Paragon City Stories: Darkness, Digitized
Hosted and Narrated by TIMESHADOW
Act III, Scene 4
Place: Atlas Park
It’s been two weeks since you and your unlikely team mates concluded the mission to discover exactly who and what was behind Crey’s efforts to mimic the Carnival’s mental network. It was, in short, an exercise in madness. Now that you’ve had a chance to recuperate, you’ve come to Atlas Park on a summons from your one time leader.
As always, the grounds surrounding City Hall are exquisitely manicured and free from the influence of the petty, low level gangs that haunt other parts of the neighborhood. The statue of the legendary Atlas, a hero whose fame is second only to Statesman himself, towers above the picturesque greenery. Illuminated by floodlights, his chiseled physique and the massive dome he carries on his back stand stark against the starless void of nighttime in a metropolis.
As you approach one of the many picnic sets placed throughout the park, you see a familiar figure sitting alone…
Sitting on a picnic table, one leg propped up on the attached bench, Devereaux whistles an old Praetorian tune. A black duffel bag is close to hand and he reaches over to pat it every now and then, almost as if to reassure himself that it hasn’t managed to wander away.
As he waits for the others to arrive, the irresistible urge to reminisce comes over him.
Noticing the feminine figure drawing closer, Devereaux snaps out of the memory and raises a hand in greeting. “Glad you made it. Wouldn’t want you to miss out.”
Undisclosed Location: Exactly Five Days Ago
“Sir!” the masked man exclaims. “He’s returned!”
Seated behind an expertly crafted mahogany desk, the cowled figure responds without looking up. “Who has?”
“Kobayashi-sama! I thought he was killed when we fled but he’s here and he wants to speak with you personally!”
Raising his head at last, a decidedly sour expression on his face, the man curtly says, “Bring him in.”
The masked speaker rushes from the room, his eyes bright with excitement. When he returns, he’s accompanied by another man in identical garb.
“Thank you, Ren-san. You may go now,” the man behind the desk orders. Cutting a quick bow familiar to those who have set foot inside a dojo, the subordinate retreats without so much as a sound.
Sighing, the shrouded man steeples his fingers in front of his face. “Devereaux, is it really necessary to use that form every time you want to see me? It’s more than a little disrespectful.”
The shapeshifter scoffs at the rebuke before downshifting into his normal visage. “True, but it’s also considerably easier than fighting my way into your office, Justin.”
Nyghtshade strolls over to take a seat on the other end of the bench, pushes back her hood to free her auburn locks, and looks up at him with a wry smile. “Evenin’, Mr. Devereaux. Ah do appreciate you schedulin’ this get-togetheh durin’ the evenin’ hours. Very thoughtful.”
“No problem. I’ve always been more of a night owl anyway. Comes with the territory, y’know?”
Returning the smile, he leads with his eyes, slowly bringing them to rest on the bag at his side. “Can’t open this until everyone else gets here. Any idea what’s keeping them?”
“Ah visited Paige and Linuial in the hospital that night, afteh Ah, um, woke up, at the Starfire base. But Ah haven’t spoken to them since. Ah wanted to give them time to recoveh, and time with all theah friends.”
“Ah did let them know, though, that they have a standin’ invitation to dinneh at mah place, though, when theah feelin’ betteh. You too, if you’d like.”
“Also… Ah’ve been told how concerned you weah foah my safety, when Ah didn’t wake up in the hospital room, and Ah hadn’t had a chance to thank you foah it. Ah just wanted you to know it means a lot to me, that you weah watchin’ oveh me when Ah… couldn’t. Thank you.”
“Don’t sweat it,” Devereaux says, waving away the comment. Then, remembering the woman’s particular condition, he adds, “Well, I guess that’s not really something you do anyway. It would’ve been a real shame for you to go down at the finish line.”
“I might just take you up on that invitation. It’s been a long time since I had some genuine southern cooking.”
Monique smiles. “Ah make a mean Cajun gumbo, ham, chicken, and Andouille sausage. Plus, cheddah biscuits and shrimp etouffee’. Let me know when yo’ah free, and we can throw a party.”
A tawny-and-pink four-footed figure streaks across the parkland, slows, and rears up to cross the last few yards bipedally. She’s wearing her best: pale pink sweater with three-quarter length sleeves and a hot pink snarling tiger’s head on the breast, hot pink culottes over black heeled boots.
Her immobile face reveals nothing, but the man and woman at the picnic table can hear her purring as she approaches.
“Mr. Devereaux? Ms. Nyghtshade? I am so happy to see you!”
“Basti, hello theah. It’s good to see you too,” Nyght smiles warmly. “How have you been doin’ since we.. well, since Ah saw you last?”
“I am well, Ms. Nyghtshade, very well.” She is practically wriggling with excitement. “May I sit with you?”
“Bubi,” Devereaux says simply as he gives the feline woman a nod. “Didn’t think I’d see you without Linuial. I know she’s out of the hospital. Any idea where she might be?”
Nyght nods to Bubastis and pats the bench next to her invitingly.
As she seats herself at the table, the cat-woman favors the Praetorian with an even louder purr. “I have no idea, Mr. Devereaux. Ms. Linuial has been very busy lately, mostly with duties pertaining to her super group. Since I am not a member, I’ve been given tasks to perform by GIFT. Have you not seen her?”
“I’ve been a little busy.” Reaching up to pat the bag again, Devereaux smiles.
“You’ll see what I mean whenever she and Paige decide to grace us with their presence.”
A tiny figure crests over the top of Atlas, and lazily drifts down, to alight a few feet away from the group.
“Hello,” the healer smiles. “I’m sorry, am I late? I was star-bathing on top of Atlas, and I forgot to watch the time.”
“Technically no,” Devereaux says when the diminutive blonde comes to rest on the ground. “This is supposed to be a casual affair, after all.” He smiles warmly. “Good to see you didn’t pass on into legend while I wasn’t looking, Blondie.”
Chuckling at his own humor, he carries on. “That just leaves Paige. She should be here shortly. Said something about trying to finish a last minute project”
Looking around the table: to Devereaux, with a sly grin: “…I passed into legend long ago, Xavier. You just have to know where to look.”
To Nyghtshade: “The flowers were lovely, Monique, I’m sorry I was sleeping when you dropped them off, or I would have thanked you then…but you know how protective Jon got for a while…”
To Bubastis: “They are still going over your mission debriefing, Basti, but so far, they seem to be very pleased. We’ll see what they want you to do next.”
With that, glancing around again and seeing no sign of the errant teenaged hero, she kicks off the ground, soars into the air over the table, and begins an elaborate aerial dance.
The last two weeks have been a rollercoaster for Paige. The first week, except for the leg pain, was enjoyable for the most part. Falling back into a regular sleep pattern was nice for a change. And Liz and her got some extra time to bond a bit as it was weird having a roommate she never could talk to between classes and heroics.
But this last week has been hellish. And not just because her Physical Therapy has ramped up in difficulty: catching up on college classes online has been stressful for her, as well as facing the reality that her fast moving Statistics and Sociology classes have left her behind, ruining any chance of having a 3.5+ GPA this semester. She’s weighing out the possibility of filing a Petition for Withdrawal to remove those classes from her schedule without affecting her financial aid, but the petition covers her whole semester. Filing it saves her GPA and funding, but effectively cancels her progress in college for a whole semester. She isn’t worried about the money lost, she’s worried about the time.
And her hospital bills came in. Turned out, the hospital management was looking to move the ICU Ward upstairs and refurbish the old area into a Children’s Ward. Paige’s unplanned demolition was a good first step. So her bill wasn’t overblown, just slightly above average for a gun shot wound. Still factored in facilities damages, but not as severe as the staff made it out to be.
So, while juggling her conundrum, she finished her homework on World History and hopped a train to Atlas Park. Her leg is in a soft-cast to allow her dressing to be changed until the wound is closed up. Unfortunately, this resulted in a fashion choice that Paige hates, but had to tolerate to meet with her team, or to cancel on them.
She walks up in a black T-Shirt that she’d normally wear… And a loose purple skirt down to her ankles that she normally wouldn’t. “Before you ask, it’s Liz’s. And I don’t have a choice, my pants won’t fit around the soft cast.” There is a slight hobble in her walk as the physical therapy is showing results, but she’s not back in ‘fighting form’ just yet.
“Paige, it’s so good to see you up and about,” Nyght beams. “Come, have a seat.”
“Sure!” Paige moves to Nyghtshade and sits down. “Where’s Lin…” She notices Bubastis looking up and follows in turn… “Oh.”
Linuial drifts down to the ground, walks over to Paige, gives her a big hug. She steps back, gives the girl the visual once-over.
“How are you feeling?”
“Hey, kid. That’s a pretty good look for you,” Devereaux says, chuckling mildly at the girl’s obvious displeasure at the wardrobe choice. “The skirt, I mean, not the cast.”
Raising an eyebrow at Devereaux, Linuial leans over and plants a kiss on Paige’s forehead. “You look just fine, dear. Better than ever.”
She moves down the table to find a seat toward the end.
Hopping off the table, the Praetorian takes hold of his bag and begins working at the small padlock securing the zipper. “Now that we’re all here, let’s get down to business.”
His trademark grin slides seamlessly into place. “Ladies, I’m proud to inform you that today is payday.”
“Really? I thought this was personal, not sponsored?” Paige asked, a little surprised.
Linuial chuckles under her breath, then looks up with a “what?” expression on her face, which resolves into an innocent smile, her eyebrows raised.
Nyght just listens quietly. She wasn’t in this for the money.
Linuial leans over in Paige’s direction, and in a whisper couched for all to hear, tells her: “Rogue Rule number one…never do a job unless you get paid for it.”
She looks over at Devereaux and winks, then starts examining the stars minutely, barely suppressing a smile.
“Something like that,” he replies. “The job got done, after all, and stiffing your contractors is poor form.”
Unzipping the bag and reaching inside, the shapeshifter produces a small strongbox. Squat and sturdy, it has a blank screen built into the hardened surface of the lid.
“This first one’s for you, Newbie. I tried to find something more personal but Googling ‘What do vampires like?’ made me delete my search history so I just opted for cash.”
Touching his thumb to the display, Devereaux waits as the box’s miniature computer reads his fingerprint. After a moment, it chimes pleasantly and the lock disengages with a small click. Then the lid comes up, revealing a solid stack of crisp one hundred dollar notes.
“Hope you don’t mind large bills. Small ones are more discreet but I only had so much room in the bag.”
Nyght extends her hand to receive the cash, and tucks it away into her pouch, amongst the usual fist full of mediporters.
“Thank you, Mr. Devereaux. Ah know a good charity that can use it,” she says, nodding her appreciation.
At Nyghtshade’s mention of charity, Devereaux sighs. “You capes are crazy. Doesn’t anybody in the FBSA appreciate the value of a dollar?”
Shaking his head, he moves on. Diving back into his luggage, he comes up with a belt clutched in one hand. Colored with black and deep purple, the thin accessory is studded with what appear to be small nodules.
“This one’s yours Paige,” he says as he hands the item over. “Try it on for size.”
“Hmmm…” Paige grabs the belt and tries it on. “It fits well. What are these?” She points at the nodules. “Should… should I touch them? Will they explode?”
Laughing at Paige’s naivete, Devereaux explains. “No, they won’t explode.” A moment’s thought, then he amends. “Well, I guess they could if you knew how to rig them properly but you don’t need to worry about that.”
“What you’ve got there is a kinetic dampener. It’s basically a modified version of the force field tech Praetoria PD used to outfit their guys with. The field molds itself to your body and the power cells are designed to charge based on your own kinetic energy. It’s proof against any kind of small arms fire that’s not wrapped in an energy sheath. Should help with falls and hand to hand combat, too.”
Still smiling, the Praetorian delivers a quip. “Figured you’d be keen to avoid slurping down anymore of that goop the hospitals try to pass off as food.”
Linuial’s face suddenly sobers, and she cocks her head to one side, staring at the Praetorian…but says nothing.
“Nice!” Paige feels around for a trigger, and finds the front nodule is also a control. Pressing on it and the air around her warbles as a field is turned on.
She turns it back off. “Thank you! It’s… it’s awesome! I’ll put this to good use!” Looking around, she backpedals a little bit, “… not that I anticipate getting shot at again, but if it comes to that, I’ll be better prepared next time.”
“Now I feel bad… I didn’t get you anything.”
The Praetorian feels another bout of laughter coming on but this time suppresses it in favor of a more serious tone. “It’s not Christmas, girl. I’m paying you. Difference is, I prefer more useful things than that monopoly money the city hands out.”
Fishing in the bag for a third time, Devereaux retrieves two manilla folders. One is thin and unadorned. The other is full to bursting, with colored tabs jutting from the open edge.
“This one’s for you, Bubi,” he says, handing the feline woman the thinner package.
“As you know, City Hall had a standing order for your execution. Not sure how they managed that since Rhode Island outlawed the death penalty in 1984. Best I can tell, they would’ve couched it as euthanasia. As if you were some common house cat to be put down.” He scoffs at the comparison. “Anyway, I had a friend do some back channeling and get the order rescinded. If they wanna take you out now they’ll have to get through the courts. That should give you plenty of time to disappear somewhere.”
Undisclosed Location: Five Days Ago
“That’s seriously what you’re asking?” The man behind the desk, Justin, fixes Devereaux with a puzzled expression. “Why would you even care?”
“Why I care is no concern of yours. But you should be concerned with what I can do if you don’t get me what I’m asking for.” The Praetorian’s grin is predatory.
Justin is silent for a long moment. “You’re insane. To come in here and threaten me after what you did, you’d have to be certifiable.”
Devereaux shrugs. “Don’t get sanctimonious. You tried to put me up against them, Justin. Maybe you forgot but I’m not one of your lackeys. I never was. Just do what I’m asking and you can go back to brooding or whatever it is you do for fun.”
Bubastis takes the folder, stares down at it for several long moments, blinking, then opens it slowly, reads over the sheets inside.
Her eyes open wide, she jumps up from her seat, rushes over to Linuial.
“Look! Look…!” In her excitement, language evades her completely, and she begins chirping, over and over, pointing at the papers, sounding for all the world like a tiny bird.
“I see! I see…!” Linuial reassures her, over and over. “It’s wonderful, Basti!”
She stands, they exclaim and chirp over the folder for a few more seconds before Linuial gives the feline woman a quick hug, closes the folder carefully, and admonishes Bubastis to keep a tight hold on it until City Hall opens in the morning.
Nyght is startled by the sounds Bubastis is making, but finds it somehow endearing, as well. She looks from Bubastis’ excitement to Devereaux, seeing a new and surprising side to him.
When Linuial finally gets the cat woman seated again, still shifting back and forth between cheetah and human talk, Bubastis looks at Devereaux, and manages to squeak out, “…oh, thank you, Mr. Devereaux! Thank you so very much…!” and then dissolves back into bird chirps intermingled with very loud purring.
She opens the folder, shows it to Paige, to Nyghtshade, all the while still shifting from one verbal expression to the other.
Nyght congratulates Bubastis, smiling over Devereaux’s kindness to her.
“You earned your keep.” Moving to Bubastis seat, Devereaux scratches her quickly behind the ears.
“And that brings us to you, Blondie.” His smile is wry. “I know you’re adverse to taking money so I got you something else. I think you’ll appreciate it.”
He holds the swollen collection of documents out for her to take. “This has everything I could find on Maggot Man’s killer. I couldn’t get a name or an address, combination of difficulty and being on a short timer, but there’s plenty to go on.”
Linuial’s mouth drops open, her eyes fly open wide, and for a moment she just stares into his face, before closing her mouth and reaching forward slowly to take the fat folder.
Accepting the heavy sheaf of paper, she lays it almost reverently on the table, lifts the cover and stares at the first page, then closes the cover and presses one hand on top.
She turns to the Praetorian. “Xavier, I…I don’t know what to say. I didn’t know you even knew about Chris’s situation.
“How…how on earth…did you do this?”
“Rogue Rule #2: If you have to ask ‘how’, you don’t really wanna know…” Paige adds with a smile.
“See?” Devereaux asks. “Paige gets it.”
“Tradecraft is everything, Blondie. I’ll give you some pointers over that dinner you owe me.” His grin widens and he returns the wink the healer gave him earlier.
Undisclosed Location: Five Days Ago
“And for you?” Justin asks, his tone grudging. “You wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble of finding me if you didn’t want something for yourself.”
Devereaux laughs. “I must be getting predictable in my old age. Yeah, there’s something I want. You grabbed some stuff from Lambda Sector before you skipped town.”
“That’s-“ Justin begins to object but Devereaux cuts him off.
“Don’t bother trying to deny it. The Primals did a solid job of wrecking the place but I know you managed to get your hands on a few things. I’d like to grab a slice of the heavy, if you know what I mean.”
Cocking an eyebrow, Justin balks. “Not a chance in Hell.”
“Oh, Justin,” Devereaux sighs. “You’re really not in a position to refuse. Just think about what would happen if your double found out that you not only survived Cole’s last tirade, you’re now squatting on his home turf. He’d dedicate everything he has to tracking you down and nailing your ass to the wall. And without Cole to protect you, there’s no way you could deal with their version. Granted, he’s a cape so I doubt he’d let Manticore kill you outright.”
Putting on his best impression of one of the Family Mooks, Devereaux continues. “But if you happened to meet with an unfortunate accident while in custody, I doubt Statesman would mind all that much.”
The shocked expression gradually melts into a surprisingly soft smile. She nods to the others. “Bullet protection for Paige, a reprieve for Basti, information for Chris…” She shakes her head, looks down, sighs.
When she raises her eyes, her head is cocked to one side…she looks at him from under her long eyelashes. “Forget about that podunk place in Talos…I know a place in Atlas. Private club. You would like it…it’s expensive.” The look is almost…shy.
“Why, Blondie, I do believe we’ll make a fine scoundrel out of you yet,” he says, a hint of mischief in his voice.
Then, unexpectedly, he takes a step back from the group. “But not tonight. I need to be somewhere. Any questions before we adjourn this little meeting?”
“Just one. Who’s hungry?” Paige asks, “After that paper, I haven’t ate in 9 hours.”
Linuial laughs out loud. “Pizza? Starfire base? Followed by S’Mores? or maybe just grill some hot dogs instead?” She glances around the table. “Monique? We have some of your flavored teas…”
“That sounds nice, thank you,” Monique nods. “The evenin’s still young, Ah don’t have to patrol foah a while yet. And we could talk about when to have you all oveh to mah place foah a late suppeh, N’Orleans style.”
She glances over toward Devereaux with a smile. “Ah’ll look foahward to you comin’ too, Mr. Devereaux. Just let me know when it’s convenient foah you.”
Glancing up as Devereaux starts to move away, she stands and walks briskly up to him.
“Thank you,” she says softly, in an undertone. She cocks her head, then before he realizes what she is up to, she stands on tiptoes and brushes her lips against the curve of his jaw.
She turns back to the rest of the gathering. “Anyone coming to the base, follow me.”
This has been a truly harrowing experience for you and your team. You’ve conquered everything from evil corporations to psychic shades of a truly depraved mind. It’s difficult to be certain just where things will go from here but one thing is for sure. You’ve walked through fire and flames only to emerge stronger than you were before. A good thing too because something gnaws at the back of your mind, a distinct feeling that, in spite of all you’ve been through, the wheel of fate isn’t finished turning just yet.
The future remains uncertain but for now you’re far too grateful for a restbit, however brief, to care. Gathering your newly acquired boons, you go contentedly into the night.
To be continued...