Posting Delay

Due to holidays, birthday celebrations, Dungeons and Dragons, my new job, and several minor life things (in roughly that order, even), The Named will be resuming normal posts on 2 Jan. Sorry about that.

In an attempt to tide you over, here’s the origin of The Named.

Before I knew anything else about the characters, world, or plot, I knew Named would be a superhero story revolving around a late-teens early-twenties woman who could teleport through glass. I had this really badass-seeming mental image of her running up the side of an office building by flickering from one side of the windows to the other so fast she didn’t fall. She had pistols in both hands, and was shooting at some bad guy either flying by the side of the building, or standing on top or something.

I also knew she had an ex-girlfriend who had an uncanny amount of charisma, and that one of her teammates could turn into smoke. (I honestly didn’t think about the “smoke and mirrors” thing until I started publishing chapters online). They were close, the mirror-girl and the smoke-boy, and for some reason their teammates/superiors knew that mirror-girl’s ex-girlfriend’s shenanigans, and the smoke-boy consoled the mirror-girl when she got upset about their ribbing.

Despite it working particularly well for Worm, I didn’t want to have big superhero teams. I wanted a centralized authority, but smaller groups; the original ‘team’ for Named consisted of mirror-girl, smoke-boy, and someone who make giant domes. (If that person will still exist in Named is up for debate; I don’t even know what kind of Name would allow for such a thing.) I liked the idea of only a couple supers at a time working on something, and on big flashy battles being rare and lethal.

The big problem hit when I started getting into the twenties with my page count for Named. I started to lose steam, and feared losing all the mental work I’d done. I remembered a forum serial story I’d done that worked well (until it didn’t, for reasons that won’t impact Named like it did that serial), and decided to post the first chapter of Named before I lost interest entirely and it languished in my original work folder like so many others have.

I’ve since found that I work best in a forum-esque format. I do really very well when I have people to bounce ideas off of, and even better when complete strangers drop in with their completely uninfluenced views. It’s a weird way of working, I know, but that’s just how I do. Named took off, popular with my friends if not with the internet at large, and the rest is all thoroughly documented on this site.

Phew. That ended up being longer than I meant it to. As an aside, feel free to post any nagging concerns or world-related questions on this post. Named would have far more holes than it does if not for you guys poking at things, and I really appreciate the feedback I’ve gotten so far.

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Intermission

parahumans.info/forums/showthread.php?t=1357

Thread title: PLE in Chicago??

Poster Name: squealer
woah guys did u see this? who is this???
Attachment #1: sum guy who turns into fog??
Attachment #2: same guy in front of chicago pd!!

Poster Name: lonelyboi72
that’s smoke. he’s an LA native. what’s he doing in chicago?

Poster Name: romeowasaposer
Hide your wife, hide your kids, hide your husband, the PLE is kidnapping everybody up in here.

Poster Name: squealer
LOL @ romeo

Poster Name: somebodytoleanon
Somebody better warn the Chicago paras.

Poster Name: lonelyboi72
does chicago even have paras?

Poster Name: squealer
LOL we got hellfire, and predator and her harem

Poster Name: darknessfalls
Predator doesnt have a hrem anymore just the one

Poster Name: romeowasaposer
No way, Predator would never give up her harem. Pics or it didn’t happen.

Poster Name: lonelyboi72
can we get back to the important part? what is smoke doing in chicago?

Poster Name: squealer
idk, i saw him in uniform in front of the cpd

Poster Name: thepriceofcopper
I’ve got a better pic, squealer.
Attachment: Smoke escorting some girl out of the cpd

Poster Name: squealer
woah who the f*** is that?!!!?

Poster Name: romeowasaposer
Maybe it’s Hellfire with her mask off.

Poster Name: squealer
naw bro, hellfires white

Poster Name: moviesmoviesmovies
watch the littlest microwave on thisisascam.com for free!

Poster Name: lonelyboi72
it could just be some random.

Poster Name: thepriceofcopper
It’s not. I’ll have more information later, but trust me, she’s someone to watch.

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Eleven

The person who steps out of the mirror is recognizably him. There’s the nagging thought that she’s gotten something wrong, but Luke honestly couldn’t say what. He studies himself, in awe.

Aiyana stays silent as he does, flexing the muscles in her new body’s arms and rolling her neck. She runs her hands over the skin of her arms, flexing underneath her own touch and grinning.

“You weren’t kidding about being a dancer, were you?” The voice that comes out of her isn’t quite his. It’s too high and airy. She starts humming, working her way down the register until she gets to about where his voice is.

“No, I wasn’t,” he replies, though his attention is definitely not on the question.

“Alright, start talking,” she says briskly, once she’s got the right range for his voice.

He blinks at her, unsure of what to say. “You want me to read poetry or something?”

“Yeah, that’ll work,” she says, and he thinks to himself that hearing amusement in his own voice is a little weird.

“I don’t actually know any poetry,” he says sheepishly.

“So read a news story off your phone, or I’ll get you one of my textbooks.”

He reaches for his phone and pulls up his news feed. There’s some story about a politician’s son gone missing, and he reads it aloud. Aiyana repeats some of the lines after him, her voice getting closer and closer with each repetition.

When he’s done, he pockets his phone and looks up, and sees a lazy grin on her face that he thinks is very close to his. (It’s a little creepy. He doesn’t think he’s ever smiled like that around her, so how does she know?)

“Satisfied?” She asks in his voice, and he nods.

Aiyana lets his body fade away. Unlike what movies and shows have led him to believe about shifting from one body to another, it isn’t a quick change, his body to hers in the blink of an eye. It looks kind of like pieces of clay falling off a statue, dripping off in pieces until it reveals Aiyana’s body beneath.

(He wonders what would happen if she became someone shorter than her. Would he watch the clay-like stuff rebuild her height?)

“I have to make a call,” he says into the silence. “Check in with my superiors.”

Her face closes off, and she nods, moving toward the back of the apartment. He tries not to feel disappointed; this is his job, and she doesn’t know the good parts of the PLE well enough to understand why it’s important. She’s not wrong for feeling the way she does, but neither is he for being an agent.

“Agent Smoke,” answers a gruff voice, when he puts in the call. His spine straightens, and he automatically starts scanning the apartment with his eyes, despite already having checked it over.

“Sir,” he replies respectfully. His superior, a man he knows only as Agent Wire, has been his handler since he started out in the PLE. They’ve built a good relationship over the years, Smoke thinks, for all that they’ve never met.

“Status report.” Comes the command.

“Aiyana Clarke, Codename Mirror, has not appeared to have any communication with Codename Predator.” He gives a quick rundown of their activities over the past day, up to and including the shape-shifting.

“Good thinking, Smoke,” Wire replies, “they’ll want to know about this. I’ve been told to inform you they’ll have a decision by tomorrow. Off the record, they were leaning toward just letting her go and keeping an eye on her. Mirror-walking isn’t something you worry about compared to the other parahumans we have to deal with. With the impersonation, though, I think they’ll take her in.”

“Into the PLE, or into jail?”

“Into the PLE. She’d be a flight risk in jail, and that secondary ability is too useful to let it sit around a jail cell.”

Luke isn’t sure whether he’s relieved or disappointed. He says goodbye to Wire, and putters around Aiyana’s house until Franz comes back and Aiyana emerges from her room.

The tension between he and they lifts enough that they make actual small talk at dinner, and he surprises a smile out of Franz. The entire time, Luke wonders if they’ll hate him when they find out Aiyana could have had her freedom if he kept his mouth shut.

Intermission

Chapter Ten

Aiyana studies her unwanted guest. It’s as much social gambit as it is gathering her thoughts and sizing him up, and her eyes flick between his as she thinks.

‘He takes his fitness seriously’, she muses, thinking on the hard physique hinted at by his current clothes and delivered by his skintight PLE uniform. Unlike Anna – Aiyana bites the inside of her cheek to guard against a wave of concern for her girlfriend and anger at law enforcement in general – Codename Smoke’s musculature seems methodical, less aesthetic and more functional. She wouldn’t be surprised if he is or was an athlete, and wonders what kind of gym facilities the PLE has.

She shakes her head, as if that will banish the irrelevant thoughts. She’s tired and scattered, knows she’s tired and scattered, and she still has to handle him before she can lock herself in her room and sleep for a week.

“You’re going to help me put my life back together,” she says without any preamble, trying to sound as confident as she feels (and trying not to sound as tired as she feels), “since you guys are the ones that made me miss a week of classes and work without notice.”

Smoke purses his lips, and Aiyana thinks she sees a flash of guilt in his eyes.

“I was just-”

“Just following orders?” Aiyana cuts him off, staring holes into his eyes. He doesn’t answer. “Do your orders say you can’t fix the collateral damage from trying to find Anna?”

“No,” Smoke says simply.

“Right, so you’re going to come talk to my boss and professors, and explain what happened,” Aiyana says, raising a hand to cut off any potential protests. “I know you can’t tell them what’s really going on, but you can say something about it being an ongoing investigation, right? And tell them that you had to keep me isolated for the past week?”

Smoke nods, and Aiyana crosses her arms over her chest, satisfied. “Good. So you’ll do it?”

“Only if you show me what you can do.”

Aiyana eyes him, waiting, but he doesn’t elaborate. Eventually, she shrugs, rolling her eyes. “Sure. After you talk to people for me.”

“Okay,” Smoke says.

[*]

She shows him the spare room and the attached bathroom, makes sure he knows where the snacks are – more out of respect for her brother than Smoke himself; Franz will kill her if she doesn’t treat a guest well – and collapses into bed for a nap.

Smoke sweet-talks her professors with an honest, wholly-sincere charm that startles her. It doesn’t seem right that a member of the PLE could sound that genuinely apologetic over the inconvenience he’s caused her. She thinks it’s an act at first, but when they get to her last professor and he doesn’t sound any less sincere than he did at first, she’s forced to admit it may be legit.

Some of her professors impose late penalties on her missing assignments, but all of them let her turn them in late, and make up the tests she’s missed. Aiyana attributes that about half to Smoke’s unexpected charm, and about half to his badge. She doesn’t honestly know if the school has a policy on how to handle students caught up in legal proceedings, but she’s glad she doesn’t have to find out and then fight her professors about it. Doing all her previous homework at the same time as her current homework is enough of a pain.

“What’s your major?” Smoke asks, as she drives them from the school to her work.

“Gender and Sexuality,” Aiyana answers, looking at him out of the corner of her eye.

He starts, as expected, and Aiyana smothers a laugh. “Not what you expected?” She asks.

“We didn’t have that major,” Smoke answers, “we had Gender & Women’s Studies, though.”

“Where did you go?” Aiyana asks, curious despite herself.

“University of California Berkley,” Smoke says, shrugging. When she’s silent, he continues, “for dance.”

“Dance?” Aiyana blurts, surprised.

“Not what you expected?” He teases, and this time her laugh refuses to be smothered.

“No,” she answers honestly, “I thought criminal justice, maybe.”

“Most of us were just regular people before we got powers,” Smoke says, “there’s one guy who was a cop before he was PLE, but he’s the only one I know of. The rest are from a bunch of different places.”

She doesn’t answer, pursing her lips. If not for their interference in her own life – and the fact that they’re established enough to have uniforms and ranks, but she’s never heard of them – she wouldn’t be horribly opposed to being in the PLE. She doesn’t think it’s for her, but the existence of the PLE raises the question of what she’s going to do with these new abilities. Anna used hers for her own benefit, and if Flare is out saving puppies with his it’s news to her, but could she just stand there if something’s going wrong and she can help it?

(She knows the answer for Anna is yes. Anna has a lot of finer points, but she’s unashamedly, undeniably selfish. If it didn’t benefit her in some way, Aiyana knows she’d let a building burn, or a man get mugged, even if it were happening directly in front of her.)

Uncomfortable with the turn her thoughts have taken, Aiyana asks, “what kind of dance?”

“You learn all kinds in the program, but ballroom is what made me want to dance for a living,” Smoke tells her, “it’s not popular right now like hip hop or breakdance, I know, but I like dancing with people, not next to them.”

They make small talk about professors and gen-eds all the way to her work, then, after Smoke has managed to charm her boss, they pick the conversation up on the way back. It’s nice. She knows it’s just the calm in the storm’s eye, but it’s still nice to have a chance to catch her breath before the weight of everything (Anna, the PLE, class) crashes back onto her shoulders.

[*]

“So?”

Aiyana sighs at Smoke’s prompt. She had been hoping he’d forget, but luck, it seems, is not on her side. She makes a snap decision not to show him the other thing she figured out she can do, but he already knows she can impersonate people, so there’s no real harm in a demonstration.

“Stand up,” she says, resigned.

The two of them rise from the remnants of their early dinner.

She leads him into the empty space in the middle of the dining room where her glass pane used to stand, and holds up a hand. Smoke stops moving obediently. Aiyana takes a deep, clensing breath, and concentrates.

Her hands raise to level with the top of Smoke’s head. She pinches her first three fingers together, hands touching, then draws them apart in a straight horizontal line. Smoke’s eyes widen as a thin black line appears in the air, but he stays silent as Aiyana moves her hands to the side as far as she can reach. Fingers still pinched, she brings her hands down to the ground, crouching so she can touch the carpet. The line extends downwards with her hands, and she opens her hands when the line touches the carpet.

There’s a few beats, in which Aiyana stands and Smoke studies her with undisguised curiosity. Then, she swipes her hand downward carelessly in the space outlined by her earlier motions. The air itself ripples, then the entire space thickens into a recognizeable upright mirror.

Aiyana nods to herself, willing her mental image of Smoke to appear on the mirror’s surface. A second later, it does, and she frowns when she realizes something about it is off. Instinct leads her to look through the mirror (she files away her ability to do so in the back of her mind as something to think about later), and she touches the very tips of her fingers to the parts of the image that don’t match the man on the other side.

When she’s fixed the line of his jaw and the length of his hair, she performs one last visual check to make sure everything’s accurate. Satisfied, Aiyana steps through the mirror.

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Nine

“Ai? Where have you been?”

A tall, muscular man, light-skinned and blonde-haired, rushes to the door the second Aiyana opens it. He wraps his arms around her tightly, and Smoke watches as she lets her head fall forward onto his chest, going slack for the first time he’s seen.

“God, do you know how worried I’ve been?” The man – Franz, assumedly, since her records said she was living with her brother – scolds, holding her out at arms length to get a good look at her. “You look like crap, Ai, is this because of-”

Spotting Smoke, Franz steps in front of his sister, bristling. “Who the fuck are you?”

“My babysitter,” Aiyana answers tiredly, before Smoke can say anything. “Assigned by Parahuman Law Enforcement, in all their infinite wisdom.”

“By who?” Franz demands, looking over his shoulder at her.

“I’m Agent Lucas Kim, Codename Smoke, from Parahuman Law Enforcement,” Smoke – Luke – holds out a hand to Franz, smiling. He tries to make it a relaxing smile, disarming the way he’s seen his fellow agents smile, but judging by the suspicious look on Franz’s face, he fails.

Franz takes his hand slowly, as if Luke is going to dissolve his skin or something. Being fair, there probably is some parahuman out there somewhere who can do that, but Luke isn’t him.

The tension lasts until Aiyana mumbles, “I haven’t eaten all day,” which breaks the standoff and gets her shooed into the kitchen and Luke reluctantly allowed into the apartment.

He cranes his head to take in the place: Aiyana had gotten into it a little back at the station, but not enough that he has a good mental image of it. The cramped living room Franz hustles Aiyana past is exactly as boring as she mentioned: it’s got a small television, a gaming system – with a small library of sports and party games in a glass cabinent to the side – and a DVD player, with a couch that looks like it doesn’t get much use.

The kitchen/dining room he likes. It’s decorated in blues and metallic greys, with a dark carpet in the dining room part and shiny white tile in the kitchen part. An assortment of spotless pans and pots hangs over the counter separating the kitchen from the dining room, and the whole place smells like roasted marshmallows. The cabinets are futuristic metal, the appliances all look like they’re younger than his car, and the kitchen table is made of a warm, sturdy wood that he figure is probably oak or something.

(He wonders, a little, how they afford it all. Franz is in high demand according to Aiyana’s file, but Luke doesn’t think that makes enough for all this. He knows Aiyana made good money with Predator, but none of the stuff looks new enough that she would have gotten it in the past year. Maybe their parents are wealthy, but he doubts it. Franz and Aiyana don’t have that sort of air, and he’s good at picking that kind of thing out.)

“Anna’s in trouble with the law,” Aiyana says, collapsing onto one of the chairs. She leans forward so her elbows rest on the table and cradles her head in her hands. “They called in some cloak-and-dagger agency called Parahuman Law Enforcement, and they picked me up in-between classes when they couldn’t find her.”

Luke wants to protest that they’re not cloak-and-dagger, they just keep to themselves because it helps them do their job, but it’s not his place. He’s just here to make sure Aiyana doesn’t try leaving the city (or the country), not do PR for his bosses. Instead, he takes a seat across from her, trying to hide his discomfort and likely failing.

“And held you there?” Franz asks, pulling down a pan and hunting through cabinets for cooking oil.

“Yeah,” Aiyana replies tiredly, “they said something about being an accessory, and ‘aiding and abetting’, but they didn’t read me my rights, and wouldn’t get me a lawyer. They said if I told them everything I knew about Anna – Predator, actually, they didn’t even know her name – that they’d see about making a deal.”

“So you made a deal,” Franz replies neutrally, retrieving what looks like sourdough bread from the fridge, with a sleeve of lunch meat. He glances to Luke. “Do you want a sandwich, Agent?”

“Just Luke,” he corrects, trying on a smile again. “And a sandwich sounds really good.”

Franz nods sharply, turning back to his sister.

“No,” Aiyana looks up, a razor-sharp smile on her face, “I bogged them down in details about our awkward early days until I had enough information to impersonate them once I got out.”

Franz smirks back in return, slapping together sandwiches. “That’s my girl.” He puts the first sandwich in the pan. “And then?”

“Then I reminded them how much they don’t know about my powers, and implied some things about what I might be able to do.” Aiyana’s eyes flick to Smoke, and her smile fades into a thoughtful expression. “They decided that they needed ‘time to decide what to do with me’, and sent me home with a babysitter.”

Luke keeps quiet, even though it’s definitely his cue to chime in. He’s beginning to like the two of them, but his job comes first. He’s been told not to tell her or anyone else anything they couldn’t learn from the PLE’s website. The best way to do that, he figures, is to keep his mouth shut.

“So what now?” Franz asks, pressing down on the sandwich with a spatula.

“I don’t know,” Aiyana admits, looking back to him. “I don’t know where Anna is, or if she’s even done anything. I’m not about to take the word of people who yank innocent people off the street and break all the laws about how to handle suspects.” She shakes her head. “I get the feeling they’re going to try either locking me up or recruiting me.”

(She’s right. Luke’s superiors aren’t enthused enough about her abilities that she’s a ‘capture on sight, casualties be damned’ kind of para, but there was some cautious hope in his orders. They’ll be a lot more insistent about it once he reports the bit about impersonating people; even if she’s lying to throw him off, there’s always the possibility it could become true with enough training and experimentation. Para powers are so unpredictable that even the oldest find new stuff they can do.)

Aiyana pauses, then twists to look behind her. “Where did you put the glass?”

Luke furrows his brow, following her gaze. The only thing in her line of sight that she could possibly be talking about is a window that still has glass in it.

“Kara let me stash it in her living room,” Franz replies, looking down at the sandwiches. “Mom and Dad came by, and I… didn’t really want to deal with that on top of trying to cover for you.”

Aiyana turns back around to face the table, and the three of them sit in awkward silence until Franz finishes their sandwiches. If it’s still awkward during their meal, Luke doesn’t notice, because the sandwich is amazing. PLE cafeteria food isn’t bad, especially compared to what he ate in college, but this is so much better than that. If Franz ever decides acrobatics isn’t for him and opens a restaurant, Luke will make special trips to Chicago just to eat his sandwiches.

When they’re done, Franz apologizes profusely to his sister but says he has to get to work.

“It’s fine,” Aiyana waves off his offer to have her come with him, “if the PLE wanted me dead, they would have killed me already.” Franz does not look reassured by that, but Aiyana shoos him out the door. “I need to have a talk with him, anyway. Go on, go do gravity-defying stunts for all the creepy old men who want to check out your ass.”

Franz protests, but gathers his things and leave with one last suspicious look at Smoke. Aiyana locks the door behind him, and they are alone in the apartment.

Chapter Ten

Exterlude

“Sir, please drop the gun.”

The white-clad young man kept his tone level, hands held out in front of himself. He considered taking off the mask, then decided against it. Doing anything the guy in front of him couldn’t predict could end badly.

“No… no…” the guy’s voice shook, but the gun stayed steady. His facial hair had moved past five o’clock shadow, well onto the borderline between trying to grow it out and too lazy to shave. His clothes were dirty and stained, and the shadows underneath his eyes told Smoke what else he hadn’t done lately. “I know what happens to paras that you guys take in. I know what happens. We never come back out of those labs of yours!”

“Sir, please. If that were true, I wouldn’t be standing here.” Codename Smoke tried to make his voice soothing, keeping his distance. He slowly moved one hand out to the side, releasing his hold on the solid form. His hand slowly dissolved into black smoke, undoubtedly something a normal human couldn’t do. “See? I’m just like you. They just trained me so I wouldn’t hurt myself.”

The gunman frowned, his weapon lowering by a few inches. Smoke let the guy take in his smoke-form hand for a few seconds, then firmed it up, his hand returning to blood-and-flesh over the course of moments.

“Maybe they did,” the guy said, raising the gun, “but they made you join the black hats, didn’t they? Brainwashed you until you jumped when they said how high!”

“No, sir, they did not,” Smoke shook his head firmly in the face of the gunman’s nonsense. “I chose to become a Parahuman Law Enforcement officer.”

The guy’s eyes dragged down Smoke’s jumpsuit. Normally, it’d be kinda awkward, a guy looking at him like this, but he didn’t think the guy was checking him out. If anything, he was looking for some slight hint that Smoke was lying. His eyes lingered on the PLE badge on the left side of Smoke’s chest, then he shook his head.

“It’s okay, brother,” the man said, voice serious. “You’ll forgive me in the next world. Better dead than brainwashed.”

Before he could pull the trigger, Smoke exploded, his entire body shifting into smoke-form. He threw himself forward toward where he had seen the guy, pulling himself together when he hit a mass roughly the size of a person. He shifted back to solid, forming his body so his arms were looped around the gunman’s armpits, his hands laced together behind his head.

Yanking his arms backward hard when he was fully formed, Smoke snapped one foot into the back of the guy’s knee. He dropped down as well when the guy lost his footing, holding him in place while a regular police officer rushed out from behind a nearby patrol car. Together, they got the guy’s gun away from him, and cuffs on him.

“Thanks, Agent Smoke,” the officer said sincerely, eyeing the parahuman in the back of his vehicle. “Is he going to be alright on the way to the station?”

“Yeah,” Smoke replied, hefting the bag with the gun in it. “He needs this, or something else he’s made, or he’s just like anybody else. Just keep him isolated until somebody bigger than me can come get him.” He smiled wryly, encouraging the officer to joke at his self-depricating humor. He knew he wasn’t the brawniest guy, in either Name or body.

The officer chuckled politely, and climbed into the squad car. Smoke watched him go just in case, before dissolving into smoke and throwing himself toward the nearest rooftop to continue his patrol.

Chapter Nine