originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions:
(This takes place immediately after the sewer run and prior to
the Kings Row radio missions.)
The world was a sea of angry Lost. They
were everywhere. Their misshapen limbs, some like hooves, others claws, others
stubby caricatures of human hands, brandished every kind of weapon possible.
Clubs. Knives. Guns. Energy weapons. Powered swords. Blaster rifles. The air was
thick with the smell of ozone and blood.
Bodies were everywhere.They lay
scattered on the stained concrete, slumped over rusted railings and old
machinery, collapsed in the fetid waters that ran in channels down the tunnels
in the sewers.
It had been a long and bloody fight to get to the heart of
the Paragon City sewer system. The filthy tunnels were infested with gangs,
criminals, the insane and the deadly. With each lower level breached, the
Jack Pentecost wiped the sweat from his brow and
vaulted to the top of a concrete stanchion. The small team of Vanguard Lance
members he had led down into the bowels of the sewer system were standing back
to back and waves of Lost hurled themselves forward - a small clot of grey and
purple against a sea of mutated humanity.
From the hallway opposite where
he stood, Jack saw another wave of Lost swarm forward and he raised an arm.
Green tendrils of eldritch energy swirled around his hand and slithered forward
to form a writhing pattern beneath the foe. At once their charge slowed to a
crawl as his magicks leeched their energies from them.
"We've got another
group coming in!" Pentecost shouted.
With a wild cry a small form bolted
forward and hurled itself into the newcomers. Blades flashing, the red-bearded
man's face was wild and alive as he gyrated amongst them. Bodies began to fly as
he moved, until his foot found a stray patch of blood and slime and he slipped.
The man landed roughly, his beret falling to the floor and the wave closed over
Jack Pentecost leaped forward, his hands moving like lightning.
Crackling bolts of green and purple energy shot forward and surged amongst the
throng surrounding the fallen man and for a moment they staggered and twitched
in place. In an instant the red-headed man was back on his feet and his blades
were everywhere, a whirling wall of steel that left crimson trails wherever it
"What did ye have to go and do that for!?" the man shouted. "Twas
just getting interesting!"
"Keeping you alive is becoming a full time
job, MacDice," Pentecost joked, gasping for air.
"I could be saying the
same about you," MacDice replied, his grin bloody.
Pentecost matched him,
grin for grin. As they steeled themselves for the attack a soothing wave of
energy passed over them - leaving them both invigorated and recharged. The
empath called Maridian had noted their distress and come forward. Jack marveled
at how she somehow knew where everyone was and what state they were in, no
matter what was going on. He could tell she was tired, the russet hair that had
been so elaborately done up when they started was a snarled mess and she was
gasping for breath as well.Jack wasn't sure but he was fairly certain she hadn't
said as much as two words since the operation had started.
said. "You're the best darn field medic I've ever known." He didn't mention that
she was the only field medic he'd ever known. His lack of expertise in
military matters wasn't something he felt his own unit needed to
"Here they come again!" someone shouted from across the room. Jack
whirled to see another mass of misshapen humanity lurch from a darkened access
"How many of these guys are there!?" Jack wondered out
loud. "Does this ever end?"
"Maybe they be a mite vexed that we've taken
out their leaders," MacDice pointed out, bringing his blades up "them being a
religious cult and all."
"Leave them to me," another voice said and
before he could respond, the Star Queen moved to meet the charge. An alien, the
Star Queen was an amazonian beauty, standing easily seven feet tall yet moving
with the deadly grace of a panther. Far stronger and faster than any human, she
leapt up off the ground and launched a crippling kick which tossed a hulking
Lost headman into the air. Grabbing him by a leg, she swung the two hundred
pound mutate like a club, battering back the charging scroungers and
A low rumbling filled the room as the Lance's other alien
member, the enormous Pole Shift, moved forward. Another offowlrder, Pole Shift
dwarfed every other member of the unit, his enormous form towering over the
room. In his hands he held a heavy mallet of smoldering rock, a weapon he
generated through some alien power Jack didn't understand but certainly
appreciated. In seconds, pinned beneath the dual assault of the two aliens, the
Lost were flying throughthe air like so many rag dolls.
miss all the action!" MacDice shouted, moving forward. Jack sighed and gathered
up his arcane energies. Oddly colored lightning began to crackle around his
fingers and he walked forward.
For the rest of the battle, Jack lost
track of time. His universe was simply the surging bodies of his mutated
enemies, the battle cries of his friends, and the flickering otherworldy light
of his magicks - interspersed with moments of soothing bliss when Maridian's
healing aura washed over them - moments all too fleeting as the world resolved
back to bats, clubs, guns, the harsh sizzle of Rikti weaponry and the endless
effort to keep moving. Keep fighting.
A huge Rikti sword whistled by
Jack's face and he replied with a discharge of energy that lit up the room.
Nearby he saw Pole Shift smash a towering Aberrant so hard the hulking thing
bounced off the ceiling. Jack readied another blast and turned...
to find nothing to attack.
The floor was carpeted with Lost and the only
ones standing were the tired, sore members of the Lance.
"Did we win?"
"If we're standing and they're not," Jack replied. "We
"Broke yer glasses," MacDice pointed out.
Jack's bleary eyes
focused and sure enough the Scotsman was right. The left lens was cracked.
Must've been that guy with the massive sword. Jack didn't want to think what
would've happened if that cut had been an inch or two deeper.
organized," Jack rasped, his voice barely a croak. "we're going to have to
confiscate all of these weapons ... and then..."
said suddenly and Jack fell silent. "I've been monitoring the police bands..."
when had she had time to do that!? "...and the PPD is reporting bands of
Lost grabbing people off the streets of Kings Row. They're requesting any
assistance they can get!"
Jack rolled his tongue until he had enough
saliva to speak.
"All right people, forget the cleanup," he said. "We're
heading for Kings Row. We will provide every aid and assistance to the Kings Row
"This is my kind o' town!" MacDice snarked.
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions: Two
(This takes place after the Kings Row radio missions.)
A little used part of the Vanguard Compound was the delivery bay. A wide enclosed area, it was where supplies were dropped off. Typically trucks left pallets of equipment there. The huge bay was little more than bare concrete and metal and seemed even more austere than the typical starkness of the Compound.
Jack Pentecost's booted feet made echoes in the big empty chamber as he walked across it. His hair was unkempt as ever and the lens in one of his odd yellow-tinted glasses was cracked. At his side in her formal dress uniform was the Lance's Liason Officer, Michiko Kaneko, matching him stride for stride, her pen moving like lightning as she wrote on the clipboard in her hand.
"... and make sure the Gaussian knows that the Skulls somehow managed to-"
An enormous rolling boom echoed through the bay, making Pentecost jump. He turned to see one of the aliens, the huge muscular Pole Shift, holding an empty dumpster over his head. In front of him now lay an enormous pile of Rikti weaponry - bulbous energy rifles, curving energy swords larger than a man, the almost organic pieces of their powered armor - all forming a pile that rose above Jack's head. Sitting laughing at the top was the stocky form of Brian MacDice, the grey beret he affected askew, his eyes laughing.
"Also let Gaussian know," Pentecost drawled "that we captured an enormous amount of Rikti weaponry. The Lost were extremely heavily armed."
"Could'na leave it laying in the streets for the kids ta play with," MacDice said.
"We've got another dumpster outside," Pole Shift said.
"Bring it in," Jack replied "just try not to bury MacDice when you dump it on the pile."
"Och, the man's not been born who's fast enough tae..." MacDice's jibe trailed off. Jack turned to seeLady Grey bearing down on him, her face stern with disapproval. In her wake trailed the heavily armored form of the Magdalene, the head of Lady Grey's Internal Security force, her full white armor setting her visibly apart from the rest of the Vanguard. All around him, the members of the Lance were snapping to attention. Michiko's salute was textbook perfect.
Jack Pentecost smiled, pulled a lit cigar out of the air, wedged it in his mouth and waited for the leader of the Vanguard to get to him.
"Commander Pentecost," Lady Grey began in a tone that could shatter steel "when we tasked you to disrupt the riot the Lost were attempting to forment and the intercept their followers in the heart of the sewers, We expected you to conduct your operation in a discreet fashion ... and We certainly did not authorize you to conduct joint operations with the Paragon Police Department! We trust you have a valid explanation for these actions?"
"The operation in the sewers was conducted in a discreet fashion," he said "more or less. We entered the sewers in a remote part of Atlas Park and fought our way down through increasing hostility. Before encountering the Lost we engaged any number of Hellions and Vahzilok. They may be able to report on some of our activities should they recover, but I doubt they'll be perceived as reliable witnesses. Once we've reached the sub-levels we began to encounter growing numbers of Lost. We immediately went on the offensive and by the end of the sewer operation must have disarmed or disabled more than... what would you say MacDice? Three or four hundred?"
"More like eight hundred, all told," the smaller man said.
"Say eight hundred hostiles. As per your directions, we collected all the alien weaponry they had acquired - an amount so surprisingly large I admit I'm concerned. Overall, I'd say the Lance acquitted itself excellently, although there were some dicey moments along the way - no offense-"
"None taken," MacDice quipped.
"-and I don't believe that we were spotted entering or leaving the sewers. We smuggled the weaponry out using two garbage trucks we ... appropriated ... from the King's Row Sanitation Depot early in the morning."
"And your interaction with the police?"
"I had Maridian monitoring the police bands while we were operationally engaged," Pentecost explained "in case one or more bands of Lost escaped. Once we'd cleaned out their leaders, she informed me that the PPD was requesting armed assistance owing to active groups of Lost moving through Kings Row. Several citizens had been kidnapped. Acting on my own authority, I instructed the unit to report to the Kings Row police station where we offered our assistance to the PPD - purely as a courtesy. They were eager for our aid and offered us the chance to take on the Lost prior to any PPD forces."
Lady Grey leaned back. She seemed somewhat mollified.
"We were able to rescue all of the citizens and capture the largest bands of Lost," Jack continued. "More disturbingly, we recovered a large Rikti bomb from members of the Skulls. I'm not sure how that kind of ordnance got into the hands of a street gang."
"We shall have Gaussian look into the matter," Lady Grey said.
"My thoughts exactly," Jack said.
"It's obvious you didn't think at all, Commander," Lady Grey snapped "or you would have reported your status prior to engaging such extreme numbers of Lost. We could then have provided additional forces to cover the sewer exits and prevent their escape. You certainly should have used your radio to call and request permission before revealing your presence to the Paragon Police Department. Even had We been willing to grant you such leeway, and We do not claim We would have, We had specifically ordered you to remain sub rosa on this operation! Your actions are clearly in violation of those orders!"
"I don't think there-"
"We do not brook excuses!" Lady Grey said. "We expect you in Our office in ten minutes to give Us a full accounting of your actions and explain to Us why you should not be stripped of your obviously undeserved rank. Dismissed!"
Without a word Jack Pentecost turned and walked from the bay. Lady Grey turned to the rest of the Lance.
"We abhor mess. Clean this up."
Not even bothering to acknowledge the frantic activity she had inspired, Lady Grey turned and strode from the room.
*** *** ***
"It's obvious you are greatly concerned, Colonel Lennox," Lady Grey said to the Magdalene once they'd reached the comfort of her office. "Please be seated."
Magda Lennox gingerly sank into one of the wooden chairs which stood in front of Lady Grey's antique desk and slid her helmet off, revealing her pinched face and mousy brown hair.
"Feel free to state your concerns," Lady Grey said, gracefully sliding into her own chair.
"Jack Pentecost is a disaster waiting to happen," the Magdalene said "and as the head of your personal security force, it is my duty to-"
"We are aware of Commander Pentecost's foibles," Lady Grey said. "We do not need a recitation of them."
"I don't believe you are fully cognizant of the nature of the problem," the Magdalene said formally.
"We trust you are not addressing the matter of Captain Johanssen again," Lady Grey said. "We regard the matter of the training accident as closed."
"This is not in reference to the assault on Captain Johanssen," the Magdalene said brusquely "this is about a different matter entirely."
"Oh? What aspect have We missed?"
"Jack Pentecost is putting together a fighting force composed of dangerous and powerful individuals with only the most tenuous loyalty to the Vanguard, or in some cases the Earth. Aliens. Misfits. Rogues. The two aliens he relies on the most are extremely powerful-"
"Which is perhaps why he relies on them so much," Lady Grey pointed out.
"...and that madman MacDice," the Magdalene went on "and that... that... that... Bubble Bunny..." Words seemed to fail her.
Lady Grey raised an eyebrow.
"Your issue being?"
"The woman was a stripper!" the Magdalene said. "Pentecost recruited her when she was thrown through the plate glass window of a strip club and landed at his feet! These are not the actions of-"
"Colonel Lennox," Lady Grey bit out, cutting into the tirade. "When We agreed to take charge of defending Our planet from the alien predations of the Rikti, We resolved then and there to use any and every means at Our disposal - that the trite and antiquated concerns of appropriate and suitable companions were not only obsolete but a direct hindrance to success in the face of the magnitude of a threat to the entire planet."
"Do not interrupt," Lady Grey said. "To this end, We have employed thieves, murderers and rapists. Criminals of all stripes. Mass murderers. Serial killers. And after this, after We have taken the very dregs of humanity and hurled them into the relentless maw of the foe, after We have stood side by side with the most vile and accursed refuse that the Earth has to offer and faced down the enemy together - you expect Us to balk that Jack Pentecost has recruited an exotic dancer with super powers!?"
"You are in no position to comment or criticize on the performance of any member of the Vanguard who has not commited a proven offence or a substantiated breach of regulations, Colonel Lennox," Lady Grey snapped "certainly not one who has passed the exacting specifications of Our Drill Instructors and certainly not with the nature of your own background prior to your enlistment."
The Magdalene blushed for a moment before the red flush of her cheeks turned from embarassment to anger.
"He is putting together a strike force of entities with little loyalty to you or to the Vanguard," the Magdalene blurted out "and when he's done with them, they'll be powerful enough that I may not be able to stop them when they come for you!"
Lady Grey steepled her fingers.
"Colonel Lennox," she said, her voice icy. "This obsession with Commander Pentecost must stop. We understand that you are tasked with Our safety and We appreciate the burdens you must bear but understand - the operation of the Vanguard and the safety of the Earth is Our first and only concern. Commander Pentecost and his new unit is forming up exactly as We wish them to and for the very purpose We have planned. You will not interfere with them."
"This. Obsession. Must. Stop." Lady Grey was adamant. "If you, in your role as head of Internal Security, wish to observe and report on their actions, be Our guest. You will not, however, interfere with those actions nor will you continue your subtle campaign of harassment against Jack Pentecost. Understood?"
"Yes, ma'am!" the Magdalene stood and snapped to attention.
"Commander Pentecost will be here in minutes," Lady Grey said after a moment "please leave Us."
*** *** ***
Jack Pentecost stepped into Lady Grey's office to see her once again busy with a pile of papers. Her archaic fountain pen scritch scritched across forms as she signed them one by one.
"Close the door, Commander," she said without looking up.
Silently Jack did so.
"The operation was conducted without attracting any undue attention from the citizenry?" she asked in a perfectly neutral tone, her eyes never leaving her paperwork.
"You are certain the Paragon Police Department was pleased with your assistance?"
"There was never any indication that you were doing anything other than acting under your own initiative?" she asked, still signing forms as if he wasn't even there.
"Excellent. Good work Lance Commander."
Jack's eyes went wide with surprise. For a moment he forgot to breathe.
"You play a deep game, Lady," he said after a minute, his tone admiring.
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions: Three
(This takes place immediately following the events of the AE mission Lancers: Prelude to Midnight and prior to the Midnighter arc we're running on Tuesday.)
The room was bare of any furnishings save a large metal table and a handful of uncomfortable looking chairs. Three people stood looking over the papers and printouts scattered across the table, each of them displaying their unease in a different way.
Jack Pentecost smoked. The well-chewed stogie in his mouth gave off big bluish-grey clouds that swirled around the room but somehow left no lingering cigar scent or any trace of smoke gathered at the ceiling. From time to time he would pace away from the table, make a short tight circle and return to where he had been standing, leaning over the papers with both hands flat on the table top.
Lady Grey was less visibly agitated but her face clearly showed her concern. Her lips were drawn up in a moue and her brow was furrowed. Her ageless features seemed less composed than normal. She twirled a pencil ceaselessly in one hand.
Gaussian stood at ease next to the table. Built like a professional wrestler, his stern face displaying all the welcome of a slammed gate, he affected loose baggy clothing of monochrome grey. The only noticeable sign of his concern was the way he flexed his hands behind his back and he looked over the documents in front of him.
It was Lady Grey who broke the silence.
“You’re certain that this Circle mage mentioned the Tome of T'Jer'imikanu?” she said, looking up at Pentecost.
“Before he was aware that any Vanguard operatives were nearby,” Jack replied. “Yes. It’s not the kind of word one drops into casual conversation. Once he was aware of our presence, he clammed up. It’s a pity he managed to slip away during the fracas with the Lost.”
“We’ve lost track of Baradan,” Gaussian said, putting a name to the Circle of Thorns enchanter. “We have little insight into Oranbega.”
“And there’s no doubt the Lost were looking for this book?” Lady Grey went on.
“That’s the implication from what my people reported to me,” Jack said. “According to their report, some Circle mage named Rollister has it and the Lost are actively searching for Rollister.”
“We have additional confirmation from our sources,” Gaussian added. “Seven out of nine intelligence indicators point to the Lost seeking the book. I consider it confirmed.”
Gaussian and Pentecost stared at each other. Neither of them had ever heard Lady Grey swear before.
“We thought the book destroyed in the Chicago Fire of 1871. There were no other extant copies,” Lady Grey said, almost to herself. “For one to surface now … gentlemen, if the Lost are searching for the Tome of T'Jer'imikanu it can only be because the Rikti want it.”
“That’s the way I see it,” Pentecost chimed in.
“Would you please put that cigar out?” Lady Grey snapped.
“I think better when I smoke,” Jack replied.
“Unfortunately, Commander Pentecost, We do not,” Lady Grey said. “And wherever did you find cigars that smell like chamomile tea?”
“It’s a long story,” Jack replied, the cigar somehow gone without a trace.
“These distractions don’t help,” Gaussian chimed in. “What do the Rikti want with a book that’s been gone for over a hundred years?”
“The Tome of T'Jer'imikanu is a work of power,” Lady Grey explained. “It contains a number of elaborate rituals, any of which can result in the release of enormous power – enormous destructive power.”
“The Rikti only figured out magic a couple of years ago,” Gaussian said. “How good can they be at complex rituals?”
Jack Pentecost found both Lady Grey and Gaussian staring at him. After a moment he cleared his throat.
“Their mages, the Rikti Magi,” he said “they’re better than we are at ritual magic. The way they can ... ummm ... link their minds together, the way they mesh ... it lets them exchange energies much more freely. Given the time to learn the details of a complex working, a group of Rikti Mages can perform a human ritual magic with a lot more effect than we can.”
“Why haven’t they annihilated us, then?” Lady Grey asked. “If they’re so much better at magic than we are?”
“Because they’re noobs,” he replied. “They can’t make their own rituals. They don’t have the knowledge or the experience. It might be decades or centuries before they get as good as the Midnighters or the Legacy Chain, let alone the Circle or the Mu. But if you give them a pre-written ritual, they can certainly get together and cast it. I’d bet-”
“They’re looking to steal our rituals,” Gaussian said. “Makes sense.”
“We cannot allow this,” Lady Grey said. “Commander Pentecost, the Midnight Club has approached me with some concerns about the Lost and the Rikti interfering with their members. You will contact their representative, Montague Castanella at once and offer him your services should anything untoward occur. We will leverage this contact as a method of discovering all we can about the whereabouts of the Tome. Gaussian, you will inquire of your contacts within the FBSA, particularly MAGI, about any contact they have had with the Circle of Thorns, the Rikti or the Tome of T'Jer'imikanu. When this thing surfaces again We wish to become aware of it prior to anyone else on the planet. Understood?”
Both men nodded.
“We want this book found, gentlemen,” Lady Grey said. “Do not disappoint Us.”
Lady Grey's 'talk' seemed to go on forever. Jack could see that half the team was asleep and he was having trouble staying awake himself.
"In conclusion," Lady Grey said, finally "please bear in mind that Montague Castanella is a tenured professor, an established expert in his field and well regarded in the city. We expect you to bear yourself with the decorum befitting members of Our organization."
"Why does she always speak in the plural?" Knight of Steel whipsered. "We this and We that..."
"Maybe she has multiple personality disorder," Bunny whispered back.
"Maybe she's possessed," Luminous Lad added quietly.
"It's the royal We, you idiots," Teen Tytan whispered.
"Pipe down, people," Jack snapped before things got out of hand. "We're heading out in ten minutes. Get your gear together and get ready to go. Dismissed."
Lady Grey walked over to him while the room was clearing.
"We wish to make certain you make a favorable impression on Professor Castanella," she said.
"How could it be otherwise?" Jack asked.
"Make certain to wear your uniform."
"Your dress uniform."
"You're really kidding."
"Your full dress uniform."
"You're not kidding."
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions:
(This will take place immediately after the Midnighter arc
and before the start of the Positron Task Force One - The Rule of
The small briefing room held only the most trusted leaders of the
Vanguard. The two rows of seats were mostly empty, but the people who sat in
them were amongst the most powerful in the world. Lady Grey, the Dark Watcher,
Serpent Drummer, Incendiary, Gaussian, the Magdalene, Levantera, Borea, the
Cossack – they had fought and survived in a war where thousands of heroes had
fallen. Had seen cities laid waste and millions killed.
powerful beings stared with awe at the table where a little metal stick glowed
with a flickering purple-green glow and at the man who stood next to
“Any questions?” Jack Pentecost asked. His smirk was
“This … wand… can cure the Lost?” Lady Grey
“I’ve used it myself,” Pentecost replied. “It doesn’t matter how
far along the transformation they are. See a cranky Pariah and *poof* he’s a
normal citizen again.”
“Astounding,” Lady Grey said. “Castanella is a
Jack Pentecost snorted and shook his head. It
“Does it work against the Rikti?” Serpent Drummer asked, focused
as always on the offensive.
“Unlikely,” Jack replied. “The Rikti aren’t
humans who’ve been transformed like the Lost are. They’re humans that
have evolved differently. They’re not in an unnatural state. In fact, if you
figured out how to transform one into a human, odds are the wand would change
them back to a Rikti.”
“How quickly can it be duplicated and deployed
against the Lost?” Gaussian asked. “Given a little time to prepare, we could
sweep the city section by section. Once this area was secure, we could move to
other high priority areas – I believe Rome should take
“I don’t know how many of these
things we can turn out,” he said. “The ingredients are hard to come
“How many do you forsee having available,” Dark
Watcher asked. His voice reeked of cold dark tombs and things best
“Maybe ten,” Pentecost replied. “They’re good for about twenty
Lost apiece before the spells unravel. I’d figure you could transform about two
“That’s useless,” Serpent Drummer spat.
necessarily,” Gaussian pointed out. “Depends on who those two hundred
Lady Grey had not taken her eyes off the glowing wand since the
discussion had started.
“We cannot identify all of the energies
originating from it,” she said softly. The room fell silent. “What did you
“It’s all based on a spell we nabbed from the Circle when we were
helping out the Midnighters,” Jack explained. “We have the spell. Could use it a
hundred times. In order to overcome the resistance of the Lost’s transformation
process, we combined some items provided by the Midnighters with some stuff
crafted by Azuria. I’m sure we can get more of that.”
“We see that,” Lady
Grey said. “What else? What have you used that cannot be
Pentecost coughed again.
“A vial of Hero 1’s blood,” he
Everyone started talking at once.
“A vial of Hero 1’s blood
from after he was sent to the Rikti homeworld,” Pentecost went on. The
room fell silent again. “It’s been … transformed somehow. By using the knowledge
of a Rikti defector and this Circle of Thorns spell … well … we can undo the
Rikti-ization process used on the Lost … but … well … we don’t have anymore of
Hero 1’s blood and I somehow doubt we’re going to find more.”
Hero 1 was dead,” Borea said.
“Maybe he is,” Gaussian pointed out. “His
blood could have been preserved for study.”
“What if he’s still alive?
What if he’s their prisoner? What if they’re torturing him?” Levantera said
“None of the survivors of Omega Team reported any indication
that Hero 1 survived the initial onslaught,” Gaussian said. “All the information
available indicated he perished alongside Ruin during the battle after their
insertion onto the Rikti homeworld.”
“We need to know more,” Lady Grey
said. “Begin investigating this immediately,
“We need a way to obtain more of this
‘transformed’ blood or if we can find a substitute for it. I will contact
Incandescent immediately and get the U.N.’s best scientific minds working on it.
Let us get back to work, ladies and gentlemen. There’s much to do.”
the meeting began to break up, Lady Grey walked up to Jack
“You have exceeded Our expectations, Commander,” she said “but
the reward for good work is always more
“Gaussian’s operatives in the Magi indicate that
they are going to contact Positron regarding the Tome of T'Jer'imikanu. We
understand that your team has just returned from an arduous effort
“Not a problem,” Jack replied. “We’re on it.”
allow Positron to realize what you are after is the Tome. Simply speak with him
regarding … oh … the excessive activity of the Clockwork in the city
“The Clockwork? Have they been that busy recently? I hadn’t
“We are reliably informed that the Freedom Phalanx and
Longbow are greatly concerned with their activity. The Vahzilok’s as well. They
will likely grasp at your offer of assistance. They need never know Our real
interest is the Circle of Thorns and the Tome.”
“Whatever you say,” he replied. “You’re the boss.”
would do well to remember that,” Lady Grey replied.
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions:
(This takes place immediately after the Positron Task Force
One and prior to Jim Tremblor's Faultline arc.)
The Vanguard Infirmary
smelled like disinfectant. Jack winced as the nurse swabbed the cuts on his head
"That stings!" he complained.
"Be thankful it
doesn't need stitches," the nurse replied "although those cuts on your arm
probably will. What happened?"
"I had to kill myself," Jack replied "and
I found out I'm tougher than I thought I was."
"Do I look like a comedian?" Jack snapped.
"We are not
amused, Commander Pentecost," a familar voice said and Jack turned to see Lady
Grey staring down at him, her hands on her hips. Sitting on the edge of one of
the infirmary beds while being worked on, Jack pushed himself to his feet over
the nurse's protests.
"Lady Grey," he acknowledged.
explain the circumstances surrounding the events occuring at City Hall," Lady
Grey said. "We are quite pressed for time."
"We were assisting Positron,
as per your orders," Jack began. Lady Grey nodded. "When Azuria reported that
the Tome of T'Jer'imikanu had been located deep in Oranbega. She was able to put
together a translocation spell if we were willing to assault the Circle. We
"And the result?"
"We made the assault, killed Rollister
and his associate Tarses and recovered the Tome," Jack replied "but that's when
the trouble began."
"Positron needed our
immediate assistance against some Vahzilok maniac called 'Doc Buzzsaw'. As we
didn't want him to know that our sole interest was the Tome, I didn't see a way
to disagree. Azuria asked to hold onto the Tome for a few hours to study it and
so we left it with her and went on the attack."
"And this is how you lost
"It was in the heart of FBSA headquarters in the MAGI vault,"
Jack explained. "I foolishly thought it would be safe."
"After we finished off Doc Buzzsaw, we received word that MAGI
was under attack," Jack went on. "We raced back to City Hall to find an army of
Circle Mages, summoned demons, and their minions waiting for us. Along the way
we were forced to divert some of our attention to rescue a number of Vanguard
operatives who had been captured by the Circle."
"When We heard of the
emergency, We authorized Serpent Drummer to dispatch some of the forces at his
disposal to assist," Lady Grey admitted.
"They were less than useless,"
Jack said "they were a problem. All of them had been defeated by the Circle and
took time to rescue. We managed to fight our way into City Hall where we were
immediately confronted by Tarses-"
"We believe you said Tarses was dead,"
Lady Grey interrupted.
"Apparently the Circle Mages can transcend death
by possessing other bodies," Jack said "which makes disposing of them somewhat
"This is an unpleasant development," Lady Grey
"Tell me about it," Jack replied. "We killed Tarses again and made
our way downstairs when we were confronted with dopplegangers of oursevles
formed from solid shadow. Each of these shadow doubles had the powers and
abilities of the originals. It turns out that while we were occupied outside
City Hall, Rollister was able to confront Azuria - who couldn't fight her way
out of a wet paper bag - and recover the Tome. Using its dark spells, he was
able conjure our evil doubles and while were occupied fighting them - which was
one hell of a fight, let me say - Rollister was able to make his escape -
although he sacrificed a lot of his followers to do so."
has the Book?"
"Yeah," Jack admitted.
"And even if you kill him
again, he will likely return?"
"And I'm sure Tarses is out there as
well," Jack went on "but, look ... this spiritual transference they do when
their body dies ... I think there might be a way to block it or stop it and make
sure they can't take over a new 'host' body. Their abilities have to be based
"Enough, Commander," Lady Grey interruped "more pressing matters
"More pressing than the Circle using the Book of
T'Jer'imikanu!?" Jack asked.
"Our concern was that the Rikti might gain
hold of it," Lady Grey replied. "Right now the Rikti do not have it and are
unlikely to gain it soon. And with the Freedom Phalanx, MAGI, the Rikti and
Gaussian looking for him, We suspect that this Rollister will lay low for a time
until he has some mastery of the Tome's lore. This gives Us some time before
needing to act, and We must take advantage of that. There are others matters of
more immediate concern."
"Do tell," Jack said.
"Come with Us,
please," Lady Grey said. Jack made to leave but the nurse grabbed his
"He's not ready yet," she said.
"We are certain Commander
Pentecost can endure a few minor injuries without protest," Lady Grey replied,
walking away. With a shrug Jack hastened after her.
Lady Grey led him
down a flight stairs to an unoccupied meeting room. Flicking on the lights, she
revealed a huge scale diorama of a section of the city. Scattered across it were
large green markers and smaller red ones.
"Do you recognize this?" Lady
Grey asked. Jack's eyes roamed over the model.
"Once called Overbrook," Lady Grey agreed "before the villain
Faultline struck, destroying the neighborhood. The resulting ruins were named
"That's old news," Jack said.
"It has a modern twist,"
Lady Grey replied. "The green markers are known Rikti or Lost
Jack took a moment to look over the diorama. There were a
lot of them.
"What do the Rikti want in Faultline?" he
"That is what We wish to know," Lady Grey replied. "The red
markers are detected psychic emanations. Gaussian puts the correlation of these
psychic occurences and an appearance by the Rikti at close to 100%."
are the Rikti causing them or are they-"
"The Rikti appear only after
such an occurence," Lady Grey said. "Our intelligence group suspects that while
the Rikti Magi were pursuing Circle Mages, the Rikti's technical personnel are
attempting to apprehend powerful psychics."
"Oh hell," Jack said tiredly.
"We do not know," Lady Grey replied. "We believe that
these emanations are from an emerging psychic of extreme potential. We believe
that the Rikti are hunting for this individual for their own purposes. We want
"Isn't this more up the Sword's alley than the Lance?"
Jack asked. "We're a search and destroy group, not an investigate and analyze
"We already have Gaussian looking for Rollister and the Tome of
T'Jer'imikanu, the fate of Hero 1, the locations of the Rikti operatives in
Paragon City and the location of the new Lost leadership..."
leadership?" Jack asked.
"When your unit decapitated the Lost's hierarchy
by annihilating their leaders in the sewers under Paragon, it was inevitable
that a new structure would form," Lady Grey explained. "We believe they are
currently attempting to organize themselves. According to Gaussian's reports,
each borough of Paragon City is headed by a single individual. He is attempting
to divine where their meeting point is, if possible to ambush them and eliminate
their connection to the Rikti as well."
"I can see that Gaussian is a
busy guy," Jack said.
"Gaussian's resources are stretched thin," Lady
Grey said. "Yours are not. Battered perhaps, but not stretched."
see where this is going," Jack sighed.
"Is your force too debilitated to
undertake another operation so soon?" Lady Grey inquired.
said. "No, we're not. That Tyten guy can hit, though - even if it is his
shadow double - and you should feel what it's like to get smacked around by
MacDice. Nevermind, we're on it."
"We wish you to investigate the Rikti
operations in Faultline, find the source of these psychic emanations, eliminate
any Lost or Rikti forces in the area and, if possible, discover the reason
behind the Rikti's search for psychics."
"We're on our way," Jack said.
"You have anything for us to go on? Anything at all?"
this search is being conducted by a being called Kurse," Lady Grey said.
"Gaussian believes this individual to be the former partner of Faultline, the
villain PsiCurse. If so, We expect that PsiCurse has been captured and converted
by the Rikti."
"You think he was one of these psychics the Rikti have
been kidnapping for some nefarious purpose?"
"Or perhaps the idea to
kidnap other psychics was his in the first place, once the Rikti had warped him
to their side" Lady Grey said. "We do not know. We wish you to find
"Gotcha. Is there any good news?"
Jack stopped, expectant.
"A potential new recruit has
surfaced," Lady Grey said "a youngster with an extreme level of
"One of a group called the 'Nuclear Ninety'," Lady
Grey replied. "A small group of children born as living fusion reactors. Each is
able to channel this amazing energy in a variety of ways. We wish you to make
every effort to recruit this person."
"This sounds promising," Jack
replied. "Does this human reactor have a
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions: Six
(This takes place immediately after the Faultline missions and prior to the cape/costume mission.)
Helicopters always bothered Jack. He understood the aerodynamics behind how they flew, but they always seem like potential falling rocks to him. He hated being in them.
It didn’t help that he was stuck on a bench with three excited teenagers.
“I just want to thank you again,” Jim Tremblor was saying. He seemed the best of the bunch. Despite the spiked shoulders on his leather jacket, he was basically a good kid. Muscular, fit, dark hair, dark eyes – he had a kind of Gallic charisma. The goatee he’d added, no doubt to make himself “look mature”, did add a certain rakish charm as well. “I know you and your friends took a lot of risks for-”
“Whoa!” the girl next to him said, staring out the glass “Wow! Did you see that!? Are those Rikti!?”
“There’s a reason they call it a war zone,” Jack said dryly.
Fusionette, the walking human reactor, seemed like a complete bubblehead. She’d almost gotten herself killed twice in less than three hours and seemed to have no sense of self-preservation or even sometimes awareness that others were around her. She looked like a blue-haired teen cheerleader but often acted like a three-year old. Her incessant upbeat cheeriness coupled with her seemingly endless inability to take anything seriously was starting to truly annoy Jack.
By contrast, Penelope Yin acted much more mature than her age. The young oriental girl was possibly the most powerful psychic on the planet, and had been hunted by the Clockwork, the Lost and the Rikti – as well as having her father kidnapped – but seemed unfazed by all of her adventures, aside from moments of happy exuberance.
“Dad was so upset,” she was saying to Tremblor when Jack’s attention drifted back to them “he wanted to re-open the store right away but Commander Pentecost here insisted that we both come back to Vanguard Headquarters. I could tell Dad wanted to argue but after being rescued from all those Lost, he really couldn’t say anything.”
“I’m sure he’ll be able to get back to his business,” Jack interrupted “once we’ve worked out adequate security.”
“The Clockwork King has all those little oscillators around the shop,” Penelope pointed out.
“I’m sure that the Clockwork King’s minions are tough,” Jack replied “but I’m not sure we can consider him reliable enough to ensure your safety. We’ll have to come up with some alternate measures as well.”
Conversation was cut off as the big chopper lurched back and forth a bit before settling down on the helipad. Jack unbuckled himself and started down the ramp. He wasn’t surprised at all to see Lieutenant Kaneko waiting for him, clipboard in hand.
“Good to see you,” Jack said. “We’ve got two new recruits, Fusionette and Ji-"
“Faultline,” Tremblor interjected. “I’m going to go by Faultline.”
“Faultline it is,” Jack went on. “Have someone escort them down to processing and let Sergeant McCabe know we’ve got two new trainees.”
“Sir,” Michiko replied. Her eyes drifted to where Penelope Yin was watching the chopper holding her father and the rest of the unit land. “And the other girl?”
“Inform Lady Grey that we’ve found the source of the psychic disturbances. I’ll leave it to her to decide what to do with her,” Jack said “and with her father.”
“Anything else, sir?”
“Yeah, Lieutenant,” Jack said “I have a pounding headache. Find me two aspirin and then come by my office and help me write up the report.”
*** *** ***
Scritch-scritch-scritch went the fountain pen.
“We have read your report, Commander,” Lady Grey said, her eyes never leaving the papers on her desk. Jack wondered if this was some avant garde interviewing technique. “After speaking with Ms. Yin, we agree with your recommendations. We will have Levantera station adequate security measures around Mr. Yin and his establishment to prevent a recurrence of the kidnapping.”
“And the girl?”
“She has agreed to spend time studying and training her newfound abilities with Us,” Lady Grey said. “She should be perfectly safe here in the compound.”
“And this way you get some use out of her amazing powers,” Jack added.
“We believe her able to generate precognitive glimpses of the future,” Lady Grey replied, still apparently engrossed in her work. “That is a resource We cannot allow to go unused in our war with the Rikti.”
“Understood,” Jack replied.
“We also wanted to congratulate you on your unprecedented success against the Lost,” Lady Grey went on. She paused for a moment and looked up, her clear grey eyes meeting his. “Twice in less than a month you have annihilated the leadership of this Rikti cult. According to Gaussian, you have obliterated every one of their leaders of note within Paragon City. While the Lost will no doubt continue to operate in splintered cells for some time, their communications with Rikti have likely been cut off and all coordination between groups is lost. Well done, Commander.”
“Dumb luck,” Jack replied. “It was sheer luck they were holding their planning meeting in the same old warehouse they were keeping Mr. Yin prisoner. Once I realized who we were dealing with, wiping them out became a real priority.”
“One makes that kind of luck, Commander,” Lady Grey said. “We give credit where credit is due. We understand you also managed to recruit not one but two new supers?”
“Turns out your living fusion reactor’s boyfriend is the son of Faultline,” Jack said. “He wanted to come along. Didn’t see a reason to stop him. A guy who can make earthquakes has a lot of potential.”
“Agreed,” Lady Grey said “We presume they are in the hands of the redoubtable Sergeant McCabe?”
“If not, they will be very shortly,” Jack said.
“Excellent,” Lady Grey said. “Excellent. You continue to outperform all expectations, Commander.”
“There is, however, one other matter…”
“If this is about that Irish whiskey incident and MacDice…”
“We were unaware of any ‘whiskey incident’,” Lady Grey replied, raising an eyebrow “We must inquire further at a later date. No, this matter concerns your … Bubble Bunni.”
Jack rolled his eyes.
“What now?” he said.
“We have received a formal complaint about her clear violation of the Vanguard dress codes,” Lady Grey said.
“I made certain she understood that while in the Compound or involved in non-combat duties with the Vanguard her attire was to always conform with the regulations,” Jack said. “Marissa is really concerned with doing well, with succeeding at this. I can’t imagine she’d knowingly do something that could get her in trouble on base.”
“The complaint was not in regards to her clothing,” Lady Grey said. “The complaint is in regards to her hair.”
“Her hair?” he tried to think. It wasn’t too long. BB kept her hair fairly short and tight. “I don’t get it.”
“Use of dye to color one’s hair an unusual or outlandish color is clearly forbidden in Section 8, Article…”
“Hair dye!?” Jack barked, incredulous. “This is about hair dye!? That woman stood tall and kept us all shielded when a dozen Lost monstrosities led their horde of minions at us armed with Rikti broadswords and she didn’t blink, she didn’t hesitate, she didn’t even say a word when one nearly took her head off – she just kept those shields up – and you want me to give her grief over some hair dye!?”
“Commander Pentecost,” Lady Grey said “so long as nothing was reported, We could choose to turn a blind eye to the matter. Once a formal report was filed, however, We are obligated to take a hand in the matter.”
“Someone filed a report on BB?” Jack said slowly. “It was the Magdalene, or one of her white-suited snoops, wasn’t it!? Doesn’t that woman have anything better to do than harass one of my people about hair color!? Isn’t her job supposed to be protecting you? Is Bunni’s hair a threat to your well being!?”
“Hardly, Commander,” Lady Grey sniffed “and We do not wish to waste Our time with trivialities. Be that as it may, a military organization runs on discipline and blue hair is not status quo in the Vanguard.”
“Well, er, it is if it happens to be someone’s natural hair color,” Jack said.
It was Lady Grey’s turn to blink.
“Marissa Blankton’s hair color is naturally blue?” Lady Grey asked.
“Did anyone think to check?” Jack asked. Lady Grey seemed taken aback. “BB is a… umm… a mutant. Her hair is naturally blue. She… er… dyed it blonde back when she was working, because she... erm… didn’t want to get into trouble. Now that she’s in the Vanguard she let her hair go back to normal.”
“We assure you We shall investigate this matter fully,” Lady Grey replied.
“I can guarantee you that if you check every hair on Bunni’s head, you find them all naturally blue,” Jack said. At least now, you will, he thought. “And please let Colonel Lennox know that I’m gratified so much of the time and attention of her top flight team of security experts is spent on analyzing Bubble Bunni’s hair.”
“We will certainly address the source of the complaint if it was erroneous,” Lady Grey said. “Dismissed, Commander.”
Whistling to himself, Jack turned and strode out of Lady Grey’s office. Hopefully the Lady would put a stop to the Magdalene or whoever in her organization was so dead set on giving Jack and his team grief. It would be a happy day if the only problems he had to deal with were the Rikti and not his own side in the war.
Now all I’ve got to do is somehow tell BB that I’ve made her hair naturally blue, Jack thought to himself. Hopefully she won’t mind.
origianlly posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions:
(This takes place immediately prior to the Cape
“This is boring,” Luminous Lad whispered.
types always use too many words,” MacDice whispered back “Yer best bet is t’jest
let them talk themselves out. Nod and smile a lot along the way.”
in the back,” Jack snapped. “Could you say that again, Doctor
The white haired man pushed his glasses back to the bridge of
his nose and turned to the array of equipment again. The Science Bay was filled
with exotic paraphernalia, ranging from bins of metal rods or circuit boards to
giant half-finished constructs that towered over the group. Right now the man in
the lab coat was pointing to a simple computer array.
“What I was
saying,” Pomfroy said in an injured tone “is that the early breakthroughs in
reverse-engineering Rikti translocation technology were inverse polar position
“Could you say that again in
“You can only pull things to you,” he said slowly. “This is the
core technology behind the medical teleporters. You carry a beacon on you that
we can trace. We can use the signal from the beacon to pull your carcass back to
the teleportation unit. Doing the reverse, teleporting something away from the
unit to a remote location is much more difficult.”
“But recently we’ve made a major breakthrough!” Pomfroy went on,
enthused “We’ve deduced how the Rikti got around the radial signal reduction
caused by… *ahem* … we figured out how the Rikti do it.”
“So you can now
teleport stuff from here to somewhere else?” Jack asked.
someone whispered in the back “I know some guys could do that in their
“Quiet back there!” Jack snapped. “There’s been a lot of new
developments in this technology and every unit in the Vanguard is required to
get a briefing and an update on it. If your feeble brain can’t keep focus,
disengage your mouth and let the Doc talk.”
“Not only can we
teleport a force almost any distance,” Pomfroy continued “we can also tune in to
the Rikti’s carrier wave signal and detect whenver they’ve teleported
someone somewhere – presuming it’s within range of our sensors. If you’ll
observe the big monitor, I’ll bring up the system and you can see what parts of
Paragon City we’ve got covered…”
A screen flared to life and a map of
Paragon City displayed itself. A big flashing red dot centered around City
“Yo, Doc!” MacDice said “ye’ve got wha? One sensor in City
“What? I… why… no… that’s… that’s… oh my,” Pomfroy seemed beside
himself. “That’s a Rikti teleport spike – they’ve just sent
someone or a group of someones to the basement of City Hall. They’re in the
Omega Team Memorial!”
“Got to be the time capsule,” Pole Shift said.
“That’s the only thing of value there!”
“We don’t have any time,” Jack
said. “Doc, fire up your translocator. We need to be in that room RIGHT
“But… well… I…”
“Just do it!”
“I dinnae want to see
me molecules scattered all over Atlas Park!” MacDice said.
“Shut up and
get in the field generator!”
“If I die, I’ll haunt ye forever!”
should be so lucky! Punch it, Doc!”
origianlly posted by Kyle Al Mordu
Timeframe: Approximately 1 month ago.
Brian Tyler was a good worker. At 19 he had landed what he thought would be a great job, working for the Vanguard. As it turned out, reality was not as exciting as he thought. He was assigned to the Atlas DPO doing janitorial and maintenence work. All day long he watched the heroes and soldiers pass by on their way to the War Zone and he longed for a chance to help. However he was under orders not to use the teleporter and not to enter the Vanguard base.
One night, after completing his rounds through the DPO, Brian decided to just take a quick look around the Vanguard base. He went to the teleporter, activated it and was instantly transported to the main Vanguard base. He quickly climbed up to the catwalks above the main corridors so he wouldn't be seen. There were not many people around but he did see a man in a lab coat hurry into the medical area. He was talking into a communicator. " I'm sorry Sunstorm, I've tested everyone here on the base, no one is a match. I'll have to start testing others, but it will take time we do not have." Brian moved closer to try to get a better view of what was going on. The man turned his head slightly to where Brian was hiding and said " I'll call you back, something has come up here." Brian didn't know if he had been seen and he wasn't going to stick around to find out. He started back along the catwalk and down the stairs to the teleporter when a purplish haze formed around him. He was then standing face to face with the man in the lab coat!
"Aren't you a little far from your assigned duties Mr. Tyler?" Brian was freaking out, how did he know his name and how did he get back here? "Don't panic, you are not in any trouble, you just saved me the time of going to Atlas to test you. I'm Professor Martin Starr and I need your help. Just hold still and let me scan you." Professor Starr looked at a readout and smiled. "A 98% match, this is excellent. The help I need from you is to save a life. Tell me Brian, do you know what a Kheldian is?"
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions: Eight
The Meeting Hall was one of the very few rooms within the Vanguard Compound that did not reflect the stark military decor of the base. The floor was carpeted, the meeting table was huge, and parts of the room were set of by large glass partitions emblazoned with the stylized 'V' that had become the Vanguard's symbol.
The room was more than simply a meeting room, it was also an area to hold receptions, to brief heads of state and other dignitaries, and as such it had a certain charm that the harsh realities of the Compound did not. The elite of a hundred nations would not tolerate some conditions that a simple solder would and, quite often, just took for granted.
For now, however, the room was not host to some party or a briefing for some Ambassador and his entourage - it was occupied solely by the head of the Vanguard, Lady Jane Grey and her most trusted subordinates, her Division Chiefs.
Lady Grey leaned forward, her elbows on her desk, and steepled her fingers. Her aristocratic face seemed more serious than usual and she took the time to meet the gaze of each one of her people with her own clear grey eyes before speaking.
"Each of you has had sufficient time to review the information before you," she said. "We now require your opinion on Commander Pentecost and the proposal."
"It's about time," Gaussian said. His big bulky frame was, as it ever was, in monochrome shades of grey. Receivers nestled by his ears allowed him to remain in constant contact with his Counter Intelligence team - although how he managed to keep trackof the continuous reports he received and hold a conversation simultaneously was anyone's guess. "Should have been done weeks ago."
"We were already aware of the Sword's opinion," Lady Grey said "but We, as always, appreciate your frankness."
"I've never met Commander Pentecost," Incandescent said. She was rarely at the Compound, or even in the United States. In her role as chief of public relations, she spent most of her time abroad - dealing with the United Nations, which chartered the Vanguard, and its most influential members. Incandescent was devastatingly beautiful. Not only was she was aware of this, but she combined it with a powerful charisma that turned heads both male and female. It was a tool she used with ruthless precision and behind her flawless looks and winning personality lay a mind well suited to the cut and thrust of international politics. Lady Grey was well aware of Incandescent's abilities, both super and otherwise, and had launched her like a missile at the leaders of the world with amazing results. The Vanguard was allowed to operate with a free hand and their charter was renewed and approved whenever it came up in the General Assembly. "He does seem to have better than average results."
"I have wondered about that myself," Dark Watcher added. His voice always sounded like something crawling from a crypt and he wore only black. A slouch hat was pulled low over his face, somehow always casting a shadow over his features, and he was never without his dark sunglasses. "For the short time he has been with us, Pentecost has succeeded far beyond anything that could be expected of him."
"Commander Pentecost lacks any training or background in military science," Serpent Drummer said. He wore a tattered green gi, seeming to enjoy appearing more as a down on his luck martial arts student than as what he truly was - the peerless mind which led the Vanguard's offensive forces. "All of his training, if I may grace it with the term, has been ad hoc, at best. As such, his solutions to military problems are ... unorthodox."
"You are saying?" Lady Grey asked.
"Military men can be viewed as somewhat predictable, as all of their training and education derives fom the same source. In simpler terms, they use the same axioms. To an outsider, an alien, such as the Rikti, it would then follow that all of Earth's military minds would have some similarities-"
"Which Commander Pentecost does not share as he has had no military training at all," Lady Grey said.
"Exactly," Serpent Drummer said. "Pentecost is highly intelligent, gifted and appears to have the most precious and elusive asset of all great leaders - he is extremely lucky. These have combined with his ... unique approach in ways which have so far allowed him to excel."
"Allow me to propose an alternative solution," Dark Watcher said. "Commander Pentecost is successful because the Rikti want him to be successful."
"To what purpose?" Serpent Drummer asked.
"To allow him to penetrate deeply into our councils, gain access to our inner circle, and then, once he is trusted - to destroy us."
"You then believe that the Rikti sacrificed their entire Lost operation within Paragon City and the Tome of T'Jer'imikanu and their operation involving PsiCurse and Penelope Yin simply to position Jack Pentecost into a high ranking role within the Vanguard?" Lady Grey asked.
"I allow for the possibility," Dark Watcher replied. "The Lost, as a recruiting operation, were effectively over in any event. With the influx of new heroes replacing those lost during the First Rikti War and the gradual leaking of the true nature of the Lost, their ability to locate, recruit and convert new people was fading. The Lost were becoming more and more restricted to those areas lacking good media access and resources - which is why they had become reduced to only recruiting from the downtrodden. To abandon their practice as a ruse of warfare is no real sacrifice."
Gaussian leaned forward.
"Maybe their 'lack of effectiveness' is why their leaders were getting together in the sewers under Atlas Park and planning a riot," he said. "I think that was them trying to make a break with the past and start something new. My people haven't found anything that would indicate otherwise."
"Nor have mine," Dark Watcher said "but how well have we truly penetrated the Rikti's operations? Better than they have penetrated ours?"
"Better be," Gaussian said "or we're both out of a job."
Dark Watcher laughed and the sound was not pleasant.
"What about the Tome?" Levantera asked from the other side of the table. "That was not a trivial loss. It has the power to destroy a city."
"If Pentecost was a Rikti agent," Dark Watcher said "then it would have been no loss. He had the Book in his hands. Had he retained it and were he a Rikti agent, do you doubt the Rikti would have a copy of it by now?"
"And Penelope Yin?" Lady Grey inquired. "The Rikti would have sacrifced so powerful a psychic simply to position an agent within our group?"
"Perhaps the entire operation was a ruse," Dark Watcher proposed. "Designed simply to allow Pentecost another success. It was the pursuit of the father that allowed him to 'stumble' across the Lost's new leadership. Perhaps that was not by accident but by design."
Lady Grey shook her head.
"Penelope Yin is the greatest psychic We have ever encountered," she said "although she is largely untrained and yet to come into her full power. We find it difficult to accept her loss as part of a 'grand stratgem'."
"We do not even know why the Rikti are hunting down powerful psychics," Dark Watcher said "so we cannot assess the level of the loss."
"It is your task to discover their reasons," Lady Grey said. "Perhaps once you have been successful at it, we shall be able to assess the risks involved."
Dark Watcher nodded.
"However," Lady Grey went on "that matter is not germane to what is it at hand. We require your opinions on the matter that is before us and We request your reasons as well. We shall go around the table." She turned to where Gaussian sat.
"Special Operations - the Sword?" she asked.
"I'm for it," Gaussian said.
"He's sharp. He gets things done. He doesn't take any crap," the big man replied "and I like him."
"Combat Operations - the Gauntlet?" Lady Grey asked, turning to Serpent Drummer.
"I agree with your proposal," the man replied. "Jack Pentecost has a unique understanding of the Rikti and the way they think, fostered by his spending years on their homeworld before escaping. I believe his hatred of them and his anger at having been abused by their Magi for so long, has driven him to heights of achievement beyond the normal and I believe that we would be foolish not to use these factors to our advantage."
"Personal Relations - the Herald?" Lady Grey continued, looking at Incandescent.
"I do not like him," the woman replied "and I do not trust him. I can get a feel for almost anyone based on how they act, what they say, how they move. Pentecost is almost impossible for me to read. I believe him far more Rikti than he appears. I say no."
Lady Grey nodded.
"Security - the Shield?" she continued, looking to where Levantera and Borea sat.
The two sisters, one dark and one light, both in robes adorned with complex patterns, both possessing the powers of the Order of the Four Winds, gazed at each other for a moment before turning back to the table.
"We approve," Borea said. Levantera nodded.
"You have changed your opinion since we last spoke, Borea" Lady Grey said, raising one dark eyebrow. "We would like to know why."
"I've spent some time speaking with Commander Pentecost," the blonde said after a moment "and over the past month or so have gotten to know much better. He is, at his best, a jerk and at his worst - an asshole."
The room started chuckling.
"And this makes you approve Lady Grey's proposal?" Incandescent asked, incredulous.
"If Jack Pentecost were a spy," Borea explained "he would try to fit in. He would try to gain people's trust, win them over, become their friend. In my opinion, Jack Pentecost truly does not care what most people think of him and he seems incapable of performing well in a social situation. He has alienated a number of prominent members of the Vanguard hierarchy and the only people he seems to get along with are other misfits. Jack Pentecost would make an amazingly poor choice for a spy."
"Interesting," Lady Grey mused. "Very interesting."
"If he's such a jerk," Incandescent asked "why approve this?"
"I think he has a good heart," Borea replied.
Gaussian made a rude noise.
"Enough," Lady Grey said. She turned to the Dark Watcher. "We believe We already know Intelligence's opinion, but We would ask the Helm to state it for the record."
"Oh, I approve," Dark Watcher said.
Lady Grey blinked slowly.
"Why?" she asked. "If your opinion of him is so low?"
"This change will not alter his access in any real way," Dark Watcher said "and so contains little risk. It may, however, make him feel like he is succeeding and if he is a spy, then perhaps an increase in confidence will spur him to make a mistake. If he is not, then it will not matter, will it?"
"Very well then," Lady Grey said "the proposal is approved by four votes to one. We shall inform Jack Pentecost of his promotion at Our earliest convenience."
"What are you going to tell the Magdalene?" Dark Watcher asked.
"That is a matter for Our concern," Lady Grey replied curtly.
Dark Watcher nodded.
"Let us move on," Lady Grey continued. "We are greatly disturbed by the fact that the single thing the Rikti stole from the Omega Team Memorial is the letter written by Hero 1. Coupled with the recovery of a vial of his blood from the Rikti Homeworld, We believe this paints a disturbing picture..."
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions:
(This takes place following the AE Lancers Mission -
Scavenger Hunt and immediately prior to the Keith Nance missions.)
all the grace and panache of a water buffalo, Sergeant McCabe sank into the
chair opposite's Jack's and sighed. Jack leaned forward onto his desk and looked
at the grizzled soldier.
"So how did our newest recruits turn out?" he
"Sir, that Temblor kid is all right," McCabe admitted. "Level
head, good instincts, and he can turn into a giant rock man."
"I've got the bruises to prove it, sir," McCabe
"So what's the problem?" Jack said.
"The other one,
Fusionette, is a complete idiot," the sergeant admiited "she failed against the
drones - the drones. No one fails against the drones. My grandmama
could beat the drones."
"The advanced drones? That master eliminator one
"The stupid basic drones!" McCabe snapped. "The ones that can
barely walk in a straight line! She managed to get every drone on the map
targeting her at once. At once! How she did it, I'll never know.
"She washed out in the first exercise?"
out in the first three minutes! It's a record!" McCabe sputtered. "You
can't take that girl into combat. She'll get the whole unit killed. She's like a
magnet for badness. An airheaded magnet."
"Well, one out of two
"Get this! The Temblor kid turned us down!" McCabe was seriously
upset. "He says if his girlfriend isn't going to be in the unit, he don't want
to be neither! Says he doesn't want to be seperated from her! From
"Better to let them go now than to have them freak out or
screw up in combat," Jack said.
"You got that right, sir! You've got that
"Guess that's it for recruits then," Jack said. "Two
Sergeant McCabe leaned forward.
"No, it isn't," he said
and his smile was so intense it would scare small children. "We got us one more
volunteer. Ran him through right after those dopey kids. I was at my wits end,
but he looked too good to pass up."
"Sergeant, your eagerness is
unnerving," Jack said. "I take it this new recruit was above
"He's a prodigy, sir," McCabe said. "Young kid from Japan. Big
grudge against the Rikti. Says he came here to volunteer 'cause we're the best
bet for fighting them."
"He's that good?" Jack
"Seeing is believing, sir," McCabe said. "Wanted into the Lance,
specifically. You got a moment for him?"
"Tokugawa!" McCabe barked. "Get your ass in here!"
see yo- What? Whoa!" Jack's aplomb was shattered when the new recruit walked
into his office.
"Taro Tokugawa, Razortail, reporting for duty,
Taro Tokugawa was enormous, bright orange and covered in pointed
spines. His darker orange hair was pulled back in a pony tail and his long,
thin, razor-edged tail swished back and forth behind him as he saluted. He
looked like something bullets would bounce off of and Jack didn't want to think
about what getting punched by one of those massive fists would feel
"I'm glad your on my side, Razortail," Jack said. "You've impressed
Sergeant McCabe and that's hard to do. Welcome to the Lance."
"You head on down to supply," McCabe said "and
get yourself a uniform, or something in the right colors that'll
"On my way, sergeant!"
McCabe closed the door as the young
Japanese mutant left.
"You won't be seein' the likes of that every day,"
the sergeant said.
"If he can fight like he looks," Jack said "one will
"That's the truth, sir, and no mistake."
"Well," McCabe began. "Sir, I went down to records and
pulled my file."
"Sure enough, the system says I'm ten years
younger than I am," McCabe said. "How solid is that?"
"Solid enough that
all your records look that way," Jack said. "If someone wants to verify your
credit card and asks you your birthday, knock ten years off it or they'll think
you're a crook."
"Does everyone think that way?" McCabe
"Not everyone, every computer system," Jack replied. "I can't
control people's minds. People who knew your age before will still know, and
they'll notice the system has the date wrong if they check. Try and avoid Lady
Grey. If she was going to cashier you out later this year and she still sees you
around, she may start wondering what you're still doing on base."
about done with recruits," McCabe said "and I don't see a lot of future except
for sitting around the base. Be a tough deal avoiding her
"Actually, I wanted your advice on something," Jack said. "Lady
Grey has decided to assign me a dozen Vanguard soldiers as a combat unit to back
up the super-powered Lancers. Integrating them into the unit is going to be a
tough deal - mixing regular humans and guys who can lift cars has its
"You take a bunch of vets into battle
with your newbie supers, there's bound to be trouble," McCabe agreed. "You'll
need a top flight top kick. Take a good hand with a lot of combat experience to
keep things smooth. You want my recommendation, I know a couple of guys who
might cut the-"
"Actually, Sergeant," Jack said "I wanted to know if you
wanted the job."
McCabe seemed taken aback.
"Me, sir?" the
sergeant said "Not too old?"
"What do you think?"
"I'm your man,
sir! I'm your man."
"Let's go and get you another rocker to go under
those chevrons, Top," Jack said "and stay out of sight of Lady Grey. I've got
enough to explain on a daily basis as it is."
"You're trouble and a half, sir," he admitted "but thank God
you're on our side."
*** *** ***
"Lady Grey, if you have a
moment?" Incandescent asked. She walked across the room as the meeting broke up
like a model walking down the runway and even the serene Lady Grey had to admire
"Is there an issue?" Lady Grey asked.
anything we were just speaking of," Incandescent said "but rather, there has
been some interest in Doctor Pomfroy's work."
efforts?" Lady Grey inquired.
"Only tangentially," Incandescent replied.
"Obviously many of the U. N. Charter members are highly curious about it but
release of that technology is clearly solely a matter for Vanguard's discretion.
No, the interest concerns portal technology."
"Portal technology?" Lady
Grey said. "We would think that would be an obvious matter to bring to the
"Portal Corporation is very secretive and the United
States government moves to block any access to their work," Incandescent
"With good reason," Lady Grey replied.
Incandescent said "but Portal Corporation did release a great deal of their
research to the Vanguard, and it has been Doctor Pomfroy who has been working
with that information."
"That is correct."
"There has been some
curiousity if any of Doctor Pomfroy's discoveries in teleportation would have
similar applications in portal technology," Incandescent said "and since
theoretical physics isn't my field, I'm afraid I'm unable to adequately respond
to some of the inquiries. If you don't mind, I'd like to spend some time with
Doctor Pomfroy and get a better understanding of his work."
Lady Grey said "We shall inform the Doctor that you'll be speaking with
"Thank you," Incandescent said. "I know he's very busy and I didn't
want to interrupt his efforts without warning."
"We appreciate your
thoughtfulness, as always," Lady Grey replied.
*** *** ***
called Biopulse laid his head down on the pillow and put his hands behind his
head. After a moment he sighed and closed his eyes. The barracks at the Vanguard
Compound weren't luxurious by any means, and he'd heard members of his unit
complain about the furntiure, the beds, the air quality, the food and almost
Compared with living in the burned out shacks of Mercy
Island and drinking toxic sludge from the waste recycling system, the place was
paradise as far as he was concerned. Maybe in time he'd come to be accepted and
then maybe he could convince someone - Pentecost or Gaussian or somebody
to help the others. Biopulse was living proof that drinking that slime didn't
have to be the end of the road.
He knew he had a long way to go before
fitting in. People treated him like he had some sort of plague. They didn't
understand that his condition wasn't contagious. They called his kind
Infected, as if they'd contracted some kind of disease - confusing them
with the Contaminated who'd rampaged through Paragon City a few years
Biopulse knew he looked like some sort of radioactive Dawn of the
Dead reject. He knew his discolored skin and glowing eyes made people uneasy.
What he had trouble understanding is how giant alien monsters could be welcomed
as part of a 'team' and somehow actual human beings could not.
again. Give it time, he told himself.
Footsteps and laughter
interrupted his reverie. He cracked his eyes open to see two women ducking into
the male barracks. The way this wing of the Compound was designed, it was
shorter to duck through the male portion of the barracks to get to the
Embarkation Area than it was to take the hallways - and often people did during
the day when the barracks were generally empty.
It was the tiny woman
called Pip Squeak and the medic, Maridian. Pip Squeak looked and sounded exactly
like an eleven-year old blonde girl, despite the fact that she was something
like forty and could put her hand through a brick wall. Maridian was a buxom
russet-haired woman whom everyone liked, despite the fact that, as far as
Biopulse could tell, she stayed in the background, didn't talk very much and
seemed to keep to herself.
"I haven't been out on the town since I got
out of the slam," Pip Squeak was saying, her words totally incongruous with her
innocent appearance. "You sure this will work?"
"Two-day passes are
rare," Maridian said in reply "and I think we should enjoy the one we
"I'm just saying..."
"I have psychic powers," Maridian said.
"I can get you in the club. What you do after that is up to you."
good enough for me!"
Biopulse sat up on the bed.
ladies," he said.
Both women twitched at his sudden appearance and then
looked at each other.
"Hi... Biopulse," Pip Squeak said
"We were just cutting through to the helipad," Maridian
"I understand," Biopulse said. Neither woman would meet his eyes.
Maybe it was their glow.
"We don't want to be late," Pip Squeak said too
quickly. "Take it easy!"
The two almost ran from the
Biopulse sank back down onto the bed. He still had twenty minutes
before his meeting with Doctor Pomfroy. Apparently he'd missed a briefing on
some new 'translocation technology' and needed to make it up.
Life in the
Vanguard was definitely a step up from life with the Infected on the streets of
Mercy Island, that was for sure.
It was a lot more lonely,
*** *** ***
"I don't understand," Bunni was saying as she
and Jack walked down the hallway. "There are lots of guys on the team better
qualified than me. Why do I get to sit down with Colonel
"Because people like you," Jack replied "and a lot of the
group, well ... they don't come across as completely
"Everyone doesn't like me," Bunni said. "I keep getting
"I think that's because someone doesn't like me,"
Jack replied "and they're taking it out on you. I'm sorry for
"Well, they suck," Bunni said.
"We're in agreement there,"
"So run this by me again," Bunni went on "why
"Because you're friendly and charming and pleasant," Jack said "not
to mention attractive-"
"You mean hot."
"That too," Jack said
"and, add to that the fact that you also seem ... well ... harmless and I'm
Jack trailed off as Incandescent came walking the other way. Both
he and Bunni stared at the woman for a moment before recovering themselves. For
her part, the leader of the Herald didn't even deign to look at them, she simply
strode by as if they didn't exist.
"There's something wrong about her,"
"Oh?" Jack said.
"She doesn't move right," Bunni went
"What does that mean?"
"I've spent a lot of time studying how
women move, especially how women who want to be attractive move," Bunni
explained "and she doesn't move like them. She moves like a man."
does not," Jack replied.
"She moves like a man trying to move like
a woman," Bunni said. "If that makes any sense."
Jack cocked his head to
the side and stared at Incandescent's retreating form. Odd. Very
"She does have a weird sort of ... spiky yellow-black aura around
her," he said slowly. "I've never met her before. I don't know if that's normal.
I do know that she's not a man. I'm pretty sure she's
"With some of these extreme powers,
it can get hard to tell," Jack admitted.
"Don't be all upset," Bunni said
with a smile. "She wouldn't go out with you anyway."
"She's not my type," he replied.
"Oh - tall, successful
and blazingly smoking hot isn't your type!" Bunni joked.
disinterested and condescending isn't my type," Jack replied.
not like there any of those types around here!" Bunni said.
story of my life," Jack said.
"So why am I doing this again?"
have an opportunity to get someone training on piloting the Heavy Vanguard
Assault Suit," Jack said. "I don't think they'd be too keen on the first pilot
being an alien - and would you trust MacDice with one of those things!? I'm
betting that Colonel Mathers will green-light the idea if the pilot is
"Because I'm so charming," Bunni said.
come across as non-threatening," Jack emphasized "and nobody else in the
"He doesn't know me very well, does he?"
the whole darn point."
*** *** ***
Doctor Pomfroy was highly
uncomfortable around Incandescent. He didn't interact one on one with amazingly
attractive women that often, and certainly not with amazingly attractive women
who were so intelligent. He found it rather intimidating.
"So the Portal
Corporation's records weren't complete?" the woman was saying. Pomfroy's collar
felt unusually tight.
"We weren't interested in building portals,"
Pomfroy said "we were interested in blocking them. We don't want the
Rikti opening another gate to their homeworld and bringing more troops to Earth.
For that we didn't need all the design specifications, we just needed an
overview of the general theories and some details about the fields the portal
"So you haven't seen any of the technical layouts of the
concentric gateway array?"
"I didn't say that," Pomfroy replied. "Doctor
Macintyre and I have been in constant communication for several years and often
exchange information. Without her input, I might never have cracked the Rikti
"I have trouble following the higher level
math," Incandescent said. "Could you show me the portal specs and maybe explain
to me how the ring array works?"
"I'd be happy to," Pomfroy said. He
started to type his password into the system when a knock on the door
interrupted him. Pomfroy looked up to see a mutated zombie in a Vanguard uniform
enter his lab.
"I'm sorry," Biopulse said. "You were supposed to brief me
on the translocation system at three o'clock. I can come back if this is a bad
"Ah, yes, you must be that new recruit from Mercy Island," Pomfroy
said. "You're right on time. Just give me a few minutes, this shouldn't take
"Not at all," Incandescent said, her smile bright and wide.
"Why don't you come right in. Close the door behind you, please."
For what seemed like the thousandth time, Jack stood in Lady Grey's
office and looked over the Old World furnishings. This time, however, her desk
was perfectly clean and organized, it's green leather top free of paperwork and
Lady Grey herself was looking right at him rather than signing things with her
"Have a seat, Commander," she said.
"Whatever makes you think something is amiss?" Lady Grey
"You've never asked me to sit down before," Jack replied. He
gingerly slid one of the old wood and leather chairs away from the desk and
settled into it.
"One must allow for unusual occurences, Commander," Lady
"I do try," Jack replied. "Speaking of which, Bunni thinks
there's something odd about Incandescent."
"Odd? In what
"Says she's probably a man," Jack replied. Lady Grey's face looked
stunned and she fought down laughter.
"Incandescent - a man?" she said,
"She did have the weirdest yellow-black aura I'd ever seen,"
Jack said "but I couldn't say for sure."
Lady Grey shook her
"Incandescent has served the Vanguard to the best of her abilities
for years," she said "We do not have time to entertain such idle
"Just thought I'd say," Jack replied. "Why did you
want to see me?"
"We have good news," Lady Grey said. "The Divisions
Chiefs have met and have approved your promotion to Colonel." She placed a new
set of insignia on the desk before him.
"To Colonel?" Jack asked, eyes
"In a few short months, you have created an unusually
effective military unit," Lady Grey explained. "You have conducted successful
operations against the enemy, entirely eliminating their subversive Lost
operation in Paragon City and thwarting their efforts to acquire both
magical and psychic resources. We consider this ample reason to reward your
achievements with visible recognition."
Jack met her
"Visible recognition?" he asked, his mind latching onto that
"We also consider it wise to standardize your rank within the
Vanguard," she said.
"This would clearly make me the
equal of the Magdalene, wouldn't it?" he said. "Is that the whole
Lady Grey's face drew closed and her grey eyes bored into
"We will not tolerate a private vendetta between our officers,"
she snapped."We find it unpleasant enough that Colonel Lennox seems unduly
fixated on you. Do not start a similar campaign from your own side.
Everything We do does not revolve around you or Colonel
"Sorry," Jack said and meant it. "Sometimes I do focus too much
on that woman. It's hard not to be distracted sometimes."
allow yourself distractions," Lady Grey said. "We have agreed to you proposal to
rebuild the Tin Mage and We expect that effort to occupy much of your time.
Simultaneously, We expect you to continue your operations against the Lost and
the Rikti. You do not have the luxury of a private feud with another officer.
Are We clear?"
"Perfectly," Jack said. "I'll try and steer clear of
Internal Security. You're right, I have better things to do with my
"Speaking of which," Lady Grey said "We have a
The tone she used made it clear it was anything but a
"Appoint officers," she replied. "Your unit is
becoming too large and your operations too broad for one man to manage.
Delegation is the mark of a successful leader."
it," he said. "I don't know how that works in the Vanguard but I suppose the
process takes some time..."
Lady Grey slid a stack of paper across the
"We have pre-approved your promotions, whenever you decide what
Jack felt his jaw drop. The forms were all blank, but signed.
She'd given him carte blance.
"I dont..." he started then began again. "I
don't get it."
"Despite your successes and Our approval of them," Lady
Grey replied "We wish to continue to maintain a visible and functional distance
between Ourselves and your operation. We have no interest in reviewing and
approving your staff."
"You want to be able to claim that you had no
idea who my officers were or even when I appointed them!?" Jack asked.
"Let us hope that you never need to find out," Lady Grey
"Lady," Jack said "this is getting too-"
The phone on her
desk rang. The sound was so jarring that Jack jumped and even Lady Grey seemed
startled. She pushed the button to put the call on speakerphone.
right in the middle..."
"You had better get down to the
labs," came Dark Watcher's sepulchral tones "Doctor Pomfroy is
For all her austere charm and royal dignity, Lady Grey
could really move when she wanted to. Her high-heeled boots left echoes down the
hallways and Jack was hard-pressed to keep up with her. She took the stairs
three at a time and before Jack could gather his thoughts, they were at the door
to Pomfroy's lab.
Lady Grey slid to a stop, gathered herself, and walked
in as if she were taking a walk in the park. Jack simply sauntered in and then
stopped dead, jaw dropping.
Blood was everywhere. It had pooled on the
floor, was smeared on the walls, and lay spattered across the mangled bodies of
half a dozen lab workers, their once white coats now stained bright
"I always forget how bright blood is..." Jack mumbled to himself
"... until I see it fresh again."
Lady Grey looked at him blankly for a
moment and turned back to the room. From the shadows, Dark Watcher stepped
"Do not touch anything until a forensics team is
here," he said.
"We understand," Lady Grey said in a quiet
Jack took a moment to collect his thoughts and cast a subtle
MacDice, he sent grab whoever's around and get down to
Pomfroy's lab right now.
Commander!? came the startled
Just do it.
Very carefully Jack took a couple of
steps forward. The Dark Watcher moved to block him but Lady Grey waved him
aside. Jack squatted down next to the bloody remains. Most of them he didn't
recognize, members of the physics lab he'd never met, but the twisted form of
Doctor Pomfroy was amongst them. The Doctor had died hard. His face was frozen
in a rictus of agony and his limbs all seemed dislocated.
touching him, Jack moved to the next body. This one had just been slashed to
ruins, and awful purple bruises showed where a powerful hand had crushed her
windpipe and snapped her neck. All of the bodies showed signs of marked violence
but only Pomfroy had been tortured. As he slowly moved amongst the wreckage,
Jack heard Lady Grey and Dark Watcher calling for assistance.
feet warned Jack of his approaching soldiers.
"Keep everyone outside of
the room, MacDice," Jack said loudly.
"On it," MacDice replied. His
mustached face peeked into the room for a sec and then twisted up in an
expression of pain. "Saints preserve us! It's the Doc! They've killed
Jack turned back to Lady Grey.
"This place is a
slaughterhouse," he said. "I think they got the whole translocation research
"Rikti do not kill like this," Lady Grey said.
didn't say it was Rikti," Jack replied. He saw Levantera and Borea step by
MacDice and enter the room. The sisters gasped in unison.
dangerously angry. Angerier than he'd felt in a long time... since he'd been on
the Rikti Homeworld and Tor'saad had brought out the Spine of Obedience... Jack
dropped those memories. They had no purpose in the here and
"...we won't know until the Forensics Team begins its
investigation," Dark Watcher was saying as Lady Grey folded her arms and
"Hell with that," Jack said. "The hell with that."
turned back to the bloody room and took off his glasses, handing them to whoever
stood behind him. His mystic vision sprang to life and after taking a moment to
focus, Jack began to peel back the veil of time. Shapes and figures moved, not
visible forms but outlines or spirits - movements on a higher plane. Jack traced
the motions through the actions and interactions of souls. After a few moments,
he rolled his focus back to the present.
"Two people were here alone,
talking," Jack said, still staring into the room, not looking back at the people
behind him. "I'm guessing the Doc and someone else. A third person knocked and
entered the room and they all stood by the computer for a minute or two. Then
one of them, Doctor Pomfroy again, I guess, made a call and his research team
trickled into the room one by one. Once they were all there, the person he'd
been talking to originally tortured him while they systemetically slaughetered
his team one by one before his eyes. When they were done, the fiddlied on the
computer a bit, then killed the Doc."
Jack turned back to the room and
reached for his glasses. Levantera had been holding them and she met his eyes
and started, going white. Jack Pentecost's eyes were pools of green fire and
gazing into them was like staring into the raging gates of hell. Jack calmly
fixed his glasses back onthe bridge of his nose and turned back to the scene of
"Only one managed to crawl off," Jack said "back over
He took a few steps around the console and behind the big
translocation unit to find a body laying face down on the floor, its Vanguard
uniform a shredded ruin.
"Oh hell," Jack muttered "it's one of
He knelt down next to the broken form of Biopulse. The mutated
engineer was cut so badly he looked like a jigsaw puzzle with a bunch of pieces
missing. Deep red blood, darker than a human's, oozed from the open wounds which
covered his body.
"Dammit," Jack muttered. "He deserved better than
He reached down and rolled the mangled once-hero over. Biopulse's
eyes were closed, their eerie glow now quenched ... or not. The Infected hero
coughed weakly and his eyes flickered open, shedding a sickly
"You're alive!?" Jack gasped, incredulous.
again. Lady Grey and her subordinates came running around the
"Take... more than... that bastard has... to... put... me down,"
"I need a medical team down here now!" Lady Grey
was shouting into some transceiver "I want this man kept alive at all
"What happened?" Jack asked.
"Came down... for that...
stupid... briefing," Biopulse said weakly. "darn... whine(r)... was talking
to... the Doc..."
"Who was?" Lady Grey demanded.
descent," Biopulse said.
"Her body is not amongst the
dead," Dark Watcher intoned.
"She asks... the Doc... all sorts...
of questions," Biopulse went on "so he... has to... get his... team down
He drew a long shuddering breath.
"Once they're... all
together... she..." he hacked weakly and spat blood "she changes into this...
this... snakey-like freakazoid guy... and goes berserk..." he coughed again. "I
hit that bastard with... everything I had... and he laughed at me. Laughed at
me... and then... his hands started... glowing with... energy and... BAM...
I'm across the room. I got... up... but he started... ripping into me...
dunno... what happened then.... blacked out."
"Take it easy, Biopulse,"
"Screw that," the Infected shouted then subsided "might not...
make it... need to know... this freaky guy... killed everyone... ripped them...
apart.... he hurt... the Doc... bad."
"Pomfroy is dead," Jack
Biopulse closed his eyes for a second.
"Sorry," he said when
he opened them again. "Couldn't... stop him."
"Jack!" MacDice called from
across the room "got some guys with a stretcher here!"
"Enough of this,"
Lady Grey said. "Let them in, MacDice! Take Biopulse to the Infirmary
immediately. We want every inch of this room examined. We want to know
what happened! And We want to see all of my Division Chiefs and you Colonel
Pentecost in the briefing room in one hour!"
The room became a
blur of activity.
*** *** ***
"We are not pleased," Lady
Grey said in a tone like a drop forge "and We demand answers."
All of the
Divisions Chiefs stood at attention around the table where Lady Grey sat and on
the other side of the table stoof Jack and Colonel Lennox, the Magdalene - head
of Lady Grey's personal Security team.
"Watcher," Lady Grey snapped
"explain to Us what is going on."
For the first time Jack had ever seen,
the Dark Watcher seemed nervous. He wrang his hands like a schoolboy called up
before the class by the teacher before recovering himself.
Protean," the Dark Watcher said.
"Protean!?" Lady Grey
"Reports indicate that Protean penetrated the Portal
Corpoations secure networks and stole several of the details of their
dimensional portal technology," Watcher went on "however, he
tripped several internal system alarms and was forced to flee the facility
before he could copy all of the plans."
"Why were We not
informed?" Lady Grey demanded. "An assault on such critical and classified
information should have resulted in an emergency bulletin going to all
parties who share any of that information!"
"Standard protocol is to send such a report through channels,"
he said, not meeting anyone's eyes "and in this case those channels run through
our U. N. representative."
"Incandescent," Lady Grey
"We believe that Protean murdered and replaced
Incandescent prior to word reaching her of the break in at Portal Corporation,"
Dark Watcher said "thus he was able to block word of the incident
from reaching and gain access to our facilities."
prior?" Lady Grey asked, her voice stern.
"We... er... we don't know,"
"You don't know!?" Lady Grey snarled. "Gentlemen,
this is not acceptable! Protean could have access to our facilities for
"We do not believe that Protean's interest was in
any of our operations nor in helping the Rikti," Dark Watcher pointed
out. "We believe his sole interest was the portal technology. By accessing
our files, he was able gain the missing pieces to the data he stole from Portal
"We do not care what you believe!" Lady Grey
shouted. "We wants facts not idle suppositions!"
say," Dark Watcher replied.
"Why did he want this information?"
Lady Grey asked.
"We don't know yet," Dark Watcher
"We are not amused," Lady Grey snapped. "Furthermore," she
continued, turning to where Levantera and Borea sat "We wish to know how this
vile shapeshifter was able to replace one of Our key personnel and penetrate
this facility entirely undetected!"
Levantera and Borea stared at each
other for a moment, their faces white.
"And how was this miscreant able
sit next to Us in council and not be discovered!" Lady Grey said, turning her
anger on the Magdalene. Colonel Lennox snapped to attention.
defense," Jack Pentecost said slowly "Protean has fooled Longbow, the Freedom
Phalanx, Hero Corps, Manticore and Back Alley Bralwer."
Grey's eyes blazed.
"I don't need your help," the Magdalene said
through gritted teeth, somehow managing to speak without moving her lips. Jack
doubted anyone else in the room had heard her.
"You're getting it
anyway," JackPentecost whispered quietly.
"Drop dead," the
"Colonel Pentecost," Lady Grey said, oblivious to the
exchange between her subordinates "you alone managed to warn Us of something
amiss with Incandescent and We disregarded your opinion. We regret that now.
However, now is not the time for your typical levity. We need answers and
We do not have them!"
She whirled on Gaussian and Dark
"We want to know the fate of Incandescent! We want to know
how long this thing has been impersonating her! We want to know
what he had access to, what he took and where he went and we want to know
Both men swallowed and nodded.
She rounded on Levantera,
Borea and the Magdalene.
"Obviously Our secuity is wholly
inadequate!" Lady Grey thundered. "We want to know how anyone,
anyone, shapeshfter, spirit or superbeing could enter the most secure
areas of Our demense, slaughter Our subjects and simply saunter out of our
facility! And once We know how this could possibly have happened We want to know
what you are going to do to prevent it from ever happening
None of the women dared make a sound.
Pentecost," Lady Grey said, turning back to him. Her voice was as sweet as honey
which somehow made it all the more sinister. "We have a special job for
"We have been contacted by the FBSA regarding this
Protean," she said sweetly. "A Special Agent Jenni Adair has been recommended to
us. She has some theories as to his activities and has requested information
from Us given recent occurences. We have spoken with her and an associate of
hers, one Keith Nance. He very urgently wishes to speak with you and your team.
We believe that these agents are on the trail of the very same Protean. We wish
you to offer them every assistance."
"We do not believe you fully understand Us," Lady Grey said. "We
wish to make certain."
Jack raised an eyebrow.
"We wish you to
take every resource at your disposal and locate this Protean," Lady Grey said.
"We wish you to track down this man who has violated Our home, murdered Our
people and stolen from Us and We wish you to make certain that his vile presence
no longer continues to pollute this planet. We want Protean dead.
We do not wish to hear of his arrest or his detention. We want him to suffer Our
just and terrible vengeance! Are we clear!?"
"Quite clear," Jack
Pentecost said. "I want to make one thing clear..."
"We do not require
your opinion," Lady Grey seethed. "Ours is the Right of High and Low
Justice and Ours is the Right to dispense it as We see fit!"
to me very carefully," Jack Pentecost snarled and his voice brooked no
refusal. "I am not an assassin. I do not accept commissions to
murder people. I'll do this - I will hunt down and kill Protean like the
scum he is because he wasted Doc Pomfroy and I liked Doc Pomfroy. I'll do
it because he probably killed Biopulse and the poor guy deserved better
than that. I won't do it because you're paying me to do it and I won't do
it just because you want me to."
"We do not care as to your reasons,"
Lady Grey said in a cold tone. "We care only for your results."
enough," Jack Pentecost replied.
"You have Our permission to be about
your business," Lady Grey informed him. Jack turned and waked from the room.
Before he could close the door, he could hear Lady Grey snapping orders out at
her Division Chiefs.
Jack stood in the hallway and breathed deeply for a
moment, gathering himself. A very concerned Michiko stood at attention infront
"Get ahold of everyone you can," Jack said "and tell them all to
meet me in Talos Island in two hours. We need to find Field Agent Keith Nance.
Let them know I'll fill them in along the way."
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions: Ten
(This takes place following the Keith Nance's missions and immediately prior to Jenni Adair's missions.)
A battered but triumphant team of Lancers stepped into the Embarkation Zone. MacDice and the newest recruit, Razortail, were arguing over kill counts again and the Star Queen and Pole Shift were studiously avoiding one another. Jack wondered if they’d gotten into some kind of argument. He sighed and shook his head.
“Take a couple of minutes people,” Jack Pentecost said “and grab something to eat. We’ll be cleaning up and heading out again shortly.”
He looked up to see Lady Grey standing at the end of the hallway. Her arms were crossed and her expression was as cold and unforgiving as an iceberg.
“Protean is not dead,” she intoned.
“We never even saw Protean,” Jack replied. “This Nance guy went off on some kind of bizarre tirade on how members of the Lance were causing havoc across the city. Apparently some of us were spotted at the Faultline dam and attacking Mirror Spirit.”
“Dollars to doughnuts Protean’s managed to build himself a portal,” Jack said “and he’s managed to locate and recruit versions of us from some parallel universe to assist him.”
“Why couldn't this be Protean himself using his shape changing abilities?”
“He would have had to have been in two places at the same time to do that,” Jack replied “and I’m seriously hoping that’s not an ability Protean has developed.”
“We understand,” Lady Grey said.
“We also managed to scrag a couple of these doubles,” Jack replied “and I can guarantee you that they weren’t Protean. I am getting tired of killing versions of myself, though.”
“I’m not,” MacDice replied . “Getting tired of killing versions of you, that is.”
“Pipe down, sergeant,” Jack snapped. “If I wanted jokes I’d hire a comedy troupe.”
“Why use doubles of you and your team?” Lady Grey asked.
“Either to throw us off, as a distraction, or possibly to discredit us with the FBSA,” Jack guessed.
"What are your next steps?” Lady Grey said.
“Portals take a lot of power,” Jack said “and they throw off a unique energy signature. We’re scheduled to meet up with Jenni Adair in a few hours and try to locate where Protean’s base of operations is. Hopefully we can bust in there and waste him before he finishes whatever he needed all this portal technology to do.”
“Then do not waste your time in idle chatter,” Lady Grey said “be about your business.”
“Get a move on people,” he said. “Don’t stop and gawk. We’re on a timetable here.” He turned back to Lady Grey. “I’ll give you an update when we get back.”
“We would expect nothing less,” Lady Grey nodded her dismissal. The Lancers broke up and began making their way into the Compound. When the last set of echoing footsteps had faded from the Embarkation Zone, Lady Grey turned to a darkened corner of the room. “Your report, Watcher?” she asked.
The shadows coalesced into the grim form of the Dark Watcher. He adjusted the brim of his hat with both hands before stepping more into the light.
“We have yet to determine the exact time of Incandescent’s replacement or what exactly transpired,” he said.
“That is not acceptable,” Lady Grey snapped.
“I am certain, however,” Dark Watcher went on “that is was less than six weeks ago. Incandescent made a public display of her powers at the World Cup and for all of his prowess, Protean is unable to duplicate another’s abilities. It could not have been him.”
“Unless he found some trick or technology to further his deception,” Lady Grey said.
“In a public stadium?” Dark Watcher pointed out “In front of thousands of people? Unlikely. Given the generally close-fitting or scanty attire Incandescent favored, it would be difficult to conceal any complex or bulky technology. I consider it more likely Protean replaced her at a later date.”
“We expect greater progress in your investigation,” Lady Grey replied. “You will resume your efforts and We shall ask Gaussian to assist you.”
“I would prefer not to duplicate efforts,” Dark Watcher replied. “I will get results.”
“We will expect some shortly then,” Lady Grey said. “In the interim, We must find a replacement for Incandescent, someone who can handle the unique duties of heading the Herald.”
“A difficult role which she was uniquely suited for,” Dark Watcher said. “Are you asking for suggestions?”
“No,” Lady Grey sighed. “The truth is there is only one person We can think of who would even stand a chance at stepping into Incandescent’s place. His record of successes is nearly unmatched and he worked closely with her on numerous occasions. While there has been some friction between him and some of Our other Division Chiefs, he has never failed at any task we have set him to.”
The Dark Watcher blinked.
“No,” he said then “please, no. Please tell me that you are not talking about-”
“Exactly,” Lady Grey replied. “Recall the Envoy.”
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions: Eleven
(This immediately follows the Jenni Adair missions.)
The air was filled with acrid soot and it burned his throat as Jack struggled to breathe. For what seemed the millionth time he wiped the sweat from his eyes and readied another spell. The battle had set most of the lab equipment on fire and the generators by the portal were spewing vile clouds of toxic ash that made the whole room seem murky. The huge metal rings which formed the portal aperture were screaming, making the most awful sounds Jack had ever heard something inanimate make - but at least no more neo-nazis were coming through it.
This entire operation was coming apart and the whole team was looking ragged for the simple reason that Protean would not die. Even as Jack watched a bloody and soot-stained MacDice raced in, blades extended. For a moment blood flew everywhere and their enemy was covered with a dozen gaping wounds... but then the wounds closed an Protean's hand were glowing with crimson energy. He lashed out at MacDice and only the man's preternatural speed enabled him to dodge the attack.
They needed to come up with something different, something Protean wasn't expecting. The team was going to wear down long before he did, and the results wouldn't be pretty. This day has just gone from bad to worse, Jack reflected.
The morning had started with his sitting in the infirmary next to Biopulse's bed. Despite the fact that Biopulse looked like a radioactive zombie, he certainly wasn't as resilient as one. His man to man battle with Protean had left him so badly mauled it was a wonder he was still alive. The doctors had the unconscious man hooked up to a dozen machines and it was all they could do to keep him alive. Apparently his physiology was so severely mutated from the norm that typical measures were of limited effectiveness - or so the physicians said. They were at a loss what to do next. They'd managed to stabilize Biopulse, but beyond that it was up to fate.
"Got some good news and some bad news," Jack said to the unconscious man. "The good news is, believe it or not, you've been awarded the Purple Heart for services rendered." Jack laid the little case with the medal and ribbon in it on the night stand. "The bad news is, we still don't have a clue where Protean is, so I'm not too sure if we're going to be able to get payback for what happened to you-"
The communicator on his belt buzzed. Jack picked it up and the little holo-display activated.
"Pentecost," Jack said. "Talk to me."
"This is Special Agent Adair," a sharp voice said. Jenni Adair was a petite woman with dark hair but her every movement crackled with a barely contained energy that made her seem twice her size. That somehow came across even through her voice and the fuzzy little image in the holo-field. "We've got a location on that rogue portal. It's in on old warehouse on Talos Island."
"We're there," Jack said. "Thanks, Jenni."
"Stop Protean," Special Agent Adair said "and be careful, Jack, the man is dangerous."
"Not as dangerous as we are," Jack assured her. He clicked the transceiver off and the image disappeared. "Good news, bud," he said to Biopulse "we've got a solid lead on the guy who did this to you. If we find him, we're going to be bringing him back in pieces."
Jack's Lancer team had armed itself to the teeth before using poor Doc Pomfroy's translocation device to teleport them right to the warehouse. It had been a moment's work to charm the locked gate open and go in, guns blazing - which they'd needed to do as the old warehouse was simply a facade for a major Fifth Column base.
The Fifth Column were a bunch of fascist madmen spawned by the super-powered survivors of the Axis' attempt to conquer the world. Despite endless attempts to exterminate the Nazi group, it somehow managed to survive, always coming back and striking from some hidden vantage point. The "warehouse" was a classic Fifth Column operation. A rusty shell on the outside, on the inside it boasted a dozen underground levels and a seemingly endless horde of red-and-black garbed goons armed with machine guns, rifles, rocket launchers and flame throwers.
Not that any amount of paramilitary nutjobs with conventional weapons stood a chance against the Lancers. Jack's team had ruthlessly fought their way down level by level, clearing every room and leaving nothing alive behind them. Jack had mystically sealed every exit as they moved forward, making certain no one could escape if they managed to get by his assault force. If Protean was in this base, he'd have no chance of slipping out, no matter what form he shape-changed into.
They'd finally managed to force their way into an enormous red-lit laboratory, dominated by a massive portal gateway - a huge device made up of circular rings which generated an energy-field capable of bridging the gap between dimensions. Even as Pole Shift kicked the heavy steel security doors to the room open, a company of soldiers was rushing from the gateway and into the room. The newcome army looked for direction to one man who stood before the portal laughing, and that man was Protean.
The arch-villain certainly wasn't much to look at - a thin man in a ratty trench coat and brown hat wearing a rumpled pair of pants and little else. His skin was more reptilian than human and his eyes glowed with an eerie yellow light. Protean radiated a malevolence that belied his slim form. He seemed to have an almost superhuman aura of menace.
Those inhuman yellow eyes took in the tide of angry Lancers that charged into the room and Protean's mouth smiled a hungry smile that showed far too many pointed teeth.
"Pentecost, you think you can stop this?" he laughed. "Funny. I'll enjoy making you scream for mercy - just like Incandescent."
The man's sheer confidence was unnerving. Jack realized that Protean had been well aware that his base was under assault and simply had not cared. He had sacrificed all of his troops simply to buy himself enough time to get his portal properly aligned. He viewed this attack by the Lancers as an annoyance and not as a threat.
It was time to teach him otherwise.
"Take this asshat down," Jack snapped and the team had sprung into motion.
That seemed like hours ago. The newly arrived Fifth Column troops had fallen quickly but the battle with Protean was unending. The Lancer's close-in fighters, MacDice, Teen Tyten, Pole Shift, Star Queen and the rest had been on the murdering shape-shifter in an instant but Protean would not go down. He took wounds that would kill a dozen men and just shrugged them off. His hands glowed with a pulsating energy that left brutal wounds and he was strong enough to bodily hurl people across the room. Maridian's healing talents were hard-pressed to keep up with the injuries that Protean dealt out and Jack had tried every spell he could think of to no avail. Protean could be staggered but he couldn't be brought down no matter what the team did.
The titanic struggled had raged around the room and as energies had flared and powers had been unleashed, the equipment powering the portal had finally succumbed and exploded into flames. This had seemed to cause Protean more distress than anything else the Lancer team had done and the angry shapeshifter had lashed out in a frenzy. His anger made him vulnerable but despite the fact that he'd taken twice as many wounds as before, it made no difference.
Protean would not die.
"How is he doing this?" Jack muttered. Razortail ducked under a powerful swing and his spines cut into Protean's chest and stomach. Unfazed, the shapechanger hit the young Japanese warrior hard enough that Razortail skidded fifteen feet across the room before getting up and moving in again.
"Doing what?" Bunni asked. She'd shielded the entire group, each Lancer had a glowing energy field around them - bright pink no less - and Jack was certain without this added level of protection he'd have had casualties on his hands already.
"Healing like that," Jack said. "Standing up. No one is immortal. No one is indestructible. He has to be getting all this energy to keep himself going from somewhere. Anyone - even Statesman or Recluse or whoever you want to name - isn't invincible. They can be hurt. They can injured. It just takes a lot. This guy - nothing gets to him. How's he doing it?"
Jack gestured and launched a volley of green and purple mystical energy that crackled as it flew across the room. It hit Protean in a wave and for a moment he shook in place, twitching, until he shook off the effect and continued the fight.
Maridian looked up from where she'd been healing MacDice.
"He's draining it from us," she said.
"He draws his power from those around him," she said. "He's leeching it from us. That's why we can't finish him off. I can see it."
"Really!?" Jack said.
"See for yourself," Maridian said and put her hand on the back of Jack's head. For a moment his vision blurred and then he could see. A sickly yellow-black field extended around Protean, an awful miasma that pulsed and during its strong pulses it latched on to anyone around him and drained their life forces. Protean was literally stealing his enemies' life to heal himself.
"Crap," Jack muttered. "Everyone! Get away from him!"
"What!?" MacDice shouted.
Jack's hands moved through an elaborate series of gestures and a wide greenish smog rolled across the floor under Protean. The reptilian killer's movements slowed noticeably and the Lancer team had time to scramble away.
"This isn't over," Protean laughed. "Manticore couldn't kill me. What makes you think YOU can!?"
Straining as hard as he could, Protean's form seemed to be running in slow motion - moving closer and closer to the group.
"He's stealing our own energy to heal himself," Jack explained to his ragged team. "Anyone who's close to him is just making him stronger."
"I don't think we have the juice to kill him at range," Teen Tyten said.
"I am open to suggestions," Pole Shift put in.
Jack's boosted vision could still see Protean's energy field pulsing, but the time between pulse's was slower now. Apparently the spell Jack had cast had not only affected Protean's movement but whatever part of his metabolism controlled his healing power.
"I've slowed his healing factor down," Jack said "but nowhere near enough."
"He'll be out of your field in a minute," Maridian pointed out.
"No problem, I can cast another one," Jack replied.
"So the best we can achieve is to cause our foe to take fifteen minutes to walk across the room and escape instead of three," Razortail said. "Respectfully, this is suboptimal."
"Why don't we call for help?" Bunni asked.
"Call whom?" he said. "Vanguard? If we can't hurt this guy-"
"No," Bunni went on "the PPD."
"The Paragon Police Department!?"
"He's almost out of the field!" Maridian warned.
Jack tuned and repeated his earlier gestures. A new field formed with Protean at the center. The shape shifter began cursing.
"I have a couple of friends who are PPD auxiliaries," Bunni explained "we used to have a girl's night out on alternate Fridays. They have kind of like slow-y powers. You made a big splash with the PPD enhanced units when your Lancer team helped them out during those Lost riots a month ago. Ask them for help."
"You have friends with 'slow-y powers'," Jack said.
"Yeah," Bunni said. "They're PPD auxiliaries."
"Stop," Jack said. He handed her his transceiver. "Call them. Get them. At this point I'll try anything."
Bunni took the unit and dashed off. Jack turned to his battered team.
"Let's lock this guy down until reinforcements get here!" he said. The whole team of Lancers piled onto Protean and knocked him to the ground. Jack heard the distinctive rumbling that was Pole Shift forming some sort of molten weapon and then he saw the shape changer fly across the room and crash into a computer console. Luminous Lad's form exploded into a blaze of white light and in its place was a radiant floating form, an eerie ethereal being the sailed through the air and unleashed a dazzling array of white energy that blasted Protean again and again. Just as the angry killer regained his feet, Razortail and MacDice were on him, blades and spines slicing.
Unconcerned with actually hurting Protean, it was less effort to keep the man simply so occupied he stood no chance of leaving. Jack tossed bolts of crackling energy while the rest of the team knocked Protean around. Maridian made sure no one got too hurt in the process. Gradually Protean's effort turned from trying to kill or cripple his enemies to moving out of the room, as if he realized the Lancer team was up to something, but between the variety of attacks coming in and the valiant efforts of the Lancers' fighters, he never got very far.
The Lancers couldn't hurt Protean but Protean couldn't get away from them. Jack's biggest concern now was the building burning down before Bunni got back. The flames were starting to lick at the ceiling and the rings screaming in the portal array were starting to wobble.
"Colonel," Bunni said from behind him and Jack jumped. He could've sworn she hadn't been there a moment before. "This is Fortissima and Nitroshout."
Jack blinked and almost swore. Between them Bubble Bunni, Fortissima and Nitroshout looked like some sort of cross between Charlie's Angels and the Power Puff Girls. Jack opened his mouth to say something and then closed it, he was in no position to be critical.
"We need to slow this guy down," Jack said. "Way down. He's healing himself by draining the life from everyone around him and we can't let him get away."
"On it," one of the girls said - Jack thought she was Nitroshout - and a weird greenish-blue light flickered from her. Suddenly all of the Lancers were moving faster and Protean was moving slower.
"Piece of cake," the other one said and did something similar. Jack cast his spell again and the greenish smog rolled out under Protean again. The pulsing energy leeching field Protean gave off had slowed to where it has almost stopped.
"Hit him now!" Jack said. "Give it everything you've got!"
The Lancers jumped on the shape shifter and now bruises and wounds that appeared on his reptilian body did not instantly heal.
"We've got him!" Jack crowed.
"OHMIGOD!" Fortissima shouted. "That's Protean!"
"Welcome to the big time," Jack replied. Luminous Lad hit Protean with a burst of pure white light that staggered the shape changer. Protean fell to one knee.
"This isn't the end!" Protean shouted and steadied himself. His hands began to glow even brighter. Jack could see the leeching pulse starting.
"Everyone back away from him!" he yelled. As one, the Lancer team withdrew. Bunni's friends renewed their efforts to keep Protean's speed reduced and Jack re-cast his own spell. Once the pulse had passed, the Lancer team moved in again. Protean took a massive swing at the Star Queen but the alien ruler was easily able to duck under the blow and grab Protean's arm. Jack could hear bones break as she brought the limb down over one knee. Protean screamed and wrenched himself free.
Teen Tyten raced in behind the shapeshifter and launched a kick that hit Protean's spine. Grabbing his foe by both shoulders, Tyten rolled backwards and brought Protean down to the floor hard. The shape changer laid there twitching.
"Finally!" Jack enthused and just at that moment the portal array ring's crashed out of the frame. The entire building shook. Flames were now crackling everywhere and the room began to shake violently.
"Get out of here!" Jack said to Fortissima and Nitroshout. They looked at him. "Run! The whole place is going to blow!"
"What about you!?" one of them asked.
"We can teleport out, you can't!" Jack shouted. "Run!"
The two took off at super-accelerated lightning speed. Another explosion rocked the floor and Jack staggered his way forward to where a broken Protean lay on the floor, vainly trying to regain his feet in ultra-slow motion. There were maybe minutes before the entire complex came down but minutes would be enough. Jack was glad he'd had an excuse to get the two PPD members out of the building.
Protean slowly raised his head and spat blood.
"You think there's a jail out there that can hold me?" he laughed.
"I don't think I care," Jack said. He knocked Protean's hat off and discovered the reptilian shapechanger was bald.
"Going to kill me over that Incandescent fluff?" Protean scoffed.
"I never knew her," Jack said. "This is for Doctor Pomfroy-"
"The geek and the zombie!?" Protean choked. "How sad is that."
Somewhere a generator blew and the floor tilted at a dangerous angle.
"Boss, we don't have time for speeches," Tyten said nervously.
"You're right about that," Jack said. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a bag. "MacDice!"
There was a whisper of steel and a flash and Protean's head was on the floor. Jack picked it up and put it in the sack.
"You're taking his head!?" Bunni asked.
"I know how these things work," Jack said. "Sometimes it's better to make sure."
Beneath his feet, Jack could hear beams buckling.
"Let's go," Jack said. "We're done here."
*** *** ***
It was late at night and Lady Grey was going over the manpower reports for the Sword when there was a soft knock at her door. Somewhat surprised at being disturbed at such an odd hour, she knew better than to display any such emotion and didn't even bother to look up as she continued her review.
"Enter," she said. The door opened and she could feel the distinctive aura of Colonel Pentecost come into her office.
"What can We do for-" she began when something hit her desk with an awful and distinctive thud. Lady Grey started and jerked back in her chair. A soggy and somewhat soot-stained bag lay on the center of her desk. Its contents were just about the right size and shape for...
"There's your parcel," Jack said. "You can mount it on the wall or stick on a spike or whatever you royalty-types do with such things."
"So Protean is dead?" Lady Grey asked, her composure completely recovered.
"As dead as we can make him," Jack replied. "Maybe he can regenerate like an earthworm or bud a new head or split into two like an amoeba or something. Nothing surprises me these days."
"We are satisfied to know that he has suffered as he caused others to suffer," Lady Grey replied.
"Yeah," Jack said.
"You dislike the task We set you to," Lady Grey said. "It bothers you, Colonel Pentecost. This is what fueled your little head-bouncing escapade a moment ago, yes?"
"It's not..." Jack began, then stopped. "It doesn't... it doesn't feel clean."
"And fighting the Rikti does?"
"Actually, yes," Jack replied. "Otherwise I wouldn't do it."
"We are over five centuries old, Colonel Pentecost," Lady Grey said "and We have seen much in Our time. One thing We have learned in all those years is this: there are some people who cannot be made dead enough. If anyone deserved such a fate, it was Protean. In fact, We strongly feel that his punishment was in fact too lenient."
"Yeah," Jack said. "I know that. In my head. Still doesn't feel right."
"But you have no qualms about fighting or killing other sentients at Our command?" Lady Grey asked. "Why? Do you not acknowledge the justice in Protean's death?"
Jack mused for a second before replying.
"You weren't interested in justice," he said then "you were interested in revenge. You wanted Protean dead because he poached on your territory, not because he was a cold-blooded killer. The right or wrong of it didn't matter to you. He'd offended your pride and you wanted him dead for it."
"That is Our burden to bear, Colonel Pentecost," Lady Grey said.
"And because he'd killed a friend of mine, I went along with it," Jack said. "It doesn't sit right with me. Maybe it never will. And that's my problem. I'm just telling you, I don't like it. Next time you need someone assassinated, call the Stiletto."
"We are certain We have no idea what you are talking about," Lady Grey said.
"I didn't think so," Jack said. He turned and left the room, closing the door behind him. After a moment, Lady Grey returned to her manpower reports, the bag containing Protean's head carefully placed in her inbox, where it wouldn't stain the leather of her desktop.
*** *** ***
Taro Tokugawa stared at the shreds that had once been a towel. The mutant known as Razortail had luxuriated in the endless hot water of the shower - the battle against Protean had left him covered in soot, blood, sweat and who knew what unmentionable fluids and a long hot steaming shower had seemed like a dream come true. Unfortunately, he had slipped while drying his hair and the towel had caught on a couple of the razor-tipped spines his mutant body sported. What followed would have been a great routine for a vaudeville act and in the end had left his spines covered in little white wisps of wet cotton and him holding a soggy pile of white rags. A certain sense of propriety had forced him to remain in the washroom until he had hand-picked every tuft of cotton off of his body, but the towel could not be fixed.
With a sigh, he tossed it in the garbage bin. Taro was especially glad that no one from the unit had been there to see his escapade. While he enjoyed the weird camaraderie the Lancers had evolved, Razortail knew he'd never have been able to live down MacDice's comments if he'd been caught doing the "tear off the stuck towel" dance.
Tying the waistband of his elastic "Vanguard shorts", Taro walked out of the bathroom and stopped dead. There was a little blonde girl in the men's barracks.
"Excuse me, miss," Taro said politely "but you must be lost. I can escort you to the recreation hall if you'd like and you can find your parents or your escort there."
The blonde girl looked up at him and her mouth scrunched into a wry expression.
"Look, Pokey," she said in an annoyed voice "I am not some lost kid. I'm Lancer Penelope Sequeda, also known as Pip Squeak. I was cutting through the hall here to get to the elevators, and I heard these weird ripping sounds from the men's room. I was debating going in when you came out."
"I am Taro Tokugawa," Razortail replied carefully "better known as Razortail. I would love to join in your game, but there is dangerous equipment here and it is not a place for children. We can play pretend upstairs in the main gymnasium if you wish and I can-"
"You don't listen real well, do you?" the little girl said, shaking her head. Her braids danced back and forth.
"English is not my native language," Taro replied "but I am quite fluent. I also know that the Vanguard does not permit underage recruits. If you are lost, I can perhaps..."
"I'm not lost," the girl said, angry now "and I'm not underaged! Forget it. I'm out of here."
"Unauthorized personnel are not allowed access to Lancer facilities without escort," Taro pointed out. "I can direct you to the elevators or the stairs and-"
"You keep this up, I'm going to bust you one," the girl threatened.
"I am probably three times your weight," Razortail said "and covered in spines. Attacking me would be futile-"
"That's what you think."
"Let me take you upstairs and we'll see if the cafeteria has ice cream while we wait for your parents," Taro said gently, reaching for her arm.
The next thing he knew he was flying across the room. Razortail hit the wall with a bang and slid downwards onto his head. He found himself upside down, looking between his legs at the little girl, who was rolling up one sleeve.
"You touch me again, Pokey, and I'm going to break something!" she said.
"What the hell is going on here!?" a voice shouted and they both turned to see Jack Pentecost standing in the doorway to the men's barracks.
"This child has assaulted me," Taro explained, rolling to his feet.
"This jackass..." the girl began but Jack waved them both to silence.
"Enough," he said. "I can guess what happened. Get out of the men's barracks Squeak and don't let me catch you in here again."
"Squeak! Either you can obey orders or you can't."
"Sir! Yes, sir!"
"Hitting fellow soldiers will be a court martial offence when you pick up your stripes," Jack said. "Head down to McCabe's office and see him about the paperwork."
"I read your fitness report and the after action report on that mess in Bloody Bay. I'm making you a sergeant."
"Is there an echo in here?"
The girl left without another word.
"She hit me and you promoted her!" Razortail said, incredulous.
"Kid, that was Lancer Pip Squeak," Jack said. "She's not twelve, she just looks it. She's also super strong and has anger management problems. She may look like a refugee from middle school but she's hell on wheels in the field. You do as well as she does, you'll have your own stripes. Until then, steer clear of her for a while."
"Just leave her alone," Jack said. "You didn't know and now you do. That's that."
"But she hit me..." Taro began but trailed off when he saw his commanding officer staring at his face. "What?"
“I think you’re going to have one hell of a shiner there,” Jack said.
“Shiner?” Razortail asked, unfamiliar with the term.
“Black eye,” Jack replied “although in your case I guess it would be ‘orange eye’.”
“Your pardon,” Razortail replied “but my skin is yellow.”
“Looks orange to me,” Jack said.
“It must be the lighting,” Razortail explained “in normal sunlight, I assure you, I am yellow.”
“If you say so,” Jack replied. “You’re still going to have one hell of an orange eye in the morning.”
Taro was about to make a witty rejoinder but his eye caught motion behind Jack and he stopped dead as Bubble Bunni walked into the barracks. Jack turned to see what had caused Razortail to pause and his jaw almost dropped.
Bunny was wearing a few scraps of purple armor strategically placed over purple lingerie, high heels and a mask. The effect was devastating.
Jack coughed once before speaking.
"New outfit, BB?" he asked.
"You like it?" she asked.
"It's ... well ... stunning," Jack admitted "although it might be a little risqué."
"Is that a problem?"
"Er ... no."
"Then thanks!" Bunni enthused "I'm off to HVAS training. Catch you guys later!"
Jack and Taro watched Bunni walk away and then turned to look at each other.
"Enlistment in your unit was nothing like I expected," Taro admitted.
"It does have its unexpected advantages," Jack replied.
"Indeed," Razortail said, then winced as his eye started to ache "and disadvantages. Excuse me."
*** *** ***
With a sigh, Jack settled into the chair behind his desk. There were new stacks of paperwork and forms all over it. He sighed.
"What is all this junk!?" he asked.
Michiko stuck her head in the office door.
"I have sorted the requisition forms and approvals in alphabetical order," she said. "Your base construction project has generated a number of invoices. Also, your 'Tin Mage' project requires multiple signatures to the project plans."
"Lovely," Jack said. He picked up a pen and began signing. "Is there anything else?"
“Lady Grey suggested that you promote additional officers in the Lance,” Michiko reminded him.
“Yeah,” Jack said. “I’ve got a couple of ideas. A couple of people are natural leaders. I’ll make some sergeants while I’m at it. I’ve already put stripes on Pip Squeak.”
“You promoted Penelope Sequeda!?”
“Once you get past her appearance, she’s got a really good head on her shoulders,” Jack said. “I’m hoping some responsibility will help keep her temper under control.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
“As fast they come in, they can go right out again,” Jack said.
“Being demoted or drummed out of the service would crush her,” Michiko said after a moment.
“Squeak isn’t a problem,” Jack said. “I’m more worried about BB.”
“Marissa Blankton? Why? She’s trying very hard to fit in,” Michiko pointed out “and to make up for her lack of any military background or training.”
“She’s pushing the very edge of acceptable clothing,” Jack replied “and I don’t want to give that wackjob running Internal Security any more ammo to use against the Lance.”
“Perhaps you can kill two birds with one stone,” Michiko said. A mischievous smile flickered across her face. “When the subject of promotions came up, I reviewed the regulations on officers. Here.” She placed the open manual in front of Jack. “Read Article 18.104.22.168”
Jack scanned the page for a minute and then started laughing.
“That’s perfect,” he said. “That’s perfect. Done. Done and done!”
“I was kidding,” Michiko pointed out.
“I’m not. Let me clear all this stuff off my desk and fill out the forms and then I'll have you call our new officers in here."
"Can't have just one," Jack said. He worked feverishly through the piles of forms on his desk until he'd authorized every one. That killed the better part of an hour. It took him minutes to fill out two promotion requests. Since Lady Grey had pre-signed them, they took effect immediately. He handed them to Michiko who looked them over, sighed and handed them back.
Jack put the two forms down on his desk and waited while the lieutenant went out to find his two new officers. After a moment she returned with the Star Queen and Bubble Bunni. The two women stood to attention, an odd mix - one a towering brunette martial amazon, the other a diminutive blond ex-dancer.
"Sit down, ladies," Jack said. He slid the forms across his desk. "In recognition of your ability, your leadership potential and my experiences in the field with both of you, I am immediately promoting you both to officer. Congratulations, Lieutenant Star Queen. Congratulations, Lieutenant Bubble Bunni."
The Star Queen bowed her head for a moment.
"I am honored by your recognition," she replied. "Thank you for the faith you have shown in me."
"After ruling an entire planet, I expect it's small potatoes," Jack said "but I have no doubt you'll do your usual superb job."
"No position where you are responsible for lives is a small one," the Star Queen answered. "I will do my best to safeguard the people entrusted to me and to fulfill my duties."
"I never doubted that," Jack said. He turned to Bunni. She was wide-eyed, staring at the paper like it was a viper.
"I'm an officer?" she said. "Me?"
"You are now officially Lieutenant Blankton," Jack said.
"I'm not- I don't-" Bunni fell silent.
"You think fast," Jack said. "You react well. You keep your head when everything come unstuck and you're not a violence obsessed maniac."
"I'm not- I don't-"
"You've never missed a single op since you joined the unit," Jack went on. "You never complain and you always get things done. I notice little things like that."
"I'm not- I don't-"
"I think you will do an excellent job in your new role," the Star Queen said. Bunni turned to her. "If you need any advice or assistance, I will be there to help you."
Bunni nodded and turned back to Jack.
"Thank you," she said quietly.
"You're very welcome," Jack replied. Bunni stood suddenly and after a moment the Star Queen followed her. Both women saluted. "I'll have Michiko post your new promotions at once. Go and enjoy yourselves."
Bunni nodded and the Star Queen smiled, they turned to leave.
"Star Queen," Jack said. She stopped and looked back "can I speak with you for a moment?"
"What can I do for you?"
"Not to pry," Jack said "but to be clear, as an officer, fraternizing with enlisted personal, in a romantic way, is expressly forbidden."
"I do not follow."
"I've seen the way you and Pole Shift look at each other sometimes-"
The Star Queen snorted.
"The man is little more than a brutal thug. I wish nothing to do with him."
"No problem then," he said. The alien queen nodded and left. Wordlessly Michiko entered his office and Jack handed her the promotion forms.
"Will that be all?" she asked.
"No," Jack replied "I've also promoted Pole Shift to Sergeant. We need to make sure that he and the Star Queen aren't assigned to the same squad ... and make sure that Razortail isn't ever put under Pip Squeak."
"I'll make a chart showing possible squad assignments based on personality conflicts."
"I don't know that that will be necessary," Jack said.
"It will be," Michiko asserted.
"Mari will be at my desk for a bit while I go and post your staff changes," Michiko explained.
"That's fine," Jack said. He pulled up the personnel roster and Michiko walked from the room. He might need to make a few more sergeants. For now, two officers should be enough. The Lance had a lot of transient members but it rarely fielded more than twenty at any one time. Two officers should be enough to run multiple missions simultaneously, or to take over in the field if he was incapacitated. There was a cheery thought. A soft cough broke Jack’s concentration and he looked up from the list on his desk. A short blond man in a dark suit and mirrored sunglasses was standing there.
“Can I help you with something?” Jack asked.
“I’ve been assigned to your unit,” the man said in a calm voice. He dropped a pile of paperwork on the desk.
“Assigned?” Jack asked. No one had been assigned to the Lancers. Every member had been run by Jack first. He glanced down at the papers and saw a transfer form signed by Gaussian. “You have a name?”
“You’re kidding,” Jack said. He glanced down. Sure enough, first name – Agent, last name – Three. “You’re not kidding.”
Where do they find these people!? Jack wondered for the thousandth time. He sighed and reached for the phone. Gaussian picked up before the first ring was done.
“I’ve got a guy down here named Three that says he’s in the unit,” Jack said “the papers have your name all over them.”
“Don’t ask,” Gaussian said.
“What do you mean ‘don’t ask!?’,” Jack replied. “I’m asking.”
“Don’t,” Gaussian said. “He’s good. He’s in. That’s it.”
“I guess that is it,” Jack sighed. Gaussian hung up. Jack put the phone down.
“You’re in,” he told the newcomer. “Presuming you get by Sergeant McCabe’s training regimen…”
“Can I talk to you a moment?” Levantera said from the doorway. Something in her expression made Jack realize it was serious.
“Sure thing,” he said. He turned back to the blond man. “Down the hall and to your left, Recruit Three.”
“No problem,” the man said. He left as quietly as he’d entered.
“Recruit Three?” Levantera asked. “You assigning them numbers now?”
“In his case,” Jack said “I think they’ve taken away his name.”
“I know better than to ask,” Levantera said. She was shifting from foot to foot as she stood, and rubbing her hands together in front of her.
"Something bothering you, 'tera?" Jack asked. She seemed unusually nervous.
"I just- I wanted to- I..." she stopped and collected herself. "I like you..."
Jack blinked, nonplussed.
"...but I've seen what's behind your eyes," she went on, not able to meet his gaze "and what I've seen there... it's not... it's... I don't think I can be around you. But I wanted... I thought you should know."
"I understand," Jack said softly.
"It's not- it- ohhh, I promised myself I'd do it better than this," Levantera said, tears starting to run down her face. "I don't... I can't-"
Without another word she fled the room.
Jack leaned on one hand and sighed. He knew that he had a significant lack of any sort of dating experience, but he was pretty sure that being preemptively dumped was a rarity. It still felt like crap, though.
The door to his office suddenly opened and Maridian stuck her head in.
"What did you do to Levantera!?" she said. "I think she was crying."
"She realized I'm on the express elevator to Hell," Jack snapped "and wanted to get off before we hit bottom."
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions: Twelve
(This takes place immediately prior to the Terra Volta Respec Trial.)
Colonel van den Haas walked out into the bright sunlight and the soliders stationed outside snapped to attention. Fort Plum was possibly the most fought over piece of territory in the War zone. The closest Vanguard fort to where the crashed Rikti Mothership lay, it was their primary observation post of the enemy and, as such, regularly attacked by the Rikti.
The Colonel pulled himself up onto the walkway that ran around the walls and leaned out to look at the open field that lay between this fort and the massive Mothership. Hedoffed his helmet, the stupid metal things were sweat chambers in the bright summer sun, and ran a hand through his big blonde mustache. Too much sun had bleached his close-cropped hair so finely as to almost be white, making him look much older than he was - something he strongly disliked.
Motion caught his eyes and he peered out, squinting against the bright sun. A lot of Rikti were out there, moving things around behind the glowing blue shields of the Mothership. A lot more were gathering in the ruins that lay to either side. It didn't feel right. He didn't like it in the least.
They were up to something.
A hand fell on his shoulder and van den Haas started. He whirled to see the tall form of Levantera standing behind him. The Colonel stood straight and snapped off a salute.
"Ma'am," he said.
"Is something the matter, Colonel?" she asked.
"Rikti are coming," he said. "I can feel it. They're up to something."
"Call Serpent Drummer and ask for reinforcements," Levantera said. She'd learned to respect van den Haas' hunches. "Fortify along this line. I'll have Borea bring up the armored units."
"Dunno what's up," the Colonel said tersely. "Don't like it."
*** *** ***
Jack Pentecost slid another rack of clothing out of the way and moved deeper into the store room. He had never seen a place so cluttered. There was barely room to move in the dimly lit area, so tightly packed were the clothing racks.
"Don't you organize this stuff, Mabel!?" he snapped. The room was filled with rolling racks of uniforms, armor and jackets.
"Don't need to," she said, somewhere behind him. "Recruits come in big bunches. When we need ta outfit 'em, we just roll all the racks out. No point in keeping the place well sorted. Encourages poachers."
Jack laughed. His eye caught a line of bulky jackets and slid a rack out.
"This is exactly what I'm looking for!" he crowed. He began rummaging down the line of jackets, looking for his size.
"An armored flack jacket?" Mabel groused. "What for?"
"I broke five ribs fighting a giant sword-wielding demon," Jack said. "I need something with a little more resistance than ballistic cloth."
"We have full armor for that," the Supply Sergeant replied.
"Which looks a little conspicuous walking down the street," Jack said.
"Oh, a big bulky flack jacket with the Vanguard symbol on the front," she replied. "Much better! You'll fit right in, I'm sure."
"Colonel Pentecost, are you in here?" a voice called out from near the doorway. Jack recognized the clipped aristocratic tones of Lady Grey.
"Be right there!" he called. It took him a few moments to force his way to the front of the storage closet. "Trouble?"
"Not at all, Colonel," Lady Grey said. "We want you to meet someone."
Jack pushed his way into the main bay. Lady Grey turned and indicated the tall blond man standing behind her.
"Colonel Pentecost," she said "I'd like you to meet the Envoy."
"You say that name like it should mean something to me," Jack said. He turned to the man. "By the way, hi."
The Envoy was a few inches over six feet tall and handsome, movie-star handsome. He was not a big, bulky man but there was a power in the way he held himself, the sort of confidant poise that star athletes and martial artists display when they're at ease. His hair was perfect, his skin flawless, his eyes bright green and they roved Jack's dusty form, taking in his craggy face and unruly hair. The Envoy smiled a megawatt smile.
"No need to be defensive," the Envoy said in a voice that should have been coming from a radio announcer. He extended his hand. "I'm glad to meet you."
Jack took it and smiled his own sarky smile.
"You look like a toothpaste commercial," he said, then turned to Lady Grey. "Who is this guy?"
"We forget how newly returned you are to Earth," Lady Grey said. "The Envoy is Our top operative overseas. He reported directly to Incandescent, prior to her disappearance."
"Quite a pity, that," the Envoy said.
"We have recalled him to the Compound to act as interim Division Chief for the Herald until we can find a replacement for the role," Lady Grey said.
"Desk work, not quite my thing," the Envoy said "but needs must, sometimes."
"Colonel Pentecost is head of the Lance," Lady Grey went on.
"Glad to have you on the team" the Envoy said, smiling. He made the little hairs on the back of Jack's neck stand on end. Despite his glib charm, the Envoy radiated insincerity. He made Jack's skin crawl. Jack Pentecost had never met a human being so studiedly fake.
"Glad to be here," Jack said. He turned to Lady Grey. "This is your top operative."
"The Envoy's record is flawless," Lady Grey assured him.
"Come on, Colonel," the Envoy said "let's head down to the PX and chat." He put his arm around Jack's shoulders and shook him soundly. Jack fought not to shudder.
"Wonderful," Jack muttered.
"I'll leave you two to get acquainted," Lady Grey said.
"Isn't there a crisis somewhere I can respond to?" Jack pleaded.
"Sharp sense of humor there," the Envoy said. "I like it."
Despite his misgivings, Jack began walking towards the commisary. The Envoy began a running commentary of his flight from Mozambique, mentioning his being pulled from "that mess in the Congo" and "barely being able to resolve it". He seemed to automatically assume that Jack would understand what he was talking about and made no effort to explain anything. Jack barely paid attention as he struggled to come up with an excuse to get away.
He saw the Magdalene heading towards them in the hallway and realized his moment had come. The tall woman was barreling forward, lost in her own thoughts when Jack called out to her.
"Colonel Lennox," he said. "You've met the Envoy, I assume?"
"Glad to see you again, Colonel Lennox," the Envoy said, flashing that 100 watt smile. Jack realized the man had a cleft chin - not the typical linear cleft, but the kind of dimple cleft Kirk Douglas sported. "I trust Internal Security is as tight as always? Guarding Lady Grey is of vital importance not only to the Vangaurd but to the world."
Jack's eyes widened as the Magdalene blushed a deep scarlet.
"Well... I... well... er... well... yes, yes it is," she stammered, looking away. Jack had to fight not to swear.
"I knew we could rely on you, Colonel," the Envoy asserted. Before the Magdalene could stutter out a reply, the Envoy's cell phone buzzed. He took a moment check the screen and looked up. "Trouble. Got to run. We'll chat later, Colonel Pentecost. Good seeing you again, Colonel Lennox."
The big blond man trotted off, his form a perfection of motion as he went.
The Magdalene swallowed a moment before she had the presence of mind to raise her hand.
"...bye," she said, after the Envoy was lost to sight.
"Well, that just explains everything," Jack Pentecost said. "It all makes sense now."
"What?" Colonel Lennox snapped, regaining her former composure.
"That's the kind of guy you go for?" Jack Pentecost asked rhetorically. "No wonder you're so messed up."
*** *** ***
"Why did you need to see me so urgently?" Lady Grey asked, stepping into Gaussian's office. Much like its occupant, the place was monochrome, mostly grey furnishings and steel, and it boasted a dozen scanners and displays. It looked more like a network marketing center than a tactical command center, but it was the hub of a special operations network that spanned the globe.
"Got an emergency message from Dark Watcher," Gaussian said. "One of his agents intercepted several messages between members of the Lost and the Sky Raiders."
"Looks like a couple of Lost who can still pass as human have made a deal with the Sky Raiders - a strike planned to net them money, technology and cripple our defenses. All at the same time."
"How?" Lady Grey asked.
"By assaulting the Terra Volta reactor," Gaussian explained. One display suddenly filled with a map of the area in question.
"What?" Lady Grey asked. "Why!?"
"Dark Watcher believes these Lost have convinced the Sky Raiders to make them a dirty fission bomb," Gaussian said "and that they are willing to pay big bucks for it. The Sky Raiders will attack the reactor and drain its fuel, putting it out of commission. I think this is a trap and the equipment they give the Sky Raiders will be rigged. The reactor will be damaged in the attempt and fail."
"To what purpose?"
"If the reactor core shuts down," Gaussian said "Paragon City will lose power. If the Sonami Transformer Station shunts over to bypass..."
"The War Walls will come down," Lady Grey breathed.
"The Rikti will pour right out of that Mothership, but not towards us," Gaussian said "instead they'll head right into Independence Port. All hell will break loose. Borea has already reported unusually heavy Rikti movements around the Mothership. Levantera is at Fort Plum and has called for reinforcements."
Lady Grey slapped a console and a communications screen snapped to life.
"This is a Code Red Alert," she said. Alarms began to blare around the Compound. "I want to scramble all ready units. Relay to Levantera that the Rikti may be making a break for Independence Port at any moment."
"I've already asked the Envoy to find these Lost and determine where and when the Sky Raiders are to strike," Gaussian said.
"They may not know," Lady Grey replied. "Who is Dark Watcher's agent?"
"Jane Hallaway of the Paragon Times," he admitted.
"Get me Colonel Pentecost," Lady Grey said. "Colonel, I need you to take a team to Independence Port and contact Jane Hallaway immediately. The Sky Raiders are going to assault the Terra Volta reactor and I need them stopped at all costs."
"What!? Why!?" Jack Pentecost's voice came over the speakers, repeating Lady Grey's exact questions.
"Never mind why," she snapped. "Just find out where and when and stop them!"
*** *** ***
Jack Pentecost put his transceiver down and shrugged into his flack jacket. He turned to where Lieutenant Kaneko stood.
"I need every available member of the Lance in Independence Port and I need them there now!" he said. Michiko opened her mouth and Jack waved her down. "No questions, Lieutenant! Just do it!"
Jack Pentecost ran for the Embarkation Zone.
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions:
(This takes place immediately following the first Respec
Gaussian's stern blocky face was drawn up in a tight scowl as he
squinted at the holographic map of Paragon City. He turned to where Lady Grey's
petite form was leaning on the projector table.
"These are all the known
locations of Sky Raider activity," he said. Red dots appeared scattered across
the map. If there was a pattern to them, he wasn't able to see it.
is not gaining us any advantage," Lady Grey said. "It would not take that many
Raiders to endanger the reactor."
"Sometimes all you can do is wait,"
"Sir!" a tech said from across the room "We've got Colonel
Pentecost on the line!"
"Put him through," Gaussian ordered. A scratchy
image of the sorcerer appeared in the middle of the map.
"We managed to
get some information out of one of the Sky Raider leaders," Pentecost said
without preamble. "They're intending to steal the reactor fuel - direct from the
"That's insane," Gaussian replied. "They'd all die."
don't think these guys are thinking all that straight," Pentecost replied. "They
seem kind of off-kilter, if you ask me."
"The Rikti have several strains
of powerful telepaths," Lady Grey pointed out. "Mental interference is quite
"We're on our way to the reactor now," Pentecost said. "We'll
just have to fend off whatever the Sky Raiders send at it. You might want to
consider letting Virgil Duray know that aliens are messing around with his men's
"A capital idea, Colonel," Lady Grey said. "We shall look into
forthwith. You make certain no harm comes to the Terra Volta
"On it," Jack Pentecost said and the screen winked
"Make certain that Borea and Levantera keep our forces focused on
the Rikti Mothership," Lady Grey told Gaussian. "We suspect all these efforts
will be perfectly coordinated."
Before the head of the Sword could reply,
the door to the room banged open and the golden-sheathed form of the Envoy
strode into the room, dragging two unconscious bodies behind him. Flashing a
megawhite smile, the hero slid two members of the Lost to the center of the
"These are the ones who were working with the Sky Raiders," the
Envoy said, his voice deep and resonant. "They managed to convince one Captain
Clayton to assault the Reactor. I believe they used their mental powers to
induce a hypnotic state where they were able to sell the idea of directly
opening the core. I suspect time is of the essence..."
is already at the reactor with his team," Lady Grey replied. "He has captured
Captain Clayton and is moving to intercept the Sky Raiders
"Good man, that Pentecost," the Envoy replied. "Should I lend
him a hand?"
"Not at all," Lady Grey replied. "As head of our public
relations division, We have a different task in mind for you. Locate Colonel
Duray of the Sky Raiders and inform him that his men have been psychically
suborned by Rikti telepaths. Convince him to recall his wayward forces and cease
the assault on the reactor."
The Envoy flashed a thumbs-up.
thinking, Lady Grey," he said. "That kind of brilliant strategic command is why
the Vanguard is always on the forefront of any threat. I'm on my way!"
turned and strode from the room.
"Sometimes I wonder if he's for real,"
Gaussian said when the Envoy had left.
"Be thankful that he is," Lady
*** *** ***
The heart of the Terra Volta reactor
glowed a blazing greenish-white, bathing the room surrounding the reactor core
with an unearthly viridian light. Jack Pentecost kicked a Sky Raider helmet away
from the core and looked for somewhere to sit and rest - only there wasn't any.
He sighed, debated leabing on the metallic cage surrounding the reactor and
decided against it. Pole Shift tossed the last of the unconscious bodies from
the room and made his way back up to the circular walkway that spanned the room,
studiously avoiding looking at where the Star Queen stood with her arms crossed
and a scowl on her face.
"What sort of moron would attack a fission
reactor with a flamethrower?" she asked.
"I don't think these guys are in
their right minds," Jack replied. "I think their brains have been tampered with
by the Rikti."
"Bear in that we be standing in a room bathed wi'
radiation and our only protection is a glowy red bubble put out by a bubble
dispensin' machine," MacDice pointed out. "There's crazy enough to go around,
"He does have a point," Agent Three added.
over?" Bunni asked.
"I see more squads making their way through the
facility," Pole Shift said, looking at the monitors in the control room.
"They'll be here soon."
"It's not over," Jack said. "Take a few minutes
and rest. We can't afford to slip up here. We let this reactor go and it'll make
what happened on the Rikti homeworld look like a picnic."
did happen on the Rikti homeworld?" Bunni asked.
Jack looked up
and found everyone in the room staring silently at him. He sighed.
a prisoner of the Rikti for a long time - years. They were trying to figure out
how to use magic. They viewed their loss in the war as a direct result of human
magic and wanted to create their own class of spell casters - the Magi. I wasn't
the only one. There were a lot of other kids. I don't know what happened to any
of them. Whatever it was, it wasn't pleasant.
"Anyways, they'd come up
with some spell or incantation and then make me cast it - and they'd all sit
around and watch and try to figure out what I was doing and how it worked. Then
they'd try it. Then they'd make me try it again. Over and over again.
I didn't want to do it, they'd - well - they'd torture me. The Rikti have any
number of unique devices for doing that. They had this thing called the Spine of
Obedience ... nevermind."
Jack looked up and saw that everyone's
attention was riveted on him. It was unnerving. He coughed once and then
"Along the way, I guess I grew up. As I got older, I got more
powerful and they'd try bigger and bigger rituals. Once they got the basics of
magic down, they wanted to work on the more complex stuff. The Rikti aren't
really good at abstract or esoteric rituals, but they're very comfortable with
the more grounded magicks - things like elemental spells they excel at - fire,
water, earth - you get the idea.
"So one day I find myself in this big
room, surrounded by a hundred Rikti Mages and Tor'saad - he was one of their big
muckety-mucks - he stands me in front of this big open book and wants me to lead
him through this ritual.
"Only, I don't think they realized what it was.
It was a big fire ritual, something they thought they could use in Second War, I
think, but what they'd done was hand me the Mu Codex and right in front
of me was the ritual the Mu used to rain fire down on Oranbega - the rite that
caused the Oranbegans to move their cities underground. The beauty - the dark
beauty - of it was that the ritual required this massive sacrifice of sorcerers
- I guess the Mu used captured Oranbegans - and I had a hundred of the most
powerful Rikti Magi right with me willing to participate, including that asshole
"So I launched right into the ritual and before they realized
what was happening, I drained every one of those bastards to a husk and I
launched the focus of the ritual right at their God-damned Hall of
Jack paused for a moment and he couldn't look up.
don't know what that ritual actually did but it didn't rain fire. That
must be how the legends describe whatever actually happened. The explosion was
enormous. It was kind of like green flame, or tentacles, or maybe both -
I don't know - coming down from the sky. It tore apart everything in this
burning vortex and just ... swelled outwards until everything I could see
as far as I could see was consumed. There were Rikti screaming and burning and
flying through the air and being torn apart and ... well ... it went on for
"When it was all over, I was standing alone in the midst of the
devastation. There weren't even ruins. Everything was gone. There was just this
vast plain of fused green glass. It took me two days to walk across it and out
of the blast zone."
"Why didn't you fly?" Bunni asked in a small
"I hadn't figured out how to, back then," Jack said, looking up.
"I only worked out the spells a month or so ago, before we went into Oranbega
looking for Etherium. I had worked out my 'hide from the Rikti' spell,
though. That's the only reason their drones didn't spot me as I walking across
that glass field. I dream about that sometimes. Walking across an endless flat
plane of green glass that's all that's left of millions of people. Anyway, once
I got into the wilderness I just hid from their damn drones and made my way to
the nearest city. They call the Omega Team the 'Omega Terrorists' but I think
I'm one of their biggest war criminals..."
"Do you think that you'd-"
Luminous Lad began but before he could finish his question Pole Shift called
"Here they come!" the Kootharnian said as three doors burst open and
a wave of armed Sky Raiders poured into the room.
*** *** ***
Pomfroy's lab phased into focus and Jack stepped from the field generator to see
Lady Grey and dozens of Vanguard senior officers standing there. His tired team
all looked at each other puzzled until one by the one the entire room began
applauding. Jack smiled.
"All in a day's work," he said. "The reactor is
safe. Out of the blue, another wave of Sky Raiders showed up and drove
off the attackers. Things got pretty calm about then."
"The Envoy managed
to convince Colonel Duray that the Rikti had taken control of some of his men,"
Lady Grey said. "It appears that Colonel Duray was less than pleased with this
eventuality and took steps."
"I'm glad that worked," Jack
"You've all earned some much needed rest," Lady Grey said. "and
We thank you for your efforts not only on Our behalf, but on those of every
citizen of Paragon City. Our liaison with the United Nations, Lincoln Louis, has
informed Us that every one of you is to be granted a medal for your
"You're kidding," Agent Three said.
Lady Grey replied. "There will be ceremony tomorrow where you will all be
awarded the Stalwart Medallion for efforts above and beyond the call of
"We should save a city more often," MacDice quipped.
thought we had," Maridian replied.
"Full dress tomorrow, gang," Jack
said. "For now, dismissed. Get some R&R and enjoy yourselves. You've earned
MacDice whooped and the group began to walk off.
Pentecost," Lady Grey called "We would like to speak with you in Our
Swell, Jack thought.
*** *** ***
indicated one of the leather-bound chairs before her desk and Jack sank into
"We realize it hardly appropriate to bring up a disciplinary matter
at such a time, but We also recognize that some matters do not improve for being
made to wait."
"Disciplinary matter?" Jack asked. "What did I do
"The matter does not concern you, Colonel Pentecost," Lady Grey
replied "or at least not directly." She steepled her fingers. "It centers on
your Bubble Bunni."
"She's not my Bubble Bunni..." Jack began then
blinked. "Wait. This isn't about uniforms again, is it!?"
Lennox has filed a formal complaint," Lady Grey replied. "Actually this is the
second one ... or perhaps the third..."
"The woman just fought in the
heart of a nuclear reactor and was awarded a medal and you want to punish
her for her dress code!?"
"We have seen her latest variation on Vanguard
attire," Lady Grey replied. "It appears to be a thong and some bits of lingerie
with a few pieces of armor attached. The woman persists in pushing the very
limits of the regulations and beyond. It cannot be allowed to
"I've seen outfits far more extreme on any number of super
beings conscripted by the Vanguard," Jack said "In fact, I think I saw one woman
who's entire outfit consisted of blue flames and some guy who's actual
registered name is Naked Don or Dan or whatever. Some of them were rolled right
into the Shield without any preamble and continue to wear whatever costume, or
lack thereof, they had on prior to enlistment."
"There are regulations
for inducting heroes into the ranks and certain leeway is granted to those with
established outfits or appearances, yes," Lady Grey said. "Those regulations are
"I know," Jack said. "I want to call your attention
specifically to Article 22.214.171.124 - it's in Section Sixteen."
gave Jack a hard stare and reached for a volume on one of the bookshelves behind
"You are the last person We would expect to play barracks-room
lawyer," she said. She flipped through the binder until she found the relevant
section and her bright grey eyes moved back and forth rapidly as she scanned the
"These regulations apply only to heroes or heroines who had
established themselves in one or more battles with super-villains prior to
enlistment," Lady Grey pointed out.
"Bunni had just defeated the known
villain NoxLux using her powers before she was enlisted," Jack replied. "I can't
think of a more clear-cut example of a heroine establishing herself in a battle
with a super-villain, considering I saw it personally."
"We believe that
your 'villain' knocked 'Bunni' through the window of the 'gentleman's club'
where she danced immediately prior to your enlisting her," Lady Grey
"I wasn't aware that the Vanguard discriminated based on
employment," Jack replied. "We've certainly inducted powered supers who were
criminals, smugglers, drug dealers and outright murderers."
"We shall let
your point pass," Lady Grey said. "The regulation also clearly states that the
person in question must be an officer. Bubble Bunni is not..."
the promotion approval across the desk. Lady Grey picked the page up and saw her
own signature on the form. She stared at Jack in shock.
"You made her an
officer?" Lady Grey asked. "You made her an officer!?"
the wisest choice," Jack said.
"Get out of Our office!" Lady Grey
snapped. "And get Bunni out of the Compound for at least a week! Make it two! We
shall have to gently explain to Colonel Lennox the ... nuances of your
machinations in the best light possible!"
"Out of the Compound?" Jack
said. He looked at the ceiling for a moment and stroked his chin, thinking out
loud. "She won't take that well at all. Exile. Wait... wait... I'll put her in
charge of building our base! Give her a crew of workers and turn her
loose! It's perfect!"
Lady Grey coughed and Jack's attention returned to
"You're insane, aren't you?" Lady Grey said sadly.
"Simply, plainly insane."
"Insane with genius!" Jack
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions:
(This takes place immediately prior to and during the
Pilgrim missions arc and Twilight Son's Task Force.)
For the first
time in a very, very long time Jack Pentecost was awed.
"Bunni," he said,
slack jawed "you're amazing."
"You really like it?" she
Jack eyes roamed again over the long hallways and settled, as they
always did, on the mystic axis rotating slowly in the stone enclave Bunni had
built. He could feel a soft magical energy filtering around him, powering the
computer systems that ran the site's securty grid.
"For the first time in
what feels like forever," he said in a quiet voice "I'm somewhere that feels
like it could be home."
Once the equipment and supplies had become
available to build the Lancers' "secret base", Jack had faced a quandry. The
whole point of having a secret base was that no one should know where it
was. Unfortunately, it seemed like half the Vanguard security contigent was
tracking his whereabouts and the other half was watching the "dangerous"
members of his unit. That meant that most of the people Jack relied on weren't
in a position to supervise the construction of the base. Then an idea had hit
...delegate the job to Bunni.
For reasons that Jack
suspected she herself didn't fully understand, the Magdalene avoided Bunni like
the plague and seemed to deliberately ignore anything the former 'adult
entertainer' did - which meant there were good odds her surveillance goons
weren't paying BB any mind. Very few members of the Vanguard took her seriously,
which meant she was perfect for the job - if she could pull it
Jack had spent some time in his office explaining what he was
looking for and what features the Lancer base needed. He'd laid out the budget
and materials available and explained what he expected from her. Bunni had been
very hesitant at first, until he'd suggested she look at the job as a variant of
fashion design. It was only a small step to interior decoration, and that wasn't
too far from construction.
He'd hired Kord's firm to provide the labor
and made judicious use of poor Doc Pomfroy's translocation device to get the
workers there without them being able to discover the location. Once he'd
'ported Bunni and her work crew to the underground site and showed them how to
use the remote beacons to get back and forth, he'd simply let them work and paid
little attention to the project - aside from enchanting a number of mystic
systems at BB's request.
Given more responsibility than she'd probably
ever had before, Bubble Bunni had thrown herself into the project. Jack had seen
her bustling up and down the hallways from Supply to the translocation device,
leaving a trail of engineers, enchanters and paperwork wherever she went. She'd
worked feverishly, staying up late nights and losing complete track of time
while she worked. Twice she'd popped in on him unexpectedly at odd early morning
hours to request approval for something or ask him to provide some obscure piece
of mystcial knowledge or spellcraft. Jack had visited the site once, early on,
when it was little more than some cut bricks and sheet metal and BB had been so
agitated and nervous at his presence that it was obvious to him he was only
getting in the way and he'd avoided the place ever since - until she'd called on
his office this afternoon to inform him that it was ready for his
Jack had never even imagined anything like it.
place was a blend of technology and magic like nothing he'd seen. Metallic
hallways that resembled the Vanguard Compound gave way to cut stone chambers
that resonated with sorcery. The entire base was powered by a mystically
enhanced power crystal that pulsed current throughout the site. It was a perfect
melding of Old World crafting and modern era science.
The best was that
aside from himself and Bunni, no one knew where the base was. Currently
it was only accessible by teleporter, and that access could be easily blocked.
The place was safe, as safe as anything could be, anyways.
exceeded my expectations in every way," Jack said, honestly.
staring at him, her eyes wide.
"I meant to..." she started, then stopped,
then started again. "I wanted to... I need to ask you
"Shoot," Jack said.
"Seriously," BB said.
may find this difficult to believe," Jack said "but I'm always
"I really need to know..." Bunni said, then paused, then
blurted all the words out in a rush "...were you serious when you promoted me?
Made me an officer? Gave me this job? Really?"
would I promote you if I wasn't serious?" he asked.
"So many others are
so better qualified," Bunni said in a small voice "I mean, they have real
military experience and... and... I mean..."
"Sit down for a minute,"
Jack said. Bunni slowly sank into one of the wooden chairs she'd laid out in the
control room. "I didn't just promote you," Jack explained. "I also promoted the
"But she's like ruled an entire planet!" Bunni
"-and out of the other potential candidates," Jack went on "you
were the best one."
Bunni just stared at him skeptically.
don't have any military experience. This outfit isn't built on military
experience, it's built on innovation," Jack explained. He sighed. "Look, I
can't make MacDice an officer, thousands would die." Bunni stifled a laugh. "The
big guy has barely mastered enough English to say 'Stick it, Lancers!' when he
isn't making goo-goo eyes at the Queen." Now Bunni did laugh. "Half the team is
just kids, they're too young. A bunch of them are only part-timers, at best.
Razortail's got potential, but he's too new. Mari barely says three words at a
pop unless someone's bleeding on the floor..." Jack ground to a halt. "Trust
me," he said then "you were the best choice."
"So it wasn't just a joke?"
she asked in a small voice.
"A joke!?" Jack asked. BB nodded. "I may be a
jackass but I'm not cruel. It wasn't a joke."
Jack rubbed the
bridge of his nose for a moment and when he looked up the blaze of his bright
green eyes was visible even through the odd yellow lenses of his
"I see you, Marissa Blankton," he said then and the
bantering quality was gone from his voice. "I see you for who you are. Don't
think for a moment you fool me with the front you present to everyone
else. I knew exactly who I was recruiting when you landed on the street in front
of me. Never doubt that. You're worried you won't cut it. You're driven to prove
yourself. People like you achieve things normal people can't exactly
because of that drive and I am going to take merciless advantage of that.
You think becoming an officer means you got lucky!? I means I expect
more from you than from the rest..."
The intensity in his voice
faded and he looked around again. Awe crept back into his
"...although," he went on after a moment "if this is going to be
your usual level of achievement, I'm going to have to raise my expectations just
to keep up."
"You mean you really like it?" Bunni asked
"I love it," Jack replied. "It's ... perfect. I'd promote
you again but it's too soon. People will get jealous."
"Buy me an ice cream at the commissary, instead," she
"You're on," Jack replied. His comlink chose that moment to start
beeping. Jack sighed and took it from his belt. "It's your dime," he
"We have a situation here," Borea's voice crackled over the
link. "We need you back at the Compound immediately."
way," Jack said. "Let's shake a leg. Sounds like trouble."
The War Room was lit with displays of sections of Paragon City.
Blinking lights converged on an abandoned section of Boomtown. Once called
Baumtown, the entire suburb had been leveled during the First Rikti War. Never
restored, the ruins were now home to gangers, thugs, outcasts and all manner of
unsavory characters. A small crowd of people from all branches of the Vanguard
were gathered around the displays, speaking quietly.
"Not at all," Lady Grey said, stepping forward. "Dark
Watcher's agents have traced Protean's backtrail to a Fifth Column base in
Boomtown. We believe the base to still be occupied."
"Protean is dead,"
"We are aware of this," Lady Grey replied "and We understand
his theft of portal technology was to open a gateway to an alternate universe
where the Fifth Column ruled. That is irrelevant. We need to know the fate of
Incandescent. We need to know Protean's steps prior to his assault on the
Compound. If this location was his base of operations, it is possible that
records of his activities may be be there."
"I see where this is going,"
"We require you to assemble a team, translocate into this
base, obliterate its inhabitants and recover all records stored
"Can do," Jack said. "How soon?"
"Immediately," Lady Grey
"Lieutenant," Jack said to Bunni "get a team together and let's
"On it, sir!"
*** *** ***
Jack stepped from the field
generator and handed Borea a stack of computer disks.
"Scratch one bunch
of Rhode Island nazis," he said and then paused. Borea was not smiling.
"We've just received a report of Rikti using mind-control devices
on the populace of King's Row," Borea said. "The entire area could be affected.
Your team is already prepped and..."
"Got it," Jack said. "Fire it up
again, we're off."
*** *** ***
Jack stepped from the field
generator and rubbed his eyes. He was starting to get a headache.
weren't Rikti-controlled people," he said to Borea. "It was a Contaminated
infection. There were a lot of them, too. We got them all,
"There have been rumors that the Lost have been manufacturing
Outbreak," Borea said, naming the drug that created Contaminated. "It was a
Rikti mutation drug, originally. I wonder..."
"Ma'am!" an aide called,
dashing into the room. "We have a report of aliens attacking City Hall! They're
all over Atlas Park!"
Jack gathered himself to move out but Borea raised
"Wait. This much activity this quickly is suspicious," she said.
"Give me a moment."
The tall blonde woman walked over to one of the
"I miss Doctor Pomfroy," she said. "I'm not sure if I'm
doing this properly..."
One of the overhead screens sprang to life. A big
glowing red dot was focused on the industrial wasteland that was Crey's
"It appears the Rikti have made a series of teleportations to a
single location in Crey's Folly," Borea said. "I believe these reports of 'Rikti
acitivty' are designed purely to divert our attention from their real goal -
either a strike at Crey Technologies or construction of a base in the less
populated sections of Crey's Folly."
Borea turned to look at
"I will look into this 'alien attack' on Atlas Park," she said.
"Take your team and hit those Rikti hard. Bring me prisoners."
Jack said. He and his people turned back to the translocation device.
Jack stepped from the field generator and stretched. He
definitely had a headache and his back hurt.
"There were a lot of
Rikti," he said "but we got 'em."
Pole Shift dumped two unconscious Rikti
on the floor.
"These are General Loc'Danan and Major Sal'no," Jack said,
his mouth shaping the Rikti names effortlessly. "Don't ask me what they were up
to. I don't know."
"I assure you that we can find out," Borea
"You go do that," Jack said. "I think I"m going to hit the showers.
I don't feel all that great."
"No time," Borea said. "Atlas Park
is under attack! Some kind of meteor hit near City Hall and all the
information we can get is that 'alien monsters' are everywhere."
"Back we go people," he said.
"Do we get overtime for
this?" MacDice asked.
"You should be paying me for all this fun," Jack
"I would iffen I had me any pay left," the Scotsman
*** *** ***
Jack stepped from the field generator and
winced. He ached all over.
"Those were not Rikti," he said. "They
He blinked and realized that Gaussian was standing
in front of him and not Borea.
"My condolences on the Rikti not showing
up for your dance," Gaussian said. "Maybe next time."
"The fact that
you're standing there means we're not getting any rest," Jack
"Sharp as a tack, that's you," Gaussian replied. "We've got a lead
on your buddy Rollister."
Jack perked up. Recovering the Tome of
T'Jer'imikanu was high on his list of priorities.
"Clue me in,
Clue-meister," Jack said.
"You may recall the Circle mage who initially
mentioned the Tome of T'Jer'imikanu," Gaussian said. "Baradan?"
a while ago," Jack said "but yeah."
"We have been able to trace his
activities and movements and to partially listen in on some of his
"That's amazing," he said. "You've
got a Circle mage under surveilliance!?"
Gaussian smiled a knowing smile.
It looked wicked and out of place on his blunt fighter's face.
friend Baradan has weaknesses," he said. "Addictions we can take advantage
"A Circle mage is on drugs?" Bunni asked.
"Oh no," Gaussian
said. "Baradan's addictions are far worse."
"This I can't wait to hear,"
"Baradan has an addiction to Japanese anime porn," Gaussian
explained. "Since there are only..."
He stopped and waited for the
laughing Lancer team to recover themselves.
"As I was saying," he
continued once they had "since there are only a handful of stores in the Paragon
area that sell these items, it wasn't hard to get one of my agents hired as a
clerk and strike up a conversation with the mage."
serious," Jack breathed.
"Baradan is addicted to
hentai," Jack said.
"What're ye talking about?"
MacDice asked. "Hentai?"
"I will endeavor to explain it to you at
a later time" Razortail said quietly.
"Tentacle porn, to be specific,"
Gaussian went on.
"On second thought," MacDice muttered "I dinnae want
"The hentai otaku community is amazingly open with each
other," Gaussian said "and once my agent had established his bona fides, he was
easily able to steer Baradan to a number of specific DVDs..."
Wait. Wait. Wait," Jack said. "You sold Baradan a bunch of bugged
tentacle porn DVDs!?"
"Crudely put but accurate," Gaussian
Jack rubbed his face.
"If I wasn't so tired I'd fall over
laughing," he said. "I can barely believe this."
said "our ability to monitor conversations is limited to those which take place
near Baradan's chambers in Oranbega and much of what we receive isn't really ...
"That I can believe," Bunni said.
have picked up some important information," Gaussian continued "and this is
where it gets serious. We recorded conversations between Baradan and two of his
compatriots - Juikon and Sitrix. It appears that Rollister is working to empower
one of the rituals in the Tome of T'Jer'imikanu. Apparently this ritual requires
three human sacrifices."
"Oh hell," Jack said.
"Not just any
three," Gaussian went on "but three people with significant magical talent.
Baradan and his associates are in the process of kidnapping their targets even
as we speak. I've set the translocation field-"
"Let's go people!" Jack
said. "First one to kill Rollister and recover the Tome gets to keep the
"I dinnae want to know anymore, I said!" MacDice
"Jack!" Gaussian called as the field triggered and team faded
out. "We also heard the name Baron Zoria on the recordings!"
last thing Gaussian heard before they faded from view was Jack Pentecost
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions:
(This takes place immediately following the Twilight Son's
Task Force and prior to the Citadel Task Force.)
Gaussian looked up as
the translocation field flickered to life. There was a momentary flicker of
light and Jack and his Lancer team phased back into the Ready Room. At
Gaussian's suggestion, they'd moved the late Doc Pomfroy's equipment to
somewhere they could make better use of it. The Ready Room was where strike
teams prepared for missions and, as such, was the perfect place to situate a
The Lancers looked exhausted. They'd been fighting
all day and this latest crisis involving the Circle of Thorns had to have been
"You want to give me a run down before you debrief Lady Grey?"
Jack Pentecost rubbed his eyes for a minute and
"Rollister's plan was coopted by Baron Zoria," Jack said. "We
scragged Baradan, Juikon, Sitrix and the Baron, but before we could get them
all, they killed Breakneck."
"They kidnapped Cyrus Thompson?" Gaussian
"Yeah, and they killed him," Jack said. "He was one of their three
sacrifices. We saved the other two - Candy Lebeaux and some kid named Jimmy
"But you killed Baron Zoria?"
"We killed the body he was
in," Jack said. "He'll have possessed another one before the night is done. So
will your hentai loving buddy and his friends. I have got to do something about
that. Recycled villainy is getting annoying."
got away," Jack said. "I know we won and everything but it doesn't feel like a
"Lady Grey would like to see you right away," Gaussian
Brian Tyler, better known as Luminous
Lad, slid onto the end of the couch in the barracks and put his feet up on the
"I can't believe we met Candy Lebeaux," he said "and her twin
"Don't get your hopes up," Maridian said, pulling up a chair,
reversing it and sitting with her chin leaning on the chairs 'back'. "She was
totally into Jack."
"How can you even say that?" Tyler asked. "All she
did was yell at him!"
"Respectfully, that is how you can tell,"
Razortail said. "The Colonel has a fascination for powerful women. His preferred
method of seduction appears to be based around getting them angry with
"You guys are all nuts," Luminous Lad said.
laddie," MacDice added. "She has a sister, a twin sister. As I recall,
Mandy didnae say a word to the boss."
"Like I'm ever going to meet any of
them ever again anyways," Tyler grumbled.
"Don't be like that," Bunni
said. "You're a super hero! You save the world! If you're
interested in someone, they should be flattered."
"It's been a long day," Maridian said. "I think it's
time we all get some sleep. Who knows what'll happen
"Something exciting, I'm sure!" Bunni enthused.
Luminous Lad asked. "Whatever happened to the tentacle porn? I thought it was
supposed to be a prize for whoever took down Rollister?"
"I have not seen
it since we left," Razortail said.
"Doesn't matter since we never even
laid a finger on Rollister," Maridian said.
"Why are you even asking
about the tentacle porn!?" Bunni teased.
"...and so you
released their prisoners once you had disposed of the Circle Mages, including
Baron Zoria," Lady Grey said, her attention seemingly focused on the papers on
her desk. Her antique fountain pen moved with almost mechanical precision as she
worked through things.
"Yeah," Jack said. "We put down a whole 'nother
group of these Circle goons - but they'll be back again."
Us some time ago that you had ideas on how to prevent such a recurrence," Lady
"You now have Our permission to pursue such
avenues of research."
"I'll get right on it," Jack replied. "I may have
to conduct some field research."
unsavory field research," Jack added.
once and turned to leave.
"Colonel," Lady Grey added as he opened the
door. "Be prudent in whom you include in your ... field research
"Always," Jack said, closing the door behind
Jack had slept restlessly. He had too much on his mind
and there was too much going on. He was bleary-eyed as he walked into the
commissary and poured himself a black cup of coffee - a big black cup of
"Excuse me?" a diffident voice said from behind him. "Colonel
Jack turned to see the Envoy, wearing an olive suit and
rimless glasses, with his blond hair parted on the side instead of brushed back
walking towards him.
"Envoy. What can I do for you?" Jack
The Envoy laughed. It wasn't at all the deep resonant sound Jack
expected. It sounded like a weak chuckle.
"Oh, please," he said. "I'm
Lincoln Louis, legal attaché to the Herald's UN offices. I work with the Envoy,
but you couldn't mistake me for him. That's funny."
"Lincoln Louis," he said. "Legal attaché. Now I've
heard everything. You really think that by putting on some glasses and coming
your hair differently, I wouldn't notice?"
"I'm sure I have no idea what
you're talking about, Colonel," Louis said.
"You're serious? You're
really serious?' Jack said. He stared hard at the man. "You're a legal
counsel to the Herald?"
"Of course, Colonel," Louis said. "I'm here
to get you to sign the papers accepting the medals for your unit."
was having trouble keeping his face straight. The idea that the Envoy could
somehow provide himself a cover by putting on glasses was
"I realize the ceremony was days ago, and that you've all
received the actual medals, but the forms do need to be authorized," Louis was
going on. "Why are you staring at me like that?"
Jack shook his head. The
whole concept was ludicrous - but why would the Envoy push it if he knew it
wouldn't stand up to questioning? Maybe that's how it worked, no one was rude
enough to hammer him about it. Maybe the sheer absurdity of the idea provided
some sort of shield.
"Fine," Jack said. "Whatever. Where do I
"Here, here and here," Louis replied, pulling out a
Jack had just finished tracing out his name when his comlink
"Pentecost, go," he said into it. Lincoln Louis nodded to him as
he collect the papers and walked off.
"Borea is looking for you, sir"
Michiko's voice came over the unit. "She said to meet her in the Science
"Tell her I'm on my way," Jack said.
to bring you up to date on some developments in Pomfroy's lab," Borea said,
opening the door. Since the Protean incident, access to the experimental labs
was restricted to section heads and above - something Jack found perplexing
since disguised as Incandescent, Protean would still have had access to the labs
even with the restrictions.
Jack was amazed to find Pomfroy's lab
organized and clean. Gone were the scattered half-finished devices and bulky
equipment. Two lab technicians in white coats were bustling about, apparently
cataloguing and labeling items, and a third man was bending over the
"Jack," Borea said "I want you to meet Doctor
Rheinhart Collins. Doctor Collins is MIT's leading expert in theoretical physics
and has written a dozen published papers on the theories behind Rikti
teleportation. Doctor Collins, this is Colonel Jack Pentecost, the head of our
rapid assault force. Jack was probably the person who worked most closely with
Doctor Pomfroy in those last days."
Doctor Collins was very tall and very
thin, with pale blue eyes and wavy brown hair. His narrow face was dominated by
his hawk-like nose, which sported enormous nostrils. Staring at him, Jack was
reminded of looking down the barrel of a 12-gauge shotgun.
"Glad to meet
you, Doctor Collins," Jack said.
"A pleasure, I'm sure," the scientist
said. His tone was both annoyed and condescending. He sniffed loudly.
there's anything I can do to assist you in-" Jack began.
"I don't believe
that will be necessary," Collins said, sniffing again. "I've already read Doctor
Pomfroy's notes and once I've disassembled his prototype, I have no doubt I
should be able to reproduce, likely even improve, his work."
I... wait," Jack said "disassemble the translocation
"Yes, of course," Doctor Collins
"Why do you need to disassemble the translocation device?" Jack
asked. "You just said you had all of Doctor Pomfroy's notes."
Pomfroy was somewhat cryptic in his explanations, *sniff*" Doctor Collins said.
"There are a few minor details I haven't been able to fully encompass -
doubtless due to his lack of thoroughness in documenting his work. All of his
assistants, indeed his entire team, are inconveniently dead..."
Jack drawled. "Inconvenient, that."
"Do you have some kind
of sinus problem, Doctor Collins," Jack said "or are you trying to indicate
"Jack!" Borea said, taking his arm.
"It's quite all
right," Doctor Collins said, sniffing again. "One of the many burdens one must
bear when operating on the edge of science is the endless effort to tolerate the
"Uninformed or not," Jack said "I can
tell you one thing - you can't take apart the translocation
"I have no doubt that once I've gotten a solid
look at its inner workings, I'll be able to clarify the few remaining missing
variables in the Collins Equation."
"You can't... wait... the Collins
Equation!?" Jack said.
"Once I've perfected translocation technology,"
Doctor Collins said "I intend to write the definitive paper on the nature of
Rikti teleportation theory."
"You can't take apart the translocation
device," Jack said bluntly. "Call Maria Jenkins and get her notes from her work
with Pomfroy or do whatever else you have to, but leave the device
"Doctor Jenkins and I are no longer on amicable
terms," Doctor Collins said "and I certainly don't need any of her input on this
"Look," Jack said "that device is
the single most important strategic weapon I've got. Almost every operation
we've launched in the past two months has hinged on it. Using it and the element
of surprise it provides is vital to the war effort. I don't care if it takes
twenty years for you to duplicate it, you can't wreck
"I can assure you, young man, that I'll have a dozen
such devices available very shortly."
"I don't care about your
assurances," Jack said. "Leave Pomfroy's device
"You cannot expect your mundane concerns to stand
in the way of science," Collins explained. "I'm certain your time is as valuable
as mine is, Colonel Pentecost, so I'll allow you to get back to your
Doctor Collins turned back to the translocation device and reached
into his toolbox.
Jack suddenly had an enormous nickel-plated revolver in
his hand and it was pointed at Doctor Collins. He clicked the hammer back with
"You touch that device and I'll blow your head off!" Jack
The scientist turned and froze, his eyes wide.
Borea shouted, a warning in her voice.
"That unit is more important than
he is. If he touches it, I'll kill him where he stands," Jack said, his voice
cold. The menace in his tone was obvious.
"You know I'm
right, Borea," Jack said. The muzzle of the gun never wavered.
"Leave the translocation device alone, Doctor Collins," she
The scientist blinked.
"This is intolerable!" he
shouted. "I'm taking word of this outrageous incident to Lady Grey
"You go do that," Jack said.
raced from the lab and down the hall.
"Do have any personality trait that
isn't built around pissing people off!?" Borea asked.
"At least he
stopped sniffing," Jack replied. The revolver was gone just as suddenly as it
had appeared. Jack pulled the comlink from his belt. "Lieutenant Kaneko," he
said into it "I want an armed guard on the translocation device 24-7. It is to
always include at least one powered individual from the Lance. Their orders are
to prevent anyone, and I mean anyone, from damaging the device in any way. They
are authorized to use deadly force if necessary."
He listened for a
"Yes," he said then "I think that MacDice is an excellent choice
for the first watch."
"Give me some good news," Jack said as
he walked into the AI lab. "It's been a piss-poor day and it's not even noon
Alex Kord looked up from where he was working on the new Tin Mage's
"It's not a hardware error," he said "it's a design
"That's good news!?" Jack asked.
"I don't know what you've
done to generate this much power," the younger Kord went on "but it's
overloading some of these circuits. The original design wasn't really intended
to handle voltages at these loads. There's something really odd about this
multivariate coupling. I think you're got the ground going off into some kind of
alternate universe or something..."
"Can you fix it?" Jack
"Not like this," Alex Kord replied. "We'll need to use a different
"What kind of different board?" Jack asked.
"One I don't
have," Alex replied.
"Well..." the young engineer
delayed. "The only AI card I'm aware of able to handle this kind of input is ...
well ... in Citadel's head."
head!?" he snapped. "Can't we make another one!?"
design was put together by Crey," Kord went on. "They've never shared it. We'd
have to disassemble Citadel's brain to copy the design."
everyone want to disassemble something today? Jack thought.
just raid Crey for it?" Jack asked.
"We don't know where they keep that
design," Kord replied "but it doesn't matter. Word is that Vandal stole
the design a month or so ago. So the Council has it now."
good news?" Jack asked.
"No, the good news is that Citadel is looking to
raid the Council's factories and recover the designs," Alex said. "I think he's
been planning this raid for a while. He's just waiting for some of the Phalanx
to free up and help him."
"I've never met Citadel," Jack said. "I'm not
too sure how he'd react to me calling out of the blue and offering to help out
just so I can swipe a copy of the plans to his brain."
"Let me make a few
calls," Alex Kord replied.
"Colonel?" Michiko said, sticking her head
into the lab. "Lady Grey asked to see you. She seemed kind of
"...and then he claims you put a
revolver to his head and threaten to blow it off unless he stopped immediately!"
Lady Grey said, her voice like ice.
"He was going to disassemble the
translocation device," Jack replied.
"There were a thousand ways to
dissuade him without using firearms," Lady Grey replied. "The man is the top
physicist in his field."
"He's an idiot," Jack replied.
"He is a
genius and it took an enormous amount of persuasion to get him here," she
snapped. "We are not amused. Did alternative options never occur
"He didn't seem to be taking me seriously," Jack said. "Things
in the magnum range people tend to pay attention to."
"You are a sorcerer
of some repute," Lady Grey said. "You had alternative means."
suggesting I commit mystical assault on him!?"
Lady Grey replied. "Colonel, you are-"
Her phone rang and she scowled
before answering it.
"Yes. Yes, I understand. Put him through," she
sighed. "What can We do for - yes, he's right here as a matter of fact. What?
You want to... when? Now? Now!? No... no... yes, We understand. Of course, the
Vanguard is happy to assist. Yes. We will let him know. Yes. You're very
Lady Grey put the handset down and turned to gaze at
"That was Citadel," she said coldly. "He has just requested the
help of you and your Lancers in an operation against the Council."
"Seriously!?" he asked.
"If We ever find out how
you engineered this, Colonel..." Lady Grey said ominously.
is the right term, Jack thought.
"I can't take credit for this one,"
"Get your team together and go," Lady Grey replied. "We shall
discuss this another time."
"About the translocation device," Jack said.
"I can't just leave it there for this imbecile to pick apart."
make certain that Pomfroy's original creation remains untouched," Lady Grey
"Thank you," Jack replied.
"You may go, Colonel," Lady Grey
said. "It seems your amazing luck continues to hold up."
to work for me," Jack said. "Nothing else has been today."
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions:
(This takes place immediately following the Citadel Task
Force and prior to the Mender Lazarus Task Force.)
Citadel was big,
bulky, wore blue and had an almost luminous green skin. He was also bald and his
eyes glowed. He extended a hand as big as a shovelhead and Jack hesitantly shook
it. Citadel's touch was gentle.
"I cannot thank you enough for your
efforts in these past few days," the massive android said "I must admit,
I was deeply disturbed by the idea that my own technology was being used to
improve the Council's Zenith Mech Men! Now that their creator is behind bars, I
can hold my head up high. There is no possible way for me to repay this debt. I
am eternally grateful."
"It was our pleasure," Jack
"Indeed," Pole Shift rumbled. "Vandal was much less -
"Much less sane than we expected," Jack said quickly,
rubbing his arm where he'd elbowed Pole Shift. "Whatever he's done to himself
with that suit must have affected his brain."
"I shudder to think what
he would have accomplished with my designs in his hands," Citadel said.
"Again, you have my undying gratitude."
"In that case," Jack said.
"Would you mind if we hang on to a couple of these chips? I think they'd make...
"Nifty souvenirs," Bunni stepped in. "I was thinking of
maybe making a pair of earrings."
"Be my guest," Citadel
"You are the best," Jack whispered to BB.
"Don't mention it," she whispered back.
go, there is someone who wanted to speak with you," Citadel went on,
oblivious to the interplay.
"Sure," Jack said.
"You can come in
now, gentlemen," Citadel said and Jack turned to see three green and gold
clad forms enter the room. "Colonel Pentecost, may I present Emerald Fusion,
Kyle Al'Mordu and Cheeky Monkey of Fusion Force?"
"It's an honor," Jack said, reaching out to shake Emerald
Fusion's hand. "What can I do for you?"
Emerald Fusion was tall and
rugged looking, with wavy brown hair and dark eyes. He had a strong, firm
"I appreciate your efforts to help Citadel out," Emerald
Fusion said. "I know the Phalanx was busy and when he asked us for assistance,
we were already occupied with the Reichsman..."
"Have you done any work for Portal Corporation?"
"It might take some explanation."
"That's okay. Please
"As I was saying, I appreciate you and your Lancers pitching
in. Paragon City has a number of hero groups but there are times when there are
more crises than there are heroes available. We've put together a group... group
is too strong a word," Emerald Fusion went on. "We've formed a coalition of
heroes in order to avoid situations like what just happened. We share
communications and information, informally, of course. We'd very much like you
and your Lancers to join."
Jack's eyes went wide.
"I can understand if you'd need to discuss this with Lady Grey..."
Emerald Fusion began.
"I don't need to," Jack said. "We're in. Where do
Emerald Fusion laughed.
"There's no formal sign up," he
said. "We just need to hook you up to our communications grid. It shouldn't take
Jack looked over to where Bubble Bunni was enthusiastically
speaking with Cheeky Monkey. The enormous humanoid simian was all bulging
muscles which stretched at the fabric of his uniform. It seemed almost ludicrous
watching him bend almost double to speak with the diminutive Bunni. Jack hoped
the Monkey didn't notice Pole Shift surreptitiously standing behind him and
trying to "straighten up" to a height taller than the Fusion Force member. Jack
did spot the Star Queen laughing behind her hand.
"Why don't we all hit
the Up-And-Away-Burger and talk about it," Jack suggested. "I think we could use
a little mixer."
"That's a great idea," Emerald Fusion
"Absolutely," Kyle al'Mordu added. "Welcome to the
The red-headed martial artist made to slap Razortail on the back,
but caught himself before he impaled his hand.
"I dinnae believe it,"
Brian MacDice said. "We're inna big time now!"
"You'll still have to fill
out an expense report when we get back," Jack reminded him.
the scotsman replied.
"Lunch is on me," Emerald Fusion said.
whole crowd headed for the door. Emerald Fusion waved to Citadel who, after a
moment's hesitation moved to join them. As he stepped out into the sunlight, a
thought occurred to Jack and he turned to the Fusion Force leader.
we met before?" he asked.
=== === ===
The group was still
laughing and joking as they made their way through the embarkation area. Jack
spotted Lieutenant Kaneko waiting for him, clipboard in hand.
wrong now, Lieutenant?" Jack asked.
"Nothing, sir," Michiko said. "Lady
Grey has authorized additional slots on the Table of Organization &
Equipment for the Lancers. I was wondering when you'd like to interview the
"No time like the present," Jack muttered. "Give
me fifteen minutes. The rest of you, go and enjoy yourselves. We can catch up
tomorrow. Take a break, you've earned it."
"Maybe we can catch that new suspense thriller," Bunni said. "You guys
up for a movie?"
"I can be talked into it," Star Queen said.
in," Pole Shift said quickly.
"I'm out this time," Luminous Lad
"Big plans?" Bunni asked.
"I'm going to take you up on your
advice," he said. "I'm going to shower and shave and then go and look up Mandy
"Go and get 'em, killer," Bunni said.
Jack shook his
"Nae films!" MacDice said "It's a whiskey and women
"One hears so much about this 'scotch'," Razortail said. "Sadly,
one fears that the reality will always fall short of its
"Dinnae start on the saki again," MacDice said. "Anythin'
made from rice cannae be all that strong."
"If your tolerance is
the same as your arithmetic," Razortail said "then you would never be able to
know, would you? Respectfully."
"Ye talk a good game," MacDice said "but
I have tae see any proof."
"Perhaps a wager?"
"Have fun, gang," Jack said, walking away. "Just be back by morning
and in some sort of condition to work."
"There's nae enough liquor in
Paragon City tae stop that!"
"Uh huh," Jack said.
The Vanguard Infirmary was brightly lit and always filled with the
latest in medical technology. Medical reclaimators, another scientific
breakthrough following the first Rikti War, allowed the recovery from even the
most serious wounds - but there were still medical complications even science
had yet to overcome. Only one bunk in the Infirmary was occupied, and it had
been occupied by some time now.
"So he's not getting any better at all?"
Maridian said, looking down at the still form of Biopulse.
"We managed to
stabilize his condition, but nothing more," Doctor Lansing said. Lansing, the
senior medical officer of the Vanguard was a tall spare man in his fifties. His
dark hair was going a distinguished grey at the temples and his clean-shaven
face was, perhaps, just slightly too long to be considered handsome. "In fact,
without your periodic assistance, your boosting his metabolic healing with your
own abilities, we likely would have lost him by now."
like a radioactive zombie, his mottled, warped skin an awful greenish grey.
Injured severely in battle with Protean, Biopulse had slipped into a coma some
time ago and never recovered. His mutated form was now hooked up to a variety of
machines, and tubes jutted from his arms.
"Do you have any idea why?"
"Whatever mutated his physiology has obviously warped his
biochemistry so much that he's unresponsive to common treatment," Lansing
replied. Maridian nodded. "We'd need to try something new, find something that
his altered chemistry can accept - but I'm hesitant to experiment too much given
his current weakened state. The wrong treatment could kill him."
kinda sorry for the poor goon," Pip Squeak said. She'd pulled up a chair and now
sat it in, chin on hands, her feet dangling off the floor. "We really weren't
very nice to him and he didn't do anything wrong. It's not his
fault he looks like a haunted house refugee. There's gotta be something we can
"Hold on a moment," Maridian said. "I have an idea. Biopulse is an
"That's right," Doctor Lansing replied.
get their 'powers' from drinking from the cesspools in Mercy
"Uck," Pip squeak said.
"Yes, they do," Doctor Lansing
"...and after a while, they don't even eat or drink anything
else, they can live on just the contaminated water alone, right?"
think I see where you're going with this," Doctor Lansing said,
"Maybe what we need is some of whatever chemical or substance is
in that water?" Maridian said. "Maybe that's what he needs to
"It's definitely plausible," Lansing
"Waitaminute," Pip Squeak said. "Lemme get this straight. You're
suggesting we raid the Rogue Isles to recover some of whatever sludge is in the
cesspools on Mercy Island?"
"I'm suggesting we find out what the
source of that sludge is and get some of that," Maridian said.
"The concentrated version would allow us a lot more leeway in researching
alternative lines of treatment."
"I dunno if the boss is going to be too
keen on staging a raid on Arachnos," Pip Squeak said.
"I think you'll
find that the Colonel has a fierce dedication to taking care of his own people,"
Maridian countered "even if the level of effort needed seems
"The insane part, I buy."
"We need to speak with Colonel
Pentecost, Doctor," Maridian said. "Thank you again for your help."
=== === ===
Jack Pentecost settled into the swivel chair
behind his desk with a sigh. Recruit interviews were amongst the most annoying
things he had to do and he found them amazingly stressful. He was not a 'people
person' to start with and trying to be pleasant and friendly while assessing
whether someone was suitable Lancer material was taxing at best. He reached for
the pile of dossiers on new recruits that should be on his desk and found only
an empty space. Surprised, Jack looked around to see Lieutenant Kaneko staring
off into space.
"Earth to Michiko," Jack said. "Earth to
"Huh? Oh! Sorry, sir!" the lieutenant said, she bustled off to
grab the papers.
"Not like her to be so spacey," Sergeant McCabe said,
stepping through the door to Jack's office.
"Surprised to see you here,
top," Jack said. "I thought you reserved your first impressions for the training
The grizzled old sergeant snorted.
"You gave your usual
brawlers the day off," he replied. "Thought you might need some security, in
case these newbies get rowdy. Corporals Jorgenson and Connors are right outside
to lend a hand."
"I'm not expecting any trouble," Jack
"Somehow always seems to find you, though. Sir."
Lieutenant Kaneko hurried back into the office and
dumped a pile of folders on Jack's desk that was towering.
this!?" Jack asked.
"It appears that after working with Citadel of the
Freedom Phalanx, stories of the Lancers are circulating in the super-powered
community," Michiko said. "We've had quite an influx of
"Swell," Jack muttered.
"Mind if I stick around,
sir?" McCabe asked. "This might be fun."
Jack scowled. McCabe's idea of
"fun" was unlikely to be that enjoyable.
"Sure thing, sergeant," Jack
sighed. "Stand behind me and look menacing."
"That shouldn't be
too hard," Michiko said.
"What's on your mind, lieutenant," Jack asked.
"You've been a little out of sorts today."
"I ... well ..." Michiko
"You don't have to tell me if it's personal, lieutenant," Jack
"It's not personal sir," she replied "it's just that
... well ... I never realized that Razortail was Taro Tokugawa! I only
made the connection when I saw him coming off the platform with you and the
Jack and McCabe exchanged glances.
mean something to me?" Jack asked. "I mean, I know what his name
"Taro Tokugawa?" Lieutenant Kaneko said again. "Taro
Tokugawa? He's a celebrity in Japan! He's got a cult following and
everything! They had a huge article on him in the latest issue
"You're trying to tell me that he's big in Japan?" Jack asked
"He did mention something, back when we recruited him," McCabe
said. "I didn't pay no nevermind."
"You think maybe I could get his
autograph?" Michiko asked in a small voice.
"I'll see what I can do,"
Jack replied. "So we've recruited a Japanese pop star?"
"Celebrity," Michiko replied. "He's not in a band."
he can't even sing?" Jack teased.
"I'm certain I don't know," she replied
in a cold voice.
"Enough of this," Jack said. "Let's get this dog and
pony show on the road. Who's first?"
"Lori Austin over in recruiting gave
this one high marks, sir," Michiko said, handing him the first
"She's the one recommended that Razortail kid, too," McCabe
"I'm not getting my hopes up," Jack said. "Show him
The door to the room opened and what looked like a refugee from a
spaghetti western walked in. He had a rumpled brown leather duster on, a floppy
almost Western hat and a string tie. A smoldering cigarillo dangled from his
lips and his scarred face sported a graying beard. Two pistols sat at his hips
in crossdraw holsters. Jack was about to make a wry comment when his eyes picked
out the faint arcane symbols traced on the man's coat. He flipped the folder
open and read.
"Dave Dawson - Two Smoking Barrels," Jack said. "It says
here you have the ability to 'manipulate molecular speed and motion' and that
you can use this to 'enhance the performance of others' or focus it for
'enhanced combat performance' using your sidearms."
"Guess that little
Miss Austin actually was paying attention," Dawson drawled.
"I can see
symbols on your jacket," Jack said, his gaze becoming intense "I'd guess there's
some magick in your back- God damn! What happened to your aura!? It looks
like parts of it got hacked off!"
"And yours looks diseased,"
Dawson replied. "So what?"
The two men stared at each other for a moment
and then simultaneously smiled.
"Okay, you're in," Jack said, extending
his hand. They shook.
"Down the hall to your left," McCabe said. "We'll
start the training regimen tomorrow."
"Sure 'nuff," Two Smoking Barrels
said. Leaving a trail of smoke, he turned and strode from the
"Sometimes your interviewing technique escapes me, sir," Michiko
"You'd have to be there," Jack replied.
"I'll explain it later," Jack said. "Who's next?"
woman with long fiery red hair walked into the room. She wore a costume of
bright red and yellow with a huge fire symbol on her chest.
Jack read. "This seems pretty straightforward but let's see ... you can 'convert
your body energies into a biochemical fire you can project at your enemies'.
That sounds amazingly useful - why do you want to join the Lancers?"
guys are famous," Flambeaux said. Her voice had an eager energy to it but there
was an odd tone as well. "I want to be a part of something
"Wait. Wait. Hold on," Jack said, remembering an article
he'd read. "Wait a minute - you're the woman who was involved in burning down
that newspaper! I just read about that. The while building collapsed,
"That rag!?" Flambeaux screeched. "They were all
lies, just lies! They wouldn't stop lying! None of it was true and
they wouldn't retract it! I'm famous! I'm a superhero! People should love me!
But I'm always in trouble! You believe their lies, too!"
Little wisps of
smoke and flames began to crackle off her costume.
"Just calm down,
Flambeaux," Jack said "we don't hold someone's past against them in the
"You hate me! You all hate me! You're just like the
rest of them..."
Fire burst from her hands and her eyes began to
glow. Jack readied a spell but before he could do anything, Sergeant McCabe
coughed and suddenly four armed men were in the room, their rifles all pointing
at Flambeaux's head, the barrels inches from her face.
"Calm that down,"
McCabe said softly.
Flambeaux's eyes were very wide and she didn't move.
Her eyes flicked from one gun to another, all of them pressed up against her
"Please escort Ms. Flambeaux off the base," Jack said evenly. The
four armed men and the young heroine left.
"You haven't heard the last
of me!" Flambeaux shouted from down the hallway. "I'm going to be
Jack turned to where McCabe still stood.
"That was fast
work, top," he said.
"Dealt with these supers before," McCabe grunted.
"You let 'em get to talking, they get all worked up and act silly. Better to pop
their bubble real quick. Nothing like having a gun up to your noggin to get your
attention focused on what really matters."
"Let's see who's next," Jack
said. He opened the folder. "Doctor Ribosome. Sounds promising."
opened the door. The man who walked in looked somewhat less than promising. He
was short, about sixty pounds overweight, had a mop of scraggly brownish hair
and a tangled beard. He was wearing an oversized Vanguard t-shirt and looked to
be in his young twenties.
"Doctor Ribosome?" Jack asked. "All I can get
from your dossier is that you have an 'unusually receptive and recombinant
genetic structure'. What exactly does that mean?"
"It means my body is
perfectly suited to receive any sort of treatment that would empower it," came
the reply. "I can readily accept being bathed in any sort of enhancing radiation
or energy or handle any serum or treatment you might have."
"You're saying that if we had a method of giving you super
powers, you'd accept it?" Jack said.
"Willingly," Doctor Ribosome
"You don't have any powers or abilities of your own?" Jack
"I have dozens of powers and abilities," Doctor Ribosome replied
"waiting to be unlocked."
"Look, junior," Jack said "if I had a super
treatment waiting around, ready to be used, there are a dozen guys I'd consider
it giving to you long before y- in fact, your name wouldn't even be on the
list. If I could give someone powers, the first person I'd consider
would probably be... Sergeant McCabe!"
idiot out of here," Jack said. The sergeant snapped his fingers.
Doctor Ribosome yelled as two soldiers grabbed him. "You can't do this to me! I
spent all day getting down here!"
"And you'll spend all day getting back
home," Jack said, shaking his head as 'Doctor Ribosome' was dragged from his
A tall spindly man entered the room. He was wearing a
light-colored jacket over a plaid shirt and had on silver-framed glasses. His
dark hair was well groomed and he seemed rather normal, except for the odd
intensity in his eyes.
"Doctor Pennon?" Jack read off the page. "It
doesn't really say here was you can do. What are your abilities?"
developed a 'psycho-serum' that can unlock a person's mind-body potential," he
said "delivering to a normal human an amazing array of powers and
"Oh good God," he said "you've actually
got a super-serum?"
"Psycho-serum," the doctor
"Why do you want to join the Lancers?" Jack asked.
cost of capitalizing on my research was enormous," the doctor replied "and I've
only been able to synthesize one treatment. I'll need additional funding to
continue and expand on my work - and my work is too meaningful, too
ground-breaking, to let some corporation or university get their hands on it. I
certainly wouldn't trust the military with it - but Vanguard is a United
Nations effort and is dedicated to protecting the entire Earth. I'm sure you'd
be interested in working with me to mass-produce the serum and gain an edge for
your own forces - an edge no one else could have."
"You've only got one
treatment?" Jack asked.
Doctor Pennon brandished a pneumatic injector
filled with a dark fluid.
"Behold the psycho-serum!" he
"What, exactly, does this psycho-serum do?" Jack
"A single injection of the psycho-serum," Doctor Pennon said "will
transform the recipient into a powerful behemoth, a towering creature of
mindless rage and fury..."
"...mindless rage and fury?" Jack
asked, but Doctor Pennon's torrent of words was not to be stopped.
unstoppable juggernaut of indestructible might, fueled by uncontrollable
"...a raging monstrous
titan whose incomprehensible savagery renders it an invincible engine of
unmatched destructive force!"
"...an invincible engine of destructive
force?" Jack asked.
"Unmatched destructive force," Doctor
Pennon replied, breathing heavily after his tirade. "At least until the serum
"Doctor," Jack said patiently "you may find this difficult to
believe but I don't need a 'raging monstrous titan' - certainly not one that's
uncontrollable and angry all the time. We're fighting a war here, not trying to
bust stuff up."
Sergeant McCabe snorted.
"Could've fooled me,
sir," he said.
"You - you're not interested?" Doctor Pennon said,
incredulous. "You don't want the psycho-serum?"
"No, Doctor," Jack said.
"I don't want the psycho-serum."
"Again! Again I am shackled by the
limited minds of fools!" Doctor Pennon roared. "I'll show you! I'll show you
He raised the psycho-serum injector in one arm and readied his
"Omigod!" Jack shouted, thinking quickly. He pointed. "What's
Startled, Doctor Pennon turned to look at the empty doorway and
Jack lunged over his desk and snatched the injector from the doctor's
"Thank you for your time, Doctor Pennon," Jack said. "We'll be
giving you proposal all the consideration it deserves. Please show the good
doctor off the Compound, sergeant."
"No! Wait! You can't..." Doctor
Pennon began but two soldiers dragged him from the room. Jack tossed the
injector in his desk drawer and slammed it shut.
"What are you going to
do with the psycho-serum, sir?" Michiko asked.
"Save it for my next
date," Jack snapped. "Send in the next candidate - and find out who's reviewing
these applicants and make certain they don't get to review any more. This is
getting too crazy."
"Sane as it ever was, sir," Michiko said, handing him
the next folder.
"You're in rare form today, lieutenant."
Jack cracked the dossier open but before he could look at it,
the door opened and a tall man in dark bluish-purple body armor with grey-white
details entered. He had a thatch of jet black hair and wore a domino mask - the
kind that made his eyes out to be luminous white orbs. He was muscular,
obviously fit, and moved well - which implied some kind of martial arts or
combat training. Jack nodded, he had a good feeling about this one ... until his
eyes looked at the papers in front of him.
"Noob," he said, not believing
his eyes. "Your name is Noob."
"That's right," the man said, his sounding
much younger than his appearance. Jack revised his estimates and put "Noob" in
his late teens.
"And you can 'control and manipulate energy fields -
including energy blasts or energy punches'?"
"Yep," Noob replied. His
hands suddenly glowed with purple-blue energies.
"Please do not
demonstrate this in my office," Jack said. "It's been a rough day on the
"Okay," he said and the energy around the man's hands
vanished as suddenly as it had formed.
"I have to ask," Jack said. "For
someone obviously gifted with some decent powers - why did you choose the name
"It's my name," the man replied. "You see, my parents were big
Mortal Kombat fans..."
"...Mortal Kombat fans."
named me after his favorite character."
"So your name is..."
Saibot Vogel," Noob said.
"Honestly, my mid-"
"Stop," Jack said.
"You're in. Down the hall and to your left..."
"It's not really that
bad," Noob said as he headed out the door. "If you're going to feel sorry, feel
sorry for my sister... Scorpion."
"Where do they find these
people!?" Jack sighed after the door had closed.
"With all due
respect, sir, Sergeant McCabe said "I think the kid shows some promise, screwy
name or no."
"I've got an energy projector named Noob," Jack said and
shook his head. "Show in the next one, lieutenant."
"Just send them in," Jack said. "How much worse can it
An enormous golden serpent-man slithered into the room.
am Sithius," he hissed. His huge cobra-head loomed over Jack's desk and his
fangs dripped venom.
=== === ===
Flambeaux's hands clenched but
she kept them from bursting into flames, the anger and hurt pride she felt held
in check by the guns pressed up to her head. She was pretty sure she could kill
two or three of the Vanguard assholes but she'd have to get all four before one
of them blew a big hole in her head and she was angry - but she wasn't angry
enough to take that risk. The line to that jerk Pentecost's office stretched
down the hall - every loser and idiot in Paragon City must have turned out
today. She'd been a fool to think that joining the Lancers would make her
different or special. They were just another bunch of morons - the
same as all the rest.
Nobody cared. Nobody frigging cared and that was
the sad and terrible truth.
She'd burn the whole damn place down except
it was all made from metal and probably wouldn't burn that well. That and they'd
blow her head off if she tried.
As they were walking past the line of
freaks and mutants, a tall, slim muscular man in a golden paramilitary outfit
near the back stepped in front of them and Flambeaux's little armed entourage
came to a stop. The newcomer smiled a knowing smile. He was handsome,
clean-shaven and had a wave of tawny hair and he carefully raised his hands as
the four armed men turned to look at him.
"I'm not certain what
happened," the man said in a very cultured tone "but gentlemen, surely this is
"Please step aside, sir," one of her guards
"None of us wants any trouble," the man said calmly "and I'm
certain the young lady has learned her lesson. You all have important duties to
attend to, I'm sure. You don't need to look after her anymore. I'll attest to
her good behavior and I'll make certain she leaves the base. You can take that
as a given and return to your duties. I'm sure you know how important they
The four men looked at each other and then nodded.
right, sir," one of them said. "Thank you."
"Any time," the man replied.
"Keep up the good work."
Amazed, Flambeaux watched the four Vanguard
soldiers turn and walk away. Now, she could really let go! Bright fires surged
around her hands.
"I'm going to burn every one of those jerks down to
ash!" she snarled.
"Don't be silly young lady," the man said. "You're way
too smart for that."
"What!?" Flambeaux said, looking up.
burn this place down," he explained "all you'll do is end up with another bad
headline in the press, and someone with your talent and ability doesn't need
that. There are far better ways to use your powers."
He was right, in an odd way. The fires around her slowly flickered and went
"I don't think I'm going to get in to see Colonel Pentecost today,"
the man said "the line is too long and moving too slowly, so I have some free
time. I'd like to talk with you about some ... opportunities. Something that a
person with your obvious gifts and power would be perfect for. Why don't you
come with me and we can discuss it?"
It definitely sounded better than
anything with these Vanguard morons. Flambeaux nodded.
"Sounds good," she
said. "Where to?"
"Right this way," the man said. For a moment, just a
moment, Flambeaux wondered what it is was she was doing but then the man was
speaking again and there was something - something about his voice or
maybe his eyes ... she lost that thought too, and just nodded as the man
kept talking and making sense.
=== === ===
"...so you're in
trouble with Stheno," Jack said, trying to parse out what the Snake was telling
"Yessss," Sithius hissed. "The hatchery wasss lossst. Sssaphus
feared punisssment and ssso blamed me to sssave himself!"
Jack fought the
urge to put his head in his hands. The extended sibilants were starting to give
him a headache.
"Let me see if I've got this straight," Jack said. "You
fled the Rogue Isles because you're being chased by an angry
"Gorgon," Sithius clarified.
"...Gorgon and for
safety you came here?"
"Yessss," Sithius hissed. "Sssaved the
world lassst week. Can sssave me."
"Right," Jack said. "Thanks but no
thanks. We're in the middle of war, here. We don't have the time to take on
angry snake gods."
"I said your application for
membership is denied."
"You fear the Snake Mother!" Sithius
"Actually, I never really even thought about her," Jack said
"but fighting the Rikti are enough for one lifetime. Next!"
but... whatever ssshall I do!?" Sithius asked, for a moment looking sad and
"The Midnight Club managed to bust up Rularuu the Ravager," Jack
said. "They can probably help you with Stheno."
"Yeah, I have a good idea every now and then," Jack replied.
"When you get to Paragon City, hit up Sigil or Kadabra Kill. I hear they're soft
"Many thanksss," Sithius said and slithered from the
"Kinda creepy, sir," Sergeant McCabe said.
"We've got enough
problems of our own," Jack said "without adding the Snakes."
got a problem with Snakes," a rough voice said from the doorway "I guess I've
been wasting my time waiting here."
Jack looked up to see a
strange-looking man leaning on the doorframe. He had yellow mottled scaly skin,
one red luminous eye, a black eye patch over the other and viper fangs. He was
wearing combat fatigues and a leather vest with a revolver was holstered on
either hip. A smoldering cigar butt jutted from his jaws and his sported a dark
beard. Jack flipped the folder open.
"Gunmetal Snake," he read "also
known as Addershot also known as..."
"Been called a lot of things," the
"I've heard of you," McCabe said, startling Jack. "You used to
run with that mercenary Burke over in the Rogue Isles. Last I heard, you got in
trouble with the Catastrophe Corps. They had you up in that techno-tower they
have in Nerva."
"The tower or the Catastrophe
"It says here that your 'hybrid metabolism' allows
you 'combat reactions far faster than a normal man's'," Jack said. "I get that
you're tough - what I don't get a feel for is how reliable you are."
get the job done," the snake-man said. "One way or another."
roved over the file again.
"There are arrest warrants out for you all
over the place, it seems."
The snake man shrugged.
"I'll take a
chance with you, tough guy," Jack said finally. "Down the hall and to your left.
We may have to save you up for ops in the Rogue Isles. Doesn't look like
anywhere else in the world is safe for you..." Jack's eyes scanned the page
again and lighted on a name "... S. D. 'Bob' Creskin."
"Call me Snake,"
the newcomer said with a dark smile. He turned and walked away.
of folders was still towering. Jack wondered how many of these potential
recruits there were.
"We're three for six," Jack said "that's not bad,
"Sir!" Michiko said, shocked.
An enormous eight or nine foot tall humanoid
canine wearing bulky blue and silver combat armor came into the room. He had to
hunch to fit through the doorway. His massive form towered over everything
around him and his bulky body radiated a chill air. His white, furred canine
face sported massive fangs and the most startling blue eyes. Jack
"...and you are ... Psiberian Husky," Jack read off the page.
"It says here you've developed 'psychic abilities' and a 'mastery of cold and
"That's right," the huge creature rumbled.
"How did you
come by these abilities?" Jack asked. "For that matter - what are you?
I've never seen a mutation like that - are you a hybrid or-"
matter?" the Husky growled.
Jack cocked his head for moment and stared
into those bright blue eyes. He smiled.
"Actually, no," he said "no, it
doesn't. Sergeant McCabe?"
"You okay with our friend
"Looks like a winner to me, sir," McCabe said.
big guy," Jack said. "Down the hall and to your left."
The huge creature
nodded once and squeezed back out of the room.
"Big and powerful, we can
work with," McCabe said.
"I thought you didn't like aliens and supers,"
"I don't," McCabe replied. "I do like
"Let's see if we can speed this up," Jack said. "There's a huge
line out there. Who's next?"
A muscular, well-built brunette walked into
the room. She wore a flack jacket and combat fatigues. She had dark eyes, wore a
black beret and radiated a quiet, capable air. Her cold eyes flicked over the
room once and she nodded, as if to herself.
"Tatiana Porovskaya," Jack
read. "Trained by Spetzsnatz. Worked for the Knives of Artemis. I see you've
done work in Africa, Egypt, Singapore - you've got quite a record
"There's always work to be done," the woman said, her voice low
and husky with just a trace of Slavic accent.
"It says here you've
mastered a dozen forms of martial art, as well as pretty much every weapon I've
ever heard of," Jack said "but what would you say your specialty is,
"Mage-Killer Tatiana!" the woman shouted, pulling out two
enormous silver knives which glowed blue with unknown energies. "Die,
She lunged forward and Jack dove to the side. One knife hit
the back of his chair and the metal screamed. The other found flesh in his left
shoulder. The blade burned and froze simultaneously. The woman pulled back with
the knife that missed and raised it, but before she could move Michiko yelled an
ear-shattering battle cry and launched a spinning back kick that caught
Mage-Killer Tatiana under the chin. The woman sailed backwards, her head hitting
the metal door. She slumped bonelessly to the floor and didn't move.
looked down at where the glowing silver blade jutted from his
"Damn, does that hurt," he muttered. The door burst open and at
McCabe's direction, two soldiers bundled the "Mage-Killer" out of the room.
"Think nothing of it, sir," Michiko replied. "Are
"No," Jack said, his voice sharp. "I've got a knife the
size of a breadbox stuck in my shoulder."
"Want I should pull it out,
sir?" McCabe said.
"No," Jack replied. "If you do, I'll bleed out all
over the place. Let's get me to the infirmary and see if we can get me sewn up -
or maybe Maridian can work her wonders on it."
Michiko gingerly picked up
the other knife.
"This feels really weird, sir," she said, staring at the
"There's a -ah- legend," Jack said, gritting his teeth as
standing up jarred his shoulder. "That - ack- that a set of ritually consecrated
knives - one made by melting down the Crown of Enos, and the other forged from
the Scepter of Mot - both consecrated at midnight on Walpurgisnacht at the Dome
of the Rock, would -ow- create a negative resonance between them so that if both
struck the flesh of a sorcerer simultaneously, the resulting conflict of powers
would instantly slay him."
Michiko stared at the knife in her hand and at
the one in Jack's shoulder.
"Tatiana there was very enterprising," Jack
said. "Pity she chose to waste all her efforts on me."
stared at the knife in her hand and at the one in Jack's shoulder,
"Obviously," Jack drawled. "I don't believe any such blather. It's
Michiko just stared at him, now.
"Look, just be
careful where you put that one, okay?" Jack said. "And cancel all my
appointments. And get me medical attention."
"Come with me sir," Sergeant
McCabe said, putting his hand under Jack's good arm. Together they staggered
from the room, leaving Michiko to tell the waiting hopefuls they'd have to come
back another day. They were slowly working their way down the hallway when they
spotted Maridian and Pip Squeak heading the other way.
Maridian said "I wanted to ask you a fav- what happened to
"Rough sex," Jack snarled. "What does it look like, sergeant!?
I got stabbed!"
"Mage-killer," Sergeant McCabe explained
"Mage-killer?" Maridian asked.
"It's an occupational
hazard," Jack said. "If you don't mind, could you pull this thing out of me and
patch me up?"
Maridian put one hand on Jack's chest and one on the handle
of the blade. tensing, she pulled the blade out and green energy flowed from her
hand until Jack's whole form glowed. His head seemed to clear and the pain
"The knife hit the bone," Maridian said, her eyes roving over his
shoulder. "I've closed the wound but you'll need time to heal internally. Eat a
lot of red meat - protein - and drink lots of liquids."
"I think a big
steak dinner is a fine idea," Jack said. "It's been a real corker of a
His comlink buzzed. Jack froze for a second and gathered himself
before picking it up.
"Pentecost," he said. "Shoot."
"We need to
speak with you immediately, Colonel," Lady Grey said.
"On my way," Jack
repliedand clicked the unit off. "The comedy never stops around
"How would you know if it did?" Pip Squeak replied.
Maridian said "before you go - I have to tell you something about
"I'm all ears, sergeant," Jack said.
explained her theories about the fallen Infected and what would need to be done
to save him. Jack nodded when she finished.
"We'll need to pull a team
together," he said. "We can't leave the guy the way he is. He's got a lot of
heart for a mutated zombie-man. Hell! If we need to make a covert strike into
the Rogue Isles I've got the perfect guy to scout it out! Sergeant,
"Rustle up your buddy, Snake."
"He's not my
buddy, sir," McCabe said "but I see where you're going. On it."
"Let me see what Lady Grey wants and then we'll work on our
Mercy Island assault," he said. He left the small group talking in the hallway
and walked down to Lady's Grey's door. After a moment to knock, he
"We have received urgent news from Gaussian's sources," Lady
Grey said the moment Jack entered her office. Gaussian himself was sitting in
one of the chairs and he nodded as Jack settled into the other
"Intelligence has managed to crack several of the Fifth Column's
communications nodes," Gaussian said.
"So you're reading their messages?"
"Negative," Gaussian replied. "We haven't cracked their
ciphers yet. What we can do however, is see where the messages are coming
and going - who they're talking to, like that."
"This has enabled our
agents to locate many Fifth Column bases throughout the area," Lady Grey
explained "and to determine where their central data repository must be - their
"Nine of ten indicators point to location zebra in
Boomtown," Gaussian said. "I consider it confirmed."
Jack rubbed his
"I'm a little fuzzy right now," he said. "Why do we need to know
where the Fifth Column's data center is?"
"Because Protean was Fifth
Column and We need to know the fate of Incandescent," Lady Grey replied,
her eyes cold. "We regard that information as critical."
are you that it's there?" Jack asked.
"We were able to pull the
transmission logs from the compromised nodes," Gaussian explained. "We see a
communication from this compound, from Doctor Pomfroy's office, which is
timestamped within minutes of the doctor's death."
"And you think that's
from Protean to his bosses," Jack mused.
"It seems likely," Gaussian
said. "We show a series of similar messages, with the same sender code, coming
from the United Nations building in New York City for several days prior to
"I get it," he said "and you think
that was Protean, disguised as Incandescent, sending messages from her office at
"That's great work, Gaussian.
The man nodded acceptance of the praise.
"We want this
information, Colonel," Lady Grey said. "We therefore are authorizing your team
to strike at this Fifth Column base and raid their data center. We want their
records, all of their records or whatever you can recover."
it's their man data center," Jack said. "How heavily guarded is it going to
"Preliminary indicators show the facility to be mostly automated,
with personnel limited to maintenance staff," Gaussian said. "We expect there to
be little to no resistance to a rapid strike."
"Right, I'm on it," Jack
said. He pulled out his comlink again. "Lieutenant Michiko. Cancel all leaves.
We've got an immediate operation in the works."
"Cancel all leaves?'
Gaussian asked. "The place is empty."
"Better safe than sorry," Jack
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions:
(This immediately follows the Medner Lazarus Task Force
and immediately precedes the Manticore Task Force.)
squinted at the massive array of characters on the screen before her.
see a lot of communication logs and a lot of door entry and exit logs," she
said. "Tell me what I'm looking at here."
Captain Petroff rubbed his
thick black mustache with his hand and leaned forward, his bright blue eyes
"We've been unable to install any kind of surveillance equipment
in Jack Pentecsot's office or his personal quarters," he said "but we can
trace any incoming or outgoing calls and use the door access records to verify
the time that anyone ever enters or leaves either location. It occurred to me
that that, combined with video feeds from the hallways outside these rooms,
should give us a reasonable baseline of activity - who is in the rooms, who
they're talking to, and pieces of what they're doing. From that we can
infer activities that occur during periods we're not able to directly
"I'm with you so far," the Magdalene said "and good thinking. What
am I not seeing? These are door logs and call codes from all over the
"When I compiled the access logs, there were some odd gaps,"
Petroff said. "Gaps where the communication logs indicate someone was in the
room, but the door access codes show no entries. It was too weird - so I pulled
the maintenance records."
"Our logs show
anytime someone has used an access badge to open a secure door," Petroff said.
"We record the identity of the person and time of entry. The maintenance logs
are for the service crew. They simply record the number of times a door has
opened and closed, and when it gets past a certain number - I think it's five
thousand - they signal for a tech to come and service the locking
"So the maintenance logs show that the doors
have opened and closed more times than the access logs show someone has entered
The Magdalene turned and stared at Petroff.
"Son of a
bitch," she said. "Son of a bitch."
compromised the system."
"Is there anything on the video?"
the Magdalene asked.
"It doesn't even show the door opening and closing,"
"Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn!" the Magdalene looked
through the logs in front of her. "The comm feeds?"
"It's tougher to
tell, but I suspect calls have been erased or not logged," Petroff
The Magdalene swore like a sailor.
"How sure are you of
this, Petroff?" she asked when she was done.
"Pretty sure," he said. "I
thought it possible the records are just off and have been for months, or years
- so I cleared the counters on the doors and checked them after a week. I show
doors opening and closing with no record of it in the access card
"God damn it," the Magdalene breathed. "We're entirely
Petroff nodded grimly.
Magdalene stared at the logs, her eyes cutting through them like
"It can't be Pentecost and his bunch," she said in a low
grim tone. "I've got them under 24 hour surveillance. We'd know it if they were
"Yeah," Petroff said.
else..." the Magdalene breathed.
"Someone with as much an interest in
the Lancers as you have," Petroff said.
"Do we have any idea how
long this has been going on?" the Magdalene asked.
"I've got a team
going through the door counters and the access logs and matching things up,"
Petroff said "but it has to be done manually and it's time consuming. It could
be a while before we know. I'd never have even caught all this if you hadn't
insisted that we pull all the records that had anything to do with the Lancers.
It's not in any of the individual logs, it only becomes apparent when you try to
reconcile them all."
"It's brilliant work, Petroff," the Magdalene said.
"Yeah well," the man said diffidently "I had a lot of time
to think doing those sweeps of Crey's Folly."
"Cancel that," the
Magdalene said "we need every man here. We've got to get to the bottom of this.
Get into the system and pull the records of everyone has access to these systems
- not just administrative, anyone who can even view the logs or log into the
servers that run the logging programs. Put together a list of everyone who could
possibly have accessed these systems and let's start going through it. We need
to find our rat."
"On it," Petroff said.
"Where is Colonel
Pentecost, by the way," the Magdalene said, her mind never straying far from her
obsession. "I see he's not on base today."
"He and his team are on some
kind of reconnaissance mission for Lady Grey," Petroff replied. "They should be
=== === ===
Jack Pentecost pulled the field glasses
from the case his belt. The things were a marvel of electronic technology. Small
enough to fit in a pocket, they enabled better than 200x magnification. He
slowly eased out over the railing and took a look at the huge area below the
landing he was on.
"I make out a hundred, maybe two hundred soldiers,"
Pole Shift rumbled from next to him.
Jack's eyes roved the assembled
troops - all in red and black uniforms sporting an endless array of automatic
weaponry. All of them were looking upwards as a dark figure who was speaking
before them. Jack's gazed followed theirs to the raised platform on the opposite
side of the room.
"Someone mark this down," Jack ordered. "I can ID three
grade one threats: Requiem. Maestro. Vandal."
"Kicked his ass just two
days ago," Pole Shift said.
"He seems pretty well recovered," Jack
"That's a lot of troops," Bunni said. "A lot a lot of
"'Tis a fine target selection," MacDice crowed.
to no resistance," Jack muttered. "Mostly automated. Personnel limited to
"Boy, was that wrong," Bunni said.
I ever listen to an intelligence estimate again," Jack said "someone hit
"Deal," MacDice said.
"So what do we do?" the Star Queen
Jack looked out over the room again. The place was huge, with
catwalks and walkways spanning several stories. Platforms existed at varying
heights and stairways and ramps led up and down. A massive open area, obviously
designed for troops to assemble, was at the bottom and above it was the platform
and podium where Requiem was speaking. Large metallic doorways were on either
side of the main floor and Jack just knew they were there to flood the room with
even more Fifth Column soldiers if necessary. Huge banners - a white skull on a
red and black background, hung from the rafters.
"You're sure we
have to go through here to get to the main computer console," Jack
Agent Three consulted his map.
"You see that doorway behind
where Requiem is?" he said.
"According to Gaussian's
information, that's where the main control room
"I have the details on the villains right here,"
"How'd you manage that?" Jack asked.
"I went to
the Superhype website on my iPhone," the young mutant replied.
"Requiem is Nictus," Razortail said. "He
is an energy vampire. He can leech the life force from everything around him and
turn it into a dark damaging energy he can project."
marvelous," Jack drawled.
"Maestro has sonic powers," Razortail went on.
"It says here he has no hand to hand skills whatsoever."
"What do you
want to bet the Superhype website is more accurate than Vanguard's database?"
Luminous Lad said.
"No bet," MacDice laughed.
"Big and strong," Jack said. "We know. We fought him a day
"There are twelve of us," Bunni pointed out "and over two hundred
"Requiem will ha' to send out fer more Nazi guys," MacDice
"Okay," Jack said, his voice commanding attention. "Here's what
=== === ===
Lady Grey looked
up from the paperwork on her desk and looked around. The room was
Lady Grey, can I talk to you a minute?
The head of
the Vanguard was puzzled for just a second.
Yeah. I didn't want to disturb you if you were busy. You mind
if I drop by?
"Not at all, child," Lady Grey said. "Please come down
to my office.
The faint touch of Penelope's mind on hers faded and Lady
Grey shook her head. Young Ms. Yin had grown powerful indeed is she was able to
make telepathic contact at a distance.
A soft knock on the door came very
"Come in, Penelope," Lady Grey said. The door opened and the
young Chinese girl came into the room. She'd removed her usual baseball cap and
was wearing the purplish Vanguard t-shirt that seemed to have caught on with all
the younger members under a greyish vest. "What can I do for you?"
a couple of things," Penelope said. "I need your advice."
Penelope," Lady Grey said. "What is the matter?"
hedged. "It's the Clockwork King. He's getting mad because I won't talk to
"We discussed this, Penelope," Lady Grey said "and we agreed that
you would do best to avoid him. His obsession with you in unhealthy - for him as
well as you - and he is, to be blunt, a dangerous sociopath."
always been nice to me," Penelope said. "I feel bad for him."
recall our shared visions," Lady Grey said "in the future you saw his plans for
you - as a clockwork being similar to him. As I recall, your reaction was
"I've been thinking, too," Penelope said. "Maybe he only got
like that because I was ignoring him. Maybe if I'd paid him some attention and
gotten to know him, he'd get better instead. Maybe I can change the
future, if I act differently than I would have..."
"And maybe by doing so
you will create the very future you're trying to avoid," Lady Grey
"I don't know what to do," Penelope said "but I have to do
"We find that to be the most dangerous state to make
decisions in," Lady Grey said. "Until you have some idea of what you are hoping
to accomplish, it is better to hold off on making any decisions."
"Was there anything else?"
"Yeah," Penelope said. "You
told me that the Rikti were looking for me because I'm such a powerful
"So, after working with you so much, I started
looking for them," Penelope said.
scanning the city for Rikti," Penelope said. "It's not that hard. Their brains
are all funny."
"You've been scanning a major city for Rikti thought
patterns?" Lady Grey asked, holding her voice steady. The amount of sheer mental
ability it would take to sift through the thoughts of millions of people looking
for unusual thought patterns was staggering.
"Yeah," Penelope said "and
there's a lot of them."
"A lot of Rikti in Paragon City?" Lady Grey
"Not in it," Penelope said. "Under it."
"In the sewers," Penelope said.
"The Rikti are conducting
large operations in the sewers under Paragon City!?" Lady Grey almost
"I don't know," Penelope said. "There's something big
down there. Something big and inhuman. I think they're hurting
"I thought maybe you should have someone
check it out."
=== === ===
It hadn't worked.
The plan had
been simple - create a distraction and hit the Fifth Column's leadership while
they were split up. Jack had sent Agent Three and Two Smoking Barrels to pull
the fire alarm in the fuel bay. The minute the claxons started going off,
Requiem's speech had stopped and the troops started breaking up. Maestro and
Vandal had left the room and that had seemed like the perfect moment to launch
an all-out attack on Requiem.
Unfortunately Maestro and Vandal had turned
around. From there things went downhill rapidly. A flood of troops came back
into the room and all hell had broken loose. The main floor had dissolved down
into a chaotic melee with no coordination and no strategy at all.
had fallen quickly enough. MacDice and Razortail had jumped on the man the
minute he stepped back into the room and blood had flown in between a few
ear-piercing shrieks. The website had been right, he had no combat skills at
all. He'd gone down in a pile of bloody rags within minutes.
when things had taken a severe turn for the worse. For a brief moment the
Lancers had the initiative and had tossed the Fifth Column soldiers around like
rag dolls. Pole Shift had pounded on Requiem and the Fifth Column's dark leader,
his head enveloped in an inky black smoke that only two burning eyes shown
through, had been hard pressed to even keep his feet under the assault. Then a
squad of Fifth Column troops had riddled the Star Queen with machinegun fire.
The bullets hadn't really hurt her, but they'd staggered her back and that had
allowed Vandal a chance to sneak up behind her. His huge armored form had raised
a fist the size of a cinderblock and brought it down on the top her head. She'd
Pole Shift let out an inarticulate cry of rage and
rushed to her rescue. Bullets were useless against him so at first a handful and
then a dozen of the Fifth Column soldiers had leapt on him. He'd ended up slowly
staggering forwards as a mob of men hung off him and then Requiem had launched
something like a swirling black cloud of smog that arced through the air
trailing black vapors and it had hit the huge struggling mass of men and Pole
The Fifth Column soldiers fell to the ground, white and dead, and
Pole Shift had been left staggering where he stood, barely able to keep his
feet. A second blast from Requiem had taken him down as well.
stepped in at that point, having cleared a space around with a mystic blast that
knocked the Fifth Column troops away and launched a volley of mystical energies
at Requiem. The dark villain hadn't even noticed. Those burning eyes turned
towards Jack and the next thing he knew he was flying across the room and then
lying on the floor staring mindlessly up at the ceiling trying to figure out
where he was and what he was doing.
By the time he'd regained his senses
and managed to roll over and get his arms under himself enough to push himself
slightly off the floor, the whole team was down - except for MacDice.
scrappy Scotsman was gamely fighting Requiem, dashing in to slash at the
smoldering villain, then dodging back, ducking and weaving between blasts of
dark matter, jumping around to avoid the gunfire the Fifth Column troops were
sending his way. It was a brave effort but Jack could see it wouldn't last. The
Scotsman was covered in blood - places were bullets had grazed him or he'd
caught the trailing edge of Requiem's black energies. It was only a matter of
time before MacDice went down as well and that would be it.
and forced himself off the floor. He couldn't make it to his feet. Whatever
Requiem had hit him with had sucked the life right out of him. Not for the first
time, Jack wished Maridian was there. They hadn't been able to reach the field
medic when they'd canceled leaves and so the assault on the Fifth Column had
happened without her.
He had to get the team back on their feet or they
were all dead. Who knew what Requiem would do once he'd captured the whole
group? Jack was sure it wouldn't be pleasant.
An awful idea hit him. He
understood, at an intellectual level, what Requiem was doing. It shouldn't be
that hard to do it the other way ... steal the life from the people
around him and feed it to the Lancers. There were a lot of Fifth Column
Jack already knew how to pull from
the Dweller. That being's entire existence was draining energies from others and
turning it to its own purpose.
They were enemies. If
things had gone differently, a lot of them would have died anyway. Did it really
make that much of a difference?
They were all going
to die here anyways if he didn't. He'd be dead in less than a year no matter
what. What difference did it make?
Jack pulled. Jack
pulled harder than he'd done since the day he'd launched the ritual on the Rikti
Homeworld. Power flooded into him - not from the universe or the environment or
from the Dweller but from every living thing around him. A huge black wave
rolled out from Jack Pentecost and enveloped everyone in the room. There was a
soundless implosion and streams of black energy flowed into him and he regained
his feet. He raised his arms and waves of blackness rolled out and suddenly all
of the Lancers were swirling in the air, revived. The Fifth column troops
staggered, dazed and weakened and Requiem's burning eyes turned to look at Jack
Pentecost and they promised death.
Jack smiled his mocking smile but
before he could do anything else, Agent Three leapt into the room and there was
a massive impervium sword in either hand. He fell on Requiem from behind and
while somehow the blades couldn't penetrate Requiem's dark aura, they staggered
him. A revitalized MacDice moved in as well, claws flashing.
Barrels jumped down from the balcony above and landed next to Jack, a smoldering
cigarillo in his mouth.
"You'll be smoking a turd in hell for that
one," he said.
"You can light it up for me," Jack replied with a
"We hurried back as quick as we could," Two Smoking Barrels
explained, pulling out his guns. "Thought you might need the help. Looks like we
"It's gotten ugly," Jack said. "Alright! Don't just stand
there looking stupid!" he yelled. "Take down Vandal then everyone pile on
As the Fifth Column troopers started to recover, the Lancers
were already moving. They'd taken down Vandal once - with the group focused on
him, he went down quickly. The team shifted focus to where Agent Three and
MacDice were taking turns dodging in out and striking at
"Three!" Jack called. "Get up to the control room and grab that
data! Razortail, you watch his back! The rest of you, let's get this
Requiem's dark energies surged around him but now Jack was using
his own sorceries to pull back. Dark power surged back and forth across the room
along with bullets and energy blasts. Two Smoking Barrels gestured and all of a
sudden the Fifth Column were moving slower and the Lancers were moving faster.
Requiem sensed the tide of battle was turning against him and he cursed. He made
some subtle gesture and in a black flash, he was gone. The doors on the sides of
the room opened and hundreds of Fifth Column soldiers poured into the
"We have the files!" Razortail shouted from the
"Let's get out of here!" Jack said. He watched his teammates wink
out one by one before hitting his own teleport beacon. In an instant he was with
his ragged bloody band in the embarkation zone in the Vanguard Compound.
Gaussian uncrossed his arms and his typically stolid face had a shocked
look on it.
"What happened!?" he asked.
"Little to no
resistance," Jack said.
"Mostly automated," the Star Queen
"Personnel limited to maintenance staff," Bubble Bunni
"Don't quit your day job," Jack said. "Here's your
Agent Three tossed Gaussian a flash drive.
Levantera leaned on the walls of Fort Baldy and looked out over the
devastation that the Rikti Mothership had left when it had crashed into what was
now called Sunken Road. The wreckage and the ruin all around seemed to weigh
down on her sometimes. There were moments when everything seemed so hopeless.
Victory was simply managing to fight another day. At times the war seemed like
it had no end.
Borea walked up next to her, her long blonde hair blowing
gently in the breeze.
"It's nice night," Borea said to her
"How can you say that?" Levantera asked. "It's seriously
"Just smell that cool fresh air," Borea
Levantera looked out to where dozens of Rikti bodies lay
sprawled in the streets. They'd made an attempt on the fort earlier and been
"It smells like death," Levantera said.
are you going on about?" Borea said. "Somethings set you off."
gotten reports of Nemesis and Arachnos setting up operations in Pavia and around
Fort Montgomery," Levantera said "and we know the Malta has staked out the area
around where the White Plains Hospital used to be. They're like vultures,
circling. Doesn't anybody care about fighting the Rikti!?"
"Not as long
as we're doing it," Borea said.
"That's the point," Levantera said.
"Can't they leave us alone? What are they going to do if we lose?"
not going to lose," Borea said. "We've got the best technology, the latest
science, and we're on the cutting edge of everything. Of course they all want a
piece of that. We'll keep them at bay, we always do."
"I'm getting tired,
Borea," Levantera said.
The blonde powerhouse turned to look at her
"You're not still mooning over that Pentecost jerk, are
"You were right, Borea," Levantera said. "He's not who I thought he
"He's not that bad, really," Borea said.
"I'm agreeing with
you, you idiot!" Levantera snapped.
"I changed my mind," Borea
"Can't you agree with me for five
"Don't get all huffy with me because you fell for
him and then decided to blow him off!"
"How can you like him
"I don't like like him, you doof."
"You know what I
"He's got a good heart," Borea said.
"You didn't look into his eyes," she said. "He's burning himself
up. He's taking himself apart and he doesn't care who or what goes down with
him. Lady Grey has pointed him like a rocket at the Rikti and nothing is going
to survive the explosion. He's dark, Borea. He's really
Borea's bright eyes met her sister's dark ones.
said "you were a villain. Don't go casting stones. I fought you for
"I was a villain," Levantera said "I wasn't
"Toh-may-to, toh-mah-to," Borea said.
it when you do that."
"You get so emotional, Lev," Borea said. "You need
to stay on an even keel. Someone's either always the best thing ever or
they're dark and vile. People are just people. He's not that bad. He's a
jerk, that I'll grant you - but so what - the Envoy is a total jerkoff - and
don't even get me started on the Magdalene..."
"There is no point
in ever talking to you!" Levantera said.
"Then why do you keep
asking my advice?"
"I don't know!"
"Let's go downstairs and see if
we can figure out what Arachnos and Nemesis are doing," Borea said. "Planning to
attack things always cheers you up."
"It does not!"
humming and singing for weeks after we planned that assault on the Mothership,"
Borea pointed out.
"That was different!"
"We won. I
"Who doesn't? Come on. If we come up with a good plan,
Lady Grey will probably green light it and you can take heart from the fact we
saved the day again."
"Okay," Levantera gave in. "You're on ... I know
you're just distracting me, you know. This doesn't really fix
"You add up enough distractions," Borea said "and you've got
yourself a life."
=== === ===
"Are We correct in Our understanding
that you attempted a frontal assault on a full complement of Fifth Column
soldiers, including their core leadership?" Lady Grey asked, not looking up from
"We took down more than a company of Fifth Column troops and
Maestro and Vandal," Jack said, no trace of apology in his voice "and we forced
Requiem to flee his own secret headquarters."
"So we are now at war with
the Fifth Column," Lady Grey said.
"I'd say we were from the moment
Protean replaced Incandescent," Jack replied.
"You seem less intimidated
by Us than you were previously," Lady Grey said.
"At this point," Jack
said "I don't think I have a lot of room left for fear. Fear of failure,
Lady Grey nodded.
"We acknowledge that the errors leading
to this confrontation were not yours but belong instead to Our intelligence
units," she said. "You handled yourself admirably given the circumstances.
Gaussian has the information?"
"He's working on breaking the encryption
on the files now," Jack said. "He has no estimate for how long that will
"We have learned patience over the centuries, Colonel," Lady Grey
said. "Eventually, like a millstone, we shall grind out results."
Jack said. "Lady Grey..."
She looked up.
"My guys need a break,"
Jack said. "It's been non-stop for weeks."
"We expect things to slow down
for a while," Lady Grey said. "With our recent strikes against the Rikti
achieving such success, there should be a brief reduction in hostilities. It
will doubtless take Gaussian sometime to decrypt the Fifth Column's data. Give
your forces a furlough, Colonel. They've earned it."
"That should go over
"Except for you," Lady Grey went on. "We expect your recruitment
efforts to proceed apace."
"I hate that stuff," he
said. "These people are just crazy..."
"The sooner started, the sooner
=== === ===
"Let me just make sure
I have this right, Mr. Gottlieb" Jack Pentecost said, leaning forward on his
desk. "You can make your body break out in spots, and you can change the color
of those spots?"
"Yes!" the portly man replied, a wild look on his
unshaven round face. His hair was receding and he'd valiantly attempted to hide
the fact with a poor comb over.
"I'm afraid we have no need for that
particular ability at this time," Jack said. "Thank you for coming by,
"Have a nice day, Mr. Gottlieb," Jack said.
"My power is beyond your comprehension!" Gottlieb shouted as two
armed guards took him by the arms.
"That's exactly why we can't
use it," Jack explained. "Please show Mr. Gottlieb out."
The door to the
room opened and rather than the next candidate, Bubble Bunni walked
"Have you guys seen Luminous Lad?" she asked. "He was supposed to
show up at the infirmary with everyone for a checkup but he missed his
"I think he left to go see Mandy Lebeaux," Jack said. "I
kind of interrupted his date when we canceled leave yesterday."
"He got a
date with Mandy Lebeaux!?" Bunni asked, excited.
yet," he said. "I think he's going to ask her out."
"I guess," Jack said. His own dating life had been spectacular
only in its failure.
Before Bunni could say anything, a tall man in
electric blue powered armor walked into the room, barely managing to squeeze
through the door. He lifted his helmet's golden visor, revealing a blunt plain
"Steven Frost," Jack read off the file "Arctic
Bunni took one look at the man and her eyes went
"I'm going to go and tell the Doc that Brian can't make his
appointment and schedule one for tomorrow," she said quickly. "See
Jack blinked as she left the room. Arctic Strike's eyes followed
"It says here that you've modified a suit of experimental Rikti
armor giving you the ability to generate a 'defense of intense cold' and release
'bursts of electricity' in combat."
"That's right," Arctic Strike said.
"Who was that? She looked kind of familiar."
"Bunni?" Jack said. "She's
an officer in my unit. Why?"
The man shrugged.
"Dunno," he said.
"I've never met a Vanguard officer before. Nevermind."
are that all Rikti technology is to be turned over the Vanguard," Jack said.
"Why didn't you turn this equipment in when you found it?"
were attacking my home," Arctic Strike responded. "The suit worked for me. I put
it on. Tried to save my family..."
"I failed," the man
said in a sad voice. "Because I could use the equipment, I got a waiver. I've
been tinkering with it ever since."
"And now I want to
hit the Rikti back," he said, passion in his voice. "I want to hit them back
"You're in," Jack said. "Down the hall and to your
Arctic Strike nodded once and closed his visor. He walked from the
"Finally got a good one," Jack said.
"It's rare to go
through so many without even one viable candidate," Lieutenant Kaneko
"I think we've already gotten all the good ones," Jack replied.
"What's left are the nutcases and the losers."
"If you say so, sir,"
Jack opened his mouth to ask who was next but before he
could, the door opened and a huge man, his muscular body covered in an intricate
design of unending tattoos walked into the room liked he owned the place. He
wore baggy pants of some maroon color, tied off with an intricate white sash,
and the lower part of his face was covered with a white scarf. A disordered
thatch of black hair so dark as to almost be blue and dark intense eyes were all
that was visible above the scarf. Strapped to his back were two enormous swords,
their hilts jutting up above his shoulders. He crossed his hands over his barrel
chest and stared down at Jack with dark eyes.
"I am Ting Ping Lau, the
Steel Serpent," the man said in a deep resonant voice. "My mastery of the arts
of combat and skill with a blade is unmatched in the Western world. I will join
the Lancers now."
"Ting... Ping... Lau," he said,
struggling to keep a straight face.
"The Steel Serpent," the man said, as
if the name meant something.
"Judging by your markings, you'd be Tsoo,"
Jack said, his eyes looking the man up and down. "As I understand it, most of
the Tsoo spend their time in Steel Canyon or Independence Port living the wild
life - parties, blood sports, fast women, drugs, the whole nine. What are you
"I was a young fool," Ting Ping Lau said bluntly. "I was
misled by Tub Ci. I have mastered the art of the Swift Steel. I can control the
speed and rhythm of battle at will, making me unmatched with a blade or in any
form of combat. Tub Ci convinced me that this mastery entitled me to
earthly pleasures and I was foolish enough to believe him. He was and is gravely
mistaken. The true mastery comes only from honing such skills in service to a
worthy cause - and there is no cause more worthy than saving humanity. I seek to
refine my spirit through the perfection of my craft in service to the Vanguard
by testing myself against the Rikti hordes. I will join the Lancers
Jack's took off his glasses and his blazing eyes met Ting Ping's
"You get through the training and you're in," Jack said. The
Steel Serpent nodded.
"It is already done," he said.
hall and to your left," Jack replied, putting his glasses back on. Ting Ping Lau
turned and walked away, his back straight and his head high. "If he's half as
good as he thinks he is, we're two for two today."
"The next one looks
good too, sir," Michiko said. She handed him the next dossier.
in," Jack replied.
The man was tall and slim, muscular but in a lean
quick way rather than the bulky form of a weightlifter or wrestler. He had a
wave of tawny hair and a knowing smile. He was wearing some kind of golden-brown
paramilitary outfit and he hooked his thumbs in his belt and
"Liminal," Jack read. "Says here that you've developed
psychic powers - mainly the ability to control your own body's autonomic
systems - making you able to move and react faster than normal, as well as
manage feats of strength and endurance beyond the normal."
exactly right," the man said in a firm voice. "It also allows me to radiate an
extremely powerful charisma at times, but I try and keep that toned
"That's good to know," Jack said. "What can you do with all this
strength and speed?"
"I've studied a handful of combat techniques," the
man said. "I've also developed a series of wrist-mounted dart throwers and
projectile weapons to allow me a ranged attack. I'm very good with
"You're a hard one to read, Liminal," Jack said.
psychic thing," the man replied, smiling.
"You have any other psychic
powers?" Jack asked. "Read minds? Telepathy? Telekinesis?"
Liminal replied. "All I can do is influence myself and my own body. It's not a
bad deal, though."
"You got a name?"
"Blake," Liminal said. "Blake
"You're in, Blake Coyn," Jack replied. "Down the hall and to your
"Thank me by doing a good job," Jack
Liminal nodded and left the room. Jack turned to
"Keep an eye on him," he said.
about him makes me nervous," Jack said "but I can't put my finger on
"Will do, sir," Michiko replied.
"We're on a roll here," Jack
replied. "Who's next?"
Michiko handed him the folder even as the door
banged open and a young woman walked into the room. She was about average height
but had golden skin and long flowing black hair. She was wearing a skintight
outfit out bright yellow and black and there was a faint shimmery aura around
her. Jack put her at about seventeen - a precocious seventeen since she was
stunningly beautiful and from the way she held herself, obviously knew
"Ms. Midas," Jack read.
"That's right," she replied, putting
her hands on her hips.
"Any relation to..."
"King Midas is my
father," she replied.
"So your father is a super-villain?" Jack
"My father is an idiot who runs a candy factory and hires losers to
jet around with sonic guns and steal stupid crap," she replied. "It's
Jack closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his
"Midas has super powers," Jack began.
"...and so do I," Ms.
Midas said. "Same as him. My skin is impervious to harm and I'm super strong. I
can bench press a Buick."
"Why are you here, Ms. Midas?"
father is such a loser!" she said. "He could do so much and all he does is sit
around his stupid factory and steal stuff! My brother ran off to Paragon City
and now he's a big time super hero - Kid Midas! I want to do something that
matters. I've got powers, too. You guys matter. I can get training from
professionals, pick up some combat techniques, get my act together, and make a
big splash. You guys are in all the papers. You just worked with Citadel.
I have super powers. I just need a chance to do something with
Jack looked at her frankly.
"Strikes me, you've got an
attitude problem," he said.
Ms. Midas smiled and raised her hand. She
placed her fingers about an inch apart.
"Yeah, but it's a little one,"
"Okay, you're in," he said. "Down the
hall and to your
is so cool!"
"Wait 'til I tell Mandy!"
"Get out of my
Ms. Midas laughed and walked out of the room. Jack shook his
"Four for four is some kind of record," he said. He took the next
folder from Michiko. "This is too good to be true. Who's next?"
Globulator," Michiko said in a small voice.
"It says here he has the
power to make himself increasingly fat," Jack said,
"Don't you have a wider door!?" an angry voice said
from the hallway.
=== === ===
Brian Tyler stopped and combed his
hair again. The day was windy and he wanted to look perfect. He'd picked up the
roses from the florist and tried on half a dozen outfits before finding clothes
that were casual but had a 'dressy' feel to them. He wanted everything to be
Finding Mandy Lebeaux' address hadn't been all that hard. He'd
looked up her address in the Vangaurd database and called to ask if he could
come over and speak to her. She'd seemed very receptive. Brian was excited.
Maybe Bunni was right - maybe he'd underrated being a super hero.
place was a townhouse in the nicest section of Founders Falls. Places around
here went for millions as Brian understood it. He walked down the paved front
walk and rang the doorbell.
He straightened his collar nervously as he
waited. After what seemed forever, the door opened and there she was - bright
eyes, a long cascade of reddish hair and the perfect face. The perfect which
scrunched up in anger when she saw the flowers in his hand.
this!?" she demanded.
"I'm Brian Tyler," Brian said quickly. "Luminous
Lad. I called your earlier. I was wondering if-"
"I thought you had some
news about the Circle or a threat to my sister," Mandy said angrily. "Not that
you wanted to go out with me! You tool!"
Brian opened his mouth to say
something but she slammed the door. He tried to jerk the flowers back but the
heavy oaken door slammed on the bouquet, leaving him with a handful of thorny
stems and rose petals all over the floor. Brian stood there with his mouth open,
unable to believe what had just happened.
"But... but..." he began,
talking to the air "but I rescued you..."
"That didn't go so well,
did it, sport?" someone said from behind him. Brian turned to see a dark haired
woman standing behind him. She had blue eyes and thick, full lips which broke
into a wide smile. "Don't let Mandy get to you. She's a real bitch. This was her
on a nice day. Her sister is worse."
seem possible," he said.
The woman laughed.
"I've seen them all,"
she said. "You'd be amazed."
"Are you a model, too?"
"I wish," she said. "Actually, I don't. I'm a booking agent.
I've worked with models, actresses, heroes, you name it. You need publicity, you
talk to me. Melanie Keller."
"You really a
"Yeah," he said.
"People say all kinds of
stupid things," Melanie said. "What are your powers?"
Brian stepped down
from the stoop and threw his arms back. he exploded in a dazzling blaze of white
light and when he was done a towering alien armored form stood on the front lawn
of Mandy Lebeaux' townhouse.
"Okay," Melanie said. "That's pretty
There was another blaze of light and the massive hulking shape
collapsed back into Brian Tyler.
"I can do more," he said.
know," Melanie said "I was going to talk to Mandy about a show she's got coming
up on Peregrine Island, but screw that. There's a coffee shop down the block -
why don't we take a walk and you can tell me about exactly how you
rescued Mandy and her sister."
"Deal," Brian said. Melanie nodded and
they began walking down the block. Maybe there is something to this superhero
stuff, Brian thought. Even if it's not quite what I
=== === ===
Lady Grey walked into Gaussian's office.
Computer equipment was everywhere, a dazzling array of systems and monitors. The
man himself was leaning over some print out and his face was clenched like a
"It's been two weeks," Lady Grey said. "We are glad to see some
progress on the Fifth Column data Colonel Pentecost collected."
"We've only begun to scratch the surface at decrypting the
Fifth Column information," Gaussian said "but we've gotten enough. Incandescent
Lady Grey paused.
"Protean kidnapped her," Gaussian said
"and brought her to one of the Fifth Column's facilities in Independence Port.
We have yet to resolve exactly what transpired there - the files are somewhat
vague and we've got a lot of material still to decipher - but whatever happened
there, at the end she was dead."
"We shall enact a terrible vengeance for
this, Gaussian," Lady Grey said.
"That's not the problem," the man said
"our estimates already indicated her termination was probable."
the problem, then?" Lady Grey said.
"They sold her body to Crey,"
Lady Grey blinked.
"Why?" she asked. "Why would
Crey Corporation be interested in Incandescent's cadav..."
Lady Grey went
white. Gaussian nodded.
"We had thought their repugnant Revenant Hero
project terminated," she said.
"Apparently not," Gaussian
"That avaricious slut and her ghoulish minions have gone too
far," Lady Grey said in a cold hard voice "and they shall pay. Get me Colonel
Gaussian turned a monitor around and Lady Grey saw
Pentecost's craggy face.
"Colonel," she said.
"Right here, Lady
Grey," Jack Pentecost replied.
"The Vanguard is forbidden from conducting
operations against civilian targets, no matter the cause," she said. "You
"I read the charter," Jack replied.
"We would be
very appreciative if someone were to assault Crey Corporation, invade one
of their data processing centers and recover any information pertaining to the
whereabouts of Incandescent's body and any clones made of said body.
However, we cannot order such an action."
"Understood," Jack said.
"There's likely to be heavy resistance. Might get messy."
"We do not care
if you have to hospitalize the Countess and her bodyguard Hopkins so long
as it gets done."
"We'll see what we can do," Pentecost
"We have every faith in you, Colonel."
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions: Eighteen -
(This immediately follows the Manticore Task
The stench from the open sewer was appalling. Ms. Mist gagged and
moved away. She turned to the woman who stood behind her.
Mairenn," she said.
"What makes you say that?" Mairenn MacGregor
Ms. Mist shrugged.
"Just look at you," she said "black
trenchcoat with the sleeves cut off, black leather pants, black gloves - you
used to be so ... so ..."
"I was going to say
demure," Ms. Mist replied.
Mairenn ran her hands through her
blonde hair and scrunched up her mouth.
"Times have changed," she said.
"If you're going to survive these days, you've got to toughen up."
Mist shrugged again.
"I haven't changed," she said. "I
"Still worried about getting your white tights dirty," Mairenn
said "and still dying your hair white."
"Don't be mean," Ms. Mist said.
"It's all part of the look."
"This isn't college and we're not roommates
anymore," Mairenn said. "This is serious. Ms. Liberty tells me that the
Vangaurd has reported massive Rikti activity down in the tunnels including a
potential 'monster-class' enemy..."
"Do you trust those Vanguard
characters?" Ms. Mist asked. "From what Ether tells me, they recruit all sorts
of criminals and villains."
"I don't trust them," Mairenn said
"but I can't think of a single reason they'd lie about Rikti activity in the
sewers. The Vanguard isn't supposed to operate in Paragon City limits, so they
turned the problem over to Freedom Corps - just like they're supposed to. Ms.
Liberty was very clear that we're to treat this as a significant threat.
She doesn't want to give Lady Grey any excuse to try and expand her
"Okay, Mairenn, okay..."
"Be careful, Karen," Mairenn
said. "Those Rikti drones have incredible sensors. Avoid them at all costs. Get
a peek at what they're doing down there and zip right back up here to
"Blah blah blah 'be careful' blah blah blah 'zip right back' blah
blah blah - I'm not six, Mairenn," Ms. Mist said. "I've been a heroine for more
than five years. I can handle myself."
"Just get in and get out," Mairenn
said "and show me how much of a 'heroine' you've become."
Mist said "touchy."
She raised her arms and her outline began to blur.
Her body dissolved into a white mist that drifted into the sewer grating and was
gone. Mairenn Macgregor stood by the opening and crossed her arms. Karen had
never taken her seriously. Hopefully this time, she was right.
The room was filled with the sounds of a fountain pen writing on
quality bond paper. The tight scritching sound was loud in the otherwise silent
office. Jack studied the ornate workmanship of Lady Grey's antique desk while
she worked. After a few moments she spoke without looking up. He had finally
gotten used to it.
"We take it you were successful in your endeavors
against the Crey Corporation?" she asked.
"Not a problem," Jack
"It is safe to assume you have provided Gaussian with the data from
"Better yet," Jack said "we hit their data center, yes,
but we took all of their backup tapes. Gaussian's having a field day with
"We shall expect results from him shortly then," Lady Grey said.
"Were there any ... incidents?"
"We never even saw Countess Crey," Jack
replied. "We did bump into her bodyguard,
"We bounced him around the room like a
basketball," Jack said. "Nothing too serious. I'd expect he'll be out of the
hospital in a few weeks."
Lady Grey nodded.
"I would have
to say that his reputation far exceeds his ability," Jack went on.
find that interesting," Lady Grey replied. "While Clarissa van Dorn is an
amoral rapacious slattern, she takes no chances with her own safety. We would
have expected better. There were no complications with the
"We managed to link up with Manticore," Jack said. "He and
Swan were interested in getting access to Crey's data as well. He made certain
there was no involvement or awareness on the part of anyone
"Superb," Lady Grey said. "Manticore's ability to skirt the edges
of the law undetected is legendary."
"Even if nobody else knows," Jack
said "Countess Crey is going to be well aware of our involvement."
wish her to be," Lady Grey said. "Somewhere in the ghastly mausoleum she calls a
business venture are the remains of Incandescent. We fully intend that Countless
Crey be made aware that there will be a price to pay for using one of Our
subordinates for her macabre projects. Once We discover the whereabouts of
Incandescent, We also fully intend to recover her body."
"We'll be ready
if you need us," Jack said.
"Never doubt that the Lancers were first in
Our mind, Colonel," Lady Grey said. "You are
=== === ===
Maridian slowly let go of
the grips and then stretched. She bent forward and moved the pin down, adding
ten pounds to the weight she was pressing. While she tended to avoid the more
involved combat exercises most of the Lancers went for, she did the entire cycle
of weight machines three times a week. The Lancers were in almost constant
combat and if you didn't stay in shape, there was no way to keep up. She leaned
back and was about to grab the handles again when the Star Queen sat down next
"What do you think of this new batch of recruits?" the alien
warrior asked. A number of them were across the room sparring under the intense
direction of Sergeant McCabe.
"They seem okay," Maridian said. "You'd
know better than I would."
"The Colonel seems to have an odd knack for
picking unusually skilled people," the Star Queen said.
"I guess so,"
Maridian replied. "We haven't had any drop outs - well, except for
"I think Lady Grey asked Jack to take her in," the
Star Queen said. "Actually, I wanted to ask you about him."
"He's stopped showing up to exercises and training," the Star
"It's his shoulder," she said. "He
got shot there by one of those Fifth Column marksmen and then that Mage-Killer
sank a knife into it..."
The Star Queen nodded.
"I healed it both
times," Maridian said "but it's never perfect. The body needs time to heal on
its own. Despite what he said, I think it hurts him. If you watch him when he
walks, he kind of favors his left shoulder now. He needs about a month of
downtime and relaxation."
"Like we'll ever see that," the Star Queen
"What do you think you're doing!?" Sergeant McCabe shouted
from across the room and both women fell silent and turned to look. McCabe on a
roll was a treat to watch. "Are you spastic or are you just stupid,
"I ... well ... I ... er," Noob began but the Sergeant
didn't let him get a word in. McCabe was wearing an olive drab tank top and camo
fatigue pants. Despite the white in his hair, Sergeant McCabe's muscular body
presented a formidable, if grizzled, appearance and his mustache was all but
twitching in anger.
"You come at a man with super-strength like
that and his return shot is going to take your head off!" McCabe roared.
"Although in your case that might be an improvement! Faultline, step
The towering stone form shrugged and began to crumble, forming
into a dark haired teenager with a scraggly goatee. He walked off the sparring
mats and turned to watch.
"Son," McCabe said to the young man in the
purple-blue body suit "you can't just waltz in like that and hit someone with no
thought to your defense. You're going to get your head handed to
"But sergeant," Noob said "I can punch through solid
"But solid steel can punch through you!" McCabe roared.
"Yes, you can throw energy bolts around, but you're just bone and meat under
that spiffy costume. You're not some super-armored behemoth! You let one of
these big guys hit you and you'll be dead! And if you're dead,
then I will look bad! That is not acceptable! Do you
"You come at me like you came at
Faultline over there," McCabe said.
"You sure, Sergeant?" Noob asked. "I
don't want to hurt you."
"You won't," he
Noob's hands began to pulse with a bright purple energy. He
gathered himself and moved forward, a smooth and graceful movement. He feinted
suddenly with his right hand and then his left shot out, leaving a blazing trail
in the air as it crackled towards the sergeant. McCabe somehow went from
standing like a monolith to lightning action in an instant. His right arm snaked
inside Noob's left and hit the inside of his forearm, knocking the energized
hand away. McCabe's leg whipped out and suddenly Noob was in the air. He crashed
to the ground on his back. McCabe brought one hand down and tapped the ground
next to Noob's head.
"Bang," the sergeant said grimly. "You're
"Defense!" McCabe yelled. "Defense! It
isn't enough to be able to blow things up! You've got to
survive the experience! I'm just a man. If I was a super-powered killing
machine, you'd be broken into two pieces! Do you understand me!?"
"Get up, get yourself a drink of water, then go and practice
it again," McCabe snapped, his cold eyes roved around and settled on a muscular
form. "This time with Snake over there."
rest of you," McCabe said "get back to practice! This isn't nap
The group resumed its exercises and McCabe's watchful eyes roved
the room again, settling on one form who remained seated by the lockers.
Brushing his hands together, Sergeant McCabe sauntered over to where the man was
"There some reason you're not practicing with the rest of the
recruits?" McCabe asked.
Ting Ping Lau raised his head and his stolid
eyes met McCabe's blazing ones.
"I have no wish to embarrass them" the
Steel Serpent said.
"That good, eh?" McCabe grunted.
Ting Ping Lau
"That's no excuse for missing practice," McCabe
said. "If you're good at something, you can help teach it ... and there's always
something to learn."
"I have no skill at instruction," Ting Ping Lau said
sadly. "I had once thought to open a dojo... but while I can do ... I
cannot show effectively."
"Well, let's just see what you
can do," McCabe said. He looked across the room. "Three! Mosey over here
A short fit blonde man in Vanguard fatigues jogged
"Ting Ping Lau, the Steel Serpent," McCabe said "meet Agent
Both men sized each other up warily.
"Three, take down
Mister Lau here," McCabe said.
Without expression, Agent Three moved his
hands behind his back and when they came forward he had two impervium swords in
them. Ting Ping Lau rose to his feet.
"Might want to get out your own
weapons," McCabe grunted.
"Unnecessary," Lau said.
grimaced. The two men circled each other slowly. Twice Agent Three feinted and
twice Ting Ping Lau made a subtle counter move without committing himself to any
overt action. They circled again. In an eye blink, Agent Three moved to the
attack, his sword whistling forward - only it wasn't whistling, it slowly curved
through the air, giving the Steel Serpent all the time in the world to step
aside. Three's other sword came around and Ting Ping Lau turned, raising both
arms. With delicate precision, he brought his hands together, his palms coming
down on either side of the flat of the blade, pinning it. He stood there, Agent
Three's right-hand blade caught between his hands.
"Hold it!" McCabe
snapped. The two men froze. "I've heard about things like that but I
never thought I'd actually see one!"
"It is a simple matter," Ting
Ping Lau said.
"You doing something with time or with
motion?" Agent Three asked, unperturbed.
"It is a matter of
controlling the speed and flow of combat," Ting Ping Lau said, still holding the
sword between his hands. "You would say motion."
"I can adjust for
that," Agent Three said. Lau nodded.
"But he has two swords, genius,"
McCabe snapped. "What good does that do you?"
Ting Ping Lau turned
to face the sergeant.
"A simple kick to the left wrist would relieve him
of the other weapon," Lau explained evenly.
Agent Three tossed the free
blade aside. It clattered across the room. He snapped his wrist and another
sword was in his hand.
"Perhaps I might need my own blades for
this encounter," Lau admitted.
"Enough of this," McCabe said. "I get that
you're good, Lau. The trick is to be a good team member and no one became
a good team member by sitting on a bench. Get your gear and get back to me in
"As you wish, sergeant," Lau said, releasing the sword he
"We'll spar later," Three said as McCabe walked
"Certainly," Lau replied. "You are superb."
A startled cry
from across the room distracted them. Noob was on the floor again, and this time
it was the scaly hybrid - Snake - standing over him.
Defense!" McCabe shouted, storming over to them. "You've got to
pay more attention to what your opponent is doing and you will, even if I
have to have every recruit in the unit beat it into you! Do you hear
"Yes, sergeant!" Noob said, struggling to his feet.
hit the showers and we'll try it again tomorrow!"
"You don't think you're taking it too hard on that kid," the
Star Queen said to McCabe. She'd walked up to him silently while he'd been
"If he doesn't learn it now," McCabe said. "He's going to learn
it that hard way, ma'am, if he lives."
"You mind if I take a
hand?" she asked.
"Be my guest, ma'am," McCabe said.
Star Queen called. The young man turned from the doorway. "Come here a
Reluctantly, afraid he was in more trouble, he walked back.
Bethu'Zira Ganthralis, the Star Queen, was no stranger to combat
command. She had led the Star Warriors since her brother had returned to their
home planet to fight the invading Rikti there and she had seen all types of
warriors. Noob was powerful and had potential but he was too eager - trying too
hard - and it left him vulnerable, especially to experienced combat veterans
like McCabe or Gunmetal Snake.
Young Noob looked at her. His eyes were
bright blue and his face had the chiseled look that body-builders and martial
artists achieve when they managed to reduce their body fat to levels far below
"You're working too hard to hit your opponent," the Star Queen
said "and that leaves you open. We need to work on that."
ma'am," Noob said.
"You understand up here," she replied, tapping his
forehead. She thumped her sternum. "You don't understand here. We're going to
fix that. We'll start with some simple combat exercises designed to help you
read your opponent. Once you can figure out what he's going to do, you can work
on avoiding it."
"You think that'll help?" Noob asked.
that girl over there?" the Star Queen said, pointing to where Pip Squeak was
bench pressing the entire weight machine.
"She looks like she's
ten," Noob said, incredulous.
"She comes down here and practices
with me every other morning," the Star Queen went on. "If she can manage to
master these techniques, so can you."
"Yes, ma'am," Noob
"We'll work together on the mornings when I'm not training Pip
Squeak," the Star Queen finished. "You'll be impressing Sergeant McCabe in no
"Ma'am!" Noob said, his face alight. "Thank you,
"Thank me by doing a good job," she replied, and realized she'd
stolen that line from Jack Pentecost. Noob just nodded. "Now go hit the
The young man ran off.
"Clever that," McCabe said from
behind her. "Using Squeak as an example."
"It's hard for bold young men
to admit defeat when faced with successful little girls," the Star Queen said.
"What about Ting Ping?"
"He's pretty good," McCabe admitted. "Maybe not
as good as he thinks he is, but pretty good."
"He's got a lot of ego,"
"Don't we all," McCabe replied. "Hang on, another newbie makes
A tall man in electric blue armor had walked into the room
and was looking around expectantly.
McCabe strode over to him, dog tags
clanking as he went. He pulled out a ratty notebook and flipped through
"Arctic Strike, I presume? I'm McCabe. You're mine for the next 48
hours. Says here you got some fancy Rikti armor that can't be hurt. Let's try it
out. Go stand over there next to that practice dummy and turn on whatever you
The man nodded and clumped across the room in his heavy armor.
McCabe cast his eyes around for a suitable opponent. He was considering
Faultline but just then the return of Ting Ping Lau distracted him. McCabe
"Got a new guy in powered armor," McCabe said to the former Tsoo.
"You can start by sparring with him. Doesn't matter how fast or slow you move if
he's in a powersuit. Should be a challenge."
Ting Ping Lau shrugged like
it was all the same to him.
"Right," McCabe turned to the room. "I am
going to go and file a status report on you spasmodic refugees from a funny
farm. Carry on and try not to damage yourselves!"
The sergeant trotted
from the room. Ting Ping Lau stretched slowly, raising his arms above his head.
Both shoulders popped. He drew his swords and brought them through a whirling
array of forms, the blades blurring in the air. Satisfied that all was ready, he
turned to find his opponent ... and saw Arctic Strike.
Well," Ting Ping Lau said. "It is the line cutter. Let me show you why I am the
Arctic Strike's armor crackled as he brought its combat
"Bring it!" he said, raising his arms.
"This is amazing, sport!" Melanie Keller said. Her warm brown
eyes were glowing as she looked around the Vanguard compound. She stopped and
stared as a massive HVAS clanked by, its huge hulking robotic form towering over
them. Brian smiled as she took his hand. "I never thought I'd get to see
the inside of the Vanguard's base!"
Brian Tyler steered her past the
Embarkation Zone and into the base proper. He and Melanie had been dating for
two weeks - more or less. Melanie had a wildly busy schedule, as an agent she
was always running off to some show or to pitch some proposal and Brian's own
schedule as a member of the Lance was hectic at best, but they'd managed to
squeeze out what time they could. He considered himself the luckiest man in the
world. Melanie was gorgeous, smart and seemed to have at least a passing
acquaintance with everyone who was anyone. He'd felt kind of intimidated until
he'd mentioned in passing having to pick up some stuff from the barracks in the
Vanguard Compound and Melanie had become fascinated by it, prodding him with
endless questions. Brian had hit upon the idea of bringing her along and she'd
been ecstatic all day.
He just hoped the Colonel understood.
walked past the Infirmary and the debriefing rooms and Melanie clutched at his
"Omigod!" she said in a hushed voice. "Is that the Dark
"Yeah," Brian said in a low voice. "Leave him alone, he's
kind of cranky."
"They say he's a hundred years old," Melanie said. "He
was part of the Phalanx back before there really was a Phalanx. I know a
dozen TV hosts who'd die to interview him."
"They wouldn't need to
die," Brian said. "He'd probably kill them. He likes to keep a mysterious
"You're the best, sport," Melanie said.
downstairs to the Lancer barracks," Brian said. "I can introduce you to my
"They all heroes like you?"
"Some of them are heroes,"
Brian said. "I wouldn't say like me."
headed down the long flight of metal stairs and were walking down the long
hallway between the male and female barracks when Razortail turned the corner.
The big mutant was bare chested as usual, wearing a pair of "vanguard shorts and
a headband, as was his wont. The spikes protruding from his form often made
normal clothes impractical. Brian waved and Razortail smiled as he caught sight
"Who's your friend?" Razortail asked as he neared.
is Melanie Keller," Brian said. "Melanie, this is-"
Razortail!" Melanie said. "Wow! You came all the way from Japan to join
"Yes, actually," Razortail said, surprised.
bigger time than I thought," Melanie said. "I read that your skin offers armored
"It has some durable qualities," Razortail said, flattered
by the attention.
"You mind if I..?" Melanie asked, reaching out.
"Be my guest," Razortail said.
"I heard those spines can be
poisonous," Melanie said.
"They can be," the mutant replied "but I
can control it. You're safe."
Melanie ran a hand over his
"That's some serious protection," she replied. "I also read that
you can burst into flame."
quite as safe," he explained "but I can demonstrate outside, if you'd
"I'm giving Melanie a tour of the compound," Brian said in a tight
voice. "Maybe another time."
"Of course," Razortail said. "It was very
nice meeting you."
"You, too," Melanie replied.
"The Armory is
over this way," Brian said. "Maybe we can catch Sergeant McCabe with some
Melanie looked at him and raised an eyebrow.
getting jealous, sport?" she asked.
Brian opened his mouth to reply but
before he could get a word out there came an enormous crash from down the
"What was that!?" Melanie shouted.
"We better find
out," Brian replied. Together they ran to the Armory and Brian threw the door
open. A group of Lancers an recruits was gathered around the edges of the room
while in the center a man in blue powered armor was dueling with a man in baggy
pants, wielding two swords - his chest was bare as well and covered in intricate
tattoos. Brian paused in the doorway, trying to take in the situation as Melanie
pressed up next to him.
"That's Arctic Strike," she said, pointing
to the electric blue armor. "The other guy is obviously Tsoo ... oh wow ... I
think that's Ting Ping Lau!"
Serpent," Melanie said as if it should be obvious. "They say he quit the
Tsoo a week or so ago and Tub Ci went bananas ... I heard he laughed in Tub Ci's
face. And now he's here! Brian, you know
Arctic Strike leapt upwards suddenly, his hands
crackling with electricity. He brought them down hard and the floor buckled,
sparks flying everywhere - but the Steel Serpent wasn't on the floor. As the
room shook, Lau was in the air, the shockwave passing under him. He hung in the
air an extremely long time, almost moving in slow motion, but his swords were
everywhere, a spinning wheel of death that fell on Arctic Strike like a tidal
wave of steel and razor edges - but to no avail. The blades struck sparks
themselves from the blue armor, but didn't leave as much as a scratch. Arctic
Strike lashed out was a powered fist but the Steel Serpent somersaulted
backwards and came to his feet, blades ready.
The two must have been
going at it for some time, Brian realized. There was more than one hole in the
floor and one row of lockers was entirely demolished. He couldn't imagine why
Sergeant McCabe would allow something like this to go on ... and then he noticed
the Sergeant was nowhere to be seen. He debated breaking things up but before he
could decide how to begin a harsh voice rang out from next to
"What the hell is going on in here!?" Colonel Pentecost
shouted. The fight ground to a halt and the room feel quiet. "You've
demolished the Armory! Who's in charge here!?"
The door at the other
end of the hallway opened and Sergeant McCabe walked in. He stopped, seeing the
carnage and went white.
"McCabe!" Jack Pentecost yelled. "What do you
think you're doing!?"
"Sir!" McCabe said, snapping to
"Practice time is over," Pentecost said. "Dismiss the
troops and for God's sake get this place back into some reasonable shape! I want
to see you in my office in ten - that's one-zero - minutes, McCabe!
"Sir! Yes, sir!"
JackPentecost turned and strode off
and Melanie was after him like a shot.
"Colonel! Colonel Pentecost!" she
shouted, dashing after him. Brian winced. Pentecost spun in place and Melanie
almost tripped coming up short. The Colonel looked down at her through those
weird yellow glasses.
"Do I know you?" he asked.
"Are you a reporter?"
"Get her out of here,"
Jack snapped and walked off. Brian took her by the arm.
"Let's get out of
here," he said.
"But ... that's Jack Pentecost! he was on the news
"Let's get out of here now," he
"What do you idiots think you're doing!?' McCabe roared in a voice
so loud it echoed throughout the floor. "Can't you follow orders for five
"No one was damaged during our practice," Ting Ping Lau
pointed out calmly. "You said nothing of the facilities."
clenched so tightly that Brian thought the sergeant's teeth would explode. He
could see McCabe struggle not to spit out a torrent of vitriol. McCabe swallowed
"Squeak," he said in a cold even voice. "Maridian. Get a
team together and do what you can to put the room to rights. The rest of you,
dismissed and back to quarters. I'll have directions for you once I've spoken
with the Colonel."
McCabe managed a textbook perfect about face and
walked from the room. Brian swiftly withdrew with Melanie and they made their
way to the elevators.
"You have a problem, sport?" Melanie asked once the
doors had closed.
"You can't just run after the Colonel like that," Brian
said. "he's not the kind of guy who takes that stuff well ... and what were you
doing with Razortail...?"
"You are jealous, sport," Melanie said.
"Look, handsome, you can't get like that. I'm an agent, okay? I book celebrities
for a living. It's what I do. I meet people and I make connections. I'm sorry if
I pissed off your boss - that's my bad - but you can't get all huffy when I play
up to someone famous. That's just the way it is. If keeping Colonel Pentecost
happy is part of your job, meeting famous people and keeping them interested is
part of mine. You can't have a problem with that. Capiche?"
"I - I
guess," Brian said, confused.
"Don't get all sad, sport," Melanie said.
"Today was a great day! I got to see an actual super-hero battle! That rocked!
Let's go and celebrate! I know this great wine bar down in Brickstown. They just
remodeled and I've been dying to check it out. Sound good?"
"Sounds good to me," he said.
=== === ===
happened, Sergeant?" Jack asked. Sergeant McCabe was at rigid attention just
inside his office door.
"No excuses, sir," McCabe said.
asking for excuses, top," Jack replied. "I'm asking what happened. You
know better than to leave a bunch of new recruits unsupervised. They're an
accident waiting to happen."
"I thought they weren't unsupervised, sir,"
"Because Sergeant Squeak was in the room!?" Pentecost said.
"You've got to know better than that. The woman has a lot going for her but
she's green and she's violent ... and Maridian isn't the type to walk into the
middle of a brawl and break it up. She's a medic!"
"Thought the Star
Queen was in the room, sir," McCabe admitted.
"At least you're not
totally insane," Jack said "but did you inform the lieutenant that you were
leaving the facilities? Did you give her any indication that she was in charge
until you got back?"
"No sir," McCabe replied. "No excuses,
"So she had no reason to believe there'd be any problems is she
left the room or went about her assigned duties?" Jack asked.
"You screwed up, Sergeant."
"Don't let it happen again," he said in a calmer
"Go clean up your mess, sergeant," Jack
McCabe saluted. Jack returned it and the sergeant left the
office. A few moments later, Lieutenant Michiko walked in. Jack sighed again as
she handed him a dossier. He flipped through it slowly. Jack hated recruitment
days. He heard the door open and someone enter the office and looked up to see a
slim teenage girl with a wavy mane of black hair and the biggest weirdest blue
eyes he'd ever seen. He glanced at the folder again.
Dreamtime?" Jack asked. The girl in front of him nodded, her black hair bobbing.
"Wait ... I think I've heard of you."
"I wanted to do my part," she
"Your dreams become real, right?" Jack asked. "Like physically
"That's right," she said, her blue eyes meeting his green ones.
There was something unnerving in her gaze. "As long as I stay on my meds, it's
"...stay on your meds?" Jack asked.
"If I have a nightmare,
it can get bad, real bad..."
"Wait. You can't control your
"No. Not yet," Lucy said. "Sometimes it gets me in
"Now I remember you," Jack said. "I'm sorry Lucy, but we
can't take the risk of having your power go out of control. We've got all we can
deal with fighting the Rikti. If you get a handle on it, you can come back and
"I knew you were going to
say that," she said "but I had to try. You know ... I think I dreamed this
before. It's all so surreal. Wait. Are you a dream?"
"I'm pretty sure I'm
real," Jack said.
"How would you know?"
"Have a nice day, Lucy,"
Jack said. The girl turned and walked away, then stopped in the
"...but how would you know?" she asked.
"Take care of
yourself, Lucy," Jack said. Lucy Dreamtime walked away.
"That was kind of
eerie, sir," Lieutenant Kaneko said.
"Don't think about it too hard,
Lieutenant," Jack said. "How many more?"
"Just a few," Michiko replied.
"The lines are a lot shorter now. Guess your fifteen minutes of fame is
"I should count my blessings," Jack said. He picked up the next
folder. An olive-skinned woman with dark hair pulled back behind her head walked
into the room. She was wearing what looked like a one-piece green bikini with
green tape wrapped around her hands and her legs. "Let's see ... Gale ... it
says here you have the power to control wind, rain and
"That's right," she said. Her voice was low and
"It also says that you used to work with Woodsman," Jack
"What are you doing
"Woodsman's gone. Vanished. Crey and Nemesis and the Devouring
Earth are pushing into Eden. The Rikti have smashed White Plains. We need to
start pushing back."
"There was a whole bunch of you, right?" Jack asked.
"Woodsman had a team?"
"They're in line right behind me," Gale
"You the spokesperson?"
"They sent me in first because I'm
the cutest," she replied.
"Bring 'em all in," Jack said.
was soon filled with a huge man made from white stone, a yellow-green plant man
covered in barbed spines and a bearded man in a t-shirt with a tree on it and
cargo pants. Jack flipped through their files.
"Slate - earth powers," he
read "Quill - toxic spines. Tundra - arctic powers. You guys understand - you
sign with the Lancers, you're with the Lancers. I set the priorities and
I decide how things get done. No wandering off to pursue your own agenda. No
going off to 'save the earth'."
"We understand," he
said. "We all agreed it was time to put our powers to better use than fighting
Crey Power Tanks in the ruins by Crey's Folly."
"Okay," Jack said.
"You're all in. You get through the training and you're on the team. Down the
hall and to your left."
"You won't regret this," Tundra
"I'll let you know," Jack replied. The four heroes left the
"Now we're getting whole superteams," Jack said. "Will wonders
"It sounds like they had nowhere else to go, sir," Michiko
"That's me, last stop to nowhere," Jack replied. "Who's
"That would be me," a soft voice said from the doorway. Jack
recognized the British accent. He turned to see Santeria, all black leather and
a red cloak, walk into the room.
"This is a surprise," Jack
"I know we had a row and all the other night," Santeria said "and I
know you might have reasons to doubt me, but I want in."
"You want to
join the Lancers?" Jack asked. Santeria nodded.
"I need your help,
Colonel Pentecost," Santeria said. "I understand that I have to earn
Jack put a hand under his chin and leaned on his desk. He stared at
Santeria hard. She met his blazing eyes and didn't blink.
dangerous, lady," Jack said after a minute "but that's what we're looking for.
"Down the hall and to your left,"
Jack said. "I'm not worried about you getting through training. Just try not
hurt McCabe too much."
Santeria threw back her head and laughed. She
turned and walked from the room, her hips swaying. Jack turned to see Michiko
staring at him.
"Don't even ask," he said.
"We're done for the
day, sir," Michiko said.
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions: Eighteen -
It had taken the better part of four hours to put the
Armory back into some sort of workable shape. Liminal was dusty and tired, more
tired than he had been from the practice exercises. He flexed his shoulders and
nodded as Sergeant Squeak - what kind of name was that!? - dismissed
them. Rather than jog with the rest of the Lancers back to the barracks, Liminal
volunteered to return the mops and equipment to the janitor closet, it would
give him a couple of minutes alone.
He pushed the little bucket trolley
thing along the hallway, waiting until he was sure no one was around before
speeding up to get to the closet. Once inside, he closed the door. The place
reeked but it was private. Liminal pulled out a small box and activated it.
After a minute it beeped, indicating that the encryption parameters had been
established. He waited patiently and the light on the box turned green,
indicating his contact had picked up.
"Control," Liminal said "this is
"Acknowledged," a metallic voice said. The box modulated
sound, making voices unrecognizable. He had no idea if the person on the other
end was ever male or female. "Communication inside the Compound is extremely
risky. Make this brief."
"I have passed the training regimen and am
now in the unit," Liminal reported. "I should shortly have access to Vanguard
resources. Request objective."
"Confirmed, Razor," the one called
Control said. "Your objective is to obtain the schematics and design
specifications of the teleportation device located in the Experimental Science
Lab. The project is currently headed by Doctor Collins."
Control," Liminal said.
"No physical violence is authorized at this
time," Control said.
"It shouldn't be needed. My own capabilities
will be sufficient," Liminal replied. He thought of Flambeaux. "I have
begun acquiring additional resources if alternative options become
"Acknowleged, Razor," Control said. "Be extremely
circumspect. Vanguard has numerous entities capable of resisting or detecting
your powers. Under no circumstances are you to attempt to influence Lady Grey,
any of her Chiefs or Colonel Pentecost. Be especially wary of Sergeant Maridian.
She possesses prodigious psychic powers."
"Understood," Liminal said.
"What about the personnel of the Experimental Science Lab?"
normal humans," Control replied "and possess no extraordinary abilities.
Caution should still be exercised, however, as they may be under surveillance or
in proximity to individuals who can detect your powers."
Control," Liminal said. "I'll be careful."
"Resume contact when you
have something to report, Razor."
Liminal nodded to himself. He'd turned the power on the unit
down as low as he could - which greatly reduced its range. Partially to avoid
detection by any of Vanguard's security but also to test something. Whoever his
contact was, whoever was 'Control', they were in the building somewhere. Liminal
figured knowing who he was taking orders from would be amazingly useful, if push
came to shove.
=== === ===
The metal mesh of the walkway was brown
with rust, but looked solid. It offered a perfect vantage point to see what was
going on beneath her and she was getting very tired of floating
Karen Colby - Ms. Mist - pulled herself together and assumed a
solid form, taking shape on a catwalk far above the Rikti activity below. The
Rikti were everywhere. Those Vanguard guys hadn't been kidding. She'd
spotted more than a hundred Rikti in the sewers themselves before she'd found
this massive pit behind a maintenance room door. They'd tunneled out the back of
the room and from there driven a massive shaft downwards. They were moving what
looked like heavy weaponry down and truly awful noises came from somewhere deep
in the bowels of the earth below.
Ms. Mist gathered herself and was about
to assume her mist form again when an incredible roar startled her. She spun to
see a massive form reaching for her but she was too slow - a hideous gelatinous
hand closed around her neck.
She had only seconds.
Karen Colby struggled to assume the mist form that had given
her her name but she couldn't concentrate.
Everything went black.
=== === ===
uncontrollably. He was lying in a dark alley and an angry bearded face under a
crooked beret was snarling down at him. Huge pointed claws were digging into his
throat, and he could feel the skin above his Adam's apple stretch. His left arm
throbbed with intense agony and he was afraid to even blink.
you want with me!?" he asked and his voice quavered.
hard, booted footsteps before a tall man came into view - a sorcerer obviously.
He had a craggy face and his eyes burned with green light behind yellow
"We're about to conduct an experiment," he said in an even tone,
squatting down next to the bearded man with the claws "and, well, you're going
to be its victim."
"But I haven't done anything!?" Darsis almost
The claws pushed higher and he felt his skin break. A warm
trickle began to snake its way down his neck. Darsis wanted to swallow but he
"That's not exactly true, is it?" the man with the
glowing eyes asked. "You Circle mages have been kidnapping people here in Kings
Row for weeks now... isn't that right, Squeak?"
The little girl - that
infernal little girl - walked up next to the men. Her face took on an
angelic, wide-eyed innocence.
"You should have seen it. 'Please,
mister, can you help me? I missed the last bus to Founders and I'm afraid to
walk to the tram station by myself at night, it's so dangerous around
here...' He came right up to me, all smiles and friendship," the girl's face
took on an almost demonic countenance. "He was going to help me alright -
help me into some kind of sacrifice ... until I broke his
"It - it wasn't like that!" Darsis
"Keep your voice down," the sorcerer said. "Not that anyone
pays much attention to screams around here - but if we're interrupted I may have
my friend here do something unpleasant to you until I can contain the
interruption. If we kill you, you'll just possess another body but I'm sure you
can feel pain and I can keep you in a lot of pain for a very long
time - are we clear?"
"Who are you!?" Darsis breathed.
Jack Pentecost," the man said.
"Ermeeth save me!" Darsis prayed.
"My - my associates will find you! You won't get awa-"
MacDice and Squeak here put down your little ritual group. You're the only one
left," Pentecost said. "We only needed one mage."
"What are you
going to do to me!?"
"I'm going to have MacDice here open a vein and
you're going to bleed to death," Pentecost said "or at least that body is. I
expect you'll be looking to transfer. Understand something - if you move or if
you struggle while that's going on, my friends are going to have to do things to
keep you from moving. You won't like that."
"Can I break his other
arm?" the one called Squeak asked.
"Only if he struggles," Pentecost
"Wh - what!?"
"Okay, MacDice," Pentecost said grimly.
There was a sharp pain in his neck and the warm trickle became a
spurt. With a sick sensation Darsis realized that the one called MacDice had
sliced open his jugular. He was bleeding to death!
"Dinnae be movin'
now," MacDice said. "It'll only mean it hurts more."
Darsis had to
get out of here. If the Lancers were hunting down mages, the Circle had to be
warned. He closed his eyes and let go ... only ... only ... nothing
happened! He was still in this pathetic dying shell! Darsis thrashed,
panicked, and the claws dug deeper into his neck, their points digging into the
soft flesh under his jaw.
"I said to nae move," MacDice
Darsis clenched his teeth and pushed. His spirit stretched
and for a moment the pain and agony faded ... but only for a moment. He snapped
back into the weak mortal form, now growing cold ... there was something ...
something like a black web surrounding his dying form. A dark net that
held his spirit in, anchored him to the flesh he had worn for the past
"For the love of Ermeeth, what are you doing!?" Darsis
"Locking you into that body you stole," Pentecost said. "Tough
deal, isn't it?"
He had to get out. The body was dying. Its heart
rate falling. Its limbs growing cold. He had lost sensation in his
Darsis screamed again, a wordless cry of agony and he pushed out
with every fiber of his being. His body spasmed and again his senses grew dim -
the pain and coldness fading as his spirit pulled away ... but not far
He was caught. He was caught!
There came an awful
stab of red pain and Darsis realized that vile child had broken his other
arm - but it didn't matter - he was dying! A great well of darkness reared
up underneath him and he realized he had instants before he faced the true
death. With a last soundless wail he ripped outwards, the black net
stretching and then, suddenly, there was a gap - a tiny tiny hole. Darsis forced
his ragged soul forward and writhed invisibly until he was free ... free!
His ties with that wretched clay severed for good!
Darsis floated upwards
until the buildings of Kings Row were beneath him and spent a moment luxuriating
in the absence of pain ... then the urgency hit him. He had to get back to
Oranbega! He had to warn his masters! If Pentecost perfected his ritual - if he
mastered that black web he was building - they were all at risk. All of
Pentecost and his crazed Lancers had to be stopped! Stopped at
Frantic, Darsis floated downwards - it would take hours
to reincarnate himself. There was no time to waste!
Brian MacDice stood up and stepped back, away from the corpse. He and
Pip Squeak looked at Jack hopefully.
Jack Pentecost shook his
"Nope," he said. "He got away."
"That's the fifth one
tonight," MacDice said. "I dinnae think we hae time fer many more."
you're right," Jack said. "I don't think it would do any good, anyway. I'm
missing something. There's some flaw in my spell. They manage to get away at the
end. It's not their native body, so it's tough to anchor their spirit to it. The
body's natural urge is to repulse a foreign spirit - it's hard to
overcome that against that spirit's will if it wants to leave. I've got to
rethink what I'm doing."
"Next time they'll be ready for us," Pip Squeak
said. "Those ghosts are going to report back in and we won't be able to surprise
them, like we did this time. We'll need more people."
"I'll work on
that," Jack said. "This is a tough job. Not many have the stomach for
"Ye should be askin' Bunni," MacDice said. "She's a tough lass and
she's a real trooper. She'd do it iff'n you asked her."
exactly why I'm not going to ask her," Jack said. "She'd do it for the
team but she'd hate it and herself for doing it. She doesn't need that and I'm
not going to do it to her. If we need more people I'm sure we can find some
volunteers. It's not like the Circle has any friends."
"I'll see who I
can come up with," Pip Squeak said.
"Let's head home, gang," Jack said.
He'd have to promote MacDice to sergeant. He might need squads to hunt down
Circle mages at night, and he'd need two good leaders to handle the job. Jack
grimaced. How had he ever gotten into this?
Because I have to stop
Rollister, he reminded himself. Immortal eternal foes were willing to take
risks, to do things that normal people weren't. Leveling the playing field would
go a long way to keeping the Circle of Thorns in line - he had to keep reminding
himself of that.
"Let's go home," Jack said again.
The Heavy Vanguard Assault Suit was a towering behemoth of impervium
armor that could stride across the battlefield like a titan and wreak havoc like
a god of war - which was why the Vanguard was very particular about who they
would allow access to one. Bunni had been taking lessons in the simulator for
weeks now and she was finally getting the hang of operating the
Her instructor, Colonel Mathers, was a tall white-haired man who
had the classic lean and mean look so many military commanders develop.
Surprisingly he was soft-voiced and gentle, which had been the last thing Bunni
had expected. When she'd first sat in the big seat in the simulator, her feet in
the big metal pedals and her hands on the two metal operating grips, he'd pulled
down a helmet bristling with wires - she'd later learned it was called 'the
bonnet' - and held it out to her.
"You'll have to remove the ears," he'd
said in an even tone, indicating the rabbit ears she'd salvaged from her old
stripper outfit and added to her uniform "there's no way to guide an HVAS
without wearing the headgear."
"You have no idea what you're asking,"
Bunni had quipped.
"We all must make sacrifices for the cause," Colonel
Mathers had replied in a dry tone and she'd known they'd be getting along just
fine from that moment on.
Twice a week, for four hours at a stretch,
Bunni had sat in the simulator with the bonnet on her head and Mathers had
taught and she had learned. She'd learned that the bonnet reacted to the
positioning of the head and to certain facial expressions. The targeting and
guidance systems swiveled the chain guns and the plasma cannons to whatever you
were looking at - they could track eye movements. This made it possible to lay
down a withering array of firepower with a look. It was a devastatingly powerful
She'd learned that the foot pedals controlled the forward and
backwards motion of the HVAS - the lumbering giant stomping forward or back, and
side to side once you learned what you were doing, based on the positioning of
your feet. She'd learned that the handgrips controlled the other arm-mounted
weaponry and the special weapons - the incendiary air burst, the seeker drones,
the tear gas dispensers and the rest.
A couple of weeks ago, while she'd
been strafing holographic targets with a clustered energy barrage she'd noticed
something and asked a question - you only had to wear the bonnet for a few
minutes before it became apparent you wouldn't be turning your head or taking
your eyes off the battlefield for a second. The first question she'd had, she'd
shifted in the chair to look at the instructor and she'd walked her line of fire
through a holographic array of 'friendly' tanks and soldiers. She thought she'd
never live that down until Colonel Mathers had explained that everyone does the
same thing the first time around.
"Colonel?" she'd asked, her eyes never
leaving the simulated Rikti drones she was gunning down.
Lieutenant?" Mathers always referred to her by her rank - he never called her by
name or by nickname.
"The 30mm chain gun?"
"Saying it's a 30mm weapon implies it has ammunition," Bunni said "a
bullet or something - but all I see is blue energy blasts. How does it
"That's a good question," the Colonel said, surprised. "Most of
the people in the trainer never even think to ask it. You've obviously been
reading the manual - which puts you miles ahead of the average trainee. The
design of the chain guns is based on the Hughes M230 chain gun-" which meant
nothing to Bunni "- but rather than firing a metal-jacketed projectile, the HVAS
chain gun contains a charge of compartmentalized magnesium-tungsten in a
"It's a special compound that, when
ignited in the proper way, is entirely converted into an energized gas. The
expansion of the molecules going from solid to superheated gas propels the
compound out of the barrel and downrange. That's how we produce those 'energy
blasts' you're seeing."
"So it's not really generating energy," Bunni
said. "It's still bullets."
"The plasma cannons are energy generators,"
Colonel Mathers had said "but the chain guns have bullets, you're right, special
bullets that turn into superheated energy discharges, but still bullets,
"So they can run out of ammo?"
"I suppose," Mathers admitted
grudgingly. "I've never seen it happen, though."
"I'm shooting a
lot of these things," Bunni pointed out as she looked around and airborne
drones exploded around her.
"The chain guns fire a thousand rounds per
"That's a lot," Bunni replied. "How much ammo do I
"The forearm magazines contain one million rounds," Mathers
"That's a thousand minutes of continuous firing," Bunni said
"which is... umm..."
"16.6 hours of constant use," Mathers
"I guess I won't be running out of ammo
anytime soon," she admitted. "It was a dumb question."
"Wanting to know
the capabilities of the equipment you're piloting is never dumb," Mathers
"Wait..." Bunni said and she slacked off on the triggers. The guns
fell silent. "What happens if something sets the forearm magazines on
"That would be..." Colonel Mathers fished for a word
"I guess it's a good thing they're made from impervium then,"
"Try not to leak the design specs to the Rikti," Mathers had
replied in that dry tone that Bunni had learned was his way of
"They don't talk to me," Bunni had sniffed and gone back to the
That had been three weeks ago and since then she'd worked
through every possible control, weapon and mechanism that the Heavy Vanguard
Assault Suit had. She knew the simulator by heart. Bunni wondered what was next.
She was rushing down the hallway - she'd never been late for a class but Colonel
Mathers was an early riser and a firm believer in early morning classes. Bunni
had overslept and so she'd had to skip breakfast to make sure she arrived on
"Going somewhere Lieutenant?" a familiar voice called out from
behind her as she headed down the stairs to the lower level.
said. "We're scheduled for another HVAS run today."
Lieutenant," Colonel Mathers said "but today is different. Today you're piloting
the real thing. We're heading out of the Compound. Let's see how you
Now she knew what was next.
Blake Coyn stepped into the lab and looked around. There was massive
equipment everywhere and huge cabling - power cables - wound their way all over
the floor. Two techs, a tall weedy guy with glasses and a short plump girl with
a long mane of brown hair - grad students at a guess - were busy bolting down a
huge square metal plate on the floor while a tall man in a white lab coat with
the biggest nose that Blake had ever seen loomed over them.
Blake said and the man looked up, his eyes intent through his thick
"Can I help you?" the man asked in an angry voice.
should hope so," Blake said. "I'm known as Liminal and I'm looking for
"I am Doctor Collins," the man said, and
"I was wondering if I could be of any assistance, Doctor?" Blake
said. "Colonel Pentecost asked me to-"
"Colonel Pentecost!" the professor
yelled, raising his arms above his head. "Colonel Pentecost!?! First he
mocks me, then he assaults me, now he sends his flunkies to sabotage my
"Er..." Blake was at a loss. "What!?!"
"Out! Out of my
lab, you saboteur!" Collins was livid. "Get out or I'll have you
thrown out! Security! Security!"
"Have a nice day, Doctor
Collins," Blake said, backing towards the door. He quickly exited the lab and
stood in the hallway for a moment, dazed.
What was that all
=== === ===
Piloting a real HVAS was
Bunni pushed forward on the grips and stomped on the pedals
and the huge machine began jogging forwards, its massive feet making thunderous
booms as they crashed down on the pavement.
"Target ahead, Lieutenant,"
Colonel Mathers said from the HVAS next to her.
A little red crosshair
started blinking on her display. She saw the burnt out hulk of a ruined
"Plasma cannons online," Bunni replied.
inoperative for this exercise," Mathers replied. "Your next
"Activating chain guns," Bunni replied "One and
"Confirmed, Lancer One," Mathers replied. "You may fire at
Bunni stared at the ruined tank and made what she called 'the
face'. The chain guns roared to life, their motors humming as they spun up for a
few seconds before the weapons actually started firing. A barrage of blue bolts
crackled from the machine she rode and the shell of the tank exploded outwards,
smoking metal flying in all directions.
"Incoming drones, Lancers One,"
Mathers said in an even tone "three o'clock."
Bunni stopped making 'the
face' and the guns spun down, falling silent as she turned in her seat, swinging
the grips. The HVAS spun in place and its guidance systems painted a dozen blips
in front of her. By their shape they weren't real Rikti drones - the must be
some kind of Vanguard device - but it didn't matter. She made 'the face' again
and the chain guns roared. One by one the little lights winked out and the sky
was filled with explosions. The last one was still falling, leaving a smoky
black trail when Mathers' voice crackled over the comlink.
squads infiltrating the wreckage at nine o'clock," he said. Again, Bunni spun
the HVAS and she saw a huge lot filled with rubble and ruined vehicles. There'd
be no direct line of sight to anyone crawling through all that wreckage.
"Weapons selection, Lieutenant?"
"Excalibur cluster bomb airburst," Bunni
said without hesitation " followed by seeker drones."
inoperative," Mathers replied. "Proceed with airburst, Lancer
"Confirmed, Sword One," Bunni replied. Her thumb toggled the
trigger on the left grip while her eyes moved the crosshairs over the ruins. Her
right thumb guided the rangefinder. Bunni smiled to herself as she triggered the
airburst. She could feel the heavy thrum of the launcher as it fired. The
Excalibur was basically an artillery shell and it flashed out from the right
shoulder of her HVAS and came down right in the center of the collapsed
building. It exploded about twenty feet above the ground and a downpour of white
phosphorous and shrapnel rained over the ruins. The entire expanse burst into
flames and the ground shook from the blast. If anyone had actually been huddled
in there, they'd be burning along with the wreckage of rocks and
"What if survivors rushed from the ruins armed with energy
weapons, Lieutenant?" Mathers asked.
"That's what the seeker drones were
for," Bunni replied.
"Seeker drones are inoperative," Mathers
"Chain guns one and two are still online, Colonel," Bunni replied.
She started to make 'the face' and the weapons began to spin up.
enough, Lancer One," the Colonel laughed. "Good enough. Let's lock down the
weapons systems and head back to base."
"Confirmed, Sword One," Bunni
replied. The guns spun back down.
The two huge war machines began
trotting back towards the Compound.
"Question, Lieutenant," Mathers asked
as they lumbered down the streets and the walls came in sight.
"During the exercise, in every instance, you picked the most
lethal weapons response. The plasma cannons over the chain guns, the cluster
bombs over the tear gas or even the grenades. Your reasoning?"
someone's going to be shooting at me with energy weapons or fusion projectors or
whatever the hell it is those Rikti Assault Units have, I'm going to hit them
hard with whatever I've got," Bunni said. "I'm not going to spray tear
gas at them. Screw that!"
Colonel Mathers laughed
"Pentecost trained you well," he said.
"Oh, I came like
this, Colonel," Bunni replied. "He just added a little
originally posted by Jack Virgo
Interludes & Excursions: Eighteen -
(This takes place immediately before Levantera's
Jack took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. These late
nights were starting to take their toll.
"All right," he began "listen
up. Very shortly we're going to be shifting our primary operations to our new
base. I want you to start packing up our equipment and your own personal
effects. We're going to make transition between bases fast, easy and efficient.
Am I clear?"
"Perfectly," the Star Queen said.
"Are we abandoning
the Vanguard Compound entirely?" Razortail asked.
"Absolutely not," Jack
replied. "We will continue to conduct joint operations here and any strategic or
tactical planning involving other Vanguard units will still be based here. Our
existing barracks will remain as will our current offices and facilities.
However, I do not want people bunking here or spending their off-hours in
the Compound. We have our own base. We will use it."
Pomfroy's teleportation device?" MacDice asked.
stays where it is," Jack said. "We'll have standard teleportation equipment in
our base that will allow for translocation to predetermined locations. One of
those locations will be the Vanguard base. If we need to use Pomfroy's machine,
we will first teleport the Compound and then use the device.
Jack was cut off when sirens starting blaring all over the Compound. After a few
seconds, lights started flashing and then Jack's comlink went off. He flicked it
open and Levantera's frantic face appeared.
"Jack! I need you in the Op
Center, right away!"
"On my way," Jack replied. "Get your gear together
people. I'd guess we'll be in the middle of whatever it is within
Everyone in the room scrambled as Jack dashed for the door. The
hallway was a blur and he vaulted down the stairs, missing most of the staircase
as he hit the bottom step running. He crashed into the Ops room, the door
slamming off the wall.
"What's going on!?" Jack asked. Borea was shouting
something into a comlink as Levantera brought up the main
"Jack!" Levantera said. "The Rikti have stormed Fort
The screens came to life and Jack could see Vanguard soldiers
frantically firing at squads of Rikti. They were over the walls and only the
mounted turrets were keeping the attacks from completely wiping out the troops
"Dammit!" Borea swore. A torrent of curses Jack would
never have expected from her followed. "I've lost contact with both Fusionette
"You sent those kids in there!?" Jack
"Half the team is off base," Levantera said, still staring at the
screen. "We needed a rapid response. We sent whoever we had!"
Jack's turn to swear.
"They'll get their heads handed to them," he
"Jack," Levantera said. "I need you to take whoever you've got an
reinforce Bastogne. It's going to take me and Borea time to get a response put
She wouldn't meet his eyes.
"Alright, I'm on it," he
said. "We'll be down there in five minutes..."
Levantera nodded, looking
"...and 'tera," Jack said. "You can look at me. I'm not mad at
you." He sighed. "Let's get this done."
Jack clicked his comlink
"Bunni. Star Queen. Grab everyone we've got and meet me at the
translocation device immediately. This is a hot drop! Get ready!"
for the door.
"Jack?" Levantera said. He skidded to a stop before turning
the corner and looked back. "My real name is Sarah Connelly," Levantera said.
Jack met her eyes and nodded, then ran off.
"You are such a mush,"
Borea said once Jack was out of earshot.
There must have been twenty Lancers lined up outside the Experimental
Science Lab. Bunni and the Star Queen both saluted as Jack rushed up.
haven't finished qualifying for the HVAS yet," Bunni admitted.
no time to get one there anyway," Jack replied. He pushed the door open and the
whole team poured into the room.
"Fire up the translocator!" Jack called
as they moved towards where Pomfroy's device sat.
"What do you think you
are doing!?" Doctor Collins roared, striding forward.
"I don't have the
time to argue with you," Jack said, flipping the toggles that powered up the
"You will make the time!" Collins shouted. Jack gestured and he
flew across the room and hit the far wall.
"I go first with squad one,"
Jack said. "Star Queen follows with her squad, then Bunni with hers. McCabe goes
next with a platoon. Funnel troops through after that in three minutes
"Sir, yes, sir!" McCabe replied.
Jack growled, fumbling at the controls. "There's some sort of focus
"Tis right here," MacDice replied. He stepped forward and
adjusted a knob. A blinking cursor fell over the map right on top of Fort
"Impressive," Jack said.
"I pay riveting attention when
tha' cohesion of me molecules is at stake," MacDice replied.
rolling," Jack said. "First team with me."
As one they stepped into the
generator and vanished.
=== === ===
Gabriel McCabe had been in the
military for decades but he'd never been teleported before. He'd been concerned
it would upset his stomach, but it really didn't bother him at all. A slight
moment of dizziness which passed instantly. He toggled on the accumulator in his
gauss rifle and the weapon hummed to life. At his hand signal, his squad of
riflemen spread out around him.
The Colonel's powered squads had cleared
the fort proper although there was still fighting along the walls. McCabe saw
the Star Queen lift a Rikti soldier over her head and throw him off the
battlement. The hapless Rikti sailed maybe forty feet before he hit the ground.
McCabe shook his head. That was one hell of a woman.
"Form up, you lot!"
McCabe barked. "Check your targets before you fire! Let's move!"
squad ran up, their rifles making sharp cracks as they opened upon the Rikti.
Bunni's squad spread out to make room for the Vanguard soldiers and soon McCabe
and his men were on the walls. The grizzled old sergeant leaned over to take a
look at the enemy.
That was a lot of Rikti. It was like a sea of
misshapen alien forms in powered armor. Green and purple energy bolts were
sizzling by him and McCabe leaned back. There came a huge purple explosion and
the Rikti advance slowed. Noob had jumped up on the wall and let fly down below,
his hands glowing with energies. McCabe was about to shout a warning when the
Star Queen grabbed the kid's belt and pulled him back - just as a dozen energy
bolts crackled through the air where he'd been standing.
in the line of sight for any longer than you have to," she explained "and never
expose more of your body than you need to in order to fire."
Noob nod eagerly. Maybe the kid would learn something today.
successive explosions - an actinic white burst, followed by a crackling
purple-green discharge, followed by an enormous pink explosion - and Rikti
bodies were flying through the air like broken rag dolls.
Colonel Pentecost shouted. "Luminous Lad, you and Bunni rest up for five. Star
Queen, secure the area! McCabe, if any of these bastards survived that, put them
Underneath the jokes and the flippant sarcasm, McCabe knew the
Colonel had a real hard edge. It wasn't pretty when it came out but it was
always effective. You knew you might get greased in a Lancer action - life under
the Colonel's command wasn't anything that could described as safe - but
you also knew that the job would get done, one way or another.
Set up a defensive perimeter here and hold this bunker!" Colonel Pentecost
ordered, pulling a lit cigar from thin air and filling the area with the scent
of black cavendish - or whatever it smelled like to everyone else. "Star Queen -
find Faultline and get him back here to the line. Bunni - find Fusionette and do
"What about you?" Lieutenant Bunni asked.
MacDice and Razortail and another squad. We need to find the raid leader and
scotch him as soon as possible. The Rikti don't do too well when the mind
directing them is gone. It's the downside of their mental mesh."
like to pursue the raid leader-" the Star Queen began but Pentecost cut her
"Denied," he said. "Those kids will get into more trouble than will
be around him. Find them and you'll find a bundle of Rikti - I guarantee it. I'm
taking two heavy hitters with me, we'll put him down, never fear."
all due respect," the Star Queen pointed out "as the senior officer of this
unit, you should not be..."
"With all due respect," Colonel
Pentecost replied "if Lady Grey doesn't like the way I lead things, she
can certainly point it out to me. Until then, I am the senior officer of
this unit and as such..."
"Let's get moving, people!"
Colonel Pentecost said. "This day isn't over yet!"
Bunni was almost a blur as she raced along the side of a warehouse.
She wasn't sure why, but whenever she was about to enter combat her metabolism
sped up to a point where suddenly she could move almost as fast as Synapse. She
was pretty sure it was some side effect of her mutant powers but she was still
discovering the limits of those - sometimes new abilities just
The one advantage of these sudden bursts of speed was that she
was incredibly difficult to spot when running this fast. She'd been able to
cover the better part of a square mile in just a few minutes and finding
Fusionette had been simple. Bunni skidded to a stop next to the rubble where'd
had her squad wait.
"What's the verdict?" Luminous Lad said, his eyes
glowing with alien energies.
"A bunch of nasty-looking Rikti have
surrounded Fusionette in a parking lot about a hundred yards that way," Bunni
"We have a plan?" Pip Squeak asked, cracking her
knuckles. She seemed dangerously menacing for what appeared to be a twelve
"We go straight in," Bunni said. "Squeak, you take down
the boss. Brian, you'll take that squidgy squid form and provide air cover.
While they're dealing with that, Husky, Agent Three and myself will hit them
from the side. You guys hold the Rikti down and I'll bubble Fusionette - then we
finish them off and get her back to the Compound. Capiche?"
a plan," Luminous Lad said. He exploded in a fountain of white light and when
the glare faded, a floating alien form that looked like a cross between a
stingray and an octopus floated there.
"Let's go," Bunni said. The small
group started jogging down the deserted streets. Most of the Rikti were
assaulting the Fort so they encountered little resistance until they came in
sight of Fusionette. Her bright blue body-stocking and blue-white hair were hard
to miss. She was kneeling in front of a towering Rikti soldier, who was in the
process of raising a massive energy blade.
"Go, Squeak!" Bunni
The little powerhouse dashed forward a few steps and brought her
foot down hard on the edge of a manhole cover. The thing flipped up in the air
like a bottlecap. She caught it and without preamble flung it like a frisbee.
Bunni winced as the heavy metal disc flew across the lot and hit the Rikti with
an awful crunch. The massive soldier flew backwards and crashed into a
stack of crates and boxes which promptly collapsed all over him.
Squeak was running forward but before she could get near the enemy, Luminous Lad
rose up from behind a parked van and a blazing array of lambent white energy
shot from his alien form. The blasts caught the Rikti surrounding Fusionette and
they scattered for cover.
They didn't get far. Bunni and Psiberian Husky
pelted them with ranged attacks and then Agent Three was in amongst them, his
impervium swords flashing. The battle seemed to take forever but when Bunni
checked her watch, the whole thing had taken less than five
"Thanks, Bunni!" Fusionette shouted as the group ran up to her.
"I don't know how they keep catching me by surprise."
"Is everyone okay?"
Bunni asked. Nods surrounded her. "Let's head back to base."
"No! We have
to find Faultline! And stop the raid!" Fusionette said.
"No, we don't,"
Bunni replied. "Star Queen and Jack are already on that. We have to head back to
"Look!" Fusionette shouted, pointing to a distant patrol. "Rikti!
Let's go get 'em!"
"Get back down here!" Bunni shouted as Fusionette took
to the air.
"Rikti! Back me up!"
"This is going to be trouble,"
Psiberian Husky growled.
"No it's not," Bunni said, and gestured at
=== === ===
"I'm sorry," Faultline said as the Star
Queen's team approached the walls of Fort Bastogne. "I got in over my head. I
feel like a dope."
"It happens to the best of us from time to time," Pole
"Don't sweat it none," Two Smoking Barrels added. "You
came out in one piece. That's what counts."
Finding Faultline hadn't been
difficult. An enormous rock man fighting a horde of Rikti made a lot of noise.
The Star Queen had her team gather on a nearby rooftop and once prepared, they
simply leapt into the fray. Pole Shift had crashed down amongst the Rikti,
swinging left and right with his enormous molten hammer and after a moment the
Star Queen had been by his side. They'd been able to provide enough of a
distraction for Two Smoking Barrels and Maridian to get set. Between her psychic
assault and his devastatingly precise gunfire, it hadn't taken long to finish
off the squad attacking Faultline.
"How do you think the Colonel did?"
Pole Shift asked as they headed up the hill to the fort.
"Judging by how
fast the Rikti are falling back, I'd say quite well," Maridian added.
the Lancer team headed up the metal stairways, they spotted Bunni's group coming
up as well. A little distance off, Jack and his band were jogging towards the
"Any problems?" the Star Queen asked the colonel as he came within
"You launch MacDice and Razortail at a Rikti
attack group and there isn't much left except pieces," Jack replied. "I
The whole team clattered onto the main staging area of Fort
"Any problems, top?" Colonel Pentecost called to Sergeant
"Not now, sir," McCabe replied. "We're all good."
Jack said. "Everyone take five and rest up, then we'll head back to the
Compound. Nice work, gang."
"Colonel Pentecost!" Fusionette called
"I protest Bunni's actions! I was going to
attack the Rikti and rescue Faultline and she... she... she trapped me in some
sort of pink bubble-thing! I couldn't get out and I couldn't do
Jack turned to look at Bubble Bunni.
"Did you use your
powers to trap Fusionette and prevent her from attacking the
"I didn't know you could
do that," Jack said.
"It's something new I've been practicing," Bunni
admitted. "I can use my energy to form a detention field. I haven't had a lot of
chances to use it."
"So you placed Fusionette in this 'detention field'
rather than let her attack the enemy?"
"Yes, sir," Bunni
"Good for you, Lieutenant," Jack said. "I'd get you a
commendation but I don't think Lady Grey would approve
"What!?!" Fusionette shouted. "She... she...
"Pipe down and sit down!" Jack snapped. Faultline quietly stepped
forward and pulled Fusionette to the side by her arm. Jack shook his
"Generally rescued damsels are more appreciative," Razortail
pointed out. "Respectfully."
"We don't get that lucky," Jack replied.
"Levantera's Shield can mop up what's left of this mess. Let's head back to the
=== === ===
With a final snap, Halla Johanssen clipped
the last piece of her Vanguard armor into place. White on white, and polished to
a mirror sheen, it had been months since she'd been able to wear. It had
been weeks before she'd gotten out of the hospital and then more
weeks of physical therapy before she'd been able to walk without a
She looked at herself in the mirror. Tall, firm, strong - blonde
and beautiful - she looked every inch the Vanguard leader. She took her helmet
up under her arm and strode out into the hallways. Captain Halla Johanssen was
back on active duty and there'd be hell to pay for side-lining her - and those
damn Lancers were going to pay it.
The guards at the duty station
saluted sharply as she walked in and Halla returned it with a crisp, brisk
motion. She keyed her code into the bad and the door to the Bunker slid
The command and control center for the Vanguard's Internal Security
Division was jammed with consoles, monitored and computer equipment, giving the
whole thing a surreal virtual feel. Rather than the smoothly operating placement
of seated agents monitoring the communications feeds, however, a tight bunch of
white-armored forms was gathered around a display table, holographic screens
floating around them. Curious, Halla walked up to see what was going
Her superior, the Magdalene, was going through a serious of security
logs, and next to her Captain Petroff was pointing at some entry with a stylus.
A dozen techs were frantically scribbling notes.
"Is there some problem?"
Halla asked. Heads turned to look at her.
"Captain Johanssen!" the
Magdalene said. "Am I glad to see you back on duty! We have a major situation
"How can I assist?"
"Petroff?" the Magdalene
"We show a number of tight-band communications going back and
forth from the Compound to somewhere nearby," the dark-haired man explained. "We
also show an ongoing series of logins using administrative IDs. It appears that
the actions these logins have taken have been subsequently erased from the
"Traitors..." Halla breathed.
have been ongoing for more than six months," Petroff went on. "We're having
difficulty pin-pointing when they started."
"It's Pentecost and his
Lancers!" Halla said.
The Magdalene coughed.
"The only group I'm
certain that it can't be is the Lancers," she said. "We've had them under
constant surveillance since your accident."
"That was no
"The only people I'm sure of are those in this room," the
Magdalene went on "and Pentecost's people. Anyone else ... anyone else
... could be compromised."
"You're not seriously considering bringing
Jack Pentecost in on this!?"
"Can we talk for a minute?" the
Magdalene said. She stood up and walked away from the displays. "Carry on,
Taking Halla by the arm, the Magdalene walked her into the small
room the head of Internal Security used as an office.
"It's good to have
you back, Halla," the Magdalene said "but we're in the middle of a crisis. I
need you focused on that and not on revenge."
growled. "Those bastards put me in the hospital for weeks. It
hurt. I'll be damned if I'm going to let that
"I'm not asking you to let it slide," the Magdalene
said. "Pentecost will reveal himself for the menace he is, in time. I'm asking
you to help me deal with the traitors we've got right in front of us. The
ones who have compromised our computer systems. I need you in with me on
"You didn't even visit me in the hospital," Halla
"I meant to," the Magdalene said, looking away. "I kept meaning
to - but things got so busy. We've been under constant assault by the
Rikti ... and I had to keep the Lancers under twenty-four hour
surveillance. There just wasn't enough time..."
Magda," Halla said, her voice softer. "The Vanguard comes first, I've always
understood that ... but these Lancers are like a cancer eating into the heart of
the Compound! Something has to be done about them!"
be," the Magdalene said "but not right now. If Pentecost is a Rikti
spy, he won't want Vanguard technology falling into someone else's hands anymore
than we would. If we bring him in on this, he'll work with us, and we'll get a
chance to ferret out his secrets from the inside."
"You're insane," Halla
said. "That will never work."
"Maybe we'll get lucky and these traitors
will destroy each other," the Magdalene replied.
"Who is it?" Hall asked.
"Who's behind all this?"
"We don't know," the Magdalene said. "What we
can capture of their communications is scrambled. I can't rely on Gaussian's
experts to decrypt it, either. If I was an infiltrator, the Sword is the
first place I'd try and compromise. We've got to work through this
ourselves. I'm not even sure what their goal is. The evidence we have is almost
"Let me take a look at it," Halla said. "Maybe I can make
something out of it. Petroff is so detail oriented he has problems seeing the
big picture sometimes."
"I was hoping you'd offer," the Magdalene
"Have you told Lady Grey yet?" Halla asked.
"I'm hoping to have something useful to tell her before I bring
this up," she admitted. "I want to offer her more than 'traitors have hacked our
systems' before I bring it to her attention. I'd at least like to know who it
is, or what they want."
"You can't sit on this for too long,
=== === ===
"You wanted to see me?" Jack
asked. Borea and Levantera both looked up. The office they shared was twice the
size of Jack's and decorated in something that looked like early east Byzantine
mystic. There was a lot of brass and purple glass and crystal, and tapestries
filled with obscure glyphs which Jack didn't recognize. The sisters had pushed
their desks against each other, so they worked facing one another, and the
computer terminals they had in front of them were almost jarringly out of
"Colonel Pentecost," Borea said. "Sorry to bother you this
"Thanks for coming so quickly, Jack," Levantera
"Your offices surprise me," Jack said. "I almost expected tape
down the middle and clashing styles."
"Basing things on the Order of the
Four Winds is the only thing we could agree on," Borea admitted.
compromised," Levantera said.
"What's the problem?" Jack
"After you aborted the Rikti assault, we took a lot of prisoners,"
"One of our personal recognized one of them," Levantera
"Recognized one how?"
"He claims the Rikti is his
brother," Levantera said.
"Apparently this Rikti is
really Benjamin A. Decker, a Vanguard solider captured during the First Rikti
War," Borea said.
"Wait. Hold it..."
"The Rikti have apparently
converted and turned any POWs they took during the war," Borea said "and are
using them against us as combat troops."
"Son of a bitch," Jack
"However," Levantera interrupted Jack's tirade "seeing
his brother brought all his human memories back. This Rikti - B'Nadek - wants to
"Defect?" Jack said. "Rikti don't defect."
the formerly human ones do," Levantera said.
"So what do you from
me?" Jack said. "If he wants to defect, let him. I'm sure Dark Watcher could
debrief him more effectively..."
"Two hours ago a Rikti squad teleported
into the yard we were holding the prisoners in..."
"...there were just
too many to keep inside the Compound," Levantera explained.
liberated a batch of captured Rikti," Borea went on. "B'Nadek was among
"We want you to get him back," Levantera said.
a trick," Jack said.
"We know where he is," Borea replied.
"We knew we couldn't keep all the
prisoners in a secure area," she said "so we put tracers on the ones we
"We need you to hit them and extract B'Nadek before they get
back to the Mothership," Borea said. "You've got less than thirty
"I see why you called me," he replied.
"Okay, we're on it. Don't sweat it, we'll have your wayward Rikti back in no
time. I'll let you know before we drop."
"You're welcome, Borea,
Jack turned to go.
"Colonel Pentecost?" Borea said
"My name is Anne..."
"Call me, Jack," Jack
said and stepped from the room.
"You tease," Levantera
"What!? He can know your name but not mine!?"
are such a brat sometimes!"
Jack closed the door.
originally posted by Valkarye
(Hope this is the right place for this. Just felt like
writing something for Sage and I whipped this up during lunch break. Takes place
after the Sister P taskforce.)
With their latest mission
completed, Clamor has once more been brought into custody; Cadillac Sage said
her farewells and headed back to the Vanguard compound. Instead of calling for
transportation she decided in taking her time, casually strolling and enjoys the
many sights the city has to offer.
She vowed, as she done many times
throughout the last six months, in exploring Paragon more thoroughly.
Approaching a side entrance to the base she nodded at the sentry; after removing
her faceplate she entered. While making her way to the women’s locker room a
voice rang out.
“Sage, a minute” With a slight smile Sage stopped and
with a half turned watched as the blocky form of Gabriel McCabe approach. The
Lancers personal trainer, simply put.
With a polite salute Sage responded
“Returning from the field?” ask McCabe then continues
after getting a nod “Successful I hope?”
Sage resumes walking whereas
McCabe steps in tune, by her side. “Very successful; the group consisted of half
Lancers lead by the Colonel. Basically clamor went down with a
Grunting in approval McCabe responded “Success does seem to
follow Pentecost.” He glances at Sage “How are you holding up?”
spry as I once was back in the Core. Just attempting to keep up with the younger
crowd takes much energy, especially following MacDice around” she answers with a
“Believe me I know all about the rambunctious Scot. Though we
would not trade our jobs for anything” replied the gruff Sergeant.
nods in agreement “Semper Fi Sarge, no regrets here. Going to be making most
with my second tour, so to speak, this is more exciting than a desk
“Agreed; well I must be going, have a batch of snot nose wet behind
the ears kids that need a swift kick in the butt; been tasked to get those pansy
slackers ready for an insertion in a few days. Care to join Caddy?”
laughed “No thanks, had my butt kicked enough tonight. I must be getting home to
Hiroko, though try not to break anyone if possible.”
With a grin McCabe
veered into another hallway. The brief chat with the old Master Sergeant
reminded Sage of her first meeting with him, she as everyone else had became the
center of his attention. A position one does not want to experience. Though
McCabe quickly learned that she had a military background and soften just a tad.
In passing he was friendly and kind to Sage but only outside of his “classroom”,
which she would not have any other way. She liked the old
Entering the locker room she grabs herself a long, hot
Entering into the apartment she flicks the light
switch on. Tossing her jacket on a side chair Sage ambled into the kitchen.
After a few sips of bottled water she took a few minutes soaking in the
atmosphere of her home for the last six months since arriving into the city. She
immediately noticed the few changes Hiroko has made; different placing of
furniture, a new painting, the trimming of the bonsai tree.
shuffling off to the bedroom she turned on the light, but at a dim fraction.
Sleeping peacefully was Hiroko, her small frame entwined with a blanket. Glossy
black hair flayed about the pillow. The diminutive woman had a fragile
appearance about her, though that was deceptive. Just as her father Hiroko is
deadly in her chosen martial art, a fact that Sage is reminded every time they
Sage lovely smiled then began undressing. Standing nude, and
before climbing into bed, she took her left hand and grabbed the upper part of
her metallic arm. Pressing the necessary buttons and giving a twist the
artificial limb removed from her shoulder with a minute click. Gently placing
the limb onto a special rack Sage then climbs into the bed and slides under the
A slight buzzing goes off, waking Sage from her
slumber. She groggily slaps at the device, turning the annoying sound off in
hoping not to awake Hiroko. Sitting up she stretches with a yawn. Picking up the
Vanguard communication device she looks at the small screen, the words hazy
while blinking the sleep from her eyes.
Code Red was displayed on
the small screen. Instantly awake Sage gently kisses Hiroko’s forehead and
silently vacates the bed. She gets dressed, geared for battle. The Colonel
Lancer duties beckons.
originally posted by Valkarye
Around midday the gym in the
Vanguard base could usually be found filled. Women and men trying to keep
themselves in shape or just simply occupied; today was no exception. Sound waft
around the room with small chatter, words of encouragement, or grunting from
exertion; noise from nearly two dozen people going through various exercise
In the corner where the floor is covered by mats were arranged
practice dummies, with the legs ending in a stand, where Cadillac Sage happened
to be moving her body about using a martial art technique. She was wearing dark
blue sweats and a camo colored sports bra. Sweat clinged to her body as her
hands weaved through complex motions, her feet gliding over the mat. Approaching
one of the dummies her hands swayed in a pattern then pointed, palms out,
towards the target. Even though she did not touch the practice dummy it was
knocked back a few feet, only to land upon the mat.
moved toward a second dummy, her whole body weaving and sliding. Unknown, or
uncaring, that a few spectators were watching her. Smatterings of comments and
appraisal were uttered due to the skills she displayed. Most have not witnessed
in person the form Koshijutsu being preformed and were thoroughly impressed. The
form was not very rare but rarely taught and utilized in the States.
second target flew through the air higher than the first, where it struck the
wall then bounced to a rest on the mat. Sage then moved up to the last dummy
when a voice rang out. “Sage, the Colonel wants to see you. Now” said Pipsqueak.
Her voice loud which caused more than a few spectators to wince and hurry back
to what they were doing before stopping to watch.
Even though Sage heard
the Sergeant she continued her routine. Approaching the dummy she dropped to one
knee and punches the ground with her left artificial hand, which was in the
fist. Even though the attack was light, Sage had barely felt the contact, the
dummy feel backwards. Almost appeared to leap up and back.
standing up Sage faced Pipsqueak. “Just give me a second” she said then went to
grab her towel from a rack. After wiping her face she places the towel around
her neck then caught the bottle water that Pipsqueak tossed. Offering a tip of
the bottle as thank Sage removed the top then took a long drink.
better go see him now, since he has work for you” said Pipsqueak. Then something
caught the diminutive woman’s attention and she hurried off.
With a few
words or answering comments Sage left the gym and made her way to Jack
Pentecost’s office. As she arrived she saw that the door was open. Inside Jack
was seated at his desk, huddled over some papers. Standing next to him was David
Dawson, Two Smoking Barrels, and both men were arguing.
Knocking on the
door frame Sage waiting before both men looked up, saluted then said “Need me
for something Colonel?” While protocol seems a bit more relax on the Vanguard
compound, then other military bases and especially with the Lancers, she still
preferred to show respect to her superiors. Respect in chain of command was
important to Sage despite leaving the Core over a decade ago.
his chair back a bit Jack replied “Caddy, come in. By chance I do have a mission
for you”. Both men watch as the woman entered the office and stood at the desk.
Jack noticed that while she was relaxed her body still displayed the rigidity of
one who just completed military training. Since she was sleeveless both arms
were fully on display. One metallic, from fingers to just below her shoulder,
and the other proudly displaying the words, USMC on her upper arm. Dog tags
proudly displayed around her neck, hanging low.
lighting a cigar Jack placed the stogie in his mouth and took a long drag before
speaking “Rumor has come to my attention that a lost weapon depot might have
been found. Now even though this penny annie crap is usually beneath our
resources I have been asked to look into the matter”.
Another puff then
Dawson issued a cough, which was sarcastic and did not escape anyone’s notice.
“Stuff it David. As I was saying the Lancers have been tasked with checking out
this rumor and I am in turn giving the responsibility to you” said
Sage simply stood there and nodded, her hands clenched behind her
back. Jack resumed “Mission is simple; head to the location and search the area.
If something of value is found then call, I will have an escort team sent. If
location proves empty then just return back to the compound.
“Crystal sir” replied Sage.
Shuffling around papers on his
desk Jack found the one he sought and held it out to the ex-marine “Here are the
coordinates”. Sage took the scrap of paper with her flesh hand and briefly
glanced at the numbers. She quickly memorized the numbers, mentally determining
that location was only a couple klicks away from the Vanguard base.
be at the destination in thirty Colonel” said Sage. She saluted, about turned
and left the office.
Jack sighed and slumped back into his chair. “Wish
all you yahoos were prompt and respectful as Caddy, certainly would make my like
easier” said Jack as he took another drag from the cigar.
out a laugh “Where is the fun in that”. Then his tone became serious and he
asked “Want me to go with her? Better to have someone watch your back out
Jack shook his head “Want her solo on this; her actions are
exemplary with the group but want to view how she handles this alone. Now quit
brothering me and scram” Jack bent over his desk, appearing to work.
With a chuckle David wandered from the room and closed the door, which
shut with a little slam. Sitting back Jack sighed and wonder once more, why him.
After a quick shower, gearing up, and travel Sage stood
in-front of a building, the coordinates Pentecost provided, in exactly thirty
minutes. The travel from the compound was uneventful, while she did spot the
occasional Rikti scout team they were easy avoidable. Though various sounds
could be heard; the cords of musical war. Signals pointing to small skirmishes
being waged, as battles raged on which seemed to be a common occurrence
throughout the Crash Site.
The worn building before her was a dump, to
put nicely. Windows were boarded, painted was chipped, and sections of the wall
were missing. At the door Sage stood still for a moment, resetting her chi, then
slowly opened the door a crack. After nothing triggered she pushed open farther
then stepped inside and close the door.
The lightning was dim and the
interior matched the façade; worn and dirty. A musty smell hung about while
debris littered the floor. With but a small hesitation Sage moved forward, her
body relaxed but ready to defend if needed. Her senses were alert for any sign
Over a period of time Sage combed the first floor, which she
had discovered the elevator early on, for any signs of weapons material.
Anything at all. Despite the occasional pile of trash she found nothing of
value. Just broken pieces of occupants’ belongings from before the invasion.
Anything of value most likely has been scavenge already she
Eventually in-front of the elevator she nixed the idea of taking
the easy way up. If anyone reside upstairs then the noise would alert them.
Opening the door to the stairwell Sage silently padded up and arrived to the
exit for the second floor. Opening the door a crack she peered down the hall but
noticed nothing of interest. Satisfied she slipped into the
Walking into a good size room with a partial balcony level
overhead Sage began to search. Few minutes later her searching took her
upstairs, the half floor covered partial of the space below and she stood at the
railing looking down. Her gaze pointing down the hallway away from the elevator.
Suddenly she heard a noise, a kind of droning echo sound. Her head
whipped around, eyes searching. For the noise was familiar, having been heard
hundreds of times since joining the Lancers. The opening of a Rikti
Few feet away behind Sage a hazy insubstantial light formed,
quickly widening. Almost mysteriously a Rikti foot soldier appeared to the right
of the portal while one began taking shape on the left. Sages registered all
this and watch as the weapon slowly swung her way.
Due to the suddenness
of the attack Sage had almost zero options and did the only thing she could.
Pushing with her knees she leapt over the rail, more like an uncontrolled fall.
On the brief plunge she watch as a beam of laser soared overhead; which would
have easily struck if she was a second slower.
She attempted to twist her
body into a ball before striking the ground, though the distance was not great
enough for her to properly position her body. Her left shoulder struck first,
sending a jolt of pain down her arm. Then Sage tumbled to her knees, rising
wobbly to her feet. Using her artificial hand on the floor to keep her balance
she sprinted forward. Laser fire hit behind her, charring the floor, and the
sound was deafening.
Quickly she dived around the corner as weapon fire
slammed into the wall, sending plastered chips exploding everywhere. With her
body flat against the wall, her breathing heavy, Sage mentally tried to calm
I definitely have found something, now only if I can stay alive
to report back she thought.
originally posted by Valkarye
The two Rikti foot soldiers moved
forward in a combat stance, approaching the corner with energy rifles held
On the other side of the corner, back pressed to the wall, Sage
waited. She had calmed her nerves with a quick breathing activity and now was
listening as the alien’s footsteps drew closer.
With eyes staring
straight ahead Sage’s hands went through complex movement then when she had
judged the moment was right she struck. Pivoting on one foot she stepped around
the corner just inches from the advancing Rikti.
Dropping to one knee
Sage softly tapped the floor with her right fist. Inner energy was released from
her body and pulsated outward which assaulted the aliens. The two Rikti were
knocked from their feet and landed on their back, not seriously hurt but
stunned. Sage immediately rushed forward and dispatched the Rikti with quick
blows to the neck, crushing their windpipes.
After listening for any
reinforcements and hearing nothing Sage resumed her search. She moved around the
corner and down the hallway and checked to see if the next room was clear before
After the third room provided nothing of interest Sage
approached a close door. Slowly and quietly she opened the portal, just a
sliver. Once she felt sure that no booby-traps exist, training she learned in
boot camp, she swung the door open slowly.
With no sign of occupancy Sage
entered the room and quietly closed the door. Looking around she spies the
typical office set-up, but also a group of stacked crates in the left corner.
Checking the crates first Sage found the hazard sign on the side facing
away from her. Fearing what she would find she did pry open the lid from one and
peered inside. Her guess was correct, for nestled snuggly in foam was armaments.
Small and powerful of the nuclear kind.
Replacing the lid Sage counted
the number of crates; seven. With the urgency of the findings she tried the
radio once more but was still being jammed.
Leaving the room, and
closing the door, Sage knew she needs to vacate the building. The word then can
be given to the Colonel and a team can be brought in to secure the stolen
After making her way to the stairs Sage began walking up, her
destination the roof. Though a noise made her stop. Close by, below actually, a
teleportation portal was opening.
Glancing down the stairwell she saw
the portal on the first floor; also a Rikti foot soldier that had his energy
rifle pointing up. Quickly Sage pulled back, just as a beam of energy cut
through the space she once occupied.
Sprinting up the stairs she came
upon the door that leads onto the roof, which Sage busted through.
was approaching but there was still adequate lightning so Sage peered about,
seeking any foes. Seeing no immediate danger she moved from the door way and
activated the communication unit. No static.
“Sage reporting; weapons
found and assistance required” she simply said while moving toward the roof’s
When she was finished talking Sage just happened to look off to the
side and her eyes widened when she saw the Rikti Pylon. The sight of the gun
emplacement did not bother her; it was the turret that had moved. The weapons
eye was tracking her movement, getting a lock on her.
Knowing what would
come next Sage broke out into a sprint. The edge of the roof just yards away.
Remembering that another two story building, which had been flattened down to
one story, stood next with about a dozen feet of separating space which she
hoped that a jump could be made before getting zapped.
With only a few
steps left Sage glanced at the pylon, its targeting eye firmly locked on her,
and hoped she could timed this right. Face forward once more she covered the
last distance then leap from the roof.
She soared through the air then
seconds later heard a tremendous boom as the powerful energy beam struck the
building. She was then carried faster forward as the backwash of heat and debris
hit her; sending her frantically tumbling farther over the roof then originally
The momentum carried Sage over the middle of the roof when she
finally began heading down. Luckily the section she was hurtling to was
basically flat. She controlled her fall as best she could and tightened into a
ball but still her breath fled as her body landed with a body jarring thud.
After bouncing a few times Sage uncurled herself and laid upon her back,
gulping in new air and allowing her nerves to calm.
Despite breathing a
sigh of relief her troubles were not over for a deep groan then cracking could
be heard. Suddenly the roof gave away and she felt herself in freefall once
more. Though the sensation did not last long as her body struck an object which
she then bounced off and Sage landed on the floor; her face bouncing of the
dirty carpet. As debris landed on her body she blacked out.
slowly returned with the echoing sounds of alien teleportation going off. The
noise seemed to move about and became annoying enough to wake her up.
She groggily laid there wondering what happened when the noise sounded
closer and chased away the cobwebs. Slowly at first she moved and after
determining nothing was broken she pushed herself to a sitting
Sitting on her knees Sage brushed some of the dust off while
checking out the room. The area was a large office space which was in obvious
disarray. Looking up she saw the hole in the ceiling that was made when she fell
through. Shaking her head Sage peered about some more.
teleportation sounded echoed again Sage scrambled for cover; taking refuge under
a bookcase which partially leaned over a desk. There she waited.
wait was not long when a portal sprang into existence in the middle of the room.
The hazy oval shape hung in the air for a few moments than disgorged a large
The newcomer, a Rikti leader by Sage’s estimate peered about the
room. The alien held a great sword that appeared to be long as the ex-marine was
tall. The Rikti commander then moved aside as another alien emerged from the
portal, this one was a simple foot soldier.
Not wanting anymore enemy
entering the room Sage began focusing; centering herself while her hands weaved
Stepping out from her hiding space and hands splayed, wrists
almost touching, Sage attacked. The force of her Chi energy bowled into the
Rikti. The smaller alien was blown from his feet and crashed into a desk,
toppling over onto the other side. The commander just staggered back a few
steps. Though the attack had the desire effect as the portal winked into
Sage was not finished as she immediately rushed forward and
leapt the desk to land on the down Rikti; with a quick strike her fist struck
the foe in the head. She then flung her body to the side. In the middle of her
sideways controlled fall she watches as the sword from the commander swished
through the air.
Back on her feet she moved around the desk as the Rikti
prepared for another attack. Though the alien was quicker than she had thought
and the heavy weapon came down, ready to split the woman in half but Sage
sidestepped. The blade bit into the wooden desk and with a tear the two inner
halves clattered to the ground.
Taking advantage of the opportunity Sage
crouched, while her hands wove about. As the commander started to lift his sword
she struck. The attack took it in the side as a concentrated force of energy
hammered the alien.
Once more the attack simply staggered the alien but
it still retaliated; while regaining its footing the Rikti’s free hand swung out
and clipped Sage on the shoulder. Though the blow did not have much force behind
it but was enough to send the woman twirling to the floor; the Rikti at least
outweigh the woman by three times.
Since Sage was still shaking off the
effects from falling through the roof her reaction time was a bit slow and she
could only simply roll as the huge sword chopped into the floor, narrowly
missing skewering her.
Luck was with Sage as the tip of the blade had
embedded itself into the floor, giving the woman ample time to regain her feet
as the commander pulled the weapon free. Taking advantage of the distraction the
Lancer rushed forward and leapt.
Her next attack struck the alien on the
side of the head and she was reward with the Rikti releasing its, now freed,
sword and dropping to one knee. Knowing that the larger alien was not out of the
fight yet Sage struck quickly.
The blow, a two handed concentrated
attack, landed between the shoulder blades of the Rikti. A slight strangled cry
escaped from its lip before the alien pitch forward. Sage waiting a few seconds
but her downed foe did not move, not so much as a twitch.
breath she held Sage allowed herself to relax a moment and glance around the
room. Her body ache, felt like one big bruise, but she got lucky as there seemed
to be no major damage.
Turning towards the hallway leading out of the
room the woman was prepared to go wait for reinforcements to arrive when a noise
stopped her. Actually many noises. Teleportation echoed as if coming from every
direction and suddenly before her two, now there black armored Rikti appeared
in-front of her. Their weapons primed and pointed at her.
sounded from behind and Sage slowly turned around, knowing what she would see.
Arrayed before her were a half dozen Rikti and a trio of portals that were
spitting out more. In moments more then a score of the aliens face the lone
woman; the room now crowded.
Sage stayed calm and expressionless, her
eyes scanning every foe before her. Focusing on her center she prepared to make
a final stand, building her Chi. Everything was quiet, everyone waiting for who
would make the first move. Though the decision was finally decided.
a Scottish war cry Brian MacDice dropped from the hole in the ceiling. The man
landed, taking down two Rikti, then with a burst of frenzy waded into the mob.
Pandemonium ensued as the aliens tried to recover from the surprise while
attempting to get out of the way of the Scots steel claws.
Only Sage kept
her head as she dove to the side just before a burst of energy blasts, from the
foes behind her, flew towards the energetic Lancer. Majority of the blasts were
friendly fire but a few did hit MacDice, only to dissipate harmlessly from the
protective bubble shielding the Lancer.
Sage saw a slight glimmer field
encase herself then glanced up and saw Bubble Bunni, with arm outstretched.
Standing next to her was Razortail who then jumped down into the fray, landing
on a group of unsuspecting Rikti. A pack of spines burst from his body, impaling
the aliens around him.
The battle was one sided as the newly arrived
Lancers dispatched the Rikti forces; despite more converging from portals. The
aliens could simply not withstand the combine might of the Scot and Japanese
fighters. In moments all the foes laid about the room broken and lifeless.
While the two Lancers were cleaning up Bunni helped Sage and the two
women exited the building. Waiting was Jack Pentecost, who was busy puffing on a
stogie, which he smiled upon seeing Sage. Close by stood Maridian.
work Caddy, glad to see this was not a waste of time” he said. The sounds of
battle could be faintly heard.
Sage looked at the Vanguard soldiers
bustling about then back at the Jack. “I aim to please Colonel. Have you
recovered the armaments yet?” she replied.
The Colonel nodded “A team is
headed there now lead by Agent Three and Pole Shift” he looks over Sage whose
clothing was dirty and a little worse for the wear “AfterMaridian gives you a
check up get some R&R, you earned it Lancer”
Despite being sore and
tired Sage saluted; once more glad to be a member of an orginization again with
the chance of making a difference.