Night City(3): The Meeting
Chapter One: "Resurrection"
Part Two: "A Call to Arms"
For it was one thing to witness interesting
and entertainingly tragic events,
another to try to do something about them.
-- Peter Straub, Shadowland
Ron and David eventually found Ron's car, and after Ron inspected it for damage they got in and headed for Vanguard.
"Wow, she seemed pretty upset. Is it because of something to do with Vanguard, or do she and Modulator have some kind of history?"
Ron shrugged. "How the hell should I know? I've never even met her. I do know she's supposed to be a royal bitch. I hear she has an ulcer, too. Then again, that bunch would be enough to give Ghandi an ulcer." David recalled the group of departing heroes tagging along behind Shrike -- three of them were less than a meter tall, and one of the others apeared to be an 80-year-old woman in a Wonder Woman costume.
"I hear the only reason they don't drop her as leader is because Space Ace is next in seniority, and no one wants him leading either. I met him once; he's just like the video game..."
As Ron rambled on about the Barclay's group, Adaptor started preparing himself for the meeting. Since the staff was retractable, he decided to carry it everywhere (just in case). He also decided to wear the skintight armor under his tuxedo: it just made sense to be protected, after all.
"Okay, I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be," David said. "What I need to know is how to behave. You've always told me I'm too passive, that I'll never experience anything unless I actually extend beyond myself sometimes, but I still think the best approach is to sit back and observe."
"I said that?" Ron asked, looking baffled. "I might have said something like that, but I'm sure it didn't sound like that when I said it. I just think you ought to get out more."
"Modulator doesn't seem like the kind of guy who'll be won over by speeches, anyway. What do you think?"
"Depends on the speech, I think. He can get pretty verbose when it comes to techno-babble. But as far as the typical superhero soliloquy BS, no I don't think he goes in for that much. That was always Blue Star's specialty."
"The woman with him I'm not sure I trust, though. What do you think?"
"Who, Redgrave? She's a techie. I only met her a couple of times before -- she joined the group just before CP bit it. She had the hots for me, but she really isn't my type. Too skinny -- I like women with a little more meat on them."
"I don't really recall her doing much in the way of publicity; she mainly hangs around the base and analyzes stuff. Alien critters, ancient artifacts, weird science, that sort of thing. She wanted to take Cap's staff apart, and he wouldn't let her. It kind of pissed her off. I think she and Modulator tried to get Blue Star to order him to turn it over -- they both have a hard-on for high-tech stuff -- but Blue Star said no, of course. Cap would have left before he let anybody take that gizmo apart."
"As far as trusting her, well, that's up to you. Me, I don't trust anybody."
Finally, Ron pulled up the Hyundai to Vanguard's front gate. "This is where you get out. I've had enough of the superhero thing to last a lifetime. Besides, I'm too old for this shit; my 'Apex' costume probably doesn't even fit me anymore. I'm sure you can get a ride home from one of these guys."
David got out of the car, then leaned back in to say good-bye to Ron. "Ron, thank you. You had no reason to take me in as you did, and I'll always be grateful to you. I don't know what my destiny is, but I know that you have played a role in it that I won't ever be able to repay. I think Cap would have been pleased. I only hope I can live up to the faith and work you've invested. I'll see you after the meeting."
David held out his hand for Ron to shake (wary that Ron might try to pull some martial arts trick to avoid the seriousness of the moment). Ron shook his hand and grinned. "Don't be too quick to thank me, kid. You don't know what you're into yet. Give me a call when you get home from the meeting and tell me what the scoop is, OK? I like to keep up on current events."
"Yeah, sure," David said. David shut the car door and waved good-bye as the Hyundai merged into traffic at breakneck speed. Then he turned and pushed the door buzzer.
A pretty young Hispanic girl around eighteen or twenty, wearing a maid uniform, answered the door. "You are here for the meeting?" she asked.
"I'm Adaptor, Modulator invited me..."
"Great," she said, smiling. "They're not ready yet, but you can come in and wait, ok?" David followed her inside, and she shut the door behind him. It closed with a quiet click. She led Adaptor through the lobby and past the front desk to a meeting room down the hall.
The room was large enough to hold around thrirty people comfortably, and it was dominated by a heavy table running the length of the room. Serving trays of ice water were collecting condensation on the table's smooth brown surface. The air in the meeting room was cool, and smelled faintly of cinnamon.
"Go ahead and have a seat with the others, and Modulator will be with you as soon as he can. If you need anything, just call -- I'll be out here in the lobby." She waited to make sure there was nothing else Adaptor needed, then went back out to the lobby to wait for the other heroes.
There was already one person in the room: a man in a light blue costume drinking a glass of ice-water. Soon, they were joined by a young Asian woman in a jade green ninja suit. The user-friendly end of her katana peeked over her shoulder, and a matching wakizashi was tucked in her sash.
The room is large enough to hold around thirty people comfortably, and it's dominated by a heavy table running the length of the room. Serving trays of ice water are collecting condensation on the table's smooth brown surface. The air in the meeting room is cool, and smells faintly of cinnamon.
The first man [Adaptor] is wearing a tuxedo, and sitting toward the back of the room. His unblemished features are made more interesting by the fact that he has no visible body hair: he is bald as a cue ball, with no eyebrows or facial hair. He doesn't appear to have shaved; his skin is smooth and pale over his entire face and head, as if hair never grew there at all. Steel-Grey eyes that seem to take in more than they reveal gleem under lids with no lashes. He leans back in his chair and sits with his hands at his sides, as if he has all the time in the world to wait for whatever may happen next...
The other man [Britestar] is drinking a glass of ice water, tracing patterns on the table in the collected water under the glass. He is wearing a bright blue costume.
The woman [Emerald] is dressed in what resembles a green ninja costume. She has a katana handle peeking over shoulder, and a smaller sword tucked into her sash. She seems friendly and at ease -- one of the few present who do.
Next to the smoked-glass windows is a man who looks like he's made of crystal [Prism]. Nearly two meters tall, it is manlike in form, but rather than flesh and muscle, its body appears to be made of solid crystal. The thing's eyes are beautiful gleams of sky-blue, the rest of the body a translucent silvery color. Judging from the way it sits, you'd tend to describe him as male; however, since he is wearing no clothing at all, it's fairly obvious that he has no external genitalia. He sits, glancing awkwardly around the room, in silence. He does appear to pay particular attention to the fellow in blue, a slight frown of concentration causing the crystals of his brow to crunch together in thought.
The man [El Cigarro] enters. He is smaller and more slightly built than the other two male superheroes present, but his muscles have the taut wiriness that long-distance runners and bantam-weight boxers get. His costume is royal blue with gold lightning, and it covers his entire body except for his wavy dark-brown hair. He looks both excited and uncomfortable.
El Cigarro looks for a comfortable seat, and sets himself down near Britestar, vibrating slightly with repressed energy. Hmmm. I thought only anglos would have a problem with the name Cigarro, but even a girl of La Raza forgot about sound-alikes. I guess I better go with Langosto for now...
Damn. What do I say to a bunch of real superheroes? I'll just shut up for now until I find out how these guys talk to each other.
When "El Langosto" [previously El Cigarro] enters, Prism nods politely, but then sits back in his chair, looking around the room once more. The expression on his face is hard to read . . . disappointed? Angry? Impatient?
A workman of some kind [Kakker] comes into the meeting room with something on his mind and a canvas bag on his shoulder. He nods to each one and all, gawking a bit at the green ninja and the crystaline person. Rather than going to work on some part of the fixtures or furnishings, he takes a seat as near to the center of the front row as posssible.
People with normal vision will see him as a fair-skinned man with short, moussed dark hair, longer in back, shades. He's a liitle taller than usual, and little broader than usual, but quite unremarkable by comic book standards.
Emerald sat quietly in a chair. Prism had not uttered a word since they had arrived, and she could sense his nervousness.
A man [Krane] strides into the room and quickly surveys his surroundings. He is a somewhat imposing figure, wearing a full suit of a kevlar-like material that is designed to show off his already impressive physique. The costume is a deep glossy purple and metallic black (gloves, boots, trunks, and highlight on the mask are black. The rest is purple). He carries Kali sticks in a sheath across his back. When he sees that the others are waiting much like he is he visibly relaxes.
Krane returns Adaptor's nod. With a visible struggle, he refrains from grabbing a towel and wiping the water (that Britestar is playing in) off of the expensive table. Instead he turns his attention to Emerald (who he first noticed at the funeral) and bows to her from the waist (careful not to take his eyes off of her as he bows).
He returns Prism's wave and smiles. "I am Krane and I'm glad to meet all of you. It's good to know that not everyone has bought into this anti-superhero media hype."
"It is foolish to hate oneself," Emerald responded. "People are people: some of us have very different Gifts, true. But we are all human together." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Prism fidgeting uncomfortably.
Prism's attention is also caught by Krane's words. Prism utters a bitter laugh at that remark, then says, "Well, some of us don't have a lot of choice, you know?" He spreads his arms wide as though to emphasize the alienness of his physique.
When Emerald speaks about how "we are all human together," Prism smiles, but the same brittle bitterness that filled his voice can be seen in the corners of that smile.
Wincing at Prism's rather advanced angst, the workman turns in his seat to chat up the woman in green. "At the funeral yesterday, I saw you. Pleased to be seeing you here. My name is Kakker," he says, matching the name stiched on the utility vest. He extends his right hand, ready to shake....
The tension is palpable, and Prism isn't the only one who seems impatient as the minutes drag on to an hour, then more. Finally, the wait appears to be over, as the door opens and two figures enter.
The first is a woman in her thirties, with long blonde hair held back in a ponytail. Her eyes are grey, as is her impeccably-styled business suit. She's wearing a white lab coat, as crisp and sharp as a new dollar bill. She heads to the end of the table and stands behind a podium there. Behind her is a young man, twenty or so, with brown hair. He's wearing jeans and a black t-shirt, and a lab coat nowhere near as clean and crisp as the woman's. He takes a seat at the back of the room, next to the door.
"Good afternoon," the woman begins. "I've met most of you; my name is Dr. Redgrave; I'm an associate of Modulator's. Thank you for coming. I'm sorry to have kept you waiting for so long, but I was hoping more of you would be here." She pauses for a heartbeat, her eyes cold and unfathomable.
"I assume you've introduced yourselves, so let's begin. We have a crisis. Vanguard has been Los Angeles' primary line of defense against paranormal attacks for sixty years. Vanguard must continue: that is why you are here. Under normal circumstances, we have very strict requirements for membership. But beggers can't be choosers, and we don't have the time for long probations and exhaustive tests. You're here, I hope, to join Vanguard, to add your strength to ours in defense of Los Angeles and the people who live here. If any of you are here seeking glory, or power, or fame, or if any of you are mentally unbalanced..." she sighs, and crosses a hand across her eyes, the first sign of weakness -- of human-ness -- you've seen from her today. "Well, we'll deal with that when it happens."
"I wish we had the time for you to train together, to get to know each other's abilities and weaknesses, but we --"
Dr. Redgrave is cut off as a figure enters -- no, stalks is the better word -- into the room. The flourescent lights flicker as he walks beneath them, and clouds obscure the brightness coming through the smoked glass windows, as if the sun dimmed its light just for him.
His armor is black, although sharp edges reflect silver from the blades on his knuckles and the spikes jutting from his joints. Traces of red glint from the tips of his claws, and midnight blue crescents accent the lean hardness of his torso and thighs. His mask -- or is it a helmet? -- is bone-white, and the respirator over his mouth and nose is fashioned like the grim fangs of some feral beast. His eyes glow dully red. Death enters the room, and his name is Beowulf.
Dr. Redgrave looks... tense, but not suprised. Beowulf advances toward her, and half the heroes in the room stand up. "It's alright," she says. "Mr. Beowulf is here at my request."
The shock of those present vibrates in the room like a plucked violin string. Those that stood to confront the intruder frown, or look confused, but eventually they sit down.
"Dr. Redgrave invited me to join Vanguard," he begins, his voice harsh and metallic. Artificial, obviously, but where Modulator's voice was clear, emotionless, Beowulf's voice was like crushed glass. It spoke of bones being ground to make bread, of train wrecks and demolished buildings. It was not the voice one wanted to hear speaking from the darkness, and everyone present was glad for the sun outside the window.
"She invited me, and I have declined. For now." The relief that sweeps though the room is almost audible, as several heroes present exhale the breath they didn't realize they were holding.
"However, I have need of your assistance. There will be an attack, a jailbreak, at the Orange County Women's Penitentiary tonight. The feds know about it, but they won't be able to handle it: it's a minimum security prison, no paranormals. But I know better." His voice rasped on, like a saw cutting through a stubborn bone. "Something big is up, and the feds and the guards and the prisoners are going to be slaughtered like cattle unless I'm there. Unless you're there."
"Just a minute," Dr. Redgrave says. "What do you know that the authorities don't?" She's frowning, as if she suspects something is amiss, but isn't sure quite what.
Beowulf turns slowly, aiming those glaring red slits at the blonde woman, but she doesn't flinch.
"Grendel will be there."
Prism listens to Dr. Redgrave's speech with an expression of open interest, though his eyes do occasionally leave her face to wander over the other heroes (?) in the room.
As Beowulf enters, Prism involuntarily sits back, though it is the slow retreat of one who does not like what he sees rather then the flinch of one who is startled or afraid. He makes no move to rise or confront the . . . man. His face, carven in inscrutable crystal, reflects nothing when Beowulf says he has been invited to join Vanguard, and even less when he says that he chose to decline.
"Grendel?" he finally asks, when it is apparent that Beowulf's introductory speech is over. "The name doesn't ring a bell, unless you're talking about the swamp-monster from the legends. Would you mind filling us, or at least me, in?" There is a slight quaver in his otherwise generic sine-wave of a voice, nervousness, or simply a sonic anomaly?
El Langosto sits back in his chair. During Dr. Redgrave's speech, his head turns slightly towards the unintroduced fellow who came in with her. No telling what he's looking at, though.
When Beowulf enters, he sits up against the chair, and his hands tighten on the arms. After Beowulf's declination is announced, he leans forward and slumps a little, letting out breath.
He turns his head toward Britestar. (whispered) "You figure he and this other guy started together, or did one of 'em choose the name to fit?"
Emerald listened attentively as Beowulf outlined the upcoming attack on the Women's Penitentiary. A feeling of anticipation spread throughout her being, dispelling the internal restlessness she had felt since Vanguard had been destroyed. The new Vanguard needed to prove itself, and here apparantly, was the opportunity. But caution was warrented. It would not do for the new Vanguard to defeat itself so soon by moving hastily.
Prism seemed to be thinking along the same lines as he asked Beowulf to explain who Grendel was. The literary answer seemed obvious enough: Emerald had read the saga in college. This Beowulf, accused of vigilantism, seemed to have an agenda beyond dealing final justice to wrongdoers--and Vanguard needed to find out what it was ahead of time.
"I agree with Prism," she said. "I'd like to know all you know about this Grendel. The papers have accused you of several vicious murders--those three skinned bodies in LA."
"If you don't know about Grendel, count yourself lucky. He's a psychopath. He's brilliant, vindictive, cruel. His only goals are to kill and destroy as many people's lives as he can. He's no anonymous car-bombing terrorist: he likes the feel of blood on his hands too much for that."
"As for the people who were skinned alive," Beowulf responded, turning his blood red eyes to stare into Emerald's brilliant green ones. For no reason she could name she found herself smiling tightly in return. Beowulf shook his head barely, "That was not me."
"But Grendel won't be alone. If he were, I wouldn't ask you for assistance. People are going to die in this attack. We have to stop that."
Everything seems to be happening too quickly. Too many new faces, too many high strung personalities. It wasn't my intention to step on any toes, I merely wanted to point out that I'm glad that there are still others willing to step forward and be counted as defenders and possibly even heroes.
Oh well, I guess I'll just have to keep quiet until I learn a little more about the others. There's no sense in accidently stepping on anyone's toes.
When Beowulf enters my stomach nearly turns. It's very easy to believe that this creature is a cold-blooded killer. He exudes death. My first thought is that it's a member of Doomguard come to put a halt to the re-formation of Vanguard. When I realize that he's here to help (more or less) I force myself to become calm. I will gladly help stop the murder of innocents but I will also keep an eye on this Beowulf person. I can not condone killing-- and he has the look of a killer.
I join in with the others. "I will be there. Anything to put a stop to these murders."
Emerald glanced over at the others as Beowulf spoke. Adaptor and Britestar gave no sign. Prisim looked tense, and Krane looked uncomfortable.
"I will be there," Krane finally said. "Anything to stop these murders."
"As will I," Emerald added. "But I'll tell you now, Beowulf, I question your motivations and your goals. You stink of blood. You say you want to stop a pyschopath. Very well. I will wield my sword for that goal. But there are other considerations."
"Such as?" Emerald could hear the sneer in Beowulf's voice as he responded.
"Such as providing for the security of the prisoners." Emerald turned to address the others. "As I see it, we have two goals: prevent the murder of innocents, and to prevent prisoners from escaping. Beowulf has told us this is a jailbreak. So someone in that minimum security facility is important to someone. We need to do what planning we can to save lives, and keep that person--whoever it is--behind bars." Emerald glanced at Beowulf before continuing, "If we get Grendel in the process, it's an added bonus. Any other thoughts?"
Britestar takes a drink of water and then says: "If Beowulf knows the target of the jailbreak, perhaps it can be arranged to move that person to an isolated area and deal with Grendel there. If that can't be done then we are obviously going to need a map of the prison and a description of Grendels' powers and tactics."
Adaptor suddenly stands and begins to... strip. With efficient, swift movements, he removes the tuxedo jacket and starts to unbutton his shirt. Underneath, you see revealed a red, white, and blue costume, its colors exactly matching those of the American flag, with a stylized capital 'A' emblazoned across the chest. It seems incongruous with the stoic nature he's exhibited so far, but something about it strikes you as familiar.
He removes his shoes and socks, then his pants, revealing a costume that tightly hugs his perfectly-proportioned human form. His hands and feet are equally smooth and hairless as the rest of him. He neatly folds all the garments and places them on the table, going so far as to fold his socks. From the back of his costume he pulls a blue mask over his head that leaves only the area around his mouth uncovered.
From the pocket of his pants he removes a small baton resembling a 'stunner' keychain. He holds it out from his body with two hands and makes a twisting motion with them. Suddenly he is holding a six-foot length of dark, segmented metal of some type you've never seen before. The alloy seems both flat and glossy, depending on what angle you look at it from. Still saying nothing, Adaptor steps back from the table and begins a series of loosening-up exercises, his bare feet smacking slightly as he limbers up on the bare floor, the baton whooshing slightly as he spins it through a complex kata [Emerald and other Martial Artist types will probably recognize my Aikido moves. I make no effort to disguise them. Their responses will tell me stuff about them, too...]. You notice that he bothers with neither gloves nor shoes.
Through all of this, his eyes never stray from those who are speaking, almost as if his body is acting of its own accord, and his expression remains the same inscrutable mask throughout.
Emerald spoke. "I think we should consider splitting into two teams. At this point some discussion of what each of us is best at might be in order. Someone with the ability to make force fields or force walls or some form of entangle would be best for defense, or making sure no one escapes. Our big guns should concentrate on Grendel. Beowulf, of course, will be one of those," and Emerald flashed Beowulf a quick grin. "My skills are best used against agents, and for surprising foes in the dark. I volunteer to be part of the team watching for escaping prisoners. Beowulf, do you have any idea who might be a key escapee?"
Beowulf makes an angry gesture with one gauntleted hand.
"If I knew who the target of the jailbreak was, I wouldn't be here. As for maps of the prison, you don't need me for that. You can coordinate with the prison guards or not -- that's your decision. But if they get in the way, they'll die."
"As for teams and tactics: I don't know any of you, and until I do I don't trust my life to anyone but me. I work alone until you prove to me I can rely on you. The break is supposed to happen some time after light's out: 10 PM or later. I'll be there no later than 8 PM. Don't bother looking for me: you won't see me until I want you to see me."
"One last thing: Grendel's mine. I'll try to stay between him and any of you. If you find him first, you'd be wise not to face off against him. Fight a delaying action until I get there."
Emerald grinned broadly behind her mask as Beowulf snapped out his response to her statement. His armor had cracked, and now she had a good idea of what she could expect from him. She made no further response as he stalked out of the room. Without a word, she accepted the questionairre from Lyle and quickly but neatly filled it out. She handed it back to Lyle, and stated, "Anyone in Vanguard may know all of this information."
Carlos (the short, wiry fellow in blue and gold who seems unsure about his super "name") gestures at Beowulf.
"Uh, Bailwolf, I don' wanna just ignore you or nothin', but there's somethin' else we gotta know about."
"We know Vanguard was wiped out by this Doomguard. What we don' know, or I don' know, is what happened. I mean, as soon as they see the new Vanguard, they gonna wander over to romper cola again, huh?"
"Doctor Redgrave, what happened that day? Who did what? Which Doomguard guys was there? Where's Modulator? He was s'posed to be here to tell us. We wanna be able to catch these other guys, too."
Pointing at the civilian who accompanied Redgrave
"Hey, who's this guy, anyway?"
Dr. Redgrave stands up, and Beowulf moves away from the podium. He hesitates for a moment, then walks toward the door. If no one stops him, he leaves the way he came.
Dr. Redgrave watches him leave, then returns her gaze to those heroes assembled before her.
"Doomguard... I suppose I should tell you something about them. They're not a supervillian group, in the normal sense. As far as we can tell, they were recruited by Oberon -- an old foe of Vanguard's -- for the express purpose of destroying us. They were all enemies of Vanguard; old enemies who had a reason to hate us. Most of them had never worked together before, and it's apparent from Modulator's tapes that they had trouble coordinating long enough to take us down. On several occasions it looks as though they came close to fighting among themselves, and only Oberon's leadership kept them from killing each other instead of killing us. We can only hope that those personality conflicts will prevent them from uniting against us again. When we have more time, I'll show you those tapes."
"Speaking of Modulator, I know that you expected him to be hear to brief you himself, El Cigarro. He was called away unexpectedly, just after the funeral this morning. I can't tell you more than that right now. Until he gets back, I'm in charge. I hope no one has a problem with that."
"My assistant, Lyle, will be in charge when I'm unavailable." She nods to the young brown-haired man in the jeans, black t-shirt, and rumpled lab coat, seated at the back of the room. He looks embarassed and uncomfortable as he stands, making a half-hearted wave at those gathered before sitting down again.
"Emerald is correct in that we need to have some idea of what you are all capable of. Lyle will pass out questionnaire's and pens: please fill it out to the best of your ability. This information will help us determine who is best suited to what kind of missions, and will assist us in keeping the team together and alive." She nods again to Lyle, and he passes around pens and sheets of blue paper to everyone present.
"Once you have completed the questionnaires, Lyle will collect them, compile the relevant information, and give each of you a copy. Please note that there are several questions of a personal nature -- please make a note of any information you don't want revealed to your teammates."
"When we have more time, we will conduct thorough tests of each of your abilities. Unfortunately, we don't have time for that today: we must prepare for the mission at the Orange County Women's Penitentiary. While you are filling out the forms, Lyle will be passing out maps of the prison."
Basically, the prison looks like a big "H". The cross-bar of the H is the admin section, and the arms are the NE, SE, SW, and NW wings (going clockwise around the H). The prison is five stories high, but prisoners are not housed on the ground floor. Two four-meter-tall fences circle the grounds, both topped with barbed wire, but not electrified. Dogs and guards patrol the area between the two fences. The whole place is lit by floodlights all night.
"Unfortunately, the prison officials have refused our offer to assist them in this matter. We won't be able to enter the prison grounds until they're actually under attack. I tried to convince the warden that the threat was genuine, to no avail. They do know that a jaibreak is planned, but they do not believe that paranormals will be involved: they think they can handle it. Either that, or they simply don't wan't us involved."
"Either way, we will have to position ourselves outside the prison and be ready when the alarm is raised. Any of you capable of flight will be tasked with getting the rest of the team over the fence."
She gestures, and Lyle brings a tray of ordinary-looking objects into the room and sets the tray on the table. There are several credit-card calculators, a couple of black-and-brass rings ("class ring" style) with a capital "V", a few black-and-brass brooches (roughly the size of a quarter), and a couple of keychain flashlights.
"You will keep in communication with these radios. They are on a secure frequency, so you don't have to worry about being monitored: your transmissions are encrypted. They have a range of just under 100 kilometers. We ask that you keep your radio with you at all times, so we can contact you in case of an emergency. There are several camouflaged units available: pick whichever one suits you. If none of these are appropriate, we can fabricate something else, within reason."
"After everyone is done here, Lyle will show you each to your room. You don't have to live here, of course: many of our members maintain an--" she blinks twice, breaking the rhythm of her speech for a moment, " --maintained an identity apart from their Vanguard membership. You will have a room assigned for your use, nonetheless. If you require anything, call Stacy on the intercom and she'll see to your needs."
"If there aren't any questions, we'll meet back here in two hours."
Adaptor gives his staff a final twirl and brings it back to a guard position. With another flick of his wrists, the staff suddenly retracts to a length of about one foot. He slides it into a sheath sewn into the left leg of his costume. You notice that he has not broken a sweat from the warm-up he has just gone through. For the first time, you hear him speak. His voice is even and deep, with a hint of an accent from somewhere in New England, New Hampshire or Maine, perhaps, unusual for this part of the country.
"I think Emerald has the right idea. Since we seem to have a couple of hours before we need to be anywhere, maybe we can all get together in whatever passes for a gym here and spar, demonstrate our powers, and make some general plans for how to handle the situation we're about to get involved in tonight. Things are moving pretty quickly, and we ought to try and be ready to deal with whatever we need to, possibly including Beowulf, if your reactions are accurate..."
The statement trails off, inviting response...
Prism is quiet during most of Beowulf's speech and Dr. Redgraves' clarifications. He glances back and forth at each person as they speak, but makes no further comment. He takes pen and paper awkwardly in his bulky crystal hands, though they do not appear as clumsy as you might expect. He fills the form out efficiently, shaking his head to himself at a few of the questions, and seems lost in his own thoughts for a while.
When the radios are brought in, he looks sourly down at the collection of stuff. After a moment, he pokes througt the rings, trying (probably in vain) to find one that will fit one of his rocky fingers. Failing that, he will take a brooch, though he has (at present) no clothing to attach it to.
When Adaptor begins warming up amidst the conversation, Prism looks up quizically at him, then glances around the room as if to say, "Does anyone else find this odd?" After a few moments, he goes back to his paperwork.
When the discussion rolls around to various peoples' abilities, he finally, tentatively, speaks. "Well, I'm pretty strong, and I can handle myself in a fist fight; I've got a silver glove in savate. I can't fly, or jump or anything, and if anyone plans to carry me over the walls, I'm pretty damn heavy. I guess my main asset is that I'm really tough." He raps, perhaps self-consciously, one crystalline fist on the massive facets of his chest. "Oh, and I can become just about invisible if I need to.
"That said, I'll defer to the tacticians as to which team I should go on. I also think that a little time working together beforehand would be a good idea.
Stephanie logs on one morning and has an encrypted e-mail message waiting for her. It's from firstname.lastname@example.org -- Dr. Jason Roberts.
After decrypting the message with your private key and Dr. Jason's public one, you see the following message:
If you are reading this I'm afraid I have some bad news. It seems I have had an accident. Either that or I've disappeared. In any case, I'm somewhere without net access, so I may as well be dead. Just a joke there. Dear lord, that isn't right: I'll have to re-write that. How about, Dear Stephanie, by the time you read this I'll be gone. No, no: that sounds like a Dear John letter, or a country and western song. Ah, well, I'll give it some thought and come back and change it later.
In all seriousness, this message is programmed to be sent to you if I should go more than a week without logging on my account. Barring some system crash, of course. But then if that happened, you wouldn't be reading this. I'm sorry, I'm rambling, aren't I. I'll have to go back and edit this when I get the time. The poor girl is probably pulling her hair out wondering what happened to me. No, she wouldn't do that. Probably wondering what happened, though. I wonder what could happen? I'll have to put a black box in the armor so someone can watch and see what happened. Assuming I simply don't disappear into a wormhole or a statistical violation-physics anomaly.
[Here he rambles on for a few paragraphs about tesseracts and theoretical half-lives of pocket dimensions. You only catch about half of his references, but then again, it is his specialty.]
Oh, but back to my demise. I'll have to go back and clean this up when I get the time. I also need to have Lyle get me some more apple juice; I'm all out.
[Here he has typed a grocery list. Toward the end he lists things like electronic components and chemical compounds.]
The thrust of the matter is that I have a great body of work that I don't want lost, and you dear Stephanie are one of the few people who might be able to make sense of it. (You and Stephen, but you know he and I never really got along. Besides, he's made his fortune.)
At the end of this letter is my private key to decrypt my personal files at Vanguard. Just tell Dr. Redgrave who you are: she will have received a letter along the lines of this one, as well, and she should be expecting you. Don't let her push you around, Stephanie. She's doesn't have your keen mind, but she's been great help as my assistant. Once you prove to her that you deserve her respect, I'm sure she'll be a great help to you, as well. Assuming, that is, that you carry on my work. I truly hope you do, Stephanie. Someone has to, and there's no one else I'd trust with it. Not even Carlotta: she loves science for its own sake just a little too much for that. But you'll find that out on your own, I suppose: your people skills are a good deal better than mine. Not that that's saying much.
The letter ends with a 1024-bit encryption key, and Vanguard's address in Los Angeles, CA. The letter is dated as written approximately three years ago, just after Stephanie moved to Idaho, but it is dated as sent yesterday (Tuesday).
Well, first things first. I am assuming that I received this message at my L.A abode, which I would assume to be the basement of an old run down house.
"This is enerving. He always managed to interrupt me at the most inoportune times. This is no exception. His work, his work, - his work was all that mattered - what about my work??? --
Oh Well, now to find this Dr. Redgrave person... "
I will attempt to contact Dr Redgrave at Vanguard - by the way, have I ever heard of this Vanguard?? I assume so, if not, let me know ...
"... he was a pain, but the man was brilliant -- this is the kind of work that I do not want in the wrong hands, especially not the firm's. And, the only way to make sure that that does not happen is to keep the data myself."
Ok, I will go in person to get the data from her. Hassle? Yes, but what's new? Whenever the good doctor is involved there is always hassle for me - that is a given. Dr. Redgrave is very mistaken if she believes that I intend to go there and argue with her over whether or not she will give me this data. She does not understand that that is what I came for and this is what I will get. Moot point.
I will go in to this Vanguard place - wearing a pair of jeans and a white shirt, tennis shoes - and get the file. An hour ... tops!
In terms of development, I will keep up to date on what Steph is currently working on. Unless something comes up, she spends 95% of her time bettering Tis.
- Improve interface connection to minimize down time. This will increase the response timw which will lead to faster reaction and movement when in Tis. Completion date: In progress - no projection
- Offensive systems improvement. Problems with Jamming systems and misfire. Main problem seems to be with the synaptic paralyzer. Also maximize utilization of current power. These systems are not very power efficient. Completion Date: In progess - problems found with the electromagnetic interface that power both the paralyzer and the energy blast system. This may be the problem.
- Upgrade Tis' main processor. The voice interface has slowed the system down considerably. With this new upgrade, more programs will be able to be processed at the same time. First system to link up in this is targeting and sensor systems. AI conversion is almost complete, perhaps that piece will go in with the new upgrade also. Completion Date: Main processor upgrade - two months; AI upgrade in progress, problems found in system integration of Gyros.
- Fix Vacuum seal. Priority one - suction faulty. Completion date: 2 days - in progress.
As people rise, and the conversation starts turing into little singles and duos, the short guy in the blue and gold waits for a lull in the chat between Beowulf and Emerald. He moves into Emerald's field of view from the left.
"Com permiso, can I, uh, talk witt you?"
Assuming Emerald takes a couple of steps in a private direction.
"I'm, uh, El Langosto. That's the Locust in English. You're Emerald, right?"
"I wanna talk with you after this is done. There's somethin' you oughta know."
Emerald raised an eyebrow, but nodded. "All right. We can take a walk around the grounds while we chat, if that's all right with you."
Adaptor examines the table for a moment, then reaches down and picks up a ring. He slides it onto his hand and flexes it: it seems to be a perfect fit, first try. He waits politely for any others who are speaking to finish, then begins:
"My 'powers' (and you can hear the quotes in the way he says it) probably aren't as impressive as any of yours. As you might have guessed from my name, my body has the ability to rapidly adapt to chanigng circumstances. As a result, I am in near perfect human condition, but not superhumanly strong or fast. I have received extensive trainig in the art of Aikido from a former costumed hero, though. The staff I use once belonged to Captain Paragon, and has been passed on to me. I can use it very effectively in Hand to Hand combat. It is, as far as I know, indestructible, and can deflect any attacks it can intercept, provided I am properly braced, and contains a mechanism that allows me to leap approxiamately 40' upwards, about twice that distance horizontally.
My main assets are probably not my offensive skills but my tactical ones. The changes I've gone through have given me a perfect photographic memory, as well as an absolute time sense and the ability to perform complex mathematical calcualtions in my head at very rapid speeds. I used to be a Master Ranked Chess player, so I'm used to examining a situation and thinking several steps ahead, although I haven't really applied it to a combat situation. Perhaps Emerald could start to train me to put these abilties to practical use for the benefit of the team.
I am now completely immune to disease, and my body can withstand quite a bit of punishment. Based on my experiences, I will probably be able to cope with mental or other forms of attack, as well, but I have never faced them. I will reserve judgement on which team I would be most effective until after we have gotten a better idea of our options."
Adaptor will wait until anyone else who hasn't spoken does, and, if there are no questions or strategy sessions planned, he'll pick up his clothes and ask Doctor Redgrave, "Where's the gymnasium, Doctor?"
As Prism looks around, reacting to the staff Kata, El Langosto points his head at the whirling dervish and shrugs helplessly.
When Kakker states that he is good with his hands, El Langosto touches his left forefinger to his forehead briefly.
As Kakker finishes, Carlos steps forward, melodramatially. "I am El Langosto. That's the Locust, if you're uneducated. I, uh, I can shrink down like this."
He seems to disappear, but you notice him flying through the air to perch on the table with the equipment. He leaps up in a move strangely similar to a pole-vaulter. His voice, when he speaks, sounds like he has been breathing helium.
"When I'm small like this, I can jump far and am real strong. I don't know any of that Kung-Fu stuff, but I can learn. Prob'ly I should go with the group to protect the prison 'cuz I can watch and be hard to see."
He takes one of the rings, steps off the table, and returns to regular size. He holds his hand out to invite another member of the group to speak.
The little hispanic guy in blue and gold comes over to Prism. "Hey, I wanna find out just how heavy you are, anyway."
"When I shrink down, just put your foot on my hands. Done worry, I'll be okay."
El Langosto shrinks until he is about 3 1/4 inches tall. His hands are raised above his head. He's right next to Prism's left foot.
Krane observes the others as the meeting proceeds, filling out the questionnaire (leaving out personal information-- mainly his name & address). When the others are done speaking he begins.
"I am merely a martial artist. I have knowledge of weapons and empty hand techniques. I have studied several of the arts from Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as India. My body and mind have been trained to a -- competent level.
"My abilities would probably best be served in making sure that prisoners do not escape, but I would also like to keep an eye out for Grendel and Beowulf. I can't condone killing. It will be my duty to prevent any."
Prism shakes Kakker's hand with a smile on his face, though his grip is somewhat tentative (as if he is unsure of his own strength). "My pleasure, Kakker," he replies, though he seems to find something awkward about the name "Kakker".
When El Langosto first commits his sudden shrinking maneuver, Prism starts back, obviously taken aback. After a moment, though, he shakes his head in a self-deprecating manner, then leans back forward to listen to the little fellow's words. He also listens attentively to Adaptor's and Krane's self- introductions, though he does cock a crystalline eyebrow as Adaptor begins to rattle off his impressive list of mental abilities.
When El Langosto approaches him, Prism looks slightly bemused at his request, but shrugs (his shoulders crackling with the movement) and acquiesces. Once Langosto has shrunk, Prism tentatively puts his foot onto the little man's hands. After a moment, once he has gotten a verbal go- ahead from Langosto, he will lift his other foot slowly off the floor, putting his entire weight onto the tiny palms of his companion.
Assuming Langosto is reasonably perceptive (and can handle the weight), he'll probably guess that Prism weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of eight hundred kilos.
That done, he settles back onto the floor and glances around as if waiting for someone to take charge of the group.
Britestar fills out the form and hands it to lyle. After Krane finishes speaking he says: "I have the ability to control light energy, giving me the powers of flight and energy projection. Although I have come by these powers very recently so I have not actually used them in a fight. Perhaps I could serve as an airborne scout, providing recon of the area."
Britestar picks up one of the rings and puts it on.
As Prism's weight settles onto Langosto, Langosto completely disappears under the foot. helium voice "Hey, thass not so bad!"
Prism rises and falls about 1 1/2 inches three or four times, briskly. He is slid slightly to the side. El Langosto returns to his full normal 5'2" just a little too close to Prism. He steps back and recovers.
"Hey, sorry! I think I can get you over a fence or up on a roof, companero. You won't, like, break or nothing when you hit the ground?"
After Britestar announces his abilities, Langosto walks over. "Hey, you fly? Cool! Show us, eh? Do you make like speedlines, or a blue glow?"
Best laid plans...
Eventually the cab pulls up to Vanguard. The Vanguard estate is huge. Back when the Scarlet Avenger bought the land and built the first headquarters, it probably didn't cost more than a few thousand. Now the land alone must be worth millions. The wall around the grounds is about two meters high and made of brick, and it's topped by a wrought-iron lantern every few meters. The wall is interrupted twice by wrought-iron gates where driveways lead into the compound, and once where it intersects the main Vanguard building (which faces the street).
Steph gets out, pays the cabbie, and steps up to the smooth glass doors. She pushes the buzzer outside the dark glass front of the building, and after a moment the door swings open and she is met by the smiling face of a young Hispanic woman. "You are here for the meeting?" she asked.
"I'm Dr. Morris. I have an appointment with Dr. Redgrave."
The girl looks surprised. "Oh," she says, smile flickering off and on like a bad bulb. "Oh. Well, come in, Doctor." Steph enters the cool lobby, the air quietly humming from the air conditioning. The pretty young maid shuts the door behind her, and it closes with a quiet "click." She leads the casually-dressed scientist through the lobby and past the front desk to a meeting room down the hall.
"Wait here, please. Dr. Redgrave's in a meeting." The girl steps into a meeting room, but the door is open and you can see several colorfully-attired superheroes, one of whom looks like a statue made of crystal.
Dr. Regrave is in a meeting? Great, I see that she has the same regard for other people's priority lists as the good doctor did. The reason why I called her and told her that I was comming is because I did not want nor had the time to wait. Now I am stuck here, with this bunch of weido's waiting on someone else's project. Great! My idea of a good time .. yeah, right!
Dr. Redgrave has 15 minutes. I am not at her beck and call.
Lyle seems to be kept busy passing out and collecting forms, and (apparently satisfied), Dr. Redgrave nods and heads for the door. She is met there by Stacy, the pretty young maid.
"Dr. Morris is here to see you," Stacy says quietly.
Dr. Redgrave nods, and she and Stacy leave the meeting room.
Lyle glances over his shoulder at Redgrave's retreating back, rolls his eyes briefly, takes a deep breath, and goes back to gathering up forms.
"Okay. . . is that everybody?" He digs through the pile of forms, then counts the heads of those present. "Two, three, four. . . I don't have forms for Adaptor, Emerald, or Krane." He looks around, looking for faces to match with the names.
Meanwile, there's a CRUNCH from underneath Prism's foot, and the heavyweight hero drops a centimeter. He hastily lifts his large pedal extremity and looks for the crushed remains of the newly-renamed El Langosto.
"S'okay, companero!" The tiny man's voice assures the panicked crystalline man. "I just broke through the floor. I'm not hurt or anything." Feeling a little embarrassed, Carlos pulls his feet out of the prestressed concrete under the meeting room's hardwood floors, and climbs out of the El Langosto-sized hole in the wooden floorboard.
Less than a minute after Steph set her mental stopwatch at fifteen minutes, Dr.Redgrave walked into the lobby from the meeting room. She was a woman in her thirties, with long blonde hair held back in a ponytail. Her eyes were grey, as was her impeccably-styled business suit. She's wearing a white lab coat, as crisp and sharp as a new dollar bill. With the cool inevitability of an iceberg, she introduced herself and made clear what the itinerary for Steph's visit was.
"Good afternoon, Doctor. I'm Dr. Redgrave." She makes no move to shake hands, and moves immediately to one of the hallways leading away from the lobby. Her clear intention is for Steph to follow her.
"I presume you have the security key to access Dr. Roberts' account. I'll allow this, since it's apparently what Jason wanted. However, you will not be given free access to all of Vanguard's files, nor will you be allowed to wander through the facility unescorted. You may have a copy of any data Jason has, but the original files and equipment, if any, will not leave this facility." Her tone makes it clear that there is no point in arguing, which is just as well. Steph had no intention of arguing with this woman. Whatever Dr. Roberts' motives or flaws, he obviously didn't intend his research to end up in this woman's hands. If Steph were feeling generous, she might give this Dr. Redgrave a copy of some of Jason's data, but at the rate this was going Steph's generous mood was rapidly evaporating.
They eventually made their way down grey-crpeted halls, past several potted palms, finally reaching brushed-aluminum elevator doors. Dr. Redgrave pulled a credit card from the pocket of her lab coat and swiped it across a reader mounted in the wall next to the doors. The doors silently slid open, revealing an elaborate laboratory.
Steph could not help but mentally catalog the many esoteric pieces of equipment she had long desired but could not afford. Vanguard must have almost limitless resources to be able to afford a fraction of the expensive gear scattered around the spacious lab. Dr. Redgrave left no time for sight-seeing, however, and led Steph through the lab to a door leading beyond it, to a smaller, more cluttered workspace.
This was obviously where Dr. Roberts did most of his work. The almost artistic state of chaos, the myriad papers tossed with fractal randomness around the room, made it clear that Dr. Redgrave spent almost no time here. Steph's mind automatically categorized muc of what she saw in the split-second before Dr. Redgrave demanded her attention again: cybernetic interfaces, various robotic components, a Hawking chamber for studying cosmic string fragments, several disassembled plasma accelerators, and what appeared to be some kind of Telsa coils next to a frame almost two meters square.
"This is his workstation," Dr. Redgrave said, tapping a key on the grey Xerox keyboard. A holographic display a meter wide sprung into existence above the littered lab desk, blank but for the sole word: