Actions

Work Header

Origin Stories

Chapter Text

You have eight new messages.

“Partridge, it’s Sally. Call me back.”

“This is Sally. I’ve got big news that I probably shouldn’t try to fit into a voicemail, so get back to me as soon as you can.”

“It’s Dr. Grissom. Sally Grissom. You know, your best friend? Former lab partner? Is that ringing any bells, or have you just forgotten I exist?”

“Partridge. Partridge. Partridge. Partridge.”

“If you’re teaching a class right now, it’s fine to just leave early. The kids’ll love that. Give them all a break for once!”

“Seriously, Anthony. I need you. Please call me, or—you know what, actually, I’m taking a few days off from work. I’ll come visit you.”

“I’m at the airport. Flight’s leaving pretty soon. Last chance to pick up your phone, or you’ll be stuck with me in person.”

“Sally again. I’m in your office. Where the hell are you? If you’re not here in fifteen minutes, it’s going to be my office. I’ll rearrange all of your diplomas. Or should I say...MY diplomas.”

By the time the last message had finished playing, Anthony Partridge was almost back to his department building. He flung open his door to see a woman, her feet up on his desk as she habitually clicked about five of his pens at once in one of her hands. The other hand was holding a cell phone.

Anthony’s ringtone sounded just as the woman looked up. He answered, staring at her, and uttered a single “ why ” before hanging up.

“That one actually wasn’t me,” Sally said, with a grin that was partially apologetic but mostly amused. She flipped her phone around to show the screen, and Anthony watched an animated car that swiveled to crash into another car as she took her finger off of it. Swearing, Anthony looked at his own phone, but before he could see who he had just hung up on Sally was pulling him fully into the room and closing the door.

“What is this about?” he demanded, irritation and concern fighting for control of his tone (as they so often did when he spoke with Sally Grissom). “Why are you here? In New Mexico? At my university? And how did you even get here so quickly? Are you dying? Is the world ending?”

“Not exactly.” Sally took a deep breath, opened her mouth, closed it, spun around as she searched for the words. “Okay, so here’s the thing. Something happened at the SSC. An accident. And I...well, it was my fault really, but...”

Anthony took her hand, phone call forgotten entirely. “Those bastards ! They fired you? I know you’ve turned it down before, but the university would love to have you, and I think you could make a great professor—”

“What? No! To both me-as-a-professor and the them-firing-me bit. No, nothing like that. It’s more of...you know what, we’re both scientists. People of action, or whatever. It’ll be easier if I show you.”

“Show me what ?”

In response, Sally pushed the pens into his hand and drew back.

“What am I supposed to—” He blinked. The pens were gone.

Sally clicked them in unison.

“Alright, that’s a neat party trick, I’ll grant you that. But what does that have to do with—oh, hell!” He stumbled backwards, watching with wide eyes as Sally flung the pens forcefully at the wall and then—somehow, impossibly, moving so quickly he almost couldn’t see her—plucked them out of the air before they hit.

All except for one, with stuck like a lawn dart out of a framed award. Anthony approached it with trepidation, pulling it out cautiously as though it might come alive. “Sally,” he began softly, “what exactly is it that you do for the SSC, again?”

 


 

“So the generators started up when you where still in the room, and now you can control time ? What kind of sense does that make?”

Sally shrugged. “Hey, it’s not the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me in the pursuit of science.”

“Really?” Anthony laughed a helpless, empty sort of laugh. “Because it’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, and I’m only witnessing the results! Don’t tell me you’re not curious about all of this, because I know you.”

“Of course I am. That’s part of the reason I came to you. I need to go over everything that happened, and it’s not exactly as though I can ask my team at work for their help.”

He stopped, surprised. “They don’t know?”

“Nobody knows. Except for you, now. That’s how this sort of thing is supposed to work.”

“I’m touched. Really, I am. I know that lately, we haven’t—well, we’ve both been busy with work, and there’s the distance, but it’s not like—hang on. ‘This sort of thing?’ What is that supposed to mean?”

Sally, who had cleared off Anthony’s desk so that she could sit on it fully without breaking anything, tilted her head innocently. “Well, like I said, I’d appreciate your help figuring out how this happened. And I really did just want to tell you, too. But that’s not...entirely...what I’m here to ask you for.”

“You already have my Netflix login. What more could you possibly want from me?” He walked towards the door, walked back again. Already pacing, and something told him that the worst was yet to come.

“Your honest opinion on a potential new career path.” She leaned forward, earnesty incarnate. “This is...big. Life-altering. Not just my life, either. There’s an opportunity here, to really do something. When I started working at the SSC, they said we’d change the world. And maybe we will. Maybe this is how.”

“Cut to the chase.”

By way of response, she turned over and leaned back to the piles of paper she had moved from his desk to the floor, sitting up again with a newspaper in her hand. She snapped the pages open. “Armed robbery, Tuesday. The homeowner was injured, and they think it’s connected to a string of similar crimes. Yesterday a warehouse burned down. Two people died. Last week that kid was shot, and he’s still up at the hospital in critical condition. Everytime something happens, people stand together and say not again , but—it always happens again anyways. This city is broken, Partridge. So is mine. Most places are, I guess, but they say you should start making a difference on the local level, right? What if...what if we could? Directly, I mean.”

Pressing the paper closed again, she held it out so that they could both see the front page. The headline read LIGHTING THE WAY TO “DAWN .” Beneath it was a photograph of the eponymous hero, silhouetted on the roof of a building in downtown Polvo.

“So.” A little nervous, a little breathless, but dedicated—the same voice she’d used back in college any time she was about to sneak onto the roof of the student union building. “That’s the plan. Fighting crime in a cape with someone directing me from in front of at least three computer monitors—and I know you’ve got at least three computer monitors. Are you in or are you out?”

The door slammed behind Anthony as he stormed into the hall, a rather more corporeal response than Sally had expected. But she knew him. She waited.  And sure enough, nearly six minutes later:

“Damn it all to hell, Grissom. Okay. Where do we start?”

Chapter Text

“Hey. You...okay?”

Carmen jumped when Liam entered, hands moving just a little too slowly for him to miss the flash of brightly-colored plastic as she dropped something back in her desk drawer. “I’m fine. Why does everyone keep asking me that?”

“Because you’re not fine,” he said simply. “None of us are.”

“Well, then maybe you should go talk to someone about that. I’m handling things.”

He didn’t buy it, but he didn’t push, either. Instead he sat down on the edge of her bed, facing where she leaned, poised, against the desk.

“I heard that they’re pushing the go date back for gen two. Guess that means I’ll have the field to myself for a few weeks longer before you come butting in to steal my limelight.” When Carmen didn’t rise to the jab, he switched tactics. “Have they given you your official assignment yet? It’d be cool if we were in the same general region. Maybe not the same city, but state, at least. When I got mine, they gave us all our official costume designs and names at the same time, so that’s something to look forward—”

“I really don’t want to talk about this right now,” Carmen cut in.

Liam drew back immediately. “Sure.” For a moment he was silent, but silence didn’t fit well on him, and it slid off despite his honest efforts. “Hey, you free this evening? Fatima and Jonah and I are gonna steal the projector and go watch movies in the training gym until someone yells at us.”

For the first time, Carmen looked up at him. She almost even smiled. “That’s a terrible idea. But sure, sounds fun.”

“Great! We’ll meet at—”

But before the scheme could be solidified, a persistent buzzing sound filled the air. Liam instinctively glanced at his wrist, but the notification must’ve been for Carmen, because his own comm screen lay dark.

She stood, any trace of the smile gone. “The Director wants me. I’ve gotta go.”

“Yeah, of course. But, about tonight—”

Carmen had already left the room. Liam let out a long, shaky breath. Well, maybe you should go talk to someone about that , she’d said. He was trying to.

He stood up to leave, but halted just before the door, turning back to look at the desk. Slowly, feeling a little guilty, he slid open the drawer to see what Carmen had been messing with—and then slammed it shut, practically running for his room as if in an effort to outpace his own ghost.

It was a Rubik's cube, and neither of its previous owners were around to solve it.

 


 

“Thank you, Roberts. Please send Carmen in.”

Esther nodded her head and left the office. A moment later, the girl entered. Tonya LeMartine looked at her, trying to remember a world where she had ever been that young, or that fragile, or that certain her fury was righteous; but such a world, if it had ever existed, was long behind her. The only feature in Carmen’s face that was reminiscent of her own was the weariness, already tracing its way across her skin.

“I’m doing alright.”

Tonya started, driven from her thoughts. “I don’t recall asking.”

“But you were going to, weren’t you? Isn’t that why I’m here? Isn’t that why you delayed the program—because Petra couldn’t handle it and left, and you all think that I—that one of us is going to do the same?”

“No,” Tonya responded, tone even. “The next phase of the program was delayed because of Agent Van’s death. We’d like to go through the health records, ensure that the generation two and three cadets are in no danger of the same before continuing. Not only would placing you all in the field too early threaten your own security, it could harm everyone you’re tasked with protecting. And despite what you might imagine, Petra Marquez’s desertion is hardly my primary concern. Why? Are you planning on following in her footsteps?”

“No.”

“Good, because that’s not why I called you down.” Confusion—another expression that hadn’t graced Tonya’s face in years. Not that she was never surprised by anything; she’d just learned not to show it on the rare occasions when she was caught off guard.

She slid a file across the table, motioning for Carmen to open it. “ Your health records, we’ve gone through already. You’ve always been one of the strongest cadets the program has seen. Now, we’ll need to run some additional tests, but I think you’re ready.”

“Ready?” The file was still closed beneath Carmen’s hand. “Ready for what?”

“For everything. We want you to act as a sort of advance guard, beginning field operations before the rest of your age group. The delay will remain in place for the rest of them, but we were hoping you could join the first generation of your friends on the date originally planned. The details are in the file, along with finalized designs and schematics for your uniform.” Tonya’s smile, if not exactly warm, softened the rest of her features. “I know how exciting that part is when you first start out on the job.”

“And what if I say no?”

And there it was—Petra’s words, if not her voice. Tonya may not have been as personally involved in Project Plasticity as some of her colleagues, but she’d been overseeing ODAR since long before the children were recruited, pulled into the program from unhealthy or insecure circumstances and given the chance to become something more . She had seen them all grow up. And right now, she was bearing witness to how much of an influence Petra still had on her adopted sister, even when she herself was gone.

But it didn’t matter. Tonya had once been in the same spot where Carmen now found herself, and she knew that for people like them, there was only ever one option. Even Petra would come around to realizing it eventually.

“Then you’re out. But you won’t say no.” The smile, again. “You don’t like me very much, do you, Carmen?”

To her credit, Carmen seemed to really consider the question, and there was honesty in her tone as she answered, “I’m not sure.”

“That’s funny—some days I feel the same way. About myself, that is. But in the end, whatever tough calls I’ve had to make, I know that I’ve always done what I believed was right. That’s all we can ever do. So tell me: what do you believe is right?”

They looked at each other, the old woman and the young, across the wooden panel of the desk, across decades and experiences and truths.

Carmen flipped the file open. “Where do we start?”

Chapter Text

Petra touched a hand to her shoulder, drew it back, saw the blood on her fingers. “Well, shit.”

The man she’d been chasing was already halfway down the street. She got to her feet just in time to see someone come sprinting out of an alley, plowing into the guy headfirst.

“About time!” she called. The figure waved back at her with hands Petra knew as well as her own—because they were her own. “Watch out, he’s armed.”

But the other Petra had already resolved that problem, snatching his knife and sending it skidding back across the ground. Petra Prime took a few wobbly steps towards it, but before she could pick up the blade the night was filled with a flashing brightness that nearly knocked her off of her feet. The shock of it was enough to unravel her doppelganger, and Petra grimaced as her consciousness remerged. When she could open her eyes, she saw her opponent had been moved over to the sidewalk, and that his hands and feet were bound. That was all she had the time to take in before her attention was demanded elsewhere. Specifically, by the person standing a few yards in front of her, wearing some kind of mechanized suit.

Petra took a step back, fists curling. She was new to New Mexico, but she recognized the figure of the state’s most infamous hero. What she didn’t know was what Dawn wanted with her .

“Are you alright?”

She blinked. Not what she’d been expecting. “What, this? That’s nothing. Just a graze.”

“Yes, just a graze that’s already cost you so much blood you’re unsteady on your feet,” they responded wrly. The suit clearly altered their voice as they spoke—it shifted in tone, trailing up and down the scales, beautiful and, more significantly, untraceable to any human being. Dawn moved towards her. “Let me help you to the hospital.”

“No thanks ,” Petra spat. “I’d rather not be arrested for doing a job that nobody else in this place seems willing to do. Don’t tell me that you check into the ER anytime a fight goes south.”

“You’re right, this occupation can make it difficult to find help. But I have a friend who patches me up when I get injured. If you won’t go to the hospital, at least let me take you to see her.”

“Why should I trust you? What are you doing here in the first place?”

Dawn brushed off their suit, appearing as suavely distant as was possible with their face hidden. “On my way to a party. You looked like you needed help—both of you.”

“I was doing alright on my own,” Petra said. The effect was somewhat ruined, as she collapsed immediately afterwards.

Dawn rushed over, and Petra had just enough strength left in her to protest as she was lifted up in their arms.

“You’re just a kid ,” the hero said, surprise etching its way through the voice even with its modulations.

“I’m twenty,” Petra murmured, “probably.” And then, just as the light had moments before, darkness swarmed her vision.

 


 

 

When Petra came to, her shoulder was bandaged and she was lying in an unfamiliar bed. She rolled off of it quickly, or at least, one of her did. She left a double on the blankets, so that nobody would notice she was gone.

Wherever she was, it wasn’t a hospital, or a cell, or an ODAR facility—small comforts, maybe, but Petra took what she could get. Aside from the bed, the room around her held a wardrobe, a desk, and—despite the fact that the temperature had been in the 90s when she was last conscious—an electric fireplace . There was also a window. She debated making her escape, but her arm ached, and she decided that leaving likely wouldn’t be as simple as it appeared. She’d play along with whatever all of this was, for now.

Enough of the room. With a salute to the duplicate on the bed, she slipped through the door and—

Damn !

She snapped back to the bed, reconnecting with herself, but she wasn’t quite fast enough. Footsteps and the not unpleasant sound of someone humming a song she couldn’t quite place made their way to her door. A knock followed, accompanied by a voice she didn’t recognize.

“Are you awake? I thought I saw you poke your head out the door. There’s breakfast if you’re hungry, although June tells me you two had a late night at the party!”

No use in feigning sleep now. Petra returned to the door, opening it to see a smiling man holding a coffee cup in one hand, newspaper tucked under his arm. He was rather incongruously wearing a bathrobe over a collared shirt and slacks.

Before Petra could settle on how to address this apparition, a new face appeared from the door across the hall. It belonged to a woman who seemed to be on the verge of panic as she saw who had come to greet Petra, but she smoothed the expression over quickly. “Sylvia! You’re up!”

Feeling as though she had become a bystander in the surreal circumstances of her own life, Petra let the newcomer pull her down the hall, throwing some excuse to the man (who she called Ben). By the time the woman stopped in what appeared to be a study—“office” didn't quite do the room justice—Petra had regained her wits and was ready for an explanation.

“Dawn, I presume?” She did her best to keep her tone as level and nonchalant as possible.

“Me?” The woman laughed, a little nervously. “No, not quite.”

“You sound almost offended, Maggie. I think you would do a fine job at being me.”

The study was occupied; Petra hadn’t noticed before. Another woman stood up from a chair in the corner, walking over to meet them. She smiled, holding a hand out. “We didn’t get the chance for introductions last night. I’m June. This is Maggie, the friend I mentioned. Don’t worry, she’s a licensed doctor. And you’re Sylvia, for now—it was the first name to come to mind when my husband asked. He...he doesn’t know about my night job. If you’d like to tell me your real name later, you may, but I won’t ask you to.”

“Why tell me yours?”

“Are you planning on selling the information to the tabloids? The government? Believe me, my dear, I’ve been accused of stranger things.” June motioned for Petra and Maggie to follow her over to the chairs before yet another fireplace. “Sit down, sit down. Can I get you anything? A glass of water? There’s breakfast ready in the dining room, but I rather thought you’d prefer to have this discussion first. How is your shoulder?”

“It feels fine. Thank you.” Petra nodded at Maggie, hoping her gratitude sounded genuine despite the distrust she knew was still radiating from her.

“Since you tried to tell me the same last night directly prior to passing out, I’m generally not inclined to believe you, but Maggie seems to feel the same—after looking you over she assured me that it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. You could do with more rest, and a good meal, but you’re free to go whenever you wish.”

June . Mulling it over, Petra thought that the name sounded familiar, in connection with a Ben and the sort of person who might own a house of this size, but she didn’t pay quite enough attention to the politics of the places she passed through to say anything for sure. “Or?”

“Or you can follow me, and we can keep talking.” The woman stood again (no wonder her home had so much space—she never seemed to stay still for long), walking over to the fireplace.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!”

But she wasn’t. Mantle, fake logs, firescreen, and all, it slid to the side, revealing a platform that Petra was sure would lower down to some secret lair.

June stepped onto the platform. “Maggie?”

The doctor shook her head. “I think I’ll go have breakfast with Ben. Make sure he doesn’t come wandering about in search of you.”

“Save some for us. We’ll join you shortly.” She turned to Petra, now. “Sylvia? What do you say?”

“This conversation. If we were to continue it...what would it be about?”

June cocked her head, as if scanning the air for the answer Petra wanted to hear. “Words of advice, from someone who’s been in the business longer than you. Resources, if you’d like them. And an offer. I won’t go into details until you decide whether or not you’re interested. It’s a dangerous proposition. But the long and short of it is that there are some people in this world who have powers that they shouldn’t, in every sense of the word. There’s an organization—”

“ODAR?”

For the first time, June’s face seemed to flicker out of her control. Petra smiled. Ah, the upper hand—how she had missed it.

“How do you know about—”

“Don’t worry, I’ll tell you everything I’ve got. If you’re taking on the Office of Developed Anomalous Resources, you won’t be doing it alone.” Petra followed her onto the platform, which slowly began to descend. “So—where do we start?”