Temperature Rising

Commissioned by nobody! A HarmonyMotion production

Temperature Rising

Written by HarmonyMotion with Au Goose
Shard-Strike Universe created by Au Goose

Prologue - Present Time: A Lukewarm Welcome

A huge crowd of people gathered outside on a cleanly maintained and beautifully landscaped property in Inglewood, South Los Angeles. A raised stage had been erected at the end of it, complete with microphone and loudspeakers. The Golden Guard’s banner flew proudly in the rippling, warm, southern California wind.

No small number of people, paranatural or otherwise, came dressed up as their favorite members of the Golden Guard, though no matter how detailed the imitation costumes, none could match the physique of an Apex paranatural.

Still, that didn’t stop people from trying. Marathon cosplayers were out in full force; male paranatural representation was quite low, and who better to aspire and inspire than the flying brick wall himself?

A few Titaness cosplayers attended whose costumes were mostly undersized clothing—an allusion to her generally skimpy outfits due to her literally towering height. Platform shoes added to the effect if one played along and didn’t look down. They came in all sorts of statures, from just over five feet to nearly six foot six. And they were the most desperate group of all. Their favorite building sized heroine had been missing in action for weeks and the GG were not forthcoming with news. Titaness’s disappearance had become quite a heated rumor topic before fading from the public eye as most things did after a week of exposure. But the true fans never gave up on her.

Raceway didn’t get much representation, but her fans were older women. The ones who strived and struggled to look as good as she did at their age. Her Slavic accent was quite endearing too.

There were a few other females dressed up with enormous prosthetic angel wings. But most of them, especially the rather well-endowed chesty ones, were dressed up as the soon-to-be inductee.

Overall it was a festive atmosphere. The audience included no small number of traces—lesser winners of the Shard-Strike lottery, gifted with trivial powers and often semi-idealized physiques. Multiple photographers tried to gather up trios of M-R-T-A and the buxom blonde newcomer to pose for their news coverage of the event. Proof that even after more than two years, and a seismic shift in the political landscape in regards to paras, the public still couldn’t get enough of what seemed like genuine civic heroes. But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses.

Others were in attendance to present an entirely different sort of optics. A substantial group outside of the gathering area picketed with their signs, attempting to bar other people’s entry. “Human Justice for Humans!” they chanted as they pumped their written manifestos.






But when Marathon flew above the assembled masses, silence fell upon the crowd save for the sound of shutters rapidly clicking. Raceway blurred into view on the stage before anyone could notice. Aria and Surgeon made their way through the protestors, held back and booed by the adulation of the Golden Guard’s supporters.

And then there was Thermia.

The crowd went wild as the Southern belle strutted into view, standing well over six feet tall in heels, she was dressed in a skintight spandex outfit that left her midriff bare in a big V, down to her bellybutton.

Her entire outfit, including her large, flaring eye mask, was split down the middle, just like her spandex costume. Left half ice blue, right half burnt burgundy. Even her heels too. It was impossible to find a “matching” pair in her closet. Unless one had two left or two right feet.

“Harlot!” a protestor screamed at her as she strutted her way toward the raised stage, her heels clacking loudly on the red bricks placed on the grassy floor.

“Aww, honey, I’m sorry,” she replied with her Southern drawl without a hint of malice.

The protestor found herself utterly disarmed. She would’ve preferred a threatening glance, a display of icyhot power… anything to prove her point. But Thermia just apologized and moved onward.

The buxom blonde sashayed forward like a runway model, one leg in front of the other in a straight line as her wide, fluid hips swiveled with every conspicuous step. All eyes were on her, even though she’d never grown up under the spotlight. The Shard-Strike had taken her already well-developed but never really flaunted body and ramped it up to a million. And it’d given her terrifying apocalyptic Earth-ending levels of power as well, some surmised.

Still, she was just a sweet Dixie belle at the end of the day.

Thermia’s costume wasn’t her idea, but the organization who had sponsored her had insisted that it was a good idea. The Golden Guard were just as much about flash, pizzazz, and publicity as they were about doing good. They had to be supremely image savvy in order to keep para and nonpara tensions at bay.

She’d pushed back hard when she first put the costume on, blushing furiously and covering her huge, clearly visible nubs with her arms over the fabric of the costume. Just one little slip, and her breast would pop up, clear for all the world to see. But Viktor convinced her it was a good idea. His advice had always served her well.

“If there’s a boob that deserves to be seen, it’s yours,” he’d offered. She couldn’t help but go along with what he said whenever he sweet talked her.

Okay, that wasn’t the line that had convinced her. But she couldn’t deny just how incredibly large and firm they were. Being ashamed of them wasn’t going to help her or anyone. After her transformation, boys were gonna get off to pictures of her no matter what she was wearing.

In the end, her backers compromised and added some thick nipple tape to the outfit. Thermia wasn’t overly eager with her expansive cleavage and half of each tanned, spherical, jutting breast on display, but Viktor cajoled and flattered her until she just decided to go along with it. She was gorgeous and she’d better get used to it. Some of the latest papers suggested apexes like her could be around looking like she did now for a very long time…

She wasn’t skinny like a supermodel or anything. More like well built, healthy, and thick in all the right places. Her cheeks were chubby and radiated vitality and a zest for life, just like her smile and her lilting accent.

New signs flew into the air. “Be my ice queen” and “MoviePod and Chill” juxtaposed with “Hottest Woman in the World” and “Icy in the Streets, Fire in the Sheets” bounced about as wolf whistles and cheering for the soon-to-be newest member of the Golden Guard approached her inauguration.

“Thermia, Thermia!” a subset of the crowd chanted when she finished climbing the sparse steps to the raised platform.

The other Golden Guard members on stage tried not to keep their faces neutral as the strike-enlarged blonde shortstack twirled to face her admirers.

“Yes, darlins?”

“Can you stop climate change?”

“Yes, yes, save our planet!”

“You’re going to be wonderful on the Golden Guard!”

“Aw shucks! You give me too much credit! I can’t do something like that, y’all!” she replied with a wink.

There had been a big thread on Gurglr recently proposing that Thermia had the power to change the world’s temperature. A quick puff of her ice breath could refreeze the melting arctic icecaps, hypothesized to have been damaged by a century of burning fossil fuels. And now, the temperature of the ocean was rising, especially where The Egg was now located. Constantly glowing and emitting energy in the Atlantic west of the Sahara, doomsayers and some renowned scientists alike were forecasting the death of the human race in forty years, paranatural or otherwise.

Did these people know how big the north and south poles were!? And perhaps even more shocking to Thermia herself, she really began to entertain the idea. What if they were right!? What if she really could do that?

How would she do it? A one time cold kiss, assuming that she actually could manage such a feat, was just a band aid on a huge, bleeding gash. A huge, weather changing cataclysm of a band aid, but a band aid nonetheless. What would it take then? Grabbing all of the excess heat (whatever that meant) and shunting it to the moon?

She didn’t want to admit it, but she’d entertained the thought. Late at night, when everyone was sound asleep and no one was watching, she pointed a finger into the night sky and drew upon some of her bountiful stored solar energy. Conjuring a thin beam of searing heat, she fired it into the cloudless sky toward the bright, full, yellow moon. Naturally, the vacuum of space sapped her little beam ice cold as expected, but even Thermia was shocked to discover how easily she’d gotten it up there in the first place, and how far it actually traveled before being claimed by the void.

What if she really could perform such a wicked feat?

And if she could, if she really were that powerful… then what about the other members of the Golden Guard? She looked at the five of them, unintentionally sizing them up while she continued to idly wave to the crowd’s cheers.

Titaness. Missing… maybe gone for good, as far as she knew. But Titaness was capable of massive destruction, that much was for sure. Her unconscious body falling into the dock had shattered tons of concrete, splintered wood, and flooded the surrounding coast.

Surgeon. A healer. If anyone were to go after the GG, he had to be a priority target unless they were planning to outright kill the Golden Guard powerhouses. He was harmless by himself… as far as she knew. But his ability to bring people back from almost certain death was undoubtedly an invaluable power. Though it hadn’t seemed to help Titaness.

Aria. Kind of a strange bird. She was dressed, of course, in her flowing white gown, reminiscent of the angel appearance she always went for. But what angel kept a pair of guns attached to their thighs, the holster straps of which were clearly visible in the slit of the fabric up those long legs? Still, her power was nothing to take lightly. Those forcefield wings of hers had absorbed rocket propelled grenades while shielding a small crowd of innocent people, and it had insulated them all so completely that none of them even showed any sign of injuries or even hearing damage. She was also famous for her powers of persuasion. High ranking officials seemed to be eager to make pronouncements favoring the GG to the unending consternation of said officials’ advisors.

But the real icon of power was, of course, Marathon himself. Unbelievably strong, incredibly fast, the ability to fly without expending energy unlike Thermia (although her stamina and wakefulness would wane long before her solar reserves would.) Not to mention…

Rumors were that he and his female consort had leveled a multistory building in downtown Los Angeles. While they were making love.

Which brought up another point… it was one thing for the Golden Guard apexes to be this powerful, but what about the company they kept? The ones who were out of the public eye? Thermia’s mind began to whirl at the infinite implications.

“Ahem!” Aria cleared her throat loudly, her large wings twitching in annoyance. Only the intimate league members would have picked up on that detail.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” Thermia turned to the Golden Guard members once more.

The crowd almost moaned audibly as the sight of her luscious breasts and the almost as outrageous bulge of her butt turned to profile view, giving everyone a good view of her side on. The shutters clicked rapidly.

Next to Surgeon, one of the most low key GG members (he didn’t even have a costume), Titaness was noticeably missing.

None of them looked particularly welcoming to her. Surgeon coughed softly. Something to break the awkwardness maybe. When had the crowd fallen silent?

A grounded Marathon readjusted his cape and began to approach Thermia. In his hand, he held a badge with the GG insignia which doubled as their vaunted long range encrypted communication device.

“Welcome to the team, Thermia,” Marathon said quite disinterestedly. If Thermia didn’t know better, she would have guessed that his powers governed temperatures as well and rivaled her own.

The crowd erupted into cheers. The rest of the Golden Guard avoided all eye contact.

What had she gotten herself into?

Chapter 1 - February 2020: Southstracized

Faye steeled herself for another meeting with Professor Hinckley and the other research students.

“Don’t say y’all, don’t say y’all,” she mentally coached herself. “Eyeee, Eyeee…”

She had a huge breakthrough with some of the salvaged materials that her fellow students had discarded as unusable or inconclusive, and the last thing she wanted was for them to dismiss her presentation just because of the way she spoke.

“Alright Faye, show us what you got,” Professor Hinckley gruffed as the other four students trickled in.

It wasn’t a secret that Shard-Strike research was at an all-time high in spending and would be for a long time coming. The world had changed in so many ways that even people at the cutting edge barely knew what questions to ask. Combined with the damage the strikes had done and continued to inflict, the fear and panic of towns and crops burning and people turning into something… else. But people weren’t’ the only thing changed in the wake of a strike.

The funding that Hinckley and his graduate students were receiving from an independent private company was the largest grant that UCLA had ever seen. Shard-strike materials science. Paranatural chemistry was the new frontier. For months, they had nothing to show AyersTech, and Professor Hinckley was becoming shorter and more ill-tempered while the pressure ground him down.

“Okay y’all, ah think ah got some really good results!” Faye began before realizing how wasted her little impromptu rehearsal was. She cringed as some of her fellow research students snickered.

“Ah, well, it’s um,” she decided to just get down to brass tacks. “Ah got some reaction out of the earlier materials!”

“Exhibits 1-6?” one of her colleagues asked with a raised eyebrow. “We’ve all handled those. It’s a dead end.”

“No, really, look! I have measurements and everything!” Faye handed out copies of the energy readings that she’d recorded in tidy spreadsheets.

The sound of cleanly printed sheets of paper flipping was all that could be heard for a few moments. Her fellow students looked at the figures, grunting occasionally.

“Faye, I tested these. How did you get these readings?” one asked.

“Exhibit 6. The kidney bean. I remember that one. I didn’t get anything off of that.”

“Yeah Faye, I did exhibits 12-18. Is this real?” the third chimed in.

Professor Hinckley silenced the group with his own pronouncement.

“Faye, what is the meaning of this?” he inquired dismissively.

“Okay okay y’all, I know it looks weird. I didn’t believe it myself at first! But I have a hypothesis that sums it all up neatly!”

Professor Hinckley sighed. “You know what they say about complex problems and solutions, Faye. There is always an answer that is simple, easy to understand, and wrong.”

The rest of her team snickered. A sound she’d learned to hate months ago.

“But it’s not wrong!” Faye’s hair bounced as she stamped the floor. “Look, all the Shard-Strike materials we’ve found glows, right?”

“Or becomes a sea star due to the ocean’s cooling. Or burns to Shard ash.” Hinckley added on as if she’d forgotten.

“Did you ever notice that it’s always a few people reporting the results? Smithers and his team, Altmeier, some others umm I forgot…”

“Yes, Faye. It’s normal to get experts in fields. In case you forgot, we are trying to make inroads into this very sphere.” Hinckley took off his glasses and rubbed his palm over his eyes in frustration.

“I understand, Professor Hinckley! But look how disproportionate it is. Stanford, Harvard, Oxford, other big name schools have made no inroads. But Altmeier and his team from Podunk has published so many findings!”

“Let me remind you, Faye, that their findings are still subject to peer review. Replication has been questionable. What is your point?”

The rest of the team were getting jittery. What the hell was Faye on about? And she usually shirked from such direct challenges. Clearly, she really thought she was onto something.

“How come it’s always the same people getting readings? How come I got readings, but none of you could?” Faye asked.

The snarky reply was obvious as soon as Faye finished posing her question that she lost no time to speak again before someone broke the silence by uttering it.

“Ah, um, what I mean to say, is that, I believe it’s not that the materials themselves exhibit quantum fortification qualities! We keep looking at the material like it has a new physical property. Maybe it does… but it may be something like a monopole! And in order to react, it would need its counterpart to react! I think it has to do with the researcher as well!” she concluded with a flourish.

Everyone stared at her dumbfounded.

“You’re saying that you, and those other researchers, somehow get the quantum fortified stuff to glow?”

“Well, resonate, to be precise,” Faye clarified in a very Hinckley-esque manner.

“Whatever! Come on, Faye!”

“Ms. Holmes, are you seriously suggesting that the exhibits provide readings when you measure it, but no one else here?”

“W-well, when you put it that way…” Faye’s self doubt began to creep in.

“Most likely an aberrant reading. Or experimenter bias. Or flat out fraud. Which one is it, Ms. Holmes? This would never pass any halfway legitimate peer review. Or is this what passes for research in Alabama? This is UCLA, not a backwater school!” His bias and frustrations finally poured at as he shouted at her.

“Wha, no! It’s a real theory! I can demonstrate it to you right now!”

“That won’t be necessary, Ms. Holmes. Let the real scientists get back to work.” To further hammer home the point, he slid a nearly forgotten coffee pot across the table as if it were obviously her duty to refill it.

Professor Hinckley gathered his things. The other research students followed suit. Faye stood there, totally flabbergasted. But before she could break into hysterics (and send the coffee pot sailing to its doom against a randomly chosen wall), an unfamiliar voice called out.

“Ms. Holmes. Come with me, please.”

All of the students, Faye included, looked at Professor Hinckley. His eyes were gaped wide in shock behind his thick rimmed spectacles.

“Y-you!” he stammered.

He was dressed in a black and white suit with a pair of dark sunglasses. If Faye didn’t know better, she would have guessed he was some sort of secret agent. Like out of the movies. The only break from the iconic facade was an enameled gold pit of a capital ‘A’ in curiously ornate script. The mark of his masters.

“W-what are you intending to do with my student?” Hinckley sputtered, suddenly possessive.

“I am paying you for results. After months of disappointment, someone with imagination on your team proposes a theory, and you choose to ignore it. But we are not so dismissive,” he said with his hands crossed behind his back the whole time.

“It’s not… scientific! Unprecedented! We’ll get laughed out of academia!” Hinckley made his case.

“Then I am doing you a favor, aren’t I? Come, Ms. Holmes.”

“Y-you… I’ll… Faye Holmes! If you go with that man, I’ll ruin you! I’ll tell everyone what you did here, reporting false readings, being generally incompetent, you, you… blondie!”

Suddenly, the man in black became even more imposing than he previously seemed. He stepped in between Faye and Hinckley, his tall stature concealing Faye from view completely.

“On the contrary, Professor Hinckley, we are your employers, and once I report to my superiors what has happened here, you will find funding rather difficult to find. Do you understand?” He delivered his threat—more of a statement, really—coldly and impassionately.

He changed his tack immediately. “S-sorry! I’m sorry! Please, let us continue to try and make progress! We will have some findings for you soon.”

“Of course, Mr. Hinckley. You have already turned up something very valuable indeed, even if you were too blind to see it. Come, Ms. Holmes. You will be well taken care of.”

Hinckley collapsed into a lab chair as he watched the man in black and his blonde student with a drawl follow meekly behind.

Chapter 2 - July 2020: AyersTech PsyPo

It hadn’t even been half a year, but already UCLA and Professor Hinckley seemed like a distant memory. Faye could hardly believe the amenities of her living situation! She lived in a lavish apartment, larger than she could have ever imagined. AyersTech took care of her every need, providing her rides to and from work, breakfast, lunch and dinner with no lack of variety, and a per diem of $150. She couldn’t spend $150 a day even if she tried. And try she did!

In fact, her status was well beyond that of just “researcher.” Faye had the distinguished status of “QF subject.” It sounded impersonal, but what it really meant was that AyersTech had been busy screening applicants who seemed to have the “psychic potential” to cause Shard-Stricken detritus to react. The fact that she was a researcher herself meant that she didn’t have to lug another PsyPo (which of course was quickly warped to be informally pronounced “psychos”) around with her in order to perform her studies.

It grew a little morbid as the higher ups began to look into morgues around the world to examine the burned up corpses of victims of Shard-Strikes. AyersTech intelligence was focused on one thing: were they PsyPos? Perhaps that was the real key. It took being a PsyPo to have the potential to become a paranatural.

Thankfully, none of that had come to any fruition. So far. Faye feared the day they wanted her to go poke and prod a charred corpse. She liked her samples inanimate.

Speaking of fear, it was a little frustrating that Faye was buried in relative obscurity for her original suggestion: that it took a PsyPo to cause low fortification Shard-Strike material to resonate. Not only that, she had quickly realized that the original idea had been completely, uniquely, and independently suggested by her. She’d been too humble to say anything out loud, but it was true.

And just like Professor Hinckley had said, no one knew about her. It was now a corporate secret, probably even owned by AyersTech in some legalese mumbo-jumbo she’d signed. The screening process for PsyPos was also a total corporate secret. At best, Faye would get credit for filing a patent on it, buried among all of the millions of patents filed every year. No credit and no recognition at all.

She’d also been assigned a personal security team. Two guards tailed her at all times. She thought they’d be dressed in all black and have earpieces and would talk into their collars… but no, of course that was just movie stuff. They seemed to change on a daily basis too, so she couldn’t even learn their names. Just plain clothed civilians who happened to carry guns and know how to handle multiple people in a fistfight. Most days, she didn’t even know where they were. Once in a while, a chilling crawl would slither down her neck as if she were being watched. But she soon grew accustomed to it.

There was one other new person in her life now too. Viktor Liukin. He looked fierce, but he’d opened up to her as she slowly pried back his armor over multiple diners. He also worked for AyersTech, of course. Born and raised in Perth, Australia to a Russian ex-patriate father and a stay at home mom, he’d led a rough life growing up among the gangs. For reasons unknown to him, AyersTech had found him and picked him off the streets, offered him a job as an enforcer, and wiped all of his prior indiscretions under the rug. She had her doubts sometimes, but his devotion to AyersTech was unquestionable.

He was her personal bodyguard—the one that was clearly visible anyway. More than that, they were madly, furiously fucking. All the time. The rotating bodyguards never uttered a word about it to the higher ups as far as Faye knew. Wasn’t relationships between co-workers frowned upon?

Still, he was handsome. And tall. A whole foot taller than her. And he had the hint of an accent too! They were inseparable, and none of her co-workers seemed to mind or call attention to it at all. She found her other frankly tenuous relationships in the area getting less attention as she devoted more and more of her time to Viktor.

He was also the first one to deliver her some groundbreaking news.

“Faye! Faye! We’ve got an assignment to go to the Phoenix Egg!” he ran into her office excitedly.

“Shut the front door!” she leapt out of her seat.

He did so. “Isn’t that great!?” he asked in a lower voice, misunderstanding her little turn of speech.

She suppressed her little smirk as well as she could. She _still _hadn’t told him the phrase wasn’t meant to be taken literally.

“They’re really doing it!? That place is crazy expensive! And kind of cultish…”

“Yes, A-Tech is sending us, well you,” he emphasized sincerely, “for an unspecified duration. I’m not sure which part we’ll be at, but they told me to tell you to pack enough for a long stay. I just happen to be the lucky security detail who gets to see the eighth wonder of the world.”

“Goodness gracious! Are you thinking like… a week?” Faye’s mind raced.

“I’d say on the order of months.”

Now Faye had no words.

“You need some time to process before I give you instructions for your security?” he asked.

Faye nodded mutely. Processing started with impulsively kissing him. Then she swept everything off of her desk and gave her man the look. It was all going to have to be packed anyway, right?

After Viktor left the office and shut the front door again, Faye let out a few triumphant shouts, smoothing her dress down and fist pumping as she strutted around the office.

She was going to the new center of the world!

Interlude - The Phoenix Egg

The Phoenix Egg is a rocky outcrop on a hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Western Sahara, almost exactly on the tropic of Cancer. It features a 2.5m stony outcrop that was the center for a strike during the initial shard storm, transforming into a glowing, opal-like substance with moving swirls of color. It radiates gentle heat at all times and is thought to be the largest stable sea star with output low enough to not melt itself with only air cooling. The area is sparsely populated, with no known paranaturals produced by the initial strike. It rapidly became a site of intense interest after a second strike occurred there roughly two months later (by which time strikes were routinely being tracked by satellite.) When a third strike occurred there a week later, multiple governments began to maneuver to take control of the region either directly, or through the Moroccan government. Before they could act, a group of paranaturals later calling themselves the Order of the Opal Fire seized the site and claimed independent and religious sovereignty, backed by the threat of no less than fourteen Apex-level paranaturals. Their agents are now known as Phoenix Knights.

The Order of the Opal Fire resides in the Western Sahara: a contested, non-self-governing region south of Morocco. Local warlords used to have brief but bloody conflicts in the region while the state of Morocco claimed sovereignty over the land, to nobody’s belief. Now, they have all been scattered.

The Phoenix Knights’ online manifesto proposes that the egg is a holy site and evidence of the divine origins of paranaturals. Most members are not that devout, but it provides a simple party line to present to the outside world as the group is resisting attempts by major governments to claim possibly the most important location on the planet. Their mock devotion is akin to roleplaying than that of a true religion, but over time…

The truly devout who join, as well as newer recruits who become converted to the pretense of the party line, are taking the once fictitious religious overtones and making them a reality. The religious overtones give them some leverage with the public that politicians and generals should not be in charge of the egg.

The egg is the only place on Earth with recurring shard strikes. While the timing is unpredictable, strikes now occur generally around three times a year (slowing down from six in the first eight months after the storm), making access to the location SUPREMELY valuable. The hillside directly around the egg is kept clear in a park-like state, with only about 20 visitors allowed daily. A permanent and growing resort-like compound has been built around the base of the hill, providing slightly over one hundred luxury bungalows built to avoid excessive combustion during a strike. After being seized by the Knights, temporary residence near the egg has become a major asset to be sold or traded for favors and influence for the Knights. Rentals at the site can top five million dollars a day, unless invited by the Order. There is no off season for those hoping to experience a Shard Strike. Politicians, spies, trained candidates for Paranatural powers backed by governments and corporations, and individual wealthy patrons all compete to hold a room near the Egg in the hopes of being present for the next strike. Similarly, resort staff positions are amongst the most competitive employment positions in the world, despite being assigned housing farther out but still potentially within the strike zone. Likewise, the newly formed Opal Fire Defense Force has become a premier military unit backed by the Order’s half-billion-dollar-a-week income.

The outskirts of the site (typically outside of the strike, but some blasts are larger than others) have been subject to rapid development and are now called “Opal West.” The city is the new Casablanca, with an intensely global presence of spies and wannabe paranatural hanger-ons who can’t afford more central lodging. This outer area has a Las Vegas atmosphere of big money entertainment, high stakes gambling, glitz, and international attention, with the added attraction of Apex individuals mingling in or flying over the booming town almost every night. Rule by the Order has been largely permissive with extremely low violent crime thanks to paranatural investigative powers and an evolving but somewhat draconian court system that utilizes expulsion or execution more often than imprisonment. It has a small but growing international airport, and Paranaturals have literally carved a small harbor out of the coastline 20km north of the Egg, creating a new international port to support the growing city.

Chapter 3 - August 2020: En Route

“No problems with being on a boat, Faye?” Viktor asked in their cabin. AyersTech had assigned three additional security people and two science aides, but she needed someone to fight and take a bullet for her at any moment.

“Oh honey, I spent my summers on a shrimping boat with my pop ever since I was a kid. Unless a Shard-Strike happens, I won’t be puking into a bucket anytime soon!” Faye replied as she shuffled around with her materials.

“Okay, let’s review the security detail then.”

“Aw hell, do we have to? We do this every day! I have my ID and money on me, don’t peek or steal glances at my security guards, they’re there and don’t need to be singled out, obey your and their orders at all times if it comes up, yada yada…”

“Faye, this is serious,” Viktor lectured. But it was unconvincing.

“Wouldn’t you rather see what I’m working on? Look!”

Before he could answer, she had opened her large briefcase full of Shard-Strike materials.

“Simplest thing is to put this collection of knick-knacks in the vicinity of someone and see if they react. If it does, they could be a PsyPo!”

“Is that all it takes?”

“Well, it takes a lot of time to ramp up. And it’s not a good measurement… they resonate more strongly with some people than others, but how much is pretty subjective. Lots of fluctuations. Imprecise readings. A-Tech wants me to develop something more portable and scientific than a pile of rubble.”

“Can I try?” Viktor asked as he reached for a rock.

“Sure, but me being here will confound the readings. See? Another problem. They’ll already be resonating since I’m near them all the time. But… look at this!”

Faye took out five little plastic finger clips attached to a series of wires that connected to the inside of the suitcase.

“It’s just a prototype, so it’s not that reliable yet…” she presented it humbly.

“Good enough for you to earn a spot at the inner resort of the Egg while you study it,” Viktor reassured her.

“Ah, I, well… um, thanks,” Faye blushed as she attached the cold, plastic clips. “The fact is, I used some of the S-S matter to create this machine. They’re kinda like batteries. Well, not real batteries, y’know. Like… PsyPo detection batteries along with an actual real power source. But they drain real quick and aren’t that reliable, like I said. But the Egg is always on and seems real powerful. So I’m hoping I can do something with that,” she explained. “To be perfectly honest, it’s not all that complicated,” she explained modestly.

“Things that are obvious to some people aren’t so obvious to others. You should be proud, Faye.”

“You’re always so nice to me, Viktor. Is that part of the personal bodyguard job?”


Viktor delivered it perfectly straight. Taken aback, Faye looked him straight in the eye before deciding it was a joke. She began to chuckle. He did too.

“Well, I’ll tell A-Tech that you’re doing a great job,” she smiled.

“Thanks, Faye. I can’t wait to catch a bullet for someone who really matters,” Viktor replied without mirth once again.

“Oh you! Wait, oh my god, Viktor, I’m getting readings from you!”

“Really?” He looked surprised.

“It’s… it’s low, and I can’t be sure, like I said, but this is really promising! You’re probably a psycho!”

“Well shit, Faye. Everyone’s told me that my whole life. You didn’t need your fancy machinery to figure that out. You could’ve just asked me.”

“No, really! See, here are my readings…” she pulled out some sheets with a jagged line on graph paper. “And here are yours…” she flipped her suitcase to face him.

Viktor examined both of them as the line on the screen continued to bump up and down. He didn’t really understand it, but it was readily apparent that Faye’s numbers were bigger. Way bigger.

“Could you imagine!? If… if we stay at the Phoenix Egg long enough, what if an S-S happens? Viktor! We could both become paranaturals if my theory is right! Of course, there’s a chance we’ll both just burn to a crisp. Maybe I should work real slow, you know? So we can stay long enough for an S-S… oh my god! Don’t tell anyone I said that!”

“You really think we could be paras?” Viktor asked.

Faye avoided eye contact the way she always did when she was embarrassed by having to boast about her work.

“I mean… it’s never been tested, but I think… it’s probable. Like, really likely.”

She looked up shyly to meet Viktor’s gaze. He was looking right at her. The sound of the crashing waves and the light swaying of the boat were the only sounds in their cabin.

Faye and Viktor both went for it. They closed their eyes and kissed each other tenderly, then more roughly.

Stripping Faye’s prototype PsyPo sensor off his fingertips, the pair began to disrobe and cut the sexual tension that had been building for months. Soon, they would be at the Phoenix Egg. And they could be paranaturals.

The ship rocked extra hard for the rest of the journey.

Chapter 4 - August 2020: Hot and Cold

Faye dabbed the nonstop dripping sweat from her brow and chin uselessly with a thoroughly soaked handcloth as she performed her daily task of laying out her precise instruments on a spot twenty feet away from the Phoenix Egg. It was the closest spot the Order of the Opal Knights allowed outlanders to approach their sacred relic, and A-Tech was paying a fortune for Faye’s privilege.

It was her third day now. The first, she’d spent marveling at the otherworldly, constantly shifting neon colors swirling in the Egg. When she wasn’t doing that, she was chugging water out of her canteen, cursing that she needed a whole ice chest to fight off the legendary heat at this part of Earth’s latitude. Suffice it to say, she didn’t accomplish much.

Faye didn’t even have a guess as to what material the Egg was composed of. If it had been an outcropping of rock before, it surely didn’t look like it now. But the readings were off the scale, and if her readings were correct, they were noticeably stronger when she approached. She and Viktor had taken turns swapping their positions, near and far. The Egg was so active that Faye had to (excitedly) recalibrate her tools, and the random spikes and fluctuations made it hard to test her theory on the spot. But she had faith she was right.

Sporting her mobile cooling unit on this third evening where the heat felt like an ever present burden, Faye was busy at work with her aides and Viktor by her side. He seemed to produce cool handcloths and dab her down before she even knew she wanted it. As far as the rest of the security detail, they were invisible to her, and she had been taught not to look for them, after all.

The mid-level Knights of the Opal Fire made frequent rounds, ensuring that everyone was playing by their rules. It used to be another way for humans to get near the Phoenix Egg hoping to become paranaturals during one of those three times a year Shard Strikes, but after years of corpseless remains plus the increased fervor and religious overtones, not to mention the natural heat of the environment grinding down tourists’ wills, only the faithful remained on the job.

The Egg had a funny way of making believers. Or culling those who didn’t, at least.

“Viktor, stop!” Faye complained as he stroked her cheek after patting down her face with another cool cloth.


“What if someone sees?” she hissed and flinched from his touch, despite how much she enjoyed it.

“Who cares?” he reached for her side to squeeze their flanks together.

“Ow! Hey, stop!” she giggled as she mock shoved him.

“Follow my security orders at all times, remember? Besides, if you don’t, you don’t get any more of these…” he pulled another cool cloth out of his personal air conditioned pack and waved it around.

“Put that back! You’re wasting it!” she grimaced seeing her lifeline wilting in the hazy air.

Then, her machine’s readings went off the scale. The bright blue flashing LED caught her attention even amidst Viktor’s not-so-unwanted advances as he advanced upon Faye.

“V-Viktor! Look!” Faye pointed at her sensors behind him.

“You don’t really think I’m going to fall for that old trick!” he laughed.

“No, really! Hey! HEEYYY!” Faye yelled at a patrolling Knight who happened to be walking by.

Viktor got the hint. He looked over and saw the blinking LED as well. Faye was running toward it.

“I… I haven’t programmed the scales to register that high! I didn’t think I would need logarithmic scaling!” she shrieked as she typed furiously at the keyboard.

“Faye, what the hell does that mean? What’s going on?”

A knight was on the scene as well.

“There… I think there’s going to be a Shard Strike!” Faye shrieked.

Viktor looked at the knight who was displaying severe skepticism.

“Are you sure? How can you tell? No one has ever been able to predict a Shard Strike. Many have tried,” he asked.

“Please, can you sound the alarm?” Upon seeing his doubt, Faye asked for a little less. “Or just… prepare to sound it? And warn everyone to clear out!”

“Do it,” Viktor supported her. His tenacity was far more compelling.

“Alright…” the knight signaled to his compatriots to begin gently suggesting to other people that they should step back.

The Egg began to glow brighter and crackle. Faye looked at the knight who still doubted her.

“This happens all the time. Tourists are always shocked by it, but it dies down, nothing happens, and then people move on with their lives.” But he was showing more uncertainty now. He turned up his cooling gear. “But just in case, I’m going to start moving back too. I suggest you do the same,” he hedged.

Her readings jumped another magnitude.

“Viktor, it’s getting huge. Really huge. I’m not sure if we should run… I don’t have time to pack my gear!” Faye panicked as she turned up her own cooling gear.

“No, Faye. You want to stay, don’t you? I have faith in your research. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be right by your side the whole time.” He signaled into the air for the security detail and the aides to clear out.

“Yes, I want to stay! But how can you be so sure! What if I’m wrong?” Faye fretted.

“Faith, Faye. I have faith.” His voice cut through the cries of panic and exultation from the other aspiring visitors. Like her staff, many turned and ran, realizing that the moment they’d hoped for would be far more violent than they ever imagined.

As the readings intensified and the area around the Egg cleared out, Faye stood there in fear and anticipation. Fear of being incinerated, of course. But excited to become one of those who endured the blast and emerged blessed. To become realer than real, a conduit for incomprehensible powers, and to have the beauty that so often came with it. She could be Viktor’s perfect beauty. How would the Strike transform her? What powers would she get? Something that could give her relief from this stupid fucking tropical heat maybe?

“Faye, come.”

Viktor was past the recommended boundary that the knights had carved into the ground. He was looking at Faye and offering his hand as the Egg radiated searing heat as it grew almost too bright to look at.

She took his hand.

Human ears weren’t sensitive enough to pick up the powerful, low frequency rumbling, but Faye and Viktor could feel it in their bones. Stepping forward one torturous step at a time, Faye gained confidence and took the lead. Her thin, fine body hairs were standing up. Beads of sweat and goosebumps dotted her skin. The bolt was coming. She knew it in every cell of her body.

Even Viktor was slowing down now. But Faye began an all out run for the Egg. Her skin was so sweaty that even Viktor’s grip slipped. Her hand freed itself from his grasp.

“Faye!” Viktor yelled over the unsettling roar of the stone now. The cry was muffled as he turned his head away from her silhouette, all but lost in the increasing brightness.

“I’ll be so beautiful, Viktor can never look away,” she promised herself as she reached out.

As soon as Faye touched the stone, it happened.

The sky split apart as the sound of cracking glass thundered all around them. Faye, caught in the innermost center of the Shard Strike, immediately seized up and floated into the air as enormous ethereal crystals “penetrated” her body, impaling her trunk on their jagged edges.

Not more than a few feet behind her, Viktor was caught in his own transformation. Through sheer force of will, Faye turned her head to see that he hadn’t been incinerated to ash. Once her concern for his well-being was satisfied, she looked back at her own body, witnessing her own transformation and the vindication of all her hard work and theories.

She could feel the intense temperature surrounding her, but just like the crystals, it seemed to flow through her harmlessly as it transformed her quantum fortified body.

Faye sucked in a lungful of thick, heated air as the energies worked her short body over. The extreme temperature and surging power curled her pretty little feet as it began to trace up her legs.

Every inch of her lush flesh, every curve of her creamy thighs swelled and tightened, becoming even more luscious and voluptuous, enhancing her already curvaceous female frame. And when those athletic calves and thick upper legs began to lengthen, Faye witnessed her wildest fantasy coming true.

She watched with hot, bated breath as her lower body stretched longer and longer, wiping away her lifelong insecurities about her diminutive height. Watching those limbs elongate, Faye couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to take newer, longer, sexier strides alongside her boyfriend/bodyguard, how amazingly sleek they would look wearing a pair of stiletto heels, the crotchless panties she would show off as she crossed one long-and-getting-longer leg over the other…

Her already tight shorts were growing even tighter, biting into her firming flesh before tearing apart at the seams with a loud rip. As the fabric fell to the heated stone around the Phoenix Egg, Faye even witnessed the stretch marks on her legs smoothing out, despite the fact that they were expanding before her very eyes! Her skin complexion changed as well like a painter’s brush gliding across a canvas, turning her uneven tan into a smooth, milky marble. Now that her legs looked like they’d been sculpted into their ideal, long, sleek lines, Faye could only imagine what was happening to her rear.

As soon as she thought it, the Shard Strike’s energies finished with her legs and continued up her body.

Her hips groaned as they widened, giving even further definition to her already well-filled apple bottom. Faye rapidly went through a second sudden puberty as her body blossomed, filling with power and sexuality in the span of a few fateful minutes. She’d already been quite blessed in the bass department, but those firm, higher, tighter spheres of flesh on her backside was sure to have Viktor begging to touch.

The crackling energies flowed up her torso, sucking in Faye’s waist with a violent pinch. And despite the ludicrous slimness of her midsection compared to her newer, wider hips, her strengthened, enhanced body had no trouble dealing with the strain. In fact, she never felt better! Her muscles flowed with power as her transformation and ascension continued unabated.

Even shy, easily embarrassed Faye couldn’t help but moan publicly as those crystals applied their magic touch to her already more than ample bosom. She swore she could hear them filling with even more feminine glory as they packed on even more weight and heft, filling out and snapping the underwire of her supporting bra apart!

Steadily her breasts rose higher on her chest even as they increased in size, those firm, ripe spheres looking luscious for the harvest. Her nipples, too, more sensitive than ever, began to harden and make themselves public as they poked through her suddenly all too tight t-shirt. The stretch marks on it denoted just where the enormous cavernous valley of her newfound cleavage lay, just waiting to be revealed to the world.

Finally, just as her skin had turned creamy and porcelain, so too did her dirty blonde hair lighten until it shimmered like platinum gold, flowing in large rivulets down her new, longer, firmer body. Those thick strands of warm, fragrant silk continued to grow out until they reached the seductive curve of her lower back.

As her physical transformation finally seemed to come to a heady end, Faye felt a furnace of power burning inside of her. It felt like there was an endless well of searing heat inside of her, growing hotter by the second as the midday sun poured its inexhaustible beams upon her exposed skin.

Faye panicked for a moment. Was she going to burn up after all!? All this, her life’s dream fulfilled, only to be burned to a crisp?

She gasped when she realized that the air conditioning pack was turned all the way up, no doubt thanks to Viktor’s quick thinking. It hummed at full power before the contraption seemed to short out. Oh no! She really was going to burn up!

But no—no, the comfortable cooling effect of her little machine seemed to fill her body. Where there was an endless energy of swirling fire burning inside of her chest was now tempered by the feeling of extreme cold surging into her body.

She exhaled coldly in relief, her frosty breath visible in a cone of icy mist that quickly evaporated under the combination of the environment’s natural heat and the ongoing cataclysmic Shard Strike. Finally, when her body felt full as if she’d just eaten the best meal of her life, she regained control of her newer, stronger, longer limbs.

“Oh my god!” she exclaimed as she stood on her transformed, dainty feet, admiring her seductive curves and elegant extremities. The vision of her breasts blocking her view down her front, and a similar effect from her tight swollen ass as she looked along her backside, left her completely speechless.

She lifted her long, slender fingers to cup her aching breasts, gasping as a brief cupping sent white hot fire out of her palms, incinerating her top while leaving her creamy skin markless. What a power! Her power!

Panicking, she instinctively puckered her lips and blew down her front, sending a freezing chill over her now exposed breasts. The fire from her hands were extinguished immediately while the frigid cold only caused her nipples to perk to attention even further. Her other power?!

“Viktor! Viktor!” she squealed in excitement as she swiveled her fluid hips to greet him. She was a living jackpot! Massive power and extraordinary beauty!

He, too, was more visibly muscular. Chiseled. Sexy. And best of all, her devoted bodyguard looked at Faye in pure awe.

“Look what I can do! I’m… ice and fire! Oh my god what if I can create a Sea Star with my cold powers, out here near the Phoenix Egg! I could… I could rival Leila Electric’s operation!”

She wanted to hold him in her arms right now! So much so she flew towards him, literally, her feet leaving the ground behind as she began to tilt towards him.

“Is that really the first thing on your mind!?” He waved at the ground in front of her. She looked down, then squealed in pure delight at the realization she had a third power!

Viktor tore his eyes from the hovering Faye’s exposed, drool-inducingly large breasts to look at the size of own bicep as he curled his arm. “I guess you were right about me too!”

“You knew I would be.” She smiled, planning to rock his newly svelte body a few orders of magnitude harder than they had the boat.

But their special moment was ruined by the sound of screams and alarms ringing from one of the closest bungalows.

Many of the guests hoping for their lottery ticket to turn to gold had instead been reduced to ash. But one large, hulking, ten foot male seemed to have drawn a winning combination. He roared as he stomped around on a rampage, cackling and killing other surviving guests.

The Opal Knights had scattered far back per their training, and it would take time for them to assemble. Could they even handle it?

The brute was tossing guests and staff out of the way on his wanton rampage of destruction, snapping necks and flinging corpses over his body. He was headed straight for the Phoenix Egg, no doubt hoping for even more incomparable power.

“Faye! Stay back!” Viktor ordered.

“No, no! I can help!” Faye insisted as her eyes blazed with fury.

“Faye! That’s an order! You remember A-Tech’s instructions! You must obey me!”


“OBEY!” Viktor yelled.

Faye shuffled off in despair, hiding behind an outcropping of rock, ready to leap to assist her lover at a moments’ notice. Now was no time to be pissy about how he’d ordered her around for her own well-being, but she couldn’t help but think about it.

Viktor charged the unruly villain with incredible speed, his legs pumping harder and faster than any mere human. He ducked the untrained, overextended punch from his opponent, got inside of his combatant’s longer reach, and thrust his fist right into the villain’s kidneys.

Pain surged up his new, tougher, broader arm. Viktor hadn’t even dented the hulk’s flesh!

However, his knuckles remained in contact with the massive man’s side. He seized up and howled in agony as though he’d been dealt a death blow even as the pain in Viktor’s arm faded away.

Viktor threw another punch, but the brute seemed unaffected but the slight impact. Viktor snarled in frustration, only to be smashed into the ground by the monster’s hammering fists.

Pain swallowed Viktor, pain beyond anything he’d ever felt in what had been a lifetime of violence.The brute was crouched over him now, one hand splayed across Viktor’s chest, pinning him in the shallow crater, the other winding back to drive a boney fist down through Viktor’s skull.

Viktor’s hand came up, not to futilely guard himself from the deathblow about to descend, but to grasp the thick, oversized hand compressing his lungs and preventing him from catching his breath.

With an undignified squeak, Viktor took all his bodywide agony and focused it in his hands, willing intolerable pain through the connection into his opponent’s dense flesh.

The monster twiched and spasmed, flopping to the side even as the bodyguard rose over him. His own pain was gone now, but he knew the feeling of delivering mortal agony, and he snarled with wild glee, pouring out suffering upon suffering into this piece of shit that had nearly killed him.

After a full minute of screams and convulsions, the other para slumped over dead.

The mask of hate seared into Viktor’s face cracked, and he was himself again.

“What the fuck?” Viktor gasped as he looked at his own bruising fingers.

“Viktor!!” Faye swooped down the hillside and swept him into the air, high enough to see the fires burning all across the resort and the inner edges of the city that surrounded it..

The two embraced in a tight hug as Faye felt waves of forced calmness and serenity wash over her in waves from Viktor’s soothing touch.

Chapter 5 - One Week Ago: A Tall Cost for Titaness

Melody had her arms outstretched over Titaness’s enormous, unmoving body lying in the rubble of a large dock in Los Angeles. Dressed in civilian clothing, her lithe, superpowered body that exceeded even Marathon’s was trembling in exertion while her hands glowed purple as she tried to fight the curse that was trying to murder the Golden Guard’s largest hero.

Overhead, Marathon soared through the skies and landed by her side.

“It’s a shitshow over there. Marcus is freaking out, and the police and FBI are at total odds as well. Babe, please tell me you have some good news.”

“Does it look like I have good news!?” Melody snapped at him through gritted teeth. Her feet left the floor of its own accord as she focused all of her concentration on keeping Titaness alive. Her eyes burned a deep, intense shade of violet as well as her milky white/purple hair floated into the air.

“Whoa, whoa!” Marathon flew up and placed his hand on her shoulders to try and bring his uber powerful girlfriend back to Earth. Her having superpowers was supposed to be a secret. Her having access to magic was already slightly taboo; the last thing the world needed to know was that she was more than a match for him.

With a grunt and a sincere effort, he managed to place her black heeled boots on the cracked concrete.

“Shit!” Melody stamped her foot in frustration, further shattering the large crack with just a tiny application of her super strength.

“So… how bad is it?” Marathon asked.

“I can’t stop it! Every time I try to dispel it, it blocks me and just comes back stronger! It’s like a phantom that’s coming to kill you, and anything you throw at it just phases right through! Zack, we need help! The blackest of black magicks wasn’t outlined in my auntie’s book!”

“I’m going to have to make a call I really don’t want to…”

Marathon pulled out a secure, encrypted phone.

“Aria. Pick up Surgeon and come to my location quick. San Diego. Yeah. It’s Titaness. You’ll have no trouble spotting the circus. Hurry.”

The shouting in the background had receded. Marathon looked over and saw a new person, a woman with a badge, apparently taking control of the brouhaha between the various government agencies.

“Hey Mel, I called in Surgeon. There’s nothing I can do here, so I’m going back to check out who’s showed up.”

“He better come quick! I’m putting up a barrier around Titaness’s heart. Hopefully the rest of her body can survive the stress. Go, get out of my hair!” the frazzled Korean-American super witch brushed him off.

“Anya. With OPUS. Where is Marathon?” she barked at the group of gasbags and rank-flashing men. They shirked when she flashed her badge. It bore a silver star, a part of OPUS’s internal categorization. The talking heads muttered to themselves and backed down as soon as they saw it.

Markus Shi cleared his throat. “I’m the official police liaison to the Golden Guard. Whatever you have to say to them, I can pass on.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Anya shot back without raising her voice. “A lackey? I’m sure whoever you report to will be pleased to hear that you blocked an OPUS agent from speaking to the apex paranaturals involved in this highly public incident.”

“It’s, my, it’s my job to…” Markus’s resolve immediately wavered.

“Your job to what? Interfere with someone who can really support a paranatural group operating at the Golden Guard’s level? Now, where are Marathon and Titaness?”

Markus pointed toward Cathy’s general direction. The sea of bodies parted for Anya Bradshaw’s passage before the waves crashed back on each other and began to bicker once more.

“Marathon. Good to see you again. I see you’re having a bit of trouble,” Anya greeted the flying man who was approaching.

“Anya. What brings you here?”

“OPUS supports all paranaturals, and your events tend to get a lot of attention,” she stated sincerely, although her sincerity cracked for a second as she stole a glance at the pale haired witch in the background. But she covered her impending scowl so quickly that even Marathon hadn’t noticed the little crack in her armor. “Now, I see you’ve hired some independent consulting. Is there any way I could be of service?”

Marathon peeked back over at Titaness. When had Aria and Surgeon arrived?

“We’ve got it under control now,” Marathon declared.

“Fuck! What the fuck!? This is…” Surgeon bellowed out. His hands were covered with a swirling, black miasma.

“Surgeon!!!” Melody went to work on his hands immediately. She let out a huge sigh of relief when she managed to dissipate it without it coming back.

“Cut the crap, Marathon. I mean it. I’m here to help,” Anya insisted.

Marathon sighed. He flicked his head at Aria and gestured toward the crowd of cops. She got the hint, flaring her force field wings wide and going to work on crowd control using her powers of persuasion.

“Okay, okay, we need your help. Titaness is dying. Or, is being attacked. It’s magical based, and my consultant can’t stop it. She says Titaness is afflicted with a death curse that constantly tries to kill her, and nothing we do can stop it.”

A look of genuine concern crossed Anya’s face. “I don’t know if we’re equipped to deal with magic, but I’ll try. Titaness’s life will be our highest priority.”

She whipped out her phone and called OPUS headquarters.

“Anya. Rank Silverstar. It’s fubar here. Wound is magical in nature. GG Surgeon and their consultant are losing. Roger.” She nodded at Marathon and conveyed that she was on hold.

Raceway zipped over as the remaining gang members were put into police custody. The police crowd were dispersing and stupidly pleased about doing so thanks to Aria’s infamous compulsion powers.

“Marathon, what will we say to Titaness’ sister? Is… I cannot bear it,” she tried to be strong, but her voice wavered. She was on the verge of tears.

“Let’s not jump the gun too soon. I’m asking for help,” Marathon reassured his teammate.

Raceway nodded.

“Yes, I’m here. San Diego docks. You’re sending what? Who!? They’re at a _prepared ritual site _and want us to bring Titaness over?” Anya relayed the message to Marathon out loud while in total disbelief herself. “Roger. Roger. Wilco.”

“Good news?” A hopeful Marathon asked.

“We have a corporate partner named AyersTech. They… specialize? In this stuff. They say they can help Titaness, but it comes at a cost.”

“Of course! It’s Titaness’s life at stake!” he agreed, a little too eagerly.

“AyersTech wants to add a member to your team.”

“What?” Marathon’s tone immediately shifted.

“They say she’s easily on par with the apex power level of your group and will uphold your heroic ideals. Mind you, I’m just the middleman now. OPUS says that this is AyersTech’s call and is non-negotiable._ Apparently_ we have no power here,” Anya snarled.

“Give me a moment. Ms. Park?” he called to her.

To his relief, she walked over to him instead of flying.

“What’s the news on Titaness?”

“It’s… not good. Surgeon is helping to keep her heart pumping. But if we don’t fix this soon, we’ll lose her. I’m… sorry,” Melody was downtrodden.

By the time Marathon had turned his head back to Anya, the look of utter displeasure that Melody seemed to have so much influence on his decision had disappeared from the OPUS agent’s face.

“Fine. We’ll do it. But we’re not happy.”

“Believe me, Marathon. Neither am I.”

Marathon brushed Melody’s arm and dismissed her. The little gesture did not go unnoticed by Anya. Then, he and Aria began the arduous task of carrying and flying Titaness to AyersTech’s ritual site.