“Because you’re not vain?”
“I’m simply not vain about my appearance. I’m still quite possibly the most arrogant human being you’ve ever met.”
“I dunno. I knew Colin Church before he died.”
Evan snorted. “Did you, now?”
“What does that mean?”
“Not much. But I won the only competition we ever had quite handily. He never quite forgave me for that.”
“You. Knew Colin Church.”
“Your father called me the smartest man he’d ever met, earlier today. He sent you to Riverside instead of Middlebury specifically so you could take classes from me. And you’re here now because I asked him to send you. Is it so unreasonable to think I might have met his employer at some point?”
After years of planning and scheming and billions of do-overs through history, the Mad God Urizen’s insane plans to neutralize the heroes of Justice Wing so he could destroy all of Actuality – the nine dimensional construct that contains every universe within the comprehensible multiverse – in an effort to finally and definitively end his own existence finally went into effect. Despite all the odds being stacked against them and terrible losses, the heroes of Earth held on and ultimately and definitively stopped Urizen – but left a devastated world and a death toll of possibly more than a billion. In the wreckage that remains, both parahumans and prosahumans have to pull together and rebuild… but no one knows what role either super heroes and villains or parahumans in general will have after all that’s happened. This is the end of Justice Wing: the Apocalypse Agenda.
Doctor Evan Shapiro is a professor of philosophy at Riverside University in Bay City, New Jersey, though in his youth he studied many different disciplines and actually helped to codify the 9-dimensional nature of Actuality. He’s married to a lawyer named Mandalora Hartley Shapiro – once the heavy hitter of the Pentad of Guardians known as Antonym – and has daughters Loredana (called Danni) and Eve (called Evvie). Now, Shapiro, like the rest of the world, is recovering from a number of traumas after the Apocalypse Agenda even as a recess is called in the ongoing negotiation for the fate of parahumanity, conducted between a team of negotiators representing Justice Wing – negotiators which include Mandy Shapiro, along with parahuman lawyer and producer Cozette ‘Cozy’ Wight and disgraced former intelligence operative Doctor Lillian Tartikoff – an old friend of Evan’s. Tartikoff visited Evan ahead of his trip out to California to meet up with Mandy and Danni, so the three can watch Evvie compete as a gymnast in the Junior Olympics – has shown up in Bay City to convince Evan to go see his brother Garrison who is dying of radiation poisoning. Evan expressed his fears at seeing his twin brother like this, but agreed. However, Tartikoff has a telepathic soul bond with her girlfriend Cassie – who is also superstar guitarist Zephyr Lish of the Cheshire Kittens, and when Lish and her bandmates are shot during Thunderfest in Kansas, she reacted as though she were hit. Now, mutual friend Andy Pope brings Tartikoff to join Lish, while his daughter — Skylar Pope, a student in one of Evan’s classes — is hired to help take care of Mandy so Evan can see his brother.
Book Two: Evan
“So, do you want to explain to me why we’re doing this?”
Gar half-smiled, looking at Ev expectantly. Lillian Tartikoff looked dubious. Honestly, the fifteen year old girl looked dubious most of the time, so that was nothing new.
Evan flipped up the cover on the upright piano. “You’re connecting to my brother,” Evan said. It was a statement, not a question.
“That’s right. Honestly, I didn’t think there was anyone in the world like me. That doesn’t—”
“Gar needs someone he can count on. Someone to help anchor him. His mind goes all over the place, and no one but me knows what he’s really seeing when it happens. At least, no one until you showed up.”
“What Gar and I do is our business, Ev.”
“Maybe, maybe not. If you’d stayed in your own town and only seen him summers, then we wouldn’t be doing this. But you came here.”
“My mother was transferred here.”
“That doesn’t change anything. You’re here, and you’ll be here all the time. I’m responsible for Gar, and now you’re here. So, we’re going to find out if you belong here. Get out your flute.”
“Are you seriously telling me… you expect me to audition to be Gar’s friend?”
Lillian rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”
Gar grinned more. “It’ll be fun,” he said, settling into position with his cello. “You’ll see.”
Lillian had opened her flute case and was assembling it. “Maybe.”
“I thought you trusted him, Lily.”
“Don’t call me Lily, Ev. Call me Lillian or Lil.”
“Gar calls you Lily.”
“You’re not Gar.”
“A fact I thank the universe for each and every day.” Ev glanced at them both. “One-two-one.” He began to play. An upbeat tune. Complex but cheerful.
Gar slid into the song smoothly, bowing and half-closing his eyes, the cello singing lead while the piano sang harmony in the song. The music fit together smoothly. It always did.
They hit a crescendo, and Lillian came in on flute, taking lead at just the right moment. Gar settled back almost into a bassline while Ev began to adapt his harmony to the new instrument. Lil had picked up the tune while she listened and was repeating the basic themes, then slid into improv around it – playing the changes.
Gar moved into the lead and Lillian slid into harmony, without stepping on Evan’s own line. The three played that way for a long moment, before Gar tossed it to Evan and Evan took lead. Gar and Lillian adapted, though it sounded perhaps… a bit more forced…
Ev tossed it back to Lillian and she picked it up. Evan listened as the cello and flute built on the melody. Jazz was about the journey, and they were clearly going in the same direction.
Ev’s piano slowly, gradually grew softer, until he stopped playing entirely. Instead, he listened to Gar and Lillian… no, listened to Garrison and Lil. Listen to them explore the song and each other. Listened to the blend as it grew.
Garrison’s eyes glittered metallic black. Lil’s metallic green. And Ev’s… Evan’s own glittered gold, though he only knew because the colors in the room changed when that happened. He listened. He perceived.
He witnessed, as the other two played.
They reached a crescendo and climax, then coda and the end. Both were smiling.
Lil’s eyes were back to normal as she turned to look at Evan. “You stopped.”
“Aren’t you the perceptive one?” Evan said, standing up. “Fine. Garrison? You’re her problem now.”
“I believe you!” Garrison said, brightly.
“Imagine my surprise,” Evan said, rolling his eyes as he walked out of the music room–
The doors to Liberty International Airport made a loud clacking sound when they opened. Something on the sliding track probably. Evan blinked twice, looking up at the entryway just as Skyler Pope was walking in, looking exhausted and pulling a rolling suitcase, a bookbag slung over her shoulder.
“You’re late,” Evan said as she approached.
“Did the plane take off yet?” Skyler snapped.
“Then I’m not late.”
Evan snorted, getting up. “Let’s check in.” He stood, grabbing the handle of his own rolling bag in one hand and his briefcase in the other.
“You didn’t already check in?” Skyler asked.
“No, I didn’t,” Evan answered.
“I didn’t know if you’d make it before the flight. If we had to grab a different one, I wanted to be certain we were on the same one. Fortunately, we were able to transfer Doctor Tartikoff’s ticket to your name instead.”
“Yeah, and why is that, again?”
“Because Doctor Tartikoff had a personal emergency. Your father’s flying her to Kansas as we speak. I’m surprised you don’t know that.” The two got into the relatively short check-in line.
“I do know that.”
“Then you shouldn’t have to ask the question, should you?”
Skyler rolled her eyes. “I mean why am I here?”
“Because I need an assistant to help take care of my still-injured wife and assist me with other obligations without distracting my daughter from the most important event-to-date in her life.”
“You’re just trying to be difficult, right?” She paused. “This isn’t… like a sex thing, is it?”
Evan snorted. “Please. I’m only sexually attracted to my wife.”
“Oh, like I haven’t heard that kind of—”
Evan looked at Skyler.
Skyler looked back. Young, tired and a bit disheveled but undoubtedly considered attractive. Or so Evan supposed. Her eyebrows went up. “You mean it.”
“Why wouldn’t I mean it?”
Skyler laughed. “Jesus. No wonder Ash says you’re nuts.”
“Ashton has contempt for anything he considers impractical or abnormal. It’s not an uncommon opinion. I have no idea why he took ‘Foundations of Philosophy’ in the first place.”
“He thought it’d be an easy A and get rid of part of his core course requirement.”
“Mm. He may have miscalculated, if his last two papers are any indication.” The last person stepped away, and Evan and Skyler stepped up to the counter, setting their IDs on the table and their bags on the scale.
Thirty seconds later they were heading for the escalator that led to Liberty’s security and departures. Skyler was looking at Evan with an odd expression on her face.
“Is there a problem?” Evan asked, mildly.
“I’m sorry – I saw your driver’s license.”
“Are you actually surprised I can operate a motor vehicle? It’s not an uncommon skill.”
“Of course not. But I saw your date of birth and… I mean…”
“I’m seven years older than my wife, which would have been criminal when I was twenty and isn’t even of academic interest now.”
“Sorry.” She sighed. “Honestly. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“Why would I possibly be offended? If I were particularly vain about my appearance I’d be pleased I look young for my age. As it is, I really don’t care either way.”
“Because you’re not vain?”
“I’m simply not vain about my appearance. I’m still quite possibly the most arrogant human being you’ve ever met.”
“I dunno. I knew Colin Church before he died.”
Evan snorted. “Did you, now?”
“What does that mean?”
“Not much. But I won the only competition we ever had quite handily. He never quite forgave me for that.”
“You. Knew Colin Church.”
“Your father called me the smartest man he’d ever met, earlier today. He sent you to Riverside instead of Middlebury specifically so you could take classes from me. And you’re here now because I asked him to send you. Is it so unreasonable to think I might have met his employer at some point?” The pair reached security, which meant they had to stop talking, show their identification, and go through separate lines.
“—Jesus, I can’t wait for all that to go away,” Skyler said after making it through.
“All what? The enhanced security?”
“It never will. Remember that transportation infrastructure bore the brunt of Urizen’s attacks.”
“So an insane God attacked airports and bus terminals. Why does that mean I have to take my shoes off before I can get on a plane?”
“Because it’s that or admit there was nothing anyone could have done to predict or stop Urizen.” Evan headed for the gate. “I’m afraid most of the amenities closed at 11, or I’d buy you a cup of coffee.”
“No thanks anyway. I’m gonna sleep the minute I buckle my seat belt. Why are we flying out at five in the morning, anyway? I had to leave Bay City at like two am.”
“Because the earlier flights were booked and we’re on a timetable. You didn’t drive yourself, did you?”
“Are you nuts? No way. Dad got me a taxi. Why didn’t we fly out with Dad and Doc T and then keep going from there?”
“It would have cost too much,” Evan said.
“…I don’t think Dad or Connor would have charged you for gas.”
Evan snorted. “There are debts we don’t incur at this point. And whatever I might have said, Mandy wouldn’t make an implicit promise to Connor that she couldn’t keep.”
“What sort of promise?”
“Contact.” Evan’s eyebrows arched. “And that Dunkin’ stand is actually open. Are you sure you don’t want a coffee?”
“…decaf and a bagel?”
About twenty seven minutes later the pair were on the plane, buckled in and waiting.
The PA crackled on. “This is your Captain speaking. I’d like to thank you all for flying Con-Am Airways. Things are a little backed up, so we’re probably looking at about a twenty minute delay to our departure. We’ll be off just as soon as we can.”
There was an audible groan. Evan slipped his T-Primer out of his briefcase before sliding the briefcase under the seat in front of him.
Skyler had a T-Glass out. “So what competition?” she asked.
“You said before you beat Colin Church in something. What was it? I mean, if I can ask.”
“You can ask.” Evan dropped out of The Nature of Physical Reality and began to page through his library, looking for something that might catch his eye.
“I married the last woman he ever loved,” Evan said, mildly. “They’d broken up over some unsavory business, but it wasn’t that long afterward that she asked me to marry her. It would probably have been okay if he hadn’t already despised me.”
“The l– Mandalora Shapiro. Mandy Hartley. You married Mandy Hartley.”
“Jesus. People talk about her like she was… I dunno, some kind of saint, at least back at Excelsior Court. And she married you?”
Evan glanced at Skyler with an arched eyebrow.
“…that came out wrong.”
Evan shrugged, turning back to his T-Primer. “I’m surprised it’s still called Excelsior Court. I’d have expected them to prioritize a rebrand.”
“There’s some debate. Seriously. I don’t know much about her but I know she was…” Skyler shook her head. “Sorry.”
“Mm? Whatever. I know what they think of her. And for that matter, I know what they think of me.”
“What do they think of you?”
“Mostly? They hate me. Admittedly with some justification. Except for those one or two people who love me. It’s not an unusual pattern in my life.” He considered for a moment. “And who in that tower thinks she’s a saint? I think the very thought would offend her.”
“No one ever said saints were nice. Why do they hate you?”
“It’s only a five and a half hour flight. I’d hate to leave the question only half-answered.”
“Huh.” She sipped the last of her decaf. “So why do you hate yourself?”
“What, no cute answer?”
“Actually, I’m impressed. People aren’t usually that perceptive. I’ve heard it said that anyone who spends any appreciable time around me learns to hate me. Which doesn’t seem to be true of my wife or daughters, but still.” He looked down at the T-Primer, then closed its cover and slipped it into the seatback. “I’ve spent every second of my life with myself. I’d say I’ve earned a little self-loathing.”
Skyler looked at Evan. “Well, that’s bullshit.”
Evan blinked, and turned to look at her. “Oh?”
“My father respects you. Hell, my father likes you. And no matter how smart you think you are? He’s smarter. Honestly, I’m really trying hard to see why he likes you, but he does.”
Evan paused, then nodded. “I know he does. He’s a good man. You’re fortunate.”
“Yes I am. And quite honestly, I trust his judgement more than yours. Besides, he told us you got degrees in… God, everything under the sun before becoming a philosopher.”
“Not quite. I had significant scholarship that I needed to do before I could accept a Ph.D. in philosophy. I was a philosopher by my junior year of college. The paperwork’s just certification.”
“What were you for your first two years?”
“A music major.” He snorted, looking out the window. “Lillian Tartikoff ended up a psychologist and psychiatrist.” And a spy, spymaster, schoolteacher, and now pariah, but he didn’t say that part out loud. “Garrison ended up an engineer. I ended up a philosopher. But we all started as music majors. We had a nice little jazz combo in high school, actually.” He looked out the window. “I wish I’d finished that degree, but there was too much to do before I could really get to work.”
Skyler snorted. “Her.”
“Sorry. I heard Tartikoff banged a sixteen-year-old patient who was also one of her students.” Skyler sounded disgusted.
“Nineteen. And she was never a student at the Institute. And they reported the incident immediately and she recused herself as the girl’s therapist immediately.”
“I don’t care. That’s sick.”
“Yes, well. Lil agrees with you. And honestly, so do I. But things happen.” The image of Lil clutching her stomach on Evan’s living room floor swam through his mind’s eye. “And scant weeks after that, a billion people died—”
–Fire. Screams. The eyes of a goddess and madness beyond comprehension–
Evan blinked. “I’m sorry, I missed whatever you—”
“What… are you okay? For a second there…”
Evan looked down. “Am I okay? No, Skyler. I’m not okay. I’m not okay, and I’m getting less okay every day, but it just won’t stop. I’ve seen…”
“…is this about the Apocalypse Agenda? I mean, it was horrible for everyone, especially when we were all caught up in that… vision. Between that and seeing the broadcast of Snapshot and Urizen…”
“Snapshot wasn’t the only one who saved the world that day,” Evan said, softly. “And… visions, television… it was all horrible, you’re right. But I saw it with my own eyes. I saw…”
…fire… screams… the eyes of a goddess…
“What?” Skyler asked, softly.
“Have you ever been in love, Skyler?”
Skyler looked at Evan. “I don’t know,” she answered.
“Perceptive. If you ever are… I pray you never have to watch that love burn… and know you couldn’t look away for a second, or her sacrifice would be meaningless.” Evan shivered, closing his eyes. “I’m sorry. That was unprofessional of me. I admit you need to know some of this so you can properly assist me with Mandy, but—”
“You were there, weren’t you?” Skyler said, quietly. “When Snapshot, Barbara Babcock, the Beacon, Paragirl – you were there.”
“I was there first,” Evan said. “And I wasn’t alone.” He opened his eyes. “Regardless, we—”
“Jesus, what’s wrong with your eyes?!”
Evan blinked. The colors were shifted again, so he was glinting. He blinked, and it cleared. “You noticed that?” he asked.
“Notice you going all Gary Mitchell from Star Trek? Yeah, I think I did.”
Evan pursed his lips. “Interesting. That shouldn’t have happened. That it did is… very interesting indeed.”
“Okay, so you’re parahuman. So what?”
Evan snorted. “Actually, I’m prosahuman. I—”
The plane began to move. The PA crackled back on. “This is your captain speaking. We’ve got a slot and we should be airborne momentarily. We’re hoping wind conditions will be favorable, so with a little luck we should be landing in Las Bendiciones on time. Flight attendants, please prepare the cabin for departure.”
“We’ll talk in a bit,” Evan said, tightening his seat belt a little.
“…yeah we will,” Skyler said, doing the same.
“So this is our little slice of home.” Lil was smiling as she led Garrison and Evan through the hall. “Here we track anomalies, find paranormal or metahuman activity, assess from a distance if possible, contain if not—”
“How wonderfully Orwellian,” Evan said, looking around. “I like the banality. It adds a certain extra seasoning to the dystopia.”
“Thanks,” Garrison said, brightly. “I designed it!”
Evan looked at his brother, then rolled his eyes.
They stepped into the office at the end of the hall. “Most of the rooms have different uses,” Lil was saying. “But we handle admin and office tasks in here. And if someone managed to get inside, they’d just see an ordinary business.”
Evan looked around. Fluorescent lights. Acoustic tile. Cheap desks. Radio. Teletype. A combination microfilm/microfiche reader next to several long file cabinets. Even a terminal for a mainframe. Of course, a beautiful redhead in a catsuit, and a bipedal creature that was humanoid but obviously not human, sitting in a nest of desks and mysterious pyramid technology. “Oh yes,” Evan said. “Nothing out of the ordinary here.”
“S’si, Doctor Tartikoff,” the humanoid said, pleasantly. “S’si, Mister Shapiro. You both look healthy, today.”
“I don’t get sick,” Garrison said with a smile.
The redhead was standing up. “Lil?” she asked. “Who… is that man cleared to be in here? What are you doing? He could—”
“What? Recognize the creature straight out of Vril: The Coming of the Master Race?” Evan asked. “Too late.” He was looking around. “Why ‘Tangent Swan?’”
“Evan, this is Field Agent Lynette Hardesty, and this is Taë.” Lil was smiling a bit. “Gary designed his quarters as well.”
“I was surprised at how skillfully he created a hospitable environment for me,” the humanoid said. “But I’m afraid I do not know who you are.”
“…are you Gary’s brother?” Hardesty asked. “I didn’t even know he had a brother.”
“Brother?” Taë asked. “How can you tell?”
“They’re what we call identical twins, Taë,” Lil said. “They were a multiple birth after their fertilized ovum divided into two identical ova before gestation really set in. This is Doctor Evan Shapiro. He’s a scientist.”
Evan snorted. “Hardly,” he said. “I’m a philosopher.”
Taë cocked his head slightly. “Ah. Interesting. I have read some human philosophy. S’si, Doctor Shapiro.”
“Lil,” Hardesty said, a bit more sternly. “What is he doing here?”
“I’m recruiting him,” Lil said.
“She’s attempting to recruit me,” Evan said. “Honestly, I doubt she’ll succeed. Nice to meet you, Agent. So you’re the one who talks to toasters?”
Hardesty blinked. “You told him—”
“I told him nothing,” Lil said, smoothly. “He’s Gary’s twin. He shares Gary’s more esoteric—”
“You seek to understand the nature of the universe?” Taë asked. “As well as divine what purpose, if any, it might have?”
Evan snorted. “That’s a rather simplistic description.” He looked at Hardesty, even as his vision shifted and brightened. “And you’re dead.”
Lil paused. “Wait, what?”
“You didn’t know?” Garrison asked.
“I was dead. I got better. I have metabolic activity and I’m not any form of reanimate.” She narrowed her eyes. “And everything in this room is classified, Doctor Shapiro. I don’t know why Doctor Tartikoff thought she could just waltz right in with you in tow, but unless you’ve been cleared—”
Evan rolled his eyes. “Shapiro, Evan. She already told you that. Ask your mainframe about me.” He looked at Lil. “Why would I possibly leave Grantham for this?”
“We could work together!” Garrison said, clearly excited at the prospect.
“…right. That doesn’t exactly make your case, Lily.”
“Lily?” Hardesty asked. Behind her, green text was scrolling on the terminal, though she hadn’t actually typed any commands.
“Don’t call me Lily,” Lil muttered to Evan. “And don’t you start,” she snapped at Hardesty.
“Doctor Tartikoff told me that it was inappropriate to use nicknames in the office,” Garrison said. “I believe her.”
“Of course you do,” Evan muttered. His vision was still shifted as he looked around – he didn’t usually glint so openly, but there was hardly a reason to hide it. “I admit, it’s passably put together. The lead and asbestos lining in the fake drywall’s a nice touch. Why not add polonium and arsenic for good measure?”
“Should we?” Garrison asked. “I’m not familiar with any protective qualities they might have.”
“I’ve added a layer on either side of the protective shielding,” Taë said. “Your brother adapted to Vril-ya construction quite quickly. Even if the wall is breached, none of the shield should release airborne particles. I assure you it’s quite safe.”
“Mm,” Evan said. “Grounding wires there, there, there… oh, I see. There’s a mesh. Almost a Faraday cage. Cute.” His vision cleared. “A literal member of a subterranean race with more advanced technology than humanity’s come close to developing at your disposal, and you’ve managed to turn an ordinary office park into an ordinary office park with terrible radio reception. Bravo.”
“The radio works fine,” Garrison said. “Lynette talked it over with both the radio and the mesh, and they agreed—”
“Lil,” Evan said, a bit more quietly. “You interrupted my work. You flew me out here. You seem to think I’d want to join an organization devoted to restricting human development. Why?”
“We’re not restricting anything,” Hardesty said. She was annoyed. Evan was used to that. “We’re protecting the enhanced from the world and the world from the enhanced while we get a handle on paranormal phenomena.”
“Thereby hiding the proof of a second sentient species from deep inside Terra while blocking significant scientific collaboration and growth, not to mention the major philosophical implications of knowing humanity is not the only intelligent species in the universe. And that’s not even counting restricting the open exploration of the nature of enhanced humanity. All in the name of ‘protecting’ society while adopting as much of the Vril-ya’s technology as your tall friend over there will allow.” Evan snorted again. “A noble endeavor indeed.”
“You’re assigned to the Energy Development Lab at MIT, working in a classified department,” Hardesty said. “Tangent Swan contributed to your lab. Does that sound like we’re withholding—”
“Your classified government operation feeds information to another classified government operation. Whatever point you think you’re making? Isn’t landing.”
”Yani-ya koom-zi tu-bodh sila-ek pah-bodh an Shapiro ya-bodh-kum.”
Evan blinked, looking at Taë again, his eyes glinting. “…entering the void… what?”
Taë was standing – six foot five, angular with a slightly reddish cast to his skin, holding a copper staff that had a series of holes down it like a recorder or flute. “What I said…” Taë’s finger touched one of the holes–
The staff suddenly generated a burst of light, brighter and more complete than any Evan had ever seen, seared into Evan’s eyes and he shrieked, falling to the ground with his arms covering his head.
“Evan!” Garrison shouted, dropping to his knees and cradling Evan. “Are you okay?”
Taë made a clicking sound from deep in his throat. “What I said was ‘enter either the cavern of philosophy or the cavern of futility, Man of Shapiro, as you proceed from your ignorance.’”
“What did you do to him?” Garrison demanded. Angry. He was actually angry.
“He was witnessing, even as you do the same,” Taë said, like he was explaining something simple to a child, “but he doesn’t understand the mechanism. He certainly didn’t know that one who uses vril to see could also be blinded by vril.” He paused. “Temporarily.”
Garrison kept holding Evan, glaring at Taë.
Taë was nonplussed. “He asked Doctor Tartikoff why he would agree to work here. He seeks understanding in hopes of finding the truth, but he stumbles blindly, not even knowing how he opens his eyes. He has an opportunity to learn, to experience, to consider, and to ruminate upon the truth not only of the world but of himself… or the opportunity to return to his life and thrash about asking questions he can never answer. The choice seems simple to me, but I am not your brother and cannot say what he might do.”
“Sir? Something to drink?”
Evan blinked. The color shift faded from his vision as he looked up at the flight attendant. “…please,” he said. “Coffee, black.”
The flight attendant smiled, pouring coffee into a styrofoam cup and handing it to Evan. He had the window, so she was handing it over Skyler – who had coffee herself now. No more decaf, Evan supposed.
“Thank you,” he murmured, and the flight attendant moved on.
“Why didn’t she notice that?” Skyler asked.
“The… your eyes. The mirror-corneas. Why didn’t she notice that?”
“People don’t. I believe it’ll go unnoticed, and I only believe true things. No one notices when I’m glinting… unless there’s a reason for an exception.”
“You… what? What do you mean you only believe true things?”
“It’s not a difficult concept.” He sipped his coffee. “I’m something of a natural skeptic. When I do believe something, it’s because it’s true.”
“So… you can detect truth?”
Evan snorted. “It’s not a sixth level cleric’s spell, Skyler. If I believe it, it’s true. If I don’t believe it, then the jury’s out.”
“…so… okay. I know the four parahuman expression types – zero point, divine, arcane, and alien, right? So which is this? Divine? It kind of sounds divine.”
Evan rolled his eyes. “I already told you. I’m not parahuman. I’m prosahuman.”
Skyler stared at Evan.
“Go ahead. Say it. It’s not like I haven’t heard it before.”
“Your eyes change color and apparently you can sense truth. In what universe does that make you prosahuman?”
“Double zero one jay double-you, by the Sentinubal’s coding system as approximately translated into English.” He snorted. “A bit on the nose, but then most of the Sentinubal’s codes are.”
Skyler opened her mouth, then shook her head. “Nope. Not getting sidetracked. How can you do that and still be prosahuman? And what is it you’re actually doing?”
Evan steepled his fingers. “You mentioned the four standard types of parahuman expression. Do you recall the fifth type of super capacity?”
“What? Discipline. Someone like Jetgirl or Phalanx, who trains and develops gear and pushes up into the ranks of superdom without actually having enhanced abilities.”
“Exactly. And they’re good examples, but perhaps not the best for this purpose. Consider Broadhead, or the Nightwatch—”
Evan rolled his eyes. “Let’s say ‘Nightstick.’ You remember him, I trust.”
“Discipline-based supers push themselves to the limits of human capability and beyond. And the things they do are often as or more impressive than what their parahuman opposite numbers are capable of – to the point where sometimes they’re believed to be parahuman instead of prosahuman. Crosspointe never misses, for example. That seems like a power, but it’s not. They’re prosahuman. But they never miss, and they’re stunningly good at having contingency plans… and whether or not they’re prosahuman, you couldn’t repeat their feats on a bet. Right?”
“So how does Crosspointe manage it? Or Broadhead? Or Truncheon? I’ve seen Truncheon outfight Acrobeth, even though Acrobeth’s got para-agility estimated at stage seven and Truncheon’s got a couple of sticks and a form fitting bodysuit. And make no mistake, I don’t mean he tricked Acrobeth into a loss. I mean he out-fought her. How?”
Skyler considered, then shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Most don’t. You mentioned ‘zero-point’ parahumanity before, but that’s not remotely the correct term. Zero-point energy has a meaning, and it’s not that. Do you know any of the other usual terms?”
“Well, Connor calls it psionic—”
“Connor’s a lovely boy and decent enough with a wrench, but he suffers from one of his father’s failings – if he doesn’t know the answer to something he guesses very loudly, asserting it as though it were correct. I blame myself, honestly. If I hadn’t married Mandy, she’d have broken him of the habit long before now.”
“All right, I can’t win by guessing, so just tell me.”
Evan nodded. “The most common term is ‘vril.’ The reason it’s not used more often is because, long before emergence, a particularly nasty strain of fascist occultists co-opted the word. Honestly, I don’t mind because ‘vril’ isn’t actually a Terran word to begin with, and this is something unique to Terra as far as anyone throughout the galaxy can tell. I call it paragonic energy. I’m hoping it catches on.”
“Pa– like… Paragon Paragon.”
“Of course. Paragon came from a world where similar energies united his human race’s minds into a distributed process. The fact that our universe’s physics don’t work like that are what gives him his considerable power. Paragonic energy isn’t actually the same thing, but it’s less a different type and more a different frequency of power. At least, as far as we can tell.”
“Okay. Sure. So that explains zero-po– paragonic-type parahumanity?”
“Yes, but it doesn’t exclusively explain paragonic-type humanity. Paragonic-type parahumans express any of a variety of abilities through a variety of triggers, but those abilities don’t come from training or even native skill. They come from other factors – genetic factors or external stimuli, say.”
“But paragonic energy isn’t unlocked by parahuman expression. Paragonic energy is unlocked by terrestrial DNA. Not just human but all terrestrial DNA. Yes, that makes paragonic-type parahumans possible, but that energy – energy that is as nine-dimensional as our universe, representing the three physical, three temporal, and three conceptual dimensions – is a constant, and all terrestrial DNA can theoretically unlock it. We just don’t know how to do that consistently, or in a reproducible form. Not yet.” Evan looked intently at Skyler. “But discipline based super capability does unlock paragonic energy in some form, and that lets Crosspointe always hit, or Truncheon exceed Acrobeth.” He paused. “Your phone uses paragonic energy, for the record.”
Skyler blinked. “What?”
“The T-Glass is based on Mason Temple’s designs. Now, Temple wasn’t discipline-based. He was a paraintellect—”
“Was? I thought he was still alive – just in a coma.”
Evan rolled his eyes. “Stipulated, and not my point. Temple revolutionized technology over and over. He maximized electrical storage while minimizing battery size. He found new ways to move electricity through circuitry, and then new non-electrical energy to send through those circuits, like the optical processor in your phone. And it’s clearly reproducible technology – when someone gets ahold of his blueprints, parahuman or not, they at least have a shot at building it, and if they succeed, it will work.” Evan leaned a bit closer. “But Jetgirl also figured out how to store and channel massive amounts of energy through technology that no one before her had ever begun to figure out, and she isn’t a parahuman. She’s a discipline based super, and she figured out how to unlock paragonic energy flows without even knowing she was doing it. And her technology is also reproducible. If you need proof? There are at least nine of her patented technologies in the engines of the plane we’re currently sitting in. As far as I know we’re not falling out of the sky.”
“…and Colin Church’s tech was like that, too?”
“But that’s not… you’re actually… your eyes turn metallic!”
“No. My eyes look metallic as a byproduct of what is, in the end, a discipline-based ability.”
“You… trained yourself to change your eye color? That’s crazy!”
“Is it? I think there are a number of yogis who would disagree with you.”
“It always is.” He turned, looking out the window. “But you’re partially correct. I can’t teach you to do what I do. Not easily, anyway. It would take a significant effort, and you’d need to have the capacity to begin with.” He sighed. “But in a thousand years my perceptive talents will be taught in grade school gym, and the students will think it’s boring.”
“Really. I’m ahead of the curve, because of a cosmological accident. It expresses in humanity through paragonic energy, and that means I can do more than a Pa’lita Guardsman who happens to have a similar cosmological role.”
Skyler paused. “Okay, you skipped about ten pages.”
“Not really,” Evan said, closing his eyes. He suddenly felt exhausted. “We can talk about that some other time. It’s hardly the most dramatic thing you’re going to learn on this trip. Fortunately, you’re completely trustworthy.”
Skyler made some kind of sound. “What? Why do you say that?”
Evan opened his eyes. They were glinting, naturally enough. “I believe you’re trustworthy,” he said, mildly. “So by definition it’s true.”
Skyler nodded slowly. “But… you also… said you believe no one would notice you… glinting? Glinting. But I did.”
“I believe no one will notice my glinting unless there’s a reason for an exception. Obviously, you’re an exception.”
“…for what reason?”
“I have no Earthly idea.” He rubbed his temples. “Exceptions give me headaches. They never—”
“I don’t get sick!”
Evan took a deep breath, his brother’s face having flashed through his memory again.
“…sorry. I… I’m falling into memory a lot. That’s… unusual for me. I’m more of a forward thinker or an observer of the now. But…” He sighed again.
Skyler didn’t say anything, but Evan could practically feel her looking at him.
“What?” he asked, finally.
“You hired me to be your assistant, because your wife’s recovering from an injury and you have to do something with your brother. If you can trust me as much as you’re claiming, I think you better start actually telling me what’s going on.” She paused. “And whether or not you talk about the cosmos, I really would like to know what the cyberpunk mirrorshade look actually does. I mean, besides looking pretty frickin’ metal.”
Despite himself, Evan smiled a bit. Another piece of the puzzle, falling into place. “It’s perception. I can… see things about the world. Understand things implicitly. The paragonic energy essentially flows through my senses, and I’ve learned to refine and control it, though I can’t always predict when it will kick in.”
“Huh. Like what?”
Evan’s vision color shifted. “P one five five eight nine four four four zero eight nine zero five three nine three G D,” he said, almost mechanically.
“Wait, what was that?”
“Your driver’s license number.”
“…okay, so we’ve established your power’s creepy.”
“It’s not a power, and you have no idea how creepy it can be.”
“And it lets you see into the past. Like… retrocognition?”
Evan’s vision cleared. He looked at Skyler. “How do you know the term ‘retrocognition?’”
“Gosh. I don’t know. Maybe because I spent years hanging around my Dad’s office in Excelsior Court, listening to people talk about super powers?”
Evan snorted. “Decent sarcasm. No wonder you were the one I needed to select as an assistant.”
“No wonder? Wait, was this more… glinting?”
“Not quite. But you should already know why I picked you.”
“How would I know that?”
Evan rolled his eyes. “I thought you were paying attention in class. I really do have a headache. I’m going to finish my coffee and try to get some sleep. You can ask me more when I wake up.”
“And for the record? No. Not retrocognition. Not me, anyway.” Evan reclined his seat back and closed his eyes.
“Great. Glad we cleared that up.” She paused. “Wait. You said we couldn’t reproduce paragonic energy, but you also said my phone used paragonic energy and we can reproduce that. How does that work?”
Evan opened one eye. “We can’t reproduce direct applications of paragonic energy. Temple, Jetgirl, and Church may have unknowingly drawn on paragonic energy to make their inventions possible, but their technology converts that energy into electricity, at least in this case. Or into Jetgirl’s pulse bursts from her gauntlets, or Colin Church’s old cybernetic interface to his jet’s sensory and control, or so on. Sleeping now.” He closed his eye again.
“…you do that,” Skyler said. “You do that.”