Paragon City Stories: Darkness, Digitized
Hosted and Narrated by TIMESHADOW
Act II, Scene 2
Your mad dash to the top floor ends with you and your team sweaty, panting and all around miserable. Thankfully, there were no security forces waiting to make it any more difficult than necessary. As you reach your destination, you have the wherewithal to pause before pushing through the exit from the stairway.
Peering cautiously through a small window in the door, you see something that catches you off guard. Armed men are patrolling the sixth floor. Considering the situation, that’s hardly unusual but these are not Crey agents. Instead of Crey’s signature logo, they wear the khaki and olive drab indicative of the military or a PMC.
You’ll need to defeat these mysterious newcomers before making your way to your target. But perhaps you can use them to find some clue as to who set this trap for you in the first place.
Nyght concentrates, seeming to vanish from sight - or perhaps it’s just that many of the rest of the team just don’t quite seem to be looking where she is anymore. To Paige, and through her, she notes telepathically, “These don’t seem to be Crey. Any ideah who they are?”
“Crey contracted with, I don’t know, The Council? You’re guess is as good as mine.” Paige said, then asked Devereaux, “Are we still running silent? Nothing loud?” She has her hand on the end of the ridiculous gloves she’s been wearing for the last few hours.
“Bottom level Council troops usually wear black,” Linuial reminds Paige after sneaking a look through the tiny window. She shakes her head. “I don’t think that’s what we’re looking at here.”
Devereaux ponders the two tactics. “It’s safe to assume that whoever these guys are, they were plugged into the strike teams that came after us in the basement. So they most likely think we’re dead which means we could leverage surprise.”
Then, recalling the building schematics, he reconsiders. “But this floor’s a no go for stealth. Too much open space. If we don’t take them out quickly they could catch us in a crossfire.”
He strokes his chin in an imitation of the classic thoughtful gesture. “We can’t drop the disguises. We still need plausible deniability for all of this. Still, the best way to avoid getting ourselves killed is to take the gloves off.”
An epiphany strikes him like a thunderbolt. He suppresses the urge to snap his fingers. “What we need is a distraction.” He looks to Paige and gives her a smile that’s both sly and friendly at once. “Think you can manage a little shock and awe?”
“If Linuial gives me permission…”
She looks at her… “This is the absolutely WORST attack I have and your ears are the most sensitive out of all of us. This one makes MY EARS ring… that’s how bad it is. If you say no, I’ll rethink it with a lesser attack, but I might not get them all in one shot.”
“Please? I did bring earplugs for everyone this time.”
“Paige, you never need ‘permission’ from me for anything. I thought you knew that.” Her mask hides the smile, but it comes through in her voice. “I will certainly appreciate it if you give me warning…and some of those earplugs…and enough time to prepare myself…say, five seconds instead of one?” There is real warmth in her laugh.
“Dev, Lin, you’ve seen me work before… Basti, Nyght, I’m not a typical sonic. I use vibrations from my arms and legs to ‘super jump’ and knock back bad guys. In fact, any vibration from my body I can amplify into a large enough sound wave to make an attack… I can crack a rocks tumbler with a single snap.”
“But that doesn’t mean I can’t use my voice… I don’t because it’s TOO effective. My 6th Grade Class musical recitals? I never made it past rehearsals. Turned out I wasn’t so bad that I literally made my classmate’s ears actually bleed, which did happen… I was just doing it wrong. I lied to Tahquitz when I told him I can’t sing. I can, but no one alive will ever ENJOY it.”
“I suggest closing the stairwell door on this one… with all of you on the other side of it…” Paige said, then intonated psychically, “I’ll call for help if I need it in another way“ to the four heroes.
Paige runs out into the hall and into the three men, letting them approach and capture her for a takedown. Stupid mistake.
Before they make contact, she draws in a breath to fill her lungs from throat to diaphragm, and lets out an E-flat 6th note through her vocal chords at full volume, with tremolo pulsing it up and down… this continues for 15 seconds, but it feels like forever. There’s a definite vibration in the stairwell steps and landing, and some plaster falls off of the wall from an existing crack… it doesn’t grow past 1-2 inches, but it definitely got deeper.
Two minutes later, she opens the stairwell door, which managed to keep most of the broken glass in place from the wire inset inside of the security window. “All clear!” she said kind of loudly, “But I can’t hear a whole lot right now, so keep it to ‘YES/NO’ questions with me for a bit, and my voice is going to be raspy for a couple of hours. Don’t ask me to do that twice.”
“Actually,” the tiny woman muses, “…since Paige can’t hear at the moment…perhaps it would be wise to have Basti run point for us, check and see if there are any surprises still waiting, anyone that Paige didn’t realize was there…”
Bubastis looks to each of the team…when no one objects, she opens the door out of the stairwell, slips through, drops to all fours, and begins to slink across the floor as the door swings shut. After a few minutes out of sight, the door opens again, and she stands in the opening.
“The immediate area is clear. I don’t smell anyone else. It should be safe enough for you all to come inside.”
Nyght slips through the doorway into the area beyond the stairwell, and takes a second to check the fallen men. “Looks like the’ah maybe just stunned. Want them mediported away, maybe to the Zig, wheah they can’t get back into the fight in a hurry?” Her hand lingers on her belt-pouch, as she looks to Devereaux.
“Better than leaving them here,” Devereaux replies as he steps out of the stairwell and into the hallway. “Nice job,” he adds, exaggerating the movement of his lips and giving Paige a thumbs up.
“Linuial, it might be a good idea to hit us with those buffs you’re always talking about. We-“ He cuts himself off suddenly and stares at one of the defeated enemy’s automatic rifles lying in a jumble of broken glass and plaster bits.
Kneeling down, he carefully extricates the weapon from the debris and begins to examine it. He turns it over in his hands, examines the digital gauges on the stock, and finally racks the slide before speaking. “This is some pretty advanced hardware. Not the kinda thing you’d find at your local Mercs ‘R’ Us. I’ll have to talk to one of my gun guys to be sure but it’s a pretty safe bet we’re not dealing with your garden variety contractors here.”
Before he can say more, the thump of heavy boots sounds from around a corner. “If you’re planning to do your thing, Blondie, now would be the time. We’ve got incoming.”
Linuial allows herself a private moment of mental imagery: throwing the back of her hand against her forehead, staggering, and pretending to faint. She is careful to refrain from acting out the image. “By the Star Queen, he actually asked for buffs? Now I know that isn’t Xavier…“ she tells herself, thoroughly enjoying the moment. The mask hides her pretended expression of shocked disbelief. She has to work hard to suppress the laugh.
Chanting in the ancient tongue that only she remembers, she spreads her arms wide in a sweeping motion, and the familiar balls of colored light form and dissipate. As she finishes, she nods to the Praetorian, and moves to a position between him and Nyghtshade. She takes a moment to make eye contact with Paige, and puts one finger in front of her masked lips in warning.
The cat-woman drops to her all-fours posture and turns to face the approaching sounds…
As the muzzle of an assault rifle peeks around the corner, Devereaux reaches out with a telekinetic pull. To his credit, the man holding the weapon is strong and manages to hold on. He’s yanked around the corner right along with the gun and crashes head first into a wall.
“We get trapped in here, we’re dead! Move!” Devereaux shouts as he races toward the unconscious mercenary. He reaches the intersection and stops abruptly, slamming his shoulder against the wall just in time to avoid a hail of bullets as they scream outwards and bury themselves in the far wall. The fusillade goes on for what seems like eternity before finally dying down. In its place, a deep silence looms.
Drawing on his memory of the floor plan, he pushes a hastily improvised order to the team. “They’re reloading. I’ll give us an opening. When I do, don’t hesitate. We’re going straight through.”
Without waiting for confirmation, he spins out of cover and launches a Telekinetic Thrust down the adjoining hall. The two soldiers there are knocked off their feet but, like true professionals, keep hold of their weapons.
Nyghtshade drops the mental concealment and charges forward, easily matching Devereaux’s speed.
As the tumbled mercs ahead grapple with their weapons and struggle to take aim from where they lie, she points her glowing staff at them while actually raking both their minds with painful mental domination. The extreme pain causes them to clutch reflexively at their heads, eyes wide and vacant, weapons dropped.
As Devereaux makes his move, Bubastis also leaps forward. By the time the soldiers drop their weapons, she is already upon the nearest. One swift bite, and the man’s hand is too mangled to be of use for a long time to come. With her foot, she kicks his gun in Devereaux’s direction, turns on the second one, and repeats her actions. Taking a few steps forward, she tilts her head into the air, grimaces, turns her head over her shoulder, and hisses, “More incoming. Be ready for a second attack,” then crouches against the wall in ambush.
Paige sees the combat but it all sounds to her like her head is underwater. Even the report of gun fire sounds like a dull and muffled click. “Mind if I provide cover fire for you?” Paige says, still kind of loudly, at Linuial.
Linuial creates a mental image of Paige in her mind. It’s an experiment…she’s used to doing this with Devereaux, and she knows he will pick up her projected thought, but she’s never tried this before with Paige when she wasn’t expecting and waiting for it. She turns to make eye contact with the girl, and pushes her thought toward her mental image. “Paige, since you can’t hear, can you just talk with us this way?“ she thinks, without mouthing the words.
As Paige does so, Linuial’s head is filled with the dull ringing that a tinnitus victim would hear, with Paige barely audible at all for 5 seconds. Paige closes the link.
Her question answered, in the most convincing way possible, Linuial removes her mask, turns to face Paige squarely, speaks to her, slowly, mouthing the words in an exaggerated fashion. “Basti says there are more enemies coming. We don’t need noise to alert them to our presence.” Once again, she presses a finger to her lips, indicating silence. “Do you understand?”
Nyght shifts into her mental ‘concealment’ mode again, and waits to follow Devereaux’s lead.
For a moment, Devereaux regrets his decision to rely so heavily on subterfuge. The team seems to be completely without experience in what to do in a situation like this. Working quickly to correct the problem, he flashes a terse order across the mental link. “Did you not hear me before? We stand still, we die! Now move your asses!”
He barrels down the hallway, racing to reach the wide open space he knows is at the other end where the team’s overwhelming array of powers can be brought to bear.
Without warning, one of the enigmatic mercenaries springs out from a hidden alcove, gun leveled. Acting more on reflex than any tactical thinking, Devereaux reaches out telekinetically, takes hold of a copy machine that’s been left in the hallway, and hurls it at the assailant. The heavy piece of machinery strikes the man in the abdomen. A sickening pop sounds as his pelvis gives way under the blow.
Coming to the end of the narrow corridor, he can see through an artfully designed sliding glass door into a room that resembles the trading floor of a Wall Street mega-firm. Taking cover among the desks and chairs is a group of ten more soldiers. “Paige, you and I are gonna flashbang the room. As soon as we do, the rest of you come in with everything you’ve got. Do not, I repeat, do not hold back!”
“Paige, go!“ Linuial thinks the message toward her mental image of Paige, not trusting her to hear a verbal command. She places a hand in the small of the teenager’s back, and gives her a gentle push forward.
Running forward, she waves Bubastis forward as she passes the cat-woman, then begins chanting as she runs. By the time she pulls up behind the Praetorian, balls of colored light are swirling around her. She catches as many of her teammates as she can, knowing they will need the increase in their powers and health.
“Damn him!“ she thinks to herself. “If the man would just explain himself before charging into battle, we wouldn’t be flailing around trying to figure out what he wants. We aren’t telepaths…not that Paige seems to understand him any better than the rest of us do…Still and all, I’m becoming more and more certain he’s the real Devereaux…warts and all.“ She grimaces beneath her mask.
Nyght moves up as well, pausing only a second to clip and activate one of her rapidly dwindling supply of mediporters to the Merc half-crushed beneath copier.
As the Merc vanishes, she stands and, still ‘cloaked’, swiftly moves up to Devereaux, warning him as she does so, “Ah’m right heah behind you, Devereaux. Instructions undehstood.”
She sees Devereaux gesture to her and knows he wants her to do something… she just can’t understand him. The noise in her head is receding, but not by much. She just knows it’s urgent.
Then she is nudged forward by someone behind her, so she runs ahead of the group and pulls her gloves off, expecting to fight.
“I hope this goes well…“ Paige says to herself.
Glancing around at the group waiting behind the Praetorian, she leans in his direction and quietly tells him, “Your team is ready for your signal”.
“Good,” he says in response to Nyghtshade. “Stay there.”
He thrusts a hand forward, unleashing a burst of psionic energy. Twisting and groaning, the sliding door rips free from its track and arcs into the room, spraying shards of broken glass that twinkle in the fluorescent light. The enemies are forced to shelter themselves as best they can.
Knowing the “flash” is only temporary, he lifts both hands palms out and raises a wall of pure force. The defensive maneuver comes not a moment too soon. Rifles chatter in unison, belching fully automatic gunfire that’s aimed squarely at where he’s standing.
The small, high velocity rounds strike his barrier. Physics does the rest, forcing the bullets to fragment and ricochet as their kinetic energy dissipates almost instantly. A piece of shrapnel grazes his cheek, drawing blood. Another fragment strikes him in the thigh, nearly forcing him to his knees.
“I held up my end of the deal, kid,” he projects to Paige, gritting his teeth against the pain. “I could use a little of that ‘bang’ right about now!”
Paige steps past the barrier and creates a shockwave from her wrists that knocks three enemies onto their backs. Their guns were 2-5 feet away from each of them, and two of them landed hard.
For another group of three, she tried to resonate a trance frequency from her fingernails that would induce sleep from exposure. Since she couldn’t hear her own work, it instead led to an ear curdling screech that had them grabbing at their heads… Not Dreadful Wail bad, as glass was very much safe this time.
“Damn it… It’s close enough.” Paige turned away from them only to see a soldier crawling from the shockwave and try to reach for his gun. She tries for the same technique that led to a Sonic Cage back in Peregrine Island, and it worked, but just barely as she could see some of the troops writhe until she lowered the frequency. When the crawling soldier did touch the gun, he let it go and grabbed his ears instead.
Linuial’s power of Empathy causes her to feel the pain that others around her experience. She’s inured to it, but it guides her to unleash Heal Other in the direction of the Praetorian. She doesn’t need to check on its effectiveness in healing his admittedly slight wounds…she feels the result. It is an effective and battle fast response…she could almost do it in her sleep.
She follows it up with another round of “buffs” for the team.
Paige’s sudden rotating blast of sound causes the feline woman to cringe in pain. She flattens herself to the floor, until the flailings of one of the mercenaries catches her attention out of the corner of her eye. Reflexively, she makes a tremendous leap from her crouch into a high arc that casts her halfway across the room, panther-screaming in pain and rage. Landing on the unfortunate man with all four limbs, she savages his throat with her teeth before leaping onto the next nearest body. Three men are torn and bloody in as many seconds, as Bubastis casts her head around, searching for more prey, growling in a voice that echoes around the room.
Nyghtshade claps gloved hands to the side of her hood, shielding her ears with a grimace of pain as Paige launches her sonic attacks.
Following Bubastis, Nyght steps up to the edge of the burst-open entrance and drops her stealth, instead picking out the tumbled agents and hitting them with the confusing illusion that Devereaux in his Carnival costume has leapt forward into their midst, causing each confused agent to suddenly see an enemy where their teammate is actually standing.
As they scramble to regain weapons and turn on one another, she shifts position with unnatural speed, gaining a different angle that lets her search for any other Mercenaries trying to attack Bubastis or the rest of the team.
With his wounds healed and the immediate threat neutralized, Devereaux finally has a moment to take stock of the situation. “Whoever these guys are, they’re definitely not Crey,” he thinks, reminding himself to have one of their weapons analyzed. Of all the Praetorians that made the crossing to Primal Earth when Cole fell, a good number of them were Resistance fighters. He’s kept in touch with many of his former allies. Surely some of them have the knowledge and connections to give him some idea of where this new enemy got its tech.
Scanning the room, he sees an office jutting out from a corner. The blinds are closed but soft yellow light can clearly be seen emanating from inside. “That’s gotta be our target,” he says, careful not to speak too loudly lest the occupant overhear. “Nyghtshade, I can’t use my telepathy in this form. I need you to scan that office and give us an idea of what to expect.”
Nyght nods, resuming her mental camoflage. Through Paige, she sends to the others, “Ah’ll slip inside the main room and see what Ah can find out.”
She slides around the blown-open doorframe, carefully picking her way through the broken glass to the wall, and sliding along it till she reaches the enclosed office. Crouching directly beneath the blinds, she lets her enhanced senses search for identification of who might be within. “Three heartbeats,” she sends after a moment, “And wait… someone’s talkin’. Let me listen…”
“Three people, two of them tellin’ the otheh to stay inside and keep down, while one of them is comin’ out to scope the situation, and the otheh’s remainin’ in theah with the last one. That’s all Ah’ve got, and the one’s movin’ to the door.”
She waits, crouched and concentrating on not being seen, while a mercenary exits the office in a crouching run toward a nearby desk and takes cover there. Before he can report on what he sees, though, she drops her camouflage and instead mentally compels him to sleep. He slumps quietly down behind the desk.
“Nice,” Devereaux says under his breath. Making eye contact with Nyghtshade, he holds up two fingers. After a moment, he slowly lowers one and points the remaining digit toward the office. At the same time, he slowly mouths out, “The other one,” and hopes that she’ll understand his meaning.
Nyght vanishes from sight again, and slips silently to the entrance to the office, where the door stand ajar and a large Mercenary crouches just inside, his weapon trained outwards. She drops her invisibility and tries to hit him with a mental strike, but he gets off a spray of gunfire before clutching his head and dropping to his knees.
Nyght bites back a cry as a couple of the bullets hit her, tearing a gouge in one thigh and clipping her ribs. “Oh no, Ah don’t think so!” she snaps aloud, and glares in at the cringing, vacant-eyed merc.
She reaches one hand toward the Merc, and although it cannot be seen that she’s doing anything, she feels the deep satisfaction of drawing deeply, taking his energy, his life-force, in to herself. Immediately the bleeding slows, as her wounds begin to knit.
Reaching in to snatch the merc’s weapon away, Nyght spots a third man in a business-casual suit crouched behind the office desk, and drops him with the mental ‘sleep’ command, as well. He topples to one side to lie curled on the floor, unresponsive.
As Nyght makes one more draw of the merc’s lifeforce, leaving him weak and disoriented, she mentally sends to the others via Paige, “Ah’ve got one still armed but sleepin’, down behind the desk to mah right, and anotheh who’s not goin’ to be botherin’ anyone right away, and a third man in a suit in heah. Come on in any time yo’ah ready, but try not to wake the sleepeh.”
Nyght waits, but oddly there is no response. Frowning behind the mask, she looks back over her shoulder toward where Devereaux is waiting, and makes a broad beckoning gesture with the hand not holding the rifle.
Devreaux performs one last scan of the room, even going so far as to look back down the hallway to ensure there’s no one bearing down on them.
Seeing nothing, he crosses the room and quietly enters the office. Seeing the scene, he sends a message over the mental link. “We’re clear. Just keep it down in here.” He waits, but the team doesn’t follow. He frowns and tries again. “C’mon, we don’t have time to mess around.”
When the second message goes unanswered, he pokes his head out the door and beckons the others forward.
Linuial sees Devereaux beckoning. She holds up a hand, palm forward, then moves diagonally across the room in Bubastis’ direction.
The feline woman is standing over her fifth victim, face and hands covered in blood. Her screaming has morphed into growling that does not stop as Linuial approaches her. Rather, she swings her head in Linuial’s direction, and crouches even lower, threat flowing from every angle of her body.
Linuial draws up, stops yards away from Bubastis. This was the reason she volunteered to mentor the feline woman.
“Basti?” she asks, quietly. “Bubastis?”
The answer is a panther-scream of rage and pain.
“Damn,“ she thinks to herself. “I really could use Paige’s telepathy right now. Or Xavier’s, for that matter.“
She knows better than to crouch down, make herself smaller. To do so would only trigger the predator’s attack instinct.
Searching for an answer, it suddenly occurs to her that she, also, has instincts to draw on. Her first instinct is to help, and to heal. Basti’s hearing is even keener than her own, and human earplugs won’t fit into her feline ears…perhaps easing her pain will help draw her back to her more human side…
The tiny woman chants, moves her hands. She pushes Heal Other toward the growling predator, who reacts by screaming loudly and snapping at the light. At least, it is the light she attacks, and not the woman casting it. “Easy, Basti,” Linuial croons, “…just let it happen…I’m here with you…” Another cast, and Linuial can feel the cat’s pain fading…her rage slipping away.
“Basti?” she finally asks, quietly, as the tawny woman begins to quiet, drops her head slightly. A few more seconds pass before she shakes her head, and begins to climb to her feet.
“I am…sorry,” Bubastis mumbles, still shaking her head as if rousing from a dream. She is breathing heavily, a struggle obviously still going on. “I…would not wish to harm you…you are my mentor….”
A few more seconds, and “…thank you…for helping me…”
“It’s alright, Basti, but we need to join the others. Can you do that now?” She moves no closer to the predator…it wouldn’t do to crowd her right now, until she is fully in control again.
“Yes…you go ahead, I will follow.” Her expression is unreadable as always, but her movements are unsure, not as feline fluid as usual.
“I understand…when you are ready…” She turns, makes her way across the room to the office to join the rest of the team. She does not look back.
Nyght has warily watched the interplay between Linuial and Bubastis, ready if it becomes necessary to try and mentally subdue Bubastis before she hurts Linuial. With no real idea of what is passing between them, other than that Bubastis has become a threat, she watches Linuial apparently trying to heal the cat-predator, and is relieved to see Bubastis seems to be returning to her senses.
She keeps an eye on Bubastis, while Linuial approaches the her and Devereaux. Nyght’s fingers keep worrying at the holes in her costume made by the bullets, but she is no longer radiating any feeling of pain.
You and your team gather in the office. Before waking the scientist responsible for orchestrating the mess you’re currently in, one of your team mates makes a point to properly knock out the last of the researcher’s bodyguards.
You can now begin your interrogation but don’t forget, your prisoner thinks he’s facing the Carnival of Vengeance. Revealing yourself may be beneficial for the purposes of getting information but it will also put Crey on guard against you.
A sharp rap on the table fails to wake the scientist. Devereaux tries again, bringing his fist down on the man’s desk. There’s still no response.
He whistles appreciatively. “You sure you didn’t kill him?” he asks Nyghtshade, a sarcastic tone in his voice.
“Yes, Ah’m shoah,” she replies, perhaps a trace waspishly. “Usually they wake up pretty easily, but let me try.”
She gives Ryan a sharp mental ‘poke’, to rouse him again.
Paige’s hearing is slowly returning to normal, as she can make out occasional words here and there…
But she’s not able to follow the conversation as well as the others, so she’s following as best she can with hand signals and non-verbal cues.
“Hang on, I’ve got an idea.”
A sharp telekinetic push lifts the chair off the floor. Once it’s hovering there, Devereaux releases his grip and lets gravity do the rest. The chair drops sharply and clatters as it makes contact with the ground, jarring its occupant awake.
Bleary eyed and disoriented, the scientist’s head snaps up. “Ah! What the…oh, it’s you.”
Putting on his best, “I’m a sinister agent of revenge” impression, Devereaux says,”Yes, Mister Ryan. We’ve come to-“
“It’s Doctor Ryan,” the man interrupts, an indignant sneer painted plainly on his face.
Devereaux is taken aback. ‘’Arrogant son of a bitch,” he thinks to himself. “That could be useful.”
“Mister, doctor, it’s of no consequence. You-“
The researcher turned prisoner speaks again. “I assure you that it is.”
“Or maybe I should just make his head explode…”
Beneath the black Carnival of Vengeance mask, Nyght grins at Devereaux’s attempt to intimidate a Crey doctor who is either arrogantly oblivious or deliberately obtuse.
Instead, she turns her attention the the sleeping merc behind the desk in the main office, who is also rousing after the noise of the dropped chair, and sends him back to ‘sleep’ again.
“Carry on,” she mentally sends directly to Devereaux, reasoning that you don’t have to be telepathic to be contacted telepathically. “Ah’m goin’ to make a sweep of the room, and make shoah nobody else is rousin’, or expirin’. Or creepin’ up on us from the hallway.”
She waits to make sure he acknowledges that.
And then another possibility suggests itself. Telepathically, she adds, “You know… although you don’t have telepathy right now, Ah do. If it would speed things along, you could ask him questions, and Ah could read what he’s thinkin’ in response, ratheh than just dependin’ on what he’s ‘sayin’. Sort of like the old, ‘when Ah say Elephant, do NOT think of an elephant. And then, of course, that’s all you ‘can’ think of.’ Would that be helpful?”
Devereaux turns his head toward Nyghtshade. “Yes, that would be excellent,” he says. “Doctor Ryan, my associate here has suggested that we follow a different course. I considered simply torturing you but she seems to think that would not be the most prudent thing to do.”
The scientist sniffs. “It doesn’t matter what course you follow. I won’t be telling you anything.”
Devereaux spreads his arms and cocks his head at an angle that suggests bemusement. “We will see. How did you know we would be here tonight?”
As promised, the doctor gives no response. Devereaux looks to Nyghtshade and waits to hear what she can reveal.
Nyghtshade bites her lower lip lightly in concentration, and slides into Ryan’s mind. The man has no mental defense at all, and although rummaging through someone else’s mind against their will is inherently distasteful to her, she realizes the need. At least his thoughts are so transparent that she doubts she’ll have to search hard.
She stares at Ryan through her mask for a moment, to all appearance eerily immobile. But mentally she finally sends to Devereaux, “He was warned by his superior. He doesn’t know the name, but it seems that man is head of a secret department of Crey. Some department called… Mind-Wipe? Or maybe Ryan’s just afraid of getting mind-wiped, it’s a little hard to tell.”
“Please, you people are so obvious,” Ryan says, the sneer on full display. “How could we not know you’d be coming to retrieve your assets?”
Without saying a word, Devereaux takes hold of the man’s throat with his powers. The scientist’s eyes bulge in shock and he begins to cough as his air supply is choked off. Devereaux maintains his grip, squeezing tighter and tighter in an unrelenting stranglehold. When it seems his victim is about to pass out, he relents.
“You…you bastard!” Ryan gasps. “You said-“
It’s Devereaux’s turn to interrupt. “I said my associate didn’t think torturing you was prudent. I disagree with her. Now, what is this ‘Mind-Wipe’ your superior is a part of?”
Nyght concentrates again, and after a moment mentally confirms to Devereaux, “You weah right, Crey’s workin’ on a way to use technology to mimic the mind control the Carnival’s been usin’. A way to ovehcome the will, and force the, um, ‘recruits’ to obey the main server. A way to recruit ordinary people, and make them mental slaves, like drones.”
Even without speaking verbally, her disgust with the plan is clear.
There is a shriek from the larger room. Linuial’s head snaps around; “Excuse me…” is all she says within Ryan’s earshot.
Unable to hear the important part of the interrogation, she slips away. She is needed elsewhere.
Scanning the room, she is unable to see Bubastis, but the sound of a struggle directs her attention. As she crosses the room, various bodies begin moving, standing, reaching for weapons, as if it were the set of a bad zombie movie. However, these zombies are not actors, and the danger is real.
Closing in on her target location, she speaks softly, hoping that Bubastis has recovered enough to hear the words…
She stops well back from the site of the struggle, calls “Basti?”
Without warning, a tawny blur leaps past Linuial’s face, fur brushing skin, then there is the impact of a heavy body. She whirls to see the cat-woman land a heavy-handed blow to the side of a mercenary’s head, effectively knocking him to the ground, before she closes her teeth about both gun and hand, forcing the weapon upward. There is a sharp rat-a-tat-a-tatah, and then…
…Bubastis shakes her head violently, and the here-to-fore silent soldier shrieks, once, before she manages to tear the weapon from his now severely damaged fist. He grips his bleeding wrist with his other hand, and Bubastis cuffs him a second time with a fist, then a third time with her hand, fingers back-curled, palm stretched open as far as it will go in a human approximation of an animal’s paw. The technique was adopted centuries ago by certain Oriental martial arts, and the posture brings all five of her lethally-sharp claws into a position where they project ahead of the fleshy part of her hand. Blood spurts from gashes across his face, then from the side of his neck as she claws him again. As he releases his wrist and grabs at his throat, now silent again, she judges that he won’t return to battle any time soon.
Adopting her four-footed stance, she swings her head to address Linuial in a soft voice. “They are recovering. I am trying to keep them occupied.”
“I’ll help you,” the tiny woman replies, equally softly. She begins her chant, creating the buffing lights for herself and the cat-woman, and then places her hands on either side of her head, chanting, using the few attacks she possesses to root, immobilize, or draw in individual soldiers for Bubastis’ predatory attention, creating a continuing but non-overwhelming sequence of prey for the cat-woman to use her claws on.
Nyghtshade starts at the gunfire and half-turns toward the door, catching sight of what’s happening. “Oh deah Lord!” she blurts out as she watches Bubastis tear into agents, completely forgetting her hard work to not display her accent to Ryan. “We don’t need to be killin’ them!”
She throws Devereaux a look, as she takes a step toward the door, looking for permission to stop the interrogation for a moment and go out and help restore order in the outer room.
Bubastis pauses, glances over her shoulder in the direction of the office.
Observing Bubastis’ action, Linuial nods. “I heard.” She also looks in the direction of the office, attempts to make eye contact with the undead woman, raises one hand, palm forward, in the international “stop” gesture.
Nyght, seeing Linuial’s gesture, slowly turns back to Devereaux, dipping her head to acknowledge that he should continue with Ryan.
Seeing that Nyghtshade does not attempt to join them, Linuial returns to what she does best. She draws the soldiers in, one at a time, Bubastis takes them down, gushing blood, no longer attempting to avoid using her claws, and when Linuial feels that one of their victims is dangerously close to bleeding out, applies just enough Heal Other to prevent it, but not to allay the exhaustion and malaise that keeps them semi-comatose. It is a dance with death, one that she has perfected over many, many years.
It occured to Paige, standing a few feet behind Devereaux facing the Doctor, as she kept thinking back to what her mistake was earlier. Paige offered everyone earplugs except for remembering to put a pair in for herself. She’s so used to using her powers without them in place… it didn’t occur to her until now.
Three years ago…
Three weeks since arriving at Paragon City, Antonio Nash of GIFT has tested Paige Pirillo under their assessment of new heroes to determine her abilities.
His report was that her sonic abilities were not just keyed into her voice, but her eardrums, which were not only sensitive to high frequency sounds… they also had multiple channels above the main ear canal as well as diaphragms where she could direct sounds of a higher pitch into a separate portion of her coclea in her inner ear, with five different entry points. Coupled with a different skin cell shape that allowed for sonic wave generation using ‘microhooks’ at the skin surface, this classifies her officially as a mutant.
Even with her advanced eardrums, which allow her pitch-perfect hearing at multiple frequencies, Antonio cautioned her that her main ear canal was not covered with a diaphragm, so when using her more advanced powers…
“Son of a bitch. Tony was right.” she thought as she rubbed her ears trying to see if that would help. She’s used Dreadful Wail only once before today… and that was in a GIFT Laboratory under controlled conditions.
“It seems your men aren’t faring very well out there, Doctor Ryan. They should simply accept that vengeance cannot be stopped. As should you.” Though he knows the doctor can’t see it past the scarf covering his face, Devereaux puts on a satisfied expression anyway. Actually, speaking of your men. They don’t appear to be in Crey’s employ. Who are they?”
Surprisingly, there’s no snide remark or smug display of superiority. For once, Doctor Ryan remains silent and unmoving. “That’s the problem with getting cocky. Doesn’t leave much room to adapt when things go wrong,” Devereaux thinks to himself
He plays the advantage. “Ah, have you finally begun to understand? There’s nothing you or Crey Corporation can do to stop us. We are retribution personified. So, doctor, there’s really no point to any further resistance.”
The scientist hesitates, unsure of just how much of Devereaux’s words are intimidation. A hardback book from a nearby shelf comes careening across the room, striking him in the face. “Who are they?” Devereaux demands, his illuminated eyes flaring.
“Damn you!” Ryan smarts, a trickle of blood leaking from his nose. “If I told you, I’d be risking my life.”
Devereaux’s response is icy. “Your life is already forfeit.”
That does the trick. “Fine,” Ryan says, a sour look on his face. “They’re on loan from the government.”
The answer is unexpected. Devereaux manages to keep the surprise from showing in his body language but his thoughts begin to race immediately. “The government, you say? And just who in the government is so unscrupulous as to turn their own soldiers over to you for experimentation?”
Without warning, Ryan’s bravado returns. “Probably the same people who donated your friends’ masks for study.”
Finally running out of fodder for the carnage, Linuial speaks briefly with Bubastis, then seats herself on a nearby desk.
Bubastis makes an abortive attempt to lick her hands and face clean, but the sticky blood is drying, her coat is covered with it…it will take time to make herself presentable, time they may not have. Shaking her head, she turns and walks four-footed to the office, edges her way inside. Seeing that Devereaux is occupied with the man behind the desk, she shoulders her way to Nyghtshade, turns her back to the desk, and beckons with one hand to the woman, directing her to lean down, carefully keeping the action hidden from Ryan.
Nyghtshade had been monitoring Ryan’s thoughts as Devereaux continued the questioning, and when the scientist suggests the government was involved, she gets a bit more than that from his thoughts. Telepathically, she lets Devereaux know, “He isn’t lyin’, Ah’m afraid. Looks like he knows about the government group, military, some kind of black ops. Why does this not surprise me?”
As Busbastis enters and gestures, Nyght obligingly drops to one knee, trying not to show that she’s a bit taken aback at all the blood coating the cat-woman’s fur. With her back to Ryan, Nyght telepathically speaks. *”Yes, Basti? What do you need, Shugah?”
The wheels in Devereaux’s head are spinning as he thinks through the new development. “Black ops, mind control, sinister corporations. It’s a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream. CIA, DIA, some rogue cell inside FBSA? This could be almost anybody in the alphabet soup.”
His deduction is interrupted by Bubastis’ slinking into the room. Her posture and the care she takes with her movements indicates she doesn’t want to be seen. “Fine by me. Not like I need another thing on my plate right now.”
“We’re coming to the end of the program here, Doctor Ryan. I only have a few more questions for you. We know one of the keys to decrypt the project data is here. You sprung your trap when we struck the server room, which means you anticipated that maneuver and moved the key. Where is it?”
Bubastis addresses Nyghtshade quietly, attempting to prevent the scientist from hearing her speak. “Linuial is keeping an eye on the wounded. She said to tell you that she is keeping them alive, and ask if you have enough of those medi-porters for all of them. If you do, I can take them to her…if not, she may have to heal them before we leave the area, enough that none of them are likely to bleed out before we leave.”
Nyght opens the pouch and pulls out seven more mediporters, telling Bubastis telepathically, “This is all Ah’ve got left. Ask Linuial to use best judgement on who gets them.”
Nyght passes them over to Bubastis.
Nyght looks up at Devereaux’s last question, rising and turning back to stare into Ryan’s nervous eyes. The man shifts evasively, like a rabbit looking for an escape, and his hand brushes his hip before twitching away again.
“Foah Heaven’s sake, the arrogant idiot’s got it right on him,” she warns Devereaux. “He’s thinkin’ about the key bein’ on a flash drive, on his keychain. In his right pants pocket!”
“You know, doctor, arrogance is one thing but it seems you’ve crossed the line into stupidity,” Devereaux says, a mocking tone filling his borrowed voice.
“Wha-“ before Ryan can even begin his denial, his head becomes very familiar with his desk. The telekinetic blow puts the scientist out cold.
“Good job, newbie,” Devereaux congratulates Nyghtshade as he moves around the desk and fishes a flash drive out of Ryan’s pocket. “Cracking that moron without my powers would’ve taken a lot longer. What’s the deal with Linuial’s pet? Sounded like she was going full hack and slash out in the main room.”
“Please forgive me, but I am not anyone’s ‘pet’,” Bubastis’ voice comes from the side of the desk. The cat-woman had re-entered the office so quietly that no one had even noticed her. “I understand that such usage would be considered an…insult? Am I correct on that?” She rises to full height, tilts her head to one side quizzically. “I believe the relationship would be called ‘apprenticeship’.” She looks out the open door of the office. “It shouldn’t take her long to finish. There were more soldiers than medi-porters, and she is tying up the rest before she heals them so they don’t pose any further danger. She should re-join us shortly.” She turns back to meet Devereaux’s gaze, waiting to see what he will say next.
“Is that the key we were looking for?” Paige asks kind of loudly after the Doctor was knocked out.
Beneath her mask, Nyght smiles wryly at being called a ‘newbie’, but says nothing.
“Certainly is,” Devereaux says, a smile on his face. “Time to call in our exit strategy.”
He pulls a phone from his pocket and taps the screen a few times before lifting it to his ear. “Hello? Yes, I’d like to report a break in! The address? I’m not sure; it’s that new office building in The Crescent! Please hurry! I think I heard gunshots!” There’s a moment of silence before he hangs up.
“PPD’s on their way. Probably shouldn’t meet them in these get ups,” he says before downshifting back to his natural form. “Much better. Those damn boots were killing my feet.”
Keeping up his friendly demeanor, he turns to address Bubastis. “Didn’t see you there. No offense meant, it’s just that you…well, we can talk about it later. You should probably go tell your mentor to finish up and ditch her disguise. We’ve only got a few minutes before this place is swarming with blue suits.”
Seeing that their disguises are no longer necessary, Nyght quietly murmurs a sentence in what sounds like Romani, and she is abruptly once again clothed in her familiar head-to-toe purple outfit, hood and cape. “That feels much betteh,” she sighs, touching her cheek greatfully.
“Do we plan to wait around foah the authorities, or should we be leavin’? And if we’ah stayin’, what’s ouh coveh story?”
Bubastis stares into Devereaux’s face for a long moment, before she turns and begins walking toward the healer, who is already approaching. They meet and exchange a few unheard words before joining the team.
“I wish you had told us that we might need clothes to change into during this mission,” Linuial tells the Praetorian as she enters the room. She reaches up and removes her mask, opens the bag she still has looped around her left wrist, puts it inside, closes it. “Unfortunately, unless you would all like me to go nude, I have no way to avoid looking like a Carnie.”
“Do we have what we came foah?” Nyght asks. “We’ve got an encryption key - wheah’s the files it’s supposed to open of foah us?”
“Slow down,” Devereaux replies. “We’re a long way from done with all this. This key is only half of the equation. Right now, though, we need to sort out how we’re getting outta here.”
He steps over to the window and looks out. “No conveniently located fire escape. Linuial and I can fly, albeit with a few adjustments in my case. Paige can get down from this height with her sonic blasts. That just leaves you and our feline friend. I’m open to suggestions.”
“If you don’t mind me being seen flying out, I can just Recall you all to any location you like.” She looks coyly at the Praetorian. “With our friend’s memories, I thought you would know that,” she continues, with a sly smile.
“Theah’s that, Linuial, or find me an open route to the rooftop, and Ah’ll be fine. Ah’m fast, Ah can jump like a flea, and make pretty shoah nobody notices. But if yo’ah talkin’ about teleportin’ us out, that’s fine too.”
“But are we done heah? We have a key, but wheah’s the computeh files it unlocks?”
“Are we leaving? I’ve got nothing to change into, so I don’t want to see the Police.” Paige asks loudly, unintentionally talking over Nyghtshade.
“Yes, we are.” Devereaux says, his tone indicating that the decision is final. “Crey’s not stupid enough to put all their eggs in one basket. Wherever they’re developing the project, it’s not here.”
“Linuial, you should have enough time to get to the next rooftop at least. You can pull the rest of us out from there” He matches her smile with a wily one of his own. “Provided you don’t think I’m going to kill everyone as soon as we’re out, that is.”
“You’d have yoah job cut out foah you, tryin’ to kill me,” Nyght murmurs quietly.
Not only is there no fire escape, the window cannot be opened…at least it wasn’t intended that way. “If someone would be so kind as to provide me with an exit…?” the tiny woman requests, raising her eyebrows in the direction of the team.
“No reason to stay quiet. Paige, if you’d be so kind.” He motions toward the window. “A good shot from the old sound cannon should blow the glass clean out.”
Nyght immediately claps gloved hands tightly over her hooded ears and ducks out of the office, hoping putting the flimsy sheetrock walls between her and Paige will at least dampen the coming blast a little.
“WAIT!” Linuial shouts, jumping squarely between Paige and the window. She points at the cat-woman. “Her hearing is even more keen than mine, and she can’t wear ear protection.” She turns on the Praetorian. “Unless you want a repeat of what happened back there,” she points toward the bloody larger room, “…you need to be more careful…than I have ever known Xavier Devereaux to be.” She finishes with an angry glare in his direction.
Looking from one face to another, Bubastis speaks directly to Linuial. “It is alright. I will leave this area, go back to a lower floor. You should be able to Recall me from anywhere, isn’t that correct”?
Her expression softens to one of worry as she turns to meet the cat-woman’s gaze. “And what if you run into more of these mercenaries?”
A feral glint appears in her eye. “I will be all right,” is her only reply.
Linuial stares at the feline woman for a long moment before she shakes her head. “I’m sorry. I know you will be all right, but your adversaries will not be. We’ll find another way.”
She turns back to the Praetorian, favoring him with a scowl. She addresses her mental image of him. “Damn you, think before you act, for one second, or you are going to get team members killed. What do you think would have happened to us if Basti had lost control within this tiny office? I guess you are serenely confident that you could kill her…but I know her capabilities, and I’m betting on her killing you. And then where would your precious Carnival mission end up?“
Nyght peers around the doorway, hands still firmly clapped over her ears, and waits to see what’s happening now. She can of course hear much of what’s being said, even with her hands over her ears, but is too polite to bring that up.
Devereaux sighs, his expression turning sour. He replies to Linuial’s psychic communication. “Do you know what the speed of thought is? One hundred twenty miles per second. So no, there’s not a doubt in my mind that I could stop her. If it weren’t for fun little tidbits like that one, I’d be dead already.”
Reaching deep to draw on the memory of the Anchorite again, he transforms with a speed born from years of practice. “And by the way, I wouldn’t kill the cat. She’s already got a Damocles complex. I’m not interested in making it worse.”
A sudden blast of psionic energy shatters the window, sending shards of glass raining down on the empty street far below. Devereaux downshifts again, casting a sardonic glance toward Linuial. “Happy?”
Her scowl remains. “Human reaction time to a visual stimulus takes as long as a quarter of a second,“ she counters, “…and that is under laboratory conditions when the subject is expecting an event, anticipating it. The speed of thought isn’t the issue, unless you are planning on making the first attack, it’s the speed of visual perception. Besides, if your back were turned to her, she would have your throat destroyed before you even knew you were under attack.“
She raises one hand, makes a fist…
…and Bubastis slams into him, utilizing all the speed she inherited from her cheetah ancestors. Hitting him high, above his center of gravity, the fall is inevitable, and her weight lands full on his chest, knocking the wind out of him.
“You never even noticed that Basti didn’t come back after I sent her to check the elevators,” she continues, pulling zip ties from beneath her costume. “I had her circle around behind you and told her to watch us from the top of the server right behind you.” She puts a zip tie around one of his wrists, then another one around the other. “I told her to watch for my signal, and if she saw it, to take you down. I intended to take you as my prisoner, and get the team out of danger. I’m the one who told her to use the servers as a hidden road.”
“Not bad. Not bad at all,” Devereaux puffs. “But that doesn’t make it good.”
A sly grin on his face, he makes use of his telepathy to flash a Confuse command directly into the feline’s frontal cortex. The suggestion shows Linuial as a scientist in a lab coat holding a long needle.
“Hold still, you damn animal! Maybe I should just liquidate you and save myself the trouble.”
“Turnabout is fair play,” he laughs.
She stands, directs Bubastis to step back, freeing the Praetorian, his only bonds being the zip ties around each wrist, but unconnected to each other. It is a bond of reminder, not of containment. “I have to believe you are truly Xavier Devereaux…I’ve never known anyone else to be as erroneously self-confident.”
Bubastis looks at the lab coated scientist with some confusion, but quickly ignores it. Certainly, she has never seen Linuial in such a guise, and the juxtaposition of lab coat and needle makes no sense to her. She sees the direction to retreat, and does so, calmly.
The tiny woman is not a telepath, she can’t read others’ thoughts, but she feels Bubastis’ confusion, then watches as she calmly steps back. She once again addresses the man: “Confuse works much better if you know something about the target,” she says softly. “You can depend on having a similarity of experience with humans…but not with her. Again, your over-confidence is working against you.”
“Erroneously? You’ve got balls, Blondie. I’ll give you that.” Digging into his memories again, he calls up the image of a Big Dog, one of the hulking brutes who led the Praetorian gang known as The Destroyers. Immediately, his body swells in size, snapping the makeshift cuffs like dry twigs. Turning from its usual brown to a vivid shade of red, his skin stretches to cover the newly enhanced physique.
“You look like you could use some time to cool off,” he rumbles in the Big Dog’s characteristic baritone. “Maybe you should try deep breathing.”
Without another word, he turns and leaps through the window out into empty space. The ground shakes as he lands, splintering the concrete of the sidewalk. His escape complete, he downshifts again and turns his head up toward the window. “I’m off to the next adventure,” he calls. “You should probably do the same. I think I hear sirens.”
With that, he begins strolling casually back toward the train station.
Liniual stands watching the window for a few seconds, before her scowl begins to recede, gradually replaced by a wry, and surprisingly, rather fond smile, before she breaks into an uncharacteristic laugh.
“If he wasn’t so charmingly childish, I’d be tempted to forgo my usual ‘hands off’ approach to teach him some real lessons.” She sighs, still smiling, and turns to the girls. “Stay here, I’ll pull you all to the rooftop in a few seconds.”
She activates her flight ability, and soars gracefully through the shattered glass and upward out of their sight.
Nyght has watched the interplay between Linuial and Devereaux with total disbelief. As Dev and Lin finish the (hopefully!) mock-fighting and depart out the window, Nyght looks to Paige and Bubastis, eyebrows raised.
“Those two are purely crazy,” she says drily. “With all that animosity between them, if this was a trashy romance, they’d definitely be in bed togetheh by page 200.”
“Hopefully they’ll get along better tomorrow after that release.” Paige said to herself. “Is Lin teleporting us?” She asks Nyghtshade and Bubastis.
Nyght starts to answer the question, then remembers that Paige seems to be having some trouble hearing. Instead, she nods, with a smile, and moves to join Paige and Basti, awaiting their ‘ride’ to the next ‘stop’.
Your objective complete, you and your team make your getaway as the sound of sirens grows closer. This mission has tested your limits; even going so far as to bring its de facto leaders to blows. At this point, it’s not entirely clear whether you’re still a team at all.
Be that as it may, you’re in too deep to back out now. With the first encryption key in your possession, there’s no other option but to move forward. Hopefully, you’ll all be able to recover from the night’s events and work together again. If you can’t, you may lose much more than your sense of camaraderie.