Maria Rori didn’t bother stifling the yawn which had been growing in her chest,

So what’s the big emergency?’ she asked, concern battling irritation in her mind and tone. Maria cast her a worried look, & Rori recalled how urgent the rookie had made the meeting sound on the phone earlier – after all, she wouldn’t have dragged herself from her beauty sleep for anything less than a genuine emergency. For a moment the younger cop just stared at her, as if fighting to make a difficult choice, then she cast her eyes down to stare at the untouched mug of coffee in front of her,

I…’ she began hesitantly, ‘I’m in trouble, Rori…’

A hundred different suddenly scenarios ran through the Irish-American woman’s mind – was Maria pregnant? Not such a big deal in this modern age Rori thought, her hand unconsciously moving to her own belly, but she was well aware of how old-fashioned some Catholic families could be. Was it drugs? Money? Had she ended up shooting someone? ‘Trouble’ was hardly enough to go on… Sighing, she reached her hand across the table to touch Maria’s,

Come on, girl,’ she encouraged softly, ‘whatever it is, you know you can tell me – we’re partners, right? We watch each other’s backs.’

Maria swallowed then nodded, her eyes seeking out Rori’s,

You know I’ve been investigating the Nova-related drugs trade?’ Rori nodded, her concern deepening, but waited for Maria to continue, ‘Well I… I’ve been doing some undercover work…’

Rori frowned,

What?!’ she exclaimed, attracting the attention of the other few patrons of the café. Lowering her voice again she continued, ‘You know you’re not authorized to do that! You don’t have the training… or any back-up! What were you thinking girl? If you were thinking at all that is…’

Maria flinched under the verbal abuse,

I know, I know! I’m sorry, Rori – but that’s not the reason I called you here. There was an… incident… earlier tonight. I’d met these guys who were into that whole scene, they were hooking up with some mafia types – looking to distribute big time. I thought I could get some names; learn what was going down…’

Rori fixed Maria with a ‘death stare’ – to her credit the younger woman averted her eyes slightly, but managed to continue on with her story,

‘… anyway, things got really out of hand. Novas showed up with the mafia guys, then these weird guys in armour – as in “knights in armour”, but all cutting-edge stuff. I’m not sure exactly what was going on, but I think someone one of the Novas knew had been kidnapped by the armoured guys… or possibly the other way round. In any case, they set up a meeting at the old Zanzibar theatre in…’ Maria checked her watch, ‘… about twenties minutes now. Something big is going down Rori; it’s going to get messy.’

Rori once more blinked, this time due to incredulity: a few years back she’d never have believed such a fantastic tale, but now? Well, now she (and the rest of the city) had been witness to a golden woman incasing Manhattan in a dome of fire, had seen Novas battling everyday on the OpNet… heck, one of them was even the father of her unborn child… Rori shook the last thought away – Alex had seemed like a good man, but she shouldn’t fool herself into thinking he was the ‘fatherly’ type: considering his lifestyle and the ‘circumstances’ of their ‘relationship’ he’d either soon get himself killed, or move on to the next ‘subject’ in the ‘great experiment’… if he hadn’t already

Rori,’ it seemed like Maria had taken Rori’s silence as a reluctance to help as her tone was increasingly desperate, ‘I… I’m out of my depth here…’

Way out,’ agreed the older woman. Maria nodded sheepishly, moistened her lips, and continued,

‘… I didn’t know who else to talk to. Even if I come clean with the department… well, regular cops don’t stand a chance against the guys I met… What should I do, Rori? I can’t just ignore what’s going to happen!’

Rori thought for a moment. It was kind of flattering that the rookie should think so highly of her that she imagined Rori could help, but she was right – what could regular cops do? The only Novas she knew were contracted to DeVries – and they did nothing without the sort of paycheck a cop couldn’t dream of. There was always the municipal defender – the Gothic Knight – but even then she wasn’t sure what the official channels for contacting the guy were: it wasn’t as if there was a big old spotlight on the roof of city hall which they could use to signal him…

Utopia.’ Rori declared with a confidence she didn’t feel. It was Maria’s turn to blink,

You mean, like, Team Tomorrow? I… I guess it would be their sort of thing and all, but how do we go about getting them down here in less than twenty minutes?’

Rori shrugged,

Anonymous tip-off: we call them up, tell them some Nova-related crime is happening at the Zanzibar, and throw in one of those terrorist code-phrases so that they have to take it seriously.’

Maria looked unconvinced,

I don’t know, Rori… do you even know any of those codes?’

Rori leant forward and nodded,

Sure – there was a case a few months back… Nothing came of it, but I’m guessing they’ll respond to the code phrase, even if it’s a little out of date. Those guys really like their PR, so they usually play safe rather than sorry,’ she looked at her young partner and managed to force a smile, ‘hey, girl, I know it’s not much, but it’s all we’ve got. Besides – this way you get to keep your badge…’

Rori had said the last mostly in jest, but was still pleased to see the rookie turning a couple of shades paler – maybe now she’d straighten up her act and toe the line a little… before she went and got herself killed

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Hey, Basilisk, how’s the vacation going?’

The Elite sighed at the all-too-enthusiastic voice sounding in her earpiece and interrupting the calm which had, up until that moment, surrounded her ascent of the mesa. Gripping the cliff face with one lizard-scaled grey hand she heaved, swinging her other arm and her legs up and over the next tiny outcropping of rock. Turning in place she crouched low, leaning back against the rock, perfectly balanced on the balls of her bare feet – which only just fit on the outcropping. The view was magnificent and she took a long moment to breathe in the warm, clean, air before tapping the control on her earpiece phone,

It was going fine, Cain, until a moment ago…’

Her agent’s voice chuckled in her ear,

Don’t be like that, B,’ he pouted, ‘you know you love me!’

The female Elite snorted derisively,

In your dreams, Cain… and you shouldn’t be calling me “Basilisk”, not any more…’

Reaching into the pouch on the back of her belt the grey-skinned Elite pulled out some more chalk and rubbed it on her hands, peering up through mirrored Gargoyle sunglasses at the rest of the free-climb ascent above her, as Cain replied,

Not that whole Elite “unmasking” thing again, B – it’s so stupid!’

Shaking her head the Elite tried once more to explain,

So “stupid” it saved my life, Cain – if not for that “unmasking thing” The Samurai would probably have just killed me.’

No way, B,’ Cain’s reply was quick and laced with humour, ‘I saw the news footage along with the rest of the world… he wasn’t out to kill you… that boy had other things on his mind, and who could blame him?’

The Elite sighed again,

Cain, you’ve got the mind of a hormonal teenager, you know that?’

Thanks B!’ came the light-hearted response, so the Elite quickly added,

The body of a middle-aged slob though…’

Aw…’ the voice in her earpiece whined, ‘… that’s too mean…’

Truth hurts, Cain,’ chided the Elite, ‘but I’m serious about the name thing – I don’t want the community starting to think I ignore unmasking – I value my life too much for that. Just call me…’ she trailed off as she thought about it: she hadn’t used her real name casually for such a long time. She looked down over her own slender form – her athletic body may be in killer shape, but the scaled skin she’d developed on eruption… well, she hadn’t felt like ‘Jean Winters’ in a long time. Still, she wasn’t about to go all Terat and start denying her humanity or anything, and it was still the name she signed on checks. Stretching her arms out she took another deep breath of desert air, ‘… “Jean” will do, call me Jean. Or “Miss Winters” to you,’ she added with a smirk, ‘since I pay for your slobby ass to sit there drinking beer and watching OpNet porn all day…’

Keep it up “Jean”,’ Cain shot her his reply, ‘and I won’t tell you about the latest job I’ve lined up for you.’

Jean frowned, she hadn’t worked – hadn’t much wanted to work – since the Chadian deal. There’d been offers, of course – that footage of her taking down that Alex Green guy – The Dark Matter Destroyer himself – had been pretty impressive, if she did say so herself. Still, playing Elite without a mask was risky… and she really missed her eufiber. The thought of the ‘living’ suit made her conscious of the cut-off jeans and bare midriff vest she was wearing: it wasn’t so much any sense of fashion she missed, rather she’d gotten so used to only needing the one outfit for each and every occasion. That, and it had been her only real defence – the ability to blow satellites out of orbit with her eyes didn’t help much when other Elites started to pound on her… Plus – and that was what really annoyed her – the damn stuff had cost a fortune! Sighing again Jean shook her head: easy come, easy go, she guessed,

Okay, I’ll bite,’ she said to Cain, ‘what’s this job?’

Playboy centrefold, babe,’ Cain responded with just a little too much enthusiasm, ‘Heff saw that footage of you nekkid after Samurai had his wicked way with you and thought you’d be perfect for his “Quantum Women” special edition!’

Oh for crying out loud… Jean gritted her teeth – that damn footage was going to haunt her forever! It wasn’t even as if she was ‘Nova’ attractive or anything… she guessed some guys just got off on seeing ‘freaks’ like her…

Cain,’ she said firmly, reaching her hand up to shut off the earpiece, ‘you’re an idiot.’

That did it! Her powers didn’t lend themselves to anything but Elite work… and she missed the thrill of it all too. She had to get back in the game. Running a hand through her short-cropped blonde hair Jean made a decision: everyone was saying The Samurai was dead, and there was little chance of her beating a guy like Decay – the Elite who’d finished him. But she did still hold claim to the DMD’s mask… so maybe she could cut a deal? Tapping the earpiece phone to life once more she turned and resumed her climb,

Get me DeVries,’ she ordered, ‘I want to set up a meeting.’

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Mister Takashi Master, meet Doctor Henry Lang,’ Jameson politely introduced the two, his deep blue eyes darting intelligently between them, judging their first impressions of each other as, beneath his pencil-thin moustache, a sly smile threatened at the corner of his mouth.

Masters quizzically raised one eyebrow, but otherwise maintained the cool poise which his family were renowned for – even though Takashi’s closest non-Japanese ancestor was his great-grandfather Jonathon Masters (the original founder of the Masters business empire, and an infamous womanizer who managed to leave illegitimate branches of his family scattered across the globe) he was a Masters none-the-less, and very little managed to truly surprise him. Ignoring the rather disquieting feeling the good Doctor gave off he firmly shook Lang’s hand, and flashed him his most honest and likable smile – the one he reserved for Americans

Oh, right… hi,’ Lang’s response suggested he was rather distracted – although he had an impressively athletic build something about the man suggested a typical socially-challenged science-geek - and it wasn’t just the stained lab coat he wore over his dishevelled suit. Confirming that impression he turned to Jameson, saying, ‘I’m heading back to the lab… lots to do… experiments…’ before wandering out of Jameson’s luxurious office, mumbling to himself about pupae and pheromone extractions.

Waiting until Lang had left the room Takashi turned his quizzical eyebrow on Jameson,

If I’m not mistake, Nick,’ he began, seating himself in one of the room’s plush leather armchairs as Jameson poured them each a brandy, ‘that was Swarm – a rather murderous Elite. Is there something you’re not telling me?’ he added in a rather whimsical tone, ‘Some reason you need a Nova mercenary around?’

Passing Takeshi a brandy and sitting opposite him Nicholas smiled,

True, Doctor Lang has his hobbies… his ways to blow off steam… but he’s a brilliant bio-chemist who is working on many promising developments for our research department.’

Leaning back and sipping the brandy Takeshi glanced around the office – a vast space filled with the best high culture and high class had to offer, not to mention walls and displays mounted with diagrams and models of various bleeding-edge robotics projects. Finally his gaze came to rest on his host, Nicholas Jameson, technically no less a Doctor than Lang, although he never used the title – a handsome sort, in a ‘used car dealer’ sort of a way, in his thirties with neatly styled black hair, pencil moustache, and deep blue eyes, dressed, naturally enough, in a tailor made suit which screamed casual wealth – Takashi knew that last one because he shared the same tailor.

Nick,’ he observed, ‘your business is robotics, not bio-tech. That’s why you moved here to Osaka – the world’s leading centre of robotics – after all, isn’t it?’ well, that and the investigation by Utopia’s Science and Technology division which sank your last business Masters silently added – everyone knew that Utopia’s guidelines on Nova-tech were taken with a large pinch of salt in Japan.

Jameson shrugged,

True,’ he admitted, ‘robotics is my first true love, but that’s no reason not to expand into other fields. Lang is a genius who needed a… sympathetic… corporation to work for. I’m not one to turn away a fellow visionary.’

Riiight…’ Takeshi drew out the word, emphasising his disbelief, but let the subject drop: Swarm was a genius to be sure, but he was also a grade-A nut job – there had to be some other good reason for Jameson to keep the guy on the payroll – after all, Novas didn’t come cheap.

Anyway,’ Jameson changed the subject, ‘the Convention: any ideas?’

The Annual Osaka Convention of Robotics (or MechaCon as the fanboys insisted on calling it… after a little gentle prompting from one of the more forward-thinking employees in the Masters International Automation public relations office who frequented the relevant OpNet chat rooms) was the event of the year in the calendar of the every growing robotics industry. With fat contracts from both industry and military interests on the line every company in the game took it seriously. Jameson Enterprises and Masters International Automation led the pack – hence the not-always-friendly rivalry between Takashi and Nick. Beaming Jameson a smile Takashi replied,

Well, you know me – my primary interest is the pageant…’

Jameson laughed – Takashi’s reputation wasn’t as bad as the old man’s, but like all the Masters males he was still well known for having an eye for the ladies. It was something Takashi had learned to use to his advantage - the beauty pageant to choose Miss MechaCon would certainly draw his interest, but it would be far from his primary concern… still, if there was a chance Jameson thought Takashi would be distracted by the swimsuit-clad girls adorning the various robotic hardware on show, then there was a chance that he’d let his guard down a little… and every little counted in the cut-and-thrust of big business.

You may as well focus on the girls,’ Jameson quipped, ‘since you know JE will be taking home all the business.’

Masters rolled his eyes,

Don’t tell me you’re going to try peddling that Warlord suit again? After what happened in Korea? You didn’t keep that as quiet as you thought you did, my friend…’

Jameson frowned slightly,

That was Warlord mark six,’ he snapped defensively, ‘that Lodestone character just got lucky – mark seven has an all new countermeasures suite, guaranteed immune to EMP.’

Takeshi chuckled, knowing full well that it would irritate Jameson even more,

It doesn’t matter, Nick,’ he replied, ‘the thing’s just too damn expensive for general use – nobody will ever buy it!’

They don’t need to buy it,’ Jameson snapped again, ‘they just need to see it: Warlord’s a showcase for JE technology, not a product line – they see Warlord in action, they buy their hardware from JE.’

Takashi held his hands up in mock surrender,

Hey, no offence intended, Nick – you stick to what you know…’

Right,’ Jameson scowled, but then shook his head, ‘anyway – what about the schedule for the demonstration room? I believe last year we decided that…’




Perched unseen on a light fitting above the two businessmen Wasp yawned, folded her gossamer wings, and stretched out her full four inch length – the conversation was getting into boring logistics. She didn’t mind keeping an eye on their ‘sponsor’ for the Doc – after all Jameson was yummy, as was the Japanese guy he was meeting with – but it could mean long hours of tedium. Maybe it’d be okay if she just napped through this boring bit… yeah, she was sure the Doc wouldn’t mind…

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Chumani vomited one more time then, finally spent, wiped her mouth and slumped back to sit huddled, wrapped in a towel, on the floor of the bungalow’s bathroom. Drawing her knees up to her chest she hugged them to her, rocking slightly as she tried to dispel the dark thoughts which refused to leave her mind…


No! She’d never been that – all the years of stripping in Vegas, the filthy little bars, the lap dances – yet she’d always refused to cross that line, even when the other girls had told her she should, had showed her the sort of money she could have been making…

But what else would you call it?’

It wasn’t like that! It was a scientific study, a program to try and bring Novas into the next generation, it was…

You don’t even believe that yourself, do you… sex for cash… who does that but a common whore?’

It wasn’t payment! Not really… it was compensation… sponsorship for the baby… if there was going to be one… beside, Alex was a good guy, it wasn’t like…

Wasn’t like he’d be off “experimenting” with the next woman on his list? What? You think you’re even the first? Even if you’re a whore, don’t be a stupid whore…’

… Was it true? Has she… had she dishonoured her ancestors..?

What’s this? “Ancestors”? You haven’t believed that stuff since you were a kid, since back when you and Joe…’

Joe! What would he think, what would he say if he knew what she’d done, what she was? But… but it had all started with him… it really wasn’t about the money…

But the money helped, right?’

… It was about potential – Joe had it, he’d erupted – they were family, cousins, why couldn’t she erupt? The Count, he’d told her that… being intimate… with a Nova could cause her to erupt….

Yeah – and you fell for it like the star-stuck bimbo you are. At least you weren’t alone… how many strippers were in his bed that night? Six? Seven? And that guy didn’t even pay you…’

Okay, right – it was a line, sure – but the research afterwards: there was truth in what he’d said, they’d done studies, surveys…

You believe that everything you read on the OpNet is true? So now we're back to being a stupid whore…’

No! The DeVries people, they confirmed that she had potential – they ran those tests, the really expensive ones, said she was a perfect candidate. Even made her lie on the stupid application form so that an academic like Alex Green would want to accept a slutty little stripper like her. It had all been perfect

So… why are you sitting here in the guy’s toilet, tasting your own vomit, arguing with yourself and wallowing in self-pity? Doesn’t seem too evolved to me…’

Maybe it just takes a little time? Maybe in a few…

Oooh – denial… that’s just great… haven’t you been dumb enough already girl?’

Okay, so maybe she didn’t erupt now, maybe when the baby came…

The baby? You really want that? You can’t erupt so you’ll settle for being a living incubator for the Elites of the future? That’s a real step up, girl – hope you feel proud…’

Damn it! She could still erupt, there were other ways…

‘…Sure – suicidal ways. Is that it? You hit bottom so you just cash out? If that was your plan, then why’d you ever leave Vegas?’

… Joe’s going to hate you for this…

Finally – we agree on something…’

In a daze, running on automatic, Mani pushed herself to her feet, flushed the toilet, glanced at her reflection in the mirror – dark brown eyes, brown skin, prominent cheekbones: a real Native American beauty – pushed a loose strand of hair back behind her ear and sighed. Finding a toothbrush she scrubbed the taste of vomit from her mouth, then padded quietly back into the living room to cast her eyes around for her scattered clothes: better to leave now before Alex came back… or Joe… she couldn’t face Joe right now… maybe never again…

A shrill squeal grabbed Chumani’s attention – one of Alex’s pet experimental rats. Against her better judgement she walked over to the cage – it was the one with the black tail, something seemed wrong with it: it was writhing in agony, squealing its last, and all the while the black – the total black – was spreading from its tail to cover… consume… its entire body… Mani was suddenly rather glad that she’d already lost the contents of her stomach, but she couldn’t drag her gaze away as the rodent – now totally black – squirmed, spasms wrenching its small body in unnatural ways. Horrifyingly the thing appeared to be turning in on itself, being drawn in, as if the life was being sucked out of it – it scrunched into a tiny undulating mass, then – with a sickening wet snapping noise – vanished from existence completely!

Backing away from the cage Chumani forgot her own problems for the moment: had Alex done that to the poor creature? Or… or was that what was going to happen to Alex

Grabbing up her discarded clothes Mani ran from the bungalow…

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  • 3 weeks later...

After the PIT:

Alex found sleep on the transport impossible. Other survivors from the pit blast kept coming on board, many of them injured far worse than he was. Also a nagging voice in his head kept reminding him that he’d screwed up.

Finally willing to face it?

… this isn’t my fault. What’s it called again? Intellectual momentum? You reach a conclusion, then you ignore evidence that it’s wrong. It happens to Doctors all the time.

Doctors kill one person when they are wrong, not millions. Granted, this is a very human failing. But you took it to extremes, did you? One more step and you’d be into intellectual dishonesty. Review time. What is Dark Matter?

Dark Matter is a theoretical substance suggested by the theory of gravity. There is less visible matter in the universe than is needed to explain the observed effects of gravity, so there must be more matter than we can see. Dark Matter and Dark Energy make up roughly 96% of the matter and energy in the universe, including our own galaxy. Most of it is probably WIMPs, or Weakly Interacting Massive Particles. From day one I have been assuming my “dark matter” is made of WIMPs.

And why is that?

Because I was trying to research them, because WIMPs shouldn’t emit or reflect electromagnetic radiation or react or store energy, because of the size factor, because all of it combined explains why the DMD is so tough. WIMPs only react with Gravity and Weak Nuclear forces. Because of their lack of interaction with normal matter, they would be dark… and the press kept calling me ‘Dark Matter’. I knew they really meant “WIMPs”, but I never tried explaining this.

The press is mostly English majors. What are the problems?

WIMPs shouldn’t be able to interact with normal matter at all. They should be intangible. Not being able to interact with light means they should be invisible, not dark. I’d figured this could be explained by a gravimetric Forcefield.

Now you’re just justifying yourself.

:Sigh: Yes. The forcefield explanation works too well, it could be applied to anything. Water trapped in a Forcefield. Yogurt trapped in a Forcefield. And there’s no evidence of a forcefield. Then we have the blast.

Ah, yes, the blast. A moment of clarity proving your theory stupid and unworkable. What’s the other evidence?

WIMPs shouldn’t store energy, but Miss Egypt heated me up. Rat #3’s tail. There’s evidence that this stuff stores quantum. The final straw was the blast, even separated from myself it was black and interacted with matter.

So the DMD isn’t a WIMP. What does that leave?

Unclear. Matter that is Dark. Physical properties are most similar to water, certain carbon products, and eufiber. An unresolved issue is whether I’m creating this stuff or finding it somewhere. This might be something like water from another dimension or something.

Back up for a moment. Water, carbon, and eufiber? Don’t all three of those….?

Support life or are alive themselves. Yes. And there’s something else too. Right after the event back there I’d swear there was something in there with me.

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  • 3 weeks later...


Today we’re in Amsterdam, where we have the distinct pleasure of talking to Holger “Danske” Centery, field leader of the Scandinavian Nova Team Nordlysene,’ the pretty African-American N! reporter Josephina ‘Jo’ Irons is dressed in fashionable low-slung tight-fitting leather-effect trousers, & a brief strappy top, her hair pulled back into a ponytail. She smiles sweetly at the camera before turning to the eufiber-clad hardbody sitting next to her: Holger has an incredible physique, even for a Nova, sculpted like a Greek god, with blond hair which falls a little over his pale blue eyes – something akin to a teenage girl’s absolute boy-band fantasy – but manages to radiate relaxed confidence, & even a little amusement, as the interview starts.

Holger,’ Jo begins, ‘may I call you Holger?’ the Nova chuckles & nods; blushing slightly Jo presses on, ‘Holger, how would you sum up Nordlysene for our viewers?’

Smiling at Jo Holger raises one eyebrow,

Well, to begin with,’ he says, his Dutch accent only slight, ‘describing Nordlysene as a “Scandinavian” group isn’t really accurate. Whilst we’re happy that you lovely folks at N!,’ Jo blushes again, ‘have seen fit to present us to the world, we’ve had no end of complaints from people closer to home on that score. So, just to clear things up, we’re not a “Scandinavian” team as such – our members, & backers, come from the Scandinavian countries of Sweden & Norway but also, like myself, from right here in the Netherlands. Even though I was born in the Netherlands, my mother’s Danish, & my name is taken from the famous Danish hero “Holger Danske” or “Holger the Dane” – you could think of him as a sort of Danish King Arthur, sleeping until Denmark once more needs a hero – resistence fighters used the name during World War Two.’

Oh,’ Jo seems a little confused, but presses on, ‘so Nordlysene is sponsored by Denmark as well?’

Holger shifts slightly in his seat,

Well, technically no. Although we maintain great relations with all our neighbours, when Denmark couldn’t find a suitable Nova willing to join the team they – understandably - declined becoming a sponsor.’

I see,’ the N! presenter still seems somewhat lost as she asks, ‘so why Sweden, Norway, & the Netherlands in particular?’

Holger smiles again & shrugs,

A combination of things, really, Jo – as I’ve already said: availability & suitability of Novas willing to join the team, but there’s also the usual politics & media drives in there too. Certain officials & captains of industry here in the Netherlands were… shall we say “a little less than happy”… when Team Tomorrow decided to base their European activities in Venice, & focus much of their time & effort on the Balkans situation. While we obviously all applaud those efforts, & realise that even Team Tomorrow can only stretch its resources so far, that still seemed to leave something of a void as far as Nova support of the more Northerly European nations. It didn’t take long for people to realise that we had the resources to form our own Nova group: no need to burden the United Nations when other, less advantaged, countries needed that support more. After that it was a matter of negotiations, finding Nova candidates, & the like. As it turns out it was the Netherlands, Sweden, & Norway who had the right Novas at the time – but that particular membership mix is as much accident of who happened to erupt with what powers as it was any particular design by the member nations. As new Novas appear in Northern Europe Nordlysene will be happy to welcome any suitable candidates, no matter which nation they hail from.’

Right,’ Jo nods, ‘so a kind of “open door” policy of recruitment then?’

Holger laughs again,

Kind of – I can’t see that Elite “Thor” joining any time soon, but Novas who share our attitudes & ideals of helping & protecting the people of Northern Europe will always be welcome.’

Jo chuckles, Holger’s laughter apparently infectious, then asks,

You said there were also media influences? Would you care to explain more?’

Holger’s perfect smile widens,

Of course – we try to be open about all our activities. By media influences in Nordlysene’s development I was referring to things such as the team name - & the perception that we’re all “Scandinavian” I addressed earlier: such things are often down to our, sometimes a little too enthusiastic, PR team. Great people, don’t get me wrong, but a sound-bite in the wrong microphone can colour the world’s view of you for years to come.’

But’ Jo leans forward a little as she asks the question, ‘isn’t public relations part of your team’s mandate?’

Certainly,’ Holger happily admits, casually brushing the hair out of his eyes as he does so, ‘public relations is one of the ways in which we help our respective nations.’

What about the references to Nordlysene in some areas of the press describing the team as the “Swedish Nova Bikini Team”?’

Holger laughs even louder,

Ah, you Americans,’ he declares, ‘such wonderful senses of humour! We all had a good laugh at that one – we even produced a calendar! Jenni, Evette, & Freya do look magnificent in swimwear, & I’ve been told that I cut a pretty dashing figure in a Speedo myself…’

The incredibly handsome Nova winks at the – now truly flustered – N! reporter.

Well, I… I…’ Jo shakes her head, ‘… I’m sorry to say that I’ve completely forgotten my next question!’

You were asking how I’d sum up Nordlysene,’ Holger offers helpfully, ‘perhaps if I outline some of the activities we’ve been part of in the last…’

Suddenly the picture changes to a scene of devastation under a blazing Sun – flattened rubble & debris as far as the eye can see – with United Nations peacekeeping troops, uniformed Project Utopia personnel, & several members of Team Tomorrow searching through the desolate destruction. The camera shot is a little rushed & bumpy as it pans around; an N! announcer is saying,

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programs to bring you this breaking news: these shots are live from the area of Chad recent annexed by the Fulani Sovereign State where it appears than a Nova-technology bomb of some kind has been detonated causing the widespread destruction you see. We have no firm estimates of the death toll at this time, but sources in Project Utopia claim that the blast area is almost one-hundred & fifty kilometres across & that, apart from a few Elites who appear to have been involved in a conflict of some kind at the scene, there are no known survivors: making this the worse Nova-related disaster of all time, even greater than the Sao Paolo fusion bomb of September twenty-fifth, two-thousand & three.’

Suddenly the blue-white-gold uniformed magnificence of Caestus Pax himself, crackling with blue-white kinetic force, swoops down from the sky to speak into the camera. Clearly struggling to keep his anger in check the world’s most powerful Nova points at the rubble-filled crater behind him,

This was a city – home to untold numbers of innocent people! This is the result of people not letting Project Utopia do its job! The United Nations gave us a mandate to regulate Nova-tech for a reason… hopefully this unspeakable act will be a wake-up call to those selfish few industrialists & politicians who still refuse to see the sense in such regulation! If this bitter tragedy had occurred in a more populous area…’ The leader of Team Tomorrow shakes his head at the thought of an even greater nightmare, It’s taken this for the local politicians to accept the aid of Project Utopia & the United Nations in this troubled region. Maybe now we’ll be allowed to do our jobs, be allowed to make a difference? Why should the people suffer for the selfish greed of a few? Maybe now we’ll be allowed to help?’ Seemingly overcome with emotion, Pax wipes a tear from his eye as he turns from the camera & heads back to the futile search for survivors…

The scene changes again as the announcer says,

In related news…’

A montage of images flash by on the screen: Thunderbolt slamming into Hannibal; Thunderbolt, Shockwave, Jolt, & Thor facing off against Hannibal; & several others as the voice-over continues,

DeVries have just released the first few tantalising glimpses of this footage showing DeVries Elites Tötentanz, Thunderbolt, Shockwave, & Jolt, & independent Elite Thor, facing off in battle against the Nova presumed to effectively be dictator of the FSS, Hannibal. Initial reports indicate that the footage, filmed by Tötentanz’s mask-cameras, show the golden-masked number one Elite delivers the final killing blow to the Nova madman. N! will bring you more as soon as it’s available…’

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  • 2 weeks later...

Alex sat down to write,

Dear Rori,

I’m sorry to hear you’re having morning sickness, part of the package I guess. It’s been a really rough few weeks for me too. There’s no good way to say this so I’m just going to say it. I was at the Chad q-nuke when it went off. The press has it right by the way. If anything they’re understating the degree to which it was Hannibal’s and especially Maelfius’ fault. But… I was there. They tell me it was impossible to stop the reaction since Maelfius was as far along as he was, but I tried to anyway. Obviously I failed, but I’m trying very hard to count the dead as Maelfius’ victims. Only fair since he built the blasted thing in the middle of a city knowing full well its potential then ran rather than try to contain it.

But it doesn’t end there. I was much closer than anyone else and event quite literally shattered me, or rather the DMD. When I woke up I was Alex and I’d lost all my Dark Matter powers. No DMD, no dark clothes, no super toughness. It was quite a step down. One day I’m one of the 300 strongest and 300 toughest novas on the planet and the next day I’m basically a mitoid. It feels like I’ve lost a limb and a brother. I’ll spare you the five or so theories on what is wrong but the upshot is they don’t really have a clue.

Yes I know, I’m fortunate that I’m alive and ‘healthy’… but I’m just now coming out of a several week funk alternating between depression and whirlwind researching. I spent the first day or so just staring at the wall… I think. It’s all just a blur now…

Alex reflects,

A blur is the right words. I know I went to bed with Mani eventually, but I don’t remember anything after that. I don’t think we had sex, but short of asking her I’ll never know. I’d thought I was immune to shock but apparently not. Considering Rori’s view of my ‘vermin’ I doubt she’s interested in knowing one died, or that the whirlwind research and reaching out towards life has included a great deal of sex with the only witness of #3’s end. Research and Sex aren’t supposed to be part of the five stages of grief, but maybe they’re substitutes for denial, anger, and bargaining. Thank god I only sleep about once a week, I really needed 6 hours a day to be by myself to sulk, write, and otherwise focus on research… thank god for 1 A.M. to 7 A.M. That leaves me much of the rest of the day to work on a relationship with Mani and try to figure out what else to do.

… but life moves on. I have finally finished writing up my PhD thesis and have submitted it to NYU. I’m going to have to go there and defend it and I was hoping I could meet you and Toni?

Alex reflects again and re-reads his letter,

Well… as good as an excuse to be in NY as any. Let’s see… Maelfius’ fault, check. What I’ve been up to that’s printable, check. The 5 theories on what’s wrong…

For a moment Alex reviewed the theories.

#1: Psychosomatic: This is my way of punishing myself for killing those 100K or so people.

#2: Nodic Damage: Brain damage.

#3: No Dark Matter to access: I wasn’t creating it, I was accessing it. The event was largely channeled into wherever Dark Matter comes from and it has disrupted whatever is on the other side.

#4: Reality Rewrite. Maelfius’ machine did something to reality and only I was included.

#5: Symbiosis. I never had a link to Dark Matter, the suit did and now it’s dead.

#6: Chrysalis. I’m changing.

“Of all of these, #4 seems most likely. The only thing that gives me even a sliver of hope is that rodent #3 died at the same time, and it wasn’t caught up in the effect.”

Alex reviewed his letter yet again and then hit ‘send’.

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"Grief! Grief! Grief!... nothing but MO-ANing!

Grief! Grief! Grief!"

Guy clicked off the metal. The band's guitar riffs were killer, but the lyrics could use more than a bit of work. He touched the the 'remove from playlist' section of the screen. *Last time I trust a Windhoek local to recommend German bleedin' metal sung in English*

He had been home and gotten the browbeating he knew was coming from his family. Well, actually it'd been a lot more concern at seeing him on the box than the usual. Nevertheless the connection had been made, and the words had been spoken. A little of the weight had been lifted.

Now he was on the train to Cambridge to see a Professor Hu. Then it hits him... *Aw bleedin' 'ell! Doctor bleedin' 'oo! You bleedin' garden bleedin' tool! I'm gonna bleedin' killem! Doctor bleedin' 'oo! If 'e was messing wif you 'e's bleedin' finished! I don't care 'ow much time 'e can shovel about!!!*

Livid, Guy prepares himself to be made a fool of by a University faculty.

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Two days after Thunderbolt's return from Chad

Aaron stands at parade rest in front of a large wooden desk and a commanding gentleman whose face is covered in shadows...

"Yes sir."

"Yes sir."

"No sir."

"Well, but... yes sir."

"No sir."

"Yes sir, we weren't thinking about that sir."

"Of course sir."

"No, it won't happen again sir."

"Thank you sir."

*Now I remember why I never entered the Army. I wonder how much of my ass he would've chewed if we'd failed?*

Walking across the DVNTS compound, Aaron stops in front of the bungalow assigned to the most feared of DeVries novas. Pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket, he slips it under the door.


Thank you.


One week after Thunderbolt's return from Chad

"Good afternoon, Novaphiles, I'm Suzi Lee with an exclusive N!terview with one of my favorite Elites, Thunderbolt. So, TB, how are you?"

"Well Suzi, much better now. I've been a bit banged from our last foray into Chad, but it's amazing what a few days rest'll do for ya."

"You're of course referring to your recent operation against the Nova Hannibal."

"Right. After the war in Chad, We all, the Elites I mean, returned back to DVNTS. All, except for Jolt. The FSS released a news report saying that she'd chosen to stay there, but we all knew she'd never do that."

"So, you went in to rescue her?"

"Yeah, Shockwave and I decided to go in and get her out. We knew we were going against DeVries policy, but we just couldn't let her stay there. We'd found out that Hanibal was fancying himself a god and had set up his own harem in the FSS capitol."

Thunderbolt shakes his head, his voice cracking just barely,

"So, Shockwave and I found Hanibal's palace,"

The image of the demolished building fades into view...

"and discovered his harem; he had dozens of women being held there against their will, just to pleasure him."

Images of dozens of women wearing harem outfits being loaded into vans...


"We later found out that he had hundreds more women; apparently he was using these women to try and breed his own master race..."

The picture resolves onto Thunderbolt again as he pushes his now signature sunglasses up to apparently wipe some tears from his eyes...

"We had hoped to just rescue Jolt and the others without conflict, but then Hanibal showed up."

The image of Thunderbolt crashing into Hanibal is followed by an image of Thor hovering with storm clouds around him, and then finally Totentanz standing over Hanibal's dead body...

"You said before that it was just you and Shockwave, but these images show the independent, Thor, and your fellow elite, Totentanz, where did they come from?"

"Well, unbeknownst to us, Thor had been captured by Hanibal as well during the war, so we rescued him. T, well, T shows up when and where he's needed."

"I see. And, is there any truth to the rumors that you and Jolt are romatically involved, and that's the reason you risked your life to go in and save her?"

Thunderbolt nervously shifts in his seat, casting a quick glance to the N! reporter that seems to say 'we didn't discuss this'...

"Uhm, well, uh, we hadn't really, uh, met until Chad. Uhm, uh, I think we both felt, uh, a, uh, attraction between us. But, well, uhm, that wasn't the, uh, only reason I went. I mean, you know, Jolt is one of us, and, well, we couldn't let that happen to one of our own."

"Of course. So, now that the two of you are back at DVNTS, what are your plans?"

Again, Thunderbolt squirms in his seat...

"Well, uh, uhm, right now we're just trying to, uh, you know, get to know each other, you know, uh, outside of a life-or-death situation. And trying to help Jolt get over this horrible ordeal."

The camera pans back to Suzi, where she gives the camera a winning smile...

"Ok, well, that's all we have for now. Thanks for your time Thunderbolt, I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more of you."


Aaron stepped into the bedroom, his almost dry hair still frazzled from the recent shower, a damp towel tied around his waist. He paused, staring at the beautifully naked form of the lovely Asian elite who was sleeping in his bed. After what seemed like forever, he quietly made his way over to the edge of the bed and began kissing her neck until she finally woke. After a long and passionate kiss, he leans back and stares into her eyes,

"So, I was thinking... why don't you move in? I mean, you don't have to give up your bungalow, but maybe move some of your things in here?"

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Alex looked carefully in the bathroom mirror. Close inspection showed his hair and eyes had subtly changed color. After eruption they’d been black, but now they were back to his pre-eruption very dark brown. After a long moment he shrugged and got out his nail cutters.

*Finally, acceptance. I’m glad that whole period-of-morning thing is over. The hair may have gotten lighter but you kept the extra four inches of height.*

*Lost a lot… but…*

*But if you’d actually erupted this way you’d have been overjoyed. Get the picture out and look at it again. That's you before eruption.*

*I know.*

*Rotting lungs. Weak as a kitten. No athletic talent… to the point where you didn’t graduate from high school. Skipping all those gym classes meant you did it in 3 years, but no diploma.*

*Gym would have been a waste of time. Colleges don’t care if you graduate, just what classes you take and your test scores.*

*So that’s why you erupted with all this physical talent? Because you didn’t care about it?*


*So, moving back on topic: Current status:*

*Superhuman athletic prowess including speed, reflexes, strength, and stamina. Not really elite quality but way beyond baseline. Some enhanced senses which I don’t understand… and…*

*And superhuman sexuality.*

*Meaning unlike other novas I’m fertile. So what?*

*No, you mean superhuman sexuality. You think it’s a coincident you can have sex for hours? Shall we mention why it was enhanced?*


*You haven’t told anyone. Not the Utopian doctors, not the DeVries doctors, not even the ones in the clinic. The “V” word isn’t ugly, and for the sake of science you really should let them know.*

*It’s embarrassing.*

*Virgin. You were a virgin when your node popped. *


*That’s why you went all athletic. The jocks get the girls. The Dark Matter might have been your higher intellect collaborating with your ID, but the old lizard brain also had its input and it knew what it wanted.*

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Grinning to himself in the dark as Shockwave headed to the shower during...intermission...Joe slid his hands behind his head and glanced around at the remaining wreckage of his bedroom. The bedframe itself lay scattered in splinters below the mattress, and the other furniture wasn't in any better shape. He shrugged, and nearly chuckled. Two super-strong, super-tough Elites enjoying themselves...? He was amazed they hadn't gone through a wall. Although...the floor would definitely need a new layer of concrete to smooth over the Alloy-sized dent in it.

Hell, he couldn't remember a time he'd ever felt this good. Sure as hell not during his childhood. Or his almost-over teenage years. Technically, he'd still be in his teens for another year, plus a month or two, but he hadn't considered himself as such for a long time. Boyhood hadn't really been an option, and without ever having experienced it, he couldn't really say he'd missed much.

Shrugging again, he considered what to do next. Probably be awhile before the next mission, but you never knew; so he'd better get crackin' on whatever he might want to do before that happened. He couldn't help but think about the money again. He had more coming in as an Elite than he'd ever imagined he'd see in his whole life, and he had no damned idea what to do with it. The ranch was a fine idea, but so far he didn't have enough to really score the amount of land he wanted, and, he was forced to admit, he hadn't the first damn clue on how to run one. I mean, where would you even go to buy cows? Another rancher, he supposed.

Sucking his teeth unconsciously, his thoughts turned to 'Mani. He'd overheard some talk about her being some financial wiz, maybe he could ask her to do something with his money. 'Course, that would mean he'd have to go talk to her without punching Alex in the head, or sayin' something mean to her without really meaning it.

He blew out his lips, making a horse-like sound of frustration. He was gettin' himself all sour again, and he wanted to keep the mood he had for now. Alright, keep it simple then. Talk to 'Mani at some point, and maybe work out a way to start squirreling away that money, maybe do something good with it. Punch Alex in the head if he started being a dick, and in the meantime, keep having fun and training up Elite-style.

Hearing the water still running, he sat up, the grin back on his face. He supposed he needed a shower too. ::sly

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The mountain ranges in Siberia were beautiful, even after you got used to the way they looked. Clouds moved among these mountains like kindred spirits. I hoped they avoided us, because the humidity made it colder. Humidity made frost collect on my beard and nose hair, and the wind that cut right through my heavy garments would be more than happy to cover me in water vapor from one of those clouds.

There was a warehouse in the distance; beyond that, nothing man-made. A small town was behind us. I didn’t remember its name. And with, me, of course…

Are you scared of me, Atlay?”

The speaker was a nova surrounded by a big, blue quantum field in the shape of a huge bear. He was shedding quantum energy in the form of chilly air the way a fire gives off smoke, and inside the animus he looked tall and strong. Actually, almost all novas were pretty tall- and strong-looking, but with Glacier there was something more.

Most novas looked like they could either kill you or give you the best **** of your life. With Glacier, well… there was no question he could kill me. And he looked like he’d be someone’s best lay ever – but I was pretty sure that I’d never want to meet whoever that someone was.

Yes, sir.


I held up the shirt. It was pink, skimpy, and covered in shining spangles along the neckline. The bear animus leaned over towards me to get a good whiff. The cold intensified, and I shivered.

There’s no need to be,” he said. “In fact, you can go if you want. You did really well, and I promise the Count will know it.”

I shook my head.

Sorry Glacier – it’s kind of you to offer, but I promised him I’d be in for as long as it took.”

Suit yourself,” he said. “Let’s get ‘em.” He started walking.

* * *

We arrived at the old, abandoned-looking storage building in something like thirty minutes’ time. Glacier threw his blonde-white head back and breathed deeply.

Well, end of the road, Atlay. She’s here.”

What? Really?” I made no effort to hide my surprise. “The syndicate men too?”


But what about the Count’s warning?”

I doubt their bosses would ever really let them surrender by leaving the girl here. And they know I can track them by smell, because most of my powers are in the public record. I guess they reckoned they’ll have to fight no matter what, why leave the nice warmth and food stores of their whorehouse?”

He walked towards the door.

But, but… if you didn’t expect them to try to run, why did you want me to get that shirt with the girl’s scent on it?”

I stopped. He stopped, on the other side of the door, and turned around to face me.

Well, so I’d be able to tell which one not to kill.”

He slid the big door shut, nodding at me with a polite, “I’ll see you in a minute or two” smile.

I keeled over and was sick in the snow. From inside the warehouse, there was some shouting, and then a lot of gunfire, and then a sound like ice crunching under the heel of a boot, and then there was silence.

* * *

He came out in his baseline form, carrying the unconscious girl in his arms. Even in sleep, she was more beautiful than anything I’d ever seen before. More beautiful than the sun after rain. I was sitting, hunched, fighting to get back my stomach. Having to look at him wasn’t helping. He looked human enough now, but…

You’re a monster, Glacier.”

He looked about as offended as if I had said I thought his political opinions were foolish.

What? How so?” (And what a calm, human-sounding voice the devil had now! He sounded like my son.) “Those cowardly ****s raped this girl every day, and charged others tens of thousands of dollars for the right to do so. They’ve had her for months. Everyone in that town was terrified of them; we know they’ve killed people there, and they sure as hell were willing to kill me. Hell, wouldn’t you have done the same thing?”

No! I wanted to say. They were men, dammit! You can’t just kill the ones that anger you, like they’re no more than dogs!

I said nothing. Instead, I just shook my head.

We can talk later. Do you mind? I’m not exactly dressed for this.”

He was right; he was only wearing a brown sweater and blue jeans. His lips and nails looked blue. I wondered what he had been thinking, then realized that most of the time he probably never gave much thought to the temperature outside his animus. I let him hand me the girl, but unfortunately, I let my right hand brush her bare neck.

Oh, hey, be careful about that…” Glacier was saying. I wasn’t listening, I was in heaven; a warm feeling tingled against my hand where I was touching her and, it was spreading, flowing across my skin to cover my entire body in an orgasmic warmth.

Oh God,” I moaned. My knees trembled in response to the pleasure; my eyes were fixed on her beautiful face. Closed eyes made her look innocent and vulnerable – an angel. How could anyone be so lovely? I forgot my wife, my duty to the Count, my fear of Glacier, everything was eclipsed by this desire. I set her down on a snow-bank and began to unbuckle my pants.

I remember Glacier saying something at that time. His exact words escape me, but I remember him yelling. Then a great weight came down on my neck, and I lost consciousness to the force of the blow.

* * *

Human, a few minutes from now you’ll awaken and remember everything. I’ve returned you to your flat in Moscow. Glacier and I are leaving now, and taking the girl with us, of course.

Your wife was asleep in your bed when we arrived. Your payment will arrive soon as a check in the mail, less the amount of your former debt to the Count, which is now cancelled.

You may be glad to know that thanks to Glacier’s intervention, your little “accident” with the girl went only as far as you remember, and no more. His expressed wishes notwithstanding, I will be telling her what happened earlier today. But don’t worry, I doubt she will feel particularly wronged by you – she’s suffered far greater wrongs at the hands of your species over this past year, and you did help with her rescue.

Finally, you may wish to change out of your current undergarments before your wife awakens.

That is all, human.

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Yankee pig! Look what you’ve done!’

The Yakuza thug waved an automatic pistol in one hand as he yelled at the departing ‘guest’ to the backstreet brothel; his other hand was tight around the wrist of the half-dressed whore he’d dragged, crying, out into the alley with him – the extensive bruises across her body the cause of his objections. The ‘guest’ stopped & turned, just a little, back towards the gangster – an overcoat, fedora, & dark glasses hid his identity… but the way his form seemed to constantly shift & undulate, as if an invisible fish-eye lens were being passed across it, marked him clearly as a Nova.

My body constantly generates localised fields of spatial distortion,’ the man replied, his Japanese flawless in response to the Yakuza’s heavily accented English, ‘even a pea-brained imbecile like you could see that before you happily took my money. It’s hardly my fault that baseline human flesh doesn’t respond well to forcible distortion, now, is it?’

She’s ruined!’ the Yakuza spat back, switching to Japanese himself as he levelled the pistol at the American, ‘How can she make any money like this?’

The Nova turned a little more, his eyes locking on to the aimed weapon,

Your lack of commercial forethought is really none of my concern,’ he replied, his voice a measured calm. As he spoke basketball-sized spheres of distorted space floated into existence around him, lazily beginning to orbit his form, ‘I’d strongly advise against pointing that thing at me, by the way…’ he added, a hint of menace entering his tone.

You pig!’ spat the gangster, ‘You don’t frighten me!’

With that the gun fired, three times in rapid succession. The Nova sighed a little as the bullets were intercepted by one of the floating spheres – for a moment the deadly projectiles appeared to slow down & stretch out, elastically looping round the Nova’s body, pulling the sphere of distortion like a soap bubble behind them, until they faced they way they’d come. Suddenly the distortion bubble ‘popped’ & the bullets continued on their way at full speed – crimson mist sprayed twice from the gangster’s chest & once from his shoulder as he toppled back to lay in the filth of the street, twitching a couple of times before finally falling still. The bruised girl screamed, & scrambled back into the brothel. The American Nova shrugged, then turned to continue his way down the alley…

Bravo,’ the comment was accompanied by a slow clap. The Nova glanced up to see the short, smartly suited, middle-aged Japanese man standing in the alley in front of him. Peering over the top of his dark glasses with solid matt dark-blue eyes the Nova raised an eyebrow,

Endo-san?’ he asked, before bowing slightly. The Japanese man matched the bow,

Indeed, Kragg-san,’ he replied, ‘who else would you expect, here of all places?’

The Nova walked over to Mister Endo & the pair shook hands in the Western style,

I’m just passing through,’ he explained, ‘there was a little trouble…’

Mister Endo smiled,

Ah yes, your “little trouble” – or a “Quantum bomb” as the media are calling it, I understand? “Maelfius” is now the world’s most wanted man…’

It wasn’t a bomb,’ Maelfius hissed angrily in reply – all those stupid news reports, didn’t they have one scientist worth a damn on staff?! ‘Everything was going fine until my “friends” paid a visit… Last time I save anyone’s life, I’ll tell you that for free!’

Mister Endo nodded sympathetically, the subdued light in the back alley bouncing off the top of his balding head as he did so,

Of course, Nicholas, I understand – you know we’ve always supported your work.’

Maelfius snorted,

Sure… for a healthy share of the profits! What is it you want, Endo? Are you here just to mock me in my exile?’

Mock..?’ Endo sounded genuinely hurt, ‘… Not at all, Nick-san: I’m here to offer you a job. Come work for us, Nicholas – you’ll be safe from those hunting you, & you’ll be free to work all you like…’

On your projects, I’m sure,’ Maelfius interjected, ‘not mine…’

Mister Endo shrugged,

They’ll be some compromises to start with, of course – we aren’t exactly a charity group you know… But eventually I’m sure you’ll be allowed to continue your research… Anyway… what other options do you have?’

What options indeed? Maelfius shook his head – he’d thought about heading off into space: he’d always wanted to, after all – but what of his research then… besides – he glanced back towards the brothel – space would be very lonely… Kuro-Tek had always been good to him in the past, Endo had always supplied all the black-tech he’d requested… why not? After all, hopping all over the planet, just a step or two ahead of the dogged Team Tomorrow trackers, was getting him nowhere. Let Kuro-Tek deal with the boy scouts for a while – he could get back into the lab, run a few of their pet projects for a while, then return to his own work… hopefully without any more interference from his old Elite “friends”…

Okay Endo-san’ he replied, bowing once more, ‘you’ve got a deal.’

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The wonderful world of branding

"Does it really have to look so...sinister?"

The nova eyed the screen in front of him as the Pandaimonion agent pitched the latest design for the new line of Atlas T-Shirts, posters and action figures.

"Well sir, its sinister but in a good way! Our focus groups have found that your history of ah...shall we say...conflict with authorities makes you perfect for the 12-17 crowd. Screw the man and help the world, teens love it."

Atlas rolled his eyes

"Am I really falling into the teeny-bopper category?"

The agent smiled with excitement

"That's the best one to have! Luckily women tend to want you for the same reasons, dangerous but with the gentle soul. Our marketers are already working on reinforcing that image"

The nova was starting to wonder whether this was a good idea.

"Japan is projected to be our greatest market! Your flaunting Nippontai's inability to capture you, both by escaping them when you were surrounded, in Kou's fire grasp, no less, and by actually returning to the scene of the crime..."

Atlas frowns

"eh, alleged of course...not to mention the destruction of that water facility in japanese waters...Projections are that sales should rival even The Samurai's for japanese teens!"

"Just make sure that the image sticks to the good stuff...I don't want to be sold as the next Mephistopholeez. Atlas figures should be a role-model. I don't want him associated with drugs, rape, murder, or anything like that."

"Of course not. Pandaimonion is very professional and will make sure that your image is handled appropriately."

The nova turns and steps out


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Benoit licked his lips & blew the nurse a kiss as she adjusted her uniform & headed out of the room, wide grin on her face. Good food, fine wines, romantic words, & happy women - the young Nova was so glad that his tongue had finally grown back... those damn cultists eating his legs had been one thing, but taking a Frenchman's tongue was the ultimate insult! Still, he'd be glad when his pelvis had regenerated & the nurses could reciprocate - but until then, it never hurt to keep the ladies happy.

Stretching & arching his back Benoit shifted himself into more of a sitting position on the bed - his lower body was still missing, but the rest of him was fine now - or better than fine, really, as he'd made enough of a recovery to resemble once more his old, handsome, Nova self. The pipes & tubes leading into the bandage-wrapped stump where his body ended were a pain, but necessary until all the relevant plumbing had finished healing itself down there. He still liked to keep the lighting level in the room dim - his new eyes still sensitive - but at least he could see again, & talk, & taste... & type...

It didn't take long for Benoit to re-arrange the three laptop computers he'd been using on the bed in front of him - he smiled at the irony of the term 'laptop', since he, technically, still lacked one, but he found he'd been doing that a lot lately - smiling at his grusome predicament. He'd wondered about his own mental health, but had finally come to the conclusion that, if he had to laugh or cry, then better to laugh about what couldn't now be changed. Of course, he also knew full-well that DeVries had at least three of four Novas on staff with the power to heal him overnight, but he was broke &, true to the mercenary creedo, they'd never do the job for free - even for a fellow Elite. He'd even had to borrow the laptops - DeVries were paying for his treatment, but Benoit knew that they were also keen to gather the data his prolonged regeneration was providing them... but what other options did he have? Maybe he'd try to contact that 'Angel of Saint George' he'd read about on the OpNet, the one which Team Tomorrow had just recruited...

Turning to his three computers Benoit immersed himself in his on-going investigations: the world knew him as the super-fast, energy-draining, Elite 'Zip', but people tended to forget that his mind had been amped up by his eruption as much as his body. If he couldn't wade into combat zones, he could still try to earn himself cash for that miracle healing by using his other talents... but first things first - he had more personal matters to tend to before he went all comercial...

On the first screen a myriad of windows showed the progress of Benoit's on-going investigations into the so called 'baraka cultists' who'd kidnapped, tortured, & cannibalized him. Evidence was pointing to several other groups scattered around the Middle East, but none as bold as the one who'd captured him. No matter what, Benoit wasn't going to rest until all those lunatics had been dealt with... one way or another...

The second screen showed his related investigation into the mysterious 'nurse' who'd tended him for the cult leader Alwan. It had taken a great deal of digging, & several deductive leaps which no baseline investigator could have seen, but he'd pinned her down: Khytam Manat al-Uzza al-Lat, a Pakistani Nova who'd spent a considerable amount of time training her powers of mind control with Project Utopia, but who's strict Islamic Faith & introverted personality had prevented her from joining Team Tomorrow. She'd finally dropped off the radar, until Zip had met her working for the baraka cult... that had made no sense at all, unless, of course, she was actually working for someone else undercover. The logical choice was that she was an undercover agent for Utopia, but if that was the case it raised some disturbing questions about the nature of the organisation: she'd tended Benoit for weeks while the cultists had 'harvested' his body parts - but the record of her powers from her Rashoud clinic files indicated that she could have dealt with the cannibals easily, at any time... so someone had sent her to simply observe his torture & suffering... not the sort of thing Utopia admitted to... Now she'd vanished again, most likely back to Pakistan - but Benoit was keeping watch, when she surfaced again he'd have a few serious questions to ask the veiled angel who'd watched over his torment...

Benoit's final screen showed yet another investigation - this one was for a friend. While the other Elites had happily let him rot in his hospital bed (so much for the 'Elite brotherhood'), Alex had come to visit, donating time & energy both to help aid Zip's recovery. Now Benoit could, perhaps, start to return that kindness. This investigation was tracking a trail of murders, one which led back to the so-called 'Quantum bomb' incident in Chad a few weeks back, the incident which had seemingly robbed Alex of his Dark Matter powers. The victims of the murders were unrelated, but all had died in the same way - 'drained' & left as lifeless husks - & all witnesses around the murders had reported seeing a shadowy figure, or sometimes, actual animate shadows. The deaths were so far apart, spanning several African nations, that Zip was sure no-one else had made the connection. The path the murders were taking was erratic at times, but was generally heading towards the DVNTS compound in Namibia... Now, if the erratic changes in the murder locations matched Alex's own travelling... yes, there it was...

... Benoit sighed, his suspicions confirmed... yet there was only circumstantial evidence at best. He didn't have enough data to pin down the 'murderer's' exact location, just the general trend... what to do? Should he inform Alex of his discovery? Benoit shook his head - no, it was too soon - first he should gather more evidence, make certain that his assumptions were correct - only then would he call his friend & tell him the news... that the Dark Matter Destroyer wasn't dead - he was free...

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  • 8 months later...

The trip from New York to Deli, India was 14 hours. With the stress of his presentation in front of him, Alex hadn't gotten any sleep. Now with it behind him, Alex started to meditate, then sleep.


The voice boomed directly into Alex's head and he instantly flipped to his feet, ripping through the airline seat belt, and assumed a combat stance. He found himself staring at a very distinguished old man with a heavy white beard and a robe of the same color.

Alex said, "Oh. You're God, right?"

"God" responded, "That's right. You've been somewhat less than ethical recently, and I don't mean just not coming to church. Come with me."

God walked with Alex through the airplane wall. Standing on the wing and looking down, Alex saw a huge black lifeless circle extending over most of the horizon.

Alex gulped and said rather defensively, "Hey, I tried to stop it. This wasn't my fault. I didn't build it."

God said, "You're feeling guilty enough on this one so there's no point in me reminding you. But that's not the problem." The circle and the wing faded away and the two of them were standing in a conference room looking at medical information folders. There were a stack of 10 with names Alex knew by heart.

God continued, "The problem is your relationship with these women. You're on your way to India for the express purpose of cheating on your girlfriend."

Alex retorted, "She isn't my... well.... ok. I guess she is my girlfriend."

God asks, "Aren't there better ways to deal with this? What makes you think you even need to meet the women in question? Science provides several solutions for this that don't involve sexual contact."

Alex says, "No matter what the promises are, and no matter what is says on paper, if we don't do it this way then I'll be supplying biological samples for some program run by a mega-intelligent nova."

God asks, "What makes you think that? Why is that a bad thing?"

Alex responds, "Because DeVries is such an ethical company? Because that German Scientist supposedly running the bio-genetics show reminds me of the 'Boys from Brazil'"?

God asked, "What about Utopia? If DeVries is such a problem why not just cut them out of the loop?"

Alex responded, "No mater who is running this, it's going to attract interest. The problem is science, not DeVries. This project will attract the best minds, and that means novas with enhanced intelligence. And every one of the mega-intelligent types I've personally talked to have been aberrated, insane, or both. That babe at Master's party seriously me asked for a brain tissue sample, and the guy had metal skin. Our local DeVries girl genius doesn't seem too in touch with reality, and then we have Malf."

"I wouldn't trust any of them with a side arm, much less a child, much less my child. I grew up with the white picket fence. Falling short of the ideal doesn't have to be a bad thing, but creating children so they can grow up in some hell of laboratory is evil. Children aren't white mice, err, rats. Whatever Rattus norvegicus laboratorius is. They need a guardian, traditionally that's the parents, and if it's not me then it has to be their mom."

God said, "You're missing several aren't you? Those were just the lab types."

Alex replied, "Fine, let's talk about the others. Anna DeVries may or may not be mega-smart, but I've no clue how stable she is. We haven't spoken beyond 'hello'. Verse or Null or whatever personality he's manifesting has physical and mental issues. The Wizard of Oz may or may not be hyper-smart but I'm sure he doesn't count as stable. The Major had serious issues, and the weather nova who planned his murder thought he was you. The most grounded nova I know with enhanced intelligence is Totentanz, and that really says something right there."

Alex concludes, "I can't stand by and let the race go under without doing something. This is an awful solution, and it's only saving grace is that all the others on the table are worse."

God says, "...Alex, that doesn't make what you are doing right. Let's look at your eruption shall we? That should clue us into your true motivations."

Alex manages to get both a puzzled and guilty expression on his face and waits for the hammer to fall.

God continues, "What did you erupt with? Enhanced Endurance with Health, that's a sex thing as DeVries' project has shown. Perfect Coordination and control over your body, because the jocks get the girls. Enhanced willpower, so you can ask them out. Every aspect of that pertains to sex, and now we find out that your Dark Matter isn't really part of you and never was."

Alex gulps and says, "So what..."

God continues, "So, you screwed it up. Once again you failed by over thinking things. Didn't it ever occur to you that you could have just gotten some quantum enhanced social skills? Or that given that you were going to paint yourself into this corner, maybe you'd *need* some?"

Alex says weakly, "Now wait. I must have been cutting pretty close to the edge as it was. One more enhancement and I have been dipping into the taint pool, maybe getting aberrations. Walking away from humanity to stay in touch with humanity isn't..."

God said, "SILENCE!!!"

Alex shut up.

God continued, "That's a false choice boy. Did you really need to invest in a higher willpower? Did you really need to invest your nova transformation points into dark matter? And it's not helping you now is it?"

Alex shook his head.

God continued, "Despite what some of you more Analytical types would like to believe, I made man to be a social animal. That specifically includes YOU! Besides, all novas can do anything. You desperately need some quantum enhanced socials to function in your new lifestyle."

Alex responded slowly, "Now wait a moment. That's water under the bridge. Whatever I should have done, what I did do was wish for what I did wish for. I'm stuck with that now. And fundamental theme considerations should prevent me from..."

God interrupted, "Ahem. Theme? You mean your manipulation of Dark Matter theme? What exactly is your theme right at this moment?"

Alex hesitated a long moment and replied, "I'm not sure. Sex probably figures into there though."

God replied, "Exactly. You've had a life changing event, and your theme is somewhat fluid at the moment. What you need to do is to accept that."

Alex said, "...what?"

There was a massive moment of discontinuity and the stewardess replied, "I said would you like anything else sir? It will be another three hours before we get to India."

Alex blinked and said, "I think I must have drifted off there. I'm good. I'll just lie back here and think."

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