Tuesday, July 21, 2111
Lupine and Reader are so jealous right now, and they have every right to be. I get to help Challenger stop the world-renowned metahuman thief, Camouflage. And that's not even the good part. Since Camouflage has outstanding warrants in seventeen different countries, we get to work with heroes from the European Heroes' Guild!
My knowledge about foreign superhero organizations, the EHG included, is limited at best, so I am very excited to be teamed up with heroes from another country. Challenger gave me a short description of our new partners on our way to the mission room earlier today.
"Iron Maiden is an old friend of mine from England. I owe her a favor from a few years back."
"So we're helping her protect some Egyptian artifact?" I asked, unsure of what we'd actually be doing on this mission.
"Hopefully, Iron Maiden and I will be enough to catch Camouflage before he reaches the scepter. Just as a precaution, you and her apprentice will be going undercover to keep an eye on it," Challenger explained. I nodded, still not sure what to expect. "Please be polite to Presage. Your actions reflect on the SAA and myself."
"I'll do my best," I responded, but in my head I was groaning. Given Challenger's comment, I began anticipating a difficult, Screech-like girl who I would have to go out of my way to be nice to. I braced myself for the worst as we approached Mission Room 6.
However, as soon as we passed through the doors, all of my preconceived notions flew out the window. Iron Maiden stood by the holoscreen, looking very sophisticated and noble in her metal-plated suit. But she could have been wearing a hot pink bikini and I still wouldn't have noticed her because my eyes were immediately drawn to her apprentice, Presage. For starters, Presage is a he, and a very good-looking one at that. Between his broad shoulders, muscular arms, and tousled blonde hair, I couldn't help but feel my heart beat faster in my chest. Then he looked at me for the first time with his deep blue eyes and soft smile. My whole body just melted.
"Look out for the chair," he said to me in his to-die-for accent.
"Huh?" I couldn't find my feet as I walked forward, but one of the chairs sure did. I tumbled forward flat on my face. Presage chuckled a bit, making me blush profusely.
"I tried to warn you." He offered me a hand, which I graciously accepted. Iron Maiden chortled a little as she used her infamous magnetic field to put the metal chair back in its place.
"Well, I can see you two are going to get along with no problems," Iron Maiden said in a slightly bemused tone. I crossed my arms and looked down at my feet, still embarrassed. Thank goodness Challenger went straight into the mission briefing after that.
"Camouflage is known for being the greatest thief of our time. His escapades have been recorded in six continents where he has successfully collected more than one hundred treasures and artifacts."
"He stole that famous French painting, right?" I asked. "What's it called?"
"The Mona Lisa," Presage answered before Challenger could. "And it's an Italian painting."
"He returned it after a month," Iron Maiden added, "as he does with most of his thefts. For him, stealing is about the challenge, not the reward. That's why he's taken to announcing his targets before he steals them."
"Last week he informed Scotland Yard that he intends to steal the Scepter of Ma'at." Challenger brought up a picture of a jeweled staff engraved with large, golden wings. "It's the crown piece of the Ancient Egypt exhibit that's been traveling the world over the last year. The exhibit's final destination is the Smithsonian this weekend. All of the displays will be unveiled this weekend at an invitation-only gala."
"Challenger and I will be in charge of security outside. The two of you will be posing as guests at the gala. In case Camouflage, by some miracle, does get by our security, Presage will be able to sense him and prevent anything from happening to the scepter," Iron Maiden nodded to her apprentice. I dared to look at him again. What did she mean by sense? Was Presage a telepath like Reader?
"The scepter is priceless and a national treasure of Egypt. I don't think I need to stress how important success is on this mission," Challenger gave us a stern look.
"Understood," Presage and I chorused.
"Good. Now, Nebula, please show Presage to the SAA dormitories so that he can get settled in for the week. Iron Maiden and I will inform you when your identities for the gala are ready," Challenger said to me.
"Sure. Um, this way," I motioned towards the door. "The dorms are in the East Wing near the infirmary. I've never actually seen them, but I've heard they're nice." I tried to act casual, but for some reason I couldn't stop twirling my hair.
"You have gravity powers, correct?" Presage changed the subject.
"Uh, yeah. How did you know?"
"I took the liberty of educating myself on you and Challenger. You in particular, since we will be partners for this mission." Oh geez, he didn't read about my previous missions, did he? "Your efforts against Combustion and Tempest were particularly interesting." Yep, he did.
"Well, I didn't know until this morning that we'd be working together, so why don't you tell me what your powers are?" I desperately wanted to get the subject off of me.
"Precognition," he said nonchalantly. "I can predict events and actions within a short time frame." Okay, so he wasn't a telepath. "That's how I knew you'd trip over that chair."
"Oh," I blushed. "That must be very useful in the field. Hey, look. We're here." I stopped abruptly outside of the doors that led to the dorms.
"Thank you for escorting me here. I look forward to working with you." He shook my hand, which became very clammy the second he touched me.
"It was no problem," I responded, hoping he didn't notice my sweaty palms. "Well, if we're going to blend into the gala this weekend, I have to go get a dress." As much as I hated the thought of buying some fancy getup, I needed an excuse to get out of there and regain my composure.
"Don't get red," Presage smiled. "With your eyes, green would be much more flattering." With that, he disappeared into the dorms, leaving me with a dumbfounded look on my face. Self-conscious, I pulled out my tablet and examined my reflection in the screen. My eyes are a muddy brown. Why did he say green would be more flattering? Argh! I need to stop thinking about that. Maybe reading Camouflage's file for the tenth time will clear my head.
Saturday, July 25, 2111
I cannot tell you how out of my element I felt tonight. After spending more than an hour being gussied up by my mother, I couldn't decide which was worse: the heavy makeup, the floor-length dress, or the strappy high-heeled shoes. Okay, I admit, the forest green satin Mom picked out looked pretty good on me, but that's beside the point!
It felt incredibly awkward walking into the Bureau in my formalwear. Everyone was staring at me as I did my best not to trip in my new heels. Presage met me outside of Mission Room 12 wearing a shiny black tuxedo.
"I told you green would flatter you," he said with a satisfied smirk.
"Whatever," I huffed, too uncomfortable to remember my manners. "I don't think I'll be able to fight in these shoes," I motioned downwards at my feet. "They're pinching my toes and I can barely walk in them!"
"They're just for show. You can deal with it for one night." Challenger exited the mission room with Iron Maiden and looked at us. "Besides, with any luck you won't be fighting tonight."
"We have your aliases ready for the evening." Iron Maiden said, handing Presage and I two flat disks. Presage's read Gavin Steel. Mine was Marie Asphodel. "These disks are your invitations to get into the gala. The rest of the security staff will be aware of who you really are, but don't tip off any of the other guests."
"If you spot Camouflage or see anything out of the ordinary, don't hesitate to contact us," Challenger ordered. "And don't take any unnecessary risks."
"Will do," Presage and I nodded. With that, we all headed to the teleporters. Challenger and Iron Maiden were sent directly to the steps of the Smithsonian. Presage and I waited a few minutes before being sent a few blocks from the gala, away from prying eyes.
"Ready Miss Asphodel?" Presage took my arm in his. I could feel his muscles through the tux jacket.
"I suppose so, Mr. Steel," I answered, feeling self-conscious about the physical contact. Although leaning against him did make walking in the heels much easier.
Arm in arm, we walked up the Smithsonian steps. Challenger and Iron Maiden flew by, inspecting the area, causing the other guests to point in awe. I suppose it's not every day that you see two of Earth's greatest heroes flying by. Presage and I played up our civilian roles and marveled along with everyone else before handing over our invitations to the security guard at the door.
My stomach began to churn nervously as we crossed the threshold into the gala. It was quite a spectacle to see. Violet and golden drapes encompassed the room, floating down from the ceiling to the marble floor. The buffet table lined one of the walls and was filled with a cornucopia of foods, most of which I had never seen in my life. Displays from the Egyptian exhibit were interspersed between tables. A glimmering chandelier literally hovered above the dance floor, which was filled with people waltzing to a live band.
The room was glorious, but paled in comparison to the guests themselves. The men were all in shiny tuxedoes of black or white. Their hair was slicked back, or hidden under the occasional antique top hat. It was like a long parade of emperor penguins. The women, on the other hand, were like birds of paradise. All of them wore dresses in a huge variety of colors, styles, and textures. I swear I saw one dress that lit up and another that changed color when it moved. The hairstyles and jewelry were as stunning as the dresses themselves. There was everything from opals to sapphires. One woman wore a wreath of sparkling diamonds that was the size of a dinner plate.
"Relax, Marie. Try to enjoy yourself," Presage told me in a soothing voice.
"We're here to work, Gavin," I said, remembering to use his alias. "And even if we weren't, this isn't exactly what I would call relaxing."
"Perhaps I can help in that department," he whispered softly in my ear. Before I could say anything, he grasped my hand tightly and pulled me onto the dance floor.
"Wait! I don't know how to dance," I stammered. He just smiled and placed his left hand in the center of my back.
"Just follow my lead," he said with a smile and began to dance.
It helped me a lot that the band was playing a slow waltz. Presage gently moved me to the music, showing me where to place my feet. Once in a while he would spin me around. I noticed some of the other guests watching us.
"They're staring at us," I whispered to Presage.
"They're staring at you," he corrected me, "because you look beautiful tonight." I blushed, surprised by his comment. Then I started to smile. After that, all I was focused on was him. Somewhere between the music and Presage guiding me through the steps I forgot I was on a mission. The only thing I could think of was how much I liked dancing with him. For a few short minutes, I genuinely enjoyed myself.
My elation was short-lived. In mid-stride, Presage suddenly stopped. His soft smile vanished and was replaced with an intense stare. He scanned the room.
"Something's wrong," he muttered just as all of the lights went out. Guests were screaming is terror and the hovering chandelier crashed to the floor nearby. Presage held on tightly to my arm and dragged me out of the ballroom. We burst through an emergency exit stairway as the lights flickered back on.
"What are you doing?!" I demanded, trying to free my arm from Presage's grip. "We have to protect the scepter!"
"It's no use! He already has it!" Presage finally let go of my arm as he reached for his intercom. "Iron Maiden, Camouflage is headed for the roof. He has the scepter! Nebula and I are already in pursuit," he relayed what was going on.
Presage pulled my goggles and his mask out of his coat pocket. We couldn't risk Camouflage recognizing our faces. Then we began running up the stairs as quickly as possible. I tripped twice in my impractical shoes before cursing and deciding to ditch them. Never again will I wear heels on a mission. I don't care what Challenger says.
"I can get up there faster if I fly," I suggested to Presage.
"Go! I'll meet you there," he nodded. I pulled my goggles on and took off, flying up the center of the stairwell. In a matter of seconds I was through the door to the roof. Standing near the building's edge was a man dressed from head to toe in a black, skintight suit. Even his face was covered. He held of tablet in his left hand. In his right was the Scepter of Ma'at.
"Camouflage, you are under arrest for theft," I firmly told him. "Hand over the scepter and surrender yourself."
I could see him smirk beneath his mask. He wasn't going to come quietly. Before I could react, he vanished into his surroundings, like a chameleon. In the evening light, I couldn't even see the outline of his body. It was too dark. Nervous, I started fiddling with the dials on my goggles. Thank goodness I had the sense to bring the pair my brother gave me for my birthday. After switching on the infrared setting, Camouflage lit up like a Roman candle. He may be able to hide in plain sight, but he can't change his body temperature.
Since he didn't know about my goggles, I was able to get the drop on him (somewhat literally). Using my gravitational field, I made him fly ten feet in the air then drop back to the rooftop. The fall stunned him enough that he became visible again. He also lost his grip on the scepter. I used a second gravitational field to pull it towards me. Camouflage couldn't grab it in time. By the time Presage had made it up the stairs, I had recovered the scepter and Camouflage had nowhere to escape to. Or so we thought.
The wind around us began to pick up and I could hear a very loud and distinct whirring noise. Over the edge of the roof, right behind Camouflage, a helicopter rose up and lingered in the air. Camouflage scowled at us, knowing he had failed to get the scepter, before jumping aboard the aircraft. I was too surprised to do anything. From what I had read on Camouflage, I knew he was resourceful, but this was unbelievable!
Presage was less shocked than me. He didn't hesitate to run after the helicopter as it flew away. In one bound, he had jumped off of the roof's edge and was reaching for Camouflage. I gasped the second he was airborne. As someone who frequently flies, I know a thing or two about aerodynamics. The helicopter had moved away too quickly and Presage didn't use enough force when taking off. Also, he can't fly. There was no way he would make the leap.
His fingers were mere inches from his goal when he began to plummet towards the sidewalk below. With the scepter still in hand, I dove after him. Fortunately, I was able to move fast enough. My hand grabbed onto his just in the nick of time. Once we were safely on the ground, we looked up and watched the helicopter fly away with Challenger and Iron Maiden in hot pursuit. They called us on the intercoms as they disappeared into the cityscape.
"Nebula! Presage! Is the scepter safe?" Challenger demanded.
"Yes, we got it before he could escape," I answered.
"Good. Go tell the Smithsonian staff what happened and don't let that scepter out of your sight until we return," Iron Maiden ordered us. We acknowledged our orders. Then I turned my attention to Presage and smacked him upside the head.
"Ow! What was that for?" he asked, rubbing the spot where I had hit him.
"Why did you jump after him? If you can see the future, you should have known you wouldn't make it!" I yelled at him.
"I'm sorry if I scared you," he chuckled nervously. "To be honest, my future is a bit of a blind spot. I can't make predictions about myself." I frowned at him.
"Seriously? Then why did you do it?! What happened to not taking unnecessary risks?"
"I said I was sorry." He held a hand in front of his face, afraid that I might try to hit him a second time. Instead, I sighed.
"Just don't do it again," I shook a disapproving finger in his face. He smiled a little as he took my verbal beating.
"Alright, I won't do it again. Now, lets go follow our orders," he motioned to the front doors, where a few dozen security guards were waiting. "Then maybe later we can finish our dance," he added in a soft voice that only I could hear. But I didn't blush that time. Instead, I beamed.
"I look forward to it." On that note, he took my hand and led me back inside. My palms weren't even sweaty.
Sunday, July 26, 2111
I think it goes without saying that between Challenger and Iron Maiden, Camouflage was successfully apprehended last night. The whole world began celebrating his arrest the moment we publically announced it. The Egyptian prime minister, who was in town for the gala, personally thanked us this morning for recovering the scepter. It is safely back in the Smithsonian and will be ready for public viewing tomorrow.
There was still one matter that needed to be taken care of this morning: Camouflage's interrogation. Challenger and Iron Maiden were nice enough to let Presage and I observe from behind the one-way window. Reader was there too, since she could tell if he was lying. Camouflage sat in handcuffs and waited for the two heroes to enter the room. Without his mask, we were finally able to see what his face looked like. His brown hair, brown eyes, and pale skin made him look incredibly average. If you saw him on the street, you would never guess that he was our generation's greatest thief.
"Felix Renard," Challenger began the process, "you have chosen not to consult with an attorney before proceeding with this interrogation. If you are unable to afford an attorney, which I highly doubt, one will be appointed to represent you."
"That won't be necessary," Camouflage responded. He wasn't even nervous.
"Why is that?" Challenger asked.
"I would like to make a deal. In exchange for a shorter sentence, I am willing to give you information about why I tried to procure the Scepter of Ma'at." Presage and I looked at each other, shocked. Challenger and Iron Maiden had the same look.
"Proceed Mr. Renard. Then we'll decide if we can make a deal," Challenger informed him.
"Ah, no doubt the telepath you have behind the mirror has to make sure I'm telling the truth first. Very well. I have nothing to hide," Camouflage shrugged. "I was hired to steal it."
"I don't know, actually. My benefactor and I never spoke directly. A third party contacted me with the job and relayed instructions for the theft. I don't make it a habit to hire myself out, but the promised payout was substantial," Camouflage smirked.
"Who was your contact?" Iron Maiden asked with bated breath.
"She said her name was Tempest." Everyone went silent.
"Did Tempest tell you why your benefactor was interested in the scepter?" Challenger asked tentatively.
"Apparently he or she believes in the mythology behind the scepter. As you know, Ma'at is the Egyptian goddess of justice. According to the legend, her scepter is said to grant its bearer the power to pass judgment on his foes." The two heroes looked at each other again.
"Excuse us," Iron Maiden said as she and Challenger left the room to join us apprentices behind the glass.
"He's telling the truth," Reader told them bluntly.
"Isn't Tempest the woman you captured last year with that bloke Combustion?" Presage looked at me.
"Yeah, but she's locked up in Tartaros. We'd know if she's been in contact with anyone," I said, turning to Challenger. "Has she been in contact with anyone?"
"Not that I know of," he said, deep in thought. "I'll have to go back and review her records. It's possible that whoever hired Camouflage is the same person who hired Tempest and Combustion to assassinate me."
"Maybe Combustion knows something," I suggested.
"I'll see what information I can get out of him," Challenger nodded, agreeing with me.
"Whoever is trying to kill you must be pretty desperate to rely on mythology," Iron Maiden chimed in.
"True, but desperate people tend to make mistakes. We'll find out who is behind these attempts at my life. But for now, we need to process our thief. The district attorney will not be happy about making a deal."
"Well, Camouflage is awaiting trial in sixteen other countries. He'll get his just desserts," Presage attempted to lighten the mood.
"He certainly will. In the meantime, we need to go home, my apprentice. We've received another assignment," Iron Maiden announced.
"It was good to see you again," Challenger shook her hand fervently.
"You as well, old friend," she said, returning the favor. "Presage, say your goodbyes and be in the hangar in ten minutes." Presage nodded. Then our mentors left the room to finish up with Camouflage.
"Um, I'll just leave you two alone," Reader announced before exiting the room. Presage and I were by ourselves. He took my hand.
"It was a privilege working with you, Nebula," he told me with a sad smile on his face.
"I'm glad we met," I replied.
"Perhaps we'll be able to see each again," he said, slipping something into my hand. Then, without warning, he kissed me on the cheek and disappeared out the door. The place where his lips touched me tingled for a few seconds before the feeling began to fade. I completely zoned out, stupefied by his display of affection.
"Nebula? What happened?" Reader snapped her fingers in front of my face. I didn't even hear her come back in.
"Huh? Oh! Um, he kissed me and gave me this," I said, holding up the thing in my hand, which turned out to be a small thumb drive.
"He kissed you?!" Reader squealed. "What was it like?"
"He just kissed me on the cheek. It wasn't a big deal." My face started to flush as I stuck the thumb drive in my tablet. Stored on it were a message and a phone number.
We never did get to finish our dance. If you are ever in London, give me a call and we'll go to dinner and a proper dance club. I promise you won't have to wear heeled shoes or a dress.
"Are you going to call him?" Reader peered at the message over my shoulder.
"Probably not," I said blatantly.
"But don't you like him? And no, I didn't read your mind. It's just really easy to read your face."
"I do like him." I twirled my hair a little as I thought about the short time I was able to spend with him. Reader sighed.
"I can't believe it. Your first real crush and you're letting him go?"
"Hey. I have enough responsibilities without throwing a foreign boyfriend in the picture."
"Fair enough. So, what was it like at the gala? I want details," she demanded. I giggled a little and began dishing out everything that happened last night.
It's strange. Normally I would spend this time after the mission speculating about Tempest's involvement with the theft and who exactly her benefactor is. Instead, I just keep drifting back to that gala with Presage guiding me through the waltz. There will be time to speculate tomorrow, but for now, I just want to remember my first real dance.