Paragon City Stories: Darkness, Digitized
Hosted and Narrated by TIMESHADOW
Act III, Scene 1
Place: Pocket D
After the trying events of your team’s last mission, it’s not entirely clear whether you’ll be working together again. It seems a shame to come so close and not see things through to the end. Still, you can’t deny that there was more than a little dysfunction in the group. After a while, you resign yourself to the fact that it’s over and done.
That’s when your phone rings.
Now, somewhat against your better judgement, you’re seated in another private room in Pocket D. The music is, as always, little more than a dull thumping thanks to the sound dampening technology employed by the club in all of its more intimate spaces. Your team mates are there too, most of them anyway. The group’s de facto leader remains conspicuously absent…
Nyght enters, in costume, and takes a seat to wait for the others. Although she has considered calling Linuial several times, to check on Paige, and perhaps just to talk, somehow she hasn’t brought herself to do so.
Now she leans back in the seat, inwardly less than calm as she waits to see what happens when the rest of the team arrives.
The door cracks open. Bubastis peeks through the gap, then opens it wider when she sees Nyghtshade.
“May I join you?” She asks.
“Of course,” Nyght replies quietly.
The feline woman nods her head as a “thank you” and enters the room. She looks around, sees that she is the second one present.
She takes a seat a polite distance from Nyghtshade.
“Hello. How are you doing?” she asks. It sounds as formulaic as it is.
“OK,” Nyght replies, fairly noncommittally. “You?”
“I am doing very well, thank you for asking.” She still hasn’t figured out what to do to replace the smile she cannot form.
After a difficult few days, Paige comes into the private room wearing a sleeveless top and capris. She enjoyed the presence of Maggot Man who turns out is fairly warm and nice despite his name. The Starfire superbase is one of the nicer ones she’s seen… And the s’mores were a treat… She hasn’t had them since she was a little girl.
But that nice moment has been overshaded in her mind from a river of questions that she can’t answer… Small things that have been getting to her lately, that have her second guessing everything.
Paige makes her way across the room and sits at the armrest of the couch as she checks her phone idly… No Messages. Tahq isn’t answering my calls… Maybe Dev and Lin warned him to give me some distance the next few days? Did they tell him what happened?
The battery of tests that Fannour put her under, especially since she never seen him when she was ‘normal’ and therefore had no baseline, so he’s resorted to exclusionary criteria in determining if Shiara was really gone, and the initial results were promising… But two tests came back with a false positive so she’ll know more in 18-24 hours.
Probably not early enough to return to combat, and she’s pretty sure Fannour is going to share the results with Linuial, so she’ll get a speech when she arrives, since medical privacy doesn’t apply to magically sourced tests in Rhode Island. She’s slept three times since her “accident”, and nothing that would indicate Shiara is present at all… Even with her eyes closed she can’t hear her mocking voice late at night after a dream, reminding her she wasn’t okay. Not even a dream about that encounter in her head. This is great news, but the team would be right to doubt her in… Well, everything. To just straightjacket her and send her to a psych ward for a 72 hour hold to finish the mission knowing that she’s safe and waiting for them on the other side wouldn’t be a bad plan at all.
And Devereaux has been cryptically silent with her when he called her to contact everyone and get them to meet in this room. Usually he’d ask how it is going, or crack a joke at her expense… But this time, none of that. What changed? Did he go through something in her mind that changed how he thought about her? Is she no longer the promising psychic he thought she was? Is she better off dropping all of this and just sticking to classes, ignoring her talents?
And what about Bubastis? Why is Paige so afraid of her? She seems nice, although she hasn’t talked to her much. She killed someone, but then again so has Devereaux. There she is in the room right now, but the pressure to say anything to her is already quite a bit. She has avoided her since day 1, so she can’t expect much empathy from her about her current predicament.
And Nyghtshade… Sitting on the couch she met her on weeks ago. Still the same as the day she met her… Only she’s not. It doesn’t take a biographer to tell that their last encounter doesn’t have her doubting that Paige isn’t what she appears to be. What if she’s right? What if I am something to be… afraid of? What if one day, they will capture me and put me in jail for the good of the city? With Shiara still lodged in my mind or not?
What if my mind is not my own? What if they are all right, that Shiara won and is giving me a false sense of victory? That I’ve already lost and one day, I’ll lose control and sit backseat in my mind forever doomed to watch her ruin my life? What if … Worse: what if her and I merged in a bizarre singular personality? That I’d never know her effect on me because I can’t distinguish her thoughts from mine? What if none of that comes true, but this team never trusts me ever again?
What if I can’t do this anymore?
There’s a weight in this room, and it builds the anticipation that either one or the other may break the silence. The pressure of anxiety builds in her heart as she tries to say something… Anything…
“We haven’t talked alone a whole lot, have we?” She aimed to both of the ladies.
“You idiot,” she said to herself.
Monique brightens as Paige enters and takes a seat. “Paige, Shugah,” she says, with a little smile. “Yo’ah lookin’ much betterh. How are yo feelin’?”
“Normal… Which is great and a little scary, if that makes any sense,” she said to Nyghtshade. “You know, I never thanked you for what you did for me back there in the tower… Which I feel bad about. I can’t imagine it was easy for you. Well, neither is this… I guess.”
“How are you holding up?”
“Well, Ah…” Nyght hesitates, before adding, “Ah’m OK. And Ah was glad to… to help.”
Bubastis looks from Paige to Nyghtshade and back.
“Do…you want me to leave so you can talk alone with Nyghtshade more?” she finally asks the teenager.
“No! NO! Not at all, Basti. That wasn’t an easy night for any of us. You were as much a part of it as any of us were. Please, stay.” Paige implores her. “I want to know what you think as well.”
“What I think? I am…not sure what the subject is. Can you help me?” She cocks her head to one side.
“Why we are doing this? The surveillance, the secrecy, what is the purpose of Mindwipe? Don’t you feel kept in the dark?”
Bubastis draws her head back, blinks once. “Surveillance…Mindwipe…Miss Pirillo, I must beg your indulgence, but I cannot explain why you are doing any of this. It has not been explained to me. I am here because I need experience in the field. I must demonstrate capability and self-control.
“Perhaps…perhaps you are also here to demonstrate something?”
“Maybe… Maybe I am.” She smiles at the thought, “Maybe I’m… I just… I don’t know. But I’ll let you know when I find it out.”
“Nyght, by the way, is that your real name? Mine isn’t. I was born Rebecca, but I hate how it sounds, so I go by my middle name.”
“Oh, mah real name’s Monique. Rebecca’s nice, but Ah think Ah like Paige betteh too,” she smiles, more at ease. “Ah meant to invite you to mah place in Talos sometime. It looks out oveh the boardwalk and the sea. Maybe when this is all oveh?”
Hastily she adds, “And you, too, Basti.”
“Am I late?” is her greeting, as she pushes the door open, nods to the room in general, holds the door open for the catgirl carrying a small tray of vegetables and dip. “…thought we might need a bit of a snack. Thanks, water all around, too, please,” she continues to the server, who nods and smiles before turning to leave.
“You are inviting me…to your home?” the feline woman responds. “I was told that was a sign of friendship.” She sounds unsure of herself.
“None for me, thank you,” Nyght murmurs to the server as she passes.
“Evenin’, Linuial. Ah hope yo’ah feelin’ betteh. Ah meant to call, but… “ Nyght makes an apologetic gesture.
She looks back to Basti. “It is, yes. Ah hope you’ll consideh me a friend. All of you, really.” She smiles at Linuial and Paige as well.
Bubastis blinks. “Thank you. You are most kind. I would be very happy to have you as a friend.” She looks toward Linuial, then back to Nyghtshade. “You are my first friend.”
Startled, Nyght looks from Basti to Linuial, and back again. “Are you shoah Ah’m not yoah second friend?” she prompts.
“Did Fannour talk to you Lin… About the… The tests?” Paige asks nervously, like a kid caught skipping class and facing her parents about it at home.
Seeing Paige’s face, Bubastis leans closer to Nyghtshade, speaks softly so that only she can hear. “I have my daddy, and my teachers, and my trainers…Linuial is my mentor. You are my first friend.”
“Well then,” Nyght replies, touched. “Ah am honored to be yoah first friend.”
Linuial stops fussing with the veggie plate, turns to Paige, and holds her arms out for a hug. She gives the girl a “scootch over” gesture, and sits beside her. “Hello, sweet girl. No, he didn’t talk to me. Do you want me to talk to him? Did he say something that worried you?”
She reaches for a celery stick, dips it, offers it to Paige, takes a bite when the girl shakes her head.
Devereaux enters the room wearing a light blue safari shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. It’s open, revealing a black graphic t-shirt that depicts three glowing cyan chevrons. He carries a black beetle shell case under one arm and his face is set in an expression that lacks both the biting wit and breezy disregard so characteristic of him. His sunglasses are tucked away into a breast pocket; there are bags under his eyes.
He sets the case down on a table and, without saying a word, flips it open. Inside is a pyramid shaped device with a large green lens at the top. Beside it, nestled in protective packing foam, is a remote control.
“Welcome to the last briefing you’ll ever need,” he says as he retrieves the remote. Then he laughs and shakes his head. “Forget I said that. Sleep hasn’t exactly been on the agenda lately.”
He pushes a button and the little device whirs to life. It projects an image of the Aeon Corporation logo, entirely green, in the air above the table. The image performs a table slow rotation.
“I’ve spent the better part of the last week going over the intel we retrieved. I called in specialists, people with years of experience working black ops, and did a lot of my own digging. My conclusion? We’re looking at a real cluster-fuck of a job.”
He pushes a button and the projector swaps to an image of a man in a crisply tailored black suit. A full head of dark hair and a strong jaw make him look something of the all-American patriot. “Do any of you recognize this guy? Probably not. I had to jump through some serious hoops to ID him and I actually run in these circles. His name is Charles Firenze, goes by Chuck most of the time. He’s a long time member of the Defense Intelligence Agency.”
Another click of the remote changes the image to a lengthy looking document. “His signature is on a series of DIA expense paperwork. At first it looks like pretty standard stuff for a spy agency. Surveillance equipment, secret exploding coffee filters, that kinda thing. The problem is in the amount of stuff they’re ordering. It goes above and beyond any previous requisitions.”
The image warps yet again, reforming itself into another man. Though this one is similar to the first, his hair is not as dark and his face is less distinguished. “And this is Chuck’s younger brother, Jack Firenze. You might know him a little better. A group of heroes helped take him down a few years ago. He was a member of the Malta Group; I assume you’ve at least heard that name before. His cover ID as the head of the CIA’s China Bureau let him do a lot of work for Malta while remaining undetected.”
Devereaux pauses as the waitress starts to be on her way. He orders a cup of coffee. Irish coffee. Then he carries on. “Guess who’s big brother was seen in a private meeting with Crey’s executive board after our little misadventure in Founders’. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d bet Chuck’s into the family business.”
The blonde woman pulls out her cell phone, keys it…she spends a couple of minutes speaking into it in a low voice, hardly audible to the room.
When she is finished, she closes the connection, sits for a few seconds, frowning, staring off into space.
Her face clears, she sits up straighter. There is only a hint of her usual smile.
“Got it. Firenze, China, Crimson, Malta, Director 17. Brother connection to Crey. Anything else? And…” she frowns again. “…is the Crey to Vengeance connection as fake as ours, or is this a triple threat?”
“Which still doesn’t explain who drug you into this mess…or why,“ she continues to the Praetorian’s image in her mind.
There is a sharp rap at the door. It immediately opens without giving them time to react.
A mahogany-skinned woman with a purple scarf tied around long, straight black hair sticks her head into the room. “You want fortune told, yes?”
Without waiting for an invitation, she opens the door further. She is barely wearing a white peasant blouse, accompanied by long blue coulottes with a green hem, a black sash wrapped around her waist and dangling down behind, and stiletto-heeled boots. Large gold hoops dangle from her ears; ornate and obviously very expensive gold wraps around her neck and all the way up and down her bare arms, ending with solid gold cuff bracelets, and rings around almost every finger.
“I make you good deal. Ten dollars each, everybody. Very cheap. I tell you how get rich, you be grateful, yes? Tell all you friends.”
When no one accepts immediately, she points her chin at Devereaux. “You. Handsome man. I make you good offer, no? Eight bucks. I like you. Make you rich.”
She looks around the room, her eyes fasten on Paige. “Pretty little girl. Very pretty.” She looks back to the Praetorian. “You buy fortune for pretty little girl, yes? Make her happy. Make her rich. She give you kiss, no? Five dollars for pretty little girl. Good bargain for kiss, no?”
When that doesn’t work, she returns to Paige. “You tell him, pretty girl. You want you fortune told, yes? You are very young, fortune very valuable. Tell you entire life. Tell you how to get rich, very young, retire early, have all the boyfriends. Give him kiss for fortune, no? I tell you how to prepare. Go to college. Make money. Impress friends. Save orphans, no?”
Devereaux stares, his jaw hanging slightly open. This woman, whoever she is, is incorrigible. As if that wasn’t enough, her outfit is garish enough to make his eyes hurt.
“She’s already in college and I make more in a day than you will in a year. Blondie, who the hell is this and why is she here?”
Nyght regards this ‘gypsy’ with a mixture of amusement and caution. The woman seems to be taking a strange amount of interest in Paige.
Linuial’s mouth drops open…certainly the first time anyone there has seen this particular expression on her face, then turns to Devereaus, her eyes wide. “What on earth makes you think I know anything about this?” she manages to stammer out…and then begins to giggle.
“You, pretty lady,” the garishly dressed woman points her chin in Linuial’s direction. The blonde woman starts, looks around, points to herself with a “who, me?” expression.
“You not have man, I make you love potion. Thirty dollars. Cheap. You not sleep alone ever again.” She looks very pleased with herself.
As Linuial stammers and giggles, the black-haired woman turns to Devereaux. “You rich man, you buy fortunes for all the pretty ladies, yes? I give you group discount.”
“What is she doin’ heah?” Nyght mutters, sitting a little further forward on the edge of her sea, and wondering if there’s some “carnival” connection to the intruder.
Nyghtshade’s comment draws the woman’s attention. “Hey…you, there. You should be pretty lady, too, no? Too pale, too pale. Man do not like pale woman, not take to bed. You should get out in sun. I tell you…I make potion for you. Make you healthy. Get out in sun. Get brown, like Talaitha, men fall all over you. Only fifty dollars.”
“We don’t have time for this,” Devereaux groans. Raising a hand to his temple, he reaches out with a mental command.
“Leave now and forget you saw us. You don’t know who we are. You don’t even know why you came into this room. Just go and don’t come back.”
Theah’s no potion’s goin’ to give me a tan, Shugah. And Ah already have a man, thank you.” She draws off one purple glove, to reveal a platinum wedding band.
The dark woman blinks…seems to lose her train of thought…looks around the room, turns and walks toward the door, shaking her head…reaches into a bag she has tied to her waist as she is heading out the door.
The door just closes, when there is a sharp rap on it.
“Nope, not doing it,” Devereaux exclaims as he rushes over and locks the door. After checking to make sure it’s securely fastened, he returns to the table.
“Like I said, it looks like we’ve got a Malta connection to worry about. Normally that wouldn’t bother me too much but this is different. Malta rarely dabbles in anything as spectacular as Mindwipe. It’s too flamboyant for their tastes.”
He stops talking suddenly and looks toward the door as another round of knocking breaks his concentration. “Just keep quiet and hope she goes away,” he says in a low tone. “If that doesn’t work, we can send Bubastis out there to eat her or something.”
“Or Ah can go let her read mah fortune,” Nyght adds drily. “One look at mah ‘lifeline’ should discourage her.”
Linuial breaks into belly laughs. It isn’t long before she’s out of breath, holding her stomach. She tries to speak, but can’t get air.
She starts pointing at Devereaux, but keeps breaking to hold her stomach. Tears begin to stream down her face…she finally manages to point in the direction of the shell case.
Devereaux looks down…the remote is missing. Linuials breaks into yet another uncontrollable round of laughing, coughing now, at the expression on his face.
“Goddamn it…Switch to images six through ten. Panoramic viewing.”
The little projector hums softly before streams of green light lance outward to splash on the walls. After a moment the images resolve themselves into photographs. Chuck Firenzie in what looks to be a board room with men in suits as dark as his own. Chuck Firenzie talking to someone on the phone in his office, an angry expression on his face. A man in a surgical mask who looks suspiciously like Chuck Firenzie, walking next to a sheet covered gurney.
“This is the photo that really got my attention,” he says, pointing to the one of Firenzie in the mask. “It was taken before our raid on the first Crey facility. If you look closely you can see the outline of a body on that slab.”
“Theah was what looked suspiciously like a little surgical room in Anderson’s lab,” Nyght says quietly.
…the coughs turn into hiccups…
She reaches for a glass half-full of water, almost chokes when she first tries to take a sip…but gradually manages to straighten out her face in an approximation of seriousness.
…except for the occasional giggle when she looks directly at Devereaux.
Devereaux presses ahead, ignoring Linuial’s amusement.
“I’ve got several theories about that but I don’t have enough evidence to prove anything just yet,” he says. “The point is, Mind Wipe isn’t something Crey just thought up on their own. It’s a contract bankrolled by Malta. Switch to images eleven and twelve.”
The little machine hums again and the wall sized photos shift. One of the newly projected images is a wide shot of a dilapidated building in Crey’s Folly. “This is our third and final target. It took a hell of a lot of work but I finally managed to track down the project mainframe. It’s there, right in the heart of the biggest mistake Crey’s ever made.”
There is a heavy knock at the door.
“Don’t…” Devereaux growls, his frustration plain. “Open it.”
There is a second heavy knock, and a man’s voice calls, “Mr. Devereaux?” The voice is familiar, it’s the head of the catering and facility department.
Devereaux raises an eyebrow and moves to the door. He reaches for the knob but lowers his hand at the last moment. “If there’s a gypsy out there with you I’ll make you both light yourselves on fire,” he calls and then throws the door open.
After a moment of conversation, and a sizable tip, he closes the door again and locks it before setting his cup of coffee down. “Enough games,” he says. “We’ve got work to do and frankly, I’d like to get it over with and get on with my life. Any objections?”
“I’m really very sorry, sir, I know you didn’t want to be interrupted, but I thought it might be important, especially after she gave me your message…” comes muffled through the door.
Nyght is by now struggling to keep a straight face.
Devereaux says nothing. He simply growls again and goes back to the door. “What the hell are you talking about? Who is she and what message did I supposedly give her?”
“If you would just open the door, sir, I’ll show you.” The man sounds as if he is about to cry.
Linuial looks down and starts examining her nails, looking for any flaws. Every few seconds, her shoulders shake.
“I wasn’t joking about the self-immolation,” Devereaux says as he opens the door a final time. “Start talking.”
The man’s eyes go wide, and he stumbles over his own tongue a few times before he manages to sound coherent.
“Yes, sir.” He holds up the missing remote. “She told me you reported this stolen, and we found it in a trash can. I thought you might need it for your meeting, sir.”
“Oh, she also asked me to give you this.” He holds out a neon orange business card printed in extremely tiny script in royal blue.
The card reads (in a typeface that becomes ever smaller as it approaches the bottom edge of the card):
And in letters at the bottom so small you have to squint to see them:
Genuine Original Gypsy
Palm and Card Readings
Place Hex on your Enemy
Best Prices in Town
10% Discount with this Card
Secrets bought and sold
Devereaux examines the card and sighs. “Gypsies…” He tucks the gaudy thing into a pocket. “Thank you. Now, unless you like the idea of being a pile of ash, don’t bother us again unless I call for you,” he says calmly before slamming the door.
“Well that was rage inducing,” he says while massaging his temples. “Please tell me you managed to absorb some of that intel before that…whatever that was showed up.”
Paige was laughing along with Linuial as the Gypsy was reading everyone, but the persistence after knocking was getting too much.
“We have partial evidence that this is able to be deployed… so, we don’t have a lot of time left to stop this, do we? Where do we go from here?” Paige says, “Assuming ‘we’ includes ‘me’ being a huge assumption on my part after my last nap in front of you guys, but I’m still standing by it. I’m still interested in figuring this out.”
Nyght nods, a short jerk of her chin. “You want us to attack a no-doubt heavily guarded Crey mainframe for a project heavily funded, strangely enough, by Malta. So, Ah guessin’ part of the heavy guard may be Malta agents?”
“So, what exactly are we lookin’ foah, and how do you suggest we tackle this?”
Finally calm and “sober”, Linuial turns to Paige. “What did Fannour tell you, dear? Did you want me to talk to him for you?”
“No, it’s fine… mostly good news.”
“I went through 6 scientific tests, passed all of those… they show normal brain activity. 4 magic-based ones, however, two of them might be false positives. I’ll know for sure in 16 hours or so,” Paige said to Linuial mentally, “He told me it’s okay to be here, but to be cautious.”
“It’s funny… in the past I was worried about upsetting you and withheld my problems from you a bit. Now that they faced Shiara directly, I’m worried about them being upset… strange how that works. If Fannour finds they are positive, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Ah don’t want us to attack anythin’, shugah,” Devereaux replies, the false accent sounding smooth and polished.
“It’s true that, whatever the specifics might be, Mind Wipe is based on the Carnival of Vengeance. Magic, science, some mixture of both, it doesn’t matter. Crey’s using Vengeance techniques without Vengeance’s permission.”
He pauses to take a sip of his coffee. The warm liquid, fortified with a healthy dose of alcohol, sends a shiver through him. “The Carnival doesn’t like having its copyrights infringed. I doubt it’d take much to get them to launch an attack themselves. We could use the chaos as cover while we sneak in or hit the place after things die down. Malta’s bankrolling the project, true, but there’s no intel to suggest any of their assets are on site so we shouldn’t have to worry about them.”
Nyght’s jaw clenches ever so slightly at Devereaux’s mockery of her accent, but all she does in reply is to nod at his assessment.
“There are a few snags though,” Devereaux continues, heedless of Nyghtshade’s consternation. “Aside from the obvious problem of going in during an attack we’d essentially have no control over, we’d also be dealing with enemies on both sides who wouldn’t mind seeing our obituaries in the Paragon Times. We’re better equipped to handle a straight up fight than we were the last time something like this happened but it’ll still be a gamble.”
He takes another drink from the steaming coffee mug, becoming more animated as the caffeine does its job. “On top of that, destroying the data won’t be enough if we can’t get Firenze. Hell, we could probably blow the whole place back to the Stone Age. Malta will be back up and running the next week. They’re compartmentalized to make sure that as long as a cell’s leader is still around, operations can continue in spite of any loses. It’s pretty annoying when you get right down to it.”
“So, we need to lure the big guy in, put him and the subordinates he’ll no doubt bring along out of action, and make sure anything related to Mind Wipe goes up in a fireball. Oh, and avoid getting ourselves killed in the crossfire.”
He lifts the coffee mug to his lips and drains it in a way that implies he’s had practice doing exactly that. “Just another day at the office.”
Linuial addresses her mental image of Paige. “That’s wonderful news, dear. I’m happy for you. Keep me posted, if you have any other difficulties, I’ll do anything I can to help.
“…and you don’t have to worry about upsetting me…being upset on behalf of other people is my normal situation.“ Her mental laughter scintillates like fireworks on a summer eve.
“Xavier…am I getting this right? Are you suggesting that we trigger a firefight between Vengeance and Crey? And at the same time somehow trick Firenze to be on-site at the same time? Or are you talking about two separate missions?
“I know you’re good…but I have doubts about this team’s ability to handle a three-way firefight between Vengeance, Crey, and a Malta boss and his crew. Not to mention that if the younger Firenze gets wind of it, we could be looking at CIA showing up, as well.”
“That’s exactly what I’m suggesting, Blondie,” Devereaux says, flashing a smile that could be born of confidence or pure insanity.
“You’re right though. This team doesn’t have the numbers or the firepower to handle a battle royale like that. Which is why we’re not going into the thick of it. We’ll hang back, maybe pick off a few goons around the edges, until everyone’s finished kicking the crap out of each other. Then we make our move.”
“As for Jack, he won’t be joining this particular party. After that Supergroup stopped Operation World Wide Red, he got a life sentence for treason against the United States. I checked. He’s hanging out at a federal supermax in Colorado these days.”
“Well, I’m glad we don’t have to worry about Federal charges.” She sighs. “Still and all, it is going to be hugely dangerous. It’s not your style, I know…but maybe I should have Starfire standing by, maybe close by the facility, so we can call for backup if things get out of hand?”
Nyght is somehow certain Devereaux isn’t going to embrace the idea of others jumping in to help out. She stares at someplace neutral between the two of them, and waits for his answer.
“Anything related to MindWipe going up in a fireball… did your analysts give us clues on what to destroy, or are we smashing anything with an Ethernet cord in it?”
Linuial, Nyghtshade, and Devereaux look at her for a second, “That is what those blue wires are called, right? I was doing some reading last night.”
Linuial blinks her eyes, but keeps her thoughts to herself. A member of the current generation who knows less about technology than she does? She decides not to correct the girl…
Devereaux’s stare is deadpan. “Paige, the last time I saw an ethernet cord was somewhere around 2004. You might wanna update your material.”
At Linuial’s suggestion, he waves a hand in a noncommittal gesture. “Blondie, I’ve suffered you long enough to know you’ll have your super-friends in the wings whether I agree to it or not,” he sighs.
“Just be sure to tell Worm Guy and your boyfriend to keep a safe distance. This plan’s delicate enough as it is. I don’t even wanna consider what could happen if anyone catches sight of them before we’re ready to move in.”
“Alright, I’ll just trust you guys,” Paige said. She is idly tapping on her phone…
She sighs and turns her phone off.
The file was deleted: “/home/media/SDCard/Torrents/PCs for Dummies by Dan Goodin- 2nd Edition - 2001.pdf”
“Would a pizza parlor close to the Crey’s Folly gate meet with your approval?” she asks the Praetorian, with a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
By the Star Queen, I’m starting to sound like him… she thinks to herself.
She turns to fully face Devereaux. “Xavier, I’d like to ask you a couple of things, and I think we all could use the information, if you’ll indulge me. Do you have any idea why someone told you they wanted to hire you for this job? Who they might be? Could they be behind the Crey traps? Do you even have any idea if you are going to be paid for doing this? And if you are in any doubt…why are you so dead-set to complete it?”
“Yes, yes, no, no, in that order,” he answers, his face set in a serious expression. His tone is pitched low in the style he uses for interrogations but rather than being meant to intimidate, it carries the gravity of his words. “As for the last part, I’m doing this because I’m a professional. Contrary to popular belief, there is some honor among thieves.”
“I’d gladly have taken the job if all it entailed was stealing from a multinational corporation while avoiding some spec ops wing nuts who think they’re the Illuminati. That’s a Tuesday for me. But trying to pay me to go against people I’ve worked with before? It’s an insult. Sure, there’s room for some healthy competition, but nobody worth their salt in my business just flips on a dime.”
Without warning, a dangerous aggression works its way into his demeanor. “You want that, you go and find yourself some petty crook in an alley. At my level, we know something about respect. I intend to teach my would be employer exactly what the word means.”
Nyght’s eyes narrow a bit at that last statement, but she holds her own counsel for now.
Linuial looks at the Praetorian for a long moment, her expression almost…sad. Finally, she stands, walks over to the man, places a hand lightly on one shoulder.
“That is a motivation I can understand, and support,” she tells him, softly. “Starfire and I are at your service for as long as you need us.”
Turning, she returns to her seat, her expression sober.
“… wait, what?” Paige is a little crestfallen.
“Uh…thanks,” Devereaux says, not sure what to make of Linuial’s reaction. “It’s just not done, y’know?” he adds softly.
“Anyway, that’s my angle to worry about. All you four have to do is show up. Well, that and maybe throw yourselves into an all out fight for supremacy. Deal?” The sudden flash of anger vanishes as quickly as it appeared, gone in an instant as the sly grin snaps back into place
“Yes, “ Nyght replies simply. “Deal.”
“Yeah, deal. Long nights, impossible odds– why does that remind me of a song?” Paige said, “I’m in.”
“Paige?“ she addresses her mental image of the girl. “Is something wrong? You seemed a bit…upset.“
“No! I was surprised you two agree with each other. That doesn’t happen often.” Paige said, “Not at all… I’m happy.”
“Paige, dear…I’ve never had anything but deep respect for Xavier. Who he is, how he survived Praetoria, with his sanity, and a kind of moral code intact. When he threw himself and Tahq into that Rikti battle…I was disappointed in him. I knew even then that he was so much better than that…Yes, I chewed him out, and he deserved it. But know this, dear…I do not waste time on the unsalvageable. There are too many people in real distress, needing help, and desperately seeking it…and I don’t have enough time, even as an immortal, to help them all. They are mortal…and they are dying faster than I can help them.“
She turns again to the Praetorian. “Xavier…I’m sure you’re aware Jon doesn’t like you very much. You might consider sitting down with him sometime…telling him what you just told me.
“Jon was 15 years old, an emancipated minor, guardian for his 10-year-old brother, when his brother was killed, leaving Jon the only inheritor to their father’s insurance policy. Crey kidnapped him…stole his money…and made him a lab specimen in their Human Experimentation lab. They tested their technology on him, among others, keeping him drugged and asleep for 15 years. They also tested their amnesia processes on him.
“When they made a mistake, and he was able to wake up and escape, he had no memory of who he was, what had happened to him, who had done it, or why.
“It took months before he was able to recover enough, emotionally…to decide that he was going to make whoever it was pay.
“I understand betrayal, and the form of vengeance that acts to prevent its continuation. Jon does, too. I think you both might be able to find some common ground, there. It might be worth a try.”
Nyght sits quietly, watching the others.
“He doesn’t like me because he thinks I disrespect you,” Devereaux says. “It’s perfectly natural for someone in his position but it’s no concern of mine. Besides, it’s not like we’re gonna go on any double dates. When this is over everything’s going right back to normal. Normal for us, anyway.” He finishes with a wink.
“Well…not to be argumentative…but I know Jon better than you do. He has no problem with you ‘disrespecting’ me…he knows I can take care of myself. He doesn’t like you because he can’t see anything good in you. He doesn’t have my experience, my perspective. He doesn’t know how to look deeply in someone else…all he sees is the surface you project.
“When Jon woke up…he was 30 years old by the calendar, but 15 years old in his mind and heart. He’s matured a lot since then, but he still has a rather shallow view of ‘good’. Getting to know you might be good for him.”
“Listen, I’ve got nothing against the guy. He has his priorities. Mine are different. They include getting this job done sometime before the next ice age. If you want us to sit down and talk, fine. We’ll call it your participation fee. Right now, though, we’ve got a suicidal mission to plan.”
Paige is still very much worried about what happened in that building, but if no one wants to address it more than they have, then perhaps it isn’t as serious as she saw it in her initial fears about this meeting.
Not much for reassurance, of course, but it will have to do. It’s enough to chill the anxiety at least.
After all, she figures, a hero who saves a cat stuck in a tree can stop seeming like one when they gripe about every part of it from start to finish. And she knows that she is not really griping, but if she’s going to finish this mission, the objective is what matters more. She grabs her non-alcoholic citrus soda, nabs the baby carrots from the snack tray, and keeps listening.
“Oh, and, Xavier…” the blonde woman adds, “…as far as going back to what you consider to be ‘normal’….that depends entirely on you.”
Her expression is serious…and a little sad.
Casting a pointed look in Linuial’s direction, Devereaux presses forward again. “Blondie, the last thing I wanna talk about right now is our team dynamic. We tried counseling, it didn’t work. We’ve got one more job to do and then we can finalize the divorce, okay?”
He goes on. “Bringing in the Carnival should be simple. A little word on the street and they’ll come running. I’ll take care of the Firenze angle. With all the trouble we’ve caused, he’s not likely to trust Crey to handle a security issue on their own anymore. Now, if there’s nothing else, I’d like to go stuff my face and pass out.”
He pauses a moment, waiting to be sure that all is said and done.
Upon hearing that remark, the brief elation Paige felt stopped. She knew it was too good to be true.
Tahquitz told her this when she called him about their prior argument back in Brickstown. A team’s dynamic is very VERY fragile. Passion runs high, tempers flare, and eventually, everyone’s sour points are laid out on the table no matter how well they want to hide them. Some, like Devereaux and Linuial, get exposed first, but others like Nyghtshade may be more restrained and will decide if they want to leave or stay without making too much of a fuss. Bubastis is a package deal as wherever Linuial goes, she goes.
And if Paige is getting this worked up over a team, she probably doesn’t want the stress of a Supergroup… Tahq warned her it’s like a big team with union meetings attached. Amateur lawyers, 800-lb. gorillas and all. Not advisable for a college student who wants to graduate on time.
Tahq said that part of the team’s frustration with her may be that she’s naive and too inexperienced to let these kind of things bother her like it does the rest of them. It was how Tahq’s first team went two years ago, and they were amazing people just like these guys are.
And that’s their sour point with Paige, that she wants the band to stay together when everyone but her wants to go separate ways.
His advice was to keep a light heart and a sense of humor like he does… It’s easier to keep the band together if they like being around each other. But that’s not easy to do… she thinks the point for camaraderie is past. That her first team is probably a failure, even though the job is getting done.
This thought makes Paige sad, but she’s not crying over it this time. Perhaps she needs to accept this is how things are. She bites into another baby carrot and thinks about what might have gone differently.
“Good,” he says, a definitive finality in his voice.
“Linuial, fill me in on your group. I barely know more than their names. Give me powers, skills, what they like for breakfast. If they’re gonna be our backup we need to know how best to use them.”
He cocks an eyebrow at Nyghtshade, finally noticing her sternness. “And you, Newbie? You look like there’s something you wanna say. Do me a favor and don’t wait until we’ve got bullets flying around.”
“Ah do have something to discuss with you, Mr. Devereaux, but you may want to have the conversation in private, once we’ah done heah,” she replies neutrally.
“I need to go make a phone call anyway… Basti, you ever been to the Tiki Room? I’ve never seen it before.” Paige asks the feline warrior, “It looks fun.”
Bubastis looks at Paige, blinks once. “Miss Pirillo, did we not already meet with Mr. Devereaux in the Tiki Room? I would be happy to go back there with you. Are we to become ‘friends’, too?”
“I’d like that! And, uh, let’s go see it again!” Paige smiled and nervously backpedalled to give the rest of the team their space. “Shall we?”
“Not all of Starfire will be involved, of course. It depends on who will be free when you are ready for this…war, but the core group of Starfire…hmmm…”
“You’ve met Jon, claws/regen scrapper, and Maggot Man, also a scrapper. Blood Nut, tank, Brother Mathias, controller. Solar Storm, grav controller. You’ve seen Stray, Peacebringer. And there’s a Taxibot, rad/rad defender, that I might be able to pull in if you need her particular skills.
“Mardi Gras, MA/reflexes scrapper. Aenir, ice/ice blaster.
“If there’s anything in particular you need, ask me, I might think of another Starfire person who would qualify.”
“Take your time. We’ll be done here soon,” Devereaux says as Paige and Bubastis make their exit.
“Find out as much as you can about the cat,” he adds telepathically. “I know she’s more than just a weapon but I’ll be damned if I have to try and pry it out of Blondie.”
“The Scrappers won’t be of too much use. Malta specializes in dealing with metahumans who like to get in close. The Controllers and your Taxibot might come in handy though,” he says, using the colloquial slang for teleporters. “If this goes badly we’ll need to extract in a hurry. What kind of range can they cover?”
“Got it…”, Paige said. Easy enough, she wanted to know more about her anyway.
“Once the Taxibot has been programmed with your signature, they can teleport you to anywhere within Crey’s Folly that you want. I’d assume the Brickstown gate would be best, if we need to make a quick getaway.”
“They’re your team. Position them however you want. If we end up needing their services it’ll be way too late to worry about where we end up.”
He takes a moment to go over his mental checklist. “That should be everything for now. I’ll get started on putting the pieces in place. You should go and relax for a while. Once this gets started it’s gonna be a dead sprint all the way to the end.”
The meeting concluded, he turns his attention to Nyghtshade. “Say what you need to say.”
Nyght waits until Linuial has left before turning back to Xavier. “Ah’ve been stewin’ oveh somethin’ foah days now, and befoah we move into the next phase of yoah mission, Ah need to address it. Mr. Devereaux, foah all yoah tearing into Linuial about what you see as indefensible ‘Leadership’ mistakes, when it comes to yoah own Leadership mistakes, it seems like yo’ah inclined to ignore them.”
She squares her shoulders and ventures on, “The fact is… the fact is, Sir, that you bailed out of Paige’s mind befoah making shoah she was truly safe. Ah don’t fault you foah that – Shiara fooled both of us, you and me, into thinking we’d saved Paige. But we hadn’t. So think on this foah a moment. Both you and Ah, togetheh, couldn’t beat Shiara. It took Paige to beat her , or so we thought…”
“And then you left, you withdrew from Paige’s mindscape… and the “fake” Paige we “fake-saved” dropped the mask and attacked. So, theah Ah was with both hands full tryin’ to fight off being mentally turned to the Carnival by Shiara, while Paige was literally bein’ erased from existance. If Ah had left right behind you, Ah think we would have lost Paige altogetheh. And still, Ah can’t blame you… Shiara was too cleveh, and we weah both fooled.”
Nyght pauses, trying not to let residual anger derail her, and then continues in a cooler tone.
“What Ah do blame you foah is that when we didn’t wake up, Paige and Ah, you didn’t come back to check. And when we did finally wake up, you casually blew off what we’d just gone through –without yoah help– and then you had the gall to act like Ah was just bein’ all whiney about having just been royally mind-fked!”
“You have no ideah what we went through in theah, afteh you left. And since you haven’t even asked what happened, Ah can only assume you don’t care. So… Fine. If that’s how it is, well, fine, Ah know now to watch mah own back from heah on out. But…”
She straightens, eyes locked to his. “The thing is, you screwed up, Mr. Devereaux. And as long as you keep actin’ like you didn’t… then ah think you still are. Somethin’ to think about.”
Closing his eyes and shaking his head, Devereaux sighs. “Slight flaw in your indictment. Did you ever think to wonder why I didn’t come back when you two stayed under? No, I’m sure you didn’t because you were too busy seething about having to do some heavy lifting by yourself.”
“Shiara’s been after a new body ever since she first got trapped in Paige’s psyche. She didn’t just choose the kid because she was already there. I like Paige but I’m not delusional about her abilities. As it stands, you and I are both orders of magnitude above her in terms of our powers.”
He takes a breath, tamping down the sarcastic comment he was about to make. “On top of that, Shiara hated me for prying her mask off and she was a sadist at heart. Nothing would’ve made her happier than getting into my head. I took a serious gamble going into Paige’s mind but what other choice did I have? It was a calculated risk. I certainly wasn’t about to get reckless and go barreling back in after getting out alive the first time.”
“You’re right, I don’t know what you went through after I left. I do know that you saved her. I appreciate that but you don’t know dick if you think being a leader means falling on your sword every time one of your people is in trouble. That’s not leadership, it’s selfish, stupid heroism. If that’s what you’re into, fine, but I’ll pass.”
He meets her stare with a steely one of his own. “Just something to think about.”
Nyght opens her mouth… and closes it again, eyebrows furrowed. After a moment, she sighs.
“Ah didn’t realize that. Ah suppose that changes things. Ah do wish Ah had known that…” She pauses, matching his gaze, but not as cooly as before. “It might have helped me deal with this.”
“And Ah wasn’t askin’ you to fall on yoah sword. Just… Ah don’t know, maybe to remembeh that while we are mind readers, that doesn’t mean we’ah goin’ to go peekin’ around in yoah head to try and undehstand yoah motivations.”
The temptation to recount what he did to help while she and Paige were still unconscious tugs at him but he shoves it away. This team is coming apart at the seams already. Rubbing Nyghtshade’s nose in it won’t help.
“It’s fine,” he says instead. “You’re all heroes at the end of the day. Throwing yourselves into danger is just what you do. Makes sense that you’d be expecting your team mates to do the same. Besides, you couldn’t have known about our history with Shiara unless we’d told you.”
“Anything else you’d like to get off your chest or can I go enjoy some sashimi and a nap now?” his tone is light and a smirk creases his lips.
Nyght regards him with some surprise at his almost concilatory tone. She hates to bring anything else up when he clearly needs to eat and rest, but there’s one last thing she can’t leave without telling him.
“Well, actually…” she says, almost apologetically. “Theah is.”
“Paige and Ah defeatin’ Shiara this time… it seemed… well, easier than Ah would have expected. Easier than the first two mindtrips we played through, you and Ah.”
“Ah know you all have had her checked out, mentally, magically, but she also says the tests revealed a couple of false positives, with no final results yet. So… right now, Ah’m concerned about whetheh Paige is really, truly free… or if Shiara is just lettin’ us think she’d been defeated –again– and is really still hidin’ out in some corneh of Paige’s mind.”
“OR… Do we even really know if theah was in fact eveh some part of Shiara in Paige’s mind, or if the ‘Shiara’ in Paige’s head all this time has been some kind of unconscious mental construct by Paige to punish herself foah all the things she thinks she’s failed at?”
“Eitheh way, Ah’m gettin’ the feelin’ Paige could probably use some heavy counselin’ about the whole business with her dead adoptive mama, as well. Just… Ah’m concerned foah her, is all,” she finishes quietly.
“So am I,” he admits. “Even without a vengeful Carnie locked up in her head, Paige has issues she needs to get sorted out. I’ve spent the last six months trying to help her get a grip on her powers but I’m no psychologist. It’s a shame really. She’s got the potential to be a great psychic but that won’t matter if she doesn’t figure some things out for herself.”
“Listen, I can’t watch her all the time, especially not now. She likes you. Maybe you should be the one to keep an eye on her, at least until we get this done. And before you say anything about Blondie, don’t. She means well, I know that, but she hovers too much. If Paige is gonna have any chance of pulling through, she needs to do it on her own.”
Nyght smiles, and stands. “Ah’m happy to be friends with her, keep an eye on her as you put it, and try to help her. Ah’ve already offehed an invitation to mah place, when this is all oveh with, to her and Basti, and Ah’ll invite Lunial, of course. If you’d like to unwind and try some Louisiana home cookin’, you’d be welcome as well.”
“Ah’ll just pop off to the Tiki Lounge and let Paige and Basti know eveh’thin’s fine. In the meantime, Ah know you’ve got an appointment with some sushimi and some sleep.”
Crey’s Folly is no place for the uninitiated. Strange creatures lurk in the shadows and attack any intruder. Some intrepid heroes have described these beasts as made of rocks or plants - but no one has yet identified precisely what they are or what their intentions are. And Crey Industries, against all recommendations, has launched several teams into the area to investigate their once great lab. No word yet on their findings.
This is where your team finds itself. Set up on a rooftop in the neighborhood known simply as Carnival Town, you watch as a group of members from the Carnival of Vengeance arrives on the scene. They’re attired for battle, wearing their most garish livery and carrying weapons charged with a mixture of psionic and magical energy. As they approach what appears to be a dilapidated factory, a Crey security team appears from the shadows of the building and opens fire. The Carnies follow suit and its not long before the skirmishers are ducking from cover to cover, each group trying its best to eliminate the other. You watch as a Steel Strongman rips a chunk of concrete from the ground and hurls it at a Crey Mob Specialist. The man sees it coming but can’t scramble out of the way fast enough. Fortunately for him, his squad leader, a Crey Protector in advanced power armor, raises a force field around him and the projectile shatters on impact.
As more and more Carnies arrive on the scene and engage with an ever growing number of Crey forces, you and your team mates go over the last minute details of the operation and prepare to make your move.
Devereaux raises his binoculars to his eyes. The battle in the streets of Crey’s Folly is just as fierce as he expected it to be.
“Vengeance is not happy,” he says and whistles as a Harlequin Juggler, one of the converts from the Carnival of Shadows, hurls an Electrical Ring at a Crey Power Tank. The armored man launches a Power Bolt that blasts it out of the air before sending the Carnie flying backwards with an Explosive Blast. He moves to finish the Harlequin but is halted by a searing beam of light from one of Vengeance’s Relentless Armors.
“That’s not good,” Devereaux says, pointing to the automaton. “Those things have way too much firepower. If the Carnival gets them inside they’ll destroy the mainframe before we have a chance to get the data. We need to get rid of them. Suggestions?”
The blonde woman muses over this, then turns to the Praetorian. “I don’t use this often…but I do have the ability to pull enemies, with a low chance of alerting their companions. It’s called Psionic Lance in Paragon, and I’ve never known any other psychic who could reach farther. It’s risky…but it might be possible to draw that Armor behind a building without support.” She doesn’t look happy, but determined.
“Linuial, can you draw them back to wheah we are? Like you do when yo’ah retrieving us? Because if you could, we can dogpile them one at a time heah, befoah they really know what’s happenin’, and pick off the heavy hittehs.”
“Assumin’ they can’t just alert theah teammates mentally… of course…” ‘’
She frowns. “Which, if they can, makes that idea less useful.”
“It’s worth a try,” he says, lifting the binoculars again. “A psionic attack won’t do much damage but we can handle them as long as you don’t bring in too many at once. Take the shot.”
Linuial turns back to peruse the scene of battle. Over her shoulder, she replies, “…no, Monique, it’s nothing like Recall. I don’t physically move them through space. Think of it as planting a psychic bee sting. With luck, they get pissed off and run toward me looking for the source of the aggravation, while their ‘buddies’ ignore them, as they don’t see the cause. Without luck, they yell to their immediate comrades to follow them. The less damage I do, the greater the chance it’ll actually work.”
She turns back to Devereaux. “I can’t reach it from here…I’ll have to sneak in closer. Once it starts running, it should continue on the same path. Just try to keep an eye on me. I’m good, as healers go, but if that thing gets me cornered with no backup, I might wind up taking a medi-port ride.”
Without waiting for a reply, she slips over the edge of the roof, and slowly hovers to the ground.
Paige is standing next to Bubastis watching Linuial.
Several hours ago, she tried teaching Bubastis how to dance. Needless to say, it didn’t go very well… even a basic shuffle was past her as some of the catgirl waitresses joined them to help. All the same she had fun, and Bubastis seemed to enjoy herself, which was plain to see after Nyghtshade and Linuial watched them from the sidelines.
Paige said to Basti with a smile, “This should be good,” as she watches Lin work.
Hugging the shadows, the blonde woman begins a circuitous route in the direction of the Armor. Pausing behind one of the shacks that dot the commercial complex, she chants softly, running through her repertois of buffs. Her next move is a dash across open space…she makes it to the other side, and listening, decides she wasn’t spotted.
She finally approaches the large industrial tank she had her eye on. Hovering up the far side, she lands noiselessly on the slanted roof, begins to walk across it toward the center, gradually bending lower and lower as she moves. By the time she reaches the edge, she is crawling on hands and knees.
A prayer to the Star Queen, and she raises her head to peer over the edge of the roof. So far, all of the combatants seem to be too occupied with their battle to have looked in her direction. She checks directions…not good, if the Armor runs this way, it won’t leave the body of Vengeance fighters, nor will it pass close by the waiting team.
To her right, she sees a skinny window-topped roof set between twin smokestacks. There is open area all around it, and Crey not far from it. But the nearest building in the same direction is out of reach of the Psionic Lance. The risk is high, but nothing else will suffice.
She crawls across the roof of the tank, lowers herself down the hidden side. Through a combination of Hovering and scrambling over, under, and through intervening shacks, she manages to gain the stacks without being spotted.
Hovering up to the roof, she lays prone across the window glass, then turns her head to check that she is visible to the team, even thought she can’t see them. She places her hands on either side of her head, concentrates, chanting softly, and after a full minute of preparation, releases the mental bolt at the Armor, praying to the Star Queen that the thing is sufficiently vulnerable to psionic energy that it even notices the “attack”.
Instantly, she throws herself backwards, off the roof, to land awkwardly on the windowed roof below, then rolls back onto the next ledge. A sharp “crack” announces that the glass didn’t take kindly to the insult, but she arrives at her desired destination instead of falling through.
Flattening herself to the tiny roof ledge, she awaits the result of her activity, for better, for worse, or for futility.
Quietly, Nyght mentally asks, “Devereaux, want me to stealth in behind Linuial, in case she needs a little backup?”
Devereaux considers Niyghtshade’s suggestion while he watches Linuial’s less than graceful scramble to get into position. “Yes,” he says, chuckling as the blonde makes her way across the rooftops. “But don’t get pinned down in a fight. If it looks like it’s going South, get back here as fast as you can.”
He goes back to watching Linuial’s progress, his subdued laughter turning into a full guffaw as she reappears in his field of vision, markedly less pristine looking than when she left. “And do me a favor. Tell Blondie she’s got a lot to learn about combat infiltration.”
Nyght nods, thinking to herself that she’ll reserve the right to when to convey that message to Linuial, concentrates and suddenly seems to be not there.
She crouches, and then leaps up and out, springing neatly and quietly onto a rooftop here, a tank-top there, heading toward Linuial.
Nyght chooses a tall tank overlooking the tiny blonde’s position, lands and moves to the edge, to keep an eye on both Linuial’s position and the action below.
“Linuial, Ah’m takin’ up a position ovehlookin’ yoahs. Just a little backup, in case things go South. You won’t see me, likely, but Ah’m heah.”
From his vantage point on the rooftop, Devereaux can see as the armor cocks its head. The gesture seems odd coming from a machine. It turns and begins a slow walk toward the source of the offense.
“You definitely got its attention,” be sends to Linuial and Nyghtshade. “It’s…wait, there’s a problem.”
Two more of the mechanical men appear from a blind corner. One of them motions to the first before falling in line. Together the constructs continue their march.
“You’ve got three total incoming. Don’t engage. Draw them back here and we’ll deal with them together.”
Linuial imagines the scene she cannot see…the Armor walking in a straight line towards her…two more Vengeance with it…surveys the open space to the next building, plans her route…knowing it is too far, she will be spotted.
There isn’t time for her buffing spells. She launches herself forward, activating her flight ability, skimming low over the ground, weaving in and out around obstacles. She does not pause to look back…as large as the Relentless Armor constructs are, they move surprisingly swiftly.
“…three total…“ As they only saw one Armor from their vantage point…she has no idea that “three” refers to three Armors, not three Vengeance.
She is also unaware that the mechanisms have Spear of Light: a ranged attack.
Still stealthed, Nyght springs and drops quietly to the ground behind the 3 Relentless Armors, ready to drop her concealment and drain the first armor to attack Lin and use it to buff the tiny woman, if it comes down to that.
“What are you doing?” Devereaux all but shouts. He lowers the binoculars to get a better overview of the rapidly unfolding situation. He can just make out Linuial’s path of travel. “You’re in the open,” he sends to the blonde. “They’ll shoot you down. Get to cover now!”
“Bubastis,” he says aloud. “Your mentor’s about to have a serious problem on her hands. Might be a good idea to go give her a some help.”
Not waiting to see if his order is followed, he turns to the next task. “Paige, get ready. We still might need to intervene if we’re gonna keep Blondie from getting herself killed.”
Finally, he fires off a message to Niyghtshade. “I’ve got the cat coming in to back you up. Neutralize that thing and be ready to run. I don’t know if your presence trick will work against their sensors.”
His instructions given, he does the only thing he can do. He crosses his fingers and hopes for the best.
Three brilliant beams of light converge on a single point.
Without hesitation, Bubastis drops from the rooftop, landing on four feet. Her spotted coat blends well into the night shadows, as she vanishes into the darkness.
Nyght, on the ground now behind the three Vengeance Armors, dances her way into the midst of the 3, drops her stealth and feeds heavily off the lead armor, draining strength, endurance, even accuracy of focus. “Surprise!”
Hoping the confusion of her appearance will cause Armors to focus on her instead of Linuial, Nyght waits a split second longer, and then as as they turn their weapons inwards to fire she springs over their heads and forward, hoping their confused field of fire will have at least one of them getting hit by the others.
She lands and waits half-crouched within sight, ready to spring again in a different direction if they get their act together enough to try and shoot her.
“Oh, boys,” she taughts, just to make sure she has their attention, “Ah’m oveh heah!”
*Heads up, eveh’one, Ah’ll try to lead these boys back Devereaux.”
A body flies out of the dusky shadows to wrap itself about the upper carapace of the right-hand Restless Armor. There is a flurry of violence, then a panther-scream of frustration as Bubastis finds her claws have no effect on the metal monster. She begins searching for a crack…a seam…anything she can use to get a purchase on the thing, utilize her tiger-DNA strength against it.
The Armor reaches up, clamps a thigh in a vise-like grip, and throws.
“Oh, God…” Devereaux mumbles under his breath. “Get ready, kid. We’re about to have company.”
He raises the binoculars back to his eyes and watches as Bubastis struggles in vain against the Armor. When it reaches up and tosses her aside, he comes to a decision.
“Linuial, do what you can to help Bubastis but your primary objective is to get back here in one piece. I don’t care if you have to yank her through a wormhole or whatever it is you do when you teleport. You’re exposed and you’re too close to the rest of the Carnival. Get outta there.”
As she flies, solely focused on the cover she is trying to reach, everything goes white.
An implosive impact forces the air from her lungs…
Bubastis picks herself up from the ground at the bottom of the wall that interrupted her flight and shakes her head…coughs…swallows salt…climbs to four feet and leaps again for the “head” of the Armor. Digging claws into the joints, she heaves upward, tearing the thing’s head loose before dropping it, then digging her claws deep within the neck, ripping everything she can reach as it staggers, reaches for her, and then begins to run in circles, smashing into objects and combatants alike.
“Son of a bitch!” Devereaux curses before turning back to telepathy to communicate with Nyghtshade.
“Linuial’s down. Transfusion is part of your Kinetics powerset, right? It better be because Blondie could use some help and I certainly can’t do it.”
Seeing that Linuial is too far now from the armors to benefit from Nyght’s kinetic draw, Nyght grits her teeth and leaps to Linuial’s side. “Robots, why did it have to be freakin’ magic robots?” She scoops up the small blonde woman up, and mutters, Dev’s goin’ to hate this…”
Nyght leaps them both closer to the pack of armor, close enough that Nyght can draw energy off the nearest Relentless Armor and give it to Linuial, and to Bubastis as well. She can’t tell whether it will help - technically the armored golems aren’t alive, but they are infused with magic, and Nyght prays that will heal Linnuial and Bubastis as well.
That done, Nyght leaps away again with Lin in her arms, zigging and zagging to try escape return fire as she heads back toward Dev & Paige’s position.
Paige tries to reach out to the Relentless Armors and sees the magic incantation that is impervious to her psychic abilities. How does someone screw with a mind when none is present in the first place?
“Damn it. Can’t do a thing to them from here. And they’d knock me into next week.”
The headless body of the Restless Armor, like it’s similarly named chicken cousin, flails ever more wildly as it runs, directionless. As it bumps into a Crey Field Agent, the man turns and aims his Sub Machine Gun in their direction. Bubastis manages to free her hands from the mechanoid’s internal workings and leaps free just as bullets stitch up the side of the staggering robot.
Instantly, three more combatants drop their fight with each other and turn in her direction. She looks upward, gauges the height of the power line running overhead, and makes an astonishing vertical leap to catch it with one hand. She screams in pain and rage, but manages to hang on.
Devereaux sighs. “I was hoping we’d get to take it easy for a little while. Oh well. C’mon, kid, you’re with me.”
He walks to the edge of the roof and, pausing for a moment, transforms into a Basilisk Ninja, one of the exceptionally lethal assassins employed by the Praetorian known as Chimera. He leaps from the rooftop in what would be a suicidal dive for a normal person. Fortunately for him, the men and women Praetor Sinclair deemed worthy to join his service were anything but normal. Utilizing a Ninjitsu technique known as Kuji-in Sha while still in midair, he’s able to recover from the jarring landing almost instantaneously.
“Hopefully I won’t need to do that again for a while,” he remarks to himself before dashing to where Nyghtshade deposited Linuial. The remaining two armors are closing the distance quickly.
As the automatons cover the last bit of ground he rushes in and launches himself into a flying kick. Fortified by the borrowed ability to channel his inner power, he strikes the lead machine like a speeding car, sending it careening backwards before it can bring its glowing sword to bear. Not willing to be caught simply standing there, he lunges to one side as a Spear of Light from the second Armor streaks through the empty space where he had just been.
“Paige,” he calls. “Hit the one on the ground while I take care of its buddy.”
The blonde woman jerks, begins rolling her head.
Taking a deep, gasping breath, she lifts her hands and begins chanting, without even opening her eyes. The green glow of Healing Aura surrounds her, and her chant strengthens as she gasps for air between stanzas.
Paige uses her soundwaves to jump off the roof and soften her landing beneath her. But this time, she remembered her earbuds.
“Alright, cover your ears!”
Paige draws in a breath and gives a considerable shout toward the automaton. At the end of the shout, any part of the armor that could be torn loose by standing in front of a horn for a sea freighter has fallen off of the armor, leaving it crawling on a stub for it’s left leg, and short a forearm on the right arm.
“Now to work the rest of it down…” She then proceeds to blast it piece by piece with soundwaves from her arms and hands until the torso is writhing on the ground.
Paige stands over the golem’s head for the coup de gras and sends a soundwave toward it’s neck, amplified by a complementary tone from her voice severing it from the body. The torso is now motionless.
“Not my most efficient takedown. But it will do.”
As her eyes begin to flutter, a weak mental voice reaches Devereaux. “…Xavier…I’m hurt…I don’t know my status…should I wait or go to the hospital…?“
Nyght has left Linuial’s side and sprung back into action, leaping back and forth all around the remaining armor, trying to stay out of Devereaux’s way but draw the golem’s attention away from Linuial and Devereaux.
She tries to draw energy from it again and share it with Dev and Linnuial, but that causes her to pause in her leaps. Risky, but hopefully worth it.
“Stay there,” Devereaux responds. He’s always preferred to use the forms of other telepaths so as not to sacrifice his abilities when the need to change arises but he knows it simply can’t be helped this time.
He approaches the last intact Armor quickly but cautiously. The mechanical man brandishes its sword before delivering a powerful downward cut. Devereaux dodges backwards before countering with a flurry of punches. The blows land but the Armor shows no signs of suffering under the onslaught. In fact, it redoubles its efforts to carve him into tiny pieces.
“That’s not right,” he thinks to himself as he moves deftly to avoid a scything cut to his midsection. “It shouldn’t be able to-“ he’s forced to put the thought on hold when the Armor takes a step forward and delivers a thrust aimed at his solar plexus. He pivots to avoid the blow and brings an elbow down on the joint that connects forearm to the upper limb.
As before, his strike is ineffective but it’s then that he notices a faint yellow glow surrounding his opponent. “Energy shield, great,” he says ironically. “I’ve got just the thing for that.” He dashes back toward the Armor but as the mystically imbued machine prepares to strike again he drops to a low crouch and slides past it. Coming up quickly, he concentrates and focuses his chi into an open palm before driving it into the machine’s back. Its chest explodes in a satisfying shower of sparks and wisps of magical energy. Then it sinks to its knees.
The immediate danger past, he returns to Linuial’s side. “What’s wrong Blondie?” he asks. “You’re supposed to be good at this whole healing thing.”
“…good…but not instantaneous.“
Her breathing is easing. With a cough, she tries to sit up, her chanting halted for the moment. She almost makes it…tries again…raises her hands, and begins chanting anew, her voice stronger.
“I have two heals for others, but only one for myself. It’s the trade-off all empaths suffer…a moment longer…“
Paige rushes back to Lin, Dev and Nyght… “Is she alright?”
“Lin, say something! Anything!” Paige pushes to her, “Please!”
Linuial interrupts her chanting to reach out and lay a hand on Paige’s shoulder. It’s meant to be a light reassuring touch…but becomes something else as she loses her balance and leans heavily against the girl.
“It’s okay, Paige,“ she casts, her mental voice hardly perceptible. “…I’m fine. I’ll be fine. I’m a healer…you know?“ She smiles briefly in Paige’s direction before she begins chanting again.
The fight apparently over for the moment, Nyght searches around for Bubastis.
“Anyone seen Basti?”
The cat-woman hangs almost literally by her nails from the power line. There is an itching on her skin, that makes her fur stand on end. One thigh is hardly working…probably a torn ligament, suffered when the Restless Armor threw her…she probably has one or more broken ribs…and her strength, as prodigious as it is, is rapidly waning.
With a snake-hiss, she reaches into a belt pocket and downs all of the Inspirations she brought with her. She has no patience for examining them and sorting them out. If some are wasted, she will just have to buy others. As some of the pain fades, she manages to reach her other arm upward and grasp the power line…then arches her back and hooks one knee over it as well, leaving the damaged leg dangling.
Slowly, she begins to crawl along the power line toward the tower furtherest from the carnage below.
Nyght finally spots Bubastis on her precarious perch, and warns, “Let go, Basti, and Ah’ll catch you!” as she leaps toward the cat woman.
Bubastis looks around, trying to find the source of the mental voice. With Nyghtshade directly under her, even her cat-limberness prevents her from turning her head 180 degrees.
Unsure…not knowing who or what to trust, she hesitates, then continues her crawl.
Nyght shakes her head as she soars past, and lands on the pavement below. “OK, we’ll try this anotheh way.”
She leaps upwards, to land on the top of the tank Basti is crawling towards.
“Almost theah, Basti Shugah,” she encourages. “If you slip, Ah’ll leap and catch you.”*
“Glad you made it,” Devereaux says as he downshifts, his voice changing from the Asian slant of the shinobi back to his own particular blend of upper middle class American. “I’ve gotten accustomed to your table nagging and Nyghtshade’s just not self-righteous enough to take over the job. Speaking of, where did she…”
He trails off as he finds the purple swathed heroine standing atop a water tank, gesturing in what he can only assume is a soothing manner to Bubastis as the feline hybrid inches her way along a power line. “Why do I keep getting involved with these people?” he asks, sighing inwardly.
“Paige, head back up top and give us an update on the situation,” he orders, passing his binoculars to the girl. “I thought I saw one of Crey’s element themed armors out there with the rest of them.”
Paige bounded from box to box outside of the warehouse doors to reach the slanted roof deck and get new eyes on the situation.
She peers through the binoculars to survey… “The heavy hitters are coming out in droves. Cryo Tanks, Pyro Tanks are descending on the Carnival… –We’ve got a problem… There’s a Power Tank blocking the entrance to the Crey building. He’s electrocuting anything that comes close.” she passes along to the team. “The good news for now is he is alone, but if we wait too long they will join him and we’re so out of luck.”
“Then let’s not wait too long.”
He offers an arm to the diminutive woman. “There’s miles to go before we sleep,” he says, laughter in his tone. “Sounds like Vengeance is making headway but Crey’s giving as good as they get. We need to get out there and make our mark. If Firenze shows up with reinforcements before we get inside you’ll have gotten yourself laid out for nothing.”
“Nyghtshade, get ready to be sneaky again. Our target is a Voltaic Tank guarding the door to the place. We need him gone yesterday.”
Linuial accepts the arm, allows Devereaux to draw her to her feet, leaning heavily against him. She straightens up, becoming more steady by the second. Nodding thanks to him, she raises her hands again, and chants for a few more seconds, before smiling readiness.
She sneaks in a couple of buffs for herself, Devereaux, and Paige…she’ll have to do the same for Nyghtshade and Bubastis when she is closer to them.
Bubastis continues her crawl toward the tank. Craning her neck, she locates the metal tower supporting the power line.
She takes a deep breath.
The cat-woman kicks her one leg free, then immediately releases one hand. As her body swings, pivoting around the remaining hand, she suddenly lets go, sending her body into a curving arc…
…making a 3-point landing on the steel girder.
With all the agility of her vaunted ancestors, she begins her climb down the structure, favoring the injured leg.
Since it looks like Bubastis is determined –and able– to make it on her own, Nyght drops to a crouch on the top of the tank, and wills herself ‘unseen’ to anyone who’s looking that way, knowing that it will only affect the living… and that may not impact things like the Relentless Armors. But it’s the best she can do.
She leaps nimbly from rooftop to tank to girder to roof until she has gained a high vantage point above the Voltaic Tank guarding the entrance to the building.
“Ah’ve got eyes on the Voltaic Tank,” she sends. “He’s right wheah Paige says, and still alone foah the moment, although theah’s plenty of fightin’ nearby. Ah can try to drain him… if nothin’ else, it could keep him distracted while you all close in. Once you get heah, get close enough to him and me, and Ah’ll boost yoah reflexes. But don’t wait too long… Goin’ in.”
Nyght drops lightly to the ground, and still ‘concealed’, she sidles along the side of the Crey building furthest from the uproar of nearby conflict, moving slowly toward the Tank.
Fortunately, this time it’s a real person, not an automaton, and he’s focused on the conflict in the other direction; he doesn’t seem to see her.
Nyght pauses, sets herself, and mentally stabs at his mind, dominating with sudden pain.
The Crey tank agent claps gauntleted hands to his helmet, hunching against the sudden stabbing pain, and Nyght uses that distraction to begin feeding, drainin’ away his lifeforce.
“Hurry,” she sends, for the moment half-oblivious to all around her but the tanker.
“Go!” the blonde woman says. “I’ll be right behind you!”
She gives Paige a reassuring touch on the shoulder, and activates her flight ability, soaring directly, if slowly, into the night sky.
“We’re coming,“ she casts.
The cat-woman finishes her downward climb, reaches the ground…sits and leans back against the metal girder she just quit.
She closes her eyes for a moment…wishing she had kept some of her Inspirations in reserve…then begins grooming herself.
A couple of minutes later, calmer, she rises to four feet, and begins to slink along the ground, following Nyghtshade’s distinctive odor.
Paige makes a dash for the entrance, and the moment she comes in range of Nyghtshade’s abilities a wave of energy hits her in the chest; she finds herself running three times faster than she normally can.
“Waaaahh!” Paige yells in surprise not expecting the boost. She makes it to the entrance… after that, she’s not winded in the least. “–wh… what was that?!”
A moment later, Linuial drops from the darkness directly overhead. She begins chanting softly, her glowing auras covering both Nyghtshade and Paige.
“Xavier, I’m at the door, do you need teleport?“
There is a bird chirp overhead, as Bubastis makes her presence on the roof overlooking them known.
Feeling the cat-woman’s distress, Linuial reaches her hands upward and begins casting Heal Other on her.
“No, not yet. Hurry and get settled inside. Don’t, I repeat, DO NOT engage without me unless you absolutely have to. I’m going to cover our entry.”
With that, he reaches into the depths of his own mind and draws a memory up to the surface. A laboratory, dimly lit save for the digital displays on the equipment and an eerie green glow coming from the ceiling. Massive vats hang there, suspended by thick hoses and a mass of cables. An operating table is arranged in the center of the room and surgical instruments, both handheld and robotic in nature, are nearby. A figure in blue and yellow neoprene sits up on the slab. It speaks in a voice that sounds both hollow and badly pained. “I will offer your body to the Countess…”
His eyes snap open, the transformation complete. He wears the form of the psychic Paragon Protector he made use of during the last encounter with Crey. In truth, he hates this guise in a way that he never has any of his others. It just feels wrong somehow, very wrong. It’s as if the original mind that produced the template is crying out for something but he can never quite tell what that something is.
He shoves the eerie feeling aside and launches himself into the air. From his newly elevated perspective he can see that depleting the Carnival’s supply of Relentless Armors and disrupting Crey’s security organization has created the opening he’d planned for. The harlequins are beginning to seriously encroach on the entry way but are having a difficult time producing the massive breakthrough they really need.
Banking and rolling, he turns back toward the beleaguered Crey combatants attempting to hold the facility’s outer grounds. Coming to a halt in midair just above and behind them, he lashes out with a series of telepathic and telekinetic attacks that incapacitate some of the nearby Vengeance members. One of the Crey team, a Crisis Unit carrying a portable grenade launcher, turns and nods in thanks. Being careful not to reveal himself as an impostor, Devereaux simply nods in return before returning to the battle.
As he fights, he sends another message to the team. “Find yourselves a place to hide for now. I’m gonna help thin the Carnival’s numbers out here a little. After all, we don’t want them to actually destroy the place. That’s our job. Give me a status report when you can.”
“Devereaux, Ah can distract this Voltaic fellow, and drain him some,” Nyght warns, “but when Ah stop to head inside with Lin and Paige and Basti, he will recoveh and be a threat again. Ah’ve weakened him, but he’s not down foah the count.”
“My claws won’t make a dent in that metal,” Bubastis offers from her roof-top perch. “Perhaps Paige can do something?”
“Can’t you use Mesmerize or something to keep him from noticing you when you break off?” he asks as he seizes a Seneschal in a telekinetic grip and flings her at an approaching Strongman.
A moment later, he’s forced to return the earlier thanks as one of his newfound allies, the Crisis Unit, lobs an M30 Grenade that finishes the muscle bound bruiser in a none too savory burst of shrapnel and rent flesh. “Whatever you have to do, just do it and rendezvous with the others. I’m a little busy here.”
“OK, this will take a second,” Nyght continues. “Lin, Paige, Basti, get inside and find a good place to hide. Ah’ll stealth in when Ah’m done heah.”
Nyght stands on her toes, placing her hands to either side of the Tanker’s helmet - more as a focus than anything else - and concentrates, willing his mind to obey her, almost a form of deep hypnosis.
“You don’t remembeh we weah eveh heah,” she implants forcefully. You’ve been standin’ heah the whole time, keepin’ guard and watchin’ out foah Carnival intrudehs, but so far you’ve seen no one.”
She gives him a moment more of reinforcement to the command, and then steps back, willing herself unseen to those around her, and slips into the building through the door.
Ushering Paige and Bubastis in side, Linuial holds the door cracked open until Nyghtshade enters, then closes the door and leans her head against it.
After a moment, she addresses her mental image of Nyghtshade: “…he’s confused…but he doesn’t seem to be approaching the door, his empathic aura isn’t getting any stronger. I believe we’re in the clear.“
“We’ah inside, Devereaux,” Nyght sends. “Once we’ve got a hidin’ place in heah, Ah’ll send you a visual of wheah we are.”
To the others, she shares, “Since Ah’m all no-see-em heah, let me scout ahead foah an empty room to wait in, ‘till Devereaux joins us.”
She ghosts ahead, watchful for any Crey activity, and does find an empty office and relay its location back to Linuial, Paige, Bubastis, and then to Xavier, as she keeps watch for the others to join her.
Paige enters the office to an empty wasteland of desks and doors. While the initial rush of the Speed Boost has slowed to the point she’s not hearing her heartbeat in her open ears any more, she’s still hyper enough to rapidly check the doors to find one that’s open…
“Locked, locked, locked, and over here…. locked, locked, locked, open, locked, locked, loc– WAIT!” She doubles back to the open door and finds a small storage room with files and a single vent with no other point of entry… “Perfect!”
“Found a hiding place if we need one, should be out of sight for exiting patrols!” Paige said, a bit rushed, over telepathy.
“All right, good.” Devereaux replies. “I’ll be there soon. We’re about to be overrun here.” He delivers the last bit with a casual air that rings discordantly with the words.
Indeed, the Crey position outside the laboratory is quickly becoming untenable. Attendants and Acolytes join the likes of Senechals and Strongmen as they continue to press the defenders. Even the few armor clad Crey Juggernauts on the scene, with their powerful Long Range Missile Launchers, can do little more than keep the tide of jesters at bay.
After another few minutes of desperate fighting, the order comes. “Fall back to the lab!”
Sparing just enough time to finish off a particularly troublesome Carnie with a final application of Scramble Thoughts, Devereaux turns and makes his way back toward the entrance. It’s not until he reaches it that he notices the Crey Protectors setting up Force Field Generators to further stall their enemies.
“We’re ready to go online!” one of them calls to the others. Though his voice is slightly distorted by the speakers built into his blue and yellow armor, Devereaux can still clearly make out the fear in his voice.
“Roger that,” one of the Juggernauts responds calmly. The man raises an LRM to his shoulder, the servo assisted limbs of his armor making the action look far easier than it should have been. A quick depress of the trigger mechanism and a warhead streaks into the flood of Vengeance and Shadows members. Fire, smoke, and what are, most likely, body parts billow out from the head of the rapidly advancing tide.
Their parting gift delivered, the Crey Protectors activate the generators and a bubble of pure energy swells outward, shimmering like a soap bubble when it catches the light.
“We’re all sealed up here,” Devereaux sends out to the team. “I’m coming in.”
So far your plan is working. The mood inside the laboratory is tense, with scientists discussing the possibility of evacuation and security personnel scrambling to figure out how to repel the Carnival.
As you wait for the next phase to begin, you try to gather some information about the project you came here to stop. From the chatter, it’s clear that this lab is something of a central hub for Crey’s illicit work, with multiple illegal experiments being conducted all across the facility. Time to go searching.
Nyght passes a visual of getting to their location to Deveraux, adding, “What’s the plan?”
“I wasn’t able to get the layout for this lab. According to Crey, it no longer exists and no one else has been anywhere near the place since the Devouring Earth moved into the neighborhood. See if you can find anyone worth interrogating.”
Devereaux continues moving through the foyer of the laboratory. There’s a crowd here. Scientists and their assistants, security personnel, but they all give him a wide berth. It doesn’t take much thought to deduce that none of them wants to be standing too close to a Protector, especially not a psionic one. As good as Crey’s mind control programming is, the company’s personal metahumans have been known to lose control on occasion.
The strange feeling that always accompanies the form continues to nag at him. It’s decidedly annoying but without a place to conceal himself he can’t afford to shift again. As he passes through the throng of people, he overhears whispered conversations. Most are pithy comments about the Protector program but one name reaches his ears over and over again.
“Getting a lot of chatter about a Doctor Hill. Can’t tell if he’s got anything to do with Mind Wipe but it might be worth tracking him down.”
Linuial closes the file room door behind Nyghtshade as she slips out. She turns to the teenager.
“Paige,” she says, her voice low, “…have you ever considered attempting to follow Monique’s example? Scanning people around you, and creating a telepathic impression that you are not there?”
“I’ve tried to give suggestions to 2-3 people at once, but I’m not consistent yet… past mass hypnosis, but that’s one consistent tone, not a thought or idea.” Paige frowns… “I can try though.”
“You don’t want to do anything too complex, “ the blonde woman reminds her. “The simplest suggestion possible, one that can be the same for everyone you can reach. Monique says that she tells people to look elsewhere. You could do the same, or something more natural to your talents. You’re there…but they can’t see you. Or they can’t look your way. Or they see you and instantly forget…and keep forgetting.
She thinks, looking down at the floor, then looks up and smiles. “Try it on me and Basti, Paige. We can be your test subjects.”
Nyght moves silently, cautiously along the halls, avoiding clumps of people, sidling past others whenever there’s an opening. Her mental shields dropped, she’s listening for any thoughts (or talk) of Dr. Hill.
It’s not the most efficient way to search, but anything more intrusive will tip her presence.
Devereaux is right, though, there’s a fair amount of chatter about Dr. Hill, even speculation that his research project might be the target of the Carnival assault. She trails along after the woman thinking that, Nyght’s movements almost a dance as she stops, starts, and sidesteps others moving through the Hall.
The woman seems to be hurrying to an elevator, thinking of the sub-basement level lab. Even if they break in here, the woman thinks to herself, and unwittingly to Nyght, they’ll have a hard time finding their way down to the lab.
“Ah might be on to somethin’ heah,” Nyght warns the others. “Ah’ve got a woman heah thinkin’ about Hill’s lab, somethin’ about a sub-basement level 3, and Ah’d bet she’s headin’ theah now. Ah’m followin’ her down.”*
Nyght ducks into the stairwell, meaning to beat the elevator down, but the stairs don’t seem to go any further down. So she ducks back out into the hallway and waits for the elevator to return, then steps in and looks for a button to take her lower. It takes a little poking about, but she finds another panel, which requires a key-card.
She ducks back out of the elevator, and mentally reports her find to the rest of the team, as she holds her position by the elevator in hopes that someone else will come to take if down again.
“Never! I mean, unless you’re in trouble, I’d never willingly go into another hero’s head. If there’s such a thing as honor among thieves, it goes double for psychics. But you have far more experience than me… I guess you’d be alright or shake it off faster than a minion or goon.”
She hesitates before continuing, “Are you sure?”
“You’re not trying to take me over, Paige, or read me,” she reminds the girl. “Just an overall scan of the room, to identify the inhabitants, then a gentle projection of what you want to happen. Don’t try to make it personal, don’t worry, for now, if it ‘takes’ on everyone…just a blanket suggestion, and back away.”
“Alright, here I go…” Paige says and closes her eyes while sitting in the lotus position.
Paige reaches to both Linuial and Bubastis’s minds and pushes forward the same thought… but it goes differently for both.
Linuial is grabbing at Bubastis’s shoulders as she is very surprised that her mentor just lunged at her. But no harm has come to her, she’s just confused as to what she is trying to do.
“I’m not really here.”
For Bubastis, who rejects quandaries and paradoxes in an ideal state imagined by John Locke, this is easily rejected. “Of course I’m here. This is nonsense.” She is able to break the suggestion with ease…
But for Linuial, who can rationalize such things, she opens her eyes… to a blank landscape. The skies are dark without a moon. Cool grass is beneath her feet as she feels the suggestion at full strength from Paige’s mind. “I’m not really here.” Rene Descartes, who posited the Sea of Doubt in rationalism, has a similar fear in mind for this example: can you really trust your own senses? Could your very eyes and skin lie to you and everything you imagine to be real be completely false with your body and mind betraying you? Are you really you in such a world? You strongly suspect that you are not. You can’t be Linuial anymore. Your identity is forfeit.
Or is it? Behind you, someone approaches… it’s someone familiar looking. She’s also a diminutive woman, with sun-bright blonde hair, a soft sky blue mini dress, and intricate sandals that no Paragon City department store could ever carry. “I’m Linuial now,” she says, “You can go. You are not needed here any longer.”
And somehow, you’re fine with that declaration. Go ahead, be Linuial. I’m not really her anymore anyway. I can be someone else, in time. Perhaps a new life can be made of this existence. Except there’s a nagging suspicion that somehow, this is wrong. This is all wrong. You are Linuial. You can’t be a soul wandering for purpose, you already have it. Who in the stars is this impostor who is trying to usurp your very existance?!!
You reach outward to attack this woman, when all of the sudden…
“Okay, that’s enough. A blanket suggestion, nothing more. Did it work?” Paige asks, unsure of what just happened.
Linuial blinks, looks at Bubastis, then at her hands, snaps her fingers open and begins to back away.
She shakes her head a couple of times, looks down, breathes softly.
“Um…Paige…” she says, softly, “…what exactly did you suggest? Exactly?” She swings on the girl, her expression an odd cross between a slight smile and a stern taskmaster.
“That I’m not really here. Why, what did you see? And why did you grab at Bubastis?” Paige asked.
Linuial rolls her eyes, lifts one hand to her forehead, shakes her head.
Looking up at the ceiling, she says softly, “Dear Mother, Queen of the Stars, give me strength.”
She drops her hand, closes her eyes, composes her expression.
Turning to the girl, “Paige, by any chance have you been talking philosophy courses in college?”
“How could you possibly know that?” Paige has a look on her face like Linuial just pulled a quarter out of her ear if she was 6 years old.
“What did I do? I’m curious…” She sees that Linuial is nowhere as excited as she is, “… and afraid now. Okay, more afraid than– Now I’m just afraid! Are you alright?”
She sighs, deeply. Reaching out to lay a reassuring hand on Paige’s arm: “Dear, maybe we need to put this off for another time. I see that while Xavier may have been teaching you, he hasn’t taught you enough about mental discipline.
“I may not be a telepath, but I can certainly teach you how to focus your thoughts, and in this case, the difference between abstract concepts and concrete ones. For now…I suggest you don’t try this again.”
“I did do something! I’m so sorr–” Paige starts off, then Nyghtshade’s intel comes across “Wait! Nyght has a lead! A staff elevator leads to our Doctor. Ready to roll?”
“Paige, wait…” She catches the girl’s eye. “You didn’t do anything harmful, and you don’t need to apologize. It was…interesting…but not helpful in a battle situation. Explaining to you exactly what happened and how to fine tune it is going to take some time. You’ve made a good start, and I’m going to help you sharpen it into a weapon.
“Okay… Thanks Linuial. Basti, are you alright?” Paige checks with her, as she appeared unaffected until Linuial turned on her briefly.
Making his way out of the large foyer and into a wing of the building labeled simply as “1,” Devereaux begins passively scanning the minds around him for any information about the doctor. Most of the employee’s thoughts are focused on the current situation. Fear and anxiety seem to rule the day. “Can’t say I blame them. The Carnival isn’t known for its genteel mannerisms.”
He passes a Cryo Tank rushing up the broad hallway in the opposite direction. The man’s armor is rent in several places and he carries his helmet in his hand, revealing a face bloodied by a gash just above one eye. “Gotta admire the dedication.”
Soon after the Tank has gone, he spots a real Protector standing off to one side at an intersection. He refrains from looking at her lest she notice something off about him. His transformation is always a perfect copy of the psychic visage used to create it. However the target saw themselves is how he appears, but there’s always the chance that a deviation in his demeanor will give him away so avoiding direct contact is the safer option. To that end, he doesn’t even slow his pace as he draws nearer to the Protector.
The telepathic communique nearly stops him cold. Only his years of experience keep him moving steadily forward.
The message comes again. “Hello, brother.”
He’s had dealings with Crey in the past, both for and against them. There’s no loyalty due to corporations, after all. That’s a right reserved for people. Regardless, he’s never seen a Protector use telepathy to do anything other than attack a target.
“Hello, brother,” the metahuman says yet again, this time more insistently.
“Hello, sister,” he responds, not wanting to risk exposure should this be something normal.
“What are you looking for?”
The question lances into him. Everything he knows about espionage screams at him to lie and go on about his business but something else, something that comes from a deep place within his mind, cries out loudly for him to answer.
“A place that I must find,” he replies, figuring that a cryptic response is better than none.
His unexpected conversation partner cocks her helmeted head. Confusion? That’s definitely something he’s never seen from a Protector before. Thankfully, she says no more and he’s able to keep walking.
“Now that was not okay,” he thinks to himself and makes a mental note to do more research into the Paragon Protectors before ever using their form again.
Adrenaline pumping from his strange encounter, his senses are primed. It’s the only reason he’s able to notice a set of footfalls trailing close behind him. Thinking quickly, he turns a corner and rounds on the pursuer, fully prepared to incapacitate with a mental strike.
He finds himself staring into an opaque yellow visor. “I will help you,” the Protector says, her mental voice almost cheerful.
“Uh…might have a little problem here,” he broadcasts to the team. “Seems I’ve got a tail.”
“Lin, we’re on our own… Devereaux is being pursued. Looks like it’s us four in here.” Paige said.
“Okay, I can’t hide like Nyghtshade can, but I can put a good number of them to sleep. Or I can convince a minion to turn on his superiors… what is our play?” Paige looks up and sees an air intake vent… It isn’t large, but it is enough for three short women to make it out of there. “Or do we practice some new skills altogether?”
“Devereaux, do you want me to find you and provide backup, or continue followin’ mah lead heah?” Nyght sends, on ‘broadcast’ to keep everyone in the loop.
“I’m not entirely sure yet.” Devereaux responds. “She’s not hostile, not yet anyway. She just won’t leave me alone.”
Indeed, he just can’t seem to shake the Protector. She moves when he moves, stops when he stops, all the while keeping up a pleasant, if obnoxious, string of questions.
“What are you looking for?” she asks for what feels like the hundredth time.
“A place I must find,” he repeats.
Her response is just as cheery as every other time he’s answered her. “I will help you.”
She seems almost…chipper. Not a quality the Protectors are renowned for. Though he’s been holding back and she’s seemed content not to pry, he finally decides to try his hand at real communication. “Who are you?” he asks, thinking it best to start small.
“Paragon Protector 03B” she answers. “Spines Pattern.”
He’s relieved to discover that she isn’t a Mind Pattern like the one he’s imitating. That means she can’t intrude on his thoughts or use telekinesis against him. Still, the thought of being so close to something that could decide to turn him into a pin cushion is more than a little unsettling.
“How many laboratories are in this building?” he asks, not wanting to give anything away.
She pauses for a moment, then replies. “Many.”
“Well that’s helpful,” he groans.
“I’m sorry,” she says, sounding dejected.
That comes as nothing less than a shock. The entire encounter has been downright weird but to hear a Paragon Protector, a clone by most accounts, apologize for anything is unprecedented.
“It’s…it’s okay,” he says, not sure if it will assuage her or give him away. It’s unclear whether any of the rules of tradecraft are applicable to this situation.
“Then I can still help you?” she asks, hopefulness clear in her telepathic speech.
He hesitates for a moment, then decides to roll the dice. “Yes.”
The sudden exclamation nearly stuns him out of his senses. This Protector is anything but normal, even by Crey standards. After a few more minutes of walking with her following close behind, he decides to try a different tack altogether and sends another message to the team. “Give me your location. Be advised, I’m bringing company.”
Nyght provides her location by the elevator, and the fact that it’s keycard locked and she’s waiting for someone else to come enter it.
“Again, shall Ah abandon this line of pursuit and return to the file room and the rest of the team… or shall Ah proceed with the current attempt to get down to the labs in Sub-basement Level -3?”
“No, no. Keep going as planned.”
He takes a quick look over his shoulder to make sure his new friend is still following. The sight that meets his eyes is jarring. “Is she…skipping?”
The Protector jumps as she notices that he’s looking at her. Hurriedly, she resumes a measured, serious looking gait.
“Are you sitting down Blondie?” he asks. “You’re never gonna believe this.”
The minutes crawl past, seeming all the slower for Nyght’s impatience. Just as she is about to abandon this avenue and move on, an Elite Crey Field Agent strides up and summons the elevator. The doors open, and he moves swiftly inside, withdrawing a keycard.
As the elevator doors begin to close and the Agent turns to insert his keycard into the hidden panel, Nyght slips in. The closing door nearly catches the end of her cape, and she twitches it inside hastily, thinking, Edna Mode might be right…
The agent pauses, lifting his head, a frown furrowing his brow as he glances around the elevator interior. Nyght silently flattens against the opposite side, mentally pushing the ‘no-see-me’ projection.
The Agent seems to almost sniff the air, and hesitates another few excrutiating seconds, still looking around himself and frowning, before finally turning back and inserting his key-card.
Nyght is suddenly grateful she doesn’t need to breath, because there’s a definite temptation to exhale in relief. She resolves never to wear perfume on a mission again, no matter how faint the trace, and remains where she is, motionless, hoping very much that no one else needs to board this particular elevator.
The doors open at Level –2, and the Agent departs. No one else enters, and Nyght hastily tries pushing the button for Level –3 before the doors can completely close again.
It works, and the elevator continues to descend.
Bubastis looks from Linuial to Paige, and back again, cocks her head to one side for a moment. She finally addresses the teenager.
“I am fine, Miss Pirillo,” she answers. “I saw something impossible, but it did not disturb me.” She turns to Linuial. “Is that why you needed me? Were you dizzy?”
Deciding that it wasn’t time for explanations, she simply replies, “Yes, thank you, Basti.”
“Hold up a second, Paige…”
To Devereaux: “What is it, Xavier? We were about to attempt to join Monique.“
“Join her how? None of you can…nevermind. I’ve got one of the Paragon Protectors following me. She’s…unusual. Seems almost friendly. I think I can keep her from attacking but be ready in case I can’t.”
Remembering that the tag-along is from the Spines Pattern, he amends his statement. “Actually, it’d probably be best if you’re not standing too close together when I get there.”
“…’Friendly’? Xavier, what are you up to? Are we supposed to attack her…or play patta-cake with her?“
“Honestly, I have no idea. This is dark territory for me too.”
He knows he should find a way to ditch the hanger-on and get back to work but something just won’t let him. A feeling in the back of his mind gnaws at him incessantly, telling him to keep her close by.
“We’re almost to your door. Keep Paige and Bubastis back. If this gets ugly, I’ll deal with it myself.” The last words come as a surprise to him. As far as he can recall, he hadn’t meant to say them but that feeling, that unending call in his mind, convinced him to give the warning anyway.
Devereaux steps up to the door of the file room. After performing one last check to ensure 03B is still in tow, he turns the knob and quickly steps inside. She follows like a faithful canine.
“Stay here,” he instructs her.
03B’s response is predictable. “Will you leave? I’ll go with you.”
His instinct is to downshift and handle things in the usual manner but, yet again, he holds back. Instead, he broadcasts a message. “You’re clear. Come out slowly and don’t make any sudden moves. Treat this like a live grenade.”
Linuial steps out from behind a tall file cabinet, her expression sober. She can tell the male Paragon Protector is Devereaux by his distinctive emotional aura. The female one causes her expression to register surprise, but she quickly covers it.
She nods to him without speaking.
“Paige, Xavier is in the form of a Paragon Protector,“ she projects to the girl. “He has a female Paragon Protector with him. Tell Basti what to expect, and then come out slowly. Have her follow you after a second or two. Move slowly, and don’t speak just yet. Wait for Xavier’s lead.“
“Okay… as long as he says he’s safe.”
Paige considers how to explain this to Bubastis… keep it literal, or explain blow by blow…
“Keep very quiet. We’re watching someone VERY carefully.”
“Brother, intruder!” 03B shouts in Devereaux’s mind. She steps forward and her spines jut out from her body at every angle.
“Wait, sister!” he implores. “This is…” How to explain? He begins to try “friend” but decides against it. If the reports are true and the Paragon Protectors really are clones of dead heroes, there’s no guarantee that the notion of friends isn’t completely foreign to her. “This is our ally,” he says instead, hoping she can understand the concept.
“Ally?” 03B questions and cocks her head in that same unusual way. “Brother, this is not an enemy?”
“No, no,” he says as reassuringly as he can. “This is an ally.”
She hesitates, seeming uncertain. “Oh…Well, if brother says so then it must be right.” She takes a step back and, to his relief, retracts her spines.
It’s only then that he notices her position. “She stepped in front of me,” he thinks to himself. Could it be that she meant to protect him? Or did she somehow recognize that, as a Mind Pattern Protector, his place would be in the rear while she fought on the front line? He shoves the thought aside. Either way, the cards are on the table.
“Yes, this is an ally. There are more here.” He sweeps a hand around the room “You cannot attack them. Okay?”
03B’s reply is downright sunny. “Okay, brother!”
It’s not much to go on but he has little choice in the matter now. “Linuial,” he motions toward the healer. “Keep an eye on her emotions…if she has any, that is. If it seems like she’s getting agitated, tell me immediately.”
That message delivered, he scans the room and finds Paige crouching with Bubastis. “Hey, kid, I need you and Bubi to come out here. Keep it slow and steady. I want you to scan this…girl’s brain and tell me what you find.”
Paige closes her eyes for a second and reaches out to her mind… After a few seconds, she pulls back and opens her eyes.
“The Paragon Protectors are numbered in sequences from hexadecimal. Every pod is in series from 1-64. She’s #59. You copied #60 from Psi Shift…” Paige said to Devereaux.
“There is a reason she’s calling you brother. And why she’s very protective of you… She came first in production, so 03B is the oldest by minutes. She’s happy to see you because #60 or 03C was believed to be dead.”
“It…He, is dead. He was killed two years ago. I was there,” Devereaux says, careful to keep the message from 03B. “If these two were batch mates, it explains why she’s willing to listen to me.”
In spite of Paige’s revelation, he can’t help but feel there’s more to the story. His curiosity is piqued but for the moment, there’s work to do that simply can’t be ignored.
“I’ve already tried asking her where to find the Mind Wipe lab. No luck. Anyone else care to take a crack at it? I can relay any messages but keep the questions simple. She’s not great with complexity.”
“Try asking her if she knows where the elevators are,“ Linuial responds. “Or, better still, if she knows how to get to sub-basement three. If there are alternate means of entry, such as a stairwell or cargo elevator, we might be able to get there undetected.“
She addresses her mental image of Nyghtshade. “Monique, are you still waiting to get into the elevator? You might hold off…we may have an alternate plan in a couple of minutes.“
The elevator has come to a stop; the doors slide open, showing no one waiting for it. Nyght, still mentally stealthed at least, peers out, looking up and down a long hall, to search for security cameras. Having spotted a couple, she ducks back inside, mutters her Romani spell, and instantly swaps her costume for the Crey Field Agent one. Then, straightening her shoulders for the cameras, she strides out of the elevator and into the hallway.
The doors slide shut behind her, just as Linuial contacts her mentally.
“Whups, too late foah that,” Nyght sends back ruefully, as she turns to see that a key-card is required to open the elevator door again from this floor. “Ah just stepped out onto Sub-level 3. A keycard’s needed to open the elevator again from heah, and I didn’t find any stairs down this far. So… Ah might as well see what Ah can find down heah till you all arrive, unless Devereaux has anotheh idea.”
She sends to them all a mental image of the first floor route to the elevator, and also a warning that she’s changed back into her Crey outfit.
Paige pondered the best approach to talking to the Protector… But every approach she found came up short. She considered trying to explain Mind Wipe to her but it’s likely to be on a need to know basis. Then there was the systemic approach and asking about the building’s labs in general… But there’s three floors at least, not to mention countless subbasements. Finally, she thought of how 03B’s brother was lost and asking her if she knows where the rest of her family is… But it’s not easy to ask a Paragon Protector if they are Mk 1, 2 or otherwise if they don’t know themselves. (As the old song says, the hypnotized never lie.) What if their relationship as brother and sister is an oversight?
Then it occurred to Paige: raised in a test tube, brought up to be a living weapon, and having human qualities… Sounds like someone else she knows. Bubastis.
She has to be the key in relating to 03B… But how? She continues in deep thought on how it could work.
“I guess that’s worth a shot,” Devereaux says in answer to Linuial’s suggestion.
Then, to 03B, he asks, “How do we go downstairs?”
“Use the elevator,” she replies. He waits several seconds but she says no more.
“Is there another way?”
That seems to confuse her. She’s silent for a long moment. Finally, the answer comes. “I…I don’t know. I’m sorry, brother,” she says with the same sense of disappointment in herself that she showed when he asked before.
“No good,” he tells the team. “Either she really doesn’t know or, more likely, something in her programming won’t let her relay the information. You get that kind of thing with brainwashing sometimes. Mother Mayhem used it on her Seers back home to keep them from giving away secrets if they were ever captured.” There’s a noticeable amount of disgust in his voice when he mentions the Praetor’s name. “I wouldn’t push the issue. It could trigger some kind of fail safe.”
Moving slowly, Bubastis pads forward a few paces, and sits on her haunches in plain view of the female Paragon Protector.
She chirrups softly, a startling sound coming from such a large animal. It could easily have come from a tiny sparrow.
Having drawn attention to herself, she says very quietly, “May I speak with her?”
“She was very startled by Basti moving, but I don’t think she’s likely to go on the attack,“ Linuial projects to Devereaux. “If you think it’s okay, we might try it. She seems more confused, and possibly a little intrigued…I think the word ‘cute’ might be applicable.“
He raises an eyebrow, though the gesture is obscured by his helmeted form.
“Not sure I’d ever call a bio-engineered weapon loaded with neurotoxic spines cute,” he says. “But we’re not getting anywhere so why not? Just remember what I said. If anything happens, leave it to me.”
He turns to Bubastis and nods his ascent, adding by way of telepathy, “Go ahead. Just try not to do that scratchy, bitey thing you normally do.”
The feline woman begins to purr…loudly.
After a couple of seconds, she lowers her head, and lurches forward on all fours, her hands balled into paws. Still purring, she approaches Devereaux and leans…hard…against his thigh, and begins lifting her head under his hand.
Seeing Deveraux begin to flinch away, Linuial raises an eyebrow and a warning hand, gestures, a flat palm toward the floor, in a “just go with it” motion.
The feline woman continues rising up against the Praetorian’s hand, as if trying to get him to pet her. It is the action of any pet cat.
When he finally complies, grudgingly, her purrs become even louder. She seats herself in full view of the female PP, still purring.
“This is your brother?” she asks the helmeted woman, softly.
Linuial watches this performance with the same puzzlement and concern as the rest…then her eyes open wide, with a “eureka” expression. She begins to smile slightly, knowingly.
“Brother?” 03B asks, sounding uncertain and tense.
“It’s okay,” Devereaux assures her. “This is our ally.”
The Protector hesitates and, in a gesture that’s both strange and all too human, clasps her hands in front of her body. “Yes,” she says aloud. Her voice is a gravelly rasp. It sounds as if she’s been desperately thirsty for years.
“You missed him?” Bubastis asks the cloned woman.
“…I wasn’t referring to the PP as ‘cute’, it was almost as if I caught an echo from her that Basti was ‘cute’. I’m making a leap here, but it might be what Basti is aiming for. One of the reasons she wasn’t killed outright is because she had charmed one of her keepers to the point that he had her start calling him ‘daddy’.“
“Yes!” she exclaims, excitement contrasting with her pained tone.
“We were born together but I am older.” She nods and there’s pride in the gesture. “We were…separated but now we are together again!”
All the while, Devereaux watches the exchange with a mixture of professional caution and fascination. “A living weapon with a sense of family. Imagine that. And now there are two of them in the same room. Remind me to add this to the highlight reel.”
Bubastis nods her head. “I understand. I loved my Daddy, but he went away. I didn’t think I would ever see him again. I was angry with him for leaving me. But then he came back. I was hurt, but I was happy that he was back.”
She waits to see what effect this speech has on the clone.
“Xavier, there are definitely a lot of new emotions coming to the fore, complex ones. I don’t sense any danger, more like an awakening.“
“Blondie, as long as she’s not planning to murder anyone right this minute, I’m good with it,” he replies before returning his attention to the conversation between Bubastis and 03B.
The Protector keeps her hands tightly clasped but she seems to perk up at the mention of Bubastis’ father figure. “Your…Daddy? What is that?” she asks, sounding genuinely intrigued.
“My Daddy was like your Brother. He was older than me. When I was a cub, he fed me and took care of me. When I cried, he took me out of my cage and held me. He taught me to talk, before anyone else did. He was good to me, just as you are good to your Brother.
“Then he went away, and I was very sad.” She slowly rises to four feet, takes a couple of steps toward the clone, sits again. “Your brother is very nice. I think you must be nice, too. Can we be friends?”
“Friends?” 03B asks, sounding confused. She looks to Devereaux. “Brother, what are friends?”
“They are…” he trails off. How does one even begin to explain friendship to a Paragon Protector? He settles on the simplest answer he can think of. “They are like us, sister. They protect and…uh…care for one another.”
“But you are my only brother and I am your only sister!”
“Yes,” he says hurriedly, backpedaling in the hopes of avoiding a confrontation. “I am your brother and you are my sister, but friends are like the others we were born with. They help us and we help them.”
03B hesitates again. He can almost feel her mind working to process this new, foreign idea. “They are like us but…not like us?”
“Uh…yes,” he confirms, unsure of what else to say.
Thankfully, his answer seems to be good enough for her. She nods vigorously at Bubastis. “Brother says you will help us. So yes, we will be friends!”
Bubastis can’t smile…she tries to make up for it by purring again. “I am happy to be your friend. I am happy to help you and your Brother. I like to be petted…will you pet me like your Brother did?”
She makes no move toward the clone. Bubastis may not have Linuial’s empathic sense, nor Devereaux’s telepathy…but she has her own animal instincts. This is something that the clone must accept, without further prompting, or it could go horribly wrong.
“Brother, is it all right?”
“Of course,” Devereaux answers, trying his best to sound sincere. “What could possibly go wrong?” he thinks to himself.
03B takes a timid step forward, pauses, and finally crosses to Bubastis. She reaches out with a gloved hand and gingerly lays it on the feline woman’s head. She looks back to Devereaux and he nods, giving her the go ahead to continue.
Slowly, almost cautiously, 03B begins to pet Bubastis. “You feel…nice,” she says.
“Blondie,” Devereaux calls across the telepathic link. “If you’ve got a camera, take a video right now. No one’s ever gonna believe this.”
Slowly, gradually, the feline woman begins to arch her back, allowing her almost infinitely elastic body to meet the clone’s tentatively exploring hand. She purrs louder, closes her eyes, lowers herself to the floor, where she begins to roll onto her back, exposing her belly. She arches in ways that look impossible for an otherwise humanoid body to move. When the clone’s hand accidentally moves toward her face, she rubs the underside of her chin against that hand.
Opening her eyes again, she purrs a final time, and says, “Thank you, my friend. I will help you and your Brother.” Her movements are slow, deliberate, deliberately unalarming as she uncoils and regains her previous 4-footed and seated posture. She adds a final round of purring to seal the deal, her head cocked to one side.
“If you wish my attention, you can call to me. My designation is Bubastis.” She nods her head to the clone.
“I think I know what your Brother needs to find, but I need your help to help him. There is a place here in this building. Not many people know about it, or where it is. Do you know of a secret place, that we can look there and see if it has what your Brother needs?”
Paige is watching intently. And she is trying her best not to react.
Bubastis is playing with fire… Other than Devereaux’s Psi-Shift, she has NEVER seen a Paragon Protector in person before. And she knows how Crey markets them, but heroes know them very differently.
She is astonished that this cloned woman, who is under Grey’s leash, who has no identity, even if she were liberated, and who definitely has the power to take on all five of them and probably win, is reacting this way at all. Paige did not anticipate anything like this when she woke up today.
“A secret place? Yes, there is! It’s-“ 03B stops abruptly. She straightens and returns to Devereaux’s side but says nothing.
“What’s wrong, sister?”
“I’m not supposed to tell,” she whispers in his mind.
“Please, sister. I need to find that place and you are the only one who knows where it is.”
Though her body language betrays nothing, he can clearly sense her reluctance to break the rules. “Sister, please.” His mental voice is insistent, almost pleading.
At last, she relents.“…Okay. For you, brother,” she says, a smile in her voice.
“There is a secret place in the basement. It has all kinds of things in it. There are stairs to get there next to the elevator. You just walk down to number three.” She makes a strange sound, like rocks in a paper cup. A giggle? “The number three. Like me!”
“Thank you, sister,” he says, his appreciation genuine.
“Of course!” she replies. “Anything for my-“
There’s an audible series of beeps and 03B freezes in place. A moment later, a pop rings out. She drops to the floor, utterly still.
Linuial drops to the floor next to the clone, stretches out her hands above her…then looks up to Devereaux, the question in her eyes…along with a plea.
“…she’s not dead yet…” she says softly.
Paige is stricken as she falls to her knees. She has seen people die since starting her time as a hero, but this is the first time a relative innocent has died on her watch.
“No… No, no, no no no….” Her eyes well up in tears.
Devereaux stares at the limp shape of 03B. “Fail safe,” he whispers.
Inside his mind, the cry he’s been hearing since encountering the Protector has crescendoed into a scream. Images flash before him. Two people floating in tanks of phosphorescent green liquid, ostensibly unconscious but aware of each other’s presence. A man in blue and white spandex with a pristine cape trailing behind him as he takes to the sky. A woman dressed almost entirely in red, running along city streets at impossible speeds. Two children playing together in a park as their mother keeps a watchful eye.
It’s only then that he realizes the truth behind the guise he’s wearing. Rage, unlike any anger he’s ever felt before, comes rushing to the surface like a caldera about to explode.
He downshifts, all other thoughts forgotten as he slams his mental defenses into place.
“Brother and sister,” he says, his voice suddenly hoarse as the horrible epiphany sinks in. “Not just clones. They grew up together, had a childhood. They were heroes…”
He turns his back on 03B’s unmoving form. “Leave her, Linuial. Let her go be with him now.”
Linuial looks down at the dying woman. Her shoulders droop.
After a moment, she leans forward, begins fumbling with the blue-and-gold helmet. She pulls it free.
The curly red hair is close-cropped. It is easy to imagine it long and flowing, resting on tanned shoulders. The eyes are open, blank, staring at the ceiling. The blonde woman reaches out and gently closes them.
She begins chanting, but this time no colored lights answer her call.
The song is short, and impossibly sweet. As she finishes, she lowers her head for a moment, then raises it again, brushing fingertips across her cheeks.
“She’s gone.” is all she says.
Tears rapidly dot the upper legs of her pants as Linuial said those words… Paige’s face turns red as she slows her sobbing down and stands to her feet. She takes a deep breath.
“This isn’t over,” she says in a low voice. “I wasn’t a believer of the anti-Crey propaganda before, but I have no sympathy…” Paige chokes back a sob, then continues, with a sharp yell at first “NO SYMPATHY– for those who treat life so cheaply. Right now, if I can get to the top of Crey and shut it down, I wouldn’t hesitate. Today…” Paige kneels down and lays her hand on 03B’s lifeless knee, next to Linuial, “I’ll have to settle with tearing this building apart with the four of you.”
Finding conviction for the first time in weeks, Paige looks up and offers to the team looking at her… “No objections, no hesitation. Devereaux, Linuial, Bubastis… tell me what to do to end this tonight. I’ll do it.”
Linuial reaches out and wraps an arm around Paige’s shoulders, pulls her close. She tilts her head to the side to touch her lips to the girl’s hair.
“Paige, I wish I could promise you that was possible. I truly do.”
When it seems as if Paige will object, she places a finger gently against the girl’s lips.
“You’ve seen Jon. What you may not realize is that Crey did that to him. And wiped away all his memories, his life, his identity, too. All his memories of his family. Gone, like they never lived.
“Jon has been working on taking Crey down, and he won’t give up, either. It’s going to take more than one night, more than a half dozen or a dozen Heroes. We have to stay focused, and committed. But it will happen, Paige. I promise you…and Jon…that. With all of my heart.”
She gives the girl another quick squeeze before she lets go and begins to stand, smoothing her dress as if it mattered.
Paige hugs Linuial back when she reaches for her. When she stands, she says “Thank you” with a soft whisper.
“We can’t bring Crey down. That’s not a job for a day or even a year,” Devereaux agrees. “But we will finish this tonight.” His words are a growl and he releases a fist he didn’t even realize he’d clenched.
“I did some looking around before I…before. There’s more than one elevator bank.”
He reaches out across the mindscape to Nyghtshade. “I need a status report.” His voice is stern, all business. “We’re coming to join you. Which set of elevators did you end up taking?”
Nyght’s shields are completely down, and by now the barrage of thoughts is almost overwhelming, but she has come too far to turn back. Relying now on her disguise as a Crey field agent, the better to focus on trying to make sense of the babble of agitated thoughts pouring from each lab, Nyght moves slowly down a long hallway punctuated periodically by doors with key-card locks and intercoms, trying to sort sense from mental cacaphony.
The Carnival attack has stirred this place up like a wasp’s nest, and people are frantically trying either to secure their labs or pack hastily to evacuate. She pauses by door after door, trying to pick up any lead to Dr. Hill and the MindWipe research.
She can’t help thinking she’s going to feel quite the fool if she’s misread things, and this isn’t the right floor after all.
Behind her, the elevator doors slide open and the Elite Security Agent steps out into the hallway. He straightens slightly, nostrils flaring… and turns in Nyght’s direction. Glancing up the hall, he watches with a growing frown as Nyght moves slowly along the hallway, hesitating at each door.
She stops short before a door marked only #12, catching a babble of almost frantic thoughts from many minds, mostly about backing up data and wiping drives… but here and there also thoughts about needing to work faster, before Hill has that tech’s head.
“What are you doing down here, Agent…?” a deep voice says from right behind her. She turns, to look up - and up - at the tall, burly Elite Agent. He looks her over and asks curtly, “Where’s your badge?”
Nyght pulls a fake Crey I.D. from her jacket pocket and flashes it briefly before tucking it back into the pocket, hoping the copy is good enough. “Agent Dixon,” she bluffs smoothly, “Ah was sent down heah to provide extra security for Dr. Hill, given what’s goin’ on up top.”
He eyes her coolly. “Who assigned you down here?”
Nyght plucks a Superior’s name from his thoughts. “Ashton sent me.”
“Really.” His response is neutral, his expression unreadable, but she can feel his suspicion, although his thoughts are oddly harder to scan. “He didn’t mention it.”
The Elite Agent reaches around her and keys the intercom, announcing, “Dr. Hill, Elite Agent Brock and… Agent Dixon… requesting entry.”
“I need a status report.” Devereau’s sudden silent communication to Nyght is stern, all business. “We’re coming to join you. Which set of elevators did you end up taking?”
“Elevator at the Southwest corneh of the first floor, down to Sub-level 3, Lab #12, key-carded foah the sub-levels,” Nyght replies hastily as door #12 slides open. “Dr. Hill’s lab… and Ah think Ah may have just been ‘made’ by an Elite Agent. Ah’ll stall as long as Ah can, but you all might want to get heah soon.”
“After you.” Brock gestures for her to enter, and follows close behind as she moves ahead into a large open lab, deluged by the mental torrent from frantically rushing techs and lab assistants, all swiftly working at computer bays or packing equipment. “By the way,” Brock adds coldly, as she feels the muzzle of a gun press into her back, “nice perfume.”
“Understood. Stay where you are. We’ll be there soon.” Devereaux finishes his message just in time to catch the rush of shock from Nyghtshade.
“She’s in trouble,” he informs the others. We need to move fast.”
He’s just begun to work out the complexities of balancing speed with stealth when a thunderous crash sounds from somewhere else in the building. It’s quickly followed by shouts and the chattering of gun fire.
“Sounds like the Carnival hit their cue. We need to get to the southeast elevator bank.” Opening the door just a crack to peek out into the hallway, he almost smiles at the rush of people streaming away in the opposite direction of the entrance. “Let’s go teach these bastards a lesson.”
He spares one last look for 03B’s corpse and nods, his determination set, before stepping out into the tide.
“Xavier…buffs,“ Linuial reminds him, hoping he will take the few seconds necessary to increase their chances of making the almost disasterously dangerous run.
Without waiting for his reaction, she begins chanting.
“No time,” he replies. He’s already making his way through the crowd and has no intention of losing even a second. No matter how fast Linuial’s helping hand might be, Nyghtshade may not be able to afford the wait. Besides that, the job has gotten even more personal than it already was.
“Get the others up to speed. When you’re ready, take a left out of that room. From what I’ve seen, this place is essentially symmetrical. I’ll meet you in the stairwell. Make it fast.”
“Understood.“ She wastes no time running through her stock in trade.
“We’re going into the belly of the beast,” she tells Paige and Bubastis as soon as she’s finished. “We go out of this door and take a left down the hallway. From what I can feel, it’s chaos out there, but most of them are heading away from us. We’re going toward a different set of elevators as fast as possible. Even if you are targeted, even if you are injured, don’t stop, do not, repeat, do not engage. I’ll bring up the rear and keep you tablely buffed and keep a healing aura on you the whole way. Basti, you lead, you can follow Xavier’s scent, Paige stay close behind her. “
She places a hand on the door, glances at the other two to confirm their agreement, and yanks the door open.
In the congested hallway, Devereaux moves with purpose. Dodging adroitly and shouldering people out of the way when necessary, it isn’t long before he catches sight of the elevators.
“Hey! Hey you!”
The shout comes from somewhere behind him. He turns his head without stopping and catches sight of a Crey Field Agent at the corner of his vision. The rather burly man is shoving his way through the crowd. “You’re not authorized to be here! Stop!”
He ignores the order and keeps moving, reaching the door to the stairwell just in time to hear his pursuer rack the slide on a pistol.
“I said stop!” the man shouts, gun aimed and finger on the trigger.
“Do yourself a favor,” Devereaux says softly. “Turn around and go back the way you came.”
“Just who the hell do you think y-“ The agent’s words die on his lips.
Without turning around or even slowing his pace, Devereaux lashes out with Terrorize, a telepathic technique designed to instill pure horror in a victim. To his credit, the man keeps his grip on his weapon as his hand begins to tremble violently. The rest of his body follows suit and he screams.
“N-n-no…get away from me! Get away from me!” he shrieks and fires a wild shot that sends up sparks as it impacts a wall.
“I’m in no mood to play with you,” Devereaux projects into the would be foe’s mind. Then he simply turns it off. There’s no struggle, no desperate grab for sanity. One moment the suit clad operative is in the icy grip of his darkest nightmares. The next, he’s laying unconscious on the floor.
“Better than you deserve. Any of you,” Devereaux spits before pushing the door open. He flashes out a quick update as he steps inside. “I’m in position. You might have a little trouble on the way here. Go loud if you have to. Just hurry.”
Paige reaches into her pockets, and hands Lin earplugs, and Basti a beanie to cover her ears. “In case I need to hit someone my way. But like Lin said, not my Plan A.”
As a Patrol Guard charges toward them from a side corridor, Bubastis whirls in stride, striking at him with both front hands, claws prominent. Her pivot carries her past the man, as she completes the circle. Before Paige can react, the cat-woman has lept around her and back into the lead, with Linuial passing the Guard before he can even hit the floor.
The beanie goes flying into the enemy crowd.
The entry into the lab is actually a double-doored foyer affair, with an outer and inner door. And a security camera. “What’s the idea, Brock?” Nyght asks levelly, stalling for time as they wait for the inner door to open. “Since when is it a crime to wear a little perfume?”
“The ‘crime’ is impersonating a Crey agent and trying to infiltrate a highly classified lab,” he replies, “And Crey doles out the punishment. Nice try, Honey, but you can kiss off stealing this research. I might cut you some slack, if you tell me right now who else is here with you in the building.” She doesn’t need telepathy to know he’s lying.
“Oh, Ah always work alone,” Nyght replies airily.
The inner door opens, and Brock grabs a handful of the shoulder of her jacket. He roughly pushes her forward into the lab proper, the gun still firmly pressed against her back.
Paige strides behind Bubastis, who is confident taking point in the group. Behind her is Linuial, who is keeping pace behind them. But her thoughts are still in that hallway… the cowardice of it. Her emotions are definitely engaged towards anger, and she is not relenting.
“Left hall! Guns!” Paige yells on sight as she lowers her body to get through the hallway intersection faster. Two Crey agents rounded a corner down the hall 500 ft. away spotting them.
“Paige, front! Basti, rear guard!” Linuial snaps, her voice low, but piercing.
Now in the middle, Linuial begins “spamming” her healing aura, one cast immediately after another.
“Do it, Paige! Clear the path ahead!”
Paige sees the guards run toward her and begin to draw their guns on her. She stops with her palms pressed into each other about 100 feet away, then turns one wrist down and throws both hands downward with one hand making solid contact with the floor and the other hand slid up her elbow.
The floor shakes from the low-frequency rumble she creates, spreading to them quickly like a miniature earthquake. The guards caught flatfooted as they lose their aim and stumble around to keep their balance.
“Good. Now I have time to do this…” She creates three Sonic Cages by pitching soundwaves from her arms around the Crey Agents, preventing them from keeping their hands off of their ears or moving forward without pain.
“I made them extra small this time. The only way to stop the noise is to fall down flat. Follow me and plug your ears to avoid the sounds!” As you walk past the ‘caged’ Agents, a dull ringing can be heard even if your ears are covered, but not strong enough to incapacitate you if you keep 10 feet away. The guards were spread out enough to make it easy to walk past them.
Paige waits at the end of the last guard to let Basti take the lead once more.
“Move!” the blonde woman hisses, “…there’s a large group massing up ahead, we need to get past them before they figure out where we are.”
The feline woman remains silent, but increases her four-footed pace, forcing her 2-legged teammates into a hard trot to keep up.
Paige sees Bubastis fall to all fours to run at full stride and she picks up the pace accordingly… but not as fast as she’d like. She’s alternating between a hard jog and full out running to keep up without sliding into the walls.
On occasion, she turns to see if Linuial is behind her, and sure enough she’s keeping up.
Rounding a blind corner, there is a cluster of Crey employees in front of the elevators, some entering, some leaving, a couple of Patrol Guards standing watch over the traffic.
Without hesitation, Bubastis throws herself into the thick of the crowd. Crey scientists of every description scatter, several abandoning open elevator cars. The two Patrol guards snap up their weapons and take aim, but are hindered by the danger of cross fire, and potentially hitting their own co-workers.
Linuial breaks into a run, passing Paige and reaching for the door to the stairwell. Throwing it open, she projects to her mental image of the girl, “GET INSIDE!“ Her tone brooks no argument nor hesitation.
Paige uses her legs to create a soundwave behind her to propel her over the crowd, tumbling over the Crey guards,
Linuial ducking to avoid getting struck) and landing into the corner of the staircase before dropping further… clumsily and grabbing onto the banister with both hands to stop her from careening down the stairs out of control.
“Gah! Sorry! Close the door!” Paige yells as she lands, wobbling close to the edge of going over if she lets go.
“BASTI!” the blonde woman calls, still holding the door open, heedless of the effect on the Crey employees.
The cat-woman makes a balletic pirouette in mid air, all four sets of razor-sharp claws in play. Two Crey scientists fail to duck or run quickly enough, and lose important parts of their faces. One of Bubastis’ feet connects with the body armor of one of the guards with enough force to snap the securing straps and rip it halfway from his body. She lands in a balled-up crouch, and springs forward toward the open doorway, and through.
Slamming the door shut, Linuial leans against it and shouts, “Paige, get back here and seal this door!”
Paige breathes in and concentrates for a second… “I use sonic attacks and telepathy… How?”
“Use your sonics…!” Linuial’s voice reveals her tension. “Blast it! Smash it! Warp the doorframe. I don’t care if it never opens again, we’ll find another way out. Bring down the ceiling behind it if you have to, just DO IT!”
Just then, the knob twists in her hand, and the door jerks back an inch, before the blonde woman adds her other hand and strains to force it back into the door jam. “NOW!”
“Move!” Paige shouts to Linuial as she rubs her hands together.
She propels herself above the door in a kick off of the banister, then turns her palms into each other and creates a shockwave directed at the wall above the door at a 45 degree angle into the ceiling. The shockwave perforates the wall and enters the subceiling above the Crey Agents on the other side.
A hole is blown through the stairwell where Paige struck the wall, sending drywall and brick pieces at the team, but that’s not where she targeted. She struck the HVAC ducting, J-Hooks holding lead conduit, water pipes and gas lines, and Lighting Ballasts, separating the heavy payload from their mounts and crashing onto the staff below on the other side of the door. Dust roils out of the hole Paige made… but there’s silence at last. The door held in place.
“There. Now let’s go before more Agents arrive and climb over the blocked door.” She said to the ladies as she dusts herself off… “Sorry about the mess.”
At Paige’s order, Linuial lets go with one hand, still struggling to hold the door closed against an opposing force with the other, twists to the side, and presses her body and face against the wall next to the door jam.
The resulting sound wave leaves her deafened, her ears ringing, and showers pieces of Sheetrock and dust over her head, a falling brick striking her shoulder on the way down.
As she feels the tug on the door fall away, she gradually releases her grip, reaches up to her head, shakes it, scattering detritus.
Stunned, she looks around, trying to assess the damage, then raises her hands and begins chanting, the green glow of Healing Aura reaching out to cover all three of the teammates.
She can’t hear the sound of her own voice.
“Linuial? Can you hear me?” Paige asks… realizing the power of her own attacks and how Lin told her how sensitive her ears are, she realizes she just caused her and Basti a lot of pain.
“Dang it…” Paige grabs her hand and takes her to Basti. “Are you okay?” she asks the feline.
When Paige shouted “move”, the cat-woman lept over the banister to the next level and crouched against the door, her arms wrapped around her head and delicate ears.
In the immediate silence, she unfolds and races back up the stairs, prepared for battle. Glancing around, she sees Paige calmly dusting herself off, a proud smile on her face, and Linuial chanting, covered in dust, a pained and disoriented look on her face, blood streaming down the front of her tunic.
Bubastis walks over to the blonde woman. “Linuial? Do you need help?” she asks, but the woman shakes her head, and breaks from her chanting to point at the side of her head.
The cat-woman points at the trickle of blood…Linuial looks down, nods, and goes back to her chanting.
Still chanting, Linuial addresses her mental image of Paige. “I’m sorry, dear, I can’t hear at the moment. I’m not certain how long it’ll be before I can. Tell Basti I’m okay.
“We should be good to continue downstairs now. We only have two floors to go….I’m surprised Xavier didn’t hear all the noise and come up looking for us. He must have left the stairwell already.
“I’ll need you to speak to Basti for me, until I get some of my hearing back. Let’s go.“
At the door to Sub-basement 3, Linuial presses her finger to her lips before shooing the other two women ahead of her.
“Paige, have Basti listen at the door, and tell you what she hears. We can’t stay here long….even if they didn’t hear the commotion upstairs, it won’t take them long to hit all the exits from this stairwell trying to stop us.“
Paige replies, “No problem… I am so sorry! I hope I didn’t damage your hearing!”
She asks Basti if she can listen at the door and tell her what is going on…
“Y’know, when I said ‘go loud’ I wasn’t being literal,” Devereaux says as he opens the stairwell door and steps inside. “Sounded like you had one hell of a time getting down here.”
He surveys the three women, all of them coated in dust, debris and a fair share of drying blood. “Looks like it too,” he adds with a grin. “The lab’s not far from here but I can’t get a visual on Newbie. Probably best to go in softly if we can.”
“Sounds good to me. Also, stick to telepathy for Linuial for a while… remember when I was deaf for half of a day? Well…” Paige said, not pleased with that part of what she did.
“Got it,” he replies. “Follow me. The hallway’s clear.”
He steps out of the stairwell and into the hall. Sheer habit forces him to perform a cursory scan for threats though he knows there are none. With the team mostly reunited, he leads the way until they’re standing just outside a set of doors marked with the number twelve in bright yellow.
“She’s inside somewhere,” he informs the others. “But I can’t pinpoint her for some reason. It almost feels like there’s interference on the line, not sure why.”
Paige tries to reach out into the room, and her travel stops at the walls, like she is trying to mind read a mountain…
“Wow… I see what you mean. The room is psionically shielded? I didn’t think that was possible.” Paige said to Devereaux, “At least that’s what the US Government keeps complaining about on the news… How in the heck did they do this?”
Pros: Thanks to Agent Brock, Nyght is now inside the lab, where she sees computer CPUs and banks of servers. One end of the lab is sealed off behind clear walls, perhaps high-impact glass or plexiglass, apparently a sterile environment as it contains techs in surgical-outfit protection, packing up an assortment of surgical tools and medical supplies.
The lab is a a big space and everything is spread out across the work floor, while the lab techs are rushing around trying to pack up so they can evacuate. Nyght is confident is’s a ripe field for mentally cherry-picking for information.
Cons: There’s an agent with a grip on her jacket, and a gun pressed against her back. So, what? Nyght thinks somewhat philosphically, Not like Ah haven’t been shot befoah. Besides, Ah can move fasteh than he realizes.
Nyght frowns as she attempts to update Devereaux and the others, but can’t… quite… seem to connect.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Devereaux says with a shrug. “Doesn’t matter though. We’re outside and she’s inside. Time to change that.”
He activates the mechanism that controls the door and slips inside, trusting the others to follow as stealthily as they can. Normally, he’d opt to transform and really be inconspicuous but his repertoire of Crey visages is limited to just the Paragon Protector. After the events surrounding 03B’s death, he’s resigned to leaving that particular guise on the shelf.
Inside the lab, chaos reigns. Technicians and assistants dart about in a mad scramble to secure whatever it is they’re working on before turning tail and fleeing the besieged building. On one wall, a large LCD screen shows an image from one of the upper floors. The scene is swarming with the Carnival and Crey’s security forces. It doesn’t look good for the defenders.
Devereaux scans the room looking for Nyghtshade but there are just too many people. He tries to reach out telepathically but is shocked to receive the psionic equivalent of static. He can hear his own mentally projected voice but it’s nearly drowned in a sea of psychic white noise.
Paige follows Devereaux into the lab, and as before, her ability to reach into the heads of others and look around is just as hampered, as when she tries she gets nothing.
“I guess I’m just sonic powers at the moment… They didn’t suppress all powers, right?” She thinks to herself, and wants to test it. But despite the noise and chaos, even a finger snap or an inconvenient sneeze would bring attention to her. As a precaution, she starts breathing out of her mouth.
Linuial slips into the lab after Devereaux and Paige, Bubastis on all fours leaning against her, her fingers resting lightly on the feline woman’s back. She sees the two telepaths hesitate, both of them swinging their heads back and forth as if seeking something…as Paige turns her head to the side, the blonde woman can see a look of consternation on her face.
Something is very wrong.
The lab is a chaotic swirl of violent and ever-changing emotion. The dull roar prevents her from being able to sort her teammates’ emotions from the rest without focusing, something she cannot do in this empathic cacophony.
She also scans the crowd, looking for Nyghtshade, but doesn’t see her.
She reaches forward and gently lays a hand on Paige’s shoulder to get her attention, then points to the side of her head, swings her finger around to indicate the rest of the room, and shrugs.
Paige tried to say to Linuial what is going on, but like everyone else, she may as well have tried to use her psychic powers to make a potato dance.
“I can’t.” She mouthed, then did a gesture with her right index finger from between her eyes travelling to Lin’s forehead, then with her left hand blocked it well before reaching her head, and dropped the right finger like it was a missed arrow.
Linuial’s eyes open wide, then she makes an exaggerated frown, and nods.
Still holding Paige’s attention with her eyes, she makes a lower case “d” with her right hand, slides it down her left forearm; points at Paige’s chest, and then rotates pointed forefingers around each other at chest level. She gives a questioning look.
Guessing the “d” means Devereaux, she wants her to cover him while Lin and Basti find Nyghtshade, she nods and follows Devereaux.
Seeing Paige turn toward Devereaux, Linuial catches her arm, and shakes her head no. Then she smiles and pats Paige on the arm, mouthing “it’s okay.”
The barrage of psychic white noise is almost painful to Nyght, with her mental shields still down. She snaps her mental walls back up as Brock shoves her roughly ahead and off to the side, past walls of servers. “Let’s see if there’s still time to get some answers out of you,” he growls.
She has no doubt that will fail, but while Brock was hard to ‘read’ out in the hallway, with the painful scramble of mental ‘white noise’ in here she can’t lock onto his mind at all, or anyone else’s, for that matter.
Although she can’t read Brock’s mind to anticipate his movements. Nyght is still pretty confident she can break free when it’s necessary, hopefully before he fires the gun still pressed tightly against her back.
However, she’s got a job to do here. While it doesn’t seem likely to Nyght that she’s going to get any useful information the normal ‘pick someone’s thoughts’ way, she hopes she can at least provoke someone somewhere in the lab into a little ‘monologuing’.
Linuial reaches forward, lays a hand on the Praetorian’s wrist to get his attention. He’s obviously not pleased with the distraction, but turns slightly in her direction anyway. Once again, she makes her signs: Do….you…sign, ending with the quizzical expression, and waits for his reaction.
For a moment, Devereaux simply looks at Linuial, trying to sort out her message. Eventually, he works it out and responds with a nod. “A little,” he mouths slowly and makes an exaggerated motion with his head, sweeping it around the room. Then he raises a hand and makes a clumsy series of signs.
In response, the blonde woman surveys the room a second time, even lifting up on her toes and straining her neck. Dropping back on her heels, she shakes her head, then turns to Devereaux with a slight frown. Taking his wrist again, she pulls him down with her, so that both crouch on either side of the sitting Bubastis.
Linuial speaks, softly, but as clearly as she can, trying to make herself heard by both the cat and the man, but no one else, difficult to do without her hearing. “Basti, I can’t hear. We’re trying to find Nyghtshade. Can you smell her direction? If you can, indicate it to Xavier.”
Bubastis nods, stands on four limbs, lifts her head, breathing. After a moment, she rises to her two-legged stance, squints her eyes, draws her lips back, and begins breathing through her mouth, her face a terrifying grimace of feline ferocity. She stands for several seconds…then her face relaxes…she turns to Devereaux…and points mutely down the left-hand wall of the lab.
Devereaux nods and gives a thumbs up before pointing to Linuial, Bubastis, and Paige in turn. Then he holds up a fist and pulls it to his chest. “Stay close,” he says silently and begins to make his way along the wall.
He stops abruptly at the end of a row of servers. He holds a hand out behind him to tell the team to stop. Though the noise in the room makes it difficult to be certain, he could swear he heard a voice coming from the other side of the machinery. He strains his hearing but still can’t be sure.
Turning back, he points at Bubastis and motions for her to come forward instead.
Nodding, the feline woman takes point, walking lightly and silently on unshod feet. She pauses just behind the last server bank, points directly toward it, then makes a motion with her hand as if skipping over it. She then makes a motion as of a hood arching over her head and mouths “Nyghtshade”.
Squinting, she cocks her head in a listening attitude…then balls her hand into a fist and mouths “danger!”
Though he can’t understand what the feline woman is trying to say, her body language and aggressive gestures tell him enough. Something bad is just around the bend.
He holds two fingers up to his eyes, then brings them together and points forward. “Check it out,” he instructs her, his voice little more than a whisper.
Shaking her head, the feline woman takes hold of Devereaux’s wrist, as she saw Linuial do earlier. She leans forward, to whisper in his ear, ignoring his slight start.
“Nyghtshade and one other, a man, on the other side of this server bank. From their conversation, he has her prisoner and is taking her somewhere. They will round this corner in a moment…”
Just then, she drops the Praetorian’s arm and whirls to confront the pair as they become visible around the machinery…
As Nyght, with Brock right behind her, round the corner of the server and see Xavier and Basti, two things happen simultaneously: Nyght immediately starts to spin away from Brock, meaning to grab his arm and ruin his aim before he can shoot them – but he still has a grip on her shoulder, impeding her speed – and Brock’s finger tightens on the trigger, making the instant tactical choice of taking down the problem in hand before turning his gun on the new one.
Belatedly Nyght realizes how much she’s underestimated this Crey Agent. The handgun spits a burst of rounds, stitching across her side and chest as she pivots. Techs and lab assistants dive for cover as the deafening staccato cracks of the shots ring out, and the spray of heavy caliber ammo tears through her. Stunned from pain and shock, she collapses to the floor in a heap, and Brock trains his weapon on the new targets… Bubastis and Devereaux.
Paige stays behind Linuial and considers her options carefully.
“I could try the ‘Siren Song’ to put as many as I can to sleep, like I tried in Peregrine Island, just minus the Telepathy… but if someone’s ears are covered or it’s a boss, that isn’t going to work and I’d be alone to face them.”
“There’s too many for Sonic Cages… All of these people running around, the sound waves needed to stop them would resonate and just create a din no one would be safe from… may as well do another Dreadful Wail at my teammate’s expense.”
“Liquefy would be stupid in a sub-basement… might have the whole building come down on top of us. I want to destroy this place, but not with us inside.”
Paige hears the gunfire whiz by, and stops deliberating.
“I guess that leaves me with one choice…”
She runs out to the center of the lab into the melee of lab personnel, twists her palms together and punches the floor. Everything within a 40 foot radius jars violently and everyone in that range is on the floor, stunned.
Unfortunately, Paige’s bravado is met with a unexpected problem… she has a front row seat to see Brock aiming at Devereaux and Bubastis at the other side, and moments to react.
As soon as the spray of gunfire begins, Bubastis launches herself completely over Nyghtshade, landing squarely on the shoulders of the gunman. They both rock backwards as the man’s knees buckle under the unexpected weight, and he goes down, finger still jammed tight against the trigger, sending bullets into the ceiling.
With a panther scream, the feline woman’s head shoots forward, clamping on the man’s throat and then tearing away. She jumps up immediately, looking for another target, Brock already forgotten.
Linuial springs forward to catch the falling Nyghtshade, trying to ease her contact with the floor. The undead woman’s distress is close enough, and powerful enough, that the empath feels its effects as if they were alone in the room. She begins chanting, alternating between Heal Other and Healing Aura, keeping the waves of healing going without pause.
She remains focused on the results of her efforts, leaving the battle to the rest of the team.
Devereaux curses. It’s not like him to be caught flat footed but it’s too late to be concerned about it now. He shifts, taking the form he prefers for close combat, that of an Arachnos Night Widow. Seeing that Linuial is attending to Nyghtshade and Bubastis has dispatched the gunman, he dashes to the center of the lab.
The ground under his feet shudders and he stops just long enough to see Paige standing at the center of a group of downed lab personnel before carrying on. As he sprints across the cavernous space, he looks up in time to catch a glimpse of a man running along a catwalk overhead.
Using a piece of equipment as a springboard, Devereaux tucks his now lithe body into a forward flip that sends him sailing toward the bottom of a stairway at the end of the elevated path. He lands in a crouch just as the older scientist begins to descend the stairs. Upon seeing the obstacle in his path, the man pulls up short, nearly throwing himself off balance in the process.
Devereaux stands and makes a fist. The Night Widow’s claws reveal themselves with an audible click. “And just where do you think you’re going?” he asks in the assassin’s feminine lilt.
As Paige sees Devereaux leap over her, she is struck in the back of her head by a lab assistant who has recovered and snuck up on her.
Paige winces from the hit. It was across the side of her head as the lab assistant is clearly not an experienced fighter. It wasn’t enough to knock her out. She spins to see him and sends him into the wall head first with a sonic blast.
That was the only one who was back on their feet. Paige got up and surveyed the area of her attack. 6 men trapped under debris, 3 of them stunned from the sudden fall, and the guy she just sent into the wall. She walks to each of the three that are stunned and delivers a swift shot across the temple of each of them with a broom handle to make sure they stay down.
“Dang that hurt!” Paige said, dropping the broom handle and rubbing her head a bit stunned. She sees Nyghtshade on the ground and joins Linuial and Basti over there.
Under Linuial’s careful ministrations, Nyght begins to stir, and then tries to raise herself up to a sitting position, however shakily. She looks less stunned, although the wounds themselves have not healed in any way, and there is an ugly reddish glint to her eyes, like the glow of banked coals.
“What… Linuial? Devereaux and Basti, are they OK? And Paige? What’s… what’s ouh situation?”
As Nyghtshade speaks, Linuial glances up, momentarily, looks around the room, and sees Bubastis searching for a target, Paige approaching. She holds up a hand, points toward the Night Widow. “Follow Xavier!” she orders, then turns her attention back to her injured teammate.
Paige hears Linuial’s order, then looks at the mangled catwalk… walking up the staircase isn’t an option, and it was her own doing. She skips, once, twice, then uses a soundwave to propel her up to it…
… and does it clumsily. Grabbing on to the rail with one hand, she mutters and gets her other hand on a lower bar and pulls herself up awkwardly.
“There, now I’m on the way…” She walks carefully as she sees Bubastis lunge from the floor onto the hand rails effortlessly. “Alright, I’ll admit it, I’m jealous. We’re here behind you, Widow. Your call.”
“Monique, I still can’t hear,” Linuial tells the other woman, as she struggles to orient herself. “I don’t know what is going on, but apparently neither Xavier nor Paige can use their telepathy.
“I’ve been trying to heal you, but your wounds are not responding. You are pretty thoroughly shot up…what can I do to help you…Inspirations? What?”
A metallic “thump” announces Bubastis’ arrival on the catwalk behind the Praetorian.
Nyght shakes her head, waving off Lin’s concerns. “It’s OK, Ah’ll be OK,” she tries to send, but of course cannot reach Linuial telepathically. Instead, she pulls herself to her feet, and glances down at Linuial, mouthing as distinctly as she can, “Thanks foah yoah help, but Ah’ll heal in time, Ah just need to fe… Ah need to get back into the action, that’s all.”
She looks around, trying to figure where Devereaux has gone, and spots a Night Widow, Paige and Bubastis on the catwalk stairs across the lab confronting another man above them.
“Well… Looks like Devereaux’s got plenty of help…. Maybe Ah’ll just stay heah with you, watch yoah back,” Nyght concedes, leaning against the server bank and trying not to wince too obviously.
Reading “no” from the head-shake, she continues. “Very well, then, if there is nothing else to be done…”
She looks Nyghtshade right in the eyes. “If ‘feeding’ is all that will heal you…feed on me.”
Nyght recoils, appalled. “Neveh – Neveh ask me to do that!” she exclaims vehemently.
The violence of Nyghtshade’s emotion and expression is easy to read.
Linuial catches at the undead woman’s shoulders, holds her face-to-face.
“Listen, to me, Monique. I am immortal…you are unlikely to harm me. You need to feed. You are wary of feeding from those,” she drops one hand long enough to wave in the direction of the center of the room, “and you are right to do so. I’m not going to offer them up to you…I cannot do that. I can only volunteer myself.
“I am a healer. I’ve tried every form of healing I’ve ever come across. This is just another form of healing.
“Know this: even Empathy is a form of personal sacrifice, a giving up of one’s personal energy. Not only is this nothing new to me, I’ve been doing virtually the same thing for thousands of years. It’s just another form of energy. I am drained when I perform my spells, and I must recover afterward, in order to heal again.
“This is my gift. This is my purpose, in remaining alive after all these millennia of loneliness. There is no reason for you to refuse.”
“Besides…” she smiles, “…if I am in any danger, my medicom patch will whisk me out of here. You greatest danger is that Xavier yells at you for it.” Her laugh is as free and easy as always.
“You don’t undehstand!” Nyght cries, the red glint in her eyes flaring as she roughly pushes Linuial away.
Nyght spins and stumbles out into the lab, in search of someone who’ll attack her, some criminal predator from whom she can safely feed…
Linuial runs after her, catches her arm, spins her around. She points to the side of her head, shakes her head.
“What?” Putting her hands on both sides of Nyghtshade’s head, she presses her forehead against the other’s, hoping that with physical contact the woman’s telepathy will function minimally, at least.
Nyght is trembling with tension, and afraid at this point to even risk returning any reciprocal physical contact. She mouths – and tries to mentally send simultaneously – with something bordering on desperation, “Ah cannot –CANNOT– risk feedin’ on an Innocent. Ah. Can. Not! Let me be, see to the othehs!”
She wrenches free of Linual’s hands and leaps halfway across the lab, to vanish between banks of equipment and other servers.
“Basti!” Attracting the feline woman’s attention, she waves, yells again, “…find Monique and take me to her!”
Bubastis surveys the room from her high position on the catwalk, nods, leaps down, and runs, Linuial pounding after her, up to Nyghtshade.
Her face grim: “…if that is your wish, Monique, then know this…I am not ‘innocent’. You may feed on me at will.”
Nyght’s wounds are excruciating, the Hunger rising, and she’s fighting not to succumb. With a snarl, and preternatural strength, she literally throws Linual back, into Basti’s arms. “LET ME ALONE!” she shouts, and springs away again, toward the doors leading out into the hallway.
Yanking the keycard off a cowering technician’s lanyard, Nyght jams it into the inner door lock, letting herself through and out into the hallway.
Before the doors slide shut again, there is rattle of gunfire from the hall.
“Basti, go after her…keep her safe…” is Linuial’s rejoinder. Turning, she activates her ability to Hover, rising close to the ceiling, then “floating” serenely across the room, to land on the catwalk behind Devereaux and Paige, her hands outstretched, ready to act even without the cues sound would have given her.
Duplicating Nyghtshade’s moves, Bubastis, also, snatches a key-card from a stunned and nevertheless wide-eyed scientist, and races through the hallway “airlock” after the undead woman.
Even as Bubastis leaps away, Devereaux keeps his focus on the cornered man. The scientist is clearly ready to bolt. His eyes dart about, searching for an avenue of escape.
“Oh no. You’re not leaving now,” Devereaux says as he takes a slow step forward. “Judging by where you came from and that stupid look on your face, I’d guess you’re the big boss around here. Don’t try to deny it. Maybe it comes with working for barbarians like Crey but you all have that same arrogant sneer when you get caught. So, let’s get this little conversation over with doctor…”
The man says nothing. He simply glowers.
In response, Devereaux takes another step and raises his hand, letting the claws catch the light. “Listen to me very closely,” he growls, the sound seeming out of place coming from a woman. “It hasn’t been a good day for me. I’m not above carving off a few pieces of you until you beg me to stop. Now TALK!”
As Linuial lands behind Paige, she glances around the room…with Paige’s stunning assault, the empathic roar has lessened dramatically. She makes the decision to risk focusing her sensitivity, directing it like radar full on the scientist.
She does her best to speak in an undertone. “Xavier, he’s not afraid of you, for some reason. He is afraid of Paige. My guess is he’s wearing body armor under that lab coat…but he’s already seen that won’t protect him from Paige.”
Paige isn’t well practiced in the intimidation department… Diminutive, mousey and a bit nerdy doesn’t scare many, but she’s too pissed off from 03B’s demise and that hit on her head still stinging too much to care about it at the moment. Sheet rock dust is covering her hair, face, and outfit after her encounter upstairs with the biggest irritation in her eyes tinged red from it.
Her left forearm is pointed at the good Doctor, thumb and middle finger closed in a loop ready to snap a sound wave in case he’s hiding a surprise weapon. Her right hand touching the left elbow in case she needs to yell at Dev to leap out of the way and send Lab Coat here into the end of the catwalk, right where a bunch of dual pane windows are ready to cut his face and extremities horribly.
She wishes she could convey this as a plan to her colleagues but with the room shielded, she is left to resort to Touch and Go tactics. Her gaze is locked on the doctor’s body, waiting for any sign of a twitch or feint.
Acknowledging the healer’s assessment with a nod, Devereaux motions for Paige to come forward. While he waits for her to cross the mangled remains of the catwalk, he closes the distance with their prisoner.
“It must be nice. Thinking you’re untouchable, I mean.” He takes a few steps with a slow, strolling gait. Keeping his tone casual and his posture relaxed, the movement might even be considered sultry were he actually a woman rather than a male shapeshifter. For some with similar abilities, gender was really more of a suggestion. Not for Devereaux. He could imitate women, sure, but he never dabbled in some of the more…perverse applications of his powers.
“Is that why you all feel so comfortable being depraved?” he asks with a wave of his hand. “Because you think no one’s ever gonna come to get you?”
For his part, the scientist remains perfectly still even as Devereaux comes to within mere feet of him. His expression doesn’t change either. It remains an unmoving mask of indignation and superiority.
That is, until Devereaux delivers a vicious backhand that rakes the man’s face with his claws. The triangular blades are sharpened on their forward edges so the blow doesn’t cause any major lacerations but even the tips are able to draw blood and inflict no small amount of pain.
The scientist falls, clapping a hand to his cheek. “You stupid little bitch!” he shouts, trying to reclaim some dignity. It ends up sounding like a whine.
“Who, me?” Devereaux asks, pointing to himself. “Trust me, friend, I’m not the queen around here. Her, on the other hand….” He points to where Paige is picking her way through the rubble. “She can be a real kick in the ass.”
The man’s eyes go wide.
Linuial follows close on Paige’s heels. She speaks softly, “…assuming he is wearing body armor, it will protect him from bullets, shrapnel, sharp objects, but concussive force is another matter. His internal organs will still be vulnerable to compression, shock, and vibration. I don’t know what would work best, but if you have something that would be intensely painful without doing much actual harm, it should convince him to talk.”
“Oh, I know what we’re going to do…” Paige says to Linuial, loud enough that she doesn’t care who hears her plotting, “We’re going to drag this guy outside into the hallway, and I’m going to do two things.” Paige turns away from Linuial, and focuses on the Doctor that Dev as a Night Widow is interrogating. “Since you’re a doctor, I won’t dumb it down.”
“First, I am capable of a sound loud enough to cause multiple fractures of the cochlea. Loud enough to kill the very cilia in your ear that process sounds to nervous energy. Your head will sound like you’re living underwater possibly for the rest of your life. Second, I’ve got two words for you. Broca. Wernicke. I’m going to cause lesions and sever as many arteries in those two parts of your brain as I can. Even if you can muster up the funds to come up with a cochlear implant if I leave any cilia behind, your speech will never function enough for anyone to understand you… and going under the knife to fix that damage is often fatal.”
“I won’t kill you, Doctor. But if you don’t tell this Night Widow everything about what you’ve done with Crey and how to stop it…” Paige steps closer and speaks loudly, slowly, and with full enunciation, “I’ll make goddamn sure another evil thought never enters or leaves your head ever again.”
When Bubastis exits the lab into the hallway, she finds four Crey agents just ouside the door. Two have dropped to their knees, while the others remain standing. All are clutching their heads, seemingly in great pain. Three pistols and a rifle lie scattered at their feet.
Nyght stands in their midst, one hand extended, drawing in the life-force energy of the agents. Her eyes narrow as Basti moves out into the hall. “We’ah all fine heah,” she warns, scowling at the interruption. “Stay out of this, Basti.” On the plus side, her eyes have lost the hot reddish glint. On the minus side, the Agents are toppling over, one by one.
“Ah’ll be back inside in an anotheh minute. Ah just need to finish this up. And… nobody heah’s dyin’ today.” With her other hand, Nyght pats her pocket, filled with mediporter tags, her eyes never leaving Basti’s. “Ah promise.”
Bubastis nods politely, and seats herself comfortably on her haunches, looking interested in the process. “Linuial wanted me to make sure you were all right.”
Every couple of seconds, she turns her head further than a “normal” human could, surveying the hallway for danger. Her tail twitches in a slow, leisurely fashion.
“So, which do you prefer?” Devereaux asks the cowering man. “Would you rather have my friend here give you a sonic lobotomy or try your hand at answering my questions?”
The prisoner hesitates but only for a moment. “What do you want to know?”
“I’m so glad you’re willing to see reason,” Devereaux admonishes sarcastically. “I’m interested in the Mind Wipe project. Particularly where you’re keeping the source code and research data. I already know it’s on site.”
Surprisingly, the doctor manages to find the will to object. “But that’s my life’s work!”
“Must’ve been a pretty shitty life,” Devereaux replies acidly. “Thanks for telling me I’m in the right lab, though.”
The man casts his glance downward. That triggers something in Devereaux’s mind. This scientist, so quick to argue when his project was threatened and so arrogant when he was captured, simply looks away when his secret is revealed? No defiance, no attempt at a pithy retort.
That’s not right at all.
“Doctor, doctor…I never did catch your name.” He knows the information is irrelevant at this point but it’s standard practice to build personal connections with the subject of an interrogation.
“It’s Hill,” the researcher all but spits. “Thomas Hill.”
“Right. Doctor Hill, I notice you’re wearing hospital green.”
Hill starts at the observation but says nothing.
“Gotcha,” Devereaux exults inside his own mind. “Which means your specialty is medicine. At least according to Crey’s usual protocol. Mind Wipe is a computer project. So why is an MD overseeing a bunch of code monkeys?”
“I…” Hill begins.
Devereaux cuts him off. “Before you answer, remember what you’ll be facing if you lie to me.” He jerks a thumb in Paige’s direction.
The intimidation works. “Morpheus, or ‘Mind Wipe’ as you call it, is a computer engineering project, yes, but it’s much more than just lines of code. I was brought in to manage the specimens.”
“Specimens?” Devereaux asks, the quizzical look on his face obscured by the opaque lavender of the Night Widow helmet.
“See for yourself,” Hill says, some modicum of bravado making its way back into his voice. “Storage is right over there.” He points to a large section of the lab that’s cordoned off by Plexiglas. A blue plastic curtain hangs inside the enclosure, baring the inside from view.
Devereaux looks from the structure to the doctor and back. He reaches down, grabs the man under the arm, and hauls him to his feet. Then he wraps an arm around the older man’s neck, claws poised at the jugular.
“Remember, doctor, sonic lobotomy. Now let’s go see just what you’ve been up to in here.”
Paige keeps her eyes like steel on the Doctor’s head, her face as hard as stone. She moves slowly and fluidly behind him as if her unladen arm is holding a gun, still pointed at his torso.
Linuial stays close behind Paige. As they walk forward, she begins to shake her head, blinking as if there were dust in the air. She tries to keep the motions from attracting attention.
“Of course Linuial did,” Nyght replies drily. As she stoops to check the now motionless bodies of the 4 Crey agents, a trio of lab techs pushing and pulling a dolly of crates hustle out of a lab several doors down, and stop short as they take in the scene in the hallway. Nyght lifts her head to stare at them coldly, and snaps, “You really don’t want to get mixed up in this. Go. Away.”
She reinforces the suggestion with a strong mental push, and the techs abandon the cart and flee back into their lab.
Nyght pulls a couple of mediporters out of her pocket and clips them to two of the bodies, activating them and sending that pair teleporting away to the nearest hospital.
Standing, Nyght turns to Bubastis. “All done heah. And these two will be OK. Eventually. Shall we head back in and join the othehs?”
She picks up the keycard, steps over the bodies, and lets herself back into the lab, holding the door open for Bubastis.
Crossing the room takes some time. Partially because of the sheer vastness of the space and partially because they have to make their way over and around debris from Paige’s sonic onslaught. Eventually, they reach the sealed of section of the lab.
Doctor Hill takes a key card from a lanyard around his neck, swipes it through a reader, and presses his bare palm onto a screen when he’s prompted to. There’s a hiss and rush of air followed by several loud thunks as the locking mechanism for the door disengages.
“After you,” Devereaux says as he gives the doctor a little shove. Only when Hill has gone beyond the blue curtain does he check to see that Linuial and Paige are both at his back before stepping inside, himself.
The scene that greets him could be ripped from a science-fiction horror film. Rows upon rows of Carnies from both Vengeance and the now defunct Shadows fill the room. Some lay motionless on futuristic looking operating tables, heart monitors beeping steadily. Others are suspended in tanks of green liquid that glows with an eerie, unnatural light. Carts full of medical supplies; scalpels, syringes, and the like, sit idly in various places throughout the room.
Keeping one eye on the doctor, Devereaux steps over to one of the tanks and performs a brief inspection of a digital display positioned near to it. “What in God’s own name…” he begins. “These scans, they’re-“
“Brainwave activity, yes,” Hill interrupts. “EKG, MRI, you name it. We have to know these things to do the work properly.”
“What work?” Devereaux asks. “What the hell is all this?”
Hill cocks an eyebrow. “This is Morpheus, obviously. What, did you think we could just build something like this from scratch?”
At Devereaux’s silence, the scientist answers his own rhetorical question. “Don’t be ridiculous. It would’ve taken years just to conceptualize and we didn’t have that kind of time. So, we improvised a little,” his voice is almost matter of fact.
“You didn’t build a neural network,” Devereaux says, shock evident in his voice. “You stole one.”
“No, no,” Hill responds, shaking his head as if he’s trying to teach elementary science to a dimwitted fifth grader. “We didn’t steal anything. We simply…repurposed some of the Carnival’s assets. After all, the human brain is fairly similar to a computer. It didn’t take much work to figure out how to digitize their neural patterns. Once that was done, it was just a matter of teaching our coders how to manipulate them properly.”
You’ve finally learned the truth behind Crey’s secret project and it’s even more depraved than it first appeared. Far from being a simple computer program, it turns out that the sinister minds at the corporation have found a way to integrate living Carnival members into the machinery, creating a truly twisted cybernetic monstrosity.
You stand with your team, gaping in a mixture of shock and disgust. After everything that’s happened; all the hardships, the team nearly tearing itself apart, and the gut wrenching death of a being who had once worn the title of “Hero”, you’re all more determined than ever to do anything you can to stop this. But what about the Malta Group and its ties to the abomination you’ve just discovered?
One thing is clear, your mission is still far from over.