It was Lorenzo Tate, the nerdy arms dealer, who introduced Jon to Lou Pasterelli.
Lou was a mutant who could become intangible or invisible, and he had mastery over darkness itself. In his youth he had occasionally used these powers to fight evil, though he was more often to be found crusading against corruption and inequity in the world of politics. He had publicly declared that he wanted to overthrow the system and rebuild it from scratch. After the war this became a very unpopular stance, and Lou ran afoul of the law.
When Jon met him he was under house arrest, restricted from using his powers for five years. But he hadn't given up. He devoted nearly all his time to fighting the false revolutionaries who had given his cause a bad name and the same corporate and government forces that had always bedeviled him. The only difference was that he began working through a network of helpful heroes, standing on a street in the south of Brickstown, endlessly working his network of informants, passing on information and Inspiration drugs and Enhancements, the tools of the trade for heroes in Paragon City.
"I can't believe Crey is doing this, Jon," Lou Pasterelli told him, early one bright summer morning. "There are people in Founders' Falls and Brickstown, people outfitted as Crey security force members, harassing people and performing combat drills on the streets. The countess denies any knowledge or authorization of this activity, but says that she can't do anything to stop them until they're brought in and she can uncover the conspiracy. Not that any of them ever talk. Whether these people are Crey or not, they have to be stopped.
"If these people are rogues, then defeating them will only help improve relations between Crey Industries and the city in general. And if they're not rogues... Well, it might be a good idea to learn how to fight them."
"Sure, Lou," Jon replied, obligingly. He didn't mention a second, ulterior motive for accepting the assignment.
Lou's instructions gave him a practical carte blanche for something he now wanted to do for his own reasons; stop Crey employees and question them.
The Patrol Guards and Riot Guards, contract employees of the ubiquitous hulk that was Ziggursky Prison, with their dark blue uniform, black flack jacket with a light aqua "Crey" insignia front and back, stood out like a sore thumb on the street corners of Brickstown. What they were doing on the streets instead of inside the prison was something difficult to fathom by even the most charitable citizen, and Jon took great delight in backing them against walls, one after the other, demanding their Crey ID cards, grilling them as to exactly what they were supposed to be doing. He soon tired of the activity, when it became obvious that they basically knew nothing, either about Crey itself, or anything outside their duties with the prison. Jon found a few teenagers with falsified credentials and borrowed, stolen, or hand-made copies of the Crey uniforms, enough to satisfy Lou, but was himself none the wiser about Crey or its activities.
It was the man in the dark grey business suit wearing the silver head piece with the green monocle that caught his eye. Not so much for the head piece, as for the fact that the man's left hand was made of metal, a mirror copy of Jon's own. He was of sterner stuff than the sniveling guards....it was obvious that he had received a high degree of some kind of military training, and didn't have a problem pulling out an amazingly large gun, apparently from nowhere, when Jon accosted him. It took all Jon's strength and experience to knock the man to the ground and disarm him.
"Crey Elite Security Agent" his ID card read, when Jon fished it from the man's wallet after frisking him.
Glancing up and down the street, Jon grabbed the suited man's lapels and dragged him to his feet, then turned him and, gripping his wrists behind his back in one metal fist, snapped "march!" in a low voice, steering him under the nearby overpass of Mashu Bridge and behind a building.
"Lou Pasterelli sends his regards," he hissed into the Agent's ear, hoping that the name would mean something to him. Releasing his grip, he pushed the man back against the building, holding him pinned there. He grabbed the man's metal left hand with his own metal right one, brought both up to face level.
"Where'd you get this?" he growled.
"Don't be absurd." The Agent's lips twisted sardonically.
Jon leaned forward, pressing hard on the man's chest with his left hand. The Agent grunted, a look of pain crossing his face.
"You know what these can do," Jon told him. "You have one of them....I have two. Shall we find out if I can crush your chest with mine?"
The Agent coughed, spat a curse. "You have no idea who you are messing with...." he snapped.
"So, tell me. I'm eager to find out. Just who do you really work for?"
The man suddenly went silent, gritting his teeth.
"I'll ask you one more time. Where did you get the metal hand?"
"Probably the same place you did..." the Agent growled, looking his rage.
"You think? And where is that?"
"You can't do this....I'll have you in jail for assault and battery." The Agent smiled grimly through gritted teeth.
"Really? The Countess won't mind that you got yourself captured and beat up by an ordinary Hero Corp employee? She'd back you up and supply you with a lawyer?"
It was a shot in the dark. Jon had no idea if what he was saying had any connection to reality. But it seemed to hit home....the Agent stopped struggling to free himself, managed to look both disgusted and edgy.
"What do you want?"
Now, that was interesting, Jon thought. Something he had said had hit home after all. "Where did you get the metal hand?" he repeated, forcefully.
The Agent made one last abortive attempt to twist free, an action that Jon met with increasing pressure on the man's chest. With a grunt, the Agent raised his other hand in the universal gesture of surrender. "It's no secret," he said, his voice whispery as he struggled to draw a full breath. "I work for Crey, a lot of Crey employees receive augmentation so that they can fulfill their duties better."
"Augmentation, huh? By letting them cut off your hand?" Jon snarled, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"I don't....it didn't....it was a good trade-off," the Agent finished, beginning to look confused.
Jon blinked, stunned at the implication. "You mean...you *did* have a perfectly good hand before they did that to you....?"
"I...it...I think...it's a good hand, what are you talking about?" The Agent twisted, groaned in pain as Jon leaned against him again, gasped, struggling for breath, then wilted, his head and arms going suddenly limp. Jon stepped back, released him, as he slumped to the ground.
"Don't you even know what happened to you, or why?"
His shoulders heaving, the Agent didn't answer.
Jon crouched next to him on the pavement. "Okay, answer this question. Do you remember when you got that metal hand?"
"Yes...." the man whispered, then coughed, still struggling for breath.
"And where, exactly, was that done? The facility, the hospital....where did you go, where were you taken?"
"It was in a Crey lab." Jon had to strain to hear him.
"Now we're getting somewhere. Where exactly? I need an address."
"I don't know it...."
"You don't know where you went?" Jon said, incredulously.
"I was taken....it was a huge facility, I was flown there. I didn't pay any attention...."
"....or you were drugged...." Jon said disgustedly, "....and you didn't even have the presence of mind to resent it....or get out afterward...."
"Crey has been good to me....it's a good job...." the Agent mumbled.
"What *do* you know about it?" Jon demanded. "If you don't know the address, or where it was, what was it called? You must know a name for the place you were taken. They must have told you something to get you to cooperate."
"It was....the H.E. Lab. Gamma Section. And that's all I know."
"The countess is once again thanking you for all of your hard work fighting corruption, Jon Smith" Lou told him later. "The 'rogue' Crey operatives you brought in aren't talking, though. You have to wonder if the countess is in control at all with these kinds of problems in her own company."
In control. Who was in control? Crey was a huge organization. What was happening behind those mammoth closed doors? And who was responsible?
And what was the H.E. Lab?
Once Jon had started working with Lou Pasterelli, it seemed to be an endless stream of assignments, all of them involving Crey and one mistake or another, one rogue group of employees or another, one gigantic excuse or another.
He was starting to get tired of hearing about the Countess Crey's many excuses.
Jon found himself wondering just how it was that the corporation could continue to operate without the authorities noticing just how close the company was to "crossing the line". Somehow, they never strayed over the line of legality....or at least, they never got *caught* doing it.
It wasn't long ago that Crey's Folly, west of Brickstown, was the center of industry in Paragon City. Back in the 1980's, Crey chose it as the site for the most of their facilities. But all their holdings turned to rubble when the area became a major target in the Rikti War. Before long, people started calling the place Crey's Folly.
Crey's Folly was declared a hazard zone and walled off during the early stages of reconstruction after the Rikti war. Whatever Crey was working on out there, it ruined the whole area when the Rikti blew it up. As a hazard zone, it was supposed to be off-limits to non-authorized entry, but Crey had been performing salvage operations out there anyway. Though Crey's lawyers were trying to tangle the whole thing up in court, Crey's salvage operations were still illegal, and posed a threat to the city at large.
Lou sent the scrapper to Crey's Folly, under orders to arrest any Crey employees he found working in that zone.
Jon took advantage of the opportunity to interrogate another Agent, one who also had a metal left hand, one that wore a black suit, and had a silver mechanism worn on the side of his face, with red-glowing goggles. He, too, didn't seem to know where his surgery had been done. Jon questioned him on the location of the H.E. Lab, or even what the letters meant, but he didn't seem to know.
On yet another day, Lou told him that Crey had been testing out new field equipment, which had the side effect of interferring with the security systems that kept super-powered criminals in carcerated in Ziggursky Prison. Crey refused to acknowledge the problem, even while prisoners were taking advantage and escaping. He sent the scrapper to stop any Crey employees he found using the new equipment.
On a hunch, Jon began targetting the scrub-suited men he saw standing around with the Crey guards and the Agents. He wasn't at all surprised when the first one he accosted turned out to be carrying a Crey ID card. He was able to confirm that the green scrub suited medics were working for Crey, but knew very little about the company, beyond assisting other Crey employees, both in clinics and on the streets.
It was when he targetted one of the men in a blue scrub suit carrying a portable cryo-unit as if it were a sidearm and wrangled him into a side alleyway that Jon finally hit paydirt.
"Chief Cryo Scientist" read the man's Crey ID. His tool-cum-weapon made him very dangerous indeed, and Jon found it a struggle to disarm him.
The scientist couldn't seem to stop staring at Jon's metal arms.
"You find these interesting? Why don't you tell me why, exactly?"
"I....no, no, of course not." The scientist looked quickly away.
"I think you've seen something like this before, haven't you? In fact, you've seen something exactly like these prosthestics, right?" Jon raised his hand, pointed two fingers at the man's eyes, only inches away, the threat plain.
"Please, don't...." the scientist whimpered.
"Where have you seen these before?"
"I....I can't tell you." He squirmed, Jon gripped his wrist tighter to prevent escape.
"I think you *can* tell me....and I think you will...."
The scientist looked up, for the first time, directly into Jon's face. Was there a moment of recognition? Certainly surprise crossed his face. "You....you were...."
"I was....what? What were you going to say?"
"No....I was mistaken. I had to be."
"Look, this is getting neither of us anywhere. You are going to talk to me, and you're going to tell me what I want to know. Where have you seen me before?"
The man shook his head, more confidently now. "No, I haven't. I'm sure."
"Fine. But you have seen this kind of prosthetic, right?"
The scientist looked away, Jon squeezed the man's wrist, bent it painfully backward. "I can keep this up all day, you know, it's not hurting me one little bit."
"All right...." the scientist groaned. "Just....don't hurt me...."
"Where have you seen this before?" Jon insisted.
"In a lab...."
"Which lab? The H.E. Lab?"
"What does H.E. stand for, then?"
The scientist stared at the ground, Jon bent his arm back again, the scientist hissed in pain. "All right! It's...it's the Human Experimentation lab...."
Jon let go, stood back, staring at him, thinking hard, as the scientist massaged his arm, his eyes darting about, looking for an opening. "What is Gamma Section?" Jon continued.
"It's where the final work is done....the completed project installations."
"Completed....then there are other sections in the H.E. lab?"
"What sections, exactly?"
The scientist pressed his lips together, Jon reached for him, he threw up his hands. "Okay, okay....there's Alpha, Beta, and Gamma." He glanced into Jon's grim face, continued. "Alpha is for the projects in their initial stage....when they are first being tested, until they have been improved to the point where they are no longer lethal."
"That's the second stage of testing....when projects are no longer lethal, but not yet ready for release to the field, when they are sent to Gamma section for the final installations."
Jon stared at the scientist, his eye going wide in shock.
Beta 1403 CI
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012