"Just go out and pick her up for questioning, Jon," Maxwell Christopher told him. "Plain and simple."
"I'll put the word out to the police and the media," Janet added. "You go reel her in. My sources think she's inspecting a Crey facility in Brickstown. Check it out."
But nothing with Crey was ever plain and simple.
And the Countess wasn't the kind of woman to surrender meekly and without a fight....a fight that involved all of the massive corporation that she had engineered single-handedly out of her husband's modest Crey Biotech pharmaceutical company.
Jon went to the facility, only to find that the Countess had already made her escape. The only sign of just how close he had been to catching her was the subtle hint of vanilla in the air, a reminder of the perfume she favored. He was leaving the building when his cell phone chirped.
"Jon, the media won't report on our findings, and I can't find a judge willing to sign a warrant for her arrest," Janet told him. "Not only that, but she's obviously still one jump ahead of us....while I was calling around I discovered that she'd already arranged for one of those judges she has in her pocket to have an order issued for *your* arrest. She swore out a complaint that you were guilty of breaking and entering, assault, and theft of Crey technology. There's been an APB put out on you. If we're to have any chance of clearing this up and arresting her, you're going to have to stay out of sight. You can't let the police pick you up. Do you understand?"
"Yeah.....I get it, Jan. I'll stay in touch." His shoulders drooping, he switched off his cell, turned it over and pulled the battery out of it, glanced up and down the street, and headed for the back alleys he knew so well.
Hiding on the back streets of Paragon City. This was *his* forte. The Countess was now playing *his* game.
It was finally time for the scavenger, the escaped lab rat that Crey had created, to make his re-appearance.
While searching the Brickstown building, Jon had stumbled across a memo talking about a fired Crey employee, Howard Quigley. The next time Jon activated his cell and called Janet, she sent him to Quigley's place of business. He got there just as Crey guards were leading the man out of the building. Freeing him and questioning him, Jon learned that he'd been the lead programmer on a project to produce a computer operating system called CreyComp, intended, or so he had originally thought, to compete directly with Windows. Quigley had quit the project before it was finished, unnerved by the fact that his supervisors continually insisted that they add in additional code patches that he was not allowed to test. He had no idea who was writing the additional code, nor what its purpose was.
Janet was able to confirm that the CreyComp code had been broken into three sub-sections and stored in different facilities, presumably to prevent theft or industrial espionage. Each section was incomplete in itself. She located the three facilities, and sent Jon into each one to collect the sections, and then take the pieces to a software analyst whom Janet had worked with in the past, Justine Kelly.
"CreyComp is actually a sophisticated mind control program," Justine told him after studying the code for several days. "Crey uses subliminal messages, stuff no one would notice. The code encourages people to do a number of things: buy Crey products, vote for tax breaks for big business, and, above all, surrender their judgement in favor of Countess Crey. This is bad, Jon. Three quarters of the businesses in town already ordered this OS."
"The release date is coming up in days," Janet told him over his cell phone. "We had no idea they had already manufactured the disks, or you could have simply grabbed one of them instead of having to go after the original code. You've got to get over to the Crey warehouse and destroy the disks awaiting shipment. We can't wait on the courts and police for this."
Jon smiled grimly. "Heck, Jan, I'm already a wanted criminal. What have I got to lose?"
It was like the old days.
Instead of dodging Vazhilok zombies and Clockwork, Jon found himself dodging Nemesis and Malta Operatives, in addition to Crey guards and agents, all apparently responding to the APB that the police had issued for his arrest. But it was the same old game. Fight when he had to, run when he couldn't win, brush his pursuers off by ducking through train stations and other locations where police drones were posted. It was almost fun, in a depressing way.
It was as if nothing had really changed since the time when the contents of a garbage can represented the best the world had to offer him.
He was deeply relieved when he turned his cell on, called Janet Kellum, and she replied in the affirmative to his question.
"Yes, Jon....we think we have a more permanent solution," she told him. "Justine has engineered a virus. If you can pick up the code from her and get it inside a Crey facility, past their security and onto one of their networks, this should eliminate CreyComp as a danger, once and for all.
"Just a little more, Jon. I'm really sorry about what all has happened. I didn't know you would wind up bearing the brunt of it."
He shrugged, then sheepishly thought that it was wasted as she couldn't see it. "I didn't know, either, Janet, or maybe I'd have been more careful. It's not your fault, so don't worry about it. Let's just get through this....you never know, maybe something good will come of it."
"Keep your chin up, Jon, and your head down, as the old joke goes. We'll get you out of this. Some way. I promise you that."
The homeless man in the shabby raincoat lifted his head, sat up straighter in the emergency room lobby, reaching up to pull his hat lower across his face, clutch the lapels of his coat to his cheeks with his gloved hand, as if feeling a chill. No one noticed; all eyes in the waiting room were turned on the television mounted in the bracket on the lobby wall.
"Turn it up," the doctor said to the receptionist, looking up at the tv screen. She reached under her desk to pull out a remote, followed his order.
".....emails were received in every police precinct office in Paragon City, as well as the offices of the Paragon Times, every local television news office, and, according to reports beginning to come in, by hundreds of citizens as well," the news announcer was saying as the volume on the set increased. "The emails were short, but contained hundreds of attachments. At first it was thought to be another 'denial of service' Internet attack, but once the police began opening the attachments, they turned out to be copies of documents from Crey Industries computers. No one has yet stepped forward to claim responsibility, and it is thought that it might be the work of Bulgarian hackers, or possibly an attempt at industrial blackmail. However, further reports from the police department state that the first few documents checked out appear to be legitimate Crey documents. If they are, this may be the biggest news in the past year, as initial reports claim that the documents show Crey Industries to be engaging in a wide variety of illegal activities, ranging from kidnapping to theft of trade secrets, and possibly even linking Crey to the deaths of several well-known public figures.
"In related news, the Paragon Police Department has publicly rescinded the warrant issued for the arrest of a Hero Corps employee named Jon Smith, and in its place issued a warrant for the arrest of Clarissa van Dorn, also known as the Countess Crey, on charges of corruption and conspiracy...more on this developing story at eleven."
A slow smile beginning to work its way across his disfigured face, the man in the raincoat visibly relaxed, dropping his hand and allowing his monocle to be seen.
"I'm sorry I had to keep you in the dark, Jon, but I didn't want to get your hopes up in case Justine's virus didn't manage to send out those emails. It was a shot in the dark."
"Nah, it's okay, Jan, I understand. I'm just grateful that the two of you thought about me at all."
The FBSA agent laughed. "Really, Jon, as if anyone could *ever* forget about you," she chuckled.
"I guess you heard that I finally got the warrant for the Countess's arrest," she continued.
Jon nodded, smiled as he leaned back in the hard chair in her office.
She glanced down, picked up a piece of paper, held it aloft while perusing it. "What do you think, Jon?"
"Would you like to be the one to pick her up? I think you've earned it, after all you've been through."
His smile broadened slowly. "You better believe it, Jan," he said softly. "I have a few choice words for the good Countess..."
Of course, it wasn't that easy.
Julianne Thompson wasn't going to simply turn herself in. And she still had the vast majority of the Crey empire working for her, those employees who were too invested in the corporation and its leader to turn on her now, not to mention the loyal-to-the-death Paragon Protectors.
But with the continual news reports, as the police checked out one document after another, of the mounting list of crimes Crey and its employees and owner were being charged with, a few of those employees began to crack.
Jon began picking them up off the street randomly as material witnesses, before and after the fact. They couldn't be held for long, not as yet, but after a few hours in a jail holding cell, some of the Crey employees started to tell their stories.
Three days later, a housekeeper in the Crey mansion handed over an itinerary she had found in a wastebasket to the police. It contained a rough sketch detailing plans for an unnamed person to leave the United States. Included were instructions to contact a particular plastic surgeon and have him brought to a particular area of Talos Island.
Searching the area, Jon stumbled on the entrance to an underground cave complex.
Let's see if we got here in time, he told himself, as he entered.
It was a sad end for the proud and powerful Countess Crey.
Surrounded by her guards and a squad of Paragon Protectors, Jon had been forced to call for backup before he could approach her with warrant in hand. Even then, she flew at him in a rage, calling on her minions to defend her "at all costs". The Paragon Protectors happily complied. The rest of her employees divided, some fighting, some running, some surrendering.
"You may have destroyed my reputation and all my great work. But I will destroy you!" she snarled at him.
Julianne Thompson herself had obviously picked up some sort of skills of her own. Whether natural, or purchased with her husband's money, she displayed fighting skills and psychic abilities that no biography of her even hinted at. Still, the end result was a foregone conclusion. Jon was almost as determined as a Paragon Protector.
And in the end, Countess Crey lay unconscious at his feet. It was the only way she would go, he realized.
"....your lab rat has returned home...." he whispered to the inert figure. "Your crimes have come back to haunt you."
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012