Paragon City Stories: Darkness, Digitized
Hosted and Narrated by TIMESHADOW
Act III, Scene 2
Place: Crey's Folly
You and your team mates have managed to infiltrate Crey’s laboratory in Paragon City’s once thriving industrial center and discovered that, far from being out of commission, it hides a horrible secret. The Morpheus Project, named for the ancient Greek god of dreams, is a horrific amalgamation of digital technology and living human minds. It’s also, by far, one of the greatest atrocities Crey has committed to date.
Deep in the bowels of the facility, your team has just been shown the lengths that Crey is willing to go to. Now it’s up to all of you to find a way to destroy their work and get out alive. As you begin to discuss your plans to do just that, the sound of explosions and weapons fire reaches your ears from somewhere else inside the lab.
It seems the Malta Group has come to protect their investment.
Though the cadre of special operations soldiers and intelligence specialists has yet to find its way down to your position, there’s no doubt that it won’t take them long to do so. Hurry and destroy Morpheus so you can turn your full attention to the battle going on up above.
As the Night Widow, Paige, and Linuial follow the scientist toward the shrouded room, Linuial’s distress becomes harder and harder to cover. She is beginning to hear again…at the moment, nothing but an acoustic roar getting louder and louder, accompanied by pain that also increases by the minute. The pain is nothing…she is used to feeling the pain of all those around her, and remaining stoic and unmoved…and the roar is a sign that her hearing is returning…and will return.
There is…something else. Because of the empathic cacophony accompanying the Vengeance/Crey war, she has done what she could to keep her awareness folded inside herself. When Paige stunned so many inside the lab, she dared to reach out toward Dr. Hill, but kept her awareness tightly focused on the man, and pulled back as quickly as possible. As they followed him toward the locked room, the tone of the blur of emotions began to shift, as well as increase, almost exponentially.
Hill pulls back the drape…Lin has fallen well back from behind Devereaux and Paige…she is having more and more difficulty not just hiding her reactions, but even walking forward into the rising waves of emotion. She stumbles…a bit…catches herself, and as she approaches the threshold of the glassed-in room, puts a hand out to the door-frame to steady herself…and snatches her hand back as if it were molten.
Staring at the floor, she begins to weave, clutches her stomach.
In the lab, the few remaining staff, those who haven’t already stampeded, give Nyght and Bubastis a wide berth as the two reenter, and then rush the exit once they’ve moved away from it. Nyghtshade, now in control of herself again, makes her way across the lab and to the entrance of the unsealed medical section, halting involuntarily at the threshhold as the psychic ‘white noise’ increases exponentially inside. Linuial is there as well, poised halfway in and halfway out, and looking distinctly ill.
The effect, as Nyght moves past Linuial and forces herself forward to join the Devereaux and Paige, is like trying to fight one’s way ahead against a mental hurricane.
As she sees the horrors Crey has wrought, as she sees the hapless bodies, Nyght’s hands fly up to clutch her head in unconscious mimicry of those whom she attacks.
She drops to her knees, eyes wide and utterly horrified. “Holy… Motheh… of God….” she gasps.
“The’ah screaming… Without stop…. The’ah all screamin’…”
The blonde woman falls to her knees, and begins retching.
Trailing behind Nyghtshade, Bubastis pauses, kneels, and puts a clawed hand on Linuial’s back. The blonde woman doesn’t look up, doesn’t even appear to notice the touch.
“Yes, they are,” Devereaux says, stunned at the sheer horror his extra sensory perception reveals to him. A chorus of screams, both indistinct and sickeningly unique, assaults him from all sides. He makes to shore up his psychic guards only to find them barely holding against the cacophony.
“Screaming?” Dr. Hill repeats, a quizzical look on his face. “Oh, you must mean the interference. The Countess mentioned something similar when she last visited. An unfortunate side effect, I must admit.”
Devereaux whirls around, the half coat at his waist flaring outward, and jams his claws up under the man’s throat. “Turn it off,” he growls. “Now!“
Even as his eyes bulge with shock, Hill’s face contorts into a grimace. “Are you a moron? I can’t just turn it off. Morpheus isn’t some kind of toaster you can unplug when you’re done using it.”
“Well you’d better think of something,” Devereaux threatens, his jaw clenched. “Before I decide to rip your neck out from between your shoulders.”
The doctor scoffs. “And then what, idiot? You don’t really believe you can stop Morpheus without me, do you?”
“Paige!” the shapeshifter barks. “Blow his goddamned head off!”
“Linuial?” When the blonde woman fails to respond, Bubastis looks up toward the drape she saw Nyghtshade disappear behind, stands, pushes her way forward.
“Devereaux, Linuial…” She stops, surveying the tableau in front of her…Nyghtshade also on her knees, Paige and a Night Widow bearing Devereaux’s distinctive scent confronting a man in surgical scrubs and white lab coat, the Widow’s fist jammed under the scientist’s jaw, practically raising the man off the ground.
She glances around the shielded room…the gurneys, the operating tables, the bodies, the surgical instruments, the canisters, each with a single naked body drifting within.
Paige is not affected by the human array’s empathic defenses, as her telepathy deals directly in dreams and thoughts, not feelings. Her mind is left free to focus on her own darkness…
Devereaux’s words echo in her brain… “Blow his goddamned head off!” This is the point where time slows down for her. It’s the half of a second that takes hours in her head to get past. An excruciating hesitation that forces her into the darkest points in her life…
Paige knows the last part of her promise to the Doctor was a bluff… she can’t scar someone’s brain through Psionics. But that first part… can I really try to harm someone like that?
“How’s it going cricket?” Tahquitz asked Paige over the phone as she is sitting on her bed, balled up with her knees in her chin .
“I’ve had a bad week, Tim,” she starts crying, “It’s never been this bad before… I want to ask Devereaux if any of his Psi Shift copies started taking over his social life? Well, this is getting worse… I’m snapping at my teachers for no good reason. I’ve yelled at my friends without hesitation. I’ve blurted out horrible things to complete strangers. I don’t know what to do… I know you all mean well. But I’ve taken a business card from a stand at GIFT for a counseling group for first time psychics. I think I’m going to start seeking therapy.”
Tahquitz groans, “That shit is worthless. Devereaux already warned you about it, and Ventus vis Vires said-“
Paige cuts him off, “I KNOW! What else can I do?!!” She realize she snapped again. Her eyes are soaked in tears, her face is hot, and her countenance is filled with anxiety and lost sleep for weeks. “I’m scared… I’m so scared that if I can’t get on top of this thing that I’m going to lose myself. That I’ll be out of control to the point that no one can save me if I lose contact and start going on auto-pilot again. Maybe this is it for me.”
“What do you think? You didn’t answer me, what else can I do?”
Tahquitz said “Sounds like you have your mind made up. What would talking you out of it accomplish?”
Two years ago…
Kathy Pirillo was being taken from the Defendent bench as the Judge finished shouting at her following the sentence increase for contempt.
She reaches back to Paige, yelling as the bailiffs both begin to restrain her and take her into arraignment. Paige is crying heavy tears as the state worker she is sitting with holds her tiny frame back from running to the banister to touch her one last time.
Her dress is soaked with tears as Kathy is cuffed in irons and taken, writhing, away from the chambers into what would become her final resting place.
Although now that she thinks about it… the defense team… That couldn’t be… There’s an uncanny resemblance. Paige also recalls outside of the memory, “And why do I have the feeling that I think Kathy was murdered by the District Attorney?” That can’t be right. Nyghtshade wasn’t there… and that man with his head in his hands… Xavier?!
Four years ago…
Rebecca is deep in her closet burying herself with stuffed toys, dirty clothes, and unwashed sheets. It’s the third time she’s had to do this. This week.
She slows her breathing to hide herself further. And this isn’t Hide and Seek. The bruises on her back, legs and face tell otherwise. This is abuse.
“Rebecca? Rebecca!” a man’s voice yells out downstairs. She can’t help but quicken her breathing, as her pulse intensifies. Her eyes begin to fill with tears. She knows what’s about to come. Her guardian, Raul Acosta, has noticed that Rebecca hasn’t finished her chores. Again. But it’s an impossible situation: if she doesn’t clean the house, he beats her. If she fails at school, he beats her. She wants to study, but that takes time from cleaning the place.
“Get the fuck down here now! If I come up there, I’m taking a trophy this time. One of your goddamn teeth!”
“No!” Rebecca softly cries, “No, no, no–” She hears loud boots tromping up the stairs, slowly, then faster and faster. She chokes her words and puts her hands on her mouth. Her thumbs soaking wet from the tears.
“REBECCA! IF YOU’RE HIDING FROM ME.. I SWEAR!” Raul rips the sheets off of the bed, then kicks the mattress off of the box springs. He then flips the frame and box up violently. He then proceeds to her dresser and yanks each drawer open, as she hid there last time. Each drawer flies out, throwing all of her things across the room. Raul eyes the closet.
“DO YOU THINK ANYONE IS GOING TO SAVE YOU FROM ME? IF I KILLED YOU TONIGHT, NO ONE WOULD KNOW. NO ONE WOULD MISS YOU.” His voice then fell to a low register, “And I know where you are. You’re pretty dumb, chinga.”
This is absolute terror to Rebecca. She has never felt fear this strong in her life. She has no hope of leaving this situation. She has no one who will stand up for her. She knows tonight she is going to die.
Raul opened the closet door, and lifted his steel-toed boots. “I WIN AGAIN AT HIDE AND SEEK!” He starts stomping on the flood of clothes in Rebecca’s closet…
Her head spins out of control with those emotions, revisiting each of those pain points faster and faster: Kathy. Shiara. Raul. Kathy… Shiara… Raul… KATHY… SHIARA… RAUL!
Kathy’s last cry in the courtroom, “I LOVE YOU, CUPCAKE!”
Shiara’s threats, “IF YOU WON’T LEAVE, THEN I’LL CONSUME YOU!”
Raul’s boots on her body as he keeps yelling, “I WIN!” with each stomp.
She’s back staring at the Morpheus abomination. Devereaux is waiting for her to do something, anything. Nyghtshade is doubled over along with Linuial, as Basti is trying to help her.
Paige closes then opens her eyes… Inhales deeply… Her fists clenched to the point her fingers are red, knuckles white. Her feet dug into the ground in a defensive stance. Then her mouth opens slowly… a quiet sound leaves her, slowly rising in pitch. Her red eyes focused solely on the Doctor as her target.
This is as close to a warning to her friends as she is capable of giving to get the hell out of the room right now.
Nyght has painfully shored up her own mental shields, although lessoning the near-physical barrage of psionic anguish does not lesson the horror of it. She can see it’s affecting nearly everyone on the team - Linuial is huddled on the floor, dry-retching at this point, and Deveraux’s face is a stark mask of horror and rage.
Doctor Hill seems oblivious to his danger, or too arrogant to admit it. And he has just provoked Devereaux into ordering Paige to kill.
Nyght knows what that act does to someone, the taking of a life, the death of innocence, the burden of guilt that nothing can erase. For a moment Paige hesitates, and Nyght hopes the young girl will refuse.
But as Paige turns to face Hill, her feet planted, her face bleak, and she begins to ramp up a sonic assault, Nyght staggers to her feet and plants herself squarely in front of the girl, her hands on Paige’s shoulders, pleading, “No, Paige, no! This isn’t the answeh, don’t DO this!”
Paige’s anger has not subsided, “I HAVE TO! HE’LL JUST GO FREE! HE’LL DO THIS AGAIN!”
Nyghtshade is unrelenting in her opposition to Paige, insisting on blocking her as she tries to dodge her, “LET ME GO! LET ME GO!”
She looks up at Nyghtshade, and for a moment, her outfit melts away to her courtroom appearance in Paige’s mind, as she yells at the top of her lungs piercing everyone’s ears with a great intensity, “HELP ME! I DON’T WANT TO LOSE MOM!”
The silence is palpable after her outburst.
After the ringing subsides, Paige is seen once more on her knees, her anger hitting a premature peak and crashing hard and fast. She has no strength left in her, crying like she did for 03B. “I– I’m so sorry. I– I…” she stammers as she lowers her head further, then says in a whisper, “I never got to say goodbye.”
Bubastis looks between the standing members of the team…takes a step forward…reaches around the Night Widow…and rakes her claws deep across the man’s back with a violent swipe.
He screams, and falls to his knees, then rolls onto the floor.
She turns and looks at her teammembers. “Does that work for you? You can still ask him questions…but he can never run away again.”
Devereaux holds his posture as Hill falls. Paige’s outburst nearly ruptured his eardrums. The pain is substantial but he manages to keep his voice calm and level as he addresses Bubastis.
“That’ll do fine. Thanks.” He doesn’t have the time or the patience to explain to her that what he really needs from the man are his technical skills as opposed to any particular information.
It’s only then that he notices the psychic wailing has abated somewhat. He can still feel it pressing in on him but it’s not as pervasive as it had been a few moments ago.
Carefully, he reaches out to the others. “Testing, testing. Comms check. Can anybody hear me?”
“..anybo–… hear m–?”
Paige is still to wraught with grief to answer back.
Nyght has dropped to her knees and wrapped her arms around the sobbing girl, rocking her gently. “Oh Paige, oh, Shugah, Ah know, Ah know. Ah’m so sorry, Paige, Ah’m so sorry.”
She stirs and glances up as she picks up, faintly, Devereaux’s attempt to contact them, and nods.
Bubastis turns and once again surveys her teammates’ expressions. “If you have time, now, Linuial is sick, I think. I don’t know what to do for her…I will watch over this man, if you want.”
Trusting Nyghtshade to look after Paige, Devereaux performs a visual sweep of the room. At first glance, it seems no different. All the horror is exactly where it had been a moment ago. But on closer inspection, he notices that several of the machines have gone dark.
“The kid’s still got some chops,” he thinks to himself. “Issues too, but we can work on those.”
“Did you say Linuial’s down?” he asks Bubastis. “For a healer, she’s not very good at keeping herself upright. Is she?”
Bubastis blinks, stares at the Night Widow for a moment. “Yes, Linuial is sick,” she says, unsure how to respond to the second question. She points toward the shrouded doorway.
Without removing her arms from Paige till the girl is ready, Nyght quietly says over the ayoung girl’s shoulder, “Basti, if you can help Linuial in heah, Ah can try to heal her… with Dr. Hill’s help. If she’s willin’ to accept that from him.”
Bubastis looks at Nyghtshade, then answers, “I will try.”
She turns, walks through the drape, steps across the threshold; drops to her knees next to the blonde woman, who has now rolled onto her side.
Putting a hand on her shoulder, the cat-woman says, softly, “Linuial? …Linuial…?”
There is no response. Linuial’s eyes are open, but see nothing. Her face is white, her skin cold, and yet covered in sweat…when Bubastis tries to listen for her heartbeat, it is faint…and very fast, fluttering like a tiny bird in her chest. Her breath catches in her throat…now a gasp, then a wheeze.
Bubastis slides her arms under the woman who is taller than she is, plants her feet, and jerks them both to one knee, then to a full stand. She walks slowly, carefully, back through the doorway, pushing the drape back with her shoulder, and stands looking at Nyghtshade. “I have brought her,” she says, simply.
Two days ago…
Carter is very confused. A week ago, he had two friends he couldn’t imagine going through college without. His fiance, who he met a year ago in Anatomy, and his classmate, who he met in Sociology.
But this week, when he ran into Paige to catch up on how the first two weeks of her classes were like… she behaved like she never met him before. Not only that, but when he started mentioning last year’s Sociology class and her work, she got scared of him. Suspecting he was stalking her as a Teacher’s Aide, she reported him to the Dean.
Paige’s claims didn’t add up; Carter has never TA’ed a class before, and the rosters show both of them attending that class last semester. All the same, he didn’t confront her: the Dean informed Carter to stay away. He wasn’t punishing him, but informed him that some girls go to extreme measures to tell a boy they don’t like them… which also didn’t add up, since Carter was engaged before meeting Paige; she knew of it well before the start of that midterm before they worked together.
After a brief examination of Linuial, Devereaux clicks his tongue in disapproval. “I can’t be sure but it looks like she’s in shock. Whatever you’re gonna do, Newbie, do it fast.”
That done, he stands and walks over to Paige, stepping over Dr. Hill without so much as a downward glance. He kneels next to the girl, still craddled in Nyghtshade’s arms.
“Hey, kiddo,” he says gently. “You did good.”
Then, with trepidation in his voice, he adds, “You’ve been through a lot. Even more than I realized. I…I shouldn’t have pushed you so hard. I’m sorry about that but we’ve still got work to do. Think you can handle it?”
“I… I’m – I don’t know… I need a few minutes.” Paige said, quivering and unable to look him in the eyes. She holds Nightshade tighter and a muted sob crosses her lips.
“I n-never want to feel like that a-a-again. If it gets worse from here, I… i don’t know if I can control my-myself again.” Paige whispers to Nightshade.
The thunder of another explosion booms out. Devereaux shakes his head. “I don’t think we have a few minutes. We’re about to have some very pissed off spec ops guys bearing down on us and I’d rather not be trapped in here.”
He motions in a broad gesture. “But we can’t just leave this…thing operational. You did some damage with that last scream. If you can do it again, we’ll be on our way.”
The girl doesn’t respond. “Paige, please. This is what we came here to do and you’re the only one who can do it. Not just for me, not just to give these bastards what they deserve,” he says, jerking a thumb toward the crippled doctor. “Do it for her.”
Nyght continues to hold Paige comfortingly. “Paige, you aren’t alone heah,” she soothes. “And you don’t have to go through any of this alone. Ah can only speak foah myself, but Ah’ll be glad to stay with you as long as you need – although Ah’ll only be awake mostly at night. But Ah know some good people who can help you start workin’ through things, sortin’ it out and puttin’ nightmares to rest. If you want.”
Nyght looks up as Bubastis brings Linuial in, and Devereaux checks her over. “Ah’ll do what Ah can’,” she assures him, and turns her head to stare at Hill, expression gone deadly cold.
“Doctor… and Ah use the term loosely, because ‘Do no harm’ is cleahly not in yoah lexicon… first yo’ah goin’ to help heal this woman….” And she concentrates, drawing a long burst of his lifeforce forth and imbuing Linuial’s form with its strength and healing power. She takes no measure to assuage the way it feels to him when she does so.
“And second, take a look around you.” Nyght gestures with one hand at the bodies on the medical tables, in the tanks. “These are people doctor, yo’ah patients.” Her eyes narrow dangerously, her voice goes husky with fury. “Ah’m goin’ to give you a gift most doctohs neveh have… the ability to know what yoah patients are feelin’.”
With that, she plunges into his mind and floods it with everything she’s reading off the hapless forms around them, all the pain and horror, all the anguished, maddened endless screams of his victims.
Hill’s eyes bulge, he stiffens and his throat contracts as he begins to scream as well, scream and scream and scream… until Nyght breaks that connection, and he sags back, white-faced and limp.
“Now, Doctoh, it’s time to remembeh yo’ah Hippocratic Oath, and stop theah sufferin’. Stop torturin’ these people, Doctoh. Stop it now, or Ah swear to the good Lord above, you’ll be joinin’ them in theah agony foaheveh.”
Seeing that Paige simply doesn’t have the fortitude to do what he’s asking of her, Devereaux stands. “Take a break, Newbie. Her injuries aren’t physical. You could drain that asshole dry and it wouldn’t help.”
He walks to where Dr. Hill lays, terrified and wounded, on the floor. “Alright, doc, I think we understand each other a little better now. You’ve got no legs, a few scars, and a very clear idea of what’s gonna happen to you if you don’t stop this abomination in the next couple of minutes. So let’s get down to business.”
Squatting down, he takes the doctor in his arms and lifts him from the ground like a baby. With their faces mere inches apart, Devereaux threatens, “You try anything stupid and I’ll let the Mauve Avenger over there send you straight to Hell. Not like you won’t be going there eventually anyway.”
For all his previous superiority, the man trembles in Devereaux’s grip. Tears stain his face and he nods mutely.
“Glad you’re coming around,” Devereaux says with a wry grin. “Now, where are the controls for all this crap?”
“Over there…” Hill says softly, his voice pained and a sob on his lips. He points to a large terminal set off to one side of the room.
Devereaux carries the paraplegic scientist to the machine and sets him down. Then, none too gently, he grabs the man around the waist and hoists him up so that he can reach the controls. “Do your thing, Pinocchio,” he jokes cruelly.
Hill sniffles but complies. The process takes several minutes and Devereaux’s arms are straining and shaky by the time it’s finished but the rhythm of the electrocardiograms begins to stutter and slow. Finally, they go completely silent.
“See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?” the shapeshifter mocks as he drops Hill to the cold, sterile floor. The man begins to weep openly, wracking, full throated sobs that leave no doubt as to his defeat.
Devereaux simply walks back to Bubastis and the stunned form of Linuial, feeling no pity for the monster turned cripple. “Hey, Blondie,” he almost shouts, snapping his fingers in front of the healer’s slack face. “Yoohoo, oh ancient one. It’s time to wake up now.”
The barrage of screams are tapering away sharply, so Nyght risks opening her mental shields again. Her eyes widen as she realizes what is happening, that all these tortured minds are slipping away toward death.
“What did you do!?!” she demands of Hill, but before giving him a chance to answer, she mentally dives into the fading screams, hoping to catch one or more and try to pull them back from the brink.
Nyght goes very still, eyes unfocused, arms slackening around Paige, as she searches for someone to save.
It’s like being surrounded by a swirling vortex of ghostly forms. She cries out to them, but there is no answer. They are dimming, being pulled away into darkness, and she almost despairs, before finding one flicker of light.
“Ah’m heah, Ah’m heah, let me save you!” she pleads, locking onto that one.
The only response is a weary, “Let me go……”
And then there is nothing Nyght can do, nothing to hold onto. The last form slides away into the darkness, and Nyght feels its seductive draw as well. Darkness, judgement, finality….. and peace. Hers for the taking, all she need do is let go as well….
Seeing Nyghtshade’s wan expression and vacant eyes, Devereaux realizes what she’s attempting to do. He steps up, retracts his claws, and slaps her with enough force to send the woman sprawling. Accompanying the swift blow is a stream of telepathic invective.
“Real cute, Newbie! These are Carnies, remember?! They’re the bad guys and we’ve got more important things to worry about! Y’know, like not getting ourselves killed when Malta kicks in the door! Now get your pale ass back here!”
Even in the void, Nyght feels the shock of the blow, but even more compelling is Devereaux’s message, his scathing reminder of her duty. She clings to his presence, uses it to guide her back to herself.
She opens her eyes, finds herself staring at the ceiling, ear ringing from the blow. “Ah’m back, Ah’m back.” She pulls herself to a sitting position and raises her eyes to meet his. “They weah people too….” she murmurs, “but, thank you. Foah stoppin’ me.”
Nyght doesn’t elaborate on what he’d stopped her from.
Bubastis kneels, carefully lowering Linuial’s body to the floor before she arranges the stunned woman’s body.
She turns to Devereaux, unreadable as always, but her voice takes a heretofore unheard tone. “I do not know what you are doing, but I know you are not helping Linuial. Yelling at her is not helping…are you going to hit her like you did Ms. Nyghtshade? This is not what my trainers taught me. I do not think you are a very nice person.
“I don’t know what to do to help her, but I cannot carry her all the way out of this building. I think maybe you are the only person who can. If you are not going to help me with her, then perhaps Ms. Nyghtshade should give us all mediporters, and get us out of here.” She crosses her arms, taking a stance of defiance.
“Yeah, they were,” Devereaux admits. “But that’s on Crey; not us.” He offers a hand to help her up. “You’re a Hero through and through, Newbie,” he adds with a smile.
At Bubastis’ comment he turns to face her. “Give it time, Bubi. After a while I really start to grow on people. As for your mentor, I don’t think a good slap will fix whatever’s wrong with her. I guess I could haul her outta here on my back but there’s plenty of fighting left to do. Think you could cover me?”
The blonde woman begins rolling her head, her eyes slide shut. She lifts her hands, begins trying to speak, but no words come out. She drops her hands, her lips moving…gradually she forms whispery sounds in her own language…it might be a prayer…
Bubastis turns, drops to her knees next to Linuial, slides an arm under her shoulders, cradling her. “Linuial?”
Paige is able to get up, and starts to level out from her collapse. A familiar voice is audible in everyone head once more, “I’m sorry, Dev. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I guess I’m not ‘Pro status’ like you guys are yet. I’m ready to do what has to be done, as long as it isn’t killing.”
Paige looks squarely at the Doctor, “I was close, but I’m glad cooler heads prevailed.”. She then clears her eyes and smiles at Nightshade.
Linuial’s eyes begin to flutter. She raises her hands again, begins to chant, but stops after a few moments. She looks up, blinks, tries to roll over, grabs at the cat-woman’s arm to pull herself to a sitting position.
She presses a hand against her forehead. “I’m…I’m…sorry…” she whispers. “…I didn’t want…I failed you…”
“Oh great.” Devereaux projects in mock exasperation. “Another blue blooded champion of justice. Just what the world needs.”
He smiles at Paige and speaks aloud, “Don’t apologize. Being a pro’s not about killing. It’s about getting the job done. Something we haven’t quite accomplished yet. So if everybody’s done hanging out in la-la land, I’d love to finish this and maintain some of my credibility.”
Nyght straightens, nodding. With a whispered phrase, she is once again in her costume. “Ready.”
With no small share of hardships, you’ve managed to shut down Crey’s Morpheus Project. You ended dozens of lives in the process but there can be no doubt that the potential alternative was much worse. Hopefully, you can find some solace in that knowledge.
Though your team is ragged from its efforts, there’s still more to be done. Crey may have perpetrated the atrocity but the party truly responsible for its existence is the Malta Group. Specifically the Tac Ops Commander, Charles Firenze. The shadowy organization’s forces have invaded the laboratory and are locked in battle with the Carnival of Vengeance. It’ll be extremely dangerous but assaulting them now is your best chance to eliminate the man who callously robbed so many people, twisted and evil though they were, of their lives.
Linuial struggles to her feet, with Bubastis’ assistance. Without asking permission, she begins chanting. The green aura that forms in answer is small and weak at first, but grows stronger. Within a few seconds, she begins to shift through all of her chants, and a gradually strengthening collection of colored auras appear and swirl, widening until all the teammates have been touched by them.
“I see you’re back in fighting shape,” Devereaux jokes as he stretches rejuvenated muscles. “Good thing too. We’ve got a-“
He stops speaking abruptly as a crash resounds from somewhere outside. Thinking quickly, he rushes to a terminal and begins tapping at the keys. A moment later, the monitor displays a black and white image from the hallway. Smoke drifts across the frame. He punches another sequence of keys and the camera slowly starts to pan until the end of the hall comes into view.
A squad of Malta operatives stands in front of the elevator bank. He scans the group, looking for the dreaded Sappers so well known to superhumans on both sides of the law and breathes a sigh of relief at finding none. The good feeling passes quickly, however, as a Hercules Class Titan, its jump jets flaring to slow its descent, falls into the shot behind the human agents.
“Not good. Judging by all that debris they’re standing in, they must’ve blown a hole in the ceiling.”
He turns away from the screen and addresses the others. “We’ve got company and they don’t look happy. Malta’s not playing around. They even brought those damn tanks with legs to the party. We need to get outta here sooner rather than later.”
“Devereaux, anythin’ moah we need from Hill heah, befoah Ah send him off to the Zig medical complex?” Nyght sends hastily, vastly relieved that telepathy seems to be working now.
“No, we’re done with him. Send him to Zimbabwe if you want.”
His mind races as he assess the situation. A full squad of Malta agents, a hallway with no connecting avenues between them and the elevators; he’d kill to have a good Tanker or Brute along for the ride. That particular deficiency can’t be helped though. Still, attacking them head on would be suicidal.
“Paige,” he snaps but without malevolence. “If I give you a distraction, could you pop out and buy us a little time with that voice of yours? And before you say anything about endangering her, Linuial,” he uses the healer’s name rather than Blondie to press upon her the dire nature of their situation. “She’s the strongest offensive weapon we’ve got in a stand up fight. It’s this or wait for them to come in and gun us down.”
The blonde woman nods. “I understand. Just allow me to back her up, is all I ask. I’ve never wanted more for her than I would for any Hero facing danger.” She doesn’t look at the Praetorian, just positions herself behind the teenager.
Nyght stoops to slap a medi-porter tab on Hill, and gives him a steely stare. “Any otheh ways out of heah, Hill?”
As he stammers and points off to the side, she digs the answer out of his mind, yanks off his access key-card, then keys the tab for the Zig medical complex and Hill vanishes.
Straightening again, she shares, “Hill said theah’s a secured freight elevatoh, back right corneh of the main lab, goes up to the surface.” She points through the glass to the outer lab’s back corner.
She holds up Hill’s key-card. “All we’ve got to do is get to it.”
“You got it,” Paige says to Devereaux. “Ready when you are.”
Tempting as the mediporters are as a way out, abuse of them when you’re not critically injured is worse than paying for an Ambulance ride. Paige is all for leaving under her power, no matter how hard it may be. She stands next to Linuial and awaits orders.
“Give me a minute,” Devereaux says as he begins to scan through camera feeds from around the facility. After some time, he curses. “Damn! I can’t get a visual on Firenze. All this will have been for nothing if we don’t put him out of commission.”
He returns to the hallway footage. The Malta operatives are just beginning their sweep of the space but he doesn’t pay them any immediate attention. Instead, he pans the camera in the opposite direction, stopping when it faces back down the hall away from them. “Looks like it’s about three hundred feet from here to the next intersection. One way or another, we’re gonna have to face that squad and their tin can.”
He takes his cell phone from his pocket and holds it up in front of the terminal until it beeps three times. “There, I’ve downloaded a building schematic from the server. Newbie,” he tosses the device to Nyghtshade. “Guard that with your life. I’ll go get our distraction started. You’ll know when to follow me.”
With all the flowing grace the Night Widow’s form lends him, he moves to the hermetically sealed access way, gliding beyond the curtain and out of the room.
Nyght lifts the edge of her cowled hood, loosens the neck of the costume underneath, and slips the cellphone in and down a little further… As tight as the costume is, it’s a safe bet the cellphone won’t be dislodged, even in combat.
“Come on, Paige, we’re following Xavier.” Linuial puts an arm around the girl’s waist to guide her.
As they step past Bubastis, she nods to the cat-woman. “Just follow Nyghtshade’s lead, Basti,” she prompts.
Nyght eyes the equipment in the lab, and all the servers. “Shoah wish Ah had a really giant magnet,” she says aloud, as she reaches the curtained door into the main lab. “Don’t suppose any of you all can generate an EMP?”
Hearing Nyghtshade’s remark, Linuial turns her head just long enough to comment, “…look around the lab and tear open the biggest speaker you can find. It’ll have a whopping big electromagnet driving the membrane. Use that…”
“…and do what? I’m sonic, not electric. Wrong defender. The rest of you don’t deal in energy of that type…”
Paige then looks at the servers, and adds, “… but I can do this.”
She goes to the fan of some of the servers and listens to the fan whine, then using her voice makes a counterfrequency that is past human hearing. The fan noises stop on four of the six racks she is near.
“Tahquitz gave me this idea when I was telling him about our hunt for the keys. Without fans, computers overheat… then fail. I can’t directly influence how they fail, but hopefully it affects the data somehow if I get a large number of them to stop.” After a minute, lights start changing from blue and green into yellow and red on the systems as two of the servers power off… and others slowly following suit like microwave popcorn.
They continue to fail as Paige talks. “It’s not an EMP, but it’s as close to it as I can get.”
“Brilliant, Paige,” Nyght grins, despite the looming danger out in the hallway. “I would not have thought of that.”
“Thanks…” Paige said, then adds “of course, Tahq’s advice was ripping out the hard drives and taking them with us to destroy later, but they’re all locked up with keys, and that’s time we don’t have.”
Devereaux steps through the foyer and approaches the main door. Once there, he activates the Widow’s Mask Presence ability, hiding himself from sight by way of mental suggestion. It isn’t foolproof, he knows, but it will more than serve his purposes. As the doors slide open he slips out into the hallway.
The squad of Malta fighters is still near the elevators. It’s a somewhat standard formation. The hulking Titan in front to clear the way and provide cover for the humans, Tactical Operatives stationed in the middle of the pack, and a single Operation Engineer standing in support at the back.
Hugging the walls as tightly as he can, Devereaux slinks toward the group. His heart pounds as he moves closer and closer to the multi-ton war machine. It’s sensors make it effectively immune to Mask Presence and he’s without the electromagnetic smoke grenades that real Night Widows always carry to mitigate the weakness.
When he’s a mere one hundred feet away, the Titan halts its slow turn from side to side and takes up a rigid forward facing position. “Threat detected…locating vector…”
It’s already too late. Devereaux erupts from his hiding place in the form of one of the Destroyers’ Big Dogs. He bellows and rushes the automaton, slamming a shoulder into its body. The Titan is taller than Devereaux even now but he has the benefit of strength and creativity. Before it can bring its plasma launchers or micro missile arrays to bear, he reaches up and over what passes for its head, takes hold of the rounded sensory display there, and uses the Big Dog’s Fixadine enhanced strength to tear it free.
The Titan reels. Disoriented by the loss of its primary sensors, it resorts to brawling with the studded bands at the end of each arm.
Even as the operatives’ bullets begin to ricochet off his hardened skin, Devereaux smiles in spite of himself. “Time for fun!” he yells and slugs the walking tank with a massive fist.
“Paige!” Linuial yells, “…Xavier’s in battle…!”
With an impatient wave toward the teenager, the older woman scrambles for the inner door, gets it open with the key card Bubastis had passed to her earlier, throws herself across the interval without waiting, opens the hallway door and disappears.
“Basti, time to go!” Nyght exclaims, and heads out into the hallway, hot on Linuial’s and Paige’s heels.
“And that’s what I was afraid of…” Paige runs to catch Linuial in exiting the lab.
Heedless of danger, the Empath throws herself forward until she is within Heal Other casting distance of the Big Dog…and begins chanting and following his movements.
Though he’s locked in a grappling match with the Titan, Devereaux feels a surge of restorative energy. He twists as best he can without releasing his opponent and finds Linuial to his rear.
“What are you doing?!” he rumbles. “Where’s Paige?!”
A loud clanking noise brings him back to the task at hand. Somehow, the Titan has managed to clear enough space to open the hatches on its shoulders. Micro-missiles set into small depressions in the specially designed bay streak outward with a roar.
He finds just enough time to sigh before being engulfed in flames.
Nyght strides forward toward Linuial and concentrates, focusing on the Titan ‘robot’. In the past, she knows she’s been able to use her Mental Domination to halt them in their tracks, unable to attack for at least a moment or two.
As she prepares to act, the Titan engulfs Devereaux in flames.
“NO!!” Nyght shouts furiously. She immediately focuses intently on reaching out mentally to lock onto any hint of a ‘mind’, and hits the Titan with a powerful mental strike.
The mecha halts and stands rooted, twitching with spasming shivers as its flamethower veers upwards toward the ceiling.
Paige runs out past Linuial, “Coming!”
And she is awe-struck. She’s never seen a Hercules Titan before. “Oh, this is much bigger than the armors we fought outside.”
“Paige! No time! Hit that thing before it attacks Xavier again!” She continues spamming her long-distance healing spell, praying that it will protect the man from the flames long enough…
“Alright!” Paige shakes her reverence for the size of her opponent, and throws a shockwave at the Titan to take it off center. It stammers around and starts to teeter backward.
While it is stammering, she looks at a critical point to strike. A piston in the knee joint looks particularly vulnerable for this mech… she starts throwing sound waves at the pneumatic coupling next to it’s intake hose, and it succeeds. The Titan is now stuck limping as it is leaning against shipping containers trying to stay upright.
“Paige, forget about the legs…the danger is the missiles, the flamethrowers, and the gas grenades,” Linuial tells the girl.
“Cut her some slack, Blondie. It’s her first time, after all.”
As the smoke from the Titan’s incendiary missiles continues to waft through the corridor, Devereaux reaches out and rocks the damaged machine with another punch. He’s burned from the missiles’ phosphorous warheads but the Big Dog’s accelerated regeneration is already at work healing the wounds.
The Titan reels backwards before finally toppling over onto one side with a metallic crash. Far from being disabled, it raises an arm and levels a plasma cannon.
With a speed belied by the size of his new body, Devereaux grabs a chunk of the fallen ceiling and slams it down on the elbow joint with all of his Fixadine augmented strength. The limb twitches but the harsh whine of the cannon continues to build so he smashes the joint again and goes right on smashing until the Titan’s forearm is completely severed.
Not even breathing heavily, he’s about to deliver a pithy comment when something small, hard and metallic strikes him in the shoulder. “Too big to be a bullet,” he reasons and looks down to see a small black canister rolling along the floor.
“Oh come o-“ his words are cut off as the Web Grenade explodes, spraying thick strands of synthetic adhesive.
“Oh, dear Star Mother…”
Linuial leaps even closer, shifting to Clear Mind. The spell surrounds her body, and she struggles to get close enough to the Big Dog to enclose him in the aura….
With a squall of rage, Bubastis leaps over the heads of her teammates, falling on the shoulders of the Operative furthest in the back. They fall to the ground together, Bubastis’ jaws clamped around the assault weapon, the Malta struggling to get one hand to the grenades on his belt, while the cat-woman tries to pin that hand down with a back foot.
“I’m getting to that!” Paige yells back, as she thinks of how to handle the artillery of the machine.
She thinks back to her days in group homes watching Giant Robot cartoons and series on TV. She always enjoyed shows like Voltron, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Robotech and Gundam as a little girl. Especially the team centric ones for some reason… struck a chord with her.
Back to the present, here she is in a team and trying to disable one in real life. Kind of unfortunate for her, but there’s something she can do… She looks at the ceiling and sees copper pipes exposed from the burning ceiling tiles. Water!
“Yes!” Paige says as she eyes the sprinkler riser and snaps the covers of the sprinklers off, followed by a vibration to shake off the glass caps on 7 of them surrounding the machine as well as her, Devereaux and Linuial. “That’s the flamethrower. Now for the missiles…”
She considered the missiles… If she can aim well, the warheads in the front should be easier to strike with the nosecaps off, then she can detonate them in their launchers. But they’re built to resist impact until hitting their target. How?
“This is going to be crazy… somebody, catch me in a moment!” Paige pushes to everyone, with no particular hero in mind as she starts running toward the Titan, then starts to leap bound by bound to the level of the Titan’s shoulders, and with her palms, delivers a shockwave on the nosecone, both splitting it apart while thrusting Paige backwards from the recoil of her attack, then she does a quick scream from her voice to try to vibrate the missile in it’s chamber and explode it. The missile goes off, and a loud, bright explosion blows the carrier off of the Titan.
Paige is flailing backwards at a fast rate, unable to turn around and see where she is going to land, so her elation to disabling two of the three weapons of the robot is short lived.
“To be fair, the danger is also all these otheh agents,” Nyght mutters, following on Linuial’s heels and attempting to dominate the group of Malta operatives.
One stops and claps hands to his head, two others are distracted by Paige’s attack, but the others swivel their weapons toward her, and Linuial. A Tactical Operative lobs another web-grenade toward her, and Nyght shouts, Linuial - Dodge!” as she tries to do the same.
She almost makes a successful dodge, but is caught by the edge of the web-grenade, stuck fast, and not close enough to Linuial to benefit from her mitigating spells.
Paige lands roughly as she is tumbling on the ground, side to side, as she rolls to a stop before hitting a wood crate.
She gets up, dazed, as she looks at her team… Basti and Nyght engaged with Operatives, Devereaux pinned in a web grenade. That leaves Linuial, who couldn’t catch a flying teenager if she wanted to without injuring herself.
“Sorry, that’s what I get for acting hastily.. OW!” Her right knee is bruised and stinging sharply as it took the brunt of her fall. “I guess I’ll have to be more careful on the next approach,” she thinks to herself.
Activating her flight ability, Linuial leaps into the air and hovers there.
Heal Other is her only ranged spell, and her Psionic attacks take too long to cast in the middle of a heated battle to waste time on them.
She begins running through her cadre of buffing spells as she drifts over the heads of both friend and foe. Reaching behind herself, she spares a spell pass to send Heal Other toward Paige, then returns to spamming all her other heals and buffs, as she dodges right/left/forward/backward. She centers herself briefly in the air over Nyghtshade, and makes an extra cast of Clear Mind, then throws herself bodily across the hallway to avoid another web grenade. Her dance quickens as an Operator tries to pin her in his sights, and she tries to both confuse him and still move close enough to send another Heal Other cast in Devereaux’s direction.
Paige sees the team fighting in various directions, each one facing a different foe. The Titan refocusing it’s weapons on Devereaux. An Operative pursuing Nyghtshade. Linuial being chased by another. Bubastis in melee with multiple ones.
“I’ve got to help in a different way…” Paige feels her knee and it stings a lot less after Linuial healed it. “The web grenades are limiting how we can move… I wonder…” she touches the remains of one and tries a soundwave on it… it stiffens and moisture leaves it, letting her snap it in her fingers like a candy cigarette.
Paige then quickly focuses a Sonic Dispersion soundwave on each of her teammates: first on Devereaux, stiffening the web grenade leavings allowing him to break it apart easily. Then on the walls and floor around Nyghtshade and Bubastis. Finally, a shot at the ceiling where Linuial was about to be caught in it as she was evading an Operative… the web fell to the ground and shattered as she passed through the area unobstructed, although she winced going through the area from her ears still reeling from Paige’s earlier attack on the building itself.
“Okay, that’s cool.” Paige said aloud seconds before a plasma cannon bolt grazed her head… “GWAAAAH!” Her hair was lightly singed from the attack, forcing her to duck to avoid the bolt from undulating and catching her as it moved.
Paige’s sonic variation turns the webbing trapping Nyght brittle enough for her to wrench free. She throws herself to one side in time to avoid a burst of gunfire from one of the Tactical Operators. Reaching a hand toward those Operatives closest to the Titan, she draws away lifeforce and bathes Devereaux, buffing him with health and energy taken from them.
And then Nyghtshade swiftly boosts each team member’s movement and reflexes, speeding up not only movement but also their ability to recharge their recovery of health and energy as well.
With Linuial and Nyghtshade augmenting his physical abilities, Devereaux is more than strong enough to break free of his bonds, especially after Paige’s clever sonic manipulation. “At least we can fight like a team,” he admonishes before surging upward and tearing free of the Web Grenade.
His time in confinement hasn’t been wasted. Though he couldn’t influence the battle, he was able to make a decent assessment of the tactical situation. Now free, he puts the conclusions into action. Grabbing the Titan’s severed arm in a two handed grip, he hurls it at the enemy gunmen, scattering them and ruining their ability to deliver concentrated fire. Two of the men, slower than their colleagues, take the full brunt of the heavy plasma cannon as it crashes into them. They land in a twisted heap, pinned under the weapon.
Then he turns his attention to the Titan itself. The war machine has leveled its remaining arm. Light and smoke pour from the business end as it readies another bolt of sizzling blue plasma. Devereaux grabs the arm and wrenches it upward, forcing the Titan to hold its fire lest it bring the ceiling down on itself and its comrades.
“If you’re planning on helping, now would be the time!” he grunts as he struggles to keep his mechanical opponent still.
With the Malta Squad momentarily disrupted by Devereaux’s actions, Nyght takes advantage by mentally dominating several of the remaining operatives. Some weapons are dropped, others swing wildly as the operatives suffer from the mental strike.
Paige jogs up to the Titan with Devereaux holding the arm up, then leaps upward to the top of the machine. She spots large cables in the blown-up right shoulder indicating where power would be located, and jumps onto the battery cell, trying to rip the cables out of the robot.
She isn’t successful in pulling it out, so she’s left to a final resort: pitching soundwaves to try to dislodge parts from inside the robot’s shoulder cavity. Her luck improves when she disconnects a Plasma Manifold that causes the gun to shutdown… and the battery to overheat as the cable glows bright red.
“Dev! RUN!” Paige shouts out to him 5 seconds before jumping off of the Titan one moment before it explodes, hitting the ground 20 feet away from the robot in a clumsy fall.
At Paige’s warning, Devereaux releases his hold and turns his back on the Titan, kneeling for stability and clamping meaty hands over the back of his thick neck for protection. To his surprise, the explosion that follows is underwhelming. Rather than searing heat and the sharp bite of shrapnel, a mere crackle and pop are the only heralds of the machine’s demise.
Turning back around, he prods the now lifeless hunk of metal with the tip of his boot and flinches as a fountain of sparks sprays from the exposed inner workings. “Compartmentalized systems to prevent catastrophic failure. Nice.”
With the Titan down, mopping up the last few human operatives is a simple affair. A haymaker here, a hammer fist there, and the threat is thoroughly neutralized. Downshifting to his natural form, Devereaux motions to Nyghtshade. “Pull up that map on my phone. Chuck doesn’t strike me as the type to lead from the front and there’s no doubt they’ve secured the lobby by now. I bet that’s where we’ll find him.”
Nyght nods, turns her back to him, unfastens the throat of her costume, and slips a hand down inside to grab the phone. She turns and passes his cellphone to him.
It might have been funny, but she is still shell-shocked from what they’ve endured, and in no mood for joking.
Linuial makes another pass overhead, topping off health and strength repeatedly until all of her team are at their strongest.
She moves to a comparatively clear part of the hallway, and hovers to the floor. Once there, she allows herself to slump against the wall, then slide slowly down to the floor.
With a final swat and snarl, the feline woman renders her final opponent unconscious. She then looks around the hallway, breathing heavily, spots Linuial slumping to the floor, and leaps over prone and supine bodies to join her mentor, reaching out to her.
The fight over for the moment, Nyght hurries off to check on Linuial as well, since the small healer isn’t looking at all well. “Are you injured, Linuial?” she asks, dropping to a knee beside her. “What do you need, how can Ah help?”
Nyght glances around for an unconscious foe, in case she needs to drag someone over closer to Linuial and share their lifeforce with her…
Linuial tilts her head back, allows it to rest against the wall behind her. “I’m fine,” she says, softly. “Just…tired. …don’t…really know…why…I can’t seem to…”
She closes her eyes, raises her hands, begins chanting in a low undertone. Green and blue auras alternate around her.
Nyght settles down into a kneeling position by Linuial, on the side opposite Bubastis. “Tell you what, you just take it easy foah a bit, and Ah’ll stay heah in case you do need any boosts.”
As an afterthought, Nyght digs out a handful of mediporter tabs and offers them to Bubastis. “Basti, want to check and see if anyone looks like the’ah dyin’, and send them off to the Zig hospital? Do you know how to use these?”
Paige collects herself after that jump expecting a louder bang than she got. But it was just as fatal to the Titan as an explosion would be. The battery cracked, leaking acid internally, making for a smelly but otherwise quiet victory.
She checks herself, and there’s a burn on her right fingers from holding on to the Battery Cable for too long. They’re a little puffy, but nothing she hasn’t felt before from handling chafing trays at a Spaghetti Fundraiser for a local Boys’ and Girls’ Club opening. She’ll be okay.
Emotionally, the rollercoaster has gone on for far too long, and she would like to get off of it sooner than later. From Linuial’s repose, Nyghtshade’s kneeling next to her with Bubastis, and Devereaux rubbing his head from stress, that’s something she sees in common with everyone. Patience is a commodity and it’s running out.
Paying no mind to Nyghtshade’s choice of storage space, Devereaux unlocks the phone and brings up the building schematic. His nerves are frayed but professionalism wins out and he maintains his composure.
“We’re actually not that far off,” he says, eyes still locked on the screen. “If we take a left at the next intersection, it’s a pretty quick trip to the elevator. That was probably an advance squad sent to scout this floor and secure a way down for the others. As long as we’re quick about it we can-“
Looking up from his phone, he sees Linuial is clearly in distress. “You’re definitely not fine,” he tells the healer. “No offense, Blondie, but you look like shit.” Motioning in the direction of the defeated Malta Operatives, he adds, “We need to be up and outta here before these guys’ buddies come looking for them. Whatever you need, let’s get it and get gone.”
Nyght looks over to Linual, sympathetic… and worried. “He’s right, Shugah, you look like five miles of bad road. Tell us what you need, tell us how we can help. Please.”
Bubastis accepts the mediporters, nods her understanding, and moves away, bending down here, there. Bodies begin to disappear, others remain lying still and unmoving. One man rears up suddenly and there is a sharp rat-a-tat-tat until the cat-woman makes a sudden movement, and the man falls back again. She continues her rounds.
Linuial stops her chanting, opens her eyes, puts a hand on the wall to steady herself as she stands. “No, I’m fine…really. I don’t know why I got so tired…that’s never happened to me before.
“I can hear again…see?” she continues. “The tinnitus is low enough I can hear you all now. See, Paige, it’ll be fine. You didn’t do me any permanent damage.”
She shakes her head, weaves, puts a hand out to the wall again. She looks around. “We need to get going…there are bound to be more Malta…and we don’t need to go through that again…”
Cocking an eyebrow at Linuial’s attempted show of health, Devereaux flashes out a telepathic message.
“Yeah, let’s cut the shit,” he says, careful to be certain that only Paige and Nyghtshade are privy to his words. “Blondie’s in a bad way. Whether she wants to admit it or not, she’s not operating at anything close to full strength. But we don’t have time to keep standing around trying to get her to believe that. We’re gonna have to fall back on a more traditional tactic. I’ll be the tank, you two and Bubi are the spank. Try to keep yourselves in good shape. Until we figure out what the hell’s wrong with her, I don’t want any more healing going on than absolutely necessary. You get me?”
“Undehstood completely, and Ah agree with yoah assessment,” Nyght agrees. “As long as we’ah fairly close to ouh opponents, Ah can keep spamming you and Paige and me with heals at theah expense, to take the strain off Linuial. Won’t be on any kind of par with hers, and Ah won’t be able to do a lot else, but we can make this work.”
“Got it. We’re all tired and want to get to the surface, but I’m all for caution over conflict, especially if Lin needs help.” Paige said back to Devereaux and Nyghtshade.
“That’s not how hearing loss works. You won’t know until it’s too late. I’m so sorry, Linuial.” Paige said aloud to Lin and frowning, who she knows is trying to comfort her.
Linuial smiles at Paige, but it’s a weak smile. She shakes her head. “I’ve been around a long time, dear, if anything was going to cause me permanent hearing damage, I think I’d know it by now.” She laughs, softly. “Remind me to tell you about Trinity…now, that was a bang heard ‘round the world…” She trails off.
“Come on, we need to get going, or Xavier is going to be chewing us all out again…and I don’t need to be hearing that….”
Bubastis finishes her rounds and returns to the team, silently handing a few mediporters back to Nyghtshade.
“Linuial…are you all right?” she asks, softly, to which the tiny woman nods.
The cat-woman suddenly half-turns…the tips of her lioness ears can be seen just over her mane to rotate and flick, independently. “Mr. Devereaux, we need to move…I can hear clanking, like that large robot we just fought, coming this way.”
With the Morpheus Project deactivated, its equipment partially destroyed, and the scientist at its head in custody, this should be a time for celebration. Unfortunately, it’s anything but. You and your team are trapped in Crey’s lab with Malta and the remnants of the Carnival of Vengeance hunting each other through the corridors. Chuck Firenze, the man behind it all, is here somewhere and you’re forced to play a hunch in the hope of putting him down along with his men. As if all that weren’t bad enough, your team’s resident healer is suffering from an acute case of…something, that seems to have her reeling after every engagement.
Thankfully, it’s not all bad news. You manage to make your way to the service elevator at the rear of the facility without any further contact with Malta. Still, the ride back up to ground level is plenty stressful. As the doors slide open, you’re met with a gruesome sight. The lifeless bodies of Carnies are strewn all across the floor, each of them riddled with high caliber bullets. Malta didn’t waste time in putting down their attack. A few Crey technicians are among the dead, obviously caught in the crossfire.
After carefully avoiding roving patrols, you come to within a stone’s throw of the lobby. Peering out into the gargantuan room you find Chuck Firenze standing inside what was once the reception kiosk. Though the lower half of the man’s face is obscured by a mask, there’s no mistaking his confident posture or the way he snaps orders at the men assembled around his makeshift command post. A Crey Protector is nearby, shielding the soldiers and two hovering gun drones with a Dispersion Bubble.
You and your team mates are far from being in top shape but all your efforts, all the blood and tears you’ve shed, have culminated in this moment. Do you have what it takes to finish things and get out alive?
Scanning the lobby, Devereaux lets loose a long stream of harshly whispered profanities before ducking back around the corner.
“It’s a hornet’s nest in there,” he says telepathically before bowing his head in thought. He combs his mind frantically for something, anything, that will give them a tactical advantage. “ We charge in, they’ll lay down enough bullets to kill us all twice. Even the form I’ve been using can’t shrug off that much punishment.”
“Ah can try to confuse some of them into attackin’ the rest, and whittle down the odds that way?” Nyght offers.
“That could help, at least. But Confuse works best when you know something about the target. Otherwise, they’ll just stand around looking stupid until some external stimuli catches their attention. We could try a Mass Hypnosis but then we’d run the risk of waking them all up when the fight started. Plus, that wouldn’t do a damn thing against those Gun Drones.”
Head still down, he offers up a different idea. “We could try the flashbang strategy again but I’d need to swap forms on the fly. The only downtime the drones have is when they’re reloading. Get the timing wrong and they could easily blow me away while I’m between shifts.”
“Besides,” he says with a mental sigh. “They’d still have the force field from the Protect…”
His head snaps up, realization hitting him like a thunderbolt. For a moment, he’s incredulous at not having had the epiphany sooner. “The Protector! If we can confuse that Protector, he’s likely to shield us instead of them. Complete reversal of fortune in one move.”
“Well yes, but… once things start goin’ pear-shaped, Firenze is goin’ to be tipped off that somethin’s very wrong. We need to make shoah he can’t bolt…”
“True,” Devereaux acknowledges. “Paige, you detonated those missiles on that last Titan. Think you could do the same thing with a couple of Web Grenades? Chuck wouldn’t be going anywhere fast if we hit him with a few of those.”
He peers around the corner again, searching for Gunslingers. He’s painfully aware that the spec ops cowboys are outfitted with teleporters. One of them could potentially make a jump with the target. After a moment of searching, he spies the signature headgear that marks an operative as one of the deadeye shots.
“Scratch that. They’ve got Gunslingers out there. Annoying bastards, lethal too. We need to come up with something radical.”
“Xavier…“ the tiny woman begins, then hesitates.
When she begins again, her mental voice is still weak, but purposeful. “Xavier….I’ve told you before that I don’t normally use Psionics in battle…but this isn’t a battle. Not yet, anyway. I’ve trained Psionic Lance to draw enemies away from their comrades at great distances, and most of the time, with a bit of luck, I can pull them out without alerting anyone else.
“It failed with the Armor. At the moment, the odds are on my side. The likelihood of failing twice in a row are extremely small.
“If I can draw that Protector to us…you could take your time Confusing him…and we could all enter the room under his protection.“
The shapeshifter cocks an eyebrow. For a moment he seriously considers simply rejecting the idea out of hand but another glance at the forces arrayed against them makes him reconsider.
“Can you actually manage that? That move takes a lot of concentration, even for experienced full-time psychics. You look like you’re about ready to curl up and die as it is.”
“Linuial,” Nyght interjects, keeping the link open to the others, “Is theah any way the two of us could work togetheh psionically? One reinforcin’ the otheh, helpin’ bolsteh focus perhaps?”
Linuial’s brow furrows…it’s obvious she’s doing some deep mental exercises.
She first addresses her mental image of Nyghtshade. “Monique, I have never found a way to make telepathy and empathy work in tandem. There might be a way to do it, but I just don’t know what it is…and trying might go wrong…we don’t want to broadcast our position to anyone by mistake.“
She then turns to Devereaux, looking into his eyes as she addresses her mental image of him. “Xavier, I don’t understand why I’m so tired right now…but this is something I’ve done for many, many years. All I need is the time, and space, to concentrate. It’ll take a minimum of two uninterrupted minutes, as it always does, and I can extend that time, manage it as slowly and carefully as possible.
“I believe I can do this…or I wouldn’t have offered. All I need is support afterward…if this works, that Protector is going to be running directly at me, and he’s going to be pissed. I’m not sure I can keep myself healed sufficiently if he’s only focused on me.“
Her mental voice sounds troubled…but resolute.
Nyght nods slowly in response to Linuial’s private message, accepting the small blonde woman’s reasoning. She ducks her head, frowning a bit as she considers other options.
Devereaux hesitates, unsure of just how much he trusts the healer’s judgement. He returns her stare, searching for something in her eyes and not finding it.
“All right,” he finally relents. “Pull him in this direction but after that you fall back and let the mind readers take over. I’m not messing around here, Linuial. No heroics, no casually ignoring my orders because of some higher moral imperative. Just do your job and nothing else.”
Paige concentrates on the Dispersion Bubbles surrounding the AutoGuns. The bubbles appear to be an energy field self-generated by the guns, so a sonic attack won’t help to disable them.
But she remembers what she tried with Linuial… if it had an effect on her, perhaps… just maybe…
“If I can volunteer to try something I think I learned… Lin, remember when you asked me to try a mass suggestion? I barely blinked for a moment and it affected even you. What if I put some energy behind it?”
Linuial turns to Paige. “We might try that as a backup plan, dear,“ she projects at Paige’s image in her mind. “For right now, Xavier’s just given me the go ahead, and I want to concentrate on just that one thing right now.“
She turns, nods to the Praetorian, glances into Nyghtshade’s face and nods. Then she leans close to Bubastis, and whispers, “I’m going to try to bring an enemy to us. Be ready for anything. And be careful.”
Nyght nods to Linuial in turn, and addresses the others: “Goin’ stealth-mode until Linuial lures teh Protectoh heah and Ah’ve got a good clear shot at confusin’ it into thinkin’ we’ah its allies. Ah’ll be standin’ oveh theah - try not to shoot me or anythin’.”
That being ‘said’, Nyght gestures toward her new location, concentrates and then seems to no longer be among them. She moves away to take up an out-of-the-way stance and waits.
The tiny blonde woman waves the rest of the team back, then carefully approaches the blind corner. Her back to the wall, grasping her long blonde hair to pull it behind her head, she allows herself to bring one eye to that edge, then peek around it, carefully watching for any of the inhabitants to glance her way. She locates the Protector, and watches his movements for a period of time that seems like an eternity to her waiting team mates.
The Crey Protector is alert, and continually swings his head around, shifting his position so as to scan 360 degrees of the room. However…the man he is protecting is obviously taking his bodyguard for granted…he never glances in the Protector’s direction. This is what she was hoping for…to draw the guard without alerting the man he is guarding.
She draws back, places her hands on either side of her head, and begins chanting, very softly. She closes her eyes, calling up the tableau she just memorized…each detail, the locations of each living being. While chanting, she also extends her empathic awareness, focusing it on the Protector and his boss.
After what seems an interminable wait to the others, she pivots on one foot, her hands still in place, and they hear a thin throbbing whistle. It’s hard to tell where the sound is coming from. It stops immediately, and Linuial withdraws, slamming her body back against the wall, once again safely out of sight of the large room.
She waits, pressed against the wall, her eyes open but staring at nothing…then…
“HE’S COMING!“ Devereaux “hears”.
“Get back.” Devereaux reaches out and lays a hand on Linuial’s shoulder. “We’ll take it from here,” he says as reassuringly as he can manage.
Peeking out into the lobby once more, he sees the blue and yellow armored Protector crossing the room in the team’s direction. Though his face is hidden behind the environmentally sealed helmet, agitation comes through clearly in his posture.
“You’re up, Newbie. Give him something good to dream about.”
Nyght has taken up a position out of line-of-sight from Firenze and the main group of Malta. As the Protector reaches the hallway corner, she drops her mental ‘no-see-me’ and focuses instead on making solid contact with his mind.
It’s not difficult, the Protector isn’t mentally shielded. Before he has time to react to the sight of her, Nyghtshade slips into his mind and begins the swift act of reversing his perceptions of duty, convincing him that his purpose is to protect Devereaux’s team at all costs.
The Protector’s agitation ceases. He keeps coming, moving easily now as he rounds the corner, out of sight from Firenze and the other Malta, and comes to a stop in front of Devereaux. His dispersion bubble expands to cover the entire team, as he asks, “Orders, Sir?”
A smile crosses Devereaux’s face as the Crey Protector asks him for instructions. “You’re on support duty. Stay in the rear and keep an eye on the rest of the staff.” He points to the Cryo Rifle held loosely in the man’s grip and asks, “That thing working?”
“Yes, sir,” the Protector responds and lifts the weapon to chest height, barrel pointing diagonally across his chest. “It’s ready to go at your command.”
“Good. Just remember that your primary goal is to keep everyone safe. Now let’s go get paid, shall we?” The shapeshifter adds a good natured chuckle for effect.
“Sounds good to me sir,” the armor clad man replies and returns the gesture before taking a position against the wall between Nyghtshade and Paige.
Seeing no other application of her powers, Paige preps a sonic wave that is split across five of the targets. Each of the Malta gunslingers and auto guns move forward, then abruptly stop…
The gunslingers, including Chuck grab at their ears in pain, as the Auto guns are obstructed from moving forward as the intense sound waves of Sonic Cage register as a wall to it’s movement sensors. Being in a bubble of sound, they’re left spinning in place unable to aim or lock on anything.
But there is a problem. Seconds after the attack, Chuck presses a button on a belt mounted device as a personal force field emerges, dissipating the Sonic Cage in a ricocheted wail. Apparently he’s aware of the team’s capabilities. Paige falls back on her best trick at that point and knocks Chuck back 12 feet back-first into a wall with a shockwave…
…As Chuck fires back at Paige with a hip shot, striking her in the right leg.
Nyghtshade takes advantage of Paige’s temporary distraction to target the Malta agent closest to Firenze, attempting to confuse him into thinking Firenze is actually a Carnival of Vengeance imposter. The agent shakes his head, then brings his gun up, letting off without warning a burst of rounds at Firenze.
With a less than dignified yelp, Firenze dives for cover, dropping down below the counter level of the welcome kiosk.
“Paige, no!” Linuial screams, leaping forward and upward, activating her flight ability to soar over the girl’s head, chanting frantically to get Healing Aura started, unmindful of the fact that she is now completely exposed.
With a blood-curdling panther scream, Bubastis makes a tremendous leap across the room, landing on Firenze’s shoulders and driving him face-down into the floor. Grabbing him by the back of his collar, she yanks him up to his knees, his face spurting blood, and snarls into his ear, “CALL OFF YOUR MEN. DO IT NOW OR I WILL TEAR YOUR HEAD FROM YOUR SHOULDERS!”
…as more gunfire ricochets around the room, Linuial makes a double flip-flop in the air over Paige’s head, then slams backward into a wall and slides downward into a crumpled motionless heap.
Snapping a very unladylike epithet, Nyght follows Linuial’s unfortunate path, dashing closer and beginning to siphon health and strength from the closest enemies and bathing Paige, Linuial and Bubastis with it, then using the foe’s energies to boost her teammates’ speed of recovery and reflexes.
Standing with his faithful new “employee,” Devereaux’s able to observe as Paige launches her sonic attack, and Linuial takes to the air.
He starts once as the young heroine takes a bullet and again when the healer tumbles in mid-flight and careens into a wall. Fortunately, the soap bubble-like shimmer of a force field springs into existence around her in time to cushion the impact. He turns to the Crey Protector and nods in affirmation. Aside from the team’s generally disjointed style of attack, everything seems to be going relatively well.
That makes him anxious.
Scanning the battlefield again, his eyes settle on the supine form of Chuck Firenze. When Bubastis hoists the Tac Ops Commander off of the floor by the scruff of his neck, Devereaux’s lips twist into the shape of a small, surprised, ‘O’ as the feline’s would be captive unhooks a grenade from his chest and drops it at her feet.
“Keep doing what you’re doing!” the shapeshifter orders before taking on the Big Dog’s form again. He knows he won’t reach Bubastis in time to do anything about her predicament and trusts her bio-engineered reflexes to make up for the lapse in sound tactical thinking.
“And get a field up around that one!” he calls over his shoulder, pointing in Paige’s direction. The staccato of gunfire rings in his ears as he barrels into the formation still assembled around the reception desk.
Laying all about him with fists as heavy as medicine balls while high caliber rounds smash themselves against his skin, he thunders, “Regroup on me! Do it now!”
“Paige, can you walk? Do you need help?” Nyght sends, as she darts over to Linuial and hoists the unconcscious woman over her shoulder with surprising strength.
The Dispersion Bubble expands to encompass both Linuial and Nyght, and Nyght reaches out again to draw away the health, the energy, the speed, the very lifeforce of the nearest Malta agents and spiphons it into the small blonde woman and the teenager, working hard to heal them.
The wound is in her thigh muscle. The bullet caught her leg as she was delivering the Shockwave, but it is not clean. The bullet is still lodged in her. An intermittent moan of pain is audible from her as her face is red and eyes wide trying to cope. Paige’s mental faculties are too interrupted to reply to telepathy.
The pain is something she’s never felt before… it’s more acute than a broken leg, which she did have in the past, but it’s persistent and won’t relent. The blood leaving the wound is lessening with each heal, but it’s clear it won’t close up with the bullet still inside.
Sobbing, Paige offers up a reply, “I’m s-so-sorry… I-I–I was r-reckless.” She has to be careful in what she is to say next… “Lin, if–if-i-if I start to s-s-scream, knock me out. I’m t-t-trying my best not to s-s-scream. I-i-i did it wh-when I broke my leg… If I do, I could l-l-level the building.”
Paige looks behind her, and realizes she’s leaning on a planter. No one is there as a force field raises up, and the gunfire and melee continues.
“I’ve failed…” Paige thinks to herself as the pain encourages her to pass out. She fights the urge, but succumbs to it as she sees a purple blur fly over the battlescene growing more and more distant as her eyes close.
Between punches, Devereaux manages to glance back over his shoulder and get a glimpse of Paige, Linuial, and Nyghtshade. The girl seems to be in good hands but there isn’t time to be sure as a Gunslinger flashes into existence and launches a fusillade with both of his tactical sidearms.
Grunting against the pain, Devereaux grabs a chunk of the reception desk, rips it free of the rest, and flings it. His target simply teleports away. “Obnoxious little shit,” he rages. Before he can try to determine where the marksman disappeared to, he’s peppered with a torrent of bullets from one of the automated gun turrets. He raises an arm to protect himself but he can feel the sting as the rounds bite into his skin. The Big Dogs were renowned in Praetoria for their superhuman durability but they were far from invincible, a fact that’s proving rather inconvenient now that he’s surrounded and being fired upon from all angles.
With the knowledge that he needs to act or be gunned down, Devereaux raises a foot and slams it back to earth. The resulting shockwave sends gunmen flying backwards to crash against whatever obstacles are present to halt their flight. For their part, the drones waver slightly but keep up their steady onslaught.
Nyght drops down beside Paige, letting Linuial slide limply to the floor, and reaches over to slap Paige’s face. “Paige, Wake! Up!!” she sends urgently. “Ah know it hurts, but you’ve got to get back in the game. We need you. Linuial NEEDS you! WAKE - UP - PAIGE!!”
The slap returned Paige to wakefulness.
A searing reminder of why she passed out is the first sensation she feels… before she processes Nyghtshade’s face. Before she even recognizes that she is still in danger, or that her teammates need her.
She screams at the top of her lungs like a ship-bound siren, then catches herself in mid-scream covering her mouth… as everyone is grabbing their ears, ceiling tiles fall, and office windows crack.
“Nyght? I–I can’t control… I…” Paige says while trying to stop herself from screaming once more.
Linuial’s body shimmers, fades, and vanishes, leaving behind only a shockingly large pool of blood.
Nyght winces in pain from Paige’s outburst, but resists the urge to clap her hands over her hooded ears. Instead, she cradles Paige’s face in both gloved hands. “Shugah, yo’ah NOT going to scream like that again. If you do, it’ll tear through me first, but yo’ah NOT goin’ to do it, because no matteh what yoah powehs are, yo’ah going to choose to control them.”
“We could do terrible things with ouh powehs, you and Ah, but every day, every day we choose not to. We choose to rein it in, pull it back, CONTROL it, control ouhselves. Yo’ah a Hero, Paige, and that’s what you do. Now breathe, out, in, out, in, get control, Shugah….”
Nyght breaks off as she sees, behind Paige, Linuial’s body vanish… leaving only blood. But there’s no time to mourn, no time to try and find out what it means. Now, she can only help those still here.
Bubastis makes a great leap halfway across the room, still clutching Firenze by the scruff of his neck. As the grenade goes off behind her, she makes a second leap, bringing herself and the Malta boss back to the protection afforded by the Crey Protector’s bubble.
“But it stings… I can’t… Ah! AHHH!” Another sharp blast from her lungs, and light ballasts fall above her, sending sparks and additional dust onto the ladies.
“I can’t focus! My mind… psionics are impossible. My leg! Aah! My–” Paige points her head toward one Gunslinger and does a more focused scream, as the Gunslinger slumps to the ground, twitching. “Gaaah! I need… I just… I-I-“ She’s starting to hyperventilate. If she’s not careful, she will pass out again from shock, and hard.
Seeing Bubastis arc overhead and back into the safety of the force field, Devereaux makes a decision. With a final surge of effort he steps forward, bearing the full brunt of the drone’s attack, and delivers a blow that staves in its armor plating. For a moment the dual rotary guns continue to spin, billowing smoke accompanied by the tortured groan of metal. After a moment they fall silent and the deadly little turret drops out of the air with a clank.
Before anything else can go wrong, he takes hold of the remnants of the reception kiosk and hurls them to either side of him. The makeshift projectiles force the Malta operatives to move or be crushed by their bulk.
“We’re getting outta here!” he roars as he rushes back to join the team, the occasional shot crackling behind him as it strikes the force field. Dropping to one knee, he winces. The chatter of gunfire had kept him from hearing Piage’s anguished cries but now that he’s close enough to make them out the pain they inflict is excruciating. “C’mon, kid,” he grits past a tightly clenched jaw before gingerly taking the wounded girl into his arms. “Try not to pop my head like a zit, okay?”
Then, to Bubastis he says, “I’ll make a hole. Bring him,” and points at Firenze still clutched in her grip.
Cradling Paige close to his chest for protection, he stands and launches himself into a headlong charge toward the door.
Nyght springs to her feet and follows, taking a last shot at spamming drains and heals as they move past any downed Malta, and sticking close to the Crey Protector who’s keeping pace, keeping them shielded and covering their retreat.
Paige does her best to stifle her voice as Devereaux carries her, with her wounded leg hanging limp and still stinging with every step from Dev.
This isn’t easy for her to do, and with the occasional drop from a staircase or leap across thrown furniture arranged into barricades for the now dead assailants from outside, it’s a pronounced sting that causes her to scream involuntarily. She takes care to point her head away from Devereaux and Nyghtshade to release the energy on occasion, smashing drywall, windows, and columns here and there.
Bubastis trips the Malta boss, shoving his bloody face into the floor again. She rips one of the straps from his body armor, puts a knee in the middle of his back, forces his hands back, and makes a rough knot around his wrists. It’s sloppy, but it might hold him for a few seconds. She again hauls him to his feet, and shoves him after Devereaux.
Barreling out of the lab and into the streets of Crey’s Folly, heedless of anything or anyone that gets in his way, Devereaux skids around a corner and into an alley. He’s winded and a headache is clawing at his temples but he has the presence of mind to check for pursuit before carefully setting Paige down on the pavement.
“Well that didn’t go according to plan,” he grumbles as he tries to massage the pain from his skull. “We need to exfill, now. Malta doesn’t leave men in the field. If they can’t get this asshole back they’ll kill him to protect their secrets.”
Then, remembering that Firenze isn’t the only person to disappear from a team’s ranks in the last few minutes, he adds, “And just what the hell happened to Blondie? I looked back and she was gone.”
“Looks like Linuial mediported out,” Nyght offers. “At least, Ah hope that’s what happened, and not some weird Elf’y thing. We can check with the local hospital, once we’ah cleah heah.”
Mentally she adds for Devereaux alone, “Do we need to slap a mediporteh on Paige heah, and send her off for medical help too? Ah’ve no way to heal her, not like Linuial could, and Paige’s in a lot of pain. Which, cleahly, wrecks her sonic control.”
Her gaze tracks to Bubastis and Firenze, as she adds aloud, “And we need turn Mr. Firenze heah oveh to the Authorities, as soon as possible, yes?”
The words are barely out of Nyghtshade’s mouth when the Malta operative gives a tremendous wrench of his shoulders, and the hurried knots Bubastis tied in the coarse strap material release. For the second time, he drops a grenade from his belt, then delivers a powerful kick to Nyghtshade’s solar plexus before pounding in the opposite direction.
Bubastis stoops, grabs the grenade, and throws it completely out of sight back in the direction from whence they came. She turns back in the fleeing man’s direction and makes one huge leap, landing in the middle of his back.
Grabbing his hair, she bangs his forehead against the pavement once, twice, three times. The struggling form goes limp.
Looking back at the remainder of the team, she hisses, “…as soon as possible! Ms. Nyghtshade sent that doctor directly to the Zig medical facility, did she not?”
Nyght climbs stiffly back to her feet, though she doesn’t look winded, and digs a mediporter from her pouch.
Curling her shoulders and ducking her head as the grenade explodes far off to the side, she moves toward Firenze and drops to one knee, firmly attaching the teleporter tag and setting it for the Zig infirmary. Before activating it, though, Nyght frisks Firenze’s limp body, stripping everything else off his belt, including one remaining grenade, a couple of knives, what is probably the control for his personal forcefield, and a wicked-looking pistol hidden in a side holster, all of which she tosses off to the side.
Without taking her eyes off Firenze, Nyght says aloud, “Yoah call, Mr. Devereaux. Send this pig to the Zig now, and try to extract info from him lateh, or go dumpsteh-divin’ heah first, to see what we can get from him while we’ve got him?”
Bubastis lifts her head, looking back at the Crey facility they so hastily abandoned just minutes earlier, her mobile ears doing semaphores. “Not here,” she growls. “That grenade attracted the attention of…someone…and they are headed this way. Regardless of who they are, they are not our friends.”
She attempts to haul the unconscious Malta boss to his feet, but even with her tiger-DNA strength, picking him up is a task beyond her. She looks to Nyghtshade as she tugs one of his arms around her shoulders. “Help me with him…”
“…there you are…” a man’s voice comes out of the darkness ahead.
As the team jump and prepare to fight, a flashlight snaps on, and Maggot Man shines it on his own masked face.
Several other figures can be seen behind him.
A huge figure, naked from the waist up, with emerald green skin, a crimson handprint tattooed on his chest, and startling red ram’s horns springing from his forehead, steps forward and picks up the limp Malta boss as if he was a child’s toy. He nods to Nyghtshade, and says, “Blood Nut, ma’am, you must be Nyghtshade. Lin told us about you.”
Never one to hide her emotions, Nyght’s relief at seeing the reinforcements is plain. “Good to see you. Ah think we’ah, what is the term, buggin’ out?” She looks back the way they came from for any hint of pursuit, and then to Devereaux for confirmation on a swift departure.
But she can’t help adding, “Linuial? Is she going to be OK?”
“…we can talk about that later,” Maggot Man replies. “Right now, your playmates probably heard the same grenade we did, and are on their way here. We’re just lucky we got to you first.”
He walks over to the Praetorian, surveys him up and down with a critical eye. “You don’t look so good yourself, Devereaux. I’ll take the girl off your hands so we can move faster.” He suits the action to the word.
“I’ll be fine,” he says in response to Maggot Man’s appraisal. “This guy’s built to take a beating.” Indeed, the minor wounds gouged out by high caliber weapons fire are even then in the process of sealing themselves. It’s hardly instantaneous regeneration but the Big Dog’s thick orange hide is definitely piecing itself back together.
Devereaux tenses reflexively as Maggot Man scoops Paige from the ground but he covers the gesture before any of the assembled can notice. “Do what you can for them. I’ve still got something to take care of here. Rendezvous at the Brickstown gate in two hours.”
Not waiting to hear any objections, he downshifts to his normal form for a moment before reacquiring the Night Widow’s appearance. Bending at the knees, he launches himself into an Olympic class vertical leap, grabs a ledge and deftly bounds from handhold to handhold until he’s high enough to disappear over the edge of the roof.
“Wait, sir…er, ma’am! You forgot about me!” the Crey Protector calls before inching his way around the assembled Heroes and out into the night.
“…what on earth…?” Maggot Man rumbles, carefully holding the sniffling girl to his chest.
Brother Mathias shrugs, hardy visible in the dark. “Whatever. He wants us to meet him at the Brickstown gate in two hours…let’s do it.”
Maggot Man shakes his head. “I’m not going to make this girl wait two hours for medical attention, she could bleed to death by then. You guys follow his instructions, I’m heading for the Hospital. Call me when you know something.”
“What do we do about him?” Bubastis asks, pointing at the unconscious Chuck Firenze.
Blood Nut shrugs. “You got me. Hospital?”
“If he wakes up, he’s a danger to the Hospital staff,” the feline woman points out. “Ms. Nyghtshade, you hesitated to send him to the Zig. Mr. Devereaux didn’t seem to care what we did with him…do you want to send him there now?”
Nyght steps back over and activates the mediporter tab, sending the unconscious Firenze off to the Zig’s medical complex.
Then she nods to Maggot Man, and gestures toward Bubastis. “Basti, unless you need to be elsewheah, Ah suggest we head to the hospital, too. To warn them about keepin’ Paige from feelin’ any moah pain, and check up on Linuial.”
Thanks to the timely intervention of the Supergroup, Starfire, you and your team manage to break away from your Malta pursuers and get to some much needed medical aid. For the less injured, there’s the usual routine of speaking with authorities and the time honored ritual of some good natured humor between comrades in arms.
Before long, the allotted two hours have passed. In spite of some suspicion on the part of Starfire’s leading members, those of you who are of sound enough body to make the trip assemble at the heavily fortified security gate where the relative safety of Brickstown meets the extreme hazards of Crey’s Folly. As you stand in front of the barricades that separate one zone from another, the booming roar of an explosion reaches your ears. Though you can’t be completely certain, it sounds like it came from the direction of Carnival Town.
Blood Nut shakes his head. “We won’t know anything until Lin’s out of surgery.” He stares off into the slice of star-powdered sky visible through the giant metal sawtoothed gates surrounding the actual port between Brickstown and Crey’s Folly.
“How did you find us?” Bubastis asks him.
“Lin left us at a pizza place not far from the Gate, in case anything went wrong and we were needed. Jon and Chris both got calls when Lin was medi-ported into the hospital emergency ward…Jon went to the hospital, we set out to find you guys. We had worked our way across most of the Folly heading in the direction of all the lights and noise when we heard a grenade go off close by, and swung in that direction. The rest you know.”
Monique pleats the corner of her cape and unpleats it again, head bowed. “Somethin’ happened to Linuial, something more than just gettin’ shot,” she explains to Blood Nut and the others.
“Ah couldn’t heal it, and she didn’t seem to know what it was. If the hospital gets her back on her feet….” She hesitates, then continues, “… when the hospital gets her back on her feet, she’s goin’ to need some lookin’ afteh.”
Meanwhile, in Talos Island at The Dirty Duck…
“You were right. They do make a good sandwich, but the fries… just sad.” Lisa said to her boyfriend as she took another bite of her “Rachel” sandwich. The restaurant has ads of the sandwich on each table, so they must be very proud of it.
“It’s not a bad place. Just avoid the fries if you can,” Tim said, trying to frink the last of his milkshake from the bottom of the sweaty gas.
“So, about us,” Lisa started, “I know it’s been a rough week. I want you to know I’m glad. I have closure for the first time in a–”
“If you think I deserve an apology, don’t. I knew this was going to be difficult. You don’t need to tell me sorry. Not now, not ever.” Tim said, followed by a wincing expression, “Gah! Brain freeze!”
“You know what the trick is for that, right? Take the tip of your tongue and stab it into the roof of your mouth. It puts pressure on the nerve and stops it.”
“Really? That can’t wor– Hmm.” Tim mumbles, then waits for 5 seconds. “Wow. That totally worked.”
“Now you can get more daring with cold food.”
“Hell yeah! Now for that 1/3rd of a shake left here…” he grabs the metal cup the waiter left with the rest of the milkshake that didn’t fit into the glass to finish the rest, when a news report catches his eye on TV… The announcer was saying: “–in Crey’s Folly. Three men were arrested, with 23 hospitalized after a raid on a lab facility that was operating without city permits in an industrial zone. Crey Corporation issued a statement that the suspects and injured were no longer with the company and continued with illegal research without them. Suspects include a Doctor–”
“Crey’s Folly… Isn’t that the same place Paige said she was going yesterday?” Lisa asked.
“Do you think…? I’ll call her…” Tim said, dialing her from his contacts app on his phone. Not even a single ring is heard. “Straight to voicemail. I wonder if her phone is off. I’ll try Linuial.”
“Do you think… you stopped before you finished. You think she’s hurt?” Lisa asked.
“Man, I hope not. Maybe it’s off because she’s still with PPD an– Lin’s phone is going to voicemail too. I’m getting worried.” Tim said, palming his phone back and forth in anxiety, lowering his head to tell her, “I know I’m not supposed to call this number, Dev gave it to Paige directly and no one else… I took it down just in case something bad happened.”
“Is there another way to find out what happened? Any other way at all?” Lisa said. Met with silence, Tim hesitates, then raises his head to meet her eyes. “Then call him,” Lisa said, “From what you told me of him, he’ll kick your ass later, but at least you’ll know now.”
“Alright, I’ll call Devereaux.” Tim said, as he paid the bill and dropped a tip on the table. Both him and Lisa left and walked briskly to the door. As he walked outside, his flesh changed from a blond white male teenager, into the white haired, black-skinned hero, Tahquitz. “I hope the hell they’re alright,” he said as he opened the restaurant door for Lisa. He presses the contact for Devereaux, then selects the mobile number he’s not supposed to use.
“Who is this and how did you get this number?”
Met by Tim’s voice, Devereaux relaxes slightly. “Tahq,” he says, the edge of danger still in his voice. The young Hero starts to utter an apology but is quickly cut off in mid-sentence. “Just tell me why you’re calling. It’s way too late to get in on our latest misadventure.”
He listens impatiently as Tim launches into an explanation, then furrows his brow when the question of Paige and Linuial’s well-being is posed.
“I’m not gonna lie, it’s less than stellar. Paige took a bullet to the thigh. She’ll live. She stayed conscious too long to have severed the artery. Blondie’s a different story. She might make it, she might not. I really couldn’t tell you.”
The Blaster’s anger is palpable over the line but it’s difficult to tell whether he’s directing it at the situation in general or Devereaux himself.
“Where are they at?” Tahquitz asked Devereaux. He didn’t get hospital directions (that’s not how Mediporters work, after all), but he knows who to ask and where to go.
“Good, I’ll get a hold of Starfire and see when I can visit Paige and Linuial. I’ll let you know when they’re awake. Hold on a sec…” Tahquitz takes a moment to calm down.
He then spends a moment catching up Lisa briefly on the developments off the line, then returns. “How are you holding up, boss? Need anything?” He asks him, but not expecting an answer. Heavy hangs the head who wears the crown, of course, as no leader has an easy job in a team of heroes. But he knows Devereaux is the stoic type. He’d probably die first before he lets someone else know he’s bleeding internally, even if they mean well.
“Like I said, show’s over. Have fun with your girl, Tim. I’ve gotta go.” He hangs up before Tahquitz can reply. Though it’s a little disturbing to know that Paige would give his number out at all, he’s hardly surprised. “Better him than Blondie, I guess.”
The thought sobers him and brings his focus back to the moment. Taking a deep breath, he descends the fire escape ladder. Upon reaching the last few rungs he gives a shake hoping to dislodge the extendable section but finds it stuck in place from lack of use. Releasing his grip and kicking off with both feet, Devereaux lets gravity do the rest. Despite the jarring landing, he quickly brushes flakes of rust from his gloved hands and makes the short walk to the fortified gate that separates the chaos of Crey’s Folly from the rest of Paragon.
Emerging from an alleyway, he catches sight of Bubastis, Nyghtshade, and a few members of Starfire that he recognizes from previous meetings. “Glad you could make it,” Devereaux says flatly as he approaches the group. “Should we start with the casuality list or would you prefer a status update first?”
Nyght raises an eyebrow, expression guarded. “Are you sayin’ someone’s died?”
“Not that I’m aware of. The lab seemed pretty empty and I made sure to tell that Protector to keep his distance before I had him make a force field in the gas main that ran to the building.”
Mimicking Nyghtshade’s expression, Devereaux continues, “But casualties aren’t just the dead. Curious that you’d use the term that way. Did something happen at the hospital?”
Nyght shakes her head. “Paige seemed to be in good hands, but we still haven’t heard about Linuial. With all that’s happened, and you talkin’ about ‘casualties’…. Well, it was an unfortunate assumption, that’s all.”
“Fair enough,” the shapeshifter replies, too weary for any further questioning.
“Well, if you haven’t deduced it by now, I had our improvised buddy deal with the lab. Couldn’t do enough damage to level the building like I wanted, not without risking the whole damn neighborhood, but Crey won’t be using it for a good while.”
“I take it you sent Firenze to the Zig,” he says, his lips set in a flat line. “Tell PPD not to keep him there. If they do, it won’t be long before some spook flashes a security clearance and walks out with him.”
Looking from Nyghtshade to the gathering of Starfire’s members, he asks, “John still at the hospital with Linuial? There’s something he and I need to discuss.”
“I’m Blood Nut,” the scarlet-and-green giant answers. He holds out a hand…after a second, he withdraws it with a “…well, okay then…” expression. “…Pleased to meet you. I guess you’re Devereaux.
“Last I heard, Jon was waiting for Lin to get out of surgery, and Chris was sitting in Emergency with Paige. I’m hoping I’ll get a call from one or both of them soon. Paige’ll be alright soon enough…they’ve got Empathic nurses working on her. She’ll be a little shaky emotionally, but physically she’ll be fine.
“If you need to talk to Jon immediately, I can call him and let you use my phone, or you can join him at the hospital. Right now he’s in the waiting area for the ICU. From what I heard, Lin took an explosive round right in the heart. Standard healing procedures were insufficient…they had to do actual surgery, using a new technique some bright boy came up with recently…heart-lung machine, an organic mesh material, sew the pieces of her heart to the mesh, and then seal the whole thing up to be water-ti…er…blood-tight.
“After that, they use the standard healing techniques, and hope for the best. I’m betting on Lin…she’s survived this long, I doubt this’ll do more than slow her down.”
“Blood Nut? Seriously? These capes must pick their names out of a hat or something.”
Gazing up at the pale green behemoth, Devereaux shakes his head. “Nothing personal but I don’t know you or your tech. We’re dealing with Malta here. There’s no guarantee they didn’t put a wiretap on each and every one of your phones the minute Linuial put you on standby. I’ll talk to John in person later. For the time being, tell me more about Blondie’s injuries. She claims to be immortal so the GSW doesn’t concern me. What happened to her mind?”
Nyght shifts to face Blood Nut, very much wanting an answer to that as well.
“Her mind?” The huge man’s eyes pop wide open. “What do you mean ‘her mind’? Did something happen to her…I mean…what happened to her?! Why would you be asking that?! She was unconscious when she got to the hospital, and hasn’t been awake since!”
The big man stands suddenly, nearly pushing Stray aside, turns, and pounds toward the portal into Brickstown. “…gotta get to the hospital and talk to Jon…” he yells over his shoulder as he disappears, and Stray explodes into her Nova form and follows him.
“Well, that went well,” Nyght says, cutting a dry glance at Xavier. “So, Mr. Devereaux, looks like we’ve probably arrived at the “status update” portion of ouh programmin’….?”
Right before she hits the portal membrane, the Nova stops, turns, and addresses…someone, it’s hard to tell from the alien’s “face”… “In Linuial’s case, being ‘immortal’ means she doesn’t age. She can die, you know. Many of her people did. They can die from injury, even though they are very hardy. But they die quickly of a broken heart.”
She turns, bumps against the portal, and disappears.
“…oh, Lord…” Nyght murmurs, stricken by the Nova’s revelation. “She said… Linuial said she feels everything, feels everyone around her…” She looks up to Devereaux. “We heard all those people, mentally we heard them… all those victims of Morpheus, bein’ tortured by that machine. But Linuial… she had to feel them. All of them. Devereaux, that would break mah heart… what did it do to her?”
“And what can we do to help her? Ah’m startin’ to feel like we need to be at that hospital, not heah.”
“I’m starting to feel the same way,” Devereaux replies.
A sudden roil of annoyance begins to bubble up from his gut. He knows it well, that smug superiority felt by all psychics mixed with irritation at having left matters of the mind to people with no real grasp of anything happening outside their own thoughts. He fights it down, recognizing his own bias and resenting himself for even having the thought.
“Let’s get moving before something else happens. You with us, Bubi?”
Bubastis nods. “Of course.”
“Let’s go, then!” Nyght agrees, with a certain urgency.
Your team has come a long way in a short time. Since the initial meeting in Pocket D, you’ve faced the depravities of the Crey Corporation, the machinations of the Malta Group, and the discord within your own ranks. So it’s both fitting and horribly ironic that now, having fought your way through everything else, you face an internal crisis of a kind none of you ever saw coming.
But such is the life of Heroes and Villains alike. Urgently, you race through the security gate and away from Crey’s Folly, secure in the knowledge that the company’s twisted experiments with the human mind are stalled for the time being. Now it’s time for one last, even more daunting endeavor.