Part 3

The elevator door hissed open and Chris smiled at Janice’s gasp of surprise. He stepped out in her wake as she looked upward in awe.

The dome was slightly luminous, even from the inside, and the darkness above was deep enough to be slightly terrifying, or at least it would be if it weren’t for the thousands of glittering facets buried in the dome, shimmering like stars in the light within Sanctuary. Chris doubted that Janice even noticed the handful of robots slowly crawling along the surface of the dome, cleaning off any debris. He certainly hadn’t when he’d first visited the city.

Not that Sanctuary was much of a city. There were only six high-rise towers that rose about fifty stories beneath the massive dome, but those towers were more than enough to hold the entire population of Sanctuary. No one knew exactly how many people lived in the underwater city, but Chris suspected it couldn’t be much more than ten thousand.

Most of the land in Sanctuary was taken up by parks and other vegetation, with a sidewalk around the outer edge of the dome which was right in front of the markets which served Sanctuary’s inhabitants. The most remarkable thing about the city was how clean it was, Chris thought. But he simply waited as Janice drank in the sight for a long minute, willing to be patient.

“Okay, this is impressive.” Janice said, tearing her gaze away from the city and smiling brightly at Chris. “I do have to say, it is kind of small, though.”

“We’re five thousand feet below the surface. At this depth, the water pressure is… high.” Chris said, pausing to do the math before continuing. “A bit over one ton per square inch, if I’m doing the math right. Building a dome which can withstand that easily is a feat of engineering that honestly leaves me in awe. I haven’t seen the full specs, but I’ve heard that this is only half of the depth that Sanctuary is capable of operating at. I suspect that’d use shield tech to reduce the water pressure, though… it’s something I’ve been experimenting with.”

“Wow, that’s a lot of pressure. I see what you mean… I might be able to handle it for a bit, maybe. Probably not, though.” Janice admitted, shaking her head and looking more dubious. “You’re sure the dome can handle it?”

“My first trip, I asked Zeke about it. He told me that if anything hit hard enough to breach the dome, the cities on the Pacific’s shores should prep for tsunamis.” Chris said dryly, shaking his head. “I think he was joking, but it’s safe.”

“If you say so.” Janice replied, shrugging as Chris offered his arm. After a moment’s hesitation, the heroine took his arm and asked. “So, where’re we going?”

“I was thinking that touring the market could be fun, then dinner.” Chris replied, smiling sheepishly as he added. “I’ll admit it, I have no idea what to do on most dates. I don’t want to take you to a movie, since that seems more like something to be alone as well as together.”

“That’s fine, Chris. I’m not much better, but I’m curious to see what life’s like down here.” Janice said, grinning as she added. “The only shows I’ve watched from down here are Mecha-Chess and Grandfather Yakov’s Story Hour.”

“Those are the two biggest shows, I believe, though Yakov’s isn’t as big.” Chris agreed, leading the way toward the shopping district, slowly passing through trees and seeing people scattered about. “His stories are amazing, though. Sobering, too.”

“You’re right about that. The eastern front of World War 2 was brutal, and even with his powers I’m amazed he survived it. It’s more surprising he lived this long.” Janice agreed, and the heroine paused for a moment as she saw a playground with children scampering about, their voices loud and excited. As they watched one of the children threw a frisbee to a cluster of others, and one of the young girls darted up into the air to snag it to a chorus of protests.

“Hey, no powers!”

“We agreed to play normally!”

The young girl looked sheepish as she handed the frisbee back, and Chris smiled as she spoke. “Sorry, I forgot… I just do it sometimes!”

“They’re amusing, aren’t they? In my visits I’ve always been impressed by how readily the people down here accept the presence or absence of powers.” Chris said, starting forward again.

“It’s certainly different. I’m… I shouldn’t be surprised there are children down here, but part of me was shocked to see them.” Janice said, still looking a bit conflicted. “I know that people retire here, and that means that they have families and the like, it’s just… too normal? Do you know what I mean?”

“I think so. We’re in a place that’s not that different from many villain lairs, and yet the people here are living relatively ordinary lives, doing normal things… even if they’re superhuman.” Chris agreed, leading the way past the park and leaving the children behind. “On the other hand, isn’t it what we both hope for in the end? Not now, necessarily, but eventually?”

“I think so. I’ll have to think about it.” Janice said, glancing up at the dome, which was much closer as they approached the edge of the city.

The shopping district was built along the edge of the sidewalk, and Chris often wondered why they bothered with the angled roofs that extended from the outer wall of the city below the dome and which covered all of the various shops circling the city. Not all of the shops were inhabited, in fact no more than half were, but the ones he saw ranged from normal to odd.

A man was running what appeared to be a clothing stand right next to an advanced robotics supplier run by an older man and woman. Next to them was a small café that looked normal enough, if it wasn’t being run by a blue-skinned man who stood about eight feet tall and had four arms.

“Whisper, you came to visit again, wonderful!” The woman in the robotics lab exclaimed, her blue eyes lighting up as she nodded toward the man while looking at Chris. “Please, tell this old relic that his artificial muscles are outdated junk!”

“Hello, Martha, it’s good to see you again.” Chris replied, glancing at the man and giving the man a sympathetic smile as he asked. “What’s all this about? Hello, Vincent.”

“Hello, Whisper.” The man said, a note of resignation in his voice. “Martha has it in her head that I need to update the artificial muscles we have on-hand. I really don’t see why we should take the old ones out of stock, they’re robust, inexpensive, and useful in most projects. I don’t see why we can’t just start carrying new ones for higher-stress projects.”

“Because we can’t have old crap just laying about! It’ll give our customers the wrong impression of us!” Martha shot back, and Chris couldn’t help but sigh.

“One moment. Janice, this is Mistress Malevolence and Captain Watt, both retired. Martha, Vincent, this is Nightsinger.” Christ introduced them, and Janice started slightly.

“What? I thought the two of you died three years ago when Mistress Malevolence was trying to build that plasma emitter in orbit!” Janice exclaimed, her eyes going wide as she looked at the two. “What’re you doing here? Or together, for that matter? I thought you were archenemies.”

“Nightsinger, hmm? I don’t know… couldn’t you go with a proper female genius, Whisper? Preferably one on the other side of the fence?” Martha asked, the dark-haired woman giving Janice a skeptical look. “I’ve heard of her before. She’s more of a flying brick, isn’t she?”

“Be nice, Martha.” Vincent chided, then looked at Janice apologetically as he explained. “We didn’t die, but it was a near thing. The reactor nearly went critical, and I was forced to vent the plasma into space which destroyed half the station and sent us spiraling out of control. To keep from dying, Martha and I had to work together to cobble together a lifeboat. We’d been fighting for so long we knew each other’s tech well, and we barely managed it as the life support was failing. During the entire mess, I realized I was getting too old for that sort of shit, and we agreed that if we survived, we’d both retire.”

“The only reason I agreed was because my back went out mid-way through.” Martha shot back, scowling more at him, to Chris’s amusement. He knew that Martha was more bark than bite at this point, but he also knew better than to say anything.

“I see. I was just startled, since it was all over the news.” Janice said, giving Martha a sidelong look. “You know Whispering Darkness, then?”

Chris snorted, and Vincent smiled broadly at that, chuckling. “Know him? Of course we know him! Most of us inventors know all the other big ones. He’s in the top, oh… hundred inventors worldwide? Maybe the top fifty.”

“Hey, don’t go overestimating me! If I push my gear to its limit, I can barely squeak into class A, and most of the time I’m solidly class B. I’d put my inventions in the top five hundred at most.” Chris interjected, shaking his head firmly. “I’m definitely not in the top fifty. I’m no Da Vinci or Tesla.”

“No, your individual gear isn’t, but of the other top inventors, I can only think of Da Vinci who manages to build a large amount of high-end gear the way you do.” Martha said, crossing her arms. “You build solid gear that can turn a mundane into class B, and which anyone can use or maintain relatively easily. Better yet, you’re able to mass-produce it. That’s an advantage the vast majority of inventors envy, boy, so don’t go selling yourself short.”

“Huh, I didn’t realize you were that well-regarded.” Janice said, looking at Chris speculatively, and he flushed slightly.

“It’s not a part of the business people talk about much. That grade of gear is expensive, though, so not many people ordered it for their minions. Mostly I sold things for class C at most.” Chris explained, shrugging uncomfortably. “Anyway, Martha? No one outside Sanctuary can buy your tech to begin with except for a few military suppliers, and the rest are already familiar with you. What does it matter if you have a slightly older artificial muscle in stock under those circumstances?”

“I… I suppose it doesn’t, but it’s the principle of the thing! We need to stay on top of the technological heap!” Martha exclaimed, scowling. “You were supposed to be taking my side, anyway. You’re a former villain too!”

“I’m trying to go independent… and gear is gear, no matter which side of the fence you’re on.” Chris replied, trying to keep his tone sympathetic. “Sorry, but I see the use for both.”

Martha huffed and turned away, and Vincent gave a grateful smile before saying. “Thanks, Whisper, it’s appreciated. Too bad we can’t sell you stuff… but then we’d be intruding on your business, eh?”

“True. Have a good day, Vincent.” Chris said, then glanced at Janice and added. “What do you want to see? We can’t buy any tech down here, but anything else is fair game if you want to.”

At his words Janice’s eyes lit up and she asked. “Are there any good tailors down here?”

Chris laughed and nodded. “Of course there are. This way, if you would?”

They meandered down the sidewalk, past a couple walking their cat, dozens of other people taking in the sights as they did so. Chris enjoyed the walk and was glad he’d set a healthy budget for the date. Sanctuary wasn’t exactly cheap for outsiders, though at least they didn’t gouge. Much.

Part 4