Illustrations by Anthony Pugh, author of Kid Buster

The Four Heroes

In a part of Brain City where ideas live, on a road between the memory of sun and the memory of breeze, four superheroes watch the passing of traffic create a daydream.

One of those heroes, Nora Drenaline, gasps in frustration. "We should be paying attention to the outside. The city might miss something important."

Another hero, Sera Tonin, says, "It’ll be okay. Don’t worry." The lines on her face soften as she smiles. She lets her silver hair drape and basks in the presence of the memory of sunshine, even though the sun they see up ahead isn’t what gives the sky its flat glow.

Nora says, "We should go to Sensetown." She knows there's always traffic speeding into that neighborhood in the center of town, down highways from the city's eyes and ears.

Where they stand, in the outer sense neighborhoods, tall buildings with pyramidal roofs border the wide street. It's one of the countless roads connecting different pieces of experience, which combine in complex forms to create thoughts and memories. The traffic is heavy down this street right now because the memories it connects are pleasant, and most of the city isn't worried.

Nora always worries. Her fists are clenched tight. Her dark hair is in a tight bun. The snug fit of her outfit leaves no extra material to get in the way, while its mesh fabric keeps her dry and warm.

Sera Tonin dismisses Nora's concerns. "You sure you don't want to stay and enjoy this?" She's not really paying attention, but Nora could use her power to fix that.

Dopa Mean says, "Yeah, this is the party spot. Whatever's going on out there is no fun." The smallest and youngest of their group, he watches the traffic whip past them, his messy red hair rustling in the breeze.

Nora rolls her eyes and points at Dopa's chest. "You've got something on your shirt." She's in Brain City to defend it from chaos, not to amuse guys with stains all over them.

Dopa grins. Rather than being embarrassed, he seems to revel in his slovenly appearance. His hands glow red as he charges up his power. "How'd you like something on yours?" Nora takes a step back, in case Dopa infects her with his hyper enthusiasm.

Ace Telcholine speaks in a soft, even tone. "There's no point in fighting." He steps between the two of them, his arms spread wide. His gray jumpsuit bulges over his muscles, accented by gold trim and the gold amulet with a hole in the middle around his neck.

Losing the Daydream

Nora vents her frustration with another gasp. "Are we just going to stay here and argue? This is ridiculous."

Without any of the nearby drivers coming from the direction of Sensetown, Nora's only way of finding out what's happening over there is to go herself. If she or Ace were in that neighborhood directing incoming traffic, everyone in Brain City might be talking about whatever's coming in, instead of all the traffic circling around here, revisiting this daydream.

Dopa says, "It's not ridiculous. I like it here." He dives and rolls into a fighting stance to try and get around where Ace is blocking him from Nora, but Ace takes a single step of his long legs and stays between them. Dopa yells at Nora, "You can't tell us what to do!"

Nora glares back. "Maybe I should. We'd get more done if we worked as a real team, with some kind of leadership." The four heroes are loosely united by having to share their bright red transport helicopter, the Modulator, which is parked on the side of the road nearby.

Sera turns her full attention to the conversation at last. "That's not how we do things, but we can discuss any course of action you think we should take."

Ace says, "Yes, as far as I remember, we've never needed a leader before."

Nora's tempted to take the Modulator and leave the others behind.

"Hey, where'd they all go?" Dopa points out at the street, which is now quiet. Diverted by a sudden red light, nobody is driving down the pleasant road connecting sun and breezes anymore.

Something's wrong. Nora runs up the steps into the helicopter and turns on the radio. Mix-dela Radio East is playing "Panic on the Streets of Memory." That confirms her fear, but it doesn't tell anything specific.

She doesn't have time to gloat about being right. She calls to the others, "The whole city must be tuning into this panic. Come on. We need to figure out what's causing it."

Dopa vaults himself into the helicopter, while Sera takes one step at a time, a hand on the railing. She asks, "Is it too late to find the cause in Sensetown?"

Ace climbs in behind her, scratching his head. "Probably, but there are artists who paint the traffic, capture its patterns. They should have a record of whatever has just come in."

Nora starts the engine. "Alright, here we go."

The Language Center

The Modulator is the only helicopter in town. It lets the group skip over the flows of auto traffic which defines so much of Brain City. It has two seats in the front, a bench in the back and a big side door. Ace sits in the co-pilot's seat and gives Nora directions to Broca's Area, a neighborhood known for its artist's studios and rooftop gardens, one of the places traffic comes after arriving from the city's ears.

As they fly in, Nora spots a path of destruction leading from one rooftop garden to another. That's not good either.

She suspects she knows who might have caused the damage but keeps that to herself. She flies above the trail of trampled flowers and battered ferns until she spots a huge, burly, bearded figure running up to a painter at his easel.

That's exactly who Nora feared she'd see. She lands the Modulator in that garden, near the huge figure.

As the helicopter spins down, the giant man asks the painter in a booming voice, "What did the city just hear?"

The cowering painter is too frightened to come up with an answer.

From the steps of the helicopter, Nora shouts, "That's not how you do it. You're scaring him, Epi."

The big guy turns around, revealing the roaring lion on his shirt. His menacing attitude disappears. "NORA!" His huge legs close the distance between them in two long strides. He lifts her and spins.

"Alright, alright. Put me down," says Nora, frustrated at being pulled off her feet so easily. Epi sets her down on the grass. Nora Drenaline turns to the others in the helicopter and presents the man nearly twice her size. "Folks, this is my cousin, Epi A. Drenaline."

Dopa jumps out of the Modulator and shakes the brute's hand. He says, "Man, you're just gigantic. You smashed all those gardens?"

Epi turns around to see his trail of trampled greenery, surprised by all the destruction. "I guess I did," he says. "I'm sorry."

Sera crosses her arms and says in a soft voice, "You should apologize to the gluta mates who maintain this area. They'll have to fix it."

Epi says, "I have to figure out why Mix-dela Radio played the panic song. I think there was something important coming into the city, but I wasn't paying attention." He looks at his feet.

Nora goes to the painter, who's finally calming down. She says, "I apologize, on behalf of my cousin, but we do need to know what just came in from out there. Can you tell us what the city just heard?"

"This." The painter presents the canvas on his easel, diagrams of the traffic on the streets below.

Ace Telcholine pushes his glasses up his nose and examines the canvas. "What does it mean?"

"What does anything mean?" The painter gestures in the air as he talks. "This is my perch. I paint what I see. This is my life, this art on the canvas, not the patterns that inspire it."

Nora looks down at the traffic patterns. Those patterns are part of something she can't quite put into... something bigger than any of them, that help make the city itself feel alive. She wishes she understood it. She scowls at the artist. He's no help at all, but she pokes his chest. "Don't give us that. Any language understood by the city comes through here. There must be a way to figure out what the patterns mean. Someone must know."

"You could ask my patrons, perhaps." The painter gives a sad distant look. "That's why I always have to paint more, because they take all my paintings and hand them off to the government."

A Fifth Wheel

"The GOVERNMENT?" Little red-headed Dopa throws himself down on the grass. "We'll never get anything out of them."

Epi grabs the painting off the easel. "Then I'll have to figure it out myself." He squints and rotates the canvas in his huge hands, as if that will help it make more sense.

"That's not--" starts the painter, but Epi quiets him with one angry glance.

The painter opens the lid of a large box nearby, pulls out a blank canvas, puts it on his easel and starts a new painting, leaning over the edge of the rooftop garden to observe his subject.

"This is our investigation," says Ace, holding his hand out to Epi. "Give me that." Even with all of Ace's muscles, Epi makes him look puny.

That gives Nora an idea. Epi seems to understand how serious this all is, and using her cousin's strength could help her get the others to work together.

She says, "Hey, it's his city too. Want to join us, Epi? He can help. I mean, look at all those muscles!"

Epi smiles and flexes his arms. Ace frowns, looking at his own.

Sera's voice is soft and serious. "We don't need a fifth member, Nora. There's four of us, always have been, and we each have a role. I spread calm and reward. Your beams carry focus. Ace captures memories in his amulet, and Dopa charges people with anticipation."

From down on the grass, Dopa says, "Yeah, I don't want him taking my spot. It's mine."

Nora crouches next to Dopa. "I'm not suggesting he replace anybody, but he made it this far, ahead of us, just by jumping across the rooftops. That's how excited he is."

Dopa looks up at the brute, who's breathing hard and holding the painting tight. Dopa smirks. "Will he even fit inside the Modulator?"

The giant laughs. "Don't worry. I'll find a way to fit." He mimes pushing out the sides of their helicopter.

Dopa joins his laughter. "You're funny. Hey, you should come with us!"

Nora smiles, half way to uniting the group.

"My composition, it's ruined." The painter gestures from his new canvas to the traffic on the streets below. "Everything's changing direction." He opens the box and pulls out another blank canvas.

The rest all rush to the edge of the roof and look down. Nora says, "Another change. We have to get down there."

"Good idea." Epi jumps off the roof, leaving behind the painting he was holding.

Dopa shouts, "AWESOME." Nora rolls her eyes.

The four heroes rush back to their helicopter, leaving the artist to his rooftop garden.

Down at the street level, they find the crater created by Epi's landing, with him still in it.

Epi looks around at them, smiling. "I know what happened now," he says. "Everyone down here's talking about it. The government offices must have pieced things together and spread the word. Turns out, the city has to give a speech."

A Growing Argument

Nora finally understands the important news they missed from outside, why the radio is telling everyone to panic -- public speaking.

Sera, with her flowing hair and cape, is more distracted by the fresh crater. "This looks dangerous. Was anybody hurt?"

Ace watches the cars swerving to avoid it. He says, "Not yet," and moves to start directing the traffic.

Nora is the only one focused on what their next move should be. She says, "I've heard about the memories of public speaking. They're terrifying. The traffic that's about to start flooding those neighborhoods is way more dangerous to the city than some pothole. We have to get over there, now."

Sera looks skeptical. "We should get in the air, where I can calm this whole neighborhood. That will settle things down."

Ace says, "Those both sound good to me."

They all turn to look at the tie breaker, but Dopa's busy, giggling while dangling off Epi's bicep.

Nora decides to let Sera do her thing, as long as they move fast and her cousin gets to come. She says "Let's just get in the air, Sera. Epi, please ride in the helicopter this time." Epi has to duck to fit inside the bright red helicopter.

Ace gets in the pilot's seat this time and starts the engine. Nora sits next to him. She whispers, so Sera won't hear. "Take us up, Ace, but then get us to the public speaking memories."

She turns the radio back on. Mix-dela East is playing "Le Freak Out," which means things aren't much better than before.

Epi lean over the front seats. He says, "This station is great. They talk to everyone who comes by there, to help find out what the city's in the mood for."

Behind him, Sera clips her belt to a strap hanging from the railing above the door. She says, "Yeah, well, that mood? It's about to change."

As they take off, Sera leans out the side of the helicopter with one hand on the door frame.

The Modulator flies up, high above the rooftop gardens, where the cars on the distant ground are nearly invisible dots, and Sera aims her free hand at the city below, sending out waves of soothing energy that spread over the buildings, streets and cars.

Epi crowds in behind her, dodging her flapping hair. He shouts, "WOOOO! HEY CITY, I'M FLYING IN A HELICOPTER WITH MY COUSIN AND HER FRIENDS."

Dopa's childish laughter fills the body of the helicopter.

"Calm down," shouts Sera over the sound of the helicopter blades.

Epi laughs. "Make me."

Sera turns her free hand on Epi, sending the waves of her power in his direction. Epi turns and yells again out the door, "NOW MY COUSIN'S FRIEND IS USING HER SUPERPOWER ON ME. THIS IS SO AWESOME."

Sera says, "It doesn't seem to be working."

Nora climbs out of her seat and goes back to them. "He's a big fella. Keep trying."

Finally, Epi gets a tranquil smile on his face and sits on the floor in the Modulator, his legs crossed. Sera puts her hand down.

"What's that?" says Ace, frowning at something below them.

He puts the helicopter into a hover, and Nora looks down to see the thick rivers of traffic through the memory neighborhood below. She says, "It must be preparations for the speech."

Ace says, "No, that traffic would connect all the way back to where we came from, to Broca's Area. Look." He points in a big circle.

Nora widens her focus and sees what he's looking at. From their height, there's a pattern visible in the traffic, a jagged path that doubles back on itself, forming a gigantic loop.

The radio starts playing "Fear of the Forgotten."

The Insecurity Loop

They fly lower, where the loop of traffic passes through a memory of public speaking, and follow the traffic. Unlike the pleasant road connecting the memories of sun and breeze, these roads are sinister and overgrown. The lanes merge in a reflex, and after a sharp turn onto a wide, straight overpass, the traffic finds itself on a road that's part of tense memories of heart pounding, connected to memories of sweat and dizziness. The river of traffic flows unbroken, past all the off ramps too narrow and badly marked to help, and then it doubles back, past the same anxieties again and again.

Nora says, "I told you public speaking was dangerous. We have to get the traffic away from this."

Dopa calls out from the bench in the back. "Boo. Boring."

Epi raises his hand for attention. His voice is weak. "We should do nothing. I say we shut everything down, and maybe the city might not have to make the speech."

Sera tells him, "No. We can't do nothing. There are other cities out there that expect this speech."

Dopa is awed. "Other cities?"

Ace flies them close over the flow of traffic, his eyes staring hard below them. "We should at least figure out what's turning this all around into a loop." He glances at Nora. "Right?"

Nora nods, watching the ground steam by. She says, "We should have been here sooner."

Epi's voice regains its strength, rising back to its usual volume. "Okay then, if there's other cities out there, we fight them, all of them if we have to. Or, the only other way is, get our city away from the others somehow."

"We could do that." Dopa stands up. "Ace and I could visit the Depot and send muscle trains down the legs, start a run going. Now THAT sounds like fun."

Nora doesn't respond. She brought Epi along so that he would back her up, but he's just adding to the chaos. They fly over some intense shame.

"No," says Sera. "The government already said the speech was happening. It's happening."

Dopa crosses his arms and sits on the floor next to Epi. "Yeah, but what's the government gonna do to us? We don't have to listen to them. The government's nothing but a bunch of meetings of people wearing boring clothes."

Below, the traffic branches out to tour areas of different fears, things that might happen if the speech goes wrong. There are chances here for the drivers to turn away, but nobody seems to be taking them.

Nora stands up. She needs to talk to Dopa and Epi. "Listen to me. If we were ever gonna get out of this, we should have been focused on the outside traffic that started all this. Too late. This is happening. Stop wasting time arguing and let's get this traffic out of this loop."

The voice of the DJ comes on the radio. "Alright, you heard it here before, but nobody can seem to get enough of this song right now. Once again, here's 'Panic On The Streets of Memory.'"

Dopa points at the radio. "Listen, the public has spoken. The whole city wants us to make a break for it."

Nora says, "The whole city's not in charge of this helicopter."

Dopa's hands light up bright red. "Neither are you."

"Hey, everyone," says Ace from up front, "I found what's keeping them stuck in the loop."

The traffic flowing through all the different fears joins up again in one particular area, the fear that the speech won't be any good. That's the road leading the drivers all back to the public speaking memories, closing the loop that the traffic is stuck in.

Nora realizes, "The city's too focused on what can go wrong." She comes up with a new plan. "We should find some hopes, what this speech could accomplish if the government comes up with something great. Then we can bring all this traffic there, to see this speech as an opportunity."

"For what, status?" asks Sera.

Nora smiles and turns to her. "Yes, status, attention." Sera's finally listening. "This speech has to feel like it could make a huge difference. We just have to find that goal and stay focused. Let's be a team here." She gives her cousin a pat on the shoulder. "Come on, Epi. Back me up."

With Sera's power wearing off of Epi, he stands up -- as far as he can inside the Modulator. "It's bad down there. What if we can't get those feelings under control?" He shakes his head. "I don't think I'm strong enough to handle a city-wide panic." His shoulders rise and fall as he takes quick, shallow breaths.

Dopa smiles. "You, not strong enough?" His hands start to glow again, and he moves in on Epi.

"No." Nora grabs her cousin's arm and tries to pull him out of Dopa's path, but he's too heavy. "Don't charge him with--."


Before she can finish, Dopa's hands are around Epi's other elbow. Nora lets go before the charge flows to her.

"Forget it." Epi's eyes glow red. "Forget it." His energy is multiplied. "WE HAVE TO DO THIS NOW!" He runs around the tiny space, rocking the Modulator back and forth.

Everyone is tossed around except Ace, who steers the helicopter frantically, trying to get it under control. Nora finds a wall to help keep her balance, powerless to stop her cousin's rampage.

Epi shouts, "LET'S GIVE A SPEECH!"

Nora freezes. That's not the plan he was pushing before, and this one helps her. Maybe Dopa's charge will turn out to be a good thing, an enthusiasm for something they actually need to do. She changes her plans.

Epi keeps shouting. "NOTHING'S GONNA STOP THE CITY. BEST SPEECH IN THE WORLD." He leans out the side of the helicopter. "EVERYONE, WE NEED A SPEECH!"

Nora knows the others will never argue with that. She says, "You heard him, folks. Let's get this traffic out of this loop and over to the speech."

Dopa smiles. "Yeah, this speech thing sounds fun."

Sera stays gripping the edge of the door frame and says nothing, which means that at last, the group speaks with one voice.

Ace flies them to the Hippo Campus, the place where the city's thoughts get turned into memories. A narrow stream of traffic is heading into there, which Ace follows back to find the ideas which might form a speech.

"SPEECH!" shouts Epi, leaning out of the helicopter, pointing.

Nora says, "Yes, there's a rough series of connections. We can fly around and reinforce it, but we should also loop in some positive hopes for--"

Epi says, "I'm getting in a car, to loop around those ideas. LET'S RACE," and he jumps out of the helicopter.

Ace lands the Modulator, and everyone gets rides in different cars, to reinforce the routes between the ideas.

Nora watches this route from the passenger seat of her ride, quietly emanating a force which helps turn lights green and speed up the flow of the route she's on. The speech starts to become a path from one idea to another. It makes loops from memories of sights and sounds, into the chaotic bustle of Sensetown and back. It travels from the neighborhoods of ideas to places like Broca's Area, where those ideas will connect to specific words. At some of the intersections along the way, there are government signs, directions from the authorities for what connections the speech should make.

At every intersection, the woman giving Nora a ride interrupts her thoughts. "People were saying this speech is no good, but it looks good from here." "Oh, look. There's a good argument." "I hear the G.A.B.A. is out in force, blocking off bad roads. Finally."

Nora's been through a lot, and she doesn't want to hear how great the G.A.B.A. are. They have the numbers and the discipline to keep the peace in ways she never will. She says, "Do you have to keep talking?" The woman is shocked, and Nora changes the subject. "Hey, can I drive for a while?"

"Um. Oh, alright." The woman moves to the passenger side and sulks. "It's okay. I can be quiet."

Nora pulls over at spots where traffic veers off the government's route, probably heading back to the loop of fears. Blasting her beam of focus power at passing drivers gets the traffic back on the path of the speech.

Eventually, the traffic is dense all around her. The government traffic signs start getting bigger and clearer, and the traffic is able to follow the entire route of whatever the speech is without getting diverted back to the loop of fears.

Even Mix-dela East responds. Between songs, the DJ comes on the air. "From what I'm hearing, people are looking to hear a mellower vibe. Here's a cozy classic for all of you." The station plays "Memories, Light The Corners of My City."

Every time Nora goes around the route of the speech again, the patterns of traffic lights get smoother, and the route gets faster. The loop from before, including the fear that the speech isn't good enough, is still out there, but as long as the traffic avoids that part of town, there shouldn't be a huge panic.

Epi speeds past Nora's car again. "YOU CALL THIS A RACE?" he shouts, right before his car smashes into a wall. Nora pulls over to make sure he's okay, embarrassed that they're related. He's already out of the wreck and looking for a new ride.

The radio's calm melody ends, and a song comes on by Doubt, called "Don't Speak, Don't Move."

Epi hears that and comes over to Nora's car. "Are we doing the freezing thing now? You know, that was my idea." He smiles.

The traffic around them thins to a trickle.

Nora feels her stomach clench. "Get in. We're going back to the helicopter."

The Vote

As she drives back to the helicopter, Nora regrets not getting to follow through on her earlier plan. She confides to her cousin, "The speech was looking fine, Epi, but I still wish we could have kept looking, tried to lead traffic to a bunch of hopeful visions, of all the best possibilities of the speech being realized. I do believe the best speech ever is out there somewhere."

Epi nods, looking out the window. He takes up the whole back seat, and sometimes he gets nervous in confined spaces. "Yeah, best speech ever."

The woman whose car they've borrowed just stares out the passenger window.

When they reach the helicopter, the rest of the group is already there.

Ace sees them get out of the car. "There you are. It's time for the city to move, to give the speech, but the muscles aren't answering. I have to go to the Depot with Dopa."

"Trains, Epi," says Dopa. "You're gonna love it." He smirks. "Let's squeeze you back in the Modulator."

"No." Epi shakes his head. "The speech should be better. Nora's right. The LOOP was right. THIS SPEECH IS NOT GOING TO WORK."

Dopa shrugs. "Then we'll do something else. What's your favorite dessert?"

Epi keeps shaking his head, his frustration building. "No, I know what I have to do." He runs away and disappears around a corner.

Sera leans out the helicopter door and speaks to Nora with a nervous smile. "Whatever you told your cousin is making him rampage around the city again. That's not going to calm things down very much. You tell us, should we worry?"

Nora climbs into the Modulator, shaking her head. "Epi just wants to give a good speech. It's what we all should be working together on. Ace, let's get to the Depot. Now." The helicopter takes off.

Sera leans closer to Nora, but her calm, even tone can still barely be heard over the rotor blades. "I want to give a good speech too, but we should be discussing how, not taking off without an explanation."

Nora shouts to be heard. "It saves time, coming up with a plan and then acting on it right away."

In answer, Sera raises her voice but keeps her tone calm. "You talk about status and give us all orders, but I don't see how that's helped. This is all of our helicopter, so any of us can decide where it goes."

Nora gets in Sera's face, anything but calm. "It's OBVIOUS where we need to go! If you had all listened to me in the first place, we would have heard about this speech before anyone and prepared for it. That panic was all of YOUR faults!"

"That panic is over." Sera holds out her hands to use her calming power on Nora.

Nora sidesteps and counters, blasting her own power at Sera's hands, focusing the expanding waves of calm down to a narrow beam that zips past her.

Sera stops sending waves. Her smile fades, and her eyes narrow, focused on Nora. "Well, even if someone does need to be in charge of this group, I don't think it should be you."

Nora stops her beam too. She's been waiting for this, a clear moment of decision. "Yeah? Let's discuss that. Dopa!" She turns to the redhead in the leather jacket. "Who do you think should be in charge, me or her? Shouldn't it be the one who brought your buddy Epi along?"

Dopa is surprised to be asked. "In charge? If I have to vote, then I choose..." He looks between the two women. "Myself."

"No," say Sera and Nora together.

"Yes," says Dopa, grinning. "I would lead great."

Sera's frustrated voice has lost all of her natural calm. "I just wanted to handle this peacefully."

"Ace!" Nora turns to their pilot. "You're awfully quiet up there, deciding vote. Who do you think should be our leader?"

Ace says, "Oh, I'll follow whoever. That doesn't matter." He turns up the radio.

Epi's voice is on. "There's got to be a way to stop this speech. If you can hear me, and you find a solution somewhere in the city, just do it. Whatever will stop this speech, just go, go, go."

"Okay, new problem." Nora looks around the Modulator, at the heroes who've each picked their own form of leadership. She needs a plan, but she feels tight pain in her gut, knowing whatever Epi's words cause will be her fault. Nobody will listen to her now. "I... I'm going to the radio station to stop Epi," she says. "And I don't need anyone's help."

Ace says, "Yeah, can't. Dopa and I need to go to the Depot and get the muscles working."

Sera says, "Right. Then it's you and me." She crosses her arms, with a stern look. "And there's no time for discussion."

A Mix-dela Hijack

Nora and Sera pull into the big parking lot of Mix-dela Radio East, a two-story building with an even taller metal broadcast tower next to it.

Nora says, "Thanks for coming, I guess, but we need to be quick, and your powers don't work fast enough on Epi."

Sera smiles, somehow calm again in the middle of all the tension. "Then come up with a plan. Isn't that what you do? I'll do my best to follow along."

Nora doesn't answer, thinking about everything that could go wrong. Inside the building, they follow signs down a hallway to the broadcast booth. Outside the booth's door, they find a young man cowering in a corner.

Sera asks him, "You the DJ?" The young man winces but nods. "Is Epi in there?" He nods again.

Nora opens the door and steps into the booth.

Epi is alone, talking into the microphone. He turns around, eyes wide with intensity and surprise at the interruption. "NORA, this speech is going to be a DISASTER. I can FEEL it. We all have to do WHATEVER WE CAN to get OUT of it."

Nora shakes her head. "Doesn't matter. Way too late. The city has to go give that speech right now."

Epi pounds a fist on the desk. "IT'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH." He speaks into the microphone again. "You hear that? Do anything. Just do something."

Nora says, "It took all of us, with the help of the government and the G.A.B.A., to get a speech even this good. You think you can come up with something better by yourself with no time?"

Epi nods. "There HAS to be a way. EVERYONE'S listening. I've got the microphone, cousin, and all your power can do is make me MORE FOCUSED!"

Sera comes in and stands next to Nora. "What about mine?"

"Too weak." Epi stands up, his fists clenched tight, his head touching the ceiling of the small broadcast booth. "Not fast enough."

Sera takes a step back, but Nora gets an idea. She stares down her cousin, "Sure, you're real loud, everyone can hear you, Epi. But even you can't make them listen if they don't choose to cooperate." She turns to Sera. "Right?"

Sera nods.

Nora points her hands at Sera and sends out her power, full blast.

Sera snaps into focus, raises her hands and sends her own power in pulses, not waves, straight at Epi's head. Her soothing voice fills the booth. "Relax. The speech is good enough."

Nora says, "It has to be, Epi. It's all we have."

Epi kneels, a placid look coming over his face. He says, "I guess so."

That's enough. The women stop their powers. Nora opens the door to the booth, and Epi leaves peacefully, bending low to get through the door.

Sera pulls the DJ back in. She says, "Alright, get to work, and please play something calming."

The DJ sits down. "No can do." He leans into the mic, back in his element. "This is Mix-dela Radio, where we tune into the mood of the city and all requests are by popular demand."

Sera and Nora look at each other and raise their hands, ready to combine their powers again on the DJ, but they recognize the rumble of the Modulator landing outside.

Sera says out loud what Nora's already thinking, "What's wrong now?"

The two women run to the parking lot. They find the red helicopter's engine is still running, and Dopa is waving them in. "Come on," he shouts over the noise of the rotors.

From the pilot's seat, Ace tells them, "The trains are working. The legs are aiming for the podium, but the city traffic is scattered, driving everywhere, and all the government signs are missing."

Nora's eyes go wide as she realizes what that means. "The city forgot the speech."

Say Something Quick

Sera leans out the side again, sending waves of calm down across a widening area as the Modulator gains altitude, all around the radio station.

Nora is still working out just how bad things are. "They did listen to him. All the work that went into the speech, erased because of Epi, because of me." She hyperventilates.

Sera says, "Relax, Nora. It was panic that got us into this."

Ace calls out from the front seats, "I'm taking us back to the Hippo Campus. It's our best chance of finding the speech again. If we--"

"No," says Nora. "Those memories are spread everywhere. The signs are gone. We can't follow the route like we did before."

Dopa reaches up and puts a hand on Nora's shoulder. He smiles. "Then we'll do something else."

Dopa's hand lights up, charging Nora with enthusiasm.

Her eyes glow red, overflowing with the excitement that fills every part of her body. Suddenly, nothing seems impossible. "Yes! Let's DO something. I just have to figure this out."

Ace says, "Hippo Campus down below. We just need--"

Nora interrupts. "We need a whole new speech, somehow, right away."

Ace keeps piloting, ignoring her distraction. He says, "Maybe not. There's something I noticed earlier. When we were following the speech, Epi kept smashing into things."

Dopa grins. "We just have to follow the smashes."

Nora is dumbfounded, her own half-formed ideas forgotten. "That's brilliant, Ace."

She looks over to see Ace's shy smile.

Nora holds onto the edge of the side door and leans out, next to Sera.

She spots the wreck of a car and shouts, "THERE!" She uses her focus blast to draw the random traffic around the area in their direction, while Sera Tonin keeps blanketing the area with calm, to keep things from getting out of control, her hair and cape billowing majestically. Dopa Mean stands behind them, a glowing red hand on each of their shoulders to charge them both up, giving their powers extra effect on the city below.

Ace Telcholine flies them over something like the route of the speech, following Epi's path of destruction. Nora Drenaline's beam gives the traffic something to follow, and the traffic underneath them gathers a bigger and bigger convoy, going from idea to idea.

The DJ comes on the radio again. "Well, we've been getting a lot of people coming by the station with a calm view of things. This one's for all of them, and for the heroes out there that just saved my job." He puts on a slow, acoustic cover of "Shelter from the Brainstorm."

Dopa shouts, "IT'S WORKING."

From the concepts of the speech, bits of traffic peel off, headed for places like Broca's Area, where the artists painting the traffic patterns will translate those concepts into language, which the city government will hopefully help coordinate.

Nora tries to imagine that far away, the city itself is connected to some kind of mouth, which delivers a speech made of neighborhoods of ideas and memories, made of buildings and people and their traffic and all of their lives, that it gives the speech thanks to four tiny superheroes flying around in the Modulator, acting as a team.

But it's all on a scale too big for her to hold on to, so she focuses on her job, which is focus itself.

When they finish retracing what they can of the speech and land the helicopter, they're all exhausted, but the heroes crowd in around the radio, to hear what the reaction is.

Mix-dela East plays, "Celebration."

Sera Tonin gives a sigh of relief. "We did it!"

Dopa Mean says, "Yeah, that was great. So... what's next?"

After that, Dopa takes a turn flying the Modulator around the city, with Sera leaning out the side bringing the sense of calm triumph her powers are free to spread, now that there aren't any distractions.

Memories of Success

In a long white hallway on the Hippo Campus, Ace and Nora sort through the jumbled clumps of memories created during their latest adventure. Each one is a different sized heap of patterns tumbling over each other, mostly records of impressions from Sensetown, which the students of the Hippo Campus decided to lump together.

Nora cups her hands in front of her mouth and shouts to all the waiting patterns, "Stay against the wall here and form a line. Those of you who are staying will get places to live, just as soon as there's time."

Ace holds out his amulet at the first pile of churning information. Some pieces fly off the pile and disappear into its center hole, which glows with a golden light. What's left of the pile has simpler patterns, movements in closer unison. He says it's a clarified memory from right before all this happened, during the daydream -- something that came from outside the city and made an impression anyway. Ace lets the extra pieces of that memory fall out of the amulet and scatter, and the amulet goes dim again.

Nora asks, "Ace, in the helicopter before, when you said you'd follow anyone, did you really mean it?"

Ace thinks about that. "Sure, if I agree with what they tell me to do."

Nora smiles and shakes her head. "That's not the same thing."

Ace goes down the hallway and pulls the excess from more jumbled piles of information, making them ready to go imprint in the memory neighborhoods. Everything the city has ever paid attention to or thought about is out there on those twisting streets, in some kind of form. Nora walks behind Ace, keeping a distance as the extra bits of sense information scatter across the floor.

Ace pulls the extra bits from one memory in the lineup, and a pattern emerges that reminds Nora of the loop of fears. She asks him, "Does this one have to get a permanent home? I hoped we could forget about the loop."

Ace shakes his head. "Forget it and we never learn to avoid it." He gives a sad look at the memories he's clarified and says, "I wish all these could live out there, just like this, forever."

"Don't they?"

He shakes his head. "They're reconstructed again with every act of remembering, combined with other memories, reinforced in different ways. Over time, these patterns will overlap with others and..." He shrugs.

Ace turns and keeps going along the line, using the amulet to clarify more memories, like when the body froze, followed by those terrifying moments of forgetting the speech.

Nora sees that and remembers when she realized her cousin had caused it. "Ace, I'm sorry I brought Epi along. He almost ruined everything."

Ace keeps his tone uncritical. "He erased the route, true, but he also made it possible to find it again." He clarifies a memory from giving the speech.

Nora realizes something. "Ace, it was your idea that saved the speech, and you're the only one who didn't want to take command. You're selfless." She reflects that she probably would follow Ace's leadership, but maybe that's because he's not the type to give anyone orders. "I'm glad we finally learned to work as a team, and I'll think hard before I let my cousin help us out again, that's for sure."

Ace uses his amulet on the next speech memory, and Nora is distracted by something deep inside it, the memory of a thought. It looks like the possibilities of what a truly great speech would have done. She stops walking and stares deeper. She says to the thought, "So, you were out there."

It can't respond, but this close, Nora makes out layers of patterns within patterns she doesn't expect. She makes out what looks like a neighborhood, maybe one like where this memory will eventually live, but there's more. She leans closer. It also somehow gives her the impression of a different kind of place, infinitely larger, full of faces staring at her in rapt attention.

"It's too bad we can't remember this." Ace's voice snaps her out of it, and she rushes to catch up to him near the end of the lineup.

Nora tries to shake off her mesmerizing view of the place inside a thought inside a memory. "What do you mean?"

Ace clarifies the last of the jumbled memories at the end of the hallway. He turns around. "Memories are too big for us to keep."

Nora smiles. "Well, we're not the ones who disperse them across the city, but--"

"The city is our memory." Ace pushes his glasses up his nose. "What we need to do our jobs is to be present, nothing more."

Nora raises her eyebrows. "What are you..."

Ace Telcholine raises his amulet, giving a sad sigh as he points it at Nora Drenaline.

The center of the amulet starts to glow.


The story of stage fright can play out on different time scales in largely the same way. These events could be happening over the weeks leading up to some huge address, and a version of this entire drama might play out in a few seconds for a student called on to answer a question in front of the class. For the heroes of Brain City, the job is the same.

Want to learn a little of the real science at work in this story?

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