Whenever possible, I would walk to work. It wasn’t that far, and frankly it wasn’t any faster in a car. I also liked to get familiar with the various shops along the way.
Because of my familiarity with the route, I nearly ran into a glass box placed on the sidewalk. The only thing that brought it to my attention was the sudden sounding of chimes from inside. I stared at the box as it made noise, and it simply stood there, making the noise.
Then it came to me. There was a device inside this glass box that resembled the arcane symbol people used to represent phones. It was a sort of hook shaped object with rounded ends. And if I stretched my imagination, I could say that the sound coming from it resembled the sounds of a phone.
I tilted my head in confusion, looking around. Then I continued on my way past it, thinking of it no more.
The next day, the box was still there, but with a man inside it. As I approached, it rang. He answered. So the call had been for him. Did he own this small section of sidewalk?
Then he stepped out of the box, phone outstretched. A strange cord was attached, perhaps to prevent it from being stolen. “Hey. It’s for you.”
The man gestured with the phone, and I took it.
“Mage,” said a voice on the other end. “I was under the impression that you were a curious individual.”
It seemed to work just like a phone, but it was much larger, and the weird bottom lump rubbed against my right tusk. “Who are you?”
“Come now. Surely you know.”
Something about the seriousness of his tone made me think. Where did I know that voice from? I had definitely heard it before. I kept my comments to myself as I looked around me, finding the man who’d handed me the phone already gone, but also spotting nobody that stood out. I cast Stoneskin.
“That won’t help, you know,” the voice said. “You really don’t remember? Those attempts to spy on Deimos in my captivity, and now disrupting my operations.”
Aha. I had only heard it once. At least, directed at me. “Doctor Doomsday.”
“That is correct.”
“What is this strange contraption?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“This glass box.”
“It’s… a phone booth.”
“To contact you.”
“But why would anyone make a stationary phone?”
“… Kids these days. No, I suppose given your origin it’s more excusable. These were quite common in the past, you know? Before the development of other technologies.”
“Why the box?”
“But it’s glass.”
“It’s for private conversations,” he said. “Speaking of which, would you mind stepping inside?”
“Is it going to drop me into an underground lair or a pit of lava?”
“Where would I even get lava around here? No, there are much more efficient ways to kill you.”
“I’ll stay out here, thanks.”
“Fair enough,” he said. “Now then, I have established communications for two reasons. First is to ask you for a partnership.”
“Doing what?” I asked.
“Studying magic. I believe you are interested in the topic, and I have information from your world you would find quite interesting. I am also interested in an orc who chose that path.”
“Why would I work with you?”
“Besides being the most brilliant mind in the area? I can provide you with as much combat as you desire. You won’t be limited in how you use your powers.”
“Sorry, I don’t think I can work with you.”
“Because I’m a villain?” he asked. “You would not have to join me publicly, if you have attachment for your current relationships.”
“You work with orcs,” I said plainly. “So I don’t want to deal with you.”
For some reason, he laughed. “Is that it? Interesting. Then, my second reason for establishing communication like this. Stop interfering with my plans, or you will find consequences are already available. Oh, and don’t tell anyone about this or I will consider it to be the same as continuing to act against me.”
“… And then he threatened me not to tell anyone,” I said to Calculator. “Which is why I had to. Because it means he feels threatened and I can actually do something. Right?”
Calculator nodded, “That is generally the case. However… Doctor Doomsday doesn’t tend to make idle threats. I would be careful with who else you tell, and where you do it.” He was looking down at his tablet, as usual. “The phone booth has already been dismantled. It shouldn’t have had a physical connection to anything regardless. As for your ability to disrupt his plans… he takes offense to even small roles, sometimes. So we can’t assume there’s any major disruption you can cause besides taking out his goons.”
“Oh,” I frowned. “And since he knows about magic, he should know what I can do.”
“Some of it. But if he wanted further study, no doubt there are things he is missing. Unless he wanted you as a test subject, but he is usually honest with his words. Though perhaps when you had run out of your usefulness as an underling you would have come to that result. He’s not so honorable as to not go back on his word sometimes.” Calculator frowned. “So what else did you talk about?”
“That was it?” I shrugged. “There wasn’t much else.”
“I see. Please describe everything in detail, starting from the first time you noticed the phone booth, and including the man who handed you the phone.”
“Well, I heard the sound. The ringing. Then I saw the glass box that hadn’t been on the sidewalk before. I almost walked into it.” I continued with my explanation until the door to the office opened. Then I was disrupted by several people waving batons at me. “Uh, what’s going on?”
“Clean,” one of them said as they stepped past me.
The then surrounded Calculator, who held his arms out to the side to make things easier. One of the batons glowed and beeped, and then chaos ensued. I felt a surge of tech power, a woman dived forward to grab something I couldn’t see, and then the desk Calculator had set his tablet on exploded.
I was the first to regain my feet… out of the two who were actually affected. Calculator had avoided any visible effects, stepping back and pulling two adjacent people with him. So it only left myself and the individual who reached for the exploding thing. I had Force Armor, so I was cushioned from the explosion. Stoneskin was less effective against that, and didn’t come into play anyway. The woman who had lunged for something was scorched, but able to stand.
“… What’s going on?” I asked.
“Doctor Doomsday snuck a spying device into HQ with you,” Calculator explained.
“Sorry,” I hung my head.
“It could have been worse. You followed protocol and passed through our stationary scanners.” While he spoke, the individuals with the sensing batons continued to sweep the room, going over everything two or three times. “They should have picked it up, but they aren’t perfect. However, we have to assume that everything we said was overheard. Even now, until this unit is done with their work. So be cautious.”
Rather than screw anything else up, I waited until they were done. “So, uh… am I in trouble?”
“If we punished people for Doctor Doomsday getting the best of them, we’d have pretty low retention. However, next time you have any encounters of this sort- with Doctor Doomsday or anyone else- there are ways to request additional scanning.”
“Got it.” I said. “So, uh, what should I be worried about?”
“He knows at least part of your route to come here. Be careful on your way home. It was possible you were randomly spotted by one of his minions, or through other means, but you could have been followed. We’ll perform some subtle checks… with decoy locations as well.”
“It sounded like he might have something specific,” I said. “But he didn’t say what.”
“You should stay here overnight at least,” Calculator suggested. “And Midnight, since he has a connection to you and lives nearby.”
“… I hope I don’t have to move again,” I said. “I just did that.”
“Such is the life of a super,” Calculator shrugged. “Now you understand why people like to maximize secrecy. Though usually people don’t have to deal with Doctor Doomsday.”
“What else should I do?”
“If it were someone else, I would suggest contacting everyone who knows your identity and warning them of danger.”
“But that’s everyone I know!”
“I am aware. But also… if Doctor Doomsday already knows of someone, they could already be under surveillance, and contacting them might only compromise your own security.”
I had a lot to think about. Everyone who worked for the Brigade already took sufficient levels of caution… but I made sure to find people throughout the day. My former squadmates- Ice Guy, Acid Man, Shockfire, and even Rocker. Great Girl who just sighed. And of those who were more vulnerable, Khithae and Tylissa.
Friends outside the Brigade… I honestly didn’t have many of. Jerome was covered by speaking to Tylissa, and I very much hoped our connection wasn’t known. But it was impossible to change things like that now. That only left Izzy and Ceira. Should I call them? Would it make them more or less safe?
I stewed. I really didn’t like feeling like this. Angry. Anxious. The worst part was I couldn’t just defeat the problem. Could I? Doctor Doomsday was famous. Dangerous. But perhaps I was a real threat.
Or I was just a guy who slightly annoyed him that he would disintegrate if we ran into each other. But maybe his threat would be a bluff.
I called Izzy, warning her of the danger. Then I called Ceira.
The phone rang several times. Was she filming? Usually she answered right away. Then there was a click.
“Hey Ceira, I just wanted to-”
“Did you think I didn’t mean it?” came a clearly masculine voice from the other end of the line. “That my warning was just for fun? Your friend here was highly incautious for someone with just a portal power. It also will make her an interesting test subject.”
My legs were moving. Where they were going to carry me, I wasn’t quite sure. Was I going to storm out of the building and run to Ceira’s house? Into the garage level to take the biggest vehicle I could to run over traffic? Neither of those made any sense. They would be too slow. Shockwave… I would have to contact somehow. And I didn’t want to just hang up. “Is this really worth it?”
“That’s what you need to ask yourself. If you continue to bother me, it won’t stop with just one friend. It could be any of the others. Even your young apprentice.”
“I understand,” I said.
I hung up. There was only one thing I could do. I didn’t want to risk anyone’s lives.
But I also wasn’t going to accept this.
I started with a message to Shockwave.
|I want to call in any favors I have. But they might not be enough.
What ya need?
Before I say, it involves a very dangerous villain.
Where are you? HQ?
Before the last message sent, Shockwave was standing behind me, arriving with a sudden gust of wind. But no extremely loud sounds. “Who is it? What do you need?”
“It’s Doctor Doomsday. I know it’s a big risk so you can refuse.”
“What do you need?” Shockwave repeated.
“I need you to check out an address. My friend lives there. Just check to see if there’s anyone still there…” I grimaced.
“Address?” Shockwave held out a hand. “Come on, this needs to be fast, right?” Then they snatched my phone. “Who?”
“…” thumbs clicked wildly. “Your phone lags. Okay, got it.” My phone was back in my hands. “Haste me.”
“Do you want me to go or not?”
I gathered mana. I wasn’t sure if a small amount would make any difference, but I made sure to use maximum power instead of the reduced cost. Power flowed from me into Shockwave. “Wait a-” I didn’t even get to say the first syllable before I was knocked back. My eardrums didn’t burst, which told me their practice had paid off. And I guess the Physical Freedom I was going to do wasn’t necessary. But it should be faster. Why…?
I got a message, which turned into a series.
‘Cat and dog in another room’
It wasn’t that far, but I had still expected it to take more than a handful of seconds. Then again, Shockwave had gotten halfway to another city where their grandma lived on a three minute Haste months prior when it had been less powerful.
The information wasn’t good. ‘Bring back anything connected. Pictures or hair or whatever.’
I don’t know what I expected, but less than a minute later Shockwave was back- slowed by having to have a serious scan while carrying in a few pictures, a gross clump of hair, and a cat and dog.
Now to begin scrying… and get everyone I could to help. I was going to find Doctor Doomsday and save Ceira, or I was going to find him and he would kill me. As long as I kept others out of the final part, they would likely be fine. I didn’t want anyone I knew to get hurt. Which is why it was convenient I didn’t know anyone with a grudge with him. The Brigade would, though. And if I found a chance? They’d jump. Whatever happened to them wasn’t important, though I would prefer them to succeed.