A knock at my door brought me out of my studies. I spun in my chair, blinking the tired out of my eyes before calling out. “Come in!”
The door opened, and Taylor stepped in, a plate in her hands. She looked somewhat different today. More simple and plain clothes. “Did you even sleep last night?”
“Yup,” I said, pleased that I could tell a technical truth. After my workout, I’d gotten a little bit of sleep, maybe an hour or so. Then a couple more hours training, a fifteen minute nap, and then back to studying. It wasn’t a full night, and my body felt like it could sleep for another six or seven hours, but that could happen later.
“Mmm,” she said as she offered me the plate. More pancakes and sausage. I could live with that. “I hope that you don’t mind, but I took a look at the house mainframe. You’ve been tearing through those lessons.”
“I still have a long way to go,” I said as I rose. “Please, take the chair. I insist.”
“I can sit on the bed, it’s fine.”
I smiled warmly. “Your house, you’re giving me room and board. You deserve the chair.”
She smirked a little. “You’re going to be paying rent, which makes this your room.”
“My room.” I sat on the edge of the bed. “My rules. Please, sit.”
Taylor rolled her eyes before settling down. “I walked right into that one.” She glanced at the computer, then back to me. “How’s it going?”
I shrugged. “I’ll finish the course, then start from the beginning again. It should only take me a couple of days, tops. I won’t be fluent, but I’ll be able to communicate. At that point, I should be able to go ahead for that job.” I grinned and shook my head. “Really, Dragon should be handing this program out. I’ve never heard of someone picking up a language this easy.”
She shook her head a little. “It’s good for cities like this, that have enough computing power to handle it. But at places like the Orphanage, it wouldn’t work. It utilizes the webcam and microphone to analyze the user while they’re learning, adjusting automatically to adapt the program. Basically, it rewrites itself every few seconds to customize itself to the user.
“She says that she wishes that she could distribute it, and that she knows there is a way to make it easier, but until she finds it…”
“It’d be a lesson a day,” I said with a nod. With how most computers were back home, I could see that. Most likely, the code itself was Tinker-tech.
“That said, the Dragon’s Teeth apparently make use of it.”
I could see that. Before New York Bet fell, the Dragon’s Teeth had been hard at work. A lot of former PRT members had gone on an international campaign, trying to get as many places as possible involved. No doubt, Dragon and Defiant had played a role in Europe. But with such a large organization, communication was difficult between regions, and a program like this would help immensely.
“Fair enough,” I said, before digging into my food.
Taylor gave me a few minutes to eat before speaking up. “So, the plan for today. I was thinking that maybe we should go into town. Perhaps go to the bank so that you can set up an account, pick up some groceries. Maybe even pick up a newspaper or anything else you might need.”
I frowned a little. “Do you think I’m ready for that?”
She laughed a little. “Oh, yes. Don’t worry about it too much, Tobias. You’re forgetting that most people here are bilingual at the very least. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised just how common English is. It’s smart of you to learn the local tongue since not everyone speaks ours, but you should be fine for now. Especially if it’s just a little bit of shopping.”
I smiled around a mouthful of pancake. Honestly, throw in three or four potatoes at a time, and I’d be happy eating these meals almost forever. Pancakes and sausage, with a nice baked potato or two, three times a day, with maybe another meal slipped in? Yeah, I could live with that.
“Okay,” I said, carefully stacking the sausage on what was left of the pancake so I could make a burrito. “Let me get dressed and finish eating, and we’ll head out.”
New Fairfax Falls
An announcement by the Wardens today shows that New Fairfax is, sadly, no more. “It is our deepest regret that it appears to have been attacked some time this morning,” a spokesman for the Wardens said. “The devastation of this travesty cannot be understated.”
And yet, the Wardens are being unusually tight-lipped about the incident. “We cannot say more at this time as it may jeopardize our ongoing investigation, only that it appears that there were no survivors.”
New Fairfax, founded in 2018, was considered by some to be the most powerful city in any of the Americas, rivaling New York City Bet and Twain Bet. Though it had less of a population than Twain, only being 2,700 registered citizens, it was considered a safe haven for parahumans regardless of who they were.
In fact, it was only populated by paras, with untriggered being unable to enter the city. The city had a strict philosophy of this segregation, sparking many debates and accusations of bigotry. However, the people of New Fairfax were quick to volunteer to aid others against S-class threats. During the recent call to arms over the Agamemnon incident, a total of 68% of the population came in force to help.
They claimed to separate themselves from the world at large, to protect untriggered people from the possibility of gaining their passengers. Among paras, the city was known for its hospitality, and for its often violent nature. The Wardens maintained a ten-person team at all times to help keep the peace, often using the city as a training ground for up-and-coming Warden cadets.
Perhaps it was for this reason that the spokesman for the Wardens continued. “On behalf of all of us within the Wardens, and I believe for everyone in the world, our heartfelt sympathies go out to those who lost loved ones in this incident. We are truly sorry for your lots.”
A Possible Suspect Over New Fairfax?
Today the Wardens released another statement on the New Fairfax massacre which brings shock to many.
“Our investigation is still ongoing, and we thank those who have wanted to enter the city to claim their loved ones or return to their homes for their patience in these horrific circumstances,” Valkyrie said.
“It appears that 2,657 people in total died, with a handful of those including traders and travelers passing through. Their deaths were as swift as they were brutal. There is, at least, solace that the dead did not suffer.”
However, the situation is even more bizarre than previously anticipated. Responding to questions, Valkyrie had this to say. “I was not able to claim the dead as Einherjar,” she said, referring to her ability to resurrect the ghosts of dead parahumans. “That the families of the departed might not even say goodbye, nor rest easy knowing that their loved ones might still leverage their abilities to protect others, is truly a saddening thing.”
But that wasn’t the only bombshell that she dropped. “We cannot go into the details as to our investigation,” she said. “However, we do seek the man known as Jordan for questioning.”
Jordan was recently made a media darling over his involvement with the first successful venture into Saint Louis Bet in over a decade, as well as his stunning blow against Agamemnon, which made the threat turn back to retreat into the ocean.
Regarded as a tactician with a keen eye towards parahuman abilities, he won over the public with a stunning smile and a shy, awkward avoidance of the media. Having been a mercenary for three years, his entire family seemed to be destined for stardom.
Adopted by two former members of the Protectorate who were themselves stars, known then as Capacity and Pulsifer. His brother, Chris Abrams, is a Tinker who reportedly recently gained a massive contract with Lisa Wilborn, AKA Tattletale. His sister, Sarah Abrams, was his partner as a mercenary, now a cadet of the Wardens.
When reached out to for an interview, Sarah Abrams only had this to say: “Even if I wanted to comment, my commitment to the rules and regulations of the Wardens forbids it.”
Attempts to contact the rest of the Abrams family in Burlington, located near New Brockton Gimmel, were met with failure due to interference by local police forces. They claimed that in light of this revelation, both themselves and the local Wardens are forbidding reporters to enter the city so that they might protect the Abrams family from harassment.
Why is Jordan wanted for questioning? How could he have been involved enough to be wanted for questioning in regards to the slaughter of a city that didn’t let untriggered people inside? Is he a witness, or a suspect? We wait with bated breath for the answers to these and more questions.
I sat on my bed, comparing the two newspapers, only one day apart. Two different authors, but they both seemed to work for the Boston Global Times, one of the more respected multidimensional newspapers out there.
I preferred the first one more. The second one was too long-winded with run-on sentences that seemed to favor commas.
Still, I felt a pressure ebb from my chest, one that had been sitting there silently for the three days since the attack. I’d known that Sarah would still be too fresh to be put in New Fairfax. She’d still be in classes, training, or at the absolute best, be in a training capture squad. I’d known that.
But deep down, where I refused to even recognize it, there had been a quiet fear that she had been one of the dead. That maybe she’d heard about me arriving there and had come to visit, or even spy on me. To make sure that I was alright.
She was safe, though. Safe and well. Still part of the Wardens, still following the rules. I breathed a sigh of relief, letting a small smile cross my lips.
It didn’t last long, though, before the reality of the situation came crashing down on me. I was officially a wanted man. I was lucky that my hosts either hadn’t read the news, or simply hadn’t put two and two together and figured out that Tobias was Jordan.
This was my third day in their company, and I liked them. They ate at odd times, but I’d bought enough food that it wasn’t a problem for me to eat whenever I was hungry. Most of the utensils were new, hardly used, that also made sense.
If they moved every year or so to another city, it would be pretty hard for them to really justify packing everything up. The house was fairly spartan from what I’d seen, so either the houses came with furniture, or they bought it on-site and simply left it at the house. The same was probably true for the utensils. If they’d bought the house and stayed here before, they’d probably only used the utensils for a year and then left it here when they moved on.
I didn’t want to cause trouble for them, or even a division of interest between helping me and staying loyal to Defiant and Dragon. Not only would it hurt them, but it would hurt two of my personal heroes, and even worse, everyone that they helped.
It was funny how, even with how spread apart people were, everyone was interconnected in weird ways.
I didn’t want to hurt anyone, either directly or indirectly. I hoped that they wouldn’t find out. It would make everything so much easier for everyone involved. They were happy, to various degrees of the word. And Taylor seemed thrilled to have me around. Nathan had been keeping his distance. No doubt, because he wasn’t the most keen on having me around.
That was alright. If he wanted to keep his distance, that was perfectly acceptable. It wasn’t my place to change anyone.
Thinking about them like that helped to take the edge off of my fear. I folded up the pages of the newspapers that held the articles on me and tucked them under the bed. It was as good of a place as any for hiding them. At least, for now. I’d have to find a better place soon, but I still had a few days before I’d wash the bedding.
Instead, I suited up in my armor, putting a sweatsuit on over it so that I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Training in my room was alright, the lack of space forced me to get creative, but I did have to run through things properly on occasion. Being able to modify things was great, but if you didn’t keep an eye on how to do them properly, you could get sloppy over time.
I quietly made my way downstairs and slipped out the back door. The two of them were probably busy with their jobs, and I didn’t want to disturb them. There in the back yard, within viewing distance of that sealed gate, I began to go through a simple warm up routine.
I only got fifteen minutes into it before the door opened, startling me. Nathan stepped outside, looking uncomfortable.
“Tobias,” he said quietly.
I decided to take a chance. “Old man.”
He gave me a funny look, but after a moment the corners of his mouth twisted upwards ever so slightly. “I guess I am old enough for someone like you to think of me like that. Practicing?”
“Training,” I corrected with a nod. “Every day that I don’t train, my skills fall a little weak. If I want to keep at my current level, or get better, I need to practice whenever I can.”
An amused puff of air escaped Nathan’s nose. “That sounds familiar.” He paused, as if waiting for me to say anything. That pause became an awkward silence. Fortunately, he decided to fill it. “You seem to go through quite a bit of styles. How far did you advance in your classes?”
I winced a little. “Uh, some better than others, but for the ones that offered belts, I never got further than yellow. I was going to be offered an orange belt test, but I turned 16 and moved from the Orphanage before then.”
Nathan raised his eyebrows, so I quickly explained. “No, I’m not just, y’know, fumbling around with the basics. I actually got my start learning a lot of more advanced techniques. Joint locks, takedowns, one-inch punch, throws, more advanced kicks, that sort of thing.”
How to snap the neck of someone rushing you with their head slightly lowered. How to hit someone in the chest just right so that you had a high likelihood of bruising their heart. They would die minutes, hours, weeks, or possibly even months later. How to quickly and efficiently break limbs, maim your opponent, ensure that they could never move properly for the rest of their lives.
Nathan frowned a little. “So you started at the top and worked your way down.”
I beamed at him, happy that someone got it. Most people didn’t. “Yeah, pretty much. We realized that I knew all of these techniques, I could pull them off perfectly, but I didn’t actually know much about fighting. I didn’t know how to chain them together effectively, I didn’t know the basics of stances, how to throw a normal punch or kick or what have you.
“So, I started taking normal martial arts, too. Most of them…” I frowned a little. “Well, I’m not saying that they’re bad, because they aren’t. They’re wonderful for a variety of reasons. But especially the ones with the belts, they didn’t fit my philosophy when it comes to fighting. It seemed like people were too focused on the belts themselves.
“So once I felt that I had what I could learn, I switched. Some of them, I stuck with for other reasons, like tai chi. Others I stuck with because they encouraged me to play around, or because the sparring was better.”
That brought a hint of a smile to his face. “You like sparring?”
“Yes!” I bounced a little, feeling a bit giddy. “I love it! Your heart is racing, you have to prime your mind, observe your opponent, yourself, and your surroundings… But there’s no real pressure to win! Losing is great! You learn so much, and not just about your opponent, but about yourself. Your strengths, your weaknesses, your habits, how creative you are…
“And then you and your opponent walk away to learn from what the both of you have done, to become better people. Not just combatants, but in general. There’s no, I have to win. There’s only the moment, what you bring to it, and what you take from it. I love it! Especially when I’m not confined to a single style!”
Nathan chuckled a little. “I’d say that’s a mature attitude, but you remind me of a little kid.”
I lowered my head and drew inward a little, smiling sheepishly. “Sorry. People accuse me of getting too excited over stuff like this. But… I don’t know. When I’m pushing my body like that, it’s when I feel the most alive.”
He nodded slowly for a moment before coming down the steps slowly. “Well, then.” He adopted a tight combat stance. “If it makes you feel alive… Shall we?”
“Dwah?” I asked, shaking my head a little in confusion.
He smirked a little. “It’s been a long time since I honestly sparred with someone. I’m curious as to how rusty I am.”
Probably very. The longer you went without using a skill, the worse it got. That’s half of the reason why I spent so much of my time training.
Still, I let out a sigh and flashed him a sympathetic look. “I’ll be honest, I’d rather not.”
He stood up straight again, frowning at me. “Why? Because I’m, in your opinion, old?” There was a hint of anger in his voice.
“No, no!” I waved my hands quickly, trying to dispel the mood that had suddenly settled. “Trust me, your age has nothing to do with it.” Especially after being reminded by Chevalier and Legend that old timers could probably kick my ass.
“No, it’s because you’re a cyborg.” He tilted his head a little. “I don’t know how much of your body is Tinker tech, and I’m not so worried about hurting you as I am about damaging your equipment. I don’t even know how much of your body is cybernetic, let alone what might happen if something breaks.
“And since I know next to nothing about your cybernetics, I don’t know what will happen when I break a component. What if it causes a power surge that damages something that I didn’t even touch? Tinker tech is usually fragile, so what happens if I damage something to the point where it needs completely replaced?
“I can keep from breaking your arm, but I don’t wanna accidentally tear it off.”
Nathan laughed to himself, shaking his head. When he spoke, it was almost light hearted. “First off, my arm is mounted into my chest. Artificial muscle fibers help anchor it just as well, if not better than the natural thing. All of my cybernetics are like that. Secondly, if you damage something, Dragon can fix it.”
I frowned a hair. “I don’t want to waste her time like that if I can help it.”
He snorted. “She’s a computer program, who used to monitor the Birdcage, the PRT, keep an eye out for hackers in multiple countries, and managed PHO at the same time. I think that she can multitask with the best of them.”
Not as good as Khepri could, but Khepri wasn’t a Tinker. Still, I couldn’t argue that point. “Alright,” I said with a nod. “If you insist.”
He took up his stance again, facing towards me with his fists raised. Meanwhile, I turned to the side, letting my arms swing in a controlled manner, and gently bounced my weight from foot to foot.
“Jeet kune do?” Nathan asked.
“Yup,” I said with more than a hint of pride. “One of the forms that I stuck with. Defiant might be my hero, but Bruce Lee is as close of a second as you can get.”
“Well then,” he said with a smirk. “Let’s put your homage to the test.”
Once again, Nathan’s hand gripped me and my feet left the ground. He’d first used this throw on me almost fifteen minutes ago. Since then, he’d shown me it numerous times, not only demonstrating, but using it on me.
He was good, I had to give him that. Rusty, but he’d obviously been practicing for years. Maybe took a little too many cues from martial arts movies, but he still knew his stuff. Now that some of the rust was wearing away, I was getting more confident.
As I began to go head over heels, my hand grabbed his belt. Alone, with this throw that I’d never seen before today, there was little that I could do while in the air. The moment that I hit the ground, though, I threw myself into the toss, using my body as a lever and my grip on his belt to bring him off his feet and onto the ground just as hard as he’d done to me. It wouldn’t give me an edge in a fight, especially since it ripped my hand away, but it would keep him from having such a massive edge.
As soon as he hit the ground, though, I heard a pop and knew that I’d just messed up. It wasn’t the kind of pop that comes from someone’s mouth being open. No, this was the kind of pop that sounded almost electrical.
I scrambled to my feet, and just as quickly he was lifting his hand. “I’m alright,” he said urgently.
“That wasn’t a good noise.” Master of the obvious, Jordan.
“It wasn’t,” he agreed as he rolled onto his back. I moment later, he was making his way to his feet, waving off my offer of help. “And it’s the end of our session today. It should have held…”
Nathan’s left arm was hanging almost limply at his side. Fingers flexed a little, but the motion was slow, mechanical. He wiped at the beads of sweat on his face before looking at me. “Don’t worry, it’s nothing major, I don’t think. We’ll have to take a look at it.”
Which meant contacting Dragon. I took a slow step away. “Listen, uh…” Nathan fixed his gaze on me. “I, uh… You… You go ahead and get that looked at, see if it can be patched up. The ground, it’s too hard. We should be sparring on a mat or something.”
“Tobias,” he started, but I cut him off.
“Let me go for a jog to calm down, alright? We can, uh, we can meet up and talk afterwards, okay?”
“Listen,” he said, but it was too late. I was already hurrying off. I had to be gone before he contacted Defiant and Dragon. I couldn’t be there, or else the Wardens would be knocking on his door, or worse.