Nadia: a reaction

Elizabeth had always been involved in politics. She would go to rallies, volonteer for the campaigns of her chosen candidates, and had always participated in the debates surrounding any topic that was related to or tangential with politics. Even before the Enlightenment Event, she had seeked to be informed about politics on a daily basis. Therefore, it was not a surprise that she was in front of the television that evening.

On the other hand, Joseph had never been interested in politics. In that sense, he had been the opposite of his wife: though he shared common values and political ideas with her, the apathy he felt and the general sensation that no candidate would ever solve the problems of the country prevented him from being an active member of his community – he hadn’t even voted in the last few elections!

Yet, there he was, watching a public television commentary before the president of the United States gave a press of conference for everyone in the world to see. There was no real debate on any of the issues that the president was going to comment on: all public appearances had become extremely neutral and measured. However, audiences had started to love the debates as they became more and more mellow.

Nadia wondered what had happened with her parents in the last few months for them to silently watch those programs. Her mom had not uttered any sort of complaint in months, and her father had suddenly started to get interested in the affairs of the country, and the world. Maybe there were changes like that in old age?

Even her brother, who was just barely 18, was watching the television with them, silently concentrating on every single word that was said in those television programmes. His change had been the most shocking for Nadia: he had gone from super-aggressive to pretty considerate from the morning to the evening. Nadia could see him sitting on the sofa, between her parents.

“Am I a weirdo, for not being interested in these things?” she had wondered, once and again.

She had also noticed similar changes at school. It was all so weird and structured. However, although she didn’t understand these changes, she had not said a thing about it, and had accustomed herself with the new ways of her family and society.

Yet that evening was going to disrupt the social order around her. She first heard a scream from the living room. When she got there, Nadia saw her parents panicking, while her brother’s body was contorting on the floor. Foam was falling from his open mouth, and his eyes had gone white.

Nadia could not approach them to help them calm down, because her parents were moving extremely violently. With the swing of his left arm, her father kicked the television, which fell to the floor and broke. However, that didn’t calm them down. Seeing that she could do nothing, Nadia called 911. There was no response.

She got out of the house, and ran to the neighbours’ house. She rang the doorbell and waited, but the people inside were screaming, and she could hear loud bangs. She surrounded the house from the side, and looked at the living room from a window. The neighbours had also been affected by whatever her family had been affected by.

In fact, almost everyone had.

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The last hours of Washington

Alissa jumped out of the platform, into the void. She had grown really comfortable with her powers in the last few months, and would now take any chance she had to use them. She felt the wind against her body, as she dropped at high speed from the Cloud Palace. Robert followed her swiftly, but he used an energy shield to reduce his speed of descent.

Alissa slowed down in the last few hundred metres, and landed softly on the top of a building. Robert jumped out of his energy shield, just behind her. He adjusted his coat and looked around.

“So, should we go look for the president?” he asked.

“No, we know where he’ll be” Alissa responded. “Also, I guess that killing the president in front of the cameras should have a greater effect than just murdering him while he’s having lunch” she explained, looking at her phone to check the time.

“In that case, we have a lot of free time until 18:30” Robert pointed out. “Should we do some tourism? I’ve never been to this city, and considering the destruction that we are probably going to cause, it’s unlikely I’ll see it the way it is now”.

“Sure, why not. We could grab something to eat, and then check some sites. But you’ll have to do something about your hair, because it’s a shining beacon right now” she pointed at the top of his head.

He looked up, almost as if he could see his hair through his skull. “Oh, of course. Let me adjust that…” He closed his eyes, and in a few seconds, his hair transitioned to a light brown tone.

“So you’re not blonde, then?” Alissa observed.

“No, I’m not. That’s just my energy seeping into my hair” Robert explained.

“Not an aesthetic choice, then?”

“No, not at all. It can be inconvenient at times, because it makes me an easy target”.

“I’m sure speleology must be great with you” she laughed.

It took him a couple of seconds to realize what she meant. “Come on!” he complained a bit, but then laughed with her. “My girlfriend used to say the same kinds of things”.

Alissa noticed the change in his expression. She wished she had Jane with her to know what was going through his brain. “Are you OK?”

Robert took a few seconds to get back to normal. “Yes, yes… It’s just… I still hope we can get her back”.

Alissa understood. Those unaffected by the Enlightenment, like herself, had lost many loved ones. Alissa’s sister had turned against her, and her friends reported her to the authorities (who had also been brainwashed). It had happened gradually, yet it would seem that nobody had been spared. Robert’s girlfriend had probably been another victim to the Enlightenment.

“Yes, I hope so, too” she said, putting her hand on his shoulder. “That’s why we need to do our best today”.

Robert’s hair lit up once more, just for a few seconds, and then he controlled it again. They headed towards the rooftop access, as that was the only way down the building tht would not call anyone’s attention. Alissa manipulated the lock of the door, which seemed quite complex for what she was used to.

“That’s quite the lock these people have in here!” she commented. “What is this building, anyway?” she continued, as she flung the door open and punched the security guard that had been waiting for them hard in the face. The man fell unconscious due to the pressure of her strike.

“Have you killed him?” Robert asked.

“I haven’t. But I don’t know if we should”. She thought about it for a few seconds. “I mean, what if he alarms everyone and the president’s press conference gets cancelled?”

“Wouldn’t that be perceived as weakness? Maybe this can be a source of even more stress to the network” Robert suggested. “Like, the security will be high, and we will still kill the president”.

“True” she agreed. Then, looking back at the conscious man on the floor, she said. “Seems like it’s been your lucky day. Please go alarm as many people as you can”.

“Anyway, this seems to be some sort of security house of the capital. Maybe we should not fight our way out of here” Robert proposed.

“Let’s not”.

They looked around the building, and found an alleyway that led to the main street. They carefully went down, and walked to the main road. From there, they headed towards the main tourist attractions. Those would be the last few hours of Washington.

The Hidden District

Dear Vera,

Last week (maybe not that long for you? I don’t know, considering how malleable time has been recently. Tying the shape of time to the exchange rate of GBP to EUR was probably not a great solution to the time travel problem that the Illuminati were facing, but well, at least it works when needed, and doesn’t fail that much) I reached The Hidden District, the place where the Freemason headquarters are located.

Many people say that this place is very similar to The Occult Neighbourhood, where the Illuminati headquarters is located. And, you know, sure, both places have grown around two superlarge secret organizations that are fighting a war to control the world in all times and spaces, across dimensions of possible and impossible realities. But that’s where the similarities end. The rest of it is all so different.

So, when we talk about Freemasons, we usually expect some secret satanic cult that has mystic hidden rituals (pretty much like the Illuminati). Yet, apparently, that only applies to the English branch of the Freemasons, as the rest are based on rational principles of science and engineering. Everything is mechanic in The Hidden District, automatized to the maximum, to a level unimaginable by current technology in the world.

And that has been, in part, one of my problems. When I walked into the nearest cafeteria for a drink (after weeks in The Plains of Angst and Sorrow I needed to get something!), I ordered a caffè latte and a piece of cake to the server in the counter. She pulled a weird face, and stared at me with large, unblinking eyes. In fact, the whole cafeteria stopped doing whatever they were doing, and stared at me.

“Unidentified meat-man” the lady in the counter pronounced. “Activate arrest protocol”. Before I knew it, the mechanical hive had captured me. Apparently, I had gone into a robot-only area of The Hidden District (that was the reason why the cafeteria looked so weird to me!) and, because they had not recognized my face, the robots in there used their hive-mind capabilities to perfectly coordinate a quick arrest.

Now I am waiting inside Freemason cell for my captors to come talk to me. I think this might take a while, because, apparently, due to the war declaration, the Freemasons have grown quite paranoid. Oh, well. I really hope I can work my way through this.

Regards,

Jan

The tower of the world’s fate

Dear Vera,

I hope everything is well. I’ve finally managed to make it out of the Plains of Angst and Sorrow. Let me tell you how it all happened.

So, as you might remember, I followed the ram-skull-head person (that’s what I’m calling him… maybe her? I don’t know, let’s say “it”), and tried to ask it for directions. However, it was completely silent, and for some reason, kept advancing through the forest, without me even realizing where I was going. I think it was quite a long time until we reached the tower.

This was the most massive thing that I had ever seen. A large monumental complex, a tower larger than had ever been built, a giant shrine with some complex name like “Tower of the world’s fate” (I can’t say for sure, my reading speed is not as good for runes as it is for English, and we just went past the sign that indicated the name quite quickly). Now that I think about it, it’s quite strange that I had never seen it before, neither from The Occult Neighbourhood, nor from the air after the gigantic explosion. I guess a bone-white spear that cuts through the sky would be pretty visible. Weird.

The ram-skull-head person started to ascend. It went up the monumental complex, and I followed it. If it wasn’t going to give me any directions, at least I could walk up the tower to get an approximate sense of what direction I had to take to get to the Freemason headquarters. I spent many days climbing, avoiding the sculptures that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. It was really strange, the ram-skull-head person would go up a blank space, and when I got there, there would be some statue with a longsword, and I would almost hit it! I don’t know who thought about this mobile-statue kind of thing, but it’s quite dangerous, if you ask me, to have a 4-meter-tall statue holding a claymore as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel to move around without any sort of warning (artists should consider health and safety, too!).

Now, when I got to the very top, the view was breath-taking. Like, literally. I think the tower went up over 8 kilometres, and the air was so thin up there that I had to use a ventilation spell to keep myself oxygenated. To be fair, I don’t know why I kept going up, following the ram-skull-head person. Maybe I should have stopped climbing after the first kilometre or so. I was looking for some landmarks in the surroundings of the tower to get some orientation when the ram-skull-head person raised its arms and bellowed as he looked out of the tower.

I have to recognize that I was quite startled. For a moment there I thought that he was having a heart attack (then, of course, I remembered that I had only seen the creature’s bones, so the heart attack seemed, though not impossible, quite unlikely). I hurried towards the ram-skull-head person and I saw that it’s robes and body had turned into the same white stone of the rest of the tower, in a position of raised arms.

Seeing that there was not much that I could do there, I looked around until I saw the Illuminati headquarters. It was quite hard to spot, but I saw the gold triangle shining in the distance. Thus, turning in the opposite direction would be the Freemason headquarters. The square and compass were extremely difficult to distinguish, but I saw them. It was a long way away, and would probably take me just as much time as it had taken me to get from headquarters to this tower to get there from the tower.

I must not have stepped properly when I was looking around, because I tripped and fell from the tower. I saw a statue with a lance launch towards the position in which I had been an instant before, probably to help me, and wondered what I would do. I barely had a few seconds to think of something. But before I could cast a spell, a large red bird with a fiery tail picked me up in its back.

I thought that I had seen this before. The bird seemed all too familiar, and I suspected that I had seen something like this before. And then it dawned on me: this was just like that Lord of the Rings scene in which Gandalf escaped the tower using the eagles! It was so amazing to fly like that!

The large bird took me out of the Plains of angst and sorrow, and near the Freemason headquarters. The white tower is not visible anymore, and there is just a vast green opening between me and headquarters. Let’s hope that this contact goes smoothly!

Regards,

Jan

New Strategies

I wasn’t expecting such a quick arrival from you” Daniel commented, looking as Alissa ascended towards the platform of the flying craft.

Come on, Daniel. I’m a top level supervillain” she answered.

Yeah, but I mean, your main ability is telekinesis. It doesn’t give you that much of an advantage for speed” he pointed out. “And I don’t think you can contend that”.

Well, then imagine how frigging powerful I must be” Alissa stated, ascending through the staircase.

Several others were entering the Cloud Palace at the same time, arriving through different methods. Alissa only knew a few of them, but most faces were familiar by now. The Scandinavian-looking man with the glowing gold mane was crossing the entrance at that moment, followed by a Latina that Alissa could not recognize. The large entrance to Chairman Patil’s dominions stood open for all of them.

They all went directly to the Main Hall, and sat in their allocated spaces. Alissa sat with a small group of high level telekinesis users – even though most telekinesis users were quite proficient with their abilities, very few of them actually qualified as high level, due to the nature of the ability –, and greeted them while she waited for the council to start. Beside them was the group of the Scandinavian-looking man that Alissa had seen before.

Hey, I always see you around here” he introduced himself. “I’m Robert, from Oxford”.

So he wasn’t Scandinavian, after all. Alissa shook his hand. “Hi, I’m Alissa”.

I see that you are part of the telekinesis group. That’s a rare one”.

She laughed. “We’re still the largest group in the energy division”.

True, true. Though I have to say that we have a couple of promising recruits that might reach our level soon…”

Do I have to take that as a threat?” she joked.

Oh, of course not, not yet… We’d have all of the elementals to deal with first” Robert responded.

And the council of fundamental forces” she added.

There is no officer of gravity, so that’s just three members to fight off. It’s still probably impossible…” he said, making some mental calculations.

Alissa looked towards the large table in the front of the room as she felt the presence of Chairman Patil. It was impossible to not notice her, which was part of her power. In her realm, she could do whatever she wanted, and imposing her presence on everyone else was an important thing to do in front of hundreds of super powered individuals that could get cocky. It was the reason why she had been chosen as Chairman of the League of Supervillains.

Good evening to all of you, fellow members of the League of Supervillains. I am pleased to welcome three new members to this meeting of high level supervillains” she announced, and then paused. “I’m going to be brief today. Our current strategy is not working”.

There was a murmur in the room. Alissa had known this some time ago. Others probably had, too. It was difficult to not notice if you were active in the field. Just a week before, Jane and her had completely destroyed an entire building, and killed dozens of people in the process, including policemen, yet there had been no reaction from the Enlightened. There had been no disruption whatsoever, and, from the lack of national and international news stating the opposite, Alissa knew that this must be happening on a global scale.

Chairman Patil let them have a moment, and then silenced them all. “The Enlightened can resist the kind of traumatic events that we have imposed onto them. Social cohesion is keeping everyone together, and our current methods are not enough. In fact, we have noticed a strengthening of the influence that the Enlightenment has on its victims in regions where the population density has reduced drastically. Lower and middle class supervillains might even have trouble moving through some of those regions, which have now become hostile to us, the unenlightened”.

A woman from the crowd stood up. “And what is the plan of action?”

We need to change our strategy” the Chairman explained. “For that we need to do several things. We need more survivors, and more trauma that will agitate the Enlightened. And we need press coverage of it all, so that the Enlightened cannot just avoid facing the trauma”.

The discussions went on for a while. The specifics of the new strategies were completely uninteresting to Alissa, if not for anything else, because she had yet to see a method that would actually manage to startle the Enlightened and change things. It was also mostly things that had already been discussed: don’t destroy a school, kill an innocent child with a name instead. The impact was supposed to be stronger, at least in theory, but the work that needed to be done to research their victims was too much of a hassle for Alissa.

They’ve got it all wrong” Robert murmured. “It’s more about killing central members of the social map, those which are highly connected”.

Alissa turned towards him. “Do you think so?”

He doubted for a second. “Yes, that’s what I think. It’s probably even better to do so while in a public act that is being broadcast to the world”.

Then we already know who our first victim has to be” Alissa concluded. “It has to be someone like the president of the United States”.

Oh. That’s actually a good point. But wouldn’t that create a lot of chaos?”

Isn’t that the whole point of this organization?” Alissa asked, making a hand gesture to point around her.

True” he conceded. “That was a very stupid remark on my part”.

It’s OK, it’s not even been a year, and we are all learning how to be supervillains” she smiled. “Let’s sneak out of this meeting and get to Washington. It should be a short flight, because the Cloud Palace is flying over Toronto right now”.

Wow, so apart from telekinesis, you also have navigational powers?”

She was caught a bit by surprise. “Sort of, yeah…”

That’s incredible. Anyway, let me check if the president is going to be there today” he said, bringing out his phone. “Yeah, apparently he has a press conference this evening”.

Let’s go kill a president, then”.

The Plains of Angst and Sorrow, Part 2

Dear Vera,

I’m finally out of that cavern. Took me long enough! Anyway, let me first explain a few things about the mail system. Any time I make a ritual for mail that I send to you, I get a tracking number, which I can then use to see if you’ve received my letters. I’m telling you this to clarify some stuff I told you last week: time seems to pass very differently ever since I came into the Plains of Angst and Sorrow. The interval between my last two letters should have been of several months, yet, apparently, there was only a week in between for you. I also noticed that there were two months between the reception of the letter about the government. From what I’ve calculated, if time keeps bending, you will receive this letter before I send it!

Anyway, remember how I went to the cave a couple of months back? It was very nice of the bear to show me that shortcut, and I really thanked him. I think he was pretty moved, because he then extended his long sharp claws and tried to give me a surprise hug in the darkness. However, the floor was pretty slippery, and I was a bit taken aback by the suddenness of the whole thing, so I fell back. The bear advanced towards me, but it was so dark in there that he tripped and fell, with the extremely bad luck of meeting a stalagmite, which wasn’t supposed to be sharp. But the bear’s eye and a part of its brain were crossed by the rock, fatally injuring him.

The bear obviously panicked, and almost mauled my arm while I was trying to free him from the rock. I think the brain damage must have been quite severe, because he started talking about murdering me and my whole family, even when I helped him lie down on the floor, his arms weakly flailing towards me. I used a calming spell to make his last few moments more bearable (pun not intended), and then gave him a proper funeral service.

Of course, the problem with all of these things was that I was in the middle of a dark cave with a dead guide, so getting out of there was quite a challenge. Luckily, after many days of walking in the darkness I found some gorgeous murals that glowed with strange characters and figures that moved in every direction. I followed the moving men and women from the walls, and got to a dead end. I looked around, and saw that it was a room full with bones and skulls ordered neatly. It looked fairly similar to my own bedroom in the headquarters of the Illuminati, and I was glad that they offered a place for sleeping the night. I do have to say, there are some really nice people here, I don’t know why they would call it the Plains of Angst and Sorrow.

The next morning, the figures were impatiently looking at me from the wall. Apparently, I hadn’t noticed a sacrificial dagger that had been lit when I arrived at the chamber (so that was that light that had disturbed my sleep!). It looked quite dusty, and was full of cobwebs, so, trying to be a polite guest, I cleaned the place up to leave it in a better shape than when I had arrived here. Not to be arrogant, but I have to say that I did quite a good job about it. I even managed to clean some dirty marks from the floors, along with some blood marks in their centre. Apparently, the previous guest was rude enough to leave a blood mark in there.

Anyway, the moment I did that, the fiery figures from the walls started to scream. I think they were cheering for me, and thanking me for my help. They started to do some weird dance, frantically moving around, moving their arms up and down. But I had to fully clean it, so I kept scrubbing until all of the marks were gone. At that moment, the figures disappeared, and, for some reason, the cave started to collapse. Using a protective spell, I managed to navigate my way up and out of the cavern, but I think the figurines didn’t make it.

A figure with the skull of a ram then sentenced that “A civilization had been lost in that cavern”. It took me a bit, but then I recognized the thing! It was the one that appeared some months ago, when your letter turned into this forest! It started to walk away from me, but I decided to follow it. Let’s hope it can give me directions to the headquarters of the Freemasons!

Give my regards to mom and dad.

Jan

The Friday Supervillain Meetup

Alissa flew towards the skyscraper, and got into the penthouse at the very top. Marcus had left the entrance open, for any of the other arrivals, as he usually did. When Alissa entered the living room, Jane was already there, working on a painting. She said that, due to her mental powers, she worked best when she was around others like them – people who had not been affected by the Enlightenment. Jane raised her eyebrows, noticing Alissa’s mind in the background. She blushed a little, and her painting became noticeably more intense. Alissa didn’t want to interrupt her, so she greeted Jane just by thinking of her. She then went straight towards Marcus and the others.

So, what’s new?” Alissa asked.

Marcus turned to greet her. “Hey, Alissa, glad to see you” he smiled. “Lin was just telling us about this new suit of armour that she is building”.

Oh, that sounds interesting” she responded.

Lin, can you do a quick recap for Alissa, please?” Marcus asked.

Sure. I’ve told you guys on many occasions how I’ve been working on functional armour that was responsive to our powers” Lin explained. “Well, I finally have the blueprints and the first prototype for a hand piece that can optimize and even improve my abilities!”

That’s really cool” Alissa said.

Will you please make a demonstration? I want to see the difference”.

Well, Marcus, I wouldn’t be telling you guys about this to then keep you in the dark, would I? I’ve left my things next to the entrance, I’ll be back in a sec”.

Jane joined them.

Are you done painting?” Alissa asked her.

No, but I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to see that glove at work” she said. “Also, I’m working on quite a complex piece, so I’d like to take my time to complete it” she explained.

Before Alissa or Jane could say anything else, Lin got back into the room with two small potted plants that looked quite similar to each other. She was also holding a glove, and some measuring equipment. Before saying a thing, she placed one plant in the centre of the room, and set up the measurement equipment around the plant. She left the glove on a coffee table on the side.

So, I’m going to make a demonstration. I’m going to output about 2000 calories of energy each time, and make the plant grow” Lin announced. “The meters are going to make sure that my power output is the same in each case. You will see how different the results are”.

Lin started to concentrate her power. Alissa noticed how she was struggling – Lin had never been the strongest member of the team, which was, in part, the reason why she had geared her efforts towards innovation, in order to catch up with her teammates –, but did not say a thing. Jane took a hand to her temple, which Alissa knew was Jane’s way of closing her mind to her surroundings. Lin’s struggle seemed quite off-putting mentally for Jane.

Seems like a lot of effort for not much results, am I right?” Marcus murmured.

He was right. The plant had barely grown a few leaves, and looked greener than before. The meter had hit 2000 calories, and Lin looked quite tired. She showed the rest of them the plant, and left it aside. She then placed the second plant in the same position, and put on her glove. Without saying a word, she started to concentrate once again.

The change was immediate. The plant doubled in size, and its leaves were much thicker than before. Everyone in the room was very surprised, and gave a round of applause. Lin thanked them with a nod of her head, and took off the glove.

As you can see, the amount of calories spent has been the same in each case” Lin said, pointing towards the monitor.

That’s incredible” Daniel commented.

And this is only the first iteration” Lin answered. “It’s not been optimized, and could perform much better”.

I think you should take it to the next meeting of the League of Supervillains” Marcus said.

Now that you mention it, I received a notification” Alissa interjected. “The League has called for another meeting next week, I think”.

Marcus seemed pretty surprised. “I haven’t received any notifications” he stated.

I have, too. But I think it is a top-level-only meeting” Daniel explained.

Oh, I hadn’t had the time to read the whole notification” Alissa said.

Alissa noticed her anxiety going up a bit. The power-level classification was a sensitive topic for Lin and Marcus (even though he insisted that he didn’t care). Alissa herself didn’t really care much, but she noticed that their expressions had mutated, and felt some awkwardness continuing with the topic. She was looking for a way out of that situation when she started to feel relaxed again. Alissa knew that this must be Jane, softly tapping into their minds, helping them relax the tension.

It’s just some admin stuff, quite boring, really. The meetings involving the whole League are way more interesting” Daniel said.

It’s probably just Chairman Patil announcing some changes, right?” Jane added.

Alissa nodded, mentally thanking Jane for the assistance. “Yes, I think so. We’ll tell you guys all about it when we’re back”.

Yeah, cool, that way we get the summarized version. I mean, come on, Chairman Patil can sometimes go on about stuff that nobody cares about!” Marcus said.

I don’t think she is that bad. Sure, she is quite repetitive, but at least her message tends to be clear. I think the Secretary, Salman, is way worse. Every time he talks it’s as if he is dictating a conundrum for us to solve. I cannot make out any sense of what he means, not even with my telepathic abilities!” Jane followed.

God, you’re right. He’s the worst” Marcus agreed.

From there, the conversation derived into other topics, gossip about other supervillains, future projects that they were working on, jokes… In the end, the Friday Supervillain Meetup ended on a light note.