Night City(18): Death and the Maiden
Kakker is not careful to keep his look of recognition from his face, but says nothing. He looks at the picture, reaching slowly for it. "Julia" doesn't let go of the picture, but she lets Kakker touch it.
"I'm sorry: I can't let you have this. It's not permitted."
If "julia" will not let him hold it, he will then gently poke her arm with a finger to see what happens.
"Julia" gives Kakker an "excuse me?" look. "It's wool. From sheep? You know?" She looks a little baffled by Kakker's odd behavior, and she shakes her head. "This mission is *not* going well...." she says under her breath.
"Not permitted by whom?"
"Julia" huffs. "By my superiors, of course. You don't think I'm down here because I want to be, do you?"
"I've seen your objective, yes," Kakker says, "but I will need some sort of bona fides or quid pro quo to be more forthcoming. I know you are in a hurry, but then, so am I, and you've already stated that you cannot help me find my own objective." Kakker stands back and studies "Julia" carefully, eyeswary for any telling details tht his careful eyes may catch. Shapeshifter? Android? Some kind of mental thing?
"Julia" sighs. "I can't do that. I can't tell you anything you don't already know, and I can't help you figure out what you do already know means."
"Julia" puts a hand on her forehead and frowns. Then she looks at Kakker.
"Okay, this isn't working out. I thought this would be better than... well, anyway, it's not. Don't freak: you might want to close your eyes for a minute." Kakker, of course, makes no move to close his eyes. "Julia" shrugs.
Her skin and clothing ripples and turns luminescent. When it coalesces again, she looks like Whoopi Goldberg in a beige suit.
"That is *so* much better: worn in and comfortable. You know how it goes when you see an outfit you love in the store, but you get it home and it makes you looks like a sausage? Well, maybe you don't. Well look, hon, we got started off on the wrong foot, so let's start over. Your name is Kakker, and you can call me Sandra." Sandra smiles and sticks out her hand (where'd the picture go?), offering to shake with Kakker.
Krane gives Stacy a lopsided grin. "Thank you," he glances back at the injured agent, "but you REALLY shouldn't have done that." His tone is light, almost jovial, but filled with relief.
Without much of a pause he immediately whirls about and tries to get a peak in the ambulance. Hopefully Mr. Park is in there (by himself).
If all seems well, Krane will tell the others (through the communicator) that everything has been taken care of.
Stacy puts the Neon in reverse and backs away from the ambulance. The EMT slides off the hood and lands on the pavement, groaning, his legs bent at an odd angle just below the knee.
Krane peeks through the rear windows of the ambulance, but the windows are mirrored. Bracing himself, he pulls open the door. As the door opens, a mild sweet smell escapes. Some kind of gas? Inside, sitting on a stretcher in the lotus position, is Mr. Park. As Krane opens the door, Mr. Park opens his eyes and gets up.
After he climbs out of the ambulance (shrugging off Krane's assistance impatiently), Mr. Park exhales forcefully.
"The air was bad," he explains. "I had to hold my breath."
Mr. Park looks curiously at the EMTs in the armored uniforms.
"Do you have any idea who these men really were?" he asks.
Kakker smiles, looking very satisfied with himself, and shakes hands. "Sandra it is, then. I think we can work together or at least not at cross purposes."
Sandra looks relieved. "Man, I hope so." She looks sincere.
"Btw, I assume your mission requires you to be unobtrusive? Perhpas you should choose a form that is less famous in this era--abouts? You look just like a lady that lives near here, you know."
Sandra rolls her eyes. "Don't *even* get me started: you just have no idea. This is nowhere near as easy as it looks. Say, can we go somewhere a little less rustic? I can tell you, you aren't going to find your lady friend down here tonight. Don't sweat it: she'll find you when she's ready."
Sandra looks both ways, then points the way Kakker was heading. "The closest exit is this way."
Kakker is brought down from his smug high at having discerned the mysterious stranger's origin by her mention of Arachne. "You're certain of that? She's very badly injured and could die if she is not cared for immediately." Kakker's working hypothesis will let him be reassured by any but the most feeble justification, and after being satisfied, will be easily led somewhere private where they can talk.
Sandra looks like she just realized she said more than she meant to say.
"I can't really say one way or the other. You said she was hurt, and I know that's true. But I also know she's not down here. And I guess I already told you, so you may as well know that you'll see her again, but it'll be because she wants to see you, not because you're looking for her. In fact, I think you'll be surprised to see her. But I really can't say more than that, so don't ask me."
Sandra stares Kakker in the eye for a minute.
"Wait a minute. You don't even have it, do you? Damn!" She paces back and forth a bit. "I could have *sworn*..."
After a minute, she shakes her head and shrugs. "I guess I've made a mistake. I'm sorry I wasted your time." With that, she turns as if to leave.
Kakker thinks quickly. "Xanadu is looking for it, too. She seemed to think Brightstar had it." Kakker frantically thinks of strategies for stringing Sandra along for long enough to find out what is really going on.
A wave of relief washes over Krane when he sees that Mr. Park is safe. He's used to Mr. Park being a 'little' rude [grin], so he takes the brush off in stride.
"No sir. I haven't had a chance to question them."
Krane walks over to the one with the broken legs and examines him. Assuming that he's conscious-- "Who do you work for and what do you want with Mr. Park?"
"More importantly, what did you do with Emerald?" A slight edge of anger enters into Krane's voice with this question.
The EMT with the broken legs is in too much pain to do more than moan piteously. [Broken bones hurt like a sonovabitch.]
The other EMT, on the other hand, is just knocked out: he'll be awake and in shape to answer questions in no time.
Krane doesn't have time to wait, though. In minutes, police cars and an FSPD Mustang pull up, lights flashing and sirens blaring. The fake EMTs are disarmed, scanned by the friendly grey-uniformed FSPD agents for implants (they each have several), and put in the back of the Mustang. The FSPD agents are nice about it, but they're obviosuly in charge here -- the police officers defer to the agents every step of the way.
One of the FSPD agents, a fellow with an easy smile and sandy blonde hair, introduces himself as Derek Winston. He makes sure everyone is OK, flashes a smile at Stacy, and hands Krane a form (a transcript of Krane's statement).
While this is going on, Krane can't help but notice the similarity between the FSPD agents' armor and that of the fake EMTs. Grey uniforms, same style body armor, they even have the same style ball caps. The difference in that the EMTs' uniforms don't have the gold badge and US flag that the FSPD agents' have.
Krane isn't the only one that notices: Stacy and Mr. Park both tug inconspicuously at Krane's sleeve and point it out to him.
(("The Host. There is no other."))
"Oh, Johnny Carson," Prism nods. Convinced that he has now finally lost is mind entirely, he is content to enjoy himself a little. "Or are you referring to those holy Ritz crackers they hand out at Mass?"
(("They seek the Eye. And thus, you.You gain nothing from feigning ignorance with me, little Power: The Lord of the Inner Dark has no interest in trinkets, even the Eye of Samael."))
(("Why have come to my Realm, little Power? My aid has a high price, and though the Host has no power over Me, to incur their wrath so soon is not in My Plan. Unless you wish to ally yourself with Me, your sojourn is for naught."))
"Believe me," Prism shouts, "I'm not big on feigning. This is genuine ignorance we're talking here. I don't know anything about any Eye, I don't plan to incur anyone's wrath, and I can hardly ally with someone I never even knew existed, now can I? The fact is, I came here in search of..." he gropes for the right word. "An associate, a woman who was hurt and probably needed help. I came here to try and make sure she got the help she needs. A woman about so tall, nicely built, with a bunch of long metal tentacles -- seen her?"
As Prism waxes verbose on the depth of his ignorance, he feels the attention of the entity on the horizon -- the entity that *is* the horizon, for almost a third of the sky -- turn toward him. It isn't that the man-shaped mountain actually moves (even calling it "man-shaped" is an absurdity). It's more like Prism feels an increased weight, as the being focuses its enormous attention on the tiny hero.
"It is inconceivable that you could come Here without knowing Me, the Host, what Power you wield. Yet this is so: I am not deceived."
There is an enormous quiet. The wind stops blowing. The stars stop revolving. The plants and animals and nameless things cease to crawl and scurry in the valley below. Finally, the voice rumbles a response that poses more questions than it answers.
"What you seek is not here. Go back to your world. We will speak again."
Prism begins to respond, but the gravity shifts: the entire planet spins under him, placing the cave behind him suddenly under him. He falls.
Rolling and stumbling, Prism struggles for a handhold. When he finally finds one, he is clutching an iron ladder mounted in the side of the storm drain. In the distance -- he doesn't know if it's the direction he "fell" from or not -- he sees a dim light, like a flashlight. He also hears voices. They're too faint to make out the words, but he hears a man's voice and a woman's voice.
Prism clutches the iron rail so hard that a tiny portion of his mind, a part still capable of rational thought, is afraid that it will break.
Prism's brain is unable to complete the thought, even with the obvious profanity. His mind reels like the world just did, skewing erratically under him. One phrase keeps ringing through his head, as immutable as the mountain that said it to him: "the Power you wield." He could HEAR the capital P as the whatever-it-was spoke.
Slowly, Prism becomes aware of the light, and the voices. He remains where he is for the moment, partly to try to figure out who's coming and if he should flee or not, and partly to let himself adjust to what seems, for the moment, to be reality again.
As Adaptor watches the screen showing signal strength of the Vanguard commlinks, Prism's suddenly springs into life. It shows the same signal strength as Kakker's.
Krane cringes when he sees how bad off the agent with the broken legs is. Fortunately the police and ambulances arrive quickly.
Krane looks closely at Derek Winston, studying him. When Mr. Park and Stacy try to get his attention he gives them a silent nod, trying to keep them calm. Then he turns back to Derek.
Staring long and hard at Derek, Krane then turns his attention to the 'unmarked' agents. He waits for Derek to say something.
(Even if Derek doesn't say anything) Krane says, "Derek, I can't help but notice that those thugs," he points to the two men being taken into custody, "are wearing the same uniform that you are. Is this typical of paramilitary organizations?"
Krane tries to keep the sarcasm out of his voice and stay completely alert. Already planning ways to remove Mr. Winston if it becomes necessary.
"Typical?" Derek says, frowning slightly. "No, but it's the second time I've run across these guys this week. There was a gang of three of them that attacked a girl in Orange just yesterday: they got off a little worse than these did, unfortunately. I'm glad *you* guys were involved this time: we can always trust Vanguard not to go too far capturing perps." Winston nods in appreciation, obviously approving of the mthods used to subdue Mr. Park's kidnappers.
"Well, we're about wrapped up here. Thanks, Krane," Derek Winston says, offering to shake hands with Krane. "And you, too, Miss Sanchez: good job." He offers to shake hands with her too.
"I guess all that's left is -- no wait, here they are now," the FSPD agent says as another ambulance pulls up. He stands back as the ambulance attendants tend to Mr. Park. As they do so, he says quietly to Krane, "This time I'm following them, and my partner Mike is going to ride with Mr. Park. We'll make sure that he gets to the hospital this time. Unfortunately, the injured perp is going in the same ambulance as your friend, too: I hope that's OK, because there isn't much we can do about it." He seems quite serious.
"Oh, and if you guys still want to follow along, too," his eyes take in Krane and Stacy, "I'm sure your friend would appreciate the support."
If no one causes a ruckus, the whole convoy heads to the hospital. After that, Derek takes the undamaged kidnapper off to be processed at FSPD HQ in LA, and his partner Mike stays at the hospital to keep an eye on Mr. Park until relief comes (they're going to keep a guard there while he's at the hospital, just in case).
Does Krane do anything strange?
As Kakker and Sandra prepare to head off down the tunnel, Kakker hears a noise in the tunnel behind him. It sounds like metal scraping stone, but it only lasts for a moment. Sandra doesn't appear to notice.
Kakker whirls and shines his light toward the noise, hoping to catch a glint of chromed tentacle
He sees Prism a good twenty meters down the tunnel, leaning up against the side like he's afraid it will fall in if he lets go. Prism's eyes reflect the light like little blue lasers.
Kakker freezes in place, caught in a moral dilemma. Should he ignore his distressed (albeit dishonored) comrade or allow Sandra to leave, taking his chance of a lifetime (or many lifetimes) with her? Or will he continue to waver and lose the chance anyway?
Kakker's mind quickly sorts through his inventory of logic puzzles, maxims, John LeCarre novels, and Zen koans to come up with a mental framework: Thesis + antithese = synthesis. Turn the two branches into one another!
"Sandra, wait up. Someone else who's encountered Xanadu is here. Careful; he's been acting strangely." Kakker looks to see if Sandra stops before he cautiously approaches Prism.
Krane is inclined to ride with Mr. Park this time, but something in Derek's voice makes him trust him. So Krane and Stacy follow close behind and once they arrive at the hospital Krane will stay close to Mr. Park (there have been unscheduled transfers before [grin]).
Krane will stay with Mr. Park unless he hears something interesting on his Vanguard radio.
Meanwhile, the night passes uneventfully for Krane as he sits outside Mr. Park's room (the hospital staff are firmly against having a couple of guards leaning over the old guy's bed all night). Mike passes the time with Krane, not discussing anything of real importance -- just the kind of small-talk two guys who have to stand watch all night together might make. Stacy falls asleep in a chair down the hall. After a while a nurse drapes a blanket over her.
Whoopi -- that is, Sandra -- stops and looks back at Kakker. She looks confused. "What are you talking about? There's no one else down --" then she sees Prism down the tunnel in the Maglite's spot. Her mouth drops open and she blinks a couple of times disbelievingly.
Kakker looks back at Prism, then returns his gaze to Sandra. "Have you two met before?" Kakker considers the shifting odds of the tactical situation here, and decides to check on any possible means of aid. Activating his communicator, Kakker quietly asks, "Brightstar, are you there?"
Prism looks into the mag-lite's beam, slowly raising his head to a level position. "Acting strangely?" he says quietly. "You have no idea. First the mountains under L.A. start talking to me about hosts and eyes and things, and then I find you hanging around in a storm drain with..." He looks to one side again, just to confirm his first impression. "...Whoopi Goldberg."
Kakker looks at Prism as if the crystalline giant had offered him a complimentary meal from his Krane's Weasel Cuisine franchise. More strange visions?
Slowly, uncertainly, Prism unhooks his arm from the ladder's iron rail, and stands for a moment as if testing his balance. "Any sign of Arachne?"
"Not a...you?" Kakker strives to keep his voice level and even, but his anger is clearly heard by all.
"Nope, no sign of her," Prism replies. "Hell, I don't think I found anything, but after what it just looked like I saw, I can't be sure."
He looks around, trying to find a non-touchy subject to discuss with Kakker. "So, um, should I ask how Ms. Goldberg ties in to all this?" Almost as an afterthought, he turns to Whoopi (?) and says, "Hi, I'm Prism. Kakker and I had a...difference of opinion recently, but I promise I'm not here to hurt anybody."
Whoopi stares at Prism like he's a man from Mars.
She shakes her head, smiling. To Kakker, she says, "This is going to be complicated." To Prism she says, "I... I have no idea how I'm going to explain *this*." She looks utterly flabbergasted... and yet, perversely pleased.
After staring at Prism for a minute (not like he's ugly, but as if it's physically impossible for him to be standing there), she puts a hand to her forehead and closes her eyes. She takes a deep breath and turns to Kakker.
"Okay, time out, time out. I've gotta go back to the... office and see if there's any precendent for this."
Then she turns to Prism, grinning. "*You*..." She shakes her head. "You are going to make a lot of people really angry." She obviously likes the idea: she's grinning from ear to ear. She turns back to Kakker.
"Since I've interfered in your lifestream and haven't been able to --" she glances at Prism "-- well, anyway, I can tell you something. You've lost some friends tonight, but you've made a couple more. You'll need them: the fire is just starting."
Then there's a light so bright it blocks out everything else, and when Kakker and Prism can see again, they're standing alone in a storm drain.
Stephanie is working in her cramped, under-equipped lab when her e-mail program "dings". She is, of course, too busy to bother with it right then...
Several hours later, having tuned the plasma-injection manifold and re-torqued the inertial compensators, she goes over to see what bit of junk-mail has slipped past her killfile today.
Date: Wed, 11 Sep 96 02:45:15 UT
From: "Rasputin" [firstname.lastname@example.org]
To: "Stephanie Morris" [email@example.com], firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: plea for assistance
Please help me.
*** FILE ATTACHMENT: 73,234,028 bytes
Prism seems entirely bemused by this most recent turn of events (just like the last several turns of events), and mostly stares in silence as Whoopi offers some wholly unexpected prophecy, delightedly informs him that he will be pissing a lot of people off and then disappears in a blinding flash of light.
As it clears, the sparkles still fading from his body, Prism turns to Kakker and asks, deadpan, "That wasn't really Whoopi Goldberg, was it?"
Kakker offers nothing but curses in selected languages after seeing that no trace of Sondra remains. As the maglight unexpectedly shatters in his angry grasp, "What?!" Kakker snaps out of his state.
Kakker past his pockets for another light, then settles for turning his arm into an awkward position to use his watch's light for illumination. He begins to go on about his search, warning, "I meant what I said, Prism. You better stay back from me."
[i've no personal animosity toward Bhoriss, I hope everyone understands, but Kakker is very secure in his assement that Prism's assault was not fatal only be freak chance...repeated blows from hands that can flip cars and crush stone is attempted murder against an unprotected human, in his humble opinion.]
Kakker squints his way down the dimply-illuminated storm drain for a dozen or so meters, until the way is lit by a streetlight above, sending beams of yellow light into the rubble-strewn sewer where Kakker stands. The gaping hole above through which the light shines leads to a street only a few block from the Vanguard estate. The hole was apparently left when a curbside storm drain was been torn from the surrounding concrete, twisted into a pretzel, and dropped on the floor of the tunnel.
Dropping to examine the broken concrete and twisted steel, Kakker assesses that the damage was done recently. It would seem that Dr. Redgrave came this way.
[GM's note: I notice a tendency for Kakker to assume (more often than others around him assume) that people are unexceptional. He doesn't see why everyone is upset about Rasputin's destruction -- to Kakker, Rasputin was highly complex machine, but a machine nonetheless. He is aghast that Prism was so brutal in his attack on Dr. Redgrave -- to Kakker, Dr. Redgrave had metal tentacles, but otherwise she was just a typically fragile human being. This is an interesting personality trait, quite unusual in the superhero genre.]
"Jesus Christ," Prism mutters under his breath. He maintains his distance from Kakker, but raises his voice to address him as he leaves. "I'm not some kind of psycho, Kakker. I was NOT trying to kill her; it was the only way I could knock her out long enough to figure out what was going wrong with her mind." He watches for a moment as the Fighting Dutchman travels away into the storm drain once more. "I hope you find her first, Kakker, I really do. I just hope she dosn't kill you in the process."
Prism tests the iron rungs of the ladder he was clinging to; if he thinks they will hold him, he begins ascending to the surface.
[I certainly hope no one was taking the Kakker/Prism divide as a personal issue; I certainly wasn't. That's the joy of RPGs; we can kill one another and still be good enough friends to go out for a (virtual) beer afterwards. Pax!]
Krane: the night passes uneventfully. Let me know what Krane does when morning comes.
Kakker: doesn't find Aracane. On the upside, she doesn't find him. Unless he goes looking for trouble, the night passes uneventfully. Let me know what Kakker does when morning comes.
Prism: Unless he goes looking for trouble, the night passes uneventfully. Let me know what Prism does when morning comes.
Adaptor: Unless he goes looking for trouble, the night passes uneventfully. Let me know what Adaptor does when morning comes.
Glimmer: Unless she goes looking for trouble, the night passes uneventfully. Let me know what Glimmer does when morning comes.
Ares: isn't on the same timeline yet.
Adaptor continues his systematic search of the facility and specifically Dr. Redgrave's living quarters well into the night. Once darkness falls, assuming no one has returned ot the base, he will check in on the child, asking him if there is anything he requires. Assuming the base has any security systemns left, he will attempt to activate whatever alarms he can figure out before spending a couple of hours in the basement going over every shred of data he can find on Dr. Redgrave, her research, and (although this is a tenuous leap of faith) what info is avaialbe on the Vnaguard masscre that they may not have had access to when she was around...
At exactly 2 AM, assuming no one has returned, he will sit down in the hall across rom the boy's room, drop to a lotus position on the floor, and fall instantly asleep. He will awake at exactly 6:42 AM, the precise moment the sun rises over LA and the day begins. Rising, he walks down to the kitchen as he absent-mindedly performs several streching routines that would make most Yoga masters blanch. OPening the fridge, he surveys his prospects...
About 1/2 hour before dawn Krane awakens from a light sleep. He feels a stiffness in his neck that can only come from sleeping in a chair and immediately moves to an open space of floor. He begins his yoga routine, awakening his body and mind as the sun rises.
Once finished, he stares out the window to contemplate his life. Stephan Oeler has been ignored far too much in the past few days. Today he will get some attention (unless something earth-shattering happens).
After checking on Mr. Park, Krane moves to awaken Stacy. "We should be getting back to the base. Mr. Park would appear to be in good hands here."
If nothing much is going on Krane will slip out of the base to spend some quiet time at his studio, going about (and taking comfort in) the daily routine. If he's needed, his Vanguard communicator will alert him.
'Urg! - What now! I thought I was done with that obnoxious-know-it-all goody two shoes poor excuse for a --- Oh, forget it... I knew she had no clue the minute I saw her..." Stephanie trails off complaining about Dr. Redgrave and takes a look at this file - I'm sure it will take her a while. She is first just looking for the general contents of it.
It's a bunch of files in machine language, with names like:
PERSONALITY_PROFILE_MODULE_24.RAS ETHICS_IMPERATIVES_1.MOD SECURITY_IMPERATIVES_3.MOD VANGUARD_21.INF RACTOLIAN_DREADNOUGHT.INF DESIGN_SPECS_IDFR_62.INF
and so on. They don't make any sense to Stephanie when she looks at the code; perhaps it's encrypted. There is one executable (it seems to be compiled for a Unix machine) called LAZARUS.EXE. It appears to be designed to load and compile the other code modules when you run it.
Well, Even though these files are in machine language - these titles look very suspicious. Why would Rasputin send her these files? Before dealing with the Lazarus file, Steph will attempt to log in to Rasputin from her machine. If here theory is right, there will be nothing to log on to. If she is wrong, Rasputin will either:
A) Deny her entry - in which case she will assume that he did not send these files to her - someone else did and routed them through Rasputin or,
B) Let her in - since he asked for her help anyway.
If there is nothing to log on to, she will run Lazarus (on a UNIX machine - I'm sure she has access to it in the lab). If he lets her in, she will try to find out what the problem is - and last but not least, if he denies her access, she will download the information he sent her (the 70K plus) to a tape. She will make one copy (and leave it int he lab), then get the suit on and head on down to Vanguard as Ares. If someone else sent this info to her routing it through Raputin, there is little she will be able to find out from her machine (she is going in the suit in case somethinghappened there...). Better to go see what kind of problems that idiot Dr. Redgrave has gotten herself into...
Prism emerges from the storm drain, climbing up to the streets of L.A. with a sense of utter futility. He has nowhere to go, no one to turn to, and utterly nothing constructive to do. Aimlessly, he begins wandering into the roughest neighborhood he can find. Maybe he can stop a mugging or something and feel like he has something worthwhile to contribute to society...
[Assuming nothing exceptional happens during the night:]
As dawn approaches, Prism decides that he should at least keep up with what the media are saying about Vanguard, and begins to seek out a newsstand (convenience store, newspaper vanding machine, etc.) to pick up a copy of the morning paper. As he finds one and approaches it, he realizes that he has no money. The realization just adds to his melancholy. After a few moments' thought, he wills his body to invisibility, only partly to keep early-morning pedestrians from staring at him in fear and mystification. He approaches the area where the papers are kept and waits for a distraction.
Welcome to life as a superhero, Prism thinks to himself, and steals a fifty-cent newspaper.
Krane feels fatigued beyond words. The last few days have been very stressful, even for a yoga master. Time to just relax for a while in his studio, to lose himself in the routine of those daily tasks that make up a life. He lets out a deep breath as he walks up the stairs of his studio, and puts his hand on the door like the handshake of an old friend. With a start, he pulls back his hand and looks at it.
His hand has blood on it.
Krane looks closer at the doorknob. There is blood there, the trace of bloody fingerprints that he knows are not his own. Closing his eyes, he stretches his other senses, trying to hear and feel if anyone is in his studio. He feels nothing. He tries the door: it's locked, and there's no sign of forced entry.
[I will assume that Krane goes in.]
The studio isn't in disarray: everything seems in place. Krane walks gingerly around. He notices spots of the blood on the floor. Moving with the grace and silence of a cat, a wind on ricepaper, Krane follows the trail.
He finds the body in the kitchen. It's sitting on the floor, leaning back against the cabinets. Krane knows that it's dead: only death is that still. He flicks on the light.
Little is left of the man's face. Gashes, like parallel cuts from a machete, stretch from the top of his head to his chin. Krane can see the exposed bones of the man's cheek and jaw.
He knows who he is, of course. The black armor, the sharp silver edges on his knuckles and joints. There is no sign of his bone-white helmet, but even without it Krane would know the body of Beowulf anywhere.
Krane spots something in the man's left hand. Kneeling next to the body, he gently takes it from the blood-drenched gauntlet: a minirecorder.
The sound from the tiny speaker is harsh, the sound of a voice being forced through mangled flesh and ruined teeth.
"I was hoping to have met you under better circumstances. [harsh laughter, coughing up blood]... Sorry about the mess... bloodstains are a bitch... hoped to have more time to talk... tell you why... yin and yang... [coughing up blood]... key in chestplate... glad I didn't put it in the helmet... [hack, gag, cough]... the Hall, the Wulfcar, Hrothgar... all yours... [coughing up blood]... Wulfcar will take you..."
"Feeling dizzy... drug wearing off... "
There is a rattle of ragged breath, but Beowulf speaks no more.
The newspaper is full of the same thing as always: wars, scandals, lies. To Prism, it may as well have been a newspaper from another world; none of it affected him anymore. What did any of it matter to a man made of crystal?
The a story on the first page, down near the bottom, caught his eye.
SOLE SURVIVOR OF TERRORIST ATTACK FOUND DEAD Laguna Niguel Staff Writer
Techno-thriller novelist Roscoe McGrath was found dead this morning in Laguna Niguel. The circumstances surrounding the novelist's death have not been revealed, but sources close to the FSPD reveal that the paranormal serial killer Grendel was seen nearby by residents of the area, as well as a yet-unnamed woman in white. The FSPD is asking that any witnesses come forth to help with the investigation.
Novelist McGrath was the only person to survive last month's terrorist attack on the Vectronix research laboratory in Irvine, but police say that this appears to be an unrelated incident.
Adaptor is awakened by the proximity alarm at 4:52 AM. This is at least reassurring: his jury-rigging of the alarms system was at least partly successful. With a snap, he leaps to his feet and heads downstairs.
Unfortunately, he doesn't know what set off the alarm. A quick glance down the hall at the lobby would seem to indicate that the front of the building is secure. He heads to the back.
Mesmeron is standing at the back door of the base, with Powersurge in his arms. She is battered, burned, broken.
"She wanted to come back here," the man in red and indigo says softly, his white hair disheveled, his eyes dark with a pain so familiar that it seems like an old friend.
"She said she had a brother."
Stephanie runs the Lazarus program. The screen says:
Compiling Lazarus .... Time remaining: 06:48:21
It looks like Stephanie won't have to worry about it for another six hours or so.
Beowulf is about the last person Krane expected to find in his studio. As soon as he hears Beowulf's tone, he knows. These past months a psycho has been helping him-- providing him with equipment. Krane looks down at his own body armor, comparing it with Beowulf's, not much similarity superficially but looking closer he sees some of the same traits. Both suits could have easily been made by the same armorer.
As the tape plays on, Krane learns that he's been left a great legacy. First things first, he gets some cleaning supplies and takes care of the doorknob and bloodstained floor. Next he goes to the fallen-- hero and searches the chestplate for the key. Now to find it all. Krane looks around his building and up the block if necessary to find whatever a 'Wulfcar' might look like.
His intention is to pack up the body in a large box (plastic lined of course) and take it with him to the Hall (as long as it will fit in the 'car).
It appears that this will not be a day of rest for Stephan Oeler. Oh well, maybe some day.
note- I was trying to expedite a little with the above post. I hope I didn't take any liberties (for example, I assumed that I would find the key and be able to find Beowulf's vehicle). BTW, this is an excellent turn of events. I'm very happy with this [grin].
Adaptor pauses for a moment, considering his options. There is really only one.
"Very well." he says. "I assume by your presence here that you aren't responsible for her condition?"
"I do not murder young women who come to me for help."
[This will make Adaptor's question about an ambulance kind of moot, I would think. I assume Adaptor will ask what happened.]
Mesmeron's voice is inflectionless, the monotone of a man reporting news he has seen too many times before.
"We were attacked by Genesis. It was a robot, a Type 5 I think. I'm... not good with robots. Jet was injured, but Amanda was the main target of the attack. It tried to take her body, but I managed to get her away and bring her here."
Mesmeron grimaces. "I don't understand. It didn't act like any of the other Type 5's I gone up against. It didn't try to incapacitate Amanda -- it was trying to kill her. It didn't hold back at all."
He sighs, and looks at Amanda's peaceful features.
"I don't think we hurt the robot at all."
Krane searches Beowulf's chest armor and finds a dozen or so little gizmos. Among them is a piece of plastic half the size of credit card, with a computer chip embedded in it. It's the only vaguely keylike thing he finds.
Key in hand, Krane looks around the outside of his studio, but the only strange vehicle he finds is a Cox Cablevision van parked in the alley. There's no sign of a cable repairman around. Could this be the Wulfcar?
Krane walks up to the van, key in hand, wondering what he's supposed to do with it. As he gets within a meter of the van, the doors unlock with a "click". Well, that answers that.
The front of the van, what part is visible throuh the windows, looks normal enough: beige vinyl upholstery, styrofoam coffee cups on the dash, a cheap FM radio... nothing unusual.
Once Krane is inside, the dash hums and panels open up: rows of unlabeled buttons and switches appear on either side of the steering wheel. A small door leads to the back of the van, which is full of electronic gear, much of which looks like it might even belong in a cable TV van. There are also a few devices that are obviously weapons, although their exact purpose isn't clear. One looks like it might be a machine gun, designed to pop out of the back of the van and swivel on a mounting bracket. There are a few other bulky weapons that could be anything from bazookas to ping-pong-ball guns: no two of these are alike. There are even a few gizmos herethat Krane recognizes: he has gear just like it upstairs in his studio, although these all have the distinctive wolf logo of Beowulf (it looks sort of like a stylized "V" with eyes).
So Krane somehow finds a big plastic box and puts Beowulf's body in it [I'm not even going to ask where he gets the box], then carries the box downstairs and loads it into the already-cramped back of the van.
Then he gets in the driver's seat, starts it up (he just pushes a button: the slot for the key is a dummy) and heads... where?
[Roscoe McGrath? The name sounds familiar to me (Brian), but I can't find it in the half of the campaign archives that I currently have access to. Did Prism know him at all while working at Vectronix, or in other circumstances? Had I read any of his books? Or is this something that Crystal Man Was Not Meant To Know (Yet)?]
Prism, bereft of direction, decides that he may at least be able to find something out about McGrath's death, which might teach him something about himself. Or at least give him a clue about who made him what he was, and why.
With taxis virtually unusable and buses out of the question, Prism shrugs his massive crystal shoulders and begins walking towards Laguna Niguel. A few blocks away, he dumps the newspaper and resumes his visible state. The fearful stares of passers-by somehow suit his mood.
Roscoe McGrath was visiting the lab doing research for his next book, the day the lab was attacked. He was caught in the explosion, but instead of being messily killed he gained superpowers. He then took the name Brightstar and joined Vanguard. Remember him now?
Well since it looks like I've got some time on my hands, Steph is going to put on her Suit and go for an early morning flight. And, just by chance she will fly over the Vanguard base just to ckeck things out -- all sensors on high, of course...
After that, she will come back to the lab and wait for this program to finish compiling...
Kakker will hit the sack, then greet the morning by downing (super-)heroic portions of breakfast foods from Vanguard's larder, or Denny's if necessary, then proceed with the legwork. Given Kakker's fair skill in fugitive investigation, he'll probably call the most likely people (Lyle and Shrike) then ask Stacey and the other helpers who she knew, then will get down to going through the old address books, trashcans, etc.
BTW, Kakker is avoiding police. If it looks like the cops are still camped out at Vanguard when he gets back, he'll just keep walking to a likely place and flop behind some bushes.
Prism is walking to Laguna Niguel (I estimate it's a 2-day walk). Glimmer is kneeling over Brightstar (still -- if Frederick doesn't post something soon, she's going to find a place to crash for the night). Krane is sitting in a Cox Cablevision van.
That leaves Adaptor and Kakker at the base (hee-hee!).
Kakker is awakened in the wee hours (around 4 am) by the base alarms. Leaping to his feet, he throws some clothes on and runs downstairs, where he sees Adaptor talking quietly with Mesmeron. Mesmeron is holding the body of Amanda/Powersurge.
Adaptor doesn't seem to feel the need for small talk.
[Actually, Mesmeron is a man of few words, himself. That will become apparent to Adaptor as he talks on, and on, and on without an interruption from Mesmeron. The aristocratic white-haired man gives Adaptor his full, intense, smouldering attention. It would be enough to make a normal person look away, but Adaptor is made of sterner stuff.]
"Mesmeron, while I realize you do not generally operate within the bounds of protocol, and that you probably are concocting a revenge scheme as we stand here, I would appreciate it if you would help us by filling out a report or at least recording one for us. Before you object, I would put forth the notion that despite our different methods, we are of a single mind on this particular issue, and any information we can share would only help matters. Given the nature of this tragedy, I have no problem declaring a temporary truce at least until we have begun Vanguard's investigation." During this speech, which Adaptor will simply plow on through, even if it looks like Mesmeron is about to speak, Adaptor has walked over, picked up the body, and laid it out on the table (we'rein the conference room, no?).
After he finishes, he gives Mesmeron a chance to respond, then (regardless of ehatever he might say) asks Mesemeron a question and makes a statement.
"First, I am going to call my teammates and let them know what has happened. I assume you have no individual conflict with any of them other than ideological?
"Not yet," he replies quietly, still holding Powersurge in his arms. When Adaptor moves to take her, Mesmeron doesn't say anything about it, but his posture says quite clearly that it won't be allowed. Adaptor adapts, of course, and shows Mesmeron from the hallway near the back door (where they have been talking) to the meeting room [I would have picked her bedroom, myself, but I'm sure Adaptor has his reasons -- BSB]. Adaptor gestures at the table, and Mesmeron lays Amanda down, gently. He takes off his flowing red cape and somberly drapes it over her, covering her face last. It's a touching, almost gallant, gesture.
"As for the borther, yes, he is here, sleeping in his room right now. Despite any thoguhts you may have as to the merit of showing him his dead sister in order to make an impact on his impressionable psyche, I believe that would be against the interests of his long-term mental health. Since she placed him in my care when she left, I have decided he will not be disturbed right now." He certianly doesn't appear like he's going to brook any argument on this particular point.
Mesmeron lifts his eyes from Amanda's dead body to meet Adaptor's gaze, but he says nothing.
With that settled, he starts to radio his comrades one at a time and asks them to return to HQ, as there has been an unforseen development (in case the good Dr. is listening in, he won't mention specifics).
As they enter the room, Adaptor activates whatever privacy measures may be in place (wether it's requiring a member handprint, or a simple lock on the door, or whatever) to keep any curious youngsters out of the room. He silently regards Mesmeron staring at the girl's body for a moment or two.
"Mesmeron, while I appreciate your bringing her here, unfortunately Vanguard seems at something of a crisis point for several unrelated easpons right now. I would appreciate any specific information you could share aboyt the specifics of tha attack, and any insight you could give us into the organization that perfomrd it would be most helpful. In exchange, I would offer you any information Vnaguard might have in its files that would not compromise out own security, and a tentative promise that we can cooperate to apprehend those who comitted this crime..."
Assuming Kakker arrives somewhere around this point, Adaptor will introduce the two, then give the briefest outline of what has happened. Does Kakker have any medical/autopsy -type skills tat might glean dsome information from the corpse?
Time to get down to business.
I take it that Ares does not get that message since I do not have a Vanguard Communications Device.
I do fly over Vanguard just to see of things are looking ok from the outside (Steph is looking for obvious signs that Vanguard was "attacked" - pieces of the building missing, people running around in a panic, bodies, police, etc.)
Kakker manages to get, "What-?" out before he feels a sort of leaden dread come over him and he slows and stops just past the landing, his mouth hanging open, his expression slowly turning to fear. Who has Mesmeron come for? Surely not- gulp!
"P-Powersurge? What happened to her?" Kakker immediatly seizes on the opportunity to divert attention from himself.
"Only survivor? My ass," Prism says aloud, causing no small degree of surprise and consternation to an elderly pedestrian walking her shih tzu. "Not you, ma'am," he mutters, but the shocked matron merely scurries away.
An unknown woman in white in the same neighborhood as Grendel? Prism's new to the superhero biz, but he already has a pretty good guess as to who that might turn out to be. Tossing the paper into the first upright trash can he passes, he sets off for Laguna Niguel.
He's a good two percent of the way there when he hears two soft beeps, followed by the tinny voice of a distant Adaptor saying, "Prism, come in, please."
The Vanguard ring. Prism looks down at it, momentarily puzzled; he had forgotten all about the ring. He had almost left it on the table back at Vanguard HQ when he departed -- in fact, he half thought that he HAD left it there. Still, here it was, and given the computer equipment it was undoubtedly attached to, Adaptor probably knew exactly where Prism was.
"Come in, Prism." Poor Adaptor. Always efficient, always polite, always ready to take the hard road and make the sacrifice for the good of the many. Idiot. The people of this country didn't want sacrifices; that would require some degree of acknowledgement. They wanted 'muties' who could do their dirty work, stand up to the tough guys, and then get blamed for all the property damage that the super-powered psychos had inflicted. Super scapegoats, that's what Vanguard was made up of. And now that the originals were gone, everybody wanted a piece of the new meat. Fresh targets. Well, Prism wasn't going to be one of them. And maybe he could talk some sense into Adaptor, though he didn't exactly seem like the sensible type.
"I'm here," he says into the ring, ignoring the curious stares of a pack of school-age Latino kids playing half-court hoops when they should have been in Social Studies.
"Please come back to Vanguard headquarters as soon as possible. There has been an unforeseen development." Adaptor's voice, surprisingly clear through the tiny speaker, gave no hint of the nature of that development, and Prism knew better than to ask.
"Haven't you heard? I quit," Prism says, with perhaps more edge to his voice than he had intended. "Or maybe I got fired, or left because of 'personal differences.' What story did you and your spin doctor finally come up with? Don't worry, I won't say anything. But whatever you come up with, I don't think it'll be enough to save Vanguard."
During the entire conversation, Prism's crystal tree-trunk legs continue walking implacably towards Laguna Niguel.
Mesmeron looks at Adaptor. He crosses his arms.
"Jet and Amanda were discussing trials of being paranormal in a world that exhalts the mediocre. I was listening to the conversation, with Jet's permission. They were attacked. Correction: Amanda was attacked. Jet and I had the misfortune to be present."
"The robot was of a type I have encountered before. It was designed by the US government to combat civil insurrection after a nuclear war. The project was called Genesis. When the project was cancelled, at least officially, the Genesis Project continued with private support, and possibly with misappropriated government funds, as well."
"The robot did not warn Amanda. It did not ask her to surrender. It did not attempt to incapacitate her. It tried to kill her. In this, it was unlike the previous Genesis robots I have encountered."
Mesmeron looks down at the red cape under which Amanda lies. He looks sad.
"Amanda was down, hurt badly. Jet did her best to distract the creature, and I grabbed Amanda and escaped with her. She said she had to come back here, to see her brother."
"She didn't make it."
Mesmeron looks back at Adaptor.
"Is that sufficient?"
Ares cruises over Vanguard HQ to reconnoiter. No damage is visible to the base, and the lights are on in most of the main building. As she cycles through her sensor array, she doesn't pick up anything unusual. No, wait: there's a large dense mass coming in on radar, crusing low at about 110 kph. Switching to long-range infrared, she can see its heat signature. It looks like a large suit of combat armor, or maybe an unmanned wardroid. Whatever it is, it's bigger than Tisiphone, and coming straight at her.
Hmm. No, telemetry indicates it's heading for the building below her: the Vanguard base.
Adaptor's voice is the same pleasant near-monotone as if he is reporting the time of day...
"Actually, Prism, Ron was somewhat taken aback by the reaction to his suggestions and so left us to our own devices. Fortunately, it seems as if we are the only ones aware of our present problems, and it appears that unless we decide to publicise them, that is the way things will remain. For whatever it is worth, I believe your only error earlier was in not informing the rest of us as to your intentions. I believe that *that* is what is creating the current difficulty we seem to be having in forming a cohesive unit, more than the specific results of those actions. "
"Actually, the development I refer to has nothing to do with events earlier this evening, but involve the return of a ... (a pause, significant in the midst of Adaptors usual unrelenting polite drone) guest... That droppped in unexpectedly yesterday [? Brandon, when *did* Mesmeron last drop in? The real-time/e-mail time thing has me a little off track...], and an altercation that our newest member was involved in and did not fare well. I believe if we meet back here it will be easier for us to coordinate our efforts to solve *all* of our problems, including the one you are currently 'pursuing'."
In Vanguard, Adaptor turns back towards Mesmeron, then pauses.
"Would you excuse me for a moment, please?" he says, and retreats to the far corner of the room, his back to their guest.
Prism's ring abruptly buzzes again. Perhaps he thinks, "What now?" and considers chucking the thing into a sewer, but some impulse, perhaps only the distraction of having something to do while walking, causes him to listen distractedly...
"Prism, this is perhaps presumptuous of me, but since you are no longer a member of Vanguard, I would like to make a personal observation. My own... (that pause again, as of a database being searched for the right term...) condition... precludes normal social interactivity as well. My desire to introduce Ron was based on the fact that he is the only person I actually know within 3,00 miles who I thought might be able to help us. In restrospect, it was a poorly thought-out decision, and I offer my apologies if it made matters worse. However, it was made in a desire to salvage this situation, which I believe is far from hopeless. If you choose to leave, that is your decision, but I would ask that you ask yourself one thing: If your life since your accident has been devoted to finding a place where you can 'fit in', where do you expect that will be if not here with others who share some of your same detachment from the rest of mankind?
Through all of this, Adaptor's voice never wavers from its usual tone. The effect is strange, almost as if someone has dubbed a dramatic speech from a movies with a newscaster's delivery. Adaptor simply continues, unaware (or unconcerned) of the incongruity of it...
"For my part, I have hope that we can forge something that is more than the sum of its parts. I feel as if I belong here, doing this work. I do not expect that it will be easy, nor that it will happen instantly, but I believe it can be done. I think you have been treated like a monster for so long you are beginning to believe that it is all you really are. I hope it is not the case. Perhaps you simply need time to adjust to your situation. Perhaps you require therapy. I cannot think of a place better suited for you to pursue that goal, whatever it may be, than here. If you would, please, take a moment to consider how the people you are passing on the street look at you. Then think back and ask yourself if there is a place you have been where those you talk to do *not* look at you that way. Are you another, different person there? NO. You have simply taken the time to show those people that you are as human on the inside as they are."
Another pause, this one longer, but the channel remains open.
"I apologize for having taken up so much of your time. Please consider what I have said. If we do not meet again, I will be disappointed, but I wish you luck whatever your decision..."
The communicator goes dead, and Adaptor stares at his own ring for a moment.
He turns back to Mesmeron (and Kakker?) and apologizes for the delay. "Please continue..." he says, no hint of his reaction to the previous conversation showing on his face.
Prism listens to Adaptor's monologue without interruption or comment [though he comes very close to answering Adaptor's "Perhaps you require therapy" line with, "Perhaps you require tact"].
At the end, before Adaptor cuts him off, Prism says simply, "I'm at [current location]. It'll probably take me about [estimated travel time] to get back to the base." After a pause, he adds, "You may want to warn Kakker that I'm coming. I don't bear him any grudges, but if he says that it's going to be either him or me at this meeting, I think you'd all be better off if it was him. Prism out."