The entire command staff of the Metahuman Division was in utter chaos and disarray. Everyone was talking at once. "She's still off radar!" "No radio contact" "I have electromagnetic interference on all bands!" "Should I scramble jets?" "Get me the League on the line, right now!"
"ONE AT A TIME!" Badger shouted, raising his arms, and the noise stopped abruptly all around him.
"Kowalsky, any visuals from the drone?"
"Yes, Sir. Drone's still active. It's on the screen."
On the large monitor at the center of the control room, a black-and-white telescopic image appeared, showing Elementa, seemingly unharmed, landing next to an unidentified woman.
"Run facial," Badger said, and there was frantic clicking and typing.
"No results, Sir," came the operator's voice ten seconds later. "No... wait."
Badger looked at the young sergeant. It was unusual for him to have to correct himself. He looked as confused as Badger was. He shook his head as if he'd just caught himself falling asleep.
"It's Awthora," he said, looking as confident as anyone could.
"Who the fuck is Awthora?" Badger asked, and he could see the shared confusion in the faces of the people all around him. He wasn’t the only one who had never heard the name.
Kowalsky looked puzzled, as if Badger was pulling his leg.
"She's... Awthora," he said raising his eyebrows as if he didn't understand the question at all, and it was Badger and everyone around him that were being crazy.
"What's going on?" he said, looking confused and worried, looking into the faces around him. Everyone was staring at him now. "She's been our number two for seven years! Awthora! Wisdom incarnate, all-knowing, all-telling? What–"
"Sergeant Kowalsky, get out of your chair," Badger said. Kowalsky had obviously lost his mind.
"You are relieved of duty. I cannot—"
He blinked. Something strange had just happened. He was sure. His lips felt suddenly dry, as if he'd slept with his mouth open.
"Where was I?" he asked.
"It's Awthora," said sergeant Kowalsky.
"What the hell is Awthora doing here? Shouldn't she be in Helsinki? Do we have any radio contact yet?"
"Keep trying all channels. And when you get through, ask Awthora why she—
"Sir, Awthora just vanished!"
"And Elementa is on the line!"
"Put her through!"
"Did you see that?" Elementa asked. Her head was still spinning from – whatever just happened. She was in the air again, rapidly gaining altitude in an attempt to gain as much distance between her and the possibly contaminated place she'd just left.
"Affirmative," Badger said over the radio earpiece. He sounded dazed, too.
"This is bad news. Why would Awthora suddenly turn heel?"
"Beats us. Research team is already checking her recent history. But it looks like she's been planning this for a while now. They say that nearly all the records are gone. It's like they never existed. Forensics and tech are trying to find backups or restore the data."
"How could she access the archives?" Elementa asked, but she already had a suspicion. After all, Awthora had more or less told her what had happened. The awful memory was fresh in her brain and sat uneasily at the front of her mind, giving her a vertigo-inducing headache. She still felt overwhelmed. It felt... wrong – not just because Awthora had always been someone she'd looked up to, and seeing her swear revenge had broken her heart.
"She must have bent reality, like she said," Elementa said when Badger didn't answer. Her chest felt tight. If it was true, then: Awthora had become maybe the most powerful threat that ever existed. If she could just alter reality like she claimed... she was unstoppable.
And here she'd thought that she'd have a couple of days off after defeating Negatron. She should have known better. She sighed into the supersonic winds parting around her.
"Plausible scenario," Badger said. "That's a class zero threat. We'll have to call the League of Heroes. We need everyone involved."
Reluctantly, Elementa felt herself agree.
"I'll divert to Washington," she said.
"Hold it. We still need you to be in L.A. for your press briefing. The public can't know about this yet. If this is class zero, we'll have to go into full information quarantine on this."
"Reality-altering powers might feedback with the collective unconscious. It's one of the apocalypse scenarios they came up with in the 50s. The more people believe it's true, the more it actually becomes true."
"We don't know that’s the case," she said. "But yeah. Better not take that chance."
"Good, glad you understand. Not a word, to anyone, until we know more."
"Roger, Badger," she said, unable to keep herself from smiling a tiny bit. "I'll be in L.A. in twenty. Keep me updated."
"Will, do Heron. Badger, out."
Elementa curved her flight path southwards. She could see the pacific stretch across the horizon far below her. She followed the I15 below her, checking in with ATC as she entered the airspace. They cleared her and gave her directions to proceed.
God dammit, she thought when she had time for everything to sink in. This was really bad, and it had come out of absolutely nowhere. Her brain seemed to have trouble coming to terms with it, which was unusual. She'd seen enough shit that there wasn't much that fazed her anymore. If she wasn't able to quickly digest and accept terrible and world-shattering revelations, she wouldn't have lasted long in her line of work.
But everything about this seemed wrong. Wrong in the same way that the reality-altering, otherworldly energy of the negaverse seemed wrong. She couldn't shake the feeling that she'd missed something when Awthora had revealed her intentions. It was like Elementa hadn't been fully there. It all felt... fake, for the lack of a better word.
But she had to accept it. The woman she'd secretly loved and adored had turned evil. She swallowed hard, finally allowing herself to feel some of the black dread that she had balled up in her chest. She sobbed, once, then repressed the feeling again. Letting it all out would have to wait until she was alone. She couldn't lose her composure in front of the press. She had to project strength and confidence, always.
Even if she suddenly felt small and vulnerable, facing an impossible threat. But she would have to endure, and persevere, and work together with her allies -- and together they would stop it.
Because that was what heroes did.