RPG Library

Night City(7): Things Get Worse

With a single, quiet, 'hmph', Adaptor takes a step towards Grendel... And leans over to pick up the body of the girl. 'We owe her the dignity in death that he denied her in life..' he says, indicating Grendel as he does so.

Grendel nods sympathetically. "I'm sure that will be great comfort to her family. No doubt it will more than make up for the cavilier attitude you demonstrated toward her well-being while she was still alive."

Nonplussed by Grendel's sarcasm, Adaptor will gently lift her up and turn and carry her away from the carnage, trusting his teammates to watch his back. Adaptor finds his way to a breach in the wall and descends with a drop to the ground.

....

The FBI agents gather at the gate of the prison, a current of dissatisfaction running through them like a pack of well-trained attack dogs told to "heel" when the prey is sight. At the center of this monochrome kaleidescope of armed and armored agents, a man in a beige overcoat stands smoking a cigar, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses, although the sun is still hours away over the horizon. The harsh security lights cast a deep shadow over his face beneath a wide-brimmed grey hat.

Behind him, a woman in green stands alone and still, a lone spot of color in a mass of paramilitary blue, the emerald counterpoint of the smoking man's beige. She is calm, motionless, her eyes closed and her arms crossed. There is no external trace of the battle for control raging inside her, the battle to keep herself from ripping the man's arm off and beating him with it.

A shining beacon appears above the teaming mass of the FBI strike team, like an angel descending from heaven. The agents shy like nervous horses as Britestar passes above them, to land finally next to Emerald and the man in the beige coat. Britestar dumps an unconscious man at the feet of the smoking man. The body is that of a young man in a denim jacket.

"I have no idea how long Ash will be unconscious," Britestar says to the man in the overcoat, "so you need to watch him pretty close because he is one dangerous dude." FBI agents cover both Britestar and Ash with their M-16's.

Over his radio, Britestar says, "If anyone needs help, let me know."

The man in the overcoat takes out his cigar and points at Britestar with it. "You're not moving from that spot, pajama boy, not if you know what's good for you. You and ninja-lass here are staying right here until we get this thing cleared up. If you're who you say you are, that is." He puts his cigar back in his mouth and chomps down on it. Behind him, Emerald's brow creases like she has a headache.

Before Britestar can reply, the crowd of FBI agents parts and another hero appears: Adaptor. The hairless hero is carrying a female in an orange prison uniform. It's impossible to tell the identity of the corpse: the front half of her skull is missing, leaving a bloody, dripping mess where her face should be. Several of the agents recoil at the gore, raising hands reflexively to cover their mouths.

"This prisoner was murdered by the man inside who calls himself Grendel. He called her by the name of Marguerite, and seemed to know her. Please notify her family, if they can be contacted. Thank you, officers."

"Just a minute, slick," the cigar-chomping man says to Adaptor. "We have only your word on who killed this con. You stay right here until we get this mess straightened out. Take a seat with your friends over there," he says, jerking his cigar at Emerald and Britestar.

...

As things calm, Krane rises smoothly to a standing position. "Someone was controlling you Ralph. I'm not sure who, but you were marked. Fortunately, no real harm was done."

The FBI agents around Ralph look at Krane suspiciously, but since it's obvious *something* happened to Ralph, and Krane isn't attacking them... they let him be, and continue withdrawing from the prison yard.

Krane then begins speaking into his communicator. "What is the situation inside the prison? Does anyone need me?"

Assuming things are handled (or at least that the action will be over before he can get to it) he will help the wounded and unconscious to safety, providing what aid he can. [Does this mean Krane follows Prism into the prison, and starts digging up prisoners who've been trapped by rubble?]

...

The hazy woman [Glimmer] leans close to Prism's ear -- or where his ear should be, anyway -- and whispers. She seems not to want the prisoners to overhear.

"i think you're right about the, um, gadget that grendel has set up. in fact, i think there's a good chance that the gadget is on the fifth floor, not far from britestar's current location, but i'm not entirely sure. i'd like to go up to the fifth floor and look around. i was going to stop off on the third floor and see if i could get white noise to tell me anything about its location, but i'd rather not waste the time if i don't have to. could you go to the third floor and see if you can convince white noise to talk? tell the rest of the team what you learn. anything you tell them, i'll know."

With that, Glimmer will crouches and leaps and fades into intangibility before she hits the ceiling. As she reaches the fifth floor, she returns to tangibility and begins searching for the bomb she is sure is there.

Meanwhile, Prism gingerly climbs the stairs to the third floor, and heads to the far end of the prison. As he approaches the demolished area where White Noise lays, the structure creaks with every step Prism makes. Pausing to make sure the floor is solid enough to hold him, he takes the last few steps to White Noise's motionless body.

White Noise looks like one big bruise, but he's still breathing. His keyboard is next to him: it has a big, black melted spot on it, but it looks otherwise undamaged. Prism shakes the man gently, but it's no use: White Noise is out for the count.

...

The tableu in the prison stops for moment, as Kakker, El Langosto, and Grendel watch Adaptor carry Marguerite's corpse out of the prison. "I wonder," Grendel muses, "if he's going to come back for the rest of them?" He gestures at the various half-buried bodies around them; some twitching, some moaning, and some horribly, horribly still.

Kakker is in no mood to banter. His left hand keeping the fiend Grendel on a short leash of cape fabric, Kakker's powerful legs hurl him into his red-handed foe [move through]. Grendel appears ready for the attack, grasping Kakker's forearm and using the hero's momentum to slam him into the floor [martial throw, 8 Body 32 Stun -- what a crappy roll! I don't have Kakker's current character sheet, Jeff, so I don't know what his defenses are]. Grendel stands above Kakker, ready to finish the deed by ripping out the hero's entrails.

However, El Langosto is still holding that chunk of concrete....


And she finds it [the bomb], disarms it and everybody's happy, right?

Okay, maybe it's a little tougher than that. She'll focus her search on the area from which Grendel and Clawthor originally approached. As I remember (...Correct me if I'm wrong. It was a long time ago and the machine I'm using is not the one that has my records on it...) they approached from a sort of dead-end corridor, not from the center of the prison as one might expect. Glimmer will use her full range of senses to look/listen for anything that seems out of place. As she does so, she will be only slightly amused over a fleeting thought: It's actually a good thing that she's so very familiar with the inside of this place.

Truth to tell, many of Donna's thoughts would seem unusual to her if she were to slow down and sort them out. She thinks briefly that she really should be downstairs directing the rescue efforts. Then that thought is replaced with the idea of calling in the media to monitor these FBI lunatics. But the real threat comes from Grendel, so maybe her best option would be to offer him the life of Donna Kirschner in exchange for the lives of everyone else in this prison. Thoughts, plans, strategies -- and all of them a little odd for someone who's only pretending to be a hero.

But she doesn't really have the time to indulge in that sort of personal analysis just now, does she? No, she's committed herself to the search for this potential bomb and that's what she's going to do. She can return to her other options and self-examination at a later time.

She hopes.


The hunk of concrete hops forward (with Langosto under it) and swings directly at the space Grendel is standing, his arm upraised for the the fatal strike.

Playball!

BAM! The hunk of man-made stone strikes Grendel squarely across the back, throwing the red-caped villian over Kakker's head and further into the prison. [How much damage, EL?] The fiend rolls to his feet, facing El Langosto, cape swirling artisticly. [I will assume that between Kakker's move through and EL's attack, Kakker's no longer holding onto the cape.]

"Lo siento. I forgot about the pieces. Let's kick his butt!"

Langosto tries to see which of Grendel's legs seems to have more weight on it, then leaps over to that foot.


Krane will aid those that are outside of the prison first. After everyone that needs help on the outside are taken care of he will move into the prison, attempting to do whatever good he can.

These people are prisoners and criminals but he can't let them stay in such a dangerous environment. He can't risk all of their lives (nor is he willing to let any escape).


Since she can undoubtedly hear the battle -- heck, she can probably smell the testosterone :) -- Glimmer will extend her N-Ray scan a bit and check out the structural integrity of the battle zone. Are EL, G and K about to bring the roof down on their heads?

[The fight is moving deeper into the prison, away from the damaged area. To bring down the roof on them in the undamaged parts of the prison would require a major blast to the structural supports, probably on the first floor. But it's unlikely any of the three have the power to do that -- it would take a huge amount of damage, or a number of less-damaging attacks to several load-bearing members. So their fight is unlikely to bring the prison down on their heads.]


Adaptor pauses, and says to the cigar-chomper in his best completely deadpan voice:

'And right now I only have your say that I should stay here. I will need to see some ID, sir, proving that you have the authority to order me to stay here and talk to you.'

Hopefully that will get him so upset he's speechless for a moment. If it succeeds, or if he needs a moment to actually find a badge, Adaptor casually adds:

'I also must inform you that that cigar you're smoking is considered contraband on Prison grounds. Don't let any of the guards catch you with it.'

Adaptor awaits his response, his mouth a straight line underneath his mask...


Glimmer focuses her search on the fifth floor, in the area from which Grendel and Clawthor approached when she first encountered them. She remembers that they approached from the end of the corridor, not from the center of the prison as one might expect. Hmmm....

...

Kakker sees that Grendel is planning to claw at his gut, and he tries to regain his feet before that happens. Maybe he can grab Grendel's arm when he tries to claw him...

Before either Grendel or Kakker can move, the hunk of concrete hops forward (with Langosto under it) and swings directly at the space Grendel is standing in, his bloody right arm upraised for the the fatal strike at Kakker's exposed stomach.

BAM! The hunk of man-made stone strikes Grendel squarely across the back, throwing the red-caped villian over Kakker's head and further into the prison, and sending a spray of pebbles and dust over Kakker. The fiend Grendel rolls to his feet, facing El Langosto, cape swirling artisticly. [Between Kakker's move through and EL's attack, Kakker's no longer holding onto the cape.]

The impact of the blow sprayed Kakker with tiny fragments of shattered concrete. As he dusts the pieces from his chestplate, Kakker looks up to see El langosto standing near his head.

"Lo siento. I forgot about the pieces. Let's kick his butt!"

Langosto looks intently at Grendel's stance to see which of his legs seems to have more weight on it, and tenses to leap over to that foot. Meanwhile, Kakker looks around, trying to decide which of the many remaining concrete chunks would be the best for Grendel- smashing. Both men are just under the solid area of the prison, slightly north of the cross-sectional hole blasted through the prison's five floors.

Grendel stands for a moment as he and El Langosto exchange measuring looks, then in a blur of motion he recedes into the deeper darkness of the prison's interior. The last El Langosto sees of the Crimson Death is his billowing cape receding around a far corner, apparently heading for the center of the prison.

It's a trap, of course.

...

Krane examines the exterior of the prison, looking for anyone in need of medical assistance. Unfortunately, the few bodies he sees have long since stopped breathing. Grimacing at the task ahead of him, he heads into the prison through the hole in the second-floor exterior walls (where Prism got in just a few moments before).

This part of the prison is undamaged. The prisoners all scream for Krane's attention. "Help us, save us, let us go before we're all killed!" He ignores them for a moment, heading deeper into the prison where the battle with Grendel has trapped dozens of inmates under concrete and rubble. Krane gets almost to the site of the battle when he sees a flowing red shape coming toward him. As Krane tenses and gets ready to defend himself, the shape darts aside, into the central part of the prison.

...

Outside the prison, Adaptor pauses, and says to the cigar-chomper in his best completely deadpan voice:

"And right now I only have your say that I should stay here. I will need to see some ID, sir, proving that you have the authority to order me to stay here and talk to you."

The cigar-chomping fed squints at Adaptor, as if just now noticing that something isn't quite right here.

Adaptor casually adds, "I also must inform you that that cigar you're smoking is considered contraband on Prison grounds. Don't let any of the guards catch you with it."

The cigar-chomping stops in mid-chomp.

"Boy," the man hisses at Adaptor, "I don't know what space ship you just got out of, and I don't care." The man takes the silver badge from his belt and holds it up where Adaptor can see it. "See this? This says that I'm Agent Robert Rogers of the Eff Bee Eye. That means that unless you get over there with Ninja-lass and get out of my face, you're getting cuffs slapped on you for obstructing a federal investigation. That clear enough for you?" Triumphant, the man puts his badge back on his belt and his cigar back in his mouth.

Behind him, Emerald's eyes open and fix on Adaptor. Her eyes flick briefly to the back of Agent Rogers' head, then back to Adaptor and Britestar. She shrugs impotently, impatiently, as if saying "What else can we do?"


Prism straightens up from the body of White Noise; he will obviously be of no help. He glances over the edge of the pit, trying to catch some glimpse of what is going on below. As he surveys the scene, he mutters into his radio ring. "White Noise is out of it, and I don't think I can make it to the roof -- I'm too heavy for the damaged floors. Anybody who can fly should either get to the roof or come in here and haul me up there; there's gotta be some kind of bomb up there, and we need to get rid of it. I'm by the hole in the west wing."

Prism looks down to the debris-strewn area below him, but the battle against Grendel has moved further into the prison: there's nothing to see here. While waiting for some response from his teammates, he nudges White Noise's keyboard over the edge of the hole with one crystalline foot. The burned, melted spot made it look like the device was OOC, but there was no need to take any chances.

...

Meanwhile, outside the prison, Emerald takes Britestar and Adaptor aside, a few meters away from the cigar-smoking fed giving orders to the bustling FBI agents. She glances at the man to make sure he's not paying attention to them before she speaks, and she keeps her voice low.

"There's something very odd going on here. That man went out of his way to be abrasive to us, almost as if he was trying to goad us into doing something stupid. You both saw how he treated you Adaptor, but he was even more offensive to me, and I'm a registered paranormal. I think this goes beyond a resentment for the Gifted -- I think this man doesn't want our help for a reason."

She looks at the other two heroes, frowning.

"Do either of you have any mental powers? Maybe he's under some kind of psychic control, that would explain his obnoxious behavior."

...

Kakker lights out after the scarlet-cloaked fiend at break-neck speed. As he does so, his mind dwells on the twisted psyche of Grendel; what motivates him?

El Langosto has a theory about what's motivating Grendel, although not quite in the same sense Kakker was thinking. Speaking in a high, nasal, "white guy" voice, Langosto spouts "I will leave here, and you will not stop me. I can push my hot air through my ass for jet-propelled sprints."

As the two heroes speed down the hallway after the fleeing felon, they join forces with Krane, who is coming from the other direction. As the trio heads down the connecting corridor to the center of the prison, they can see Grendel down the hall a few meters ahead of them. Kakker catches up to the villain far ahead of the other two -- this guy can really move. Just as Kakker gets almost close enough to touch Grendel, just as the pair reaches the center of the prison, Grendel spins around and stops in front of Kakker. As Kakker is making a split-second decision whether to skid to a stop or ram the murdering psycho, Grendel smiles and whispers a single word.

"Boom."

...

The prison seems to glow and swell, like a fungus seen growing in a time-lapse film. The walls stretch and distend, and small cracks appear that seem to be lighted from within. Finally the structure surrenders, and releases the energy that it tried vainly to contain.

...

"With a death toll estimated in the hundreds, this is by far the worst paranormal-related disatser this decade. The reasons for the terrorist bombing of the Orange County Women's detention center are not clear, but the blame for it is already being placed: the paranormal organization Vanguard was at the scene, and it seems clear that they recklessly endangered the lives of the inmates and the FBI agents on the scene by engaging the terrorists, rather than retreating from the prison as they were ordered to do by the FBI and their own team leader."

"We have some here some footage from the prison, just moments before the tremendous explosion that has claimed the lives of hundreds, perhaps even a thousand people at the Orange County Women's detention center, a minimum-security correctional facility...."

The film footage is of remarkably good quality -- no amateur video, this. Grendel, holding his hostage on the roof, offers to release her and tell the heroes how to prevent the prison from exploding. The heroes unanimously refuse his offer. Grendel chastises the heroes for treating the lives of the prisoners so callously, then drops his hostage into the interior of the prison. One of the heroes attacks him, and both men fall into the prison and out of sight. The other two heroes follow. The film cuts to an exterior view of the prison exploding. Fiery debris rains down on the FBI agents, and burning bodies can be seen falling amid the shattered concrete and steel. The last few seconds of the footage show the shocked faces of three members of Vanguard, standing a few meters away from the camera.

...

Kakker awakes looking up at the stars. Around him the prison is in rubble, with patches of fire still scattered around the wreckage. He looks around, but there is no trace of Grendel, El Langsto, or Krane. Looking down at himself, he realizes that there is not much left of his costume, either. He vaguely becomes aware of yelling somewhere in the distance, and notices for the first time the group of FBI agents gathered at the edge of the burning orange grove nearby. Many of them are laying on the ground, injured. Closer to him, he sees Adaptor and Britestar, with Emerald laying between them. His head still hurts -- he puts a hand to his forehead and tries to clear his vision.

...

Prism wakes up surrounded by fire. He sits up and looks around, but all he sees are burning trees. Where's the prison? He feels odd. He holds up a crystalline hand and looks at it: his body is glowing, as if lit from within. (Well, that's different,) he thinks to himself. Getting up slowly, he examines his glowing crystal body for damage -- (Everything seems to be in one piece,) he concludes with a mixture of relief and disappointment. Hearing the sound of voices from the east, he heads off that way in search of the rest of his team.

...

Emerald, Adaptor, and Britestar are thrown to the ground by the force of the explosion, along with all of the FBI agents. Britestar and Adaptor recover fairly quickly, but Emerald is not so durable. She has suffered severe burns and her left leg juts at an odd angle. Her chest rises and falls with her breath, but she's still unconscious. Most of the FBI agents around the heroes are in even worse shape. Many are badly burned, and very few of them appear to be moving. Agent Rogers, the obnoxious cigar-smoking fed, appears to be dead, impaled by a shard of bullet-proof plexiglass.

...

El Langosto wakes up covered with dirt in the bottom of a hole. His head hurts and he feels dizzy, as though he'd been spun around a few hundred times then stopped suddenly and made to walk. Either that, or he had the worst hangover of his entire young life. The last thing he remembered was chasing that putamadre Grendel, then a wall of fire...

El Langosto stood up in the hole and immediately fell down again, but he'd seen what he wanted to see. He was in one of the FBI's foxholes outside the prison, a good ten meters away from the north wall of the building. Or rather, from where the building used to be: all that remained was burning wreckage.

When El Langosto fell down again he recoiled in horror: there was a body in the foxhole with him. The image of Marguerite flashed through his mind, skull horribly ripped apart.... But this body was still breathing. Tentatively scooping away mounds of dirt, he exposed the kevlar-clad chest of the martial artist, Krane. He cleaned off Krane as bets he could and checked him over: he didn't seem to be hurt any more than El Langoso was, but he was unconscious. Shaking him didn't seem to help -- although there wasn't a mark on him, Krane was out like a light.

Steadying himself against the crumbling side of the collapsed foxhole, El Langosto attempted once again to stand. His head just barely cleared the edge of the foxhole, and he looked the closer at the prison's remains. For all practical purposes, the building was gone. A bulldozer couldn't have done a better job of turning it to rubble. But an explosion that could do that would do a lot more than throw him a couple of dozen meters away -- he should be really hurting now. But he wasn't, and neither was Krane (on the outside, anyway).

He tried once more to wake up Krane, but it didn't work, and the exertion made his head hurt worse. Suddenly, he realized that Kakker wasn't in the hole with him. He hoped the guy was alright....

...

"Members of Vanguard have not issued a statement yet, and neither has the FBI. Yet, there are questions that must be asked. Why was there no attempt to reason with the terrorists? What did they want at the prison? Did Vanguard in fact *precipitate* a tragedy that could have easily been avoided?"

"Prelimiary reports from explosives experts investigating the wreckage state that there appear to have been five separate explosive devices located on the ground floor of the prison; one placed at the end of each wing of the building, and one placed in the center of the building. Although rescue teams are still sifting through the wreckage, we have as yet no reports of *any* surviving inmates from the prison...."


Prism sits upright with a start, mind still swirling with memories of sudden light and noise. The fires around him serve at first to conceal his body's own glow, but after a moment, the crystal man glances down and realizes that something has happened, though he knows not what.

A few more glances reveal the awful truth; as hard as it may be to grasp, the prison is simply gone. "Fuck," he says, stunned at what has happened. The only reply is a distant murmur of voices; getting to his feet, Prism begins jogging that way. His feet pound to a muttered cadence of "oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck..."

After a few moments, his mind clears a bit, and Prism raises one hand to his face. Into his radio ring -- hoping it still works -- he says, "Prism here. Can anybody hear me? Are you guys okay? Answer me!

"Team?"


Kakker reels with the realization of what's happened. His first impulse is to run far, far away. As he unevenly weaves out of the rubble, his second is to leap upward to survey the scene.

As he rises, his field of vision is dotted with dozens of bodies and tons of debris. Electrical and gas fires sizzle and blow in the night, reminding Kakker of Kuwait. The smell of blood is strong and cloying, like an abbatoir.

There _was_ bomb and they blew themselves up, the bastards, thinks Kakker. Grendel hadn't seemed the suicidal kind, but he was tough -- yes, he could have made it through.

His feet touch down in a cloud of earth, WHUMP, he leaps again, turning. More of the same.

Head still ringing but clearing with the rush of air, Kakker lands and scurries out to snuff the fires, each faster than the one before, to let any rescue teams in.


Glimmer is looking for the bomb on the fifth floor when she hears something... and she realizes she's looking in the wrong place. Five floors down, she hears five simultaneous detonations, as each of the ground-floor bombs explode with soon-to-be-catastrophic results. With a split second to decide what to do, she does the only thing she really can do: shut her eyes and hope it all goes away.

The shockwave from the explosion slams through her intangible form like an orgasm -- the shock alone is almost enough to cause her lose her concentration and become tangible. Almost, but not quite. The force of the detonation carries her far, far above the prison, until she's drifting somewhere so far overhead that the ground is only a distant memory. Still, it's down there somewhere, and Donna can't stay intangible forever. She'd better find a good landing place before she exhausts herself and finds a landing place the hard way.

She comes down in the middle of an orange field, gods only know where, wearing only her prison-issue underwear and a pillowcase. Still, at least she's alive....

It strikes her just how close she came to *not* being alive. It seemed awfully flippant at the time, but the batwinged woman's words were absolutely true: what are the chances that she would manifest some kind of superpower just in time to save herself from certain destruction? Why her? And what about the rest of the inmates? That explosion would have killed anyone inside the prison. Anyone normal, at any rate. She hoped at least some of the inmates she set free got out alive.

Donna feels conflicted. Who is really to blame for the deaths at the prison? The villains, certainly: no doubt about that. The FBI, for not warning the prisoners when they *knew* an attack was coming? The so-called "heroes," for not trying to save the lives of the innocent (well, nearly innocent) inmates?

Donna Kirschner, for being the reason the villains were there in the first place?

With no money, no clothes (damn, it's chilly -- hope the sun comes up soon), and no idea where she is (still somewhere in Irvine, probably), Donna realizes that as soon as the fire is out, the local cops will be looking for any potential escapees. Time for Donna Kirschner to make tracks. But where?


Britestar says in the radio " Adaptor and I are ok, but Emerald looks like she is hurt. If any of you are trapped under some rubble or something let me know. I suggest we bug-out and find some answers to this mess."

Britestar looks around for the body of Ash, hoping he is still alive so maybe they can get the whole story of this debacle from him.


Consciousness, and a jest that Ron would appreciate comes into Adaptor's head...

'Well, your honor, at least we prevented anyone from escaping...'

Adaptor realized that excuse probably wouldn't wash, but he was trying hard to rationalize how this mission could possibly be interpreted as anything other than utter failure. A blatant and masterful set-up, yes, but failure nonetheless, because they had walked right into it...

As soon as he is conscious, providing no-one else has done so, Adaptor will speak into his ring: 'This is Adpator. Emerald is with Britestar and me. She appears badly hurt, but is still alive. If you can hear this message, please respond so that we know where veryone is and if they are all right.' Having said that, he will look at Emerald. Having only a layman's knowledge of basic First Aid, I'll grab the coat off the dead FBI agent to try and keep her warm and out of shock, and then try to stop any apparent bleeding she may have, as well as asessing (as best I can) how dangerous it might be to move her from the area (is there danger of fire in our vicinity?).


A lumpy figure appears in the middle of the wasteland. After a moment, it resolves into Langosto carrying Krane across his shoulders. He trudges across the debris, head pointed at his feet, until he reaches the area with the F.B.I. and other supers. He carefully kneels and slumps Krane onto the ground.

:: flat voice :: "We need a doctor. I don' see nothing wrong, but he won' wake up."

Langosto shrinks down and hops off towards the access road. A perceptive eye might notice a Vanguard ring on Krane's pinkie that wasn't there before.

...

"Carlos, telefono!"

"Carlos, get your ass down here! This is the third time your cousin has called today! You damn well answer this time!"

:: Carlos comes down the stairs. There are huge rings under his eyes and his facial muscles are all clenched. He speaks in a flat voice :: "yeah, thanks."

"What you been doin, boy? You look like shit."

"I just din't sleep well last night."

"Well, Hell, get more sleep, nino! We wanta be in top shape for track in the spring."

"yeah."

:: Carlos picks up the phone. ::

"Yeah, Luz?"

"Shithead! Putamadre! Machisto! I'm sorry I ever made you that suit. I thought you were different! You did that macho bullshit, you killed all those people! I can' believe you could be such a shit!"

:: The phone slams in Carlos' ear. ::

"Yeah."

...

:: Carlos rises from his bed, dresses in dark clothes, and gets a raquetball can from his drawer. He shrinks down and goes out the inch of window space the lockbar allows.::

:: Fires are burning in small barrels out in what is laughably called the "green space." Carlos walks up to one, ingoring the two men sitting by it. He takes out and opens a raquetball can. He shakes what looks like doll's clothes out into the fire. It's bright, yellow and blue, covered with brown and black splotches. It gives off much more heat and light as it burns than something that small ought to. ::

:: Carlos sidles inexpertly up to where Esteban sells his wares. ::

"Hey, Carleetle. What brings you out to see us, churchboy?" :: snort ::

:: flash of money from pocket. :: "I got some cash. I wanna buy something."

"Yeah, like so you can turn us in for your _good friend_ Father Silvas."

"Fuck that. There's lotsa places to go. I just came here first 'cause I know you. Forget it."

"Hey! no, no, don't get me wrong. I didn't mean nothing. What you interested in, Carleetle?"

"You got something that, like, makes someone stop thinking? I mean, just stop thinking about shit?"

"Oh, like you gotta stop worrying about acing that midterm, pendejo? Or making the pole vault?"

"Like I said, other people sell this shit, you know."

"Hey, no! It's worth it, just to see you get started right. I'll even throw in the needle and show you how to clamp off your arm."

:: Carlos' eyes are dilated in the aftermath of the drug. The muscles in his face have all relaxed, and he's obviously no longer seeing the ripped skull or dismembered limbs at all. ::


Krane's Dream

Krane spins around the corner, following El Langosto. The man called Kakker had somehow left them both behind -- it seemed that Prism wasn't the only Vanguard inductee with hidden talents. But they were going to catch Grendel, Kakker could hold him long enough for Krane and the little guy to catch up. Then they'd --

Something happened. Grendel stopped, then Kakker stopped, then a wall of white heat was moving down the corridor toward him. It swallowed Grendel, his enormous red cloak disappearing into the wall of flame. Kakker was turned temporarily into a silouette, then he too was gone. The wall was moving slowly, leisurely, as if Krane had all the time in the world to move, but he was frozen. El Langosto wasn't moving either, their bodies frozen between heartbeats, two men held frozen in the fraction of a second between life and certain death. Krane saw the wall coming, the heat turning his eyebrows to ash. He tried to reach within himself, to build his ki and try to get away, get both him and Langosto away, but there was no time, no time, no time --

Krane stood in a long hallway, eerily silent despite the bustling medical personnel passing him on either side. There was a smell of burning, but he didn't see anything on fire.

"Do you smell something burning?" he asked the old Korean man.

The Korean man smiled. <You don't know me, but you will,> he said in Korean.

Krane looked around, worried. The fire, people could get hurt! But he didn't see a fire. "I smell something burning, we need to find it and put it out."

The Korean man nodded sagely, then shed a tear. <Many people died in the fire, but many more will die in the fire to come.>

Krane shook his head. "What fire? I don't understand."

The old Korean man moved aside, and Krane could see a man in an overstuffed leather chair sitting behind him. He was a mass of wrinkled skin and varicose veins, and tubes travelled from the sleeves of his silk shirt into the arms of the chair. He made the old Korean man look positively young and healthy by comparison.

<My friend wants to talk to you. Do you know him? You have seen him before, but he wasn't wearing this face.> Krane looked closer at the ancient man in the chair, but he was certain he'd never seen him before.

The hideously old man wriggled a finger to beckon Krane closer. Krane leaned over to hear what the man said. His breath was fetid, like the corruption of the grave. His mouth was a hole leading into his skull, a skull that should have died and been buried long ago.

"I have many chairs," the old man rasped. "My favorite one is the least comfortable." The old man leaned back in his chair and coughed a hacking cough.

<You will remember this,> the old (but not quite as old as he seemed at first) Korean man said in Korean, <but you will probably not understand it.>

"I have to know," Krane said. "The fire? Is the fire out?"

The old Korean man shook his head sadly.

<Mourn for innocence,> he said.


Prism sits upright with a start, mind still swirling with memories of sudden light and noise. The fires around him serve at first to conceal his body's own glow, but after a moment, the crystal man glances down and realizes that something has happened, though he knows not what.

A few more glances reveal the awful truth; as hard as it may be to grasp, the prison is simply gone. "Fuck," he says, stunned at what has happened. The only reply is a distant murmur of voices; getting to his feet, Prism climbs out of the crater he made when he landed, and he begins jogging that way. His feet pound to a muttered cadence of "oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck..."

After a few moments, his mind clears a bit, and Prism raises one hand to his face. Into his radio ring -- hoping it still works -- he says, "Prism here. Can anybody hear me? Are you guys okay? Answer me!"

"Team?"

Miraculously, the ring is still functional. Britestar's voice buzzes from the half-fried Vanguard ring: "Adaptor and I are ok, but Emerald looks like she is hurt. If any of you are trapped under some rubble or something let me know. I suggest we bug-out and find some answers to this mess."

Adaptor confirms Britestar's report, adding, "If you can hear this message, please respond so that we know where everyone is and if they are all right.'

...

Britestar looks around for the body of Ash, hoping he is still alive so maybe they can get the whole story of this debacle from him. There he is: Britestar pulls him out from under several centimeters of rubble and confirms that he's still breathing. Ash is a little banged up, but otherwise he's in one piece.

Meanwhile, Adaptor tries to make Emerald as comforable as he can until medical personnel arrive. He grabs the coat off the dead FBI agent to try and keep her warm and out of shock, and then tries to stop any apparent bleeding she may have. The fires all seem to be isolated and dying down -- other than the orange trees. But there isn't much he can do about the trees, and they're far enough away not to pose a danger.

A lumpy figure appears in the middle of the wasteland. After a moment, it resolves into Langosto carrying Krane across his shoulders. He trudges across the debris, head pointed at his feet, until he reaches the area with the F.B.I. and other supers. He carefully kneels and slumps Krane onto the ground.

:: flat voice :: "We need a doctor. I don' see nothing wrong, but he won' wake up."

Langosto shrinks down and hops off towards the access road. In a moment, he's gone. A perceptive eye might notice a Vanguard ring on Krane's pinkie that wasn't there before.

Soon after, the crunching footsteps of a half-naked Kakker come out of the smouldering ruins of the prison. He did what he could to put out the worst of the fires: the building was mostly concrete, and the heating system was electrical, so there wasn't any risk of a gas leak or secondary explosion. From another direction comes the crystalline man, Prism, his induced internal glow from the explosion already fading. By the time he gets to the group of survivors, it's almost gone (but not forgotten).

As the incredibly durable pair trudge up the gathered group of survivors -- mostly FBI -- the distant sound of aircraft resolved itself into the FSPD's armored helicopter gunships, the two Warhawks that Lyle had predicted. The charcoal-gray craft circled the area a few times, then began firing missiles into the ruin of the prison. Huge waves of white welled up from the impact points, covering everthing with a thick coat of fire-retardant foam. Satisfied that the prison was doused, they began skimming treetops and firing more anti-incendiary missiles at the worst sections of the burning orange grove.

Krane wakes up and stands, apparently none the worse for wear. He looks slightly confused. After making sure he's OK, the other heroes turn their attention to helping the wounded. After looking puzzled for a few moments, Krane does as well.

Short minutes go by, and soon the area is crawling with people: rescue workers, ambulances, the menacing charcoal-grey bulk of a FSPD Containment Unit [it looks like an 18-wheeler with too many wheels and armored windows], and, inevitably, TV crews [this is when the broadcasts from my previous post are aired -- how they got the recordings from the fight is anyone's guess].

The next hours pass quickly. Despite early pessimistic reports, some survivors from the prison are found. Sadly, barely more than a dozen inmates survived the explosion, and those women are all in critical condition. However, some 30 or more women were rescued from their cells prior to the explosion by a mysterious woman called "Glamour". Most of these women willingly turned themselves in after the rescue teams showed up, and the rest the police found by one's and two's as they tried to escape through the orange groves. The next morning's Orange County Register will report the death toll at 645 (23 of which were FBI agents), with 32 more in critical condition.

Ash is put on a life-support gurney and loaded into the vault-like rear of the FSPD containment vehicle. When they're done with this task, the agents turn their attention to the team. The grey-uniformed FSPD agents are professional and polite while interviewing the surviving members of Vanguard, carefully jotting down notes on their electric clipboards [basically a LCD screen, like a Super-Newton]. One gets the impression they might actually be friendly under different circumstances. If any of them hold any hostility to the team, they don't show it. Their questions are direct, their demeanor sympathetic. When they're done, they tell the team what hospital Emerald has been taken to, and that she's in stable condition. They can visit her tomorrow, if they wish. No charges are being pressed against the team at this time. If that changes, the team will be notified.

Tired, despondent, the team gathers together and heads for the base. No one seems to feel much like talking during the ride [please], and a quick glance around the van tells the tale:

Britestar (slightly singed from Ash's attack, but otherwise OK)
Adaptor (unscathed)
Prism (whose surface seems more polished than it did earlier today)
Krane (unscathed, but lost in thought)
Kakker (wearing a spare coat from his truck, but otherwise OK)
Emerald (hospitalized w/ burns and a broken leg)
Langosto (missing? quit?)

The ride to Vanguard HQ is uneventful. They all seem to know that they should go back to the base and talk about what's happened. When they get there, Lyle meets them at the door. He looks haggard, tired. His hair's a mess. He meets their eyes, but he doesn't say anything.

He leads the team into the conference room. The icewater from earlier is still there, now lukewarm -- maybe Stacy has gone home for the day. Lyle blinks at the table while everyone takes a seat, then goes robot-like to a small cubbyhole and starts up the coffeemaker. It's one of those chrome R2-D2 looking things that can make five gallons of coffee at a time. As it perks and burbles to itself, the team waits for the first person to break the silence.


Adaptor has stopped by the kitchen on his way to the meeting. He holds in his hand a pitcher of what looks to be tomato juice and several eggs. As the members of the team sit and gather their wits, he cracks the eggs into the pitcher of tomato juice and pops the shells into his mouth, absent-mindedly chewing on them as everyone gets situated. When he's eaten all the shells, he starts to work on the tomato juice and egg concoction, taking gulps from it as he listens to the others throughout the course of the meeting.

As soon as everyone seems situated, if the others don't seem to want to speak immediately, he will say, "Lyle, I cannot speak for the others, but I am wondering whether your information on this mission was really as inexact as it seemed to be, or if there was something we weren't told for some reason?" The question has no malice in it, no accusation. From Adaptor's tone, he could be asking who Lyle thinks will win the World Series. But he obviously expects an answer...


Glimmer on the Road

It's a long trek to the nearest civilization. Glimmer stays within earshot of the freeway, making her way through orange groves for what seemed like hours. Every once in a while she hears the throaty roar of a Warhawk overhead. They're obviously searching for someone, either prisoners or supervillains. They certainly have some kind of IR or motion sensors to find normal folks. They probably have some sort of super-power detector, too. Can they use them all at the same time? Maybe.

Gambling that they're probably looking for normal human escaped cons and not supervillains, Donna puts up her force field whenever she hears one of the Warhawks fly by. Theoretically, it might blur her IR pattern or life-force, or whatever funky sense the helicopter might be using to look for people. The first time after that that a Warhawk came close to her, she powered up her force field and held her breath. The helicopter kept going. It seemed to work, which cheered Donna up considerably. She started making better time, and after a while she didn't hear the helicopters anymore.

By the time Donna reaches civilization, she's dirty and cold and just plain exhausted. The pre-morning dew has soaked her pillowcase, giving her a severe case of the shivers. The place she finds is a small strip-mall, with a half-dozen shops clustered around a small parking lot, with a Chevron gas station in the middle. All the stores are closed. Cold and about to fall over from lack of sleep, she tries to decide what to do. She could break into a shop, but even if she walked through a wall it might set off an alarm once she was inside. There might be houses nearby... but there might not. She didn't want to trudge for hours more, she had to get some rest. Better to do it now, while it's dark.

She crawls into a sailboat on a trailer in the gas station parking lot, pulling the canvas over her to keep her warm. She'd just nap a hour or so, then she'd get going and find a house and get some clothes. Just a short nap...

The near-daylight woke her up a couple of hours later. The fog was thick and grey, and the sun was not yet above the horizon. None of the stores were open yet, either. From out of the fog, she saw a sign:

PIZZA AND DOUGHNUTS

The neon pulsed a warm red. Oh.... doughnuts... mmmmmmm. But it would be daylight soon, and she had to find some other clothes. To hell with it, she was starving. She trotted around the back of the strip mall, trying to find a place to break in the doughnut shop. Settling on a section behind some big holly bushes, she got ready to make herself insubstantial and walk through the wall.

Donna hesitated. What if she couldn't do it? What if whatever weird power she had last night left as suddenly as it came? She'd be alone, practically naked, on the run from the police... and from worse than the police.

One problem at a time, Donna, she thought, calming herself down. She focused her mind on the fuzzy feeling she had the other night, and felt her body tingle in the way that meant she wasn't quite solid anymore. She passed through the back wall of the pizza and doughtnut shop. Stepping through, she found herself in a broom closet. She didn't hear any alarms, but that didn't mean anything. No time to waste.

A quick search of the shop (wearing a pair of conveniently-placed oven mitts) revealed some good news and bad news. The bad news was that there were no doughnuts to be found in the shop, not even in the refrigerator. The good news was that she found some Chinese food -- Szechuan pork, by the taste of it -- in the fridge, along with a couple of cans of Coke. It tasted like a can of battery acid, but it was better than nothing. Gulping down the Chinese take-out, she kept searching the shop.

Donna struck pay dirt. In the tiny little manager's office she found a knee-length grey raincoat and a pair of white vinyl boots. Tacky, but serviceable, and just her size. Feeling like a flasher, she put on the raincoat and searched the office. She found a safe under the desk -- she debated breaking into it for a heartbeat. Stealing food and clothes was one thing, robbing the place was another.

She dug around in the desk while she debated. The manager was a woman: she found (and took) various personal items, brush, spare feminine products, that sort of thing. She also found a slip of paper with a combination written on it. It couldn't be... but it was. She opened the safe. It was full of paperwork, mostly, but there was a strongbox with a couple of hundred dollars in cash and maybe twenty bucks in change. She took the cash. This was no time to be squeemish about it, she needed the money. After a twinge of guilt, she told herself she'd pay it back someday, if she lived that long.

Still wolfing down garlic pork and gulping soda, Donna made one last quick look around the shop, and made one more useful discovery: a uniform, white pants, white shirt, and an apron. Clean, too: no raspberry-filling stains. The trousers were way too baggy and too short, but the shirt came down to her thighs. She got the white belt from the trousers and put it on, making the shirt into a minidress. Not too shabby - who was she kidding, she looked ridiculous, but it was better than prison orange.

As an afterthought, she stuffed the apron into a pocket of the raincoat. Maybe she could could make a cape out of it, or something, in case she had to pose as Glimmer again. She stuffed the wet, dirty pillowcase into another pocket. She'd throw it away somewhere, but nowhere near here -- no telling what kind of evidence they could get from it.

One last glance around and she took off. Fed, clothed, some money in her pocket and shoes on her feet, she felt much better. Cautiously leaving the scene of her crime, she spotted a city bus pulling up to a stop near the Chevron station. Why not? She jogged to the bus, feeling glad that she lived in an area with one of the best public-transportation systems in the world.

...

She wondered if it would be wise to go back to the old neighborhood. The police might not be looking for her -- that explosion probably didn't leave much in the way of bodies. Then again, if someone spots her and calls the cops....

Donna bought a pair of cheap sunglasses at a 7-11. The early-morning sun had burned off the fog, as it always did, and she wouldn't look out of place with shades on. Her hair was longer since she'd been in jail, too. She might be able to go unrecognized unless someone looked at her closely. She didn't even need to talk to anyone to get information from them: she could hear people talking from across the street.

No one seemed to be looking for her. She only heard her name mentioned once, but it was in context with her death, not her escape. Donna spotted an old friend of hers, Kathryn Taylor, in the company of a greasy guy she knew was connected to Fedrico, Donna's old boss. Donna waited for them to finish talking and split up; she was sure that Kat would help her, but she didn't want to risk being recognized by the guy.

"You hear about the prison blowing up in Irvine?" the greasy-haired guy said.

"Like I care," Kathryn shrugged.

"Hey, didn't that chick who used to hang with you get sent there? Whatsername..."

"Donna. Yeah, she got sent somewhere, it might have been there." Kat shrugged again. "Why should I care, though? She's in jail, she's a loser. If I'm not making any money off her, she may as well be dead." Kathryn smiled. "That goes for you, too, Joey. You know I only love you for your big wallet."

"Oh, yeah? I got something else big I know you love..."

Donna couldn't listen any more. She was angry, betrayed. How could she have been wrong about Kat? Kat! She had been her best friend....

...

She had found out what she needed to know from the old neighborhod. No one was nosing around looking for her. No one cared whether Donna Kirschner lived through that explosion or not. No one cared at all....

She waited at the bus stop patiently. She had somewhere else to go: there were a few things that she and those so-called heroes needed to talk about.

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