Four individuals, three in nice suits and one in a combat uniform, sat around a fancy table. Calculator adjusted his glasses then began his report. “Details of the recent incident with Rodentia seems to have troubling repercussions.”
“Really?” Captain Punch said, his gruff voice sharply contrasting Calculator’s more precise speech. “Because honestly a ray that doesn’t kill people isn’t that bad.”
“It caused serious property damage,” Calculator pointed out. “And it’s our job to stop such things. But that isn’t the biggest concern. Mage was there-”
“It seems like he always is,” Telescope sighed, looking down at the papers in front of her.
“He enjoys being on active duty, and the rest also need the experience. Anyway, the ‘cheese ray’ seems to function off of ambient mana, from Mage’s understanding of the incident.”
“How reliable is that?” Captain Punch asked. “Could he be wrong? Anyone able to back his words up?”
“At the moment, Mage is our authority on mana related phenomenon, but he was confident in his appraisal of the situation- and that only the cheese ray used that power. The rats and other devices all used their normal internal power sources… which we’re coming closer to understanding due to Mage capturing some of the rats.”
“I thought they couldn’t be captured?” Movebrain finally spoke. “They self-destruct immediately.”
“That’s correct,” Calculator said. “But only if they can comprehend they’re been captured. Being in his Storage magic seemed to prevent them from doing anything. He was able to drop one directly into a scanner. Our techs were able to piece together details… it seems that the rats are powered by small scale mass-energy conversion reactors.” Calculator double checked his notes, “Though in theory they should be able to deconstruct anything inside them, it seems that they have only converted cheese. It’s… unclear if that’s an actual restriction or simply a thing Rodentia does. Either way, her actual technical abilities are concerningly high tier, as well as that connection to mana.”
“Why?” Captain Punch asked.
“Because either she independently figured out how to process mana into usable energy, or she’s working with Doctor Doomsday. Though,” Calculator shook his head, “Given that Doctor Doomsday needed to snatch Deimos for the sake of his scanner, we can go forward with the assumption that they are not allied. Regardless, of bigger concern is that Doctor Doomsday has or will have a power scanner. We haven’t learned of Deimos being let free yet, but there’s no way Doctor Doomsday would take this long to reverse engineer anything. Even something as complicated as that.”
“What does it reveal?” Captain Punch asked.
“Besides powers and weaknesses as a general idea, we don’t have any information,” Calculator explained. “But it should speed up the general speed at which villains learn strengths and weaknesses of heroes and mercs. Especially with multiple individuals using them. That will make everyone’s jobs more difficult.”
I appreciated Great Girl telling me I was smart, but I sure didn’t feel like it when my apprentice learned things faster than me. Sure, he wasn’t able to cast as many spells sequentially because his level was still lower, but he learned so many new things. Though I had to admit, my leveling pace was sufficient for others to be jealous.
I liked Jerome, but sometimes he was uncomfortably perceptive. “What’s wrong, Turlough? You don’t seem as focused today.”
He sounded like my therapist. And likewise, my answer for him was only as complete as I could understand. “I don’t really know. I should be satisfied with my own magical progress, but I’m not.” Should I say it? “I can’t really learn anything.”
“Really?” Jerome asked, “I thought you were leveling up and stuff. And you learned uh… Basic Light Magic?”
“Did I?” I frowned, “Because it just sort of happened. And while purchasing a spell with points is generally called learning… I can only say I’ve learned two or three spells at most in the same manner as you. You’ve learned many more.”
“Yeah, but… that’s the only way I can know spells, right?”
“You still know more spells than I knew when I came to this world.”
“Maybe you need to find a teacher?” Jerome said. “I couldn’t do all this without your help.”
“I don’t think that’s possible,” I said. “Nobody in my world learned like this… I think. And even if they did, they’re in another world. I don’t exactly have access to anyone.” I had completed what I could learn from the book Master Uvithar sent me. Helpful, but… not sufficient.
“Don’t portals open up all the time? Why not slip through one of them?”
“And get stuck there?” I grimaced. “Sounds awful. Besides, I don’t have any currency and I could end up anywhere.”
“Yeah, I didn’t really think about that,” Jerome shrugged. “I wouldn’t want you to go away. Though if it helped you…”
“I’m not going back to that place,” I shook my head. “Maybe… well, a certain spell I’m planning to learn might allow it. But I probably couldn’t cast it for myself.” Keeping a Gate open for a couple seconds for Izzy might be possible, but going through myself? Seemed much more difficult. And of course, that was if it did not require the full mana to open, because I’d likely pass out by that point.
“Sounds tough,” Jerome nodded, his arms crossed. “Maybe try a different learning method? Like you did with me.”
“Different how?” I asked. “I do my best straight from a book. I already know the parameters of every spell I would wish to have.”
“I guess,” Jerome said. “But like, that’s just learning facts. I don’t know, I’m not really an authority on learning, obviously. But what about the three things you did learn? What were the circumstances there?”
“They were all quite different. Mana Crystal Deposition… came about from just trying different methods that Doctor Rose felt fit from various media. Haven’t found anything since then.” I pondered, “The next one I was dying, so I can’t really replicate the conditions. And the third one, I was just messing around with Dancing Lights. You saw it.”
“… Yeah, I got nothing,” Jerome admitted. “You got high stress and low stress situations there. No idea.”
Nothing else fit either. For Water Breathing, I had the points but not the chance to use them. Learning a spell with points was normally quick and painless, but it still took a few moments and some clarity of mind. My desperate, addled brain just skipped ahead to casting it. Alternatively, I had no points at all available when I learned the Light spell. It came from fooling around with Dancing Lights. And Mana Crystal Deposition wasn’t even a spell, or if it was I had no idea what level it was because it didn’t seem to work like anything else, or follow the normal rules for downcasting.
I sighed. So much for figuring that out. Maybe I never would.
The district our squad was patrolling suddenly became very busy all in one night. Okay, it hadn’t been quiet with all the stuff happening, but four calls came in at once. Our dispatcher gave us the priority on dealing with the alerts- a warehouse with nightshift employees and a gun shop, then a couple electronics stores just below that.
Captain Senan gave the final orders. “Our group will head towards the gun shop. You three take that warehouse. You’re closer, and we can handle the other one.”
I thought we would do fairly well against bullets too, though I would have to Stoneskin Shockfire. Rocker was probably better for that, and Ice Guy could make walls. Plus Midnight could also use Stoneskin, though using it on two people would basically tap him out. He was level 14 now- an impressive growth speed, in my opinion- but it was close to the limits of what he could cast. He did have a couple little baggies of diamond dust mixture in his outfit, just in case.
As we got to the warehouse, the method of entrance was pretty clear- the still-glowing metal edges of the corrugated door showing exactly how it had been melted open. It was a sort of x-shaped cut, indicating multiple of the same thing acting in concert. Two people, or one person who could do two things at once? Hard to say.
Inside, we saw toppled shelves, but our first goal was to find the workers. Keeping them safe was priority- stuff could be replaced. Though the Power Brigade was very clear that if we could avoid stuff needing to be replaced, that was preferred. “Sense anything?” I looked to Shockfire. He shook his head. No robots or cyborgs then. Strange, that was going to be my first guess.
Then we found the workers, all tied up with some sort of metal cord. They were bundled together in the middle of the warehouse. We split up, rotating around the area in opposite directions to make sure there wasn’t a trap, though we kept it quick. Nobody and nothing. Then we set about freeing the workers.
“Looks difficult to melt,” Acid Man said.
“Agreed,” I grabbed a cord and popped it into storage… and then back out. I could only fit so much inside Storage at the moment, and these cords were pretty hefty. I continued to do the same, keeping the last one in storage to conserve mana.
“Everything will be alright,” Shockfire was saying as he helped removed blindfolds from the shaken people. “Can you tell me what happened? Who was it?”
“I’m not sure,” said one of the employees- a Martian like Zorphax, it seemed. Didn’t see a ton of them. “Cyborgs, I think? They cut into stuff with beams from their arms.”
I locked eyes with the other. The Mod Squad? They were active in the area. Further interrogation revealed they did have the right symbols- the Mod Squad didn’t hide their allegiance, at least not while they were active.
We completed a sweep of the warehouse, then Shockfire reported back. “Seems like this incident involved a few fellows from the Mod Squad. Burst in, tied everyone up, grabbed some things. They didn’t seem hurried, but nobody was here when we showed up.”
“Same here,” Captain Senan replied. “The damage seems similar to their work… but they cleared out less than a quarter of this place. No sign of them when we got here.”
With no active trouble, we gave each place one last sweep before moving on. Cops would be by to secure the scene and assess damage and all that, we had to check the active scenes.
When we arrived, we found significantly more looted locations. Same signs of forced entry via the beams the Mod Squad preferred, and the goods were something they would want. Maybe the first two places were just distractions- but how they would know those two would be preferred was anyone’s guess. The workers was one thing, but they did their best to avoid alarms.
Could they have known we were coming? Power Brigade comms were tightly secured. We had at least one or two tech supers keeping up with just that, but it seemed there was always a possibility of a breach. It wasn’t my job to find that stuff out, but we were asked to sweep for cameras or transmitters nearby.
I had eyes and all that, but it would be a lot easier with magic. I would just gather mana and woosh, camera. I felt there was one around and to the left a bit. I looked, and there it was. Not a hidden, Mod Squad camera but rather one in the display the electronics store had. Guess I must have seen it. Though the question was, why could I sense it? And why would I even need to have such a specific direction of its location even though I was looking right at it?
And why that one? Why not point to one of the others? Like, the one next to it?
My head hurt. As I turned to walk past the display the location snapped to one of the others and I realized I wasn’t just imagining things. Great. I had another spell and still no idea how I learned it. Locate Object should be a good one, though.