I hope the fact that you’ve opened this book means you’re searching for some real answers instead burying your head in the sand like so many other. Answers to problems that are ignored by many, dismissed as “not real” by many more, and earnestly considered by only a very few. My own stance on this issue has been taken out of context and fractured so many times that I found myself forced to write this book just to have one immutable record out there of my honest opinions on the matter, because let’s be clear: these are my opinions. I won’t pretend that what I’m writing down are incontrovertible facts, except for one.
The one absolute fact we face right now is: “We don’t know enough.” Sure, Altered have apparently been around throughout all of recorded history, and no, they haven’t managed to destroy the world yet. But hey, guess what? Mankind has ALSO been around throughout recorded history (you know, the guys who actually started recording shit?), and we were smart enough to realize things had changed re: “blowing up the fucking planet” the first time someone detonated a thermonuclear weapon. Why are all these bleeding hearts trying to pretend there’s no parallel here?
Fact: mankind didn’t have the ability to destroy the world before we figured out how to split the atom. At least, not quickly. Since then? Every government in the world has been paranoid as hell about letting new weapon technologies get developed.
Also fact: There are Altered who are so much more powerful than nukes that the comparison is laughable, and the number of those grows a little more each year. The Archangel, the King of Africa, or Champion; any one of those three could probably kill every last one of us if they really felt like it. And yet many still pretend that these ultra-powerful beings are not as large a threat as a simple bomb! Even when there’s only one thing that would have a chance at stopping them, and that’s OTHER ALTERED. That’s why I want to be perfectly clear here:
I don’t think we should start ‘culling’ the Altered out of the gene pool. I don’t think they’re abominations that need to be eradicated, like those fucktard ‘Defenders of Humanity’ morons that people keep trying to lump me in with. But we need to start applying some God damned common sense here! Altered are getting more and more powerful and more and more numerous, it is NOT going away. So yes, we do need to develop a degree of separation between them and the rest of humanity. We also need to start SERIOUSLY considering some more extreme solutions, for the sake of SURVIVAL, not pointless discrimination.
When grandpa starts to go senile, we check him into a nursing home where they can take care of him. But what if grandpa can control every piece of metal within a mile? Or set everything within a hundred feet of him on fire with his mind? No one likes to think about this stuff, but if we’re going to survive as a species to greet the turn of the next century we had better fucking start. Not all the really powerful Altered are perfect little immortals like Champion, and the growing population of Paragons and Exemplars is NOT getting any younger.
I’m not asking to start a genocide here or anything, this is just my first step to at least TRY to have a serious conversation about this shit before the world is burning down around us.
Vivian Sawnders, from the introduction to her book; Facing the Hardest Truths of our Altered World
“GOD DAMMIT, STOP SHOOTING!” Major Levi Torres bellowed at the few members of ‘Minneapolis finest’ that hadn’t quite gotten the hint yet that they were WAY out of their league. A few screams of pain were the major’s only response as another pair of police officers was brought down by their own weapons.
Torres forced his attention away from the injured and dead and teleported himself forward again, trying to finally close the distance between himself and his opponent. The brief flicker of a glowing ring was just enough warning to send the large man diving from his new landing spot, just in time to avoid the small portal that snapped shut in the space his head had recently occupied. Too close. Too damned close.
“None of you can stop me!” There was more than a hint of hysteria in the female voice screaming at Torres, and the major cursed softly as he blinked forward to avoid another glowing portal.
To the general public, the worst case scenario for a Return was a Lunatic. For the soldiers of the AAC who were on the front lines, THIS was the actual worst case scenario; a rampaging Paragon Altered still in possession of their mental faculties.
“Dispatch, this is Knight, we could REALLY use some backup!” Torres managed to land out of sight of the new Paragon, granting him a brief respite from her relentless assault with the portals. At least, until she figures out that she doesn’t need to see where she wants to open the damned things.
“Knight, be advised; close drops are not possible, hostile is preventing formation of outside portals. Champion is inbound, but still five minutes out.”
Torres blinked rapidly in surprise at the response that crackled into his ear. Five minutes… He glanced around at the amount of damage that had already been done, during a battle that had raged for less than two minutes so far.
“Foxtrot! Fallback from the hostile Altered! Knight is engaging solo. Squad one! Focus on evacuating civilians. Two! Get those damned cops to stop shooting! Break the fucking guns if you have to, then make sure no more buildings are coming down.” Torres didn’t wait for the acknowledgement from his men as he jumped back out into the street that his opponent had continued to flee down.
She’s running on foot, can’t go through her own portals, and our own portal guy can’t send anything into her vicinity either. Long range ‘porters must be out too or they’d be using them to drop off Lawson or Garrett. Might mess with my ‘ports if I get too close. So need to get close enough but not too close. The major winced as he blinked forward, another chunk of flesh vanishing from his arm as he hadn’t been quite fast enough to beat a closing portal.
Not fast enough, faster… Torres narrowed his focus further than he ever had before, trying to push his abilities to let him teleport just a little bit more quickly, just a little bit faster. A burning pain shot up his left arm as half his fingers were severed. An intense agony nearly buckled his legs as half of his right foot vanished. And then the wide-eyed face of his opponent was directly in front of him.
Shock had no time to make it into the woman’s gaze, as the air around Torres exploded in a torrent of unrestrained kinetic energy. A moment later the major was alone in the middle of the devastated street, at the center of a mass of ruptured pavement; a smear of gore stretching for almost twenty feet away from him the only trace of his opponent.
Jessica looked up abruptly as the massive figure exiting the infirmary nearly crashed straight into her petite form. She attempted to smile disarmingly up at Major Torres, and quickly waved off the apology she saw forming on his lips.
“No, major, that was my fault for lurking right outside your door. At ease, please.”
“I wasn’t expecting anyone, colonel. Are you here to escort me to the debrief?”
“No, Major Torres, I’m just here…” Jessica looked distinctly embarrassed for a moment before she managed to continue. “I just wanted to say, nicely done, major.”
Torres snorted in disbelief. “Seventeen dead, and I lost twenty pounds the hard way. That was nicely done, ma’am?”
Jessica’s expression hardened, and she locked an unyielding stare on the much taller man. “You kept all of your men alive, major. You saved thousands, and you had the balls to go in and take down that psycho yourself. A lot of AAC commanders would have sat back and waited on me, YOU stepped up. That’s what was nicely done.” Seeing traces of disbelief still dancing in the major’s eyes, she finally sighed and walked away in exasperation.
“Just take the damned compliment, major! Garrett is waiting for you in the conference room for your after-action report.” Jessica did glance back just long enough to catch the startled smile on the large major’s face before she turned the corner.
General Kyle Mathis stared at the letter on the desk in front of him. He picked it up, holding it almost right up to his nose as he read it. He placed it back on his desk, and read the contents for the dozenth time or so. Finally he sighed, resigned to the fact that nothing he was doing would somehow cause the words on the page to change, and looked up at the woman who had handed him the letter a few minutes ago.
“Please, PLEASE, tell me this is some kind of joke.”
“Not a joke, sir.” Jessica Lawson remained at perfect attention, though she couldn’t quite keep a note of amusement out of her tone.
“At ease, and sit down, colonel.” The plaintive note from a moment ago was gone from the general’s voice, frustration and irritation now warring with each other as he glared at his subordinate.
“Yes, sir.” Jessica seated herself calmly, and waited.
Several seconds past before the general spoke again. “You know that this is IMPOSSIBLE, right?”
“I disagree, sir.”
“And you’re okay with simply abandoning your duty?”
“I’ve served my country for EIGHT. DECADES.” The tone in the small woman’s voice took a decided edge at the suggestion of abandonment. “I’ve done all I can, and frankly I’m not needed anymore. The close of the summer solstice Paragon window demonstrated that adequately in my opinion.”
“Five Lunatic events, an eight, three nines, and a ten. Plus that arsonist Ten in Minneapolis with the portals? The AAC made it through all of that without the fabled Champion needing to see combat a single time.”
“And you think that’s enough to get them to let you go? Are you even considering what else this will mean?”
“Try to break the news to Colonel Burgess gently, general. I wouldn’t want to cause the colonel a heart attack.”
Mathis let out a startled chuckle at the deadpan delivery, and couldn’t quite dismiss the grin that lingered on his lips afterward. “Fine, colonel, you want to retire?” The general slapped a hand onto the letter still sitting on his desk. “I’m not the man with balls big enough to sit here and pretend you haven’t earned it. I’ll start this in motion if you’re sure it’s what you want, but you’d better be ready to weather the worst shitstorm of your life.”
Jessica stood, and offered a somewhat sad smile. “After everything I’ve already lived through, I hardly think a few months of political posturing, threats, and begging is going to qualify as the ‘worst’ anything.”