Loose Ends: Part 8

Emmy looked from me over to Tara, “Do either of you know what happened to Victor?”

Eyeing Tara, I hoped she took the hint. Or to put it another way, I hoped she chose to take the hint. She almost certainly got it and if she failed to notice, it could only be that she had a bigger problem on her mind.

For a moment, I thought I saw the hint of a smile as Tara responded, most likely guessing at my thoughts. “No one knows. He teleported away. If I had to bet, he’s with the Nine and he’s telling them how he can turn the True into an unstoppable army under their command if they’ll just give him the money.”

Emmy frowned. “He’s so wrong. I don’t even understand how someone can be that messed up in the head. If he does that, he’s doing it with copies of me that have been twisted into I don’t know what.”

She stopped, eyes widening as she looked over at Tara. “I don’t have anything against you or your father.”

Tara shook her head. “You’re right. They’re twisted and they become more twisted once they go on their own. I can’t tell you everything, but in a lot of universes they come to believe that their creator was using them, turn on him, and then turn on the entire world.”

Emmy took a breath, watching Tara, and when Tara didn’t continue, she said, “What happens after that?”

Tara shrugged. “It depends. Sometimes the True are destroyed. Sometimes they destroy everyone else and then start on themselves. It’s hard to predict.”

Leaning back against a concrete wall, Emmy sighed. “You’re making me wish I still smoked. The way you talked about it before, it sounded like I had a choice about whether or not you trained me, but I don’t think I really have a choice, do I?”

Tara’s eyes glazed over. “You don’t have to, but your chances of survival are much higher if you do.”

Emmy looked up at her, showing a hint of a frown. “That’s not a choice.”

Tara nodded. “I’m sorry. I don’t know how else to help you better.”

Emmy pushed herself away from the wall, checked the back of her skirt for something, maybe concrete dust, and decided it was good enough to stop and say, “I think I should get back to my desk. I’m sure they won’t fire me for cooperating with you, but they expect me to be there.”

Stepping back as Emmy took a step forward, Tara put a hand on her shoulder, “I’ll give you my contact information before I leave for the day, okay?”

When Emmy nodded, Tara pulled her in for a hug. Emmy’s eyes widened at first, but let herself be pulled in and held each other for a little while. I don’t know what Emmy felt, but she didn’t walk away as quickly as she’d been going. So, maybe she felt better.

She had every excuse not to feel better. Finding out that the creepy guy you’ve been avoiding made a clone army of you and offered it up to one of the most powerful criminal organizations in the world doesn’t happen every day.

All the people that the Dominators had reprogrammed into puppets could argue that worse possibilities existed out there in the world, but they wouldn’t because the majority might not even realize it had happened.

Tara put on her mask and we walked out, giving Emmy a wave and exchanging goodbyes. We walked out the front and I looked over the semi-trucks parked there, both of them waiting to be filled with evidence, and then over to the helicopter pad. It was empty.

I wondered where Ronnie was. He’d seemed nice enough as security guys went, and hadn’t he said he had baby on the way? Or maybe he’d just been talking about what he’d do if he had a kid. Something like that. I didn’t remember off the top of my head. Either way, someone out there knew he hadn’t come home last night. He’d been among those the Feds had picked up afterward. Though someone with powers, we’d left him too hurt to participate in the final battle in the garage. He’d lain in the hallway until a Box came.

We were far enough away by then that we were out of earshot of anyone near the building, walking on one of the trails that led toward the fenced-in parking area. It wasn’t a bad day either. The smell of Lake Michigan and even a hint of the sound of waves had made it passed the forest. It was warm enough that walking to the lake sounded like a good idea even though I knew it wouldn’t be.

By October, Lake Michigan always turned cold.

As we stood on the far edge of the clearing and the beginning of the forest, Tara asked, “What’s bothering you?”

“Nothing, really. I’m just thinking about Ronnie. We fought him last night. He was the guy with laser eyes. He’s probably in the hospital. I was just thinking that I’ve fought a lot of faceless mooks, but it’s a little different when you know one of the mooks. He might have a kid. I can’t say I feel bad. The guy was firing potentially lethal eye-beams, and it’s not like I took him out. He got hit by lightning. It’s just a little weird.

“Did you hear anything about what happened with Russell Hardwick?”

Tara put her hand on my shoulder, “Not much. Agent Lim told me that a judge had denied bail, saying that he was too much of a flight risk since he owned houses outside the US and was wealthy enough that he never had to come back if he didn’t want to.”

She cocked her head. “The judge was right. He’s got no chance of staying CEO of Hardwick Industries after this even if he gets off. And if he goes to prison, he’s got powers, so they’ll send him into supervillain Supermax. There’s no reason for him to stick around after that.”

I scanned the area around us with my glasses. No one was close. “There’s family. He’s got a son named Lucas. He’s a doctor and seems nice enough. Plus, there’s Vaughn’s aunt. Though I suppose if he did go into hiding, his family could still visit.”

Tara’s mouth twisted. “Living in hiding is terrible. With prison, you know you might someday get out. When you’re in hiding, you just keep on running.”

Given that her family had spent her entire childhood hiding, she’d know. Related to that, another thought struck me, “How are you doing?”

She looked down at the dirt trail and then back up at me. “Not well. We didn’t stop Victor or the True. We almost stopped them, but they’re still out there. Emmy’s at risk. The world doesn’t know that the True are copies of her, but they will eventually.”

She blinked. “I think we can keep her safe, but I don’t know for sure. Are you going to mind if I stick around here after the internship is over?”

“I can’t speak for the team, but it should be fine.”

She looked back at Hardwick Industries’ long, twin, white buildings. “I feel like we’re on the edge of something. It’s not just the True, but they’re part of it, and no, I don’t know anything. I feel like the information I need is just out of reach.”

I thought about the last four years–the Cabal, the Hrrnna, Stapledon, our trip into space, Lee, Kee, the Cosmic Ghosts, and all the changes in our lives. I didn’t know what it added up to either, but it did feel like something was happening.

Tara took her hand from my shoulder. “I should get you back to the car lot. I’ve got a few more people to check for signs of working for the Nine, Dominator influence, or both.”

“Sounds fun,” I said.

She shook her head, “It’s not bad. It’s a day. Tomorrow will be another day.”

20 thoughts on “Loose Ends: Part 8”

  1. I can only imagine how Emmy is going to feel when she realizes or learns what else Victot did with the clones.
    Cause lets be honest, given his persobality, there is no way he didn’t sleep with some of them.

    1. Kind of. It’ll certainly be the end of Nick’s main storyline. It’s likely that I’m not done with the world or even completely done with Nick, but certainly with the story that started in book 1. It may well be that we’ll see something with other characters from this series in the future.

  2. This has been a really cool story and very inspirational. I started writing partially because of this series (including a superhero universe!) Thanks for the stories, I can’t wait to see where things end up!

  3. There’s a comment I’ve been meaning to make, and I’ll put it here even though it concerns something earlier in the book. It’s this: I always found the focus on DNA or what-passes-for-DNA among Lee’s people being the root of Nick’s abilities as a pseudo-Artificier to not quite feel right.

    Lee’s people, the artificers, always seemed on a level where they’re mostly spiritual beings anyway. I sort of figured that the reason Nick seems like one of their children is because Lee treated him like one; both Nick and his sister. That having such a spiritually powerful being guide your development from an early age could sort of… I don’t know, balloon up Nick’s own soul in some weird way. Less a matter of bloodline and more that if Lee had done the same for any human child, or at least any human child with the right mental traits and point of view on the world, then maybe something similar would have happened and forget the genetics of their ancestors.

    I guess that’s not how the story has gone, but that’s what would have “felt right” to me.

    1. Artificer DNA might one of the necessary traits, or it makes it much more likely for other factors to line up. Lee has been following Nick’s family for a long time, probably waiting for someone like Nick to happen- but we don’t know if he’s stuck to watching only or Nick is the product of thousands of years of tending humanity- he may have arranged for the necessary genes in the first place.

      I would imagine at least some kind of phasing power is necessary to open the door to further changes, and it may be THIS Nick is special because Lee has spent so much time with him. In the other universes we’ve seen he displays no Artificer powers- War presumably failed to develop his and the dead Nicks never got the chance. That they died is also against Lee’s bargain if they had it, he seems perfectly capable of saving Nick when necessary and always gets there just in time when he’s really needed.

      The bargain may only exist in this universe at all because Lee was intending to invest time in this Nick- Lee was even the one who initially suggested it to the first Rocket, and Bloodmaiden specifically mentions spending so much time with Lee has changed him; it might require both a latent power and an investment of time by an Artificer.

    2. I’ve generally viewed Lee’s people as one of those comic book science/magic beings. That said, I tend to view the Artificer DNA as necessary, but not sufficient for Nick to have a connection to Lee.Time spent with Lee (or some other Artificer) is the determining factor in Nick developing Artificer abilities. There are lots of people on Earth with bits of Artificer DNA and they can’t do much of anything.

  4. So there’s no forum or subreddit for the series, do we want to speculate on the last 3 books here? I figure we have at least one on Earth standard with maneuvering against the Nine that’s related to the impending doom, invading Bloodland could be a book but it sounds like maybe Jim is saving that for something else, and something with the Artificers but that could just be wrapped in with everything else and the Nine?

    There are a lot of things that could be revisited like the Human Ascendancy and Fae but I don’t know that they will be. I expect the Rocket or Rook or both to go to Mars but I don’t think that’s a full book.

  5. I kinda want something else to happen with the Fae just so we can see more of the magic heroes.
    I am curious about the mask family especially. Like do they have one magical mask that is passed down or do they each make/create their own magic masks that are unique from each others.
    I can’t help but imagine a mask family memeber who has too many masks and goes crazy.

    It also be fun if someone gets a magic item bonded to them since.

  6. Whelp, I have finally reached the latest after binge reading this work for three – four days now, must admit, love the premise so far. Still going to stick around to see the inevitable showdown between Nick (New God) and the Artificers (Old Gods), calling them gods is wrong but when your power level is way beyond the mean, you’re either a god or a cheat/ hacker.

    Will have to see how you pace the power growth for Nick though and how you deal with the confrontation with the Nine and Nick, the former definitely wanting the Rocket dead more than ever when he has something they most desperately want, it is like when you show off with a Mercedes in the class reunion and then someone else upped you with a Ferrari, pretty sure Rook is stomping the ground with his charred leg in the background.

    Also Victor being a creepy nerd who also acts like a total manchild really fulfils the whole “mad scientist” vibe, especially when he gets woke from his failure to get Steph (even though I dislike her, I find myself loathing the 30 yo even more) and Emmy, I am pretty sure he cloned the two out of malice instead of usefulness as suspected by Nick obviously. Will be totally disgusted (and intrigued) if you give us a glimpse of whatever the guy’s doing in the Nine’s HQ though.

    Dang, I am hating myself, now I have to force myself to reread other works to kill time. At least Jim you provided me with more works to read, thanks!

    1. From what the cosmic ghosts have said to Nick he will likely have to wait centuries for his power to really grow or become closer to the level of power an adolescent Articifer has.
      And Nick is really starting out with less power than a natrual born Articifer would have.

      1. So I guess this is where Jim decides to pull a timeskip like One Piece, if he pulls a Boruto I will flip the desk.

        I mean it is absolutely fine if he somehow makes the sequel coherent to the current books and not completely bombs it, but seeing how most franchises fail at massive timeskips and letdowns to characters who supposed to replace the old MCs getting replaced instead by said old MCs, I am not keeping my hopes too high up.

        Also I imagine how Jim is actively avoiding the issues of other elitist heroes leagues that always exist in the background to do stupid stuff and never suffer any repercussions, case being those hiding in the Rock with the Earthmaster and most obvious *cough* Glifford *cough*, and other political issues surfacing within and without America as well.

        While I would like these minor problems to blow sky high until it is right in front of the readers rather than just being in a sentence or paragraph, I don’t see how Nick can resolve them, which makes it fun to see how he tries to, maybe do his “I am King Arthur” and pulls a flaming sword out of thin air trick.

    2. I’m glad you enjoyed the story so far. You’re lucky to have reached the end of available posts at the end of a book instead of the middle of the scene.

      With regards to Victor and Rook, they pretty much have to reappear at this point. I’m not precisely sure when, but they will.

      Apologies for the wait, but you can figure that each book will be about a year plus or minus a little, depending on the size and what I do with interlude short stories. So there’s about three years of material to go.

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