Under Janet Kellum's direction, Jon began wearing away at the edges of the fortress that was Crey.
A neighborhood reported a lethal toxic gas release; Janet noted that Crey had been spotted nearby and sent Jon in to get the victims to safety. Jon found Crey security apparently trying to stop the inhabitants from fleeing the poisoned area, arrested some, and escorted the citizens out of the area. Crey Industries claimed that they were trying to help evacuate the area, but Jon had already seen otherwise.
Janet intercepted reports of chaos in a Crey installation, security seen running out of the building, shots heard from the outside. When Jon entered, he found that they had been trying to re-activate some Rikti portal equipment they had somehow gotten their hands on, a little too successfully for their own good. Once Crey had opened the portals, Rikti came pouring out. It had been the height of stupidity to assume that the Rikti wouldn't know when their own technology was being used. Jon found himself escorting Crey employees out of the building as he brought the invaders under control.
Janet received a panicked call from Sam Perry, the editor in chief of the Paragon Consumer. After Jon rescued him from the Crey security agents holding him hostage, he admitted that the reason the Consumer had never printed anything negative about Crey products was because he had been surrendering to pressure not to publish negative reviews for years. When he finally refused to withhold information on a particularly dangerous product, Crey responded in force. Even Jon's efforts were in vain....within days, a completely unconnected company had sued the Consumer for libel; Janet was certain Crey was behind it, probably through a jungle of interlocking companies, but it was pretty obvious that the Consumer's days as a publishing institution were numbered.
Janet sent Jon into a Crey laboratory with instructions to capture and remove some Rikti monkeys that they were rumored to be experimenting on, once again in blatant violation of the edict that had been made against Crey having any Rikti technology of any kind. When he found them, he was astonished that they were not only running loose in the building, but that they seemed to identify him as being sympathetic, and followed him out of the lab entirely on their own.
Jon entered a Crey lab and discovered Crey security guards holding Crey's own scientists hostage as they worked on a Rikti bio-morphing chamber, trying to use it to increase the Paragon Protectors' already massive powers. It seemed that they had been ordered, according to one scientist, by the Countess herself, to continue working on the equipment even after they realized that it had been booby trapped. At the point Jon stepped in, eight scientists and seventeen Paragon Protectors had already died on the project.
"I've got a good lead on a Crey lab that's linked to the Revenant Hero Project," Janet Kellum told him. "I don't want to get your hopes up, Jon, but my sources tell me Countess Crey herself is a frequent visitor to the lab. If you can find any evidence linking her to that lab, it'll be hard for her to maintain her plausible deniability."
But things didn't turn out quite as they both had assumed.
The front entrance of the building was being monitored by a camera operated by someone out of sight. That should have been his first clue, he would tell himself later.
Deep in the heart of the building, engaged in a fierce firefight with several Crey employees, the scrapper was startled by a slight, almost unnoticeable sting on the side of his neck. Whirling, he confronted two more scientists he hadn't realized had gotten so close to him. He struck the nearer one to the floor, but the other one ran before he could get to him, and Jon had to let him go as another wave of security threw themselves on him.
It was only then that something he had heard earlier returned to his attention, and he started to make sense of it. A Security Chief, one whose name plate on the breast of his power suit read "Casey", was speaking to a medic when Jon overheard him say, "We need a clean sample." He had just assumed that they hadn't noticed his presence yet, and were still discussing their routine for the day.
It was what Casey said afterward, that started Jon worrying: "Jon Smith will be a fine addition to the project."
That, and the sting on the side of his neck.
As soon as he had a moment to stop and breathe, he reached up and rubbed at the spot....faint trails of red were visible across his metal fingertips.
Damn, he thought.
He had reason to worry. Just as another group of Crey security made its appearance, he began to feel woozy and just a bit sick. He threw himself against them, but found that his breathing was labored, even though he'd had a minute or two to rest.
Poisoned, he thought.
There was no help for it....his strength was waning, he couldn't pause, couldn't wait, he had to try to locate any possible evidence that the Countess was connected to the facility now, while he was still on his feet and able to escape.
He was just rounding a corner when he heard Casey, or another man in the same kind of body armor, say to a group of waiting guards, "I want Jon Smith on a platter!"
Here I am, he thought, refusing to spare any breath on speaking to his opponents, as he dove head-long into the group.
The armored man wore a name plate that read "Security Chief Owen". Jon found himself face-to-helmet with the man, each struggling to best the other. "You'll be a perfect gift for the countess," Owen told him.
Jon took particular pleasure in knocking him out. It reminded him a little too much of Summerfeld.
I'm a man, he thought, standing over the unconscious figure. I'm not a rat, and I'm not an object for your boss's amusement.
But the swimming sensation in his head wouldn't subside. Reluctantly, he made his way to the nearest exit from the building, and made his way to safety.
"I guess Countess Crey thought you'd make a nice addition to her Revenant Hero Project. Ugh. At least you made it out of there unscathed. I have to wonder, though. You said those Crey agents said something about getting a sample from you? I wonder how much DNA the countess needs to construct her patchwork heroes." Janet frowned, staring off across the Red River.
Jon sat dejectedly on the stairs at her feet, waiting for the antidote she'd gotten for him to take hold and for his head to stop spinning. He started to shake his head negatively, decided better of it. "No idea," he told her. "Do you really think that's a possibility? Maybe they only intended to poison me. Maybe I misunderstood what I heard....."
"Maybe...." She looked unconvinced. "We know that Crey's Paragon Protectors have been cobbled together using the DNA and memories of real heroes. What we don't know is which heroes were used. That information could give us valuable insight into the Protectors' strengths and weaknesses.
"Jon, could you get me some samples of Paragon Protector DNA?"
He groaned inwardly, but began to relax as the drug took effect. "I can try...."
As he heaved himself to his feet, she rewarded him with one of her rare smiles. "It's okay, Jon, I know you're bushed. Go home and shower and get some sleep. The Protectors will wait until tomorrow."
Two days later, Jon was back at Janet's post in Founders' Falls, trying hard to look unconcerned as she poured over the lab results on the samples he had collected the previous day, grateful that she had the connections to get the lab work pushed through so quickly. It had been two days....two nights, really....in which his nightmares had returned in full force.
"Those skin samples you found tell us a lot about the DNA that's been used to construct the Paragon Protectors," she told him, her attention still fixed on the sheaves of paper. "I was afraid that Crey might have acquired your DNA during one of your missions against them; I'm sorry to see I was correct. It doesn't really matter if they got any further samples from you two days ago....apparently, they've had your DNA on file for a long, long time, long enough for portions of it to be used in the cloning of the Protectors."
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012