Incendia's Ascent May 2001, Kharagpur, India
In an internal report on project operations, details were listed regarding an explosion at one of the biochemical research facilities near Asnabani, in northern Kharagpur. Genetic experimentation at that location had ceased, as the facilities were completely destroyed and much of the research lost in the fire. Seventeen fatalities, thirty four injuries, all animal subjects lost. Site sanitation procedures were initiated, but two of the lead researchers were still unaccounted for. Security was alerted to the issue, and they are investigating all leads.
Late January 2019, Miami, Florida
Miami News 13! We're on the spot!
Tonight, Defender Protector came to the aid of the Eastfield Miami Promenade, when a man threatened to blow the mall up if he didn't get ten thousand dollars in cash. As you can see on this video, taken by a witness with a cell phone, the man had told bystanders that he was wearing a bomb, and had pulled what looked like a gun from inside his jacket. Thankfully, Defender Protector was nearby, and the situation was soon taken care of, with no injuries, not even to the suspect. And now, the latest in sports.
Early February 2019, Los Angeles, California
Deepti Narula was playing in a UCLA lacrosse game against USC. It had been a heated match, with the score tied at 5-5, and tempers were getting rough. What had normally been a cross-town rivalry was getting less about getting the ball to the goal and more about shoving whoever had the ball away. Shoving, tripping, body-checking, it was almost like ice hockey on grass.
There was one woman on the USC team, #12, who seemed to have it in for Deepti, getting especially enthusiastic with "defense," but basically using any excuse to get the young woman distracted from the ball. More so than in a regular game. Deepti got the ball, however, with seconds left on the clock, and started sprinting towards the USC goal, looking to break the tie. Her teammates were also making that sprint down the field, and as Deepti was considering whether to try for the goal herself, or pass the ball to Becky, she got hit from behind with a very strong gust of wind! So strong, it broke her stride, and she tried to make the pass to Becky, as Deepti herself face-planted into the turf.
"What the hell!" she exclaimed, rolling to her side, to see if anyone else was blown over. What caught her attention, however, was #12's horrified look of embarrassment. The horn sounded, marking the end of the match. 5-5, no winner here.
Gingerly, Deepti got to her feet and joined the rest of her team, for the immediate post-game "good game" handshakes with the other team. #12 was nowhere to be seen. Once back in the locker room, Becky asked, "Hey, Dee, you okay? Trip over your own feet?"
The other players laughed, and Deepti smiled uncomfortably, rubbing the scrape on her cheek. "Or something, yeah," she replied, as she finished getting out of her uniform, and grabbed her towel to hit the shower. There was a lot of game-grime to remove.
Once dressed, Deepti went looking for the USC team, before they left. She was concerned for #12, as that gust of wind was… something. And the look on the girl's face was not something with which Dee herself was unfamiliar.
She found the other player heading for the buses. "Hey, Number Twelve!" Dee called out. Number Twelve turned, looking startled for a moment, before masking it. Number Twelve was a tallish, very attractive blonde, probably a senior.
"Oh, uh, yeah? What's up?" came the reply.
"Hey, uh," started Deepti. "Got a sec? I wanted to ask you something… I'm Dee, by the way." She offered the other woman her hand.
After a moment's hesitation, it was taken. "Melissa. Sure. But make it quick."
Dee gave a brief nod, "Yeah, so, I… couldn't help but notice, towards the end of the game, the way you ran off like that." Deepti was looking anywhere but directly at Melissa. "Like, uh, like, it surprised you as much as it did me." Melissa went pale. "No, it's okay. I'm not going to tell anyone. But, you gotta be more careful," Dee hastened to add. "Seriously, it's okay. But you need to learn how to control it better."
Still pale, Melissa nodded. "Yeah, so I'm learning. But, how d'you know it was me?"
Dee smiled wryly and brought her hand up, as if holding a disposable lighter, and flicked her thumb up. There was a tiny flame on the tip. "Been there, done that. At least nobody's in danger of immediate death if you lose control. Anyway, you did get it controlled again, so," Dee shrugged, almost nonchalantly, "no harm, no foul. Just be careful, okay?"
Melissa nodded, and was about to say something, when the horn from one of the buses sounded, and somebody called out, "C'mon, Melissa! Let's go!"
"Thanks, Dee. Good game!" Melissa called back, as she headed to her bus.
That evening, Deepti was at home, having dinner with her family. Her parents owned a restaurant and a dry cleaner's in Artesia, closer to USC than to UCLA. Hemanti Narula, Dee's mother, was once again commenting that Dee should have married that nice Sanjay and start giving her grandchildren. That she shouldn't be doing that horrid lacrosse sport, because it was unladylike, and she'll never find a husband if she keeps doing that. It was a common topic of conversation at the table, and Dee's younger sister, Marisa, was happy that it wasn't directed at her, since she was only fourteen, and not interested in sports, anyway. Dee's older brother, Kamal, had his own apartment, and was working the night shift, so Dee rarely saw him any more, since she herself usually stayed at the dorm on campus.
Jagad Narula, Dee's father, was pointedly not saying anything. Instead, he was enjoying the lovely meal his wife had cooked. All the flavors of Delhi, and, as far as he was concerned, all for him. He wasn't quite so trim as he had been in Dee's youth, but he was still an imposing figure, with a no-nonsense air about him. He managed the administrative side of the businesses, while his wife took care of the kitchen and staff management. But Saturday evenings were Family At Home evenings, and not to be skipped lightly. Kamal would definitely be hearing from their mother, Sunday morning.
"How is your face healing up? I saw that fall you took today, at the game. It looked like it hurt," remarked Hemanti. "It might leave a bruise. I have some cream for that. I'll give it to you after dinner."
"Thanks, but I'm fine, Mum. It was just a fall," replied Dee, reaching for more naan.
"I don't like you falling and hurting your lovely face. You won't get a good husband if you have bruises and scratches all over you like that," nagged her mother. Dee didn't escape the house without a fresh pot of her mother's topical salve.
Late February 2019, Los Angeles, California
A couple of weeks later, at the end of February, Deepti was returning to her dorm after her last class of the day. Human Anatomy 101. She studied hard, because while her athletics got her into UCLA, her grades would keep her in, and open up other avenues of scholarship funding. She planned on going pre-med, once her core-four were complete, and she knew she had little future with lacrosse as a career. She enjoyed cooking, but she had no desire to stay with Village Masala, the restaurant her parents had opened after moving to Los Angeles from Houston, a bit more than a decade ago. So, Dee was walking across the campus, reviewing her notes on her tablet, only paying enough attention to not walk into anything (or any one).
"Hey, Narula!" called a strong, feminine voice, from her left. Dee paused, looking towards whoever called her name. It was Melissa, Number 12 from USC. She was a little taller than Dee, pale skinned and blonde, with an athletic build similar to Dee's own, and dressed to show it off. Deepti dressed more for comfort than attention, with faded jeans, video game t-shirt, and a university-logo zip-up hoodie. Melissa's black skirt was short, her green crop-top tight, and her fluffy shrug was almost highlighter-yellow.
"Oh, hey!" It took Dee a moment to remember her name. "Melissa! How're you doing?"
Melissa came up and gave Dee a light punch on the arm, "Came to see how you held up," she answered, jokingly. "Glad to see you didn't need to get anything amputated."
"Nah, I'm good," laughed Deepti. "So, really… what brings you Brent-ward? Men's Lacrosse playing here tonight or something?"
Melissa shrugged, "Dunno. I transferred here. Talking to the coach about joining the team. Glad I ran into you, though. You doing anything tonight?" Melissa was all grins.
Deepti gaped for a moment. A mid-term transfer? From USC? To here? "Uh, no, not really. Studying, mainly," she mumbled, trying to figure out how or why anyone would do that.
"Good. Let's go grab some food. I'm starving!" and with that, Melissa dragged Dee off-campus to a local burger place.
Since Deepti really had no plans, other than studying, she let herself get dragged along. Somehow, over the course of the meal, Melissa got a lot more information about Dee and her family, than Dee got about Melissa. And then Melissa asked, "Hey, so, it's Friday night. You're not going out like that, are you?" Melissa looked Dee from head to toe, and lifted a brow.
Dee snorted in vague disbelief, "I don't go out on Fridays. I study. Seriously, I'm boring as hell. I have to keep my grades up so I can keep doing the university thing."
"Well, this," Melissa remarked tartly, gesturing to the entirety of herself, "doesn't need to study."
Deepti smirked wryly, "Yeah, well, this does," she indicated her own self, the same way, "Or else it'll lose its scholarship."
"Nope! Tonight, you're going out. All work and no play, blah blah blah," declared Melissa.
Despite her admittedly half-hearted objections, Deepti wound up with some new-for-her outfits, cobbled from one of the thrift shops near the school, that technically covered everything while leaving little to the imagination. She rarely dressed to impress, but Melissa had an eye for what would look good on her dusky-skinned, new sidekick.
They toured a couple of fraternity parties along Gayley Avenue, until the small hours of the morning. Music, drinking, dancing, Melissa seemed to know everyone, or at least, everyone wanted to know Melissa and, by extension, Deepti.
This was Deepti's freshman year, and she'd been so determined to keep her grades up, she'd completely ignored the Freshman Rush at the start of the school year. She'd always had some academic difficulty in her high school classes, well aware that she wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, but at least she was hardly the dullest. But she knew that if she was going to keep her place on the team and her scholarship in tact, she'd have to study harder than she had in high school. So, while she was fairly social with her classmates and teammates, she didn't go out of her way to check out the party scene. Melissa was pulling her out of her nerd-shell, and the attention Dee was receiving was quite intoxicating.
Deepti finally found her dorm room some time after 3 in the morning. Dee's roommate, Kim, was sitting in her own bed, playing games on her phone when Dee stumbled in.
"Dee?" asked Kim, with some disbelief. "What happened to you?" She looked Deepti up and down. "That's new," she remarked. Kim was also a freshman, and studying music history. Kim's family was from the mid-west; her father was a successful real estate developer, her mother was his high school sweetheart.
Deepti smiled a bit lopsidedly, "Made a new friend. We went out partying along Frat Row. Scuze me, gotta go puke," and promptly fled to the communal bathroom, to worship at the porcelain throne.
She didn't remember getting back to her room, or into bed, but the next morning, at 8 am when her alarm started blaring, she woke up with a truly awful hangover, still in the thrifted mini-dress, and the need to be on the field within the hour for practice. Dee crawled out of bed and headed for the shower, groaning painfully as the water roared in her ears and seemed to pierce her skin. Still, she made it, barely in time (when she normally was one of the first on the field). She wanted, for a moment, to punch the smirk off Melissa's face, but it was time for warm-ups, and the practice began.
That day, lacrosse practice was very rough on Deepti. She'd never been hung over before, and she was lagging behind her teammates. She wasn't in her top form, and the coach had some words for her afterwards, warning her not to screw up, or she'd lose her place on the team, and thus, her scholarship.
After practice, Melissa tried to drag Dee to another party, but as it was Saturday night, it was Family Dinner Night at the Narula house. Deepti declined, and promised to bring some leftovers back for Melissa to try.
That evening, midway through dinner, Hemanti put her fork down. "Deepti, where were you last night?" She gave her older daughter a level look. "I called you, and you didn't answer your phone, so I called your room, and your roommate, that Kim girl, didn't know where you were." Hemanti did not sound pleased.
"Oh, sorry," Dee replied. "I was invited out by a friend from the team. Melissa," she offered. "She wanted me to meet some of her friends." Not entirely a lie, as they were Mel's friends, and she wanted Deepti to go with her.
"You shouldn't stay out so late, Deepti," remarked her mother. "Your grades will slip and you'll lose your scholarship. Then you'd have to come home and marry Sanjay." She shrugged, picking up her fork, "Then again, go ahead and stay out so late. Then you'll have to come home and marry Sanjay. And give me grandchildren." She resumed eating, looking rather pleased with that prospect. Her father said nothing on the subject, but merely continued his dinner.
Kamal looked at his younger sister, curiously. "When did you get in, Dee?" he asked, around his own mouthful of food.
"Don't talk with your mouth full!" demanded their mother.
Deepti shrugged, "I don't know. Late." She grinned sheepishly, "Late enough that I almost threw my alarm clock out the window, when it went off."
"Ooh, Dee-dee, becoming a party girl," teased Kamal. "Don't do anything to ruin your chances with Sanjay, or Mum will-"
"That's enough, Kamal," growled Hemanti. "I will not, because Deepti is a good girl, and respects her family." She turned her gaze on Dee, "Aren't you." Not a question.
"Of course, Mummy," Dee replied, promptly. Her mother harrumphed, hardly mollified, while her father spared a glance from his meal to briefly regard the women of his household.
Sunday afternoon, Deepti was in the library, wanting some quiet away from Kim's headset blasting classical music in their room, as she studied. She was having some difficulty with calculus, and having sections of Dvorak being repeated and only barely audible was highly distracting. She was working out some of the practice equations, when her phone lit up. It was text from Melissa.
Get ur party on. Goin 2 SigPhiRho 2nite.
Deepti rolled her eyes. She'd heard Sigma Phi Rho's parties could get out of hand. They could get crazy. Some whispered about super-crazy. Like, super-super. Dee worked very hard to keep her power under control, and had her doubts that going to SigPhi was wise. Especially since she had a test in the morning. The calculus class she was currently studying for.
Her phone flashed again, U goin, rt?
No. Gotta study. Test 2morrow.
Won't stay lng. Cmon. Will get u 6. B rdy.
Deepti's lips thinned, irritation flaring within her. She liked Melissa; Mel was fun, friendly, and made Dee loosen up a lot. But Mel was definitely a danger to Dee's academic plans. On the other hand, Deepti never partied in high school, and hadn't been much for parties since starting college, either. Maybe one night wouldn't be a big deal. And tomorrow's test wasn't a mid-term, so while significant, wasn't going to crash her grade if she did poorly.
Deepti looked at her watch. It was 4:30. She looked at her pile of books and her notes. "Well, I've done what I can," she murmured to herself, deciding to go, after all.
Kim was in the dorm room, still working on her own classwork. "Hey, Dee. Wanna join me for dinner, tonight?" They occasionally ate together at the dorm's cafeteria.
"No thanks. Going out tonight." She then smiled wryly, "I'm not going to be as late as I was Friday night." They both had a chuckle over that.
After a quick shower, Deepti rummaged through her closet, finding another outfit from that same shopping trip with Melissa. It was a dark, swishy skirt and a bright, flowy top, and some costume jewelry to go with it. She fished out her black heels, and the outfit was complete. She put her long hair into a braid, fixed her makeup, and met Melissa down in the lobby.
Sigma Phi Rho was at the far end of Fraternity Row, so a Ryde got paged. The party was in full swing by the time they arrived, with the music thumping, the lights flashing. The pair were swallowed by the press of partiers, and soon found themselves with drinks and dance partners. Dee tried to just get a can of soda, but they claimed all they had were 2-liters, and would pour cup after cup. And so Dee drank, and danced with various guys, and a couple of girls. She didn't notice that Melissa kept an eye on her.
As Dee was looking to get another drink, and maybe a snack, Melissa intercepted her. "C'mon, try this," she said, loudly, into Dee's ear, as the music was very loud and very thumpy. She offered Deepti a round, white pill.
"This doesn't look like ibuprofen, Mel," remarked Deepti.
"It's not, it's Northern Lights. C'mon. It just heightens what you see," coaxed Melissa.
Dee shook her head, "I can't, Mel. You know why I can't. I can't risk it!" She tried to push Mel's hand away.
"Seriously, Dee, it just lets you see auras and shit like that. You're totally in control. I promise. Besides, it'll make downstairs much more interesting." Melissa grinned impishly to her shorter friend.
Dee's eyes widened. "Downstairs? What the hell kind of party is this?!" she hissed, incredulous. "I'm not into that, whatever it is… Jeez, Mel, wha–"
Melissa shook her head, interrupting her, "No, not like that, though that'd make things real interesting. No, the downstairs party is the heart of SigPhiRho. It's super." Melissa emphasized that like Dee should have caught on immediately. It was obvious that Dee had no idea what her friend was talking about.
"Look, Dee… I already took some. I'm fine. You're just," Melissa paused, and started giggling. "You're just glowing, like a rainbow is puking on you. It's harmless. I promise! See? I'm totally in control of my self. You'll be fine!"
Deepti had noticed that Melissa's control over her wind power had improved seemingly exponentially from that first game night. And she could see that Mel was in complete control of herself, here. And while the frat house tended to rack up police reports at few times a year over the last decade, they actually hadn't gotten in trouble yet, this year. Maybe Dee could go ahead, and try something completely outside her comfort zone.
Melissa could see Deepti was prevaricating. "Tell you what. Take it, come with me downstairs, if you don't like it, we'll leave. No arguments."
Dee looked sharply at Mel's face, and considered her options. Mel had rapidly become her best friend, and she wasn't quite sure how, but regardless, Dee believed her. She swallowed the pill with her last swig of (spiked) soda.
"Let's get that refilled, and head on down," Melissa grinned, grabbing Dee's free hand, and heading for the bar.
At the bar, Mel ordered Dee's drink, as a guy tapped Dee's shoulder, "Hey, wanna dance?" he asked.
"Sorry, sport," replied Melissa before Deepti could answer. "She's with me," and handed Dee her drink. "C'mon, girl. Off we go!"
Dee blinked at her friend, starting to see some interesting colors around her. "Oh, hey… wow." She sipped at her drink as she followed along in Mel's wake, to the stairs. There was a guy there, probably a senior, who regarded the pair with a stony expression, before stepping aside to let them by.
Downstairs, it was nowhere near so crowded. The thumping of the music from upstairs was muffled, and there were a lot of comfortable seats arranged in a big circle. Dee assumed it would be like a basement, but it was more like a lobby, with a high ceiling and spanning the whole area under the main floor.
"Hey, Mel!" called out one of the guys sprawled comfortably in one of the easy chairs. He was a white guy, brunette, in a red t-shirt with the ΣΦΡ in white across the front. "Who's your friend?" He eyed her from head to foot, and back up again, offering a lazy smile.
"Guys, this is Dee. She's also on the lacrosse team, so play nice, or she'll smack you with her stick." This got a lot of good-natured laughter.
"You know the price, Mel. What's she got?" Redshirt-Guy still hadn't stopped looking at Deepti, a glint of assessment in his gaze.
"Uh," replied Dee, trying to process the sudden-to-her shift in the party.
"Show'em," stage-whispered Melissa, as she drew Dee to an empty loveseat.
"Yeah, show 'em," mimicked the guy. He lifted his hand, and it started sparkling like it was a live wire. In fact, the guy himself was getting all sparkly. Dee blinked owlishly at it.
Deepti shook her head. "No, I can't," she tried to say authoritatively. It sounded more like a weak excuse. "I don't want to set off the fire alarms." Her gaze automatically went to the ceiling, but found a distinct lack of smoke alarms or sprinkler system or anything like that.
"It's okay, Dee. We got you covered," another guy said, shifting his position so he could sit more attentively. He was slim and dark, Hispanic-looking, in a muscle shirt, also bearing the fraternity's letters. "You're safe here. We're all safe, here." He glanced at the others, who nodded with agreement. That's when Dee noticed that there was a junior in the corner, playing a drinking game with what looked like his twin, and they both had cat ears and tails. There was a couple dancing, not far from the stairs, a few inches off the floor. MuscleShirt-Guy smirked, and made a gesture with one hand. The liquid in her cup raised up like a finger, and "waved" at her.
This would have normally alarmed her, but Deepti was merely surprised, and then delighted. She smiled at the waving finger, then looked to the guy making it wave at her. With a grin, she held up her fist, and made the clicking-a-lighter motion with her thumb, lighting it on fire. It was a much bigger fire than she anticipated, about three inches tall, and with some effort, she brought it back to its half-inch height.
"You're a dangerous one!" laughed MuscleShirt. "Oh, you're gonna be fun! What else can you do? Is it just your hand, or can you, like, shit fire? What else?" He made a gesture towards Deepti, and she suddenly found herself floating to the middle of the room. "C'mon! Let's see!" he cajoled.
"What? No! I can't! Not here," Deepti was definitely alarmed, and was trying to wriggle herself back to the floor. She couldn't figure out how she was being held up. It wasn't wind, that's all she could figure out. And there were all the sparklies going on, too. It was like she was inside a rainbow sprinkle snow globe, and she was feeling very warm inside.
"Aaw, but your little fire is so cute! Just like you are!" said MuscleShirt-Guy. He made a small gesture, and Deepti started to spin slowly, ass over teakettle.
"Hey, wait a sec!" she exclaimed, putting her hands out to try and restore her balance. "Hey!" and with that, she burst into flames, her body covered with fire, as she struggled to get herself upright.
There was a chorus of impressed exclamations throughout the room, as Dee was returned to her original, up-right position. "That's so cool!" "Hey, awesome!" "Oh, wow!" "What happened to her clothes?"
And that's when Deepti realised she'd burned her clothes off. She hadn't done that in two years, since she first discovered she could burst into flames.
"Oh, shit!" exclaimed Deepti, as she tried to see how visible her body was. It looked like it was suitably hidden from casual view by her flames, but now, she couldn't sit down or anything, or else she'd burn the furniture. And, of course, expose herself. "I hope somebody has some clothes I can borrow, to get back to my dorm after this," she remarked, trying to sound stern, but came off more as petulant. "Seriously."
Laughter greeted her, but RedShirt nodded, "Yeah, you can borrow my sweats, Sweets." He grinned, his expression sympathetic rather than lascivious. "Seriously, though, this is a safe place. We're supers. Sigma Phi Rho." The other guys in the room barked out, "Rho! Rho! Rho!"
"I'm Luke," offered MuscleShirt. "That's Michael," he said, nodding to RedShirt. "You met Alphonse, up at the stairs. Everyone down here has their own little 'secret,' like you do. We're not gonna tell, 'cos it's nobody else's business." The others nodded.
"I'm Dee," she offered, still with her body aflame. "And… I really need those sweats, if I'm going to turn this off before I burn the house down."
Of course, that's when the DJ upstairs started playing Talking Heads' Burning Down The House.
Author's Note: This is a world similar to the one in Vox Veritatus. Both were built using the Mighty Protectors RPG system published by Monkey House Games. The images were created in Titan Icon, from the City of Heroes MMO.