"Quake, I need your help."
Once the child hero had teleported to Jon's location outside the fence of the Crey facility, Jon pointed at the rooftop of a nearby building.
"What's up, Big Jon?"
"I don't know what's going on with Crey security, but I've never seen it this tight," the scrapper told the boy. "I need to get inside without anyone seeing me, and I'm having trouble doing it. You think you can teleport me up to that rooftop?"
"Sure. What's the gig?" Even as he finished the words, Quake disappeared without waiting for Jon's reply. A moment later, he waved from the roof, then reached toward Jon and jerked his fists toward his chest.
With the familiar whistle and hum, Jon found himself standing beside the boy on the roof.
"Thanks, Quake." He turned full circle, surveying the roof. It had looked unoccupied from the ground, but you never knew until you got there. He relaxed after confirming that they were alone.
"Why didn't you just bust in, like you always do, Uncle Jon?"
Jon sighed. "Things are different now, Jimmy. The Countess isn't in charge any more, and the authorities are running things."
"So? You're a big, bad hero now, why not ask 'em to let you in."
"It's not that simple. They are in charge in name, but there are still pockets of Crey loyal to the Countess that haven't been found. I need to get in, get what I'm looking for, and get out, without attracting their attention. If they figure out what I'm looking for, or that I'm even in the building, they might try to delete the files I need." His mouth twisted sourly. "As you say, I have something of a rep now. If they see the 'big, bad hero' come into the building, the files I want might mysteriously disappear before I can find them."
"Yeah, okay, I gotcha. That all you need? Or you want me to stick around to get you out? I brought my PSP with me...." the boy offered.
"Hey, could you? I should have thought to suggest something like that."
"Yeah, sure, no prob, ole man." The boy looked around, found an aluminum duct, and seated himself crosslegged on it, pulling out the hand-held. He waved once, then turned his concentration to the game machine.
Jon made a tour of the expansive rooftop, decided to avoid the obvious stairwell door....most likely an alarm system was attached....pulled the cover off of a ventilator shaft, peered inside.
He gripped the edge of the opening, and lowered himself slowly into the shaft.
He had selected this facility with some care.
Jon had been inside and throughout many Crey installations, and in each, he had asked the same questions, repeatedly, robotically, searched any terminal or PC that he could find that he could hack his way into or had been left unattended and logged in, but had not found the answers he had been looking for.
This particular complex was the largest Crey owned in or around Paragon City, and yet Jon had never been here before. It lay outside any of the war walls. It was necessary that the war walls not be there, as this was a shipping facility, with a pair of enormous airstrips right outside, and Crey's own hangers and air fleet. According to invoices he had researched from supplying companies, it also had one of the most extensive computer networks that Crey possessed. Presumably, part of that computing power was needed for the air traffic control.
Jon was hoping that as a hub of shipping, it might also be a hub of Crey's control over its sprawling empire.
He stuck to the upper floors, carefully worming his way out of the air ducts as soon as he found one that opened into an unattended area, replacing the grill behind himself. He moved slowly, listening, stealing his way from section to section, always half his attention for the employees that moved through the building, half for the computer equipment.
He finally found what he was looking for. A darkened office stood open and empty, its monitor glowing against the back wall. He slipped inside, dared to swing the door nearly shut, leaving it open a crack.
The occupant had logged the PC off, and Jon searched in vain for a slip of paper that might contain the man's, or woman's, password. Temporarily baffled, he stared at the login screen, then began typing in ID/password combinations that he had learned in the past.
He was rather astonished, but grateful, when the third such combination succeeded. Apparently, someone had slipped up, and neglected to shut down the compromised login.
He was in.
His cell phone beeped. Belatedly, Jon grabbed it, silenced it. "Yeah, Quake, what is it? I'll just be a little bit longer."
"Hey, man, there's something going on out here, I think you want to see this."
"Okay, I'll be through in a minute."
He set the phone to use its light-flash mode instead of ringer or vibrator, set it down on the desk, and went back to his labors.
"Hey, Jon-Boy, you comin'? Things are getting hot up here."
"Quake, if you are in danger of being discovered, take off. I'll find my own way out. I don't want you to get in trouble."
"No, man, I'm cool, but you need to see this. I mean, you *really* need to see this."
"Okay, I'll be right there."
"Uncle Jon, I'm calling for backup."
"Yeah, good idea, you do that," Jon said without paying any attention.
Jon sat back in the chair, frustrated. He stared at the screen. Everything he could think of, every avenue, every query, led him nowhere. He could find nothing on the H.E. Lab, nothing on Beta section.
Crey had a lot to hide, where the H.E. Lab was concerned, and they had done a good job of isolating it from the rest of the conglomerate.
Heaving a sigh, he logged the PC off, picked up his cell phone, stood, started to punch buttons.
Thoughtfully, he laid the cell phone back down, sat down, logged the PC in again.
He stared at the screen, then brought up the global network search function.
He typed in "Beta 1403".
He sighed again, reached for the Escape key.
And stopped in mid-motion.
Nothing had happened. Really, nothing had happened.
No error message, no "file not found".
The system was still searching....or still downloading.
Holding his breath, he withdrew his hand, waited for what seemed like hours.
The message finally appeared on the screen: "1 file found."
Jon stared at the screen, his heart pounding, then reached forward and double-clicked on the massive file.
The screen filled with text. Nearly gasping for breath, Jon began skimming the document.
"....Ezekiel Norman...." leaped out at him.
"....$923,004.54 insurance settlement...father's wrongful death suit...industrial accident..."
"....target is a good candidate....emancipated minor, no surviving relatives...."
"....Frank Osley, Norman's lawyer...."
"....paid off and then demanded further payment....terminated...."
"....bank account sequestered....funds secured....recruit transferred to Beta section...."
He skipped past pages of records, notes, medical instructions, things he didn't want to even think about, stopped again when something caught his eye.
"....case closed. Subject has not been recovered despite strenuous efforts. Responsible personnel terminated."
Followed by "....case re-opened. Subject has re-appeared. Attach cross-reference Jon Smith."
Jon sat back in the chair, staring at the monitor, stunned. After a moment, he opened one of his belt pouches, pulled out a USB drive, climbed under the desk to plug it in. He manipulated the mouse, directed the PC to copy the entire file onto the drive.
The file was huge. He waited, impatiently, the seconds ticking by, then started visually scanning the text again as he waited.
Still nothing about Beta section itself, or its location. But he started to see clues, hints. He felt a growing assurance that once he had had time to check it out, he'd be able to piece those clues together, and find the location of the lab.
As soon as the file copy finished, Jon clicked on the taskbar icon, told the PC to shut down the USB drive, climbed back under the desk and pulled it free. Standing again, he slipped it into its protective shell, dropped it back into the pouch, secured it carefully.
He picked up his cell phone, pressed keys. "Quake? Okay, I'm ready, teleport me out."
There was the whistle and hum, and Jon found himself standing on the roof. He looked around, and was startled to see Blood Nut standing at the edge, cautiously peering over.
"What....? What's going on, Quake?" Jon said, just as Quake jerked his hands, and Linuial appeared next to Jon.
"Hey, Mat, can we have an invisibility field?" Blood called over his shoulder. "Hey, Jon, come here, you need to see this."
Jon looked around, was startled to see Brother Mathias also on the rooftop. Mathias motioned, and the group of people standing on the roof became transparent and difficult to see.
Jon and Linuial walked to Blood Nut, as Jon heard the teleport whistle behind himself again.
"There...." Blood Nut pointed, unnecessarily.
They were on the far side of the roof, now, away from the fenceline from which Quake had teleported himself and Jon, and presumably all the other members of Starfire now standing on the roof. Looking over the edge, they were looking down on the larger of the two airstrips, laid out right-to-left in front of them. Between their building and the tarmac, they could see a row of airplane hangers.
But it was the object on the airstrip itself that held their attention: a 727 jet, the unmistakable Crey insignia emblazoned on the tail.
The side of the plane was open on the far side, and a swarm of Crey workers were loading huge wooden crates into the plane's belly.
It would have seemed like a normal day of business at Crey Industries' airport, if it hadn't been for the platoon of Paragon Protectors standing in a complete circle around the plane and the loaders, and the exaggerated care with which the Crey employees moved the crates, as if they contained delicate crystal.
"What on earth...?" Jon whispered, forgetting that they were far enough away that none of the Crey could hear him speak.
"That's what I thought," Quake's voice came from Jon's left. He looked around....Stray, Eve, Maggot Man, and Anya all stood on the roof as well. "Thought you'd want Starfire to check this out, old man."
"You thought right, Jimmy. Good job. Sorry I was so wrapped up...."
"N.P., Uncle Jon. So, we gonna make like Armageddon on this place?"
"With that army? We'd need an army of our own," Jon answered, still staring at the plane and its supporters. "But you're right, Quake, something about this stinks. No wonder security was so tight when I tried to get in earlier. I wish I'd known about this."
"Well, if you hadn't taken so long in there...."
"I'm sorry, Jimmy, I tried to hurry." Jon turned to Linuial. "What do you think?"
"I think you're both right," Linuial said. She unclipped her cell phone from her belt, began tapping buttons.
"David, this is Linuial. We've got a situation, here."
"Sorry, Lin, can't help you, we've got our own troubles," Wincott replied.
The elven woman looked startled. "What do you mean?"
"Lin, every law enforcement officer in the city has been called out, and every Hero we could reach has been put on standby."
"Why, what's going on?"
Wincott sighed. "Let's just say that Paragon isn't the only city that's mobilizing. I can't tell you more than that. Need to know. Just get your backside in here so we can get you assigned, too. And bring Starfire, anyone you can track down."
"David, does this have anything to do with Crey?"
"Why? What do you know? Lin, where the hell are you?"
The elven woman dropped her hand, punched a couple of buttons, and then held the phone up in front of her, letting everyone standing around her hear the conversation. "We're at Crey's private airport. We're watching them load a lot, and I mean a *lot*, of crates into one of Crey's largest aircraft. With the amount of security we see, it almost looks as if Crey means to start a small war."
"Good God....." There was silence for a second. "Lin, listen carefully.....Hopkins, the Countess' right hand man...."
"Like we don't know who Hopkins is...." Blood Nut muttered. Stray shushed him.
"...contacted federal authorities several hours ago, with a threat to bomb Washington, D.C. if the Countess wasn't released from prison immediately. The government doesn't usually negotiate with terrorists, but in this case they figured they could go along with it, and just pick her up again later, after we found the bomb. We're looking for it now. We've got Heroes searching Washington, and several other major cities, including Paragon, just in case it's a ruse.
"After the Countess was set free, she disappeared, and now Hopkins says that if we don't pay Crey ten billion dollars, the bomb is going to go off anyway."
"Washington? But why.....oh."
"What? What is it, Lin?"
"The Justice Department. The trial was about to start, right? All of the evidence for the Countess' trial would be housed in the courthouse annex right now. If they destroy that area, there would be no more evidence. It's probably the first time that all the evidence against the Countess has been housed under one roof. And the first time they would *know* the location of it for certain."
"Holy.....no wonder Hopkins fought so hard to get the trial moved to a higher court. If they had threatened to bomb some small, out-of-the-way town, we'd have figured out what they were after immediately and could have moved the evidence to a safer location, even broken it up again. In Washington, it looks like a move against the White House. But, Lin....if that's what they're after, why the blackmail demand?"
"Two reasons.....another red herring, to keep you running in circles trying to second guess them, and if you actually caved and paid, that's just money in the bank. They have no intention of *not* setting off the bomb, David, whether you pay or not."
"Why warn us at all, then?"
"They're using the threat to achieve two things, David. The first is to get the Countess free and to a safe location. They have to go public about that, there are not too many ways to go about forcing that. Once they've convinced you that the bomb threat might be real, and get her out, they just go ahead anyway. The red herrings are to keep you from getting to the right place at the right time to stop them. The more panicked everyone is, the easier it is for them to move behind the scenes."
There was a long moment of silence.
"....tell me about this plane."
"We're on a roof inside Crey's shipping complex, in invis. We're watching them load a lot of stuff onto the plane. Big crates. And they are handling them very carefully."
They heard a sigh over the phone. "That might be it, then. Would explain why we haven't found anything yet. Listen, Lin, can you stop them? Do you have your team with you?"
"Yes, I do, but they have a small army of Paragon Protectors surrounding the plane...."
"....forty-seven...." Stray interrupted.
"....forty-seven of them," the elven woman continued. "My friends are good, but they're not that good. By the time we could eliminate all those Protectors, all of Crey's security that are still loyal to the Countess would be out here, and even if the rest realized something was wrong, we'd have a civil war between Crey employees. All the pilot would have to do is take off in the middle of the chaos."
"All right, Lin, you stay put. I'll send everyone I can get out there. The Heroes will probably arrive first. Just stay under cover until backup gets there."
"Something's happening. The Protectors and the loaders are moving back from the plane."
The aircraft's engine flared to life.
Linuial sighed. "No good, David.....I don't think there's time. It looks like the plane is going to take off...now."
There was dead silence for a moment. "Lin, can you stop them?"
"....not without a bazooka," Maggot Man muttered.
".....or anti-aircraft missiles...." Stray added.
"I don't see how, David. Even if we could get through those Protectors, it would take us time to do so, and the plane would be gone by then."
".....then it's over....."
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012