Ch. 4.1 – Alice

Alice chewed thoughtfully on her fourth slice of pizza. Her four guests were resting in their chairs. Max was slumped back, his male form sporting a frown and bad posture. Sara was looking down at the table, two knuckles playing at her lips. Molly, as Alice expected, was watching the trap door, having turned her chair slightly to be able to easily face it. All three were behaving predictably.

Alex was finishing off the crust of his third slice of pizza with one hand, the other resting contentedly on his abdomen. By the way it keeps sliding down, he was probably a bit rounder before his Empowerment, she thought with a smile. It’s always nice to see someone actually enjoying his majestas. I wonder why the design on his armor keeps changing? The lines and dots shifted slightly from time to time, usually when no one was looking. I’m pretty sure it’s not a conscious decision.

The newcomer was looking around at ‘Wonder Rose’s secret lair.’ Alice had already explained how she’d carved out the room below the apartment building with her modest Blaze talent, but he still seemed impressed. Making the walls match the basement above us was the only hard part, she thought idly. The room was modestly furnished, with a microwave oven atop a mini-fridge, an overhead light, a portable generator, and a small table for her laptop accompanying the table and folding chairs for her guests. Alice concentrated for a moment to keep the generator running. Glad I don’t have to maintain my wireless right now, she thought idly, eyes flickering to the inactive laptop. Okay, enough avoiding. Let’s do this.

“So.” Alice donned her most disarming smile, set down her pizza, and looked at Alex. “What do you know about Vision contact?”

“Not much,” he replied with a shrug. “Molly used it to coordinate with me, but it was more like a subvocal cell phone than mind-melding.”

Molly chuckled. “You were nervous enough as it was, Alex.”

Alex raised one eyebrow at Molly. “There’s a reason for that,” Alice added quickly. “If you’ve used Vision for any kind of ESP, you know there’s a lot more to it than mental radio.” Alex nodded slowly in response. “There are all kinds of layers to telepathy. Using it for silent speech is the least connective. It can get much deeper.”

“I figured,” Alex said slowly, looking at the table, “but I’ve been at this for less than a day. I don’t really know much of anything about how Majestic talents work.”

Alice cast as gentle a sidelong glance at Molly as she could. “We’ve been busy,” Molly said dryly. “He held off the Skeptic in his first hour. I figured he’d be okay while we secured Sara.”

Alice let herself gape briefly. “Okay, now I really want to see how your spirit works,” she said, smiling at Alex again.

The super-knight lit up. “My spirit? Okay, I have about a million questions,” Alex said quickly. He stopped at Alice’s raised hand.

“Believe me, I get it,” Alice replied, casually tracing a swirl of golden Vision energy through the air, “but this will be a lot easier – not to mention faster – with a psychic rapport.”

Alex took a deep breath, let it go, then nodded. Sara gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s do this.”

Max sat up a little straighter, watching curiously. Sara quietly let go of his hand and Wove for a smooth rapport, fingers flowing to Evoke an auspicious harmony. Molly stood, Anima flowing with subtle power around her hands and feet. Alice simply looked into Alex’s eyes. “Good. Now, try to relax. You use Majestic Inspiration, so just let the talent flow into you.” She waited while Alex poured Weaving through him, keeping her expression neutral as it snarled into several knots in his aura. “Easy now. Have you ever heard of ‘grounding and centering?'” Alex nodded. “Great! Do that.” The knots came apart quickly. “Perfect. Now I’m going to make contact. Ready?” Again, he nodded. Alice gently reached out with her Vision, her own Inspiration matching his in careful sympathy.

Alex’s mind’s natural defenses were formidable. Nothing I couldn’t handle if I had to…given enough time…but forcing through those would be bad, she noted. Those same defenses became supple, then fluid, as he worked to let her in. Quick study. Very nice. Okay, here we go-

* * *

The first thing that hit Alice was the color. Everything was bright, vibrant, alive in ways that astonished even her. Alex’s Majestic art was somewhat literal. His drive to create was a palpable force in his mind, a thing alive and constantly in motion. Words seemed to stumble in the mists, but images were always there, lines and curves marking borders that demanded chromatic fulfillment. So that’s what stopped the Skeptic, Alice thought. Nothing could gray out this place.

*Wait, so that’s it?* Alex asked dubiously, and Alice realized with a touch of chagrin that she had harmonized with Alex’s mind more than she’d realized. *I’m an artist? That can’t be all.*

*Trust me, it can,* Alice replied, the idea of a laugh resonating between them. *The Union Majestic is always a sort of art. Think of the Skeptic as a demon of writer’s block.* She ‘looked’ around, and as she did, a cosmic landscaped formed around them, a massive asteroid with a massive golden city in the distance and the Milky Way glittering overhead. *You may not be happy with your skills as a writer, but this? The Skeptic was trying to stop a tsunami by sticking his finger in the dike.* That got a laugh from Alex, which echoed with her own. *Going deeper. Ready?*

*Yes,* he said, the world rocking as he nodded. Alex’s self-image blinked. *Um, maybe?* Worries formed like serpents, wriggling in with shadows and shame. She could sense icons of lust and rage on them, behind what her internal censor blocked out. And that settles that, she thought as he added, *Ooh. I’m also-*

*A healthy adult male,* Alice responded evenly. *Don’t worry, I learned to filter that stuff out a long time ago.* An image of Molly in flapper garb appeared at her side, and Alice chuckled while Alex stared. A Picasso-meets-Escher landscape appeared around them, providing extra eyes to bulge. *Heh, well, relatively speaking. Don’t worry, you’re clean. If you weren’t, those perverse dreads would have had a lot more in them than self-doubts.*

A few of the impossible staircases became impossible freeways. *True rapport is a two-way street. I can’t be in your mind without you being in mine.* Mirrors sprang up next to Alex and Alice. Alice’s showed Alex blinking at her in confusion, while his reflected Alice waving jauntily at him. *In fact, that’s how I’m going to impart the answers I have to those ‘million questions’ of yours.*

The world blinked with Alex. *Just like that?* he asked, even the soul-echoes a whisper.

*You’ll see,* she said, then waited. It only took an instant for him to be ready. Unite, she thought, and they did.

Reality itself crackled with power. Inspiration was, to Alex, a gateway within that let endless potential surge through him. Early years as a skinny ‘brain’ had instilled a loathing for bullies. Later periods of solitude made him appreciative of both time alone and the value of friends. *Um, Alice?* his voice broke in. *What’s this?*

Alice turned her attention to match his. She imagined herself blushing if their thoughts weren’t moving too fast for her capillaries to react. Male, mixed ancestry, can pass for Caucasian, minimal sense of entitlement, was attached to her first impression of Alex. *I’ve used my Vision to deal with my own assumptions. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m a black woman in America. You learn to be alert whenever you’re in public. Aware.*

*Always?* Alex replied, the realization clearly depressing him. *I’ve read about how privilege works, but I didn’t think the reaction was this…constant. As if the border guards were everywhere.*

*Let’s stay on task for now,* she said, but couldn’t help feeling a relief at his reaction. He gets it. Alice drew on all of her knowledge, experience and study of majestas, concentrated, and brought it into their harmony.

To save both story space for the chapter and reading time for those who aren’t interested in such details, the basics of what Alice imparted to Alex can be found in the Majestic Codex. For those who want to read more, follow the link above to find the articles thus far written.

Fortunately, she was ready for the feedback. Even better, it wasn’t nearly as explosive as she’d expected. Alex’s mind reeled, but didn’t erupt with disbelief or rejection, just overload, with mere hints of the former present from remnants of Complex propaganda. Still, it was enough to send her crashing back into her own mindspace, unharmed if disoriented. “Lord, Molly, you didn’t teach him anything,” she muttered before she caught herself.

“We were running from the Skeptic,” Molly retorted, finally sounding exasperated. “Besides, that’s not true, Ben and I gave him the basics we could.”

“Sorry,” Alice said, as conciliatory as she could manage. Sara held Alex’s shoulder while he reeled, holding his head. “Okay. Max, you ready?”

Max blinked. “Are you? That looked like a roller coaster gone off the rails.”

For a moment, Alice looked inward, checking herself with her own Vision. “I’m fine. This isn’t my first ride.” She met his gaze evenly. “Okay?”

Max took a ragged breath. His terror was palpable, and he shifted to Maxine as she watched. As ever, it was a fascinating sight, even when it was so fast. “Okay,” Maxine said, voice as shaky as her gasp. Molly slid into a defensive stance, more wary than ever.

Alice glanced over at Sara and Alex. Sara grinned and patted him on the shoulder, while Alex smiled winningly and gave her a thumb’s up. “I’m good,” he said. He shook his head again. “Whoo. A little overwhelmed, but, wow. I feel like I’ve got the Majestic wiki in my head.”

“Good,” Alice replied, then sat down across from Maxine. Again, their eyes met, and Alice drew the Vision world into her, through her, and reached out with it to join her mind with Max’s.

The moment she made contact, Maxine’s mind erupted with psychic viruses and Vision traps. Ribbons of conformity lashed out to bind her, manacles of obedience descending to shackle her soul. A pulse of defiant will from Alice froze and shattered them. More formed in Maxine’s mind, paralyzing the Reanimate, then surged out to indoctrinate her. That’s not good.

Vortex Spawn abruptly swirled on the edge of the Vision world, ululating hungrily. That’s worse!

Written by Peter Flanagan

Peter Flanagan was born in the Bronx, New York, giving him the right to root for the Yankees while making less than six figures. After a long, largely pleasant interregnum in suburban Connecticut, he moved to the Inland Empire, California to be with his wonderful wife and muse, a stepson, and a crazed feline. An occasionally too-avid player of and writer for tabletop roleplaying games, his other passion is metaphysics, which informs most of his fiction.

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