The place Frank took them to was the inside of a clean and well kept farmhouse full of light, laughter, and the manic energy of more than a few children; one of whom was giggling like a maniac while bouncing helplessly against the ceiling.
Amid the chaos was an older portly gentleman with a big bushy greying beard, and a friendly demeanor. The man was simultaneously laughing, and trying to scold, the children in the room.
“Now kids stop making Millie laugh! You know I don’t like cleaning the ceiling!”
It was the giggling little girl who first noticed Alice, Yeager, Frank, and Janey teleport in. With a startled shriek she started to fall from the ceiling. This was followed by a loud bang as what looked like a bodysuit made of airbags erupted around the girl; causing her to bounce off the ground below her instead of smashing into it.
“Progress!” Crowed the man, who must have been Benny the Wrench. “I think we’ve got the parachute set up so it doesn’t deploy indoors!”
“This time,” said a bookish looking teenage boy standing next to Benny.
“Always the pessimist Nathan,” Benny chided.
“I am a powered,” the boy pointed out. “Pessimism is perfectly normal.”
Stella stared around herself in slack jawed amazement. She was relatively new in her job, but if this man had a household full of powered children, she was certain she should have known about it.
Suddenly, all of the attention in the room was on Stella, and specifically on the DVA badge still stuck on the tattered remains of her blazer. Stella could feel the joy and chaos of the room change to tension, she felt her skin crawl as kids all started to get scared and anxious.
Fortunately, Benny must have had a lot of experience with this kind of thing.
“Everything will be fine,” said Benny while glancing at Stella’s badge. “We all know Mister Yeager and Uncle Frank are friends, so Miss Hawkins here must also be a friend. Nobody’s going to any internment facilities, are they Agent Hawkins?”
“No internment facilities,” Stella said trying to think fast. “Just a routine visit.”
“What happened to Mister Yeager’s face?” Asked a redheaded little girl whose face and arms were a roadmap of old scars.
“I cut myself shaving,” Yeager said.
“I can try to fix it,” the girl said reaching for Yeager.
In response, Yeager jumped away from the kid like she was on fire while Benny, Frank, and all the other kids piled onto her and pushed her away.
“What’s happening?” Asked Stella in complete confusion.
“She’s a healer,” Benny said. “A powered healer, and her heart gets ahead of her sense. Whenever she touches someone she gets their wounds and damage. ALL of their wounds and damage. She heals fast, but the scars stay, and wrecked teeth don’t heal, now do they Millie?”
“No Benny,” said the little scarred girl from under a pile of children.
“All right you four,” said Benny to the new arrivals. “Let’s take this out to the workshop while my kids clean up the mess. I’ve got to recharge Millie’s safety harness anyway.
Benny’s farm was as clean and well maintained on the outside as it was on the inside. The only oddities were on the inside of one of the barns. It was filled with advanced machinery, again clearly the work of a tech genius. For the first time, Stella saw Janey come out of her shell.
“Can that 3D printer do metals?” She asked, wonder in her voice.
“Good eye kid,” Benny said. “And print a hundred times faster than any normal one too. I never can wrap my head around what I’ve made after I make it, so don’t ask how I did it.”
“Me neither,” admitted Janey. “Mister Yeager said I never have to make weapons again though.”
“I would never allow any child to make weapons,” Benny said while aiming a kind and reassuring look at Janey. “Well, except Nathan, but he can’t really help himself.”
“Now,” said Benny the Wrench. “Why have Frank and Yeager come to me with a little girl who’s a tech genius, and a DVA agent? Not only that, but a member of the infamous VCS department if I’m not mistaken. I’m not going to like this, am I?”
“I’m here to get something out of storage,” Yeager said. “Then me, Frank, and Stella are leaving.”
“Oh good,” said Benny. “Lets openly discuss the fact that I let a barely reformed felon use one of my storage units. a felon that I’m not technically allowed to associate with due to our shared past.”
“You aren’t allowed to snoop in that unit,” said Yeager. “And I promise that there’s nothing illegal or dangerous in there. If there was anything illegal there, you’re an innocent business owner taken advantage of by a despicable criminal. However, I do need you to watch over Janey here. Have you been following the news?”
“I try not to,” said Benny. “We can’t keep complex electronics like computers or televisions around Nathan, and it’s just a way to make people unhappy. You know how the media portray powereds. I don’t need my kids seeing that.”
“We got Janey away from a Humanity First militia group,” Yeager said angrily. “She accidentally made a weapon that overcharged the abilities of powereds and supers, and some other things too. I’m leaving, and so is Stella here, but I want you to watch over Janey. Give her someplace safe. I made that little girl a promise that I intend to keep.”
The other two adults turned around to see Janey at one of Benny’s workbenches assembling what looked like a sphere made from microchips and wires. On seeing the adults paying attention to her Janey dropped the device and jumped away with a shriek.
“I’m sorry,” she cried curling into herself. “It was only partway done, and I just…”
Benny meandered calmly over to the workbench and picked up the device.
“This is excellent work young lady,” Benny said in a voice full of awe and wonder. “I could never get this damned thing working. You have a remarkable talent. What do you want to do with it?”
“I want to make a teddy,” Janey mumbled. “Daddy broke my teddy.”
“A robot teddy bear with an advanced intelligence is a wonderful idea,” said Benny. “So long as you promise it can never hurt anyone. That’s one of the few rules we have here. If you want to stay.”
In response Janey flung her arms around the portly old tech genius. For a moment, Stella contemplated grabbing Frank, and forcing him to teleport herself and Janey anywhere away from here, because she’d failed in her duties as a DVA agent to get Janey safely back with an authorized agency. She even started reaching towards the teleporter, but a second look at Janey sobbing into Benny’s chest caused her to drop her hand.
Maybe Benny’s farm was a legally sanctioned halfway house for kids with abilities; powered kids no less. If it wasn’t, Stella vowed that she’d move heaven and earth to make sure that it DID become a legally sanctioned safe home for those kids. The idea of ripping those children away from Benny was too horrible to contemplate. Even if it did sound like Yeager had some ulterior motive, she got the impression that Benny wouldn’t be let Yeager take advantage of the child.
Yeager took Stella by the arm and steered her out of the barn. On the far end of Benny’s property, a good distance away, were rows of narrow concrete buildings; obvious storage units.
“I know what you’re thinking,” said Yeager. “It’s written all over your face. Benny must be up to his armpits in illegal shenanigans to afford all this. Those storage units must be full of weapons, stolen goods, and maybe even a corpse or two. I bet you’re even considering making a play to get us all arrested and imprisoned, but I’m also betting that you don’t want to see those kids put back in internment facilities any more than Benny does.
“Sad to say, Benny was smarter than all the rest of us who worked with him back in the day. He served his time, normal minimum security prison too, the lucky dog. Then he made a bunch of construction robots, built this place, and made millions storing excess crap owned by yuppies with a hoarding problem.
“Five years ago he found a couple of powered kids hiding in one of the storage units. They’d escaped from a containment facility, and what they told him about that place… Well he figured something out, not sure how, and every once in awhile a new kid shows up. Sometimes he figures out a way to get them safe, and gets them back with their families.”
“I have to check on this,” Stella said. “We can’t just let kids with abilities be unmonitored.”
“I think you’ll find Benny has friends in high places,” Frank interjected. “You can make all the stink you want, you might even get Yeager arrested, but this place will still be here, and you might end up out of a job.”
Stella walked in silence for a time after that, while Yeager occasionally grunted in pain from his injuries, and Frank wheezed and sweated. The teleporter was clearly unused to physical exertion. Finally they got to the fenced perimeter of the large storage facility. There was a guard’s shack, one that seemed strangely over-sized, until Stella got a look at the occupant.
What sat in a massive chair inside the shed was a thing of nightmares. Standing up, it would have been at least ten feet of massively distorted flesh. It had elements of all the most frightening and disturbing creatures of the world: sharks, snakes, spiders, rats, bats, and others. Then added tentacles and warty grey flesh. Worse still, the flesh shifted around, some features melting away as other horrors emerged.
“Hey beautiful,” the monster said to Stella around a mass of shark teeth. “You single? Because I’m single. How about a date?”
Frank and Yeager just laughed.
“Hey,” the monster said defensively. “It can’t hurt to ask. They tell me there’s someone out there for everyone.”
“I have a boyfriend,” Stella said, while doing her best not to recoil in horror. The creature could have been a super with a sick sense of humor, but Stella assumed he was a powered with a shifter ability. Some powereds with that ability shifted randomly between forms, but others remained permanently stuck in an altered form. From the lack of smaller furniture in the guard shack Stella had to assume this unfortunate was one of those.
“Keep me in mind for the rebound,” said the monster with a leer.
“Just ignore him,” said Yeager. “He was one of those first two kids Benny found back here that I told you about. Not much work out there for someone who weighs a thousand pounds and makes most humans vomit themselves in terror.”
“I’m still holding out for a Super Sports League endorsement,” said the monster. “This face is too pretty to hide back here forever.”
Yeager led Stella and Frank to a large storage unit in a distant corner of the huge yard. Yeager looked around to make sure no one else was present, and then unlocked a normal sized door next to a massive rolling garage door.
Inside was an array of different vehicles, and unusually large quad-copter drones. Nothing in the large room was smaller than a motorcycle, which Stella assumed was the lower limit of Yeager’s power. With a sigh of relief Yeager limped over to a cheap looking motocross bike, became blurry and indistinct, and flowed into the small motorcycle. Then the bike began tearing itself apart. The wheels blew out, the frame bent, and bits and pieces of it just fell off. As the wrecked machine started to fall over Yeager reformed next to it, fully healed from all his injuries.
“Neat trick,” Stella said. She did her best to conceal how impressive the demonstration was. Abstract hadn’t lied that morning when he said that Yeager was a powerful and skilled super. To be able to disappear into a machine and control it was impressive enough, but to expand that talent into doing a trick like transferring his injuries to the machine he inhabited must have taken years of concentrated practice.
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” said Yeager. “When they threw me in prison after Abstract caught me taking over ATMs they put me in a deep hole, because despite my using my power for little more than petty larceny, they seemed absolutely terrified of what I could do. It got me thinking, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’d been underestimating myself.”
Yeager moved over to a massive shape in the back end of the large room that was concealed under a tarp, ducked underneath it, and said: “Frank, you teleport me and Stella back to that redneck once I get inside Big Ivan. After that, I pay your regular rates.”
“Are you kidding?” The short teleporter said. “I’m never taking you anywhere ever again.”
Then the light of Frank’s teleportation effect wrapped around Stella, and she found herself outside the lab at the Humanity First compound standing next to one of the guard’s she’d knocked out just an hour or so earlier. Next to her was Frank, who gave the tarp covered shape next to them the finger, before disappearing in another flash of yellow light.