Legend – Chapter 06

Chapter 6.

And now I spend half my Saturday working.

There wasn’t any avoiding the fact that if she was going to be trying to counsel a  . . . superhero, she needed more information. Fortunately, Yuki’s friend Melanie Davidson was more than happy to have Yuki over for a play date, and Melanie’s mother Dawn was even willing to do the pick-up and drop-off. “Thank you so much, Dawn,” she said, giving Yuki a kiss on the cheek before letting her run off to the Davidson’s van. “Maybe next week I can do all the work and let you have a day.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. When the two of them are playing together I hardly ever see them except at lunch.” She laughed. “Mark calls them Yulanie, or sometimes Melkari.”

“They do rather fuse when they start playing, don’t they?” Jennifer waved goodbye, then turned and headed to her home office.

The problem, she thought as she booted up her computer and connected to the Net, isn’t finding information – it’s figuring out which information is complete bullpuckey and which is real.

As usual, she went first to Factcopia; the user-developed online trivia warehouse-turned-universal-encyclopedia wasn’t the most reliable source (bravo understatement) but it was very good at providing an overview of any subject that was good enough to point you in the direction of real sources and give you the more useful keywords to search with.

After half an hour of sorting through various sources, cross-checking ratings and the connections of the sources to generally reliable groups, she had enough to really start reading.

Supers, or Superheroes, or, as they are officially termed by international organizations, EEIs – Extraordinarily Empowered Individuals – are one of the most spectacularly obvious and troublesome aspects of the event variously called the Change, the Awakening, the Transformation, and so on. While presumably drawing upon the same general source of power, such beings are clearly distinct from the more typical practitioners of the power generally called “magic”, began one paper. While written in a generally scholarly manner, it seemed to spend too many words to say not very much – mostly the obvious. All she got from that one which was at all useful was an official estimate of numbers: At the time of writing, there are one hundred ninety-seven known and classified EEIs, with estimates of the actual number currently active ranging from three to ten times that.

She sat back. No more than two thousand on Earth – probably less than a thousand – like Legend. Literally less than one in a million people. And really, there isn’t anyone like him.

That was reinforced by most of the other literature. Superheroes or supervillains, EEIs were each unique. Oh, there were some general common traits and classifications; a large number had superhuman strength, speed, and toughness to one extent or another, and it appeared that all of them could take more abuse than ordinary people. There seemed, however, to be no limit to what kind of power could be granted; known examples ranged from the straightforward superhuman warriors like Superlative and, to a large degree, Legend himself, to technological masterminds like Steel Sentinel or Steampunk, to media-informed Heroes like Lightsword or Merlin.

The power levels were all over the map, too, from Street Dragon who was basically a martial artist just past the level of human, through people like The Rat or Crystal Visions who could probably take on several swat teams by themselves, all the way to the almost inconceivably powerful beings like Superlative, Endgame, and Valameon.

She noticed with some trepidation that Legend topped every list of powerful Heroes.

The other important changes directly related to the Heroes and villains, she knew, were the Shelters and Restructurization technology. How these things worked, exactly, was a very closely guarded secret, which at first absolutely gobsmacked Jennifer. “How in hell can they keep that secret?” she demanded aloud, incredulous. “What, are they trying to keep a monopoly, while people who need them are in thousands of cities around the world?”

The Shelters existed in a number of major cities – and a few minor ones that, like Albany, had a disproportionate number of super-beings about. Immense underground bunkers with widely distributed public access points, the Shelters were able to protect from the direct effects of most super-beings and the indirect effects of even the most powerful – at least so far. But there were many, many other cities which did not yet have even a few Shelters, let alone the pervasive Shelters found in places like Albany, and the thought that someone was preventing that from happening . . .

Following another link both answered her question and chilled her to the bone, thinking of the potential consequences of someone acting on the same unthinking fury she’d just had and trying to force the makers to reveal that secret. “Under no circumstances will we deliberately reveal the precise operating principles of the Shelters,” the video clip showed Deep Sky, one of the empowered group called simply The Five, saying in a rare interview. “It’s true that very few people would even understand the explanation, but some of those few are precisely the type of people from whom the Shelters are supposed to protect you, the general public, and at least a few of those would very deliberately use that knowledge to weaken or destroy the Shelters.”

The Shelters, and the Restructurization technology, were both to a great extent a product of the work of Magitek, presumably one of the supers himself, along with major government participation and the assistance of the Five. Restructurization allowed a building or object which had been properly scanned prior to being damaged or destroyed to be restored to its prior condition within a few hours. This helped to reduce – though not eliminate – the repercussions of superhuman combat in city limits.

And that leads us to the other major change – legally.

Technically, of course, most of the superheroes were in clear violation of the original law of the land during almost all of their outings. Vigilantism, while always popular in fictional form, was generally frowned upon in any reasonably advanced society. Local and regional law enforcement forces were expected to handle lawbreakers.

The problem was, of course, that there was no legitimate local or even regional force capable of stopping a villain like F-6, who could control weather to an extreme degree, or Fenris, who was an almost invulnerable killing machine, or Autonomous, who could separate his own body into pieces which could look like almost anything – let alone beings like Valameon or Endgame, who considered entire navies or armies to be minor annoyances.

Her reading confirmed her memory; at least for now, the current legal stance of the United States and other countries was that there were problems which only the superhumans could reasonably be expected to handle, and for those problems they were automatically exempt from legal punishment as long as they made a good-faith effort to minimize casualties and damage. Other activities were currently treated on a case-by-case basis, but for the most part the superhero community had – thus far – managed to keep itself self-policing.

Naturally, of course, the various countries were more than willing to hire EEIs as special operatives, but to date there were very few takers; Jennifer suspected that many of those who might consider it were, justifiably, worried that they might end up lab rats more than government agents.

She skimmed information on some of the other Heroes, trying to get a feel for the people that Legend would obviously see as his peers . . . and realizing how very odd this case was going to be. What to make, for example, of the hero called America, looking like Abraham Lincoln dressed up as Uncle Sam, quoting from various historic documents as he battled adversaries like Homeland Patriot and Anarchy, often accompanied by Liberty and Justice? It sounds funny – like a farce, really – when I read it. But I remember seeing some of those battles and there was absolutely nothing funny about any of it.

Then there was Admiral Twilight, whose main power was generally acknowledged to be probability control – controllable luck. You’d think that would be the ultimate power in some ways, but I suppose it has limits.

She couldn’t help but laugh at the entry for Gumband, a hero who had nearly unlimited elasticity as his main power; his outfit looked more like a Hawaiian vacationer, complete with patterned shirt, shorts, and flip-flops, topped with a wide-brimmed straw hat. Despite this he was described as a much more dangerous opponent than she would have thought.

Then there was Natural Selector, whose major ability appeared to be opening gateways through time and space to bring through animals of any era or location to obey her commands. She wasn’t always considered a hero, though – she’d apparently had conflicts with a number of Heroes, including Speed and the Rat.

The Rat . . . she winced every time she saw the name. But his record, especially in the more authoritative documents, showed a man who spent a lot of hours defending everyone he could, and often getting the hell beat out of him for it . . . as he did when he fought Fenris, she admitted to herself. Most people say he should have been outmatched by that monster, but somehow it ended with Fenris unconscious, maybe dying, and the Rat standing – for about twenty seconds.

Then there was Traveller, controller of gateways to nearly anywhere, flyer, teleporter with the ability to use her power in a lot of frightening ways. If you can be anywhere you want . . . She often worked with Crystal Visions and Trinary. Fireflux and Caracal . . .

She sighed. “What am I looking for?”

Part of it she had; who the people were that Legend would consider his peers, his allies and enemies. But missing from the files – conspicuously and frighteningly missing – was any information on the key problem of being a superhero, of having an alter ego that, according to Legend, could be completely different from your real, original self. And that was what she really needed – insight into the people involved, something that she could use to compare with what she heard and felt from Legend.

In other situations, I would be absolutely thrilled. I’m the first. I’m starting in a completely empty field – minus, I suppose, deep-black security agencies who’re trying to profile these people. And . . . I guess I still am thrilled. She really couldn’t lie to herself; the idea that she was not only starting a completely new psychological exploration, but also doing so with the most iconic of all the new Heroes? Of course she was thrilled and excited.

But I’m also terrified – not just by what it implies to be even a tiny part of his life, but by what could happen if I screw this up.

She sighed finally, and picked up the phone. Only one real resource for any of the things I’m looking for that I can think of. The number wasn’t hard to find, and the phone only rang twice before someone picked it up. “Yes, this is Jennifer Hsui calling. I’m a psychiatrist in private practice in Albany.

“I need to make an appointment to see Mr. Jason Wood as soon as possible.”