“Our initial plan was a complete failure.” The mood in the conference room was as grim as the speaker's tone, and it only became darker as he continued. “Our first contingency is also compromised. We are scrambling for replacements, but the quality won’t be the same.”
“And our own law enforcement?” Flipside asked, struggling not to adjust her new suit. She would swear up and down that the new one didn’t fit right, despite all assurances to the contrary, but this wasn’t the time or place to fidget.
“Depends on what you are looking for,” the police chief was an older man with a large belly, but it was obvious that he still had more muscle than fat. “We all know how this works, we don’t have enough officers to handle the city without heroic backing on the best of days. Now? Parts of the city are going to boil over and the more of my people we pull the worse that will be.”
“Any chance Visionary will wake before this comes to blows?” It was Northernwind who asked that question, but it was obvious she knew the answer already.
“His coma is a result of the healing powers used on him,” the representative from the hospital spoke up. “The earliest Visionary could wake up is six days, but it is probable that he won’t for up to fourteen.”
Flipside couldn’t stop herself from cringing at that, and the faces around the table - those that were unmasked - did much the same. Ten days ago, the second strongest superhero in the United States - fuck political correctness, Visionary was arguably the second strongest hero in the western hemisphere - was grievously injured in a fight against the Cabal. The fight happened over open ocean, and so the public at large had no idea. Afterwards, he was rushed to Rochester for treatment.
For most heroes, that wouldn’t be an issue. Flipside herself had been in the hospital more than once, and she had never even considered that villains might hunt her down to finish her off. It simply was not a thing that was done; it broke the unwritten rules that kept fights from escalating to apocalyptic levels and when it came down to it, the Fellowship and the military could escalate further and faster than villains could.
But Visionary was not an ordinary hero. True to his name, he was a hero, a detective, and an activist. Where most heroes would respond to a villains crime, Visionary hunted them down. Where most heroes would focus on villains and not bother over petty crimes beyond reporting it to the police, Visionary would personally take apart gangs from the lowest dealer all the way up to the superpowered kingpin. Where many heroes would ignore smaller issues from rich and influential people to avoid causing trouble when there were villains to fight, Visionary would fly into a billion dollar company’s board room to arrest the CEO in the middle of a meeting.
And Visionary could do all of this without the consequences that would fall on someone as minor as Flipside because he was damn near unbeatable.
Everyone knew the power classifications: Manipulator, Enhancer, Controller, Thinker, Tinker, and Transformers. But there was actually one more, it simply was so rare that it was almost never mentioned; why bother listing a category that, in the entire world, there are barely enough to force someone to use two hands when counting?
Even if capes and researchers could not tell how most powers worked, they generally were able to understand what they did. Flipside herself, for example, had no idea how she manipulated gravity, but everyone was in agreement that was what she was doing. Thinkers and Tinkers both agreed that her powers likely could be recreated with technology sometime in the future. Although Flipside was happy to know that time was far off and that she would likely always be able to use her power better than a machine would anyway.
Special powers were incomprehensible. Abyssal, a German Supervillain, was the go to example for the category. She didn’t just manipulate the scientific law of the conversion of mass, she violated it entirely. Abyssal could truly destroy matter. She could make what existed stop existing, which should simply be flat out impossible.
Visionary was on record as a Special 15,Thinker 3 and his power was just as baffling. What Visionary could imagine, happened. There were limits, but it was mostly as simple as that. If he imagined himself bulletproof, he was. If he imagined a wound healed, it would be healed. If he imagined his opponent defeated, they would be defeated. If he imagined that a past event didn’t happen, it would not have happened. Even if his offense was limited by range and stamina, Visionary was de facto invincible and undefeatable.
Until the Cabal beat him into the floor.
Visionary was recovered from the wreckage of a facility thought to be a former Cabal base. Anyone else with wounds like his would have been dead. Hell, calling them wounds was understating it, Visionary was recovered in pieces. Those pieces were brought here to Rochester and the Mayo Clinic where medical masks were putting him back together.
He was supposed to have been brought here secretly. No one was supposed to know because there were many villains who would strike if they thought they had a real chance to stop Visionary once and for all. They didn’t put all their eggs in one basket though, the Fellowship was more than willing to deploy enough forces to Rochester as a first contingency in case of discovery.
Flipside glanced down at the report in front of her and sighed. Whenever the others at the conference looked at their own copy, their face would always form some difficult expressions. Villains all over the country were active, whether it was minor gangs, terrorists, or sprawling international syndicates. Furthermore, the report detailed how false evidence had been laid down to implicate law-abiding mutants, but they only ever discovered the evidence was false after an arrest.
Hundreds of mutants across the country had been arrested and revealed to be entirely innocent in the past twenty-four hours. The news was impossible to suppress, all the Fellowship had been able to do was delay the major networks from running the story, but that would end soon. After that? Civil unrest to one degree or another in every major city. Demonstrations in the best case scenario, riots in the worst.
Aside from a few reinforcements from the Twin Cities, every hero was needed where they were to fight the villains and limit the possible damage riots could do.
“And our second contingency?” Northernwind leaned forward, the temperature in the room noticeably dropping. “We got lucky with yesterday’s attack, with every hero team ambushed, that both doctors were in Visionary’s room at the time. I don’t think they expected to fight the medical masks - or perhaps that Stitch would be such an effective combatant - but we shouldn’t rely on luck, and they won’t make the same mistake next time.”
Flipside watched as the heroine glanced around the room, her gaze severe as she finished with: “And we all know there will be another attack, it is just a matter of when.”
“The Governor is leery of sending out the National Guard when we might be looking at mutant riots,” the mayor sounded tired and when he took off his glasses to clean them with a soft cloth, the bags under his eyes became apparent. “The army is mobilizing, but the generals are dragging their heels over the numbers. We can expect at least a batallion, but I doubt we will see a brigade.”
“Someone translate that for those of us who know nothing about the military?” Northernwind replied dryly. Flipside agreed with the sentiment, how was she supposed to know how much a battalion was? For all she knew it would be forty eight men and a child!
“Maximum numbers would be a thousand troops for a batallion. I asked for a regiment of at least three thousand; you should know this, you had to sign off on the paper for me to even ask!”
“Wait, you want the city to house three thousand soldiers?” The treasurer, who had mostly stayed quiet until now, suddenly sat up and focused on the conversation. “The logistics of that! The cost! Not to mention the economic losses if we locked down a large chunk of the city, is that even remotely necessary?”
“Yes.” Northernwind replied simply, and the treasurer turned an incredulous look at Flipside for a second opinion.
“In a fight where powered heroes and villains are equally matched, there is very little to stop the enemies minions using their number advantage.” Flipside paraphrased a passage from one of the Fellowship’s textbooks. “In true, open, combat the villain’s forces will almost always outnumber your own and will often make up for their comparative disadvantage in equipment by leading with mutants as shock troops.”
Flipside took a breath and continued, “this isn’t our every day work; even if their total numbers are greater than ours, normally we have a local numbers advantage when we face off against gangs and villains. We usually have better organisation, better information, and our capes outmatch their cowls in number and strength. None of that is true right now. Worst case scenario is that we end up wiped out and the city is at their mercy until the National Guard and the Army retake it.”
Two hours later, Flipside was stretching as she and Northernwind walked through city hall to the Fellowship headquarters.
“I hate morning meetings!” Flipside complained, “It’s not even important, we accomplished nothing but wasting time.”
“Don’t whine, we need all hands on deck for this,” Northernwind chided. “And honestly, I’m more bothered that you never show this side of your personality in front of anyone else. If I complain about your constant complaining, everyone looks at me like I’m crazy! Even Mockingbird, and her powers should tell her that I am telling the truth!”
Flipside just giggled at that. It might seem odd to most that the heroes would be so relaxed considering the current situation, but veteran heroes like Northernwind and Flipside both knew when dealing with villains there was always some kind of pressure. In a crisis, you still relaxed when you could or the pressure could snap you.
Picking at her own costume again, Flipside lamented that she couldn’t wear something like Northernwind’s costume. Well, she could, but it wouldn’t make sense with her powers. A gravity theme makes it damn hard to accessorize, which just left her in a bodysuit. Hell, it took years before she could ignore the shame for wearing something so tight fitting, but the techs made good arguments for it. Namely, that as she played around with gravity loose clothing and capes could and would get tangled in something.
She left the tech who said that its tightness was an extra defense pinned to the ceiling. She didn’t accept, ‘they will be too busy looking at your ass to shoot you,’ as a valid argument.
Northernwind, on the other hand, looked fabulous. Sure, she also had a bodysuit - a blindingly white one with a light blue stripe running from her left shoulder to her right hip and then spiraling down around her right leg - but she also had a skirt, cape, scarf, and rounded out the costume with ski goggles.
It really wasn’t fair, but Flipside had to put it out of mind as she made her way through the security doors into the Fellowship Headquarters. Normally, they would head through the doors and end up on a platform overlooking the various Fellowship workstations, but now it overlooked repair and construction. The villains who fought here seemed to have enjoyed causing as much damage as they could, but much of the facilities were untouched.
Flipside frowned and left Northernwind’s side as she noticed one of the heroes going about their business.
“Whipersnap, what are you doing?” Ignoring the stairs, Flipside stepped directly off the platform - which was missing its railing - and reduced the pull of gravity so that she floated easily down. “I didn’t think you would be up so soon! The doctors said you’d be down for weeks, even with your regeneration!”
“Mutant, remember? I’m a lot hardier than I look, if you had the same injuries I had right now, you’d be dead!” Whipersnap smirked, before flinching and coughing hard. She approached, but he waved her off.
“Yeah, you sure sound like you are doing fine,” Flipside remarked sarcastically. “I saw the hits you took yesterday, I’m sending you home to rest. Can’t have a kid dying on me.”
Yesterday had been… Harrowing. Germ hadn’t even been trying to kill them, as far as Flipside could tell, but even that minimal effort had almost killed both of them. The other villain and mutants had not even gotten involved, instead they robbed the gallery blind while Whipersnap and Flipside got batted around by Germ. The supervillain almost put his fist through Whipersnap and then had the gall to apologize for “trying too hard.”
“You know we don’t have the manpower for me to do that,” Whipersnap straightened up with his face set. “I’ll manage.”
“It isn’t about what you can ‘manage!’” Flipside sighed in frustration. Dealing with teenage heroes was always frustrating; they almost always wanted to do more than they could and were stubborn about being kept out of the line of fire.
Not that the Fellowship often managed to keep them out of the line of fire, as evidenced by the fact Whipersnap had a hole in his stomach, but Flipside digressed.
“Head home. I do not need legal up my ass again, I already have an inquiry about yesterday coming down on me.”
“Listen to your Guardian,” Northernwind followed up behind Flipside. “Head home. Recover, and get back here.”
Whipersnap muttered his agreement and discontent as he made his way to the lockers, and Flipside could only shake her head. Mutants and Enhancers were sometimes just too tough. Whipersnap being both made it difficult for him to be healed quickly by medicine, but between his mutations and powers that hardly mattered. If he was over eighteen, Flipside would likely have let him stay. Sure his wound would have instantly killed her, but he hardly cared.
However, in addition to her status as the vice-commander of the Rochester Fellowship, Flipside was also assigned to Whipersnap as his Guardian. Every underage hero had an older hero assigned as a Guardian to act as a mentor and protector. Not that Flipside was actually that old, she was one of the youngest vice-commanders in the country at twenty-nine.
Northernwind and Flipside went the other direction, leaving the construction behind them and going through a second security door. Flipside sighed again, but this time in relief as she pulled off her mask. She massaged around her eyes to get the blood flowing again, and tried to resist scratching despite the itch.
Northernwind was doing much the same, her goggles left a rather humourous mark on the superheroine’s face. Honestly, Flipside would have thought Northernwind’s identity would have been discovered with such an obvious tell, but it did fade fast enough she supposed.
A short hallway later and they were at the CIC. Fellowship Combat Information Centers were not much like military ones. For one thing, it was part CIC, part ready room, and part lounge. Heroes on duty, as well as some off duty, rested or talked with each other while waiting for a reinforcement call from the CIC.
The second difference stemmed from that. A Fellowship CIC was a lot like a firehouse, it was also a living space. In fact, some of the heroes actually lived at the Fellowship, although it was very rare. On most days, it wasn’t a very quiet place as a result.
The mood today, however, was dismal. Yesterday’s defeat was hard on many heroes and harder on the ones still recovering.
“Flipside, Northernwind!” The man approaching didn’t seem to be in costume, wearing jeans and a sweater, but not all heroes wear costumes that were more than just a mask, which he didn’t have to wear inside the CIC.
With his brown hair messy, his clothes wrinkled, and his eyes sleepy, Adam - better known as The Intuitive Man - looked like he had just rolled out of bed. Which, despite the time, was a distinct possibility. Despite his sloth, The Intuitive Man was the most important mind behind the Rochester Fellowship’s CIC; a Thinker 5 with a mix of precognitive and analytical capabilities, he usually was able to give the Fellowship the upper hand in all of their missions.
Flipside frowned, for him to be rushing over to meet them he had to have some kind of information that they had to hear, and nothing good ever prompted him to action.
“Adam,” Northernwind greeted him with a nod and went straight to the point. “What have you got for me?”
And that is the frustration of dealing with low strength or mixed power precogs. They were often vague to the point of being useless. No shit it was bad, everyone and their mother knew that.
“No, no,” He didn’t even let them respond, “Worse than that!”
The other problem with Thinkers: when they respond to thoughts you haven’t even voiced. It is incredibly uncomfortable. Flipside thought so, anyway, some people weren’t bothered.
The various team leaders had made their way over now as well. Northernwind didn’t bother taking everyone to a conference room, this information was for every hero, after all.
“I want everyone on alert for the next eight hours,” Northernwind announced. “Adam hasn’t led us wrong before, and the army will be here in eight hours at most, so we can expect something to happen in the interim.”
“Can we get any more reinforcements?” One hero asked, nodding his thanks to the heroes who had already deployed from the Twin Cities. “Intuition Man is great and all, but I don’t want to sit here and know that if we do nothing we are going to be in trouble.”
“Connect with the police and let them know, we should get every officer on duty we can.” Flipside answered this, talking over Adam complaining about the hero mistaking his name, “Other than that, we are on our own for now. The villains have set things up to make it difficult for us; I am honestly thankful that the Minneapolis and St. Paul Fellowships haven’t recalled our friends here.”
She nodded to the capes who had come down from the northern cities. Twenty heroes - twenty one if Whipersnap actually obeyed and went home - were injured and sent home. Stitch and Amrita, the medical capes employed by Mayo, were powerful but because they never publicly revealed their powers, people tended to overestimate them. While it was true that minor injuries could be immediately healed, and that Amrita could prevent someone from dying so long as they were alive when she used her powers, moderate injuries could only be sped up so much when it came to healing. The earliest that Flipside could expect the injured to return to active duty was tonight. Extremely impressive healing considering some of the damage done, but not impressive enough to make a difference in time.
The cities sent four teams down, two from each, before the extent of the Cabal’s preparations became apparent. With a Team Captains and four heroes each, it was an extra twenty capes in total, and they were desperately needed. Rochester had a very high concentration of powered individuals; the normal complement of heroes for the city was sixty seven who worked to handle the forty five identified villains the area.
Yesterday, an extra twenty four villains entered the city and twenty six heroes were either killed or incapcitated. This left an unpleasant situation where sixty two heroes would have to handle sixty nine villains. Unpleasant, but theoretically doable because villains were not a united group. Standard procedure for handling situations like this would be to handle the groups individually. The total number of villains might be more, but the various gangs and groups won’t support each other and that allows heroes to have the number advantage during fights.
But The Intuitive Man had told them that his gut feeling was that normal procedure wouldn’t cut it this morning. Based on that, Flipside thought, and Northernwind agreed, that the villainous powerhouses that had entered the city probably forcefully united the disparate factions and would strike with all or most of the villains in the area. Which made the aid of the four teams absolutely indispensable, they would have to coordinate with the local teams well if the Fellowship was going to hold off the villains until the military made it.
She looked around at the captains from out of the city:
Trance, a Thinker with hypnotic powers. His costume was hard to look at, the bodysuit and faceless mask patterned with optical illusions that could cause headaches if you looked too closely.
Ramjet, a young woman who had just turned eighteen and left the Youth Fellowship. An Enhancer/Manipulator, her costume consisting of an old fashioned flight jacket, helmet, and goggles was much tougher than it looked. It had to be, because her favorite method of attack was to launch herself at incredibly high speeds and ram her opponent head on.
Pulsepounder, whose costume included an animated electrocardiogram across his chest that displayed his heart rate. He was a Manipulator, but his powers were not particularly well understood. He was able to fire blasts of power from his hands that would explode on contact and then would keep exploding in time with his heart beat.
Technocrat, a reformed villain Tinker. He didn’t so much have a costume as he had power armor stylized to look medieval knight with a crown set into the bascinet. A rounded visor, a massive greatsword, and a golden cape completed the image, but it was mostly theater. Despite his armor and weapon, Technocrat prefered to fight from a distance using energy weapons and robotic minions. He was an older man, having spent seven years as a villain before being arrested and making a deal with the Fellowship twenty years ago.
Roost, a powerful Controller who could control birds and see through their eyes. His costume… Well, if Flipside was honest, was hideous. Roost’s costume was based off a bald eagle, or it might be more accurate to say he was wearing a bald eagle costume. The less said about it, the better, but his powers were useful. At short range, he could control entire flocks of birds or he could focus on a single bird and control it from dozens of miles away
Finally, there was Dryad, a Controller/Transformer who could transform trees into what can only be described as ent like creatures and command them. She could also turn herself into a tree or insert herself into a living one, but her powers took time to work. Still, the creatures didn’t die or expire so long as they were fed and allowed to grow and Dryad could send them into a hibernation that made them appear like normal trees. Dryad had gone around the state years ago transforming trees in many locations so that she would be able to respond to problems everywhere, a decision that was paying off in spades now.
As for the local Captains, two were recovering and one was dead, so aside from Northernwind and Flipside herself, only Grunt and Micro were present. Which was a pain in Flipside’s ass because despite their competence they were the two most difficult Captains to handle.
Grunt, in his bulky red armor, was an Enhancer. A pretty standard one too, with high durability and physical strength. He rarely talked or made any noise more than a grunt, but when he did speak in a combat situation all of his orders were on point. At all other times, conversations were about as easy and fun as pulling teeth.
Micro was an arrogant asshole and had a somewhat unpleasant power. He was a Controller and did not directly engage in combat. Instead, his powers worked through his teammates in a way that was almost, but not quite, mind control. The short version is that Micro made his team do everything better, but his partial control was not a comfortable thing to be under. His costume was specially made pants, a jacket, and a visor. Flipside didn’t think the man cared much about his identity being discovered. He probably wanted to have it revealed so he could bask in the public glory.
“So are we just going to sit here and wait?” Micro ignored Flipside’s silent glare. Admittedly, Flipside glared at him so much that he would never speak at all if he cared about it. “I get that something is going to go down, but it would be nice to have patrols out there to see it coming.”
“I don’t think we can risk getting picked off,” Ramjet responded, adjusting her flight goggles and shifting her weight on her feet. “I doubt you can be any more bored than I am, but even I know that much.”
“I’m not bored brat,” Micro snapped, his lips twisting into a sneer. “I wouldn’t mind a bit of revenge for my comrades, but my suggestion is mostly practical.”
“I don’t think you could convince me you have any comrades, and I barely know you.”
“Cool it Ram,” Technocrat intervened, Northernwind was taking a report from a staff member and had missed the exchange. “Local guys are under a lot of pressure, let’s cut everyone some slack alright?”
“You probably just like that asshole because he reminds you of your villain friends,” Ramjet didn’t back down. “You only chose to be a hero to avoid being thrown into prison, you aren’t one of us.”
“Okay. Micro, Ramjet - get along. I hate doing this, but you can take that as an order.” Flipside had never wanted to be vice commander, but life was full of disappointments and that she had to step up and be responsible was one of them. “You two don’t need to like each other, and I don’t really care if you like Techno Ramjet, but I do expect professional conduct out of all of you. We’re heroes, we can at least live up to the same standards sixteen year olds working for fast food joints manage to, yeah?”
“We had better, because we just got information from the FBI,” Northernwind regioned the conversation with her tone grim. “We can expect a couple more surprise visitors on the villain side. They don’t know who, but the data suggests they are probably supervillains.”
Shit. They were stacking quantity and quality on their side. As the impromptu meeting fell apart, Flipside drifted over to her own workstation but was unable to get any of her usual work done. She’d always known a situation like this could occur, but she had never really believed it would. The best she could do to relax was to idly levitate objects on her desk. Flipside consoled herself that she was at least more put together than Ramjet, who was wearing a hole in the carpet with her pacing.
An hour slid by, then another, and then just as it seemed a third one might as well, the alarm went off and every hero on the room scrambled to their feet.
“Call came in from the local police,” Circutbreaker, their local Tinker said. “I’ve got drone footage now; putting it up on the main screen.”
The large, wall sized, screen turned on and showed static for a moment. When the picture cleared, Flipside thought that it had been tuned to some kind of kids show at first.
“Is that..?” She wasn’t sure who spoke, but she agreed with the sentiment.
“It’s a giant fucking robot.” Ramjet’s eloquence was to be admired, “Seems someone let a Tinker have too much time. That’s going to come back to bite us in the ass when the higher ups get around to assigning blame.”
Tinkers were probably the weakest of all powers. If you threw two capes into an arena to fight, a Tinker would almost always lose. They simply had no abilities that were useful without tools and materials.
On the other hand, if a Tinker was given enough time, they were downright terrifying. Doom lasers, satellite based disintegration rays, self replicating nanobot swarms, and yes, giant robots, were all examples of what could happen when a Tinker was able to get all the time and materials they needed.
“Actually, it looks kind of familiar…” Ramjet paused as the drone got closer and the image was more clear, “It kind of looks like-”
“Hmph, well at least you aren’t an idiot girl. Unlike everyone else in this shitty organisation.”
Technocrat drew the greatsword from his back and stabbed it into the floor. Radiating silver light, he rocketed straight up through the ceiling. It would take him time to force his way through all the floors above them, but no one able to pursue him. Sunk into the ground, the sword was starting to glow red, and it didn’t take a genius to guess what was about to happen. People dove for cover and force fields went up just in time for the sword to explode.
Unhurt, but stunned by the noise and force, Flipside stumbled to her feet. The CIC was in ruins, but despite the damage, there was still a picture on the main screen, showing the giant robot raising a hand.
“Everyone capable of it, get in the air or to the motor pool!” Northernwind shouted as she took flight, “turn your comms on and stick with your teams! My team will be going to intercept that thing, everyone else head to reinforce the teams protecting the hospital.”
Northernwind’s team was all capable of flight, and followed her out through the ceiling.
“You heard the Commander,” Flipside shouted. “Team Captains, move out in groups of two. They are obviously more prepared for us than we thought. Circuitbreaker, I don’t care how you do it, but get the CIC up and running again! Hustle people, this is it!”
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Hello! I am Vladerag the author of several stories here on Royal Road! I hope you are enjoying whatever you are reading, and I hope you check out some of my stories!
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