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The Price of Power
In the bowls of the earth, the world was about to change. Eight men stood before him with an array of emotions from confused to expectant. The designated room had been cleared of everything. Nothing could pass the barrier between two worlds without examination and permission.

A little way off to the side, Marucs watched. Behind the recruits, a team of doctors waited, Dr. Weston foremost among them. The air was rife with wild tension. He could feel it in the bones of every soul in the room, if it was not fear, it was curiosity or hunger.

Cut in black, Michael was a tower of stark power. Even without the bubble of calm he felt at home. The energy in the room gave him life that did not pale in the face of these would-be Ascendants.

His message was plain but powerful. "Welcome, Ascendants. I am here to give you mastery over your power. You are the first, but you will not be the last. You have gained an extraordinary ability, but at a price."

A pale-faced man with hard eyes spoke up, his back stiff and gaze straight. A soldier. "Spare us the shit,"
he said in a French flavoured accent. "'With great power comes great responsibility.' 'You are maggots as you are.' I have heard it before. I did not survive to be put back in boot-camp."

Michael ignored the faces of the rest, focusing on the former soldier. "Your name?"
He asked in a neutral tone.

"Julian Monserre."

Michael stepped forward, some of the others fell back, some remained. He did not bother to take note of which. It was like looking into the faces of newborn children. Until they learned how to walk, he could not gauge them. Realising the power within changed a man for good or ill. It was then he would be most cautious.

"You remember what it was like. Good. Then demonstrate what comes next."
The man's confidence wavered as Michael held is eyes, but his pride would not allow him to back down. "Show me you are beyond it."

Several minutes passed in slience. Monserre grasped at the ascendant power five times before he caught it. Michael could here murmurs amongst the other seven as they felt the storm.

The 'storm' was little more than a sun-shower. It was barely a quarter of what he himself could summon.

While Monserre revelled in triumph, Michael remained cool. "A worthy feat. It is not easy to grasp such power. It takes some men days to do what you have."
Monserre's pride ballooned, but it was soon to be popped.

With deliberate calm, Michael stepped forward without haste and punched Monserre in the stomach. The wind lunged from his lungs and the power fled his feeble grasp, sending a spark of power through the man's body that threw him halfway across the room.

When Monserre struggled to his feet, his steps were unsteady and he looked like he was about to vomit.

Michael turned back to the other seven. "Julian was lucky he was not killed. It may be an old saying, but it applies to this more than anything you have done. We are playing with fire. At any moment, if you cannot control yourself or your power, it will devour you. It is an eternal struggle, and one mistake can prove fatal. Now, your names."

The replies were simple and boast-less, even if some still held a fire in their eyes.

The Korean man, Im Seung Jun. An smooth-shaved Iranian, Karim al'Shadis. Dominik Taichechski; his young Russian eyes burned bright with hunger. Samuel Leweski, another Russian younger still. Sanjay Ramanujan, a soft-spoken Indian. Anthony Petrovic, Bosnian IT expert and Allan Rykovi last, a British born Russian with a small smile.

He gazed at his recruits and measured their worth. Aside from the disappointment of Monserre, they were a mix of ordinary men who had lived ordinary lives, but they were his, and he would make them extraordinary.
"She saw a flaring halo around his head, radiant in gold and blue. It shouted of glory and power to come"
"No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it."
Michael's group of eight would have been nine had an individual not died the day before. At the alarm, Director Stephenson rushed off to meet the Ascendancy, Commander Vellas and Sigma Marcus. Had it not been for the emergency, and the need to rush off and collect the deceased vital organs in time, Torri would have been present as well. Instead, she'd been thankfully busy sawing apart the skull: her pathologist's skills thankfully improved from the last time.

Today, she couldn't avoid attendance. Having a non-member of the research team present was a momentous change for the Facility. On one hand she was grateful the subjects could move forward with some kind of return to normal life, but on the other, she was tense every single second like she was in battle again. Hopefully Michael would add an element of control to these otherwise wild men, but Torri knew what he himself was capable, and locked away in close, inescapable quarters with such a group terrified her.

On the other side of that window, the team in white lab coats did more than watch, herself included. To her left and right, a researcher monitored two of the subjects at once. Director Stephenson was behind yet another wall, watching them watching the subjects, or issuing orders as the need arose. They had never gathered more than one subject together at the same time before. The only other comparison that could be made was the data collected when the Ascendancy visited an individual, but he demanded all instrumentation be disabled while he was present. Therefore, witnessing the presence of more than two gathered ascendants at the same time was a new frontier for them. What extraordinary models would be collected today? The monitored brain functions, nervous systems, myographics, and biomarkers oscillated together on the window before her, overlapping with each individual from whom they were collected as he moved around the room.

A spike in one's heart rate flicked her eyes from Michael's sensors to the subject in the middle of the group. He stood up to the Commander, and Michael called his bluff. Torri's hands clenched unseen by her peers in the pockets of her lab coat. It was unwise to question Michael, and she feared what sort of demonstration he would elicit to make a point.

Minutes passed without observable event other than the fluctuation in the two men's biodata. Michael's remained largely stagnant, but the subject's flared like wildfire. He was all over the place, though to look at him, he was otherwise as calm as could be expected.

Michael deemed the trial success, but Torri did not fully relax. Michael stepped forward and-
-she gasped. He assaulted the man! Hurling him across the room! For what?!

"Absolutely not,"
Torri seethed, but nobody heard her. They were busy with the data collection, but Torri saw more than sacks of science. She saw men that she'd nursed through the worse moments of their lives, and a bully commander demanding an unnecessary trial by fire. She couldn't stand up to the Ascendancy, but she would say something to Michael. Besides, the subject was having trouble recovering. Unsteady and nauseous, the man vomited in the corner.

she murmured, again below the threshold of anyone's hearing. "Give me that,"
Torri swiveled the nearest monitor her direction. Julian's real-time MRI activity was already blushing with waves of traumatic injury.

Five minutes with her patients and Michael had given one a head injury. They were bitches to treat, all the more so for being totally unnecessary. She couldn't stand for it.

She shoved open the door, crossing the threshold between their two worlds. The slender figure in service uniform, with the jacket replaced with her official lab coat billowing behind, interrupted, and the hurricane parted to allow her access. Her hair was pulled in a tight bun, straining the otherwise taut line of her jaw. Behind, a doctor and nurse followed, attending to the patient. He needed immediate intervention to offset the damage done.

She went to Michael, and although not without fear, her approach was bold. Her words clipped harsher than she intended. Familiar faces trailed her. Some were adorned with pleasant surprise, others worry. Yet they all knew her as she knew them. "Commander, I did not keep these men alive for you to kill them on a whim."
Behind her, they were taking Julian away for treatment. Torri's heart was pounding, her palms sweating, but she had to stand up for them. Even if someday Michael killed her for it, she wagered today was not that day. She expected that would not always be the case.

The last few days had flown by quickly. Work at the consulate never stopped. Changing an entire culture was a massive undertaking. And he had his research. Last night had been particularly encouraging. He had begun to experiment with weaves of spirit and metal after playing with his equations. The Tau eigenvalue for vibration and fractal dimension seemed to hold some promise. The atomic lattice structure of the piece of metal he had procured still wasn't resonant yet, but he thought he was on the right track. There was something there, if he could just tease it out. It kept nagging during moments of silence.

As, for example, now, watching Vellas and his new recruits. Conscripts was a better word. Serve the Ascendancy was left unsaid but the implication was clear. You were useful or you were expendable. A slight smile curved his lips. He hoped they knew what a privilege it was to be part of bringing order to the world.

In the background, behind the glass, scientists and technicians worked, monitoring the men and their energies. He was going to have to speak to one of them. He was curious to see how the Force showed up on their instruments. It wasn't one of the four fundamental forces of nature. He didn't imagine detectors for the strong nuclear force's gluons or for gravitons would work. But if their instruments caught use of the Force, well...that could be useful for his own research. Another possibly fruitful avenue for his project.

Vellas began his speech and Malik sighed. The man wasn't going to be winning over hearts with those words. An army of gods needed to feel loyalty. Otherwise you were just creating an army of potential challengers. But once again he felt that delicious thrill of anticipation. Using the Force on someone normal, while exhilarating, was easy. The pleas of the butcher echoed in his mind and he smiled at the memory. A real fight, though....

Almost as if on cue, someone challenged Michael. He smiled, curious to see how he handled it. His method was as effective as it was illustrative of the dangers. But perhaps not how he would have done it. Getting their buy in to their new life was key.

The door slammed open and a woman in a lab coat came out, trailed by a couple of others. Those immediately went to the injured man while she strode up to Vellas. He couldn't help but smile at the huffiness she showed as she walked. She was not unattractive, though it was clear that she wasn't interested in getting people's attention with it. And she wasn't afraid of Michael. Or at least, not afraid enough to stand up to him. Clearly, they knew each other.

He watched interestedly, curious to see the man's response to her very public reproach.
Michael had expected remonstrations from Dr. Weston but he had not expected them to come so fast. When she stormed in, he was torn between admiration and rage.

The fear in her eyes was plain. She expected...something. Pain? Death? Not many souls would face such fear for the sake of others. A loved one, yes, but patients? Yes, he had been right to give her control of the operation.

Rage battled to overcome the admiration. She expected violence from him? Of course, he had shown himself to be the Atharim's monster, what else to expect? Kill the man on a whim? He hadn't even touched the ascendant power himself!

Flickers of both crossed his eyes but he otherwise remained ice. Damned doctors, they knew nothing of what it meant to be 'Ascendant' or how dangerous it really was. One wrong move and one of the little 'Ascendant' pups could kill all of them!

As much as he burned to make her understand, he remained silent on the matter. Unfortunately, the issue could not be totally ignored. But how?

His mind ticked over, searching for an answer. 'Always do what the enemy least expects'. This was no 'enemy' yet...

Michael nodded. "You are correct."

He turned to his charges, who looked confused and shocked. "Are you surprised? Why should you be? My task is to keep you all alive and well. Dr. Weston's concern is justified."

He could admit to himself that he regretted not seeing the look on the woman's face at that moment, but he had more important matters to tend to. "I shall explain. Your comrade was not the target of an attack, or a trick. He was a victim of his own arrogance. While he blustered to impress, he placed all of your lives in danger. His slip - the moment he lost control of his power - was akin to lighting a fire in an oilfield. It was a hard lesson, but one better learned with a headache than incurable damage."

He fixed each of the men with an intense gaze. Some understood what had happened, some still refused to believe, but were not willing to try their luck. Good. "Hate me if you want, but I will make sure every single one of you survives where many without guidance have died. Dr. Weston is dedicated to this as much as I, as you have seen. We are not enemies, but the best chance you have to survive. Use it."

"Now, I will teach you to safely hold the power."
He turned back to Dr. Weston. "Do you wish to stay and observe first hand?"

Edited by Michael Vellas, Jan 3 2015, 07:41 PM.
"She saw a flaring halo around his head, radiant in gold and blue. It shouted of glory and power to come"
"No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it."
Flickers of emotion she could not read darted behind his eyes. She felt stripped beneath his investigatory gaze. Why did he have to do that every bloody time? Torri held her ground. If Michael chose to lash out at her as he had Julian, she may have little chance to react. Her guard remained high, even if it was useless. She'd never relinquish her safety without a fight.

She witnessed the settlement of his indecisiveness and prepared herself for the worse possible outcome. What came, an agreement with her demands, was nearly enough to make her gasp.


But her surprise was shared by others, and fortunately, Michael addressed them as well. She was relinquished from the focus of his attentions, thank God. Yet, the dismissal was strangely infuriating.

She hid it behind the surgeon's mask she wasn't wearing.

Michael wasn't responsible? Julian himself was the reason her staff was carrying him out of the storage bay? That meant each and every one of the men before her were capable of everything Michael was, worse, they couldn't control it.

She had to order the evacuation of the Facility. Every single one of her staff were in danger from something they couldn't trace. Was the Director aware? My God, was the Ascendancy aware?

And Michael invited her to stay? She rounded on him, peering hard into his gaze like the sharpness of her own could pierce the facades he shielded himself with. "How long before you can guarantee their safety?"
If his answer didn't satisfy, she was ready to walk away, something she was loathed to do.

Marcus mentally saluted Michael. Admirably handled. Of course, better to have avoided the situation in the first place. But the man was quick on his feet. He could see why Ascendancy had chosen him to teach these men.

Strategy was an interesting concept. Maneuvering and responding to your opponent so as to achieve your goals. Whereas tactics were short term responses, strategy kept the overall end goal in mind. There was never a single path to victory. Just a goal, arrived at through tactics that responded to the ever changing situation. A person could have brilliant tactics but still lose the battle. Or win the battle but it be pointless by that point. A Pyrrhic victory.

He would watch and see how well Michael used both strategy and tactics in this. He wasn't sure what Ascendancy expected him to learn. Politics was a far more subtle and far-reaching form of military engagement. You had your weapons and allies and positioning. There were casualties- both literal and figurative. Battles and campaigns were waged as much with words and perception as overt posturing and positioning. All of these were things he'd breathed for the last seven years.

Still, he would see what more he could learn. There was a directness in this that was missing in most political machinations. An immediacy of reaction and response that moved far more quickly than what he had learned.

Case in point. He chuckled at Dr.- Weston was it?- and her response to Michael's immediate agreeing with her. And then, from her stance, she reacted to something more. He wondered what it was.

His eye flicked over the men. All around his age, maybe one or two a bit older. He saw fear in some eyes. Those he dismissed. He had not been afraid of his power. Well, aside from the fear that the police were coming for him after he'd made that woman kill herself. Beyond that, though, he'd felt nothing but exhilaration at his discovery. And as he mastered it, dominated it to the point that he needed but reach out to it at will and it obeyed, he only felt stronger. The fearful man would keep himself in check, was bound by rules and the opinions of others. Pyotr was such a man.

He looked for something else. Hunger. Pride. One dark Indian man caught his eye. The way he stood straighter at Michael's words. This was a man to watch. Smart and quiet enough to not draw attention to himself so foolishly as the injured man had. Yet standing as if the realization of their power meant something. Yes, this one would do.

Weston asked when they'd be safe. He wanted to tell her that would be never. This was a new age. The Age of the Ascendants. Instead, he continued to watch and learn.
Dr. Weston finally understood, but it did not bring him any pleasure to see it. The look in her eye was impressive. It might even be a good lesson. Just because you were a damned 'Ascendant' you still had to answer to people like Dr. Weston.

His answer to her question was perhaps not what was expected, but Michael now saw his battlefield and his movements were precise. "The safest place in the world for these men is with me."

Michael paused for a moment before seizing the ascendant's power. Seven faces lit with wonder, greed, fear and awe at intervals. He marked those eyes that shone with lust and envy.

"That French twat was a fool, eh boys?"
the tall, blonde haired Rykovi said with a smile.

"So much..."
Leweski muttered under his breath. His dark eyes skittered from Michael's face.

Michael allowed the men's reaction to speak where he could not. He doubted all seven together could overpower him as they were. If only one were to make a mistake... "I will not allow anyone to die under my care, Dr. Weston. Of that you can be sure."

Edited by Michael Vellas, Jan 4 2015, 07:23 PM.
"She saw a flaring halo around his head, radiant in gold and blue. It shouted of glory and power to come"
"No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it."
It was easy to ignore the white-noise whispers behind her. The ability to tune out was mandatory in the army, physician or otherwise.

She lowered her voice and stepped in to Michael, despite the chills it sent up her arms. She didn't want the white-noise to hear what she had to say. For that matter, Sigma Marcus watched her with the sort of blank gaze that promised to stir if she gave him the slightest cause. His listening did not particularly thrill her either.

"You won't be with them 24/7, forever. I have to sleep here at night. At what point is their inexperience balanced by your education?"

These were the sort of questions she should have asked before leaving Berlin in the first place, but regret was a foolish emotion. It was too late to change the past, and even if she had the inclination, refusing the transfer was akin to refusing a direct order.

The truth was buried deeper than she hoped could be detected, though. She didn't think he could protect them if he wanted to. It wasn't possible. How could one man shield against seven? Michael wasn't a god.
It would have been easy to be angry, but Michael found himself devoid of even irritation. Dr. Weston was forcing an issue dangerous for all of them. Not even he knew the answer, much of it depended on chance and common sense. He had done things Tony said was insane to even dream of attempting. Another time, he had nearly burnt down his house doing something 'even a child' - in the drunk bastard's words - should be able to comprehend.

However, Dr. Weston's simple honesty was what he appreciated. She had been thrown into something she had no idea about, and just wanted to know if she could sleep without worrying about death. It was a concern that resonated with him.

"Not soon enough,"
was his answer in a tone to match hers. "A week of intense training and they will have sufficient control to prevent another Julian. But if any of them attempt to experiment by themselves..."
He left the implications to her imagination. Not through attempted deceit. He could not predict what would happen. Maybe nothing, but maybe had never made sleep easy.
"She saw a flaring halo around his head, radiant in gold and blue. It shouted of glory and power to come"
"No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it."
Michael seized the Force and the feel of menace filled the room. He stifled his own reaction in that moment, refusing to respond to the feel of threat. He did ready himself, just in case Michael felt like challenging him. While he felt possibly stronger than he himself, that did not mean that he would roll over for him. Not by a long shot. His life would be sold very dearly indeed. Very likely, this entire facility would be destroyed in the conflagration, if it came to that.

Instead he put his hands behind his back and seemed to relax. He watched the men's responses, once again, noticing the Indian fellow's face. His hunger was palpable. This one would be interesting. For the first time, he felt a desire to reach out to the man, to involve himself in the training, at least a little. He did have some experience, having taught his brother the ways of the Force- at least what he chose to teach him. That he now used it as a police officer amused him. His poor brother was so very naive and simple. He hadn't responded to his invitations to Moscow so far. This young man, though, not at all.

He noticed Weston step forward and lower her voice to speak to Vellas. He caught snatches of what she said. She was right to be afraid. To her credit, though, she faced her fears. An admirable woman. Once again, he had to appreciate the people Ascendancy had surrounded himself with in such key positions. It was a lesson he took to heart.

Michael was right though. A week would be sufficient, provided they did little more than learn control. If they did more than that, the danger was every bit as real as he explained.

He continued to watch and see how things played out. He would have his chance at answers soon enough. He felt eyes on him and turned his gaze back to the men. The Indian man's eyes were on him. He felt the ghost of a smile on his lips.

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