Night City(9): The Fiendish Miles Needleman
Kakker finds no relevant reference to "Glimmer". Information on Grendel is both copious and of dubious quality: lists of appearances, web pages with "Top Ten Possible Secret Identities of Grendel" (the #1 pick? Prince Charles), and various blurry photos of him in action fighting Beowulf in the infamous battle where a schoolbus full of grade-school children was destroyed by an explosive rocket. This leads to other web sites listing the various "confirmed kills" by both Beowulf and Grendel (the word "confirmed" is apparently used quite loosely, since a few of the deaths atributed to Grendel are also attributed to Beowulf).
In practice, the Information Superhighway is much closer to being a Trivia and Rumour Superhighway. Hard facts and objective reporting are rare.
Since several people mentioned experience points (something that hadn't even crossed my mind), tell me what you have in mind as far as character development. What you're saving up for, in other words. Not that I want to approve every single EP you spend, but I'd like to know what you all have in mind for the future.
[Was that a _12 Monkeys_ reference? Haven't seen it yet; what did you think? And BTW, welcome back -- and thanks!]
Prism looks a bit disturbed at Lyle's vague references to Dr. Redgraves' condition, but decides not to press the matter until Lyle is fully awake. "Okay," he says, "catch you down below. And Lyle..." Prism pauses for a moment. "Thanks, and I'm sorry. I think we've all been too busy beating ourselves up to realize that this has been a pretty shitty few days for you, too. Eventually, I think we'll all start to apprecite what you've been doing." Another pause, and Prism shakes his head. "All right, enough of that. See you downstairs."
With that, he turns on one massive heel and heads for the stairs. If Stacy is still following him, Prism will turn to her once they're out of earshot of Lyle's door.
"Um, Stacy, can I help you with anything? I think I'll be okay for the time being, so, um, if you want to start breakfast or something for everybody... I'm sorry, I don't think I even really know what it is you do here."
As the conversation continues, Prism makes his way back towards Dr. Redgraves' lab, planning to make one last attempt to contact her via intercom.
Lyle nods tiredly at Prism's consolation, and mumbles "Thanks."
After he and Stacy have gone down the hall a few meters, Prism asks the young Hispanic woman, "Um, Stacy, can I help you with anything? I think I'll be okay for the time being, so, um, if you want to start breakfast or something for everybody... I'm sorry, I don't think I even really know what it is you do here."
Stacy seems a little shell-shocked, but she appears to be recovering.
"Oh. Well, I can handle breakfast: that's no problem. I just wanted to go with you and see if we could find Dr. Redgrave. I mean, theoretically she's my boss, now." Stacy shrugs and shakes her head.
"What do I do, here? Just about everything, but supposedly I'm a secretary. My checks actually come from Kelly Temps, but I get paid a huge bonus from Vanguard for working here. They have a lot of trouble keeping people. Technically I'm a temp, but Blue Star said I could work here as long as I was happy with the job."
"Wow, I never thought I'd be here longer than she was."
The door to the lab is as impressive and silent as before. Prism keys the intercom with one transluscent finger. "Dr. Redgrave? Dr. Redgrave, are you in there? We have a problem out here, and we really need you to come out and talk to us."
The intercom hums briefly, but there's no response.
"See?" asks Stacy, her brows creasing in worry. "Even when no one is in there, the computer always takes a message. I've never seen it just not say anything before. What do you think we should do, Mr. Prism?"
Assuming Prism says something along the lines of "go make breakfast," Stacy will nod and go make breakfast for everyone. She carries the first plate up to Lyle, then serves the crew in the meeting room. Breakfast consists of omelettes sprinkled with cheddar cheese and salsa, bacon, sweet pancakes, sliced fruit, and bagels. She then brings out pitchers of milk, water, and orange/grapefruit/pineapple juice.
She seems to lose herself in the physical act of preparing the meal, and by the time everyone has a plate in front of them she seems to have regained her composure. She no longer has that deer-in-the-headlights look she had when she woke everyone up. After everyone seems settled, she excuses herself and leaves the room. If anyone asks, she's going to the front desk.
[Lyle's Brad Pitt comment was a reference to both "7" (which Susan liked but I didn't), and "12 Monkeys" (which we both liked).]
"i'm serious, folks. put breakfast on hold and take a look-see. something strange is going on, or is about to go on. or maybe it went on some time ago and i'm only now reading it, but i doubt that."
Glimmer glances around the room. Perhaps "around the room" isn't the right term, since her next words suggest that she was looking beyond the confines of the drab walls.
"prism is still trying to contact the redgrave, although he's not having any luck. lyle is awake, but he doesn't seem to be doing anything remarkable. the crowd outside is...darn. can't tell. and i can't tell much about this dr. redgrave, or about el langosto and emerald. or modulator."
As she speaks a soft, shimmering aura comes into being around her. Her features fade into a blur as she is enveloped in the shifting patterns of her force field. In almost no time, she has made the transition from a simple but attractive woman to, as Kakker put it, "that phantom from last night."
"breakfast can keep, boys. we've got work to do."
[As you've probably guessed, Glimmer is faking this whole "Something's Up?" thing because some of those questions were getting a little too close to the truth. She plans to follow the others through a tour of Vanguard HQ and to apologize when they find nothing out of the ordinary. And just maybe she'll think up some answers while they're touring.]
The man was old, far older than any human being had a right to be. This was the root of many of his problems: he was, in fact, only human. The deep burnished walnut of his desk, the buttery-soft leather of the overstuffed chair, and the luxuriant burgundy carpet beneath all concealed the machines that kept the old man alive and functional. Many millions were spent each year just to postpone what was, for other men, inevitable. And still, he lost ground each year.
The same could not be said for the man standing on the other side of the desk. The old man had summoned this, the most dangerous of his stable of operatives, because the old man was not happy with this operative's most recent performance.
"Professor," the old man croaked from a throat crowded by too many life-sustaining tubes. "Explain your actions."
The man standing before the old man, the man currently answering to "Professor," stood wrapped mummy-like in his cloak, his face concealed by a mask of black and crimson. He looked down on the old man with his head tilted slightly to one side, as if the old man was a novelty the Professor had never seen before.
"My actions? My actions are subject to my desires. There is no other explanation." The Professor bowed regally, swooping his blood-red cloak.
The old man knew how dangerous and how unstable the Professor was. He had contemplated having the Professor killed. The old man estimated a 15.3% chance of success on the first attempt, and a 7.1% chance of success on the second. He also estimated a 41.9% chance that a failed first attempt would result in the Professor finding and killing the old man. This was an unacceptable degree of risk, and so the Professor continued to live and serve the old man. Besides which, he was one of the most useful operatives the old man had used in his long life.
"I am disappointed in you, Professor. This operation was the most dismal failure you have ever been associated with. Since you seem to have forgotten the objectives I set for you, let me remind you. In descending order of importance:"
"1) Capture Elena Rivera,"
"2) Kill Donna Kirschner,"
"3) Engage the new Vanguard recruits long enough to lure them into the prison, and"
"4) Detonate the explosives."
"You will note, Professor, at no time did I say, 'Warn Vanguard and offer them the chance to disarm the explosives.' At no time did I say, 'Waste precious minutes indulging in your private vendetta against the vigilante Beowulf.' Nor, will you please notice, did I say, 'Kill Elena Rivera in a fit of pique while allowing Donna Kirschner to escape.' You picked a bad time to indulge your misogynism, Professor. Explain to me why I have spent my resources on such a dismal failure, Professor; explain to me why my perfect plan was so flagrantly ignored." The tirade left the old man wheezing and exhausted, and the subtle humming of the machinery beneath the floor shifted slightly in pitch. Still, the old man fixed the professor with his steely blue eyes, eyes that seemed immune to the effects of the old man's extraordinary age.
The Professor looked at the old man, and slowly smiled.
"Since you ask so nicely, I will explain. Elena Rivera died because I told the heroes that I would kill her if they tried to stop me. They did, and so I did. I keep my word."
"Donna Kirschner was spirited away by someone I have never seen before. I did not have the power to follow. Nor did I encounter her rescuer again."
"I tarried before engaging Vanguard because I was confronted by my old nemesis Beowulf. I am happy to say, he will trouble me no longer."
"Upon engaging Vanguard, I did, indeed, lure them to the center of the prison. It is no concern of mine that several of them chose to remain outside. When those inside reached the center if the prison, I did, indeed, give the signal to detonate the explosives."
The old man glared. "You leave out a vital point, Professor," the old man croaked. "While you wasted time talking, the so-called heroes were releasing prisoners and searching for the explosives. It is through no virtue on your part that they did not find them. They weren't even supposed to know that there WERE any explosives. I am frankly amazed that you were able to catch any of them in the explosion at all."
The Professor looked down at the old man, his contempt somehow communicating itself through his mask. "It would not have been appropriate to simply destroy them with no warning. For their deaths to have meaning, they would have had to know the threat they faced. I gave them the chance to avert that fate, and they refused, as I knew they must."
The Professor turned to leave without waiting for the old man to reply. Before leaving, the Professor turned and gave the old man a final explaination, one that made as much -- or as little -- sense as any of the others.
"Hell has its commandments, too, you know."
The old man was angry, but the operation was not as bad a failure as he had led the Professor to believe. The Kirschner woman was almost certainly dead. They had learned a great deal about the new recruits of Vanguard. Plus, it had been a successful test of the Psiclops unit -- and the footage from the battle would do deep harm to the reputation of the new Vanguard. The only real loss was the Rivera woman; that would be an expensive failure. But not expensive enough to remove the Professor. The man was a raving psychotic, but he still had his uses.
For the moment.
Adaptor, sitting silently until now, shakes his head slightly at the somewhat hyperactive newcomer:
"I don't think so, miss. You were very helpful at the prison, but if we learned anything from last night's debacle I think I can safely say it's that we don't want to go rushing unprepared into potentially volatile situations. Perhaps if you slowed down a bit and tried to relate exaclty what is is you would like to ask (the emphasis is slight, buit there nonetheless...) us to do, we can acommodate you. "
"Consensus?" , he asks, looking to his teammates...
Adaptor wants to slow things down, which is just fine. A little time to think would be a blessing for Donna.
'Whoops,' she thinks to herself. 'Not Donna. Glimmer. Remember that.'
When the breakfast bit is done, she'll need to figure out what Donna -- Donna, not Glimmer -- is going to do next.
She's torn between telling Engada that Donna Kirschner is still alive and the more pragmatic choice of keeping that survival a secret. The first option would help to unsettle the opposition, while the second one would be less complicated -- and her life is complicated enough as it is, just now.
She'll need to find a place to stay. Obviously she can't shack up with any of her old friends.
'As if any of them were really my friends,' she thinks. 'like kathryn taylor.'
Maybe she can strike a deal with Vanguard. The dead Vanguard members outnumber the living, so they've got a few spare beds.
'God, when did I become so flippant about people's deaths?'
'maybe i never cared.'
Income is also an issue. None of her old connections are going to work now, so returning to "the business" is out of the question. Besides, restarting her old criminal career while she's playing the part of Glimmer...it just doesn't feel right, somehow. Sure, she's got to find a way to score something for personal use now that she's on the outside. That much is obvious.
'Obvious. After all I've been through, I =deserve= a break. And I don't have to get into the scene heavy. Just enough to keep me steady while I'm pulling off this Glimmer act.'
'of course, there's always tuesdays and thursdays.'
'But that's a promise I made without meaning it. I said so at the time. No, it's obvious.'
Mentally, she breaks that train of thought. This isn't working out. The spiritualist act was supposed to buy her some time to think, and she's squandering it on these non-issues. The important thing right now is to pull together and make Glimmer real. Think Stanislavsky. Just enough Brecht and Meyerhold to make it deliberate, but mostly Stanislavsky.
'I am Glimmer. Glimmer.'
"ooooookay," says Glimmer, not without a hint of poutiness. "i'm not one for charging in without the facts, so of course i'd be happy to sit here and ignore any premonitions until somebody's head is actually in the noose."
Her force field drops and she returns to her seat.
"just so you don't misunderstand, i didn't mean for us to do anything rash. i merely wanted us to look around and see if there is indeed something strange going on. sorry if i got bossy. so if alex trebeck, here, wants everything in the form of a question, i can do that.
"mister adaptor, would you -please- pass the juice."
Kakkker's eyebrows go up, up, up! Glimmer is not as physically threatening as he'd first feared but this mysterious "vibeing" is even more unsettling.
"what's that thing tell you?"
Kakker looks at the off-brand newton with it's slightly off-color annex module, looks back at Glimmer feeling the air like a Spiritualist from the Roaring Twenties, at the other people in the room, back at Glimmer. "Nothing. You _are_ mysterious." Kakker now looks frustrated.
I made a mistake on the Stacy-makes-breakfast stuff. When Krane made his yoga-master special, I though he just fixed a plate for Glimmer. As if he'd be so rude to the rest of the team! I should have known better. In fact, he graciously made breakfast (waffles, pancakes, and fresh fruit, for those with faint memories) for the whole gang. And makes it all look easy, on top of that. That martial artist training is more useful in everyday life than folks think. ;)
So instead of coming in and making even more food (she's not that out of it), Stacy asks vacantly if anyone else needs anything else (and makes it, if they do), and brings in pitchers of coffee, milk, and juice.
[Feel free to do stuff in the time between finishing breakfast and the time when Lyle shows up.]
After everyone seems to have had their fill (except for Prism, who is still off somewhere looing for the doctor), Stacy comes back and gathers up plates. As she's leaving, Lyle enters, looking much better than he did last night.
"Morning gang," Lyle says brightly. "Everybody sleep okay?"
"not really," Glimmer says, "but i never sleep well when i'm alone."
Glimmer's gaze is set directly on Lyle.
"how 'bout you?"
Lyle studiously ignores her.
"Okay, now on to business. I have some things to tell you guys about Vanguard and what's really going on here. Particularly, I think you need to know about Dr. Redgrave and Modulator."
Prism nods at Stacy's self-description, trying to make his craggy face appear as personable as possible. He asks only one question. "Dr. Redgrave's your boss? What about Modulator?"
Stacy shrugs. "He acts weird since the rest of them, well, you know. I mean, he was weird before, but now he's just strange. He just stares at me and tells me to talk to Dr. Redgrave. It's really spooky."
After sending Stacy off to make breakfast, Prism makes one more try at the lab intercom. "Dr. Redgrave, maybe this is a bad time for you, but let me make it clear. We need you, whether or not you want to take a hand in helping us clean up this mess. And maybe you don't want to come out and clear things up. Or maybe something's wrong in there, and you're in trouble and can't answer. Either way, I need to find out. So if I don't hear anything from you in a few seconds, I'm gonna try to break my way in. I probably can't do it; this is a pretty impressive vault you have here. But it'll sure as hell make a lot of noise, and set off some alarms, and make things tough for you. So if you're in there, please let me know now." His voice is calm, but utterly serious.
Prism's first few attempts at breaking into the lab are loud but leave only dents. Sooner or later, he thinks he could get in. But just then, the door slides open.
"Good morning, Prism. Let's go meet the rest of the team, shall we?"
"That won't be necessary, Lyle. Anything they'd like to know, they can ask us directly."
Lyle is stricken speechless by the entrance of Modulator and -- Dr. Redgrave? Not the Dr. Redgrave the team met yesterday. This woman has the same face, but her hair is now purple and cut short, not quite shoulder-length. She's wearing metallic blue form-fitting armor, with gold gauntlets, shoulderpads, boots, headband, and belt. But the most arresting part of this new Dr. Redgrave are her tentacles.
From the small of her back come four silver tentacles, two from each side. The tentacles are obviously mechanical, smooth and flexible and roughly the diameter of a tennis ball. At the end of each are three mutually-opposable claws, like silver knives 15 centimeters long. The tentacles themselves appear to be able to retract and extend, but at the moment they're about three meters long.
"But from now on," she says, smiling a predator smile, "I'm not Dr. Redgrave. Call me Arachne. I'm Vanguard's new leader."
Glimmer turns to Adaptor.
"you have my sincerest apologies. i don't know =how= i could have thought something unusual was going to happen this morning."
She sips her orange juice through an impish grin.
Krane looks hopeful at Doctor Redgrave. "I think a leader is just what we need," he says. "I'm glad you're here."
When he returns to his seat he faces Glimmer. "Are you a part of this team or not? It's a decision only you can make. If you are I'm sure everyone will welcome you with open arms. If you're not, I think you already know far too much about us."
Kakker is struck dumb with disbelief. From utter passivity to purple- haired Doc Ock?
Putting this enigma momentarily aside, he gives Modulator a slow once-over. Anything different here?
Prism crosses his arms, crystals scraping slightly. He faces the new, improved (???) Dr. Redgrave, but seems to be ignoring Modulator entirely.
"Okay, 'Arachne,'" he says, "then let's start off with a few questions. Did the real Modulator die in the fight with Doomguard, or was it you in the suit all along? I figured Lyle had stood in for Modulator during the funeral, but since we can see that he's here, I guess you've got some sort of autopilot or remote control option on the suit.
"As for you being team leader, well, I guess we can consider that. But I think we deserve a pretty damn big pile of explanations before we let you just walk in and take over, experience or no experience. Maybe the old Vanguard was your baby, but as you can see, the membership has changed."
He stands, motionless, arms still crossed, milky-blue eyes glittering as he faces Arachne.
Dr. Redgrave looks steadily into Prism's glittering blue eye crystals. She raises a (purple) eyebrow, and opens her mouth to reply, but this time it's Lyle who interrupts her.
"It was always on remote," he says from where he sits at the end of the table. "It's not Modulator's armor, anyway: it's a mock-up. We don't have his real armor: it dissappeared when he died."
Redgrave pierces Lyle with a cold, calculating look.
"Yes," she says. "What Lyle says is true. We deceived you, and everyone else, because we knew that if the public knew that all of the heroes at Vanguard were dead, any hope of continuing the team would be gone. We intended to tell those of you who remained with the team after a brief probation." Again she fixes Lyle with a frosty look. "It would appear that this probation is over."
Redgrave now seems to notice the woman in white. "And unless this is El Cigarro in disguise, I take it that the public now knows about Modulator, as well." She smiles again, an expression that seems sincere but somehow out of place beneath those intense, piercing eyes. "But no matter." She gestures with one tentacle, and not-Modulator turns and leaves the room.
As not-Modulator leaves, Redgrave turns her attention to Prism.
"You are half correct, Prism. Vanguard is my baby. In fact, without me there *is* no Vanguard." She pauses a moment to let that sink in. "But all of you wanted to be a part of it, and I still want you here. I assume you are reporter, miss? You may stay and observe: the public needs to know that Vanguard is alive and well. The membership changes, but Vanguard will continue."
"I've downloaded the reports of last night's mission," she says, abruptly walking to the end of the room where the podium is. She is suddenly businesslike and decisive. Despite her bizarre apearance, this is the Dr. Redgrave that everyone knows. As she begins talking, one tentacle snakes out to the pitcher in front of Britestar and pours a glass of orange juice. Another tentacle brings the glass to her and sets it on the podium.
"We made some mistakes last night, but from what I can tell we handled things pretty well. You exercised caution in entering the prison, you weighed the safety of the prisoners and the FBI against the risk of engaging the villains, and you did your best to comply with the FBI's directives. These were all sound decisions. Where we apparently slipped up was in hesitating to confront the villains once the decision to engage had been made, and in not having a better knowledge of each other's powers and tactics. It couldn't be helped this time, but as we work together we'll become more proficient at working together in combat. As you saw last night, teamwork is the key to victory."
She pauses and looks at the team of paranormals gathered before her (pointedly ingoring Lyle).
Adaptor picks up the pitcher of freshly-squeezed O.J. and holds it out for Glimmer to accept, the irony of Glimmer's request apparently completely lost on him.
During what little of breakfast everyone manages to consume, Adaptor politely refuses Krane's pancakes, instead opting for several pieces of fruit: an apple, an orange, and whatever passes for melon that Krane has managed to scare up. One by one he methodically consumes the fruit. The apple goes first, and it becomes apparent that Adaptor is one of those people who has the habit of eating the entire apple, core, stem, and all. Eyebrows may be raised as he consumes his orange skin and all, as if it, too were an apple. His second bite of the melon, which he has cut in half and is also apparently intent on devouring whole, rind and all, is interrupted by something far more interesting than his peculiar culinary quirks...
In response to Glimmer's quip at the arrival of Dr. Redgrave, he says, quietly, but clear as a bell, "Apology accepted, miss.", but his eyes are staring, unblinking, at the two new arrivals. They dart quickly back and forth between the two figures as he remains seated at the table.
Adaptor shakes his head slightly, and if he can catch Prism's eye for a moment will give him and uncharcteristic hint of a smile, in apparent admiration at his no-nosense approach... He swivels his chair around to watch Arachne, and settles in for the fireworks...
Prism listens to Arachne's explanation/debriefing with almost no visible reaction. He winces slightly when Glimmer is taken for a reporter, and gives the barest of nods in response to Adaptor's grin. His face is still serious and stern, however.
Adaptor notices that Dr. Redgrave has paused, as if to invite questions. None of the other members immediately chime in, so Adaptor silently raises his hand and waits for Arachne to recognize him.
"Perhaps we could continue this discussion in the gymnasium, Arachne? I, personally, could use the workout, especially after last night's unpleasantness... It might help us to reenact some of what went on to avoid similar mistakes in the future. (He pauses for just a moment, then adds, almost as an afterthought...) And if we're going to consider you for membership, we probably should have an idea of your combat capabilities."
He looks to his comrades, face serene, for a consensus...
Dr. Redgrave's gold gauntlets grip the edges of the podium, her unblinking emerald green eyes (unnaturally green eyes, actually) focused on Adaptor's steel grey. Her tentacles sway like cobras about to strike the barefoot hero.
"Neither my membership nor my combat abilities are yours to question," she hisses. After a moment, she relaxes.
"But you bring up a good point," she nods, regaining her composure. "We should work out together before our next mission. It won't take the place of workng together in combat, but hopefully it will prevent any surprises." She targets Adaptor with a long look.
Lyle, who has been looking somewhat uncomfortable since Dr. Redgrave/Arachne entered, stands quietly and excuses him self. "I have some work to do. I'll see you all later." As he passes the mysterious woman in white, he adds "Nice meeting you, Glimmer." Dr. Redgrave smirks at his back as he leaves.
A smile rests comfortably on Glimmer's lips.
"nice on this side, too, lyle. looking forward to next time."
As Lyle steps out of the room, Glimmer nods her head in a self-satisfied way, as if some important private suspicion had been confirmed.
Britestar looks at Arachne. "Yes I do have a few questions for you Dr. Redgrave. I do not want to sound mean but I think these questions need to be asked."
"Is it fair to say you have had a pretty dramatic personality change in the last day or so? Is it possible that the sudden death of Modulator and the rest of Vanguard has caused a severe shock to your system? Does your sudden transformation and obvious need to be the leader indicate a certain amount of mental instability?"
"you don't know the half of it," adds Glimmer. "her tentacles aren't just clip-ons -- they're part of her. she's really chopped up her insides to have those things installed. it looks like she's had a lot of bone replaced with metal, especially around her ribs and hips. those wires leading into her head really lead -into- -her- -head-.
"this goes way beyond any body-piercing i've ever seen."
Prism seems about to speak after Arachne's reply to Adaptor, but he has barely opened his mouth before Britestar delivers her own questions. Once she has fired off that volley, Prism simply shuts his mouth (with a loud click) and waits for the expected explosion.
Krane tries to be the moderator.
Looking to his team-mates. "Come on guys. We're not Vanguard. We're not any team yet. Right now we're just trying to do our best. Maybe someday we can consider ourselves Vanguard but right now Dr. Redgrave & Lyle are both more connected to Vanguard than we are. They have the experience I know that I lack. Maybe not experience in beating up on the bad guys, but experience in the super hero business anyway."
Looking to Dr. Redgrave/Arachne. "While Adaptor may be a little gung ho, I definitely feel that we need to learn more about each other and our capabilities. Also, I'm not suggesting that we turn this into a military unit but we do need some type of chain of command."
Dr. Redgrave [I'm probably going to keep calling her that, at least when she's not doing superhero stuff] pauses. "Pause" is a too weak a word: she freezes in place, eyes still fixed on Adaptor, while Britestar and Glimmer make their thoughts known. Slowly her gaze swivels to Britestar. She raises an eyebrow.
"It's always the quiet ones that fool you," she says softly. She doesn't look angry or amused. Her expression is almost blank. Her head swivels a fraction more so that Glimmer is in her sights.
"I take it you are not a reporter." It isn't a question.
Redgrave takes a deep breath, and her tentacles relax a bit, looking less like cobras now, and more like, well, steel tentacles attached to her spine.
"Whoever she is, she is correct. I have interfaced my brain and body with prostheses designed to augment my abilities to a superhuman level. You were all born with your talents: mine are the result of years of research and a conscious decision." One of the tentacles snaps its claws menacingly, but at no one in particular. "I dare say I'm the physical equal of any of you now. And of course, I still have the intellectual capacity I had when I designed all this. More, in fact." She gives Glimmer a meaningful look.
"Rest assured, Britestar: the alterations to my biology have not had an adverse effect on me. Quite the reverse, in fact. I feel better than I have in quite some time. My thought processes are clearer, more cogent, more insightful than ever before." Redgrave smiles.
"So, on to new business." With this her gaze turns frosty, and her eyes track left, to Glimmer.
"Who are you, and why are you here?"
"there have been all kinds of questions tossed around in the last few minutes. let's see if i can answer at least some of them.
To Krane: "do i want to be a part of this team? yes and no. no, i don't want to be a member of vanguard. remember that positive public image i mentioned earlier? mine would plummet if i joined the team just now, and that wouldn't do anybody any good. your best bet -- and mine -- is for me to operate in some other capacity until your ratings improve. we can talk about some possible capacities in a minute."
To Adaptor: "no thank you on the combat. i'm not here to slug it out, or to prepare to. what i'm here for is a chance to pass on some information and to help out with this team's serious p.r. problem."
"i came here for two reasons. first, to share information. i've done some of that, though i still have a few things i need to pass on. second, i came because i thought i could form a long-term relationship with this team.
"as for who i am, why don't you ask lyle? while you were busy telling us about your heightened thought processes, he put two and two together and called me by name."
Glimmer pauses briefly to let that last point sink in.
"folks, i'm not so sure that a long term relationship between us is going to work out. i'm going to have to think about this. i've also got to find answers to some important questions. you wanted to know more about that woman i rescued from grendel, and now that you mention it so do i. i don't like not knowing things. maybe you've keyed into that by now.
"i'm going to leave for a while and let you sort out some of your own issues. i'll be back this afternoon and will have some more information for you. so unless one of you can think of something that just won't keep, i'll see you then.
"krane, thanks for the food. if this superhero thing falls through, you'd make a great health food chef.
"and, doct... i mean, arachne. don't think that having superpowers is going to fix things for you. for some of us, they create more problems than they solve."
With that, Glimmer walks to the corner to retrieve her coat.
As Glimmer picks up her coat, Krane calls out to her, "Don't take my earlier comments the wrong way. I, for one, would love to have you on the team but it has to be on equal footing. You can't be privy to all of our secrets while not telling us anything about yourself.
"I hope we can work together-- at least on occasion."
"thanks for the concern, krane. you're a sweetie. no, i'm not holding a grudge for your comments, and i'm going to assume nobody holds any for mine. what we've done today is to exchange information. really, you folks got the better part of the exchange. i've told you lots of things that were new to you and, in return, you've told me very little that i didn't already know.
"i'll be back later today with some more info to share. in the mean time, it sounds like you've got some housekeeping to do.
"good luck. and whatever you do, don't go public with anything until you've really thought it through. i meant it when i said i could help you with your public image, but if your ratings keep sliding there's going to be nothing anyone can do for you."
>> "I hope we can work together-- at least on occasion."
"we will. trust me on that one."
Assuming that nobody opposes her -- and probably even then, considering her powers -- Glimmer walks out of the room, through the hallways and out of the front door.
Just before Glimmer gets to the door, it slides open and Stacy rushes in, breathless.
"Prism!" she yells. "Prism! Look at the TV!" She pops open a panel in the wall next to the door and pushes a few buttons. Across the room, behind Arachne, a section of wall brightens and becomes a TV screen.
" ... unexplained meteorological event. Police are evacuating the office buildings in the area, but the sudden blizzard has stalled traffic completely..."
The image on the screen is of downtown Los Angeles. The view from the camera is almost completely obscured by wave after wave of heavy snowfall. In the distance, the street is ocassionally illuminated by blasts of lightning. As the team watches, a bolt of lightning strikes a car, which explodes with a muffled WHUMP. The camera spins around, and the team can see that the snow ends abruptly a meter or so behind the camera operator. The street is lit by the warm glow of the morning sun. The camera spins around again to show the blizzard and lightning.
" ... The FSPD has responded to the emergency, but thus far no paranormals have been found to be responsible for this nightmarish weather phenomenon. No lives have yet been lost, but all work in the downtown area has ceased. Nothing like this fhaz srizzer FUZZZ HEEZZZ SKKRAKT!"
The screen fills with static, then the image clears. The pale-skinned man -- boy? he can't be more than twenty -- in the TV has short orange-red hair, freckles, and glasses with thick black frames. His eyes are made huge by the coke-bottle lenses of his glasses. Mickey Mouse peers out at you from the front of his t-shirt, one eye and both eyes hidden behind Miles' lime green lab coat. In the background, a pile of machinery and household appliances glows and hums.
His voice is nasal, almost whiny. This is the voice of the schoolyard nerd, the kid that got beat up every day at lunch. This is the voice of the kid that swore someday he'd have his revenge. Today is that day.
"My name is Miiiiiiiles Needleman! And you are in my power! Mwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!" Miles laughs an epic villain's laugh, or as close as he can get. The result is more like a nasal cackle.
"You will deliver to me one million dollars in small, unmarked bills. I will send my humanoid robot, Mr. Mechano, to gather the cash and bring it to me. If you stop him or follow him, I will DESTROY LOS ANGELES! HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-huh-heh-uhhh-uhhh-hhhh..." Miles collapses in a fit of wheezing, and stops gloating long enough to dig out an inhaler. He sucks on the inhaler a couple of times, then takes shallow, gasping breaths. After a moment he seems to remember the camera is still on, and turns his froggy-eyed gaze back to his captive audience.
"I wheeze expect payment wheeze by lunchtime. Mr. Mechano wheeze will be at wheeze City Hall at wheeze twelve noon."
Miles takes a few more shallow breaths, fighting to breathe.
"If wheeze the money isn't wheeze there waiting wheeze, you can kiss LA wheeze good-bye! Ha ha wheeze ha wheeze wheeze wheeze!"
The image dissolves in static, eventaully to be replaced by the scene of downtown LA. All that you can see is snow, piled in huge drifts. Cars are nothing more than mounds of snow, and snow drifts reach up to third-story windows. And still the snow falls.
" .. are we back on? We are? Ladies and gentlemen, what you have just seen is an announcement..."
Stacy mutes the TV screen: the announcer isn't saying anything you don't already know. She looks around the room to see how the heroes react to the newscast and the interruption by the terrorist Miles Needleman. Her eyes pass Dr. Redgrave, then back up, as if she doesn't quite know what she sees. Then her eyes grow wide and she puts a hand to her mouth, and ever-so-slightly shakes her head from side to side.
"Thank you, Stacy," Dr. Redgrave says. "That will be all."
Stacy blinks once, then backs away from Redgrave, closing the door behind her.
Glimmer returns to her seat and leans back, smiling at the images on the TV screen. Her grin is almost ear-to-ear.
"is anyone else thinking what i'm thinking? 'cause if i'm right, i have just -got- to be a part of this mission. i can't miss a chance to take grendel down, once and for all."
Prism remains silent during most of the interplay between Arachne, Britestar, et al. However, he looks increasingly disquieted as the tension escalates. He also shoots Arachne an evil look when she suggests that everyone on the team but her was born with their powers. As Glimmer departs, Prism casts a mounrful eye in her direction, but is immediately distracted by Stacy's dramatic entrance and the subsequent TV broadcast.
After Needleman's announcement ends, Prism turns to the rest of the team. "This has GOT to be some kind of joke. Somebody check some of the other stations to make sure this isn't some cheap TV show. Otherwise, do we have any way to track the source of that broadcast?"
"i don't think it's a joke," Glimmer says. "in fact, i think it's a great deal more serious than it might appear. if we don't handle things just right, this 'miles needleman' is probably going to be dead and vanguard will get blamed for it.
"tell me if you agree.
"yesterday vanguard fought someone who's a whiz at manipulating the media. in the end, the bad guys lost but the good guys -seemed- to lose because of this someone's manipulations. whoever this someone is, he's got access to tv equipment, he's got a crew of young guys with brand-new superpowers and he's got a thing against vanguard.
"today, this pathetic villain wanna-be takes to the airwaves. where did he get the equipment to do that? where did he get his powers? he says he's got a robot. where did the robot's parts come from and how did this geek get the know-how to build it?
"maybe needleman is everything he appears to be. maybe he's such a technical guru that hacking into the news, building a robot and giving himself superpowers is no prob. but, to me, it seems more likely that our media master is at work again, trying to discredit vanguard by setting up needleman.
"my guess is that needleman is scripted to die shortly after vanguard arrives. the stage has already been set. needleman's practically dared vanguard to appear. he's been established as a weird but sympathetic character. and then there's the foreshadowing with the asthma inhaler.
"any of you movie-goers want to guess what the next scene is?"
Krane stands up (what time is it now?). "Okay, what kind of powers do we have? We need someone who can follow this robot undetected. If El Langosto was around we could have him shrink down and ride in the money bag. What other options do we have?
"If what Glimmer says is true and our enemies plan on killing Needleman, we'll need to watch the situation very closely. Even if Needleman is acting on his own, we'll still have to be careful. We need a way to stay close to the robot until he gets back to Needleman. Then we'll be close enough to protect him, or take him down quickly. We don't know how he's controlling the weather. It could be a power he has or some sort of technological device (more likely since he built a robot and pirated the airwaves). Either way, we have to make sure that he doesn't get a chance to destroy the city.
Dr. Redgrave clenches her fist and smacks it into her other hand.
"If we knew he would transmit again, we could triangulate from his radio signal. But there's no way to track him now. Damn! If only we could find him before the noon deadline!"
She nods at Krane. "I think you're right. We're going to have to follow the robot somehow."
"i can watch a money bag through a wall, no prob," Glimmer says. "but i can't move very quickly. not compared to, say, a robot with rockets for feet.
"i can also spot stuff at a distance. guns, hidden bad guys, cameras. grendel. stuff like that.
"and, um, prism has an ability that might come in handy, although i don't know if he's shared it with the rest of you. i saw him do it at the prison. prism, do you know what i'm talking about? i'm trying hard not to blow any of your secrets, here.
"but we don't even know that the city wants to pay the ransom, yet. we need to be working with city hall on this one."
"if what i suspect is true, it isn't our enemies who are scripted to kill needleman. it's us. or rather, it's vanguard. if vanguard makes even the slightest error, or something which could be made to resemble an error with the right spin doctoring, needleman dies and vanguard is blamed. or maybe there's some other tragedy in the works, though i think all the clues point to an act three death for needleman."
"if he's connected to yesterday's gang it's likely that he has these powers himself, like ash, or that he needs some minor technological crutch, like white noise."
After Glimmer and Krane offer their (cynical, but probably realistic) takes on Needleman's plot, Prism nods.
"You could be right. Thing is, unless Needleman dies in some very destructive way, I doubt the public is going to mourn him too much. Especially not whoever owned that car he blew up. The courts would still be after us, but that's not our immediate problem -- PR is. I think we ought to be very sure to keep cool whatever happens; let's not let ourselves be goaded into something stupid." His gaze crosses Arachne for a moment as he says this, but it could just be coincidence.
"Anyway, I'm willing to follow this robot thing to wherever it's going -- like I said at our initial meeting, I can become mostly invisible if need be. But if this thing has radar, or sonar, or anything like that, my invisibility isn't gonna help much. I think a high-altitude pursuit might be better, if somebody can fly without being too conspicuous. I don't suppose we can get the Vanguard-mobile fixed before noon?"
Kakker harrumphs, and replies to Prism. "Assuming it's another ploy, we can hardly rely on the broadcast for intelligence. There may be no robot, or several, or a dummy robot, an ambush, an exploding robot, or any combination of like menaces. We cannot limit ourselves to foiling the plot as presented." His fidgeting fingers belie his composure.
"Assuming this man is a foolish genius, wasting his technical talents for petty emotional satisfaction, we likewise cannot simply play our parts like some sad band of television wrestlers."
"Weather patterns of this extreme variation cannot be subtle, and I do not think it will be difficult to locate the source of the disturbance, provided there truly is one. Has anyone bothered to look outside? Check the Weather Channel?" Kakker turns his datapad around, the word "EULER" in relief above the screen reading, "Accessing National Weather Service System. Loaded 35658 bytes out of 217853...."
[Kakker is going outside the plebian bandwidths into some of the priveleged, higher-speed networks he's swung access to. Many d6 of Telepathy, vs. Computer systems, (or whatever, depending on how Brandon wants to packet radio and computer networks), lims like Req Skill Roll: Systems Op, Programming, etc., OAF, not near active suits of fake body armor, that kind of thing. Hmm, possibly Invisble Power Effects?]
After the others have finished, Adaptor offers this:
"Won't we have a means of finding him automatically? I think we can presume that Needleman will be monitoring the robot in some manner when it makes the pick-up. If Kakker can construct some device to follow whatever signal Needleman is using to monitor it, we don't need to follow it. We simply follow the signal. If such a thing is feasible, that is...
The other thing we probably should do is find out how the city government is reacting to this. If they are electing to simply not pay Needleman, which they very well may, we have to be prepared for there being nothing for the robot to pick up. Arachne, do you have any contacts that might be able to fill us in on how the government will be handling this?"
(Two days ago...)
Ah, another evening of rest and relaxation. A comfy chair, a six-pack of Mickey's, and Wheel of Fortune. Ralph was startled from his reverie by a loud crash. It sounded like that cartoon where Elmer Fudd opens a closet full of junk and the whole thing collapses on him, ending with a bowling ball ball dropping on his head.
"It's that Needleman kid again, Gladys!" Ralph bellowed. Ralph liked to bellow. He leveraged his bulk up from his La-Z-Boy and stomped toward the door. That little geek upstairs had kept him up night after night with his constant racket: banging, buzzing, drilling. And if that wasn't bad enough, he was blowing fuses in the whole apartment building at least once a week. Slamming his front door open, Ralph bellowed up the stairwell, "NEEDLEMAN!"
Miles was crouched at the top of the stairs in an almost-foetal position, comically trying to hold a dozen or more electric gizmos to his chest and abdomen without them -- or him -- falling. Ralph's bellow surprised him, making him jerk his head up. One of the gizmos, possibly the remains of a four-slice toaster, escaped his grasp, bouncing Bang! Crunch! Crash! down the steps to land at Ralph's feet, next to a small pile of similar items.
"Needleman!" Ralph bellowed again, kicking the toaster-wreckage. "Cut that racket out or I'll call the police! You hear me? The police!"
Miles smiled weakly, thick glasses sliding down his freckled nose. "Sorry Mr. Cramden," he whined nasally. "I'll try to be quieter."
Face beet red with anger and alcohol, Ralph nodded once in satisfaction and went back inside to finish watching his show.
Miles' smile slowly faded, to be replaced by a look of utter loathing. Go ahead and kick me around all you want, you obese neanderthal. In two days I'll be rich and famous. I've been your punching bag for the last time. By this time Friday I'll be a millionaire, and the world will tremble at the name of... Miles Needleman! My inventions have been stolen by the dead-heads for the last time. Blue lasers -- MY invention! Thin-film transistors -- MY invention! Cellular multiplexing -- My invention! Indigo watch faces -- MY invention! All stolen by the dead-heads! From now on, I use my genius my way. From now on, I'm the one who's going to get rich from my inventions. You won't have Miles Needleman to kick around anymore. From now on, I do the kicking!
Savoring the thought of his revenge on his intellectual inferiors, Miles duck- walked his new acquisitions into his apartment, kicking Peter Piper Pizza boxes and Del Taco bags out of the way. Stepping gingerly over the cables and network hubs strewn across his bedroom floor, Miles dumped the load of new parts on his workbench.
"GREETINGS MASTER," a collection of wires and computer cards on his bed said in a buzzy monotone. "HOW MAY I SERVE YOU TODAY."
"Microwave burrito. And Twilight Zone episode number 121."
"BY YOUR COMMAND, IMPERIOUS LEADER."
The clockwork pulleys and levers in Miles' tiny kitchen went to work, propelling a frozen burrito into the microwave. A complex arrangement of gears and electronics that was once Miles' TV and VCR buzzed and clicked, and soon the confident voice of Rod Serling was submitting episode number 121 for Miles' approval. Meanwhile, Miles went to work with his loupe and soldering gun, putting the finishing touches on his next great invention: the Electro-Static Thermo-Dynamic Cumulo-Infundibulum!
"Laugh while you can, monkey boys! Mwah-ha-ha-ha! wheeze Ha! wheeze Ha! wheeze wheeze wheeze ..."
Kakker attempts to log into the the National Weather Service satellite system, but he's booted off with
THAT SYSTEM IS NOT AVAILABLE, REENTER U#:
Persistent, he tries the NOAA weather system.
SERVER #4 OFFLINE, CONTACT MR. TOLLER 6-5860 FOR REPAIR
"That is just too coincidental," Kakker mutters. "The servers for the top two weather satellite systems are down. Either Miles Needleman is a computer whiz as well as a weather whiz, or he's got help. I'm going to try one more thing; if that doesn't work, we're up the creek unless I can tap into a military satellite -- and I'm not sure that I can."
Finally, Kakker tries the National Flow Control Center for air-traffic control in Washington, D.C. Bingo: whoever sabotaged the NWS and NOAA systems didn't think of doing it to the in-route air traffic control center. Unfortunately, his little Newton isn't up to displaying the radar map he gets.
"Doctor, er, Arachne, is there a way to tie this in to the display screen there? Does the base have a network connection in here?"
"Well, yes, it does," she answers cautiously. "What exactly are you planning?"
Kakker answers patiently, "I want to use that screen, or some other screen, if that one's not connected to the network, to display a detailed weather map."
Dr. Arachne pauses, then one of her tentacles reaches over and pops open an access panel under the screen. "Go ahead, Kakker. Rapsutin, feel free to assist Kakker."
A neutral voice comes from the ceiling. "Yes, Arachne."
Dr. Redgrave immediately appears nervous. "Do not violate any security protocols, Rasputin" she says hastily. "My previous security measures remain in effect."
"Yes, Arachne," Rasputin answers. Dr. Redgrave relaxes.
Kakker whips out a few tiny tools and gets to work. In a few minutes, a color radar image of the west coast is up on the screen. Hundreds of tiny blips are scattered across it: aircraft, one would assume. Kakker types and clicks on his Newton, and eventually the view narrows down to the downtown L.A. area. In the bottom left corner of the screen is a string of letters and numbers, followed by the word "LAX". The whole area of downtown L.A. appears to be a solid circle filled with precipitation. Kakker frowns and types a few minutes more. One by one, erroneous displays disappear from the display: first the planes, then various colors of radar. He plays with it, adding and subtracting colors (which stand for various densities of cloud and precipitation). It looks hopeless.
Finally, the image is clear: a thin green line flickers faintly from the center of downtown to the east edge of the image. Kakker pans the image east in increments: click... click... click....
The faint green line ends in West Covina, about a 30 minute drive from Vanguard's base [downtown L.A., Vanguard, and West Covina make a rough equilateral triangle, with the L.A.-to-West Covina side of the triangle running from West to East, with the Vanguard vertex to the North].
Kakker tries to get a tighter fix on the location, but the best he can do is within a few blocks. The radar map just doesn't have the resolution to narrow it down any closer.
[By the way, everybody take 3 EP for the game up to now. If you spend it, let me know on what. Also, keep in mind I'm adding stuff to your character you don't know about, as well. Good stuff, that is.]
I am assuming that Glimmer, being a non-techie and generally inquisitive sort, will be idly "listening" to the base while Kakker works. Stacy is answering the phone every once in a while, typing on the front desk computer as she does so. Lyle is up in his room, packing a suitcase.
Kakker got e-mail while he was working on the radar display. Let me know when he has time to read it.
[Hey, it's an EULER! Well, it's a PDA like a Newton, but different brand, not marketed in the US. Onlookers will note the annex add-on is the source of the little patch cords that Kakker wires into the big screen.]
"Let's be careful out there," Kakker says. "A machine this powerful could make some nasty sparks if we smash it pell-mell. I'm confident I can take care of any kind of controls and security this Needleman fellow is likely to have procured, but I'll need time. Who thinks they could talk this man down from his mania?"