The teleporter activated. One moment I was standing at the door of the main house on my property, and the next, I was looking around a small room. I quickly turned in place, to try and figure out where I was, and if there was an immediate threat. The walls were metallic. There were several very compact workstations next to sections of wall, each station had a tall-backed seat with what looked like a five-point harness attached to the seat. None of the seats I could see were occupied.
A man in a black bodysuit laden with black military style equipment was standing next to an androgynous figure in a two tone brown suit, with a silver cape and a clearly bird themed mask. The one in brown spoke, in a clear and precise voice. “No, I’m not sure this is the best choice. Do you have a better idea?” I couldn’t tell by the voice if the speaker was male or female.
Talking about me, or something else?
“No, I don’t have a better idea. We need help. I’m just not sure we want this help.” The man in black had a deep voice, and he was looking straight at me as he spoke.
Talking about me.
“Elsewhere, he’s here. It’s a bit late to be arguing about whether it’s a good idea to bring him in on this. The Enclave doesn’t have many people that can deal with Trainwreck, never mind Trainwreck working with Mirrormaid and Chicken Little.”
The names Mirrormaid and Chicken Little meant nothing to me. Elsewhere was apparently the name of the man in black. I had been brought here to help with three supers that these two couldn’t deal with on their own. I’d heard of Trainwreck before, I thought he was a hero.
The brown-suited person, turned his face from Elsewhere to me. “Good day, Strangest, my companion here is Elsewhere. His powers are teleportation and enhanced senses. I am Lyrebird, sound control, enhanced metabolism, and enhanced reflexes.”
“Good day to you as well. I’m a public super and don’t much care for the name the media gave me. Would you mind just calling me Zeke?”
They both just stared at me briefly before Elsewhere chuckled. “Spot on, mate. Zeke it is.”
Lyrebird continued. “Zeke, we had a briefing on your powers when we asked the Enclave for assistance. Alternate body, area effect mind control that forces people within range to attack you, immunity to mental coercion, extreme damage mitigation, extreme regeneration, and contact with any part of you causes unconsciousness. You have no control over any of the powers except when you choose to take on your alternate form.”
“That’s a fair summary. I don’t have full control over changing though. If I’m hurt, I shift. If I’m startled, I shift.”
The two of them looked at one another, clearly concerned.
I shook my head. “It’s not on a hair trigger. A paper cut won’t do it. The surprise has to be significant. I don’t fully understand how it works, but I’m not going to uncontrollably shift unless I’m attacked or badly startled.”
“We were told that you had a new partner named Ali, with unspecified powers and the appearance of a child?”
“I expect him to show up soon. He doesn’t have a teleporter like this one.” I plucked my belt with my right hand at my right hip. “He has to follow me his own way.”
“Other side of the world mate, he might be a while getting here.”
I grinned. “Never would have guessed, with your accent and words you use, Elsewhere.”
Elsewhere nodded. “Fair Dinkum, mate. I’ve been outside Australia before though.”
The entire room shook, and I turned, spinning to figure out where the source of the shaking was. Lyrebird quickly said, “That was turbulence. We’re in a modified cargo plane, not under attack.”
The walls were curved, I noticed. “I can’t hear the engines or feel their vibrations…”
Lyrebird was grinning under their mask.
“I see. Sound control. But you are preventing vibration of the plane as well. Sound is just vibration through a medium, so you are really a specialist telekinetic?”
“I don’t like trying to have a conversation over engine noises, but I can’t damp out very high energy like a plane hitting a spot of turbulence at cruising speed.” Lyrebird shrugged. I noticed his Adam’s apple moving as he spoke.
A man then, OK.
I shook my head to clear my thoughts. I didn’t really care if Lyrebird was male or female, but it had been an irritating itch at the back of my thoughts, as I was speaking with him. “Fair enough. This seems a whole lot more relaxed than my last job as heavy support when I got dropped into a burning building. What help do you two need?”
Elsewhere crossed his arms. “Help where nobody dies.”
Lyrebird added “None of the three people we’re after have killed anyone yet, but that will change if we can’t get Trainwreck away from the other two.”
“Are they going to try to kill someone, with Trainwreck as the muscle? I don’t know the other two, but I’ve heard of Trainwreck. I didn’t think he was a killer. I know he has been considered a hero. Is that no longer the case?”
“Trainwreck’s gone starkers, mate. He left Canberra yesterday, heading northwest into central Australia. Mirrormaid and Chicken Little were spotted with him.”
“I don’t see where that’s a problem yet. Did they hurt anyone as they left the city? Maybe it’s just a walkabout?” I was a bit uncomfortable, and hoped I used the term ‘walkabout’ correctly.
Lyrebird shook his head. “It’s complicated.”
Elsewhere looked at Lyrebird, clearly irritated. “No. It’s not complicated. Mirrormaid has gotten into Trainwreck’s head. Trainwreck’s been rooting with Mirrormaid. Mirrormaid and Chicken Little have been working as a team for years, robbing stores and banks. Trainwreck’s always been a bit soft in the head, easily led around, but mostly good-hearted.”
Oh, yes, I’ve heard that slang before. Not in polite company.
“So you think Mirrormaid seduced Trainwreck to get him to join them, and they are going to start committing crimes as a trio?” I paused. “I can see why you would want to stop that, but you said that someone was going to be killed, but I don’t see how.”
Elswehere and Lyrebird looked at one another for a half a second before Lyrebird nodded then turned back to me. “Trainwreck’s body degenerates significantly when he uses his powers. The metabolic drain on him from his power is fantastic. It’s also toxic, causing cancers, organ damage, and genetic disorders on every use. It’s been kept out of the news, but he absolutely requires medical attention from someone with a power that can regenerate his body every time he uses his power. If he doesn’t get that help, he’ll be dead after he uses his power a few times.”
I considered what I knew about Trainwreck. His power to transform into a mechanical body nearly twenty meters tall made him one of the largest supers in the world. With that size came incredible strength, and damage mitigation. He was almost unstoppable. He’d stood toe to toe with some of the most powerful villains in the world, and footage of him in battle against dimensional assaults when he could attack without worrying about human casualties had to be seen to be believed. “I see. So Mirrormaid seduced Trainwreck, who has now partnered with Mirrormaid and Chicken Little. How likely is it that Trainwreck would agree to be involved in crimes?”
“Trainwreck’s been a very lonely man, for a lot of years. He’s never had a real relationship, even before his powers developed, as far as we know. Mirrormaid is an accomplished seductress. Trainwreck was an easy mark for her.”
That didn’t answer my question.
I considered pressing the two of them on Trainwreck’s potential to commit crimes, but decided not to. He had a solid reputation as a hero, but if he was being played by Mirrormaid, and doing the right sorts of heists, he might not realize he was committing crimes.
“Mirrormaid has mind control then?” I asked, trying to put pieces together.
Lyrebird shook his head. “Mirrormaid’s power is the ability to turn almost any attack back against the attacker. Her ability to seduce people is not a power. She’s extremely good looking and brilliant, with few scruples. She’s successfully played the seductress part before, quite a few times.”
Less likely he won’t know he’s committing crimes then.
People sometimes change for things less important than love.
“So Mirrormaid has a reflection power. Is that it? What about Chicken Little?” I needed to know more about their powers if I was going to try to deal with them and not have there be any casualties.
Lyrebird shook his head. “Mirrormaid is also a minor precog. That makes her far more dangerous. To hear her describe it, she is in mental communication with a mirror self that lives about thirty seconds in advance of her present self. Her mirror in the future shares its knowledge with her present self. She can use that knowledge to change her actions to alter the outcome of an event.”
“So her ability as a seductress isn’t entirely natural. She’s reading the future for reactions.” I commented, thinking.
Elswehere nodded. “Yes, but it’s only an assist. She was a very successful, highly paid consort before she gained powers. The ability to see the future thirty seconds out certainly helps, but she would be nearly as good a seductress without it.”
I considered that for a moment. “She can use the precog ability tactically, combined with her other power to mirror attacks?”
Elswehere nodded. “She’s damn difficult to take down.”
“So energy attacks, projectile weapons, and speedster melee attacks are difficult if not impossible to use against her?” I whistled admiringly. “That’s a power combination with impressive potential. And all she’s used it for is robbing banks and stores?”
Lyrebird inserted a comment as Elsewhere was about to start speaking again. “Exactly. Mirrormaid is an underachiever. As long as she’s acting for herself as a minor villain, we’re thankful. She’s not a killer and she thinks small, but she thinks well. Even by herself, our powers are not capable of taking her down easily. I might be able to do it with an area effect attack with sound at inaudible frequencies that cause unconsciousness in humans, but an attack like that might kill her, Chicken Little, or Trainwreck. My control is good, but disrupting the human brain with vibrations is something I really don’t like doing.” He paused a moment. “Sorry, Elsewhere, for breaking in there.”
Elsewhere shrugged. “No aggro, mate.”
It took a second to figure out what the phrase meant. The confusion on my face must have been apparent. Elsewhere grinned at me. “Sorry, mate. Lyrebird here is one of you Yanks, transplanted. I’m from down under by birth.”
I shook my head slightly, and grinned. “No worries.”
Elsewhere chuckled, but said nothing, so I continued. “I’ve got a decent handle on Mirrormaid’s power, and her personality. Unless there’s more?” I looked at the two of them as they both shook their heads.
“What does Chicken Little do?” I asked. Most supers chose their names to describe their powers. Chicken Little wasn’t giving me a whole lot to go on.
Elsewhere looked at Lyrebird, who nodded. Lyrebird spoke. “He’s a high powered, limited telekinetic with no fine control. His ability to move things is mostly limited to the vertical.”
The sky is falling.
“So he lifts things up, and slams them down with a great deal of power?” I asked.
“That’s about it. He has pinpoint accuracy, but no control over how fast the objects he wants to move from place to place will move. The acceleration is measured in thousands of gravities, vertically. He’s limited to masses of a few hundred kilograms or less.”
“But he has a hard time moving things horizontally?”
“Yes, he can move things horizontally, but with far less acceleration. The higher he lifts something, the farther he can move it horizontally, but the harder it will hit the ground.”
“Sounds like an extremely dangerous power. Just lifting a person into the air at thousands of gravities will splatter anyone but the toughest brick or most damage resistant savage.”
“It is. He rarely uses his power in a fight, both he and Mirrormaid have always seemed to be in agreement on that, they prefer to let Mirrormaid use other people’s powers against them. Chicken Little has nearly killed himself with shrapnel from his own power on at least three occasions we know about, and hurt a lot of people badly before he started working with Mirrormaid. He’s the one that breaks open vaults.” He paused. “He will use his power when directed by Mirrormaid though, even in a fight, if she feels like she’s being pressed. He’s been heard to comment that he trusts her not to get anyone killed with his power.”
“So, Mirrormaid and Chicken Little. Small-time villains who have done reasonably well for themselves without enraging the public by killing people. They clearly work well together. Where does Trainwreck fit in? Why would they add another member?”
Elsewhere spoke quickly. “A lot of banks and other companies or organizations with high security vaults have started protecting them with inertial dampeners, specifically to protect their valuables against Mirrormaid and Chicken Little. Neither of them have powers that will allow them to get through an inertial dampening field. Trainwreck has enough brute force to rip into almost any vault, and he can apply that strength while moving slowly enough that inertial dampening fields will have no significant impact on him.”
“I see. Chicken Little must be worried that he’s going to be dropped from the team, if his ability to break into facilities and vaults is no longer relevant. I might be able to use that to break up their cohesiveness as a team.”
Elsewhere and Lyrebird looked at one another before Lyrebird spoke again. “You are thinking about trying to go in without powers and just talk to them? That’s not going to work very well. Mirrormaid can see thirty seconds into the future, remember? She’s also smart. If her future self sees you saying things to irritate Chicken Little, she’ll probably pull a pistol and threaten to shoot you if you don’t shut up.”
I thought about it. “She’ll certainly be able to tell what would happen after she shot me though, wouldn’t she?”
Elsewhere spoke first. “Yes, she will.” He paused a moment, and grinned. “I see.”
Lyrebird looked puzzled for a moment, then realization struck him. “Oh. That might work.” His head swiveled rapidly to stare at one of the walls. “What the hell is that?”
Ali appeared, looking at me and pointing at Lyrebird. “He’s good. I was going to just hang out on the outside of the plane and listen in for a while, but apparently he heard or felt something when I latched on.”
Neither of the others had reacted to Ali’s presence inside the plane. They both looked at me, then looked around themselves, then resumed staring at me. Elsewhere had one of his hands in a large pocket.
“Apparently you’re speaking directly into my mind, Ali, since they can’t hear you now. Please make yourself visible and start talking out loud so these two stop looking at me like I’ve grown another head on my shoulders.”
Ali didn’t change to my eyes, but both Elsewhere and Lyrebird both looked startled.
I used their expressions to tell me when they could see Ali, and then spoke. “Ali, meet Elsewhere and Lyrebird.”
“Hello, Elsewhere.” Ali waved at the black-garbed super, then turned to the fellow in brown and silver. “Good day, Lyrebird.”
Elsewhere recovered first. “Damn, finding your partner would be a crook job if they didn’t want to be found, Zeke. How did you do that, Ali? I didn’t even detect an air pattern shift when you came inside.”
Lyrebird spoke quietly. “Ali claimed to be a reality manipulator, Elsewhere. Tread carefully.”
Elsewhere looked at Ali closely for a moment. Ali was currently wearing faded black jeans and sneakers, a solid sky-blue t-shirt, and a brilliant yellow baseball cap. “Looks and sounds too sane to be a reality manipulator, from what I’ve heard and read about them.”
Ali looked up at me with a grin. I answered for him. “Ali’s not human. His mind is able to handle what he does without breaking down like a human’s would.”
“What can you do?” Lyrebird asked.
Ali rolled his eyes a bit. “I can’t explain it well. You don’t have the vocabulary. Even if you had the vocabulary, you wouldn’t have the ability to truly comprehend it.”
“Can you explain it poorly, in a way to give us some idea of what you can do?” Lyrebird asked, crossing his arms and looking a bit irritated.
Ali shrugged. “Holographic illusions, space folding, manipulation of real physical properties, mental powers, to name a few.”
“You can read minds? Can you read mine?” Elsewhere grinned.
“Yes, you’re thinking that there’s no way I can read your mind because your costume has an insert built by Tin Foil, which is proof against most mental powers.”
Elsewhere was no longer grinning; he looked a bit shaken.
“Ali, please apologize, and if you broke the insert that protects him from mental powers so you could read his mind, repair it.”
“OK, Zeke. Done.”
Lyrebird stared at Ali, then at me, and back to Ali. “I’m not sure we’re using the right person here to try to handle this situation.”
“You are.” Ali poked me in the arm. “He’s the one that does things. I just help out from time to time if he asks, or if he gets into trouble. We have an agreement.”
“I see. Despite your apparent power, you choose to act as a sidekick.” Lyrebird looked at me.
I shrugged. “I don’t control Ali. If I can’t convince him to do something by talking to him, he won’t do it. There is an agreement that we’re both bound by, but I will not be discussing it. It has no bearing on today’s work.”
Ali spoke up. “I just got here. Can you tell me what’s happened?”
“Go ahead and read it out of my mind, Ali. It will probably be faster that way.”
Did I really just say that?
Ali even looked a bit startled, and raised an eyebrow at me. “OK, Zeke.”
After a moment, Ali turned to Elsewhere and Lyrebird. “How did all this happen to begin with? Where is Trainwreck’s team? How did this get past them?”
“They have been gone for five months now, it was their turn to stand watch at Luna base. They are expected back in two weeks.” Elsewhere sighed. “From the surveillance records, Mirrormaid started to make her move on Trainwreck two days after they left.”
Lyrebird commented, “Trainwreck was supposed to work with the two of us, but only if something major came up. He’s not supposed to use his power without a healer present, and the Canberra team’s healer, Bioboffin went with them to the moon. If he was needed badly, we would have arranged with the Enclave or another super group for a healer.”
Something didn’t make sense here. “Wait a second. I don’t get this. Why did they leave Trainwreck behind? He’s a powerhouse, and he needs medical attention after using his abilities, but his team, including their healer, goes to the moon to stand watch there and potentially be on the front lines of a space battle, and they don’t bring him along?”
“He refuses to leave Earth. You have never seen him fly either. He almost never jumps, and when he does, he does it extremely clumsily.”
“Sounds like he has some sort of phobia.” I guessed.
“That’s our best guess too, though he doesn’t seem to have any problem talking about going into space or imagining going into space, which doesn’t really fit the profile of a phobia.” Elsewhere shrugged as he ended the sentence. “Everyone’s got quirks.”
I realized I had forgotten to ask something else. “If Trainwreck does change into his alternate body, and shift back, what sort of medical attention will he require?”
“Immediate needs will be fluids and food. He’ll be dehydrated and his blood sugar will be low. A transformation typically costs him nearly a hundred kilos of body mass, sometimes more if he stays shifted for a long time. His electrolytes will be severely out of balance as well. He’ll need immediate transport to a hospital or healer.”
A hundred kilos? That’s more than my whole body.
I had apparently been staring at Lyrebird with my mouth slightly open in shock. He looked uncomfortable.
I closed my mouth and looked away. “Sorry, Lyrebird, the metabolic cost of his transformation shocked me. I don’t even weigh a hundred kilos. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of any super with that large of a metabolic penalty on their power use.”
Elsewhere spoke up. “Trainwreck, even in human form, is big. Very big for a human. He’s well over two meters tall if he stands up straight, but he rarely stands straight, he weighs too much. He can stand and walk around, he’s not bedridden, but it is painful for him to walk more than a few yards. At the typical weight he maintains, he can absorb two transformations and still be bigger than most big men. He’s done three in two days once, but that nearly killed him. It nearly killed Bioboffin too, trying to keep him alive.”
I looked down at Ali who was clearly thinking about something. “Ali should be able to stabilize him if he transforms, I think.” I knew he could, but I wanted to make it clear to the others that he could.
Ali looked up at me and his eyes turned a bit towards the other two. He apparently understood what I was doing. “Sure, Zeke, no problem. Even if he’s almost dead, I should be able to heal him if you want. He’ll be easier to heal than the bug soldier was. I know human biology very well.”
I continued to make the point. “Please do, and the same goes for the other two. I think I’m right when I say this is a rescue mission, not a punitive one. One of them is a hero, and the other two aren’t killers.”
Lyrebird looked relieved, and breathed out heavily. “That’s right, Stran… Zeke. Trainwreck isn’t our teammate, but he’s a valuable member of the Australian hero community. We want him back, alive, and with his reputation intact if possible.”
“I’m guessing that you are tracking them somehow? That would explain this plane, at least.”
“Yes, we are. Trainwreck requires special accommodations in a vehicle. He can’t fit in most civilian vehicles, and is very uncomfortable in most vehicles that he can fit in. They took his van when they left. It has a raised roof, and a special gull-wing door design to allow him to get into and out of the vehicle easily. A custom design, easy to follow from a distance. There have been government agents following the van visually, but we’ve been tracking it with a transmitter that Elsewhere put in place when they stopped for sangers and wedges.”
“Do you think they know they are being followed?”
Lyrebird. “We don’t think so. Trainwreck has never been very security conscious. He keeps his secret identity mainly because he almost never goes anywhere except as Trainwreck. He spends most of his time on his computer, or eating, usually both at the same time.”
“That would explain the lack of a social life, and the vulnerability to seduction.” I commented.
Elsewhere clearly took offense at that comment. “Stop that. You won’t ever find Trainwreck far from the tucker, but we’re not here to chinwag about his problems. He is very popular online in social media. He might not move much, but he needs that weight to be able to use his power. Like you said earlier, you don’t even weigh as much as his transformation costs him.”
“Sorry. You’re right. I apologize.” Elsewhere seemed to accept the apology. Lyrebird just nodded.
“I think I can use Mirrormaid’s precognition against her, to force her to back down, and not fight. If that doesn’t work, I can just try to capture them in my anger field and eventually make them unconscious.” I considered a few options. “Let’s plan this out. I need help thinking about this and how to deal with that thirty second precognition to make sure I’m not missing anything.”
Elsewhere commented. “Good idea. We definitely don’t want this turning into a rock show.”
“A what?” I had to ask.
“Ah, ‘rock show’ is the Australian military term for ‘cluster fuck’, Zeke.” Lyrebird commented, helpfully. “I agree.”
I smiled. “Learn something new every day. We definitely don’t want a rock show”
Trainwreck in my anger field.
That could create a new definition for collateral damage.
“We also need to make sure this happens as far as possible from people, because if Chicken Little and Trainwreck are exposed to my anger field, it’s going to be a very energetic fight, and any person who isn’t able to survive absurd amounts of physical damage is probably going to die very quickly as those two escalate, including Chicken Little and Mirrormaid. I doubt her power will protect her from the collateral damage of Chicken Little or Trainwreck’s powers as they escalate while trying to kill me, even if it would protect her against them directly.”
Lyrebird nodded. “We have a few teleportation devices we can use to grab people out of your field, but if there are more than half a dozen or so, Elsewhere and I will have to disable them while they are in your field concentrating on you, and you will have to move away from them so they aren’t in your field and we can get them to safety.”
“That’s good. Ali can probably help get some people away as well. I really don’t want to be responsible for anyone dying if I can help it. I certainly don’t want to be responsible for Trainwreck killing or maiming a woman he’s romantically involved with, even if she’s just using him.”