The Aftermath Academy - CH48 (Pyrrha)

“Oye, why’s it so cramped here?” Emilio complains.

“Doesn’t feel that cramped to me,” Mary says. “Kind of cozy really.”

“You just think that because you’re tiny,” Emilio says. I’m with Emilio on this one, Genevieve whispers. We can’t even fly here.

The halls of the Executioner base in Hope’s Bastion are unquestionably cramped, especially compared to the spacious interiors of the Aftermath Academy. I find it especially disconcerting, having spent so many years living only a street over at the Blue Skies embassy. The embassy wasn’t very spacious either, but you also weren’t forced to walk single file to get through its halls.

“Not that I wouldn’t be at a total loss without you lot, but why do I have to be here for this?” Ray asks from in front of me. “They can’t really test my reaction time on portal training, can they?”

“With Mohinder around to retrieve you? Sure can. They’ll send your ass to the artic,” Blue says from the back of the line.

“That sounds cold,” Ray says, tone plaintive and head drooping.

“In your defense, still pretty pointless,” I say. “Real life reaction testing isn’t very useful for a ranged last resort status operative. Maybe if you were a closer quarters combatant with a charge-up period….”

"And if that were the case the only thing they’d bother testing would be whether you could go through a portal partly charged. Speaking of…” Blue says as we step into a room large enough for us to all fit in but still peculiarly tiny for one of the most important staging areas on earth.

The portals in front of us glow blue, one way tickets to anywhere on the planet. I know the portals themselves are generated by someone Gifted, but some techie figured out how to get the destination information to feed into the creator’s sub-conscious. What’s more disturbing though, is that when she attacked us, Olivia Adaliah exited from a portal that looked just like these. The higher ups claimed no one accessed the portals, so the implication is a techie figured out how to make some. Given the physics defying nature of gifted abilities, I don’t know how that could be possible, no matter how smart they are.

“Cool, we’ve seen them, can we leave now?” Emilio asks. “Don’t know why you all wanted to see these so bad, we’re going to be spending days working with them. Let’s go get some R&R in the caf!”

The cafeteria isn’t very large either, only containing a couple of tables, but Emilio finds it less claustrophobic than this space. It helps that the walls are vid screens of wide open vistas.

The base can house up to several dozen executioners, which accounts for most of those still alive and in a condition to fight. Before the portal user was found, executioners tended to be stationed at military bases near the largest remaining population centers and given rapid transport in the case of an event. It was better than nothing, but not terribly efficient in terms of matching powers to the threat. Fortunately, most gifted in those days didn’t have nearly the same destructive power as some of the ones that have come up in my generation.

Unfortunately, early warning events by their nature still means throwing someone up against a gifted with unknown abilities. The only thing we’ll know for sure before an executioner gets on site is that someone was scanned with enough power that it could cause a mass casualty event. If the detection occurred around the latest scanning tech, then it might pick up a few more details than that. But A.I.’s make the determinations on whether a potential target has a stable psychological history, is in a sparsely populated enough area to risk extraction or suppression, and what executioners to send to put down a target if the risk to the surrounding populace is deemed too great to chance less drastic measures.

“Sure, sure, let’s… go?” Blue’s response trails off into a question as an arm pops through one of the portals. “That’s not supposed to happen, right?” Another arm comes through.

“Definitely not,” Mary says. The arms wiggle around for a moment before their owner comes all the way through and my brain is sledgehammered by the crazy. A thousand disjointed thoughts swirling around, echoes of people who never really existed. Her eyes glow an unchanging green today while her hair shifts colors and hue to match an ever changing dress.

“Auntie?” Blue says hesitantly. She smiles widely and dissolves into a cloud of smoke that recorporealizes in front of Blue.

“Nephew!” she gushes, scooping Blue into a hug. “It’s been so long. It practically feels like an eternity.”

“Did you accidentally imagine time in a non-linear manner again?” Blue squeaks out, slightly crushed by whatever level of strength Alysa was currently imagining herself to have.

“Maybe,” she says. “I have missed you so much. We really need to catch up over tea.” A tea pot and cups pop into existence next to her head, floating there. She is completely oblivious to the rest of us, though my other teammates’ faces have paled considerably since her arrival.

“Right now?” Blue asks. “We’re kind of-“

“Of course right now, silly. Don’t you know, the fireworks are about to start? And I’d never forgive myself if you got hurt.” Blue’s eyes widen as he realizes his aunt’s implication. He tries to activate his power and realizes he can’t. She’s blocking his power usage.

Alysa puts her hand on his shoulder, smiles broadly, then they dissolve into rainbow colored dust, which flies up and through one of the portals.

Everyone stands there silently for a moment. “What…just happened?” Ray asks.

“Nothing good,” I say. As if to emphasize my statement, alarms begin blaring.

“Oh shit, not this again,” Ray says. Moments later executioners begin filing into the portal room, bumping past us as they run through the portals.

“Out of the way, kiddos,” a woman says, brushing us to the side. She can’t be more than five years older than us, though in this line of work that means she’s probably outlived almost half of her class.

We move as closely to the wall as we can in the small room. “Should we be trying to follow after them?” Emilio asks.

“If we’re needed, Mohinder will come get us,” Mary says. “Better question is should we try to leave the room? Would be bad to get in the way if any more are coming. But if this is an all hands on deck situation again then there’s no telling how long it could take. Especially if the God of the West just decided to have tea instead of dealing with the issue….”

“Think we could get the portal to just send us to the cafeteria?” Rays asks.

“If we had Alexandra with us, maybe. She can talk to Hacker’s A.I. Hai can control the portal destination,” May says.

“No way for us to access the controls ourselves, huh? Well that sucks,” Ray says. I start strolling back down the narrow hallway. “If we get the in the way we can just let them walk on us. And it’s not that long a hall.”

As I stroll down the hall I begin to get a sense of unease. Within a couple of minutes, we’re in the cafeteria. To my surprise there are only a handful of people left. Reader sits flipping pages in his book, looking for new powers to use. Joker’s shuffling his cards and Mr. Gate is drawing in a notebook. “Where is everyone?” I ask Reader.

“Mohinder took the lot of them,” Reader says, not looking up from his book. “But not you?” I ask him. Despite his robust frame and lackadaisical manner, Reader has been ranked first in our class in combat for months. If there was something that the rest of the class could assist with, why wouldn’t he have been taken? For that matter, why wouldn’t anyone from my team? Mohinder knows where we were.

Reader just shrugs. “Might have left us to deal with the other problem.”
“What other problem?” Emilio asks. There’s a distant shriek and I realize the unease I felt coming down the hall is being caused by fear and anxiety of people at the edges of my empathic range. Still, we shouldn’t be able to hear yells from that distance.

“That other problem,” Reader says. “Someone’s been screeching for the last minute. Might be an attack on the Bastion. But if it were that serious there should be some communication. I say we let Bastion security and Blue Skies deal with it. We’re in the immortality field so shouldn’t be a big risk of fatalities.”

I was living here when The Plague attacked, so I know all too well that fatalities are not the only thing to worry about. But Reader might be right, the Bastion proper isn’t really in our jurisdiction. The Rules of Engagement don’t apply here, so there’s a risk we’d be the ones in the way.

My uncertainty increases further as I feel a familiar presence. It is distant, so much so that I wonder if I’m imagining it. But Blue’s aunt showing back up now is too much of a coincidence. Beyond the hazy but growing feeling of a scared crowd is a consolidated pinprick of arrogance, like a thousand screaming voices shouting their own superiority.

Olivia Adaliah is in Hope’s Bastion.