Prologue

The two well dressed men materialized outside of a small white brick building. The taller of the two pulled out a small notepad, made an entry with the slash of a few pen strokes, then stowed it away once more.

“Where are we Mr. Transport?” The speaker was the shorter man, wearing a black suit with a black tie and presently putting on a pair of black sunglasses to fight back the sun’s penetrating glare.

“Arizona, Mr. Numbers,” replied the taller man, who by elimination could only be Mr. Transport, as he adjusted the sunglasses he was put on before they departed.

“I was under the impression our next case was in Colorado,” commented Mr. Numbers.

“He was, however there was an incident last week. Circumstances required he be moved to a location able to accommodate his specific needs,” answered Mr. Transport.

“I see,” said Mr. Numbers. With that the two of them walked around to the front of the building and proceeded inward. They were stopped as soon as they walked in, not by the expected poorly paid security guard, but rather by an elderly gentleman wearing a white lab coat.

“Good morning gentleman. I’ve been expecting you,” said the lab coat wearing gentleman. “My name is Dr. Hubert.”

Mr. Numbers cocked his eyebrow slightly and Mr. Transport replied with an almost imperceptible nod. This exchange took the place of the relevant conversation, which would consist of Mr. Numbers asking if the name and the call ahead checked out and Mr. Transport reporting that it did. This method was more efficient though, and had the added benefit of being able to take people by surprise when things were not quite so congruent.

“We’d like to see the boy,” said Mr. Numbers.

“Of course you would,” Dr. Hubert agreed. “However first I’d afraid I must ask you to take off anything electrical. Watches, phones, anything with a battery must go. I do hope neither of you have pacemakers.”

Neither Mr. Numbers nor Mr. Transport had pacemakers. They both did carry expensive high powered phones though, as well as top of the line watches, and a pair of taser guns. All of there were deposited into a small safe in the front lobby area with Dr. Hubert’s adamant assurances that everything would be returned once they were done. Neither Mr. Numbers nor Mr. Transport showed any concern about the safety of their valuables.

Once that was done, Dr. Hubert pulled out a small candle and lit it, then repeated the procedure with two more, until all three men were equipped with a diminutive wax lighting instrument. Dr. Hubert kept expecting one of the men to ask why they had shed their electronics, or were being handed candles in the middle of the day. They did not.

Dr. Hubert led them through the doors of the lobby, into a dimly lit hallway covered in green tile. They made their way down it, coming to a solid steel door at the end. Dr. Hubert made a quick series of punches on the keypad, and the door released, opening to reveal total darkness. As the trio stepped through, the door shut behind them, leaving them with only their candles to see by. Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport paused to remove their sunglasses.

Their eyes adjusted and they realized they had stepped into another hallway, this one solid concrete though. There were no doors to their sides, only a single metal one at the end of the hallway. Dr. Hubert began the walk down, moving more briskly than he had before. Mr. Numbers observed that the deeper into this place they went, the more nervous Dr. Hubert became. He filed that away, and then began following a few paces behind.

They made their way down the hallway without incident, then stepped through the metal door. Inside was what looked like large a concrete bunker with a large glass window into the next room. Though both strained, they could not make out anything in the pitch black on the other side of the glass.

“He’s normally more stable than this,” Dr. Hubert said. “But unfortunately a few days ago he was trying to fix a toaster and he received a nasty electrical shock.”

“Ah,” said Mr. Numbers. “So that’s why a quarter of Colorado lost power last week.”

“Yes,” admitted Dr. Hubert. “Before he was able to sever the connection he had drained his own city’s power supply along with all of those surrounding. We’re trying to help him burn off all that electricity, but it comes in spurts and is almost impossible to predict.”

“I see,” said Mr. Transport.

“It’s also affecting his natural abilities,” continued Dr. Hubert. “That’s why I had you remove all electrical devices and why we are keeping him out of the sunlight. He’s been pulling from anything that gets even remotely close to him.”

As if on cue, Mr. Number’s candle jerked violently in the direction of the window and went dark.

“I’m sorry he’s not more stable today,” Dr. Hubert apologized again.

“If he were, he wouldn’t be in consideration for our program anyway,” said Mr. Numbers, eyes still trained on his own dark candle.

“Oh, does that mean you’re still counting him as a possibility?” Dr. Hubert asked.

“There will be some preliminary testing and an interview process,” said Mr. Transport. “But if I were to offer my opinion, I would say we have a very viable candidate on the other side of that glass.”

*****************************************

Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport next materialized next to a hospital in Nevada. Mr. Transport again produced his notepad, jotted down a few scribbles, then put it back where it belonged.

“Another incident?” Mr. Numbers asked.

“Par for the course with this one, to my understanding,” replied Mr. Transport.

The duo then entered the hospital. They spoke briefly to a nurse, producing badges that rendered her silent and procuring the information they needed, then headed upstairs. It was something of a walk to get where they were heading, and by the time they were done they had crosses out of the main hospital into a more rundown attachment wing. The doctors here were fewer and more haggard, and the walls look wore down and repainted. Hospitals were never what Mr. Transport thought of as cheerful, but this area was enough to inspire one to end it all. Which very well might have been the point.

Mr. Numbers stopped at the appropriate room and the two entered. It was like the rest of the wing, wore down, beat up, and hopeless. This one had two unique additions though, a young man laying in a hospital bed and a recently exploded television that was still smoking.

“Mr. Campbell,” greeted Mr. Transport. “A pleasure to meet you.”

“Call me Nick,” said the boy. He spoke with an easy tone that matched his overly relaxed appearance. Despite the mandatory hospital gown he had still taken the time to gel his dark thick hair. “And I take it you two are my interview committee?”

“Indeed,” responded Mr. Transport. “What happened to the television?”

“Beats me, I went to turn the thing on and I guess the tubes overloaded or something,” answered Nick.

“I see,” said Mr. Transport skeptically.

Mr. Numbers had been browsing through Nick’s chart during the exchange with Mr. Transport, and chose this time to jump in. “So according to the records, you won a ten thousand dollar scratch off ticket, after which you were hit by a bus while celebrating in the street, which knocked you into a bounce house that had been set up nearby, which had the poor timing to overload and explode after your impact. Do I have everything correct?”

“Everything except that my winnings just covered my hospital bill and damages owed to the bounce house owner,” Nick added in.

“You were held accountable for the damages,” Mr. Transport said. It wasn’t a question, but Nick chose to take it as one anyway.

“Well you know how it is. People tend to blame my kind first and ask questions later,” Nick said, not quite managing to mask the bitterness in his voice.

“We know Mr. Campbell,” said Mr. Numbers. “That’s exactly what brought us here today.”

Mr. Transport walked over to the room’s entrance and shut the door firmly.

*****************************************

The two next appeared in a forest. This wasn’t a forest in the sense of parks that can seem sprawling or a cluster of trees can form on the side of an untended highway. This was a forest in an ancient and powerful sense, with trees that were massive and served as ecosystems within their ecosystem. This was a place untouched and unaware of all the progress homo sapien had made with its pitiful time upon the earth. That is, with the exception of the trailer a few feet away from Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport.

Sitting in a rocking chair, sipping a glass of lemonade, was a young girl whose file said seventeen but whose face said fourteen. She was wiry and lean, with short hair that poked up in several different directions. She stared at the two of them unblinkingly, and the two stared right back at her.

The three of them stood in silence for several minutes like that, the girl’s eyes waffling between the two of them, while theirs remaining constant on her.

At last the girl took a long sip of her lemonade and said out loud: “That sounds lovely.”

A simultaneous nod came from Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport, and then they were gone.

*****************************************

“Hershel! Come downstairs. The nice men are here to see you.” The speaker was a dowdy woman in her fifties who was setting down a kettle and cups in front of Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport. “Are you sure I can’t get you gentlemen anything to eat?”

“Thank you Mrs. Daniels, but we are quite comfortable,” said Mr. Numbers.

“Oh no need for that, please call me Sally,” Mrs. Daniels replied, her eyes lingering on Mr. Numbers and the strong figure that lived beneath the covering of his black suit.

“Good morrow,” said Hershel as he descended the stairs into the yellow painted walls of the kitchen. Hershel was a portly young man, shaggy brown hair dribbling down to his ears and a forest green shirt underneath the rich royal purple of his cape.

“Why are you wearing a cape?” Mr. Transport was unable to suppress his own curiosity.

“It’s a cloak,” Hershel corrected. “After we partake in a large lunch my men and I are taking the castle up at Rothring Ring peak and doing battle with a foul vampire lord.”

“Hershel has something of an acting bug,” Mrs. Daniels gushed. “He and his friends are active in the communities live action role playing club.”

Mr. Numbers and Mr. Transport exchanged a look. There is no need for clarification on the meaning of this one.

“Well, we don’t want to keep you,” Mr. Numbers said honestly. “However, we were hoping to speak with Roy if that’s at all possible.”

“Oh,” said Hershel, disappointment sweeping across his face. “Of course, everyone wants to talk to Roy.”

“It’s just that we have some things to discuss with him,” Mr. Numbers attempted to clarify.

“I’m sorry,” Hershel said. “I don’t think he’ll be around today. He went to a country bar last night and…well he usually doesn’t come around for a while after uproars like that.”

“Ah,” said Mr. Transport. “That does explain the cleanup crew that was dispatched this morning.” Mr. Numbers shot Mr. Transport a look, but Mr. Transport merely shrugged, as if to say he didn’t find it to be of any importance.

“If that’s the case then we will be on our way,” said Mr. Numbers. “I don’t want to keep you from your…activities, and we will need to speak with Roy at a later date.”

“Wait,” Hershel said, jumping to his feet. “I know what you’re here about, and I really want to get in. I’m tired of living like this. Never knowing when it will happen, never knowing where I’ll wake up. Please, if you can really help me control it…please don’t leave.”

“It’s okay Hershel,” Mr. Transport said as he patted the large boy on his shoulder. “We aren’t giving up on you just because of a reschedule. You’re a serious candidate for our program. I promise we’ll be back once we can talk to Roy as well.”

Hershel nodded his understanding, and then turned away quickly so the two men wouldn’t see the tears forming in his eyes. He didn’t know what his chances were at the moment, but he was smart enough to guess that crying in front of the agents wouldn’t help things.

Mr. Numbers tapped impatiently on Mr. Transport’s shoulder and gestured to his watch. Mr. Transport walked over to signal his understanding, and then turned his head to Mrs. Daniels.

“Thank you for the tea,” said Mr. Transport just before they vanished.

*****************************************

The duo appeared in a sprawling garden, under a gazebo and next to a pair of wicker chairs. There was a small serving cart on the other of a stone table. Sitting down next to the cart and sipping on a cocktail was a man. He wore a white open throated shirt and a pair of khakis. This man looked to be getting on in years, but wearing them unbelievably well. It’s not that the signs of age weren’t present, but rather than they served to drawn out and enhance his fine features rather than muddle them.

“I’m glad you could make it,” said the man in a voice that said without apology that it was in charge of everything.

“Our pleasure Mr. Adair,” Mr. Numbers said hurriedly. For the first time all day, for the first time in years really, the pair was showing signs of nervousness. They had been told of their required presence for this meeting, but not about the subject matter that it concerned. That left both of them feeling something they were not accustomed to: vulnerable.

“Sit, sit,” said Mr. Adair. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“I’d like a gin and tonic, if it’s no trouble sir,” said Mr. Transport. This was their final meeting of the day, so Mr. Transport didn’t see the harm in indulging just a bit.

“Just water for me, thanks,” said Mr. Numbers. Mr. Numbers was already writing out the riot act he was going to read Mr. Transport for asking for alcohol while on the job, but facially he was working hard to keep everything upbeat and positive.

Mr. Adair pulled two glasses from the cart at his side, then a carafe from which he poured water into both. He handed the glass as it was to Mr. Numbers, but dipped his finger in to Mr. Transport’s. Immediately the liquid bubbled and fizzed, stabilizing seconds later when Mr. Adair handed the glass to Mr. Transport.

Both drinks were delicious. Mr. Transport wished his had been made in the traditional way so he could have asked for a recipe.

“I know you boys are busy, so I won’t mince words,” said Mr. Adair. “You’re here because you two are the admissions committee for the new program that is launching.”

“Well it isn’t quite that simple,” said Mr. Numbers. “There are evaluations and approvals and what not.”

“Humility is wasted on the powerful Mr. Numbers,” said Mr. Adair. “You are two of the most trusted agents in your company, and with good reason. You both had abilities that could have made you well known heroes; instead you chose to do the same work without the prestige. You are loyal, reliable, and dependable. Whoever you recommend for this program will be who gets in. You know it, I know it, and everyone who matters knows it.”

Mr. Numbers didn’t have a reply for this one. He could already see any attempts to defer responsibility on that account were a lost cause.

“So, with that said, I asked you here to meet me because there will be one addition to the program that you two will both endorse fully,” said Mr. Adair, pausing to take a sip of his cocktail.

“And who would that be, sir?” Mr. Numbers asked.

“My daughter, Alice,” said Mr. Adair. “She is a Powered, as I’m sure your thorough friend here has found out.” Mr. Adair gestured to Mr. Transport.

“My research had said that was in the non-lethal category,” said Mr. Transport. “She flies, correct?”

“You are correct Mr. Transport,” said Mr. Adair. “My daughter’s power is tethered to her emotions, so when she gets happy she winds up bouncing off the ceiling. If we’re lucky enough to have a ceiling over her at the time.”

“Forgive me for saying this,” said Mr. Numbers. “But the program’s initial testing cases are supposed to be Powereds with desirable abilities that are currently a danger to themselves and others.”

“I know,” said Mr. Adair. “That’s why I called you here to tell you that you would recommend her instead of going through the channels to submit her as a viable specimen.”

“With all due respect Mr. Adair, that would compromise both our duties to the program and the company,” said Mr. Transport.

Mr. Adair said nothing in response at first. He leaned back in his own wicker chair and stirred his drink with his finger. As he stirred the colors changed, going through a rainbow of hues and consistencies. Finally it settled on a light pink and Mr. Adair took a sip.

“Mr. Transport,” Mr. Adair began. “You know what my code name is, correct?”

“The Alchemist,” Mr. Transport answered readily.

“Right, and you know why I am called that, yes?”

“Because you have the ability to manipulate and change the properties of matter,” said Mr. Transport.

“Correct again,” Mr. Adair said. “So maybe what you are missing is my role in this world. You see while other Supers defend their homes or countries, I defend our economy. I turn radioactive sludge into oil, rocks into gold, and worthlessness into pricelessness. Most Supers garner favor from politicians and leaders. Leaders and politicians work to garner favor from me. I am one of the primary shareholders of the company you both work for, as well as several other powerful corporations. I am not going to threaten either of you, because we all know my abilities are ill-suited to a physical altercation. I am simply going to tell you that you will recommend my daughter for the first trial of the new program. End of story.”

Mr. Numbers looked at Mr. Transport. They had been partners for many years, and had learned to read each other’s cues like a second language. There was no question for Mr. Transport what Mr. Numbers was telling him right then. Time to roll over.

“Yes, sir,” said Mr. Numbers.

“Good, I’m glad we understand each other,” said Mr. Adair. “So, when will things get started?”