Hero Realm

An original story by Crazyeight

Chapter: 13

The game shop held an air of tension in it as Phil listened to the voice on his cell phone. A dark frown creased his brow while, next to him, the radio continued to deliver its report.

"With us now is Jonathan Stewart, head of the Department of Education and Ethan Edwards, director of Meta Affairs. Jonathan, there are a number of concerned parents about the continuing presence of Meta-empowered students and citizens in the public schools. There are some who don't even feel that the inclusion of this…Hall Monitor is going to make things any better. The new Hall Monitor system wasn't able to protect the student who was attacked."

"Well, as with any new system," replied Jonathan with a bit of a harsh, unenthused chuckle, "there are going to be bugs to work out. This was more of a proof of concept model. The Pax has so far been proven to mitigate problems with Metas in the past…"

"…and we see here an example of overdependence on a defective product," cut in Ethan, followed by a rough cough.

"You wasted your time, then," Phil said to the voice on the phone, interrupting the radio for the moment. "You do know what that does to our time table, right?" He nodded, but his frown remained. "I'm glad that you do, but that changes nothing you know. You'd better hope that she doesn't really give you trouble next time around." At the very front of the shop, the entrance dinged, announcing a customer. "I've got to go. I'll talk to you later. Uh-huh. All right. Bye." Hanging up his cell, he turned to see Ashley hopping down the steps and he smiled at her.

"Hey Phil," she greeted, approaching the counter.

"Hey yourself. I wasn't expecting to see you today after the radio mentioned that mess at your school. Sorry about that. Anyone hurt?"

Ashley bit her lower lip and nodded. "Adam was. He's okay now though." She thought for a moment, tempted to tell him that Adam was now a Meta, but she quickly decided against it.

"Well, I'm glad to hear that," Phil said with a note of honest relief in his voice. He pointed to the radio. "So…can you believe this stuff?"

"What stuff?" Ashley raised an eyebrow, following Phil's indicative thumb. She caught the word Hall Monitor as the speakers continued with their interview.

"PlanPol's newest idea," Phil said. "In short, they're sneaking in a robot that looks like a human in case a crazy Meta goes nuts in a school."

"Oh." Ashley scrunched up her face, not sure if she liked the idea of a fake person running around her hallways, pretending to have a real life and friends. Now that I think about it, I thought that I heard someone say that they saw one at school. I just thought it was something Tom did. He's the resident mad scientist after all.

A thought occurred to her just then. If these robots…these Hall Monitors…were pretending to be humans, did that mean that she knew the one that had been destroyed?

Get a grip on yourself, girl, she told herself fiercely. Besides, it's not like you knew anyone all that well to begin with. Well, besides Adam and Chris…and that twat, Erin. She pulled one hand into a tight fist that she quickly let go.

"Sounds crazy," she said finally, swallowing a little. Phil nodded in agreement.

"Yeah, but I guess the Huntington explosion really caused a lot of people to sit up and take notice. Not that the Protector breathing down anyone's necks helped much." Phil ran a hand over his balding head. Sensing the somber atmosphere, he reached over and turned off the radio. "Oh well. I bet even you wouldn't want to talk about that sort of stuff after what happened. Can I help you with anything?"

"Actually…" Ashley felt the pressure in her pants pocket by Tom's cloaking device. "…I was sort of wondering if there was anything you could tell me about the Rock of Gibraltar."

"That old thing?" Phil's eyebrows raised in surprise. "What's there to tell you that you don't already know?"

Ashley scowled. "I'm not an encyclopedia just because I know a lot of stuff." She bit the inside of her cheek, annoyed at Phil treating her so childishly. "I want to know if there's a reason why someone would want to drill a hole in the Rock's leg?"

"Wait, what's this now?" Phil's eyebrows rose as soon as they began to lower. "Is that why it's all taped off by PlanPol?" He rubbed at his beard, the skin on his forehead wrinkling thoughtfully. "I thought that they finally figured out a way to move the bastard." He jumped a little suddenly, as if goosed. "Oop. Sorry about that."

"Forget the swearing. My mom's not here. The Rock!"

"I'm afraid you came to the wrong person, Ash," Phil sighed, shaking his head.

"But…but…you've got to know something. You collected works from all across the Ages! You…"

Phil raised a quieting finger to his lips, and at once Ashley shut up, pressing her lips into one thin line.

Walls have ears, Phil mouthed to her silently before smiling apologetically. Clapping his hands together, an aura of light appeared around him and then…stepped away, solidifying into a physical duplicate of the shop-man. The duplicate turned to Phil and nodded at him.

"Need to take a break again?" he asked succinctly.

"Yeah," Phil replied. "Keep an eye on things until I get back."

"Sure thing," the Phil clone replied before glancing at Ashley. "Nice to see you again."

"Uh…you too." Ashley smiled at the Phil clone. She had only seen Phil use his Meta powers a few times. In spite of her knowledge and experience, this was one superpower that she never quite got used to.

With pleasantries and orders now exchanged, Phil came around the counter and gestured to Ashley to follow him. Complying, the pair made their way toward the back room and Phil closed the door behind him, where he breathed a sigh of relief.

"All right," Phil breathed in relief. "We can talk a bit more privately." He furrowed his brow slightly at Ashley. "You have some kind of device on you. Take it out."

Ashley did just that, not in the least bit surprised that the man knew that she had the cloaking device on her. Pulling it out from her pocket she handed it over to Phil. Phil turned it over in his hands, inspecting it carefully.

"Very…stylized," he commented finally. "Looks to be influenced by Professor Dyne's work."

"Professor Dyne," Ashley said automatically. "Silver Age. Mad Scientist type."

"Or so the Histories would like you to believe." Phil handed it back to her. "But he was pure scientist. Who gave this to you?"

Ashley was silent. Phil folded his beefy arms over his chest and after a moment sighed. "I won't blame you for not telling. Keep that secret. But what's this about someone drilling a…what was it? A hole in the Rock?"

"A…friend of mine noticed it." She looked away, chewing on her lower lip.

"A friend? The same one that gave you that device?" Phil played at his whiskers thoughtfully. "Nah. Adam and Chris aren't quite that smart. No offense to them, but that's genius-level tech: using spare parts and whatever's on hand to make an impressive device." He dropped his arm back to its brethren at his chest. "So your friend discovered a hole on the Rock…"

"A fresh one!" nodded Ashley. "It looked like he was bleeding, and…and there were ants getting into it…him!"

"Contamination of species." Phil suddenly looked worried. "Yeah…that would explain why they had to seal it off. The entire nest would be completely different now. Go on…"

"My…friend said that when he investigated the hole, it was manmade. Someone intentionally drilled that hole in the Rock! So, what I'm asking is, why would someone do that to a statue? Even a living one?"

Phil tapped a finger on his arm, his eyes closed. "The only thing I can think of would be what's in his blood."

Ashley blinked, a bit disgusted and confused at the same time. "In his blood?"

Phil twisted his mouth as he thought things over. After what was a torturously long moment he opened his eyes and looked at Ashley. "Hold on for one moment."

It wasn't a moment. Fifteen minutes was far more accurate, but Phil returned from a sojourn to an undisclosed location and returned in that time span with a box. He plopped it down on the table in the center of the room and popped the lid open.

"What's all this?" asked Ashley as Phil pulled out a pile of stapled papers and a gold-colored book.

"Old stuff," Phil reported with a grin. "Golden Age material discussing the human-to-Meta transformation. Plus there's an article in here on the Rock that I placed in here and forgot about."

"You forgot?" exclaimed Ashley incredulously. The man was, if nothing else, about as obsessed with the previous ages of Heroics as she was. He was all but admitting to blasphemy.

"The Rock's just a piece of furniture in a garden," shrugged Phil nonchalantly. "Pretty small time. I stuck it in here because I was moving things and had no other place to put it, so…well, never mind." He scratched the side of his head in embarrassment. "I've been busy. Anyway, this is all I have here. The Golden Age works are probably behind the times… Correction: they are behind the times, but some of it is still connected to the modern understanding of Metas. It's not that tough of a transition…or at least it shouldn't be." He looked at the clock. "I need to get back to work. My clone can't hold down the fort forever, so feel free to take a look on your own for now."

"Right," Ashley nodded. "Thanks."

"No problem." He paused and grinned. "Let me know more about this if you can, huh? It's been a while since I had a nice adventure to work with."

Ashley gave a noncommittal smile before Phil parted company, leaving her to her work.

I wonder what I should look through first… The stack of papers was daunting, more so than the books. Any one of these I could probably find online. The Protector can't stop people from sharing information.

She thumbed at one stack. What could there be about the Rock that I don't already know about? she wondered, picking the pile of papers up. It shifted slightly, and a cut-out newspaper clipping slipped down to the table. Taking it, she looked at it curiously, reading it over carefully. The picture was black and white; full of a grainy appearance that signaled cruder photography and yellowed by time. Settling in, she quickly scanned over the article before she came across a certain word that caught her attention. Taking a moment to reread up to that point, she quickly finished up the article before looking up at the blank wall in front of her. True to its description, the wall held nothing of interest for her to focus on, but it was that blankness alone that drove her mind into overdrive, allowing it free space to go where it would without unnecessary distractions.

After a moment, she looked back down, read the whole article once more and her eyes were back at the wall.

Her mind worked furiously as pieces to the puzzle slid into place.

Is that what this is about?

The sound of the radio from the store area, muffled by the closed door between them, was her only answer to her question.

Madelyn tapped a finger on the groove of her forearm as she waited patiently for Adam—the boy she attacked mistakenly—to return from his meeting with the doctor. She didn't have to wait long as she soon enough spied him making his way from the other end of the hall, a bag in his hands.

He looks a bit relieved, she noted before shrugging to herself. It didn't matter to her. The boy wasn't her business anyway. As far as she was concerned, the sooner they parted company, the better. Getting up from her seat, she made her way over to Adam, placing her hands in her rear pockets casually.

"So…all set?" she asked.

"Yeah," Adam replied, uncertain as to whether or not he was glad that the girl stuck around. After a moment of internal debate he said, "Thanks."

If nothing else, he should at least be polite. His parents raised him to be respectful, particularly to his elders.

"All right then," Madelyn said with a nod. "Let's get going."

Together, the pair made their way out of the hospital and retreated to an alleyway. After quickly making sure that that they would not be spotted by any passersby, Madelyn stepped behind Adam and took hold of him, wrapping her arms around his waist. Adam felt himself go flush from the gentle press of her breasts against the nape of his neck. He didn't have long to dwell on the sensation though, as with the lightest tap of her foot, the taller, older girl propelled them both into the sky. The wind all but slapped against Adam's face, causing tears to bleed from his eyes. They continued onward, up and up, until the city disappeared beneath them in a swirl of clouds. Adam's breath caught in his mouth as he found himself shuddering from the sight, and he gripped Madelyn's arms tightly, his heart all but leaping into his throat.

Once more, she didn't give him any time to dwell on the situation as she changed course and shot back ground-ward like a bullet. Clouds quickly disappeared, replaced by a sudden onrushing blur of green and concrete grey as the ground surged towards them. Adam's mouth worked—was he yelling something?—and he started to struggle in the girl's grasp. Her grip didn't change in the slightest. Rather, instead, their descent began to slow down until they were hovering mere inches above the asphalt between two houses.

"My place," Madelyn said after allowing Adam a moment to collect himself. She tilted her head as she took in his shaking, gasping form. "Are you okay?"

Adam made a retching noise in response and his struggles increased in ferocity, prompting Madelyn to release her hold on the boy. He dropped down and staggered his way off to one side, hurling up the contents of his stomach. Madelyn waited until he was done before speaking again.

"Now that you're all done sicking up in my grandmum's Morning Glories, how about you point us in the direction of your house and I'll drop you off there like I promised."

Adam's response was to clutch hold of his stomach as he continued to make groaning noises. Madelyn sighed. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. She took in the bag that he had clutched in a murderous death grip, her eyes narrowing slightly. He's too…grounded, by the looks of things. She pressed her fingers into her palm, rubbing her thumb along her index finger. Of course, it was probably a little too soon to be asking to fly him the rest of the way.

"Guh…" Adam fell back on his rear, swallowing as he got a hold of himself. Turning toward the girl, he found, took a great deal of courage to pull off. "Did you have to do that?" he asked pointedly.

Madelyn shrugged in response as she hooked her thumbs into her jean's belt loops. "It was the best way to avoid being spotted by PlanPol. Also the fastest."

Adam tilted his head to one side, not looking the least bit convinced by her assertion. I was better off just walking, he thought in agitation, shakily getting to his feet. "You know, I think I can handle things from here."

Madelyn snorted. "Not with your experience, you're not. PlanPol's out and about right now."

"Uh…what does that have to do with anything?" Adam's eyes shot up to her amber ones incredulously. "PlanPol can't bust me for just walking."

Madelyn opened her mouth to make a retort, but she closed it and shrugged again. Forgot that some people really do that sort of thing. "All right," she said, turning away. "In that case, this is where we go our ways." She glanced at him over her shoulder. "For future reference, I'd rather that you not show up around here anymore. Especially not crawling around on my rooftop or anything like that, got it?"

"Wasn't planning on doing any more 'crawling' around," Adam replied, furtively looking away, his effort to hold her gaze failing rapidly. "Anyway, thanks for getting me this far."

Without him seeing, for the briefest of moments, Madelyn's face took on an odd, sorrowful expression before she quickly schooled it back to stillness. "Right," she replied after a moment. "Well…stay out of trouble."

Tightening his grip on his bag, Adam nodded and exited the alley.

The remainder of his trip home was uneventful…and long, as he opted to not use his powers to take a shortcut through the neighborhood.

Mom will probably have noticed by now that I'm not in my room, he mused, taking the turn that put him on his home street. And if not Dad did. It's almost dinnertime. He grimaced. Crap. That means the milk is going to be all warm when I get in.

He felt the minute weight of the bag in his hand, and it crinkled as he shifted his grip on it, a reminder of all that he stood to gain from this trip. Warm milk? Angry parents? It was all going to be worth it in the end. He was on the ground, and well on his way back on the road to a normal life. He could put everything behind him. He could…

Adam drew to a halt outside his home, a bush outlining the start of his property hiding him from any prying eyes that might be looking out the windows of his home. He turned his gaze up at the sky, still blue for the moment. Evening was coming.

Shaking his head, he ducked through the bush and went down the alley.

Maybe I'll get lucky, he thought.