Aldrich stood there in silence. That date - he had almost forgotten. But hearing it being brought back up was enough for emotions to start flooding into him, thawing past the iced over surface of his undead heart.
The pain. The loss. The helplesness.
Then, the rage. The desire for vengeance.
It all came back to him in a jarring, piercing instant.
October 30th, 2117.
The day he died. As well as two of his closest friends.
'This can't be a coincidence,' thought Aldrich. 'It just can't. Vanguard dies, or at the very least, goes dark on the exact day that I die? There has to be a connection here. There must be.'
The immediate thought popped into his head: was he the heir to Vanguard's power? His gut reaction was a no. Vanguard's power was dramatically different from his.
Vanguard was for all intents and purposes basically a 'flying brick' super. He was ultra durable, ultra strong, and he could fly. The most unique part of his power was that his strength always increased, and against tough foes, it continually scaled upwards.
Records showed that at first, Vanguard was not a recognizable Alter. When the Altering first broke out, Vanguard, in a biography, professed that he tore the muscles in his arm and blew his back out lifting a small steel beam to save a few trapped people.
But the more he struggled, the greater the threat he faced, the tougher he got.
Struggling to lift a steel beam quickly became struggling to lift a multi-ton boulder.
Struggling to lift a boulder became struggling to lift an entire building.
And so on and so forth until eventually, at the height of the Monstering, Vanguard reached levels of power against the Titans that could only be described as unreachable, when lifting up entire islands and flattening mountain ranges became child's play.
Aldrich's necromancy and game element power was completely different from that. But maybe there was more to it? Maybe Vanguard's power had been a form of inheritable reality warping, one that manifested differently depending on who used it?
"Does that date mean anything to you?" said Emrys, quietly taking note of Aldrich's extended silence.
"I was trying to figure out whether the date was of any significance. Unfortunately, I don't think so," said Aldrich. He should not be letting telling silence like that show, especially not to someone powerful and, as of now, mysterious like Emrys.
"It has not been significant to me, either," said Emrys. "But what is important is that I have a good idea of when Vanguard's power will re-manifest."
This was another argument against Aldrich being the heir. If Vanguard's journaled information indicated that his power was going to show up again in the future, then that automatically struck Aldrich being the heir out as he already had his powers.
"When?" asked Aldrich, though his tone was more of a demand than a question.
"Six months. The exact date is undefined, but that is the time range. Around that time, I will have strict surveillance on all the areas that Vanguard defined as potential locations for his power's manifestation.
You will be part of that surveillance."
"Any other details? How exactly does the power manifest? Who does it look for? And so on."
Emrys shook his head wistfully. "Were it a blessing if that information was available. Unfortunately, Vanguard's writings are cryptic at best."
"How can you trust that information, then?" countered Aldrich. If Vanguard's mind was deteriorating, then his journaling could easily have been the ramblings of a madman.
"I cannot trust it," admitted Emrys. "But Supermind did. Supermind saw in Vanguard's last correspondence a trust and lucidity that I, as someone who had limited contact with the hero, lacked.
I may not trust Vanguard's state of mind, but I do trust Supermind's decision making. I have never known him to lose a bet, hence, why I worked with him so closely.
It is also why I am willing to work with you, for it appears that Supermind has hedged a bet on you also. That he granted you that eye indicates to me that he would have wanted you on this search."
Emrys referred to, of course, Supermind giving Aldrich the All-Seeing Eye.
To Aldrich, it had seemed like a desperation move, something that Supermind did as a way to try and fight against the Stranger.
'It takes an Irregular to beat an Irregular' were the venerated hero's words.
But maybe it was not just that. Maybe Supermind saw in Aldrich something more than a simple retaliatory force against the Stranger. At the ver
y least, Emrys seemed to think so.
"I'm considering taking this deal, but I have conditions," said Aldrich.
"I expected that. Name them," was Emrys's cool response.
"If you're going to be using my property to reinforce Panopticon defenses, I want to see how it's done," said Aldrich. "I want to be present to know exactly what it is the Panopticon will do to replicate my defense against the hacking in the Judicata."
This, Aldrich wanted to figure out whether the Panopticon could replicate magic and, if they could, how they did it.
Ordinarily, Aldrich would not have given the Panopticon the opportunity to analyze magic, but it was because Emrys said that the Panopticon could eventually adapt on its own that Aldrich was willing to do this.
However, Aldrich wanted to call Emrs out on that statement, especially if it was a bluff. He wanted to know exactly how things were done, if they could even be done in the first place.
Emrys's reaction to this demand would be telling.
"Very well," said Emrys. "I will arrange for you to be privy to the Panopticon's more inner workings."
Not even a single second of hesitation.
"On top of that, I want access to Vanguard's writings," continued Aldrich. "How were they sent to you? Electronically? Or physically?"
"Pen and paper."
"Good. Send me them. The original copies." Physical writing was the safest, sureproof way to record things without the risk of hacking.
And, hopefully, it meant that Aldrich could use magic to analyze it.
Magic might not work in Cyberspace, at the least not yet - maybe Fler'Gan could work something out - but physical objects could be subject to divination or scrying spells.
Emrys frowned. "They are currently preserved to the highest degree with the highest level of security with the AA. Giving them to you is…a difficult proposition, even for me.
I can send you electronic copies."
"Call me old fashioned, but I like holding a book in my hands when I read," said Aldrich.
"…I will see what I can do," said Emrys.
"Good. I'm assuming that if things go well, a friendly relationship is due between the AA and Haven, right?" said Aldrich.
"Of course. That is a given. Your cooperation will prove you a capable ally of humanity, at which point, the AA has no reason to stand against you.
After all, the core principle of the AA is to fight for humanity's survival above all."
Aldrich disagreed with the last part of Emrys's statement. The AA at heart, with its founding, might have been for humanity at an altruistic level, but plenty agreed now that it had gone hollow with commercialization.
"And I understand that many believe the AA a shell of itself. That it has turned into something flashy and gaudy," said Emrys, showing again his uncanny ability to read the flow of conversation and guess ahead. "For quite some time, I have observed the AA's decline.
Strong men create peace. Peace creates weak men. Weak men create difficult times.
We have been at a tentative peace, and that has made the average hero weak. The average executive a corporate boardmember rather than a leader." Emrys turned his back to Aldrich, looking ahead in the dark of the dimly lit ship, to the forward windows that showed the outside sky. When he spoke again, his voice had an edge of resolution to it. "But I am taking the AA back to its roots now that troubled times give cause for drastic change.
No more weak men. No more weak heroes. No more weak executives."
"I look forward to seeing that," agreed Aldrich, remembering Hat Trick, the most egregious offender of self-absorbed, commercialized hero that he knew personally. "And one more thing-,"
"More?" said Emrys, questioning. His tone was still neutral, however, hard to tell whether he was offended or curious.
"I am requesting a Blackout," said Aldrich.
A Blackout was an area where heroes could not come in, usually a temporary zone due to extreme variant danger. However, Blackouts were sometimes used for Sentinels as some opposed AA activity in their controlled territories.
"This seems counter-intuitive," commented Emrys. Especially after insinuating you wanted a more friendly, working relationship with the AA. You still want to put a Blackout over Haven?
It is within your rights as a Sentinel, of course, but I had thought you different from the average Sentinel who wields their powers like a fuedal lord - selfishly without thought for the greater good."<
"No, not a Blackout over Haven. We can discuss the specifics about how the AA will work with and potentially operate in or around Haven later," said Aldrich.
"Interesting. I have an idea of what you want with a Blackout, but I will not question you further. I am willing to grant you that, though I cannot extend a Blackout past twenty four hours, nor can I impose it on any populated city.
Refer me to the specific details of this later." Emrys nodded, indicating with his words that he was done talking to Aldrich. Or, more likely, done listening to demands.
With a wave of a hand, Emrys opened the hatch doors above Aldrich, signaling him free to leave.