Night City(4): The Prison Break
Once Lyle got the the forms from the last of the heroes, he stuck them in a folder and gathered up his notebook.
"If everyone will follow me, I'll show you your quarters now."
It takes the better part of an hour for Lyle to show everyone around. He begins by giving a quick tour of the grounds, then takes everyone to their rooms. All the rooms are on the second floor, even Prism's, which seems to surprise him. At each door, Lyle digs a credit card from his notebook and hands it to the room's new resident. The card is black with a gold embossed "V", and it lacks the magnetic stripe one would expect to find.
"The key works for the exterior doors, and your room. As you get security access, it'll open some interior doors, too."
The rooms themselves are comfortable, but not opulent. Two king-sized beds per room (but only one occupant), with a small refrigerator and microwave. The bathroom has a small jacuzzi, big enough for two people (except in Prism's case). The 21" TV has well over 500 channels, and Lyle assures everyone that the eight Pay-Per-View channels are paid for by the facility.
Eventually, the tour gets to the "common areas": kitchen, dining room (Stacy, polishing the woodwork, smiles and waves as the group goes by), sauna, jacuzzi, and TV room with what Lyle calls the "wall of sound": a huge in-home theatre with full Dolby surround sound.
"We were working on getting THX accreditation, but other things keep coming up..." he explains.
Finally, the tour gets back to the meeting room.
"Okay," Lyle says to anyone still following him around. "Any questions?"
"Yes, sir," Adaptor speaks up. "Who else will have access to our rooms, and will there be a way for us to ensure our privacy? Also, are the rooms monitored at all?"
Kakker asks Lyle, "What about Vanguard's information resources on the prison's relevant superhumans, and the prison area in general? How much time do we have left before the attack is scheduled?"
Lyle sits on the table, putting one Reebok-clad show on a chair.
"The prison is strictly flatlines: no paranormals at all. At the very least, if there are any paranormals, no one knows about it. We don't know when the attack is going to be, or where, other than it's going to be tonight." He digs through his notebook and pulls out several sheets of paper.
"This is the floorplan of the prison. It's basicallly the same on every level but the first." He passes ouut the sheets of paper.
The map is labeled "Orange County Women's Penitentiary." 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. I figure you'll have to park somewhere outside the prison, in the orange groves that grow all around it, and wait for some sign that the break is going down. But the details of that are for you guys to figure out: I'm a biologist, not a tactician." He gives a quick grin, hair falling fetchingly in front of his right eye.
Kakker next spoke up.
"Dr. Redgrave said that the prison officials didn't beleive there would be metahuman involvement, and didn;t want our help. Have they had any past record of accepting unsolicited aid in a breakout? What will they think if we suddenly join the mayhem? They wouldn't recognize us as stolid pillars of justice, you know." Kakker turned as he spoke, to include the rest of the group, hopefully before Emerald and El Langosto leave.
"Don't get me wrong, I genuinely want to help. But if there's a misunderstanding, not all of us are bulletproof."
Prism is visibly worried when El Langosto is apparently crushed; when the little guy emerges from the the Langosto-shaped hole in the floor, Prism's relief is apparent. "Had me worried there, amigo," he says.
Prism is quiet during most of the tour, keeping largely to himself. He seems momentarily at a loss when handed his room card; his lack of clothing means an absence of pockets, which seems to have only just dawned on him.
Once the tour finishes, he looks at his wrist, then shakes his head and asks, "So, what time is it? It's great to have gotten the grand tour, but shouldn't we be getting a move on?" He seems a trifle nervous about something.
After the tour, El Langosto says to Prism, "Hey sorry to scare you, man. Next time, we try it on concrete. I think I can throw you over a fence, though. Hey, you ain't gonna break or nothin' when you land?"
"I gotta find that fabulosa Emerald. Hasta...."
El Langosto wanders down the hall, looking for Emerald's room.
(Assuming he finds her in the living quarters, just after the tour...)
"Hey, I, uh, gotta favor to ask you. Uh, maybe you like we could go for a run on the track, get some exercise?"
From his posture, it's obvious that he is embarrassed or apprehensive.
Emerald smiles at the Locust, and says, "I'm in a need of some exercise--I haven't had a chance to work out much today. I need to warm up before tonight anyway. Why don't we go for a brief jog around the grounds, then head over to the Danger Room, or gym, or whatever they have here. While we do that, you can let me know what's on your mind. I give you my word, I will give you my confidence, if you wish it."
El Langosto's mask moves around the chin. He must be smiling. "All right. Let's go down to the track."
As they go downstairs, Langosto asks, "So. You said at the meeting you done this before someplace. What did you do? What was it like?"
got any good war stories?
As they near the gym, Langosto excuses himself and heads into the men's locker room. "I'm gonna leave this ring with my costume. If they need us, they can find us. Did you grab one of these radios? I'll take it in for you."
He comes out in obviously-borrowed gear, since it hangs ridiculously long on his 5'2" frame. He's wearing shorts and a T, and is barefoot. He retains only the mask of his costume. It seems to have detached at the neck, and the part covering the chin has been pulled up just above his nose. The material is thick, and seems to have some thickness added to spots to change the shape of his chin. Seeing Emerald, Langosto gestures to the mask. "Mi prima made me this. Pretty good, eh? Sometimes, I think she's a waste of air, but this was pretty damn good."
Langosto runs with a fast, methodical pace and very even breathing. He obviously runs a lot. "This... feels... good! Hey! Wanna race? I haven't been able to really race somebody since I got my powers. I'm much faster now. It wouldn't be right."
Langosto clears his throat. (Hard to do while running!) "I don't think they can spy on us here."
"Lissen, something bad is goin' on here. When you went to the funeral, you parked a long way, away, right? Well, I din't want my car to be close, so I took the bus to the funeral."
"So, I figure, hey, I'll just ride back on the Limo, y'know? I jump on the bumper, and away we go."
"After a while, the limo pulls up here. I figure I better not just leap off, swell up and yell TA-DA on account of that might make Modulator zap me by mistake. And I'm a lot easier to zap at this height."
"But before I can jump out of the garage, the doc and Lyle get out. They're talking. The Doc says, 'I don't think anyone suspected.' and Lyle agrees. Then the Doc says, 'I think we can get rid of him now.' I think that was Modulator, who they got under some kinda control, 'cause he never reacts or nothin'. And, you see, they say he got sent away on some kinda mission. Yeah, right! Then she says something about how their plan can go on now."
Langosto stops running, caught up in the story. "I been thinking about it. Who is doin' this? What group of terrorists just blew up a building and HATE superheroes? What group would kill all the live heroes, leaving only a robot they could control? Genocide."
"I thin' they're working for Genocide. They want to kill off all the supers."
Langosto glances around, and starts running again. "I thin' you are in a good spot. They might ask you to join, since you got no superpowers." He reddens across the forehead and chin (about all you can see of his face). "I mean, you can do stuff because you practice every day and meditate and all that Kung Fu Caine stuff. They'd like you to join them."
He points to himself. "Me, I shrink up and down. They don't know I got my powers from the Madre de Dios." He crosses himself briefly. "They'll think I'm a mutant or got bit by a cicada or something."
"I picked you 'cause you believe in all that Kung Fu Swordlady honor stuff. If you were gonna go after someone, you'd tell 'em, THEN get 'em. I might tell Prism, but I wouldn't tell him I told you. He sounds like he's got plenty of other problems." He circles his ear with his finger. "Adaptor is too weird, I think he's an alien or somethin' and he just don't think like us. Krane and Kakker are the kinda guys they might pick. Bailwolf..." he shudders "... probably IS one of them already. Britestar, I dunno. He seems to live in his head."
"If they come to you, will you pretend to join? So we can expose 'em?"
Emerald raised her eyebrow in surpise as the Locust suggested leaving their new radios behind. She unpinned hers from her shoulder strap and handed it to him without a word. After he returned, they headed over to the track field to begin their run. Emerald took a few moments to warm up before running.
As they went around the track for the first time, Emerald glanced over at Locust, and without even thinking, silently accepted his offer of a race. [Emerald is Speed 6, Dex 27, Running 9"]
As they crossed over the finish line, Emerald slowed her pace to a jog, but did not stop running. After she caught her second wind, she turned to the Locust and said, "Nice race. What was on your mind?"
Emerald listened to the Locust's story without interrupting. She continued to run in silence for a few moments, organizing her thoughts.
"Locust," she said in Spanish, "I don't know what to believe at this point. No offense to you, but your story states that a lie has been told. Problem is, I don't know for sure who is telling it. Your story disturbs me. It alarms me. But I can't take your word for it. I must have some evidence. I will go to the Prison tonight, and watch. But I have given my word to Modulator, and without more evidence that something is wrong, I am obligated to keep the word I have given. I'm sorry. But until I am sure, I will keep this conversation in confidence. All right? I think we'd better go back in."
After finishing speaking with Emerald, Langosto goes looking for Kakker.
Langosto (the small hispanic hero who marred the wood flooring) waits for Kakker to finish his questions, then says, "Hey. Commere a minute, Kakker."
He waves Kakker over to a relatively undisturbed spot. In a low voice:
"You're like Bill Nye, the Science Guy, right? You do the machines."
"Yes, that's very close," Kakker replies.
"I gotta question. I was, like, watching the X-files. And this guy Moldy, he's, like, talkin' to his enemy on his cel phone. And this guy, he, like, figures out where Moldy is using the phone. Can you really do that?"
Kakker nodded. "It's expensive and a pain, but yes, it's possible."
"Can you do that with this?" He undoes a velcro pocket in back and pulls out a Vanguard ring. "Should I never take this home, or what?"
"Hmmm." Kakker quickly whipped out a volt-ohm meter and began attaching probes to a Vanguard pin he produced from a pocket of his own. "It's not transmitting now, but if it -is- like a cell phone, they transmit on occasion, even when not in use. I'll keep monitoring mine," he said, wrapping a loop of tape around the arangement and sticking it in a larger pouch, "but if you're worried it might give you away, you could carry it inside a sealed metal container, like a lunch box, or a very good thermos. Of course, then you couldn't be reached in case of an emergency."
Emerald returned to the house with El Langosto, deeply disturbed by what she had been told. She had just joined this group and already seeds of dissention were being sown. She had no reason to trust Langosto's word, but no reason to doubt it either, considering the terrible events of the past week. She thought about it a bit: apparantly Doomguard had had trouble coordinating. All it's members had had run ins with Vanguard in the past, including it's leader--who had formed the team specifically to destroy Vanguard. And they had done so with terrible efficiency. How? Inside information? New technologies? Both?
Either Redgrave or Langosto were lying. She needed to find out. Quickly. She cursed herself for being so open with Lyles questionairre [sidenote--did you get it yet? I sent it back the same day], but that was water under the bridge. Grandfather might be in danger--he might not. But she needed to see to his safety. Excusing herself from the other members of Vanguard, she made her way to a telephone, and dialed her home number.
"Park residence." Grandfather's voice answered.
"Grandfather? It's me," Emerald said in Korean.
"What's the matter, Granddaugher? You sound upset." Parks concern echoed over the line. [Park is also speaking in Korean]
"Things here are moving very quickly. There will be some action tonight. The new Vanguard will announce itself to the world," Emerald hesitated a moment. She needed to get her message across subtly. There was no guarantee that the conversation wasn't being monitored, and wouldn't be translated. "I won't be home tonight. I probably won't be home much at all for awhile. Would you pass the word to the other instructors for me?"
Park listened to his granddaugher with a sense of trepidation. There were no "other" instructors: he and Emerald maintained a very small school. She was trying to tell him something. She was afraid of being overheard. "Certainly, dear. You know, this might be a good time to consider going ahead with the expansion. Mr. Chang expressed interest in investing in the school. I will go see him tommorrow."
Emerald held in a sigh of relief. Grandfather had gotton the message. "All right. I'll call you when I can to let you know how things are going."
"Don't let me keep you, then. My pride goes with you, dear."
Park hung up the telephone, concerned. Something was wrong, and Soon Li had not dared speak of it openly. Yes, this would be a very good time to go see Mr. Chang. But not tomorrow. Tonight. He took his cane, and walked out of the house.
Emerald hung up the phone, relieved. Grandfather knew that something was up, and would be careful until she could let him know more. She might be jumping the gun. Even if Langosto was right, and Redgrave was involved with Genocide, there was no reason to suspect that Genocide would strike against her family, at least not this quickly. But she couldn't take the chance: she wanted Grandfather out of harms way until she sorted out exactly what was going on.
She returned to the study where the others were beginning to discuss plans for the breakout.
Krane surveys the others during the tour. He doesn't really comment on the base. It is impressive, of that there can be little doubt, but it seems to be a little much. Too much temptation to lounge and enjoy, not enough to motivate. Possessions are nice but at this stage in his life, and this stage in the city's history, focus and concentration are what is necessary.
During the Q & A he lets the others talk.
"I'm not much of a tactician, most if not all of my battles have been straightforward. But for my opinion, I think that I should watch for escapees as a main objective-- alerting Beowulf if Grendel puts in an appearance. Then I will just have to keep an eye on both of those killers. I'd like to keep things from getting too far out of control."
Britestar asks Lyle " I assume you have a database of all known supervilians and known associates? I want to scan the data for all information about Grendels powers, tactics and any agents or supervillians he usually works with. For good measure, I want to know about Beowulf as well."
"Actually," Lyle replies, "no, we don't. It's one of the projects we planned on, but never actually had the time to implement. It never seemed that important. After all, new members could just ask old members what was going on and who was who...." He trails off, shrugging helplessly. He looks uncomfortable.
Lyle glances at his watch (one of those Casio calculator/phone book things).
"Getting close to 5. The doctor should be done with her visitor pretty soon now, and we can get down to planning the operation." Lyle looks vaguely uncomfortable, and glances at the door, obviously wondering what's keeping Dr. Redgrave...
Emerald had listened carefully to her new teammates descriptions of their powers. The consensus seemed to be a cautious approach was indicated. She mulled over the powers of the new Vanguard for a while, then spoke up:
"Very well, my friends. Here's how I sum up our strengths. Please correct me if I make an error. I myself am a highly trained martial artist. My ability to quickly heal injuries makes me able to withstand alot of punishment. My ability to work in the darkness makes me well suited to infiltration tactics. Krane, you yourself are also a trained martial artist, as is Adaptor. However, Adaptor has some unique abiliities that make him well suited to going into the prison, if necessary. Brightstar, you are our only member capable of true flight, and are our sole energy projectionist. Kakker, you've said you are good with your hands. I hope that means you would be able to construct a few items that will help us contain any escaping prisoners. El Langosto, your Shrinking ability makes you ideal to get us some recon inside the prison before the break actually occurs. Prisim, you're our "muscle", our sheer powerhouse. With your ability to make yourself nearly invisible, you will be able to give our enemies some nasty shocks, I hope.
"What I propose is this. El Langosto will attempt to gain entry into the prison, to get an idea how it is laid out on the inside, and possibly to identify the target of the break if he sees an opportunity to do so. Brightstar, Adaptor, and I will take up key points around the prison, and prepare to enter the grounds when trouble starts. Our key tasks will be to evacuate and secure the safety of the officers. We'll back them up against the attackers. We'll engage Grendel if an opportunity presents itself, and to save lives, otherwise we'll leave him to Beowulf. Prisim, Kakker, and Krane will be our "net": their task will be to recapture any escaping prisoners. We all have communicators. Because of the size of the prison, it will be difficult for us to coordinate our efforts unless we use them frequently. I suggest keeping all channels open and reporting our actions constantly to one another. Don't be afraid to call for help if necessary. Given the lace of time to prepare, I feel this is the best we can do. Does anyone else have other suggestions or plans? If so we need to consider them, and get ready soon."
Adaptor speaks up:
"Emerald's plan seems tactically sound. I have a question for you, Lyle, and also an observation for the group. Lyle, what sort of vehicle will we be using to reach the site? Perhaps it should figure into our plans. If we are capable of hovering over the prison, it would give an excellent vantage point. Also, do any of us actually know how to fly whatever it is we'll be using, or does Vanguard have other personnell for such things?"
Adaptor waits patiently for a response. Whenever Lyle is through, and the group has discussed the ramifications of what he's said, he says to Emerald: "The only part of the plan we might wish to be cautious with is sending in El Langosto before the break occurrs. Since the prison has been warned to expect trouble tonight, they will be ready for intruders. If he is detected, the gaurds may mistake him for an enemy. Our enemies may even be counting on this to cause chaos before they arrive. Perhaps we should all wait outside until something actually occurrs. I will defer to your combat experience in this matter, Emerald, but it seemed prudent to bring this up."
Adaptor looks expectantly at Emerald...
Lyle grimaces when Adaptor brings up the subject of vehicles.
"We have a motor pool with half a dozen cars in it. We used to have a skimmer that could bit 800 kph, but it's not working right now. Modulator was in the middle of rebuilding it." Lyle shrugs. "We do have plenty of cars, though."
Britestar says " I think there is a decent chance that Grendel might decide to extract his target through the air. Of course whether that would be through his own flight capability or by something as mundane as a helicoptor I don't know.I think I should fly on over there and patrol the skies around the prison just in case. Lyle, can you give me a map of how to get from here to the prison? It would be embarassing to wind up on the wrong side of town."
To Britestar's request for a map, Lyle responds, "Oh, yeah, a street map." He goes over to the podium and takes what looks ike a thick spiral notebook from behind it. He brings it back to the table and flips through it. It's a book of maps of the LA/Orange County area. Eventually he finds the appropriate page and passes it around.
"There you go. Can't miss it," he grins. "It's a big concrete building in the middle of an orange grove."
Meanwhile, somewhere across town...
The bleeps from the EEG and EKG kept her company in the wee hours of the morning. That, and the quiet hum of the ventilation. Other than that, the ward was silent. But then, the intensive care unit was usually pretty quiet this time of the morning. This was the time they lost the most patients: in the still, comforting darkness, with no crying relatives to urge them to survive one more day, even as a vegetable. Crying relatives who could think only of their own needs, of their own loneliness, of being abandoned in the world of the living.
"Quiet night, Mary?"
Dr. McMillan smiled, and squeezed the nurse's shoulder. He typed on the keyboard at the foot of the patient's bed, making "tsk-tsk" noises at the readout on the LCD screen.
"Hmm. Still some cerebral activity, and we're seeing a lot of REM. No other movement?" the doctor asked while preparing a hypodermic; muscle relaxant, probably.
She shook her head sadly. The man had been admitted a week ago, more dead than alive. They had done what they could, but although his body was mending, his mind seemed beyond their reach. He could wake up ten minutes from now, or ten years from now; there was no way to tell. If he didn't show any improvement in the next week or so, the administration would have him moved to a convalescent center to free up the bed for a patient with a chance to walk out on their own. So sad.
The doctor finished the injection, cleared the computer screen, and smiled brightly. "Well, I guess that's all I can do here. You have a good night, Mary. I'll see you around 5:30."
"Have a good morning, doctor." She gave one last look at the man in the bed and went back to reading her Robert Ludlum novel.
Emerald nods as Adaptor points out the risks in sending in El Langosto early.
"I realize it's asking the Locust to take a big risk," she replied. "I believe that inside information would be invaluable. Simply being in the area has it's risks of detection, as the guards will make regular security rounds." Emerald turns and faces the Locust directly. "It's your call. If you feel the risk outwieghs the possible advantages, then we'll figure out another role for you."
Krane listens closely to Emerald's plan. "With the amount of time we've had to put something together and our limited knowledge of one another's powers and capabilities, I feel that your plan has great merit. I second it."
Kakker clears his throat. "I should point out at this time that it is a felony to enter a prison facility without permission. While Good Samaraitan laws will protect those who are helping prevent a breakout in progress, a hem, "preemptive" tresspass will certainly put one in dutch. Those remaining outside may loiter there until something dire happend, but I am hard-pressed to exonerate El Langosto in spying within." He turns to look questioningly toward the technician.
"Well, um, I guess that's a good point. So, points against sending El Langosto into the prison are that it's dangerous and possibly illegal. Points for it are that, unless you have someone inside, you won't have any idea what's going on in the prison until you hear the screaming & gunshots."
Lyle looks at El Langosto. "I guess it's up to you, dude. It's your call."
El Langosto turns to Kakker. "You ain't an accountant, are ya? The reason we wear masks..."
Langosto's head turns towards Prism and Adaptor briefly
"...the reason heroes started wearing masks is that sometimes ya gotta break a law for a good reason. Whaddya think is more important, Kakker, sneaking in for a good reason or having three guards get popped before we get in there?"
Gesturing at the door, through which Beowulf recently departed
"I mean, he's the hero. Whaddya think the bad guy is gonna be like? Roses and knock-out darts? He's gonna have automatic weapons and claws and a shitload of stuff like that built into his armor."
"I'd rather take my chances goin' in than think he's gonna slice and dice a buncha guards while we're lookin' for him."
forced bright tone
"So I'll just haveta be sure not to get caught until the bad guys arrive, right?"
"Since you put it that way, I believe we have probable cause to suspect an emergency situation is imminent and that secrecy is called for." Kakker smiles, relieved, and winks at the spunky El Langosto, noting that he lost his accent completely. :)
Lyle looks relieved. "Okay, so you'll all drive down there -- except maybe Britestar, who can fly -- and then El Langosto will try sneaking into the prison. If anyone sees something out of the ordinary, they'll sound the alarm over the radio and you'll all go in ready to deal with trouble. I guess when you get there you can decide who will stake out what area around the prison, since it seems you all already have a pretty clear idea who can do what."
Lyle stands up and glances at his watch. "Well, I have some work to do," he says, gathering up his notebook. "You all saw the hallway to the garage, and Stacy can show you where we keep the keys and sign-out forms. Dr. Redgrave or I will be here to answer the radio if you should call. If no one has any other questions, good luck, and welcome to Vanguard." He stands there for a couple of heartbeats, in case anyone has a question, then leaves the group to fend for themselves.
Steph asks, "Dr. Redgrave, this is an interesting facility that you have here. How does one become associated with this Vanguard group? With the good doctor gone, you will be in need of scientific guidance. I am in need of a research facility, this place would allow me to further understand Dr. Roberts' work and give your organization the benefit of my insight. It's just a thought."
Dr. Redgrave blinks twice and smiles frostily. "I'm sure we could work something out. With Dr. Roberts gone, the work load here will probably be more than my assistant Lyle can handle. It would depend on your credentials, of course. And of course a routine security check. Nothing you would have to worry about, I'm sure."
I will look down at the workstation. I assume that she will not allow me to be alone in this room. [good assumption] I will take extra time in working here. If I can at the same time get a better idea of this Vanguard's computer system and research direction I will.
Most of the equipment in this room seems aimed at robotics, but there is some equiment that is not immediately recognizable. In this particular corner of the lab, a lot of the equipment seems aimed at particle physics research.
"Now, I am sure that being a scientist yourself, you can recognize my need for suitable working conditions. If you would stand over there while I work" point to a corner - any corner in the room - "I am not used to having someone watching over me."
Dr. Redgrave tilts her head to the side for moment, considering. She then takes single step backward and sits on a lab stool.
After that I will sit down and get to work.
Steph looks at the green words floating in the black holo-space above the desk:
Rapidly she types, "Dr. Stephanie Morris". The rest of the logon seems to go simply enough:
I CANNOT FIND THE USER Dr. Stephanie Morris IN MY DATABASE. IS THIS A NEW USER? [Y/n]
RE-ENTER PASSPHRASE FOR VERIFICATION:
The meter-square holo-cube fades to a light sky blue, with a vague hint of clouds in the distance. A soft neuter voice emanates from somewhere (Speakers in the ceiling? Steph wonders), "Good afternoon, Dr. Morris. Hello again, Dr. Redgrave. How may I help you today?"
Dr. Redgrave steps forward. "We want access to Dr. Roberts' account, Rasputin."
The neuter voice seems annoyed. "We've been through this, Carlotta. Without Dr. Roberts' encryption code, there's simply nothing I can do. Your persistence is beginning to become a nuisance."
"But we have the key, Rasputin." Dr. Roberts smiles, tightly triumphant.
"I assume you have the disk with you. Dr. Morris?" the computer-simulated personality called Rasputin asks, revealing no trace of surprise or disappointment. "Please place it in the workstation."
Under the clutter on the desk Steph finds a small workstation. She slips the disk with the encryption key into the box and the drive buzzes softly. There is a delay of a few seconds, and the drive light goes dark.
"Dr. Morris, you now have access to Dr. Roberts' personal files. This also gives you access to his private laboratory. It was Dr. Roberts' intention that you examine his work and choose to continue it. I feel I must inform you, however, that you are not compelled to do so. Nor are you compelled to cooperate with Dr. Redgrave or the other Vanguard personnel in any way. If you wish, I will download the 140.32 gigabytes of data in Dr. Roberts' file area to any server you designate. Dr. Roberts felt that you would require this amount of freedom in order to make a rational decision concerning his legacy."
"However, I should also inform you that Dr. Roberts felt this information was extraordinarily dangerous. The Vanguard computer system is among the most secure on the planet, for reasons that will become apparent to you. I strongly suggest that you not breach that security in any way until you are thoroughly familiar with the consequences of doing so."
"Finally, it is apparent from the body language being demonstrated by yourself and Dr. Redgrave that an adversarial relationship exists between you. I am not privy to Dr. Roberts' personal diaries, but it is my opinion that he was fully aware of the probabilities involved in bringing you together in this way. I do not know why, but I feel he did not want your working relationship to be an easy one. How this knowledge will affect your interaction is up to you."
Redgrave is champing at the bit, waiting for Rasputin to finish its monologue. From her expression, she obviously knows that trying to rush it is futile.
"You may now have access to Dr. Roberts' private files, Dr. Morris."
The cloudy blue sky above the desk turns into a more conventional-looking file window. Names of files, creation dates, access histories, etc. A cursory browse reveals that most of the 140 gigs of data are technical specifications. Most of it must have been generated from algorithms or by computer: no human being can type 140 gigs of text in a keyboard in a single lifetime. Steph browses the technical data, occassionally bringing up rendered 3-D views of esoteric equipment with names from a Buck Rogers comic: plasma accelerators, neutron-field modulators, passive graviton detectors, dimensional interface gates. None of it really seems to work together... what was the real purpose of all this? What was Jason doing with all this? The answer surprises her, but she immediately realizes that it shouldn't have. As it floats in virtual space above the desk, slowly rotating around its y-axis, she knows why Jason wanted her to have his legacy, and why he felt only she would know what to do with it.
"An impressive piece of work, isn't it?" asks Dr. Redgrave, raising one eyebrow at the chrome red armor floating in the holospace above the desk, entitled "Modulator Armor v12.04b".
After I see the armor, after the shock of it passes, I blink my eyes and "snap out of it".
"Thank you Rasputin, you may close the files now." I will pop the disk out of the drive and put it back in my pocket.
"Dr. Redgrave, Rasputin was correct when it said that I will need time to think on this. It seems that Dr. Roberts and I were more similar than I thought. I trust that this information will be secure here and I really have no need to remove it just yet. I will need more time to study it, of course; there is too much data here to go over."
Look around the room for a while, and mumble to myself "the old devil..." Turn back to Dr. Redgrave, in a very calm voice.
"Dr. Redgrave, let's get one thing straight from here on. I know of your background and am quite impressed. I read many of your papers and your theories are truly brilliant. However, according to Dr. Roberts, you were his assistant on this project, at least that is what he told me.
Dr. Redgrave's eyes narrow perceptibly.
If I do decide to contine on with Dr. Robert's work here at Vanguard, I would be replacing him, not assisting you. If that is not acceptable, I can take the files somewhere else as Rasputin has already pointed out. Now, in terms of my credentials, ... if you do not know them, you have been clearly out of touch with the scientific community for at least the last 10 years (I was at MIT for some time - she might have been there too at that time) - and out of touch means out of date. My research speaks for itself. Now, I do not want you as my rival, for that takes time away from reasearch and I will not have that. If we cooperate, with both our insights on this project, we can reach levels only dreamed of."
"Thank you for your assistance. I will contact you to let you know my decision." Turn around and start for the door.
When Prism hears that his job is to be containing escaped prisoners, he shifts uncomfortably from foot to massive foot and then speaks up. "That might not be the most effective place to put me. I'm not especially fast on my feet, and depending on the terrain, my weight might put me at a disadvantage catching anybody. Plus, I can absorb a pretty good pounding, so I'd probably be better used in a place where I can draw some fire from, um, softer people like the guards and maybe some of you."
He glances from face to face before settling his gaze back on Emerald, who has apparently become the de facto team leader, at least for the moment. "I'm no tactician, and I'll defer to your judgement on this, but I just thought you might want to consider it."
Whatever is resolved on that issue, once the team is ready to go, Prism seems almost relieved at the prospect of more action and less interaction. "Let's go!" he says. "Say, um, anybody got a car that can hold me?"
Kakker says, "I'm confident in my ability to deploy Prism wherever necessary. I have a 3/4 ton pickup I'll be driving to the prison and he's welcome to ride with me. On that matter, I suggest we leave as soon as possible, to avoid being seen driving up at the expected time of the break."
He looks at Prism's crystalline, bare form and looks puzzled. "I take it you don't have much in the way of gear?"
Prism smiles at Kakker's offer of transport. "Thanks," he says. "This'll be my first time in a car since . . . well, what happened." He looks down for a moment, then grins sheepishly. "And no, no gear," he adds. "What you see is what you get." He spreads his arms wide and then follows Kakker to the car.
Kakker flags Stacy down as she's refilling the icewater pitchers and asks her about "domino masks". She seems pleased to help, and takes him down the hall to the "costume room," where there are masks of various colors & styles, from simple black domino masks to metallic half-face masks. Most are obviously out of style, but a few are still in fashion.
Krane allows a show of excitment to come across his face (under his mask of course). The group is on their way to confront the enemy. This is the feeling he's been looking for. This is the chance to do something good for the city.
Being with the group is good. They have resources. Alone he wouldn't have known about the prison break until it was already over and done with. Belonging to the group allows him to help. To make a difference.
He rides over with the others, his mind racing a mile a minute.
Dr. Redgrave's mouth twitches at one corner, and she raises an eyebrow. "Me, out of date? Pardon me for saying so, but it's been years since you've published any meaningful research, Dr. Morris. In fact, in the past eight years you've done almost nothing worth mentioning. Quite a change from the precocious child prodigy everyone fawned over at MIT. And see where your much-vaunted brilliance has gotten you? Teaching at a hole-in-the-wall university, taking any meaningless commercial lab job you can scrounge."
Dr. Redgrave's voice is quiet, cold and sharp as a scalpel. "Do not think for one moment you can come in here and expect to take over my lab. Jason and I worked together for years; we were a team. There are things in this lab that no one else on earth has any hope of duplicating, not in my lifetime. You may have been something phenomenal once, but you need to look around you and take stock of where you are. You aren't 14 anymore. I'm willing to bring you on here because Jason seemed to think you had potential. Well, you'll have to prove that to me. You have a lot of work ahead of you if you want to take Jason's place here."
She crosses her arms over her chest and presses her lips in a tight smile. "Take all the time you need to think about what you want to do with Jason's research. In the meantime, those files aren't going anywhere. Perhaps I can't access them without you, but you can't access them without me, either. Rasputin, institute a class 3 security lock on the lab. Physical access only, until I rescind the lock."
If Steph thought Dr. Redgrave was bluffing, Rasputin quickly corrected that perception.
"Security lock initiated, Dr. Redgrave. All data lines severed, operating on internal power only. I'm sorry, Dr. Morris; there's nothing I can do."
Readying himself for his first mission, David had to pause in his preparations to identify what he felt. It was a feeling he hadn't felt since the day he saw the metorite crash.
He actually felt like he was home. The jittery resltlessness, the feeling that he was being persued, was gone. It was the same feeling that drove him across a continent here to a place he never thought he'd end up: the reclaimed desert of California, so far from the Northern Forests he loved, was gone. How strange that he had found that feeling here!
But he shouldn't have been surprised. These were good, noble people who shared his desire to help. To make a difference in the lives of others who had not been given the gifts the Universe had bestowed on him. There were differences, to be sure, but none insurmountable, and many would add to the richness of his experience here: Prism's struggle to find the humanity he thinks he has lost; Langosto's bluster and bravado, so unlike his own cautious nature; Emerald's dedication to her cause and confidence in bringing these disparate few together so effortlessly. Without seeing the future, he KNOWS: knows that they will soon owe each other thier lives many times over, knows that this new Vanguard will eventually honor the memory of those fallen that came before them.
In a time when he should feel nervous, should be asking many more questions about the mission, he feels strangely at peace. His senses are sharp, dream-acute. His hands twitch, eager to hold the staff, his feet tingling with the anticipation of movement.
Yes, he thinks, as his face, expressionless all this time, breaks out into a wide, spontaneous grin.
This is where I belong.
Thank you, my friend.
He almost believes he hears the whisper, the one that sometimes tickles his dreams:
Orange trees. Nothing but orange trees, aligned in rows and columns of mathematical precision for miles in every direction. The prison sits just off the highway, a five-story brick dormintory surounded by barbed wire, far away from "planned communities" that work so hard to keep evidence of human imperfection out of sight and out of mind. Odd, considering a prison is perhaps the ultimate "planned community." The sign at the freeway offramp reads "Orange County Women's Penitentiary, Wyse Women's Correctional Facility."
The heroes converge on the prison in the Toyota minivans supplied by Vanguard (except for Kakker and Prism, who are riding in Kakker's pickup truck). They park the vehicles a safe distance away in the orange groves, and decide where to deploy their various members around the prison. The security-minded of the heroes assembled look over the outer boundary of the prison and decide that there aren't any obvious sensors that El Langosto would trigger by sneaking in. At worst, they would take him for a squirrel or mouse that had somehow gotten under the fence.
Once inside, the diminutive hero lurks through sterile industrial hallways. The prison is designed to keep normal people under lock and key -- no provision has been made to impede the movements of someone a few centimeters tall. Up and down stairways and through drably-painted corridors El Langosto patrols, but the most excitement he gets is the occasional glimpse of rough-looking women in ugly underwear. The hours wear on.
Three hours after "lights out" the silence is shattered by the wail of alarms. The lights slam on, dazzling the night-adjusted eyes of El Langosto. As he blinks away the sunspots, he sees a man walking down the corridor away from him. The stranger is a dark-skinned black man wearing a bright white sleeveless jumpsuit, wearing bright white sunglasses, and he has a bright white synthesizer keyboard hanging from a strap over his shoulder. He is striding purposefully toward the end of the corridor (away from the center of the prison), his bright white sneakers moving noiselessly on the corridor's vinyl-tiled floor.
He stops in front of a cell and begins fingering the keyboard. The man blurs as the music cuts like a scream dream through air around him. It is a sound not so much heard as felt: El Langosto's bones vibrate with the notes of the song, and his teeth buzz painfully like bees in his mouth. El Langosto's breathes a brief prayer of thanks to Maria that the designer of his suit added extra padding around the ear pieces, otherwise the noise would be unbearable.
El Langosto covers his ears. He yells into his ring, "I got one, amigos! He's, like, a musician that plays the dentist drill!"
El Langosto leaps down the hall, landing about 3 feet in front of the musician, if possible. Stretching to his full height of almost 8 cm, he yells as loudly as possible.
"Hey MariachiMan! Put down the keyboard and I won't hurt ya none!"
Meanwhile, outside the prison, floodlights ignite the night sky as alarms sound their warning. For a few moments, nothing appears amiss around the prison: there are no gunshots or screams of dying guards. Suddenly, two figures appear on the floodlit roof of the building, facing each other. One is a hazy grey figure, blurry as if wrapped in a dense fog. The other is female, very much so. The angle of her head reveals to the heroes far below that she has ivory horns growing from each temple, curving back toward her ears then spiralling up to end in sharp points roughly even with her cheekbones. A metallic g-string and a midnight blue cape and boots appear to be all that protect her voluptuous figure from the night air. Her skin is light blue, and her hair is ebony black. Her appearance, even at this distance, is enough to stir the passions of Kakker, Krane, and Britestar. As the heroes watch, she tilts back her head and laughs, hands placed on her perfect hips, sharp white fangs framed by her succulent lips.
Krane looks to his partners, when he's finally able to wrench his gaze away from the scantily clad beauty on the roof. He checks his position and whispers over the communicator, "It's beginning, good luck. Krane out."
As of now, he's waiting for something to happen. Trying to stay alert, but thinking how the purple shades of his costume would compliment the blue-skinned beauty nicely. (shiver) Mind back on the business at hand. He steadies himself.
Once settled into position, Prism remains almost completely motionless, without the telltale blinks, stretches, or restless twitches that most people would display during such a long wait. Occasionally, he raises one hand to his face, glassy lips barely moving as he mutters an "all-clear" into his ring radio in his clear, smooth voice.
When the alarms go off, Prism drops reflexively into a crouch, even though the odds of anyone seeing him from the prison are slim indeed. Any team members watching him see him start moving towards the prison walls, then stop short. After a moment, he fades slowly into transparency, then invisibility (at least to those with normal or IR vision). His voice comes over the radio.
"I've got the east wall covered. Go get 'em, people!"
As soon as he sees the two figures on the rooftop Britestar activates his force field and then will fly around the roof looking for any other suspicious people and any vehicles that could have transported the figures to the roof.
Adaptor drops from the tree branch he was standing on and hits the ground running, covering the open ground between the grove and the nearest section of fence at Olympic sprinter-level speed. As he does, he says into his communicator, "I am entering the grounds. Emerald, if you have any suggestions, please advise. Britestar, perhaps you would be so kind as to knock one of those two down here to our level..."
When he is within a few feet of the fence (as he makes his request), he gives the staff a twist of some kind and throws it into the air ahead and above him. At the top of its arc, it abruptly halts and hovers ten feet in the air, perfectly parallell to the ground. Without pausing, Adaptor leaps and grabs it, allowing his momentum to spin his body around once. As he completes a full rotation, he flicks his wrist and the staff lets go suddenly. The momentum from his flip carries him up and over the fence, where he lands, rolls, and crouches in a defensive posture, staff at guard position, awaiting his foes' [and GM's : )] response.
Steph turns around, stops and looks at Dr. Redgrave. She slowly walks forwards, looking directly into her eyes. Dr. Redgrave -- Carlotta? the name suited her -- is an iceberg, and meets Steph's gaze without blinking.
"Well said, Dr. Regrave, well said. However, there are a couple of things that you left out. First and foremost, you are correct, I have not published any 'significant' material in the last 8 years, I AM teaching at a hole-in- the-wall University, taking whatever job I can in order to further my current work. And do you know why? Have you any idea or is that as far as you read?
Dr. Redgrave is unflinching, unyielding. She is stone, she is steel.
"I left MIT because people like you, Dr. Redgrave -- people concerned with credentials and papers and how many degrees I had -- hired me, and stupidly, I accepeted. And do you know what they did?"
Impassive, aloof, the iceberg stands unmarred.
Walk up a little closer, still not invading her personal space, though.
"They took my research, used it for means that I never intended to, and as payment, killed my husband. They gunned him down right in front of me. Do you know what that feels like, Dr. Redgrave? To see the only person you have left in this world killed in cold blood?"
The doctor flinches, just a little. The iceberg, as cold and resolute as stone, cracks, just a little.
Move a little closer, Steph's voice is cold and quiet, she speaks in the same tone, with no emotion at all. It is almost creepy. However, she continues on and even if Dr. Redgrave tries to intervene, I will continue to talk and not allow her.
"I guess not. But that did serve to prove to me that the world is much different than that we are used to in the academic realm. It is a survival of the strongest, not necessarily the most brilliant. You, Dr. Redgrave, went from a cushy protected tenure at MIT to the protected walls of Vanguard. What do you know of real life applications? My husband taught me one thing, Dr. Redgrave, the last lesson I learned from him is that a scientist that never leaves her lab will stagnate and die. You can lock yourself in here as much as you want, but I will not let myself be taken like this. The Firm will pay for what they did, of that you can be sure."
The doctor's was a momentary weakness, perhaps even Steph's imagination. The iceberg is as cold and unyielding as ever.
Move a little closer, invading her personal space, but not yet in-her-face. Voice is still calm and my eyes are locked on hers.
"If you think for one moment that I have nothing better to do with my time than stand here and listen to your childish greivances, you are DEAD wrong. I have research of my own, research that is not published, as you pointed out, and not catching any dust in any dark corner of a university library. My research is alive and applied to the real world, and I guarantee you that it will not be forgotten in 10 years, like many published papers are. I have little time as it is for anything else, and even less time for this silliness. Dr. Roberts' research will be here, now and 10 years from now - time, Dr. Redgrave, is what I have the most. You see, unlike you, I got an early start on my research. And by your attitude, it is apparent even at your best, it will take you years to accomplish what I can in months. And even if you want to pull out the meaningless list of diplomas and credentials, I would not be so sure that yours will be more impressive than mine."
"The research here may be time consuming and difficult to reproduce, but perhaps that is why Dr. Roberts gave me the key and not you.
Again, a twitch, the barest hint of movement of the tissue around her eyes. It could be coincidence, but upon later reflection, Steph decides that it was not.
"Thank you for a delightful afternoon, Dr. Redgrave."
And with that finally break my stare and turn around and head for the door. Open the door, stop and look back at Dr. Redgrave:
"I have nothing to prove to you or anyone else, Dr. Redgrave. No one is that important to me."
No response. No movement of any kind. Steph senses anger, there: oh, yes, anger that could bake paint from the walls, but she senses something else, as well. No matter. I leave the room and close the door. I will make my way to the front door of Vanguard and leave. On the way home, I will try to come up with a better way to get to that data.
As she leaves the lab, she collides with a young man rushing to enter. He was carrying a large notebook stuffed with papers, drawings, and various notes. "Oh! Oh, I'm sorry Dr. Morris!" he says, dropping to the floor, gathering up the his notebook's wayward contents. "I didn't see you --"
His hair falls into his eyes as he gathers up the paperwork. He has one of those surfer haircuts: clean, yet scruffy. He's wearing a lab coat, and a UCLA class ring. As Steph brushes past him, she notes that among the scattered papers there are several photocopies of an H-shaped building, with the legend:
Vanguard Briefing #754
Orange County Women's Penitentiary
As she stalks through the hall to the entrance, she passes a meeting room, the same room where Dr. Redgrave was in a meeting even though Steph left clear instructions of when she would arrive. As the pretty young maid leaves the room with an empty pitcher of icewater, Steph overhears a snatch of the conversation within:
"... drive down there -- except maybe Britestar, who can fly -- and then El Langosto will try sneaking into the prison. If anyone sees something out of the ordinary, they'll sound the alarm ..."
The maid smiles brightly at Steph, as happy as a clam and probably as intelligent. "Can I get something for you, Dr?" Steph pushes past the girl brusquely and makes her way to the great glass doors and escape.